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"What's wrong, H?" Jim asked from the comfort of his desk chair, enjoying the guilty pleasure of sitting by idly while someone else did his work. On the computer screen before him, Blair was typing in his recitation of the Switchman case particulars from his personal memory, using formal speech. It would need refining, but Jim was delighted with how quickly Blair had caught on to what was needed accuracy as to the sequence of events, completeness of all legal necessities to make the case, and thorough misdirection about anything Sentinel in nature. Hands down, Sandburg was the best bull-shitter in the department, the sentinel decided, much satisfied about it too.

So, in a rare genial mood, Detective Ellison was more than pleased to lend a shoulder to cry on to a fellow officer with paperwork problems.

"Damn, Jim, I was just out to the men's room, and when I got back, the keyboard wouldn't work. What's wrong with this?"

Sandburg looked up. "Try shutting down the computer, unplugging the keyboard, and plugging it back in again. Could be a faulty connection."

H said, "Oh, right," and followed his suggestion. Still the keyboard wouldn't work.

"Sandburg, why don't you take a look at it?" Jim suggested. "I've got to check this stuff anyway." Jim gestured at his own monitor.

"Oh, okay," Blair said. "Maybe I can help. Okay with you, Detective Brown?"

"If you can get this going again, Sandburg, I will kiss your hairy little toes." Henri was fervent.

"Ewww. How about if I get it going again, you won't?" Blair negotiated.

"It's a done deal." Henri Brown stood up and moved away. Jim and Blair changed places, and Blair took the seat at Henri's desk.

Blair only had to check a couple of functions to realize what was wrong. "The keyboard's not reacting equally to every keystroke. I'm going to shut it down and unplug it, and check out the keys." He waited for Brown's agreement, and then did as proposed.

Jim and Cam watched from afar, looking blankly at each other now and again.

Blair picked up the keyboard up and checked the coupler at its back. He turned it upside down and shook out a shower of dingy grit, then placed the keyboard face up and began to hunt for something. "Have you got one of those gel-pen caps? It's good for...."

Henri had found what he'd been asked for at the ready, and Blair began prying up the space bar. It gave with a spring.

"Whoa. That was a little more peppy than usual. Let's see now." Blair got up close and personal with the keyboard, peering all over the keys.

"Detective Brown, do you habitually eat at your desk?" he asked, prying up more keys, Enter, Shift and Caps Lock among them.

"Sometimes, especially lunch," H admitted.

"I could tell from the crumbs. Bad idea, Detective. See here? There are a bunch of keys stuck down, and it looks like something was spilled all over them," Blair stated, pointing to some orangey-brown trails that wove in and around the keys.

"I've never dumped soda over them, if that's what you mean," the detective said with some doubt.

"No, this is thicker, and it's set hard. It's like caramel or something. Does anyone have cleaning equipment? The keyboard and the keys all need to be dug out of the gunk."

Rhonda, Simon's secretary, provided isopropyl alcohol and cotton swabs.

"Perfect, thanks," Blair smiled at her. He spent five minutes cleaning the spacebar and the board area where it fit, then slipped the key back in and powered up the computer. A number of thumb-presses later, and the cursor was halfway across the monitor. "See, Henri," Blair said, not realizing he'd dropped the honorific, "it's working again. It wouldn't do it before, would it?"

Brown was beaming. "No, you got it going, all right. Thanks, man."

Blair laughed. "Hey, it's not over yet! That caramel stuff is all over everywhere, and so are the crumbs. The whole board needs to be cleaned up."

Jim yelped. "You can't have my computer guru that long! Do your own clean up, H, and give him back!"

Brown began to chortle. "S'okay by me, Jim, m' man. I'm just real glad it's something easy to fix." He high-fived Blair.

"Yeah, well, don't drip caramel into the keys anymore, okay?" Blair advised, as he and Henri changed places.

"I didn't, Hairboy," H denied the accusation. "I have no idea how that stuff got into the machine."

"Odd it wasn't all over the keys, isn't it?" Cam commented. "You'd think if someone spilled caramel on a keyboard, it would be on top of the keys, wouldn't you?"

