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The Trance
The Trance
By: Treassa Cumpston

Beta Read by: Izzy and Carla
Written for PetFly by: Ann Powell
Rated PG-13

~~~~~ Act I ~~~~~


The warehouse pulsated with the beat of drums. A semi-circle of drummers sat at the edge of the room with their instruments tucked into their laps. Hands flew over the calfskin tops while eyes remained focused on the dancers before them. Tall candelabra bracketed the musicians and kept them in shadow.

Shadows flickered across the drummers as dancers twirled and moved within the inner circle. Their hands stroked the incense-laden air, and their feet joined with the pulse of the music. The Cubans let the drums take over their bodies. Fabric and flesh slid across one another. A current of electricity heightened the touch of men and women alike.

The perfume from a brazier mingled with that of carnations and roses. The celebrants' white robes soaked up the blend on one turn, and set the intoxicating fragrance free on the next. The heat from the candles in the enclosed warehouse sharpened the experience.

A rapid crescendo signaled for a gap to open in the dance circle. She entered, draped in a golden robe. The silk of her dress clung to her form and rustled softly as she joined the dance. The priestess’ mocha skin was luminescent in the soft light, and short brown hair framed her face.

She slowly turned to observe her congregation. Her eyes discovered the table of sacrifice, and she approached it to examine her ebo. Gold carnations and red roses littered the table among oranges and bowls of honey. The priestess closed her eyes and filled her lungs with the scent of the offerings, and was pleased.

The priestess turned back to the dancers, and her eyes followed their sinuous movements. She gathered her skirts and swayed back into the circle. Her skin was flushed with the blood of life running through her veins. She felt Oshun call to her spirit, and she released control to her.

~~~~~~~~

Dennis Murphy climbed the ladder outside of the warehouse where his partner, Patrick Donoghue requested they meet. He could hear the rumble of the drums beneath him, and his heart throbbed with the pulse.

Dennis reached the rooftop and stepped onto it. He could see Patrick pacing in front of a wide skylight. Dennis called out, "Hey, Patrick. What did you need to see me about?"

Patrick shifted from leg to leg as the vibrations from the warehouse below ran through his body. His nerves were unsettled enough without the added sensation. He nearly jumped out of his skin when Dennis announced his presence. "Damn, Dennis. Make some noise next time." Patrick swallowed and continued without making eye contact. "We really need to talk."

Patrick’s face was pasty. Sweat stood on his forehead, and Dennis felt his heart pound harder. It appeared that something was bothering his partner. Dennis knew what it was, and knew there would be repercussions if anyone else discovered their secret. "What is there to talk about? As far as I’ve heard, everything is going okay."

Patrick turned to the starless night sky that embraced the building. The secret they shared was weighing heavily on his soul. "I can’t live with myself anymore, Dennis. Our deal with Cortez didn’t extend to murder. We were only supposed to tell him about any busts."

Dennis blew out a quick breath. "Don’t you think I know that?" Dennis moved closer to Patrick. "The last thing I wanted that night was to hurt that kid, Mendola. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Patrick spun around to face his friend. "But did you have to kill him? If we went there to only talk to the kid and plant a little marijuana, why did he end up dead on the ground? God, I can still see the growing puddle of blood."

Dennis placed a hand on the shaking shoulder in front of him. "I didn’t want to hurt him. He left me little choice."

Patrick swallowed against a dry throat. "I just don’t understand why things had to go so wrong. Why did he have to die? Why couldn’t we do more to save him?"

Dennis wished he could soothe his best friend. Ever since the shooting, Patrick had been withdrawing more and more. The two men hadn’t spent any real time together in the three weeks since Mendola had been killed. Gone were the fun family outings they had shared in off-hours. Gone were the relaxing coffee breaks. Things were changing, and Dennis didn’t know how to stop it.

"I just want all this to go away, Dennis." Patrick moved away from Dennis’ comforting presence. He turned to the skylight and looked down on the dancers. "I can’t deal with having killed someone." Patrick turned back to Dennis. "I need you to help me out of this. You got me into it, and only you can get me out."

Dennis peered into the desperation-filled eyes of his best friend and wondered if there was a way to help. He didn’t want Patrick to end up regretting their time together. He wanted to preserve what little trust and faith remained between them. "I want to help you Patrick. You’re my partner over everything else that comes our way. We’ll just have to think of a way."

~~~~~~~~

Oshun’s gaze fell upon her children, and she could smell their desire. Sliding her hands over her sweat-slicked skin, Oshun shivered in anticipation. The men looked for her help to spread their seed. The women cried out for babies to fill their wombs.

Oshun gathered her children to her. She caressed eager faces, stroking their passions into a fever heat. They had petitioned for her benediction, and she would not deny them her blessings.

Chants of "yeye dari yeyeo" flowed through the charged air. A new presence entered the room, and Oshun stopped the movement of her hand to a woman’s stomach. Looking up, an older woman stepped into the circle. She was wearing a gold turban and threading a gold scarf through her fingers.

Iyalocha approached her goddess and bowed. Her dark mocha hands gripped the scarf that was a present to Oshun. Iya looked into the brown eyes that glowed with love. Iya spoke to Oshun while wrapping the scarf around her head, "Take this small gift, so that we may all share in your divine gifts to us."

Oshun allowed the scarf to be draped over her hair. As the hands of her Iyalocha dropped, Oshun took them in her own. "I accept your gift and find it pleasing. Know that your diligence in your faith will be rewarded."

Iya smiled at the promise and joined the circle. The drummers took up a deep timber that Oshun began to dance to. She sashayed her hips from side to side and began her duty to her children. Those who came to ask for her blessing would receive them.

~~~~~~~~

Dennis racked his brain to find a solution, but he was having a hard time concentrating. Patrick had turned to the skylight. The illumination from below cast a greenish tint onto the already pale face. Dennis shivered at the ghastly glow and moved forward. His change in position eliminated the effect, but it also attracted Patrick’s attention.

"What am I going to do, Dennis? I can’t even look into my wife’s eyes anymore. Hell, every time I look at my kids, I only see Mendola’s eyes. I can’t live like this."

"I’m sorry I ever got you into this," replied Dennis. He crammed his hands in his pants pockets to still their trembling. "I wish there was an easy way to handle this, but I don’t know how. "Right now, if we have any hope of getting you free, we have to worry about Cortez."

"Shit," cursed Patrick. "I wasn’t even thinking about that." Patrick leaned forward and grabbed Dennis’ arms. "What the hell am I supposed to do, Dennis? Cortez will kill me the minute he thinks I’ve become a liability."

Dennis stepped into Patrick’s personal space to force eye contact. "We will get you out of this Pat. We just have to find a way to work around Cortez. We’re lucky he hasn’t found out about this yet."

Dennis silently prayed that what he had said was true. The last thing he wanted was Patrick being killed and this conversation ever being discovered. He knew he would be next. Dennis was shaken from his thoughts.

"Just give me time to make sure my family is safe. After that, I’ll go to IA and let them know what is going…"

"You can’t do that," shouted Dennis. He cringed at the loudness of his own voice. "Cortez will find a way to get you. Besides, what do you think will happened to me either way?" Dennis started pacing. He had to find a way to keep Patrick from turning them both in.

"You don’t understand, Patrick. Do you think we’re the only cops Cortez has in his pocket? If you go to the police, Cortez can arrange for something to happen. I don’t want to die, and I care about you too much to screw with both our lives like that. We need to work on this together."

Patrick looked deep into Dennis’ eyes and saw a stranger. Patrick didn’t want to turn this over to IA, but he had no choice; either scenario would have Cortez trying to kill him. Even if there were other dirty cops, the police were his best bet to survive. Going to the police would also allow him to get his family into Witness Protection. He would then be able to turn himself in without worrying about their safety. He couldn’t live with himself if his kids ended up like Mendola. Life wouldn’t be worth living.

Patrick regretted that Mendola had been killed, but his own family was more important to him. Mendola couldn’t be brought back, but they could be saved. Dennis would have to find his own way out. Patrick would have enough work keeping his own family safe.

Patrick 's solemn face struck desolation into Dennis' heart. Dennis felt the friendship ripping in two. Dennis cursed Mendola under his breath. The boy had set events into motion that there was no return from.

~~~~~~~~

Flashback

The pounding of feet echoed down the alley. Ragged breaths shot clouds of smoke into the icy night air. The young Cubano ran, but his pursuers were gaining on him.

"Stop where you are," shouted Detective Murphy. "You’re only making this harder on yourself." Dennis cursed to himself when the boy continued to run.

‘I gotta get away,’ ran through Jorge Mendola’s mind. The cops that had been hassling him these last few weeks were after him once again. "Why won’t you leave me alone?" he sobbed silently.

The alley ended in a brick wall. Dennis turned to see his partner, Detective Donoghue, catching up. "This is a blind alley. Mendola has no where else to run."

Patrick had to bend over to loosen the pressure on his lungs. His gripped his upper thighs and tried to catch his breath. "It’s about time. I’m getting too old for this."

Jorge ran full out. It wasn't until water from the pavement under him soaked into the butt of his jeans that he realized he had stopped. His arms were numb and tingling, and his chest felt like it was being squeezed in a vice. Even his face and head throbbed.

Jorge gently moved to his hands and knees. His head craned up, and he had to bite back a sob. A ten-foot brick wall was blocking his path. Looking around frantically, there was no sign of anything to boost him over the wall. The cops were behind him, and he had nowhere else to go.

With the boy's head swinging around wildly, the panic in his eyes was visible. Patrick called out, "Are you ready to talk now, son? We only want to have a little chat."

Jorge looked around at the older white cop and laughed. "Talk? That’s all?" Jorge panted for breath. A hysterical laugh bubbled up in his throat, and he had to swallow it. "Last time we talked, I found myself in jail for possession." Jorge pulled himself to his feet and plastered himself to the rough wall.

Dennis rubbed his hands to keep them warm in the early spring air. "Come on, Mendola, listen to me. We only want what is best for the community. You know Cortez has done a lot for you. If you keep bad-mouthing him and the cops, there's going to be frenzy. Cops will descend, and you know things will go from bad to worse."

As Dennis sweet-talked the kid, Patrick hoped he would come around. There was a lot of pressure coming from IA on the cops who worked the neighborhood. It ranged from Vice and Homicide detectives down through the beat cops. He and Dennis were right in the center of the shake down. Mendola should never have been behind the club that day. Trash pickup had been delayed, and Mendola's crew was a day behind. Cortez was in the club kitchen reassuring a client his deal with the police was solid when the loud beeping of the trash compactor alerted him to possible listeners. When the police started sniffing around the next day, Cortez knew he had been overheard

"Just think, Jorge," Patrick spoke up. "If you just co-operate with us now, we will leave you alone. We can arrange for the judge to be lenient with you."

Dennis pulled a small packet of marijuana from his pocket and held it out. "He's right. You go down easy on this and everything will work out. You lose credibility with the cops, and they will bury your complaints. The cops working for Cortez then won’t have to worry about. You get to serve community service, and we can all live happily ever after."

"Happily ever after?" Jorge exploded out. "There will be none for me. If I get busted, there goes law school. You've already made my dean second-guess me with the first bogus bust. This one will get me kicked out for good. So, how do I live happily ever after?"

Jorge knew it was over for him. Other cops would believe their brothers in blue, and he would be left with no prospects. He also knew that Cortez wouldn't let a witness live. If he didn't die tonight, it would be soon. Coming to his decision, Jorge staggered away from the wall and fell to the ground. Under the cover of his jacket, he retrieved his cell phone and punched in 911. If he were to go down, he would take the cops with him.

Dennis kept an eye on Mendola as he walked towards them. If the boy would only give up so they could all go home. He was getting cold, and his wife was waiting for him to take her out to dinner. Mendola’s hand came up. A flash of metal glinted in the poorly lit alley. A gun!

Dennis didn’t think and just reacted. In the end, he and Pat were left standing, and the kid lay bleeding on the ground.

End flashback

