Secrets, Books and Murder
Mid-Morning, 25 January
Blair looked up from his notes when Thea Devon, the Anthropology Department's secretary, called out to him. He was returning to his office from the Library where he'd gone to try to gather more information about one James "Blackie" Wilkins. What he had retrieved wasn't encouraging. Pasting what he hoped was a brilliant smile on his face he approached the older woman.
"You called, Thea?"
"You got a couple of visitors. I put them in your office." She gestured over towards the young man's office with a nod of her head. "They weren't on your schedule, not that you have one, but they said it was important and left this with me." She held out a business card to him.
Curious, he took the card from her hand and glanced over it. "Oh, great!"
Hearing the disgust in his voice, Thea ventured a guess. "Guess you're not too pleased they're here?"
Shaking his head, he let out a snort of disdain. "Not exactly. This company has been after me for about six months, trying to get me to come to work for them. I keep telling them 'no' and they keep trying to convince me otherwise."
The smile that crossed her face could only be termed wicked. "Well, if you'd like me to, I can run interference for you. Tell them you got called away? Maybe a case that came up suddenly at your other job?"
Blair thought about taking her up on the offer, for all of about ten seconds. "Nah. Thanks, but maybe what they really want is to hear from my own lips that I'm not interested in moving to Delaware. I'll talk to them." Looking back over the business card he took note of the name. "Mr. Lyle? That's a new one. Thea? I thought you said I had visitors? As in more than one?"
"You do. Mr. Lyle and a female associate. Blond. All the personality of a cornered snake." Thea shuddered; she had not liked the way the woman had looked at her earlier.
Catching the reaction of the grandmotherly secretary, he walked around her desk and gave her a quick hug. "Thanks for the warning." Letting go, he straightened and glanced towards his office. "Guess I'd better not keep them waiting." Pausing only long enough to push his notes back into his backpack and pull his glasses out of his shirt pocket, placing them on his face, he entered the small room that was his current office.
His eyes went immediately to the tall dark haired man standing beside his desk, but he also located the female visitor standing just inside the doorway and watching him with an intense glare. "Mr. Lyle?" The man turned around and faced him. "I'm Blair Sandburg. You wanted to see me?"
Lyle smiled at the young man that had entered the office. This is going to be too easy. Stepping forward, he reached out his left hand in greeting. "Ah, pleased to meet you, Doctor Sandburg."
Shaking his hand, Blair was surprised to get an almost greasy feel off Lyle. Knowing that he was somehow using his shamanistic skills to read the man, he controlled his reactions to the slick and slimy aura. "Please, just call me Blair. I was rather surprised to hear that you were here to see me. I mean, I've repeatedly answered your company's recruitment letters with an 'I'm not interested'."
Lyle let go of the man's hand and shrugged. "What can I say, other than we're persistent?"
Unconsciously rubbing his hand on his jean clad leg; Blair walked around his desk to seat himself and gestured for his visitors to also seat themselves. "I'll say. Four letters, four no's, and now you and your lovely associate are here." He couldn't help but notice that while Mr. Lyle had sat down, the lady hadn't. In fact, she had pulled a sucker out of her pocket and was busy putting the candy in her mouth.
Lyle looked over his shoulder at his companion, having noted the young professor's expression of disgust. "Ah, yes. You'll have to excuse Bridgett, she's still coping with not being able to smoke."
"Uh, huh." Blair tore his gaze away from the blond and her distracting actions. Returning his gaze to his other guest, he said, "So, Mr. Lyle, let's hear your sales pitch, so that I can tell you 'no' in person and you can be on your way back East."
"You're just not interested, are you?"
"Nope. Cascade is my home. I'm happy here at Rainier, so why would I want to leave everything I have here to work for this 'Centre' in Delaware?"
Leaning back in the chair, Lyle steepled his fingers before his face and smiled. "Because in spite of everything, that incident with your so called 'Sentinel' thesis, we're really interested in you coming to work for us." Watching closely, he noticed that the young man blanched a bit at the mention of the thesis. "Besides, the Centre is more than willing to pay off your student loans in exchange for your working for us."
Sitting up in his chair, Blair blurted one word. "Why?"
Seeing that he had the man's attention, Lyle launched into his explanation. "I'm not an expert in your field of study, Blair, but from what I've been told by people in the know, you're very good at your job. Considered one of the nation's up and coming anthropologists." Leaning forward, he captured the blue gaze of his prey. "Do you even know what the Centre is? What we do?" Refusing to release his captive, he noted the barely perceptible shake of the head. "We're a 'think tank.' We are a gathering of the best and the brightest in many fields of study, and we're helping the world by offering our services. We're problem solvers."
Blair shivered as the man's words felt like crystal shards in his brain. His instincts were screaming at him, telling him to get away, to run from this man and his associate. But he was trapped, at least until he could get them to leave. Exercising control over his breathing he was able to keep his voice from betraying his inner turmoil. "That's all well and good, Mr. Lyle. But I'm still not interested. Despite your very tempting offers to pay off my loans."
Lyle blinked. "You sure I can't sweeten the pot for you? Name it, I'll make sure you get whatever it is you want."
