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Microsoft/HP to Market Crippled Entertainment PCs

ManBeef The Sentinel: The Mountie Who Fell To Earth pt2 (403 comments)

Benton Fraser paused as he settled into his lone sleeping bag, a sound catching his attention. The wind had risen outside, moaning through the treetops, rustling the tents loudly. But there beyond that sound he heard another moan, a deep, sharp gasp of air. He heard words then -- some he didn't understand about Sentinels and heightened senses -- others he understood all too clearly about trust and hunger and desperation. And then the other words -- the ones without form or meaning -- the ones that spoke of passion and heated couplings in a shared sleeping bag. The ones that spoke of love.

He sighed forlornly as he settled down to sleep. His partner was already tucked snug in his own sleeping bag, and while he was not asleep, Fraser could tell that he could not hear the other sounds beneath the cry of the wind. Fraser was alone in this little bit of reluctant voyeurism, and perhaps that was best. He wasn't certain he could face the snide comments his partner might make -- wasn't certain he was ready to hear what sorts of remarks Ray might have about two partners -- two male partners -- loving each other like that.

He thought briefly then of an underwater kiss shared -- air exchanged when Ray was about to drown and Fraser had known of no other way of filling his lungs. Professional, medicinal one might even say -- and yet for some reason Fraser could distinctly remember what Ray's mouth had felt like, the curve of his lips, the look of desperate shock and confusion and fear that had so briefly filled those clear eyes.

Fraser squeezed his own eyes shut. 'This changes nothing between us, right?' Ray had asked in bewildered confusion once the immediate danger had past.

Yes, Fraser suspected he knew exactly what Ray might say if he could hear Ellison and Sandburg right now.

"Ray?" Fraser asked softly, not really knowing why he was bothering. He knew Ray was irritated with him -- Ray was frequently irritated with him. And his overly long and involved conversation with Blair would have been a source of extreme annoyance to the Chicago cop. Too brainy, Ray would say. But there was a desperate loneliness inside Fraser that prompted him to make the effort -- just to hear his partner's voice once more before he went to sleep. The two of them lying here alone in the dark -- it at least offered the illusion of intimacy.

"What?" Ray groused. Yes, irritated as Fraser had guessed.

"Ray, do you ever get lonely?"

It was a bold question, not one typical of Fraser, and when Ray did not answer at first, Fraser feared he'd gone too far -- stepped across some line that men weren't supposed to step across. He didn't often discuss feelings of any type, had never been comfortable with the subject, but sometimes... sometimes he just wished there was someone who might understand.

"Yeah," Ray replied, surprising Fraser. He hadn't expected an answer -- certainly hadn't expected that answer. "Sometimes. Everyone does."

Ray seemed to accept it as a matter of fact. But then maybe he didn't understand what Fraser meant? Maybe he didn't understand the bone-deep, soul-wearying loneliness that could grip a man when he found himself either hundreds of miles away from the nearest human being in the middle of a frozen tundra or trapped within a crowded city when he suddenly realized that he was utterly alone in the world.

"What do you do, Ray?" Fraser asked. "What do you do when you get lonely?"

He waited breathlessly, still hearing the soft, passionate music coming from the other tent. The pause was longer this time, and he didn't think Ray was going to answer. But then he heard a soft intake of breath -- Ray's this time.

"I dance, Fraser," Ray explained softly. "I dance."

And suddenly Fraser saw again Ray's apartment and the wooden floor with the dance steps painted upon them, and the landlady who lived below him who said that at night she could hear him moving around, clomping above her head, and the sound was so rhythmic, so hypnotic that sometimes she just sat and listened to him for hours. For hours... yeah, maybe Ray did understand after all.

"Good night, Frase," Ray murmured. "Sweet dreams."

Sweet dreams... such a strangely intimate thing to say. Fraser thought for a moment that his heart might burst.

"Thank you kindly, Ray," he responded. He heard Blair calling out Jim's name, and he squeezed back the moisture that sprang to his eyes. Mounties didn't cry after all. "You too, Ray. Sweet dreams."

-------

Dawn found Jim wrapped tightly around Blair's body, both of them content in their warm cocoon that smelt of sex. He felt his body stirring to life again at the scent, responding as always to Blair's nearness. But he also heard the unmistakable sounds of someone moving around outside the tent -- someone lighting a fire, preparing breakfast. He tried to suppress the wave of irritation that took him -- of course the Mountie would be up first, rising with the crack of dawn, preparing the meal; he was a Mountie after all -- too good to be believed... shit!

He slid from the sleeping bag regretfully, dressing as quickly as he could. Then he gently rolled his Guide over onto his back and kissed him awake. Blair sighed into his mouth and smiled lazily up at him, reaching out to stroke Jim's neck. A shiver of desire shot down Jim's spine. He kissed Blair again, pushing his tongue into that heated mouth, taking Blair's breath away. And then reluctantly, regretfully, he withdrew.

Blair pouted, and the twitch in those lips -- beautifully kiss-swollen as Jim had hoped -- drove another sharp flare of lust through his entire body.

"We have to get an early start," Jim reminded him. "Get dressed." He turned to leave, but Blair caught hold of his arm, stopping him.

"Be nice," his Guide warned, and Jim knew what he was talking about. Blair knew him too well -- and despite his inability to articulate last night why he'd been angry, Blair had understood that also. But the warning in Blair's eyes, the realization that he was making an attempt -- granted a necessary one -- to defend Benton Fraser from Jim's 'caveman' attitude, simply set off another spark of possessiveness within Jim. He didn't want Blair defending that man.

He slid his fingers roughly through Blair's hair and pulled him up for another kiss -- this one hard and deep and claiming. Then he released him and exited the tent without answering.