~~~~~~~~

Dennis hadn’t meant to kill Mendola. When the boy grabbed at his pocket, Dennis thought he was desperate enough to pull a gun. Patrick’s eyes stated his decision.
He would continue with his plan to get out of the organization.

Patrick tried to read Dennis’ face. He couldn’t understand why Dennis wasn’t affected by what happened. He was too calm and collected. As fast as Dennis had drawn his gun and shot Mendola, Patrick wondered if the killing wasn’t planned.

"I need to go to IA on this, Dennis. There may be a chance Cortez would kill me, but my wife and girls would be protected. I can’t risk their lives on my mistake." Patrick stepped around Dennis but was stopped by his hand.

"Please don’t do this, Pat. My career is over if you do," Dennis pleaded.

"I’m sorry, Dennis. I need to do this." Patrick shoved off Dennis’ restraining hand.

Dennis stood his ground, hoping he could still sway Patrick. A hard shove from his partner upset his balance. While Patrick was trying to pass him, Dennis grabbed for him, scrambling for equilibrium. The move knocked both men off their feet. Dennis fell forward, and the force tipped Patrick backwards.

Dennis watched in horror as Patrick fell onto the skylight. It buoyed him up briefly until the glass splintered under the weight. Dennis’ ears rang as Patrick screamed for help before he impacted with the concrete floor below. The screaming stopped.

~~~~~~~~

The rhythm of the drumbeats was slowing down. Oshun was fighting the fatigue felt by the human body she possessed. She would have to return to her own plane soon. When the drums abruptly stopped without completing the closing ritual, Oshun turned to the disturbance. A thousand twinkling lights scattered on the ground caught her attention.

Dennis raced into the warehouse after a mad dash down the building’s ladder. Upon entering the interior, the prone body in the circle of candles caught his attention immediately. The body was twisted and rivulets of blood from mouth and ears drained onto the concrete floor.

Patrick was numb. The absolution he was seeking had been denied to him. He wanted to be free to spend time with his family, but it seemed that fate had something else in mind. Hearing footsteps approach, "I can’t feel anything, Dennis. Why can’t I feel anything?"

Dennis tenderly turned Patrick’s head and air bubbles frothed from the broken man’s mouth. The puddle of blood growing under Patrick’s head indicated a massive head injury. Kneeling down, Dennis gently shifted Patrick’s upper body into his arms. It was the only comfort he could give his friend and partner of eight years. "Why couldn’t you leave things be, Pat? All you had to do was let me handle things."

Patrick felt warmth sheltering his head, but he couldn’t feel anything below it. Wetness fell onto his cheek, and he focused his attention on Dennis. The tear tracks on Dennis’ face saddened him. "Get out while you can, Dennis. I didn’t make it, so you have to do it for me."

Patrick coughed and wondered why it didn’t hurt like it should. He shut his eyes in exhaustion. It was so hard trying to stay awake. Forcing his eyes open again, he saw a golden apparition moving towards him from the corner of the room. Patrick smiled. His spirit flew free into welcoming light.

Patrick sagged in his arms, and he hugged the empty shell to him. He didn’t want to let him go, but it was too late to save him. Dennis looked up when a woman drew near. She was tall, wore what appeared to be a gold robe, and a gold scarf veiled her face. She moved closer, and Dennis drew his gun in fear. He didn’t know where she had come from, but she shouldn’t be there; this was his moment to say good-bye to his friend. Trying to wet his dry throat, Dennis said, "Stop right there,"

The woman refused to stop after he warned her. Fighting the urge to run, Dennis squeezed the trigger of his gun. He flinched in remembrance of the last time he had fired his gun. ‘Why do things always have to end like this?’ he cried to himself.

No bullets fired! Dennis froze, terrified. He stared at the barrel of his gun and wondered if he were trapped in a dream. He squeezed the trigger again, and again, until even he had to admit the gun would not shoot. The woman continued her approach. Letting Patrick slide to the floor in his haste, Dennis slammed his gun back into his holster and bolted from the warehouse. There was no way he was staying to meet with whatever had stopped the bullets.

~~~~~~~~

Oshun lowered her protective guard when the man fled from her. The salty tang of blood filled her nostrils, and she shivered. A blood sacrifice was expected, but not when it was human and given up in betrayal. The friend who caused this would have to face his demons; he was the only one who could conquer them.

Oshun glided forward and gazed down on the slain. His soul had been released, and he was at peace. She struggled against the return of her host. The priestess would not want to see this, but Oshun couldn’t hold on any longer. She released her hold and went back to her own plane.

The priestess opened her eyes and the weight of Oshun was gone. She pulled her robe closer to her body as a shiver raced up her spine. The room was deserted of people and possessions, and the priestess wondered where everyone had gone. Looking down when a twinkle caught her eye, she froze at the sight of a man lying dead before her feet. Suppressing a scream of terror, she ran from the room.

~~~~~~~~

Blair was late getting up for work, so Jim waited for him in the truck. He was keeping a constant vigilance over his friend, and he didn’t want Blair too far away from him. He had found reasons for Blair to come into the station more often, and he had his ears trained towards his partner whenever he entered the same building as he was in. He had traced the feelings back to his incarceration in Starksville Prison a month ago. Being locked behind bars had scared Jim; his freedom had been taken from him. Having Blair appear undercover in the jail scared him even more. Blair was so optimistic about life, and Starksville would only destroy that enthusiasm. Due to the silence and hardship while locked up, Jim needed Blair’s friendship to give him hope. Blair was always there for him, and Jim was grateful for it.

Jim answered his phone when it rang, "Ellison."

<Jim, its Simon. I have a new case for you. I need you down in Little Havana at the old Ortega warehouse. There’s been a death. One of our own.>

"Damn, Simon. Has the scene been secured?"

<It was reported in anonymously about two hours ago. Patrol sent a car over to keep the scene clean for us. When can you get here?>

Jim looked at his watch and saw Blair should get there within the next five minutes. "I’m waiting for Blair to finish getting ready. Give us about half an hour."

~~~~~~~~

"Very good, Jim. We’ll be expecting for you." Simon hung up his cell phone and clamped down on the unlit cigar in his mouth. The need for a smoke gnawed at him, but he would have to wait until he left the crime scene. Forensics covered the body with a sheet, and Simon hoped that Jim would arrive soon. It was always bad when it was one of their own.

Blair and Jim reached Little Havana within twenty minutes after the call; Jim was leading the way into the warehouse and towards Simon. "Anything new, Simon?" Jim asked.

Simon motioned to the sheet covered body. "Forensics is sweeping the room and the coroner is waiting for you before removing the body."

Jim squatted down next to the body and lifted the cover. "Patrick Donoghue."

Blair heard Jim speak the dead man’s name, and he went to stand by him. He made sure he didn't disturb any evidence. "You knew him, Jim?"

"We went to the academy together. He was working for Vice last I heard." Jim examined Donoghue’s body. "From the wounds, it looks like he impacted the floor pretty hard."

Simon pointed to the glass on the floor then up to the broken skylight. "Evidence points to a scuffle on the roof and then Donoghue fell through the skylight. The blood patterns on the ground indicate he was moved after the fall." Simon watched as Jim’s eye’s followed his speech from the roof to the floor. He saw Blair’s hand on the small of Jim’s back, centering him. The Sentinel was at work.

Moving his eyes back to his boss, Jim asked, "What about his partner? Has he been contacted yet?"

"We haven’t been able to contact him. Vice stated that Dennis Murphy went on vacation three days ago."

Jim recovered Donoghue’s body and stood up. He noticed Blair had moved deeper into the room, and he followed. He sneezed violently when the scent of flowers invaded his sense of smell. "What the hell happened here? It smells like a florist shop."

Jim stood behind Blair, who was examining a table loaded with flowers and food. Blair was holding his hands tightly behind his back to prevent himself from touching the table and its contents. Jim could see where the knuckles had whitened due to the pressure. The table was covered in red and gold flowers. There was an image of a woman wearing a robe hanging behind the altar. It reminded him of the pictures of the Virgin Mary that hung in the church where he went to as a child.

Blair’s voice cut into his thoughts. "It’s a Santeria ceremony. The flowers on the table are gifts to Oshun, the goddess of fertility. The red and gold of the flowers represent her colors, and the picture behind the altar is of her likeness."

Simon joined the partners and watched as Blair bounced up and down on the balls of his feet. The kid really enjoyed this stuff. The slight smile on Jim's face showed that he was enjoying the show. Blair interrupted Simon’s thoughts.

"The flowers and the scent are still fresh, so there was a ceremony going on here recently. There might be problems getting the witnesses to come forward though. They're usually secretive about their ceremonies."

Simon pulled his unlit cigar from his mouth. "They could be secretive because they had something to do with it, Sandburg. The community is still up in arms about the Mendola killing. He was an up and coming law student making charges of police corruption. This could be their way of saying 'you killed one of ours, now we killed one of yours'."

