Murder in the Ruins by Krisser

Murder in the Ruins - Krisser

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This story is a sequel to Murder by Ritual, A Wake for Murder, Game for Murder, and Murder by Design.

~~~~~

Simon Banks and his son, Daryl, waited for the pilot to fix a problem with their helicopter. A rainforest outside Lima was a most inconvenient place to have a carburetor problem. Looking back at the downed machine, Captain Banks of the Cascade Police Department found it easier to deal with crime of his Washington state city than discussing this current problem with his teenage son.

His son, Daryl, on the other hand, had no such problem, speaking his opinion was easy. “Man, this really sucks. Three days in Lima, and all I do is go to museums and do homework. Now, look. Now I'm stuck in the middle of a jungle a zillion miles from nowhere. I'd rather be in school.”

Simon shook his head in frustration and agitation. “I hope you don't talk to your mother like this. Look, son, I'm sorry. I didn't exactly plan for the helicopter to break down. As soon as he gets it fixed, we're on our way fishing.”

Daryl rolled his eyes as he shrugged, “Yeah, right.”

Simon was puzzled at the tone and attitude, “Daryl, you love fishing.”

“No, Dad -- you love fishing.” Daryl walked off in the direction of the jungle, away from his dad.

Frustrated, Simon walked over to the pilot, “How much longer is this going to take?” His arm waved back and forth to encompass all the engine parts on the tarp.

The pilot didn’t look up as he answered, “Not long, señor. It looks like there was some dirt in the fuel line.”

Simon smiled as he turned to console his son, “Oh, there, Daryl -- You see, it's just... Daryl!” He called out but received no answer. Worried, he quizzed the pilot, “It's safe around here, isn't it?”

“Your son should not wander off, señor.” The pilot picked up the filter and a wrench continuing his work, all the while not making eye contact with his customer.

Not liking what the tone or the words conveyed, Simon headed down a small hill to the edge of a river. He called out, “Daryl!” as he spotted his son squatting on a big rock.

Amid a fierce discussion on the merits of fishing versus other activities they heard the helicopter’s rotors turning.

“Hey, it sounds like the helicopter's fixed. Wait. . . . what?” Simon didn’t even finish his sentence as they both watched their helicopter flying away up over the river.

Daryl asked, “Uh, Dad...?”

Simon gestured with one hand and shielded his eyes from the sun with the other as he yelled, “Hey!?”

“Dad, um...where's he going?” Daryl voice had lost its confident quality and sounded much like the little boy the father remembered.

As they craned their necks to see if the helicopter was just making a test run, a missile launched out of the trees, collided with the helicopter. Their transportation exploded mid air.

Simon grabbed his son close as he ordered, “Come on. Let's get out of here. Go!” He pushed him into the closest foliage for cover. Then they ran.

-----------

The shrill ring of the phone broke into the contented dreams of Blair Sandburg and Jim Ellison.

“We’re on vacation,” a mumbled compliant was spoken loud enough for sentinel ears. He groaned audibly as he checked the time: three thirty a.m.

The Sentinel didn’t bother opening his eyes. He located the offending tool with pinpoint accuracy. Probably because the phone was in the exact place it always was.

“Ellison.” The tone conveyed no joy.

“Jim?” The female voice inquired tentatively.

Jim sat up, recognizing the voice immediately. “Rhonda. Is something wrong?”

“Oh, yes,” the tears could be heard in her voice. “Simon’s helicopter went down in the area of that lake he was fishing at. His friend, Captain Sandoval, just called. Joel and Henri are planning on flying down in the morning. I just knew that I should call you. I’ve got Sandoval’s number.” Rhoada’s voice broke before she finished.

“You were right, Rhonda. I’ve got friends. I’ll see what I can get.” He jotted down the number.

“Keep me updated. Please. They all forget I care, too.”

“I promise, Rhonda.” Jim pressed the receiver down and let it up then pushed the numbers Rhonda gave him. “Captain Ernesto Sandoval, por favor.” Jim got his bag down from the closet as he waited to be connected. “Yes, Jim Ellison, what do you have on Simon Banks?” He listened to what little the Lima police had. “ Captain Sandoval, what about a rescue effort? . . . . un huh, all right, well, I’ll contact you when I arrive.” Jim put down the phone. He got up and finished packing.

“Jim, what's going on? Something back in Cascade?”

“Simon's helicopter went down somewhere in eastern Peru.”

“Oh, my god. Do they... do they know if there're any survivors?” Blair got up as well.

Jim shook his head, “They don't even know where it went down. The pilot must have been off-course. Ah, what ya doing, Chief?” he asked as he watched his guide pack his own things.

“Going with you.” Blair reacted instantly to the mutinous expression on his mate’s face. “We’re partners. We work best together.”

Blair’s words were so true Jim didn’t bother to argue.

---------

Airports were always an adventure. Blair would have enjoyed the keyed up excitement that bubbled within if it weren’t for the tragic circumstances that brought them here. He reminded Jim to dial down as they took off. They both slept. Blair because he was tired. Jim because he knew he might not get any for a while after they touched down.

They left one plane and worked their way to another. A much smaller plane. Simon’s friend was waiting for them.

“I appreciate your arranging things, Captain Sandoval.” Jim greeted the police captain then introduced Blair, “My partner, Dr. Blair Sandburg.”

Sandoval nodded, “It is the least I can do. Simon is a good man. The rain forest is a big place to search, señor. If our military couldn't find your friend's helicopter what makes you think you could?”

Jim wore a confident expression on his face, “'Cause I know where to look. A friend at the Defense Department got me this.” He spread the acquired map against the side of the plane. “It's a military satellite photo of the region. Now, you see this right here? According to the Pentagon analysts, it's the remains of a jet ranger helicopter.”

Blair nodded, “The same kind Simon and his son were in.” He didn’t want anyone to forget a child was involved.

Jim pointed to the area he wished to land. “Right here's a clearing where we can land. Probably where they were headed before they crashed. It's called the Almáguas Valley.”

Ramón Vasquez, the pilot, became very agitated, “The Almáguas Valley? Nobody told me we were heading there.”

Blair looked up to the cockpit. “Is there a problem?” Vasquez nodded his head almost violently, “It is swarming with guerillas. You wanna fly there, you find yourself another pilot.”

The Captain and pilot had a heated argument in Spanish, then the Captain turned to the passengers, “Our problem is solved. Vasquez will take us happily to the Almáguas Valley. Won't you, Vasquez?”

Vasquez looked at his instrument panel as he answered in a defeated voice. “Sí.” He banked against the mountains, to circle the valley. The pilot pointed it out, “Señores! The valley.”

Jim looked out the open door. “All right, according to the satellite photo, the crash site is at the north end of the valley. That's the clearing right there. The wreckage should be a little to the west.”

Vasquez was incredulous, “You want me to land in the clearing there? Impossible!”

“Why?” Both Jim and Blair asked.

“There's not enough room. Es verdad!”

Jim wasn’t put off, “Okay, let's make a fly-by and I'll parachute in.”

“Parachute?” Blair asked, hoping that the sentinel was truly focused on anything but him.

“Yeah.” He suited his actions to his words. He strapped a chute on.

The pilot’s expression matched his voice, “Over the jungle? You're crazy, señor.

Captain Sandoval was puzzled, “How will you get back then?”

“On foot if I have to. But I'm not leaving my friends.”

“I doubt that they're alive.” Vasquez told him his honest opinion.

It mattered not to Jim Ellison. “Then I'll bring back their bodies. Take us back over the south end of the valley.”

All saw the determination in the ex-army ranger.

Vasquez nodded, “One pass.”

Sandoval wished Jim luck as he prepared to jump.

Jim thanked him as he headed to the open door. He noticed, only then, his partner and guide putting on a parachute as well. “Sandburg, what the hell are you doing?”

“Going with you, partner. I used to go skydiving with a friend of mine. I was actually pretty good at it.”

Jim knew at that moment that his friend was lying through his teeth, but he had to admire his guts and determination. “I’ll be with you the entire way.”

“Never doubted it,” then for sentinel ears alone, ”Love you.”

The two men moved to the open hatch, pulled themselves to the edge and jumped from the aircraft.

----------

Blair landed in a tree not far from Jim. He watched as his partner unclipped his chute and climbed down the tree.

“Sandburg, unclip after you planted your feet,” Jim directed from below.

Blair thought it had looked much easier when Jim had done it. He did as requested and fell. “JIM!” His yell alerted all the birds in the area and they took to the sky as Blair hit the ground.

Jim sentinel-checked his mate immediately and found him unharmed. He then laughed aloud at the indignity of Blair’s position.

Blair couldn’t help laughing at himself. He stayed on the ground as he pulled leaves from his hair. He watched as Jim rolled up the chutes and tucked them under the bushes. He stood when the work was done only to start jumping and dancing around.

“All right, Tarzan, it's time to move out.” Jim smiled at his guide’s antics.

“Oh, wait a minute, Jim. I got something in my pants, man.”

“”I’ll say, but now’s not exactly the right time, Chief,” Jim couldn’t help teasing as he focused his senses on Blair.

Blair undid his pants and pulled out a lizard. He set the critter back on the ground, then zipped his pants. “Whoa! Oh, my god. You see that thing? Look at him.”

“He didn’t nibble on anything important, did he?” Jim feigned a worried look as he moved to his partner’s side.

“I’ll let you check up close and personal later.” Blair’s eyes told his partner that he wished there was enough time for the check up right then.

Jim grabbed him for a hug before burying his nose behind his ear. After a deep breath of Blairscent he ruffled his guide’s hair.

“Ah, Jim,” Blair pointed to the big, black jaguar draped across a fallen tree at least fifty feet away with a wolf by his side.

“You see that?” Jim recognized the cat from his dream.

“Yes, a wolf, too. Wolves aren’t indigenous. Our spirit guides, if I’m not mistaken.” Blair guessed.

“Okay.” Jim accepted the calm answer. His sentinel instincts perceived no danger.

The animals moved in a westerly direction before disappearing.

“I suggest that way.” Blair pointed west.

Jim nodded as he picked up his backpack. They took off.

-------

The Sentinel located the downed helicopter by scent long before he could see it. Even before being able to survey the site up close, Jim’s senses enabled him to know there was only one dead body and it was neither Simon nor Daryl.

“The dead man was probably the pilot.” Jim kept walking toward the crash site.

“Where are Simon and Daryl?” Blair looked all about, he hoped they were in hiding.

“I think I can distinguish Simon’s cigar, but I’m not absolutely sure. They were in this area but not on the chopper and they’re not here now.”

“Okay, Jim, you’ll need to isolate and separate.” The guide directed his sentinel.

Jim pulled his guide to his chest and drew in a deep breath of Blairscent, grounding himself. He was ready to extend his senses.

“Ok, Jim, let’s focus. Block out the scents from the crash and forest.” He watched his sentinel cock his head, “Now, see if you can isolate the familiar scents, use the color strands.”

Jim nodded, and with his hand on his guide’s back he blocked out the scents as requested. He separated the familiar and color-coded them until he was left with three individual stands.

“Simon, Daryl and the cigar. They were by the river’s edge, then up that hill and into the forest.” He pointed to the northeast. “Chief, there appear to be other men chasing or following them. Vehicle tracks head north.”

“Then so do we. Great job, Jim. You’re more amazing every day.”

Jim couldn’t help the pleased feeling that rushed his blood. Blair’s sincerity oozed from him and he was not so used to compliments that he could ignore it.

They were in their sixth mile when Jim stopped and cocked his head to the side. “Kids – I hear people . . . that way.” He pointed to just left of the direction they’d been traveling.

They entered what could only be described as a temporary village. The two men made for the densest concentration of voices. When they drew even with the first makeshift structure, Jim paused their steps to listen. He heard the Chopec language of Quechua being spoken.

Its familiarity was a comfort. He called out a greeting in the native language, the same that he had used in his last visit to Peru. A young woman exited a structure from the other end of the village. Jim switched to English upon seeing the Anglo woman.

“My name is Jim Ellison, this is Dr. Blair Sandburg, we’re here from Scotland Yard to rescue our friend who was stranded after his helicopter crashed.”

“Scotland Yard, thank god, I thought you were one of the mercenaries who had come back. My name is Kimberly Ashe. I’m a botanist from UCLA I’ve been living here with these Indians doing a survey on the disappearing plant life here in the rain forest. Then last week, men came to the village to recruit workers for their lumber camp. The chief said no. He thinks that cutting down the trees offends the forest gods.” She rambled in her anxiety.

Blair asked, “Mercenaries?”

Kimberley nodded, “Yes, and then three nights ago, the same men attacked the village and took all the adults prisoner. I managed to escape with the children.”

Blair looked around, “What children?”

Jim could already hear their whispers. Kimberley called out to her charges and then they were suddenly surrounded by more than thirty anxious children.

Kimberly shrugged as she explained further, “I didn't know where else to go. My radio was destroyed, all my medicines and supplies were taken, and the nearest town is a hundred miles to the west through the mountains. I didn't think the children could make it. At night, they cry for their parents.”

Before either man could question further, a boy entered the area, running, and speaking excitedly. Jim questioned the boy as they conversed in Quechua.

Blair looked back and forth between the two trying to follow the conversation. He was rusty in his Quechua. “What's he saying? What's going on?”

Jim finished his conversation with the child before translating, “They found a boy in the jungle. They’re bringing him back to the village. He's got dark skin.” Jim followed the boy as he ran back the way he came.

