by Kristine Williams
"No. She went up to talk to the Professor and I haven't seen her since." Harry wiped his nose then reached around the counter for a clipboard that held a huge stack of forms. "Here. Professor Peters wants those artifacts shipped out first thing in the morning."
Blair took the clipboard in his right hand, then had to quickly transfer it out of his stiff, bruised fingers to his left. "Right, I heard."
"I'll have some crates delivered to the exhibition hall later this afternoon. You can pack them up and bring them down here."
"I can't get to them till this evening. You want me to seal them up?"
"I have some urgent packages for Professor Watson that need packing." Harry sneezed again into a wad of tissue. "I'll be shipping the whole bunch out first thing in the morning."
Blair glanced at the documents he held and sighed at the tedious paper work involved so soon after having them all shipped in. "What's Professor Watson shipping?"
"Some science exhibit on tour, going to LA." Harry sneezed again and blew his nose loudly.
Blair smiled quickly and used Harry's allergic reaction as a good time to leave. He'd missed Elizabeth, and having no clue as to her schedule, returned to his office to call the Art Department and see if he could track her down. Jim wasn't back yet, so Blair made another pot of coffee, tossed the clipboard full of papers on his desk, and called around looking for Ms. Evans. The closest he came after five phone calls, was her having lunch with her father somewhere off campus, so he gave up. Maybe when Jim came back, they could find her. Meantime, Blair had forms to fill out, and with a right hand that was throbbing horribly, that was going to take some time.
An hour later, he was only halfway through the forms, but his hand was finished. Blair had to pry the pen from his right hand, then force his stiffened fingers open. Wrapping them around the warmth of a cup of coffee helped to work out some of the soreness. He'd just managed to make them move again when the phone rang.
"Sandburg, do you have a key to this maintenance building?"
Blair stood and carried the phone to his window. "Yeah, I do, Jim. Why?" His partner was visible, standing outside the building with the cell phone in hand, looking up at him.
"I want to have another look around, see if forensics missed anything."
"I don't know if that's such a good idea, Jim. Going back in there and all." Blair returned to his desk even as he voiced his concern, and pulled out a set of keys.
"I'll be fine, Chief. Just come on down."
Blair hung up and hurried out the door and through his building. They hadn't been back inside since that night, but Blair wasn't convinced that Jim wouldn't react to any trace elements still in the building. True, he could find more using Sentinel senses than forensics could using all of their equipment. But equipment didn't have adverse physiological reactions to trace amounts of stimulants.
Jim was waiting in front of the door when Blair arrived. "Jim, I'm not sure about this. You know how you reacted back in my office, with such a tiny amount on that statue."
"That was from handling it, Chief. And the crates in the display hall contained pure cocaine, and I was leaning into them." Jim opened the door after Blair unlocked it, but waited outside till he was finished talking. "And in here that night, it was definitely physical contact."
Blair still wasn't happy with the situation, but he knew even the smallest bit of evidence would help. Jim placed a hand on his shoulder and gave a gentle squeeze.
"Besides, now that you know what to look for, you can keep an eye on me."
Blair nodded, then started to go inside, but Jim held on.
"Here, just in case." Jim drew his gun and handed it to Blair, butt first.
"Jim..." Blair shook his head as he accepted the weapon. "Come on, man, this isn't necessary."
"Probably not, but I'm not taking that chance again, Chief." Jim patted Blair's arm and walked into the shed, ignoring his attempts to return the gun.
Blair stood at the open door, torn between wanting Jim to take his gun back, and not wanting a repeat of the other night. He didn't like how familiar the gun felt in his hand, but setting it down somewhere was out of the question, and Jim wouldn't take it. Resigned, Blair followed his partner into the maintenance shed, holding the gun by the body, instead of the handle that wanted to fit his hand.
"Just don't touch anything, Jim." He hurried to stand beside his partner, ready to pick up anything he might find. "And don't take any deep breaths in here." Blair glanced around, seeing just a trace of white powder left on the long table to the left of the door. He was sure that couldn't be anything more than talcum powder, but then again... "And for God's sake, let me know if your senses get any stronger."
Jim laughed shortly and put a hand on Blair's shoulder for a moment. "Relax, Chief. I'll hurry, okay?"
Blair nodded, then pushed the hair from his face, unconsciously exposing the bruise on his cheek. He realized what he'd done when he noticed the jaw muscle on the side of Jim's face tighten suddenly. Great, Jim's still feeling guilt that doesn't belong to him. But then, Blair had to admit he still felt responsible for having nearly killed every officer at the station. If that gas line had blown up...well, at least he wouldn't have been alive to regret it.
"You see anything?" Blair shook himself out of that Golden memory before it had the chance to grab hold and send him into a flashback, and turned to look at Jim, who was staring off into the distance.
"No. Nothing." Jim shook his head, then turned to leave. "Come on, Chief, let's get out of here."
