A Wake For Murder by Krisser

A Wake For Murder - Krisser

 

*****

Author's notes: This story is set in the Murder By Ritual setting. It doesn't need to be read to enjoy this one, only casual references to the first story.

 

The characters of Superintendent Roger West and Chief Inspector Venables are products of the deceased mystery writer, John Creasy. Most of what I know about Scotland Yard comes from him.

 

*****

 

"Ellison, my office and bring Sandburg." Captain Simon Banks commanded from his office door. He watched his detective tap the profiler on the shoulder and tip his head toward his office. Simon disappeared behind the door and waited.

 

"Sir?" Jim asked after Blair sat down.

 

"I've had a call from Superintendent West of Scotland Yard..."

 

"A problem with Fred Garon?" Blair interrupted the Captain, referring to the case he has testified on in England.

 

"No, it's another matter altogether. Seems West wishes to enlist your expertise in a serial killing. Would like to have Sandburg as soon as possible. The Governor has already given his blessing, seems he takes it like a feather in his cap." Simon explained.

 

"I see. Is it optional or a mandatory?" Blair could tell how Simon was feeling about it.

 

"Check with personal. You're on retainer." Simon answered the practical question.

 

"No, sir, I meant, must I go or may I turn it down?" Blair was looking for something specific.

 

Jim shifted in his seat. Simon might not have noticed but Blair did. Jim was wondering the same thing, too. Was Simon finally going to give them an ultimatum?

 

"Why would you turn it down, Sandburg? It's what you do and you were obviously received well. It can't be easy for them to ask for help." Banks was puzzled by the profiler's attitude.

 

"Jim and I are a team, now. He would need to go also." Blair could tell that Jim wasn't comfortable with the conversation.

 

"Humm, I see," Simon sat back and thought out his answer before replying. "While I have to admit that the two of you together have had an impressive closure rate, Sandburg has also been disruptive to the inner workings of the department."

 

"Simon..." Jim interrupted.

 

Simon overrode him, "Jim, Sandburg is not a cop and we can't mention your whole senses thing publicly, so most don't understand why he follows you about. Then there is your living arrangements. If you could've kept that under wraps, but with the press coverage, everyone knows. And, what happened last month will not be a one-time thing. It might be better to nip this thing in the bud. You stay here and let Sandburg go alone."

 

Jim remembered last month all too well. They had just wrapped up the church bombings and Jim had been hearing faint rumors circulating. Luckily Blair had gone down to records and missed the actual show, though he did get a clear accounting from many, most with the intention of embarrassing him.

 

He thought back to early last month.

 

Lt. Carolyn Plummer exited the elevator and searched the squad room. Her eyes lit on the one person she hoped to see.

 

"Gone queer on us, Jimmy? Bet your father will be proud now, huh, Jimmy?" Carolyn sneered at her ex-husband. "Couldn't get the fucking part right while we were married, so you had to let a guy fuck you? Trying to learn how to do it right, finally? And who do you pick...that weird ass doctor that embarrasses the entire Cascade police department with every interview. If you wanted to be a fuck boy, Jimmy, you could have at least picked a man that looked like a man. Not an overgrown tinkerbell with illusions of grandeur."

 

The squad room was silent. Most were stunned with the viciousness of the attack. They knew there was no love lost for Plummer, but this went way beyond that.

 

Her words opened old wounds, feelings that had never been dealt with and a problem within the marriage, but she crossed a line he wouldn't allow, she attacked Blair.

 

"You never did lose well, Caro. Blair Sandburg is a respected profiler, he has a closure rate every department wished they had.." Jim's jaw was clenched tightly as he tried to reign in his temper.

 

Carolyn's cackle interrupted, "Oh, yeah, the Governor and Mayor are running around like fools trying to kiss his ass and, oh wait a minute, you really are kissing his ass...maybe you guys should get together." Having done what she set out to do, Carolyn Plummer headed to the elevator and stepped on before Jim Ellison could let loose his anger. It was a perfect day.

 

The bullpen remained unusually silent even after the elevator doors closed.

 

Jim turned and looked at the people staring, "I don't want this getting back to Blair." The snap of his teeth could be heard by all close to Jim.

 

"I don't see how you can stop it," Rafe commented, heedless of Jim's raising ire. "There were several patrol officers that slipped out down the stairs," Rafe continued, "The scene is probably spreading as we speak." It would have been hard to ignore the satisfaction that Brian Rafe displayed.

 

"Sorry, Jimbo, I don't think it's possible, but just so you know, to me, it makes no difference."

 

"Thanks, Joel." Jim gave the big man a grateful smile.

 

"Well, it does to me," a voice called out from the other side of the bullpen. "I don't think I should be forced to work with a fag."

 

"Lucky for you, Stephanson, you don't have to, I'll have you transferred to vice by the end of your shift." Captain Banks announced coldly. No matter his personal opinion, he wouldn't tolerate discrimination of any kind in his department.

 

"That's not what I meant, sir. I meant..." Stephanson began.

 

"I know exactly what you meant and I won't have it." His eyes swept across the room, "Any others unable to leave their prejudices at the door, I have many transfers available. I'd be happy to oblige." No one thought that Captain Banks was joking.

 

Stephanson wasn't giving up, "Make him transfer."

 

"You're missing the point, if you can't hide your prejudice from a co-worker, then how will you hide it when you deal with the public. We protect and serve all the people, not just the ones we approve of. The police department faces enough obstacles each day, we don't need internal problems, too."

 

"Banks!" Stephanson exclaimed, affronted.

 

"That's Captain Banks and get your desk cleared out, now." The captain of Major Crime looked every inch of the menacing man of his reputation. He stared at Stephanson.

 

The detective backed down, turned to clear his desk and normal breathing resumed in the squad room. Stephanson packed his things and disappeared into the closest stairwell.

 

The Sentinel could hear the grumbling mumbles that Stephanson uttered all the way down.

 

"See how much back up you'll be getting, Mr. FuckingFantastic."

 

Jim tuned him out. He had already thought of that one himself.

 

Jim was nudged out of his memories by Blair's foot, he refocused on Simon's words. The Captain must have taken his silence as disagreeing with his idea.

 

"Jim, if the case lasts a long time, I won't be able to hold your position open. You can't guarantee that I won't be left with a man down for a considerable length of time." Simon seemed earnest enough, but Jim could pick up a faint nervousness. Simon had some real issues with this subject, but Jim couldn't discern what exactly they were.

 

Blair watched Jim closely for his reaction to Simon's words. As he waited he thought back over his time here in Major Crime since their return from England.

 

The weeks exploring the French countryside had allowed Blair the opportunity to help Jim hone his skills. An apt pupil once he realized that he truly had control over himself. The return to London had been much easier on the Sentinel. He had been able to enjoy the scents and sounds the earmarked the city.

 

The court case against Garon had been swift but not trouble free. In an attempt to discredit Dr. Sandburg's testimony, Garon's lawyer brought to light the doctor's questionable behavior, and inappropriate public conduct. The lawyer described for the judge and jury the grounding ritual that Jim used in new locations.

 

Not wanting to take the chance of having Jim's abilities made public, Blair took the heat in a different way. He admitted to their homosexual relationship.

 

"I can't see that my personal relationship with Detective Ellison is in any way pertinent to this case." Blair had answered the defamation calmly.

 

The people's attorney and Judge agreed with Sandburg and the attempt to defame was stopped and blocked. It was struck from the court record but not from the press, both foreign and domestic. Their relationship made the newspapers back home.

 

Ellison and Sandburg had returned home to Cascade and received a lukewarm reception from Captain Banks. He had wanted to verify the story the press conveyed and was none too pleased by the accuracy of it.

 

Blair noticed the difference in the way Captain Banks treated him, reservedly professional was the best that could be said. Dr. Sandburg had remained in favor with the Mayor and governor after he and Jim had closed every case they worked on in the first six weeks back.

 

Simon had practically ignored the fact that Jim's senses were more the reason that cases had been solved than just straight detection.

 

It was after a tricky bit of evidence delivery that Simon cornered him about this. Blair remembered the confrontation with anger and disappointment.

 

The Captain had called Blair into his office while Jim was in court. Blair had found his manner aggressive from the moment he stepped inside.

 

"I know you're politically in favor right now, so this is off the record. When I paired Jim with you it was in the hope that he could collect himself and get back to normal. Instead, you encourage these oddities and made him into a freak."

 

"Captain Banks, Jim is not a freak. He is one of the finest men I have ever worked with." Blair contained his anger at the slur against Jim, it would not due to lose his temper just now.

 

"Sleeping with him could make you biased."

 

"Captain Banks, in Paris, I only identified the type of criminal, narrowed it down. Jim was the one to catch him, came up with the ways to do so. He is brilliant at what he does. It is obvious to me you have no idea the resource you have or how to utilized it correctly."

 

"And you do?"

 

"Yes, I do. For one, I would never think him a freak."

 

"You may not, but you made him one around here.  This sense thing made him an oddity within the department and sleeping with you has put him on the outside. You can expect a bit of hostility."

 

Blair felt he was already feeling it.  He wasn't a cop and the department wasn't going to let him forget that. He may have helped solve crimes but most resented him for doing it. It was also made evident that many were displeased with their relationship and its public declaration.

 

Blair knew this was also making it increasingly difficult for Jim. He knew that Jim worried about the possible lack of timely back up, it would put people in danger and more importantly to the Sentinel, it would put his guide in danger and that forced Jim to work differently. 

 

It might be best for Jim if he wasn't working here along side him. If he went to England, the other cops might forget about his connection to "that" profiler. One very real worry was a replacement guide. He would have to deal with that first but Jim would eventually understand. He ignored that part of himself that was screaming not to let his sentinel go; that part of his mind screeching MINE. It was best for Jim. He would tell Simon he accepted. He felt his heart break with that decision.

 

Jim answered his Captain before Blair could utter a word. "Not a chance, Captain. Blair and I are a team now. My senses work because of that partnership and I have no wish to lose control. If Blair wishes to go, I will go with him and take my chances when we return. I do have six weeks vacation that I haven't used. That last trip to England was an assignment."

 

Simon Banks took a deep sigh, he hadn't really figured that Jim would agree. He was sorry to lose his detective but he was reluctant to deal with all the fallout that Sandburg caused.

 

Blair looked at Jim, he was curious, but in accordance to the relief that spread through his body, he would accede to Jim's decision.

 

That night Blair made love to Jim with a blinding intensity. The overwhelming relief that he had felt when he knew that they would not be separated forced him to confront that he would never willingly make that kind of decision again. Jim was so much more than his lover and sentinel, he was his life.

 

Besieged with the sensory input, Jim immersed himself within the sensual net that Blair created. Blair's need to give, Jim's need to receive, it wove their love tightly about them and the expression of that love left them tired and content.

