by: CarolROI and Suisan
by: CarolROI and Suisan
Beta Read by: BethB
Written for PetFly by: Howard Chaykin
internal thoughts in * *
Written for PetFly by: Howard Chaykin
internal thoughts in * *
~~~~~~~~~~ Prologue ~~~~~~~~~~
The observer watched through the one way glass as Captain James Ellison answered the questions put to him by the debriefing officer. He seemed on edge, tense. He ran a finger under the collar of his uniform shirt, as if the fabric irritated his skin. He acted distracted, as though every little sound bothered him.
That would be in line with what the observer had learned from Captain Mathis, the leader of the team that had plucked Ellison out of the jungle. Mathis had mentioned how Ellison had seemed to hear and see things before any of the other men. Interesting…and possibly useful….
Light from a computer screen flickered over the face of the observer, illuminating the sharp eyes and handsome features now drawn in concentration as he read the screen and typed in the request for the information he sought.
Search: Heightened Senses
Results: 158 matches
Search: Heightened Senses and/or South America
List: Sentinels Of Paraguay — Burton, Richard F. 1880-81 London
Sentinels Among Us? — Sandburg, Blair J. 1989-90 Cascade, Washington
~~~~~~~~~~ Act I ~~~~~~~~~~
Jim Ellison felt as if he was humoring the kid. Whose bright idea was this anyway? Blair Sandburg reached up behind to place the blindfold over his eyes while Jim leaned against the kitchen counter.
"All right, Jim, if we’re going to hone your skills, you’re going to occasionally have to take some of these sensory tests. Just think of them as pop quizzes." Sandburg finished off his work on the blindfold and Jim had to admit, he couldn’t see around, or through, the heavy cloth.
"Make it quick." He hated this, not being able to see.
"Okay. How many fingers am I holding up?"
*Smart ass*. Jim had to bite his tongue to keep from laughing. "None. And if you don’t move this along, I’ll show you one of my fingers."
He was rewarded with a slight chuckle from Sandburg. "Okay, all right, all right, I’ll hurry up here. In each of the cups in front of you there’s water and a minute trace of another substance." Jim reached out and located one of the coffee mugs the kid was chattering about. "Just identify the foreign matter."
"Foreign matter?" Why did he not like the sound of that?
"Completely consumable." There was a nice, reassuring tone to Blair’s voice. "You ready?"
Resigned to taking this ‘pop-quiz’, Jim nodded. "Yeah." The ringing of a phone, from the room where Blair had been camped out for a while now, interrupted the test. Sort of.
"Oh! Wait a second, that’s mine. I’ll be right back." Listening carefully, Jim could track his roommate’s movements as the younger man made his way from the kitchen to his room.
Deciding not to wait for Sandburg to return to start this sensory test, Jim reached out and picked up the first mug. Sniffing at it, he couldn’t detect anything other than water so he sipped at the contents. "Salt…" Not too bad, he could barely taste it.
"Hello? Yeah, hi. This is me."
Jim shook his head, what a way to answer a phone. Reaching out he picked up the second mug, "Hmm, sugar…" So far, so good. Third mug was in his hand and he was drinking from it while halfway listening to Blair’s phone conversation.
Swishing the liquid around in his mouth, Jim realized what it was he tasted. "Vanilla extract. Damn kid’s making a cake here." Suspecting he knew what the next cup would hold, Jim picked up a fourth mug, not bothering to sniff at the contents, took a healthy swig, and promptly started to gag. Ripping the blindfold off, he turned to spit the foul fluid into the sink. Desperate to rid his mouth of the taste, he leaned his head under the faucet and started to rinse his mouth furiously.
"Really? You know what, I have an idea…"
"Hey! Sandburg! What the hell was in that fourth cup!" Reaching out to pick up the last of his toast, Jim was still trying to get rid of the nauseating taste in his mouth and glared at Blair who came bouncing out of his room.
"What are you talking about? I only put out three cups." Blair looked at the evidence on the counter top and couldn’t hold back his laughter. "Oh, man, no. No, no, no. You just drank the bad milk."
"I did what?" The glare he aimed at the younger man had been known to stop criminals in their tracks.
"I was going to throw it out. Oh, man, I’m so sorry. I guess this is a bad time to ask for a favor?" Blair waited for a response, any kind of response and when Jim just continued to stare at him, he seemed to decide to risk the detective’s wrath. "That was just my department chair on the phone and they need a sub for today’s lecture and we’re wondering maybe if you’d come down there and talk about the time you spent in Peru?"
"Give a speech?" Who did the kid think he was? Zig Zigler?
Blair was attempting to look sincerely contrite and, if Jim was being fair, Sandburg had told him to wait before starting the test. It was his own impatience and non-compliance that led him to sampling the spoiled milk. Still, he wasn’t about to go give a speech to a bunch of students. "I’d rather have a root canal."
Hanging up the phone after his chat with Blair Sandburg, the tall man stepped over the body on the floor. Impersonating the Social Sciences Chairman had been rather easy. All he’d had to do to convince Sandburg that he was the Chairman was to fake a rather nasty cold. Closing the door behind him as he stepped into the outer office, he headed into the hall.
Walking out of Hargrove Hall, he smiled. Everything was coming together quite nicely. Now all he had to do was get over to the Maintenance Building, change clothes and then finish setting up his little surprises in the lecture hall. Whistling a jaunty tune, he crossed the neatly manicured lawn towards his target.
Jim couldn’t believe he’d given in to Sandburg’s request, no, make that pleading. But here he was, crossing the street, heading towards Hargrove Hall where he was to meet Blair in lecture room #4. Dodging traffic on the street, he tried to explain to his boss what he was doing. "Yes, sir. I’m well aware of that. I’ll get on that as soon as I’m done here." He was supposed to be working the follow-up on a case, not giving speeches. "Well, Sandburg’s asked me to help out for a project at the University." No way was he going to tell his Captain that he was giving a damn speech — might give the man the idea that he enjoyed such things. "Yes, sir. Okay. Thanks, Simon, talk to you in a bit."
Entering the huge building, Jim tried to locate the lecture hall. He found it by tuning into the one voice he’d recognize anywhere. Pausing outside the room, Jim listened to Blair and gathered up his courage.
"Regardless of how much field work you do, very few of us have the opportunity to visit the subjects of our research, let alone live among the indigenous people for any length of time."
Kid was good; Jim could hear his passion for his chosen field in his voice. Straightening his shoulders, Jim opened the door and entered the lecture hall, trying not to notice how many students were in the room.
Blair nodded at him and segued into an introduction. "Five years ago, as a member of the United States Army, Detective James Ellison, now with the Cascade Police Department, spent eighteen months in a Peruvian forest living among the Chopec Indians."
Jim stopped just inside the doorway and waited for Blair to wrap his introduction.
"I’ve invited Detective Ellison here today to share with us some of his first-hand experiences with those tribesmen. So, if you’ll help me welcome him–" Blair stepped off the small stage as the students clapped in welcome and moved in close to Jim’s side. "Jim, what the hell happened? I thought you blew me off."
"Some of us have to work for a living." Positioning himself behind the lectern, Jim tried to smile at the students who were settling down and braced himself to begin talking to them.
Gripping the edge of the podium, he cleared his throat and began what he hoped would be a reasonable speech. "Six and a half years ago, I undertook a mission that, as it turned out, would profoundly change my perspective on life." He risked eye contact with a few of the students in the front rows and, seeing interest there, continued. "What started out as a routine mission–"
A loud explosion came from the back of the room. Smoke began to pour from underneath the windows. Shouts and screams filled the air as students raced toward the double doors at the front of the room. Someone pulled the fire alarm, and the shrill ringing added to the cacophony.
Jim yelled to be heard above the noise. "All right! Everyone just calm down! Just stay calm!"
Blair appeared at his side, a perplexed expression on his face. "What’s going on?"
"Cover your mouth if you can. Just stay calm."
The students were starting to pile up near the door, pushing on it frantically, bodies jammed together, but the door didn’t budge. "Folks, wait! Get back! Settle down, just stay calm. Get away from the doors."
Blair added his own calming words to the chaos, "Calm down, everybody just relax."
Jim tried the door and found it blocked from the outside. Stepping back, he kicked the join between the doors. At his second kick, the sound of splintering wood greeted his efforts and the doors swung open. Caught in the surge of panicked students, Ellison lost track of Blair. Fighting his way upstream, Jim reentered the hall, finding the anthropologist helping students who had fallen rise to their feet.
"Man! What is going on here?" he exclaimed as he caught sight of Jim.
"Is everyone out?"
"Yeah, come on, Jim." Blair let out a ragged cough. Jim followed the grad student into the hallway, and let the younger man precede him outside.
Blair coughed again before they reached the outer doors of the hallway. "You all right?" Jim asked as he clasped the man’s shoulder in concern.
"Yeah, let’s get out of here."
A bicycle messenger rolled up to the outside of the Biomedical Research Building, parked the bike and pulled a small, pager type device out of his pouch. Checking his watch, he depressed the button that started the count down.
The cyclist busied himself by pulling a thermos-like container from his bike’s frame, waiting for the response he hoped his little distraction would cause. One campus security guard burst out of the building and took off toward Hargrove Hall. Getting to the door before it could automatically lock behind the security man, he entered the foyer. There was still one guard on duty there. The biker wasted no time in shooting the man with the silenced .38 he held hidden behind the thermos. Stooping to snag the security bypass card from the man’s pocket, he proceeded deeper into the building.
The messenger entered the hazardous materials lab. Its sole occupant was a blonde woman in a white lab coat. Prepared for this contingency, he asked, "Excuse me, I’m looking for Doctor Price?"
