– – – – –
Detective Jim Ellison could label his good and bad days based on whether or not he ran into his ex-wife before he had his first cup of coffee. The best days were when he ended up at a crime scene at the ass crack of dawn and didn’t see the office until after lunch. Four months after their divorce had finalized, she’d been offered a job in Major Crimes. Thank God divorced still equaled a personal relationship or he might have found himself partnered with the woman. It wasn’t that he hated Carolyn Plummer—well it wasn’t just that he hated her—it was that he hated her A LOT. She was abrasive, loud, and indiscreet. Unfortunately, he’d been so blinded by pussy when he’d dated and then married her that he hadn’t noticed until it was too late.
He cupped both hands around his giant mug and stared into his coffee. Today was not going to be a good day—she’d appeared by his side in the break room while he’d been waiting for the coffee to brew and then followed him to his desk. Maybe he should just give up and start visiting the Starbucks down the street from the loft before he came to work. That would solve a lot of problems for him. At least, in the short term. Carolyn had a way of totally killing a good caffeine buzz. Departmental statistics had come out in the early morning and it had become official that Jim had a ninety percent solve rate. Not only was it the highest in the city, it was probably the highest in the whole damn state.
“I just want to know how you do it.”
Jim sighed and sat back in his chair. Half the cops in the bullpen were staring now and his loud-mouthed ex-wife was to blame. He looked her dead in the eye and with his most serious face said, “I’m psychic.”
Henri Brown was the first to laugh and it was pure unadulterated amusement that poured out of the younger man’s mouth. He laughed with the kind of abandonment most adults could only aspire to and he was contagious. Soon every cop in the unit was laughing their asses off which brought their Captain, Simon Banks, out of his office to investigate.
Carolyn huffed. “It’s not funny, Jimmy. Hell, I’d say you get the easy cases, but we all know that the really fucked up ones end up on your desk. So, how do you do it? What are the rest of us missing?”
Jim knew exactly what they were missing but there was no way he was going to blurt it out. It wasn’t like he had kept the fact that he’d been identified as a latent Sentinel as a teenager a secret. He glanced towards his Captain and Simon shrugged. The biggest reason Jim had for keeping his online status a secret was that he would be asked to register and take a Guide. The last thing he wanted was a Guide. His gut clenched briefly and he went back to his coffee.
“You lost the right to pry in my business, Caro, when you decided your lawyer was a richer ride than I was.”
Carolyn flushed and crossed her arms. “That’s a little crude, Jimmy. I didn’t think you had it in you.”
“Well, I learned from the best.” Jim offered her a sincere smile and Brown started laughing again. It was no secret in the bullpen that Carolyn had sued Jim in the divorce; had tried unsuccessfully to take the trust fund his mother had left him. It hadn’t earned her any friends in the department. Divorcing a fellow cop was one thing—trying to fuck a fellow cop over was another matter altogether.
“I see dead people,” Jim responded seriously. And that wasn’t even a lie. He’d seen a couple of spirits in his time.
“Oh fuck you!” Carolyn ground out through clenched teeth and stalked away.
Simon sighed. “Jim, step into my office, will you?”
“Want some coffee?” Jim asked as he picked up the files on his pending cases and grabbed his mug.
“Nah, I’ve got a nice Arabian Mocha brewing.” Simon waved him in ahead of him and yanked the door shut behind him. He flipped the shades and then dropped into his chair. “The Chief of Police has the same questions that Plummer has. You’re out performing registered Sentinels, Jim, and it’s a problem.”
Jim sighed. “I can’t very well not solve cases, Simon. What am I supposed to do? If I register as a Sentinel—they’ll make me take a Guide.”
“Maybe it’s time you did. I know your time in Peru was difficult for you and the shaman you had there was… special but you yourself said that the two of you didn’t bond because you weren’t a complete match. That means—there is a Guide for you out there and he’s waiting, Jim. There is no telling how long he or she has waited for you.”
Jim grimaced. “Guides don’t do well in police work, Simon. You’ve seen the ones we have on the force. They’re often in the way and they slow down investigations by coddling their Sentinels. That’s why I have a higher solve rate than every Sentinel on the force—their Guides are a hindrance not a help.”
Simon chuckled. “I’d like to see the person that would try to coddle you.” He grew serious. “You’re having sensory spikes. You’ve taken four sick days in the past month—that’s more than you’ve taken in the past year until now. You zoned out on me during lunch yesterday.”
