LRH Balzer

(Note: Story takes place, and was written after the Third Season episode, "The Warriors")

He listened, the sounds of the night shifting around him as he flung out his hearing into the vortex of cacophony that made up Cascade. The result was painful, scraping at his eardrums like nails upon blackboards, like brakes screeching on wet pavement or a thousands cats wailing at a clouded moon, the effect causing him to gasp in agony at the intrusion of meaningless input into his head. Yet it was what he wanted. Distraction. He had chosen a direction at random, searching for some escape, any escape, from the endless vision of Incacha lying dead on his couch.

He had to distance himself from it. The pain was too close, too recent. Too vivid.

He wouldn't look. He closed his sight, instead, and listened, throwing all his concentration into the single sense, as though daring himself to zone on it and maybe lose some hours to the blankness, away from the memory of that death rattle. That last breath exhaled by lungs that would never take in another.

It wasn't working. If he closed his sight, then sound would find a way to haunt him.

No. Concentrate. Concentrate. Fine-tune the press of noises to a single sound. Narrow the focus until he could lose himself in it . . . Yes. Better. What was this? Two miles away, he shifted, trying to identify the distinct rustle of . . . of wind in trees. But what kind of trees? He had not yet learned to distinguish the various leaves by sound.

He lost the location. No good. He was drifting. He pulled his hearing in closer, tugging on the line, a grappling hook trying to find a focus to bury itself in. Cars on the I-5. For a brief minute, James Ellison was able to surrender himself into the whoosh, whoosh, whoosh of passing engines. But it wasn't enough, and the image returned. Incacha dead, head tilted to one side on the couch. Oranges and browns and blacks swirled in his tear-clouded memory. And blood red.

Back to hearing. Closer yet to the loft, music. Some new group, the words unintelligible, even to his discerning focus. Voices arguing. Beer bottles opening. They were underage. They were fighting about a drug deal gone bad. Threatening someone until a police siren approached, and the voices fled.

Ellison tugged on the line, impatient. A twenty-four hour grocery. A tired father buying milk and bread. The shopper knew the clerk and they exchanged their stories of teething toddlers.

He drew closer yet: a television playing a movie in Spanish, garish music clacking in the background as it switched to a commercial. The sound triggered a string of memories until--mere seconds later--he returned full-circle to Incacha dead on his couch.

He pulled his hearing all the way in, his head pressing back into the pillow as he prepared to make another stab into the darkness. There had to be something to focus on. Something to use as a diversion.

But there was a sound. Close by. In his own building now. A heartbeat he knew. Too fast. Much too fast.


The cry echoed through his body, each sense twisting to find the source. Here in the loft. Someone had screamed.

Sandburg? He opened his eyes and sat up, still listening, still focused on the room below him.

"Let go. Let me go!" Blair's voice broke through the silence of the loft, and Jim was halfway down the stairs, his gun drawn.

"Let go of me! Let go! JIM!"

The plea had become a scream now, and the anguished sound of his name on his partner's lips brought Ellison through Blair's door, the catch on the door knob barely having time to unlatch properly. "I'm here," he whispered dropping to his knees by the writhing man on the bed, the gun pushed aside, unneeded. "Sandburg? Blair? I'm here."

"No . . ." The young man was drenched in sweat, shivering wildly, and even in the darkness, Ellison could see that Blair's eyes were wide open, terror pouring from the unseeing gaze. "Jim--get him off me. He won't let go of me. He's dead and he won't let go of me. Get him off me. Get him off me. Oh, fuck, make him let go of my arm . . ."

"Blair? It's me. It's Jim. He's gone." Damn you, Incacha. What did you have to die for? Blair? Chief? I'm sorry.

Ellison reach across to the bedside lamp, letting the feeble light pour into the room. His partner was cowering against the far wall, still trapped in the nightmare. "Blair. Blair, look at me." He had to be gentle. Be safe. "Come on, Chief," he coaxed, moving slowly until he sat on the edge of the bed. "Come on, Chief. Relax. Wake up. It's okay. He's gone. He let go of your arm."

Blair's eyes found his, desperate for assurance that he was safe. Lips moved silently for a moment before the sound finally joined them. "Shit . . . Jim. Incacha. He . . . he . . . " The eyes closed, but the shaking only got worse.

Ellison reached for the blanket, bunched up against the far wall, and drew it around his friend's shoulders, trying to keep his voice reassuring as he spoke. "Are you with me? Blair? Come on, buddy. Wake up."

"I'm awake. I'm awake. Oh, God." Blair grabbed the blanket, pulling it tight around him. Eyes opened, his gaze darting around the room, seeking out the shadows and the corners. "It was a dream, right?" He shut his eyes tightly. "It never happened. Tell me it never happened, Jim."

"What never happened?"

"He did something. What did he do? That sound, man. It was gross. His throat--" Blair gasped, gulping for air suddenly. "Damn, I'm cold, Jim. I'm cold."

The detective grabbed another blanket from the pile at the foot of the bed. "Let's warm you up then. You've had a nightmare."

"No shit, man."

Incacha was dead. The coroners' wagon had taken him away while they were tracking down the men who had shot him. Ellison had then spent the rest of the day at the morgue, and at the station, trying to battle the paperwork and procedures that he probably couldn't win over, despite Simon Bank's efforts and Sandburg's encouragement. All he had been able to accomplish in those hours was that for tonight, at least, Incacha lay, untouched, undefiled, at the morgue.

Sandburg had been fine all day. Blair had been a rock, keeping him on track with the case, then listening to him talk about his friendship for the Chopec shaman. Blair had stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Jim when Ellison had stormed into the police station and demanded that neither Incacha's body nor Ali's recovered body be autopsied. His voice had hollered louder than Jim's, insisting the men had religious rights to a burial according to his own beliefs. Blair had been fine. Outstanding. Level-headed. Keeping calm when Jim hadn't been able to. Keeping the worst of the pain away with his very presence at Jim's side.

Yet it had been a painful twenty-four hours for Sandburg, too, Ellison had to remind himself. Blair had seen a old friend lying dead on the floor of an underground garage, an arrow in her back. They hadn't been as close as he had been to Incacha, but Sandburg felt responsible for her death, and that would weigh heavy on his heart. And though it was quickly passed over, due to the stress of the moment, Blair had been traumatized by Incacha's last words to him.

Two in the morning, the clock read. Sandburg was awake, but still caught in the nightmare, still shivering uncontrollably. Jim drew him away from the wall, settling him back on the bed, uncertain of how to help him. He vaguely knew he was talking to his partner, trying to key his voice to something non-threatening. Blair was cold. His skin was icy to touch, the perspiration like damp winter condensation on his arms and forehead. Jim brought the edge of the blanket up and wiped away the moisture, frowning at the shaking, tightly-curled body beside him on the bed.

"This isn't good, Chief. You've got to relax." He kept one hand on Blair's shoulder, trying to infuse the knowledge of his touch on Blair's frazzled nerves.

The shivering finally abated, leaving Sandburg lying limp against his pillow. "My head hurts," he whispered, eyes still closed.

"No doubt. I'll go get you something." Ellison took the few steps needed to get to the bathroom medicine cabinet and find some pain killers. He was turning to return to Blair's side, when the young man pushed past him into the bathroom, dropping to the floor to throw up into toilet bowl. "Not a good night for you . . ." he said, softly, rinsing a face cloth in the sink.

"Oh, Jim . . ." Blair panted, pushing himself back to lean against the wall. "I feel lousy."

Ellison took the cloth and held it against Sandburg's neck, then gently stroked it over the pale face. "Yeah, well, you look lousy. That was quite the nightmare, Chief."

Blair found the strength to react and took the cloth from his partner and held it over his eyes, letting the coolness offer some relief from the burning pain. "I can still see him."

"Me, too," Jim admitted.

"Yeah?" Blair peeked at him from beneath the cloth. "Did you have a nightmare, too? I'm sorry, I didn't even ask how you were doing with this all. We got home, had a sandwich and went to bed without even talking about it. Major denial, I guess." He waited a moment for Jim to speak, then prompted, "Was it a nightmare?"

"I feel like I've been in a nightmare since you called me at the station to tell me he was injured," Ellison said, finally. "And we talked about it most of the day yesterday, Sandburg."

"No, we talked around it, Jim. We didn't really talk about it." Blair put a hand over his mouth and took a few deep breaths, then mumbled, "Give me a few minutes here, Jim. I'll be out in a bit." He shifted closer to the toilet and Ellison left the bathroom, closing the door behind him to give his partner the privacy he needed.

It was almost fifteen minutes before Blair opened the door, weaving across the room to collapse at the table next to Jim. "Oh, man, I feel awful. That took a lot out of me."


Blair rolled his eyes. "Thanks," he muttered sarcastically, but there was a hint of smile on his face.

"What do you want now, Chief? Do you want to talk or go back to bed?"

Blair sighed. "I want to talk, but realistically I'm too shaky and tired to stay awake. I'm going to try to get back to sleep. I do want to talk to you about it, though, Jim. I need to," he added, softly, his voice cracking.

"Sure." Ellison stood, offering a hand to the younger man and helping him back to his room. "Wait a second." He propped Blair by the door and straightened out the bed sheets and blankets, then flipped the pillow over. "Okay, get in. Are you still cold?" Blair didn't feel cold to him. He felt hot, as though a low-grade fever had taken over. Not surprising, considering the amount of stress the nightmare had caused.

"I'm fine." Blair sank into the bed, tugging the covers over his shoulders and turning his back on Ellison. "Leave the light on, okay?"

"If you want. I'll be upstairs," Jim said, pausing for a moment at the doorway.

"I know," Blair murmured, then slipped into fevered sleep.

He woke, stretching slightly, cautious of any muscle cramps. He felt worn out, as though his energy for the week had been used up at two o'clock that morning. The loft was quiet, his door open slightly. There was a faint smell of coffee.

Blair pushed himself upright, his eyes widening as he recognized how weak he really was. Feet touched the floor, legs barely carried him out of his room and into the bathroom. He grasped hold of the side of the sink and looked at his reflection blearily.

A shower. Yes, he'd have a shower. That would help. It couldn't hurt--unless he fell and knocked himself out, of course. He eased out of his sweat-stained T-shirt and boxers, grimacing as aching muscles and joints protested the movements. Even stepping over the edge of the bathtub was tiring. He fumbled with the controls to the shower, gasping as the water came on too cold, and twisting the faucet too far the other direction and back again until the temperature was somehow manageable. When he finally stepped out of the bathroom, he felt rejuvenated. Still tired, but rejuvenated. A member, once more, of the human race.

I need that coffee now. He stopped by his room to shed the towel and dig out a pair of sweat pants and a sweatshirt from the stack of clothes on the floor at the foot of his bed. A quick sniff had assured him they were either clean, or near enough clean not to offend anyone.

Coffee . . . Back in the kitchen, he spotted the note on the table and detoured away from the coffeepot long enough to grab hold of the piece of paper, then completed the circle around the island and reached for his mug.

Chief, I've gone in to the station to talk to Simon about a few things to do with the case. I didn't want to wake you. You had a bad fever last night, but you seemed fine when I checked you this morning. I'll be back soon--before lunch. Jim.

Blair shrugged and poured his coffee, crumbling the note and tossing it in the trash. Just as well, he had some paperwork he needed to finish for the university, the typical beginning-of-the-school-year forms and questionnaires that he always managed to put off filling out until they pestered him for it in the office.

The paper bag on the counter turned out to have a few fresh bagels in it, so he cut one in half length-wise and stared at the broken toaster, grimacing at the memory. Okay, something else to add to the list of things to do today. Buy a toaster. Meanwhile, the oven worked, and he cranked the dial to broil and put the bagel on the top rack.

See, I've been up almost half an hour, and I still haven't looked at the spot he died. And he wouldn't look there. It didn't matter, really, if he looked or not, Blair reasoned, his back to the living room, because there was nothing there to see. Jim had commented on that last night, that the forensic team had done double-duty in cleaning the place, once the initial pictures were taken. Simon's input, no doubt. There's nothing to see there; no reason for me not to turn and look out the window to see what's happening with the weather. No reason at all.

But he didn't turn around, because . . . he had to check his bagel. Then find some cream cheese for it. Then get some more coffee. And sit at the table with his back to the couch. He ate the bagel, chewing resolutely. Washing it down with orange juice, then with coffee when it seemed to lodge in his throat. Then sitting, waiting for it all to digest.

But the couch was still behind him. This is stupid.

He turned around, half-expecting to see Incacha still lying there, or else some ghostly image of the man hovering over the spot, but there was only the couch, minus the blanket. There had been a note the previous evening saying that two cushions and the blanket had been left at a nearby dry cleaners, and a third cushion and towel had been taken in as evidence. There had been a lot of blood.

Blair swallowed again, willing his breakfast to stay down.

There had been a lot of blood. Incacha had never really had a chance, not after moving around so much after he had been injured. The doctors said that maybe if he had been brought to a hospital immediately, they could have done something; they wouldn't really know without an autopsy.

Forms. Blair jumped to his feet and got the university forms he needed from his backpack. He'd do his forms. And not think about the blood.

Or the hand that had grabbed his arm.

Or what Incacha had said to him.

Or what Jim had looked like when Incacha had said it.

Ellison put the phone down, thoughtfully staring at the receiver for a moment longer before releasing it.

