Jim led the well-dressed woman holding the hand of a young boy into the nearest empty conference room. Blair followed, smiling at the child, who looked up at him with curious brown eyes.
"Thanks for coming down, Mrs. Wilson. And thank you for bringing Curtis." Jim smiled at the pair, pulling out a chair for the lady.
Blair glanced down at the boy. "Hello, Curtis. I'm Blair. Why don't you sit down right here," he put a hand on the back of one of the chairs, "and I'll get you a soda. What kind would you like?"
Curtis glanced at his mother, who nodded her consent. "Pepsi, please."
"One Pepsi coming up. Mrs. Wilson? Soda? Coffee?"
"Nothing for me. Thank you."
"Not right now. Thanks, Blair."
When Blair returned a few minutes later with the soda, Jim was talking to the boy, who was describing his last football game.
"Sounds like you're a valuable team player, Curt."
Curt nodded enthusiastically. "It's fun. And I'm pretty tough." He held out his arm and flexed a thin muscle.
Blair grinned, placing the can down on the table. "Hey, pretty good muscles there."
Mrs. Wilson put a hand on Curtis' arm. "Why don't you tell the police officers exactly what you told me last night after we got you home from the hospital."
"Okay, Mom. It's kind of creepy, though."
Blair smiled. "That's okay. Jim and I like creepy." Jim cast Blair a quick glance and raised an eyebrow. Blair shrugged. "You tell us whatever you think would help us figure out exactly what happened."
"Okay. Well, it was Christina's birthday and her mom brought cake and cherry punch. I told Mrs. Lane that I didn't want to drink any of the punch, but she said it wouldn't be polite to refuse." Curt shrugged, taking a sip of his soda. "When I said I couldn't drink it because cherry made me sick to my stomach, she got mad."
"Did Mrs. Lane get mad a lot?" Jim asked.
"No, hardly ever. I don't mind going to school because Mrs. Lane makes it fun. I have to do homework and stuff like that, but she gives us special treats and stuff. Once we went on a really cool field trip to the space needle. We rode the elevator to the top!"
"That sounds like great fun! So did you drink the punch?" Blair inquired.
Curt said, "No way, man! It was gross! I took a cup and pretended to so she wouldn't yell at me. I just stuck my tongue in it. Ick!" He made a face, making Blair smile. "When Mrs. Lane wasn't looking, I put my glass back on the table so somebody else could have it."
"What did it taste like?" Jim asked.
"I don't know. Kind of funny. Not like my mom's stuff. I ate a big piece of cake, so I couldn't taste it any more anyway."
Mrs. Wilson said, "Tell us about what she drank, honey."
"Okay. Before the party, Mrs. Lane took this plastic bottle from her pocket and dumped it into the punch."
"Did she know you saw her?" Blair queried.
"No. I was supposed to be practicing my cursive, but I looked over at her while she was fixing up the table with the cake and stuff on it. She kind of looked around, you know, like on TV, like she was making sure nobody was looking. But I saw her take the bottle out of her sweater pocket and pour it into the punch. That's why I lied about the cherry junk. I like cherry, but I didn't want it after she put that junk in it." After taking another sip of his soda, he added, "I told Justin not to drink any, but he called me a dork. I think he was one of the sick kids."
"Well, I'm sure the doctors will do the best they can for him," Jim responded before asking, "Did Mrs. Lane drink any of the juice?"
"Yeah," he said, stopping to take a sip of his soda. "She drank two whole glasses. I saw her dump more of the stuff into her own glass. The whole rest of the bottle. She was acting weird."
Jim nodded. "You're doing a great job, Curtis. Anything else?"
Mrs. Wilson smiled at her son and prompted, "Don't forget about the phone, Curtis."
Jim and Blair looked at each other. Blair didn't look the least bit surprised at the mention of yet another cell phone, while Jim clearly conveyed to Blair that this entire phone thing was beginning to bug the hell out of him.
"What about a phone, Curt?" Blair managed to ask.
