by Kristine Williams
"No. But thanks for the little suggestion, Jim." Blair threw as much sarcasm into his voice as he could while packing up the figure.
Jim laughed. "Yeah, I know what you mean. You can get to a point where you're thinking something to death. It just makes matters worse. Sometimes you have to let your body take over. Go on instinct."
"Instinct?" Blair crossed the room to retrieve another figure. "Is that what we're doing with this case? Going on instinct?"
"Something like that." Jim pointed to the artifact Blair was now holding, then tapped the clipboard. "Lets get this finished up, and we'll see if my instincts are right."
Blair nodded and packed up the figure. "You know, Jim, the key here is still control. Your senses were thrown into overdrive, all of them at once, giving your mind way too much information to process and not enough time to process it."
"Yeah. We know that, Chief."
"Right, but there has to be a way to control it. We can't assume this will never happen again, given your job. And we've probably been going on blind luck so far." Blair cringed, realizing what he'd just said. Jim just rolled his eyes, apparently willing to let the slip go by. "Sorry. But what I mean is, since your Sentinel senses tend to shake off drugs that you take on purpose really quickly, and we've managed to teach you techniques for keeping the effect around, then the opposite has to be true."
"You think I can shake off cocaine faster if I concentrate?"
"Not exactly. Your metabolism isn't something we can alter, but your body's reactions are another matter. The drug will affect your body, but we need to control its effect on your senses."
"Like how, Chief? There was so much coming in at me all at once, I couldn't even think straight."
"I know." Blair nodded, walking to another statue. "But I think the best thing to do would be to concentrate on your senses one at a time. If you can work on just one, and concentrate until you've been able to gain some control, you can basically ignore the drug's effects until they're gone completely."
"There's just one problem with that theory: testing it out." Jim shook his head. "I'm not anxious to try that again any time soon. Whether in one of your lab experiments or not."
I know, Jim." Blair sighed, picking up another artifact. But, there had
to be a way.
Jim loaded the last crate onto the handcart and strapped it in place, then gave a little shove to get the right angle for Blair to maneuver the load through the doors. It had taken them three hours to pack up all the artifacts and fill out the rest of the shipping documents, but that also gave Harry enough time to finish his work and leave for the night. Which was what Jim needed. He helped guide Blair's load down the long hallway to the shipping and receiving office. They had taken turns with the handcart, and Jim made sure he took the larger loads to keep Blair from aggravating sore stomach muscles. But this was their last one.
"Time to get to work." Jim unstrapped the crates and let Blair finish working the cart out from under the bottom box.
"Get to work?" Blair sounded exhausted. He flexed his right hand. "What did you find down here?"
Jim motioned for Blair to follow him into the back of the storage area. "When we were talking to Bilks this morning, I caught a faint hint of talcum powder."
"Why didn't you say something?"
"I wasn't sure at the time, and it could have come from anywhere, Chief. Those Kleenex he was going through like candy, baby powder from Elizabeth Evans, anything." He stopped and took a tentative sniff, letting his olfactory sense open up. Immediately he detected the unmistakable scent of talcum powder, as well as something else. Something that was so ingrained now into his memory, he'd never forget it. "It's here." Jim wasn't going to take any chances. Not again. He reached out for Blair's arm, intending to leave quickly and call Simon, but the sudden appearance of Harry Bilks at the side door stop them both.
"That's right, Detective. It is here." Harry waved a gun at them, motioning both to move to the left, away from the door. "And, it was supposed to go to LA with Professor Watson's science project, but now I think our plans will change."
Jim mentally kicked himself for not having heard Harry walking up to the door. He'd been so concerned with the possibility of exposing himself again to the drug while Blair was with him, that he'd been concentrating on everything internal, leaving them both wide open.
"You use my shipment to bring it in to Cascade, and Professor Watson's to ship it out?"
"That's right. We bring it in pure, cut it, then send it to our distribution center." Harry shut the door behind him.
"Who else is in this?" Jim heard the main doors open, and knew they were about to find out.