Blair shook his head. He understood where Simon was coming from, but Simon just didn't understand the culture. "If that were true, Simon, they never would have done it here. The Bembe is a scared ceremony where violence is not permitted. It would be like a Christian going into a Catholic Church and begin shouting obscenities. It's just not done."

"What about that case in Mexico a few years ago, Sandburg? There was a Santeria cult that performed human sacrifice. They kidnapped an American boy and killed him. Don't tell me the religion is that innocent."

Blair ran his hands back through his hair. "I know there are cases where human sacrifice occurs. I participated in the rallies for Mark Kilroy. Every religion has their bad people. Look at what the Catholic Church did in the Spanish Inquisition. Oshun though, no one would make a human sacrifice to her. She would withdraw her support."

"That may be the answer, but you guys have to figure it out. Now, go out there and find out who did this."

Blair watched Simon walk away and turned to Jim. "You believe me, don't you, Jim?"

Jim took Blair's arm and led him outside to the truck. "I know that there are good and bad in religious practices, Blair. I'm going to investigate all our avenues."

"Thanks, Jim," said Blair. "Santeria is so fascinating. I first saw the ceremony in New York. The rituals they perform have picked up elements from other sources.…"

Jim filtered Blair's words out when he picked up the smell of the flowers outside the warehouse. He closed his eyes and focused on the scent. Blair's hand on his arm centered him. "I'm picking up something sweet. I smelled it briefly in the warehouse underneath the scent of the altar flowers." Taking in a deep breath, Jim pinpointed where it was strongest. "It's coming from the alley by the warehouse."

Blair led the way to the alley and observed as Jim bent down near a dumpster. He picked up a gold and red scarf from the ground. Jim held the scarf to his nose, and Blair spoke, "Is that what you're smelling?"

"Yeah. It smells like rose water or oranges. I've never smelled it before." Jim ran the scarf through his hand, and it snagged on a tag. "Botanica alpavo real." Jim looked up at Blair. "Does that mean anything to you?"

Blair took the scarf and read the label himself. "Botanica's are religious stores. They sell candles, herbs, and other paraphernalia. Some of them even hold ceremonies in the back."

Jim took back the shawl. "That means that the wearer of the shawl will be able to answer some questions."

"Probably, Jim," Blair replied. Blair looked around and considered their options. "There should be a local Botanica in the area." Blair looked around and found a phone booth with a directory. After several minutes of research, Blair came back with an address. There’s a Botanica three blocks from here. Let me tell you more about Santeria on our way."

In the truck, Blair had a captured audience. Jim knew from experience that any time Blair had a chance, he would break off into lectures. Jim didn’t know what Blair would do if he couldn’t teach anymore.

"Santeria is based on an African religious practice originated by the Yoruba. Oshun is their goddess of beauty and fertility, sort of like the Greek’s Venus. Her priestess’ usually wear gold and red. That’s why with the flowers on the altar and the shawl, I knew that it was for Oshun." Blair took a breath and continued. "And the priestesses, man? They have a very sensual way of moving. I had plenty of opportunity to observe."

Jim turned to Blair when he began to move. His hands pumped the air, and he wiggled in what must have been the male version of the dance. Jim laughed at his friend’s antics. "Do that move again." Blair repeated the moves and Jim shook his head in amusement. "You’ve got all the moves, Babe." Jim pulled the truck up in front of the Botanica, and the two men exited the vehicle.

~~~~~~~~

Corinne was scared. All that blood. She didn't know what had happened, so she ran to the only place that she felt safe. She made her way through the alley behind the Botanica and knocked on the back door. The door opened, and she looked into the eyes of her Iyalocha.

"Corinne!" Iya exclaimed, pulling Corinne into the back room. "Come in! We’ve been so worried about you."

"Something terrible has happened, Iya."

Iya pulled Corinne into a hug. "I know, but I thank the gods that you are okay. I've been trying to contact you all day. I was worried when I couldn't find you after we ran from the Bembe."

Corinne pulled away from Iya. She needed answers. "I can't remember anything Iya. I went into my trance, and when I woke up, there was a dead man in front of me."

"Everyone was scared, Corinne. You were giving Oshun's blessing when the man fell through the skylight. People grabbed what they could and ran." Iya turned Corinne to face her. "It didn’t even dawn on me that you wouldn’t follow. I am so sorry."

Corinne patted Iya on the arm before turning to the door. "I’m safe now, but I need to go talk to the police."

Iya was floored. How could Corrine think the police would help? "What would you tell them? A man died in your presence. Do you think they would believe that you weren't a suspect, but possessed?"

Corinne swallowed against the lump in her throat. "What am I supposed to do then? Sometimes I feel like I’m on the edge of a knife. On the edge between the Old World and the modern."

Iya put her hands on Corinne’s shoulders and forced eye contact. "You maintain your balance, child." Iya jumped when she heard the bell on the shop door tinkle. She motioned for Corinne to be quiet. "I’ll take care of these customers, and then we’ll talk."

Iya left Corinne in the back room and went to greet her customers. She was surprised to see two white men there. "How can I help you, gentleman?"

Jim approached the woman and pulled his badge out. "I'm Detective Ellison and this is Blair Sandburg. We're from Cascade PD. We have some questions we need to ask."

Iya was surprised again. She hadn't expected the police so quickly. Why couldn't they mind their own business and leave them alone? They had no right to be involved with Santeria. This was a busy time for the community in their worship. The cops were outsiders. Iya swallowed her anger at the intrusion and stated, "How may I assist you?"

Jim heard a slight edge to the polite voice. He knew he wouldn't get much out of her. "A police officer was murdered this morning." Jim held up the shawl they had found earlier. "This shawl was found in the area, and we know it came from a Botanica. We're trying to track down which one."

"It's very beautiful Detective," Iya answered. She pointed to a stand that contained similar scarves. "I'm afraid that in this neighborhood, it's not unique. I can't help you any farther than that."

Blair felt tension building around him. He knew Jim could be stubborn and from the tone of her voice, so could the shopkeeper. Hoping he could encourage her, Blair stepped forward. "Any information you can give us about problems in the community would be great. We are talking about the death of a police officer here."

Iya turned to the shorter man. "I'm sorry I can't help you. I don't know anything." Iya knew enough about cops to know they liked your defenses lowered. It wouldn't work with her. She wished these men would leave as she had other things needing to be done. "If there's nothing else?"

Jim caught the elusive scent he first smelled earlier on the scarf again and turned to Iya. "What is that scent? I've smelled it before."

Iya took a sniff of the air. "Verbena," was her puzzled answer. She had no clue why he wanted to know.

Hearing the name of the flower, Blair remembered more about his experience in New York. "Verbena, of course. It's part of the Bembe ceremony."

Iya found herself surprised a third time that day. Most outsiders didn't care enough to learn about their ceremonies. "You know about the Bembe?"

Grateful he had sparked a response, Blair responded, "Yeah, I'm familiar with the ceremony." He motioned to the colorful displays in the shop of red and gold. Countertops around the store had stands of copper and coral necklaces and bracelets. Large and small brass bells were also scattered on any available surface. Canvas pictures of a dark-skinned woman graced the walls. "There was one last night for Oshun, right?"

Iya was afraid that the young man could cause trouble if he kept digging. With the questions being asked, she realized that the cops didn't know she was involved. She decided to continue playing ignorant. "There may have been. If there was, I can tell you that the death of your cop would not be involved."

Jim heard the woman's heart speed up, but he didn't have enough evidence to bring her in. His hands were tied, but he knew this woman could tell him more. "How do you know what could or couldn’t have happened at this ceremony? You weren't there." With his hearing up to catch her in a lie, Jim caught the sound of footsteps at the back of the store. "Are you the only one working here?" he demanded from the shopkeeper. Without waiting for an answer, Jim ran to the store's back room

"There is no one else here, Detective," Iya called after the detective. She started after the cop as he violated her inner sanctum and cursed him under her breath.

Jim reached the back room. No one was there, but the scent of the verbena permeated the air. Someone had been there. He returned to the front of the store and addressed the shop owner. "I'll be back. You'd better think about where you stand and let us know if you remember anything." Jim turned to Blair and dragged him from the store.

~~~~~~~~

After the interview, Jim drove Blair to Rainier University. Blair spoke to Jim before leaving the truck. "You have to calm down about this, Jim. Putting pressure on the community will only cause them to be more tight-lipped." Jim‘s stony face made Blair think he was talking to a brick wall. "Just remember, Jim, you experienced the small community set-up while you were with the Chopec. Think about that for a while." Blair shut the door and headed off to his class.

Blair had a point, but Jim was missing something. The scent of that verbena had crawled into his head, and he was getting a headache from it. Not being able to concentrate was frustrating. Jim started his truck and headed to the station

Jim met Simon in the elevator when he arrived, and they continued to Major Crimes together. Jim tried pleading his case to Simon, but he wasn't getting very far. "I'm telling you, Captain. This woman knows more about what happened than she's letting on. Sandburg says that someone working at a Botanica would be aware of what was going on in the community."

Simon headed to his office while Jim tried to convince him that he should bring the woman in as a material witness. "I'm sorry, Jim, but you'll just have to find another way to find out what happened."

Simon would never let Jim bring the woman in, but he was hoping that losing that battle would help him win the next. "I'm already planning that, sir. Sandburg’s going to meet me at the station later, and we're going to go interview Cortez."

Simon escorted Jim quickly into his office and shut the door. By the wicked gleam in Jim's eyes, Simon knew this couldn't be good. "Look Jim, I know where you want to go with this, but absolutely not."

Jim sighed, "Come on, Simon. We both know that Cortez has got his fingers into every puppet show that goes on in Little Havana. If I can't talk to that shop owner, I need to get it somewhere else."

Simon dug out one of his cigars from his cigar case. "Cut me some slack here, Jim. Donoghue's death has created a tinderbox. The last thing we need is to add fuel to the fire by attacking Cortez. He's a recognized leader of the community, and I want you to back off this." Simon knew Jim wouldn't listen, but he could honestly say that he had warned Jim away if something developed from this. He personally wanted to see Cortez go down hard.

Simon was going to leave it at that Jim smiled to himself. Captain Banks couldn't condone him leaning on Cortez, but they could play the game to keep Simon in the clear. "Very good, sir."

Selecting another topic of conversation, Simon continued, "Have you been able to contact Donoghue's partner yet?"

"Yeah. Blair's meeting me in two hours so we can talk to him. He's agreed to meet here at the station."

