BOKOR

By

D.L. Witherspoon

Chapter One

Jim looked at the fog-laden streets of Cascade and knew he was dreaming again. Every night for the past three days heíd gone asleep, only to supposedly awaken in the green-tinged mist. It was starting to get annoying. At first he thought he was doing one of those spirit walks Blair had talked about, and it worried him because those things had always been warnings. But when neither panther nor wolf made an appearance, Jim blamed the dream on the pizza they had ordered from a restaurant that had just opened down the street. Heíd carefully erased their number from the list beside the phone.

However, he was sure that the aftereffects of the pizza wouldnít last three nights. Was this a spirit walk, and if it was, what was it trying to tell him? So far he was the only one in the dream. He was walking the streets of Little Haiti, a part of Cascade which had formerly been full of tenements and boarded-over storefronts. Now, it was slightly improved, with some of the bigger empty buildings having been bulldozed and replaced with small, individual houses with tiny yards. For the most part, the denizens of Little Haiti kept to themselves, eschewing the aid of the city and especially the police who they feared were as corrupt as their counterparts on their native island. As an unwritten rule, the Cascade P.D. gave them as much autonomy as possible, not merely out of deference of the people, but also because of the whole voodoo aspect of the community. Even here in the dream, Jim saw evidence of it. Skulls and candles in store windows. Snake symbols painted on the sides of buildings.

Buildings. One of them had a light on inside, which was interesting because before everything had been dark. He made his way to the apartment, not really surprised that all the doors were unlocked. The apartment was lit, but empty. One of the bedroom doors was open. He peeked in. A crib, empty but from the way the covers were tossed back it looked recently occupied. He ran a hand across the mattress. Still warm.

Movement in his peripheral vision made him turn. A tall figure stood in the doorway. A slim black man in a tattered black suit and matching top hat. He doffed the hat and gave a small bow in Jimís direction.

"Too late, Protecteur. Too late," he said and started laughing, a deep barking sound that scraped along Jimís spine like jagged fingernails. The figure reached behind him and pulled out a child, a little boy who barely managed to stay upright on his wobbly legs. Still laughing, the man grabbed the scuff of the boyís neck and yanked him up, the little legs dangling. "Mine, Protecteur. All mine."

Jim started forward--

Then he woke up.

*****

"Youíre looking a little worn around the edges, man," Blair observed as he poured his algae shake into a glass.

Jim shifted his neck to give it a good pop. "Getting too old for late night stakeouts," he said, sniffing the orange juice before pouring himself a glass.

"The stakeout was four days ago."

"See? Way too old." Sensing that Blair wasnít buying the explanation, he quickly flung the comic section of the paper in his direction. Soon Blair was laughing at Garfieldís antics and Jim relaxed a little.

"Ellison, Sandburg, just the men I wanted to see," Simon called as they walked into the bullpen less than an hour later.

"Whatís up, Captain?" Jim asked, closing the office door behind his partner.

"Murder in Little Haiti."

Jim flinched, but schooled any reaction from his face. "Murder is Homicideís department, isnít it?"

"Three murders done in similar fashions make it ours."

"A serial killer?" Blair asked.

"Possibly. The three victims were male, middle-aged Haitian natives."

"COD?"

Jim looked at Blair, somehow surprised at how easily police acronyms and slang popped out of his mouth. The grad student was becoming more of a cop than those whoíd gone to the academy.

"Given a paralyzing agent then burned alive."

"A paralyzing...." Blairís voice trailed off for a second. Then he looked at Simon. "Are you saying these guys were zombies?"

Simon glared at him. "Thatís the exact attitude which has gotten Homicide nowhere. Stereotyping Little Haiti just ticks the people off. We barely get IDs on victims there, much less find witnesses."

Blair threw up his hands defensively. "Whoa! Iím not stereotyping. Itís a scientific fact that most so-called zombies have been poisoned with a powder made up of tetrodotoxin from the puffer fish. Whatís lesser understood is that itís not only the drug that creates zombies. The condition is also culturally induced, meaning that a person has to believe in zombies before he can become one. Since Haiti has a culture that supports such a belief, itís not that big of a jump to consider the possibility that the victims had been turned into zombies before being killed."

Simon shook his head. "Iím so glad your education is working out for you, Sandburg."

"What do you want us to do, Simon?" Jim asked quietly.

"Nelson and Deavers are the Homicide officers assigned to the cases. You are to assist them."

"Yes, sir."

Simon gave an audible gasp. "Whereís the sarcasm, Ellison? The ĎIím not paid to babysit grown detectivesí rant?" He looked at Blair. "Whatís wrong with him?"

Blair shrugged and eyed Jim worriedly. "I donít know. He looked a little peaked this morning. Said he was still getting over the other nightís stakeout."

Simon shook his head. "You check his temperature?" He leaned forward and brushed his hand against Jimís forehead, then frowned when Jim just sat there and let him. "Sandburg?"

"Jim?" Blair asked solicitously. "Are your senses acting up, man? Is something acting screwy?"

"Other than you and Simon?" Jim asked dryly. "My temperature is 98.3. My pulse is 72. Hearing, eyesight, taste, smell, and touch are all within sentinel-normal. Iíve had a couple of nights of insomnia. Itís neither fatal nor-- " he held up his hand at Blairís opening mouth-- "means anything more than what it is. I sleep. I dream. I wake up. And I will get over it."

"No--you know?" Blair asked.

"No animals, Chief. No prowling panther. No hurt wolf morphing into a naked you--"

"What!" Simon nearly yelled. "When the hell did that--"

"Alex Barnes," Jim and Blair said together. Simon shut up.

"Iíll make you a nice pot of chamomile tea tonight," Blair said. "And weíll get out the white noise generator. Maybe itís time you try out those hand-woven cotton sheets Naomi sent. Theyíre supposed to be incredibly soft and completely dye-free. Oh, and we need to stop by the mall on the way home and get a new sleep mask from the Merle Norman store. That cheap thing from Kmart doesnít block as much light. And why are you staring at me like that, Captain?"

"Awe, Sandburg. Awe and fear. Go. Find me my murderer, and then you two can go do your elaborate domestic rituals."

"You sound as if weíre going to groom each other like the primates at the zoo," Blair complained.

"Well, there was the time you went on that field trip and I had to search your scalp for ticks, Chief," Jim reminded him.

"Yeah, but what has that to do with making sure youíre comfortable enough to sleep?"

"Absolutely nothing. Simon was just making a joke, right, Captain?"

"If I say yes, will you leave?" Simon asked in exasperation.

"Scoutís honor," Jim said solemnly.

"Hey, were you a Scout, Jim? I almost was. You see, Naomi and I were--"

"Yes, Jim," Simon interrupted quickly. "Yes."

Jim nodded and steered his still talking partner out the door.

"So whatís with the reluctance, man?" Blair asked as he settled into the Fordís passenger seat.

"What reluctance?"

"Your jaw clenched tighter than the mayorís ass when Simon mentioned Little Haiti."

Jim thought about dissembling, but remembered what had happened the last time he wasnít forthcoming about his dreams. "My nights are spent in Little Haiti."

"Your nights? You mean in your dreams?"

Jim nodded reluctantly. "For the past three nights Iíve Ďawakenedí there."

"And"

"And nothing. Until last night."

"Jim, is it going to take us as long as a drive to the real Haiti before you tell me the whole story? ĎCause if it is, I need someone to cover the rest of the semester for me."

Jim snorted. "Fine. Last night I ran into a man in my dreams. He was black and was dressed in a top hat and tails that had seen better days. He held a little boy, toddler-sized, up by the back of his neck and said that I, Protecteur, was too late."

"Protecteur? Did he say anything else?"

"Nothing but that the boy was his."

"Was the man Haitian?"

Jim shrugged. "He had the accent."

Blair frowned. "A child? But the victims were middle-aged."

"I heard."

"So maybe one doesnít have anything to do with the other."

"You mean for once my dream is just a dream?" Jim asked with eager desperation.

Blair just looked at him. "I mean that maybe your dream isnít related to this case, but another. That both are occurring in Little Haiti may just be coincidence."

Jim sighed. "Burst a guyís bubble, would you." He pulled over near the alley where police cruisers and the coronerís wagon signaled the latest murder scene.

Before Jim could get out of the truck, Blair lay his hand on his arm. "Jim, I thought you were coming to understand that what you have is a gift. Donít fight it. Lives may be at stake."

Jim nodded. "I know, Chief. But just because I accept it, doesnít mean I have to like it."

"Youíre not a freak, you know."

"I know. Iím the Sentinel, le Protecteur. And at the moment, Iím late for a homicide scene. Get the lead out, Sandburg." He slipped out of the truck and made his way to the site.

"Donít forget to adjust your sense of smell," Blair whispered behind him.

"You, too, Chief."

"Jim! Should have known you were going to catch this one," Dr. Dan Wolf, Cascadeís Medical Examiner said, peeking out of the dumpster where the body lay.

"Yep. I always get the fun ones. What do we have?" He moved forward to help Dan as the man climbed out.

"Same as the others as far as I can determine before getting him back to the lab: dosed with a paralytic, doused with kerosene, and set afire in a dumpster." Black eyes stared speculatively at Jim. "If thereís anything else, I suspect youíll be the one informing me."

Jim shrugged. He knew his co-workers had suspicions. They wouldnít be good at their jobs otherwise.

"Anyway, since youíre here, Iíll delay loading the body for a few minutes."

"Thanks, Dan. Iíll let you know when Iím finished." Jim bowed his head for a second, preparing himself.

"Jim?"

"Itís okay, Chief. I can handle this one on my own."

"Thatís because heís Super Cop," one of the arriving detectives drawled.

"Next to you, Deavers, my pet frog is Super Cop--and heís been dead for over thirty years," Jim said dryly. "The second string is here, Sandburg. Why donít you go see if you can get someone to speak up?"

"These people arenít going to tell you jack," Nelson muttered, jamming his hands into a poorly-fitting jacket. Jim sniffed. Not poorly-fitting. Just dirty.

"Then you have nothing to be frightened of," Blair said with a smirk. "I mean, itís going to be bad enough when Jim solves your case, but with the help of an untrained observer.... Hmm. I understand your fears, my child." He grinned and jumped back when Nelson stalked in his direction.

"Keep your hands to yourself, Nelson," Jim ordered. "Chief." He pointed toward the businesses on the street.

"Iím going, Iím going."

Jim watched Blair cross the street, then turned back to see Deavers and Nelson glaring at him. "Listen, boys, I donít know what your problem is. Your captain contacted my captain and here I am. If you donít like it, take it to headquarters." With a grimace, he levered himself over the lip of the dumpster.

"We have M.E.ís to do stuff like that, Ellison," Deavers said.

"And thatís the kind of attitude that will keep you out of Major Crimes indefinitely," Jim replied, wincing when the sound of his voice bounced back against the metal container. He squatted down and looked at the body. Just another pleasant sight for the standard American homicide cop--No, wait! He wasnít a homicide cop. The two assholes, standing in the fresh air and talking about who was going to take the Western Division pennant, were the homicide cops. Ellison, how do you get yourself into these things?

With a sigh, he upped the gain on his eyesight. Ugh. Just as gruesome as heíd expected. It was a good thing heíd told Sandburg to back off. Though the kid had come a long way in confronting the savagery of modern man, some things he still wasnít able to handle. Which was a good thing. Somebody still had to think, had to assume, there was some good left in the world, and it sure as hell wasnít him. How could he possibly think anything good about a society which had spawned someone that could do this to another human being? The body was fully clothed, except for the abdominal region where the fire had consumed both clothing and flesh. He could see bits of the cotton shirt embedded in the large wound, along with something plastic--a button, perhaps? There was also.... He took a deep breath. Herbs? He forced down an uprising of bile, and factored out the stench of burnt human flesh and kerosene. Yes, there it was. Freshly burned herbs. He focused and saw the charred stems and seeds.