The woman looked up from her work. "Uh, this is a restricted area. You shouldn’t be in here."
*No kidding, Doc*. He held up a small padded envelope, waving it nonchalantly. "I’m
supposed to deliver this to her."
supposed to deliver this to her."
She looked surprised. "I’m Doctor Price."
"Oh, great! If you could just sign right there…." He handed her a clipboard and pointed to the bottom of the form. Waiting until she actually started to scrawl her name, he struck her along the side of the head with the thermos. The blow sent her sprawling and knocked her unconscious.
Moving past her fallen form to the large BioHazard refrigerator unit behind the lab tables, he defeated the security lock by entering the manufacturer’s master code. Entering the controlled environment and locating what he wanted, he lifted two large vials out of their containment field and carefully placed them inside the thermos.
Outside Hargrove Hall, Blair leaned over, hands on his knees, breathing in the clean air. His smoke-filled lungs protested, and he coughed until he was gagging.
"You okay there, Chief?" Jim asked worriedly.
Blair nodded, still coughing, then he finally spit into the grass. "I’ll be fine, man, just give me a few, okay?"
The sound of Jim’s cell phone ringing forestalled any comment the sentinel might have made.
As Jim answered the call, Blair took a seat on the ground, resting his forehead on his upraised knees. What in the heck was going on? The guest lecturer being sick and the chairman asking Blair if his friend could fill in couldn’t be just a coincidence–
"Come on, Sandburg. Simon’s over at the science building." He extended his hand.
Accepting the aid, Blair let Jim pull him to his feet. "Simon? What’s he doing here?"
Jim shrugged. "Guess we’ll find out."
Blair followed Jim into the science lab. Simon was talking into his cell phone. "Yeah, as soon as you can. Great." Clicking the cell off, he caught sight of Jim and Blair.
"Simon? What’s going on here?" Ellison asked.
"Well, it looks as though the attack on the lecture hall we were first called about was merely a diversion." He waved his hand over to where two paramedics were starting to pack up their gear. "While most of the campus cops were tied up with that little fiasco, someone broke in here, killed a guard, attacked one of the researchers and took off with what appears to be two vials of the plague." Simon gestured for both men to follow him as he prowled further into the lab.
An attractive blonde woman in a lab coat sat in a chair, holding an ice pack to the side of her head. She looked up as the trio entered.
Simon introduced her. "Jim, this is Doctor Sonia Price. Dr. Price, this is Detective Jim Ellison, Blair Sandburg."
Jim nodded acknowledgment to the woman’s half-hearted smile. "Doctor Price, can you tell me what happened here?"
An irritated expression crossed the woman’s face. "This guy brains me, and when I come to, the refrigerator’s open and the canisters are gone." She didn’t sound very happy.
Jim frowned. "What was the plague doing in Cascade in the first place?"
"It was confiscated from the remnants of the Sunrise Patriots by the Feds. They asked Rainier to hold the plague until Dr. Price arrived to transport it to CDC in Atlanta," Simon answered
"Oh, man, bio-weapons. That’s scarier than Ebola," Blair spoke up from where he stood next to the captain.
Sonia Price nodded in agreement. "Precisely. We’re still not sure how powerful this variant is. If it were to be released into the air, we could be looking at a death toll in the thousands within a week, two weeks at the outside."
Jim watched Dr. Price write the grim statistics on a white board, feeling ill.
"The last widespread outbreak of the plague decimated the population of Europe, killing a third of the population, along with livestock. The sample stolen from Rainier has the potential to be hundreds of times worse because it’s been genetically altered by whomever your little militia group purchased it from." She stopped writing and crossed her arms over her chest. "We really should instigate full quarantine procedures and notify the federal authorities about this."
"Federal? You mean military." Jim shook his head, not liking what he was hearing. "There’s no way we could zip up a city this large."
Simon nodded in agreement. "Jim’s right. We’re talking about closing down everything: the waterways, the highways, the airports–"
"We are not talking about the flu here, gentlemen. We’re talking about pneumonic plague, an airborne bacteria with a nearly hundred percent mortality rate if untreated.
"As bad as the disease is, a quarantine would cause panic which would be almost as big a disaster!" Simon nearly threw his cigar in frustration at the woman.
Blair was nodding his head in agreement with Simon. "Right. We don’t even know if the lunatic that stole the plague is even still in the city. He could be hundreds of miles away or even in another country by now. Have there been any calls? Threats? Demands? Anything?" He looked to the captain for an answer.
Jim pleaded with the doctor, "Just give us twenty-four hours to nail the guy, all right?"
"No! It’s totally against procedures and common sense!"
She moved toward the phone on Simon’s desk, but Jim beat her to it, holding her hand down on the handset and refusing to let her pick it up. "Doctor, whoever pulled this off is no amateur. He’s not going to go accidentally releasing the plague. I guarantee we’re going to be hearing from him."
Before the woman could answer, there was a rapid knock on the office door as Carolyn Plummer and Joel Taggart walked into the room. Joel handed Jim the evidence bag he’d carried into the office. "Here’s the triggering device for the smoke bombs we found in the lecture hall. Whoever planted them sure took extreme measures to insure they wouldn’t be found."
Jim looked over the mass of wires, trying to make sense of it.
Carolyn helped him understand. "It’s a mini-transmitter."
"And a white noise generator to hide the sound of the timer, which no one could have heard anyway." Joel sounded puzzled, a fact which did nothing to reassure Jim.
"Which he then buried in the lecture hall windowsills under plaster and a fresh coat of paint."
Blair looked at Carolyn. "As if someone was expecting a security sweep."
She nodded. "I’ll see what I can come up with."
"Thank you. Good work." Jim watched as she and Joel left the office and turned to face the still fuming doctor. "Look, Doc, I’ve seen triggers like that before. I was a military liaison to the CIA counter-insurgency unit. This guy is nobody to fool with."
Doctor Price scowled at Ellison, then dropped her arms back to her sides, fists clenched. "Look, I’ll lay off for twenty-four hours, Detective. But if you haven’t found him by this time tomorrow, I’ll have to notify my people and start putting emergency procedures into action to seal this city off and get the local hospitals ramped up to deal with this."
Jim sighed in relief. "All right, let’s go." With a curt nod and a tight grimace, he and Blair beat a hasty retreat before the good doctor could renege on her agreement.
Blair waited impatiently as Jim fit his key into the lock on the loft door. "Are you saying you didn’t hear a thing over at the lecture hall?"
Jim glanced over his shoulder at him. "I’m telling you, the white noise generator blocked out all the sound. I couldn’t even hear myself thinking–" He started to step into the apartment then stopped short.
Still behind Jim, Blair was about to ask what was going on when an unfamiliar voice said, "Take it easy, Detective. Move in."
Through the crack between the hinges and the door jam, Blair could make out a man behind the door, a gun trained on Jim. The anthropologist realized that the door hid him from the stranger’s view.
"All right, all right. Settle down," Jim replied, raising his hands to shoulder height.
As Jim moved into the loft slowly, Blair shoved as hard as he could against the door, slamming it into the intruder.
~~~~~~~~~~ Act II ~~~~~~~~~~
Jim reacted quickly to Blair’s move, grabbing for the silenced weapon. The gun discharged with an ominous ‘phhht’ into the ceiling. Jim dug his fingers into his assailant’s wrist, forcing the man to drop the weapon, but by no means stopping him.
The assailant kicked the door back into Sandburg as he delivered an open-handed blow to Ellison’s ear. Jim was forced to let go of his opponent’s arm, but he lunged at him in a tackle that sent them both flying over the kitchen table. The intruder landed on top of Jim and managed to punch him in the face several times before Sandburg’s voice rang through the loft.
Both men looked toward the anthropologist. Blair held the intruder’s weapon in a steady two-handed grip, muzzle pointing directly at the man’s head. "Get up, slowly. Keep your hands where I can see them."
The man did as he was told, an amused expression on his face. "This is an interesting turn of events. Quite refreshing, in fact." He hitched his hip up on the kitchen table, one leg swinging lazily, his hands in the air.
Jim got to his feet, pulling his weapon from its holster and training it on his attacker. Blair visibly relaxed and lowered the gun he was holding. "Who the hell are you?" the detective growled as Blair moved to stand beside him.
"My name is Lee Brackett and I’ve got the vials that were stolen from Rainier."
Jim, knowing the man was playing some kind of mind game with him and Blair, didn’t rise to the obvious bait. "Call for backup, Chief."
Blair moved toward the phone as Brackett asked, "What? You’re not interested in why I would do that?"
Sandburg paused, his hand on the phone. "Well, I am if he isn’t."
"Of course you are, Mr. Sandburg. I admire your insatiable curiosity. Without that, who knows? Maybe you wouldn’t have uncovered Ellison’s sentinel abilities."
Jim felt the blood slowly draining from his face, saw Blair turn pale as Brackett turned to face the detective.
"I know about your special talents."
Of course! "Hence the white noise generators." That part of the diversion at Hargrove Hall now made perfect sense to Jim.
"Right." Brackett smiled, as if waiting for the next question from his audience.
Blair obliged him. "So why’d you steal the plague?"
"As a bargaining chip."
Jim was tired of playing twenty questions. "What do you want, Brackett?" The man had all the earmarks of a spook, and government spooks always had an agenda hidden up their sleeves.
The smile that crossed Brackett’s face could only be called charming — on a snake. "You’re going to help me commit a crime, Ellison. One that will have them talking about you for years." Brackett seemed to be waiting for some kind of response and when he didn’t get one, he asked, "Well, gentlemen, do I have your cooperation?"
"You’ve got to be kidding, right? You seem to forget that you’re the prisoner here," Jim said.
A sad grin crossed Brackett’s face. "You’d really kill several thousand people because of your pride?"
