"Check it out, over by the phones." Blair had spotted a woman in bleached blonde hair and black leather pants near the phone booth beside the front desk.
"Looks like Diana," Jim said, glancing at her, then around the lobby. "Over there, beside the restaurant entrance."
Blair looked to where Jim was nodding and found Jennifer, dressed in black slacks and a black velvet shirt. He and Jim were similarly dressed so as to not draw too much attention in the high class hotel. Jim had dark brown slacks and a brown shirt with is blue suede jacket, where Blair was wearing black jeans, and a dark blue shirt, covered by his lighter weight black leather jacket.
"Let's get into position, Chief." Jim stood and they walked to the elevators, glancing casually at Jennifer who was just a few feet away. Once upstairs, they found room 1215 easily, then moved down to the corner and each took a seat in one of two comfortable chairs positioned there. From that vantage point, Blair had a clear view of both corridors.
"Now remember, Jim, when you get ready to open the safe, let me know." Blair leaned over to speak quietly, even though they were alone. "I'm going to keep you from zoning out, but I need to know before you start."
"Right," Jim replied, glancing down the hall as the door to room 1215 opened. They both watched the man who stepped out as he locked the door, put the key card in his pocket, glanced at them briefly, then walked to the elevators. As soon as he was inside, and the hallways were both clear, Jim made his move.
Blair put on his headset and changed seats, giving himself a more head-on view of the room Jim was breaking into. "When do you think they'll make their move?" he asked quietly, not sure of how good a range the headset had, but knowing Jim had better.
"Probably as soon as he gets off the elevator." There was a pause as Jim swiped the card from the decoder through the slot in the door. A moment later, the door unlatched and he stepped inside. "I'm in." Jim closed the door and Blair could hear his breathing on the headset. "The safes supposed to be behind the dresser mirror...There it is."
"Is it the same type?"
"Yep. Any sign of them?"
Blair glanced quickly down each hallway. "No, all clear."
"Okay, here goes."
"Jim, describe it as you're going." Blair strained to listen to his partner's breathing, unsure if he'd recognize a zone out if he wasn't in the same room. "Jim..."
"It's pretty light, newer maybe than the one Fingers had. I've got two numbers, going to the left now."
"Just keep it relaxed, natural." Blair tried to keep Jim's mind divided. "Don't try too hard."
"Two more numbers." Jim replied.
Jim's voice was beginning to sound strained. "Breathe, Jim. Stay with me." Blair glanced down the hall again and saw the elevator light come on. "We've got company."
"Two more numbers."
Jim sounded a little more in control now, so Blair didn't speak again as a woman stepped out of the elevator. It was Diana. She paused just outside the car, then glanced down the hall at Blair. "Diana's here, Jim." he said quietly, letting her see he was aware of her standing there.
"Six more to go, keep an eye on her."
Blair watched as Diana moved away from the elevator and walked slowly down the hall, towards him. When she passed the door to room 1215 she paused, leaned against the opposite wall and rummaged through her purse. "She's right outside the room." Blair kept his voice low, and casually glanced down the opposite corridor for just a moment.
Jim's breathing could be heard over the sensitive earpiece, and Blair could tell he was forcing himself to relax. He wanted to keep Jim talking, but it would look really strange for Blair to be sitting alone in a hallway talking to himself. Then again, they wanted Diana and Jennifer to know what they were doing.
"How's it going, Jim?"
"Two more. Almost there."
Blair watched Diana again as she found her lipstick and looked back up at him. She applied the color, using a mirror, then put it all back into her purse and started walking slowly towards him again. As she passed, Blair glanced up and smiled. She smiled back, pausing for just a second, then moving on down the other corridor. Blair was certain she had noticed his headset; hidden as it was in his hair, it still wasn't invisible. And she had most certainly come up stairs to secure the hallway for Jennifer. Blair watched her move halfway down the corridor, then stop and pull something else out of her purse. Her back was to him, but he could see her reach up to one ear, bending over slightly. A few moments later, she returned to her purse, glanced back at Blair, and turned around to begin walking back towards him.
"Got it." Jim's voice came over the earpiece, almost startling Blair. "Where is she?"
"Coming back your way. Almost to the corner." Blair was trying to look nonchalant by pushing the hair away from his forehead as he spoke. Diana passed him, smiling again, and walked straight for the elevators. As she passed room 1215 she glanced at the door for a moment, then continued on and pressed the down button. "She's at the elevators."
