Novation Productions Virtual Season Five Episode Eight

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Part 2

By CarolROI and Suisan

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As he pulled the Ford pickup off Prospect onto the main thoroughfare, Jim couldn't shake the feeling that he'd *heard* someone laugh back at the loft. Things felt off-balance, out of place--like his keys had been. He had missed the basket on the table, something he'd never done before. Then the other thought struck him. Why had he lied to Blair? Just because he'd felt uneasy about the missing time, or was there something else involved? Had he gone for a midnight stroll, in the chill damp morning? If so, why?

Mentally shaking off his thoughts and trying not to react outwardly to the tremble that skittered down his spine, Jim turned his attention to the task at hand. He had a crime scene to get to and yet another murder to investigate.

The address Blair had given Jim as they got into his truck led to a nice, single-story brick home a couple of blocks away from Saint Dymphna's Catholic Church, and a block away from the seawall and the ocean. Jim couldn't miss the location if he'd tried. The street, driveway and a few front yards were covered with emergency vehicles, all flashing their lights in the darkness of the early winter morning.

Pulling up behind the silver-colored Buick he knew was issued to Captain Simon Banks, Jim shut down the engine, opened his door and shivered hard enough to shake the truck. The light breeze blowing off the nearby water was unusually chill for this time of year. He glanced toward the eastern sky. It was already showing some faint light from the soon-to-rise sun, and he realized the day was probably going to be dreary, gray and drizzly. The cloud cover was already thick and the sea breeze was pushing more clouds in from an Alaskan cold front.

"I knew it! You're sick, aren't you, Jim?" Blair's words interrupted Jim's musings on the weather.

"I'm fine. Just got a chill, that's all, Chief." Slamming the door shut, he hoped to put an end to Blair's questions about his health. Ellison took in the surrounding scene of rubberneckers, trying to see if any were acting overly interested. He moved toward one of Serena's forensic technicians. "Go find Simon, Sandburg. I'll be right back."


He didn't miss the surly, yet worried, tone of his friend's voice, but he pushed that concern to the back of his mind. "Donnie!" Jim hailed the tech. "You wouldn't happen to have a camcorder in your bag of tricks this morning, would you?" he asked as he walked up beside the tow-headed tech.

"Yeah. You want one of us to tape the crowd?"

"Now I know why Lieutenant Chang has such high hopes for you. You been inside yet?" Jim pointed over his shoulder towards the cream-colored house, already being cordoned off with the yellow crime scene tape.

"Not yet. Captain Banks asked us to wait until you and a few more of the task force members showed up. Give me a heads up if it's really bad, will ya?"

"Squeamish?" Jim asked at he grinned at the technician.

"Not me. Annie." Donnie pointed towards a woman, just now getting out of her car where she'd parked on the edge of the confusion. She was a petite brunette and even under her heavy coat, Jim could see how ungainly the woman's movements looked. "She's about halfway through her pregnancy, and for some strange reason the last few weeks the sight of blood has her tossing. She's not really happy about that since she's one of our better crime scene photographers."

"Gotcha. Have her run the camcorder," the detective suggested as he saw one of the uniformed police officers on perimeter detail stop the pregnant woman from crossing the police barricade.

"Great idea."

Jim watched as Donnie left to help his fellow technician get through the police line then turned his full attention on the house and the crime that had brought him here.

The wind started to pick up, bringing with it the unwanted, unmistakable odor of blood. Biting back the sudden urge to empty his stomach again, like he had earlier back at the loft, he climbed the steps leading to the porch. At least I know I can't be pregnant. Maybe it's some form of stomach flu. Lord knows what I've been exposed to over the last few months. He listened carefully before entering the house, and was rewarded with the voices he'd been hunting for. Blair, Simon, and Frank Sydoriak were inside and, from the sound of things, already processing the crime scene. Fighting off another wave of nausea and choking on bile, Jim Ellison entered the residence.

Blair trailed behind Simon and Frank Sydoriak, steeling himself for the gruesome scene to come. The trio came to a stop outside a door guarded by a uniformed cop.

"Sandburg, you wait here," Simon told him, and unlike at the rabbi's crime scene, Blair didn't argue.

He took up a position against one wall of the hallway. Something prickled along the back of his neck, and he shuddered. The feeling he'd gotten at the other crime scene was back. It was like a weight in the house, in the air, an almost suffocating sensation. Trying to ignore it, Blair dug into his backpack for a notebook and pencil. As he pulled them out, the silver and stone bracelet Sky had given him caught on the bag's flap. He ran his fingers over the smooth metal, thinking that if stones could offer protection, he'd take some now, thank you.

Captain Banks stuck his head into the hallway. "Come on in, Blair. Be careful where you walk."

Blair entered the room slowly, taking in everything but the body. It looked like the room was a combination library/study. Bookshelves lined all four walls from floor to ceiling. A leather armchair sat in one corner with a tall reading lamp next to it. Nothing seemed out of place, and Blair could almost imagine this as a quiet retreat on a rainy day, except for the body displayed on the desk, a bloody wound running across its chest, marring the blue symbols painted there.

