They don't belong to me…. You all know the drill. Of course, if they want to stop over when they're not busy, I wouldn't turn them away.
This story was my contribution to the first Halloween zine done by Skeeter Press called Cascade Beyond the Veil I want to thank the usual suspects, Brenda, Chris and Bonnie for all their help, plus, Susan, Kandy and DL for all their hard work with the zine. The second edition is out with more stories about the darker side of Cascade, so check it out!
Beneath the Surface
by Sue Pokorny
Blair jumped from the Jeep, pushed the back of the seat forward and pulled his duffel bag from behind it. "Come on, Jim. Are you sure you don't want to stay? Not even for a couple days?" He threw every ounce of persuasion into the plea, hoping against hope to change his partner's mind. Unfortunately, Jim was onto his little tricks, and the invitation was met with a chuckle and adamant shake of the head.
"No way, Chief. An archeological dig in the middle of the New Mexico desert may be your idea of a vacation, but--"
"Come on, man. This is an incredible find!" Blair knew a losing hand when he was dealt it, but he wasn't above bluffing. "This old pueblo village Professor Hicks is studying is over 1000 years old. The artifacts and information from this expedition are amazing! I know you'd find it interesting if you'd just give it a chance."
"Amazing for you maybe, Junior." Jim smiled tolerantly and nodded his baseball-capped head in the direction of the highway. "My vacation lies down that road at Steven's time share at a very exclusive resort and country club. While you're playing in the sand here, I'll be doing my best to stay out of the bunkers on the back nine."
Blair held up a hand, finally admitting defeat. "Okay, okay. Have it your way. Although I have seen you golf, Jim, and I'd be willing to bet my grant that you'll be spending just as much time in the sand as I will."
Jim had to laugh, nodding his agreement with Blair's assessment. "That may be true, but at least I'll be able to relax with a nice cold beer in the air-conditioned comfort of the clubhouse afterwards."
Blair returned the smile, closed the door of the rented Jeep and leaned in the open passenger window. "You, my friend, have absolutely no sense of adventure."
"It's better than having no sense at all," Jim quipped. He started the engine of the jeep and pressed the clutch as he threw the vehicle into gear. "I'll see you in a week, Chief. Try to play nice with the rest of the Indians."
Blair shook his head in mock disgust and stepped back. He lifted his hand in a wave as Jim pulled the Jeep from the Navajo Reservation Welcome Center and back onto the desert highway. As soon as the red vehicle disappeared into the heat waves dancing across the asphalt highway, Blair reached down and grabbed his duffel. He slung it over one shoulder and turned toward the lone, flat building which stood across the parking lot at the entrance to the reservation.
He had been excited to receive the invitation from Professor Hicks to join him and his team at the dig for a few days. The opportunity to study the village, which was surprisingly intact, was one he had not wanted to pass up. When he had learned of the nearby Navajo Shaman with whom the Professor had been consulting about the various artifacts and their purposes in ancient tribal customs, Blair had not been able to refuse.
As luck would have it, Jim was considering taking some time off and had even been offered his brother's time share condo at a resort near Albuquerque, only an hour or so away from the dig site. He wished he could have talked Jim into joining him for at least a day or so. While Blair had managed to wedge himself into the detective's world, he was eager to show Jim a glimpse of what his own world was all about. Sure, they shared the Sentinel project, but he longed for the chance to someday show his friend exactly why the world of anthropology had been able to hold him in rapt fascination for almost half of his life. Maybe, in doing so, he would be able to show Jim a deeper part of himself.
Jim had politely refused, offering instead to accompany Blair on the flight from Cascade and transport him to the reservation on his way to the resort. Blair had hidden his disappointment, accepted the offer and silently vowed to continue to work on his roommate until Jim gave in from sheer exasperation.
Unfortunately, Jim had held firm.
Maybe it was better this way. Jim would get some much needed relaxation--if you could consider smacking a little ball around a golf course in the New Mexico sun relaxing--and Blair would get the chance to speak with an actual shaman.
He had, of course, met a few tribal shamans during past expeditions, but had not encountered one since Incacha died. A sudden shiver ran up his spine as he remembered the look on the old Chopec's face and Jim's translation of his last words.
"He passes the way of the shaman to you. He wants you to use it to help guide my animal spirit."
Blair had tried to pull away, but Incacha's blood covered hand had held his arm like a vise, forcing him to listen to the words. He remembered Incacha's eyes, bright with intensity, boring into his very soul....
He shook himself from the memory, suddenly chilled, despite the intense desert heat. He had no more idea how to do what Incacha had asked now than he had then. At the time, he hadn't had the time to worry about it. He had focused all his energy on Jim and helping him find a way to reconnect with his sentinel abilities.
But since then, the look in Incacha's eyes and the memory of those words had haunted his dreams.
"... the way of the shaman..."
Blair squeezed his eyes shut, absently wiping a trickle of sweat that had found its way down his cheek. He had no idea if talking to this Navajo shaman would give him any answers to the myriad of questions jumbled in his head, but it was a place to start, and he owed it to Jim--and himself--to find out.
He opened his eyes and took a deep breath. Shifting his duffel to a more comfortable position across his shoulder, he crossed the asphalt lot quickly and pulled open the door to the welcome center.
The cool air hit him immediately, and he sighed at the relief from the intense heat. He looked around the dimly lit interior, moving slowly through the room toward the door marked 'Office'. Pausing to peruse the various displays and maps depicting the history of the Navajo people, he didn't notice the tall figure approach quietly from the back room until he turned and collided with the man.
"Oh!" Blair stepped back quickly. "I'm sorry. I didn't see you there."
The Native American man's eyebrows rose as he looked calmly down at the intruder. "That much is obvious." His dark eyes staring intently into Blair's.
Blair laughed nervously, taking an unconscious step back from the man's scrutiny. "Right, I guess it is. Um, I'm Blair Sandburg. I'm joining the Rainier University dig out on the reservation. I was supposed to meet a John Whitefeather here?"
"Then I guess I'm John Whitefeather." The man smiled suddenly and held out a hand, shaking Blair's warmly. "Welcome to New Mexico, Doctor Sandburg."
"It's Blair. Not Doctor--well, not yet anyway." Blair relaxed at the larger man's smile. Whitefeather was approximately Jim's height and build, although a bit broader in the shoulders. His dark eyes were housed in a tanned, slightly rounded face, surrounded by black hair. The hair was tied in a loose braid that hung halfway down Whitefeather's back and was topped off by a black baseball cap sporting the familiar logo of the Cascade Jaguars. Blair's eyebrows rose and his smile widened. "You follow the Jags?"
Whitefeather nodded. "The jaguar is an animal of cunning and loyalty. An animal worthy of respect." He leaned forward a bit and lowered his voice conspiratorially. "Besides, I love to watch Orvelle Wallace slam dunk."
Blair couldn't help but laugh. "A thing of beauty," he agreed.
Whitefeather motioned toward Blair's duffel, which now sat on the floor at their feet.
"Is this all your gear?"
"Yeah. I was hoping to get to the dig site before nightfall. Is that going to be a problem?"
Whitefeather leaned over and lifted the bag effortlessly, slinging it across one shoulder. "Nope. No problem at all. My truck's out back."
Jim leaned back on the bed with a contented sigh. It had been a long flight from Cascade and a boring drive from the reservation where he had dropped Blair. He could have flown directly into Albuquerque and taken a shuttle or courtesy car to the resort, but he had to admit, he did feel better knowing Blair had made it to the reservation and would soon be knee deep in anthropological heaven. He smiled as he recalled Blair's constant attempts to get Jim to join him. He had tried to hide his disappointment, but Jim had seen it--and almost caved. Maybe it wouldn't have been so bad to stay for a day or two. It might have even been worth it to see Sandburg in his element, doing what he was obviously born to do.
Jim sat up and looked around. The condo was definitely first rate. The living room, slightly below the raised sleeping area, was light and airy, the kitchen was fully stocked, and the patio doors opened to a spectacular view of the sunset over the fifth fairway. The only thing lacking was someone to share it with.
It had surprised Jim how much he missed the company after he dropped Sandburg off. For years he had lived alone and worked alone, never really regretting the solitude. But Blair Sandburg had managed to change that.
From the moment the grad student had conned his way into the loft--and Jim's life--Jim had begun to realize how much he missed companionship. Someone to bounce things off during a confusing case. Someone to share a joke with. Someone... just there. It was a good change. One Jim found himself growing more and more accustomed to each day.
Thanks to Sandburg, the idea of spending the next week alone was not as appealing as it once had been. Fortunately, the situation was easily remedied.
Jim recalled the smiles of a few of the rather attractive young ladies as he had checked into the resort. The face of one tall brunette jumped into his mind immediately. With any luck, he would be able to convince one of those beauties to have dinner--and maybe even breakfast--with him. A wide smile split his face as a plan of action took root in his brain.
Jumping from the bed, he opened his suitcase and, with a renewed sense of purpose, began to unpack.
Blair threw a worried glance at his companion as the old truck bounced over another rut in the overgrown dirt road. He had barely been able to contain his laughter when he had gotten his first glimpse at John Whitefeather's vehicle. The old green and white '69 Ford was frighteningly familiar to the one he rode in almost every day. Another bump sent a jolt down to his teeth and he glanced sideways at the driver wondering if everyone who got behind the wheel of one of these 'classics' drove like a raving lunatic. Maybe it was some secret code or something.
John Whitefeather, his attention on the road ahead, took no notice of his passenger's scrutiny, nor did he see the look of mirth that quickly appeared and disappeared on the young man's face.
Blair moved his gaze back to the horizon, watching as the sun began to set over the desert. Riveted by the wondrous display of nature, he barely noticed as the truck slowly came to a stop.
"We're here," Whitefeather announced.
Blair jumped at the man's deep voice and quickly looked around. There were a few large rock formations about twenty yards to the left, but he could detect no other signs of life.
Whitefeather pointed off to the left. "The village is about a quarter of a mile that way. Unfortunately, the only way to cross this area is on foot. There are a lot of craters and deep gullies from the rivers that form in the spring from run-off in the mountains. It's too dangerous to take a vehicle through here." As he spoke he opened his door, jumped out, and grabbed Blair's pack from the back of the truck. "It's only a five minute hike from here. Come on."
Blair looked uncertainly at the quickly growing shadows. The sun was about halfway set, casting a reddish hue across the land. He wasn't thrilled about traipsing through unknown country with a man he had just met, Jag's fan or not. He had become a bit more cautious through his association with Jim Ellison and the Major Crime division of the Cascade PD, and didn't blindly waltz into potentially dangerous situations anymore. Of course, to be perfectly honest, he didn't do it any less either, and, while not thrilled about the prospect of hiking the quarter of a mile with Whitefeather, he was even less enamored of the thought of hiking the quarter of a mile with Whitefeather in the dark.
Blair opened the door and jumped from the truck. Rounding the front of the vehicle, he slipped his jacket on against the growing chill and nodded at Whitefeather. "Let's go, man."
Whitefeather smiled and led the way. Blair stepped carefully, doing his best to keep up with the sure-footed Navajo. The encroaching shadows quickly made the journey a challenge. Noticing his guide was having little trouble picking his way between the gullies and boulders that littered the ground, Blair squinted against the darkness, his brow furrowed in concentration.
Man, this is just like following Jim through a dark warehouse. The thought made him pull up short and stare at the man in front of him. Now that he thought of it, Whitefeather was so much like Jim it was scary. As if sensing that he had lost his companion, Whitefeather stopped and turned, looking at Blair calmly.
"Everything okay?" he asked, his deep voice loud in the quiet desert.
Blair shook himself from his thoughts and nodded quickly. "Uh, yeah. I just... it's just that you really remind me of someone."
Whitefeather pushed the brim of the cap back and smiled at the smaller man. "I hope that someone is a friend."
Blair swallowed and nodded again. "Yeah. He is."
"Good. I'd hate to think I made you nervous." He motioned with his thumb over his right shoulder. "The dig site is just over this next ridge."
Blair looked in the direction indicated, able to make out the glow from the campfires in the distance. The last of the reddish glow from the setting sun was beginning to fade, making the orange hue stand out sharply against the black sky. He moved closer to Whitefeather. "It gets dark fast out here."
"Just follow me, Chief. I'll get you there."
Blair's reply was swallowed by a choking cough of surprise at the use of the familiar nickname.
"Something wrong?" Whitefeather placed a heavy hand on his shoulder, concern coloring his deep voice. "Are you all right?"
"Uh, yeah," Blair managed. He gave a low chuckle and shook his head. "Man, I have got to get my friend to meet you."
In a few minutes they entered the camp at the edge of the archeological dig. There were five large tents set up in a semicircle surrounding a large campfire with a dozen or so men and women sitting on folding chairs around it. Most of the younger people were students from Rainier. Blair even recognized a few undergrads who had been in his Anthro 101 class last year. He also recognized Tim Barnes, Professor Hicks' assistant, deep in conversation with two Navajo men. As the two new arrivals approached the camp, Tim looked up and smiled.
