by CarolROI and Suisan
Beta Read by BethB
Written for PetFly by Howard Chaykin
internal thoughts in italics
The observer watched through the one way glass as Captain James Ellison answered the questions put to him by the debriefing officer. He seemed on edge, tense. He ran a finger under the collar of his uniform shirt, as if the fabric irritated his skin. He acted distracted, as though every little sound bothered him.
That would be in line with what the observer had learned from Captain Mathis, the leader of the team that had plucked Ellison out of the jungle. Mathis had mentioned how Ellison had seemed to hear and see things before any of the other men. Interesting…and possibly useful….
Light from a computer screen flickered over the face of the observer, illuminating the sharp eyes and handsome features now drawn in concentration as he read the screen and typed in the request for the information he sought.
Search: Heightened Senses
Results: 158 matches
Search: Heightened Senses and/or South America
List: Sentinels Of Paraguay -- Burton, Richard F. 1880-81 London
Sentinels Among Us? -- Sandburg, Blair J. 1989-90 Cascade, Washington
Jim Ellison felt as if he was humoring the kid. Whose bright idea was this anyway? Blair Sandburg reached up behind to place the blindfold over his eyes while Jim leaned against the kitchen counter.
"All right, Jim, if we're going to hone your skills, you're going to occasionally have to take some of these sensory tests. Just think of them as pop quizzes." Sandburg finished off his work on the blindfold and Jim had to admit, he couldn't see around, or through, the heavy cloth.
"Make it quick." He hated this, not being able to see.
"Okay. How many fingers am I holding up?"
Smart ass. Jim had to bite his tongue to keep from laughing. "None. And if you don't move this along, I'll show you one of my fingers."
He was rewarded with a slight chuckle from Sandburg. "Okay, all right, all right, I'll hurry up here. In each of the cups in front of you there's water and a minute trace of another substance." Jim reached out and located one of the coffee mugs the kid was chattering about. "Just identify the foreign matter."
"Foreign matter?" Why did he not like the sound of that?
"Completely consumable." There was a nice, reassuring tone to Blair's voice. "You ready?"
Resigned to taking this 'pop-quiz', Jim nodded. "Yeah." The ringing of a phone, from the room where Blair had been camped out for a while now, interrupted the test. Sort of.
"Oh! Wait a second, that's mine. I'll be right back." Listening carefully, Jim could track his roommate's movements as the younger man made his way from the kitchen to his room.
Deciding not to wait for Sandburg to return to start this sensory test, Jim reached out and picked up the first mug. Sniffing at it, he couldn't detect anything other than water so he sipped at the contents. "Salt…" Not too bad, he could barely taste it.
"Hello? Yeah, hi. This is me."
Jim shook his head, what a way to answer a phone. Reaching out he picked up the second mug, "Hmm, sugar…" So far, so good. Third mug was in his hand and he was drinking from it while halfway listening to Blair's phone conversation.
Swishing the liquid around in his mouth, Jim realized what it was he tasted. "Vanilla extract. Damn kid's making a cake here." Suspecting he knew what the next cup would hold, Jim picked up a fourth mug, not bothering to sniff at the contents, took a healthy swig, and promptly started to gag. Ripping the blindfold off, he turned to spit the foul fluid into the sink. Desperate to rid his mouth of the taste, he leaned his head under the faucet and started to rinse his mouth furiously.
"Really? You know what, I have an idea…"
"Hey! Sandburg! What the hell was in that fourth cup!" Reaching out to pick up the last of his toast, Jim was still trying to get rid of the nauseating taste in his mouth and glared at Blair who came bouncing out of his room.
"What are you talking about? I only put out three cups." Blair looked at the evidence on the counter top and couldn't hold back his laughter. "Oh, man, no. No, no, no. You just drank the bad milk."
"I did what?" The glare he aimed at the younger man had been known to stop criminals in their tracks.
"I was going to throw it out. Oh, man, I'm so sorry. I guess this is a bad time to ask for a favor?" Blair waited for a response, any kind of response and when Jim just continued to stare at him, he seemed to decide to risk the detective's wrath. "That was just my department chair on the phone and they need a sub for today's lecture and we're wondering maybe if you'd come down there and talk about the time you spent in Peru?"
