Secrets, Books and Murder

Part 8

Suisan "Sue" R.

 

Cascade, Washington

One hour before Dawn, 25 January

Jim wasn't surprised to find himself awake at his normal time, despite the fact that he'd fallen asleep only a few hours before. Extricating himself from the blankets and sheets on the couch, he made his way to the bathroom and made his morning ablutions in record time, dressing in a pair of loose sweats that he'd learned to keep there, under the sink, for emergencies. He was just stepping out of the room when one of the two heartbeats he'd been monitoring spiked. Listening carefully, he realized it was Caragh McConnel's heart that had just decided to race suddenly. He didn't suppress the grin that came to his face when he heard her cursing under her breath. Deciding that his houseguest was probably up for the day, he walked into the kitchen and put on a pot of coffee.


Caragh woke up, shooting to an upright position so fast that her head spun for a moment. When she gathered herself, she thought back to what had brought her to the conscious world. "Damn it, Sean. Never should've taught you that trick." Getting out of the large bed, she looked over the railing to the large windows below and realized that the sky was turning the pearl gray color of near dawn. "Might as well stay up now." She kept her voice low, not wanting to wake Jim, whose ears were more than a match for her husbands. Going over to her overnight bag, she pulled out a pair of heather gray sweat pants and pulled them on. She then pulled out the clothes that she planned on wearing today, and her toiletry bag and made her way down the stairs, stopping at the bottom when she realized that she smelled fresh brewing coffee. Looking over towards the couches, she didn't see anyone lying there, so she stepped down the final step and peeked into the kitchen. Oops! I hope I didn't wake him. Damn, those blue sweats look good on him! She blushed at her thoughts as she stepped into the kitchen.

"Hope I didn't wake you?"

Jim turned around and smiled. "Nah, old habits die hard. I've been getting up at the crack of dawn since I was a kid. Coffee?"

Caragh smiled and nodded. "Thanks." She reached out and took the offered mug, the same one from earlier, and sipped the bitter brew. "Ah, the nectar of the Gods, or cops."

He chuckled. "Not sure about the Gods, but this is one cop who'll agree with you." He nodded towards Blair's room. "Sandburg should be asleep a little while longer, go grab some hot water while you can."

Caragh looked down at the armful of items she had shifted to grab the coffee mug. "Gee, that was excellent detective work there, Ellison." She put the half-finished mug down on the counter and shifted her load again. "I'll be quick about it... "

"Don't bother. I've already had my shower, and Blair usually doesn't rise until after seven, so feel free."

"Ten minutes. And you won't even know I had been in there, except for the steam." She dashed down the hall into the bathroom, softly closing the door behind her.

Jim took advantage of her absence to run up to his room and change into his work clothes for the day. Knowing the weather was going to turn later in the day, he pulled out his black corduroys and dark blue turtleneck, grabbing his gray sport coat to wear later. He was just coming back down the stairs when Caragh stepped out of the bathroom.

Years of living on the go as a student, both in the dorms and on expeditions, and being married to a former military man, Caragh had learned to make the most of her morning wake up showers in the least amount of time. In five minutes, she was in and out of the shower, in six, she was pulling her fingers through her unruly hair. By seven she was fully dried off and getting dressed. By eight, the hair was untangled enough to suit and today, she took an extra minute to pull it back. By nine, she was gathering up all her stuff, placing the towels she'd used into the hamper, at ten she was leaving the room.

Jim was amazed. Yesterday, she'd been dressed in dark colors that only added to her air of mystery. Today, she looked more like a student at Rainier, not a businesswoman or Doctor of Anthropology. She wore faded blue jeans, a white button down oxford, with a short green velvet vest, the black leather belt matching perfectly with the boots that she held in her hands. And her hair, which had been flying loose earlier, had been tamed with no less than six barrettes. The first pair pulling her bangs backs away from her face; the second pair pulling the sides up and back, joining the long strands of bangs. The final pair gathered in more hair from the sides and fastened at the nape of her neck, creating one smooth look that left only the mass of hair from her neck down to her waist free.

"See? Told you I'd be quick." She smiled up at him and took in his well-coordinated appearance. "Oh? Have court today?" She gestured at the jacket slung over his arm as he came down the last of the stairs.

"Nope. I'll need the coat later, we've got a cold front due to push through today from Alaska." He walked over to the coat rack and hung the jacket on a hook, and then pushing his long sleeves up on his arms he walked back into the kitchen. "You picky about what you eat for breakfast or can I fix what I like?"

Caragh stopped at the steps. "You cook too? Now I'm really surprised you don't have a Missus. If I ever decide to trade Sean in for another model, I'll look you up." She smiled and barely kept from laughing out loud at Jim as he blushed, right up to his hairline. "No, I'm not picky. Just no toast or anything with carbs." She walked up the stairs to put her stuff away, leaving the sentinel to his own devices in the kitchen.

"No Carbs?" Jim muttered to himself as he pulled the eggs and bacon from the refrigerator and started to heat up the pans. "Well, at least she doesn't do those green algae shakes like the Chief."


Jim was just finishing up the bacon, Caragh assisting with the eggs, when Blair poked his head out from his room. Jim poured the younger man a cup of coffee and handed it off to him as he passed by the kitchen on his way to the bathroom; a routine that went so smoothly that Caragh knew they'd been doing it for a long time. She was pulling the last of her 'egg concoctions' out of the large frying pan when Blair returned, looking a little more awake and not so bed tossed.

"Morning, Jim, Mike. Is that what I think it is?" Blair pointed to the plates that were half covered with an egg dish he hadn't seen in years.