Blair and Kimberley followed as well, Blair called out to his partner, “You thinking it could be Daryl?”

“I know it is.” Jim had already recognized his friend’s son’s voice.

The boy and more children entered the village with Daryl.

“Daryl!” Jim called out to the frightened teen.

Daryl ran over to Jim and hugged the one face that was familiar. “They've got my dad.” Relieved that someone he knew was finally here to rescue his dad.

“The mercenaries?” Jim questioned.

“Drug dealers.” Daryl was adamant.

Blair handed Daryl his bottle of water and led the group back into the shade.

“Tell us what happened, Daryl.” Jim asked, needing the information but wanting the teen to calm down.

“After our helicopter blew up, it just blew up. Then men chased us and we got captured. At first they said it was a mistake, but then they found out that dad was a cop and they got suspicious. That night, I saw that they had Indians being forced underground and I got dad to check it out. They were making drugs. But they caught us. Dad staged some uprising so I could escape. They’re probably looking for me.”

Blair recognized that his partner had switched into rescue mode. He had to remind him that they were in this together. “We have to go get Simon.” He announced it calmly for Daryl’s sake.

“We?” Ellison asked.

“Partners.”

It was enough. Jim knew it would be a losing battle to argue. He nodded. “Okay, Blair, but in this you have to do exactly as I say. Nothing creative.”

“Me?” He put his hands up in surrender, “You got it,” Blair promised.

Jim wasn’t sure he believed it, but working with his partner, this partner, was always better than alone. He turned to Daryl, “Okay, I need details of the camp.”

Daryl shared everything that he could remember, glad to give over the job of freeing his dad to Jim. He remembered that Detective Ellison was cop of the year and his dad trusted him.

“I want to go, too.” Daryl announced after he was finished.

“Not this time, son. We need to move quick and it would be easier if I didn’t have to worry about you, ‘sides, your dad would kill me.” Jim smiled to take the sting out of rejection.

Kimberley arranged food and Jim searched for what weapons were available. Finding nothing in the makeshift village, the botanist gave them directions to the abandoned village. They promised to return with the missing villagers and Simon.

The village wasn’t that far and Jim retraced the path used and found it easily. After a through check there, he still didn’t find much.

“We’ll be facing twenty men or more. Heavy weapons, armored vehicles. All we got is one gun and a couple rounds of ammunition. I did find these in one of the huts.” Jim held up a couple of crossbows, arrows and several blowdarts. “This is all I'll need. These darts are tipped with curare. Not enough to be lethal, but they will cause temporary paralysis. You take the gun.” He held it out to Blair.

“I’d rather have a crossbow. I know how to use that. Had to before. I’m not so good with a gun. Broad side of a barn and all that.” Blair shrugged at his partner’s pained expression.

Jim stuffed the gun in his belt and swung a crossbow over his shoulder. The other he handed to Blair along with some arrows. They headed in the direction Daryl indicated.

The long walk taxed the scholar’s body but not his mind. One thought above all else clamored for attention. Spirit guides. Most native peoples legends were chalked full of them, usually associated with shaman or medicine men of the tribes. He knew that Burton had written of them in connection with sentinels, but this was the first Blair had experienced it for himself.

He remembered Jim’s dreams about the black panther and wolf. Last month they had identified a newly online sentinel and helped him. Native peoples would say that the panther was Jim’s animal spirit and it had been trying to talk to him. Blair knew he agreed with that assessment.

Jim had identified with the jaguar and Blair knew he was the wolf, an American wolf, no less. He wondered if that meant anything. More research for all his free time. Blair couldn’t help smiling at that.

Up ‘til now they had only been in Jim’s dreams, but today, they had both seen them while they were awake. Right after a harrowing experience, but still awake. And, a biggie, Blair reminded himself, and they both saw the same thing at the same time. Blair knew he was in for a considerable amount of research when they got back.

“Jim, any time, and I mean any time, asleep or awake that you see the jaguar or wolf, you tell me. Not later, but when it happens, I know there is significance in that phenomena.”

“I don’t think that’s the most important issue just now.” Jim didn’t turn around, just trudged ahead making a passable path for his partner.

“Actually, Jim, I think it’s related to all this, being here. Humor me, just tell me when you see ‘em next.”

“Right, Chief.”

Jim found the original village with little trouble. Tracking the vehicles from there was easy. His army Ranger training combined with his enhanced senses had him noticing the smallest of details. The forest had no secrets from him.

“You seem to move with ease through this jungle, is this close to where you served before?” Blair asked when they had to slow down to scale a steep area.

“Not really, La Montaña region is much closer to Cusco. That’s about two hundred miles southeast of here.”

“Does it feel the same?” The guide asked quietly as he sat for a rest at the top of the hill.

Jim thought about it for a few minutes before answering, “Ya know, Chief, when I was last here, I know the senses were online but I didn’t know that’s what it was and I felt like I worked on autopliot. All this other stuff was kinda like a fog.”

“Must have been rough.”

“You don’t know the half of it, but I had to get the tribe ready for combat. We were ordered to contact the local tribes and organize a militia. Those men and I have held that Chopec Pass for eighteen months. At that time, one set of revolutionist guerrillas were determined to take that area. We repelled them repeatedly, by the time rescue came I was tired. You know, Chief, now that I really think about it, I never grounded. I was on alert status all the time, if it hadn’t been for Incacha, my mentor, I probably would have timed out in one of those zone-outs.” Jim stood, ready to push on. He completely missed the overtly possessive expression that flitted across his guide’s face at the mention of his mentor’s name.

Early afternoon put the rescuers just outside the Merc’s camp. With his guide’s help, the Sentinel piggybacked his hearing with his sight and could see and hear all the activity within. Reaching out as far as he did, Jim also learned that they had a tail.

“Daryl is a few miles behind us. Why couldn’t he just do as he was told and stay safe?” Jim really didn’t want the added worry of Simon’s son.

“Definition of teenager, do exactly the opposite of what you’re told.”

Jim couldn’t help but chuckle at the truth in Blair’s statement, “Guess so, Chief. But now you’ll have to stay back and wait for him. Then you need to get a vehicle from that motorpool in the southeast corner and have it waiting.”

“Jim, you’ll need me,” Blair began to complain.

“Not in this, this is what I was trained to do. Covert infiltration. I’m better off alone. You’re the backup.”

Jim’s logic could not be refuted in this so Blair agreed with a reluctant nod. “I want a kiss before you go.” He demanded and stepped forward.

Jim buried his fingers in Blair’s hair and met his lips half way. The kiss held a promise of more to be shared later.

The Special Forces Ranger took most of the curare tipped darts but left the gun with Sandburg as insurance. He slipped silently into the forest and disappeared from sight.

Blair sat down to await the rebellious teen.

------

Jim climbed a tree outside camp and studied the mechanics of the camp. His opportunity to gain entrance undetected came quite suddenly. A transport truck was heading for the gate and the armed guards scrambled to open it. Jim was on the ground and rolled under the vehicle before the guard had unlocked the gate. He hung onto the undercarriage as it passed into the mercenaries’ camp.

He rolled himself right out again when the vehicle paused before entering another fenced yard. Jim hid behind a tarp covering wood and surveyed the area. He saw natives being pushed into a hole in the ground nearby and figured that Simon was being held there. He used his enhanced hearing to double check and he was proven correct.

Jim waited until most of the men began unloading the truck to make his move. He knocked out the two lackeys guarding the drug lab. He pulled them out of sight before he descended into the pit. The underground chamber was quite large and quite full of the captured natives working on the cocoa leaves. He heard Simon brazenly confronting more of the armed mercs.

Jim blew a red-feathered dart into a bag Simon was moving to get his attention. It worked.

Simon looked for the owner of said dart and was relieved to see Jim hidden in back, ready to get involved. Simon swung the bag of cocoa leaves round hard and knocked a guard down. Jim blew another dart, this time hitting another guard. He fell without a sound. Then Ranger Ellison took out the guard that turned to see his comrade fall. Simon knocked out the remaining guard.

“Jim, good to see you, man.” The man’s voice said what his words couldn’t.

“Same here, Simon. Daryl’s safe.”

Simon nodded his head in relief.

Jim spoke to the natives in Quechua and they helped tie up all the men inside. Jim cocked his head, listening, then he told the natives to get up and look for the truck being driven by the man with the long hair.

“Sandburg?” Simon inquired as he climbed up the ladder.

“Yup. He insisted on coming.” Jim waited for the last native to exit before he lobbed a grenade into lab.

Outside, Blair had waited for Daryl to show up. Instead of reading him the riot act, Blair just told him to follow and remain quiet. They arrived in time to see Jim enter the pit. Blair made for the motor pool.

Voice just above a whisper, Blair told Daryl, “Okay, we need some keys.” Unable to find any he commented, “God, can you believe these guys? Who's going to steal a truck in the middle of the jungle?”

Daryl cocked his head to the side as he looked at his companion, “We are, man.”

Blair shrugged with a sheepish smile, “Right.” Since Blair couldn’t find any keys he knew he had to hot-wire the truck. With expertise he learned as a teen, he pulled the appropriate wires and the engine started on the first try.

“Got the truck, Jim, we’ll pull up as you exit.” Blair said aloud for the sentinel ears.

Blair saw Simon exit followed by the natives and put the truck into drive. As the men ducked behind the wood shack, the ground shook and exploded. By that time, natives were piling into the truck and Daryl was hugging his father.

Simon looked across his son to the driver. “Thank you, Dr. Sandburg. Now, let’s get the hell out of here. Go! Go! Come on, Sandburg. Drive!” He jumped on the outside of the passenger door, gun at the ready.

Blair gunned the truck and headed to the camp entrance.

The drug lord, Reicher, had just come upon his fallen men when the lab exploded. He shouted commands to his remaining men to stop the policemen at all costs. They fired at will. The gunfire was returned by Simon and Jim.

Watching the fleeing truck, Reicher decided to take matters into his own hands. He grabbed a bazooka and aimed it at the truck.

Jim jumped off the moving truck and took aim with his crossbow. He waited a few seconds for Reicher to engage the device then hit the arm holding the canon with the dart. Reicher’s arm dropped and the bazooka hit the ground at his feet blowing him up. Jim threw grenades at the stockpile of weapons and ran for the truck. Blair slowed the truck just enough to let Jim jump on and drove them out of camp.

Amid all the explosions help arrived in the guise of H and Joel with Captain Sandoval and the Lima Militia.

--------

“While flying over to the site of the downed chopper we saw explosions and knew it had to be you, Jim.” H told his ex-coworker.

“We come to your aid and what do we find?” Joel asked of Simon before he answered his own question, “Sandburg driving a truck full of kidnapped men and women with Daryl at his side. Our own Captain hanging off the side of the truck, shooting away and Ellison leaping into a moving vehicle. Almost feels like Cascade. The Lima police had to wonder why their help had been requested.” Joel smiled all the while he relayed his summation.

“They have the area guerillas and drug smugglers wrapped up in one case. They return looking like competent policemen.” Simon reminded the group that had returned to the Peruvian village.

Captain Sandoval had left them a vehicle for their use, as he had wanted to take the culprits back to Lima as soon as possible.

The villagers had a grand feast in honor of the Americans that saved their lives and their way of life.

Jim and Blair were given their own hut. After several hours of celebration, they made for their hut and had a private celebration of their own. All were safe and now they were finally on vacation.

Sentinel explored his guide with his tongue; the wiggling body beneath only fueled the obsessed sentinel until he sucked every drop of essence his guide had to give.

A sated guide used ghost soft touches to enflame his sentinel to the point of silent begging. He returned the favor with a suction job to rival any Hoover. Amid the ongoing noisy celebration outside, a contented couple found sleep within.

-----

The six Americans left as the sun began to lighten the sky and made it to Lima just before the sun set. The driving was shared by those with driver’s licenses, and even though Daryl volunteered his services, he received five negative responses.

Daryl shrugged, “It’s not like I can hurt anything out here.”

“Us! You could hurt us,” H jabbed his boss’s son in the side as the others laughed.

Daryl didn’t complain, he was actually just happy to have his dad alive and grateful that they were all safe and heading back to a city. Any city was good in his estimation, they had to be safer than the jungle.

When they hit the outskirts of Lima, Simon directed Joel to his hotel. He desperately wanted a change of clothes. The others booked rooms and headed for the showers.

“Simon,” Jim stopped his ex-boss before he closed the door, “Call Rhonda. She’s real worried.”

Simon’s face softened and he assured his friend that he would.

Thirty-five minutes later, they were all headed for food and beer. Daryl’s request for beer met the same response he got for volunteering to drive, a resounding no.

Daryl shrugged good-naturedly, you got nothing if you didn’t try.

When they returned, the night manager, Miguél Rosa rushed out at the group. “I need the American policeman.” He was surprised when all the adults looked his way. He checked the paper in his hand, “Señor Captain Banks.”

“That’s me.” Simon stepped forward.

“I’ve been waiting for you to return. Fifteen calls since you left, you have received. Captain Sandoval called once, he was the only sane one. The Governor of Washington, as he was so fond of saying, called seven times, stating it was imperative that you call immediately. He did not seem to understand that you had just come back from the dead.” Miguél did not realize that the chuckles were for his description of the Governor. “The Mayor of Cascade called six times, didn’t leave his name, just that he was the mayor. And I thought that only españa politicos were loco. The other call was from an Officer Connor from the Cascade police department. She had a funny accent, I could not understand her yelling. Please, señor Banks, por favor, come in and make the phone stop ringing.”