"Good." Simon fondled his cigar. He really needed a smoke soon. "The sooner we find out what Donoghue was doing on that roof, the closer we'll be to finding his killer."

Jim left Simon and headed to his desk. He booted up the computer and worked on reports until Blair arrived.

~~~~~ Act II ~~~~~

Dennis Murphy paced the firing range. He had finished target practice and was waiting for Ellison to show up. He had agreed to an interview, but he was having second thoughts. He was terrified that they would find out about his part in Patrick's death. He loved his friend. Ellison would ask questions about Patrick, and he had no idea how he could answer them. He was just realizing the courage it had taken Patrick to talk to him. He didn’t think he had that kind of courage. He didn’t know how he was going to handle the meeting

Jim regretted having to speak to Murphy so soon after losing his partner. He approached the agitated man, noting the rapid heartbeat and the acrid stench of sweat. Jim had his owns fears about losing Blair. He had come too close to it in the past. Jim shook himself out of those thoughts; he had the present to think of. "I'm Jim Ellison." He pointed to Blair who had moved up beside him. "This is Blair Sandburg, a consultant to Major Crimes."

Murphy noticed how close the two men stood together. He rubbed arm absentmindedly. He and Patrick had the same closeness. They had bumped shoulders frequently while working, and now he had to learn to live without it. He didn‘t know if he would ever get through this. "I've been expecting you." Murphy took a deep breath to clear his mind. "Anything that you want to know, Ellison, I'll do my best to tell you. Patrick was my partner for several years, and I want to find the bastard that did this to him."

Blair shifted towards Jim and the answering nudge calmed him. Death was hard to deal with, but Blair knew it could happen anytime, especially in Jim’s line of work Blair met Jim's eyes and offered a grim smile. Together, they would help out Murphy.

Jim nodded as he answered Murphy, "Do you know why he was in Little Havana last night on that building? Were you working on any cases that would put him there?"

"We had no open cases that were even close to that location. The strange thing this is that he never told me he was going there. That's something you always tell your partner. They are your back-up after all."

Dennis had heard stories about the pair before him, and knew they were a well-oiled machine. He and Pat had been like that after being partnered. Dennis felt his eyes water; he didn't want to be reminded of what he had lost.

Jim felt Blair's body heat, and knew exactly what Murphy was talking about. Blair was always there to count on. No matter what. "How about someone who might have held a grudge against him? An ex-con? Anything going on in his life?"

Murphy knew that if this continued much longer he wouldn't be able to hold himself together. He needed to throw Ellison off the track. "Come on, Ellison. We both know what this is about, right? Everybody does. This is payback for Mendola."

Jim had read the case files earlier, so he was familiar with the details. "You and Donoghue were his arresting officers on the case two months before Mendola was shot."

Murphy warmed up to his charade. "Why do you think Patrick was killed? That collar was legitimate. Mendola had a nickel bag on him. So, what happens next? He gets off on bail, somebody whacks him, and everybody in Little Havana thinks that we did it. Personally, I would look more closely at the community…."

Blair heard Naomi's voice in his head lecturing him about ‘The Establishment.’ "You don't know that. Everything about the case suggests that it was…"

Murphy glared at the young man. The last thing he needed was to have the kid put ideas in Ellison's head. "You have no idea what the hell you're talking about! You're what, a ‘consultant?’ Walk in our shoes for a while," he sneered. He watched Blair cringe but noticed that he stood his ground. This boy could cause him trouble later on.

Jim clenched his hands into fists. Murphy had no right to yell at his partner. The guy was grieving, but Blair deserved better. "That's enough, Murphy," Jim stepped between the two men. "We know what it's like, and we know that you just lost your partner."

Murphy was close to tears, and he knew it. He missed Patrick so much. "I'm sorry. It's just that he was a good man. He didn't deserve this." *Especially from his partner,* thought Murphy to himself.

Jim heard Murphy‘s voice crack with emotion and cut him some slack. He would ignore it this time. Partners were special, and they both knew it. "We are going to catch the scumbag who did this. Donoghue was one of us." Jim settled his hand on Blair's shoulder to include him in on the sentiment, and Blair smiled in return. "Let us know if you think of anything else," said Jim as he guided Blair from the room.

Murphy watched the by-play between the two men as they left and felt the phantom pain from where Patrick had been cut away. The way he was feeling, he could almost welcome being found out.

~~~~~~~~

Cortez watched his hired cop shaking and sweating in front of him. The sight amused him. He had known that Donoghue was ready to leave the organization. It was ironic that the man who brought Donoghue in helped him exit. "You did what you had to do, Murphy. Your *partner* was going to leave our happy family. You saw a problem and dealt with it. You should be happy."

Murphy heard Cortez stress 'partner' and the blood rushed into his face. Cortez didn't know what it was like to have a partner. How could he understand what this had done to him? "It's so easy for you, isn't it? I killed a *cop.* Do you have any idea what that means? This isn't Mendola that we're talking about. The department is going to turn this town upside down until they make an arrest."

Cortez leaned back in his seat and took a drink from his glass. He wasn't worried about retribution. He had the community under wraps, and they wouldn't dare expose him. "Don't worry so much about what the community will say. They know when to keep their mouths shut. Besides, what do I have to worry about? I haven’t shot anybody lately."

Murphy blurted out before he could stop himself, "God will always know. You can't fool God. God sees everything." When his gun had jammed earlier, it proved that to him. Guns didn’t fire for no reason. God was watching.

Cortez sat forward in his seat. He had wondered if this would happen. Now he knew. The man was losing his nerve, and he would have to use Murphy as quickly as he could before putting him down. Reining in his temper, he replied, "You've got too much to lose, Murphy. You got your kids in private school. You got all your girlfriends. You like the good life. Just focus on your job and nothing else."

Dennis’ saw his mortality in the Cuban’s cold eyes. He had sacrificed his morals and his livelihood for money. He needed to remember who held his life in his hands. "There was a woman there when Patrick died. A witness." Murphy looked down and prayed for forgiveness for damning another person.

Cortez perked up at the news. "Do you know who she was?"

Dennis finished off his drink in one large swallow. "I think she saw everything, but I'm not sure who she was."

Cortez took another sip from his glass. Murphy could take care of the woman before he was eliminated. Cortez would not allow the cop become a liability. "If she's in the area, she won't be hard to find. I want you to track her down. I don't want her to become a problem."

With nothing left to give, Murphy responded. "Why don't we just leave it alone? If she was going to come forward, she would have done it by now."

"We can't take that chance. You've got to take care of your unfinished business. We don't want another liability, do we?" Cortez saw the fear in the cop's eyes and knew that at least this much would be done.

~~~~~~~~

Jim and Blair had finished reporting in to Simon when they headed out to talk to Cortez. They arrived at the Cuban club and left the truck to go in. A Cubano stopped the two men at the entrance.

Jim eyed the large man facing him and felt Blair at his back. "Aren't you going to let us in? I thought the purpose of a club was to have customers?" The bouncer kept his eyes forward and didn't respond. Jim sighed, "We are going to have some co-operation, are we?"

Rico crossed his arms and turned his attention to the pair before him. "This is a private club. Members only." He smiled, daring the white man to contest his decision.

Jim smiled back and flashed his badge. "I have a ‘get in free’ card. I’m here to see Mr. Cortez. Why don’t you let me in like a good little boy?" If this idiot wanted to play intimidation games, Jim was more than happy to oblige.

Rico glared at the cop who dared ignore him. Puffing up his chest, he took a step into the cop's personal space, "He doesn’t have time for you. Senor Cortez is a very busy man." The bodyguard knew he had to make this count. Cortez was a hard man and only allowed one mistake. He would be watching.

Jim ignored the silent threat, "That’s exactly why we’re here. He’s been such a busy man."

Blair watched the two men verbally fighting it out. He swallowed against a dry throat and wondered if this was becoming another example of a ‘Mexican standoff.’ "Hey, Jim, why don’t we come back some other time, huh?"

Jim ignored Blair's advice and replied, "I’m double parked, Chief." Glaring at the mountain in front of him, Jim growled out, "Do I need a tow truck to get you out of here?"

Rico was beginning to get angry. This guy had no clue what he was getting himself into. "You really want me to take you down, don’t you?"

Cortez had been sitting at his usual table in the back corner of the restaurant when the cop had entered. Cortez didn’t want more problems cropping up if he was seen refuse to answer questions. He hadn’t gotten where he was through stupidity. "Let him through, Rico. I’ll take care of this."

Jim stalked forward to face the snake in its hole. That slithering bastard would pay for what he did; Jim would just have to make him talk. Jim noted how confident the Cuban crime boss was, and it made him angrier. Cortez shirt was half unbuttoned, and he was leaning back in his chair. He was a good-looking man, but that was the nature of the beast, hiding behind their beauty to catch people unaware.

When the cop moved forward, a smaller man came into Cortez’s view Not wanting to perform for an audience of two, he called out, "I’ll only speak to you, Detective." The pair paused. "Your partner can sit down at the bar. My cook is very good at what he does, and can keep him company."

Jim motioned for Blair to comply. Knowing Cortez’s reputation, he wanted Blair far away from the man. Blair nodded his head and headed to the bar.

"I…I could eat." Blair said as the two men went to a quiet corner. There were moments he wished he had sentinel hearing.

Jim followed Cortez into the back of the room and sat down after Cortez did. Wanting to get the encounter over as quickly as possible, he started in. "I’m here investigating the murder of a vice squad cop named Patrick Donoghue. He worked in this vicinity. Did you know him?"

"Not personally. I've seen him around the neighborhood. I do offer my condolences though."

Jim suppressed the urge to beat Cortez into telling the truth. "I’ll be sure to pass that along to his widow."

Cortez remained calm and sighed, "I don’t know what you want from me, Detective."

Jim leaned forward in his seat. "Anything you know about the incident." Jim leaned back in his seat and smiled. "I doubt anything goes on in this neighborhood without you knowing about it."

Cortez laughed to himself over the cop's technique. The cop would just have to keep trying to break him. "Oh, come on. You’re giving me way too much credit."

Hoping to throw Cortez by changing topics, Jim asked, "What about Jorge Mendola? You know who killed him?"

Cortez smiled. He was having no trouble handling this detective. "I heard it was a cop." Cortez shrugged. "I don’t know what else to tell you."

Jim knew when he was beating a dead horse and stood up to leave. "Why don’t you think about that for a while, all right?"

"You know, Detective," Cortez replied, "In Cuba, I was tortured by Castro’s revolutionaries. Intimidation has very little effect on me."

Jim turned back to the table and was stone-faced. "I’ve learned by my experience in Covert Ops that any man that’s got to tell you that," Jim shrugged, "well, he’s usually scared to death. If I were you, I’d keep Rico sharp, because the next time I come back here, it’s not going to be a social visit." Jim turned back towards the door and tapped Blair’s shoulder on the way out. "Let’s go, Chief."

Blair grabbed the bag containing his food and followed Jim. From the stiff posture and straight face, Jim was not in a good mood. Blair sighed; his speech on community etiquette was being ignored. The pair left the restaurant, and Blair decided to let Jim make the first move.

Jim was fuming. Cortez was too calm and secure in his position. He would sooner admit to being a woman than he would to being involved in murder. Taking his anger out on the only available source, he pointed to the bag in Blair’s hand. "What’s that? A Cuban happy meal?"

Blair knew that Jim could be a hard ass, but this was above and beyond. "I had to take it. If I didn’t, it would have been an insult."

"We wouldn’t want you to offend Cortez, now, would we?" Jim said sarcastically.

Blair glared at Jim. Jim might be frustrated he couldn‘t get anything from Cortez, but Blair was not going to be his whipping boy. "Cut the attitude, Jim. It would have insulted the cook. You know me better than that. What were you able to tell from Cortez?"

Jim suppressed his rage. He had no right taking his anger out on Blair. "Sorry, Sandburg. I can smell his satisfaction at withholding information. He knows, but he isn’t going to incriminate himself. This is just such a.…" Jim trailed off as his nose picked up a familiar scent.

"What is it, Jim?" Blair asked, recognizing Jim had entered Sentinel mode.

"That fragrance from the scarf -- I’m smelling it again."

"The verbena?" Blair placed his free hand on Jim's arm to center him. "Can you track it?"

"Yeah." Jim scanned the street around them. The scent was already fading by the time he reached the roadside. "Sorry, Chief. It has already dissipated." Jim’s cell phone rang. He answered it and listened to the speaker. "Okay, Simon. We’re coming in." He turned to Blair. "That was Simon. He has an update on the case. Let’s go."

