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Novation Productions Virtual Season Five Episode Seven

Part One

By Suisan and CarolROI

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Tall dark tree trunks stretching toward a black velvet sky. Heavy scent of pine needles filling the air, replacing a memory of orchids. Primeval energy swirling about, like a mist in the dappled light of the full moon, creeping along the woodland floor. Ancient power become corporeal, rising up to silently caress the body lying on the altar lovingly, sensually...

It is time.

Knife, dark blade, flashing in the moonlight. Striking like a snake, pulling back, then plunging into the soft flesh and ripping apart the chest. Large, furred hand, claws extending from stubby fingers, reaching out, then into the gaping wound to pull forth the beating heart....

Jim Ellison awoke with a start, a scream of denial lodged in his throat, making it hard for him to breathe. Pain flared in his chest as he started to slowly drag precious air into his starved lungs. He pulled himself to the edge of his bed, rubbing his hands trying to rid himself of the ghostly sensation of warm, silky blood coating them. Nightmare. Had to be. But it seemed so fucking real. Glancing at the clock on the bedside table, he realized it was too late for him to try to get back to sleep. He threw on his robe and padded barefoot down the stairs to grab a glass of water as he started the coffee maker.

Pulling a small juice glass down from the cabinet, he noticed his hands weren't as steady as they normally would be. You're losing it, Ellison. After all these years, you're finally losing it. Gripping the glass tightly, so as not to drop it, he filled it with water and tried to get rid of the awful taste in his mouth. Bringing the glass to his mouth, the coppery scent of blood assaulted his nose, making him gag. He stared at the clear liquid for a moment, then forced himself to swallow some of the water. And that's all it was, water. Setting his glass back on the counter, he flipped on the coffee maker. Something wasn't right, but he couldn't put his finger on it. The squeak of a tap being turned on drew his attention, just before the sound of water running sounded through the loft.

Jim prowled with cat-like stealth over to where he kept his service gun as splashing rent the stillness of the loft. His ears pricked up; the sound had come from the bathroom, and he didn't recall inviting anyone to stay overnight. You picked the wrong house to burgle, whoever you are. Snatching the cold steel weapon up, he worked the safety and made ready to fire at the intruder if need be.

Knife slashing, moonlight, blue, gray fog. Screaming. Blood flowing. Heart held in hand, still warm and beating. Warm flesh, pulsing. Odor of blood permeating the air, mixing with the smells of the forest...

"Jim! Whoa, whoa, whoa! Point that thing in the other direction, man! I just came up to use the blender and had to take a leak. They didn't pass a law against that between yesterday and today, did they?"

The frightened squeak in the familiar voice penetrated the fog surrounding Jim. Warmth on his upper arm was pulling Jim back from the surreal vision and putting everything into perspective. He lowered the Sig-Sauer to his side, his hand shaking so badly he could barely keep hold of it. What in the hell is wrong with me? I should know Blair's presence, his essence, as well as I do my own. He's here just as often as he ever was, even though he lives downstairs now. Yet, this morning, he had somehow forgotten that fact and that bothered him. A lot. Fighting back the wave of fear that washed over him, he shrugged and said, "Yeah, I'm fine, Chief."

Jim watched as the younger man moved around the kitchen while he reengaged the safety on his weapon and placed it back in its holster on the table by the door. Blair didn't make mention of the gun, merely went about getting everything together for whatever it was he was planning on fixing for breakfast, but Jim could clearly hear the younger man's heart beating wildly in his chest.

Shadowed, deformed paw slowly bringing the quivering, bloody organ closer and closer, the taste sharply metallic as the heart is devoured...

Jim barely made it to the bathroom in time.

Breathe, Sandburg, breathe.  This is just one of those weird things that happen sometimes.  Sometimes sentinels get wonky.  You know that.  He didn't mean it, didn't mean it, didn't mean it.  Can't throw you out now.  Not like the last time.  He tightened his grip on the dishes he held.  Don't go there, man.  Bad memories.  All behind us now.  Not going to happen again.  We won't let it.