Simon tried to ignore the chuckles which turned into laughs from the others. “Stuff it,” he directed at them as he followed the night manager inside.

Blair looked at Joel and H, “They just happy he’s alive?”

“Not Connor, she’s probably pissed, hated being left behind, even if she was left in charge.” H answered.

“Cascade’s probably quiet as a mouse with her in charge,” Jim said as straight-faced as he could manage.

“How do you figure that, Jim?” Joel asked.

“She probably arrested all the residents and anyone visiting.”

H and Joel laughed, H commented between breaths, “Sounds just like her.”

Joel turned to Blair, “It’s always fun watching Connor on an arrest. The perp always underestimates her until they’re slammed against a wall, building, vehicle, doesn’t matter, they’ve been pinned before they’ve drawn their second breath.” Joel chuckled again.

Blair remembered her from the first time he had visited Major Crime.

A few more Connor stories were bandied about before Simon returned, looking annoyed.

“Seems I’ll get to see Machu Picchu while I’m here.”

“Great, Simon,” Blair commented immediately, ”It’s an amazing . . .” Blair broke off as Simon’s expression registered and switched gears, “What happened?”

“Bud Torrin, VP at Cyclops Oil was killed there yesterday and Spaulding, president at Cyclops got the mayor and governor involved. Now, since I’m already down here and not dead, they want me to deal with it.” Simon took a deep breath, “So tomorrow, Joel, I want you and H to take Daryl home and take command of the department. Fax me anything you get. Connor’s spitting mad because she’s missed all this.” Simon had to smile at that.

“Da-aa-ad!” Daryl made it sound like three syllable word.

“I’m sorry, son. I’ll be too busy here and your mom has already been freaking out. Any delay, she’ll send troops.” Simon rubbed his son’s head. “When I get back, we’ll go to some concert you want to go to.” He paused to really look at his son, “Okay?”

Daryl’s eye’s lit up, “Really? Cool.”

Simon smiled and sighed. Well at least one person was happy.

Joel and H left to make travel plans as Jim and Blair walked Simon and Daryl back to their room.

Jim looked to Blair, who sensed what his partner wanted and nodded his agreement.

“Simon, Blair and I are on vacation. If you want our help, we can go along.” Ellison offered to his former boss.

“I didn’t want to ask, but I’d be grateful if you did. Jim, you’ve been here before and Blair, this may be just up you alley. Torrin was killed with a blow-dart.”

----------

Blair was excited to be in the area of the Urubamba Valley. He couldn’t help but share that excitement with his friends. “Machu Picchu, which in Quechua means Old Mountain, is sometimes called the ‘Lost City of the Incas’. This is one place I honestly love, the feeling of history here is still so fresh. I almost expect some of the Inca people to come through the pass.”

Jim smiled at hearing Blair in professor mode. His voice had a timber that soothed all his nerves. It was like waking from a nap completely refreshed. As his last stay didn’t include famous sites, Jim made sure to pay attention.

“This is a well-preserved pre-Columbian Inca ruin. The old school had the Inca down as a relatively unimportant tribe until the time of Sinchi Rocawho, the first figure in Inca mythology. Anthropologists today are rethinking old conclusions with new evidence being found. They were much smarter than first realized.” Blair paused as he took in the breath-taking view of the cloud forest surrounding them. The ancient ruins were just ahead.

Captain Sandavol found himself mesmerized with his own history. “Dr. Sandburg, you seem quite passionate about one our native tribes. Have you studied them extensively?”

“I’m an anthropologist, the dead can still talk to us if we listen, just not with words. I like to listen.” Blair smiled, his eyes drinking in the sights.

Lieutenant Gomez was not enraptured with the Americans. He was irritated that they were to be included in the investigation. He ignored the doctor’s words about his own country. He knew his history better than any gringo.

When they came upon the actual ruin, Simon turned to the Peruvian cops and asked, “Whereabouts did the death occur?”

Sandoval pointed to the center of the closest ruin, but Jim had already located the murder scene. Blair stepped up next to his sentinel and put his hand on his shoulder to ground him.

Simon saw the faded chalk mark and walked around the body outline. There really wasn’t much to see here. He looked to where Jim was and wondered what he had found to study so intently. He watched as Sandburg took pictures.

Initial pictures completed, Sentinel and guide walked the perimeter. Blair took notes and more photos of whatever Jim pointed out. He located shoe prints, cigarette butts and vehicle tracks.

“I can make out hundreds of shoe prints but most are from well before the murder. I only tagged the most recent.” Jim pointed to several prints to show him the difference between the older and newer impressions.

“Jim, I can’t see any of what you’ve indicated. I don’t see any of the old tracks and can hardly make out the fresher ones. We should find out if Sandoval’s people already dealt with them. Then I could dust these for better pictures.” Blair worked the vehicle prints as Jim went to check with Simon and Sandoval.

“Dust away, Chief, Sandoval said that they have all the pictures they want. They seem to feel there was too much contamination to the murder site to count on much. Gomez didn’t say anything.”

Blair looked up at his partner, “They don’t have a sentinel working for them.” He finished the vehicle tracks and moved to all the shoe prints that Jim indicated.

After he had finished, he could see what Jim meant. One set of prints led directly to the vehicle and one set went from the vehicle to the murder site.

Only after Jim finished checking the whole area did he go to where the body was actually found. He looked for scuffle marks and found none. He looked for signs of a struggle and again, found none. He knelt at the nearest set of shoe prints to where the victim had lain. It became obvious to him.

“This was a body dump. He wasn’t killed here.” Jim stood and dusted off his knees.

“How can you say that?” Gomez asked with skepticism.

“Only one set of prints lead in and back to the vehicle. The set leading in are heavier, pressed deeper into the dirt like he was carrying something heavy.”

The Peruvian policeman shook his head, “We have all but ruled out those prints. They didn’t match the shoe size of the victim. A blow dart killed Torrin and a blowdart could have come from any point around here. The killer never needed to be close.” Gomez concluded.

Sandoval was satisfied with his lieutenant’s conclusions.

Jim was about to argue, but a look from Simon stopped him and he kept silent. He’d wait until Blair blew up and printed the pictures.

Simon, Sandoval and Gomez headed back to the jeep. Jim kept Blair from joining them.

“Chief, I can detect the bare essence of a scent that is out of place but still vaguely familiar.” Jim admitted, ill at ease with the acknowledgment.

“Can you follow it?”

“It’s just between here and where the vehicle stood.”

“Okay. Out of place how?”

“Not part of the jungle or even the outdoors. It’s not a body product scent either. Just hit a familiar cord. I should know it.” Jim closed his eyes, searching for the memory.

“Okay. Don’t forget it, just keep it on the back burner in case we run into it again.” Blair took Jim’s admission very seriously.

“You got it, Chief. Let’s go. I don’t want to walk back.

They were driven down to the helicopter and boarded in silence. The pilot took off after everyone was fastened in. The chopper circled out over the ancient ruin as it gained altitude.

Jim noted a color out of place and focused his sight on it. “Swing back around. There’s a body on that far side of the outcropping.”

“I didn’t see anything,” Gomez said. He just assumed the American was trying to out show him. He didn’t even look that way.

Captain Sandoval respected the America Ellison and directed the pilot to make another circle.

“There, that blue seemed out of place. See, it’s body paint.” Jim kept his eyes on the body.

The pilot didn’t see what was being described and flew the chopper closer to the mountainside.

Simon knew that Jim had seen something and strained his eyes to find it. As the helicopter got closer, the body was then easier to pick out. “Yeah, you’re right, Jim. Good catch,” Simon commended his ex-detective. He hoped that the discovery itself would occupy the Peruvian policemen so that how the discovery was made would fade.

They found an Indian in an unnatural position caught on the rocks on the east side of the ruin outcropping. He was far enough down that they would need ropes and a litter to retrieve him. Sandoval called in for more assistance as Gomez set out to see if he could work on how the body got there. Jim and Blair followed.

First, though, Blair wanted to snap more pictures, to preserve the area that Gomez was sure to walk over and disturb. He got everything from where the vehicle stood to the edge of the ruin.

Jim surveyed the edges all along the outcropping and once his partner was done with the photographing he joined Gomez at the edge.

Lieutenant Gomez knelt to look over the edge, then stood and dusted off his knees. He remarked in general, “Yes, the victim is a jungle Indian.” He walked away, not waiting for the Americans.

Blair joined Jim near the edge and handed him the camera. Jim nodded as he took the digital camera, he had the better reach and he knew exactly what he wanted photographed.

After he finished taking pictures, the Sentinel froze with his head cocked to the side.

Blair checked for a zone, but found a working sentinel instead.

“Chief, ‘member that vague scent I got from around the Torrin spot, it’s here with the Chopec as well.”

“Not a generic jungle Indian?” That comment has rubbed the anthropologist the wrong way. The Guide stepped up to the Sentinel and draped his arm across the broad back. “Back track the scent,” the guide tone commanded.

Jim did as asked. He was startled at how quickly he was able to separate the individual scents and color code them. He closed his eyes and followed the one strand from the body, up to the ledge, across the top of the ruin to where the vehicle stood. The Sentinel then replayed visually in his head the area surrounding the vehicle track. He recalled the tracks that they had taken the cast of before and how the shoeprints led to where Torrin’s body had been found. There were no discernable shoe prints across the rocky ruins, not even that he could see. The only area of note was a tuft of crumbled grass very near the edge.

“What is it, Jim?” Blair asked, watching the intent expression that seemed more internally focused.

“The Chopec body was dumped just like Torrin’s. Something’s going on, but it’s not what the locals believe.”

“What about Simon?”

“Simon is too far out of his jurisdiction.”

On the flight back, the two Peruvian officials spoke quietly in Spanish. Blair tracked the conversation out of possible defense rather than curiosity.

Gomez was upset at the American interference and while he understood that the American police captain was his Captain’s friend, he did not understand how they could be allowed to interfere in his case. Sandoval reminded his lieutenant that he was the captain and that their own governor wished for the collaboration. Gomez accepted Sandoval’s words, but he didn’t like them.

‘No news there,’ Blair thought to himself.

Back in Cusco, the men agreed to meet back at headquarters after the two hour lunch break.

The Americans lunched together, then separated when they returned to the hotel. Simon needed to make phone calls, Blair and Jim wanted to upload the digital pictures to the laptop.

“Man, I sure wish we had all our lab equipment. We could get the hard copy detail to back up all the information you’ve collected.” Blair lamented.

“You want to be the one that tells West he was right. He wondered aloud before we left if we could go on vacation without getting involved with solving a crime.” Jim smiled his reminder.

“Game – set – match.”

“Blair, there’s something else,” Jim waited until he had his partner’s full attention. “I recognized the body paint on the Chopec warrior. He’s from the same tribe that took me in. I stayed with them for eighteen months. It’s Incacha’s tribe.” Jim took a deep breath, he actually felt better for the confession to Blair. Honesty was such an important issue, as was the trust between them. Jim realized this was truly the first time in his life that he had such trust.

“And you didn’t mention this to Simon because . . ?” Only curiosity motivated the question.

“I was afraid that if Gomez found out about the connection he wouldn’t let us continue to help Simon. And, I know that there’s something more going on around here.”

“I agree.”

-------

When they returned to headquarters, they met Sandoval in his office. Lieutenant Gomez joined them promptly and his demeanor conveyed his excitement.

“The situation is now obvious, Captain Banks. Either the American shot the Indian warrior and he in turn was killed by a second warrior that has now fled back into the jungle. Or, after the American shot the warrior, he had enough time before dying to send his blow dart and attempt to escape over the edge, where instead he met his death. Also, Mr. Torrin worked with the oil company that was trying to annex Indian land. It’s possible that it may have not been by legal means, so that takes care of motive. I think we have the case solved.” Gomez was quite satisfied with himself.

“I don’t believe that will satisfy all the parties involved. We still haven’t apprehended Torrin’s killer, no matter how justified you might think his death may have been.” Simon was not satisfied by a long shot. He also believed his gut, didn’t want to, but it rarely failed, and this time it was telling him that Jim was onto something and not to believe the bullshit Gomez was spouting.

Gomez was not to be sidetracked, “I’m sure that the forensics will bear me out. The Indian, shot in defense by Torrin, fell off the edge of the ruin.”

“Very tidy.” Complacent words conveyed in a tone that said anything but.

Captain Sandoval had no reason not to believe his man, but it was obvious to him that his friend was not so inclined. “Thank you, Gomez. I will take them to the morgue and let them see for themselves.” His tone dismissed his officer. The Peruvian Captain matched action to words and led the Americans to the elevator. They stepped in and headed to the morgue to view and examine the bodies.

Sentinel soft, Blair commented, “You sure know how to plan an entertaining vacation, Jim.”

Jim’s snort was the only reply.

Two floors down the elevator dinged and a woman stepped on and spoke in rapid Spanish to Sandoval.

“It seems there is a phone call for you, my friend.” Sandoval translated for his friend.

So, Simon found himself waylaid by another phone call from the governor. Captain Banks waved his former detective on and went with Sandoval to deal with the pain-in-the-ass politician.

Sentinel and Guide headed down again. Upon reaching the basement, Blair introduced the two of them in fluent Spanish to the medical examiner. Jim was surprised yet again by his partner’s many understated abilities. Blair didn’t brag much on himself and his flair for languages was another hidden talent.

