The safe door was open now, and Jim was startled. "It's open," he said, trying to keep his voice level.
"Jim, you zoned out, didn't you?" Blair's voice was a concerned whisper. "You wouldn't answer me for almost five minutes."
"I'm okay, Chief," Jim replied, pulling the door open all the way. "Where's Jennifer?"
"Still inside 719. What's going on?"
"Just gotta empty this out and I'm done." Jim reached into the safe and pulled out the small black-velvet bag that was the only thing inside. He walked it over to the bed and dumped the contents, pulling a ziplock bag from his jacket. Sitting on the bed, sparkling up at him, were some of the most magnificent jewels he had ever seen. Diamonds, emeralds, and rubies, some set in old-fashioned looking settings, some loose. Jim quickly bagged up the stones, making sure he got each one, and zipped the bag closed. He then returned the empty velvet bag to the safe and shut the door, spinning the dial, then walked to the bathroom. He couldn't discount his partner's reluctance to commit a real crime, even during the course of a case; breaking the law wasn't an easy thing to do for a cop, either. He put the bag of stones down on the bathroom counter and took the lid off the toilet tank. Blair's feelings about the case raised Jim's opinion of him, maybe even beyond Blair's own opinion of himself. That conversation they had the night before was more for Jim's own amusement than anything. He was certain his partner wouldn't have been able to Guide someone whose sole reason for being was to hurt others. Blair wasn't like that, even for the sake of his beloved research. But what would Jim had done if Blair hadn't found him? When his senses returned back in Cascade, he honestly thought he was losing his sanity. Then, after the doctors couldn't find anything wrong with him physically, he was convinced it was psychological.
"Jim, Jennifer just came out and she's heading downstairs."
"I'll be right there." Jim stuffed the jewels into the tank and replaced the lid, then retraced his steps to the door and out, making sure the door locked behind him. Blair was sitting with Diana still and he glanced at the two of them as he passed, reaching the elevators as the doors opened. When he reached the lobby, Jennifer was waiting for him.
"Room 910 just went into the restaurant for an early dinner." She stepped into the elevator and pressed the ninth floor button. "I thought we'd do this one together, for fun."
"Blair, we're heading up to the ninth," Jim said into his microphone.
"Already there," Blair replied.
Jennifer smiled up at him, "I sent them up while you were coming down."
"So, you're calling the shots, now?"
"Take it easy, big fella." Jennifer wrapped her arms around Jim's left arm. "I just thought we should strike while the iron's hot, as they say. Besides, tomorrow we've got six, and might not have time to compare technique until Vancouver."
Jim raised his eyebrows and looked down at her. "You're inviting us along?"
She shrugged, letting go of his arm as the elevator doors opened. "If things work out, I thought it might be fun. Who knows, maybe you and I could break out on our own?"
Jim was about to question her when she pulled him out of the elevator and down the hall. Room 910 was at the far end of the second corridor, the farthest from the elevators. Jim found Blair and Diana standing right in front of the room next door, Diana searching her purse for what was presumably a key to their room if anyone came down the hall. Just as they reached the door, the room across the hall opened up, and an older couple came out.
"God, I know the card is in here somewhere, honey. Just give me a minute," Diana said, still digging through her purse.
Jim felt a hand on his back and turned to Jennifer as she produced a card. "Care to do the honors, sweetie?" she said, handing him the key. The older couple glanced at them all, then proceeded down the corridor, rounding the corner as they walked to the elevators. Jim caught sight of a relieved look on his partners face as he and Jennifer entered the room and shut the door.
"Nice duplicate," he said, handing her back the key card. "Get that from your inside source, too?"
"Yep. Just borrow the ones I need for the day." She crossed the room and found the safe, pulling a box from her purse identical to the one Jim had been avoiding putting into use. "How do you get in?"
"Tricks of the trade." Jim said, producing the key decoder.
"Impressive," she replied. "Care to go first?"