"Well, will you look what the cat dragged in." He stood and moved quickly to Blair. "About time you showed up, Sandburg. We were just starting to wonder if we were going to have to send another search party out after you." He grabbed Blair's hand and shook it warmly.
Blair returned the smile. "Hey, man, that was not my fault. How was I supposed to know that tribal chief had chosen me to marry his daughter? I had no idea he was leaving me out in the jungle so I could prepare myself for the ceremony."
Tim laughed at the memory. "You should have seen your face when you found your way back before they had everything ready. I thought your lovely fiancée was going to brain you with that marriage stick!"
"Blair, my boy! It's good to see you."
Blair looked to his right to see the familiar figure of Professor Leonard Hicks approaching.
"I'm glad to see you made it all right." The professor shook his hand and clapped him on the shoulder before turning his attention to Whitefeather. "Thank you, John, for seeing Blair to the camp."
"My pleasure, Professor." Whitefeather handed Blair his duffel and shook his hand. "Pleasure to meet you, Blair. I look forward to meeting your friend."
Blair thanked him for his trouble and waved a hand as Whitefeather disappeared into the darkness.
Tim grabbed Blair's pack and slung it over his shoulder. "Come on, Blair. You'll be bunking with me."
Professor Hicks nodded his head. "Good idea. You go get settled in then come over to the mess tent and we can give you an idea of what we've found so far."
"Sounds good," Blair agreed. "Just give me a few minutes to unpack my gear and I'll be right over."
"Good, good." Professor Hicks beamed. "There's someone I want you to meet. I'll see you in a few minutes." With that, the Professor turned and strode across the camp to a large, open tent set up in the center. Blair's eyes were drawn to an old Indian man standing near a long table underneath the canvas roof.
The man was at least seventy years old, his dark skin wrinkled from age and a lifetime in the desert sun. His hair hung loose in plates of grays, white and black, falling nearly to his waist. His dark eyes locked with Blair's. Incacha's desperate eyes flashed in Blair's mind, and he gasped.
He felt a light push. Pulling his attention away from the old Indian, he refocused on Tim.
"You okay there?" A look of concern graced Tim's tanned face, but his voice held more than a hint of humor.
"Um, yeah." Blair smiled and shrugged his shoulders apologetically. "I guess I'm just not quite all here yet. It must be a slight case of jet lag or something."
Tim nodded slowly. "O-kay. Why don't we get you settled then? You can turn in early. Dr. Hicks likes to get started around sunrise."
"Great." Blair's voice reflected his opinion of waking up at such an early hour. They shared a laugh and Tim motioned for him to follow. With one more glance at the old Indian, who still stood at the edge of the tent watching, Blair followed Tim across the campsite.
Jim thanked the bartender as he placed the drink on the marble bar top. Turning on his stool, he took a small sip of the rum and coke, his eyes scanning the small crowd in the dining room. Most of the men and women were dressed in very chic designer clothing that would probably cost him more than he made in a month. Although the dress code was casual, most of the men wore dinner jackets and the women were decked out in summer dresses that left little to the imagination. With some of the more attractive ladies, Jim couldn't help but let his imagination wander.
"Is this seat taken?"
The sultry voice brought him out of his musings. Turning, he smiled his most charming smile. A lovely brunette woman stood with one hand on the stool beside him, her dark brows raised in question. A smile played on her full red lips, and her green eyes held a hint of amusement.
"Please." Jim motioned toward the stool, turning his own back to the bar. The brunette placed a small white evening bag on the bar and slipped gracefully onto the stool, her silky white dress cascading over her tanned legs.
"Vodka, rocks," she said as the bartender appeared. AS soon as he placed her drink before her, she turned her attention to Jim. "I saw you when you arrived this evening, Mr...?"
"Oh, Ellison. Jim Ellison." He held out his hand and she deftly placed hers in it.
"I'm Elaine. It's a pleasure to meet you, Jim." She smiled as he squeezed her hand, her long lashes lowering seductively. She was truly a remarkable looking woman, and Jim found his interest piqued. "Are you here alone?"
Jim cleared his throat and pulled his eyes from her shapely figure. "Uh, yes. I am. Just a short vacation. A few days of R & R."
Elaine smiled, her lips parting to reveal a row of even white teeth. "I'd say you have incredible timing." She took a small sip of her drink. "I take it you must have had a hard week?"
Jim laughed slightly and shrugged. "More like a hard month. Too many cases, too many criminals."
Elaine's eyes widened in appreciation. "Oh, so you're a lawyer." Although Jim would not have believed it possible, her smile became even more seductive. "I've always been fascinated with the law."
Jim nodded and took a large drink from his glass. Just go with it, man. He could almost hear Sandburg's voice in his head, urging him to play along. Look at her! Don't blow it now! Do you really think a woman like that is going to be impressed with a cop's salary? You're in the big time, Ellison. Don't take yourself out of the game before you even get a chance to make a move! He returned her smile and listened in surprise as his own voice agreed with her. It's not a lie, just look at it as a romantic obfuscation. God, the things he was learning from Sandburg.
"I was about to have dinner," he said quickly, hoping to steer the conversation into less dangerous territory, "but I really hate to eat alone."
Elaine turned her stool toward him and leaned forward, her charming attributes displayed splendidly before him. "Then it's a good thing I'm hungry."
Jim smiled widely, forcing his eyes up to meet hers. "I'd say it's a very good thing."
Elaine turned out to be a wonderful dinner companion. They mostly made small talk, feeling each other out. Elaine revealed very little about herself other than the fact that she was born and raised in New Mexico. She had graduated from the local university with a degree in economics and was currently working with various community charities. She steered the conversation away from anything personal, instead turning the tables and getting Jim to reveal a little more about himself.
"So did you win the case?" Elaine leaned forward, one hand on the table, the other wrapped around her glass of Chardonnay.
"Yeah," Jim replied. He had added a bit of embellishment to one of his court appearances, not exactly lying, but not giving her all the details of his involvement. "The defendant was convicted of first degree murder and the paintings were returned to their rightful owners."
"It must be fascinating." Elaine's eyes glowed. Jim felt a little guilty about misleading her like this, but he had to admit, he was enjoying her attention.
The waiter brought the check and Jim signed it. As soon as he left, Jim smiled across the candlelight and leaned forward. "So, could I talk you into a moonlight walk?" Her perfume was a mixture of lilac and musk and he allowed the aroma to extend his senses. He could hear the quickening of her heartbeat as well as the soft catch of her breath in her throat.
Elaine smiled, lowering her lashes demurely. "It depends on your powers of persuasion."
Persuasion, huh? Jim felt a rush of excitement at the possibilities. "I have been told that I can be very persuasive, when I want to be."
She raised her glass to her lips and glanced at him under hooded lids. "I'm counting on it."
Before Jim could respond, a loud voice broke the mood.
"Where the hell is she? Where's my wife?"
Jim winced and quickly dialed back his hearing. The owner of the voice stood near the front entry of the dining room. He was of average height, with dark hair, slightly graying at the temples. His skin was tanned and he wore an expensive looking silk shirt and black trousers. Ignoring the maitre d's attempts to calm him, he scanned the crowded dining room, dark eyes opening wide when they came to Jim's table. The hatred that suddenly filled those eyes triggered Jim's defensive reflexes. He sat back, his face carefully devoid of emotion, as the man shook off the maitre d' and marched toward them.
Jim was surprised at the soft exclamation. He looked across to his companion, noting the flush creeping up on her cheeks. She glanced worriedly at Jim, before standing to greet the angry man.
"Edward, just calm down. This is not what it looks like."
Edward barely glanced at her, his furious gaze locked on Jim. "Shut up, Elaine. Just what the hell do you think you're doing with my wife?"
Jim slowly placed his napkin on the table and stood to confront the man. "We were just having dinner. Nothing more." This was definitely *not* in his plans for the evening. "Look, buddy, why don't we all just calm down and talk about this like adults?" He winced as he caught a whiff of the man's strong cologne mixed with an earthy smell he couldn't quite register. Dialing down his senses even more, he smiled placatingly, hoping he could gain control of the situation before things got ugly.
"Edward, please." Elaine placed a hand on her husband's arm, only to have it pushed away violently.
"I told you to shut up." Edward turned to her and she took a small step back, throwing Jim an apologetic look. Edward turned back to Jim. His anger got the better of him and he swung a fist at Jim's head. Jim easily blocked the punch, countering with a side step and a push that knocked his assailant off-balance and directly into the neighboring table. The table toppled under the sudden barrage and Edward went down, covered in what Jim identified as duck a l'orange. Edward sat stunned as the other patrons began to whisper and stare.
Jim straightened his dinner jacket and turned to Elaine, intending to ask if she was all right. He was met by a resounding slap in the face.
"How dare you!" she spat. Contorted by anger, her face was not nearly as enchanting as he had thought. He held a hand to his cheek, feeling it grow hot from the unexpected blow. With wide eyes, he watched as Elaine knelt down next to her dazed husband and took his face in her hands. She showered him with kisses, whispering apologies peppered with sugary terms of endearment.
Jim shook his head, wondering what the hell had just happened. A few minutes ago, he'd been making plans for a special evening with a beautiful woman, and now he was ... well, he wasn't quite sure what he was now. The maitre d' had made his way through the throng of onlookers and now approached the overturned table. He knelt down beside Edward and respectfully asked him if he was hurt. As Edward answered his questions, Elaine rose and took a few steps toward Jim.
"You hit him!" she accused, anger clouding her eyes.
"He tripped," Jim argued. "He tried to hit me and I was simply defending myself." He was surprised at her sharp tone, so different from the soft, seductive voice he had been listening to for the last hour.
She tried to think of a retort, but finally settled for stomping her foot in disgust and turning back to her husband. Two busboys were now helping Edward to his feet, and Jim watched carefully, prepared if Edward decided to try another swing. Fortunately, the man allowed his wife to lead him quietly out of the dining room.
"I'll have to ask you to leave, sir."
Jim turned in surprise to see the maitre d' looking at him with annoyance.
"I don't believe Mr. Martin will want to press charges, but I must inform you we do not appreciate disturbances of this kind at this establishment."
Jim's eyebrows rose as he digested the man's words and attitude. "You don't believe Mr. Martin will want to press charges?" he repeated incredulously.
"Mr. Martin is a very important man in the community and one of our oldest patrons."
"Oh, I see." Jim nodded, seeing plenty. He took a deep breath and turned a cold stare to the maitre d', perversely pleased to see the man's smug face blanche just a bit. "I see very clearly. You let Mr. Martin know that if he decides he would like to discuss this incident further, I would be happy to oblige. The name is Ellison. Detective James Ellison." The smaller man's face paled still more when Jim pulled out his wallet and flipped it open to reveal his badge. He quickly pulled a card from the pocket and handed it to the maitre d'. "He can reach me here anytime."
Ignoring the whispers floating through the crowd, he made his way out of the room. This was a hell of a way to start a vacation.
Blair approached the mess tent, his gaze locked on the two men deep in conversation at the far table.
"Ah! Blair! Come join us." Professor Hicks motioned him over. As soon as Blair had seated himself at the end of the table, the professor introduced the old Indian seated across from him. "Blair, I would like you to meet Two Eagles. He's the Navajo shaman I told you about."
Blair held out a hand, smiling nervously at the old man. He didn't know what it was about Two Eagles that made him feel like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar, but he couldn't help but feel extremely unsure of himself in the man's presence. Two Eagles grasped his outstretched hand, and Blair's heart pounded, memories of Incacha flashing through his mind.
"Relax, young one. You will find what you seek."
Blair's eyes widened in shock at the old man's words. "Um, how did you...?" His voice drifted off as the old shaman smiled.
"Everyone is searching for something. Some people come to realize what they seek has already been found."
Blair shook his head slowly. "I don't understand."
Two Eagles released Blair's hand and folded his own before him. "You will."
Blair opened his mouth to respond, but quickly closed it, realizing he did not know what to say.
Professor Hicks, who had been watching with amusement, took the opportunity to fill Blair in on the expedition's progress. They had managed to uncover quite a few remnants of the structures and had a very good idea of the layout of the village. There had also been quite a few significant finds of everyday items such as pots and stone hunting mallets. They had been able to tentatively date the village at approximately 1000 years old. Of course, more exact dating would be determined once they got the artifacts and samples back to the university for analysis.
Blair was intrigued by the Professor's monologue, and was soon involved in a deep conversation with him about the invaluable information they would gather from the expedition. They spoke well into the night; finally deciding to retire to their tents in order to get an early start in the morning.
Blair said his goodnights and made his way back to his tent, too excited and tired to notice the eyes of the old shaman following him.
"I knew you would like him," Professor Hicks said to his old friend. "Blair has always had something about him that made me think he was special." He looked fondly at the old man. "Kind of reminds me of you."
The old shaman nodded, his eyes remaining on the tent where Blair had disappeared. "He has already found his destiny. He has only to realize it." Before the professor could inquire into the meaning of his cryptic words, Two Eagles bid his friend good night and slipped quietly into the darkness.
The sun shone brightly as Jim stepped up to the ninth tee. He had not had a great day so far, his darkening mood contributing to the steady decline of his game. He had been able to tee off solo, but had quickly become aware of the multitude of stares he received as he passed other golfers on the fairways. His curiosity got the better of him, and he focused his hearing on a foursome of middle-aged ladies who were in the fairway adjacent to his.
