Sensing a Secret

The Sentinel/Petshop of Horrors

(Note, in this world "The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg" never happened. After the end of Petshop of Horrors.)

"Ellison, Sandburg," Capt. Simon Banks snapped into the bullpen. Leon had to smile. It was a familiar sounding bark. The two detectives who came to the door were a study in opposites. One was a tall, former-military man with a buzz cut and blue eyes. The smaller man had a mop of curly brown hair that was pulled back into a pony-tail. His eyes were also a bright blue. Leon stood to greet them with a handshake. He purposely did not react to the wolf or big-ass cat he saw trotting in behind the men. It was new, a little freaky, but he assumed he was just seeing their animal natures a little oddly because he was tired.

Normally, he saw humans and animals super-imposed upon one another. It had taken him a long time to get used to the idea that every human had an animal in them and every animal had a human. It was just easier to see sometimes. He smelled incense in Sandburg's hair. He fought back a wave of nostalgia. "I'm Jim Ellison, this is Blair Sandburg. You must be the LAPD detective who's transferring up?"

"Leon Orcot. Nice to meet you."

"Orcot, you'll be riding with Jim and Blair until you get the lay of the land." Banks smirked suddenly. "And maybe longer depending on whether or not you try to shoot them."

Leon grinned at the offended look on Blair's face. "Simon," the curly-haired man whined. "You're giving him the wrong impression of us."

"Out. Run him through your current cases. Take him on a tour of Cascade. Find him an apartment." Simon shooed them out of his office.

"You were Homicide?"

"Mostly. A few dips into Narcotics and Robbery, depending on what else came into it. Hell, even had terrorists." Leon shrugged. "So, I hear there's a good Chinatown here?"

Blair nodded. "Yeah. Pretty big, actually. Not as big as LA's though."

"My beat was Chinatown for pretty much all my time in LA," he informed them. "So what's the dress code here?" He looked around the office. There was one detective in a Hawaiian shirt, one in a designer suit, Blair was in jeans with a tee and flannel, and Jim was in Chinos and a white shirt. Leon pulled at his tie. "Meaning, do I have to go shopping for more suits or will I be okay dressing down. And do I have to cut off the tail because Capt. Banks didn't mention it."

The bouncy Blair grinned at him. "I've sort of gotten him used to long hair. As long as it doesn't interfere, he won't mind. As for dress code? Neat, clean, and workable unless you're going to court."

"Great." Leon pulled his tie off and put it into his pocket. He opened the top button of his shirt.

"That's your desk," Ellison said, jerking his head towards the only uncluttered desk in the place.

"So, what cases are you working?"

"We'll fill you in on the road."

On the road seemed to consist of Leon folding himself into the extended cab of a shiny blue pick-up truck. At least he was able to stretch his leg out onto the seat across from him so that his knee didn't stiffen up and his thigh didn't seize from immobility. "We've got a series of robberies. Robberies that don't take anything of actual value. There's a missing advertising sign, some old rope, a plant."

"And this has Major Crimes investigating because?"

"Because there's also a murder at each scene."

"So, trophies."

"Yep."

"What ties them together?"

"MO. Haven't found anything else. We're heading back to the last crime scene."

"And a missing plant."

Ellison's eyes flashed to his in the rear-view. It was a positive assessment and Leon let it go. These guys didn't know him. And maybe they were stringing him along and maybe they were looking for a missing plant that was the key to a murder. He'd seen weirder things in his life. The wolf that had settled under his leg grinned at him in a rather disconcerting way. That was better than the "you're prey" look that the jaguar had fixed him with before settling in the bed of the truck.

"Right. It's an orchid." Blair sighed.

"So, are we talking blood on the walls violent or let's check the pillows for fibers?"

Ellison snorted. "Quick stab up and into the heart."

"And this one's taking trophies? No post-mortem mutilations or anything?"

"You sound disappointed."

"Any animals involved?"

"Only the son-of-a-bitch that's doing this."

"It could be a woman," Leon argued, simply on principle. His partner Jill had hated when he did that. He felt it was his duty to make her think. She wasn't convinced. He missed her.

"Maybe. Military doesn't train women that way."

"In the States. Who knows about elsewhere. There's no connection at all between the victims? Shop at the same stores? Anything?"

"A rogue Israeli assassin?" Jim drawled. Blair's mouth opened, then shut. A moment later, Ellison added, "It's not like it couldn't happen. Actually, it wouldn't even be a first." His voice was thoughtful.