-------

The white blanket of snow shone brilliantly in the morning sunlight, making the red serge of the Mountie's uniform all the more noticeable. Fraser had already gotten breakfast well underway -- pancakes and bacon no less. The mere fact that Jim was hungry and actually wanted to eat the food irritated Jim all the more.

"Good morning, Detective," Fraser greeted brightly, looking wide-awake and fresh. "Breakfast will be ready in a moment."

Jim nodded. "We should get going as soon as we can."

"I agree, Detective," Fraser nodded. "How far is the ranger's station?"

"If we keep up yesterday's pace, we'll reach it by early afternoon," Jim replied. "We can get the coroner to take the body then."

"Very good. I'm sure my superiors will appreciate all your help, Detective," the Mountie replied.

Jim frowned -- his superiors. He remembered then that Fraser had said something about being attached to a Canadian Embassy. He couldn't help wondering if this whole mess was going to turn into some sort of international incident. Simon was going to love this.

Blair and Ray emerged about the same time, both having spent time enough to repack their bags. Ray looked somewhat the worse for wear -- his hair sticking up in every which direction. Surprisingly though, he made no attempt to correct this -- rubbing his hands briskly over the spiky blond locks to send them into even worse order. He sat down beside the fire and dug into the meal Fraser handed him unasked for.

Diefenbaker, returned from some wolfish jaunt into the woods, made his way immediately to Blair's side and proceeded to mooch food from the young man. Despite their rather questionable meeting yesterday, Blair seemed quite taken with the animal and gave in shamelessly to the creature's begging.

Eventually they headed out, packs once more shouldered, Jim taking up the handles of the travois as they proceeded forward. Blair and Fraser were deep in conversation again, though Blair made an effort this time to include both Jim and Ray in their discussion. Neither man however was particularly talkative, and Jim resigned himself to a repeat of yesterday.

-------

It was one o'clock by the time they reached the ranger station. From there it was a simple matter to call in the authorities, handing the body of Lieutenant Fontaine into the custody of the coroner, before the four of them headed back into Cascade. Fraser, anxious to proceed with the investigation into his friend's death and eager to report in to his superior officers, insisted on accompanying Jim and Blair back to the precinct.

Two hours later, the four of them, plus one wolf, emerged from the elevator at Major Crime and headed down the hallway toward the bullpen. As they walked, worked stopped, people pausing to stare at the rather odd sight of a red-clad Canadian Mountie and a silver wolf. The majority of the cops stared bewilderedly until they spotted Ellison and Sandburg, then knowing looks filled their faces as if their presence alone explained anything even remotely out of the ordinary. After that it was largely only the women who continued to stare, all eyeing the Mountie appreciatively.

Simon spotted them almost immediately and the expression that crossed his handsome face spoke volumes. "Ellison! Sandburg! My office," he barked.

"Yer boss?" Ray took a guess.

Jim nodded reluctantly.

Ray just shrugged. "Got one just like 'em back in Chicago -- same voice."

The four of them headed into Simon's office, Diefenbaker slipping in behind them unnoticed.

Simon stood before his desk, a file folder in his hands as he gazed balefully at the group of men. He eyed Fraser up and down, noting the way the man stood so formally at attention, not too unlike the way Jim typically stood. Blair and Ray slouched near the window.

"Report said you found a dead Mountie in the woods," Simon said to Jim as if demanding to know why there was a live Mountie standing in his office. He had yet to spot the wolf behind the four of them.

"Lieutenant William Fontaine. Fell out of an airplane," Jim clarified. "This is his associate Constable Benton Fraser." He nodded toward Ray. "And that's Detective Ray..."

"Kowalski," Ray provided.

"Kowalski, Chicago P.D," Jim finished.

Jim saw the faint twitch in Simon's jaw, knew the man had just resisted the impulse to roll his eyes. "Constable, Detective," he greeted. He glared at Jim. "What's going on?"

Jim sighed and gave as quick an explanation as he could. He'd already bagged the two items they'd found on the Mountie's body, the cross and the leather, and he handed these over to Simon while Blair proceeded to explain the religious significant of both objects.

"The cross was reported stolen," Simon informed the four of them as he returned the items to Jim. "Seems it was on display at St. Michael's. Father O'Brien reported it stolen over a week ago, but so far no suspects have been brought in. I don't know anything about the leather."

"I know a couple of people over at the Native American Center of Spiritual Medicine," Blair offered. "I can probably find something out about the piece of leather. If some artifact has been stolen, someone there will have heard about it, I'm sure."

Fraser perked up at that. "Spiritual Medicine?" he asked Blair curiously. "What tribe runs it?"

Blair shrugged. "It's actually a collective organization -- but I believe the main influences are the Puyallup tribe and the Makah tribe. It began back in 19--"

"Thank you, Sandburg," Simon cut in. "I'm sure that's fascinating. Just find out what you can. The commissioner isn't particularly happy about having Canadians falling out of the sky."

"If I may have your permission, Captain Banks," Fraser said quickly. "I'd like to aid in the investigation."

Jim waited for Simon to deny permission -- hoping the captain would send the two men back to Chicago. But to his consternation Simon just nodded. "The commissioner has already spoken with your superior officers, Constable. We've been told to extend our every courtesy to you. Now if you gentlemen would--" He stopped suddenly, the sound of liquid being lapped up catching his attention.

Alarmed, Simon turned toward his desk, staring in shock at the wolf braced up on his forepaws licking contently at the liquid in Simon's coffee cup. "Is that a wolf drinking my coffee?" he demanded.

Jim and Blair both did their best to hide the snicker of amusement Simon's expression prompted.

