"Jim, you're out of court."
Chief, just finished. What's up?"
"I was just checking on your date.
You and Cheryl still on tonight?" Blair knew his answer even before he got
to the real question, but it was worth a shot.
"Yes, we're still on. I'm
afraid you're on your own with your unpacking tonight, Chief."
Well, it had been a longshot. "Great. I'll be late tonight, then."
problem. I might not make it in tonight at all."
The grin he knew must
be on Jim's face was nearly audible. "Right. Listen, after I get this display
set up, it's back to normal for us."
"Good, Chief. Crime never stops,
you know. I'll have the cell phone with me. Try not to use it, okay?"
Later." Blair hung up and pushed the hair from his face. He'd just spent
a long, lonely day going over all the fact sheets for each display and fretting
over whether or not the crates would arrive on time. Just when he was sure every
case would be empty tomorrow morning when the delegates arrived, he got notification
of delivery in the basement shipping room.
Well, it won't unpack itself.
And he'd known talking Jim into a night of dust and packing straw would be a hard
sell. Nothing to do now but get down there and get to work. He stuffed a few tapes
into his pack and the stack of ID tags he'd spent all day working up, found the
list of items that should be in the crates, and went downstairs.
was almost deserted, and most of the hallways were already darkened for the night.
Blair found the crates he'd signed for stacked neatly and waiting for him. All
25 of them. He sighed in resignation and found his keys for the display hall upstairs
where the crates had to be carried. There was a handcart near the first stack
of crates, so he loaded it up with as many as he could manage, and started for
the elevator at the far end of the long hall.
It took Blair nearly half an
hour to muscle all the crates up to the right room. Once done, he dug a bottle
of water from his pack and fished out a tape. There was a wall unit on the far
side of the room, designed to set the mood during displays of various types. He
put in a tape he'd mixed a few months ago that blended the war chant of the Yanamamo
with some grunge and turned up the volume. It was nearly 8PM and he was alone
in the building, he was sure. The only things to keep him company tonight were
the drums and a buttload of artifacts. He should be thrilled, but he wasn't. He
was bored, actually. These days, he found spending entire days at the University
tedious. He still took great pleasure in his work, but some days, dealing with
artifacts, students, and papers just wasn't as exciting as it used to be.
like that day when he was blending the music that now blared into the room, giving
him energy to tackle the crates. The day when Jim Ellison walked into his office
had been no less grand than if a walking, talking holy grail had found its way
down the hall and into his life. That day had been almost a religious experience.
Until Joe Friday leaked out and slammed him into the wall. Well, they'd gotten
past that somewhat uncomfortable first day pretty easily. Once he'd been set back
down on his feet. And after the garbage truck incident. And that bit with the
Switchman. Then there was the bomb of course. All in all, not a bad day.
picked up the small crowbar he'd brought from the mailroom and opened the first
crate. He lifted out a statue and examined it with an expert eye, checking for
any damage. Once satisfied, he carried it to a display stand and arranged the
piece, found the proper ID tag, set it in place, then checked off the artifact
against his list and went back for another. He continued in this way through several
more crates and three more hours, all the while trying not to think about Jim's
odd behavior the night before.
He never was one to admit to pain, or being
sick, or anything else that affected his senses directly. Whether that was some
ingrained childhood thing, an army-induced sense of bravado, or just Jim Ellison,
Blair wasn't sure. Usually, they had a good working relationship concerning Jim's
senses acting odd or out of control in any way. But now and again, Blair had to
find out the hard way. Last night, his partner had almost been zoning out on sensations
that should have been routine with him. The colors he could see from opposite
ends of the light spectrum. Sending his sense of smell ahead of himself. Tactile
senses that he should have perfect control over. They all seemed to be fascinating
him as if for the first time. As if he'd just then awakened to his Sentinel abilities
and was drinking it all in.
He'd said it hadn't happened before, and coming
from Jim, that had to be true. But whether or not it meant anything was at this
point anyone's guess. Blair reached into another crate and pulled out a figure
that resembled the one still on his desk down the hall. He'd have to remember
to bring that one in before finishing up. Brushing the packing straw off, he recalled
Jim holding the god of prosperity in his office. That seemed to be when it had
started. Jim had been literally fascinated with the figure, and kept running his
hands over it. Then there was the coffee. The most he ever said about coffee was
yea or nay.
Blair shook his head and placed the new figure on a stand. I
wonder if Burton had this much trouble? But then, he wouldn't have. Burton
would have been surrounded by entire tribes who knew all about their Sentinels.
And the Sentinels themselves, who had surely been trained by their elders. Blair
had nothing but assumptions, research, and what little experience he was gaining,
to go on.
The tape ended again and he crossed the room to replace it. The clock
above the door read 11:45, so he cranked the volume up just a bit more. The only
one around likely to hear it was the night security, and that guy was pretty easy
going, and used to Blair Sandburg and the drums late at night. One quick check
of his paperwork and he returned to the last two boxes. Blair had just reached
for the crowbar when the lights suddenly went out. He felt a pressure in his back
and a hand on one shoulder.