“Damn it, I know.” Jim pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. “I just… you have no idea what kind of commitment a Guide is. I was a bad husband, Simon. How can I possible inflict myself on a person who would have an empathic link to me for the rest of their life? A Sentinel-Guide bond ends at death and in some cases—the pair are so close that if one of them dies, the other follows. That is the level of commitment that is asked of a Sentinel and Guide.”
“I know. I’ve been reading up on it.” Simon sighed. “The Chief suspects and that means if he gets the slightest whiff of a verifiable rumor about you—we’ll both have our butts in a sling.”
“I told you, Simon, I’ll deny to the day I die that you knew when I came online.”
Simon chuckled. “The Chief isn’t stupid, Jim, he’ll see right through you like he was a Sentinel himself.”
“So, fine, want me to confess?” Jim crossed his arms, his ire obvious.
“Well, it sure as hell wouldn’t hurt.”
“I don’t even use my senses all that much, Simon. I really don’t have to. The only time they come in handy these days is in the interrogation room. I can’t use them in the field without a Guide and I don’t want the hassle of a Guide.”
Simon looked out his office window at the stellar view of the building across the street. The woman who had an office across from his was normally friendly enough to leave her blinds open and wave if they were both looking out at the same time. He’d once been tempted to trot over and ask her out to lunch. He just sort of kept hoping she’d beat him to it or something.
He was worried about Ellison on some level, but the promise he’d made the man kept life very difficult. Simon figured this is what he got for being friends with a subordinate. The line between friendship and work faded – became difficult to separate at times like this. Especially at times like this. If Jim were being a jackass—Simon could easily put him in his place and fast, but all he saw was the fear and worry that Jim couldn’t really hide from him.
Sentinels… so little was really known about them and their discovery had taken the world by storm one hundred and twenty years ago. Currently there were fewer than five thousand registered Sentinels in the United States—far more worldwide. Registration was slow in the US because at first Sentinels had been met with fear and, for a several weeks, intrusive government legislation. In the end, both the United Nations and Amnesty International had stepped in to protect Sentinels all over the planet. Their work, spear-headed by an international council of doctors and scientists had made it safe to be a Sentinel. Safe from government experimentation and safe from imprisonment. It had even helped create international laws to protect their rights. But that didn’t make Sentinels in countries that had lost their collective minds feel any better about stepping forward to register. Not even some fifty years after the Sentinel-Guide Protection Act had been signed into law in the United States.
“How are your senses?”
“Vision, hearing, and smell are fairly even. I’ve gathered all the non-classified information I could get from the Sentinel-Guide Center about controlling myself in an urban environment. I’ve been able to combine those techniques with the ones the shaman taught me in Peru. It’s been very helpful. Touch and taste sometimes spike out of control—they are my problem areas—always have been. I practically went naked in Peru just so I could be comfortable.”
Simon smirked. “As much as I’m sure some of these knuckleheads would like that—I’d prefer you stay dressed at work.”
“Yeah, just so you know I’m a nudist at home.” Jim chuckled and then sighed. “Simon, I don’t want to get you into trouble. I really don’t. With Carolyn all up in my business about my solve-rate, I know people are talking and she’s speculating. That I’ve been able to keep it to myself for ten months was something of a minor miracle, you know. I can tell them I emerged in Peru but repressed all of it when I came back to the States—which is true and that they only recently started to come back to me but I still don’t have many clear memories of my time in Peru. Some latent Sentinels start using their gifts without realizing it—only to spike or zone out and be discovered.”
“Plummer is just jealous. This is the first year she hasn’t had the highest solve rate for the precinct. She’s never beat out the entire city before.” Simon sighed. “She tried to get you pushed back to Vice when she came out of homicide and into Major Crimes. Said that your past would make work situations difficult, and cited her superior record as a reason to keep her and toss you back to Vice.”
Jim chuckled. “Well, that explains the mood this morning. I suppose I didn’t help matters by telling her I was psychic and that I saw dead people.”
“No, but you made Brown laugh his ass off and that put everyone in the bullpen but her in a good mood and you can’t buy a morale booster like that.”
“The second one wasn’t even a lie,” Jim admitted. “It’s a Sentinel intuition thing—I’ve never seen a victim or anything. At least not yet, but I have seen spirits, ghosts.”
“I read that Sentinels could do that.” Simon shuddered. “I prefer to think that part of the deal is all hocus-pocus. Please leave me with my illusions.”
“Understood, sir.” Jim waved the files he still had in his hand. “Want an update?”
