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It was a few days before my twelfth birthday that I found the book that totally changed my life; 'The Sentinels of Paraguay' by Sir Richard Burton.

Yes, the reading level was academic adult - the owner of the used book store where I found it looked very doubtful when I went to pay for it, so I spun a tale that it was a birthday present for my uncle - who would have been horrified if I'd ever told him, because reading, other than the sports pages of the local newspaper, was something he, as a Real Man, just Didn't Do. I, on the other hand, had a reading level that was way beyond my chronological age. I don't remember a time when I couldn't read or a time when I didn't love reading. I'd progressed from fiction to mostly non-fiction before I was ten.

Yes, it was a birthday present - that much was true. But it was a present from me to myself. My family, such as it was (Grandma, an invalid who had completely lost the use of her legs by the time I was six, Uncle David - who, as a truck driver, often wasn't there - his son Robert, Mom and me) didn't go in for birthday presents. "It's just another day, Sweetie," Mom said, the year I turned eight and asked her why we never paid attention to birthdays. That puzzled me a bit, because my teacher had everyone in the class singing 'Happy birthday to you' every time it was the birthday of someone in the class, as if it was important somehow - and that had included me, the morning of the day I asked Mom about it. That was when I discovered that other kids got birthday presents. Each year since, I'd bought myself something, being careful to get it a few days before or after my actual birthday so that Mom wouldn't guess I was getting myself a 'present'. She would have called it 'subscribing to the herd mentality' and 'succumbing to commercialism' if she had. "You don't do something just because everyone else does," was her mantra.

So I decided to do something she didn't.

The book cost less than I'd been willing to pay for my annual piece of rebellion, because the used book store wasn't a specialist one; I realized years later that the owner couldn't really know all that much about books. He was looking for a quick turnover and thought that any book that was old - aka with a publication date of more than perhaps ten years previously, unless it was by a popular author who had been writing for many years, was pretty well valueless. And although it was in good condition, as soon as I saw it I knew it had to be pretty old because the date was in letters, not numbers - MDCCCLXXVI, according to the publication date on its title page. The store had probably acquired it with a lot of other more saleable (from the owner's point of view) books when someone was either clearing out the home of a deceased relative or blitzing their own home, getting rid of a lot of things, prior to moving.

After I got home, I worked out the date with some difficulty (and my cousin Robert's help) - 1876. Wow.

What can I say? Between us, Robert and I were a genius. He could do sums in his head that I needed pencil, paper, and the fingers and toes of everyone in my class to do. At twelve, he was struggling to read books intended for seven-year-olds while I was romping happily through books written for adults. And if I sometimes envied him his ease in working with numbers, I know he envied me the ease with which I could read. But sometimes I wondered... Mom encouraged me to read, had always encouraged me to read. When he was home, Uncle David positively discouraged Robert, dismissing reading for fun as a complete waste of time. I heard him telling Mom once that she shouldn't be making me into a sissy, that I should be out playing rather than having my nose always in a book and her reply that I was reading non-fiction and learning as I read. There seemed to be no answer he could make to that, other than muttering 'Learning' as if it was a dirty word.

So was Robert's difficulty with reading caused, at least in part, by the way Uncle David dismissed it as a complete waste of time? I wondered. After he helped me put the date in my new book into something I could understand, I asked Robert if he'd like to be able to read better, and when he said yes, but he didn't like made-up stories, I got some easy sort-of technical books ('How an Engine Works', 'A Day in the Life of a Fireman', etc.) out of the library any time Uncle David was away on a long-distance run, and we worked through them.

It took a while, but it pulled his reading level up to nearer his age, though by the time we were fifteen it was obvious that he would probably be looking for work where he could use his gift for numbers, while I was already looking at universities, trying to find one that would admit me as a freshman when I was sixteen.

Rainier University, in Cascade, Washington, looked at my grades and accepted me on a scholarship, and so, at sixteen, I left my home in Fort Worth with the blessing of Naomi - by then Mom had me calling her by her name, saying that being called 'Mom' by someone my age made her feel old. I also left with Uncle David's conviction that an academic career was a total waste of time and that I'd be short of money all my days, and Robert's envy, open when we were alone, barely concealed when his father was around. Grandma was no longer aware of anything, really, and in fact died just a few weeks after I left. Naomi told me not to interrupt my education by going home for the funeral, so I didn't, though I did make a point of taking a few minutes to think about Grandma, at about the time she was being buried. I'd been fond of her, though she hadn't even known who I was for the last year or two. She hadn't known anyone.