"No one home?" Banks asked, paging through a ream of documents on his desk.

"Or he's not answering." The detective moved to the venetian blinds and peered through them to the bullpen's telephone message pigeon-holes, then zeroed in on one pink slip that had his name on it. "Blair's gone to the university . . . I can't read when it says he'll be back."

Banks looked up, a half-smile on his face. "Jim, you shouldn't be able to read it at all-- I wouldn't complain, if I were you." He pulled a single piece of paper from the pile. "It's almost noon. Have you tried the Peruvian consulate again?"

Ellison turned around, the chiseled jaw clenched, as it had been all morning. "I've left about ten messages. I even called the embassy in Washington, D.C. All they will tell me is that they are in communication with the government in Peru, and are considering their options."

"That's all you can really expect, Jim. He came into the country illegally. No passport. No visa. He murdered a citizen--"

"In self-defense!" Ellison shouted, the words echoing in the captain's office.

Banks met his fierce glare with a cold stare of his own. "Jim, you know we only have his word for that. There's been no inquiry into the murder yet, whether it was pre-meditated, accidental, or cold-blooded murder. Either way, we do this by the book. Do you understand me?"

"Yes, I understand you." Ellison fought to keep his voice under control, but it was tenuous at best. Even now, Simon had an irritated look on his face.

He breathed out, hearing Blair's coaching on how to calm himself. He clicked his senses down, lower than usual, anything to downplay the annoying distractions.

He was still at his desk several hours later, on hold with the Peruvian consulate, when Blair walked into the Major Crimes bullpen and dropped a bag of donuts on his desk. "For me?" he mouthed, as his caller came back to the phone.

Sandburg nodded, pulling up a chair to the corner of the desk and poking through the paperwork and scribbled notes.

"Yes, sir, I understand your situation. But meanwhile we have a body here--" Ellison grimaced as the man at the other end interrupted him yet again. "No, there is no paperwork on him yet, but I can identify him--" He tried another few times to get his point across, but the jumble of bureaucratic talk that came back at him left him more angry than satisfied that someone was listening to what he was saying. He hung up the phone finally, with yet another half-baked promise from the consulate that someone would "look into it immediately" and "would get back to him as soon as possible."

He rubbed his eyes, glancing over to Sandburg. "I didn't expect to see you here today."

Blair shrugged, staring at the desk. "I finished what I had to do at the university, so thought I'd come by. Looks like you've got some paperwork I could help you with."

"What about you? Are you okay?" Ellison asked softly.

"Come on, Jim. It was just a nightmare. I think yesterday was screwed up enough to warrant a nightmare, don't you?" Blair tried to accompany his words with a smile, but it ended up turning into a crude caricature of his normal grin. "Uh, have you made any headway with . . . you know . . . the morgue thing?"

Ellison shook his head. "Some. I've received assurance from this end that the body will be kept in the morgue for another day at least, while the Peruvian government decides what they're going to do. He wasn't here legally, and both governments are sidestepping around the problem right now."

Sandburg was picking at the edge of the desk blotter with one fingernail. "Do you mind if I ask a few questions?"

"Of me?" Ellison frowned. "Of course you can ask. You know that."

"I'm just a little skittish at the moment, okay? At lot of shit happened in a small window of time and I'm still trying to sort it all out."

"I relate, believe me."

"Okay . . . Question number one is the same one I asked the other morning: How did a member of one of the last primitive tribes in the world get five thousand miles from a rain forest in Peru to the underground parking garage of Cyclopes Oil? How did they know which freighter to get on in Peru? How were they able to live during the trip here--taking, I assume, at least a few weeks? How did they get, unnoticed, to the freighter in Peru, or out of the freighter here, through the docks, and through Cascade city undetected? How did they find Bud Toren in Bayside Park? How did they get into and out of the security-sensitive parking garage at Cyclopes Oil? It took your badge to get us past the guard at the entrance and get him to raise the security gate. How did they get that picture of Spalding--the local tribal newspaper? How did they know he was the Chief of the Great Eye since he's never been to Peru before? How did they--"

"Whoa, Sandburg." Ellison sat back in his chair and closed his eyes, fighting the growing headache. "Slow down. You're losing me."

Blair's voice dropped low enough for only Ellison's sensitive ears to hear, aware of others in the room. "Jim, you can't just pass this off to Incacha being some super-shaman. I think he had help. That they were set up by someone. Someone got them on that ship and helped them once they got here--giving them food and letting them stay on that roof. There were security cameras up there, as well as sprinklers. They had a fire going up there, Jim. Who turned off the sprinklers then? That was done manually, and I doubt if they would have been able to figure it out on their own. You set the thing off when you shot at it, so it was working then. Incacha was a primitive--"

"I don't like your use of the word 'primitive'. Or Simon's use of it, for that matter. Incacha was not--"

"I'm an anthropologist. I have great respect from him and his people. I wasn't insulting him." Sandburg's voice was hard. Cold.

"You came pretty close. Incacha wasn't just some ignorant savage--"

"I didn't say that, Jim." Blair stood up, knocking his chair backwards. "Damn you, don't push me, man. I can't take it right now," he whispered harshly, ignoring the curious glances in their direction.

Ellison raised his hands, surrendering the comment and then motioning for Blair to sit down again. "Just watch how you word things."

Sandburg remained standing. "I am. Now I admit that Incacha may have been able to find you once he got to Cascade, based on his shaman/sentinel relationship with you, but that doesn't explain all that other stuff. And what about the other Chopec? Have they been found yet? They need help."

Jim glanced away, his eyes flickering around the room, restlessly.. I know. I just don't have the energy to deal with this. "I'll ask around, Sandburg."

"Are you telling me there are no search parties out there?" Blair leaned forward, resting his hands on the desk as he bent over his partner, staring at him face-to-face, his almost voiceless words loud to Ellison's ears. "Come on, Jim. What's going on? What's happened to those Sentinel-of-the-tribe instincts? What's wrong with you? I can't believe you don't already have a whole crew of guys combing the docks looking for the remaining Chopec. I can't believe you aren't out there yourself, making sure they're okay. Who else would they trust? What are they supposed to do? They're five thousand miles away from Peru! Are they just supposed to hang around the docks waiting for someone to offer them a ride?" Sandburg was talking so fast it was hard for Ellison to follow what he was saying.

He turned his head and stared at Blair, his head buzzing. "The docks? Why?"

"Why? Why? Didn't they say that they were going to capture Spalding and take him to a boat that leaves tonight?"

"Hold it, now. Spalding is safe, in custody. And the boat was supposed to leave last night," Ellison corrected automatically, his thoughts spinning on the idea. He had the strangest desire to punch Sandburg right in the face, anything to make him talk a little slower.

"Did you check it out?" Blair persisted. "Did you check to see if any boats left last night? What's wrong with you, Jim?" he asked again, his voice down to a whisper. "Is there something you're not telling me?"

Jim closed his eyes, blocking the sensory input of the office. His entire focus had been on Incacha and his personal loss of the Chopec shaman who had taken him in. In his mind, the case was over. The man who shot Incacha was arrested.

But it wasn't over yet, not by a long shot.

What was wrong with him?

He found the energy to turn and smile, the affection on his face clearly read by his young partner. "And you wonder why I keep you around? Let's go."

"Where to?" Blair asked, cautiously, still uncertain as to the sudden change of reaction from the detective.

"To the docks." He popped into Simon's office long enough to say where he was going, and then led the way down to the underground garage. Alone with Sandburg in the precinct car he was using while his damaged truck was being assessed, he turned quietly, watching the young man do up his seatbelt. "Let me say this quickly, before we get back to the case. I didn't answer you the other day, and you deserve an answer. Chief," he took a steadying breath, "if anything should ever happen to my senses, and they permanently vanished for some reason, I would still want you with me for as long as you wanted to be. I do need you. You ground me in more ways than just my senses, please understand that. Like you said once, it's about friendship and that works both ways. That's all I wanted to say." He started the car and pulled out of the parking spot, heading up the ramp, well aware of the silence beside him.

Finally, several blocks later, he felt a hand on his arm. Blair was looking out the far window, but the gesture was understood. When the warm touch lifted, he was still left was the calming sensation of Blair beside him.

Blair stared out the side window of the precinct car, blinking back the tears that were flooding to his eyes. They were almost at the shipping yard, and still he couldn't get control over his emotions. He was just so damned tired, and the tears welled up every time he thought of Janet Meyers, or Incacha, or what Incacha had said to him, or even what Jim had just said to him.

Janet's funeral was in three days; her family had told him that when he phoned them from the university. He had only told them he was an old friend of hers from her protesting days, not that he was the one who had her killed.

"Are you planning on going to Janet's funeral?" Jim asked.

Blair turned his head sharply, wincing at the sudden pain in his neck. How did you know what I was thinking of? But Jim only glanced over to him, then back to the road. "I think I should. I want to. After all . . ."

"I don't think it's a good idea, Chief. Let them grieve her alone. They don't know you, and your appearance there would only lead to questions."

"Maybe they deserve answers for why she died."

"Then let the police give them. That's not your job."

"If you recall, I was the one who involved her in this."

"She was aware of the risk she was taking. Why else would she mail us the information as well as bringing us copies that night?" Ellison pulled into one of the visitors' parking spaces outside the shipping yard. "This is where the Cyclopes Oil's freighter was docked, the one that came in last week. It was supposed to have left last night, but never did. It's still here."

"Then why didn't you check it before?"

Ellison opened the door of the car. "I don't know." He looked over the top of the sedan to Blair. "Your questions were good ones, Chief. I guess I just wasn't ready to ask them myself yet. And that's not a good excuse." They stared across the docks to the harbor and the freighter moored there. "Let's go."

Blair followed him through the maze of cables, fork lifts, and cargo, to the shipping office. He let Jim handle the questions, choosing instead to wander around the outside of the building and look across to where the Cyclopes-owed freighter was. It was hard to imagine five Chopec warriors being able to pass unseen through this area. There was only one way off the boat, except by the cranes, and that would mean passing in plain sight of everyone on the docks. He supposed they could have jumped into the water and swam to shore, but even that was risky.

How could they have gotten back on again, especially when they had planned to take Spalding with them? It was one thing for them to slip unnoticed themselves, but dragging the president of Cyclopes, too? No, they had to have had help somewhere along the line.

He felt a presence approach and turned to see Jim coming alongside him. "I have a cargo list here from the last shipment in. In Peru, there were several crates added to the manifest, two of which were authorized by Bud Toren. According to the receiver, the crates were moved into storage by Toren upon their arrival, and once customs had inspected them, the shipping goods--listed as tools being returned to Cyclopes for repair--were released to the company."

"Do you think the crates were big enough to hide the warriors?"

"Let's go take a look." Ellison held up a hand-drawn map, then proceeded Sandburg across the lot to a chained storage area bearing the Cyclopes logo.

A worker was waiting for them at the gate, opening it for them, then closing it afterwards. He led them to the crates in question, and Blair blinked in surprise at their size. Either of them could have easily held a small car. There were tiny slits in the crates, allowing for fresh air. Both were empty. Jim glanced around the interiors as the worker shone his flashlight through them, but Blair knew that the Sentinel was checking out the crates with his senses. He waited until they were safely outside the storage area before asking, "Anything?"

"The smell has faded, but they were there at one point. Incacha and Ali were in the smaller one, and Moi, Nanto and Amo were in the other."

"So who locked them in there?"

Ellison shook his head, staring out to the trees beyond the fence surrounding the dock area. "Let's go for a walk." He started out along the outside of the chain-link fence, Blair trailing behind him expectantly. A quarter mile along the waterfront, Jim paused, looking intently into the woods.

"Here?" Blair asked.

He nodded, then called out in the Chopec language. He walked into the edge of the woods and crouched down, calling out again.

"What are you saying?" Blair asked in a whisper.

"Just their names. Asking them to come out and talk to me." Jim kept looking slowly from left to right, waiting.

The three remaining Chopec materialized out of the woods, slowly approaching Jim. Two were wounded: one in the leg and the other in the arm, crude bandages wrapped around the injured limbs. They approached Jim with weary reverence, reluctant to come forward, yet compelled to as he was the Sentinel of the area. They glanced at Blair as well, short curious looks, as though expecting him to do something. Finally, they crouched down beside Jim and talked to him, answering his questions.

Ellison turned to Sandburg, and gestured him forward, then reached into his wallet and handed him two twenty dollar bills and his car keys. "They're hungry. Can you go get them something? Some fruit and vegetables. Maybe some corn bread. I don't know what else-- Just see what you can get. You probably know better than I what kind of food is best."

Blair nodded, backing away from them. He knew Jim wasn't trying to get rid of him, but Blair had also seen the wary look in the Chopecs' eyes, and had known they were afraid of him. Usually he was the one to win people over, but this time it was Jim who held their attention and trust. Blair stumbled over the uneven ground as he left, wiping the sweat from his forehead. He didn't like being feared. For some reason, it scared him.

Heart thumping, he worked his way back to the car and found a corner market a mile from the dock. There wasn't much of a selection, but he did what he could, adding the few dollars he had left in his pocket to buy nine bottles of water, hopefully enough to last the three warriors until they could be helped properly; any streams in the woods by the docks should definitely be given a miss. The grocer packed everything in one box for him and helped him cart it out to the car. Almost thirty minutes had past before Blair got back to the dock and started along the path, arms growing tired quickly from the heavy box.

