No Zones Allowed
You know the drill. We don't own, we just play.
Author's Notes: Thanks to TSL for their patience and a BIG THANK YOU TO
Gershwhen, my beta and to Michelle for hosting me!
Jim is zoning. Can someone figure out why before he's run over by the cluebus?
No Zones Allowed
He'd fucking zoned. When had he
last done that anyway? Five, six
months ago? Yeah, at least. Damn, he was nothing more than a stupid child, still
fascinated by something shiny. Fucking, damn trendy clothing store.
Using three silver balls that bounced up and down, up and down, to
advertise themselves. Shiny and bouncy, and just like Blair, and what had Jim
done? Gone all goo-goo eyed then promptly zoned.
Not that he was mad that he'd
zoned. He wasn't. He was mad because he'd stood there like an idiot, in plain
view of anyone who wanted to look, with Simon, for twenty long minutes. Poor
Simon, trying so hard to bring him out. Okay, that still wasn't why he was
really mad. He was really mad because Simon had called Sandburg. And Sandburg
had come. And in two minutes, Jim had become zone free.
God damn Sandburg. He'd left a
class to come to Jim's aid. A class. Forty-five students and a slide
presentation. For Jim. And it had taken the little shit only TWO FUCKING MINUTES
to bring Jim out. TWO FUCKING MINUTES!
A folder was dropped on his desk
and he glanced up, scowling.
"Homicide, via Simon, just
turned this over to us, Jimbo. You and me."
Oh swell. Connor. Could his day
get any worse? She leaned across his desk and grinned. He got a whiff of her
perfume, sneezed three times, then nodded to himself. Yep, his day could get
"What the fuck are you
wearing, Connor? And did you bathe in it or something?"
She patted his cheek. "Don't
worry, Jimbo, I promise not to upstage you -- this time." She snickered and
walked to her desk, grabbed her jacket and purse, then with a jerk of her head,
said, "Come on, hop to it. We have people to interview."
Jim looked up at the ceiling and
mumbled, "Why me, God?"
This time it was an ice cream
Jim and Connor were leaving the
cute little mansion that belonged to the publisher of Cascade's premiere print
rag when the truck came down the street. Connor was ahead of him and already
down the brick steps that led from the massive front door to the sidewalk, when
Jim heard the little bell.
He'd cocked his head, listened to
the soft tones of the bell, and that was all anyone wrote. Jim was off; this
time in audio sentinel la-la land. When he came out of it, he was still standing
on the brick steps, thirty minutes had elapsed and Sandburg was standing in
front of him, his hand on Jim's cheek.
"Yeah, Jim, it's me. Or the
tooth fairy. Take your pick." Blair proceeded to give Jim a huge toothy
"You had a conference this
afternoon," Jim said, his mind numb.
"Yep. Then Connor called. I
ducked out in the middle of Professor Handelman's scintillating discussion of
grass huts, hats and skirts. It was a real audience pleaser."
"Sounds like it. Did he do
"Yeah, but the hut looked
shitty on him."
Jim burst into laughter. When he
was laughed out, he asked the inevitable, even though he knew the answer.
Blair turned and looked out over
the street. "Well, according to Connor, an ice cream truck came along and
the guy rang the bell and you took a nap."
"And this was how long
"Thirty, thirty-five minutes
Blair nodded. "Yep."
Jim looked down at his partner
and saw those blue eyes staring up at him, wide and innocent, and Jim's own eyes
narrowed. "What, Chief?"
"Nothing, Jim, nothing.
"Shouldn't you get
"Yes, I should. If I can
sneak back in, I might be in time for Professor Whitman's lecture on the effect
of the rebirth of the blue-winged Batberry bird of Brazil on the lost tribes of
the Amazon. It's a real corker."
Jim's eyes narrowed again.
"You just made that up, didn't you, Sandburg?"
"I do *not* make stuff up,
Jim. It's Whitman's theory that the lost tribes of the Amazon will be found
thanks to the Batberry bird of Brazil." Sandburg cocked his head and looked
thoughtful. "The Batberry bird of Brazil is really attractive. For a bird.
I'd get found for it."
"You're sick, Sandburg, very
sick. Go to school."
Blair had promptly trotted down
the steps, waved a good-bye to Connor, then climbed into his Volvo and sped off.
Batberry bird of Brazil indeed.