Blair smiled and turned to his partner, “Señor Ortiz does understand English, but feels the details will be conveyed more accurately in Spanish.”

Jim nodded, he knew that his personal professor would eventually translate verbatim all that was said.

“I’ve only done the briefest of checks on the newest body, but he died before the American they brought in first.” Blair translated sentence by sentence, as the information was too important to paraphrase.

Jim’s eyes widened at this information. He couldn’t help feeling pleased that Gomez’s theory was shot to hell.

The medical examiner continued with Blair translating, “The Indian I believe, is Chopec.” Jim nodded. “He died almost immediately. Bullet through the heart. Not close range, possibly twenty feet away. Didn’t die on the ledge, blood pooling was wrong. I’ll have more later. The American didn’t die where he was found, either. He was placed there at least ten hours after death. Also, no GSR on his hands, clothes or hair and none was lodged in his pores.”

“So you do not believe that the dead man fired a weapon at all.” Jim asked and Blair translated, although the doctor was already shaking his head in a negative response.

“Did you find any kind of other residue on either man?” Jim asked next.

“No. Do you suspect drugs?” The examiner looked through the lab results.

“Not thinking drugs, more like hand lotion or aftershave.” Jim shrugged, irritated that he still couldn’t place the elusive scent.

“I can recheck, but nothing was noted and nothing appeared on the toxicology.” The Medical Examiner moved over to the body enclosures and pulled out the other body.

Jim and Blair joined him, Blair snapped several digital photos from different angles. Jim found the scent but this body was not the origin.

“The body of the American was killed by curare poison overdose, but it wasn’t administered from a blow-dart tube. It was stabbed into his neck by a hand. The pressure around the entry is wrong. The usual technique lets the dart lose impact speed and the wound is small and it has a characteristic downward pull. This entry is wider and has the faint impression of the dart base.”

Jim looked to where Dr. Ortiz indicated and saw immediately the full imprint of the dart base.

“He died as he fell. More poison was administered than is usually associated with a single dart. He lay where he originally fell for several hours before he was moved. He has three separate blood pooling patterns. He didn’t fight his assailant. The assailant was probably standing right beside him.” Dr. Ortiz directed them to the evidence locker. He handed Jim a pair of latex gloves, then the dart.

Jim automatically sentinel scanned the dart. He held it out and turned it for Blair to see. He recognized the dart signature but didn’t mention that out loud. What he did mention was a great deal more important.

“Each Chopec warrior paints his own darts. To a layman they might all look similar or even the same, but they are not. This dart is painted like a Chopec dart, but a Chopec didn’t paint it.”

“A fake,” Blair nodded, not all that surprised.

The Medical examiner nodded as well. “The Chopec people take great pride in their work. No warrior would allow this sub-standard paint job on their creation. You can see the uneven lines and overlapping. Señor Ellison is correct, each warrior paints his own and those creations are like fingerprints, no two are the same. The American was not killed by a Chopec. Unfortunately, the dart has no fingerprints on it.” Dr Ortiz replaced the dart into the evidence bag.

Jim was relieved. Collaboration of their ideas from an impeachable source, the Peruvian ME. At least now, hopefully, there wouldn’t be a witch-hunt for the Chopec.

“Thank you.” Blair shook the doctor’s hand. “May we return with further questions?”

“Of course.”

In silent agreement, they waited until the elevator doors closed before discussing the new information.

“I’m thinking our Lieutenant Gomez will not be pleased with his medical examiner’s conclusions,” Blair commented as he pushed the up button.

“I’m not sure what Simon will be able to do here. No matter that there is some joint department cooperation, he is still well out of his jurisdiction. Well, I guess we’ll see just how strong his friendship is with Captain Sandoval.” Jim smushed his lips together as he thought of upcoming conversations.

“I’m thinking a lot more will depend on which governor will want to win the posturing contest.” Blair’s words sounded more cynical than his tone.

“Crime solving should remain separate from politics.” Jim sighed, he knew first hand how often it wasn’t kept separate.

“Makes me appreciate Superintendent West all the more.” Blair nudged his partner before the elevator door opened.

Ellison and Sandburg searched out Simon Banks. They wanted him privy to the information they had just received before Gomez got it.

Simon rubbed his aching temples. Both the Governors wanted a speedy solution. The CEO of Cyclops Oil wanted retribution. Lieutenant Gomez had figured he was done with the Americans. His ex-wife made jackals at a fresh kill look like newborn puppies and now Ellison and Sandburg, ex-detectives of his department, drop an even larger can of worms for him to deal with. Being trapped in the Peruvian jungle had been a cakewalk next to this.

“What would you like us to do, Simon?” Jim asked the weary-looking man in a quiet voice.

Captain Banks sighed, then shook it off, compartmentalized all the particulars and focused on the team in front of him.

“Joel faxed info on Cyclops Oil and most of what Gomez said was true. They were trying to take advantage of the Chopec in their attempt to annex more land. Negotiations broke off four days ago.”

Blair looked up from the fax, “And two of the seven players are dead twenty-four hours later by two different means. Leading us to believe it’s two different killers.” Blair stated to the surprise of both men.

With a slightly puzzled look, Jim looked from Simon to his partner, “You’re thinking there’s only one killer?”

“Both vics bodies dumped and the same scent found around each. No GSR on Torrin, yeah, I am thinking one killer.”

“Guys, whoa.” Simon broke into their speeding train of thought. “No one here will buy that. You’ll need some powerful evidence, tangible evidence to convince Gomez. Chopec art, footprint depths and scents won’t fly here.” Simon rubbed his temples, already hating himself for his upcoming suggestion. “Jim, do you think you can follow the vehicle track off Machu Picchu to where they may end up?” Simon hated talking about the sentinel thing, but it may be the only way to get some answers.

Jim looked to his guide.

Blair answered for the both of them, “Yeah, Simon, if there are tracks, I know Jim will find them.”

The confidence in his guide’s voice warmed the center of the Sentinel’s heart.

“A helicopter would be best.” Blair requested as he closed down his laptop.

“I’ll arrange one for tomorrow morning, first light. Now, I just have to explain all this to Ernesto.” Simon sighed again.

------

Free for the evening, they opted for a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that lived up to its reputation. When their appetite for nourishment was appeased, their appetite for carnal pleasures took precedence. For that they returned to the hotel.

A sentinel shower to wash off the days grime, was just the beginning. Jim washed Blair’s hair very thoroughly. Blair leaned back against Jim, loving the massage quality those fingers wrought over his head. Sometimes those sentinel fingers would work their way down, sometimes the sentinel tongue explored, but today it was the sentinel’s mouth. It started behind the ear, where he nosed it, releasing his guide’s scent. Then, the lips began their own private journey. They feasted on neck and shoulders before they found their way back up to soft lips, ones the sentinel loved better than any other living thing. Lips that he cherished as he was cherished in return. He worked them intently with a gentleness that was born out of the love that Blair had bestowed on him.

The Sentinel’s passion was enflamed by the little noises he heard and the racing blood within that he could track. He forced his lips down the furry chest and suckled the treasured peaks that rose into his mouth. He loved the writhing his attention to detail could elicit.

All his senses called him lower and he worshipped the flesh that grew and exploded just for him. He drank the essence of his guide knowing there wasn’t a finer elixir in the whole vastness of life.

He turned Blair gently and wedged his hardness within the crack. With three thrusts he emptied himself as their scents mixed together, yet again.

Once the running water ran cool, Jim wrapped Blair within a fluffy towel and gently dried his partner, his partner in all things.

A nap was deemed necessary and as they were on vacation, they caved.

----------

They were up before first light so that they could meet the prearranged helicopter. Simon had told the pilot that it was a mapping assignment and to have great patience.

Blair laughed as the pilot relayed Simon’s instructions.

Back at Machu Picchu, they were to start atop the ruin but Blair brought the photos of the tire tracks just in cast the actual tracks had faded or disappeared altogether.

“I want to backtrack the prints – see where the vehicle came from. I’ve already discovered where the tracks go, they led to the town below but I lost them on the asphalt roads.” Jim admitted in a low voice.

“Great idea! It’ll probably tell us a lot more to backtrack.” Blair rested his hand on the center of Jim’s chest, “Now, I want you to hear-tag my heartbeat. It will be erratic enough up here as we fly around, so it should provide a good anchor.” The suggestion was given in his guide voice.

“Blair, I’ve been subconsciously aware of your heartbeat since our first month together.” The confession was made as if he almost expected to be chastised.

“Wow! That’s remarkable and, . . . wow. Makes me feel special,” and the smile said it all.

Jim had to settle for knuckling his partner’s thigh instead of the kiss he wanted. “You are special to me,” he whispered, almost too soft to hear.

The pilot’s voice broke into the shared moment. “We will be at the top in five minutes,” he told them in broken English.

Blair nodded. “Jim, see if you can’t utilize that scent-color tracking you’ve honed and apply it to the tire impressions. Can you do that, give it a color to follow? Also, if you want to retrace a section, just draw a circle in the air or on my leg. I’ll have the pilot double back.”

“Okay.” Jim drew in a deep breath, held it, then released it slowly. He focused as he and Blair had practiced so many times. He felt centered almost immediately and sought out the vehicle tracks.

“Hover and let us take a reading,” Blair told the pilot and he did as asked.

Jim identified the specific track he wanted then separated it out from the rest. That haunting scent lingered still ever so faintly and he used it for the color code. He knew he’d have to stay especially vigilant while following them. If he didn’t and they separated he was afraid he’d follow the scent without thinking. But, gut instinct told him that track and scent would stay together.

“Ready. Let’s go two degrees east,” Jim directed with that innate ability to know where he was.

The pilot assumed that the Americans had a GPS unit and moved the helicopter as requested. They weren’t in the air but fifteen minutes when they reached the Gateway of the Sun.

“Inti Punko, the Stone Gate, entrance to the scared valley of Machu Picchu,” Blair shared as they were awed by the spectacular sights no matter the reason they were there.

“Down there, I saw something,” Jim pointed. He was sure he already knew what they would find.

Jim guided the pilot down and he landed in a clear spot. “This is illegal, you know.” The pilot reminded them.

“Yes, but we have friends in high places.” Blair assured the pilot before he jumped out of the aircraft.

They had landed alongside the stone fortress and as Jim expected, they discovered the body under the arches of the stone guard shack.

Blair snapped pictures of the body first thing and then the entire surrounding area. Jim checked the perimeter first and worked his way to the body. When Blair was done Jim leaned down to check the body closer.

“Another Chopec, and Blair, I know him. This was Ali. He was a young warrior when I was there. He thought the sun rose and set in Incacha.”

“I’m sorry, Jim.” He touched his lover’s arm in real sympathy.

Jim did a sensory check of the body before he shared his findings. “He died of a gunshot through the heart, same as Amo. I am almost certain that he has been dead the same length of time as Ali and Torrin.”

“Hummp. Is that scent here as well?” Blair asked, focused on updating his profile of the killer.

“Yes, I know, I remember it from my military days.”

“What can that mean?” Blair hoped to draw Jim’s memory out.

“That’s what so damn frustrating. I know I should know it.”

“I have an idea how to get you to remember. We’ll do that tonight. Right now, let’s get all we can.”

Jim nodded, “We need to call this in. Simon will want us to wait, but I want move on, follow the print as far as we can today.” The Sentinel had the trail and was singularly focused.

“Yes – let Gomez handle it now. Ali is dead, that’s not going to change.”

The pilot had already radioed it in. A retrieval and forensic team had been dispatched. He got his bird up and they continued. They headed in a more southeasterly direction, on the trail of the scent and track.

The vehicle track was faint, even for a sentinel, but combined with the scent that stayed entwined with the track, Jim followed it up and down the Andes. They followed it into another valley and up the other side to a narrowed pass. There they came upon another set of ruins.

Blair recognized the site immediately. “Jim, this is Runkuraqay. These ruins are an impressive archaeological complex all on it’s own, and it’s one part of the old Inca Trail.” Blair pointed the structures that he knew as they passed over.

It was as they flew over the interior steps that Jim saw a familiar shape out of the corner of his eye.

“Wait, go back. We need to land on top. There’s a body down there.” Jim told them, never taking his eyes off the body.

The pilot looked out to where the American pointed but saw nothing but the ancient ruin. “How . . .?”

“Infra-red.” Blair answered quickly with the most plausible explanation the pilot would accept.

Jim could spot the body before the others and he knew it was not a Chopec Warrior this time. The pilot was unable to land on top. The only flat area was were the body rested, so he landed on the flat high ground to the side of the pass.

Camera in hand, Blair and Jim climbed slowly to the crime scene. The elevation level was over three thousand feet and their travel was slower as they climbed the steep hillside.

“Same vehicle tracks,” Jim pointed them out. “Same scent. I also smell some decomp. I think everyone at that negotiations meeting is going to end up found dead.”

Atop the ruin, Blair took more pictures and Jim went straight to the body. He pulled a latex glove from his pocket to take out the wallet.

“Mitch Yeager. Head of Security for Cyclops Oil. Dead like Torrin. Much easier to see the dart base bruising because he’s been dead longer now, but he was killed about the same time the others were.”

Blair got the pictures of the body, concentrating on the area around the wound and Yeager’s clothes. He had to have been carried here and they were hoping for something. “These are suppose to look like retribution killings. My first guess would be an American.”

Jim looked over to his partner, questioning look upon his face.