Guess I'm still shaky from last night. Weird dream.

Jim came out to meet him, taking the box from him without a word, then leading him into the woods where the Chopec waited. They pounced on the food, hungry for anything. Ellison watched them for a few minutes, said a brief farewell, and left them to their meal.

"Jim, we can't just leave them out here," Blair said, following him back down the path.

"What do you suggest we do, Chief?" the detective asked, not slowing his long strides. "Put them up at the Pacific Hotel? I'm sure they'll be comfortable there."

"I don't know," Blair said, trying to keep up. "What if someone finds them? What if someone comes after them?"

"They can take care of themselves."

"Two of them are injured."

"They're fine. They don't want any more help from us, other than getting them back to their own land. They don't want to die here." Ellison's jaw was clenched tight, the muscle moving in his cheek. Blair remained quiet, shadowing him back along the fence to their car, then getting in quickly when Jim unlocked the door for him.

"Did they tell you anything?" he ventured, finally.

"There was someone else," Ellison said, as the car pulled out of the lot. "I'm going to run the information through our files at the station."

"Do you know who it is?"

"Not by his full name. They called him Jake. Nanto said Jake lived with them in the village for a few months, and from what they described, I suspect he was an environmental watchdog studying the effect of the oil industry on their area. Either government or through some 'Save the Rainforest' group. Most likely there were some toxic chemicals and oil spills in the rivers, poisoning the area, not just the trees being cut. Nanto described helicopters hovering over their village, frightening them, herding them away while wells were dug to check for oil. This 'Jake' had promised to help them rid the area of Hale Corporation and its bulldozers and drills, and to help them seek justice for the murder and deaths of Chopec people."


"He said he would help them get to the city of the Chief of the Great Eye--Cyclopes--and once there, they would be able to capture the chief and take him back to their own area for trial by the tribe's elders. He gave them the picture of Spalding. He also helped them into the crates in Peru, along with Bud Toren."

"Toren? Toren brought the Chopec to Cascade?"

"It sounds like it. Toren and Jake spoke often with Incacha, planning something to convince the Chief of the Great Eye that he must stop the killing. Jake arranged for them to be locked in the crates before they were loaded onto the freighter, but Toren had also been there. He must have flown directly back to Cascade, while the boat traveled north."

"What about this Jake guy?"

"I'm not sure if he flew up, or if he was on the freighter with them. Nanto didn't know; if Jake was on the freighter, they didn't see him during the entire trip. No one came near the crates they were in. But when they got here and they met with Toren again, it seems he had changed his mind and wanted them to go back to the dock and the crates and he would send them back to Peru. He didn't want them to approach Spalding at all."

Ellison drove down the streets, only partially aware of his route. "As for the rest of it, it's hard to figure out, since they didn't understand what was said between Jake and Toren. They said that Jake was angry and fought verbally with Toren. He told them that Toren was betraying them. Toren became angry and frightened and drew his gun, shooting at them when they approached him. It only took one shot to convince them to stay back, then he took his dog and left, hurrying off to his car. After Toren was out of sight, Jake told them that Toren was going to get something from his car that would kill them all and their mission would be lost, so Incacha went after Toren and killed him with the dart."

Blair whistled softly, looking across to Jim. "So this Jake guy, he lied to them."

"Maybe. We weren't there, Chief. We don't know if Nanto and the others really knew what Jake was arguing with Bud Toren about. We only know what Jake told Incacha."

"So Jake was the one who took them to Cyclopes and he had them stay at the forest in the sky."

"Yes. I don't know what his tie-in is to that building, though. He told them that when they had captured Spalding, they were to meet him in the forest by the dock, and he would help them on board the boat. So far, he hasn't come."

"Do you think it's because they don't have Spalding?"

"Maybe. Most likely Bud Toren had made the arrangements and the Cyclopes executive needed to be there to get them through the gates and past the guards. Jake wouldn't have that kind of authority." Ellison turned into the police garage. "I'm going to make a few phone calls to the Peruvian embassy and start putting out some feelers on who this 'Jake' might be. Sandburg, you're the anthropologist-- I want you to brainstorm how we get these Chopec warriors back to Peru with the least amount of trauma to them." He backed into the parking stall, exited the precinct car, and was pushing the button to the elevator before Blair had unbuckled his seatbelt.

The next morning, Ellison sipped at his hot coffee, slowly noticing how tired Sandburg still looked, despite him dropping off to sleep the moment they returned to the loft shortly after midnight. They had got at least six hours sleep--sans nightmares--more shuteye than he usually took during a case, but it was obvious his loft-mate needed more today. Blair seemed to have to put a lot of effort into everything he was doing, only half-heartedly eating his breakfast and downing his coffee.

"When do your classes end?"

"Today? At one o'clock. I've . . . uh . . . got some things I've got to do, then I'll come straight to the station, probably around two o'clock." Sandburg got up and ran his fingers over the spines of the books he had stacked by the door, double-checking the titles. "Damn, I'm missing one. Did you see me with a textbook yesterday when I was at the station? Probably with a red cover. I wonder if I left it there."

Ellison shook his head. "All I remember you carrying was the bag of donuts."

"Great. Just great. I better have left it in my office and not at the donut store, or if I do manage to get it back, someone will have ripped out all the pictures." Blair grabbed his jacket, briefcase, lap top, and the books, and somehow got out the door before Jim could get there to open it for him or ask what he meant about the pictures. Probably one of those anthropology texts with pictures of naked women, the same reason why National Geographic was well-loved by young boys.

"Anything I can do? Do you want me to drop by the donut shop and see if it's there?"

"No, I'm fine. I'll see you later, Jim," Blair called back over his shoulder, not slowing his pace at all.

Ellison listened to him stumble down the stairs and juggle everything out to his car. Blair cursed periodically as something threatened to escape his precarious hold, but eventually he got the Volvo started and the car chugged off down the street. Ten minutes later, the kitchen cleaned, the detective was also on his way to the station.

Once there, Ellison cautiously went on-line and ventured onto the Internet, pulling down the search engine that Sandburg had set up for him. "Peru. Oil. Indians." He typed in the three words, then spent the next five minutes flipping through the files it brought up. He tried again with "Peru. Indians. Amazon." Some sites were the same, but there was a few new ones. Then he tried "Peru. Environment. Rainforests." That brought up a huge amount of sites to visit, finally narrowing in on two groups operating in the area.

Proud of himself, Ellison glanced at his watch and was then shocked that ninety minutes had already gone by. He got up and stretched, got some coffee, then sat back at the computer and pulled up the information on the two groups and printed it. Armed with a few pertinent names to go by, he then called the names into the police files and the databank in Records and Information.

"Ellison. Line Two!" Ryf called out, heading into Bank's office.

He rolled his chair back to his desk and spoke with a member of the Peruvian government, one who was surprisingly concerned about not only the two dead warriors, but also the safe return of the three live Chopecs. It was a relief to speak to someone who was well aware of the cultural considerations, and who was also an expert in international laws. When Ellison finally hung up the phone, he felt optimistic for the first time in two days.

He let Rhonda know he was heading out for lunch, then made his way back to the woods where the Chopec were hiding. They were glad to see him, although one of them was not feeling too well, which concerned Ellison as he had just read on the Internet about the large number of indigenous people in Peru who died from contact with the outside world; they just didn't have the resistance to flu, pneumonia, and other viruses. Moi let the Sentinel check him over, standing silently as Jim monitored his heart and his lungs. Ellison couldn't tell if the man's stomach ache was from anything other than stress, his injury, and unfamiliar food and water. At this point, it seemed better to wait, rather than drag the young man into a wildly terrifying experience of Cascade General. There were many ways to contaminate a man.

He summoned the three together, and they listened intently to his report of what their situation was, patiently helping as he stumbled over the Chopec words. Following Blair's suggestion of the previous night, when Jim had asked for ideas on how to handle the situation, the sentinel gave the young Chopec warriors a choice of coming back to the loft with him, or remaining where they were, and they chose to stay in the relative safety and familiarity of the woods.

By the time he returned to the office, Sandburg was there, hair pulled back in a ponytail and glasses on as he bent over Ellison's computer. Jim was relieved to see him looking reasonably calm. "Hi, Chief."

"Jim!" A fleeting smile greeted him. "I saw your search history on the net. Way to go, big guy. You've figured it all out at last. There's hope for you yet." Blair actually looked proud of him.

"I've got a good teacher, Professor," Ellison responded, tousling the top of Blair's head. "What's the R & I report say?" he asked, slipping into the chair Sandburg had vacated and pointing to the open document on his desk.

"They think the guy you're looking for is Jacob Lockman. As recent as one year ago, he was in trouble with the Peruvian government for demonstrating against two of the oil companies in the south region, and he's recently been seen in the rainforest area in the northeast and has filed reports from a base in Iquitos. It says that Lockman is a member of the Amazon Rainforest Protection Coalition, which is one of the more radical environmental groups in South America right now. Their actions in Brazil in 1992 and 93 had the state governor haul out over five thousand military police armed with machine guns to avert their demarcation of the rainforest."

Ellison scanned the report quickly, his eyebrows rising. "Did you notice the address of the group here in Cascade?"

Sandburg shook his head and leaned in to read the line Jim was pointing to. "Where's that? Oh, hey, the building with the green house on top? The one the Chopecs were staying in?"

Ellison nodded. "According to this, the westcoast office of the Amazon Rainforest Protection Coalition is on the top floor. It appears to be funded by private donations, and guess who is listed on the board of directors of ARPC?"

"Bud Toren?"

"You got it. Let's go. Grab your stuff." Ellison stopped by Simon's office to quickly talk to the captain and arrange a warrant to bring in Lockman for questioning and to arrange an investigation canvassing car rental agencies to see it Lockman had rented a vehicle while in Cascade. He had to have some way of getting around.

They went to the building, along with a squad car and two other officers, but the ARPC Western Headquarters were already closed until the next morning. Up in the green house atop the building, Ellison took a close look around, taking the opportunity to check it out, but he found nothing to add to what they already knew. He called the information in, then signed off for the day, advising the station that his cell phone was on in case anyone from the Peruvian consulate needed to talk to him.

It was only early evening, but he was tired. Blair stretched his legs, rubbing at the aching muscles in his lower back. He had tried to eat, but the whole idea of food was putting him off.

Sitting across from him in the restaurant, Jim finished his hamburger, absently popping the french fries into his mouth as he read first a writeup on the ARPC and their beliefs and recent activities, and then Lockman's stat sheet. "He's got a history of demonstrating and resisting arrest. Chaining himself to trees--"

"So do I, Jim," Blair interrupted. "And I don't think 'resisting arrest' is accurate, either. Peaceful non-compliance sounds better. Janet and I once . . ." His voice trailed off, and he swallowed quickly. Shit. Why did I ever go talk to her? It wasn't worth her being killed. It wasn't worth a life.

"If Jake Lockman is an eco-terrorist, he may have considered one or two lives a reasonable trade for an entire ecosystem. You had no way of knowing that and neither did Janet. Mitch Yager was the one who killed Janet, the one responsible for her death." Ellison looked up, the concern in his eyes showing he was well aware of his partner's feelings.

Blair stared across at him, transfixed. "Am I that transparent?" he asked, softly. "You're responding to me before I even verbalize anything these days."

"It's pretty obvious what you're going through. Your reactions are normal."

"So it's normal to feel that you've let everyone around you down? That you screwed up royally and now someone is dead because you involved them in something they wouldn't have even known about otherwise? That you've been told you're a shaman and you know you don't have the abilities to be a shaman? That you're afraid to do what you know you have to? That you don't even know where the damned animal spirits are or if they're real?"

Ellison made a soothing gesture, probably aimed at calming him down. "You helped me up on the roof, Chief. You told me to go look for them and I found them."

Blair felt like a volcano ready to erupt. "Well, I'm glad you know where the animal spirits are, because I certainly don't! I have no idea what's going on here! Oh, I know from an anthropological viewpoint what a shaman is and what a shaman does, but this is different, man. What Incacha was talking about is totally different from that. Before, I was like this seeing eye dog, guiding you when you needed help, pulling you back if you zoned or something. This is so far beyond that, that it scares the hell out of me. I don't have a clue what to do here. Not a damned clue!" Blair could hear his voice getting louder and dropped it to a whisper again, before anyone else in the restaurant started looking at them. His heart rate was soaring and he knew, the moment he met his partner's eyes, that Jim knew just how fast it was.

A strong hand rested on his shoulder, more of an affectionate blessing than an attempt at restraint. "It's not going to happen overnight, Chief. And I think you're mistaken about your abilities. There was very little difference between what Incacha did with me when I was in Peru and what you do with me. Except with you, it's natural. No drugs, no special diet and ritual. No mumbo-jumbo. With you, it's pure communication. It's better. I couldn't do my job and be part of Incacha's world, but you are in my world. You talk to me. And I can hear you when I listen. That's all there is to it. Incacha's last words were cloaked in imagery and I may not have had the right words to translate it to you. But the gist of it was straightforward: He told me to take care of you, and told you to take care of me. That's all." When his partner didn't respond after a full thirty seconds, he added, "Chief? You with me?"

Blair looked up, startled. "Oh. Uh . . . yeah. Sorry, Jim. Bit tired, I guess. What time is it?"