"Okay, Connor, where to
next?" Jim asked as if he'd never zoned in his life, let alone twice in the
The rest of the morning was
rather uneventful, with their witnesses disappointing them by telling the truth.
As far as Jim was concerned, that meant they hadn't interviewed the murderer
yet. As he negotiated the turn onto the Riverside Bridge, he asked, "Who's
"Um," Connor said as
she thumbed through the file, "Annie Demayo. She was Henderson's fiance. I
saved her for last because she lives out on the sound."
"East end or west?"
"West. Once you get over the
bridge, take the 20."
They drove in silence for ten
blessed minutes, then Connor broke it.
"So, it's been awhile,
"You and zones."
"What do you think triggered
"Gee, Connor, I believe it
was a bell."
"Har-har. I mean, why are
you suddenly zoning?"
"How the hell should I
"You're the sentinel,
Ellison. If anyone should, wouldn't it be you?"
"Well, I don't know, so
let's drop it, shall we?"
"But no one could bring you
out of it—except Sandy.
That doesn't bode too well, you
"And that means what,
"It means, what if you zone
and Sandy isn't around?"
He really hated Connor. Really,
he did. And he especially wished that she wouldn't call Sandburg - Sandy.
Sandburg was NOT a Sandy. Sandy was a girl, or a big beefy redheaded man, or
some freckled guy named Sanderson. Sandy was NOT Blair. Blair was NOT Sandy.
Jim gave a little shiver.
And why wouldn't Sandy -- *BLAIR*
-- be around?
"I think she knows
"But she wasn't lying."
"But she knows something,
Jim moved up another car length.
Thank God Wonderburger finally had a drive-thru. He was only three cars away
from the order menu. He glanced over at Connor and frowned.
"Yeah, you're right, she
knows something. I think we'd better re-interview John What's-his-name."
They moved up another car length.
"Why re-interview him?"
Connor asked, curious.
"I sensed the same kind of
holding back, the same fear."
He waited for the comment and
when it failed to materialize, he realized that of course, it wouldn't. Only
Sandburg would have been excited to find out that Jim could sense similarities
in fear scents and Connor wasn't Sandburg. Duh. For that matter, no one was
Thank God, only one car now
separated him from his Double Wonderburger with everything. Sandburg would kill
him if he knew, but hey, what Sandburg didn't know, yadda-yadda.
"So after lunch, we head
back to the Cascade Whisper?"
Jim nodded, too engrossed in the
approaching order menu and Wonderburger clown to actually provide a verbal
answer. He was so close to the burger of his dreams that if the cell phone rang
right now—he'd toss it out the window, so help him God.
"You gonna answer that,
With a tortured sigh, Jim pulled
out the offending phone, flipped it open, then barked, "This better be
<Hey, man, how's your day?>
"Sandburg, did you hear me?
I said 'this better be good' and asking me about my day doesn't qualify."
<I was just asking, Jim. You
know, concerned partner and all?
"Sandburg, I'm hanging up
Jim hit the *end* button, but not
before he heard Sandburg's laughter. The prick.
"Jim, our turn to order.
I'll have the Double Wonderburger with everything, a large fry and a chocolate
Jim closed his eyes, counted to
ten, then when a sickeningly sweet voice asked, "May I take your order,
please?" he said, "One Double Wonderburger with everything, one large
fry, one chocolate malt, one Double Veggieburger with everything, one medium fry
(take that, Sandburg) and one— diet soda."
The second interview with John
Tallon simply cemented Jim's certainty that Tallon and Demayo knew something
together. How sweet. While they were in Tallon's office, Jim noticed a picture
behind the man. Three young people, arm in arm, laughing for the camera. Jim
recognized Tallon and Demayo, but the third person was *not* Henderson, their
"Mr. Tallon," Jim asked
as he and Connor stood to leave, "that picture behind you? I recognize you
and Miss Demayo. I didn't realize you two were that close."
Tallon immediately drew himself
up and Jim's senses went on alert. The guy was reigning in his emotions.
"We've known each other for
quite a while, Detective."
"I see. And you didn't feel
it important enough to tell us earlier?" Connor asked sweetly.
"You're investigating Ralph
Henderson's death, you already know that I've met Miss Demayo, why would it
matter how long we'd known each other?"
The man's pulse was fairly
jumping. Jim smiled disarmingly. "Who is the other man in the picture, Mr.
Tallon gave a quick look over his
shoulder and his pulse rate went off the chart.
