By: Treassa Cumpston
Beta Read by: Izzy and Carla
Written for PetFly by: Ann Powell

Rated PG-13


Act I

The warehouse pulsated with the beat of drums. A semi-circle of drummers sat at the edge of the room with their instruments tucked into their laps. Hands flew over the calfskin tops while eyes remained focused on the dancers before them. Tall candelabra bracketed the musicians and kept them in shadow.

Shadows flickered across the drummers as dancers twirled and moved within the inner circle. Their hands stroked the incense-laden air, and their feet joined with the pulse of the music. The Cubans let the drums take over their bodies. Fabric and flesh slid across one another. A current of electricity heightened the touch of men and women alike.

The perfume from a brazier mingled with that of carnations and roses. The celebrants' white robes soaked up the blend on one turn, and set the intoxicating fragrance free on the next. The heat from the candles in the enclosed warehouse sharpened the experience.

A rapid crescendo signaled for a gap to open in the dance circle. She entered, draped in a golden robe. The silk of her dress clung to her form and rustled softly as she joined the dance. The priestess’ mocha skin was luminescent in the soft light, and short brown hair framed her face.

She slowly turned to observe her congregation. Her eyes discovered the table of sacrifice, and she approached it to examine her ebo. Gold carnations and red roses littered the table among oranges and bowls of honey. The priestess closed her eyes and filled her lungs with the scent of the offerings, and was pleased.

The priestess turned back to the dancers, and her eyes followed their sinuous movements. She gathered her skirts and swayed back into the circle. Her skin was flushed with the blood of life running through her veins. She felt Oshun call to her spirit, and she released control to her.

Dennis Murphy climbed the ladder outside of the warehouse where his partner, Patrick Donoghue requested they meet. He could hear the rumble of the drums beneath him, and his heart throbbed with the pulse.

Dennis reached the rooftop and stepped onto it. He could see Patrick pacing in front of a wide skylight. Dennis called out, “Hey, Patrick. What did you need to see me about?”

Patrick shifted from leg to leg as the vibrations from the warehouse below ran through his body. His nerves were unsettled enough without the added sensation. He nearly jumped out of his skin when Dennis announced his presence. “Damn, Dennis. Make some noise next time.” Patrick swallowed and continued without making eye contact. “We really need to talk.”

Patrick’s face was pasty. Sweat stood on his forehead, and Dennis felt his heart pound harder. It appeared that something was bothering his partner. Dennis knew what it was, and knew there would be repercussions if anyone else discovered their secret. “What is there to talk about? As far as I’ve heard, everything is going okay.”

Patrick turned to the starless night sky that embraced the building. The secret they shared was weighing heavily on his soul. “I can’t live with myself anymore, Dennis. Our deal with Cortez didn’t extend to murder. We were only supposed to tell him about any busts.”

Dennis blew out a quick breath. “Don’t you think I know that?” Dennis moved closer to Patrick. “The last thing I wanted that night was to hurt that kid, Mendola. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Patrick spun around to face his friend. “But did you have to kill him? If we went there to only talk to the kid and plant a little marijuana, why did he end up dead on the ground? God, I can still see the growing puddle of blood.”

Dennis placed a hand on the shaking shoulder in front of him. “I didn’t want to hurt him. He left me little choice.”

Patrick swallowed against a dry throat. “I just don’t understand why things had to go so wrong. Why did he have to die? Why couldn’t we do more to save him?”

Dennis wished he could soothe his best friend. Ever since the shooting, Patrick had been withdrawing more and more. The two men hadn’t spent any real time together in the three weeks since Mendola had been killed. Gone were the fun family outings they had shared in off-hours. Gone were the relaxing coffee breaks. Things were changing, and Dennis didn’t know how to stop it.

“I just want all this to go away, Dennis.” Patrick moved away from Dennis’ comforting presence. He turned to the skylight and looked down on the dancers. “I can’t deal with having killed someone.” Patrick turned back to Dennis. “I need you to help me out of this. You got me into it, and only you can get me out.”