"It was weird. She kept talking on her cell phone."
Jim asked, "Can you tell us why you think that's weird? Everybody talks on cell phones these days."
"Nobody's allowed to talk on cell phones in class. Michael got his taken away one day when he forgot to turn it off, and it played the really cool music from Spiderman during math. Even the teachers aren't supposed to use them unless it's an emergency. Once Mrs. Lane had to use it when Megan fainted. I want a cell phone, but mom says I can't have one until I'm older."
"Did you ever hear anything that she said while she talked on the phone?" Blair's stomach churned as he asked the question.
Curtis screwed up his face in concentration. "It was kind of creepy. She kept hanging up and it kept ringing. It must have rung three dozen times."
"Curt, are you exaggerating?" his mother asked.
Curtis grinned. "Yeah, maybe. It was more like five or six times." He shrugged, swinging his legs.
Jim nodded, giving the boy an encouraging smile. "That's all right. You're doing a great job. So what did she say to the person who called?"
"I couldn't hear much, because she kept leaning down and putting her hand around her mouth, but once she got really mad. She said, "No, Katie! No!" Really loud! The whole class jumped. We all started talking to each other, wondering what was going on, and she got mad again, told us all to shut up. She never said shut up to anybody before. Mrs. Lane says it's bad manners. She says that it's okay to ask the person to please stop talking, or to please be quiet, but we get points taken off if we yell shut up." Draining his can of soda, he wiped the back of his hand across his mouth. "And please and thank you. Mrs. Lane says good manners are the sign of a good person."
Blair glanced at Jim once again before he said, "Curt, you've done a fine job. This is very helpful information."
"Thank you for bringing him in, Mrs. Wilson," Jim added.
Mrs. Wilson nodded. "I just hope the other children are okay. I've explained to Curtis about Mrs. Lane... How she was sick in her head, and did something she didn't mean to do. I think he understands."
"He's a smart kid," Blair offered. "And the other children who were admitted to the hospital will recover. We're happy nobody else had to die."
Mrs. Wilson said, "Thank God for that."
"I'm happy, too," Curtis said. "I don't like Miranda," he added honestly, "but I didn't want her to die. Not like Mrs. Lane..." He kicked the toe of his shoe against the chair leg.
Blair tousled his hair. "You did an excellent job! Come on. I'll walk with you to the elevator."
"Chief, I'm heading down to the lab to check on something. Thanks again, Mrs. Wilson. Good meeting you, Curtis." Jim held out his hand, which Curtis took and pumped vigorously, grinning.
"I'll be right there, Jim," Blair said, his gaze finding Jim's. He knew exactly what Jim was going to the lab to check on, and he felt a cold spike of fear stab his body. He knew Jim must have sensed his sudden spike in heart rate and respiration, because Jim moved close to him and put a hand on his shoulder. He squeezed lightly and nodded reassuringly. When their eyes met, he saw the care and concern radiating from his partner's clear blue eyes, and in spite of the circumstances, it gave him a warm feeling. Giving Jim a reassuring smile, thanking him silently, he escorted the guests to the elevators.
Art by Annie
When Blair entered the lab, Jim was standing next to one of the techs as the man peered through a microscope.
"Detective, this phone is as clean as the day it came off the assembly line. I'm sorry. I know this is damned freaky. I mean, that's three cases in a week that have had cell phones linked to them in some way, and all three haven't had a single bit of use!" Shaking his head, the tech sighed. "It makes no sense to me. What are they? Possessed?" he asked, almost jokingly. Seeing Jim's stern look, the man blushed. "Sorry," he muttered.
Blair stood on the tech's other side and said, "Hey, don't worry about it. You can't make any evidence where there isn't any. Actually, your discovery is just as helpful. Now we know that each of the three phones were in the exact same condition. That's a clue in itself."
Jim glared at Blair over the man's back. Blair cast Jim an innocent smile, making him shake his head and straighten up. "Thanks, Luke."
Blair clapped the man on the back. "Thanks, man. Good job."
