"How did you find this place again," Ellison asked as he pulled into the parking lot of the small diner. They were a several miles from the highway, I-75 – at least they were direct miles.
His partner bounced in his seat – without really bouncing. "One of my students grew up here. She said the food is great – and yes, she spends the summers at home."
Ellison looked over the place as only he could. Even scenting the air. But he ended up shaking his head and holding his nose as his senses spiked again. Things still hadn't settled down since the flight into Detroit Metro. Normally he was ok on flights, with years of practice under his belt, but there was something just off about that plane. He had Blair wait for the other passengers to leave the plane so he could speak with the pilot – the detective had passed a note to the head flight attendant to pass on to the pilot. Ellison had identified himself and prefaced the note that there was no danger to the passengers but he needed to speak to the pilot about the aircraft.
The pilot had been surprised that a passenger had picked up on the fact that the filters on the air handling unit needed to be replaced. The fact that the passenger was a highly respected detective from his home town of Cascade, Washington made the pilot definitely take notice that it wasn't an idle complaint.
"Easy Jim, smell still whacked?" Blair hoped the enhanced senses of his spirit brother would settle down soon so they could enjoy the trip. It was a celebratory vacation – Sandburg's second doctorate was complete, the ceremony held the month before (the cheering from the Major Crime contingent almost deafened the Sentinel); Blair's teaching responsibilities were finally shifting from Rainier to the Police Academy; they had closed two very big cases; and the junior detective had received another commendation for his profiling work on a case for Homicide. A colleague had recommended Michigan's Upper Peninsula for scenery and fishing. Blair had managed to find places for them to stay without much problem – the colleague mentioned it wasn't prime "fall color time" yet so the UP wouldn't be "crowded". He told his partner it was the cosmos recognizing they needed a break. After checking all the available flight information Sandburg decided to fly into Detroit and drive the seven hours to their destination rather than subject Jim, or himself, to smaller planes.
"Yeah, big time." He hoped the small headache would stay small – or that Blair would be able to bring him down once they stopped for the night. He was still unsure about the diner. "Why can't we hit a chain place where everything is a known."
Sandburg shook his head. "Known chemicals and preservatives that would really have you messed up. Jim, my student's family, they own this place. Local foods, all natural stuff. Trust your Guide, man."
The Sentinel was about to say something about said Guide's restaurant choices in Cascade but caught a whiff of apples, sugar and cinnamon as he opened his door. Something about the scent relaxed him. "Specialty of the house apple pie?"
The Guide smiled. "Abby said it will cure what ails you."
Closing his eyes the Sentinel extended his sense of smell cautiously starting on the scent of apples. He felt the anchoring hand of his Guide rest on his back. Behind the apples were scents of all things good and homey about home cooking. "That it does, Chief, that it does." The tight muscles relaxed and the sensory spikes settled.
"Good," the word was whisper soft and comforting for the Sentinel. The Guide gave his friend another moment to relax then gave him a gentle nudge towards the door.
The door chimed over the general hum of the small diner. "Welcome. You boys take a seat anywhere you like; menu's on the table." The bright voice welcomed them as if they were regular customers.
The place was of a simple design. Main entrance was at one end of the long space. Counter along one wall, booths along the bright expanse of windows and a couple of tables scattered around the remaining floor space. The kitchen was beyond the swinging doors behind the counter – the banging of pans made that space obvious. But the banging was more of a rhythm than pans being moved from place to place. A waitress dancing through the swinging doors confirmed it really was a rhythm. A couple of kazoos at the counter started in to add off-key notes to the beat.
Blair glanced over at Jim ready to apologize for getting his stressed Sentinel into a worse situation but the older man had a small smile on his face. Despite the off-key notes – though how a kazoo could be in-key was anyone's guess – it wasn't really noise to the Sentinel. Sandburg started wondering if he could bottle whatever it was about this place that made Ellison relax so quickly.
Jim looked at his partner as he slid onto the bench of the booth they had chosen. "Probably not, Chief. It's the whole package," Ellison whispered.
"It is amazing, though." The newly minted doctor of psychology wasn't surprised his friend knew what he was thinking. In the years they had been together a connection had developed between them that allowed them to pick up thoughts and feelings of the other even when they weren't in the same building. That connection had saved their lives a few times.