Jim eyed the safe. She obviously had no sense of touch, and relied on the box to tell her what to do. But, if she was proficient in that method, as she obviously must be, then she would far outdo Jim. And, if he had to worry about beating the box, would he be able to crack the safe without zoning out? "Go ahead, ladies first."
She smiled and reached for the tumbler while Jim moved in closer, putting the headset on. "How's the hallway?" he asked, watching Jennifer.
"All clear," Blair replied. "You okay in there?"
"Jennifer's doing the safe." He watched as the first pair of numbers appeared on the box. She was good with the sensor, but had most likely been using it, or something like it, her entire criminal career. What would it look like if he was asked to finish the safe, and wanted to remove the box to do it? She would definitely get suspicious. How couldn't she? Jim's answer came when the third pair of numbers was displayed. Jennifer turned to him, eyebrows raised expectantly.
"Jim, someone's coming."
He looked at Jennifer, "Keep going, we might have trouble." Before she could comment, Jim moved to the door and listened. "What's up?"
"Our guest changed his mind about eating," Blair said urgently.
"They can handle him, don't worry," Jennifer whispered from the safe.
"Just finish it," Jim replied, turning to her then back to the door. He focused his hearing through the door, to the hallway. He could hear footsteps coming down the corridor towards the room, two sets. Three doors down, Diana screamed, then moved quickly back down the hallway towards the approaching footsteps.
"Oh my God, a mouse!"
"Unbelievable!" Blair was moving with her, towards the returning guest.
"What? A mouse? Where?" He heard another woman's voice, raised in fear.
"Back there, by that door." Diana's voice was near hysteria. "I told you I saw a mouse in our room last night. He never believes me, but I swear there was a mouse under our bed." Her voice lowered a bit. "We got a little wild last night, and I was on the floor, and I swear to God there was a mouse under there."
"I told you that was just my shoes." Blair replied.
Jim could picture the conversation in the hallway and marveled at Diana's quick ability to lie. Almost rivaling his own partner's.
"I'm not going down there if there's mice," the strange woman said. "Come on, my room's down three floors, and at the other side. What say we take our party there, instead?"
"Whatever you say, love," a man's voice replied. Jim heard the footsteps move back away from the room, followed by Blair's and Diana's.
"All clear." Blair's voice came back over the microphone and Jim had to damped his hearing so he wouldn't get an echo from the hallway and the headpiece.
"Good." He turned to Jennifer and saw that the safe was now open. From inside she pulled out a small case and set it on the bed. Jim walked over to the bed and opened the case, gazing down at more jewelry.
"Jackpot," she said, picking up a necklace. "Found gold coins in the first one. How about you?"
"More of these, plus some loose stones." Jim replied. He helped her bag up the new gems, then placed them inside the toilet tank. "This insider of yours, the maid, does she know what she's doing?"
Jennifer shook her head as she shut the safe door and replaced the mirror. "Nope. Can't take the chance of someone dipping their hands in, can we?" She placed her headset on then. "Diana, take the car and head for home. Jim and I will follow in the truck." She looked up at him then. "Okay with you?"
"Jim?" Blair's voice held some concern, but Jim didn't want to rock the boat at this early stage.
"Go ahead, we'll be right behind you," he replied.
Jennifer smiled and took his arm again as they walked out of the room. The hallway was deserted as they approached the elevators. Jim could see the light still on as Blair and Diana descended. "Your friend doesn't seem to like Diana much," she said as they entered the second elevator.
Jim pressed the lobby button. "He's just shy."
"Ah. And, what about you?" She reached over and put an arm around his waist, looking up.
"I just believe there's a time and a place," Jim replied, gently but firmly removing her hand from inside his back pocket. "Maybe after the job's done."
She sighed and removed her arm, shaking her head slightly. "Too bad. I was hoping for a little recreation tonight." The elevator reached the lobby and Jim led the way to the truck. On the way out to the parking lot, he could see Diana and Blair pulling into traffic in Jennifer's car. He held the passenger door open for Jennifer, then got in and followed the other two.
