Home > Kris Williams > China White

by Kristine Williams

Part 1

Jim's progress down the hall was slowed dramatically as students poured out of classrooms, filling the corridors. Some of the faces were beginning to look familiar, and he smiled at everyone who met his eyes while pushing past. With evening fast approaching, it didn't take long for the hallway to thin out, and Jim was able to close the gap between himself and Blair's office. There was just one more hurdle to get by, and he could hear her inside the lecture hall to his left, speaking with some young lady about mummification rituals. Just a few more yards, and he could duck into Blair's office, and be free and clear of...

"Detective! I haven't seen you in a few weeks. How are you?" Professor Kinyon and the two young ladies she was speaking with stepped into the hall.

Jim turned, smiling, and nodded to the three women. "Professor, always a pleasure." He spared the students a glance and smile. Their returning looks didn't go unnoticed, but neither did their age.

"Your reports are due in the morning, ladies." Professor Kinyon dismissed the pair with one wave of her hand, then turned back to Jim before either girl could speak. "And how have you been, Detective?"

Jim opened his mouth, expecting even as he did so that it would do no good. But she was looking at him, quietly expecting. He shook himself out of his surprise just short of rudeness. "I'm fine, thank you."

"That's wonderful." She shifted the heavy books she was holding from one arm to the other, then reached up to touch a pencil that poked out from behind a swatch of greying hair. "I was just thinking the other day how dull life can get sometimes. But I don't suppose you ever have that problem, do you, detective? I mean, what with all the crime going on, all the shootings, bullets flying, people found in alleys, behind buildings. Oh, I heard about one being discovered in his BMW parked out on Pike just last week. Passers-by thought the poor man was sleeping." She made a clucking sound with her teeth and shook her head. "Yes, that's the way I'll go, more than likely. Just have my stroke right there in front of God and everyone, and no one will be the wiser. Pigeons roosting on me all afternoon, people walking by. Although, I can think of worse ways to die. I mean, at least that way, you get your name in the papers for a day. Rather comical, when you think about it. Sad, but funny. Now there's a politically incorrect idea." She suddenly checked her watch and grimaced. "Speaking of incorrect, I have got to run and get these tests graded before it gets to be too late. My husband will be home in three hours and we're off to dinner. Well, it's been lovely talking to you again, detective. Always a pleasure."

Before Jim could register her goodbye she was touching his arm and walking away. "Nice to talk to you, too, professor." He watched her for a few seconds, once again marveling at the lung capacity of such a frail looking lady. No doubt the first indicator of her death would be a prolonged silence, something in the five minute range. Jim laughed slightly and continued down the now deserted corridor into Blair's office.

His partner was at the computer, glasses on, checking the information on a sheet of paper against what was on the screen. He looked up as Jim entered, and smiled. "Hey, Jim. I'm almost done."

Jim nodded and went straight for the coffee pot at the far end of the office. "No problem, Chief." He poured himself a cup of what smelled like fresh Guatemalan blend and found the milk Blair kept for him in the back of the little fridge.

"I heard Professor Kinyon in the hall." Blair set his paper down and looked at Jim, grinning. "Did she have much to say?"

Jim returned the milk to the fridge and rolled his eyes at Blair. "Does she ever?" He walked over to Blair as his friend laughed, and set his cup down on the desk.

"She's okay, Jim."

"I know that, Chief." Jim picked up a carved statue so he could sit on the desk where the clay figure had been. "I never said I didn't like her. She's just best taken in small doses." Blair nodded and looked back at his screen. Jim looked at the artifact in his hands, turning it around. "This one of your pals?"

Blair pulled off his glasses and sat back, looking at the statue as Jim held it. "That is Mobutu Denai. He's the god of prosperity. Part of the collection coming over from South Africa for that display the University is hosting."

"Oh, right. You guys have some little UN thing happening here next week." Jim examined the figure, running his fingers over the features. "What's this made of anyway?" It felt soft, almost like soapstone, but had the look of clay. Something about the feel of it was making Jim not want to put it down.

"It's a meeting of Cultural historians from around the world, not exactly the UN. And that's clay." Blair put his glasses back on and turned back to the computer. "I've got another shipment coming in tomorrow that I'm going to be unpacking and setting up all night."

Jim continued to run his fingers over the artifact, exploring each etch and nick. He'd never been interested in artifacts, but for some reason, this one was captivating his attention. He hadn't intended to open his senses completely just to feel up some clay god of prosperity, but this carving felt like no other he had ever touched. And the colors were vibrant, almost as if they'd been painted just then, and not many years ago.

"You know, Jim, if you like that one so much, you might want to help me tomorrow night. There'll be crates and crates of statues. You can touch them all while you help me unpack."

Jim gave Blair a dirty look and set the statue down, exchanging it for his coffee. "I've got a date tomorrow night. But thanks anyway."

He took a drink and Blair shut off his computer. "Okay, just give me a minute to get some papers and I'm ready to go."

"You up for Mexican food tonight?" Jim sipped the coffee and was astounded at the flavor. "Hey, Chief, where'd you get this coffee?"