He sat back on his heels and tried to piece it together. There was very little trash clinging to the manís suit. That meant there had been no struggle in the dumpster itself. So, the victim was drugged before reaching the dumpster. Had the killer gently lowered the body inside? That didnít sound right. Zombie. Maybe a paralyzing agent mixed with something to make the victim highly suggestible? Zombie. Fine, a zombie who climbed into the container himself. Then what? The accelerant? No, the herbs. The herbs were placed on the victimís chest, an accelerant was employed, and the fire set. Where was the killer? Jim looked up, his eyes automatically adjusting to the light. Standing outside the container, looking down at his victim. Fingerprints. There should be fingerprints on the edge of the dumpster. Both the victimís and his killerís.

What else? Jim closed his eyes to concentrate, and that was when he smelled it. Perfume? He concentrated harder. Yes, perfume. Not on the victim. Belonging to the murderer? A floral scent. Not a manís. A woman was the killer? A woman serial killer? Not typical, but not unusual either. Especially when the victims were all male. Payback for a personal injury. Someone had screwed her over and now she was getting even. A deep background check on each victim, then. Especially the first one.

He sighed and half stood. That was when he caught a whiff of another odor. Faint but persistent. What was it? Decay. Older than that of the body before him. Very old. Like the smell of an exhumed corpse. Too late, Protecteur. Too late.

"Jim? Jim!"

Jim blinked. "Yeah, Chief?"

"You doing okay in there?"

Jim stood. "Iím on my way out now." He levered himself out into the alley.

"Find anything?"

"Thatís supposed to be my line," Dan said, joining them.

"Got the lab reports back from the samples of the burns?"

Danís eyes narrowed. "Yes, but apparently I must have overlooked something. What is it?"

"Some kind of herbal potpourri was placed on the victimís chest prior to the burning. I donít know what it means, but itís there."

Dan gave a terse nod. "Anything else?"

"Do you know offhand if forensics lifted any fingerprints?"

"A ton of them."

Jim muttered a curse. "Well, one of them belongs to the killer. She would have had to stand on her tiptoes to look over into the dumpster. Probably used her hands to balance herself."

"Her?" Blair asked in surprise.

"Just a hunch," Jim said quickly, feeling Danís interested glance. "Where are Deavers and Nelson?"

"Took off. Said theyíd get the report at the station," Blair answered.

"Can I move the body now, Jim?" Dan asked.

"Yeah, sure."

Dan signaled for his technicians to come over and give him a hand. "Iíll check into that tip you gave me and let you know."

"Thanks, Dan. Talk to you later." Jim started toward his truck, Blair beside him. "You get anything, Chief?"

"No one saw or heard anything, but--" He stopped walking and looked at Jim.

Jim stopped too, knowing he wasnít going to like what Blair had to say. "Spit it out, Sandburg."

"The family that lives almost directly above the dumpster werenít home. They were at Cascade General, sitting with their sick child--a little boy, a toddler."

Jim froze for a moment, then continued on to the truck. As soon as Blair was strapped in, he gunned the engine and made a U-turn.

"Where we headed, man?" Blair asked.

"Cascade General," Jim said tersely.

Blair wisely didnít say another word.

Chapter Two

"Mr. And Mrs. Cloutier?" Jim approached the couple one of the hospital aides had pointed out. He felt uncomfortable bothering them; they looked completely worn out from their long vigil. "Iím Detective Ellison, and this is my partner, Sandburg. Weíd like to ask you some questions about the murder that happened outside your apartment last night."

"I am sorry, Detective," the lean black man said. "But we were not at home last night. Our baby is very ill and we have been here for the past three days."

"Iím sorry," Jim said lamely. "Do the doctors know whatís wrong?"

"How are we supposed to know what the doctors know?" Mrs. Cloutier spat out. "They do not tell us anything. Because we are not American-born, they think we are idiots!"

"Please, Honorť," her husband hissed. "They will throw us out if you get any louder."

"That is my baby in there, with all those tubes running in and out of his little body. The authorities be damned! I am not going anywhere."

Blair raised his hands in a "harmless" gesture. "At the risk of sounding incredibly patronizing, would you like for us to talk to the doctors? Youíd be amazed at what Jimís badge can get people to say."

"And your skin is the correct color," Mrs. Cloutier snarled. Blair flushed bright red, while Jim just glared at her solemnly. Startled by their reactions, she took a deep, calming breath. "That remark was uncalled for. I am sorry, detectives. If you can find out anything about my baby, I would be grateful."

Jim gave the woman a crisp nod. He didnít like her implications, but he knew enough about prejudice to understand her frustration. Many a time heíd been ignored by certain Chopec who hated the fact that he was white. "Whoís over your sonís case?"

"Dr. Winston. Heís somewhere in the hospital, but not with my son as he should be," Cloutier replied.

Jim flashed his badge at the Nurseís Station and requested the whereabouts of the doctor. He was given an office number, and he and Blair headed toward the elevator.

"You getting anything, man?" Blair asked.

"Other than more and more uncomfortable?" Jim asked dryly. "What are we doing here, Chief? Iím supposed to be out on the street trying to catch a murderer, not badgering two stressed out parents of a sick little kid."

"Youíre the one who drove us here."

Jim slumped back against the elevator wall. "Donít remind me."

"Youíre operating on some instinctive level, arenít you? Coming here was a gut feeling?" Jim nodded unhappily. "Donít fight it. You know what happens when you do."

"Big shit happens."

"So weíre going to do this the easy way, right? Go with the flow of things, instead of questioning every insight and rejecting everything that doesnít have a logical explanation."

"I told you earlier I wasnít going to fight it, Chief. But I didnít give up my right to bitch about it, okay?"

"Jim, if you werenít bitching about it, weíd be heading to the psych ward right now."

"Youíd have me locked up for observation?"

"No, Iíd have myself locked up because Iíd be living in a fantasy world."

Jim rolled his eyes and stepped out of the elevator. "Maybe Iíll have myself locked up for a few days of peace and quiet," he muttered.

"In a psych ward?" Blair gave a loud raspberry. "People talking all night, and coming in and out all the time."

Jim shrugged. "Sound like home to me."

Blair just punched him in the arm and knocked on the correct office door. Jim led inside with his badge.

"Dr. Winston, Iím Detective Ellison and this is my partner, Sandburg. We have some questions weíd like to ask you about the Cloutier child."

The doctor looked surprised. "Child Welfare Services call you? I must say, thatís the fastest theyíve ever acted on one of my complaints."

Jim and Blair shared a look.

"Um, could you restate your complaint, sir, for the record?" Jim asked politely, taking a notepad out of his pocket to make sure he looked official.

"These foreigners are poisoning their children."

"You have proof of this?"

"Yes. Three Haitian children in Pediatric ICU."

"Whatís wrong with them?" Blair asked bluntly.

The doctor shook his head. "That hasnít been determined, but Iíd bet it was some herbal remedy or something given to them with their parentsí permission."

"Why would you make such an assumption?"

"Because Iíve had to have security chase out one of their witchdoctors on several occasions already."

"Could you clarify that?" Jim asked.

The doctor reached for a folder on his desk. "Two days ago, I entered the PICU to find a woman waving a bundle of dried sticks over my patients. I asked her to leave. She refused, saying she was trying to Ďprotect the bebesí soulsí. I called security."

"Why?" Blair asked.

"Because she was compromising the sterile environment," the doctor replied, looking aghast that Blair had asked such a question. He turned his attention firmly on Jim. "She returned the next day with more twigs and leaves. I gave strict orders that she be permanently barred from the hospital."

Jim nodded. "And you believe she is responsible for the childrenís illness?"

Winston waved a stack of folders under Jimís nose. "Tests after tests have come back negative. Something has to have triggered the comatose state of these children, and considering they all come from the same neighborhood, I think Iím justified in assuming the cause is environmental."

"What about the toxicology reports?"

"Theyíve come back negative, but Iím not surprised. Often herbal supplements are masked in the standard tests. Iíve ordered some specialized testing paraphernalia from the CDC, and Iím sure it will give us some more productive feedback."

Jim closed his notebook. "Be sure to notify us when you get this feedback," Jim said, guiding Blair towards the door. "Weíll definitely be in touch, Doctor."

"Racist pig," Blair muttered as they headed back to the elevator. "Did you hear how he said the word Ďneighborhoodí? Might as well said Ďghettoí or Ďslum.í"

"Ease up, Joan of Arc. Letís not start on the crusade just yet. I want to find out more about this Ďwitchdoctor.í"

Blair harrumphed. "Sheís probably just their spiritual advisor, Jim. Like youíd have a priest or something."

"Rather have the Ďor something,í" Jim said dryly.

Blair stared at him. "Iím sure that remark comes with a story."

"Later, Sandburg. Our elevatorís here."

Because of the crowd on it, Blair had to drop the subject and by the time they reached the floor where the PICU was located, he was on to another mystery. "Why are you so interested in this woman, Jim? Does it have something to do with your remark at the crime scene about you thinking the suspect is female?"

"The killer wears a floral perfume and leaves behind a bunch of herbs. I just think questioning this Ďspiritual advisorí is a good idea."

"Sounds highly logical," Blair intoned solemnly.

"Well, at least you know to keep your smart remarks to yourself until youíre already at the hospital."

Blair grinned. "Sell it to someone who hasnít seen you in that adorable apron of yours."

Jim took a swat at the curly head, then removed all amusement from his manner as they went through the doors to the pediatric wing. "These families donít need this, Chief. Itís bad enough their children are sick, but if the person theyíve chosen to lean on is involved in the murders...."

"Youíve really had some bad experiences with the religious sector, havenít you?"

Jim shrugged. "Not me directly. Never had enough faith to be take in by the whole concept. But Iíve known people who have been burned--literally--by their beliefs."

"You have faith, Jim," Blair said firmly.

"Maybe, but not in any religious orders, thatís for damn sure."

"Well, itís not like these people are going to easily give up their spiritual advisor to you."

"I know. Just thought it would be polite to ask them first, before getting the records from Security."

Blair smiled at him. "Why, Jim, I think youíre developing social skills. Isnít that sweet? Of course Iím going to take credit for it."

"Of course," Jim agreed. He zeroed his sight onto the end of the hall. "Chief, I think we just caught a break."

A few steps later, Blair identified the woman standing with the Cloutiers. "Corinna Santiago."

Jim nodded. Corinna was Cuban-born and worked as a liaison between the immigrant community and the mayorís office. She had been a witness in a cop-killing in Little Havana, and it had come to light that she was a Santeria priestess--something she really didnít want widely known. Understanding the need for keeping secrets, it had been worked out that she didnít have to testify.

"Ms. Santiago," Jim said, holding out his hand.

"Detective Ellison, Blair, are you the two officers Mr. Cloutier was just telling me about? I wasnít aware you were working the Little Haiti crimes. When I inquired earlier, I was told it was a Homicide case."

"It was, but now itís not," Jim said.

"Sirs, about my baby?" Mrs. Cloutier asked anxiously.

"They honestly donít know," Blair said gently.

"The doctor mentioned that a woman has been in to see the children. Weíd appreciate her name and address."

"Why?" Cloutier demanded.

Jim and Blair looked at Corinna with a silent plea. She gave a slight nod.

"Honorť, Jean-Michel, you can trust these two gentlemen," she said, gathering the Cloutiersí hands into hers. "They truly respect society which is different from their own."

"The mambo wasnít doing anything wrong," Honorť insisted. "She was just trying to keep the bokor away from the children."

"Bokor?"

"An evil priest, Jim," Blair explained. "A practitioner of black magic. A mambo is a priestess who practices white magic."

"You do not laugh or scoff?" Honorť asked in disbelief.

"No, maíam," Blair said quickly.

"These two know what it is to walk in two worlds," Corinna said with a soft smile. "Trust them."

Reluctantly Cloutier gave them the information. Just as reluctantly, Jim asked if he could see their son.

