You Watch the Hippy, I’ll Take Goldilocks
Disclaimer: All disclaimers, usual or unusual, apply.
Author’s Notes: Lots of thanks to Susan Foster for permission to use elements of her sentinel universe. This is the first story in the Hippy-Goldilocks universe.
The explosions were small—very small in proportion to the amount of trouble they were going to cause. They ripped through the silence of Cascade’s Guide Facility and adjoining research building, and tore apart all sorts of comfortable illusions about the level of security there.
The destruction was limited, but very precise. A large quantity of expensive chemicals was destroyed, and a rather secret prototype became a pile of charred circuits and scrap metal. The Security One agents who arrived rapidly on the scene could see it was a professional piece of work.
The repercussions had already begun when a further discovery was made. Three guides had disappeared. They had gone willingly—their personal possessions were gone and there was no sign of violence.
The local chief of Security One was angry and alarmed. He kept the regular detectives out of the investigation, giving it entirely to Security One personnel, and he put in a carefully edited report to the central directorate. A man hunt was started which was as thorough as it could be given the need to avoid publicity, but there was no sign of the missing guides. Time passed. There was no progress at all.
Jim Ellison was bored. He’d been sitting in an uncomfortable seat listening to an irrelevant speech for a whole morning now and he was still wondering why the hell he was here. He shifted and glared at his captain sitting impassively beside him. Simon Banks gave the slightest of shrugs, not an apology, more “I don’t know why the hell we’re here either and I don’t like it any more than you do, so lose the attitude.” Ellison redirected the glare, this time to the smooth man at the front who had been talking glibly for what seemed like eternity.
The speaker was Willis, controller of Security One, the international organisation which linked the official and covert security forces of most of the western world. Ellison disliked the organisation, which drew its ethos from the CIA, MI6 and the like, and had even less accountability. A morning of listening to its controller had only strengthened his views. Willis talked like the smoothest of politicians—perhaps because that was the calling of most of his listeners—but something about him shouted that he had power, he liked power, and he intended to have still more of it.
The actual way that Security One had been gaining more power over the last few years was the ultimate, and more personal reason for Jim Ellison’s dislike. Security One had for some time been the international body which dealt with anything to do with sentinels and their guides. The well-intentioned work of scholars like Eli Stoddard who had identified the role of a sentinel, combined with experience in war zones from Vietnam on, had alerted the western world to the potential of such men—and its military and security possibilities.
Natural sentinels had proved much too rare to satisfy military demand though. One of the first moves of Security One had been to develop their own ‘sentinels’ who in fact were usually covert ops men with perhaps one or at most two hyperactive senses. These were boosted, and their other senses mildly enhanced, by complex chemical treatment over a period of years. Ellison had met a few of these artificial sentinels, and he had hated the experience. The treatments—deliberately maybe—caused increased aggression. The pseudo-sentinels also had poor control of their senses. In addition, their training, as well as a need for stability, made them rigid upholders of military routines. When he looked at them he felt as if he was looking at a grim parody of himself.
As if that hadn’t been objectionable enough in itself, Security One had then formalised the system of guides. The guide was another concept identified by Stoddard et al. Jim had found it so unacceptable that he had basically ignored it; the idea of having some sort of minder tagging around making sure he could use his senses correctly had offended him in the first place. When he discovered that guides were apparently supposed to form a touchy-feely ‘bond’ with their sentinels and, worse, that there was a mental connection of some sort he didn’t want to know about, he’d decided to shut off his senses as much as possible rather than risk needing a guide. He was a good cop without the senses, anyway, and both Banks and the rest of Major Crimes had always backed him up.
He didn’t know quite why Security One took such an interest in guides, who from what he had read were a fairly weak and feeble lot. Propaganda said that guides were removed from the community to training facilities for their own benefit. He had a few cynical thoughts about that, but there was no denying the few guides he had come across were hardly fit for a normal life, hanging pathetically round their sentinels all the time they were out. He’d read about the empathy business of course. That was the one thing the general public did know about guides. They could read your thoughts more or less. The enthusiasm for putting them safely in facilities had been considerably boosted when that became a topic in the press.
He knew Security One’s attitude was ambivalent though. They had exclusive control of guides and their training, but they were researching ways to avoid the ‘bond’ thing, and, fortunately for Jim, they were enthusiastic about unbonded sentinels. Willis had been known to say that that was the future. Sentinels must be developed who were not dependent on guides at all. In the meantime, guide training had been adapted to encourage the use of a ‘guide pool’ from which a sentinel could borrow if necessary. That was fine with the pseudo-sentinels, but the few, like Ellison, who possessed the senses naturally, seemed still to need the permanent bond with an individual guide. There were very few who managed to live without one for as long as he had, and it earned him the tacit approval of the authorities.
Jim couldn’t care less about Security One’s approval, and knew it was misinformed. The main reason he survived without a guide was because he hadn’t wanted his senses, and used them as little as possible, relying on a rigid control to keep them from surfacing inconveniently. Lately that control had begun to fray, which didn’t improve his general mood, but so far he’d managed to rely on his colleagues and avoid the guide facility.
It was the knowledge that his control was not so complete as it had once been, that kept him from ignoring this morning’s proceedings completely and thinking about his current case instead. He needed to fidget a little, to pay a certain amount of attention but not too much, if he was to be sure not to zone. At least in this sterile room, with Willis’ monologue continuing, there was little danger of the opposite problem, of a spike of intensity in one of his senses.
Willis was talking about the guides now. Jim noticed how easy it was to tell he disliked them—in a way that would be unacceptable if they had been a race or a religious group. Not of course that he said so, but in all his words was the implication that Security One were dealing with the problem, the awkward necessity, of the very existence of guides.
“… and of course the problems of unlicensed bonding, or indeed of concerns about empaths in the community, have been considerably lessened by our measures,” Willis was saying. “Known guides all live on listed premises, with wardens for their protection. The early difficulties with mental instability that followed the establishment of the guide pool have been cured by better medications. A guide leading a sheltered life in one of these institutions may be of some moderate use to our security organisations, and is certainly not a threat. Our next aim must be to tackle the problem of unregistered guides, and potential guides.”
Losing interest again, Ellison looked slowly around the room. Politicians. Lots and lots of politicians, from all over the US and from quite a smattering of other countries too, he’d guess. A few of those slightly too anonymous older men, somehow military in their bearing, who were probably something to do with someone’s national security. The chief of police and a few more captains. But why the hell was he here? There was only one other sentinel in the hall. Ellison had been warned of it before he went in, by an official who apparently thought he might otherwise go berserk. These people obviously believed their own propaganda. He didn’t like to tell them that he had his senses closed down so far he’d probably not have noticed. All the same, he’d been relieved when he realised he actually knew the man.
Bodie. He hadn’t seen him in years, but he knew him at once. He vaguely remembered hearing that he was now a member of some English security or intelligence organisation. What was Bodie doing in Cascade?
Ellison had met him not long before his own mission to Peru. He’d been briefly—and unofficially—involved in some action alongside Bodie and an SAS colleague of his. Bodie had a very different background from his own, with a chequered career as a mercenary before the British army decided to utilise his talents, but Ellison had liked him. He’d vaguely known when they were working together that Bodie was a sentinel, but at the time it had had no relation to his own life. Now he realised that Bodie, like himself, was a natural sentinel, not one developed by Security One.
He let his gaze rest on him for a moment. Dark haired, smoothly dressed as always, Bodie was also looking around the room with cool assessing eyes. He looked as bored as Ellison. He also looked dangerous. Everything about him still spoke of covert ops. He caught Ellison’s gaze, and in a sort of acknowledgment flicked his eyes at Willis and quite deliberately yawned. It was the only interesting moment in the whole speech.
A change in the note of Willis’ delivery alerted Jim to the joyful thought that this endurance test was finally coming to an end and perhaps he could get back out on the streets and do his job, which at the moment was to try to find out something—anything—about the latest designer drug to play havoc with his city. There were always new designer drugs of course, but this one was proving much the worst threat he’d seen for a long time. The students nicknamed it ‘Zero’, short for Absolute Zero. Apparently it gave the sense of ultimate cool. You got the rush, but also a sense of powerful detachment and control. It was alarmingly addictive, and left a trail of mental breakdowns and suicides, and of course deaths from adverse reactions and bad mixes.
“Jim!” He realised his captain was hissing irritably at him and the rest of the room were rising to applaud. At last. Now how long was it going to take them to get out of the building.
The answer unfortunately was approaching them in the shape of someone he recognised as being from the mayor’s office. “Simon?” he asked in a low growl.
“Don’t ask me. I’m just a captain. The mayor doesn’t call me in for confidential chats beforehand. I was told to be here today and to bring Sentinel Ellison, so I doubt if it’s Major Crimes business. Maybe Willis wants to meet you and see how you enjoyed his talk.”
Jim gave him a withering look, but Simon failed to wither. He even managed to look as though he was the one with the right to a grievance as the messenger offered the predictable summons: they were to attend the mayor and his guests at once.
Jim’s annoyance at what seemed to be yet more posturing turned to alertness when they were ushered into the presence of Willis and the mayor. This was a very small meeting indeed. There were a couple of ordinary security officials together with Kincaid, the local head of Security One, and the mayor and Willis. Bodie was there, accompanied by a slight, sandy-haired older man who Jim did not know.
Bodie’s eyes met his in the slightest gesture of warning. He gave no sign of knowing Ellison, and Jim who also believed in giving Security One no information at all where possible, reacted with equal assumed blankness. The mayor immediately began nervous introductions.
“This is Captain Banks and Sentinel Ellison, Controller. Captain, Sentinel I don’t think you’ve met our visitors from the UK—Major Cowley, Sentinel Bodie.”
Jim could see from the fleeting bitterness that momentarily showed that Bodie liked the title no more than he did. Their eyes met in cold understanding. Then Bodie held out his hand. “Ellison. Interesting to see your city.”
Jim took it, not sure whether to be amused or annoyed by the relief that emanated from the mayor. What did the man think they were going to do, brawl in his office? Perhaps that was why he had Kincaid standing there. Ironically, if anyone in the room caused an instinctive antagonism in Jim it was Kincaid, not just because he always made aggressive use of his position, but because there was something in the man’s manner that really chilled him. He was careful not to let any warmth towards Bodie show, however. He had the impression that Cowley was watching them both very sharply. “I look forward to showing you round,” he said formally.
Willis nodded his approval of these civilities. His manner was brisk. “I won’t waste your time gentlemen. You’ve no doubt already realised that you are here because we have a problem and we feel that you may be in a position to help us deal with it.”
Ellison let his eyes flick to Bodie’s once more. The understanding was there again, darker this time. Small meeting. Security One’s vast resources apparently not appropriate. This wasn’t going to be a nice clean problem with a solution in the lawcourts.
“We have a problem with the guide facility,” Willis went on, taking them both by surprise. Guide facilities were extremely tame places. A problem with one was almost unheard of. Willis paused, clearly choosing his words carefully. “We think that the facility here in Cascade has been… I suppose the word would be infiltrated. Several guides have absconded. The fact that they have not been picked up suggests there is a level of organisation behind this that poses a real threat to security. In addition, we suspect a recent ‘accident’ in the research block attached to the facility may have been sabotage.”
Simon Banks, suddenly taking an interest, glanced at the mayor. “The explosion in the labs?” he asked. “We were told…”
“You were told what it was necessary for you to know,” Willis said. “At the time we thought that if there was any question of sabotage it must be from a rival research group. However, it does seem possible now that both the explosion and the missing guides may be traced back to a different source. I think we have a couple of rogue guides in Cascade.”
Bodie looked at him in amused disbelief. “Rogue guides. Come on, sir. I would have thought that was a contradiction in terms.”
Again it was possible to feel Willis weighing each word he used. “It’s certainly true that most guides would lack the initiative and force of character for anything remotely resembling this sort of behaviour, but there are exceptions and you might be surprised to know that these exceptions pose a serious threat.”
“Surely it might just as well have been the work of guide sympathisers?” Simon Banks put in.
“Expert opinion—and I don’t see any reason to disagree with it—is that only other guides could have persuaded the missing inmates to leave.”
The sandy-haired man—Major Cowley, Jim remembered—spoke for the first time. “Have you identified these rogue guides?”
“No. It’s unfortunately been a case of being wise after the event. Only one guide had disappeared from the facility before the night of the explosion, and there seemed no reason why it shouldn’t be a random event. The others disappeared that night.”
“Why does there have to have been outside influence?” Jim asked. “I mean, these guides who have left were obviously fed up enough with the place to take off. Why shouldn’t they have set the explosion as well.”
Willis nodded. “A fair question. The explosion was expertly set; no normal guide would have that knowledge. Runaway guides have always been easily picked up before. Apart from anything else, outside the facility they should have no access to medication. This time four guides have disappeared without trace. Lastly, checks have now found that two of the cleaners who have been working in the facility for the last couple of months had given false identities. They’ve failed to show up for work since the explosion.”
There was a brief silence. Bodie broke it. “In that case, they’re probably all miles from here. With all due respect it doesn’t sound like a major problem. You’ve got enough guides haven’t you?”
Willis did not let his expression or voice change. “A rogue guide is an insult to the system and a threat to the use of sentinels in security. You two are unbonded and have no idea of the influence a guide can have on a sentinel.” That was a joke. Why did he think they were unbonded? “I have reason to believe that while the runaways may well be a long way from here, the original troublemakers have not given up the hope of doing more damage.”
Bodie gave the slightest of shrugs; clearly he didn’t believe in any threat from guides, but he said no more. The question Jim wanted to ask—which basically came down to ‘how soon can I get back to my proper work’—didn’t seem to fit in at this point. Willis continued satisfied that he had their attention.
“I would like you two to look at the video footage from the security cameras at the facility, preparatory to taking over the case. Both of you will give your time to this matter until it is satisfactorily concluded. An office will be made available to you at Security One headquarters.”
Jim was ready to protest, but Bodie got in first. “Why us? What’s wrong with your own men? I don’t even know Cascade.”
Both Willis and Cowley looked at him with annoyance, but Willis deigned to explain. “The normal channels have failed to produce any results. We believe sentinels may be able to pick up on details the other officers have missed, but there is an obvious problem involved in asking a sentinel to track down and arrest a guide. A bonded sentinel, or one using the guide pool, could be unduly influenced by sympathies from his own guide for a fellow empath. Our other unbonded sentinels are young and might well have a problem with instinctive reactions to the guides. You possibly do not appreciate how unique you are, gentlemen. You will take over this case.”
Jim opened his mouth again, caught Simon’s eye and reluctantly shut up. Simon wasn’t going to be any happier about this than he was, and he would probably put it more tactfully.
“Detective Ellison is involved in an important case at the moment, sir, and it will set our work back…” Banks began.
“It’s not open for discussion, Captain,” Willis cut in without even attempting politeness. “I find it hard to believe that you have no-one in your department capable of taking over.”
“It’s a question of time,” Simon said. “Ellison has been handling this case, and he doesn’t work with a partner. It’s going to take a while to bring anyone else up to date with all the material”
“I’m sorry, Captain,” the mayor said firmly. “Both Chief Kincaid and the Controller himself feel this matter must take precedence.”
Ellison caught the slightest shake of the head from Bodie and knew he was right. This one wasn’t open for negotiation. The power was all with the other side. Like it or not, he was going to have to drop his drugs case and find himself under the direct control of Security One.
When they got away from the meeting, the building was almost empty. Simon went off, grumbling, to rearrange his department’s schedules, and Cowley departed showing a flattering interest in Kincaid’s security arrangements, which Jim gathered was uncharacteristic.
“Don’t know what the old bastard’s up to,” Bodie muttered. “Wonder if he landed me with this. If he did it won’t be because he wants to help Willis out. Do you want a scotch?”
A drink in Bodie’s room didn’t exactly mellow their mood, but brought them to a point where corridors weren’t clearing at their approach. They’d tacitly assumed that the hotel room might be bugged and the room assigned to them at Security One would record their movements and conversation, but they were both old hands at that sort of game and content to wait to exchange any real information.
The material provided for them to look through seemed a joke. There was no way they were going to pick up on a dead trail from the bits and pieces of video and speculation, but they went through the motions. Ellison felt the frustration in him build until he would happily have thrown the lot at the wall. This was a complete waste of his time. And he’d been close on the drugs case; he just been getting a lead to some real information.
Bodie was watching the security tapes for the fifth time. The tapes were mainly interesting for the fact that the two cleaners who were suspected had never once looked up near a security camera. It was convincing proof of their guilt, and very frustrating. Two slightish figures in overalls, caps pulled down tightly on their heads. There was nothing to pick up on at all.
Bodie paused and enlarged a frame.
Bodie shrugged. “It’s not a lot, but since we basically have nothing at all….”
The picture wasn’t sharp and as Ellison tried to focus more clearly on it he was near to losing himself in the pixels. Bodie elbowed him unobtrusively. “Under the cap,” he said as if nothing had happened and Ellison knew he was covering the moment so that no-one watching them would catch on to it.
“Curly hair,” Bodie said. “Looks as if it might be longish without the cap.”
A couple of tendrils of springy curl were just visible. Ellison nodded. “Great—a detail that doesn’t fit half of Cascade.”
A smile quirked the side of Bodie’s mouth. “About the only one,” he agreed. “Want to take a break?”
Again a moment of silent understanding passed between them. Want to talk about this somewhere every word isn’t overheard, Bodie meant.
“Stretch our legs,” Ellison agreed. “I’ll show you the park.”
Forty five minutes later they were out of doors, strolling across the grass with an apparently casual air that actually hid a very careful surveillance of the neighbourhood. Satisfied they had no followers, they found a seat in the open. Bodie produced a tiny and highly classified device which he had definitely not obtained through the correct channels and set it down between them concealed by a paper cup. “Just in case anyone’s still trying to listen,” he murmured. “This should disrupt things nicely. And now that we’ve got a bit of privacy, do you have any idea what the hell is going on. There’s something that doesn’t add up about all this.”
“They don’t expect us to find these guides,” Ellison agreed, his jaw tightening as he thought about the waste of time. “It’s a set-up of some sort… but I don’t see why.”
“Or why us,” Bodie agreed. “I was only here because Cowley dragged me along to improve my diplomatic skills—at least, as far as I know. He may have some other devious scheme in mind, but he wasn’t using me for it… or telling me about it.”
“I was on that drugs case,” Ellison said bitterly. “This is going to set us back for weeks. My informants won’t talk to someone they don’t know and I haven’t even been able to go in and hand over properly. My captain’s been through every channel he can think of to get this order rescinded, but Security One write the rule book.”
Bodie thought about it. “You know what would make sense. If someone wanted to stop you busting those dealers. After all, that’s been the main effect of you being reassigned.”
Ellison thought about it, but shook his head. “No-one’s got that much pull.”
“This drug sounds like big business.”
“Yes, but you’re talking about someone with enough influence to affect the dealings of Security One. That isn’t possible. Even if you could imagine it locally, Willis himself gave us our orders.”
“Suppose it’s Security One who want the dealers left alone,” Bodie suggested.
Ellison was for once totally taken aback. He stared at Bodie in silence, wondering if this was an obscure joke.
“They’re amoral bastards,” Bodie said calmly. “You know as well as I do what sort of means they can use if the end is ultimately approved.”
“But what end could they possibly have?”
“If we could work that out, perhaps we’d be making some progress.”
Ellison realised that Bodie was serious. Against his better judgment he gave the idea some consideration. If it wasn’t so outrageous it would make a nasty sort of sense. “It doesn’t explain why you’re along,” he said after a while.
“Could just be to confuse the issue, but I’ve got a feeling Cowley may have volunteered me. He doesn’t like Willis, or organisations which have lots of power and no-one to answer to. Got this thing about minorities too—thinks the guide facilities are oppressive or something. Anyway, I reckon he’s up to some double game.”
“But you can’t seriously think that Willis…”
“I could believe anything of Willis,” Bodie said coldly. “But it wouldn’t have to be Willis. He’s a visitor here, he’s presumably going to take advice from your local lads. Cascade’s head of Security One—Kincaid isn’t it? What’s he like?”
Ellison shrugged. “Ruthless. Very committed to the whole ethos of Security One. Thinks highly of Sentinels; hates guides. Would probably hate blacks and women if he could get away with it. I haven’t had a lot of dealings with him, he’s relatively new here. Simon—my captain—has had trouble with him.”
“Any idea why he was posted here?”
“Rumour is that he had some sort of terminal clash of personalities with a law enforcement officer down in Denver and by some miracle the other guy came out on top—or guys—I think it was a team. But Cascade was a promotion for him if anything, and the mayor thinks the sun shines out of… ”
He didn’t finish the sentence, but Bodie grinned. “I get the idea. Maybe Cowley will know about the Denver business. But it doesn’t matter at the moment anyway. What’s important is that we don’t go along with you having to abandon this drugs case.”
Jim rammed his fist into the ground in frustration. “Do you think I haven’t tried everything?”
“Not everything,” Bodie said, looking irritatingly in control. “I’d say you haven’t tried subtle.”
“What the hell good is subtle. And what do you mean anyway?”
Bodie smiled. “We might as well show willing, and go out on the streets to look for these guides, and we have to start somewhere. Be an interesting coincidence if it just happened to be the same part of town as where your drug deals are going down.” He paused to enjoy the look on Jim’s face. “We do ‘subtle’ well on our side of the Atlantic,” he added.
Jim ignored his last comment, as he realised just what Bodie meant. It was quite true. No one could possibly question where they chose to search for the guides since there was basically no trail to them at all.
“Okay,” he said, brushing the dirt off his knuckles. “We’ll try it. What have we got to lose?”
Blair Sandburg sat cross-legged on his sagging couch. The old warehouse where he rented a floor wasn’t the ideal setting for fine furniture and anyway he couldn’t afford any. His eyes were on the anthropology text-book in his lap, but his mind was wandering.
Six months ago his studies had been the most important thing in his life. He enjoyed the social life of the University, but his real love was for the academic research and teaching that he did. He’d had no more to worry about than funding his car and balancing his dates, and he’d even had hopes of getting permission through the official channels to do some research on sentinels, though Security One always tried to keep a tight control on such projects.
No-one had known he was a potential guide. His nomadic life with his mother, Naomi, and his quick movement up the educational system had enabled him to miss early checks, and later when things began to tighten up he’d managed to hack into the appropriate data-base to falsify his records. Naomi had always hated the military or security role of most sentinels, and he could not remember an age when he hadn’t known he must keep his ability secret.
All the same, he could not help having a rather different attitude from hers, even when the treatment of guides began to get worse. He wanted to study sentinels—the rare, naturally-gifted ones, not the chemically enhanced agents who were often called sentinels now. It was difficult to get material. Not much had ever been printed, and even a gifted hacker could not get into lots of the official research. All the same, Blair had become convinced that history and legend suggested a very different role for a true sentinel—as a protector and guardian, not an official bully-boy.
Then, just as everything had been going well, he’d been caught out by the advancing technology available to Security One. Their scientists had developed an electronic device which could sweep whole areas with some kind of resonations that affected brainwaves. Blair hadn’t fully understood the technology, but he’d understood the effects. The device brought ‘hidden’ guides artificially on line—not nearly so much as if they were bonded to an individual sentinel, but enough to make life in the community very difficult.
They’d swept the university without warning. Blair didn’t know how many guides they had picked up, but they had certainly made his own life close to impossible, as his empathic abilities opened up and the feelings and reactions of the crowded campus began to batter at him.
His way out had been through another member of the teaching staff, Jack Kelso. He’d taken a risk, and gone to Jack knowing that the man had a background with covert organisations before he had received the injury which confined him to a wheelchair. Jack had come through for him in a big way, especially using his contacts to obtain some of the medication which damped down a guide’s empathic sensitivity to almost normal levels. It had been developed as part of the drive to make guides more useful tools for sentinels in general, and on the whole it worked. At any rate, it made life bearable. Blair had got through the academic year, and applied to take a year out to follow up some research projects.
Then three months ago Jack had tentatively put him in touch with the British man currently standing by his window watching the street. Ray Doyle. The late afternoon light was glinting off Doyle’s hair and it added to the impression he always gave Blair of being on the verge of some sort of fiery outburst. In his company Blair had done things and entered ways of life that had always belonged safely in the realms of fiction before. All the same, Blair had learned a lot from Doyle, even if some of it he didn’t like.
Like Blair, Doyle was a guide who did not want to be bonded to a sentinel. Their reasons—or what they thought of as their reasons—were quite different, though. Blair didn’t want a sentinel because he valued his personal freedom and had strong reservations about the whole ‘law and order’ scheme that seemed to come with sentinels. Doyle saw cops in such a different light that they’d had severe communication problems at first. Doyle had been partnered to a British policeman with mild sentinel abilities, and that was why he had come partially on-line. The man had been killed on duty before any real bond had been established, but Doyle had stayed on as a policemen in his own right until an outraged edict from Security One had made such a choice impossible for a known guide. Who he worked for now, Blair didn’t know—some underground movement presumably.
Doyle did not want a sentinel because he hated what Security One was making of them, and because he wouldn’t accept the official attitude to guides, reckoning he could handle himself as well as a sentinel, hand to hand or with a weapon. Blair had seen his efficiency with explosives and had watched him flatten a man nearly twice his weight who had thought the two curly-haired student types looked fair game for a mugging. It had taken his thoughts off on a different line of research and he’d realised that there must sometimes have been a need for ‘warrior’ guides in tribal life.
So Doyle was an interesting person to have around, but there were things about him that troubled Blair, more than his facility with all sorts of combat. Often there was a sort of brittle explosive anger in him; at other times he would veer to a depression that Blair could never joke him out of. Living with him made Blair realise that his long-term prospects for survival without a sentinel were not promising. Doyle swung round from the window now, caught Blair’s expression and made a slight gesture of apology.
“I’m sick of hanging about.”
“You need to learn to relax.” Blair could feel the tension from him, but he knew that if there were any answers Doyle would have to find them from someone else.
Things had been easier when they had been working at the guide facility, using their cover to make contact with guides who wanted to get out of the system. That work had come to an abrupt halt when Doyle had found out—through some source he kept secret—that a more efficient Resonator was being developed. They’d reached all the likely guides for the time being, so they’d decided to get them all out at once, cut their losses and blow the device up as a parting gesture—at least, Doyle had blown it up; he’d given Blair the job of getting the nervous guides off the premises.
As Doyle went back to his vigil, Blair’s thoughts wandered to that night. They’d made their way back to the warehouse after safely delivering the guides.
“What are you going to do now?” he’d asked.
He could see Doyle had heard and had been surprised not to get an answer.
“Your boss will have other plans for you, right?” he’d persisted.
Doyle had moved restlessly round the apartment. “I’ve not reported in,” he’d said at last. “My boss will know what’s happened anyway. I don’t want to make contact with him.”
“What? Why not?”