Caragh smiled. "Well, if you're thinking it's one of my fritatas, yes." She grabbed up two of the plates, heading out to the table, leaving Jim to bring his own and the coffeepot.

Blair let out a 'whoop' and grabbed a carafe of orange juice and a jar of salsa from the refrigerator and juggled those with a couple of glasses made his way to the table behind them. "I haven't had a fritata since you went back home, Mike. Jim, these are great! You'll love them, trust me."

"I watched what she put in there, Chief. It's basically an omelet that you don't fold, just mix it up and let it slowly cook until it's got a bit of a crust to it and the eggs are done." He'd never heard of the dish until Caragh had taken the duty of cooking the eggs upon herself, and after rummaging through the 'fridge for ingredients, came up with this. He sat down and waited until the other two had joined him and then they all dug in.

Sitting back, hands resting on a full stomach, Jim commented, "Mike, that was good. Glad I watched so that I can make it in the future."

"You're welcome. It's pretty much standard fare for Sean and I. You can throw just about anything into a fritata: cheeses, veggies, and meat, what have you. Great way to clear out the leftovers." Caragh wrinkled her nose. "Well, most of them. Blair, just what was that in the green-lidded bowl on the third shelf? Jim said it was one of your dishes?"

Blair stopped to think for a minute. "Oh, that? Tongue."

Caragh shuddered. "You still eat that stuff?"

"Hey, it's not bad, Jim likes it once in a while too. Ever since Naomi introduced him to it."

"But not after it's been in the 'fridge for over a week, Chief. I have to draw the line somewhere."

"Yeah, okay I can see that. Guess I should get rid of it?"

"That might be a good idea, Blayre, before it grows legs and walks out of there on it's own." Caragh sipped the last of her coffee and stood up. "I'll go gather my things out of your room, Jim. I'll be right back."

Jim watched as she ascended the stairs and Blair got up to gather the dirty dishes. Sighing, he got up to help his roommate out. "Chief, you still thinking about last night?"

"Yeah, I guess I owe Mike an apology. I finished the book when I woke up, if Mike is a guide, then there's a damn good chance that she knew instinctively what you are." He started the dishwater running, "Of course, there's your theory that she's been working with sentinel, or has worked with one in the past, that could explain her reaction to you at the airport too, man."

Caragh overheard Blair as she came back down the stairs, her bags in her hands. They have to know, especially Jim -- and now, before Sean arrives. He's close, but how close does he have to be before the two of them, the Protector and the Sentinel, start reacting to each other's presence? Setting her bags down, she cleared her throat. "I've done both, Blayre. Worked with a sentinel in the past and am working with one now."

Blair and Jim turned to face her; it was the guide that found his voice first. "Why didn't you tell me about this earlier, Mike?"

Caragh walked over to one of the couches and sat down, waiting until both men had joined her in the room before answering. "Blayre, I wanted to, years ago. And then when that incident with your doctoral thesis came about last year, I was all set to rush to your side with evidence that would validate your paper. Then, I caught the coverage of your little press conference." She closed her eyes and shook her head. "It nearly killed me to think that I could've saved you from that humiliation, but then a wise woman pointed out to me that you were doing your job. Protecting your Sentinel. Guarding Jim's privacy, his life."

The two men looked at each other, both remembering that time with no small amount of pain. Jim had gotten his life back, his career was saved, but at the cost of Blair's life long dream. Then came the offer from Simon Banks and Chief Warren -- a job with the department, a chance to go through the academy and then returning to Major Crimes as a full fledged detective. Blair had accepted the offer, gone through the academy, surprising everyone but Jim. He graduated with top honors, including his 'expert' pin for firearms. Then the kid had done something that had surprised everyone: He'd gone back to the university, almost begging on his knees, for the chance just to get back into the doctoral program. It had taken weeks of meetings, but he was able to finally present the thesis he'd been planning on turning in, the one about the closed society of Law Enforcement. The review board had been suitably impressed. Not just by the new, and factual, thesis, but by his commitment to his former school. He was back in, and after nearly a year on 'probation', he was back to teaching -- under the constraints that he not bring up anything about his 'sentinel' studies or if a student asked he was to not comment on it at all. And he still kept his commission with the police force.

Blair cleared his throat, trying to get the tightness to loosen up a bit. "Mike, I'm letting that go. I never should've kept writing that thesis after I realized I had 'gone native' while studying my subject. But I have to ask, why do you think Jim here is a Sentinel?"

She didn't answer right away, just reached across the table and grabbed up one of his hands. The connection was quick. Caragh gasped as she glimpsed the spirit that was Blair's guide, the gray wolf, and heard him gasp as well. Letting go of his hand, she looked into his eyes. "That's how. When I touched Jim at the airport, I saw his spirit guide, and heard my own roaring at me, as if she was scolding me. Then, to test the theory, I whispered at a level only a Protect... a Sentinel could possibly hear."

Jim leaned over to check on his roommate, who was still gasping for air. "Chief? You okay? What did you see?"

Blair shook his head, brown curls flying, and then dropped his head into his hands. "Oh, man! That was really intense! Cool as hell, but way too weird."

"Chief?"

"I saw that damn dragon again, Jim. The one from the dream a couple of days ago?"

"That's your spirit guide, Mike?" Jim looked over at the woman, who was now leaning back against the back of the couch.

She let a waning smile creep to her face. "Well, if you saw a dragon, colored with all the colors of a glorious fall, then yes. Blair saw my guide. One of them anyway."

"You have two?"

"Yes, I do," she answered Blair.

"Wow, according to all that I've read and studied about shamanism, you should only have one -- unless you're more powerful than most. Then you might attract more than a single spirit."