He set a plate down on the kitchen table while he stole a glance at Jim.  Walking out of the bathroom to find Jim in some kind of zone out with his gun pointed right at Blair had scared the shit out of the anthropologist.  But he was able to bring the sentinel back from the edge of the abyss. The confused look on Jim's face when the detective weakly assured him he was 'fine' told the story.  He'd have to pry the information out of his friend, to find out what Jim had focused on so intently that he zoned.  He hadn't done that for months.

Theories started to tumble around in his head as Blair moved about the kitchen, pouring the ingredients for his algae shake into the blender, pretending nothing was wrong.  A little distance before broaching the subject would be good.

"Hey, before I get too far into this, do you want eggs this morning?"  Looking back over his shoulder, Blair caught a glimpse of a too pale face as the Sentinel quickly moved from the kitchen and down the hall.  The door to the bathroom slammed shut. "Jim?" Quickly turning the blender off, he followed his friend's path, the violent heaving barely muffled by the door.

"Oh, man."  He tried to open the door, intending to check on his friend, but found it locked. Leaning his forehead against the closed door, he asked, "Jim?  You okay in there?"  The mumbled response was followed quickly by more sickening sounds.  "Guess that answers that."  Knowing that Jim wouldn't be ready to talk for a while, Blair moved back into the kitchen to wait for the detective to emerge from his refuge.  

"Okay, we both ate the same things last night, so it can't be food poisoning.  Maybe something in the coffee?"  Blair picked up the newly opened can of ground coffee, inspecting the label carefully, then setting it back on the counter.  "Same brand, same blend.  No go there, Sandburg."  Closer inspection of the counter space revealed the glass Jim had been using.  Picking that up, Blair saw that it had contained only water.  "Maybe Jim didn't rinse it enough?"  There was about half a glass left and he carefully sampled the remains.  "Nope.  No soap residue, that I can detect anyway."

His mental musings were disturbed by the sound of the shower coming to life in the bathroom.  He'd have to wait to question Jim about his health. In the meantime, there was no sense in letting food go to waste, and he did have one class to teach this morning, so Blair quickly poured his shake into a glass, and gulped it down.  

Jim had never felt so rotten in his life. Not even when he'd gotten a severe case of food poisoning as a child. And he couldn't seem to get rid of the god-awful taste in his mouth. Every time he tried to brush his teeth, his stomach would send up a rolling rumble of warning and Jim would find himself hunched over the toilet again. He was expelling mostly bile, since everything else had come up earlier, and shivering in the coolness of the tiled bathroom. Slowly, the shivering and the heaving upset of his stomach settled down, and Jim was able to stand back up and look at his reflection in the mirror.

I look like shit. I should probably call in today, but I've got to go to court. Leaning his forehead against the cool glass, Jim made his choice. Shower, dress, act normal and go to work.

As the hot water pounded his body, Jim realized the elusive images that had plagued him since waking were fading, until he could recall nothing of them, other than the vague sense of unease which had permeated his mind. The squeal of the faucet handle turning in his right hand sliced through his ears and Jim had to fight to bring his hearing back down to 'normal' range. Then touch went out of whack as he tried to dry off with the Egyptian cotton towel he normally used. It raked across his skin, feeling like thousands of tiny, sharp nails. Jim dragged the dial back on his sense of touch, only to have his eyesight go bonkers.

Clenching his teeth, Jim finished drying off, then forced himself to regain control over his senses. He didn't want to bug Blair about this right now. The kid was too busy at the university and sure as hell didn't need to be bothered with this shit. Besides, he'd been doing just fine handling his senses for over a year now and, with just a little concentration.... There. Everything back where it needed to be. Locating his robe on the hook and unlocking the door, Jim slowly emerged from the torture chamber known as his bathroom and walked out into the hall.  "Sandburg?"  Damn, did he yell?  His voice sounded extremely loud to his ears so he yanked on the old dial to pull his hearing back down to 'normal.' 

"Jim, you doing all right now?"  Blair turned away from the counter to look at the sentinel, and Jim smiled at him. 

