Act IV

Back at the PD, Connor and I meet with Captain Banks and update him on our progress--or rather our lack there-of.

"We searched the roof, then the entire area, but somehow the suspect slipped through," Megan is explaining.

"He jacked a high-intensity cutting laser," I add. "It can slice through an inch of titanium like butter. Make short work of, say, a bank vault."

"A bank vault," Simon repeats.

Megan nods. "We're pretty sure it's the same perpetrator as the Oberon heist--similar height, build, attire."

"And he's left-handed, which matches the description given by the guard at Oberon."

The captain looks thoughtful. "First, he steals the designs for one of Oberon's top security systems, then he hijacks a laser. Sounds like he's putting together the pieces for a heist. So what's your next move?"

"I'm going to call Oberon again, see if they've had any luck finding out what file the perp accessed," Megan says.

"And I'm going to go over the security tape again, and the statement from the van driver. Maybe we can get a line on who this guy is."

"Great, go to it."

We exit Simon's office, Megan heading for her desk while I get settled in the conference room. I'm watching the security tape for what seems like the hundredth time when Sandburg appears in the doorway. He seems…subdued, somehow.

"Hey. Brown said you wanted to talk to me."

I pause the tape. "Something weird happened at that warehouse."

He gives me a look, then says rather sharply, "I hope this has something to do with why you threw me out."

"Uh, probably," I manage to stutter. I don't know what to say, how to deal with what I did. I just knew I couldn't have him there, that his presence made me uncomfortable, in fact is making my skin crawl now. But he's the only person I know who's an expert on the sentinel thing. And I need answers. "The suspect has been one step ahead of us the whole time, and I tell you, I'm looking at the Oberon tape, and I'm noticing that this guy's experiencing something akin to what I go through when I have a sensory spike. You know, if my senses are cranked up, and I hear a loud noise…." I don't know how else to explain it.

His eyes narrow, as if I'm accusing him of something. "So what are you saying?"

"I'm saying there's another one out there like me. I've been having these experiences with this jaguar, like in the store, and I've been having these dreams--"

Blair's head comes up and he stares at me. "What dreams?"

"I don't know. The spotted cat. I had this other dream. I'm in the jungle. There's this temple or something and, there's this statue of a jaguar, or what ever it is…" My voice trails off. I can't tell him about the wolf.

He paces for a moment, turning in a circle, muttering to himself. "You're having the same dreams…"

"Who's having the same dreams?" What is he talking about? What hasn't he told me? "The same dreams as who?"

Uncertainty flickers across his face for a moment, then Blair answers, "Jim, there is another sentinel, but there's no way that she can be our thief."

"She?" As soon as I ask, I know the answer. "The lady in your office."

He gives me that defensive look again. "When were you at my office?"

God damn it. What in the hell is going on? "Why didn't you tell me this?"

He glances at me, then at the floor. "I was meaning to, man. I was trying to get you two together in a controlled situation, that's all. But you haven't really been very approachable lately, Jim." His head comes up, his gaze burning.

I know I've hurt him, but I can't think about that now. I have to find her, find this other sentinel. "What the hell did you do? What the hell did you do? Where is she?"

The drive to Alex Barnes' apartment is tense. Jim's pissed at me, and I'm uncomfortable with the whole 'let's go confront the new sentinel in town' thing. "Jim," I finally say, "I really don't think this is a good idea." He doesn't even deign to look at me, but the muscle in his cheek twitches. Determined, I press on, "I mean, what evidence do you have against Alex, other than the guy on the security tape reacting to the alarm sounding?"

"She's a sentinel, Sandburg, you told me so yourself. That's enough evidence for me to go question her," he answers tightly.

I shake my head. I should never have let that slip about her abilities. "Yes, she's a sentinel, but whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? Lots of things could have caused the thief to react the way he did, sudden migraine, or maybe a hearing aid, or --or a radio receiver that blasted static when the alarm went off--"

"Chief, that's a big stretch--"

"No bigger than the leap you're making to pin these robberies on Alex, man!"

Coming to a stop at a light, Jim turns his icy stare on me. "What is with you? Why are you so hot to protect her? You got something going on with her you haven't told me?"

Letting out a sigh of exasperation, I shake my head. "No, it's not like that--"

"What then? You afraid if I send her to prison you won't be able to write about her in your damn paper?"