What we didn't know until her will was read was that when we were born, Grandma had put quite a lot of money into trust funds for Robert and me; money that nobody, even us, could touch till we were twenty-one. Naomi and Uncle David should have realized (though they said they didn't have any idea) because there had been trust funds set up for both of them when they were born, too; and because Naomi had spent the last sixteen years caring for Grandma she hadn't been spending any of hers. Uncle David had used at least some of his money to buy his first truck, and from being a self-employed driver had, over the years, expanded into a successful small business with several trucks, though he still chose to drive, employing a secretary to deal with the paperwork. After all, paperwork involved reading - a suitable enough occupation for a woman, but not for a Real Man - certainly not after he was earning enough to employ a woman to do it for him. (Naomi's influence was certainly strong enough to keep me from becoming as stereotyped as Uncle David was, and while Robert pretended, quite successfully, when his father was there, she kept him, too, from regarding women as third class citizens. I never knew my grandfather, who died before I was born, but sometimes I wondered if Uncle David was echoing him.)

Well, I couldn't touch my money for another five years, so I carried on with what I'd planned to do right from the start, found a weekend job to give me some spending money and devoted my evenings to studying. I had friends among the other freshmen, but at sixteen I was too young to be included in most of their out-of-study-hours activities.

Because of my twelfth-birthday book, which I had read cover to cover at least three times a year over the previous four years, I had chosen to study anthropology, with psychology as a minor - it seemed to me that psychology would help me better understand what I was learning in anthropology.

* * * * * * * *

I wasn't really surprised when, some three months after Grandma died, I got a letter from Naomi, sent from Britain. Grandma had left the house in equal shares to her and Uncle David, and Uncle David had offered to buy her half of the house for a little over the market value. She had accepted, and now planned to spend several years traveling, visiting some of the friends she had made in her mid-to-late teens when she, and they, had lived a hippie lifestyle. Most of them had settled down, as she had been forced to do by Grandma's degenerative illness (I noticed, and was grateful, that she didn't say 'forced to do because she had a young child'), but she was writing this letter from a commune at Findhorn, where one of her old friends was living. She didn't expect an answer, she said, but if I did write and she had left by the time the letter arrived, her friend would be able to forward it to her.

I read that several times, and decided that she didn't plan on staying very long at Findhorn; although I did write back, hoping she'd enjoy herself. She might or might not have received the letter (although it didn't come back to me) because a month or so later I got another letter from her, making no reference to anything in my letter. This time it was from Switzerland, and had on it no return address.

From then on I got a letter every two or three months, always from different parts of the world, never giving a return address. Sometimes she was staying with old friends, sometimes with someone she'd only just met, sometimes she was at a retreat or a commune somewhere, and occasionally she was simply relaxing, enjoying life and on her own.

Naomi, it seemed, was thoroughly enjoying her freedom.

I, too, was thoroughly enjoying life, and in particular the freedom to study without the black cloud of disapproval that hung over everything academic when Uncle David was there.

I wondered if Naomi had been as aware of it as I was.

Probably, although she had never said anything openly critical about him when Robert or I were around.

* * * * * * * *

Time passes quickly when you're having fun. It seemed no time at all before I had my Bachelors and Masters, much to the delight of Eli Stoddard, senior lecturer in anthropology, who had taken me under his wing although he wasn't my official adviser; Professor Buckner had that dubious honor, and neither he nor I was happy about it. You'd have thought he would have been pleased to be dealing with a keen student - but it seemed that he thought that anyone my age attending university had ideas above his station, so to speak. He thought I was headstrong, stubborn, utterly convinced I was the only soul on earth who had a clue, and needed to be reminded that I was only a lowly student. I thought he was an old fuddy-duddy who needed to remember that we were living in the 1980s, not the 1880s. He was the one thing that kept me from being totally, completely, ecstatically happy at Rainier.

In the two-and-a-bit years I had been at Rainier, Uncle David had written to me from time to time, and politeness drove me to reply. My academic success had... not exactly mellowed Uncle David's attitude - he was altogether too anti-academia for that - but at least led him to admit that perhaps I wasn't wasting my time, while he still deplored the fact that I lacked any practical skills.

I still wasn't sure why he was so totally opposed to anything but the barest basics of education, but I had begun to understand that he was honest in his belief that only practical skills made for a reliable income.

Eli took students on a short expedition every summer, and I would have liked to have gone; he would have liked to include me. Unfortunately, he had a rule that nobody under eighteen could join him. It was partly because of that that I'd gone to work for a welder the previous two summers, and partly so that I could tell Uncle David that I did have a practical skill that, if necessary, I could fall back on. The summer after I got my Masters, however, I would be able to join Eli.

