OK, this one took even longer than Idol Vacation, but I managed to finish it.

Thanks, as always, goes to the Beta Monster, TAE. Also I'd love to thank the list sibs at Cascade Times for allowing me to post this in parts as a WIP. They made sure that I didn't leave them hanging.

Disclaimer: I don't own The Sentinel in any of its incarnations. I make no money from this story. If I were writing this for money, I would have spent too much time on it to actually make a profit.

 Mythic Reality
Lila Kulp

The Sentinel bent down over his injured Guide and used his heightened sense of touch to examine him. “Hang on, buddy. I’ll get you out of here. You’ll be flirting with the nurses at the hospital before you know it,” the Sentinel said as his hands ghosted over his friend.

The walls of the alley loomed over the two men, shadowing them in darkness, but the Sentinel could easily see the many wounds. Suddenly the larger man tilted his head as if to catch the smallest sound. The Guide waited quietly, not wanting to distract his friend.

In one swift movement, the Sentinel stood up and spun around. His weapon appeared in his hand as if by its own power. A shadow detached itself from the wall and everything went dark.

“Ah, Dad!”

“Hey, we were watching that!”

William Ellison stood between his sons and the now silent television set. “I don’t want you boys watching this drivel. It’s worse than the Flash Gordon serials that kids watched when I was your age.”

“But, Dad all the other kids…” Jimmy started to protest.

“I don’t care what all the other kids watch. I won’t have my sons wasting their time in this manner,” William stated, interrupting his eldest boy. “Sentinels with super human senses are not real. They’re just another Greek myth. Just like Medusa and the Cyclops. They are fantasy and make believe, and we don’t live in a fantasy world do we, Jimmy?”

Both boys stood silently with their heads bowed and waited. They’d heard this lecture before.

“No, sir,” they chorused.

“Good, now why don’t you boys go outside and play?” William instructed.

Instead of heading for the front door, the boys looked longingly towards the television.

Seeing the direction of their gaze, the father added, “It’s either go outside to play or go clean your rooms.”

Almost immediately, Stevie, the younger of the two boys, headed for the door. After a brief staring contest with his father, Jimmy reluctantly followed. After all, he and Stevie could always ask the kids at school what happened and their dad likely wouldn’t even be home next week to ruin the next episode.

25 years later

Detective James Ellison ignored all the shower comments as he walked through the bullpen to Captain Banks’ office. He’d like to see them go on a weeklong stakeout and not smell like old gym socks. Not that he cared. The smell matched his mood. He’d spent an entire week watching the Switchman’s next target only to have the suspect literally slip through his fingers.

He could think of numerous excuses. If only the SWAT guys hadn’t distracted him with all their talk about local sports and the new Sentinel movie… If he hadn’t blanked out so often… If the others had been able to smell the gas or hear the motorcycle like he did… If… If… If…

If didn’t put criminals in jail or explain to your captain why you’d just wasted the department’s resources and time with nothing to show for it, except a singed magazine with your picture on the cover and a building-sized pile of tooth picks.

Taking a deep breath and suddenly wishing he could stand upwind from himself, Jim knocked on his captain’s door and entered.

Captain Simon Banks placed the movie poster for The Sentinel that he’d gotten for his son on the credenza behind his desk and turned to see who had entered his office. He tried to hide his unease as his detective and friend sank into one of the chairs available for visitors. He studied the other man for a moment before commenting, “Jim, is there a reason why you’re here, contaminating my office, instead of in the locker room, showering?”

Instead of the expected bantering reply, Simon received only silence. He was about to inquire further when Jim finally spoke.

“I need some time off.”

“What?” Simon asked before he could stop himself. “Jim ‘vacations-are-for-everyone-else’ Ellison is asking for time off? What brought this on?”

The detective looked up from his study of the floor and gave his captain a disbelieving look. “Sir, in case you didn’t read the reports, I let the suspect get away. I had him and he got away.”

“Jim, you did good work, is what you did.” Simon stood up and leaned over his desk, “Yes, the Switchman gave you the slip, but you weren’t the only one. SWAT, air support, and the roadblock let him slip by too. You got closer than anyone.” The captain leaned back and folded his arms across his chest, “The Switchman lured us all to that mill and like a bunch of rookies we walked right into his trap. It’s because of you that he didn’t blow up a significant part of the department along with the building and while everyone else was still dusting themselves off, you went and jumped on a speeding motorcycle. Under those conditions, it’s no surprise he got away, Jim.”

The detective stood up to face his captain, “Simon, I can’t work this way. I need some time to sort things out.”

The emotion in the detective’s statement caused the captain to pause for a moment before asking, “Sort out what? We currently have a serial bomber who is blowing up buildings and who apparently has a personal grudge against you. It seems pretty simple to me. I need you here.”

Ellison opened his mouth to reply, but closed it again. His eyes kept being drawn to the movie poster behind Simon’s shoulder. It showed two large men, one with blond hair and the other with dark hair, in futuristic army fatigues, standing back to back with their arms folded across their chests. The Sentinel and Guide stared at him from over his commanding officer’s shoulder. Their questioning gazes matching his captain’s. How did he explain that he was experiencing symptoms matching that of a mythical superhero? “I just need some time, Simon.”

Turning around, Simon followed his detective’s gaze and saw the movie poster for The Sentinel. “This had better not be Sentinel Fever so you can go stand in line for tickets to the movie,” Simon growled out.

“Damn it, Simon, this is not about some movie!” Jim almost shouted at his captain. He couldn’t help adding a silent ‘or is it?’ to himself. “If you won’t give me the time off, I can always quit. Either way works for me.”

This was a side of Jim Ellison that the captain had never seen before. Banks moved around and sat on the corner of his desk and with a neutral tone asked, “You want to tell me what this is all about or are you going to keep me in the dark?”

Once again, Jim’s eyes were drawn to the poster behind his captain’s shoulder. He sighed and tried to think of something that would communicate to his friend what was going on, but everything he could think of sounded like a hollow excuse. “I don’t really know myself, Simon, and it scares me,” he finally admitted.

“So, this is about you being scared, is that it?” Simon snapped back. Seeing his normally stoic friend in such distress was beginning to frighten him as well.

“Yes, I’m scared! I fell off that damn bike because I was seeing things, all right? Are you happy now? I let a major suspect get away because I was seeing things and I have no idea why. I even had a blood test done.” Jim ended his tirade and ran a hand over his face, once again wishing he’d showered away the evidence of his failed stakeout.

Simon hadn’t gotten to the rank of Captain for nothing. He had learned how to handle his men and which battles to fight. This was not one of them. “Okay, you can take the rest of the day off to do what you need to do. I can’t give you any more than that right now, I’m sorry.”

“Thanks, Simon,” Jim said appreciatively as he turned and walked out of the office.

Jim finished buttoning his shirt as he waited for the doctor to return with the test results. With luck, the doctor would have some answers and he could go back to work sooner than expected. A smile appeared at the thought of the look on Simon’s face when he walked in and explained that according to the doctor it had simply been an allergic reaction to a bug bite or some plant.

Dr. McCoy walked into the room carrying Jim’s charts with the test results. He held it so that only he could see what was written on it. “Well, Detective, you’ll be happy to know that all your test results came back negative. You are the picture of health.”

The patient stared back at the doctor in shock, “That can’t be right, Doc. What about the blackouts? What about all the strange things I’ve been seeing and hearing? This can’t be normal.” Jim could just see his triumphant return vanishing.

“Don’t worry, Jim, I’ve seen this before.” Dr. McCoy replied calmly, while making a note on the chart.

“You have?” Jim asked. Maybe he’d be able to go back to the bullpen after all. The doctor’s confidence was a source of hope.

“Though this is the first time I’ve ever seen it in a man your age. Most cases like yours involve younger boys with over active imaginations and panicky mothers.” Dr. McCoy didn’t notice the growing glare on his patient’s face and continued. “We get an insurgence of them each time some new sentinel TV show airs or there’s a new movie. The boys like to pretend that they're sentinels and ‘zone out’,” Dr. McCoy made quote marks in the air. “Their mothers get panicky and drag them into the emergency room which of course scares the kids. They either admit to making it up, or get further wrapped up in their own world.”

Dr. McCoy finally noticed the look in his patient’s eyes and took a step back before grabbing a prescription pad and scribbling something on it. “In your case it was probably a combination of the long period of waiting from the stakeout followed by the adrenaline of getting so close to your goal. We still aren’t as knowledgeable about the effects of stress as we’d like. I suggest you make an appointment to speak with your department’s psychologist, or you can see a friend of mine who specializes in such cases.”

Jim wordlessly accepted the piece of paper with the name, gave it a quick glance before stuffing it in his pocket, and left the hospital.

Back at his loft apartment, Jim aimlessly flipped through the television channels; sitcom... sappy movie... commercial... crazy guy wrestling crocodiles... He wasn't really in the mood to watch TV, but it was better than going to the station. The last thing he needed right now was for Simon to ask what the doctor had said and Jim would have to explain to his captain, the doctor’s theory of an overactive imagination and that he was nuts.

The thought that he was going crazy had actually occurred to Jim before. As unappealing as it was, going insane made a lot more sense than the other explanation that kept running through his head.

Suddenly an explosion on the TV caught his attention. The camera panned right and focused on the still figure of the now familiar hero of the new Sentinel movie. The tall, blond, muscular sentinel stood as still as a statue, not even reacting to the explosion that should have knocked him off his feet. Facing him was his equally familiar, tall, muscular, dark haired guide. Over the roar of the fire he could be heard to say, "Sir, we don't have time for this." The guide slapped the sentinel, "I so wish there was a better way to do this. Some times I think the Commander's right and you zone out on purpose because you like the pain."

Jim was about to change the channel when the scene switched to the hostess of a local daytime TV show and her two guests. "Are sentinels real or just a myth from classical cultures? I’m Wendy Hawthorne, and that's what we hope to find out on Cascade Today. I have with me two experts on the subject, but with two widely differing views."

The hostess and the camera turned towards her guests. "Doctor Ericson, you claim that the mythical sentinel was simply someone with what we, today, think of as average senses living amongst people with below average abilities. Could you explain?"

Doctor Ericson was a large blond man of obvious Viking descent. The large mustache and serious look in his eyes spoke loudly of someone who was deeply rooted in conventionally accepted teachings. With an arrogant self assurance he turned and addressed the camera, "People in classical times, just like modern people, would have had poor vision, bad hearing, and suffered loss of sensitivity with all their senses due to their life styles and illnesses. However, unlike in modern times, people of classical cultures didn't have access to the medical facilities and procedures that we have today. Nobody had glasses or hearing aids. Various infections would have damaged the senses of hearing, smell, and taste. Years of hard work with their hands would have formed calluses thus reducing the sensitivity to touch. In an environment like this anyone with naturally 20/20 vision or perfect hearing would be the source of legends. Through the centuries these stories and legends have grown to what we all know as the Sentinels of popular comic books and movies.”

When Ericson paused to take a breath, clearly intending to continue his sermon for the lesser enlightened, the hostess jumped in and regained the camera’s attention. “Blair Sandburg is a graduate student at our very own Rainier University. Mr. Sandburg, you disagree with the conventional theory. You say that the sentinels of legend are real and actually have heightened senses. Please tell us your reasoning.”

The camera switched to a close up of the second guest. He was young with long curly hair that bounced as he began to enthusiastically tell the hostess his side of the debate. “Well, Wendy, myths and legend often have a very solid basis in fact, and the legends of sentinels are no different. There exists, in our modern world, people who exhibit one or two senses that are heightened. For example; wine tasters that can tell how wet a year was by simply tasting the wine. There are musicians who can hear the slightest variation in pitch. I’ve heard of sharp shooters and snipers who often don’t use scopes. There are chefs who only need to taste a dish once and they know the recipe, painters that match pigments perfectly, the list goes on and on.