 

----------

 

Blair nudged Jim awake just before landing at Heathrow. The London airport was crowded but they were greeted by a friendly face.

 

"Dr. Sandburg, Detective Ellison, it's wonderful to see you both again. I wish it could have been under better circumstances." Superintendent Roger West shook their hands before grabbing some of their luggage. "Detective Ellison, your weapons are to be picked up at the Custom's desk. Our first stop."

 

West had the correct forms for the customs officials and thus Jim was able to carry his armory on his person. He appreciated the Superintendent's hand in this matter and told him so.

 

"You are booked at the Hotel Savoy Court, same as your last stay. I remembered that you liked its central location. Though the reasons for this visit aren't nearly as pleasant, we'd still like to see you enjoying as much of your stay as possible."

 

The taxi pulled up to the guest entrance; West paid him as the bellhops collected the luggage. Their room this time was a floor above their original room last stay. They didn't need the penthouse. Both Sandburg and Ellison were pleased with the accommodations. There was a large sitting room separate from the bedroom. The Sentinel was comfortable, his sense memory kicked in and he didn't even feel the need to ground.

 

As Superintendent West was still with them as they checked out their accommodations, Blair gathered that the Yard man was hoping to enlist their aid right away. He silently checked with Jim and was assured that he would follow his lead.

 

"Roger, we're both ready to start when you are," Blair told the police official.

 

"Much appreciated." Relieved that he didn't have to ask, "I have a car waiting. You'll want the photos and the task squad leader to be on hand to answer questions." West led them downstairs to the promised vehicle.

 

Jim remembered the Yard headquarters from his last visit and his sense memory kicked in again. The grounding was unnecessary and Blair was more than pleased at Jim's progress in the last six months. Jim couldn't hide the pleasure he felt at his guide's proud expression.

 

Superintendent West showed them to a conference room that had obviously become the task force headquarters. The center table had close to a hundred photos laid out in four separate quadrants.

 

All voices and movement stopped with their entrance. Four pair of eyes looked their way. West made introductions.

 

"Task Squad leader for the Tabletop Killer, as the media has so dubbed him, Chief Inspector David Roberts, squad members, Detective Constable Steven Redbridge, Sergeant Jane Hilliard and Constable Morris Kent. Ritual profiler Blair Sandburg and Police Detective Jim Ellison."

 

Murmurs of pleasant greetings were exchanged by all except Roberts. While the Chief Inspector was perfectly correct in his greeting, Blair could tell he resented their intrusion. The Sentinel stepped closer to his guide, he could feel the animosity directed toward Blair. He watched the man closely.

 

Blair instinctively soothed his mate by rubbing his arm before asking Roberts, "May I look at the photos before we discuss the case?"

 

"Yes, of course. They have been laid out on the table in the order the murders were committed." Roberts directed their guest to end closest to them.

 

All but West and Roberts resumed what they were doing before they had been interrupted by the arrival of the newcomers.

 

Blair picked up the first stack and leafed through them slowly. He studied the body, then as much of the crime scene as was available. He handed the stack to Jim before he began on the second set. He noted many similarities between the crime scenes and body placement. He located these same similarities repeated with the third and fourth crime photos.

 

"No doubt that all the killings were by the same hand?" Blair asked, wanting to confirm his own assessment.

 

"Yes, the ME was positive. Knifed in the gut, then the blade was drawn upward to the spleen. Each victim bled out and was found on a tabletop with burned candles all around it. Hands and feet were bound before death, then removed after." Roberts answered easily.

 

"But why was the ME so sure?" Jim pushed further.

 

"In each case, the knife was twisted anti-clockwise just before it was withdrawn," the Chief Inspector finally shared.

 

"What kind of knife?" Jim asked as he examined the photos of the victims.

 

"Each time, a kitchen knife from the kitchen the body was found in," Roberts replied.

 

"And what have you and your team concluded?" Blair asked. He figured that they had missed the ritual. It was why he was here after all.

 

"Some believe that this is political, all the victims being Irish. I don't think so. Very few serial killers are trying for a political statement." Roberts could see that he had the full attention of the Americans. Roberts had already concluded that they would probably just confirm his conclusion. "Each victim was knifed, that's personal. Each victim's spleen was hit so they could bleed out, again, personal and I do believe that our killer likes the sight of blood, gives him a sense of power."

 

Blair looked at the known information board and commented aloud, "Three out of the four lived in different cities and the age range varies from twenty five to thirty one. Have you profiled him yet?"

 

Roberts nodded, confident that he was correct in his guesstimation. "White male, twenty-five to thirty-five, Irish. Introvert, solitary, doesn't work well with others, Most likely upper class, well educated."

 

"Motive?" Blair watched Roberts as his body language shifted.

 

"Guess that's why you're here." Roberts replied, insolence clear in his tone and body language.

 

West was clearly embarrassed at his officer's rude behavior. The Sentinel moved closer to his guide, Blair laughed.

 

"You're right, I don't think it's political, but I do believe that being Irish is at the heart of it." Blair picked up the photos and was again struck by the uniformity of the crime scenes.

 

"That's obvious from the names," Hilliard pointed out.

 

"You don't have an Irishman on your team, do you?" Blair asked.

 

Roberts thought it a red herring. "No, not at this time." His voice tone implied it held little importance to him

 

"I just bet an Irishman would have picked up on the ritual being performed." Blair mused aloud.

 

"What ritual is that?" Roberts asked, seeing himself insulted in some way.

 

"Each of the crime scenes have been fashioned to represent a wake." Blair's tone was just one of information giving. He could tell that Roberts could be a difficult one.

 

The others picked up the photos again, looking at them with new eyes.

 

"So what tells you that? The candles?" Detective Constable Steven Redbridge asked with great curiosity.

 

"Yes, the candles are one of the traditions adhered to in these photos." Blair began but was interrupted by Roberts.

 

"What others?"

 

"The table top, for instance, was used a lot in lieu of coffins. Usually the kitchen table was the largest in the home and close to, or in the kitchen. All the dead men are holding a Celtic cross and there is a broken rune-looking shard cupped in the hand. Are there any close ups of the shards?" Blair asked the last part but received no answer as all the officers were comparing the photos.

 

"I thought the cross was a catholic thing," Hilliard mumbled to herself.

 

"I saw the cross as his signature, a way of letting us know that it was the same man committing the murders." Roberts admitted that reluctantly, but honestly.

 

"Are there any photos taken of the scene before it was disturbed?" Sandburg flipped through the pictures, searching.

 

"They'd be there if there are. What exactly are you looking for, Dr. Sandburg?" Redbridge asked.

 

"I just wondered if the bodies were covered in a cloth or were they just exposed?" Blair handed half his stack to Jim and they flipped through. The other task members joined in.

 

West had the written reports. "One of the constables quoted his witness as saying she uncovered the body and saw that he was dead. So, yes, there had to be some kind of covering, a rug? Is that what you're thinking?"

 

"I don't recall any photos of carpets." Jim sorted through his memory.

 

Blair nudged him gently with a smile, "Rug. Blanket to you, you Yank."

 

Jim caught the twinkle, "Well, in Rome..."

 

"London, Jim, London, do we need a map?" Blair grinned at his partner. He turned to West, "Does it happen to mention anywhere the color of the rug?"

 

"Not that I recollect, but we can look through them again. Why? Is it important?" The Yard Superintendent asked this of Sandburg but kept his eye on Roberts.

 

"Brown if Catholic and black if they Protestant. Just another tidbit in the puzzle." Blair explained.

 

"So, Doctor, what conclusion have you drawn?" Roberts' use of Sandburg's title was his way of acknowledging that he would now be treating Blair as an equal.

 

"Conclusions? None. I do believe that the wake is important but we will need to take a much closer look at the photos since I don't have a crime scene. I need to read the reports and do some research, then I can better render a profile," Blair shared honestly.

 

Roger West thought the American looked tired and acted on it. "Let's resume tomorrow. Our guests have only been in the country four hours, they need nourishment and rest. We can meet back here in the morning."

 

All agreed. Jim picked up the photos and files that he knew that they would go over this evening.

 

Blair queried again, "Do we have any pictures of what was in the dead men's hands?"

 

"We have the actual pieces in the property room. The coroner had to remove the objects as they were pressed tightly into their hands." Roberts looked in the file to confirm this and nodded to his boss. 

 

"We can have them up here by tomorrow morning," West assured the profiler.

 

Ellison and Sandburg declined West's offer of a ride back to their hotel. The Yard was just a few blocks from the Savoy and they opted to walk. They stopped at a pub for fish and chips and a lager. They were still thinking lunch even though it was closer to dinnertime.

 

After their meal they walked to the Embankment and found a footpath to walk along the Thames. Feeling refreshed they headed back in the direction of their hotel.

 

Forty minutes later found the Americans entering the foyer of the Savoy. They checked for messages and were glad to find none. They wanted a peaceful evening. Jim pushed the button to summon the elevator.

 

Blair leaned back against Jim's chest as the elevator doors closed. Jim's arm came around him as his neck was nuzzled.

 

Jim loved to sink his senses in Blair. Nothing got him going faster than the scent of Blair getting aroused. He licked and teased the nearest earlobe and the essence of Blair's arousal hit his nose.

 

Blair rubbed himself against Jim, afraid that if he kissed him he'd lose all sense of where they were. Something he frequently did within Jim's arms.

 

The Sentinel checked the corridor before the elevator doors opened. He got his guide safely to their room, closed and locked the door behind them.

 

This time when Jim nuzzled his neck, Blair turned his lips up and welcomed the questing tongue.

 

Jim stripped Blair, Blair stripped Jim. They made it to the davenport that was large enough to accommodate them comfortably. More importantly, close enough to their reach before falling to the floor.

 

Both men, tired from the long flight and the working day afterward, didn't use much finesse. In a much-practiced method, they aligned their cocks side by side and with them pressed tightly against their bellies, they rocked together.

 

Pressed close like this, Jim could feel Blair orgasm build, feel the sacs grow tight, ready to explode and it did him in every time. They climaxed together, then rocked slowly, enjoying every last speck of sensation.

 

Blair pulled the coverlet over them.

 

"Will we ever sleep in a bed while in England?" Blair murmured as he rolled into Jim's chest.

 

"I'm sure it can be arranged, just not at this moment," Jim smiled. He buried his nose into Blair's neck, arms tight about him.

 

They slept.

 

-------

 

Jim woke when his sense of touch registered the absence of warmth from his human blanket. He located his guide bent over his laptop furiously taping the keys. He then smelled the coffee and headed straight for it.

 

"Hey, Jim, sandwiches are on their way up."

 

"Great, What's up beside you?" Jim sipped from the hot brew.