"Haven't you figured that out by now, Detective?" Elizabeth Evans stepped around the corner, a .38 in one hand and a packing knife in the other.
"I had my suspicions." Jim glanced at Blair, trying to determine if there was a quick escape route for his partner if he could create a diversion.
"Ah, yes. But suspicions and proof are two different things, aren't they?" Elizabeth looked at Harry, then Blair. "Give me your gun, please. And slowly, like they do on TV, if you don't mind." She held out a hand and Jim reluctantly removed his gun, butt first, then handed it over, keeping an eye on Harry as the man's gun pointed from Jim to Blair and back again. Elizabeth took the weapon, and slid it into the pocket of her cardigan sweater. "I guess our little crime spree is over now, huh?"
"What do we do with them?" Harry's heartrate jumped, and his voice started to shake. Before anyone could answer, he sneezed.
"Oh, God, Harry." Elizabeth shook her head. "What my father sees in you, I'll never understand."
Jim watched the pair, noting Harry's tendency to shake and sweat, while Elizabeth's heartrate remained steady, as did her gun-hand. "It's over now. The only question is, do you want your other partner going down with you, or do you let him off and take the heat yourselves?" He stepped forward, testing the mood.
"Just back off and relax." Elizabeth's gun was aimed at his chest, unwaveringly. "You two are going to help us repackage the goods, then we'll decide what to do."
"I'm calling Richard." Harry reached into his jacket pocket and produced a cell phone.
"Don't be an ass, Harry!" Elizabeth never took her eyes off Jim. "Daddy puts up with your screw ups because he's in love. But I don't have any affection to lose." She pointed with her gun to the crates behind Blair.
"Now, you two, open those crates and get the bags out. We'll put them in storage for a few weeks and ship them out later."
"After you kill us?" Jim looked at Harry, recognizing him for the obvious weak link.
"That's right," Elizabeth answered for her partner. "Now move!"
Jim turned with Blair and they walked back to the crates. The smell of talcum powder and cocaine grew with each step, as did Jim's need to get Blair out of there.
"I'll do it." Blair stopped, reaching out for the packing knife Elizabeth was holding.
"You'll both do it." She tossed the knife and Blair caught it easily. "Now!"
He needed a distraction, and maybe if he held his breath, and moved quickly, he could control it. "Go ahead, Chief. Cut it open." Jim nodded, then glanced back at the pair watching them. Harry was several feet away, once again blowing his nose. Elizabeth was next to him, and could easily be pushed aside. That should buy Blair just enough time, if he was quick, to get behind the row of boxes beside him and get out.
Blair sighed, then cut the seal off the first crate. He reached inside and pulled out two tightly-wrapped bags of white powder. Catching Jim's eye, he nodded, then turned around quickly and threw both bags straight into Harry's sniffling face.
Elizabeth was quick, but Jim was quicker. He managed to step aside and grab her arms before the gun went off. One bullet pierced the crate, and a fine, white powder erupted into the air, dusting them both.
"Jim!" Blair's voice seemed to come from everywhere. Jim held his breath, and forced his fingers to wrap around the gun, wrenching it from Elizabeth's hands. After that, reality came in flashes.
Jim heard running, but he couldn't tell if the footsteps were approaching, or retreating. There were shouts, and a woman's voice cursing. Oh God, oh God, it was happening again! Lights came in from everywhere, forcing their way through his tightly-closed lids. Jim knew his hands had found a gun, but it wasn't metal he felt his fingers clutching. It felt more like velvet. Or soapstone. Like that statue. More shouts, and Jim forced his eyes open, then cried out with the pain of bright lights and flashes of color. It was all happening too fast. There was too much to take in! But Blair was here, and Jim wasn't the only one holding a gun.
"Sandburg." Jim tried to keep his voice low, just to prevent the backlash in his own head, but it didn't help.
"Jim, concentrate." Blair's voice was there, a few feet away, judging by the echo slamming through Jim's head. "Elizabeth is ahead of you, and Harry's hiding farther on."