Leon blinked. "And to think I moved to Cascade because I thought it was safer. I knew an opening in Major Crimes was a bad sign." He brightened. "But does that mean you two will take the assassins, thieves, and creepy FBI agents instead? That rocks."

"Excuse me?"

"You're the resident trouble-magnets, right? Means I shouldn't even register."

"I am not a trouble magnet. There was only one thief and one sick FBI agent. Jim got the assassin and the crooked DEA agent."

"So you share. That works too." Leon let his spine loosen. "And I'm also not the youngest member on the squad."

"I'll debate that," Ellison said calmly. "I checked your file. You're six months younger than Rafe."

"Damn it." Leon scowled. His eyes narrowed at Blair. "And Blair?"

"Sorry, man, I've got two years on you."

"But Capt. Banks isn't going to call me 'son' or 'kid' right?"

"Probably not."

"So tell me about our victims."

****

Leon was already sitting at his desk when Jim and Blair got in. He looked tired, but relaxed. He was wearing a tee-shirt emblazoned with a lion and Chinese script under a white Mandarin collared shirt. His shoulder-holster was visible through the white cotton. His hair was pulled back neatly. He was looking through case-files. "Morning, Leon," Blair said cheerfully. "Tell Jim that donuts are evil."

"You have donuts?" The blond perked up.

"They're fried in lard," Jim said. He held the bag close to his chest to protect it from Blair's attempts to throw it away.

"Oh." Leon's face fell. "Too bad. So where's the bakery that uses vegetable oil?"

"Two blocks west. It's called Johnny's," Jim answered. He smirked. "I buy these because Blair won't eat them."

"You shouldn't either, Big Guy. You need to think about your heart."

"He's right," Leon said earnestly. "This is a high-stress job. You need to watch your cholesterol. I'll just take care of those for you."

Blair's eyes narrowed. He studied their new partner. "So, the vegetarian thing is new for you?"

"About ten years now. That doesn't mean I don't want a steak or burger or cheap chicken salad from the corner market or any number of things."

"Ten years and you're willing to blow it on a donut?"

"Hell yes." Leon looked wistfully at the bag. "But I won't because it'd be just my luck that I'd run into someone who knows I'm not supposed to be eating it."

"So, heart-attack?" Blair knew the whole office was listening now.

Leon grimaced. "Exploding penthouse."

"Jesus," Henri said looking up. "You're going to fit right in here."

"Exploding penthouse?" Blair echoed.

Leon tugged on a piece of hair that had slipped out of his ponytail. "Short story. Grandfather of this guy I know, knew, whatever, was a rabid environmentalist. He was also a bioengineer and had a bioterror weapon he was going to release into LA. The explosion was supposed to spread the virus, but we destroyed it with a fire that set off the charges."

"We?"

"Obsessed FBI agent and obsessed LAPD detective. We made quite the pair. He's dead. I'm not." Leon shrugged.

"And the guy you knew? The grandson?"

"Saved my life. Pushed me out of the way. I don't know where he ended up. Never found a body or anything." That was a lie, but Blair didn't call him on it. "So, I was looking through the files. I didn't notice the phone lists. Someone else working them?"

"They're on my desk."

"Want me to take over? I'm used to scutwork. Took two years from the explosion to getting re-certified for field work."

Blair nodded at the peace offering. He handed over the sheets of paper. "Anything I've highlighted is a possible link. The ones with checkmarks have already been checked out. How are you with bank statements?"

"I barely balance my checkbook."

Jim laughed at that. "Neither can Blair."

"Hey!"

Jim just smirked at him. Blair rolled his eyes and settled down at his desk to work on the browser history and email lists. He put on his glasses. He glanced over when he caught Leon's arm move in his peripherals. His fingers were moving as if he were scratching a dog on the head. He filed that away as a thinking movement and thought nothing more about it.

****

Jim cataloged Orcot's scent. He smelled of Tiger Balm, green tea and the chemicals in his shampoo. It was a fairly distinctive scent. He didn't know what brand it was from, but it was going to be annoying if he didn't figure it out. He resigned himself to a trip to the grocery store to smell shampoos. Blair would enjoy it. He watched his spirit animal stalking around his new partner from the corner of his eye. The jaguar growled and Orcot's shoulders tensed. His fingers stilled for a moment, then restarted their unconscious flexing. Usually, the big cat only showed up when there was a problem. He didn't know why it was here. He'd have to mention it to his Guide. Maybe it was just a Sentinel thing and he had to get used to Orcot being in close proximity. His senses were still looking for Megan Connors. The Australian officer had headed home years before, but she was the last detective to use Orcot's desk.