 

"I'm rested, my internal time clock hasn't switched over yet." Blair smiled up at his mate. "Doing an in-depth on wakes. A lot of work involved for the dead."

 

"It's all for the living, the dead don't care at that point." Jim pointed out as he picked up one stack of photos.

 

"Exactly, so, the custom here is very important. I'm hoping to figure out just how much."

 

"My money's on you, Chief." Jim moved to the door. He could smell the approaching food.

 

The Sentinel waited for the knock before opening, Blair kept reminding him that it spooked folks when he did that. He accepted the food and tipped the help. Jim was already snacking on his sandwich when he placed Blair's in front of him.

 

"Thanks, Jim," Blair said absently, eyes fixed on the screen before him.

 

Jim uncovered Blair's food and placed a half-sandwich in his guide's hand. Blair brought it to his mouth and took a bite without thinking.

 

The profiler tapped upon the keyboard, the detective picked up the next stack of photos. The click of keys, the munching of food and the flipping of photos were the only sounds made for the next forty-five minutes.

 

"Hey, Chief, you said to look for repetition."

 

Blair looked over at his partner.

 

"All the clocks say one forty-five." Jim pointed to the photos.

 

Blair took off his glasses as he squinted his eyes, "That's not the time of death. Could it be the time they were stabbed?"

 

Jim shook his head, "Not according to the coroner. Bleed out time is pretty much the same, temperature causing only a little variance."

 

"So, that time is significant to our killer." Blair walked over and leaned against Jim as he let the information roll around in his head. He stood, kissed Jim's ear and gathered all the photos up. "Jim, let's take these pictures to the crime lab in the morning and use their computer. I bet between you and it we can get a more detailed view of the rooms."

 

Jim pulled Blair close and kissed the teasing lips soundly before agreeing. He smiled at the bemused look on his guide's face.

 

"What are you hoping to find?" Jim asked

 

"The crime scene photographers wouldn't have been thinking rituals, even Roberts wasn't thinking ritual until the third murder. So, they wouldn't have necessarily taken pictures in close-up detail. Hopefully, though, you might find something and we can back it up with the computer."

 

"Okay," Jim paused as he took in the whole picture of a studious Blair. He couldn't help the foolish grin that engulfed his face.

 

"What, Jim?" Blair prodded. It was as if Jim had stopped speaking mid thought.

 

"I can't believe how sexy I find you." Jim shook his head bemusedly. "Amid all the papers and photos, glasses askew, half way down your nose and rumpled hair, my only thoughts are about how much I could eat you up."

 

"I'm sure that can be arranged," Blair hit the save key, took off his glasses and advanced on his partner. He pushed Jim back against the couch. The fell back together as Blair covered his mate's face in kisses.

 

Jim nibbled Blair's neck as prelude to the promised consumption of his guide. Blair pressed in tight, no desire to stop Jim. He want to be devoured as much as Jim wished to swallow him. 

 

As his shorts hit the floor, Blair couldn't help thinking they could have used the bed.

 

--------

 

The wake up call roused them. Jim called room service for coffee as Blair showered. Jim unpacked their stuff then took his turn. Superintendent West expected them for breakfast, otherwise Jim would have showered with Blair. An event that actually took more time than they had this morning.

 

Blair, not a chipper morning person, gave him a beautiful smile when he placed the piping hot brew into his hands. Jim took that smile into the shower.

 

The Americans spotted West at the outdoor café and both were pleased to see Chief Inspector Venables seated with him. They had kept in touch with him via email since their last visit.

 

The breakfast time passed without shoptalk. Instead, they used it for catching up on the personal.

 

Venables left separately, he was to set aside space in the forensics lab for Blair's use within the task force. Their computer had the program Sandburg requested and it would be easiest working there.

 

West chauffeured the Americans to Scotland Yard.  "We need to get your IDs, key cards and temporary badges," the Superintendent explained.

 

Roger West guided the American profiler and detective to the bowels of the Yard building. With great expediency, their pictures were taken and ID cards processed. Admittance key cards were prepared to correspond with the IDs. Badges with special permits were given to each man.

 

Superintendent West had sought and gained ministerial approval for this. If they were to function as police, they needed to be identified as such. West liked having these men at his disposal and he wanted to make as easy for them as he could.

 

When all was completed, the two visiting Americans were able to travel anywhere in the Yard building unescorted. Blair's raised brows and mischievous look worried Jim, he'd have to watch his guide closely.

 

Through a maze of corridors, West led them to the forensic lab. Blair just followed, he left the mapping to the Sentinel.

 

Venables had everything set up per Sandburg's request. "The disks from the different crimes scenes are labeled."

 

Blair sat in front of the computer and picked up the first disk. He opened the photographs that Jim had selected. He zeroed in on the clocks. He enlarged each one, saved it, then printed them out. He worked his way through each of the crime scenes picking the ones his partner earmarked first.

 

Venables had put a call out when the Americans had arrived, so when the lift dinged he wasn't surprised to see the other task force members. He knew his boss would be back shortly, too. The Chief Inspector greeted Roberts and Redbridge silently as they moved in behind the busy profiler and watched him work.

 

When Blair was done he had printed four or five clocks from each of the individual crime scenes.  All the timepieces read one forty-five p.m.

 

"That wasn't the time of the murders," Roberts volunteered. "That is one item that has been different in each of the murders.

 

"No, one forty-five is significant to the killer. It's part of his ritual. In the olden time traditional wakes, all clocks were stopped at the time of death. A way of showing respect." Blair flipped through his written notes, "Also, we should look at the mirrors." Blair swung back to the computer and moved the mouse, he started with one that Jim indicated.

 

"This one, here and here are covered," Jim pointed out the mirrors in the photo he was holding.

 

Venables squinted and couldn't make out the mirrors, much less the coverings. He looked at Roberts and noted his squint. He smiled before he turned back to the computer screen.

 

Blair looked at the screen and located one mirror and enlarged it. It was averted away from the table that the body lay upon. "Both ways are acceptable, turning them away or covering them up. Another way of showing respect in the old custom."

 

Roberts was watching Ellison, he was puzzled at how the man could see the minute detail without a magnifying glass. Even with one, Roberts wasn't sure he could have picked it out.

 

Venables smiled and whispered into Robert's ear, "Great eye sight, must have eaten lots of carrots as a child." The Yard man knew the American was different, he just didn't know how exactly.

 

West overheard the whispered conversation, he smiled, he was used to the American's oddities. He was just appreciative at how much they were already helping.

 

Blair read off some of the other old time traditions for wakes.

 

"The place for the corpse is chosen; the body is prepared; a cross is placed; clocks are stopped; mirrors are turned or covered; vocalizations; games; food and drink; and very important, a corpse must not be left unattended for the entire wake."

 

"Games?" Redbridge's incredulously squeaked.

 

"What do they mean by games?" Roberts asked, hating his loss of control over the investigation, but had to admit that Sandburg was probably on the right track.

 

"It was a celebration of the dead person. Lots of food, drink and noise. The games entertained and caused even more noise. Some of the affairs lasted all day. I bet there was a boredom factor before they were all drunk." Blair smiled as he remembered some of his mother's parties.

 

"Yeah, I looked up wakes, food, singing and drinking was the order of the day," Roberts supplied.

 

"So, the wake is the ritual," West began, wanting very much for this to lead to the killer.      

 

"Yeah, our killer is following very old traditional customs. He is paying someone a lot of respect. The ceremony is not for the man he killed, I believe it's for someone else. And he's doing it over and over again."

 

"How does this help?" Roberts asked of West.

 

Blair answered for him, "A ritual serial killer is fulfilling a loss or correcting something. The ritual can lead us to the who through the why. The why is in the rituals. These aren't spur of the moment murders, these are planned. That planning is how we'll catch him."

 

"I still don't see how we do that," Roberts's shrug was as much puzzlement as it was frustration.

 

"Let's say we discover games, the kind represented will suggest the region the killer originated. Then at least we have a place to start. Each bit is part of a larger puzzle. We need more pieces."

 

"So, we go through the photos again, looking for any other signs," Jane Hilliard suggested.

 

"Exactly." Blair agreed with the sergeant. The profiler swung his chair around to locate West. "Roger, did you get the shards?"

 

The Superintendent nodded as he pointed to the cardboard box on the table in the center of the lab.

 

Blair looked at Jim, silently asking him to check it out before he moved over to investigate it.

 

Jim moved and opened the box checking for odd substances or anything that could hurt his guide. He could distinguish three different orders but nothing dangerous. He handed the object marked from the first crime scene.

 

Blair removed it from the tagged bag and examined it. "It's a Druid symbol, but not a rune. It's broken, which is significant in itself." Blair took out the others and they were identical to each other. They were also broken. "This is the Awen. A modern Druid symbol. It stands for truth, knowledge and justice."

 

"What's it suppose to mean, Chief?" Jim examined each one more closely to discuss with his guide later.

 

On a piece of paper Blair drew it roughly, /|\. "It doesn't come to a point. Each length represents one of the meanings. The length representing justice is the one broken."

 

"So, our killer is exacting justice." Redbridge concluded.

 

West was more practical, "He has to be getting them from somewhere. That's not an overly common item."

 

"You'd be surprised, sir." Jane commented, "I'll tackle it." She looked to Roberts for confirmation of the duty and received his nod. She headed back upstairs to her station.

 

Roberts shook his head, "Now that I've seen it, I wonder how I missed it before?"

 

"It's like looking down at a labyrinth. When you see the route from above it looks easy, ah, but from inside it seems nearly impossible. Most investigate using a frame of reference known to them. I see ritual, not the victim or the perp. My frame of reference differs from yours, it's not better, just different." Blair explained, "I'm outside the box most of the time, so thinking from there is not that much of a stretch."

 

"He sees patterns in things that no one else would put together. I've seen him draw a conclusion from unlike things and amid all the scoffing he came out right. I come from a military background and now it's a whole new education and one that's made me a better detective." Jim had started taking to the group at large but when his eyes reached Blair, they stayed there. Blair's smile was reward enough for sharing something personal.

 

"We need to check the crime scene photos for any of the other signs of a wake. I would also like to read the coroner's repots on the dead men," Blair requested.

 

"I would appreciate reading the various reports from the officers, witness, this team, anything," Jim asked.

 

West agreed. Venables located all the coroner reports. Roberts gave Jim all the reports in his possession. Roberts, Kent and Redbridge each took a crime scene disk and began the tedious work of reexamining the photos. They broke for lunch, walking down the block to the Whitehall Café. Afterwards they resumed their research. Jim and Blair exchanged reports, comparing notes when finished.

 

It had just gone half past three when West reappeared, Venables at his side. The press was hounding him about the Tabletop Killer and he wanted some kind of update.

 

Hilliard had returned and was working on the other set of crime scene photos. She and Kent were amazed at the similarities they discovered when looking at the pictures with a different viewpoint.