Caragh shrugged. "I don't know about that, Cub. I just know that the dragon has always been there for the Guardians and the wolf, my wolf, has been there for me since I was seven years old."

Jim looked at her, his gazed switching over to Blair, then back to Caragh. "Mike? You started to call me something else earlier. Was it 'Protector'?" She nodded. "That's your term for a Sentinel, so I'm going to guess that a Guardian is another term for a Shaman who happens to guide the Protector? That's why you and Sean are so tied up in the Wilkins case. Because of that book by James Wilkins?"

Caragh nodded. "Yeah. My family has been Guardians and/or Protectors for a long time. The Protector watches out for the Clan, or Tribe, and it's the duty of the Guardian to guard the Protector's back."

Jim nodded, just taking in the information. He knew what Blair had done in the past, and continued to do, to watch his back in the situations that they faced. The younger man had done more than most partners on the police force would do, even back when he was just an observer. Since gaining his detective's badge and being officially partnered with him, the situations had gotten worse, not better.

"Mike, you said you still work with a, what did you call it, a Protector?"

"Yes. Have for about seven years now."

Jim looked at her, and then spoke up. "It's your husband, Sean. Isn't it?"

Caragh was startled, but nodded her affirmative. Her hands clutched in her lap. "And I need to inform you, we are about to face a potential problem that I have no experience with."

Blair sat forward, leaning towards her. "Oh? What kind of problem?"

"Sean's on his way here. A Protector is about to enter a Sentinel's territory. I have no idea how that will affect either of them."

Blair got up from the couch and started pacing. "Oh, man! This is not good! I'm not sure I can go through that again!"

Jim got up, grabbed his guide by the shoulders and halted the younger man's pacing. "You won't have to, Chief. This time I know. I'll need your help, though."

Caragh watched and listened to the two of them, then sprang up from her seat. "You two have been through this before?"

Jim nodded, not happy with the memories that were being dredged up this morning. "It was almost two years ago, but yeah. We've been through it."

"And survived, Jim. We both did. Remember that, buddy. We came through that trial by fire with flying colors, and you're a better Sentinel now that you've been there." Blair clutched his friend's arms, in an effort to reaffirm the fact that he was here, that Alex Barnes was no longer a threat to either of them. That it was over.

Caragh backed off. She'd try to get the story later; she could see the pain on the faces of the two men before her. Pain from the memories she had brought to the surface for them. "I won't ask for details, not yet. Maybe later? Before Sean gets here?"

Blair turned to her and nodded. "Sure. Later. Any idea when your husband will arrive here in Cascade?"

She wasn't even aware that she had closed her eyes, mentally reaching out to 'touch' her Protector, until she felt the steadying hands on her arms. Opening her eyes, Caragh found both of them -- Guide and Sentinel, steadying her. "Sorry about that. I'm guessing, but about two hours?"

"What the hell did you just do, Mike?" Blair had noticed that her color had faded when she had closed her eyes, and had rushed to her side to catch her should she pass out. Jim had been right behind him.

"You and Jim can't 'touch' each other? You haven't bonded yet?"

"Bonded?" Jim shook his head. "You make it sound like we should be married or something."

Caragh shook her head. "No. There is a bond that usually forms between a Protector and his Guardian. In times of great need or stress, one or the other can reach out and, well, psychically 'touch' the other. The stronger the bond, the greater the stress, the clearer the touch can be. Sometimes it can border on telepathy."

"And you and Sean are bonded?" Blair asked. She nodded. "How? How do you become bonded?"

"Chief... "

"No, think about it, Jim! With all the trouble we get into, this could be added to our arsenal against crime." He chuckled. "And with all the psychos I seem to attract, we might just need it."

"Okay, I agree with you there." Jim looked back down at Caragh. "Well, Mike? Just how does this 'bonding' work?"

"Just a second, let me try something first." She closed her eyes again, felt both of them shift as they tightened their grips on her arms -- just in case, and opened up her mind to them. There! They are connected, just not bonded. Not strongly anyway. Taking a deep breath, she opened her eyes again. "You two can relax the death grips, I'm fine. And you two are connected already. You just need to strengthen the connection by practicing. I'll show you how later."

"Later?"

"Yes, I still want to get over to the hospital this morning, check on Steaphan and then I believe that I have statements to sign at the station?"

Jim nodded. "She's right, Blair. It can wait." Glancing at his watch, he said, "If we leave now, I can get us over to Cascade General by the time visiting hours start, if we can swing by the station and let you sign those papers first?" He let go of her arm and walked over to the coat rack, shrugging into his jacket. "Chief? What are your plans for the day?" Caragh approached, carrying both of her bags, he took her large overnighter and put it on the floor by the door. "Oh no you don't. You're staying here until we can establish whether or not you're a target or not."

Caragh shrugged. "Fine. Whatever."

"Uh, I thought I'd run over to the University and pick up some papers and then meet you over at the station around noon?" Blair had noticed how protective of Caragh Jim was becoming, but it didn't worry him, just reassured him that his old friend was under the best possible protection there was.

"Fine. Rafe will meet you at the campus. With Brown out for a day or two to recover from his undercover assignment, he needs something to do. And the unmarked unit that's sitting outside will follow you to the University, so don't try to shake them."

"You had a unit watching the loft? All night?"

"Blair, you and Mike are possible targets of a person that we have no idea what they really want. And while I trust myself, Simon thought the extra protection was the better course to follow."

"Oh. Okay, I can see that."

"Good. You ready, Mike?" He opened the door to let himself and the Guardian out.