"Oh. That's—Geoff, my
"Did Geoff, your brother,
"No, Detective, he didn't.
He works for the Forestry Department and patrols the Wenatchee National Forest.
He's there ten months a year. He'd have no reason to know
Bingo. The man was lying. His
brother *did* know Henderson. Which led Jim's detective mind down another path.
"Mr. Tallon, what was your
brother's relationship with Miss Demayo?"
"Relationship? We were
Double bingo. Lying again. Or
rather, shading the truth.
"Were your brother and Miss
Demayo ever involved, Mr.
Tallon's mouth took on the
characteristic of a carp.
"Was your brother upset at
the engagement, Mr. Tallon?
Still in love with Miss Demayo,
"When was he last here, Mr.
Tallon? And I'm sure you're aware we can check it out rather easily."
"I—my brother—did not,
Tallon sank back into his chair
and put his head in his hands.
As it happened, both Tallon and
Demayo only suspected Geoff Tallon. And had been covering for the man. Which
left Jim and Connor with the task of tracing Geoff Tallon's movements, then
deciding whether to head up to his work site. As they both climbed back into the
Ford, Connor sighed.
"You do realize that you
make detectives obsolete, don't you, Ellison?"
"Oh really? You knew Demayo
was hiding something, Connor. How long before you'd have come up with everything
we got in Tallon's office?"
"Well damn, Ellison, that
was a nice thing to say."
Smiling as he pulled out into
traffic, Jim said, "I can say nice things, I just choose not to."
Connor laughed and relaxed, so
feeling better himself, Jim reached into the Wonderburger bag and took out the
small bit of veggie burger that he had remaining. He managed, with one hand on
the wheel and one on the burger, to push the paper down enough to take a bite.
His last thought was a memory.
Connor sat in the truck, worrying
her bottom lip. The traffic surged past them and she was grateful she'd managed
to get the steering wheel from Jim and then guide them to the curb. They were
out of traffic and no one was paying them the slightest heed. Thank God.
She checked her watch, then
grimaced. It had been over twenty minutes since she'd called Sandy. Twenty long
minutes. Twenty minutes of staring at a zoned-out detective. God damned, but
this was scary. And she felt totally helpless. She'd done everything. She'd
crooned, petted, touched, put his hand on her heart, her face, all of it. And
nothing. What if he never came out of this one? Was that possible? She heard a
light honk and looked up and into the rearview mirror.
Thank you, God.
Blair pulled up behind the truck
and jumped out, then jogged over to the driver's side. He looked in, his face a
study in worry.
"It's been almost thirty
minutes this time, Sandy. I did everything, but nothing worked."
"Okay, okay, don't worry.
Look, why don't you slide out and let me in over there, okay?"
Nodding with relief, Megan
climbed out and watched as Sandburg ran around the front of the truck, then took
her place inside.
"I tried that, Sandy,"
Megan said in an impatient voice.
"Just let me do this."
Sandburg took Jim's hand and
placed it over his own heart. "Jim, can you feel that? It's my heartbeat.
Now I need you to concentrate and you should know, I feel like a total idiot.
Heartrate indeed. As if you'd know. But still. Would you like to know what you
took me away from this time? A conference with the Dean.
Personally, I'm glad. I was being
hauled on the carpet
and I didn't even do anything
"Hey man, there you are.
Jim blinked twice, turned his
head, looked over at Sandburg, looked down at his hand over Sandburg's heart,
"Yeah," Blair said with
a wry smile, "again."
"What did you say about a
"Nothing, Jim, nothing. Do
you know what triggered this one?"
Megan poked her head in the
window and pointing at the seat between Sandburg and Jim, said, "He was
eating the rest of his Veggieburger, Sandy."
Sandburg glanced down, then up
into Jim's confused and
"That's okay, Jim. Don't
worry. I'm done for the day, so why don't I follow you and Connor back to the
station, all right?"
In a voice Sandburg had never
heard before, Jim asked, "Maybe—Connor could take—your car,
Blair drove them back to the
station, Megan following closely behind.
Ithad been a gas watching Connor
try to wedge her tall frame into his car. He hadn't had that much fun since
Orville Wallace had done it. Okay, that hadn't been fun, exactly. After all, the
man had been hurting, but still, the idea was the same.
