It was the best of times...
Jim Ellison stared longingly at the bed. Just a few feet away was the solution to the exhaustion suffocating his body, making it feel old aches and recent pains. He knew if he got eight straight hours, he would make a complete recovery. His strength would renew itself, his mind would be capable of lightning-fast thoughts, his body limber, agile, and ready to face whatever adventures and dangers that lay ahead. Eight simple, uninterrupted hours of sleep.
It was the worst of times...
"You sure you don't want to go with me this morning, Jim? I know you may get a little bored while the committee and I are setting up the main hall but I feel bad leaving you here in the hotel alone. Especially since I badgered you into coming with me," Blair Sandburg said in one breath as he checked his backpack, then grabbed a suitbag.
"It's Chicago, Chief. I'm sure I'll find some way to fill my day." Like sleeping in. Because of his familiarity with South American artifacts, Blair had been chosen by Ranier University to represent their interests in a joint exhibit with the University of Chicago. It was a great honor and he had pleaded with Jim to come with him. Not wanting to see the light in his friend's eyes dim even a little, the detective had worked extra hours to solve the cases he had pending so that Captain Simon Banks couldn't object to him taking a few days off. However, the overtime and the long flight to Illinois was beginning to catch up with him.
"Well, if that's the way you want it, Jim. But you'll be at the museum at 6:00, right? And you will be in your tux?"
Jim grimaced, but nodded. The private opening of the newly acquired collection was a black tie affair and would raise money for both universities. Blair had gotten Jim a complimentary ticket because there was no way he would have forked out 500 bucks-- not even for his best friend. "I'll be there, Chief, monkey suit and all."
Blair knew how much Jim hated dressing up. "Thanks, Jim."
Jim smiled. "You better get going, Chief, before the U of C crew starts changing your designs."
"They wouldn't dare," Blair declared, thinking of all the hours he'd spent telecommunicating with the other university. If they thought they were going to change something now... With a final wave, he hurried out of the room.
Alone at last. Sleep or a nice hot shower with no need to conserve hot water for his roommate? No, a nice hot bath. A long soak would feel so good... the heat melting the knots of strained muscles, the tension leaching out as the warmth filtered in through his pores... Sounds like a plan.
To ease Blair's guilt he had gotten up and dressed as if he indeed had plans for the day. He started to shrug out of the sweater, then suddenly pictured himself stretched out in a tub of bubbles. Hmm. He hadn't had a bubble bath since Carolyn had divorced him. At first he hadn't wanted to be reminded of his failed marriage and then he'd gotten a roommate and there had barely been enough hot water for two short showers, much less a bath. But now he was here, alone, with enough hot water for over two hundred rooms. And he remembered seeing a shop in the lobby that specialized in made-to-order herbal scents...
Taking his room key and a credit card, Jim headed to the lobby. Because of a heightened sense of smell, it took him a few minutes to adjust to the fragrance shop, but by the time the saleslady set him up with a counter full of samples, he was able to breathe nearly normally. He was very particular but the saleslady, Karen, was patient and happily helped him create the perfect scent-- sort of a woodsy, fruity mixture. When he was satisfied, she went into the back and added it to a bubble bath base. Jim left with a gift bag containing a designer bottle of bubble bath and a card with Karen's home phone number.
In addition to a heightened sense of smell, Jim's other four senses were enhanced as well. According to Blair, who was an anthropology grad student when he wasn't playing exhibit coordinator, Jim was a Sentinel-- a person whose senses were genetically enhanced to protect the "tribe", which they loosely translated to "city" in the modern era. However, at the moment Jim wasn't worrying about his city of Cascade, Washington or the more immediate city of Chicago. Instead he was concentrating on how the hot water would feel against his skin. The designer scent would waft up to his nose upon the wisps of steam and all around him he would see the iridescence of the bubbles playing in the light even as his ears heard the sound of their delicate popping. Yes. Heaven via white porcelain and hot water.
Smiling in anticipation, he stepped off the elevator and headed for his room. The smile faded when he found someone knocking on the door. What now? "Something I can do for you?" he asked politely.
The man turned, maybe just a little to quickly for Jim's liking. This guy is edgy. But that was the only thing out of the ordinary about the visitor. He was in his late twenties, early thirties with short hair and the most innocent looking face Jim had seen in a while. "Are you Blair Sandburg?"
