It's Tuesday. I should be on a horse, going through the quarry today. It's the prettiest part of the trip. Well, one of the prettiest. No. It is the prettiest. We go up the private road, up the hill, then down to the quarry itself. Like most of the quarries I've seen, there's water running through it. I'm not sure which river, probably an adjunct of the American River. There's a wooden bridge, no rails, over the narrowest part of the water. My pinto has never gotten used to walking on dark, creosoted wood since she fell through the railroad trestle as a yearling. I have to get her into a 'spanking' trot, with applications of spur and whip to get her across. Although we have been working on it this past year. She only hesitates at the railroad crossing now. But my spurs are ready, just in case.
Instead, here I am. Sitting at a computer, waiting for the go ahead to return to my own desk. I wish my compatriot would go to the clinic and get cleared so I can. Sigh. Yes, I'm grumpy. It's a gorgeous day. Sun, temps in the upper 70s to mid 80s. Rats.
Can you tell that I'm depressed? Me too. I guess I'll just have to take it out on the guys, won't I? I have no idea where this is even going to start, let alone where it'll go once I do get started.
The disclaimers still apply. Not mine. No money. Please, don't sue.
Oh, yeah. It would help if you have already read 'Team-Building II', as it is referenced.
Well, Whaddya Know?
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"I'll see your two and raise you three." Throwing in a five dollar bill. "That's five to you, Joel."
"Too rich for my blood. I fold." He slid his cards into a neat pile and leaned back to watch the play.
Jim sat, looking at his cards. Glancing at the other players, he debated a moment longer, and then threw in his hand as well. "Not this time, Chief." Smiling across at his friend and partner.
"Me either." Brown added, throwing in his hand as well.
Simon puffed on his cigar, examining his cards and looking at the two men still in the round, debating. Finally, "I'm in." Tossing a five dollar bill into the pot.
Rafe narrowed his eyes and looked, not at his cards, but at the players. He'd been doing some digging, recently, and was putting the information he had uncovered to the test. He was perfectly aware of several methods of cheating a polygraph, and decided to try them out, just to see what would happen. He smiled and added his three dollars to the pot. "I call."
Blair showed his cards. Two pair, jacks over twos.
Simon grunted and threw his cards face down. "Damn. I was sure you were bluffing."
Rafe, smiled and turned his cards up. Three threes. "Thank you." He raked in the pot, smiling.
"Who's deal?" Blair asked.
"Mine." Jim replied, gathering the cards. He shuffled several times, offered the cut to Joel, and then dealt the cards for draw poker.
Rafe glanced at his cards, then put his plan into effect. He neatly stacked his cards and waited. Brown opened. Simon matched the bet. Rafe, Blair, Joel, and Jim all bought in. Cards were asked for and received. Rafe stood pat, no cards. He was aware of the speculative looks from the other players, but only smiled. Brown looked at him, debating, examined his cards and bet. Simon looked at his hand, and folded. Rafe called and raised. Blair called, and Joel folded. Jim called and raised. Brown folded.
Rafe used one of the polygraph fooling techniques. He saw Jim tense up slightly, he was staring at him intently, when Jim suddenly looked him in the eye. He knows. Rafe thought. He knows. He smiled, and called. Blair called, as well. His baby straight was enough to win the hand.
Throughout the night, he watched his fellow players. Carefully testing his theories. Reaching conclusions. Wondering what to do with his information. Wondering who he should talk to, if anyone.
He did well, that night, even coming out ahead, a little, for a change. When the game broke up, he went out to his car. He didn't leave right away, however. He sat and watched the house. It was nearly two hours before Simon, Jim, and Blair left. Another question answered. When the others had gone, he started up his car and went home. He had a lot of thinking to do.
Monday started out bad, and the week got progressively worse. There was an arsonist on the loose, and a number of old, abandoned buildings were being torched. Most of the burned buildings had been condemned for years, but by Wednesday, they were adding murder charges to the mix. Three homeless people had been in the last building torched, late Tuesday night. They never had a chance to escape. The building burst into flame just before midnight, and the fire was so hot, that the firefighters were unable to get close enough to get water on it. The only reason they even recognized the bodies, was that one of the arson investigators recognized some teeth in the ashes. There weren't enough remains to determine anything other than the number of people who had been there.
Seven fires within three days. Other than the fact that all the buildings had been abandoned, all within a ten block area of one another, there was no connection between the fires. Except for the methods of the arsonist. The men of Major Crime were already feeling their frustration level going up. And the media wasn't helping matters any.
"I'm sorry, Chief. There just isn't much left. I mean, I can smell the Coleman fuel they used for the accelerant, I can tell that it was poured around the perimeter and ignited here by the door. Other than that, there just isn't anything to find." Jim's frustration level, never very good at any time, was quickly reaching his breaking point.