"Don't know, don't care, give me back my secretary!" Jim demanded.

Blair grinned. "I thought I was your computer guru."

"Whatever," Jim said, half-surly. "Just get back where you belong, and leave that wastrel in his guck." He shuddered as Henri swept up the nameless grit, and turned away.

"You are such a pantywaist, Jim," Blair taunted him, and started towards his sentinel. Both of them were concentrating hard on Jim's Switchman report when the murmuring started around the room, spreading like a spill of toxic waste in the sea.

An hour later, it was time to think about heading home.

"Chief? Let's do takeout, my treat, and relax," Jim offered.

Blair hesitated. "Okay, Jim, but I've got to go out later. I have an eight o'clock date."

"A date for lunch, and one for the evening? Fast work, Casanova." Jim's tone was halfway between disbelief and disapproval.

"Not that kind of date, Jim," Blair told him. "Just an evening out. Assuming I don't have to cancel because Larry's torn everything up again." He sighed.

"Don't worry about him. I found an old lock of my own and he can't get out without the key." Jim patted his hip pocket.

"What a relief! Thanks, man. Okay, let's do takeout. Chinese?"


The food discussion lasted down to the garage, where Blair phoned for delivery of Japanese teriyaki and sukiyaki dishes, and they climbed into the truck to go home.

Dinner went pleasantly, Jim in a distinctly good mood now that his hated paperwork chores were finally being attacked by a master of words. At its end, as they cleared the table, Blair asked the time, and started when Jim told him.

"Oh, man, I'm late, I'm soooo late. Gotta go. Sorry to leave you with the mess. Say, why don't I do the dishes when I get back?" Blair offered.

"Nah, Chief, it's okay, I'll do 'em. And I'll shop for supplies too."

Blair colored, having forgotten the necessity for coffee, flour and the rest.

Jim suppressed a smile. "How late do you think you'll be?"

"Probably just after eleven. I know that's later than you like, but I'll try to be quiet coming in."

"Geez, Chief, it's not like you have a curfew!" Jim was taken aback. "I was just asking. I thought I could tape something for you if there's anything you want to watch on television."

Blair's face lit up. "Oh, wow, thanks, Jim. Actually, there is a show on the Discovery Channel at ten, if it wouldn't be too much...."

"Consider it taped, Chief. Go meet your date," Jim laughed.

But after Blair had slipped out of the loft and into the elevator, unbeknownst to him, he had a detective trailing him. One very interested in where he was going.

Where the teaching fellow was going was to his office at Rainier University. Jim was able to stay out of sight, and parked in another lot to evade detection. Then he jogged to Hargrove Hall, took the stairs to the basement, and hung around outside the storage closet with its cardboard sign pronouncing it to be Blair Sandburg's office.

Blair wasn't alone.

"What's on the agenda for tonight, Nancy?" Jim heard his roommate ask.

"One of my psych profs, Dr. Forte, assigned a paper that's due Friday, and I don't know where to start!" an anguished female voice lamented. A piece of paper was being rattled in the air.

Oh, so it wasn't an anthropology student asking for help with one of Sandburg's courses, Jim realized. That had been his first guess, when told it wasn't 'that kind of a date'.

"When did she assign it, and why didn't you tell me about it last week?"

"A month ago, but I had to study for last week's mid-term in Professor Very's class, you know? I think I did okay on it, thanks to you. But the paper just slipped my mind, and my prof, Dr. Martinez, doesn't allow extensions unless you're in hospital."

"What's the topic?" Sandburg asked.

"Here, see? I have to pick a specific example of someone or some group's behavior based on belief, and suggest ways to change the behavior by persuading them differently. Only I don't know what to pick, and everything I can think of in the way of persuading them to do stuff differently is either mean or would be blown off!" Nancy was hyperventilating.

"Okay, hold it; we need to break it down into smaller chunks," Sandburg said, "and try to give some structure to the paper."

Jim stayed till the end of the tutorial. Sandburg had led Nancy through a highly customized lesson in the Socratic manner, drawing every idea out of her instead of handing her ready-made answers. She had chosen a topic for her paper, made a plan for structuring it, and come up with concrete ideas about what to research for background material. Blair also gave her detailed instructions on how to notate web-based research in her bibliography.