Concentrate, one sense at a time. Jim forced his mind to remember Blair's instructions. This would be the test that he'd been so adamant about not wanting to try. But there was no time to think about it. No time to think at all. He started with sight, trying with all his will power to ignore the pain in his head and the sounds pounding his ears. Sight was the only thing that mattered, his vision the only sense he had. Slowly, the lights dimmed from a painful brightness to something he could tolerate. Blair was right, Elizabeth was a few yards ahead of him, on the floor still trying to get the white dust off her face.
Jim moved quickly, letting instinct take over the simple function of retrieving his gun from her sweater and slapping handcuffs over one wrist, which he then secured to the shelves beside her. Elizabeth was so affected by the drug coating her face and sweater she didn't even notice.
"Hold it right there."
He whirled, wincing at the reverberation of Harry's voice between his ears. Blair was there, with a gun pressed into his side. Jim stood slowly, but the room seemed to want to spin and tilt to one side.
"What's wrong with him?"
"What do you think? He got that drug all over him. Just like Elizabeth."
Jim tried to hold his gun level, but his vision was blurring, then focusing with painful clarity. "Drop it, Bilks. It's over." God, that hurt! The sound of his own voice was too much. The headache grew even as his vision went out again. No, no, not again. Dammit not again!
Jim winced, feeling his mind slipping out of its current thought. Concentrate, dammit! His mind was jumping around again, and the only thing he could think about was the pain in his head. He had to make the noise stop. But how? What had Blair taught him to do to make the sounds go away? Concentrate. Yeah, that was it. Jim locked eyes with Harry, as best he could with blurred vision, and focused his thoughts on the man's breathing.
He used a moment of clear vision to take aim. "Drop the gun."
Harry inhaled, and Jim made a note of the sound, forcing it to become the only sound in the room. For an instant, one instant, it worked. Just as Harry began to shake his head, the minute spasm in his nasal cavity rang clear in Jim's mind. With an almost unconscious precision, his gun went off just as Harry's sneeze took hold. Blair had also seen the chance, and used the moment's disturbance to pull away, leaving Harry's left side exposed.
Jim saw the man fall to the ground just before the explosion of pain inside his own head caused his knees to buckle. He never felt the floor that came up to meet him, or had any memory of being pulled away from the cart of cocaine and propped against his partner's legs at the front entrance, but that was where he found himself when next he opened his eyes.
"Hey, man, the cavalry's here." Blair's voice was hushed, and he had both arms wrapped around Jim, holding him as they both sat on the floor.
Armed Campus Security officers were un-cuffing Elizabeth, and one of them called for an ambulance. "Good job, Chief." Jim was grateful that the sound of his own voice no longer hurt his head. In fact, the headache seemed to be less than the last time.
"How you feelin', Jim? We should get you to the hospital."
He shook his head, then tried to sit up. "I'm fine." Blair's hand stayed on Jim's right arm as they stood.
"Jim, are you sure?" Blair looked into Jim's eyes. "Come on, man, let's just go have a doctor check you out, okay?"
"I'm fine, Chief." Jim sighed, then smiled and placed a hand on Blair's shoulder. "The headache will pass. You're all right?" He scanned his partner quickly, seeing only the bruises he'd put there himself just a day ago. God, if that had happened again... "You were right. Concentrating wasn't easy, but when I did, it worked." He shook his head, then winced slightly at the pain that motion caused. "It didn't last long, but it worked. Maybe if I get used to it, I could get it under control."
"That's great, Jim. But I don't think I'm anxious to try this one out again any time soon." Blair shook his head, and let go of Jim's arm. "You really scared me for a few minutes."
"Yeah, I know, Chief. Whether my fault or not, if anything had happened to you because of this, I don't know what I would do."
"No, Jim, you were fine. I meant when you passed out. I didn't know what to do. There wasn't much I could do, other than get you away from that crate and call Security. I felt helpless." Blair's gaze dropped to the floor.