Blair answered that look, “There is a certain arrogance in assuming that the medical examiner wouldn’t be able to pinpoint the time of death quickly. Because that’s the only way this would have worked.”

Much as he wanted to, Jim knew Blair’s accuracy made it useless to argue. He was right most of the time.

They went back to the chopper where the pilot had already called it in.

“Señor Banks wanted to speak with you,” the pilot shrugged.

“Probably wanted us to stick around,” Blair commented.

Jim shook his head, “They’ll find the same at each scene. We need to keep going.”

“Yeah, we’re already this far and there’s only one more stop on this route.” Blair pointed to his map. “Jim, depending on which end you start, it’s either the beginning or the end of the Old Inca Trail”

“Okay, Einstein, unless it’s horses or cards, I’m not betting against you.” They climbed in and fastened their seat belts.

Jim followed the track and scent mix down into the valley and up the other side. Neither man was surprised to see the ruin and Jim’s path becoming one and the same.

It was some seventy-five minutes later when neither man was surprised to see the ruin and Jim’s path becoming one and the same. The colorful ruins of Sayaqmarka seemed to emerge from the jungle forest. The name was Quechua for inaccessible, and recently it had lived up to its name. The road on both sides had been made impassible with the winter storms.

“Nothing here,” Jim told the pilot. “Follow the mountains.” He turned to his partner, “The vehicle tracks go up about a quarter of the way, then turn around. Seems our killer has a thing for ruins.”

“We are still on the old Inca Trail. Phuyupatamarka is next, the Cloud Level Town. The Phuyupatamarca ruins are better preserved than those seen before now. It’s the highest point of the trail. This is the only time of year when flying is allowed. It’s not known as cloud level for nothing,” Blair told Jim. He had a general map of the Inca Trail and by now, was pretty sure a body would be found there.

Less than a half-hour later the cloud level forest loomed large in the whirlybird’s windscreen. The vehicle tracks followed the only road up. They did a fly over and for Jim, a familiar shape was once again evident. The Sentinel had seen the body long before they landed.

Blair grabbed the camera and followed his partner. Jim was way ahead of him, he seemed very intent on reaching the victim. Blair took pictures same as he had at the other scenes but paused as he watched his partner bend slowly over the dead man. Blair could see that this one was different for Jim.

The difference this time was that Jim not only knew the Chopec warrior they found dead, but he had been a friend.

“Death was same as the other warriors, he had a bullet through the chest.” Jim touched the man’s hair gently. “I knew him well. Nanto, he was Incacha’s nephew.” Jim felt the loss and knew he had to bring the warrior back to the tribe.

Blair took the rest of the pictures with extra care. There were rituals and specific things a Chopec must do to prepare a body after death. Blair knew this one was more important to his partner. These deaths were no longer just from a people he knew but now, with Nanto’s loss, it was personal.

The scent was faint but here and Jim was now extremely irritated that he couldn’t pinpoint it. He made the radio call to Simon himself. He reported the newest body and explained in depth the other two.

“Jim, Gomez demands to talk to you.” The tone didn’t indicate it was an order, just a passing of information.

“Is he there?”

“No, either still at the first scene or moving on to the second.” Simon almost smiled. The lieutenant had been adamant that the American help was unnecessary. “I told him you were following a hunch, but he’s still chomping at the bit.”

‘’Then he’ll have to wait until we get back.” Jim was not disappointed.

“Are you going to wait there?” Simon asked because he knew he would be asked.

“No, we only have so much light left in the day and I want to follow the track until its starting point.” Jim was honest with the police captain.

Juan followed Ellison’s direction to head east. He was unconcerned where the trip took them. Not a cross word had been spoken about his landing spots or for not sticking around. It had been an interesting day so far.

The last part of the journey followed the main road with no detours into the city of Puerto Maldonado. It had a large airport and that was where the excursion ended. Juan needed to refuel and get food so they agreed to meet in one hour.

Jim pinpointed where the track and scent began and it was obvious to him that the killer flew in on a helicopter to a waiting vehicle. He couldn’t figure why the killer would elect to drive around with three dead bodies as opposed to just flying them in for the drop-offs. Something to ask when they caught him.

They opted for a Peruvian restaurant as they waited for Juan.

Blair finished his tortillas and rice before he started speculating, “You know, Jim, eight years ago I did an extensive study on tribal warriors who share remarkably similar behavioral patterns to American street gangs.

Jim snorted, “You know, back in Cascade these days, with a comment like that people could lose their jobs.”

“Jim, that has nothing to do with race, man. It’s about dominance and submission of subgroups. It's simple really once you think about it. In all male-dominated, power-based subgroups, antagonistic action by one group is usually met with equal to or greater antagonistic action by another.”

“Meaning what, Professor?” Jim loved his partner’s enthusiasm.

Blair leaned forward even though Jim could hear fine, “Meaning that someone has gone to a lot of work to make it like one group is retaliating against another. Each group would have to, you see, their code of honors would demand it. So escalation would be inevitable, or so the killer wants us to believe.”

“You don’t think this is about Chopec land?” The connection was strong to support that theory, but maybe it was too obvious. Jim sifted through the known facts.

“Jim, our killer fits the psych profile of an assassin. I think he would like us to believe that he is a psychopath, but I think he is too calculating. Where a psychopath is cold blooded, and these killing certainly are, they are not messy or spur of the moment. Instead, we have no witnesses, for most police departments there is no evidence, no personal signature. No psycho/sexual release evidence at any of the scenes and he’s laid a false trail. That is the only thing that tells me he does have something to gain. It’s just not connected to Cyclops or the Chopec specifically.”

“Simon might believe some of this, but Gomez and Sandoval won’t buy a word of it.” Jim knew that even Simon would think it farfetched.

“I just know if we can get you to remember the origins of that scent, we’ll have our answers” Blair had an intuitive feeling that the answer was tied into that scent.

They returned to Cusco, checked in with Simon, then headed to their hotel.

Blair ordered two beers from room service as Jim took a shower. Then he prepared the room for his experiment.

Jim emerged from his shower, steam billowing behind him, into a darkened room before him. “What’s all this?” He stood, framed by the light of the bathroom, towel about his waist, looking like Adonis come to life.

Blair gulped at the picture his partner made and was ready to abandon his plans for the enlightenment for something more basic. Blair opened his mouth to suggest just that but was interrupted by Jim’s sudden retriever posture.

“Door,” he announced.

With a sigh, Blair was already on the way to the door when the knock sounded. He signed the room voucher and grabbed the two beers. He handed one off to Jim and took a long sip from his own. Controlling his own desires, he motioned Jim to sit.

The Sentinel, used to his partner’s way, drank his beer and waited for his guide to begin.

“Jim, except for the last two years, you were mostly unaware of your heightened senses, but they were there, recording everything. And, I believe that you can reprocess your old memories and separate out everything else. It’s much the same as you’ve been doing, just concentrate on the one sense that you want activated.”

“Sense of smell?”

Blair nodded, “Right and sound. In this case, I think you can use one to trigger the other so if you can concentrate and focus back into your past I know you’ll be able to recall where the scent originated. What you’ve got to remember is that the information is there. The brain’s like a computer that doesn’t have a permanent delete button.” He rubbed Jim’s neck and whispered, “Focus and concentrate.”

Jim took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He locked fingers with his guide and let his mind filter out the present and pushed it to descend into the past. He first tried tracing the color-coded scent backwards. His memory fixated on the helicopter crash of eight and a half years ago.

Jim jerked back to wakefulness and jumped to his feet.

“What is it Jim?”

“I remembered the helicopter crash a little too vividly.”

“Jeez, that’s harsh.” Blair thought about it, “Did you track the scent there?”

“I don’t want to think about it,” he snapped.

“Jim?” Blair’s face couldn’t disguise the hurt he felt.

That expression reached Jim more than any words could. “I could hear the echo of their screams.”

Blair went to stand beside him and rubbed his hand up and down his partner’s arm in silent comfort. Jim took him into a hug and they stood there for several minutes saying nothing. Blair waited until he felt Jim relax, then pushed him back down onto the sofa.

“This is important, and you know it. Listen carefully, I want you to sift back again, but this time, you’re watching it, not experiencing it. You need to really concentrate. Anchor to me, then focus.” He ran his fingers through Jim’s short hair, “And, I want you to start with the crash and go backwards. I think it’s tied up with that or your memory wouldn’t have gone to such an obvious sore spot.”

Jim looked up into caring eyes and knew on an instinctive level that Blair would never ask him to do something painful without a solid reason. He nodded and closed his eyes.

His memory avoided the crash and instead, followed it back to the base where they’d been receiving their final orders before that last mission. His Ranger team looked so alive, he felt the familiar ache of loss. He remembered how they partied the night before. He was puzzled, his backward shift seemed stuck here, it wasn’t moving. He told Blair as much.

“Okay, then that party is, was, important. Maybe the scent originated there. Attend the party from the beginning. But, this time instead of experiencing it, look at what’s happening around you. Notice the small stuff.”

Jim did as asked and he was back in the common room, Sarris and Bensen were there beside him. They had been the three amigos. He pushed aside the pain of their loss and watched as Sam Holland had burst in the door looking for their CIA liaison officer, Oliver. The hair at his neck prickled, he had disliked that man. Blamed him for the bad intelligence that led to the crash. His mind skipped ahead an hour to the latrine. What an event to remember. Then . . .wow . . . he remembered that while zipping his pants he had heard a muffled argument.

Blair’s words to concentrate and block out were applied as he realized that this time he could make out all the words. “ . . . I’m your partner, don’t forget that.” Ben Holland’s voice was clear as a bell. A different voice answered, “You worry too much. Have your assignment change right here. I don’t want my best connection maker on a doomed mission.” Jim jerked awake and sat ramrod straight and angry.

“Colonel Oliver. CIA. The scent is the combination of his cheroot and body odor. He was hardly ever without those cigarettes. That scent always preceded him. Damn asshole, he planned that mission to fail. He kept Sam Holland from joining us, he was part of Oliver’s team. Damn, he murdered those seven men just the same as if he pulled the trigger.”

“So, now he’s down here killing the men from Cyclops oil?”

“Simon’s gonna love this.”

“Wait a minute Jim, you know as well as I that we can’t do anything with this until we figure it all out. We gotta find a why. Why would he be interested in the Chopec land or Cyclops oil?”

“I never liked the feeling I got off Oliver, but he was a respected officer. We were out on assignment so often it just didn’t leave time to follow petty happenings back at base. But we did have a lot of CIA personal in and out of there as well”

“Ya know what?” Blair snapped his fingers and reached for the phone, “I know a guy that might be able to shed some light on Oliver. Jack Kelso, ex-CIA and currently teaching at Rainer.” Blair pushed buttons in rapid secession.

“I’m not sure what’s more impressive here, Professor, you having CIA contacts or that you can remember his number.” Jim smiled at his amazing partner.

Blair smiled back, then directed his attention to the phone. He listened to the answering machine then left his message. “Hey, Jack. Hairboy here. I was needing one of your books on tape. Only have a temporary address, so I’ll have to get back to you later. Bye.”

Jim’s mouth dropped open, “What was that? You talking in code, now?” Jim laughed not expecting Blair’s response.

“Yup. Jack couldn’t leave all his cloak and dagger stuff behind. Book on tape was the code he set up if I ever need that kind of info. He’s a good friend.”

“Hairboy? Another code?” Jim chuckled.

Blair actually blushed, “My nickname as an undergrad.”

Jim laughed out right. “Oh I can see that.”

The phone rang.

Blair answered, he knew that Jim could hear as well. “Hello.”

“Blair, long time no hear.”

Blair nodded, it was Kelso. “Hey, Jack, thanks for getting back so quick.”

“We’ve got twenty minutes before the next satellite update, so unless someone’s listening to you in close proximity, we’re clean.”

Jim overheard and cocked his head as he extended his hearing wide open, searching for listening devices of any kind. He shook his head and mouthed, ‘nothing.’

“So, what kind of information are you needing. It was fun to hear the code phrase.”

“Colonel Norman Oliver, CIA, do you know him?”

“He’s ex-CIA now. Quite a buzz when Ellison was rescued. He made Oliver look bad. I do remember there were lots of rumors, don’t remember much else off hand.”

“Can you find out what they were?” Blair asked.

“Will do. You and Ellison in Peru?”

“Yeah, and we think Oliver is too.” Blair didn’t want to say anything else, all they had was guesswork.

“Talk to you in a few hours.”

“Thanks, Jack.” Blair put down the phone.

Memories flooded in, “His intelligence for the mission was so bad we landed middle of the insurgence. We got shot down. I blamed him at the inquest. I wanted to punch in his face.”

“Seems you were right.”

Jim’s demeanor changed, “We’ve got company. Simon, Sandoval and Gomez.”

“This should be fun.”

Jim left to put on clothes, as Blair was ready at the door. He opened it just as the first knock touched.

“Good evening, gentleman.” Blair smiled at Simon.

Simon looked weary, Sandoval resigned, but Gomez was angry. Blair remained silent, waiting for the Spanish temper to explode. They didn’t have to wait long.

Jim entered, shirt untucked and stood by Blair’s side.

“What in the hell were you thinking? Flying around, calling in dead bodies. Trying to show us up? How do I know you didn’t plant them?” His anger made him irrational.

“Your own ME will put all their deaths at the same time. They all were attendees of the same conference, the Cyclops – Chopec negotiations. We followed a hunch about the ruins.”

Gomez wasn’t ready to give up his hypothesis. He glared at the Americans.