"Yeah.  Must've been something I ate last night. I'm fine now."  Jim crossed over to the stairs leading up to his lofty bedroom. "You going to be at Rainier all day?"

"Yeah. I have class this morning, then I'll be getting tests ready for my students. But if you need me, call. Okay?"

"Sure thing." Glancing over at the clock on his bedside table, he called, "Hey! Sandburg! You're going to be late!" It was already nearing eight o'clock and he knew Blair's first class was at nine.

"SHIT!" The sound of the younger man scrambling down the spiral staircase and rummaging through his apartment below floated up to Jim's ears.  There wasn't even a need to crank up the dials on his auditory sense.  The last thing Jim heard was the slamming of the door below. 

"Note to self -- check to make sure Sandburg locked his door before leaving."

The sun broke through the gray clouds just as Jim pulled into the garage at Police Headquarters. He gunned the powerful motor just a touch to get inside the darkened parking area before the glare could blind him. Without needing Blair's help earlier, he'd been able to regain control over most of his senses, but his eyesight was still acting a bit flaky. Going from complete and total darkness to, what seemed to him at the time, the overly bright loft had sent him into a tailspin, and that proceeded to escalate into a major headache. Just what he needed to start his day.

The fluorescent bulbs humming off pitch on the elevator ride up to Major Crime's floor had Jim snarling before he ever stepped off the conveyance. What the hell is wrong with you, Ellison? He hadn't had this much trouble out of his senses in well over two years. Schooling his expression into one of complete determination and trying his best to look like he wasn't in a hurry, he made his way towards his desk, hoping to down a few Tylenol caplets before anyone could notice.


Captain Banks' voice rolled across the noise level of the bullpen much like thunder rolled across the open plains and echoed around in Jim's head as he fought to regain control of his still buzzing ears. Looking up towards the man as Simon strode across the room, Jim managed to palm the three caplets and dry-swallow them before his boss approached him. "Captain?"

"Don't get comfortable. You just got a new case. Homicide, possible ritual murder, over at Forest Grove Park." Simon spun away from him to call out to a few of the other detectives in the office, "Rafe, Connor, Joel, you're in on this as well."

Jim moved aside as Rafe joined the growing circle of officers while Banks began to give the sketchy details. "Patrol got the call about 40 minutes ago. One of the city's Parks and Recreation groundskeepers found the DB in the old amphitheater deep inside Forest Grove. Patrol's already cordoned off the area, forensics has their Crime Scene team getting their gear assembled and, due to the nature of the scene, the police chief has asked that Ellison be the lead on the case."

Jim looked up from the notes he was taking, only a little surprised that the Chief had requested his services. Ever since he, Blair and Simon had let the jaguar out of the bag, so to speak, he'd found himself and Major Crime being handed all sorts of cases that they normally wouldn't see at all. "Let me guess, the Chief figures I'll see or smell something that might get past Serena's team?"

"Oh, don't feel so rotten, Jimbo." Connor gave him a wicked grin. "It's not everyone who gets likened to a bloodhound. You just happen to BE one." Muffled snickers could be heard coming from the group of detectives.

"Okay, that's enough to get you started. Ellison, you need to meet with Sergeant Anderson when you get to the scene; he was the first responding officer. The rest of you follow Ellison's lead and let's hope that this is an isolated case." Simon headed toward his office, stopped and turned around. "Jim, call me if you see anything there that seems out of place."

"Other than the DB?" He grinned at his Captain before shooing the others out of the bullpen ahead of him. Once they hit the garage level, Jim doled out the assignments. "Rafe, you and Connor team up and canvass the area once we get there. Look for any possible witnesses that Patrol might have missed. Joel?" He turned towards the former EOD specialist. "You still have the department's camcorder in your car? Good. We may need it. Okay, who wants a ride out there?"

Jim arrived at the park well before the others. For some reason, no one had taken him up on his offer to ride with him. He pulled his Ford truck in behind the Coroner's van. Stepping out of the truck, he was hailed by a familiar voice, "Ellison! Over this way!" Turning to see Sergeant Terrance Anderson waving at him, Jim trotted over to the man's side.

"Terry, what'cha got?"