Dennis peered into the desperation-filled eyes of his best friend and wondered if there was a way to help. He didn’t want Patrick to end up regretting their time together. He wanted to preserve what little trust and faith remained between them. “I want to help you Patrick. You’re my partner over everything else that comes our way. We’ll just have to think of a way.”

Oshun’s gaze fell upon her children, and she could smell their desire. Sliding her hands over her sweat-slicked skin, Oshun shivered in anticipation. The men looked for her help to spread their seed. The women cried out for babies to fill their wombs.

Oshun gathered her children to her. She caressed eager faces, stroking their passions into a fever heat. They had petitioned for her benediction, and she would not deny them her blessings.

Chants of “yeye dari yeyeo” flowed through the charged air. A new presence entered the room, and Oshun stopped the movement of her hand to a woman’s stomach. Looking up, an older woman stepped into the circle. She was wearing a gold turban and threading a gold scarf through her fingers.

Iyalocha approached her goddess and bowed. Her dark mocha hands gripped the scarf that was a present to Oshun. Iya looked into the brown eyes that glowed with love. Iya spoke to Oshun while wrapping the scarf around her head, “Take this small gift, so that we may all share in your divine gifts to us.”

Oshun allowed the scarf to be draped over her hair. As the hands of her Iyalocha dropped, Oshun took them in her own. “I accept your gift and find it pleasing. Know that your diligence in your faith will be rewarded.”

Iya smiled at the promise and joined the circle. The drummers took up a deep timber that Oshun began to dance to. She sashayed her hips from side to side and began her duty to her children. Those who came to ask for her blessing would receive them.

Dennis racked his brain to find a solution, but he was having a hard time concentrating. Patrick had turned to the skylight. The illumination from below cast a greenish tint onto the already pale face. Dennis shivered at the ghastly glow and moved forward. His change in position eliminated the effect, but it also attracted Patrick’s attention.

“What am I going to do, Dennis? I can’t even look into my wife’s eyes anymore. Hell, every time I look at my kids, I only see Mendola’s eyes. I can’t live like this.”

“I’m sorry I ever got you into this,” replied Dennis. He crammed his hands in his pants pockets to still their trembling. “I wish there was an easy way to handle this, but I don’t know how. “Right now, if we have any hope of getting you free, we have to worry about Cortez.”

“Shit,” cursed Patrick. “I wasn’t even thinking about that.” Patrick leaned forward and grabbed Dennis’ arms. “What the hell am I supposed to do, Dennis? Cortez will kill me the minute he thinks I’ve become a liability.”

Dennis stepped into Patrick’s personal space to force eye contact. “We will get you out of this Pat. We just have to find a way to work around Cortez. We’re lucky he hasn’t found out about this yet.”

Dennis silently prayed that what he had said was true. The last thing he wanted was Patrick being killed and this conversation ever being discovered. He knew he would be next. Dennis was shaken from his thoughts.

“Just give me time to make sure my family is safe. After that, I’ll go to IA and let them know what is going…”

“You can’t do that,” shouted Dennis. He cringed at the loudness of his own voice. “Cortez will find a way to get you. Besides, what do you think will happened to me either way?” Dennis started pacing. He had to find a way to keep Patrick from turning them both in.

“You don’t understand, Patrick. Do you think we’re the only cops Cortez has in his pocket? If you go to the police, Cortez can arrange for something to happen. I don’t want to die, and I care about you too much to screw with both our lives like that. We need to work on this together.”

Patrick looked deep into Dennis’ eyes and saw a stranger. Patrick didn’t want to turn this over to IA, but he had no choice; either scenario would have Cortez trying to kill him. Even if there were other dirty cops, the police were his best bet to survive. Going to the police would also allow him to get his family into Witness Protection. He would then be able to turn himself in without worrying about their safety. He couldn’t live with himself if his kids ended up like Mendola. Life wouldn’t be worth living.

Patrick regretted that Mendola had been killed, but his own family was more important to him. Mendola couldn’t be brought back, but they could be saved. Dennis would have to find his own way out. Patrick would have enough work keeping his own family safe.

