by Kristine Williams
Looking through the crowd, Blair couldn't help but wonder how the visitors had taken to their countries' artifacts not being on display as they had been led to believe. He really wanted to avoid Professor Peters for as long as he could, until this little gathering was well over.
"There's Peters, over in the left corner. Talking to Professor Kinyon." Blair grinned, knowing that might help keep him from having to once again apologize for the display room being closed. "And there's Jason Albright, standing by the podium with Klarissa Swanson. Two out of four."
"Lets take them first then." Jim headed over to the students, once again pulling out his ID. "My name is Detective Ellison. I'd like to ask you a few questions."
"This is about the display being broken into, isn't it?" Jason Albright, a mousy, short young man with way too many teeth glanced from Jim to Blair. "I thought that was drugs or something?"
"That's what we're trying to determine." Jim looked from him to Klarissa. "I understand the two of you were part of the planning committee that arranged the shipment and display?"
Blair watched Jim as he was asking the question, but quickly turned his attention to Klarissa and Jason to catch their reactions. Each student looked to the other before replying, and Blair once again wondered what a young, very pretty girl like Klarissa saw in Jason that kept them constantly within 3 feet of each other.
"Well, we were on the committee. But I didn't have anything to do with the shipment, or even the artifacts. That was all in Blair's hands, really," Klarissa explained, looking to Blair for confirmation.
Blair nodded slightly and glanced at Jim who was looking at Jason, waiting for his reply.
"She's right," he answered, swallowing compulsively. "I only arranged lunch, myself. I think Manny and Dave had a little more to do with the guests, but I didn't have much to do."
"Yeah, Manny Johnson and Dave Scott," Blair supplied. Those were the other two on the list. Aside from himself, of course. "They should be around here somewhere." He glanced around the room again, finding Professor Peters still engaged, or rather, cornered, by Professor Kinyon.
"They snuck out a few minutes ago." Klarissa pointed through the window and across the campus. "Said they had to study, so I expect they went back to the dorm."
"Can you two tell me where you were this morning around 1AM?"
Blair had been watching Jason when Jim asked the question, and the sudden flush of his face was obvious. "I, uh, that is, we were--"
"Studying. In the library. Mrs. Dayton let us in after hours, since I do part time clean up for her on weekends." Klarissa recovered more quickly and Jason's stammering came to a halt.
"I assume she can verify this?"
"Yes, she can, I'm sure."
"Thank you. We'll be in touch." Jim nodded at Blair and walked toward the door, giving the corner with Professor Kinyon a wide berth.
Blair gave them a passing nod, then followed his partner out to the hall. "They're probably telling the truth, Jim. The two of them have been together for some time."
"Is there any way to prove their claim?"
"Yeah, actually, the library has a security camera. I guess they'd be on that." Blair glanced up and down the hall for any sign of the inebriated gargoyles. They were gone.
"Okay, we'll check that out later. Lets go have a talk with these last two."
Blair pointed down the hallway that would lead them in the right direction. "There's no way either of these guys is in on it."
"Oh?" Jim held open the door at the end of the corridor and Blair nodded as walked out.
"Picture me, with short hair and extreme single-minded dedication." He indicated the path to the dorms and they continued.
"That's not so hard to picture." Jim grinned. "Well, the hair maybe."
"Jim, I'm serious. I just can't fathom either of these guys involved in drugs. Or that pair."
"Is there anyone you can fathom, Chief?" Jim reached out to open the dorm doors. "Look, I realize these people are friends and acquaintances of yours, but when it comes to crime, it takes all kinds. Besides, I'd've thought you'd learned your lesson by now."
"Yes, Jim, I have." Blair led the way to the elevator and pressed the button. "I just can't picture any of them doing this, that's all." The doors opened and they got in, then ascended to the fifth floor. "And I know, I'm probably wrong. For all I know, they're up there right now cutting this stuff, or packaging it, or whatever."
Jim laughed slightly and patted Blair on the back as the elevator doors opened. "If that's true, Chief, I promise not to say I told you so."