"A really nasty DB over on the stage of the amphitheater, and I mean nasty. A few of my guys damn near queered the crime scene for you... "


Anderson chuckled, "Oh, don't worry, they moved fast enough. Just watch where you step."

"Got'cha." Jim heard the sound of the rest of his team pulling up and turned to signal them in the right direction. "Okay, now that we're all here--" he gestured towards the Sergeant "--lead the way."

Ducking under the bright yellow crime scene tape about 40 yards from the 'stage,' Jim's steps faltered as he surveyed the scene for the first time. It seemed oddly familiar to him, yet he couldn't recall ever having visited Forest Grove Park before. His slow pace came to a complete halt as something tickled at the back of his upper sinus cavities, irritating him and threatening to explode-- "aaaa-CHOOOOO!" <sniffle>

"Whoa! That damn near ruptured my eardrums! You all right, Ellison?"

Pinching the bridge of his nose, trying to stave off another sneeze, Jim had to settle for a 'negative' shake of his head to answer Connor's question. She moved in closer to his side, placing her hand on the small of his back and lowering her voice to the level Sandburg had trained her and Simon to use so they could help Jim when he wasn't able to be there. "Okay, filter out whatever it is that is bugging you, block it and try to lower the sensitivity level down to about a two."

Working with anyone other than Sandburg while trying to regain control of his senses usually took a bit longer than usual. He waved Rafe and Taggart on toward the site while he hung back with Connor and worked on his sense of smell.

"Finally! Thanks, Connor." He relaxed a little more as he realized he could no longer smell the wet, earthy, almost moldy scent of freshly cut weeds and grass that had sent him on the sneezing jag which had lasted over five minutes.

"No worries. Allergies, right?" She looked up at him, a knowing, almost conspiratorial gleam shining in her eyes.

"Right. Hayfever, actually." He pointed to the huge tractor-like mower parked close to the stage, where Joel and a paler than normal Brian Rafe stood, examining the body that was awaiting Jim and Megan's arrival. "The groundskeeper must have gotten out here early to mow the park and found the body."

"Probably. Let's go, shall we?"

Puzzling over his reaction to the whole thing, Jim followed the Inspector as she walked down the slight incline. He'd never had allergies to grass or weeds before, just sage and flowers, and he couldn't shake the idea that this park was someplace he'd never come to, yet it all seemed so-- He looked down at the body and his heart damn near thudded to a stop.

The scene was like something out of a nightmare. Four heavy wooden stakes had been hammered into the hard-packed soil of the natural stage area. Ropes stretched from the stakes to the limbs of the victim. The body was arched backwards over a large stone, hands stretched over his head and almost touching the ground. The pale pink bones of the victim's rib cage glistened in the morning light while flies and other members of the insect world buzzed around the gaping, open wound. From where Jim stood, it looked as if the victim's heart had been forcefully ripped from his chest. The edges of the wound were jagged, cut with something with a less uniform edge than a knife, but what really caught Jim's attention was the painted markings on the man's exposed, nearly naked flesh.

"Uh, excuse me, gents--" Megan Connor quietly announced before turning away and running for the nearest edge of the cordoned off area. Jim had to shut down his hearing to 'normal' levels to avoid the sounds of the tough-as-nails Australian retching up her morning tea.

Joel Taggart shook his head as he lifted up the camcorder to begin taping the scene. "She'll be fine. I nearly tossed my cookies when Rafe and I got down here. You ready to roll, Jim?"

"Yeah. Rafe? Go check on Connor and then get with Anderson and see if his uniforms came up with any witnesses for us. Then ask the Sergeant to sit on the groundskeeper a little longer for me, will ya?"

"You got it, Jim."

He waited until Brian had trotted out of earshot then pulled his cell phone from his pocket. He looked over at Joel, who had the camcorder already working and trained on him, and shrugged. "Might as well update Captain Banks while I do the commentary for the record."

"It's your show. I'm just the camera operator on this one."

Jim placed the call, waving for Joel to point the camera in another direction.


Jim winced as Simon practically roared into his end of the phone hook up. "Captain, Ellison. You wanted out of place? I'd say we've got it."

