Disclaimer: The Sentinel and its characters are the property of Pet Fly Productions.

Thanks to wolfpup for beta-reading and to both wolfpup and Shiloh for nudging me along on this one. The encouragement and cyberhugs were appreciated. Thanks, you two!

I've tried to be as accurate as possible with the voodoo facts, but it is amazing how much references differed from book to book. I just find it scary that I have now written two stories that have mentioned cucumbers! (Shiloh, I see a disturbing trend happening here What have you started?!)

Thank you to everyone who wrote to me about past stories! And apologies if I didn't respond to some. I managed to lose posts, juggling between work and home accounts. They're out there somewhere!

And, just in case you know the bar mentioned in the story, the last time I saw the piano player, he was alive and well.

Flickering candle light spilled from the open doors and windows of the bar onto Bourbon Street, adding an extra layer of mystery to the already notorious neighbourhood. Lafitte's was nestled at the far end of the street, well away from the tourist crowded areas. Packed, as always, the musky scent of booze and sweat blanketed the small bar. An ancient piano player, coaxing sweet strains of the blues from a keyboard that had yellowed with age, smiled as another bill was dropped into the quickly filling glass jar perched in front of him. He could play all night and into the morning, as long as someone sat to listen. Steamy nights in New Orleans, sitting at the edge of the Quarter, always felt a little more dangerous. A little more alive.

In the shadows, away from the music and murmur of conversation, a lone figure sat at a table. He clutched a small doll in his hand, idly stroking the white hair of its head. His fingers strayed to the small symbol that had been stitched into the clothing of the doll, tracing it almost lovingly. A musical note. Giving the doll a gentle squeeze, words formed in his mind. He hummed the soft chant and looked up to where the piano player sat, strong, white teeth flashing in his dark face. He spoke the words again and watched and listened as the music faltered. Frightened brown eyes met his own. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a long silver pin and ran it along his tongue, the smile growing more menacing. His eyes were feral as they held the stare of the musician. He heard the old man gasp and he laughed.

The music suddenly stopped. The glass jar shattered noisily as it hit the dirty, wooden floor, scattering coins and bills in all directions. The old man was standing at the piano, gesturing wildly and begging for his life. Curious eyes followed his gaze and saw an empty table standing in a dark corner. One of the bar's regulars turned back to the musician, in time to see him clutch his chest and collapse against the piano. He seemed to fall in slow motion, his body striking a loud and resounding chord, as it hit the keyboard and slid to the floor. Only stunned silence followed.

A phone rang in a small cottage that sat along the bank of the Mississippi. Everything was in darkness, except for the red pinpoint of light at the end of a cigarette. The shrill ring of the phone sounded three times and then stopped. The glow of the cigarette grew stronger as its owner inhaled and waited. The phone rang again. One lone ring.

"Excellent." The word was breathed out with the cigarette smoke.

Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg hugged the wall just outside the apartment door.

"I don't hear anything Chief," Ellison hissed, as he quickly glanced back at his partner. He reached around to give the door a loud knock. "Cascade police."

The sound of another door opening down the hallway drew Blair's attention. A small child peered out and stared at him, wide eyed. Sandburg gestured for him to get back into the apartment, debating whether to go and shove him in himself, when a shotgun blast shattered the silence. Splinters of wood flew in all directions slicing through the acrid smoke of the blast. The young boy ducked back into his apartment, much to the anthropologist's relief. Next to him, his partner sank to the floor clutching his head.

"Jim!" The Sentinel's eyes were squeezed shut against the pain. "Jim, man, look at me!"

The detective gasped and shook his head, trying to get his hearing back on line. Feeling himself being shaken, he opened his eyes. His friend's face swam before him making him dizzy. Blair's voice cut through the ringing, asking him if he was alright.

"Yeah...yeah." The answer came through gritted teeth. "Help me up." Bracing himself for the vertigo that always followed an attack on his hearing, Jim stood up and leaned heavily on Sandburg. "Thanks Chief. I'm okay." His knees buckled as he took the first step and he put a hand on the wall to steady himself. "This is definitely going to be one hell of a headache."

"You're not going in there?" Blair was incredulous and he yanked on Ellison's arm, pulling him back. "You don't know if he's in there waiting." He shifted his hold on the arm, this time to keep his friend standing as Jim sagged again. "You're in no shape to go in." Sandburg wore his best "don't argue with me" expression, but the detective wasn't listening.

"It's all quiet in there, Chief." He pushed himself off the wall and pried Blair's fingers from his arm.

"That's what you said last time," Blair muttered, not sure Jim would even be able to hear him after the blast. He put his hand on his friend's back and sighed. "Let's go, I'm right behind you."

The two stepped into the room, Ellison curling up his nose at the heavy scent of powder that still hung in the air. It only took one quick look to tell that it was indeed empty. The detective quickly crossed the apartment to the open window that overlooked the alleyway, slamming his fist on the wall when he saw the fire escape.

"We lost Laforge, Chief," he sighed. The arrest had gone wrong from the beginning.

Blair's voice had a strange quality to it that immediately gained Ellison' s full attention. "Uh, Jim? I think you better take a look in here. We didn't lose him, he's still here."

Ellison turned to see his partner backing out of the bedroom. "What's wrong, Chief?" Sandburg's pulse had quickened. Blair seemed transfixed by whatever was in the room and blocked the doorway. Jim was forced to look around him.

Sandburg swallowed loud enough for the detective to hear. "Jim? Tell me that's not a voodoo doll. Okay?"

The body lay sprawled across the bed, its arms and legs tied to the four posts. Sightless eyes stared up at the ceiling. The shirt had been stripped away and symbols painted onto the chest. There were no other marks on the body. No blood, no wounds to be found anywhere. But what had caught Sandburg's attention was the small doll that lay at the centre of the symbols. It bore a striking resemblance to the dead man. Entering the room, the detective reached out to pick up the small, straw stuffed figure, but Blair stopped him.

"Don't touch it, Jim." Ellison thought that his friend was joking and was surprised to see his serious expression.

"Oh come on, Blair," Jim snorted. "You don't really think someone can cast evil spells with magic and mumbo jumbo, do you?"

With complete calmness, Blair looked up at his friend. "Up until three years ago I didn't believe I would ever find a real Sentinel. But I did." He stepped closer to the body to better see the symbols painted there. "And I've seen too many things in some of the cultures I've studied. Humour me, okay?"

Ron Sanderson, the Cascade medical examiner, started his assessment of his newest visitor. He had been discovered 4 hours ago by Ellison and Sandburg in a hotel room on the west side. The M.E. knew the man's name, his medical history, his address. He knew everything about him, except why he was dead. The surface examination of the body revealed no fatal wounds. A toxicology report on blood gases and fluids came up negative. The man had been dead several hours, but there were no signs of rigor mortis having happened or ever presenting itself. Sanderson circled the table slowly, scanning the cadaver for needle marks and small puncture wounds that may have been missed. With a frustrated sigh, he flipped open the chart and recorded his lack of findings. The second phase, the autopsy, would hopefully reveal more.

In the chilled room, Sanderson spoke into the small microphone that hung suspended above the body. "Today's date is August 25, 1997. The time is..." He squinted to see the clock across the room. "...uh, 8:45 p.m. Preliminary examination of Lucien Laforge has not determined a cause of death. The post-mortem examination will continue, beginning with an exploration of the abdominal cavity."

Sanderson pulled the tray of surgical tools nearer and selected the largest of the scalpels neatly arranged there. Preparing himself for the release of the putrid gases, he began the first incision. As the blade made the cut, a painfilled and enraged scream erupted from Laforge. Sanderson quickly withdrew the knife and backed away from the table, tripping as he did so. He continued to crawl backwards until he met up with the wall, never taking his eyes from the examining table. He watched in horror as the "dead" man slowly swung his legs from the table and righted himself. Laforge stood, looking bewildered and frightened. His hand moved to his chest and dabbed at the small trace of blood he found there. That was all Sanderson needed to see, he sprang to his feet and ran from the room, yelling for help.

Sandburg's voice was low and soothing. "I know it still hurts, Jim. I want you to imagine the dial and turn down the pain. Focus on the ringing in your head, just for a minute, and now eliminate it. Just like you do external sounds." Ellison's brow relaxed, bringing a small smile of triumph to his Guide's face. "I'm going to put a cool cloth over your eyes now. Concentrate on the coolness and soft touch. Keep your eyes closed." Jim nodded, saying nothing. "Good." Blair quietly picked up the bowl of water and started down the stairs to the kitchen.

"Thanks Chief. Don't know what I'd do without you."

Blair smiled. "Try to get some rest Jim. I'll check on you a little later."

Not wanting to risk bothering his friend with the sound of typing or writing, Blair picked up the book he had pulled from his growing pile of "wanna reads". A friend had recommended a book about vodun when the anthropologist was still searching for a topic of study for his thesis. It had gathered a lot of dust over the years, but now he had a good excuse to pick it up. Seeing the voodoo doll had reawakened his curiosity and he wanted to sort the fact from the fiction. Turning the ringer down low on the cordless phone, he propped himself up on the couch and began reading. "In vodun, the concept of the soul is part of an intricate set of beliefs....."

Sandburg jumped as a flash of lightning streaked across the sky. For the past hour he had been living in the secret world of the Haitian religion. It had made him skittish. Closing the book, he looked out through the balcony windows as the first drops of rain hit the glass. Hopefully the thunderstorm would cool things off. Humidity had smothered Cascade for nearly three weeks, driving the crime rate up. Knowing that his partner needed a break, he wished Simon would see his way clear to giving Jim a few days off. But...another flash of blue white light lit up the sky, interrupting his thoughts. Blair's heart stopped. There, standing on the balcony, staring into the loft, was Laforge. With a startled gasp, the young man sat up straight on the couch.

"Get a grip Sandburg. There is no one out there." But his pounding heart told him otherwise. Another flash of lightning revealed what his reasoning self had assured him. There was no one there. He ran his hand through his hair and tried to get some control over his breathing. "Man, that was just too real."

"What was too real?" He hadn't heard Jim come down the stairs and yelped in surprise.

"Geez, Jim! Trying to give me a heart attack? Make a little noise, willya?" He gave a small, shaky laugh. "Hey, you're looking much better. Headache gone?"

Ellison patted his friend on the shoulder as he went to the kitchen. "You're a miracle worker, Chief." He grabbed some bottled water from the fridge and took a long drink. "Now, do you want to tell me why your heart is still pounding like you just ran a marathon and what was too real?"

The younger man looked embarrassed. "You're going to laugh. It was really dumb."

"I can always use a laugh. What was it?"

Blair got up to join his friend, picking up the cordless phone from the coffee table. "You're not going to let this one go, are you?" He smiled good-naturedly. "Okay, but don't laugh too hard." Taking a deep breath, he started. "I was reading this book about vodun...voodoo...that a colleague of mine had given me. At one time I thought about doing my dissertation on that instead of Sentinels. Well anyways, the book is really well written and I guess I got a little too involved because...."

Ellison could see Blair waffling, making him all the more curious. "Because?" He prodded.

Pulling a chair out from the kitchen table, Blair dropped into it. He leaned his elbows onto the table and groaned as his laid his head in his hands. "Oh, this is so dumb. I thought I saw Laforge on the balcony. Big as life." He glanced up at his partner, seeing the smirk there. "See, I told you it was dumb. I guess I was so into the book, I was reading about voodoo and death, and then there was this flash of lightning and I looked up and there he was." The sentence had come out in one breath.

Ellison chuckled. "Well as long as that's all it was. I think..." The ringing of the phone stopped him mid sentence. Taking it from the table, where Blair had left it, he hit the talk button. "Hello?...Oh hi Simon. Yes sir, I'm feeling much better, thanks."

Blair watched as Jim's face hardened. He could almost see the throbbing of the vein that ran along the clenched jaw. Whatever Simon had called about, it wasn't good news. Then Jim was looking at him, his eyes wide.

"Sure Simon, we'll be there as soon as we can." The detective thumbed the end button and stared at Sandburg. "Good thing you're sitting down, Chief. This is an interesting one. About an hour ago, Lucien Laforge got up off of the autopsy table, picked up his clothes and left the morgue." He pulled at his ear. "Seems he wasn't quite dead after all."

Ron Sanderson sat at the conference table in Banks' office. He was pale and the hands that clutched the mug of coffee were shaking. "I don't know how we could have missed it. He was dead. We checked for life signs. My God, I even did some of the blood work on him. He was dead." He stared down into the mug, his voice becoming a whisper. "He was dead."

Simon looked across the table at Ellison and Sandburg. "I really don't know what to make of it. I can't say that I ever remember a murder victim just getting up and walking away." He let out a small laugh at the absurdity of what he had just said. "So it seems, Jim, that the case is still open and we still have a warrant for Laforge's arrest."

"Excuse me Captain?" Sandburg looked uncomfortable. "I have a question for Ron." He waited until the still shaken examiner met his eyes. "Did you find any trace of poison on his skin? A powder?"

The M.E. shook his head. "No nothing. If it was absorbed into his blood stream I can run another check. What should I be looking for?"

Banks leaned back in his chair. "Good question. Just what are you getting at Sandburg?" He held his breath, waiting for the lecture. The anthropologist could never deliver information in a direct and succinct manner. But he was surprised, the kid actually sounded unsure of himself.

"Um, well, you see sir, it's about the voodoo doll. There is a theory that bokors can create zombies..."


"Yes sir, sort of a practitioner of black magic in voodoo. You see, the school of thought is that they can do this through an organic poison they create. Not through spells or anything like that. So I just wondered if maybe there might have been a trace of the powder on Laforge's skin." Sandburg knew that what he had said would finally sink in with the other three men.

"What a minute, Sandburg!" Simon clamped down on the cigar stub. "Did you just say zombies?"

Feeling the flush rising to his cheeks, the anthropologist plowed on. "Yes sir, zombies. But not the kind you'd see in Night of the Living Dead. What happens is that the poison causes the body to slow its functions down so much it mimics death. It usually lasts anywhere from four hours to two days, depending on the dose, I suppose. When it wears off the person is very disoriented and easily directed. In severe cases there have been reports of brain damage and total memory loss, that's where the whole zombie myth stems from."

"So this is what you think happened to Laforge, Chief?" Jim was trying to keep an open mind.

Blair's obvious relief, that someone was taking him seriously, shone in the smile he directed at his partner. "I think there's a good chance. I can make a list of some of the poisons used by the bokors if that would help Dr. Sanderson. There is an antidote to the poison, I just don't have much information on it."

Sanderson rose from his chair, preparing to leave. "Well Mr. Sandburg, the poison theory sounds like a plausible one. One that will let me sleep tonight anyway." He smiled. "I didn't know how I was going to cope with the idea that dead men can get up and walk away." He extended his hand to Blair. "Thank you and I'd like to have that list of poisons to look for. Maybe we can even come up with the antidote." He turned to Simon. "Captain, if we're done, I'd like to go home and cozy up to a bottle of Cardhu. I think I've earned it."

When the door had closed on Sanderson, Banks fixed Blair with an exasperated glare. "Zombies, witch doctors, black magic? What kind of game are we playing here, Sandburg?" The overhead lights reflected off of Simon's round lenses, but the anthropologist didn't need to see his Captain's eyes to know that he wasn't pleased.

"It's not a game, sir. It's vodun. A very old and widely practiced religion, in many parts of the world. And all I offered was an opinion Captain, to be accepted or discarded." He could feel himself becoming annoyed. "It's part of my function here, at least on paper."

Banks' eyebrows rose at the uncharacteristic show of temper. He had seen Blair angry but that usually concerned his Sentinel in one way or another. He looked to Ellison for support and was met with a rock hard glare. Sighing, he knew he was beaten. He was no match for a Sentinel and his Guide. Holding his hands up in mock surrender, he laughed, "Poor choice of words, it's not a game. No offence meant, Sandburg. But..." He tapped his pen on the table for emphasis. "Let's not ignore the more conventional explanations was well. Agreed?"

Jim leaned back in his chair and smiled. "Agreed. And soon as someone offers another explanation, conventional or otherwise, we will investigate it." He slapped his partner on the back. "Ready to go home, Chief? We're done, sir?"

"We're done. I'll see you two in the morning." He stole a quick glance at Sandburg, trying to determine if the younger man was still annoyed. His face was impossible to read, he must have been taking lessons from Ellison.

Ellison and Sandburg moved to the door, but Blair hesitated. "Goodnight sir." His mouth curled into a lopsided grin. "And I never mentioned witch doctors."