"Give a speech?" Who did the kid think he was? Zig Zigler?
Blair was attempting to look sincerely contrite and, if Jim was being fair, Sandburg had told him to wait before starting the test. It was his own impatience and non-compliance that led him to sampling the spoiled milk. Still, he wasn't about to go give a speech to a bunch of students. "I'd rather have a root canal."
Hanging up the phone after his chat with Blair Sandburg, the tall man stepped over the body on the floor. Impersonating the Social Sciences Chairman had been rather easy. All he'd had to do to convince Sandburg that he was the Chairman was to fake a rather nasty cold. Closing the door behind him as he stepped into the outer office, he headed into the hall.
Walking out of Hargrove Hall, he smiled. Everything was coming together quite nicely. Now all he had to do was get over to the Maintenance Building, change clothes and then finish setting up his little surprises in the lecture hall. Whistling a jaunty tune, he crossed the neatly manicured lawn towards his target.
Jim couldn't believe he'd given in to Sandburg's request, no, make that pleading. But here he was, crossing the street, heading towards Hargrove Hall where he was to meet Blair in lecture room #4. Dodging traffic on the street, he tried to explain to his boss what he was doing. "Yes, sir. I'm well aware of that. I'll get on that as soon as I'm done here." He was supposed to be working the follow-up on a case, not giving speeches. "Well, Sandburg's asked me to help out for a project at the University." No way was he going to tell his Captain that he was giving a damn speech -- might give the man the idea that he enjoyed such things. "Yes, sir. Okay. Thanks, Simon, talk to you in a bit."
Entering the huge building, Jim tried to locate the lecture hall. He found it by tuning into the one voice he'd recognize anywhere. Pausing outside the room, Jim listened to Blair and gathered up his courage.
"Regardless of how much field work you do, very few of us have the opportunity to visit the subjects of our research, let alone live among the indigenous people for any length of time."
Kid was good; Jim could hear his passion for his chosen field in his voice. Straightening his shoulders, Jim opened the door and entered the lecture hall, trying not to notice how many students were in the room.
Blair nodded at him and segued into an introduction. "Five years ago, as a member of the United States Army, Detective James Ellison, now with the Cascade Police Department, spent eighteen months in a Peruvian forest living among the Chopec Indians."
Jim stopped just inside the doorway and waited for Blair to wrap his introduction.
"I've invited Detective Ellison here today to share with us some of his first-hand experiences with those tribesmen. So, if you'll help me welcome him--" Blair stepped off the small stage as the students clapped in welcome and moved in close to Jim's side. "Jim, what the hell happened? I thought you blew me off."
"Some of us have to work for a living." Positioning himself behind the lectern, Jim tried to smile at the students who were settling down and braced himself to begin talking to them.
Gripping the edge of the podium, he cleared his throat and began what he hoped would be a reasonable speech. "Six and a half years ago, I undertook a mission that, as it turned out, would profoundly change my perspective on life." He risked eye contact with a few of the students in the front rows and, seeing interest there, continued. "What started out as a routine mission--"
A loud explosion came from the back of the room. Smoke began to pour from underneath the windows. Shouts and screams filled the air as students raced toward the double doors at the front of the room. Someone pulled the fire alarm, and the shrill ringing added to the cacophony.
Jim yelled to be heard above the noise. "All right! Everyone just calm down! Just stay calm!"
Blair appeared at his side, a perplexed expression on his face. "What's going on?"
"Cover your mouth if you can. Just stay calm."
The students were starting to pile up near the door, pushing on it frantically, bodies jammed together, but the door didn't budge. "Folks, wait! Get back! Settle down, just stay calm. Get away from the doors."
Blair added his own calming words to the chaos, "Calm down, everybody just relax."
Jim tried the door and found it blocked from the outside. Stepping back, he kicked the join between the doors. At his second kick, the sound of splintering wood greeted his efforts and the doors swung open. Caught in the surge of panicked students, Ellison lost track of Blair. Fighting his way upstream, Jim reentered the hall, finding the anthropologist helping students who had fallen rise to their feet.