The impromptu concert wrapped up and the patrons applauded. The two cooks, father and younger brother of Blair's student, appeared at the swinging doors for their bows and went back into the kitchen. The matron of the family shooing them back with, "it wasn't that good. You had the wrong sauce pan for the second movement." She moved with a stiff but easy grace over to the booth the detectives were seated.
"Welcome to Holly, boys. What can I start you with?"
Blair smiled up at the woman, seeing an older reflection of Abby. "Abby says we definitely have to have coffee; that it's the best around."
"Ah. Friends of Abby. Harold, friends of Abby's are here." She called into the kitchen.
"Tell 'em we won't hold it against 'em," a smiling voice answered. The father stepped through the doors and came around to the booth. "Welcome to Tommy's boys." He shook hands with both. "I'm Harold and this is the wife, Maude." He gave them the once over. "Truth be told you look a little old to be college students. How do you know Abby?"
"Abby was one of my students last semester. I'm Blair Sandburg. This is Jim Ellison – he's my partner with the Cascade Police Department."
Harold was impressed. "Professor and a cop – two very full time jobs. How do you manage?"
Jim shook his head. "We're still trying to figure it out because it was actually three since he just finished his second doctorate too."
Maude's eyes brightened. "Blair Sandburg! Abby has told us about you. You made quite an impression on her. Harold, you remember?"
The man smiled. "Of course I do. We have to tell you Dr. Sandburg. . ."
"Blair, please," the younger man interrupted with a smile.
"Blair," Harold answered with a matching smile; he was really starting to like this man; "our daughter's grades had us worried about her – they just weren't up to usual – but this past semester with your class, everything picked up."
"It was like you helped her find herself," Maude added.
Jim laughed, "he has a very strong guiding influence." He stressed 'guiding' as an inside joke concerning Blair's fourth full time job as the Shaman Guide to the Sentinel of the Great City. There was also affection in his tone – affection for his brother.
Blair blushed. "I didn't do anything special."
Jim laughed again, "nope, you were just yourself and it brings out the best in those around you – just like always." The senior detective really didn't like it when Blair shrugged off praise and tried to lessen his role in something.
Harold nodded in agreement. "You may think you didn't do anything special but Abby had been having trouble and you did help her."
Blair actually blushed deeper, "I just listened when she needed someone to talk to. We're sorry for your loss." He took Maude's hand and gave it a squeeze.
"She took Benjamin's death really hard. It was just over a year ago, in Afghanistan," there was a choke in the voice as Maude wiped at a tear. "She worshipped him." Maude straightened herself and wiped another tear. "But you boys look hungry. How far are you headed today and that will tell me what to get you?"
Ellison watched the mother put her pain away and the sentinel in him wanted to protect her from the pain. A warrior had died and his sentinel side, and the Army Ranger, took that hard. "We're hoping to make it as far as Mackinaw tonight. Then get to Newberry in the Upper Peninsula tomorrow," the man recognized the need to move on and answered the question.
Harold nodded. "Good plan. 75 gets backed up from time to time as you head up. Especially at Zilwaukee. Maudie, you pick 'em something good and I'll whip it up. Good to meet you boys," Harold shook hands with each then headed back to the kitchen. Trying to be casual but everyone noticed as he wiped a tear as well.
"All right, something to keep you going but not too heavy. Ah, just the thing. Chicken and Dumplins. Nice kitchen sink salad and apple pie for dessert." Her smile was huge.
Jim stared, "kitchen sink?"
"Sure thing. Best there is. Got everything including the kitchen sink. But not too big because we don't want to spoil your appetite."
Sandburg was beaming. "We'll take your word on it, Maude."
"Two day-trip specials coming right up. I'll be right back with your coffees too," Maude moved back to the counter to pass off their order and get the coffee. She turned back, "you did pack some warm clothes didn't you? The UP never quite got Summer this year. Lake Superior had ice right up to June."
Both men nodded – they had been warned. Maude grinned then turned back to the coffee urn. The older detective watched her as she glanced up at a picture of a young man in uniform that hung near the kitchen door. Several other photos graced the wall – all family. Ellison looked close at each picture to get an idea of the family. There were several members of the extended family in a uniform of some type: military, police, state troopers, fire fighters, and an EMT. Much older photos at the top of the grouping showed the ancestors – the men and women in uniform.
"Chief, what's Abby's major?"
"Criminal justice. Her advisor actually suggested she take Anthro 101 as one of her electives."