Jim laughed despite his wariness. "Of all the things I've been accused of being, Sandburg ain't one of them." He held out his hand. "I'm Jim Ellison, a friend of Blair's. He isn't in at the moment, but you can leave a message with me, Mr.--"
The man stuffed a folded newspaper into the back pocket of his faded jeans and took the offered hand. "Hobson. Gary Hobson."
Jim felt the younger man's pulse surging through the hand. Something was definitely making this Hobson nervous. "You're here to see Blair about...?"
"Uh... I just wanted to warn him... I mean, tell him... I mean... Never mind. I'll just have to reach him later," Gary said defeatedly. Damn it. He had hoped to catch Blair Sandburg before he left for the day. It would have been one less "errand" he'd have to do later. But there was no time to wait around or even come up with a reasonable explanation for this friend whose blue eyes were getting colder by the minute. He had exactly twenty-one minutes to make it back down the street and around the corner...
"Actually, I think you'll talk to me now, sport," Jim said as the stranger's heartbeat increased.
"I'm sorry, Mr... Ellison, was it? I don't have time--"
The door was opened and he was propelled inside before he could finish the brief apology. "Mr. Hobson, no one tells me he's come to warn my partner and then just walks away."
"You're a cop," Gary blurted out.
"You've had a lot of experience with us, Mr. Hobson?"
"No. I mean yes. Not how you think though. My bartender is a retired cop. He was really protective of his partner too."
"Yeah. I sorta own this place called McGinty's-- Look, Mr. Ellison, I really need to be somewhere in twelve minutes or else--"
"Or else what, Hobson?" Jim demanded.
Gary groaned. He should have known trying to beat the paper at its own game was going to backfire. "Look, people are going to die. I don't have time to explain. What if I promise I'll come right back and..." And what, he asked himself. How could he possibly explain that each morning he received tomorrow's newspaper and he spent the day trying to undo as many headlines as possible? It sounded crazy, even to him. And if he told the cop before him that his friend was scheduled to become a victim of a bombing at 5:57 that afternoon, he'd be in jail for uttering a threat.
Gauging Hobson's autonomic responses, Jim concluded the man was telling, or at least thought he was telling, the truth. Damn it. It wasn't in a Sentinel's makeup to risk lives. But he wouldn't risk Sandburg's either. He grabbed his jacket, wallet, keys to a rental car, and took a longing last glance at the bottle of bubble bath. "You won't have to come back, sport, 'cause I'm coming with you." Gary opened his mouth to protest. "If you're serious about saving lives, I suggest we get on with it."
The two men didn't speak until they turned the corner and Gary went searching under the el track. Chicago's "subway" was "el"evated above the city instead of below. "Want to tell me what we're looking for?" Jim asked.
Jim started adjusting his eyesight. "What kind of bomb?"
"One that goes 'boom'," Gary said in exasperation.
Okay. Let's start with the basics. "Does it have a timer?"
"I don't know. Look, Mr. Ellison--"
"Call me Jim."
"I don't have any details, Jim. I just know there's a bomb around here somewhere and it's going to explode in," he looked at his watch, "four minutes and the el that's passing over is going to be blown off the track and a lot of people are going to die," Gary explained anxiously.
Jim eyed the support struts of the track. From what Gary had described, the device had to be up near the track and probably had some kind of pressure trigger. "Did you try to get the train stopped?"
Gary sighed. "I've tried that before. They won't listen."
Jim nodded. If he hadn't had a badge to flash, he too would have had trouble getting people to listen at times. What was that? He turned his head back toward where he thought he saw a flicker and focused his sight. The device was about the size of a TV remote control and was taped to the top of one of the struts. Although it had been a while since he had to shimmy up a pole, he found he hadn't lost his touch-- which was good since he could already feel the vibration of the approaching train. The Army had taught him about pressure triggers so he knew he had to separate the pressure plate from the explosive which he guessed was inside the case. But he had nothing with which to cut the wires. Damn. Where was Sandburg and his Swiss Army knife when he needed it?
Now even Gary could hear the train and he was yelling for Jim to come down but Jim didn't listen. Instead he got a firm grasp on the wires and yanked on the black case. Three things happened simultaneously: the train passed overhead, electricity crackled through the wires, and the case pulled away. The electric current heading for the case instead coursed into Jim's fingertips, causing a mild burn and a distinct tingle. With a curse, he slid down the pole.
