The International Law Enforcement Conference
"Chief? You awake?" Jim Ellison asked, tension marring his voice. Bad enough being crammed into what the airline called a seat for eighteen hours, now this…
"Yeah," Blair lied, his voice slurred with sleep, but instinctively responding to the need in his Sentinel's voice. He pushed the blanket covering him aside, undid his seatbelt and put his hands on the arms of the chair. He levered himself up, folded his legs beneath himself and lowered back into the seat, sitting Indian style and facing Jim. The trick worked - whatever had sparked the tension in Jim was momentarily forgotten as Jim wondered how his Guide did that in such a small space.
"What's caught your attention?" Blair asked calmly. After eighteen hours the constant pressure of engine noise, other people confined with them and altitude Jim's senses would be strained to the limit - the Sentinel was only Human and couldn't keep turning himself off.
"I…" Jim hesitated, wishing he didn't have to do this, "I think there's another Sentinel nearby. When … the last time I felt this, there was this tingling feeling all along my skin and bones? I can feel it again."
"We're landing in twenty minutes. Maybe we're entering another Sentinel's territory," Blair replied, his voice calm and accepting, "The thing to remember here is that you are entering their territory, so this time you're the threat. Until we can isolate the Sentinel and introduce ourselves you'll be feeling this warning. I guess it's an instinct that developed to let each other know where the borders of your territory are. Because Alex was invading your territory and challenging your Guide you reacted violently to the intrusion. This time there won't be any threat, so you'll be able to switch the warning off once we meet him or her."
Jim shivered, not once pausing to wonder how his Guide could react so calmly to a possible repeat performance of the nightmare. Jim leaned over the arm that separated him from his Guide, needing touch to banish the tingle, and he got it. Blair shifted so his shoulder supported Jim and traced a light figure eight pattern on the back of Jim's hand.
"So, if I read our itinerary correctly once we get to the airport we catch shuttle twelve to the Isis hotel and check in. The International Law Enforcement Conference begins next morning with a formal breakfast at nine and then introductory speeches until lunch," Blair used the Guide tone to anchor Jim to here and now, "After lunch there's the first workshops and then dinner. I thought that after dinner we might go for a walk - explore the area a little, be tourists. Then the next day the discussion panels and lectures start for the rest of the week."
"A whole week stuck inside when we could be on the beach of a lovely island," Jim grumbled, distracted by touch and sound. Blair tapped the back of Jim's hand lightly, and started tracing swirls instead. The seatbelt light came on but Blair ignored it.
"You got that right - but if it's warm enough we can swim at night. In fact it would be a good way to wind down," he agreed, "Remind me to thank Simon when we get back for sending us to this thing - it's the closest we've been to a vacation since I became a cop."
"And the … other Sentinel?" Jim's voice was getting sleepy and Blair smiled - he loved that tone of voice, it meant he was doing his job right. True, steering a half-asleep Jim through airport traffic and hotel check in would be tiring, but it was worth it.
"They'll find us," Blair soothed, "It's their territory, after all."
Breakfast was good - a buffet style affair with a wide enough selection to tempt the fussiest eater. Blair shot a disgusted look at the heaping plate of bacon, eggs, sausage and fried tomato that Jim had in front of him and decided not to nag. Jim had slept well enough last night, but his bones were still tingling - Blair could tell by the way Jim moved.
The morning speeches were boring. As was to be expected the top brass got up and congratulated each other on being champions of justice. The huddled masses - namely the cops who'd been chosen to represent their countries - sat through the speeches with an air of resignation. Tomorrow was their day, when the panel discussions would let them trade techniques and information.
"Remind me not to thank Simon for insisting on us getting here for the first day," Blair murmured and Jim smothered a laugh. Simon had little choice in their attendance of this conference. The upper echelons of the PD had made the decision and sent it down. Jim and Blair were to participate as panel members in several discussions - namely thanks to their unique style. Other cops from different states had also been sent to the conference - they'd meet up tonight at the dinner.