"Diefenbaker!" Fraser exclaimed in mortification; he reached for the scruff of the animal's neck, pulling him down from the desk. "My sincere apologies, Captain Banks!" he said quickly, and then glared at the only mildly contrite animal. "Diefenbaker, you know you're not supposed to have any caffeine after two o'clock!"

The wolf just whined and wagged his tail.

Fraser seemed unmoved. "I don't care if it is decaffeinated," he stated unconvinced. "You should have at least waited to be asked first."

"Since when did you switch to decaf, Simon?" Blair grinned.

Simon glared at him. "Out! All of you! You have work to do!"

Fraser apologized again and then ushered an amused Ray and a pouting wolf out the door. Blair followed, assuring Fraser that Simon would forgive Diefenbaker in time.

"Why is there a wolf with you, Jim?" Simon demanded before Jim could escape.

Jim sighed tiredly. "Because we couldn't find any badgers, sir." As explanations went, it was poor at best, but it would have to stand. He wasn't certain he could come up with another one. Surprisingly, it seemed explanation enough. Simon Banks just sighed and nodded, and went to make himself a new cup of coffee -- double espresso this time.

-------

By the time Jim joined the others, Sarah, a new secretary from records, had succeeded in cornering Fraser. Jim paused, momentarily taken aback by the effort Sarah was going through to flirt with the man. He'd seen Sarah flirt before -- with him, with Blair, with Rafe and Brown. Hell, he'd even seen her flirt with Simon and the occasional suspect or two. But this -- she'd practically trapped the man against her desk, not simply staring at him -- devouring him.

"So is it true that Mounties always get their man?" she asked sweetly as she batted her eyelashes -- the whole thing came out sounding more predatory than she probably had intended.

Fraser, stiff and uncomfortable, scratched uncertainly at his eyebrow. "Ah well... actually the motto is--"

"I love mottos," Sarah murmured in encouragement, her statement flustering the Mountie all the more. Jim almost felt sorry for the man -- truth was it bugged him somewhat that Fraser seemed quite unhappy about the woman's attention. Uncomfortable even. Not many red-blooded males would turn away from a woman like Sarah -- not unless women weren't really their thing. Perfect. Handsome, a potential Sentinel, and now possibly gay as well -- could his luck get any worse?

"Mottos?" Fraser's voice broke somewhat. "Ah -- then you've probably heard--"

"Come on, Fraser," Ray Kowalski broke in, and Jim could hear the definite sounds of anger in the cop's voice. "Let's get moving. Time's awastin!"

"Right, Ray," Fraser nodded in relief. "I'm terrible sorry, ma'am," he scooted quickly around Sarah, escaping her grasp. "I really must get going."

Sarah smiled up at him, practically purring. "I'm sure I'll see you later."

Jim just shook his head and headed toward the elevator -- out of the corner of his eye he saw Sarah catch hold of Blair's arm, pulling him toward her as she whispered in his ear. Jim dialed up his hearing. "I want the hat as a souvenir. The boots if you can get them," she informed the anthropologist.

Blair just grinned cheekily. "I'll see what I can do."

Waiting for Blair in the elevator, Jim glanced briefly at the Mountie. Fraser was staring resolutely at the floor, his face bright red as if he too had heard Sarah's comment.

-------

At Blair's prompting they headed first to the Native American Center for Spiritual Medicine. They took two cars rather than making the attempt to all crowd into Jim's truck cab. At Jim's insistence, Fraser rode with him -- he suggested that the truck could more easily accommodate Diefenbaker's presence. He knew however that Blair was not fooled at all; the young anthropologist gave Jim an amused smile as he climbed into his car with Ray. He knew Jim didn't want him spending too much time alone with the Mountie. The look in Blair's eyes also suggested that he and Jim were going to have a long discussion that evening. Jim just sighed and climbed behind the driver's seat of his truck.

He followed Blair to the Center, making only a half-hearted attempted to respond to Fraser's overtures of conversation. Rather like Blair, Fraser seemed quite capable of carrying on the conversation with only minimal input from Jim. He mentioned something about the Inuit and then seemed quite content to launch into a story that Jim didn't bother listening to. The Mountie was only halfway through the story by the time they pulled into the Center and Jim interrupted him with the announcement, "We're here."

Without waiting for a response, he climbed out of the cab and went to join Blair and Ray by the door.

The Native American Center was fairly new looking, perhaps built in the last five years. It had the typical touristy type attractions out front that Jim expected -- a brightly painted totem pole, along with a mural depicting tribal life of two hundred years ago. But inside, the building was authentically understated -- hand-carved furniture from a master craftsman, several glass displays of ancient pottery, the walls decorated not with gaudy murals but rather pieces of art done by local Native American children. A long counter was laden with pamphlets and booklets explaining the purpose of the center and various lectures available for further education.

A young man sat behind the counter, and behind him through a large opened archway Jim could see several other people talking. Most noticeable was a tall slender, blond woman who was deep in conversation with two older men in business suits. Beyond them was an opened glass doorway leading to an outdoor courtyard and garden beyond. Within it sat two men -- one extremely old, his long white hair hanging in braids at his side -- the other young, perhaps seventeen or eighteen. The young man -- possibly a grandson, Jim guessed -- was listening intently to the quite murmuring of the older man. Jim dialed up his hearing, but could not decipher the language they spoke.

The man behind the counter looked up as they entered. "Can I help you?" he asked, eyeing them all up and down. The woman and the two businessmen also paused, glancing at them. The woman's brown eyes lingered on the bright uniform of the RCMP.

Jim flashed his badge. "Detective Ellison. I want to talk to someone about the possible theft of a Native American artifact."