"Jim, you okay?" Gary asked, ignoring the crowd that had gathered when he started yelling for Jim to come down.
Jim shrugged. "I've had worse burns cooking." He looked around at the people. "Did someone call the cops?" Three people held up cell phones in response. "Guess now all we have to do is wait."
Gary shook his head. "Uh, we aren't exactly through," he said hesitantly, not wanting to alarm their audience.
"More?" Jim whispered. Gary nodded. The detective sat the device down carefully on the sidewalk. "If there is someone who will make sure this isn't touched until the police get here, I would appreciate it," he said to the crowd. An older couple stepped forward and said they could do that. He warned them not to even approach the small black box because he had no idea of what type of explosive was inside. Then he took a card from his wallet and told them to hand it to the cops when they arrived.
"How much time until the next one, Hobson?" he asked the man who was once again stuffing the paper into his back pocket.
"Thirty-five minutes, but it's on the other side of town. We need to catch a cab."
"How about we drive ourselves? I have a rental in the hotel's parking garage."
Gary followed Jim to the car, then stopped. "Thank you for your help but..."
"How much experience do you have defusing bombs, Hobson?"
Gary paled. "None."
"Lucky for you I was in the Army." No use in telling the poor guy he had already used up all the knowledge he knew. He tossed him the car keys. "Your city, you drive. What time is the one that's supposed to get Sandburg?"
"Sounds like we have a long day ahead of us."
Gary nodded and drove out onto the street. He kept glancing over at his new "partner" as if waiting for him to speak, but he remained silent. "Uh, Jim, you don't have any questions?"
Jim had resigned himself to just imagining himself emerged in tub of hot water and was just gathering up a handful of bubbles to blow into the air when Gary interrupted him. With a sigh, he left his fantasy. "Only one: is there a cat involved in this?"
Gary almost ran a red light. "You know about the cat?" He wasn't the only one? There were others who got tomorrow's paper? He'd never considered that.
Jim groaned. He knew it. Knew it from the very moment he'd seen Gary in the hall. It was the reason why he had followed the man to the street, searched diligently for the bomb, then hadn't been surprised to find out there were more. "I know about my cat. So what does your look like?"
Being at a stoplight, Gary used both hands to described the orange-yellow tabby that appeared at his door each morning at 6:00 with tomorrow's newspaper. "So when I read that one of the victims was staying in a hotel just around the corner from the first bomb, I sorta figured I could warn him and still have time to spare."
"But Sandburg had already left and you got stuck with me," Jim concluded, not revealing any of the shock he felt. Hobson received tomorrow's newspaper? It was remarkable but could also be dangerous in the wrong hands. Maybe that was the purpose of the cat, to make sure the paper got in the right hands. "How many of these bombs are there?"
"Six and that's counting the one we just defused and the one that's supposed to get your partner. So we only have four more to do and then we head to the museum."
Only four more? What kind of day did this poor guy normally go through? "No problem," Jim said, hoping he'd learned enough from his friend Joel Taggert who had been the captain of the Bomb Squad but now was a fellow detective.
Gary noticed how calm Jim was and wished he could emulate it. "How did you do it? How did you go off and leave the paper for a few days? I mean, I can tell you're a responsible kind of guy. Here you are on vacation and yet you're helping me and I didn't even have to ask. So how did you just walk away from the responsibility of the newspaper? I tried to once. The stress was really getting to me and my friends talked me into going to a shrink. He didn't believe me about the paper, but I guess he was used to humoring nuts so he told me to take Sundays off. I tried, but it didn't work out. What's the secret, Jim?"
Maybe it was time to break it to him. "I never said I got a paper, Hobson."
The car came to a dead stop. Jim was glad he was wearing a seatbelt. He was also glad a car wasn't behind them because the insurance on the rental would have been a bitch to pay. "What do you mean you don't get a paper! You said--"
"I said I had a cat."
A car beeped behind them and Gary continued driving. "I don't understand. You didn't say anything or act surprised when I told you. You didn't even ask to see the paper. You just accepted what I said. That doesn't make sense," he mused aloud. His passenger remained silent so he shut up too. Three blocks later, he turned to Jim. "What does your cat do?"