"Okay, I'm coming out and I'll head down with her. You meet me in the lobby in five minutes."
"Right." Jim came out of the room then
and walked casually to the elevator just as the doors opened. Blair watched the
two of them step inside, and breathed a sigh of relief. Jim hadn't zoned out.
He thought if his partner did fall too deeply into the focus of just one sense,
that he could at least run in there, making a possible fool of himself, and get
him out of it. But he realized as Jim entered the room, the door automatically
locked. How long he would stay in the trance without help, Blair didn't know.
He didn't want to find out.
As the elevator doors opened, Jim allowed Diana to enter first, then followed her inside, standing in front of the panel.
"Lobby, please," she said, smiling up at him.
Jim nodded, smiling, and pressed the button. As they started down, he concentrated on the numbers above the door, waiting for her to make a move. She might wait until she rejoined her partner, but she had to know he and Blair had just beaten them to the job.
"I give you a 9 for technique, but your follow-through needs work," Diana said calmly, leaning against one wall of the car.
Jim looked down at her and raised his eyebrows questioningly. "Pardon?"
She smiled and shook her head, looking him up and down from head to toe. "You don't have the look, which is good. Your partner does, though. But your act needs fine tuning."
"I'm sorry? I don't know what you're talking about." Jim shook his head politely and turned away again. He could see her from the corner of his eye, and she was shaking her head slowly from side to side.
"I might have a business proposition for you," She said.
"Excuse me?" Here it comes.
"That gold in your pockets, you have a plan for it yet?" She was still smiling and reached one arm out along the railing in the car.
"I'm sorry, Miss, I don't have any idea what you're talking about." Jim returned his gaze to the numbers above the door. They were four floors from the lobby.
"It's Diana, handsome. And either you've got room 512's gold bars in your pockets, or you're just feeling real friendly." She moved forward then and wrapped one arm around his, leaning in. "Come with me to the bar, I've got someone you need to meet."
Jim looked down at her hanging off his arm, and raised his eyebrows again. He was going to say something, but the door opened and she started walking out, pulling him along. Jim glanced around the lobby, then saw Jennifer sitting in the lounge, watching them approach.
"This is my friend, Jennifer." Diana released her grip on Jim's arm and slid into the round bench beside Jennifer who then patted the cushion on the opposite side.
"Please," she said, smiling up at Jim. "don't be shy. What's your name?"
Jim hesitated for just a moment, trying to seem slightly suspicious, then gave in and sat down next to Jennifer. "Jim," he said. From that seat he had a good view of the lobby and the elevators, so he kept an eye out for Blair.
Jennifer smiled, glancing briefly out to the lobby. "When does your partner join you? Or is he casing the next room?"
"He'll be along in a minute. So, what's your story?" Jim leaned back in the seat, placing both hands on the table.
"Better than yours," Diana replied. Jennifer glanced at her, then turned to face Jim,
"We've been at this a long time, maybe we could share some tips?" She smiled, "I'd love to compare notes. Obviously you're good, but just how good are you?"
"We get by." Jim heard the elevator doors open and saw Blair step out, then spot him in the lounge. "Maybe we could go somewhere and discuss this?"
Jennifer shook her head, smiling as Blair approached. "We like to conduct business out in the open, and what better spot than right in the middle of the workplace?"
Blair was standing next to the table now, looking at Jim. "This is Blair, my partner." He motioned for Blair to sit down in the only free spot, which was next to Diana. "This is Diana, and Jennifer. They have a business proposition for us."
"Listen, I'll get right to it." Jennifer leaned forward, glancing at Blair for a moment, then turning back to Jim. "This is our territory right now. We came into town a few months back, and we're not ready to move on." She looked to Diana for confirmation. "But, we do enjoy the occasional professional exchange, so to speak."
"We've got you beat for follow-through." Diana interjected, smiling at Jim. "But, your technique is solid." She looked at Blair sitting beside her and put her arm around the back of the seat, behind his head. "And, fun to watch."
Bryce was right, these two are definitely social. "So, what's your system for disposal?" Jim asked.
Diana looked to Jennifer, who leaned back into the cushions. "I'm not giving away all our secrets until we have an agreement."