"Even if he were capable of talk, I donít think he could tell you anything about your case, Detective," Honorť said snidely.

Cloutier squeezed his wifeís arm. "I will take you to him." They walked past the nurse at the desk. "I am sorry for my wifeís behavior. This thing with our son, it has been very hard on her."

"We understand, Mr. Cloutier," Blair replied. "We know you both love your son very much."

"Yes, we do. He was just starting to form complete sentences and walk steadily instead of just balancing on his legs. Now he just lays there without movement. The doctors call it a coma, but--"

"But?" Blair prompted.

"It seems more like a curse."

"Do you believe in curses, Mr. Cloutier?"

"I am not an ignorant man. I went to the university in Haiti and have my graduate degree from here in the States."

"Thatís not what I asked."

Cloutier sighed and stepped into a small cubicle with curtained walls. A small dark figure lay on a bed of white, wires attached to legs arms and chest and head. "Yes," he whispered. "I believe."

Jim ignored the conversation and focused on the child. It wasnít the child in his dream, but close enough in size and age to be his twin. This was a kid who should have been peeking shyly from behind his motherís leg or boldly becoming the center of attention with his antics. Why was he lying there, his life slowly being drained away? And why did the room reek of the same herbs heíd smelled on the dead men? The priestess, of course. She was bound to this. As was the other odor that teased his nose, the scent of ancient decay. He closed his eyes and concentrated on sound. The respirator made a sibilant hiss. The heart monitor beeped.

And a voice laughed mockingly.

"Jim?"

"The other two children? They are here as well?"

Cloutier nodded. "I will introduce you to their parents."

He led them to two other cubicles where a pair of parents hovered over one child, and a single mother over the other. Jim froze as he recognized the child with the one parent. After a few stilted questions to the frantic woman, he excused himself and Blair and left the hospital.

Chapter Three

"Aurore Celestin. Doesnít sound like the name of a murderer to me," Blair said as the truck cruised toward Little Haiti again.

"I know youíre not liking the--what did they call her?"

"Mambo."

"I know youíre not liking the mambo as a suspect, Chief. And Iím not saying she is one. But? "

"But Iíve been riding along with you long enough to know that you canít judge a killer by his or her name or appearance," Blair finished with a sigh. "Doesnít it ever get you down, man? All these direct confrontations with humankind in its ugliest forms?"

"Sure it does, but closing my eyes to whatís out there isnít going to stop it, and I just canít sit back and let it go on. I tried. When I got my discharge from the Army, I never wanted to see another weapon again. I planned on finding a place to live out in the country where the only person I had to take care of, or worry about, was myself. One of my former COís had a cabin in the Rockies. Said I could borrow it for a while. Two weeks, Chief. Two weeks was all I lasted before I was packing my bags and heading for Cascade."

"What was it that made you leave?" Blair asked, always eager for an insight into Jimís past.

"I donít know. I just woke up one morning and knew I had to leave."

"And go to Cascade?"

Jim nodded slowly. "Which was a real surprise, trust me. When I left here I had no intention of ever coming back."

"But you had to come home."

"Yeah," Jim snorted. "Just like a salmon or something. Guess it was another primitive instinct for the resident Neanderthal."

"Did I ever apologize for calling you a throwback?"

"Did I ever apologize for jacking you up against the wall?" Blair shook his head. "Then I guess weíre even."

Blair sighed. "Youíre way too complicated to a primitive anything, Jim."

Jim grinned. "I think you just gave me a compliment. Thank you."

"Youíre welcome."

Jimís cell phone rang and Blair scooped it up off the truckís bench. "Ellisonís phone."

"Put him on," Simon ordered.

"Heís driving and we both know itís much safer to leave both his hands on the wheel." He returned the finger Jim gave him.

"Where are you headed? Back here?"

"No, why?"

"Two detectives seem to be waiting for your report."

"Tell them Sandburg and I arenít going to solve all their cases for them," Jim said loud enough for Simon to hear.

"Well, are you solving this one?"

"Weíre working on it, Captain," Blair replied. "Weíre on our way to Little Hai? "

"On your way? I thought thatís where you were!"

"No, we were at the hospital following up on a lead."

"What kind of lead?"

"A ĎJimí kind of lead."

Silence. "Oh. Speaking of--Dr. Wolf left you a package, Jim, and he said to tell you that you were right. He wouldnít leave the report at your desk because he didnít want Deavers and Nelson to get their grubby little hands on it."

"They wouldnít know what to do with it if they did," Jim said dryly.

"Heís sounding more like himself, Sandburg. The Haitians cooperated with you?"

"We had a little help. Corinna Santiago was at the hospital."

"One good turn, eh? Nice not to be labeled the enemy in that community."

"Might be speaking a little too fast, Captain. Once Jim arrests their spiritual leader--"

"Iím not arresting anyone, Sandburg."

"Jimís going to make an arrest?"

"No, Simon, Iím not."

"Yes, you are," Blair said stubbornly. "Heís got that look, Simon."

"Not the ĎI really like you as a person, but Iím going to bust your assí one?" Simon asked, the dread in his voice audible.

"Exactly."

"Give me the address. Iíll have a squad car, no, make that a couple of squad cars meet you at the site."

"Captain, Iím just going to talk to the lady, okay? There are some clues that lead me to suspect that she was at the scene of the latest homicide. I have some questions."

"And then youíre going to arrest her, and Little Haiti is going to erupt. I wonder if I should have the mayor contact the governor. We might need the National Guard."

"Simon! Iím just going to--"

"Wanna tell me what freaked you out at the hospital?" Blair asked, quietly blindsiding his partner.

"You are a Godís honest pain in the ass," Jim muttered when he could finally talk.

"Better get those squad cars rolling," Blair told Simon and clicked off the phone.

"You think you know me so well," Jim said bitterly.

"Shouldnít I after three years? I live with you. I work with you. Can you honestly say you donít know me? That you canít predict what Iím going to do, to a relatively accurate degree, from the way I say something or a look in my eye? That you donít know how Iím going to react in a given situation?"

"Weíre partners. It gives us an edge on the street. But thereís nothing supernatural about it," Jim protested.

"Did I say there was, man?" Blair looked at him in concern. "This is scaring the hell out of you, isnít it?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"I donít know."

"Why?" Blair persisted.

"Because heís dead."

"Whoís dead? Molly was dead, and she didnít frighten you like this."

"Molly was different. She was dead, and stayed that way. She was never--in this world, not the way he is."

"Who, Jim?"

"The man whoís stealing the children."

"The bokor? Heís dead?"

"Long dead. He smells like that mummy that came to Rainier as part of that traveling exhibit last year."

"That was a Peruvian mummy over a thousand years old."

"Yes."

"When did you smell him?"

"In the dumpster...and at the hospital when we were with the children."

"Was one of the boys a part of your dream last night?"

"Yes. The one that got sick yesterday."

Blair tapped his finger against the door. "So, I was wrong. There is a direct connection between the killings and your dreams."

"There appears to be," Jim corrected.

"When you get tired of being your own worst enemy, be sure to inform me. Apparently scaring the hell out of you isnít enough to make it through your tough skull."

"I just canít roll over and accept this."

"Why not?"

"Because Iíd be accepting that I really am a freak."

"Is that so bad?" He muttered a curse as he watched Jim stiffen. "Iím sorry, but I lied to you earlier, man. You are a freak. Weíre all freaks, Jim, in on way or another. I was considered a freak because I liked to read as a kid. I was considered a freak because I didnít have a father. What about Simon? Heís six-feet four--well into freakish height. Youíve heard the jokes down at the station. And I hate to tell you this, Jim, but there are those who already believe youíre a freak Ďcause you lived with jungle headhunters for nearly two years."

"The Chopec arenít headhunters.í

"Tell that to the people who watched them running around the streets of Cascade with their bows and arrows." Blair looked at him and shook his head. "Face it, Jim, you are not normal. You will never be normal. Sometimes I even wonder if Ďnormalí has ever existed. Iím sure some of Simonís childhood friends think itís bizarre that heís a police captain. Some of my friends believe Iím a thrill freak and thatís why I hang around with cops getting kidnapped and shot. Iím sure some of your friends thought twice about you when they learned you went into the military."

"Are you trying to make me feel better or worse?" Jimís hands were clenched on the steering wheel.

"Iím trying to show you that your acceptance of who you are wonít make a difference in other peopleís opinions of you. But thatís not it at all," Blair said suddenly. "Youíve never cared one way or another about other peopleís opinions, except your familyís. Your father already knows youíre different, Jim. The matter of degree is irrelevant."

"You think I donít know that? Iíve known that since I found out Dad knew about my senses when I was a kid. I wasted decades trying to be the typical all-American kid for him, and it was a losing battle from the beginning. I was--am--never going to be normal in my fatherís eyes. And Iím sorry, Chief, but thereís no such thing as Ďdetach with loveí in my family. We Ďdetachí with enough baggage to fill a C130 cargo plane."

"So why are you still fighting the battle then?"

"Because Iím my own worst enemy?" Jim gave a rueful smile.

"And just how much trouble has that look gotten you out of in the past?" Blair conceded.

"Oh, more than Iíll ever tell you about. Listen, Iím sorry I canít be as open about this as you--"

"Jim, it isnít about me. Itís about you. One day the truth is going to smack you dead in your face, and I donít want it to knock you so hard on your ass that you canít get up. Understand?"

"Do you at least believe Iím trying?"

"Oh, I know you are. Believe it or not, youíre not the Neanderthal I met three years ago. Iíve watched you come to rely on your senses, to actually trust them beyond any other evidence. And I was in awe at the ease with which you followed Mollyís guidance in finding her murderer. In fact I predicted that you would regress a bit after that case, once you sat back and reviewed what happened from a distance."

"And have I sufficiently regressed, Dr. Freud?"

Blair smiled. "See how far youíve come? Youíre snarky, but not angry. If Iíd said something like this two years ago, your glare alone would have turned me into just a mere greasy spot on the window--because I wouldnít have dared to mess up your upholstery."

"How I long for the good olí days," Jim sighed.

"Too late, man."

Jim paled. "Hopefully not for everything," he whispered.

"Itíll be okay, Jim. Just follow your instincts."

"And when I canít I should just follow yours, right?í

Blair laughed, confident now that whatever happened, Jim wasnít going to be irrecoverably broken by it. "By George, I think you just hit Ďgeniusí level."

"If youíre this bad now, how will the world be able to put up with you once you have your doctorate?"

"With ample reverence," Blair deadpanned.

Jim was still laughing when they reached the address given to them by the Cloutiers.

*****

"Tell you what," Jim said as they got out of the truck. "If I end up arresting this woman, lunch is on me."

"Not Wonderburgers," Blair stipulated.

"Hodgepodge." The restaurant had an eclectic menu that satisfied both of them.

"Youíre on, man."

Jim nodded, looking around the neighborhood. The street was a contiguous string of brownstones. Narrow porches marked the entrance to each one, and several of the porches were occupied. Even without his sentinel gifts he could feel their eyes on Sandburg and him. Maybe the squad cars Simon was sending was a good idea.

Squaring his shoulders, he climbed the three stairs to the porch of #183 and knocked firmly. A woman in her early twenties opened the door.

Jim flashed his badge. "Iím Detective Jim Ellison. Iíd like to speak to Aurore Celestin, please."

"Tante Aurore isnít home."

A lie, according to the womanís heart rate. "Please, maíam. This is official police business."

"It is official police business to harass an old woman?"

"Not harass, speak to, Miss--"

"You donít need to know my name. My aunt is not home. You will leave now."

Jim knew he shouldnít say it, that it would be better--more prudent--to walk away and return later, maybe with Corinna Santiago with him. But before he knew it, he was saying it anyway. "I know youíre lying, miss."

"Just who the hell are you calling a liar?" the woman yelled, and Jim felt Blair tense as all heads turned toward them.