"Seven-thirty. Eat up and we'll go home." Ellison kept his frown to himself. Sandburg had cut the deli sandwich in half, but after twenty minutes, hadn't yet taken a bite. "Something wrong with your sandwich?"

Blair shrugged. "Not hungry. It's been a long day." He drained his iced latte and pushed the glass away, then reached for his glass of water. "More thirsty than anything. You said Lockman had been in trouble before. Any signs of violence or anything like that?"

Ellison flipped back through the R & I papers. "Most of the charges are for demonstration and obstruction, and he once served six months for spiking a tree in British Columbia, but that's it. Up until now, he hasn't killed anyone, although a logger could have been badly injured by his actions. He is the one responsible, however, for Toren's death, regardless of whether Incacha blew the dart at him or not."

"Which makes him a potential menace now."

"Exactly. Guys like Lockman know the ropes. I suspect he'll probably abandon the Chopec in the woods and not make any attempt to help them get back to Peru. Realistically, how would he manage it? Toren would have been the one who was supposed to smuggle them in and out. Lockman's scheme may have failed on one hand, but on the other, it succeeded quite well. With the investigation going on over Hale Corporation, all operations in Peru have stopped for the time being." Ellison came up empty on his plate, and realized he had eaten the last French fry. He pushed the cutlery and plate back, suddenly angry. "Meanwhile, we've got three frightened men hiding in the woods and a hundred roadblocks thrown up before we can get them home safely."

Blair rested his hand briefly on Jim's arm. "We'll do something. Even if the government can't help us, we'll help them, Jim. They know that, don't they?"

Jim nodded, then reached for his phone when it rang. "Ellison."

"Jim? Lockman's rental car was just spotted near the dock area, at the northern end of the parking lot. Isn't that near where you said the Chopec were? Do you want in on this? We could use your help," Banks said. "It's getting dark, if you know what I mean."

"What about Lockman?"

"No sign of him, but, Jim, the car he came in is still warm. He's probably in there somewhere, looking for the Chopec."

"The exits are blocked?"

"We're working on it. The roads are blocked. But if he walked from the car, he wouldn't have time to get across to any of them yet anyway. We have police blocking each exit of the road out. There's a big fence along the highway about a half mile in that's also being monitored. If he comes out of the woods, we'll find him. But there's a lot of places to hide in that many acres."

"I'm on my way. It'll take us at least twenty minutes, if we make good time." Ellison shut down the phone, gathering up his partner with a brief motion. "Come on, Chief. We may have cornered Lockman."

"Where?" Sandburg downed the rest of his drink, waving at the waitress to get her attention. "Can I get this to go?" he called out, holding up the plate with his sandwich, still untouched

"We don't have time. Just leave it. I'm heading out to the car."

"No way, man. This cost me $6.00. Maybe on your wage you can afford to waste food, but I'm not-- Hey!" Blair exclaimed, as Jim picked up his sandwich, wrapped it in a napkin, and shoved it in Blair's jacket pocket. "What are you doing?"

"I'm heading out to the car. Coming?" Jim dropped a twenty dollar bill on the table and smiled at the waitress as he pushed his partner out of the restaurant in front of him. "You know, Chief," he said as they got into the car, "if you wanted to eat that sandwich, you had plenty of time to eat it in."

"I didn't want to waste it, Jim."

"Then why did you order it?"

"Because it was good for me. I thought if I ate it, I'd feel better."

He turned and stared at Sandburg as they reached the car.

"Okay, I just didn't feel like eating it," Blair said, with a shrug.

"Sandburg, one day you'll get your mind and body to agree on something, and all of our questions will be answered."

"Funny, Jim. Very funny."

"Can I wear your jacket?"

Ellison paused, halfway out of the car, glancing at his windbreaker lying on the seat between them. "You're already wearing a jacket, Chief. What's wrong with yours?"

Sandburg shrugged. "I'm just cold, I guess. Shouldn't have had that iced latte. Too late in the year. I've just got to come to grips with the fact that summer is over, despite the date on the calendar. Can I?" he asked again, reaching for the jacket.

"Sure." Ellison shut the door and moved across the parking lot to join Banks and Brown.

Blair followed his partner, struggling to put the larger jacket over his own. His headache had started on the drive over, and his muscles and joints ached as he maneuvered his arms through sleeves. His vision was blurring around the edges and he had the horrible feeling he was going to have a migraine. He hadn't had one in years and had thought he had grown out of them. Taking a few deep breaths to hopefully clear his head, he jogged quickly to catch up to Ellison's longer strides.

Jim was into his 'detective' mode, all business. "What's happening here?" he asked, with no preamble.

Banks scratched at his neck, shaking his head. "According to the officers on the scene, Lockman came out of the woods toward them, then saw them and turned around and hightailed it back into the trees." He pointed north of the docks, where the forest was still largely untouched for almost fifteen miles along the coast and up the inlet. "The officers couldn't see if Lockman was armed or not. They notified the other patrols to watch for him, and gave a description of what he was wearing. The fact that he ran, means he's guilty about something."

"So why are you here, sir?" Ellison asked, keeping his voice formal.

Sandburg drew closer to Ellison, turning up the long sleeves of the jacket as he listened to the captain's reply.

"You've got to admit this is an unusual case, Jim. It's not often we have three illegal aliens, primitive tribesmen from Peru, known killers, wearing bizarre body paint and not much else, and armed with pre-historic darts, blowguns, and bows and arrows, running around loose in Cascade. -- What is it, Sandburg?" Simon barked, as Blair waved his arms in an attempt to have the captain choose his words more carefully.

Jim knew though. "I think Sandburg is objecting to your use of the word 'primitive' and some of your other more descriptive phrases. I know I am objecting to them." He turned a cold blank stare to his captain, looking over Bank's shoulder rather than directly at his face.

Simon wouldn't budge. "And how would you describe them, Ellison?"

"I would say, sir, that three Chopec warriors, in full battle markings, and armed with their tribe's traditional weaponry, have been brought into Cascade under false pretenses, and now are doing their best to cope with this understandably confusing situation. I believe it is our duty to offer them whatever protection we can, within their understanding and approval, and see to it that they are returned, as soon as possible, to the safety of their homeland."

Banks stared at him for a moment, then shook his head and shrugged, mumbling the word 'semantics' under his breath. "Jim, I want you to vest up. We don't know if Lockman is armed. To our knowledge, he has not personally attacked anyone yet, but cornered, we don't know how he'll react."

Ellison nodded and went over to the police van to collect a kelvar vest. Blair started to follow him, but Banks grabbed his arm. "You, Sandburg, are staying here with me. It's too dangerous out there."

"Come on, Simon. You know I have to be there with him." Blair closed his eyes for a moment, trying to blink away the images forming at the edge of his vision.

"Not this time, you don't. Jim isn't going to zone out, or whatever you want to call it. He's just going to look for some tracks, to see if he can find out where Lockman went."

"And he'll be able to do that a lot better with me there." Sandburg shook out of Banks' grasp on his arm and stalked toward the police van.

"Ellison," Banks called out, "he's not going with you. That's final. Would you mind explaining that to him or do you want me to handcuff him to the back of my car?"

Blair whirled on the captain. "I told you that--" He felt a tug on his shoulder and his partner pulled him around the corner of the van. "I have to go with you, Jim. Tell him that."

"Chief, I don't think you should go either. You look exhausted. I don't want to have to worry about you while I'm out there. I'll be fine."

"Jim, don't go. I can't-- I can't back you up, man. Don't go. Please."

Ellison pulled his sweater over his head and down, covering the vest. "I'm going to be fine, Chief. I'm taking Brown with me. I won't focus too tightly on anything. I'm just going to look around a bit and listen a bit."

"But I won't be there."

"You don't go with me during times like this anyway. This is no different. Plus the Chopec are out there; I need to warn them. What if Lockman plans to eliminate them and hide the bodies here? There would be no evidence against him then." Ellison took a few steps away, then came back as Blair stubbornly refused to let go of the topic.

"It's too dangerous." Sandburg shivered, still not meeting Jim's eyes. "Don't go."

Ellison shook his head. "Why? Is there something you feel is going to happen to me? Or do you just not want me to do my job without you around? Which is it?"

"I don't know." The shivering got worse.

Frustrated, Ellison paced while Sandburg leaned back against the police van, looking miserable. "I'll wear a microphone; you'll be able to hear me and talk to me."

"It's not the same as me being there."

"No, it's not. I'm not doubting that for a minute. If I had my choice, you'd be there. But you know Simon is right-- You'd be in danger out there. If there's a chance that I can help the Chopec warriors, I'm going to. Just go sit in the car and warm up a bit. Eat your sandwich; you haven't eaten much all day."

"But I'm supposed to be your spirit guide," Blair whispered. "And I don't know how to do that."

Jim's eyes darted off to the side, as if focusing on something.

"What is it?"

"The black panther again."

"Jim, there's no such thing as a black panther," Blair muttered, rubbing at his forehead, trying to ease the pain. "It's probably a melanistic jaguar, also known as a black jaguar, that you've seen. A jaguar is in the panthera family, known in Latin as panthera onca, and that's probably where the mistaken term 'black panther' comes from. It has a darker coat which gives it better camouflage in the darkness of the rainforest and affords the jaguar better success in hunting and surviving. If you were to see it in full daylight, you'd be able to make out the characteristic markings of a jaguar as black on black. The Amazon Indians often worship jaguars as gods., and the shaman communicated with them to learn about the future, usually while . . ." His voice trailed off as he ran out of air, wondering what had brought that burst of trivia out of his mouth. I've been reading too much. My thoughts are spilling out of my brain.

Ellison smiled down at him affectionately, then looked away and gave him a brief hug. "I'm going. The black jaguar is standing at the edge of the woods. I'll be fine. I'll be careful," he promised, but Blair couldn't meet his eyes.

His head felt heavy, the pounding on his temples growing worse by the second. He watched Jim walk away from him with a growing panic at the separation. He hadn't felt strange all day while at the university, and he had been miles away from Jim then. So why did he feel like he would never see his friend again?

He blinked back the fuzziness in his eyes, straining to see some sign of the black cat himself. But he saw nothing.

A cold draft seemed to whirl around him, working its way past his clothes, through his skin, and down into his very bones.

Simon stuck his head out the door of his car. "Sandburg, get over here." He looked back at the police computer until the kid joined him. "Anything from Ellison yet?"

"No, sir."

Sandburg's quiet response forced Banks head up. "Is he not broadcasting?"

"All he says is that he's okay and--" Blair bent over slightly, his hands wrapped around his stomach, the shivering pronounced now.

Simon got out of the car. "Are you okay?"

The answering nod was lost in the sudden violent chills that shook the young man, knocking him forward to fall against the car door.

"Sandburg?" Simon grabbed hold of his shoulders, lifting him up, frowning as the kid continued to shake, his teeth chattering loudly. "What's going on?"

"I-- I-- want-- to-- to-- to-- go-- to-- J-J-J-im." Sandburg grabbed hold of Simon's sweater, using the taller man as a crutch to stay upright.

"I think you better lie down, Blair." He steered Sandburg toward the back seat of his car, reaching around to unlock the door. "You've caught yourself a bad chill."

"I'm let-- let-- letting J-J-Jim d-d-down." The kid curled up along the back seat, clutching his stomach, and Banks had a sudden vision of him throwing up all over the carpet. "I can't t-t-talk to the b-b-black panther."

The police chief turned Sandburg's face toward the interior light of the car, wondering if the kid was stoned on something, but his eyes looked unfocused, not dilated. His skin, though, to touch, was cold and clammy. "You're not letting Jim down. I'm the one not letting you go out there. I'd be in a lot of trouble if I did. You're not trained for this kind of work."

"Help-- help-- Jim. I-- help-- Jim."

Banks shook his head again. "You're helping Jim by staying out of his way right now. He's not going to zone out--or whatever you want to call it--out there. He's being careful. You, on the other hand, are sick. And please let me know if you're going to throw up. It's impossible to get that smell out of a car. You've probably just got the same bad chill and flu that Daryl had last week. Jim is going to look around out there and come back here. If he can point us in the right direction, that's enough."

Banks went around to the trunk of his sedan and got out a blanket, bringing it back for the young man. "Just relax. Jim'll be back soon, and then you can go home and get some sleep. The doctor said rest was just the ticket for Daryl. In fact, why don't you get some sleep now? I suspect Jim will want to look around a bit."

At that, Sandburg pushed himself upright, eyes wide with desperation, and tried to scramble out of the car, but Simon blocked his way, wishing he could slap some sense into the young man. Sandburg often disagreed with him--and vocally so--but he had always ended up following Simon's orders. But it was obvious Blair had been hit hard by the flu bug, added to all the other stress the kid was under, and the police chief did his best to restrain him without hurting him.

"Let us take care of it. I promise I'll do everything in my power to keep him safe."

"My-- m-m-m-my responsibility," Blair cried out, with enough volume that one of the uniformed cops headed over to them. "He's my responsibility."

"Need any help, sir?" the uniform asked, approaching the car, and Banks waved him away.

"Sandburg, just stay here, lie quietly, and we'll monitor Ellison. You got that?" He kept his voice stern, but looked away in frustration on seeing the observer's tightly closed eyes and the tears that glistened on the long lashes. "Just rest. There's nothing out there that's going to hurt him."