As they walked back toward the bullpen, Jim tiredly rubbed his face. "I'm really getting fed up with these ones, Blair. We're getting nowhere fast."
Blair sighed. "There's nowhere to go, Jim. Each one was definitely a suicide. And while the -- collateral damage... God, that's such an awful term!"
"I know what you mean. It's a ripple effect. They felt -- compelled to kill somebody before they killed themselves. But their motives mean a lot. I wish there was more that they'd left behind to tell us why!"
With a comforting glance, Blair answered, "Thanks. You always seem to know what to say to make me feel a bit better."
"You're welcome. So what were you going to say about the other victims?"
"Just that we know who killed each of them. It's not like there's a big question about who did it. But there's a huge question about the whys of it."
"True, Chief. Very true."
"I don't know about you, but I'm ready to go home. I need a shower and I'm hungry."
"And I could use about twelve hours of sack time," Jim added tiredly.
"It is late. What do you say we grab our coats and head home? I don't feel like cooking, but I'm willing to spring for dinner since the grocery shopping was interrupted. No way I'm stopping at the store to shop tonight."
"Something quick. Subs, maybe."
"Works for me."
After turning off computers and clearing desktops, the men grabbed their coats and headed out the door. On their way past Rhonda's desk, she called, "Guys? Here's that information you requested."
"Thanks, Rhonda," Blair said with a smile, taking the sheet of paper that Rhonda held out. "See you in the morning."
"Night, Blair. Jim."
"Evening, Rhonda," Jim responded. As they headed toward the elevators, Blair read the paper while Jim tugged on his sleeve, guiding him around other people in the hallway with long-practiced ease. "One of these days, Chief..." he said amusingly as he punched the elevator button.
"Get this, Jim," Blair said with interest. "Mrs. Lane's twin sister, Katie, was raped and murdered ten years ago in St. Paul. The perp was never found. Man, that's rough. Their parents... They're still alive. It's has to be horrible losing both of your children to violence." He sighed. "Sometimes life plain sucks."
The doors opened and the men entered the empty car. Jim pressed the button for the parking garage. "No shit, Sandburg," Jim muttered.
Blair shrugged and after folding the paper, he shoved it into one of his jacket pockets.
The hot water cascaded down Blair's body, sending waves of warmth over his skin. He sighed with contentment, his hands resting lightly on Jim's hips. With his eyes closed and his head tipped back, he let the spray's fingers pound into his scalp, giving it a light massage. Jim's hands moved up to his head, and with a gentle tug, he moved Blair slightly forward, out of the direct spray so that he could wash the long strands. He took his time, rubbing the scalp with just the right amount of pressure that he knew Blair liked. Blair made small moans of pleasure, which made Jim chuckle. Blair kept his eyes shut until Jim moved him back under the water to rinse out the shampoo.
"How's that?" Jim asked.
Blair reached up, threading his fingers through his hair. "Good. Thanks."
Blair turned, sighing with relief when Jim's large hands massaged deeply into his shoulder muscles. "Feels great!"
"I aim to please."
Blair chuckled, moving back a bit to allow Jim's erection to brush against his backside. "I noticed."
Jim laughed, wrapping an arm around Blair's shoulders and pulling him back against his chest. "You are such a tease." Jim planted a series of small kisses down the side of Blair's face, licking the water from the unshaven cheek as he rubbed his tongue along Blair's jawline.
Blair laughed, and turned in Jim's arms, wrapping his own arms around Jim's torso. "You feel so good! Just what I needed." Resting his head on Jim's shoulder, he murmured, "Like being close to you."
Jim kissed along the top of Blair's shoulder and up to his ear, nibbling the lobe before sucking on it.
"Jim! Man, you know how much that turns me on!" His hand slid down Jim's sculpted back, across his left buttock and around his upper thigh to lightly clasp Jim's erection. "Kiss me, Jim. Like you mean it."