He froze. The voice was
right next to his ear, but sounded muffled. Blair straightened up slowly, raising
both hands into the air.
"Nice and easy and nobody gets hurt."
gloved hand reached out and took Blair's right wrist, pulling it behind his back.
"Hey, if you're on a treasure hunt or something, you've come to the wrong
place, man. None of these things are worth much."
pressure increased, and Blair was certain it was the barrel of a gun being jammed
into the small of his back. Another hand came around and pulled his left wrist
behind his back. He realized then there were at least two of them, since the gun
in his back never flinched.
"We're just here for a pickup. Nobody needs
to get hurt."
"Hey, I'm not arguing." Blair felt a thin rope
wrap around his wrists, but before he could complain, a rolled up section of cloth
was shoved roughly into his mouth and tied behind his head. There was movement
behind him while the one with the rope finished securing his hands, then he was
pushed to the side of the room and shoved down to the floor against a wall. He
could see two other figures moving around near the crates, both clad in black
with full ski masks covering their heads and faces. The one who had tied and gagged
him was now threading the rest of the rope through a stanchion in the floor normally
used to counterbalance heavy display items. Once done, the other end of the rope
was used to bind both of Blair's ankles.
"Just relax. You'll be found
in the morning." His captor finished knotting the rope and pulled the gun
back out of his pants. "We'll be done in a few minutes."
helpless as he watched the three intruders tear into the last two crates. They
lifted out the last of the artifacts, but instead of sending them smashing to
the floor as he feared, they were set down with some care. Each of the crates
was inspected, and after they reached into these last two, they pulled out something
dark that Blair couldn't see. Once their finds were stuffed into backpacks, they
hurried out of the room, shutting and locking the door behind them.
was dark, except for the moonlight filtering in from the large windows. The tape
was still playing very loudly, and as Blair sat there wondering just what the
hell had happened, he realized he'd set the player on continuous replay. Even
if he could manage to shout around the gag, he'd never get enough volume to clear
that. He tried the ropes, but they were too tight, and the knot was down at his
ankles. Frustrated, he leaned against the wall and tried to work the gag off.
They'd tied it under and around much of his hair, and pushing against the wall
was causing more harm than good.
Dammit! This is just perfect. What
they had found in those crates, Blair was at a loss to guess. Must have been something
smuggled in with his artifacts, since those had gone completely untouched. He'd
nearly been finished, too. Another half hour, and the displays would have been
done and he'd have been on his way home. Whatever those guys had found in the
crates must have been on the bottom under layers of straw. Blair hadn't found
anything that wasn't supposed to be there. But then, he'd stopped digging around
once he'd found each piece listed in the crate. Blair sighed as best as he could
around the cloth in his mouth, and leaned back against the wall, resting his head
against the stone. Just great. Hadn't he just been lamenting a dull few
days? That'll teach me. He could see the clock from where he was, the
face illuminated in moonlight. 12:15AM. Jim was on an all-nighter. The security
guard would make a pass down the hall around 2:00, but he probably wouldn't come
in. He was used to Blair being around at odd hours. That meant he'd either be
found by Professor Peters around 6:00, or Professor Kinyon at 7:30.
just great. He'd never live this one down. Sure, Jim, I signed for the
crates. Then let three guys sneak up on me, tie me up, and take the packages.
Struggle? No, man, they had a gun. What'd they look like? I dunno,
Jim. God, maybe he'd believe there were 12 armed gunmen? No, he couldn't
lie to Jim. He could try, but it never worked. Blair looked at the crates, wondering
what had been in there all that time. Drugs? Money? Diamonds, maybe? They'd been
shipped from the Gold Coast. Whoever those guys were, they either had some respect
for the artifacts, or just didn't want to add to the noise as they searched for
their stash. Not that some breaking clay pots could be heard over the music playing
throughout the room. Music that was now giving Blair a headache.
nothing to do now but wait. The ropes were too tight, the gag too entangled in
his hair, and the music too loud. With the lights off and the music on, he had
a small chance of cluing in the security man that something was amiss. But it
was a small one.
Three hours later, Blair's butt was sore, his hands were numb,
and his throat dry as sandpaper. He'd tried to nap, since there wasn't much else
he could do, but it was useless. Now the throbbing in his wrists and the pounding
headache from too many hours of the tape were taking their toll. The music had
just died down, preparing for another play, when he heard the door knob rattle.
Blair's eyes shot open and he tried to shout around the gag before the drums started
up again. At 3:30 in the morning, it had to be security. He shouted again, but
the drums were kicking in, and his throat was getting sore. There was a pounding
on the wood, then another, and suddenly the double doors burst open.
Jim hurried inside, drawing his gun as he entered.
Blair was both relieved
and embarrassed that it was Jim who found him there, bound and gagged on the floor.
But mostly he was relieved.
Jim scanned the room, then moved quickly to Blair
as he put his gun away. "What the hell happened here?"
out the gag as Jim untied it. "What does it look like? Three guys came in,
tied me up, then took some things out of the crates and left. Ow!"
had untied the rope from Blair's ankles, and was now unwinding it from around
his wrists. "Are you hurt?"