“I was here to do a job. Get out those guides, and get any information back to him. When I found out about the Resonator, he approved me blowing it. But while I’ve been here—round this area and over at the facility—I think I’ve got a line on something else.”
Blair, puzzled, had simply waited.
” You know the latest drug craze—the stuff the kids round here call Zero.”
“Yeah, sure. Gives you the ultimate chill-out. Causes some really weird breakdowns. Lethal when its cut with the wrong stuff. Very, very addictive.”
Doyle had nodded and said, “I think… in fact I’m sure… that the base of it is one of the components of guide medication. There were very large quantities of it stored in the labs at the facility, huge amounts more than they could have needed. After I came across it the first time I went in, I did a bit of research of my own, but I was limited because I’ve no official contacts here.”
Blair had stared at him, seeing all sorts of unpleasant implications of this. Picking on the easiest, he’d said, “Oh, come on. That’s a government facility.”
“Run by scientists who have no moral problem experimenting on guides.”
“But why would they…?”
“Money, probably. Not everyone gets your joy out of academic work for its own sake. Or power. Why does anyone deal drugs?”
Blair had thought back over the events of the evening. “That was a big blast just to take out the Resonator.”
Doyle had grinned at his quick understanding. “Yeah. I’ve just put a major hitch in their supply system. But it will only slow it up, not stop it. To stop it I need to trace the connections to suppliers and put some real proof in the hands of someone who can act on it. I need time and I need contacts.”
“My boss isn’t going to be very happy about it. He’s fighting a different war, and he… well, he sees the big picture. But this stuff is messing up a lot of lives. I don’t want to walk away without doing something to get it off the streets, if I’ve got a chance to do that.”
“Okay,” Blair had said. “How do we go about it?” He caught Doyle’s mood as well as his expression. “Come on, man. It’s not your city. You’ll need some help.”
Doyle in his turn must have felt Blair’s concern and determination, because he’d reluctantly nodded. Empathy made some things easy.
So for a fortnight now Blair had walked into a world he’d barely touched the fringes of before. It was not that he was naive about the drug scene—far from it. But backstreet dealers, gangs, big suppliers, that was all way out of his experience.
It was obviously familiar to Doyle, however. Doyle had worked his way into it fast, using his British accent and knowledge of UK connections to drop hints that he was interested in doing some importing.
Tonight for the third night in a row, they were going to a darkly fashionable club where Doyle was beginning to be known. He’d introduced Blair as his student connection, about to move to Britain on exchange and provide Doyle with a contact into one of the more prestigious universities. Blair was good at fitting into closed groups and quick at picking up his cues, and together they’d quickly been accepted. The word had been that the man they were going to meet tonight could supply the merchandise they wanted. Glancing at his watch, Blair realised with amazement that he was beginning to share Doyle’s impatience. They really had a chance to achieve something here, and although he felt some apprehension he felt a curious mix of excitement with it as well.
Ellison and Bodie had settled on looking like soldiers on leave, out having a good time in the less civilized areas of the city. The streets they were strolling through had their rough parts, but people gave the two sentinels a wide berth. Either of them alone would have seemed more than capable of taking care of himself, together they looked deadly.
They’d already tried this a couple of times, visiting different clubs and bars that had been on Ellison’s hit list, but the first night had been a washout, and on the second they had met a couple of attractive girls who were passing through Cascade and had ended up in the wrong part of town. Seeing them to a safer district, and accepting their gratitude, had made for a pleasant interlude, but Ellison would have preferred to have made some progress.
They hadn’t found any traces of the guides they were supposed to be hunting down, but that wasn’t a problem. They hadn’t expected to, and their reasons for searching this area so thoroughly were an interesting work of fiction. Their bland reports of earnest endeavour and unfortunate failure were met with acceptance from Willis, but after a private meeting with his own controller, Bodie had the impression that Cowley was getting irritated.
“I think the old man knows we’re up to something,” he told Ellison as they walked along. “Don’t know why that should bug him though. It’s not as if he’s supposed to be involved.”
“Maybe he’d like to get out of Cascade.”
“Nah. It’s more than that. It’s something to do with these guides I think. He wants us to find them before Kincaid does. He made it fairly clear to me that he wanted informing if we did get any lead to them.”
“What did you say?”
“Told him I thought it was unlikely that we or anyone else would find any trace of them and… .”
He broke off as Ellison caught his arm and drew him sharply into the doorway of a small Italian restaurant. They pretended to be intent on the menus and Jim said quietly, “Two men. They’ll be passing us in a minute. One’s in a dark suit, hair slicked back. Sharp-faced. the other’s older, seedier. I had a tip-off they were involved just before I got taken off the case. I saw them once before in this area, but I lost them.”
Bodie watched the men’s reflection in the glass as they passed. “I’ve seen one of them before,” he said.
“Which one?” Ellison asked, surprised. “You can’t have been that many places in Cascade.”
“The one in the suit. Not sure where. I’ll get it in a minute.”
They moved back out into the street, putting on an air of joking and being already slightly drunk. They didn’t have to follow far. The two men turned into the Coyote Club, a place which Ellison had already pinpointed as worth a visit. He and Bodie paid the exorbitant membership fee, and with instinctive agreement found a table in the corner where their backs were covered and they were able to watch most of the room.
They brushed off a couple of hostesses—with some regret—and gave the impression they were settling down to an evening of serious drinking. In fact Ellison knew his control was much too tenuous for him to risk much alcohol. He expected to find the smoky atmosphere and the noise of the entertainment barely endurable as it was.
Bodie always seemed cool and in control, but Jim noticed he wasn’t drinking either. Bodie saw the glance at his glass and looked at Ellison with the dark understanding they’d seemed to share from the start. “What would you give it. Two years more of control? Three?”
Ellison shrugged. “I don’t think about it.”
“Go out in a blaze of glory before you lose it totally?” Bodie said sardonically, mocking himself as much as his companion.
Ellison didn’t answer. It had begun to seem the obvious way out to him. Save a few lives, take a few killers with him maybe. He wondered how long Bodie had also thought of it as the only option.
“Or give in and take a guide,” Bodie went on. “You ever considered it seriously.”
“Don’t like the idea of someone else crawling around in your mind.” Bodie made it a statement, not a question.
“That… and the guides I’ve seen… it seems a bit too much like slavery.”
Bodie tilted the liquid backwards and forwards in his glass for a moment, then jerked his attention away from it before it became too hypnotic. “I saw a lot of slavery in Africa. Not always very pleasant, but at least you could be certain then who was the slave and who was the master.”
As they talked they had been keeping part of their attention on the men they had followed and the rest of the club, and Bodie broke off now as he noticed something worth watching. “Looks like a contact.”
Ellison nodded. He too had seen the apparently casual exchange of remarks between the man in the suit and a couple of art-student types who had just walked in. Ostensibly keeping their whole attention on their bottle, he and Bodie covertly observed the newcomers, who took a table not too far from their own.
“Look more like users than dealers,” Bodie murmured.
“It’s going over big in the universities,” Ellison said, his eyes on the younger of the two men. He looked as if he might be a student. The long hair falling in curls and the hippy clothing shouted liberal arts or worse. The other man, Ellison wasn’t so sure about. He looked older, his face harder and his manner indefinably more wary. But he too had a tangle of curls, and a leather jacket over scruffy jeans. Maybe an artist of some sort. He looked more streetwise than the younger man, and when the man in the suit casually joined them, he was the one who did the talking.
“You listening?” Bodie asked softly.
“Not in here.” Ellison had no hope of focussing in on the conversation amid the other noise going on around them. “You?”
“Not a chance. We need a more traditional method.”
“That’d be popular with Security One—sentinels asking for bugging technology.”
Bodie smiled, his face briefly transformed. Perhaps like Ellison he was finding a measure of relief in being able to acknowledge a problem he usually had to keep buried.
The exchange at the other table had been relatively brief. ‘Suit’ went back to his friend, and shortly afterwards they left. Ellison met the unspoken question in Bodie’s glance. “I think we’ll let them go and concentrate on these two. They’re more likely to make a mistake.”
“What do we do? Find out where they live, who else they make contact with?” Bodie asked. “I’m not a cop, remember.”
“That sort of thing,” Ellison said. “Of course, they may well split up when they leave.”
Bodie had already given that some thought apparently. “You watch the hippy, I’ll take goldilocks,” he offered.
Ellison smiled involuntarily at the nicknames and nodded. He’d been thinking that would be the best arrangement too. He wasn’t sure exactly why, but it felt right. He wondered if he’d seen the younger man before somewhere. There was something about him that seemed familiar. It niggled at him, so that it was difficult not to look at them more and more frequently. Rubbing a hand across his forehead against a building headache he realised to his surprise that they were having the same effect on Bodie.
“There’s something about them,” Bodie muttered irritably.
“Long-haired punks who need shaking down for narcotics,” Jim said, wishing it was as simple as that.
“Something more. And one of them’s British. I caught a bit of his accent but I couldn’t focus on the words.”
“Goldilocks. Definitely from the UK—north midlands at a guess.”
“Import export business,” Ellison said cynically. “In six months you’ll be having the problems we’ve got now.” He still felt his gaze pulled unaccountably to the other table, and forced himself to look at Bodie instead.
Bodie smiled, not with his eyes. “You can feel it too,” he said. “Like a damn itch…”
“They could be our break on this case.”
“It’s not that. It’s something else altogether. Like I recognise that bloke, except I’m sure that I never set eyes on him before.”
Ellison felt the room becoming continually more oppressive: the noise chaotic, a hundred different scents assaulting him, a tangible quality to the air as if it was pressing against his skin. His head pounded. Giving in, he shifted slightly and looked at the long-haired student, and with an abruptness that really unnerved him everything fell back into focus. Bodie was right. It had the feeling of recognition, but it was something else entirely. He was obscurely certain that he didn’t want to know what it was.
Blair squirmed in his seat, and wondered what it could be that was making him feel so uncomfortable. The evening had gone smoothly enough. This had been the contact Doyle wanted; he was close now to the big supplier, and that much closer to the source. Although the man who had approached them had been discreetly indirect, it had been made clear enough that he would be interested in Doyle’s custom. Doyle had played his part perfectly, but he didn’t seem any more satisfied or at ease now than Blair was.
“Someone’s watching us,” he said quietly.
Blair thought about it. It was that sort of feeling, only magnified. He didn’t just feel watched; he felt hunted. Even with all his empathic abilities damped right down by drugs, he could feel it sharply, as if there was a predator out there.
“Do you know who it is?” he asked softly.
Doyle shook his head. “Maybe just someone interested in what deal we’re cutting. Or someone who thinks this is their territory and wants to make sure we’re not muscling in. It’s probably something trivial.”
“I’ve got to tell you, it doesn’t feel trivial,” Blair said, trying to pinpoint the discomfort. It was weird. On the one hand he felt the prickly tension of knowing someone was watching him, waiting perhaps to make a move, but mingled with that was a feeling he couldn’t work out at all, a sort of fascination, as if he needed to look round and make eye-contact with the watcher. “It feels… personal,” he added.
Reluctantly Doyle agreed. “I know. But no-one’s making any sort of move at the moment. I’ll tell you what we’d better do. You remember the first time we came here, we checked out alternative exits.”
“How could I forget.” They’d put on an act of being much the worse for wear in order to justify prolonged visits to the cloakrooms and back corridors of the place. It had given them an accurate idea of the layout. Beyond the men’s room was a door through to a kitchen, which in turn gave on to the back alley.
“I want you to go out the back way,” Doyle said quietly. “Go to the men’s room, then turn into the kitchen when you come out. If possible, wait ’til the crowd blocks the entrance to that corridor. Then make your way straight back to the warehouse.”
“What about you.”
“If anyone does follow me, I can lose him, and more easily on my own.”
“What if there’s more than one,” Blair pointed out.
Doyle shrugged. “If they follow me, that’s okay. If they split up, at least you’ll have a start.”
He leaned back in his chair as if he was settled for the evening. Blair got up, taking care to look a little unsteady on his feet, and walked slowly to the men’s room. He let the door swing almost shut, and saw with satisfaction that a noisy group had just come in. He gave them a minute to get well into the room looking around for neighbouring tables and while they were obscuring most people’s view he slipped hastily out and through into the kitchen.
“Just looking for Maria,” he said glibly. “Maybe she’s out the back.”
He got a couple of blank looks but no-one tried to stop him as he went on through and out into the street.
“I can’t take a lot more of this place,” Bodie muttered, wincing at the noise from the group who had just come in.
Ellison, his eyes showing his head was pounding as badly as Bodie’s, nodded agreement. “Maybe we could wait outside,” he said quietly.
Bodie looked at the man slouched casually at the other table, leatherclad elbows propping him up. He seemed in no hurry to move, idly waiting for his companion… who was taking a remarkably long time to come back…
“Shit,” Bodie said abruptly. “They’ve made us. That hippy kid isn’t coming back.”
Ellison looked at Bodie, looked across the milling crowd of newcomers to the corridor. “We weren’t that obvious,” he said. “I’ll go after him but I don’t believe they spotted us. I’m going out the front way. There’s no point making it clear I’m following him, and it won’t be any more difficult to pick up the trail that way by now.”
Bodie glanced across at the remaining man. He, at least, seemed set for the evening, chatting up a cheerfully pretty girl. “Okay. Good hunting. I’ll meet up with you tomorrow.”
Ellison strolled out, and as far as Bodie could see the remaining quarry did not pay any attention. He’d accumulated a second hostess and whatever he was saying to the girls was making them giggle. Bodie decided he could hardly feel any worse whatever he did, and drained the drink he’d been fidgetting with. The noisy group had finally seated themselves, but the place was still irritating his senses, and he had to call on all his reserves to endure it.
His thoughts were interrupted by a human Barbie doll trying to sit on his knee. While this wasn’t exactly unwelcome, he did wonder what had suddenly prompted it.
“You’re new in here, aren’t you,” she asked affectionately, invading his space like a ship’s figurehead.
Bodie blinked at expanses of inadequately covered skin. Thirty eight, D cup, he thought automatically. Taking up the whole horizon.
“Aren’t you going to buy me a drink?” she asked, pouting with perfect lips.
Bodie was used to the various nuances of these exchanges, and this one didn’t ring true. With sudden suspicion—and some difficulty—he looked round her and at the neighbouring table. Empty. Goldilocks was just going out of the door. “Sorry, sweetheart,” he said, dumping her unceremoniously from his lap and jumping up. “I think you’ve already been paid well enough for this one.”
He made the door in moments, not worrying who he knocked out of his way, and swung out into the ill-lit street. The man might have realised they were watching him, but he didn’t think there was any way he could have known they were sentinels. He would think he was safe—already at a distance, and alert for someone following him. Bodie didn’t like using his senses, but he liked being beaten even less. Quite deliberately he drove his fist against the woodwork of the door—not enough to do any lasting damage, just enough to hurt. The pain could ground him. Then he used his eyes.
It took him much less time than he would have expected to find his man; maybe it was because he’d been looking at him for half the evening, he decided, choosing to ignore the fact that that didn’t explain why he had known the right direction to look in the first place. He watched the route the man was taking, before he began to follow at such a distance that he was sure he could not be picked out by normal sight.
He tracked him successfully for about twenty minutes, and then without warning he lost him. Bodie paused. He was not having a good evening. He liked to be cool and control in all circumstances, but he was beginning to feel more and more uneasy with the sequence of events. It wasn’t anything to do with the dark streets or the local rough element; he could handle that without too much difficulty, and had spent plenty of his life in worse places. It wasn’t his senses, either. He’d found it almost too easy to focus in on the distant silhouette. He wasn’t sure what it was.
As he moved cautiously into the area where he had last seen the man he was following, his unease grew. This street was off the main ones, and almost empty by now. The other was close—he was sure of it, though he didn’t know why. Could he have realised he was being followed? It shouldn’t have been possible, but nor should he and the hippy have picked up their surveillance at the club. A possible answer, an explanation of how his pursuit could have been sensed, brought him to an abrupt halt, too late. From behind him came the unmistakeable click of a gun, and an English voice said softly, “Stand still.”
Bodie hadn’t survived for as long as he had by misjudging these situations. He stood still, and when he was ordered to turn around he did that. At close quarters he knew that he had been right—though considerably too late. Whatever else he was, this man was a guide. A guide who didn’t seem to fit at all well with Bodie’s preconceptions, but very definitely one all the same. While he was carefully obeying instructions, Bodie wondered how he could use this to his advantage.
“You know what,” he said. “I don’t think you’re going to shoot me whatever I do.”
The man smiled. “Going to bet your life on it are you?”
“I know you’re a guide,” Bodie said.
“You were slow enough picking that up,” his captor pointed out. “I could feel you coming from streets away.”
Bodie didn’t try to answer that. Instead he pursued his own line. “They say if someone’s hurt you feel their pain. I think that’s true. I’m not sure anyway that you could shoot a sentinel, but if you did, I reckon doing it might just kill you as well.”
The man shrugged, what little light there was glinting off his hair as he moved. “I could probably survive shooting you in the knee, and you’d find it permanently inconvenient.”
Bodie raised his eyebrows. “Sabotage, drug dealing and now knee-capping? Which side of the Irish sea are you from?”
“Prejudiced against the Irish as well as against guides. How do you rate blacks?” came the mocking reply.
The gun had never wavered, and Bodie felt a grudging respect. This man was no amateur, guide or not. It was not going to be easy getting out of this one.
“Are we going to stand like this all night?” Bodie asked, more for the sake of keeping the initiative than anything else. He’d decided he had one reasonable chance. This man was a guide, however rogue. He had to have a guide’s instincts. Sooner or later Bodie was going to have the opportunity to use those against him, and meanwhile he needed to play for time.
“I haven’t decided. Why don’t you start by telling me what put you on to us?” his captor said.
“It’s the charming company you were keeping,” Bodie said truthfully. “We’d followed your contact. Why else do you think we were in the bar?”
“Don’t bother with the lies.” That reaction was so swift it took Bodie by surprise. “I’ll make it easy for you. Willis sent you. We’d had word he might use sentinels. I should have known what you were in that bar… But I don’t understand how you found us in the first place.”
Bodie, abruptly speechless, stared at him. The man’s words put such a different perspective on what had happened that night that for once he was totally taken aback. He and Ellison had been so involved in getting back onto the drugs case he’d half forgotten his official brief. Even when he’d realised the man was a guide the truth of what had happened had never crossed his mind. Now, finally, he got it. If Cowley knew how long it had taken him he’d probably offer to shoot him himself. By some chain of circumstances that he had yet to understand, the two men they’d been watching were the elusive missing guides. Without looking for them they’d done the impossible and found them.
“What did Willis promise you?” the guide went on. “A piece of the action if you took us in? Get your kicks out of disciplining rogue guides do you?”
Off balance and annoyed at his own stupidity, Bodie rose to that one. “Willis isn’t my boss. I didn’t have a choice about being officially on this job, but the last thing we were doing was actually looking for you. I told you what happened. We followed a drug dealer and he met you. You want to know how I get my kicks? Not from supplying crap to rot kids’ minds.”
He saw sheer fury erupt in the green eyes that were watching him so professionally. “And where do you think that crap is coming from in the first place?”
At that moment, Bodie got his opportunity. He’d been waiting for something, anything, that might plausibly have provoked some kind of sensory spike. Now, in the busier road that they had turned from, a near accident caused a sudden blaring of car horns. Immediately, with what he hoped was a convincing expression of agony, Bodie doubled up clenching his hands against his ears. It worked. His captor’s guard dropped for a moment as he almost moved to help him and in a swift explosion of movement Bodie sent the gun flying from his hand into the gutter, and then they were fighting hand to hand.
It should have been over in seconds but it wasn’t.
Bodie disliked revising his opinion on any subject and the middle of a brawling fight was hardly the time, but as he struggled to get the upper hand he could not help the thought slipping in that someone had bloody well misled him about what guides were capable of. He had size and strength on his side, but the guide had obviously been trained in a number of martial arts and he had a whipcord strength himself that his slight build had not hinted at. They could anticipate each other’s moves in a way Bodie had never experienced before with someone who was a stranger. He had a feeling they were both limited too, held back by instinctive restraints that they could not break through. He was trained to kill with his hands, but he couldn’t have done it here even if he’d wanted to. It was almost like a sparring match with gloves off, and although they were both doing some damage he found himself almost enjoying it.
Maybe the guide felt it too, for he dodged back just a little, and they stood for a moment panting and bruised, aware of being well-matched and perhaps half aware of other undercurrents. Then, ludicrously, his R/T bleeped. Without taking his eyes off his opponent, he flipped it on, and said hastily, “3.7. I’m a bit busy right now, sir.”
“I’m sure she’ll wait, Bodie,” came the answer in Cowley’s dry tone. “If you can manage to give me your attention for a few moments, Security One seem to be interested in your activities this evening.”
Something in the way he said it put Bodie on the alert. “This is an open line today is it?”
Bodie wasn’t sure he could carry on the fight and cope with this conversation at the same time, but to his surprise the curly-haired guide drew back and gestured to him to go ahead, giving him space. Watching him warily, he went on, “What did you want me to report on, sir?”
As he had assumed, Willis was there. The controller’s sharp tones cut in now. “What the devil do you and Ellison think you’re playing at? You’re supposed to be finding these rogue guides, not following up a case which Ellison has handed over on my orders.”
Bodie blinked. Willis’ channels of information were obviously working well. Blandly he said, “I don’t know what you mean, sir. We’re just following up any leads. We had a tip off the guides might be in this area.”
“I’m not a fool, Bodie. Put Ellison on.”
“We’re not together, sir.”
“You’ll both report to me first thing tomorrow morning. If you have any genuine lead to these guides I want a full report on it.”
“You’re already well aware of my orders on the subject, too, Bodie,” Cowley said, neatly giving the impression that he was supporting Willis, though Bodie knew quite well what he meant. He would not be giving any information about the guides to Willis without checking it out with Cowley first, not if he still wanted a job.
He hoped Willis had finished, but something or someone had evidently stirred the controller up. “What exactly is your location at the moment, sentinel.”
Cowley intercepted that one. “I don’t think Bodie knows Cascade very well, do you Bodie.”
Bodie glared at the guide who was now leaning casually against the wall and was apparently finding this amusing. “No, sir,” he said obediently. “I .. er… split up from Ellison… ”
“I’m aware of how you spend your evenings, Bodie,” Cowley said. “Long-legged and blond is she?”
Bodie was getting just a little tired of being a pawn in this complicated game. “No sir, you want to think curls and a definite attitude.”
“That’s enough, Bodie,” Cowley said very sharply. “Report in as ordered tomorrow.” He cut off the connection.
Bodie looked at the R/T blankly. He hadn’t really expected his last remark to mean anything to Cowley. He wished someone would tell him what was going on. He’d been summarily dismissed, he wasn’t sure what the hell Cowley was up to, and he didn’t know if he had a fight to finish.
“George Cowley, master of doublethink,” his opponent said, settling the last question. The green eyes were slightly friendlier.
Bodie knew Cowley’s name hadn’t been mentioned, and if this man knew him well enough to recognise his voice they had probably better end hostilities. “Who the blazes are you?” he demanded. “And what do you know about Cowley?”
“Doyle. Ray Doyle. And what does anyone know about Cowley?”
Bodie accepted that. “He knew I meant you when I made that crack about curls. He doesn’t want me to bring you in. Why not?”
“You’d better ask him. So, you and—Ellison was it? You really had followed our dealer. What’s Ellison, Cascade PD?”
“Major Crimes,” Bodie said. “Look, Doyle, if we’ve finished beating the crap out of each other and we’re on anything like the same side, why don’t we go and find him before we have this conversation. Apart from anything else, he may not have come to such a happy understanding with your hippy friend.”
That suggestion galvanized Doyle into action. Picking the gun hastily up from where it had landed, he led the way rapidly through the back streets. Bodie rubbed surreptitiously at his ribs and took comfort in the fact that Doyle was limping slightly. They would both be stiff and sore for a day or two, and there was blood trickling down Doyle’s chin that in some primitive way disturbed him. He shut down firmly everything sentinel, thankful for years of learning how to close off his natural reactions.
“Where are we going?” he asked as the neighbourhood became rougher and more industrial.
“Finding it hard to keep up?” Doyle enquired with mock sympathy. “Not far. Down here…”
He broke off as he turned into the area where the warehouse was located. Not far ahead of them was a struggling knot of men, all too obviously a few of the locals taking on a man who was fighting them off with considerable skill and a sort of controlled savagery which Bodie felt an immediate response to.
“That’s Ellison,” he said sharply. They both began to run, and none too soon. Ellison was outnumbered and barely holding his own. He’d done plenty of damage to the thugs though, and when Bodie and Doyle arrived the group of them had no stomach for a fight against more equal odds. Bodie worked off a small amount of his frustration with the evening, but then the street seemed to empty in a moment.
He turned from the last man to run, and found both Doyle and Ellison already kneeling by the side of someone sprawled in the road, apparently trying to sit up. Not one of the thugs, Bodie realised. He recognised the scruffy clothing and the longer curls. Ellison had found the hippy, or the muggers had. Either way it didn’t look as if he’d come out of it very well. Ellison was easing him up and Doyle’s expression wavered between anxious and furious. “What happened?” he was demanding of Ellison.
“Leave it,” Bodie said shortly, watching the street. “Let’s get somewhere a little more civilized. You can find out the details then.”
It was quite a lot later before Blair was able to put his account of the evening together with everyone else’s. He had strolled round past the front of the club, checking behind him for any pursuit, and then made his way back towards the warehouse as quietly and inconspicuously as possible. He was aware from quite early on that the uncomfortable sense of being hunted had not gone. He was certain there was no-one in sight, but he felt as if there were eyes focussed on him. Worse than the sense of being hunted was his own ambivalence; he wanted to run, as far and as fast as he could, and yet he was also drawn to look back, to keep within range.
Annoyed with himself, he compromised in the end. He told himself it would be helpful to know who was following him, and why, and especially how they had picked up his trail. Choosing his place carefully, he had slid into a pool of deep shadow and waited. He could actually feel his pursuer coming nearer, he was sure of it, and while that was alarming he also found it interesting, the academic part of his mind analysing the phenomenon even as he stared back along the route he had taken.
He knew the man as soon as he came into sight. Although he could make out nothing but a shadow at that distance, he was sure it was the man from the club. It must be the way he’s moving, like some big cat or something… it’s definitely him… so how did he manage to follow me… I can hardly see him now, and yet he turned along here as if… as if he had seen me… Oh, man…
It suddenly became clear to him, explaining the curious unease he’d been feeling, explaining the confusion of instinct and common sense. He watched the man tilt his head to one side, listening now, and recognised the unmistakeable act of a sentinel.