“Yeah, that is actually why you are in here.”
– – – – –
“Naomi, we are not having this discussion again.” Dr. Blair Sandburg fastened his ankle holster and checked the position of his back-up weapon. “I’ve been in the FBI for nearly six years, you know. This isn’t new. Why are we having this conversation again? We’ve had it every six months since I graduated from the academy.”
“Because you’re still doing it! You’re still carrying a gun. You’re still putting on a badge!”
“Look, I’ve never pulled my weapon in the line of duty. I probably never will. Most of my work is in an office. I study crime scenes, create profiles, and sometimes I excavate old crime scenes in the search of evidence when all that is left is bones. I reconstruct the lives of people who were taken before their time—it’s my job. It’s me using my degrees in a real way to help people right now. It gives families closure.” He closed his eyes as he said. “Because not everyone can detach with love.” Blair ignored her in-take of breath, pulled his satchel over his shoulder, and then picked up his duffle. “I have a plane to catch, so we can drive to the airport together.”
“Where are you going?”
“I can’t discuss it. It’s an on-going case.”
Two hours, and one insanely long lecture on the evils of “the man” later Blair was on his way to Atlanta, GA. A string of child murders had the city near a melting point and, considering the history of the city, that wasn’t much of a surprise. Six dead little girls were represented in the case files he’d been given as he’d boarded the private jet that would take him to Atlanta. The crime scene photos were vivid, nightmarish, and every bit as revealing as he knew they would be. His on-sight presence was more of a political thing than anything else but it was good to get out of his office and speak head on with the cops he worked with.
A uniformed cop picked up him, none of the usual banter came and after reading the files Blair understood. Every cop in the city must be feeling the pain and the frustration of this case so he wasn’t surprised when he found that the briefing was full. The entire metro area of Atlanta was gearing up for a man-hunt and that was not a good situation in this instance.
He’s spoken briefly with the Chief of Police, and now he was standing in front of two hundred angry, frustrated cops. He almost wished he had his mother back bitching about his gun and his career and not so gently inferring that he was a ‘pig’. He forced himself to find his center, clear his mind so that he could focus, and thumbed on the digital recorder that he kept in his shirt pocket. It was for his personal research, as each profile he provided was unique and he studied himself as much as he studied the killers he profiled.
“Good afternoon, my name is Dr. Blair Sandburg and I am a criminal profiler and forensic anthropologist for the FBI. I am prepared to give you a preliminary profile on the UNSUB but I would remind you that a profile is a guideline and not an absolute.” He purposely shoved both hands into his pockets. If he didn’t, he would end up twirling his hair like a little girl and wouldn’t that look professional?
“What is your accuracy rate, Doc?”
Blair flushed. The question came from a detective he’d met briefly when he entered the room. The man was very attractive and while he hadn’t acted poorly—he’d made it clear he was interested personally. “There is a five percent chance what I’m about to tell you is absolutely wrong.”
The detective raised an eyebrow. “I can deal with five percent, Doc. Talk to me.” The cops around him agreed with a series of soft mumbles.
“The UNSUB is single, he’s never been married, finds adult women intimidating, lived with his mother, the father was absent from his life at an early age. The only females he’s ever been able to relate to have been very young and that probably stems from his own childhood. Once he hit puberty, he would have had a hard time relating to girls his own age and older. He works a menial job, did not finish high school, has no real skills, and likely has a history of leaving jobs without notice. He’s considered listless, difficult to manage, and past employers probably found him very frustrating. He is white, in his early thirties, and has had problems with impotency since puberty.”
Blair cleared his throat. “His mother died at least six weeks ago and the day after he buried her, he took Sheila Welling off the street and took her home with him. He kept her there for several days. While in his home, she took the place of his mother—he made her do all the cleaning, bring him his food, and punish him. It is entirely probable that he forced Sheila to strike him, or hit him with some object. She is by no means a surrogate mother to him. At most she’s a symbol of his own childhood. In the beginning, it could have easily been a little boy. The first victim he took defined his victomology. In taking her, having her in his home he defined his needs and his fantasy. It was during this time that our UNSUB figured out what turned him on.”
Blair ignored the whispered disgust. “Her autopsy shows how the last few days of her life went. When he accidently killed her, he immediately sought to replace her.”
“Doc, he beat her to death.”