Rafe knocked a book off of his desk and the resulting bang had the entire office reaching for their weapons. He picked it up and the room relaxed. Major Crimes didn't deal with average criminals. They took on murderers, mobsters, smugglers, bombers, and anything else their port-town could dial up. They'd even suffered through a piracy case where Henri Brown had kept one of those stuffed parrots on his desk that he'd programed to say "Yes, Captain." Their office had been taken hostage, threatened with explosions and over-run by bureaucrats who didn't understand the concept of not messing with a good thing.

Jim turned back to the paperwork for the cases they'd tied up the week before. He had to take a break before wading into the lines of cramped type that made up the realities of analyzing the set of lives that were cut short. The one thing they never got right on television was the endless reams of paperwork that a good investigation created. Orcot's cell-phone ring was quiet under the shuffling of papers, low conversations, and the hum of the air conditioning system. He answered it on the second ring. "Hey, kiddo. Yeah, I'm in Washington. You have that report due today right? And aren't you supposed to not be using your phone in the school?"

Jim knew he shouldn't be listening in. It sounded like Orcot had a kid who lived with his mother. Orcot didn't seem to care who was listening to his side of the conversation. It wasn't as if Jim were extending his hearing to hear the kid on the other side of the phone. "How did you manage that? No, I've never broken my hand. Chris, buddy, you've got to keep it calm or they'll never let you come out west. Two years. Two more years and you're free to come out here. I'm looking for a two bedroom place." Orcot snorted. "She's always hated me. I'm a bad influence and I know it. Yeah, yeah, I quit smoking. I quit drinking. She wants to me to quit cursing. Take your pills, go to sleep and tomorrow, when you give your report, you'll have the sympathy vote." The blond lowered his voice. "Me too. I'll never stop looking. I swear." He hung up without saying "goodbye." He closed his eyes for a moment.

"Jim, I think I've got it." Blair was nearly bouncing, but his voice was as calm and quiet as ever. "Travis Bingham of Bishop Contracting. He's a sub-contractor for the phone company. Former Navy." Thank God. They wouldn't have to explain around Jim's senses for this case. The printer sprang to life. "That's his picture printing up. I'll start the request for his jacket."

"You want me to call the phone company and find out where they've sent Bishop Contracting?"

"Thanks, Leon." Blair's smile was friendly. Jim ignored the twinge of danger that struck him in the middle of his stomach. Blair was excellent at making friends. He was not a good judge of character. The drug dealer's daughter, the thief, and well, pretty much every other woman he'd fallen for proved that. He liked Leon, that was obvious, but there was too much happening under the surface of the former LAPD detective for Jim to be comfortable with it.

The bust went down with text-book ease. They had Travis Bingham in interrogation and spilling his guts by dinnertime. "Food?" Leon asked almost plaintively an hour after that. "I have never been in a bullpen that has less junk food hanging around."

Blair laughed. He held up a bowl of almonds.

Leon sighed. "It's a health conspiracy. I thought I'd escaped it when I moved up the coast. If I leave right now, will the paperwork mysteriously multiply on my desk overnight?"

"Yes," Jim said. "Happens to Blair all the time."

"Funny, Jim. Really. Jim only learned to type when I quit doing his paperwork for him."

Orcot rolled his eyes. "Until tomorrow." He gave them an abbreviated bow and left the office. His slight limp caught Jim's attention.

"So, tomorrow we get a car, huh?" Blair said.

"We'll wait until he complains."

****

Leon stretched out on the extended-stay hotel room bed. He stared up at the ceiling. The sum-total of his possessions were in the five boxes sitting on the floor by the kitchenette. Most of those he could probably do without too. It was calm, clean and quiet. He wanted to shoot a hole in the ceiling or something, just for a little visual interest. He turned on the television and flipped through the stations. He settled on the soothing noise of a cheap Chinese soap opera. He flipped open his cell-phone and scrolled down to Jill's number. He swallowed hard, then hit the "delete" option. He confirmed it before he could lose his courage. He dropped the phone onto the bed and curled up on his side. He wanted to remember her laughing and teasing him about his fascination with cakeries, not broken and bleeding out in his arms.