As Nancy was gathering her belongings, Jim heard something he hadn't expected.

"Thank you so much, Mr. Sandburg. You're a lifesaver. Here's the twenty-five dollars I owe for tonight," the student said.

"Thanks, you have no idea how much I need it right now!" Blair was way too happy for a mere twenty-five bucks, Jim thought.

"I have another paper due for another class, at the end of the month. When can I get together with you on that?"

"About that Nancy, I hate to do this to you, but I'm gonna have to stop tutoring you now."

"What? Why? Did I do something wrong? What was it? I won't do it again, I promise!" Nancy sounded bereft.

"I have to do field work for my doctorate. I got this great opportunity, but it came up suddenly. I wasn't expecting anything like it when I took on tutoring this term, and I've tried to do both. I so haven't got enough time, and I need to devote all my effort to my subject now, and especially the evenings. I hope you can understand that."

Jim froze. Blair was devoting all his time to him? A horde of stakeout memories rushed up. He had never thought of things Blair might be giving up in return for keeping him company late into the night. He merely assumed that the marking Blair brought with him was all there was to it: portable work, a little difficult to attend to in cramped quarters, but doable all the same. It looked as if he had been very wrong about that.

"I can understand having to do your own work. Are you tutoring anyone else? Mack? Jenny?" Nancy was outright jealous.

"No, no. I'm going to have to cancel them too. You're just the first one I've told. But don't panic! I'm not gonna totally desert you."

"What, then?" Nancy asked, confusedly.

"If you get cracking, you can have the first draft of the paper done by Wednesday, and I'll go over it with you, and suggest ways to improve it on Thursday. You might have to pull an all-nighter or two, but that's what you get for leaving it so late." Blair sounded severe.

"Yeah, I know," was the chastened answer. "I thought about it; I just didn't do anything about it."

Jim could imagine Blair's facial reaction to that. He'd been on the receiving end of it himself a few times.

Blair spoke again. "Other than that, I'm gonna refer you to Madeleine De Courcey. She's another T.A.; she's got her M.A. in psych and she minored in anthropology. She's a great teacher and she said she'll take you on. How does that sound?"

There was a moment's hesitation. "I guess that's okay. If she's in my field, that would be good. I just hate to lose you, Mr. Sandburg. You're always so patient with me, and everyone knows you're the best tutor on campus."

Blair laughed. "Madeleine has the patience of a saint, and she's in the running for best tutor, too. I'm certain you two will get along like crazy. Here's her number."

There was a scrabbling sound and a zipper was pulled one way and then another. Another pause ensued.

Nancy spoke low, but Jim could still hear her perfectly. "What about Mack and Jenny? Are you sending them to Madeleine too?" Still jealous.

"No, I'm not. Mack's in anthro so I'm suggesting another anthro teaching fellow for him, and Jenny's in history. I've got a lead on a couple of history majors who could help her. I'm giving up tutoring altogether. This chance at field research -- I never thought I'd have anything like it. It's been a tough decision to make; I like tutoring, but I can't do both."

"But you need the money, don't you?" Nancy asked the sixty-four million dollar question.

"I'll get by," Blair assured her. Only to Sentinel ears, it rang hollow.

"I guess we're done, then."

"Yeah. Good luck on your paper, and call me if you want to meet before you turn it in, okay?"

Jim slipped away as he heard fabric against fabric the good-bye hug.

He drove like a maniac to get to the convenience store for coffee and beat Blair home by minutes. The dishes had never been done so fast, and he was glad there hadn't been any pots or pans to do.

Blair was trying to be quiet as he snuck in the door, only to see Jim on the couch, flipping channels up and down the television menu.

"Oh, hey, Chief. How'd the date go?"

There was nothing in Jim's casual tone to tip Blair off about Jim's excursion to the basement of Hargrove Hall. He answered equally casually, "Fine. How was your evening?"

"Same old, same old. Sometimes I wish they'd put another hundred channels on cable, but then I'd waste twice as much time deciding there's nothing on the tube." He grimaced and turned the television off. "I taped the special for you."