~~~~~~~~

Jim and Blair arrived at the station and went directly to Simon’s office. "We have some new information about the case. It’s being kept quiet, so I don’t want this spread around."

Simon sat on the edge of his desk and faced the two men who stood in front of him. "I got a call from IA this morning. They're investigating vice cops who may be in Cortez’s pocket. Donoghue’s name was on the list. Now, if cops are on the take, it could be why Mendola was killed."

Things started clicking together in Blair’s head. "That would tie Donoghue up into this, why he was killed. Maybe this was just too much for him. He had two little girls and a baby on the way. Maybe Cortez was expecting too much from him."

"That’s why I want this top priority. I want to find out who killed Donoghue. I want to know if this is connected in with Mendola." Simon rose and went to his seat. "Now go out and find me some results gentlemen."

Jim motioned for Blair to follow him from the room. "Yes, sir. Let’s go, Chief."

Simon was ready to sit down when he remembered something and stopped the two from leaving. "By the way, I got a call from your friend, Cortez. It appears that he’s filed charges for police harassment."

Blair was amazed. Jim hadn’t even touch the guy. "What? Oh, come on. I was there Simon. We both know Jim can be aggressive, but he was on his best behavior."

"Save it, Sandburg." Simon was interrupted when Rhonda’s voice came over the intercom

"Captain Banks? Ms. Santiago is here to see you."

"All right, I'll be right out." To Jim and Blair he said, "Just sit down while I get our visitor. It appears that things are escalating in Little Havana, and the mayor has asked us to work with a community affairs liaison -- her name is Corinne Santiago." Simon moved around the duo to the door.

Jim jumped forward. "Simon, we can handle…."

Simon stopped him by quickly raising his palm. "As Daryl would say, talk to the hand." Simon opened his office door and stepped into the outer office.

Jim smelled a familiar scent enter the room. Simon’s voice then distracted him. "Ms. Santiago, I'm Captain Banks. Would you like to step in, please?" Jim watched as a beautiful Cuban woman walked in, her perfume drifting through the air, nearly overpowering the Sentinel.
It was verbena.

~~~~~ Act III ~~~~~


Corinne sat at the conference table in Captain Banks’ office. The three men were across from her. She did her best to maintain a professional attitude, but it was hard. She knew these detectives were good at their job, because she had investigated them before she came to the station. She also knew they had been only one step behind her since they were put on the case. "We have a crisis on our hands, Captain. Our people are frightened, and they feel unprotected."

Simon clasped his hands in front of him on the table. She had a point, but it would be his responsibility to ensure the investigation went smoothly. "With all due respect, Ms. Santiago, I feel those fears are totally unfounded. The police are doing the best they can. It would be helpful if a witness would come forward."

Captain Banks' statement made Corinne feel guilty. She was the one they were looking for, but she couldn't expose her position in Santeria. "A young man named Jorge Mendola spoke out about police corruption, and he ended up dead. Is that the best your police department can do?"

Simon didn’t doubt the integrity of his own unit, but he couldn’t speak for the others. "The investigation into Mendola’s death is on-going. My department isn’t handling it, but the cases we do pursue are handled quickly and efficiently."

"What about the death of Detective Donoghue? I'm sure you’re looking long and hard for his killer." Corinne met each man's eyes. "The fear in my community is that someone in Little Havana is going to be picked as a scapegoat."

Blair felt the woman's stare and tried to reassure her. "I can understand where you’re coming from Ms. Santiago, but this isn't Cuba. You have rights here, and there are people you can turn to for help."

Corinne looked the young man over. He seemed to care, but appearances could be deceiving. "Believe what you want, Mr. Sandburg, but I've seen the police push, grab, and racially insult my people. That was here in Cascade."

Jim bristled at the jab. "Those were isolated incidents, ma'am, I..."

Corinne interrupted before he could go further. " I didn't come here to argue the point. I came here asking you to exercise restraint and avoid harassing my citizens."

Jim couldn’t believe this woman could shake him up like this. The scent she was wearing was distracting him. The last time he had smelled something so powerful was the blood in the fighting ring at Starksville. He shook himself away from those thoughts quickly. "If you're referring to Roberto Cortez, some say that everything bad that happens in the neighborhood traces back to him."

Corinne stood up and placed her hands firmly on the table. "It is because of Señor Cortez that we have a free clinic, a youth center, and hot meals for our elderly. We can‘t accuse him of murder without proof. "

Disgusted, Blair spat out, "Oh, yeah, yeah, sure. A friendly neighborhood patriarch, right? Little Havana's answer to John Gotti."

Corinne felt the need to defend Cortez no matter what. He had lived in a poverty-stricken area of Cuba that had been destroyed by government forces. Her own life in Cuba had ended the same. They had found new and better lives in the states. "He's given a lot to the community."

Jim stood up from his seat and faced her down. "It's only a fraction of what he's siphoned off."

Corinne backed away from the detective and grabbed her coat. "It seems we have a difference of opinion." Corinne let Simon help her with her coat and guide her to the door. "I just hope we can resolve it."

Jim moved in front of her to prevent her from leaving and sniffed her body. "By the way, if you don't mind me asking, what is that fragrance you’re wearing?"

Corinne jumped at the action and felt a line of sweat roll down her back. The detective was invading her personal space. "Perfume I made for myself, from tropical flowers -- Flores Tropicalis. My mother taught me in Cuba." Corinne left the office and hoped that she wouldn’t have to deal with these men anymore. "Buenos dias."

Jim called after her, "Adios." Jim watched as Simon shut the door after the woman and spoke up. "She's wearing the same scent I picked up at the murder scene. She was there."

"Are you sure?" Simon shook his head and answered his own question. "Of course you’re sure. You can smell it a mile away. All right, Jim. Just please walk carefully on this one. We're dealing with the mayor on this one."

Jim followed and caught up with Corinne. If he could get her alone, she would be a little more co-operative. He found her swiftly descending the stairs to leave the building. Jim called, "Just a minute."

This man would not leave her alone. She was already dangerously close to revealing what she knew. Only Iya’s warning kept her silent. She turned to the detective. "Let's see. You've already asked me about my perfume. What, want to know where I buy my clothes now?"

Jim placed himself in Corinne's path so she wouldn't bolt. "Well, actually, I know where you buy your clothes -- at least some of them anyway. We have a witness to Donoghue's murder. She dropped her shawl at the scene."

Corinne felt herself start to shake a little. She dug her nails into her palms, "And?"

Jim crossed his arms across his chest. "And I think that shawl belongs to you."

Corinne faked a laugh. "That's ridiculous."

Jim could smell the fear on Corinne, beneath the scent of flowers. "You know, obstructing justice is a crime. I'm not the enemy here. Why don't you just talk to me?" Jim asked.

Corinne turned away from the detective. "I've told you everything. If that's all...?"

Jim moved out of Corinne's way. "One way or the other, I'll find out what happened." Corinne remained faced away from the detective. She took a deep breath before she continued from the building.

~~~~~~~~

Blair waited at Jim's desk until he returned. Facing off with him, Blair asked, "What was the deal in there? You were like a pit bull."

Jim sat at his desk and pulled out one of his case folders. "She plays a big part in this, Chief. I want to set up a stakeout on her. All I have to do is give her enough rope to hang herself."

"Listen to yourself, Jim. You're treating her like a pawn. Why don't you give her the benefit of the doubt and try to work with her?" Jim could be insensitive, but this was ridiculous.

"If you want to give her the benefit of the doubt, Sandburg, go ahead. I have a case to solve." Jim went back to the report he had to finish by the end of the day.

"Fine, Jim," Blair sighed. "Why don't I take first watch tonight after my class?"