When they walked through the doors, he handed Jim's gun back. "Did you find out anything out over at Campus Security?"
"Nothing solid, just a few rumors." Jim holstered his gun and sighed. "If I could have followed the trail last night, I might have been able to sense at least all that talcum powder. Those two from the shed would have had it all over their hands."
"Jim, you had a few other things to deal with." Blair put the keys back into his pocket. "They'll get caught, Jim. Whether by you or Narcotics, does it matter?"
"Yes, Sandburg, it matters." Jim turned and looked down at Blair. "They attacked you, brought several kilos of pure cocaine into Cascade, and caused me to lose complete control and nearly kill you. It matters."
Blair nodded. "Yeah."
"Come on, I'll call Simon from your office, then how about a late lunch?" Jim started walking toward Blair's building.
"We're not going in to the Station?"
"No need. I'll see what little else there is from Narcotics, and we'll wrap up a few loose ends here. If we can find anything at all to use, we can stay on this case. Otherwise, the Captain's gonna put an end to our involvement."
Blair had a sudden, unpleasant thought as they crossed the grounds. "Jim, are we avoiding the Station?"
"What?" Jim stopped, looking down at Blair.
"You know, after the other night and all." He shrugged and indicated the black and blue mark on his face. "Trying to explain..."
"Chief, there's nothing to explain. If anyone asks what happened to your face, I'll tell them the truth." Jim shook his head and continued toward the building. "I just want to stay on this case as long as possible, and if we go back to the Station, we're just giving Simon reason to take us off."
Blair followed, shaking his head. Great, add to the situation by suggesting Jim be less than honest. Real good, Blair. "Hey, Jim, why don't I run across the street and get us some lunch?"
Jim nodded as he opened the door to Blair's building, then reached into a pocket for his wallet. "Yeah, sounds good."
"No, man, it's on me." Blair held up a hand, shaking his head. "What can I get you?"
"Roast beef on rye, with the works." Jim put his wallet back. "And thanks, Chief."
"No problem. I'll be back in a few minutes." He left as Jim entered the building, crossing the street to the deli he liked. Luckily, it was well past noon, and the majority of their usual lunch crowd had left. Blair ordered Jim's usual, and a salad for himself. He added two bottled waters, and carried lunch back to his office. He found Jim seated at his desk, just hanging up the phone.
"Anything?" Blair handed Jim his lunch then pulled up another chair and sat down.
"Nothing. No news on the streets about a new shipment, no rumors spreading anywhere. As far as the drug dealers are concerned, there is no new cocaine in Cascade."
"I don't get it." Blair twisted the top off his bottle of water and shook his head. "There's no way they could keep that much just to sell on campus, is there?"
"Not unless they wanted a year's supply." Jim bit into the roast beef just as Blair's phone rang.
"Sandburg? You are going to have those artifacts ready to go by morning, aren't you?" Professor Peters sounded irritated.
"Yes, Professor, I'll have them all ready to ship out first thing in the morning. I've got the shipping forms, and I can pack them up this evening." He was probably still fuming about the ruined luncheon display.
"Good. There's a truck coming tomorrow, and I want those artifacts returned on time. I'm still catching hell from the Dean over this mess, and the sooner it's over, the better."
"Right." Blair heard the phone slam on the other end and he hung up with a shrug.
"He sounded upset."
"Yeah, upset is what Professor Peters does best." Blair stabbed more lettuce and a cherry tomato and shoved the forkful into his mouth.
"What kind of salary does a Professor like him pull in, anyway?"
Jim's question startled Blair for a moment. "It's like any job, really. You don't make what you're worth, but sometimes more than you deserve." He reached for the water. "Why?"
"Just checking all the options, Chief." Jim finished his sandwich and shook his head. "Security had a few rumors to spread, about Professor Peters and his reputation."
Blair paused, chewing his salad as a cover. Sure, he'd heard rumors. And so had Security, apparently. But hearing them, and spreading them, were two different things. Besides, talking about something he had no proof of, wasn't something Blair thought Jim would approve of.
"You know what these places are like, Jim. It's just like back at the Station. Rumors spread faster than the truth, and change from one telling to the other." Blair shrugged and couldn't help notice a small smile curving the side of Jim's mouth.
"That's true." Jim nodded. "But some rumors need to be checked out, to find out if they've got any basis in fact."
"What have you heard, Jim?" Blair tossed his empty salad container into the trash and leaned back in his chair.
"That Professor Peters and Dean Evans have had a few disagreements over the years. Disagreements that get nastier each year."
Blair nodded, then shrugged a little. "Professor Peters is a very opinionated man, and when things don't go the way he thinks they should, he lets you know about it. I guess they have come head to head a few times. There's a lot of politics involved at a campus like this one. It's big, and has a reputation to uphold in many fields. Social Sciences is just one of them. Dean Evans has to see the larger picture most of the time, and Professor Peters, like most of us, tends to view life from his own little corner." Blair shook his head. "That's why I'm more comfortable out in the field, I think. Researching, documenting, that kind of work keeps you out of most loops." He took a drink, then saw the grin on Jim's face. "What?"
