Act V

Simon cursed at the phone when the officers watching Corinne didn’t respond. He called Jim with the news. “It’s Simon, Jim. There’s something wrong at the shop. We haven’t been able to reach the uniforms for the past fifteen minutes. Where are you now?”

<About ten minutes away.>

“All right. I’m on my way as well. Get in there and secure the scene. Just wait for backup.” Simon slammed the receiver down when the phone was hung up without an affirmation. He knew that Jim would be going in without help. In his experience, since Ellison had partnered up with Sandburg, it was the one and only 'Jim' thing to do.

The tape recorder was damp with sweat from Blair’s hands, but he continued to hold on to it as Corinne danced. Her movement around the back room went from controlled to wild as the incense flooded the room with its odor. Blair swallowed as the woman sauntered over to where he was standing. Her chest heaved with each inhalation, and her breath blew gently into his face. His gaze moved to her eyes, and he saw wisdom looking out at him. Oshun had arrived.

Oshun stopped and looked at the young man in front of her. The howl of a wolf sounded, very far off in the distance. She could feel the connection between them; the young shaman and the wolf guide as yet far away. Oshun caressed the man’s neck and shoulders with her shawl to impart her blessings.

Blair glanced up and around when a slight breeze brushed his back. Four men had entered through the shop’s front door and were looking around. He held his breath; it was Cortez, Detective Murphy, and two men he didn't recognize. They had guns in their hands, and Blair shivered in fear.

He jerked back when Cortez turned in his direction. A huge smile appeared on the Cuban’s face as he brought his gun to bear on Blair. Blair shut the back room’s door right before bullets impacted it.

Blair frantically looked around the room as the door shook under him. He spied a chair against the wall and reached for it, jamming it under the knob. Checking back on his charge, he found her unmoving and staring at the door. He prayed it would hold until he could get Corinne to safety. She would be vulnerable while locked in a trance.

Blair took her arm and tried to guide her through the back door of the shop, but she resisted. “Come on, come on, let's go!” Blair gasped out. Since she was still unresponsive, he took charge and dragged her out into the back alley.

When Cortez was separated from his prey, he fired into the door as he ran. He would not be denied! He rammed into the door with his shoulder, and felt the concussive force when one of his men landed beside him. The door splintered under the weight of the two men, and they fell forward.

Cortez gained his balance quickly and found that the room was empty. Fury engulfed him, and he turned to his men. “Get after them. If they escape, I’ll skin you alive, then send your bleeding bodies back to your families.” Cortez followed his men through the back door and bumped into them at the mouth of the alley. He elbowed his way past them, but was knocked back by a sea of humans passing by.

The square that normally held just vendor stands was now packed with people as well. A swelling of voices chanting and feet trampling pavement swept past him. Groups of men and women, wearing the traditional turbans, were interspersed among the regular shoppers. Their bodies twisted and their voices rose in song. Drummers sat near the dancers and provided the rhythm. The combination of revelers left Cortez with very little room for movement.

Seething that the crowd was blocking his way, Cortez grabbed Murphy and pushed him forward. He would be damned if he would let some festival get in his way. Goddess or not, Oshun had interfered for the last time. She was interrupting his trade, and she would be made to pay. Her priestess would only be the first victim.

A multitude had gathered in the streets. The abundance of gold and red costumes thrilled Blair after his eyes had adjusted to the brightness of the sun. Glinting metal caught his attention and the ringing of bells blended in with the drums being played around the area. In the rush of the case, he had forgotten about the Feast of Oshun. He pulled Corinne into a pocket that had opened in the midst of the revelers and silently thanked the goddess for supplying them with cover.

“Excuse me. Sorry. Excuse me, guys. Sorry about that,” Blair chanted to the crowd, towing the still-dazed Corinne behind him. He looked back and saw Cortez and his men tracking them. Blair continued to weave his way into the crowd, praying Jim would arrive soon. He whispered to his sentinel, “Open your ears, Jim. I need you.” Blair repeated his mantra and hoped that Jim was using his hyper-senses.

Jim used lights and sirens all the way to the Botanica and jumped from the truck when he arrived. Officers were down! Checking for injuries, he found they both still had pulses. Pulling back their jackets, he noted the bulletproof vests. The men would hurt later, but they would be alive. He picked up one of the walkie-talkies and spoke into it, “Two officers down, Domingo and First. Both are alive. Send ambulance and backup, ASAP.”

<Message received. Ambulance en-route. Arrival will be delayed due to increased activity in the area.>

Jim ran inside the Botanica, gun out, hoping to find his partner. When he didn’t see him, Jim whispered to himself, “Come on, Chief, where the hell are you?” Jim cocked his head, trusting Blair lead him. It was a strain on his hearing, and it took several minutes to filter out all the extraneous noises. A worried voice called, 'Jim!' from the mob of people gathering in the neighborhood. Blair needed him.