"Goodnight Sandburg," Banks growled, biting back a smile.

The drone of the plane and the crowded seats had started to get on the Sentinel's nerves. His knees were jammed up against the seat in front of him and the child behind him had discovered kicking the back of his chair as a means to pass the time. They still had another two hours in the air. Jumping was starting to look attractive. Groaning in frustration, he looked at his friend sitting next to him. Sandburg seemed oblivious to his discomfort and had his nose buried deep in a book. Ellison reached over and slammed the book shut, startling his friend.

"What?!" Blair looked around him, expecting to see everyone in the crash position. When it registered that there was no emergency, he turned a wide eyed stare at his friend. "Trying to get my attention, Jim? Ever heard of the phrase 'excuse me'?" He smiled to let his partner know he was kidding. Now that his concentration had been broken, he realized how restless he was. "How much longer 'til we land?"

"Couple of hours. So you've been to New Orleans before, Chief?" Jim leaned forward in his seat, trying to relieve some of the strain of his cramped back muscles. "I've been there once, but Carolyn and I only stayed overnight. We were on our way to see friends of hers in Mississippi. Wild town, if I remember right."

"Wild is an understatement, man. The French Quarter is incredible. You can find whatever kind of action you want, whenever you want." Blair practically bounced with excitement, shifting in his chair to face his friend. "It's a really interesting spot during the day, but soon as the sun sets...wow...unbelievable! It's been a few years since I was there last, but I doubt it's changed all that much." His grin was infectious.

"Maybe we can talk Simon into letting us stay on, after we finish up there. We could both use a break. New Orleans sounds as good a place as any." He moaned as he tried to stretch his legs. "I've gotta get up and walk around, my legs are killing me. I'll be back in a few minutes."

"Sure Jim." Blair immediately flipped his book open and resumed reading. Ellison had to admit he was envious. Sandburg was a much better traveler than he was. Of course he fit into the meager passenger space allotted by the airlines.

The detective thought, that while he was up, he may as well use the facilities and headed for the rear of the plane. Maybe he could start up a conversation with the flight crew. Blair's interest in the book he was reading bordered on the obsessive. Ellison had to admit, though, that Sandburg's brushing up on the practices of vodun could come in handy. The case had taken a bizarre turn with the alleged murder and disappearance of Laforge. He was wanted in connection to drug trade activities that involved four cities. Cascade, Denver, Richmond and New Orleans had been linked together as the route of drugs leaving the United States. Four very unlikely cities, but each piece of information gathered had lead the police to them. When Laforge had walked out of the city morgue a nation wide alert had been sent out, with the circumstances surrounding the disappearance being withheld. Neither the Cascade police or justice departments had wanted to explain. It surprised no one when New Orleans P.D. reported spotting Laforge.

What was more unsettling, was the fact that Laforge had been connected to a local musician that had mysteriously died, only days before. The coroner's office had announced heart attack as the cause of death, even though there was no sign of heart disease or trauma. The elderly man had suddenly begun screaming and collapsed at his piano, in front of forty or fifty witnesses. A voodoo doll, with a musical note stitched into its clothing, had been discovered at an empty table, but no one could report having seen anyone occupy the table all evening. The waitress remarked that it was odd because the bar had been full to capacity. Customers had just avoided the table.

Cascade and New Orleans police would have some very interesting stories to trade once he and Blair arrived. Jim was sure of that. A few years back, a case like this would have frustrated the ex-Ranger, who saw life in definite blacks and whites. There had been no room for anything but solid facts that could be touched and explained. Now, with the development of heightened senses and a Guide who saw the mystical as real as reality itself, he was able to accept that some things were grey. Sandburg had taught him a lot in the past three years, he thought fondly, turning back to look to where his partner sat. A band tightened around his chest as he saw a tall black man rise from his seat next to Blair. The man turned to smile directly at Ellison before he walked to the head of the plane. With a pounding heart, the Sentinel returned to his seat.

Blair sat staring out the small window. The book lay closed in his lap. Jim touched his arm, lightly. "Chief? Everything okay?"

At first Ellison didn't think that Sandburg had heard him, it took so long to reply. "Yeah, everything's fine, Jim." He sounded distracted. "Why?"

"Who was the man you were just talking to?" He tried to keep his voice even, but something about the stranger had bothered him. The look he had given Jim, as he left, had been chilling.

"Just a passenger. He saw what I was reading and stopped to ask me about the book. He wanted to know if I thought it was good." He blinked his eyes slowly and stifled a yawn. "No big deal, Jim. You've gotta learn to relax, man." Giving his friend a sleepy smile, he shifted in his seat to lean against the wall of the plane. "Think I'll grab a nap." He closed his eyes.

Jim reached up to the overhead compartment for a blanket. As gently as he could, he draped it across his Guide. Blair snuggled down more into his seat and mumbled a thanks. Ellison sat looking at him. His anxiety hadn't eased with his friend's explanation of the stranger.

"Hope you don't mind meeting me here, Detective Ellison." Detective Mike Harding rose to shake Jim's hand. "And nice to meet you too, Mr. Sandburg." He smiled and sat down, waving for the two men to do so. "The Acme Oyster is one of my favourite spots and I haven't had a chance to have lunch yet." He wiped a meaty hand across his brow. "'Sides, air conditioning's out at the station."

The Acme Oyster seemed to be a bed of controlled chaos, forcing the Sentinel to tone down his hearing. A television blared from one corner of a bar that was covered with trays of raw oysters. Framed pictures of baseball and football teams covered the walls, along with neon and flashing beer signs. In most cities the Acme Oyster would have been classified as a dive, in New Orleans it had a definite ambiance. Jim looked around appreciatively, taking in the sights and the aroma of creole cooking, nodding his approval. "Smells great in here, Mike. Good choice."

Harding turned to Blair, eyebrows raised. The anthropologist smiled widely. "Just saw a plate of red beans and rice go by. I'm happy." He stood up and reached into a pocket. "First round's on me. What are you drinking?" When both chimed in with beer, Sandburg made his way to the bar.

"Have to tell you, Jim, your partner sure doesn't look much like a cop." He watched as the younger man stood at the bar, chatting with a waitress.

"Sandburg's not a cop. He's a police observer and an anthropologist." Ellison had been reading the menu and raised his eyes to meet Harding's. "But he is my partner and assigned to work this case with me." He made sure his tone left no room for argument.

Harding's laugh was easy. "Hey now, I wasn't making but an observation. Anybody who is willing to buy the first round is my friend for life. Cop or not." He cleared condiments from the middle of the table and sat back as Blair returned with a large pitcher of beer and three frosted mugs. Slapping Sandburg on the back, he grinned. "The super large pitcher! Jim, I like this kid."

When the last of the dishes were cleared from the table, conversation finally turned to the case. Harding reached over to the fourth chair to retrieve the files he had brought with him. "Thought we might as well have our meeting here too." He smiled wickedly. "Don't want it to be all work for you boys." His smile quickly faded as he opened the folders and spun them to face the two men. "I think someone's playing with us." He pointed a finger at the picture of the elderly musician. "This is Joseph Hackett. Died of an apparent heart attack while working." He frowned. "He was an old man and maybe we would have left it alone. But there were two reasons that we think maybe it wasn't natural causes."

Blair drew the report closer. "You found a voodoo doll at the bar." Pulling his glasses from his pocket, he continued reading. "What was the second reason?"

The New Orleans detective stared at both men. "You mean you're not going to give me a hard time about the doll?" He looked visibly relieved. "Thought you northerners would laugh, at least."

"No man, why would we do that? This is pretty fascinating." Sandburg's sincerity was obvious.

"Glad to hear you say that, son. The whole voodoo angle has got some of the guys worried. And forget about keeping it out of the papers. Day after, you couldn't pick up a paper or turn on the t.v. without hearing about it." Harding shook his head. "It's a damn media circus."

"You said there were two reasons?" Jim asked.

"His connection with Laforge and our own little cartel. Hackett is Laforge's uncle. The two of them were going to try to cut loose. In fact, Hackett had contacted us about making an arrangement for him and Lucien." Harding scratched at an insect bite. "Luc was a local boy too."

"No one mentioned his being Laforge's uncle."

"Well Jim, you know how territorial we all get." He sighed. "Like there isn't enough crime to keep us busy, we have to fight each other for it. But tell me, what's the story with Lucien?"

Ellison looked a bit uncomfortable as he picked at an imaginary spot on the table. "Seems we keep our secrets too. Blair and I were going to arrest Laforge. We had a warrant and tracked him down to an apartment." He cleared his throat. "When we finally got into the apartment we found him. He was tied to the bed. Dead."

Harding's eyes widened. "Dead? Then what about the APB and who did we spot?"

Blair jumped in. "Seems he wasn't dead enough. He got up off the coroner's table and left." He reached into this backpack. "And we found this." He held out the evidence bag, containing the doll, to Harding.

The New Orleans detective took the doll and turned it over once or twice. "Looks a lot like Luc, doesn't it?" He scowled. "And it's definitely the same handiwork as the one we found at Lafitte's. I took the other one to a shop over on Decatur, to see if Eliza could tell me anything about it."

"Eliza?" Blair interrupted, taking the doll and putting it back into his pack. "Is she a mambo?" His eyes lit up. "I'd like to meet her."

"Sure, I can take you over there, but I don't know if she's going to want to talk to you. She nearly threw me out when I brought her the doll. She said she didn't want anything like that around her or her temple. She looked a little nervous."

Jim moved to collect the files. "Let's not forget our main objective here, Sandburg. It's to locate Laforge and return him to Cascade for trial." He handed Blair the folders. "I'd like to take these back to the hotel with me, if that's okay Mike. We'll meet you tomorrow morning at the station."

"Okay, Jim. I'll see you tomorrow, then. Guess I don't have any excuses now. I better head back before they start to miss me," he laughed. "And Blair, I'll see what we can set up with Eliza."

Their hotel suite was pleasantly cool after the heat of the afternoon. The sun had begun to set as afternoon spilled into early evening, giving the French Quarter a warm orange glow. Jim sat at the small table next to the window that looked out across the narrow balcony onto Bourbon Street. Flipping one file closed, the detective considered taking a break and joining his partner outside. Allowing his tense muscles the release of a long stretch and a deep sigh, he closed the last of the folders. The entire Laforge case had been a frustrating one. They had connected him to drug activities in Cascade and had set about putting together a solid case against the man. Ellison had witnesses who had been willing to testify against Laforge in court. Seemed Lucien liked to skim a little extra from the top, both the money and drugs, making himself many enemies. Finding Laforge hadn't been that difficult with so much help, waiting for him to make a move so that he could be arrested had taken forever. It was as if he had known that the police were lying in wait. The big break had come when one of Ellison's snitches reported that Laforge was "working" from his apartment.

The call had come through on Jim's cell phone as he and Sandburg were heading to the station. Telling Blair to call it in and request backup, he had headed the Ford in the direction of Laforge's apartment building. Once there, the Sentinel had tried, unsuccessfully, to locate Laforge by listening from the street below. There had been too many sounds to filter out. He had to go in. Of course Blair had insisted on going with him. Not wanting to risk losing Laforge while they stood outside arguing, Ellison agreed to let his partner follow him in. Then there had been the shotgun blast and finding the man tied to his bed. Apparently dead. There had been no evidence of the shooter, who must have escaped through the window and down the fire escape. Jim shook his head as he tried to make sense of it all. Voodoo dolls, less than dead murder victims. Then it occurred to him that there was something else very wrong. Rising, he went to join Blair.

"Why didn't I hear him?"

Sandburg dragged his eyes away from the activities below. "Hmm? Why didn't you hear who?"

"At the apartment, when we went after Laforge. I didn't hear anyone else in the room, remember? I said it was clear. I didn't hear anyone, smell anyone. Why?" The Sentinel sat in one of the deck chairs. "There was another person there. Laforge didn't fire the shotgun. And even once we were in the room, I still didn't pick up the other person. Why?"

Blair's eyes widened. "Wow, that didn't even occur to me, Jim. I guess I was so worried about your hearing after the blast, that I put everything else out of my mind." He went to sit next to his friend. "You should have heard someone else there. This is very weird." He pursed his lips. "Do you feel okay? Your senses are acting normally?"

"Yeah Chief, they're fine and they were fine that day too. I remember hearing you behind me and hearing the little boy down the hall. I remember hearing the rats in the walls! But I didn't hear anything coming out of that room. Not Laforge, not the shooter. There is no logical reason why I shouldn't have been able to hear them."

Blair leaned back in his chair, stretching his legs out before him, staring at his toes. He shook his head. "Doesn't make any sense. I seriously doubt there was anything as sophisticated as a white noise generator." He laughed softly to himself.

"What are you grinning about, Sandburg?"

"Maybe it was some voodoo magic." He raised a wicked eyebrow at his partner. "Someone had to leave that doll." Noticing Ellison's pensive look, he chuckled. "C'mon Jim, I'm only kidding. Voodoo is a religion, a set of beliefs. No one's running around putting curses on anyone."

"Wasn't it you who told me not to touch the doll? You seemed pretty worried by it."

Sandburg leaned forward in his chair and rested his elbows on the armrests. "Sure, but that's because in some tribes trinkets, and such, left behind are often booby trapped. It's sort of like leaving a time bomb. They'll dust it with a poison that can be absorbed through the skin. I was afraid that something like that might have been done to the voodoo doll."

Ellison's eyes narrowed as he considered his partner's response. "You know Chief, it's not like you to be such a skeptic. In fact, back at that apartment, I don't think that's what you were thinking at all. Why the change?"

"Because Jim," he sank deeper into the chair and rubbed his hands over his eyes, "to consider the alternative, frankly, scares the shit out of me."

Ellison suddenly bolted upright in his chair and went to the edge of the balcony. "I don't believe it! Blair, it's Laforge. Down there, coming out of that bar."

Sandburg was on his feet immediately, peering over the railing. He couldn't see anyone that looked like the drug dealer. "Are you sure? Oh forget I said that. Stupid question." But he was talking to empty air, his partner was already halfway across the hotel room, heading for the door. Blair slipped into his shoes, scooped up his keys and followed him out.

The main arteries of the French Quarter were dimly lit, at best. The side streets were full of deep shadows. But Ellison followed his prey with the skill of a bloodhound. He could just make out Laforge in the crowd up ahead and quickened his pace. Checking behind him, to make sure he hadn't lost Blair in the crowd on Bourbon, he jogged around the corner he had seen the drug dealer turn. Sandburg slammed into the back of him as he came to a sudden stop.

"Jim, why'd you...?" He peered down the dark street. It was empty. Lucien Laforge certainly held the home town advantage. He knew the area well. "Do you think he knew you were following him?"

"I don't think so," Jim snorted in disgust. "He never turned around." Grinning down at his partner, he asked, "Feel up to a little sleuthing? Didn't you say that the Quarter was wild after dark? Let's go see what we can dig up." He started down the empty street, Blair falling into step beside him.

"I don't know about this, man. This wasn't exactly the kind of action I was talking about." He glanced nervously into an alley. Suddenly the sounds and people he had just left behind seemed very far away. Jim put his arm out to stop him, nearly sending him into a panic. "What? Did you see something?" It was almost a stage whisper.

The detective nodded and pointed down the road. "About two blocks ahead of us on the opposite side. I'm pretty sure it was him. He went into one of the buildings." He started to cross the street. "Maybe you should go back to the main street and wait for me there."

"No way, man. You are not leaving me here. I go where you go."

Ellison hadn't expected anything different from his friend. "Okay, just stay behind me, Blair."

"I don't have a problem with that, Jim." Sandburg wondered how his body could have the nerve to be shivering in the still oppressive heat. "Would now be the wrong time to tell you I have a really bad feeling about this?"

Ellison's voice was a growl. "Sandburg." After a few more minutes, Blair could feel his partner's body tense under his hand. "Heads up, Chief, I'm pretty sure this is where he went in." The Sentinel stood at the door listening. "There are voices coming from above us. Laforge is one of them. I just heard someone say his name. I can't tell how many there are." Pausing before he opened the door, he decided to give his partner another out. "You don't have to do this, Blair. You can wait out here."

His Guide's eyes were wide, and fear was definitely written in them, but he just firmly shook his head no.

The door opened noiselessly into a dark room. Sentinel enhanced sight had no trouble seeing, but Sandburg was virtually blind. Neither man needed heightened senses to detect the foul air. Ellison gagged as he took his first lungful. The smell was almost powerful enough to completely drown out his other senses.