"Hang on... " Jim could hear his boss rummaging for a pen or pencil before he came back on the line. "Okay, shoot."

Nodding towards Joel, who had turned the focus of the video camera back onto the victim, Jim catalogued what he was seeing for the video record and for his Captain. "Victim appears to be a Caucasian male, maybe between 50 and 65 years of age. We'll have to wait for Dr. Wolf to confirm that. He's wearing what appears to be a breechcloth and is covered with what looks to be some kind of thick, blue paint in symbols that *almost* remind me of some of the ones I saw in ruins in South America during my stay in the La Montana region of Peru...."

Blair Sandburg stood at the blackboard, chalk in hand. "Okay, who can give some areas where the Aztec and Mayan cultures were similar?" A girl with short blonde hair raised her hand. "Yes, Linda?"

"They worshipped the same gods."

The professor wrote 'similarities' on the board and underneath it, 'religious beliefs'. "Good start. Anyone else?" When everyone's gaze shifted to the door, he turned around. His teaching assistant, Denise Breton, stood there, a tall, imposing black man behind her. "Think about that for a moment," Blair told his class.

Setting down his chalk, Blair crossed to the doorway. "Simon, what are you doing here? It's Jim, isn't it? Something's happened to Jim!" He could feel his heart beginning to race.

"Calm down, Sandburg. Jim's fine. I just need your anthropological expertise at a crime scene."

Blair's eyebrows crawled toward his hairline. "Now? Uh, okay." He turned toward his assistant. "Denise, can you cover for me the rest of the day? My notes are on the podium."

"Sure, Blair." She stepped up to the board as Blair left with Simon.

"I have to stop by my office first," Blair told the captain as they strode quickly through the corridors of Hargrove Hall. "What's this all about?"

Simon shook his head. "I'm not entirely sure. A Patrol unit found a body in Forest Grove Park. From their description, it sounds like some kind of ritual murder. And you're the closest thing we have to an expert in cults and rituals, so you're getting the call. Jim's already at the scene."

Reaching his office, Blair unlocked the door and ducked inside. He grabbed his backpack, then rejoined Simon in the hall. "Okay, let's go."

Blair shivered as he stepped out of Simon's car. He felt the hair rise on the back of his neck, and nausea knotted his stomach. Usually he didn't start to feel sick until after he'd seen a dead body. His strange reaction startled Blair enough that he didn't immediately follow Banks toward the amphitheater.

"You coming?" the captain called over his shoulder.

"Uh, yeah, just getting a first impression." He broke into a trot to catch up to the taller man.

The preliminary inspection of the body over, Jim waved Joel back and took a look at the overall scene again. His eyes skirted away from the stage and the body and looked back to where he could see Rafe and Connor conferring with Sergeant Anderson about something. Beyond them, movement caught Jim's eye and he focused past them to see Blair getting out of the passenger side of Captain Banks' sedan. "Damn it! Why did Simon bring Sandburg here?"

Taggart looked startled at his tone, and Jim shook his head. "Sorry, didn't mean for that to come out like it did, Joel. It's just that I know Sandburg had a pretty heavy schedule at the University today and he sure as hell doesn't need to see this." He waved at the body, now covered with a space blanket.

"The kid's pretty tough, Jim. And the body painting and the symbols would seem to be his area. Maybe Simon's hoping Blair can shed some light on a possible motive." Joel pointed towards the others who were still talking with Anderson. "Come on, maybe Rafe and Connor found something worthwhile."

Jim grimaced as he followed Joel over to where the Sergeant and the other detectives were standing, noting how agitated Connor seemed to be. "Looks like they found something, the way Connor's waving that evidence bag around."

Jim picked up his pace as he approached the three, and came to a halt in a hurry as Connor turned to face him. She held the plastic bag up towards him. "Ellison! One of the officers found this stack of clothing not too far from here. Might belong to the victim."

Taking the bag from Megan, he looked over the contents. "Looks like some sort of uniform." He flipped the pouch over to view the other side. "This is a yarmulke. Where exactly was this found?" He glanced over at Anderson, who nodded his head back towards the path that they'd all followed down to the amphitheater.