"Pride?" Jim shook his head. "Mr. Brackett, why do I think you’re bluffing?"
Brackett folded his arms across his chest carefully. "Take a deep breath. Think about it."
The sentinel kept his gun trained on the other man while he thought out loud. "That white-noise generator was pure CIA." He saw the almost minute nod of Brackett’s head, confirming his guess. "But this couldn’t possibly be a sanctioned black op or you’d be long gone. So you must be rogue."
"CIA?" Blair sounded upset as he turned back toward them, hanging up the phone. " Jim, what the hell is going on here?"
The smile on Brackett’s face turned sour and condescending as he turned his attention to Blair. "I was CIA duty officer five years ago in Peru. I debriefed the Special Forces officer who pulled Ellison from the jungle."
"So that’s how you know about his sentinel abilities," Blair exclaimed.
"Yes. Mathis’ report on Ellison’s hallucinatory behavior in the rain forest was fascinating. I filed away the information for future reference and kept an eye on his career here in Cascade — yours, too. I read an early undergraduate piece you wrote on primitive sentinels. The description of sentinels in your paper fit Ellison to a ‘T’ — I’m glad you two hooked up."
"Get to the point, Brackett," Jim growled.
"Gotta love a man who doesn’t beat around the bush." Brackett leaned back against the table again. "Well, the point is you two are going to help me steal something."
"Whoa! Wait a minute!" Blair protested. "Both of us?"
"Well, you’re his guide, so to speak, so I’ll need you too."
Jim shook his head. "And you think you can blackmail us."
"Listen very carefully." Brackett stood up, his movements fluid but not at all nervous, as if he knew he held the trump card in this game, despite the weapon trained on him. "The plague is hidden somewhere in the city. With it is an explosive charge. If I set it off, the disease will spread across a five-mile radius almost instantly. Imagine the effect that that’ll have on the city. Thousands dead in less than a week, with at least as many deaths from travelers carrying the plague out of town."
The sound of approaching sirens distracted Jim’s attention for a split second.
In one smooth move, Brackett unfastened the fanny pack at his waist and tossed it at the sentinel. "Catch."
Jim had to lunge for the bundle, dropping his gun, but he caught it, hearing something beeping inside.
"Now, you hear that timer? Removing the pack deactivated a white-noise generator. You can chase me, or you can save your neighborhood from instant urban renewal." Brackett moved toward the loft door, plucking his gun from where Blair had laid it on the kitchen counter. "Good luck, Jim." He stepped into the hallway, closing the door behind him.
Jim carefully opened the zippered pack, revealing a red L.E.D. timer counting down in seconds attached to what looked like plastic explosive. He had to let Brackett go; he didn’t have a choice. Jim had to disarm the bomb and having Blair practically breathing down his neck didn’t help. Six seconds, five, four… He turned the bundle over, examining the various colored wires, then took a chance and pulled a wire out of the timer. It stopped with one second remaining.
"I knew you could get it!" Blair’s voice was full of grateful admiration as he patted Jim on the shoulder, the congratulatory slaps conveying his happiness at not being blown to smithereens.
Examining the explosive compound closer, Jim held the gray putty-like blocks to his nose–and threw the whole thing on the table in disgust.
Blair looked up at him, then down the package. "What is it?"
"Check it out." How could he have been so blind? He watched as Blair picked up the bundle, held it under his nose and sniffed it.
"Jim, this is Wacky-Dough. Are you telling me you couldn’t smell it was a fake?"
Jim shook his head. "I was so focused on disarming that thing I couldn’t."
Blair dropped the fake explosive onto the table with a solid thump. "Man, this Brackett guy’s a total dick."
Jim walked over to the couch and collapsed onto its soft cushions. "Yeah, tell me about it. I need to find some way to get a hook into him. You know, something I can work with."
"Can’t we call the CIA?"
"Nah, I’ve dealt with those guys before. Believe me, the cure is worse than the disease." Jim felt the couch dip as Blair sat down on the end. He needed to get into the mind of Lee Brackett, but without asking the Feds for help.
He opened his eyes to see a contemplative look on his friend’s face.
"I think I have an idea."
Jim hung up the phone and tapped his pen on the desk. None of his contacts had come up with any information on Lee Brackett. He hoped Sandburg was having better luck with his idea. The anthropologist had gone downstairs to meet someone he’d said could help them out. He glanced toward the doorway just as Blair entered the bullpen with a man in a wheelchair.
"Hey, Jim. This is Jack Kelso. He teaches Foreign Affairs over at the university."
Kelso extended his hand. "Detective."
Jim was slightly surprised at the hearty handshake, but replied, "Oh, it’s an honor. I’ve been a big fan ever since your book blew the whistle on the agency last year." He just hoped Kelso wouldn’t ask him how he liked it.
The professor’s face lit up. "Really? Thanks. I didn’t think I had many friends in the law enforcement community."
Blair leaned in between the two men. "I asked Jack to help us out with this CIA thing."
Kelso nodded. "Yeah. Brackett and his type are the reason I got out of the spy business."
Jim raised an eyebrow. "You knew him?"
Jack’s expression turned to puzzlement. "I–I thought you read my book."
Uh oh. "Oh, I…read the review and I bought it, and I’ve been meaning to. It’s just that with work and all I’ve been inundated so–"
Blair laughed. "I think Jim’s waiting for the ‘books on tape’ version actually."
Kelso smiled at Sandburg’s joke. "It’s all right. I’m resigned to the fact that I’m writing books that are read by the few and bought by many."
A man with long blond hair and beard, wearing jeans, a T-shirt that read "Al’s Deli", and a ball cap that said the same, entered the bullpen, a paper sack in his hand. "Anyone here named Sandburg? I got your garden salad with rosemary thyme dressing."
Blair straightened from leaning over Jim’s desk, reaching for his wallet. "That’s me," he called out. "Sorry, guys," he said to Jim and Jack, "I didn’t get lunch today."
"That’ll be $5.75."
The anthropologist handed the deliveryman a five and a one. "Keep the change."
Mumbling something sarcastic about big tippers, the man left the bullpen.
Blair pulled a chair up to Jim’s desk and began setting out his lunch. The detective sighed impatiently.
"What? Go ahead, guys. I can eat and listen." When Jim’s glare intensified, Blair said, "Oh, you want some?" He waved a lettuce-loaded fork in his friend’s direction.
"No, thanks, Sandburg."
"Okay. So, Jack, uh…what’s this Brackett guy’s story anyway?" Blair tucked the fork in his mouth and chewed enthusiastically.
Smiling, Jack said, "Well, I only met him a few times. I was on my way out about the time he was coming in. But everyone knew about him, though. He was a real throwback."
Jim scowled. "What do you mean by ‘throwback’?"
"Well, we old-timers used to call the job we did ‘the show’. It attracted all kinds of marginal types–actors, grandstanders, psychos, extremists."
"Yep, that’s Brackett exactly," Blair agreed around a mouthful of tomato.
"Well, now, he was a varsity athlete recruited by the agency right out of Yale. The right combination of guts, brains, stamina–and complete amorality."
Jim leaned back in his chair, mentally comparing Brackett to some of the men he’d served under. "The perfect covert operations officer."
Jack nodded his agreement. "Oh, absolutely. He was notorious for creating complex game plans that made it nearly impossible for the other side to catch up with him. And then, in the late ’80s, he went into business for himself. He sold an urban warfare scenario to what he thought was a Puerto Rican nationalist and the guy turned out to be an FBI agent. Brackett smelled a rat, killed the guy, and went underground."
"Till now," Jim said tersely.
The ex-CIA agent gave him a knowing look. "Humph. I kind of figured this wasn’t an academic conversation. I don’t suppose you guys can tell me what’s going on?"
"I’m sorry. I–"
Jack cut the detective off. "No, don’t worry about it. I already know more than I want to. Listen, while I was doing research for the book, I compiled these profiles from the agency database–some of the more notorious agents, Brackett included. Personal data, modus operandi, patterns of behavior. The whole nine yards." He set a thick folder down in front of Jim.
"Wow. This is terrific. I really appreciate it, Mr. Kelso."
Blair nodded his thanks as well.
Kelso shook his head. "Don’t thank me. Brackett’s a treacherous bastard. I hate to see him loose in my town."
Early the next morning, Blair leaned over the kitchen island in the loft, reading upside down the information Jack Kelso had left with Jim on Brackett. He turned the page.
Early the next morning, Blair leaned over the kitchen island in the loft, reading upside down the information Jack Kelso had left with Jim on Brackett. He turned the page.
"Do you mind?" Jim growled from the other side of the counter where he was reading the same page.
Sighing, Blair flipped the page back. "Is there anything we can use?" He rubbed a hand over his stomach. For some reason, he felt nauseous. Maybe it was the stench from whatever Jim was cooking in the skillet sitting on the range next to him.
He took a step back as Jim said, "I don’t know. We’re just spinning our wheels until we figure out what Brackett wants."
Looking around the loft, Blair responded, "Maybe the answer’s right here."
Jim sampled a spoonful of his bright yellow concoction. "What do you mean?"
"Don’t you always tell me the way to find a guy is to figure out where he came from?"
His roommate’s gaze was genuinely quizzical. "Yeah, so?"
Blair ran a hand through his hair violently. "So, maybe Brackett left something behind, a clue, to let us know where he’s been."
With a snort, Jim turned his attention back to the file. "Lab guys have been all over this place."
"Jim, when are you gonna realize that a forensic analyst doesn’t have half the awareness you’ve got?" he asked, frustrated at the sentinel’s lack of enthusiasm.
The detective’s eyes narrowed. "I wouldn’t know where to begin."
