Josette, Paula, & Shallan
The late afternoon sun beat upon the head of an old African native as he plodded slowly down the dirt road. A general store loomed ahead where several other men lounged under the awning. One held a drink, the sides slick with condensation. Another held an American newspaper, which he and a man sitting next to him were reading intently. The rest appeared to be dozing, swatting the occasional insect that buzzed too close.
The traveler nodded to the group then entered the store. With a determined gait, he went down an aisle, picking out the supplies he needed. A new pail, a couple of hooks, and a gallon jug of kerosene were selected. Pulling out his money, he calculated a minute, then proceeded to the cooler in the back. Because of the patronage of the white men from the Moremi Game Reserve, the store's owner had installed a refrigerator filled with American fare. The man reached in and pulled out a bottle of Snapple lemonade. Licking his parched lips in anticipation, he went to the front to pay for his items.
The cashier handed him the change.
One of the men from outside came in and leaned against a post. "Nya, you better read this article."
He slid his change into his pocket, uncapped his drink, and took a long chug. "You think so?" he asked, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
"It mentions sentinels," Butelezi said with a sly grin.
Nyajiru stiffened, nearly dropping the bottle. With slow, deliberate movements, he picked up his pail filled with his supplies and walked outside. Selecting a shady spot, he made himself comfortable on the ground. Then he let his mind absorb what his friend had said. A newspaper article about sentinels. A wondrous joy filled his soul, just thinking about it.
"See, look." Butelezi shoved the paper into his hand and pointed out the article. "It says that Blair Sandburg has written a book about a police officer who is a sentinel."
Nyajiru ignored his friend's chatter and began reading. His trembling hands made the words almost shimmer in his mind. Everything that had been quoted exactly from the book sounded real, not like it was written from someone's imagination. It described how James Ellison had been stranded in the South American jungle for over a year. As a result his five senses became enhanced, turning him into a super-cop. Nya chuckled at the phrase. Despite the sensationalized way the article was written, every fact, every nuance supported the reality of a living sentinel. Yet, at the end, Sandburg was quoted as saying that it was all a lie and that his book was never meant for publication.
Butelezi broke into his concentration. "Sounds like the real thing, not so?"
"So," he replied.
"But the end, what about that?"
"The book may be the truth. The shaman's first instinct is to protect the sentinel. By telling the world that the work is false, he fulfills his aim."
"What are you going to do?"
There really was no other recourse. He'd have to go visit the pair. His old bones creaked at the thought. Every one of his eighty-three years sat heavily on him. The trip would be daunting, but necessary. The need to see if Detective Ellison was a genuine sentinel was too great. Then there was the matter of the shaman. Was it this Sandburg? If it was, had he been trained? What knowledge did he possess? The spirit world could only do so much to help. The rest was handed down, from one generation to the next. Sandburg had no experienced person to learn from.
"Thank you, Butelezi for showing me this." He handed the paper back to his friend.
"Are you going to go?"
"I thought so."
Nyajiru handed back the newspaper, picked up his supplies, and started his long walk home. Muttering to himself, he tried to organize his thoughts. His mind was spinning out of control. Possibilities contrasted with potential disappointments. His sentinel, Kuguri, had died just three years ago. They had been together their whole lives. The bonding ceremony took place when they were ten years old, and from that day on, they walked side by side. Only death severed that bond. Much to his dismay, no other sentinel had been born to the tribe; no one to tell HIS stories to. Possibly the spirits believed that sentinels weren't needed anymore. Yet, there might be one in America.
A yipping caught his attention. Running alongside him, was an African wild dog. Packs ran wild in the game reserve, but this one couldn't be seen by any other than him. His heart filled with joy at the sight. When Kuguri had died, the spirits had ceased talking to him. Countless ceremonies had been preformed, which only resulted in silence.
"Good day, old friend," he said to the dog.
Ears flickered, and the dog ran in happy circles. Nya smiled at the dog's antics, as he considered this to be further evidence that Ellison had to be a sentinel. One foot in front of another, as he ambled towards home.
The sun was sinking low on the horizon as he walked inside his hut. The pail was placed on the floor, and some kerosene was poured into a tank. He lit the stove and put on the kettle to boil. A feeling of serenity descended over him, as he began the ceremony to talk to the spirits. He pulled out a Mason jar from a cupboard. The inside was filled with dried galangal leaves. He removed some and placed them into a cup. When the water was hot enough, he added that too. With shaking hands, he carried the steaming cup over to the middle of the room and sunk gracefully into a sitting position. He took a sip and started chanting in his native tongue. Seconds expanded into minutes, as time became elastic. Drinking his home brewed tea in small amounts, he continued to implore the spirits to talk to him.
His mind began to wander. The blandness of his surroundings was replaced with the savannas of the Okavango Delta. He was young, dressed in only a raffia, running through the tall grasses. His animal guide ran faithfully at his side. A herd of antelope stood by watching. Without warning, Kuguri was alongside him, keeping pace. They exchanged smiles. A cheetah sprinted ahead, the dog barked wildly, and the two men laughed in carefree abandon.
Then a growl followed by a hiss, echoed in front of them. A black jaguar and gray wolf sat side-by-side in their path. Their pace slowed as the air surrounding them became misty. He could hear the panting of the animals, but he could no longer see them. The jaguar hissed again, but the sound was receding. Nya struggled to talk, to ask the black cat what it wanted, but he couldn't move his mouth. Searing pain brought him back to consciousness. He clutched his head in agony as he struggled to stand. Unsteady on his feet, he barely made it to his bed. Collapsing on top, he slid into a dreamless sleep. His last coherent thought was about the trip to Cascade Washington to meet the jaguar and the wolf.
"You're awful quiet this morning," Jim commented.
Blair gazed absently out the truck window. He had intercepted a few concerned looks, but didn't feel like discussing his mood. "I'm fine," he answered back, shrugging his shoulders. The strange part about that answer was that it was both truth and fiction. He had gotten enough sleep. Neither one of them had been recently sick or injured.
Jim flicked the turn signal, and entered the station garage. Blair let out an unconscious sigh. Jim turned off the ignition and flashed him an irritated look.
"If you're so fine, why do you look like someone just ran over your dog?"
Blair felt pinned by his partner's intense eyes. "It's kinda hard to explain."
Blair took another deep breath. Jim was not going to give up. "Sometimes, I feel like I'm not living up to my side of the bargain."
"What?!" Jim looked incredulous. "You've been a great cop; a real asset to the department." His eyebrows drew together. "Who's been telling you different?"
Blair let out another sigh. He knew Jim wouldn't understand. In many ways, he couldn't really describe what was wrong himself. He sure as hell didn't know how to fix it. "It's not about the cop thing. It's about, well," he paused. "You remember when Incacha passed the way of the shaman onto me?"
"Since then, I've read everything I could find on being a shaman. I don't know how to be one and figured that in at least one of the books I'd find something to give me a clue."
"Let me guess, you weren't able to find a thing about being a modern day shaman to a sentinel?" he said sarcastically.
"I'm serious. I've been flying by the seat of my pants--"
"And doing a great job," Jim added reassuringly. "I haven't zoned in--"
"It's got nothing to do with keeping you from zoning, it's much bigger than that." At Jim's crest-fallen face, he quickly added, "Not that it isn't important, but, there's got to be something more than telling you what to dial up or down and--"
"Keeping me focused on the job at hand?"
"Exactly. I mean, a shaman is a mystical leader; one who walks the path with the spirits." Blair threw up his hands. "Do you know that the only time I've even seen my spirit animal was when I was dead?"
"Chief," Jim pleaded in pain.
Blair continued, trying to get his message understood. "You seem to see your jaguar all the time. First when Incacha came to Cascade. Then when Alex Barnes was around, you started seeing her leopard and having those dreams. I saw... nothing." His voice cracked on the last word.
"I don't know what to say. I'd give you my visions any day. I don't even want them."
"I know," Blair said sadly. "That's the point. I'm the shaman. I'm supposed to walk on the spirit plane and converse with them. I'm supposed to be having those dreams and trying my best to decipher them. So, why don't I?" He turned pleading eyes to his best friend and the only one who might possibly understand what he was going through. "Is there something wrong with me?"
Jim grabbed him by the shoulders. "There's nothing wrong with you. We're doing just fine without all that mumbo-jumbo, so there's no use wishing for something that's not meant to be."
Blair stared at Jim blankly. Was that a brush-off? He had just bared his feeling of inadequacy, and was told to just forget them? Blair buried the hurt and put a smile on his face. Deeply disappointed, he decided that maybe Jim wasn't the right person to help him with this problem. Not that he knew who to ask for help, but maybe if he did some more reading, an expert would pop up that he call talk to confidentially.
With that resolved in his mind, his smile reached his eyes as the two men made their way up to the bullpen. The other detectives were busy with their own cases. Rafe glanced up, and gave them a nod. The others were either poring over paperwork or on the phone. Megan came out of the captain's office, just as they were passing his door. She reached out and tugged on one of his curls. Blair grimaced and she laughed as she swept past them.
Simon chose that moment to come out of the office. "It's about time you two got here. There's a dead body at the airport, possible drug overdose. Caucasian male, 20 to 25 years old. The car is stolen. He's got a duffel of some sort and a Mason jar of dried leaves or something."
"We're on it, Captain," Jim said as he turned in his tracks and pushed Blair good-naturedly.
"Yeah, yeah, we're going," Blair echoed, laughing, as he rushed ahead, out of his partner's reach.
Jim pulled behind a black and white cruiser. The lights were still flashing, but the sirens had been turned off. Two uniformed cops stood next to a '94 Ford Escort. The driver's-side car door was open, but other than that, nothing had been touched. He carefully opened his sense of smell. Trace amounts of a strange odor lingered, the identity of which was elusive. Jim knew that Blair had gone over to the other officers and was conversing with them quietly.