"Man! What is going on here?" he exclaimed as he caught sight of Jim.
"Is everyone out?"
"Yeah, come on, Jim." Blair let out a ragged cough. Jim followed the grad student into the hallway, and let the younger man precede him outside.
Blair coughed again before they reached the outer doors of the hallway. "You all right?" Jim asked as he clasped the man's shoulder in concern.
"Yeah, let's get out of here."
A bicycle messenger rolled up to the outside of the Biomedical Research Building, parked the bike and pulled a small, pager type device out of his pouch. Checking his watch, he depressed the button that started the count down.
The cyclist busied himself by pulling a thermos-like container from his bike's frame, waiting for the response he hoped his little distraction would cause. One campus security guard burst out of the building and took off toward Hargrove Hall. Getting to the door before it could automatically lock behind the security man, he entered the foyer. There was still one guard on duty there. The biker wasted no time in shooting the man with the silenced .38 he held hidden behind the thermos. Stooping to snag the security bypass card from the man's pocket, he proceeded deeper into the building.
The messenger entered the hazardous materials lab. Its sole occupant was a blonde woman in a white lab coat. Prepared for this contingency, he asked, "Excuse me, I'm looking for Doctor Price?"
The woman looked up from her work. "Uh, this is a restricted area. You shouldn't be in here."
No kidding, Doc. He
held up a small padded envelope, waving it nonchalantly. "I'm
supposed to deliver this to her."
She looked surprised. "I'm Doctor Price."
"Oh, great! If you could just sign right there…." He handed her a clipboard and pointed to the bottom of the form. Waiting until she actually started to scrawl her name, he struck her along the side of the head with the thermos. The blow sent her sprawling and knocked her unconscious.
Moving past her fallen form to the large BioHazard refrigerator unit behind the lab tables, he defeated the security lock by entering the manufacturer's master code. Entering the controlled environment and locating what he wanted, he lifted two large vials out of their containment field and carefully placed them inside the thermos.
Outside Hargrove Hall, Blair leaned over, hands on his knees, breathing in the clean air. His smoke-filled lungs protested, and he coughed until he was gagging.
"You okay there, Chief?" Jim asked worriedly.
Blair nodded, still coughing, then he finally spit into the grass. "I'll be fine, man, just give me a few, okay?"
The sound of Jim's cell phone ringing forestalled any comment the sentinel might have made.
As Jim answered the call, Blair took a seat on the ground, resting his forehead on his upraised knees. What in the heck was going on? The guest lecturer being sick and the chairman asking Blair if his friend could fill in couldn't be just a coincidence--
"Come on, Sandburg. Simon's over at the science building." He extended his hand.
Accepting the aid, Blair let Jim pull him to his feet. "Simon? What's he doing here?"
Jim shrugged. "Guess we'll find out."
Blair followed Jim into the science lab. Simon was talking into his cell phone. "Yeah, as soon as you can. Great." Clicking the cell off, he caught sight of Jim and Blair.
"Simon? What's going on here?" Ellison asked.
"Well, it looks as though the attack on the lecture hall we were first called about was merely a diversion." He waved his hand over to where two paramedics were starting to pack up their gear. "While most of the campus cops were tied up with that little fiasco, someone broke in here, killed a guard, attacked one of the researchers and took off with what appears to be two vials of the plague." Simon gestured for both men to follow him as he prowled further into the lab.
An attractive blonde woman in a lab coat sat in a chair, holding an ice pack to the side of her head. She looked up as the trio entered.
Simon introduced her. "Jim, this is Doctor Sonia Price. Dr. Price, this is Detective Jim Ellison, Blair Sandburg."
Jim nodded acknowledgment to the woman's half-hearted smile. "Doctor Price, can you tell me what happened here?"
An irritated expression crossed the woman's face. "This guy brains me, and when I come to, the refrigerator's open and the canisters are gone." She didn't sound very happy.
Jim frowned. "What was the plague doing in Cascade in the first place?"
"It was confiscated from the remnants of the Sunrise Patriots by the Feds. They asked Rainier to hold the plague until Dr. Price arrived to transport it to CDC in Atlanta," Simon answered
"Oh, man, bio-weapons. That's scarier than Ebola," Blair spoke up from where he stood next to the captain.