“Dr. Ericson’s arguments are logical and explain why Sentinels seem to have been more prevalent in ancient times, but they do not explain the existence of people with one or two heightened senses. It stands to reason that if people with one or two heightened senses exist then there is the possibility of someone with all five senses heightened.

“Along with not explaining the existence of heightened sense in modern society, the accepted theory doesn’t explain the existence of guides in the legends. Every one knows the Greek stories of Egidio. How he used his senses to warn his home town of the impending attacks from their neighboring city-state and was cursed with zone outs and sensory spikes by the enemy city’s patron god. Then how he and Iason journeyed to Delphi to find a cure for the curse. The journey was about the two of them working together. If the sentinels of legend were simply people with 20/20 vision and perfect hearing then there would be no curse and no need for guides.

“It’s the few, rare people with all five senses heightened that require guides and are the true sentinels. They are the heroes of legend.”

“That’s preposterous!” Dr. Ericson erupted and the camera pulled back to show both guests. “Next you’ll be saying that Big Foot…”

The TV went silent as Jim hit the mute button. The detective was just as silent as he thought about recent events and the words of the Rainier student.

Was Sandburg right? Did sentinels really exist? It certainly would explain some things. However, even if sentinels did exist, there was no guarantee that he was one.

The detective suddenly found himself pacing the loft as he continued to contemplate the existence of people with heightened senses.

“So, I smelled the gas at the mill when the SWAT guys didn’t. Gas isn’t a normal smell for the woods of the Pacific Northwest. Things like that stand out,” Jim said. He reached the edge of the room, turned and headed back the way he came, and began silently expounding on his previous statement. I should know. I spent a week with nothing but pine trees and dirt to smell. The SWAT guys had just been sitting in their vehicles all day and hadn’t noticed it.

Jim soon found his couch blocking his path and turned around. “And hearing the motorcycle has an even simpler explanation. We hadn't seen the Switchman leave the building and he's not the kind to leave himself without a way out. It was simply a logical conclusion that he’d try to get away using some sort of motorized vehicle. I was just listening for an engine and it turned out to be a bike.”

Once again, Jim had to turn and head back towards the couches in silent thought. The guy had to have been around somewhere. He wasn’t the type of person to set a trap like that and not stick around to watch the result. It’s not like I’m psychic or anything.

The thought of psychics made Jim chuckle, as he reversed directions. "Being a psychic is probably the only thing that could be worse than being a sentinel. I know other police departments use them, but so far we've managed to avoid them. We've always managed to solve our cases without any new age psychobabble."

Jim started the now familiar route back to the couches. There was the serial killer case last year where I spotted the earring belonging to the killer. Then just last month, the string of food poisonings where we tracked down the source of the bad meat because I thought my burger tasted odd and followed a hunch. Or there was the John Doe I helped identify because I felt the scar from a tattoo that had been removed with laser surgery.

Suddenly realizing the impact of his thoughts, Jim sat down on the couch that he'd just reached. He rested his head in his hands and tried to come to terms with the logical conclusion that the evidence pointed to. Real sentinels did exist, and odds were that he was one.

The only question now was what to do about it?

"...just like the heroes in the movies and stories, real sentinels would learn to use their senses and work with the police and fire departments to protect us and our cities."

Jim's head snapped up when he heard Blair Sandburg speaking. The screen still had the red 'Mute' in the corner, but he was certain he had heard the graduate student speak.

Noting the time on the VCR, Jim realized that this must be a replay of the local morning show. Someone was pulling out all the stops to get as much publicity for this new movie as possible.

Without further debate, he retrieved his phonebook and let his detective skills take over.

Blair Sandburg sighed heavily, made a note in the margin of his student's paper and took another sip of coffee. He had enjoyed filming the show with Wendy and he always enjoyed talking about sentinels, but now he was severely behind in his grading. He made his final mark on this paper and set it on top of the gradually growing stack of graded assignments.

Before Blair could pick up the next attempt at coherent thought by his students, the phone rang. Grumbling silently, he abandoned the student papers and started walking across the part of the warehouse that he'd designated as his living area. The phone was on its fourth ring by the time he got to the kitchen, where the phone was, and was able to answer it.

"Hel..." Blair wasn't even able to say hello before there was a click followed by the sound of a dial tone. He glared at the receiver, then placed it back in the cradle and headed back to his grading.

He was halfway back to the couch when the phone rang again. Blair paused and debated whether to answer it or let the machine get it. The next ring provided the deciding factor and he turned back towards the kitchen and picked up the mindless device.

“Hello,” he said quickly.

“Blair Sandburg?” the caller asked.


There was a slight pause before the caller spoke again. “My name is James Ellison and I saw your interview with Wendy Hawthorne. Do you really believe there are people with heightened senses?”

“That’s what I told Wendy. You don’t think I’d go on national television and lie, do you?” Blair responded as he leaned up against the counter.

There was another uncomfortable pause.

The caller on the other end of the phone took a deep breath and sighed. “How would someone tell if they was seeing and hearing things because they’re a sentinel or if they’re just going insane?”

That’s a new one, thought Blair. All the previous prank calls were obvious and blatantly crude. Lately it seemed as if one of the local fraternities had added ‘Harass a Professor’ to their initiation requirements, but this one lacked the snickering and laughter that usually accompanied them. “Why do you want to know? You wouldn’t happen to know somebody who thinks he’s a sentinel do you?”

“Maybe,” Ellison answered cautiously.

Like an angry wolf that smelled fear, Blair pushed further, “Would this someone have a name?”

This time there was no pause before the response.

“Are you going to tell me or not?” the caller snapped.

“Why should I tell you?” Blair asked with just as much emotion. “You’ve given me no indication that your question is legitimate. For all I know you’re just another one of the local frat brats who gets his kicks from prank calls.”

“I just…” Ellison tried to interrupt, but Blair was on a roll.

“And what if, by some chance, you actually are another researcher who thinks he’s found a sentinel?" Blair started to pace at the end of the phone cord. "Do you think I’m just going to give you the information you needed to write a groundbreaking paper about possibly the greatest anthropological discovery since the Neanderthal? That’s the kind of thing that wins Nobel Prizes.” The anthropologist was obviously agitated.

The caller took advantage of the pause as Blair took a breath. “I’m not a frat brat and I don’t want to write a paper and win any prize. All I want to know is how to tell if someone is a sentinel or not,” Jim said in an attempt to regain control of the conversation.

“Then light a firecracker next to him. If he jumps, he’s a sentinel,” Blair snarled sarcastically and slammed the phone down.

Footsteps echoed down the hall as Blair walked towards his office. It was stuck in the back of the building and little more than a glorified storage closet for artifacts, but such was the life of a teaching assistant.

Sitting next to the door was a student's backpack. Blair gave it a quick glance as he unlocked his door. "Somebody must be seriously wanting to see me if they're willing to be here this early. They probably got tired of waiting and went to get a drink or something," he mumbled to himself.

He let himself into his office and deposited his own backpack and armload of papers on the nearest stable surface. Turning on his computer, he sat down to read his email and wait for the backpack's owner to return from wherever they'd wandered off to.

He deleted all the spam, read two department emails, laughed at the excuses that several students had sent explaining why their assignments were late, and printed out an email from his mother, Naomi, for later reading. Folding the printed email and placing it in his backpack, he noticed that the mystery bag was still sitting outside his door and the owner had yet to return. Blair glanced at his watch and decided to give the student five more minutes before going to make his photocopies for the day. If he waited much longer he'd end up having to wait in line with the other TA's.

Five minutes later, Blair was halfway through entering the grades from last night into the computer and still no one had returned to claim ownership of the backpack. He quickly wrote "Be Right Back" on a Post-It Note, stuck it on the door, and headed for the hopefully unoccupied photocopier.

Fate was on his side. The copy machine was silent when he entered the TA lounge and he quickly began the task of creating work for his students, which would eventually create work for himself.

He was halfway through the next section’s reading list when signs of life, other than his own, appeared.

"Damn, I was hoping to beat the rush."

Blair turned to see Brandy Hotchkin enter the room with her own stack of papers to copy. "Good morning to you too, Brandy. Don't worry, I'm almost done," he said while he gave her a friendly hug.

Brandy returned Blair's hug, "G'morning. Sorry about that, I just really need to get this test copied. Having that summer cold last week really threw off my classes. My students have had extra time as it is and I would just hate to disappoint them by not being able to give it to them today," she said with a smile.

Both TA's laughed at the idea of students being disappointed at missing a test.

Blair gathered up his papers, freeing up the copier for Brandy to use. "Speaking of students, you wouldn't happen to have seen one hanging around outside my door did you?"

"No," Brandy replied as she started the machine. "But there was a backpack sitting outside your door. Did you have an early appointment with someone?"

"Not one that I know of," he answered. "The backpack was there when I got here this morning, too. You don't suppose someone just left it there and forgot about it do you?"

Brandy just shrugged, "I guess it's possible. Stranger things have happened." Then suddenly remembering something, she continued, "Oh, I saw you on Cascade Today yesterday. You were great! I loved the way you handled that Dr. Ericson." Without stopping, she turned to gather her freshly produced test papers. "I can't believe he actually compare the concept of sentinels to, what did he say, 'drug induced hallucinations'. That guy was so closed minded I was screaming at the TV."

Fresh copies in hand, the two TA's continued their conversation as they headed back to their offices. "Oh that's not the half of it," Blair started to explain. "Later, after the show when we were getting all the stage make-up removed, he called me a 'neo-hippe flower child with time on my hands now that the Dead have broken up'. Can you believe that?"

"You're kidding!" Brandy exclaimed.

Blair shook his head no.

Brandy put a comforting hand on his shoulder, "I'm sorry, Blair. That was uncalled for. It always amazes me how narrow minded and unprofessional some people can be."

"Thanks," he said and showed his appreciation with a smile. Then, spotting the backpack still by his door, he changed the subject. "Looks like our mysterious backpack is still there. Want to help me snoop and find out who it belongs to?"

A mischievous look appeared on the faces of both TA's as they bent down to inspect the lonely bag.

Seeing a nametag attached to the zipper pull, Blair lifted it and frowned at what he found.

Noticing the sudden change in her friend's body language, Brandy took the nametag from his hand and read, 'Educations are expensive, Detective. It must take a heroic effort to survive until graduation. The Switchman'. She gently let go of the tag and both she and Blair backed away. "I don't know who this Switchman is, but it can't be good. I think we'd better call the police."

"Ellison! My Office!"

Jim almost jumped when Captain Banks bellowed. He knew he'd have to tell Simon something. He just hadn't figured out what that something was. Jim squared his shoulders and headed towards his captain's office.

Once inside he took a seat. While Simon poured him a cup of coffee, Jim spotted a new addition to the collection of figures on the desk. Without thinking, he picked up The Sentinel action figure that hadn't been there the previous day.

"So, Jim, did you get everything sorted out last night?" Simon asked as he held out a coffee cup for his visitor.

"When did you get this?" Jim asked instead of answering.

Simon put Jim's coffee on the desk and picked up the small chunk of plastic that was meant to resemble the sage that The Sentinel kept in case of a sensory spike. "Daryl gave it to me last night." The happy father couldn't keep the smile from his face. "He knows how much of a Sentinel fan I am and got it for me, but that doesn't answer my question, Detective." The friendly chat gave way to the concerns of a commanding officer, "Did you get anything resolved last night?"

Jim used the action of putting down the toy and picking up his coffee and taking a drink to stall for time.