"What did you have in mind?" Blair asked, speaking up for the first time.
"An even split, 50/50," Jennifer replied, glancing at him. "We've got a line on several high rollers coming in this week. We team up, take them all, then split the take right down the middle."
"Minus the processing fee, of course." Diana added.
Jim looked at her, then back to Jennifer. This had to be the boss coming in to play. "Processing fee?"
Jennifer nodded, "We have one other, silent, partner. He does the liquidating for us, so we can concentrate on acquisition. After his 10%, there's still plenty left to go around."
Jim looked at Blair, who raised his eyebrows and shrugged but said nothing. "I'd like to talk this over with my partner. We're not used to sharing."
"So, how do you liquidate your goods?" Diana asked.
"We manage. Takes a few months between acquisition and liquidation, for safety's sake."
"Well, we can cut that down to two weeks," Jennifer said, "How's that for fast turnaround? And, at no risk to you."
Jim saw Blair look out to the lobby. "Jim." He nodded towards the elevators where they could see Bryce's man returning.
"Well, you did the only job we had planned for today." Jennifer picked up her purse from the seat between her and Diana. "Your place, or ours? We can work out the details."
"How about yours?" Jim moved out of the bench and held out a hand for Jennifer. "Ours is a mess right now." She took the hand and let him pull her out of the seat. Blair had also stood, and Diana was wrapping her arms around one of his. "Lead the way."
Jennifer kept his hand as they walked out of the lounge and back to the parking lot. He and Blair climbed into the truck, then followed Jennifer's '67 Mustang as they drove out of the lot and started north.
"That was easy," Blair said, putting the black box Jim handed him into the glove compartment. "How was it in the room, Jim?"
"Not bad." Jim replied. His neck was a little stiff again, and his shoulders. He had been so incredibly loose last night that he had slept better than ever. And no more nightmares. Maybe he'd manage to get another backrub from his housemate tonight? He'd tried not to make too much of a big deal out of it, and he had almost asked for one last night, but when Blair volunteered, he didn't want to rock the boat and risk him taking anything he said wrong. Jim realized his partner wasn't exactly up on simple male bonding, as much as he understood the concept. "I almost lost it a couple of times, though. I could feel myself slipping into this sort of void. Then I'd hear you and be able to come out of it." He shook his head. "Hopefully this will get easier."
"Oh, I'm sure it will. You just need to stay relaxed, don't think about it as beating the lock, just...learning it."
"Yeah, learning it." Jim nodded. He knew Blair didn't always know what to say to help him, but he always came up with something, if given enough time. Jim wasn't always very patient, but it never seemed to stop his partner from trying to get through. "Listen, if they're talking about hitting all those guests coming in this week for the auction, and they have a two week turnaround for cashing out, we might be introduced to the head guy sooner than we thought." Jim remembered Blair hadn't liked the idea of stealing cars for what could have turned into months.
"How long did we think?" Blair asked, raising his eyebrows.
Jim shrugged, "As long as it took" He glanced over at Blair. "But if they offer us a two week turn over, we could get this wrapped up soon." He turned left, following Jennifer's turn, and glanced around, making note of the street they were on. Inside the car, he saw Diana turn to face Jennifer, so he focused on their car, listening.
"Are you kidding? He's adorable. You can have the big fella. He's your speed, anyway." Diana was speaking.
"What are they saying?" Blair asked.
Jim shook his head and kept listening.
"With them, we can work all the guests, not just half. And get them done in two days." Jennifer was speaking now, turning to the right. "This could be a better payday than we were hoping. And, it might be worthwhile to bring them along to Vancouver next month."
"Yum. This could be the start of a beautiful partnership." Diana practically purred.
"I think they approve." Jim grinned. "And, I don't think you'll have to worry about doing any seducing this time, Chief." Blair looked at him questioningly. "You might want to brush up on your self defense, though."
Blair raised his eyebrows and glanced at the car ahead of them. "So, Jim, just how long did you figure this would go on again?"
Jim laughed, but before he could respond, Jennifer pulled into a long driveway, and he followed. There was no address on the mailbox, but it would be a temporary home, anyway. Most likely a rental, and paid for in cash. They were only fifteen minutes north of the airport, but the sound of the jets overhead was muted. Both women got out of the car, then motioned for them to follow into the house as Jim parked the truck. It was a simple two-story unit, seated well off the road, and surrounded by a tall evergreen hedge, offering privacy from all the neighbors. Jim focused on the house as they approached, but could hear no one inside. He had stashed the gold bars under the seat in the truck, just in case.