Jim smiled. The question Hobson should have asked from the beginning. Sort of obvious he wasn't a cop. Of course if he had been, he certainly wouldn't have time to run around playing savior to unsuspecting citizens. Leave it to the felines to pick the right folk for the job. "Mostly, he's my protector, a spirit guide." Gary looked at him as if he was insane. "This from a guy who gets tomorrow's newspaper," Jim said in disgust.
Gary had the grace to be embarrassed. "You're right, Jim. I have no business not believing you. Tell me something. Was it this protector that showed you where the bomb was? It was so small I never would have seen it." It was funny Jim had. Maybe the man wasn't crazy.
In for a penny, in for a pound. "I have enhanced senses." Jim filled him in briefly on what a Sentinel was. He figured it was the least he could do after the poor guy had mistakenly shared his secret life. Besides, what could Hobson do with the information? Two people with secrets like theirs certainly couldn't blackmail each other.
Gary's thoughts were far from blackmail. Instead he was trying to figure out just how many strange things went on in the world that no one knew about. Tomorrow's newspapers, super senses, what next? Superman really did exist, tights and all? "I think I'm going to bed tonight and convince myself today was just a long dream," he said, figuring that was the only way to deal with the situation.
"Sounds good to me, sport."
And the two reluctant allies, content now that a solution had been found, went out to save the Windy City.
"What?" Jim asked anxiously. Thanks to his senses and Gary's newspaper the other bombs had been located quickly and thanks to a lot of luck, he had managed to defuse them without any major incidents. The last one had been particularly simple, so they were ahead of schedule. Since it was only 5:15, they had parked about a block away from Sandburg's museum in order for Gary to consult his newspaper. When his friend didn't answer, Jim snatched the paper out of his hand. "Shit," he agreed as he read the new headline:
MAD BOMBER STRIKES MUSEUM
Five Dead- Including Bomber
Police are still sorting out the facts of the explosion that took the lives of five people just before a gala opening of a Peruvian exhibit in one of the Windy City's multitude of museums. Survivors of the blast report that a man entered the building around 5:20 pm. Gathering together the staff, he proceeded to brandish a grenade. Apparently he was angry because other bombs he had planted in various parts of the city had been disabled (see story below). All attempts to reason with the man failed and at approximately 5:27, he pulled the pin to the grenade. The four persons closest to him were killed instantly, including a guest coordinator from Ranier University in Washington. Three others were seriously injured.
"Damn it, Hobson, why didn't you tell me this could happen!" Jim shouted, flinging the paper across the car.
"I didn't know, Jim, honestly," Gary said, just as upset. He should have known it had all gone too well. They had disarmed the other bombs with something akin to ease, at least that was how it had appeared to him since the visiting detective had handled all the explosives. Good thing he was an expert.
"I'm sorry," Jim said, knowing Gary's control over fate was limited to what the paper wanted him to do. "I don't blame you. It was just the shock of seeing Blair's death in black and white, you know? It's unnerving."
"I know," Gary agreed. The death of his best friend Chuck Fishman had also been an article in the paper one day. Chuck was irritating, loud, demanding, and at times downright obnoxious, but life wouldn't have been the same without him. That had been one article he had been determined to change. "So what do we do now?"
Jim glanced at his watch. "He's already taken the hostages. All we can do now is prevent him from setting off the grenade."
"And we do that how?"
"You create a diversion and I take him down. But first, we talk to that security guard in the parking lot."
Gary stared in the direction of the museum. "What guard?" Jim pointed and Gary still didn't see anyone. Then he remembered; the man beside him was a Sentinel. Chuck would flip if he ever found out-- but he wouldn't, at least not from Gary.
The guard was told to call the police and make a report. When she thought it was some kind of practical joke, Jim pulled his last business card and handed it to the dark-haired woman. When she saw he was a policeman, she ran to the nearest phone after telling Jim where the back entrance to the museum was.
Gary paled when he saw a minivan with the word "McGinty's" painted on the side. "Oh, God," he wailed.
"Something wrong?" Jim asked quickly.
"That's my van. My partner must be here too."
"Is that a problem? I mean beside the fact there's a bomber inside."
"Oh, it's a problem alright," Gary muttered as he pulled into a parking space. He looked at Jim and shook his head. "You don't know Chuck."
"Well, you handle him, sport. There's too much riding on this to mess up."
