by Kristine Williams
Jim folded the last file back up and set it in his outbox with a satisfied sigh, then checked the clock on the wall beside him. Just after noon. He had another two hours before he had to leave, and the smell of pepperoni, black olives, green peppers and extra cheese wafting out from Simon's office was just too much to take. He stood, picked up a report so he wouldn't look too obvious, and knocked on the Captain's door.
"Enter." Simon's usual bark held a note of humor as he hung up the phone.
"Here's that forensics report on the Wiley case, Captain."
"Thanks." He waved a pizza laden hand toward the seat Jim was standing beside. "Have a seat, Jim. Want some lunch?"
"What is that, pepperoni?" Casually, Jim arched his eyebrows at the box.
"You know damn well it is." Simon laughed. "Go ahead, help yourself. I was about to invite you in anyway."
"Thanks, Simon." Jim picked up a large piece of the still warm pie, dripping with grease and melted cheese. "Sandburg would hate this."
Simon chuckled around a mouthful of crust. "Does he still avoid pizza?"
"Nah, not too much." Jim lifted the slice to his mouth and took a large bite, savoring the flavors as well as the sensations. "He likes to make you think he hates junk food, but now and again you can catch him eating his share."
"How's your week alone going? Must be nice to have the place to yourself, huh?"
"It was. I pick him up in another two hours." Jim finished his piece and reached for another. He could have told Simon how being alone again after so much time with a housemate had been strangely lonely, but he didn't think he'd understand. There wasn't a lot about Blair the Captain understood.
"You're ready for this trial, right, Jim?" Simon sat back and pulled a cigar out of his shirt pocket.
His mouth full, Jim nodded.
"This is one case I thought would never come about." He struck a match and pulled life into the cigar. "What's it been, six...nine months since the arrest?"
Smoke curled up to the ceiling in slow motion. "The Prosecutor went through three assistants, trying to get one who couldn't be scared off."
Jim shrugged, wiping his fingers on a napkin. "Can't blame them, I guess. Going up against the Burgini family usually proves fatal."
"Yeah, but this time we've got them dead to rights."
Shaking his head, Jim tossed the napkin into the empty pizza box. "Not all of them, Captain. We may have taken the leaders down, but this family had quite a few extended members."
"Just you keep your eyes and ears open during this trial. You're testifying too, you know. And after bringing down Don Burgini himself, anyone looking for revenge is going to have that in mind."
Jim sighed, but then to appease the Captain, he nodded. This was something he'd heard before, many times. Taking down the head of a mob family, and then the family itself, always made a target out of every cop, lawyer, and anyone else involved. That threat just served to strengthen the need to have them prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
"Listen, I'd better get out to the airport and pick up Sandburg. His plane's due in from Toronto and traffic around that place is hell this time of day." Jim stood, nodding toward the desk. "Thanks for the pizza, Simon."
"Anytime. When's your partner taking off again?" Simon grinned mischievously.
Jim shook his head and left, ignoring the Captain's final question. He'd always liked the man well enough, but there were times when Simon's attitude toward Blair could rub him the wrong way. He still seemed to be waiting for the day when Jim would no longer need his new partner, and this Sentinel thing would take care of itself. One of these days he'd get tired of waiting and give up. Or not.
Traffic was heavy, as Jim expected. The drive to the airport used up his two hour window, putting him at the curb just in time to see Blair collecting his luggage inside. He put the tag identifying his truck as a police vehicle on duty on the dashboard, parked a few cars down from the main doors, and got out.
Blair's gaze caught Jim's as he entered the glass doors, beaming back at him from the customs desk. When they finished with him and his luggage, he was able to join his partner.
"Hey, Chief. How was the conference?" Jim reached out and took Blair's suitcase, leaving him just the large pack he'd carried on.
"Oh, man, it was great!" Blair's enthusiasm, obviously not dulled by a six hour plane flight, shone through his smile and animated gestures. "The speakers were fantastic, and Dr. Stoddard was there with some of his findings from Borneo."