"Take a deep breath." Blair inhaled deeply in example.
Jim’s jaw clenched. "Don’t patronize me."
Grabbing up the lid to the skillet, Blair covered the food with a clang. "I’m talking about using your sense of smell," he snapped.
The sentinel blinked. "Oh."
Blair relaxed. "Okay?"
"All right." Jim walked slowly around the loft, turning his head slowly from side to side, sniffing. Walking into the middle of the room, he crouched to examine something on the floor.
"You got something, man?" Blair moved quickly to his side, his queasy stomach forgotten for the moment.
Jim held out his hand. "Give me your Swiss army knife for a second, Chief."
Reaching in his pocket, Blair pulled out the knife and handed it over. Extracting the tweezers, Jim pried a small, dirty-looking seed from the crack between the floorboards. He sniffed it. "Kelso’s dossier on Brackett said he had a real jones for South American food, right?"
Bending down, Blair peered at the object Jim was holding up. "Right, right. That stuff always gives me indigestion." *Like now…* He straightened back up, wondering if they had any antacids.
"He must have tracked this in on his shoes. There seems to be some dirt…smells like chili pepper."
It was all Blair could do to keep from hurling as Jim’s tongue darted out and tasted the seed. "Oh, Jim…come on! You don’t know where that’s been!"
Still, he watched in fascination as Jim rolled the taste around on his tongue, then said, "There’s something metallic in the mud. It’s not much, but it could tell us where he’s been."
Jim rose and went to the kitchen, pulling a plastic sandwich bag out of the drawer and dropping the seed in it. The phone rang just as he was handing the tweezers back to Blair. "Yeah. Ellison. Just a second." He turned to Blair, covering the mouthpiece of the phone. "It’s Brackett." Hitting a button, he put the ex-CIA agent on speaker. "Sandburg’s here. Go ahead."
"Since my story about the bomb and the plague didn’t seem to persuade you to help me, I thought something a little more up close and personal might. Feeling a little sick to your stomach, Mr. Sandburg?"
Blair rocked back with a gasp. "Yeah, but how in the world–"
"You really ought to tip more, Sandburg. People would be less likely to poison your food if you did."
Jim’s shocked gaze traveled from Blair to the phone. If Brackett had been in the room, Blair had no doubt Jim’s hands would have been around his throat. "You son of a bitch! What have you done to Sandburg!"
"Now, now, Detective Ellison. Just a little slow-acting, extremely painful poison, for which I have the only antidote. Are you ready to assist me yet? I’ll give you a couple hours to think about it. I’ll be in touch." There was a click, and then only the drone of the dial tone could be heard through the speaker.
Blair swallowed past the sudden constriction in his throat. "Jim–"
Ellison shook his head. "Save it, Chief. Hospital–now." Grabbing his partner by the arm, he dragged him out of the loft at a run.
~~~~~~~~~~ Act III ~~~~~~~~~~
A portrait of misery, Blair leaned his shoulder against the door of the F150, his fingers clutching the armrest as Jim continued his quest to hit every pothole in Cascade. His throat hurt from having the stomach pump tube shoved down it, his arm ached from the zillion needles he’d been stabbed with. His stomach was still cramping from the effects of the poison, and he was feverish now, too. His head pounded just on general principles.
Jim glanced over at him, his gaze soft. "Chief, you should have stayed at the hospital," he began.
Blair shook his head, instantly regretting it. "They can’t do anything for me, Jim. And Brackett said he needs me to help you do whatever it is he wants. He won’t let me die before his plan has been completed. So I’m better off sticking close to you."
Turning his attention back to the road, Jim was silent for several minutes. Finally, he said, "I’m sorry about all this, Blair."
"Not your fault, man. If anything, it’s mine. If I hadn’t been stupid enough to publish my undergrad paper on the web–"
"You had no idea sentinels really existed then. You can’t be blamed for whatever twisted use Brackett’s found for your research." He drove the truck into the PD parking garage.
Blair leaned his head against the window, turning that knowledge over in his mind. *I wonder why Brackett waited until now to try and use Jim. He sounded like he knows as much about sentinels as I do. Even more, judging by the way he’s manipulated Jim’s senses with the white-noise generators. He could have wormed his way into Jim’s life the same way I did. So why didn’t he?* Blair hadn’t come up with any answers by the time Jim parked the truck.
Blair sat at the conference table in Simon’s office, his chin propped on his hand. He’d talked Jim into keeping quiet about Brackett poisoning him. There wasn’t anything anyone could do about it, and he didn’t want them distracted from trying to find the rogue CIA agent. It was bad enough Blair knew Jim was checking him out every few minutes with his senses.
He glanced around the table at the faces there: Jim, of course, and Simon, along with Carolyn Plummer from technical services, and Dr. Price from the CDC. Jim was filling them in on Brackett’s phone call, omitting the part about Blair being poisoned.
"He stole the plague to blackmail me into helping commit a robbery. If I don’t help him, he’s going release it into the air."
Dr. Price looked grim. "We have to alert the military and the CDC and start emergency procedures."
Jim shook his head. "No, no, no." He shot a quick look at Blair, then amended, "At least not yet."
"Quarantining the city won’t do a damn bit of good. It’ll only stir up panic, and make it harder for Brackett to accomplish whatever it is he wants Jim to help him to do," Simon argued.
Carolyn nodded in agreement with the captain. "Yeah, we have to assume that as long as he thinks you’ll help him, he won’t set it off."
Price gave in reluctantly, glaring at Jim. "What’s so special about you anyway?" As everyone stared at her, she amended her question. "That didn’t come out right. I mean–"
"It has to do with my liaison work with the CIA–certain operational procedures I’m familiar with."
Blair managed to hold back his laughter at Jim’s on the fly bullshit. "Bottom line. The only way we get the plague back is if Jim and I go along with Brackett’s plan." A fit of coughing seized him then, and only a few sips from the glass of water in front of him managed to silence it.
Simon ignored Blair’s hacking as he said, "At least until we figure out what Brackett wants to steal. Then we can take him down."
"You’ve already had him and lost him, and you still have no clue where the vials are hidden. What makes you think you can figure it out this time?" Dr. Price was still unconvinced of the plan.
"Lieutenant Plummer has been working on that. Carolyn?"
Opening the file in front of her, Carolyn said, "We’ve analyzed what Jim found in his apartment. There were traces of chilies and cumin on the seed."
Jim broke in. "Now we already know that Brackett is a fan of spicy foods–"
"What about the metallic taste in the mud?" Blair asked.
Carolyn raised an eyebrow at him. "You tasted it?"
The anthropologist squirmed in his seat, feeling everyone’s eyes on him. Jim was holding back a laugh. "Uh, yeah. I didn’t contaminate your sample or anything, did I?"
The lieutenant shook her head. "No. It’s just that the iron oxide we found was so minute it would have been almost impossible for you to taste anything–"
Ellison came to his partner’s rescue. "Carolyn, start checking out local South American restaurants that are near areas of highly concentrated iron oxides."
"Good idea. And while you and Blair keep Brackett occupied, I can figure out where he lives."
Simon agreed. "And with any luck, the canister will be there."
Once again, Dr. Price had to throw a damper on their plans. "What if it’s not? Will you go along with whatever he says?"
Blair felt Jim’s gaze on him once again before the detective replied, "Of course not."
Carolyn opened a small box and pushed it across the table. Resting on a bed of foam were two small pink lumps. "This is a transmitter."
"Transmitter? Brackett’s a pro. He’s not going to fall for that," Jim stated.
"He will for this one. It’s state of the art. No metal, no plastics, no ceramic. It’s made from a protein compound virtually indistinguishable by any electronic scanning device from human flesh."
Blair was intrigued. "So how does it work?"
"A piezoelectric crystal. It’s what makes phonographic needles pick up sound from a record groove."
"So it’s not a radio transmitter," Jim said.
Carolyn smiled at him. "Right. It’s like a beacon or a homing device. It translates vibrations into sound waves with no moving parts. No power source. You put it between your cheek and your back teeth. It’ll be invisible."
"We’ll be able to track every move you make," Simon said with confidence.
"Good." Blair felt a bit more hopeful about their mission.
The intercom at Simon’s elbow buzzed. "Captain Banks, line one."
Banks picked up the phone, then looked at Jim. "It’s Brackett. He wants to talk to you."
Pulling up outside of a building bearing a sign reading ‘La Cueva’, Jim looked over at his passenger. "You sure you’re up to this, Chief?"
"Yeah. It’s gotten personal, ya’ know?"
He couldn’t help but cringe when Blair winced in pain as the student opened the door on his side of the truck.
"Come on, we’re not getting anywhere by sitting outside."
Shaking his head, Jim followed Blair’s example and got out of the truck. The younger man was staring at the storefront. "What’s wrong?"
"Nothing. Peruvian cafe." He cocked his head to one side. "That would explain the chilies and the cumin you found in the loft."
"Okay. Our wires are active. Just keep Brackett talking as long as possible."
Blair’s response had a sarcastic bite. "Yeah, right. Like that’s difficult."
"Good. Let’s get this show on the road." He pulled open the door of the restaurant, made sure that Blair was right behind him, and walked inside.
The small restaurant was empty, save for a waiter who greeted them as they came in and Brackett. Ignoring the waiter, Jim approached the table where the ex-CIA man sat, acting like he didn’t have a worry in the world.
"Guess all that talk about not being blackmailed was just tough talk, huh, Jim?" Brackett threw a napkin on the empty plate in front of him as he looked over at Blair. "How are you feeling, Mr. Sandburg? You look a little green around the gills." He took a drink from his beer bottle, set it back on the table, and stood up.