"What about-- He d-d-doesn't know about the-- the-- Sachamama," Blair whispered, shivering wildly. "Simon! He doesn't know!"

"The what? What are you talking about, Sandburg?"

"La Sachamama. She'll eat--eat-- him." Blair's voice was close to hysterical now.

Banks, rested a hand on the kid's forehead. "Calm down. You're getting a fever and you're not making any sense."

"Listen to me, damn you. La Sachamama can devour him. She's a gigantic boa, forty meters long." Sandburg had sat up again, frantic eyes fixed on Simon as he babbled. "She'll eat him, Simon. I have to go to him. I have to tell him." The shaking resumed, and Blair had no energy to resist Banks' firm hands that pushed him back to lie on the car seat.

"I'll tell him to watch out for the boa, okay?" Banks said. "Will that make you feel better?"

Sandburg nodded, eyes closed, body shivering in painful spasms.

Banks watched him for a few minutes, then, satisfied that Blair was quieting down, left him to call Jim.

Ellison moved steadily through the trees, Brown on his heels. It helped somewhat to be able to see in the darkness, but he still had to watch where Brown was going. Blair seemed to be able to follow him easily in the dark, one hand resting lightly on his back for guidance. Ellison had the feeling Brown would give him a rather strange look if he suggested it, though.

Sandburg had certainly been upset about being left behind, and that gave Ellison the extra determination to be careful. Other than the one brief glimpse of the black panther--jaguar, he corrected, with a smile--there had been no sign of it. He could always count on the kid for coming up with some strange bit of information out of thin air. Which is exactly where the spirit guide had disappeared to, it seemed.

He kept his senses as normal as possible, avoiding a possible zone-out, allowing himself only the occasional long-range glimpse ahead or around them, to check out the area, or his hearing the intermittent catapult in different directions on the off-chance of catching where Lockman might be.

"Jim, do you read me?"

He reached up to his ear mike. "Yes, Simon. What is it?"

"Sandburg says to watch out for the Sachamama. Does that make any sense to you?"

Simon's voice sounded amused, so Jim allowed himself a smile in the dark. "Well, I've heard of one, sir. The Sachamama is a huge boa in Amazonian tribal myth, a serpent who lives in the forest and is so big that trees and plants grown on her. She waits for the unsuspecting animal or human to walk by her mouth, then sucks them in."

There was silence for a few seconds, then Banks' voice came back on. "Uh . . . any chance there's one around here?"

"Very little," Jim answered. "She prefers the Amazon rainforest."

"I'll pass that on to Sandburg. He's a little distressed that she'll eat you."

Beside him, Brown snorted, shaking his head, and Ellison remembered that the other police officer would be hearing everything. Which also made him realize that Simon was speaking as though Blair couldn't hear him.

"Why doesn't Sandburg have his microphone on?"

Simon's voice sobered. "I think he's got a touch of the flu. I've got him lying down in the back of my car. I'll keep an eye on him, Jim. Just do what you have to and get back here."

"We'll do that, sir." Ellison gave Brown a light slap on his shoulder and they headed out again. After twenty minutes of moving through the cedars, he stopped abruptly, listening. Chopec voices. Ahead somewhere, at the ten o'clock position. "Wait here."

"No way. Captain Banks said to stay with you. I'm staying." Brown looked determined.

"Stay here," Ellison repeated. "I . . . uh . . . last talked to the Chopec in this area, and I think they're afraid to show themselves with you here. Just wait a little ways away, and I'll call if I need help."

"Banks isn't going to like this."

"Well, I've got to make sure the Chopec are okay. And I want to let them know that Lockman is here somewhere."

Brown nodded in the darkness. "Fine. You've got seniority on me. I just want it on record that I didn't agree with this."

"It's on record," Banks' voice cut in.

Ellison clapped Brown lightly on the shoulder again, and moved quickly away into a gnarled thatch of trees that formed a slight protection from the elements. He called out his name softly, then the names of the Chopec. Again, almost without warning--even to his sentinel senses--two of them appeared from the branches of nearby trees, dropping to land near him. If he hadn't heard their heart beats, he wouldn't have known they were even in the area.

"We did not expect you to come back until the new day." Moi's arm was still wrapped tightly in a piece of cloth. Jim let his vision glance over the wound, and it appeared to have stopped bleeding. He could smell no signs of infection.

"The man you know as 'Jake' is in the woods. I am concerned that he might be looking for you to harm you."

"Why?" the young warrior asked, his head tilting to one side.

"He has no way to get you back on the boat, and to keep you alive would mean he risks having to be imprisoned."

"He fights for us. For our world."

"Yes," Ellison answered carefully. "But he fights in a bad way. He has no honor." This became more difficult, for the Chopec had a different view of justice and integrity than he did. Ellison understood their view, he just didn't happen to share it. What worked for them, in their world under their laws, didn't transfer to Cascade's world. It was something he and Incacha had debated many times.

He hadn't understood, at the time he had been living in Peru, what Incacha had been talking about, his being a sentinel. He had assumed it was just the Chopecs' reaction to his towering height and his military knowledge and weapons. When Blair Sandburg came out with an almost identical word in English, it had startled him. But Blair had explained it, at least was starting to explain it, in a way Ellison could understand. He didn't understand the whys of it all, but he was learning the hows. They both were.

Ellison turned as Nanto approached. The man at first seemed startled that he had been heard, then nodded his head, acknowledging Jim's heightened senses. "Jake has passed through here," Nanto said.

"Where is he?"

Nanto pointed behind him and east. "He travels north. He is searching for us. I followed him, as far as the creek with the bad water."

"Do not drink the water," Ellison cautioned. "Drink only the water in the bottles we gave you. It is good water, from a good river."

"We are following your instructions, Sentinel." They stood before him, waiting for him to say something more, and he wished he had some words of wisdom for them.

"I am doing what I can to bring you to your home again. To your families."

"We know, Sentinel."

"Don't leave this area, or I may not be able to find you again."

"We will stay, Sentinel."

Without anything more to say to them, Ellison turned and walked away, his jaw clenched in anger that Incacha, their leader, was dead. The tribe would have to find a new shaman and a new leader.

Brown was waiting for him in the same spot he had stood before. "Did you find them?"

"Yes. I've warned them about Jake." Ellison flicked on his microphone. "Captain, the Chopec say that Lockman is to the north, probably on the other side of the drainage ditch that empties into the bay."

"I'll pass that on to the others. Are you returning now?"

"Yes," Ellison touched the earpiece in his right ear, wondering if he had heard correctly the shades of meaning behind the question. "Tell Sandburg to get the car warmed up. We'll head home as soon as I get back."

"Just get back here," Simon said, closing off.

He moved carefully over the uneven ground, cautious of Brown's limited sight. He let himself stumble a few times, for appearance's sake, and ended up pulling his vision back to normal as they approached the edge of the trees and the bright lights of the parking lot sent long shadows across the field. Jim scanned ahead for Blair, sight changing to hearing when he couldn't see him. The familiar heart beat was there, but it was fast, Blair's breathing ragged.

The captain had said that Blair was lying down in the back of his car, so Ellison focused on the sedan, watching intently as Simon opened the front door and got out, waving him over. With a nod goodbye to Brown, Ellison jogged over to Banks. "Something wrong?"

"No, not really. Blair's just got the flu. He's quite chilled; I've got him lying down, covered in blankets. He'll be fine once you get him home."

Ellison strode past him and quietly opened the rear door. "Hey, Chief," he said softly, crouching down to place one hand on Blair's forehead. He could feel the fevered skin, hot beneath his palm.

Sandburg looked up at him, eyes accusing. "You left without me."

"I'm fine. I'm back." He concentrated on his touch, trying to gage the low-grade fever. "You still cold?"

Blair shook his head. "I'm okay now. Just a bit warm." His eyes were glazed though, his voice muted.

"You've got a temperature."

"Of course I do. Even dead, I'd have a temperature." Blair started shivering again, his teeth chattering.

"He's been doing that ever since you left. Fevers and chills. Sometimes it's been a lot worse," Simon said, bending over Jim's shoulder. "He's been delirious, too. Not making any sense.-- I know, it's hard to tell, but even for the kid, he's been a little off."

Blair cast an accusatory glare at Simon, then closed his eyes as another shaking fit started. Jim glanced over at Simon, somewhat a loss to know what to do. "He doesn't look well. I'm going to take him to the hospital."

"To sit in the waiting area along with the other thousand or more people in the city who currently have the flu? No, go home and call your doctor, tell him the symptoms, and pay for a house call. It's cheaper in the long run."

"I'm not sick. Just cold," Blair muttered, still shivering.

Ellison stood up, rubbing his forehead as he tried to come to a decision. "Come on, Chief. Let's get you home." Jim didn't realize he had such a worried look on his face until Simon touched his arm.

"I'll give you a hand. I was signing off for the night anyway. We'll get him settled, and then you can give me your report on the case. "

"Thanks, Simon. I appreciate it."

"Why don't you just leave him in my car? He's settled there already."

"No! Jim--?" Blair flailed out with one arm, trying to grab hold of Jim.

"Or, I could take him home in my car," Ellison said with resigned sigh, and he reached down to grab Blair under the arms. He pulled him along the back seat toward him, Simon catching the kid's feet as they cleared the car. Together they got him to his feet, which wasn't saying much. They had to practically drag him over to Jim's car and maneuver him into the front seat. Blair ended up curling into a little shivering ball, his hair covering his face and only the seatbelt kept him from sliding down to the floor.

"Oh, you have your hands full, all right," Simon said with a laugh.

"You're still coming over?"

"Well, I don't know, Jim. Maybe I'll head home and get to bed at a decent time tonight," Simon teased.

"I've got some coffee at home. Blair bought it at a speciality store. Top of the line." Ellison got in the front seat and looked over at his partner, shaking his head in dismay.

"I'm right behind you, Jim. Have the water boiling." Banks closed his back door and followed Ellison out of the lot.

"I'm glad you've done this before," Jim said, running the cool, damp cloth over Blair's face and neck. "I would have just paced until the doctor got here."

Simon grinned as he entered Sandburg's small bedroom, aspirin and a glass of water in hand. "I think most parents panic the first time their kids get sick. Then after awhile, you just automatically deal with it."

"I'm not his parent, Simon." Jim took the glass and gently raised Blair's head up to take the pills and drink the water.

Banks sat down at the end of the bed. "In a way, you are, Jim. You two have a relationship that manifests itself in various ways: you're father to him, big brother, best friend, partner, protector, and then there's all this Sentinel business. You just move so smoothly from one to the other that you aren't aware of it. He's part of who you are."

Ellison looked up, surprised. "You sound like you've been watching us," he said with a smile of his own.

Banks shrugged. "I admit, I'm curious. You've changed a lot since he first appeared. And strange as it may seem, seeing you with Blair has helped my relationship with my son. I've seen how you can be both an authoritative figure, demand--and for the most part, get--obedience when you order him to do something in a crisis, and yet you treat Blair as an equal, deserving of your attention, your respect. You get his opinion on things. You follow his guidance when it's appropriate. And most important, you're not afraid of giving him a hug now and then. That camping trip we took a few months back, Daryl's attitude toward me changed after that. He got to see you helping Blair over a difficult time, and saw how you two interacted. Suddenly, he's not afraid to give me a hug when he sees me now. It's 'cool' to show a little affection."

Reaching for the cloth again, Ellison squeezed the excess cold water back into the bowl and returned to wiping down his partner's fevered skin. The water evaporated quickly as he dragged the cloth along Blair's left shoulder and arm, frowning slightly at the sight of Blair's head tossing restlessly on the pillow. "Are you sure he's okay?"

"The doc said that from our description, it's probably just the flu that's making the rounds. I told you that Daryl had it last week. Joan said his fever was up to 104o degrees. Our doctor told her to do exactly what your doctor told you to do. Aspirin, fan," he said, pointing to the small oscillating fan that had been brought into the room and was sitting on the bureau aimed at the bed, "and a cool sponge bath. It all helps to bring the temperature down." Banks watched as Jim repeated the cooling motions on Blair's right shoulder and arm. "I thought the kid had one of those nipple rings."

Ellison glanced down at Blair's bare chest. He could see the marks from the pierced hole, but he couldn't remember seeing Blair wear the tiny gold ring for some time. He shrugged. "I've yet to figure out the significance of half of these bracelets and other jewelry he wears." He laid Sandburg's arm down and dunked the cloth back in the water. "Was there anything on Lockman yet when you called in just now?"

"No. He's probably holed up in the woods somewhere. We'd bring the dogs in, but we don't want to spook your Chopec friends."

Sandburg started shivering and curled onto his side, facing way from them. Ellison took the damp cloth and gently sponged down the exposed back, wiping away the sweat that was forming. "He's alternating chills and fever."

"Feel his forehead. He's still hot, isn't he?"

Ellison placed his sensitive palm on Blair's forehead, then turned his hand over and tried the back of it. "He's definitely got a fever, but I can't judge how hot."

Banks leaned over and checked for himself. "My guess is at least 104o. Why don't you have a thermometer?"

Shrugging, Jim pulled the covers up to Blair's shoulders, tucking the blankets around him as the young man continued to shiver. "Never needed one. My medicine cabinet just has bandages and ointment for the usual cuts and scrapes I get on the job, and a bottle of aspirin for everything else."