"OK. Hey, it's not your fault that there isn't anything to find, man. Take it easy. We'll get whoever this is. It's just going to take more time." Knowing how personally his partner took any crime in his city. "Let's go back to the station. Maybe Rafe and Brown have found something."
"None of the owners are connected. There's no connection with any plans for the city to renovate the area." Rafe announced. "I'm sorry. It just doesn't make any sense."
"You've gone through all the holding companies, corporations, banks, and there's no connection? Among any of them?" Jim asked in disbelief.
"Oh, yes. There are a number of connections. Just nothing consistent. Nothing to tie them all together." He handed his findings to Jim, who, with Sandburg looking over his shoulder, failed to find a connection, either.
"Uh, maybe it's more like one of those Chinese puzzle boxes. Where you have to get all the moves right to get it open?" The two officers looked at him. "Well, what if we list every abandoned building in the area, list all the various owners, list all the different variables, and see if we can see a pattern that way. You know, like a graph?"
"Sure. Looking for various commonalities. I see what you mean." Rafe started rummaging for a marker for the conference room white-board. He quickly wrote out all the addresses down the left side of the board. He then wrote across the top, owner, holding company, bank, investors, city plan. Then, checking his various paperwork, he filled in the blanks.
At first, there didn't seem to be any pattern at all. But as they found multiples, they started to see a pattern emerge. For example, two of the buildings had related owners, three had related investors, two different sets of two had similar places in the city plan.
"What about the other buildings in this area?" Jim asked. "Who owns them...Let's just add them to this list, find out where they match up with any of the ones already burned."
When the entire chart was built, all the information plugged in, the pattern became apparent. There were six different zones in the ten square block area. With matching city plans. It was beginning to look as though the various owners may have gotten together and hired someone to torch the buildings. Cheap urban renewal. The city paid for putting out the fires, and they only had to scrape off the last of the debris and remove the remaining concrete. They sat there, staring at the chart in shock.
"So, where will they hit next?" Blair asked quietly.
Rafe checked his notes. "Well, if they stay true to form, they will burn down two or three more buildings tonight," Turning to the list and checking the map, he pointed. "Here, here, and here. Those are the most likely." He said. "We can stake it out, but it's awfully dangerous. One wrong move and some of our guys could get dead, real quick." Rafe pointed out. "The three most likely buildings are too far apart to be able to use one central point for the command post. Too bad it's so expensive to bug the places. If we could hear what was going on in all three of them at once, that would help, a lot." He watched surreptitiously as the other two men exchanged a quick knowing look. Taking a deep breath to steady his suddenly nervous stomach, he asked the question he had been gnawing on for the past several weeks.
"You can do that, though, can't you, Jim." He didn't phrase it as a question. He saw the two men stiffen. "Captain Banks knows. I think that maybe Taggart knows."
"Knows what?" Jim asked, managing a pretty good expression of puzzlement, in spite of his shock.
Rafe looked at them both, meeting their eyes. He turned away, first. "I...never mind." He turned to leave.
"Wait. What were you going to say?" Jim had been waiting for this. Ever since the plane crash. When they were supposed to go off on a team-building retreat and their plane had crashed, shortly after take off. Jim had decided to take all of his colleagues into his confidence, if and when they asked about his abilities. Simon knew. Joel knew, and now, Brian Rafe was asking. At least, he had started to ask, but then seemed to change his mind. He stopped the younger man with a hand to the shoulder. "It's OK, Brian. Talk to us." Softening his voice, trying to let the younger detective know that it was all right.
"I got curious. I had an assignment for one of my classes, and while looking up some information, I came across a list of articles Blair had written. I got curious, but the public library didn't have any of them, so I went to the library at the university, and I looked up all of the articles Blair had written, one of them mentioned that he was working on Sentinels in modern society for his doctoral thesis. I read your master's thesis, Blair. I put two and two together. I hope it came out to four." He was uncertain. The idea seemed silly, until you took into consideration how often Ellison knew things he really should have had no way of knowing.
"About time, detective." Two of the three men turned to see their Captain, who had walked in just in time to hear his youngest detective's words. "Welcome to the club." He added, smiling. Blair grinned.
"I...I don't understand?"
"My fault. When my senses went haywire? Oh, you were still in uniform then. Well, about three years ago, my senses went kind of wacky. I had gone to the hospital, they couldn't find anything wrong. I thought I was going nuts. Lucky for me, one of Blair's bevy of beauties was a nurse, and overheard my problem. She called Blair, and the rest, as they say, is history.
"Yeah. I have enhanced senses. Blair helps me with them."
Rafe was trying very hard to understand. He had expected to be laughed at, ridiculed, but not accepted. He looked nervously among the three men. "Then, the things Blair wrote are all true?" Wanting reassurance of his facts.