"Great." Blair led the way to the end of the hall, then knocked on room 512.
The young, dark-haired man who opened the door was taller than Blair. Very clean-cut, wearing jeans, and a university sweatshirt. "Yes? Oh, Blair, what's up?"
"Manny, this is Detective Ellison." Blair motioned to Jim, who produced his ID.
"I'd like to ask you a few questions."
"Certainly, Officer." Manny stepped aside and motioned for them both to enter. "Please, come in. This is my roommate, David Scott."
Blair followed, nodding to the young man sitting at a desk, wearing almost the identical outfit. The pair looked so similar most days, it was difficult to believe they weren't twins.
"I assume this is about that break in?" David asked as he stood, watching Jim and Blair enter the room. He tossed a pen he'd been holding down to the book that lay open on the desk and looked from Blair to Jim.
"I understand the two of you were part of the group that arranged the function tonight?" Jim's question included both young men now that they were standing side by side.
Blair remained silent while Jim inquired as to their involvement, which was limited to extending invitations, arranging hotels, transportation, and other details involved with guests visiting from other countries. They then explained, with great courtesy and helpfulness, that during the crime in question, they were attending an all night study group, comprised of 12 students, whose names, addresses, and phone numbers were given over before Jim could even request them.
By the time they left, Blair was tempted to say, I told you so, but he refrained.
"Okay, Chief, you win." Jim pushed the elevator button and looked at Blair. "We'll have a look at the library security tape tomorrow morning, to confirm the other two."
"Yeah, that's great. But it kinda puts us back to square one, doesn't it?" He followed Jim onto the elevator.
"We still have the man in the shipping department, Harry Bilks. And we can't rule out the Professors."
Blair shook his head, but he knew better than to argue. As wrong as he felt Jim's suggestion was, he did have a point. "I hope you're wrong, Jim."
"So do I." They stepped off the elevator and walked out of the building, heading back toward the social sciences building parking lot. "We'll come back in the morning to talk to him, then Professor Peters again. Meantime..."
Jim cut himself off, raising one hand. Recognizing the look on his partner's face, Blair stopped. Rather than interrupt by asking Jim what he was hearing, Blair waited, looking around the dark campus.
"Come on." Jim pulled Blair by the arm and hurried over the grass, toward the grounds maintenance building.
"What? Jim, what did you hear?" Blair pressed himself against the building behind Jim as they reached a side door.
"I'm not sure." He paused, then drew his gun. "I smell talcum powder." He glanced back at Blair. "Unless they're using talc to kill weeds these days, we may have just found our stash."
Blair nodded and looked around quickly. "Shouldn't we call for backup?"
"No time. Sounds like two people heading out another door. Stay behind me! Jim suddenly lunged forward, pushing through the unlocked door.
Before Blair could tell him there was no other door, they were inside the darkened room.
A spotlight blinded them. Blair heard movement, then someone barreled into him, knocking him into Jim and sending them both crashing into a low table. Before he could recover, the door slammed shut.
Blair rolled over and scrambled to his feet, reaching out to help Jim up as well. From that angle, the tractor's spotlight was no longer blinding. "Jim, are you okay?"
The table they had fallen over was covered in empty plastic bags, a small scale, and some white powder. Much of which was now coating Jim's sweatshirt jacket and face. Powder he was frantically trying to brush off.
"Oh, man!" Blair reached out and tried to help. "Jim, don't inhale!" His partner nodded, holding his breath, then quickly removed his coat and used the inside of it to wipe his face.
"I'm okay, I'm okay." He tossed the jacket aside, breathing in suddenly, then looked for his gun.
"Jim, was that cocaine or talcum powder?" Blair's adrenaline was increasing, not decreasing. If that was the drug, there was no way Jim could have avoided absorbing a substantial amount. The first two times he'd been affected, the drug wasn't even visible. But if this was--if he'd just-- "Jim, hang on." The gun was on the floor several feet away, and Blair reached out for it.
