Secrets, Books and Murder
Suisan "Sue" R.
Willow Springs, Arkansas
Early Evening, 23 January
Moiré Michaels glared at the phone on her desk, daring it to continue ringing. Four, five, six, oh hell! Answer the durn thing! "What?!"
"Moiré? Catch you at the wrong time?"
"Mike! What's wrong, why are you calling on the private line?" Moiré sat up, her instincts screaming that something was definitely wrong.
"Uh, I need to know Steaphan's mother's maiden name."
The older woman shot to her feet. "Why!? Caragh, what's going on?!"
"He's being admitted to Cascade General Hospital. I don't know for certain, yet, but he may have to have surgery to repair the damage... "
"I'll get a full account from you later. His mother was Diarma Cannady. Have you called anyone else, Steaphy for example?"
"No. Not yet. I need to call Sean, and as soon as I get updated on Steaphan I'll call Steaphy."
"Wrong. You'll call me, and then I'll call her. I'll also get Coran to get the Flyer prepped, as you'll probably need a second pilot to get the Aine back to roost." Moiré flipped open the huge Rolodex on her credenza and started looking up the phone numbers for Coran Flint and Steaphanie Shannon.
"Bless you, Mom. I'll call back as soon as I can. Love you."
Moiré looked at the phone, wondering what kind of trouble her granddaughter had managed to get into, and wondering just how Steaphan had gotten hurt. Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, she hung up the phone, only to pick it up again and dial out.
"Coran? Get the Flyer ready, you're going to Cascade with Steaphy. No, she doesn't know yet, I haven't called her. Go spin up the damn plane and I'll have Steaphy and Sean contact you at the hanger. Good. Thank you." Deciding that was all she was able to do, until she heard back from Caragh, Moiré sat in her office, watching the moon rise over the fields outside her windows, and willed the phone to ring with Caragh's return call.
Having brought Captain Banks up to speed, but not having been able to catch up with his partner, Jim Ellison caught up with Caragh McConnel outside of Trauma 2. Where she was leaning against the wall, doing her best to hold it, and herself, upright. "McConnel? Anything yet?" She didn't answer him, only shook her head in the 'negative'. He had to dodge in closer to her as a nurse rushed by, entering the trauma room carrying a large folder of what appeared to be x-ray films.
Caragh came up off the wall, her anxiety levels shooting upward when the harried nurse had barged into the sealed off room. She tried to look into the room, to see Steaphan, but all the personnel swarming around him effectively blocked her view of her friend. She hit the wall in her frustration. "Damn it! Why won't they tell me what's going on?" Turning to face the Cascade detective, she lowered her voice to where only he could hear her, "Jim, can you tell me? What's going on in there? Please?"
He looked at her, the similarities of appearances between this woman and his best friend, even more apparent. Damn, that's the same hangdog expression that the Chief uses. I wonder if she learned it from him, or he from her? "No. Not here. I'm too tired to try it. Sorry, Caragh."
Biting her lip, she leaned back against the wall. "That's okay, I never should've asked. Guess I'm a little tired myself."
Now that the adrenaline rush had worn off, Jim took a moment to really study the young woman as she leaned against the wall. All the signs were there. Pale coloring, lack of energy, shallow breathing and he was sure if he did extend his hearing, her heart rate would be slow, sluggish even. "Caragh, just how long have you been on your feet today?"
She shrugged. "What time is it?"
"Just after twenty-hundred hours. Eight PM."
Caragh let a small snicker escape her. "I know military time, Ellison. Let's see, hmm, about eighteen hours, maybe more, maybe less."
"Okay, that's it." Jim grabbed her by the elbow and led her over to a chair by the nurse's station. "Stay there, I'll be right back." He glanced over at another secretary, another whom he knew on sight, but not by name and managed to convey the message that he was responsible for making sure the exhausted woman stayed right where he had put her. The man nodded and Jim took off.