"That's him, Margie, I'm sure of it."
"At least Elaine's taste has gotten better. Look at that body!"
"From what I saw last night in the dining room, Edward was way out of his league. The hunk there knocked him on his butt without even laying a hand on him."
"Well, Elaine always did know how to pick dangerous men."
Jim quickly stopped listening, his face burning from more than just the intense morning sun.
He was only three over par for the first eight holes. His anger and embarrassment fueled his energy and his drives were impressive, but his lack of concentration on the greens was his undoing, forcing him to three putt most holes. A pair of older gentlemen smiled and waved as they rolled past on the cartpath. Jim picked up a smattering of words such as "new conquest" and "gigolo". Turning his back on the pair, he sighed and placed his ball on the tee, his enthusiasm for the game -- not to mention the entire place -- completely obliterated.
This was not the way to spend a relaxing week off. Knowing he was the focus of the attention of many of the people sitting on the veranda of the clubhouse, he finished the hole, knocking the ball in for a par to finish the front nine at an even 40. Not bad, considering his game was a bit rusty from living in a state where warm sunny days were few and far between. He made his way back to the clubhouse, keenly aware of the stares and whispers around him.
You'd think these people would have more to do than gossip about him. He hated feeling like a freak. Having enhanced senses that he sometimes couldn't control was bad enough, but having to listen to people talking about him as if he were the latest topic on Jerry Springer was just too much. He could just hibernate in his room the rest of the week, because he definitely did not want to have to listen to the upper crust of New Mexico society share their opinions of his qualifications as a boy toy.
Maybe a few days on Sandburg's expedition would be interesting. He'd at least have some peace and quiet. After all, how rowdy could a group of science geeks be? His eyebrows rose as he realized how appealing his partner's invitation had suddenly become. Without another glance at the gawkers on the veranda, he pulled his cart onto the asphalt and quickly retrieved his clubs from the rear. Nodding to the teenager who came to accept the cart from him, Jim threw the bag over his shoulder and hurried back to his room to pack.
Blair wiped his brow for what he guessed was the millionth time and sat back on his heels. He stretched his back and raised a hand to rub at the aching muscles on the back of his neck. He'd forgotten how grueling fieldwork could be. As an anthropologist, he was more comfortable studying the social interactions of indigenous peoples and groups. In his undergraduate days, he'd gone on a few archeological digs to get the credits for his degree, but digging in the ground under the intense desert sun wasn't as much fun as his memories had led him to believe.
He took a small sip from the insulated thermos of water Tim had filled for him this morning and squinted up into the cloudless blue sky. It was barely noon and the heat was already unbearable. He pulled at his sweat-soaked t-shirt, tempted to take it off and let the slight breeze cool his damp skin. But the painful thought of a killer sunburn forced him to be practical and leave the shirt on.
He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and poured some of the cold water on it. Pressing the damp cloth to his face, he wiped the salty perspiration from his skin, relishing the refreshing coolness. Idly, he wondered how Jim was doing. He was probably tooling around the course, the breeze from the motion of the cart ruffling through what was left of his hair. Blair chuckled a bit at the thought of his conservative friend in a pair of wild, checkered golf pants and matching polo shirt, one hand on the wheel, the other waving at the little old ladies on the course as he zipped by them.
Jim was probably wowing the society matrons with his tremendous drives and uncanny accuracy on the greens, relishing the chance to get away from the criminals and chaos that enveloped his everyday life. Blair smiled and shook his head, glad his friend was having the opportunity to unwind, far away from the daily trials and tribulations of police work. Having to deal with his enhanced senses made Jim even more deserving of a break. While the senses were a definite aid in his work as a detective, they could also be a hindrance, and any time Jim could relax, with no need to worry about focusing and concentrating, was time well spent in Blair's opinion.
Another small sip from the thermos, and Blair closed the spigot and replaced the container on the ground. He was only a few yards outside the main dig area, but the open vista before him made him feel strangely isolated. Since most of the workers had arrived long before him, they had already established their own areas and Blair had not wanted to disturb their work. Although Professor Hicks had not asked him to help with the actual excavation work, Blair had wanted to get his hands dirty and help out. He had spied this area earlier, noting the strange way the dirt and rocks had been shifted, and had decided it was as good a place as any to start. The area of the dig was very large, the workers only covering about half of the actual size of the pueblo village. The work was slow and painstaking, but the discoveries and information about the culture would more than outweigh the inconveniences the scientists were made to endure.
A glint of light to his right caught his eye and he turned his head a fraction, his eyes squinting against the bright sunlight. About two feet to his side, something was giving off a brilliant reflection of the intense midday sun. Scrambling carefully, he reached a hand toward the object, surprised to find a small, hard stone glittering in the loose sand.
He blew the dust away, and his eyes widened in shock. He held a large diamond in his hand. The gem was cut, its shimmering facets mesmerizing him. What was a finely cut diamond doing out in the middle of an archeological dig? Could one of the workers have lost it? There were four women on the project; it was possible the stone could have fallen from a ring or necklace. Another harsh glint reflected from the dirt near his feet and he scooped the sand away to reveal a second stone, similar in size to the first.
Two? It was possible a single diamond could have been lost, but two?
Blair dug down, his hands sifting through the loose dirt. Within a few minutes, he found three other loose stones, each one just as brilliant and finely cut as the first. He placed the small shovel into the hole before him, stopping when the metal edge hit something hard. He quickly scraped the sand away to reveal a hard, white lump. Laying the tool aside, he used his fingers to loosen the earth surrounding the lump, scooping the dirt up and out of the widening hole. After a few minutes of digging, the identity of the object became very clear.
It was a skull. A human skull.
The empty eye sockets stared up at him from their earthly prison and the yellowed teeth still attached to the jaw formed a macabre grin. Blair swallowed hard and shivered, the pile of diamonds momentarily forgotten. Carefully, he removed the rest of the dirt and pulled the skull from the ground. A large dent in the back showed that its owner had probably not died from natural causes. A piece of cervical vertebra still clinging to the skull showed signs of having been hacked through by some early weapon similar to an axe.
"Blair! Hey! Sandburg!"
Blair jumped about a foot at the sound of the voice. He turned and fought to get his breathing back to normal before Tim reached him.
"Hey, Blair, didn't you hear the bell? Time for lunch, man."
"Uh, no. Sorry. I guess I was a little preoccupied." He shifted a bit, allowing Tim to see the object in his hands.
"Whoa." The archeologist knelt down beside Blair and ran his hand along the smooth skull. "This isn't shaped right to be part of the Pueblo village. It looks more like an Apache skull."
Blair nodded, knowing this was more within Tim's area of expertise than his.
Time continued his explanation. "There was a wave of Apache invaders who migrated to this area around 900 AD This probably belonged to someone who was caught raiding the village. From the looks of it, he was executed."
Blair nodded his agreement, carefully handing the skull to Tim.
"It probably won't add up to anything, but I, for one, think it's pretty cool." Tim threw him a smile, turning the skull to examine the large crack in the back.
"Well, that's not the only thing I found." Blair scooped up the diamonds and opened his hands, allowing the diamonds to roll along his palms.
"Whoa," Tim breathed. "Are those real?"
Blair shrugged, his eyes once again drawn to the small stones glistening in his hands. "I have no idea, man. They were just lying here in the dirt. I was digging them up when I found that."
Tim laughed and shook his head. "I've been here for almost a month and the most valuable thing I've managed to find is some clay pottery. You show up and in a couple hours unearth the skull of a murdered Apache and a handful of diamonds. You must lead some kind of charmed life, Sandburg."
Blair laughed. "If you only knew, man. If you only knew."
An afternoon of digging produced quite a few artifacts within Blair's area, but no more diamonds. They uncovered a myriad of broken pots and animal bones, and concluded the are was part of a refuse pit . There was no sign of the skeleton from which the skull had been severed, adding further credence to Tim's hypothesis that the skull had belonged to an invading Apache warrior and had been discarded after his execution.
Blair leaned back on his heels, fanning his T-shirt to create a breeze. There were three other workers excavating the refuse pit along with Tim and himself. When they had presented Blair's findings to Professor Hicks at lunch, a buzz had begun around the camp about buried treasure and they had been inundated with volunteers to assist in the excavation of the new area.
Professor Hicks agreed with Blair's assessment about the diamonds. They were newly cut, and more than likely stolen. Why else would twenty diamonds be buried just beneath the desert floor? The Professor had sent another volunteer back to the welcome center to alert authorities and instructed his crew to begin digging around the area to see if they could find anything that would help determine where the gems had come from.
He had also been interested in the skull, agreeing with Tim that it was definitely not Pueblo, but, in all probability was still nearly a century old. They had hoped to find the rest of the skeleton so they would be able to determine the origins of the skull, but hadn't been able to locate a single bone.
Blair gazed through squinted eyes at the orange sun as it began its trek down to the horizon. It had been a long day, and his back was killing him from the constant bending and stooping he had endured. He rubbed a hand along the back of his neck, wincing at the heat radiating from his sunburned skin.
"That's gonna hurt in the morning," Tim commented with a grin. The archeologist's skin was tanned to a deep brown, setting off his bright green eyes and sun-lightened blonde hair. Blair returned a pained expression, knowing Tim was only speaking from experience. "Looks like we're going to be losing our light pretty soon. What do you say we wrap this up for the night?"
Blair nodded his agreement and, with the help of the other workers, secured a tarp over the site and gathered their tools.
It took only a few more minutes to hike back to the camp. Bidding good-bye to the Navajo workers, the two grad students trudged wearily to their tent. They dropped most of their tools and grabbed fresh shirts from their packs, looking forward to washing some of the sweat and dirt from their skin.
Tim motioned toward the small area of basins and water barrels. "Why don't you head on over and get cleaned up? I'll give the Professor a progress report and catch up with you."
Blair agreed, eager to let the cool water ease his aching muscles. He pulled his shirt over his head and, with the aid of a nearby bucket, scooped some refreshingly clean water into one of the basins. Leaning over he cupped his hands and splashed the water over his face and head. God that felt good! He pulled the leather tie from his ponytail, shook his hair free and submerged his entire head in the basin.
"Ahhhh!" A sigh of contentment escaped his lips as he threw his head back, his long hair dripping cold water down his back.
"A little small to take a dip in, don't you think, Chief?"
Blair jumped at the familiar voice, turning quickly to see Jim leaning against a tentpost.
"Jim!" Blair's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "I thought.... What the hell are you doing here?"
"Nice to see you, too, Sandburg." Jim grinned at the utter shock on his friend's face. "I was in the neighborhood and...." He shrugged, not bothering to finish the line.
Blair grabbed a towel and quickly wiped the dripping water from his eyes. "It's just, I thought you were looking forward to spending some time on the links, man." A smile surfaced as Jim pushed himself lazily from the post and moved toward him.
"I just started thinking about your invitation and decided to take you up on it," Jim said, an expression of innocence covering his features.
Blair narrowed his eyes, but his smile remained. "Oh no. I know you, man. You would not give up a week of golf and the opportunity to meet some beautiful women just to hang out in the desert with me." He shook his head, still eyeing his partner suspiciously. "Spill it. Ellison."
"Spill what?" Jim smacked him on the arm with a folded newspaper. "Can't a guy just change his mind without getting interrogated about it?"
Jim smiled and shook his head. "Well, you're just going to have to take my word for now, Junior. Why don't you finish your bath here and I'll tell you all about it over some dinner, huh?" He leaned against a stack of crates.
As Blair finished washing up, Tim returned from his conversation with Professor Hicks and joined him at the row of basins. "I told the Professor we didn't find any more diamonds. John Whitefeather is here. He wants to talk to you about exactly where the stones were when you found them."
"John Whitefeather? Why would he be interested?"
Tim threw a towel over his shoulder and splashed some water on his face. "He's part of the Tribal Police. Anything that happens on this reservation falls under his jurisdiction. The Professor said he brought along someone else, too. Some visiting cop from up north, Said his name was Evans or Ellsburn or something like that."
"Ellison. Jim Ellison."
Blair tried to hide a smile as Tim whirled to find the owner of the voice. Jim stepped forward into view.
"Uh, Tim, this is my friend, Jim. I told you he might be joining me."
"Oh, yeah." Tim stepped forward and held out a slightly wet hand. "Nice to meet you, Jim. I guess I didn't make the connection."
"No problem." Jim shook Tim's hand firmly. "I was at the welcome station asking directions to the site when one of the workers came in with a message from Professor Hicks. Seems you've had quite an interesting day."
Tim motioned toward Blair. "Actually it was Blair who found the diamonds and the skull. Beginner's luck." He threw a teasing smile toward his friend and moved back to the water basin.
"Why am I not surprised?"
Blair glared at his partner and pulled the new T-shirt over his head. "So you came out here with John Whitefeather?"
Jim nodded. "Yeah. Nice guy. Great taste in trucks." He gave Blair a cheeky smile, laughing as his partner rolled his eyes in amusement. "He's waiting for us in the mess tent as soon as you two are done freshening up."
