Standing in the middle of Alex Barnes' apartment, I slowly turn in a
circle, taking in the incredible amount of artwork. Vivid paintings hang on the walls, as
well as lean in stacks against them. Clay sculptures cover every available surface.
"This is amazing," I finally say. "When you said you were an artist, I had
no idea. Did you know all this stuff is rooted in sentinel symbolism? I mean, you got the
jungles, the jaguars, you got the Indians. I mean, for crying out loud, you even got the
Alex looks as confused as I feel. When I got her message she wanted my help, she said she had something to show me, but this this is incredible, and a bit scary at the same time.
"I saw the pictures in Burton's book." She picks up "The Sentinels of Paraguay" that I loaned her and hands it to me. "I knew you had to see this. The ideas just come to me. I have no idea why."
Waking visions. But what do they mean? "There's a whole mystical side to this that you're obviously tapped into somehow."
She moves to stand in front of me, her intense gaze meeting mine. "When my senses started going crazy, I was frightened. But now that I'm finally starting to understand all of this--" she waves her hand to encompass the art, her, me "--I like it."
I give her a smile. "Good, good."
"Thank you." Leaning in, Alex kisses me on the cheek.
I'm startled by it, but as she pulls back, a warm flush goes through me, and I know my face must be turning bright red. "Uh you're welcome," I manage. She laughs and wipes at the lipstick left on my cheek. Feeling my temperature rising even more, I change the subject. "Yeah. Why don't you run that car accident by me again? Tell me about that one more time."
She steps back a bit, then replies, "The car coming the other way had its brights on, and suddenly I felt this throbbing pain in my skull. It hurt so badly, I couldn't even see where I was driving. The next thing I knew, I'd hit a telephone pole."
I consider that for a moment, in light of what I know from my work with Jim. "Now, every time you experience your heightened senses, do you get a headache?"
"Yeah, pretty much," she answers with a disappointed sigh.
I understand her frustration. She's just learning how to use her senses, but every time she does it only results in pain. "Your headaches are connected to your heightened senses somehow. We need to figure out how." I give her a reassuring smile. "It's nothing to worry about."
Alex smiles back, but I can still see the slight apprehension in her eyes.
My first day back from leave, I enter the bullpen and head straight for
Simon's office. The captain and Megan Connor are waiting for me.
"Hey, I heard there was a vicious rumor that you were back among the living," Simon jokes. "How you feeling?"
I give him a smile, feeling like my old self for the first time in days. "Well, that depends. How's my caseload?"
Megan waves a folder at me. "Don't worry. I saved you one. We could use your help on the Oberon heist."
Simon's staring at the empty space behind me. "Where's your shadow?"
Shrugging, I answer, "He begged off. He's working on some big project at the university. I haven't seen him all week, really." I push memories of last night's bizarre dream to the back of my mind. "What do we have here?"
He fills me in. "The supervisor at Oberon Security has no idea what information was accessed, but the firm designs state-of-the-art security systems for major corporations. You know what the big question is, how did the thief get in, defeat their own system, and then get out again?"
"Ex-employee, maybe?" I venture.
Megan shakes her head. "Not likely. We've asked for a personnel list. They screen everyone who works there very carefully."
Simon points a remote at the TV/VCR setup in the corner of the office. "Take a look at this. One of their security cameras caught the thief as he was trying to escape."
The screen flickers, then a corridor appears. A figure dressed in black, from the ski mask covering his head to the crepe-soled boots on his feet, is running down the hall. All of a sudden, the thief doubles over, clutching at his ears. There's no sound on the video, but it's obvious he's reacting to some kind of loud, sustained noise. Still holding his hands over his ears, he staggers to a door and stumbles through it.
"That must be one hell of a loud alarm," Megan comments. "Strange, isn't it?"
I back the tape up and run it again. What in the hell is going on? If I didn't know better, I'd swear the person on the screen has enhanced hearing.
Opening the door to my apartment, I switch on the lights, then nearly jump
out of my skin as I turn around. "Damn it, Carl." My partner's sitting in a
chair, his dark eyes just watching me. How long has he been waiting there in the shadows?
"I'm surprised you didn't hear my breathing," he taunts.
I shrug. "I was tired."
Getting to his feet, he approaches me. "I might have been a cop. What good are your senses if you don't use them?"
Taking off my coat, I hang it up angrily. I really don't want to deal with this right now. "I'll be more careful next time, okay?"
He doesn't look like he's convinced, but he changes the subject. "I've analyzed the security designs you stole from Oberon. I think we can get everything but this fingerprint scanner on the fifth level. You just can't override that. We'll have to go through it." Pausing, he stares at me. "So how was the job? Any problems?"
I stare back. "No."
Grabbing me by the arm, Carl shoves me into the wall and pins me there. "Don't lie to me, Alex. I was monitoring the police scanner. You shot a guard." He gives me a shake. "It was one of your headaches, wasn't it?" I don't immediately answer, and he slams me into the wall again. "Wasn't it?"
"I got the job done," I spit.
He snags a handful of my hair, yanking my head back, snarling, "And you almost got caught." He pushes me away from him, and I grab the table in the center of the room to keep from falling. "Oh, of course, there was that little car accident. You think I didn't find out about it? They arrested you, for God's sake!"
I breathe out slowly as I smooth my mussed clothes, ignoring the pain in my back and my head. "And they let me go," I say with more calm than I feel.
Carl shakes his head, his rage at me still evident. "Alex, you've made us both a lot of money, but you're becoming unreliable. I'm beginning to think I should change partners."
Standing up to him, I answer, "Oh, really? Well, unless you've forgotten, I do the work."