“Yes, but it wasn’t on purpose and that was unfortunately another epiphany for our UNSUB because he realized that her death gave him the personal power his mother had spent his entire life stripping him of. He dumped Sheila’s body and immediately sought out another victim. As I stated earlier, Sheila defined his victimology. She was an easy target—easy to control and subjugate because of her size and her age. So, when he went hunting for someone to take her place—he searched for someone just like Sheila.”
He took a break and accepted a bottle of water from an officer near him with a small smile. He drank from it; his hands that were only slightly shaking. “Stephanie Carrs wasn’t as easy to control as Sheila. She’d never been disciplined at home, had very lenient parents, and was very comfortable telling an adult no. Her defiance made her useless which is why she was dumped two days later and Jennifer Terrance was taken that same afternoon. Jennifer proved to be perfect for him. That’s why she’s lived the longest of all of his victims.”
He turned and looked at the murder board that held head shots of each victim. Each one shining and beautiful—bright blue eyes and blonde hair. “His mother was a blonde and she likely had blue eyes. He probably had a social worker as a child but he always denied that he was being abused. Neighbors and teachers alike probably turned her in, but he would have never turned on his mother. She’ll have a criminal record—drunk and disorderly, drunk driving—nothing that would have put her in jail. This woman slipped through the system a lot and her son took the brunt of it every time she came home. It is entirely likely that she turned tricks, but it wasn’t a regular thing. She might have a few solicitation arrests.”
Blair turned and looked at the people in the room. “So you are looking for a thirtyish man who recently lost his mother. She has a record, probably died of natural causes and was likely in her sixties when she passed. I’d say died of a disease related to alcoholism. He would have let the city bury her, by the way.”
Bodies were starting to move, practically everyone in the room wanted to start acting on the information they’d already been given.
“I caution you against releasing the profile to the public, and when you find him—don’t send in a large team.”
“Dr. Sandburg, we know he has another victim.”
“And if he sees you coming or hears about himself on the news—he will kill her. I have no doubts about this. It’s been four days, so Casey Johnson is doing what is asked of her; I really believe she is alive. The best way to keep it that way is to be low-key. Go to the door, knock on it, and get yourself into the house. Once you have him in your sights, do not let him leave the room without you. He’ll give you all the cause you need to search his home within minutes—he’s a nervous man and he’s going to cave so fast under the pressure of you just being there that he’ll just lose it. Be prepared, be calm, act fast, and I firmly believe we can bring this little girl home.”
– – – – –
They hadn’t listened to him. It wasn’t the first time the locals had ignored his advice on suspect apprehension, but today three cops and a little girl had lost their lives. Blair carefully packed his satchel, refusing to meet the eye of the detective who had been assigned to take him to the airport. He hadn’t said a word to the Captain who had led the strike or the Chief of Police who now stood silently some feet away from the table where Blair was.
“I have to take these files back with me for reference.” He dropped them all back in the banker box he’d brought with him and turned to the detective. “I’m ready, Detective March.”
“Don’t.” Blair shook his head. “It wasn’t your call, Detective, and I don’t need an apology from you. If you feel the need to say you’re sorry—talk to Casey Johnson’s parents. I’m sure after identifying their child’s remains; they’ll need some sympathy to ease knowing that their child had the back of her head blown out.”
“There is no need for that Dr. Sandburg. I made the call. What went down was unfortunate, but there is nothing to be done about it now.”
“No, there isn’t Captain Norton. Nothing can be done about it now.” Blair dropped his satchel over his head so that the strap crossed his chest. “I’ve already submitted my report to my superiors and to the mayor as requested—complete with an audio file of the profile I gave you and your men. Whatever will be done after I leave is not my problem.” He clenched one fist briefly and then took a deep breath. “Detective March, I am ready to leave.”
“No one can know for sure that doing it your way would have mattered.”
“Of course not, there was a five percent chance I was wrong,” Blair murmured. “What we do know, Captain, is that it couldn’t have been any worse. Now, I believe you have a city to support. Burying another little girl, three cops, and a dead suspect sure isn’t going to give anyone the closure they need.”
– – – – –
Ten hours later, Blair crawled into his own bed and pulled the covers over his head. He was really fucking tired of being alone and he wasn’t going to indulge in another empty relationship. There had been too many of those over the years—men and women who were nothing more than place holders and had never had hope of filling up the empty place inside of him that he’d been born with. He’s spoken to several unbonded Guides and they all said the same thing. They all felt the same emptiness.