Frayed stick dipped in bright paint moving closer, tickling as praises to the dark one are written on skin. Drums beating in a thundering rhythm, making the heart pound, making the feet move. Dancing through the crowded city streets, bells on ankles ringing, shrill whistle rising, believers gathering behind. "I am Nahuaque! I am Night Wind! I AM GOD!"

What in the hell?

"Sandburg! You in there, son?"

Blair let out the breath he didn't realize he'd been holding. "Yeah, Simon, I'm okay. Just give me a minute." The other man clasped him on the shoulder briefly, then turned back to directing Sydoriak in photographing the scene.

Following his friends' voices, Jim soon found himself in a back room where the body was grotesquely draped over a large, ornate desk. The cream-colored carpeting around the desk was drenched in blood. Frank was operating a 35mm camera, snapping as many shots of the body as he could while being very careful about where he stepped. Sandburg was pointing something out to Simon.

"--see? Right here, just below the throat. Same marking as was on Rabbi Rabinovich."

"I see it, Sandburg. Have you heard back from your friend about the language thing? Is this that Nuatal stuff you were talking about? Frank, you got a picture of this already?"

"Yes, Captain. One of the first shots I took."

Jim spoke up from where he stood, rooted to the threshold of the doorway. "It's Nahuatl, Simon."

The tall captain turned to look at him. "That's what I meant. I'm sure Sandburg understood me. By the way, it's about time you got here, Ellison. What held you up?"

Pulling on a pair of powder-free latex gloves, Jim nodded as he cautiously walked into the room. Avoiding the large puddles of blood, he stepped over to the desk and bent over the fifth victim. "I'm sure he did too. As for what held me up, I was outside arranging to have one of the Forensic techs record the onlookers we've attracted this morning." He gingerly reached out to touch the elderly victim's bare leg. He voiced his observations. "No rigidity yet, body's still slightly warm. He hasn't been dead long. Maybe three or four hours." He glanced over the mutilated body once more, then looked away. Death, no matter its form, wasn't kind to anyone and he'd seen enough examples to know this by heart. Straightening, he turned towards Simon as Frank finished up one roll of film and noisily rewound the camera. "Any idea who our victim is and who found him?"

Blair answered for Simon. "Father Thomas Gibson, retired. Home Health Nurse from Cascade General found him when she came in this morning to check on her patient." Blair moved back in to take another look at the markings on the body, his fingers tracing, without touching, one of the symbols. "Interesting. I think this is different from the ones found on the Rabbi. Or maybe they were just blurred by the rainfall? I need a good picture of this one..."

"Doc? Could you move just a little to your left?" Frank asked as he stepped in to take more photos of the body, making sure to get a clear one of the symbol Blair had just pointed out.

"Sorry." Jim watched as Blair walked away from the desk and started to examine the bookshelves that filled the room.

Simon's voice drew his attention. "The reporting party was pretty shook up when I got here. I've got Corporal Xiong sitting with her out at the ambulance. You want to interview the witness now or do you want to stay in here and I'll get started on her statement?" Simon's verbal tap-dance was almost amusing. While it had come out that Jim was in possession of two heightened senses, no one other than Megan, Simon and, of course, Blair, knew he was a sentinel. So anytime he needed an excuse to go over a scene with all his senses, Simon had learned to obfuscate -- Sandburg style.

Ellison nodded, gesturing with his eyes towards Sydoriak. "I'd like to get started in here, if Frank's done with the shutter-bug routine?" The nearly constant popping of the other detective's flashbulb and the overwhelming, metallic smell of spilt blood was starting to intensify his headache again.

"Okay. You done yet, Frank?" Simon looked pointedly at Sandburg, a silent command flowing from his eyes as Sydoriak shrugged.

"Yeah, I'm done. Mind if I tag along on the interview, Captain?"

"Not at all. Let's leave these two to their work and inform the crime scene techs." Simon turned back from the doorway. "How long do you think you'll need before I can send the team in?"

Jim looked towards Blair, who was engrossed in the books lining the floor to ceiling shelving, then his watch. "Give us about twenty minutes."

"Fine. Let's go talk to a witness, Sydoriak." The two men left the room.

Examining the body again, Jim noticed how the killer had been forced to adapt his technique to the location of his latest crime. He'd used the large oak desk, stretching the priest across it, ropes going from his wrists and ankles to the legs of the desk. In place of the rounded rock he'd used on Rabinovich to raise the chest, the killer had stacked several books underneath the victim's back. "Escalating, but inventive. This killer is smart and thinks on his feet." Looking under the desk, he spotted the broken flute that seemed to appear at every one of the killer's places of sacrifice. "Flute's here, under the desk." Jim pointed the wooden instrument out for Blair, who looked, nodded and then retreated from the area back towards the bookshelves.