Jim complied, firmly pressing his lips against Blair's. With a small moan, Blair opened his mouth, inviting his lover to explore while his hand stroked Jim exactly the way he knew Jim liked it. A couple of firm caresses followed by a bit of play around the head, and Jim was soon moaning deeply, holding Blair's ass in his large hands. While he amorously kissed his lover, Blair's fingers moved along Jim's body with familiarity, cupping the taut balls before returning to the hard flesh. It wasn't long before Jim was shuddering and spurting semen over Blair's hand and onto his stomach.
Kissing Blair ardently, Jim wrapped an arm around Blair's neck while his left hand traveled down his chest, stopping momentarily to tweak the hard nipples. After a bit more nipple play, the hand slipped down to hold Blair's thick penis in his palm. Closing his hand around the firm flesh, Jim stroked. He continued his deep, arousing kisses while he jacked Blair's organ, teasing a bit when he moved his hand from the erection to lightly finger his balls. When Blair groaned and thrust his hips forward, wordlessly demanding that Jim take up where he left off, Jim chuckled against Blair's lips. He slipped two fingers behind the sac until he lightly touched Blair's hole. Blair gasped against Jim's mouth and spread his legs just a bit, giving Jim more access. Jim teasingly tapped the sensitive ring of muscles with a fingertip, laughing softly when they spasmed. He slipped a finger in, fucking the tight space for a few moments.
"Jim... God, Jim.... You're driving me nuts here," Blair murmured.
"Not doing my job," Jim answered.
"You're still able to talk," he said with a laugh. Covering Blair's mouth with his once again, he removed his finger and once again palmed Blair's erection. Blair gasped against Jim's mouth, and when the strong fingers wrapped around his penis, he wantonly thrust his hips forward. Jim held his hand just right so that Blair could fuck the small tunnel he created, and it was with a grunt of pleasure that Blair came a minute later.
Standing with his eyes closed, he silently stood under the still warm spray and let it wash away the remnants of his orgasm. He didn't open his eyes until Jim tapped his cheek with a long finger. Slowly, he opened his eyes and looked sleepily at his lover.
"Now I'm doing my job."
"Hmmm?" Blair answered.
"You're not talking."
Blair gave Jim a goofy grin, which made Jim laugh. He pulled his partner into his arms, reaching around him to turn off the water. He grabbed two thick towels and after wrapping one around Blair's shoulders, he climbed out of the shower. He wrapped the towel around his own waist before turning to guide his sated lover out of the tub. With a grin, he dropped a smaller towel on Blair's dripping head.
"Better dry off a bit before you climb into bed, Chief," he said with amusement. "Or tomorrow morning, your hair will be fuzz-ball city."
"Okay, Jim," Blair said sleepily. He managed to pat the towel against his hair before he said, "I'm too tired."
Jim took Blair's hand and led him through the loft to their bedroom. The wooden floor and steps were cool under Blair's feet, making him shiver. "Furnace is on, Blair. It will warm up in a bit." Pulling back the covers, he tossed a dry towel on Blair's pillow before he stripped his partner of his towel. "Climb in."
Blair slipped into the cool sheets, shivering slightly. "Cold."
"I'll warm you up." Jim slid onto the bed behind his lover and after covering their bodies with the blankets, he wrapped an arm around Blair's chest, pulling him close until their bodies were pressed together along their lengths. With a contented sigh, he kissed Blair's ear. "Night, Chief."
"Night, Jim. Love you," Blair whispered, lacing their fingers together.
Art by Lisa
Blair sat at the kitchen table, sipping a fresh cup of coffee. He occasionally glanced upward and smiled. In his mind's eye, he saw Jim looking exactly the same as he had when Blair had climbed from the bed about an hour ago. He loved watching Jim sleep. When he'd gotten up, Jim was lying curled on his side, his face peaceful and relaxed. Taking another sip of coffee, he returned to his work.