The man nodded, "fits. The whole family has served the tribe one way or another."
Maude returned with their coffee. "Here you go. Salads up shortly."
"Thanks, Maude," Blair's smile was bright.
Maude blushed and turned to take care of the other patrons.
Blair watched as the Sentinel came out to play. Now that the senses had all relaxed his brother felt comfortable enough to stretch out a bit and really get a feel for the place. It was a surprise when Jim's jaw tightened a bit at something he saw.
"Jim?" The Guide voice asked momentarily worried.
The Sentinel responded, "I'm good. Flyers around," he turned and looked at the same flyer taped to the window near their booth. He nodded to it.
Sandburg turned in his seat to read it. "Headstone cleaning? Great Lakes National Cemetery. Says it's here in Holly. Did you see any signs?"
"Don't remember. Wasn't looking for them."
Maude had seen them turn to the flyer. "It's about four miles up the road. Dedicated just 2007 and they have over 13,000 there. They invite the public up to help clean the headstones – look for any that need repair – before Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Benjamin, is there. Section 4." She looked at the two a little closer. She could see the familiar pain in the older one's eyes and the unconditional support in the other one.
"Jim?" Blair started gently. "I can change our check in date – I made sure we could just in case."
Ellison turned to his partner. The 'just in case' was for Sentinel stuff but could be used for any reason for a detour. "You sure?"
Maude stepped in, "they have check in around 9am tomorrow morning then send you out to a section. We visit with Benjamin afterwards. But you boys wanted . . ." She saw Jim's look and realized what had become important to him. "You boys are welcome to join us."
The waitress came by with their kitchen sink salads and set them down without disturbing anyone. "The grounds are beautiful," she offered then moved off.
Jim bowed his head, "thanks Maude, we will."
Maude nodded and rested her hand on the man's shoulder. "You two will stay with us tonight. No trouble. No bother. Don't make me insist – Abby wouldn't let me hear the end of it. I'll get you a map to the house and let Molly know to expect you. Plenty to see here. Holly's a nice walking town."
The pair could only accept Maude's offer. Sandburg pulled out the hotel information and changed their check-in time to the next evening. The receptionist assured him that a comparable room would be available.
With information from Maude and Harold on places to walk to around town, Blair took charge of his friend and ushered him out the door after lunch. He thanked Harold and Maude for their kindness and said they would check in with Molly before 6pm. The walk started in silence as it took a little while for Jim to finally start to talk about his team and what he knew about their burials.
"Are any in Michigan?"
"Do you think he'll be there?"
"I don't know, Chief. I think his family was from Big Rapids. Not sure where that it is from here. And he was brought home in 1991 – before the cemetery here opened."
Blair could feel Jim close in on himself. It was time again to walk in silence. They found themselves at a small park at the edge of Bevins Lake. Sandburg didn't press Ellison to speak any more. He just sat next to his brother offering his support – physically and through their bond. After a while the former Army Ranger drew his friend in close and whispered, "thank you," then released him.
Blair gave him a small smile, "it's what brothers do."
The next morning Jim followed the older sedan ahead of him as they left Holly proper behind. Farm land opened up on each side of the road. Turn signal on the car ahead showed they were getting closer. After the turn and a small rise in the road Jim could see the stand of Flags that lined the entrance road of the cemetery. Harold turned into the main entrance. The detectives could see the headstones marching in straight rows.
Harold drove up to the administration building and parked – the sections they would be working in were close by. Ellison pulled in behind him watching carefully for where the cars that were behind them parked. Blair looked around – uncharacteristically subdued. Jim remembered the officer's funeral they had attended the week before – a rookie with a young family; his murder had been their case.
Harold and Maude waited for the men to come to them. "Jim, inside there's a computerized directory for everyone here. Maybe your friend is here."
He looked at her in surprise. "How did you know?"
"I've seen the look before. In the mirror." She patted his shoulder. "You go look. We'll meet you down there," she pointed towards the maintenance buildings, down the hill and to the left of the administration building, where other vehicles were parking and stacks of buckets waited. "Just check in at the table. Harold and I have extra brushes and buckets for you."
"Thank you, Maude," Blair answered for them. "See you in a few minutes."
Ellison stood, staring at the rows of headstones. His eyes had a faraway look that Sandburg recognized – around the same time each year the senior detective would stand quietly on the balcony of the loft staring beyond Cascade to his memories. His partner would stand with him, offering silent support.