"So he's staying within his pattern. Using the same method for the extraction of the heart and leaving behind the broken instrument. I wonder where we'll find the priest's clothing?" Blair sounded somewhat distracted, as if his mind was already processing some new bit of information and wasn't quite sure what to think of it. Jim looked up from his inspection of the immediate area surrounding the victim to see Blair, hands covered in latex gloves, reaching up to pull down a rather thick book.

"Sandburg? What are you doing?"

"Just speculating here, but judging by the titles I've seen on these books, I think Father Gibson may have been an exorcist." He opened up the book he'd pulled down. "Oh, man. Look."

Crossing to where Blair stood, Jim took the book his partner handed him and read the handwritten passage on the inside cover. "To Father Tom, All the best on your recovery. May the Good Lord protect you and speed your healing -- for there are others who have need of your services." The simple statement was signed with, "The congregation of St. Dymphna's. Cascade, Washington. May 1997." Maybe whatever had happened had required the Priest to hire in-home health care.

"More people to interview. This one's not going to be any easier than Rabbi Rabinovich's case." As he started to hand the book back to Sandburg, he took notice of the title, 'Exorcism and The Catholic Church: Debunking The Myth.' A soul-deep shudder ran through his body, nearly causing him to drop the heavy volume.

Blair lurched forward and caught the book before it could fall to the blood-soaked floor and get ruined. "Damn, Jim are you sure you're okay?"

The anthropologist's hand was on his arm, almost searing him through the leather of his coat and the long sleeve of his navy blue turtleneck. Jim shook the grasp off, bothered by the contact, and nearly snarled at Sandburg. "Yeah, I'm fine. There's a slight draft in here, the front door's open, and I just caught another chill." Making sure that Blair had replaced the book back where he'd found it, Jim waved his hand at the surrounding room. "Better do my thing before the team gets in here."

Sliding the book back onto the shelf, Blair approached him, stopping about a foot away. "Okay, I'm here. You know what to do."

The sensory sweep didn't take too long, thankfully. He caught an odd underlying odor, musty, animal almost, just as the pain from his headache flared and he fell to his knees, clutching his head.

"Jim! What is it? What's wrong?"

Blair's touch, both of his hands on Jim's shoulders, didn't irritate him this time and seemed to push the pain in his head away to where he could think again. "I'm fine. Headache just spiked like crazy. Give me a moment." Rising to his feet, staggering like an intoxicated subject, he slowly made his way over towards the desk. Kneeling once he got there, he said, "Tweezers and an evidence bag. I just spotted something out of place."

"Here you go. What did you find?"

Jim glanced towards Blair's face as he took the items he requested from him. The concern from earlier was still there, but now there was a light of curiosity in the blue depths of his friend's eyes as well.

Reaching out with the tweezers to pick up the single, tiny object that had drawn his attention, he carefully placed the thin three-inch long item in the plastic evidence bag, then handed the item to Blair. "What does that look like to you, Chief?"

He watched as the anthropologist peered at the object. "A whisker? Doesn't look like human hair. Some kind of animal, maybe. But Jim, I didn't seen any signs that the Father had pets&..."

"Neither did I."

Simon Banks looked up from where he, Sydoriak and Xiong were comparing notes about the interview with Debra Wallingford, the nurse who had found their latest victim, and spotted Ellison and Sandburg on the porch of the house. "I'll be right back, gentlemen," he told the two men as he walked toward the residence. "Jim, what the hell did you do? Kneel in blood?" The detective's jean-clad legs were soaked by blood at the knees and along the cuffs.

"He nearly fainted, Simon." Blair's face was a study in contrasts. He was still clearly upset with his friend over the debacle in Wolf's office, which Simon had yet to call Ellison on the carpet for, but the overlying emotion on the anthropologist's face was concern.

"I did NOT faint."

"Then what the hell would you call it? You clutched your head, dropped to your knees, complained about the pain level--" And Blair was off and running, cataloguing everything that had happened to Ellison since he'd woken the sentinel up. Simon listened as Jim tried to explain away the symptoms, but by the time Sandburg was done chewing the detective out, he'd heard enough.

"Cool it!" He was pleased that he didn't quite raise his voice to a yell, but Simon had their attention now. "Jim, you've been fighting this, whatever it is, for over a month -- that I know of -- and then yoou take a nose-dive at a crime scene? Enough is enough. Sandburg, drive him over to Cas-Gen and Ellison, you will let a doctor examine you and you will do whatever they tell you. Got it?"

Ellison only nodded his head while handing Sandburg the keys to the Ford pickup. "Good. Now, before you go, did you find anything of interest?"

"Just this, Simon." Jim handed him a clear evidence bag and Simon held it up to inspect the contents.

"What is it?"

"Sandburg and I think it's an animal whisker. But neither of us found a trace of pets in the home."