"Thanks, Jim," Blair said brightly. "I'll watch it tomorrow." He retrieved the cassette from the VCR happily.

"I guess it's good night, then," Jim replied. "You staying up?"

"Yeah, I have to set a topic for a paper for one of my classes, and that means deciding how to grade the answers. It can be a real pain if you don't have clear cut evaluation standards to wave under the noses of all the people who failed." He pulled a sardonic face.

Jim chuckled. "Okay, then. I changed Larry's diaper just before you got home. He's good for a while."

"Wow! Thanks, Jim. I didn't expect you to...."

"Hey, it's a diaper, not major surgery. And the last thing I want is for him to get creative about its contents."

"Don't even think it, man!" Blair's eyes bulged with horror. "Sometimes I believe he reads our minds. Don't give him any ideas!"

Jim started laughing. "You mean" he paused to gasp for breath between the laughs "he was a telepathic" "graffiti artist in a" "past life, and karma" "made him an ape?"

"Geez, Jim, don't break a rib," Blair said drily. "Just think what you must have been to end up having him as a houseguest!"

"Oooooh," Jim groaned, sobering up. "Bad idea, Chief. I don't like to think about my past."

Blair took that in for future musings. "Yeah, well, I need to get to my work, so I'll be using the dinner table. Okay with you?"

"Fine," Jim acquiesced, hiding his customary annoyance at noise after ten. "What's your day like tomorrow?"

Blair pursed his lips, thinking. "If I set the paper topic and the standards for grading tonight, I can take it into the U. early tomorrow morning. Then I'm yours until one, but I'm busy in the afternoon, probably most of it, and from eight o'clock onward. So I think it's pretty much a washout."

"Huh," Jim said, considering the various things Blair might be doing in the afternoon, probably giving or taking classes, possibly student interviews. He expected the task at eight was a good-bye to either Mack or Jenny and that he'd hear of a third evening meeting later in the week.

Blair took the 'huh' the wrong way. "Hey, listen, we made big headway on that pile of reports, Jim. We can finish the rest of the tough stuff tomorrow, and whatever remains you can do perfectly well on your own, right?" He was being the severe taskmaster again.

Jim sighed, just happy that Blair hadn't given him the 'you deserve it for waiting so long' speech. "Yeah, you're right. I can do the other stuff myself. But I hate riding a desk, Chief. I can't wait to get out into the field again." He stopped short, musing about Blair's own fieldwork.

So Blair said 'Good night' again, Jim answered in kind and the loft settled down to the clacking of the laptop's keys.

Jim, however, didn't go to sleep right away. He was busy calculating.

The morning found the two of them breezing into Major Crime in good spirits. Jim's hand was on Blair's shoulder, his eyes skewering Brown and staking his claim to his computer guru for the whole day.

Henri smiled and lifted open palms, acquitting himself of any claims of his own. "Hey, Hairboy," he called out. "You were right. It took long enough, but cleaning out the keyboard did the trick."

"Great, Henri, that's great," Blair enthused. "Glad I could help."

Jim steered past the dangerous shoals and slipped his partner and himself into their own harbor of desk chairs. "Sure thing, glad we could help," he shot at Brown. Oh, yeah, if Ellison gives up Sandburg for a time, it's Ellison you thank, he communicated loud and clear to the room. Henri mouthed a gigantic 'thank you' and went back to work.

Blair was oblivious to the entire exchange, already deep into the Sunrise Patriots case. His face worked now and then, and Jim could tell he was reliving some of the tighter moments of the case as he remembered things to add to the report. Blair was referring to the Abramson case as a precedent file, but Cam Rider came up to require its return 'ASAP'. Blair filched the form he wanted and took it to the office copier, running off a duplicate for his own use. On the way back, he handed the complete file to Henri's partner, to the accompaniment of ill-natured complaints about people only allowed into the P.D. on sufferance who were interfering with trial preparations and delaying working cops. He frowned unhappily, but in the end turned a deaf ear to her, fixating on his copy of the final Abramson report.