That's it! Standing up, Blair shook his head. "No! I'm not interested. Period. End of discussion." Scrubbing his face with one hand, which he held up before the man could protest his answer, effectively stopping the rebuttal. "Mr. Lyle. No. You've had your say, and I've given you my answer. Now, before I lose my cool and call campus security, leave. And don't bother me about this ever again."
Lyle got to his feet, nodding. "Very well, Doctor. I'll pass on the message and make sure that the recruitment division understands. Bridgett?" He gestured for the woman to follow him and he left the office.
Blair watched the two leave, only to see the woman stop at the door and look at him over her shoulder at him, her dark colored eyes snapping with ill-disguised fire.
Pulling the lollipop out of her mouth, Bridgett smiled at the young man and twitched an eyebrow. "Too bad. See you around, Blue-Eyes."
Her voice was low, and would've been sexy, had it not been for the expression on her face, and the accent. Thinking fast, he tossed out the first thing that came to mind in response to her obvious taunt. "Not bloody likely."
Landing Pattern, Mid-Morning, 25 January
Sean McConnel was feeling restless. He wanted to get up out of his seat, prowl the passenger cabin, jump out of the plane, something. But common sense kept him in his seat, safely belted in. What the hell is wrong with me? He couldn't help but think as he tried to get a grip on himself. Deciding to try something that Caragh had taught him years ago, he closed his eyes and focused in on the sounds around him.
The sound of the plane's engine was the first thing he noticed, and immediately tuned out. Then the sound of the wind rushing over the plane's fuselage came and went, as did the sounds coming from Steaphanie Shannon and Coran Flint. His audio search went through a number of filters, tuning out sounds of other planes; cars, gulls and other seabirds, and he started to focus on the sound of life around the airfield. He had just identified his wife and Guardian's heartbeat on the ground, when the jolt of the plane making contact with the tarmac pulled him from his intentional zoning.
Coran Flint had looked back on Sean just before Steaphanie had brought the Flyer down to a perfect ten-point landing. The large detective looked like he was either meditating, Or praying, he thought. Turning back to the pilot he grinned. "Steaphy, that's a five spot you owe me. Sean's not a flyer."
The pilot listened to the tower's instructions and taxied off the runway. "Oh? What makes you say that, Cor?"
"Look at him, he's still praying that we land in one piece."
Steaphanie looked over her shoulder, leaning so she could see where Sean was sitting, only to have the detective smile and winked at her. "Yeah, right. Think again, Coran."
Coran twisted in his seat to see Sean walking towards the flight deck. "Damn. And here I thought you were praying."
"I was, until I felt the plane touch down." Sean grinned at the copilot. He pointed out the windshield towards a hanger. "That where we're heading, Steaphy?"
"Yeah, tower explained they were expecting us, so they assigned us to the same hanger as the Aine." As she spoke the hanger doors pulled back, revealing the dark interior. The pilot slowed the plane to a near crawl and before too long, had the Flyer parked right next to its sister.
Sean rubbed the back of his neck, trying to get the hair there to lay back down. The tension, which had assaulted him earlier, was back, with a vengeance. Popping the seal on the egress hatch, his nose was rewarded with the fresh, slightly salty, air of Cascade. Lowering the steps, he looked down and noticed his wife standing below. What the hell? She looks like she's been through a self-defense training bout.
Caragh looked up at her husband, knowing that she couldn't hide her injuries from him, and therefore didn't even try. The whining noise of the Flyer's engine ground to a halt, making conversation in the hanger possible. "Sean! I knew you couldn't stay away! Welcome to Cascade!"
He flew down the steps, wrapping his arms around the most important person in his world, taking in her scent, relishing the touch of her arms around him. When he came up for air from the kiss he had drowned in, Sean greeted his wife. "Knew you couldn't stay out of trouble, Mike. You're injured?"
"Mild concussion. Headache's the worst part." Seeing Steaphanie and Coran coming down the steps, she dropped her voice so only Sean could hear, "We need to talk, Protector." And she stepped away to greet the other new arrivals.
"Steaphy, Coran, thanks for coming out here so fast, and bringing Sean along as well."
Coran snorted. "Like we really had a choice?"
"We had to come, Mike. How's Steaphan?"
"He's fine. The surgery went well, he's looking at a few weeks of rehab, and therefore is down checked until Dr. Fusiaki clears him." Caragh gestured towards the plane. "Now, get all your stuff together and take it outside to the green Suburban parked by the door. I need to talk with Sean and let him get a look at the Aine."
Coran nodded. "I'll want to take a look myself."
"Later, Cor." Caragh grabbed her husband by the elbow and walked away from the two pilots. Keeping her voice low, she talked to Sean. "How you doing? Anything going on with your senses I should know about?"
"Why? Something I should know?" The tingling sensation on the back of his neck was getting more intense as she led them closer to the Aine.
About twenty paces away from the other plane, she pulled him to a stop. "That's close enough for now. Tell me, what are you feeling?" She looked into his eyes trying to establish the bond that would make talking easier. The bond snapped back into place and she could feel his uneasiness.
Sean felt the bond between Guardian and Protector flare into full bloom. From the look on her face, he could tell that she was picking up on his distress. "I'm not sure what it is, Mike. It hit me just before landing. The hackles on my neck won't settle down, like I'm being watched."