He peaked into the car and saw the before-mentioned duffel, still sitting on the passenger side front seat. It looked to be made of canvas, with the zipper open and clothes spilled out upon the seat and floor. Rolling papers were spread out over the dash. There was a Mason jar, opened and some of the dried leaves had been spilled. A half-smoked, homemade joint was still in the young man's mouth. Jim catalogued each fact dispassionately, as he tried to formulate the series of events leading up to the death. It seemed improbable that the joint caused the death, yet evidence pointed in that direction.
Blair opened the side door and looked at him with a question in his eyes.
"Sure, go ahead," Jim answered, knowing that his partner was asking if it was okay to remove the duffel and check it's contents.
In the distance, more sirens were audible to the sentinels' ears. Most likely it was the coroner's wagon come to collect the body. Jim gently frisked the body looking for an ID, a wallet or something that might give him some more information. In the back pocket, he found a wallet. There was a five-dollar bill and a driver's license. The name featured was Raymond Hosenfeld, age twenty-two and a resident of Cascade.
In the periphery of his vision, he knew that Blair was going through the canvas bag's contents. He focused on the body and getting it into the wagon. When he was through, he went over to his partner.
"What do you have?"
Blair looked up; an excited look emanated from him. "Some very fascinating stuff."
Blair handed a pair of pants to him. Jim ran his fingers over the material.
"The pants are home-made. In fact I think the cotton is homegrown and homespun. The workmanship is incredible."
"No tags," Jim mentioned as he looked at the waistband.
"Exactly. In fact, there's two more pair of pants and three shirts all made from the same material."
"Hmmm," Jim grunted, still looking closely at the pants. He ran his fingers over it, looking for some kind of synthetic material that would null Blair's idea. He couldn't find any.
Blair pulled out a pile of leaves. Jim stared at that with consternation. "What's that?"
"It's a raffia. Native Africans wear this as kinda like a loin cloth. It's made of dried palm leaves woven together."
"Native, like the bushmen?"
"Yup! But this is the most interesting." Blair held up a necklace. The part that went around the neck was made of leather, but the object was made of ivory and gold. "This, I think, is a fetish. Look, on the one side is a face of a cheetah. But the other side is--"
"Jeez, it looks like a dog with Mickey Mouse ears," Jim commented with a laugh.
"It's an African wild dog. You know, Lycaon pictus."
"Right, I knew that," Jim said sarcastically.
Blair continued, undaunted. "This dog is native to Botswana. It's been killed almost to extinction. Farmers feared it and most thought that the dogs were--"
"Okay, but what does all this have to do with the dead body?"
"This pack does not belong to the deceased. He either stole it, or found it, or--"
"The car was stolen," Jim interrupted, yet again. "It's only reasonable to believe that he stole the duffel too."
"I think the pack contained the Mason jar of dried leaves and the dead guy took out the leaves and smoked it, not knowing what the substance was."
Jim nodded his head. "That makes the most sense. So, your hypothesis is--"
"Ohh! Big word," Blair teased.
"I'm picking up your lingo. As I was saying, your hypothesis is that the deceased mugged some African national and stole his car."
"We're at the airport. I can't believe that the African had his own car. The Ford wasn't a rental, was it?""
"No," Jim replied. "Maybe Rosenfeld stole the canvas duffel and then jumped into the first car he could get into and drove to the back road near the runways. There he rummaged through the bag, found the jar of dried leaves and began smoking them with wrapping papers he just happened to have in his back pocket." Jim made his words sound far-fetched.
"I like that theory better than something you'd normally come up with."
"Really?" Jim over-did the offended look.
"Yeah, you'd come up with something like some opiate farmer in Africa is opening up a new trade route through Cascade."
"It could be possible." Jim smiled in appreciation. This is what made them such perfect partners. They could both take the same evidence and come up with such different scenarios. One of the theories was bound to be correct.
"Think of the fetish."
"What smugglers don't believe in charms and spells?"
Blair didn't say anything to that. His brows were pinched in consternation.
Jim laughed. "Let's go back to the station. We've got evidence to put in the locker and reports to do."
They returned to Jim's truck. Blair still held the necklace in his hands. He kept looking at it, turning it into the sun, and watching the light reflect off the gold portions.
"Don't you think it's ironic that one side is a cat and the other a dog?"
"Your spirit animal is a jaguar and mine is a wolf; cat and dog. I don't know, it just seems," he paused, "peculiar."
Jim didn't know what to say to that.
The buzz of the bullpen swirled around Blair, as he sat at his desk intent upon his computer. Every so often, he'd punch the enter key, then read what the new screen had to offer. A bottle of fruit juice sat perched on his desk. Remnants of a turkey sandwich was all that remained of his dinner. Considering that it was past nine in the evening, a surprising number of detectives were still hard at work.
Blair was positive that the canvas duffel had been stolen at the airport. It was just too co- incidental that a Caucasian male had a raffia and ivory fetish, and was found on airport property. The duffel and its contents had to belong to an African. If he went with his theory, then some kind of report must have been filed. To his dismay, after two solid hours of looking, he had come up empty.
"Any luck yet?" Megan asked as she plopped herself in a chair alongside his desk.
"Nope. I've searched all the reports made by any of the Cascade P.D. departments. Then I checked out the sheriff's department, and when I didn't find anything there I went and called the State Troopers. Nobody has a record of an African national having his bags stolen." Blair gave a depressed sigh.
"What about airport security? I'd think they'd be the first to respond."
Blair's eyes lit up. "Great idea. I'll go over there first thing tomorrow morning."
"Another thing, Sandy. Don't assume that a report was even filed. Your African might not want the police to know about the theft. That drug was pretty strong."
"I've thought of that, but I don't think it's likely. I'll keep it in the back of my mind."
Jim walked over and picked up a thick strand of hair. "Think there's room left?"
"Cut it out," Blair swatted Jim's hand away.
"Find out anything?" Megan asked smiling at them.
"Yeah, the morgue stinks," Jim replied.
"Jeez, you're in rare form tonight," Blair muttered with a groan.
"I'm tired and hungry." Jim rubbed his forehead with his hand. "He died from a massive brain overload. The drugs were psychoactive, and he basically ODed on them. Something about a neuro-chemical and brain shutdown. They are trying to get a sample isolated from the blood and send it down to the lab. Dan promised a report by the day after tomorrow." Jim yawned. "Ready to go home?"
Blair nodded and then shut down his computer. Megan said goodnight and went back to her desk. The two men grabbed their coats and made it to the door at the same time.
"Where did you say you were going tomorrow morning?" Jim asked.
"The airport. I'm hoping that the theft was reported to security there."
"Don't get your hopes up. People who have their drugs stolen don't usually ask cops to find it for them."
"I'm telling you, man, this is not your typical drug thing. There's another story here, we just have to figure it out."
"You're trying too hard." Jim pushed the elevator button.
"So, what're your plans for tomorrow?" Blair asked as the elevator doors closed on them.
"I'm gonna hit the streets. If there's a new drug in town, one of my snitches will have heard of it."
"You won't find out a thing," Blair said with assuredness.
Jim rolled his eyes.
"I'm sure that the stuff in the Mason jar was never meant to be smoked. I think it's some kind of herb for cooking."
They reached the garage and started for the truck. "Cooking?" he asked incredulously. "Are you serious?" Despite his disbelief, the odor from the car seemed familiar, reminiscent of autumn and pumpkin pie. He let the idea roll around in his head, but without anything concrete, he let it slip out to be forgotten.
Blair was on a roll. "I can just picture it. A man came from Africa..."
"How do you know it was a man?"
"The raffia. Those clothes belong to a man." Blair opened the truck door and jumped inside. As soon as Jim started the truck, he continued. "This guy comes to America to visit some relatives or maybe friends, and brings some native clothes, probably cause that's what he wears. He also packs in the raffia, maybe as a gift..."
"Aha! So, it could be a woman who brought the pack if the raffia was a gift."
"Possibly." Blair conceded grudgingly. "Our traveler also brings the Mason jar of some herb that is used in a specific recipe. The plant isn't native to the States, so he, or she, had to bring it with them." Blair smiled.
They cruised down the darkened streets. "I suppose it's a possibility, but I just can't see that stuff being a harmless herb for cooking. If we assume that the stuff in the Mason jar is what killed the guy, then I don't buy that it's a cooking herb."
"You won't find out conclusively 'til, what, day after tomorrow?"
"Yep." Jim relied. "That's when Dan said the report would be in. I guess they're sending a sample of blood and herb to some lab at the University."
"Then I guess we'd better investigate both theories."
"I agree," Jim said with finality as he pulled into his parking place. "Now, let's not talk anymore of the case and just enjoy what's left of the evening." He paused and had a puzzled expression on his face. "We have anything in the freezer to cook?"
"Nope. I haven't been shopping in a few days. We do have some tuna and cream of mushroom soup," Blair remarked with false cheerfulness.
Jim groaned in disgust.
The moon's light shone through the skylight and reflected off the sweaty back of the man lying beneath it. He tossed and turned, muttering under his breath. His now upturned face was clenched in agony as the moon slide behind a cloud. Eyes popped open and large gasps echoed in the silent room.
Jim sat up in his bed and glanced at the clock. It read, 3:51. With a groan, he slammed his head down onto his pillow. He tried to recall the particulars of the dream, but they remained a blur. Jim's eyes drifted closed. Just as he slipped back into sleep, the image of two dead canines flashed in his mind then was gone.
The moon came out from behind the cloud shining its light once more on the man's face. His jaw was clenched, more in irritation than agony. Slowly, he totally relaxed and his mouth curved upward in what resembled a smile.
Blair parked his Volvo on the second tier in the airport garage. The Ford Escort had been stolen from this area, so talking to the closest attendant should be his first order of business. The police report had stated who the original owners were, and the approximate time of the theft, but little else.