He knew then he couldn’t hope to lose this man in any ordinary way. He had no practical experience with sentinels, but he’d read a great deal, and his theoretical knowledge was considerable. He ought to be able to devise some sort of strategy. Come on, think. The guy’s just a cave man with advantages. He can be outwitted…
The sentinel had not made any progress. Blair watched. The man hadn’t found him, he was still listening. He hadn’t begun to move again. In fact he hadn’t moved at all—he still held exactly the same listening posture he’d adopted two or three minutes before. Blair waited, then tried flicking a pebble out into the road. Nothing. No reaction at all. It could be a trap, but he thought not. He’d never seen this, but he knew what it was. The sentinel had been concentrating too hard on finding some trace of him, and had zoned.
Yep, definitely zoned. Not there, not with it.
Blair realised now would be a very good moment to remove himself from the scene. He turned to do so, and managed all of three steps. Both instinct and his own humanity were against this decision, and he simply could not do it. How could he simply leave the man here. Maybe in some well-lit civilised area, but in this neighbourhood… He could just imagine the pleasure some of the local thugs would take in mugging a sentinel and removing all his valuables while he was unable to fight back. And the street was one where he and Doyle had had trouble…
Reluctantly, cursing incompetent sentinels, he went slowly and very cautiously back down the street. An old broom handle at the gateway of a yard caught his eye, and he picked it up as an aid to self defence. The thought was looming large in his mind that his hands-on experience in the world of sentinels was absolutely zero, and he wasn’t sure how to go about the whole de-zoning thing. Doyle had never been any help in that way. He hated to talk about his brief partnership with Syd Parker, but anyway, Blair had realised that they’d functioned much more as a couple of cops than as a sentinel and guide.
Never mind. I can do this. I’ve read something about it. Got to make some sort of contact. He decided hearing would be his best bet. At least that could be done from a distance.
A couple of frustrated minutes later, after talking in his best persuasive voice to the human equivalent of a brick wall, he stopped to rethink this. Maybe voice only worked if the sentinel recognised it… or maybe it was the note of panic creeping in that was the problem. He really did not want to get any closer. Being within reach when the sentinel snapped out of it seemed a distinctly stupid idea.
He peered down the street, then, hoping desperately that Doyle might have caught up with them, and saw something much more ominous. A handful of large men were coming drunkenly towards them. Even at that distance he could recognise the one at the front—he was the local mugger Doyle had done his David and Goliath act with. He’d probably remember Blair, and he was exactly the sort of person to kick the hell out of an incapacitated sentinel.
Blair found himself at the sentinel’s side before he’d even realised he’d made a decision. Grabbing the man’s arms he spoke to him with a lot more urgency. “Come on, big guy. Time to get it together. You need to do your big bad sentinel act before these thugs start in with their boots.”
To his relief—and, if he was honest, surprise—he felt the rigid body shudder, and the man drew in a deep breath as if it hurt.
“That’s right,” Blair said, trying to keep his voice calm and persuasive when he would have preferred to do a bit of screaming. “Come on, back to me here. I need you in the real world, and if you could hurry it up, that would be a really good idea.”
Light blue eyes suddenly snapped into focus and Blair moved prudently out of reach before the man’s brain could catch up. “Right. Good. We need to get out of here…” he began, and realised that it was already too late. Goliath and his backstreet philistines had arrived.
The sentinel, possibly fairly pissed with life anyway, went into action with impressive speed, sending one man flying and rocking Goliath back on his heels. Blair grabbed his broomhandle and cracked it violently over the shins of another. But there were five of them, and Goliath was only temporarily shaken. The sentinel began to deal with him more thoroughly while dodging any blows from the others. Blair wielded his improvised staff vigorously, but the man whose shins he’d rapped staggered up again and as Blair turned back to him another came in from the side and caught him with a blow from a fist that felt like a lump of metal. Blair found himself on his face on the ground, a blinding pain in his head. Vaguely remembering lectures from Doyle he tried to ignore the pain and dizziness and roll out of the way protecting his body from the kicks that would probably follow.
He felt that his efforts were pathetic, but they left him alone anyway. A second of feeling relieved was followed by the realisation that this probably meant they were all piling onto the sentinel. Horrified by the thought, he tried to push himself up on arms that felt like rubber, but the movement sent a wave of throbbing though his head and the ground came up and hit him in the face. He lay there lost in a maze of pain and concern for the sentinel, unable to do so much as roll over, listening to a confusion of sound that ended with running feet. Then he realised that there was a familiar voice somewhere above his head, and he was rolled over to find Doyle looking down at him from one side, and the sentinel, unhurt, on the other. Obviously while he was getting up close and personal with the road surface reinforcements had arrived.
Blair just about managed to focus on the two faces, and make out what Doyle was saying. He felt the sentinel’s hand move lightly across his face, and since Doyle wasn’t protesting he thought it must be all right. The touch was surprisingly gentle, and so were the arms that lifted him up against the sentinel’s shoulder.
“He’s okay,” the sentinel said, a judgment which Blair would have objected to if he could have found words. “Nothing’s broken. He’s going to have one hell of a bruise down this side of his face, and he’s a bit concussed, but he’ll be all right.”
Doyle nodded, accepting the diagnosis. He patted Blair on the shoulder. “You’ll be fine,” he said.
Blair blinked at him in disbelief. He was still sitting on the ground. His head felt as if it might drop off at any moment, and they seemed to have been apprehended by two sentinels. How did that translate into being fine? He made a noise which Doyle seemed to understand in part.
“Yeah, sorry. This is Ellison, Cascade PD, and Bodie, CI5. They’re not a problem. They’re trying to bust the same dealers.”
“What?” They sounded like a major problem to him. His head, though still hurting fiercely, was less giddy, and he struggled to sit up alone. Ellison hauled him effortlessly back. “Keep still a minute, chief,” he said quietly, then to Doyle, “I’m not sure I understand what’s going on.”
Doyle glanced back at Bodie, who pointed out for the second time that they’d better get off the streets before going into details. Doyle nodded. “I’ve got information you can use more efficiently than I can,” he said to Ellison. “You’d better come back with us and I’ll set it out for you.”
Blair groaned. He should have known. Doyle had been wanting some sort of police contact ever since he’d taken on this crusade. Obviously the fact that Ellison was a cop had quite outweighed for Doyle the fact that the man was a sentinel. He wondered if Doyle had given any thought to the fact they were wanted by all the official authorities of Cascade. The groan, and the warning look he tried to give Doyle were misinterpreted, both by Ellison and Doyle. So much for empathy. Doyle turned back to him anxiously and Ellison swung him up onto his feet, taking most of his weight. “Right. Let’s get you somewhere you can lie down.”
With a major effort, Blair ignored the pounding in his head, glared at Doyle and said pointedly, “I hope you’ve thought this through.”
Doyle grinned, making his lip bleed, Blair noticed. He and Bodie looked a lot more battered than Ellison. “It’s okay,” he said. “They’re not going to take us in. Bodie knows he’d be out of a job, and I think Ellison is more interested in getting Zero off the streets.”
Blair hadn’t a chance of arguing with this optimism, in fact he was so disconcerted by Doyle being optimistic at all that he allowed Ellison to haul him in silence the remaining distance to the warehouse. To be fair, the hauling was quite gentle, and it was something of a relief to let someone else do the work. He let his head rest against Ellison’s arm, and tried to ignore the conversation between Doyle and Ellison which involved a highly technical discussion about how the PD was set up compared to the British police.
The warehouse did not impress their visitors. Blair looked at it from their point of view and had to admit that beside the fact it was draughty and slightly derelict, neither he nor Doyle was tidy. Piles of clothes, papers and general muddle filled what they thought of as their living space. Food was safely stored in containers, in case of cockroaches or worse, but the containers were piled haphazard on the table by the sink. It was probably better not to think about the bathroom. Maybe if their visit was brief…
“I did a couple of years in Vice,” Ellison was saying.
“We have the Drug Squad,” Doyle began.
Out of the corner of his eye, Blair noticed that Bodie, with an extremely resigned expression, had sat down in the only respectable chair and put his feet up on their coffee table. It was going to be a long night.
Ray Doyle had been a good cop. Maybe he wouldn’t exchange his present employment for going back onto the force- supposing he still had any employment after he’d finished in Cascade—but he valued police work, and he liked cops. It encouraged him more than anything had done for a long time to meet Ellison, who was clearly a detective first and a sentinel only because he couldn’t help it.
Doyle hadn’t missed the fact that Blair wasn’t too happy about bringing two sentinels back to the warehouse. He hoped that when his head was hurting less and he could think straight, Blair would see that Ellison was exactly what he often said research showed sentinels were supposed to be—natural guardians, using their abilities to protect the ‘tribe’. Of course, he’d never really convinced Blair that this was the role of the police, though he’d cured him of using the term ‘pig’. Anyway, Ellison was all right. He had reservations about Bodie but with Cowley to keep him in line he wasn’t a real threat, and the chance to work with Ellison on the drugs case made it worthwhile putting up with Bodie.
The other problem of having unbonded sentinels around he’d decided to ignore. He was aware of it—probably more aware than anyone else in the room—but he thought it was a risk worth taking. Willis wouldn’t have been employing these two if he thought they were susceptible, and he himself had long learned to put aside anything personal. All the same, he’d seen in the street how instinctively Ellison had moved to help Blair, and how gently he’d handled him. He still had him tucked under one arm now, while he removed the tangle of blankets from the bed with the other. Blair glared at Doyle who he clearly considered partly responsible for this, then said firmly to Ellison, “Uh, thanks, man but I can manage now.”
Ellison ignored him. “Have you got any painkillers?” he asked Doyle. “And an ice-pack or something?”
Doyle hesitated. Blair didn’t like taking anything, but he looked awful, the swelling down one side of his face beginning to darken already, and his eyes suggesting a degree of concussion and a blinding headache. He fetched a bag of frozen peas and the painkillers. They were ones which it was safe to use in conjunction with the guide meds. Another dose of those was really due but he hesitated to use them while the sentinels were there. Theoretically they ought to be able to guess he and Blair had access to medication, but in fact he doubted if it would occur to them, and he really didn’t want to bring it to their attention. A long campaign of newspaper articles and other media releases had put the meds more on a par with hard drugs than clinical treatment in the public’s awareness, and their use was very strictly limited to the facility.
Blair had given in, or perhaps his legs had stopped holding him. He’d allowed himself to be seated on the bed and have his face checked again. Doyle handed him a glass of water and the tablets. “Here—these will do for now,” he said, hoping Blair would understand about the other.
Blair met his eyes. “I really hope you know what you’re doing,” he said.
“I’m going to see that whoever’s behind Zero and its distribution gets what they deserve,” Doyle said. For himself he didn’t really care beyond that, but he’d see Blair was all right, whatever it took. “Go on, take the pills. You’ll feel better, and you might as well get some sleep. I can fill you in tomorrow.”
He wished Blair would stop looking at him as if he seriously doubted his sanity, but at least he did finally take the painkillers. Ellison took the cup from him and looked round for an uncluttered surface to put it on. “How do you live like this,” he grumbled.
“We make an effort,” Blair said shortly—not one of his wittiest comebacks, but Doyle could see he was hurting. Ellison could obviously see it too. He eased him back onto the straightened blankets and helped him settle the bag of frozen peas against his face. “That’ll help bring the swelling down,” he said. “And, Chief, thanks… you could just have walked on.”
“No, couldn’t have done that,” Blair said sounding a little sleepy now, as though the painkillers were kicking in. “Rough street. Knew there’d be trouble coming.”
“I think that’s what I meant,” Ellison said quietly.
Doyle couldn’t see Blair’s face, but he guessed he was falling asleep, because Ellison said no more, though he continued to stand there looking down at him with a slightly puzzled expression on his face—puzzled but definitely protective. Doyle felt a twisting mixture of yearning and caution. He didn’t want Blair to live like he was doing. The meds were toxic enough to be a real risk after a few years, and barely adequate anyway. He wouldn’t give himself a lot longer, and his main concern now was to do what he could against Security One while he had the chance. Blair had set himself to hold on to his independence at all costs, but a sentinel like Ellison… maybe Blair would feel differently about that…
He went to pull some beers out of the fridge for the rest of them, but he didn’t hurry. Ellison was still standing there, all his attention fixed on Blair, apparently waiting until he felt sure he was asleep.
Bodie was watching them too, obviously with half a mind to interfere. Doyle handed him a beer. “Stay out of it,” he said.
“I don’t think so,” Bodie said coldly. “He has no idea…”
“He’s grateful to the kid for saving his neck.”
“That doesn’t mean he wants him hanging round it like a millstone.”
“You’re an arrogant bastard,” Doyle said, draining his own beer without appreciation. “This stuff is appalling.”
“The yanks don’t understand beer,” Bodie agreed. “Ellison! Hey, Ellison!”
He looked on with exasperation and Doyle with amusement as Ellison straightened the blankets quite unnecessarily and adjusted the icepack so it covered Blair’s bruised cheek before he came to join them.
“Thanks,” Ellison said, taking his own beer and apparently enjoying its cold fizziness. “How much has Bodie told you?”
“I didn’t tell him anything more than the fact we’d followed your man in a suit,” Bodie said. “He guessed the rest, mostly because he overheard an interesting conversation I just had with Cowley and Willis. Willis knows where we’ve been tonight and why. I tried to tell him we’d been in the club because we had a lead to the guides, but he wasn’t buying it and Cowley choked me off. I still don’t know what Cowley’s up to, but he made it very clear he won’t thank me for finding these two.”
He looked at Doyle, who didn’t offer an explanation.
Ellison frowned. “It looks as if you were right. Someone in Security One doesn’t want the dealers busted. I still don’t understand why.”
“I do,” Doyle said. He explained his ideas about the origins of the new drug. “This must go higher up than the scientists at the facility.”
“Willis?” Bodie said thoughtfully.
“Nah. Not his style. I’m not saying he wouldn’t go to extreme lengths to cover it up—if the news got out you can imagine what the publicity would do to set back his plans for Security One. But he’d have it dealt with. At the moment the stuff is still coming out onto the streets.”
“Kincaid,” Ellison said. “He’d do it. He’s even more ambitious than Willis to see Security One gain a total hold of Cascade. He was already making a big deal of the PDs failure to deal with the drug distribution, and wanting to close down some faculties of the university where students had been caught using and dealing. He could gain all ways from it. He’s getting cash to promote schemes he could never get official approval for, he’s getting increasing civil problems, because this drug is pernicious, and he’s undermining the official force.”
Bodie made a face. “If it’s Kincaid, we’re taking on rather a big challenge. There are just two of us in case you hadn’t counted recently, and I’m only here as a visitor. Add to that the fact that most of our evidence is coming from a couple of wanted criminals and the situation isn’t exactly promising.”
“Running scared?” Doyle asked, annoyed. He’d gone into this against a lot heavier odds.
“Being realistic,” Bodie said calmly.
“Banks doesn’t trust Kincaid,” Ellison said thoughtfully.
“Your captain,” Doyle said, remembering bits of their conversation. “If we got the evidence, he could handle it.”
“If…” Bodie said, playing devil’s advocate and apparently enjoying it.
“It doesn’t really matter to you, does it,” Doyle said. “Why don’t you go along to Cascade General and have a look at a couple of victims. There are plenty there. Three kids from the university were in intensive care a couple of nights ago. Or there’s the long-term pathologically insane cases, people who lose their ability to relate to the rest of the world at all and…”
“You don’t know what matters to me,” Bodie said icily. “It won’t help anyone if you go into this as if it’s some sort of crusade. So far, you haven’t got anything Ellison could use. Even this so-called connection with the facility is just your guess.”
Anger with Bodie made Doyle abandon the last element of caution. They needed proof. He thought he knew one way to get it. “Do you think your labs could trace the chemical connection between guide medication and this drug?” Doyle asked Ellison. “That would be a start.”
“If they could get hold of any guide medication, maybe. It’s only available in the facility and to registered guides. The penalties for possessing it are one hell of a deterrent. And you can imagine the reaction from Kincaid if Major Crimes ask for some to analyse. That would really show our hand.”
Doyle looked at the two sentinels, trying to read their emotions and failing. He was going to have to take a big risk if he did what he was thinking of doing. Ellison he trusted, but he would be asking Ellison to ignore the possession of illegal substances, and he wouldn’t like it. Bodie, cool and shuttered, he didn’t trust at all. But what choice was there?
Slowly he walked over to the kitchen area and brought back a handful of the guide meds. “Here,” he said briefly, tipping them into Ellison’s hand. “That should be enough. You’ll need to get someone discreet to do the lab work.”
Ellison looked down at the tablets in his hand and his face hardened. Doyle watched him silently, seeing his jaw clench as he dealt with this evidence of the company he was keeping.
“You know how illegal this is,” Ellison stated, his voice cold and impersonal now.
“It’s how we survive,” Doyle said flatly. “Without these we’d be quite quickly battered into insanity by the emotions around us. They’re as necessary for us as medication would be for someone with asthma or epilepsy. With them we can lead relatively normal lives.”
“If you can call drug dependency a normal life,” Bodie put in smoothly, getting a glare from both of them.
“By controlling the supply, Security One make it impossible for unbonded guides to survive outside their facilities. Can you imagine the reaction if that was done with something like insulin?” Doyle went on, only talking to Ellison. He doubted if Bodie really cared either way.
Ellison stood there struggling visibly with the legacy of years of conditioning and prejudice, and to Doyle’s increased respect, finally nodded. “All right. I’ll get this into the labs tomorrow morning. I’ll see that someone I can trust works on it and the results only go to me.”
“That reminds me,” Bodie said. “Willis wants us to report to him tomorrow morning on exactly why we thought we’d look for the missing guides in the Coyote Club. He obviously thinks I was lying to him, which in the circumstances is probably a good thing. But we’re going to have to come up with some sort of story to offer an alternative reason for being there.”
“Cowley was trying to give you a hint,” Doyle said. “The Coyote Club has a lurid reputation in some circles for the hospitality of its hostesses. Let him think Ellison was just treating you to a night out in Cascade. You didn’t actually do anything to suggest you were onto the deal.”
“We didn’t stay all that long,” Ellison said doubtfully. “Did you get any idea who’d tipped Security One off?”
“It wouldn’t be anyone who worked for the club,” Doyle said.
“I think it was our man in the suit,” Bodie said slowly. “I told you I’d seen him before. He may have recognised me.”
“You can’t remember where you saw him?” Ellison asked.
Bodie shook his head. “We had a state-of-the-art guided tour of all Security One’s installations though. It could have been at the facility or somewhere similar.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Doyle said. “Even if someone else tipped them off, there’s nothing to say you and Ellison weren’t visiting a number of hotspots. You didn’t do anything that couldn’t be easily explained.”
“I chucked that tart off my lap, and went out after you in a hurry,” Bodie said, reviewing his actions.
Doyle grinned. “Well that shows good taste anyway. I don’t think you’ll be picked up on the details, but if you are, say you heard Ellison get into a brawl. Your face will back that up, and they’ll never question your hearing.”
“Doyle’s right,” Ellison said. “It’s a reasonable story, and if we leave here now we can go and make a rowdy appearance in another couple of hot spots. We’ll get back to you tomorrow Doyle. When’s your next meet set up?”
“Tomorrow night. Same place, same time. He’s bringing a sample.”
“We’ll be here early evening,” Ellison said. “I’ll sort the details out with you then, but I’ll bring a good camera and the stuff to record what goes down—he’s never checked you for a wire?”
“Not so far.”
“Or maybe he has very good access to police records,” Doyle pointed out. “He could easily have got a photograph of us. If this does go back to Security One it could have been checked against all possible undercover personnel.”
Ellison looked appalled. “Vice had a good man dumped in the harbour when he tried to get somewhere on this case,” he said slowly. “They never found out what blew his cover. But if you’re right, it means they’ll be confident they’re safe with you. Maybe we’ll get more that way.”
Bodie glanced at his watch. “It’s nearly three o’clock,” he pointed out. “If we’re going to bust up Cascade, we’d better get on with it.”
Ellison nodded, but he was in less of a hurry to leave. He glanced over at Blair, who had not stirred in all the time they were talking.
“Hope you’ve got your illegal drugs safely stashed,” Bodie added. “It might be difficult to explain them away.”
“We’d better drop them into the PD,” Ellison said. He glanced once more at Blair, looked down at the tablets in his hand and went out after Bodie. Doyle caught the expression on Bodie’s face and knew it had been deliberately and smoothly done. He’d seen how Ellison reacted to the kid, and wanted to make sure the impression he left with was the one he’d first formed—hippy drug-user.
Doyle squatted on the floor by Blair’s bed to check him over. His face was wet and his hair soaked where the peas had melted. Doyle swapped them for another frozen pack, and put a towel under his head without waking him. “George Cowley’s a good man,” he told the oblivious Blair. “Bodie may be a self-centred, smug throwback, but if he’s in CI5 he has to toe Cowley’s line.” He pushed the wet hair off Blair’s face. “When you wake up, I’m going to have to tell you what I did with the meds. Don’t think you’re going to be too happy about that.”
He was tired but he didn’t feel like sleep. He sat down on the floor, leaning against the edge of the bed. “You’ve got to hand it to Ellison, he took a hell of a lot of surprises in his stride. Of course, you made a good impression. You don’t know quite how unusual you are, do you? You’ve got more compassion than almost anyone I’ve ever met. He’s hunting you, and you still go back to give him a hand. You’re going to be feeling the bruises for a while, too, but that wasn’t Ellison’s fault.
“You’d make a good guide, y’know. I was a lousy one. Okay, I was more Syd’s partner than his guide, but either way I let him down. Never told you about Syd properly, have I. Not one of the more glorious episodes of my career. What sort of guide’s sitting in the car thinking everything’s going fine ’til his partner gets shot. That’s what Syd was really, my first partner when I went into the Met. He taught me most of what I know about being a cop. He wasn’t much of a sentinel, not the way Security One judges them, not powerful, but he was a hell of a good policeman.
“Don’t know why I didn’t realise anything was wrong that night. We weren’t bonded or anything, not properly, but I’d been working with him. I should have known something… Instead the first I knew about it was when I heard the shot. I was out of the car and up the stairs fast enough then, but he was dead and the bloke was gone. I got him later, but…
“When they buried Syd I knew I wasn’t going to let anyone else down like that. I stayed in the police, in the Met and then the Drug Squad. It was easier then. You could get the earlier types of medication officially without too much trouble. ‘Til Willis took over Security One. There was hell to pay when they found out I was holding that sort of job when they had me down as a registered guide. They don’t even like sentinels in the regular police—Ellison’s the first I’ve met for a long time, and I’d bet he’s got a military background as well, probably covert ops.
“Bodie’s more the usual type. Plenty of muscle, not too many morals and a brain he doesn’t bother to use. I’d be interested to know what he did before CI5. Maybe the SAS—he’d be good enough. They’re both powerful, him and Ellison. Real sentinels, not the hopped up ones they’re stimulating through the labs.” He was halted by a huge yawn. “I’m stopping making sense even to myself. Wonder if I ought to wake you up and get you to take another couple of those painkillers? We’re going to look conspicuous tomorrow. Mind you, so is Bodie.”
Blair rolled over comfortably, with a snort a horse would have been proud of. Doyle removed the cold pack and thought the swelling had improved. He decided it wasn’t worth going to bed, and settled down in a chair for the brief remainder of the night. At first he drifted on the edge of sleep, shifting restlessly. When he did sleep, he dreamed.
He dreamed of somewhere he might perhaps once have been, a grey empty warehouse. But fire was licking up its walls, and rapidly surrounding him, pushing him towards one narrow doorway. Forced on by the flames he had to pass through it or burn, but as he backed into it he felt himself falling. He caught on to some handhold, but he knew it would soon give. Then a shadowy figure looked down at him. Stiffly it held out a hand. He did not want to take it, though he could not remember why. Then his grip failed, and somehow he was reaching up, grasping the hand held out to him. For a moment he hung there and then he began to scream as he looked at the two arms, his own and the one holding it. They began to melt and lose all individual shape and substance, blending into one another from the joined hands. He was pulled up, still screaming, but before he could see the shadowy figure properly, he woke up.
He was drenched in sweat and humiliatingly relieved to be awake. The room was light, he realised, so he must have slept a while. He looked over at Blair, who was still peacefully asleep, hair everywhere and his mouth open. Good. He couldn’t have really screamed then. He shook off the lingering memory and went to put the coffee on.
At 852 Prospect, Jim Ellison was also putting the coffee on, mildly amused by the sight of Bodie fast asleep on the couch with a towel over his head. They’d fallen easily into their adopted role as troublemakers, creating a disturbance in one night club and crashing another as it was about to close. At the second one a brief fight had ensued with the bouncers and barmen—ending in overwhelming victory for the sentinels, though they’d been careful not to do any more damage to the men than they would have done to sparring partners. A glass of beer had been thrown over Bodie, but other than that they’d left unscathed, confident that complaints from irate club owners or managers would be on their way to Security One.
They’d been extremely late to bed, but Jim had woken after a couple of hours with a vague sense that something wasn’t right. He couldn’t find a problem anywhere, but by the time he’d convinced himself of that he was wide awake. He still, even now, had a sort of niggling feeling, as if something was missing, but he’d decided to ignore it. Maybe it was something to do with Bodie’s presence, though it had more the feeling of an absence. The coffee gurgled cheerfully, and he reached for some mugs.
The smell of it as he poured must have reached Bodie, who looked out from his towel, dishevelled and much more bruised from their night’s activities than Jim was. Jim handed him the coffee. “I forgot to say last night—thanks for your help in that street fight; you seem to have picked up a black eye on my behalf.”
To his amazement Bodie actually looked embarrassed. “No, don’t worry about it, that was earlier. Anyway, it should all help convince Willis we were just having a wild night out.”
Jim noticed the hasty change of subject. “Earlier?” he asked. “What sort of trouble did you get into earlier?”
Bodie glared at him. “Are you always this chatty in a morning? What happened to breakfast.”
Ellison found bacon and eggs and cut a pile of bread. If Bodie was embarrassed it had to be good. He’d find out sooner or later. Bodie came to lean on the counter. His mood was improved by the sight of a pan full of eggs and sizzling rashers.
“Wonderful. Real food,” he said appreciatively.
They enjoyed breakfast. There was no particular urgency to get on with the day—Willis never took reports before ten. Eventually, though, Jim glanced at his watch. He’d hastily deposited the guide meds in a locked drawer in his desk the previous night. “I’ve got to go and get that stuff to a lab. You want to come in with me or shall I drop you off at the hotel.”
Bodie yawned and stretched. “Mind if I ring Cowley. I’d like to arrange to see him before we see Willis. I’m surprised he hasn’t been onto me already.”
Without really intending to, Jim found himself listening to both sides of the conversation. The girl Bodie got hold of—a CI5 secretary travelling with Cowley—greeted him with a warning. “You’re lucky the old man’s out, Bodie. He’s not very happy with you, to say the least… and I should think he’ll be even less happy when he reads this memo from Willis about… let me see ‘wanton damage… outrageous and irresponsible behaviour’…”
Bodie winced. “I hope you put in a good word for me.”