Sonia Price nodded in agreement. "Precisely. We're still not sure how powerful this variant is. If it were to be released into the air, we could be looking at a death toll in the thousands within a week, two weeks at the outside."
Jim watched Dr. Price write the grim statistics on a white board, feeling ill.
"The last widespread outbreak of the plague decimated the population of Europe, killing a third of the population, along with livestock. The sample stolen from Rainier has the potential to be hundreds of times worse because it's been genetically altered by whomever your little militia group purchased it from." She stopped writing and crossed her arms over her chest. "We really should instigate full quarantine procedures and notify the federal authorities about this."
"Federal? You mean military." Jim shook his head, not liking what he was hearing. "There's no way we could zip up a city this large."
Simon nodded in agreement. "Jim's right. We're talking about closing down everything: the waterways, the highways, the airports--"
"We are not talking about the flu here, gentlemen. We're talking about pneumonic plague, an airborne bacteria with a nearly hundred percent mortality rate if untreated.
"As bad as the disease is, a quarantine would cause panic which would be almost as big a disaster!" Simon nearly threw his cigar in frustration at the woman.
Blair was nodding his head in agreement with Simon. "Right. We don't even know if the lunatic that stole the plague is even still in the city. He could be hundreds of miles away or even in another country by now. Have there been any calls? Threats? Demands? Anything?" He looked to the captain for an answer.
Jim pleaded with the doctor, "Just give us twenty-four hours to nail the guy, all right?"
"No! It's totally against procedures and common sense!"
She moved toward the phone on Simon's desk, but Jim beat her to it, holding her hand down on the handset and refusing to let her pick it up. "Doctor, whoever pulled this off is no amateur. He's not going to go accidentally releasing the plague. I guarantee we're going to be hearing from him."
Before the woman could answer, there was a rapid knock on the office door as Carolyn Plummer and Joel Taggart walked into the room. Joel handed Jim the evidence bag he'd carried into the office. "Here's the triggering device for the smoke bombs we found in the lecture hall. Whoever planted them sure took extreme measures to insure they wouldn't be found."
Jim looked over the mass of wires, trying to make sense of it.
Carolyn helped him understand. "It's a mini-transmitter."
"And a white noise generator to hide the sound of the timer, which no one could have heard anyway." Joel sounded puzzled, a fact which did nothing to reassure Jim.
"Which he then buried in the lecture hall windowsills under plaster and a fresh coat of paint."
Blair looked at Carolyn. "As if someone was expecting a security sweep."
She nodded. "I'll see what I can come up with."
"Thank you. Good work." Jim watched as she and Joel left the office and turned to face the still fuming doctor. "Look, Doc, I've seen triggers like that before. I was a military liaison to the CIA counter-insurgency unit. This guy is nobody to fool with."
Doctor Price scowled at Ellison, then dropped her arms back to her sides, fists clenched. "Look, I'll lay off for twenty-four hours, Detective. But if you haven't found him by this time tomorrow, I'll have to notify my people and start putting emergency procedures into action to seal this city off and get the local hospitals ramped up to deal with this."
Jim sighed in relief. "All right, let's go." With a curt nod and a tight grimace, he and Blair beat a hasty retreat before the good doctor could renege on her agreement.
Blair waited impatiently as Jim fit his key into the lock on the loft door. "Are you saying you didn't hear a thing over at the lecture hall?"
Jim glanced over his shoulder at him. "I'm telling you, the white noise generator blocked out all the sound. I couldn't even hear myself thinking--" He started to step into the apartment then stopped short.
Still behind Jim, Blair was about to ask what was going on when an unfamiliar voice said, "Take it easy, Detective. Move in."
Through the crack between the hinges and the door jam, Blair could make out a man behind the door, a gun trained on Jim. The anthropologist realized that the door hid him from the stranger's view.
"All right, all right. Settle down," Jim replied, raising his hands to shoulder height.
As Jim moved into the loft slowly, Blair shoved as hard as he could against the door, slamming it into the intruder.