Startled, the young man glanced over his shoulder at the woman and the businessmen. The woman stiffened and remained silent, but one of the businessmen came forward. "I'm Brian Mackenzie," he introduced himself, holding out his hand to shake Jim's. "I'm the director of the Center. What can I help you with?"

"A murder investigation," Jim explained.

The man's eyes widened in alarm. "I thought you said theft?"

"That too," Jim nodded. "We found a piece of white buffalo leather on the body of the murder victim. We were wondering if there was anyone here who could help us identify where the leather might have come from." He held up the evidence bag containing the material.

The man eyed it briefly, but shook his head. "I'm sorry, Detective. I don't know anything about it. I don't think I can help you." Surprisingly, Jim heard a faint spike in the man's heart rate. He frowned.

"Surely you have an expert here who could examine it?" Jim pressed.

The man glanced briefly over his shoulder looking not at the woman but at the old man sitting in the garden. But he shook his head. "I'm sorry, Detective. I'm afraid we can't help you."

But even as he spoke the young boy rose and hurried in from the courtyard, crossing the distance to the counter. He motioned toward the plastic bag in Jim's hand. "May I see that, sir?" he asked.

One eyebrow raised, Jim held out the bag toward him. The boy glanced at it briefly then shot a look back at the old man who nodded his assent. "My grandfather can help you," he informed Jim. "But he'll only talk to the Shaman." He stared pointedly at Blair.

Startled, Blair stepped forward. "Excuse me?"

The boy shrugged. "He'll only talk to you. One Shaman to another."

Jim was about to protest when he felt Blair's hand on his arm. "All right," he informed the boy. Then softly, "Let me find out what this is about first, Jim."

Jim just sighed and handed over the plastic bag to his Guide. He stood back with Fraser and Ray while Blair followed the boy back toward the courtyard. He dialed up his hearing, intent on listening in. Surprisingly he saw the old man grin at him and chuckle in amusement -- then he proceeded to speak to Blair in that same language he'd spoken in earlier. To Jim's annoyance, Blair answered back in the same tongue.

Irritated, Jim glanced at Fraser, seeing the look of surprise on the Mountie's face. It occurred to Jim that the Mountie might possibly also understand the language, but for some reason he just didn't feel like asking for confirmation. He'd wait for Blair -- wait to hear the gist of the conversation directly from his Guide's lips.

The two businessmen and the woman moved off, but not before Jim caught the intense scrutiny the woman gave his Guide. He resisted the impulse to smile -- funny how her interest in Blair felt nowhere near as threatening as Fraser's did. She might be female and beautiful -- but she was no Sentinel. Blair had hardly given her a second look. Ray on the other hand eyed her quite closely, and Jim found himself more interested in Fraser's reaction to Ray's antics.

"Ray," Fraser finally insisted softly. "It's not polite to stare." The blond cop had been watching the woman's tightly clad backside as she disappeared down a corridor.

"What?" Ray asked distractedly.

Fraser just sighed and shook his head, looking more uncomfortable than he had when Sarah had cornered him.

A few moments later Blair returned, motioning them all back outside.

"Well?" Jim demanded. "What did he tell you, Chief?"

"It's part of an ancient ceremonial cloak," Blair replied. "It vanished about two weeks ago from the Native American Antiquities exhibit on display at the Cascade Museum. The cloak was part of the costume of one the more famous Shamans -- apparently people have been coming from all over the world to see it."

"Why wasn't it reported stolen?" Ray demanded. "Yer Captain said he hadn't heard anything about it."

"It was reported stolen," Blair corrected. "Just not to the police. The exhibit has been bringing in thousands of dollars -- all largely due to the presence of the cloak. No one wanted word to get out that the cloak had vanished so they dummied up a fake and put that on display while the foundation funding the exhibit hired private investigators to find the real cloak."

"Foundation?"

"The Burnheim Foundation," Blair explained. "Mr. Frank Burnheim has supported a lot of such exhibits over the years."

"Well, then perhaps we had best have a talk with Mr. Burnheim," Fraser suggested. "Seems he may have already done part of the investigation for us."

In full agreement the four men headed again for the cars while Jim called the precinct for an address. Diefenbaker paused briefly as he climbed into Jim's truck -- the animal stared back at the Center, his dark eyes glaring balefully at one of the windows. He whined briefly, but for once the Mountie took no notice of his remark. He shot a wary look at the Sentinel, but Jim too had his attention turned elsewhere.

-------

Jessica Burnheim watched through a side window of the Center as the four investigators climbed into separate cars to leave. Her gaze lingered on the longhaired man, and she smiled at the animated way he talked to the skinny blond cop. Blair Sandburg -- she'd recognized him from the press conference so many months ago. Anthropologist, writer, teacher, police observer, fraud -- and Shaman apparently.

The shock that had gone through her when she'd heard Tom Blackfire's grandson name him a Shaman had been as unexpected as it was welcomed in light of the set backs she'd recently received. Blackfire was the real McCoy -- a Shaman of the highest order. And he'd named Blair Sandburg a fellow Shaman.

She laughed softly. A Jewish Shaman -- what were the odds? Especially one who looked like Blair Sandburg -- lovely by any description. Made her rethink the whole Sentinel thing too -- if he was a Shaman, wasn't it possible that James Ellison might be something more than a mere cop? It wasn't every day fate dropped such possibilities into her lap.

She slipped a cell phone from her purse, hitting a number. "Jack," she said into the slim phone. "You're not going to believe what I just found. I've got a job for you and the boys."

She grinned as she watched the four men drive away. Yes, fate had been good to her that day.

-------

The Burnheim Foundation, they learned, was part of the Burnheim Corporation -- a business rival of Jim's father it turned out. With offices in one of the high rises of Cascade, the Corporation was a formidable force in the upper echelons of Cascade society -- a fact Simon Banks pointed out to Jim when he called him after discovering the investigation was taking them straight to Mr. Burnheim himself.