He turned abruptly on his back and stared at the ceiling. “It would be nice, Sentinel, if you would wake and find me. I would very much like to be needed and honestly it would be great right now to have someone wrap themselves around me and tell the world to leave me the fuck alone. It would be nice to have someone to protect me, to hold me.”
– – – – –
Jim woke with a start, his heart pounding and aching at the same time. He rubbed at his chest but it did nothing take the dull pain away. For a few seconds, he wondered if he was having a heart attack but that made no sense, his body wasn’t telling him that. It was emotional pain—sharp and a near agony. It wasn’t like anything he’d ever known. He left his bed and made it to the steps before he just sat down. Loneliness and the need for something he didn’t understand rolled over him. New York. He leaned against the stair railing and took a deep breath. He was needed in New York.
When he could, he stood up, walked downstairs, and grabbed the phone. He dialed Simon’s number from memory and winced only briefly when he realized how late it was. “Yeah, Simon, I know it’s three AM.” Jim rubbed his face with one shaking hand. “Look, you aren’t going to believe this but I need to go to New York and I don’t know when I’ll be back.”
“Jim?” Simon demanded, his voice rough. “What the fuck is this? Have you been reactivated by the Army or something?”
“No, nothing like that.” Jim started to pace. “I just need to go to New York. I can’t explain it. But I have to go and it can’t wait. I don’t know when I’ll be back. I have three months of accumulated vacation. I don’t think I’ll need all of that and if it works better for the budget if I just take a leave of absence… that’s fine, too. I have no choice. I have to go.”
“You can’t explain it or you won’t explain it?” Simon demanded.
“I can’t. I woke up from a dead sleep and all I can think is that I have to go New York. It can’t wait and…” Jim took a deep breath. “As soon as I made the decision to go to New York it stopped hurting as much.”
“Yeah, hurting like someone broke my heart.”
“Fucking Sentinels,” Simon muttered. “I’ll get you as much leave as I can get away with and then do a leave of absence thereafter. Just call me. Keep me in the loop as much as possible.”
“I’ll do the best I can,” Jim promised and hung up the phone. He immediately went in search of a phone book. He tore six pages trying to find the airport’s number and by the time he did, his spirit animal was pacing on the other side of the room and hissing at him. He hadn’t seen his jaguar since Peru. “Great. Fucking great!”
He dialed the airport and after a few transfers found an airline that could get him in New York by morning if he hauled ass. He was prepared to haul ass. The jaguar was hissing again, his tail twitching, bright blue eyes sparkling with fury. Jim figured it was a very bad thing when one’s spirit animal decided to be pissed at you.
– – – – –
A wolf met him at the airport. He’d never seen anyone else’s spirit animal before but there it was plain as day—playfully smacking at his jaguar’s tail. His Guide. His Guide was in some kind of trouble. He shouldered the only bag he’d packed and went to the car rental place. He’d managed to find a car and a hotel room while he was driving to the airport. His cell phone hadn’t gotten that much use in he didn’t know when and his fellow drivers hadn’t thanked him.
Jim checked into his hotel, the empty gnawing sensation was stronger now—deeper as if he were actually in physical pain. It made no sense—he’d never experienced anything like it, not even Peru and he’d worked closely with Incacha on a daily basis. The wolf was pacing back and forth with the jaguar now—after a few minutes he stood and took a deep breath.
“Okay, wolf, lead the way.”
The wolf yipped in response.
It was clear he would have to walk but that didn’t put him off, he burrowed into his leather jacket and let the wolf take the lead. Instinct and a trust in his abilities he hadn’t had since Peru pushed him to do anything that might lead him to the source of sadness and loneliness. If anything, the need to find the source had intensified with each step he took until it hurt physically.
He wasn’t surprised at all to find himself in front of the Sentinel-Guide Center. Jim stared at the double doors, pain bursting in his chest and head. He pushed past the pain, forced it down so he could move, and entered the building. A woman at a large desk immediately stood as he approached.
“Oh.” Her eyes widened and she picked up the phone. “I have a Sentinel in distress in the lobby.”
“We know,” a soft voice murmured. “We will do everything we can to find your Guide.”
“In trouble—hurt,” Jim insisted. “Hurting. Upset. He needs me.”
“We’ll find him,” the woman promised.
– – – – –
“No, I understand. I don’t need the problem or the situation repeated to me. I will not change my report, nor will I sign off on the edited version you’ve offered.” Blair raised one eyebrow when Special Agent in Charge Carl Wilbanks glared at him. “I’m not going to sacrifice my integrity to play your stupid political games, Wilbanks. If you don’t like it—edit the report yourself and submit your own. I won’t do it.”
