familytreepic.jpg.jpg (202355 bytes)

 

SHELTER

(Missing Scene for The Debt)

By: Lyn

EMAIL: Lyn

Jim Ellison tried to close his ears against the verbal onslaught as he led the way up the stairs to the loft.

"I am, like, so grateful to you, man. I don't know what else I would have done. I promise you, you will not know we are here."

Larry gave a disgruntled screech at this last comment and Blair reached down to absently scratch the ape's head through the cage with a sooty hand.

"Mmm," Jim acknowledged as he juggled Blair's solitary suitcase and a box of books and tried to extricate his keys at the same time.

"Oh wait. Here, Jim, let me," Blair set Larry's cage on the floor and took the box from him, grunting a little as he rested the box against his chest.

"You okay, Sandburg?" Jim narrowed his eyes, looking at his new roommate appraisingly. Blair's complexion was white under the dusting of ash that he had accumulated when he returned to the warehouse to gather his few intact belongings, and there were dark shadows under his eyes.

"I'm fine, Jim, really. Just pulled a muscle or something when you pushed me out of the way," Blair said casually, shifting the box to a more secure position in one hand as he hoisted Larry's cage once more.

"Yeah, sorry about that. I didn't mean to hit you so hard," Jim said.

"Hey, man, I am not complaining, considering the alternative," Blair said sincerely. "I really mean it, though, Jim. Thanks for putting us up, and I swear to you I'll be out of your hair in a week, tops. Oh yeah, and tell Carolyn that as soon as I can get the money together, I'll replace the camera. How much do those things go for, anyway?"

"Out of your league, Sandburg," Jim answered, growing weary with the conversation. All he wanted right now was a hot shower and a cold beer, in no precise order. "Don't you have any insurance?"

"Are you kidding? I was just scraping the rent together, man," Blair snorted. "I'll work something out. Maybe I could sell something," he said, his gaze scanning the pitiful collection amassed on the floor of the loft.

"Whatever," Jim answered, no longer really listening. "I'm going to grab a shower. Help yourself to a beer or something. Get the monkey… ape settled first though, okay. I'm not in the mood to listen to him squawking all night." He headed up the stairs to his bedroom, unbuttoning his shirt on the way. "You can sleep on the couch tonight, I'll fix up something a little more permanent tomorrow in the spare room."

"Nah, I'll be fine on the couch, Jim. You don't need to go to any trouble on my account."

"Grab a beer, Sandburg, I might be a while."

By the time Jim exited the steaming bathroom, feeling about a hundred percent better, Blair had Larry's cage tucked into an out of the way corner of the living room. The little ape was asleep, hunched on his belly on a small pillow, a half eaten apple core still clutched in his hand. Blair sat on the couch, clutching his backpack to him like a life preserver, his gaze fixed into space.

Jim leaned over the back of the couch and laid a hand on Sandburg's shoulder. "Hey, Chief, you with me?"

Blair jumped and shot to his feet, before taking a deep breath and sinking back to the couch. "Jim, you scared ten years' growth out of me, man."

"Sorry, Sandburg," Jim answered. He hooked a thumb in the direction of the bathroom. "Why don't you go take a shower? I'll go see what I can find for dinner."

"Okay, thanks." Blair detoured over to check on Larry then knelt at his suitcase. Flicking the catches, he opened the lid and rummaged through the contents for a few minutes. His movements stilled for a moment and Jim thought he heard a hitch in his breath. Before Jim could react, however, Blair stood up with a pair of old gray sweats in his hand. He headed silently for the bathroom and shut the door.

Jim shrugged and turned his attention to the fridge. Deciding that he really didn't have the energy to stand over a hot stove, he reached for the phone and called in an order for a pizza. Remembering Blair's predilection for health food, Jim asked for a veggie special on one half. He popped open a beer and relaxed on the balcony while he drank it. It was only when the pizza arrived and he was going back for his second beer that he remembered his guest.