"Sure, Jim," Gary promised, hoping beyond hope that maybe it wasn't Chuck. Maybe someone had borrowed the van. He followed Jim into the building and found out quickly that hope was just a dream.
"'Bout time you showed up, Gar," Chuck complained when he saw his friend and business partner. "We got this last minute catering gig and I've had to handle it all by myself."
"Oh, I guess that means I'm nobody," an African-American woman with long braids said as she maneuvered around the buffet tables that were being set up, which was remarkable because it was obvious she was blind. "Ask him what he handled, Gary? I'm the one that set up the menu and hired the servers and begged the chef to work for us one more time."
"Thanks, Marissa," Gary said as he tried to follow Jim.
"'Thanks, Marissa'? Where's my thanks, man?" Chuck whined.
"We're running out of time, sport," Jim reminded Gary.
"Later, Chuck. I'm on 'paper' business," he explained. Both Chuck and Marissa, being his two best friends, knew about the paper. In fact, Marissa's seeing-eye dog and the cat got along quite well together.
"What business?" Chuck asked as he followed. "And who's this guy? You picked some stranger off the street to help you instead of asking me? What kind of friendship is this, Gar?"
"Not now, Chuck!" Gary froze. In front of him was a group of eight people, all dressed in party clothes except the one in the middle. At one time they must have all been focused on that guy, not because of his lack of proper attire but because of the grenade in his hand, but now they were staring at the arguing duo. Gary groaned. Well, Jim had said to cause a distraction. "It's always about you, you, you, Chuck!"
"That's because with you, Gary Hobson, it's always... them, them, them! You never think about yourself, so you never think about me! I could use your help too, you know!"
Gary saw two things out of the corner of his eye. One, Jim had circled unnoticed around the crowd and was directly behind the bomber. And two, Jim wasn't completely unnoticed. One of the hostages, a guy in glasses with a curly ponytail was carefully keeping track of Jim's movements without giving him away to the grenade creep. Jim sort of nodded and Gary went for the coup de gras. "Blow it out your ear, Fishman! I'm tired of your whining! Go find a life of your own!"
Before Chuck could get over the shock, Jim tackled the bomber. Startled the man accidently pulled the pin as the grenade sailed into the air and landed in Chuck's hands. Gary quickly put his hands over his friend's to make sure the trigger stayed depressed.
"Let go of me!" Chuck protested. "You told me to have a life of my own and that's what I'm going to do."
"By holding onto a live grenade?"
"A what!" Chuck hadn't realized exactly what he was holding. He had just automatically caught it. "Well, don't let go, Gar!"
"I won't, Chuck."
The ponytailed man approached. "I think I can help." He replaced the pin he'd picked up as Jim beat the bomber into unconsciousness and took the explosive device from them. "That should do it, guys. Great act, by the way," he called over his shoulder as he went to Jim's side. "Got it under control, Jim?"
"Sure, Chief." The man at his feet didn't stir. He plucked the grenade out of Blair's hand and cocked his head to once side as he listened. "The Bomb Squad and the cops are on their way. This mess should be cleaned up before your guests arrive."
Blair nodded and folded his arms. "About the guests... You have noticed you're seriously underdressed?"
Damn, the monkey suit. "But I'm here thirty minutes early. Don't I get credit for that?"
"You promised, Jim."
"And I kept you and your friends from exploding," Jim added in a defensive whine.
"As if you've never done that before," Blair said condescendingly. Then he couldn't keep it up anymore. He squeezed Jim's shoulder. "Man, I have never been so glad to see you in my life. I mean, in Cascade I would have been wondering where you were. But I didn't know whether it would work like this in Chicago."
"We're a team, Chief, in any city."
"Yeah, I know that now. How in the world did you know what was going on?"
Jim looked around and found Gary. "It's a long story, Chief. I'll fill you in later because Chicago's finest have arrived."
"What does he mean a great act?" Chuck was saying. "You didn't mean what you said, Gar?"
"I needed to distract the crazy guy, Chuck. You were terrific, by the way," Gary praised. "I don't know what I would have done without you."
"That's what I've been trying to tell you, Gar. You need me," Chuck said with supreme confidence.
"Yeah, Chuck, I do." He took his friend's arm and tugged him toward Jim. "Everything okay, Jim?"
"You tell me." Gary turned quickly, scanned the newspaper, then turned back and nodded. "Then everything's okay, sport."