"Yeah. You know, making the bonding between the two of you looks like it's going to be easier than I thought." She pulled on her trench coat and stepped out the door, then followed the detective down to the man's truck.

 

Cascade, Washington

Mid Morning, 25 January

Caragh Michaels-McConnel sat in the passenger seat of the classic blue and white Ford pick up as Jim Ellison pulled out into the light traffic outside the Cascade Police Department. Jim had insisted that they stop by the precinct first, so she could sign her statements from yesterday and meet his Captain. But Simon Banks hadn't been in his office, and his secretary, Rhonda, had informed them he probably wouldn't make it back to the division until later that morning. So they left, informing the secretary they were heading over to Cascade General and after that, they really didn't know.

Jim wondered what had come over Caragh since they left the parking garage of the precinct; she'd been quiet. "Mike? Anything wrong?" he asked as he started to pull into the visitor's lot of the hospital.

"Do I look that much like Blair? I've never seen so many people do double takes as everyone in the precinct house did."

Jim pulled into a parking space marked 'For Police Vehicles Only', turned off the engine and looked over at his passenger. "Yeah, you do, Mike. Surely you noticed it in the past?"

Caragh shook her head, her hair bouncing on her shoulders. "No, not really. I mean, we were called the 'trouble-twins' in school, but I never really thought we looked that much alike."

Smiling, he opened the truck's door and got out, watching as she did the same. Together they walked up to the main entrance of the hospital. "Not only do you two look alike, you also have similar heart beats and, I'm probably stepping over the line here, but you kinda smell alike too."

She stopped dead in her tracks. "WHAT?" Seeing that he wasn't slowing down, she ran to catch up to Jim, grabbing him by the arm to get his full attention. "Explain that last remark, Detective!"

Looking around, he spotted a quiet corner of the lobby and dragged her over to it. "Mike, it's true. I'm not sure if it's because you both use some of the same hygiene products or what, but you do share a similar scent."

Blood draining from her face, Caragh leaned against the wall behind her. "Jim, please tell me you're joking. Please?"

Gazing down into her green eyes, Jim almost kicked himself for commenting on what his nose had been telling him about his guest. Bringing his hands up to her shoulders, he decided to come clean. "It's true, Mike. Blair and I have done plenty of 'testing' on this, particular aspect to the sentinel thing. We used Captain Banks and his son, Daryl, as controls. Then one time I tried it out on him and his mom. Hell, there was even one time that I had the chance to try it out on one of the Chief's 'cousins', only to have the biological connection confirmed."

"I never thought that a sentinel, or protector, could 'smell' the family connection." Caragh dropped her eyes. "But I refuse to believe that Blayre and I could possibly be related. I mean, my folks died when I was two years old, I had no brothers or sisters. Are you sure about this, Jim?"

He didn't answer, just nodded. "Caragh, Blair's two years your junior, and while he has the same scent characteristics as Naomi, he also shares some of those characteristics with you."

Caragh pushed off the wall. "Fine. I'll buy that. For now. But it looks like I have a bit of digging to do once I get back to the Caer." Looking up at the detective, she nodded towards the information desk. "Let's go find out where they have stuffed my pilot and after I check on him, I'll grab my rental and head out to the airfield."

"Not without me, you won't." He followed her over to the desk, which was manned by volunteers, and stood back as she inquired about her friend.


Stepping into room 512, Caragh was grateful to see that Steaphan Shannon was awake, and didn't have any roommates to contend with. "Steve! How you feeling there, partner?"

He looked up to see not only Caragh walking into the room, but the same tall man that had helped him out at the airfield. "I'm fine, Mike. At least that's what these damn drugs are telling me." He held up his right arm, which had an IV attached. "One little problem, though. I'm grounded for at least two weeks." He looked pointedly down at his shoulder, which was swathed in bandages.

Caragh smiled as she sat down on the edge of the bed. "Don't worry about that. I'm sure that Moiré's made the proper plans. After all, she had the joy of telling Steaphy that you'd been hurt."

Steaphan moaned, "Oh, great! That means I have to put up with a hovering sister and, knowing Moiré, a over protective Coran." Shaking himself out of his doldrums, he looked at the other visitor. "So, Mike? You gonna tell me who your friend is?"

"Sorry. Bad manners, again. Steaphan Shannon, I'd like you to meet Detective Jim Ellison. Jim? This is Steaphan, pilot for the De Danu Corporation and one of my best friends."

Jim stepped forward and shook the pilot's hand. "Glad to hear that you're going to be okay, Mr. Shannon."

Steaphan shook the man's hand, finding the grip firm. "Please, just Steven. 'Mr. Shannon' sounds like I should be my father's age or something. You were at the airport last night, weren't you?"

Caragh got up off the bed, moving towards the window of the room, knowing that Jim would need to get started on Steaphan's statement. She lost herself in her thoughts, unconsciously reaching out to see if she could 'touch' her husband again.

"Yes, I was. Surprised that you can remember that. You were pretty out of it by the time I found you." Jim reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a micro recorder. "I'd like to talk with you about last night, if you feel up to it?"

"I feel up to it, I refused to take the pain shot that the nurses wanted to give me this morning, so all I have in my system right now is antibiotics and some kind of saline solution." Steaphan hit the control on the side of the bed so that he could sit up straighter. After getting settled, he gestured towards the recorder in the other's hand. "Whenever you're ready, Detective."

Caragh came back to awareness about then. "Uh, excuse me? Jim? I'll just step outside for a few minutes while you do this." She moved towards the door.

"Why, Mike? I'm sure that the detective doesn't mind you being here while I do this."

She stopped and looked back over her shoulder. "Sorry, Steve. But I was involved in the incident last night too. Can't hear your statement, less it contaminate my testimony later."