Blair had been in the shower for close to a half-hour and he still hadn't emerged. Growing concerned, Jim headed toward the bathroom door. He raised his hand to knock, then pausing, he opened his hearing and directed it into the small room. Using the skills taught to him by Sandburg, he filtered out the sound of the rushing water, surely cold by now, and homed in on the heartbeat of his new roommate. It was pounding and fast, and there was another sound. The detective pulled back in surprise as he identified it, unsure of how to proceed. Finally making up his mind, he cracked open the door and poked his head around it. "Sandburg, you okay?"

Blair sat hunched up on the floor of the shower, his knees wedged up under his chin and his arms wrapped around his legs. The drenched curls cascading about his head hid his face but Jim could see Blair's shoulders shuddering with almost silent sobs. Jim moved over to the shower alcove, snagging a towel off the rail on his way. He reached in and turned off the faucet then bent to wrap the towel around Blair's shaking shoulders.

"Hey, Chief, pizza's getting cold out there and there's a beer sitting in the fridge with your name on it," he said softly.

Blair looked up at him, his face flushing in embarrassment. He nodded and accepted Jim's offer of help to stand up. "Sorry," he whispered. "It all kind of hit me at once."

Jim nodded his agreement. "Not surprising, Chief, it's been a rough night." His eyes widened in shock as he noticed the large bruise covering much of Blair's sternum. "Shit, Sandburg, did I do that?"

"No, I think I hit it on the coffee table as I went down. It's just a bruise," Blair answered, absently rubbing at the dark mark with his fingers and wincing.

"Why don't you get dressed and come out and eat?" Jim suggested.

Blair exited the bathroom five minutes later, looking and smelling decidedly fresher, his eyes still a puffy, telltale red. He took the proffered beer from Jim and sat down at the table in front of the steaming pizza.

"I warmed it up for you in the oven," Jim said.

"Thanks, man, this is great. I don't get paid until the end of the month, but keep a tally of everything I use and let me know at the end of the week what the total is. I'll make sure I pay you as soon as I have the cash."

Jim waved a hand to silence him. "We'll worry about that later, Sandburg. Eat up, you look like you're out on your feet. Actually, you having a shower gave me some time to clear off the futon in the spare room, so you can sleep in there instead of on the couch. Tomorrow, I'll clear out the closet and the dresser, give you somewhere to stash your things."

Blair looked down at his half-eaten pizza and Jim watched as a solitary tear snaked out from under a lowered eyelid and tracked down his cheek to drip off his chin and land on the tablecloth. He wiped at his cheeks roughly with the back of his hand. "Sorry," he said again. "Don't know what's wrong with me."

"You're tired and upset," Jim said casually. "It's a natural reaction."

"My photo was destroyed," Blair whispered, gazing down at his plate.

"What photo?"

"I had a photo of Naomi with her mom and dad. It was taken when she was four years old and she gave it to me. I went to get it out of the suitcase and it was wet and torn," Blair explained. "I promised her I would always treasure it.

"It was taken at a photo studio when mom and her folks were on holiday in Florida. Naomi was four years old and her mom, my grandma, made her wear a dress. Mom said she hated that, but when she saw her dad come downstairs dressed in his Temple best, she knew it was special. Grandma always had to bribe Grandpa to go to Temple, he always said that he could worship just as well at home. Anyway, she thought if it was important enough for him to dress up, she could do the same."

"Maybe you can get a replacement. There's got to be a copy somewhere," Jim said. He wiped his mouth with his napkin and stood. "Let's get you settled for the night."

Blair nodded wearily and stood, going first to check on Larry. He turned back to Jim. "I don't know what I'll do but I promise I'll have all of this sorted out in a week, Jim."

"A week was only a rough estimate, Sandburg," Jim said, smiling.

"Sorry, what?" Blair asked, raising a quizzical eyebrow.

"Well, at least the monkey goes to bed at a decent hour, Sandburg. I could maybe be persuaded to let him stay."

FIN