"Sandburg, give me the gun. I'm fine." Jim held out his hand, still wiping at the side of his face with one hand. "Come on, they're getting away!" Blair almost instinctively held out the gun, but Jim had turned and was trying the door. It was locked. "Dammit!"
"Jim, you'll find them again." Blair's mind raced through the possible consequences if his friend had just absorbed that much cocaine. There was no way for him to hear Jim's heartrate, but his own was increasing. "I'm more worried about you right now. We need to get you to a hospital just in case." Blair knew there wouldn't be time, if Jim had indeed just taken a large dose.
Jim's hands flew up, shielding his eyes from the light. Before Blair could react, the gun was wrenched from his hand and a shot exploded next to his head.
"Jim!" The spotlight shattered, plunging the room into darkness. Blair reached out to clutch the wheel of the lawn tractor beside him. "Come on, Jim, just take it easy." He could hear breathing, and as his eyes adjusted to the dark, shapes began to form. Jim stood a few feet away, rubbing his eyes, gun still in hand. Oh God! It was taking effect immediately, just as he'd feared. But how much had Jim absorbed? And what would the effects be? Blair's mind sped through what little he knew of cocaine and its stimulant properties. What his Sentinel friend had been exposed to, cut with talcum powder or not, would be the equivalent of an overdose in anyone else. He had to get Jim to a hospital.
But first he had to get that gun out of his hands. "Jim, man, come on. It's okay, the light's off." Blair straightened up and took a step forward, better able to see in the moonlight that drifted in from one window behind him. "Why don't you give me the gun? We can go to the hospital, get you checked out. Okay?" God, was he doing this right?
"No!" Jim's hand lashed out, catching Blair high on the cheek with the butt of his gun.
The ground rushed up, slamming into his shoulder. Blair's head was spinning, but he was able to cling to one thought. Move! He rolled quickly to one side as he heard the gun cock. A bullet burst the tire of the tractor. Shit! Blair scrambled to his feet, heart racing, head pounding violently from the blow. His vision was blurred, but he could see Jim holding both hands to his ears, grimacing in pain. The cocaine heightened all of his already hyperactive senses.
"Jim, take it easy." Blair kept his voice very quiet, not wanting to add to already excruciatingly painful sounds. "It's the cocaine, Jim. Just try to block out what you can, and we'll get you to a hospital." He had to stop as a wave of dizziness hit. "Come on, man, trust me." Blair was trying desperately to remember how Jim had talked him down from the hood of that car, but his memory of that time was so sketchy and mixed up, he had no idea if he was doing this right. All he could recall was the tone of Jim's voice, and his own desperate need to listen to it.
Jim shook his head. In the moonlight, Blair saw anger flash through his eyes. He had just enough time to throw himself behind a bin of cut grass before the gun fired. The bullet screamed over his head as he hit the floor.
Blair's heart nearly stopped. He pressed himself against the metal bin, and held his breath, waiting for another shot, the one that would penetrate the thin box and go straight through his body. But instead of a bullet, Jim's gun flew across the room and hit the wall
opposite Blair. At the sound of metal hitting brick, he heard Jim's sharp intake of breath and realized the sudden noises must be like thunder to his drug-influenced senses. Blair almost wished his heart would stop. Its rapid beating was just adding to Jim's agony.
"Jim, it's okay, man," he whispered, directing his voice away from his partner as he tried to regain some control over his own shattered nerves. "The lights are out, the loud noises are over. Just take it easy." Slowly, cautiously, Blair eased himself around and up on his feet. The room darkened again as a cloud passed in front of the moon. But he could still make out Jim, holding his ears and shaking his head slowly, eyes clamped tightly shut.
"I can't block it out." Jim's voice was pained, his breathing heavy.
Blair took some small comfort in the fact that the gun was across the room and approached slowly, trying very hard to keep as quiet as possible. "I know, Jim. Just concentrate. It's the drug." He realized then that Jim didn't need a gun. He could probably kill Blair with his bare hands. No, he could easily kill Blair with his bare hands. "It should wear off quickly." I hope. Blair was standing next to him now, and he carefully reached out to touch his arm. "Jim."