Blair and Jim sat on one side of the table with Tim, Professor Hicks and Two Eagles on the other. John Whitefeather stood at the end, his dark eyes gazing with appreciation at the small, glittering stones spread out before him.
"Do you have any idea where they could have come from?" Blair asked.
The Tribal policeman grabbed a chair and sat down at the head of the table. "I might. About six months ago a shipment of diamonds was reported hijacked on its way to Albuquerque. The owner of the chain of jewelry stores reported the missing stones to the police, but they were never recovered."
"And you think these diamonds could be the ones that were stolen?"
Whitefeather nodded. "At least some of them. From what I remember, there were almost one hundred diamonds in the shipment. Their value was estimated at somewhere around five million dollars."
Jim let out a low whistle and the others simply nodded in agreement. "So the police never found a trace of the stones or whoever pulled the heist?"
Whitefeather shook his head in answer to the detective's question. "No. They investigated the owner of the jewelry stores as well as the armored transport company that was in charge of moving the diamonds, but never found anything to connect them to the robbery."
Something was nagging at Jim's memory and he rubbed his forehead, attempting to isolate the thought.
"Hey, Jim," Blair said softly, laying a hand on his partner's arm. "You okay, man?"
Jim waved a hand, his eyes still unfocused as he racked his brain for the elusive memory. "Yeah, yeah, Chief, I just seem to remember something about --" Jim grabbed the newspaper he had brought with him, opened it up and laid it on the table. Blair glanced at the other men at the table and saw their faces reflecting his own confusion. With a small shrug, he rose and joined his partner. "Jim?"
Jim was turning the pages, his eyes skimming the headlines on each page. "I remember reading -- Aha! Here it is." He smoothed out the page and tapped a finger near an article about halfway down. He gave a small laugh. "I don't believe it."
Blair leaned over Jim's shoulder, squinting as he read the headline. "'Insurance Company Signs Off on Stolen Gems.'" He looked at the small, black and white photo of a distinguished-looking man smiling into the camera, his arm around a beautiful brunette woman. "Mr. and Mrs. Edward Martin reached a settlement with the insurance company for loss of a shipment of diamonds valued at over $5,000,000." He looked up at Jim, surprised to see anger in his blue eyes. "I take it you know these people?"
Jim nodded tersely. "We've met." He directed his attention to Whitefeather. "Do you think you could get access to the police reports involving the investigation of the heist?"
Whitefeather nodded. "I have a few friends in the department. Once we inform them of Blair's find, I'm sure they wouldn't mind sharing some information."
Jim shifted his gaze to Blair, who looked at him with an expression of disbelief.
"Jim, you *are* on vacation," Blair argued. "And this isn't Cascade, man. Don't you think you're a little out of your jurisdiction here?"
Jim patted Blair's cheek and graced him with an innocent smile. "Don't worry, Chief. I'm not going to do anything but share a bit of information with some local colleagues. Besides, Mr. and Mrs. Martin and I have some ... unfinished business."
After discussing the facts of the case with John Whitefeather, Jim and the tribal policeman agreed to drive in to Albuquerque in the morning to confer with the police. They would take a few of the diamonds with them for the forensics lab, to see if they could match them to the gems from the robbery. Tim graciously offered to bunk with one of the other grad students, leaving Jim and Blair to share the tent.
Blair watched Jim arrange the sleeping bag on the other cot. "So, are you going to tell me what happened at the resort or am I going to have to let my imagination run wild?"
Jim glared at him for a moment, finally admitting defeat when Blair's amused expression didn't falter.
"It was no big deal. I just realized I don't exactly fit in with the country club crowd, that's all."
Blair wasn't about to be derailed so easily. "So what happened?"
Jim sighed and sat down on the cot. He glanced at Blair, wincing at the intense curiosity on his face. He hated when Sandburg got like this. He was like a dog with a bone. There was no way he was going to let it go until Jim told him everything.
"I met this woman in the bar," he began, only to stop suddenly at his partner's snicker.
Blair held up a hand and tried, without much success to hide his smile. "Sorry, man. I just knew it had something to do with a woman."
Jim glared at him for a moment before continuing. "Like I said, I met Elaine in the bar --"
"Elaine?" Blair interrupted again. His eyes opened wide at mention of the name. "As in Mrs. Elaine Martin?"
"Do you want to hear this or not?"
Blair bit down on the laughter that was threatening to erupt and quickly nodded his head. "Yeah, yeah. Sorry. Go on."
Jim rubbed his forehead in frustration and took a deep breath. "As I said, I met her in the bar and we decided to have dinner together." He quickly related the rest of the evening, ending with Edward Martin's arrival and shaky departure."
"She actually slapped you?" Blair spurted out. He was no longer attempting to conceal his amusement, and Jim felt an overwhelming urge to slap *him* upside the head.
"Yes, Sandburg," he managed to grind out. "She slapped me."
Blair got his laughter under control and took a deep breath. "That's it? That's why you decided to leave?"
Jim contemplated just leaving it at that, but knew his intuitive partner had probably already figured out the rest of it anyway.
"I just couldn't stand being stared at and whispered about behind my back." He shrugged. "I just felt like…."
"A freak?" Blair finished for him and he nodded, lying back on the cot. "I'm sorry, man."
Jim waved a hand and closed his eyes. "It's okay, Chief. I suppose I can't blame them for the gossip. It was a pretty interesting scene."
"And since none of them had any idea that the object of their conversations was a sentinel who could actually hear them from a mile away...."
Jim laughed. "Point taken, Chief. Now, if you're done with the interrogation, I have an early morning planned." He watched as Blair unsuccessfully tried to curtail a yawn. " And you look like you could use a little sleep yourself."
"No argument from me, man. I forgot how hard these digs actually are." Blair lay back and got comfortable on the cot. He pulled the sleeping bag over him to ward off the chill of the desert night. "'Night, Jim."
They were asleep within minutes.
Jim and Whitefeather sat in one of the Albuquerque PD briefing rooms explaining what had been found to the Robbery Lieutenant.
Lt. Andrew Pike was a tall, thin man with a shock of thick white hair and bright green eyes edged with deep laugh lines. The snow white moustache on his upper lip contrasted sharply with the deeply tanned skin of his face and neck and the bemused expression of his face in no way took away from his keen interest in the story being laid out before him.
"So, let me get this straight," he said leaning back in his chair and eyeing his guests carefully. "You think the diamonds this archeologist found --"
"Anthropologist," Jim corrected automatically.
"Anthropologist," Pike repeated with a grin. "The diamonds this anthropologist found are part of the loot from the Martin heist?" He looked from Whitefeather to Ellison as both men nodded in agreement.
Ellison knew the older detective was skeptical. He couldn't blame him. The entire Albuquerque Police Department had not been able to turn up any evidence of the stolen diamonds and he waltzed in with a story about Sandburg just looking down and seeing them lying at his feet. He had been a little surprised Whitefeather had agreed with him so quickly. Whitefeather hadn't even asked if he was sure about his conclusions; he'd just accepted Jim's theory as fact and agreed to accompany him and introduce him to his friend at the PD.
Jim found himself completely at ease with Whitefeather, surprised at how simple it had been to trust the man. Something about John Whitefeather made Jim feel as if he had known him for years. Maybe it was just his good taste in vehicles and basketball teams.
John didn't hesitate to back Jim up when Pike's skepticism began to show. "Listen, Andy. I know it's a long shot. But what have you got to lose? If Jim's right, you may have uncovered the biggest insurance scam in recent history. If he's wrong, you've only wasted a few hours, right?"
Pike chuckled and nodded. "Never could argue with that old Navajo logic." He pushed a file folder across the table. "This is everything we got from the gemologist on the diamonds."
Jim opened the folder and glanced through the pages of confusing numbers and drawings. Whitefeather leaned to his left, his brow furrowing as his eyes swept the sheets. "What does all this mean?"
"When a stone is cut, it becomes almost like a fingerprint. The imperfections and lines of the stone are recorded and can be used to identify the stone." Jim explained the diagrams as he pulled a handkerchief from his pocket. Laying the piece of cloth on the table, he unfolded it to reveal the three small stones he had brought with him.
He didn't notice Whitefeather exchange a shrug of confusion with Pike as Jim held one of the stones up to the light,. Focusing his enhanced sight on the facets of the diamond, he studied the cuts and tiny flaws embedded in the diamond, committing the map of the stone to memory. He laid it down and thumbed through the sheets of paper in the folder. Halfway down the pile, he smiled and raised his eyes to the other two men.
Pike took the piece of paper Ellison held out and glanced at it quickly. "You mean to tell me you can tell this diamond is one of the ones in this file just by looking at it?"
Jim cleared his throat and his smile faltered for just a second. "Well, I've had a little practice," he obfuscated, wishing suddenly he had Blair's talent for circumventing the truth. "We had a case involving stolen diamonds a while back. I did a little research and learned what to look for."
They looked at him, not sure whether to believe him or not.
"Just have your experts take a look at it. If they confirm that it is one of the missing diamonds from the Martin heist, then you just may have a reason to reopen the case."
Pike pursed his lips and glanced from Jim to Whitefeather. Finally, he gave a resigned sigh. "All right. I'll have it checked out. If it is a match, I'm going to need the rest of the stones your friend found for evidence."
Jim rose and nodded his agreement. "We'll have them waiting for you."
Jim quickly motioned for Blair to lower his voice as he grabbed his arm and moved them to the back of the mess tent.
"You actually used your sight to identify the points in a diamond?" Blair's eyes were wide and his mouth hung open in surprise. "That is so cool!"
"Yeah, cool," Jim agreed, halfheartedly. "I'm sure that's exactly what Whitefeather and his friend thought."
Blair chuckled, imagining the looks of astonishment on the men's faces. "No, they probably thought you were absolutely nuts." At Jim's pained look, he schooled his grin. ""Sorry. So you were able to identify it as one of the ones from the robbery? You're sure?"
Jim nodded. "Positive. Lt. Pike is going to have an expert take a look at the three stones I left with him. I'm pretty sure they're going to find that all of them came from the robbery."
"So, what now?"
Jim and Whitefeather had taken most of the day to make their trip, arriving back at the campsite near dusk. Blair had continued digging, but no more diamonds had been found.
"We wait. As soon as we get confirmation, Pike can try to get the DA to reopen the investigation."
Blair squinted his eyes at his partner. "Why are you so sure Martin had something to do with the robbery? Maybe you're just letting your dislike for this guy get the better of you."
Jim seemed to consider this for a moment, but shook his head. "No, Chief. I'll admit I'd like to see this guy take a fall, but it's more than that. Something else, I just can't put my finger on it."
Blair pursed his lips in thought. "Is it something you sensed? A sound or a smell?"
Jim began to shake his head but stopped, his eyes suddenly intense. "A smell. I remember a scent. It was weird because it didn't fit."
Blair shook his head. "I'm not following you here, man. Didn't fit where?"
Jim answered slowly. "In the dining room. When Martin first showed up, I remember smelling his cologne from across the room. As he got closer I could detect another scent, a more... earthy smell."
"Earthy?" Blair snorted in amusement. "What, like in dirt?"
Jim's eyes shot up, locking with Blair's. "Exactly like dirt." He moved quickly out of the tent. Blair scrambled to keep up with his long strides, and nearly collided with him as Jim stopped short outside the tent and inhaled deeply.
Blair remained silent as he watched the sentinel, knowing Jim was turning the imaginary dials up on his enhanced senses.
"What?" Blair looked around the darkening camp. "What do you sense?"
Jim opened his eyes and slowly scanned the area. "I'm not sure. It's a scent, but I can't describe it. It's like...."
Blair craned his neck forward in anticipation, his eyebrows raised. "Like what?"
Jim shook his head in frustration. "I don't know." He sighed and ran a hand over his short hair. "I don't know what it is, I only know it's here and it's the same scent I detected on Martin that night."
Noting Jim's rapidly rising frustration level, Blair held up his hands and stepped in front of him. "It's okay, Jim. It'll come to you. Just don't force it." He waited a few moments while Jim tried to focus again, sighing in disappointment when the detective shook his head in resignation. "It's okay. It's okay. I'm sure we'll figure it out. Why don't we get some supper and a good night's rest, huh? We can try again in the morning."
Jim rubbed his eyes and nodded his agreement. Seeing Blair's concern, he managed a lopsided grin and laid a hand on the smaller man's shoulder. Blair returned the grin, following his friend back into the tent.
Blair sat up, unsure of what had woken him. He took a deep breath and rubbed his eyes, trying to squint through the darkness. The flicker of the campfire shining through the open door of the tent threw tendrils of soft orange light along the interior of the canvas walls, slightly illuminating the sleeping figure in the cot next to him. Leaning closer, he could detect Jim's soft even breathing, indicating he was still asleep.
Blair shook his head, convinced he must have been dreaming. He concentrated on the sounds surrounding him, hearing nothing more than the crackle of the campfire and the soft whistle of the wind. Laughing quietly at himself, he settled back on the cot, cocooning himself in the warmth of the sleeping bag.
"A-ya yee hiya wutchisee, a-ya yo unnee yomanee...."