"Damn it, Jim! I promised her the same thing I promised you, that I would protect her identity, keep the fact she's a sentinel secret. I never said a word to her about you."

"Right." He pulls away on the green light with a squeal of tires.

"Look, man, I know you think I'm a gullible babe in the woods when it comes to judging people's character, but she's not our thief. Let me go talk to her, feel her out--"

"Feel her up, you mean. No way. I'm doing all the talking, got that?" Parking in front of Alex's building, he gets out of the truck.

Feeling sick to my stomach, I do the same. No matter what happens, I've betrayed Alex's trust, especially if she's innocent. She'll never believe in me again. Swallowing past the boulder in my throat, I follow Jim inside.

A knock on my door interrupts my work on a new sculpture. I open it to find Blair Sandburg standing there, a distinct look of discomfort on his face. Behind him is the tall man I've seen twice before, at the warehouse last night, and at the university. "Blair, hi. What are you doing here?"

He meets my eyes for a second, then glances away. I can hear his heart pounding. What in the world is going on?

"Uh…mind if we come in? It's important."

Okay, I'll play along. "Sure." Stepping aside, I let the two of them enter the apartment. Blair's companion still hasn't said a word. "Have we met?" I ask.

He tears himself away from his perusal of my home to answer me. "Not exactly, no. I'm here on an official visit, Miss Barnes. I'm Detective Ellison."

So this is Blair's other sentinel. "Official?" I respond, keeping my voice neutral, and my hands open and relaxed at my sides, even though I'd like nothing better than to claw his eyes out.

"Just wanted to ask you a couple questions about the hijacking of a courier van last night, and the burglary Tuesday night of a security company," he says.

"I don't know what you're talking about." Even though I'm answering Ellison, all my senses are tuned in to Blair. His heart rate is still above normal, and he's sweating nervously. What is he so afraid of? Is it Ellison? "What does this have to do with me?"

The detective lets his gaze roam over the paintings on the walls. "This work would seem to require a special talent to pull off."

Okay, two can play this double-talk game. "Thank you."

His cold eyes lock with mine. "I'm not talking about your artwork."

Uh-huh, right. Think I'll try the dumb blonde route. "I'm still not following you."

Ellison turns his glare on Blair, who pales. Now, I'm getting pissed. I move between them, so that Blair's protected behind me. "What is your problem, Detective?"

"Let's stop playing games, Miss Barnes. Blair's told me all about you."

Blair gasps softly, almost like he's in pain. It takes every bit of self-control I have not to clamp my hands around Ellison's throat. As it is, I can feel my fingernails cutting into my palms. "Am I under arrest? Hmm? Do you have any evidence that I've done anything wrong?"

"Did I say you did anything wrong?"

I'm tired of this shit. "Okay. I want both of you to get out. Now. If you have any more accusations to make, you can do it in court." Striding across the room, I fling open the door.

Ellison doesn't move. "You think this will go away?"

I don't back down. "Unless you want a lawsuit for trespassing and harassment, I suggest you leave."

The cop shrugs, then says, "All right, Chief, we got what we need."

Blair walks toward me, the expression on his face one of disappointment and sadness. He mouths "I'm sorry," as he exits my apartment.

I'm turning that over in my mind as Ellison pauses in the doorway to taunt me. "I know exactly what you are, lady."

I bare my teeth in a feral smile. "And I know what you are, too. Welcome to the jungle."

Shutting the door behind them, I lean against it, thinking hard. Ellison was here on a fishing expedition; if he had any hard evidence, I'd be under arrest. Growling, I pace the room. What in the hell is going on with Blair? Did Ellison force Blair to tell him about me, force him to come here? Blair didn't want to be here, that was quite evident. I've got to find some way to get him alone, to talk to him without Ellison around. I don't think it'll take much to convince Blair he'd be better off as my guide; the friction between him and the cop is obvious.

Sighing, I cross the room and pick up the phone. But first things first. I've got to break the bad news to Carl.

When I've explained the problem to him, his orders are short and to the point. "Pack your stuff and get out of there. Check into a hotel under an assumed name, then contact me."

"What are you going to do, Carl?"

He laughs, a cold, mirthless noise. "I'm going to make sure those cops don't bother us anymore."