"So, tomorrow's the big finish. Then what?" He looked at her as he drove.
"Then, we cash in and move up north," she replied. "Unless you can tempt me into something else."
"What did you have in mind?" What was she getting at?
"Oh, I don't know. I was thinking it might be time for a change of dance partners." She reached over and put her hand on Jim's knee, squeezing gently. "We could take turns, being on the outside. I know how to use the computer to get the check-in lists, and we're the ones doing all the work, anyway."
Trouble in paradise? "Just like that, we each dump our partners and go off together into the sunset?"
She laughed. "Something like that."
"What about your silent partner? Will he go along with a change in personnel?"
"He'll go along." She removed her hand as they pulled into the driveway. "You can ask him yourself. He's coming into town tomorrow night. That's when we offload this weeks bounty and head north."
That was fast. Faster than he had expected. "Good. I'd like to meet this genius of yours who can give liquidation turn around like that." He parked the truck and they both climbed out, then went inside.
Blair was sitting at the computer on the kitchen table, while Diana was no where to be found. "How'd it go?" he asked, looking at Jim.
"Fine. Where's your friend?"
Blair shrugged and Jennifer touched her nose, sniffing loudly. "She's got a little recreation of her own."
Great. Robbery, breaking and entering, illegal distribution of stolen goods, and cocaine. Jennifer was looking at him with a knowing glance. "Maybe we could make it a threesome?" Jim asked, motioning to Blair who was looking at them both with a puzzled expression.
"I'll keep that in mind," Jennifer replied.
"Jim, there's been a change in plans." Blair motioned for him to look at the computer screen. "Two of tomorrow's guests have changed their reservations from tomorrow to late tonight."
"What?" Jennifer approached and leaned over Blair's shoulder to view the display. "Damn. Two hours from now." She paused, and Diana came into the kitchen. "And you probably just ruined the rest of the evening?"
"What's the problem?" Diana looked at each of them, still sniffing loudly.
"We've got two coming in tonight instead of tomorrow. We'll have to go back to work." She turned to Jim. "She'll be asleep in under an hour. Can he handle both of us?"
Jim glanced at Blair and nodded. "No problem."
"Good. They'll be arriving just in time for a late dinner. Maybe they'll both head downstairs and we can finish up quickly."
"Isn't this a little fast?" Blair asked. "The three from today are going to call the police for sure. That place will be crawling with security tonight."
"No, they won't even check their safes until the morning. Trust me, the cops around these places are none too smart, anyway." Jennifer walked into the kitchen, pushing Diana out of the way. "Well just get some quick dinner ourselves and get back to the hotel."
"You're going to leave me here?" Diana crossed to Jennifer at the stove and stood behind her, hands on hips. "I suppose next you'll be wanting to leave me and find a new partner?" With that, she waved a hand towards Jim. "I'm not good enough for you anymore?"
Jennifer was ignoring her as she removed leftover Chinese food boxes from the refrigerator.
Jim and Blair exchanged glances, then Blair motioned towards the front door with his chin.
"Maybe we should just meet you at the hotel." Jim said, standing up. "We should change clothes, anyway, so we aren't so noticeable."
Jennifer turned around then and nodded. "Good idea. I'll meet you in two hours, same place?" She was ignoring Diana completely.
"Same place," Jim agreed, pushing Blair ahead of him towards the door. Once outside, his partner started shaking his head and pushing his hair away from his face.
"Man, that girl is nuts!" he said, climbing into the truck. "She waited until that guy was just a few doors down before doing anything. And she wouldn't let me stop them any sooner." He shook his head as Jim backed the truck down the driveway. "I wouldn't trust that one to watch your back."
"I don't have to, Chief. I've got you." Jim pulled into traffic and drove towards Bryce's station house. "Judging by her habits, and what Jennifer was saying on the drive over, I'd say she doesn't trust Diana anymore either."