He tensed himself as he sensed movement around them. "We donít want any trouble, maíam. Just tell Mrs. Celestin that I wish to speak with her."

"You having a problem with the man?" a voice called out, and Jim turned to see two large men join them on the porch.

"There arenít any problems here," Jim said quickly before the woman could answer. "I merely want to speak to Aurore Celestin."

"And Iíve told him that she isnít here," the woman said flatly.

"Then I guess youíll be moving on," one of the men said.

"No."

"What are you doing, man?" Blair mumbled too low for anyone else to hear him.

"Mrs. Celestin is inside." He could hear her heartbeat? and smell her perfume.

"Do you have a warrant for her arrest?" the other man asked.

"Iím only here to question--"

"Then I think you should leave, officer."

A losing battle. Jim knew it, but something stubbornly refused to let him leave. He turned toward the open door. "Mrs. Celestin! This is about the children!"

"Let him in."

The woman in the doorway turned around. "No, Tante, it is a trick."

"Let him in."

The woman reluctantly opened the screen door and allowed the two white men in, as well as the other two men.

Jim looked at the woman staring at him. She was petite, 5í2" and less than a hundred pounds. Her white hair was braided and wrapped around her head like a crown. And it smelled--of a familiar mixture of perfume and kerosene and burnt herbs. Damn. He was going to have to stop by the ATM for lunch money.

Before he could say anything the tiny woman was reaching out her hand as if to touch him, but her hand fell away mid-gesture. With an almost inaudible cry, she sank to her knees.

"Tante!"

Jim took a step toward the woman and was shoved back by her niece. Then the two men were grabbing him and Sandburg.

"Let them go."

Everyone froze, turning to look at the woman kneeling on the floor.

"Let them go, I say." Her order was quickly obeyed. She looked up at Jim, then quickly dropped her gaze to the floor. "Forgive them, Protecteur, and if at all possible, me. Theirs is but a sin of ignorance. Mine is more grievous, a lack of faith."

"Tante? Why are you bowing to this man?"

"Hush, child! Iím not bowing to the man, but to the loa who sent him. They granted us favor and for this, we offend their gift and leave him on the doorstep."

Jim had no idea what was happening, but he knew he didnít want an old lady on her knees in front of him. He extended his hand. "Please, maíam, stand up or sit down, but please stop kneeling."

She smiled as she took his hand and stood. "Of course you are humble. A worthy adversary of the prideful bokor."

Her smile threw him off-balance. "Maíam, Iím here to ask you about the murder--"

"I thought you said it was about the children," the younger woman said.

"Mariana, be quiet!" Aurore faced Jim. "Yes, Protecteur, I killed him, and the other two as well. Forgive me my arrogance in thinking I could do that of one blessed by the loa. I would beg of the gods properly, but I fear I will not be allowed the necessary tools where I am going."

"Mrs. Celestin, you are under arrest. You have the right to remain silent--" Jim urged.

"The loa see all, Protecteur. What do I care about your courts? Besides, you know what I have done. The blessings of the loa have made this so. Do you wish to bind my hands?"

"No!" The niece stepped between Jim and her aunt. "You are not taking Tante Aurore in. What she did was for--"

"Naught, Mariana. I did nothing to remove the bokor from this earth. I killed three perfectly evil men, but they are not responsible for the bebesí plight. Now I am being punished for my hubris, for thinking I know better than the loa, our gods. It is right and just."

Rapid French, with a Haitian twist, spilled from the younger woman, and the Haitian men joined in the discussion. The argument spilled out onto the porch where more neighbors had gathered. Jim could only imagine what the arriving policemen thought.

"Do you need assistance, Detective?" a uniform questioned as he pushed his way inside.

"Do I, Mrs. Celestin?"

"Non, Pro--I mean, Detective. I am voluntarily handing myself into your custody."

Jim gave a quick nod. "Okay, weíll have the nice officer here escort you to the station, and my partner and I will follow."

She bowed her head. "As the loa command."

Jim and Blair walked on either side of her as the officer led the way out to the street. They secured her in the back of the sedan, then climbed into the truck.

"No Wonderburgers," Blair said as he fastened his seatbelt.

"Yeah, I remember."

*****

"Good job, gentlemen," Simon said several hours later.

"Sort of easy when oneís suspect confesses, sir," Jim replied, stretching at his desk.

"Any idea why she was willing to tell you everything, but refused to acknowledge any questions from Nelson and Deavers?"

"She has good taste?" Jim asked dryly.

"Iím serious. If Nelson and Deavers have been causing problems down in Little Haiti, I need to let their captain know."

"Tell him, Jim." Jim ignored Blair, who scowled at his partner. "The only problem that Nelson and Deavers have, Simon, is that theyíre not Jim."

"Huh?"

"Itís a voodoo-slash-sentinel-thing," Blair explained.

"God, thatís already too much information," Simon muttered. "Go home, both of you. This might be Homicideís case, but itís going in your folder, Jim."

"Thank you, Captain. Grab your jacket, Chief. Weíre out of here. Ready for lunch?"

Blair snorted. "Itís nine-thirty, Jim. I think lunch can wait until tomorrow. All I want right now is to go home, make a sandwich from something in the fridge, and hit the sack."

"Thatís right. You have an eight oíclock class in the morning, donít you?"

Blair nodded. "A mistake Iíll not be making twice. But Sarahís good at covering my classes when something unexpected comes up. I couldnít refuse to change sections with her when she asked."

"Quid pro quo."

"Yeah, who says the barter system is dead?" He yawned as the elevator doors closed. "The press is upset that war didnít erupt in Little Haiti."

"It wasnít like I didnít try," Jim said gruffly.

"True. What was that about? More instinctual behavior?"

A shrug. "I just couldnít let it go. Time is limited."

"How so?"

Jim chuckled nervously. "I have no idea."

"This isnít over, is it?"

"Not by a long shot. But Iím just too tired to worry about it at the moment. Your idea of home, a sandwich, and bed is a very, very good one."

Chapter Four

Jim wasnít surprised to see the fog when he opened his eyes. He was surprised to find himself in a room with the tall thin black man and another little boy. No walking the streets this time. Straight to the action. He reached for his gun, but it wasnít at his waist.

"There is nothing you can do, Protecteur. Your weapons do not work in my realm."

"So why I am I here? To serve as your witness?" His words came out bitter. He couldnít rush the man, not without risking the child.

The man smiled. "Yes, that must be it. You are here at my will to marvel at my works. Look at this one."

He held the child up by his arm and Jim winced at the boy cried out. Without thinking about it, he grabbed the boy and pulled him into his arms. The child whimpered and lay his head against his wannabe saviorís chest.

"It does no good, Protecteur. Once I have touched them, they are mine."

Jimís arms tightened around the little one, the boyís fear almost overwhelming him. Damn it, there had to be something he could do. "Why?"

"I want to live. Is that so wrong? Youíve done distasteful things to survive, havenít you, Protecteur? "

"No. Not for my own survival."

"Ah, yes. Evil done in the name of saving others. How Ďwickedlyí noble. Akin to being a little pregnant, isnít it?"

"Iím not here to debate morals with you," Jim replied, having no answer to the question heíd asked himself a million times.

"Do you know how I know youíve done evil? Itís because you are here with me. The pure canít reach this level? the priests, the shamans, the monks hiding away from the big, bad human masses. Only one who knows evil, who has committed it with full knowledge and awareness, can walk in my realm. Was it good for you, Protecteur? Did it warm your cold blood? Stir your loins? Did you lie back after it was over, satiated, and craving a cigarette?" the bokor added with a laugh.

"I donít smoke."

"So cool, so tough. But come, Ďfess up, mon ami," the bokor urged with a wink. "As one evil doer to another, didnít it feel good? The blood was hot, was it not, as it flowed from the long, white throat? Hot, yet silky, almost caressing as it ran between your fingers and along your arm. The smell that had sickened you earlier became a heady bouquet, an aphrodisiac. You smiled at the body that lay slack against you. Your innocence was lost, and the man was born. It is true, isnít it? You never forget your first."

"Thirty-nine people were going to die that night. I had to do what I did," Jim said defensively, thinking back to what should have been a simple three-day leave. Young, cocky, and brash, he and his teammates had gone to a place forbidden by their commander and the State Department. When the situation had gone wrong, there was no one to turn to for help. They were on their own...and heíd done what he had to do to save not only his friends, but civilians. After it was over, after he and his buddies were safe back at the base, with their commander none the wiser, heíd thought about what heíd done. Heíd been shocked, horrified, and ultimately thrilled. Ranger training and covert ops had been a cinch after that.

The forced 18-month isolation from modern civilization, however, changed the course of his life. The quietness of the jungle allowed him to hear his own thoughts. The lack of a chain of command showed him he was in charge of his own destiny. Sleeping miles away from others let loose the bonds he had on his demons and they paraded before him each night, revealing the truths heíd consciously hid. When he looked into the eyes of who heíd thought was his relief and said he was tired, heíd meant it. Tired of everything heíd been, everything heíd done.

Something brushed across his face and he stepped back from the spider web that was coming from the palm of the bokorís hand. "What the hell are you?" he whispered in horror.

"An ally, Protecteur, one who truly understands your src="spacer.gif" width="120" height="10000" align="left">pain. Just three more children and I can be with you on your plane of existence. Three more children and I, too, can give up evil for seventy years. I will be your friend and you will be mine. We shall be comrades, brothers-in-arms for all of eternity."

"Seventy years is a short eternity," Jim replied distractedly. He looked at the sleeping boy. How to get him away safely?

"In appreciation for being my friend, I could arrange for you to become like me," the bokor silkenly offered.

"Killing babies to survive? I donít think so."

The bokor chuckled indulgently. "Ah, but I think so, Protecteur. By touching you, I saw your soul. So like mine."

"No!"

Jim sat up in bed, panting softly. He quickly checked to see if heíd awakened Blair with his cry, and when he heard Sandburgís steady breathing, he drew his knees up and dropped his head atop of them. Damn. He didnít know how good heíd had it wandering around Little Haiti alone. The bokor talked too much and the boy.... He didnít even bother to call the hospital to confirm that another child had been brought in.

Determined, he got dressed, ignoring how his hand shook as he brushed his teeth. Leaving a note for Blair, he left the loft.

*****

Blair waved to Jim when he spotted him already seated at Hodgepodge. He chatted with a few fellow grad students before joining Jim. He was relieved that his partner didnít look too stressed. He hadnít known what to expect after waking and finding Jimís note to meet him at the restaurant for the promised lunch. "Hey, man, whereíd you disappear to before the crack of dawn? My clock went off at 6:30 and the shower was almost completely dry already. Simon call or something? Why didnít you wake me?"

Jim looked up from his menu and gave him a sad smile. "Chief, Iím a freak."

Blair dropped into his seat. "Oh, God. Whatís happened?"

"Another child."

"Someone call from the hospital? Thatís why you left?"

Jim shook his head. "No one called. I left to go see Mrs. Celestin."

Blair groaned. "Iím sure the night shift at the jail was just thrilled that you actually made them work at that hour. By four oíclock, theyíre usually done for the night."

"You think I cared?"

"And those social skills of yours were coming along so nicely," Blair said dryly, grabbing a glass of water. After taking a sip, he looked at Jim. "What did she tell you?"

"Nothing that the bokor hadnít already told me himself."

Blair stared. "Get me to Blockbusterís because Iím apparently a video behind."

Jim remained silent as the waitress came to take their orders. Then he told Blair what heíd learned from both the bokor and Aurore Celestin.

"So the dead bokor steals the souls of these little boys? "

"The lives, actually. As soon as he gets them all, they die."

"So the bokor takes the lives of seven little boys and he gets to be Ďaliveí for seventy years. What happens if he doesnít get all seven? I mean, if you stopped him now would he get to live forty years?"

"No, itís an all-or-none deal. Thatís why the children still live."