“Oh I did, the first three times he tried to get hold of you at the hotel. I gather he’d been trying the R/T for some time before that.”
Bodie reached for his jacket on the back of the couch and felt in the inside pocket. “Shit.”
“If you left it in someone’s bed he’ll probably take you to a vet.”
“Oh come on, sweetheart. I spent last night innocently visiting the sights of Cascade with Ellison. We had a bit of trouble in a bar. I must have lost it then. Can you do something about it and get me another on the quiet?”
“I’ll do my best, but I’m not lying to him for you.”
“You’re all heart. Did he leave any messages for me.”
“Oh yes, but I don’t think I should repeat most of them over the public phone network. I think the politest was to warn you to watch your step and remember CI5 policy when you report to Willis. Does that make sense to you?”
“I think so.”
“Cowley’s tied up with the mayor all day—lots of civic functions. If you drop in later you can pick up a new R/T.”
“I’ll come in after we’ve seen Willis. You’ll be something to look forward to.”
There was a laugh at the other end. “I’ve heard all your lines, Bodie. Cascade must be full of women who haven’t. I tell you what, though. If you make it by coffee time I’ll treat you to a doughnut.”
“Make it two and I’ll bring you a real American cop to play with.”
“Promises. All right then. Good luck, Bodie.”
Bodie put the phone down and searched his jacket again. Ellison, who’d just about managed to conceal his amusement with the conversation, pointed out. “You’d have heard it if it was anywhere in the room.”
“I know. I’m just making sure nothing else is missing. Oh well, some poor bastard will probably pick it up and get Cowley on the other end. Nasty surprise for anyone. It’s a problem though. Compromises security.”
“You’ve got routines for when something like this happens I suppose.”
“Oh yes, she’ll put them in place. The R/T won’t be any good now unless someone wants to chat to Cowley, and I can’t imagine there’s anyone for miles around who’d want to do that. It’s not going to make him any happier with me though. Look—do me a favour. Show me somewhere I can buy a bottle of decent scotch. That might sweeten him a bit.”
Even with an expensive bottle of pure malt purchased in readiness, the thought of Cowley kept Bodie relatively subdued until they ran into Megan Connor in the bull pen. Trying to charm her kept him happily occupied while Ellison went to the labs to arrange the analysis of the drugs. He handed the task to one of the oldest and most discreet of the lab staff, with a request for the results to come only to him. She looked at the tablets he had given her.
“Yes. Can you handle this yourself. You can see the possible problems.”
She nodded. He knew he could rely on her. Her husband was a retired detective, and not only was she extremely professional, she had a deep commitment to traditional law and order. Just as he turned to go, she said hesitantly, “Detective Ellison. I don’t want to know anything confidential, but is there a possible problem with the facility?”
“Why do you ask?”
“My nephew was working there as a lab assistant until about six months ago. He queried an unusually large order of certain chemicals. Shortly afterwards some expensive electronic components from the stores were found in his car at a routine security check as he was leaving. He was accused of theft and dismissed. He hasn’t been able to get anything but casual employment since.”
Jim was quite tempted to hug her. Suddenly things were moving on this case. “Do you think he’d be happy to come in and give a statement?” he asked.
“Of course. He’s always been convinced the two things were connected, but there was nothing we could do. He tried, but no-one would listen.”
He arranged to take the nephew’s statement, and warned her to keep the whole matter under wraps. He decided he’d better report on what he was doing to Simon, though without explaining exactly where his information had come from.
Yep, that would go down really well. It’s like this Simon, we’ve found those rogue guides but they’re on the side of the good guys really. Okay, one’s a neo-hippy wannabe and the other’s a renegade British cop, but you know me and Bodie, we wouldn’t make a mistake on something like this. Willis? Oh you don’t want to worry about Willis…
No. Simon could know the possible link with the facility, and what he was doing to get some hard evidence, and the rest had better come under the heading of ‘information received’. He had enough trouble explaining his actions to himself. He also had to decide what would happen if and when the drug supply was dealt with. Did he just turn a blind eye while they ‘lost’ themselves again.
He reported to Simon, and found Bodie being introduced to the break room snack machine by Connor. Megan, he felt, had let him down. He’d expected to have to rescue Bodie, especially if he’d tried one of his usual lines on her, but with unexpected finesse Bodie was showing off an exhaustive knowledge of Aussie bookmaking, and she was obviously well on the way to being charmed.
“Time to go,” Jim said firmly.
“What’s a Twinkie? Don’t you have Mars Bars?”
“I thought you were getting a doughnut from that CI5 girl?” Jim said pointedly.
“Ah, but we have to meet Willis first.”
In the end, they both grabbed a Twinkie to eat on the way. He updated Bodie as they went down to the truck, and their mood sobered. Jokes aside, they were playing a dangerous game. By not telling Willis about their suspicions they were in effect accusing him of being prepared to conceal a major crime. They were also working on the assumption that his head of Security One in Cascade might well be the mastermind behind a drug ring. He hadn’t explained that implication to Simon, though he had no doubt the captain would soon work it out for himself. He wondered about Kincaid. Just how far would he go?
Willis was not satisfied with the state of things in Cascade. He could not define exactly what caused his sense of unease but he had every intention of finding out what was wrong before it caused any problems for his advancement of Security One as the single international security force of the democratic world. He still had opponents. Some, like Cowley, were subtle, but he knew Cowley too well to imagine he would ever have his backing. Others, like crusading journalists and leftwing politicians were outspoken, but he had dealt with them successfully enough, mainly by making sure that they had very little access to information about what was actually happening. Still he could not afford false moves.
As he waited to see Bodie and Ellison, several things were on his mind. He did not particularly care that they had apparently indulged in a macho night out; it was acceptable for soldiers or sentinels to let off steam occasionally. It did bother him that they seemed to get on well together. Sentinels were normally involved in a good deal of aggressive posturing and competitive behaviour when they came together in anything other than a command structure.
He’d actually rung one of the sentinel experts at Rainier to ask about it, only to be told that there was a great deal still not known about sentinels, and didn’t that just show how much more research funding was needed. When he’d pressed the point—and indicated that he didn’t seem to be getting much result from the research that was currently funded—the expert had said vaguely that it sometimes seemed to be a mutual respect thing, or related to encounters before the senses came online.
None of this was helpful, and he had the further problem of the fact that his head of Security One in Cascade, Garrett Kincaid, had asked to be present at the meeting. Kincaid was another factor in his unease. The man seemed relatively ordinary, a good soldier and a well-trained security officer, until you looked into his eyes. Then you realised that there was much more going on beneath the surface. He’d been noticing it more on this visit. He didn’t know why Kincaid wanted to be present, and not knowing things was anathema to him.
He mused on it as he waited for the sentinels. Of course, Kincaid was obsessive about catching the rogue guides. It had been his determination that had persuaded Willis to use the sentinels in the first place; Kincaid had suggested Ellison, and then Cowley, for devious reasons of his own no doubt, had volunteered Bodie. Willis himself would have been pleased to have the guides arrested and questioned, but realistically he thought the chances of apprehending them now were minimal. Kincaid hated guides, with a hatred that might have been considered obsessive, but Willis was beginning to wonder if Kincaid also had some sort of additional agenda of his own. It had been… odd… that Kincaid had contacted him the previous night so furiously convinced that Ellison and Bodie were going against orders and reinvolving themselves in the drug case.
The drug ring was a cause for unease in itself. Security One was gaining nothing from its existence and yet it seemed to be leading the sort of charmed life that was usually only possible with some sort of tacit official sanction. He had actually looked at police records after an impassioned phone call from Captain Banks, and had been impressed by their total lack of progress. Kincaid had implied that Ellison was no use on the investigation, but Willis, without liking men like Banks, could recognise integrity when he came across it. Banks thought Ellison had been vital.
His thoughts were interrupted by the arrival first of Kincaid, then almost immediately of a rather subdued Ellison and Bodie. They stood before his desk, one looking slightly past his left shoulder, one slightly past his right, and made no excuses. That was satisfactory. He pointed out the juvenility and irresponsibility of their behaviour, and the fines they would be paying. “And you, Bodie,” he added, “will no doubt find Major Cowley has more to say on the subject.”
Bodie winced but said nothing. Willis looked them both over. They looked the worse for wear, especially Bodie, who had probably been the bad influence. He doubted if it would happen again.
“I gather you have still made no progress concerning the missing guides,” Willis went on, but without force. He felt the lack of progress was understandable.
“No, sir,” Bodie said.
“It’s the time lapse,” Ellison said. “We think now that our best hope might not be from using the evidence but from going back to the scene and picking up some sort of sensory trace to follow.”
“We really need to have a good look round the facility,” Bodie put in. “Even after all this time, we might pick up an unusual scent, or some minute visual evidence that has been missed.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Kincaid interrupted. “No possible use could be served by your visiting the facility.”
Willis did not allow any reaction to show on his face, but he was sharply aware of the fact that Kincaid had overreacted . Why? He wondered how far the man would go to prevent the sentinels sniffing round the facility.
“Actually, scents linger remarkably,” Bodie said. “A slightly unusual shampoo or aftershave, even distinctive body odour can be picked up after some time.”
Willis was mildly impressed. This was the sort of thing sentinels were supposed to be doing. In general, he seemed to get more mileage out of their aggression than their abilities. “It would be a fresh line of investigation,” he said.
“It was already tried by bonded sentinels at the time,” Kincaid said. “If it didn’t help then, how is it going to help now?”
“We’ve read their evidence,” Ellison said. “They didn’t really analyse the scents, and didn’t compare them adequately to the regular personnel. We all know that quite a lot of guides are into ethnic stuff, natural products. These things have strong herbal bases. The profile built up of these rogue guides makes it a strong possibility that they use such products.”
“We’ve tried most other possibilities,” Bodie added. “If we could filter out a scent of that type that doesn’t appear to belong there, it would be worth following up.”
Willis nodded. Cowley had certainly improved Bodie. “Will you need guides in order to trace these scents?” he asked.
“No, sir.” That came promptly from both of them. Ellison added, “When I was in Peru, the tribe I lived with taught me methods of coping.”
Bodie simply said, “Cowley expects me to work without a guide. Can’t imagine one in CI5.”
Willis again nodded in approval. “You’ll start today?”
“If possible,” Ellison said.
Kincaid said abruptly, “In that case I’ll go and make sure you get all the help you need from the staff. If you’ll excuse me, sir.”
Getting a gesture of approval from his superior, he went.
Willis had moved beyond uneasy to definitely suspicious. There had been a hint of something on Kincaid’s face that belonged somewhere much too close to the borderline where sanity stopped. Something beyond obsessive, and calling for his immediate attention.
Ellison and Bodie stood there waiting politely to be dismissed. “I appreciate the work you have been putting into this project,” he said. “And—last night excepted—the example you set. The time you mentioned in Peru, Ellison, was interesting. I may come back to you for more information about your experiences, and whether they could benefit other sentinels. I hope you have some success at the facility.”
After they had gone, he set in motion a variety of investigations—of accounts, manpower, any police records relating to the facility, in all the areas which had been under Kincaid’s supervision. He was certain now that something was very wrong with his organisation in Cascade and he was prepared to deal with it ruthlessly and quickly. He wasn’t sure what measures would be called for, but he took out a cell phone and called a number he never wrote down.
“Quinn. I may need to activate you. Come to Cascade immediately.”
It was at times like this he knew he could never work like Cowley. Security had to be paramount, and no amount of moral quibbling could alter that first and most basic principle.
“Kincaid rose to it,” Ellison said as soon as they were out of the building. “He gave himself away pretty clearly.”
“Too clearly,” Bodie said thoughtfully. “Did you see Willis look at him. He’s no fool. I don’t think he actually knows anything, though. He was happy with the idea of us visiting the place—which incidentally we’d better do now, though I’m quite sure there won’t be anything for us to find.”
“It might rattle the scientists though,” Ellison said. “We can question them a bit. Put on a show for them first too—it’s surprising what people will believe a sentinel can do.”
“Even Willis,” Bodie said with a grin. “He was lapping it up.”
“Where did you get all that pseudo-science crap anyway?” Ellison asked.
“Cowley made me go to a lecture once. Said it would take my mind off his secretary. The old bloke talking said something like that. Can’t imagine doing it in a million years, but Willis doesn’t know that. Anyway, where did you get that new-age stuff about ethnic shampoos or whatever.”
“It was last night—the hippy kid, Blair. I noticed it when I picked him up. His hair was like a herb garden. I thought then how easy it would be to trace.”
The only scents Bodie could remember on Doyle were gun oil and blood. Any predator could trace blood. He shivered. Thoughts like that reminded him of swimming somewhere and going that bit too far below the surface. It got colder and darker very fast, and you remembered the nastier depths below you. He turned his mind firmly back to the sunlit shallows; he was taking Ellison for a doughnut with Kathy. If she seemed amenable maybe he would suggest that Ellison and Connor showed himself and Kathy round the sights. Megan Connor definitely belonged in the sunlight.
“How come you have an Australian girl in Major Crimes?” he said, changing the subject.
A pleasant interlude with the delectable Kathy—and some even more delectable glazed doughnuts—left them with a tentative arrangement for a double date and much improved blood sugar levels. On the way to the facility they planned out a strategy they hoped would impress the scientists with their ability to detect the minutest discrepancies. As Ellison had said, a surprising number of people had an almost superstitious attitude to sentinel powers; that ought to work for them.
They put on a good show, starting in the residential part of the building. The guides, fortunately perhaps, kept their distance as much as possible. Bodie’s main problem was keeping a straight face. He knew damn well Ellison wasn’t picking up any scents beyond the normal human range, but the man was convincing. They’d designed their movements based on the security camera clips they’d seen of the rogue guides’ duties, and they went solemnly round the guide facility rejecting most areas until they came to a storage cupboard which as luck would have it had still been used then, but had been more or less untouched since.
Dr Andros, a physician rather than a research scientist, had been delegated to show them round, with the help of a couple of the staff. An elderly and gentle woman, Bodie guessed she was reponsible for guide care and knew nothing of anything criminal which had been happening. She was kindly and unsuspicious and watched Ellison with fascination as he apparently searched the room for fading scents.
“There’s definitely a trace of something here,” Ellison said, straight-faced. “It’s very faint now but I think… would you say camomile? And maybe just a hint of rosemary.”
“Shampoo?” Bodie said. He’d had better lines as a five-year-old shepherd in the infants’ nativity play, but he did what he could with it.
“Probably. It could be some sort of natural lotion.”
“Are you getting anything else?”
“Not really. It’s been too long I think. Perhaps in with the herbal shampoo scents there’s something that might be leather…”
“Hair tied back with a leather tie?” Bodie suggested. Since none of their audience knew that he and Bodie had been enjoying the company of the rogue guides the previous night, they were duly impressed, and now watched Ellison’s look of deep concentration with almost breathless anticipation. Bodie didn’t. He knew it meant Ellison had forgotten the script.
There was a long pause. “Now this is different,” Ellison said suddenly. “What do you make of this, Bodie?”
Interpreting this as a request to be bailed out, Bodie went and joined him at the far side of the stock room. Racking his brain for any more plausible herbs—could you put parsley in shampoo?—he was at a loss for a moment. Ellison glared at him. Only one idea came into his mind. “Gun oil,” Bodie said definitely. “I thought at first it was something else, but it’s gun oil.”
“That’s remarkable!” Dr Andros said, with such genuine enthusiasm Bodie felt slightly abashed. However, it would stand them in good stead when they went over to the lab to interview the scientists, because her praise of their abilities could only add to the nervousness of anyone who had something on their conscience.
They carried out very brief interviews with the guides, and made an effort to be considerate. Bodie found he was actually seeing them as people, which he probably wouldn’t have done twenty-four hours before. He’d had lectures from Cowley on the subject plenty of times of course, but somehow they’d never been as eloquent as Doyle’s fists. He suspected, from the out-of-proportion relief and gratitude they were shown, that the guides were used to much worse treatment. Maybe Cowley had a point. All the same, their timidity confirmed his impression of their general weakness. He’d treat them as human beings, but anything beyond that was a step too far.
They had more fun unnerving the scientists when they inspected the laboratories. They started by examining the effects of the bomb and the damage that was still not fully concealed, prolonging the process to build up some tension.
“A very professional job,” Bodie said at last. He privately wondered where the hell Doyle had got his training for this sort of activity; unless there’d been some major changes since he last paid attention, the Met didn’t blow things up. “There’s nothing here for us now, though, and we’ve got copies of the forensic evidence.”
They prowled a while, taking it in turns to risk small heightenings of hearing, but so many people had rapid heartbeats that some of it was probably just their presence alarming them. Maybe those who hadn’t been involved had suspected something was going on and hadn’t wanted to know. In that case a thorough fright might do them good.
They spent the last part of their visit interviewing the staff individually, though it only really served to further their original purpose of rattling nerves in the hope that someone would crack or make a mistake. Bodie’s bet was on a lab assistant who fidgetted continually while he was talking to her, and was clearly once or twice on the verge of volunteering something. The head of the laboratory, Professor Wolfson, eventually came to her assistance, complaining that he didn’t want his staff bullied.
“Bet he’s in it up to his neck,” Bodie said to Ellison later, when they were on their way back to the PD. “He thought she was going to talk to me. He must have been watching her the whole time.”
Ellison nodded. “I’m going to get Simon to find an excuse to bring her in. For her own protection as much as anything. Wolfson’s clearly spotted her as a weak link.”
“Several of them were definitely lying. You could pick it up almost without senses. And most of them were afraid. One chap kept washing his hands as if he was scared we’d find something on them.”
“Might be possible if it wasn’t such a risk to use these damned senses,” Ellison grumbled.
Bodie nodded. “I’ve been okay today though,” he said slowly. He’d felt .. balanced… all day. It was unusual. There ought to be a reason for it. “And you’ve been fine. Even when you were doing all that bloodhound stuff round the facility. I thought we’d be in trouble if you got a nose full of sage or something.”
“Didn’t happen,” Ellison said, missing the point. “The only bad moment I had was hearing you come out with gun oil. What possessed you to say that?”
“It went down well. Anyway, Doyle stank of it.”
“I didn’t notice,” Ellison said surprised.
“I didn’t notice the shampoo…”
Bodie left it at that, but he was vaguely disturbed by this difference in perceptions. When they returned to the warehouse late that afternoon, he tested the scents in the air as he’d almost never done since he returned from Africa. Ellison had got it wrong. There was a bit of the herbal stuff, if you really looked for it, and the sort of background smells that went with a place that hadn’t been cleaned up in a while, but easily the most dominant thing in the room was the tangle of scents round Doyle. The gun oil was there, and English tea, and a hint of sweat and scotch and charcoal. With something he couldn’t exactly define, but which underlaid the rest. The base scent. He’d heard that phrase, probably at the same lecture as the other guff, and he understood what it meant now though he couldn’t remember its significance.
Identifying the scents had only taken him moments, while they picked their way in round the piles of junk on the floor. He turned to point out he’d been right, only to find Ellison evidently doing the same thing.
“See what I mean?” Ellison said smugly.
Bodie looked at him blankly. How the hell did he work that out?
Blair viewed what he had mentally entitled “Invasion of the Sentinels part 2” with some apprehension. His memories of the previous night were fuzzy in the extreme, and he didn’t really share Doyle’s confidence in the Cascade PD.
He’d woken up that morning with a splitting headache and a very painful face, and found that at least one tooth had been loosened. Coffee, painkillers and lots more sleep had slightly improved his outlook on life, but he’d spent most of the times he’d been awake alternating between the not-very-profound thought, ‘ow, ow, ow, this really hurts’ and the slightly deeper, ‘this could be the biggest mistake of my life’.
He was curious to see Ellison though. He had half-recollections of him: a tall, muscular silhouette in the street, frozen like the statue of a warrior; a face looking down at him later, the short hair and strong jaw classically military; blue eyes, surprisingly concerned, looking him over searchingly. Much fuzzier was the memory of being picked up from the street into the solid, warm security of Ellison’s hold. He hadn’t felt alarmed then—but of course that could probably be explained by the fact that his brain had just been rattled round in his skull.
On the positive side, Ellison would be the first natural sentinel he’d ever met. Even while he’d been nursing his face that morning the thought had occurred to him that this might at last be the chance for him to do some real research. He’d said as much to Doyle, but got a very ambiguous reaction. He had a feeling that if he hadn’t been looking battered and generally pathetic he would have got the Ray Doyle lecture on why hard-working cops were not put into the world for the benefit of anthropological students.
Still, maybe Ellison didn’t see it like that. He was obviously having some sort of trouble with his senses if he was zoning, and he’d come back to Blair’s touch and voice quite well. They might be able to arrive at some sort of mutually beneficial arrangement. Admitted he was “wanted” in theory, but he and Doyle had never been identified so that shouldn’t be a problem in practice. If Bodie and Ellison could be trusted…
He watched the sentinels pick their way across the living room. Ellison scrutinised his bruised face, and Blair realised with amazement that the man felt guilty.
“It’s getting better,” he said hastily.
“It should never have happened,” Ellison said, guilt remaining firmly in place.
“Hey, those guys were a mugging waiting to happen. One of them had a go at us before, only Ray did a sort of David and Goliath act on him.”
Since Ellison seemed to need to tilt his face up and check it out, he let him. In the interests of cooperation. Not because he found it comforting.
“He’s all right,” Doyle said. “Vision normal, swelling going down. He’ll be fine.”
Ellison looked round, “And you? Your Goliath seems to have got his own back.”
Doyle grinned, then, so widely that his split lip cracked a little. “Him? He’s a lumbering idiot. This was all Bodie.”
Blair had only noticed Bodie as a slightly stockier, darker version of the macho-sentinel type. Now he realised with interest where Bodie’s black eye and the general damage to his face must have come from. Doyle had simply told him that he and Bodie had met up and realised they were on the same side. It had obviously been a way more violent process than that implied.
Ellison, his fingers absently ghosting down Blair’s cheekbone checking for underlying damage, was also looking at Bodie but his expression was amused. “I knew you were holding out on me.”
“Someone’s trained him,” Bodie said defensively. “He’s good—a bit too much fancy martial arts stuff, but it works. Anyway, we haven’t come here to admire each other’s bruises. Do you want to tell them what we’ve been doing or shall I?”
Ellison gave a swift resume of their day’s work. “We’ve made more progress in the last twenty four hours than in the previous few weeks. Now its a question of what we do tonight—pick up your dealer and friends or let them go and follow them.”
“We don’t want to lose them,” Bodie said. “They arrived on foot last night, we don’t know where they left their transport. If we follow them, we’ll need a car available.”
Ellison nodded. “I’m going to get Brown and Rafe to do it as a favour. Unofficially. If I go through official channels a back up request for this area might attract some attention.”
“How are you going to explain not having us picked up?” Doyle asked.
“Can you leave as soon as you’ve got the packet,” Ellison said. “Make some excuse, and use the back way like Sandburg did last night. It’ll be plausible enough that you caught us out, and natural in the circumstances that we should stick with the dealers.”
“Makes us look incompetent,” Bodie grumbled.
Oh well,” Doyle retorted promptly, “better scrap that plan then. Can’t take the shine off superman here.”
Blair hastily put in, “We could tell Brown we got mugged yesterday when we left. We look like it, after all. It would be a reason for not wanting to hang around today.”
“Good enough,” Doyle agreed.
Ellison didn’t go for it. “I don’t see the need for both of you to go. Sandburg would be better staying here. It wouldn’t hurt to rest that head a bit longer.”
“No way,” Blair protested. “We don’t need any more variables tonight. There’s already enough to freak him without only one of us turning up.”
He could tell from the interesting way that Ellison’s jaw clenched that he wasn’t happy, but since both Bodie and Doyle agreed with Blair, the detective had to live with it. Even so, he checked Blair over twice more and gave him an exhaustive ( and quite unnecessary) list of how not to get himself into trouble. Doyle finally came to the rescue.
“Blair’s fine. He’s been doing this for the last few weeks and he’s as good as anyone I’ve worked with.”
Right! Did you get that, oh great sentinel? I’m neither terminally stupid nor terminally incapable of taking care of myself. I mean, I appreciate the concern, I suppose it’s a sort of protect-the-tribe thing, but I want in on this.
Actually, Blair felt better once he was out of doors and doing something. Especially without any sentinels along. What with Ellison’s over-protectiveness and Bodie’s continual sparring with Doyle he’d decided the species was overrated. In the event, the encounter was a total anti-climax. It was over in five minutes and without any problems at all. Sit down, meet contacts, let Doyle do the talking, show off bruises, nip out the back way. Mission accomplished. Nothing to do but go home to the warehouse and wait.
He should have known better than to expect to sit down peacefully though. Waiting just wasn’t one of Doyle’s talents. Almost as soon as they were back in the warehouse and had dumped the package, Doyle took out his cell phone. “Ellison? Anything happening? Well in that case we’ll come back and give you a hand. No he’s fine. No, he’s safer with me, and he might be useful.”
Blair glared at him. “Thanks very much. Anyway, they’re sentinels. They shouldn’t need a hand. Surveillance and following people ought to be right up their street.”
Doyle handed him his jacket. “Don’t you believe it. I’ll bet they never use their senses at all. Can’t risk it on their own. You don’t want to believe Security One’s propaganda. Ellison’s a good detective and gets by on that and I suppose Cowley knows Bodie’s limitations.”
Blair couldn’t believe how indifferently he said it. “But that’s the most incredible waste. Do you have any idea how powerful they might be. Natural sentinels are supposed to be much stronger than the pseudos. They can’t have a gift like that and just not use it.”
“Why not?” Doyle said. “We do the same.”
“That’s totally NOT the same,” Blair protested to his back as he followed him down the stairs. How could Doyle call being a guide a gift. It was more like a life-sentence. He could see it was going to be no use pursuing the subject, but it bothered him all the way back to the Coyote Club until he forgot about it when he saw Bodie and Ellison still standing in a nearby doorway in the shadows.
Jim Ellison was tired of hanging about. He hadn’t expected the dealer and his two muscle men—he’d brought an extra one tonight—to stay for long once Doyle and Sandburg had left, but they still hadn’t come out. Bodie’s most recent check, about five minutes ago, had shown they were still sitting at the table. He wanted to know why.
“They haven’t picked up they’re being watched?” Doyle asked softly.
“No chance,” Bodie said.
Ellison had to agree with that. “They seem to be waiting for something or someone I think. Don’t know who, or whether it could affect us.”
He was aware of a slight, nervous bounce from Sandburg. “What?” he snapped.
Sandburg didn’t appear to notice this wasn’t a polite request for his opinion. “You’re a sentinel. Listen to them. It’s like totally ridiculous all of us standing out here wondering what they’re saying when you could focus in with your hearing.”