Blair often forgot how much
shorter he was, but watching someone like Megan trying to get into his car, and
it was easy to remember how short 5'7" could be for a guy. Not that he
minded being short—for a guy. He didn't. Being short held all sorts of
advantages over the years. Good advantages. Great advantages. People forgot you
were there. Heh. Hell, how many times in the last three years had he simply
followed Jim into Simon's office without Simon even noticing? Too many to count.
Yeah, being shorter than average
was a good thing. Of course, for a woman, he was tall. Not that he was—a
woman. Didn't want to be either. And didn't his mind have somewhere else to go?
"You're not saying anything,
Jim gave an inelegant snort.
"Oh, like that ever stopped you. You usually talk *and* wave your hands
around while tooling down the street."
"But that's in my car, not
your sacred truck."
"Why does everyone act as
though I never let anyone drive my truck?"
"Um, because you never let
anyone drive your truck?"
"Do too. You're driving it
Blair sighed heavily and kept
"I can't believe you're not
talking about it, Sandburg. Are you okay?
You're not sick or anything, are
"Jim, what the hell are you
"My zones. Three zones in
one day, Sandburg, and you're not asking."
"You got anything to tell
Jim shrugged helplessly.
"There you go. When we get
home tonight, we'll see what we can come up with, all right?"
"That's it? We're just gonna
wait until we get home?"
Blair rolled his eyes
melodramatically. "Yes, Jim, that's it. We're going to wait until we get
He tried not to show it, but Jim
was actually—hurt. Here they were, back at the station, and Sandburg was
working on a late sentinel fixer-upper of a report for Simon. Sheesh, didn't he
matter at all to Sandburg? By now
the younger man should have written volumes on all the possible reasons for
Jim's zones. He should have asked dozens
and dozens of personal questions, he should have made several charts, and yet,
he'd done—nothing. Okay, he'd said 'when they got home,'
but Jim hadn't believed that for a moment. He'd just known that once back
at the station, the guy would be all over him like a bear who's just
found the beehive. But no. Nothing. The little shit.
So, what, being with a sentinel
was old hat now? Jim was boring Sandburg? Sure, that had to be it. Greener
pastures. Get tired of the new toy after the shine has worn off. Well, damn, it
wasn't like he was broken or anything. You don't just trade a sentinel in - do
Fuck. Maybe you do.
When was the last time Sandburg
had spent an entire day with Jim at the station? Two, three weeks? And how much
actual time when he *was* here? A
few hours at the most if Jim bothered to take the time to add it up.
Fine. So what? Like he needed the
guy? Like he couldn't figure out how to take care of these fucking zones
himself? Like he needed Sandburg to solve a case? Not hardly. He was a damn fine
detective with or without his senses and yes, with or without Mister 'You're my
Holy Grail' Sandburg. So he didn't want to talk about Jim's senses? Fine.
"So, where are we on the
"Where are *we*, Sandburg?
If you mean, where is Major Crime on the Henderson investigation, or where are
Connor and I on the Henderson investigation, well, we're just fine and thank you
"Whoa, what bug crawled up
"Off hand I'd say that
particular bug would be you, Sandburg. And—"
interrupted as she walked up to Jim's desk, "I just talked to Geoff
Tallon's boss, a Captain Phillips. He confirmed that Tallon was on the duty
roster the two days prior to the killing and the day after, but," she
grinned ferally, "not the day *of* the killing."
"Where is he now? Were you
able to confirm his location?"
"He's at work today through
Friday. They live at the station while on
"So we head out and talk to
Jim got up, but Connor put up her
hand. "Whoa, Ellison. It's a two hour drive. You plan on spending the night
or something? Or maybe we'll just drive up there in the morning?"
With a grudging nod to Connor's
reasoning, he sat back down.
"This is cool, man. I've got
nothing on the dockets for tomorrow, I can join you."
"Gee, Sandburg, swell."
Okay, they'd been home over two
hours. They'd eaten, even cleaned up. So
where were the questions? Here he sat, in his usual corner, surfing and finding
nothing, and so far, Sandburg hadn't said a word about his zones. Jim was
getting mad. Sandburg had an obligation. Right? Right. Jim tossed the remote
onto the coffee table, got up and walked over to the French doors.
"It's after eight."
"Gee, thanks, Jim."
"You dork. Zones? Questions?
Finding out answers? He-llo?"
He could hear the bed creak, then
the soft footfalls of his partner. A moment later, tired eyes looked up at him.
"You up for this, Jim?"
"Excuse me? *Up* for
"Well, you don't usually
like to discuss your emotions and that's probably what we're dealing with here,
so yeah, are you up for this?"