Before I can ask for details, he hangs up. As I start throwing clothes into a suitcase, I realize with a shiver that it's better I don't know what he's planning. The last time someone got between Carl and something he wanted, the cops never did find all the body.

Sandburg's chattering at me as we enter the bullpen. Whatever funk he was in about the trip to see Alex Barnes, he seems to be over it now. "I didn't put it together before, but this probably explains your behavior at the loft and here at the precinct. Even before you came in contact with Alex, you probably sensed another sentinel, which threatened your territorial imperative."

I shrug. "Yeah." Or maybe it's just because you kept coming home smelling of her. The memory of killing the wolf in my dream comes back to me. Is this what it was about? That I didn't recognize Blair because my senses kept picking up her?

Who knows? It's not important now, anyway. What's important is putting Barnes behind bars. I walk over to Brown's desk. He's pecking away at his computer keyboard, headphones blaring rap music. "Hey, man, you got that stuff for me?" When he doesn't respond, I pull off the headphones. "Hey, Don Cornelius!"

Slightly startled, he looks up at me. "Hey, what's going on, man?"

"You run those prints through the N.C.I.C yet?"

Grinning, he hands me a folder. "I got that for you. Here it is. 'Alex Barnes, a.k.a. Alicia Bannister.' Arrests for grand theft, industrial espionage--the girl's not bored, man."

Opening the folder, I skim through the contents. "It says she served three years at the California women's prison in Corona." I glance at Blair. His face is pale, and he swallows nervously. "Looks like she played you pretty good, man. Thanks, H."

I start toward Simon's office, Blair on my heels. "I didn't know, Jim. Honest I didn't. I just--"

"You just saw another sentinel with a pretty face and didn't look any further. People are usually in police stations for a reason, Darwin. Did you ever even think to check out her background? Or couldn't you wait to get her into your lab?"

"She was in trouble, man! She was reacting just like you did when your senses came online again. Alex thought she was losing her mind. I could help her. Tell me, what did I do wrong by wanting to help someone in pain?"

If he can't see it now, he never will. I don't answer, instead knocking on Captain Banks door, then entering at his "Come in."

"Sorry to bother you, sir, but I thought I should let you know what we're dealing with here." I toss the jacket on Alex Barnes on his desk. "That's our suspect. She's a sentinel."

He stares at me for a moment, then turns his gaze on Sandburg, who shrugs, then walks over to the window and looks out. After spending a few minutes perusing her records, Simon says, "Are you telling me there's someone out there with the same powers that you have?"

I nod. "It appears that way, Captain, yes."

He looks toward Blair again, but Sandburg is ignoring us. "What are we going to do about this, Jim?"

"I'll deal with it, Captain, I promise you that. But my concern is that Connor's got to be told somehow. I mean, it's her case, too."

The captain sighs. "Forget about Connor. What do I tell the D.A?"

I don't have any answers for him.

For the second time today, I'm riding in tension-filled silence in Jim's truck. I have no clue where we're headed: he just said, "Come on, Sandburg," and I followed blindly, glad to be wanted again, even if Jim's still pissed at me. Not wanting to start another argument, I hold my tongue, turning events over silently in my mind.

I still can't believe Alex is a criminal. It just seems so wrong, blows all my preconceptions of sentinels as guardians and protectors of the tribe to pieces. Maybe it is all biological, just a genetic predisposition to enhanced senses. Maybe there is no cultural, no spiritual connection. But that doesn't explain the visions, the dreams both Alex and Jim admit to having.

And what was with Alex's behavior back at her apartment? I could swear she was checking me out with her senses, sniffing me over like I was a strange dog. She didn't seem angry with me, which is surprising. I thought for sure she'd take my accidental betrayal of her secret to heart, and tell me where I could go stick myself. Instead she seemed more hostile to Jim, but that could simply be a reaction to his own territorial behavior. Yet, when Jim raised his voice, she'd moved between us, faced off with him. Did she perceive it as a challenge or was it something else?

Give it up, Sandburg. If these past few days have taught you anything, it's that you know nothing about sentinel behavior. All your stupid theories have gotten you is tossed out of your home and a massive case of the cold shoulder.