Simon just sat back in his chair and waited patiently.

"Yes and no," Jim said, realizing that he couldn't avoid his captain's question any longer.

"Define yes and define no," was Simon's next command.

Once again, Jim used his coffee as an excuse to not answer immediately. He'd taken several large gulps before he answered, "Yes, I think I've figured out what's wrong. No, I haven't been able to do anything about it."

"Is it going to cause a problem?"

"Not if I have anything to say about it," Jim replied and finished off his coffee.

"Good," Simon said as he picked up a file and handed it to his detective. "Because the email program that the techs setup flagged another email from the Switchman."

Jim pulled the hard copy of the email out of the file folder and read it out loud, "Acquiring knowledge can be a Herculean task, but some students just have to learn their lessons the hard way. The Switchman." He ran a hand over his face and contemplated the message. “You don’t suppose he’d be sick enough to target one of the local schools do you?”

“Whether he is or not, we’re not taking chances. Cascade Public School District has already been notified, as have the private schools. The area patrols have been doubled and the bomb squad is standing by.” Simon said while he continued to play with the toy in his hand.

"There's got to be a way to narrow down which school he's planning to target," Jim exclaimed as he stood and strode across to the windows. "It could be any one of the public or private schools. We don't even know if he's after an elementary school, or high school, or..."

Just then there was a knock on the door and Detective Brown poked his head into the office, "Sir, Dispatch just got a 911 call reporting a suspicious package at Rainier."

Captain Banks and Detective Ellison looked at each other and said in unison, "...or a university."

Blair Sandburg stood outside Hargrove Hall with the rest of the TA's and students. After discovering the note on the backpack, he'd called 911, while Brandy pulled the fire alarm. It didn't take long for the campus police and the fire department to show up, followed closely by the controlled chaos that accompanied any major emergency scene.

The crowd of on-lookers had grown considerably as the campus woke up and students headed towards class. The police were beginning to initiate crowd control procedures as well as separating the witnesses from the spectators.

"If I find out that this is a joke by one of my students wanting to avoid this test I'll... I'll... I'll just scream," Brandy exclaimed as she clutched her stack of papers.

Blair nudged her with his elbow to get her attention, "Did you ever notice how the cops and firefighters mingle, but don’t really mix?" He was about to go into more detail of his observations when he noticed a man walking towards him and his group.

The badge hanging on his belt and the plain clothes indicated that he was most likely a detective with the Cascade PD instead of the campus police. He was just over six feet tall with dark hair cut short, military style. He scrutinized the group of students closely as he approached. Upon meeting Blair’s gaze a look of irritation flashed across his face and the look that followed was far from inviting. Blair immediately decided that this was not a man to have upset with you.

“Which one of you called 911?” the man asked upon reaching the group.

As one, everyone turned and pointed to Blair.

Blair stepped forward, “That would be me. I found the backpack sitting outside my office door and called 911 once I’d read the tag.”

“Would you come with me please?” the detective asked in a tone that made it a command and not a request. He then turned and walked towards the front steps without even checking if he was being followed or not.

The graduate student simply shrugged and did as instructed. Always the observer, Blair took the opportunity to get a closer look at various activities. There was no sign of the bomb squad. No doubt they were diligently working at the side door nearest his office. All the other officers and firefighters were gathered around the front of the building. Out of the danger zone, but close enough if needed.

Once satisfied that they were well away from the others, the detective stopped, took out his notebook, and began interviewing his witness. “Mr. Sandburg, I’m Detective James Ellison and I need to ask you a few questions. When did you first notice the backpack?”

Blair continued to watch the surrounding activity as he answered the question. "First thing this morning, at around 6:45.”

Detective Ellison made some notes in his notebook and continued with another question, "You called 911 at 7:36. Why the delay?"

“I was waiting for the owner to come back. Brandy and I looked at the name tag when we got back from making our photocopies.” Blair had turned so he could watch a cluster of police crowded around the hood of a vehicle, “What are they doing?”

“Huh?” Ellison looked up and followed Sandburg’s gaze. All he saw was the familiar activity of cops and emergency personnel at a crime scene. “Never mind that. What made you think that the owner would return for the backpack?”

Blair wouldn’t be deterred so easily. “Is that the command center? If it is, why are the police over there and the fire department over there?” Blair asked, pointing to the different groups.

Detective Ellison moved in front of Sandburg, blocking his view of the group of police officers. “Mr. Sandburg, about the backpack?”

Blair looked up at the detective as if just now realizing that he was being questioned. “Huh? Oh, I waited for the owner to show up, but I had to go make photocopies. If you don’t get to the photocopier early you end up waiting in line. Brandy and I ended up talking about…”

“Sandburg,” Detective Ellison interrupted the student, “All I want to know is why you thought the owner was going to come back?” His patience was growing thin. This was the closest thing to a witness that they had and he was behaving like the absent-minded professor.

Something about Ellison’s question got Blair’s attention. He looked up at the detective and studied him closely. “Did you say your name was James Ellison?”

Ellison’s jaw twitched, “Yes and I’m investigating a serial bomber and I need you to answer some questions.”

“Did you, by any chance, call me last night?” Blair asked cautiously.

Taking a step closer, Ellison tried to use intimidation to get his witness to cooperate. “That’s not how this works. I ask the questions. You answer.”

Blair simply crossed his arms and leaned back, “You answer my questions and I’ll answer yours.”

Ellison contemplated his options. He could continue to try and fight his witness or just answer the question. Sighing, he decided that it would probably be easier to just humor the grad student. “Yes, I called you last night. Now about the owner of the backpack, why did you think he would return?”

Completely forgetting to answer the detective’s question, Blair began to bounce and contemplate the revelation. “Wow, this is amazing. If it was you who called, then you were serious.” Blair began to pace back and forth between the detective and the fountain that they stood next to. “That would mean that you really do know someone that might be a sentinel. This is great. A police detective would make a great source for my dissertation. So many of my other witnesses are questionable. I’d bet that…”

Ellison watched the excited anthropologist pace. Several times he tried to interrupt, but the student kept rambling. After the first few passes, Jim’s attention was drawn from his witness to the fountain behind them. He thought he had seen something in the rippling water.

Trying to tune out the student, Jim focused on the water. The pattern of ripples and waves tried to distract him with their hypnotic pull. A flash of light caught his attention, keeping him from turning back to the grad student.

Noticing that the detective had gone still and silent Blair halted his own movements and turned to see what the other man was staring at. Following the detective’s gaze, he looked into the waters of the fountain and saw nothing of interest. He turned back and observed Ellison closely.

The detective was definitely staring at something in the water. All his attention was focused over the student’s shoulder. Blair watched Jim tilt his head this way and that, trying to get a better view of whatever it was he was looking at.

Jim was about to step closer to investigate the object in the water when he realized what he was looking at. What he saw made his blood run cold and vanquished all thoughts of questioning witnesses.

When Ellison’s posture suddenly stiffened, Blair turned to see what was happening. Before he could turn completely around, a large hand grabbed his arm and pulled him away from the fountain.

“Everybody down!” Ellison yelled and shoved Blair towards the steps. “Bomb! Get down!”

Blair barely had time to take two steps when he was shoved to the ground and everything went black.

Blair opened his eyes to find himself lying on the ground in a puddle of water. He tried to remember how he’d gotten to this position. It hadn’t rained lately. It had been relatively dry. Not only was there unexplained water, there were also several large chunks of concrete scattered around. Something was definitely not right here.

Recent events began to filter through the clearing fog. He’d been standing by the fountain with Detective Ellison. Something that Ellison had said reminded Blair of the phone call last night and he’d realized that it had been the police detective who had called. Next, Ellison was shouting something about a bomb and pushing him away from the fountain.

Slowly, Blair lifted his head and looked around. Looking over to where he’d last seen the group of students, he noticed that Brandy was already up and helping the others, her test papers forgotten. The EMTs and paramedics were already scanning the area for injuries to treat and setting up a triage area. Several police officers were also helping people who had been shaken up by the explosion. As more regained their senses, the police officers resumed their previous efforts at crowd control. Still others began inspecting the vehicles for damage.

He looked behind him and swore softly. There was only a hole where the fountain had been. It was hard to believe that just moments ago he’d been standing next to it with Detective Ellison. The thought of the detective caused Blair to look to his left to find Ellison, unmoving.

Instead of laying flat with his arms covering his head, he was curled up in a ball with his hands over his ears and pain filling his face.

“Detective Ellison?” Blair asked as he crawled over to the policeman.

The detective didn’t respond.


Still nothing.

Blair was beginning to worry. It didn’t appear that the detective was injured. It was then that the significance of other man’s body posture became evident. Jim didn’t have a friend who might be a sentinel. It was Jim who was the sentinel.

The grad student’s mind began to race. Jim was a sentinel, a sentinel who had just had a very large firecracker set off next to him. That couldn’t be a good thing with a heightened sense of hearing.

A sense of dread mixed with excitement rushed through Blair as he realized that the man in front of him was in the grips of a sensory spike. Without thinking he placed a hand on the detective’s face and began wiping away the water. “James? Jim, can you hear me?”

In contrast to the loud explosion and cacophony of activity around them, Blair spoke softly. “Come on Jim, you’ve got to come out of it. You don’t want the others to find you like this do you?”

Blair ignored everything except the detective in front of him. “The noise is gone, now. It’s safe. You’ve got to trust me on this, Jim. I know the explosion must have hurt, but it’s over now. You need…”

Jim took a deep breath and began to relax. “That’s it, Jim. Time to wake up.

The roaring was all but gone. In its place, Jim could hear Sandburg talking softly.

Suddenly remembering what had happened, he sucked in a lung full of air and tried to sit up.

Something tried to hold him down.

He began to fight back when he heard Blair’s voice, “Relax, Jim. Everything’s okay.”

Cautiously he opened his eyes and looked around to see several paramedics converging on their position. Recognizing the closest EMT, Jim simply lay back down and waited.

“Why am I not surprised to find you here?” the first paramedic asked as he began to feel around his patient’s head and neck. Finding no obvious injuries needing immediate dressing, he affixed a C-collar to immobilize the neck. He then grabbed Jim’s wrist and continued his examination.

“What, and miss a chance to see your charming face, Shawn? I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Jim said as he tried to watch out of the corner of his eye as a second paramedic began to repeat the same actions with Blair.

Shawn made a note of his patient’s pulse and pulled out the blood pressure cuff. “Flattery will only get you a trip to the hospital.” Applying the cuff, he continued, "Can you tell me what happened?”

The detective gave Shawn a look that suggested that the paramedic should already know, “I was standing by the fountain interviewing Sandburg,” with his free hand Jim motioned to where the other paramedic was still trying to examine Blair.

Jim could clearly hear Blair arguing with the EMT. “Look, I’m fine. I don’t need…”

“Mr. Sandburg, please, it’s just a precaution,” the medic tried to explain while attempting to restrain the resisting patient.

“Can’t you just, I don’t know, skip this part?” the student pleaded.

“Chief, quit arguing and let the man do his job,” Jim instructed.

The EMT gave Blair a stern look, “Don’t make me restrain you, Mr. Sandburg.”

Jim couldn’t help but laugh, “He’ll do it, too. Trust me; Cascade’s medics have been known to sit on uncooperative patients.”

“The term is combative patients, and if you don’t start paying attention, I’ll do it again,” the technician attending to Jim said as he removed the blood pressure cuff. Once he had his patient’s attention again, he continued, “You were telling me what happened?”

It took a moment for the detective to remember where he’d left off before he continued his story, “I saw something in the water. When I realized what it was I shouted at everyone to get down and tried to get Sandburg and myself to some cover.” He lifted a hand towards his head, intending to feel for an injury, but Shawn intercepted him. “I guess we didn’t quite make it.”