"And you can kill the bokor by burning him?"

"Burning a live bokor works. Once heís good and dead then whatever spells heís cast become undone."

"But this bokor is already dead."

"Yes, something that upset Mrs. Celestin terribly. It seems sheís less of an expert on bokors than she pretends. Mrs. Celestin left Haiti in 1943 when she was when she was four years old. Apparently every bokor sheís gone up against has been a live one, an evil counterpart, I guess. This one being dead is something new."

Blair sighed. "The blind leading the blind."

"You got that right."

"So she killed those three men for nothing."

"Not exactly for nothing. Each one of them was a known bokor, selling curses and spells to put on enemies and ex-spouses."

"But they arenít the ones responsible for the condition of the children."

"No."

"Did you describe what you dreamed?"

"Yes. She said from his dress he sounded old." Jim snorted. "Are all mambos such founts of knowledge?"

"She really disappointed you, didnít she?"

"I am so out of my league here, Chief. I was hoping maybe you could do a little research? "

"Consider it done. What I donít get is how to burn him. Heís not Ďaliveí yet, so he doesnít exist here. Maybe you have to burn him in his own reality. I wonder why she didnít know he was dead. Then she could have tried to reach him on his plane of existence."

"Sheís not allowed there anyway."

"Why? Because sheís a woman?"

"According to the bokor itís because sheís too pure."

"Well, thatís not a problem for you," Blair teased.

"Too true."

The reply sounded...off. "Jim?"

Jim pasted a smile on his face. "I figure thatís why she didnít know he was dead. Unless sheís just selling her followers a bill of goods and sheís not really a mambo. Maybe sheís just an old girl with a good spiel."

"She knows enough to recognize what you are."

"Good point. Guess Iím not getting enough sleep to keep up, Chief."

"Why donít you see if Simon will let you have the afternoon off? Youíve already put in a full dayís work."

"I have other cases besides this one. Actually, this one doesnít exactly count since I have the confessed murderer in custody. Speaking of...Nelson and Deavers just came in."

Blair craned his neck around toward the door. "What are they doing here? I figured they never entered a restaurant that didnít have cow horns coming from its sign."

"Since theyíre heading this way, Iíd say they were here to see us. The Little Boysí Room is down that hallway. Make sure you wash your hands afterwards," Jim said as the two men approached.

Nelson snatched up a menu. "What kind of place is this? Tofu on wheat toast?"

"Itís a restaurant that requires you eat with utensils," Blair replied. "Iím not surprised you donít know about it."

"Should have known Ellison would be here with you. Sure there isnít something you want to tell us?" Deavers asked with a smirk.

"As a matter of fact, there is," Jim said solemnly, laying his hand on Blairís shoulder. " But I think it should wait until everyoneís here. Hey, H!"

Detective Henri Brown lumbered over to the table. "Thought that was your truck in the parking lot, Jim. Hey, Hairboy."

"H. Whereís your partner?"

"Ordering us something to go. Some of us have to work to solve our cases. We donít have murderers confessing at our feet."

Jim flushed. "The uniforms talked, didnít they?"

"Donít be embarrassed, babe. If you got the mojo to have them bowing at your feet, I say more power to you, bro. But Iím hurt. You seem to be having a luncheon," Brown said in a very snooty voice, "and my partner and I didnít receive our invitations."

"Weíre here because we want to know why Ellison was visiting our prisoner bright and early this morning," Deavers answered.

"Your prisoner?" Brown laughed. "The story at the station is that she wouldnít spit on either of you if you were on fire."

"But now Ellisonís going to give us his big revelation," Nelson said, glaring at Brown.

"Whatís that?" Brown asked.

"Well, all of Major Crimes already knows, and itíd be a shame if you heard it from anyone else," Jim said, his body tense and anxious. He leaned forward and everyone bent toward him. "Nelson, Deavers, Blair and I, well, we think you should know--youíre assholes."

Brown sank to his knees, laughing so hard tears trailed down his face. Blair grinned at the boiled lobster look of the Homicide detectives, then joined Brown, laughing until he started coughing. At some point, about the time Jim forced Blair to take a drink of water, and guided Brown off the floor and into a chair, Nelson and Deavers stomped out of the restaurant.

"What did I miss?" Rafe asked as he came up to the table with two white containers. "You guys were howling like hyenas, and Nelson and Deavers nearly shoved into me as they left."

Brown sniffed and wiped at his eyes with a balled up tissue from his pocket. "Iíll tell you on the way back to the station, babe. If I start up again in here, theyíre liable to ban me for good. Jim, my man. Youíre in fine form today. Glad weíre friends and not the opposite."

"Come on, H. I really want to hear this," Rafe urged.

"See you guys back in the pen," Brown called with a departing wave.

"You okay, Chief?"

Blair drained the glass of water. "Oh, man, that was sooo good. Did you see their faces? If Columbus had seen them no way heíd have called Indians Ďred men.í" He held back more laughter as the waitress delivered their plates. "We shouldnít have to worry about them for a while."

"Good, because I already have enough to worry about. Three more, Chief. I have three more nights to figure this out or those kids die."

"Weíll do it, Jim."

Jim nodded and they remained quiet as the food was delivered.

Chapter Five

Blair searched the bullpen for his partner and when he didnít see him, he headed for the familiar desk to wait.

"Sandburg."

Blair turned to see Simon standing at the office door, gesturing him inside. "Hey, Captain Banks, whatís up?"

"Thatís what I think Iíd like to know. Jimís still having those rough nights, isnít he?"

"Yeah. I told him he should ask you for the afternoon off. Heís been at work since four or five this morning."

Simon nodded. "Talking to Aurore Celestin. Why? I thought this case was a slam dunk."

"She is your killer, itís just that itís more complicated than that."

The captain rubbed the spot between his eyes. "I was afraid of that. What am I missing?"

"She killed the men because they were bokors, practitioners of left-hand Voudun--black magic. She was trying to get rid of the one who is cursing the Haitian neighborhood by taking the souls of Haitian children."

"Damn. I knew voodoo had to be involved. What does this have to do with Jim?"

"He sees the real bokor, actually the spirit of the bokor because this particular bokor is dead--"

"Jimís seeing dead people again? What are you giving him this time, Sandburg?" Simon asked in exasperation.

"Nothing, Captain, honest. Anyway, Jimís had conversations with this dead bokor, and he knows heís guilty because last night Jim held one of the children in his arms before the bokor took him away. That child now is a patient at Cascade General, along with three others. When the number gets to seven, the children die. and the bokor gets to return to earth as a living human."

Simon groaned. "I asked, didnít I?"

"Yes, you did."

"So youíre handling this, right?"

"Doing the best we can, but weíre working slightly blind. Mrs. Celestin knows little more than we do."

"Well, thatís never stopped you before."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence. Where is my intrepid partner anyway?"

"Downstairs working off some of his frustration in the gym per my orders. Thought a punching bag could take his fists a little better than the computer screen."

"Itís the children thatís making him so edgy. They are the most vulnerable of the tribe, as well as the tribeís future."

"You know I donít believe any of this, right?"

"Your belief or disbelief wonít change what Jimís going through. But your understanding will help him do what he has to do."

"You should have went to law school, son. You could get the devil released on his own recognizance. Go get Jim and get out of here. Just keep me informed so I can cover for him if need be."

"Thanks, Simon. See you tomorrow, hopefully."

Blair headed for the basement, thinking that having the gym and the morgue on the same floor was kind of ironic. The gym was all about health and the morgue.... Of course, he had some friends who swore that using a gym equaled the morgue. Couch/computer potatoes, every last one of them.

He looked around but didnít see Jim at the punching bag or at the bench press. "Seen Ellison?" he called loudly.

"I bumped into him when I was coming in," someone replied. Sanderson, from Robbery. "Going across the hall into the morgue."

"Thanks."

Blair took a deep breath and entered the morgue.

Dr. Dan Wolf looked up from the Check-In desk. "Looking for your partner? Said he was heading out for pizza."

Blair blanched. Pizza after visiting the morgue? And Jim couldnít even stomach an algae shake. "Thanks, Doc. Any problems with the Little Haiti murders?"

"No. It all checks. Forensics even found the womanís fingerprints just like Jim predicted. Take care of him, Blair. Heís really needed around here."

"I know. And I will," he promised.

Blair headed to the garage, saw Jimís truck still parked, and headed to the street. Two pizza parlors within walking distance. Jim hated Tonyís. They used Clorox as a disinfectant and the scent made him whoozy. Pepeís then. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the typical low-lighting of a pizza joint, then he scanned the tables, booths, and orders-to-go area. No Jim. Just a crowd in the back where the arcade was. From the sounds of it, they had somebody about to break a record. He smiled, remembering some of the initials heíd left on machines around the country.

Curious, he wandered toward the group. Most were male students from Rainier and the local high schools. Boys will be boys, Blair thought with a grin.

"Man, ainít nobody gonna be able to touch that."

"Shit. What the hell you call a number with that many numbers in it?"

"Fuckiní A. Didnít know old dudes could do shit like this."

Old dudes? Blair casually shoved his way to the front. Jim stood at the pinball machine and for a moment, Blair thought heíd zoned on the flashing lights or the constant dinging and buzzing. But as the score kept climbing higher and higher, he realized Jim was in no danger.

"No worries, mate," Jim said.

Blair relaxed. The Sentinel was fully operational. "Meganís gonna kick your ass for stealing her line."

"Probably. Whatís up? The captain send you out on reconnaissance?"

"He thought you were in the gym."

"Took a wrong turn in the basement." The score kept increasing.

"Did you get your pizza?"

"Took another wrong turn."

"Well, stop turning. We have orders."

"One minute and...." The lights on the machine started twinkling in a frenzy and cheesy circus music filled the air. Jim typed in JJE when prompted, then turned to Blair with a satisfied grin on his face. "Chalk one up for the old dudes, Chief."

They made it out with a hail of back pats and cheers, taking with them a free pizza.

"I love the smell of napalm in the morning!" Jim said as they walked back to the police station.

"You havenít defeated the apocalypse," Blair reminded him, recognizing the quote from the movie, Apocalypse Now. " You just put some snot-nosed kids in their places." Jim looked at him. "Okay, maybe that was the apocalypse. I didnít know you played pinball."

"I donít. Or didnít. Today was my first time. I just started playing and found I could anticipate what the ball was going to do."

"Hell of a run of beginnerís luck. Was it just pinball, or did you avoid the other games too, like Pac-Man and Asteroids?"

"All of them. Why?"

"Iím wondering, now that we know you had your senses as a boy, if you didnít unconsciously avoid things that might make you zone, like video games."

"So there was a reason I hated the opera," Jim exclaimed brightly. "And Carolyn thought I was just an uncivilized, uncouth, uncultured cretin."

"She said that?"

"Yeah."

"I think I would have liked to have gotten to know her better."

"No way. My ego couldnít survive the two of you together." Blair led him toward the parking level. "So whereíre we headed?"

"Home."

"Thought Simon gave us orders?"

"He did? handle it and keep him informed."

"It? You told him?"

"A Simon-ized version."

"Howíd he take it?"

"With a ĎJimís seeing dead people again?í Of course, he blames me for giving you something."

"Sorry."

Blair shrugged. "Hey, if it gets him through the night.... Now, we have to see about getting you through the night."

*****

"So, did you find out anything?" Jim asked as he and Blair climbed the stairs to the loft.

"Most bokors are arrogant as hell."

Jim shrugged. "You said they were priests."

"Have you considered therapy?"

"Me and my other thirty-seven personalities discussed it--and the vote was thirty-six to two."

"You and who else?"

"Phil. He figured if the therapist was pretty, itíd be like phone sex."

Blair laughed. "Philís the one who likes redheads, isnít he?"

"The horny bastard is not particular. Itís just that redheads tend to like Phil."

"Oh, and what about Jim?"