"He's a big supporter of the current city administration, Jim," Simon warned over the phone. "Be nice!"

"Yes, sir," Jim sighed as he pulled into the Burnheim parking garage. Be nice -- how often did Simon tell him that? He chose not to fill his companions in on his Captain's orders.

They made their way up to the main offices, bypassing several secretaries with the flash of a badge until finally they stood toe to toe with Burnheim's personal secretary. The woman was in her fifties and hard looking. She glared grimly at the four of them, frowning disapprovingly at the wolf. Her gaze raked over the Mountie.

"Another Mountie?" she exclaimed with a snort of disbelief. "What is this? A Canadian invasion?"

"I beg your pardon, Madame," Fraser responded. "Another Mountie? Do you mean that I'm not the first Mountie to visit these offices?"

She just shrugged and hit the button on her intercom phone. "Mr. Burnheim, there's a Mountie and a couple of detectives here to see you." She listened briefly to her employer's instructions and then motioned toward the double doors to the executive suite of offices. "Mr. Burnheim will see you. Don't take up too much of his time -- he's a very busy man."

"Thank you kindly, ma'am," Fraser replied as the four of them headed through the doors.

Frank Burnheim was seated behind a large cherry wood desk, an unlit cigar in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. Middle aged but well-preserved, he possessed the precise good looks Jim associated with many of his father's friends -- artificial in some way. He clamped the cigar between his teeth -- still unlit -- set his coffee cup aside and rose to his feet as they entered. Jim flashed his badge once more.

"Detectives, what can I do for you?" the man asked, nodding briefly to the other men.

"Mr. Burnheim, I understand your corporation funded the Native American Antiquities exhibit at the museum," Jim began.

"Yes," Burnheim nodded. "What of it?"

"There was a theft recently -- a white buffalo cloak of considerable value," Jim continued. He watched from the corner of his eye as Blair and Ray moved casually about the well-furnished room, glancing curiously around.

"Yes, I already explained all this to the other Mountie who was here a few days ago," Frank Burnheim replied. "I explained why it wasn't reported to the police. I have my own people investigating the theft -- the tribes themselves decided they didn't want the negative publicity. I chose to respect their wishes."

"The other Mountie?" Fraser clarified. "Do you mean Leftenant William Fontaine?"

Burnheim nodded. "He said he was investigating another theft he thought might be related to this one. He assured me there would be no problem with publicity."

"Lieutenant Fontaine turned up dead yesterday," Jim informed the man.

Burnheim paled and sat down, his eyes widening in shock. "Dead? Because of this investigation?"

"That's what we're trying to figure out," Jim informed.

"This yer daughter?" Ray's voice caught all of them off guard and they glanced toward the blond detective. He and Blair stood on the far side of the room next to a series of framed pictures that hung on the wall. Ray was pointing to one in particular -- one that showed a familiar looking blond woman standing in front of an old building. Jim's eyes narrowed -- he'd just seen that woman at the Center.

"Yes," Burnheim replied. "That's Jessica."

"We just saw her at the Native American Center for Spiritual Medicine," Jim informed him. "Any idea why she might be there?"

Burnheim frowned at him. "She's heading the investigation into the theft for the Foundation, Detective. I imagine she's chasing down leads just like you are."

"Your daughter's a private investigator?"

"What of it?" he demanded. "What are you implying?"

"I'm not implying anything, Mr. Burnheim," Jim smiled. "I'm merely trying to get all the facts straight. Do you know if Lieutenant Fontaine spoke with your daughter?"

"You'll have to ask her, now won't you?" Burnheim shrugged. "I have full confidence in my daughter's work. I don't monitor her. I'm sure she'll find the cloak just fine."

"And if she doesn't?" Ray asked curiously. "If she doesn't find it -- you got insurance taken out on it?"

Burnheim's eyes flared with anger at that. "I don't like your implication, Detective. The value of that cloak isn't in its financial worth -- it is a sacred relic!"

"You ever heard of the Cross of Coronado?" Blair asked curiously, his timing impeccable. Jim smiled, dialing up his hearing.

"The what?" Burnheim frowned -- to Jim's disappointment there was no change in his heart rate. He shot a brief glance at Blair, shaking his head no. His Guide understood and just shrugged.

"Not important, Mr. Burnheim."

"We would however like to talk to your daughter if we could," Jim told the man.

"Leave your card, I'll have her call you," Burnheim replied. "She should be in early tomorrow. Now if you gentlemen will excuse me, it's quitting time. I'm heading home."

"Thank you kindly for your time, Mr. Burnheim," Fraser nodded to him. They all headed toward the door.

"Don't leave town any time soon," Jim added before he followed the others out the door. "We may have more questions for you."

The look Frank Burnheim gave him could have peeled paint off the walls two doors down.

Once back down in the parking garage, the four of them paused to decide what next to do. "We need to run a check on Frank and Jessica Burnheim and their corporation -- find out if they have connections to St. Michael's. We can pull the file on the Cross, see if they showed up at all in that investigation -- though I'm certain Burnheim wasn't lying when he said he knew nothing about the cross," Jim informed the others.

Blair was staring thoughtfully down at his feet. "Jim, that picture of Jessica -- it was taken in front of the Archeology department of Rainier -- I recognized the building. I'm going to head over there and see if the Archeology head knows her."

"Rainier University?" Fraser asked curiously. "The Archeology head wouldn't perhaps be Professor George Tarlin would it?"

Blair's eyes lit up, a smile gracing his lips. "Yes, it is. Do you know him?"