Shawn simply nodded. He’d seen the two men by the fountain and heard the shouted warning, but needed to check Jim’s recall of recent events. He wrote down a few more notes and put his equipment away. “Does it hurt anywhere?”

“Just some ringing in my ears,” the detective stated, once again raising his hands towards his head, and once again having the paramedic swat them down.

“You ready for this?” Shawn asked holding up his pen light. He’d encountered Ellison in the line of duty often enough to notice that even under the best of circumstances Jim was sensitive to having a light shone in his eyes.

Jim took a deep breath and indicated he was ready.

Shawn briefly shone the light in each of Jim’s eyes, checking for reaction. “I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is you don’t appear to be seriously injured. The bad news is we need to transport you to the hospital just to make sure,” he explained.

“Do we have to?” Jim asked hopefully.

“Don’t make me sit on you, Ellison,” Shawn said as he and another EMT prepared to place the detective on a backboard for transport.

“Yeah, Jim, quit arguing and let the man do his job,” Blair said from where he too, was being prepared for a trip to the hospital.

With swift precision, the EMT’s soon had the two men secured to backboards and, with some extra manpower from some available police officers, were loading them into ambulances for transport.

Captain Banks had volunteered to help carry Jim across the rough ground to where the gurneys were waiting. “Don’t worry, Jim, I’ll have someone meet you at the hospital. I’ll see you back at the station.”

Jim just waved to his captain and lay back for the ride to the hospital.

“So, Jim, do you have your tickets to The Sentinel yet?” Shawn asked as he climbed into the ambulance and closed the door.

Joel Taggart sipped his coffee and sank further into one of the visitor’s chairs in Simon’s office. Both captains had overseen the activity at the scene of the recent bombing. They were only able to leave after all the evidence had been collected and the police personal had all left the scene. The friends were now taking a few moments to relax while they went over the preliminary results from what they’d gathered.

“The backpack may have been a diversion, but it still would have done significant damage,” the bomb squad leader explained.

“Do we know yet if both bombs were made by the Switchman?” Simon asked before taking a drink of his own coffee.

Flipping though one of the folders sitting on the edge of his friend’s desk, Joel pulled out a picture of one of the previous bombs used by the Switchman. “We’ll have to wait for the lab results on the C-4 and other components to be certain, but it’s the same signature. It doesn’t take a sentinel to figure out that the two Rainier bombs were both made by the same guy.”

Simon did a quick double take before bursting with laughter.

Joel simply gave his friend a puzzled look before asking, “Was it something I said?”

It took Simon a few moments to catch his breath before he could explain, “You sounded just like my Dad. He used to say things like that all the time.

“I remember one time when he was pretending to be The Commander, you know the Sentinel and Guide’s boss, and he sent my best friend and me on one of our many missions. It was only down to the corner store to get milk and eggs, but we were so into the whole Sentinel and Guide game that we turned it into a major adventure.”

Realizing that Simon was sharing a special part of himself, Joel sat back and savored the moment.

“We must have checked every carton of eggs in that store. Adam, my friend, would sniff and feel each egg in the cartoon. I’d guide him in what to look for and to not overdo it, but he’d still pretend to zone out about every other carton. I’d give him a whack on the shoulder and we’d move to the next set of eggs.

“We finally picked out some eggs and moved onto the milk when my Dad showed up. I guess we were taking too long and Mom sent him to find us. He just stood there with that Dad look on his face as we quickly picked a container of milk, and started home. We were explaining to my Dad why it was taking us so long. His just laughed at us and said, ‘It doesn’t take a sentinel to figure that one out.’”

Joel couldn’t contain his laughter any longer. “That’s a great story, Simon. I can just see you doing that too, especially the guide routine. I swear Simon; I’ve never met a bigger Sentinel fan than you.

The two friends shared a laugh followed by a brief pause.

“Yeah, well it wasn’t always fun. Adam and I got sent to the principal’s office a couple of times and even ended up in the emergency room once,” Simon added.

“Speaking of which, have we heard anything about Ellison yet?” Joel asked.

“I called when we first got back to the station. He’s just got a couple of bruises,” Simon explained. “I sent Officer Raymore to give him a ride back to the station. They should be back soon.”

Right on cue there was a knock on the door and Officer Raymore stuck his head through the door. “Hey Captain, I just wanted to let you know. I dropped Ellison off at the university to pick up his Jeep. He should be showing up any minute now.”

Banks acknowledged the officer with a nod and wave, “Thanks, Eric, I appreciate it.”

As Officer Raymore closed the door, Joel’s eyes grew wide with excitement and he reached behind his back for a package that he’d snuck in, hidden amongst the paperwork. “I almost forgot. I ran into Daryl at the store the other day while he was getting your present. He didn’t have enough for both, but this was the last one and, well, I just couldn’t resist,” he explained as he handed the item to his friend.

Simon searched his friend’s face for a clue to the contents of the gift, but Joel was too good at poker to give away the surprise. He accepted the gift and swiftly removed the sack turned wrapping paper. The weary face of the police captain lit up with youthful joy when he realized what was inside.

Jim Ellison sat at the intersection and debated which way to turn. He’d already stopped at his loft, where he’d showered away the grime from the bomb scene and changed into fresh clothes. Now he was faced with going straight, which was the quickest way to the station or turning left and taking the long way back to work. He didn’t feel like rushing back to the station just yet.

His decision was made for him when he spotted a familiar face walking down the street. Jim quickly signaled a left turn and moved the jeep even with the pedestrian.

Jim honked the horn to get Sangburg’s attention then pulled over to the curb. “Hey, Chief, you need a ride?”

Blair cautiously approached the unfamiliar jeep that had unexpectedly pulled up next to him. It took him a moment to recognize the driver as Detective Ellison, but once certain that there was no threat, his manner changed entirely. “Jim? Oh, yeah, a ride would be great.”

Jim leaned over and opened the passenger door, allowing the grad student to climb in.

“I’m so glad it’s you. It’s a longer walk from the hospital than I thought.” Blair began as Jim pulled away from the curb and drove up the street. “I’d really appreciate a ride to the university.”

As they passed through the intersection, Blair turned in his seat and pointed over his shoulder, “Speaking of which, Rainier is back that way. Shouldn’t you have turned?”

“We’re not going to the university,” Jim explained, watching his passenger out of the corner of his eye. “We’re going to the station. I need to ask you some more questions and get your statement.”

“Oh, that’s cool and it’ll give me a chance to make some observations of you while at work, in addition to asking some questions of my own,” the grad student said as he dug in his backpack.

Ellison quickly turned the Jeep onto a side road and stopped. He turned to face Sandburg, giving him his best intimidating look. “What questions?”

Blair finally produced a notebook and pencil. “About your senses, man.” The grad student turned in his seat to face the driver. “Don’t you realize how long I’ve been researching the concept of Sentinels? Finding you is like finding the Holy Gail. I can’t wait to see how the myths and movies hold up to the real thing. Once we do some tests and get…”

“Whoa, stop right there,” the detective interrupted. “I’ll ask the questions and there will be no tests. I’m not your lab rat.”

“But I can help you with your senses…” Blair started to argue his cause.

“You will answer my questions about the bomb you found and then I’m going to drive you home. The only help that I want from you, with these senses, is how to get rid of them.” Jim stated, using the same tone of voice that he often used for getting suspects to obey. Having set things straight, he put the Jeep back in drive and pulled out into traffic.

Sandburg was quiet for about five seconds. “Get rid of them? Jim, do you realize what you can do? What you did back at the fountain is just the beginning. You spotted that bomb and saved lives.”

“I’m not some superhero from the comic books,” Ellison interjected.

“Legends have a basis in fact,” Blair shot back. “Just think of it. You could smell gun powder on someone’s hands before any lab could even get their sample.”

The energy in Sandburg’s words grew as he progressed. Soon he was gesturing wildly. “You’re a walking crime lab.”

“Except that crime labs don’t curl up like a child because a firecracker went off too close to their ears.”

Ellison found it increasingly difficult to argue with the enthusiastic young man and deal with mid-day traffic.

Blair’s smile widened. He could sense Ellison’s opposition dwindling. “Which is why you need help with your senses. In every Sentinel story there is a Guide. You just need to find one and work together so you can control your senses.”

Stopping at a red light, Jim resisted the urge to roll his eyes, “And I suppose you’re volunteering for that particular duty.”

Blair beamed with excitement. “Since you suggested it, sure, I’d love to.”

This time Jim did roll his eyes.

Blair didn’t even miss a beat, “First, we’ve got to get some practice using your senses. Pull into the Waterfront Market Place. There’s bound to be tons of sensory input that we can…”

“Wrong, the first thing I’ve got to do is catch this serial bomber. Then you can help me with this Sentinel thing,” Ellison explained and drove past the exit Blair had indicated.

Sandburg was actually quiet for a few moments. Jim could almost hear the gears spinning as his passenger thought.

“What if we could do both?”

Jim surveyed what was left of the mill that the Switchman had recently blown up. It was a daunting sight and he had no idea where to even start. Forensics had already been over the pile of rubble with a fine-toothed comb and hadn’t found anything. Now, here he was with overactive senses and a college student. The insanity theory once again came to mind.

“Sandburg, what are we doing here? Forensics has already gotten everything they can from this scene,” Jim said as he turned his back to the pile to address his companion.

“You wanted to catch the bomber,” Blair replied as if it answered everything.

Jim’s glare said otherwise.

Blair took a deep breath and prepared to face the stubborn detective. Upon seeing the look on the other man’s face the grad student realized that Jim had already decided to not believe anything he heard and Blair quickly changed his plan of attack.

“Come here,” Blair said as he walked over to the ruins.

Jim eyed the graduate student with suspicion, but made no move to follow.

“Do you want my help or not?” Blair asked when he noticed that the other man hadn’t moved.

Jim continued to glare for a few moments, but eventually gave in to the inevitable. With a sigh of resignation he joined the graduate student who appeared to be his last chance at a real answer to his problematic senses.

“Good, now close your eyes and put your hands behind your back,” Blair instructed.

This time the sentinel did as he was told with no arguments.

After a brief scan of the area Blair found what he was looking for. He collected samples from two different piles and placed them in Jim's hands. “Now what do you feel?”

“Sandburg, what is this?” Jim asked, offering one last bit of resistance.

“You tell me,” Blair instructed as he moved around to face Jim. “Use those senses of yours. Feel what is in your hands and let your senses tell you what it is.”

Doing as instructed, the Sentinel began to roll the unknown substance around in his hands. He divided his attention between Blair’s coaching and what he was trying to do. Without conscious thought his breathing deepened to match the cadence of the instructions. An image of the substances in his hands began to form.

Trying to relax and concentrate at the same time, the Sentinel tightened his focus. The unknown substance became a fine powder. The fine powder became a collection of granules. A hint of heat suggested that the granules had recently been in a fire.

“Jim? What do you feel?”

The sound of Blair’s voice and the weight of a hand on his arm broke Jim’s intense focus and drew his attention back to the world at large. “Ash. It’s ash,” he exclaimed with excitement.

Blair smiled encouragingly and simply prompted, “What else?”

Jim once again focused on the ash in his hands. “The ash in my left hand is dry, like burned wood. The other is oilier.” His eyes shone with the light of discovery. “Plastic! It’s burnt plastic.”

The excitement was infectious, “That’s great, Jim. In just a few moments you’ve done what it would take an entire forensics lab weeks to do.” Blair began wandering about the site as his mind expanded on the possibilities. “You already can tell the difference between plastic and wood ash. Just imagine what you would be able to do with more practice and experience. You could possibly even tell what kind of wood.”