"Jimís a Sentinel. He thinks--no, he knows women have cooties."

Jim had to open the door because Blair was laughing so hard he kept missing the keyhole.

"You want a beer with your pizza, Sandburg?"

Blair set his backpack aside. "Yeah." He walked into the kitchen and took the bottle Jim was holding out. He frowned when his roommate got out a water for himself. "Whatís wrong?" A sure sign of Jimís senses going out of whack was the Sentinel retreating from anything that had a taste to it.

"Just being cautious. You were telling me what you learned about bokors."

"They deal in black magic, and like I was saying about zombies, whether the magic works or not depends heavily on the belief factor which is a cultural phenomenon."

"I donít believe--my own personal cultural phenomenon--so why the hell am I seeing this spook?"

"Um, my best guess is that while most black magic is mind over matter, some of it isnít."

"What a brilliant theory, Dr. Sandburg. Should have submitted that as your diss."

"Has that particular issue rotated back to the foreground already?"

"No."

"Just checking."

Jim tossed back a long gulp of water. "So this crap is real?"

"As real as Mollyís murder was."

"Molly wanted her case solved. This--thing--wants something entirely different. How do I stop him?"

"Since weíre really dealing with the spirit of the bokor as opposed to an actual bokor, I researched exorcisms and such."

"My headís not going to start spinning, is it? Iím pretty sure my senses wonít like that."

"And Iím pretty sure your headís not going to start spinning. But you know, a crucifix might not be such a bad idea. Voudun is closely related to Catholicism."

"Just what I need--to get really intimate with a crucifix."

"Okaay. Scratch the crucifix. How about holy water?"

"How about I just strangle the shit out of the bokor and get some real sleep?"

"Itís probably not that easy."

"I know itís not that easy. Even my gun doesnít work in that place."

"So, I think my first plan is the best plan," Blair said firmly.

"What first plan? You never said anything about a plan."

"You never gave me a chance. I was thinking that if a spirit knows how to make himself live again, then he probably knows how to die as well. You need to make him tell you how to kill him, Jim."

"Fine. First thing Iíll ask when I see him next, Chief."

"Jim, heís arrogant. Play that against him. I know you like to pretend youíre a dumb shithead, but Iíve seen you in action. Mind games are a specialty of yours. If all fails, send in Phil. He can be a charming bastard when he wants something."

Jim grinned. "This is getting to be a little too surreal, Sandburg."

"Look up the curse, ĎMay you live in interesting timesí in a book, man. I bet our pictures are right there beside it. Now, where were we?"

"Playing mind games with a spirit."

"Right, right. Okay, it seems he already likes to talk to you, so it shouldnít be a problem."

"He wants us to be friends."

Blair blinked and put down his beer. "He what?"

"He wants us to be friends, brothers-in-arms forever."

"Forever?"

Jim said. "Said he could make me like him."

"He offered you immortality?"

"Yeah."

"And you didnít think this was worthy of mention?" Blair asked coolly.

"I didnít take the offer seriously, Chief."

"Why not?"

Jim stared at him. "Other than the fact it involves killing little kids? What kind of monster do you think I am?"

Blair flushed. "Iím sorry, Jim. I know youíre not a monster. Itís just--you didnít even stop to consider it? I mean what if you didnít have to kill anybody? Thatís a hell of an offer, man."

"To you, maybe. But Iíve already screwed up one life. Why would I want to go through that again and again?"

Blair watched Jimís face closely. "Iím starting to wonder whoís fixated on who."

"Iím not fixated on anything."

"I thought you were. I thought youíd sensed the bokorís presence and fixated on it to the point of actually achieving his plane of existence. But now Iím not sure if youíre the only connection. Maybe thatís why you can see him and Mrs. Celestin canít."

"Whatever, Chief. Back to your plan. I make nice with him and he Ďaccidentallyí tells me how to kill him?"

"Sounds about right. You have a problem with it?"

"Other than to point out while Iím busy with plan A, I hope youíre going to working on plan B."

"Man, Iím already up to C."

"Good to hear it."

Chapter Six

"Hello, Protecteur." The bokor handed the child he was holding over to Jim. "Two more and I will be alive again. It will feel good to breath, to have the wind caress my skin like a well-trained woman."

"Mind if I ask how long youíve been dead?"

"Why?"

"Because women arenít exactly trained anymore."

The spirit smiled. "To be honest, they never were. What year is it?"

"1999."

"Over a hundred years," the bokor murmured. "What about the people with my color of skin?"

"Slavery has been abolished, but prejudice still exists."

"And the people of Haiti?"

"Are spread all over the world. You know these children are not in Haiti, right?"

"We are where I drew my last breath for I can only travel a small distance from my final resting place. Washington Territory, correct?"

Before 1889, Jim thought to himself. "State. Itís Washington State now. And the city is named Cascade."

"How many states do you have in America now? It was a young but strong country, in need of labor which is what brought me to it. That has not changed in the past century?"

"There are fifty states. Some would say we are not the power we used to be, but the world as a whole is not what it used to be. It is smaller and larger all at the same time."

"How so?" The bokor began walking and Jim followed.

"We can go to Europe in a matter of hours, and you can talk to someone in Haiti by simply dialing a list of numbers. But the world extends now to outer space."

"We travel to other worlds?"

"Not really, but weíre getting closer. We--not me personally, but people called astronauts--have been to the moon, and theyíre building a place where they can stay in space for a long time."

"I think I shall find this new world fascinating. Tell me more."

"Only if you will tell me some things."

"Such as?"

"Youíve been dead for over a hundred years?"

"Yes. Why do you ask?"

"I was curious. If I accepted your offer, would I have to stay dead for a hundred years, too, before getting the chance to relive?"

"The walls between the realms become thin on rare occasions. This is first such time since my death."

"So it could be longer?"

"It is possible. It is also possible that it could be much shorter. I did not think you were interested, Protecteur. I thought sacrificing a few children was distasteful to you." He looked at Jim curiously as they walked through the halls of the building.

"It is. But I donít think Iím violating my ethics by asking a few questions."

The bokor smiled knowingly. "Of course not. Knowledge has never hurt a soul. Please, ask what you will."

"Seven deaths and you have your life back, right? Does it have to be children, and if so, males only?"

"The male children have a vitality unmatched in all of nature. So yes to both questions, my pupil."

"Iím not--" Jim shook his head. "What happens if you donít get the seven children?"

"Nothing. I will just have to wait for another close passage of the walls."

"I see. What if I get tired of waiting? Could I will myself to permanent death or something?"

"There is only one way for one such as myself to die. My body, my actual body, has to be destroyed by flame completely. But if even one bit of my life force remains, I can come back." src="spacer.gif" width="120" height="10000" align="left">The bokor looked at him in amusement. "Are you trying to discover how to stop me?"

Jim adjusted the child, who slumped against his shoulder asleep. "Itís my moral duty to try and stop you."

"And by all means, we do not want you to shirk your moral duty," the bokor mocked. "Do with the information as you please, Protecteur. My body is safely hidden in its vault where even one such as you cannot find it. I knew how vulnerable I would be after death, so I made sure my arrangements were secure."

"Am I a Protecteur because of what I am?"

"Because of the gifts the loa have bestowed upon you? They do not make you a Protecteur, only an extraordinary Protecteur. You are a Protecteur because that is what you were formed to be."

"So why donít you fear me?" The question was asked without arrogance.

"Because dark does not fear dark."

"I am not like you."

"Look at your hands."

Jim looked down and almost dropped the child as he saw the blood dripping from his hands, spilling to the floor and down his arms.

"The blood of your victims."

"I kill only to save."

"But with pleasure in your heart."

"Once!" Jim protested.

"And how many times do you think it takes?"

Jim didnít--couldnít--answer.

The bokor didnít even look back at him. "So tell me, are they still playing baseball?"

*****

Blair jumped as Jim gasped. Instead of going to bed, Jim had decided to let Blair lead him into a trance in the middle of the living room. Heíd watched in fascination as Jim grew utterly still, and for a moment heíd panicked as Jimís breathing grew so shallow that heíd had to get within inches of the broad chest just to see it rise and fall. Jim had remained that way for hours, and apparently, at some point, Blair had drifted into a light doze.

"Jim?"

"We have to find his physical remains."

"In Haiti?"

"No, here. He canít travel far from his body, and he died here in Cascade over a century ago."

"You get a name?"

Jim shook his head. "He was stubborn when it came that."

"Resisted all that Ellison charm, huh?"

"He even withstood Phil," Jim said with a wry grin.

"Poor Phil must be devastated." Blair unpacked his laptop and connected it to the phone line.

"What time is it?" Jim asked, even though he was already raising his wrist to read his watch.

"Practically dawn."

Jim nodded. "I thought so. He hinted that he had to return to his body at sunrise and stay there until sunset. This is the time when heís most vulnerable."

"And when we find him, what? We stake him or something"

"Burn him into ash because if one part of him remains, he can come back."

"Yuck. Thatís your assignment, then. Mine is to find him, and in this modern age, how hard can that be?" He booted up and headed onto the information highway.

Twelve hours later, he had to admit it was very hard indeed.

"Damnit, Jim. Weíve been to every cemetery in the city."

Jim sighed and slumped back against the hood of his truck as he looked out over the unkempt graveyard they had just combed. "Dr. Tucker warned us that a lot of black graves were unmarked, and that unless they were Christian, they may not even have been properly buried. And even then, a notorious personage such as a bokor, may have been murdered and his body hidden from authorities."

Blair nodded, remembering the caution given to them by the Director of African-American Studies at Rainier. "What now?"

"The sun sets. The bokor grabs the sixth child."

"And?"

"And tomorrow he gets the seventh."

"Youíre giving up?"

"What else can we do, Sandburg?"

Blair shook his head. "Uh-uh, Iím not buying it, Jim. You donít give up. You donít quit. Not even when you couldnít see two inches in front of your face did you quit."

"I was a fool."

"A fool that saved my life," Blair said quietly. "You had faith in your gifts then. You kept me from killing the officers and them from killing me. You blindly--blindly, Jim--made your way to my side and you talked me down from one hell of a trip."

"That was different."

"How?"

"You werenít--" Jim stopped and he turned away from Blair to stare at the blue hood.

"I wasnít what, Jim? I wasnít dead like the bokor is? But I was, wasnít I? And you didnít give up then either."

Anguished eyes turned to him. "I donít think--"

"Donít think, Jim. Just do. Itís the same as with the pinball game. Keep following your instincts, just like when I was dead."

"íKay, Chief."

Oddly enough, Blair suddenly felt like heíd kicked a puppy. "Iím sorry, Jim," he said as they climbed back into the truck.

"For what? Kicking me in the ass over this?"

"No, for kicking you in the heart." Jim started the truck and headed for the main road. "I know you donít like being reminded of what happened."

"And you do?"

"No, but by being dead, I have some built in distance. You, on the other hand, youíre still very close to that moment, arenít you?"

"Iím never far away."

"Let it go, Jim."

"I canít."

"You have to. You canít stay back there and move forward. And, Jim, we all need you to move forward. I do. You do. Those children in the hospital, too."

"I couldnít protect you...from myself."

"Because you were trying to protect me from the wrong person."

They didnít speak again until they were back in the loft. Jim shrugged out of his jacket, put away his gun and looked at Blair. "What should I do now?"

Blair sighed and shook his head. "Instincts, Jim."

"Right."

"I have a friend whoís doing his diss on human instinctual behavior, more to the point, at what age it is Ďtaughtí out of us," Blair said as he opened the refrigerator. Juice or water? "Did you know itís possible that one of our basic instincts--the fight or flight reaction--can be overridden? Well, you probably do know, considering the circumstances that are necessary to wipe out that reaction. Anyway, Dougís trying to prove that even babies are being affected by our modern Ďdistasteí for any reaction which isnít carefully thought out. We are born with the instinct to grasp, to hang on, like the baby primates that we are. But humans like to believe they are Ďaboveí the apes, so we fight against it." Juice. Heíd take a juice. "What do you want, Jim?"