She wasn't even aware of how much time passed; she kept staring at the door to the room where her friend lay injured. Caragh came back to some awareness of her environment when the smell of fresh coffee assailed her. Looking up, she saw Jim Ellison holding out a coffee cup and a candy bar. Nodding her appreciation, she took the coffee, not wanting the candy and sipped the hot, fresh brewed, dark liquid.
"Uh, uh. You eat this too, McConnel." He put the candy bar, Snickers, into her free hand. Leaning in close to her he whispered, "I don't need my senses to know your blood sugar is low."
Not wanting to argue, she unwrapped the candy and took a bite, following it quickly with a slug of the coffee. Her mouth cleared she glared up at him. "I really hate these things you know. I'd rather have a granola bar."
"Sorry about that. I didn't have much to choose from. Coffee okay?"
"Yeah. Thanks." Grimacing, she took another bite of the chocolate confection and another sip of the coffee.
Jim wasn't satisfied, yet. He found an empty chair and pulled it up next to hers, making sure he didn't block the pathway and sat down. "You're more like Blair than I thought. And before you try to hide the last half of that bar... . Eat it."
"Yes, sir." She hated to admit it, even to herself, but she was feeling better. Her knees no longer felt like they were made of Jell-O and the buzzing in her head had stopped. Finishing the bar, she threw the wrapper into a waste can and sipped more of the coffee.
"Better now?" Caragh nodded, sipping out of the cup he had handed her. "Good. Cause unless I'm mistaken... "
Caragh's head snapped up, looking up into the face of a man not much older than Ellison wearing scrubs and a white lab coat. "Yes?"
The man held out his hand. "I'm Doctor Abrams. Mr. Shannon is doing quite well, considering the amount of blood loss and his injury. We'll be taking him to surgery in a few moments, he's a little groggy but he wants to talk with you."
Letting out a shaky sigh, she got to her feet, handed Ellison the nearly empty cup, and shook the doctor's hand. "Thank you. I'll be right back, Jim." And she went into the treatment room.
Abrams looked at the detective standing before him. "Is she your partner's sister, Detective?"
"No. It's uncanny though, isn't it?" Just moments before, Jim could've sworn that Caragh McConnel was just about out on her feet, but the energy she had just displayed by nearly running to her friend's side belied the idea.
"I'll say. By the way, it'll be some time before Mr. Shannon gets back out of surgery, as we've a lot of damage to repair. Make sure she gets some rest, will you? I know the signs, she's fast approaching her melting point and her friend will need her support after he wakes up."
"I'll try, Doc. But she may not want to leave."
"You're right, I don't." Caragh had come out of the room to find the two men discussing her and after what Steaphan had just told her, she wasn't very happy.
Abrams swung around to face her. "Young lady. Either you go back to the place you're staying at and rest there until Eight AM, or I'll find you a bed in this hospital and forcibly admit you for observation."
Jim saw the anger flare in her eyes, and, just as quickly as it had spring up, it faded, leaving him to wonder if he'd really seen it. "Caragh, Doc's right. You're exhausted. You need to get a good-sized meal, then a full night's rest. You know how adrenaline let down can be."
Caragh buried her face in her hands, trying to stem the tears that threatened to appear. Taking several deep breaths she lowered her hands and nodded. "You're right. Both of you. I gave my number and location to the admitting clerk, Doctor Abrams. Will you have someone call me the minute Steve's out of surgery and you have a prognosis?"
"I can do that, sure. Now, Jim? Take this young, very tired, lady to dinner, and then straight to where ever it is she's staying." Abrams gave the distraught woman a friendly squeeze on the arm and went to finish prepping his patient for surgery.
"Come on, Caragh. I'll drive you to the hotel you're staying at." He tried to gently lead her away from the desk she was leaning against.
"I can drive you know, Ellison." She refused to move.
"I know you can, you followed me here, remember? But we haven't had a chance to talk yet and you're in no condition to drive, so I'll drive, you talk. Got it?" With the Emergency Room full of staff members, patients and family he didn't want to come straight out and say what he wanted to talk to her about, but tried to get the message across to her.