"Excuse me," Blair walked up to the booth, flashing his badge. "I'm with the Cascade Police Department investigating yesterday's car theft. Are you familiar with what happened?"
The man inside the booth looked to be about sixty, with graying hair and a serious face. "I was working yesterday, but I thought we'd gone all through this?"
"I just need a few more details."
"Alright," he nodded.
"Do you have a recollection of the thief as he paid the parking fee?"
"He wasn't happy with the amount. It came to over five dollars and he swore and grumbled as he pulled out his money. I was starting to get nervous that he'd break the arm and gun the engine, so I wrote down the license plate number."
"Do you remember anything else about him? Was he drunk? Did he look like or act like he was high?"
"No, he was just impatient to get out. Now I know why, he was driving a stolen vehicle." The attendant shook his head in self-disgust.
"Did he look at his watch?"
"No. He was just impatient. He dropped his wallet, trying to slide the ten out. Then he dropped the quarter as he handed it to me."
"I see." Blair mulled this over. He hadn't been high, yet. This was consistent with his theory. The man hadn't even touched... wait. "One more thing. Did you happen to notice a canvas bag sitting in the front seat?"
"I was only looking at him."
"Thank you very much." Blair headed towards the terminal.
Did the thief know about the Mason jar before he stole the car? Chances were that he did. There was little else of value in the bag. He couldn't see the thief taking the bag for the fetish, even though it was made of ivory and gold. It had still been buried within the clothes. Only the dried leaves had been touched.
Blair walked through the revolving doors and headed directly to the security office. A guard was sitting behind the desk talking on the phone. The guard cast an irritated glance in his direction, to which Blair answered with his best smile and then he pulled out his badge.
"Have to run, someone needs to talk to me. Bye." The guard hung up the phone and gave Blair his full attention. "What can I do for you officer?"
"I'm Detective Blair Sandburg, Cascade PD. I'd like to know if you've had any reports of luggage stolen in the last couple of days?"
The guard gave him an imperious look. "Of course. We get reports of stolen luggage all the time."
Blair couldn't tell if the man was being sarcastic, or was stating a fact. Either one was noxious.
The guard continued. "Could you be more specific?"
"I would like to know if an African national reported a stolen canvas duffel." Blair held his breath in anticipation.
"Has he been bothering you, too?" The guard shook his head in annoyance, then continued speaking, not giving Blair a chance to respond. "He came to the office yesterday and reported that a teenage punk knocked him over in the men's room and took his bag."
"Was he hurt?" Blair asked with concern.
"I don't think so. It's not like I could see any bruises or anything. I filled out the report but didn't have much to go on. A green canvas bag filled with clothes is not an item of extreme importance."
It probably was to him, Blair thought to himself. Not to mention an herb strong enough to kill. "Did he mention any other contents?"
"Yeah, something about a spirit necklace and some tea."
"Tea?" Blair couldn't believe it. The Mason jar was full of tea?
"That's what he said. He's called me four times to see if I've located it yet."
"I take it that you haven't found it?" Blair asked, even though he knew the answer.
"Ha, as if there was any chance of that."
"Did you even bother to look?"
"I'm sure it's long gone. Some indigent probably needed a new wardrobe and figured that the old man was an easy target."
"Old man?" Blair wanted to redirect the questions back to the African.
"He had to have been ninety, at least. Hey, I thought you said that he'd complained to you, too?"
"No, you said that. Give me a description."
"He's black and he's old."
"How about a name?" Blair was getting irritated with the guard's attitude.
"Nya, something or other. Wait, the report must be here somewhere." He rummaged through his papers. "Here it is. Nyajiru. He's staying at the Y. Must not have much money."
Blair pasted on a fake smile. "Thank you so much for your time. By the way, did you hear about the car theft in the garage yesterday?"
"Yeah, he was found dead, wasn't he? Serve him--"
Blair interrupted. "That thief was the same one that stole the canvas bag." With that parting shot, he walked out of the office.
The man was insufferable. Blair fumed all the way back to his car. Once he was back on the roads, he pulled out his cell phone to call Jim. With any luck, Jim would answer and agree to meet him at the Y, which was his intended destination. Unfortunately the phone rang and rang. Jim must have left it somewhere. Blair knew that Jim intended to scout around looking for information from his street contacts. Maybe he left the phone in the truck while he was doing his reconnoitering. With a mental shrug, Blair continued to the Y to question the African himself.
After several false starts, he was finally able to locate Nyajiru's room. He knocked on the door, but no one answered. Disappointed, he went back down to the front desk to leave a note. He debated the wisdom of telling this man that his canvas bag had been found and was at the police station. Deciding to err on the side of caution, Blair left his name, cell number, and a message to get a hold of him concerning his stolen belongings. The man behind the desk promised to make sure that it was delivered as soon as the African returned. After exchanging a few minutes of small talk, Blair made his way back to his car. Now he had to play the waiting game and hope the man called soon. With nothing left on his agenda, Blair drove back to the station.
Jim slammed his hand against the steering wheel. He came up empty. Again. There had been a bit of hope when he had first confronted the last one. Mick took one look at him and started running. Jim smiled as he remembered the rush he felt as his feet took wing and he flew after the two-bit hustler. His body needed the pounding it took as he leaped over trashcans, vaulted over fences, and dodged pedestrians and vehicles alike. By the time Jim flattened Mick against the wall, both were breathing hard and his legs ached in a good way. Unfortunately Mick ruined the feeling by insinuating that Jim was just getting his jollies by harassing him. Jim reined in his temper and explained the situation to his captive. For the fourth time that morning, he was told that no new drugs had hit the streets. In fact, this one was actually interested as to where Jim received his information. The slime-ball had the ultimate nerve to ask for a description of the drug, its effects, and where it had come from. Letting his temper go, just a little, Jim shoved Mick a little hard against the wall, as he let him go.
A taxi's horn brought Jim back to the present. With a frustrated growl, he turned the ignition and started to drive. Each part of the city he had checked had told him the same story. Threats didn't induce them to change it, either. That left nothing else but to go back to the station and see what Sandburg had found out. It was starting to look like his partner's explanation might be right. Unless, it was only the first shipment, with more to follow at a future date.
Jim extended his hearing as he walked off the elevators. The door to Major Crimes was closed, but anticipating Sandburg's presence was almost involuntary. He smiled as he heard his partner's voice over the din from the other detectives.
Blair was pacing back and forth, waving a note around, using it to punctuate his words. "I can't believe this! It's got to be some cosmic joke."
Rafe was leaning back on his chair, with his hands behind his head. "You'll just have to go back to the Y and wait for him there."
"To think," Blair continued," while I was there, he was... oh, Jim. You're not going to believe this."
"Who was here?" Jim asked, hoping to cut through his partner's meandering explanations and get to the bare fact.
"The African who had his bag stolen."
Jim did not believe in coincidences. "You're saying that the man we're looking for, just came in off the streets looking for you?"
"He just walked in to a police station. The man who owns the canvas bag that contains a jar full of a lethal drug?"
"It's tea, man."
That must be a lie. Very inventive, Jim thought to himself.
Blair continued, "He came looking for me. He must have called the airport and the security guard told him that I had his bag. Isn't that great?"
It made it a bit more convenient, but it was not great that this man was looking for his guide.
"Oh, and Jim. He left me this note."
Jim closed his eyes for a moment, trying to calm his frayed nerves. "Tell me everything that happened this morning," he instructed as he walked to his desk and sat down. He rubbed his forehead, and then looked up at his partner.
"Can we go to lunch first? I'm starving."
As they walked down the street towards the restaurant, Jim started to consider what he had just learned. The African was looking specifically for Blair. Had the security guard informed him who the detective was, or had he learned it from some other source? The note didn't mention the canvas bag at all, only that he, Nyajiru, was staying at the Y and wished to see Blair Sandburg at his earliest convenience. Jim was getting that uneasy feeling, again. Could this man be a threat to Blair?
As they turned the corner, Jim caught a glimpse of a wolf, off in the distance. When he looked directly at it, it had disappeared. Suddenly he recollected the dream he had had the night before. His body stopped moving, as the vivid scenes ran through his mind.
"What is it, man? You see something?" Blair was turning every-which-way, trying to get a glimpse of what he was seeing. Jim hesitated a second before putting his hand on Sandburg's shoulder.
"I saw your wolf," he said simply. "Over there. But, now he's gone."
Sandburg's eyes clouded a minute, and then cleared. He was in guide-mode.
"Did he speak to you? Did he show you something?"
"No, he reminded me of a dream I had last night."
"You didn't tell me you had one of those dreams."
"That's because I had forgotten about it 'til now. Come on; let's get a table and order. Then I'll tell you all about it."
As they looked at their menu, Jim started remembering more and more of his dream. Last night, after the dream had awoken him, most of what he remembered had been hazy; without detail. Now, each scene came to mind as if he had seen it in a movie. The waitress took their order, and they were alone again.
"Start talking, man." Blair was fidgeting in his seat.
"Remember that necklace we found in the African's canvas duffel?"
"The one with the African Wild Dog and cheetah? Wait, the airport guard said that the African called it a spirit necklace. Or at least that how he interpreted what was said."
"Right. My dream was about that dog and the wolf."
"Yes." Jim paused, collecting his thoughts. "In the beginning the wolf and dog were playing. I'm not sure how long that lasted, but soon they stopped and were panting. A huge lake or pond appeared and the dog went to drink from it. The wolf wouldn't drink. He paced and whined. The dog with the Mickey Mouse ears turned around and yipped at him, almost urging him to come over and share with him. But he wouldn't go."
"Why do you think he wouldn't drink?"
"I don't know. The wolf became more frantic, and then the body of water got bigger. It seemed to grow past the dog, all the way to the wolf's feet. Then the dog and wolf were side-by- side drinking. That's when it got weird. The air around the two canines seemed to shimmer or glow. Light reflected off the water and the air, making rainbows all over the place."