Lunch was again excellent. Blair made a couple of jokes about weight gain and managed to get Jim to eat in spite of a fast waning appetite. The Sentinel was twitchy all the way through the afternoon session and Blair got them out of dinner early.
Instead of heading back to their room, Blair took Jim to the beach. He pulled their shoes and socks off, rolled up their slacks and walked Jim along the edge of the surf. The ocean at night was soothing to listen to and Jim started to relax. Until two figures appeared in the distance, running towards them. The one in the rear was a bulky male and he was yelling. The lead was a slender woman and she was going full steam ahead.
"It's her - she's a Sentinel," Jim ground out and Blair stepped in front of Jim. The woman skidded to a stop and gasped for breath. Despite the fact that they were on the beach she wore a formal skirt suit and pearls with a hint of makeup. Her stockings were full of snags and the man behind her was carrying low-heeled shoes. The bulky man - her Guide - panted up behind them, still yelling in a deep baritone voice.
"… For a fact! Just calm down!"
For a moment Blair mused that the man's shirt was yelling loud enough to be heard back in Cascade and his chinos were a rumpled mess, as was the light mass of hair that was being ruffled in the breeze.
"They're in my territory, Matt. I know that for a fact," she tossed over her shoulder and Matt growled.
"Not intentionally. We were sent here for the conference," Blair answered before he could, "We saw you there - are you local law enforcement?"
"Consultants for the locals - we do the forensic medicine side of things. You know, work with the victims' wounds and injuries to gather evidence," Matt replied, stepping around so he was in front of the woman. With both Guides between the Sentinels the tension went up a notch.
"Blair Sandburg," Blair introduced himself, putting out a hand. Matt's hand engulfed Blair's in a strong grip.
"Matt Denton, and this is my wife Judy. So your friend there is hyperactive too?" Matt shook firmly and Blair laughed.
"Actually, I'm considered the hyperactive one by our colleagues, but yes. Jim is the Sentinel. I'm his Guide."
"And Shaman," Jim spoke up for the first time and Blair tipped his head in acknowledgement, "I'm Jim Ellison."
Jim held his hand out and Matt shook it, stepping aside as he did. Blair held out a hand to Julie, who shook hands stiffly and then the two Guides stood to the side, making a square with the Sentinels on opposite sides. They reached out hesitantly and gripped each others hand. Jim gasped as a jolt went through him - like grabbing onto a live wire. Julie's knees started to buckle a little. For a moment the jaguar appeared and roared, then it was over and the Guides were supporting the Sentinels and speaking in low concerned tones.
"I'm ok," Jim looked down at his concerned friend and smiled, "And the damn tingling has stopped."
"Amen to that," Julie straightened up a little and smiled for the first time, "I'm not usually so territorial, I don't know what came over me."
"It's a normal instinct," Blair told her absently, still checking Jim over, "I knew once the two of you met the problem would be resolved."
"Seems to me you know an awful lot about all this," Matt replied, letting his wife straighten away from his support, "What did you call him?"
"A Sentinel. The name changes from language to language but the idea is always the same - a watchman, guardian, and protector. Someone with five heightened senses who needs a guide to back them up. Someone, whose job is to protect the tribe," Blair let Jim straighten up too, and looked over at the others.
"And that makes me a Shaman?" Matt frowned, "Not a Guide?"
"Sandburg is both," Jim corrected, "But no, I don't see a Shaman in you."
"Are you saying my husband isn't good enough to be a Shaman?" Julie butted in; eyes flashing and Matt grabbed her arm.
"Hey! Back down right now, Doctor," he ordered and she did.
"That's not what I meant," Jim replied, keeping his voice calm and even, "When I was living in Peru the village Shaman was my … trainer. He taught me enough to control all this stuff. But Blair was straight away my Guide. The first time I touched him all my senses went from out of control to normal."
Blair started in surprise, obviously wondered who this was and would the real Jim show up any time soon?
"Then the village Shaman came to Cascade. I guess he saw straight away that Blair was my true Guide and when he … died he passed the way of the Shaman to Blair too."
"So you're a Shaman in name only?" Matt asked in confusion and Jim spoke before Blair could.
