"What the hell are you talking about, Chief?" Ellison was tired from his day with Digby, and frankly he was annoyed with the supercilious smirk Brackett was sending him over Blair's shoulder. He was further annoyed when Digby slunk over from the stairs and began attaching herself to him again. He tried to peel her off him, shaking her roughly from his arm so he could re-holster his weapon since it appeared that Brackett was not a threat at the moment.
"Listen, why don't we go upstairs and discuss this while Lee here, amuses your, uh, friend," Blair glanced pointedly at the pouty blonde who was trying to reattach herself to Jim as quickly as he was trying to disengage himself from her.
Jim nodded, maneuvering her hand from his arm and herding her toward the couch where Brackett had taken up residence. "Digby," the detective said, getting her name right for once, "this is Lee. Lee, this is Digby. Enjoy." He put her arm on Brackett's arm, hoping maybe she'd attach her barnacles to his ship for a change.
Using the temporary reprieve, he snatched his friend's arm and dragged him up the stairs to the loft. "You've got twenty seconds to convince me, Chief."
"It's not really that bad, Jim. . . . I'm being blackmailed."
"What?! What the hell are you talking about? And what do you mean, 'blackmail's not that bad'?"
"It's for a good cause. Keeping the truth about your senses out of the press. Brackett has proof of all five of your senses. Or at least more of them than we are willing to admit to publicly."
"Yeah, he apparently was following us around, recording proof. . . . Look, it doesn't matter, man, he can blow the whistle on you, big time. I just need to help him for a little while and then we'll be okay."
"Uh-huh." Jim sounded less than convinced. "So what does he want this time?"
"He wants me to help him with his senses," Blair said softly, waiting for the inevitable explosion.
Jim's reaction was worse than the explosion Blair had expected. The sentinel slowly turned to his friend with an expression of doom on his stony features. "You're telling me Brackett's a sentinel?" His voice had lowered to a near growl. His eyes were narrowed and his expression was dark.
Blair raised both his hands, palms out toward Jim, in a placating gesture. "Hey, man, take it easy." His voice was low and comforting. He looked Jim carefully in the eye and reassured him. "No, he's not a sentinel. It's okay, Jim. He's not a sentinel, not really. Remember when you and I first met and I told you how I'd met so many people with one or two heightened senses?"
"Yeah." Jim seemed calmer, but there was still an edge to his voice.
"Well, Brackett has three heightened senses. So he's flying above the curve, but still well below you. He's kind of. . . a pseudo-sentinel."
"So how do you know my detective?" Digby pouted at Lee.
"I consulted him on a. . . business matter not long ago." He was trying to listen to Ellison and Sandburg's conversation in the apartment above them by extending his hearing like Sandburg had taught him with his other senses, but was having no luck. Damn. Lee was snapped back to the present by a hand steadily creeping up his thigh. "Hey, lady, watch it."
She chuckled. "You're awfully cute. What do you do again?"
"I'm a mercenary for the highest bidder," he said dryly.
"Oooh," she squealed. "How thrilling!" And she moved even closer to the ex-CIA agent, if that were possible.
Brackett groaned and prayed for the return of his adversary and his temporary teacher.
"You're sure he can't hear us?"
"Positive. I kinda took him around today and tortured those senses he has heightened."
"Tortured? How?" The corner of Jim's mouth twitched up just a little bit. This was beginning to sound better.
"Well, first we went to the dump to teach him to dial down his sense of smell." He waited for his sentinel to stop laughing before continuing. "Then I took him to the mall, where I had him put on some wool clothes to play with his sense of touch."
The sentinel shuddered at this, imagining all the scratchy fibers pricking into his sensitive skin. "What about his third one?"
"Remember that new disco over on Fourth Street? Lots of strobe lights and a mirrored disco ball? Very enlightening."
"You are evil, Sandburg."
"Just trying to accomplish a little karmic revenge. What about you? Are you getting any of those 'vibes' you got when Alex was around?"
"No, I don't feel the need to clear everything out. Actually I'm not feeling anything except for an immense dislike of our guest."
"The rogue or the woman?"
"Both. I'm telling you, Chief, this woman is driving me nuts. She's forever cooing in my ear and hanging on me."
"Sounds terrible," Blair said with a grin.
"I'm serious. She smells weird."
"I didn't smell anything bad." Blair frowned slightly.
"Not bad, just weird."
"Must be that nose of yours. Anything else?"
"Now that you mention it, I did notice something strange."
"Define strange." Blair looked at him seriously.
"In two separate instances I dialed up my hearing and it started spiking. Then it suddenly evened out and worked fine."
"So why is that weird?"
"It evened out when Digby put her hand on my arm."
Brackett sighed in relief as Jim and Blair came back down the stairs.
"So what did you guys decide?" he asked them, removing Digby from his lap with difficulty, standing, and walking over to the duo. He rolled his eyes as she almost instantly rose and reattached herself to him like a vine to a trellis.
"It's time for dinner," Blair said cheerfully.
"Blair and I will fix it while you two get to know each other better," Jim smirked, enjoying the scene of someone else being mauled by the clingy woman.
"How 'bout I help?" offered Brackett, plaintively.