Silence. He turned toward the living room and saw Jim in his yellow chair, but not there at the same time. Apparently Jimís instincts had told him it was time to join the bokor. Blair popped the cap on his bottle of juice and settled in on the loveseat across from Jim. In a bit of whimsy, he raised the bottle in his friendís direction.

"Happy hunting, Sentinel."

Chapter Seven

Jim was surprised to find himself in a room with a little boy, surprised because the bokor was not around. Could he hide the boy and keep him from being victim #6? Or would the bokor just go find another kid?

Stop thinking.

Jim didnít even startle as the bokor just appeared beside him.

"Will you wrestle him away from me?" the bokor asked, amused.

"No."

"No? You are their Protecteur. Shouldnít you save them from me?"

"Maybe I just want to save myself this time." The words sounded wrong to Jim, but they were the ones that came out when he opened his mouth.

The bokor touched his face and he felt the spider web sensation again, but didnít flinch away.

"I want to believe you, but I have been fooled by Protecteurs before."

"So this is not your first lifetime?"

He? it? smiled. "I am forever."

"And this is the only body youíve had?"

The bokor withdrew his hand. "Bodies are frail things. And very soft." The hand moved to the bare belly of the child who slept in merely his diaper. "There is something silky about the warm flesh of a child. Feel it with me."

Jim obediently traced a finger across the smooth skin. So the bokor was not after a friend, but a new body to inhabit? a body that would make him more invincible, harder to destroy. "Your touch binds them to you somehow?"

"You are curious tonight."

"Is that a problem?"

"Not at all. Do you wish to--" He motioned toward the sleeping child.

Jim scooped him up. "May as well be useful."

"You realize he is already mine?"

"Yes."

"And you are considering my offer?"

"Yes."

"Why? You scoffed at the offer last night."

"Iíve had time to think about it."

The empty halls echoed around them as they walked the corridor to the street.

"You are not as spiritual as former Protecteurs. Your energy seems more connected to the earth."

"Is that good or bad?"

"My power is earth-based."

"Oh. How long have you--" Jim tripped on a crack in the sidewalk and the bokor reached out to keep him from falling? "been around?"

"The earth was flat and dragons ate the sun each night."

"That long, huh? You must have some stories to tell."

"Ouž. Let me tell you about...."

They walked deep into the darkness.

*****

Blair figured he was kind of getting the hang of killing time while Jim floated among the elements. He got out his laptop, calculated the mid-term grades for his classes, played several of hands of solitaire, lost twice as many games of hearts, and even managed to achieve a decent score in FreeCell. At one point he made a pot of coffee, then made regular trips to the bathroom since caffeine was a diuretic as well as a stimulant. As dawn approached, he stopped pretending to do anything else and sat back and watched Jim. The man was as still as a statue, but that wasnít unusual. Jim was still by nature. He didnít fidget no matter how many hours they were stuck in a cold or hot truck on a stakeout. He would sit almost as still as he was now while watching the Jags play, only springing into motion when someone on the team did something really stupid or the official wasnít as keen-eyed as the sentinel. He could read a book and even the pages wouldnít make a sound when he turned them. Training, had been Jimís answer when asked about it, but the more Blair came to know Jim, the more he wondered if Jimís ability to become a human still-life harkened back to a childhood of hiding not only the senses and his emotions, but also himself.

A shift in the aforementioned statue and Blair leaned forward, eager to ask Jim if the plan had worked. Telling Jim to rely on his instincts had been completely off the top of his head. He didnít even know if Jim had instincts when it came to fighting evil magicians. Hell, despite his anthropological openness, he hadnít even believed in evil magicians. And spirit animals! Heíd understood the psychological need for them in various forms of faith, but Jim saw them, and he himself had seen something just before heíd regained consciousness--no, life--at the fountain. A rapid explosion of light. Two animals colliding. It was all fuzzy and fading on a daily basis.

Sky-blue eyes flashed open.

"Jim?"

"No!"

The eyes slammed shut. The statue returned.

"Well, that was different," Blair murmured. He looked toward the balcony. The sun had definitely gotten its wake-up call. Why wasnít Jim safely back in his body? "What are you doing, man, other than trying to give me a heart attack?"

No reply.

He powered up his laptop, prepared to search for what to do when a spirit walk went bad. Before Windows 95 could load, the eyes opposite his opened again.

"Jim?"

Jim smiled. "I got him, Chief."

"The bokorís dead?"

"Not yet. But I know where he is."

"He told you?"

"No, I followed him to his crypt. Thatís why Iím a little late getting back here." He stood, stretching his back until it cracked. "You were right. I followed my instincts and I got the information I needed."

"Clue me in, man."

"He told me that touch connected him with the children. Thatís why once he laid his hands on him, they were his. So I let him lay his hand on me several times." Jim shuddered. "It was like walking into a spider web. I could feel him sticking to me."

"Your instinct told you to do something dangerous like letting that thing touch you?" Blair asked in disbelief.

"Yeah, because I needed a way to get to him. See, as soon as the sun was about to rise, the bokor and the child would just shimmer out of existence, and Iíd wind up back here."

"Which you did."

"Yes, but I forced myself back under and followed the connection I had with both our friendly witchdoctor and the child. I found myself in an ornate mausoleum. And I know where it is. All we have to do is go steal the body and burn it up. You leave any coffee in the pot?"

Jim bounded off for the kitchen, leaving Blair staring numbly at the chair. "All we have to do is what, Jim?"

"Steal the body--"

"In broad daylight?" Blair interrupted.

"Like duh," Jim said with an atrocious Valley Girl accent.

Scratch Buffy off the viewing list, Blair thought inanely. Just like Bonanza.

"Wake up, Sandburg. Of course we have to do it in broad daylight. Otherwise, itís going to be too late. Here, have some coffee."

Blair accepted the cup gratefully. "So we, like duh, steal the body and what? Make sure we bring along our Bic?"

"Donít worry. I took care of that part yesterday while you were looking for the burial site on the Internet." Jimís nose wrinkled. "I need a shower."

"Of course. Wouldnít want to smell funky at a grave robbery," Blair muttered.

"Glad you agree, because you could use some soap and water yourself."

"I guess that answers my question."

"What question?"

"Whether being amusing is instinctive. In your case, definitely not."

"Be nice or I wonít leave you any hot water." Jim admonished.

"Do you get hot showers in jail? And what is the current sentence for disinterring a corpse?"

Jim laughed and headed toward the bathroom. "Why donít you look it up, Chief?"

Grimly, Blair finished connecting to the Internet and did just that.

Chapter Eight

"Jim, if there was a Ft. Knox of cemeteries, this would be it," Blair said as they stared at the rolling hills of Elysium Fields, Cascadeís premier final resting place. Number one with the cityís wealthiest and most revered. "How did a black man in the 1800ís get buried here?"

"Illegally." Jim scanned the area knowledgeably. "Up there."

Blair followed his finger to a marble mausoleum with ornate golden gates. "Do they shoot on sight around here?"

Jim laughed. "Looking the way we look, we wonít even be noticed."

Blair had been startled when Jim told him not to shave, and as he looked at Jim, also unshaven and dressed in his most faded jeans, he realized what the wily man was planning. Along with the truck, they looked like harmless workers, maybe part of the landscaping crew that took meticulous care of the hallowed grounds. Blair resisted an urge to free his hair which had been pulled back in a tight, braided ponytail. With the help of the dark, heavy, overnight growth on his face, he knew he didnít look like himself at all.

Jim drove the truck along the winding paths until they were in front of the mausoleum. "Iíll pick the lock. You keep watch."

"Why? Iím faster than you with the picks."

"You leave scratches."

Blair made a face and took up a spot to cover Jim, leaning casually over the bed of the truck. He put on a pair of shades to block the glare of the sun. Jim had donned his own pair continuously since leaving the loft, which told Blair that the sentinel wasnít as calm and together as he appeared.

"Weíre in, Chief."

"And we have company."

Jim came to stand beside him as a man in an expensive suit headed toward them.

"You there," the man called. "I canít read this scribble the idiot at the main gate wrote down. Tell me where the Sutter Family vault is."

Blair opened his mouth, but Jim beat him to it, answering the man in fluid, unstilted Quechua.

The man, mumbled something about, "Damn foreigners," and walked away, trying to figure out the map for himself.

"Cruel," Blair said as they headed into the mausoleum. "What did you say?"

"I told him his relatives were very disappointed in him for not showing them the proper respect."

"Really?"

"No. But thatís the nice interpretation."

"Oh." He looked at the rows of gold nameplates. "Large family."

Jim took a battery-powered drill from the truckís toolbox. "I know where he is."

"Because you were here?"

"Because I can feel him. I need a different bit. Get out the case for me."

Blair squatted down beside the bag. "Jim?"

"What is it, Sandburg?"

"We didnít go to downtown today."

"Yeah, so?"

"How come thereís a body bag in here?"

"I took it from the evidence kit I keep behind the seat."

"That doesnít answer the question."

"I know. You find the drill bits yet?"

"You know, they say to know the full measure of a man, you should observe him during a crisis."

"And?"

"And I donít think I want to know the full measure of you."

"Good call. Ah, hereís the one I need." He changed the bit and began loosening the bolts holding the marble covering to one of the crypts.

It took both of them to lower the heavy slab to the floor. Then carefully they slid out the coffin. It was old and fragile, and Blair was scared it was going to fall apart before they could get it safely on the floor.

"I didnít know that bones could be so heavy."

"Not all bones, Chief." They finally wrestled the box to the floor without a major disaster and Jim effortlessly peeled back the disintegrating lid. Inside was an oddly intact body. Only the gray-green cast of the dark skin hinted that the body was not living. "Meet our bokor."

"The spell he cast preserved his corporeal body," Blair whispered in awe.

"Just something for him to dispose of when he took over mine," Jim said bitterly as he spread the body bag out on the floor.

"Excuse me? Did we forget to tell our partner in crime something?"

"I figured it out last night. He was being nice to me because he wanted my body."

"You really know how to freak me out, donít you?"

"I try." Jim grimaced. "Grab his legs and weíll move him on three. One, two, three." They lifted the body and placed it atop the body bag. "Dan would be pleased at our expertise."

Blair turned away as the rasp of the closing zipper crawled along his spine. "The admiration of a medical examiner. I never dreamed that would be a life ambition of mine."

"Never met a woman more fickle than fate," Jim said.

Blair started to making a biting rejoinder, but something caught his eye. "Um, Jim?"

"What is it now?"

"Your friend was double-parked."

Jim joined Blair next to the ruined casket. "Crafty old bastard had himself buried in a used grave. No wonder we couldnít find any records." The old bones were yellowed and brittle. The skull stared up at them accusingly. "That must be the real Cabot Astor Reynolds. Probably bothered the hell out of him to be sharing his quarters. Cheer up, old man. Itís back to sleeping alone."

"Jim, youíre starting to worry me."

"Because Iím talking to olí Cabot here?" Jim removed the top hat from the casket and jammed it into the body bag. Then he fit the boards of the coffin back in place as best he could. "I thought you thought it was cool that I talked to the dead."

"Is he talking back?"

"Well, no, but Iím not surprised. With a name like that, Iím pretty sure he wouldnít talk to me alive either. Old Money can be snobbish."

"And New Money?"

"Downright offensive. Just ask my dad. Heíll be just down the road from olí Cabot one day."

"Your dad has a plot here?"

"Grab the other end of this thing, will ya?" They lifted the considerably lighter coffin and slid it back into place. "Of course he has a plot here. I think it comes with membership at ĎThe Clubí, or is it the other way around?"

"Remind me to call Naomi and thank her for my unorthodox life."

Jim nodded and reached for the drill again.

"Itís clear," Jim said minutes later as he sent his senses roaming outside the mausoleum gates. He picked up his end of the body bag and started outside.