"No, he's not. The Shaman of a village was supposed to look out for the physical and spiritual well being of the Sentinel and Guide. That's Blair's role now, as well as training me as my Guide."
"Would the real Jim Ellison please stand up?" Blair blurted, "Where did all that come from?"
"I've known it for a while, Chief. I just couldn't find a way to express it till now."
"Well, going on what Jim was saying that would make your Uncle Ben our Shaman," Matt grinned at Julie, who rolled her eyes and sighed.
"Just don't tell him that. God, I could use an iced tea. Can we take this somewhere civilized?" she gestured up the beach to
where the lights of the city shone.
Blair was a little subdued the next morning, still trying to process what Jim had said about him on the beach last night to two perfect strangers. The first panel of the morning got him going, though - it was about the sub-cultures of crime and right up his alley. Especially when one of the panel members caught onto playing devils advocate to him. There was almost a riot and people were still taking about it at lunch. Julie came and sat with them at lunch and eyed Blair speculatively. She wore jeans and an untucked blouse in deference to the large amount of time they'd be spending sitting on hard chairs and listening to other people talk.
"Are you always so - enlivened?" she asked and Jim laughed. He was totally relaxed now that they'd met and stopped setting off each other's alert system.
"You haven't seen the half of it," Jim promised and Blair muttered something neither of them caught.
"Where's Matt?" Jim asked, looking around. Julie grinned and pointed. Matt was talking to an well-endowed woman in an abbreviated skirt suit. He was wearing yet another loud shirt and chinos.
"That's Lieutenant Presley who's got him pinned to the wall. She's trying to get him to resign from my staff at the ER and join her in forensics. I'd rescue him, but he hates that."
"I hear that," Blair agreed, "What is it with Sentinels that makes you think a Guide can't rescue themselves?"
"Past experience," Jim and Julie chimed in and then laughed at Blair's look of disgust. Matt joined them then and Julie made a show of checking him for fingerprints.
"So how do you do your work if you have to concentrate on the outside of a city?" Julie asked when her husband finally fended her off. Jim gave her a blank look.
"On the outside?" he echoed, "I don't get it."
"Julie's senses work best when she's focussed inside our patient. Being outside is a little overwhelming. I guess we just figured it was the same for you," Matt replied. Blair wriggled in his seat in excitement.
"Oh I get it!" his voice was muted, though it carried the enthusiasm of a shout, "Jim, Julie uses her senses to diagnose her patients! I bet you can see down to the microorganism levels right? And your touch must be better than an MRI!"
"Yep," Julie replied briefly, but she was smiling at his enthusiasm. Matt put a proud hand on her shoulder.
"She's the best diagnostician in the ER. She catches things the machines never pick up," Matt boasted and Blair grinned in excitement.
"That's incredible!" he enthused and Jim shuddered a little.
"What?" Blair asked right away and Jim shrugged.
"No offence, Julie, but I hate it when my sight sharpens that much. How do you do it?" he asked and Julie shrugged.
"It's no worse than looking at samples through a microscope. I guess all that clinical detachment you learn in med. school helps. So you don't focus your sight like that?"
"Nope, not unless I'm looking long distance," Jim replied. Blair put a proud hand on his shoulder.
"Jim uses his senses best when focussed outside a person. We use hearing to track heartbeats sometimes, but that's as deep as we go."
Jim felt a surge of gratitude at Blair's tone. Blair was proud of him and boasting about it! Blair grinned at his companions and watched Julie and Jim compare techniques. He finished his lunch and urged the Sentinels on to the next workshop, with Matt directing traffic around the two absorbed people.
After all, it wasn't everyday two modern Sentinels got to compare notes.
Trouble struck at dinner. The four had decided to blow off the formal evening meal and instead headed to the Denton's apartment for a home cooked meal and relaxed evening. All four of them ended up in the kitchen as recipes and techniques were swapped. They moved well together - like a team. Blair wondered idly if it was because of the Sentinel thing or just that Julie and Matt were good friends - despite only knowing each other for a short time.