"Okay, I give up. We'll leave my rental here and you can show off that sweet '69 Ford to me." She let him lead the way out of the ER and to the parking lot. Under the sodium lights, the truck -- the blue and white classic -- waited for them.
Jim opened up the passenger door, holding it for her as she climbed in and smiled at her. "So, you like my truck?"
"I am from Arkansas, so of course I like your pick up. But it's not at all like mine... " She let her sentence die then as he shut the door and trotted around the front to the driver's side and got in himself.
"Oh? What have you got?" He cranked over the engine, grinning like a fool as the powerful v-8 roared to life.
"A '67 Chevy."
"Really? Restored or original?"
"Restored to original condition, almost. It's got a 454-pursuit package under the hood. I'll show you some pictures when we get to the hotel."
Pulling out to the street he stopped. "You're on. Which hotel?"
Jim whistled through his teeth. "Damn! Your 'Company' sure knows how to treat it's people right." He pulled onto the street, heading for the higher classed, five star hotel.
Caragh moaned and pulled her backpack off the floorboard. "Shit! I forgot to call Moiré back! Do you mind?" She held out the cell phone.
"Go ahead. 'Moy-rah'?"
"My CEO and Grandmother. I told her I'd call when I knew more about Steaphan."
The drive to the hotel was pleasant, and Jim endeavored not to listen in on the conversation his passenger was having with her grandmother cum boss. He pulled into the Cascade Arms parking garage just as she hung up on the call.
Willow Springs, Arkansas
Before Midnight, 23 January
Moiré Michaels hung up the phone and turned to face the three guests she had waiting in her office. "That was Mike. Steaphy, Steve's okay. He has to have surgery to repair the damage to his shoulder, but we should hear more by morning. Coran, that means you'll most likely have the fly the Flyer back from Cascade, letting Steaphy bring the Aine back. And Sean," she turned to face her grandson by marriage, "Mike's fine. She's met up with this detective Ellison and he's taking her under his wing. Even as we spoke he was driving her back to the hotel to take her statement about the incident and to make sure she eats something. She'll be just fine."
Sean nodded. He'd talked with Ellison several times over the last few weeks, and had gotten to know the man fairly well. For some reason he trusted the man with Caragh's safety, he just wished he knew why. "Thank you, Moiré. Steaphy, when do you and Coran want to head out?"
Steaphanie Shannon looked first to Sean, then to Coran, and back to Sean. "How about four hours? That'll give us time to get packed, the plane loaded, and put us into Cascade about nine am, providing the weather pattern holds."
Coran Flint nodded in agreement. "Sounds good to me. The Flyer's all spun up and ready to go. I just need to pack a few day's worth of clothing and then I'll be ready."
"I'm already packed. I'll meet you all at the airstrip." And with that, Sean left the office. Once outside the building, he ran into Leland Andrews.
"Sean! Everything set? How's Steaphan and Mike?"
Sean walked over to the Sheriff. "Mike's fine, but Steaphan's going into surgery to repair the damage to his shoulder. Coran, Steaphy and I are leaving about four am. Joe ready for this absence of mine?"
"As ready as he can be. The PA's not real happy about it though. He had to fight with the defense attorney to accept your statement on stipulation."
"I know, I had a nice long talk with Douglas before I came over here to wait for Mike's call. He's not real happy either, especially when I told him he didn't want me on the stand again."
Lee chuckled. "I'll bet! He's still getting razed about the last time. You sure put him in his place, Sean."
The detective shrugged. "Hey, I don't tell him how to be a lawyer, he shouldn't try to tell me how to be an investigator."
"True, true. Look, when you see Mike in the morning, let her and Steaphan know we're all anxious for them to get back here to the nice safe city of Willow Springs. Okay?" Lee held out his hand and when his friend shook it, he held on to him. "And don't let those big city cops try to recruit you, Sean. I need you back here."
"Not a chance in hell that I'd give up this place, Lee. I love it here. Besides, have you seen the crime statistics for Cascade? It seems to be a Crooks Mecca." Sean released the Sheriff's hand and turned to open the door to his unit. Then he turned back to face the man. "By the way, I'll have the unit parked at the airstrip should you have need of it while I'm gone. Just don't let anyone smoke in it, will you?"