People came and went about the place busily. Major Crime had a raft of those visiting from other departments in the building. In some order, a variety of people found a need for copies of documents. Amanda Schuller looked in to see if Cam would have lunch with her, but got a brief no; she stopped to ask Jim on Captain Taggart's behalf if he could look over Jim's final reports in the two cases he had worked with Major Crime, and Blair made photocopies of the first drafts for her to take back to the Bomb Squad. Rick Pryor stopped in again with something for Cam Rider to sign and copy. Henri brought both Jim and Blair coffees. Captain Taggart himself appeared for a brief stop at Captain Banks' office. Without anyone keeping track of who did what when, many passed by the office copier and many others used it until it stopped working at a quarter to eleven.

"Oh, no, not now!" Rhonda wailed from under a sheaf of papers with miniscule type. "I have to get the department budget drafts out today!"

"What's wrong with it?" Brown asked, abandoning his partner and Pryor to their Vice files, coming up behind Simon's secretary. He started pushing buttons and generally testing the machine out.

"I don't know. It was working earlier, and now it's totally dead." Rhonda flipped a strand of blonde hair behind her ear and peered closely at the cranky copier.

"Maybe it's jammed." Henri knocked on the top of the lid.

"Maybe it is. Worth a try, anyway."

Between them, they checked everything they could think. Rhonda got out the manual, reading its more arcane troubleshooting tips for Henri to use, but they all came up dry when put into practice. Henri and Rhonda had suggestions and ideas coming from all over the department. If the budget couldn't go out on time, Simon Banks would be a bear. A huge grizzly bear with a sore paw and bee-stung nose, belling throatily like a pack of hounds. No one wanted to work under that version of the boss.

"I'll have to call the tech department," Rhonda said with sad finality half an hour later.

The call was made, and tech support said someone would be there by four at the latest. Rhonda was nearly in tears of frustration when she got that news; they would be too late for her to copy and deliver the budget to its recipients. But apparently every department was having budget woes, and there was no cutting in line to use a copier anywhere else in the building. She phoned the only copy shop close by, which was a good half-mile away, and was told she'd have to take her chances; they had a couple of big jobs lined up before hers could even be considered, and she wouldn't be allowed to monopolize the single coin-operated copier they made available to the public. The only sure way to get the budget out would be to recreate it by hand; because of the tiny font used, the spreadsheets weren't legible as printed off the computer and had to be blown up on the copier. Rhonda's afternoon was looking to be an unhappy one.

She disappeared into Captain Banks' office to give him the bad news. When she came out, she seemed anxious but determined, and grabbed for the aspirin bottle in the top drawer of her desk, downing three tablets before putting it back. From the office supplies cupboard, she fetched the oversized ledger paper necessary and began her way back to her desk. She worked her fingers to the bone for an hour, then stopped to massage her temples.

Jim noticed, and nudged Blair, deep in communion with Jim's monitor. "Wanna take Rhonda to an early lunch, noontime? Before you go to your one p.m. meet?"

"Huh? Yeah, I guess," Blair said distractedly. "I'd have to leave early. Why?"

Jim told him succinctly about the copier and the budget.

"Anyone check to see if it's plugged in?" Blair asked his sentinel.

Jim thought for a moment. "No, I don't think so. At least, I don't remember anyone mentioning it, if they did."

"Hey, Rhonda," Blair called out across the room. "Did you check to see if the copier's plugged in?"

Rhonda stopped dead. It couldn't be that simple, could it? She almost ran to the machine.

It was just that simple. No one could think how it came to be unplugged, but who cared? The copier was working again, the tech invasion had been called off, and Captain Banks could be expected to be human once more. The whole department should have been rejoicing. But they weren't. Not all of them.

This time, though, Jim Ellison caught a few of the whispers about the Sandburg Curse. They stopped when he cast a darkling glance around the room. He wasn't sure who had been talking, but he was irritated that anyone else had picked up on the inside joke between himself and his roommate. Someone was going to be sorry for tagging his roommate with that particular witticism if the talk didn't stop soon.

Blair was about to leave. Jim was doing comparisons between his usual mode of filling out forms and Sandburg's attempts. In part, it was a learning experience, but mostly it was a way for Jim to avoid having to fill out any forms himself.