"What was she saying?"
"She wants a new partner. I think she's ready to dump Diana and move on."
"With you?" Blair asked, raising his eyebrows while a grin escaped his mouth.
Jim shook his head at his partner's expression. "Relax, Sandburg, it won't get that far. We get to meet the silent partner tomorrow night."
"Tomorrow night? Then we can finish this?"
Jim nodded, pulling up to Bryce's office. "Feel better?" Blair shook
his head but didn't answer. They went inside and filled Detective Bryce in, giving
him the names and room numbers of the new targets for that evening. They made
their plan to stake out the house during the next day's robberies, before the
silent partner was to arrive, so they could catch the entire group in the act.
Jim would wear a wire that day, and signal Bryce's men from inside the house when
the exchange went down. It all sounded easy enough. But Jim had been in enough
of these situations to know you couldn't take anything for granted. Even the best
Two hours later, they were back in the lobby of the hotel. Blair had been sent up to the 4thfloor to await the arrival of the first guest, while Jim and Jennifer watched for him from downstairs. At 7pm, both guests arrived in the same cab.
"They're both here," Jim said into the headset he held in his hand. "Must have come in on the same plane." Jennifer was watching both men from nearer the front desk, while Jim sat in a lounge chair beside the elevators. "You'll have to watch both rooms if these two go to dinner together." Jim was watching the guests as they chatted with each other during the check-in. Same plane, same auction, it stood to reason they were acquainted. "Can you handle that, Chief?"
"I guess I'll have to," Blair replied.
They finished checking in and walked to the elevators together. Jim noticed the case each man carried and wondered what was inside. The day's take had already exceeded several million by his estimation. Bryce's men were doing a good job of keeping things quiet after the first three heists.
Jennifer approached the chair Jim was in and nodded towards the elevator. "I'm going up," she said, pressing a button. "I have an idea." Before Jim could question her, she stepped inside the car and the doors closed behind her.
"Jennifer's coming up," he told Blair.
"I'm not sure. Keep an eye out." Jim waited.
"Jim, she's gone to one of their rooms. She's knocking on the door. What's going on here?"
"Take it easy, just keep an eye on her." What was she doing, setting them up? Was one of these men her silent partner? "What's happening?"
"She went inside. Jim, I don't like this."
He could hear concern in his partner's voice and wanted to go upstairs, but something inside told him not to. "Hang on, just wait a minute and see what happens." Jim scanned the lobby, then focused on the lounge, trying to see if Diana was there somewhere. If this was some kind of set up, he wasn't going to get Blair in the middle of it.
"She's coming out. With him," Blair said. "They're going to the other guy's room. Jim, he's coming out. The three of them are heading for the elevator. What is she doing?"
"A little distracting, I hope," Jim replied. He stood in front of the elevator they were coming down in and pressed the up button. If he was right, she had picked up on something over at the desk, and was using that to get both men out of their rooms and into the bar for an hour. If he was wrong, they'd find out soon enough. The doors opened and the three of them stepped out.
"Oh, my. You're so clever. We're gonna have some fun tonight, for sure," Jennifer said as they stepped out, passing Jim.
He entered the car and pressed the 4th floor button. Jennifer was walking towards the lounge, each arm wrapped around one waist as she flirted her way to the bar. Thank God for dirty old men. "It's okay, Chief. I think she's taking them out for some wife-cheating. That'll keep the coast clear for awhile." He stepped out on the fourth floor and proceeded to the first room, glancing at Blair who once again sat in the corner chair, watching him.
"So, you have to do both safes?" he asked quietly.