 

The original task team found many indications of wake items. Food and drink set out in nicely arranged displays. The exact same food and drink at each scene. Each body faced the same direction. All mirrors were averted or covered.

 

Roberts was convinced that a ritual was indeed being performed and said so, but he was still puzzled. "We've established that a wake has been preformed each time. The ritual, what good are these details, how do they aid us?"

 

"They really can lead us to the person performing them. The ritual is made up of all the little details. They are telling us about the killer along with the rite. The bodies have all been washed after death, even shaved. Each wore the habit on the prepared bed, a table has been used as per custom because it was closest to the kitchen. A Celtic cross was found on each man's chest and clutched in the hand of each victim was a broken Awen. I bet there were sheets hung in the first two crime scenes, but were taken down without thought to its ritual meaning."

 

"Possibly. Chief Inspector Gordon handled the one in Kent and he stated that something you had said at the conference triggered as he entered the house. Everything seemed posed to him and he had the photos taken of everything before he let the rest of the men in." West shared from memory and notes.

 

"So, Doctor, now that you've looked over all the material, what conclusions do you draw?" Roberts' asked.

 

"White Irish male, between twenty-five and thirty. Up until a few months ago, was probably an outgoing, friendly guy. The kind people always say, but he was so nice and normal. Then an event happened and knocked his world askew. He is now exacting justice for the same person he is paying tribute to; most likely a family member. He has taken great care with the body, but only after he has enacted a painful death." Blair pulled this from his scrawled notes.

 

"This doesn't put us ahead of where we were before." Roberts felt almost vindicated, Sandburg's read was only slightly different than his.

 

"The connection is in the dead men."

 

"There are no real crossovers. The most we found was that two of the vics lived in the same city."

 

"Everything is in who the dead men are. These are not random killings. Everything has been well planned out. The event that precipitated this probably happened four to six months before the first murder. He will continue until he is done or we stop him."

 

"You mean this has an end? If he finished before we catch him, he won't be out there repeating himself?" Kent queried.

 

"Precisely. This isn't a man hearing voices. This man is exacting justice. The connection is in the dead men's past. We need to go back twenty years, when these men were children. It's a family honor, so it may not be these men, but someone they are related to. Flannery, Murphy, O'Mally and Flinn."

 

"I'll request the queries myself, put a rush on it, make it hard for the district men to put it off." West jotted down the names and cities.

 

"It's not like those are unique names, fairly common Irish names," Roberts felt compelled to point out.

 

"But grouped all together may end up more notable." Blair shrugged, feeling like he'd gain one step with this man, then fall two back.

 

Hilliard looked at her watch and West smiled, "Yeah, let's get out of here." Roger looked to the Americans, "Fancy a meal?"

 

Blair grinned, "I could eat."

 

"I'm with him," Jim added.

 

West cast his eyes to the rest of the team. Roberts cried off, Hilliard had family commitments, but Kent and Redbridge agreed, as did Venables. West arranged to meet them out front in forty-five minutes.

 

Sandburg bagged several photos and a couple of reports before leaving. He and Jim joined Redbridge and Kent outside the Yard building. The discussed sports, football being the sport on currently. Blair was barely able to maintain his composure as he remember all too clearly the many games of soccer that he and Jim had narrated their last time here. The twinkle in Jim's eyes let Blair know that he remembered, too.

 

 West joined them and suggested Zero Degrees, a brewpub in Greenwich. Kent got his motor bike and headed out. Redbridge and Venables drove their own cars and the Americans went with West.

 

Just as Jim and Blair stepped inside the entrance to the pub, the Sentinel held his guide and buried his nose into Blair's neck, breathing deeply. Blair relaxed against Jim's chest as his Sentinel completed his grounding ritual.

 

Gordon Venables kept his eyes open for his boss and the Americans. Kent and Redbridge already had a table for them. Gordon smiled to himself as he watched Ellison and Sandburg enter the pub. After the public announcement of their relationship, the frequent touching that they had indulged in became assimilated into their standard behavior patterns.

 

Gordon was frankly surprised that the Americans were so uninhibited in the outward expression of said relationship. As he watched Ellison pull Sandburg to his chest, he remembered all the times he had seen that on their last visit. It seemed that whenever they went into crowded places, Jim wanted to establish that Blair was his from the beginning. It was so unexpected for American behavior, he found it quaint.

 

Venables got Ellison's attention finally and waved them over.

 

 

West bought the first round. The pub was known for its black lagers and wheat ale, so Jim and Blair tried one of each. The black lager won and the Americans could stand the teasing for their ignorance in understanding the warm factor. They played darts while waiting for the food to arrive. Blair took great pride in Jim's wins, pocketing the cash he won.

 

West dropped them off at nine o'clock, claiming his wife would send out a search party if he were any later. They promised to be in by eight a.m.

 

They checked for messages as they passed the front desk and were once again relieved to find none waiting for them. They pressed the lift button and waited.

 

Blair leaned closer to Jim as the elevator doors opened and several people entered the car. Jim gave a polite nod to the newcomers and shifted his body so his guide was now shielded. Blair smiled to himself at the protective gesture.

 

The Sentinel and guide exited on their floor and Jim held Blair in place while he sense checked the floor. He nodded his approval and as there was no one about, they held hands as they walked to their room.                                   

 

Jim locked the door as Blair toed off his shoes. He saw Blair with sentinel eyes, the wind tousled hair, the red stained cheeks, the love in his eyes. A surge of arousal spread through his body, he wanted his Blair.

 

Arm about his shoulder, Jim moved Blair into the hereto-unused bedroom and sat him on the bed. He took off his socks, unbuttoned his shirt and undid his belt.

 

Blair's hands reached out and pulled Jim to him. Their lips met and time ceased. What began as a gentle exploration grew to unbridled passion.

 

Jim nipped and nibbled the fully exposed neck. The selfless yielding of that gesture touched the sentinel deeply. He drew back to worship Blair with his eyes.

 

Blair smiled and arched up to bring himself closer to Jim. Blair's scent surrounded him and Jim took a steadying breath, trying to regain control. He had a specific desire tonight and he didn't want to lose it just yet.

 

Jim divested Blair of his clothes and threw them over the closest chair. His own soon joined them. He switched off the overhead light and left just a side lamp on.

 

Blair had already turned down the covers and patted the space next to him. "A bed in England? We'll have to see how it compares," Blair teased. He shifted down, anticipating Jim's arms around him.

 

Jim played with Blair's hair, carding his fingers through the curly strands. He leaned over and kissed his forehead.

 

"I think of France as our honeymoon. For Jim and Blair, for sentinel and guide. We strengthened our connection when you asked me to claim you. Tonight, I want you to claim me."

 

Jim's scenes cataloged Blair's immediate reaction, his eyes glistened, his breath gasped, his cock twitched and filled out more than it already was. Jim reached over to the nightstand and plucked the tube of sentinel approved cream and placed it in Blair's palm.

 

With his empty hand, Blair traced Jim's eyes, lips and cupped his cheek. He whispered, "You sure?" To Jim's nod, he queried further, "The pressure pain at the onset could be more intense for you. You'll have to remember to dial it down."

 

Jim could smell that Blair's arousal level was cranking and he loved that it was him that got Blair like this. He didn't want to miss any of it. "No, Chief, I want to experience you with all my senses open." He nuzzled the strong scent behind the ear, then spoke against it, "I love you, Blair."

 

Blair hugged Jim close, "Oh, man, I love you, too. So very much." Then Blair began his sentinel assault. He used all the turn ons that he knew Jim responded to. He licked his smooth chest then dragged his hair across it.

 

Jim writhed, senses wide open, he could feel the individual hairs, Blair's hairs, run across his skin. Almost like he could get Blair under it, just where he wanted him.

 

Blair altered between head and chest, lips and nipples until moans of delight changed to real need. Blair cupped the taut sacs, just as he moved his mouth over the fully engorged shaft. He hovered, breathing slowly, knowing full well that Jim could feel it all.

 

Jim pleaded and Blair acquiesced. He swallowed the whole member, working his throat muscles for his comfort and Jim's delight. With practiced motion, he sucked hard and deep, increasing the rhythm until Jim spilled all he had into Blair's mouth.

 

Sated, Jim relaxed and was hardly aware of a questing tongue that began its exploratory journey. Blair used just enough pressure at the base of the testicles that he could feel a twitch of revival. He felt a deep satisfaction at the response. His tongue explored known and uncharted areas in the seeking of its goal. The rosy aperture leading to a new frontier.

 

This was about love and trust. Jim, loving his mate enough to trust him with something he had never really contemplated before. Blair knew this significance and cherished it all the more.

 

His tongue breached the hole and Jim's moan startled him. "You all right?"

 

"More than."

 

Jim's reply assured him and he continued on. He moved his tongue in a different way, knowing that his sentinel's sense of touch was open wide and he could feel more than most ever would.

 

Jim spread his legs wider in an unconsciously wanton gesture that excited Blair even more. His pleasure would only be enhanced by Jim's pleasure.

 

Blair laved the entrance until he could move in and out with ease. He opened the hand-warmed tube of cream and spread it across and into the opening. Jim's hips lifted, another unconscious gesture of wanting more.

 

Blair worked his finger, then fingers inside. For all the enhanced pleasure, his sentinel could also experience pain. Blair wanted none of that. He submerged his own need to be sure that Jim would get all he could out of this.

 

He coated his own cock, squeezing the base to help delay his own impending orgasm. The thought alone of where he was about to go was almost enough to get him off.

 

"Jim, relax as much as you can. If you feel any pain, tell me and dial down. I mean it, Jim."

 

"Un huh." Jim arched, seeking, wanting more.

 

Blair kissed the top of Jim's again full cock before placing his at the prepared opening. He pressed in and was delighted with the ease in which he entered. Blair found himself immediately swamped by sensation. He forced himself to retain enough control to slide in slowly. Jim's moans and arching hips didn't make it easy.

 

Sheathed completely, Blair paused to check on his partner. "Okay?"

 

"More than. Move, it's feeling great."

 

Jim's anal muscles clenched around him tightly and Blair let his rigid control slip away. He was in Jim. He was part of Jim. Sensations like none other assailed him and he thrust in and out. He grabbed Jim's hips angling them higher and Jim's reaction let him know that he had hit what he was aiming for. Cries of pleasure guided Blair's placement.

 

Jim was lost in the intensity of pleasure. All his senses were affected and he couldn't zone. There was a distinct freedom in that and it allowed him to experience this fully.

 

Blair was inside him, nothing had prepared him for the sense of closure this gave him. He had felt like one with Blair when he was inside him, but now he felt complete.

 

All coherent thought left when Blair hit his prostate as his body was taken over by sensation. His system was flooded by a joy so sweet even panting was difficult.