"Have you seen your cat lately?"
"No, not since the other morning. Mike, what's going on? Do you know?"
Caragh sighed, nodding her head. "Sean, take a good deep breath and tell me what you smell. On me." Reaching out to give him an anchor, she waited as he did as instructed.
Pulling her close, he took a deep breath in through his nose. His grip on her arm became tighter and he heard, and saw, his spirit guide roar and begin pacing behind her. "Damn! What, no, who the hell is that?!"
Prying his grip off her, she stepped in closer to him. "It's okay, Sean. It's okay. I'm bonded to you, not the other. I'm yours; you're mine. Forever. Touch the bond cord, you'll see I'm telling the truth."
Sean relaxed as he touched the mental cord, which stretched between him and his Guardian, sensing the truth of her words and the depth of their connection. Calming down, he released his grip on her and pulled her in for another hug. "Okay. I get it. I think." He released her and looked down into her green eyes. "I'm in his territory, right?"
Nodding, she smiled. "Yes. And he's got his own Guardian, but I need you to realize you are the visitor here and try to behave yourself."
Closing his eyes, he pulled his dials back down into the 'normal' range and nodded. "I'll try, Caragh. But tell me why this other Protector's smell is all over you?"
"Because he was kind enough to let me sleep in his bed... No! Not like that. I'd never betray you in such a manner, Sean." She waited as the anger which had flared in his eyes, died back down, returning them to their normal green-gray color. "The bed was in the safest part of the loft and the Sentinel put himself between me and any possible threat, just like you would have done."
Sean digested the information, letting the strength of the bond with his Guardian wash over him, calming him. "Okay, I can see that. So, tell me, Mike. When do I get to meet this 'Sentinel'?"
She started to pull him towards the Aine. "Right now, and won't you be a little surprised!"
"Mike, you know how I hate surprises!"
Jim had been listening and watching the conversation going on between Caragh McConnel and the person that had to be her husband, Sean. Seeing that they were finally approaching the plane, he got up from the seat in the cockpit and, shaking his head, wondered how the station was going to take Sean McConnel. The coincidence of Caragh looking like Blair had thrown them, but this was going to floor them. He knew, from having looked at his own face for years, that he was about to meet his own double, albeit one with much darker hair and green eyes, but his virtual twin.
Sean walked up the steps to the Aine, right behind Caragh and listened as she greeted whomever it was that was the 'Sentinel' of Cascade.
"Hi. We talked. Sean knows." Having had to duck his head to enter the plane, he didn't see the man at first, but upon looking up, gasped.
"Shit!" The man standing before him, the same one he had smelled on his wife was his twin. Okay, not. But close! Hair's a bit lighter, eyes are a really intense blue, and damn! If he ain't the same in everything else! Same height, same build, same damn haircut even!
Caragh chuckled, "Nice, Sean. Nice. Now, I want to introduce the two of you. Sean McConnel, meet Detective James Ellison."
"We've already met, sort of. Nice to meet you face to face, McConnel." Jim stuck out his hand.
Sean smiled, reaching out to grasp the other detective's hand. "Same to you, Ellison. This is so weird."
"You're telling me? And here I thought it was only Guardians and Guides that looked alike."
Caragh sniggered. "I'll explain later, Sean. What I need to test now is can the two of you stand to be in the same town? Or should I send you packing back to Arkansas?"
Jim and Sean stared at each other, locking eyes. Green met Blue and ... Nothing. No sense of rivalry flared up in either man. Caragh monitored this through her connection to Sean.
"Good. That answered that. Jim, Sean? Let's go before Coran and Steaphy come looking for us." She led the way out of the plane, leaving the two detectives to follow.
"So, Jim, I can call you Jim, right?" The other man nodded. "What happened to Caragh? I know she's hurting, but she won't admit to it."
"She was attacked at the hospital. Refused to be checked at the ER, insisting there wasn't anything they could do for her."
"Stubborn damn Guardian."
"They can be, can't they?"
"Your Guardian just as bad?"
Jim shrugged. "Usually. Can you convince her to get checked once I get the whole troop of you over to the hospital?"
Exiting the hanger, Sean blinked in the bright sunlight, sighting the large green Chevy Suburban that his wife had mentioned to the others. "We're going there first?"
"I thought that Steven's sister would want to check on him before she went anywhere else."
"Yeah, get us there, I'll get Caragh to the ER... Even if I have to drag her there."
"Good luck." Jim approached the truck, which the two pilots had already loaded, and walked up to Caragh who was getting ready to climb into the driver's seat. "Uh, uh. You're riding in the back, let Sean ride shotgun, Mike."
Caragh turned on him, growling. "Damn it, Ellison. It's just a headache, not a damn aneurysm!"
Digging into his pocket, Jim produced a small bottle of tablets, and tossed them at her. "Fine. Take two of these, climb in the back seat, and relax. Play tour guide or something."
Catching the bottle, she gave up, and climbed into the truck, ending up sandwiched between Coran and Steaphanie. Dumping one of the tablets out she handed the bottle back to him after Jim had gotten behind the wheel and Sean had taken the passenger seat. "Here. I'll get back at you later. You know that, don't you, Ellison?"