They reached the truck and Blair climbed in, stuffing his bag on the floor while Jim set the case in the back and secured it with a bungee cord.
"Dr. Stoddard, huh? I thought he said he might not come." Jim started the truck and stuffed the parking permit in the visor.
"I know, but he made it after all." Blair glanced over his shoulder at the oncoming traffic, a habit he'd picked up in the last couple of months. "He gave a great lecture all afternoon on Tuesday, then we spent some time together going over old days and new subjects. It was great, man, I wish you could have been there."
"Yeah, that's something I need. Five days of lectures on the significance of some carved figure used in fertility rituals or something."
Blair laughed, shaking his head. "That's funny, Jim. You've been practicing."
Jim had to suppress his own laughter and nearly failed.
"You know full well what this conference was about," Blair continued unabashed. "I'd love for you to meet Dr. Stoddard, and this would have been the perfect time. He'll be in Borneo for another year at least, the way things are going."
"You want me to meet Dr. Stoddard?"
"Yeah. He's read some of my papers, and I told him all about you and this research. I think--"
"Whoa, hold on there, Chief." Jim glanced at Blair, but had to look back at traffic again almost immediately. "You've told him about me?"
"Well, yeah." Blair's eyebrows creased for a moment as he turned more to face Jim. "He's an anthropologist, Jim, not a reporter or master criminal heading for Cascade." Laughing, Blair reached out and slapped Jim's arm. "Relax, man. We were just two researchers talking about work."
"Sandburg, you know I'm not comfortable about this whole research subject thing." They reached a red light and Jim was able to turn to Blair, facing an expression of extreme tolerance for a story he'd heard a hundred times and still had every intention of ignoring. "I just can't warm up to the idea of people talking about me like I'm some rare species of plant or something."
Blair laughed, shaking his head. "Jim, I've published several papers already, you knew that."
The light turned green and Jim pulled out. "Yeah, Lee Brackett read one, remember?"
"I know, I know. Don't remind me." Blair held up a hand. "But it's not like this conference was about you. In fact, Dr. Stoddard is the only one I discussed it with."
Jim sighed, but gave up the argument. He didn't want to upset his friend after such a good trip, and he did, after all, agree to be studied. They just so rarely discussed his Sentinel senses on a research basis, it was easy to ignore the entire subject. And being referred to as an itwas something he could easily bristle at, if he let himself.
"So, you had a good time?"
"Yeah, I did." Blair seemed undaunted by the brief resurgence of an old argument. "What about you? Is there a case I need to catch up on?"
"More like a trial. The Burgini murders are up next week." Jim pulled into an open spot outside the loft and parked. "This is gonna be very high profile and probably pretty nasty."
"Oh, man, and you're a key witness, aren't you?" Blair reached out and grabbed Jim's arm, keeping him from getting out of the truck.
"I was the undercover officer on the case, Chief, but not the only witness."
"Yeah, I know, but..I mean, this could be dangerous, couldn't it? I heard there were still family members out on bail."
Jim reached out and removed Blair's hand from his forearm. "Sandburg, can we go inside and talk? It's gonna rain any minute now."
"Oh, right, sure." Blair grabbed his bag and Jim removed the suitcase from the back of the truck. That same instant the sky opened with a crack, dumping huge drops of rain in what promised to be an all night downpour.
They ran inside, but not before being drenched. Blair's hair was already sticking to his face and neck when they reached the door, and a river of wetness was making its way down the center of Jim's back. The roar of rain and thunder outside the hallway was abruptly cut off by the elevator doors.
"Well, welcome home, partner." Jim set Blair's suitcase down and flicked water off his arms while his friend pulled the hair away from his eyes.
"Great. It was snowing in Toronto, you know. It's incredible the way snow can mute all the harshness of a big city, transforming it into something almost soft and alien."
Jim eyed the younger man with eyebrows raised, recognizing instantly the look of a man who was about to regale you with tales of wonder that you may have missed in your everyday life. What the hell. He'd been missing this the last few days. As the doors opened, disgorging them into their hallway, Blair continued.