 

The rhythm increased, and it was hard for him to believe, but so did the pleasure. The sentinel could feel his guide cresting and he joined him, in sync with his building joy. Their names burst from the other's lips as their seed spilled inside and out.

 

Replete, sated, tired, barely conscious, Blair slipped out and pulled the covers over them. Jim turned on his side and pulled Blair into his arms.

 

----------

 

The incessant noise forced Jim from his pleasant slumber. He finally recognized it as the phone.

 

"Ellison."

 

"West here. There's been another murder. This one's in Northern Ireland. We have a military transport in an hour. Can you two be downstairs in half that."

 

"Yes, sir, we can," Jim responded to the command in West's voice. He put down the phone and turned back to Blair. He rubbed his back as he attempted to wake him. "Hey, Chief," he waited until he got a mumbled response. "West needs us. There's been another murder."

 

Blair rolled onto his side, "Where? When do we need to leave?"

 

"Northern Ireland and in thirty minutes downstairs."

 

"Damn, no shower together today, either," Blair bemoaned as he got up and beat Jim into the bathroom.

 

Jim shook his head as he watched Blair do his disappearing act. He called for coffee to go, then headed to the bathroom to shave.

 

Morning rituals complete, Jim and Blair, with his laptop and digital camera, made their way downstairs. Hot coffee waiting, the pair picked it up and stepped outside to the waiting transport.

 

West and Venables arrived just after the Americans. Roberts and his team were already there. West and Ellison declared their weapons, had them checked and reholstered them. The rest of the team had no weapons with them.

 

Two hours later, they were on the ground and into the waiting vehicles. Chief Inspector Erin O'Shawnasy greeted them and updated the team on the find.

 

"Liam Caffery, age thirty one. Wife reported him missing day before last. The local constables took it seriously when he missed an important business meeting. Been dead ten to twelve hours."

 

"Integrity of the crime scene?" West asked to forestall the question he could see forming on the doctor's face.

 

"Untouched." O'Shawnasy confirmed. "You had a call out with details and a directive to do nothing. Recognized the wake set up right off and called you, didn't I?"

 

"The body was found sooner than most this far," Blair commented, hoping to solicit an answer.

 

O'Shawnasy looked surprised at the American accent.

 

"Chief Inspector, this is Dr. Blair Sandburg. Specializes in ritual murders. He and his partner, Detective Ellison, are assisting us with this investigation." West turned to the visiting police, "Doctor, Detective, Chief Inspector Erin O'Shawnasy." West hoped that the Irishman would remain professional.

 

"Aye, I remember the name. Wanted to get down to see you speak, I did, but me da was ill and I was needed here."

 

Sandburg put his hand out, "Nice to meet you, Chief Inspector."

 

O'Shawnasy accepted it and nodded to Ellison. "And to answer your question, the tenants came back unexpectedly from abroad and found him. They called and we have put them up 'til we release the crime scene."

 

"Good job," West told him.

 

"I checked, they were all Irish, you know. The dead men." O'Shawnasy seemed offended.

 

"We don't believe it's political. And it's not the IRA." Blair would stake his career on that one. "This one has to do with Irish traditions, or as I'm coming to believe, the lack thereof."

 

Forty-five minutes later they arrived in Enniskillen and from there it was just minutes to the crime scene. The team exited the vehicles and gathered their equipment.

 

Blair took West aside and asked, "May Jim and I have some time alone inside first?"

 

West studied the American silently. He had asked for their help. He had made a point of reading some of the case reports the two had been involved in. They were both impressive and odd. The reports had often included comments on bizarre behavior displayed by the two men. The results always seemed worth it. "Okay. How much time are you talking about?"

 

"Not sure yet. Fifteen, twenty minutes, possibly." Blair's shoulder's lifted slightly.

 

"Go."

 

Watching West and the Americans, O'Shawnasy signaled the officer at the door to admit the two men.

 

Jim could hear the protests from Roberts as West held them all back. Blair nodded to the officer at the door then stopped just inside. Jim followed close on his heels and stopped right behind him. Blair turned and placed his hand on Jim's back and waited.

 

The Sentinel grounded himself first, then stretched his senses outward. He could smell the beginnings of decomposition. He noted each of the scents within the room, the food, tobacco and body odors, filing them away for later. He searched for the most recent traces of heat, cataloged it along with its locations.

 

Next he used his ears. The annoying sound of a tape cassette at the end plagued him until he located it. He pointed it out to his guide.

 

"Recent?" Blair inquired.

 

The Sentinel nodded.

 

Blair clicked it off with his pen.

 

The Sentinel finally looked at the room with his eyes.

 

"All the clocks in this front area and kitchen are stopped at one forty five. Most of the mirrors are covered. Two of the smaller ones are averted.

 

"Here we see the sheets are hung from a makeshift line across the kitchen as would have been done in very old times. The body is covered in a brown cloth. The dead man is a Catholic." Blair pointed out what he believed had been at the other scenes, but had been taken down to get at the body.

 

"As were all the others, so far."

 

Blair guided Jim away from the main area. "Okay, Jim, catalog the scents from the other part of the house that are in each room. Then remove them from your mental catalog. We can see if our killer moved about the house much."

 

Blair loved watching the Sentinel work. Jim moved into the hall and stood still, head cocked to the side, eyes closed. His head turned one way, then the other, taking in the different scents as a whole then singling them out individually. The guide part of Blair felt he could almost see the wheels turning as Jim processed all the data.

 

Jim turned to Blair when he had finished. "The fresh scent that is all over the front area is also in the bathroom, but nowhere else."

 

Blair noted it, then wandered about the kitchen and front room marking down all the wake indicators that he could locate. With the digital camera he snapped the entire scene, area by area to look at later for comparison.

 

Jim pointed out the noose hanging from the chandelier. The sunshine sparkled off the glass danglies and the Sentinel eyes caught the prism that radiated from it. The colors were more vivid than he could recall from past rainbows and he focused more singularly on this occurrence.

 

Expecting the anticipated question, Blair turned back to Jim and picked up on the unfocused look in the blue eyes and immediately moved to his side. He placed one hand on his Sentinel's chest and one hand cupped his cheek. "Jim, follow my voice. Need ya back here."

 

Jim took in a deep breath and looked into the concerned eyes of his partner. "I'm fine."

 

"What'd you zone on?" Blair had yet to move his hand from Jim's chest.

 

"The colors. The prism was clear and sharp." Jim shrugged, "It's a sentinel thing." His smile let Blair know he was attempting a joke. To get back on track, he asked, "What is that for?" He pointed to the noose.

 

"I believe it's one of the wake games, I'll have to look up the name, but I remember reading about something about a rope. Can't recall if there was a noose in the other photos?"

 

Jim cocked his head in thought, "Maybe in two, a rope. Chief, the bridge on the hutch is new to this room, no dust print like the other objects close by. Has the same scent as the sheets and tape recorder."

 

"Rope represents another game. I also think the tape recorder probably has music relating to this, too. Proper wake music. You got enough, yet? We should probably let the others in to see this intact."

 

"Yeah, want to look at the body, though," he reminded the profiler.

 

"Really do want the rest to view this scene as a whole, then you can go over the body with their medical examiner," Blair suggested as an alternative.

 

Jim nodded his agreement.

 

Blair moved to the door and stepped past the guard and signaled West. He gathered the team together, "We haven't touched anything. Our killer did use the bathroom, maybe some prints could be found. I really want you all to view the entire scene before we take evidence. I'm sure all the scenes looked like this one. Ah," Blair turned to the Irish policeman, "You are coming in, too? I believe you could help me out."

 

O'Shawnasy nodded, puzzled but pleased to be included.

 

Roberts fell in close behind Sandburg and was first of the team to view the scene with the newly trained eyes. It all seemed easy to spot now that he knew what to look for. He made notes as he walked about the room. Redbridge and Hilliard just stood and looked for the obvious clocks and mirrors. It was O'Shawnasy that noticed the noose and its purpose.

 

"Well, I'll be, this is a traditional wake. That noose, it's an olden game called Ride The Wild Ass. A rope with a noose at one end was thrown over one of the rafters of the house. The man who wished to show his agility then grasped the other end of the rope and put one of his feet into the noose. He then pulled on the free end of the rope and tried to raise himself high enough to enable him to kick against another rafter." He looked around the rest of the scene with renewed interest.

 

Blair wrote down the name. He was hoping that the Irish cop would spot the bridge game also. He didn't disappoint.

 

"Dr. Sandburg, the bridge, it's part of the scene, too?" the Chief Inspector asked.

 

"Yes, it was carried in."

 

Erin O'Shawnasy smiled, as if in fond remembrance. "Driving The Pigs Across The Bridge. It was for those who arrived late at the wake house. They were called the pigs. They were scolded for not having arrived earlier and then someone would shout, "We must drive the pigs across the bridge."

 

"The bridge consisted of a number of men, who stood in line behind one another, with their shoulders bent forward. The "pigs" were then forced with blows to mount like riders, on the backs of the others; when all had mounted, they were suddenly thrown on the floor in a heap on the floor. Children loved this, I can remember playing it a few times myself as a wee tot."

 

"We'll have to check the other photos," Redbridge mused.

 

"I thought I could make out a bridge in one of them, just like that one, but it was slightly out of focus," Jim admitted.

 

Blair was glad that Jim didn't add that he wasn't at a computer when he was doing the looking.

 

O'Shawnasy spoke up again, "The dead man is a Catholic. That rug covering him denotes that."

 

Blair nodded. He had felt that the team would have been well advised to have an Irish member, but he kept that observation to himself.

 

West waved in the coroner and the team began the processing part of their duties. This time many more detailed photographs were taken. Once the cover was removed, the cross that lay on the chest was evident. The clenched fingers held no secrets, just what they were expecting, the Awen.

 

The Irish coroner noted aloud for the team that the body had been properly attended. "He was shaved after death."

 

Standing next to the official authority, Jim nodded. He looked closely at the wound site. He could see the entrance wound and the exit with the counterclockwise twist.

 

The coroner said as much aloud. "The stab wound goes in straight, then is moved upward to hit the spleen. The exit is very distinct, it's an anti-clockwise twist of the knife. Kitchen variety is my guess."

 

Hilliard had already located it and held it up, already within its plastic bag.

 

The cross was removed and tagged. The coroner lifted the hand and turned it over. He removed the small metal symbol. The team recognized it right away.

 

O'Shawnasy exclaimed, "That's an Awen, but it appears broken."

 

Blair nodded, "The length that represents justice has been removed. That is what our killer is exacting. Another name to add to our background check. These men's past is in direct connection to our killer."

 

Jim pointed out that the hands and feet had been tied recently before death. He could detect minute rope fibers embedded into the skin. He pointed them out to the coroner, who looked at him skeptically until he used the magnifying glass and found said fibers.