"Nothing." Jim shook his head, then glanced around the office. "So, you have to get those artifacts packed up again? Need some help, Chief?"
Blair watched Jim for a full minute, wondering just what was going on behind those eyes. "What about the case, Jim?"
"It's in the thinking stage. I want to get a look around that shipping department later tonight, after Bilks has gone. You'll have to take the crates down there after packing up, right? We can have a look around then."
"I'm not sure you should be around the artifacts, Jim.."
Jim raised a hand, cutting Blair off. "Sandburg, I can't go through life avoiding everything. This never happened before, and now that we know what to watch for, we can take care of it."
"But Jim, you've never been around this much concentrated cocaine before. At least not since your Sentinel senses came out. I think we should avoid something we already know isn't safe."
Jim nodded. "You're right. Tell you what, I'll wear these." He pulled a pair of latex gloves from his back pocket, the type he always used when collecting evidence. "And I'll just help you with the crates. How's that?" Blair nodded. "Listen, Chief, I would never knowingly put you, or myself, in that kind of situation again. You know that."
"Yeah, I know that, Jim." Blair sighed, then reached for the clipboard and his unfinished paperwork. "Well, no time like the present then, huh?" Jim nodded and stood, waiting for Blair to collect his pen and keys to the display hall. He was right, of course. Blair did know Jim wouldn't endanger either of them knowingly. So, if he was willing to help pack up the displays, then he must be convinced that any traces of cocaine had been removed when forensics went through the room. The idea that a team of cops had been handling his artifacts gave Blair some apprehension, but he had seen them at work many times, and had to respect the care with which they handled all evidence. In fact, these statues, urns and masks were going to be shipped back much cleaner than they had come out. Not that the Universities and museums that had loaned them out would appreciate the reason for the clean up.
He led the way back to the unused display room and unlocked the door, noting the missing police tape that had been up the day before. They had just walked inside when the door opened again and Harry pushed his way through, forcing several crates on a hand cart through the double doors.
"Here's the first lot. I'll bring up the rest, then I'm off for the night. Just leave these..." He paused long enough to sneeze. "..You know where to leave them."
"Right." Blair nodded, helping Harry remove the crates from the cart. "Thanks."
Harry nodded, Kleenex flapping in the breeze, then turned and left with the empty handcart.
Jim sat on the corner of a table near the first of the displays and examined the clipboard Blair had set down. "This is pretty repetitive stuff."
"Yeah, the return trip is just a reverse of the first round." He flexed the fingers of his right hand and grimaced at the soreness. "I'll work on it after I get these things loaded up."
"How about I fill this out as we go?" Jim found the pen and looked up. "If I'm going to help out, I might as well start here, huh?"
Blair nodded, glancing at the various artifacts waiting for him. Artifacts that had been so recently packed in crates hiding concentrated cocaine. "That'd be great. I can just tell you what to fill in as I pack them up." He reached out and took hold of the first statue, realizing it just happened to be Mobutu Denai. "Hey, Jim, what exactly was the first thing you noticed that night, when you were holding this in my office?"
Jim sighed, then sat back a bit and looked thoughtfully at the statue Blair was holding. "The first thing I remembered was how it felt. It didn't feel like clay at all. It was soft, and warm, like soapstone." Jim's voice took on an almost wistful quality. "I--I didn't want to put it down, it felt so--so sensual."
"Sensual?" Blair's eyebrows arched and he looked from Jim to the statue he was holding.
"Yeah. Sensual." Jim shook his head. "After that, I noticed the colors, how vivid they were. But then the coffee caught my attention." He sighed. "Why?"
"That's interesting." Blair took one last look at the figure in his hands, then walked to the first open crate and nestled it snugly into the packing straw, making sure there was plenty of padding around it.
"What's interesting, Chief?"
Blair straightened up and walked to the next display podium. "I was just wondering if your senses reacted to the drug in order of sensitivity, or if it was more a pattern of cocaine reaction." He picked up the urn and turned it around in his hands thoughtfully. "Since the drug was on the statue, your first contact was tactile. That might be the reason for the reaction sequence. From your fingers, to your eyes then taste buds." Blair took the urn to the same crate and found a safe section for it, then returned for another. "You know, Jim, ever since that exam when you got your ears cleaned out and your hearing magnified, we haven't tested your limits like I've wanted."
"And you're not telling me what to write down here, Chief." Jim tapped the pen on the clipboard.
"Oh, right." He picked up the next statue, absently registering its identity. "Um, that first one was your sensual friend, Mobutu Denai. Then the urn was 12th century Yanamamo. I've got those two and this one already filled out." He walked back to the crate, holding the statue in one hand while still thinking about Jim's reactions, and what they could mean.
"Hey, Chief, have you ever dropped one of those?"
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