Jim didn't look at Blair just absently acknowledged him. "Be my guest, Sandburg. Phone me if you come up with anything."

~~~~~~~~

Blair was exhausted. He’d spent all morning at the precinct, all afternoon at the university, and now five hours following Corinne. He took off his glasses and scrubbed at his eyes. A series of sharp pops jerked him upwards, banging his head on his car’s ceiling.

A black Cadillac was racing by and bursts of fire arced from the passenger window and into the front windows of the restaurant. Blair whipped his cell phone out and dialed 911. "This is Blair Sandburg with the Cascade PD, reporting shots fired at Ruben’s Cuban Restaurant on 9th. Please send ambulances and notify Detective Ellison of Major Crimes." Blair closed the connection and jumped out of his car.

Racing into the restaurant, Blair ran to the last place that he had seen Corinne. She and the shopkeeper had been sitting at a table in front of the windows. Shattered glass crunched under his feet, and he wondered how anyone could have survived. Low moans reached his ears, and the amount of damage devastated him.

Blair stopped short when he found Corinne sitting on the floor, holding her motionless friend in her arms. The table they had been sitting at had been knocked over as well as their chairs. From the blood splatters, the bullets had ripped into Iya and toppled her sideways. Corinne was uninjured, and Blair had no idea how she had avoided it.

Blair bent down and felt for a pulse. There was none. There was nothing more he could do for her, so he reached down and closed her eyes. He heard mumbling and looked at Corinne. Her haunted eyes were fixed in the distance, and her voice was so low he could barely hear it.

"Why did you do it, Iya? Why? I wasn’t worth it." Corinne tilted her face up-wards and met Blair’s eyes. "She pushed me out of the way. She stood up and knocked me down. She saved me. Why did she save me?" Corinne sobbed and buried her face in Iya’s neck.

Blair left Corinne to her grief and tended those that could use his help. He moved through the room checking on the other customers. He helped patch up those he could and closed the eyes of those he couldn't.

Blair moved back over to where Corrine pillowed the head of her dead friend on her lap. He heard her whispering, "Iya? Iya?" Blair put his hand on Corinne’s shoulder for comfort.

Iya was gone from her. Iya had been her support base for so long, that she didn’t know if she could go on without her. Corrine felt her shoulder being gently squeezed and looked up. The young man that had been with the detective was squatting next to her. Silently thanking Oshun, Corinne let the young man comfort her. She lay her head on his shoulder and felt him stroke her hair. She closed her eyes and continued holding Iya.

When the paramedics got to Iya, Blair gently released her from Corinne's arms. The body was taken away, and Blair guided Corinne to a table. Blair put a comforting arm around Corinne and prayed that Jim would get there soon.

~~~~~~~~

Jim parked his truck and ran into the restaurant. Blair had a way of getting into trouble, so he was Jim’s first priority. He trained his ears to find the familiar heartbeat and found it beating faster than normal. It wasn’t in the danger zone, so he switched to scent. The smell of blood and antiseptics filled the air, and he had to quit before he zoned from the intensity. It wasn’t until he saw Blair sitting at a table next to Corinne that he breathed a sigh of relief. He slid into a seat across from them.

Jim knew what it was like to lose a friend; he was gentle with her. "I’m sorry about your friend, Corrine. Don’t you think it’s time for you to tell me what you know?"

Corrine swallowed. She looked up into the blue eyes of the detective. "You're right. I was at the Bembe. I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you earlier." Corinne wiped the tears from her eyes and face. "All I remember about that night are the drums from the beginning of the ceremony. The next thing I knew, I was standing over the dead body of that detective. Everything in between is a blank."

Knowing he would regret the question, Jim asked it anyway. "What do you mean, it was a blank? How could you not remember?"

Corrine searched the detective’s face, trying to judge what his reaction would be. "I was in a trance."

Blair put his hand on Corinne’s arm to lend his support. Jim was stubborn about acknowledging the mystical world; he dismissed anything that wasn’t tangible. Blair backed up Corinne’s statement, "At the Bembe I observed in New York, the priestess had no recollection of events when questioned later.

Corrine spoke up, "In our religion, the gods come down to earth. They can enter the bodies of their priests. I'm the priestess of Oshun. She chose me."

Blair continued, "These trances have been known to last minutes, hours, days, and sometimes even a week. When the priest comes out of the trance, they don’t remember anything."

Jim listened with a frown of concentration. "Why couldn’t you tell me all this before?"

Corrine looked down. "I work for the mayor, and I practice a religion where a god inhabits your body. Not many people outside the religion understand or even believe. I live in two worlds, Detective. "

Jim could sympathize with Corrine. Meeting with his spirit world was unbelievable at first, but he had learned to accept it and listen to its messages. It had been imperative to do so while he was in Peru after Simon, and also when Incacha had died. "A lot of us walk in different worlds, Corrine. Sometimes we're not sure which world we're in, but we have to make the best of it."

Jim glanced at Blair and saw him smile with pride. Blair had been trying to make him accept his senses, and Jim felt he was finally coming to terms with them. Getting back to Corinne. "I think the killer knows that you're the only witness. He won’t care that you were in a trance. He’ll want you dead."

~~~~~ Act IV ~~~~~

Jim brought Corinne and Blair back to the loft, and arranged to have a car outside watching them. He didn’t want to take a chance with either of their lives, and he was glad that, for once, Blair didn’t fight it. It was time to return to Major Crimes and check in with Simon.

~~~~~~~~

Simon sat behind his desk. "Where’s your other half, Jim?"

"I left him at the loft with Corinne. A couple of uniforms are guarding them there."

Simon acknowledged the information, "That takes care of protecting her, but we still don't know why Donoghue was killed."

Jim sat down on the corner of Simon’s desk. "Let's say Mendola's claim of police corruption is true. Donoghue and Murphy were the arresting officers, and later Mendola was found dead in an alley. I think Donoghue was involved in the murder. Something went wrong, a change of heart, so he was murdered."

"That's a lot of supposition, Jim. Can you back that up with any proof?"

"You think these were all coincidences?" Jim asked, rising from the desk. "The whole community is afraid of and hates cops. If the police were at all worth their reputation, we would have some support there. You told us earlier that IA was investigating Donoghue. If he were dirty, how far would he go? Also, most off duty cops aren’t pushed through skylights for no reason. He doesn’t even live in that section of town. "

Simon took a sip from his coffee and thought about what Jim said. "All right, so now we come to the big question. Who killed him?"

"I don't know, Simon. Who could lure him up to that roof? It would have to be someone he trusted." Jim looked Simon in the eye, "His partner, perhaps? If I was in that situation, you know Blair would have to be the one to get me there. I wouldn’t trust anyone else."

Simon was tired. Not only did they have to deal with the death of a cop, but there was the possibility another cop did the deed. "It does seem to be the only thing that fits." Simon removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "God, Jim, I hope you're wrong."

Jim walked to the office door and stopped before leaving. "Yeah. Me, too."

~~~~~~~~

At the loft, Blair prepared some tea for Corinne and himself. He felt safe with the cops outside, but he wished Jim were there; Jim would be able to hear anything coming at them. Right now though, he had to concentrate on getting Corinne to open up. "How long have you been in America?"

Corinne took a sip of her tea and set the cup down on the table. "I was ten when I left Cuba, and already a priestess. When I came to America, it was Iya who took me under her wing."

Blair moved close to the couch. "That’s pretty young to have that kind of responsibility. Its good that you had someone to watch over you."

"Cuba was a rough place, Blair. Kids grow up real fast because they have to. My grandmother taught me what she knew."

Blair sat next to Corinne. "My mom and I moved around a lot until I was sixteen. Between always being in a new place and my mom meeting new people, I had to learn to depend on myself. That’s all I had."

"Growing up is always difficult. When one is gifted, their ability tends to stay erratic until they meet their anchor." Corinne took another drink. She peered over the cup’s rim and asked, "Is Detective Ellison yours?"

Blair jumped slightly in surprise. He had always felt safe with Jim. But why would she think that they were connected? "Jim? My anchor?"

Corinne set her cup back down and took Blair’s right hand in hers. "I can see the connection you two have. You’re a strong person by yourself, but I noticed tonight after you helped the people in the restaurant, that Detective Ellison made you stronger. You make a good team."

Blair’s hand was warm from the contact of Corinne’s touch. "Recently I experienced an encounter with a shaman. I’ve felt more connected to Jim since then. Are your trances easy to achieve?"

Corrine leaned back into the couch cushions. "Under the right conditions, yes. It’s something that has to be prepared for. The gods demand certain rituals when you invite their presence."

Blair decided that it was time to tell her the plan he had come up with. "If you went back into a trance, would Oshun tell us who the killer is?"

Corinne looked up in surprise. She hadn’t thought of doing such a thing. Something like that would expose her place in the religion, and wouldn’t help anyone. It wouldn’t be admissible in court. "No, I couldn't do that."

Blair pressed on. "Why not? I would think that she’d want to help with this."

Corrine rose from the couch and went to the balcony doors. She watched as dawn slowly lit up the sky. "This isn't some kind of illusion you do on demand, Blair. Oshun's got a mind of her own, and her own methods of punishment."

Blair joined Corinne. "I'm sure that she does, and I view your beliefs with great respect. Oshun speaks through you, and I’m asking you to share your voice. I'm asking Oshun for help."

Corinne ran her fingers down the glass of the balcony doors. "I understand what you want, Blair. I don’t know if I can do it. I’m not ready, and I don’t have Iya to help me anymore."

Blair stepped forward. "Iya is one of the reasons we need you to help us. She died because of something Oshun saw. I can help you get ready. You just tell me what to do."

Holding back her tears, Corinne whispered, "I’ll try for Iya. Oshun would help one of her children find justice."

Blair smiled sadly. "I’ll call Jim and let him know what we plan. And Corinne?" Blair waited until Corinne looked at him. "We will protect you in this. We’ll find a way to use anything you give us, so that it doesn’t expose your place in Santeria."

Corinne smiled and believed that they would do what they could. They had already helped her out, even though she had hidden the vital facts from them.

Blair went to the phone and called Jim.

~~~~~~~~

Jim was working on his computer when his phone rang. It was Blair.

<Hey, Jim, Corrine and I are ready to go to the shop. Corinne has decided to call Oshun to help identify the killer.>

"That’s good, Blair," Jim answered, putting his hand over the mouthpiece. Simon walked up behind Jim. Jim turned to the Captain. "I have Blair on the line now, sir."

Simon asked, "Is there a way you two can jog Ms. Santiago’s memory?"

Jim smiled and gave the thumbs up sign. "The wheels are in motion, Captain."

"Good, " Simon put on his sport coat and then headed home for the night.

<You still there, Jim?>

Jim returned his attention back to Blair. "Yeah, I’m still here. I want you to be careful going to the shop, Chief. We don't have surveillance on Cortez yet, so keep the uniforms with you until I can meet up with you."