Blair blanched at Brackett’s gloating tone, his arm tightening unconsciously around his stomach. Jim slammed his hand on the tabletop. "I’m here, all right? Now give Sandburg the antidote."
"Oh, not yet, Jim. If you cooperate, we’ll have plenty of time before the effects become irreversible." Brackett looked at Sandburg in false concern. "Yes, I know. The nausea’s pretty bad by now, and the ache in your muscles has increased something terrible, right, Mr. Sandburg?"
"Fuck you," Blair hissed between clenched teeth.
"Don’t worry, it’ll only get worse. You really shouldn’t have tried to have your stomach pumped or allowed the doctors at Cascade General to flush your system out with IV fluids. It only helped speed up the progress of the toxin." The agent fairly oozed with synthetic sympathy as he clasped a hand on Blair’s shoulder, pulling the young man to his side as he turned to face Jim. "Cooperate with me, Jim, and I’ll give Sandburg the antidote. Trust me."
"About as far as I can throw you. Now cut to the chase, Brackett."
"Temper, temper, Jim. First off, if you have intentions of taking me out — forget it. I’ve wired a detonator to the plague vials, which are in a secure location, and if I don’t reset the timer code on it…Let’s just say the clock is ticking, gentlemen." Putting his hand inside the pocket of the light jacket he wore, Brackett continued before Jim, or Blair, could say anything. "Now we’ve got some unfinished business. Both of you, empty your pockets onto the table. Keys, combs, coins, wallets — everything."
Glancing over toward Blair, Jim barely nodded and started emptying his pockets, as did Blair. Soon the only thing Jim had left was his badge. He held onto it, holding it up in front of the agent. "I’m not giving up my shield."
Brackett pulled some kind of electronic scanner from his pocket and waved it over everything on the table. Then he passed the device over Jim’s badge and nodded. The detective took that to mean it was okay for him to hang onto it. He slid it into his pocket as Brackett approached Blair.
"Now for the obvious things I’m supposed to find."
Jim watched as Brackett waved his hand-held machine over Blair and listened as it started to beep close to the younger man’s neck. Brackett reached up and fingered the ceramic and leather necklace around the anthropologist’s neck, inspecting it. "I do hope you didn’t let them rig a valuable artifact with a mini-transmitter."
Blair shrugged. "It’s a replica."
The agent pulled the offending object from around Blair’s neck, dropping it to the floor and crushing the pendant under his heel as he turned to pass the scanner over Jim. It started to signal as Brackett waved it near Jim’s waistline. "Cute. I’ll take the wire in your pants. Unless you want me to have Mr. Sandburg get it out for you?"
Jim silently snarled as he pulled the transmitter from his pants.
"Thanks. Just drop it."
He did as Brackett requested and tried not to react when the man crushed it under his heel, then ground the remains into the floor.
Brackett wafted the scanner over Blair’s face, then Jim’s. It beeped and lit up both times. "All right, I’ll take the protein transmitters."
Jim and Blair stared at him, Blair looking noticeably confused while Jim was trying to school his face into a look of shocked surprise.
Brackett smiled. "Look, don’t waste my time or yours. Those protein molecular transmitters may be new technology to you cops, but they’ve been on the covert black market ever since the Russians stole them, and," he waved the electronic device negligently in the air, "this scanner makes them obsolete."
This time, Jim made no effort to hide his disgust and dismay as he once again signaled for Blair to comply with the agent’s orders. He managed to tongue the small transmitter from its hiding place and spit it into his hand.
"Thank you, Jim — just drop them into the bottle if you will." First Blair, then Jim dropped their backup wires into the beer bottle. "Very good. Now, no more games. The plague canister will explode in two hours unless I stop it, and Mr. Sandburg will expire shortly after that." Brackett calmly placed the scanner on the table next to the bottle. "All your best-laid plans just went to hell. So we’d better get a move on. Do as you’re told and you won’t have your guide’s death, along with thousands of others, on your conscience."
"Our conscience," Jim corrected.
"Well, certainly not mine. Here–" Brackett flipped a set of keys into Blair’s hand. "I’m parked out back. You drive, Mr. Sandburg. And remember–the clock is ticking."
~~~~~~~~~~ Act IV ~~~~~~~~~~
Carolyn Plummer hung up her phone and swore under her breath. Jim and his friend Sandburg were in trouble, and it was all her fault. The phone rang again, and she picked it up, listening intently for a few moments, jotting an address down. She set the receiver down slowly, thinking, then got to her feet and headed for Captain Banks’ office.
She entered the open door to find Dr. Price with him. Giving the other woman a nod, Carolyn made her report. "They found the protein transmitters in a Peruvian restaurant on Balleyette Street."
Simon’s glare made her cringe. "Oh, that’s just great. So you’re telling me your virtually undetectable wire is virtually worthless."
Carolyn swallowed hard, feeling her stomach knot. If Jim died– She forced that thought from her mind. "Yes, but I think I’ve narrowed Brackett’s block down to two possibilities." Not that that would help her ex-husband at the moment, but at least it was something.
Simon ran a hand over his face. "All right, I’m listening."
She took a seat at the conference table, flipping open the folder she held. "I figured the iron ore meant a foundry or a smelting plant."
Sonia Price spoke up for the first time. "So when you start looking for sources of iron ore within the vicinity of South American restaurants, the road becomes narrower."
Carolyn nodded, eyeing the other woman shrewdly. She had more brains than Carolyn had given her credit for. "Right. We cross-indexed South American restaurants with sources of iron ore and came up with two Latino neighborhoods. The one where we found the transmitters is around the corner from the Windemere Plating factory. And the other’s a block away from the Westside Waste Treatment plant. The iron oxide Ellison found in his apartment could’ve come from either facility."
Simon reached for his phone. "All right. This better be good. I’m going to order a house-by- house search."
Following Brackett’s directions, Blair pulled the sedan to a stop outside what looked like the back gate to some kind of small military facility. Security seemed to be a single soldier inside a tiny guardhouse. He slipped the car into park, awaiting further instructions.
From his position beside Blair, Jim turned to look at Brackett in the back seat. "What are we doing here, Brackett?"
The criminal smiled. "As long as you’re in the dark, I’m one step ahead of you."
The guard approached Jim’s side of the car. "Can I see some identification, gentlemen?"
Blair saw Brackett raising his silenced weapon. "Jim!"
The sentinel opened his door, knocking the guard backwards as Jim leapt from the car. As he fell, the uniformed man struck his head against the guardhouse and lay still. Jim whirled on Brackett, who was out of the car and aiming his gun at the unconscious sentry. "There’ll be no murder on my watch."
Brackett shrugged. "Not so far." He peered into the car at Blair. "Get out and help him pull this guy into the shed."
Scrambling out of the car, Blair wobbled for a moment as he stood up, the poison’s effects making him dizzy. Shaking his disorientation off with an effort, he came around to the passenger side of the car.
"Sandburg, get his feet." Jim shot him a concerned look, and Blair knew he’d witnessed his moment of weakness, but the sentinel didn’t comment on it. Instead he looked up at Brackett as they carried the guard into the shack and tied him up. "This one of your ‘overthrow the government’ scenarios?"
The rogue agent cocked his head at them, looking slightly impressed. "Someone’s read my file. That traitorous bastard Jack Kelso bring you up to speed on that?"
Jim stepped out of the guardhouse and into Brackett’s personal space. "You’ve got a lot of nerve, calling anybody a traitor."
Brackett waved his automatic in the direction of the gate. "The republic I swore allegiance to was overthrown years ago. The people in charge today–they’re traitors. Let’s go."
Blair followed Jim through the gate, thankful that Lee Brackett had never joined up with Garrett Kincaid. *Or maybe he’s the one who supplied the Sunrise Patriots with the plague. Stealing it back seems like it would fit with his twisted brand of logic.*
The gun poked him in the ribs. "Start hustling, Sandburg. Or would you rather I put you out of your misery?"
Blair turned to see Brackett regarding him with an eager expression, as if the thought pleased him greatly. Shaking his head, the anthropologist broke into a trot to keep up with Jim.
Several minutes later they came to a halt at the edge of a creek with steep banks on either side. Spanning the water was a narrow bridge, the walkway covered in black and red squares like a checkerboard. At the far side of the bridge, Blair could see large buildings at the top of a rise.
Brackett explained the setup to them. "It’s a grid of electrically triggered mines surrounded by a charged fence. They change the pattern every twenty-four hours. Your sentinel abilities are the only way to get across without a map. I figure you should be able to tell the difference between active and dormant mines. The creek banks are also charged. There’s one way in, one way out. And I’m sure that it’s unnecessary to remind you that unless I’m alive to turn off the timer, the plague blows and Sandburg dies an agonizing death. So I’d better get across safely."
Jim’s jaw muscles flexed as he listened to Brackett’s words. Then he grasped the rogue by the upper arms and lifted him out of his way. "Shut the hell up and let me do it, okay?"
Brackett pulled Blair in front of him, wrapping an arm around his throat and forcing the anthropologist to his knees. He pressed the muzzle of his gun to Blair’s temple. "Okay. But you touch me one more time and this guy never needs a haircut again."
Fighting to breathe, Sandburg grabbed Brackett’s wrist, clawing at it. The man released him, and Blair dropped to all fours, coughing and choking. The violent spasm triggered Blair’s gag reflex, and he retched into the grass, his stomach muscles screaming.
Out of the corner of his eye, Blair could see Jim trying to get to him, but Brackett held him off, turning his gun on the detective. "Damn it, Brackett! Give him the antidote!"
The episode passing, Blair shook his head, sitting up slowly. "It’s okay, Jim. I’m okay." The sentinel slowly unclenched his fists.
Brackett shoved his hand into Blair’s curls and yanked him to his feet. "Then let’s get moving. Mr. Sandburg doesn’t have all day."