Maude nodded to them and went back to her car to help Harold with the buckets.
It was several minutes before a sigh announced the return of the older man to the moment. "There is a sentinel here," was the unexpected comment.
"What?" Blair tensed at the memory of how their first interaction with another sentinel had gone. Despite the fact that subsequent encounters with other pairs had gone ok for the most part – territorial sentinels notwithstanding.
"See with your Guide eyes, my brother."
The Guide closed his eyes and took a cleansing breath. Letting it out slowly he opened his eyes and saw the shade of the sentinel, and the softer form of his guide at his shoulder, standing just beyond the parking area. Given that the pair was staring directly at them there was no doubt the shades knew who they were. The Cascade pair bowed their heads and received bows in return. Content that there was no danger from the living pair the others faded as they went back to their own appointed duties.
"If they were as close as we are we should find them buried near each other," Blair whispered.
Jim nodded. "Their uniforms looked maybe Vietnam era. But Maude said the cemetery didn't open until 2005."
"They made a choice to be as they were when they were strong enough to protect the tribe."
The Sentinel shifted and stood closer to his Guide; Sandburg knew that meant he was about to share something. "My senses were online after the crash – the instincts to protect too. It tore me up as they died, in more ways than I can describe."
No words were required. Sandburg just worked on his instinct to protect and care for the Sentinel. A shift and an arm wrapped around the back of the older man. A dip of the head to lay a cheek on the curly head. Comfort given without thought and received with gratitude.
"I'll check after we're done to see if he's here," Ellison said quietly as he moved away from his Guide.
"We'll pay our formal respects to the other Pair too." Sandburg fell into step with his partner and headed for the maintenance buildings.
Ellison stopped and turned to his Shaman. "You know where they are?"
"I will by the time we're done. It would only right for a visiting Pair to pay their respects." Encountering a bonded Pair in Chicago had taught them all how to properly enter another's territory and how to properly welcome visitors.
The Sentinel smiled as his earlier tension lessened. "Of course."
The work was easy. Bucket of water from the spout by the section and a soft bristle scrub brush were all that was required. Jim and Blair were working on their first row when someone called out they had a headstone with a chip. A voice in another row of the section asked for a number and wrote down the information.
Ellison straightened and watched the others in their section. A father with two children made sure he kept his kids focused on the task by having them read each name.
"Daddy, there's a name on the back of this one."
The father moved over to the stone. "That's the Navy man's wife. They are together."
"She died first," the young daughter observed. "Then he died, uhm."
"Four months later."
"He didn't want to be without her like Granpapa."
The Sentinel shifted his gaze to a woman in another row as she stopped in front of a headstone, bowed her head and touched the stone. Then after a moment she cleaned the stone and repeated the process at the next one.
Ellison turned to see Maude and Harold working in their row, doing the same thing. He had noticed that at first some people just worked without pausing to read the stone. After the first few even those who thought it was just work to do stopped for a moment to read the stone.
Conversations were hushed and once a while there was laughter as someone read the epitaph. The person resting there would receive a little extra attention and the worker would joke a bit with the next headstone about the neighbor. For a brief amount of time those resting here gained extra family members who took a moment to think of them.
"Yeah, Chief?" Ellison had just returned with refilled buckets of water.
"I think we'll find them over there." Sandburg pointed to a section across the road from where they were working. "That section looks different from this one. The headstones look like they're placed closer together."
"Hmm. We'll ask Maude and Harold when we're done."
The sun had come out and was warming everyone up as they stood outside enjoying their hot dogs. "I'm really not much of a hot dog fan, but these are really good," Blair commented.
Harold laughed. "Everything tastes better after a job well done."
After a few moments Ellison spoke up. "Maude? Why does that section, uhm, 4 I think it is, look different?"
"Section 4 is in-ground internment for cremains."
"Oh." Jim and Blair exchanged a glance that said everything for them.
"Do you know someone in 4?"
Sandburg stepped in. "I just have a feeling that we might know someone there. A friend of a friend kind of thing. You know, someone mentioned something."
Maude smiled in a knowing way. "After the Memorial Day service this year I wondered over to Section 10. I found a childhood neighbor." She gathered up her trash and looked to her husband. "We'll say our goodbyes now so you boys take all the time you need. You stop by and see us on your way back down." Handing her wrappers to her husband she gave them both a strong hug then stepped away, blushing.