Curiosity was eating Blair alive. "Hi, I'm Blair Sandburg," he said, holding out his hand to Gary.
Gary laughed before he shook it. "Now I understand the joke, Jim. I'm Gary Hobson, Mr. Sandburg. Nice to finally meet you."
Jim? Sport? Awfully familiar, weren't they? "Call me Blair. Any friend of Jim's, is a friend of mine." That's your opening, Jim. Explain!
But it would be a while before Blair got his explanation. The police came and questioned everyone, especially Jim. "We've been trying to catch up with you all day, Det. Ellison, but all we could find were your cards," Lt. Englund said. "You want to explain how you trailed this man, disarmed his bombs, and caught him?"
"No," Jim answered truthfully. He refused to look at Gary, not wanting to give the police any reason to suspect his part in the case. In earlier statements he had indicated Hobson was just a concerned citizen who had acted as his driver around an unfamiliar city.
"The captain, I mean detective, can't give up his source," Blair began. He looked apologetically at Jim. "Sorry, sir. I know how you dislike being called captain now that you're no longer with military intelligence. I mean, uh, you know what I mean, sir."
Jim had to put a glare in his eye just to mask the twinkle. Blair was an incorrigible, but inventive liar, another one of his assets as a Guide in the twentieth century. "Keep talking, Sandburg, and you'll know firsthand what I really dislike."
Lt. Englund understood the younger man's slip. So the detective was really working undercover for military intelligence. Made sense that he was on the trail of a bomber. Made so much sense, he wasn't going to bother to ask for details. As if he would get them anyway. "Uh, we have several witnesses here who will testify that this man indeed terrorized them with a grenade. That should put him away for quite sometime. I'm not sure if we need much more than that. But if we do, we have your card, cap--, I mean Det. Ellison. We'll get in touch."
"He's a g-man?" Chuck said when the cops had left, taking the bomber with them. "Does he know about the..." Chuck pointed to the paper in Gary's back pocket. His friend nodded. "That's not good, Gar."
"I trust Jim, Chuck. He understands."
Chuck walked up to Jim and put his finger in his face. Then he got a good look at the intense blue eyes that were frosty one minute and amused the next. The finger went down and he took a few steps back. "Understand this, Mr. G-man. Gary's my friend. If he disappears in the middle of the night, I'm going to come looking for him."
Jim smiled. He was a sucker for good friends. "I understand, sir. And I will take that under advisement." He turned to his own good friend. "The car is right outside. If I hurry I can go back to the hotel, dress, and be back here before the requisite late arrivals arrive."
"Or you can go to the car and get your tuxedo out of the trunk," Blair said with a grin. "I know you, Jim. I knew you would go out somewhere and get yourself involved in something and you would forget the time. So I put your tux in the trunk so that when you showed up here to apologize, you wouldn't have anything to apologize for."
Jim was hurt. "I'm not that irresponsible," he muttered.
Blair lay his hand on his shoulder. "It's not that you're irresponsible. Jim. You're too responsible. You see trouble, you have to help. That's why it's my job to take care of all the little things you miss. Now go get your tux. There are a few rich ladies coming whom I sure you can dazzle out of a few bucks for the university."
Jim put his hands on his cheeks in mock shame. "I'm not that kind of guy, Chief."
Blair laughed. "We're talking millions. You can be that kind of a guy for one night."
Jim shook his head. "Who knew a tux could turn you into a pimp."
"You're wasting time, boy toy. Hop to it," Blair said with a grin. "Now, let me go greet my legitimate guests."
"Come on, Hobson," Jim said. "You have the car keys and you left your jacket in the back seat."
"Back in a minute, Chuck."
"No problem, Gar."
Night had fallen and Jim was dazzled by all the city lights. Gary barely noticed them. Instead he was looking at something in an alley behind the museum. "Hey, that's that stupid cat! What is he doing out at night? I better go get him before he gets hurt."
Jim followed Gary's gaze and saw more than just the little tabby the Chicagoan had described. "It's alright, sport. He's just out with a friend."
Gary frowned, then watched as the cat passed beneath a streetlight and he saw... he saw... "What the... That's a ..." he looked at Jim in concern and saw his friend was smiling. "That's your cat?" he asked in amazement.
Jim nodded. "You might want to remember that the next time you complain about buying Meow Mix."