"Know of him," Fraser explained. "I've read several of his books on the Paleo-Indian settlements of North America. Why don't I--"

Jim cut in before Fraser could finish his request. "Blair, why don't you take Detective Kowalski with you to the college. I'm sure Constable Fraser should report in to his superiors. You know how the commissioner gets when there's an international investigation going on."

Blair simply gave Jim a long look, his eyes saying he certainly knew a lie when he heard one. "Yeah, Jim," he agreed. "I know how the commissioner gets." He nodded to Fraser. "I'll see if I can get you an autographed copy of Professor Tarlin's latest book, Benton. I'm sure he wouldn't mind."

"Thank you kindly, Blair," Fraser smiled in delight. "I would be most appreciative."

"Then Jim, why don't you bring Benton back to the loft?" Blair suggested sweetly. "He and Ray can stay with us tonight since they haven't had a chance to get a hotel room."

Jim gritted his teeth at the suggestion, glaring hard at his Guide.

"You don't have to do that," Ray protested. "We don't wanna put you guys out."

"No problem at all," Blair assured him. "We'll see you and Benton at home, Jim." Blair waved and headed toward his car, motioning Ray to follow him.

Unable to protest Jim just watched him go. "Thank you kindly for putting us up, Detective," Fraser offered.

Jim bit back the hard retort that sprang to his lips. "No problem," he grumbled as he stalked his way toward the truck.

-------

Professor George Tarlin was more than happy to talk to Blair and Ray. A bookish, little old man with wild white hair, he had an amazingly sunny disposition. Unlike so many others on campus, Professor Tarlin had never commented on Blair's recent difficulty -- had either ignored it or paid it little heed. He had his classes, he had his work, he had his writing -- beyond that he noticed very little else in the world.

"Blair!" he greeted when the two of them disturbed him that evening in his cluttered office. "What's it been? Six months? You got an 'A' if I remember correctly!"

Assuming the man was referring to the last class Blair had taken from him, Blair just smiled and nodded. "Yes, sir -- but I'm afraid it's been closer to four years than six months."

"Really?" the man seemed bewildered momentarily, and then simply shrugged it off. "Time does fly. Well, what can I do for you boys? You having trouble with your term papers this semester?"

"Ah, no, sir," Blair smiled gently. "I was wondering if you remember a student named Jessica Burnheim? I think she might have taken a couple of classes here..."

"Of course! Jessica!" Professor Tarlin smiled happily. "Lovely girl! Quite brilliant. She rather enjoyed my books you know. Only student I ever had who read every single one of my books from cover to cover. Most just read the introduction and then claim they read the whole book -- but I can tell the difference."

"Then she was an archeology student?" Blair pressed.

"A brilliant archeologist!" Tarlin agreed. "Did I tell you she read all of my books? From cover to cover no less. She was fascinated with my work on Paleo-Indian artifacts." He smiled conspiratorially at Blair. "She's promised to try and get me a peek at the Kennewick Man's bones! Wouldn't that be something! Nine thousand year old bones found practically in our own back yard!"

"She's an archeologist?" Ray clarified. "Not a criminal justice major or somethin' like that?"

He shook his head. "Nope, archeologist through and through. One of the best -- her specialty is religious artifacts. I'm afraid she was into that whole mystical study thing for a while -- but luckily she still managed to stick to the provable facts. Some of these young students today are into that intuitive archeology stuff -- but I say there's nothing that can replace honest research and hard work with a brush and trowel."

Ray gave Blair a knowing grin. Religious artifacts -- sounded incriminating to Blair. "Thank you, Professor," Blair smiled. "You've been a big help." He made a brief request to come back later to get Fraser an autograph, then Blair and Ray excused themselves.

"It's always the pretty ones," Ray grumbled as they headed back out toward the parking lot. The campus was nearly deserted, the sun having set over an hour ago.

"Excuse me?" Blair frowned, certain that Ray had not been referring to the professor.

"Jessica Burnheim," Ray explained. "You see a looker like that -- ya think to yerself -- now there's one fine lookin' woman. Must be a criminal. They always are."

"We don't know that for certain," Blair clarified.

"Trust me," Ray shrugged. "I got a sense for these things. You turn yer back on a woman like that and -- bam!" He punched his hand with his own fist. "They kick you in the head every time."

"We'll have to wait to see what Jim and Benton turn up before we jump to conclusions," Blair remarked as they headed across the darkened parking lot toward Blair's car. Both men were startled when a shadow stepped out from behind the car -- a tall man in a black coat.

"Excuse me," he broke in calmly.

Ray had his gun out an instant later, cocked and pointed at the man's head. "Don't move!" he ordered, his body vibrating with tension. Shocked, Blair froze, watching as the stranger did the same. He was about to say something, about to protest Ray's abrupt action when the distinctive sound of a gun being cocked behind him shut him up. Ray froze.

"Put the gun down, Detective," another man ordered from the shadows behind him. Blair had turned. Three men stood behind them -- all armed -- three men who must have been sneaking up on them while they walked. A Sentinel would have heard them of course, but Blair had not been paying attention.

"You put the gun down," Ray growled. "Put it down or I'll shoot yer buddy here!" There was a cold, almost manic sound in Ray's voice -- Blair had no doubt that he'd do exactly what he'd say. He wouldn't have guessed the detective capable of such hardness after seeing the almost goofy way he acted around Fraser.

"You shoot him, I'll shoot you," the second man replied coldly.

Ray just grinned. "Yeah? You might miss. I'm a crack shot."

Blair watched in silence, his heart pounding in his chest as the gunman stepped forward and placed the barrel of his gun against the base of Ray's skull. "I'm not going to miss, Detective," the man replied. "I'll shoot you and then my buddies will shoot your partner here."