Patrick 's solemn face struck desolation into Dennis' heart. Dennis felt the friendship ripping in two. Dennis cursed Mendola under his breath. The boy had set events into motion that there was no return from.

The pounding of feet echoed down the alley. Ragged breaths shot clouds of smoke into the icy night air. The young Cubano ran, but his pursuers were gaining on him.

“Stop where you are,” shouted Detective Murphy. “You’re only making this harder on yourself.” Dennis cursed to himself when the boy continued to run.

‘I gotta get away,’ ran through Jorge Mendola’s mind. The cops that had been hassling him these last few weeks were after him once again. “Why won’t you leave me alone?” he sobbed silently.

The alley ended in a brick wall. Dennis turned to see his partner, Detective Donoghue, catching up. “This is a blind alley. Mendola has no where else to run.”

Patrick had to bend over to loosen the pressure on his lungs. His gripped his upper thighs and tried to catch his breath. “It’s about time. I’m getting too old for this.”

Jorge ran full out. It wasn't until water from the pavement under him soaked into the butt of his jeans that he realized he had stopped. His arms were numb and tingling, and his chest felt like it was being squeezed in a vice. Even his face and head throbbed.

Jorge gently moved to his hands and knees. His head craned up, and he had to bite back a sob. A ten-foot brick wall was blocking his path. Looking around frantically, there was no sign of anything to boost him over the wall. The cops were behind him, and he had nowhere else to go.

With the boy's head swinging around wildly, the panic in his eyes was visible. Patrick called out, “Are you ready to talk now, son? We only want to have a little chat.”

Jorge looked around at the older white cop and laughed. “Talk? That’s all?” Jorge panted for breath. A hysterical laugh bubbled up in his throat, and he had to swallow it. “Last time we talked, I found myself in jail for possession.” Jorge pulled himself to his feet and plastered himself to the rough wall.

Dennis rubbed his hands to keep them warm in the early spring air. "Come on, Mendola, listen to me. We only want what is best for the community. You know Cortez has done a lot for you. If you keep bad-mouthing him and the cops, there's going to be frenzy. Cops will descend, and you know things will go from bad to worse."

As Dennis sweet-talked the kid, Patrick hoped he would come around. There was a lot of pressure coming from IA on the cops who worked the neighborhood. It ranged from Vice and Homicide detectives down through the beat cops. He and Dennis were right in the center of the shake down. Mendola should never have been behind the club that day. Trash pickup had been delayed, and Mendola's crew was a day behind. Cortez was in the club kitchen reassuring a client his deal with the police was solid when the loud beeping of the trash compactor alerted him to possible listeners. When the police started sniffing around the next day, Cortez knew he had been overheard

“Just think, Jorge," Patrick spoke up. "If you just co-operate with us now, we will leave you alone. We can arrange for the judge to be lenient with you."

Dennis pulled a small packet of marijuana from his pocket and held it out. "He's right. You go down easy on this and everything will work out. You lose credibility with the cops, and they will bury your complaints. The cops working for Cortez then won’t have to worry about. You get to serve community service, and we can all live happily ever after."

"Happily ever after?" Jorge exploded out. "There will be none for me. If I get busted, there goes law school. You've already made my dean second-guess me with the first bogus bust. This one will get me kicked out for good. So, how do I live happily ever after?"

Jorge knew it was over for him. Other cops would believe their brothers in blue, and he would be left with no prospects. He also knew that Cortez wouldn't let a witness live. If he didn't die tonight, it would be soon. Coming to his decision, Jorge staggered away from the wall and fell to the ground. Under the cover of his jacket, he retrieved his cell phone and punched in 911. If he were to go down, he would take the cops with him.

Dennis kept an eye on Mendola as he walked towards them. If the boy would only give up so they could all go home. He was getting cold, and his wife was waiting for him to take her out to dinner. Mendola’s hand came up. A flash of metal glinted in the poorly lit alley. A gun!