He snorts. "You plan the jobs? You handle the clients? You fence the goods? Oh, you're talented, Alex, but you lack discipline and direction. And these crippling headaches are making you careless."
I hadn't meant to tell him about Blair, but in my anger it just slips out. "Actually, I've found somebody who can help me with that. He works at the university."
Immediately, Carl's in my face again. "What? You told him about your senses?"
"It was a chance meeting. He's an expert on people like me."
Carl's fingers dig into my upper arms as he pulls me close. "I don't like the idea of someone knowing about you," he growls.
"After I get what I want, I will deal with him," I lie. He thinks about that for a moment, then kisses me, his hands groping my breasts painfully. Forcing down my revulsion, I return his kiss, all the while thinking, And after this job is over, I'll deal with you, too, Carl.
"Go on," Blair coaxes, leaning forward in his chair.
I fidget slightly in my seat. For someone who's not a shrink, he sure wants to know what's going on inside my head. Now he's got me telling him my dreams. "Well, I was in the jungle, except I wasn't myself. I was some kind of warrior with a bow and arrow and my face was painted. Then the jungle parted and I saw this huge ancient temple. It looked like it was a thousand years old. There was a stone pyramid, and right in the middle there was a statue of a leopard or panther, some kind of cat."
Blair grins at me. "Jaguar."
"The first known civilized people in South America were the Olmecs. Legend has it that they built a temple in the middle of the jungle." Getting up from his desk, he opens a file cabinet and begins looking through the contents. "Supposedly, sentinels would go there and have a mystical experience so powerful that they would see the eye of God."
Sounds cool, if it's true. "Does it really exist?"
Blair opens another drawer. "Well, it was always believed to be a myth, but three years ago an archaeologist in the Yucatan named Feliz Santiago came across some carvings that he believed depicted the Temple of the Sentinels." He pulls a drawing from the cabinet and hands it to me.
I stare at it in shock. "This is it. This is the place in my dream."
He gives me that gorgeous smile again. "Yeah, I know, it's exactly like your artwork. You're obviously tapped into some primal ancestral memories, just--" His gaze wanders to the clock on the wall. "Hold on to that thought. I've got to talk to a professor about a lab I'm teaching for him, but I'll be back in a couple of minutes."
Blair starts for the door and I catch his arm as he passes my chair. The electricity between us is unmistakable, and his scent changes, becoming deeper, more musky. It sends a charge skittering over my skin, raising the hair on my arms, making me suddenly aware of a soul-aching need. But for what, I'm uncertain.
He seems affected by the contact as well, his gaze puzzled as he looks down at me.
I ask, "Afterward, are you free for dinner?"
He blinks, as if that question was the last thing he expected me to say. "Dinner? Yeah, that sounds great." Moving toward the door, Blair looks back at me. "Good yeah dinner." He leaves the room, and I can hear him talking to himself as he walks down the hallway.
Getting to my feet, I wander around his office, looking at the prints on the walls, the shelves of books and artifacts, my mind whirling. What in the hell just happened, Alex? What's going on between you two?
I shake my head. Men are all the same. He wants what Carl wants, what every guy wants from you.
I sit down in Blair's desk chair, finding the fabric still warm from his body heat. The need rushes back, filling my head, my heart, my gut, making me shiver. No man ever affected me like this before. No one ever looked at me the way Blair does, like I'm someone important, someone special. I know he said something about this, about the sentinel having a connection with a partner, a guide or did I read it? The Burton book!
It's not lying on the desk like it was the other day. I start opening drawers, searching for it, needing to know the answer, the reason for what I'm feeling. I don't find it, but in one of the drawers is a mini-cassette recorder and a box of tapes. It says "Sentinel Research." I flip through them, but the titles don't tell me anything. They're simply labeled with the date. Picking the most recent one, I stick it in the recorder and push play.
Blair's voice filters through the small speaker. <I've been unable to illuminate the meaning of my primary subject's spiritual vision, and he seems unusually reluctant to explore the matter. Concerning my secondary subject, I've been unable to find data which would suggest what would happen if two sentinels were to come together. Would they see each other as allies? Would they face off in some territorial rivalry? Now if in fact, my secondary subject does turn out to be a sentinel, I'm gonna have to bring them together in a carefully controlled situation. So at the present time, I've decided not to tell Jim Ellison or Alex Barnes about one another.>
Jim Ellison? Who in the hell is he? Another sentinel, if I'm not misinterpreting Blair's words on the tape. My fingers tighten on the recorder until my knuckles turn white. No! There can't be another sentinel, there can't be! Blair is my guide! Mine!
Since Sandburg couldn't come in to the PD today, I decide I'll drop by the
university and take him for a late lunch/early dinner. I figure I owe him for my behavior
the past week. I've not been the easiest person to live with, and though I hate to admit
it, I think we need to talk.
The dream I had last night still haunts me. I shot Blair. Why would I dream about something so horrible, about killing my best friend? And was it just a nightmare--or one of my sentinel visions?
I'm so lost in thought that I don't hear the growling until I'm standing outside Sandburg's office. The snarling is coming from behind the closed door. Peering through the frosted glass design on the door, I can see a blonde woman sitting at Sandburg's desk.
She looks up, her eyes meeting mine. Her face contorts into a mask of rage, then her image shifts and changes, her features becoming feline. A spotted, golden jaguar jumps onto Sandburg's desk and roars. It springs from the desk straight at me, crashing through the glass of the window.
Staggering back, I throw my arms up--but there's nothing there. The glass is unbroken. As I'm trying to wrap my mind around that, the door opens.
The blonde woman looks at me, her gaze hard. Hearing the big cat's cry in my head once again, I flee the building, shaken to my core.