"What about all those little white bottles in there? Or shouldn't I ask?"

Ellison smiled. "Ask Sandburg. He has homeopathic remedies for everything under the sun."

"Anything for a fever?"

"No idea. They never say what they're for, just their common name and Latin name. I'm not about to try pouring that stuff down his throat without knowing what I'm doing."

"And does he know what he's doing?" Banks frowned as Sandburg rolled over again, one hand escaping the blanket to paw at the air.

"Jim?" Blair's breathing was heavier, short deep breaths in and out. "Jim?"

Ellison caught his hand, his other hand moving back to Sandburg's forehead, the thumb gently soothing away the creases. "I'm here. You're going to be okay. It's just a fever. The doctor will be by soon."

"Stay away from La Sachamama. Please, Jim. She'll swallow you up."

"I will. You've warned me and I'll keep my eyes open for her."

"She's hard to see," Blair mumbled, his fevered eyes opening to fix on Jim. "You've got to be careful in the woods."

"I will," Ellison promised so solemnly that Banks had to restrain his own smile. "Go back to sleep, buddy. You'll feel better in the morning."

"I can't sleep," the young man protested, feebly trying to sit up. The simple effort was too much for him and he sank back to the bed. "Who will watch out for you?"

"Simon's here. I'm not alone."

"That's right, Sandburg. I'll keep an eye on him," Banks offered.

Blair tore his gaze from Jim's face long enough to find Simon's. "Don't let him out of your sight. He doesn't know how to fight La Sachamama."

"I'll stay as long as is necessary. Don't you worry, son. Just go back to sleep and let us handle everything."

That seemed to satisfy Blair and he let himself be covered up again, curling onto his side and sinking into the bed, one pillow beneath his head and the other clenched tight in his arms. They waited until he was asleep before venturing out of the room and closing the door partway.

"How did he latch onto this La Sachamama idea?" Banks asked, pouring them both a cup of coffee.

"Who knows? Probably something he read recently." Jim took a mug from Simon, then followed him into the living room. "Knowing Sandburg, he's been doing a lot of research these last few days. Just seconds before Incacha died," he said, patting the place beside him on the couch where the shaman had lain, "he grabbed hold of Sandburg's arm and told Blair he was to be my shaman and guide me by the animal spirits. The words he used were symbolic, difficult to translate." Jim shrugged, staring across the room at nothing. "I translated them without thinking about it, using the first words I could find. I was obviously upset because Incacha was dying. I wasn't thinking about the impact my words would have on Blair, only that he was terrified over what was happening and needed to know what Incacha had said to him."

"The kid was terrified of this guy?"

"Only at that moment. Oh, he was freaked out that Incacha was lying on our couch dying and there wasn't anything we could do about it, but the look on his face when Incacha grabbed his arm and started talking was pure terror." Jim glanced over at Simon. "I told you how Blair looked when I found Lash hovering over him. The same thing."

Banks closed his eyes, remembering the detective carrying his young partner out of the building, Sandburg clinging to him, shivering, traumatized. Even the sedative Lash had poured down his throat had done little to calm him. Ellison had sat with him on the stairs, waiting for the ambulance to come, arms wrapped around him while Blair had cried, heedless of Simon crouched down before them. Then he had quieted, hands still clutching Jim's shirt, eyes staring off into the distance with that vague, disconnected look Banks had come to recognize on rape victims and for a horrible few minutes, the police captain had wondered if that was what they were dealing with. It wasn't until the ambulance attendant verbally asked Blair the question, and he denied it, that Banks knew he hadn't been sexually attacked as well. Well, Lash may not have raped Sandburg physically, but he had done so mentally, and it had taken a long time for Sandburg not to jump, startled, at any sudden movements.

"But Lash--who Blair knew was a serial killer--had attacked him and there was every indication Lash was going to end the kid's life. He had reason to be frightened then. Incacha didn't mean him any harm, did he? What was he so scared of?"

Ellison smiled sadly. "Strangely enough, I think Blair's number one fear is failing me. And I don't mean to sound egotistical about it, Simon."

"He's that convinced of this Sentinel thing?"

"Convinced? Oh, he's beyond convinced. He just doesn't know yet where he fits in. Things were just starting to settle down between us, to get comfortable, when this happened, and he doesn't know what Incacha meant."

"Which, along with this flu, is what set off the panic attack today," Simon mused.

Ellison glanced over to him. "Panic attack?"

Banks nodded. "Yeah, when you left to go into the woods, Sandburg had a full blown panic attack. He was certain something was going to happen to you without him along. Now he's always chafed a bit when you've had him remain behind at a crime scene, but I've never seen him react like that before."

Ellison shrugged. Two panic attacks in a short period of time . . . Sandburg was taking this harder than he had realized. "Maybe with Incacha dead, he feels more responsible for me."

"Those were the kid's exact words, Jim, that he was responsible for you." Banks shook his head. "I wouldn't wish that on anyone, even before this Sentinel stuff came along."

"Thanks, Captain," Jim said dryly, echoing Simon's smile.

A faint, tremulous voice came from the direction of Blair's bedroom. "Jim? Where are you?" A half sob followed, with the sounds of someone falling out of bed.

Ellison pushed himself up. "I can tell this is going to be a long night."

Banks grinned, stretching out on the couch. "I'm going to get some rest. I'll relieve you for the 3:00 a.m. feeding, dad."

"Just answer the door when the doctor gets here," Ellison retorted, entering his partner's room and getting him back into bed. The fever was back, and had climbed.

Ellison woke to the smell of coffee. A quick glance around the loft reminded him that Simon had gone home sometime after the doctor had been there, but it was Blair who was standing at the kitchen counter, wet hair dripping into a towel around his shoulders, and yawning mightily. Ellison sat up on the couch, eliciting a surprised yelp from his partner.

"Jim? What were you doing sleeping on the couch, man? I thought you were upstairs in your bed. Way to give me a heart attack," Blair added, one hand dramatically over his heart.

"What are you doing out of bed? The doctor said you should stay in bed today."

"The doctor?" Blair spun as the coffee pot chortled, signaling it was finished. "The doctor was here?"

"He came about two in the morning. Don't you remember?"

Blair shrugged. "Vaguely, now that you mention it. Want some coffee?" At Jim's nod, he poured two cups. "Was I sick?"

"Delirious, actually. You had a high fever. Simon and I sat up most of the night with you, trying to get your fever down."

"Whoa--really?" Big eyes looked his way. "I feel fine now. Just a bit shaky."

"I can see that. But I want you to take it easy today, anyway. You were not well last night."

Blair grimaced, comically, shaking his head. "Simon was here, too? I don't remember that. I'll be thirty in a few years and already my mind is going."

"I wouldn't blame that on age, Chief." Ellison got to his feet and went up to his bedroom for a change of clothes. On his way down, he could see Blair getting eggs and milk out of the refrigerator, preparing to make breakfast. "You really feeling up to eating?"

"Feel great. I promise to take it easy today, but there's no reason why I shouldn't tag around with you after my classes. I really want to find this Lockman guy," he added with a vengeance, cracking one egg on the side of the bowl. "Scrambled okay?"

"Sandburg, I don't know how to get it through your head that you were really sick last night. The doctor said your fever was probably well over 104o at one point, although the worst was over by the time he got here. That's not healthy."

"I realize that, Jim. I'm just not going to walk about as though I'm recuperating from major surgery. I feel fine, just a little tired. I can see no reason for me not to go teach my classes this morning, then join you at the station or wherever this afternoon."

Ellison paused at the door to the bathroom. "Just take it easy, okay? If you feel the least bit queasy after your classes, just call me and come straight home, understood?"

"Yes, sir!" Sandburg said, with a salute and a grin, before turning back to his cooking.

"Don't give me that attitude, pipsqueak," Jim said, waving a warning finger at Sandburg, who gave him a finger right back.

"Go have your shower, Jim. I'm fine. Hey," Blair added, with a guilty smile, "I'm sorry I worried you last night. I do appreciate that you took care of me. It's kinda nice to know."

"Well, I didn't wash your sheets when I changed your bed at midnight. They're in the hallway outside the door. I'd get them in the washing machine downstairs before the entire building complains about them. The things I do for you, Sandburg," he muttered, loud enough for Blair to hear, and shut the door to the bathroom.

Sandburg ended up staying at the university half an hour longer than he had planned to, as two students both requested his assistance in choosing their term paper subjects. He hurried from his classroom to pick up a package at a colleague's office, and then he scooted out to the Volvo and tossed his books in it, dialing the cell phone as he crawled into the front seat.


"Jim, I'm on my way. Be there in about thirty minutes. I want to drop off some stuff at home first."

"Hold on, Chief." There was a rustle of paper, and the sound of Jim transferring the phone from one ear to the other. "I'm just getting ready to head over to the docks again. We have some word from Peru. Tomorrow, at eleven in the morning, a freighter leaves Seattle for Callao, the main port near Lima. They have agreed to put the three remaining Chopec in one of the small staterooms and transport them to Callao. A Peruvian anthropologist, who also speaks their language, will meet them in Callao and take them to Lima, then a charter flight with Aeroperu has been arranged to take them to Iquitos, and home from there."

"That's great, Jim." Blair started his car, smiling when it started right away. "Should I meet you at the docks then?"

"First, tell me how you are feeling."

Blair sighed. "Fine. A little tired, still, but I'm good for a few more hours."

"You sure? I don't want you traipsing around after me if I have to end up carrying you back out."

"I'm fine, Jim. Cripes, you can be overprotective sometimes. Loosen up, will you?"

"One minute I'm overprotective, and the next I'm your Blessed Protector . . . Which is it, Sandburg? You can't have it both ways."

"Who says I can't?" Blair retorted, a smile on his face. "I'm fine, Jim."

"Think you feel up to a drive down to Seattle tomorrow? I agreed to take the Chopec there."

"In the precinct car?" The Ford sedan was roomy enough for the five of them and would probably be great on the highway. "Sure. Oh-- Wait-- Uh . . . Jim, Janet's funeral is at 3:00 p.m. Will we be back by then?"

"No problem. We'll have time to get back and change long before that."

"We? Are you coming with me?"

"I had planned on it. Unless you don't want me to, that is."

"Thanks, Jim. I'll meet you at the dock," he added, switching the cell phone off before the catch in his voice became anything worse.

Ellison got out of his car when he saw the Volvo pull into the parking lot. He unlocked his trunk and took out another box of food, hopefully the last one he'd be bringing to the Chopec. The mid-afternoon skies were darkening with rain clouds, so he handed the box to Blair when the young man bounced over to him, and then removed three blankets and a small duffle bag with a pup tent in it before closing the trunk. Rainfall in the Amazon rainforest was a great deal warmer than rainfall in the Pacific Northwest.

Sandburg glanced around, his eyes settling on the police van, still in place from the previous day. "Any sign of Lockman?"

"Not yet." Ellison started walking, then looked back at his partner as Sandburg was slow to join him. "Coming?"

Blair looked over at him, a somewhat dazed expression on his face, as if he was just realizing something. "I was here last night."

"We came here from the restaurant."

"Looking for Lockman?"

Jim stopped, alarm bells sounding in his head. He shifted the duffle bag and the blankets under one arm, and rested his right hand on Blair's shoulder. "You don't remember much of last night, do you?"

Sandburg shook his head slowly. "Guess I was pretty much out of it."

Ellison tightened his grip on both the supplies and his partner. "Come on. I'll tell you about it." He spoke as he walked, glancing now and again to Blair's pale face as he filled him in on what had happened.

"Is that all I said?"

"Let's see . . . you lectured me on black panthers--saying I had to call them black jaguars-- you warned me about La Sachamama, and panicked if I was out of your sight. Yeah, that about covers it." Ellison looked up as the first big drops of rain began to fall. "Let's move a little quicker, okay? I want to get this set up before the flood breaks loose."

Blair moved with him, running through the woods, following him easily until they arrived at where the Chopec had last been. Jim moved off to the side of the trail, then began to set up the little tent out of sight of the pathway. Within a few minutes, the Chopec appeared, curious at first, then nodding their approval as they realized what he had brought them and the rain continued to increase. Jim noticed, this time, how they watched Blair, their faces intent on his every movement. Blair rarely met their eyes, and when he did, he looked down and away immediately, as though ashamed of something.

The tent had barely enough room for two of the Chopec to take refuge in, but Ellison knew they would always have one outside in the trees guarding the others, so it was adequate for their needs. He told them what would happen the next day, and they promised to wait there for him, relieved to be heading home at last. Ellison grabbed Blair by the elbow and Blair willingly followed him back to the car. Both men were soaked through by the time they got there.

"You okay?" he asked again, watching Sandburg brush the wet hair back from his forehead. "I think we should stop at the loft and change before we go back to the station. No use sitting around wet clothes."

"I'm fine. A bit of rain never hurt anyone. And you know that the flu isn't brought on by catching chill somewhere."

"But if you've been sick, you don't have the energy to fight off viruses. And I want to get changed."

"Sure, then. Whatever," Blair turned to look out the window, back in the direction of the Chopec.

Ellison drove out of the lot, glancing back at his partner. "I know I've asked you this before, but is something wrong? Are you really okay? You look a little lost."