However, Jim wasn’t listening. His attention was drawn to a small bird picking at a piece of blue yarn. Suddenly an image of the Switchman walking to open the door to the mill wearing a blue ski mask appeared in Jim’s mind.

As if noticing that she was being watched, the bird picked up her prize and retreated into the trees. Her flight was followed by the heightened sight of the sentinel until she landed in a tree and began working the yarn into her nest. “Hey, Sandburg, how are you at climbing trees?”

“Ellison, where the hell have you been?” Captain Banks bellowed into his phone. “Raymore said you were on your way. That was three hours ago!”

Simon paused for a moment to allow his detective to explain, but it wasn’t long until he felt the need to interrupt. “You went where?”

There was another pause as Banks waited for Ellison to put the phone next to his ear and continue his explanation.

“What’s he doing there!?” The captain was standing behind his desk now. He leaned over as if he could use the gesture to intimidate the person on the other end of the phone call.

“You’re darn right you’ll explain later,” was the growled response after another silent moment.

Simon sat back down and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “I hope so. I don’t need to tell you how badly we need a break in this case.”

After listening to his friend’s agreement, he heaved a tired sigh. “Well, do what you can. I’m heading out to meet Daryl. We have tickets to a special showing of The Sentinel tonight. Will I see you afterwards?”

Nodding to the phone, Simon made a couple grunts of agreement and finished by saying, “Okay, I’ll see you then,” and hung up.

“I can’t believe you made me climb that tree,” Blair exclaimed as he walked along side Jim.

The detective continued to stride towards the next perfume shop on their list. He stayed one step ahead of his friend to hide his smile.

“Of course watching you use your sense of smell to detect the sent of the bomber’s shampoo on that yarn was well worth it,” the grad student continued.

Having followed the flight of the bird, Jim had gotten Blair to climb the tree and retrieve the yarn. Then, using his heightened sense of smell, he’d detected a unique scent of jungle plants. Not recognizing the scent as one of the more common brands of personal hygiene products they theorized that the Switchman used custom mixed products. The sentinel and his companion were now checking the various shops that offered such services.

So far each store had yielded nothing useful. Jim wasn’t looking forward to returning to the station and telling Simon that their supposed lead only gained them a massive headache and one wasted day.

The sentinel tried not to flinch at the jingle of the bell as they walked through the door of the last shop on their list. He could easily detect many of the same scents that they’d found at the previous stores. Many of them were coming from a display in the center of the store. Bottles of shampoo, bubble bath, and perfume were stacked around a life size cardboard cutout of the actors who played the sentinel and the guide in The Sentinel movie. A nearby sign explained about a contest that the store was having. The challenge was simple, the first person to guess all of the mystery scents wins. The prize was a mint in the box Commander action figure from when the original television series aired. Jim couldn’t help thinking that it would make a nice addition to Simon’s desk.

Unfortunately business came first, allowing Blair to explain the situation to the clerk at the counter, Jim tried to recall all of his friend’s guidance from the previous stores and prepared for yet another round of ‘sniff that sample’.

Having adjusted to the heavily scented air and surveyed the interior of the shop, Jim tuned into the conversation at the counter.

“… so if you could let us sample your custom blends that would be a big help,” Blair intoned.

The clerk’s eyelashes fluttered seductively as she answered, “I’d be happy to help, but we have a rather lengthy list. Could you narrow it down any?”

Jim took this opportunity to step in, “I’m afraid not. We’ll have to inspect them all.”

She looked at each of the men and suggested another idea, “We do have the individual essences if you’d care to take a look at those first. If we can figure out a couple of the ingredients then we can shorten the list.”

The two men looked at each other in amazement. “Now why didn’t we think of that, five shops ago?” Jim asked. Blair simply shrugged his shoulders.

With a new plan of attack, the two men methodically examined the different oils and essences. As each scent was either eliminated or selected, the list of custom products shrank. Soon the list was shortened to only one possibility.

“That was pretty amazing, how you went through all those essences. Maybe you should try and guess our mystery scents and win the contest,” the clerk said, indicating the display they had walked past on their way in.

“Maybe some other time,” was all Jim said as he took the list of customers and headed towards the door.

Blair gave a friendly smile and waved as he quickly followed the detective out the door.

Scanning the printout as they walked back to the jeep, Jim suddenly went pale and froze.

The graduate student was immediately on alert. Jim had just begun to use his senses. For him to use them so heavily so soon was inviting trouble. “Jim, are you okay? What’s wrong? Did you pick up something with your senses?”

It took Jim a moment to respond, “I’m fine, Chief, and no, I didn’t pick up anything with my senses. I just remembered something, actually, someone.”

Blair sat quietly while Jim went about the business of being a cop. He had quickly finished writing up his statement about the earlier incident at Rainer and the uniformed officer who'd been placed in charge of him left him sitting at Detective Ellison's desk.

Jim was currently standing guard over the fax machine waiting for it to spit out the incoming information.

Blair absent-mindedly picked up a folder from the corner of the desk. Flipping through it he quickly realized that it was the folder for the Switchman case. With renewed interest, the anthropologist began to study the contents in earnest.

He found the emails that the Switchman had sent to Detective Ellison along with information on each bombing.

There was a before and after picture of a bridge along with an email that said;

"No happy endings for the billy-goats.
This time the troll wins,
unless you can find another hero to save the day.

The Switchman.

Next was a ferry schedule along with a passenger list. The email that accompanied this one read;

Will the Cavalry charge in?
Who will sound the trumpet?
Or will silence on the Sound
be the order of the day?

The Switchman

Another email said;

Neither rain nor sleet nor dark of night
shall keep them from their appointed rounds,
but can this army of old war heroes deliver while under fire?

The Switchman

The other emails all had a similar tone and Blair began to see a pattern forming. The only question was how did Jim fit in with the bomber's thinking? Just as Blair pondered the question, he turned over the next page and found a pair of haunting eyes looking at him from a charred magazine.

The eyes stared at him.

Their unblinking gaze was almost accusatory. It was as if Blair had the answers they were seeking and they were begging him to help them.

He scanned the remains of the front page, hoping to find something that would explain the mysterious eyes. The blank stare held a torrent of emotions, while at the same time giving no hint as to the thoughts behind them.

"About damn time." Across the room Jim swore at the fax machine, breaking the spell.

Blair looked up and was reminded that he was in a police station. He watched Jim pull the first sheet of information from the fax machine and study it intensely. There was something familiar about the look in Jim's eyes.

Suddenly recognition dawned. Blair looked down at the magazine, then back up at Jim. It was Jim's eyes that were staring out from the damaged cover.

The anthropologist opened his mouth to get the detective's attention, but he had already disappeared into the captain's office.

Detective Ellison walked into Captain Bank’s office only to find Captain Joel Taggart of the bomb squad sitting at the conference table. He was surrounded by what could only be his copy of the Switchman file.

“Simon wouldn’t happen to still be around would he?” Jim asked scanning the office that was obviously missing is usual occupant.

“Afraid not," Joel answered as he leaned back in his chair and stretched. "He left to meet Darryl at the big gala for the premier of The Sentinel. It always amazes me how big a Sentinel fan he is. He was telling me earlier how, when he was a kid, his dad would play the part of the Commander and send him and his friends on ‘missions’,” Joel made quote marks in the air. “This is the only time I’ve ever seen him excited about a black tie event.”

Jim failed to hold back a chuckle at the image of Simon all dressed up in his tuxedo and being happy about it. He walked up to the table to examine the latest additions that forensics and the bomb squad had made to the case file, "Anything new?"

Joel walked behind Simon's desk and poured himself a fresh cup of coffee, "Nah, just more of the same. The same signature on the bombs, the same chemical signature on the C4, the same dead ends." He took a drink of his coffee before diluting it with sugar and cream. "You wouldn't happen to have anything new would you?” the captain asked almost as an afterthought.

"Actually I have a pretty good lead and a possible suspect." The detective turned as if he were going to walk out the door, "I was going to run it by Simon, but since he's not here..."

"Don't even think about it, Ellison," Joel all but commanded as he quickly rounded his fellow captain's desk and stepped between Jim and the door. "Let me see what you've got."

Ellison handed the folder containing the recently obtained information over to the captain and went to get a cup of coffee for himself. He stopped when something on Simon's desk caught his attention. The Sentinel reached out and picked up the Guide action figure that hadn't been there this morning. "Joel? When did Simon get this?"

Taggart looked up from the file just long enough to see what his friend was talking about. "Oh that. I gave it to him this afternoon while you were getting your head examined. I saw it in the store and I happened to know of a sentinel that needed a guide, so I got it for him."

Picking up the companion Sentinel action figure in the other hand, Jim contemplated the pair. There was something not quite right about the miniature people that he held in his hands. He looked up, meaning to mention something to Joel, but instead spotted Sandburg through the windows to the bullpen.

The grad student was scrutinizing something in a file folder and was fiercely scribbling notes in a notebook. All Jim could see was a mass of hair that swung back and forth, as the head it was attached to looked from the notebook to the folder and back again. He wasn’t sure what Blair was working on, but it was obvious that he was attacking it with vigor.

The detective looked back down at the action figures. Both toys were the same size. They were both representations of men with muscular builds and could easily have been produced from the same mold. The guide had dark, almost black, hair while the sentinel had yellowish blond. They both were dressed in the same futuristic version of Army fatigues and had the same stern facial expressions. Accompanying both toys were items that a sentinel and guide would use, including side arms and rifles.

If Jim thought about it, he could almost identify with the popular image of the Sentinel. They shared the military background and propensity for action. Though he doubted that he would ever be as comfortable with being a sentinel as the superhero obviously was.

Logically, it made sense that if the guide would be working with the sentinel that they would both have the same training and background. However, for some reason, the sameness of the two figures seemed wrong. When Jim examined the guide action figure something vital seemed to be missing.

Once again looking out the window at Blair Sandburg, Jim laughed to himself. Just yesterday he was terrified by the thought that his life was turning into a comic book. Now, today, he was using his life to judge the comic book.

"This is definitely an interesting take on things, Jim," Captain Taggart said, interrupting any further contemplation of his friend.

The Sentinel quickly replaced the toys where he found them and turned to his fellow officer.

Joel handed the folder back to Jim and continued, “I’m afraid it's not really enough to get an arrest warrant, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask some questions,” Joel added quickly, seeing that Jim was about to argue his point. “Honestly, at this point it’s the best lead we’ve got.”

"Thanks Joel," Jim replied as he accepted the folder and headed out the door, “I’ll keep you posted."

The bomb squad captain watched through the windows as the detective walked up to his desk and said a few short words to its occupant before heading for the exit. The young man, who had been sitting quietly while working on several files, opened his mouth as if to say something. Changing his mind, he focused his efforts on packing a host of papers and notebooks into his backpack and hurrying after the taller man.

Had Joel stopped to think about what he’d just witnessed, he might have wondered why Ellison bothered with the student from this morning instead of passing him off on an unsuspecting uniform. However, he’d worked with Jim enough and trusted the other man’s instincts. No matter what other people said about the man, James Ellison was a good detective.

Blair pulled out his notebook as Jim pulled out of the garage. “I’ve been looking through the Switchman file and…”

“You’ve been what?” Jim asked.

“Looking through the Switchman file,” Blair answered matter-of-factly. “I figured if I’m going to be helping you use your senses to solve this case that I should know a bit more about it. For example, from the description of the timers it sounds like an older mechanical clock, the kind that actually tick. That would…”

“Okay, I see your point,” the sentinel interrupted, “but you and I are going to have a little chat about proper police procedures if we’re going to work together.”