Blair bolted upright, breath frozen in his chest.
"Jim," he whispered softly. His eyes darted around the dim tent, his heart beating loudly in his ears. "Jim!" he called, a bit louder. He pushed himself from the cot and shuffled quietly toward the tent flap.
"A-ya yee hiya wutchisee, a-ya yo unnee yomanee...."
Taking a deep breath, Blair poked his head out of the tent and looked around. All was quiet. The fire crackled, dancing as the slight breeze played over it. Shaking his head, he chided himself for his active imagination and stepped outside. He wrapped his arms around his torso, shivering in the cool breeze. Damn, I must be more tired than I thought.
He had turned to go back inside the tent, when a soft glow from the direction of the dig site caught his eye. He squinted into the distance, but couldn't make out the source of the eerie light. He debated whether to wake Jim, but quickly decided to let him sleep. Jim had been completely wiped out when they turned in, his frustration at not being able to isolate the scent wearing down his energy.
Moving quietly, Blair made his way across the camp to the edge of the dig area. What he saw stopped him in his tracks. The place was in shambles. Unearthed pottery lay in broken pieces along the ground. Carefully excavated trenches had been kicked in. Tools left behind by the workers were strewn across the site and tipped lanterns were leaking oil into the dirt.
"Oh, man!" Blair breathed, his eyes wide at the devastation before him.
"A-ya yee hiya wutchisee, a-ya yo unnee yomanee...."
The low moan made his breath catch in his throat. The wind picked up, blowing his hair across his face. Blair knew he should go back to the camp and alert the Professor that the site had been vandalized but something held him in his place. His breath came in short gasps and his eyes widened further as a soft glow began to form near the center of the village.
Blair watched as the glow took form, coalescing into the shape of a human skull. The skull twirled as it shifted and changed. Dark skin formed over the bone, straight, dark hair appeared from the top, quickly growing to a length far below the apparition. The cold wind blew the hair in tendrils around the face, which had developed strong Native American features. Dark eyes stared at him, riveting him to the spot on which he stood.
"A-ya yee hiya wutchisee, a-ya yo unnee yomanee...."
"This is not real. This is not real." Blair repeated the words softly, doing a lousy job of convincing himself they were true. His eyes were locked with those of the apparition; he swallowed hard against a suddenly dry throat. "I'm...dreaming. That's it....I'm dreaming and...I'm going to wake up...and all this will be gone." He forced his eyes closed, squeezing them tightly as he tried to control his breathing.
A hand came down on his shoulder from behind. His heart slammed in his chest. He turned suddenly, lost his balance and fell, landing hard on his butt. Scuttling backward, he gazed wild-eyed at the tall figure silhouetted in the glow of the distant campfire.
"Whoa, whoa, Chief. Take it easy. It's me."
It took a moment for the familiar voice to register.
"Yeah." The dark figure took a few steps closer, crouching before him. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you."
Blair's breaths were coming in quick spurts; he willed himself to calm down. "Oh, man!" He swallowed a few times, lowering his head as he gathered his wits. "You scared the shit out of me!"
Jim scooted a bit closer and Blair could see the concern written on his face.
"I woke up and you were gone. When I located you, your heart was doing a tap dance." Jim looked up, his expression grim as he took in the destruction of the dig site. "I guess I can see why." He looked back at Blair, relieved to see the anthropologist breathing a bit more normally.
Blair pushed himself into a sitting position with shaking arms. He crossed his legs, bent forward, and laid his head in his hands. "Oh man, oh man, oh man."
"Blair? Sandburg, you okay?"
Blair took a deep breath and raised his head. He wrapped his arms tightly around himself and began to rock slowly back and forth. "Jim, please just tell me you saw it, man. Tell me I'm not crazy."
"You mean the village?"
Blair shook his head. "No," he said forcefully. "Not the village."
Jim spread his hands in confusion. "I think you lost me here, Chief."
"Come on, man. Please tell me you saw it. Because if you didn't see it, then I'm probably hallucinating and I really really don't want to be seeing things like that floating around in the middle of the desert--"
"Sandburg!" Jim grabbed Blair's shoulders and shook him. "Just relax and breathe."
Blair could feel his chest beginning to tighten again and nodded, trying to obey Jim's order.
After a few minutes, Blair regained his composure and Jim tried again. "Now, what exactly did you see?"
Blair rubbed his hand across his eyes and looked away. "A ghost." His voice was so soft the sentinel had to strain to hear him.
Jim blinked in surprise, not knowing exactly how to respond. "A...ghost."
Blair pushed himself upright and stalked a few feet away. "Yes, Jim. A ghost." He whirled on his befuddled partner, embarrassment fueling his sudden anger. "I know it sounds crazy, but I saw it. It was right over there, in the center of the village." He pointed to the raised ceremonial platform in the center of the village courtyard. "It was a head, man. The head of an Indian warrior. It had long black hair and black eyes. It spoke to me. I didn't recognize the language, but it was trying to tell me something."
Jim shook his head once, trying to wrap his sleep-deprived mind around the incredible tale Blair was weaving. "It spoke to you?"
"Yes!" Blair's hand dropped suddenly, his burst of energy obviously spent. "I saw it, Jim. I know I saw it." His voice cracked, betraying his conviction. He wrapped his arms around himself again and lowered his head. "I'm not crazy, Jim. Tell me I'm not crazy."
Jim laid both hands on Blair's shoulders and squeezed tightly. "You are not crazy, Chief."
Blair looked up, a small smile on his face. "Can I quote you on that?"
Jim tilted his head and pursed his lips as if considering the question, then returned his gaze to his Blair's face and shook his head. "No."
Jim smiled, glad to see his friend had regained his equilibrium. He looked up at the sky, noticing the faint light beginning to creep along the horizon. "Looks like we still have a few hours before dawn. I don't think we can do anything about the mess until morning. Think you'll be able to get back to sleep?"
Blair shook his head, but his smile remained. "Not in this lifetime, man."
"Good." Jim placed an arm across his shoulders and steered him back to the camp. "Then you won't mind making the coffee."
Blair stifled a yawn. The sun was finally rising above the distant hills. The last few hours had seemed like an eternity. He'd related his experience to Jim in detail. Although it was apparent the detective retained a bit of skepticism, Jim had been willing to listen.
"Chief." Jim leaned across the table. "I don't have a degree in psychology or anything, but couldn't this all be ...." He trailed off, not wanting to state the obvious.
"Psychosomatic?" Blair finished for him. At Jim's surprised look, Blair shrugged, a slight grin curling one side of his mouth. "I *do* have a degree in psychology, Jim."
"Right," Jim returned the grin. He took a sip of his coffee, taking a moment to organize his argument. He could tell Blair was really freaked out by what had happened, but he couldn't help playing devil's advocate. Sandburg had always been a little out there, ready and willing to believe in things most other people saw only as myths and legends - even before Incacha had managed to plant all that shamanism stuff in his head. On one hand, it made it easy to dismiss Blair's theories as idle speculation and fantasy. But on the other hand, how many people actually believed in sentinels? Yet here he was -- enhanced senses and all--living proof that some myths are true.
But ghosts? That was a little far-fetched even for Sandburg.
"Look at it this way, Chief. You found that skull the other day, right? Finding a thousand year old Indian skull buried in the ground isn't exactly something you do every day. Maybe you did see something last night, some kind of reflection or light from something and your mind just filled in the blanks. I mean it was dark, you were tired--not to mention this whole thing with the diamonds."
Blair took a sip from his own cup and shook his head. "I know what you're getting at, Jim. But I know what I saw. I'm not imagining it. It was there, man. I can't explain it, but it was there."
"What was there?"
Blair jumped at the voice, spilling the contents of his cup across his hand. Luckily the coffee was merely lukewarm, saving him from a nasty burn. Jim stifled a laugh as Whitefeather approached the table and took a seat next to Blair. Sandburg threw his friend a dirty look before turning to glare at Whitefeather.
"Didn't your mother ever teach you it was rude to sneak up on people?"
Whitefeather simply shrugged, and smiled innocently. "I'm an Indian. It's what we do."
Before Blair could respond, Jim grabbed another cup and poured Whitefeather some coffee. "Don't mind him, John." Jim nodded his head toward Blair as he set the cup on the table and resumed his seat. "He just woke up on the wrong side of the tent this morning."
Blair mimicked his friend softly under his breath, causing both officers to chuckle.
"So," Jim continued, turning his attention to Whitefeather, "what brings you out here so early?"
"I got a call last night from the Albuquerque police." That statement got their attention "Seems you were right. Their expert confirmed the diamonds Blair found were ones stolen in the robbery. They alerted the insurance company and they're sending someone out here this morning to talk to Blair and check out the site."
Jim nodded, his gaze traveling back to his partner. "Looks like we've got another problem, too." He quickly explained about the vandalism to the dig site.
Whitefeather nodded as if it was old news. "The Professor had mentioned having some minor vandalism out here for the last few weeks, but nothing on this scale."
"Really?" Jim eyebrows rose in surprise. "He never mentioned it to us, did he Chief?"
Blair frowned and shook his head. "No. Tim said something about certain areas getting messed up a few times, but it seemed like they were just chalking it up to the nocturnal animals in the area."
Whitefeather shrugged. "Like I said, it was nothing major."
"Well I think we may have moved into the big leagues," Jim said. "I was just going to check the area out. Care to join me?"
"Let's go." Whitefeather rose from his chair and started toward the front of the tent. Jim's attention remaining on his still-seated partner.
"You coming, Chief?"
"Uh, no." Blair glanced at Whitefeather's retreating form and lowered his voice to a whisper. "Unless you think you'll need to use your senses."
Jim looked toward the front of the tent, where the tribal policeman stood patiently waiting. "Probably not." He would rather have Blair with him in case he needed to use his senses. The younger man gave him confidence in his abilities. He trusted him to keep him balanced and knew that if he extended himself too far, Blair would be able to reel him back in. He had learned quite a bit about control and could use his senses more and more without drawing any undue attention to himself, but he was still uncomfortable. Unfortunately, he also knew Blair was still shaken up from the night's activities. Whether he wanted Blair with him or not, it wouldn't be fair to force him to put his own doubts and fears aside just to help Jim contend with his. "We'll check it out the old fashioned way for now. If I get anything, we can go back later."
Blair nodded, his gaze focused on the cup in his hands. Jim watched him for a moment, reading the uncertainty on Blair's expressive face. He walked around the end of the table and leaned downclose to him. "You okay, Chief?"
Blair looked up, a hesitant smile on his face. "Yeah, man. I'm fine. Just a little tired and a lot weirded out."
Jim laughed, glad his friend hadn't lost his sense of humor. He placed a hand on Blair's shoulder and gave it a light squeeze. "Should be familiar territory."
Blair managed a laugh, his smile genuine this time. "Good point. Just look at the company I keep."
"Watch it, Junior, or you'll find yourself walking back to Cascade." He patted Blair's shoulder and straightened up. "I'll catch ya later, Chief."
Blair nodded, watching Jim join Whitefeather outside the tent. The men nodded to each other and adjusted their twin Jags caps before turning toward the village. Blair stifled a chuckle, reminding himself to keep an eye on the pair for any other kinds of parallel behavior. Maybe it would serve to take his mind off everything else that was going on for a while.
"You are troubled, young Blair."
For the second time that morning, Blair jumped at the sound of a voice, spilling what was left of his coffee onto the table. He grabbed a napkin and quickly mopped it up.
"I didn't mean to startle you." Two Eagles stood across the table, his intense eyes locked with Blair's.
"Uh, it's okay," Blair stammered. "Seems to be the trend today." He tore his eyes away from the old shaman's, not comfortable with the scrutiny.
"May I join you?"
"Um, yeah, sure." Blair shrugged.
Two Eagles seated himself, his eyes never leaving Blair's face. "You have seen it."
Blair looked up in surprise. "Excuse me?"
"You have seen it," Two Eagles repeated. "What was meant for you to see."
It was way too early for word games. Blair's sleep-deprived brain was just not up to deciphering the old man's riddles.
"What I was meant to see?" he repeated softly. Blair ran a hand through his hair, absently shoving it behind his ear. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, trying to fight the growing frustration he felt. He had no idea how the old man could know about the apparition, unless.... "Have you seen it?"
Two Eagles shook his head, an almost wistful smile ghosting across his face. "No."
Blair studied his hands. "I don't know what I saw."
"Yes, you do."
Blair shook his head. The certainty of just a moment ago was gone, replaced by doubt and skepticism. "Jim's right. It must have been a trick of the light or a reflection or something. What I saw just isn't possible."
Two Eagles shrugged and leaned closer. "Who are we to determine what is and isn't possible?"
"Some things just aren't possible," Blair argued. "Some things just can't be."
"Why?" the shaman asked. "Because we say they can't? Open your mind, young Blair. You will never discover your destiny until you are able to see what is around you." Two Eagles raised his head to look down his nose at the younger man. "You are who you have always been. You have only to realize it."
"A shaman," Blair said quietly. He had never said the word aloud since the night Incacha died. He looked at the old man, his eyes imploring. "Is that why I was the one who heard it and not Jim?"