"Dial it down, Jim." The anthropologist's voice was just loud enough for Sentinel ears. "It smells bad, even to me. Relax, with each breath the smell will be fainter and fainter. Focus on another scent to help mask it."

"Smells like something died in here, Chief," he gasped. The detective found the herbal scent of his friend's shampoo and used it. He took a cautious breath. "Thanks Blair, that did the trick. All I can really smell now is your shampoo."

Sandburg's soft chuckle reached his ears. "Just wish I had something to focus on. Which way, Jim? I can't see a thing."

"There's a staircase at the far end of the room. The voices were coming from there. I can't hear anything now. Let's just take it slow. Hang on a minute." Blair held his breath, waiting. "I just picked up another heartbeat. From upstairs."

As quietly as possible, the two men made their way across the room and up the stairs. Blair never let his friend get more than an arm's length ahead of him. The stench grew stronger as they climbed the steps and seemed to flow from beneath the closed door. Blair swallowed back the cough that threatened, his lungs begging to expel the foul air. Keeping one hand on the wall for balance, he cupped the other hand over his mouth and nose, breaking contact with his partner.

Jim hesitated when he felt Blair's hand leave his back. "You okay, Chief?" Hearing his friend's muffled response, the detective guessed that his Guide had covered his mouth. Turning, he leaned down to whisper in Sandburg's ear. "There's a very faint light coming from under the door sill. Maybe from a candle, I can smell wax burning. I can still hear one person. I don't know what happened to the second one. There's only one heartbeat." He felt his partner's hair brush across his cheek as he nodded that he understood. Giving Blair's shoulder a squeeze, he started up the steps again. As he did, his foot slipped on something slick. Sight and smell told him it was blood. It had started to seep from the room and down the stairs. His knee slammed painfully into the wood and he clamped his mouth shut on the groan that followed. Hearing his friend's heartbeat speed up, he turned to reassure him. "I'm okay. Be careful the top steps are slippery." He decided not to tell his partner why. Sandburg would find out soon enough.

Ellison stood on the top step, listening for sounds from within. There were none. Whatever or whoever had been in the room had gone. He sighed in frustration. Again his senses had let him down. He hadn't heard the gunman in Cascade and now had missed the sound of the heartbeat moving off as the person left. Unless the blood.... He twisted the knob and slowly threw the door open, extending an arm behind him to press his partner against the wall. No sounds of movement came from the room.

The soft glow of seven candles, sitting on wooden crates, illuminated a gruesome scene. A body lay sprawled on the floor, its knees and feet tied tightly together. The arms were drawn taut, outwards, and wrists manacled to rings that had been drilled into the floor. Both Jim and Blair stood, staring at the scene. Jim in amazement. Blair in awe.

"Chief? You okay with this?" Ellison had expected his friend to react badly to the sight. He was surprised when Sandburg stepped around him to look more closely.

"Jim, come take a look at this." Crouching down, he had pointed to the body. "See the nose and ears, how they're stuffed with cotton. And the jaw? It's tied shut." The younger man was definitely caught up in the anthropological significance of what he saw. "Do you know what this is?"

The Sentinel slowly shook his head. "I don't know what this is, but I'm pretty sure I know who this is."

The statement startled Blair, and he looked at the face of the man more closely. "Ugh, doesn't anyone stay dead in this city? It's Hackett, isn't it?" He stood up and backed away until he was standing next to his friend. The reality of the scene outweighing professional curiosity.

"Oh, I'd say he was dead Sandburg. That is a wooden stake poking out of his chest." Now it was Ellison's turn to move in closer. He put two fingers on the man's carotid. "I'd say permanently, this time." Still crouched by the body, he swiveled to take in the rest of the small room. The smell and most of the blood was coming from the slaughtered fowl that were placed near the body. The heat of the closed room had accelerated their decay. "So, professor, what is this?" When his question was met with silence, he glanced back to his friend. "Hey buddy, you look a little green."

Initially, Blair thought that his partner was teasing him, but all he saw was concern. "I'm alright. It wasn't so bad when I was caught with just the ritual aspects. But you're right, this is a who, not a what. Just made me a little sick. But I'm okay now." He took as deep a breath as he would allow of the air and began describing what they were looking at. "This is a dessounin, a ritual that's performed to separate the soul from the body and possibly stop a bokor from stealing a soul to make it a zombie. Someone must have been very afraid that this was going to happen. It's not very commonplace in voodoo, anymore. And it's only performed by a hougant or a mambo. So this isn't something that Laforge would have done on his own." He turned slowly and looked around the room. "But why here? And not at a temple or near the cemetery? And if this is where we saw Laforge go, where is he now? No windows or other doors. He didn't pass us on the stairs." He swallowed nervously. "Jim, I think maybe we should get out of here."

Ellison straightened up and walked over to his partner. Placing both hands firmly on his shoulders, he tried to calm him. "Hey Blair, I'm sure there is a perfectly logical explanation for this. With all the shadows in this place, Laforge could have gone into another room. Maybe he never came up this way. My hearing may have been playing tricks on me, been thrown off by an echo. Or maybe there is another stairway up to another part of the building. I only know the sound came from above us." He grinned, trying to will away the worry still on his friend's face. "Let's not get too caught up in the supernatural stuff." He walked over to one of the crates and grabbed a candle. "Here, take this. We'll go downstairs and call it in." Giving his Guide a gentle push, he steered him to the door.

With a groan, Blair threw himself down on the pullout couch in the hotel room. He and his friend had tossed for the bedroom. Blair had lost, grumbling that somehow the Sentinel had cheated when it came time to call heads or tails. Holding his arm up so that he could see his watch, he groaned again. He looked at Jim, who was leaning up against the wall in the alcove that separated the small kitchenette from the living room.

"Jim? Do you realize what time it is? I thought those cops were never going to let us out of there." Four hours had been spent giving statements and undergoing questioning. They had learned that Hackett's body had been reported stolen from the cemetery two nights ago by the old man's son. "You know, it just occurred to me that Hackett and Laforge must have died almost on the same day."

Ellison handed his friend a beer and sat on the edge of the bed. "I noticed that this afternoon, going over the files. Of course now I'm wondering if we can say either men died that day."

Looking at the beer in his hand, the younger man realized he wouldn't be able to drink it lying down. With a sigh, he struggled into a sitting position. "This has really been a strange one, hasn't it?" He stared at the label on the bottle. "I mean, we're supposed to be here to find a drug dealer and so far it's been like a trip through 'Tales of the Unexplained'. To be honest, it's starting to freak me out a little. I'll be happy to just get back to Cascade." He took a long drink of the beer. "Think Harding will be able to shed any light on who's behind this?"

Jim felt his eyes getting heavy, but knew that his partner needed to talk everything out if he was going to be able to get any sleep. "Who? We're here to find Laforge, Sandburg." He covered a yawn with the back of his hand. "If we happen to stumble across some things that'll help New Orleans P.D., fine. But I'm not going to go out of my way. I don't feel any better about this than you do. Although I have to admit, finding that second staircase tonight helped some. I was starting to think I was losing it. Or that my senses were going out on me." He got up and took the empty bottles to the kitchen. "You think you're going to be able to sleep, Chief? I'm dead on my feet."

"Now there's a poor choice of words!" Sandburg laughed. "Goodnight Jim, get the light will you?"

Blair lay in bed, listening to the still noisy street below, wondering how his friend was faring. This was a little more noise than his Sentinel was used to. Getting up, he went to shut the balcony doors, hoping to muffle the sounds. The music was still loud enough to hear but quieter than it had been. He glanced at the clock on the vcr as he crawled back into bed. It was almost 4:00 a.m. They would be meeting Harding in five very short hours. Punching at the lumpy pillow and shifting on the even lumpier mattress, he concentrated on falling asleep. He let the music from Bourbon Street put him to sleep.

By 5:00 a.m., Jim had given up on any chance of sleeping. The sounds of the street didn't seem to be quieting as morning drew nearer. He had tried concentrating on the rhythm of his friend's breathing to relax, but found himself becoming more agitated when it didn't work. He sighed, at least his partner was getting some rest. The detective was sure that he would have been woken at some point during the early morning hours. Nightmares had become his Guide's way of dealing with stress. Rolling over to find a more comfortable spot on the hard bed, Jim realized that the street was finally quiet. His eyes had just begun to drift shut when he heard Blair's first moans. The nightmares had finally come. Padding quietly down the short hallway to the sitting area of the suite, he was surprised to find Sandburg sitting up in bed, his knees clutched tightly to his chest. His friend's eyes were wide and staring out at the balcony.

"Blair, are you awake, buddy?" He kept his voice soft, not wanting to startle his friend. When he reached the pullout, he sat down next to Blair. "Blair?" He could almost smell the fear. Finally, his Guide turned to look at him, but the blank stare of a sleepwalker that Ellison had expected to see wasn't there. His partner was wide awake. "Chief, what is it?"

Blair bit his lower lip and shook his head. "It's nothing. I'm sorry I woke you. I had a bad dream." He could feel the tremors wracking his body and knew that Jim would be aware of them too. "But it's okay now. I'm okay."

"No you're not," Jim said gently. "Tell me about it."

"It's all kind of crazy and mixed up. Remember the guy on the plane, the one that asked me about the book? He was in my dream. I dreamt that he was here talking to me. I can't remember everything he said to me, but it was scaring me. I wanted him to stop. I wanted to call you. I guess in some part of my mind I knew you were near by. But it was like I couldn't move. All I could do was lie here and listen to what he was saying." Blair ran his hands through his hair. It felt damp from sweat. "He was talking about the soul and how he was going to take mine and use it. He said he was going to kill both of us, Jim."

Blair's voice had begun to sound frantic as he relived the nightmare. "It was a dream, Chief. No one was here. It's just like you said, crazy and mixed up. We've seen some pretty strange things lately and it got confused with what you've been reading. It just came out as a nightmare." Jim kept his voice low and soothing. "It's everything combined with the heat and lack of sleep. You're alright."

"I can still hear him so clearly. He said that he knew you were different and that your soul was strong. He said he was going to take it as a prize." Sandburg rubbed at his temples.

"Headache?" Jim asked. At his friend's nod he got up to go to his room. "I'll get you something for it. It's going to have to be aspirin, Chief, we don't have any of those herbal teas you like to use."

Blair slowly lowered himself to the pillow, squeezing his eyes shut against the pounding in his head. When he opened them, he saw that the sheer curtains, that hung across the balcony windows, were fluttering against a light breeze. The door to the balcony stood open. Rolling on to his side, the anthropologist buried his face into his pillow. A sudden bitterness rose at the back of his throat and he new he was going to be sick. Throwing back the sheet, he raced down the hall to the bathroom, slamming the door behind him.

Jim sat on the edge of the bed, waiting, the bottle of aspirin still in his hand. Sitting in the darkness, it was easy to let a small twinge of unease make itself known. Blair's dream had been disturbing, to say the least, but that it involved the man from the plane had seemed almost foreboding. The look the man had given him, when he had left Blair, had made the hairs on the back of Jim's neck crawl. And when he had returned to his seat, his friend had seemed so distracted and suddenly tired. The detective hadn't completely dismissed the incident, but when Blair seemed to return to his usual talkative self after the short nap, Jim had pushed it to the back of his mind. The Sentinel now had to wonder if his partner's subconscious wasn't trying to remind him of something that happened or was said on the plane.

The smell of toothpaste wafted into the room and Jim knew his friend would soon be returning. He got up to smooth out the sheets on the bed and noticed that the balcony door was open. The breeze that entered the room was hot and humid, even at that early hour. He gently closed the door and flipped the latch to lock it. The knob spun in his hand. Opening the door, he inspected the lock from the outside and saw that the catch had been broken. He was sure it had been working yesterday. Had someone been in the room? Jim raised a hand to rub tired eyes and noticed a faint scent. He had smelled it before, but couldn't remember where. He put his fingers to his nose and inhaled deeply, trying to identify the odour. It smelled like incense. He took another sniff and memory of where he had smelled it came flooding back. Laforge's apartment. He had been leaning on the window frame looking out onto the fire escape. The faint smell of incense had been there too. Whoever had poisoned Laforge had been in their hotel room. But when? Had it been while he and Blair had been out chasing Laforge? Or had his Guide's dream really been a waking nightmare? If that was the case, then Jim's senses had failed him once again. He hadn't detected anyone else in the hotel room. A coldness began to spread through the pit of his stomach. His first instinct was to pack his and Blair's things and get back on a plane for Cascade. He had had enough of voodoo and the walking dead. Survival instincts had set off warning bells. But who or whatever had been in the hotel room had also been in Cascade, giving him no guarantees that he and his partner would be any safer there. They would stay in New Orleans.

Jim heard the sound of the bathroom door opening and quickly walked to the kitchen for water. He had decided to keep the broken lock from his friend for as long as possible.

After a quick breakfast, Ellison and Sandburg walked to the station to meet with Harding. The air was heavy with the disinfectant used to wash down the streets of the Quarter each morning. The sidewalks were empty, except for the sanitation workers and the odd tourist.

"Whew, what is that stuff they're spraying?" The Sentinel's nose had started to itch from the strong smell. He looked down at his partner, waiting for a response, but Blair seemed lost in another world. "Hey Chief, nightmare still bothering you?"

"I'm not so sure it was a nightmare," Blair replied. "It seemed so real. Bad dreams usually fade after you've been awake a while, this one seems to get more vivid." He let out a long sigh. "I really don't know why everything is affecting me like this. I'm an anthropologist, I've studied different cultures that were very similar to vodun. But it's like ever since we went into Laforge's room, I've lost perspective. Everything is making me jumpy. I'm losing it, man."

Jim quickly checked the map and grabbed his friend's arm, steering him down a side street. "I think we're both a little tired, Blair. Don't let it seem bigger than it is." He surprised himself with how calm he sounded. Finding the broken lock had unnerved the detective. Whatever was going on with his senses was a mystery to him. But a mystery that seemed to be taking on a disturbing pattern. He knew they were working perfectly at that moment, the smell of the disinfectant had nearly knocked him down. He could hear everything clearly. He could almost count the separate fibres of Blair's shirtsleeve when it brushed against his arm. Breakfast had tasted fine. They seemed to desert him whenever he was actively involved with the case. It was as if something or someone was blocking them, any time they got near. This would remain another little secret from his Guide, to be added to the lock. Blair seemed to have enough to deal with. "In a couple of days we'll be back in Cascade and see things a little more clearly again. I think that the whole deal with Laforge getting up and walking out of the morgue has us a little off balance. And besides, you can't lose it. It's in the Sentinel and Guide contract. You're here to stop me from losing it." He grinned. "The famous Ellison zone out factor." His smile faded when he noticed his partner wince against the sun. "Headache back?"

Blair reached up to rub the side of his neck. "I'm not sure it ever really left. It was just a mild buzz on the plane. It almost seemed to go away for a while. But this morning it came back with a vengeance." He pulled a pair of sunglasses from his pocket. "Remind me to pick something up for it. In New Orleans, I should be able to find a herbalist."

"Your headache started on the plane? Why didn't you mention it then?" The memory of the stranger's look as he left the seat flashed through Jim's mind. "When did it start?"

Sandburg gave his friend a puzzled look. "About half way here, I guess. And it was just a headache, why would I mention it?" He winced at a sudden stab of pain behind his eyes. "What are you getting at, anyway?"

"Not getting at anything Sandburg, it was just a question." He kept his tone light. "It's a right at this corner. We're almost there."

As they rounded the corner they found themselves looking at a long white wall that ran along the opposite side of the street. White plaster statues and spires could be seen rising above it. The wall looked freshly painted and gleamed in the strong sunlight.

"St. Louis Cemetery," Blair offered, when he noticed his friend staring across the way. "It's where Marie Laveau is buried."

"Marie Laveau?"

"She was sort of like the mother of voodooism in New Orleans. Probably equally feared and loved. If you can believe everything that's been written about her, she was a very powerful woman. She influenced most of the rich in New Orleans in the nineteenth century. They all believed that her power was otherworldly."

The detective found himself becoming intrigued with the story. "And was it? Otherworldly?"

Blair just gave his shoulders a slight shrug. "I suppose it's all in what you're willing to believe. She claimed she was a devout Catholic, but as equally devout to voodoo."

"And what do you believe, Sandburg?" His question was only half serious, but he was curious to hear what his friend would answer.

