"Jim!" Blair's voice was clearer now, and Jim used it
to pull himself back out, looking at the safe as he forced himself to let go of
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
"I'm okay, Chief," Jim replied, pulling the door
open all the way. "Where's Jennifer?"
"Still inside 719. What's
"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
"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."
we're heading up to the ninth," Jim said into his microphone.
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
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.
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.
he said, handing her back the key card. "Get that from your inside source,
"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?"
of the trade." Jim said, producing the key decoder.
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."
and reached for the tumbler while Jim moved in closer, putting the headset on.
"How's the hallway?" he asked, watching Jennifer.
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.
can handle him, don't worry," Jennifer whispered from the safe.
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.
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
"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
"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.
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
"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."
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?"
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
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.
Where's your friend?"
Blair shrugged and Jennifer touched her nose, sniffing
loudly. "She's got a little recreation of her own."
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."
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."
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
"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?"
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.
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.
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."
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."
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
"I'm not sure. Keep an eye out."
"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.
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
"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
"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.
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
"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.
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
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
"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."
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
"This is pushing it, Jim. What if the safes in those rooms are
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.
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
"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
"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
"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."
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."
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?"