"I'll make sure it gets to the lab. Sandburg, get him out of here. Now." Simon pocketed the bagged evidence as he watched the two men walk towards the blue and white truck, Jim nearly getting in on the driver's side until he obviously recalled that he'd been ordered to let Blair drive. The slump of the taller man's shoulders was disconcerting. Even in the middle of his worst cases, Simon had never seen Jim Ellison looking so defeated. He turned away, sending up a quick prayer to the skies above, "God, are you listening? If you hear me, please make sure it's just a flu-bug or a sinus infection. I need Ellison on this case." After that tiny bit of self-indulgence, the Captain returned his full attention back towards getting the crime scene processed.

"Donnie! Get your team in there and do a full room to room! Frank! Xiong! Check the neighborhood, you know the routine. The rest of you know your jobs as well. Step to it!"

The waiting room at Cascade General's Emergency Room wasn't even close to being at half capacity. In fact, once Sandburg had signed Jim in, George Wyler, an RN, came from the triage room to escort him back to the ER proper.

"Ellison, I see your main complaint is headaches? And you've got one now?" George's voice soothed over his frazzled aural nerve endings like a balm as Jim barely whispered an affirmative answer. "Okay, let's get your stats, then I'll take you back to an exam room and let Doc Abrams know you're here."

Jim wasn't left alone in the room for long before he heard the distinctive footfall of someone just outside his room, then a very light tap on the door opened the portal. "Ellison, what's going on with you this morning? Headaches?" The doctor, clad in heavy corduroy pants, a tan colored sweatshirt and her white lab coat, didn't move to turn on the overhead lights, using a penlight to read his chart.

"Yeah. I've been having some real killers for the past few months, Dr. Abrams. I've tried just about everything I could, but nothing gets rid of them for very long." He moved back on the table as Sheila Abrams stepped in close to him and pulled out the oto-opthalmoscope that most doctors used to look in ears, down throats, and up noses.

"Tilt your head back just a bit. Hmm, no sign of congestion or infection. Sinuses are clear." She had a quick look in his ears before she moved back away from him. "So, where is the pain centered and on a scale of 1-10, ten being the absolute worst, where is your pain level this morning?"

Jim used both hands to encircle his head. "Pain feels like a band, circling my entire head and squeezing tight. Level was at a nine earlier, but it's dropped a little, closer to a seven now." He lowered his hands as the doctor moved around the table to stand behind him, her hands warm and dry on his neck.

"Whoa, that's tight!"

The gentle kneading motion sent waves of nausea through him and he reached for the small emesis basin that George had given him earlier, after Sandburg had ratted on him and told the nurse he'd been having trouble with his stomach as well. He didn't bring much up, but what little he did was foul.

"Okay. Light sensitivity, tension, GI upset. I'm going to call Radiology and get a CAT scan scheduled for you. I'm also going to call in one of the neurologists, because while it's less common for men to suffer migraines, I think that is exactly what's going on here." She picked up his chart from the stool where she'd laid it earlier and, making notes as she walked, added one other surprise for him. "Lab tech will be in here in a few minutes to draw blood. Need to rule out infection and a few other things before I continue." The door closed behind her and Jim let out a sigh as he reclined back on the exam table.

"Great, just what I need, to see more blood this morning. Especially mine." He glared towards the ceiling. "If I get slapped in the hospital for this, I'll never forgive you, Simon."

Blair had given up pacing in the waiting room over an hour ago. Now he sat in a chair, his backpack on his lap, straining to catch any snatches of conversation that might pertain to Jim. Sheila Abrams had come out after she'd first examined Jim, and told Blair about the CAT scan. But she'd reassured him that it was just a precaution, that she felt Jim's headaches were not a symptom of anything life-threatening. Part of him was relieved, but part of him hoped she did find something, find some reason for Jim's odd behavior of the past couple of months.

At first, he'd blamed Jim's fickle temperament on the horrific nature of the case. The pressure was always higher to catch the perp when you knew he was going to kill again. Then Blair had blamed it on himself. Though he had always been busy, it seemed as if this semester he had twice as many balls in the air. Or plates. He remembered Jim comparing his life to that of a plate spinner on the Ed Sullivan show. Sooner or later, one of those plates was going to fall.

He stared at the doors to the treatment area. Maybe the plates have been falling and you didn't notice before this. He raked his fingers through his hair, pulling until it hurt. No, no, things have been okay, a little off, maybe, but Jim's been sick. And just what have you been doing about it? Why didn't you insist he see a doctor before this? You're his guide. The words rang accusingly in his head. Arrrrgh! He scrubbed his hands over his face, rubbing his eyes. This was getting him nowhere. He could blame himself until the cows came home, but it wouldn't change the fact that Jim was an adult. If he'd felt he needed Blair's help, Jim would have asked him. He always--well, usually--had before. Especially if it had to do with his senses. And Jim hadn't mentioned any sensory problems, just the headaches, and the nausea, which was most likely the result of the headaches. And round and round we go. Pick a new topic, Blair.

