Blair rolled over and winced as his bruised cheek pressed into
the pillow. Automatically rolling back over, his right hand clutched the side
of the bed and he nearly cried out as stiffened fingers resisted the motion. When
everything stopped throbbing, Blair realized it was morning. He could hear Jim
in the shower and knew he'd have to get up. But he also knew getting up wasn't
going to be easy. Sore muscles were now painfully stiff, and he had to calculate
the best method for getting off the bed and into a standing position. Preferably
without alerting Jim that he was in pain. The last thing Blair needed, aside from
falling out of bed and hurting himself even more, was another round of Jim Ellison's
self-appointed guilt. Sometimes Blair wondered which was stronger; Jim's ability
to feel guilt, or his own constant insecurities.
But he did feel better this
morning. Better at least about what had happened, and the aftermath. Getting Jim
past the danger point was the hardest few hours Blair had endured in a long time.
They ranked right up there with the time spent in that chair, staring back at
David Lash. It hadn't even occurred to him that Jim would think he was to blame.
Having recently gone through much the same experience, Blair had just assumed
Jim would understand that he wasn't responsible. That Jim, like Blair, hadn't
been in control. And therefore whatever he did, or tried to do, while influenced
by the drug, wasn't his fault. But there he was, trying to apologize for it all.
Blair could have dealt with a lot of things, and had over these many months. The
thought that Jim might have lied to him back in that hospital--that Jim would
lie to him about anything--was too much. That, he could never deal with.
a sigh, Blair decided the hold-your-breath-and-just-do-it method wouldn't get
him more than halfway out of bed. So, he was reduced to the ooze-yourself-off
technique that, while always lacking in aesthetics, usually got you to your feet,
eventually. First, he rolled over to the side of the bed, then after pausing for
a moment, eased his legs out from under the blanket, and used their downward momentum
to help twist his torso around, putting him in a position to push off from the
bed, instead of using his abdomen to lift him. Once out of bed and on his feet,
Blair put a hand to his aching stomach and groaned. It's always worse the
day after. At least Jim was still in the shower, and hadn't seen that pathetic
Perfect timing, too. Jim's shower ended just as Blair started to
walk to his dresser for clean shorts.
"Hey, Chief. How you feeling today?"
Jim stopped at the door, a towel wrapped around his waist.
He found a clean pair, then realized it was his last. "Just a little stiff
this morning." Pushing the drawer closed, Blair glanced over at the closet.
It must be laundry day, the pickings were slim. "It'll work itself out, though."
"Yeah. I'm going to call Simon and check in, then you and I are heading
over to the University to talk with Bilks."
"Right." Blair walked
slowly toward the door and Jim moved back, letting him into the hallway. "Did
I miss laundry day?"
Jim laughed. "We both did. Slept right through
it." He walked to the stairs, rubbing a hand over wet hair. "I took
two loads down this morning, and as soon as I get some pants on, I'll go put them
in the dryers."
Blair nodded, but any answer was put off by a huge yawn
he couldn't suppress. A hot shower helped to loosen up stiff muscles, but the
spray hurt his bruised face, and sore fingers made washing his hair take twice
as long as usual. By the time Blair was out and toweling off, Jim had returned
from putting the clothes in the dryer. After drying off, and tossing his dirty
boxers and wet towel into the empty hamper, he felt a little more human. Buttoning
his jeans was a struggle, but when he finished, his nose registered breakfast.
"Coffee's ready." Jim was just setting his own cup on the table and
sitting down when Blair came out of his room, wearing his last clean pair of faded
jeans and an emerald shirt he always forgot he had.
Blair inhaled gratefully.
"You went to the bakery?" He poured a cup of coffee, glancing over one
shoulder to the table.
"Yep. Buttermilk for me, fresh and hot. And for
you, zucchini muffins." Jim sipped his coffee and picked up a doughnut. "Oh,
and Elise says to tell you thanks for the recipe last week, it was a big hit."
"Ah, that's great." He nodded and sat down, lifting one of the huge
muffins out of the bag. It was still warm, and so brimming with chunks of zucchini,
there was no need for butter. Blair had never cared for the smell of doughnuts:
luckily, the muffin was so fresh and warm, it overpowered the scent of deep-fried
dough his partner was enjoying. "Did you talk to Simon?"