Jim nodded, now firmly convinced that she had to be a good officer of the law. "Steven, Mike's right. She can't be here. If we catch the man that did this to you, she'll have to testify, like you will, and her statement cannot be allowed to get contaminated." He turned to face her. "The guard should be right outside, stay with him, Mike."

"I will, Jim." And she left the room.

Thumbing on the recorder, Jim turned back to his witness. "Okay, let's get started. This is Detective James J. Ellison, badge number 714, about to interview one Steaphan Shannon, an employee of the De Danu Corporation of Willow Springs, Arkansas. Mr. Shannon, could you please give me your full name, with correct spelling, and then we'll go over what happen on the evening of January 24th?"


Caragh had stepped out into the hall, pausing to lean against the door, and spotted the uniformed patrolman that was watching her with interest. She overheard Jim start the interview, then pushed off the door and walked over to the nurse's station where the patrolman was standing. Glancing down at the officer's nameplate, she smiled at him. "Hello, Officer Lowenstein. Detective Ellison asked me to wait out here with you. Hope you don't mind?"

The young officer nodded. "Not a problem. Ellison taking a statement?"

"Yeah." She dug into her back bag and pulled out her cell phone. "Do you think my using this in here will interfere with any of the equipment?"

"Not sure. Let's ask." He leaned over the desk and quietly asked the question of the nurse sitting there working on a chart. She looked up at him, and then over to Caragh, who held up the cell phone for her to see, then turned back to the officer. He straightened up and turned back to face her. "Uh, she said that it might be better if you go to the end of the hall, near the elevators."

"Okay. I'll be right back." Heading down the hallway, making sure to stay within the officer's sight, she opened up the cell phone and dialed a familiar number. After four rings, the other end was picked up.

"Hello?"

"Sean. Hi, it's me."

"Mike! How are you? Everything okay?"

"I'm fine. How far out are you from Cascade? And don't lie to me, I know you're enroute." She leaned against the wall, facing down the hallway towards room 512 and the nursing station, waved at the officer, who smiled back at her.

Sean wasn't surprised to find out that his wife knew he was close. "That connection thing again, huh?"

"Yeah."

"Let me ask Steaphy. Hang on." He got up from the couch he was sitting on and walked up to the flight deck. "Steaphy? Mike's on the horn, wants to know when we'll be landing?"

"How did she know?" Steaphanie looked over her shoulder at her passenger. "Never mind, I do not want to know. Coran? Our ETA?"

Coran Flint looked at his instruments, then back at Sean. "About 45 minutes. Maybe a little more, we still have to get landing clearance from the tower."

"Thanks." Sean brought the phone back up to his mouth and walked back towards the couch. "Mike? Coran says about 45 minutes?"

"Okay, I'll meet you there. Oh, and tell Steaphy that Steven's okay. He's giving his statement to Ellison right now."

"Will pass that on. He get grounded?"

"Yeah. Two weeks. Looks like Coran will have to put in some flight time." Caragh heard the elevator open beside her, but didn't pay too much attention to the people getting off. "Look, Sean, I'd love to talk longer, but you know how expensive these calls can be. I'll meet you at the airfield. We need to talk, privately."

Sean felt the hairs on the back of his neck go up. "Privately? Mike? What's up?"

"I'll tell you when you get here. Until then, don't do anything. If I'm late, you wait at hanger 18. Got that?"

"Hanger 18. I got it."

"Good. See you in about 45 minutes. Love you."

"Love you too."

She disconnected the call and looked back up the hall. The officer wasn't paying much attention to her, leaning back over the desk, talking with the nurse, and Jim hadn't come out of Steaphan's room yet. She placed the cell phone back in her bag and started back up the hall. As she passed the stairwell door, she felt someone grab her, covering her mouth before she could scream. Instincts and training kicked in and she tried to break her assailant's hold on her, only to have her efforts rewarded with a hard clout to the head.


Jim turned off the recorder. "Thanks, Steven. I'd like to have a sketch artist come up later and see if we can't get a better idea what this fellow looks like. You gave a pretty good description."

"Okay. I'm not sure that I can help much, but I'm willing to try." Steaphan noticed that the detective had gone still, his head cocked to one side. 'Like he's listening to something.'

"Damn, excuse me, Steven." And with that parting comment, Jim heading out of the room into the hallway. Spotting the assigned officer over at the nurse's station, he walked over to him. "Lowenstein, where's McConnel? The woman that came in with me?"

Lowenstein looked up at the man walking towards him. "She went to make a phone call." He pointed down the hall to where he'd last seen the woman in question. "Damn! She was just there. Not more than a minute ago."

Jim turned on his heel and walked towards the elevators, but stopped by the stairwell entrance. The door was being held open by a strap of leather. Pushing the door open, he found Caragh's leather bag on the floor. " Shit." Turning back to the officer who had followed him, he said, "Call it in, Mark. And stay close to Shannon."

"Yes, sir. You going up or down?" he asked, pulling his radio free of its holder on his belt.

Jim paused to listen for a second. "Down." And with that, he took off down the stairwell.


Caragh came back to the real world, just as her assailant pushed her through a door that led into the parking garage for the hospital staff. She stiffened in the hard grip that the man had on her, and was surprised when he spun her around to face him.

"Sorry about that, Mike. But I have to talk to you," the man said.

"Alex! What the hell?" She felt her knees give way under her and didn't resist the pull of gravity. What did surprise her were his actions. He caught her and gently lowered her to the hard concrete floor.

"Sorry about that, I didn't mean to hit you so hard."