Jennifer opened the front door, and Diana passed her and went straight inside. "Can I offer you a drink?" She moved into the house and let Jim and Blair enter, closing the door behind them. "It's a little early for a beer, but we have tea, coffee, anything else?"
Diana reappeared from down a hall and grabbed Blair by the arm again, "I bet you're a tea man, hum? Something exotic and rare, maybe?"
Blair smiled. "Sure, anything's fine."
She led him into the kitchen and Jim and Jennifer followed. The house was sparsely furnished, with two older looking couches in the middle of the living room, three chairs scattered about in no order, and several notebooks strewn about the floor. The kitchen was large, and much more well-kept. The center was dominated by a large, round table, with a laptop computer sitting off to one side. Attached to the computer was a cellular phone, with several wires hanging off of it, some of which trailed to the computer, while others snaked off to the wall outlets. Diana had Blair sitting on a stool beside the counter where she was making the tea, so Jennifer sat at the table, pulling out a chair for Jim.
"So tell me, Jim, what's your system for spotting the good ones?" Jennifer put both elbows on the table and rested her chin in her hands.
"Same as yours, I assume," he replied, glancing at the computer. "Blair gets into the hotel's reservation desk, and finds out who's coming in. If they look like they have potential, we check it out." He paused and glanced over at Blair. "I suppose you know about the auction this week?"
Jennifer smiled, lifting her head and leaning back in her chair. "Yep. I've had my eyes on that one since they booked the conference hall three weeks ago." She sighed. "We can make a killing on that group in just two days. Enough time to get in, get out, and leave no trail."
"When do you tell us your system?" Blair asked, accepting the cup Diana was handing him.
Jennifer and Diana exchanged glances, then she turned to Jim. "We never leave the room with the take," she said. "That way, we never get caught with the goods." She leaned forward again, wrapping both hands around the cup of tea Diana had set on the table in front of her. "After the safe is emptied, we bag it all up in ziplocks, and stick it inside the toilet tank. I mean, when the guests realize they've been robbed, the last place they look is in their own room. Then, when the maid comes in the next morning, out it comes." She stopped and sipped her tea.
Jim nodded, "So, you have a person on the inside?"
Jennifer nodded, blowing on the hot tea.
"That's another person who gets a cut?" Blair asked, glancing at Jim.
Diana shook her head, "No, a salary. Our silent partner pays for the service. The maid just goes in to do her job, and doesn't question someone coming in for a minute, and leaving a hundred on the dresser for the privilege. Nothing comes out of your cut, other than the 10%."
"Listen, what's coming in this week is well over 10 million, once liquidated. 10% of that is a drop in the bucket." Jennifer said. "So, are you in?"
"What if we aren't?" Jim asked.
Diana shrugged, "Then, we take you out. See, we don't like competition. Partners are good, but competitors...well, it gets ugly."
Jim raised his eyebrows, wondering how she would plan to take them out, but said nothing. The point was to get in with them, not make an enemy and lose the chance. "Okay, I'm up for it." He glanced at Blair, "What about you?"
Blair shrugged, "Whatever you say."
Diana smiled, as did Jennifer. "Great. This could be fun." Jennifer set her cup down and winked at Jim. "We'll have to discuss technique, sometime. I'd love to see you in action."
Jim ignored the look on Blair's face from the other side of the kitchen. "Sure, anytime." He glanced at his watch. "There's three arrivals tomorrow morning that look promising. What time shall we meet?"
Jennifer was still smiling, "We like to be there right at check-in. Most guests get situated, then head out for lunch or some sightseeing. Meet us in the lounge at 2:00." They all stood and she put a hand around Jim's arm, walking him to the door. "Nice thing about these hotels, they have an early check-in." They stopped at the door and she released his arm, then shook his hand. "See you there, partner."
"2:00." Jim replied. He glanced back at Blair,
"Maybe after work, we could go out for some relaxing?" Diana asked. Before Blair could respond, she leaned over and kissed him full on the lips. "Think about it." she said, releasing him.
Jim had to look away for a second before he lost his composure in reaction to the look on his partner's face.