Ellison glared at him, but he didn’t seem to notice that either. “Try it man,” he urged.
Ellison felt that ‘I can’t’ sounded a bit pathetic, and ‘I don’t want to’ was worse. He settled for, “It’s too noisy in there.” He would have been tempted though if he could have controlled his damned senses.
“Ray?” Blair asked, apparently going for a second opinion.
Doyle hesitated, his face unreadable. “We could probably help you,” he said at last.
Ellison had temporarily forgotten they were guides, or rather they were so far outside his idea of normal guides he hadn’t even been sure if they did the ‘guide’ thing.
“Exactly what would that involve?” Bodie asked, with the air of someone who’d just been asked to strip in the street.
“Well, you’d have to listen for a start and follow simple instructions,” Doyle said sharply, “so maybe you’d better leave it to Ellison.”
Ellison was really tired of doing nothing. He looked at Sandburg who was shifting from foot to foot. “Okay, Chief, I’ll give it a go. What do we do?”
That took the kid aback for a moment, but he was resilient. “I… er… you need something to focus on, to anchor you. If I was your guide properly you might use my heartbeat or scent or something, but as it is maybe it would be okay if I put a hand on your arm.” He glanced at Doyle.
Doyle nodded. “Touch would be best, anyway. His hearing needs to be focussed inside the club. Ellison—you need some sound in the room you know you’ll recognise, to orient yourself. The music would probably be best. Reach in and find that.”
Ellison, who’d been thrown for a moment by realising he actually could hear the kid’s heartbeat, turned his attention back to the job. He could feel the light touch of the hand on his arm, and was aware of the subtle mixture of scents and movements that he already associated with Sandburg. Tentatively he extended his hearing.
It was a revelation.
He’d expected a chaos of indistinguishable noises, confusion, probable defeat followed by a blinding headache. Instead it was as natural as breathing. He’d never even imagined it could work like this. The sounds in the room were clear and sharp and easy to separate. He found the music, and from there he could move round as clearly as if he could see into the club. He found the bar, pictured the arrangement of the tables, moved round one by one. For a moment that threw him, moving just a little too fast from one conversation to another.
“Separate out the sounds you don’t want and discard them,” Sandburg said, his voice low and confident now.
“I’ve got them!” Jim said.
The men were talking, grumbling. They were evidently as fed up of waiting as Jim himself. It made sense as he listened. “They’ve been waiting for another meet,” he relayed softly to the men beside him. “They were expecting someone to show up soon after Doyle, long before now. They’re going to give it a bit longer, but they don’t think it’s coming off.”
He didn’t even get any pain or disorientation when he pulled his hearing back; he just homed in to the hand on his arm and found the kid practically jigging with excitement.
“That was fantastic!” Blair said, looking at Jim as if he was some kind of hero. “That was perfect. I knew you could do it, man. And it was useful wasn’t it? I mean, you got the information you wanted, right? It was worth it.”
Jim had a feeling that this was his cue to say something… positive. Like patience, it didn’t come naturally, but he made an effort. “Yeah. You were right,” he said. He was glad he hadn’t gone for effusive, because even that much response seemed to redouble Sandburg’s bounce.
“I’ll let Brown and Rafe know we expect some movement in the next thirty minutes,” he said, taking refuge from the sentinel stuff in police routine, and detaching Sandburg, who’d forgotten to let go.
Within his time frame, roughly twenty minutes later, the dealer and his companions left the Coyote Club. They seemed to be leaving the area in the direction they’d come from the previous night. Bodie and Ellison followed at a safe distance. Doyle and Sandburg kept a good deal further back, as they were the ones who might be recognised.
Nothing of any interest happened until the dealers reached a well-lit intersection a couple of streets later. Then far too much happened at once. Without any warning a car accelerated towards the sidewalk, going directly for the men they were following. The three scattered, but one received a glancing blow which flung him into the path of other traffic and a shot from the car took out the dealer. As Ellison began to run, the last of the three fired after the car then turned to look for his companions. The car screeched round. Ellison aimed for the tyre. Behind him he could hear Doyle yelling, out of breath, at Bodie, “Of course you can bloody well do it. Look into the car. We need to know what the driver looks like. Focus, damn you.”
He didn’t know if Bodie responded, because as his own shot took out the tyre, another burst from the car took out the last of the dealers. The driver swerved wildly, took out a hydrant, regained control and sped off.
He was already on the phone to Brown and Rafe to pick up the pursuit, and they would call in other cars. He went to see if any of the men were still breathing.
The two who had been shot were dead. Frightened witnesses had called the ambulance service, but the victims were beyond their help. The man who had landed in the road looked in no better case, but dropping to his knees beside him Jim found he had a pulse—faint and thready but definitely there. Behind him he could hear Doyle moving people on, more English bobbie than Cascade cop style, and he knew Bodie would be watching out for any further threat of violence.
He would have joined them, but right at the moment he had his own problems. His senses, which had actually served him earlier, now seemed to respond to the chaos that had ended this bust. Suddenly everything was out of synch. The traffic noises were too loud then too soft, and voices he shouldn’t have been able to hear tangled the air around him. The road surface was like needles against his knees, and the smells of hot rubber and fear and blood threatened to overwhelm him. He felt a familiar headache start to pound behind his eyes, and looked desperately round for the arrival of the uniformed police.
Instead rescue came in the unlikely form of his hippy tag-along. Sandburg crouched next to him, white-faced and breathing too fast but handling it. “Ray’s got two witnesses he says are worth taking statements from,” he said, “and Bodie got a look at the man in the car.”
Jim wasn’t sure what did caused it—maybe it was just having something different to concentrate on—but as if someone had flicked a switch the nauseating seesawing of his senses calmed and stopped. He blinked and took a deep breath. Okay. Back in control, and none too soon, because the uniforms were finally here and he wanted to hand over the scene. He got to his feet, frowning at Sandburg’s far-too-rapid heartbeat, and saw with relief that the ambulance was also arriving.
He waited until the last surviving dealer had been taken off to the hospital under police protection. Rafe and Brown had lost their man. It seemed likeliest that he’d discarded the car very close by, and a number of police were looking for it. The fact that Bodie had seen the driver was something they decided to keep to themselves for the time being. Bodie, Doyle and Sandburg had all faded into the background as the police cars came up. Now, seeing there was no more he could do here, Jim walked over to join them.
“That’s it. Let’s go.”
They walked back to the warehouse in grim silence for the most part. Someone had ruthlessly and efficiently set back their chances of tracing the link from the dealers to the facility laboratories. Kincaid? Jim didn’t think so. Bodie agreed. “Doesn’t make sense for Kincaid to hit them publicly like that,” he said slowly. “Why not just take them out quietly. And there was only one man in the car. I don’t know, but I’d assume Kincaid could call on more force than that.”
“How sane is Kincaid?” Doyle said. “Maybe we shouldn’t be expecting rationality.”
Jim shrugged. “I think insanity in Kincaid’s case would run to something more like all out war.”
He spent the rest of the route wishing he hadn’t thought of that.
Something was niggling at the back of Bodie’s mind. It wasn’t just the fact their bust had disintegrated, it was the order of events that was bothering him. As they reached the street off which the old warehouse was situated, he tried to put his thoughts into words. “There was something off-beat about that set up. It’s too much of a coincidence that those men hung around for all that time waiting for a meet that didn’t come off, then walked out and were hit.”
Sandburg, bobbing along in Ellison’s shadow, said, “It would make sense if someone knew the place not the people.”
“How do you work that out, Chief?” Ellison asked.
Bodie saw the kid lose his tired strained look for a moment as he warmed to his explanation. “Say you knew someone had been dealing there, but you didn’t know who. Maybe if you had enough contacts you could put out the word you wanted to meet someone there—it’s more or less what Ray did. ”
“That’s right,” Doyle agreed. “No one could have known we’d actually be meeting them tonight. Easier to set up your own meet, see who turns up looking for custom, if all you want is to identify the dealers.”
The little details were beginning to add up to Bodie, making a nasty sort of sense. “Willis,” he said slowly. “This one does smack of his methods. Get rid of the dealers and get rid of one connection to Security One’s precious facility. He saw Kincaid’s reaction this morning. If he started digging… He’d know what to look for, too, because I’ll bet it was Kincaid stirred up all that fuss last night about Ellison being back on his drugs case.”
He could see it was making a nasty sort of sense to the others too.
“He’d have to have acted quickly,” Ellison said.
“He didn’t get where he is by acting slowly. He’s going to have to sacrifice Kincaid, but he’ll try for damage limitation on everything else.”
They were in the yard now, but Bodie grabbed Doyle pulling him to a stop, and the others automatically stopped beside them. “What is it?” Ellison asked.
“Just don’t go any nearer the warehouse for a minute.”
“Why the hell not?” Doyle demanded, wrenching free.
“Because I’ve worked for Willis once or twice for my sins, and he’s nothing if not thorough. If it was him, and if he was concerned with eliminating the whole trail of this drug deal, he might have decided to do something about any buyers he can trace as well. And whatever the set up was intended to be, the person who was waiting in that bar could have watched your deal.”
“I don’t think we were followed,” Doyle said. “I was checking. I’m sure we weren’t.”
“Anyone bump into you on the way out?”
“Yes,” Sandburg said. “A man headed for the back at the same time as we did, and he pushed past me, pushed my arm—I thought he was just in a hurry to get to the washrooms…”
“What did the man look like?” Bodie asked.
“I hardly got a look at him. Rather stringy yellowish hair, that’s all I noticed.”
“The man in the car had lank yellow hair, sharp features,” Bodie said.
“You think he was bugged?” Doyle said, unconvinced. He ran a hand over Blair’s jacket, but Blair shook his head. “I changed when I got in,” he said. “Had a second shirt on—I took it off when you shoved my jacket at me.”
Bodie looked up at the lighted windows. “And you left the lights on.”
“It puts the rats off a bit. And the cockroaches.”
Bodie didn’t want to know that. “The point is, if someone traced the bug here, it might well appear you were upstairs.”
“They could soon find out we weren’t,” Doyle said. “Any delinquent primary school kid could get in here.”
“Either way, we could have a problem. I don’t want to just walk in there. Look, that thing you did earlier—so that Ellison could hear the men in the club, and I could crank up my sight and see into that car—would it work for us to check out the building from out here?”
He’d been startled and angry when Doyle had grabbed his arm and made him focus his sight into the hitman’s car, but he’d done it. And he’d found it was easy…smooth… none of the usual problems. Bodie had learned a very long time ago to make use of any weapon at his disposal, and this one seemed to have unexpectedly become available.
Doyle, however, was still arguing. “You’re suggesting a lot of work for one man. What’s he supposed to have done? Come here, run off and done a hasty hit, then come running back again. I don’t think so.”
“He could just have got in touch with whoever gives his orders. Anyway, humour me. Would it be possible for us to check it from here?”
“Probably,” Doyle said reluctantly. “Hard to tell on the length of time I’ve seen you try your senses for—like about twenty seconds.”
Bodie decided to ignore that one. “All right. Do whatever it is you do then, and we’ll have a go.”
Doyle sighed. “Look, Bodie. Just bear in mind that you know sod all about how the sentinel and guide ‘thing’ works. If we keep guiding you, it’s going to have…” he paused, obviously searching for the right word, “… side effects.”
“Well, why don’t you explain them to me later,” Bodie suggested. “It’s not going to take long; let’s just get on with it. It’s cold standing around.”
He’d convinced everyone but Doyle, anyway, and Doyle looked round, saw the consensus, and still grumbling reached out and gripped Bodie’s shoulder. “Go on then. Listen for anything out of the ordinary. A human heartbeat if you think you’d recognise it. That and maybe scent are your best bets, anyway.”
Bodie ignored the general grouchiness in Doyle’s voice and let it become a safe background, it and the hand there to pull him back if he was drawn too far into the vortex of a single sense. He stretched out his senses, enjoying the power of them for the first time in his life. He’d seen the same feeling on Ellison’s face back at the club, uncertainty replaced by exhilaration. He remembered the rattling of Sandburg’s old fridge, found it, searched the room from there. Nothing. Well, tiny scuttling sounds that might well have been cockroaches, but nothing human. He noticed an odd slight humming, and realised it was a light bulb. This was incredible. No one had ever suggested to him that sentinels could hear like this. Doyle was talking softly, suggesting what he might listen for, and the sound was like an upcurrent; as long as it buoyed him up he was flying free.
He moved down the stairs, checking out the emptiness below the apartment. Slight creakings, a scuttle, louder this time, of some rodent, a gurgle in a water pipe, a ticking… “Ticking!” he said aloud, just as Ellison, who he’d been aware at the edge of his consciousness was also checking the place, said “C4.”
He’d drawn back from extending his senses as he spoke, which was just as well. “Shit,” Doyle said, letting go of him and starting towards the warehouse at a run. Bodie flung himself in a diving tackle and brought them both crashing painfully into the yard. “What the hell are you doing. If it’s on a timer it could go off any minute. You can’t just go running in there. There’s no one around to be hurt.”
“I need to get in before it blows,” Doyle snarled. “Get off Bodie. Mind your own fucking business.”
“Are you out of your mind?” Bodie said. “What could there possibly be in that dump that’s worth risking your life for?”
He’d hardly finished the question before it became abruptly, catastrophically, explosively academic. Drowning out any reply, making him cringe at the assault on his eardrums, lighting the sky with painful brightness, the lower floor of the warehouse blew out completely. The explosion was almost immediately followed by fire which licked up easily in the dilapidated building. Within half a minute it was clear that no one was ever going into the warehouse again.
Bodie who’d been struggling with his hurting eyes and ears, and with Doyle who was at first still frantically trying to get free, felt with relief the moment the fight went out of him.
“Lucky you weren’t in there,” Bodie told him grimly, hauling him to his feet.
Doyle didn’t answer. He stared at the flames in disbelief, the look on his face so devastated that Bodie didn’t say any more.
Ellison behind them said quietly, “The guide meds—they were all in there?”
“We daren’t carry them,” Doyle said bleakly. “We get stopped, shaken down…”
Bodie was out of his depth on this one. He wasn’t even sure what the stuff did, let alone why it was so vital, though it enhanced his sense of the intrinsic weakness of the guides that they needed it. With the warehouse rapidly turning to carbonised remains, he had no idea what they were going to do next. He looked at Ellison for a lead.
“Let’s get out of here,” Ellison said, turning Sandburg away from the appalling fascination of the flames and pushing him in the direction of his own truck and Bodie’s hired car. To Bodie’s dismay Ellison handed him the house keys. “Take them back to the loft,” he said briefly. “I need to call in at the PD. I won’t be far behind you.”
“But… ” Bodie said uselessly. Ellison was already in the truck, and leaving. “Thanks, mate,” Bodie muttered. In grim silence he drove through the late-night traffic back to the loft.
Doyle stood on the balcony of 352 Prospect with a fine drizzle blowing into his face. Behind him in the lighted interior, Blair was sitting in the corner of one of the couches, his torn jeans and wild hair contrasting oddly with the beige tidiness of his surroundings. Bodie, ignoring them both, was flicking across the TV channels in search of something watchable.
Doyle wanted the space outside, regardless of the weather. Specifically, he wanted space away from Bodie. With the meds running low in his system, he wanted to think about his options without the distraction of the slight, tugging awareness of Bodie which he had developed. Should never have tried guiding him. Didn’t think it would have so much effect, not a few minutes like that…
Tonight had been the worst of times to suddenly be without any medication. The contact with the sentinels was making them vulnerable, emphasising the very real existence of their empathic abilities. All the strong emotions of the witnesses to the murders had made things worse. He and Blair had needed the stuff before they got back to the warehouse. It was only going to get worse, and the two possibilities he could think of who might come through for them were unlikely to do so without some delay.
Movement in the room behind him caught his eye. He turned to see Ellison just closing the door. The expression on his face puzzled Doyle. He came back inside, rubbing the damp out of his hair with one hand. Ellison held out his hand. “Here,” he said. “I thought the lab might not have used them all. It’s not much.” On his palm lay three small bright yellow capsules, considerably more precious to Doyle just then than gold nuggets.
“Thanks,” he said inadequately. Ellison had accepted their need and gone and done something about it, against long-held prejudices, and he felt the man deserved something more than a word. Ellison, however, seemed embarrassed by even that small amount of thanks—or perhaps by what he’d had to do to earn it—and simply nodded and went to make coffee. Doyle swallowed a capsule and took one over with a cup of coffee for Blair.
Bodie had found a programme about the training of a ladies’ synchronized swimming team, but in spite of his absorption with all those legs he hadn’t missed what was going on. “Time for a fix?” he asked without taking his eyes from the screen.
“It’s lucky you’re around, Bodie,” Doyle said pleasantly. “Ellison gives me this illusion that maybe I’ve been wrong about sentinels, but then I listen to you and I realise the mindless neanderthal type is still going strong.”
He glanced at Blair, who was moving, and discovered that it wasn’t because Bodie’s words had bothered him at all but because he wanted to get a better view of the swimmers. You’ve got to admire the kid. He must be shattered and still as sore as hell, but he’s got this sort of boundless enthusiasm…
Ellison, who’d evidently also noticed the lines of pain around Blair’s eyes, brought over a tray of coffee and some painkillers.
“Is this what the best hosts are serving?” Bodie inquired. “Actually, I’d rather have a chocolate biscuit.”
Doyle placed two painkillers in Blair’s hand and stood in front of him waiting. “Hey—you’re in front of the TV,” Blair complained, obediently swallowing them. “I wanted to see that. You wouldn’t think she could do that.”
The gyrations on screen had totally recaptured Bodie’s attention as well. Doyle joined Ellison. “You’re okay with us crashing here for the night?”
“Have you anywhere else to go?”
“I haven’t. Blair might have but…”
“But he’s better here,” Ellison said. They both watched Blair trying to keep his eyes open to enjoy the TV. It was a battle he was losing. Doyle sipped his coffee and went back to his consideration of options. Ellison’s phone rang.
With a surprised glance at his watch—it was almost midnight—Ellison picked it up. Even without sentinel hearing Doyle could hear the angry voice at the other end.
“Simon?” Ellison said surprised. “What the… Code blue? Because of Kincaid? No, I didn’t know—well not with any evidence—well, that’s exactly what I was doing—”
The mention of a Code Blue—an emergency situation when Security One took direct command of all the law enforcement agencies—alerted Bodie. As Ellison put the phone down, Bodie took out the new R/T he’d just collected. Officially he should report in anyway that he knew a Code Blue had been put in place. In practice, what he was concerned about was who would be receiving his call. As he’d suspected, it was Willis himself.
“Just reporting in according to regulations, sir,” Bodie said. “No, sir, I’m staying with Ellison. That’s how I heard. Remain here? All right, sir. Tomorrow morning, then.”
He put the R/T away. “Great. That means I’ve no line to Cowley. Willis is obviously throwing Kincaid to the wolves. It’s official he’s gone rogue. They’ve got half the PD as well as others out looking for him. For some reason—and I don’t suppose it’s concern for our beauty sleep—he wants us to stay here unless he contacts us again, and then report directly to him tomorrow morning.”
“He probably wants us out of the way in case we dig up anything else inconvenient,” Ellison muttered. “Well, we couldn’t do much before morning anyway.” He looked over at Blair, who was fast asleep now, an untidy, sprawled heap on the couch.
“Wish I could get Cowley, though,” Bodie said. “He might have a chance of interfering with Willis’ cover up.”
Doyle thought for a moment. Cowley was one of the very few people who might have a chance of seeing the truth come out about the Cascade Security One and the drug deals. He wanted to see that happen. Slowly he took from his jacket the R/T he’d filched from Bodie the night before. “Here,” he said. “Unless regulations have changed, this should now only reach Cowley himself.”
The look on Bodie’s face amused him, even though it promised retribution later. It wasn’t Bodie whose anger he was worried about, though.
He thought briefly he might get away with it. Bodie was not keen on admitting how he’d lost the R/T. Cowley answered, his voice easily audible to all of them in the silence, and Bodie began hastily, “I .. er… traced my old R/T, sir, and as it seemed my best chance of speaking to you…”
Doyle should have known better. Nothing ever got past Cowley, who interrupted Bodie before he’d got more than a few words out. “Exactly where did you trace it, Bodie?”
“I really need to tell you what Ellison and I have found out…”
“Bodie!” The sharp authoritative tone made everyone jump, not just Bodie.
“Sorry, sir,” Bodie said. “I… mislaid… it last night, and someone returned it to me.”
Doyle grimaced at him. He couldn’t imagine that was going to be adequate. “Who’s there with you at the moment?” Cowley asked, right on cue.
“Ellison, sir,” Bodie said promptly. “There’s no problem about the security of the line, sir.”
Cowley made a noise that suggested his patience was running out. Doyle decided the old man had probably worked it all out anyway. He reached over and took the R/T. ” This is 4.5, sir,” he said. “Reporting in. Sorry I’m a bit late, sir.”
He tried to enjoy the look on Bodie’s face, and not to wince at the tirade of furious eloquence that responded to him from the R/T. Cowley wasn’t happy. He hadn’t really imagined he would be. CI5 agents were not supposed to disappear for weeks to pursue crusades of their own. Bodie, however, was so outraged at this revelation of Doyle’s status, that not even Cowley in full spate could prevent him from taking back the R/T and interrupting, “I don’t understand, sir. There’s never been a 4.5 since I’ve been in CI5.”
Doyle blinked. This went beyond reckless to suicidal with Cowley in the mood he was in.
“I’m not aware of ever suggesting you’d been introduced to all of CI5, Bodie,” Cowley said icily. “4.5 has been working undercover since before you were recruited.”
“But, sir, he can’t be in CI5. He’s a guide…”
Cowley wasn’t just dangerous now, he was deadly. “Are you suggesting there’s some problem with my recruitment policies, Bodie?”
Whatever Doyle thought of Bodie’s sense, he didn’t lack courage. “No sir, just wondering if you approved the .. er .. chemical assistance and so on that’s needed, sir.”
There was silence for a moment at the other end. It occurred to Doyle that, unlikely though it was, the old man must actually like Bodie; he was showing him a hell of a lot more patience than he showed most people.
“This morning, Bodie,” Cowley said, “I could only walk on this leg after I’d taken the ‘chemical assistance’ I have available. Does that earn me your contempt?”
“No, sir!” All of CI5 knew that the bullet lodged irremovably in his leg gave Cowley agonising pain at times. But beyond that, Doyle could feel Bodie’s hurt at the question. Perhaps Cowley heard it, too, because he didn’t push the point. Instead, he said, “From now until the end of this case, Bodie, you and 4.5 will work as partners. Perhaps you’ll both learn something from it. Now I’d like to speak to Detective Ellison, please.”
Subdued, Bodie handed the R/T over, and let Ellison explain the details of the case they’d been trying to build up. Doyle showed the last remaining capsule of medication to Ellison and gestured for him to tell Cowley the situation. He was too relieved that he still seemed to be a CI5 agent to care what disciplinary measures he got, even if that included working with Bodie. It would only be for a few days. He could live with that.
Ellison finished his report and listened with increasing concern to Cowley’s crisp assessment of how things now stood. Cowley dismissed him peremptorily—Ellison could hear other calls coming in—and he handed the R/T to Bodie who had been sitting watching him with a stillness that clearly covered smouldering fury; it didn’t take detective skills to see he’d been unhappy at being reprimanded and still more unhappy at being told to partner Doyle. Jim had more urgent things on his mind though. Problems. He’d thought they had enough before, but Cowley’s information had suggested things were worse than they’d imagined.
“Trouble?” Doyle asked.
“Yes. Plenty, according to your director. Kincaid’s gone rogue on a major scale, taking a hardcore of Cascade’s Security One personnel with him as a private army. Willis has got his hands on a lot of our potential evidence. Cowley thinks Willis is using us as bait, hoping Kincaid may have a go at us. Oh and he says he’ll do his best to get an emergency supply of meds for you, but you might have to wait forty eight hours.”
“I don’t suppose there was any good news,” Doyle muttered. “What evidence?”
“After we left the facility today, the lab was abruptly closed down, because of some unspecified bio-hazard. The press release said it would be closed for some time while emergency cleansing methods are put in place. So, guess what? The staff have been re-assigned, some of them immediately. Wolfson, for instance, has taken the opportunity to do some classified government research…”
“Answering questions for Willis somewhere nice and private,” Doyle interpreted.
“Two others have been reassigned to projects in different states. Oh and, Bodie, your talkative lab assistant has been sent on an expensive holiday, courtesy of Security One, because of the trauma she suffered in the bio-hazard incident.”
“He’s thorough,” Doyle said. “You don’t know about the PD end?”
“Simon was fully stretched as part of the official hunt. Cowley says they’ve lost Kincaid completely, along with about a dozen fully trained security officers who include a couple of their hyped-up sentinels. Willis apparently thinks he blames us—me and Bodie that is, fortunately he doesn’t know anything about you—and hopes he may break cover to try to get at us. That’s why he wants us both here. No doubt the place is being watched very carefully.”
“Kincaid’s not a fool,” Bodie said. “He’ll know that.”
Doyle nodded, sitting down on the floor and leaning against the couch where Sandburg was asleep. He looked as if he’d suddenly run out of energy and wasn’t sure how to start dealing with the news.
“Get some sleep,” Jim said. “It doesn’t need three of us to stay awake.”
He agreed with the assessment that Kincaid would not try anything, but he found himself prowling the apartment anyway, checking that everything was secure. He put a rug over Sandburg, and handed another to Doyle who was dozing where he sat.
For a while there was silence. Then Bodie who’d been staring at nothing looked up and said aloud, “I can’t believe Cowley. He’s been a soldier, he’s been in Intelligence, he’s bloody good at what he does now. How could he take on a guide as a CI5 agent?”
Jim shrugged. He was saved from having to reply by the sudden sound of gunfire a couple of streets away. There was a gap, then more, not much nearer but from a slightly different direction. It seemed loud to him, but it didn’t wake the sleepers. A third burst made Bodie say, “Could be Kincaid. Strafing Willis’ men—letting them know he’s not walking into any traps.”
“Declaring war,” Jim said. If it was, it was no more than a preliminary skirmish. The night was quiet after that. He walked the boundaries of his room as alert as if he was in the jungle, but nothing threatened. Bodie slept a little, but was moving by dawn, coming back from the shower as smart in his appearance as if he’d spent the night peacefully in his own bed. It was then that Willis contacted them again, with the unexpected but welcome news that he wanted them to go directly to the PD and wait for further orders.
“His own headquarters are too much like home ground for Kincaid,” Bodie said.
“Probably. It suits me anyway. We’ll go in as soon as possible. We need a cover story for Doyle and Sandburg though.” He met Bodie’s look with an equally stubborn one of his own. “They can’t stay here, and they might be useful. They were last night… I’ve never had that control over what I heard or saw…” Anyway, he wanted Sandburg where he could see him because… well, because he did.
