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.

Part Two