"Were the dog and wolf still drinking?"
"I don't know what happened to them, but when the air cleared, they were laying down on the sides. I think they were asleep. It was hard to tell."
"Think back, were their sides moving?"
Jim placed himself in the dream again, concentrating on the animals. "Yes, I think I can see them move up and down."
"So, they didn't die. That's good, right?"
Jim continued. "Then the black jaguar came into the picture. He was running, but it seemed to take a long time for him to get there. He was hissing and growling. When he got to the wolf, he batted him a few times, and nudged him with his nose. Slowly, the wolf stood up. His legs were shaky, but together they wandered off."
"What happened to the dog?"
"When I looked back, he was dead. I don't know when he died, but there was blood coming from his gut. He was either shot or stabbed--"
"That's horrible," Blair shuddered. "Did he morph into a human?"
"No, I just saw the blood oozing and then I woke up."
Blair started wiggling in his seat. "This must all tie in together." The waitress brought their food. After she left, he bent over whispering, "The African with the fetish of a wild dog. Why would you dream of it, unless it's trying to warn us of something."
"Like this man is a danger to you."
"Or we're a danger to him. The wild dog died, the wolf walked away."
"Only because the jaguar came back for him."
"Where was the cheetah? Why didn't the cheetah come back for the dog?"
Jim didn't have an answer. He took a bite of his sandwich, mulling over the possibilities. None were good. How does one beat a prophetic dream if one can't even tell what it means? What was the sense in having them in the first place? Jim thought back to the conversation he had had with Sandburg the previous day. His partner was convinced that he was a failure because he didn't have these dreams. Jim couldn't think of what to say to convince him that the dreams were a burden, not a gift. Maybe they needed to get off the spirit stuff and on to the real investigation.
"Why don't you tell me exactly what happened at the airport."
The waitress brought over a mug of mulled cider for Blair. The steam from the drink permeated the air and caught the sentinel's attention. The smell triggered the memory of the odor from the stolen car.
"Ginger!" Jim exclaimed.
Blair almost dropped the mug. "Huh?"
"The smell from the Ford. It reminds me of ginger. I know it isn't, but I think the two plants must be related."
"This is so cool, Jim. Maybe we should call Dan and see if the lab report is in."
"He said tomorrow. We just have to be patient."
"Maybe we should get a sample of the dried leaves and we can do some testing. Maybe we can isolate some other smells--"
"No way. You still haven't told me what happened at the airport."
Between mouthfuls, Blair told him about the parking attendant and what information he got from him. Then he went on to explain more fully everything the jerk, posing as airport security had told him. Jim sat back listening, thankful that Blair was distracted from the idea of testing him.
"You believe this tea story?" Jim asked when Blair had finished.
"Yeah, I do. It makes sense."
"I find it interesting that this African man called several times wanting to know if his bag had been found. Sounds like he knows that the plant contents are lethal but didn't want anyone else to know."
Blair nodded. "I suppose that makes sense, too. But if he drinks it as a tea, and the stuff isn't illegal, then--"
"There has to be importation laws prohibiting the transfer of plants from one country to another."
"It's not a plant, just dried leaves."
"That's a technicality," Jim pointed out. "I'm sure if we look hard enough, we'll find a law he broke."
Blair grunted in annoyance.
Jim swallowed the last of his coke. "Ready to hit the road?"
The men paid their bill, and headed back out again. They walked back to the garage and got into Jim's truck. Sandburg started scrambling, looking for something.
"What's up, Chief?"
"I'm looking for my cell phone. I just remembered that I gave the number to Nyajiru, and he might be calling me back. Didn't I tell you that part?"
"I'm not sure." Jim rubbed his forehead.
Blair grinned. "He should be calling me anytime now."
Jim didn't exactly share his partner's enthusiasm. His instinct was telling him not to trust this guy. He glanced over towards Blair who was clutching the phone in his lap. Despite the relatively long trip, the phone remained silent. Jim pulled into the parking lot and the two of them jumped out of the truck and went inside. The man sitting behind the desk smiled at Blair.
"He said you'd come back."
Jim stepped into the conversation, a little unnerved by the comment. "Who said that?"
"Nyajiru. He's upstairs in his room, waiting. He read your note," the man turned back to Blair, "and told me to tell you that you can go right up."
"Riiight," Jim responded.
Blair patted Jim on the arm. Jim gritted his teeth.
"Tell him we're on our way," Blair told the desk clerk as he started walking down the hall.
"Will do Detective Sandburg."
"It's Blair," he said with a smile. "Come on, Jim. Let's go."
Jim followed his partner upstairs, but once they were in front of the door, he maneuvered himself in front of Blair. He didn't intend on taking any chances.
"Enter," the voice from inside instructed them.
Jim cautiously opened the door and then had to school his reaction. He wasn't sure what he had expected, but the very old man sitting inside wasn't even close. Blair tried to walk in first, but Jim threw his arm out preventing the movement. With wary steps, Jim walked in, his eyes never leaving the figure seated in the far chair.
The man was ancient. His frail-looking body didn't look adequate to support his frame, yet his eyes held a strength-of-purpose that belied this first impression. The clothes he wore were replicas of the ones found in the canvas duffel. Slowly the African rose out of his chair to his feet. As he moved, the sun glittered off an object on his chest. Jim focused his eyes and saw a necklace; identical to the one found in the bag. The outward face was that of the wild dog. Shivers ran down his back as he remembered that same dog from his dream.
"I am Nyajiru," his deep gravely voice penetrated Jim's inner thoughts.
Blair circled around Jim's still outstretched arm. "And I'm Blair Sandburg. Seems we've been playing tag this morning."
"Tag?" Nyajiru asked, looking confused.
"Yeah, like we keep missing each other. I came here to ask you about your stolen bag. You came to the station looking for me. Was it because--"
Jim had to interrupt his partner. This was an interrogation, not a friendly chat. "Yes, why were you looking for Detective Sandburg?"
"Detective?" he asked. "I thought you were a student of ancient cultures?"
Jim and Blair exchanged looks.
"I was a student, but last summer I entered the academy to become a police officer."
Jim was pleased. Blair was becoming more suspicious of the situation. The African held out his hand towards him.
"You are Detective Ellison."
Jim took his hand and was surprised by the firm grasp. "Yes." He started to feel uncomfortable under the man's transfixed gaze. What was he looking for? More importantly, what did he see?
Slightly unnerved, he decided to take control of the situation. "We are here because your bag is at the station."
"That is good. My property does not belong in stranger's hands. Can we get it now?"
"After you answer some questions." Jim stared at him, using one of his more imposing glares.
The man smiled. "What do you need to know?"
"What's the drug in the Mason jar?" Jim opened his senses to gage the man's response to the question. His heartbeat increased slightly, and a very slight odor seemed to emanate from him. It was a peculiar smell, and one that was... like... ginger. This proved the connection between the dead man and this African.
"Is it gone? Has it been damaged?"
"No, but a man is dead because of it," Jim informed him.
Blair elaborated. "The thief tried to smoke it."
"He smoked my tea? Why would he do something like that?"
"You didn't exactly label it as tea," Jim told him sarcastically.
"Well, no," he answered seriously. "But I didn't think anyone would steal it. This is all most unsettling."
Jim had to admit he did look unsettled. "When did you get here?"
"I arrived yesterday. I disembarked off the plane and went to the washroom. This boy was in there. When he saw me, he punched me in the head. When I next awoke, my bag was gone. Tell me, was there an ornament like this," he grabbed the ivory and gold medallion that hung around his neck, "still in there?"
"Yeah, it was," Blair told him.
Relief washed over his features. "That is good. I was very worried about it."
Jim was still troubled over why this Nyajiru had been looking for Sandburg. When asked previously, he had sidestepped the question. "What's your business here in the States?"
The man stared at him and then Sandburg and then back at him, as if weighing his words. Jim wasn't prepared for the answer.
Nyajiru grabbed his right hand. "I came to see if you were truly a sentinel."
Jim backed up as if he had been struck. The African moved with him, unwilling to release his hand. Anger fuelled by fear threatened to overcome him. Blair grabbed his right arm, and then disengaged the African's hand from his. His guide had effectively restrained not only his body, but the words forming in his mind.
"Nyajiru," Blair started talking in a calm, controlled voice. "We have been hounded by the press 'til we thought we were going to go out of our minds. What they wrote isn't true, I--"
"But, it is true young sangoma. I can see it in your partner's protective gestures, as well as your own."
"We're friends. Of course we look out for each other," Blair told him with conviction.
"I can see the black cat's reflection in your eyes, sentinel. I understand your need to deny what you are in this modern time. But, not with me. I only wish to help, if I can."
"How can you help," Jim asked derisively.
"I too, am," his eyes darkened with pain, "was, a sangoma to a sentinel."
"You knew a sentinel?" Blair asked incredulously.
"Kuguri was his name. We bonded as children and were together until he died." He fingered his pendant. "This is mine. His was in the bag. I'll be glad to have it back in my possession."
Jim ignored his plea. "What do you want with Sandburg?" No matter that he talked about sentinels, Jim remembered that it was Sandburg that he asked to see at the station. A heightened distrust remained despite the revelations.
"In my tribe, the elder always guided the young shaman. Do you have anyone to show you the way?"
"No," Blair began.
"Yes," Jim overpowered his voice. "Incacha has showed us things." His fear intensified. There was no reason for it, but he knew that he didn't want anyone training Sandburg. Too much could go wrong. Things were good the way they were. A small voice inside his head disagreed. He remembered Blair's feeling of inadequacy. He didn't think they needed help, but...
Blair's face held an expression of expectation; a yearning that made Jim swallow his verbal reservations. The internal ones remained, but he'd keep them private for now. If he stayed alert, maybe Sandburg could talk to this man and learn this all for himself. They had what they needed. No one from the outside could teach them what they had already.