Bodie shrugged. “Have it your way. Cowley’s way, too, I suppose.” He walked over and kicked Doyle, not too gently. “Morning, sunshine. Lets get the day started.” Doyle, dark shadows under his eyes, didn’t look as if he’d gained much rest. Sandburg, on the other hand, when a couple of cups of coffee had thoroughly woken him, had regained some of what Jim thought was probably a characteristic enthusiasm for life. This kid really is resilient. He must be hurting, he still looks awful, and he’s just been made homeless by a bomb, but he’s talking so fast he needs to use his hands to keep up.
Blair was still talking when they got into Jim’s truck. He was most interested now in embellishments to his cover story. The four of them had decided that Doyle would go in with Bodie as an English observer attached to CI5. Cowley would back that if he was asked, but in the general uproar caused by Kincaid they doubted if he’d get many difficult questions. He could use his police background and claim to be on a public commission monitoring the less accountable law enforcement organisations. It sounded suitably vague, and somehow very English.
Blair had been more difficult. Jim had decided in the end to introduce him as the student anthropologist he really was, but with the spin that he was knowledgeable in native rituals that would help Jim in the control of his senses. It fitted with the story he’d thought up for Willis. There were no other sentinels in Major Crimes, and no one else would have a chance of spotting the two as guides.
It was still so early the streets were not too busy. He tuned back into Sandburg’s conversation, and realised he was being given more information than he really wanted about a bizarre ritual which sounded anatomically challenging. “Don’t try telling that to Captain Banks,” he said firmly. “We’re trying to avoid too much attention. You just say what I tell you to say, and do what I tell you to do—and don’t say or do anything if I haven’t told you. Got it?”
“I think you’re under a misapprehension here,” Sandburg said promptly. “It’s university I was studying at, not obedience school.”
“We could still put that right.”
He’d meant it as a joke, more or less, but when they’d been in Simon’s office for all of three minutes and the kid started on a long and detailed description of some alpha male rituals in a country Jim wasn’t sure even existed, he began to think it would be a good idea. He was torn between wanting to shove Sandburg up against a wall until he learned to do what he was told, and wanting to knock Simon on his ass for glaring at the kid.
Simon, whose temper was evidently suffering from lack of sleep, stood up. “Would you excuse us a moment?” he said to Sandburg, in a tone that held more threat than politeness.
“I was just…” Sandburg began, but Jim hastily opened the door of the office and put him outside.
“Now maybe you’d like to explain to me,” Simon said, his voice rising, “exactly why you thought this was a good day to bring a stray member of the public into work with you. I mean, maybe it was that you thought there just wouldn’t be enough to do, with some lunatic from Security One running round with his private army and..”
“I’m trying to explain,” Jim cut him off. “In fact if I could get one word in I would have explained already. I’m having a problem with my senses. He studies that sort of thing. I’m hoping he can help me.”
“You’re WHAT?” Simon asked.
“I’m having trouble with my senses,” Jim said irritably. “Things are too loud or too bright, or they feel… hot when they shouldn’t.”
“Let me get this straight,” Simon said, still at a volume that was entertaining most of the bullpen. “This is Jim ‘I’m a detective not a sentinel’ Ellison in front of me, talking about his senses like my mother-in-law discussing the menopause. What are you trying to pull, Jim? And who knocked the kid about like that?”
“A mugger. Look, Simon I’m telling you I need him, okay?”
If anything was okay there wasn’t much sign of it in Simon’s expression as he glanced out of his window. “And who the hell is that? So help me Jim, if this is someone else you…”
Jim saw Bodie and Doyle look with interest at the office and interrupted hastily. “You know Bodie,” he said. “The man with him is attached to CI5, as an observer or something. He’s got a background with the British police—the London force and the drug squad. He won’t get in the way.”
He opened the door and waved Doyle in. Doyle, perhaps having had to deal with pissed off superiors of his own enough times, actually managed to say the right things at the right time, and relieved by the sight of his captain becoming almost human again, Jim escaped before he could be asked any more awkward questions.
Sandburg had disappeared. Bodie, lounging against the wall, looked at him sardonically. “You wanted to bring them,” he pointed out. “If you’re looking for Sandburg, a rather nice blond swooped on him and carried him off.”
Jim retrieved Blair, now equipped with a large quantity of forms to fill in, and dumped him firmly behind his own desk. “If you move before I come back, I’ll handcuff you to it,” he said. “I’m going up to the labs to see if they’ve got any results for me.”
He paused at the door. Blair was obediently filling in forms. Simon was showing Doyle some improvements to the rostering system that were his own recent invention. Bodie was watching them all as if he’d rather be somewhere else. If you could forget the existence of Kincaid, it would almost seem peaceful. He hadn’t forgotten Kincaid, though. It would have been a dangerous mistake.
Doyle slid quietly into the seat beside Blair. The bullpen was filling up, those who had not been on for the night coming in, some of those who had going off for a few hours sleep. The whole scene made him realise how long he’d been working undercover. He’d got used to the isolation, almost forgotten what it was like to have colleagues.
Ellison had good ones, he thought. He’d liked the big Afro-American captain, and there was an atmosphere he responded to about the whole department. He’d have made that judgement anyway, but today it was influenced by the fact he was picking up far more of the moods about him than he should have been. It had been a long time since he found a single dose of the meds fully effective at damping down the empathy that came with the guide genes, but today it was worse than usual. He could feel the purposefulness and loyalty of the group, but he was also aware of less positive emotions: weariness, frustration, anxiety. And like a dark note underlying everything else, there was Bodie.
He’d retreated from it to Blair. Now, though, he paid closer attention to what Blair was actually doing. He’d finished with the forms, and was scribbling in a notebook that looked as though it had come from one of Ellison’s drawers. For all his generally dishevelled appearance, Blair was surprisingly clear and well-organised on paper. Doyle could tell with a fairly brief glance what he was doing. It didn’t improve his mood.
Blair looked up, saw his expression, and said quietly, “I’m not a cop, Ray. I’m an anthropologist. Studying people is what I do. All my life, I’ve wanted the chance to study a natural sentinel. And this is relevant—where he’s chosen to work, how he relates to other people in the environment and how they relate to each other. A lot of it fits with what I’ve always thought about a sentinel being a protector.”
They’d had this argument before, only it had been more academic then. Doyle could accept the validity of Blair’s view—up to a point. “Treat them with some respect,” he said in the end.
Blair sighed. “Look—this is research. There isn’t a question of disrespect. By its nature its supposed to be objective.”
“There are things you shouldn’t be objective about.”
“Without objectivity, you’re going to miss the truth.”
“If you’re too objective you’re going to be looking at the truth from a distance and doing nothing about it.”
They stopped in mutual frustration as Bodie strolled over, and said pointedly, “Maybe we could postpone this discussion ’til later? Before we start attracting some attention. Where’s Ellison, anyway?”
“He went up to the labs,” Blair said. “He should be back in a minute.”
“Then I suggest we wait for him without giving the impression we’re a travelling chat show. Apart from anything else, Banks is no fool, and if he wasn’t so busy he’d have noticed by now that you know one another.”
Doyle was silent, partly because he knew Bodie was right, partly because he felt the confusion of anger and other less identifiable emotions in Bodie and did not want to react to them. He was relieved to see Ellison returning, though you didn’t need to be any kind of empath to realise he wasn’t bringing good news.
“We’re screwed,” Bodie deduced, looking at his expression. “Lab analysis no good?” he added as Ellison joined them.
“They’re still working on it, but we’ve lost the rest. The man I told you about—the lab technician—has been reinstated with promotion and backpay, on condition he takes up an instant post on the East Coast. All the files on his case have been called in by Security One.” He was working on the computer as he spoke and file after file came up with the blue flag that signalled unavailable, Security One access only. “That’s every complaint about the facility, relevant or not, that’s been logged since Kincaid arrived in Cascade,” he said bitterly.
“The stockists who supplied the laboratory?” Doyle asked.
Ellison put a call through to the secretary who’d been handling the it, then slammed the phone down in disgust. “They had it ready to send, but a courier from Security One picked it up. They thought we’d be happy about that. Might as well face it, we’ve lost.”
“We haven’t lost,” Blair said quietly. “Zero’s going to be off the streets.”
Some of the anger eased out of Ellison. “It’s still a cover-up,” he said, but he no longer looked in danger of putting his fist through his computer. “Willis thinks he’s above the law.”
“There’s one possibility,” Doyle said slowly. “Kincaid himself. He could talk.”
“If he’s the last possibility,” Bodie said, “then I wouldn’t give a lot for his chances of being taken alive. Or surviving a night in custody.” He looked across at Ellison. “All right if I call Cowley from here. He’ll have got his own sources of information, and it might give us that much more of a chance of getting to Kincaid first.”
All he could get from Cowley for the time being was confirmation that as far as Kincaid was concerned, he and Ellison seemed to be unfinished business. “I’ve one or two unofficial contacts who may come through for me,” Cowley finished. “If I get anything, I’ll get back to you. In the meantime you’re probably better staying where you are.”
“Yes, sir.” Bodie said it stiffly. Doyle could hear the frustration in his voice. If Kincaid had gone successfully to ground, it was going to be a long day.
By lunchtime, the rest of them were beginning to feel equally frustrated, and only a repeated order from Cowley, matched by an unequivocal one from Simon Banks kept them in the PD while the routines of the search went on. There was no doubt that Kincaid was somewhere in the city—the cordon round it had been too swift and complete for him to have got out—but whatever he was doing, he was doing it with effective stealth.
By late afternoon, the atmosphere in the bullpen was one of tiredness and irritation, and Bodie and Ellison were almost impossible to live with. Doyle was aware of the increasing discomfort of being less and less able to shut out the moods of those around him while those moods continually deteriorated. Ellison at least could find a few things to do, but Bodie was becoming more coldly furious by the moment. He didn’t raise his voice, and he didn’t speak at all to Doyle and Blair unless Ellison was involved in conversation with them, but Doyle found him impossible to ignore. More and more he was convinced that it had been a mistake to act as Bodie’s guide even for the briefest length of time, and now he was almost certainly going to have to do it again if Cowley did come through with anything.
Late in the afternoon, the R/T finally sounded again. Cowley spoke, his accent thicker with tiredness. “3.7? I’ve a message from an associate of mine at Rainier, that he thinks something untoward is happening at the university. He’s not sure if it’s anything serious, let alone whether it’s Kincaid, but I’m backing a hunch on this one. Get down there with Doyle, and Ellison if his captain agrees. I’ll get back to you with details of your contact and anything else you might need.”
Doyle looked round the bullpen. Everyone had long since lost interest in the visitors. Banks was on the phone. “You want to go and let your captain know where we’re going?” he asked.
“I’ll contact him once we’re there,” Ellison said hastily. “What do you think you’re doing, Sandburg?”
Blair, who was gathering up his odds and ends, said firmly, “I know Rainier remember. Even if you don’t need to use your senses, you’ll want someone who knows their way around. It’d be crazy not to take me along. Besides, what am I supposed to say to Captain Banks if I’m left sitting here.”
“I’m sure you’d think of something,” Ellison said. Doyle could feel the strength of Ellison’s already instinctive need to protect the kid, run headlong into Blair’s determination to go. Unwanted, the memory came to mind of sitting in a car on a hot night and hearing a gunshot in the room his partner had just entered. Being left behind was a lousy option.
“We’ll need Blair,” he said. “He’s got used to helping you, and like he says, his local knowledge is going to be useful. If Kincaid is there, we’re going to need all our resources to do anything against him.”
Slowly, still reluctantly, Ellison nodded. They all went.
It was beyond weird, Blair thought, being back in the familiar surroundings of Rainier accompanied by two sentinels on a manhunt. Surreal might just about begin to describe it. Somewhere around the level of thinking you’re in your usual universe and then finding Mr Spock in an instant beard.
It was something of a relief, and not too surprising when he thought about it, to find that Cowley’s contact was Jack Kelso, who intercepted them almost as soon as they were on the campus.
“I think we may have a hostage situation,” Kelso said as soon as Blair had hastily introduced the others. “Campus security haven’t tumbled to it yet, and as no demands have been made and there’s been no obvious violence, I don’t suppose it’s reached the attention of any other authorities.”
“What do you mean, campus security haven’t tumbled to it?” Jim demanded impatiently.
“A little over an hour ago, a number of Security One officers arrived at the university. All in uniform, turning up at the front door so to speak. Nothing abnormal about it. They needed to clear Hargrove Hall they said, because of a bomb threat. Everyone’s aware there’s a lot of extra security presence in Cascade today, and it wasn’t questioned. They’ve cleared a large area around the hall and no one’s allowed in, but again that’s routine enough in the case of a bomb threat. What alerted me, besides a naturally suspicious nature, was talking to some of the students who came out. They were worried that not everyone had left at once and they couldn’t find a few of their friends. They hadn’t been offered any violence—you don’t need violence to persuade people to leave a building which might be housing a bomb—but they were perturbed about these others. One lad was adamant his girlfriend still hadn’t come out. I contacted our security, but they were convinced there was no problem and of course,” he gestured vaguely at his wheelchair, “I haven’t much chance of taking a look myself. From asking around, though, I would say that most students agree there might be as many as a dozen still in there, including one lecturer, Mrs Lazarides, who happens to be the mayor’s wife’s sister-in-law. At least a couple of the missing students are from very wealthy homes with parents with important connections. I imagine that’s the pattern for the rest.”
“They’ll be secure by now,” Bodie said. “No chance of going in any normal way.”
“Why haven’t they made any demands?” Blair asked.
“They’ll dig themselves in first,” Doyle told him quietly. “Secure their boundaries. They’ll get that building so that no one has a hope of getting into it before they show their hand.”
“Do you think it is Kincaid?” Blair asked.
Jack Kelso nodded. “That’s my guess. There’s been a conspicuous lack of any bomb disposal teams. I asked Campus security to check the men who’d arrived against the wanted Security One officers, but they hadn’t got more than names. Frankly, I think it was too late for any frontal approach as soon as they were in the building. Now they’ve got plenty of hostages and got themselves secure they’ll be in a strong position. I don’t think it’ll be long before Cascade is hearing Kincaid’s demands.”
“Then we’d better make use of the time we’ve got,” Bodie said, happier with the prospect of some action. “We’ll need plans of the building—have you got those.”
Kelso had obtained them already, and was in the process of getting hold of an elderly and reliable member of the maintenance staff who probably knew the building better than the planners. Blair, whose concept of sentinels was coloured by their tribal past, was slightly disconcerted by the professional and even academic way Bodie and Ellison planned out their strategy. He vaguely knew that covert ops required more than brute force, but he hadn’t realised how expert they had to be. Doyle had introduced him to a world he knew little about, but this one was still more alien, filled with discussion of technologies he had never heard of, and weapons he really didn’t want to know about.
Kelso was at home with it all, agreeing or disagreeing with their judgements, and Doyle, though quieter, obviously understood it all. Blair’s attention shifted to the names Kelso had listed as possibly being amongst the hostages. None of them had been his students, but he knew some of them slightly, and had met Ms Lazarides once or twice.
The sentinels’ attention had focussed on a detail of the plans that they thought might be a possibility. It was only when the maintenance man arrived that they could actually find out what the marking signified.
“That was a solid fuel store,” the man said. “Hasn’t been in use since the war. The coal used to go down a chute here, and then there was a sort of tunnel to the boiler room. It was disused even when I started. It’s been closed up for many years.”
“Could you show us where the coal used to be tipped in?”
“Of course. It’s slightly off the drive—hidden by bushes now.”
“All the better,” Ellison said, then stopped as a sound of gunfire came from the direction of the hall.
“That’s it then,” Bodie said. “They’ve decided to wake the place up.”
Within minutes Cowley came through. Kelso had called it exactly. Holed up in Hargrove Hall with twelve hand-picked hostages, Kincaid had decided he was in a strong enough position to make his demands. “He wants you, Bodie, and Ellison. He wants transport out of Cascade, along with a couple of guides for his sentinels. And he sounds quite impatient.”
“We’re just about on it, sir,” Bodie said, and catching a request from Ellison, “Um… if you can use your influence to get Simon Banks handling the PD end of it, Ellison could do with a friendly face outside.”
“I’ll do my best. I’m with the mayor at the moment. Remember we want Kincaid alive.”
As he signed off, Doyle said quickly, “If Kincaid wants guides, that gives us two ways in. Blair and I can come in with you briefly, ’til you’ve used your senses to check out the building and got an idea of the disposition of Kincaid’s men, then if Banks brings guide uniforms I can go in the front door and they can use Blair to negotiate for some of the hostages. If there’s one thing Kincaid won’t have thought of it’s that there could be any threat from a guide.”
“Better if we both went in,” Blair said. “He won’t negotiate, will he? If I go in with you I would be a contact with the hostages. I know the professor. I know some of the kids enough for them to listen to me and know I’m there for them.”
He looked at their different expressions. Bodie was considering it, so was Kelso, with more reluctance. Doyle wasn’t happy. Ellison was well beyond unhappy.
“No,” Ellison said flatly. “You have no idea what it will be like. You’re not trained for this sort of thing.”
“I’m a teaching fellow at this university—well I was, anyway. I’ve got some sort of responsibility here.”
“There’s not going to be a lot of chance for those hostages,” Kelso said slowly. “I don’t like it either, but it’s a better plan than you had before.”
“No,” Ellison said again. “Let Doyle do it. Kincaid will settle for one guide.”
“Look, I don’t think you’ve got any sort of jurisdiction over me,” Blair pointed out.
“I’m the officer in charge of a crime scene,” Ellison said stiffly. “That’s all the jurisdiction I need.”
“Technically,” Bodie put in, “I doubt very much whether you’re in charge of anything here.”
“That’s right,” Blair said. “It’s my own decision as someone with pastoral responsibilities for the students. Anyway, if you’re all in there, I’d rather be in there as well.”
“Simon Banks will never okay it,” Ellison said, apparently taking comfort from that, “and he WILL be the officer in charge. We’ll do it the way you first called it Doyle. You can handle it on your own?”
“We’d better get moving then,” Ellison said. “Kelso—can you handle the liaison with Cowley and Banks? We need to move.”
Blair could see a couple of things quite clearly. One was that Ellison was never going to agree, and the other was that the man was going to have no control at all over what Blair did once the sentinels were left inside the hall. Banks might not like it, but he had a feeling the mayor would be ready to grasp at any straw. He would wait.
The maintenance man took them on an indirect route by which they could remain mainly obscured. As he had said, the grating over the coal shute was rusty and almost hidden by undergrowth. It took Bodie and Ellison a few minutes and a crowbar to shift it. Then Blair was scraping painfully after Ellison through the small opening and letting himself down into pitch darkness, trusting recklessly in Ellison’s promise to catch him. Hands gripped his waist and set him down gently enough on to the rough surface of decades-old broken remains of coal.
He tried to scramble off it before Bodie came down. “Steady,” Ellison said, keeping one hand firmly on his arm and leading him to less uneven ground. “Stay with me so I can use my sight and we’ll both be okay.”
Uncertainly at first, but with increasing confidence, Blair encouraged the sentinel to extend his sight well into the darkness ahead of them. Apart from his own voice the only sound was the whispered argument behind him between the British pair, who were definitely scoring a fail grade in the cooperation category. He hung onto Ellison’s jacket, and concentrated on keeping the man grounded with his voice; it would be all too easy to zone in the darkness. For a few minutes along the dank tunnel they seemed to be in a world of their own, and then they came up short against a wooden door.
“Can you hear anything?” he asked Ellison softly.
“Nothing. There’s no one in that room or anywhere beyond. Nothing moving or living at all. Stand back a minute, Chief.”
Bodie and Doyle had bickered their way along safely enough. Bodie shouldered through to lend a hand with the door, now. He and Ellison moved in union once, twice, and then the door was in a broken pile on the boiler room floor and they all went through.
“Take enough time to listen thoroughly,” Doyle said quietly, once they had moved out onto the boiler room stairs. “Your hearing is what will give you the advantage now. Stretch out gradually. Picture the plans, and go up into the main part of the building. Find Kincaid and the hostages, and then see if you can track down where he’s placed his men.”
Blair noticed that as he began to speak, Doyle’s voice became less abrasive. Bodie, who had hardly spoken a word to either guide all day, and certainly had nothing pleasant to say to Doyle, nevertheless responded to the sound of Doyle’s voice and the hand on his shoulder and followed his instructions. Blair wondered if he himself sounded different as he did the same thing for Ellison. Yeah, maybe. Like I speak more slowly, and my voice is lower. Perhaps it’s a guide thing, a sort of instinct. Never learned it anyway. Come on, concentrate, they’re leaving us behind.
He was completely gripped by the effectiveness of the sentinels’ abilities in a situation like this, as he tried to guide Ellison’s hearing up into the building where they needed to go. It was far more sophisticated than any technology, because it had the versatile intelligence of the human mind behind it. Yes I did just think that. Well, all human minds are actually versatile and intelligent compared to microchips right?
To be fair, he supposed a certain amount of covert ops experience was helping as well, but it was the sentinel hearing that enabled Ellison and Bodie to draw up a mental map of what was happening above them. To Blair’s amazement, they could even distinguish between the frightened hostages and their guards, because of the rapid heart rates and the faster breathing of the former.
“There are five men actually in the room with the hostages,” Ellison said, glancing at Bodie who nodded agreement. “Assuming one of them is Kincaid, that’s four others; and probably two of those are the sentinels. He won’t risk them working alone without guides, and all the others I’ve tracked have been alone.”
Bodie said quietly, “We take the others one by one. There’s one not far above us. We’ll have to try and take out the cameras as we go. That’ll be a problem when we get up to the main hall.”
“We’ll be providing some distraction by then,” Doyle said. “Their attention will be focussed to the front when Banks starts to negotiate, and we could probably prolong that somehow.” He glanced at his watch. “We’re going to have to move quickly. I’ll aim to be going in fifteen minutes, but don’t rely on it because it won’t just be my call.”
“We can do better than that,” Ellison said. “I’ve got my phone. I can risk one call to Banks. I’ll let him know when we’re ready. He’ll either move on that if he can or update us with any problems. You’d better get moving”
“No heroics,” Bodie said, his face expressionless. Blair tried not to show his surprise. He’s worried. He doesn’t sound it, but he is. If Doyle noticed, he gave no sign of it. His mind seemed to be entirely on the job. Gotta keep mine there too. Think hostages. I need to make sure I get in there. Those kids have got to be so terrified. Come on, Ray, just agree, because I know how to persuade you if you don’t and I’m not going to like myself…
He was already working on Doyle as they stumbled back to the concealed grating—harder without a sentinel—and hauled themselves up into the daylight. Doyle was not interested. Like Ellison, he seemed to have this conviction that not being a cop disqualified Blair. It’s definitely that. Must be the training or something. Bodie would have okayed it, even Jack Kelso would.
Blair could probably have persuaded him anyway if he’d had long enough, but he was in a hurry. “Come on, Ray,” he said as they reached the back of the line of police cars which now filled the drive. “I do not want to be standing out here hearing shots, and knowing that if you or Ellison have gone down maybe I could have done something about it.”
That got Doyle. He’d known it would. He’d never worked out exactly what happened to Doyle’s first partner but he’d picked up enough to know what sometimes still haunted Doyle’s sleep.
“Banks will have to okay it,” Doyle said, but offered no more arguments of his own. To Blair’s surprise, and relief, he didn’t have to debate it with Simon Banks. Not that the big captain was happy, far from it, but Kelso’s liaison with Cowley and through Cowley with the mayor, seemed to have given him little choice. “You wouldn’t either of you be doing this if I hadn’t got the mayor and CI5 pushing me, and taking full responsibility for the pair of you. And I still don’t like it. Surely as soon as Kincaid’s sentinels get near you they’re going to know you’re not guides.”
This of course had always been going to be a problem. They certainly weren’t coming out into the open as guides. “Natural sentinels would be able to tell,” Doyle said smoothly. “We should be able to carry it off with these pseudo sentinels for the brief time we’ll need to. Sandburg’s tribal experiences have given him a strong background in the behaviour necessary, and I’ve done this before for CI5.”
Banks snorted, watching them change into the drab grey shirt and trousers which were the accepted wear for guides outside a facility. “Well, it’s your lives. If you think for a moment I believe half the crap you’ve given me today, you must be more stupid than you look, but I trust Jim Ellison, and frankly, mayor, Cowley or Willis himself regardless, you wouldn’t be going in there if I didn’t think Jim wanted you.”
Blair kept his head down, struggling with the stiff buttons of the shirt. He’d better make sure he was well on the way before Ellison’s call came through. Doyle had that in mind as well. “We need some distraction out here now,” he said. “Kincaid’s almost certainly using the hall’s own security camera system, and may have added to it. Bodie and Ellison are going to need to take out the cameras in the main hall. We want everyone’s attention directed to the front here when Ellison gives the word. Blair and I can go in slowly, but something more for them to look at would be good.”
Banks looked on with disfavour as Doyle adjusted an ankle holster, but only said, “The mayor will be arriving in a moment. I was just going to let Kincaid know.”
Doyle nodded. “That might do. You could shift a few cars, make a big thing of bringing the mayor to the front, get him to talk to Kincaid.”
Saving Simon the need to initiate the contact, Kincaid’s harsh voice came through in the next minute. “I’m waiting to see some progress, Banks. I don’t need all these hostages. Where’s Ellison?”
“We’re finding him,” Simon said. “We’ve got the guides you wanted, and the mayor will be here in a minute to discuss your other demands. The hostages safety is our main concern. Why don’t you let two of them leave in return for the two guides who are coming in.”
“We need to know we’re negotiating in good faith, Kincaid. If you’re going to kill the hostages anyway we might as well come in force now.”
“Show me the guides.”
Blair’s heart pounded uncomfortably and his mouth felt dry. He waited for Banks to give them the word to walk in. Doyle pushed something into his hand and he looked down and saw the familiar small yellow capsule. “Swallow it,” Doyle said briefly. “There’s going to be a lot of pain and fear in there.”
With difficulty, Blair dry-swallowed it, and only afterwards realised he hadn’t seen Doyle do the same. “What about you?” he asked.
“Don’t worry about me. Just do what you can when we get in there to warn the hostages something’s about to happen. If you can encourage one of Kincaid’s pet sentinels to zone that would be even better.”
Banks interrupted them, pushing them through the ranks of people. “Go on. We’ve got the word from Jim. Walk slowly once you’re in the open. The mayor should be here before you’re in, to keep their attention in this direction. Kincaid’s letting one hostage walk, so don’t go in ’til he or she is well clear.”
It felt better to be moving. Blair let Doyle take the lead, setting their slow pace. He thought about the mannerisms of the guides he’d seen at the facility. The clothes were right, now he needed the right body language. Look down. Look nervous—that one was way too easy. Look as if you can’t think for yourself… He glanced sideways at Doyle and hissed, “Shuffle a bit more. We’re guides, man, we’re not going in to hit someone.”