Harold held out his empty hand. "Thank you for coming to see us. We'll let Abby know that she picked some good friends." His smile was broad and his eyes were just a bit damp.
"Thanks Harold. We would definitely like stop by on our way back."
Ellison and Sandburg waved off Harold and Maude then turned to the administration building.
"Do you want to see if your man is here?"
With a shrug the senior detective headed for the door. "Would second guess myself later if we didn't look."
After scanning the list of similar last names, "not here." The tone was a hint of disappointment and relief.
"You know, Jim, I think there might be a national registry now. We can check when we get home."
"Ok." They headed out the door to let the next person do their search.
Jim stood straight and gazed over to the section where his Shaman felt the other Pair. "Are you ready?"
"Yeah." The voice was steady even if there was nervous energy in the body. Sandburg started down the road towards the section.
They had just started their search when Blair straightened and looked towards the rear of the section. He saw the shades of the Pair standing behind headstones. "Up there, Jim."
Without comment Ellison led the way. They paused at the end of the row, waiting for permission to proceed.
The sentinel shade bowed his head to invite the Cascade Pair closer. Sentinel and Guide stood opposite their counterparts and bowed their heads. The shades acknowledged the greeting, accepted the visitors then faded away.
The Shaman considered the stones. "They died on the same day." His Sentinel merely nodded. "April 20, 2007."
"They did serve in Vietnam."
Sandburg read the epitaphs, "'Guide and I shall lead', he's the sentinel. 'Lead and I shall guide', and he's the guide. Do you think they were there until the end? Making sure the tribe was safe."
"Probably. First in, last out."
The Guide turned to his Sentinel. "If we were serving?"
"Yeah. We would scout ahead and then defend the rear." The Sentinel cast his gaze around the cemetery. The early afternoon was warming under the clear sky. "We do that now, Chief. Any call out to an active scene we're right there. And every case we work we are like the 'last out'."
Blair looked around them. "Do you think their families knew what they were and made sure they stayed together?"
"I think so." Jim's gaze remained on the sentinel's stone. "Or once they knew," he waved his hand at the two stones, "they wrote in their wills to be buried together if possible."
"And the inscriptions?"
"Wrote those too probably. We won't know for sure."
"True." There was a hint of the researcher in his voice. "No, I won't do any research on them or try to find their families. But we will remember them on Memorial Day."
The Sentinel nodded. Hearing the cry of a hawk he looked up at the sky. The day was moving on and they should be back on the road. With no more warning to his partner then moving to stand at attention Ellison said goodbye to the Pair. "I leave the watch in your hands, my brothers."
Last recorded casualties of the Vietnam War, in Vietnam, April 29, 1975
Cpl. Charles McMahon, USMC
LCpl. Darwin Judge, USMC
VA operates 136 national cemeteries and 33 soldiers' lots and monument sites in 40 states and Puerto Rico. More than 4 million Americans, including Veterans of every war and conflict, are buried in VA's national cemeteries. VA also provides funding to establish, expand, improve and maintain 112 Veterans cemeteries in 48 states and territories including tribal trust lands, Guam, and Saipan. For Veterans not buried in a VA national cemetery, VA provides headstones, markers or medallions to commemorate their service. In 2017, VA honored more than 361,892 Veterans and their loved ones with memorial benefits in national, state, tribal and private cemeteries. - From the National Cemetery Administration website
Great Lakes National Cemetery is located in Holly, Michigan. The cemetery was established in 2005 and dedicated in 2007. As of May 2019 over 34,000 have been interred there. The Great Lakes National Cemetery Advisory Council sets up the volunteer activities like the twice yearly Headstone Cleaning.
Other cemeteries and soldiers' lots in Michigan: Fort Custer National Cemetery, near Kalamazoo; Fort Mackinac Post Cemetery, Mackinac State Park, Mackinac Island; Lakeside Cemetery Soldiers' Lot, Port Huron; and Grand Rapids Home for Veterans Cemetery, Grand Rapids.
Holly, Michigan is a great little town and home to the Michigan Renaissance Festival, and the Dickens Old Fashioned Christmas Festival. I don't know if there is a Tommy's in town but there could be a place like it. All characters are fictitious; any similarities to persons living or dead is purely coincidental - though Harold and Maude are loosely based on Gold Star Parents I met at GLNC (their son was killed in action in Afghanistan 2010).