The younger man swatted Lee’s hand away. "All right. Just let us work." He moved to his partner’s side, breathing heavily.
Jim clasped his friend on the shoulder. "You sure you’re up to this, Chief?"
Blair nodded. "I have to be." He inhaled deeply, calming his racing heart and attempting to steady his trembling nerves. "All right, Jim, just remember our exercises. Focus and concentrate, okay? And turn it over and, please, stay out of your own way. You can do it, man." As Jim turned to stare at the checkerboard grid, Blair shook his head. *That was a lousy pep talk, Sandburg. If we get killed, it’ll be because of your rotten instructions….*
Jim studied the bridge for a long moment, his head cocked to one side, then he started across. Blair followed, the thought crossing his mind that it was like a big game of hopscotch. As he contorted his body to follow the meandering path Jim was taking, he changed his mind. It was more like a bizarre game of Twister.
Halfway across the bridge, the sentinel stopped.
"Jim? What’s the matter, man? Jim!"
Carolyn left Joel at the Bomb Squad van. She headed toward Captain Banks, who was standing next to a squad car parked several hundred yards away from a dilapidated house. He was observing it through a pair of binoculars as he listened to his radio.
<"Captain, I’m moving my team into position around the suspect’s house. Haz-Mat is standing by in case we find the plague inside.">
Lieutenant Plummer came to a stop at Banks’ shoulder. She watched the SWAT team creep toward the building for a moment, then asked, "Are you sure this is Brackett’s house?"
Simon kept his eyes trained on his men. "All the other possibilities turned out to be dead ends. We’ll move in as soon as we get an all clear from SWAT."
Carolyn nodded, wondering how Jim and his unlikely partner, Blair Sandburg, were doing, if they were even still alive. She forced that thought to the back of her mind. Jim would be fine. He always was. She had to believe that, or she wouldn’t be able to do her job. She headed back toward the Bomb Squad van. Maybe she should check that equipment again.
Blair heard Brackett’s question, but he ignored it, his attention focused on the zoned sentinel. "Jim? Jim! Oh man! Not now, not now!" He put a hand on his friend’s shoulder, trying to keep him from toppling and killing them all.
He felt Brackett tugging at him, repeating his question. "Damn it! It happens when he focuses so intently on one of his senses he loses all of his others. I thought you read my paper!" Blair shook Jim slightly, trying to get through to him. "Come on, Jim. Jim, come on."
A shudder ran through Ellison.
"Breathe, buddy. Come on."
Jim shook his head, losing his balance and tilting into Blair.
The anthropologist braced his friend, fighting to keep his own balance and not slide off the square he occupied. "That’s it. Relax, man, relax." Jim’s arms wind-milled as he went from leaning too far back to too far forward. "Hey, watch your arms!"
Jim clutched at Blair, managing to steady them both after a gut-wrenching moment. "All right, all right. I’m all right."
"You all right?" Blair babbled back, still off-balance. "Whoa!"
Steadying him, Jim kept his friend from stepping on a new block. "Don’t move; that one’s mined. Hold still for a second." He moved carefully to another square. "Step on my square. Good. You okay?"
"Yeah, great." Blair followed the sentinel the rest of the way across the bridge, even more cautiously than he had before. Reaching the end of the walkway, Blair leapt across the last few rows of squares, Jim’s grip on his arm keeping him from falling back onto the explosives.
"Easy there, Chief." Pushing Blair behind him, Jim gestured for Brackett to come ahead.
The spy jumped easily off the bridge, grinning. "Not bad, Jim."
Ellison glared at him. "Now what?"
Brackett removed a device from his pocket, and sliding a metal cover off a control panel connected to the bridge, he attached it. "There, that activated the entire minefield with a systems override. There’s no safe path across the bridge." He pointed to the buildings at the top of the hill. "You see that door? Move."
Jim headed up the slope. Blair hesitated, looking back at the bridge. Brackett gave him a shove between the shoulder blades, sending him stumbling after the sentinel, the criminal’s laughter ringing in his ears.
Jim felt he was stretched nearly to the breaking point, his senses close to overload as he attempted to monitor his friend’s ailing health, keep one eye firmly on Brackett, and use the rest of his senses to avoid any further traps. Just as they approached the wide, close-cut yard near the building the rogue agent had indicated, something caught Jim’s eye. He threw his arm out to keep Sandburg from stepping onto the manicured lawn. "Freeze, Chief."
"What is it?"
Jim crouched down, squinting against the sunlight and wondering just what he was looking at. "Not sure. I’m seeing something, at least I think I’m seeing something, but it’s really faint and… Can either of you see anything?"
Brackett and Sandburg squatted down on either side of Jim, their eyes sweeping the tight carpet of grass before them. "Could be lasers. Security measures around here are supposed to be tremendously tight."
Jim nodded in agreement with Brackett’s statement, then tried to hide a smile as Sandburg spoke up excitedly.
"You can *see* the lasers, Jim? Wow! I never thought anyone would be able to see something like that!" The younger man’s elation was cut short as his statement was followed closely by a painful groan and Blair reached up to press the heels of his hands against his temples. "Ow, ow, ow…"
Reaching out, Jim pulled Blair’s right hand down from his head and, ignoring the derisive chortle behind him, applied pressure to Sandburg’s hand. Pinching right between the forefinger and thumb, he hoped the pressure point technique would alleviate some of the pain for the observer. Blair was trying to pull his hand away, but Jim used his left hand to clamp Sandburg’s wrist and hold him still. "Don’t fight me on this, buddy. Trust me, okay?" Bright blue eyes stared at him from a pale and sweaty face, and Jim was relieved to see the pain lines around those intelligent orbs starting to smooth away.
Releasing Sandburg’s hand, Jim spun on the balls of his feet, his fist snaking out to grab Brackett by the lapel, dragging the agent in close. "Give him the antidote NOW." A sharp jab in his ribs reminded him that the ex-CIA devil was armed.
"Back off. Now, Jim."
Reluctantly, Jim opened his grip and dropped Brackett on his butt, away from the laser-strewn field.
"Get us into the hanger, and I give you my word that I’ll give Mr. Sandburg his little cure."
"Like I should trust your word? You have no honor."
A hand on his shoulder drew his attention back to Sandburg. "Jim, I’m all right for now. Let’s just do what he asks, okay?"
"Listen to him, Jim. The more time you waste with your macho heroics, the less time we all have on Earth." Brackett’s gun swung around to aim its lethal potential at Sandburg once more. "Or I can put him out of his misery right now and we can see just how long you can operate without a guide. Your choice."
Snarling, Jim turned his attention back to the lawn. The lasers, if that was what he was seeing, were nothing more than faint, shimmering lines of refraction that seemed to jump and waver about a half-inch above the grass, which was cut so close it resembled a putting green. "I can barely see these things. How in the hell am I supposed to get us all past them?"
"Jim, just concentrate on seeing them. Filter out the background noise — like you’ve learned to do with your hearing, only this time it’s your eyes we’re working on here. See if you can track one of the lasers to its source and we’ll go from there, okay?"
Nodding his understanding of what Blair was telling him, Jim started to distill the information his eyes were sending to his brain until he spotted what he was looking for. Standing up, he walked over to an unobtrusive flowerbed, and squatted down next to a dedication plaque. "Either of you happen to have a mirror handy?" he asked quietly as Blair and Brackett approached him.
Brackett handed him a small signaling mirror in silence and Jim opted not to question why the agent had such an item on him. Instead he stuck the corner of the mirror in the ground, using it to shorten the length of the beam to a few inches. It freed up enough of the lawn for them to possibly make it to the sidewalk near the hanger without setting off the alarms.
"All right, it’s going to be just as tight, if not trickier, than that damn bridge. Just step where I step and make sure you lift your feet up as you follow me." He waited until both of his companions nodded, and then Jim started across the field, making sure that he didn’t stray from the 12-inch wide path that his little bypass had created. "Let’s get this over with."
Carolyn stood poised with the SWAT team members, surrounding the house they suspected was Brackett’s, waiting for the go ahead.
Captain Banks voice came over her earphone. <"All right. That’s it. Let’s move out.">
The SWAT team burst through the front entrance of the home. Carolyn and Joel entered behind them, guns drawn.
"Captain Taggart! In here!" one of the team members shouted.
She followed Joel into the kitchen. On the table sat a stainless steel canister, a red LED display on the front counting down from two minutes.
"Gotcha!" Carefully Joel sat down in front of the bomb, slowly flipping the catches that held the cover on. Pulling out a pair of wire cutters from the tool kit Carolyn held out, he began to carefully snip wires.
Plummer waited a short distance away, ready to hand Joel anything he might need. Her heart was pounding as she watched the digits rapidly approaching zero. She had faith in Taggart, but still, it was going to be close.
As he cut the final wire with only a few seconds remaining, the TV set behind them popped on. She whirled to face it, Lee Brackett’s image appearing on the screen.
<"Welcome to my all-too-humble temporary residence. I’ve been expecting you. Searching for this place seemed to be the best way to keep you occupied. Now, if you’re watching this, you found my little trigger and defused it. Sorry, but that bomb’s a fake. I’d be running if I were you.">
Eyes wide, she locked gazes with Joel.
"Move it! Move it!" he yelled, pushing her toward the door, the SWAT team already streaming through it.
Head down, arms and legs pumping, Carolyn ran as fast as she could toward the police line. The house exploded behind her. A wave of super-heated air washed over her, and the concussive force knocked her to the ground. Debris rained down, and she covered her head with her arms, wondering if she was about to die.
~~~~~~~~~~ Act V ~~~~~~~~~~
"Carolyn! Taggart! You guys all right?" Simon’s voice boomed as he came toward them.