"I just don't like losing time like that. No one does. And I can't believe I babbled on about La Sachamama as though one was in the woods in Cascade. I mean, get real." A rain drop worked its way along his forehead, then dribbled down his face, looking suspiciously like a tear.

"Hey, you were sick. It happens."

"And that black panther thing was stupid. I've just been doing some reading and was getting frustrated when I couldn't find anything on black panthers, except for the black militant group. Then I remembered that 'black panther' was just a common name for what was an ordinary jaguar who has a black coat. They're born in regular litters, along with spotted ones. They aren't any different from other jaguars. And the Amazon Indians don't ascribe any special powers to black panthers over spotted jaguars."

Blair stopped speaking for a few minutes, watching the windshield wipers flick back and forth. Finally he cleared his throat. "I can't see it, you know."

"It's okay. You don't have to."

"I know how to. I just . . . I'm kinda scared of it all."

Ellison glanced over at him, but Blair's face was turned away, studiously examining the parked cars on side of the road as they passed. "Don't rush it. I want whatever happens to be natural. Incacha didn't grow into his role overnight. He learned how to be what his tribe needed. I think you'll naturally discover what it is you need to do. You're facing something unique. This is not a tribe in the Amazon rain forest. This is Cascade. And, with the risk of sounding selfish, I don't think you are to be the shaman for the entire city--just me. Incacha was just releasing any rights he felt he had to my sentinel abilities and placing them in your care. He knew you were doing the job already, and he wanted you to know that you had all the cards. He released me from my responsibilities to their tribe as well, and passed me into your care."

"I feel like I should be doing something more, though," Blair said, still facing the side window.

Ellison took his hand off the gear shift for a moment, and reached over and placed it on top of his partner's cold hand, squeezing tightly, his thumb stroking the back of Blair's tightly clenched fist, trying to relax him. "I'm satisfied, Chief." He released the hand as he geared down to go around a corner.

The radio crackled to life. "Ellison, do you read me?"

"Ellison here," he answered, taking the mike from its cradle.

"It's Ryf. Listen, we've just seen Lockman enter the ARPC building. Do you want to respond?"

Jim glanced over at Blair, who had pulled himself away from his thoughts and was nodding approval. "Ryf, we copy. We'll be there in about five minutes. Don't spook him. Just follow him if he comes out, okay?"

"We understand. Out."

"Jim, I have an idea," Blair said suddenly, as the sedan sped through the streets.


"This guy hasn't seen me, and I used to be involved in a lot of this kind of stuff. I know the right names to drop. Let me go up there and try to see if I can get some info on the ARPC. I can say I'm thinking of joining their cause, as I do a lot of anthropological work in South America. I was in Brazil a few years ago, working at a village there, so it would be easy enough for them to trace me."

"Are you sure you're up to it, Chief?"

"What? You know me--bluffing comes second nature to me. And if you mix just enough truth with it, it usually convinces people. Either that, or you have to just, like, make up some huge lie, one that they have to either believe or call you a liar to your face." Blair had a bit more life to him now, the depression lifting from his countenance.

"Okay. I'll just be down below. I can listen in on what is happening, and be up there in a minute, if you need help."

Blair nodded, smiling, his hands already trying to straighten his hair up from the rain shower.

Okay, be cool.

He paused outside the office. "Here I go, Jim. Wish me luck," he said softly, then jumped as a car horn honked once outside the building. "Okay, all right, you can hear me. Now, be quiet." He walked over to the door that read "Amazon Rainforest Protection Coalition" on the clouded glass window. The door knob turned easily, and he walked into an outer office. This organization had some big-time donors, as the dark plush carpet and beautifully decorated office evidenced. The subdued lighting showed off an impressive display of tribal masks along one wall, all meticulously labeled and described. Another wall had a pictorial display of the Amazon rainforest, showing bulldozers and tractors at work cutting down the forest's wealth of cedar, oak, and mahogany trees, leaving behind the ruin of villages and polluted rivers and streams.

The whole thing sickened him, bringing on a righteous anger that must have been evident on his face.

"Disgusting, isn't it?" a woman asked from behind him.

Sandburg whirled around at her voice, then looked back at the pictures. "I wish we could blame it on ignorance, but these companies know damn well what they are doing. And the cost to the environment, not to mention the eradication of whole cultures and people-groups." He looked back at her and held out his hand. "Blair Sandburg. I'm an anthropologist teaching at Ranier." He brushed at his clothes, shrugging. "I got caught in the rain. You'd think I'd learn after living here for a few years."

"Barbara Tessford," she said, taking his hand. She was wearing khaki pants and a coral silk blouse, her sandy brown hair caught up loosely atop her head with a clasp of some kind. Her skin had the over-tanned look of someone who spent a lot of time outdoors, and Blair glanced down at her nails, glad to see that they were cut short and practical; she probably wasn't afraid to get her hands dirty. This lady might be dead-drop beautiful, but she was also active, not content to sit behind a desk somewhere and answer the telephone all the time.

"How can I help you, Mr. Sandburg?"

"Blair, please," he responded, letting go of her hand. "I'd like to find out something about your organization. I've spent some time in the Amazon over the last few years, mainly in Brazil, and have a current interest in the indigenous groups of Peru. My concern, I must admit, is more for the peoples involved, rather than the rainforests, but the two go hand-in-hand, don't you think, Ms Tessford?"

"I agree. And you may call me 'Barbara'." She sat down at one end of the couch, facing him, and he sat next to her. "At the moment our work is concentrated in Brazil."

"I see. Do you have any operations in Peru, or anyone I could speak to about the situation there? I'd love to work in some current information into the classes I teach, and what better source of facts than someone who's actually been there."

Tessford glanced over to the half-open doorway that led into the rest of the offices. "I'll see if anyone is available to speak with you, Blair. Please take a look at our information packages while you wait." She gestured to a plastic rack just inside the main entrance, loaded with photocopied articles and brightly-colored pamphlets, many with the ARPC's stylized logo on them.

"Sure. I'd appreciate any help you could offer. Just a few minutes of someone's time would be enough." Sandburg watched her leave, then restlessly moved over to the literature rack, glancing through the different titles. He was impressed with what he could see, and the information seemed timely and organized. A few titles caught his eye, and he helped himself to copies. He really could use the information for his classes.

"Can I help you?"

Blair took a deep breath and turned around, looking eye-to-eye with Jake Lockman. Shit. The man was about the same height as Jim, but much broader across the chest and shoulders. This guy looked like he could have stopped a bulldozer on his own, without any help. "Blair Sandburg," he replied, clearing his throat against the sudden dryness in his mouth. "I'm a teaching fellow at Ranier College. I'm interested in the ARPC's work in Peru primarily. I suppose your main opponents are the oil companies that are in the south and in the northeast. Have you had much experience with them?" Slow down! he yelled at himself.

The man definitely looked nervous, pushing his dark hair out of his eyes. He had a short mustache that he rubbed at constantly as he spoke. "Yeah, I've had a few run-ins with the oil companies. I'll give you an address to contact in Iquitos. They'll be able to hook you up with some of the workers down there."

"What about you?" Blair pressured. "Have you been down there recently?"

Lockman half-shrugged. "Awhile ago. I don't really have time for a chit-chat right now, though. Maybe come back in a week and I'll be better prepared to help you." Lockman went on to briefly discuss the pillage of the land, and Blair could hear the sincerity in his voice. What was going on definitely angered the man, and he was spouting facts and figures fast enough to show that he was well-versed on his topic.

"Any ideas how we can help, here in Cascade? I'd like to pass something on to my students."

"Like I said, I'll speak to you at more length in a few weeks. I'm just heading back to Peru although I expect to be back by the end of next month." Lockman had gradually calmed as he spoke, but now nodded nervously and moved to the front door of the ARPC office, opening it for Sandburg, as though seeing him out.

"Do you have much contact with the Chopec Indians, at all?" Blair asked, envisioning Jim jerking upright in the car below. "I knew someone who once lived with them."

"Chopec? No, but that's not unusual. There's a lot of different tribes down there."

"True enough. This man spoke of a shaman by the name of Incacha. You heard of him?"

"No. I have to go now. I'll see you again." Lockman pushed the door open for Sandburg to leave, but Blair stayed where he was in the center of the office.

"Are you sure you don't know him? He's quite respected, from what I've been told. I'd heard he had befriended some of the ARPC workers, and wondered if you were one of them, when Ms Tessford mentioned you had worked in the Iquitos area of Peru."

"There are a lot of tribes people near there. And a lot of workers." Lockman was staring at him now, willing him to walk out the door.

"What about Nanto? Or Moi? Or Amo? Or Ali? Any of those names ring a bell?"

Ellison raced up the stairs, still listening to the conversation. He knew what Sandburg was trying to do--provoke an attack by Lockman--but Ellison wasn't about to let him put himself in any danger.

"Ever had a run-in with Cyclopes Oil?" Blair was asking now.

Slow down, Chief. I'm only at the third floor. Ellison pounded the stairs, racing upwards.

"Know a guy by the name of Bud Toren? I hear he is sympathetic to the cause, although he probably wouldn't kill anyone to get his point across, if you know what I mean." Sandburg's voice was in that soft hypnotizing tone he sometimes used, like a snake's rattle before it strikes. "Oh, but he's dead now, isn't he? A Chopec dart behind his ear . . . Now how could that happen here in Cascade?"

There was a sudden crash in the room and Ellison heard his partner gasp as something rammed into his stomach. He had just cleared the eighth floor. One more to go. He took the stairs three at a time, crashing through the stairwell door into the hallway. The ARPC name was emblazoned across the doorway at the end of the hall, noises of a fight from within. Jim barreled through the door, kicking it in, his gun drawn on the two men on the floor. Lockman jumped back when he saw the weapon, rolling to sit away from Sandburg's unmoving body. A woman who must be Barbara Tessford, had a phonebook in one hand, and from the looks of things, must have just knocked Sandburg over the head with it before he reached the offices.

"Blair?" Ellison yelled, inching closer to his partner.

"I'm okay," Sandburg mumbled, rolling over onto his back. "Cripes, it took you long enough."

Brown and his backup burst from the elevator and stormed into the office, their weapons trained on Lockman. The woman looked scared half to death.

Ellison holstered his gun and reached a hand down to Sandburg. "Did this man attack you?" he asked, formally.

"He did, officer. All I did was ask him a few questions, like if he knew some people, and he went ballistic on me." Sandburg turned innocent eyes to Ellison, as he accepted the help up and brushed himself off.

"Get down to the car," Ellison ordered, his voice with enough warning in it that Sandburg knew not to say one more word. "Miss Tessford, we would like to question you and anyone else in the office. Please let them know that they are not to leave by any other exit. We do have the building surrounded. You, Jacob Lockman, we have a warrant for your arrest. You have the right . . ."

Blair sat in the car, his seatbelt on and his knees drawn up to his chest, trying to relieve the pain in his gut. Whoa, that had hurt. That guy had a fist like a-- like a battering ram, he decided, trying to pick a reasonable comparison.

The rain was really coming down now, obscuring any true picture of the world outside the precinct car. It was all just a dreamy blur. Red lights swirling the other muted colors as the police car across the street sat unattended. Wind shook the car he was in, rocking it slightly as more rain pelted the outside as the downpour unleashed. Maybe this was all part of a nightmare and he'd wake up and find out the last few days had never happened. He saw the flashing lights of a police car pull up, dark blue shapes getting out and heading toward the entrance of the old brick building.

Jim's mad at me.

He'd heard it in the detective's voice, that 'I'll deal with you later' undertone as he was banished to the car. Well, they caught the guy. If they'd have walked in the office, Lockman would have been out another entrance and gone. His way, they caught him. And Lockman had punched a civilian. Surely that was worth something, at least.

He rubbed at his stomach, taking a few more deep breaths. He wanted to look okay when Jim got to the car. He didn't need the extra antagonism. It was bad enough that he had stepped over the line that Jim would have considered 'safe', and done so deliberately.

It was just too weird to be looking straight at Lockman, knowing what he had done, knowing what the guy was responsible for. Blair hadn't gone up there planning to do anything like this; it had just happened and once he was on a roll, well, there was no stopping.

He carefully eased his legs down, grimacing at the pulling feeling in the muscles across his stomach. Concentrating on his breathing, he ended up gulping air when the car door was flung open Jim dropped into the front seat beside him, icy raindrops accompanying his entry. Without asking, Jim grabbed his face, turning it toward him, cold eyes checking him out. Then his shirt was yanked up and Jim's icy hands were on his stomach, gently pressing the stomach muscles.

Not good. He's pissed. Come on, Jim. Talk to me. Yell at me or something.

Ellison dropped the shirt, apparently satisfied he was okay. Without a word to him, the detective picked up the car radio and called into the station.

Simon answered the page. "Well?"

"He's fine. For now," Jim added, still looking straight ahead, as though he was unaware Blair was sitting next to him in the car, squirming. "Brown is bringing Lockman in." The car behind them moved out, flashing lights off.

"I'll meet them here. We're ready for him."

"I'm coming. I'll drop Sandburg off at the loft, and then I'll be right there."

"Take some time if you--"

"No, Captain. I want to talk to Lockman myself."

"Jim," Blair began, then stopped abruptly at the frosty glare thrown his way. "I'd like to go to station, too," he continued stubbornly, ignoring the iron jaw.