Her ire was rising; she could feel her pulse pounding in her head. "Alexi Krycekovich. Are you the one behind the attack on Steaphan?"

He cradled her head in his lap. "No. I'm not. But I think I might know, or rather my boss might, and who is behind the attack and the theft of the books. As well as Art Wilkins' murder."

Caragh reached up and grasped his arm. "Who? And how can I trust you, Alex? I don't even know whom you're working for anymore. And what the hell happened to your arm?!"

"You really don't want to know, Caragh. Can you stand up?" He got to his feet and helped her to her own. "Dizzy?"

"A little." She put a hand on the back of her head where he had clobbered her. "You still pack a mean wallop, there." Dropping her hand, she looked up at her former foster brother. "So, tell me."

Alex pulled her forward to check on the knot he had given her. "Sorry about that, you're gonna have one heck of a goose egg Mike."

"I'll live. So tell me, what do you know?"

Alex let her go, and stepped away a few paces to where he could cover the door to the stairwell and make a break to his car if needed. "It's a long story, but the group I work for now got interested in the thefts. My boss knows you have the book from the Wilkins scene and wants to discuss it with you."

"I thought you said that you weren't behind any of this?" Her head started to pound again, so she leaned against a car, trying to orient herself again as another dizzy spell hit.

"We're not. I'm not real sure who is, my boss might know when he gets here later, but for now, I'm just not sure." He looked towards the stairwell door again, getting anxious about being in one place too long. "Look, Mike. You've got to trust me. Meet me this evening. The old Cascade Times warehouse on 54th."

"Will your 'boss' be there?"

"Yes."

She nodded, the action causing her to get dizzy again. By the time she looked back up, Alex was gone. "Great. I'm making deals with the devil that was once my brother." Caragh slid down the side of the car, dropping her head into hands. "Who still packs a mean punch, and somehow lost his arm in the years since I saw him last." She looked toward the stairwell entrance, just as the door flew open to reveal a pissed off Sentinel. Giving up the fight to remain conscious, she let go and let the darkness claim her.


Jim had pelted helter-skelter down the stairwell, following the scent of Caragh McConnel and the leather and sweat smell of whomever had grabbed her. Just as he hit the first floor landing, he heard voices; one of them was Caragh's. Not pausing to filter out other sounds, he tried to do it on the run, only to catch the last few comments.

"... this evening. The old Cascade Times warehouse on 54th."

" Will your boss be there?"

" Yes."

The voices faded as he hit the next to last landing before reaching the garage level. Getting to the door, he pushed it open, causing it to bounce on its hinges. Gun drawn, he scanned the garage and spotted Caragh sitting on the floor by a red Geo Storm. As he watched, she slumped over and came to rest on the ground. He didn't realize that he still had his hearing wide open until the sound of a car gunning it's engine and then squealing out of the parking garage sent him into a tailspin. By the time he had managed to grab his control dials and wrestle them back to a manageable level, he was sure that Caragh's assailant had gotten away.

Getting back up on his feet, he made his way over to her, just as units came screaming into the garage. Jim carefully turned her over and checked her out. He found the knot on her head just as Caragh was coming back around. "Mike? Lie still a minute, I need to check you out a little further."

She didn't listen to him, but pushed him away and sat back up. "I'm fine, Jim. Just a knock to the head. At the most, I have a minor concussion, nothing I haven't had before."

"You should still get it checked." Jim climbed back to his feet and then pulled her up.

"Later. I need to get my bag and get out to the airport."

"Ellison! What the hell happened here?!"

Caragh winced and turned to see who had just bellowed, only to spot a tall, well-dressed black man approaching her and Jim. A cigar was clamped between his teeth, and gold-framed glasses called attention to his rather expressive eyes. Eyes that currently showed just how mad the man was.

"Captain. I just found Mrs. McConnel, haven't had time to ask her," Jim answered.

"McConnel?" Simon lowered his voice, as he got closer to them. "As in your witness from last night?"

"The very same."

Simon looked at the woman, who was holding the bridge of her nose, pinching it actually, much like he did when he had a headache building. "Mrs. McConnel? You all right?" She dropped her hand and he looked at her in surprise. "Damn! Jim? What the hell is going on?"

From the captain's reaction, Jim guessed that he was surprised to see a female Blair look-a-like. "Before you ask, Simon, no, she's not. As for what happened, I came out of Shannon's room to find that Mike here had disappeared on me. I tracked her to the stairwell and followed a hunch that brought me down here."

Simon realized that Jim was telling him, without telling him, that he had used his heightened senses to track the woman. "You found her here?"

"Yes, sir."

Simon turned back to the young woman. "Mrs. McConnel, did you get a look at your attacker?"

Caragh had been following the conversation, and guessed that this was Jim's boss, the man she was to have met this morning at the station. Not sure how much the Captain knew, about Jim's being a Sentinel, she answered, "Not much of one. I know it was a man, that he clobbered me after dragging me into the stairwell, after that, it's all blurry."

Jim looked at her, and then moved in closer to her side, as if to support her. He thought he knew why she was being reluctant and whispered in her ear, "It's okay, Mike. Simon here knows about me."

Looking up at Jim, she nodded then looked back at the captain. "Sorry, Captain." She kept her voice low, so as to not let it echo around the underground garage. "I know who my 'attacker' was. It was my brother."

Simon rocked back on his heels. "Jim, take her up to the Emergency room, get her checked out. Then I want you both in my office as soon as you can get there." He wandered off, dispersing the patrol officers who had responded to the call.

"You heard the Captain, McConnel. Let's go." Jim wrapped his arm around her waist, feeling the gun in its holster that she had placed in the small of her back. "I'm surprised your 'brother' didn't disarm you, he had plenty of time."