Simon Banks put a foot out of his office and yelled, "Ellison! My office!"

Blair stood as Jim did, but the captain pointed directly at him with an unlit cigar. "Not you. Him!" he growled.

Blair sat back down, a picture of perturbation. "You think he's upset with me helping you do reports?"

"I don't know, Chief," Jim said. "Unlike Larry, I don't read minds."

Blair snorted, and Jim continued, "I'd better go find out. Go ahead and take off for your lunch appointment. I'll see you at home tonight."

Blair shrugged and waved a hand at his roommate, looking around for his backpack

Jim went to beard the lion in his den, or the bear in his cave.

Simon Banks had his back to the door, and he swung around as Jim entered.

"You wanted to see me, Captain?"

"Yes, I do." There was a meaningful pause; Simon had his subordinate's full attention. "It's about Sandburg."

"Is something wrong? Is this because he's helping me do my reports?"

"Stop guessing and let me tell you what I want, Detective." He plopped into his chair, and motioned toward another. "Take a seat."

Jim sat, wondering what on earth his boss was concerned over.

"Jim, I like to think I'm your friend," Simon started.

"You are my friend, Simon. I thought you knew that," Jim said, shocked.

Simon looked down at his blotter. "I do, I do," he muttered. "But I'm wondering how things between you and Sandburg work."

"The sentinel stuff? I thought you actively didn't want to know." Jim was perplexed.

Simon looked him in the face. "No, what I mean is, how do they work between you as friends? 'Cause the one week you gave him has come and gone, and still I see you putting him up at your own expense, feeding him and his monkey "

"Ape, sir. Larry's an ape," Jim couldn't stop himself from correcting.

"His ape, then...."

"And he feeds him, not me. Diapers him, too."


"What, Captain?"

Simon dropped his cigar on the desk and put his head in his hands for a moment. Then he looked up. "I want this to be a friendly discussion, Jim, but you're making me crazy. I need to know everything there is to know about Blair Sandburg, and not just because I'm concerned for you. So we'll sit here until you tell me everything, detective, and that means every detail about how you two operate here and at home. Do I make myself clear?"

Jim stopped baiting his friend. "Look, Simon, I can take care of myself," he said edgily. "I don't need a nursemaid or someone to point out how much money I'm spending to house Sandburg and his ape. I'm getting a whole lot more out of this arrangement than you know, and he's given up money to ride with me. So it's hardly a one-way street."

"Sandburg's given up money?" Simon said, startled. "Are you sure? Is that what he told you?"

Jim scowled at him. "No, it's not what he told me. I overheard him last night blowing off one of his students."

"You're sure this wasn't a setup to get your sympathy?"

"Geez, Simon, when did I become a credulous fool?" Jim whacked the desk in front of him.

Simon jolted upright. "Detective Ellison," he barked, and leaned forward a bit, "you will calm down. Now."

Jim bit back a smart remark and answered the earlier question. "Look, Captain. I have my own doubts, okay? I don't know what he does with his money, how much he has or what he spends it on. All I know is that I'm his source for a roof over his head and most of what he eats. I certainly don't want to be sucked dry by a user I meant a human bloodsucker, not drug use. I'd know if he used drugs, and he doesn't."

Simon considered that last bit. The sentinel senses would tell Jim if there were drugs in any way connected to the grad student, and with Blair in Jim's company so much, he couldn't hide it if he were impaired. "Okay," he said at last. "I can buy that. So what are you doing about it?"

"I decided I should look into his personal life a little more closely," Jim disclosed uncomfortably. "He talks about everything except himself. Maybe he is burrowing his way into my life for a free ride." His lips quirked wryly at the pun. "Maybe I shouldn't trust him like he wants me to. I'm not just putting my check account on the line, Simon. Or my home, or my privacy.

"He's given me a line about being the only person on earth knowledgeable about my senses, and that means I've put my life in his hands. I do zone out, and I don't know anyone else who does who isn't an epileptic with petit mal seizures, and that's been ruled out by my doctors. Sandburg has a name for it zone-out. Is that enough for me to go on? I figured I owe it to myself to find out what makes Sandburg tick." He stopped for a moment to consider what he had just said, and his mouth turned down bitterly.