Much to my disappointment, however, there was no expedition that summer. Eli's wife was ill and he couldn't leave her - or, rather, he wouldn't leave her; it turned out that her condition was more serious than he'd led us to believe when he told us he was canceling the trip, and she died just after Thanksgiving. So that summer, after thinking about it for a day or two, I went back to Fort Worth and persuaded Uncle David to teach me how to drive one of his big rigs, although legally I was too young. And that was actually how I learned to drive. I spent that summer driving around with him, taking over the driving for brief periods when the roads were quiet. It wasn't the happiest summer I've ever had, but it gave me a second practical skill - and Uncle David's approval.

* * * * * * * *

A few months after his wife died Eli left Rainier, meaning to devote time to longer, more in-depth expeditions. He did stay in touch with me, and I knew that if I ever wanted to join him all I had to do was ask. However, that year I turned twenty, and Naomi finally let me know where she was, so I joined her that summer. It was... interesting. She took me to several places I wouldn't have thought of visiting, and I enjoyed myself, but when it was time to go back to Rainier I waved Naomi goodbye without a second thought, despite her attempt to persuade me to stay with her for a while longer. I still loved her, but the years we'd been apart had created a rift; I had learned independence.

I had my Masters, but I wasn't completely sure where I wanted to go from there. I really needed a little experience of life before I tried for a PhD; so after a discussion with Chancellor Roberts, and his assurance that there would certainly be a place for me in the doctoral program, I contacted Eli, who was just organizing a new expedition. He had obtained permission to visit the Kombai, a hunter-gatherer tribe that had been discovered only a few years earlier - the first Westerner to be granted that permission. A week later I was in Irian Jaya.

We had a native Papuan as guide - a man who admitted he did not know the Kombai language well, but Eli didn't think he would find anyone who spoke it fluently. It was dangerous; not much was known about the Kombai, but one thing that was known was that they were more than a little suspicious of strangers, regarding them as a threat. Not surprising, really - the Asmat, a headhunting tribe who lived further to the south, frequently visited the swampland. The Kombai were wise to be suspicious of strangers. We could only hope that they would give us a chance to explain our presence. There were only six of us; five Westerners and Tamati, our guide - and Eli had had considerable difficulty persuading the authorities to allow that big a party access. But he wanted to include a botanist and a zoologist as well as three anthropologists, and when he felt like it he could be very persuasive.

The ground we walked on was boggy, and kept boggy by the persistent rain; we could only cover ten, twelve miles a day. Oh, we could have pushed for more, but it was tiring, struggling over the soft ground, unable to maintain a steady rhythm as our feet sank into the ground to varying depths and seldom the same depth twice. Our camps were damp and uncomfortable, the mosquitoes a constant irritant, and by the second day we completely understood why the Kombai chose to live high in the trees, where they would be above the damp and the mosquitoes.

Several days into the trek, after we camped for the night, I went off on my own looking for a convenient bush. There's very little privacy in an expedition camp, and Westerners, even anthropologists experienced in expedition life, like to get at least a modicum of it when carrying out their bodies' natural functions. I'd just finished and refastened my pants when I realized I wasn't alone - several natives, their faces ornamented with noseplugs of varying length, were watching me, and there was no way I could call the expression on their faces 'friendly'. They all had bows, and had arrows nocked, although the bows weren't actually drawn. Kombai!

I've always been good at picking up languages, and I'd persuaded Tamati to teach me as much as he could of the Kombai language; so I was able to understand what the guy who was obviously their leader was saying. "Kwai..."

Oh, boy. That meant 'Evil spirit' or 'ghost'. Same thing, to a lot of those tribes.

If I could get back to camp, if they followed me at least I'd be with others... I tried to scramble away, tripped and fell flat on my face in the mud. Then as I pushed myself up, I heard laughter. I looked at the Kombai; they clearly found my belly-flop hilarious. I chanced a smile, making sure I kept my teeth hidden - some of those hunter-gatherer tribes regarded teeth shown in a smile as a threat rather than a friendly gesture - and managed a shaky /"Hello"/.

/"Who are you? You cannot be a ghost although you resemble one. No ghost would be so clumsy."/

/"My name is Blair."/ That was a probably sensible start - by giving them knowledge of my name I was, in effect, baring my throat to them, offering them trust. /"My friends and I have come here hoping to meet your people. We are ignorant men, who have heard about you and are interested in learning about you, because you have skills that we lack."/ At least, it was what I hoped I'd said, since I'd learned the language from someone who was himself far from fluent.