The phone rang, jerking him out of the dark memory. "Hey, Cap," he greeted his former boss.

"Just thought you should know. Sentencing was today. He got life in prison with no chance of parole."

Leon grunted.

"From what I hear he's going to be limping for the rest of his life."

"I hope it's long and miserable."

"Take care of yourself, kid," the man said after a moment. "And come back when you get sick of the rain and need some sun."

"Right. Thanks for calling." Leon said to the dial tone. He punched the mattress. He'd done all he could for Jill now.

****

"How's the house hunting coming?" Blair asked. Leon looked up from the book of rentals.

"It's coming. There's a place on the edge of Chinatown that I'm going to check out. See if they'll rent to me."

"So, why Cascade?"

"It's not LA. You could at least offer me something to drink if you're going to interrogate me." Leon's voice was sharp. Blair ignored it.

"Jim seems to think that you're running from something."

Leon pinned him with eyes that were a surprisingly golden brown. "Blair, you're a nice guy. I appreciate that. Jim's a very dangerous guy. I recognize that. But I'm not looking for friendship right now. I'm just looking for someone who's willing to put up with me on the job and watch my back. Give me a few months to get settled in, then maybe I'll tell you all my dark secrets and you can tell me yours and we can share hair-care techniques and paint our nails. Until then, let's keep the pot on my background growing."

Blair studied the man. Leon wrapped his fingers around his mug of jasmine tea. "How long were you with your partner?"

"Fourteen years as partners, but we went through the academy together. She made detective the year after me." He smirked as some private memory.

The Shaman of the Great City, Guide to Jim, and general nice guy wanted to offer an outlet for the grief he saw hanging on Leon's shoulders. He knew he wasn't welcome under any of those titles. "We've got your back," was all he could offer right now. "And when you do need it, I'll be here to listen too."

"Better shrinks have tried. You want to really be helpful? Where's the best apothecary in Chinatown?"

"You can get Tiger Balm at the corner market on Prospect. Or, I can give you directions."

"Directions. I'm looking for more than liniment." Leon paused. "No, don't. I need to learn the rhythm of the area. See if I can convert a few of the old-timers into not looking at me as if I'm an interloper."

"So, you speak Chinese?"

"I'm told I have an accent, but most people can understand me. If you really want to learn, go full immersion for a year and see what it gets you."

"A year?"

Leon smirked at him. "I already told you. Two years from exploding penthouse to back on the streets. A year of that was spent healing and learning to walk. They finally let me back on desk duty and it took another year before I was field ready."

"So you spent a year learning Chinese?"

"I wasn't given a choice. The apothecary and the baker in Chinatown took turns taking care of me. Neither one of them spoke much English." Leon shrugged. "You're an anthropologist, right? You learn languages and all when you study tribes."

"Not Chinese though. It's a hard language."

"I was bored. I wanted to talk, I had to learn the language." There was an intense sadness in Leon's eyes. Blair couldn't help but reach out. He put a hand on Leon's shoulder. He didn't offer any verbal encouragement though. He knew it wasn't welcome. Leon didn't shrug off the contact, but he didn't seem comfortable with it either. "Blair, like I said, I'm not looking for friends."

"To paraphrase an old joke, but we believe in you."

Leon scowled at him. "First, I don't like people. Second, I'm a complete son-of-a-bitch. Third, I'm not a dog person."

Blair's eyes widened as Leon's eyes flicked down to the spirit wolf. He gave the man's shoulder a squeeze before releasing him. "Too bad. I'll just have to teach you otherwise."

"Jill tried that. Didn't end her up anywhere but a grave. The only people I care about? They know I'm a misanthrope and they don't mind. Now, if I could just convince my aunt and uncle that my brother is better off in my custody than getting into fights at private school, there might be a chance of convincing me that people aren't insensitive, selfish, and stupid. As it stands? I doubt it."

Blair leaned forward with a grin. "The more you try to warn me off, the more you remind me of Jim when I first met him. I'll get through to you too."

The golden eyes that glared into his promised a fight. He was glad to see that. It meant that losing his partner hadn't destroyed him, just bent him a little bit. Jim entered the bullpen. He offered Leon a brief nod and raised a brow at Blair.

"We have anything new?"

"No, I'm getting up to date with your open files." Leon scowled up at them. "If I'm reading this right, you have a bombing spree, three threats against the mayor, ten murders and a horse-doping ring."

"Sounds about right."