"What, you've already
decided this about *me*? My fucking emotions?"
"Well, unless something
unusual has happened, and you haven't told me, which, golly, would be such a
surprise," Blair wiggled his
head, "ye-ah, it's about you and your emotions."
Sometimes, Jim really wanted to
throttle Sandburg. Really.
"Look, let's just do this,
okay? I'm fucking up for it already."
Sandburg gave him a little smirk,
then disappeared for a moment and When he came out, he held a yellow legal pad
in his hand. He walked over to the table and sat down, then waited. With a sigh,
Jim followed and took the seat opposite.
"Okay, what did you eat from
yesterday afternoon up until I met up with you and Megan on the street
Okay, this was more like it.
Tests, questions, yeah, real detective work.
"Any phone calls from old
"Were you cleaning anything
out and you came across old pictures or something like that?"
"Sandburg, where the hell
are you going with this?"
Blair dropped the pen and rubbed
at his eyes. "Jim, I'm just trying to pin down anything odd in the last
twenty-four hours, okay?"
"Fine. No cleaning."
"Fine. Anything unusual
about the case? Like, are any of the suspects old girlfriends?"
"Oh, that's funny, Sandburg.
You're a real riot, you are."
"Anything unusual about the
Jim managed to look chagrined.
"No. Nothing. I don't know any of them, don't want to know any of them.
"Why was it kicked upstairs
from Homicide if it's so by the book?"
Jim shrugged and said, "You
know the victim. Big time columnist, good friend of the owner and publisher, and
he's been cold for over forty-eight hours. Pressure sent it up to us."
"Ah. Okay, so nothing
unusual. Describe the incident in front of the clothing store again."
"Sandburg, this is starting
to feel like an interrogation here—"
"As well it should. Tell me
"Why? That, in of itself, is
"Oh. Well. No
Blair tapped his fingers
"He just wanted an
informal—setting—for our talk."
The tapping increased.
of—touchy, lately. A little. Not much, just a little."
The tapping doubled.
"Okay, I zoned yesterday
The tapping stopped. Cold.
"Don't look at me like that.
It was at the station and I brought myself out. It only lasted a moment, but
unfortunately, it happened in Simon's office."
"I see. What were you doing
in Simon's office?"
"Well, we'd just wrapped up
the Iori case, remember? I told you about it. Anyway, there we were, laughing,
kind of congratulating ourselves, and I put my hand in my pocket and the next
thing I knew, Simon was saying my name over and over again."
Blair frowned. "Your
"Yeah, my jacket
Blair nodded at the camel colored
jacket hanging from the peg. "That one?"
Jim nodded and Blair pushed away
from the table. He walked quickly over and reached into—
"The right pocket, Sandburg,
but there's nothing in there."
Blair's fingers connected with
something and he drew it out. Looking disgusted, he said, "You're right.
Nothing but one of my hair ties. And how do you always end up with them, by the
"You take them off, fiddle
with them, I grab them and—"
"Stuff them into a pocket,
He shoved the tie into his pocket
and with a thoughtful expression on his face, retook his seat. "Okay, so
back to breakfast. Tell me again."
"We came out of Othello's,
there's this dress shop and just outside of
"Thinking? You never said
anything about thinking? What were you thinking?"
"Don't get your knickers in
a twist, Sandburg. I don't know, I was just—probably—thinking I'd like to
shoot those damn balls out of the air, you know? Then you were there."
"Okay, bouncing balls. Got
it. The next zone?"
"The ice cream truck. The
"Did you think anything that
"Um," Jim rubbed at his
temples, "I don't think so, other than the bell sounded—nice. Real nice.
Not like the one the truck had when I was a kid. That thing was loud."
"You managed to think all
that while zoning?"
"Sorry. Couldn't help it.
But maybe this is tied to your childhood? Do the bouncing balls relate at all to
being a kid? Maybe you and your dad? Or Steven?"
Jim shook his head adamantly.
"No, no bouncing balls. And these zones aren't—bad, exactly. Not
Blair cocked his head. "Not
"No, not bad. In fact,
something kind of warm-like each time, now that I reexamine the zones."
"Yeah," Jim answered
defensively, "*warm-like*. Wanna make something out of it?"
"Who me? No way, man.
"I need a beer. Want
"Sure, why not? We're going
nowhere fast, I don't think we need a designated driver tonight."