They spoke among themselves for a few moments, too quietly and too fast for me to hope to understand what they were saying. Finally the spokesman said, /"We will come and speak with your people."/

Turned out they had been watching us for two days, and were unsure of us because - apart from Tamati - our skins were so pale, and we all kept out bodies covered (although the Kombai women wore short skirts the men wore only penis sheaths) and we were living, sleeping, on the ground.

Between us, Tamati and I managed to translate enough that the Kombai understood fairly well why we were there, and that Eli was our chief. Sovann, the Kombai leader, invited us to live with his family while we were with the Kombai - a considerable honor, we knew.

We were there for three months. During that time I became quite fluent in the language; Tamati learned a little more than he'd known, and most of the others picked up enough that they didn't need an interpreter most of the time.

We lived as Kombai. We lived in a house in a tree, a house that was nearly a hundred feet above the ground. Acrophobia clearly wasn't something that bothered the Kombai! On the whole, I didn't have a problem climbing up to the house, because my attention was upwards, but I sweated most of the way going down. Even when you don't mean to, there's a natural tendency to look downwards. From the house itself... the view over the tree-tops was fantastic... as long as I stayed back from the edge of the platform it was built on.

We went on one or two hunts, though Vibol, the tribe's best hunter, told us frankly that we were all far too noisy to be good hunters. We helped collect starch from sago palms - there, at least, we were effective enough - and in the harvesting of sago grubs.

Grubs... so much a staple in the diets of a lot of hunter-gatherer tribes, so rejected as 'dirty' by 'civilized' man even though they are an excellent source of protein.

We learned a lot from, and about, the Kombai, and the Kombai learned quite a lot about us. They were too polite to say so openly, but I got the impression that they pitied us for our lack of practical survival skills - and I knew they were right. If another disaster like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs were to hit Earth, it's tribes like the Kombai who would survive to repopulate the world.

We were sorry when it was time to leave - the people of the small tribe had become our friends. We struggled our way back to civilisation, finding it easier now that we'd had three months of living in the swampland, said goodbye to Tamati and returned to America, where Eli planned on spending the next few months writing up our findings. I did an article about the trip as well, and after letting Eli see it to make sure it wasn't pre-empting his work, submitted it to Anthropology Today - Eli was submitting his version to The Journal of World Anthropology.

I then went back to Fort Worth, driving with Uncle David, making observations on the small (and sometimes not so small) town cultures that we encountered. It's amazing how parochial Western man can sometimes be. Some of those small towns are less accepting of strangers than the Kombai, and with far less reason. Strange how easily the people living ten miles away can be regarded as 'a danger to our community'.

After my twenty-first birthday, when I finally had access to my trust fund, I paid off all my debts - not that I had many, since I'd gone into Rainier on a scholarship and I'd been able to get one or two grants. However, I chose not to change my way of life - I was comfortable with the way I lived, and knew I'd be unhappy with a more lavish standard of living.

When I was twenty-three, I went back to Rainier and into the doctoral program, getting a position as a TA, which earned me a modest income while I worked towards my PhD. I was lucky with the timing; Chancellor Roberts was due to retire, and a few months later he was replaced by Chancellor Edwards. It was my situation with Professor Buckner all over again; she didn't like me, while I thought she was too hidebound by university politics. She might have accepted me as a doctoral candidate, but she would never have given me a position as a TA - and while I didn't need the money, earning it gave the impression that financially I was the same as most of the other students.

Eventually I finished my own studies; by the time I was twenty-five, all I had to do was write my dissertation - but that was where I hit a roadblock.

The focus of my Masters, that I wanted to expand for my doctorate, had been tribal sentinels - I had never lost the fascination with them that Burton had aroused half of my lifetime previously. There was just one problem - I hadn't been able to find a full sentinel anywhere. I had plenty of documented cases of people with one, even two, heightened senses, usually taste and smell; I'd found a few with better than average eyesight, one or two with excellent hearing, a handful with a surprisingly sensitive sense of touch. I'd found one or two blind people who had learned how to use touch or hearing to compensate to some degree; but nowhere had I found anyone with all five senses enhanced. Even among the Kombai - they knew of the concept, but nobody in Sovann's tribe had senses that were sharper than usual. Even Vibol, the best tracker/hunter in the tribe - his ability to notice things and interpret what he noticed was phenomenal, but his actual eyesight was no better than that of the other tribesmen.

I had based my Master's thesis on historical sentinels and postulating the value that enhanced senses could have for certain jobs, but if I wanted to write my doctoral dissertation on sentinels, I had to find a different angle, even if I reiterated some of the historical facts as background. The only way to find a different angle, though, seemed to be to actually find a sentinel and observe him at work.