Two Eagles nodded. "Perhaps."
Blair nodded, not thrilled with the path the conversation was taking. A shaman? He had managed to push Incacha's dubious affirmation into the dark recesses of his mind. He had joked about being the Shaman of the Great City, but never had he actually taken it seriously. What did he know about being a shaman? He was a scientist. He based his conclusions on hard data.
But, even as he argued his ability, a part of him knew it was true. Incacha had seen it. Jim had seen it. Even Two Eagles had seen it. Why was it that Blair was the only one who had never realized?
"I don't know how to be a shaman."
Two Eagles smiled and placed a wrinkled hand over Blair's. "There is no right or wrong. You must follow your heart. You must trust in yourself."
"Easier said than done," Blair quipped.
"The path is never easy." Two Eagles returned his smile. "If it was, everyone would choose it."
After freshening up, Blair headed out to the dig site, only to be met halfway by Jim and John Whitefeather, wearing identical grim expressions.
"I take it you didn't find anything?"
Jim shook his head. "Nothing. There were quite a few footprints, but for all we know they could have been made by the workers on the dig. John is going to check the surrounding are for any tire tracks but -" He abruptly stopped his narration and turned to look back toward the camp.
"What?" Blair asked, craning his neck to see the distant camp.
"Looks like something is going on," Jim explained. "Come on."
As they entered the camp, Blair could see the Professor and Tim speaking with two men in suits. Professor Hicks noticed their approach and motioned them over.
"Good morning, Detective." Lt. Andrew Pike shook Jim's hand. He nodded toward Whitefeather, who returned the gesture.
"What brings you out into the desert so early, Lieutenant?" Jim asked, giving the man who had accompanied Pike a quick glance.
"I called John last night to let him know I'd be bringing Mr. Millens out here this morning."
Jim nodded. "He told us." He turned slightly, gesturing toward Blair. "This is my associate, Blair Sandburg. He's the one who found the diamonds."
After all the introductions were made, the men moved out to the site where Blair had uncovered the diamonds. Although the refuse pit had been partially excavated, Blair was able to show them where he found the diamonds. Quickly gathering their statements as well as photographing the area, the insurance investigator left with Blair to retrieve the other two diamonds while the three policemen waited near the mess tent.
"The professor was telling me about the vandalism you had last night." Pike lit a cigarette and leaned back against the edge of a table. "Any idea who did it?"
Whitefeather shook his head. "We checked the area out, but there's no sign of any intruder."
"Do you think it could be connected to the diamonds?" Jim asked. "Maybe someone was looking for them."
Pike nodded. "It's possible. The insurance company stopped payment on the check to Martin this morning pending any further evidence in the case. He certainly raised hell on the phone to my Captain this morning, who subsequently passed it on to me."
Jim smiled in sympathy. "It usually flows downhill."
Pike took another drag off the cigarette and squinted through the rising smoke. "Unfortunately, your friend finding a few diamonds in the desert isn't going to be enough to sway the DA into reopening the case."
Jim's mind was turning. "John, this red clay out here. Is it prevalent all around this area?"
Whitefeather nodded. "Out here in the desert, yeah. But it's pretty far under the surface. The only reason you can see it now is because of the professor's dig. Why?"
Jim turned back to Pike, his brow furrowing as he concentrated on the memory. "When I met Martin at the resort, there was something that didn't fit. A smell of some kind." His eyes widened as the picture became clearer. "It was the mud. I smelled the clay on his shoes. And I remember seeing it on the bottoms when he fell."
Pike shrugged. "So he had mud on his shoes. What are you getting at?"
"John said the dig site had been vandalized before."
Whitefeather nodded in agreement. "The professor told me about some minor damage, areas being dug up, stuff like that. He just figured it was coyotes or something."
"What if it wasn't?"
Pike was following Jim's line of thought.
"You think maybe Martin has been coming out here, trying to find those diamonds?"
Jim shrugged. "I think it's possible. It's been a while since they were stolen, and if someone did bury them out here until the heat was off, they probably didn't expect the entire area to be excavated."
"The whole area does look a lot different now because of the archeologists," Whitefeather admitted. "He could be right, Pike."
Pike rubbed his cheek in thought. "Maybe. But it still isn't enough to take to the D.A."
"Maybe not," Jim was forced to agree. "But if Martin has been out here, odds are he'll try again."
"I could put a watch on him," Pike offered. "My captain would have a fit, but I suppose I could find a couple men willing to help out."
"I think you have two right here." Jim raised his eyes to Whitefeather, who nodded at the silent request.
"Okay," Pike relented after a few moments. "Meet me back at the station and we'll try to track Martin down. You two keep an eye on him--discreetly. You let me know if Martin makes a move. But you get spotted and I don't know you, you got it?"
Jim smiled. "I think we can stay out of sight."
Blair and Millens approached the group, Millens carefully tucking an envelope into his briefcase. "I think I have everything I need here, Lieutenant." He turned and shook Blair's hand. "Thank you Mr. Sandburg. If we need anything else, we can contact you?"
"Yeah, sure. You can get ahold of me through the University or the Cascade PD."
The insurance investigator nodded to the other men and moved off toward the distant vehicles.
"So," Blair began as soon as the visitors were out of earshot. "You two definitely look like you've been plotting."
Jim gave him an expression of pure innocence. "Who, us?" He smiled broadly, slapping Blair lightly on the shoulder. "You've got a suspicious mind, Chief."
"Yeah, it's from hanging around cops for too long. Spill it, Jim."
Ellison exchanged a sardonic smile with Whitefeather. "Fine, Sherlock. John and I are going to do a little recon work on one Edward Martin."
"You're gonna spy on him." Blair interpreted.
"We're gonna spy on him," Jim admitted. "I think he may be the one responsible for what's been happening out here. He's looking for the diamonds."
"But he doesn't know where they are, because the site has changed so much since the professor's dig began," Blair concluded. "You're sure it's Martin?"
Jim nodded. "Positive. We just have to prove it." He motioned for Whitefeather to precede him to the battered old Ford. "Keep your eyes and ears open, Chief."
"Like they're going to close anytime soon."
Jim smiled in sympathy. "Yeah." He tossed his jacket over his shoulder and turned to follow Whitefeather. "Oh, and Chief." He paused a moment, glancing back over his shoulder. "No answering strange calls from decapitated ghosts tonight. You hear me?"
"Yes, mom." Blair glared at him. "I don't plan on setting foot outside the tent after sundown. Just be careful, man."
"You, too, buddy."
The rest of the afternoon was uneventful. Blair was exhausted by the time the sun started to sink behind the distant mountains.
"I don't know about you, Blair, but I am absolutely beat." Tim slumped down against a large stone and took a long drink from his canteen.
Blair nodded in agreement, wearily placing his tools in their proper boxes. "I don't know if I even have the energy to eat."
One of the Navajo workers passed on his way back to the camp, whispering to himself while keeping a wary eye on Blair.
Blair shook his head, having been the recipient of the same cautious look from most of the Indian workers throughout the day. "Man, I wish I knew what the hell I did."
Blair finished with the tools and took the canteen Tim offered. "The Navajos, man. They've been giving me this weird look all day. None of them has even come near me. It's like I've got some kind of plague or something."
"Maybe you just need a shower." Tim chuckled.
Blair couldn't help but laugh in response. "Yeah. That'll teach me to work all day in the desert without my Right Guard, huh?"
Tin slapped him on the shoulder and pushed himself up. "Well, come on then, Pepe LePew. Let's go hit the showers. Maybe that'll give us enough energy to chew our food."
Blair accepted the outstretched hand and allowed Tim to pull him to his feet. "I'm surrounded by comedians," he grumbled as they headed back toward camp.
Jim stifled a yawn and glanced at his watch for the hundredth time. 11:15. Damn. This was getting them nowhere. He and Whitefeather had managed to track Martin down at his office and follow him back to his large mansion in an upscale suburban neighborhood. Since then, they had sat in Whitefeather's Ford, one block down, keeping an eye on the house.
"This is the part of police work that never makes it into the cop shows," Whitefeather commented, moving his six-foot-two frame into a more comfortable position.
Jim chuckled in agreement. "Doubt if many people are eager to tune in to watch two guys yawn and stare out the windows."
"Sounds like a winner to me." John turned to Jim, casting a curious eye on the Cascade detective. "Mind if I ask you a question?"
Jim shrugged, his attention still on Martin's distant house. "As long as it's not about my receding hairline or my dubious taste in women."
John smiled, shaking his head emphatically. "No, no. Those are your own problems, ones which I can hardly relate to anyway." He smiled innocently at Jim's look of doubt, tossing his long black ponytail over his shoulder with an elaborate gesture. "Seriously, I was wondering how a big city police detective winds up with a long-haired, very vocal civilian archeologist for a partner."
"Anthropologist," Jim corrected automatically. He shrugged again, not really sure of what to say. He'd had to explain his and Blair's relationship before, but suspected Whitefeather wasn't going to buy the usual story. "Sandburg needed a research subject for his doctoral dissertation. I was between partners. The kid was granted a ride along and he helped us out on a few tough cases. He gives us a new way of looking at things--albeit a strangely warped Sandburgian way of looking at things. But it's worked so far."
"And somewhere along the line you became friends?"
Jim looked over in surprise. "Yeah. I guess you could say that. One day he was just an annoying ride-a-long spouting inane theories and ridiculous ideas, and the next--he suddenly started making sense. Made me take a step back and see the shades of grey in between the black and white I'd become accustomed to." He smiled a little at the memories of their rocky beginnings. "We've both learned a little from each other." He shrugged. "Maybe Sandburg has lost a little innocence because of what he's seen, but maybe I've gained a little because of what he's allowed me to see."
"That's quite a gift."
Jim chuckled, suddenly embarrassed at his display of affection. "Sandburg? A gift? Maybe more of a booby prize."
John jerked his head as a car approached the Martin residence. "Looks like we may have a party crasher."
The two men unconsciously ducked lower in the seat as the car turned into the driveway of the large brick house. As soon as it slowed to a stop, the driver's door opened and a man stepped out. He was dressed in a dark trenchcoat even though the temperature was still near 70 degrees.
"Well, I'll be damned," Whitefeather breathed as he held the binoculars to his face.
"What?" Jim focused his vision on the new arrival, a slight man with thinning silver hair. The man glanced around nervously as he moved toward the front door of the house and rang the bell.
"That's Captain Wallace," Whitefeather announced, handing the field glasses to Jim.
"Pike's boss?" Jim's eyebrows shot up in surprise as he accepted the binoculars and adjusted them to focus in on the man. "What the hell is he doing here?"
They watched as Martin opened the door, obviously none to pleased to see the police captain on his doorstep. Glancing back quickly into the house, Martin pushed the policeman away from the lighted porch and back to his car in the dimly lit driveway.
"Man, I wish we could hear what they were saying," Whitefeather grumbled.
Keeping the binoculars to his eyes, Jim focused his hearing on the conversation between the two men up the block.
"... you doing here? You know it's too risky for us to be seen together. Especially after all this fuss about those diamonds that kid found in the desert."
"Just shut up and listen to me, Martin. I just wanted to make sure you didn't do anything stupid. Pike doesn't have anything that would give the DA any reason to reopen the case. As long as we just lay low and keep our cool, everything will go as planned. You'll get the insurance payment, we'll fence the diamonds and we'll all be richer for the experience."
Martin ran a hand across his face. "But what about that kid?"
"What about him? The insurance company has already talked to him. All he knows is that he found a couple stones in the desert. They haven't turned up anything else."
"But what if they do? Those diamonds are out there, Wallace. What if they find them?"
Wallace sighed in exasperation. "Then we'll deal with that if and when the time comes."
Martin poked a finger into his chest. "I'll deal with it now! I'm not about to lose millions of dollars to some shovel happy college student. Those diamonds are mine, Wallace, and I'm getting them back."
Wallace's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "What have you done, Martin?"
Martin stepped back, staring down his nose at the other man. "I took out an insurance policy. If you're right, the insurance company will have no choice but to pay off the claim tomorrow as scheduled. And I plan to have the diamonds in my hand as well."
"What did you do?" Wallace growled.
Martin hesitated at the sudden anger in the other man's voice, but stood his ground defiantly. "I sent a man out to the dig site with orders to do whatever he has to to get those diamonds."
"You idiot!" Wallace exploded. "Why couldn't you just let me handle things?"
"Because letting you handle things is what got us into this mess to begin with!"
Jim lowered the binoculars, wincing at the escalating volume of the voices up the street.
"We have to get back to the dig site."
Whitefeather looked at him in confusion, but started the truck and shifted into gear. "What? Why? I thought you wanted to nail Martin?"
Jim pulled out his cell phone and punched in some numbers. "I do. But Martin sent someone out to the site to get the diamonds. He knows who Sandburg is and he's got orders to do whatever is necessary to retrieve the stones." He directed his attention to the phone as the line was picked up. "Yes, this is Detective Jim Ellison. I need to reach Detective Pike. It's urgent."
Blair punched the pillow, trying in vain to find a comfortable position on the cot. He was dead tired, yet sleep eluded him. He mind just wouldn't rest, the events of the evening looping over and over through his head.