"I decided to treat him like any suspect in a case. I tailed him to school last night and hung around his office while he helped out this student with a paper she'd left to the last moment. So I was listening in when he cut her loose. He didn't know I was there, and I beat him home. He earned a twenty-five dollar fee for that night -- she said that, not him -- which, if I remember my own schooldays correctly, is relatively cheap. If he charges his other two students accordingly, he's letting as much as seventy-five dollars a week go, maybe more if he does sessions on the weekends."

"Really?" Simon remained incredulous.

"Yeah, really, and the only reason I can think of that he did it is so he can be on stakeouts with me," Jim said grimly. "So I won't zone."

Simon played with the cigar as he mulled it over. "The kid's giving up over three hundred a month for this? That's sizeable coin for someone in his circumstances. If he's playing you, that's a pretty drastic move to make before he's sure of you letting him stay. He must be more serious about it than I realized."

"He's as serious as a hangman, Simon. It's way beyond turning down the price of a new flannel shirt or jeans. I think if I were to, God forbid, die in a zone-out, he'd lose it altogether." Jim collapsed back in his chair and blew out a long gust of wind. "Do you know how that makes me feel? And now I'm treating him like a suspect," he said with self-loathing.

"So what exactly are you getting out of this -- relationship, except for a load of responsibility and guilt?" the captain of Major Crime asked bluntly.

Jim came to attention. "More than you'd think, Simon. Wait till you get the paperwork on the Switchman case, Captain; you'll see for yourself part of what I get out of this arrangement. And he's there for me on stakeouts. He cooks like Wolfgang Puck, and he puts up with me. Damn, that's almost a miracle, Simon.

"But he's planning on moving out. It's what I thought I wanted, but now I don't know how I feel about that." Jim was jittering his fingers on the chair arm.

Simon Banks said, "You're joking. You have to be joking. Carolyn...."

"What about Carolyn?" Jim asked harshly. "What's she got to do with this?"

"Don't get angry on me, Jim," Banks said testily. "Carolyn spoke to me yesterday about Blair. They had a talk, apparently. He was supporting his cover of writing a thin, blue line thesis on the department, which I have to give him credit for because I never thought of it myself. He started off asking about how Forensics interacts with the detectives investigating a case. But she was curious about him, you can't fault her for that, and she took over with her own questions. Shoot, you get along with Sandburg almost better than you did with her when you were first married. It's got pretty much everyone who knows you at all well, staggered."

"Oh," Jim puffed slowly. "I guess I can see that. Better than I got along with Carolyn? Maybe you're right, which just goes to show -- something or other about my marriage. Or maybe I'm maturing." He quirked a self-deprecating lip.

"As for Sandburg," Jim went on, "he's good company, Simon. He launches into these long lectures in the truck, and I find myself listening because they turn out to be interesting, if you pay attention. He doesn't expect anything in particular from me and that's a universe away from living with Carolyn.

"She always had expectations and I always failed to meet them. I'm not a social animal and I wasn't ever in a frame of mind to be politic with her family at Thanksgiving or Christmas. I tried making nice, but sooner or later I'd say what I thought and it was always the wrong thing, whatever it was about."

Simon kept silent. There was more and he was determined to hear it.

Jim continued after a moment's reflection. "With Sandburg: he's more laidback than anyone I ever met before. I can speak frankly to him and get frankness in return, and I like that. He can be really amusing; it's fun to tease him." Jim grinned evilly. "He still jumps when I yell at him; I'm not sure how much longer that's gonna last.

"So he's cute as a basketful of puppies, Jim," Simon said, jaded. "Is that all? Is that enough?"

"No, it's not," Jim cracked his knuckles and spoke to his hands. "The senses they still frighten me, Simon. I can't control them and I'm still getting headaches and rashes and stuff because of over-sensitivity. It's not always pleasant and if I could give it all up, I would in a second. But that's not the way it works, and I really need Sandburg's help."