Dennis didn’t think and just reacted. In the end, he and Pat were left standing, and the kid lay bleeding on the ground.

Dennis hadn’t meant to kill Mendola. When the boy grabbed at his pocket, Dennis thought he was desperate enough to pull a gun. Patrick’s eyes stated his decision.
He would continue with his plan to get out of the organization.

Patrick tried to read Dennis’ face. He couldn’t understand why Dennis wasn’t affected by what happened. He was too calm and collected. As fast as Dennis had drawn his gun and shot Mendola, Patrick wondered if the killing wasn’t planned.

“I need to go to IA on this, Dennis. There may be a chance Cortez would kill me, but my wife and girls would be protected. I can’t risk their lives on my mistake.” Patrick stepped around Dennis but was stopped by his hand.

“Please don’t do this, Pat. My career is over if you do,” Dennis pleaded.

“I’m sorry, Dennis. I need to do this.” Patrick shoved off Dennis’ restraining hand.

Dennis stood his ground, hoping he could still sway Patrick. A hard shove from his partner upset his balance. While Patrick was trying to pass him, Dennis grabbed for him, scrambling for equilibrium. The move knocked both men off their feet. Dennis fell forward, and the force tipped Patrick backwards.

Dennis watched in horror as Patrick fell onto the skylight. It buoyed him up briefly until the glass splintered under the weight. Dennis’ ears rang as Patrick screamed for help before he impacted with the concrete floor below. The screaming stopped.

The rhythm of the drumbeats was slowing down. Oshun was fighting the fatigue felt by the human body she possessed. She would have to return to her own plane soon. When the drums abruptly stopped without completing the closing ritual, Oshun turned to the disturbance. A thousand twinkling lights scattered on the ground caught her attention.

Dennis raced into the warehouse after a mad dash down the building’s ladder. Upon entering the interior, the prone body in the circle of candles caught his attention immediately. The body was twisted and rivulets of blood from mouth and ears drained onto the concrete floor.

Patrick was numb. The absolution he was seeking had been denied to him. He wanted to be free to spend time with his family, but it seemed that fate had something else in mind. Hearing footsteps approach, “I can’t feel anything, Dennis. Why can’t I feel anything?”

Dennis tenderly turned Patrick’s head and air bubbles frothed from the broken man’s mouth. The puddle of blood growing under Patrick’s head indicated a massive head injury. Kneeling down, Dennis gently shifted Patrick’s upper body into his arms. It was the only comfort he could give his friend and partner of eight years. “Why couldn’t you leave things be, Pat? All you had to do was let me handle things.”

Patrick felt warmth sheltering his head, but he couldn’t feel anything below it. Wetness fell onto his cheek, and he focused his attention on Dennis. The tear tracks on Dennis’ face saddened him. “Get out while you can, Dennis. I didn’t make it, so you have to do it for me.”

Patrick coughed and wondered why it didn’t hurt like it should. He shut his eyes in exhaustion. It was so hard trying to stay awake. Forcing his eyes open again, he saw a golden apparition moving towards him from the corner of the room. Patrick smiled. His spirit flew free into welcoming light.

Patrick sagged in his arms, and he hugged the empty shell to him. He didn’t want to let him go, but it was too late to save him. Dennis looked up when a woman drew near. She was tall, wore what appeared to be a gold robe, and a gold scarf veiled her face. She moved closer, and Dennis drew his gun in fear. He didn’t know where she had come from, but she shouldn’t be there; this was his moment to say good-bye to his friend. Trying to wet his dry throat, Dennis said, “Stop right there,”

The woman refused to stop after he warned her. Fighting the urge to run, Dennis squeezed the trigger of his gun. He flinched in remembrance of the last time he had fired his gun. ‘Why do things always have to end like this?’ he cried to himself.

No bullets fired! Dennis froze, terrified. He stared at the barrel of his gun and wondered if he were trapped in a dream. He squeezed the trigger again, and again, until even he had to admit the gun would not shoot. The woman continued her approach. Letting Patrick slide to the floor in his haste, Dennis slammed his gun back into his holster and bolted from the warehouse. There was no way he was staying to meet with whatever had stopped the bullets.