"I think I'm willing to believe that there is much more than we can see in the physical world. That maybe there is another level or plane that exists beyond this one and that sometimes they overlap. How else do you explain the panther?" Blair was quiet for a few minutes as they walked. "Jim, I..."

The look on Sandburg's face was inscrutable but there was no mistaking the hesitancy in his voice. "What is it Blair? You know you can ask me anything."

"What do you believe happens after you die?"

It wasn't the question that Ellison was expecting and it threw him. "I don't know...I grew up in a fairly Christian environment. Pretty waspish, really. It's not something we ever discussed at home. I suppose I believe in a Heaven and a Hell. That there is something after, not just nothingness." He studied his partner's face, hoping that he had given the right answer. "Why Blair, what brought this up?"

Again, the slight shrug of the shoulders. "Just wondered what you thought. Hey, there's Mike."

Harding was a vision in garish colours. He wore light tan pants topped by a shirt that competed with the sun's glare. The bright swirls of colour seemed almost neon. His short cropped, blond hair was plastered to his forehead, a fringe of bangs showing under the brim of his baseball cap.

"Don't ever want to hear you complain about my clothes, again Jim," Blair muttered just loud enough for Sentinel ears to hear. "Hi Mike!"

"Morning guys, I half expected not to see you this morning. I got an earful from the night commander about the two guys from Washington and their little discovery." He slapped Ellison on the back. "C'mon, my car's over here. We're going to see one of my snitches. He says he has a lead on Laforge." He shook his head and laughed. "I can't believe you two. You're not in town 24 hours and you solve one of our missing persons cases. Well missing body, anyways."

"Glad we could help out Mike. So what do you know about Laforge? We thought we saw him last night. That's how we ended up in that building." Jim threw the seat forward, waiting for Blair to climb into the back. "How reliable is your source?"

"Oh, he's reliable. He's helped us out a few times."

"He doesn't have a shoe fetish, does he?" Blair piped up from the back seat.

Mike looked puzzled, but laughed. "No, no shoe fetish that I know of. But he does have a penchant for sweets, so I thought we could stop at one of the shops and pick up some candy for him. He's a good old guy."

They found the old man sitting on a bench at the end of Royal and Canal. He had his feet propped up on the seat and his face turned up to the sun. His dark skin had leathered with age and the elements. At Mike's shout hello, he swung his feet to the ground and smiled at them.

"Why good morning to you, Detective." His drawl was more pronounced than Harding's. "I didn't know you would be bringin' along your friends." The eyes that shone out of the wrinkled face were alert and just a little wary.

"Bernie, I'd like you to meet Jim and Blair. They're from Washington state, here to help me on the Laforge case." He handed the old man the bag of Mississippi Mud. "And here you go, just made up fresh this morning."

Bernie opened the bag and smiled. "Ah now Mike, you spoil me." He shifted over to the far side of the bench. "Have a seat gentleman. I know you're here to work and not visit with an old man."

Ellison and Harding sat down on the bench, while Blair stood, and listened. "Lucien is in very big trouble. Jackson is after him. He knows that Lucien and his uncle were going to talk to you." Bernie shook his head. "That stupid Hackett. Why he got all mixed up in Lucien's business, I'll never know. But now Joe is dead and Jackson has his damned bokor looking for Lucien."

Harding snorted in disgust. "I thought as much...soon as those dolls started turning up." He took off the baseball cap and scratched his head. "I was hoping it was someone's idea of a joke."

"Ain't nothing funny when that devil is after you. Word is that he already caught up with Lucien once but couldn't finish it." The old man laughed and slapped his knee. "Sho' musta made him mad. I feel sorry for the ones that got in his way."

Blair and Jim exchanged quick glances. "Uh, Bernie, that would be Jim and me. What do you mean you feel sorry for us?"

"Devereau doesn't like anyone to get in his way. He's good at holding a grudge." He leaned over and looked at Ellison and then back at Sandburg. "So that was you?" He smiled. "Well, good for you."

"What does this Devereau look like?" The question had left Jim's lips before he was sure he wanted to ask it in front of his partner.

"But I thought you...?" Bernie looked puzzled. "He's from Haiti, tall and kinda elegant lookin'. Like's to dress in nice clothes all the time. He's got one of them loopy little earrings, like your friend there." He reached into the bag and pulled out a slab of the Mississippi Mud and took a mouthful. "But," he mumbled around the candy, "the thing that you really notice about him is his smile. He's gotta smile that could scare paint right off a wall."

"Shit." The word was a whisper. "Jim, that's the guy from the plane." C'mon Jim, say something reassuring here. I really need to hear it. He looked at his friend and only saw his grim nod. The pounding in his head doubled.

Harding, noticing Sandburg's uneasy glance at his partner, tried to alleviate some of his worry. "Devereau is probably more myth than fact, Blair. He's one mean bastard, that's for sure, but he's human. Knows his way around herbs and all, but that's about it." He turned and smiled at the old man. "Wouldn't you say that about says it, Bernie?"

"You believe what you want to Mike. All I know is I got one friend in St. Louis's Cemetery because of that one. From what I hear, all Devereau did was look at Joe." His expression darkened. "Would be good for everybody if that Bizango devil was sent back to Hell."

"Bizango?" Ellison asked. He did not like the way the conversation was going. He could feel his friend's heartbeat start to quicken.

"Sorcerer, Jim. It's a secret cult." Blair sighed.

"Alright, I think we're losing our focus here." Ellison's voice was sharp. "Bernie, you said you had some information for us about Laforge?"

The old man nodded. "He wants to meet with you. Boy's not stupid, he knows he's safest with the police." The word sounded like 'poh-lice'. "Said if you wanted to talk, he'd meet you tonight. He's gonna be behind the Jax Brewery, at the pier, after midnight. He'll find you."

The Sentinel looked at Harding. "Jax Brewery, you know where that is?"

"It's a pretty popular landmark, Jim," Blair answered him. "We walked by it yesterday."

Harding stood up. "Okay then, Bernie. If you're talking to Lucien, tell him we'll see him tonight."

The three men stood in a large room. The windows were heavily curtained and the only light came from the candles that were lit on every altar. Walls were covered in masks and pictures, that stared eerily from their perches in the flickering shadows. At least ten altars, paying homage to Catholic saints and their voodoo counterparts, stood around the room. Each table was covered with small gifts, sometimes money, that were there to convince the saints to intercede on a person's behalf. It was a strange blend of the pagan and Christian beliefs. Sticks of incense burned and made the air heavy with their cloying scent.

A rustle of beads from the far end of the room announced Eliza's arrival. She was a small woman who seemed to glide across the distance to where they stood. "Hello Michael, I'm sorry to have kept you waiting. Please gentlemen, sit." Wiry black hair, surrounding an ageless face, was partially covered by a wide band of cloth that matched her long skirt. Her soft voice held the trace of a French accent.

Seeing no chairs, the men sat on the floor at Eliza's feet. The woman stood for a moment looking down at them and then gracefully sat down. "Michael tells me that you wanted to meet me, Mr. Sandburg. He has also told me what it is about." She fixed large brown eyes on the anthropologist. "And I am sure he has told you how I feel about all of this." Eliza smiled suddenly. "But we shall talk."

Sandburg gave her one of his most winning smiles. "I really appreciate your meeting with us." He began to rummage through his pack for the doll. "We've run into some things that go way beyond the realm of police work. We could use your help." Pulling it out of the bag, he hesitated. "Mike told us that you were upset by the voodoo doll he brought. I'd like to show you another one, if that's alright."

Eliza nodded and held out her hand for the doll. "Let me see it but leave it in the plastic bag, please." As she took the doll, her fingertips brushed Blair's hand. Startled, her eyes widened. "We must talk. But first the doll."

Jim didn't miss the worried glance Sandburg had given him. As time wore on, he started to believe that his first instincts were right. He and Blair should go back to Cascade and let the New Orleans police deal with Laforge. The two short days they had been in New Orleans were beginning to border on the surreal. They would meet with Laforge that night and return to Cascade. Hopefully Laforge's arrest would start the shutdown of one drug operation in his city. The detective had readily accepted his friend's explanation surrounding the incident in the morgue. Poison had seemed logical. It wasn't unlike some of the tales he had heard while living with the Chopec. He knew that poisons like that existed. But now he felt increasingly uneasy since seeing Devereau on the plane. The danger he sensed was almost subliminal. Nothing overt had happened to threaten them, but he felt the danger, nonetheless. Both he and Blair danced around the idea of Devereau being anything more than a creative assassin. Although, he suspected that they had both reached the point where they were ready to believe just about anything.

Eliza was looking at the doll. "New Orleans' voodoo is the only one that uses these. When I came here from Haiti with my maman and papa, I had never seen one before." She frowned at the three men. "They still disgust me. But this one is Devereau's too. He is an artist," she smiled sadly. "This one looks very much like Lucien." Her deep brown eyes seemed almost black as she looked at Ellison. "I have heard that you saved Lucien from Devereau. You saved him from becoming one of that bokor's toys."

Jim, still feeling uneasy about the whole Laforge incident, shifted uncomfortably on the floor. "Do you put any stock in those?" He gestured towards the doll.

"Not that they have any power. No. But they serve their purpose, in much the same way a superstitious person allows a good luck charm to have meaning. The doll is as powerful as a person allows it to be. But even the skeptics should take them as a warning. This," she held up the small figure, "has no evil in it, but the one behind it does. Devereau is very powerful."

"And zombies?" Harding interjected.

The mambo glared at the detective. "You have been here long enough to know, Michael. You have seen them. Bodies without souls, their minds taken from them." She angrily thrust the voodoo doll back at Blair. "Put this away." She stood. "Stay here, I'll be back."

The anthropologist looked questioningly at Harding after the woman had left the room. "She seemed to get really upset at the mention of zombies. Why?"

"Her father." Harding kept his voice low. "He was one of Devereau's victims. Devereau wanted to get at Eliza. He hates her because she has so much influence over the people here. He wanted to destroy her and tried to do it through her father. Devereau threatened to make him into one of his zombies but got a little carried away. He poisoned the old man alright, but I think his hatred of Eliza pushed him. Eliza found her father just after he had been poisoned. The old man was in agony until it took effect. She gave him something to counteract it but it wasn't enough. The old man's mind was destroyed. He died about a week later."

"Curse the devil." Eliza had returned and set a tray of lemonade and ice filled glasses down before them. "What are you going to do about him? Why is Devereau still allowed to hurt people? You know he killed my father and Joseph."

"You know I'd do anything to stop him Eliza." Harding's expression was pained. "Maybe now we can. He's finally made a mistake. Lucien is still walking around." He sighed. "I know it'll be too little too late for you."

Eliza reached forward and took his hand. "That bokor's end will never be too little. You just be very careful. I don't want to lose any more friends."

Harding nodded and, taking his hand from Eliza, started to stand. "I need to get going. Jim? Blair? I'll meet you tonight around 11:00 at your hotel. That sound okay?" He bent down to brush the creases from his pants.

Ellison stood as well. "Hang on a minute Mike, I'll walk out with you. Some things I want to clear up before then." He turned to look at Blair and Eliza. "I should only be a few minutes."

Blair watched the two men leave and then looked to Eliza. "You wanted to talk about something?"

The woman picked up the pitcher of lemonade and poured a glass. "You and your friend, Detective Ellison, you are different." She handed the anthropologist his drink.

"Different?" Blair tried to keep his expression neutral. "What do you mean?"

Eliza smiled a knowing smile. "You each have your own aura but it is like you are also part of another. Together you make up another separate soul." She looked delighted, as if putting the final pieces of a puzzle together. "Your friend is the gros-bon-ange. He is connected to the earth's energies. The physical life force. And you, you are the ti-bon-ange, the other half of that soul. The spiritual force." She laughed at the young man's expression. "Oh it is not so hard to see, if you know how to look. But I am intrigued! Why is this?" Her eyes shone in anticipation.

"I...I," Blair stammered. He couldn't tell her a secret that involved his friend.

"Ah, I understand. You don't have to tell me. But I can also see that it is a goodness, so I will be happy with that." Her face became serious. "I see too, or perhaps feel is a better word, that you are in danger."

"Sandburg's in danger?" Jim had returned. "How?"

"You are both in danger." She craned her neck to look up at him. "Please sit and I will explain." After he had joined them on the floor and had his own glass of lemonade, she began. "It was only a flash when our hands touched, Mr. Sandburg. I got a very strong impression of Devereau."

"Blair, please. A flash?"

"You are both about to be betrayed. Devereau knows about you and wants your strength. I am very much afraid for your souls. For some reason he is afraid of you. I am sorry to be so vague, but I don't understand everything that is at play here. He has marked you, my ti-bon-ange. He has marked you both, but it is you, Blair, he will strike at first." She sighed in frustration. "I wish I could see it more clearly."

"Betrayed by whom?" Jim's thoughts immediately went to Harding. His gut reaction had been to trust the man but maybe he had been mistaken.

"That, too, is not clear. But you can trust Michael. That I would be willing to swear to." Eliza looked from one man to the other. "I will help you all that I can, if it means Devereau and Jackson will be stopped. Many of my congregation have suffered because of those two men. You can come to me for anything."

An oppressive silence fell as both Sentinel and Guide considered Eliza's words. Blair shuddered as the hot and stuffy room felt suddenly cold. "Thank you for talking to us Eliza." He offered his hand. "And for your warning. I don't have any other questions. Do you Jim?"

"No, not right now." He stood and offered his arm to Eliza as she got up. "Except to ask if there is something we should be doing."

The older woman shook her head sadly. "The wheels are already in motion. Just know that you will find help here." She tightened her hold on Ellison's arm. "Don't forget, Detective." She suddenly hugged him and then Sandburg. "Mes bons anges, adieu."

Cafe du Monde was crowded by mid afternoon. Ellison and Sandburg sat at a small table, in the outdoor cafe, that bordered the sidewalk. Neither had said a word since they had sat down and waited for their coffee. The strong smell of coffee and chicory was a pleasant contrast to the oil and sugar of the beneigets. Jim drummed his fingers absent-mindedly on the table as he people-watched the passersby on Decatur. The bright clothing of the street muscians and tourists could do nothing to relieve his tension. He felt as if he had a great weight on his shoulders and the smiles and laughter he heard seemed almost mocking. He had started to detest the city and couldn't wait to return to Cascade. He would call Simon when they got back to the hotel. One voice of sanity, that was all he needed.

"I hate those things." Blair's words cut through the detective's thoughts.

"What things, Chief?" It was the first full sentence his Guide had uttered since leaving Eliza's.

' "Those horse drawn hearses. For some reason they always seem a little more sinister to me. The whole idea of parading a funeral procession is beyond me, but the horses and the plumes..." He grimaced. "They're, I don't know, spooky."

Jim gave his friend a puzzled frown, wondering what Blair was talking about. "I've never seen one, except in movies, so I can't say."

"What do you mean?" The younger man was annoyed. "What about that one, right there?" He pointed across the street. The annoyance turned to fear as he waited for his partner's reaction. "You don't see it, do you?" Blair could feel the blood drain from his face. "Oh God, you don't see it." The world started spinning and he thought he was going to pass out.

Jim was suddenly beside him, holding a water soaked napkin to his forehead. "C'mon Chief, relax, breathe."

Somehow Blair managed to find enough breath to speak. "I want to go back to the hotel, Jim. I wanna get out of here." He wasn't sure if he meant the cafe or New Orleans.

Helping his partner to his feet, Ellison saw their waiter approach with a tray of coffee and the sugar powdered sweets. He dug into his pocket and pulled out a five. Mouthing his apologies and tossing the bill to the table, he walked Blair out to the taxi stand. Within minutes they were on their way back to the Inn on Bourbon.

Blair immediately headed for the bathroom when they entered the hotel room. Watching his friend disappear down the hallway, Jim sank down into one of the overstuffed chairs and tried to calm his racing heart. None of the rules held here. He felt control of the situation slipping away from him. He knew that Sandburg had been hallucinating when he saw the hearse. He had seen his friend under stress, extreme stress, many times. Blair usually became almost hyperactive or went to the opposite end of the spectrum, withdrawn. This reaction was new and it scared Jim. His eyes strayed to the patio doors and he wondered again if someone had been in the room. Reaching over to the telephone stand, he grabbed the phonebook and flipped to the travel listings. He called the airline they were booked on.

"Hi, I was wondering if I could reschedule my flight from New Orleans back to Cascade, Washington. It would be for two passengers. Today or tonight if possible." He cradled the phone on his shoulder, waiting for an answer. "Oh, I see. When would be the first flight out? Tomorrow night. Thank you for your help. Bye."