 

This time the food and tobacco products were also taken away. No wanted to admit aloud that last time they had really considered the food part of the house and not part of the crime scene.

 

While the others were busy doing their specific duties, Blair got O'Shawnasy off to one side. "I believe that the music on the tape player is another important clue, but I'm am not up on my Irish lullabies." Blair smiled at Erin's grin.

 

"You be wanting my help."

 

The Irish lilt delighted Blair and he just nodded. They went to the bedroom and Blair pushed the on button. The music played and they sat on the bed and listened to both tunes play.

 

"Aye, know them both, my grandda would be pleased that I remembered. They are called the Songs of Connemara. Bhi Tri/ur Mac Agam or I had Three Sons and the second one was Buchaill na Gruaige Doinne, The Brownhaired Boy. Traditionally they were sung, but that died out at the turn of the century."

 

"The songs are personal." Blair's mind shifted the information that he had gathered this far and added his gut feeling. "It's about his father. All of this is for his father. Whether imagined or real, we have yet to discover."

 

An hour and half later all the photos and evidence were gathered. The body was taken away before the crime scene tape was put up. O'Shawnasy suggested a meal and they all adjourned to a nearby restaurant.

 

After a round of ale, the Irish cop asked of the group, "What's the difference between an Irish wedding and an Irish wake?" He looked at the team members, only West had a smile. West indicated that he should finish it. Erin laughed, "One less drunk at the wake."

 

Roberts shook his head as the others laughed. "If I had said that, I could get in trouble."

 

O'Shawnasy laughed again, "Not if you were in an Irish pub, they'd all take it as a compliment."

 

More relaxed, the team enjoyed the meal and the break. They watched the local sports game on the TV. As Redbridge, Roberts and Ellison argued the finer points of football, Blair and Erin discussed the change in wake traditions over the years. Erin shared some of the different wakes and games he had attended while growing up.

 

With the assurance that the team would send O'Shawnasy a copy of the lab results of all the gathered evidence, the task force boarded the transport for the journey back to London.

 

Blair led Jim away for the engines. They were apart from the others and Blair suggested, "Jim, dial it down. All is okay, you need to relax."

 

Jim sighed and nodded. He closed his eyes as he pressed his leg against Blair's, liking the physical contact.

 

Blair turned and looked out the window, but he wasn't really looking at the view. He was lost in his thoughts. Despite the reason, he had really enjoyed the day. He was part of this team. Not once had any member of the task force made him feel like an outsider.

 

The anthropologist/profiler knew they were close to a solution and that meant going home. Oddly enough, that was not a welcoming thought. He sighed a muffled sigh. He kept it as quiet as possible, Jim was probably on the verge of sleep and he didn't want him worrying.

 

Blair knew he was unorthodox. His upbringing alone had been unconventional, but it had allowed him the variety of experiences that eventually led to this path and more important, to his sentinel. His problem lie in the perception of the masses, or possibly, just a smaller group, the Cascade PD. He was an odd duck.

 

They looked at him, judged him and found him wanting. He was an outsider. It didn't seem to matter that they sought him out, wanted his expertise, they just took one look at him and he'd see the same expression on their faces. He knew he was a professional, so it shouldn't matter how they viewed him. But it did.

 

Many different agencies sought out his services, but the only one that mattered was the one that Jim was employed by. It was in his hometown and near the only family that he had.

 

Blair sighed, he had to be honest with himself. Ever since the speaking engagement here in England, he realized that the lack of acceptance was growing more distressful as weeks passed.

 

Blair knew he was not free to pursue a different path. He'd known this from that moment in Simon's office, when he had momentarily contemplated leaving Jim for his own good, that it was not an option. He was inexorably bound to Jim. They were sentinel and guide and even more, Jim was his other half. He would remain at Jim's side, so by default, he would stay in Cascade. He sighed again and closed his eyes.

 

The Sentinel looked at Blair with half hooded eyes. He wore that pensive expression that he had been seeing more frequently of late. The one he had been trying to hide. The Sentinel sensed checked his guide. He may have appeared still to an onlooker, but Jim could feel the activity within.

 

He could sense Blair's blood running faster. He could smell the anxiety and agitation. The crossed arms hid the single tapping finger in the armpit. Blair was worrying something. Something he wasn't sharing and Jim couldn't help but be concerned himself.

 

Maybe this was all too much, maybe the zone-outs were too much, maybe Blair was tired of him and wanted out. No one stayed with him long, he couldn't expect Blair to. Jim could feel his own fear building, what would he do without Blair...

 

Blair glanced at Jim and noticed the anxious look and figured the plane engines were bothering him. He moved the armrest up and heedless of the others, snuggled up against Jim's side. He stroked the bare skin of Jim's arm before whispering, "Love ya, Jim."

 

Jim felt his fear dissolve. Whatever was bothering his guide, it wasn't him. He was elated. He couldn't miss the sincerity that Blair emanated with his whispered words.

 

Jim buried his nose in Blair's hair and kissed his ear before whispering back, "I love you, too."

 

The Sentinel knew he could be patient now. He would find out what was bothering Blair.

 

--------

 

It was still early afternoon when the plane landed and they headed back to the Yard building. West went straight to his office to deal with the media. The rest of the team descended upon the crime lab. The evidence was labeled with a priority rush and the forensic staff started on the ritual materials right away.

 

Jim and Blair made for the computer to download the digital pictures. Blair highlighted the games material and ran the search program to detect the same within the previously loaded photos.

 

Sure enough, parts of a bridge were located at each of the crime scenes. Blair highlighted and circled every one of the partials. Next the program located ropes or nooses found at the different locations. The next research request was about the history of those games.

 

While they waited, they checked on the other evidence. The most disappointing return was the lack of fingerprints. None had turned up, not even in the bathroom, which had seemed most promising. 

 

Jim was not that surprised. Their perp was not a careless man. Blair had been correct in assessment of the killer. This was not an erratic man doing things on the spur of the moment, each murder had been well thought out. They couldn't count on a mistake to catch him like in the movies.

 

Hilliard came back from her station with the Awen information. "Not that it is all that helpful, but the main purchasers are located in Northern Ireland. Londonderry and Newry and there are a few in Ireland as well. Monaghan and Galway having the most purchased."

 

"Good place to start. We can check for rope and large food purchases by a single man." Roberts directed.

 

Jim noted the towns and placed the paper beside Blair. His guide was lost in the history of wake games.

 

The Yard forensic team worked full out. West was a favorite of theirs and they were willing to push it for him. The results yielded no real information.

 

Roberts released the team to work on their research and he headed up to attend the press conference that West had going.

 

Blair felt he had gained ground. "Jim, the pig and ass games originated in Roscommon and Cavan counties. I bet O'Shawnasy could help."

 

"Okay. You did say that games could indicate the region the killer originated." Jim couldn't help but smile at his partner's enthusiasm. "It's a wonder they didn't draft an Irishman for the team."

 

"Yeah, like O'Shawnasy, if they had had him, they probably wouldn't have needed us." He dialed the Enniskillen district station. He left a message for Erin.

 

They made for the task force conference room. They were both curious as to the type of questions West would have to field.

 

The Superintendent had just stepped to the podium when Redbridge indicated that the phone was for Sandburg.

 

Jim was pleased that West hoarded the specialized details and reiterated much of what Blair had said. He stressed that it wasn't politically motivated, which set off a string of questions. Jim tuned it out and instead focused on Blair's conversation.

 

"Great work, Erin, Jim and I will be there by morning. We'll meet you at the district station; nine o'clock. Great. Bye." Blair turned to Jim and said in a hushed voice, "We're going back. Do you think they'll let us check out a car?"

 

Jim shrugged, "I expect so. Let's ask West."

 

"Better idea, Venables, that way West can't get cornered as to why the Americans are gallivanting all about the country."

 

"You're not planning on sharing this information?" Jim asked.

 

"Erin thought it best if not everyone descended on the place. He wants us to talk with a friend of his granddad's in Ireland, an ex-policeman. Oh, we better check if we need our passports for this." He picked up the phone and called Venables.

 

---------

 

The crack of dawn found Sandburg and Ellison heading downstairs to meet their arranged transportation. They were surprised to see Gorgon Venables behind the wheel.

 

"One would think you had enough clout to avoid these duties," Blair teased as he sat up front with the driver.

 

"One would think," Venables smiled, "Actually, West thought it best if I accompany you. To ease the way with any eventual ruffled feathers that may occur."

 

"Roberts?" Blair guessed.

 

"Well, this is somewhat his investigation, but he doesn't necessarily have the people skills for finessing. Oh, I'm not saying that he can't get the information, but at times he doesn't have the patience for old time story tellers and I think that is what Erin has lined up for us."

 

"Yeah, that's my take, too." Blair agreed and respected West even more than before.

 

They landed in Newry and Chief Inspector O'Shawnasy had a vehicle waiting there for them. They entered the Enniskillen police station just before nine o'clock.

 

"Top of the mornin' to you all. Grab some coffee or tea, then we can be on our way. We are heading into Ireland, the Monaghan shire. Carrick on Shannon used to be a wee town, but has doubled in size since I was a lad." O'Shawnasy greeted the policeman and showed them the break room.

 

Blair got in back with Jim and let Gordon sit in front. Chief Inspector Erin O'Shawnasy talked all the while he drove. Much more effusive than upon their last meeting, Jim reflected as he listened. The Irish lilt making simple words sound pleasant.

 

"After you folks left, I spoke with a friend of me uncle's, an ex-copper, and ran that set of names by him. He said he knew some stories and I do believe that a couple of them will be very helpful to your investigation," O'Shawnasy shared. He then played tour guide. He pointed out interesting things to look at on the drive and gave them the Gaelic name as well.

 

Carrick on Shannon was a little bigger than Blair had imagined, but not much. It reminded him of Irish towns used in movies. He wished he had the time to explore, but knew that this was not the day for it.

 

O'Shawnasy parked in front of Kilkee Taveran and ushered the men inside. It was early morning and the pub was half full. Blair nudged Jim and just grinned.

 

O'Shawnasy greeted an older man with a hug. He waved the policemen over. "Gordon, Blair, Jim, I'd like you to meet Detective Sergeant John Patrick Murray, retired."

 

The three men shook hands with the Irishman and sat down on the empty stools. John waved to the bartender and Erin interrupted, "Coffee for all of us, on duty, you know." O'Shawnasy waited for the coffee, then turned to his friend, "Okay, Johnny, my friends would love to hear the stories about Flannery."

 

"Erin says you're all coppers, as well." He received three nods and smiles. "Me father was a copper, me grandda was a copper, good men all, responsible. Back in those days, you knew what was going on all over your town, had to so's to stay ahead. We lived in Drumshanbo for a time." Johnny smiled with the memories. "Me da would grumble about a group of would be terrors. Flannery's mob."