Ellison looked like he was ready to seriously injure someone. He hung up the car radio, and turned the key in the ignition. They had gone about four blocks when he suddenly pulled to the side of the road and turned on Blair. "What on earth were you thinking of, Sandburg? That guy could have killed you! You were just supposed to find out if he was there. Nothing more."

"It was going smoothly so I kept pushing, okay? I was careful."

"When? When were you careful? You practically accused the man of murder, a man already on the run from the police? Even the most dedicated pacifist can turn on someone when cornered. It's instinctual. Self-preservation. Don't you have any sense of self-preservation yourself? Or am I going to end up losing you, too? I don't know if I could handle that."

Blair bit back his retort, knowing it would only make the detective angrier. Jim wasn't in any mood to listen to reason; he just wanted to vent his anger. To yell at someone. To yell at me.

Then he heard the fear in Jim's voice. It wasn't anger, it was fear. It suddenly occurred to Blair that his friend was just as terrified as he had been a few days previously.

And he realized what Jim had just said to him, and why he was frightened. "I'm sorry, Jim," he whispered, one hand shakily reaching out to rest on Ellison shoulder. "I'll be careful. I won't go away."

Ellison dissolved immediately, grabbing him and pulling him into a hug. "Don't you ever do that again. Do you understand me?" The words were rough, angry, but the arms wrapped around him sent out a different message, one Blair could live with.

He nodded, staring out the driver's side window, his chin resting on Jim's shoulder, and the gear shift pressing into his already sore stomach. "I'm sorry. I was just trying to help. To catch the guy who killed your friend," he whispered again. "Jim, you're hurting me," he added.

Ellison released him instantly, turning to grip the steering wheel, his head resting on his white-knuckled hands, eyes closed. "I've lost one friend this week. I have no desire to lose two. Incacha was . . . He was a friend. But the pain I feel from his death is nothing compared to how I would feel if something happened to you. Do you understand? Do you understand what I'm telling you?"


"If we go to the station, just stay out of the way, okay?"


Jim didn't move for another minute, then slowly lifted his head and took a deep, steadying breath before signaling and moving the car back into traffic. Blair sat silently beside him, trying to control his heart rate. They stopped at a light and Jim's hand left his death-grip on the steering wheel long enough to reach across and tousle Blair's hair, then return it back to the wheel.

"How's your stomach?"

"A bit sore."

"Do you hurt anywhere else?"


"Let me know if your stomach starts to bother you."

"I will."

The light changed and the car surged forward, leaving them in silence again until they got to the station. But Blair found he could breathe again.

Five in the morning, and he couldn't sleep. Ellison quietly made his way down the stairs, moving across the silent living room to the balcony. It was still raining, the wind brushing through the trees, whipping the leaves off the branches. There was a draft, even through the closed glass of the doors, and he moved away.

Sandburg's door was open. He paused in the entrance, listening to his partner's peaceful sleep. Blair was sprawled across the bed on his stomach, boneless. Ellison's eyes searched out the faint breath stirring one of Blair's curls each time he exhaled. He was alive. Without making a sound, Jim closed the door.

He used the bathroom, washing his hands under the tap, then cupping water in them and splashing some on his face, trying to jolt the rest of his body into as wide-awake a state as his mind was. The kitchen light he left off, not needing any help to maneuver around in the dim morning light that made its way in through the skylights above. He mechanically made coffee, then took it into the living room and sat on the couch, enjoying the stillness of the moment. The dry-cleaned blanket and two cushions were back from the cleaners, still wrapped in thin film, and he stood up and ripped the plastic off, replacing them where they belonged on the couch, then throwing the shredded material in the trash. He returned to the couch, picked up his mug, and put his feet up on the narrow coffee table.

Lockman had talked when he got to the station. A classic tale of a plan gone horribly wrong. There had never been an intent for anyone to be hurt. The Chopec warriors were supposed to scare the hell out of Spalding, and hopefully get the attention of the media, bringing the plight of the Chopec tribe and other indigenous peoples in the region, to the limelight. Bud Toren had been against the Hale Corporation operations, and had initially agreed with Lockman's plans. As Ellison had previously figured, Toren had backed out of the plan once the Chopec reached Cascade. Lockman had been angry at the betrayal and had instigated the Chopec attack on Toren, but he claimed it was a spur of the moment thing, and he didn't really think they would do it. It was enough that the charges would probably be dropped to manslaughter.

Blair moved in the other room, rolling over and tugging on his blankets, then lying still again. Ellison turned his head toward the room, listening until he had fallen back to a deeper sleep.

Blair had been quiet all evening the night before. Ellison knew he had frightened him, but he had no other way of expressing how dangerous Blair's actions had been. Even now, the thought made him short of breath. Seeing Blair lying motionless on the floor of the ARPC office had been his worst nightmare.

The hair on the back of his neck was up. Ellison opened his eyes and looked at the couch at right angles to the one he was on. A black panther lay along its length, in the same place Incacha had been. As he stared, it moved changing its form to be the old sentinel warrior he had first seen, so long ago.

"You worry about your companion."

Ellison nodded, his heart heavy.

"Remember, he seeks only to be your guide and your companion. His actions are not for himself. Curb your anger and offer him your acceptance."

"I do. Or, I try to."

"Be patient. The legacy given him is not an easy one. It is one few could bear."

Ellison nodded again, his sight blurring as tears filled his eyes. "I don't know how to help him through this," he whispered to the ancient warrior.

"You do. Just listen to your heart." The Indian shaman began to disappear, then seemed to consider something, and solidified again. "He must seek a new way. The old ways will not work for him."

"Which old ways?"

The sentinel of his vision said nothing, but faded into the black panther. Ellison stared at it, hypnotized by the haunted blue eyes that stared at him, unblinking.

An alarm went off, shaking him out of his reverie, and he looked up to see Sandburg blindly stumbling out of his bedroom into the bathroom. A moment later, the toilet flushed and the shower came on.

Ellison stood up and stretched, the clock on the microwave saying it was 6:55 a.m. They had planned on leaving the loft at eight o'clock, in time to pick up the Chopec and make it to the Seattle docks, an hour and a half away, long before the 11:00 a.m. departure time. Janet's funeral was at three o'clock, so they needed to be home in time to change for it, suits not being the correct attire for accompanying warriors onto freighters.

He mounted the stairs to his bedroom slowly, turning back only once when he remembered the spirit animal, but it was gone. Not even a hair existed on the couch to show it had ever been there.

But he knew.

They stood at the edge of the crowd outside the church, watching the coffin being carried slowly to a waiting hearse. Blair had been dry-eyed through the entire service, but now he turned into Jim's shoulder, burying his face away from the others. His grief would not be understood by Janet's family or her fiancé, and he didn't want to hurt them any more than they were already were. Blair was shaking, and Jim led him away from the gathered mourners, walking him toward the car.

It had been a day of grieving. Putting the surviving Chopec warriors on the freighter in Seattle. Returning to Cascade to stand silently at the airport while Incacha's coffin and Ali's coffin were taken aboard a flight to Peru. And then the funeral.

Blair was silent all the way home, only his chattering teeth betraying his nervous state. Jim stopped at a light and slipped off his suit coat, laying it over his young friend, acknowledging Blair's slight smile with one of his own.

Once inside the loft, Blair collapsed on the couch, still shivering, and Jim groaned as he touched the cold skin. He sat on the edge of the coffee table and watched Sandburg huddle beneath the blanket, lost eyes opening to look back at him.

"You're getting sick again." Ellison waited for the nod. "I think we should go to the hospital."

Blair shook his head, tears flooding his eyes. "I'm just cold."

"No, it's more than that."

"I'm afraid," Blair whispered.

"Of the hospital?"

"No." The shivering grew worse, and Ellison reached beneath the blanket to grasp one of Blair's hands, holding it tight.

"Then of what, Chief?"

"Of what I have to do."

Twenty questions. But there seemed no way for Blair to offer the information. "What is it you have to do?"

Blair's eyes looked around the room, settling on his backpack. "It's in there. I've got it ready, but I don't want to be alone. Stay with me? No matter what happens?"

There was nothing to see, but Ellison fastened his sense of smell on the nylon bag, reeling backwards when he realized what was in it. "Ayahuasca."

Blair nodded. "I've got to take it, to reach your animal spirit," he said, with a calmness born of fear and the fever beginning to burn within him. "I've been reading about what to do as shaman, and it's the only way, Jim."

Ellison placed his hands on Blair's shoulders. "Ayahuasca is a hallucinatory drink. It's illegal in this country."

"I have to do it, Jim. I'm supposed to be your shaman. But I'm afraid of it bringing them back, the fire people--"

"The Golden fire people?"

"Yes! That's why you have to be here. To stop me from hurting anyone."

"Blair, you don't have to--"

"Yes. It's the only way. I need to reach the yoshi spirit of the jaguar. It will tell me what I'm supposed to do. Oh, god . . ." Blair doubled over, the force of the shaking rattling his body. "It's in me, I think. T-t-trying to g-g-get out."

"No. You're just sick. And we're going the hospital to find out why."

"I need to take the--"

"No, you don't. I don't want you ever to take it. You don't need to take it to be my shaman. Are you listening to me?"

Miserable eyes met his, failure etched in every cell.

"Blair, nothing has changed between us. You were already doing the right thing. Incacha was no longer my shaman, my guide in dealing with my senses, and he knew that. His words were just a blessing for you to continue in the direction you were going. Why back up and try a different path, when the one you were on was what was meant to be?"

Blair's eyes were focused on the other couch, where Incacha had died. Jim stood up and went over there, deliberately sitting down in the same spot. "Blair, whose couch is this?"


"Who is sitting on it?"

"Y-y-you are."

"Who is here in this room?"

"Y-y-you are. And m-m-me."

"That's right. Remember that. Just you and me." Ellison carefully stripped the suit off his partner, helping him into sweat pants and a sweatshirt, then rewrapped him in a blanket. By now the shaking had passed, and Blair mumbled to himself as the fever took hold of him. He was scarcely aware of being taken down to the car, or the trip to the hospital, or even the admitting procedure. The fever was high enough to be dangerous, and he was placed in a curtained-off bed in the Emergency area, administered paracetamol to lower his body temperature, and Ellison stayed near him, gently sponging him down while they waited for the fever to break. Several times the nurses came and took blood samples, then took his temperature and smiled their encouragement to the silent man at his side.

At one point, the curtain rustled behind Ellison, and he felt the cat brush by his leg, its purr rumbling softly as it took its place beneath the bed.

"Malaria?" Blair turned his head slowly, hardly able to believe such a simple movement could be so difficult. He blinked owlishly, peering at Jim as though this was some strange joke that he didn't have the punchline to correctly. "What do you mean, I have malaria?"

"It took us awhile to recognize it for what it was, but the tests prove it." Ellison stood beside his bed, smiling broadly. "Plasmodium vivax, if you want the Latin term. You must have contracted it years ago and it's been sitting dormant in your liver waiting until it was ready to make an appearance. The doctors say you could have got it as long as six years ago, or more."

"Impossible. I was careful. I always took the proper medicine. I swear I--"

"Shhh." Ellison perched on the side of the hospital bed. "It's three in the morning. Keep your voice down. And the doctor told me that even if you had taken the appropriate medication to prevent getting malaria then, that doesn't help you any now." He brushed the damp hair off Blair's forehead. "It's easily treatable. You'll probably be out of here by tomorrow sometime."

"Today tomorrow or tomorrow tomorrow?"

It was Jim's turn to blink. "If I understood that correctly, that would be tomorrow's tomorrow. It's either stay here and get treated, or come down with severe flu-like symptoms every forty-eight hours until your spleen gives out. Chills, delirium, fever, nausea, headaches. Do you want that?"

Blair sighed, turning his head to stare up at the ceiling. "I'm tired."

"Your blood pressure is low."

"Anything else I need to know? Is my hair going to fall out or my fingernails drop off?"

"No, not that I know of." Ellison rested his arm on Blair's, then dropped it down to link fingers with him. "You're going to be okay, that's what's important. The rest we can work out. We'll sit down and have our talk when you get home."

Blair smiled, glancing down at their linked fingers, then back at Jim. "I think we already had it. The ghost is gone."

"That's right. There's no competition between you and Incacha. There never was. And, in case you're interested, I flushed the ayahuasca down the toilet before I brought you here."

Blair's eyes widened as the full implication of the statement hit him. "Shit. I told you?"

"You did. Now listen up. You will not, repeat not, take ayahuasca, or anything like it, or your Blessed Protector is going to lock you up in a detox center. Understand me? This isn't the jungles of Peru. We'll do this our way. I can't be dragging you along with me on the job while you're stoned out of your skull. And I won't abide narcotics of any kind in my home. If I ever get any indication that you are dabbling in it, you're out of the loft. Understand? And Blackie agrees."

"Blackie? Who's Blackie?" Blair asked, then gasped as a loud, rasping purr sounded from under the bed.

"Go to sleep now. I'll be back in the morning. That would be this morning's this morning," Ellison repeated, as Blair frantically tried to find the energy to sit up enough to look under the bed. Since he barely had energy to lift his head, he was having no success.

"Go to sleep. Get some rest." Ellison pushed the curtain back to leave, pulling it shut after him.

"Jim?" Blair's backstage whisper grated through the hospital room. "Jim?"

"Good night, Blair." Ellison walked out of the hospital, smiling as his name echoed through the corridors.

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