Jim gave a little humph as he
opened the fridge and took out two beers. He
walked back over, handed Blair one, then twisted off the cap of his and took a
"Okay, the last zone. Tell
me about that one again."
"Man," Jim said as he
"I reached for the rest of
"By the way, Jim? I'm proud
"Oh shut up." The fact
that Jim was smiling fondly over at Sandburg somewhat diluted the command.
"So you reached for your
Veggieburger—" Blair coached.
"And I remembered the first
time I ever had one and the next thing I knew, you were sitting there, holding
my hand to your heart."
A little excitement came into
Blair's eyes and he almost bounced in his seat. "Okay, now we're getting
somewhere. Sense memory."
"Uh, Chief? Run that by me
"Sense memory, Jim. You may
have zoned on your memory of the first Veggieburger. When was that? Were you a
child? A teen? What?"
Looking thoroughly disgusted, Jim
said, "No, Sherlock, I wasn't. I was A thirty-six year old detective at the
time and I was tasting my annoying partner's Veggieburger because he practically
shoved it into my mouth."
Jim noticed that Sandburg had
that thoughtful look on his face again.
Sandburg's expression cleared and
he smiled. "Nothing. It's just odd, that's all."
Giving Blair an exasperated look,
Jim said, "Sandburg, care to share exactly what you find odd?"
"You mean besides the
"You are so dead. Just tell
"My hair tie. My veggie
Jim frowned because there was
something in Blair's eyes, a dark glitter, that caused a set of shivers to use
his spine as a racetrack. The shivers were making their indecent way down his
body when the phone rang. Grateful, Jim literally jumped up to answer.
<<This is a recording,
please hold for a telephone representative-->>
"Right. You just bet I
will." Jim hung up—soundly.
"I'm thinking that wasn't
"How many years have you
spent in school, Sandburg?"
"Enough to put my
intelligence to work in order to figure out that wasn't our esteemed boss,"
Blair responded with a grin.
Jim looked at the smiling face
and decided that maybe he was done for The evening. His zoning problem could
wait. Giving himself a little shake, he said, "We have to be up early
tomorrow, Chief. Connor'll be here at seven. I'm hitting the hay."
"Okay. This can wait another
day. Besides, I already have enough information to begin to formulate a
hypothesis—or two—or a hundred."
Jim watched as Blair gathered his
pad and pencil, then rose and stretched. He watched, fixated, as the Henley
shirt rose up, revealing the small of Sandburg's back—
"You, ah, did it again. Only
a couple of minutes though."
Jim focused, turned his head
right, left, then down. Blair was staring up at him, that dark glitter back and
swimming in the blue depths. Jim found himself leaning forward—then pulling
himself back up.
"Yes, well, no tie, no
Veggieburger, no bouncing balls, Sandburg. I think—I'm just really tired. See
you in the morning."
He turned on his heel and took
his stairs two and three at a time. When he reached the top, he wondered why his
heart was beating so hard. It wasn't as if he'd been running from a pack of
Blair followed Jim's progression
upstairs, but only when it was obvious
that Jim was upstairs to stay,
did he walk into his own room.
He dumped the pad and pencil,
then stripped down to his shorts. He pulled out and slipped on one of Jim's old
cropped Cascade PD sweatshirts. The sleeves had also been chopped off, but he
figured it would be more than warm enough. He padded back into the living room
and spent the next couple of minutes doing Jim's job --
namely locking up.
Jim stood at the rail, his body
hidden by the darkness of his room.
From his perch, he watched Blair
move about the loft. His senses were
Sharper than he was used to, but
he didn't wonder why. He just watched.
He zeroed in on the expanse of
skin visible below the raggedy edge of the sweatshirt, at the contrast of pale
flesh and dark hair that promised more if one only chose to go lower; at the
hips that just held up the shorts; and at the sturdy, but slender legs that
carried Blair around the room.
Fascinated, Jim watched the sway
of dark curly hair and he listened, eager to hear it as it rubbed against both
flesh and the collar of the sweatshirt.
He inhaled deeply and closed his
Aftershave, still clinging to
skin, the scent of which held undertones of earthy musk. Natural body odor, the
perfect note to compliment the aftershave, mingled with Sandburg's clean sweat
and the detangler Sandburg used on his hair. Together, they enveloped Jim, held
him captive so that even as Blair disappeared into his room, Jim could still
Jim stood for several minutes
smelling, listening, seeing. It was only when Sandburg's breathing evened out
that Jim finally went to bed himself.