Starting the Chevy with one hand, while pocketing the bottle of aspirin, Jim smiled at her in the rearview mirror. "Why, Dr. McConnel, was that a threat?" he asked, his tone light and teasing.
Feeling the imp in her rise up to the occasion, she responded in a silky voice, "Me? Threaten an officer of the law? Heaven forbid. No, Detective, it wasn't a threat." She sat back in the bench seat, muttering under her breath. "It was a promise."
Cascade Police Department
Noon, 25 January
After dropping off Steaphanie Shannon at Cascade General Hospital to be with her twin, then taking Coran Flint over to the Cascade Arms and getting him set up in another suite, Jim Ellison had picked up his truck from the hospital and lead the way to Police Headquarters. Sean McConnel was driving the rented Chevy, having managed to convinced Caragh to let the staff at Cascade General's Emergency Room check her out and getting a verdict of a mild concussion. She refused to take anything stronger than an aspirin.
Riding in the elevator with Jim from the garage, where the detective had obtained a visitor's pass for the rental, the threesome emerged onto the seventh floor, laughing, which drew all eyes to them.
Captain Simon Banks looked up from his desk at the sudden silence that had descended over his bullpen. Spotting Jim walking towards his office, he could understand why the noise level had dropped so quickly. He was escorting two people. One was Caragh McConnel, the lady who looked so much like Blair Sandburg. And the other! Damn! He looks more like Jim's brother than Steven Ellison does, I wonder who he is?
Caragh loved watching the two men laugh together on the elevator. Sean had made some comment about her beloved '67 Chevy back home, comparing it to Jim's '69 Ford. Which had prompted the sentinel to ask about Sean's personal vehicle, and then he'd burst out laughing when the Protector admitted to having a fully restored '77 Buick Riviera parked in the garage back home. The sudden silence that had greeted them as they crossed into the bullpen of Major Crimes was expected, but still unnerving. She and Sean followed Jim as he led the way to his Captain's office.
Jim noted the silence, and remembering the reaction of the staff yesterday when they had met Caragh McConnel, he wasn't surprised. He approached his Captain's office and knocked once on the glass before pushing the door open. "Captain? Got a minute?"
"Come in, Jim." Simon tried not to stare at the visitors that his Chief Detective brought in with him, but couldn't help it. Putting his pen down on the blotter, he stood up and looked the two over. "What have you brought me? More trouble?"
Jim shook his head. "No. Captain, I'd like to introduce you to the Chief of Detectives for Galloway County Arkansas, Sean McConnel."
"Ah, welcome to Cascade, Detective." Simon shook hands with the darker version of Jim Ellison. "Let me guess, you're here to see your wife doesn't get into any more trouble?" Simon took the handshake to gauge the other man, and found the sure grip satisfying.
Sean shook the hand of the tall captain, glancing over at his wife at the man's last statement. "More trouble? Caragh?"
"It's nothing, Sean. Really."
"Have a seat. All of you. Jim? Close the door will you?" Simon came around his desk and pointed over to his credenza and the full coffeepot sitting there. "It's fresh, can I interest you in a cup?" As usual, Jim refused, but the other two took him up on the offer.
Jim sat down next to Caragh, putting her effectively between him and Sean, waiting until Simon had reclaimed his seat behind his desk before starting the conversation.
Simon sat back and listened to the story that his detective told him, updating him on the attack that Dr. McConnel had gone through this morning. He was surprised that the sentinel was willing to discuss overhearing the words of this Alex Krycek. What surprised him even more was that the visiting detective and his wife took that tidbit of information like it wasn't anything special.
Sean saw the look that crossed over the captain's face; it wasn't hard to imagine a similar look crossing over Leland Andrew's face if the position had been reversed. Reaching out through the connection he had with his wife, he asked. //Mike? Do we tell the Captain?//
//Yes. He knows what Jim is, so it might be for the best if we tell him there's another pair working in the area.// Caragh reached over and gave Sean's hand a squeeze. //I'll do it.//
Simon focused his attention on Caragh McConnel as the woman shifted forward in her seat. "Captain Banks, I can see you're concerned about Jim here letting that little remark slip, but don't worry. I know what a Sentinel can do. So does Sean here."
Sean spoke up. "Because, I'm like Jim and Mike's been my Guardian for years."
Blair had been aware he was being followed, had been since leaving Rainier, but the black sedan hung back in the flow of traffic. "Won't they be surprised when I pull into the garage at Central Precinct?" Grinning mischievously, he decided to give his tag-a-longs a little sight seeing tour. Keeping one eye on his tail and one on the road, proved to be his undoing.
He'd ended up bringing his tail into an area of Cascade that he normally didn't frequent, well not since his place had been destroyed when the drug lab next door had blow sky high, but the old warehouse district was on the indirect route from Rainier to Cascade PD's Central Precinct. He had just pulled past the end of one of the many long rows of abandoned warehouses, when a huge delivery van pulled out in front of him, screeching to a halt in the middle of the road. Slamming his foot down on the brake and pulling up on the emergency brake, he managed not to collide with the UPS truck. Shaking from the near miss, he never noticed the sedan had pulled up behind him, two men getting out and approaching the Volvo, until they were at the doors, one on either side of the vehicle.