Jim hung up with his partner and read the email sent to him by a friend in Immigration. It seemed that Cortez had been practicing torture techniques before leaving Cuba. Now, he was gunning for Corinne, and Blair would be right in the middle of it.

~~~~~~~~

Dennis waited across the street from the Botanica for the witness to appear. Ellison and his partner were protecting her at their place, and he wouldn’t attack them there; it would be a death sentence. He had found out the woman spent a lot of time at the shop, and he was relying on her return.

It was still early morning when his prayers were answered. His object of pursuit had arrived. Ellison’s buddy was with her, but Ellison was nowhere to be seen. There were two officers, but Murphy could handle them. Murphy retrieved his cell phone and made a call. "The woman has just shown up, Cortez."

<You’re lucky you were right. Wait there for me.>

The last thing Dennis needed was for Cortez to second-guess him. It was enough that he had to work for him; Cortez held too many cards that could disrupt his life and freedom. "I can take care of this, Cortez. Why do you need to waste your time coming down?"

<Because you’ve already screwed up twice. This time, there will be no mistakes.>

Murphy swallowed when he heard the click of the phone line. His time was short. He just hadn’t been able to function since Donoghue died. He missed the time they spent together going over cases. He longed for those boring stakeouts where they discussed everything and anything. He promised himself that if he survived this day, he would get out of Cascade. He had burned all his bridges the day Patrick died.

~~~~~~~~

Blair and Corrine were unaware of the danger lying in wait for them at the botanica. Between the two of them, they lit candles in the four-corners of the room. Corrine spread incense to recreate the smell of the Bembe. Blair started a tape that consisted of drumming, which had been recorded at a previous Bembe. Corinne covered her head with a scarf and began to dance.

~~~~~~~~

Jim left the precinct to question Cortez again. It would keep Jim away from Blair longer, but he hoped he could end this before it started.

Jim pulled the truck up to a space in the next block and stopped to survey the restaurant. Rico going to the back of the building and Jim followed him. It was time for a question and answer session with Cortez’s muscle man.

When Rico opened the back door, Jim rushed forward and shoved him through. To keep the conversation private, Jim sought a quiet place. Spying a restroom, he propelled him towards the door. Jim growled in Rico’s ear, "You know, I think it’s time you and I had an understanding, huh?"

Rico fell forward when he was hit from behind. He struggled against Ellison’s weight but couldn’t shake him off. "Get off me!" Rico shouted.

Jim pressed the man harder into the restroom wall. "You might want to think about that, Slick. "Do you think that Cortez cares about you? He’s going to save his own ass first. And he is going down. Do you want to join him?"

Rico was off center and couldn’t regain his balance. How had the cop he had clashed with earlier gotten the best of him? He would pay though. No one messed with Rico, and no would mess with Cortez’s plans. "There’s nothing you can do to me, cop. You can’t scare me, and you won’t kill me." Rico reached back to flip the detective down.

Jim felt the attempt to grab him and forced Rico’s arm behind his back. Jim tightened his hold and brought his opponent to his knees. The man cried out in pain. "This is little Havana. Cops off people here every day. Now, there’s one way out of here. You’re going to give me all the dirt on your boss that I need before I have to do anything drastic."

Rico grunted as his arm was pulled back further. He arched his back to relieve the pressure, but the cop had him pinned. As much as he feared Cortez, he was more afraid of the detective. He was jerked from this thought by a harsh voice.

"Come on. Spill it." Jim felt his patience slipping.

Rico ground out against the pain, "Murphy killed Donoghue. When they killed Mendola, Donoghue couldn’t take it and was trying to pull out."

Jim twisted the man’s arm further. "How does Cortez figure into it?"

"Murphy told Cortez what happened after Donoghue was killed. Cortez sanctioned the hit. He praised Murphy for taking the initiative."

A chill went up Jim’s spine at the confirmation that one partner had killed another. Betraying your partner to save your own skin was heinous. He would betray himself before he would betray Blair. He knew Cortez was behind it. Jim ground his teeth together. Cops were supposed to support their partners, not kill them. "Where is he now? Where’s Cortez?"

Rico gasped again from the pain. "They know about the girl. They went to the Botanica to kill her."

Visions of the kind of trouble Blair attracted chilled Jim to the very bone. *Shit!* Jim quickly cuffed Rico a pipe and raced back to his truck. He called Blair’s cell phone, but received voice mail instead. He called Simon next.

"We’ve got trouble, Simon. Murphy was responsible for Donoghue’s death. They know Corinne is their witness, and they are headed to the Botanica. I tried to call Sandburg, but he must have turned off his cell phone."

<I copy that, Jim. I just got word that Murphy's alibi doesn't wash. He never went fishing like he said. I’ll raise the uniforms from this end.>

"Understood," Jim responded. "Also, you might want to send a cruiser over to Cortez's club. There's someone in the men's room who wants to talk to you. He'll fill you in on the details." Jim slammed his phone shut. He stuffed a handkerchief in Rico's mouth to keep him from calling for help. Stealthily sticking his head out the door, he checked for enemies. No one was around. He exited and locked the bathroom behind him.

~~~~~~~~

Cortez made it to the rendezvous with Murphy across from the Botanica, unaware that there was a furious predator on his tail. He motioned his two bruisers forward, and they boxed Murphy in against a wall. Glaring at his employee, Cortez spoke, "This time it’s done the right way." He pointed to his two bodyguards. "These men are here to make sure this operation runs smoothly. Remember that."

The iciness in the Cuban’s voice washed over Murphy. A trail of sweat rolled down his back, and he was terrified. Cortez didn’t allow mistakes, and he had already made several. He would be eliminated at any sign of reluctance.

Cortez motioned them to precede him, and, sandwiched in by the other two, Murphy didn't have a choice in the matter. They approached from the side of the shop, and Murphy peeked around the corner. The two officers were talking, but they were also paying attention to the street around them.

Turning around to see what Cortez wanted to do, Dennis watched the two gunmen raise their guns and fire on the officers. Dennis jumped at the reports. He was tired of the killing. All he wanted to do was rest. If Cortez had his way, he would be on a permanent vacation. The crackling of a walkie-talkie split the air.

<Base to Unit 29, please respond.>

Cortez was at Murphy’s back, and he moved forward at his prodding. Things were spiraling out of his control, and Murphy wondered if he really would make it out alive. If he did, there would be no turning back, no way of redeeming himself.

~~~~~ Act V ~~~~~


Simon cursed at the phone when the officers watching Corinne didn’t respond. He called Jim with the news. "It’s Simon, Jim. There’s something wrong at the shop. We haven’t been able to reach the uniforms for the past fifteen minutes. Where are you now?"

<About ten minutes away.>

"All right. I’m on my way as well. Get in there and secure the scene. Just wait for backup." Simon slammed the receiver down when the phone was hung up without an affirmation. He knew that Jim would be going in without help. In his experience, since Ellison had partnered up with Sandburg, it was the one and only 'Jim' thing to do.

~~~~~~~~

The tape recorder was damp with sweat from Blair’s hands, but he continued to hold on to it as Corinne danced. Her movement around the back room went from controlled to wild as the incense flooded the room with its odor. Blair swallowed as the woman sauntered over to where he was standing. Her chest heaved with each inhalation, and her breath blew gently into his face. His gaze moved to her eyes, and he saw wisdom looking out at him. Oshun had arrived.

Oshun stopped and looked at the young man in front of her. The howl of a wolf sounded, very far off in the distance. She could feel the connection between them; the young shaman and the wolf guide as yet far away. Oshun caressed the man’s neck and shoulders with her shawl to impart her blessings.

Blair glanced up and around when a slight breeze brushed his back. Four men had entered through the shop’s front door and were looking around. He held his breath; it was Cortez, Detective Murphy, and two men he didn't recognize. They had guns in their hands, and Blair shivered in fear.

He jerked back when Cortez turned in his direction. A huge smile appeared on the Cuban’s face as he brought his gun to bear on Blair. Blair shut the back room’s door right before bullets impacted it.

Blair frantically looked around the room as the door shook under him. He spied a chair against the wall and reached for it, jamming it under the knob. Checking back on his charge, he found her unmoving and staring at the door. He prayed it would hold until he could get Corinne to safety. She would be vulnerable while locked in a trance.

Blair took her arm and tried to guide her through the back door of the shop, but she resisted. "Come on, come on, let's go!" Blair gasped out. Since she was still unresponsive, he took charge and dragged her out into the back alley.

~~~~~~~~

When Cortez was separated from his prey, he fired into the door as he ran. He would not be denied! He rammed into the door with his shoulder, and felt the concussive force when one of his men landed beside him. The door splintered under the weight of the two men, and they fell forward.

Cortez gained his balance quickly and found that the room was empty. Fury engulfed him, and he turned to his men. "Get after them. If they escape, I’ll skin you alive, then send your bleeding bodies back to your families." Cortez followed his men through the back door and bumped into them at the mouth of the alley. He elbowed his way past them, but was knocked back by a sea of humans passing by.

The square that normally held just vendor stands was now packed with people as well. A swelling of voices chanting and feet trampling pavement swept past him. Groups of men and women, wearing the traditional turbans, were interspersed among the regular shoppers. Their bodies twisted and their voices rose in song. Drummers sat near the dancers and provided the rhythm. The combination of revelers left Cortez with very little room for movement.

Seething that the crowd was blocking his way, Cortez grabbed Murphy and pushed him forward. He would be damned if he would let some festival get in his way. Goddess or not, Oshun had interfered for the last time. She was interrupting his trade, and she would be made to pay. Her priestess would only be the first victim.

~~~~~~~~

A multitude had gathered in the streets. The abundance of gold and red costumes thrilled Blair after his eyes had adjusted to the brightness of the sun. Glinting metal caught his attention and the ringing of bells blended in with the drums being played around the area. In the rush of the case, he had forgotten about the Feast of Oshun. He pulled Corinne into a pocket that had opened in the midst of the revelers and silently thanked the goddess for supplying them with cover.

"Excuse me. Sorry. Excuse me, guys. Sorry about that," Blair chanted to the crowd, towing the still-dazed Corinne behind him. He looked back and saw Cortez and his men tracking them. Blair continued to weave his way into the crowd, praying Jim would arrive soon. He whispered to his sentinel, "Open your ears, Jim. I need you." Blair repeated his mantra and hoped that Jim was using his hyper-senses.

~~~~~~~~

Jim used lights and sirens all the way to the Botanica and jumped from the truck when he arrived. Officers were down! Checking for injuries, he found they both still had pulses. Pulling back their jackets, he noted the bulletproof vests. The men would hurt later, but they would be alive. He picked up one of the walkie-talkies and spoke into it, "Two officers down, Domingo and First. Both are alive. Send ambulance and backup, ASAP."

<Message received. Ambulance en-route. Arrival will be delayed due to increased activity in the area.>

Jim ran inside the Botanica, gun out, hoping to find his partner. When he didn’t see him, Jim whispered to himself, "Come on, Chief, where the hell are you?" Jim cocked his head, trusting Blair lead him. It was a strain on his hearing, and it took several minutes to filter out all the extraneous noises. A worried voice called, 'Jim!' from the mob of people gathering in the neighborhood. Blair needed him.