Dinner and dessert and the cleanup were a long series of jokes, bad puns and word plays. The banter had started over Jim's disparaging description of a certain forensics chief at Cascade and Julie had countered it with a disparaging cop remark and before they knew it they were all happily engaged in teasing the others' professional foibles.
They were sitting out on the balcony with shoes off and beers in hand when the phone rang. At the same time a cell phone and two pagers went off and Julie jumped up, swearing.
"It's the hospital!" she yelled to Matt, who was stepping into his shoes and collecting the beer bottles. Julie's face was grim when she returned to the balcony.
"You two had better come too. The whole conference has gone down with food poisoning."
"Good thing we ate at home tonight," Matt closed the door to the balcony.
"We'll meet you there," Jim nodded to Blair, urging him out of the apartment ahead of the others, "I want a look at the kitchens and servers."
"You think it was deliberate?" Blair asked in surprise as they all hurried down the stairs.
"I won't know until I get there, Chief. Julie, be careful, ok?" Jim couldn't ignore his instincts now and Julie nodded, a frown marring her face.
"You too," she replied, "My gut is sending out red alert messages."
"Uh oh," Matt groaned and received a growl in response.
The hotel was in chaos - with a third of the stricken cops still there waiting for ambulances. The smell of bile and sweat nearly overwhelmed Blair, and he ordered Jim to dial it down as much as possible. As everyone was sick, not just the people who'd eaten a certain type of food, Jim turned his attention to the cutlery still on the tables and the plates themselves. Blair yelped a little when Jim started rubbing his thumb over one of the discarded forks and grabbed it out of Jim's hands.
"Jim! What are you doing, man? What if this is a contact poison? With your senses you'll be ten times more susceptible!"
"I don't think it's a contact poison, Chief, or the people who handled the cutlery to set the tables would be sick too," Jim said reasonably, "Besides I got all I need from it. There's a coating to the fork that wouldn't have been left by mere detergent."
Looking around, Blair watched as the local forensics team collected samples of the food, drinks and utensils on the tables. He dropped the fork onto the floor and kicked it under the table - it was tinted evidence now and putting it on a table was too risky.
"I want you to come and wash your hands anyway," Blair replied firmly, "There's no point in taking chances and I think the staff would have been wearing gloves to set the tables so you could be wrong. Please? For me?"
"Ok, Chief, for you."
The hospital was still busy and Blair got the opportunity to watch a Sentinel and Guide at work. Julie and Matt moved in total synchronization with each other. They completed each other's sentences and anticipated each other's needs. Matt would ground Julie by resting an arm against her while they worked, or by calling the patient's vital signs in his deep smooth voice if he couldn't reach her.
"I wonder if that's how we look to Simon and the others when we're in full mode," Jim's voice startled Blair who glanced back and smiled.
"I guess," Blair's voice held his awe, "It's amazing - like watching a single person who is in two places at once."
"I've often thought of us that way," Jim confessed softly, "We compliment and complete each other. I mean I know you were a whole person before you met me…"
"You're right. We compliment and complete each other," Blair interrupted and looked back at the doctor and nurse working to stabilize their patient, "And so do they."
It was dawn before things quieted down long enough for the Sentinels and Guides to gather. Jim and Blair had tea and coffee ready with pastries from a bakery Jim had smelt nearby.
"It's not food poisoning," Julie said as she sipped her tea, "It's an alkaloid based poison, though the first lab results won't be back for another few hours. All we can do is treat the symptoms."
"Their cutlery had been dipped in something - probably a fairly high dose," Jim confirmed. Julie looked at his hands and frowned.
"And you rubbed it all over your hands, didn't you?" she reached out, "It's giving you a rash."
Sure enough there were small red marks slowly surfacing on Jim's fingers. He bit back an exclamation and grabbed Blair's hands, checking for a similar rash.
"He's clean, Jim," Julie reassured, "Your skin is reacting because of the sense I guess. Good thing I've been wearing gloves and gown."
"So the symptoms suggest alkaloid poisoning. I should get you some bile samples and see if you can find traces in it - like we did for the Merrill kid last Christmas," Matt mused and patted Julie's arm, "Be right back sweetheart."
