A dull throbbing in his head welcomed Jim back to consciousness. He heard
a rhythmic beeping--heart monitor, he thought--and realized he must be in the hospital. He carefully
opened his eyes. He saw Blair sitting next his bed, reading a book, his glasses making him
Jim groaned. "Oh, man ." He reached up with his left hand and rubbed his temple. He looked around the room at the various monitors and equipment.
"Hey. Welcome back to the land of the living," Blair greeted him, taking off his glasses and sliding closer to him.
"What the hell happened?" Jim asked. He reached up with his right hand as well, massaging both temples in an attempt to reduce the throbbing.
"Well, you collapsed from opium poisoning," Blair said, his voice and manner serious. "That stuff we found in the prayer beads turned out to be raw opium paste."
"It feels like my head was place-kicked," Jim said, wincing.
Blair stood and moved near Jim's head. "Put your arms down."
Dropping his hands back to his sides, Jim relaxed as Blair took over the massage of his temples. "Oh, that feels better, Chief." He closed his eyes and sighed with relief.
"My guess is that the sensory spikes you've been having put your senses into a heightened state, so sniffing that stuff was like mainlining." Blair continued, his voice soft but still serious.
Jim opened his eyes when the hospital room door opened. Simon came in carrying a green file folder. "Hey, Jim, glad to see you're awake. How you feeling?" He shut the door.
"Terrible. Other than that, okay," Jim said with a half-smile.
"Hey, Simon," Blair said, turning enough to nod at the captain. He returned to his task. "I was just catching Jim up on the opium stuff."
Jim asked, "What was a Buddhist monk doing with opium paste?"
Opening the file folder, Simon replied, "We've gotten some info from the Hong Kong police on the two dead guys--the one in the car and the guy you found in the park. Both worked for an Asian drug cartel--the Shang Syndicate. The Buddhist bit was just to cover the smuggling routine."
Jim glanced up at Blair, remembering what he had said earlier. "Opium paste? And that gets processed into heroin. That's just what the city needs is another pipeline," he said grimly.
"I don't know too much about heroin, but there couldn't have been that much opium in those beads," Blair said contemplatively. He smoothed the flat of his hand across Jim's forehead a few times. "Better?" he asked his partner.
"Yeah, thanks, Chief."
Blair sat back down in his chair, one hand still resting on Jim's arm.
Responding to Blair's unspoken question about the opium, Simon said, "I'm assuming it was just a sample, which means they're here in Cascade to find another distributor."
"We've got to find that other monk," Jim said. "Where are my clothes?" He started to sit up, but fell back against the pillow when the room suddenly swirled and dipped around him.
Blair reached forward to keep him from getting up. "Jim! Stay still."
Simon said sternly, "The doctor wants you off your feet for twenty-four hours. I'm ordering you to go home. Rafe and Brown are checking out that key. If they find anything, we'll give you a call."
It was nearly eight o'clock that night by the time Jim had been released
and Blair had brought him home. Jim tried not to let his fatigue show as they walked off
the elevator and down the hall toward the loft. The last thing I need is Sandburg
hovering over me all night, he thought.
As if reading his mind, Blair said, "Hope you don't mind if I cut out on you tonight. I told Rebecca that I'd take her to the Fellini retrospective over at the university."
Trying not to let his relief show, Jim replied, "No, not at all. No, you guys have fun."
They stopped at the door. Jim saw a long florist's box lying next to it. He picked up the box, knowing what it meant. He tried not to let his disappointment show.
"What's that?" Blair asked.
"These are the flowers I sent Lila." Jim looked at them for a long moment then handed the box to Blair. He turned to unlock the door.
"Well, hey, uh... what do you say Rebecca and I, we just rent a movie," Blair said in a cheerful voice. "We come back over here, we hang out, maybe cook some popcorn ."
"You guys go have fun. Why don't you give the flowers to Rebecca?" Jim tried to sound nonchalant. What he wanted most was for Sandburg to leave, so he could be alone with the pain in his head and the ache in his heart. He went into the loft and shut the door, leaving Blair standing in the hallway holding the box of orchids.