"You know how to cook? Wow, cooking and camping? You never cease to amaze me," Blair said, shaking his head in mock wonderment. "But I think Jim and I can handle this, thanks."
Digby gestured toward the sofa. "Why don't we go sit down again, Lee?" she purred, running a hand up and down one arm.
Blair and Jim both grinned at the groan released by the ex- agent. Sandburg leaned over and gave the agent a gentle shove. "Why don't you go and entertain our guest while we whip up something tasty?" he said.
Brackett gave him a look that promised retribution, but did as he was told. He watched the sentinel and guide move toward the kitchen, then his attention was brought closer to home as Digby curled up next to him on the couch.
"Boy, was today boring," his companion commented as she stroked her hands over his clothing, smoothing his shirt over his body, her fingers trailing suggestively over his sensitive skin.
He was surprised when he realized that her touch did not irritate his skin, like almost everything else had been. What the hell?
"I sure hope tomorrow will be more fun," she was saying. She once again was practically crawling into his lap as she talked to him. "What did you do today?"
"Went to the dump."
"I guess you picked a bad day for a ride-along, too." Snuggling her head against Lee's chest, Digby looked at the two men working in the kitchen and noticed how at ease they were. Blair was wearing a Sylvester apron and Jim was slipping a Tweety Bird apron over his head, much to Blair's amusement. "I think they're together," she whispered.
Lee followed her gaze to the two former roommates. "Yeah, they are. But not in the way you're thinking."
Blair looked over again at the pair sitting on his couch. "So she was all over you the entire day?" He distributed sprouts among the four lettuce-lined salad bowls, and then picked up a knife and a small zucchini.
Jim nodded. "Luckily she didn't follow me into the men's room, or else I might never have gotten away from her." He put the pasta in the boiling water.
"Yet now she's ignoring you in favor of Brackett," Blair said, never looking up from the cutting board as he sliced the zucchini followed by a carrot.
"Thank God," Jim replied. He checked on the garlic bread in the oven and pulled out three bottles of salad dressing from the refrigerator.
"But she never even looked my way." Blair plopped cherry tomatoes into the bowls, then sprinkled sunflower seeds over the salads.
"Sorry, Chief. It was bound to happen sooner or later." Jim stopped next to his partner, a teasing look in his eyes. He peered into the Alfredo sauce that was heating on a burner next to the pasta. Deciding it was coming along nicely, he stirred it gently with the long-handled spoon.
Blair dumped the last of the chopped veggies in the salad bowls. He rinsed off the cutting board and knife, then turned and looked seriously at Jim. "No, I'm saying she went directly from you to Brackett."
This brought the sentinel's eyes up to look at his friend. "Maybe you're not her type," he consoled.
The anthropologist squinted his eyes as he turned things over in his mind. Suddenly all the dots connected. "That's it!" Blair practically shouted, gaining the attention of his guests. "Sorry, I just wanted to make sure Jim put the right spices in," he called to them. He grabbed the big spoon from Jim and stirred the Alfredo sauce, grinning at Lee and Digby. Turning back to his best friend, Blair whispered, "I think she's a potential guide."
"Are you serious?"
"It makes perfect sense. You said yourself, I'm not her type. I'm a guide; she was looking for a sentinel. And maybe she smelled wrong to you because she's not your guide."
Jim braced his arms against the counter and lowered his head. "I hate my life."
The salads were no sooner on the table than Lee had sprung to his feet, practically dumping Digby on the floor. She squawked indignantly, but Lee ignored her. Suppressing a grin, Blair went over and offered her a hand, which she accepted with a shake of her bleached-blonde hair. She walked with exaggerated dignity down the hall to freshen up before dinner.
Lee sighed hugely, sagging into a chair. "What is with her, anyway?"
"Hey, man, she likes you." Blair grinned.
"Yeah, well, I don't like her. Where did you dig her up from, anyway?"
"She followed me home from work," Jim grinned.
Lee just glared at him.
Digby returned then, claiming the seat next to Lee and moving it close to him. He scooted his chair as far away as the table would allow, to no avail, as she simply moved closer again. He sighed, pleading with his eyes at his hosts, who just shrugged and passed the salad dressing, grins on their faces.
"So, Lee, you said you're a mercenary. What are some of the things you've done?" Digby asked, toying absently with her salad, her gaze firmly fixed on Lee.
"Careful what you say, Brackett, or I'll have to arrest you," Jim said acerbically, a half-grin on his face. He speared a cherry tomato and popped it in his mouth.
"Oh, Jimmy, you wouldn't really do that, would you?" Digby squealed, eyes round.
Jim rolled his eyes and Blair tried not to laugh. Lee ignored her and took a bite of his salad.
"What do you do, Digby?" Lee asked after he had swallowed, hoping to turn the spotlight off himself.
"Oh, a little of this, a little of that." Seeing Lee might actually be interested in her, she cocked her head to one side, and said, "My daddy owns Essex Corporation--I'm Digby Essex--and I help him with the business."
Blair and Jim noted how Lee seemed to perk up when he heard that Digby was connected to big-time money. They shared a quick look of disgust.