"Merrill kid?" Blair asked eagerly - knowing a training exercise when he heard one.
"It was on Christmas Eve last year. Worried parents and one very ill child came to the hospital. The lab was closed down for the next two days - too long for us to just treat symptoms and hope so I had the parents go get the chemicals they found their child near. We put samples of each one into glasses and then I looked for liquids of that composition in the bile. Found it too - the lab guys were puzzled no end," Julie explained absently and then took a bite of her donut, "Now he's always testing me on things like that - in milk, water, other chemicals."
"It's a good thing you're not a doctor, Jim. I don't think I could do that," Blair confessed and Jim nodded.
"I know I couldn't do that," he agreed and Julie shrugged. To her it was just part of the job and she dealt with it dispassionately. They had finished eating by the time Matt returned with a small sample of bile on several slides. Julie leaned back and held the slides up to the light. Matt stood close, ready to catch her if she zoned and dropped the slide.
"Hmmm," Julie said after a moment and changed samples. Jim was struck by the difference in Guides - Blair would have been talking by now, soft words of encouragement. Matt simply laid a hand on Julie's shoulder and watched carefully.
"It's not a cleaner," Julie put down the second slide, "It's composition is too … orderly. I can't explain it. You know how ammonia looks sharp? Well this is smooth. I guess it's a toxin, not a poison."
"What ever you say, Julie," Matt exchanged a resigned glance with Blair - apparently all Sentinels forgot that their Guides weren't similarly endowed. Julie humphed an apology and Matt grinned down at her.
"So this isn't a common mix?" Jim pressed the point and Julie met his eyes in startlement.
"That's it! It's a mixture! Probably of several strong alkaloid chemicals - has the pH. test come back yet?" she exclaimed and Matt shook his head. They got up to go back to work.
"Jim - you specialize in external abilities right? If you smell one of the treated pieces of cutlery you should be able to trace the scent. Just don't stick it up your nose," Julie smiled. Jim opened his mouth to make a cutting reply, but was beaten to it.
"Damn, that's his party trick," Blair laughed and the others laughed with him as Jim cuffed his shoulder.
At the hotel the police were still working the scene. Employees had been detained for questioning and the cleaning staff was starting to gather the remnants for cleaning and disposal. Jim snagged a fork unobtrusively and stepped into a corner to gently sniff at it.
"I've got it!" he sounded surprised and Blair grinned.
"Of course you do - you just had to know what to sniff for. Lets go into the service corridor and see if you can find the scent there too - before the staff track it back into the kitchens," he slipped a hand under Jim's elbow and tugged him in the right direction, taking the fork away at the same time.
Jim found it harder to find the scent in the corridor - the smell of food and people was almost overwhelming. Jim followed it down the corridor to the area that housed the large dishwashers and sinks. Some quiet observation led to the discovery that the hotel ran its cutlery through the industrial dishwashers and then they were hand washed as well to ensure nothing was left behind.
"It was there that the poison was probably added. See how the final rinse is in a clear sink and then they pat it dry and put it in a rack? If the towels were treated as well as the rinse water you'd have a pretty lethal dosage," Jim said quietly to Blair who nodded.
"And because the dishwashers all wear gloves they wouldn't be exposed. Nor would the dryers, because they wear gloves too - to avoid leaving finger marks on the highly polished stuff," Blair agreed, "So is it someone who works this area, a supervisor of inside knowledge we're looking for?"
"Motive will tell us that. Why poison an International Law Enforcement Conference?" Jim mused and Blair groaned.
"Tell me you didn't just say that. We're cops - very few people like us, it's the nature of the job, man," he bounced his eyebrows at Jim.
"Yeah, Darwin, but an International conference? That's one hell of a way to say you don't like cops. All I meant was the usual motive of revenge is ruled out here," Jim bounced his eyebrows back and Blair grinned.
"What if you were trying to discredit the hotel? Or maybe you wanted to make the local PD look bad? Or maybe you were after one cop but decided to cloud the issue by trying to kill heaps? Or maybe …"
"Remind me to ask Simon for a new partner when we get back. A mute would be nice," Jim put a hand over Blair's mouth, "Those are all valid possibilities Chief. How will we narrow them down?"