"Nothing, huh?" Blair was standing next to him. "Thanks for trying anyways." He looked ready to collapse. "Mind if I lie down for a while? I think I better get some sleep if I'm tired enough to start seeing things. We've got a late night tonight." He went to sit on the couch.

"Take the bed Chief, it's got to be more comfortable. And I think Mike and I can handle the meeting with Laforge. I want you to stay here."

"Jim," Blair sighed. "I'm too tired to fight with you, so just playback one of our arguments where I win. Okay?"

"Okay." He followed Sandburg into the bedroom and pulled down the covers on the bed next to the air conditioning. "Try to get some sleep."

The younger man crawled onto the bed. His eyes were closed before his head hit the pillow.

Blair stood on the crumbling steps of the Jax Brewery. The grey stone building behind him looked ready to fall in on itself. The occasional thud of brick, as it fell from the structure and landed behind him, was the only sound coming from the historic landmark. The whole of Decatur street had been transformed into a wasteland. A strong wind kicked up the dust, flinging it into his eyes, forcing him to look down. Shading them with his hand, he searched once again for his partner. The street was deserted. Cold fingers of fear crawled up his spine, and he shivered. It was almost sunset. Violet bands of light had begun to cross the horizon and time was running out.

Bernie stood there with him. The old man pushed a frayed cuff up his bony wrist and looked at his watch. "He's late. He's never going to make it on time." Bernie screamed into the wind, laughing, as he pounded the younger man on the back.

"Jim said he'll be here." Blair pushed Bernie away from him. "He's not late." He quickly glanced at his watch and felt his stomach lurch. He didn't have much time. He had until sunset. Jim knew that. Running his hands through his hair, he sat heavily on the steps. "Where are you, big guy?" He watched as the sun dipped a bit lower in the sky.

Harding's snitch dropped down beside him. "Can you hear it, kid?" Bernie grabbed his arm and pointed up the street. "There it is."

Light glinted off the black lacquered hearse that moved down the narrow street. The bobbing of the plumes, that adorned the horse, matched the rhythm of the slow, plodding hooves. A lone driver sat tall, his hand flicking a whip over the horse's head with a loud crack. Even in the growing darkness, Sandburg could pick out the fine clothes. He could hear the deep voice as it coaxed the animal on, until it came to a stop at the base of the steps. Devereau carefully hopped down from his seat and stood there, smiling up at him. The tails of the bokor's longcoat danced behind him in the wind

"It's time." He held out his hand.

With one last look for his partner, Blair started down the stairs. He could feel Devereau's eyes boring into him with each step. He wanted to run, but his feet propelled him down the steps to the waiting bokor.

"Give me your hand." The Haitian took the hand offered him and turned it palm up. Blair watched, as if in a trance, as the man traced a small cross on his wrist. A thin trail of yellow powder marked where Devereau's fingers had touched him. "Your soul is now mine." He smiled as he slowly rubbed the powder into the anthropologist's skin.

Strong hands grabbed him by the arms and Sandburg was led to the back of the hearse. Bernie held the door open for him and smiled. "It's only a short ride. You may as well go in style." The inky darkness inside the hearse began to undulate, rolling in silent waves.

Blair shook his head and pulled back. "No," he stammered, "I have to wait for Jim. He's going to meet me here."

"I'll tell him you said goodbye." He shoved Blair into the blackness.

The dark that surrounded him was alive. Taking form, it slid over him, filling his nose and mouth as he yelled for Jim. It seeped down through his skin and slowly forced the air from his lungs. Through horror filled eyes, he saw it crawl up his body to sit on his chest, threatening to crush it, his ribs groaning under the weight. Cold hands dug into his arms and shook him in its desire to take his soul. Its laugh was the bokor's.

Returning to the living room, Jim took the phone to the couch with him. He needed to talk to Simon, if only to touch base with someone who was grounded in reality. The familiar growl of "Banks" was enough to make him smile.

"Simon, just reporting in."

"Jim! Didn't expect to hear from you so soon. You've already tracked down Laforge?"

"Well not exactly sir, we're going to be meeting him tonight. I hope to have this wrapped up and be on the way back in a day or two."

"Good, so how are you two enjoying New Orleans? It's an interesting place isn't it." Banks chuckled. "It ought to be right up Sandburg's alley."

"I wish that were the case, sir. The past couple of days have been less than normal. We've had another encounter with zombies, cryptic warnings... Right now psychopaths and serial killers are looking pretty good."

"I did get a report back about you and Sandburg finding Hackett. NOPD was very impressed. What was the warning?"

Ellison quickly related his conversation with Eliza, leaving nothing out.

"I don't like the sounds of that Jim. Any idea of who she could have meant? Think we might be dealing with a leak?"

"I was wondering about that myself, sir. It's possible. I was relieved that she didn't think it was Harding. That would have made things a little too complicated. But then, who knows, they could both be lying."

"Maybe we better have the New Orleans cops take it from here, Jim. It seems to be getting a little too personal. How's the kid handling all of this?"

"Considering he's just found out he's first on the hit list, he's doing okay. He's had some rough spots but he's holding up."

"Just who are you trying to convince Ellison, you or me? Now once again. How's the kid handling all of this?"

"I was being honest, sir. I know that Blair can handle this. It's me I'm worried about. I'm starting to think that maybe Devereau has already had two cracks at him. Once on the plane and again in the hotel. What if I can't keep him safe?"

"What do you mean 'you think'?"

"I can't be sure. Devereau talked with Sandburg on the plane, this was before we knew who he was. This morning I found the latch broken on the balcony doors and Blair dreamed that Devereau had been here. Maybe it wasn't a dream."

"Jim, surely you would have heard him break the lock."

"That's another thing Simon, three times now I think my senses have cut out on me. Not completely, just enough that I've missed things. I haven't told Blair about that yet."

There was silence on the other end of the phone. Finally Simon spoke. "Jim, I want you to make sure you take adequate back up tonight. Your only reason for being there is to bring back Laforge. From the sounds of it, he should be jumping at the chance now. Forget about Jackson and Devereau."

"You don't have to tell me twice, Simon. I even considered giving up on Laforge. I called the airlines to see if we could get a flight out. A drug dealer is not worth the risk," he sighed. "I figured Mike could take him. But the airlines are booked and there's nothing out of here until tomorrow night."

Simon had started speaking again, but Jim interrupted him. "Just a minute Simon, Blair was lying down, but something's woken him and his heart's going like a jackhammer. I better go. I'll call you tonight to let you know how everything went."

"You do that Ellison."

The phone call to his captain had done nothing to ease his fears. Simon seemed just as worried at the turn of events as he did. With a few quick strides he was in the bedroom. Blair was asleep, thrashing against the nightmare. Jim sat down next to him, capturing both wrists and holding them down.

"Blair? Chief, wake up." There were no signs that his partner had heard him. "Sandburg, wake up!" But the beating of the young man's heart just seemed to grow faster and his breathing more shallow. The detective was sure that both would soon stop, altogether. The loud, rapid beating was painful to his ears. Whatever horror his Guide was caught up in seemed unwilling to let him go. Blair began a feeble struggle for air.

"Blair!" Jim gripped his friend's arms again and shook him. His voice was insistent, frightened. "Sandburg! Dammit, wake up!"

Sandburg's eyes flew open and looked into the panicked eyes of his Sentinel. Jim was leaning over him and as soon as he saw the younger man's eyes open he pulled him up and hugged him until Blair could hardly breathe. Blair let himself be held for a minute, the horror of his dream still too real. Finally, with a shaky hold on Ellison's arms he pushed himself out of the strong grip and laid back down.

"Thanks, I'm okay now," he lied. His chest was heaving and his heart was pounding painfully away. "Bad dream." He took in a deep breath trying to ease the effort of just breathing and somehow managed a weak grin. "Hey man, talk to me. Why do I think that you look worse than I do?"

Jim relaxed slightly. Obviously shaken, he drew a trembling hand up to rub the back of his neck. "I heard you yell out my name...I knew you were having a nightmare... What were you dreaming about?"

All attempts to hide how the nightmare had shaken him fell away. "I was dreaming about that hearse." Blair closed his eyes trying to block out the picture of Devereau laughing as he drove the hearse. A sudden surge of panic, as another piece of the dream was remembered, made him sit up straight. He clutched his friend's arm. "He was going to bury me, Jim. He knew I wasn't dead, but he was going to bury me."

Sandburg's heart began to pound loudly and the irrational fear that he would hear it stop was too much for the detective. He gently gripped the back of Blair's neck. "Chief, look at me." The fear he saw in those wide blue eyes tore at him. "It was a nightmare. Nothing more."

The anthropologist nodded. "Okay. It was a nightmare. Not real." He took a deep breath and tried to grin at his friend. But he couldn't hold it and he felt the smile fall away. He wrapped his arms around his knees and laid his head against them. The dream had been too real. He rocked himself as he tried to fight down the panic. Devereau was going to kill him, he was certain of that now. He felt Jim put a reassuring hand on his arm. "You'll make sure, won't you?"

"Make sure of what Chief?" Jim asked gently.

"You'll make sure that I'm really dead, before you let them bury me?"

Ellison's grip grew tighter. "Oh God Blair, don't even..."

"Please." The eyes that locked onto his were desperate.

"I'll make sure." He prayed it was a promise he would never have to keep. "Do you think you're going to be able to fall back to sleep?" He didn't really need to wait for the answer. From the rapid beating of his friend's heart, Jim knew that Blair was far from being relaxed enough to sleep. "Why don't you take a cool shower and then try crashing on the couch." He lightly slapped his partner on the knee and got up.

"Okay," came the Sentinel soft whisper as the anthropologist got to his feet.

Jim was half way to the door when he realized that Blair hadn't moved. He stood, as if lost in thought, staring out the bedroom window onto the street below. Walking back, he put a hand gently on the younger man's shoulder. "Chief?"

With a shaky sigh, Blair turned to him. A look, that Jim could never recall seeing there before, crossed his partner's face. Resignation? Or worse, hopelessness? But it disappeared almost as quickly as it had come. "I'm okay. Just not fully awake yet." Stepping around Jim, he went to his suitcase and pulled out a change of clothes. "I won't be long."

Watching Sandburg leave the room, Ellison could only echo his friend's sigh. That one look told Jim that whatever dread he was feeling about the case was a mere shadow of what his Guide was dealing with. He would have to get Sandburg to open up. There was something that Blair wasn't telling him.

Twenty minutes later, Blair walked into the living room toweling his wet hair. On the surface he looked calm and the picture of health. A light, orange coloured tee-shirt and cream coloured shorts emphasized his deep tan. Jim wondered how someone, who's mind and body always seemed in constant motion, could give the appearance of complete control. But he also realized, that here and now, that was all it was. The surface appearance. The eyes were still haunted and the smile uncertain.

"Sandburg? We've gotta talk. There's something going on here that you're not telling me." Jim's words stopped Blair dead in his tracks. "And I think you'd better tell me because my imagination has been working overtime. I'm this far," he held up his thumb and forefinger, barely an inch apart, "from having Mike put you in protective custody until we can leave here." The detective watched his partner's face as each emotion crossed it. It was a silent version of whatever thoughts were playing in his head. "I mean, what exactly is going on here? You're dreaming about losing your soul, Devereau killing both of us...seeing things. You ask me what I think happens after we die. If you're trying to scare me Chief, you're doing a damn good job." He realized he had started to pace and forced himself to sit back on the couch.

"It's amazing I can even win one hand at poker, isn't it?" Blair joined him on the couch. "I can't hide anything from you," he smiled. "You want to know exactly what is going on? I can't tell you that. I'm not sure what's going on. It's just a feeling. Maybe more than that, but I can't seem to shake it." He stared down at his hands, idly twisting a ring.

"A feeling about what?" Jim placed a hand over his friend's, stilling them.

Blair slowly raised his eyes to meet Jim's. "That Devereau's going to poison me, maybe kill me, just like Eliza said. But I started thinking that even before we met her. That first night, when I dreamt that Devereau was here, it started then."

Ellison had been sure that this was what had been bothering his partner, and now that it was out in the open, he could help him deal with it. "He's going to have to get through me first, kid." He had wanted to deliver that line with a grin, to lighten the mood, but Blair's reaction was so quick it startled him.

"Don't you think I know that!" Blair was off the couch in seconds. "That's what I'm afraid of. What if he uses that poison on you? How's it going to affect you?" He ran a hand across his face. "Man, your body doesn't react normally to over the counter drugs. What is something like that going to do to you?"

"Wait a minute Blair...," Jim started.

"No, you wait a minute. Devereau might be able to intuit somehow that you're different and want to claim your soul. But he's going to use that drug to do it. You probably won't react the same way as Laforge did. As I probably would. It could kill you instantly."

"Or not affect me at all," Jim interjected calmly.

"Oh yeah," Sandburg snorted. "You really want to test that theory?" He sank down next to his friend, suddenly tired. "I don't. I think that's why, in my dream, you don't make it on time. I don't want you to get there."

"You didn't tell me that part. I don't save you?" It was absurd, but he almost felt betrayed that his Guide could believe that he wouldn't save him. "You were waiting for me and I didn't get there?"

"Jim," Blair sounded exasperated. "It was a dream. You and Freud can rip it apart some other time." He propped his elbows on his knees and cradled his now throbbing head in his hands.

"What if the worst happens?" Ellison questioned. "What if Devereau does poison you? You seem to think that you can survive it."

"Laforge did." He didn't raise his head.

The detective took in a deep breath. "Alright, explain it to me. Tell me what would happen. I need to know everything."

"It's going to look, feel and sound like I died, Jim." Blair finally looked at his friend. "It's going to seem as if everything has stopped. But it hasn't, it's just slowed so much that it would take finely tuned instruments to detect a heartbeat and respiration."

"Or a Sentinel."

Blair's eyes widened in horror. "No! You can't do that. Promise me you won't. What if you zone?"

Jim looked away in disgust. Sometimes his senses were as much his weakness as his strength. He refused to make a promise he knew he wouldn't be able to keep, so he avoided it. "What else? How long will it last?"

"That'll all depends on the drug and how much. The books aren't too specific about that."

"What's it going to be like for you?" Jim regretted asking it as soon as he said it. His friend couldn't hide his fear.

"I don't know." Sandburg looked away again.

"What if you're wrong, Chief?" He held Blair by his shoulders, turning him to face him. "What if you don't react to the poison like Laforge? What if...?"

"You just have to trust me, Jim." It came out as a sigh. "You have to believe that I'm not wrong."

"You told Sanderson there was an antidote? Mike said Eliza had it. What about that?"

"There is one. But I don't know a lot about it. All I know is that it can fight whatever the poison does to you. That it can help a person's recovery. There isn't much written about it, except that it is a very delicate balance. Too much and the person goes into a coma, permanently." Blair knew his friend wanted a different answer, that the antidote would be like some magic potion. He couldn't lie to him, only to possibly set him up for a fall if it failed.

"Then why use it?" It was Jim's turn to sound exasperated. The cure sounded worse than the poison.

"Because the longer the poison stays in your system, the more damage it will do. Some people never recover. They're severely brain damaged." The fear was back in his eyes. "Zombies."

"That's it. You're not coming with us tonight. It's too dangerous."

"Jim, right now, I don't think it matters where we are. Devereau managed to kill Hackett in front of fifty witnesses. So if I have to be anywhere, I'd rather be with you."

The Sentinel wished he felt better about the situation. "Alright," he nodded. "C'mere." Pulling his Guide into his arms, he promised, "I'm going to do everything I can to keep you safe."

Blair swallowed his fear, taking comfort in his friend's words and embrace. He tucked the memory of it safely away, knowing that he would need it. If not that night, then sometime soon. "Never doubted it."

Harding arrived around 11:00. Taking one look at the two men, he raised an eyebrow. "What did I miss? You two look beat."

"Rough afternoon, Mike." Jim offered Harding a soft drink. "Did you talk to Eliza again today?"

"Briefly. She told me what she said about Devereau being out for you. Hell, Bernie pretty much said the same. She told me about someone betraying us. I spent a good part of today trying to run that one down. I won't lie, it could be almost anyone. Everybody's so damn scared of that witch doctor. But I don't think it's anyone in my department. We've all been after Jackson too long. What about on your end?"

Ellison shook his head. "Up until a few days ago we didn't really have a name for Devereau or Jackson. Laforge was the big name."