"Like anyone would. Now, go on. Go get a nap in while you're waiting for your plane."
"I'll try, Lee. Good night."
"Good night, Sean."
10 PM, 23 January
Caragh McConnel and Jim Ellison had settled in a booth in the back most corner of the hotel's restaurant where they both ate a late dinner and he took her statement about the night's events. He had just put his notebook away when she looked at him and said, "Go ahead, you've been dying to ask me all night."
Jim leaned over the table and smiled. "That obvious, huh?"
"Yes. So, go ahead, fire away, Jim."
"How did you know?"
She smiled. "About you being a sentinel?"
"You probably won't believe me."
Looking into his blue eyes, she saw and recognized the challenge. "Fine," she answered, "but not here. Come on." She slid out of the booth, deftly palming the bill as she did so and walked to the cashier where she paid for the meals and silently dared him to complain. She was rather surprised when he didn't. He must be used to dealing with strong, independent women. They walked in silence to the elevators and once on the tenth floor, she led the way to her room.
Jim wasn't even aware that he was testing the area with his senses, until he stopped just a few feet from the door to Caragh's room. "Caragh, wait."
Turning to face him, she noticed that Jim was standing in the middle of the hall, using his senses from the way he held himself. Lowering her voice, she approached him, her hand drifting back towards her gun. "What is it?"
"You smell that?"
"Same smell from the plane -- I think you had a visitor."
"Had? As in they're no longer here?" Caragh relaxed a little bit, but fascinated to watch this man with the same talents as her husband, doing what she thought only Sean could do.
Reaching out with his hearing, piggybacking his sense of smell to it, he scanned the room again. With the double up technique, the piggyback, he was able to avoid zoning. Most of the time. "Jim? Follow my voice, come on, get back here, Sentinel." Her voice reached him as did her hand on his arm and he looked at her.
"Well, that was interesting. Anything?" Caragh asked.
"Nothing. Whoever it was, is long gone," Jim announced and followed her as she made her way to the door, used the electronic passkey and opened the door. Her gasp of surprise didn't escape his notice. Stepping into the room behind her, he was greeted with the sight of a destructive search very similar to the one that had occurred on the plane earlier that evening.
"Damn it! Who the hell is doing this and why?" Caragh dropped her backpack to the floor and stomped into the room, looking over the strewn mess that went from the day area, to the bedroom, even to the bathroom. Nothing was left untouched; some items had even been slashed open.
Jim pulled out his cell phone and called in the break-in, asking for a patrol unit to come and take the report, as he was technically involved at this point. "Unit's on the way. As soon as they show up, and forensics gets here, get together some of your things. You cannot stay here."
"But what about Steaphan?"
Flipping open his cell phone again, he called over to Major Crimes. "Megan? Ellison. Look there's a patient at Cas-Gen who needs protection. Tonight, maybe a bit longer, I'm not sure yet. Steaphan Shannon, he should be on the post surgical wing. Stabbing victim from earlier tonight at the Municipal Airport. Yeah. Thanks Connor." Shutting the phone down again, he looked over at Caragh. "Taken care of. Megan Connor will see that Steven is protected, just in case. Any ideas as to what these people might be after?"
"Thank you, again, Jim." She wandered around the room, thinking. "It has to be something they suspect I have or know that I have."
"A book, maybe?" He leaned over and picked up the heavy black leather bag from where she had dropped it. "Jeez, what do you have in here, rocks?"
Caragh smiled as she walked over and took the bag from him. "Close. Just a few notebooks, a date planner, my passport, ID's, Federal Permit for my Ruger, and what they just might be after." She unzipped the bag, reached in and pulled out the leather bound book and then handed it to him.
Jim took the book from her and looked at the title, "Guardians and Protectors." He looked back at her, "Mike, this is the book that your husband found at the murder scene, isn't it? The one you were studying to see if you could find a connection?" It had taken most of the night, but he had finally gotten used to calling the anthropologist by her chosen nickname.