"Why don't we go to the station, fill out the forms, and get your stuff." Jim's manner relaxed.
Blair shot him a grateful smile. "Yeah, then we can go out to dinner or you can come to the loft. I have tons of questions."
The loft would be good, Jim thought to himself. That way he could keep an eye on things.
The alarm sounded, jarring Blair out of a sound sleep. He groped for the clock, turning off the obnoxious ring. His head unerringly found his pillow, as he settled once more into the warmth of the bed. Blair could hear sounds of movement from Jim's room. A drawer closed. Then footsteps began descending the stairs. The noise was enough to keep him from slipping into a sound sleep, but there was no urgency for him to actually get out of bed.
The bathroom door closed and soon the sound of the shower greeted his ears. The monotonous sound of the running of the water sent his mind into the super-relaxed state usually found only in meditation and before deep sleep. He stayed conscious, but let his mind wander at will. Memories from the previous day were foremost. A sense of wonder assailed him. He met a real-live shaman, who had guided his own sentinel. He had never thought to meet a real sentinel, yet he had. Lately he'd been yearning to meet a shaman who was knowledgeable in the ways of a sentinel, and now that had happened. Things were really coming together. Maybe now he could fulfill his potential and meet his destiny head-on.
A pounding sound penetrated his thoughts. "Come on, Chief!" the voice yelled. "Shake a leg!"
"All right, all right!" he called back.
Blair reluctantly pulled himself out from under the covers. He shivered as he retrieved clean underwear and then practically ran to the bathroom. By the time that he made it to the kitchen, Jim had a steaming mug of coffee ready for him. A plate of toasted English muffins sat on the table and he greedily dug into them.
Jim broke the silence. "So, what's on the agenda today?"
Blair could detect a different tone to his voice. It wasn't exactly censure; he'd heard enough of that. It wasn't curiosity either. The closest he could come to describing it was apprehension.
"I'll have to check my desk, but I know I have to question Jenkens."
"I thought Rafe was handling that?"
"Yeah, he is, but he asked if I could bring my own style to the table. Everyone else has struck out." Blair reached for another muffin.
"You mean, Rafe wants you to talk in circles so that you have the man so confused that he spills the beans on Metlay without knowing it."
"That's not true. I'll just bring up some valid points and show him that it's in his best interests to--"
"Riiight." Jim paused and took a sip of his coffee. "What about Nyajiru? You planning on seeing him today?"
Blair's arm stilled as the question registered. "No, we never talked about it." Blair heard the stiffness in Jim's voice. He looked steadily at his friend. "Did you have another dream?"
Jim dropped his eyes. "Not a different one."
Blair's stomach flip-flopped. "You mean you had the same dream?" Blair could see the whites of Jim's knuckles as he clutched his mug.
"It was exactly the same."
"Even up to the wild dog's death?"
Jim looked up and then down to his plate. "Yup."
"We need to really talk about this." His words were rushed.
"I thought that's what we're doing?"
Blair ignored the comment. "Does your mistrust of Nyajiru stem from this dream or something else?"
"It's instinct. The dream makes me wary, but then there were those drugs in his--"
"Tea, Jim. He said it--"
"That's just it. He said it was tea, but how do you know that he wasn't lying about it?" Jim pointed out.
"I assume that you were listening to his heartbeat as he said it. Was it going fast? Was he sweating or something?"
"The man lived with a sentinel. He's probably learned how to mask his emotions."
"So, you believe that he knew a sentinel, yet you don't believe that his Mason jar contained tea? That's backwards, man."
"I don't know. That tea killed someone, and I just don't want you to be next because you believe that it's just tea."
"I'll be careful. I promise. If I see him, we're just gonna talk."
Blair could see how uneasy Jim still was with the idea. No matter how much they discussed it, Jim's mind would never ease. Only time would prove that the old African shaman was harmless. He was in fact a wealth of information that Blair just had to tap in to.
They both stood up and gathered their dirty dishes together and put them in the sink. While Jim was doing some last minute things, Blair washed and dried them. When he finished he brushed his teeth and put on his shoes.
"We going in together?" Jim asked as he bent down to get his pack.
"I thought you were having lunch with that woman from the DA's office."
"Shit, I forgot." Jim ran up the stairs and came back down with a tie and jacket.
"Ooooo," Blair mocked.
Jim cuffed him in the back of his head.
"I'll see you at the bullpen," Blair called out as he ran out the door.
"I'm not racing," Jim called back.
Blair kept glancing in his rear-view mirror. Sure enough, Jim was keeping exactly two car- lengths behind him. Blair let his foot off the gas pedal and slowed down. Jim did the same. Blair increased his speed, Jim did likewise. Fighting the urge to turn it into a game, Blair continued driving towards the station alternating between berating his partner and laughing.
Blair pulled into his parking space and got out of the car. The two men made their way to the elevator. As the door started to close, Blair reminded Jim yet again about the lunch appointment. Jim stuck his hand out to stop the doors and ran out to get his tie and jacket. Blair let the doors close and rode up alone to the bullpen. He'd make it to his desk first. He won. Blair flashed Jim a triumphant grin as the other detective walked through the door, carrying the offending apparel.
Two hours later, Serena came up with a file in her hand. "I've gotten the toxicology report."
She waved it in front of them and Jim snatched it. He opened it and slowly perused its contents. Blair looked over his shoulder.
"Is it illegal?" Jim directed at Serena.
"Nope. You can even buy it off the Internet," she responded.
"Galangal? You ever heard of it, Chief?"
"It's an herb used to induce visions," Blair answered.
Serena looked over Jim's other shoulder and pointed to a list of chemicals. "It's all there. The drug isn't illegal, nor has it ever been proven to be toxic. You better have Dan run some more tests. Maybe this stuff interacted with something else in Hosenfeld's system that ultimately killed him. I don't know. But Blair is right. It says here that this stuff is psychoactive."
Blair reached over and pointed to one of the chemicals. "Look Jim, ginerole. Remember that smell? Didn't you say you thought you smelled ginger in the car?"
"I've got to get back to the lab. Let me know if you need anything else." Serena patted Jim's shoulder and walked away.
Blair wanted to look more closely to the file but Jim hoarded it to himself. It didn't matter; he had enough other stuff to do. Much of the day was spent researching, both online and through some hard copy files. Every now and then, Blair's eyes would stray to his phone, almost willing it to ring, then glancing at Jim to see if he'd noticed Blair's preoccupation with the phone. When it did, it invariably would be work related. Jim left for his lunch meeting, eliciting a mocking tribute from the other room's occupants.
As soon as Jim left, Blair jumped up to retrieve the file. He had just sat down when Rafe called him into the interrogation room to talk to Jenkens. Blair was writing in a notebook and looked up briefly when the wary pawnshop owner was delivered. The two men were left alone in the room. Blair ignored the other man, and continued writing. Jenkens fidgeted in his seat.
Blair started his attack. "Did you know that in ancient tribal cultures..."
An hour later, Blair left the room grinning. The man had cracked after only fifteen minutes of conversation. The rest of the time had been spent recording the particulars. Jenkens wouldn't crack under intimidation; he was immune to that. It just took gentle persuasion and a lot of talking. Blair walked back to his desk and picked up the toxicology report.
"Good work, kid," Simon called out from his office.
"Thanks." Blair smiled as he sat down.
His cell phone rang. He was so startled he dropped the file. Rummaging though his coat pocket, he pulled it out. Was this it? Could it be Nyajiru? It was almost frightening how much he wanted it to be him.
"You gonna answer that, or are you trying to avoid someone?" Rafe called out.
"Hello?" Blair asked into the receiver.
"Mr. Sandburg? This is Nyajiru."
"Hi," he said breathlessly into the phone.
Catcalls resounded in the room. Blair never heard them.
"Would you like to come over when you finish your work?"
"Yes. I could bring a pizza or some Chinese takeout?"
"Not necessary. I'll provide dinner. They have a nice little kitchen that we can use. I went shopping today."
"I'll bet that was quite an experience."
"What time can I expect you?"
Blair looked guiltily around the bullpen. With Jim gone, this would be an excellent time to leave. It wasn't that Jim had refused to let him go. He was just uncomfortable with the idea. This way, there would be less time that Jim would spend worrying. Blair smiled at his reasoning.
"I can leave now, if that's all right with you?"
Blair hung up his phone trying to contain his excitement. With slow, deliberate movements, he cleared his desk. He nonchalantly grabbed his coat and pack and walked out the door. His mind was buzzing so loudly he wouldn't have been able to hear a bomb go off.
The drive seemed to last forever. Every traffic light conspired to turn red as he approached it. He was caught behind at least three school busses, and then the Volvo stalled a couple of blocks from the Y. Blair's temper was totally frayed by the time he made it up to Nyajiru's door.
"Come in my young friend," he was invited.
Blair gave a thin smile as he entered. The room was a little more cluttered than it had been the day before. A pile of fresh vegetables sat upon a counter. A lone bag of apples was beside them. The table usually found in the kitchenette, was sitting in front of the large window. A vase of multi-colored flowers graced an end table. Blair stiffened as he recognized the Mason jar sitting alongside the vase. He turned away from the sight and focused on his host.
"I have a picture of my sentinel. Would you like to see it?"
Blair's eyes widened. "Yeah."
"About ten years ago, one of the conservationists from the Reserve was at our little store. He had this camera that spit out pictures as he took them. He took this of Kuguri and I. It's the only likeness I have of him."
Blair looked at the Polaroid. The picture showed two old African males, wearing the familiar linen pants with their arms around each other. Nyajiru was easily recognized. The other had a front tooth missing and a long scar on his chest.
"The two of you look close." Blair couldn't think of what else to say.
"We were mavungu and sangoma. Those are the words for sentinel and shaman in my language. In 1864 a British explorer came to Africa. He spent much time with different tribes learning many of our customs. He told us that the English word for mavungu was sentinel. That special word has been passed down from generation to generation along with our stories."