"You all right, Sir?"
Startled, Blair looked up at the dark suited man standing next to his side of the car. "Uh, yeah. Just a little shook up," he replied as he rolled his window down.
"Good." With a slow and friendly gesture, Kenny reached in through the window and clasped the young man on the shoulder. Then squeezed, hard.
The grip was friendly enough, until the strange man had clamped down and Blair felt something pierce his skin under the man's hand. "Hey!" He squirmed out of the grasp, only to become disoriented as his vision began to swim. "What the..?"
The last thing he would recall of this near accident, would be the sickening smile on the face of the man who had touched him, as that man opened up the car and started to haul him out of the driver's seat. As the man started to swing him up and over his shoulder, Blair caught sight of the blond woman who had been in his office earlier. The sadistic smile on her face chilled him to the heart as darkness claimed him.
Jim kept glancing at his watch, and then raising his eyes to check the bullpen outside his Captain's office. He was tracking the conversation going on behind him, Sean and Mike were basically briefing Simon in on their end of the case, but his mind wandered elsewhere. Damnit, Sandburg. Where the hell are you? He moved past Sean as he walked over to the credenza and picked up a mug, giving into the tempting smell of the fresh brewed, and non-flavored, coffee. After taking his first sip of the soothing liquid, he stared out the window, worried about his partner's tardiness. Blair was overdue by an hour.
"So what you're trying to tell me, McConnel, is that while you don't have any solid leads on your end, you believe that these thefts are connected?" Simon was still getting used to the idea that this visiting detective was so much like Jim, not only in looks, but skills as well.
Sean met the skeptical look of the dark Captain. "You don't?"
Simon sat back in his chair, hands going behind his neck in a stretch. "I can see where you and Jim could draw that conclusion, but the big question is why?"
Caragh, not one to sit still very long, bounced to her feet. "Oh, I can come up with several possible motives, Captain." She took the three steps needed to approach the man's desk and leaned over it. "But can you handle the possible consequences?"
Keeping eye contact with the woman leaning over his desk, Simon stood up and leaned into her 'space' over his desk, his fists bracing on the desktop. "Try me, Doctor."
Nodding, a sly smile crossing her face, Caragh straightened up. "You might think me a 'conspiracy nut' after this, but what if I said I believed it was our very own government behind these thefts?"
Snapping her head around, she glared at her husband. "What, Sean? You know it's a possibility."
"Not that." Sean gestured with his head, towards his fellow detective who was standing still as a statue at the window. "Jim."
Turning to see what Sean was referring to, both Caragh and Simon gasped at the sight of James Ellison, lost in a zone-out. Moving out from behind his desk, Simon approached his friend, hand going out to support the slightly shorter man. "Jim? Damn, he's barely breathing!" Lowering his voice in a close approximation of the Sentinel's normal guide, the police captain tried again. "Jim? Come on back. Pull the dials back down, whatever, but you need to get back here." Feeling a little self conscious about doing it, Simon duplicated many of the same moves that he'd witnessed Blair using to bring their friend back from these 'zone-outs'; but after nearly two minutes, he turned to the others in the office and confessed. "I'm not sure I'm doing it right, he's not responding."
Sean stepped forward, "No, he's not. In fact, his vitals are getting sluggish." Looking over at his wife, "Mike? Care to work your magic, again?"
Caragh was already moving, not to Jim's side, but to Sean's. "Maybe. But I want to try something else, first."
"Now is not the time for experiments." Simon hissed at her through clenched teeth. "I'm not sure how long Jim's been like this, nor how long he can stay this way without harm."
"Ten minutes. Protect... Sentinels can stay in a zone-out for that long with no fear of harm." She looked into the concerned face of Ellison's commander, "Captain, trust me. I know what I'm doing."
Reluctantly, he agreed. "Okay, fine. Do what you want to do."
"Thank you, Captain." Returning her attention to her husband, she asked of him, "Sean, how long ago did you notice Jim's problem?"
"Four minutes ago. Caragh, he's really gone deep, are you sure you just don't want to... "
"No. I'll do it if I have to, but I want you to pull him out of this, Sean Pat."
Sean rocked on his feet. "What?"
Reaching out to clasp her Protector by the upper arm, she pleaded with him. "You can do it, Sean. I know you can. If you have been raised among the Clan, Shamus would've been your first companion. Protector teaching Protector, until the Guardian for the new one became known to them." Giving the muscled arm beneath her hand a tight squeeze, she said, "You know what to do, Protector. Now do it." Her voice, which had been full of concern, had a light edge of command to it.
Instinctively responding to that particular tone of his Guardian's voice, Sean nodded his acceptance of the role he suddenly found himself thrust into. "As you wish, Siomahnka."
Simon watched as Caragh stepped back from the two men, and lifted an eyebrow at her in askance. Her response was a slight shake of the head and a finger lifted to her lips in a gesture requesting silence. Biting his tongue, he turned his attention back to his friend and the other Sentinel.