“Do you want to be disciplined for failure to follow orders?” Wilbanks demanded, roughly.
“If that’s what it takes. I’ll be happy to face a disciplinary action committee and tell them I was formally reprimanded for refusing to lie.”
“You sanctimonious little bastard!”
“Their arrogance and stupidity killed a four year old child,” Blair snapped. “As far as I’m concerned they should face murder charges themselves and I will not under any circumstances lie to protect them. She’s dead and I don’t care what kind of shit storm it causes. I hope her parents sue the city. I hope they sue everyone they can get their hands on.”
“Including you?” Wilbanks asked smugly. “They’re prepared to name you in the lawsuit.”
“That’s fine,” Blair snapped. “I certainly feel like I failed their child.”
“I won’t let your guilt hurt the Bureau.”
“It’s not my guilt that’s the problem around here, Wilbanks.” Blair plucked his cell phone off his hip as it rang and frowned at the number that showed up on the caller ID. He hadn’t heard from the Center in over a year. He was a powerful Guide and there had been times when he’d been called into deal with damaged or fragile Sentinels. “Dr. Sandburg.” He felt the color drain out of his face as the words he thought he’d never hear were spoken in his ear. “Where do I have to go? I can be on a plane within the hour to anywhere I have to go.” His knees weakened briefly. “Here? Shit. He came here? God, that’s so… how in the hell? Alpha? Jesus. Okay, no, I’ll be there as soon as I can.” He shut his phone and picked up his satchel from the chair he’d dropped it in. “Wilbanks, I have to go. I have a personal matter to attend to.”
“This conversation isn’t over.”
“Whatever,” Blair snapped. “I’ve already secured a copy of my report, the audio file of the profile I gave the Atlanta PD, and all of my data on the cases there. You do whatever you want but I won’t take part in a cover up, not even if it means my badge.”
Wilbanks stood. “You aren’t leaving this building, Sandburg, until this matter is resolved to my satisfaction.”
Blair stared at him for a few seconds and then carefully slid his satchel onto his shoulder. “The phone call I just took? It was from the Sentinel-Guide Center, I’ve been recalled. If I don’t show up within the hour they’ll come get me. Now ask yourself, do you really want to stand between me and the Center? Interference in Center business is… dangerous.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“That is entirely up to you,” Blair checked his watch. “Considering the situation that I was called for they might not wait an hour.”
Wilbanks picked up his phone. “Davis, Dr. Sandburg isn’t cooperating and the director has decided to put him protective custody while the Atlanta case is reviewed. Call the Sentinel-Guide Center and tell them that Dr. Sandburg has decided not to come today due to work obligations.”
Blair just glared. “You’re a fucking idiot.”
– – – – –
Jim sat up, instantly awake –his senses blown wide open. “I have to go.”
“Sentinel Ellison, you are in no condition to leave.” Dr. Harold McCoy stood up from his chair. “We were able to find a genetic match in New York as you insisted we would. He proved very receptive to the phone call and is on his way.”
“I came here because he was hurting and upset. I felt it.” Jim started pulling off sensors. “He’s in trouble, I have to go.”
McCoy’s mouth dropped open. “Jim, you aren’t bonded. Whatever you are feeling, it has nothing to do with your Guide.”
“No, it’s my Guide.” Jim swung his legs around and sat up completely. “Where are my clothes? I have to get to him. He’s in trouble. I never should have come here first. That stupid wolf…”
“Wolf?” McCoy frowned. “What about a wolf?”
“The wolf that led me here. I thought my Guide was in the Center because the wolf led me here.”
“You said during in-take that your spirit animal is a jaguar.”
“Yes.” Jim stood and shed the silk hospital gown he’d been given to wear without a single ounce of shame. “My clothes. I need my clothes.”
“You’re saying that a wolf spirit animal brought you to the Center?”
“Yes, Christ. You’re a smart man, McCoy, they don’t pass out degrees in Sentinel Studies in Cracker Jack boxes so please keep the fuck up.” Jim jerked open a closet door and sighed when he found a plastic bag holding his clothes. “Where’s my badge and weapon?”
“They were locked in a safe box with your name on it. We don’t allow Sentinels to keep their weapons within the Center.”
“I want my gun and my badge.” Jim jerked on his boxers and then his jeans. “There was no need to take my badge. You never take a cop’s badge—that’s just fucked up. You should know better.” He pulled on his t-shirt and then sweater. “At least you didn’t cut me out of my clothes; that would have been irritating.”