Jim wiped his fingers on a napkin, then reached into the bag for another. "Narcotics
says there's no word out on the streets about any new cocaine shipment. There's
been no sudden increase in traffic, no new dealers on the block, nothin'."
"Maybe they're waiting? Take their time, wait for the heat to die down."
Jim shook his head. "I don't know. It's possible." He set down the
doughnut and picked up his coffee. "The thing I don't like is why cut it
there? I mean, using the University to ship it in is one thing. But to stay there
with it, and do their cutting right there on school grounds, just doesn't make
"Unless they really are students, and the University is the
only place they could think to do something like that."
still got a few suspects over there, that's for sure." Jim finished his coffee
and stood. "I told Simon we were going to talk to Bilks this morning, then
meet up with Bell in Narcotics, see what he has to offer."
Blair stuffed the last bite of muffin into his mouth and carried his cup to the
kitchen. The dishes from last night had been put away, so he rinsed out the cup
and set it in the empty sink. "You've gotten a lot done this morning."
"Just got all caught up on sleep, I guess." Jim crossed the room
and picked up the cell phone, checking the battery out of habit before putting
it in his pocket. "Compared to yesterday morning, I'm feeling pretty good."
Blair nodded and went looking for his shoes. He wished he felt better, instead
of stiffer and a bit more sore. But they were lucky. Not only had he sustained
only a few minor--though irritating--injuries, but Jim had escaped without permanent
damage to his senses, or his mind. Blair was trying very hard not to think about
what could have happened, and just concentrate on what was real. Jim was fine,
he was fine, everything between them was fine. That's what was important. Not
the fact that his partner could have been rendered insane from the sensory overload.
Not that Blair could have lost him forever. Not that Jim could have killed him,
then been left to deal with that alone.
And not that Blair was wearing different
colored socks. He sighed and pulled on a shoe. For some reason, laundry day was
always punctuated by his socks not matching. No matter what he did, or how many
pairs he bought, by the time laundry day rolled around, he was left with two that
didn't match. Today it was one black and one grey. Blair pulled on the other shoe
then looked for his keys. Maybe having odd socks would bring a little balance
to the universe, and they'd get this case solved.
Or maybe he'd just go buy
Jim laughed inside as he took note of
Blair's sock colors. It seemed every laundry day his partner ended up with two
colors. How he managed that, after buying a new supply of matching pairs just
last month, Jim didn't understand. But it was something he could count on. And,
it was amusing. Blair was becoming predictable in some small ways, yet still remained
a mystery in others. The fact that Jim could count on his partner's socks not
matching at least one day a week went along with his ability to count on Blair
to back him up whenever he needed it. Or, more importantly, to keep him alive
in spite of himself. Jim hadn't taken the idea of his having reacted to the cocaine
all that seriously the first two times. As a cop, he was exposed to danger every
day, and had learned a long time ago to take it all in stride. Solving a crime
with few leads had been the priority. And the idea that he had actually reacted
to the cocaine when there wasn't even a visible amount, just wasn't something
Jim wanted to consider. Not until last night in the maintenance shed, when Jim
nearly killed Blair, did he realize just how close he was to dying himself. And
he would have died, if his friend hadn't been there, kept his cool, and known
what was happening and what to do about it. But now that it had happened, they'd
have to figure out a way to keep it from happening again.
On the way to the
University, while Blair was telling him all about Harry Bilks, Jim noticed a deep,
quieting feeling inside. As much as his friend liked to think of Jim as his Blessed
Protector, he was more and more considering Blair his own dependable guardian.
Blair liked to think of himself as just a Guide, but Jim knew better. He was sometimes
a teacher, sometimes a partner, always a friend, and definitely someone Jim could
depend on. Hell, he didn't even know where the word Guide had come from. Sandburg
probably made it up.
They pulled in to the parking lot and it took two
trips around the entire lot to find an open spot. After Jim parked, Blair pointed
through the windshield.
"There's Elizabeth Evans, the dean's daughter."