I could do something based on the people I'd found with one or two heightened senses, but as a dissertation on sentinels, it would be incomplete.

Certainly there was no law that said I must do my doctoral dissertation on the same topic as my Masters. A different topic was perfectly permissible, and as month followed month and I found nobody with even three heightened senses, I finally began to consider possible alternative themes.

And then a nurse at Cascade General, who had been in one of my classes and knew of my interest in heightened senses, faxed me with some details of a police detective who had gone there, was still there, complaining about sounds being too loud, lights too bright...

* * * * * * * *

After I conned my way into his life, I worked with Jim Ellison for four years, learning more and more about the advantages of heightened senses... and the downside - sensory spikes, serious headaches, zone-outs. We can all lose touch with our surroundings if we're totally concentrated on something. In sentinels, that's multiplied by a hundred. I learned a lot about police work, too; indeed, sometimes it seemed to me that my 'work' with Jim was taking up more of my attention than the TA job for which I was paid. And for three of those years, I delayed and delayed writing my dissertation. Finally, however, I knew that I couldn't delay any longer, and began work on it.

I admit that using Jim's name in it was the act of an idiot. I should have used a false name right from the start. But I could focus so much better on what I was writing if I did use his name... I figured I could use search-and-replace to change it once I'd finished writing and I was checking it over prior to handing it in.

And I really should have known better than to trust Naomi. I'd seen so little of her since I was sixteen that I'd forgotten... I should have remembered how often she had gone by the letter of things, but never the spirit. And I really should have remembered that although she had always seemed to support me, I had always known that she was supporting what she thought was best for me.

If only I had remembered...

If. If, if, if, if...

Once I realized that the cat was well and truly out of the bag I knew it was up to me to chase it away and out of sight... if I could. Quite apart from anything else, we were expected to maintain our informants' anonymity, even using false names for people in remote jungle tribes. Jim's anonymity had been blown big time; and I could see only one way to restore it - or, at least, take the heat off him.

It meant the end of my hopes for an academic future, but leaving Jim's name on the first draft was my screw-up, so...

I called a press conference, and publicly declared that the tests proving that Jim was a sentinel were fraudulent.

Not for the first time I regretted Chancellor Roberts' retirement. He would have discussed matters with me, and possibly given me the chance - since I hadn't submitted the sentinel dissertation - to submit another one. But he was retired, and Chancellor Edwards... She'd already tried to get rid of me once, over the Ventriss business, and had to back down. This time... I could hear the satisfaction in her voice as she gave me until the end of the week to clear my office.

Amazing the change in her attitude in the couple of days since her claim that 'they couldn't be more proud, just wished I'd let them read it first'. Yeah, right. At least this was a more honest reaction!

Knowing that was coming, I'd already cleared everything that was mine from the storage room that doubled as my office, and made sure that I'd returned everything I had that officially belonged to Rainier - even books I had requisitioned and that would be of use to nobody else.

I wouldn't need to return to Rainier.

* * * * * * * *

While driving away from Rainier was... not easy, it was not as difficult as I had feared it might be, and for the first time I realized that emotionally at least I had been distancing myself from it since the day, nearly four years in the past, when I first met Jim Ellison. My life had, oh so subtly, shifted from academic to law enforcement, as I found myself more and more involved in helping Jim. When had I begun to think of the guys in Major Crime as my friends, rather than my fellow TAs?

And yet... did he still really need me? For at least a year I had just been there, ready to provide any help that might be necessary... and he hadn't needed me. He'd even actively refused my help in trying to track down Zeller. Maybe it was time to stop following him around, pretending I was a cop.

I had no clear destination in mind as I drove; all that mattered was getting away from Rainier. I wasn't surprised, though, to discover I'd arrived at Cascade General.

Since getting involved with the PD I'd been there, both as patient and visitor, more times than I cared to count. Walking confidently past reception, I headed for ICU. As I turned into the corridor leading to it, I saw a doctor I knew.

"Hello, Dr. Armitage."

"Mr. Sandburg - you're here about Captain Banks?"

"And Inspector Connor. They were both shot in the same incident."

Armitage nodded. "I didn't deal with the Inspector, but I operated on Banks. The bullet missed all the vital organs - "

"Oh, thank goodness!"

" - although he did lose quite a lot of blood. We had to give him three units. But the surgery went well, and he should get home in a week to ten days. It would be earlier, but I understand he lives alone."

"Yes." A few days earlier, before Naomi's monumentally blundering interference, I'd have said that Simon could come to the loft; now, I wasn't sure just where I stood. "I'm afraid so."

