"Jim, I've got it!"
"Got what, Chief?" Casually, Jim picked up a towel and tossed it to Blair. He knew the kid was so excited about whatever it was he'd just discovered, that he most likely had no knowledge of the fact he was standing there stark naked.
Hastily covering himself, Blair continued. "It didn't hit me until I was expecting the squeak of that cold water knob back home. I was bracing myself for it, and it came to me."
Jim picked up another towel and handed it to his soaking friend. "Okay, I give. What is it?" Blair was always this excited about a discovery, so it was hard to tell if he'd just figured out what was causing the madness of the past few days, or the answer to a question he'd been having some trouble with on a paper about the Pamundi's coming of age rituals.
"Jim, the HazMat people checked the loft, and found nothing, right?" Blair was trying to dry his hair and maintain his usual animated speaking habits at the same time.
"That's right." He was going somewhere, and Jim found it best to let him go, and just stay close enough to follow.
"Okay, so there's something in the building that can't be sampled or seen. Something that made me, and the Walters and presumably everyone else, react wildly. But it affected you differently, and it wasn't something you could consciously sense." Blair had somehow finished toweling his hair and secured the other towel around his waist, freeing up both expressive hands to assist in his explanation.
"I'm with you, Chief."
"Okay, that's what was bothering me. The fact that not only could you not sense whatever was there, but that it had just the opposite effect on you that it did everyone else. And then it hit me." Blair's eyes widened and he took a breath to catch up with himself. "The test signal, Jim. When you had that reaction to the emergency broadcast system, we implanted a suggestion in your subconscious. A suggestion that any time you heard sounds of that particular pitch and frequency, it would evoke a calm, tranquil effect."
"Whoa, hold on a minute here, buddy." Jim's mind flashed back to the loft, trying to pick out anything new inside, anything that would be emitting sounds like that. "The emergency broadcast signal is audible. Even if my reaction was different, you would hear that."
"I know." Blair moved forward and sat down, pushing wet hair away from his eyes. "The only thing I can figure, is that the signal we used, the tape recording, had a wider range of sounds on it than just what I can hear. So when we planted that suggestion, we ended up covering a wider range of pitch. Something into the ultrasonic. So now, there's something out there emitting a sound no one can consciously hear, but your Sentinel senses can pick up and recognize as one of the tones we worked on."
"So, you think someone planted something in the building, like a white noise generator only working the other way?" Did they have another Lee Brackett to worry about?
Blair shrugged. "I don't know, Jim. I just wish I'd seen this sooner. Maybe I could have prevented Mrs. Walters from..."
"No, Blair. You couldn't have seen this any more than I did at the time. We were both being affected, just like they were." If this was something done on purpose, something planted for whatever reason imagined, Jim was going to get to the bottom of it or die trying.
Blair looked up from his study of
the carpet. "I think I know how we can find the source."
An hour later they were standing outside the loft, facing the yellow police barricade tape. Blair had taken Jim to the University to borrow a handheld device he claimed could detect sound much like a Gieger counter indicated radiation levels.
"You stay here, Chief. I'll be right back." Jim stepped forward to duck under the tape, then felt a restraining hand on his arm.
"No, Jim, I'm coming with you."
"Not yet." He turned back around and put a hand on Blair's shoulder, looking him in the eyes. "Listen, whatever's in there had a relatively harmless effect on me. Now I want to go upstairs and get those white noise earplugs you gave me. Those should blur the sound enough to protect you, right?"
Blair nodded reluctantly.
"Okay. I'll be right back." Jim didn't wait for more protesting. He ducked under the tape, then unlocked the stairwell door and went up to their apartment. There was no way he was willing to take the chance of Blair being exposed one too many times. Each night Jim had come home, his partner had been more and more irrational. And Jim had been more and more complacent. There was no telling what might happen if the pair of them were inside for long, unprotected. Now that he was aware, Jim felt he could control any effects on himself.
It took a few minutes to find the earplugs, after giving them back to Blair, they had entered the dreaded Desk Drawer of Doom. He found one right away, but like his roommate's socks, it took forever to find the other. Ten minutes later, he remembered having stepped on the other one and broken it back when his hearing was out of control. Well, he should have some regular earplugs around somewhere, for all the pairs he was shoving at Jim that week. Finally successful, he went back downstairs and outside, handing the units over.
"Did you notice anything while you were in there, Jim?" Blair put the earplugs in, watching him.
"Yeah, you've got about twenty bucks worth of loose change in your desk." Jim held up the tape for Blair to go under. "You ready?"
They started in their own apartment, sweeping the entire loft. Blair watched his detector intently while Jim watched Blair. He kept up a casual conversation about their search in order to keep a handle on his partner's reactions. With only one earplug being a white noise generator, he wanted to be sure he spotted any untoward behavior quickly. The minute Blair lost his temper, Jim was going to cancel this little sweep and call in the HazMat people again. He also kept tabs on himself, as best he could, for any sign of disinterest. Keeping watch over his partner kept Jim's mind actively on track. He hoped.
"Look at this. These readings are all over the place." Blair offered up the machine for Jim to see. The small dial on its face twitched and moved wildly.
"But can you find the source?"
"Not yet, but I think if we get closer to it we'll see a rise in decibels. We just have to keep looking."