Twenty minutes later, Blair pulled up to Rebecca's apartment building and
parked. After checking to make sure the card for Lila wasn't in the box of flowers, he
exited the car. Holding the box of orchids, he walked with a light step up to the security
locked door and pushed the button for apartment number 10. When the buzzer sounded, he
slipped inside and climbed the stairs to her door.
"Hi, Blair." She was waiting for him, the door open. "Come on in."
"Hey, Rebecca. Wow, you look fabulous." Blair ran an admiring eye over her. Her short blue dress and strappy sandals complemented her tall, slim figure. She had a winning smile, and her shoulder-length, swingy light brown hair and her sparkling eyes reflected her enthusiastic, fun-loving personality.
"Thanks. I knew there was a reason I wanted to go out with you," she said teasingly, giving him a quick kiss.
He returned the kiss, and handed her the flowers. "Here, these are for you."
"Wow. Orchids? Oh my God, Blair." She opened the box and looked at them in amazement. "They're stunning. How did you ? Thanks. No one's ever given me orchids before." She gave him a big smile then said, "I'd better put these in the fridge so they stay fresh while we're gone."
"Okay." Blair grinned at her as she hurried into the small efficiency kitchen and found room for the flowers.
She kept one flower out. "Ready to go?"
"Yup. We've got about thirty minutes." Blair smiled at her. Then he leaned forward and brushed the back of his hand along her cheek. "The flower is almost as pretty as you." He kissed her, gently. "But not quite."
Rebecca blushed. She laughed and shook her head. "I can't believe I'm actually blushing."
Blair grinned. "Just makes you prettier." Dodging a playful swat, he said, "Shall we go?"
"Let's." Rebecca smiled happily as she locked up the apartment, holding the single orchid.
Blair had obligingly taken the hint and left. Jim wandered into the loft,
ending up at the balcony doors, where he stood for a long time, staring out over the city.
Finally, fatigue and thirst drove him to action.
After hanging up his jacket and getting a bottle of water out of the fridge--no beer for a while, thanks; beer and opium don't mix well--he went over and settled on the couch. Fumbling for the remote, he turned the television on.
Real-life cop show. He watched for a few minutes, but all the yelling gave him a headache.
History of blenders.
He continued flipping through all 80 channels. Nothing caught his interest. Sighing, he turned the television off.
Jim stood and wandered over to the balcony doors again, this time opening them and stepping outside. It was a little chilly without a jacket, but his city called to him. He stood there for close to an hour, watching and listening to Cascade. He thought about Lila, and Bali, and what might have been. A part of him ached for that "might have been."
Finally, he went back inside and prepared for bed. Exhaustion had caught up with him and he hoped he would be able to rest.
Jim felt himself rousing from a deep sleep. There was knocking on the
door. It was repeated a moment later. He opened his eyes, pushed back the covers, and sat
up. It only took him a moment to slip on his robe as he moved smoothly down the stairs.
It was a surprise, and yet it was not, when the opened door revealed Lila.
"May I come in?" she asked, gesturing slightly.
"Yeah. Sure, come on in."
She moved in and Jim closed the door behind her.
"The orchids you sent me were beautiful," Lila said as she moved across the room.
"Is that why you sent them back?" Jim asked sardonically.
"No. Why did you come to see me at my hotel?" She was standing near the balcony doors, looking out over the city.
Jim walked over to join her. "Why did you come here tonight?" he countered.
She huffed out a tiny breath and shook her head. "I shouldn't be here. I just. " She turned and walked to the door. She opened it, then looked back at Jim.
"No. No, you're just going to keep running, huh? Just like in Bali," Jim asked, his voice heavy with sarcasm.
Lila closed the door and leaned back against it. Longing and confusion were in her eyes as she looked at him. "What do you want from me? Hmm? What do you want? I'm engaged, okay? I'm engaged."
"You're here." Jim paused for a moment, then tried to explain what he was feeling. "What went on between us before -- maybe I'm idealizing, I don't know, but I can't get it out of my head." He felt incredibly vulnerable at that moment. He didn't normally tell people things like this. But this seemed important. Lila was important.