Doyle grinned. “That’s what they think, anyway.” But he lost the traces of pugnaciousness from his movement and they approached the steps looking convincingly frightened and non-threatening. They halted a few yards away, and the man in the doorway pushed a girl out. She was sobbing, and didn’t even look at them as she ran towards the safety of the police cars. “One,” Blair thought, anger with Kincaid pushing out some of his nervousness as he thought of the other students equally afraid and still trapped inside.
“Hurry up!” snapped the guard on the door. They went slowly up the steps and were pushed inside.
“Sending them in, sir,” the man snapped into his radio.
“Do you copy that, Simmons?” came Kincaid’s voice.
“Yes, sir.” Blair felt Doyle touch his arm. As they went into the hall, Doyle mouthed, “Bodie.” Blair hadn’t picked anything up from the brief reply, but he supposed Doyle could tell. He looked along the long corridor to try to make out if it really was Bodie at the other end, but an elbow in the ribs from Doyle indicated this wasn’t a good idea.
Another guard at the doorway of one of the rooms waved them in. It was a large lecture room that Kincaid was using for his headquarters, and a familiar enough setting to Blair, although it looked rather different with a professor and a handful of students huddled on the dais with several armed men between them and the exits. Kincaid himself was watching a jury-rigged display of video screens showing the outside of the building including the roof, along with a continually changing set of interior shots. Blair noticed with interest that several of these were now coming up with static and no picture.
Kincaid had now noticed it too. “There’s a problem with some of the cameras. Look into it Simmons, Schmidt.”
“Sir,” echoed two voices briefly.
Blair turned his attention to the students for a moment. He’d been aware that if they reacted too much to his presence it would cause problems, but though obviously very upset they were not panicking. He met the gaze of Andrea Lazarides, the mayor’s relative, and gave her a very slight nod. She turned to the students as if comforting them, and he guessed she was warning them to show no recognition. Then Kincaid’s voice broke into his thoughts.
Kincaid, evidently, had considered the possibility of agents being sent in disguised as guides. Fortunately, it didn’t seem to have crossed his mind that an agent could actually BE a guide. He motioned the two pseudo sentinels to check them. “Are these guides?”
Blair was interested to find he got only the faintest sense of a sentinel’s presence from the two. Compared to Ellison it was like putting a candle up against the daylight. The sentinels, however, obviously recognised whatever it was that characterised a genuine guide. “Yeah—they’re the real thing,” the more aggressive of the two said. He had a hard, sharp face that made a smile a weapon. Blair felt himself flinch slightly from the cruelty in him. Doyle looked at the man directly, allowing a trace of defiance to show. Blair was puzzled for a moment that he should have provoked a confrontation, then he realised. Doyle had seen the man needed an outlet for his aggression and had just made sure which one of them it would be.
“Parker?” Kincaid said, watching the interaction with more contempt than interest. “Are they going to be any use?”
Parker took hold of Doyle’s hair to yank his head back and make him look up. “Once they know who’s in charge they’ll probably do. Do you know who’s boss, pretty boy?”
“Someone else, with brains,” Doyle said. The flat of Parker’s hand landed across his face and he stumbled back.
“That’s enough,” Kincaid said. “Use them first, do what you like with them later.” He was still concentrating on the scene at the front of the hall, though Blair thought hopefully that the patches of static from the other screens were getting more frequent. “The mayor looks ready to give us what we want,” Kincaid said, “but there’s no sign of Ellison or the Brit. Banks is stalling me and I want to know why. Especially, I want to know if he’s got those men out there. Parker, Robinson, you start using your senses now.”
Parker had a brutal grip on Doyle’s arm. “You heard the man. Do your stuff. I need to be able to listen now.”
Doyle ignored him, speaking directly to Kincaid. “Your sentinels are going to be distracted, working two in a room with guides they don’t know.”
Another cuff from Parker sent him sprawling. Kincaid nodded. “Get your sentinel’s permission before you speak another time. But he may be right, Parker. Go and join the men in the hall and see what you can pick up from there and from the front.”
Blair kept his head down, his hair hiding his grin. That was what Doyle had wanted, and though it had cost him a few bruises, he’d got it very neatly. The other sentinel, Robinson, looked like a muscular, not-very-bright good soldier, which was no doubt just what he had been before someone decided to enhance his senses artificially. He looked at Blair without any hostility, waiting for him to suggest something. Kincaid went back to his radio link with the outside, threatening Banks that he was going to start playing ten green bottles with the hostages if he didn’t see some more progress soon. At that point four screens came up with static at once. Kincaid cursed. “Scabbolio. Go and help Simmons fix this. I warned him he was overloading the system.”
Blair had manouevred Robinson over nearer to the dais. “Maybe we should try your hearing first,” he suggested.
” It’s not very good. My sight’s better,” Robinson said apologetically. “That was the sense I originally had before…”
Blair pushed aside a completely unwanted twinge of sympathy. Nope, not sorry for him. Not sorry for him at all. He may not be very bright, but he’s bright enough to know shooting people is a bad idea. Of course, he’s probably been trained to think it’s a good idea if you’ve got orders but…
A further thought occurred to him. “How much are you actually hearing at the moment?” he asked. “Like—you see those kids. They’re scared stiff. Can you hear their heartbeats or how fast they’re breathing?”
Robinson looked at him, then at the students. “I can’t hear to that sort of level,” he said, but he looked uncomfortable. Frightening unarmed people obviously still bothered him.
“If I don’t see Ellison in the next ten minutes,” Kincaid was bellowing to Banks, “one of our respected millionaires can order an expensive funeral for his son or daughter. Pull your finger out and stop making excuses.”
Blair was aware of Professor Lazarides looking at him desperately for some kind of guidance. He needed to neutralise this sentinel. “Okay,” he said to Robinson in his best ‘guide’ voice. “We’ll use your sight. You see that screen showing the front row of police cars and the mayor’s vehicle. Look deep into that, right down to the windows of the cars. Past that spot where the light’s glinting, right into the interior…” The chemical treatment strongly increased the likelihood of a sentinel ‘zoning’. Robinson, as he had hoped, gradually became so focussed on the slightly flickering image on the screen that he became stockstill losing all awareness of his surroundings.
Blair turned his head, and saw the professor still watching. He gestured to her to come nearer. “There’s going to be something happening in a minute,” he said softly. “Can you be ready to up-end the table and get down behind it in case there’s some shooting.” The big table on the dais, placed for the lecturer’s convenience, might not be a lot of protection but it would be better than nothing.
He saw that she’d understood, and only just in time. He knew the men outside must be nearly ready to do… whatever it was they did do in these circumstances. There was a movement near the door. Just as Kincaid finished his ranting, Doyle came back in. He was being pushed by a man wearing Parker’s clothes and cap, but whom Blair recognised instantly as Jim Ellison. Luckily, no one else was expecting to see anything out of the ordinary, and Doyle and Ellison had the advantage for the few seconds they needed. With Robinson frozen, and the departed Scabbolio presumably dealt with outside, only Kincaid and two guards remained to fight. Once they were into the room, just as the shock of recognition dawned on Kincaid’s face, Doyle and Ellison dived for cover, one in each direction, firing as they went.
Blair was aware of the students behind him huddling into the shelter of the table as he had told them, of a shot outside which was probably Bodie taking out the man on the front door, of Robinson jerking back to awareness, of the guards and Kincaid dropping but at least two of them still firing. It was all happening too fast. He should have gotten nearer the dais before it began.
He took two steps towards it, was briefly aware of both Ellison and Doyle yelling his name in warning, then Robinson took hold of him and flung him to the ground. He felt a scorching pain across his right arm and heard an odd sort of grunt from Robinson, then he was pinned to the floor by the bigger man’s weight while a lot of shooting and crashing happened behind him.
He struggled frantically, trying not to yelp at the soreness in his arm, but by the time he rolled free it was all over. Robinson lay very still, with a lot of blood spreading out, nauseatingly. Kincaid, looking even less sane than before, was trying to break free from Bodie and Doyle. The PD were coming in the door. The hostages were hugging each other, some of them crying. And Ellison was coming towards him looking like one of the grimmer Victorian pictures of wrath and judgement.
He tried to sit up to make his reasoned defence for being there, but his body had apparently decided it was all suddenly too much. He was shaking violently, and his arm really, really hurt. He looked at it and realised his sleeve was torn, and the drab grey fabric was wet and red. Although he was sitting down, he felt as if he was falling and he was sure that he was about to be sick…
Ellison, looking alarmed now rather than furious, materialised right in front of him That’s funny. Never saw you cross the floor. I think maybe you were right about me not knowing what it would be like, but I’m not sorry… I’d do it again… that’s right man, I could go with a bit of care, keep the shouting for later…
He was propped up against a shoulder that felt as comfortingly solid as warm-blooded granite, and Ellison sounded almost gentle as he said, “Let me see,” and ripped away the bloodstained sleeve of the shirt. Blair felt the throbbing briefly increase, and the sight of what seemed a lot of blood made his already fast breathing turn into rapid choking gasps he couldn’t stop. He wasn’t sure if it was the warmth of Jim’s arm round him that stopped it turning into a full-blown panic attack, or sheer indignation when Ellison said more cheerfully, “Hey, that’s not too bad, Chief. Not much more than a deep graze. The paramedics will soon fix you up.”
He realised then that paramedics were already in the room, working urgently next to them on the unmoving Robinson. His understanding began to catch up with events. “Is he…? He was protecting me?”
“I know. I saw,” Ellison said, sounding quite unreasonably guilty for not having been able to do it himself, and unconsciously tightening his hold on Blair. “He saw that Kincaid was going to shoot you.”
Blair hadn’t even known anyone was aiming at him. He watched the efforts of the medics to stabilise the man. “I don’t think he would ever have gone along with Kincaid shooting the hostages. He was just a soldier following the wrong leader…”
“If he survives, we’ll make sure what he did for you counts in his favour,” Ellison promised. He’d pressed a soft dressing against the bleeding gash on Blair’s arm. “You did well, Chief. There’s a lot of hostages waiting to thank you.”
Blair blinked at the unexpected praise. He felt strongly inclined stay exactly where he was and refuse to face any more of the day, but he didn’t want the students to leave feeling afraid for him. “They still here?” he asked, trying to turn round.
In reply Jim lifted him to his feet, and he found that he felt less shaky. The students, about to be escorted out, called out their thanks and Andrea Lazarides came over. “You’ll never know how relieved we were to see you, Mr Sandburg. I hope the university appreciates what you did today.”
“I hope the Cascade PD does,” Blair joked. The part of it he had in mind luckily seemed to be too relieved he wasn’t badly damaged to hold an immediate enquiry into events. The paramedics confirmed Jim’s opinion that although it had bled a bit, the injury was something easily treated. They had other more urgent cases. Blair was only just realising how much more badly hurt a number of Kincaid’s men seemed to be. Including Parker. He looked at the semi-conscious Parker wide eyed.
“That was Doyle,” Ellison said. “I don’t think he liked one of the suggestions Parker made to him. Listen, Chief, you ought to get some stitches and maybe a shot. Why don’t I take you along to the hospital in the truck, it’ll probably be quicker in the long run. While we’re there, I’ll make sure Robinson doesn’t get treated as a criminal.”
“Thanks,” Blair agreed, warmed by the concern he could hear and feel. “We ought to tell Doyle first though… where are Bodie and Doyle?”
Doyle and Bodie’s first concern once they saw Blair was not seriously hurt, was to make sure that they and several of the PD provided too thick a wall round Kincaid for anyone to have a hope of shooting him on his way to the waiting police vehicles. The possibility of a sniper trying to eliminate him seemed all too likely. Bodie stood and gave orders—no one seemed to think of questioning his authority. Doyle went to get rid of the guide clothing and report to Simon Banks.
His thoughts were a jumble of thankfulness it was over and sharp awareness of how much worse it could have been. He’d known a moment of utter horror when he saw Kincaid take aim at Blair, and enormous relief when the other sentinel had saved him from the shots. He’d wanted to go to him then, but he’d seen Ellison make for him the minute the hostages safety was secured, and for his own part he hadn’t dared let go of the fiercely struggling Kincaid. He could read Ellison’s expression easily enough from across the room—the anger and the relief—and had known that Blair would be okay and that the detective wouldn’t be moving from his side. It was better to leave it to him. For himself, he wasn’t sure whether he regretted allowing Blair to go along or not. As it worked out, Blair might have made the difference between success and failure, and he’d certainly brought out the best in the sentinel who’d protected him…
He had no trouble convincing Banks that there might be an attempt on Kincaid’s life, and the big captain went to improve Bodie’s security arrangements. Doyle left them to get on with it. Still sitting half in and half out of the car where he had been changing back into his usual clothes, he sagged against the doorway with relief when Banks went. All he wanted at the moment was solitude. In normal circumstances he wouldn’t have gone into a situation like that without taking enough meds to damp his empathy right down. As it was, he felt battered beyond anything he’d known before.
His head throbbed and ached, and his knuckles were bleeding; the fear of the hostages, pain from those injured, Kincaid’s violent hatred all reverberated in his mind, but it was the memory of Parker’s sadistic touch that really hurt, and, if he was honest, the thought of how violently he’d dealt with Parker. The chaos of remembered emotions and reaction now threatened to overwhelm him. He closed his eyes and waited for the worst of it to pass, looking desperately for some resource within himself.
He thought he found it. Something in him eased a little, and for the time being the chaos became manageable. He opened his eyes, and found Bodie standing there.
“What?” Doyle asked.
“Come with me a minute,” Bodie said. He looked serious. Doyle forced himself to his feet and followed him. “It’s Cowley,” Bodie went on when they were out of normal earshot. “Got one of those anonymous bits of information he specialises in, that there’s a sniper on a rooftop at… this address mean anything to you?”
Doyle read it and nodded. “Why us?”
“Cowley wants him personally, the sniper that is. Delivered to him without any contact with the proper authorities. Very unofficial of course. If we botch it, he won’t know what we were doing there.”
“Oh great. I don’t suppose he offered us a reason?”
They’d reached Bodie’s hire car by now and as Bodie eased out into the roadway he said, “Not in so many words, but I got the impression he thinks this man is employed directly by Willis.”
“If he is, you can guarantee he won’t talk.”
“That’s why Cowley wants him unofficially. I don’t think he was planning to observe his constitutional rights.”
Doyle was feeling marginally better, which at the back of his mind puzzled him. He shouldn’t be. He was more concerned though, with his distaste for the idea of going behind the backs of men like Banks and Ellison.
“The sniper will be a professional killer,” Bodie said when he expressed his unease.
“I don’t like it even so.”
“Well as far as I’m concerned, Cowley’s still giving the orders. If you’re not going to back me up, stay in the car where I don’t need to worry about you.”
Doyle winced, though he knew Bodie had no idea why that would hurt. “I’ll back you up,” he said.
Following his instructions, Bodie pulled into a street behind the building they wanted. It was an office block. The top three floors, according to a second hasty brief from Cowley, were empty because they were unlet, but in fact now it was early evening the whole building was almost deserted. The caretaker was deeply uninterested in them, barely taking his eyes from the game he was watching, the noise from the portable television so loud they had to shout over it. They had the ID cards they’d needed to get into Major Crimes, and he accepted those without a second glance. He didn’t want to know why they needed to look at his roof, but he did take the time as he handed them the necessary keys to say, “There was a man went up there a while ago, to check the air-conditioning system or something. I imagine he’s long gone by now.”
“We’ll look out for him,” Bodie promised with dark humour.
They took the stairs, thinking that it would have been too easy to rig some sort of alarm to the elevator. Both out of breath, they stopped at the last landing and leaned on the wall to recover for a moment. “Good thing Cowley can’t see us,” Bodie muttered, gulping in air.
“Two weeks with Macklin, lads,” Doyle said in a failed attempt at a Scottish accent .
“You trained with Macklin?” Bodie asked, surprised.
Doyle was too tired even to be angry. “I did everything any other CI5 agent does,” he said. “Cowley’s not running a charity.”
Bodie looked at him for a moment, eyes still cool and assessing, but without the undercurrent of hostility. “You did okay today,” he said.
Doyle met his gaze, green eyes locking with blue, a mutual acknowledgement. “We all did,” he said. “Now you’d better do your stuff again. Hear anything out of the ordinary?”
Bodie was getting used to it. “One man on the roof, not moving. Nothing else.”
“Check the door out. You hear anything electronic, any hint it’s going to alarm if we open it?”
Bodie listened. “Nothing,” he said.
“It seems a bit too easy,” Doyle muttered.
Bodie shrugged. “He’s not moved. Heartbeat hasn’t changed for a moment. He doesn’t know we’re coming.”
“Maybe there’s something on the door you can’t pick up. We’d better go for it though. Ready?”
They pushed open the metal door, looking automatically for any sort of beam or buzzer. It was sheer luck that Bodie looked up and saw the tiny camera positioned to watch the doorway and flung Doyle back inside, rolling away himself before the first shots hit. Doyle set up a hasty covering fire while Bodie took refuge behind a raised structure that was probably the top of the air-conditioning system. From there he kept the man pinned down while Doyle joined him.
“It’s the man who hit those dealers last night,” Bodie said tersely. “We’ve got him all right; it’s just a question of taking him alive. What the hell…?
There was the unmistakeable noise of a helicopter. They crouched deep in the shadow of their shelter until Bodie saw it had come in almost level with the roof. “The pilot’s trying to pick him up. He must have had some link rigged up so the chopper knew if he had trouble.” He fired at the helicopter, which swerved, and they had to flatten themselves behind their barrier as the pilot briefly returned fire with something automatic. The pilot, though, was alone, and preoccupied with getting in close enough for the sniper to clutch on to the rope ladder he was dangling.
Bodie leaned round to fire again, at the sniper this time, but as he did so the helicopter pilot fired—not bullets but a flare of painfully bright white light. Bodie dropped back, clutching his eyes. Doyle was half blinded, but he’d been behind the shelter, and did not have the sensitivity of sight of a sentinel. Blinking away the flashes across his vision he took aim at the man who was reaching for the rope ladder. He hit him in the shoulder and saw him stumble dropping his gun. It should be enough. He couldn’t use the ladder now, but a shoulder wound wouldn’t kill him.
Another shot came from the chopper, and Doyle flung himself flat. The bullet came nowhere near him though. With sudden sick understanding he realised the pilot had just tried to make sure the sniper wouldn’t talk. He stood up in time to see the man stagger back towards the parapet, obviously badly wounded. A second shot was fired and the force of it sent the sniper further towards the edge. The helicopter pulled away. The man was halted briefly by the parapet, but it was low and he was already collapsing. With a scream like that of a wounded animal, he lost his balance and went over backwards.
Doyle stood still, too shocked to react for a moment. The scream echoed in his ears, but far worse than that was the louder echoing of the man’s hate and fear and pain as he fell. He had no barriers to shut it out, and no reserves left to deal with it. He dropped to the roof as if he was falling as well, and for a few moments he was, his empathy wide open to feel the full horror of the man’s death. He fought fiercely to get a grip on his reaction. They had to get out of here before the police arrived. But when he tried to get to his feet he realised he couldn’t do it.
With a last vestige of control he pulled himself over to Bodie and said hoarsely, “Get us out of here!” Then all the echoes of the day’s violence overwhelmed him. Still hearing the screaming that had long since stopped, he tumbled into darkness.
Bodie heard his words and knew he needed to do something quickly. His eyes were smarting, the sharp pain from the light still searingly uncomfortable, but he’d begun to deal with it. He could see just a little now, and his other senses were compensating. He’d picked up a rough idea of what had happened, understood the helicopter was gone and the sniper dead. He didn’t understand though why Doyle was down. He hadn’t been hit—Bodie was sure of that; he’d have heard it and he’d have known if there was any blood.
Blinking furiously he tried to see more clearly. Doyle was curled in on himself, hands over his ears and his face twisted. Bodie checked him over as best he could, lifting him up against his arm, running his hands over the damp curls to make sure there was no head injury. He was urgently aware of sirens in the distance and the need to be away before they arrived. Doyle was cold, shivering, unresponsive, but he could find no physical harm. He hauled him to his feet, and half carried him to the elevator, where he tumbled them both in and headed for the ground floor.
Leaned back against the metal wall of the elevator, he held Doyle propped against him. Doyle was limp and his skin was clammy, his breath was shallow and harsh against Bodie’s neck. Something was happening too, something Bodie didn’t understand. He was sharply aware of every detail of Doyle; had been, really, since the night they had met, but now it was not just a sensory thing. He was aware of Doyle himself, essential… and hurting. A crashing wave of protectiveness, stronger than anything he’d ever known, swept over him. For a moment the ever-present lurking darkness coiled back and retreated. He felt warmth wrap round both of them, and heard Doyle gasp and hang on, suddenly taking more of his own weight. He could feel him breathe a great sighing breath of relief, and then the sense of connection dimmed. “You have to let go,” Doyle said thickly, apparently unaware that his hands were gripping Bodie so tightly the knuckles were dead white.
Bodie was startled and relieved to hear him speak. The bump of the lift stopping and the wail of sirens very close jolted him into action. He could see a little better in the dimmer light indoors. Gently he pushed Doyle out of the elevator, and manouevred them both towards the door. The caretaker was still gripped by the match he was watching. The volume of it must have drowned out everything that had happened. He just looked up and nodded when Bodie dropped the keys in, and they were out and clear.
Outside, a police car was pulling up where a number of people were standing looking at something on the ground. His main concern was to get his partner away, but he listened as he walked. All those he could hear had just seen the sniper and the helicopter. No one was talking about more men being on the roof. They were probably going to get away with this one.
They had reached the car by the time more emergency vehicles were drawing up. Doyle had managed to walk to it more or less unaided, but now that Bodie’s eyes were clearing he could see he still looked greyish, and far from all right. “Get in the back and lie down,” he said.
Doyle shook his head stubbornly. “It’s okay now, you did enough,” he said, mystifying Bodie. “You took one hell of a risk though.” He looked up at Bodie as he got into the front passenger seat and saw the blank look on his face. “Bloody hell, Bodie. Didn’t you know what you were doing?”
Bodie decided to get further away before he tried to work out where he’d lost the thread of this conversation. He drove off, noticing there were now two police cars and an ambulance parked by the office block. Beside him Doyle had leaned back and closed his eyes. “Where do you want to go?” Bodie asked.
“Somewhere empty. No people.”
Bodie’s limited geography of Cascade suggested the park near Ellison’s apartment might meet this requirement. It would soon be dark, and it wouldn’t be busy, at least. He headed in that direction. He wanted to know what had happened to Doyle, and what risk he was supposed to have taken, but he didn’t want to discuss it while he was driving. Anyway, he needed to find his way, and Doyle didn’t look up to much of a conversation yet. He pulled up a little later beside the park, seeing long stretches of it empty now in the deepening dusk. “Here. Best I can do.”
Doyle opened his eyes, looked and nodded. “Thanks,” he said getting out. Bodie realised he was about to head off without another word, and followed him hastily.
“Sorry mate. You’re not wandering off across there on your own.”
“The place won’t be empty if you come along,” Doyle pointed out. “Private party, okay? No gatecrashers.”
Bodie grinned. He’d remembered something when he got into the car. “I brought a bottle,” he said, holding up the scotch which would definitely now be inadequate to sweeten Cowley. “Mind you, I’m not sure you should be drinking it. You still look terrible”
Doyle set off towards an empty area of grass under the trees, but he didn’t actually object when Bodie came along, and when he glanced back and saw Bodie take a gulp from the bottle he paused and held out his hand. Slightly against his better judgement Bodie handed it over. Doyle drank and handed it back. He sat down in the semi-darkness leaning back against a tree. It was okay here, Bodie thought. Quiet and cool, and a long way removed from what had been happening in the day. The slight noises of insects and the scents of plants were dominant over the sounds of the distant city. He felt the whisky uncurl tendrils of false warmth in his stomach, and lifted the bottle again. He had a feeling if he waited, Doyle would talk.
Reclaiming the bottle, Doyle did. “This is why we need the meds. This is what happens otherwise. Everything today… everyone’s reactions… I couldn’t shut them out. You could hear that bloke down all those floors. I could FEEL him.”
“Doesn’t seem like much of a survival trait,” Bodie said.
“It’s not supposed to work like that, any more than someone like Ellison is supposed to crash into insanity in a couple of years time because he finally loses control of his senses.”
Bodie though about the death or glory option. He’d reckoned about two years… “Fair enough. So none of us are going to survive for too long. But you got over it. And what was all that about risks?”
Doyle handed the bottle back. “I can’t believe you didn’t know what you were doing. You’re damned lucky I did. Otherwise it would have gone too far to break.”
“WHAT would?” Bodie asked.
“Bonding. The link. The sentinel/guide thing. Even you must have heard of it, Bodie. We’ve been taking a risk the whole time, really, because just guiding an unbonded sentinel sets up something of a link. I thought you’d deliberately used it back there to give me enough strength to get out of the building.”
Bodie lay back in the grass, and let the smooth heat of the whisky trickle down. Some things were starting to make a sort of sense, but… “I thought, if there was a bond, it’d be like someone reading your mind.”
Doyle made a derisive noise. “That’s what comes of getting all your information from the tabloid papers,” he said. “A bond is like… well, like that was in the elevator only stronger still. A connection. Not like someone knows your memories or what you think of Kathy’s legs.”
With an effort—the whisky, while welcome, wasn’t aiding clear thought—Bodie dismissed that image. “I thought it would be different,” he said softly, thinking of dark memories he would never want to share, thinking of how they’d rolled back from the warmth of that oneness.
Doyle was thinking too, and his voice had the very slight slur that showed he’d had at least as much whisky as Bodie. “I didn’t know either,” he admitted. “But I recognised it. My first partner in the met was a sentinel, and occasionally I felt a shadow of the same thing. Nothing like that though. Not so strong. Not so…alive. Don’t know why.”
Bodie held the bottle up against the lighter darkness of the sky. The level in it was disconcertingly low. He put it to one side, and pursued a vague line of thought. “We knew you know—right from the start—that’s why Ellison followed the kid and I followed you.”
Doyle shifted uneasily. “It was just chance,” he said. It was getting darker steadily now. Bodie’s eyes, still sore from the flare, had trouble making out his face.
“Nah. We knew,” he said. “The connection was there even before we made contact.” They were both silent, thinking about that night at the club. It seemed far longer ago than it really was. “What happened to your partner, anyway?” Bodie asked. He knew it hadn’t been anything good by the way Doyle stiffened.
“He was shot.”
“Not your fault,” Bodie said, hearing something in the monosyllables.
“You can’t know that,” Doyle said bitterly.
“I can. If there was any question it had been your fault, you wouldn’t be in CI5.” He stopped Doyle’s hand as it reached across him for the bottle. “We’ve had enough. Is it because of him you don’t want to be bonded?”