"That explorer, was it Richard Burton?"
"I see you've heard of him," Nyajiru answered with a smile.
"I read a monograph by him. He wrote it about this tribe in Paraguay. They had sentinels, too. It was so fascinating hearing about the tribal structure and how the watchman contributed to both the survival and social aspect of the community." Blair handed the picture back.
"And the sangoma? Did Burton mention his role, too?"
"Yes." Blair's eyes glimmered with excitement.
"And you. Is this what you want to do?"
"I don't understand what you mean?"
"Come, let us sit down. Would you like a lemonade? I find I have quite a passion for them."
"I'd love some."
Nyajiru handed him a bottle of Snapple and they both sat down on the sofa.
"What did you mean by that question?" Blair asked, trying to get back into their previous conversation.
"You are a student of human nature."
"Not anymore. I quit the University. Now I'm a detective."
Nyajiru gave him a gentle smile. "A police officer may be the way you earn money, but who you are is very different."
Blair must have looked puzzled, because Nyajiru started to elucidate more fully.
"Every person has a spirit or soul that defines who they are."
"Their personality," Blair interjected.
Nyajiru nodded. "I haven't known you long, but I sense that you enjoy learning. That's why you're here, isn't it? To learn from me?"
"Yes," he said hesitantly.
"Is that your only interest?"
"No. Learning everything I can about sentinels is important. I can't help Jim if I don't know what I'm doing."
"Knowledge is a means to an end?"
Blair thought about it for a second. "I guess you could say that."
Nyajiru laughed. "You still love to learn. It's like I said before. But, your sentinel is a different story. Being a police officer defines who he is."
This was safer ground. "Yeah, he protects the tribe," Blair laughed, "or rather the city of Cascade."
"Correct, and each of you complements the other perfectly. Now I am also a student, and hopefully soon a teacher. Kuguri was a leader."
"Was he chief of your tribe?"
"Not exactly. My people have been nomadic cattle herders for centuries, if not longer. Sentinels led our people and animals across the land, showing us where the water was located and where to find the best grass." He shook his head sadly. "When the white men came and civilized us, our nomadic way of life became curtailed. We became dependent on imported goods and trading. Now, there are no more sentinels. Kuguri was the last."
"Nyajiru, what did you mean by you being a teacher?"
"Call me Nya, and I'll call you Blair." The old man sat back and took a long drink from his bottle. "In our tribe, the elders are responsible for teaching the young."
"That's true everywhere."
"When I was young," he continued as if Blair hadn't spoken, "I loved schooling. There came a time when the adults believed that I should take my manhood tests and go through the bonding ceremonies with Kuguri. I did so, but missed the day to day classroom studies. I felt like a part of myself was missing."
"What did you do?"
"Kuguri and I left and went to a formal school near the Reserve." His eyes clouded with memories. "That was when I saw the real wild dog, up-close, for the first time."
Blair tensed, remembering Jim's dream. "Is the wild dog your spirit animal?"
"It is. He supplies me with the special power that allows me to commune with the spirits."
"Was your sentinel also able to do this?"
"Very rarely. I think that in most pairs, only the shaman is able to see into the other world. He reports what he sees and experiences and the sentinel acts accordingly."
"You mean he believes what you say you've seen and then acts upon it?"
Blair thought about it. Jim didn't really believe in the visions when he saw them himself. He couldn't imagine what he'd say if Blair reported to Jim all those esoteric ideas. Jim would laugh and say he was ready for the funny farm.
"Do you talk to the spirits?"
"No," Blair reluctantly responded.
"Would you like me to show you how?"
Blair tried to contain his excitement. He inhaled deeply and let it out slowly. It was what he wanted more than anything, but he was afraid. He didn't want to tell Nya that Jim was the one who saw the visions, not him. He was deficient as a shaman and Jim had to take up the slack.
"You're going to teach me?" Blair reiterated.
"I hope to. If you both want it and have the will to do it."
"I've read up on it. I sort of know what to do, just not how to do it."
"There are no set rules for being a shaman. It comes from within. You need to open yourself to the experience and if the spirits have something to say, they will."
Blair wiggled uncomfortably on the couch. What if the spirits had nothing to say to him? If he wasn't worthy, then this... his thoughts were interrupted.
"When your inner mind has found serenity, your inner self can then perceive the connection between the earth and the spirit world. Your imagination and will are needed, because without imagination, your will sends out a current that is vague and indefinite, it's nothing more than the force of the current."
"But, how do you know when this really happens? What if you think you're doing everything right, but nothing happens?"
"Do you know how to meditate?"
"Oh, yes! I do that all the time. I put on my relaxing music and then clear my mind. I can find the peace my soul needs to rejuvenate or make decisions. I just don't get visions, or see that wolf that's my spirit animal."
"How do you know that the wolf is your spirit animal if you've never seen him?"
"I did see him once. I had this near death experience and he joined with Jim's black jaguar and the two of them brought me back. It's hard to explain. Since then, and even before then, I've never been able to connect with the spirit world," Blair admitted.
"Sometimes you think you've achieved balance, but somehow the connection never gets forged. I think your soul either isn't quiet enough, or you lack the imagination."
Blair felt a despondency settle over him. Jim lacked imagination. His soul was more tortured than quiet, yet he had visions. Why could Jim do it and not he? "So, what do I do?" A thread of hope filtered through his voice.
Nya looked deep into Blair's eyes. "Every shaman has to find his own path. Many find that their imagination isn't functioning to aid the will, so something additional is needed."
"I use my tea to help me with the journey."
"Tea?" Blair's voice cracked in nervousness.
"Yes. I brew myself a cup of tea and drink several sips. It relaxes my body and mind, which allows my consciousness to travel out of my body to the spirit plane. There a play is acted out before my eyes. It's symbolic. There is no direct communication."
"Do you see this play during every trip?"
"No. Sometimes they have nothing to say. After Kuguri died, the spirits were quiet. For some reason, they changed their minds and asked me to come to see you. I can only guess that they want me to instruct you in some way."
"They think I need something only you can give?"
"Correct. Somehow, my job is to enlighten you; to show you the right path to being a shaman."
"Wow." Blair couldn't sit still. He stood up and began wandering around the small studio. "The spirits actually told you that I needed help." Back and forth he walked as he tried to assimilate this idea. "I don't know if I'm embarrassed or feel honored."
"You and your sentinel may be the only bonded pair in the world. I don't know. Civilization seems to have nulled the cultural need for such people."
"You think Jim and I are an aberration?"
"No! I don't think that. The gods have their own plans, and I think you two are part of that."
Blair nodded, pretending to understand.
"Shall we go on a spirit journey?" Nya asked gravely.
To walk the path with his spirit guide was something he longed to do. Every fiber in his being cried out for the chance, yet he was apprehensive. Fear of the unknown played a big part, as did the dream that Jim had. He didn't know how to interpret the dream. He didn't die, the drug simulated death. The only time he had ever seen the wolf was after he had really died. Maybe that was needed to make the journey. The wild dog urged the wolf to drink, but the wolf refused. He didn't want to, according to Jim.
"I don't like taking drugs of any kind. Once I took this hallucinogenic drug called Golden, by accident, and that messed me up big time. There were these tiny people made of fire and they were coming out of the woodwork. I knew they were trying to kill me. And that the tea you drink is lethal. It killed that man," Blair's voice went higher in pitch and all his words ran together because of his agitation.
"The tea won't hurt you," Nya said calmly. "The fool tried to smoke it. You actually only ingest a little of it. The leaves come from a plant that grows behind my hut. I have picked it and dried it for decades. The shamans from my village have used this plant since the beginning of time. Used correctly, it won't harm you."
"You've probably built up a resistance to its effects. I'm sorry, Nya. I just can't do it."
"That's okay, Blair. I'm going to make some for me. I haven't taken a journey since I was told to come here. I want you to meditate beside me, and just leave your mind open to possibilities. Maybe you don't need my tea."
Blair hoped that that was the case. He knew he shouldn't drink the tea. Jim had warned him and there was nothing worse than the sentinel coming out of his protective mode saying, 'I told you so'.
However, there was a tiny corner in Blair's mind that was curious. When he was a kid, there had been this man at one of the communes he had lived in. His mother had been very tight with him for awhile, and he used to sit for hours listening to him talk to her. One thing that came to mind now was about taking psychedelic drugs. He said that the drugs do not lead to wisdom, because the trips are impermanent. Drugs are for recreation, like going to the movies. As soon as a person depends upon them for inner peace and serenity, their souls become lost. At the time it sounded like sage advice, and it seemed even more relevant now. But, if he were to use it just once, couldn't it be considered recreational?
The kettle whistled. Nyajiru reached into the Mason jar and dropped a couple of the leaves into a cup. He poured in the boiling water. Each move was mechanical, yet efficient. It had the makings of a ritual, so well timed were Nya's movements. His lips moved as if in prayer as he stirred the cup, mixing the greenish color leeching from the once dried plant. When the tea had brewed the desired time, he scooped out the drenched leaves and threw them away. Carrying the cup, he came back into the living room area and sat on the floor. With a motion, he urged Blair to sit across from him.
"At home, I sit on the ground, like this. It brings me closer to the earth's pulse and I can feel it reverberate through my whole body."
He closed his eyes, took a sip of the brew, then opened them again. "I agree it's a little more difficult when the ground itself is twelve or so feet below where you're sitting." He took another sip as his eyes closed once more.
Blair smiled at his companion's attempt at humor. Following Nya's example, he began his own meditation process. His ears heard the sips as Nya continued to drink from his cup. Then the African began a prayer, spoken in English, but his accent was more pronounced.
"Animal spirits that reside in the earth and in the sky, talk to us. Our minds are open so that we may communicate. Only you can see the drifting shapes that form the cosmos. Wisdom is yours."