“Sure, no problem. Now about what I found out, I read all the emails from the Switchman and all of them have some sort of heroic reference.” Blair flipped though his notebook to reference his notes, “The post office and war heroes, the Sound and the cavalry. So I started to think that this guy thinks of himself as the big hero or something. The only question was why has he been focusing on you with all these emails?”

The detective remained quiet as his companion rattled off his theory and supporting points. This particular way of thinking hadn’t occurred to him. They had someone trying to sort out the cryptic messages, but so far the profiling expert hadn’t been able to offer them anything solid. The fact that Sandburg had put together such a coherent theory is such a short time was impressive.

“That’s when I saw the magazine cover.”

Jim was caught off guard at the mention of the News Weekly magazine that immortalized one of the many things Jim wished he could forget. He used the action of turning a corner to mask his unease.

Blair continued without noticing, “The Switchman chose you to be the hero of all this because you already are a hero, man. It’s almost like he’s trying to set things up so you can be the hero again.” The graduate student turned to the sentinel to try and judge the other man’s thoughts on his observations. “If I knew what you’d found out at the perfume shop, I could work in why he is…”

“She,” Ellison interrupted.

The detective’s one word correction stopped Blair’s monolog.


“She. The Switchman is a she, Chief.” Jim reiterated and then explained. “The list of clients that we got from the perfume shop contained the name of Veronica Sarris. Her father was one of my men that died in Peru.” The detective handed Blair, the folder that he’d shown to Joel, “The Navy discharged her two years ago for mental instability and until two months ago she was being treated at the Washington State Psychiatric Hospital. Guess what her specialty was in the Navy before her discharge.”

“Civil Affairs?” Blair ventured hopefully.

“Demolition,” Jim replied.

Sandburg grimaced at the reply. “I hate to say this Jim, but the odds are probably pretty high that she blames you for coming back alive while her father didn’t.”

“About as high as me blaming myself,” the ex-ranger mumbled to himself.

The ringing of Jim's cell phone prevented Blair from asking what the detective meant.

Quickly digging out the noisy device, Jim gave his usually short greeting, "Ellison."

"You got another email, Jim," Joel Taggart said, getting straight to the point.

"Damn," Jim cursed softly as he stopped at a red light. "Read it to me."

Joel cleared his throat and recited the recent message from The Switchman;

"The picture is just starting,
but this show will end with a bang.
I've got my front row seat.
Can the hero save the day before the last curtain call?
Or will this be a tragedy?

The Switchman."

After reading the email, Joel continued explaining the current situation, "We've got uniforms working on the movie and stage theaters. I never realized how many of those things we had in town until now."

Jim switched the phone to his other ear as he put the Jeep in gear and pulled away from the intersection. "Hang on a second, Joel. Sandburg, check the file. I think I saw something about Veronica working at a theater somewhere."

Blair flipped through a couple of pages and quickly found what Jim was referring too. "Yeah, she's actually working for a temp place called, Higher Hire, but one of the temp jobs was at the Granada Theater. It's an old stage theater that's been converted to a movie theater. Lots of college students hang out there on weekends."

"Oh no," Joel said, having heard Blair's comments through the phone. "That's where The Sentinel is premiering. Even the mayor is there."

Simon Banks took a deep drag on his cigar and reflected on how he was enjoying his evening off. The weather was beautiful, not too hot, not too cold, and just enough clouds to create a spectacular show as the sun went down. He and his son were at the premier for what was shaping up to be a darn good movie with his favorite characters.

He was just beginning to think that life was good after all, when he saw first a patrol car, and then a familiar red jeep, pull up in front of the theater. The fact that both vehicles had their police lights on did nothing to prevent the sudden sinking feeling in the captain’s gut.

He continued to watch as his detective, Jim Ellison, got out of his jeep, did a quick size up of the situation, and gave some directions to the uniformed officer. The uniform quickly began herding the other moviegoers that had stepped outside for a smoke during intermission and moving them to the far side of the parking lot. Ellison headed directly towards Simon.

Wanting to enjoy his night as long as possible and fantasizing that this was just a minor situation that wouldn’t need his attention, Simon took another puff from his cigar before saying, “Tell me that you have a simple explanation for the lights and crowd control. Tell me that you’re not here to ruin my evening.”

“I wish I could, Sir. We got another email from the Switchman,” Ellison answered, getting right to the point. Stepping between his friend and the theater, Jim continued, “We think it’s the Granada.”

The significance of Jim’s last statement was immediately clear to Simon. “Oh my God, Daryl!” he exclaimed as he tried to rush towards the building.

Ellison had anticipated this and quickly grabbed a hold of his friend. “Simon, wait. You can’t just go rushing in.”

“You don’t understand. He’s my son,” Simon said as he tried to break from the detective’s grip.

“You won’t do him any good if you go rushing in and trip a wire or something. We have to do this by the book,” Jim explained.

His words appeared to have the desired effect. The police captain stopped struggling and took a deep breath. It took a moment for Banks to collect himself, but once he did, he was ready to take charge and be the captain that his son needed him to be at this moment.

Ellison quickly updated his captain as they made their way to where other officers had arrived and set up a command post. He explained about the thread with the trace evidence leading to the perfume shop. He managed to gloss over the details about using his heightened sense of smell to identify the custom scent. The perfume shop had been able to provide them with a customer list and one name in particular stood out. Jim summarized the history of how he knew Veronica Sarris and her military and psychiatric background. He and Sandburg were in route to follow up on the lead when the email had come in. The clues left in the email coincidentally matched with the current place of employment of their suspect.

“Sandburg? What the heck is he doing here?” Simon bellowed.

Before Ellison could come up with a reasonable explanation Captain Taggert interrupted. “The doors are locked tight. We can’t tell if they are wired or not, but if I look through the glass doors just right, I can almost make out something attached to the display panel for the security system. For all we know if someone even tries to open one of the doors the entire place will go up like a powder keg.”

“Damn, we need to get inside to find out what’s going on. Has anybody tried calling the theater, yet?” Simon shouted to the gathered police. Seeing that everyone was still in the process of securing the scene, he pulled out his cell phone and dialed the Granada’s phone number.

“Hey, Jim,” Blair called softly from the edge of the activity, knowing that the sentinel would be the only one to hear. “I might know of a way in.”

Jim quickly joined his friend to get more details, “What makes you think you know of a way in?”

“I used to date one of the managers,” Blair explained with a bounce and a wink. “She showed me a back way in. She said it’s hardly used any more and that she was one of the few people who knew about it. They even forgot about it when they redid the security system. It leads into the old cellar that they used to store the props in. If Veronica only worked here as a temp then it’s possible that she didn’t even know about it. It’s nothing more than an old storage area now, but it could get us inside.”

Jim thought for a moment and decided that it was worth checking out. “Wait right here,” he instructed while he headed over to update Captain Banks. “Simon, I think I might have a way inside. I’m going to check it out.”

“Hang on and I’ll go with you. Nobody is answering the telephone anyway,” Simon replied. Banks turned to Taggart and commanded, “Joel, take command for a while. When the hostage negotiator gets here tell him that we’re looking for a way inside.”

Taggart just nodded and continued to issue commands to his squad.

Ellison opened his mouth to argue the wisdom of Simon’s decision, but was interrupted.

“Don’t say it, Jim. My son is in there and I’m going with you. End of discussion.”

Instead of arguing, the detective explained, ‘Sandburg says he knows of a back door into an old cellar. He thinks we can get in there.” He then turned to the graduate student, “Lead on, Chief.”

Blair led the cops away from the activity of the command center, across the parking lot, and around to a small stand of trees separating the Granada from its neighbors. Once at the trees, they moved cautiously, so as to not attract attention. The entire time, Ellison used his senses to look for signs of booby traps and trip wires.

The trio managed to reach an old wooden door at the base of the foundation. It appeared to have escaped the recent renovation and wore its age with a defiant attitude. The only sign that the door wasn’t completely forgotten about and neglected was the shinny new combination lock hanging on the latch to secure it from intruders.

“Great, it’s locked,” Simon said, stating the obvious. “I’ll go back for a crowbar.”

“Wait,” Blair instructed, halting the captain’s trip, “Jim, you can pick the lock can’t you? Just listen for the tumblers like they do on TV.”

“Sandburg, real life isn’t like TV.” Simon growled.

The sentinel stepped between his captain and guide, “Forcing the door might make too much noise and it’ll take time. It’s worth a try.”

Banks thought for a moment then nodded for Jim to proceed.

The sentinel turned towards the door and focused on the lock. He spun the dial a couple times to get used to the sound.

“Try using touch, too,” Blair whispered quietly, causing Ellison to jump slightly. “You might be able to feel the tumblers fall into place.”

Jim glared a thank you at his friend, and then returned to his task. He focused on both the sound of the clicking and the feel of the dial as he worked the mechanism. With each degree of rotation the sentinel could sense that the internal parts were progressing through their prescribed sequence. It was almost hypnotic how each tooth on the gears would meet the next. A click and jolt would announce that the tumbler didn’t match and he would turn the dial another degree. Click, jolt, twist, click, jolt, twist became a comforting rhythm almost masking the feel of the hand that appeared on his back.

A thunk sound broke the spell and declared that one of the tumblers was now in place. The sentinel gave a quick smile to his guide and reversed the direction of the dial. It was a simple matter to repeat the process until all three tumblers were set and the lock fell open.

Ellison looked at Banks with a triumphant smirk. “See, Sir? I told you it was worth a try.”

“I’m impressed. Now let’s go arrest the Switchman,” the captain answered as he stepped inside the door.

When Blair moved to follow the captain, Jim put a hand on his shoulder and stepped in front of him. “I’m afraid you can’t go with us, Sandburg. It’s too dangerous.” Seeing that the grad student was about to argue, he quickly continued, “We need you to go back to the command center and tell Captain Joel Taggert that we’re in and show him and the bomb squad back here.”

Seeing the unmoving looks on the faces of both officers, Blair decided not to argue and stepped back away from the door. “You two be careful.”

Assured that the civilian was doing as instructed, the two police officers ventured deeper into the cellar.

It didn’t take long for the already dim light from the doorway to fade.

A solid thunk was followed by a soft curse from Simon, “Ouch! Damn it.”

“Are you ok, sir?” Ellison asked softly.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine. I’ve got nine other toes. We should have brought some flashlights,” the Captain answered just as softly.

Jim moved around his fellow officer, “I’ve got better night vision. I’ll take point.”

The pair had only progressed half way to the stairs when Ellison stopped and held up his hand.

Banks waited for a few moments, trying to figure out what had caused the other man to stop. He opened his mouth to ask Jim what the problem was, but was interrupted by a series of strangled sneezes.

Ellison took a couple of experimental sniffs then gave his captain an apologetic look, forgetting that the other man probably couldn’t see it in the dark. “Dust,” was all he whispered as a way of explanation.

The two men resumed their progress towards the stairs and wove their way around stacks of boxes and piles of miscellaneous movie paraphernalia. Upon reaching the top of the stairs, Jim turned the handle and tried to open the door, only to find that it wouldn’t budge. He lowered his shoulder and tried to give it a shove, but it did no good. Simon added his shoulder to the effort resulting in both men having bruised shoulders.

“This is solid oak, Captain. It’s going to take a lot more than just the two of us to get through it,” Jim whispered.

The look on Simon’s face made it clear that he didn’t like the thought of turning back, even if it was to get reinforcements. “You got a better idea?”

The Sentinel took a moment to scan his surroundings, hoping to find a way towards their goal. “Well, we’re under the stage. I wonder if…” As if on cue, Jim spotted what he was looking for. “Actually, Simon, I think I do.”