"So he'll have to stay here until he can manage for himself. - Ah, Dr. Hardwick!" He attracted the attention of another doctor who was actually heading off in the other direction, and turned back at his call. "Mr. Sandburg would like to know about Inspector Connor - he works with the PD."

"Mr. Sandburg. Inspector Connor came through her surgery satisfactorily - nothing vital was hit, and she didn't actually lose much blood. She should get home in about a week."

"Thanks. It's a relief to know that they'll both be all right."

Hardwick headed off down the corridor, but Armitage delayed a few moments. "Was this just a random shooting, do you know?"

"Well, the gunman was targeting the PD - I don't know if he had anyone specific in mind, but Captain Banks was hit first. The bullet went through him and hit Megan - Inspector Connor."

While I was speaking, an orderly pushed the bed with Simon in it from the recovery room and into ICU.

"I know you'd like to visit, but he's still threequarters asleep. I'll let him know you were here, and you can visit tomorrow."


I'd seen Jim come in and turned to meet him as Armitage headed off.

"The doc said the surgery went well and the bullet missed major organs on both of them. Megan can leave in about a week, and Simon in about ten days," I told him.

He drew a deep, relieved breath. "Thank God."

"I heard you guys probably got Zeller?"

"I don't know," Jim said. "We think somebody got him. We've still got Bartley to contend with, though. I don't know which is worse." He hesitated for a moment. "I saw your press conference."

I'd had time to gather my thoughts about it. Best to downplay everything. "Oh, you saw it? It was just a book."

"It was your life," Jim replied, surprising me.

"Yeah, it was." I hesitated for a moment before adding, "You know, you were right. I don't really know what I was expecting to do with it. I wanted to finish writing up about you, but I've known for long enough that I could never submit it... and well, where did I get off, following you around for three years pretending I was a cop?"

He looked at me. "This self-deprecation doesn't suit you, you know. You might have been 'just' an observer, but you were the best cop I've ever met and the best partner I could have ever asked for. You've been a great friend and you've pulled me through some pretty weird stuff."

He'd never been that open before; as an apology, it ranked really high - and all I could think of to say, all I could say without choking on the lump in my throat, was, "Thanks."

But it seemed he understood. "Are you ready to get busy?"

He still wanted me along. That meant... a lot. I fell in beside him and we left the hospital. His truck was parked illegally in a doctor's bay close to the door; my car was further away, legally parked. I headed off to retrieve it, and followed Jim to the PD.

* * * * * * * *

When we reached the station we found Joel, who had taken over as acting Captain, in the bullpen, silently fuming. Through the glass of Simon's office, where Joel should have been, we could see Bartley, phone held to his ear, and you didn't have to be a sentinel to hear what he was saying - "No, you moron, spotlights! I want klieg lights and - yes, I want some fireworks. How about some of that old red, white and blue?" Brief pause before he went on, "Yeah? So we do it without a permit. Over the bay! Who cares?! Once it's done it's done and all they can do is grumble!"

So Bartley was planning a BIIIIIIG rally...

I could see that Joel, even-tempered though he usually was, was getting ready to explode, and decided to try to lighten his mood - "Is it just the acoustics in that room or does everybody behind that desk automatically get loud?" - and was rewarded with a grin as I followed Jim to his desk, reaching it just as the phone rang.

Jim picked it up. "Ellison... You sure about that?... All right, thanks." He gave a resigned sigh as he hung up. "That was the coroner's office. They got a positive I.D. on the body at the hobby shop. His name was Roger Haber. He was the owner."

I looked at Jim, easily reading his body language, and told him, "I volunteer not to be the one to tell Bartley his rally's off."

"I took the phone call, so it's my job," he muttered, and headed for Simon's office. He gave a cursory knock and opened the door. "Mr. Bartley, we have confirmation that Klaus Zeller - Get down!" He threw himself into the room, tackling Bartley to the floor as someone - or more than one - started firing, not just one gun but at least two, and ones that carried a whole lot more slugs than most guns. How many guys were there attacking the place?

And then Zeller burst into the bullpen, a gun in each hand, shooting wildly and yelling, "I want Bartley! I want Bartley! I want Bartley!"

He sounded almost insane, as if he had totally cracked. And this was the guy who had been known as the Iceman? The stone-cold killer I'd encountered three years previously?

It was difficult, trying to shelter (as far as it was possible to shelter behind wooden desks) as well as trying to watch what Zeller was doing, where he was going, where he was next going to turn the two guns he was firing so indiscriminately. Finally, though, he seemed to have satisfied himself that he had been successful and ran for the stairs, heading upwards. Upwards? Wouldn't that leave him trapped? Especially since Jim was close on his heels.