"The same place I always get coffee. Why?" Blair shoved a handful of papers into a file cabinet and shut the drawer. "And Mexican's fine if it's TJ's."

Jim inhaled the steam from his cup and savored the rich aroma. "This must be a fresh batch or something. I've never tasted Guatemalan this good." He took another drink and let his senses try to identify every flavor. Normally, Jim didn't open his senses much to experience food, as spices could take on almost painful clarity. But there were some foods better enjoyed with full tactile and olfactory senses open. And for some reason, this coffee was turning out to be one of them.

"Glad you like it, Jim." Blair pushed the last of the file drawers shut, then picked up the statue of Mobutu Denai and placed it carefully back into a wooden crate that was brimming with shredded packing.

"I do." He finished the last of the coffee, letting the flavor coat his throat, feeling the hot liquid as it moved down his esophagus to warm his belly. Jim sighed, then set the cup down. "Let's go, Chief."

Blair looked from the cup to Jim and shook his head, but said nothing. Grabbing his pack, he followed his partner out of the office.

The parking lot had cleared quickly after the last round of classes, and was only beginning to fill up again prior to the next startup. Jim flexed his arms, cracking each knuckle in one motion.

"Oh, man, I hate when you do that." Blair grimaced and shook his head.

"I know." Jim was smiling. "God, I feel good tonight." The air was fresh and clear, and he was feeling almost euphoric. He glanced around, then up. "Look at that." There were stars everywhere above them. More stars than Jim could remember having seen in a long, long time. In the city, it was harder to see the night sky residents, but tonight was an exception. The air was warm, and a soft breeze caressed Jim's skin with the touch of a lover. He stopped then, closed his eyes, and waited for the wind to blow again.

"What's up, Jim?" Blair was beside him, looking puzzled as Jim opened his eyes again. "You feel okay, man?"

"Yeah, I feel great." Jim smiled and took a deep breath. "Everything's online tonight." A sudden thought struck him and he searched the sky, finding the moon. "Oh, man, look at that moon!"

Blair looked up, nodding. "Yeah, full tonight."

But it wasn't just full. Jim stared, noting for the first time all the colors his sensitive eyes could detect. The moon itself had never looked so complicated. "I can't believe how this looks. There's color there, Chief. Depth."

"Whoa, Jim, are you on Sentinel overload or something here?" Blair looked at Jim, then glanced around them both. "You're not about to change into a werewolf or anything, are you, buddy?"

Jim laughed, then looked away from the glowing orb and slapped Blair on the arm. "Don't worry, Chief. You've been staying up too late watching those old movies." They walked to the truck and Jim pulled the keys from his pocket. "I'm just feeling good tonight."

"Sounds like you're open to everything." Blair opened his door as soon as Jim unlocked it. "You don't usually do that, Jim."

He shrugged and started the truck. "Just enjoying myself, Sandburg. Anything wrong with that?" Backing out of the lot he heard crickets from the other side of the campus. Realizing how dangerous fully opened auditory senses could be, Jim tried to tone down a bit. But then he picked up on the smell of Mexican food from several blocks down.

"You're not coming down with something, are you, Jim?"

He laughed again and shook his head. "Would you relax? I'm just in a good mood. Enjoy it." Jim glanced at Blair. "I am." He made a left and inhaled deeply, picking out the scents of every restaurant on that street. Suddenly, a foul stench struck his nose, and Jim reeled back, eyes watering.

"What? What happened?" Blair's hand came out in concern, touching Jim's arm as his other hand instinctively reached for the dash.

"Oh, man!" Jim was squinting against the tears as he tried to turn his sense of smell as far down as possible. "Oh, god, I shouldn't have done that."


He shook his head and quickly rolled up the window. "I was taking in the smells. All the great restaurants on this strip. Really tuning in, you know?"

Blair started to nod. "Ah, and you remembered there's more out there than just food, right?"

Jim's eyes were still watering as he nodded. "Yeah."

Now it was Blair's turn to laugh. "Do we need to work on your control, Jim?"

"There's nothing wrong with my control, Chief. Just my timing." They pulled into the parking lot of TJ's. Jim took a hesitant sniff, and was rewarded with the smells of cooking meats and Mexican spices. Oddly, he felt less hungry than he had when he arrived at the University. But the fact that each and every odor was trying to identify itself fascinated him.

"Jim, are we eating, or just sitting here all night?"

"What?" He suddenly realized they'd been sitting in the truck for several minutes while he was picking out all the various smells and tastes on the air. "Sorry, Chief. Just experimenting." They got out and walked to the front doors.

"Experimenting?" Blair opened the large wooden door to the restaurant and Jim walked in ahead of him. "You sure you're okay, Jim?"

His answer was delayed while they were shown to a table. "I'm fine, Sandburg. I feel great. Why are you so determined to make an issue out of it?"

"Jim, I'm not making an issue out of anything. It's just not like you to experiment on your own." Blair paused while their drinks were brought over. "I can't even get you to try out a few things at home."