"I had the men form up a grid search. Here's the map," Anderson handed Jim the folded paper in his hand, "The clothing was found about five yards away from the stage, and before you ask, yes."

Jim grinned at the Sergeant. Terry had all the markings of making a good detective one day, if he would just take the tests. "Film's enroute to the labs?"

"Damn straight. My people learned a good lesson from the screw-ups of the past. They marked, tagged, photographed and bagged anything and everything that *might* possibly be related to your murder." Terrance Anderson shrugged, "Of course, that means you'll get a lot of trash and crap, but at least the park's been cleaned."

"I appreciate that, Terry." Jim nodded then found his attention drawn to a smaller bag handled by Brian Rafe. "Rafe, is that a wallet in your hands?"

"Yeah, I pulled the contents and if the photo on the driver's license is accurate," Rafe handed the bag over and Jim looked at the photo ID that his fellow detective had displayed on top of the leather wallet, "I think this was the victim's stuff."

"I think you're right, Rafe. Joel, what do you think?" He handed the bag over to the captain.

Joel took a moment to carefully study the photo. "It's him. Stan Rabinovich, 2442 West Maple, Cascade." He handed the evidence back to Jim. "That address sounds really familiar."

"We'll look it up when we get back to the station. Terry? Where's that groundskeeper who found the body?" Jim asked of Anderson, who gestured to where a Patrolwoman stood with a young Asian-looking man dressed in khaki coveralls. "Okay, I need to go talk to him." He moved to block Simon and Blair from continuing their way towards the crime scene, holding up a hand to stop them, while he continued handing out assignments. "Can the rest of you make sure our 'evidence' makes it back to the department and start tracking down Mr. Rabinovich's stats?"

Joel nodded. "We can do that. You want one of us to wait for you?"

"Nah, I think Terry and I can handle the groundskeeper." Jim jerked his head at Anderson, who was walking over to where the witness waited. Then he turned his attention to Simon and Blair. "Captain, Blair. What are you two doing here?"

"I called Sandburg in on this one, Ellison. He *is* on the payroll as a consultant and, from what you told me over the phone, he might be able to help."

"Jim? You still don't look so hot. You sure you're feeling okay?" Blair reached out an arm to clasp Jim on the shoulder, but Jim moved back a step.

"I'm fine, Chief. Just a little edgy, okay?" Jim paused to shake his head; the buzzing noise of the local insect population seemed to have intensified again. Seeing the concerned looks on his friends' faces, he gave them a rueful grin. "Sorry, slight headache." He grabbed Blair's arm as the anthropologist peered past him toward the crime site. "Chief, I'm not going to lie to you. It's a really nasty scene. As much as I'm sure your help will prove to be valuable, you don't have to do this right now. Joel and I got everything on tape--"

Blair interrupted him and shook off his grip. "I'll be okay, Jim. And not to burst your bubble or anything, but a videotape can't catch everything that an up close and personal inspection by a trained observer can."

"I'll stay right by his side, Jim. If he looks like he's going to toss cookies, I'll make sure he doesn't hurl on the victim." Simon assured him.

"Just watch your own stomach, sir. I wasn't kidding; it's pretty gruesome." Jim turned on his heel, leaving the two men alone to do what ever they wanted. He waved the Coroner's Office assistants over, advising them that it would be a bit longer before they could have the body. That done, he caught up to Anderson, nodding a greeting towards the Patrolwoman as the Sergeant introduced Jim to the witness.

"Detective Ellison? This is Mr. Sun Yat Yu. Mr.Yu, this is Detective Ellison. Please tell him what you told me when I arrived, will you?"

Blair followed Simon down the path toward the amphitheater, feeling more and more uneasy the closer he came to the crime scene. The very air was heavy and oppressive, and he had the grotesque image come to mind of lifeless fingers tracing over his skin. Intent on his internal observations, Blair didn't notice when Simon came to a stop until he ran into the tall man's back. "Sorry."