"Actually, Jim we don't need to," Blair said when Jim removed his hand, "All we need to do is keep following the scent trail. With the way this has gone down it's a good chance we'll be able to find out where this chemical was made at the very least - and if it was done off site where it was stored until the cutlery was washed. That ought to give us a leg up on motive."
"We're out of our jurisdiction here," Jim reminded Blair and a new voice spoke up.
"I was wondering when that would occur to you," it said. The speaker was a plain-clothes detective - dark hair, dark eyes and an amused mouth. He wore a loose linen shirt and jeans.
"Detective Hall," he shook their hands, "Doc Denton called me and told me you would be down here trying to get a handle on things. She recommended I let you do your thing and tag along to make it legal."
"Ellison and Sandburg," Jim replied and Hall nodded. The amused look became more evident.
"You're like the Doc, aren't you. She spots the impossible all the time," Hall tilted his head and Blair shot Jim a look.
"That's us - six impossible things before breakfast," Blair spoke up and Hall nodded.
"Well, go on then. I'll wander along behind. Just let me know before you disturb possible evidence. The local judges will look on my hunches more kindly than yours," he said easily and Jim turned away, dismissing the audience immediately. He followed the faint trail to the sinks and then out into another service corridor. He led the way to the staff locker rooms with Blair's hand in the small of his back.
"Locker number thirty two," Jim called over to Hall, who was standing near a pin board.
"Fernando Sanchez - now there's a name," Hall chuckled and pulled out his cell phone, "We were going to get a court order for the lockers anyway - let me check if it's in yet."
The usual staccato conversation followed and Hall crowed happily as he hung up.
"A couple of men will come and help us out in a moment," Hall rubbed his hands together and leaned into the wall, "Of course, I'll share full credit with you both."
"No thanks," Jim grinned, "We've got a rep back home for being trouble magnets. If it gets out we were in the thick of things here they'll never let us out of the country again."
All three men knew that they'd be in the official reports, but that was different to being credited for the bust. A couple of uniformed cops entered and Hall helped open lockers, working his way down to number thirty-two. Sanchez still had the bottle of alkaloid in his possessions and Jim grinned at Hall.
The local detective closed his mouth and went to arrest Sanchez.
"So it's all over bar the shouting," Julie said later that night. Jim and Blair had broken into the Denton's flat and cooked dinner for the two - knowing they'd be exhausted after thirty-six hours at the hospital. The gesture had been much appreciated - Julie had almost cried in relief to find a decent meal and peace in her home. Jim and Blair had intended to leave, but Matt had threatened dire consequences, so all four had settled to dinner.
"Yep. Sanchez confessed immediately to the poisoning. It seems his brother's restaurant went out of business when the hotel expanded its restaurant. He wanted to get a little payback against the hotel. Add that to his criminal record and dislike of cops…" Blair trailed off and stood. Jim followed his lead.
"We'll see you both tomorrow night," Blair smiled, "Our flight doesn't go for another two days so we're going to use the time as a vacation. What with the conference being cancelled and all."
"Sounds like a plan," Matt agreed and watched the two men leave quietly. He woke his wife and took her to bed. They'd sleep
until tomorrow night - of that he was sure.
Matt kissed Julie awake and smiled at the beautiful eyes that sought his.
"Hey, you slept through," Matt congratulated his very pregnant wife. They'd both been dreaming of a temple in a jungle lately, but last night the dream hadn't come.
"Yep. Whatever it was, Blair and Jim took care of it."
"Along with the others," Matt murmured and stroked her belly, "Any news from Junior here?"
"Another day or so," Julie replied easily, sighing as she was stroked, "When she's a little older I want to take her to see Blair."
"And Jim," Matt replied, "Can't you see him cooing over our son?"
"And changing stinky nappies," Julie chuckled.
"Remind me to thank Simon for sending them on that awful conference all those years ago," Matt murmured into his wife's neck.
Comments, criticism, suggestions? Please e-mail Shedoc.