"That was a long time ago, Jim." Lila's voice was low. The longing that had been in her eyes was now in her voice. "The truth is, we... we barely know each other."
"So?" Jim knew that same longing was in his voice, his eyes, in every movement of his body.
"So what if you don't like what you find?" Lila asked as she walked slowly toward the center of the room.
Jim moved over to stand behind her. After a long moment, he said, "I'll take that chance." He reached up and gently slipped her coat off her shoulders. She did not resist.
After Jim laid her jacket aside, Lila walked over to look out the balcony windows again. "My parents died when I was ten. They had no money. Nothing. So I lived on the streets."
Jim stood behind her, listening quietly.
"I stole clothes... food... anything to stay alive," she continued. "As I got older, I... I did some things -- things I'm not proud of."
"Lila..." Jim gently turned her to face him. "I don't care who or what you were. I'm interested in who you are." His hand stroked her hair gently. He leaned forward to kiss her. Another sensory spike of light flashed off her face. Jim squinted and backed away.
"Jim?" Lila asked.
"Sorry. My head," he said. He reached up to massage his temple.
"Come, sit down." Lila led him to the couch.
A few minutes later, Jim was sitting on the couch and Lila was in front of him. She had started water for tea. He had his eyes closed.
Tentatively, Lila reached up and started rubbing his temples. "May I?"
"Mm, feels good." Jim sighed as the headache started to loosen just a little.
After a while a whistle began building in the teakettle. Lila stood and hurried to catch it before it got too loud. She set the tea to steep, bringing it over to the coffee table. Folding herself neatly beside Jim, she continued her massage.
When the tea was ready, she offered it to Jim, who had a sip. Deciding it tasted good, he had another.
"How are you feeling?" she asked. "Any better?"
"Hmm. Maybe a little," he murmured.
"Maybe you should see a doctor." Concern was obvious in Lila's face and voice.
"No. No, I've seen a doctor. It's just... job stress."
"Well, maybe you just... need to relax a little more." Lila's voice became sexier as she said the last.
"Hmm. " Jim looked at her, thinking of what he would like to do to relax right now. As if reading his mind, she leaned forward and their lips met. After a brief, tender kiss, he pulled back. "What about your engagement?" he asked reluctantly.
She kissed him again. Then, releasing him for a moment, she whispered, "What about it?" She placed her lips against his. Accepting the invitation, he kissed her deeply. His arm slipped around her and she sighed, relaxing into his embrace. Things progressed in pleasing ways and, by mutual consent, Jim eventually led her up the stairs to his bed.
The warmth of the body he held in his arms brought Jim to consciousness.
He woke and smiled at Lila, stroking her arm gently with one hand. She stirred, murmuring
softly. Then her eyes drifted to the clock on the nightstand.
"Oh, my God," she said. "I'd better go." She slipped out of bed and began getting dressed.
A couple minutes later, Lila was heading down the stairs, dressed and ready to go. Jim followed her down, carrying his pants. He crossed the room after her, hopping as he tried to walk and put on his pants at the same time. He noted absently that most of the symptoms of his opium "hangover" seemed to be gone.
"Let me drive you. The truck's right downstairs."
"No, that's okay. Thanks, Jim. I'll just take a cab," she said distractedly over her shoulder as she headed toward the door.
"You'll do nothing of the kind," Jim said. "I'll get the truck warmed up and--"
Just then, the door to the loft opened and Blair came in. He raised his eyebrows as he took in the scene: Lila shrugging on her coat, and a half-dressed Jim hurrying after her.
"Hey, Chief," Jim said, not losing a beat.
"Hey. Morning." Blair responded.
Jim finally finished buttoning his pants. "Uh, Blair Sandburg, this is Lila Hobson."
"Hi." Lila barely nodded at Blair as she finished putting on her coat.
"Hi," Blair said, with an amused expression on his face.
"Uh, Jim, I really have to go," Lila said.
"Oh. All right. Here." He handed her a twenty. "I could call you a, uh... a jet or something." He looked at her, wanting to help somehow.
"No," she insisted. She kissed him briefly.