Oshun lowered her protective guard when the man fled from her. The salty tang of blood filled her nostrils, and she shivered. A blood sacrifice was expected, but not when it was human and given up in betrayal. The friend who caused this would have to face his demons; he was the only one who could conquer them.

Oshun glided forward and gazed down on the slain. His soul had been released, and he was at peace. She struggled against the return of her host. The priestess would not want to see this, but Oshun couldn’t hold on any longer. She released her hold and went back to her own plane.

The priestess opened her eyes and the weight of Oshun was gone. She pulled her robe closer to her body as a shiver raced up her spine. The room was deserted of people and possessions, and the priestess wondered where everyone had gone. Looking down when a twinkle caught her eye, she froze at the sight of a man lying dead before her feet. Suppressing a scream of terror, she ran from the room.

Blair was late getting up for work, so Jim waited for him in the truck. He was keeping a constant vigilance over his friend, and he didn’t want Blair too far away from him. He had found reasons for Blair to come into the station more often, and he had his ears trained towards his partner whenever he entered the same building as he was in. He had traced the feelings back to his incarceration in Starksville Prison a month ago. Being locked behind bars had scared Jim; his freedom had been taken from him. Having Blair appear undercover in the jail scared him even more. Blair was so optimistic about life, and Starksville would only destroy that enthusiasm. Due to the silence and hardship while locked up, Jim needed Blair’s friendship to give him hope. Blair was always there for him, and Jim was grateful for it.

Jim answered his phone when it rang, “Ellison.”

<Jim, its Simon. I have a new case for you. I need you down in Little Havana at the old Ortega warehouse. There’s been a death. One of our own.>

“Damn, Simon. Has the scene been secured?”

<It was reported in anonymously about two hours ago. Patrol sent a car over to keep the scene clean for us. When can you get here?>

Jim looked at his watch and saw Blair should get there within the next five minutes. “I’m waiting for Blair to finish getting ready. Give us about half an hour.”

“Very good, Jim. We’ll be expecting for you.” Simon hung up his cell phone and clamped down on the unlit cigar in his mouth. The need for a smoke gnawed at him, but he would have to wait until he left the crime scene. Forensics covered the body with a sheet, and Simon hoped that Jim would arrive soon. It was always bad when it was one of their own.

Blair and Jim reached Little Havana within twenty minutes after the call; Jim was leading the way into the warehouse and towards Simon. “Anything new, Simon?” Jim asked.

Simon motioned to the sheet covered body. “Forensics is sweeping the room and the coroner is waiting for you before removing the body.”

Jim squatted down next to the body and lifted the cover. “Patrick Donoghue.”

Blair heard Jim speak the dead man’s name, and he went to stand by him. He made sure he didn't disturb any evidence. “You knew him, Jim?”

“We went to the academy together. He was working for Vice last I heard." Jim examined Donoghue’s body. “From the wounds, it looks like he impacted the floor pretty hard.”

Simon pointed to the glass on the floor then up to the broken skylight. “Evidence points to a scuffle on the roof and then Donoghue fell through the skylight. The blood patterns on the ground indicate he was moved after the fall.” Simon watched as Jim’s eye’s followed his speech from the roof to the floor. He saw Blair’s hand on the small of Jim’s back, centering him. The Sentinel was at work.

Moving his eyes back to his boss, Jim asked, “What about his partner? Has he been contacted yet?”

“We haven’t been able to contact him. Vice stated that Dennis Murphy went on vacation three days ago.”

Jim recovered Donoghue’s body and stood up. He noticed Blair had moved deeper into the room, and he followed. He sneezed violently when the scent of flowers invaded his sense of smell. “What the hell happened here? It smells like a florist shop.”