“Corinne! Corinne! Corinne!” Blair couldn’t believe that he lost his charge. One minute he was looking behind him for trouble, and the next she was gone. She wasn’t aware enough to protect herself when Blair shouted again as searched, “Excuse me. Sorry. Corinne!”

Blair circled through the crowd. He had no idea where to look next for Corinne, so he stopped and turned in a circle to look. Blair jumped when a hand latched onto his shoulder. It was Jim. Blair grinned in relief. “Oh, man, am I glad to see you.”

Jim looked into the worried eyes of his friend. “Where's Corinne?”

Blair stood on his toes and threw another cursory glance through the festival goers. “I don't know. I lost her. Cortez, Murphy, and two other guys are after her. You have to find her by her scent.”

Jim gaped at his friend. “You've gotta be kidding me. How am I going to do that with all these people?”

Blair smiled at his sentinel, placing his hand on the small of Jim’s back. “Then listen to your guide. You have to try, man.”

Jim couldn’t help smiling back. “I’ll always be able to find you, Blair. You’re my guide.”

Blair put his hand on the small of Jim’s back. “You have to try, man. She’s not thinking straight. She’s in real trouble.”

Jim concentrated on cataloguing the scents around him. He used Blair’s touch to ground him and then found the trail of verbena. “Got her, Chief! This way.” Jim took off with Blair and stumbled into Simon. “Simon! What are you doing here?”

Simon squinted against the sun shining in his eyes. “Someone doesn’t like to wait for back up, so I came down myself to make sure nothing happens to my best team.”

Jim replied, “Then follow me, sir. We lost our witness, and need to get to her before Cortez does.”

Oshun never realized she had lost her protector. She was drawn to a picture of herself, being carried among her celebrants. She wanted to admire herself. She combed her fingers through her hair and returned the image’s smile. She was so beautiful, so ravishing. She was interrupted from her self-admiration when a man swung her around. She recognized him. “I know you. You're the man who killed the friend he loved.”

Murphy stared at the one witness to Pat’s death. She hadn’t gone to the police with her statement, but here she was blaming him for Pat’s death. What did she want?

Cortez pushed Murphy aside and grabbed Corinne’s arm. He pulled her into an alley and shoved her against the wall. His two gunmen followed and trained their weapons on the woman. With one hand he held her in place and motioned Murphy forward with the other. He would get his due out of the cop. “Kill her. Prove your loyalty to me.”

“God, forgive me,” Murphy whispered to himself. He looked into Oshun’s eyes and was lost. He was locked in memory after memory. The memories were draped in blue, and a jungle was spread out before him.

Dennis Anthony Murphy fought his way through the jungle and entered a clearing. Patrick was standing ramrod straight in a cadet’s uniform, then morphed into a tuxedo to be married, then as a father in scrubs holding his first child. Patrick had been so happy and proud of his career and his family. Dennis had shared in that, until Mendola was killed. Running away from the clearing, afraid to see any more, he arrived in another clearing. Mendola was lying in a pool of blood in the alley and next to him, somehow, was Patrick dying on the warehouse floor. Both were pleading, mutely with their eyes, for Dennis to save them.

Tears flowed down Murphy’s face. He dropped the gun and fell to his knees. He ground his fists into his eyes to stop the vision. “Please…. I didn’t mean…. Why did you have to…. Oh, God, I didn’t mean to…. I’m sorry.” Murphy broke out into sobs for the deaths he had caused. He had ended the life of a young man at the beginning of his future, and that of his best friend and partner, who had many more years to give. Dennis felt a small hand on his head and a wave of forgiveness enveloped him.

Murphy was frozen before the woman. Cortez didn’t know what was going on, but he was going to end this one way or another. Pulling his gun, he aimed it at the witness. But before he could shoot, Ellison, his partner, and a black man rounded the corner.

As they should have, Cortez’s men shifted their aim at the coming danger. Cortez took advantage of the distraction. He grabbed the arm of the guard closest to him, pulling him behind him, for cover as he fled. They ran back to the square to lose themselves in the celebration. Shots rang out behind Cortez, but he ignored them.

Jim had his gun out when he came upon Cortez and his party. Weapons were aimed, and Jim pushed Blair to safety and ran for cover as shots were fired. Both he and Simon returned fire, and Simon hit one of the henchmen.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Cortez ducking out of the alley and dashed after the retreating figures. Blair was on his way to Corinne and Murphy, and Simon was on his cell phone. More bullets sped toward him, so Jim fired his piece again and hit the second gunman.

Simon hung up his cell phone and looked at the battlefield to take stock. Jim had chased after Cortez, and Blair was standing guard over Corinne as she knelt and cradled Murphy to her shoulder. The challenging stare of his observer unnerved him. With them standing so close together, Simon could almost see them as a wolf pack. Blair was the alpha male and Corinne the alpha female. Simon had no doubt they would keep Murphy safe; he had stopped babbling right before the gunfight and hadn’t made a move since. Simon left them with Murphy and moved to handcuff Cortez’s two downed gunmen.