Jim followed Blair's direction until he saw a young woman, early twenties,
walking across the campus a few yards in front of them. Blair's 'can of spam'
was very attractive. Dressed in a skirt that touched her ankles in a swirl of
feminine modesty, a matching purple sweater with the sleeves pushed up, and flat
shoes, she walked gracefully toward the Administration Building. Her long brown
hair was held in place by a French braid that trailed to her waist.
she studying here, or working?" Jim opened the door and got out, waiting
for Blair to join him on the sidewalk. The bruise on his face had lost a little
redness, but it was still very distinct. Jim couldn't help noticing how he was
letting the hair on that side of his face fall farther forward than usual.
actually." Blair stepped up from the curb and watched Elizabeth enter the
building facing them. "Studies art, and she's interning through the University's
museum project." He turned and started down the path toward the Social Sciences
"What exactly does an intern with a museum do?" Jim followed
his partner over the familiar route.
"Gopher work, mostly. Packing and
unpacking, labeling exhibits, taking things in and out of storage, sometimes arranging
the tedious details of gallery openings and new showings."
familiar." He opened the door to Blair's building and grinned at him as they
"Someone's gotta keep you big shots looking good," Blair
countered. "The shipping department is next door, but we can get there through
the basement of this building." He led the way down the hall to a stairwell.
"How well do you know this Bilks?" Jim followed Blair down two flights
and into an underground corridor with multiple flourescent bulbs illuminating
its wide expanse.
"Not very, I guess. I mean, he's been here for several
years. But I only see him now and again, when I have to ship things out for the
University, or when something's coming in. Like this last shipment." Blair
reached for a door marked Shipping and Receiving and pulled it open. "I come
down here to fill out some forms, and that's about it."
Jim followed him
into a large room with a counter off to one side and rows and rows of boxes, shelves,
and mail slots stretching on behind it. There was no one to be found as they entered,
but one quick focus and Jim located someone at the far left, behind a partition,
moving around. "This is where your crates were delivered?"
I came down to sign for them and they were in the back, but later that night,
when I was ready to open them up, Harry had them sitting out here with a hand
Jim moved around the area, not sure what he was trying to pick
up, but trying nevertheless. "Who has access down here?"
"Just about anyone. Staff, faculty, TA's, any student sent down to pick something
up. But they'd have to sign it out."
"Can I help you?" Jim turned
to see a tall, thin man, somewhere in his early thirties, with dusty jeans, a
black sweater and dramatically blond hair cut so short it was nearly invisible.
He was approaching, squinting for no apparent reason as he looked at Jim. His
head jerked to one side and green eyes locked on Blair. "Oh, Blair. I thought
you would be shipping those artifacts out tomorrow night. Did you come for more
"No, actually." Blair motioned to Jim. "Harry,
this is Detective Ellison, Cascade PD."
Harry looked again at Jim, then
gave him a full body scan, starting at his feet and moving slowly upward. "Cascade
PD? Whatever for?"
Jim produced his ID, but didn't leave it out long enough
for Harry to give it as close a scrutiny. "I have a few questions regarding
the shipments Mr. Sandburg had delivered from Africa."
Harry's eyes had
just locked on Jim's identification when he snapped it shut and returned it to
his pocket. "Questions?" He sniffed, looking at Blair again. "Shipment?"
Harry sniffed again, then let out a violent sneeze that set him reeling back on
"Bless you." Blair had instinctively leaned back a bit,
then rolled his eyes slightly when Harry fished through a pocket for some Kleenex.
"You handled the delivery of several crates from the Gold Coast. Crates
containing artifacts intended for a display here at the University during a function
put on by Professors Peters and Kinyon." Jim watched Harry's eyes as the
man blew his nose. "Did you arrange for their shipment as well?"
nodded, then finished with his Kleenex and tossed it into a waste can near the
counter. "Yes, as a matter of fact, I did. But I didn't exactly fly out there
and pack them, if that's what you're insinuating."
Jim glanced at Blair,
then pursed his lips slightly while shaking his head once. "I'm not insinuating
anything, just asking some questions." He looked back at Harry and held his
gaze. "I'm sure you're aware there's been a crime committed that involves
those crates. I'm simply trying to determine who had access, and when."
was nodding again, but his eyes were squinting and his hand shot back into a pocket.
"Yes, yes, I'd heard." He sneezed again just as more Kleenex was produced.