Jim stood behind Blair, who was examining a table loaded with flowers and food. Blair was holding his hands tightly behind his back to prevent himself from touching the table and its contents. Jim could see where the knuckles had whitened due to the pressure. The table was covered in red and gold flowers. There was an image of a woman wearing a robe hanging behind the altar. It reminded him of the pictures of the Virgin Mary that hung in the church where he went to as a child.

Blair’s voice cut into his thoughts. “It’s a Santeria ceremony. The flowers on the table are gifts to Oshun, the goddess of fertility. The red and gold of the flowers represent her colors, and the picture behind the altar is of her likeness."

Simon joined the partners and watched as Blair bounced up and down on the balls of his feet. The kid really enjoyed this stuff. The slight smile on Jim's face showed that he was enjoying the show. Blair interrupted Simon’s thoughts.

"The flowers and the scent are still fresh, so there was a ceremony going on here recently. There might be problems getting the witnesses to come forward though. They're usually secretive about their ceremonies."

Simon pulled his unlit cigar from his mouth. "They could be secretive because they had something to do with it, Sandburg. The community is still up in arms about the Mendola killing. He was an up and coming law student making charges of police corruption. This could be their way of saying 'you killed one of ours, now we killed one of yours'."

Blair shook his head. He understood where Simon was coming from, but Simon just didn't understand the culture. "If that were true, Simon, they never would have done it here. The Bembe is a scared ceremony where violence is not permitted. It would be like a Christian going into a Catholic Church and begin shouting obscenities. It's just not done."

"What about that case in Mexico a few years ago, Sandburg? There was a Santeria cult that performed human sacrifice. They kidnapped an American boy and killed him. Don't tell me the religion is that innocent."

Blair ran his hands back through his hair. "I know there are cases where human sacrifice occurs. I participated in the rallies for Mark Kilroy. Every religion has their bad people. Look at what the Catholic Church did in the Spanish Inquisition. Oshun though, no one would make a human sacrifice to her. She would withdraw her support."

"That may be the answer, but you guys have to figure it out. Now, go out there and find out who did this."

Blair watched Simon walk away and turned to Jim. "You believe me, don't you, Jim?"

Jim took Blair's arm and led him outside to the truck. "I know that there are good and bad in religious practices, Blair. I'm going to investigate all our avenues."

"Thanks, Jim," said Blair. "Santeria is so fascinating. I first saw the ceremony in New York. The rituals they perform have picked up elements from other sources.…"

Jim filtered Blair's words out when he picked up the smell of the flowers outside the warehouse. He closed his eyes and focused on the scent. Blair's hand on his arm centered him. "I'm picking up something sweet. I smelled it briefly in the warehouse underneath the scent of the altar flowers." Taking in a deep breath, Jim pinpointed where it was strongest. "It's coming from the alley by the warehouse."

Blair led the way to the alley and observed as Jim bent down near a dumpster. He picked up a gold and red scarf from the ground. Jim held the scarf to his nose, and Blair spoke, "Is that what you're smelling?"

"Yeah. It smells like rose water or oranges. I've never smelled it before." Jim ran the scarf through his hand, and it snagged on a tag. "Botanica alpavo real." Jim looked up at Blair. "Does that mean anything to you?"

Blair took the scarf and read the label himself. "Botanica's are religious stores. They sell candles, herbs, and other paraphernalia. Some of them even hold ceremonies in the back."

Jim took back the shawl. "That means that the wearer of the shawl will be able to answer some questions."

“Probably, Jim,” Blair replied. Blair looked around and considered their options. “There should be a local Botanica in the area.” Blair looked around and found a phone booth with a directory. After several minutes of research, Blair came back with an address. There’s a Botanica three blocks from here. Let me tell you more about Santeria on our way.”

In the truck, Blair had a captured audience. Jim knew from experience that any time Blair had a chance, he would break off into lectures. Jim didn’t know what Blair would do if he couldn’t teach anymore.

“Santeria is based on an African religious practice originated by the Yoruba. Oshun is their goddess of beauty and fertility, sort of like the Greek’s Venus. Her priestess’ usually wear gold and red. That’s why with the flowers on the altar and the shawl, I knew that it was for Oshun.” Blair took a breath and continued. “And the priestesses, man? They have a very sensual way of moving. I had plenty of opportunity to observe.”