“Jim, you were in a seriously fragile state when you entered the facility. You zoned out within a minute of your arrival. If a spirit animal led you to us, it had a good reason to do so. I can’t in good conscience let you leave. You are extremely gifted. We haven’t identified an Alpha of your level in twenty years. The Guide is on his way. We spoke with him just a few minutes ago.”
“You can’t stop me,” Jim snapped. “You can’t hold me here against my will unless I’m feral. And my Guide is not on his way—he’s very upset right now. Upset, angry – far more than he was last night and it was so bad last night that I woke from a dead sleep and got on a plane to New York.”
– – – – –
Jim did his best to ignore the three Sentinels that were trailing along behind him as he entered the New York field office of the FBI. It hadn’t taken him more than a few minutes to get his Guide’s name out of the Center but they hadn’t told him where he was. That was okay, because the wolf had been ready to lead again when he’s left the facility.
“Seriously, Ellison, how the fuck are you doing this?”
Jim looked at the Sentinel who had asked the question as he approached a large desk. “I can feel him, deep in my body like I’ve been shot or stabbed.” He stopped at the desk. “I’m here for Dr. Blair Sandburg. Tell me where he is.”
The woman’s eyes widened and she reached for the phone. “Who should I say is requesting him?”
“Alpha Sentinel James Ellison and guests.” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder at the other Sentinels. “You don’t need their names because once they leave this lobby you’re going to forget you ever saw them.”
“He’s on the fifth floor, SAC Wilbanks will meet you. You’ll have surrender your weapons, gentlemen.”
“Sentinel law is clear. A Sentinel is not required to surrender his or her weapon unless it is to a licensed and registered Sentinel-Guide entity.” One of the Sentinel’s behind him responded evenly. “The FBI simply doesn’t qualify.”
– – – – –
Carl Wilbanks took a deep breath as the four Sentinels came off the elevator. Every one of them looked like a one-man war and all four turned and looked right at him. They could smell his nervousness, his fear. He couldn’t do much about it and they really had no business here. He could send them away and there wasn’t a damn thing they could do about it.
“I’m Special Agent in Charge, Carl Wilbanks. Dr. Sandburg is currently unavailable. He’s been placed in protective custody and is being moved out of the facility as we speak.”
“That’s a lie.” The largest of them returned without a single pause. “He’s in the building, in fact, he’s on this floor. You can take me to him or I can search the place. Your choice.”
“This is an FBI matter and is outside the jurisdiction of the Sentinel-Guide Center.”
“Guide Sandburg is a high ranking Guide and a practicing Shaman. If he’s in protective custody—his safety is our concern. When it comes to the physical and emotional well-being of a Guide—there is no higher authority than his own Sentinel.” One of the smaller men stepped forward and placed a hand on the man who had called him a liar. “You’ll surrender him to Alpha Sentinel Ellison immediately.”
“He is in no physical or emotional danger. The matter is internal and none of your concern.” Wilbanks straightened his sleeve. “Dr. Sandburg is in custody pending an investigation into his participation in a recent case. That is all that I can say.” He glared at all four of them. “And Dr. Sandburg is unbonded. We don’t employee bonded Guides unless we employ their Sentinels as well. It’s Bureau policy.”
“Interference in a pair bond is a violation of international law. Are you telling us that you are refusing to surrender Dr. Sandburg to his Sentinel?”
Jim tilted his head and disengaged from the conversation. The pounding that had started in his head the moment he entered the building had leveled out and he recognized it as a heartbeat. His Guide’s heartbeat, yet another thing he shouldn’t be able to isolate without a bond. The heart rate was even, and while he could feel anger and irritation pouring off his Guide, he wasn’t afraid or physically in danger.
He brushed past Wilbanks and started down a hallway that lead away from the large room that they’d entered upon leaving the elevator. He ignored the protests and trusted that his fellow Sentinels would deal with the irate and self-important FBI agent who was about to be schooled on Sentinel law. One of them had joined him, but he didn’t bother to look back to acknowledge him. He was entirely too focused on his Guide.
Jim pushed open a door and found his Guide sitting in a chair at the far end of the room with two agents between them. “You can leave this room on your own two feet or you can leave this room in body bags. I really don’t have a preference.”
One of them reached for his gun and Blair stood.