"And what kind of business is that?"
"Oh, business like destroying the environment, cutting down old-growth forests, polluting--" Blair cut in, his anger evident on his face.
"Chief, that's enough," Jim said sharply. "Simon, remember?"
Blair looked at him for a moment, then down at his salad. "Yeah, yeah. I remember."
Jim laid a hand on his partner's shoulder relaying his sympathy until Blair looked at him. They held each other's eyes for a moment, and then returned to their salads.
"Careers" was dropped as a topic for conversation. Empty salad bowls were cleared and the pasta and garlic bread brought to the table.
The rest of the meal was reasonably quiet.
Lee watched Digby to make sure she didn't get too close to him. Digby watched Lee to make sure he didn't get too far away from her. Blair watched the interaction between Lee and Digby to see if his Digby-as-a-potential-guide theory was sound. Jim watched Lee to make sure he stayed away from Blair.
After they cleared the plates and set the dishes to soak, Blair said softly to Jim, "Hey, man, can you go talk to Brackett for a few minutes? I want some alone time with Digby, see if I can get an idea about whether or not she shows guide potential."
Jim gave him a dirty look. "Chief, I don't want to talk to him."
"Please, Jim, come on. Just for five minutes." Blair shoved two open bottles of beer into Jim's hands.
"Fine. Five minutes. Not a second more." He walked stiffly toward the ex-agent, holding the bottles.
"Brackett, can I have a word with you?" Jim looked pointedly at Digby, who was twined around Brackett. "Alone?"
The relief on Brackett's face was comical. Unfortunately, Digby was less than enthusiastic about the idea of leaving her new companion. Lee finally snapped at her to get away and fairly dumped her on the floor again. Leaping to his feet, he practically ran to the balcony doors. Jim followed, standing next to him and offering him one of the beers. Brackett looked at the beer for a moment before taking it. The two men stood silently, facing the glass doors.
Finally the sentinel spoke softly. "What do you plan to do?"
Lee looked over to see Ellison gazing over his city. "About what?" the pseudo-sentinel asked back.
"Your new-found senses."
"Why do you care?" Brackett asked curiously.
"I don't. I just want you out of my city. . . fast." Jim's voice was grim.
"Believe me, I'm not going to hang around any longer then necessary. Once they're controlled, I'm gone."
"And the blackmail?"
"It was a precaution, in case I needed something from you," the rogue reasoned. He snorted. "I just didn't think I would be using it for this."
"I don't like you being here, and I don't want you using Sandburg anymore." Jim's posture was stiff, his tone was no-nonsense. "Tomorrow we will go and retrieve whatever proof you have and you will be gone."
Holding a bottle of spring water, Blair sat on the couch next to Digby. She had reluctantly accepted a glass of Chablis since she couldn't have Lee for a while.
Blair noted with clinical detachment--and with a touch of amusement, and even, he admitted, a bit of hurt--that she scooted a couple feet away from him. While she had seemed determined to attach herself to either the sentinel and pseudo-sentinel, she had no such inclination with another guide.
"So what made you want to ride along with Jim?" asked Blair, trying to switch the woman's focus away from the two men on the balcony and his own focus away from his personal feelings.
"What?" She was obviously dragging her attention back to him with great effort. "Oh, I saw him being interviewed on television not too long ago and felt an instant connection. I knew I had to meet him."
"So was he all you thought he'd be?" Blair took a sip from his bottle of water. He watched her over the top of the bottle.
"Actually, I thought there was a powerful pull between us, but now I think he was just a way for me to meet my soul mate, Lee."
Unfortunately, Blair had been swallowing some water, and when she said this he ended up sucking it down the wrong pipe. He coughed roughly as Digby hit him on the back. The anthropologist waved Jim away when he started forward. "I'm fine," he croaked, as he tried to wrap his mind around Lee and Digby as "soul mates." Thinking rapidly, he wondered if there was a biochemical attraction to her pseudo-sentinel that she was mistaking for sexual chemistry. Or maybe she's just psychotic; hell, anything's possible.
Keeping one eye on Blair, Jim turned back toward the balcony window and continued his strained conversation with Brackett. Blair looked at Digby, who had again settled two feet away from him.
"So, um, soul mates. . . what does that mean, Digby?"
"Oh, you know." She turned her left hand so she could study her nails. "We're perfect matches for each other, destined to be lovers, meant to be together for all time, that sort of thing." She looked up at him coyly. The look was only mildly spoiled by the heavy makeup and black leather.
"Right." Blair sighed inwardly. Glancing over Digby's shoulder, he noticed by Jim's posture that his partner's conversation with Lee was apparently over. As if to confirm his observation, Jim turned away from Brackett.
"Okay," Jim announced. "I think it's time for everyone to go home."
Blair didn't protest. He'd had about as much as he could handle for one day.
With minimal fuss, Jim pushed both Digby and Brackett out the door and locked it behind them. He turned to his partner and shook his head. Leaning his back and head against the closed door, he said, "Hey, Sandburg. You're into this metaphysical stuff."
"Yeah, so?" Blair looked at him suspiciously.
"Are we being punished for something from a past life?"
Continue on to Act 4