Time, Unknown. 25 January
First, it was the smell that got to him, bringing him closer to the surface of the darkness that had claimed him. His nose wrinkled as it took in the odor of rotten fish, and other, less pleasant, smells which caused his sinuses to twitch. Raising his head off his chest, he felt someone push against his shoulder, right where the stabbing pain had been. The bruised flesh being prodded made him suck in his breath and open his eyes to a very blurry world.
Bridgett grinned as she realized her newest plaything was finally coming around. Stepping back away from the anthropologist, she announced to her other companion. "He's waking up."
Blair had gotten his eyes to focus as best he could, and stared at the woman, trying to think pleasant thoughts about her and failing. Hearing the male voice, which came from behind him, he wasn't all that amazed to see Mr. Lyle step around to stand in front of him. "Why am I not surprised?"
Lyle smiled indulgently. "Because, like you yourself observed, Mr. Sandburg, we're persistent."
"Just what is it you want from me?" Blair continued to take in his surroundings, his situation, as he looked up at the gloating man before him.
"The only thing that you have to offer us: Your knowledge about people known as Sentinels." Lyle reached out with his right hand and lifted the young man's face with his four remaining fingers. Seeing the shock that passed through the blue eyes, he continued. "Oh, yes. We know all about your research, Burton's work and that of Mr. Wilkins. There's only one thing I don't understand... "
No one else but Lyle and the blonde snake lady. One hand cuffed to the chair, chair wiggled when I came around, not bolted to the floor... His mind raced through his options, and Blair decided to do what came naturally to him. He taunted his tormentor. "Really? Only one thing? I bet there's a hellva lot more you don't understand."
Lyle's temper flared and, despite warnings to the contrary, he backhanded the young man, sending him to the floor. He waved off Bridgett's assistance as he stepped over the fallen man. "That wasn't very bright of you." Leaning over, he sought to help his captive to his feet, only to have his own knocked out from under him. A fist connected with his jaw, sending him into oblivion.
Clambering to his feet, Blair backed away from the man he'd just cold-cocked and looked up to see Bridgett coming at him, gun sliding out of a holster at her side. Grabbing up the chair he was hand cuffed to, he charged, and got lucky. Swinging the chair at the last second, he was able to knock the weapon out of her hand, following up that move with a snapping kick to her stomach and a single fisted blow to the back of the head. She dropped like a rock.
Taking a moment to regain his composure, Blair dropped down beside the unconscious woman and checked her pockets. Shaking his head in disbelief and satisfaction, he came up with a handcuff key and used it to free himself. "You know, Mom told me never to hit a lady, but I doubt that you'd qualify for the role." Looking around the nearly empty room, he realized that he had to be in the old fish cannery, as he spied a part of the old conveyor belt system. With a little effort on his part, he pulled both Bridgett and Lyle over towards the mechanism and after lacing the cuffs through a solid section of the machine, handcuffed them to each other. Sitting back on his heels, he waited for them to wake up. He didn't have long to wait.
Lyle roused himself and for a single panic-stricken moment, thought he was looking at someone other than Blair Sandburg. Then his mind cleared and he realized that somehow a scrawny student had over powered both him and Bridgett. The smile on Sandburg's face was the same sly-as-a-fox one as he'd seen, a time or two, on Jarod's.
"Welcome, back. Now, you were telling me there was something you didn't understand, Mr. Lyle? Maybe I can clear that up for you?"
Feeling a tug on his left wrist, Lyle realized that Bridgett had awakened and winced as she kicked out at the young man, but he avoided the blow.
"That wasn't very nice, Bridgett. Oh, and I'd be real careful how much you move about, some of these old machines are really nasty and sharp. You wouldn't want to hurt yourself, would you?"
Lyle groaned mentally. The kid even sounded a bit like Jarod. "What do you want, Sandburg?"
Blair smiled and pushed a lock of hair back from his face. "That's funny. You were the ones who kidnapped me, not the other way around. What did you want?"
"He already told you, you hippie reject." Bridgett snapped at him, his gloating mannerisms also making for unpleasant memories for her.
Standing back up, Blair laughed. "Oh! That's right, you did. Didn't you?" He shrugged. "Well, I hate to disappoint you, but Sentinels do not exist. Sorry."
"But your thesis... " Lyle looked up at the young man, confusion in his eyes.
Shaking his head, Blair started to walk off, looking for an exit. "You need to research better. That 'thesis' was a work of fiction, what I had hoped to write but couldn't."
"No, Mr. Lyle, I'm not."
"Then why are you really still working with Ellison if he's not a Sentinel?"
"It's called friendship. And I'm his partner. If you had taken the time to really check into how I managed to get back into my teaching position, you would have found my true doctoral thesis was on Closed Warrior Societies in Modern Times." Blair reached the door just as it opened to reveal the man who had managed to somehow drug him earlier. Ducking under the swing aimed in his direction, he flew past the man and out of the room, only to fall into a large pile of rotten refuse, one floor below. Not hurt, he rolled off the pile and ran out an open door into the bright sunlight of a late afternoon Cascade.