Caragh smiled. "Oh, I found a connection all right. Jim, you're looking at it."
"There's no easy way to tell you, and I was planning on it anyway, so before the boys in blue show up... .
Willow Springs, Arkansas
Prior to 4 AM, 24 January
Sean was just about to board the plane that would take him, Coran Flint and Steaphanie Shannon to Cascade when he heard a car motor approaching the airstrip. "Coran, have Steaphy wait up a few more minutes. We've company coming." He pointed over his shoulder to where the other man could just make out the approaching headlights.
"Sure. Steaphy! Ten minute delay. Company." The young man called out to the pilot on the flight deck.
Steaphanie looked at her chronograph, noting the time. "Fine. We've got a clearance from North West Regional for 0400hrs, we miss that window and we'll be bumped to 0415 or later."
"I'll tell him." Coran followed Sean down back down the steps of the Flyer and waited with him. "Steaph's not real happy right now. We need to be ready to take off in less than fifteen minutes."
Sean nodded. "I'll try to make it quick. That looks like Thomas McCaigh's car, Mike's TA. Wonder what's so important that he's up at this time of day?"
"Tommy? With him he's probably hasn't been to bed yet. I'll wait in the Flyer, it's just a little too cool out here this morning for me." Coran shivered as he turned back to board the plane again.
Thomas McCaigh was pushing his old Pinto to its limits; he had to reach the airstrip before Sean McConnel took off. As he caught sight of the plane waiting on the runway and the detective standing outside it, he sighed in relief. Pulling his car up to the edge of the runway, he piled out and trotted over to the man. "Sean! I need to talk to you, I'm so glad I caught you!"
"You almost didn't. Thomas, explain in twelve minutes or less, if you can."
Nodding his understanding, Thomas launched into his explanation. "Mike had a visitor yesterday at the college, an old class mate he said. An Archaeologist. He seemed okay, nice guy, but then I recalled that when he came into the office he asked if I was Mike, it didn't hit me until a few hours ago that he must not have been who he said he was, and that maybe it was tied into the case you and Mike have been working on. He left a note, I brought it." He slowed down to take a breath and hand off the note, crumpled from being in his coat pocket. "See? He claimed to have gone to school with her in Cascade, but he didn't know that I wasn't Mike until I said that I wasn't and that she had had to leave on an emergency trip. I had a class to teach, he asked to write the note, so I left him in the office. When I got back I picked up a call from a Detective Ellson? No, that's not right. Ellison! That's it! Anyway I pushed the note aside and started grading papers, found it again just about two am and reading it over, I realized that he couldn't have known Mike. He said something about an expedition they had been on together in 93, but she didn't go on any trips that year. Did she? That was the year you two hitched up, wasn't it? Anyway, thinking back about this guy's visit creeped me out and I knew I had to speak with you about it."
All the while that Thomas had been rattling off his story, Sean had retrieved a small penlight from his pocket and read the note. The signature at the bottom of the note was almost illegible, but not quite. The name was one he knew. A young recruit for that covert Ops group which had tried to recruit him. Alex Krycek. Noticing that Thomas had wound down, Sean looked up at the kid.
"Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I'll make sure that Mike knows about it too. Anything you need me to tell her?" He had five minutes to get on board before Steaphanie would lose her take-off window and her temper.
"Nah, just let her know the students miss her and so do I."
Sean smiled and clasped the young man on the shoulder. "I'll do that, Thomas. Now, clear that rat-trap you call a car off the runway so I can get out of here."
"Yes, sir!" Thomas ran back to his Pinto and cleared the runway.
Sean climbed back up the stairway into the cabin of the Flyer then pulled the door shut and secured it. Before he made it to his seat, Steaphanie was revving the engines up to take off speed, by the time he had sat down and secured his belt, she was taxing down the runway. Glancing at his watch, he noted that the plane left the ground at exactly 0400hrs. He waited until the plane leveled out and got out of his seat to approach the flight deck.