Jim turned to Blair when he began to move. His hands pumped the air, and he wiggled in what must have been the male version of the dance. Jim laughed at his friend’s antics. “Do that move again.” Blair repeated the moves and Jim shook his head in amusement. “You’ve got all the moves, Babe.” Jim pulled the truck up in front of the Botanica, and the two men exited the vehicle.

Corinne was scared. All that blood. She didn't know what had happened, so she ran to the only place that she felt safe. She made her way through the alley behind the Botanica and knocked on the back door. The door opened, and she looked into the eyes of her Iyalocha.

"Corinne!" Iya exclaimed, pulling Corinne into the back room. "Come in! We’ve been so worried about you.”

"Something terrible has happened, Iya.”

Iya pulled Corinne into a hug. "I know, but I thank the gods that you are okay. I've been trying to contact you all day. I was worried when I couldn't find you after we ran from the Bembe."

Corinne pulled away from Iya. She needed answers. "I can't remember anything Iya. I went into my trance, and when I woke up, there was a dead man in front of me."

"Everyone was scared, Corinne. You were giving Oshun's blessing when the man fell through the skylight. People grabbed what they could and ran." Iya turned Corinne to face her. "It didn’t even dawn on me that you wouldn’t follow. I am so sorry.”

Corinne patted Iya on the arm before turning to the door. “I’m safe now, but I need to go talk to the police.”

Iya was floored. How could Corrine think the police would help? "What would you tell them? A man died in your presence. Do you think they would believe that you weren't a suspect, but possessed?"

Corinne swallowed against the lump in her throat. “What am I supposed to do then? Sometimes I feel like I’m on the edge of a knife. On the edge between the Old World and the modern.”

Iya put her hands on Corinne’s shoulders and forced eye contact. “You maintain your balance, child.” Iya jumped when she heard the bell on the shop door tinkle. She motioned for Corinne to be quiet. “I’ll take care of these customers, and then we’ll talk.”

Iya left Corinne in the back room and went to greet her customers. She was surprised to see two white men there. “How can I help you, gentleman?”

Jim approached the woman and pulled his badge out. "I'm Detective Ellison and this is Blair Sandburg. We're from Cascade PD. We have some questions we need to ask."

Iya was surprised again. She hadn't expected the police so quickly. Why couldn't they mind their own business and leave them alone? They had no right to be involved with Santeria. This was a busy time for the community in their worship. The cops were outsiders. Iya swallowed her anger at the intrusion and stated, "How may I assist you?"

Jim heard a slight edge to the polite voice. He knew he wouldn't get much out of her. "A police officer was murdered this morning." Jim held up the shawl they had found earlier. "This shawl was found in the area, and we know it came from a Botanica. We're trying to track down which one."

"It's very beautiful Detective," Iya answered. She pointed to a stand that contained similar scarves. "I'm afraid that in this neighborhood, it's not unique. I can't help you any farther than that."

Blair felt tension building around him. He knew Jim could be stubborn and from the tone of her voice, so could the shopkeeper. Hoping he could encourage her, Blair stepped forward. "Any information you can give us about problems in the community would be great. We are talking about the death of a police officer here."

Iya turned to the shorter man. "I'm sorry I can't help you. I don't know anything." Iya knew enough about cops to know they liked your defenses lowered. It wouldn't work with her. She wished these men would leave as she had other things needing to be done. "If there's nothing else?"

Jim caught the elusive scent he first smelled earlier on the scarf again and turned to Iya. "What is that scent? I've smelled it before."

Iya took a sniff of the air. "Verbena,” was her puzzled answer. She had no clue why he wanted to know.

Hearing the name of the flower, Blair remembered more about his experience in New York. "Verbena, of course. It's part of the Bembe ceremony."

Iya found herself surprised a third time that day. Most outsiders didn't care enough to learn about their ceremonies. "You know about the Bembe?"