Blair saw Ray's eyes shift briefly toward him. "Buddies?" he mouthed to Blair.

Blair just nodded. "Three of them," he mouthed back.

Ray sighed, rolled his eyes and uncocked his gun, lowering his hand.

"Very good, Detective," the man said, and then Blair watched in horror as the man struck Ray across the back of the head with the butt of his gun. He reached out to catch the man as he fell, but arms closed around him from behind and he felt a strong hand holding a cloth over his mouth. He struggled briefly, recognizing the scent of chloroform. Moments later the world began spinning and he felt himself falling, the night growing blacker and blacker.

"Jim," he whispered as he dropped like a stone, his thoughts centered on his absent lover. But this time he doubted even a Sentinel had been able to hear him.

-------

By nine o'clock Jim was getting worried. He and Fraser had finished up at the precinct and then headed home. Jim cooked dinner while Fraser took a shower and freshened up, both men waiting for their partners to return. The wolf, Diefenbaker, had made himself at home on the bed upstairs -- a fact that annoyed Jim to no end. He'd tried to get the animal off -- noting how the creature had made a point of remaining solely on Blair's side of the bed. But Diefenbaker had obviously decided not to move. He simply stared at Jim, giving the Sentinel the same stubborn look that reminded him of a certain black jaguar. Jim eventually just sighed and gave up.

Now, several hours later, dinner was ready and waiting, cooling on the stove. Fraser was pacing somewhat restlessly around the loft and Jim had called Blair's cell phone several times, receiving no answer. He and Fraser had finished up their work at the bullpen -- discovering only that there was no connection as far as they could tell between Frank Burnheim and Saint Michael's church and the theft of the Cross. Then they'd returned home to wait for Ray and Blair, hoping that those two had better luck with the professor.

"Something's wrong," Jim grumbled, getting ready to grab his keys and head back out to look for his wayward Guide.

The phone rang unexpectedly and Jim grabbed it. "Ellison!"

"Detective Ellison?" an unfamiliar voice asked. "This is Bill Palance -- I'm a security guard at Rainier University. I found a cell phone on the ground next to Blair Sandburg's car. I know he works with you sometimes and--"

"Is he there?" Jim asked in a panic, his heart leaping in his chest. He was vaguely aware of both Fraser and the wolf approaching worriedly.

"No sir," the security guard explained. "I was hoping you might know where he is and if he'd accidentally dropped the phone."

"Shit!" Jim reached for his keys. "I'll be right there! Don't touch anything else!"

He hung up and turned to Fraser. "Something's happened," he informed the Mountie. Fraser nodded in understanding and the two of them headed out the door, the wolf whining as he followed.

The security guard was waiting for them in the parking lot. Blair's car was the last one left there that evening. He and Fraser searched the area swiftly, Jim dialing his senses up as high as he dared, looking for any clue that might tell him what happened. A quick scan of the area revealed no sign at all of Blair's presence, but he could see faint marks on the ground -- fresh tracks in the muddy, melting snow upon the asphalt. And there was still a faint trace of Blair's scent in the air. That and the scent of gun oil along with a faint chemical residue that seemed strangely familiar -- a drug perhaps.

"These are Ray's tracks," Fraser pointed out to Jim. Ray's tracks stood right next to Blair's - -and the impressions indicating that perhaps bodies had fallen into the muck on the ground.

"At least four other men as well," Jim said. Fraser nodded in agreement.

"No blood," Fraser offered. But Jim took little comfort in that. Blair was still gone -- someone had taken him. The deep burning anger in his belly was tempered only by the mind-numbing fear he felt. Blair just had to be all right.

He yanked his cell phone out, dialing quickly. "Simon, I have reason to believe that Blair and Detective Kowalski have been kidnapped."

The curse Simon expelled mirrored what Jim was feeling. "I'll put an A.P.B out on both of them immediately," Simon offered. "What else do you need?"

"A search warrant for Jessica Burnheim's residence," Jim informed him.

"What?" Simon sounded surprised. "Isn't that Frank Burnheim's daughter? I thought you said there was no connection between the Burnheim foundation and Saint Michaels."

"Between the foundation and St. Michaels," Jim agreed. "But Blair was here looking into Jessica Burnheim's possible connection to the white buffalo leather. And now he's gone. She's the only lead we've got!" Even as he spoke, he saw that Diefenbaker, who'd been sniffing the ground around Blair's car, suddenly took off across the campus. Fraser, seeing it also, had taken off after the wolf.

"I'll call you back Simon," Jim informed his Captain. "Get that search warrant!" He shut his cell phone down and ran after the Mountie and the wolf.

The wolf led the two of them into the Archeology building, down a flight a stairs and into the main offices of the faculty. He stopped before one of the doors and began scratching at the wood. Jim knew immediately what he was responding too -- he could also smell the faint trace of Blair's scent here. Blair had been here -- probably just prior to the kidnapping.

Professor Tarlin, the sign read. Fraser knocked, waiting politely for an answer but Jim pushed the door open, striding in. He flashed his badge at the startled old man sitting behind the cluttered desk.

"Professor Tarlin?" he demanded. "I'm Detective Ellison, Cascade P.D. Have you seen Blair Sandburg?"

Tarlin blinked owlishly up at the two of them, and then glanced at the wolf. "My word, is that a wolf?"

"Blair Sandburg?" Jim repeated.

"Yes, I know Blair Sandburg," the man nodded. "He was just here in fact. He and his nice young friend."

"What did you speak about?" Jim demanded.

"An old student of mine," the professor explained. "Jessica Burnheim. Blair seemed fascinated by the fact that she'd read all my books. Why I remember one time when she--" He launched into a story about a theoretical discussion, and it took Jim several minutes to get the man back on track.