“Don’t do it, Martin, he’s a Sentinel and he’s practically feral. You don’t stand a chance.” Blair swallowed hard. “He’s my Sentinel. He could kill you both for pair-bond interference and no one would ask him a single question.”
Jim said nothing as the two agents fell all over themselves to get out of the room. He pulled the door shut. “Are you alright?”
“Yeah, just pissed.” Blair eyes widened. “Wow, you know, someone likes me a lot because you’re… fantastic.” He walked forward slowly and when he was standing in front of the Sentinel, he paused. “They told me you were in trouble.”
“Yeah, your distress at being put in protective custody woke me out of a pain induced zone-out,” Jim admitted his fingers hesitated against his Guide’s cheek. “I didn’t intend on this—I didn’t plan to ever register. But last night, I woke up and you were hurting. I could feel your pain like it was my own. Who hurt you, Chief?”
Blair closed his eyes. “I had a hard case. The last victim, a four year child, was killed during the arrest of the suspect because the locals didn’t listen to me. It was hard.” He leaned into the touch. “Your name?”
“James Joseph Ellison. Most people call me Jim.” Jim took a deep breath. “And you can call me anything you like.”
Blair smiled then. “Hello, Jim. I am so pleased to finally meet you.”
Jim pulled his Guide close without even recognizing how far gone he was and tucked his face against the side of Sandburg’s neck. He inhaled deeply, taking in a heady scent—a combination of soap and pheromones that would forever link him to his Guide. Blair’s hands clenched on his shoulder and he sighed softly.
“Guide,” Jim responded. “So amazing. I don’t know how I waited so long. I’m so sorry I left you alone in the world.”
“It’s okay.” Blair moved closer and wrapped his arms around Jim. His fingers clenched against the firm muscles of Jim’s back. “You’re here now and everything will be fine.”
“It will. I won’t let anyone hurt you.” His lips brushed over Blair’s pulse point and they both shuddered at the contact. “I’ll keep you safe.”
“I know.” Blair rubbed his face against Jim’s chest and closed his eyes. “I know.”
“Tell me what’s going on.”
– – – – –
Wilbanks was waiting on them in the hall when Jim opened the door. The Sentinel hissed at him before he could say a single word. Startled, Wilbanks took several steps back and glared at Sandburg who slid out into the hall from behind his Sentinel.
“If this is how the FBI treats all of the unbonded Guides that work for them…” Jim paused and inclined his head. “I will be speaking to the Director of the Sentinel-Guide Center regarding protective procedures for those vulnerable to the influence and petty political maneuvering of mundanes.”
Wilbanks glared. “You think you’re special? Better than me.”
“Yes.” All four Sentinels responded without pause and Blair laughed a little before he could help himself.
Jim wrapped his fingers around one of Blair’s wrists and tugged gently. “Come, Guide.”
“You can’t just take him…”
“You can’t keep him. It is a violation of Sentinel-Guide law to unlawfully detain and/or separate a Guide from his Sentinel.” Jim pushed Wilbanks up against the wall with his free hand and pinned him there. “You’ll leave Blair alone. He isn’t going to lie for you or for your friend in Atlanta. It is against the Sentinel-Guide code of ethics that we all swear to when we register to act against the public good or provide false testimony. In asking and then demanding he lie or participate in a cover up—you’ve violated the most basic of Sentinel-Guide imperatives. You’ve asked and then demanded that he cause harm to the tribe through deception.”
Wilbanks mouth dropped open in shock.
“The Sentinel-Guide Center will no doubt answer this situation formally. You are not to approach or contact my Guide in any way, shape, or form as long as you live. If you do, I’m going to come back here and explain to you in the most explicit and painful way I can imagine how disgusted I am by you. Are we clear Special Agent Carl Wilbanks?”
“Good.” Jim released him. “You can also explain to your superior how you just screwed the Bureau’s opportunity to employ an Alpha Sentinel and his Guide.”
Wilbanks lifted his chin. “The Bureau always retains the right to employ the Sentinels of Guides that bond while they work for us. It is part of our contract with the Sentinel-Guide Center. You’ll work for us if we want it and with attitude like yours—you can trust that my superiors will look forward to putting you in your place.”
“By the end of the day,” Blair murmured. “The FBI will have a hard time keeping a single Guide or Sentinel—no matter their bond status. I’ll make sure of it. In preventing me from leaving, and asking me to lie—you’ve already violated the contract you just quoted. I’m sure you won’t have a hard time explaining to the director how the Bureau lost the right to work with registered Sentinels and Guides.”
– – – – –