Blair wasn't sure how long he kept running, he just did. When he could run no longer, he stopped but kept walking, checking the pockets of his coat and jeans as he did. Relieved to find only his cell phone had been taken, he still had his wallet, cash, and pocketknife and his house keys. Realizing he was only a few miles from the loft, he made his way there, keeping an eye open for the return of Mr. Lyle and Bridgett. Just in case they didn't buy his story.
Major Crimes Bullpen
Early Afternoon, 25 January
Captain Simon Banks watched in disbelief and amazement as Detective Sean McConnel attempted to do what, up until now, he thought only Blair Sandburg would have a prayer of pulling off; pulling a nearly comatose, zoned out Sentinel, James Ellison, back into the real world. Stepping back to give the visiting detective some room, Simon glanced over at Caragh McConnel. Her attention was riveted to both men. His hearing, not as good as Jim's, but enough, perked up at the words falling from Sean's mouth.
"Okay, how does she do it? Oh, yeah. Right." Taking a deep breath, Sean closed the distance between himself and his fellow Protector. "Let's get busy, shall we, Jim?" Relaxing in the knowledge that his wife was there to back him up if needed, he stretched out his senses to keep track of Jim's vital signs, lowered his voice a little further, in volume if not timbre, and started his attempt to bring the other back from the edge of the abyss. Feeling the need for physical contact, he placed a hand gently on the Sentinel's lower back, and began to coax.
"Jim? I know you can hear me. I don't know what you've locked onto, but dial it back. If your Guardian arrives and sees you like this, he'll put you through all kinds of tests -- especially if he's anything like mine... "
Simon decided that discretion was the better plan in this situation, and walked back over to his desk. Picking up the aspirin bottle, the one that some smartass had relabeled 'Ellison/Sandburg Bane,' he shook out two tablets. Over the course of the past hour or so, he'd learned more than he'd ever wanted to know about Sentinels and Guides, or Protectors and Guardians. Movement in the office brought his attention to one of the sources of his headache, only to see her reach out and snatch the aspirin bottle from his open hand.
"Need some?" Simon chuckled softly.
"Gods, yes." Caragh opened the bottle and took out three tablets, then handed it back to the Captain. "But don't let him know," she nodded pointedly in the direction of her husband, "or I'll never hear the end of it." Her smile turned into a wince, as her pounding head demanded her attention yet again. Without a second's hesitation, she dry swallowed the pain relievers and then chased them down with lukewarm coffee left in her mug.
Simon nodded. "I won't tell if you won't." Together, they leaned up against his desk, watching the two men at the window. Overhearing Sean's last remark, the one about tests, he looked down at his companion and raised an eyebrow.
Muttering under her breath, Caragh supplied the answer to Simon's unvoiced query. "Oh, Sean Pat... You haven't begun to see what I can dream up for 'testing' you."
The sound of his captain chuckling under the voice of someone trying to bring him back from the fugue state he'd fallen into drew Jim's attention. Then the voice, not of his guide, but someone else, reached out to him again.
"... Spoiled milk, has your Guardian tried that on you yet? Be careful, or Caragh may just suggest it to him... "
Guardian? Blair? No, not Guide. Where is he? Thoughts tumbled around in his head, making it harder and harder for him to concentrate on whatever it was he'd been focusing on. Trying to regain that focus, his hearing started ranging out, searching.
"... You got to pull back, Jim. You're starting to worry me here, and I know what you're going through. Imagine what you're doing to your Captain. If you listen real close, you can hear his heart straining... " Sean had closed his eyes, trying to just feel when he was getting through to the zoned out Sentinel, and he felt something... "Okay, that's it. Grab the dial you use to control your hearing. It's got to be set pretty damn high, so start pulling it back down."
Caragh smiled and nodded. It was a chance Sean was taking, assuming Jim used the same visualization techniques that he did himself, but even she could see the tension in the Sentinel's body starting to fade. A hand reached out and touched her on the sleeve of her shirt and she turned her smiling face to see the concerned look on Simon Banks' face. He gestured towards his watch. Eight minutes had passed since Jim had entered the zone out. "Wait, he's almost there."
Simon looked from the smiling face of the Guardian, back to the statues that had been Jim Ellison and Sean McConnel. Even though Sean had started out using touch and voice to try to reach Jim, he had stopped using the hand movements and concentrated only on voice. Unknowingly, Simon took a step towards the two men, only to have Sean's head snap around to nail him with eyes green as could be -- just as Jim took in a stuttering breath and started to collapse.
Three people moved as one, all closing in on the returning Detective, offering support and gently guiding him to a seated position on the floor.
Sean cradled Jim's head in his lap, while Simon made sure his friend's legs didn't become tangled in the furniture, and Caragh knelt beside the prone man who was just beginning to rouse.
Satisfied with the experiment, Caragh took back her traditional role from her husband. Her voice was soft, pleading and low enough not to hurt oversensitive ears. "That's it, Jim. All the way back now. Come on. You're okay, but we need to know what you zoned on."
Jim's eyes popped open and he found himself looking, once again, into the concerned leaf green eyes of Caragh McConnel. "Sandburg?"
"He's not here yet, Jim." Simon, taking a cue from the only other Guide in the room, answered softly.