"Have you ever been to Toronto, Jim?"
"No, I haven't." He opened the front door and had to give his distracted partner a gentle nudge into the loft.
"Oh, man, it's huge. It's like New York, only clean. The perfect place to study just about any urban sociological pattern. A modern day culturalist's paradise."
"Uh-huh." Jim held out a hand for Blair's dripping wet coat. "Are you hungry? I was going to make sandwiches. There's a game on tonight."
"Oh, yeah, that's fine. Just let me take a shower first," Blair called out from his room, where his bag and suitcase were deposited with loud thumps. "I feel all grimy."
"Grimy? From a week in your culturalist's paradise?" Jim teased.
"From six hours in coach on a packed plane," Blair replied, heading for the bathroom.
Clothes were tossed out of the open bathroom door, falling short of their mark as usual. Jim picked up the jeans and shirt, then found the boxers and socks that were tossed out next, and set them on Blair's bed. He could have gone a couple more weeks and not missed this. He made sandwiches to the sound of the shower running and the rain pounding outside.. Smells of salami, cheese, and mayonnaise mixed with mango and green tree bark.
The past week had been a nice break in Jim's routine, a quiet oasis in what had become a new life this past year. But as nice as it seemed to have the loft to himself, it felt odd, too. He'd grown accustomed to having someone there to talk over the day with, work out problems and puzzles of the job. The only reason he'd been able to enjoy it as much as he had, was knowing it was for only a week.
With sandwiches made, Jim got two beers and took dinner out to the coffee table. When he walked in to use the bathroom, Blair's arm snaked out from behind the curtain feeling for a towel.
"Here." Jim grabbed a clean one and placed it in Blair's searching hand. But he didn't let that hand pull back in. "Sandburg, what the hell is this?" The inside of Blair's arm was purple with bruises, speckled here and there with small, needle-sized scabs.
"Oh, that." Blair retrieved the towel with his other hand, since Jim wasn't letting go of his right wrist. "They had a blood drive at the University, and we all did our civic duty. I got a trainee."
Reluctantly, Jim let Blair pull his arm back in, still eyeing the marks. "That looks like it hurts, Chief."
"Yeah, it did." The curtain flew open and Blair stepped out, wrapped in the towel. "It's just sore now, no big deal. They do this every time there's a conference, plays on our sense of academic social guilt."
Jim laughed shortly, then shook his head. "I'd say you paid your dues for a while now. Dinner's on the coffee table. The game comes on in ten."
"Great." Blair pulled another towel off the rack for his hair, then crossed to his room to dress while Jim used the bathroom.
He was still pulling on sweats when Jim turned on the television and got comfortable on the couch, ready for a nice night at home with a hockey game inside and a storm raging outside. Blair joined him as the game began, shoving the sleeves of his sweatshirt halfway up his arms before reaching for his plate.
"Man, I should have put some money on this game."
"Sandburg." Jim gave his partner a stern look and was met with a very innocent one. "And don't give me any of that "victimless crime" crap. This is exactly the type of thing that gives mob families like the Burginis their start."
"Jim, I've never once had my legs broken, or even borrowed money." Blair reached for his beer. "You've seen me at the tracks, man, I go about this very logically and with great caution."
"Not everyone does, Chief."
"I realize that. But I have never, ever bet anything I didn't have or wasn't willing to lose."
Jim lifted a hand to further his argument regarding the crime his partner kept admitting to, when the entire loft was plunged into darkness. Instantly, Jim was on full alert. Sentinel vision compensated immediately, and sensitive ears searched the vicinity for any sound.
"Oh, man, the whole block must be out."
Lightning flashed again outside, followed quickly by a loud crack of thunder. Jim's ears picked up the unmistakable crackling of a transformer in distress several blocks down the road, as well as several of his neighbors lamenting the situation. Relaxing, he set his plate on the table and stood.