"No. One of them had a gun, but
they only wanted what was in the crates." Blair hissed against the sharp
tingling sensation as the circulation was restored to his numb hands. Jim looked
at his wrists closely before letting him get off the floor.
this happen?" He walked to the door and flipped on the lights, then shut
the stereo off and returned to where Blair was standing.
He looked inside one of the crates but remembered not to touch anything, now that
his night's work was a crime scene. Jim's hand touched his arm.
He handed Blair the water bottle he'd left on one of the displays. "You sure
Blair accepted the water and nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine."
One drink and his throat wasn't quite so scratchy. "I can't believe this,
man. I was all over these crates, and I didn't see anything."
and pulled the cell phone out of his pocket. "Just take it easy. At least
no one was hurt." He called in the crime while Blair tried to examine the
last artifacts without touching them. After calling the Station, Jim put in a
call to campus security, then put the phone away and walked to Blair. "Anything
"No, they didn't take any of the artifacts. They aren't
really worth much anyway. Whatever they wanted was just in with them."
you see what it was?"
Blair shook his head. "No, it was too dark.
Small, dark packages. Two in each crate. And they couldn't have been too heavy,
they packed all of them into two bags and ran out." Jim was reaching around
inside one crate and Blair stood by, still shaking his head over what had happened.
At least none of the artifacts had been taken or damaged. The only trouble he
was in now was having signed for a delivery that obviously had been used to smuggle
something in from Africa. But then, he hadn't shipped them. "Anything?"
"No." Jim looked around the outside of the box, then moved on to
another one and reached inside, moving the packing straw around. "There's
plenty of room down here to have shipped something small. My guess is drugs."
He looked around at the other crates. "Could have packed two kilos per crate.
That's a big shipment."
"Why'd you come over here, Jim? I thought
your date was going to be all night?"
Jim shook his head. "So did
I. I got home around midnight and found an old movie. When it was over, I realized
how late it was and figured you should be home by now. I tried your cell phone."
Blair made a face and glanced at Jim apologetically. "It's in my office."
Jim nodded. "Man, the dean is going to kill me for this." Blair was
still going down the list of people he'd have to explain this to. The room would
be a crime scene all night and most of the next day, which meant the display couldn't
be opened, which meant the luncheon planned for this room would have to be moved
to another room, which meant some quick shuffling by the planning committee. He
sighed and pushed his hair back, wondering if maybe it was too late to skip town
before the dean got a call from campus security.
That was when he noticed Jim
squinting. "Jim, what's up?"
"Those lights." He was shading
his eyes from the overhead lights. "They're brighter all of a sudden."
Blair looked up instinctively, then back at his partner. "Jim, the lights
haven't changed. Are your eyes opened up or something? Is it happening again?"
He stepped closer and put a hand on Jim's arm, trying to get a look at his eyes.
"I don't know. They were fine when I came in. Now everything's just brighter."
Jim blinked and looked around. "It's okay, I think I can adjust."
something's wrong." Blair's hand remained on Jim's arm and he used that to
try and make his partner listen to him. "What about your other senses? Do
they seem heightened at all? Out of control?"
Jim paused, then shook his
head. "I think they're fine."
"I think there's something wrong,
Jim." Blair let go of his arm and set down the water bottle. "Did this
happen at all today? How do you feel right now?"
"Sandburg, I'm fine.
Probably just tired or something. In fact, I feel good. Just relax, would you?"
Blair started to protest, but he was interrupted by the group of officers and
campus security that came in. He was soon taken to a corner of the room and forced
to repeat his story for the campus police while Jim led the team around the evidence.
He watched as his partner joked and laughed with the other detectives, then supervised
as forensics gathered evidence. The lights no longer seemed to be bothering him,
but every now and again, Blair saw Jim stop and cock his head to the side, as
if beginning to zone out on something, only to come back out of it smiling.
the time they left, the sun was coming up, and he was convinced there was something
wrong with his friend. He waited until they were in the truck and driving home
before he brought the subject up.
"I think we need to get you to the hospital,
get you checked out."
"What?" Jim laughed, looking at Blair
with raised eyebrows. "I'm not the one who was tied up all night, Chief.
Why would I need to be checked out?"
"Jim, last night it was the
moon, and the smells. Tonight it's lights, and I saw you nearly zoning out several
times in there." He shook his head, watching his partner. "You know,
if I didn't know any better, I'd say you were on---Of course!" Blair slapped
"What?" Jim looked at him sharply.
Jim. That explains it. The heightened senses, euphoria, then no trace of it afterwards.
It has to be."
"Explain it to me now, Chief." Jim parked the
truck outside the loft and turned to look at Blair.
"In my office last
night, you were holding Mobutu Denai. It came in a crate that arrived before the
others. That's what had me so nervous about the delivery coming on time. I brought
it upstairs since it was the only one in that box. If there were drugs in with
"Then they could still be there." Jim started the truck
again and pulled down his visor, turning on the strobe lights so they could get
back through traffic in a hurry. "Where is this box now?"
trying to catch up. He hadn't been thinking about that. "Um, in the trash,
probably." They sped back to the University.