"I will." He looked back toward the felines, but only saw vague shadows. "Uh, what exactly does he eat?"
"Anything he wants to," Jim said, grinning at Gary's horrified expression. In the distance, a jaguar growled his approval of the answer.
"Gary?" a soft voice called out.
The woman shrugged in the doorway. Without sight, she used her senses much like Jim did. "I thought I heard something growl out there. Be careful."
"Nothing to worry about, Marissa. It was just Jim's stomach. He and I didn't have time for lunch today."
Marissa smiled and turned back to go inside. "I'll fix you both a plate. Hurry in before Chuck decides to take a sample."
"I think I really would go crazy if I didn't have Marissa and Chuck to share this with," Gary explained as they reached the car.
"I understand. Friends make all the difference in the world, Gary. I'm glad to have one more," Jim said with sincerity.
Gary smiled. "So am I, Jim."
Apparently, it was unanimous.
"Never thought the day would turn out like this," Jim said as he opened the door to the hotel room.
"Which part didn't you expect, Jim? Meeting a guy who gets tomorrow's newspaper? Defusing bombs all over Chicago? Saving my ass? Nah. That one was a given, I suppose," his partner said, mocking himself and the trouble he always managed to find. "What's this?" he asked, spying the colorful gift bag. Before Jim could snatch it out of his hand, he pulled out the bottle of bubble bath. "'Mixed Exclusively for Jim Ellison'," Blair read.
"Don't," Jim pleaded, too tired to fight the inevitable teasing.
Blair opened the bottle and gave a sniff. In his opinion, Jim could get a patent for the stuff and make a fortune. "I won't say another word if you promise to let me use it on occasion." With a sigh of relief, Jim nodded. "So why don't you get out of your spiffy suit and indulge yourself, man?" Belatedly he noticed the fine lines around Jim's eyes, signaling strain. The day must have been stressful. Bombs defusing wasn't exactly in Jim's field of expertise; however that field seemed to be expanding on a daily basis.
Jim rolled his shoulders, wincing as bones popped and muscles creaked."You mean you're through interrogating me about Hobson and his paper?"
"Nah. But you get time off for good behavior." Jim gave a grateful smile and disappeared into the bathroom.
Ten minutes later the phone rang. "Put Ellison on."
Blair rolled his eyes. Captain Simon Banks was not a man known for polite conversation. "He's resting, Simon. You wouldn't believe the day he's had."
"Yeah, I would, Sandburg. The Chicago police called to thank Cascade for the loan of our detective. I just wanted to let him know I'm proud of him. Want to pass that message on for me?"
"Sure, Simon. You want me to have him call you back?"
"Unnecessary. I know he must be wasted. He worked twelve to fifteen hour days here for the past week so he could go with you and what happens the first day he's in Chicago? Just let him rest and take care of him, okay?"
"Always, Simon. See you when we get back." Blair hung up and looked toward the bathroom in thoughtful amazement. He'd had no idea of what Jim had done in order not to disappoint him. The detective hadn't said a word and he'd been so busy e-mailing and faxing suggestions and ideas to his University of Chicago colleagues, he hadn't noticed Jim's late hours.
Blair looked at the stack of brochures and guidebooks he'd picked up for their scheduled tour of Chicago tomorrow. Without any regret, he tossed them in the trash. When Jim emerged from the bathroom, he was already in bed with the lights off.
"Something the matter, Chief?"
"Just got tired all of a sudden, Jim. I guess now that the opening's over, the adrenaline is wearing off." He yawned. "Let's say we sleep in, then just drift around for the rest of the day doing whatever, if and when we feel like it. Would you mind?"
Jim tried to keep the relief out of his voice. The long soak had helped a great deal and taking it easy for a day would complete his recovery. "Whatever you say, Chief. I'm here with you, remember?" He eased into the queen-sized bed closest to the door. Even in choosing which bed, the Sentinel was always in protect-mode.
"Yeah, I remember, Jim. Goodnight, partner."
"Good night, Chief."
"Oh, and Jim, before I forget, I just want you to know... you smell good, man."
Blair's laugh was abruptly muffled as a pillow sailed accurately through the dark room and landed on his head with a gentle thud. A stunned second later, laughter rang out again as both Sentinel and Guide released their respective tensions of the day and relaxed, secure in each other's company.
It is a far, far better thing that I do,
than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I
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