"Well that doesn't leave us with a lot of choices." Harding scratched at his chin.

"Except for Bernie," Blair offered.

"Yeah," Mike sighed. "Except for Bernie. I sure hope it isn't that old man. But he does fit, being our contact with Laforge."

"Okay Mike, so what's the set up going to be?"

"Right now, it looks like just the four of us. I've got one other guy coming in to help us, Wally's going to meet us there." He sat heavily on the couch and shook his head. "I know it's not near enough to cover things, but it's the best I can do."

Ellison was scowling. "If that's all we've got, I guess we'll just have to go with it."

The pier area behind the Jax Brewery was dark and deserted. The sounds of life, coming from the restaurants and bars of the Quarter, were soon swallowed up by the blackness. Picking their way down shaky wooden steps, Jim and Blair followed the path to the water's edge, while Harding and his partner waited by the old building. As the two travelled silently down the path, the strains of music being played by street performers were replaced with the loud chirps and clicks of the nocturnal insects. The Sentinel slowly filtered out those sounds until all he heard was the gentle rustling of clothing, as it brushed against the tall reeds that grew along the Mississippi, and the soft breathing of his partner.

"We're almost at the river, Chief." The earthy smell of the muddy waters had become stronger. "How you holding up?"

"Okay. Scared." Lying about that would have been useless. "How much can you see, Jim?" He continued to feel the effects of his nightmare. The laughing face of Devereau still haunted him. Sandburg wished that he could dismiss the whole thing as the result of stress, but the dream had seemed almost like a premonition. "You should be able to hear Laforge by now, shouldn't you?"

"Yeah, I should. Although it's just a little after midnight, maybe he's not here yet." Ellison stopped to let Blair catch up to him. Giving the younger man a small smile, he laid his arm across his friend's shoulders. "This case has been like something out of the Twilight Zone, hasn't it?" He continued walking, still keeping a hold on his Guide. "And I always thought that life in the Sandburg Zone was a challenge."

Somewhere beneath the dread, Blair managed to find a chuckle. "Really funny, Ellison." The detective's grip tightened on his shoulder and he found himself being pushed back and behind his partner. "What is it?"

"I can smell blood just up ahead. Let Mike know. There's a body just off to the left."

Blair quickly relayed the information to Harding and his partner and followed Jim into the tall grass. He heard his friend curse. "It's Bernie, Chief. I think we've been set up."

The radio in Sandburg's hand suddenly came to life. Harding's frantic voice was yelling about Devereau. That was the last thing he heard. He felt the sting of an insect bite on his neck and reached up to swat it away. His hand connected with metal. Calling out to warn his friend, his legs began to give way and he was soon lying on the spongy ground. He saw Jim collapse just before his eyes closed.

Waking with a start, Blair found himself in a strange room. As his sleep fogged mind tried to clear, he examined his surroundings. The room was small and lit by a lone, uncovered bulb that hung from the ceiling. Even though it seemed to glare, it couldn't penetrate the gloominess of the room. The walls were dark, rough wood that smelled of dampness and the earthen floor felt almost moist beneath him. Sitting on the ground was becoming uncomfortable and he moved to stand. Thick cord held him in place. Bewildered, he looked down to see the rope that was wrapped around his chest and felt the bonds that held his hands together behind him. Leaning his head back, it connected with a narrow pole and he winced at the sudden contact.

"Where the hell am I?" His throat felt dry and sore.

Wiggling his arms to test the bonds, his elbows sank into something soft. Jim was tied up behind him. He shifted around as best he could to take a look at his friend, but the rope wouldn't give enough for him to get a good look.

"Jim?" He dug his elbow a little harder into Ellison's back. "Jim, wake up man."

A low moan signalled the detective's return to the waking world and Blair breathed a sigh of relief. Together they would figure a way out. He winced once again when Jim suddenly jerked awake and he heard his Sentinel's head smack the pole with a loud thud.

"You didn't just knock yourself out again, did you?" Blair allowed himself a small laugh. His chuckle echoed in the empty room.

"Laugh a minute, Sandburg. What the hell happened?" Jim shifted around trying to see his partner. "Are you okay?"

"I'm alright. I don't know how we ended up here. What're we going to do?"

"We're going to get out of here Chief, that's what we're going to do." It came out as a growl.

"Glad to hear you say that, big guy. Any ideas?"

"Do you have your knife with you?"

Blair chided himself for being so thick. "Yeah, I should have thought of that. I think I can reach it. It's in my back pocket." He flexed his numbing fingers and strained to reach the knife. His hand found the pocket and fingertips brushed against the warm metal. "Almost got it," he grunted, and ignoring the ropes that cut into his wrist, reached deeper until he could grab his prize. "Yes!" He hissed in triumph. "Jim, I'm going to hand it off to you. Maybe with your senses you can get the ropes off without slicing us both up too badly."

"Okay kid, hand it over." Ellison opened his hands and felt the knife drop into them. "Got it, Chief." He juggled the blade into the palm of one hand and tried to open it. "Damn."

"You cut yourself, Jim?"

"Someone's coming."

Blair sat facing away from the door but heard it creak open just as Jim finished speaking. His heart suddenly began to race. He was certain he knew who it was and didn't need to hear his friend's angry ackowledgment.


"Good, you're both awake. It's time."

Sandburg sat in agony, unable to see what was going on. He heard flesh connect with flesh, and knew that Devereau had just hit his friend. He felt Jim's body jerk back into him and then slump against the ropes, stunned. Blair bit down on the sudden rush of fury, not wanting to antagonize Devereau. Eliza had warned them. The bokor wanted their souls. She had told him that he would be first. Sandburg wasn't sure if he believed that his soul was in jeopardy but was positive that his life was. A shadow fell across him and he looked up into the frightening smile of Devereau. The tall man crouched down in front of him, his black eyes looked hungry.

"You know what I want, don't you?" He reached out to touch Blair's cheek. "I will add the strength of your souls to my collection." Taking a small pouch from a pocket, he showed it to the anthropologist. "I have been told that you study different cultures, then you must know what I have here. Just a touch of it and you shall become one of mine." He slowly undid the twine that closed the sack. "You now and your friend a few days from now. On L'Orient, he shall be honoured."


The bokor's face smiled with an obscene serenity, his eyes half closed. "He shall be offered to the loa." He looked skyward, holding his arms outstretched and palms up. "His spirit shall be returned to the earth and his energy will be released, becoming mine." He lowered his gaze back to Sandburg's. "He will make me strong."

The bokor reached down into the bag and drew a small bit of the poison out on the tip of his finger. "With time," he smiled, "you become immune to this. But, unfortunately, you will not have the time." He went to touch his finger to the younger man's lips but Sandburg turned his head away. "Shall I give this to your friend then?"

Blair's eyes widened. "No." He knew he might survive the poison the bokor gave him. Laforge had. There was no way to know how Ellison's heightened senses would react to the drug. "No, don't."

Jim had regained his senses enough to understand what was going on. He struggled against the ropes, his voice savage with his effort. "Leave him alone, Devereau."

"I can't do that. You have caught the attention of Mr. Jackson, who now sees you as a threat...and you are too dangerous to me." He once again put his finger to Blair's lips, depositing the pale yellow powder there. Sandburg closed his eyes as he felt Devereau smear it along his lower lip with a thumb. The poison was absorbed almost immediately. "Say your goodbyes quickly. My darkness will soon claim you."

Blair watched as the man got up and walked away, tensing as he waited for the drug to hit. Except for a small tingling along his lip, he felt nothing. With a conscious effort, he forced his body to relax and leaned heavily against the pole. He felt Jim shift behind him, moving to increase body contact. A warmth began to spread through him and he wasn't sure if it was from the poison or the comfort his partner was offering him.

"Jim?" Blair could feel his body start to slow down. "Jim, talk to me, okay?" His voice sounded distant and hollow to his ears. "You remember what we talked about, right? About the poison?"

"I remember." The detective prayed his partner was right and that the drug would be the same one Laforge had been given. Too many ifs tried to throw him into a panic. What if it wasn't the same drug? What if his friend reacted differently? What if...? He refused to even allow that last thought to finish. Blair would be alright. "I'm almost through the ropes, Chief. Hang in there." Jim had again started to saw through the cord as soon as Devereau left the room. "I told you, we're getting out of here." He could feel Blair's heartbeat and breathing begin to slow. "Harding's got to know what's happened by now. From the sounds and smells I'm picking up, I think we're still at the pier. It's going to be okay. We'll get you to a hospital." He felt his friend's body go stiff and heard him gasp. "Chief, what's happening?" With one last go at the rope, he felt the knife bite through it. His hands were free. In one fluid movement, he had sliced through the rope that was wrapped around his torso and feet.

The warmth Blair had felt was beginning to turn into an inferno. Fire seemed to flow through him with every sluggish beat of his heart. He feared he would get no relief until it had turned his insides to a pile of crumbling cinders. In sharp contrast, a chilling numbness began to spread to his extremities. He could barely feel the muscled chest he rested against or the arms that were now holding him. It was all happening too fast, there were things he needed to say.

"Tell Devereau to go to Hell. I won't say goodbye." The poison was dragging him deeper into the blackness. His arms felt like lead but he managed to raise his hand to place it over his friend's heart. "I can't see you anymore, Jim," he whispered. Strong fingers wrapped around his and his world began to fade. Blair thought he heard his friend call his name as he plunged into nothingness.

The Sentinel listened to the slowing heartbeat and breathing until he could no longer hear them. His Guide had told him what to expect, explained in detail about the drug that Devereau might use and what it would seem like. But knowing and experiencing were two separate things. It had felt like death and the fear of losing his friend threatened to choke him. Ignoring the absence of signs of life, he gathered Blair into his arms. Sandburg had promised him that he would survive.

"How did you know this was going to happen, Chief?" Jim asked softly. He tore his eyes away from his partner's still form. He had to trust Blair. He had to get him out of there. Standing by the door, he let his instincts take control. Hearing, smell, touch, sight, all gathered information. Certain that it was safe to leave, he took a step backwards and kicked at the wooden door with all his might. The hinges gave way and he stepped out into the night air. He had been right, they were still at the pier, not far from where he and Blair had discovered the body of Harding's snitch. Where had Harding disappeared to?

Ellison started up the slope to the main street. The thick mud grabbed at him with every step. Halfway up the hill, his foot slipped and he fell to his knees. The weight of his friend threatened to send him toppling. He looked down into the peaceful face of his Guide. He had to try. Blair had warned him about zoning out trying to search for a heartbeat...just to believe that it was there. But he had to try. Kneeling in the black mud, he focused his hearing. His mind sorted through the sounds, searching for that one. He couldn't find it. He reached deeper.

"Where are you, Chief?" Jim put his hand on his friend's chest and piggybacked hearing with touch. "You better be there Sandburg, there's no one else who can pull me out of this." He turned up his sensitivity to reach past the cotton of Blair's shirt, reaching past the almost numbing cold of his skin. Ellison wondered if a Sentinel could zone out on despair, he could find nothing. His senses were sent spiralling deeper. Touch brushed against a small vibration. The Sentinel held his breath, waiting for it to happen again. Agonizing seconds later, he was rewarded. The soft flutter was so comforting and soothing he wanted to feel it again. Nothing else mattered but that touch.

The sting of sharp pebbles, digging into his cheek, was the first clue Harding had that things were not right. He slowly opened his eyes to find a world that had tilted dangerously onto its side. He closed them again, a brutal headache was beating a drum solo against his skull. He groaned and carefully pushed himself to his knees.

Scanning the ground around him, he saw his partner. "Hey Wally?" He reached over to give the man a shake. "C'mon pal, time to wake up." Grinning, as his friend stirred, he sat back on his heels. "What a couple of rookies, huh?"

Wally rolled over onto his back and stared up at the stars. "How long have we been lying here, Mike?" His fingers gingerly probed the knot forming on his skull. "What about Ellison and Sandburg? Any sign of 'em?"

Harding scowled as he checked his watch. "We've been out a little less than an hour. No sign of Jim or Blair. But I just came to. Man, I hope they heard the warning." He saw his partner struggling to sit up. "You going to be okay?"

The man waved Mike off. "Yeah, yeah I'm fine."

"Good. Better call in some backup, Wally. I'm going to look for them." He stood on wobbly legs, waiting for his spinning vision to slow down. "With any luck Jackson's men left them behind too."

"I don't' know if you should go alone. I'm okay. I'm coming with you." Wally climbed to his feet and promptly fell. His partner's quick reflexes saved him from hitting the pavement. He slowly sat down, holding his head in both hands. "On second thought, maybe I better call it in." He squinted up at his partner. "Be careful, Mike."

Harding patted his friend's shoulder. "I'll be careful." He handed the man his radio. "Here, keep this open, I'll let you know what I find." With one last look at his partner, he started down the wooden steps to the pier.

Sandburg had told him that they had discovered a body to the left of the stairs. Mike played his flashlight through the tall grass and wondered how either men could have seen anything, much less a body lying on the ground. The light cut a narrow band through the darkness, but he could still see nothing. He travelled the rest of the way down the steps to the dock looking for signs of the two men. His heart leapt when he saw a light coming from the old boathouse. Its door lay in a crumpled mess. Jogging the short distance to the worn building, he stopped just outside the door to listen for sounds. Risking a quick look inside he discovered it was empty.

"Good thing too, you idiot, " he groaned. "Just what did you think you were going to be able to do unarmed?"

He entered the boathouse and immediately saw the rope lying on the dirt floor. Picking it up, he checked the ends. They had been sliced cleanly through with a knife. The detective smiled to himself. It looked like Ellison and Sandburg had found their own way out. Tossing the rope to the floor, he radioed his partner what he had found.

"The ground's pretty soft out here, Wally, I'm going to see if I can track them down. I'll stay in touch." Mike slowly swiveled the light across the muddy ground hoping to find a footprint. He found too many. There were at least four different sets grouped around the boathouse. He followed the prints a little further out and discovered one lone set that headed up the hill. He almost dismissed them, he was looking for two sets. Instinct told him to take a closer look. He sighed, the footprints sank deeply into the mud as if the owner was carrying a heavy load. He couldn't imagine Sandburg carrying Ellison, so it had to be the police observer that was hurt.

"Damn," he snarled. "Eliza was right."

Harding started up the slope, following the footprints as best he could in the dark. He flashed the light ahead of him and saw the Cascade detective. He was kneeling in the mud, his back to Mike.

Devereau was the picture of calm, as he sat lying to Jackson. His instructions had been to get rid of the detectives from Washington. But Devereau had other plans.

"Yes Daniel, the two have been taken care of. They've been dumped into the bayou and are probably being digested right now by the gators. You worry too much." He waved a long fingered hand in the air, dismissing the old man's anxiety. "Soon we'll find Laforge and all the loose ends will be tied up." He steepled his fingers in front of him and stared down his nose at the white haired man seated before him.

Daniel Jackson drained his glass of the bourbon and got up to pace the small veranda that surrounded the cottage. He detested the bokor, probably feared him too, if he was to be honest with himself. But the man was too good at what he did. Devereau had "taken care of" many of Jackson's enemies and obstacles in the six years of their strange partnership.

"The sooner, the better. He knows too much to be left running around. I don't like any of this. The police are going to come straight to me when they discover the bodies of those two cops. How did I ever let you talk me into that?" Jackson just shook his head. Pointing a finger at the other man he promised, "Remember, we are in this together. When the police come after me, they come after you too. I'll make sure of that."

The bokor looked coolly at his employer. "I haven't forgotten. And the police will not be coming here. I will make sure that it looks like Laforge killed them. And no one will ever find poor old Lucien to prove it otherwise."

"Good." Turning on his heel, he went into the house, missing the expression of pure hate and distaste that the bokor now wore.

Ellison felt a strong hand grip his shoulder and shake him. He couldn't bear to lose contact with his Guide and instinctively held on tighter to the soft feel of his beating heart.

"Come on Ellison, snap out of it!" Harding slapped the man's face, hard. "That kid's going to die in your arms if we don't move." He searched Ellison's face for signs of coming out of whatever trance had hold of him. Mike had tried, unsuccessfully, to pry the younger man away from him, but that had only made the grip grow tighter. "Jim!" He shook him again.

The Sentinel felt hands shaking him once more. This time he heard words being shouted at him, muffled...unclear. He listened, trying to make sense of them.

"...get Blair to Eliza!" Harding's voice blasted through the zone out.