Blair tried to get into the words the shaman was speaking, but they sounded so hokey. Nya's voice was beginning to slur around the words, yet Blair felt no connection to what was happening. Suddenly he felt left out; jealous of the other man's abilities and experiences. Blair eyed the teacup. It was still half full of the greenish tea. Nya sat the cup down between them and continued chanting. Blocking out his conscience, Blair took the teacup and drank. Nyajiru's voice droned on and on. One sip followed another, 'til he finished the last half of the tea.
"...Together we are one; animal spirit and man. We humble ourselves before your infinite knowledge. Grant us a glimpse of things yet to come, things that are happening, and give us the strength and purpose to decipher the meaning."
The words blurred together. Plain English transposed into a gibberish that Blair could no longer understand. His body began to lighten, and he thought he could float up to the ceiling. There was a euphoria that was hard to control. Wasn't there a passage about will and imagination? He needed the strength of will not to forget his purpose.
The empty mug slipped from his fingers and lay unnoticed on the floor before him. Time lost all meaning.
Jim had a pounding headache. The meeting with the assistant DA had gone long past three. Every time their conference seemed to wind down, she found another detail that had yet to be discussed. This was one of the more tedious chores he had to put up with on the road to getting the criminals behind bars.
The doors of the elevator opened and Jim walked out. Fresh pain assaulted his head, making each step excruciating. Turning down the dials had worked during the meeting, but now they seemed to be down as low as they would go. The hum of voices caught his attention. Actually, what made him pause was the lack of a certain voice.
Jim entered the bullpen looking quickly around. "Where's Sandburg?" he asked loudly.
Henri looked up at him. "Hot date," he said with a grin.
Rafe walked over carrying a small plastic cup containing water. "It was that phone call."
"Yeah," Henri continued. "He had just finished with Jenkens when his cell phone rang. As he was talking, he kept looking around to see if anyone was watching him."
Rafe finished off his water. "Sounds like a hot date to me, too." Rafe wiggled his eyebrows.
Jim knew that they were wrong. Blair would never act like that because of a woman. The mysterious caller had to be that African shaman. Another sharp pain ricocheted in his head. The overhead lights became blinding. He closed his eyes, waiting, striving to turn down the dials. When he was able to open them again, he heard a fierce growl, followed by a hiss. The black jaguar was sitting on Blair's desk; ears flat against his head.
"What's going on?" The captain's voice brought Jim attention back to the bullpen.
"Sandburg's in trouble," tumbled out of Jim's mouth. The words spurred him into action. He pulled out his cell phone and dialed Blair's number.
Henri stood up so suddenly that his chair fell backwards.
"Come on, Sandburg. Pick it up." Jim pleaded into the mouthpiece. Blair's phone rang, but there was no answer. Jim slammed his phone shut.
Simon started barking orders. "Rafe, you and Henri take one car. I'll drive Jim and you'll follow us."
Jim didn't hear him. He was already striding out of the bullpen toward the elevator. The other three men hurried after him.
"You have any idea where he is?" Simon asked, as the doors closed.
Jim looked at his friends, seeing the worry reflected in their eyes, too. "He's with Nyajiru. At the Y."
As soon as the doors opened again, Jim rushed out. Simon grabbed him by the arm. "You're riding with me," Jim was told.
Jim spun around ready to impose his will. Simon drew himself up and wore his, 'I'm the captain, don't mess with me' look. "You. Will. Ride. With. Me." Simon enunciated each word with conviction.
Jim relented and got into the passenger side of Simon's car. The two cars sped off to the Cascade YMCA with lights and sirens wailing. While driving, Simon put a call in for an ambulance to meet them at the Y. Jim made a metal note of the action and then prayed that it wouldn't be needed, although his intuition and the spirit world were telling him that it would.
Jim was almost unaware of the journey. His focus was inward, half straining his ears to pick up Blair's voice as soon as it might be audible, and the rest just praying that they'd be on time. His strange dream also replayed in his mind. The fact that the jaguar led the wolf off gave him a small degree of hope. It was the drug's effects that worried him the most. Sandburg wasn't dead, he'd know if that had happened. However, what the tea might do to his partner, made him break out in cold sweats. Nyajiru was used to it, Blair was not. It was obvious that Blair had tried the tea or the cat wouldn't have warned him with his presence, nor would Jim have gotten the headache, which seemed to have vanished with his realization of Blair's danger.
As soon as the car stopped, Jim flew out the door. He could hear Simon, Rafe and Henri following behind him. They took the stairs in record time and rushed to the African's door. Jim paused momentarily. There was no talking, but he could distinguish two steady heartbeats, their rhythm almost too slow to sustain life. The strange odor assaulted his nostrils. That fake ginger smell. But this time it was fresher, stronger.
Simon reached around his body and opened the door. The movement spurred Jim into action. He rushed into the room, his eyes cataloguing everything. Nyajiru and Blair were both sitting, cross-legged, on the floor. A mug, tipped on its side, lay just in front of Blair. A small puddle of greenish liquid had spilled from the mug and was soaking into the right cuff of Blair's pants.
Jim ignored the African as he focused all his senses on Blair. "Sandburg! Wake-up!" He tapped Blair's shoulder. Rafe and Henri were searching the room.
Kneeling beside Blair, Jim grabbed hold of both of Blair's shoulders. Shaking gently, "Come on, Chief. Open your eyes." Panic at his friend's unresponsiveness was setting in. He began to shake harder. The vision had said that the jaguar would lead the wolf away. Jim would lead a healthy Blair away. Oh God! "Sandburg, can you hear my voice? The water's too deep here. We've got to walk away."
Jim started as Simon grasped his arm. "Easy Jim. The paramedics are here. Give them some space."
"I'm going with him." Jim told them all adamantly.
The ALS technician looked at Simon, who nodded his assent. Jim felt a momentary surge of fury at the impertinence of the technician, then forgot all about it as they lifted Blair on top of the gurney and started wheeling him away. Following close behind, Jim monitored Blair's vitals as they took him to the ambulance.
Once inside the vehicle, the technicians hooked Blair up to their machines. Jim settled himself to one side, and with lights flashing the ambulance started for the hospital. One of the technicians was pulling back one of Blair's eyelids.
"His eyes are dilated," he directed towards Jim. "Is he on some kind of drug?"
Jim felt a vise squeeze his heart. "I think he drank some tea made from an herb with hallucinatory qualities, called Galangal."
The paramedic sent him a disapproving glance, then the mask of efficiency was back in place. Jim felt that look deep into his soul. If he had taken better care of his guide, this never would have happened. Blair's heartbeat increased in tempo. Jim heard it the same time as the paramedics. He reached down and grabbed Blair's hand.
"Come on, Chief. Please wake up," he murmured softly.
Blair's breathing started coming in quick gasps. Jim felt Blair's hand tremble in his, when suddenly it moved and grasped Jim's hand instead. His partner regained consciousness in that moment and tried to sit up.
"God, Jim. I couldn't find you. There were so many paths and every time I came to a fork someone was telling me where to go." Blair's words rushed out in one breath, almost slurring together.
"Easy," Jim said gently. "Lay back down."
Blair rested his head back on the bed. "It was so real, man."
"I know. They always are." Jim was trying to placate his friend, yet the thread of truth was apparent.
The emergency room was a hive of activity. Doctors and nurses buzzed from the main desk to the little alcoves housing the patients. As each minute passed, the drug's effects on Blair lessened. Jim sat in a chair by the bed wearing a stiff frown. By the time the doctor came to their alcove, Blair's only complaint was a headache. The doctor gave him a cursory examination and then told them to go home.
Simon was waiting for them. "Sandburg, you are a trial," the captain said gruffly as he herded them out the door. As Blair passed Simon, the older man reached out and squeezed Blair's arm. "Glad you're okay."
Blair smiled at him.
Jim's body was still tense. There were so many emotions running through his mind. Anger at Blair for taking the stupid drug. Then there was the worry that something had happened to him. God, he hated going through that.
Blair stopped walking. "What about Nyajiru? Did you drag him in, too?"
Simon and Jim scowled at Blair's choice of words. "No," Simon informed them both. As the paramedics were checking him over and getting ready to transport him, he regained consciousness. He then ordered the paramedics to release him and leave him alone."
Blair nodded and resumed walking. Once they were settled in the car and on their way, Blair started complaining. "He knew what he was doing, you know."
Jim refused to look at him. He had just gone through a horrible ordeal, and only wanted to forget about it.
Blair continued. "He's drunk that tea all his life and nothing ever happened to him. I knew what I was doing when I went to his room. I don't know why you didn't trust me?" Blair's voice broke on the last two words.
"It had nothing to do with trust," Jim tried to explain.
Blair looked at him with doubt.
"You accuse me of not listening when these animal spirits talk to me." Jim turned furious eyes onto his friend, pinning him with his stare. "Well, I did this time. The jaguar screamed at me that you were in trouble. What did you want me to do? I was scared shitless that that stupid tea was going to kill you. You were going to drown in that lake that the wild dog had suckered you into. You see," his voice softened, "my actions did not reflect my lack of trust, but my fear for your life."
"Do you two really need to talk about spirits and wild dogs in front of me? We're almost to your place--"
"Sorry Simon," Jim began, then noticed that Blair had sat back in his seat and closed his eyes. "Your head still bothering you?"
"Yeah, and your screaming at me didn't help."
Jim felt contrite. He had forgotten about the headache. As soon as Simon dropped them off, Jim hustled Blair up to the loft. Simon promised to have someone drop off the truck later that night. Without protest, Blair went immediately to bed.