As soon as he and Tim had cleaned up and dragged their weary bodies to the mess tent, they had found themselves watching a strange scene between the Professor and the leaders of the Navajo workers. The men were telling the professor they were leaving. They could not work where the spirits did not want them. They had stopped the conversation when Blair entered, the Indians staring at him with the same look of awe and fear he had been experiencing all day. Blair suddenly felt like a very small fish in a very large fishbowl.
"What's going on?"
The professor had merely sighed as the Indian workers turned, gathered their packs and headed out of camp.
"Where are they going?" Tim had joined them by this time and the three of them stood watching as the Navajos disappeared into the quickly falling darkness.
"They're frightened," Hicks explained. "After finding that skull and what happened the other night, they're convinced the spirits are angry because we're disturbing their resting place." The professor looked sadly across the camp to where the last of the workers were stepping out of the faint light thrown by the campfire. "I guess I can't really blame them. They are a deeply religious people. Their beliefs are not something to mess with."
"I'm sorry," Blair said softly, not able to contain the guilt in his voice. "This is all my fault."
Tim placed a hand on Blair's shoulder. "Don't be ridiculous, Blair."
"He's right, my boy," Hicks threw him a grim smile. "What's done is done. I can't find any reason to place blame on you." He looked up at his two young colleagues and took a deep breath. "Why don't we have some supper and turn in for the night? I'm sure everything will look better in the morning."
Blair squeezed his eyes shut in frustration. He couldn't help but think this was all his fault. If he hadn't found those diamonds, if he hadn't found the skull, if he hadn't told anyone about what he saw in the village.... Better yet, if he had just stayed in Cascade, none of this would ever have happened. He and Jim would be happily chasing down some hardened criminal, Professor Hicks' workers would still be on the job, Jim would never have gotten involved with this Martin character and everything would be just peachy.
This really sucked.
He punched the pillow again, this time more out of anger than frustration. Pushing himself up, he tossed off the sleeping bag. Sitting on the edge of the cot, he leaned forward and placed his elbows on his knees, resting his weary head in his hands. Why did everything always have to get so complicated? Why couldn't things just go smoothly for once? Huh? Would that be so much to ask? Just once, he would like to have something turn out just the way it was supposed to. No surprises, no hidden bad guys, no strange twists of fate to swoop in and turn everything upside down. Just a nice, normal day.
Blair chuckled at the thought. Right. Blair Sandburg: just another normal guy. Normal? How normal was hanging around a bunch of cops who thought getting shot at was a perfectly acceptable part of their job; being raised by a mother who was a dyed-in-the-wool hippie who never got the message that the '60's came to an end; or dedicating his life to proving the existence of mythical warriors who could see, hear, smell, taste and touch far beyond the scope of any other human being on the face of the planet?
He sighed and pushed his hair behind his ears. Nope. Normal was for wimps. Give him the strange and bizarre any day.
Blair smiled softly as he looked around the empty tent. His eyes fell on the clock illuminated under the soft glow of the lantern.
He frowned as he considered the empty bunk next to him. Jim must still be tailing Martin. He felt a flicker of worry creep into his mind, and quickly told himself Jim was a big boy. He'd been on stakeouts before and he wouldn't do anything "sense-wise" that would get him into trouble.
Still, maybe he should have tagged along. He hadn't been much help to Jim lately, being preoccupied with the dig and the skull and the diamonds and all this shaman stuff floating around in his head. Jim had obviously sensed his need to just focus on the dig, to clear his mind of all the baggage for a while and had not pressed the issue. Besides, Blair trusted Whitefeather to look after his partner. He might not know about Jim's Sentinel abilities, but he was a good man, and Blair somehow knew he wouldn't let anything happen to Jim.
"Man, I have got to get some sleep," he whispered out loud. He turned back to the cot to straighten the sleeping bag he had tossed away earlier. Faint sounds carried across the wind.
"A-ya yee hiya wutchisee, a-ya yo unnee yomanee...."
Blair froze, his breath hitching in his throat , his heart beginning to pound. His eyes slowly moved to the tent flap as the eerie chant wafted across the distance again.
"A-ya yee hiya wutchisee, a-ya yo unnee yomanee...."
Blair took a deep breath and forced himself to stand. Very slowly, he moved toward the tent flap, peeking out into the silent darkness of the camp. The small fire in the central pit still burned, dancing in the wind as the orange embers shot into the sky, disappearing only seconds after their escape from the confines of the flames. He squinted as he looked beyond the fire, noting the soft glow coming from the direction of the dig.
"Shit," he swore softly. Why him? Why now?
"A-ya yee hiya wutchisee, a-ya yo unnee yomanee...."
"Yeah, yeah," he sighed quietly, "I'm coming."
Blair carefully made his way across the camp, his nerves on edge, jumping at every sound escaping the ring of darkness surrounding him. As he neared the dig, he saw a familiar form silhouetted against the faint glow from beyond.
"Tim?" he called in a loud whisper. The grad student was still quite a few yards off and did not respond. He didn't even move. He remained silent and still, perched on his knees, his head bent low.
"Tim?" Blair called again as he approached, not wanting to startle him. He reached out a hand toward Tim's shoulder and shook him slightly. "What the hell are you doing out --" Tim slumped to the ground, landed heavily on his side, and rolled onto his back, his eyes closed, his features lax. A large, dark stain spread from the right side of Tim's chest.
"Oh God! No!" Blair fell to his knees beside him, quickly placing a trembling hand on his neck, desperately searching for a pulse. "Thank God." Blair squeezed his eyes shut against the sudden sting of tears. Tim was alive. Blair could feel a faint but steady pulse, and he bowed his head as an intense feeling of relief washed over him. A soft moan caught his attention and he focused his eyes on Tim's face, elated to see the man stirring to consciousness.
"Tim? Hey, man, come on. Wake up. You're scaring the hell out of me."
He was rewarded with a fluttering of eyelids and another soft moan.
"That's it, man. Come on. Open your eyes."
Tim struggled to follow the order and cracked his eyes open, focusing after a few seconds on Blair.
"Don't worry," Blair soothed. "You're gonna be okay." He pulled at the blood-soaked shirt, grimacing at the obviously painful wound. "I'm gonna get some help. Just--"
Before he could finish, Tim's eyes opened wide. "Blair!"
The fearful focus of Tim's eyes and a scuffling sound behind made Blair turn. He saw the butt of the rifle coming at him, followed by a brief yet intense flash of pain. Then the darkness rushed in.
Whitefeather pulled the old Ford up behind a white sedan parked just off the side of the old desert highway.
"That's Pike's car," Whitefeather announced.
Jim scanned the area, hearing and seeing nothing out of the ordinary and slowly opened the passenger side door. He slipped around the front end of the pickup, and focused his senses on the sedan. The smell of blood was strong and Jim shot a look of caution to Whitefeather, who had also disembarked from the cab and stealthily joined Jim near the rear fender.
Both policemen instinctively pulled their weapons and cautiously made their way toward the driver's door.
"Damn," Jim sighed as the body came into view. Lt. Pike was slumped forward, his chin resting on his chest. Partially dried blood trailed from a single bullet hole in his temple, unnaturally dark in the light of the nearly full moon above.
Whitefeather leaned against the car, his head bowed. "What was Pike doing out here alone?"
Jim shrugged and placed his gun firmly into its holster. "Probably the same thing we were: tailing one of Martin's goons."
Whitefeather looked at Jim, his dark eyes squinting through the moonlight. "How did you know?"
Jim shook his head. "About Pike? I didn't. I just figured if Martin wanted everything cleaned up, he would have to send someone out here to find those diamonds. If he didn't know where they were, he would find the one person who he thought did."
Jim nodded, his attention directed toward the dig site. "I figure whoever took out Pike is looking for those diamonds. If he finds Sandburg...."
"But Sandburg doesn't know where the diamonds are."
Jim turned a grim face to Whitefeather. "We know that, but do you think Martin's goon is going to believe it?"
John shook his head slowly. "I see your point. Your friend is in deep trouble."
Jim simply nodded before heading out across the desert toward the camp.
Blair slowly became aware of a ringing in his ears and a rough texture beneath his cheek. The sounds of digging wafted toward him and he forced his eyes open. Squinting into the darkness, he blinked a few times to clear his fuzzy vision, bringing the scene before him into hazy focus. A lone lantern threw a faint pool of light toward a burly man wearing dark jeans and a dirty white T-shirt. The man was mumbling to himself as he scooped the dirt from around the dais with a small shovel. Moving his head slightly, Blair saw Tim lying in the shadows near the edge of the lantern's light. He had to squint--the blow to his head made focusing difficult--but he thought he could make out the slow rise and fall of Tim's chest. He was still alive. Blair just hoped he would stay that way.
Blair took stock of his own position. He lay on his side about three feet from the center dais. His wrists were secured behind his back with what felt like duct tape, and another piece was planted across his mouth, making it difficult to breathe. His head was beginning to pound and he felt slightly nauseous, but didn't think he had sustained any other injuries. The muscles in his shoulder were starting to go numb from the weight of his body, so he slowly pushed himself onto his back, a low moan escaping as the tense muscles protested the movement.
He didn't notice the digging had stopped until a booted foot connected with his side. Wincing, he glared up at the man, breathing heavily through his nose as he attempted to control his rolling stomach.
"Morning, sunshine," the man drawled, squatting down next to him. "Guess I didn't hit you too hard after all."
Blair closed his eyes and tried to get himself under control.
"Hey." The man slapped him across the cheek, jarring his already aching head up a notch. "Time to wake up, boy. I got a job to do and I need you to help me do it."
He grabbed the front of Blair's shirt and roughly hauled him to his feet. Blair squeezed his eyes shut as the world dipped alarmingly and bile rose in his throat. Deciding that throwing up while gagged was not an option he would like to explore, Blair forced himself to breathe deeply and slowly. After a few moments he was able to open his eyes, the world staying thankfully on an even keel.
"That's better," the man said, pounding a meaty palm on Blair's shoulder. He smiled, revealing a row of uneven teeth. "Now, what do you say you show me where those diamonds are."
Blair grunted and thrust his chin up.
Understanding the non-verbal message, the man grabbed the duct tape and ripped it from Blair's mouth.
"Ow!" The new pain brought tears to his eyes. "Why the hell did you have to do that?"
The burly man just chuckled in response. "So what do you say, boy? You gonna make this easy on both of us and tell me where you found those diamonds? Or you gonna make me beat it out of you?"
Blair shook his head slowly, not bothering to look up. "All I found were three loose diamonds in the dirt, man. I don't know where the rest are."
The burly man shook his head, clucking his tongue in mock remorse. "Too bad, boy. I was hoping we could get through this without any bloodshed."
Blair turned his head toward Tim before gracing his captor with an icy glare. "A little late for that, don't you think?"
A cold smile broke across the man's face. "Your friend was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Simple as that."
"He needs a doctor."
The burly man stepped closer, the foul smell of his breath making Blair's stomach roll again.
"So will you if you don't tell me what I want to know. Now," the man continued, his voice taking on a conversational tone, "where are the rest of the diamonds."
Blair just shook his head. "I told you, I don't know."
Burly sighed and rubbed his head. "Well, looks like we're gonna do this the hard way."
A sudden backhand to the face caught Blair by surprise. He fell sideways, his aching shoulder taking the brunt of the impact. Before he could regain his equilibrium, he was again pulled roughly to his feet, the man's strong hands tightening around his biceps.
"I ain't got all night. Just tell me where the diamonds are and I'll make this quick."
"I told you," Blair said, his voice shaking as he fought to clear his head. "I don't know."
"Wrong answer." The man pushed hard, sending Blair backwards. Blair tried to keep his feet beneath him, but caught his heel on the edge of the dais. He fell heavily against the edge of the platform, caving in a large piece of the pedestal. A surge of wind whipped through his hair, and he yelped in surprise as the now familiar chant assaulted his ears.
"A-ya yee hiya wutchisee, a-ya yo unnee yomanee...."
The voice was different somehow. Closer. Stronger.
A startled gasp made him look up and he saw the burly man looking around, his eyes darting from shadow to shadow.
"A-ya yee hiya wutchisee, a-ya yo unnee yomanee...."
"What the hell was that?" The burly man didn't wait for an answer. He grabbed Blair, pulling him to his feet and placed one arm securely around his neck, trying to hide behind him. "I don't know what kind of game you're playing," he shouted into the darkness. "But you'd better show yourself or I'll snap his neck."
Blair struggled momentarily, but the arm across his windpipe was beginning to cut off his air supply.
"There's nobody there, man," he rasped. For some reason, the voice didn't seem as frightening to him this time. There was probably some deep shamanistic reason for that, but he decided right now was not the most opportune time to deal with it. He could take the time to rationalize it all later.
"Right." Blair's captor tightened his hold and swung around nervously, trying to see through the darkness around them. The wind continued to twist around them, kicking up dust and dirt that swirled in the dim light of the lantern. Blair wasn't frightened by the voice, but he was scared to death of what this large, nervous man might do to him. A cold shiver ran up his spine; he could feel his heart racing. The burly man was breathing heavily, sweat beginning to break out on his skin as he backed up toward the edge of the village, dragging his human shield with him.