Jim blinked once, bringing the world back into focus. Taking a deep breath, he looked into Harding's panicked face. "Mike, thank God you're here. Devereau poisoned Sandburg. We've got to get him to a hospital."

Harding was already on his feet, pulling the other detective up. "Yeah, yeah, I already figured that out. But we're not going to a hospital. We've got to get him to Eliza." He put a hand out to steady Ellison. "She'll know what to do."

Nodding, Jim shifted the weight in his arms. "Let's move, Devereau's bound to be back soon." He opened his senses, scanning for any signs of the bokor or his men returning. "I can't believe he just left us unguarded." He trudged up the hill after Harding.

"Arrogance, Jim. He's never been on the losing end of any deal and figures he never will." Mike noticed the strain on the other man's face. "Look, why don't you let me carry him a bit. You look beat."

"No, I'm okay. It's the damn knockout drug he gave me. It's taking its time wearing off."

The New Orleans detective knew that his offer would be refused, but Ellison's earlier almost trance-like state had him worried. He thumbed the button of his radio. "Hey Wally? What's the story on backup?"

"It's on its way, Mike." The tinny voice sounded tired. "Find Ellison and Sandburg yet?"

Harding looked back at the two men and sighed. "Yeah, found 'em. Sandburg's in pretty rough shape. We're taking him to get some help. You gonna be okay out here?"

"I'm okay Mike, I'll catch up with you at the hospital then."

"Right. Out." He flipped the switch off and caught Ellison's puzzled glance.

"I thought we were going to Eliza's?" The Sentinel's face hardened. Mistrust replaced fatigue.

"We are. Just didn't think we needed to announce it to whoever might be listening in. I know Wally's okay. I'd trust the guy with my life, and do, as a matter of fact," he grinned. "I just want to play it close right now." He watched the detective's face, measuring the effect his words had had. He saw Ellison's expression relax a bit. "Almost there, I can see the car."

Eliza opened the door a crack and peered out into the night. Harding's face greeted her. Looking past him, she saw Jim Ellison carrying his partner and her heart sank.

"Devereau got to Blair, Eliza. We're going to need your help."

She swung the door open wide. "Go into the back, I'll be there in a minute." The two men brushed by her as she stepped back to let them in. Ellison stopped to look at her, his face a mixture of fear and hope. "We'll do all we can," she promised and closed the door firmly behind them. As they went through the beaded curtains to her small apartment, Eliza stepped up to one of the altars. Lighting the candles that stood on either side of a large metal box, she removed a key from around her neck. With a tired sigh, she laid both hands on the box and squeezed her eyes closed. The remembered agony of failing her father began to claim her. She could hear her pulse pounding in her ears and fought to regain the calm she would need. A large hand covered one of hers and she opened her eyes.

"Eliza? Are you okay?" Mike Harding's worried gaze appeared before her.

Taking in a deep breath, she nodded and inserted the key into the box. She gently lifted the lid and took out a small bottle of green powder.

Ellison looked up as he heard Eliza and Harding approach. He rose from where he sat on the bed, next to his friend, but the older woman waved him back down.

"Stay where you are. He will need both of us close by before this is over." Sitting down on the other side of the bed, she laid a hand on Blair's forehead. Her gaze was intense. "How long has it been?"

"Hour and a half, probably closer to two." Jim looked at the bottle in the woman's hand. "What is that?"

Eliza's expression softened. "It is called a zombi's cucumber. It should counteract whatever Devereau gave Blair." She saw the doubt in his eyes. "It's named after a plant called Datura stramonium, the Zombie's Cucumber. It is a powerful drug. I am going to have to mix it with cane syrup before we can give it to him." She got up from the bed. Turning to Mike, she asked, "Can you help me with this?"

Jim watched the two of them leave. His head was pounding as he tried to recall everything Blair had told him. The antidote could be as dangerous as the poison. Just enough would revive, too much would plunge the person into an eternal coma-like state. He took his friend's hand into both of his, wishing it weren't so cold. It had seemed like a lifetime ago that he had talked to him. He couldn't risk another zone out, but the need to hear his Guide's familiar heartbeat had become an ache in his own heart.

Sliding from the bed to sit on the floor, he whispered into his partner's ear. "I really let you down, Chief. I'm sorry. But Eliza's here, she knows what to do. Just cooperate." He closed his eyes and leaned his head on his friend's arm, despair driven fatigue finally catching up with him. "Okay Sandburg? Just come back."

He felt Eliza's hand on his shoulder and looked up. She was holding a glass of a thick, green liquid.

"We have to give this to him. I will need your help." The old woman smiled encouragingly. "We'll bring him back. You must believe that." Sitting on the far side of the bed, she looked into Ellison's frightened eyes. "Can you hold him up for me?" Eliza held up the spoon and glass. "We have to make him swallow this."

The detective moved back onto the bed, cradling the limp form. He positioned Blair so that his head and shoulders were resting in the crook of his arm. Staring down at his Guide, the impact of what might happen suddenly hit him full force. Sandburg had detailed information about the drug Devereau would use. Somehow, he had convinced Jim that even if he were poisoned everything would still be alright. It had been that trust, in what his partner had promised, that had carried him this far. If Blair told him he would survive, then he would. But his knowledge about the antidote had been sketchy and now as Jim thought back to the conversation, he realized how Sandburg had glossed over it, not telling him much at all. Had it been only yesterday afternoon that they had discussed it? After Blair's dream about the hearse and Devereau? They had both thought that that had been the nightmare, but it hadn't even begun. The real nightmare had started on the pier and now, as he sat watching Eliza pour the emerald green mixture from the glass to the spoon, he wondered if either he or Blair would ever wake from it. He wanted it to be over.

"Wait, tell me what's going to happen." He unconsciously pulled his friend closer, draping an arm protectively across his chest. "What if this doesn't work?"

The woman stopped, spoon poised. "If this doesn't work then he will never wake up. It will mean that Devereau gave him too much." She willed her hand to stay steady and tried to appear confident. "I can't tell you what will happen. It is different each time. But it will work."

Might never wake up. Swallowing hard, he spoke to his friend. "Okay Chief, this is it then. No games, okay." Jim smiled sadly as he brushed the dark strands of hair from where they had fallen across his partner's cheek. If this didn't work... Pushing that thought away, he raised his eyes to meet Eliza's. "What do you want me to do?"

"Just hold him still, we'll need to open his mouth just a bit. Gravity will do the rest." The detective did as he was asked. She put the spoon to the younger man's lips and carefully poured the liquid into Sandburg's mouth, letting it slowly make its way to the back of his throat. Satisfied, she sat back. "Now we wait."

"How long?" Harding asked. He had been standing quietly, watching. Both Ellison and Eliza jumped when he spoke.

Sighing, the woman shrugged her shoulders. "The poison hasn't been in his system that long. It should take effect within an hour. Perhaps longer."

"As long as he wakes up, it doesn't matter." Jim settled back to lean against the wall, shifting Blair in his arms. For however long it took, he would wait.

Eliza slid from the bed. Positive thoughts would only go so far. There were saints and voodoo spirits that could intercede. She motioned for Harding to follow her back into the temple. Reaching the beaded doorway, she stopped when Ellison called her name.

Gratitude softened the detective's chiseled features, "I want to thank you for helping us. No matter what happens."

Devereau's body slammed into the richly panelled wall of the study. Stunned, his knees gave way and he sat on the floor, glaring at the man who had hit him. Daniel Jackson stood over him, fists clenched.

"You arrogant son of a..." Jackson spluttered in anger. "You were supposed to get rid of those two men. Now, not only is Laforge running around, but so are those cops. And I'm afraid my influence doesn't reach as far as Washington." He reached down and pulled the bokor up by his shirt. "While you work for me, you do as I say." He slammed him into the wall once again. "Or you become too much of a risk."

Devereau freed himself from Jackson's grip and snarled. "You don't know who you're dealing with."

The old man laughed. "I'm not worried about your superstitious mumbo jumbo. Save it for the idiots who worship you." He grabbed the taller man by the shirt again and shoved him back. "You have gone behind my back for the last time."

Devereau smiled, baring white teeth. "You are absolutely right, Daniel." He raised his hand to his lips, palm up. Pursing his lips together, he gently blew on the yellow powder that sat there.

Surprised, Jackson was powerless to protect himself and felt the powder's sting as it landed in his eyes and covered his face. He rubbed at it with the sleeve of his jacket, knowing that it was already too late. He had seen what the poison could do. He staggered back, away from Devereau, gasping for air.

The tall black man watched as Jackson crumpled to the ground. "You shall make a nice addition to my collection, Daniel." He walked from the room.

Paralyzed, but his mind still alert, the drug lord heard Devereau call to his men, telling them that Jackson had suffered a fatal heart attack. Eyes wide and seeing, he watched as they entered the study and listened for a heartbeat, debating about starting CPR. He heard Devereau explain that he had tried everything, but it was too late. Jackson's mind reeled at the horror. They would bury him alive. The last thing he saw was the bokor's grinning face as he leaned over him to gently close his eyelids.

Jim Ellison had been dreaming about drums. Their beat was so loud that he thought he could feel it beneath his feet, as he stood in the jungle listening. His eyes opened slowly, and the tropical green paradise of his dreams became Eliza's sparse room. Shaking his head to dislodge the cobwebs of sleep, he still heard the drumming. But the pounding rhythm was coming from beneath his hand. With a startled gasp, he sat up straighter. Taking a deep breath, to quell the fear that this was only part of his dream, he raised a trembling hand to Blair's forehead. It felt warm to his touch.

"Chief? You with me yet?" The softly spoken question was met with silence, but the steady rise and fall of his friend's chest was all the answer he needed. It had worked! His relief was so great, he wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. Blair's skin, that had been cold and colourless as white marble, had begun to flush and radiated a heat that warmed Ellison's soul. Not sure if he should be doing something, he looked around for the mambo. Quiet whispers were coming from just beyond the room. "Eliza!"

Harding was the first one into the room. With just one look at Ellison's face, he knew he didn't have to wonder if the man's partner was coming around. Smiling broadly, he stepped aside for Eliza to get by him. The older woman immediately went to kneel on the bed and took the anthropologist's hand in hers. She silently thanked each spirit and saint she had called on for help.

"He should awaken soon. But when he does, he may be disoriented and frightened. Try to reassure him as best you can." She raised her hand to gently touch the Sentinel's cheek. "I don't know how much Blair has told you. He might not..."

The blue eyes that met hers refused to admit defeat. "Sandburg told me," he answered, saving Eliza the pain of having to finish the sentence. "But he's going to be okay. He'll be whole when he wakes up."

Accepting Harding's help, she got up. "I will be in the next room if you need me. Perhaps I can persuade Michael into making us some nice strong coffee." Eliza smiled up at the man, whose arm she still clung to. She suddenly felt very old and tired.

"Sure thing. I think I could use one too." He started to usher her from the room. "Jim, I'm going to check in, see if there's any word on Devereau or Laforge. I'll let you know what I find out."

"Thanks Mike," Jim smiled, grateful that Harding was going to stick around. He hadn't forgotten about the threat that Devereau still posed. "And Mike, thank you. For saving our skins."

"Anytime partner."

An insistent knocking at the door of the temple broke the silence of the early morning hours. Lucien Laforge stood huddled in fear, praying that the old mambo would offer him sanctuary. Raising his fist, he pounded on the door once again.

Devereau had him. Blair could feel the vicelike hands grabbing him, holding him down. He knew he had to fight and struggled against the bokor, hearing his own voice cry out, harsh and angry. Whatever strength he had was gone and his muscles strained with the effort. Why did he have to fight alone? He wasn't strong enough. The hopelessness of that thought threatened to drag him back down. Devereau was calling him, telling him to open his eyes, to look at him. But Blair knew if he looked into that face again he would be lost, so he squeezed his eyes shut tight. The anthropologist was sure his fear would drive him over the edge and wondered if insanity wouldn't be better than the hell he was trapped in. He wanted to scream out his surrender if only to find some peace. But the terror of going back to what waited for him in the darkness stopped him. He had to keep fighting. If only he weren't so alone. There was someone who would help him, he knew that. A memory surged up through the fear and he yelled out a name.

"Jim! Help me!" His voice broke into a sob. "Please."

"Blair, I'm here, open your eyes." The voice Sandburg heard began to change. Devereau's deep accented tones melted away and he heard another. "C'mon kid, you can do it. Just trust me."

Ellison held tighter, waiting. His words had done nothing to comfort his friend and he wondered if Blair even heard them. "Please Chief, I want to help you." Suddenly his friend stopped struggling. His body remained taut with fear and his breathing was coming in ragged gasps, but he had stopped fighting. Looking down, Jim saw that the younger man's eyes were open. But open and staring, not focused on anything. Brushing away the sweat that ran down Sandburg's face, he tried again. "Chief?"

Blue eyes closed and slowly opened again, regaining some of their focus. Jim felt a shudder course through his partner. After what seemed like long agonizing minutes, what Ellison had been waiting for finally happened. Tilting his head back, Sandburg looked up into his face, recognition shining through the fatigue. Drenched in perspiration and exhausted, his friend slumped against him. "Hey Jim." The words were incredibly weak and the voice raw, but to the detective, it was as if he had been given permission to start breathing again. Putting as much warmth as he could into his own words, he gently put his hand on his partner's head and held him to him.

"I've missed you, kid. Welcome back."

His terror building, Laforge started pleading through the closed door. "Eliza! Please! You've got to help me." He kept his voice low, not wanting to draw attention to himself. She had to let him in, this was the only place where he felt safe. Lucien's knees went weak with relief when he heard the bolt slide back on the door. He was only mildly surprised to find Harding behind it.

"Morning Lucien." The detective's smile seemed almost genuine as he reached out to grab the other man and drag him into the temple. "You've been leading us on an exciting little chase." He squeezed the man's arm for emphasis.

"Ah ain't been leading you nowhere, man." Laforge cringed under the bigger man's glare. "All ah been doin' is tryin't stay alive." He looked past Harding to Eliza. "Please Eliza, there ain't nowhere else for me to go. Devereau is tryin' to kill me."

"Gentle, Michael." The mambo put her hand on Mike's. "He's already scared enough."

Harding relaxed his grip and smiled at the older woman. "Guess Lucien doesn't know that he should come to the police if he feels threatened." He fixed Laforge with a glacial stare. "But now that you're here, why don't we talk about it. Just the two of us."

"The three of us." Ellison's voice came from behind them. He looked tired but the fear that had lined his face had disappeared. "Blair's back, Eliza. You did it." Crossing the distance between them, he encircled the woman in a bear hug. "Can you stay with him while we talk to Laforge? I don't want to leave him alone. He's sleeping, but just in case he wakes up."

Eliza returned the hug and started for the bedroom. "I will look after him." Turning, she glanced back at the three men. "I want you to remember where you are, gentlemen. Lucien will be treated well?" She saw Ellison and Harding nod. "And Lucien, you will tell these men what they need to know, or you will find no help here." Satisfied that she had been understood, she left.

"Have a seat, Lucien." Mike's smile seemed more threatening than the earlier glare. "Tell us about Devereau and Jackson. All of it."

Seeing no chair, Laforge sat crosslegged on the floor. The two detectives towered over him. "I'll tell you what I know, what I heard. Jackson's dead. They say it was a heart attack, but I know it weren't no heart attack. He died when he was talkin' to the bokor."

Ellison looked over at Harding for confirmation. "Yeah, it's true. I just got off the phone with Wally, when our friend here, decided to stop by. Wally said that Jackson is sitting in the morgue. Apparent heart attack." The detective scowled. "But I tend to agree with Lucien. I asked Wally to get the coroner to do a thorough check for vitals." He looked back down at Laforge. "What else?"

"Do you know where Devereau is now?" Jim's voice was sharp, making Mike take a second look.

Laforge began to shake. "He's lookin' for me. One of the guys that works for Jackson, he told me. That's why I came here. Eliza knows how to deal with him. I thought maybe he wouldn't come here." He looked from one man to the other. "Tha's all I know, honest. I don't know where he is."

"What about Hackett? How'd he end up in that building?" The remembrance of it still made Ellison uneasy.

"I knew that my uncle was dead 'cause of that bokor. Uncle Joe wouldn't be happy if we'd jus' let Devereau use 'im. I know a hougant from another town. He and some o' his friends took my uncle from the morgue. They did the dessounin. They was suppose' to wait for me. But they were just finishin' when I got there." Hackett looked down. "Tha's when I heard you comin'. So I took off."