Blair carried his end with a little less enthusiasm, not able to suppress a shudder when the weight thudded into the back of the truck. He peeled off his gloves and threw them beside the bag. He climbed into the cab and waited for Jim to secure the crypt.

Jim got in beside him and handed him a slip of paper.

"Youíve got to be kidding me," Blair exclaimed as he read. "You got a burning permit? We just robbed a grave, have the purloined body in the back, and you get a burning permit?"

"Only commit illegal acts when you have to, Chief. You know how scared people are of wildfires this time of year. Wouldnít want the park rangers coming out to investigate the smoke, would you?"

"What did you tell them?"

"That I had to perform a religious ceremony. When I showed them my badge and explained that I was an avid woodsman, they gave me the permit. I gave them my exact coordinates so that theyíd know which smoke was mine."

"It was the U.S. government that taught you all of this, wasnít it?"

"And paid me while I learned. Great country."

"Mamas, donít let your babies grow up to be soldiers," Blair sang softly, deliberately altering the words of the popular country song.

Instead of replying, Jim just hummed along with him.

Chapter Nine

"Wow," Blair said as he stared at the structure. "Wow."

"Never seen an actual funeral pyre, Chief?"

"Of cour--actually, no. Just on film and in photos. You built this yourself?" The wooden frame would ignite immediately, as would the bier atop of it where the coffin would rest.

"Something the Chopec taught me. They couldnít understand why I buried my men. I told them they had their beliefs and I had mine. Seeing the logic in that, they helped me bury the last two. In the spirit of cooperation, I helped them when it was necessary. Come on, letís get Lazy Larry here situated and on his way to hell."

The bokor was placed on the bier, then Jim poured jugs of some substance all over the body and the pyre.

"Thatís not gasoline or kerosene," Blair said, his nose wrinkling at the unfamiliar odor.

"According to Arson, this burns much better and at a higher temperature. Personally, I would have preferred using a crematorium, but the paperwork would have been a bitch--not to mention weíre working within a time limit. Stand back."

Blair stood back a considerable distance. Jim took out a small disposable Bic and lit it. He jammed the lever into place so the flame wouldnít go out, took a few steps back, and tossed it onto the pyre. It caught fire in a blinding flash.

"Shouldnít we be saying something?" Blair asked solemnly.

"May God have mercy on your soul, because I donít," Jim said just as solemnly.

Blair watched the flames lick away at everything in their path. "Maybe this would be a good time to tell me about your aversion to priests."

"Like a good story around the campfire, do you?"

"Jim!"

"Fine. Once upon a time there were four young recruits who disobeyed orders and went to a place they had no business going. One recruit got sick to his stomach and spent about an hour in the head. While he was there, people came and rounded up his buddies as well as the locals his buddies were partying with. Being a good recruit he tracked his friends down and discovered they were being held by the local priest, the local priest who jut happened to be the biggest drug dealer in the area. The recruit overheard that the priest was going to kill not only his friends, but everyone in the entire village because now that the army knew where he was and what he was doing, he was going to have to move his operation. And since he could find available labor anywhere in the country, why take on the cost of moving all of them? The recruit didnít know what to do. Not only would he be in serious trouble if he reported this to his superiors, but by the time he could make a report, his friends--everyone, including the nice girls that made him blush--would be dead. So the recruit made a decision that would alter his life completely. He slit the throat of the priest. It was his first kill. It wouldnít be his last. The funny thing is, was that he figured the priest wasnít a real one, just somebody who was using the title so he could be in the country. But he was. Weeks later, the papers reported the priest missing and gave a long, glowing description of his ecumenical history. He was considered to be a great missionary, dedicated to bringing salvation to a savage world."

"And you never...."

"We never even said a word to each other. The first time I spoke of this aloud was with him." He gestured toward the src="spacer.gif" width="120" height="10000" align="left">fire.

"You told the bokor?"

Jim shook his head. "He told me. I donít know why. Maybe he thought it would throw me off my game, instill in me some lingering guilt over what Iíd done. Now, theyíre both going to rot in hell and I couldnít be happier," he said with a vehemence that belied his words. His head cocked to one side. "Get back, Chief!"

Blair, startled from his introspective review of Jimís story, looked toward the fire. The bokor now stood on the bier, his tattered suit aflame, the hat oddly straight on his head, and a fiery arm pointed toward Jim. In horrified fascination, Blair watched the skin burn away from the figure, revealing a mass of teeming insects. Just as Blair was about to turn his head in disgust, the bier collapsed and the writhing collection dropped into the heart of the fire. The insects made a crackling sound as they were devoured by the flames and for just a second, he caught a glimpse of a stark white skeleton toppling over. Blair took two steps back, then fell to his knees, retching miserably.

When he could finally lift his head, he saw Jim staring intently at the fire, his jaw so tight that it quivered. There was a sudden frown and Jim stalked forward, and for a moment Blair feared he was going to step into the conflagration. But he stopped just outside its perimeter and bent over to pick up something in the dusty soil. Blair recovered enough to make it to Jimís side and saw that he held one of the insects on the tip of his finger. It had obviously been damaged by the fire, but it still struggled, its legs kicking uselessly in the air. With a smile so grim that Blair took an involuntary step backward, Jim flicked the bug back into the fire.

Hours later, the fire died out and Jim sifted through the ashes as only he could. When he was satisfied, he handed the truck keys to Blair. "Letís go home, Chief."

"I hope youíre going directly to bed," Blair said as they trudged up the stairs to the loft, the elevator once again on the fritz.

"As soon as I shower. We both stink of smoke and soot."

Blair sniffed himself. "Youíre right. Go ahead. I can wait."

Fifteen minutes later, Jim came out, wearing just his robe and dragging the hamper. "Go on in and hand me your clothes. They need to be washed now."

"Go on to bed, Jim. Iíll start them as soon as I get out."

"You sure? I think itís my turn."

"Iíd rather do an extra load of laundry than try to scrape you off the floor, man."

"Love you, too, Sandburg."

Blair grinned, grabbed some clean sweats, and went to shower. When he came out, still toweling his hair, he saw Jim standing at the balcony doors, completely dressed. His heart took a sudden leap. "Whatís happened?"

"I called the hospital. All the kids have recovered--except one."

"Damn. Give me a minute to put on some decent clothes."

"You think? " Blair began as he drove to the hospital.

"I donít know. I thought? I thought I checked the ashes thoroughly, but maybe something flew away and I didnít see it."

Blair knew that was highly unlikely, but he was way out of his element in this. Maybe another talk with Aurore Celestin was in order. "Do you know which child it is?"

"The one from last night."

"Maybe itís too soon for him to wake up."

"Maybe."

Blair could tell Jim was in no mood to listen to a litany of half-thought out theories. "I tried to call Naomi while you were in the shower, but no luck. Seems sheís on the move again. Who knows? She might come by the loft."

"Youíll enjoy that."

"Yeah, I will. Itís nice youíre so cool about her just dropping in."

"Sheís your mother," Jim said as if that explained everything.

And maybe it did. "And youíre cool about everything that has gone down, right? I know I sorta pushed you a time or two," Blair admitted.

Jim snorted, then shrugged. "I think Iím getting a handle on being a freak. But weíre going to have to go slow. You know, no public announcements or anything."

"No Freaks Anonymous meetings, huh?"

"I think your diss committee is about all I can stomach."

"Thatís cool. No public declarations of your freak side. Got it. Guess Iím going to have to turn down Ricki Lakeís offer to do a show about roommates who save old toothbrushes to scrub grout."

"Once, Sandburg. I scrubbed the grout once."

"Thatís because now you have that stuff that I have to spray the shower with every time I get out. And you do a sniff check to make sure I do it."

"I donít."

"Do. And trust me, Jews do not have the patent on making people feel guilty. One look, and Iím back there spraying like Iíve never sprayed before."

Jim laughed. "You are so full of it." He was still laughing as they went into the hospital.

A group of Haitians met them at the elevator on the Pediatric floor.

"Thank you, Protecteur," Jean-Michel Cloutier said, apparently acting as official spokesman for the group. "Our children are resting in normal rooms and should be released tomorrow."

"Except for one," Jim said grimly.

"Yes, Heleneís boy has not awakened. He remains in Intensive Care."

"Take me to him." Cloutier nodded. They entered the familiar corridor. A nurse looked up as they came through the door, but didnít try to stop them. "Helene, he is here."

A young Haitian woman approached with her head bowed. "Help my son, please, Protecteur. Madame Celestin says that you are our only hope. Alainís father is out to sea on an oil platform, but he says no sacrifice is too great for his child. Whatever the loa demands, we will pay."

Jim patted her shoulder and looked at the child. Then he looked back at Cloutier, Helene, and Blair. Blair recognized the question in his eyes, and shook his head. Jim turned back to the boy. Apparently he was the only one who saw the spider web covering the small face. Why was he seeing it? He hadnít seen it on the other childrenís faces. But that had been before--before he had traded touches with the bokor. Was that why the boy hadnít recovered, because of something Jim had done? Hesitantly he reached out and wiped at the webbing. It clung to his hand and he pulled it away from the child. The boy opened his eyes and cried out for his mother. Jim stumbled back out of the way and let Helene hug her son.

"What did you do?" Blair whispered.

Jim looked at his hand, and to the spider web that was absorbing into his skin. "I think thatís a very good question." He felt himself swaying and jerked awkwardly.

"Thatís it," Blair said firmly. "We are out of here. Everybodyís fine and if someone wants to bake you a cake later, thatís fine. But for now, you are going home. Mr. Cloutier, Jim is very tired. If you and the others want to express your thanks, thatís going to have to wait, okay?"

"We understand. There is another elevator on the opposite end of the hall."

Blair smiled gratefully. "Thank you. Come on, Jim. Jim?"

Only one who knows evil, who has committed it with full knowledge and awareness, can walk in my realm. By touching you, I saw your soul. So like mine. Your energy seems more connected to the earth. My power is earth-based. You kill with pleasure in your heart. Dark does not fear dark.

"Jim!"

The spider web was completely gone. For now.

Jim reached to clasp Blair on the back, and stopped to look at his hand again. Sadly he let it drop to his side. "Letís go home, Chief."

*****

Blair wasnít sure what had happened at the hospital, but he did know his sentinel was at the end of his strength. "Just one more step. Jim," he cajoled as they climbed to Jimís bedroom. He hadnít been about to let Jim make the climb on his own; one more trip to the emergency room and someone was going to report them to the police.

"What are you doing?" Blair asked as Jim fumbled with his shirt.

"Unbuttoning."

"Itís a pullover, man."

"Oh. Why are you here, anyway? Iíve been undressing by myself for years now. See?" Jim nimbly undid his buckle, and a convenient snap had his pants around his ankles in a twitch of a thumb. Unfortunately, however--

"Shoes, Jim. Usually one takes off shoes before pants," Blair coached patiently.

"I knew that," Jim growled, fighting the bunch of fabric at his feet.

With a sigh, Blair pushed him to the bed. When he made a move to get up, Blair pushed him again. "Sit!" He knelt down and removed Jimís shoes, then the pants.

"Thanks, Chief."

"Youíre actually thanking me. Now I know youíre out of your head," Blair teased. "Just lie back and go to sleep. Everything will make more sense in fifteen to twenty hours."

"I wonít have spider webs coming from my hand?" Jim mumbled as Blair pulled the sheet up over him.

Blair froze. A second later he patted Jimís shoulder. "No spider webs, man."

"Good. ĎNight, Chief."

"Goodnight, Jim. Pleasant dreams."

Blair waited until Jimís breathing was deep and even before heading back downstairs. Grabbing a juice from the fridge, he fired up his computer and began working on the final chapter of his diss. If things were about to get interesting, heíd just as soon have it done and out of the way.

Spider webs.

He shivered and continued typing.

The End

Comments? D.L. Witherspoon