The yellow legal pad was covered with his notes. He doodled along the margin while he reread what he had written. On the far left column, he'd listed the names of the four suicide victims: Dennis Brenner, Tom Bartholomew, Patrick O'Malley, and Emily Lane. Next to each of those names, he noted their criminal history. Brenner was a petty thief since his junior high school days, Bartholomew was a career criminal with various charges against him that included car theft, assault, drunk and disorderly, and breaking and entering. O'Malley had a clean record other than a few parking tickets, and Emily Lane's record was squeaky clean.
Next he considered why these particular people committed suicide and the idea that he'd been kicking around in his head. He'd actually written: demon? devil? possession? With a sigh, he wondered if he was being -- ridiculous. But what else could he think? Each had a cell phone in their possession during the commission of their crimes, and all but Bartholomew had killed or tried to kill people for no apparent reason. He tapped the pen against the paper before he wrote: Who? What? Why? How?
Blair mulled over the four questions. Who? he set aside for now, because that was too creepy for him to even think about at the moment. And he could just hear what Jim would have to say when he told him he thought some -- evil force was possessing cell phones and turning citizens into killers. What? Maybe the Who? was really a What?. With an uncomfortable laugh at himself, he shook his head. "Nothing like confusing yourself, Blair," he muttered. Why? Why was easy. To cause misery, to exert power, to show dominance, to be a bastard. The usual reasons evil entities bug the shit out of people. How? He pondered the "hows" of the four cases. After a few minutes of contemplation, he wrote:
Step one: Convince someone with a weak mind to kill him/herself. Brenner. Too easily done for a powerful evil force. Onto step two.
Step two: Convince someone with a weak mind to kill him/herself and somebody they don't know. A test in escalation. Not quite as easy, but doable. Bartholomew. Onto step three.
Step three: Convince someone who is a good person to kill him/herself and somebody they know. Harder, but obviously still doable. O'Malley. Note: good person has something that they feel guilty about that nobody else knows. O'Malley had an out-of-wedlock child twenty-five years ago. No criminal record. Holy man, believes in confession, but does he still feel guilty about past sins in spite of belief? Very appropriate in a sick way: murder committed in confessional.
Step four: Convince someone who is a good person to kill him/herself and somebody they care about. Much harder, but still something that was accomplished. Lane. Note: check on what she could have been blackmailed with by evil force. Sister raped and killed. Survivor's guilt?
Step Five: Convince someone who is a good person to kill him/herself and somebody they love. Person unknown. Ultimate accomplishment; even bigger success if person has something -- some quality -- that makes them unique or unusual. Something that could make them even harder to "turn". Like what? And/or who?
"Hey, Chief." Two strong arms circled Blair's neck and the hands slipped down the front of his shirt.
"Jim," Blair said happily, dropping his pen to cover Jim's splayed warm hands with his. "How'd you sleep?"
"Great. Thanks to you."
Blair craned his head to the side to peer up at his lover. "You too, man. I feel pretty good. You hungry?"
Jim nodded, kissing Blair's forehead. "Starving!"
"I thought you hadn't finished the shopping."
Blair rose and headed toward the kitchen with Jim close behind. "I didn't, but I found pancake mix in the cupboard. It just takes water. No maple syrup, though, but I dug out a can of peaches. I diced them up and put in some cinnamon and butter, and let it simmer for a few minutes." He held up the pan, which Jim sniffed appreciatively. "Voila! Peach syrup. All I have to do is warm it up a bit, make the pancakes, and brew up a fresh pot of coffee. Fifteen minutes and we'll have breakfast."
When Blair had put the pan back down on the stove and turned on the burner to low, Jim grabbed Blair's wrist and tugged him close. "What would I do without you?" he asked, giving Blair a bear hug and a loud, wet kiss on the side of his face.
Blair laughed. "Starve?"
Jim laughed along with his partner.