Eventually he got the man to tell him what he'd told Blair and Ray -- about Jessica's expertise in religious artifacts and items of spiritual significance. He left the man without a backward glance.

Jim called Simon back. "It's her," he informed the Captain, relaying the last piece of information to him. "I'm heading over to her place right now."

"I won't have the search warrant for at least an hour yet, Jim," Simon reminded him. "As it is, it's lucky that the judge owes me a favor -- otherwise I wouldn't even try getting a search warrant on such flimsy evidence. Don't do anything rash."

"Of course not, Simon," Jim growled. "I mean, just because Blair is missing, why would you think I'd do anything rash!" He hung up before Simon could answer.

Jessica Burnheim lived in an expensive high-rise apartment complex. The main building itself required a pass card to enter, and Jim fumed as he was forced to wait for not only the search warrant but also for Simon to find the building manager to open the main doors. While he paced angrily in front of the building, only vaguely aware of the pale wolf pacing alongside him, Fraser stopped to speak to a couple of homeless men sitting on the street corner across from the building. He approached Jim a few moments later.

"She's not here," he informed the Sentinel.

Jim glared at him. "What?"

Fraser motioned toward the bums. "They saw her leaving earlier today. She had a suitcase with her, and hasn't returned."

"And they just told you this out of the goodness of their hearts?" Jim demanded.

Fraser nodded. "Pretty much. They've been there all day, Detective. And Jessica Burnheim is a rather striking woman. They were able to describe her in great detail. I believe them."

The Mountie was quite serious -- Jim could see that just by looking at him.

"Shit!" he turned away. She'd left with a suitcase -- a fair indication that she might not be coming back any time soon. His only lead gone. He turned swiftly toward Fraser. "The plane!" he exclaimed.

Fraser's eyes lit up. "A Cessna Caravan. Should be easy enough to trace."

Jim yanked out his phone, dialing the bullpen. Megan Connor answered. "Megan, I need you to find out if the Burnheim Corporation or any of the Burnheims own a plane," he told the Australian. "Call me back immediately."

Simon Banks pulled up in front of the building just as he hung up, the building manager beside him. The manager grumbled a bit as he opened the front doors of the building, but he let the cops inside, leading them upstairs to Jessica Burnheim's apartment.

A quick search of the place proved out the bums' story -- she was gone. The books on her shelf and the various priceless artifacts decorating her home confirmed her interest in religious artifacts. But beyond that the initial search turned up no incriminating evidence against the woman -- a fact that Simon was quick to point out.

Megan called back as they were searching. "The Burnheim Corporation owns seven planes, Jim," she informed the detective.

"What about a Cessna?" Jim asked.

"There are two Cessna Caravans registered to Jessica Burnheim. She's also a pilot." Jim glanced across the room at Fraser, nodding in confirmation. "Where are her planes hangered?"

"A private airport just outside Cascade," Megan informed him. "But Jim, I already checked. Both planes are gone -- one headed out yesterday. The other took off about two hours ago."

Jim's stomach clenched at Megan's words. Two hours ago -- that was plenty of time for Blair to have been taken to the airport and put on that plane. "Get me a flight plan!" he told Megan.

"I'm working on it, Jim," she promised.

Jim turned to Fraser and Simon. "She has two Cessnas. One left Cascade yesterday, the other left two hours ago."

"You think Blair and Detective Kowalski are on that plane, don't you?" Simon asked.

Jim nodded.

"Oh, dear," Fraser exclaimed, a look of horror on his handsome face. "The last passenger she had on her plane... fell out."

-------

Megan was waiting for them when they returned to the bullpen. She had the registered flight plan along with a large map of North America. "I spoke with a man on duty at the airport. Jessica Burnheim was seen boarding her plane a few hours ago. He also claimed to see a couple of men carry two other men on board the plane," Megan told them. "Her flight plan was for a small private airport somewhere up in the Northwest Territories of Canada. I've got the coordinates." She pointed to a spot on the map. Fraser glanced at it, a frown creasing his brow.

"What's the nearest city?" Jim demanded. Megan just shrugged blankly.

"Detective, there's only one actual city in the Territories -- Yellowknife. And it's several hundred kilometers from this. The rest of the Territories are made up of tiny communities."

"One city?" Jim stared at the Mountie.

Fraser just shrugged. "We only have about forty thousand people in the Territories. We really only need one city."

Jim glanced at the map. "Then what's out there? Why would she be going there?"

"All that's out there is wilderness -- and ice," Fraser admitted. "But I do know that this is part of Leftenant Fontaine's patrol area. He must have discovered something unusual, and it led him back here to Cascade."

"Then we're going to have to go out there ourselves and find out," Jim decided.

"Detective, maybe it would be better if I went up there alone--" Fraser began. The dark glare Jim threw him silenced him.

"If Blair is out there, I'm going, and I'm going to find him!"

Fraser shifted uncomfortably. "Detective, it's winter. This time of year we'll only have a few hours of daylight at a time -- and weak light at that. The conditions will be the harshest you can imagine. I grew up out there -- well, several hundred kilometers north of there actually -- but I know the area, and I know how to survive the environment."

Jim understood immediately what the man was saying -- Jim would slow him down. He also knew just as certainly that he wasn't going to remain behind. "I'll match you step for step, Mountie," he growled. "My partner is out there. I'm going with or without you. This won't be the first time I've survived harsh conditions."

Fraser stared long and hard at him, and then finally just nodded in acceptance. "Understood, Detective. I'll call ahead to get some supplies set up for us."

Satisfied, Jim turned toward Simon. The captain was watching him with a resigned look in his dark eyes. "Just go, Jim," he said quietly. "And bring him home safely."

more than 11 years ago

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