"Yeah. Look. This probably isn't a good time. What say we talk Friday, after the game?" Blair offered.
"Does Mrs. Taggart know, as well?"
The three exchanged expressions of how impressed they were by their fellow detective's skills. Jim smiled. "Yeah. Look, Blair's right. I promise to answer all your questions and fill in all the details, Friday, OK? Right now, we need to find the arsonists and nail them to the wall."
"Of course. Thank you." At their puzzled expressions he elaborated. "For not telling me I was crazy. For telling me the truth."
"Oh, that. Well, after the plane crash, it was suggested that we take both you and Brown into our confidence. We work together. We depend on each other. Secrets aren't a good idea, in that case. I agreed, but wanted to keep control. I decided that we would bring you guys in when you asked. I guess, it's time. For both you and Brown to get let in on the secret." He smiled and clapped the young detective on the shoulder. "Anyway. Let's figure out how to do this, shall we?" Turning back to the matter at hand.
Brian Rafe's instincts had been dead on. With Jim monitoring the three buildings from a central location, they managed to intercept the arsonists before they were able to torch the third building. They were loaded down with enough accelerant to turn a brick building into dust. Once in custody, the three arsonists were falling all over themselves and each other to pin the blame on their employers. Of course, they were still the ones who were going to be charged in the deaths of the three vagrants. It would be up to the DA to decide whether or not to charge the businessmen with the higher felony. On top of the criminal charges, the Fire Department was preparing a bill for services, charging everyone involved with a portion of the costs for putting out the fires. It was a good thing that no firefighters had been hurt as a result of the arsons.
Friday night at the Taggart's home, after dinner, instead of playing cards, Simon informed them that they needed to discuss some things. They gathered in the parlor, over coffee. Jim nudged Blair to explain.
"Uh, well, Jim has decided that it was time to talk about what I'm really doing here, at the station, hanging out with Jim and everything." Mable gave him an encouraging nod and smile. "Anyway, the reason is that Jim is a Sentinel."
"A what?" Brown asked, puzzled.
"A Sentinel. A man with genetically enhanced senses. He can see farther and better, hear better, smell things in minute quantities, taste the proportions of seasonings in food, feel the picture of a removed tattoo, where most people can barely see a scar." They waited.
"Yeah, so?" Brown asked again.
"Uh, Jim?" Blair asked, piteously.
"So. I've been keeping it a secret. They came back about three years ago. I thought I was going crazy, and Blair's been helping me with them."
"Just how sensitive are your senses, Jim?" Rafe asked.
"Well, Sandburg's nervous, his heart is beating about," He paused, calculating, "Eighty beats per minute. Everyone else is between fifty-five for Mable, to ..." He closed his eyes to listen, "seventy-two for you, Brian."
Brown checked his pulse. "What's mine?" looking at his watch.
"Sixty-seven." Jim answered. Brown shook his head in awe.
"Man. That's good." He suddenly looked at the others. "Wait a minute, you've been doing this for three years and never told us?"
"Can you imagine if word got out? You think Cascade's a war-zone now, imagine if every crook and hood in the country decided to try to take on 'Superman'." Simon replied. "We wouldn't be able to function."
"Oh, yeah. I guess you're right. So, why are you telling us all this?" Brown asked.
"Well, Simon's been in on it from the beginning. After Joel had that building fall on him, he overheard Blair and me looking for him, and asked. We didn't feel right with everything else he had going on at the time, we decided to tell him the truth." Jim explained. "Then, when Mable started having the poker game here, we realized that it wasn't fair to make Joel keep the secret from her."
"So, why didn't you tell us before?" Brown asked, reasonably.
"Because I still needed to feel in at least partial control. Sorry, guys. At first, I didn't even want to tell Simon. I mean, I felt like a freak." Jim had to pause to swallow, the scene when he realized that his father's attitude had caused him to suppress his abilities when he was a child flashing into his consciousness. "But I had to have a good reason to have Sandburg around. So, we told Simon."
"At first I thought it was a joke. But he gave me a demonstration I couldn't ignore. So, I've been covering for them ever since."
"Oh." Brown looked at his partner, reading the excitement in his face. "OK. I can understand. Why tell us now?"
"Because I found some stuff Blair wrote and asked about it." Rafe replied, softly.
"Well, that's part of it." Blair broke in. "When Jim broke his leg in the plane crash?"
"Yeah?" Brown and Rafe chorused.
"Well, Adam Pierson? The guy who had been in one of my classes?"
"The guy who helped us take care of everyone and snared the rabbits?" Brown asked.