He rolled his head on his shoulders, trying to work the stiffness out of his neck. Damn, he was tired. He hadn't gotten any sleep at all, and it was going on 6 A.M. Should've gone to bed when Sky wanted me to, instead of doing more research. Though he'd studied the Aztec as a student, he'd never delved into their culture in depth. More of a hands-on anthropologist, Blair preferred working with and studying living, breathing cultures, instead of those dead for centuries.

Before Simon's phone call, he'd found a good site on the Internet about the Aztec, and had been reading up on the different reasons for sacrifices. The Aztec nation had been a superstitious people, believing that without blood sacrifices the world would not exist. Solar and lunar eclipses frightened them terribly, because they believed the evil gods had incredible powers then. He'd come to the conclusion that the killer had some purpose for choosing the victims he did, some greater plan, and perhaps it was based on an actual Aztec ritual, though Blair hadn't figured out which one yet. The friend he'd sent the copies of the paint markings off to had finally emailed him back with a partial translation. The word Titlacahuan, or He Whose Slaves We Are, had been written on the rabbi's body. It was another name for the Aztec god Tezcatlipoca.

Pulling a notebook out of his backpack, Blair wrote down Tezcatlipoca. What did he remember about the deity? He'd been the god to introduce first the Toltec, then the Aztec, to human sacrifice. He was the god of darkness, of war, of the night wind. He determined the destiny of every Aztec when they were born, and sat on their shoulder during their life, whispering in their ear, tempting them to do evil. He was a master of disguise, and the god of sorcerers.

Blair looked at the words he'd written. Nahuaque...night wind....He shuddered. What sacrifice would the killer think might most please Tezcatlipoca? Someone with what the killer thought of as supernatural or occult powers perhaps--a shaman, or priest, or witch. The murderer was killing the people he thought had the most influence with the god. But that still didn't answer the question of why. What did the killer want from Titlacahuan or Tezcatlipoca, -- Ehecatl or Necocyautl, or any of his other names?

Something had been bugging him ever since the task force meeting on Tuesday. Something about the dates.... Digging through his bag once again, Blair found his day planner. Starting with yesterday's date of December 3rd, he counted back through the pages until he reached the day of Rabbi Rabinovich's murder. Twenty days. And twenty days before that, Rowan disappeared. Shit! How could I have been so stupid? The twenty day signs in the tonalpohualli! He's using the fucking Aztec calendar!

Three hours! Jim had been in the hospital for three freaking hours. He'd been poked, prodded, tested and inspected like a racehorse before a major race, and he was still waiting for the results of the CAT scan. Doctor Abrams said she'd give him something for the pain as soon as she was sure there wasn't anything seriously wrong with his brain. But what if there WAS a reason, a medical one, behind his headaches? The longer he waited, dreading hearing the results, the more concerned Jim became.

The door opened as Sheila Abrams walked back into the room. "Good news, Jim. Scan came back pretty much negative; just a little activity in an area we've learned to associate with migraines. Doctor Daufleger, the neurologist who saw you earlier?" Jim nodded, recalling the caustic man and the rather rude examination he'd suffered through. "Well, Dauf is pretty sure that you're suffering from stress induced migraine-like tension headaches. No obvious tumors, no abnormal readings on the scan other than a curious little shadow that Dauf can't explain, but he's pretty sure it's just stress that's causing your headaches."

'Curious little shadow that a Neurologist can't explain?' Crap! Maybe there IS something wrong with me, despite what Dr. Abrams said? Trying not to let his concern show, Jim hopped off the table. "Then I can leave, right?"

She gave him a gentle shove that placed him back on the table. "Not so fast, Detective. First off, I'm writing orders for you to remain on complete bed rest until Monday. I've already talked with your supervisor and, while he didn't seem too happy about my orders, he understood and told me to tell you to listen to me." A smile graced her face as she pulled a rolling stool closer to the bed and sat down beside Jim's knee. "Secondly, I'm giving you a 'scrip for two items: Amitryptyline and Fiorinal. The first one is to help you relax and should only be taken before going to bed. I think if we can get your neck, shoulder and back muscles to release a little, you'll find your headaches going away. The second one is for those headaches that you don't catch in time and need a little help in defeating. And before I forget, Dauf and I talked it over, and I'm sending the results of your CAT scan to a specialist and I want you to follow up with Dr. Wiesenhunt later this week."

"Do I have a choice?"

"Sure. You can ignore my orders and my advice. But if you intend to do that, I'll throw you in a bed on third floor so fast you'll never know what hit you. At least that way I *know* you'll follow up with Wiesenhunt." She smiled as she stood back up. "Which is it going to be, Jim? Home or here?"

"I'll behave, Doc."

"Good. George will be in here in a few minutes with your prescriptions, just a few pills to tide you over until your normal pharmacy can fill them for you, and your discharge paperwork. Now, take care, make sure you follow up with the specialist and I really hope I never see you in here again, okay?"