Grateful he had sparked a response, Blair responded, "Yeah, I'm familiar with the ceremony.” He motioned to the colorful displays in the shop of red and gold. Countertops around the store had stands of copper and coral necklaces and bracelets. Large and small brass bells were also scattered on any available surface. Canvas pictures of a dark-skinned woman graced the walls. “There was one last night for Oshun, right?"

Iya was afraid that the young man could cause trouble if he kept digging. With the questions being asked, she realized that the cops didn't know she was involved. She decided to continue playing ignorant. "There may have been. If there was, I can tell you that the death of your cop would not be involved."

Jim heard the woman's heart speed up, but he didn't have enough evidence to bring her in. His hands were tied, but he knew this woman could tell him more. "How do you know what could or couldn’t have happened at this ceremony? You weren't there." With his hearing up to catch her in a lie, Jim caught the sound of footsteps at the back of the store. "Are you the only one working here?" he demanded from the shopkeeper. Without waiting for an answer, Jim ran to the store's back room

"There is no one else here, Detective," Iya called after the detective. She started after the cop as he violated her inner sanctum and cursed him under her breath.

Jim reached the back room. No one was there, but the scent of the verbena permeated the air. Someone had been there. He returned to the front of the store and addressed the shop owner. "I'll be back. You'd better think about where you stand and let us know if you remember anything." Jim turned to Blair and dragged him from the store.

After the interview, Jim drove Blair to Rainier University. Blair spoke to Jim before leaving the truck. "You have to calm down about this, Jim. Putting pressure on the community will only cause them to be more tight-lipped." Jim‘s stony face made Blair think he was talking to a brick wall. "Just remember, Jim, you experienced the small community set-up while you were with the Chopec. Think about that for a while." Blair shut the door and headed off to his class.

Blair had a point, but Jim was missing something. The scent of that verbena had crawled into his head, and he was getting a headache from it. Not being able to concentrate was frustrating. Jim started his truck and headed to the station

Jim met Simon in the elevator when he arrived, and they continued to Major Crimes together. Jim tried pleading his case to Simon, but he wasn't getting very far. "I'm telling you, Captain. This woman knows more about what happened than she's letting on. Sandburg says that someone working at a Botanica would be aware of what was going on in the community."

Simon headed to his office while Jim tried to convince him that he should bring the woman in as a material witness. "I'm sorry, Jim, but you'll just have to find another way to find out what happened."

Simon would never let Jim bring the woman in, but he was hoping that losing that battle would help him win the next. "I'm already planning that, sir. Sandburg’s going to meet me at the station later, and we're going to go interview Cortez."

Simon escorted Jim quickly into his office and shut the door. By the wicked gleam in Jim's eyes, Simon knew this couldn't be good. "Look Jim, I know where you want to go with this, but absolutely not."

Jim sighed, "Come on, Simon. We both know that Cortez has got his fingers into every puppet show that goes on in Little Havana. If I can't talk to that shop owner, I need to get it somewhere else."

Simon dug out one of his cigars from his cigar case. "Cut me some slack here, Jim. Donoghue's death has created a tinderbox. The last thing we need is to add fuel to the fire by attacking Cortez. He's a recognized leader of the community, and I want you to back off this." Simon knew Jim wouldn't listen, but he could honestly say that he had warned Jim away if something developed from this. He personally wanted to see Cortez go down hard.

Simon was going to leave it at that Jim smiled to himself. Captain Banks couldn't condone him leaning on Cortez, but they could play the game to keep Simon in the clear. "Very good, sir."

Selecting another topic of conversation, Simon continued, "Have you been able to contact Donoghue's partner yet?"

"Yeah. Blair's meeting me in two hours so we can talk to him. He's agreed to meet here at the station."

"Good." Simon fondled his cigar. He really needed a smoke soon. "The sooner we find out what Donoghue was doing on that roof, the closer we'll be to finding his killer.”

Jim left Simon and headed to his desk. He booted up the computer and worked on reports until Blair arrived.

Act II