Caragh leaned into the detective's strength. "Alex wouldn't do that to me. Do I really need to go the ER, Jim? Sean and the others are due to land at the airfield," she glanced down at her watch, "in twenty minutes. I need to be there."

Jim opened the door to the stairs and looked up to see Lowenstein coming down holding Caragh's bag. He led her into the stairwell and looked down into her eyes. "You're going to be stubborn about this, aren't you?"

She let a weak grin cross her face. "What do you think?"

Sighing, Jim knew he'd lost the battle before he'd even had a chance to really engage the Anthropologist. "Fine." He nodded to Lowenstein as Caragh reached out to reclaim the bag from the patrolman. "But I'll drive us out to the airfield. No argument."

Caragh slipped her bag over her shoulder. "No argument."

The three of them headed up the stairs, Jim and Caragh leaving at the first floor, Lowenstein continued up to the fifth floor and back to his post. The patrolman thought it was rather nice of the detective to make sure that the victim got to the ER okay, not realizing that the two in question were, in fact, bypassing the ER and heading out to the parking lot where Caragh's rental car was still parked.


The ride out to the Cascade Airfield was uneventful. Caragh sat in the passenger seat of her rented Suburban, nursing a hellish headache, while Jim drove through the downtown traffic towards the northern outskirts of the city. She refused to look at the sentinel, but knew every time he looked at her, apparently gauging her reactions to stimuli: car horns blaring suddenly, squealing tires, the flash of sunlight off windshields that would catch her across the eyes. She knew what her reactions were, why they were so sharp, and knew that there was nothing she could really do about them.

So she coped, clamping down on her emotions to hold back the rage building inside. Rage at herself for letting Alex take her so easily, at Alex for knocking her out, herself again for possibly believing Alex after all these years, and insanely enough, rage at Sean for rushing in where angels would fear to tread, the territory of another Protector.

Just as they pulled through the security gate at the airfield, she caught him. He looked away quickly, but not fast enough.

"Jim, stop it. And don't try to pretend that you don't know what I'm talking about either."

"'Kay then, I won't. But damn it, you need to be in the ER, not rushing around Cascade." He could feel his jaw muscles clenching, as he turned down the access road that would lead to hanger 18.

Caragh looked at him. "Damn, your dentist must love you. Ever snapped a tooth yet?"

He didn't even try to hold back, he laughed. "Not yet." He pulled into a parking slot outside of the hanger. "This is where you told Sean and crew to meet you?"

"Yeah." She climbed out of the large SUV and walked around to where the side entrance, knowing Jim was following her, Caragh held up at the door. "It's just a bit early, can you tell? Is there anyone inside?"

Jim opened up the dials on his hearing and a few seconds later said, "Only one person. Probably a mechanic."

She nodded then proceeded into the hanger, pausing to let her eyes readjust to the lighting. Turning back to Jim, she cocked her head, raised an eyebrow, and then at his answering, sharp nod, called out. "Hello?! Anyone here!?"

"Yo!" A female voice rang out and then an older blonde woman, hair pulled back into a severe ponytail and wearing gray coveralls, exited the plane lodged in the hanger. The Aine. "What can I do for you folks?"

Caragh smiled, reading the lady's nametag as she approached. "Hi. I just wanted to know how the repairs to the plane were going?" She held out her hand. "I'm Doctor McConnel, one of the owners of the Aine."

"So that's how you pronounce that? Ay-n? And here I've been calling it Annie all morning." The woman grasped Caragh's hand and shook it. "Bee Thomlin. She's shaping up just fine, though a few of the seats will have to be repaired, or better yet, replaced. Who ever trashed the Hawker, really did a good job of it." She turned and looked at the tall man standing just behind her female visitor. "Damn! Ain't you one fine piece of work!"

Jim felt the blood rushing to his face, Bee Thomlin had to be fifteen - twenty years his senior, but she was looking at him like she wanted to eat him. "Detective Ellison. Nice to meet you." He held out his hand, which the woman grabbed like she wasn't going to let go. Smiling, he asked, "I was wondering, could I get a look at the plane again? I didn't get much of a chance to last night."

Bee smiled and, still holding the detective's hand, started to pull him towards the plane. "I sure as heck don't mind, shughar!" Looking over her shoulder at Doctor McConnel, she let loose with a feral grin. "Don't worry, Doc. I'll take good care of him for you!"

Caragh covered her mouth to keep from laughing out loud. The look that Jim shot her was priceless! She couldn't just let the mechanic have him without a token of resistance. "I don't mind. But Jim, won't the wife care?"

Bee dropped the detective's hand like it was on fire. "Wife? Damn. Now don't that beat all? Sorry, shughar, I don't play with someone else's property." Just then a phone ringing cut through the air of the hanger. "Damn. Help yourselves. I need to go grab that." And she took of at a run towards an office, hidden in the corner of the large building.

Caragh let out a quiet giggle as she walked over to the Aine and the egress leading up into the plane. "Sorry, Jim. Didn't mean to spoil your fun."

"No, thank you. I cannot believe she looked at me like that. I'm pretty sure she had undressed me, mentally, in under five seconds." He looked to where the older woman had run off. "I did not want to be alone with her."

"Hmm, don't blame you. So, did you really want to check out the Aine? Or was that an obfuscation?" She gestured up into the plane.

He climbed up the steps. "Yeah."

Caragh followed him into the plane, and while the mechanic had done an admirable job of trying to clean up the interior, caught her first glimpse of the damage. "Oh, shit."