In the moment of calm, Sandoval admitted, “Though, following your idea, we checked the local ruins and found the last two members of the negotiations group. Spaulding and another Chopec.”

“The Indian died after the other six. So he is the killer.” Gomez announced as though it came through divine inspiration.

Blair shook his head and spoke in Spanish, “Lieutenant Gomez, I know you don’t want us involved in your investigation and you certainly don’t want to listen to any of our wild ideas, but you’re not being logical. Even if Moi was the killer, there is no way he could have distributed the bodies. It took a full day by chopper to travel from site to site, besides, then there would still be the question of who killed him.”

Jim added in English what he considered important, “Dr. Ortiz noted that the dead man had three separate blood pooling indicators. Those men were moved around while dead. The Chopec don’t drive, let alone fly.”

“We will have to reexamine the evidence together in the morning with fresh heads.” Captain Sandoval announced as he pushed his officer out of the room. He gave a nod to his old friend just before the door closed.

“Sandoval said you two are welcome to view the bodies tonight. I think the ME wished to talk with you two and that pissed off Gomez before leaving the building. Then along with that, you proved his ridiculous hypothesis wrong, I don’t think he was none too happy.” Simon grinned at his last comment. “That man rubs me the wrong way.”

“Simon, there’s some new info that we want to go over with you.” Jim told his ex- boss.

“Guys, I’m tired, I know you probably have lots of information but I’m just too tired to think and deal with it tonight. I’m going to my room. See you in the morning.” Simon closed the quietly behind him.

“So, all seven are dead. I wonder about Spaulding’s time of death.” Jim knew that the CEO of Cyclops had flown straight back to the States after the meeting.

Blair could tell that Jim was itching to go down to the morgue and see the bodies. Once again, Blair saw his plans for an evening alone vanish. His Sentinel was on the hunt. And to think he’d thought they’d get more alone time on vacation. Seems they’d have to go back to work for that. Superintendent West was going to laugh his fool head off.

-----

Dr. Ortiz greeted the American policeman warmly. He had expected them after Sandoval’s call.

“You two managed to keep me busy today.” The ME smiled as he led them to the most recent admissions. “The three that came in earlier all died at the same time as the first two.”

Confirming what Jim had surmised.

“This latest American was killed two days ago. This time the blow dart was administered from a tube or from a farther distance. But he did have two separate pooling marks.” He pointed out the duel lines. “The Chopec died two days ago as well, but six to eight hours later. Shot twice, same gun that killed the Chopec, but the accuracy of the shots were off. Same fake Chopec markings on the dart.” Ortiz knew exactly what the Americans wanted to know. He knew they would solve this before that stupid Gomez.

“Does it state where the bodies were discovered?” Blair asked.

Dr. Ortiz looked through his file and nodded, “Yes, Señor Spalding was found at Qoricancha, and the Chopec man, Moi, he was found at Vilcabamba.”

Blair nodded, the significance was supposed to be important, “ Ahh, Qoricancha – temple of the sun, where they embalmed corpses of the past rulers. Vilcabamba – last Inca refuge, and the last one to fall.”

“You know my country’s history well, perhaps better than some who grew up here,” the comment held approval for the young American doctor.

“I love the rich history of this country and enjoyed the years here that allowed me to experience it close up.”

The doctor nodded, then looked up at the detective, “There was one other oddity, I found a very small emerald in the pant cuff of the American’s slacks.”

“Valuable?” Jim asked his opinion.

“I wouldn’t think so, it appears to have fallen out of a setting by the markings.”

“Okay, thanks.” Jim didn’t know if it mattered or not.

Blair shook the doctor’s hand, “Thank you, Doctor, we truly appreciate that you waited for us.” Blair thanked him in both English and Spanish.

Jim paused a moment, “About the Chopec bodies . . .” he began but didn’t finish.

“I understand their rituals. I will return their bodies to the tribe.” Ortiz truly appreciated this Anglo’s understanding of the Chopec custom.

“Could you let me know when they will be transported, I will want to explain to them what all happened.”

“They speak . . .” he was interrupted.

“Quecha, I know it well.” Jim replied in the Chopec tongue.”

They returned to their hotel and ordered a late meal. While they waited for room service Kelso called back.

“Less than twenty again, so I’ll cut to the chase. The fast track info is that Holland was supposed to be with Ellison on that army mission in Peru, but he got sick, dropped out. And then shortly after, he left the service, went to work for Florida-based company called Graf Technologies -- which, by the way, is a CIA front. Graf Technologies is run by Colonel Norman Oliver – The longtime company guy. And when Ellison got rescued eighteen months later, he put the blame on Oliver for the screw-up. Oliver has hated his guts ever since.

For years, there have been rumors about a group of rogue CIA agents working with the Cali drug cartel. The cartel’s base is adjacent to the Chopec land. From what my sources have been telling me the cartel ordered Torrin’s death. He was in Peru fifty percent of the year and enabled the pipeline to work across Chopec land. Then something happened with the last shipment and Torrin was blamed.”

“That's what this whole thing has been about since the beginning, Drugs?” Jim couldn’t believe that his team, good men, lost their lives just because of a drug pipeline.

“Does that help?” Kelso asked, hoping he guessed right about what they were looking for.

“Gives us motive and will help prevent a bloodbath. Jack, I’m grateful.”

“Just stop in next time you’re in Cascade. Maybe on your way back to Scotland Yard.”

Blair thanked his friend and left him with a promise to visit. Blair hung up and looked closely at his partner. Now was not the time for conversation. He pushed his Sentinel to the bedroom. He waited for the sandwiches to arrive and placed them in the mini fridge. Blair undressed on the way to bed and crawled in beside him.

Jim pulled his lover and friend close. He buried his nose in his neck and spooned them together. They found rest.

------

Morning sex was fast and furious and matched the Sentinel’s mood. Blair hung on for the wild ride, enjoying every second of it. Both sated by the wanton act, neither wanted to leave the cocoon of their bed, but the day demanded their presence and they obeyed.

Showered and shaved, Jim called Simon and arranged to meet for breakfast. “You need to know what’s going on before we talk with Gomez.”

The Sentinel and Guide let the police captain finish his meal before the unloaded the epic story on their friend.

Simon sat frozen in place, coffee cup, now filled with cold coffee, still half way to his mouth. When the story ended he paused, hoping for cameras to pop out. When none were forthcoming, he placed his cup down with a thud.

“American CIA working with Peruvian drug cartel on a drug pipeline over Chopec land without their knowledge? Is that all?” Simon Banks now knew that his stay in the jungle had been the easier part of his Peruvian adventure. “What’s our proof?”

“That’s the rub,” Blair confessed, “We’ve put it together based on what Jim has ascertained with his senses, starting with his sense of smell.”

Simon stared without blinking, his expression giving away nothing of what he was thinking. “A smell, yes, that would go over well,” sarcasm not quite at bay. “You need to track Oliver and get some concrete proof. I can bullshit Gomez enough this morning, but work fast, gentlemen, time is running out if all the players are dead. Gomez will want to take an army to La Montaña as it stands now.”

Jim nodded, he wanted to avoid that at all costs.

Back in the hotel room, Blair started his internet search on Cyclops Oil.

“There has to be some tie-in to that company. They have to be involved, or why else would all of them be killed?” Blair queried aloud. His fingers flew over the keys as he directed new searches.

Jim called one of his army buddies in Washington and requested intel photos of the La Montaña region of Peru. He gave him Blair’s email and knew that he would have information that afternoon.

They both knew that finding Oliver would be difficult at best so they had to figure out where he would be and meet up with him.

An hour later Blair’s research into Cyclops oil paid off.

“I checked the inventory records of their Peru operations. It seems a lot of big equipment has disappeared over the past several months. There are many inconsistencies in their payroll records, but those were written off as accounting errors. I also found a couple of references to a company that they’ve never dealt with openly, the Hale Corporation. Also, there's an oil field underneath the La Montaña region, but it's protected by environmental laws. Theoretically, it can't be exploited.

From what I’ve pieced together, Cyclops Oil, or The Great Eye, as the Chopec call it, have been responsible for the death of several of their tribesmen. The oil company has been cutting down forests, killing the water and land with its black poison. They were afraid that the Chopec were going to vanish forever. They agreed to the meeting with the Cyclops in hope to save their land and people.”

“Gomez would see that as motive.”

“I can see how that would lend credence to the retribution idea but that still doesn’t answer why Oliver wanted the oil company bigwigs dead.”

“Check your email, Chief, Dave should have sent the pictures by now. He works at the Pentagon. There should be a few satellite photos of the La Montaña region.”

“Here we go. Looks so beautiful.”

“This here's the Yucayali River which means that this town here is Pucallpa. All this land here is Chopec territory.”

“Hey, uh, what's this line snaking through the jungle?”

“It looks like there's roads cut right in the middle of the rain forest. I can make out several side roads as well. Not only illegal cutting of trees, I bet that’s part of the pipeline route.”

“Okay, Jim, another email and the gist of this seems to be something about Block 18 which is an illegal oil operation on protected land in the La Montaña region. Someone there had been using the assets and machinery of Cyclops to exploit the oil and then they funneled the profits into this Hale Corporation. It turns out that it’s a phony company owned by Gerard Spalding with a very silent partner by the name of Norman Oliver.” Blair turned to face his partner.

“That’s where we’ll find Oliver, if he’s still in country.” Jim knew the possibility was very real that he had already left the country, even the continent.

“Well, my Sentinel, we haven’t checked the last two body dump sites and, I, for one, am eager to see what we can discover since the last two bodies had some irregularities.”

“Okay, let’s go, Chief.”

------- Qoricancha was located in the southern part of the city. It took longer to gain access than it did to drive there, but Simon came through. They made the long walk from the parking lot after their credentials were double-checked.

Jim bet to himself that Gomez wouldn’t be long in joining them.

When they first stepped inside they blinked away the sunspots, then they felt transported in time to another era. Inside, there was a drawing with images that represented the Inca's vision of the cosmos. In these drawings they could see the sun, the moon, Venus, the rainbow, the lightning, a man and a woman, a tree and stars. The still vivid colors lent it an enchantment quality that appealed to both Sentinel and scholar.

A scuffling noise alerted the Sentinel and he held Blair in place while he sorted it out. Someone seemed to furtively searching about in the sunroom, in the exact area that the body of Spalding was found. Blair tapped his nose and he concentrated his attention and attached himself to ones that were familiar.

Jim whispered, just audible, “Not Oliver, but I know it . . . Sam Holland. His scent was on the body, but it wasn’t the one I was looking for. It wasn’t on the others, though.”

“He works for Oliver, right?”

Jim nodded, “Let’s join him.”

“Right, but first, check the room out.”

Jim cocked his head to the side and listened and heard quite clearly his Guide’s whispered, “Piggyback”

The Sentinel piggybacked his sight off his hearing as asked. He saw Sam Holland searching the floor near the area of the body was dumped. He refocused on Blair and immediately placed a finger over his lips to keep him from asking his usual questions. He knelt down and drew on the dirt floor a diagram of the room next to door. He indicated what he wanted Blair to do. His partner nodded calmly and Jim moved like a swift cat.

Blair sat still and counted to ten slowly.

Sam Holland stood up and found Jim Ellison less than a foot away. He backed up as his ex-team member stalked forward. Sam Holland tried backing up faster and encountered an obstacle that he stumbled over; a crouched Blair Sandburg. Sam Holland didn’t even bother trying to stand, Ellison had already pounced.

“It was Oliver. He killed them all.” Holland spilled his guts without being asked.

Jim took in the ex-CIA man quickly and noted first that his ring was missing a stone. “We have your missing emerald. That gun over there,” he pointed it out so that Blair could pick it up. “That gun will tie you to all the murders.” Handcuffed to the waterpipe, Holland was going nowhere.

“It was Oliver. I’ll swear to it.” Holland pleaded.

“We both know that Oliver is gone. He left you holding the bag and the Peruvian police, that are currently arriving, will accept the bag you’re in. Tough luck.”

“Ellison!” Holland yelled to the disappearing back.

Ellison and Sandburg greeted Sandoval, Gomez and Banks with the murder weapon hanging from a pencil and Jim pointing to next room.

Captain Sandoval signaled his forensic team to take the gun, then followed Gomez to get their killer. Banks stayed with his ex-detectives.

“Will they have enough tangible evidence?” Simon was hoping so. He didn’t want to have to even begin to try to explain Jim’s abilities. He remembered with great clarity why his stress level decreased when Ellison left the department.

“Yup. The ME has an emerald found on Spalding that came from Holland’s ring. The gun that Blair brought out will match the slugs removed from the Chopec and I wouldn’t be surprised if more of the darts won’t be found in his luggage. I believe we’re done here, Simon.”

---------

Gomez wasn’t at his best, but Sandoval was no fool and accepted the evidence, motive and culprit without question. The Peruvian police captain saw no further reason to involve the Chopec people. He did agree to the loan of a helicopter to transport the murdered warriors’ home.

Jim and Blair took leave of Simon with a promise to stop in Cascade before going home.

Belongings packed and loaded into the rented jeep, they left Cusco behind and headed for the Chopec region of La Montaña.

They’d timed their drive so that their arrival coincided with the arrival of the helicopter. Jim wanted to explain personally all that had transpired to bring about the deaths of the tribe members.

A sense of homecoming touched Jim briefly as the village came into view. “This was all part of the area I patrolled while I was here. If they’ve kept to the patrolling I set up, we should stop here and wait to be acknowledged.”