"Hang on, I'll get some candles. We'd better get a fire going, it's gonna get cold tonight."
"I'll get it."
Within minutes, they had several candles and a fire lit, casting a warm glow around the darkened loft. Lights from the fire trucks down the block could be seen from the balcony as the repair crews worked on the damaged transformer.
"Looks like it's gonna be out all night." Jim pulled out a radio and found the hockey game, then sat back down on the couch with Blair.
It didn't take long for his team to lose.
"See, Chief, aren't you glad you didn't have money on this one?" Jim put the radio away and stretched out on the couch with a second beer, facing his friend, who sat at the other end of the couch, holding his second drink while the sleeves of his sweatshirt fell back down his shorter arms.
"No, Jim, I should have. I was gonna bet the other team."
Jim shook his head in disgust.
"It fits, man. They just came off a three day break, their goalie is at the top of his career and they've got the advantage this season with better draft picks."
"You know, Sandburg, if you keep confessing these crimes like this, one of these days I'm going to have to do my civic duty and take you in."
Blair laughed, pushing back hair that was still slightly damp from his shower. "Listen, Jim, about this trial."
"Is anything being done? I mean, to ensure your safety, and the other witnesses'?" Blair feigned a casual attitude by following the questions with a long pull on his beer, but the anxiety behind his voice was obvious.
"Everything's gonna be fine, Chief. This isn't the first time a mob family has faced the courts."
"Yeah, and it's not the first time cops and witnesses have been killed to keep them from testifying." All assumption of a casual air was abandoned.
"Blair, first of all there haven't been any real threats yet. Nothing other than the usual scare tactics directed at the prosecutor. And second, after all we've been through in the past, I think I'm capable of looking after myself."
Apparently satisfied, Blair nodded, then finished his beer. "Are we going in tomorrow?"
"Half a day." Jim stood, reaching out for his partner's empty bottle, then took both to the trash. "Sleep in. We have an appointment with the DA just after lunch, then we'll see what else is up."
"Great, I think the trip is catching up to me." On his way to the bathroom, Blair pushed his sleeves up again, then winced and stopped in the hall, looking at his right arm.
"Hey, let me see that again." Jim adjusted his vision in the dark hallway, noting how many puncture wounds lined the inside of Blair's elbow. With Sentinel sense of touch, he ran one fingertip lightly over the marks. "She really did a job here, Chief. Feels like she hit the vein with each try."
Wincing slightly, Blair nodded. "Yeah, well she'd hit, then pull right back out." He winced at another touch and pushed Jim's hand away, pulling the sleeve back down. "Like I said, I think she was new." He continued into the bathroom and Jim shook his head.
"Keep an eye on that. You might want to put some ice on it tonight." The toilet flush was his only reply. Jim returned to the living room and blew out all but one candle, which he took into Blair's room. He had to clear off a spot on the cluttered nightstand, and move the powerless lamp so the shade wouldn't catch on fire while his housemate used the light to change out of his clothes.
"Oh, thanks, man." Blair yawned, pulling off the sweatshirt.
"Good night, Chief." Jim gave his back a gentle pat as he left the dark room, receiving a tired nod in reply.
The light from the fire and his sensitive vision led him safely up the stairs to his room. Outside, the storm was easing off, flashing lightning only occasionally now in the distance as the fury blew out over the bay. Jim shed his clothes quickly, suddenly realizing how tired he was after such a long week. Climbing into the bed, his ears automatically sought out the sounds below. Sounds he'd searched for all week but hadn't found while Blair was gone. Now he heard them, soft beatings and a steady, rhythmic flow that spoke of sleep and peace. Jim lay awake, staring up at the ceiling as the orange glow from the dying embers danced over the bricks.
His friend's concern for his safety was valid, but until an actual threat was received, he wasn't going to panic. Of course, having Blair home right when the trial was about to start might not have been the best timing. He wasn't a witness in this case, since the case had started before they met. Before Jim knew he had any sensory abilities. Before his life had changed so dramatically.
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