"Don't worry, we can handle them." He unlocked the first room and went inside. The safe tumbler was still warm from having just been opened. Jim's fingers tingled a little from the feel of warm metal as he focused on the dial. "Here goes." He started turning the wheel, letting the tumbler tell his fingers what to do. Blair kept up a running dialogue this time and Jim used his partners nervousness to keep himself grounded. Within minutes the safe was open, and he reached for the box inside. After zipping up the gold coins and hiding them in the toilet, he re-locked the safe and left the room. The next room was just two doors down, and he was inside in a second.
"We might have trouble here, Chief."
"Hang on." Jim reached out for the tumbler on the obviously brand new safe and gave it a spin. The feel of the strange dial was completely different than the others. "It's a newer safe."
"Is it the same style?"
"Yes, only newer. This one is quieter, it feels quieter."
"Jim, you can do it. Just take your time, and relax." Blair's concern changed to quiet confidence. "One direction at a time."
Jim took a deep breath, then reached out and took hold of the tumbler. He started the dial to the right, focusing as hard as he dared. Blair's voice was still in his head, only it began to grow farther and farther away with each combination gained. Jim lost all conscious thought of the safe as he began to float back inside the metal in his hand. Soon even the metal lost definition, and Jim was floating in darkness. Sounds and flashes of light exploded and swam across his mind. He knew what was happening, but that part of his brain that made the acknowledgment had no power to end it.
"Jim!" Blair's voice was so far away, but he recognized it. "Jim!" There was a touch on his arm, then a hand grabbed his other arm and he felt himself being pulled away. "Jim, come on! Breathe! Just concentrate on breathing. I know you can hear me, man."
Jim shook his head as more control returned to his tired mind. Blair's voice increased in strength, and he could feel hands holding him. He shook his head again and his vision began to clear. Blair was standing over him as he sat on the bed, looking up at his partner. The fog was clearing faster now, and he realized the safe was open.
"How'd you get in here?"
Blair let go of Jim's arms and shook his head. "You scared me, man. You were out for over fifteen minutes." He pushed hair away from his face. "I found a maid and swiped a master key to get in."
Jim shook his head one last time to clear the sensations of having zoned out and nodded. "Good work, partner." He stood up then and walked to the safe.
"Jim, we gotta get out of here. It's been over a half hour." Blair followed him to the safe and helped load the gold and jewelry into ziplock bags. "Are you sure you're all right?"
"I'm fine now." Jim replied, glancing back into the safe to make sure it was empty. "Put these in the toilet tank and let's get out of here." He closed up the safe and swung the mirror back in place. The fact that he had been able to open the safe shocked him, considering he had zoned out worse than ever before. It must have happened at the end, during the last turn. What would he have done if Blair hadn't been able to get into the room? He felt as though he had entered another dimension almost, floating away from reality. They left the room and hurried down the corridor to the elevators, just as the doors opened and Jennifer stepped out with her two drinking companions. She was laughing at something, and smiled at Jim and Blair as they passed through the doors. Jim half expected her to leave and join them, but she just continued down the hall to the first guest's door.
They stepped into the elevator and shut the doors. "I guess she's taking this all the way." Blair said, shaking his head as their car descended.
"I guess." Jim turned his head from side to side, feeling the effects of such an intense focus.
"Your neck?" Blair asked, watching him.
"Worse than ever," Jim replied as the doors opened. He was sweating still, and shaking from exhaustion that was just now beginning to manifest itself. "Let's go home." Jim drove them back to the loft, feeling every muscle in his back getting tighter and tighter with each mile. By the time they made it up to the loft, he was an exhausted wreck. "I'm gonna hit the shower," he said as they walked into the living room. The kitchen was swaying, and so was the floor.
"Hey, wait a minute." Blair reached out and took Jim by the arms. "Jim, man, you're asleep on your feet."
Jim couldn't argue as Blair led him to the couch and sat him down. He was exhausted, more so now that they were home and the adrenaline had completely worn off.
"You should eat." Blair helped him off with his coat and walked over to the door to hang it up.