Jim sighed, then gave his friend's shoulder a gentle squeeze. Before he could say anything, Security brought out Elizabeth and a wounded, but mobile, Harry.
"It was all his fault," Elizabeth declared, eyes still wide with the effects of cocaine that had been cleaned off her face. "If he and daddy hadn't fallen in love, they never would have gotten me involved."
"If you think you can sell us out, you bitch, you've got another thing coming!" Harry glared at his accomplice, sneezing as the two officers ushered him out the door.
The head of Security approached Jim. "Your Captain sent a team over to pick up Dean Evans. We can handle things here until your men arrive, Detective. You look like you've been through hell."
Jim nodded "I feel like it, too."
"Come on, Jim." Blair kept a hand on Jim's arm as they left, steadying him down the corridor. "You sure you're okay?"
"Yeah. I am now. Let's get home before Simon shows up, huh?" Jim reeled just a bit as they approached the stairs. His head was still pounding, and his vision coming and going, but it was slowly returning to normal. "I don't think I can take that cigar smell. Not until I get these senses back under control."
"I can barely take it on a good day, Jim." Blair held the door open. "I don't know how you manage."
"Harry spilled his guts before they even got him booked." Jim shook his head, handing Blair the mask he'd had to pick up in order to sit in the only chair available.
"Full confession?" Blair took the mask and set it on top of a pile of papers covering his desk.
"And then some. You'll be happy to know that was the first time they used one of your shipments."
"How long had they been using the University?"
"Six months, and three shipments of pure, uncut cocaine." Jim shook his head and ran a hand over his short hair. "They'd bring it in, cut it in the maintenance shed, then use a shipment to LA to send out street grade product for sale in California."
"The rumors about Dean Evans and Harry must have started last night." Blair sighed, tossing a pencil to his desk. "By the time I got here this afternoon, their affair was all over campus."
"Interesting little triangle they had." Jim sighed. "You about ready, Chief? It's been a long day."
"Just about." Blair stood and began to put a few books away.
Jim couldn't help seeing the bruise on his partner's face as he pushed the hair out of his eyes. It was darker now, and more pronounced as it healed. "Listen, Sandburg, there's something I need to say." Jim stood and held out a hand to stop Blair's cleanup.
He sighed. "Look, I know we've been over this, and I understand how you feel about it." Blair's eyes began to dart about as Jim's subject dawned on him. "I know this wasn't my fault, not consciously."
"I know, Blair." He held up a hand, then rested it on his friend's shoulder. "It was no more my fault than you shooting up the garage. But I'm still sorry. I just want you to know that."
Blair nodded, smiling slightly. "Thanks, man. I know." Jim gripped his partner's shoulder until he looked up, meeting Jim's eyes.
"Okay. Let's get out of here, I'm starving." He knew insisting he was at fault would only make Blair re-think his own position, even though the two were totally unrelated. Jim was a cop. He was trained to deal with these things. Blair's safety was his responsibility. But he also knew his friend wouldn't be able to make that distinction. He couldn't very well let him think what he had done under the influence of Golden had been his fault. So, the only thing left for Jim to do was allow himself the blame quietly. As long as he hadn't lost Blair, or his trust, he'd be all right.
They were halfway down the corridor when evening classes let out. Doors opened all along the hallway, spilling students out in a rush. One voice rang out clearly over the mulling crowd. Once voice both Blair and Jim recognized.
"Professor Kinyon." They said in unison.
Jim and Blair glanced at each other, then as one ducked behind a door just as Professor Kinyon and three students rounded the corner. They heard her walk by, extrapolating on the delicate balance of father/daughter relationships, and how the entire dynamic can be so drastically altered with the involvement of a third party who can so easily change the perceived roles of each member.
Jim sighed, hearing her pass the room they had ducked into and enter her office. "Coast is clear." He motioned for Blair to follow him back into the hallway.
"You know, Jim, she does grow on you." Blair glanced quickly down the hall, then hurried to catch up as Jim started for the doors.
"Only if you stand still long enough, Chief."
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