"Let me get that." Blair opened the door for her. "Nice meeting you."
Lila left and Blair closed the door, then he turned to Jim, chuckling softly. "So I guess the orchids worked."
"For you?" Jim shot back. He slipped into his robe.
"Oh, yeah. How you doing?"
Jim walked to the refrigerator and opened it, pulling out a pitcher of water. "Ah, I'm all right. I had one of those sensory spikes again last night. My head's still kind of funny." After setting the water on the counter, Jim rubbed his forehead, wondering if the lingering traces of the headache showed on his face.
Blair's expression turned to one of concern. "Really?" He followed Jim into the kitchen. "You know, that makes me wonder. Both times you've had these sensory episodes, you've been with Lila. What are the possibilities of you being in love?"
Pausing in the process of pouring himself a glass of water, Jim gave him a look that could freeze fire. "You come up with that all by yourself, did you?"
"No," Blair retorted. "I'm serious here. What's the old adage -- when you're in love, the sky seems bluer? Maybe in your case, that's the truth."
"Let me off the couch, Dr. Ruth," Jim said sarcastically, "and help me find some aspirin." He finished pouring his water and set the pitcher down on the counter.
"All right," Blair said congenially as he pulled the aspirin bottle out of a drawer. "So, uh, Jim... Last night... after you had the sensory episode, were your senses still heightened when you were, uh... you know?" Jim gave him a dirty look. "No. I'm serious," he said enthusiastically. "Give me some details and be specific. It's for my book."
"You want photos?" Jim teased dryly. He walked past Blair toward the living room, carrying the aspirin and glass of water.
With mock incredulity on his face and exaggerated hope in his voice, Blair asked, "You took pictures?"
Jim huffed a laugh and rolled his eyes at the younger man, who grinned back at him.
Later that morning, Jim hauled the suitcases H and Rafe had brought him
into Simon's office. They had followed up on the key he had found in the hand of the dead
monk in the park while he had been in the hospital. These two suitcases were the result of
their efforts. He had thanked them for their help after they had briefed him. They had
returned to their own cases.
Now, he, Simon, and Blair were going to see if there was anything useful for the case in the monk's luggage. Hands sheathed with latex gloves, Jim opened one suitcase lying on the table in Simon's office. Simon opened the other, as Blair looked on.
"The key we found in that monk's hand came from the Hotel Devonshire. H and Rafe tossed the room pretty good, but all they found were these two suitcases," Jim said.
"I guess that would be the 'monk-key.' Right?" Simon punned.
There was a moment's silence. Then, "Yeah." Jim made a face.
"Ho, ho," Simon said, with one eyebrow raised. "What's this?" He held up a wrapped condom he had pulled out of the suitcase. "Didn't someone tell these guys that monks are supposed to be celibate?"
"Maybe they're looking for a religious experience," Jim said with a slight smirk. Looking back in the suitcase he was searching, he picked up a CD case labeled "Useless Information." He turned it over. There was a picture of a bespectacled "melon head" on the back. "What is this?"
"Oh, that's a computer trivia game," Blair said. "I've played it. It's actually pretty cool."
Jim said, "The hotel manager said the victims didn't speak English. And I don't see a laptop computer here."
"Then what are they doing with that?" Simon asked.
"That's a good question. It says it's from Melonhead Software, Cascade, Washington."
"Yeah, Melonhead Software. It was started by a guy named Boz Tate." Blair gestured with one hand. "He's one of those 20-something-year-old computer geniuses, started in his basement, but now he's actually got an industrial building down on the Marina."
Simon looked at Blair. "You know this guy?"
"I just heard of him, you know."
Jim caught Simon's eye. "I think it might be a good idea for us to have a chat with Mr. Tate."
"You're reading my mind," Simon replied.
A couple hours later, Jim ushered Boz Tate, a tall, slim, dark-haired man
with wire glasses, into the bullpen and indicated he should take a seat next to Jim's
desk. Blair perched on a nearby desk.
Simon had apparently seen them come in; he walked over and introduced himself. "Thanks for coming down to talk to us, Mr. Tate," Simon said.