Before I can beat myself up further, Jim brings the truck to a stop behind the warehouse where we lost the thief last night. I can't bring myself to believe Alex is guilty, not yet, not until I have more evidence. I guess I still want to cling to the belief that the sentinels are the good guys.

We get out, as Jim says, "Keep your eyes open, Chief. We might have missed something last night."

I follow him toward the building, screwing my courage up. "Hey, Jim, look--I know you're still mad at me about not telling you about Alex, but--"

He cuts me off before I can finish. "Let's just drop that, okay? I'm trying to get by it."

Get by it? What the hell does that mean? I explained why I didn't tell him about Alex, about my keeping both their identities confidential.

"What's bugging me is what are the chances of two sentinels appearing in Cascade at this time, right? And falling in with you?"

His comment startles me for a moment, then I blink and shoot back, "Maybe it wasn't chance. You know, there are no coincidences. Maybe it was fate, it was synchronicity--I don't know--a time/space continuum converging together at this point, at this moment. This is completely beyond our comprehension."

He simply shakes his head at me, then stares up at the fire stairs the thief used for his escape last night. Without a word, Jim's bounding up them.

I watch from the ground, thinking about synchronicity. How weird is it that Alex seemed to fall right into my lap, just when my primary subject was tossing me out of his life? Could she have known about my previous paper on sentinels? Or worse yet, know Lee Brackett?

Or could the answer be more primal than that? Maybe the first thing a sentinel with newly awakened senses needs is a guide--and nature automatically sends them on the hunt for one.

I shudder. So what does it mean, then, that Jim is pushing me away at the exact moment Alex is searching for a guide?

My hypothesizing is cut short by Jim's return. He holds up a plastic evidence bag between his thumb and forefinger.

"What did you find?" I ask.

"Blonde hair. With any luck, it came from our thief." The smile he gives me holds no warmth.

Shivering, I get back in the truck.

Warrant in hand, I gleefully exit the bullpen, Sandburg on my heels. "All right, Chief, let's roll! We know what we need."

Eyes flashing, Megan accosts me before I can make my escape. "Ellison, you've got a warrant to compel our suspect to submit to a DNA test? You forgot to tell me."

"Come on now. Don't, uh, spit the bunny with me…"

"Spit the dummy," she snaps, tearing the warrant from my grip and skimming through it.

I do my best to smooth her ruffled feathers. "Right, right. I was going to call you--"

"Alex Barnes?" She looks up in shock. "This is the whacker who wrapped her car around the pole--the skin nut. What's she got to do with our case?"

"She is our case, Connor." I head for the elevator, Sandburg falling in behind me.

"What?" Megan asks, scurrying after us.

"Just trust me. You coming with us or not?"

Her gaze darts to Blair, who hasn't added a word to the entire conversation. "Sandy? You with Ellison on this?"

He shrugs. "Don't ask me. I'm not a detective." Sandburg gets into the elevator.

Connor hesitates, then gets in as well. "This better be good, that's all I've got to say."

I push the button for the garage. "That I'm sure of."

It's with a great deal of trepidation that I follow Jim and Megan down the hall to Alex's apartment. I don't think I've wanted to be anywhere else but here as much as I want to be there now. There's no way this is going to end well, not that it started well in the first place.

Megan knocks on the door. There's no answer. Jim tilts his head, and I know he's listening for some sound to indicate Alex is at home. He shakes his head and turns to leave. "Nah."

"There's this coffee shop down the street she hangs out at," I find myself volunteering. "She might be there."

"All right, let's check it out," Jim agrees. I head back the way we came, Jim right behind me.

"Wait a minute!" Megan yells after us. "How do you know she's not in there? Did you read the psychic vibration or something?"

"Come on, we don't have time for this, Connor," Jim says over his shoulder.

She's not convinced. "We have a warrant. Let's use the thing."

I can hear her rattling the doorknob just as Jim says, "What is that smell?" He pauses in the middle of the hallway, his brow furrowed in concentration, his eyes closed.

"Meet you at the coffee shop. I'm kicking this thing."

Jim's eyes snap open as he whirls toward her. "Plastique! Connor!"

He's shoving her away from the door before his words fully register in my brain. Too late I realize I'm once again in the wrong place at the wrong time. A split second later an explosion rips through Alex's apartment. There's a momentary image of the door zooming toward me, then my world goes dark.


Act V