"I should have stayed in LA."

"Cheer up, Blair made lunch, since I'm out-numbered at the moment."

"Oh goodie."

Blair blinked as his partner's spirit animal walked up to Leon and gave his knee a head-butt in greeting. The LA detective looked down with a frown that seemed to be mostly a put-on. He filed the action away. It looked like there was another shaman in town. Jim would never know what hit him. Jim settled at his desk. "Let me know what you see."

"Of course. You have the most detailed crime scene inventories I have ever seen." Leon was taking notes on a legal pad as he read. "So on these threats, think they're connected?"

"I haven't seen it. What are you seeing?" Jim's voice was calm. He was lying through his teeth, but he was calm. He'd already told Blair the threats were connected.

"A detective who's lying to me." Leon looked at Jim with a sweet smile that made Blair wonder what sort of trouble-maker the man had been as a teenager. "You think they're connected. You just can't prove it."

Jim smirked. "Tell me what you're seeing."

"The language of the threats is the same. The threats come by different routes, but the same person."

"Show us." Blair peered over Jim's shoulder as Leon put the threats next to one another.

"She misspells 'portent' as 'potent' and the phrases themselves indicate a non-native speech pattern. They're threatening the same thing each time. And they're pointing to when it will happen. I don't think these are threats. I think they're warnings."

"Do you automatically think of women first as suspects?"

"My partner was female. It pissed her off. So, yeah." Leon's smirk showed one canine. "So, I'd say start at the University looking at exchange students."

"Because of the non-native phrasing?"

The blond nodded. "I'd guess Russian block or German."

Blair studied the phrases. "I buy that." He considered. "I'll call the registrar's office and see what I can find out."

Jim cocked his head to the side and studied their new partner. "What happened to her?" His voice dropped to just above a whisper, to keep the conversation private.

"She died." There was something in Leon's voice that made Blair shiver.

"Did you get the bastard?"

"He'll have a limp for the rest of his life." Leon's grin was more a baring of teeth than an expression of pleasure. "Should make his life in prison interesting. Killing was too good for him."

"Anything we need to worry about?"

"No, it's over. Sentenced to life. No parole. And he won't be running anywhere. Besides, I dropped a word in the ear of a couple guys that he'd raped and murdered a thirteen year old girl. That should help a bit."

"When was sentencing?"

"Yesterday."

Jim gave a quick nod. "You still drink coffee?"

"Sometimes. Depends on how good it is. It's tea these days mostly." Leon shrugged. "So, what test do I need to ace next?" His voice was snide, but his eyes were twinkling.

"See if you can get Simon to give up some of his stash."

"Hey, I am not that much of a rookie. You want to raid the captain's stash, you do it."

"But he might not shoot you. You're new and don't know the rules yet."

"Funny."

****

"So this is your apartment," Blair said looking around the single room. It was above the butcher's shop in the middle of Chinatown. Blair and Jim had passed it three times before they realized it was the right address.

Leon blinked at them. They'd woken him out of a deep sleep. The blond pointed to the coffee machine. It made coffee directly into a travel mug. "Make coffee. I'll get dressed." He put his gun back on the nightstand. He was limping.

Jim smirked at him while Blair went to make the coffee. "So what caused those scars on your chest?"

"Sabretooth tiger." Leon held up his wrist. "This is from a killer rabbit. The rest are from the explosion. Well, except for the bullet holes, but I figure you recognize those." His bare left arm displayed an impressive roaring lion with Chinese script running along the right side.

"Sabretooth tiger."

Leon nodded. He pulled on a fairly clean tee-shirt and put on his shoulder holster and gun. He selected a red shirt to cover it. He strapped a hold-out gun to his ankle and slipped a knife into his pocket. Blair raised a brow at his partner. He handed over the coffee, which Leon took with two small pills. "So, where are we headed?"

"I thought you only drank tea."

"When you wake me up in the middle of the fucking night, I drink coffee." The golden-brown eyes managed to open all the way. "So? Let's go. You can fill me in on the way."

Jim and Blair exchanged another glance. "We're meeting a team down at the race-track. Word just came in that there's going to be a meeting of the horse ring."

"And how did we hear about this? Anonymous tip or did someone finally catch a bastard?"

"Anonymous tip."

"Oh. It's a trap then. I should go get my cane too."

Blair snorted. "I'll take the back. You get the front seat tonight."