"I can't concentrate." His voice was quiet. "My head, I--I can't think."
Blair's heart skipped a beat. He glanced at the locked door. "Jim, it'll pass. The drug, it's making you confused and agitated." Great, now he remembers the effects! " Just--think happy thoughts." God, that's great, Sandburg. He talks you off the hood of a car, with a gun, and you tell him to think happy thoughts? Under the hand Blair was still resting on Jim's arm, he felt the tension suddenly build. "Jim, just breathe, take it easy, it will pass. Trust me."
Steel-blue eyes met Blair's and Jim pulled back. "Get away from me!"
Blair raised both hands and took a step back, but stopped there. "Jim, hey, you're fine, man." How was he supposed to handle this? Jim could kill him in an instant, and Blair knew that. He knew, now more than ever, that Jim Ellison wasn't someone he had any control over. In his right mind, he'd listen. But even without the added complication of drug exposure, he was no match physically for this man.
Jim turned away, then tried the door again with no luck. "Dammit, help me break this thing down!"
Blair stepped forward, holding a hand out. "I don't think that's a good idea." He kept his voice low and quiet, even though he felt anything but calm. "Jim, it's too bright and noisy out there. I think we should stay in here for just a little bit longer." There was no telling how long this was going to last, or how violent Jim might get. If Blair could just keep him concentrating, and keep him inside, they might get through this. But then, how much cocaine was still in this room? Was Jim receiving a continuous dose? If so, what the hell was he going to do?
Jim winced again and shook his head. "What is that sound?" He looked around frantically, in obvious pain.
"What, Jim? What sound?" He tried to sound helpful. How much of Jim's mind was being influenced, and how much was just over-stimulated, Blair had no way of knowing.
"A--a beating sound." Jim turned around, looking at Blair. He winced again, then his expression altered from pain to fury.
Blair just had time to register that change before Jim's fist struck his stomach with such force that it doubled him over. The pain didn't come right away, but the fear did. And the adrenaline that allowed Blair to try to pull out of Jim's grasp. Unfortunately, adrenaline was no match for Jim's strength. The fist returned, striking first the fingers of Blair's right hand as he clutched his stomach, then pounding into the soft flesh of his abdomen.
Jim let go, and Blair fell away, trying desperately to get a few feet of distance between them. When he straightened, his partner was once again holding his ears. Moonlight bathed Jim's face, blinding his sensitive eyes. That gave Blair the chance he needed. He had to get out of Jim's sight, but stay close enough to keep an eye on him.
As quickly as he could, Blair moved past the garden tractor, then squeezed behind a large bin stuffed with lawn trimmings and dirt. Once safely out of Jim's line of sight, he collapsed to the floor, both arms wrapped around his throbbing stomach. Oh God, oh God, what now? Jim was between Blair and the door. But even if it was unlocked, he'd never leave. How could he? He might be a failure at talking his partner down from a high, but he wasn't going to leave him. Blair's head was pounding, and the side of his face hurt where the butt of Jim's gun had hit. He thought he felt blood running down his cheek, but didn't really want to confirm that. There were more important things to worry about.
Like how much longer would Jim be affected like this? Was it going to get worse, or better? Was Jim overdosed, and if so, what would happen? Were these violent shifts in behavior normal, or some unpredictable Sentinel reaction, and if that were the case, what else might happen? And if I throw up, will that sound put him over the edge? Blair fought back the need to be sick with all his will. He was pretty sure there was nothing broken, and he wasn't coughing up blood. So, he shouldn't worry about anything, except Jim. Slowly, carefully, Blair edged his head around the corner of the box he was hiding behind. Jim sat on the floor, hands over his ears, his eyes tightly closed. Everything inside him told Blair to try and get to Jim, talk to him, do something to determine how badly Jim was affected, and try to help his friend through it.
But the pain in his face and stomach told him Jim wasn't someone he could handle, physically or emotionally. And the pain in his own head was keeping him from thinking clearly himself. He couldn't get through the confusion clouding Jim's mind. That realization hurt more than the bruises spreading deep within his abdomen.
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