I scrambled to follow.

When I reached the roof, it was to find Jim clutching his leg and no sign of Zeller. "Jim? You all right?"

"I'm all right." But I knew that he lied. "Ricochet nicked me."


"He went over the edge."

"Yeah, no kidding," I muttered.

"No, I mean he went over..." He tried to move over to the edge of the roof, and his leg gave way under him. "Hey, give me a hand!"

Just nicked by a ricochet? Ricochet, maybe, but with 'just nicked' Jim would totally ignore it!

I helped him across the roof to where a taut rope hung over the edge.

Zeller was there, abseiling down, though he had only gone down a few yards. "What are we going to do - pull him up or knock him off?" I asked. Untypically bloodthirsty? Yup. But Zeller had seriously pissed me off. Quite apart from his behavior the first time we'd encountered him, this time he'd first injured Megan and Simon, now he'd injured Jim - and back in the bullpen, I'd noticed Rafe nursing a bleeding head. Naomi had reared me to think that capital punishment was wrong, but in the four years I'd been working with Jim, I'd begun to question that. I had begun to think that execution was the only way to protect the public from killers like Zeller.

And Zeller really had lost it. He took one hand off the rope - how stupid was that? - and groped for a gun, which he aimed up towards us.

"Look out!" I gasped. Yes, I know that was unnecessary, Jim could see the danger just as well as I could!

We ducked backwards as Zeller fired. The sound of the shot was immediately followed by a scream, and the rope went loose - we determined later that his shot had severed the rope, letting him fall to his death. A nasty way to go... and there was nobody to mourn that death.

* * * * * * * *

We were both right about Jim's injury. More than 'just a nick', it wasn't desperately serious though there was some muscle damage, and he wasn't even kept in Cascade General overnight - unlike Rafe, who wasn't released till the next day.

Jim let me fuss over him for a couple of days, which said a lot about how much his 'nick' was bothering him. Although I'd gone out each day for groceries, fresh bread and vegetables, I hadn't stayed away for longer than necessary; on the third day he rebelled and chased me out of the loft 'to get some fresh air'.

I drove fairly aimlessly for half an hour, ending up in a parking lot that overlooked the sea. I sat there, thinking. I'd slammed the door on my academic career - oh, I could probably get work teaching somewhere, probably in middle school, but that didn't appeal. My long-term plans had never included teaching - at least, not while I was still young enough to go on expeditions. That had changed once I found Jim. Concentrating on studying what he could do, I hadn't really considered just what would happen once I had those three letters after my name. As I sat gazing at the horizon, not really seeing it, I realized that I was like a wild animal that had become used to a friendly human providing food. Even without the way I'd killed my academic career by labeling myself a fraud, the idea of leaving, of going off and leaving Jim to manage on his own was impossible. As his guide, how could I leave my sentinel for months at a time to go on expeditions?

I'd never get a PhD now, even with a change of subject, even if I could prove I'd never actually submitted the Sentinel diss. My conclusions would never be accepted as honest, no matter how much proof I presented. But I could live with that. I knew that I had acted ethically, to protect my sentinel.

But... did I have any future in Cascade? Yet, as Jim's guide, how could I leave him?

At last - and it was some hours later - I restarted the car and drove to the PD.

* * * * * * * *

In the two days since I was last there, much of the damage Zeller had done had been repaired, but the place was pretty empty. Well, maybe that was for the best. I put my observer's badge down on Simon's desk, and began to go back into the bullpen.

"Hey, Blair, what are you up to, man?"

It was Joel. Well, he'd always been unreservedly friendly. "I'm taking a last look around."

"Last look?" He sounded surprised. "You going somewhere?"

"Well, yeah. I cleaned out my desk over at Rainier. I thought I'd do the same thing here - collect any stuff I had in Jim's desk. I'm a fraud, man. I don't think Simon's going to want me hanging around." Somehow I managed to keep my voice matter-of-fact.

"Sandburg, that is not your office!"

I swung around, to gape at the group that had just entered the bullpen. Everyone was there - Simon in a wheelchair, with Rafe pushing it; Brown was there, and I could see that he was keeping an eye on Rafe; Jim, leaning on a cane; Megan; and Naomi.

Naomi? What the...

It was good to see that Simon was apparently well on the way to recovery. "Hey, Simon, they let you out?" I said inanely as I went over to him, Joel close behind me.

"Nah, they threw him out," Jim said.

"They didn't throw me out. They said I was too cantankerous." Simon sounded almost pleased about it.