Jim sighed, leaning into the couch. "I'm not hungry." He closed his eyes and tried to pick both feet up to put them on the coffee table, kicking his shoes off as he did. "Man, I've never been this affected by zoning out before."
"You've never been that far gone for more than a few seconds. I was afraid this could happen." Blair was standing behind the couch, "Lean forward."
"I can't." He was too tired to move, and now that he had sat down and closed his eyes, the idea of getting up again was too hard to imagine.
"Okay, roll over then. You're one big knot."
Jim felt Blair's hands on his shoulders, pushing him over to the side, so he obliged and lay down along the couch. "We've got four more tomorrow." Blair was beside the front of the couch now, leaning over him.
"This is pushing it, Jim. What if the safes in those rooms are new, too?"
Blair's hands began to massage Jim's shoulders methodically, working out the knots. Jim closed his eyes and willed the muscles to relax. If the other four safes were new, there could be trouble. Chances were, he and Jennifer would each take two. But that wasn't a guarantee. The four of them might or might not check in at the same time. They might or might not leave their rooms. Sometimes he thought the life of a criminal was just too unpredictable to ever succeed. But, succeed they often did. Blair's hands moved from his shoulders up to his neck and Jim could feel the tension and stress flow out of his mind as well as his stiff back. He would have given anything to have been able to watch his friend get that master key from a maid, but he never wanted to lose control for that long again to have to see it. What had seemed like seconds, was really over fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes of him doing what? Standing at the safe like a zombie? What would have happened if someone other than Blair had come into the room? No one else had ever brought him out of such a deep concentration before. Once or twice, when his senses were just becoming noticeable again, a sudden outside noise would snap him out of a slight trance, but he had never known how to concentrate on one sense to the point of losing all the others before meeting Blair. Not to the extend that he was able to now. And with the added confusion of Jennifer wanting to get rid of Diana, and them ready to meet the silent third partner, he didn't need any more problems. Maybe he should try the box Fingers had given them? No, it was just a new safe. How many more new ones could there be? He was going to ask Blair to move a little to the left, but he realized he wasn't there anymore. Jim couldn't remember the backrub being over. Sleepily he opened his eyes and caught a face full of sunrise through the open curtains in the living room.
"What?" He raised himself up on both elbows, glancing down at the blanket that was covering him as he lay on the couch. "Sandburg?" Jim sat up, noticing the sounds of the shower running. He rubbed tired eyes, then straightened up, working his shoulders. "Oh, man!" His back was like new. All tension and knots worked out from his neck and shoulders. When he had fallen asleep, he didn't know, but there was a blanket on the floor, along with the one he had just shrugged off, and hot coffee on the table in front of him. The shower stopped as Jim went upstairs to find fresh clothes. When he came back down, Blair was in the kitchen fixing eggs.
"What time is it?"
"Hey, Jim. How's the back?"
"Great. I can't believe I fell asleep like that, though." He sat down at the table and started eating breakfast. The tension and exhaustion had been taken care of, now the fact that he had slept through dinner needed to be addressed.
"Yeah, well, like I said, you've never zoned out like that before, man." Blair dished up more eggs and returned to the kitchen to wash the pans. "It's nearly 8:30. I slept in a little. Took me the better part of an hour to get that knot out of your neck. Jim, I'm serious, we can't let that happen again. I don't know what the hell I would have done if that maid hadn't been down the hall."
"You would have thought of something, Chief. You always do." Jim finished the last of the eggs and poured another cup of coffee.
"Yeah? Well what if I didn't? One of these days, something is gonna go wrong, and I'm not going to know what the hell to do."
Jim looked at Blair, hearing something in his voice that he found mirrored in his expressive face. "Listen, Chief, it worked out. It's over. We'll handle the next crisis as it comes along, okay? You haven't let me down yet."
Blair nodded reluctantly. "So, what's the plan?"
"I'm going to hit the shower, then we need to let Simon in on what's happening." He walked to the bathroom then paused. "You did leave some hot water, didn't you?"
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