She left in a flurry of brown and white as Jim heard the distinctive sound of an ambulance pulling up outside, heralding the arrival of more patients. George Wyler came into the room shortly after he'd managed to change out of the patient gown he'd been wearing and handed Jim the paperwork and a small white bag. "Gee, this is unusual. Regular discharge paperwork for James Ellison. World must be coming to an end. You know the routine, right, Jim?"

He nodded as he took the offered clipboard from George, noticing the appointment card for one Dr. T.L. Wiesenhunt, signed the required forms before handing the board back. The RN gave him the bag and a small piece of paper with the prescription on it. "Thanks, George. Is Sandburg still waiting for me?"

"Like he'd leave? Yeah, he's out in the waiting room, pacing a rut into the carpet. Oh, one more thing for you before you go, Jim." The tall, well-built nurse poked his head out of the room and another male nurse walked in.

"What's going on, George? Why did you call Rob in here?" Then he saw it. Rob was holding a 12cc syringe with the longest damn needle Jim had ever seen. "Oh great...."

Blair pulled the Ford into a parking space outside the loft and glanced at his partner in the passenger seat. "Jim, you awake there?"

The sentinel lifted his head from its position against the window. "Mmmph."

"I'll take that as a 'kind of'." Turning off the engine, Blair climbed out of the truck and walked around to Jim's side to open the door. Dr. Abrams had filled Blair in as Jim signed his release forms. The drugs were kicking in right on schedule.

Blair slung Jim's arm over his shoulder and hauled him out of the truck, then closed the door with a bump of his hip. Pointing them in the direction of the loft, he got them moving and hoped momentum would do the rest, as Jim was fading fast. By the time Blair wrestled them through the building door and saw the "Out of Order" sign on the elevator, he knew it was a lost cause. He managed to get Jim into the stairwell and seated on the stairs.

"Are we home yet?" Jim asked, his words slurring together.

"Just about." Blair pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and dialed his apartment, hoping Sky was still there after staying the night before. Sky answered on the third ring. "Oh, man, am I glad you haven't left for work yet."

"I asked Pepper to open for me today. I wanted to make sure you and Jim were okay after you called me when you got to the hospital. What's up?"

"Well, Jim and I are downstairs, but the elevator's out, and Dr. Abrams gave Jim a biiiiig dose of painkillers and I don't think I can get him up the stairs by myself."

"Okay, stay put. I'll be right down."

A few seconds later Blair heard the clatter of footsteps on the stairs, and Sky appeared around the turn on the landing. She descended to stand beside Blair. "Hey, Jim, how's the headache?"

Ellison gave her a lopsided smile. "Don't have one now. Everything's okie-dokie, pokie."

Sky glanced at Blair. "You weren't kidding. So how do you want to do this?"

He studied Jim for a moment, then suggested, "How about you take an arm and I take an arm?"

Putting actions to words, the couple got Jim to his feet. That done, they tackled the stairs. It was slow going, as the stairwell really wasn't wide enough for three people to walk abreast. Instead, Sky took the lead with Jim slightly behind her, Blair supporting him from one step down, and they inched up the stairs diagonally. There was a slight argument when they reached the second floor as to whether they should let Jim crash at Blair's apartment or continue upwards. The spiral staircase was out of the question. Jim mumbled something about wanting his own bed, so they trekked up the final flight to the loft.

Once inside Jim's apartment, Blair decided that going up one more set of stairs, even narrower than the ones they'd just climbed, was not going to happen. "Okay, Jim, let's get you settled here on the couch." While Blair made Jim comfortable on the cushions, removing his jacket, weapon, and shoes, Sky ran upstairs and came back with the sentinel's pillow and comforter. Blair tucked the pillow under his friend's head, noticing that Jim was already fast asleep. After covering Jim with the blanket, he plopped onto the love seat and patted the space beside him.

Sky sat down next to Blair, and he slid his arm around her shoulders to pull her in close to his side. "I love you, you know that, right?" he said with a smile.

She kissed his cheek. "Love you, too, baby, but you should be thinking about making like Jim and getting some rest. You've been up over 24 hours."

Sighing, Blair leaned his head against the back of the sofa. "Yeah, I know. And I will. I'll crash here with Jim after you go to work."

They sat there in silence for a few minutes, Blair simply enjoying the respite from the horror and worry of earlier that morning. He felt Sky's fingers lightly rubbing his knee and he relaxed even further. "That feels good," he murmured.

"How do you feel?" she asked quietly.

He knew she wasn't asking about his physical state. "Kind of like the last time, only less so. Don't know why. I got the same sensation when I got out of the truck at this scene as I did at the park, like what had happened there was so evil that it permeated even the air I was breathing. But this time I wasn't so affected by it, didn't get so *dirty*."

She grabbed his right hand and pulled it into her lap, turning it so the stones in the bracelet she'd given him faced up. "Think this might have had anything to do with the way you feel?"

Blair shrugged. "It didn't hurt. But I'll use the sea salt when I take a shower in a little bit."