Grabbing a beer from the fridge, he sat down to watch TV. He idly flipped channels, keeping one ear on the programs and the other on his sleeping roommate. Blair's breathing was slow and rhythmic, indicative of sleep. Jim took another sip of his beer, as he changed the channel yet again. An hour slipped by before Jim actually felt the tension leave him. A growling noise caught his attention. This time it came from his stomach, not a spiritual cat. Getting off the couch, he went into the kitchen and rummaged through the freezer. Selecting a package of beef, he pulled it out to defrost in the microwave. He peeled some potatoes and carrots and together with the beef, he prepared a pot roast. Taking a bowl of pretzels and another beer back to the couch, he settled in to wait for the dinner to cook and Blair to wake up. He finished the snack and set the bowl on the end table. Fluffing the small sofa pillow, he spread out on the couch and closed his eyes.
"Jim, wake up."
Blair's voice and the shake brought him out of a deep sleep. The aroma from the dinner pervaded the air. His eyes remained closed as he savored the relaxed feeling of being half-asleep and half-awake.
"Jim, I'm pretty sure dinner's done. But, if you want me to eat it all by myself... no problem."
"I'm awake." Jim sat up, rubbing his eyes and running his hand through his hair.
"Man, you were really gone."
"How's your head?" Jim inquired.
"Fine. Pain's all gone."
Jim grunted in satisfaction. "Then let's go eat."
They worked in companionable silence getting the food out of the oven and onto the table. Pouring them each a glass of milk, Jim sat down and started piling the food onto his plate. Blair did like-wise.
After spending a few minutes eating in silence, Jim started the conversation. "Was it worth it?" He tried very hard not to sound condemning. Jim very much wanted an honest answer.
Blair paused, and then sat the fork down. "I learned a lot. Nyajiru knows so much about being a shaman. You know a real one, not the kind you read about in books and stuff."
"We all have to find the right path. When he first said it, I didn't know what he meant."
"Path to what?"
Blair took a drink of his milk. "Path of life. Everyone is different and we all see things differently. I was trying to do things the way everyone else was telling me to do them, not what was right for me; for us."
"So, drugs are not mandatory?" Jim needed Blair to say that he wasn't going to drink that damned tea ever again.
Blair smiled. "I will never do that again, although I'm glad I did it this time."
Jim tried not to visibly react. "What about your vision?"
"I was lost in the jungle." Blair's eyes sparkled. "I went down this trail and came to a fork. My old professor, Dr. Eastman, was there. He told me to take the right fork, so I did. I ran down it and came to where the trail crossed with another. My mother was there. She patted me on the head and told me to make a left. The next choice came and Incacha was there and so on. I can't remember how many people I ran into, all telling me which way to go. It was like this giant maze that I couldn't get out of. In my heart, I knew that I was looking for you; that when I found my way out, you'd be waiting for me.
"Finally I stopped running and stood in the middle of the path and caught my breath. I closed my eyes and concentrated. Following everyone else's suggestions wasn't getting me anywhere. I had to make the decisions on my own. I found my center, and proceeded down the path once more. I made rights and lefts as if something in my head knew where to go. All of a sudden, you were there. You cuffed me in the head and asked what took me so long. We took a few more steps and we were out of the jungle in this meadow. Next thing I knew you were saying something about waking up."
Jim was confused. "So, what did you learn from all that?"
"I have to find my own path. No one can tell me where to go or what's best for me. I can't learn it from books or have someone show me. I have to determine it for myself."
"I thought that's what we've been doing."
"We have, I just didn't realize that it was what I'm supposed to be doing."
"When Incacha threw that whole shaman thing at me, I thought I had to do everything real shamans do."
"Like having vision quests?"
"Yeah, and that's what's been bothering me the most. Shamans always go on vision quests. But, I've never been able to. The spirits talk to you. Why wouldn't they talk to me? What's wrong with me?"
Jim didn't know what to say. They'd been through this a hundred times. He didn't have an answer.
Blair took pity on his confusion. "I'm not worried about that anymore. I know I'm on the right path now. Nyajiru said that when the spirits talked to him, he'd tell Kuguri about them--"
"Kuguri was Nya's sentinel. Anyway, Kuguri always listened to what the spirits said and together they'd do what ever was required of them. Tell me Jim, if I told you that the spirits told me something, would you believe it? Would you act upon it?"
Jim thought about it. He hated having to deal with things he couldn't explain. He didn't like it when he had dreams featuring the jaguar or esoteric themes.
"You wouldn't, Jim. You'd laugh at me and tell me to get a life. Remember when you talked to that ghost?"
"She talked to me."
"Even when it happens to you, you have a hard time believing. I think that's why the spirits have decided to communicate with you instead of me. And that's okay. Now that I understand what's been going on, I'm more at peace with it."
Blair picked up his fork and began eating again. Jim took a bite of meat and thought about what Blair had said. Neither of them had all the answers. They'd been flying by the seat of their pants for so long it felt normal. Considering he was a genetic throwback, as Blair had said when they had first met, it was only fair that the answers had been buried centuries ago. Jim took another bite. As much as he disapproved of Blair drinking the hallucinogenic tea, he was grateful for the way things had turned out. Blair wasn't considering himself a failure, yet nothing had really changed in their lives.
Blair dropped his fork. "Jim?" he said with stress.
"What?" he responded warily.
"One thing I don't understand. In your dream, Nya and I, or rather the dog and wolf, were asleep. The jaguar came and took the wolf away. Remember?"
Jim thought back. Then it hit him. "When the jaguar went back, the wild dog was dead."
"--was dead," Blair said the same time as Jim.
They looked at each other.
"I should call," Blair said, jumping up from the table.
Jim followed Blair over to the phone where Blair called the Y.
"Can I talk to Nyajiru."
Jim listened in.
"I'm sorry," the desk attendant told Blair. "He checked out about an hour ago. He left a letter for a Blair Sandburg."
"It'll be here at the front desk when you want to pick it up."
"We'll be right there." Blair looked at Jim. "Hey, we have to get my car anyway," he said thinly.
Quickly the two men cleaned off the table. Miraculously, someone had already returned the truck.
Nyajiru sank his weary bones onto a chair at the table by the window. Clouds hid the setting sun, but there was still enough light to hurt his eyes. His head pounded like a herd of stampeding cattle, yet a smile lit his features. Despite the fact that the day had ended in a fiasco, the trip had been a success. Blair had journeyed into the spirit world and found some answers. Maybe not all of them, but enough to satisfy the boy and keep him on the right path.
It was time to go home. As much as Nya enjoyed this brief stay, his home was half a world away. He missed the sun in this cold, wet city. A yip if agreement echoed in his mind. The only thing left to do was to write Blair a letter. The spirits had told him that his work was done. It was better to leave now, than to suffer through explanations and tearful good-byes. A troubling frown crossed his face as a memory from his spirit journey whispered through his mind. The thread was elusive. Each time his conscious mind tried to grasp it, there was nothing there but a faint feeling of unease. Had the spirits warned him of something? The harder he concentrated, the more it slipped away.
Purposely shoving it aside, he reached for the pen and paper sitting in the middle of the table. Bringing the pen over the paper, he paused, searching for the right words to leave for his new friend. Time moved steadily forward as the sky darkened and the shadows lengthened.
A morbid shiver slipped down his spine. Nya reread what was on the paper. It didn't really capture everything he wanted to express, but it would have to do. He had never been one for words.
With quick, sure movements, he gathered his belongings together. He stuffed them in his duffel. His eyes scanned the room, marking the absence of Mason jar, the folded pile of clothes, and quickly went through a mental checklist. Once he was satisfied that he was all packed, he grabbed the folded letter and went down stairs. The man behind the desk called him a taxi. Nya left the letter for Blair with the man and left for the airport.
The ride in the yellow car took a far shorter time than he had envisioned. A sense of impending danger settled over him during the ride. Scenes from his spirit journey ran through his mind. Most of what had happened, he had forgotten, but now, riding in the cab, they started to reemerge. The black jaguar had led the wolf away. During the dream, it seemed that he was both the wild dog and a spectator. He felt the joy when the wolf drank from the lake of knowledge with him. He rejoiced when Blair lay down beside him and experienced the spirits in all their wonder. Then the jaguar came and led the wolf away. That scene was very vivid in his mind. Nya remembered the feeling of abandonment, but also the rightness. The wild dog, left behind, observed their departing forms through slit eyes. Nya, looking on from someplace else, felt the danger lurking. He wanted to warn his spirit animal, but the dog's focus was on the disappearing wolf. A black adder slithered along the ground. Nya shouted a warning, but it carried no sound. With a rush of movement, the adder struck, biting the wild dog in the belly. The snake turned towards Nya, his golden eyes mocking Nya's powerlessness. When Nya looked at his spirit animal again, death held him in her grasp, and the dog looked at him with sad, defeated eyes. A spasm of shivers racked his body.
"Could you increase the heat?" Nya asked the taxi-driver.
"Almost there," was his only response.
Several minutes later they pulled into the airport's main road. Shoving the vision from his mind, he pulled out the money to pay the driver. The taxi stopped behind at least six others; all discharging passengers. Nya gave the man his money, then closed the door. His legs were stiff from the trip, but also rubbery from the effects of his remembered vision. With hesitant steps, he slung the duffel over his shoulder and walked through the revolving doors. Each step felt closer to the danger his dream forecasted. He started towards the baggage check-in station, when a hand gripped his arm.
"Let me help you," a voice said.
Nya turned to see a well-dressed gentleman. He was immaculately groomed, wearing an expensive suit and shiny shoes. Even his fingernails looked manicured. It wasn't until the stranger turned his head and smiled that Nya knew that he couldn't escape his fate. The smile was echoed in gold, glowing eyes. The eyes of the adder.
Author's note: The plant, galangal, mentioned in this story is real. I looked it up in the Physician's Desk Reference on herbal medicine. It is called Alpina officinarum. One of the chemicals the plant contains is called gingerole, which indeed smells like ginger. Galangal is a hallucinogenic herb and it is used primarily for vision quests. It can be bought through the Internet. Galangal roots are seeped in boiling water and the liquid is drunk cold. Sometimes the roots are eaten straight. However, if one smokes it, there is no evidence that it will kill you.
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