Production No. CVT524
Josette, Paula, & Shallan
MEET THE CAST
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.