"Nah. I'm fine." Leon grabbed his cane from next to the bed. It was a sturdy carved wooden cane with a rubber end. The handle was a lion's head. "You golf, Jimbo?"

Jim snorted. "Not in years."

The Californian twirled the cane. "Did you know you can cave in a man's skull with a good golf swing?" He smirked. "Besides, it makes me look helpless. Never know when that might help. Toughest person I've ever known wore a changshang."

Jim looked to Blair for an explanation. "Long traditional Chinese robes."

"Yeah. Pretty dresses for a china doll boy." Leon's mouth twisted into a parody of a smile. "Shall we." He gulped down half of his coffee. He settled in the back of the truck, stretching out his leg. Jim tried not notice as the younger man stretched his knee to loosen it. He felt a vague guilt for not bringing a normal car. Simon had authorized one from the pool. Leon closed his eyes and leaned back. "Tell me a story, Blair."

"Once upon a time, when the world was younger than it is today, there was a crooked horse-doping ring. They infiltrated a stable that they didn't realize belonged to the family of a police officer or they were too arrogant to care." Jim listened to the case run-down with half an ear. Leon's heart-rate and breathing remained steady.

"Poor horses."

"Poor horses?" Blair turned in his seat.

"They didn't ask to be drugged. Just humans taking advantage of them."

Jim caught a lazy smile with a hint of teeth. His own lips twitched. "Just horrible. I know. Do you ride?"

"Hell no." Leon set his mug on the floor of the truck. It made a hollow clunk. "So, in summary, your brother has a stable for racehorses at the track. People have been drugging horses. And right now, we're going to be walking into a trap where we will likely run into either pissed off horses, weapon wielding jockeys, bookies, or - and this is my favorite - nothing."

"Pretty much."

"Great. How many horses?"

"Should be about twenty at the stable tonight."

"Goodie. I've never been stepped on by a horse. I have to add it to my collection of scars. There any dogs or cats around the place?"

"One dog, but he's so old that he can't hear anymore. And there's a few feral cats."

"So tactically, we can assume that small noises will be ignored by our perps because it should sound like cats wandering around the place."

Jim ran over the layout of the stables for their new partner. He exchanged a quick glance with Blair. Blair was nodding occasionally, but caught up in his own world. He'd be back in the here and now by the time they reached their target.

****

Leon looked down at the unconscious, handcuffed suspect. He patted the horse on the nose. "Thanks, Sweetheart." Her fur was soft under his fingers. Ever since he'd started looking for D, animals started reacting to him more positively. Jim and Blair had another suspect handcuffed on their side of the stable. Hay dust danced in the air visible in the soft lights that were almost like gaslight. He leaned against the stall and let the chestnut mare sniff his hair. "So, Jimbo, where's the backup?"

Jim chuckled. "On the way with a couple of cruisers to take these gentlemen back to the station."

"I'm just going to poke my nose around back."

Ellison nodded at him. "Check in regularly or I'll come get you."

Leon smiled tightly at that. Just like Jill. Jesus. He was still a mess. He eased into the summer night and listened for whatever had caught his attention in the first place. A soft scrape of metal and leather drew him down the side of the building. "Shhh," he soothed the tangled up cat. "Let me help." It looked at him with intelligent green eyes. He undid the straps.

"You can see me?" The cat looked like a rather disgruntled teen with messy dark hair and green eyes.

"Yeah." Leon shrugged. "I've been practicing."

"Huh. You smell like a normal human."

"I am. I think. You ever go to the city?" Leon managed to get the last paw out of the tangled reins.

"Nah. That place stinks. Thanks, man."

Leon snorted. "Anytime. You know how many guys are drugging the horses?"

"Four or five. They like to use the old shed by the back there. They can smoke there and no one notices it. That's where the kids hide out to smoke too."

"I'll check it out." Leon raised his voice. "Yo, Ellison! I'm going to check out the shed out here. I'm taking Blair's flash with me."

"I hear you. We'll be out as soon as the black and whites get here."

****

Jim looked at his partner. He looked down at his suspect. He spoke carefully in Chopek. "I think our new partner was just talking to an animal to get his tip."

Blair stared for a long moment. "We'll have to talk later because I just know I translated that incorrectly," he responded in kind.

The suspect twitched, rubbing his wrists. Sirens cut through the night and the patrol car screeched to a stop in front of the stable. Rafe looked at them with raised brows. "Missing someone?"

"You cover here, we're going to find him. There's another one right there. Still out. The horse knocked him down."