Banks looked down at him. "Sandburg, you stay here. I'll check it out, and decide if you need to see--"

"I've seen dead bodies before, Simon," he bristled, then pushed past the other man. Almost immediately Blair regretted it. A forensics tech had just pulled the space blanket away from the corpse.

Arms and legs held fast by priests, back bowed over the sacred stone, hair nearly touching the ground. Prayers rising through the clear night, calling on their god, on the dark one. Smoky blade reflecting starlight, slashing through flesh and bone as easily as it cut the air ....

Blair staggered back, his hand going to his mouth. He wasn't going to be sick, he wasn't. Closing his eyes, he turned away for a moment, struggling to control his runaway thoughts and stomach. I can do this. I have to do this.

Shoving away the strange images, Blair forced himself to think like an anthropologist, to pretend this was an excavation. Pulling his notebook and pen from his pocket, he began to write. The stone, the hyperextension of the chest--that was Mayan or Aztec, or even Mixtec. The gaping wound ran horizontally across the chest between the second and third ribs, fracturing the breastbone. The technique was known as a transverse thoracotomy, one of several methods employed by those cultures for sacrifice. It was quicker, and perhaps more humane for the victim than the midaxial thoracotomy, in which the breastbone was cut vertically down its length using a serrated blade or a hammer and chisel. He paused, staring at the word he'd written, then circled it. Sacrifice. But why?

He shook his head. Impressions first, analysis later, Sandburg. He circled the body, peering at the paint marks. They looked familiar, but the rain they'd had the night before had caused them to run a bit, and he wasn't certain. He drew a couple of the clearest ones in his notebook. He'd have Dan Wolf make sure to get good photos of them before the autopsy.

Blair turned his attention to the ropes encircling the ankles and wrists. Now that was odd. There was only minor chafing of the skin, indicating that either the man had been unconscious or he'd had no fear of death.

He climbs the steps of the teocalli, the bells on his ankles gaily ringing. There is no fear in his heart. He is the chosen one.

"Sandburg, you okay?" A hand descended on Blair's shoulder.

Blair nearly jumped out of his skin. "Geez! Simon! Don't do that!"

The captain covered his nose and mouth with his hand. "God, how can you stand to be this close? The smell is horrible."

"Mouth breathing," Sandburg automatically answered, though now that Simon mentioned it--"I think I've had a good enough look for now." He headed back toward the parking lot, Banks following him.

"What the hell is all this junk?" Jim threw yet another clear-bagged soda can into the trashcan near his feet as he, Connor, and Rafe sorted through the 'evidence' that had been bagged, tagged and sent in from the Forest Grove Park crime scene. The boxes of stuff found within a twenty-yard radius of the 'death scene' covered the entire top of the large conference table and the three of them had been digging through the detritus for well over an hour.

"Well, Anderson told you that his people cleaned the park... " Brian Rafe grimaced as he tossed a thankfully bagged, and obviously used, prophylactic into the trashcan by his chair. "I just wish they'd used a little more discretion. Gross!"

Megan Connor stood up to start digging through a new box of goodies, one that had been hand labeled as 'toys and other suspect stuff' and started tossing out old, worn out baseballs, a thoroughly chewed up yellow Frisbee and a few other items. Then she let out a low whistle through clenched teeth. "Well, this is odd. Look at this." She pulled up the bag and handed it over to Jim. "Looks like someone broke their recorder and one of the boys in blue picked it up for them."

Jim looked at the item, feeling oddly queasy but put it down to having to deal with the myriad of odors filling the room. "It's a wooden flute, Connor. Not a recorder. Probably some kid's toy that got tossed. I don't see a connection to our case, do you?"

"Nope," she announced as the bag made the trip from her hand to the trash, only to bounce out onto the floor. "Damn it." She bent over to pick the flute up and placed it back on the tabletop. "Looks like we need to have the janitors haul out more trash. I'll call them this time."

"Thanks, Connor. And see if you can get them to bring up a can of freshener this time!" Rafe called out as the Inspector left the room. "I think this shirt is going in the trash when I go home for lunch."