Blair really didn’t like leaving the other men. He had just found a full sentinel for his research and now had to let him go into an obviously dangerous situation, where he would undoubtedly be using his senses, without someone who knew what to look for or how to handle it. Sure most people were familiar with the idea of sentinels and guides from the TV shows and movies, but the grad student had serious doubts about the accuracy of said shows. Reluctantly, he realized that, at the moment, the best way to help his new friend was to do as instructed and get police backup. Then once this current crisis was over he would discuss the issue of Sentinel backup.

Exiting the wooded area that hid the cellar from view, the civilian paused at the end of the parking lot which had become a sea of police activity. The anthropologist marveled at how the scene had changed in the short time it had taken to show Jim and his captain the back door. What had been just a few patrol cars and a handful of people had turned into full blown chaos.

Studying the scene for a moment, he tried to discern any kind of order. Yellow police tape cordoned off an area that was mostly civilians. What looked like a large RV, painted with the police color scheme, was parked on the far side of the parking lot, effectively blocking the view of the activity from the far street. Another area was dominated by television new vans and camera crews.

The spot where Blair remembered seeing Captain Taggert was now occupied by several officers working on a bomb retrieval robot.

The grad student took a deep breath, stepped onto the pavement, and headed towards the group of bomb squad officers intending to ask where he could find their commanding officer.

Before Blair was halfway to his target a uniformed officer stepped in front of him stating, “You shouldn’t be here. This is a restricted area.” The officer grabbed the civilian by the arm and began escorting him towards the yellow tape that divided the police area from the civilian area.

“I was just going to,” Blair started to say as he looked over his shoulder towards the bomb squad members. Feeling a more determined tug on his arm, he decided that it probably would not be the best idea to argue with a police officer who was already tense. “You wouldn’t happen to know where I could find Captain Joel Taggert, would you?” he asked as the officer lifted the yellow tape and deposited him with the rest of the civilians.

The officer just ignored the question and addressed another nearby officer, “Hey Raymore, keep a closer eye on these civilians would ya. I just found one over by the techs.”

Officer Raymore nodded his acknowledgement and stepped closer the civilians that he’d been charged with supervising.

The anthropologist allowed some of the other civilians to camouflage his surveillance and observed the nearby officers for a moment. It soon became apparent that each officer was diligently seeing to an appointed task. Some were securing a perimeter. Others were going from group to group, presumably with either messages or supplies. The various groups were performing tasks that Blair wasn’t familiar enough with to identify. One particular officer, however, caught the grad student’s attention. She was speaking with the news media that had gathered to one side of the area where Blair and the other civilians were being corralled.

Using the other civilians to mask his movements, Blair skirted around to where the media was interrogating the Cascade Police Department’s Public Relations officer. He stood on the edge of the media mob and listened as the officer recited her well rehearsed speech yet again.

“We don’t have any further updates at this time. Once I have any additional information I will pass it on.

As of right now, we know that The Granada Theater has been locked from the inside by an unknown party. Other than a few persons who were outside the theater during intermission, everyone who was attending The Sentinel premier is inside being held as a hostage. We have no information about injuries nor have we had any communications from inside the theater regarding demands. I will keep you informed with any new information that we receive as we receive it.” With that the officer turned her back to all the cameras and ignored the shouted questions from the reporters.

It was obvious to Blair that the information officer wasn’t going to be much help. She was too well practiced in the art of talking while saying nothing. Besides, there was no way he’d get a chance to talk with her without some reporter trying to eaves drop or just plain butt into the conversation.

“Think Sandburg, think,” he said out loud to himself and began studying the area again.

All of the police personnel were either busy with various tasks or were deep within the secured area and thus not in a position to be helpful. He really would have liked to speak with the bomb techs, but there were half way across the parking lot. Blair began to realize that the activity at a scene like this was centered on the police doing police work and that it didn’t necessarily take into account the possibility of a civilian having a vital piece of information, as was the case now.

Changing his approach, Blair scanned the area for other options. For some reason his eyes were drawn to Jim’s red jeep parked just inside the entrance to the parking lot. “I wonder if…” the grad student thought to himself and began making his way to the other side of the parking lot.

Jim held onto the swaying catwalk as he waited for Simon to move from the ladder to the scaffolding that was suspended over the theater’s stage. The two men waited a moment to allow the swaying to subside a bit before carefully proceeding towards center stage to get a better view of the situation.

Once the Sentinel had spotted the ladder connecting the various different levels of the backstage areas it had been a simple issue of navigating around stacks of old movie memorabilia and props, then climbing up. The backstage behind the screen had turned out to be just as cluttered as the basement and the two men decided to survey the theater from the catwalks that the production team would have used to rig the lighting and suspend pieces of the sets for live stage plays.

They were now carefully making their way towards the center of the catwalk to get the best view of the stage and audience before deciding on their next move.

Up above the stage and movie screen it was easy to see and hear Veronica Sarris pacing up and down the stage ranting.

“Fake! They are all fake!” Veronica shouted to the audience in general.

“You watch them on TV and in the movies, but do they exist for real? NO!” She punctuated her statement by firing her gun at the large, full screen, image of the sentinel movie hero.

The Switchman started to pace again and gesticulated as she continued her sermon, waving the gun wildly around,”It happens every time. Just when you think all is lost, the big hero comes charging in, rescues his friends, saves everyone, and gets the girl.”

Veronica turned sharply to address the audience directly, sweeping the hostages with the barrel of her gun.

“Well, not this time. It didn’t happen the last time and it won’t happen now.”

The pacing and wild gesturing started again. “Sure he got his face on a magazine, but did he do anything to deserve it? Nooo! The real heroes DIED!! He should have died!” Veronica almost screamed as she turned and again shot the image of the sentinel on the screen.

From their vantage point, Simon and Jim watched, not daring to move, as Veronica stood with her back to the captive audience and try to and compose herself.

The Sentinel focused his hearing as he saw the Switchman mumbling to herself. “He won’t get away with it this time. They’ll see. They have to know. I have to show them that he’s not the hero after all.”

Suddenly the Sentinel noticed another voice, a more familiar voice. He turned to find the speaker and saw Daryl Banks speaking into a cell phone and trying to sit as low as possible in his seat. “I’ve got to speak to my Dad. He’s Captain Simon Banks of the Major Crimes team… No I can’t hold.”

Ellison nudged his friend to get his attention and then pointed towards the heroic young man, “Its Daryl sir, he’s managed to call 911.”

“That’s my boy,” the father answered with pride. His pride in his courageous son quickly turned to terror as both police officers watched The Switchman quickly descend the stairs to the side of the stage and make her way to where the young hero sat.

Making one last attempt to tuck his uncooperative hair under the borrowed Cascade Police cap, and then adjusting the borrowed bullet proof vest with its bold POLICE across the back, Blair Sandburg came out from behind Detective Ellison’s jeep and marched straight up to the yellow caution tape. Without pausing he ducked under the tape and headed in the direction that he had last seen the members of the bomb squad. Surely they would know where their captain was.

He hadn’t gone more than a few steps when two loud POPs pierced the air. Instantly every member of the police department ducked behind the nearest large object and gave all their attention to the theater. The dull hum of the parking lot gave way to shouted orders and “Shots Fired!” The previous tense chaos had given way to a surreal focused calm.

Blair tried to remain calm as he mirrored the posture of the various officers and crouched next to a patrol car. He scanned the area again, using the task to keep himself centered. One particular man drew his attention. Dressed in regular clothes and a vest similar to the one Blair, himself was wearing, the man had to be a detective. For some reason, the grad student thought he should know the man and automatically began sorting though his memory looking for a connection.

The detective was apparently checking with all the officers. He would speak briefly with a group, then after receiving nods from everyone he would hurry to the next group. Blair suddenly realized that the detective was heading in his direction and would surely know that he wasn’t supposed to be there. His mind raced to figure out how to take advantage of this opportunity as the detective quickly ducked behind the patrol car and knelt next to the grad student.

“Everything ok…” the detective began to ask, but then realized who he was speaking to. “Sandburg? Aren’t you that grad student from Rainier?”

Unconsciously raising both hands in front of him to show he meant no harm, but also to fend off any hostility from the obviously very tense and very large man, Blair tried to explain as much as possible as quickly as possible before the other man could interrupt. “I need to speak with Captain Joel Taggert. Jim and Captain Banks sent me to tell him that they found a way inside and that they are going to need backup. I have no idea what Jim and Captain Banks are going to do. They went inside, just the two of them. You’ve got to help me find Captain Taggert and let him know, so that…”

The detective quickly put his hand over Blair’s mouth to stop the verbal flood. “Did you say that Ellison and Banks are inside?”

Blair nodded, the detective’s hand still over his mouth.

“OK, I’ll take you to Captain Taggert. He’ll need to know.” The detective quickly peeked over the patrol car that they were hiding behind before motioning for his new charge to follow him. They both quickly moved to crouch behind another patrol car.

“By the way, I’m Detective Henry Brown. Nice to meet you,” Henry introduced himself, before quickly moving to the next piece of cover. Without any further verbal communication, they made their way to the large RV.

Blair glanced at the RV that Brown was leading him towards and suddenly spotted the “Command and Communications” on the side. He felt like smacking himself in the head. “Of course that’s where Captain Taggert would be. I should have thought of that myself,” he thought to himself.

Just as the two men approached the command center, a large black man and an older woman exited the RV. Upon seeing Detective Brown they hurried to join him and his companion. “Henry, how do we stand out here?”

“Pretty much the same, Joel, but Sandburg here says that Banks and Ellison found a way inside,” Brown reported.

Joel looked down and saw past the borrowed ball cap. He was about to begin asking for more details when someone yelled from the command RV. “Taggert, 911 just got a call from inside! We’ve got the Switchmen on the phone!”

The two police offices watched in horror as the Switchman dragged Darryl Banks up on stage and all but screamed into the phone, “No, I don’t want to talk to you! I want to talk to the one who couldn’t catch me! I want to talk to Detective Ellison!!”

Before the sentinel could stop him, Captain Banks began scrambling back towards the ladder which led down to the stage. His movements caused the catwalk to sway wildly.

Jim tried to grab the railing, but his hand slid past it as the catwalk swayed out from underneath him. With the lightening quick reflexes of an Army Ranger and the desperate, he reached for and grabbed one of the many ropes hanging from the rafters. The sharp crack of breaking wood could be heard throughout the theater as the rope and the rigging suddenly took the weight of the falling man. Ellison barely had time to feel the pain of the jolt in his shoulder before the rarely used counter-weight system came to life with a screech and he began a barely controlled decent to the stage floor.

Looking down at the fast approaching floor he gauged his speed and the shrinking distance. With practiced ease, Jim rolled upon landing and came to his feet with his gun already in his hand and pointed at the Switchman. “Put the gun down, Veronica.”

Veronica immediately focused all her attention on the detective, “No, you got my message. This show is going to end with a bang. I have to show them the truth.”

Jim’s aim never wavered as he edged his way towards the side of the stage, intending to redirect Veronica’s attention away from the audience. “It doesn’t have to be this way. Tell me where the bomb is and we can talk.”

“TALK?!” Veronica screeched. “You let him die. You let them all die! There is nothing to talk about.”

“Your father was my friend, I never hurt him,” the Sentinel explained with a soft tone. He could hear his captain moving behind the movie screen and tracked the sound to where a pocket knife was cutting along the edge of the silver fabric. If the situation weren’t so serious, the detective might have laughed at how his friend appeared to emerge from the movie itself. “I tried to save his life, Veronica. You’ve got to believe that.”

“You left me alone,” she accused, no longer shouting, but sounding more like a scared child.