The damage done in the passenger cabin was still obvious. The chair that she had sat in on the trip out, where she had read and took notes on James "Blackie" Wilkins' book, was completely torn from it's holdings, the fine leather slashed. The table had also been ripped from its moorings. The couch and the other chairs had suffered the same treatment. Turning to face the galley and the flight deck, the carnage got worse.

Jim watched her as Caragh made her way past him towards the flight deck, where he had found the injured pilot. Reaching out, he stopped her with a hand on the shoulder. "Mike, wait. It was pretty bad in there, let me check it out first."

Caragh understood what the detective was trying to say. Steaphan had been stabbed on the flight deck, bled quite profusely according to the doctors at Cascade General, and from the amount of whole blood units they had hung on him before he was stable enough for surgery. She let Jim pass her.

Entering the flight deck, his eyes went unerringly to the patch of flooring where Steaphan had lain. Under normal scrutiny, one couldn't tell that a man had lain there, bleeding. Using his heightened vision, Jim could see where the clean up crew -- probably Bee Thomlin -- had missed a little, but not much. Looking back over his shoulder, he gestured to Caragh.

"It's okay. Come on, Mike."

Nodding, she entered the flight deck. Only from watching Jim's actions, could she tell where Steaphan had lain after being attacked. "Looks good." Glancing at the control boards, she couldn't discern any damage. "Looks like the perp left the controls alone."

"Yeah, maybe because Steven got in the way?"

Closing her eyes, Caragh shuddered. "I don't even want to think about that."

"Sorry." Jim opened up his senses, trying to find out more about the perp who had trashed the plane, the same one that had somehow slipped past him while he'd been alert for anything out of the ordinary. His nose betrayed him, the smell was faint, but it was definitely the same one from the hotel.

Caragh's eyes snapped open, her attention riveting on Jim. "Jim? What is it? Oh, hell! You're zoning." Dragging in a calming breath, she changed the tone of her voice, "Okay, Jim. You need to get back here. I cannot allow anyone to see you like this. What sense are you focusing on? Smell? That it? Okay, filter it. Catalogue it. Push it aside. Get past it."

The voice broke through the fog that clouded his mind. Not the voice of his guide, but a guiding voice all the same. Jim found himself following the instructions of the speaker.

She let out a sigh of relief when Jim started breathing again and his eyes regained their clarity, focusing on her. "Hi. Back from your trip?"

"Oh, that was nasty. Sorry about that, Mike." Jim pinched the bridge of his nose, as if he was still trying to block the odor from his olfactory receptors.

She smiled. "That's all right. But this is twice now that I've pulled you out of a zone. Kinda blows the story Moiré always told me."

Dropping his hand, he looked at her. "And what's that?"

"That a Protector, a Sentinel, will only respond to one Guardian or Guide." She turned and sat down in the pilot's chair.

Jim looked down at her, then sat down himself in the copilot's chair. "From my experience, it may take another person a while to break me from a zone-out, but you seem to be able to do it at the same speed as Blair. But you have an advantage over someone like Simon."

"Oh? Your captain? He's pulled you from zones?"

"A time or two."

"And what advantage would I have over someone who's known you for a long time, that should be able to pull you back?"

"Training. Experience." He swung the chair around to face her. "Mike, you told me and Blair that you trained early with your grandfather, that you work closely with Sean. That's one more sentinel than the Chief's worked with."

Leaning back in the chair, Caragh crossed her arms. "Maybe. I'll have to think about it, and maybe ask Blair about it later. He might have a theory or two about it." She smiled. "So, what was it that snagged your attention?"

Jim thought back to what he had been doing prior to being pulled back from his zone-out by Caragh. "It was faint, but there's an odd odor in here. Human, with a little bit of animal, a strange mix of both with an underlying tone of something I can't place. Almost a chemical or toxic, tang, to it."

"Was it the same as what you smelled in the stairwell, after my attack?" She was starting to think, if it is, I'm not ever going to trust Alex again.

"No. Of that I'm sure."

Caragh sighed. "Good. Then my brother's not involved. Directly at least."

Jim leaned forward, elbows on his knees. "Tell me about your brother. You said his name is Alex Crycheck?"

"Krycek, with a 'K' and no second 'c'. He's actually my foster brother... "

"HELLO? Doc? Detective? You still in here?" The voice of Bee Thomlin fairly boomed through the confined space of the plane, causing Jim to wince and mentally scramble for his control dials.

Caragh reached over and placed a hand on Jim's knee, giving him another focus as he obviously fought the pain from the sudden loudness. Seeing he was getting everything back under control, she stood up and entered the passenger cabin just as the lady mechanic climbed into the plane. "We're still here, Bee. What's up?"

"Just got notice from the tower, they're parking another plane here. Same company. You expecting them?" Bee looked over at her and then past her towards the flight deck. "I cleaned in there first thing this morning, after your lab rats had been through it, detective."

Jim smiled as he got to his feet. "Looks good to me, you did a good job."

Caragh stepped forward to where she could block the older woman's view of Jim Ellison. "Yes, you did good. The other plane must be the replacement pilot that I had to request."

"Oh, okay. They've landed and will taxi here directly. Should arrive any moment." Bee waved and disembarked.

Turning back to face Jim, she said, "I'm pretty sure that Sean's on the plane, Jim. You might want to stay here until I can explain to him what's going on."

"With all these incidents, or with his coming into my territory?" He felt his lips twitch into a weird grin.

"Both," was all she said as she bounded down the steps to await the arrival of her husband, her Protector, Steaphan's sister, and most likely Coran Flint --the backup pilot and top mechanic for the Corporation.

Part 9

 

 

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