 

Blair quietly took out a memo pad to take notes with.

 

Johnny continued after wetting his mouth with a swig of ale. "Seven of them. Flannery, Murphy, O'Brien, Caffery, Flinn, O'Mally and Mulligan. A couple of real baddies in that group but most just had nothing better to do. Farm work was boring. Right terrors they were, according to my da. One ended up in the army, one landed in jail, one went to Northern Ireland. Flannery. Believed he began working with the IRA. Later, it was confirmed when he was convicted. Flannery began a splinter cell, very violent, they were behind the Bangor bombing in '74. He was caught two years later, given twenty-five years, served them all.

 

“But it was while they were still in Drumshanbo that they had their falling out with Mulligan. They were all in their mid to late twenties. In these small farming communities you married and had children early. All seven of that mob had one or two, but that sure didn't stop them running around doing no good. Flannery was the oldest and the meanest. You crossed him and you suffered. Mulligan did and paid. Everyone knew he did, but no one would talk and they couldn't prove it.

 

“Heard tell it was a robbery gone wrong, but in later years some said it was a girl. No matter the reason, Mulligan ended up dead. For some reason, Flannery hid the body just long enough that they couldn't hold a proper wake. Mulligan's ma and wife were right put out. They eventually found the burial site, but by that time it was too late. Bothered his ma 'til the day she died.

 

The group split up after that, the ones that didn't get into trouble moved away. Not a one would talk about what caused the falling out. Really does take me back, hearing those names."

 

Jim paid for Murray's drinks for the whole day in thanks. They stayed for another half-hour of reminiscing, then thanked the ex-copper for all his help.

 

O'Shawnasy headed straight back to Enniskillen. They could use the database there to see if Mulligan's name popped up.

 

Blair's mind was racing with all the new information. It all connected and made an odd kind of sense when it was all tied together. He verbalized the puzzle, "All but two of the names are dead; O'Brien and Mulligan. My money's on Mulligan. His father was denied the wake, after all, and that's what these deaths have been about. Something happened to bring this to the forefront and make him act out the missing tradition."

 

"We need to locate this O'Brien and find out if he had a kid, too. All the vics must have been the offspring. Not the right age to be the original bunch of men." Jim was thinking ahead, "If we can locate him, we can stake him out, catch our killer."

 

Erin put the speed on. Time could really be of the essence.

 

Back at the station, Erin's fingers flew on the keyboard. He also picked up the phone, "Chief Inspector Reilly, please." To Blair and Jim he said, "I have a mate with the Irish Police in Monaghan, he may have access to more information." He took a notepad from his desk and waited for his friend, "Connor, Erin here, need your help..."

 

Blair moved to another desk and called West. He was hoping the Superintendent could mobilize things from his end.

 

Jim listened to O'Shawnasy's conversation. He liked working with the Irishman, much easier than working with Roberts. Jim couldn't help smile to himself, cops were the same around the world just the countries were different. Jim nudged his partner, "He's got something.

 

"Appears that Flannery was released from prison last year but passed away soon after and was accorded a fine wake by his old IRA buddies. Sean Mulligan lived in Craven until last year when his mother passed away as well. Her wake was modest and attended by close family and friends." Erin shared this news with satisfaction at being able to come through.

 

"That's what pushed him over." Blair sighed at how parent's actions can haunt their children. "Any idea on the whereabouts of O'Brien?"

 

"He's not O'Brien anymore. His ma divorced and remarried, wasn't recognized as a good catholic anymore, so she and her new husband moved to Cookstown, Northern Ireland. Reilly said the new last name was Brennan, seems young Tim took it on. Never saw his da." O'Shawnasy's fingers were searching the motor license files. "Found him!" Erin dialed the phone number given. "I be looking for Tim Brennan....yes, ma'am, thank you," he wrote the dictated number down. "Ta." He put the phone down and dialed the next number. "He works for the A and P..." Erin was about to say more when the rings were answered. "Tim O'Brien, please.... Chief Inspector O'Shawnasy, from the Enniskillen precinct ...Oh, yes...I see, when I find..., yes, I'll ring you. Ta."

 

The Chief Inspector signaled his men forward as he picked up the phone again. He put a call through to West, directed his men then repeated his findings for the Americans. "O'Brien didn't show for work today. No call in, always calls when he isn't going in. Last known address for Mulligan is in Cravan, but Reilly remembers that his family had a place in Omagh. We'll need to cover both."

 

"Omagh," Blair stated assertively.

 

"How can you be sure?" O'Shawnasy watched Sandburg carefully.

 

"This would be his last. One murder for each member of the old group. The property is in his family, he'll want to finish close to home, so to speak." Blair pushed his glasses up.

 

"But it all happened in Ireland," O'Shawnasy reminded the doctor.

 

"Yeah, but, he lived in Omagh with family, he's correcting something for family, he'll go there." Blair knew he was right.

 

Jim looked to Venables, "Can you get us there?"

 

"Yes, but.."

 

"Let's go, Blair's nailed him all the way." Jim was already ushering Blair to the door.

 

Venables looked at the Chief Inspector, "He's got a spot on record."

 

O'Shawnasy directed his men to check out the other place with the Irish Police as he planned to accompany the Americans.

 

Venables updated West before rushing out to the car. Following O'Shawnasy's directions he headed out at top speed. "Superintendent West and the task force are already in the air. They'll meet us in Omagh.

 

Seventy-five minutes later, they passed right by the district station and West pulled right in behind them. Roberts brought up the rear and they caravaned to the township of Omagh. They parked down the street from the Mulligan dwelling.

 

Jim ran with Blair close behind. They stopped just as Jim got a clear view of Mulligan's house. He cocked his head and stood still as he stretched out his hearing.

 

Jim stopped Blair with his arm and held up his hand for the others to hold and remain quite.

 

"He's still alive, Chief." The Sentinel rested his hand on his guide's shoulder and stretched out his hearing toward the voice inside.

 

"What do you see, Jim?"

 

"Not enough light."

 

"Remember the piggybacking exercises? Piggyback your sight onto your hearing.”

 

"Right," Jim did as requested. He focused on the voice and let his sight follow it, using the ambient light. He relayed what he was seeing.

 

"O'Brien is lying on the table, tied up but still alive. He keeps repeating ... that man you're talking about is not my father, I don't know who you are talking about. O'Brien keeps telling him that his last name is Brennan. Mulligan is shouting at him, screaming now, that he can't avoid the shame of his father by changing his name." Jim looked at Blair, "It's the same scent from the last crime scene, Chief. This is our guy."

 

West moved up beside Blair and whispered, "Full back up will be here shortly."

 

The detective turned a worried face to the Superintendent, "I don't think we have that much time." Jim turned back to Blair, "Come on, Chief." The two of them ran toward the house.

 

West watched perplexed, wondering when he had lost control. He looked over to Venables, "Did you see any of that?"

 

"Not even with the binoculars." The Chief Inspector shrugged, "He heard Mulligan as well. Remember Capitaine Versailles? He called and asked after the pair of them, he seemed to think they heard and saw things they shouldn't." Venables smiled at his friend and boss, "We could always ask."

 

West just nodded his head.

 

The rest of the team was far more stunned than West. They couldn't help but wonder if the Americans had brought some listening equipment over with them. Roberts had his team refocus on West, they would be going in soon. O'Shawnasy waited for the back up as West moved his team in closer.

 

-----

 

Jim picked the lock to the back door, then, without words, told Sandburg to count fifteen before entering quietly. The ex-black ops man stealthily made his way around to the front of the house. Jim picked the lock and entered in silence.

 

The Sentinel could hear Blair enter and tracked his movement. Blair made a small noise, just enough for Mulligan to hear. He paused the downward motion of his knife to O'Brien's chest and covered his mouth so that he could listen.

 

Jim used that pause for action. He leapt across the room and tackled the killer to the floor. He knocked the knife loose and it slid across the floor almost hitting Blair in the foot. Blair kicked it away, well out of reach.

 

Blair rushed to the side of hysterical O'Brien and ripped the cloth from his eyes. He jumped to the side to miss the fighting men.

 

Mulligan fought with adrenaline charged strength. The Sentinel used his advantage to read the direction of the twists and turns and countered them in a preemptive strike, wrestling Mulligan to the ground. Jim brought his knee down hard onto the killer's chest and had him subdued on the kitchen floor.

 

Blair rushed to the door and yelled to West. He hurried back to O'Brien and worked on the ropes binding the man's hands and feet.

 

West and Roberts took charge of the perp as Sandburg and Hilliard released O'Brien, trying to explain to the agitated man what had just occurred. He just kept repeating that his last name was Brennan.

 

The Sentinel located the running tape player and shut it off. He sensed check for safety, then located his guide with Hilliard and Redbridge. He joined him, hooked an arm around his neck and took a deep breath of Blair just behind his ear. The officers, now used to this behavior, ignored it and continued their conversation without pause.

 

O'Shawnasy arrived with the Irish police and their inspector sent his men in to secure the scene and cordon off the area. The team bagged enough evidence to allow for valid comparison to the other murders. They wanted Mulligan to stand for the five murders.

 

The paddy wagon arrived and Roberts left with Mulligan and the Irish inspector. They had to book him locally before transfer arrangements could be made.

 

The ambulance carried O'Brien and Hilliard accompanied him so she could continue with his statement. Redbridge and Kent aided the Irish police forensics team.

 

West, Venables, Ellison and Sandburg followed the paddy wagon to the station for their statement and follow up.

 

Two hours later, the Yard officers and visiting American consultants boarded the waiting transport and headed back to London.

 

---------

 

The press conference held in the aftermath of the arrests could have been a lot worse. Ireland agreed to let the British courts try him first on the five murder charges, then they would have at him. West was once again impressed with the American profiler. He deflected most of the credit to Chief Inspectors O'Shawnsay and Roberts. When asked what he had actually contributed, Sandburg had answered simply the tools in which to look for rituals.

 

Afterwards, the team cleared out the conference room. Packed up equipment, sorted through files and shredded the all the trash bound papers.

 

The different police officers were returning to their own precincts and took their leave of the Americans.

 

"Blair, I have to say, mate, it's been great working with you. I think what it is, one investigates certain ways and if it works, then you never think of changing. Now, I have some alternatives." Redbridge shook the profiler's hand before taking his leave.

 

Blair received much the same from Hilliard and Kent. Jim was more than pleased, he knew that Blair was very much on the outside with the Cascade PD. Here, he had been treated as a respected consultant. Even Roberts had come around.

 

"I thank you for your time and effort. I have gained greatly. I hope I have learned not to be too quick to jump to conclusions. I'd like to say I hope we can do this again, but I don't relish the concept of more serial murders." Roberts gave the American a half smile.