Blair sat at his desk rereading his notes from this morning about the suicide and the suicide/murder cases that they'd investigated. Picking up his pen, he decided to see if he could finish his last train of thought about the fifth step. He picked up his coffee cup, but when he went to take a sip, he realized the cup was empty. Lifting his head, he had intended to ask Jim if he wanted a fresh cup when he went to the break room to fetch himself one, but Jim wasn't at his desk. For a moment, Blair didn't think anything of it, figuring that Jim had gone for coffee, or to the men's room, or to hit the snack machine. But something niggled at his brain. He rose, absentmindedly chewing on the top of his pen. He glanced out through the windows that led to the hallway, searching for his partner, but the man was not in sight. Suddenly apprehensive, he started across the bullpen toward the double doors leading out into the hall.
"Rhonda?" Blair called, approaching the woman's desk situated near the doors.
"Hey, Blair. What's up?" she asked brightly, giving Blair a warm smile.
Blair smiled in return. "Did you see where Jim took off to?"
"I saw him leave a few minutes ago, but he didn't say anything to me. He was too busy."
"Yes. He was talking very intently with someone on his cell. Sounded important."
Blair's face paled. "Thanks." He quickly walked out into the hallway, calling out to Vera, who was walking toward the opposite end of the hallway near the elevators. "Vera! Have you seen Jim!"
Vera nodded, peering at Blair over her glasses as he made his way over to her. "He took the stairs just a second ago," she answered, waving toward the closed door. "Anything wrong?"
Blair plastered a pleasant smile on his face. The last thing he needed to do was to arouse her suspicions and have her follow him on his search for his partner, asking questions, or volunteering to look for Jim herself. Or worse, telling Simon that something was up yet again with Sandburg and Ellison. "Nope. Thanks, Vera!"
He slipped through the stair access door and as soon as it closed, he sprinted up the four flights toward the roof access. Blair knew without a doubt what was happening, and he derided himself severely for not seeing it coming sooner. He was so stupid sometimes! He'd just realized, just understood what was happening not five minutes ago while he sat at his desk, making more notes and rethinking the similarities and differences in the string of suicides and murders that they had witnessed the past week.
Jim was the perfect candidate for step five. He was a good person, and he had something special. More than that, Blair knew, he was something unique. He was the world's only known living Sentinel, born to protect the tribe. If what Blair feared was actually happening, then Jim was, at this very second, being influenced by the same force that had tormented the other victims, and he was the only person who could deal with this. He certainly didn't want or need an audience on the roof to see what was happening to Jim. And there was no way he could give a rational explanation to any onlookers about what he knew was going on.
If Simon saw Jim acting in an unusual or irrational manner, he would bluster and shout, and insist Jim return to his desk or visit his physician for a checkup. He couldn't possibly explain that Jim was the next victim in a string of victims, and that the voices that were telling him to kill himself, and possibly anybody else in the nearby vicinity, were coming from Jim's own cell phone. Simon would roll his eyes and when Jim did whatever he was ordered to do to end his life, the captain would never believe that some nameless, faceless evil had control over somebody as strong as James Ellison. And that was only if Simon lived through the incident to even think about what had happened. Simon would never believe that the voice Blair insisted was on the other end of the cell phone wasn't another living, breathing human being committing the heinous crimes, but a twisted, evil, demented force that gained more and more strength as each act of suffering was successfully completed.
Blair knew he was the only person who could help his partner. He was Guide to Jim, the Sentinel. He was partner to Jim, the Cop, and he was Lover to plain ordinary Jim, a man who needed -- deserved to be loved more than anybody Blair had ever known.
As he climbed the steps, his stomach constricted in a tight knot. He felt a complete and utter wave of dread wash over his body. "Oh, God," he muttered, "no, no, no!". He raced up the steps toward the roof. "Shit, shit. Jim, man, I'm coming. I'm coming," he chanted, taking the last set two at a time. He burst through the access door, slamming it forcefully against the concrete wall. "Jim?" Blair raced out into the center of the area, his head swiveling from side to side. He turned in a full circle, calling, "Jim!" When no one answered, he trotted around the air conditioning units and headed toward the north side side of the building. From the corner of his eye, he caught a movement and his gaze found that which he sought.