Joel got to his knees, reaching out a hand to help Plummer up. "Yeah."
Brushing the dust and splinters from her clothing, Carolyn replied, "Yeah," her voice slightly shaky.
Simon looked past them at the remains of the house. "What the hell happened in there?"
"It was a straight demolition charge–" Joel answered.
"–But no signs of the canister, damn it." Carolyn felt the knot of anger, frustration, and fear tighten in her stomach.
Joel shook his head in puzzlement. "Where in the hell is the plague?"
Banks asked the question that was foremost in Carolyn’s mind. "Where the hell is Jim?"
Jim mentally chided himself over the amount of time it took to clear the laser trap as he reached out to give Blair a hand in crossing the final obstacle and safely landing on the walkway outside the hanger. He waited until Brackett had also cleared the last laser beam before asking, "Okay, now what?"
"You’ve done well enough so far, Jim." The former agent waved his gun toward the only visible door on the hanger. "Mr. Sandburg, lead the way. I’m afraid we’re not at our target quite yet."
Blair’s upper lip curled into a snarl as the younger man whirled away from Jim and approached the door. Ellison followed the observer, which made it easier to check on his vitals. Blair’s fever had risen at least a degree since the last time he’d had a chance to check, and Jim could smell the sour-sweet miasma surrounding his young friend. A quiet moan of despair caught his attention as Jim advanced to where Blair was leaning against the wall of the hanger.
"Chief, you okay?" He reached out in concern, ignoring the flaming heat that seared his palm through Blair’s jacket.
"Yeah, I’m all right. Look." Jim followed the pointing finger and spotted the next obstacle.
"It’s a keypad combination lock. There’s also supposed to be some kind of motion or visual sensor — speaking of which, cuddle close." Brackett moved in to join Jim and Blair under the meager cover of the door overhang, his body pressing against theirs as he counted quietly aloud. "One, one thousand. Two, one thousand. Three…" Then the agent moved back, his gun once again covering them. "Was that as good for you as it was for me?" He smirked. "Timed camera sweeps with tight focus on this side of the lawn. Now, do your stuff, Jim."
"How?" Jim growled as he returned his attention to both the keypad and Blair, who had sagged lower against the wall. "Chief?"
Blair shook his head as he waved him off. "I’m all right. I’m all right, Jim." The student’s eyes flashed in fury at the former CIA man. "Anything else you can tell us about this lock, Brackett?"
Jim felt his anger at the agent rising when the man smiled and shrugged. "Only that you have two chances to enter the right code — a three number code by the way — before an alarm will sound and, according to my sources, about 15,000 volts of electricity will lash out to zap anyone standing within five feet of the door."
"Tazers, that’s just great." Blair pushed himself off the wall and walked unsteadily to Jim’s side. "Okay, three number, standard ten-key pad… it’ll be a simple code and the keys used should show more wear than ones not used. Can you sense anything like that, Jim?"
The keypad wasn’t marked with numbers on the keys, but if it had been, the keys where the ‘2’ and the ‘8’ would’ve been showed the most wear. "Yeah," he pointed to the keys, "those two are the ones we need, and that one," he indicated the #2 key, "shows the most wear."
"Thirty seconds to next camera sweep, gentlemen. Work fast."
"Shut up, Brackett," Blair snapped. "Okay, best guess, Jim and chance it?"
"Sounds good to me." Jim reached up and hit the buttons in the sequence of 2-8-2. He heard the solenoid lock disengage. Tentatively turning the doorknob, he opened the door, only to be jostled from behind as Brackett pushed Blair inside then slammed the door shut.
"Ten seconds left, but why take chances?" Brackett smiled as he shrugged. "Sorry if I added to your pain, Mr. Sandburg."
"I see you’ve been quite an influence on Mr. Sandburg, Jim."
The door he and Blair had been shoved through opened into a small antechamber. There was another door with yet another lock to get through before they could enter the hanger. Jim smiled wickedly as he pointed out the fingerprint recognition lock. "Looks like your plans just went to hell, Brackett."
"That’s what you’d like to think, isn’t it, Jim?"
The detective watched as the agent shoved his left hand into his pocket, pulled out a dark colored handkerchief, and approached the lock. The smell of blood assailed his nose when Brackett walked by him, and Jim was forced to hold back a wave of nausea as he guessed what the rogue had in the wrapped parcel.
Blair was watching the agent’s movements with avid attention as Brackett stopped beside Blair and opened the package in front of the student. "Would you care to do the honors, Mr. Sandburg?"
Jim watched as Blair blanched until he turned green.
"I didn’t think so." Brackett approached the scanner, holding up a severed thumb. He pressed it against the identification plate, and the light that indicated the door was locked switched from red to green. "After you, gentlemen." Brackett tossed the severed thumb into a corner as he herded them through the door into the hanger proper.
"Gentlemen, the latest entry to our country’s arsenal of stealth technology, the A.V.C.X." Brackett gestured like a magician unveiling his latest illusion as Jim looked at the flat black painted fighter jet.
"Where are we, Jim?" Blair’s voice conveyed the younger man’s sense of awe, wonder and fear as he, too, took in the impressive sight of the sleek fighter.
"This is a company skunk works — a secret development lab for the CIA." The sheer power radiating from the stealth fighter was inspiring, and frightening.
"That’s right." Brackett started walking towards the jet. "And this is a one-of-a-kind prototype. I suspect that Congress’ Intelligence Oversight Committee only suspects that it exists." The rogue agent started up the ladder that led to the cockpit of the fighter. "And the classified surveillance technology on board is priceless on the black market."
"The Air Force will be on your ass before you’re out of local air space," Jim called out as Brackett settled into the pilot’s seat.
"I’ll worry about that when it happens." Brackett disappeared from view just as Blair crumpled to the hanger’s hard concrete floor.
Jim rushed over to his friend, worried that Brackett had miscalculated the effects of whatever poison he’d managed to introduce into the younger man’s body. The fever had apparently stabilized, but shivers and muscle spasms wracked Blair’s body. Jim feared it was just the warm-up to what would be a truly frightening set of convulsions before death.
"Brackett!" He jumped to his feet. "You promised us the antidote, now fork it over!" Jim raged, knowing there was nothing he could do for Sandburg, other than make him as comfortable as possible, without the promised cure.
The agent’s head poked back up over the edge of the cockpit. "As soon as I’m airborne I’ll disarm the detonator and set off a beacon so you can locate the plague and Mr. Sandburg’s antidote. I’ve always been a man of my word, Jim. Oooh, he does look awful, doesn’t he?" Brackett disappeared once more into the depths of the plane.
Blair started to growl, and Jim looked down to see his friend struggling to rise to his feet, an almost feral expression contorting his flushed face. "We can’t let him get away with this, Jim." He started to stagger towards the plane.
"Oh! Before I forget–" Brackett popped back up. "Ah, you’re on your feet again, Mr. Sandburg. That’s great! Emergency security forces should be arriving soon. If I were you, I’d be outside warning them not to cross that mined bridge — unless they want their loved ones to start collecting their pensions." The agent almost sounded cheerful as he once again ducked back into the cockpit. Jim could hear him whistling a jaunty tune.
"Chief, get out there and warn them!" Jim started to advance on the jet, not sure what he was going to do — other than somehow stop Brackett.
"We can’t let him go!"
"Don’t worry about that, he’s not going anywhere. Now get moving! I’m going to stop him and get your antidote and that damn detonator." Jim reached the ladder and started to climb, just as he heard Blair hit the door out of the hanger running. Hopefully he’d be in time to stop the security people from getting blown to kingdom come.
Blair barreled down the hill at a dead run, ignoring the pain in his gut and the sweat trickling into his eyes. He crossed the laser-riddled lawn, hoping breaking the beams wouldn’t set off some futuristic booby traps. Fortunately for him, the only thing it seemed to activate was a very loud alarm.
As he came to a stumbling halt at the bridge, he could see a team of soldiers on the other side, preparing to cross. Waving his arms, Blair yelled, "Whoa, whoa! Hey! Hey, stop!" The soldiers continued to advance, their guns pointing at him. "Wait! Wait! The whole minefield is live!"
The soldier in the front commanded, "On the ground! Now!"
A burst of machine gun fire sprayed over Blair’s head, and he hit the dirt. Glancing up, he saw them moving toward the bridge again. Reaching back, he yanked off his shoe and tossed it onto the checkerboard. He covered his head as the mine exploded, sending a shower of smoke and shrapnel into the air.
As the noise faded, Blair called to the soldiers again. "He’s put an override on the system!" He could see the lead soldier talking into a radio, but couldn’t make out what was being said.
Blair got slowly to his feet, waiting for several long minutes before the soldiers crossed the bridge. "Well, it sure took you guys long enough to override that…override or what ever it was."
The first soldier off the bridge grabbed the anthropologist by the arm and whirled him around, forcing him to his knees. "Shut up, or I’ll personally shoot you first!"
Swallowing nervously, Blair thrust his hands in the air and shut up. Where was Jim when he needed him?
<"You’re not cleared for take off. Abort! Abort your takeoff now!"> The words came from the radio in the fighter jet’s cockpit. As Jim reached the top of the ladder, Brackett started to fire up the powerful engines. Reaching into the cockpit, Jim grabbed Brackett by the shoulder and hauled the man upward, intent on tossing the agent to the ground.
"Let me go or I detonate the plague bomb now." Brackett’s voice was calm, laced with just a touch of pain as Jim dug steel-like fingers into the man’s vulnerable nerve junction.