~~~~~~~~

"Corinne! Corinne! Corinne!" Blair couldn’t believe that he lost his charge. One minute he was looking behind him for trouble, and the next she was gone. She wasn’t aware enough to protect herself when Blair shouted again as searched, "Excuse me. Sorry. Corinne!"

Blair circled through the crowd. He had no idea where to look next for Corinne, so he stopped and turned in a circle to look. Blair jumped when a hand latched onto his shoulder. It was Jim. Blair grinned in relief. "Oh, man, am I glad to see you."

Jim looked into the worried eyes of his friend. "Where's Corinne?"

Blair stood on his toes and threw another cursory glance through the festival goers. "I don't know. I lost her. Cortez, Murphy, and two other guys are after her. You have to find her by her scent."

Jim gaped at his friend. "You've gotta be kidding me. How am I going to do that with all these people?"

Blair smiled at his sentinel, placing his hand on the small of Jim’s back. "Then listen to your guide. You have to try, man."

Jim couldn’t help smiling back. "I’ll always be able to find you, Blair. You’re my guide."

Blair put his hand on the small of Jim’s back. "You have to try, man. She’s not thinking straight. She’s in real trouble."

Jim concentrated on cataloguing the scents around him. He used Blair’s touch to ground him and then found the trail of verbena. "Got her, Chief! This way." Jim took off with Blair and stumbled into Simon. "Simon! What are you doing here?"

Simon squinted against the sun shining in his eyes. "Someone doesn’t like to wait for back up, so I came down myself to make sure nothing happens to my best team."

Jim replied, "Then follow me, sir. We lost our witness, and need to get to her before Cortez does."

~~~~~~~~

Oshun never realized she had lost her protector. She was drawn to a picture of herself, being carried among her celebrants. She wanted to admire herself. She combed her fingers through her hair and returned the image’s smile. She was so beautiful, so ravishing. She was interrupted from her self-admiration when a man swung her around. She recognized him. "I know you. You're the man who killed the friend he loved."

Murphy stared at the one witness to Pat’s death. She hadn’t gone to the police with her statement, but here she was blaming him for Pat’s death. What did she want?

Cortez pushed Murphy aside and grabbed Corinne’s arm. He pulled her into an alley and shoved her against the wall. His two gunmen followed and trained their weapons on the woman. With one hand he held her in place and motioned Murphy forward with the other. He would get his due out of the cop. "Kill her. Prove your loyalty to me."

"God, forgive me," Murphy whispered to himself. He looked into Oshun’s eyes and was lost. He was locked in memory after memory. The memories were draped in blue, and a jungle was spread out before him.

~~~~~~~~

Dennis Anthony Murphy fought his way through the jungle and entered a clearing. Patrick was standing ramrod straight in a cadet’s uniform, then morphed into a tuxedo to be married, then as a father in scrubs holding his first child. Patrick had been so happy and proud of his career and his family. Dennis had shared in that, until Mendola was killed. Running away from the clearing, afraid to see any more, he arrived in another clearing. Mendola was lying in a pool of blood in the alley and next to him, somehow, was Patrick dying on the warehouse floor. Both were pleading, mutely with their eyes, for Dennis to save them.

~~~~~~~~

Tears flowed down Murphy’s face. He dropped the gun and fell to his knees. He ground his fists into his eyes to stop the vision. "Please…. I didn’t mean…. Why did you have to…. Oh, God, I didn’t mean to…. I’m sorry." Murphy broke out into sobs for the deaths he had caused. He had ended the life of a young man at the beginning of his future, and that of his best friend and partner, who had many more years to give. Dennis felt a small hand on his head and a wave of forgiveness enveloped him.

~~~~~~~~~

Murphy was frozen before the woman. Cortez didn’t know what was going on, but he was going to end this one way or another. Pulling his gun, he aimed it at the witness. But before he could shoot, Ellison, his partner, and a black man rounded the corner.

As they should have, Cortez’s men shifted their aim at the coming danger. Cortez took advantage of the distraction. He grabbed the arm of the guard closest to him, pulling him behind him, for cover as he fled. They ran back to the square to lose themselves in the celebration. Shots rang out behind Cortez, but he ignored them.

Jim had his gun out when he came upon Cortez and his party. Weapons were aimed, and Jim pushed Blair to safety and ran for cover as shots were fired. Both he and Simon returned fire, and Simon hit one of the henchmen.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Cortez ducking out of the alley and dashed after the retreating figures. Blair was on his way to Corinne and Murphy, and Simon was on his cell phone. More bullets sped toward him, so Jim fired his piece again and hit the second gunman.

Simon hung up his cell phone and looked at the battlefield to take stock. Jim had chased after Cortez, and Blair was standing guard over Corinne as she knelt and cradled Murphy to her shoulder. The challenging stare of his observer unnerved him. With them standing so close together, Simon could almost see them as a wolf pack. Blair was the alpha male and Corinne the alpha female. Simon had no doubt they would keep Murphy safe; he had stopped babbling right before the gunfight and hadn’t made a move since. Simon left them with Murphy and moved to handcuff Cortez’s two downed gunmen.

~~~~~~~~

Cortez had disappeared into the crowd of partygoers in the main square. Jim pushed his way into the gathering and looked around for Cortez. The last thing he needed was to lose a civilian to the Cuban mob boss. These people had suffered enough, and it was his duty to bring the man down. But first, he had to find him. "Police, coming through!"

Cortez was home free; the cops would never find him among his people. His people would hide him until he could get back to the club. Once there, he could make plans to get out of the city. A loud shout disrupted his thoughts, and he threw himself around; it was the cop.

Jim continued making his way through the revelers. A sudden parting further in indicated a disturbance. He followed the newly made path and saw Cortez at the end of it. Jim met his eyes and smiled like a cat on the prowl. His quarry was at hand.

Cortez hesitated. The cop was right on his heels. The crime lord was determined to get away. He had never been caught before, and he would be damned if it happened now. He grabbed the first person he could, a woman, and put his gun to her head. "Drop it, or I’ll kill her."

Jim swore to himself and dropped his gun. There was no way he was going to risk a human life. Blair wouldn’t tease him about losing his weapon this time.

Jim called, "Look at you! You’re willing to murder an innocent woman to save your sorry ass. Good lord, you are pathetic, man. Go ahead and kill her. Kill me! They're still going to know what you're all about. They can see it."

Cortez looked wildly around. "Don't listen to him! He's the cop that killed Mendola!"

Winds whipped into the square and flowed through the gatherers. A bell sounded out from a nearby church tower, and grew until it drowned out the noise of the assembly. A scarf knifed across Cortez’s face and landed in a pile at Jim’s feet. The bell’s peal died away, and the people of Little Havana were silent. Oshun had spoken. She was here, and the cop was doing her work.

The hair on the back of Jim’s neck rose, and he sensed the dynamic around him had changed. People were giving way, milling around him now, and they were clearing out of Cortez’s space. Jim shouted back, "No. They know who killed Mendola. There's no place for you to run now. Go ahead."

Cortez shoved the woman away from him and aimed his gun at the cop. A heavy weight landed on him, and he went down under a press of bodies. Feet kicked into him, and hands were pulling and punching any place they could find. His gun had long since been kicked away, and his ears vibrated with repeated chants of, "Murderer! Murderer!

Jim fought through the crowd. With enough force, Jim was able to reach Cortez and take him into custody. Cuffing him elicited a cheer from the celebrants. Jim marched Cortez through the partygoers, smiling broadly.

~~~~~~~~

Blair stood sentry over his charges. Murphy was being handcuffed and read his rights, and Blair remained to protect Corinne while Oshun used her as a conduit. A hand on his shoulder drew his attention. He turned and looked into the eyes of a goddess.

Oshun was glad she had been able to help. Her children had given her a most satisfying day. The life and energy of the community buzzed around her, and she soaked it up. She focused her gaze on the young man in front of her and decided that as she received, she could also give. She kissed him softly on his lips and whispered, "Guard your sentinel well, young shaman. If you need our assistance, just ask."

~~~~~ Epilogue ~~~~~



Simon updated Jim on Donoghue’s case as they entered the bullpen. "Murphy signed a complete confession. That, plus the cooperation from Cortez’s men, will enable us to put Cortez away for life."

"That’s good Captain. They led us on a wild ride." Jim stopped when he heard Corinne and Blair exit the elevator. "So we don't need Corinne Santiago's testimony?"

Simon caught sight of the two coming in. "No. It won't be necessary."

Jim nodded his head. "I'll tell her." Simon went into his office, and Jim met his partner and Corinne halfway. "Thanks for coming by, Corinne."

Blair asked, "Hey, how'd everything work out?"

Jim leaned against a convenient desk. "Everything went good. We have everything we need for the case to be prosecuted."

Blair smiled at the news, "Great! You’ll have to fill me in on the details later. Simon needs me to look at his computer." Blair turned to Corinne. "See you later, Corinne. I can’t wait for my lessons." Blair turned from them and headed to Simon’s office.

Corinne watched the young man leave with an amused expression. Jim interrupted her thoughts. "What lessons are you going to teach Blair?"

Corinne replied, "He expressed a lot of interest in the Bembe. I’m going to teach him more about what we do." Corinne adjusted her purse on her shoulder. Her muscles were tense; she wanted to know what would happen next. "Blair said you had to talk to me?"

Jim shook his head. Blair was always taking on new projects and making his workload heavier; he could handle it though. Facing Corinne, he said, "You’re free and clear on having to testify against Murphy and Cortez. I don't see it serving any purpose to expose your personal life and hold your beliefs up to scrutiny."

Corinne relaxed. She would be able to keep her religious practices private. She looked into the detective's eyes, searching them. "You seem to understand a lot."

With his hearing focused on the banter in Simon’s office, he answered Corinne, "Yeah, well, let's, uh...let's just say I know a few things about secrets. Come on." Jim stood up straight and beckoned towards the elevator. "Why don’t I show you out."

~~~~~ The End ~~~~~

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