 

"I understand what you mean, thanks." Blair shook the Yard man's hand before turning to find Jim.

 

The Americans packed up their files and left the conference room. They headed upstairs to West's office.

 

West realized he would miss these men, they fit in so well with the department. He would arrange for a farewell dinner, but first he headed for the lift. He had a lunch date with them.

 

The elevator doors opened and Jim could see West striding towards them. He held the door open and waited for the Superintendent to join them.

 

"How about the Abby Road Café?"

 

"The Beatles' Abby Road?" Blair asked, excited at the prospect.

 

"The same." West smiled at the younger man's enthusiasm.

 

West headed his vehicle toward Westminster. They picked apart the press conference, saddened but not surprised that there were some reporters already taking Mulligan's side, somehow forgetting the five dead men.

 

Blair's excited exclamation to recognizing the striped road pulled Jim and Roger from their morose thoughts. Blair spent much time looking at the memorabilia before opting to sit on the patio.

 

The meal was excellent and they elected to stick to non-shop talk. Jim could feel Blair drift throughout the meal. He caught that pensive look that's had him worried their entire stay. He needed to get to the bottom of it. It wasn't like his guide to keep anything bottled up this long.

 

Superintendent West's pager beeped, he triggered the number and pursed his lips, "I have to take this call. He moved to a deserted part of the patio and opened his cellphone.

 

Jim leaned closer to his partner, "Okay, Chief, what is it? Something's bugging you and don't give me any of this nothing crap." Jim smiled so it didn't seem so much like an order.

 

Blair took a deep sigh, "Jim, I don't even know how to say this, man."

 

Jim's shoulder's stiffened as he hit the back of his seat. He directed his full focus on guide. "My imagination is already worse than whatever it is."

 

Blair couldn't help the smile that escaped as he met Jim's gaze. Somehow his mate had managed to ease his doubts. "Yeah, knowing you, it probably is. Jim, it's about work. Cascade, actually, I don't want to go back. Back to the barely accepted tolerance. The attitude that it's a major concession on their part that I'm there." Blair knuckled Jim's palm before sitting back in his seat. "Jim, I know I'm good at what I do, and after working here, amid respect, well, I find the thought of continuing in Cascade repugnant. Not once have I heard, 'you're not a cop'. Not once, Jim. It's different here, I like here."

 

The Sentinel could smell the worry and regret on his guide. Jim could also feel the high degree of agitation without even noting the fast tapping foot. He needed to alleviate Blair's worry and he found it easy to do.

 

"Then we don't go back." The simple answer felt good.

 

"Jim, that's your home." Blair didn't want some big sacrifice.

 

"No, Chief, home is with you."

 

Blair felt that odd squeeze in his chest. Never had four words ever meant so much, Blair beamed, the love showing openly in his eyes, "Jim, man..."

 

West returned before Blair could complete his sentence, but his eyes conveyed all the love he was feeling. Jim basked in the glow they radiated.

 

"I must return to the office, but I can drop you off on the way back. Tonight, there is an informal gathering, a tradition of sorts, for the closing of a major case. Seven o'clock, gentlemen. I'll send a car."

 

"Not fancy dress?" Jim wanted clarified.

 

"Heavens no," West grinned.

 

Blair snickered, "Fancy dress here, Jim, is like a costume ball back home." Blair laughed outright at Jim's chagrined expression.

 

West broke in and clarified, "Ties not required."

 

In front of their hotel, Ellison and Sandburg agreed to the time and headed inside for a little down time.

 

West had overheard enough of the American's conversation to allow an idea to rattle around in his head. He had a busy afternoon ahead of him.

 

------

 

The car was waiting when the Americans arrived downstairs.

 

They hadn't booked their return trip home yet, they needed to talk with West. They weren't sure if they were needed for the inquiry.

 

Simon had been glad they had wrapped up the case so quickly and requested they keep him posted on their intended return. Jim could tell the Captain was ambivalent about their return. He elected not to share that with his partner.

 

Instead, he had made sensuous love to his guide and mate. Taking him to the edge several times before granting the beg for release.

 

Blair finally got the shared shower he had bemoaned missing the last few days.

 

They were dropped off at Kensington and Chelsea in front of the Pasha Restaurant. Blair was pleased that Roger had remembered his like of Moroccan food.

 

The noise level was loud and Jim grounded before they had stepped out of the foyer area. Blair waited for Jim to let go before moving into the restaurant.

 

All the members of the task force were there and conversation was half and half about work. Jim shared some of their cases and also talked about the French art case.

 

The food was good, as were the spirits; both the drinkable and the emotional kind. Roberts, Morris, Hilliard and Kent left one by one until Jim and Blair were left alone with Roger and Gordon.

 

The four left the restaurant and headed down the street to Topman Pub.

 

Roger West paid for a round before sitting back and eyeing the Americans. "I have an idea I wish to run by you lads. Get your thoughts."

 

Jim and Blair both gave the Superintendent their full attention.

 

"We have many different departments and agencies working on crime, most within the box." West smiled at Blair. "What I envision is having a few permanent outside the box thinkers."

 

Blair leaned forward and guessed, "So, you would like us to help you select them."

 

"No, actually, I want you two. Would you consider relocating here?"

 

Jim turned his head quickly to look at his partner, this was his call. He couldn't help but wonder if the Superintendent hadn't overheard some of their luncheon conversation.

 

"What are you thinking?" Blair asked more to keep the conversation going to give himself time to think. He looked at Jim, unable to hide his delight at the prospect.

 

Jim gave his consent with the slightest movement of his head and eyes. Blair rubbed Jim's arm as he whispered sentinel soft, "You sure?" Jim nodded his head.

 

"You would operate independently and answer only to me. The home secretary believes it will take awhile for the mass of the force to think outside the box. Unfortunately, there is enough crime to keep one busy. What say you? Or do you need time to discuss it?" West nudged Venables, "Fancy a game of darts?"

 

Gordon smiled as he nodded his head. The two Yard men left the Americans to themselves.

 

"If we stay, and I'd like to, we'd have to tell him, Jim. I don't think we could hide your abilities for long. It's only fair to warn him what he's taking on." Blair leaned closer even though he didn't really need to.

 

"If you think it best," Jim's voice was filled with doubt.

 

"I think we can trust him. He seems very okay with our particular partnership, more so than Simon. We can't stay here otherwise, we'd need the obfuscating that he can do at his level." Blair couldn't help the smile that crossed his face.

 

Jim looked at the master of obfuscation himself, caught the twinkle and returned the smile. "I'll follow your lead, let you guide this one. I trust you, Blair." Jim basked in the adoring look that Blair bestowed on him.

 

Decided, they located the dart game and joined the action.

 

Gordon beat Roger out by a single throw and the spectators moaned as money exchanged hands. Roger held out his darts to Jim, wondering if he could repeat the results of his last outing. The American detective accepted them.

 

Venables didn't want another long game and challenged Jim to the best of three. Gordon went first, hitting just outside the center dot.

 

The same spectators that bet on West were now betting on Venables, especially after hearing Jim talk. They knew that most American pubs didn't even have a dart board.

 

Venables collected his darts off the board and turned to watch Ellison.

 

Instead of watching Gordon throw, Jim had spent the time learning the weight of each dart. He could compensate for any inconsistencies with the throw itself.

 

Blair bet on Jim and he wasn't disappointed as his sentinel hit dead center each time to the stunned amazement of the spectators. Blair pocketed his winnings and laughed as several more players challenged Jim, figuring he couldn't be that good every time.

 

The Sentinel played one more round and won, then declined further offers. The loser bought a round for Jim and his friends.

 

Blair pointed to a booth in the back and the men moved their drinks over.

 

Roger West looked expectantly, awaiting the answer he was counting on. He felt hopeful at the easy smiles the Americans wore.

 

Blair patted Jim's knee under the table, out of view, before starting. "Roger, we would be happy to accept, but," Blair put up his hand to forestall any comment by West. "It's imperative we divulge some confidential information first."

 

Gordon chuckled, "Ah, Blair, the relationship between you and Jim is no secret."

 

"Our personal one, yeah. Figured that after the Garon trail and all the subsequent press." Blair directed his smile to Jim. "No, I'm talking about Jim's abilities."

 

"Well, I could almost believe that you're a psychic, Jim," Gordon admitted.

 

Roger shook his head fondly at his friend's humor then indicated for Blair to continue, not sure what to expect.

 

"Our only stipulation is that this must remain confidential, even if you withdraw your offer."

 

Blair's change in demeanor had West sitting straight and giving his word at the requested confidentiality. Blair and Jim looked to Venables and he promised the same.

 

"No, he's not a psychic. He's a Sentinel." Confronted by two puzzled looks, Blair elaborated, "A sentinel is a term used for an individual with enhanced senses. You may have run across people with an extra good sense of smell or taste, two very common ones. Jim, here, has all five. It gives him a great advantage in picking up information."

 

Venables had all the remembered oddities fall into place. "You really could see all the clock faces in the photos, you weren't just guessing." Gordon liked having that explained.

 

"And you really did hear Mulligan in the house," the awe was plain in West's voice. "Could you actually see him, too?" Roger thought back to the many different times he wondered how Jim had seen or heard things no one else had.

 

"Yes, my hearing helped my eye sight. If you want the how, ask Sandburg, he understands what I do, I just follow his directions." Jim confirmed, the added, "You can see why I need to keep this confidential and out of my file. We don't need the criminals knowing of this advantage."

 

"Actually, we don't want anyone knowing of this. I imagine that the military and many governments wouldn't be above wanting to just keep him, run tests, make him into a human guinea pig." Blair was emphatic, "Jim's safety comes first."

 

"I can unquestionably understand the need to keep this secret, but why would you think I would be put off by this ability?" West was expecting more and waited.

 

"A downside to this ability is the chance of singularly focusing. A zone. A sentinel can become so focused on one sense that all else is excluded, included safety. To help prevent this, there is a guide. I am Jim's guide." Blair finished and sat back, waiting.

 

Jim added for clarification, "Another difficulty, I can see a lot further, even at night and sometimes that can be hard to explain in court. Listening equipment has become so sophisticated that most accept anything heard as just that, but some of the other senses are harder to come up with a credible explanation as to the how.

 

"We'll just have to make sure we have enough evidence to back it up." West was accepting of the idea. "I think we'd be very lucky to have the pair of you working with us."

 

Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg officially accepted the job offer proposed by Superintendent West. The men shook on the job and the secrecy. Venables bought the next round.

 

Jim gripped Blair's hand beneath the table and squeezed it. Their eyes met in joy.

 

They really had something to celebrate.

 

They really had something to celebrate.

 

The end.

 

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Author’s Acknowledgements:  Many thanks to Mary for the beta and Patt for the encouragement, she's the reason I'm here.