The detective briefly wondered of anyone else could hear the commotion under the stage from the bomb squad and other officers entering the building, but quickly returned to distracting their suspect. “Veronica,” he said as he cautiously took a step closer, “your dad wouldn’t want this. Tell me where the bomb is.”

“YOU don’t know what he would want!! He would want JUSTICE! He would want them all to know the TRUTH!!” the bomber shouted as she took a few steps back, trying to maintain the distance between herself and the detective.

As if taking their cue from the explosions and sudden flurry of action on the movie screen, Captain Banks rushed the suspect from behind, reaching around and securing the gun. Detective Ellison quickly joined his captain in attempting to secure the weapon and the Switchman. At the back of the theater members of the bomb squad and SWAT team, having ensured that the various entries into the main seating area were clear and seeing the suspect no longer a threat, began evacuating the audience in as organized a fashion as possible.

Jim and Simon struggled with Veronica for control of the gun. Captain Banks kicked the back of the suspect’s knees, causing the small group to fall in a heap to the stage floor.

Ellison shifted his hands to Veronica’s wrists and applied pressure to the nerves. The suspect had no choice but to loosen her grip on her gun, allowing the police captain to extract it from her grasp. With the weapon no longer a threat, the two policemen were about to gain control of the serial bomber.

“Oh, thank God you’re OK.”

Upon hearing the familiar voice, the sentinel stood and spun around to face the person running up the stairs to the stage. “Sandburg, I thought I told you to stay outside where it was safe,” he growled at the civilian.

“No, you told me to go get Captain Taggert and the bomb squad and I did,” Blair corrected as he walked up to the detective.

“Ellison!” Captain Banks interrupted from where he was still restraining the Switchman. “I could use a little help here. I don’t normally carry handcuffs in my tux.”

Turning back to his fellow officer and the task at hand, Jim pulled out his handcuffs and quickly secured Veronica’s wrists so the suspect could be more easily handled. “Tell me where the bomb is,” he ordered sternly, hoping that her time in the Navy would have her responding to the retired Army captain.

“Tick, tick, tick,” was the bomber’s response.

The sentinel once again spun around to face his guide, “Help me look for it.”

“Don’t look, listen,” the guide instructed as he moved to stand behind the sentinel, placing his hand on the larger man’s back.

When the detective gave him a challenging look, Blair continued his coaching, “Just focus like you did at the mill. Let your senses tell you what they find and filter things out until you hear the ticking of the timer.”

Realizing that they didn’t have time to argue, the Sentinel did as instructed. Taking a deep breath and closing his eyes, he focused on the sounds around him. He suddenly became aware of the large number of officer in not only the main theater, but the foyer and backstage areas. Each officer was engaged in conversations with those near them and on the radio. The radio communications created an echo as he heard each voice not only come from the original speaker, but also from the untold numbers of headsets worn by others around the scene. This just amplified the sounds, overwhelming the Sentinel, like crashing waves in a storm.

Suddenly, he felt the hand on his back start to move in a circular motion and he heard Blair’s voice slice through the chaos. “Just pick one sound at a time. Focus on that one sound and when you’ve identified it, filter it out and ignore it. You’re looking for the ticking sound of the timer. Anything that isn’t a ticking sound can just be ignored and shut out.”

With the motion on his back to anchor him, the Sentinel dove back into the storm of sounds. He quickly discounted all the voices that had earlier assaulted him, leaving the theater eerily quiet. Next he filtered out the various mechanical sounds associated with the workings of the movie theater.

A small noise started to nag at him from the edge of his hearing. Jim tilted his head towards the sound and focused tighter, the motion on his back giving him the courage to stretch further. The noise developed into the tick tick tick that he was looking for.

Following the touch of his guide on his back, the detective relaxed his concentration while still holding onto the sound that he’d found. “I hear it,” he said with just a touch of awe in his voice.

Blair started bouncing on his toes, “That’s great! Now follow the sound. Where is it coming from?”

The Sentinel moved to stand center stage, on the very edge, overlooking the seating area of the theater. He again closed his eyes and began tilting his head at various angles, trying to track the direction the sound was coming from. Eventually he found himself looking down into the orchestra pit.

Moving cautiously along the edge of the stage, then down the stairs, Jim made his way to the slightly sunken area in front of the stage where the musicians would sit and play for live performances. The orchestra pit was completely empty, not even a stray piece of sheet music could be seen. However, one of the doors belonging to the storage closets was slightly ajar. Stepping closer to the closet, the tick tick tick of the bomb’s timer could easily be heard.

“I found it!” the detective shouted as he raced out of the orchestra pit and to the closest officer with a headset. “Get the bomb squad into the orchestra pit. It’s in the middle storage closet.”

Captain Taggert didn’t wait for the information to be relayed via the radios. He had heard Jim’s initial shout and was already headed to the front of the theater. The rest of the bomb squad followed shortly, all but evicting the rest of the officers from the area.

Jim took the opportunity to peek at the movie screen as he climbed the stairs back to the stage. The movie’s sentinel and guide were hiding from the villain in a dark alley, and the sentinel was using his sense of touch to check the guide for injuries. It reminded the detective of when he and his brother, Stevie, had tried to watch the show when they were kids. He chuckled to himself as he remembered he father’s lectures on living in the real world. “If only he could see me now,” Jim thought to himself.

Before the sentinel could contemplate his memories further, an excited Blair appeared at his side. “I knew you could do it.”

“Good work, Jim,” Captain Banks added as he escorted their suspect across the stage. “Now, I suggest we vacate the area and let the bomb squad do their job in as much peace as possible.”

Without another word, Jim took charge of the prisoner and led the group back down the stairs, past the activity in the orchestra pit, and through the theater to the parking lot.

Blair, once again, took the opportunity to observe the activities of the various groups in the area. To most people, things would have appeared very similar to the earlier chaos; however, the grad student was not most people. He noticed that instead of preparing for impending action, the members of the police department were cleaning and packing up their respective equipment. The exceptions were, obviously, the bomb squad that was still inside the building, and the Public Relations officer who was busy trying to distract the media hounds away from the real action.

Captain Banks, also, noticed the abundance of activity from the members of the media. He gave his detective a questioning look, and after receiving a nod, indicating that everything was under control, he headed in the direction of the besieged Public Relations officer.

Ellison escorted his charge directly over to a female patrol officer who had just finished replacing her equipment in the trunk of her patrol car. “Hey, Parker, you got room in there for our suspect?” the detective asked.

“Nope, sorry, the trunk is full. Besides you know the regulations on transporting prisoners,” Officer Parker teased as she closed the trunk lid. Then with a more serious tone, she motioned to the woman that the detective was holding by the arm. “Is this the Switchman?”

“The one and only,” Ellison answered as he maneuvered Veronica towards Officer Parker.

The moment before the female officer could take a hold of her; Veronica raked her heel down Detective Ellison’s shin, and stomped on his foot with as much force as she could muster, causing him to lose his grip. She then shoved the uniformed officer hard into her patrol car and ran, blindly, back towards the building.

Looking over her shoulder to see who was pursuing her, The Switchman did not see the civilian who was just standing there watching the standard activities of the police and fire departments at an emergency scene.

Blair was curious about two paramedics that were sitting in folding chairs with oxygen and water bottles arranged nearby, and took a step in their direction, intending to ask some questions. He never saw the fleeing suspect before she collided with him at full speed, sending them both crashing to the ground.

“Sandburg! Grab her!” Ellison shouted, as he and Parker regained their balance and charged after Sarris.

Blair didn’t get a chance to hear the sentinel’s order before Sarris began struggling to disentangle herself from her recent victim. He desperately tried to gain control of the wild creature to prevent her from inflicting any further damage as she kicked and thrashed trying to gain her freedom.

An instant later a swarm of officers and detectives converged on the wrestling mass and began extracting the participants. Somehow the Switchman managed to land a kick that connected with Sandburg’s wrist. Then Blair felt several pairs of hands grabbing his arms, and pull him away from his assailant as she was brought under control.

“I’ve seen better techniques from rookies, but it did get the job done,” Jim chuckled as he waited for his friend to gain his footing before letting go of his arms.

“Yeah, well, I’ll mention it the next time we update the anthropology curriculum,” Blair answered back as he flexed his wrist and wiggled his fingers to make sure they still worked.

Both men watched closely as a squad of uniforms half wrestled, half carried Veronica Sarris to the closest patrol car and finessed her into the backseat. Only after the vehicle was on its way down to the station with its still enraged passenger, did they start making their way to the command and communications RV to meet up with Simon.

“So, are you going to tell me how you ended up wearing my vest?” Ellison asked curiously.

The grad student turned to face the detective and began walking backwards, “Oh, man, you wouldn’t believe what I went through to get to talk to Captain Taggert. You probably don’t even think about it, but it’s not that easy for a civilian to just walk into the middle of a bunch of cops, who are waiting for a building to blow up…”

The explanation was interrupted when Captain Banks placed his hands on Blair’s shoulders to prevent the student from walking into him. “You stay here, Sandburg. I need to speak with Detective Ellison for a moment,” he ordered as he glared at the person in question.

Jim just shrugged an “I don’t know” at the civilian as he followed his captain to the side of the command RV, out of view of the media horde.

“You want to tell me what’s going on?” Simon asked.


“Yesterday you were saying you couldn’t do your job and now today, back in the theater, you were amazing. When did you learn to pick a lock like that? And finding your way through all that stuff under the stage, it was like you could see in the dark. I’m not even going to guess how you found that bomb.” Simon’s eyes grew wide as he realized the significance of what he was saying.

The captain’s expression turned hard and he stepped into his detective’s personal space as if he were interrogating a suspect. “Would you care to explain to me how you were able to do all those things?” The tone of the captain’s voice made it clear that it was more of an order than a question.

Ellison stood his ground, despite the larger man’s aggressive stance, and contemplated the best way to answer his friend. Just how do you tell someone that their childhood hero is real?

Just as the captain opened his mouth to continue the questioning, Jim answered, “How about you wrap things up here first? I’ll go and get my report taken care of and then I’ll meet you at your place and tell you the whole story.”

Banks just glared as Jim smiled innocently. There was no way he was going to argue about Ellison getting his paperwork done early, for once. “Don’t even think that I’m going to let this go,” he replied, pointing a finger for emphasis. Then without another word, he turned and walked around the RV to find his son and attend to the various duties of a captain and father.

Jim chuckled to himself as he listed to his retreating friend grumble about bombers, detectives, and tuxedos.

“Come on,” the sentinel said, waved at his guide to follow him, and started towards his Jeep. “We’ve got to hurry.”

Blair had to jog to catch up with the detective. “What’s up? Did she get away again?”

“No, nothing like that, Chief. We have to hurry if we’re going to get back to that perfume shop in enough time to win that Commander toy,” the sentinel explained as he climbed behind the wheel. “Simon noticed some of my earlier tricks and wants to know what’s going on. He’s not going to be too happy about being kept in the dark about this whole sentinel thing, even for just a day. I figure a little peace offering couldn’t hurt and besides, I know of a Sentinel and Guide that need a Commander.”

The grad student quickly climbed into the passenger’s side of the vehicle, “This is great! It’ll be just like in the stories. You’re the sentinel. I’ll be the guide, and Captain Banks can be the commander.” Even with the seatbelt fastened, Blair was bouncing in his seat.

“Whoa, hold on there. We have to get this past Simon first,” Jim explained as he maneuvered around the various emergency vehicles surrounding the Granada Theater.

“Sure, sure, I just got one questions, though. Is every day like this?” the grad student asked nervously.

Ellison just laughed as he merged into the city traffic.

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