Steaphanie was in the pilot's seat, leaving Coran the co-pilot for this flight. She leveled out the plane and engaged the autopilot, then turned to face one of her friends' husband. "Well, was that a smooth enough take off for you, Jar-head?"
Sean smiled; she was one of the few people he allowed to get away with that particular nickname for him. "Sure was, Fly-baby. But then, I've had 'real' pilots take me up in harriers, so this is like a cake walk."
"Oh, you two, it's too early to listen to the two of you exchange inter-service insults!" Coran covered his ears to emphasize his point.
"Really? And just when I had a really good one to 'zing' the cannon fodder with." Steaphanie looked at Coran and smiled.
"No. Not until I've had a few more hours of shuteye. Sean? Want my seat?" Coran got up and carefully pushed his way past the large detective to head back to the passenger cabin and one of the couches there.
Sean sat down in the co-pilot's seat and raised an eyebrow towards the female pilot. "Well? You gonna tell me your 'zinger'?"
"Sure. I only packed one chute."
"I HEARD THAT! NOT FUNNY STEAPH!" Coran's voice floated up to them from the back.
The two on the flight deck glanced at each other and started to laugh. They finally settled and while she kept an eye on the flight controls, Sean watched the passing landscape below, waiting for the sun to come up and paint the land. After the snores could be heard coming from Coran, over the engine noise no less, Sean pulled out the note that Thomas had handed him. "Steaphanie, have you ever heard Mike speak of a Alex Krycek?"
Snapping her head around she stared at him. "Who?"
"Krycek. Oh, man I've not heard that name in years!"
"Yeah, he used to live with Moiré and Mike back in the late seventies. A foster child that no one wanted for very long -- Alex was a real handful. But once he went to live with Moiré, he settled down. What makes you ask about him?"
He handed the note over to her. "He came to see Mike at the College yesterday, but Thomas thought it strange that he didn't know Mike on sight when he claimed to have gone to school with her in Rainier. She hasn't changed that much since then, has she?"
"No. But Alex didn't go to Rainier, he went to the University of Tulsa for a year, and then we lost track of him. It was like he just disappeared." Reading the note in the light from the map light overhead, she recognized the writing. "Well, that is Alex's handwriting. But I doubt he's an archaeologist."
"That's what I was thinking. I met a Krycek once, while I was active duty. Took an instant dislike to the man."
Steaphanie handed the note back to Sean. "That sure sounds like Alex. He was one of those people you either liked, or hated. There was no in between with him."
"Thanks, Steaph. We high up enough for me to work the sat-phone?"
Checking her altitude, she said, "Sure. But take it to the back, I don't trust those things on the flight deck."
Sean got up, pulling the latest in phone technology from inside his coat. He walked all the way back to the rear of the plane before activating the device. He dialed the number to the Cascade Arms in hopes that he wasn't about to wake up his wife, but then not really caring if he did. If the Krycek that had spent a few years with the Michaels was the same one he had met, the man was a Skunk Worker. A wet man. And Sean didn't believe that his appearance in Willow Springs was a mere coincidence. The ringing on the line ended with a male voice answering.
Startled, Sean merely mumbled, "Sorry, wrong room," and broke the connection. He sat back on an overstuffed couch and decided to try another tactic. Relaxing his mind, then his body, he put all he could into forming the image of his Guardian and Wife and trying to instill in her the idea for her to call him. After ten minutes, he gave up. Apparently they could only do such things when in close proximity of each other. So he tried something else. He knew that he practically recorded everything he heard; all he had to do was backtrack to the short phone call to Caragh's room and replay it, slowly.
As he filtered out the sounds on the line he came to the realization that there had been a number of people in the background in his wife's room. They had been quiet, but he could clearly recall one saying, "Bag it. We'll get it down to the lab and let Serena tell us what it is."
Sean came back to the present, wondering what had happened in his wife's room that something was being handled like evidence and being taken to a lab. Damn, am I going to be too late after all? Mike, what have you gotten yourself into now?