Cortez had disappeared into the crowd of partygoers in the main square. Jim pushed his way into the gathering and looked around for Cortez. The last thing he needed was to lose a civilian to the Cuban mob boss. These people had suffered enough, and it was his duty to bring the man down. But first, he had to find him. “Police, coming through!”

Cortez was home free; the cops would never find him among his people. His people would hide him until he could get back to the club. Once there, he could make plans to get out of the city. A loud shout disrupted his thoughts, and he threw himself around; it was the cop.

Jim continued making his way through the revelers. A sudden parting further in indicated a disturbance. He followed the newly made path and saw Cortez at the end of it. Jim met his eyes and smiled like a cat on the prowl. His quarry was at hand.

Cortez hesitated. The cop was right on his heels. The crime lord was determined to get away. He had never been caught before, and he would be damned if it happened now. He grabbed the first person he could, a woman, and put his gun to her head. “Drop it, or I’ll kill her.”

Jim swore to himself and dropped his gun. There was no way he was going to risk a human life. Blair wouldn’t tease him about losing his weapon this time.

Jim called, “Look at you! You’re willing to murder an innocent woman to save your sorry ass. Good lord, you are pathetic, man. Go ahead and kill her. Kill me! They're still going to know what you're all about. They can see it.”

Cortez looked wildly around. “Don't listen to him! He's the cop that killed Mendola!”

Winds whipped into the square and flowed through the gatherers. A bell sounded out from a nearby church tower, and grew until it drowned out the noise of the assembly. A scarf knifed across Cortez’s face and landed in a pile at Jim’s feet. The bell’s peal died away, and the people of Little Havana were silent. Oshun had spoken. She was here, and the cop was doing her work.

The hair on the back of Jim’s neck rose, and he sensed the dynamic around him had changed. People were giving way, milling around him now, and they were clearing out of Cortez’s space. Jim shouted back, “No. They know who killed Mendola. There's no place for you to run now. Go ahead.”

Cortez shoved the woman away from him and aimed his gun at the cop. A heavy weight landed on him, and he went down under a press of bodies. Feet kicked into him, and hands were pulling and punching any place they could find. His gun had long since been kicked away, and his ears vibrated with repeated chants of, “Murderer! Murderer!

Jim fought through the crowd. With enough force, Jim was able to reach Cortez and take him into custody. Cuffing him elicited a cheer from the celebrants. Jim marched Cortez through the partygoers, smiling broadly.

Blair stood sentry over his charges. Murphy was being handcuffed and read his rights, and Blair remained to protect Corinne while Oshun used her as a conduit. A hand on his shoulder drew his attention. He turned and looked into the eyes of a goddess.

Oshun was glad she had been able to help. Her children had given her a most satisfying day. The life and energy of the community buzzed around her, and she soaked it up. She focused her gaze on the young man in front of her and decided that as she received, she could also give. She kissed him softly on his lips and whispered, “Guard your sentinel well, young shaman. If you need our assistance, just ask.”

~~~~~ Epilogue ~~~~~

Simon updated Jim on Donoghue’s case as they entered the bullpen. “Murphy signed a complete confession. That, plus the cooperation from Cortez’s men, will enable us to put Cortez away for life.”

"That’s good Captain. They led us on a wild ride.” Jim stopped when he heard Corinne and Blair exit the elevator. “So we don't need Corinne Santiago's testimony?”

Simon caught sight of the two coming in. “No. It won't be necessary.”

Jim nodded his head. “I'll tell her.” Simon went into his office, and Jim met his partner and Corinne halfway. “Thanks for coming by, Corinne.”

Blair asked, “Hey, how'd everything work out?”

Jim leaned against a convenient desk. “Everything went good. We have everything we need for the case to be prosecuted.”

Blair smiled at the news, “Great! You’ll have to fill me in on the details later. Simon needs me to look at his computer.” Blair turned to Corinne. “See you later, Corinne. I can’t wait for my lessons.” Blair turned from them and headed to Simon’s office.

Corinne watched the young man leave with an amused expression. Jim interrupted her thoughts. “What lessons are you going to teach Blair?”

Corinne replied, “He expressed a lot of interest in the Bembe. I’m going to teach him more about what we do.” Corinne adjusted her purse on her shoulder. Her muscles were tense; she wanted to know what would happen next. “Blair said you had to talk to me?”

Jim shook his head. Blair was always taking on new projects and making his workload heavier; he could handle it though. Facing Corinne, he said, “You’re free and clear on having to testify against Murphy and Cortez. I don't see it serving any purpose to expose your personal life and hold your beliefs up to scrutiny."

Corinne relaxed. She would be able to keep her religious practices private. She looked into the detective's eyes, searching them. “You seem to understand a lot.”

With his hearing focused on the banter in Simon’s office, he answered Corinne, “Yeah, well, let's, uh...let's just say I know a few things about secrets. Come on.” Jim stood up straight and beckoned towards the elevator. “Why don’t I show you out.”

~~~~~ The End ~~~~~

Act IV