Jim put a hand on Blair's back, partly to usher him on and partly to keep him from running into the walls as he stared at the dial. They finished the entire floor, all the apartments, storage areas, the shops below, and into the hallways.
"I don't get it, Jim. The readings are stronger upstairs, but there's no single spot that stands out. And we've been all over this building, in every room." Blair was frustrated, but only equal to his usual irritation with himself for having failed to figure something out immediately.
"Not every room, Chief."
It was there, pristine in its newness and humming along its merry way. The brand new, very efficient, cost-effective boiler. Installed the very night everything started to unravel. It had been inspected thoroughly by the Biohazard inspectors for every toxin they could think of. But they hadn't thought of sound.
"Jim, that's definitely it. Look at this." Blair pointed to the dial as it spasmed, trying to read a level off its own scale. "My God, another day or two of this could have killed someone."
"It already did." Jim put a hand on Blair's arm and steered him back up the stairs and out of the building where he called Simon, explaining the discovery.
They waited for the inspectors and engineers who came with their fancy equipment and consultants from the boiler company. They waited inside the diner across the street, even though Blair's instrument had shown no effect inside the bakery below their loft. As the mass of scientists explained to them several hours later, it was the pipe system running exposed through the upper living quarters that had conducted the ultrasonic vibrations into the lofts. The shops below had the pipes inside the brick walls, dampening the sound quite effectively. Had the pipes in the renovated lofts been insulated as well, the problem would have gone unnoticed for years.
"This is a new science, to be frank," one of the engineers said as they stood outside, gazing at the building all the white-coated inspectors were exiting. "We think sound is the reason behind many so-called "sick buildings" where we get reports of people becoming ill and still can't find any toxins or chemicals to explain their discomfort."
"Well, this was a little more dramatic than feeling nauseated." Jim shook his head, recalling not only Blair's outburst, but his own lack of emotion regarding it.
"Yes, I realize that. I have a feeling there will be a few lawsuits on behalf of the victim's family. But that's between them and the boiler manufacturer."
"But you fixed it, right?" Blair asked, glancing from the engineer to Jim and back again.
"We made some adjustments to the control box, tightened some screws, added some insulation. It seems to have worked. We can't detect any ultra or supersonics now. Oh, and just to be sure, we've attached an alarm system to the unit." He stuffed a large case and his clipboard into his car and nodded to the building. "This is going to be a research site for us for a while, to see if our fixes hold and how we might apply them to some other buildings we suspect. That was pretty quick thinking on your part, to figure this out, detective."
"I didn't figure it out, actually." Jim looked at Blair. He could feel the smile breaking out across his face and made no attempt to hide it. "My partner here did."
They finished their business with the engineers, then Jim spoke to Simon about Mrs. Walters and her chances for a temporary insanity plea.
"She's got an even better chance now, with all this." Simon pointed to the building, now devoid of lab-coated inspectors.
"I just hope they can give her some help." Jim felt the muscles in his jaw tighten reflexively. If he'd only figured this out sooner! If he had only come to his own senses early enough to realize how badly everyone else, Blair included, had lost theirs, he could have prevented such a needless death.
"It wasn't your fault. I'm just glad you and Sandburg didn't get to that point." Simon slapped Jim on the back and turned to leave. "I'll see you tomorrow, Jim."
"Yeah." They waited until the Captain pulled away from the curb, then Jim and Blair turned back to look at their building. With a hand on Blair's shoulder, Jim looked down. "Well, Chief, you ready to go home?"
"Yes!" Blair's enthusiasm was unmistakable.
Once inside, they each looked around as if expecting a sudden jolt or alarm to explode through the quiet they could now enjoy. There was none.
"You know, Simon's right, Jim. I can't imagine what would have happened if you hadn't reacted to the sound like you did." Blair leaned against the back of the couch, shaking his head.
"Ah, you mean if we both got as pissed off as the Walters?"
Jim grinned, standing next to Blair, and started to nod a bit as he looked around the loft. "Yeah, I guess that could have been pretty dangerous. I mean, you could have really beat the crap out of me if I was giving you grief, huh?"
Blair tilted his head, eyebrows raised. "I dunno, Jim. We've never had to find that out, have we?"
With a swat of his hand, Jim knocked Blair off-balance for a moment, laughing. "All right, tough guy, I'm gonna go back to the hotel and check us out. Are we okay here?"
"Yeah." Blair nodded, looking suddenly serious. "We're okay."
Jim smiled, then reached out and pulled Blair in for a quick embrace, reaffirming the fact that he did indeed give a damn if this kid ever tried to take pills, walk out on him, or even went more than one night without sleep. After a returning hug from Blair, Jim let go.
"Okay, I'll be right back."
It didn't take long to return to the hotel, gather up what little they had brought, then check out. When Jim reached his building again, he let his Sentinel hearing take the lead. Greeting him was some of Blair's wilder jungle drum music. At least it was something he could hear. And it grew louder as Jim approached the door. He had just opened his mouth to tell Blair to turn it down, when he realized his partner was on the couch, fast asleep.
He was wearing Jim's Cascade PD sweatshirt, had his shoes off, one leg falling off the couch, the music happily pounding away, and he was sound asleep.
okay, Chief." Jim stepped over to the stereo and turned the volume to a more
socially acceptable level. "We're okay."
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