When Jim came downstairs the next
morning, he wasn't surprised to find
Sandburg already up and at the
table with one of his algae shakes. And
A bowl of Rice Krispies. Which
"Chief, shake *and*
"I'm hungry. The shake gives
me the energy I'll need all day, but the
"Satisfies the little boy in
Head down, but grinning, Blair
said, "Well, yeah. So sue me."
"Nah, I'll just get myself a
bowl and join you. Do we have—"
"On the sink. One left. I
used the other to add to my bowl."
"Great. Can't have Rice
Two minutes later, Jim was
happily eating a bowl chock full of '"snap, crackle and pop." He was
half way through when he noticed that Sandburg had the Henderson folder in front
Blair shrugged and kept on
"So what do you think?"
Jim asked, ignoring the fact that Blair was still reading.
"I'm still reading."
Jim spooned more Rice Krispies
into his mouth and after chewing and swallowing, said, "So, whatcha
Blair's lips twitched.
"I'm—um, well, still—you know, *reading*."
As Jim continued to eat and
watch, he realized that in the last two or three weeks, he'd missed sharing
cases with Sandburg. He was actually anxious to hear the younger man's views on
this one. As he swallowed another spoonful, Blair, eyes still on the report,
picked up his spoon and absently guided it, dripping milk, to his mouth.
Jim frowned. Cocked his
head—and watched, his entire being focused On the spoon as Blair's lips closed
Jim blinked. "Just tell
"Again, Jim. You did it
"Just a few seconds. I asked
you a question and you didn't answer. You
were just—staring. And by the
way? Do you have any idea how weird it
is to see you zoned? Have I ever
mentioned that? How your eyes go all
blank and your mouth opens
Jim held up an impatient hand.
"Gee, thanks for the vivid description, Sandburg. Do I drool too?"
"Not yet, no. But you keep
this up and one of these days, it's Happy Dale Farm for you, my friend."
"Gee, Sandburg, have you
always been this reassuring? Or is this new?"
Blair snorted and went back to
his chair. "I don't suppose," he asked As he sat down, "you have
any idea what triggered this one?"
"Sandburg, were you or were
you not in this room, at this table, with me?"
"I was. So—do you have any
idea what triggered it?"
Jim's sigh could have been heard
all the way to the station, Blair was betting.
"I was eating, you were
eating, I was watching you—read and eat, listening for Connor, end of
"Huh-uh. Sure. Okay. Got
Blair got up, picked up both
their empty bowls and carried them into The kitchen. When he came back, he
swallowed the last of his shake, then took the glass and put it in the sink. Jim
joined him, the box of cereal in his hand.
Blair turned from rinsing off the
Jim made a little jiggle motion
with his finger, which was pointed at
Blair's lips. "You -
Rolling his eyes, Blair wiped his
mouth. They worked together for a few moments, cleaning up, then Jim said,
"So, did you finish the report before my little trip?"
"Yeah, and I'm curious. Why
are we interviewing this guy in the mountains again?"
Jim knocked on Sandburg's head as
he said, "Does the word suspect ring A bell? Not to mention the fact that
both Henderson's fiance and his coworker, brother of our mountain man, lied to
Jim paused in his wiping down of
the table. "Ah?" he
asked, cloth in hand.
"Well, I did notice a couple
of things. Small things, really, but they struck me as odd." Blair shrugged
helplessly as he finished.
Jim put down the cloth and picked
up the folder he'd set on the chair while cleaning. Waving it under Sandburg's
nose, he asked, "Do you plan on sharing your little tid-bits?"
Catching the folder and taking it
from Jim's waving hand, Blair opened it and took out one statement. Smiling, he
waved it under Jim's nose.
"You and Connor interviewed
Philip Abbott, the owner and publisher of the Cascade Whisper, right?"
"Yes. At his home. Does an
ice cream truck ring a bell, Sandburg?"
Blair's expression changed and
blossomed into a huge smile. "Wow, that was good, Jim. Ice cream truck,
ring a bell. You're just so talented."
"And in two minutes, you're
dead. Get to the point."
"Abbott said he hadn't seen
Henderson since the morning of his death, right?"
"Correct. Henderson dropped
off a particularly nasty story to Abbott."
"At his home, right?"
"Yes, Sandburg, at his home.