"Fine. It’ll take you with it." He pulled Brackett from the cockpit and tried to fling the man to the hanger floor. The agent twisted like a cat in mid-air and managed to land on the wing. Intent on maiming, though he really wanted to kill, Jim hopped from the ladder to the wing’s surface and stalked his prey. "You sorry son of a bitch, I’m going to tear you apart."
Lee Brackett smiled. "You’re out of your league and you know it, Jim. Just give up and we’ll both be better off. Admit it." Then, contradictory to his statement, he gestured for Jim to come after him.
Jim obliged, closing on his prey. Brackett dropped to the surface of the wing, sweeping his leg outward. Catching Jim behind the knee, he dumped Jim on his back. Rolling to one side, Jim kicked out, nailing Brackett in the chest and sending the man sliding off the wing.
"Gotcha." Not bothering to regain his footing, Jim rolled off the wing in a half-somersault to land on his feet close to the agent, who was gasping for air.
Jim didn’t waste any time. He started a rough and perfunctory pat down, looking for the transmitter. He found it and pulled it free of Brackett’s pocket, elation rising in his chest.
"It’s broken!" Brackett managed to gasp and the joy Jim was feeling turned to dread as the man managed to say more between painful breaths. "The remote is the only way to stop the detonation and it’s due to blow in less than five minutes!"
"Well, then, we’re both running out of time." Jim hauled the agent roughly to his feet and pulled the man close to growl in his face. "Where the hell is it and the antidote?"
"Close." Brackett waved his hand toward the door. "They’re both in the trunk of my car."
Jim pushed the agent away from him, then snagged him by the arm and shoved him toward the exit. "You’d better be telling the truth, Brackett. Or I’ll kill you with my bare hands and the turn your carcass over the CIA personally."
Keeping Brackett in front of him, Jim pushed the man into a full run as they made their way back to the bridge. He could see Blair kneeling on the ground, a guard behind him, a gun pointed at his head.
A soldier armed with a submachine gun leveled the weapon at them and barked out an order. "Halt! Hands over your heads! You’re both under arrest!"
Jim and Brackett both raised their hands while continuing to approach the soldier. Ellison needed to get the agent over the bridge and to the car in four minutes or less. No time to pretty it up for the military man. "I’m Detective James Ellison, Cascade PD. Shield and ID are in my breast pocket." He stopped in front of the young soldier.
The man lowered his weapon, and another took up covering him and Brackett. Reaching into Jim’s jacket, he pulled forth the badge and photo ID. Glancing at them for a few seconds, then handing them back, the soldier stated the obvious; "You’re way out of your jurisdiction, Detective."
Jim pocketed his ID. "I’ll explain later, sir."
"You’ll explain now." The man snapped.
Patience wearing thin, Jim snarled right back at the man, using every ounce of his own Army background and command experience to get his point across. "Look, there’s a bomb in a car parked just outside your back gate. If it explodes, it’s going to send enough plague to cover the entire Northwest sky high. If you want to live long enough to explain to your commander how you saved the day, you’ll get us," his gesture included Sandburg and Brackett, "to that car NOW!"
"Yes, sir! Follow me!"
Brackett, Sandburg and Jim ran through the open gate. Jim spared a glance for the soldier he’d helped take out of action earlier. He was receiving assistance from a fellow soldier. They reached the rear of Brackett’s car. "Chief, the keys!"
Blair shoved a hand into a pocket and pulled forth the keys Brackett had given him hours earlier. Jim plucked them from the shaking, out-stretched hand. Blair sagged against the car, as Jim opened the trunk. Brackett pulled out an aluminum suitcase and was opening it as a serious-faced soldier ran up to them.
"I’ve contacted your captain, sir. The Haz-Mat unit’ll be here in three minutes."
Jim looked down at the L.E.D. timer displayed on the bomb Brackett had revealed. "That’ll be two minutes too late, Sergeant."
Brackett jostled his arm, pointing to the bomb he’d created. "Okay, it’s got dual triggers."
"What the hell does that mean?"
"That means we have to defuse it simultaneously or it blows." For the first time since meeting Brackett, Jim heard the sharp edge of panic in the man’s voice.
"What’s the defusing sequence?"
"Blue, orange, red, yellow. We’ve got 26 seconds."
Jim nodded curtly, his mind tightly focused, his hands steady as they hovered over the multicolored rat’s nest of wires. "Let’s go with the blue."
Jim called the cadence. "Ready and…"
"Blue." Two hands, two men working in harmony and the first wires were undone.
"And–" Jim stated, his voice joined by Brackett’s, "orange." One more set of wires down.
"Red–" He started to move for the mentioned wire, only to have the agent halt his hands.
Jim stared at the man, catching Blair’s wide-eyed incredulous expression out of the corner of his eye.
"Once we pull the red we’ve got one second to pull the yellow from the charge."
*Son of a BITCH!* He curtly nodded his head to show he understood.
"All right. Ready?" Hands hovered on the wire, already itching to jump from red to yellow in a heartbeat. "And…"
Jim’s voice blended with Brackett’s as they called out the colors even as their hands did the work required of them. "Red… Yellow." The timer stopped and the world didn’t end. The welcome sound of sirens in the distance heralded the anticipated arrival of the Haz-Mat team and his back up.
Brackett was grinning as he regarded Blair’s relieved expression. "Mr. Sandburg, I’m surprised! Did you think Jim and I couldn’t work together to save the world?"
Jim walked over to them, grabbing Brackett by the upper left arm as he pulled him away from Blair. "The antidote, Brackett. Now."
The man actually laughed. "Oh, it’s not necessary anymore, Jim." He turned a smiling face toward Blair. "You see, Mr. Sandburg, I didn’t really poison you — I just dosed you with pure thyme oil. Yes, the side effects are quite nasty, but you’re not going to die. Not today, anyway."
Blair’s fist shot out in a wicked right cross, connecting solidly with Brackett’s jaw. Jim watched the CIA rogue agent’s eyes roll back in his head, then Brackett crumpled to the ground.
Blair waved his hand in the air, trying to shake off the pain. "I’m so freaking tired of being some damn nutcase’s fucking pawn!" Blue eyes looked up at the sentinel, and a wan smile graced the pale face. "Uh, Jim? I think I’m gonna be sick here…"
Jim couldn’t help the feeling of pride rising in him as he helped Sandburg over to the side of the road. Brackett had thought Jim was the more dangerous of the two men he’d manipulated. He’d found out otherwise–the hard way.
Carolyn smiled as she followed Ellison and Taggart out of Banks office. Brackett was in jail, and his accomplices had been caught. Jim hadn’t even been upset over the failure of the protein transmitters, and Blair Sandburg had recovered quite rapidly, once all the thyme oil had passed through his system. As Simon had said, "Score another one for the good guys."
Sonia Price approached Jim as he crossed the bullpen toward his desk, looking much more laid back than she had all week. Perhaps it was the jeans and the T-shirt.
*Oh, this should be good…* Carolyn took a seat at Jim’s desk, determined not to miss a word.
"Detective, I think I owe you an apology for the lack of faith I had in you. I really didn’t think you could get the plague back." She gazed up at Jim with what Carolyn could only call an expression of hero worship.
"Well, I kind of lost my temper there a couple times myself. Sorry."
"Call me Jim."
*Pu-leeeze. Give me a break!* If this got anymore sappy, Carolyn was going to be ill.
Sonia gave him a little smile. "Jim, I’m curious. Are your instincts always so on the money?"
Hmm, that was a question Carolyn would like to hear the answer to, along with how in the hell Jimmy knew what duck waste smelled like.
"Oh, once in a while I get lucky." He was really turning on the charm. He put on his jacket, flexing his chest muscles.
Carolyn could have sworn she saw the woman flutter her eyelashes.
"So, you’re heading back to Atlanta?" Carolyn knew that tone of her ex-husband’s voice. He was stepping up to the plate…
"No, I thought I’d stick around a couple days, decompress." There’s the pitch…
"Oh, that’s a good idea. Lots to see and do around here." He swings…
Connects solidly with the ball…"Yeah, you know, I, uh…" Going, going,…
And it’s a foul ball! Carolyn struggled to hide her smile as Dr. Sonia latched onto Blair, who had just entered the bullpen.
Blair looked at the attractive doctor, a bit startled. "Uh, hi."
Dr. Price seemed suddenly nervous. "Hi. Um, look, I’m not usually this forward, but I’m only in town for another couple of days and, well, I hear there’s lots to see and do in Cascade, and I thought maybe…"
Taking his jacket back off, Jim sat down on the edge of the desk, next to Carolyn, shrugging and shaking his head slightly.
"Sure, yeah, I’d love to show you around," Blair was saying.
Sonia smiled at him. "Great. I’d love to hear all about your experiences with tribal medicines."
Still looking somewhat like a deer caught in the headlights, Blair answered, "Sure. Hey you know, there’s a new exhibit on primitive cultures over at the Natural History Museum."
The doctor’s smile broadened. "Great. If you’re not doing anything, we could go now."
"Love to. Yeah." He gave Carolyn and Jim a grin as Sonia hooked an elbow through his and tugged him toward the door. "See you later."
"Bye," Carolyn called.
"Buh-bye," Jim said.
Carolyn leaned back in her chair, feeling a grin flirting with her lips. "So…were you going to ask her out?"
Jim waved a hand aimlessly. "Oh, I was thinking about it. Maybe. Yeah, kind of…"
"I guess that old Ellison charm is slipping, huh?"
Jim shook his head, smiling ruefully. "You know, slipping is one thing, but that’s a hundred-story drop."
Carolyn patted him on the shoulder, revising her opinion of Dr. Sonia Price. She wasn’t so bright after all.
Please let us know what you thought of tonight’s episode. Feedback can be sent to: [email protected] Next week’s episode: Love and Guns by Gina Jones