"Bless you." Jim couldn't help the disgusted wrinkle his nose made.
"Can you tell me what your involvement was in the shipments?"
than filling out some forms, and having Blair arrange the delivery of the artifacts
to the shipping department in Africa, I really didn't have much at all to do."
He blew his nose again and tossed the tissue into the trash bin. "I check
all the papers, make sure the customs slips are in order, but I don't open the
crates or break the seals. That's up to the Professor who ordered them, or in
the case of this shipment, Blair."
"And you don't have any assistants
or co-workers who might have had access to the crates, or the shipping documents?"
"Assistants? Please." Harry shook his head, looking disgusted. "They
can't even afford to give me a raise, let alone an assistant. Heck, I don't even
warrant a simple intern down here in the dungeon." His lament was punctuated
by another sneeze.
Jim glanced at Blair who shook his head and shrugged. "Mr.
Bilks, I'd like to look at your shipping documentation, and get a list of anyone
who might have access to this area after closing."
Harry blew his nose
again then walked behind the counter, tossing his Kleenex as he sat down. "No
one has access down here after I leave, unless they've made arrangements. Blair
told me he would be down to collect the crates late that night, so I left them
out here where he could get to them. Many of the Professors have keys to the door
down here, but only I have a key to the storage areas." He pulled open a
file cabinet and fished around, looking for something.
"And the documents?
Who besides you and the Professor requesting the shipment would know something
was coming?" Jim sensed another sneeze coming on as Harry paused, squinting.
This time it was repressed, and he pulled out a file. "Anyone working
with the person arranging the order, I suppose." He handed the file to Jim.
"There are the documents. All were filled out by Blair, then I handle the
Jim accepted the file, then noticed a quick increase
in Harry's heartrate. With a glance, he confirmed the buildup of sweat on the
man's forehead, and a slight dilation to his pupils.
They heard a buzzer from
the opposite end of the room. Harry stood up. "Excuse me, that's a delivery."
Jim nodded as Harry walked back through the rows of shelving toward a large
door at the far end. Setting the file down on the counter, he opened it and started
scanning the documents. "Pleasant fellow." Jim let sarcasm color his
tone and Blair laughed shortly.
"He's allergic to dust."
"Yeah. Perfect job for him, huh?" Blair glanced around the room.
"Perfect motive for having something on the side." Jim found several
signatures, each verifying the contents of the crates without breaking the seal
placed on at the point of origin. Blair had signed for them all at 6PM, ten minutes
after confirmation of their delivery was marked off by Harry Bilks.
Blair sighed. "I wonder how long this has been going on."
a page and found more of the same. "Who knows, Chief? We could have stumbled
into a major drug import source here, or just happened upon a first-time attempt."
"Man, I have things coming in all the time. Bolivia, Peru, Mexico, Africa."
Blair pushed his hair back with one hand and Jim glanced up, seeing again the
large bruise on the side of his face. Instead of forcing the long hair back, Blair
let it fall again to cover the mark. "I hope this was the first time."
"Relax. You're not at fault. And we'll catch them." Jim closed the
file and looked back to where Harry had gone. He was finished with the delivery
man, and was now talking to a very attractive woman. Blair's can of spam. "Looks
like Harry has company." Jim focused on the pair as Elizabeth began to gesture
wildly. Harry turned, pointing to him and Blair, then sneezed again. She stepped
back, then pulled a handkerchief from her purse and thrust it at him. Jim changed
focus and caught some of the conversation.
"Daddy's pissed. And I can
hardly blame him." Elizabeth's voice was far more harsh than Jim would have
imagined, after seeing what a frail, feminine beauty she was. "Something
like this doesn't look good for the University."
"What do you care
how it looks for the University?"
"I care about Daddy's reputation.
And this school's. Those were important artifacts. What if one had been broken?"
"That's what you're concerned about? The artifacts?" Harry sneezed
again. "Look, I've got a cop up there I have to talk to. I don't have time
for your little worries right now."
"You'd just better make time
soon, Harry. Real soon."
Jim watched as Harry tried to return the handkerchief
only to have her give him a look of complete disgust, a look that twisted her
fine porcelain features into a perfect mask of revulsion.