He could feel Doyle shrug. “Maybe. To begin with. Then there was CI5. Cowley doesn’t like any bond stronger than loyalty to CI5. You know that.”
“He told us to work as partners.” Bodie said. “We did. And it worked. No way could Ellison and I have done anything like that today without help.” He tried to make out Doyle’s expression, but Doyle had his chin resting on his knees, and his mop of untidy curls hid his face. “I was wrong,” Bodie added quietly. “I thought a guide couldn’t do this sort of job, but you’re as good as anyone I’ve worked with. We were better together.”
Doyle looked up then, his face pale and disbelieving. “What’re you saying, Bodie?”
“Maybe we were both wrong about the bonding thing…” I can see every detail on a moth twenty yards away, but I feel as if I’ve been blind most of my life
“That’s th’ whisky talking,” Doyle said, the slight slur in his own voice more pronounced, not enough control to hide the underlying longing. “You don’t want a guide. I don’t wan’ a sentinel.”
“Partners,” Bodie said again. The warmth in his stomach had spread comfortably, and he lay on his back looking at the black patterns of leaves in the darkness. He turned slightly so he was looking at the silhouette of Doyle’s face, odd angles framed by his hair. He would wait, now. Let the silence talk.
Around him the soft noises of the night told him every detail of his surroundings. They were safe and quiet where they were. He waited.
Jim Ellison opened the loft door with something of the feelings of a medieval fugitive gaining sanctuary. He’d had a confrontation with Simon, he’d argued with a succession of medical staff, he’d ignored several official summons to go in and report to eminent people, and he’d won his point every time; he’d stayed right alongside Sandburg. But it was a relief to get him back to the safe confines of the loft, where even Simon was unlikely to intrude uninvited.
He felt vaguely guilty about Simon. The captain had appeared just as he was getting Sandburg strapped in the passenger seat of the truck, and demanded to know where the hell he was going. He’d responded in kind, more loudly, pointing out that from where he stood Simon was at least partly to blame for the kid getting hurt in the first place. It had degenerated from there, until Simon had taken him totally aback by saying, “Okay, Jim. I can see you need to do this. But if you don’t report in first thing tomorrow morning I’ll have you reading meters, hero of the hour or not. Do you understand me, detective?” He’d looked at Sandburg with a trace of concern, but more puzzlement, and added, “The kid’s not some kind of family or something is he?”
Jim hadn’t even thought of trying to explain it, but he felt in retrospect he owed Simon at least part of the truth; it hadn’t been unreasonable for him to want the extra security of all his men present while he was transporting Kincaid. He also hoped his captain wouldn’t ever see the records from the emergency room which stated Sandburg was under close police protection and had to have a detective with him at all times. That had proved the simplest way to achieve his ends, though he’d been disconcerted by one young and very busy nurse who’d obviously come to her own conclusions, and as she took care of Blair had kindly said, “It’s all right, Sentinel. We’re the main hospital for the treatment of guide injuries, and your guide seems fine.”
She’d gone, luckily, before he could say anything, and soon after that Blair’s arm had been stitched and dressed and they’d escaped. He hoped she’d just been unusually perceptive. Although his ID proclaimed his sentinel status, no one else seemed to have reached that conclusion.
Anyway, they were home. The loft actually seemed like home with Sandburg sitting on the couch, his feet tucked up under him. He looked like death warmed over with the bruises still clear on his face, his arm bandaged and a general air of exhaustion about him, and yet he still seemed to blaze some sort of life into the cool sterility of his surroundings. He looked up now, and said softly, “I’m okay, you know.”
“Want to prove it to me by eating something?” Jim asked. “Soup? Or we could send out.”
“Soup would be great.”
He abandoned his usual rigid formality, and took the soup and other odds and ends to the table by the couch. Sandburg managed to eat it left-handed, and Jim thought he looked a little less pale by the time he’d finished. He cleared away, and glanced again at the still figure on the couch. It seemed all wrong for the kid to be still and quiet. He wanted to talk to him, but maybe he should just let him get some sleep.
Blair vetoed that thought. “I don’t want to sleep, not yet, too much in my mind, too many replays…”
Jim could go with that. He’d spent a lot of the evening refusing to let his memory show him again the moment when Kincaid took deliberate aim at Blair’s back and he knew he was too far away to do a thing about it. It had been a moment of the sort of clarity he preferred to avoid. But Robinson had redeemed himself—in Jim’s eyes and everyone else’s if he could do anything to achieve that—and he’d known the sort of knee buckling relief that he hadn’t felt in a long time.
He sat down beside Sandburg, allowing himself to sense the quiet breathing, the not-too-fast heartbeat, the already familiar mix of scents overlaid by antiseptic and chicken soup—eating left-handed allowed for a few spills. “It’s always like that,” he said quietly, answering Sandburg’s last remark. “Doesn’t matter how much action you’ve been in. And that was a rough introduction.”
He hadn’t yelled at the kid for being there, couldn’t at the time when he saw him hurting, and couldn’t now while he was exhausted, but Sandburg said anyway, “I know you wanted me somewhere safe, but it was my call, okay?”
He was saved from having to answer that one by the ring of the phone. It was Simon. “Jim? You got the kid sorted out all right? The mayor asked after him—apparently his sister-in-law or whatever she is was very impressed by his courage.”
“He’s fine, a bit sore that’s all. Do you want to speak to him? He’s just here.”
“He’s staying with you?” Simon’s voice rose slightly in disbelief. “Jim, what is this kid? When did anyone last stay in the loft?”
“He hasn’t anywhere else to go at the moment. His last accomodation… er… fell through.”
“Well, just remember I’m in the position to make your life a misery if I don’t get a better story from you in the near future. But what I really I’m really ringing for is to ask if you’ve any idea of the whereabouts of those two men of Cowley’s? He seems to think it’s part of my job to keep track of his agents.”
“Sorry,” Jim said. He had half-expected to find them at the loft, but it hadn’t worried him when he didn’t. “I imagine they’re pretty capable of looking after themselves.”
“I don’t think it was their safety he had in mind,” Simon said. “Like some of the rest of us, he wouldn’t mind getting some reports in. I’ll see you in the morning, Jim.”
“I’ll be there. Uh—you don’t mind if I bring Sandburg in. If he’s up to it.”
“Would it make any difference if I did? Yes, bring him in. He did all right today, Jim. You can tell him that.”
“Thank you, sir.” He put the phone down. “You did well, Chief. Message from Simon.”
Sandburg looked incredulous. “I thought he was annoyed with me.”
“Nope. He always sounds annoyed.”
“And it’s okay for me to go in with you in future? That’s cool, Jim, because I had this idea.”
Jim leaned back against the couch, enjoying the sudden return of enthusiasm in the tired voice. Sandburg still looked ready to drop, but he was beginning to sound like himself again.
“I’ve always wanted to study sentinels. In anthropology it’s a subject that was hardly mentioned ’til the last twenty years or so, and now of course it’s tied up with classified material a lot of the time. But I still have my place at Rainier, and now I could submit a thesis topic on studying the natural protective instincts of a sentinel in the setting of modern society structures. I could still help you with your senses, so we’d both get something out of the deal.”
Jim had a better idea. It had come to him with the sound of Kincaid’s bullets, and written itself in blood. Or perhaps it had been dawning on him slowly over the last few days and that had just been a kick in the pants. Either way, he knew now a truth he’d been groping for ever since he first set eyes on Blair.
“We wouldn’t be able to live like that for very long,” he said, trying to find the right words. “It’s already more than that.” He could feel it now, a warmth, a connection, alive and bringing parts of him he had thought were dead to life along with it.
Perhaps even as he thought that he strengthened the connection. Blair turned, his face suddenly uncertain. He was afraid, Jim realised, not of him but of the whole idea. He wasn’t good at reading people’s faces, except when they lied, but he could see now in Blair’s the sudden longing and the sudden panic.
“I’ve got to say, man, do you actually know what you’re talking about here?” Blair said, not quite so coherently as usual.
“I think so. I think we might be closer to a bond than we understood. Maybe that’s what Doyle meant about side effects. I think we need to make that complete, or give up on the connection completely. I don’t think there’s a halfway house.”
Blair’s words came tumbling out nervously, too fast. “I don’t think you’ve really thought this one through, Jim. I mean, we’ve both got problems with this, right? You’d have to kind of open up, and I don’t think that would exactly be easy for you, and me, well, I have a problem with the commitment thing. It’s kind of typical of the human race really. I mean it seems to be one way or the other for almost everyone. Maybe way back, mankind took some kind of cosmic wrong turn or something…”
Jim thought about it. He wasn’t sure he’d entirely followed the argument but…”In that case, maybe we’d be doing our bit to put the universe back on course.”
He was almost amused at the look on Sandburg’s face, only this mattered a bit too much. “You’re right. I’m not good on opening up,” he went on, “but I’ll tell you one thing. When I saw Kincaid fire at you, I knew if I got another chance, I wasn’t going to waste it. I want to make this bond real. It’s your call now, Chief.”
He was braced, somewhere inside, because it really was Blair’s call, and too many people in his life had made the other choice and walked away from him. But there was no rejection in Blair’s face. He just looked steadily at Jim. “I could let you down. We could hurt each other. We could get it wrong and we wouldn’t be able to step aside.”
“All those things, yes.”
Blair looked at him, as wide-eyed and desperate for a helping hand as he had been a few hours ago on the bloodstained floor of the lecture hall. Jim couldn’t find any fluent arguments. “Where do you want to be?” he asked slowly.
Miraculously—did he deserve any more miracles tonight?—the words seemed to cut through Blair’s uncertainty. He reached out a cold hand to Jim’s shoulder, and for the first time in hours he smiled. “Okay. That one’s easy,” he said. “Right here.”
As if that simple gesture had unlocked something far more powerful than they really understood, the tentative link between them seemed to flare and strengthen, overwhelming thought and senses alike. Jim knew warmth, unity, an acceptance he’d never looked for. For a moment he felt as if Blair had actually been right. This, amazing as it was, was only a reflection of something even bigger, some lost pattern for the universe. Then he immersed himself in the closeness of the bond, and let the connection between them become unbreakable.
Doyle woke slowly. The ache in his head discouraged him from opening his eyes, and so did an unfamiliar feeling of contentment. He became slowly aware that half of him was warm and half rather chilly, and that the birds doing their over-enthusiastic early morning routine seemed a lot too close. Then memory flooded back and he jolted upright with a speed that made him yelp and clutch his head.
Bodie, who’d been the warmth against one side, opened an eye and winced. “Told you we’d had enough,” he said, closing it again.
Doyle’s memory was providing a lot of other details now though, and even if those were slightly muddled, the unmistakeable connection of the bond was there, the sense of Bodie almost as another part of himself. He felt the ease of it, the calm centre where there used to be turmoil. He looked round the still-empty park, and realised it must not be long after dawn. Too early. He moved to where the sun could reach him and let his mind drift.
He’d leaned against the tree talking for what seemed like hours the previous night. He’d pointed out to Bodie that it was stupid to talk about a connection that had been there from the start when they still had the bruises from their first encounter. He’d reminded Bodie, not too gently, of all the things he’d said about guides, and the ones that it had been obvious he was thinking even if he hadn’t actually said them. With the whisky alternately making him eloquent and tripping up his tongue, he’d thought of and explained all the reasons why they couldn’t be bonded. Bodie, infuriatingly, hadn’t argued. Most of the time he’d just listened. And waited. And somehow after Doyle had said all those things they’d seemed trivial compared to the fledgling strength of the bond he’d felt earlier in the elevator, when Bodie’s grip had hauled him out of the dark place he’d fallen into. He’d remembered something he’d dreamed, or half-dreamed it again, and the man pulling him to safety now had Bodie’s face, but where he’d seen the terrifying blending of their hands, now there was only an unbreakable unity, individual and yet stronger together.
So he’d stopped arguing, and sometime in the darkness, neither of them thinking very clearly, they’d reached out, and made the bond complete. It warmed him as he sat there, more than the thin early sunshine. For a long time, for years, he’d only known endurance, but now everything seemed lighter. Even the sight of Bodie unshaven and definitely rather hungover lying sprawled in the damp grass didn’t give him any regrets, though he was aware of an urge to kick him awake and make him go for a jog. He closed his eyes again, and dozed until a warm wet nose pushing into his hand jolted him fully awake. He pushed the dog away, and carried out his earlier impulse, getting cautiously up and prodding Bodie with his foot.
Bodie said something muffled but probably obscene. Doyle looked round. It was still early, but could definitely be called morning, and there were already a few joggers out. “We’re going for a run, Bodie,” he said ruthlessly.
He took a moment to put the whisky bottle in a bin. The last of it must have spilled sometime during the night. By that time Bodie had both eyes open, though he hadn’t moved. He groaned when Doyle pulled him to his feet. “I don’t remember you being this lively yesterday morning.”
“We need to wake up,” Doyle pointed out. “Cowley’s probably put out an APB on us.”
Bodie winced, leaning heavily on Doyle’s shoulder. “That’s not funny. I can’t face Cowley with a head like this.”
“That’s why we’re going for a jog.” Bodie must have decided it was more painful to prolong the argument. Reluctantly at first, but with increasing ease, he joined Doyle in the run through the empty paths. A very early vendor caught his eye, and they stopped for a bottle of water, which helped with the headaches. Doyle vetoed the suggestion that anything resembling an acceptable breakfast could be bought there.
“Ah c’mon,” Bodie whined. “We must have run ten miles.”
“I doubt if we’ve gone half that, and I don’t think the term ‘run’ is really the best one. Staggered maybe.”
“Hang on. I can hear someone. Ellison!”
Doyle hadn’t caught the shout across the width of the park, but he followed Bodie and gradually made out two familiar figures. He wanted, fiercely, to find that Blair had reached the same unlikely peace that he had found, but he was still surprised when he saw the closeness there between him and Ellison. They all stood and looked at each other, and began to laugh.
“I had it right at the start,” Bodie said smugly. “You got the hippy, I,” he paused to ruffle Doyle’s hair infuriatingly, “got Goldilocks,”
“You’re going to get more than that,” Ellison said, sobering. “We came to warn you. Simon just rang to see if you were at the loft. Cowley got him to put out an APB on your car, Bodie, and when it showed up here he thought you might have made the rest of the way on foot.”
“Shit,” Bodie said. “I didn’t think Cowley would really do it. Can you lend us your bathroom for half an hour so that we’re presentable when he catches up with us.”
“Too late,” Doyle said, seeing a large and expensive car pull up next to Bodie’s. “Stay here, Ellison. You’ll cramp his style a bit.”
Cowley was eloquent, even with Blair and Jim present. He glanced at Jim, who was at least shaved and standing up straight, with a nod of acknowledgement, and turned the force of his disapproval on his own unshaven, dishevelled and visibly hungover agents. Doyle let it wash over him. With Bodie leaning slightly against him so they were propping each other up, nothing could really touch him. And Cowley at least had to keep to their more obvious crimes; he could hardly chew them out in front of Ellison for failing in an illegal operation he’d deliberately kept from the local authorities.
Cowley worked up to an impressive burst of oratorical pyrotechnics, and as he wound down he looked at them more closely, beyond the outer grime. “You look remarkably healthy, Doyle,” he said, not as though it gave him any particular pleasure to see it. “Apart from the fact that you appear to have been enjoying one of Bodie’s nights out. Did Detective Ellison obtain what you needed from some other source?”
The caution was typical of Cowley. Doyle wondered who on earth he thought might be listening in such a place at that time in the morning. “Er… no sir,” he said elbowing Bodie.
Bodie tried for tact. “He won’t need the meds any more, sir.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Bodie. He’ll need them for the rest of his life.”
“Well, that’s not exactly correct, sir,” Doyle said, also striving for tact. “We’ve got… that is Bodie had this idea…”
“You said I had to have him as a partner, sir,” Bodie added.
“And he’s a sentinel, and I’m a guide so…” Doyle trailed off at the expression on Cowley’s face. Fortunately, for once, the word dumbfounded seemed appropriate. He didn’t think his headache could have endured much more shouting.
“These things happen,” Bodie said hopefully.
“NOT IN CI5!” Cowley said finding his voice and making them both flinch. “You’re supposed to be professionals, the pair of you. I expect you to take precautions.”
The snigger from Sandburg at this rather unfortunate choice of words seemed to remind him that he had an audience. He glared at Blair, and then turned the full force of his displeasure back on Bodie and Doyle. “If you’re serious… and I suppose looking at the two of you, you are… I’ll have to make arrangements for full retraining for you. Macklin’s never dealt with this situation, but he’s a resourceful man. I’ll need a detailed report on my desk by six o’clock this evening, for my eyes only, and you had better go and clean up. The mayor wants to thank you all personally at eleven this morning, and I’d rather he thought CI5 was some kind of serious organisation, not a home for inebriates.”
“They were just going to shower at my place,” Ellison said quickly.
Cowley looked at him and at Sandburg, then back at Bodie and Doyle and evidently understood the whole of it. “Well, you’re not my problem,” he said to Jim, “but if you’ll take my advice, you’ll tell your captain how things stand. From what I’ve seen of him, he won’t let you down.” With that he strode back to his waiting driver.
Bodie sighed, relieved. “I think you just got his blessing,” he said to Ellison. “Whereas we got sentenced to several weeks of torture. What do you think he meant about Macklin being resourceful?” he added to Doyle.
“Don’t even want to think about it,” Doyle said promptly. He turned in the direction of Ellison’s apartment, Blair at his side. “You really okay?” he asked, looking at Blair’s arm.
“Does the term ‘just a deep graze’ mean anything to you? I think they should find some more realistic description. I mean, anything that hurts like hell, bleeds all down your shirt and has to be stitched up at length by someone obviously retarded at sewing skills ought to sound more dignified.”
“Sounds like a deep graze to me,” Doyle said with a grin. Blair was okay, definitely. “Did you hear any more about the sentinel… Robinson?”
“He was going to survive, they told Jim. They were going to stop the chemical treatments while he was sick, but I think he’d be relieved. He was just a soldier with unusually good eyesight, who was unlucky enough to be picked out for the programme. Not a real sentinel like…”
It dawned on them both at that point that there was a singular lack of sentinels in the vicinity. Blair looked round puzzled. Doyle looked for the street vendor. Contentedly munching on something that might well have been sausage, bacon and egg in a fibre-free white roll, Bodie and Ellison were standing in the sunshine.
Blair stared in disbelief.
Doyle shrugged and went to use the hot water before Bodie got there. Nothing, hangover or Cowley or even the sight of all that cholesterol could really make him feel it was anything other than a good morning
Bodie rather enjoyed the meeting with the mayor. He was in a mood to enjoy almost anything, to be fair. He and Doyle had shaved and had coffee, and while he made the hasty trip to the hotel for some clean clothes, Doyle and Sandburg went and bought what they appeared to think of as suitable wear for dining with dignitaries. The mayor and his extended family were full of praise, which was mildly embarrassing—but a nice change from Cowley—and provided an excellent lunch unspoilt by the presence of anyone senior. Willis, apparently, was tying up lots of details, but would try to see them later in the day.
He’d half-forgotten what they’d actually been trying to achieve, but that reminded him. “You okay with how it went down in the end?” he asked Ellison quietly as they left.
Ellison shrugged. “I don’t like Willis and what he stands for, and I’d be glad to see Security One shown up for what they are, but yeah, it’s okay. Zero’s gone and it won’t be making any sort of comeback, and I hope the same goes for Kincaid. I got a hell of a lot more out of it than I was expecting, anyway…” he looked with almost open affection at Blair, who was talking rapidly as he said goodbye to the mayor’s prettiest niece.
“Better than that blaze of glory,” Bodie agreed. “Nice work, Sandburg. Did you get her phone number?”
“Of course,” Blair said, pulling out a diary that looked as if it equalled Bodie’s own. “What are we doing now?”
“We’re going to do something called paperwork,” Jim said kindly. “And I assure you, it’ll call for all your talents. So don’t think you’re going to spend the afternoon chatting up Rhonda and Megan. This is where you start to earn your keep.”
Bodie looked at Doyle speculatively. He might be useful in that line. The police did lots of paperwork, whereas in most of the assignments Bodie had had, the less information committed to any traceable medium the better. He’d never really got used to the amount of reports required in CI5 and he loathed doing them.
It actually worked out better than he had hoped. They’d barely got under way with it all, when Simon Banks came up. “I’ve just had Security One on the phone,” he said. “You two are to go and make your personal reports to Willis. I get the impression that he’s not too unhappy with the way things turned out. And of course, Kincaid’s not talking.”
“No turning on Security One?” Ellison asked, slightly disappointed.
“Nothing like that. In fact, just the opposite. The sort of things he’s saying could have been scripted to get Security One off the hook.”
Bodie looked happily at the table full of different papers and the two guides. “You’d better be tidying up any loose ends,” he said to them generously.
“We’ve no choice,” Ellison agreed seriously. “Security One aren’t used to being kept waiting.”
“Don’t suppose we’ll be that long,” Bodie said, privately resolving that they would be as long as those reports were likely to take. There was something exquisitely satisfying in the thought that his paperwork would be being done in his absence; he could get used to that.
Willis was, as Banks had suggested, in a reasonably good mood. Bodie had seen the morning papers, and though they were full of the story, the general line seemed to be that Kincaid had simply been a maverick, a disaster no one could have expected to happen. Maybe later some more courageous journalist would start asking more searching questions, but by then the public would probably have lost interest anyway.
“You seem to have dealt with a difficult situation in a highly efficient manner,” Willis said. “I’m slightly puzzled as to how you came to be on the scene so promptly?”
“Ah, that was because of this anthropologist I’m working with,” Ellison said. “I thought about what you said—about my experiences in Peru- and I’ve found a student with some knowledge of tribal practices. We were down there with him. He’s going to be working with me for a while if Captain Banks approves.”
“Very good. He’ll be able to cope with the situations involved in your work?”
“Yes, sir. He was one of the civilians who were able to pose as guides successfully yesterday and provide us with the distraction we needed.”
Willis nodded. “Yes, of course. I’ve read Captain Banks report, but I hadn’t realised that the university representative who went in was connected with you. Well, that seems very promising. I look forward to hearing how his research works out. There are grants available from Security One for anything that may prove beneficial to sentinel development, and we don’t appear to be getting very much from the current projects. The second civilian, Bodie, was an observer attached to CI5?”
“Yes, sir. I think I’ll be working with him for some time. He may join the organisation eventually.”
Willis kept them a while longer, but his questions were easily answered. For the most part, now they had got the awkward bits out of the way, they could stick to the truth. He didn’t, to Bodie’s enormous relief, mention the incident with the sniper. The helicopter pilot couldn’t have seen very much at all, but he’d worried that the caretaker might have been more alert than he seemed.
When they were dismissed, they found Cowley outside about to go in. He glared at Bodie, though with less force now he was smartly dressed and clean-shaven, and nodded to Ellison. Bodie caught Jim’s arm as they reached the top of the stairs. “No hurry,” he said softly. “We’re not rushing to get back. I want to hear what’s going on.”
He caught a tantalisingly brief exchange.
“I think you sometimes forget,” Willis was saying, “that what I do is designed only to defend the democracy we all value.”
“There are a couple of things that I think you forget,” Cowley said sharply. “One is that it may not still be democracy by the time you’ve finished defending it. The other is that however highly we may rate those men who just left, they are sentinels and quite capable of listening to this conversation.”
The bubble of silence characteristic of a white noise generator cut off their ability to hear anything else. Bodie shook his head in reluctant respect. “Good thing Cowley doesn’t want absolute power.”
They dawdled along the street, watching the shops and businesses empty, relaxed and contented in a way they’d hardly begun to comprehend, and then Ellison suddenly startled him by exclaiming, “Hell, it’s today we promised to meet the girls.”
Bodie—well, he’d been busy—had actually forgotten the double date they’d arranged with Megan and Kathy. He looked at his watch. “They’ll be waiting by now. We told Kathy to come to Major crimes though. Megan will be there, and Doyle and Sandburg can explain where we are.”
“Why does that not fill me with confidence,” Ellison muttered.
Bodie looked at him, and with one accord they sprinted for the truck. Major Crimes was empty of anything remotely resembling girls or guides. Ellison walked over to the desk, where at least the paperwork appeared to be finished. With an unreadable expression on his face he handed a hastily scrawled note to Bodie.
Thanks, it said, we never knew what lovely loose ends you had in mind. We’ll treat them to an evening out in style. No Wonderburger. Oh, and thanks for the loan of the car, Bodie.
“The sneaky little…” Bodie’s description was cut off by a rather harrassed Simon Banks appearing from his office.
“Listen, in case you need them, I’ve a message that Doyle and Sandburg took Connor and some friend of hers to that new Thai restaurant. They said to tell you it was the girls’ lucky day, whatever that meant. And the man on the desk downstairs seems to have some more—girls I mean. Did you ‘rescue’ some gullible women from the more depraved haunts of Cascade? I suppose a taxi wouldn’t have been adequate? Anyway, it’s their last night and they’ve dropped in to say goodbye.”
Bodie looked at Ellison with a slow smile. “Why don’t we see if they like Thai cooking?”
Simon Banks shook his head. Why did he seem to be the only person with work to do.
A couple of hours later, when the party at the restaurant would just be ordering coffee, he stood up to go home. Inevitably, the phone rang before he opened the door. He looked at it, sighed and went back to his desk. It was an emergency call from the centre where Kincaid had been held.
“What do you mean, he’s escaped?” he demanded futilely.
“He must have had help, sir. He was gone for more than an hour before it was even discovered.”
“Have you traced any of his movements.”
“Yes, sir. A Security One private plane took off half an hour ago from an airstrip near here. Heading in the Denver direction. We think it was Kincaid, sir, but of course at the time no one knew he was out.”
Simon stood for a while in thought after the man had rung off. He’d have to go through the motions, but they wouldn’t achieve anything. He picked up the phone to call Ellison, and put it down again. By all accounts, Kincaid had some even older grudges in Denver. He wasn’t going after Ellison and Bodie now. Whoever helped him out, and he could make some guesses at that, had probably made it a condition he got straight out of Cascade.
No, let them have their evening. Celebrate. He’d seen the change in Ellison, he’d seen Bodie stop hanging round his bull-pen like a thundercloud. He wasn’t a fool, and he hadn’t risen to captain without being able to detect a few things. A neo-hippy with a vocabulary that would fill several dictionaries wouldn’t have been his bet for Ellison’s guide, but Jim had actually smiled today and he looked at the kid as if he was some kind of wonder of the world. He didn’t know a lot about the other two, but Doyle was obviously a good enough cop to keep Bodie on the straight and narrow. He’d keep the secret and give Ellison and Sandburg the protection they might need—and look suitably astonished when Jim saw fit to tell him.
He poured himself a cup of good coffee, drank to them and went back to work.
~ End ~