Rafe snickered. "Good horse."

Jim and Blair found Leon with a black and white cat on his shoulder in front of the shed. "Heard the sirens. Got some tape? Looks like this is the HQ for the ring. You'd think they'd clean it up a little bit. Or at least get a new padlock. This one doesn't actually close." The cat looked at them with placid eyes. "This is Tux. Least that's what his collar says." Blair offered his fingers to the cat and got a clawless smack for his impertinence. Jim's lips quirked up.

"We'll get the crime lab in to search it. Nice take down on the suspect. Didn't hurt your knee?"

"Nah. He awake?"

"No. He'll be taking a trip to the hospital before we can interrogate him."

"I'm sensing a scapegoat." Leon shook his head. "Thanks for the assist, kid," he told the cat. Tux gave his cheek a head-butt. Then, it jumped gracefully to the ground and disappeared into the shadows.

"So, your witness?" Blair asked nodding in the direction of the cat's retreating back.

"Don't know what you're talking about. Cat just showed me the way in." Leon popped a cinnamon candy into his mouth. He rested against his cane. "Captain would have a fit if I put a cat on the stand after all."

Blair blinked. "I'm sure the DA might object as well."

Leon rolled his eyes. "So how many more do you think we're looking for? Three? Four?"

"No more than three." Jim had noted the scents of the gang. They were heavily layered in the air here. He let his arm rest against Blair's while he took the time to sort out the scents of the gang from the smell of horse and the earthy smells of dust and mold in the building. He didn't smell anything dangerous, not even gunpowder. He turned his attention back to the conversation and saw Orcot was watching the panther pace. Blair's wolf sat placidly at his feet. It would be nice to know what the new detective's spirit animal might be, for when the dreams started. He needed to drop Orcot off and talk to Blair, but there was paperwork and interrogations to complete first.

****

Leon was leaned back in his chair with a file folder on his lap when the alley cat jumped up onto his desk. It stared at him with light blue eyes that were surrounded by a smushed-up face and lots of grey fur. "You need a brushing," he informed it. The cat daintily stepped up onto his leg and walked down to find his lap. "Hey, flea-bait, what do you think you're doing?" The cat ignored him, settling into his lap and flicking its fluffy tail over his paperwork. It purred and kneaded its claws on the denim of his jeans.

"What the Hell is that cat doing in my bullpen?" Captain Banks demanded as he walked toward his office.

"Purring." Leon couldn't help himself. He let his face be as bland and stupid as possible. "Maybe it's reporting a crime."

"No, no, it's a cat burglar!" Brown offered.

"Cat woman's best friend, come to report her missing," his partner Rafe contradicted.

"Sandburg's last date looking for the man who knocked her up?" Leon offered.

"Hey!" Sandburg snapped from the doorway. "I'll have you know that all of my dates know how to use the phone."

"Well, you are more of a dog person," Jim said with a considering nod. Blair gave him a back-handed swat to the arm. "She yours?"

"Nope. She's a cat. She's her own animal." Leon looked down at the tangled fur. "Huh. She's got a collar." He carefully traced the pink collar until he found the ID tag. He dialed the number he found there. The voice mail was full. He frowned. "Something happen to your human?" The cat blinked at him, then curled up into a tight ball and shut her eyes firmly. "Okay then. Anyone heard something on a Miss Princess Lawana?"

Rafe and Brown turned toward him. "That would be our cat, then," Brown stated. "She was found yesterday."

"And here you are today, sweetheart. What a smart girl." Leon stroked her head. She opened one eye and glared at him. "Rafe and Brown will brush your coat to see if there's any trace on it. You'll be looking your beautiful self in no time."

Banks raised his brows and his lips twitched. Brown grimaced at the thought of brushing the cat, but Leon didn't pity him. Rafe carefully took off his suitcoat and set it out of the way. "She seems to like you," Rafe pointed out. "Maybe it would be best if you were the one to brush her. Just to keep her from getting too stressed."

"Worried about your pretty tie?" Leon knew his smile had a hint of too many teeth in it. The cat in his lap seemed to approve of that though. She opened her eyes and looked up at him sweetly. Brown reached for her and drew back a bleeding hand. "He's just trying to help," he soothed her. The look she gave him told him exactly what she thought of that. "Okay, okay, someone get me a comb and evidence bags. I'll get the tangles out and someone else gets to sift the hair for trace."

TBC

Xover Bedroom