"Add some rosemary and thyme to it. They work as well as sage for a cleansing, and shouldn't bother Jim's allergies." She leaned her head on his shoulder. "And they'll make you smell nice."

Blair laughed, and kissed the top of her head. Then he turned serious. "Sky, while I was waiting for Jim at the hospital, I thought about this case. I think the guy we're after is choosing his victims because of the spiritual or magical powers he thinks they have. So far he's chosen a variety of belief systems, maybe searching for something in particular. I just want you to be careful. You're a druid, and you practice magick, so you fit his pattern."

She sat up and turned to face him. "That's why Rowan was chosen? Because she was wiccan?"

He nodded. "It looks like it. Just be careful, okay? Don't go anywhere with someone you don't know. If you think someone's following you, drive to the police station. Don't take chances."

Her expression solemn, Sky nodded slowly.

"Now that I've said that, I don't think this guy is going to kill again until the twenty-third."

"What makes you think that?" she asked.

"The last three victims have all been twenty days apart. If we project that pattern forward, then the next time he strikes will be the twenty-third. But keep your guard up anyway."

"I will." She glanced at the clock on the VCR. "I have to leave for the store now. Promise me you'll get some rest?"

"I promise."

Getting to her feet, Sky bent over to give Blair a final kiss, then headed out the door.

Blair couldn't make it into the station on Monday. He had to finish grading final exams and turn in the grades for the semester. The process took him most of the day, even with Denise's help.

When he arrived home, he climbed the spiral stair to Jim's. The sentinel was in the kitchen adding what looked like beef strips to a skillet. "Hey, Jim. How did it go today? Any new leads?"

Jim looked up at him. "Task force meeting reports on the table. You want to stay for dinner? I'm making stir-fry and there's plenty."

"Sure," Blair replied absently, already engrossed in the minutes from the meeting.

Not much new on the forensics front. Manner of death was consistent with the previous murders, and the flute of the same type of wood as the rest. Other than the whisker Jim found, there was no physical evidence at the scene.

The whisker was interesting, though. It had come not from a pet, but a big cat, as in lion, tiger, leopard or jaguar. DNA testing might narrow the field to a specific species, but that took time. Rafe and Brown were assigned to get a jump on the search by checking out the zoo and all exotic cats registered with the city.

He reached the end of the minutes and attached files. "Jim, where's the info I gave you this morning on the Aztec calendar?"

Jim's expression was embarrassed as he looked up. "I swear I put the info in the truck when I left this morning, but when I got to the station it was gone. Sorry, Chief. I didn't feel qualified to explain it anyway."

"I kept it pretty simple, Jim. The tonalpohualli is the Aztec sacred calendar, the one they used to mark the celebrations and sacrifices to their different gods. In that calendar, there are two wheels, one with the numbers one to thirteen on it, the other with twenty symbols or day-signs. At the start of the calendar, the number one combines with the first symbol, the number two with the second and so on until the fourteenth day, when the number one combines with the fourteenth symbol. Both wheels progress in this manner until 260 days have passed, and the number one aligns with the first day-sign again. Our killer is committing his crime on the thirteenth of the twenty day-signs, acatl, the one ruled by Tezcatlipoca. In other words, he's killing every twenty days."

The detective looked completely confused. "It's probably better you explain it to everyone tomorrow, then you can answer any questions they have." Jim turned his attention back to cooking.

Blair set the file down on the table wondering, not for the first time, what was going on with Jim. He hadn't been himself since they'd found Rabbi Rabinovich's body and his headaches had started. Perhaps Jim's appointment with the specialist Dr. Abrams had recommended would provide some answers.

Blair was the first person Jim ran into when he returned to the station from his doctor's appointment. "Jim! You're back! What did the doctor say?"

"According to Doc Wiesenhunt, I'm fine. No brain tumor, no obvious signs of stroke or other cardiovascular disease, and since I haven't had a headache in over five days, he's pretty sure that I'm over the stress which caused the problem in the first place." Removing his jacket, draping it over his chair, Jim moved to take his seat at his desk.

"So it was just stress, huh?" Blair asked skeptically.

"Yep. Now if you don't mind, I have work to do," Jim replied a little more curtly than he intended. He pointedly opened a file folder.

Blair returned to his own desk, but Jim could feel the younger man's eyes on him every so often. He knew Blair was worried about him, but according to the specialist, there was nothing to worry about.

What was it that Wiesenhunt had said?

"A minor shadow in the area of the hypothalamus region. Nothing that looks tumorous, nothing to really worry about, unless your headaches return, Detective."

"And if they do? What does it mean?"

"Possible disorder or an organic growth. But I don't see anything that points to either one of those, so don't worry."

Don't worry? Jim shuffled through the files on his desk, trying to catch up on paperwork while his mind rolled over and over the doctor's last words. Don't worry. I'm slowly going insane, have a possible 'organic growth' in my brain... Yeap, better leave a note for Sandburg, just in case, telling him to book me into the room next to Alex at the asylum for the criminally insane.