I looked at Naomi. "Mom, what are you doing here?"

"I'd never miss this occasion, Sweetie," she said.

Occasion? What occasion? Well, Simon was out of hospital... I supposed that counted...

"Well, yes, I suppose it is something of an occasion," I said. "Everybody's safe, out of hospital, and we're rid of Bartley - by the time his enemies organize another hit man his rally will be history."

Simon shook his head. "That's not exactly why we asked your mom here. I understand you gave up your job at the university and I saw you over there in my office. So we decided you needed to do something to keep you under control."

Gave up my job at the university. Well, that sure was a tactful way of putting it!

Jim said quietly, "You're, uh, you're finished in this department, Chief."

Like that was a surprise. "Yeah, well, I - I sort of... well, I figured that."

He carried on as if I hadn't spoken. "As an observer." He tossed something towards me; acting out of pure instinct I caught it and looked down at it.

"This is, uh... What? This is a detective badge. What's going on? Why are you giving me this? I don't deserve it."

Simon reached over and took it back. "No, you don't - at least not just yet. Your time with us lets you test out of everything else, but you need to go to the Police Academy and complete firearms training. And if you do, Detective Ellison is looking for a permanent official partner."

A permanent, official partner? But... but...

Sure that it had to be some kind of joke, I looked around. Everyone looked genuinely pleased - even Naomi, and for a moment I wondered who had persuaded her to accept this without protest - and how. But...

Jim took the two steps that separated us. I looked up at him. "Does... uh, does this mean a paycheck?"

Jim chuckled. "Can you say 'back rent'?" It was an old joke between us - he had always refused to accept any rent from me, though nobody else knew that. "Come on, what do you say?"

"Say something, Sandy," Megan encouraged.

It was an emotional moment. It wouldn't have taken much to make me cry from sheer relief. I could see problems ahead, but my friends here at the PD were still my friends, still, it seemed, wanted me around... and it was a job I knew I wanted. To try to diffuse the emotion and hide my overwhelming gratitude for their faith in me, I said, "I'm still not cutting my hair," even though I knew there was no way I'd be allowed to attend the Academy with long hair.

Jim hooked the handle of his cane around my neck and pulled me over to him. "That's what you think." He wrapped one arm around me and gave me a noogie with his other hand. "Captain, I'm going to make a little Blairskin rug for you here... "

But I could feel the affection in the arm that held me, and knew that he knew how close I was to breaking down.

It seemed that Simon guessed as well. "Right - Sandburg, Ellison; my office. Joel... "

Joel grinned. "Ten minutes, Simon, then I'm chasing you home."

We went into Simon's office, where he waved us into chairs. I swallowed the lump in my throat, and said quietly, "Simon, won't people wonder... I declared, very publicly, that I was a fraud. What happens the first time I have to give evidence in court?"

"The DA knows the truth," Jim said.

"The... Jim, tell me you didn't!" If the DA's office knew...

"You're right, when questioning you, defense lawyers would probably try to bring up the subject of your 'fraud' to undermine your testimony, even though you'd be giving it under oath," Jim agreed, "so we had to find a way to negate that. We came up with a cover story that means only a few people actually know everything. If the subject arises, the prosecution lawyers will make sure the jury knows that you never submitted what you had written to Rainier, never intended to because it was just 'a good piece of fiction'; that you had told the editor who released excerpts to the press that it wasn't for publication, and were finally forced to say you'd made up the 'proof' that I had senses as heightened as was being claimed in order to let us do our job without being handicapped by the press looking for a story. If necessary we can admit that I have excellent sight and hearing - a limited truth that means you wouldn't actually be lying under oath if you were asked about my senses."

"Who knows?" I asked.

"We told the DA and the Chief of Police," Simon said. "In Major Crime, several of them contacted us and said they didn't believe you'd made anything up. Joel, Brown, Rafe, Rhonda... and of course Megan already knew. Most of the people in the PD haven't worked that much out, but do think that at worst you exaggerated what Jim could do - he was never all that subtle about it."

I looked from one to the other. "You really think this will work?"

"Yes," Jim said.

I looked from Jim to Simon, and back again. I'd enjoyed working with Jim - the idea of doing it for the rest of his working life appealed, and when Jim retired, so could I. The trust fund Gramdma set up for me meant that I had enough money for early retirement to be more than possible.

To protect Jim, I'd had to deny what he was. I had lost the career I'd hoped for as a world-renowned - well, world-known - anthropologist. But I had accomplished something that had been my dream since I was twelve.

I had found a sentinel.

Nobody can ever take that away from me.


Copyright bluewolf