"I'm telling you, man, there's nobody out there!"
"Shut up!" The man smacked a beefy hand hard against the side of Blair's head and was rewarded with the silence he requested.
The arm encircling his throat was no longer tight enough to choke him, but the last blow to his head had made him dizzy and he felt his knees starting to buckle. He tried to remain upright, hoping for a chance to make a run for it.
"A-ya yee hiya wutchisee, a-ya yo unnee yomanee...."
"That's it. I'm out of here."
Blair nearly collapsed when the pressure around his neck suddenly disappeared, only to be replaced by a rough hand on his bicep.
As they turned toward the darkness surrounding the village, the wind picked up, blowing the debris around, forming a wall between them and the desert. Unable to stand against the stronger force of the wind, the man lost his grip on Blair and both men fell to the ground.
The wind whipped his hair across his face and Blair curled into a ball, squeezing his eyes tightly closed. The last thing he saw was his captor flung across the ground, back toward the center dais.
Whitefeather followed Ellison across the desert, amazed at the man's ability to keep his footing over the uneven ground. They had moved at a brisk pace since they found Pike's body by the edge of the desert road, Ellison's speed an indication of his worry for his friend. He couldn't help but wonder about the strange connection between the two men. He had heard Ellison's explanation, but still found himself believing there was something deeper that held these two vastly different people together. It was almost as if they had some kind of spiritual connection. His people had always believed in the power of the spirits-- of the living as well as the dead.
He had dreamed last night. Dreamed of the spirits. They had told him there was something very special about these two strangers. Something he was not meant to understand. They had told him it was his responsibility to ensure their safety while they were among his people. He could allow no harm to come to them.
Was that why he had believed Ellison when he had told him his theory about the diamonds and their connection to Martin? He was a good cop and usually didn't buy into a story quite so easily. But something had made him believe. Something had made him certain Ellison was right. Then the spirits had come and he had learned his place in all this was to keep them safe.
Ellison stopped, his eyes searching across the dark distance.
"Can you hear that?"
They were still a good ways from the camp, but in the stillness of the desert, the strange sound of driving wind carried across the distance.
He nodded his acknowledgment, receiving a look of surprise from the Cascade detective. "I can hear the wind howling, but the desert night is still. I don't understand."
Jim shook his head. "Neither do I, but whatever is going on, I'm betting Sandburg is right in the middle of it."
The force of the wind picked up as they reached the village. They could see the dirt and debris blown about by the whirling winds inside the village, but the air outside remained cool and calm. A body on the ground caught Jim's attention and he rushed toward it, instantly recognizing Blair's friend, Tim.
Tim jumped when Jim touched him, reflexively throwing his left arm up in defense.
"Whoa, whoa!" Jim easily blocked the blow, quickly taking stock of the young man's condition. "It's Ellison and Whitefeather." He waited just a moment for recognition to sink in. "What happened? Where's Blair?"
Tim's eyes widened at his friend's name and he looked back to the swirling winds inside the village boundaries. "A guy with a gun came looking for him. He's got Blair in there."
Jim patted his good arm, turning to speak to Whitefeather. "Get him out of here. I'm going after Sandburg."
Whitefeather grabbed his arm. "You can't go in there," he said, nodding toward the swirling wind and debris. "The spirits are at work here. It is not the place of men to interfere."
Jim shook off his hand, his blue eyes hard as ice. "My friend is in there. That makes it my place."
Before Whitefeather could make an attempt to stop him, Jim dove into the maelstrom.
Jim forced himself to turn the dials way down as the sounds of the wind and debris assaulted his sensitive ears. Covering his mouth with his arm, he squinted through the flying dust, locating the prone form of his partner a few yards ahead of him.
"Sandburg!" He coughed as the dust clogged his throat, and pushed forward against the thrust of the wind until he was close enough to kneel by Blair's side.
Blair was curled into a tight ball, his knees pulled up against his chest, his arms fastened behind his back with duct tape. His face was pushed against the ground, the winds whipping his long hair about.
Movement. Jim looked up, A big man pushed himself up from the ground near the central platform of the village. Staring at Jim, the man backed up a few steps before clumsily pulling a gun from his belt.
Placing himself between the gunman and his partner, Jim pulled his own pistol and took aim. "Drop it!" he yelled over the howling winds. He wasn't sure if the man couldn't hear him or just didn't care. The gunman got a solid grip on his weapon and started to bring it up.
A large piece of the dais flew up from the ground, and slammed the gun from his hand. Before he could regain his composure, Jim launched himself across the distance, and took the man down with a diving tackle.
The struggle was brief. Jim landed a solid punch to the gunman's chin and he slumped into unconsciousness.
A howl lifted on the wind, sounding like a distant wolf. The wind quieted, leaving nothing more than a breeze in its wake. Jim swiveled his head in surprise, his eyes dancing across the destruction surrounding him. The sounds of shifting rock and sand echoed loudly in the sudden silence as the village once again became the tranquil reminder of a long forgotten people.
A shuddering breath brought his attention back to Blair, who still lay huddled on the ground a few yards away.
"Sandburg!" Jim rushed to his side, pulled off the duct tape binding his wrists and carefully rolled him onto his back.
Blair's face was a mess, making it hard to determine where the dirt ended and the bruises began. Jim carefully brushed the dark hair back from his face, placing a hand on one cheek.
"Come on, Chief. You with me? Open your eyes."
Blair complied, blinking rapidly as he tried to focus on Jim's face in the dim moonlight.
"Jim?" His voice was rough, and he grimaced as he brought a hand up to rub his throat.
"Yeah," Jim watched him intently. "You okay?"
Blair swallowed, wincing again and simply nodded. He held out an arm, and Jim slowly pulled him into a seated position. A groan escaped him, and Jim ducked his head to get a good look into Blair's eyes.
Blair nodded again. "I'm sure. Just a little sore." He looked around at the destruction caused by the winds, his eyes finally coming to rest on the burly man, now lying inert near the center dais. "What the hell just happened?"
Jim shrugged and shook his head. "Actually, I was hoping you could tell me."
Whitefeather approached, supporting a wobbly but very much alive Tim Barnes.
"Blair, man! Are you okay?"
Blair smiled as Whitefeather lowered his charge to the ground next to him. He motioned toward the blood stain on Tim's shirt. "Shouldn't I be asking you that question?"
Tim frowned at the roughness of Blair's voice, "I'll live." He grinned. "Good thing for me that guy was a bad shot."
Jim and Whitefeather moved across the plaza to the gunman, who was beginning to stir.
"I know this guy," Whitefeather said, disgust dripping from his voice. "He's a two time hood by the name of Jake Aquilera." Jim nodded, about to suggest Whitefeather call it in when a sparkle caught his eye. Broken pieces of the dais lay scattered on the ground, leaving a small cavity opened under the pedestal. He reached down into the cavity and his fingers brushed across a small, cool stone. He pushed a few more pieces aside, and a small black bag fell into view, followed by the end of what could only be a human bone.
"Hey, Chief," Jim called, not taking his eyes from the find. "I think you may want to see this."
Jake opened his eyes to see two very pissed off cops leaning over him. He recognized Whitefeather, the local Indian cop, and the no-nonsense military looking guy fit the description of Ellison, the out of town cop Martin had had the run in with at the resort.
"As I see it," Ellison began, squatting down by Jake's left side. "You have two choices. You can take the fall yourself." He rubbed his chin, looking up at Whitefeather thoughtfully. "Let's see, fraud, attempted murder, assault, attempted kidnapping.... Did I leave anything out?"
Whitefeather grinned and shook his head. "I think that covers it."
Ellison nodded and returned his attention to Jake. "Or, you can tell us everything you know about Martin and Captain Wallace and their little diamond heist."
Jake looked from one to the other, his mind quickly running through the possible scenarios. Unfortunately, they all came down to the same conclusion: he was screwed. Grimly, Jake closed his eyes, nodding his resignation to the situation.
Ellison smiled and slapped him on the leg. "Good choice."
Blair pulled the blanket tighter around him, shivering as the cool breeze tickled the hair across the back of his neck. As soon as the prisoner was secured, Jim and Whitefeather had helped Blair and Tim back to the camp, where Professor Hicks and Two Eagles were waiting. Professor Hicks had left in the ambulance with Tim, promising to get the full story. The EMT had looked at Blair, declared a bruised larynx and probable concussion, and tried to coax him into accompanying them back to the hospital.
Blair had promised to get checked out as soon as the police were through with him, knowing Jim would insist on it anyway. As he related his story to the police, his voice had gotten more hoarse, his throat more sore, until Jim had insisted he stop talking altogether. With Whitefeather taking charge of the case, the local PD had relented and agreed to get a written statement from him later.
Now he stood at the edge of the camp, watching as the first rays of the sun began to peek above the distant horizon. Professor Hicks had been excited about finding the bones along with the stolen diamonds. He had been able to quickly confirm the bones belonged to the skull Blair had found earlier. The professor had surmised the inhabitants of the village had tossed the skull out with the garbage, but must have buried the body beneath the central platform as a warning to bad spirits. Blair had wanted to bury the bones with the skull, and, after Two Eagles had agreed that it would be wise to allow the spirit of the warrior to finally rest, Hicks had relented.
Blair had watched as the old shaman chanted over the grave, lighting a torch to allow the smoke to carry the warrior's spirit up from the earth to scatter in the wind. Whitefeather had left with the Albuquerque police to coordinate the questioning of Martin's hired gunman, leaving Blair alone with Two Eagles.
"His spirit is now free to move on," Two Eagles stated, his eyes watching the smoke drift upward into the brightening sky. "You have shown your worthiness by this action."
Blair looked in confusion on the old man. "I didn't do anything."
Two Eagles turned to him, his face an odd mixture of sadness and understanding. "You have done much, young Sandburg. The warrior chose to trust in you and his trust was not misplaced. You must now learn to trust yourself. Only then will your journey be complete."
The old man rose with a grace belying his age and, without another word, moved back to the camp. Blair considered what Two Eagles had said. He hadn't really done anything at all. Sure, he'd stumbled upon the skull, and he had been the one to break the pedestal under which the ancient bones were hidden. But--could he really take the credit as the old man suggested?
"Hey, Chief." Jim's warm hand on his shoulder was a welcome intrusion. "They've pretty much got everything settled back at the camp. How about I drive you into the city and have a doctor take a look at that throat of yours, huh?"
Blair nodded. He'd known Jim wouldn't let him get away without being thoroughly checked out by a doctor, and he was too tired and too sore to argue. Luckily, Martin's hired goon had decided to roll over on his boss instead of taking the fall alone. Jim had been right about the diamond theft, and it seemed like one of New Mexico's biggest cases had finally been solved.
He glanced at Jim, noting the fatigue on the big man's face. This was supposed to have been a vacation for him, much-needed week to relax and unwind. Instead, Blair had gotten him involved in a thousand year old homicide and an unsolved investigation hundreds of miles from his jurisdiction. Some partner.
Noticing Blair's scrutiny, Jim gave him a lopsided smile, accompanied by an affectionate squeeze of his shoulder.
"The warrior chose to trust in you and his trust was not misplaced."
Two Eagles' words echoed in his head. Maybe the old man wasn't as far off as Blair had thought.
"Some vacation, huh?" Blair smiled sadly and turned back to the sunrise.
"Yeah," Jim agreed. "Next time I get a chance to take a few weeks off, remind me to just barricade myself in the loft with a dozen frozen pizzas and the complete Bonanza video library."
Blair chuckled at the thought. "Sounds like a blast, man."
"Don't knock it 'till you try it, Junior."
The sun finally peeked over the horizon, casting a soft golden hue across the barren desert landscape. As the distant rocks began to shimmer in the dawning heat of the desert, Blair could almost make out the faint outline of a tall Indian warrior, his dark hair blowing in the breeze, his hand raised in a gesture of thanks.
Blair smiled at the image, this time unconcerned with whether it was real or imagined. "The warrior chose to trust in you..." Blair had no intention of letting his warrior down.
A sudden tightening of the hand on his shoulder caused Blair to look up in concern. Jim's sight was fastened on the horizon, his eyes and mouth wide in surprise.
"Jim?" Blair turned to his partner, placing his own hand on Jim's forearm. "Hey, man, you okay? You look like you've just seen a ghost."
Jim glanced down at Blair, his brow furrowing as he brought his eyes back up to the distant horizon. Blinking a few times, his blue eyes searched the area.
"Chief, did you just see...?"
A corner of Blair's mouth lifted in a grin. "Did I see what, Jim?"
Jim pointed at the sunrise, his eyes still darting about the distance. "You didn't see... it was there...."
"What, Jim?" Blair was smiling now. He turned back to the sunrise, shrugging his shoulders. "All I see is a beautiful sunrise, man. What did you see?"
Jim squeezed his eyes shut tight for a few moments. He looked back out across the distance and shook his head. "I don't know, Chief. Maybe I need a vacation."
Blair laughed out loud and turned his partner, starting them both back toward the camp. "Sure, Jim. You get the pizzas, I'll find the video rental card."
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