Jim tried to shake off the lethargy that had engulfed his muscles and his mind, only to have his movements forestalled by Sean. "No. Sandburg, Chief, Blair's... " He shook his head, shaking cobwebs from his brain.
"Is that what you were focusing on, Jim? Blayre? Come on, talk to me."
"Trouble. Not there."
Jim's cryptic answers served to puzzle the two men, Caragh could see it in their eyes but she knew what the Sentinel was trying to say. "Oh, my gods. Jim? Can you tell where? I won't let you zone again but I need you to concentrate, you're connected, so you should be able to tell."
Not resisting the soft voice full of concern, he closed his eyes and tried to reach out for his guide. With a sigh, he opened his eyes again and looked up into the familiar face of his friend's fellow shaman/guide. "Nothing. It's all dark, like he's just not there anymore." Reaching out, he made to pull himself up, only to have Simon reach out and pull him to his feet. Jim didn't resist and, in fact, appreciated the help.
"You okay now, Jim?" Simon asked and waited for the answer. What he'd just heard from the man's own lips, what he'd seen happen in his own office, had him left him feeling a bit uneasy.
"Yeah. Maybe." Jim turned and helped both Sean and Caragh back to their feet. "Thanks. Both of you."
Sean grimaced. "Thank Mike. It was her idea to have me try to pull you back."
Caragh shrugged off the backhanded compliment and made her next move. "Jim, you said Blayre was no longer there? You couldn't feel his presence in your mind?"
Jim shook his head. "No. It's like something is blocking me from reaching him." His hands came up to rub at his eyes, they felt gritty. As if he'd kept them open for however long he was zoned.
Reaching up, Caragh pulled his hands back down. "Don't do that. Sean?" The unfinished question had him digging into her large bag; coming up with whatever it was he was searching for he handed it off to his wife. "Jim, sit."
Letting himself be guided back over to the couch, Jim sat on the edge and looked up as Caragh moved in closer to him, almost straddling his legs. "Uh, Mike... "
"Shut up. Tilt your head back and trust me." Smiling as he complied with her no-nonsense tone of voice, she uncapped the bottle and leaned in ever closer to the detective. Bracing one hand on his forehead, the other holding the bottle just beyond his peripheral vision, she moved in, then stepped back as the man started to react.
The slight burning sensation in his left eye was quickly joined by similar sensations from his right, and then he started to tear up. Snapping his eyes closed against the mild irritant, he damn near rose to his feet, only to be pushed back down and handed something soft, which he used to wipe at his eyes. When his eyes felt like they had returned to normal, he looked up at a smirking Caragh McConnel, holding a small bottle of saline in one hand and another tissue, raided from Simon's desk, in the other. "Next time, warn me, will you?"
"Sure. But I figured you had to be as bad as Sean about eye drops, so I choose to be a little sneaky." She handed him the bottle and the extra tissue. "Here. Keep those handy, you may need them again later." Moving back to the Captain's desk, leaning against it, she asked the obvious. "So, how do you want to go about looking for my trouble-twin?"
Simon spoke up from behind her, where he was hanging up the phone. "Already started. Jim, that was Thea Devon. Sandburg left about two hours ago. Right after he'd had an unscheduled pair of visitors."
"We should... "
"I need to... "
Simon smiled as the two detectives started speaking at the same time. "That's what I figured. Go. Take the McConnels with you. I'll get the word out that Sandburg's overdue and have the patrols watch for his car." He watched as the threesome gathered up what they would need and started to leave his office. He quietly muttered under his breath, "I hope you find Blair…"
To his surprise, it was Caragh McConnel who turned back around to smile at him.
"Don't worry, Captain. With those two on his trail, we'll find him."
Early Evening, 25 January
Blair dodged into another alleyway as he spotted a dark, possibly black, sedan rolling down the roadway towards his position. "I'm getting really sick and tired of playing 'mouse' to your 'cat,' Lyle." Ducking behind a refuse bin just as the car passed the entrance to the alley, he wondered why they, and their 'Centre,' were so damn interested in him. Squatting down, he rested his back against the brick wall and started to think out loud, but quietly.
"Okay, Lyle mentioned my thesis... Wondered why I was still working with Jim if he wasn't a Sentinel... Oh, man! He knows about the Wilkins book!" Risking a look down the narrow alley, Blair rose to his feet and walked back the way he had come in. Reaching the street, he scanned for any suspicious looking cars and, seeing none, started back on the path towards home. The thoughts that now plagued his every step had him worried. Not so much for his and Jim's sake, but for Caragh and her family. Her Protector. If the Centre was after people who not only knew about sentinels, but the sentinels themselves, then the information in the Wilkins book would lead them right to Caragh McConnel.
Letting out a soft curse in Swahili, he ducked into yet another alley as another dark sedan cruised down the street. "Shit! At this rate, I won't be able to stand still long enough to call Jim." He realized that in the past hour or so that he'd been on the run from Mr. Lyle, Bridgett and the other goons, he'd only managed to cover about one-fourth of the distance between where he'd been held at and home. Spotting one of the 'service' alleyways that ran behind the main buildings on the parallel streets of Cascade, he decided that he could make better time if he stuck to using those as often as he could. Blair worked his way up to a slow jog as he put his plan of action into motion.