"That's him. He's known other Sentinels and Guides. That's what I am, a Guide. I help Jim focus and bring him back from or hopefully prevent, zone outs. That's where he focuses on one sense to the exclusion of all other input. He kind of freezes, lost in whatever sense he's concentrating one."
"That's why you're always touching him?" Rafe asked.
"Uh, yeah." Blair looked to Jim for assistance.
"Blair's hand on my back acts as a ground, sort of. Hell, just knowing that he's there is often enough. I can focus on a single sense, say ...well, let's use that bomb that caught Joel." He looked to their friend for permission, seeing the tightness around his eyes, he started to change his mind, but then Joel smiled and nodded his consent. "When we arrived, the building had already collapsed. Blair tried to get me to focus and concentrate on trying to hear Joel's heartbeat. I couldn't do it. I had convinced myself that no one could survive the explosion. So, he told me to focus on my sense of smell. To track Joel by the smell of his cigars."
"Wait a minute. You can do that?" Brown interrupted in surprise.
"Yeah. I can. Anyway, I found the scent of the cigars, then he had me listen again, and I found his heartbeat and breathing, after which, he had me trace the direction visually."
"At which time, you yelled out that you'd found him. Man. I can't believe I didn't notice. You've been doing that all along. It never registered." Brown sounded disgusted with himself. "Am I oblivious, or what?" Shaking his head.
"I didn't notice, either." Rafe added. "I only found out because I saw some of Blair's articles when I was researching for a term paper."
"Term paper?" Simon asked, surprised. "You're taking classes?" In a 'Why wasn't I informed of this?' tone of voice.
"Uh, yeah. I'm working on my BA.
"Really?" Simon asked, surprised. "What in?"
"I'm going for a double, in Psychology and Criminalistics." Was the blushing reply.
"Thinking about teaching?" Joel asked.
"No. I just want to do the best job I can."
"Good for you." Joel told him, his tone encouraging.
"Back to the subject at hand. What does that Pierson guy have to do with telling us your secret?" Brown asked.
"Well, he said that Sentinels and Guides need a support network to survive." Blair explained, then continued in a soft voice, "Like when one of us gets hurt?"
Everyone had seen it. The absolute devotion between the pair. The panic when something happened to one of them. The stubborn dedication of waiting at the hospital bedside for however long it took until the injured one awoke and proved themselves recovering. The anxiety and surliness when something was wrong.
They looked at each other.
"Oh." Brown said, a little surprised. "I just thought you were..." He realized what he had been about to say and blushed.
"We're closer than that, man. It's like we're two halves of a single whole. Neither of us functions well without the other. But, put us together, and we're unbeatable. That's why we need you guys. To help us maintain. In case something happens to one of us." Blair realized what he was asking. "You don't have to help, if you don't want to." He hurriedly added. "But, just knowing, keeping our secret, that will help a lot." He watched them closely, hopefully.
Rafe and Brown looked at each other, the partners exchanging opinions with their eyes. Brown's lips quirked up into a smile and he nodded slightly, eliciting a big grin from his younger partner. They turned back to the others, unaware that they were waiting with bated breath for their answer.
"So," Brown asked, as the senior member of the team. "What do we do?"
They couldn't miss the collective sighs of relief from the others. They smiled.
"What did you expect?" Rafe asked, amused.
Exchanging glances, Simon replied, "We weren't sure. Just hopeful."
"Hey, we're a team, aren't we?" Rafe asked, suddenly uncertain.
"Yeah. We are. The best team, ever." Jim agreed.
"Then, what are you waiting for? Fill us in on what we need to know." Brown demanded.
So, they did.
They never got around to playing cards that night. There were too many questions, too many explanations and demonstrations; but at the end, they had reached a new understanding of things that they had noticed, but had always put off as their imaginations. Laughing and teasing over how dense they all could be when it came to what should be, not what really was. When they finally broke up for the evening, they had bonded into an even more cohesive unit than ever before. Looking forward to work, to using the tool that Jim and Blair offered in their fight against crime and in the protection of their city. Happy and content in the knowledge that they were the best of the best, and ready to take on all comers.
Jim and Blair were the first to leave. The others stayed behind a few more minutes to discuss their duties as backup for the pair. Discussing the more serious 'what if's', knowing that they may come. How to prevent them, what to do when they happened. Each member made the commitment to provide any and all the emotional support they could in case of trouble. Whether the trouble was from the bad guys hurting one of the pair, or the pair getting into a fight over something. Taking on the added responsibility of caring for their friends as well as doing their own jobs. Willingly taking it on, recognizing it for what it was. They had a Sentinel and Guide. They were the warriors who backed them up to protect their tribe. It was as it should be.
Unseen and unknown, a large black panther and a grey wolf watched their warriors make their decision to help them. The humans never heard the wolf howl in joy, nor the panther purr in agreement with his companion.
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