No sooner said than an arrow flew through the air and landed in front of the vehicle. Jim waited for all of the patrol guard to make their presence known before he spoke.

In Quecha he said, “Friend. Enqueri wishes to speak with Incacha.” He heard several voices he recognized as the talked among themselves. One sent a message to Incacha and two warriors stepped forward.

“Enqueri been gone long while. No sentinel.”

“Still jump from top of trees, Colii?” Jim smiled at the remembrance.

The warrior smiled in returned, “Only if I want another crooked leg, Enqueri.” He moved closer to the man that was their friend.

“Have you returned to be sentinel?” Senna asked as he joined Colii.

“No, I come with sad news of change.” Jim turned and looked up, he heard the helicopter approaching.

Blair watched the warrior guard all look off to where Jim did, trusting still that he could hear what they could not.

Jim held up his arm in an age old gesture, understood by the Chopec, to remain steady as the helicopter landed and the cargo offloaded. Four cardboard caskets were placed on the ground and with a nod, the helicopter took off.

A voice from behind Jim broke the silence that only the humans had maintained. “You do not speak an untruth, Enqueri, you do return with sad change.”

Jim turned, delighted to hear the voice, “Incacha.”

“Enqueri.” They embraced in the way of the warrior.

Incacha turned to the patrol guard and signaled. The casket’s contents were taken charge of and carried back to the village.

“Ali, Moi, Amo, Nato. I’m sorry.” Jim’s voice was low and sincere.

“They were to talk with the Chief of the Great Eye.”

“They were innocents in a greater crime.” Jim explained all that had transpired and assured him that the Great Eye would no longer be violating their land.

Incacha nodded his understanding, then looked pointedly at the man at Enqueri’s side. He felt great power within that man.

Jim smiled, “Incacha, this is Blair Sandburg, my partner and Guide.” He turned to Blair, “This is Incacha.”

Blair shook the extended hand while he kept the surge of emotion from reaching his features. He did not like other ‘guides’ touching his sentinel.

Incacha smiled, then as if he could read all of Blair’s thoughts, “You have power of a great shaman. I pose no threat to you. I am teacher and shaman, not guide.”

Blair took a deep breath to calm the raging waves of emotion. “You guided Enqueri when he was here.”

“Taught him as I would a fledgling. Not guided, he had no control with me. But now, I can sense great power and control.” Incacha clapped his hands and villagers scurried about. “I welcome you both to our home.”

The full compliment of the tribe surrounded them, many were familiar and gave welcome. Blair felt the genuine warmth of caring and happiness to see Jim again and it extended to include him as well.

“The hunters return tomorrow. The day after we all will lay our brothers to rest. A hut is being prepared for and tonight we will celebrate your homecoming.”

Once the hut was theirs, both men had identical thoughts, to change clothes, or rather to wear less clothes.

Blair preferred a tank top while Jim went shirtless. From an earthen jar by the door, Jim scooped up some of the lotion-like substance in his hand and approached his partner. He rubbed it on arms, face and legs.

“This will keep the bugs from eating you alive, including mosquitoes.” Jim kissed the top of his partner’s head.

Blair did the same for Jim, and he luxuriated in the feel of Jim’s skin. He wished there was time and more privacy for what he wanted to do. Ever since entering the village, Blair felt the need to mark his sentinel as his and his alone. Even though he didn’t have time to claim him now, he could leave his scent all over him and that would insure that others knew. His sentinel always wore a special look after climax.

He pushed his sentinel down onto the sleeping skin to finish putting the lotion onto his legs. When the task was completed, Blair let his fingers move to create intense stimulation. He had his sentinel dialing down sound and touch up. He watched with pride as his sentinel’s erection filled and hardened. He fingered behind the sacs as his mouth enclosed the leaking shaft. His tongue and mouth knew the best and fastest way to trigger his sentinel into a mind-blowing release.

The guide rocked back on his heels, satisfied that his sentinel would wear the look he desired.

-----

Blair’s flare for languages kicked in and by the time of celebration he felt comfortable in the Chopec language. He only half listened to Incacha catch Enqueri up on the tribe happenings. But his attention refocused immediately when Jim stiffened in place and his head cocked to the side.

Jim reached out to touch his guide as to anchor himself as he tracked a now familiar scent.

Low, just for Blair’s ears, he said, “Oliver is just outside the village.”

Blair understood, “I’ll go ‘round like I did with Holland,” Blair said sentinel soft.

The Sentinel nodded to his Guide. To Incacha he asked, “Are any of the warriors not full of celebration?”

Without a question as to why, his old mentor answered, “Yes. Always four or five here. The patrol sentries are always on duty.”

“Can you signal them without much fuss?”

“You have forgotten much, Enqueri,” the elder nodded.

“Let me head to my hut, then have your men work their way to the south end of the village slowly.”

“Yes, Enqueri.” Still no questions as to why, just acceptance.

Jim knew that as soon as Oliver recognized him he’d make his move. Jim made as if to go into the hut and slipped around it.

He could hear Blair whisper that he was close and made his move. The Chopec, waiting for just that move, shot arrows all around the tree that Oliver hid behind.

Not seeing specific targets, Oliver blindly shot out, emptying his clip onto the general area. When Oliver paused to reload Jim heard the click and rushed Oliver from the front as Blair came in from behind.

The ex-CIA man may have no longer been training with the company, but he still had his game perfected. He turned and rolled back, knocking Blair over and he quickly had the Sentinel’s Guide in a chokehold. With the gun muzzle pressed hard into the temple, Oliver let up on his stranglehold. He needed his hostage compliant, not a dead weight.

Jim froze in his spot, gun extended, trained squarely on the ex-CIA man. He didn’t look at Blair, just Oliver’s eyes. He could hear his Guide’s racing heart beat, he was alive. Blair’s only chance lie in his attention remaining absolutely on Oliver.

“Ellison! I should have known you’d be somehow involved. The only time my plans fuck up is in correlation with you. Not this time! Because, this time, I’m taking care of you for good.”

“What plans? We have Holland. He spilled his guts. The militia won’t be far behind us.”

“No matter, Ellison, the truth has a way of changing when lots of money is involved. I’ve set up more complex solutions to rid myself of problems and created new avenues to sell my product.”

Jim wanted Oliver to know he knew, “So, seven years ago when my team was shot down, it was no intelligence screw-up. You set us up to protect your pipeline, didn't you?”

Oliver laughed, “Of course I did. What good's a war without a profit?”

Jim controlled his seething rage. He knew that the Chopec warriors were close, two high in the trees, one on either side of Oliver and Incacha was directly behind him.

“Drop you weapon on the ground, Ellison. I won’t ask twice. NOW!”

Jim complied, he dropped the gun and put his hands up. He twitched his left pinkie three times.

Blair was aware it was some kind of signal, he just didn’t know what it meant. He whispered sentinel soft, ”I will dead weight on four. Now, one – two – three – four.”

Blair went completely slack. It pulled on Oliver’s arm enough to pull the muzzle away from Blair’s temple and Jim spread his uplifted fingers.

From the trees flanking either side of Oliver an arrow from each was released. One hit his gun arm and one hit the left arm still holding Blair. The curare tipped points paralyzed each arm and Oliver was forced to drop the gun and lost his hold on his hostage.

Blair kicked out and hit Oliver’s knees and the man fell. He scrambled up quickly even without use of his arms, but he was surrounded by natives with arrows pointed at him.

“”I have my contacts, this will only delay my pipeline, not destroy it.”

“I won’t be returning you to the U.S. authorities.” Menace was radiating off the ex-Ranger captain.

“You don’t have the amoral fiber to just kill me, Ellison. I know your file and record.”

“You threaten my tribe, my brothers. You killed members of my tribe. You killed many of the Cyclops employees, but when you tried to kill Sandburg, your life became forfeit. Though I will not be the one to melt out the justice, I won’t be remanding you to the Peruvian police; no, I will leave that to the Chopec people. It will not be swift, but it will be just. Justice for my team, justice for the Chopec you killed.”

“You can’t,” Oliver yelled to Ellison’s retreating back.

Jim nodded to Incacha, “I already have.” The Sentinel gathered his guide close, turned and walked away. Jim Ellison left Colonel Norman Oliver to Incacha, ignoring Oliver’s demands and then all was quiet. The Sentinel and Guide continued on to their dwelling.

Colii met the Sentinel and Guide inside their hut. He tended Blair’s cuts, left food and drink, then left the Guide to the Sentinel’s care.

----------

The village was busy at the crack of dawn and by mid-morning, the hunter’s had returned. Women took the meat for preparation as the men gathered for what Jim best described as a debriefing.

Blair listened, but only with half an ear. Something was wrong and he needed to get to the bottom of it. He had tried to explain it to Jim, but his partner thought he was still reacting to the Oliver situation.

Blair knew it wasn’t that. Colonel Norman Oliver was staked out to be eaten by insects. Suitable punishment. No, the off-kilter feeling was something else altogether.

It was a danger to him and to his sentinel. His dream came back with vivid recall.

The fox had approached lost and afraid. The wolf growled. The warning went unheeded by both the fox and the jaguar.

The big cat stood between the wolf and fox as the dog family member approached. The fox grew in size as the wolf shrunk. The big cat forgot the wolf was there and walked away with the fox. Just before they disappeared, the fox looked back at the wolf and smirked.

Blair jerked back to the here and now and knew the dream was important. He knew that the jaguar and wolf were their spirit guides from Jim’s dreams when he had dream about the other sentinel. The other sentinel was also a cat family member, so along those lines, if he, a guide, was a wolf, then the other canine species would also be a guide. He recognized the fox species, a native to South America, it had a tawny coat with black markings, a Colpeo fox.

There was a guide here, a guide that was native, a guide that was without a sentinel. That guide would want Jim. Jim who had been a sentinel here and knew their ways.

Rage roared within the guide. He would not allow that to happen. He must make sure that all knew that this Sentinel, his Sentinel, was taken.

The guide knew the other was close and needed to remind his sentinel to whom he belonged. He needed to remove any other scent. Only his scent should remain. He grabbed his sentinel and headed for the river.

Jim followed, reacting to the urgent air surrounding Blair. Atypical Blair behavior, his partner remained silent, explaining nothing.

At the river’s edge, all Blair would say, “We must clean, remove scent.”

Okay with this, Jim stripped down to his boxers. As Blair began undressing, he paused, alert, eyes darting about and knew danger was near.

He moved them down the river to the waterfall located further away from the village. He should feel safer, but he did not. He sniffed the air and looked around. He saw the wolf across the way. He saw the jaguar and he saw the Colpeo fox. The only reason for the guides to materialize - danger. Now!

The Guide could smell that another was close and that guide desired his sentinel. He yelled, “MINE!” and charged his sentinel. He took his sentinel with him over the edge. Blair guided the fall into the water. He kept his sentinel close for the entire drop. He knew there was a guide alone, intent on stealing his sentinel and this was not allowed.

The Sentinel moved to swim to shore, but the guide growled into his neck. The Sentinel no longer resisted the pull on his arm to follow. The guide pulled his own clothes off and his partner’s boxers.

The Guide didn’t make for the shore, but for the center part of the small lake, where their feet could easily touch bottom. The water hit mid waist on Blair and just covered the groin line on Jim.

The Guide’s eyes were wild with passion and something else and Jim recognized that his partner needed to be in control. He gave Blair that power with the relaxing of his muscles.

The Guide’s hands and mouth were all over the sentinel, his Sentinel. Fingers, lips, tongue and teeth worked their magic over the tactile enhanced receptors of the Sentinel and he was no longer aware of his surroundings. The outdoor sounds didn’t register, the lapping water only added to the sentinel experience.

The Guide shifted himself to press against the Sentinel’s back, all the while, his hands and mouth never ceased their movements. The Guide’s hard cock wanted to drive home his ownership, but the man refused to hurt the one he loved. Instead, he wedged his hardness into his Sentinel’s crack. His hand gripped his sentinel’s equally hard organ and matched his hard rhythm to that of his hips. In tune as no other time, the Guide held off his own climax to match it exactly with the Sentinel’s. The arc of fluid released made the Guide proud. He used his fingers even after, to enhance the Sentinel’s afterglow.

When legs were no longer able to hold up, both bodies buckled, both fell back into the river. Time passed unnoticed as the sun baked their sated bodies. When finally they began to feel waterlogged, they swam for the far side where a sheltered, somewhat sandy shoreline existed. They pulled themselves out and lay on their backs with a content lethargy.

Senses sharp and clear, Jim knew they were still alone. He raised his chest up and rested his body weight on his elbows.

“What’s up, Blair?” Jim asked.

“Not sure,” Blair answered honestly.

“I love what we just did, so I’m not complaining, just curious, you didn’t seem like your usual self.”

“Didn’t feel like me. Felt more primitive.” Blair shifted and turned on his side to face his partner. “I had a dream like yours, you know, when we discovered the other sentinel, only this time I think it’s a guide. Instead of a cat, in my dream it’s a South American fox. Only way to describe how I’m feeling is to say I’m jealous, but like to a major degree. I don’t even know who I’m jealous of.”

“Tanari.”

Blair’s eyes flashed, his voice almost a growl, “You know the guide?”

“Saw her across the village. Incacha told me about her.”

Blair moved quickly over Jim and straddled him about the waist. “Mine!”