His hands clutched the file in them, almost tearing it. Why, after being told he was fine did he now think he was 'criminally insane?' He had to pull himself together, and quit worrying over the possibility he was going nutsoid or he'd turn into a basket case before the month was over.

As the days passed, the leads to the killer dwindled. No witnesses had been found in a canvass of Father Gibson's neighborhood. The few anonymous tips the police did get had all led nowhere. In order to generate new leads, Captain Banks had released the info to the press that the killer was obsessed with the Aztec. The press had immediately dubbed him the "Aztec Axeman". This had stirred up the college community. A librarian at Rainier who had noticed his sudden interest in Aztec research had turned in Blair's name.

Frustrations were running high as time slipped through their fingers and acatl drew closer. Would Blair's theory hold true? Would the Axeman kill again on December twenty-third?

Sergeant Terrance Anderson looked up from the report he was going over to see Mai-ling Xiong enter the massive bullpen of Patrol Division. The petite Asian woman looked calm, almost serene, but Terry knew her too well...her hands, wringing the strap of her shoulder bag, showed her distress. Closing the file, he stood up and walked over to the distraught woman. "Mai-ling? What's wrong?"

"Terry! Have you seen Li? He didn't come home last night and I hoped to find him here, but everyone I've talked to...." Her voice wavered and she started to cry in earnest.

He grabbed her gently by the shoulders and drew her attention to him. "I've not seen him since he left yesterday afternoon. Are you sure he's not just tied up with one the elders he helps?"

"No! I've already called everyone that he helps and none of them have seen him for three days!" Her voice ended on a plaintive wail as she wrapped her arms around his waist.

Terry felt a chill hand squeeze his heart as tightly as Mai-ling had wrapped herself around him. Slowly he escorted her towards the Lieutenant's office while mouthing towards his corporal, 'Husky! Get Ellison and Banks down here -- now.' Settling his friend's wife on the couch in the cramped office, handing her a tissue to wipe her tears, he held her until the Captain and Ellison showed up ten minutes later.

"Terry? You called...Mai-ling!" Ellison dropped to his knees in front of Xiong's wife. "What's wrong? Why are you so upset?" Terry watched and listened as Mai-ling explained to Jim why she was here and he saw detective's face tighten in concern.

"You said he received a phone call?" Ellison asked to which the woman only nodded. "When, Mai-ling?"

"About nine last night."

"Jim?" Simon looked down at his detective as Terry stood up to let Ellison move to sit beside Mai-ling.

"Terry, can you find someone to give Mai-ling a ride home?"

"Sure. I'll be right back." Terry left the office for a second, calling out to Corporal Husky, then stepped back in to hear Ellison asking one last question of Xiong's wife.

"Mai-ling, do you recall where Li was to meet this person who called him?"

She nodded, taking a deep breath before answering. "Temple Gardens. Zen path for quiet contemplation."

Jim drove like a man possessed, emergency lights flashing, weaving in and out of traffic, barely pausing to listen for oncoming traffic before blowing through stoplights at 60mph or better. Blair, who'd showed up shortly after Mai-ling Xiong had left in Corporal Husky's patrol unit, muttered protests about his driving. Jim ignored them, concentrating on traffic, worrying that he wouldn't find Li Xiong at the Temple, lost in meditation.

Jim pulled his Ford to a sudden stop in front of the Buddhist Temple, bailing out of the cab before Blair or anyone else could catch up to him, and sprinted towards the path he knew Li loved so much. He hadn't gone more than a few yards down the secluded path before the scent of spilled blood assailed him, causing his headache to spike and his stomach to roll in protest. Jim stopped, bending over a bush on the side of the path and tried to quell his rebellious stomach. He was barely aware when Blair stopped on the path beside him even as Simon, Terry and Sydoriak rushed by, continuing down the trace.

"Jim! What is it? What's wrong?" Sandburg's hand was cool on the back of his neck even as it helped him to center himself.

"Blood. Too much blood."

"What?" Blair sounded startled.

"Blood." Jim rose back to his full height, shut down his sense of smell and pushed off, doggedly determined to find the source of the sour-sweet, metallic odor. Rounding a bend on the gravel-strewn path, he found Terry, pale and sweating, heaving the contents of his stomach over a dwarf Japanese maple tree. "Terry?" He stopped to check on the sergeant.

"Oh, God!" Terry choked back a sob and Jim started to move further down the path. "Jim! No! Don't!" the man called out, trying to catch Jim by the sleeve of his coat, but missing as Jim hurried away.

He rounded a huge, gray-granite boulder and froze. His whole world came crashing down in a thunderous roar as he took in the sight. Li Xiong, nearly naked, was strapped down to a meditation bench, his chest unnaturally extended, blue symbols painted on tan flesh, blood pooled on the gravel under the bench -- spilled from the gaping hole in his friend's chest. Jim fell to his knees, roaring out in his pain and anguish.


Continue to Act 2