"Yeah, maybe," Blair managed to reply. "See ya." he turned then and followed Jim out to the truck.
They both climbed in, glancing back at the women in the doorway, then Jim quickly felt for the gold, still stashed under the seat. He started the truck, and the women walked back inside, shutting the door. He backed down the driveway, then into traffic, heading back towards the highway. Blair was shaking his head and laughing a little.
Jim laughed. "Well, I would like to know how she manages it. Must use those detectors on the safes when she's working."
Blair shook his head. "You kids today."
"You weren't doing too bad yourself, Chief. Diana was practically down your throat." he glanced at Blair for a second and could have sworn he blushed.
"You might be right about self-defense. Maybe I should take a class?" He shook his head in amazement. "They're like cats, man. Friendly and attractive, but dangerous, too." he looked at Jim. "We're keeping this professional, right?"
"Good. Just checking."
Jim raised his eyebrows, "You're not going to have a problem here, are you Chief? No one expects you to do anything you're not comfortable with, just for a case."
"No, no problem," Blair replied. "I mean, it's just stealing, right? Break into some safes, steal some property, no problem."
Jim sighed, pulling off the highway at their exit. "Listen, Sandburg, like I said, it's better to be robbed by undercover cops on a case."
"I know, I know." Blair waved his hands in the air, nodding. "Forget it. It's just..."
"Just what?" Jim glanced at his partner as he made a left turn. He never minded Blair asking questions about procedure, but he wanted to be sure he kept asking until he understood.
"It just feels weird, that's all," Blair replied, looking over at him. "I was thinking last night, about what someone with one Sentinel sense would do for a living, other than something legitimate, like I already have documented."
"And you came up with, what?" Jim made a right turn and they were on the street in front of the loft, looking for a parking spot.
Blair shrugged slightly. "I dunno, pickpocket, safe-cracker, that type."
"And that bothers you?" Jim parked the truck and looked at Blair. He had often wondered himself what some of them must think, having one or two senses that were so off the scale. Had they been as paranoid as he was when his senses manifested? Or was having just one not so abnormal?
"Yeah, I guess it does." Blair looked at him for a moment, then opened the door and climbed out of the truck.
Jim got out and they walked upstairs. "You know, people are people, no matter what genetic advantage they may have." He unlocked the door and they went inside. "Not every genius works in a think tank, doing nice things for humanity." He tossed the keys to the small table and took off his coat. "Actually, I've wondered if maybe I'm not the only one with all five, maybe there's someone else out there, even in Cascade, that you haven't found." Jim crossed to the kitchen and took a look inside for dinner possibilities. Blair was still standing in the living room and Jim glanced back at him. There was a strange, puzzled look on his face, then he turned and walked over to a stool beside the counter.
"I suppose that's possible." He pulled off his coat and draped it over the second stool. "Doubtful, but possible."
Jim glared at the coat and Blair picked it up again and walked over to the door, hanging it up.
"Maybe one slightly less anal." he mumbled.
"I heard that," Jim replied from halfway inside the refrigerator. "Just for that, Chief, you get to warm up last night's linguini. I need a hot shower." Jim shut the refrigerator door and passed Blair on his way to the bathroom, smiling.
Once inside he stripped and turned on the hot water, testing it before stepping in. His neck was stiff again and he wanted to stand under the hot spray and loosen up the muscles. Working the safe without the black box Fingers had given them had proved easier, but he'd still nearly zoned out a couple of times. Luckily, Blair would begin to speak just in time, and he was able to use his partner's voice to focus on and pull himself back. During the tight concentration on his tactile sense only, Jim's body was aware of the slightest changes in air pressure and temperature around him. He found that he could focus tightly on one area, and block out what the rest of his body was telling him, but then he began to feel the rest of the world fading into the distance. What would happen if he did zone out and Blair wasn't there? How long would he stay like that? Until someone found him? Once, he was nearly killed by a garbage truck while focused on sight. And what about another Sentinel? If there was one, would Blair find him or her? Was he even still looking? Jim never really knew what Blair did at the University when he wasn't teaching a class or grading papers. And if he did find another, would he leave to study a second Sentinel? What if it was a woman? Suddenly Jim's mind flashed on a million possibilities and he shook his head to clear the visions. No, one was enough for any guide.
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