"Sorry, Chief. Just got in the mood all of a sudden." The waitress returned to take their order. Jim's appetite seemed to be returning, but it was only half what it had been an hour ago.

They ordered and enjoyed a quiet dinner filled with talk of their days. Jim continued to enjoy his senses, seemingly hyperactive tonight, even for him. But this time, he kept his observations to himself. No need for Blair to find reason to get all excited. He was just keyed up, that was all. Keyed up and enjoying himself.

And he deserved it, after an entire day in court, testifying in one of the longest, most drawn out cases he'd had to be involved in yet. And there promised to be another full day of dullness ahead. Blair would be all day at the University, and then most of the night unpacking and cataloging the various display pieces being shipped over for the cultural meeting. Good thing Jim had a date tomorrow night. Gave him at least one thing to look forward to.

By the time they finished dinner, Jim had finished his sensation-grabbing. He still felt good, but the euphoria that made him want to open up and stretch out was waning. As they returned to the truck, he glanced once again at the moon. The colors were still there, colors he was able to see when he opened up, but they were somehow less vibrant than they had been earlier.

"Jim, this lycanthropy trip is starting to make me nervous."

He shook his head and got in the truck. "That's weird."

"What's weird?" Blair was watching him, eyebrows creased.

"I don't know. Earlier the moon looked different, now it's not so clear." He started the truck and backed out of the lot.

"Jim, are you having some trouble with your senses? Something you're not telling me about?" Blair's voice took on a note of concern.

"No, Chief. I'm fine. Forget it." He pulled into traffic and tried to shake the odd feeling that maybe there was something going on.

"Jim, first you're all hypersensitive and loving it, now it's all back to normal? Maybe we should get you checked out. You could be coming down with something." Blair's concern was obvious now.

"Sandburg, I said I'm fine. Everything's normal." He glanced at his partner. "I won't be howling at the moon tonight, I promise."

"Jim, this could be serious. It could be indicative of something bigger that's just starting, or something you're coming down with. When did it start? What did you notice first? What if--"

Jim held up a hand to silence Blair's fretting. "Chief, I'm okay. I'll tell you if it happens again, how's that?"

Blair shook his head and rolled his eyes. "Sometimes it's like pulling teeth with you, man."

"I know the feeling." He grinned at Blair to take the sting out of that remark as he parked in front of the loft. "Come on, it's been a long day."

"Yeah, no kidding." Blair followed as they walked upstairs. "You going to be in court again all day?"

"Yep." Jim unlocked the door then tossed his keys to the table. "This should be it, though. There's only so many times I can tell them the same thing." He walked to the kitchen and pulled out a beer, then held it up with a questioning look. Blair nodded and he pulled out a second bottle. "The evidence will speak for itself, if they don't dissect it all to death." Jim twisted the tops off both bottles, then handed one to Blair and walked to the living room. "What about you? You coming in with me?"

Blair sat on the couch at the opposite end from Jim and shook his head. "No thanks, man. I hate court days. I've got a load of cataloguing to do, then I'll be up all night unpacking the artifacts that had better arrive tomorrow or my name is mud." He took a long drink of beer and Jim flipped on the TV. "If your date cancels out, you can help me set up the displays."

"Oh, yeah, that's a great way to spend an evening." Jim laughed and shook his head. "Don't you worry about me, Chief, I'll be just fine."

He flipped through the channels, then stopped at the classic movie station to sit through a commercial. When the ad for hemorrhoid cream finished, they were both rewarded with the second act of Psycho.

"Oh, man, I haven't seen this in years." Blair scrunched down a little on the couch, kicked off his shoes, and put his feet on the coffee table.

Jim shot him a dirty look, then conceded the comfort aspect and followed suit. "We need popcorn."

"Uh-huh." Blair took another drink and nodded, staring at the screen.

"Do we have any?" Jim's eyes were also transfixed on the woman preparing for her shower, but he detected his partner's nod out of the corner of his eye. He took another drink and tried to decide if he wanted popcorn badly enough to get up for it.

"Oh, don't go in there," Blair cautioned.

"She falls for it every time." Jim leaned back on the couch and decided to forgo the popcorn.

"Come on, can't you sense someone in the room?"

"She's just embezzled a fortune. She's been jumping at shadows all day."

They both grimaced as the young, attractive woman was stabbed, repeatedly, in surprisingly gruesome black and white.

They watched the rest of the film. Midway through, Blair finally got up and made popcorn, bringing it back to the couch with two more beers. When the movie was over, and Jim was lying in bed, unable to sleep, he remembered what the moon had looked like that evening at the campus. Rolling over in bed, he could just make out the bottom half of the glowing satellite from the upper windows of the loft. It looked the same as usual, with some coloration appearing when he concentrated. But the vibrance, the almost overwhelming sense of its presence, was gone.

All of his senses had seemed somehow intensified for a short time. But now everything was back to normal. Or at least what he called normal. He sighed and pressed his face back into the pillow. Maybe it was nothing. His imagination, something in the air, or just a good mood. Whatever it had been, it was gone. And as long as it didn't happen again, he could forget about it. More importantly, he could get Blair to forget about it.

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