“Yours.” Jim brushed the hair from Blair’s face and cupped his cheek, “Never doubt it. Yours, always yours. Sentinel and Guide. Jim and Blair.”

The words reached past the primitive man within and Blair sank down, ear pressed against Jim’s heart, content in the steady beat.

Blair, the anthropologist was fascinated by this turn of events. Blair, the Guide, was feeling a strong animosity toward the emerging guide. He wanted the interloper gone. But, with Jim’s words of commitment still echoing strong, the anthropologist won over, temporarily, at least.

“Did Incacha ask for your help?” Blair finally asked.

“No. Yours.”

Blair cocked his head, “Really? Why?”

“You have an innate sense of how to make it work and a compassionate heart.”

Blair warmed at the words, loving every one of them. He gave the request some deep thought before answering. “I will try, but I don’t think you can be close by when I do. The same way you felt around the other sentinel is how I feel now and I haven’t even seen her. Well, except in my dream as a Coleo fox.” Blair grinned as the tight, hard band of possession eased.

“I’ll tell Incacha and we’ll go from there.”

Blair looked at his partner, eyebrow raised and asked, “So, just how do we get back?” then smiled.

-------

Using the ladder made of twisted banana tree fiber, they climbed the cliff adjacent to the waterfall.

To the Guide, the sense of danger prevailed, but the anthropologist remained in control. It helped that the Sentinel reeked with guide scent.

On the way to their hut, Jim asked one of the children to fetch Incacha.

Fresh clothes had Jim feeling better, but for Blair, the proximity of the other guide was like an irritation just under the skin.

Jim cocked his head and told Blair, “Incacha’s here.” He waited for the knock, “Enter.”

“Enqueri, Champa Uma.” He waited patiently for why he was summoned.

Blair couldn’t help smiling at the description of “wild hair” as his name.

“Blair has a problem with Tanari,” Jim explained the problem.

“Ah, my apologies, I did not realize that your guide has not had any shaman training.”

The Guide responded to the calm, respectful voice, “No, only what I’ve read.”

“We need to sit the Spirit Walk Journey. Rest now, we will start at sunset.”

Blair nodded his consent, “Incacha, this other guide cannot approach Enqueri until I have processed all this.”

“Of course. Enqueri will stand watch over our journey.” He left to prepare.

Blair turned to his partner, “Spirit walk?”

Jim shrugged, “Far as I could tell, it’s like our dreams, only you’re awake.”

“Ah, much clearer.”

Jim drew Blair onto the mat and snuggled him close. He stroked Blair’s long hair in a rhythmic pattern, letting them both achieve a needed rest.

--------

Incacha came back to collect them just before dusk. He led the Sentinel and Guide to a high plateau, overlooking the gorge that the river ran through.

To calm his excitement and nerves, Blair rambled, “I know that traditionally, the seeker uses a place that is special to the tribe, and generally will sit in a ten-foot circle, and nothing from society is to enter the circle with the exception of water.”

Blair paused and looked around with awe, the view was inspiring and he understood why the place was considered scared. In a low voice, pitched for sentinel ears, “Okay, I do know that Shamanism is based on the premise that the visible world is pervaded by invisible forces or spirits that affect the lives of the living. Hence, we see our spirit guides, but until you dreamed about them, I never saw one. So, maybe I’m not really a shaman.”

“Blair, I wouldn’t start to doubt yourself. You may have not been trained like Incacha said, but you have intuitively guided me and did the same for Sommersby. You’ve tapped into it, you just didn’t know you were. I trust your instincts even if you never learn formally.”

The sincere tone told Blair more than even the words and he knew that he could handle all that he may discover. Blair smiled at his partner, so very content in his life with Jim.

Incacha motioned the pair forward. The Sentinel stopped at the outside circle and faced out, a watchman on duty. Blair continued until he stood in front of Jim’s mentor.

The teaching shaman spoke, “Mother Earth is the giver of all that exists. She is our provider of food, water, shelter, and eternal substance. Mother Earth has a spirit, a heartbeat and comforts us when we need grounding. It is when our heartbeat and Mother Earth's heartbeat rejoice in harmony, we can quiet the mind enough to hear the wisdom we are all seeking. Through the use of the drum, we can harmonize more quickly and connect with our Power Animals and Spirit Guides.”

Incacha then took Blair’s hand’s in his and they sat cross-legged, opposite each other. He positioned Blair’s hands to rest palm up on his knees. Incacha beat upon a small, homemade drum with a deep, rich sound. In a chant-like voice he spoke aloud, “A single drum to help establish a link to the heartbeat of the earth. We seek the connection between this world and the spirit guide world. Travel along this path is difficult for new guides, their thoughts are chaotic and hard to focus on the path alone.”

Incacha paused, the shaman was quite surprised. Enqueri’s partner talked so much, jumping topics erratically, he had expected chaotic thought, instead he was impressed with the order that actually resided within. “You have no such problem. You seem to naturally reign in your wandering or random thoughts. Now, open your mind, find your feet and walk the path to the totem world.” Incacha chanted in a low rhythmic cadence that soothed then faded away.

With a deep sigh, the Guide opened his eyes and was startled to see that the plateau had vanished. He now looked out at a lush jungle through a bluish tint.

A tiger sat regally before him and Blair knew this was the mentor, Incacha. Blair sat before him and found the wolf at his side.

Tusuna Champa Uma, welcome.

Blair knew the words were from the tiger, but they were in his head and not spoken aloud. He communicated the same way, he hoped.

I am glad I am here. He paused then asked, Dancing wild hair?

A chuckle that could be mistaken for a growl emanated, Yes, the children are fascinated by your wild hair as they call it. Dancing is more a description of your energy.

I like that!

The tiger stared for a moment, Why did you make the journey?

To become a guide for my sentinel.

You are and have always been.

Blair realized he couldn’t refute that point and tried again. I thought it was because I was afraid to lose my sentinel to another, but that’s not really it, either. I don’t want to lose him because I failed. I need to be the best I can be. Know that no one could guide him better, because together we are strongest.

Yes. I can see that you are not here for the power of the shaman. You are only here for the sentinel. The tiger stood, Let’s walk.

The tiger, wolf and guide walked what could have been hours or moments, Blair knew not and it didn’t seem to matter. The going was restorative and Blair felt a renewal of his inner energies. Even in the totem realm Blair bounced.

Tusuna, I see by your thoughts, you are unaware of your level of power. I also feel that even if you were it would not matter. Your strong identity is evident in that you stand beside you guide totem. Your guide self will never completely over take the whole of you. With that ability many dangers will be avoided. Your deep reservoir of strength is unusual, but will be drawn upon many times on your long journey. Your intuitive responses are not buried deep unlike so many that take this path. You’ve drawn on them to guide both yourself and your sentinel. Your motives are as pure as man can attain and still remain a man. Be content with your imperfections.

Blair saw the man within the tiger smile, or at least he thought he did.

You need to begin lessons on how to tap into your reservoir without draining your spirit or physical being.

They reached the edge of the world, or at least to Blair, that’s the way it looked. Instead of a fear of the unknown, he felt an inner tranquility, content to be standing at the top of the world.

The tiger stepped out and Blair with the wolf at his side, walked along side the tiger. Never once did Blair look down or even think of questioning their steps as the lessons began.

By the time the trio returned to the jungle plateau, Blair was unsure that he would be able to retain all the new knowledge.

He felt another chuckle like growl in his head, but the voice spoke without amusement.

The knowledge is there now, retrievable when needed. Tusuna, you are a rarity even among guides. Your return to this world will always be welcome.

Blair opened his eyes to see the sun rise over the river gorge and Incacha sitting peacefully across from him.

“Wow.” Blair had no other word handy to describe how he felt.

Incacha nodded. Jim released a satisfied breath at the joyful tone of his guide’s voice.

“Let us return. Food and sleep are needed, then we will celebrate and deal with our newest guide.” Incacha stated, but the question was inherent and directed at the guide.

Blair nodded, “Yes, I will tutor her.”

Food was waiting in their hut and Incacha left them to return to his own hut.

Food was barely finished being consumed before both men reached for each other and fell asleep entwined.

-------------

In the early hours of the morning, sentinel and guide woke with the urgent need to express their love to one another.

Guide kissed and licked and worshiped his sentinel. Once again, the Sentinel knew instinctively to give control to his guide, and what a pleasure it was. Guide fingers worked their particular brand of magic and set his blood afire. He was prepared for penetration as his essence was sucked completely from him.

The Guide’s care was so complete that by the time he was perched to enter, the Sentinel was once again, hard and leaking.

Blair knew exactly where he was and made double sure that Jim would feel no pain. He entered with an accurate thrust that struck the Sentinel’s pleasure center and the man cried his release. While still joined, Blair and Guide spoke words with ancient reverence.

“To mate your skin with mine, To mate your heart with mine, To mate your soul with mine, Mine, now, forever, longer. Together nothing can, or will touch us. “

The Sentinel pushed his love over his edge to release as he accepted the vow, “Yes, yours.” Then he repeated the vow like words to his guide.

“To mate your skin with mine, To mate your heart with mine, To mate your soul with mine, Mine, now, forever, longer. Together nothing can, or will touch us. “

Blair looked deep into blue eyes and accepted the vow with the same words as Jim. “Yes, yours.”

This time their sleep carried them deep into the day.

---------

Blair knew that his original dreams of danger were an accurate depiction of Tanari’s desires. Gone was his personal fear and he ignored the blatant innuendoes that Jim needed a female guide.

He explained once again, “When you connect with your true sentinel, you won’t need to steal a sentinel from anyone else. You will both know. You should put your energies into learning to focus and concentrate on each task. That will be the most valuable gift that you will give your sentinel.”

While the training continued, Jim accompanied the hunters on their forays to help build up their reserves.

Ten days later, both men knew it was time to depart. West had granted them an extra week after he had finished laughing at how their supposed vacation started. They had air transport waiting at Pucallpa. The entire village was present for their farewell. Each was presented with a necklace depicting their personal totems.

Incacha embraced his long time friend, “Enqueri, you have always been good luck. Last time you saved our people from annihilation. This time, you return with our fallen brothers so that their spirits were not lost. You brought their killer to receive justice. You are always welcome home.”

He turned to Blair, “Tusuna, Enqueri’s guide and powerful shaman in his own right. You are teacher and healer. It is beneficial to be reminded that our ways are not lost even within the impersonal city populations. And, Tusuna, our people are grateful that you have sent another sentinel to us.”

“How’d you . . .?” Blair smiled, it didn’t matter, but he could guess. “We only suggested he come here,” Blair thought to add.

Jim stood at attention, frozen to the spot, head cocked to the west. Blair moved closer and put his hand on Jim’s back.

The Sentinel felt the warning growl of his jaguar and cast his hearing even further out. Next he cast his sense of smell far and wide and recognized what irritated his spirit guide. The spikes of danger abated as his sight, piggybacked on his hearing confirmed the presence of another sentinel.

Jim turned and smiled at both Incacha and Blair. “Well, Chief, seems Sommersby took our advice and is at the moment making his way here, on foot, I might add. He is approaching from the west. Let’s take Tanari with us and meet up with him. She can lead him home.” Jim had no doubt that Jeffery Sommersby would find his place here among the Chopec people.

-------

“Do you think that either of them even realize that we’d left?” Blair asked as they boarded the plane for Cascade.

“Probably not, Sommersby didn’t even have time to be worried about another sentinel, he was fixated on the guide.”

“Yeah, it’s like I told Tanari, I hope she remembers to pass that along to the next guide she encounters.” Blair smiled at his partner.

After take off, Jim double checked for the tenth time, “You don’t mind stopping in Cascade?” Jim knew that even after all his successes, the attitudes he was subjected to in Cascade now were difficult at best.

For the tenth time, Blair answered with the same response, “No, Jim, I think Simon needs to thank you. Anyway, we’ll have lunch with Kelso and give him the real, unprintable end to the Oliver saga and we’ll all attain a certain amount of closure.”

“Okay.” Jim closed his eyes, loving his partner all the more.

-------

Kelso professed to truly enjoy the demise of Oliver, “Seems so apropos.”

That occasion was enjoyable to both Ellison and Sandburg, much more so than the large party thrown by the Major Crimes department and attended by many city officials.

Simon apologized when they entered the large ballroom, he remembered how much Jim hated this kind of attention. “The Mayor insisted on acknowledging you publicly. Just know, I truly appreciate that you came and rescued Daryl and I, much more than words can say.”

“Blair and I could do nothing else.” Jim subtlety reminded his friend that his partner was there, too.

“Yes . . .um . . . our thanks to both you and Sandburg.” However uncomfortable he was with the relationship, he was truly grateful for their actions.

“Simon, we’re friends, that never changes,” Jim rested his hand on Simon’s shoulder and squeezed ever so slightly.

“One more thing, Jim, the Mayor wanted me to extend an invitation for you to reconsider working here at the police department. In Major Crimes, of course.” Simon smiled.

“Nothing’s changed from the last time, Simon. Blair and I are a team.” Jim shrugged in a casual way.

“Just think about it,” Simon suggested, knowing that Jim was right and since the Mayor didn’t know about the senses thing he could never quite explain why he was less than enthusiastic.

Jim knew that Blair would do whatever he wanted and he just wanted to be with Blair and for Blair to be happy. The decision was easy.

Fini

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Acknowledgments: Thank you Mary, for the beta and thank you to Patt for the encouragement and the art. Thank you to Beate for commissioning the Moonridge Auction story.