Harding asked the question that had been bothering him. "Did you ask Bernie to set up a meeting with us?"

"Bernie?" Laforge seemed surprised. "I ain't seen the old man since I got back to N'awlins. He tell you that? Maybe I shoulda called you."

"Damn!" Mike put his hands on his hips and shook his head. "Devereau's been leading us around from the start." Turning to Ellison, he apologized, "I'm sorry Jim. Bernie'd been a good guy up until this. I had no reason not to believe him."

Putting a hand on the detective's shoulder, Jim eased his guilt. "It's okay, Sandburg and I bought it, too." He took a step closer to Laforge, letting his height intimidate the man even more. "How much do you know about the operation that Jackson set up? You've been running the Cascade end of it."

"I...I know lots. I be willin' to cut you a deal." He smiled up at the Sentinel. "I know names at both ends. Been keepin' a record, jus' in case, for a day like today."

Jim reached down and pulled Laforge up by his shirt. "You won't be cutting any deals." He held the man inches from his face. "You're gonna come back to Cascade with me and testify in court, because that's the only way you're going to get out of here alive." He released his hold on him. "If the D.A. wants to talk to you, that's his business. But don't even try it with me."

Laforge nodded and shifted his gaze to Harding, who just smiled. "Don't look at me, Luc. After they're done with you in Cascade, you'll be coming home to face the music." He reached around behind him, and withdrew a set of handcuffs. Snapping one end to Lucien's wrist, he used the other end to drag him along. "Let's go find someplace safe to hide you until we're ready to go."

Blair sat at Eliza's small kitchen table, a cup of hot tea sitting before him. Jim paused at the doorway, measuring pulse and respiration. He caught his Guide's amused grin as he went to sit down.

"What's funny?"

"You are, man." He still sounded tired, but the old Sandburg was starting to resurface. "Most people would ask 'how are you?' or 'feeling better?'. But living with a Sentinel changes all that. You probably know what my heart and respiration rate is right now." The grin became a smile. "Don't you ever get tired of worrying about me?"

Jim laughed softly and leaned back in his chair, tipping it to stand on two legs. "Bad habits are always the hardest to break, kid." He let the chair fall forward, becoming serious. "And to answer your question, I don't always worry about you. I prefer to call it looking out for you. Got a problem with that, Sandburg?"

Blair slowly shook his head. "As long as it keeps me breathing, I..." He saw the pained expression that crossed his friend's face. "What is it? You feeling okay?"

Ellison took a deep breath and tried to put his feelings into words. "What you said about breathing. My head tells me that you're here, alive and well." His smile was tentative. "But the rest of me, maybe the sentinel part of me, keeps remembering what happened back at the pier. I really let you down."

The anthropologist's eyes widened as he remembered what his friend had gone through. "I'm sorry, Jim. I know that it was really rough on you. But...and this is probably the only time you're ever going to hear me say this...listen to your head." Sandburg smiled. "You didn't let me down. You're like Kipling's thousandth man." He smiled again at his friend's puzzled look. "I know that the only reason I'm here is because you refused to let me go...I know that. I'll never forget it."

Ellison took Blair's empty cup and went to the sink. "You've got it all wrong Chief. Eliza's the one who saved you. Knew what to do." He angrily twisted the tap, letting the hot water wash into the cup and pointedly ignored his partner, who now stood next to him.

Blair just shook his head. "No, you've got it all wrong, Jim." He stared long and hard at his friend, wondering how he could make him understand. "When that drug first started to take effect I was really scared. I had told you all that stuff about Laforge surviving it and the things I'd read about other people waking up from it." Jim turned off the tap and looked at him, his anger gone. Instead, Blair saw his own pain reflected there. "I told you that you had to trust me and believe what I was telling you. And..."

"And I did, Chief," Jim said quietly.

Sandburg nodded quickly, trying to control the raw emotion he felt building. "Yeah, you did. But you see," he looked away, "I didn't. I knew too much. I knew all the horror stories of people being so damaged they were brain dead. Or others that had been buried alive, only to have gone insane." He swallowed and looked up at his partner. "I was so scared. I think I was almost more afraid of living than I was dying."

"Blair you don't..."

"Yeah, I do. I've gotta talk about it. For me and for you." A tear rolled down his cheek and he swiped at it with the back of his hand. "You have to know, Jim," Blair sighed. "I heard you. I knew what you were going through. I heard the fear and the grief. I heard you try to listen to my heart. You've really got to learn to pay attention to me when I warn you about a zone out." He smiled through his tears. "And then, when you zoned, it was like I did die. It was dark and lonely. All I could hear was Devereau's voice going round in my head. I wanted to crawl deeper into the darkness because I thought it would be the only way I could get away from him." Jim must have known that his legs were ready to give out. He found himself being lead back to sit at the kitchen table.

Taking a deep breath, Blair continued, knowing he'd never want to talk about the ordeal again. "But I didn't. Maybe I didn't believe what I told you. It didn't matter because I believed you. I believe in you. You told me that you would do everything you could to keep me safe. You don't always say the words, Jim, but you tell me that everyday. So I knew that whatever hell I fell into that you would be there." He could feel more tears falling and wiped them away, knowing it would make his friend uncomfortable. "Damn...sorry. Guess I'm still a little wired."

"It's okay, kid." The words were barely loud enough to hear.

"And you were. You brought me back. Eliza may have had the right drugs, Jim. She might have known what to do. But if I hadn't been sure that you would be here, I would have fought coming back with everything I had. And then I heard you tell me to trust you...that you wanted to help me. That was all I needed."

Jim let out the breath he had been holding since his friend had started his story. He felt close to his own tears and tried to keep his voice steady. "I'm glad you finally decided to listen to me, for once." He brought his hand up, intending to give Sandburg a gentle tap on the cheek, but it seemed to stay on that cheek of its own volition. Smiling, the Sentinel drank in the warmth of the flesh beneath his fingers and then let his hand fall away. "Thank you."

"I'm just glad you understand now." Feeling completely parched, Blair went to the sink for some water. He still felt shaky and wasn't surprised when Jim's hand reached from behind him to take the glass and fill it.

"Hey kid, I didn't realize you were up!" Harding walked over to give Sandburg a playful punch on the arm. "Welcome back to the land of the living," he joked, earning himself an angry glare from Ellison. Looking uncomfortable, Mike tried to make amends. "Sorry, that was probably in bad taste. I was...I mean..."

Blair leaned back against the kitchen counter, resting both elbows on it, and grinned. "Don't let him bother you. He always gets that way when he hasn't had enough sleep." He shrugged his shoulders. "I just ignore him."

Obviously relieved, Harding got to the business at hand. "We're all set. I've got Laforge safely stowed away in Eliza's supply cupboard. I've talked to Wally and he and a uniform unit are on their way to escort us all back to the station."

"Wait a minute. Did you say you had Laforge?" Blair gasped. "When did that happen?"

"You're not going to believe it, Blair, but he just walked into my waiting arms." Harding laughed. "In fact, he was pounding down the door, trying to get in."

"Cool. So now we've got Laforge. We can get out of here and head back to Cascade." Sandburg's face was ecstatic. "No offense Mike."

"No offense taken. I understand. But I hope that you two'll come back and let me show you around, maybe do a little fishing." Neither Harding nor Blair missed Ellison perk up at the mention of fishing.

"You said the magic word, Mike." Sandburg grinned up at his friend. "Fishing."

The ringing of Harding's cellphone cut off any response. He listened for a few minutes and then flipped it shut. "Trouble."

Devereau stood across from the old mambo's home. He had known that Ellison would bring his friend to her. A well placed call to the New Orleans police had confirmed that. Jackson might no longer be among the living, he thought, but his money was still working its own magic. He fingered the small pouch in his pocket, wrapping the coarse twine around his hand. The sound of running feet caught his attention.

"We can move," the bokor's man's chest heaved as he fought for breath. "We have a man at the back. There is no other way out."

"Begin then," Devereau ordered. "We'll see if Damballa is with Eliza today."

Blair's heart jumped into his mouth. "What do you mean trouble?" Harding had paled.

"That was Wally, we've found our leak. One of the uniforms was overheard talking to Devereau." Mike shook his head in disgust. "One of the uniforms assigned to pick us up. So Devereau knows we're here. And has known for about 15 minutes. We've gotta get out of here. Wally's on his way and so are some black and whites. But I don't know if they're going to get here in time."

"Mike, find Eliza, maybe there's another way out. I think Devereau may already be here." Ellison sniffed the air. "Do you smell that?" He looked at Blair. "Gasoline."

Jim watched Harding disappear through the beaded curtains. "Far as I can tell, there are three of them, Chief. Probably Devereau too, but I haven't been able to hear him."

"What do you mean you haven't been able to hear him?" Blair's eyes narrowed. "How long has this been going on?"

The Sentinel moved to the far end of the kitchen, checking the outside door for heat. "Since that day in Cascade. I don't know why, but he just doesn't register." He continued talking as he felt for hot spots. "Can't hear him...smell him. " He quickly pulled his hand away from the door. "Damn, we're not getting out that way."

Grabbing Blair by the arm, Jim went into the temple area. The large room had begun to fill with smoke that hung as a thick grey haze. The altar curtain nearest the door was in flames where the gasoline had seeped through. The cloying smell of incense that had been ignited immediately attacked Ellison's enhanced senses. Coughing violently, he started pulling Sandburg back into the other part of the house where the smoke wasn't so thick. But twisting out of his partner's grasp, Blair ran to the altar to tear down the cloth. With a sharp tug, he brought the burning cloth down and attempted to put out the flames. Strong arms grabbed him and he turned to yell at his friend. He didn't want to see Eliza's temple burn because she had helped him.

"Sandburg, let's go!" Mike Harding dragged him away from the altar that was now completely engulfed in flames. "There's another way out of here. Where's Ellison?"

"He was..." Blair searched the room. "Ohmigod."

Startled that Jim hadn't followed him, Sandburg raced back into the kitchen. Harding followed closely behind. They found the detective leaning heavily against the wall, gasping for breath between coughs.

"Oh man, I'm sorry Jim," Blair apologized. He pulled his friend's hand away from his mouth and nose and replaced it with a damp cloth. "Here, this should help." Listening to Ellison wheeze only drove the guilt deeper. "I am so sorry."

"It's...okay." The words were almost inaudible. "Smoke and incense...caught me off guard...senses...too open."

Harding wasn't sure what Ellison was talking about. All he knew was that the crackle and hissing of the blaze was getting louder. He reached a hand under the stricken man's arm to help him stand. "We've gotta move if we're going to get out of here. Eliza and Lucien are waiting for us. There's a tunnel from here to the next building. Something about the Acadians and smuggling."

Sandburg grabbed Jim's other arm, helping him to his feet, and the two followed Mike to a small anteroom off the sitting room. The entire apartment was now filling with the smoke, as the heat of the fire began to eat whatever oxygen it could find. Stumbling through the thick fog, Harding finally stopped and pointed. He had covered his mouth and nose with his hand. Ellison and Sandburg saw Laforge and the mambo standing at the bottom of a dark stairwell, lit only by candles. Still holding onto Ellison's arm, Harding started down the stairs.

Devereau stood, impatiently watching the building, as it was consumed by flames. The smoke should have forced its occupants out by now. Turning on his companions, his eyes burned into them. "The exit from the rear has been blocked? You're sure of that?"

The three men only nodded, not wanting to draw the bokor's wrath. They seemed to visibly shrink under his gaze. One man began to speak but stopped at the sound of sirens. Looking at Devereau questioningly, the three expected to be told to leave. But the sound of the approaching sirens pushed the bokor's anger to fury. "There must be another way out." He scanned the small one story house. Its flat roof... "Did any of you check the roof?"

A satisfied smile crossed Devereau's face at the men's silence. They were on the roof. Grabbing the man closest to him, he demanded that a way to the roof be found. Devereau's terrified follower started to plead that there was no way, but his words died in his throat as he looked into the mad eyes. Devereau turned to yell at his two companions, sending them to the rear of the house to watch for an escape.

"You, come with me." The bokor dragged his captive across the street to the far side of the house. When they stood next to the wall, Devereau began to judge the distance to the roof. His large, six foot plus frame was almost more than half the height to the roof. "You will give me a boost up." He waited for the man to cup his hands as a step. "Wait here." With little effort he was eye level with the top of the roof. A small trickle of smoke had begun to seep through a crack. He was not too late! They weren't through yet. Quickly lifting himself onto the roof, he shouted down, "Find a way up and hurry. They may be through soon."

The narrow trickle of smoke had become wider. The crack was giving way. The bokor reached under his jacket to pull a small, stylish revolver from its hidden holster. He looked at it with distaste, thinking it a crude weapon, but it would do. Taking careful steps closer, he raised the pistol. The sound of sirens grew louder. The timing would be close. A piece of the roofing material fell away and grey smoke billowed out. Devereau smiled to himself, they would be coming out. He took a step closer, trying to see through the steaming mist. The loud wail of the sirens seemed to almost vibrate under his feet. They had to come out now or it would be...Too late, he realized the shudder was the weakened ceiling of the mambo's temple as it gave way. Silently, he plunged into the darkness below.

The door to the loft slammed. Ellison cringed at the sudden noise but smiled to himself. Blair was home. Checking his watch, he saw that his friend was early. Just as he was about to comment on the rarity of that the silence was split again by a war whoop.

With one hand on the back of the couch, Sandburg vaulted onto the soft cushions. Giving the Sentinel a grin, he leaned back and sighed. "Free! Free for a whole week!" Flopping onto his side, he groaned. "I don't know what I'm going to do with myself. Sleep," he chuckled. "Yeah, sleep sounds like a good start."

"Well Rip Van Winkle, before you disappear into the land of Nod, I heard from Mike today. Jackson's recovered fully and is being held until the trial finishes up here. Laforge hasn't let us down, by the way. He testified again today. I think everything should be wrapped up by the end of next week. I'll be glad when we can put this whole thing behind us." He sighed then brightened. "Oh, almost forgot! Eliza sends her regards."

Sandburg pushed himself up into a sitting position and brushed the hair from his face. "That's nice. How's she doing? She lost everything in that fire." He frowned at the memory. "Did Mike say if they ever found...?"

"Devereau?" Jim shook his head no. "Not a trace. But about Eliza. Good news. She's set up in a new place. Insurance and the generosity of her congregation got her through it. Now she just wants to know when we're going to visit. Same with Mike, says he's got the fishing spot all picked out."

"Wow, happy endings all around, " Blair grinned. "Some pretty good karma happening here." He leapt off the couch. "Hey Jim, I'm starved. You got any plans for tonight?" His smile widened at his friend's shake of the head. "Wanna order out? Stay in and watch a couple of movies? Man, it seems like years since we did that." Not waiting for an answer he went into the kitchen and picked up the phonebook. "What do you feel like? Pizza? Chinese?"

Jim laughed at his Guide's exuberance and followed him into the kitchen. "Whatever you decide, Chief." He picked his car keys out of the basket and headed for the door. "I'll go get a couple of movies in the meantime."

As the detective waited for the elevator, he pulled a piece of paper from his pocket. It had taken him a week to remember exactly what Blair had called him. But when he had, he tracked it down. Carefully unfolding it, he again read the words to Kipling's short poem, the Thousandth Man.

One man in a thousand, Solomon says,
Will stick more close than a brother.
And it's worth while seeking him half your days
If you find him before the other.
Nine hundred and ninety-nine depend
On what the world sees in you,
But the Thousandth Man will stand your friend
With the whole round world agin you.

'Tis neither promise nor prayer nor show
Will settle the finding for 'ee.
Nine hundred and ninety-none of 'em go
By your looks, or your acts, or your glory.
But if he finds you and you find him,
The rest of the world don't matter;
For the Thousandth Man will sink or swim
With you in any water.

You can use his purse with no more talk
Than he uses yours for his spendings,
And laugh and meet in your daily walk
As though there had been no lendings.
Nine hundred and ninety-nine of 'em call
For silver and gold in their dealings;
But the Thousandth Man he's worth 'em all,
Because you can show him your feelings.

His wrong's your wrong, and his right's your right,
In season or out of season.
Stand up and back it in all men's sight-
With that for your only reason!
Nine hundred and ninety-nine can't bide
The shame or mocking or laughter,
But the Thousandth Man will stand by your side
To the gallows-foot - and after.

The elevator opened to the quiet lobby on the street level. Ellison pushed through the apartment building's door and stepped out into the first cool night of late summer.

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