"Well," Blair scratched
the back of his head, "like I said, two things, really jumped out.
First—computers. Abbott used his while you were there, according to your
notes. He looked something up for you?"
"Yeah, the subject of
Henderson's last column, the one that hadn't run yet. In case one of Henderson's
"victims" might have been angry enough at the man's poison pen to do
"Exactly. So why did
Henderson bring his story to the boss' house? Why not just send it like most
Jim's eyes narrowed, then his
face cleared. "No way, Sandburg. If you're intimating that Abbott might be
our killer, nuh-uh, his vitals were perfectly normal during the interview."
"Jim, that's not a
full-proof method. You've had suspects before that could fool you. People whose
signals were so odd or all over the map, that you couldn't tell if they were
lying. And maybe, you didn't ask the right questions?"
"Well, we sure didn't ask if
he'd killed the man. But we did ask him where he was when Henderson was killed
and all signs pointed to a truthful answer."
"Like I said—"
"I know, I know. Go on. You
said two things?"
"Yeah. Um, right here,"
Blair squinted and read, "Abbott seemed truly shocked by Henderson's death.
As Detective Ellison and I were leaving, Mr. Abbott stopped and looked down at
the floor of his entryway. He pointed and said, 'He stood right here, Detective.
Right here. Only a few days ago, dripping all over my floor. And he was—so
worried. About the rain water
ruining my wood.'"
Blair looked up. "Henderson
was dripping the last time Abbott saw him.
Dripping wet from rain."
"And this is important,
"Jim, Jim, Jim." Blair
shook his head. "Henderson was killed on Monday, the twenty-fifth.
According to forensics, the time of death was between seven and nine that
"I read the report,
"Jim, it didn't rain Monday
until that evening. It rained for exactly forty minutes. I know, I was trying to
run to my car in the deluge. That
was at seven-thirty, just after it started. By eight, it was over."
"Well, I'll be damned."
"Hey, not something either
you or Connor would catch, Jim. Didn't you say you'd both been down in the old
PD Files room most of Monday?"
"Yeah. The two of us, plus
Taggert and Brown. That damn Fitzgerald case."
"Right. You came home
red-eyed, sneezing and scratching your skin raw."
Jim nodded, remembering the
miserable drive home. Barely able to concentrate, his skin crawling and eyes
running, he'd been praying that Sandburg wouldn't be having another late night
at the University. Jim also remembered the flood of relief when he'd spotted the
Volvo, parked exactly where it should be.
Twenty minutes after walking in
the door and showering, his skin had been covered in cool, soothing aloe gel,
cucumber slices placed on his eyes and he was flat on his back on the couch. A
miserable day had been transformed into one of the most comfortable, relaxing
evenings he could remember. As he'd
rested, the sounds of Blair grading papers, helped by one of Sandburg's
classical CD's, lulled the detective into a restful world somewhere between
sleep and wakefulness.
"...hardly surprising that
you guys didn't know or realize that it had only rained once that day, or should
Jim came back with a start and
automatically nodded. "So basically, Abbott lied to us about the time he'd
last seen Henderson. And considering the time of death, well, Mr. Abbott just
moved to the head of our suspect list."
"Jim," Blair asked,
looking thoughtful, "what exact question did you put to Abbott? I mean, how
did you ask Abbott where he was at the time of Henderson's death?"
"Didn't we just cover
"No, not really. And don't
give me that look. This last week has been hell on you. What with zoning and
all," Blair added with a wicked smile.
"Your sparkling wit
constantly amazes me, Sandburg."
Grinning brightly, Blair said,
"Yeah, I know. I'm like a fine champagne. All bubbly and sparkling.
Question is, do I tickle your nose?"
Jim had just taken a sip of his
coffee he'd had resting on the edge of the kitchen island and at Blair's words,
he spit it out. The obligatory coughing followed as Blair rushed into the
kitchen to get a few paper towels.
"Geesh, Jim, you're a lethal
spitting weapon. That coffee made it all the way to the sink. I'm lucky it
missed me. Was it," Blair smirked, "something I said?"
"You putz. And why the
question about the question I questioned Abbott?"
Through Jim's entire speech,
Blair's head had been nodding in sync with every "question". Crossing
his eyes, he pretended to be dizzy and reached out for the counter.
"Gosh, Jim, you're
so—verbal. Excuse me while I go throw up."
"Is there such a
"Apparently. I seem to be
looking at one."
"I walked into that, didn't