"Please. I'm happy to cooperate, although I'm not exactly sure... what you want to ask me," Tate said.
Simon nodded and headed back to his office.
He seems somewhat nervous, Jim thought. The question is, is he simply a bit nervous talking to the police, as many people are, or does he have a good reason for being nervous? Deciding to provide more stimuli for nervousness and see what happened, Jim presented pictures of the two dead monks to Tate. "Have you ever seen these two men before?" Tate's heart rate increased noticeably.
"No. Why?" He was trying to keep a calm exterior, but failing rather miserably.
"They were both murdered within the last 24 hours."
"Really? Well, they're total strangers to me." His heart continued to pound faster than it had initially.
Hmm. Strangers, huh? Jim thought. Okay, let's increase the pressure another couple notches. "Their passports identify them as being from Hong Kong. According to the State Department, you've been to Hong Kong four times in the last year." Jim kept his voice calm, his expression neutral. He watched Tate closely and continued to monitor the man's heart rate and respiration.
"I've also been to Tokyo and Singapore. I go there to recruit talent. There's a shortage of qualified American programmers." The man's respiration and perspiration had both also increased. He looked back and forth between Jim and Blair. With a weak smile, he said, "Look, I'm really sorry, but I have to get back to work. We're releasing more 'Useless Information' next week." He made quotation marks with his fingers in the air as he spoke. "So you can well imagine, we're racing to meet the deadlines. Good luck with your investigation." He bolted to his feet and held out his hand to Jim, who shook it.
"Take care," Blair said mildly.
"Hey. Later," Tate said. Then he almost ran to the door of the bullpen and disappeared into the hallway.
Blair watched him leave, and then moved to the chair Tate had just vacated. He asked, "He seem a little nervous to you?"
Glancing over his shoulder in the direction Tate had gone, Jim replied, "Either he just got finished running a marathon or he's lying through his teeth. His heart was about to kick a hole in his chest."
"Do you think that was because he was talking to a cop?" Blair asked.
"That doesn't explain that odor," Jim said, a slight furrow between his eyebrows.
Looking slightly surprised, Blair turned to look at his sentinel. "What odor?"
"Chemical odor," Jim said grimly. "The kind they use in processing opium."
Jim hurried up the main stairs inside the Summit hotel. He had made his
excuses to Blair and was hoping to take Lila to lunch. He smiled as he saw her coming down
"Jim." She looked startled to see him.
"Hi," he said. "I was just in the neighborhood. I thought we could have some lunch."
Lila looked around, somewhat nervously, Jim thought. "Oh, well, this really isn't a good time, Jim. I'll have to call you later, okay?"
She turned and hurried off in the direction from which she had come. What is going on? Why is she acting like this? Curious, Jim followed her. He sensed someone behind him, following him, but before he could turn to see who it was, he rounded a corner and saw Lila at the top of another set of stairs.
"Well... Lila..." he stammered awkwardly.
Turning, Lila said, "Jim..."
Just then, another visual sensory spike overwhelmed Jim. He winced, trying to get control over the sudden pain.
Lila said, "Oh, Jim, I just can't..." Then she stopped. Jim heard her hesitantly say, "Are you all right?"
As Jim was struggling with the sensory spike, the person who had been following him came around the corner and attacked him. The man hit him from behind, using doubled fists to punch at the junction where Jim's right shoulder and neck met. The strike stunned the cluster of nerves there, causing a temporary paralysis of his mind and body. The man backed away, clutching at Jim's jacket. Jim struggled to pull away. The attacker got in several good blows. Jim tried to fight back, getting in a couple punches, but was at a disadvantage because of the sensory spike and the initial, stunning blow to his neck. Finally, the man swung a foot around in a savage kick, getting him in the head. Jim went down, slumping on the steps. He could sense the man preparing to strike again. He lay, helpless, against the oncoming attack.
Then Jim heard Lila hurrying down the stairs while speaking sharply in Chinese. She and the attacker exchanged a few words in Chinese, then both left.
Jim lay bleeding on the stairs of the hotel, gasping for breath and trying to gain control over the pain and his anger.