"Might not be a bad idea, Rafe. You're beginning to reek just a bit... " Jim teased the normally fastidious man.

"Oh great! If you can smell it over the rest of the odors in here, it's GOT to be bad."

"Well... " Jim shrugged. "Look at it this way; you live pretty close, you have an hour for lunch and I'm willing to bet that you can find the time to shower and eat while you're at home. Please, find the time." Tossing the latest Wonderburger sandwich wrapper to join the overflowing trash pile, Jim stood up and reached for anther box of 'evidence' to sort through. "In fact, I'm planning on hitting the showers downstairs as soon as we get through with all this sorting."

"Please do, Ellison. And I really don't care if you work the rest of the day in your sweatpants and a tee-shirt." Captain Banks entered the conference room, a pale-faced Blair Sandburg on his tail, and handed Jim the pink 'while you were out' form in his hand. "Looks like you have all week to spend on this case. The defense attorney in the Jeff Campbell case entered a plea of 'no contest' -- case is over except for the deal making by the Prosecutor's Office."

"Good. I didn't want to go to court over that case anyway." Jim wadded up the note and tossed it towards the nearest, least full trashcan and watched as it still managed to bounce out when it landed. "Damn, guess the Jags aren't going to want me after all." For his feeble attempt at humor, all he got was a snort from Simon, a moan from Brian and absolutely no response from Blair. "You doing okay, Sandburg?"

He watched as the consultant looked up from his inspection of the items gathered on the tabletop, his face flushing bright red. "Yeah. I'm okay. A little queasy, but I just came back from Dan's office where I took another look at the body of Mr. Rabinovich."

"Why?" Jim clenched his jaw shut when he heard the tone of his voice and pinched the bridge of his nose. The headache, which had abated somewhat, was making a comeback. "Sorry, didn't mean to snap."

Blair waved off his apology absently, his eyes glued to something on the table that Jim couldn't see from where he sat. "I wanted to make sure he was missing his heart. He was." Sandburg held up the broken wooden flute that had escaped the trash earlier. "Was this found at the scene?"

"Yeah, it's junk. Not pertinent to the murder." Jim shrugged.

"It might be, Jim. There are several ceremonies from South America that employ musical instruments before, during, and after a sacrifice is performed. And those marks that were painted on the body? Sometimes that was done to change the appearance of the victim, to make them more pleasing to the gods before they were killed--"

"It's probably just junk, Sandburg, pure and simple. Some kid probably broke it, then tossed it into the woods so he or she could tell the parents that they'd lost it." Jim stood up and started to pace the conference room. "Look, I think this is going to turn out to be committed by some sicko who saw a show about your 'sacrifices' on the Discovery Channel or The History Channel and tried to stage the scene in order to throw the investigation off track." Looking at his friend's face, Jim decided to recant a little. "But I'll keep your suggestion in mind, okay?" Before he could continue, there was a polite knock on the door and Brian Rafe stood up to answer it. The person on the other side of the door handed a sheaf of papers to the younger detective, who in turn handed them to Jim.

"Now this is more like it." He read the material quickly and thought out loud while doing it. "Stan Rabinovich was a Rabbi at a small synagogue located at 2442 West Maple and, get this, he's in our databanks." He saw the silent question in Simon's eyes and handed the paperwork to the Captain.

"Interesting. Says here that he filed several complaints with Patrol about harassment of his temple members." Simon handed the papers back to Jim. "Go check it out. Maybe someone at Rabinovich's synagogue can shed some light on the man himself. Sandburg, you're the closest thing we have to an expert in all things Jewish, so stick with Ellison. I'll pull Joel in here to help Connor and Rafe finish going through this stuff and help them myself."

Ellison nodded, grabbing his jacket from the back of his chair and heading out the door. Blair caught up to him by the elevator. "You're thinking this is going to be a hate crime, aren't you, Jim?"

"Yeah, I am. It's a starting place at least, and a better theory than that 'sacrifice' thing you spouted off back there." Jim entered the elevator and punched the button that would take them to the parking level with more force than was really needed.

"Chill, man. I was just thinking out loud...."

Continue on to Act 2