He raised his head again. "He drives me nuts, wanting to do experiments all the time, but I can't deny that he's making a difference. I'm, I'm easing slowly into believing that the sentinel thing isn't all bad. Instead of thinking I'm a freak of nature, it's kinda good to see myself as Sandburg does: one of a long line of nature's special adaptations, beyond the curve, as he put it. I'm learning to be comfortable inside my own skin in a way I haven't felt uh, in a way I don't think I ever felt, Simon." He stopped talking, pensive, and a little stricken.

"So he's charming enough to get a permanent free ride courtesy of Jim Ellison?"

Banks was being deliberately insulting and the sentinel knew it. Jim glowered at his boss. "No, I didn't say that, and I didn't mean it either, Simon," he rasped. "It's not all a bowl of cherries. We're just far enough apart in age that our musical tastes are completely different, and I never went in for the New Age garbage he lives by. He can be noisy, pushy, smelly...."

"If this is about using the spray...."

"...when he doesn't use the spray," Jim plowed on regardless. "He drives me up the wall at times, and we argue a lot. Sometimes I storm upstairs, and sometimes he stomps to his room or out to school. Sometimes we find a mutually agreeable solution.

"But if I'm having a nasty sentinel moment, he'll turn down the music, blow out the candles, ask if I need an aspirin or want a cup of tea or coffee, and he helps. If I'm just being an s.o.b., he calls me on it and doesn't let me get away with it. I, I admire him for that, Simon. He can be a little bantam rooster, you know? All piss and vinegar. And I don't believe the solicitousness is faked just to get on my good side. I'm not entirely sure I have one." He grimaced at the window.

Banks waited for the rest of the story. It wasn't long in coming.

Jim returned to his account. "But I'm a cop, and a quick talker with a good line and an easy style screams 'conman' to me. So I tailed him last night, Simon to find out about his finances and I've gotten part of that answer. But why he'd pay eight hundred and fifty bucks for that rat-infested concrete block is beyond me. And I intend to dig deeper into his background too." Both men already knew he hadn't any criminal record.

"I'm well aware of the risk of being conned by a master," Jim finished. "He's one of two things, and I have to know which, if I'm going to rely on him. He's either a user or the genuine article. Maybe a friend." He leveled with his boss. "I don't have all that many friends, Simon."

"Hm. Speaking as your friend," Banks stressed, "I hope he never lets you down. As your boss, I have to ask if you've heard any rumors about him."

Jim perked up. "No, nothing but what you'd expect. We're an odd couple, mismatched, and it draws comments, some amused, some mystified, some totally prurient, but that's par for the course. A lot of cops are terminally cynical. So what? Why? What have you heard that's out of line with what's to be expected?"

Simon looked over the top of his glasses at Jim. "Joel Taggart dropped by to say he's caught wind of a whispering campaign about Sandburg. Doesn't know who started it, doesn't know who's keeping it going, doesn't know what's being said. He just thought I should know that something's in the wind.

"Of course, he doesn't know that I have the perfect solution to getting to the base of this little problem. I'm giving it to you. Keep your ears open, Jim. If someone knows something we don't, we need to know it. They may have been talking more freely in the Bomb Squad, but the rumors must be here too, only quieter. If someone's just bad-mouthing a person I allow in my department, I'm gonna show the talker just what being the captain of Major Crime means."

Jim started to agree, but Banks silenced him with an abrupt, cutting, hand motion.

"What you need to understand, detective, is that Sandburg's got access to a lot of important and sensitive material here. To be honest, I still have a lot of doubts about him. But I'm the one letting him ride with you. So I need to know more about his character as much as you do and I need to know if he's suckering all of us, especially me."

Simon Banks stood up and stretched. "Looks like he's winning Carolyn over, by the way. A tribute to the kid's likeability factor, and it makes me even more nervous. So keep on investigating Sandburg," Simon ordered with a tilting of his lips, "and let me know what you find as you find it. You can take time to check him out, but otherwise, you're still riding that desk until all the paperwork's done." He stuck the cigar in his mouth with relish.

"Thank you, sir," Jim smiled thinly. "I appreciate the directive to look into things, Captain. Oh, and just so you'll know, I'm thinking of hosting one of the upcoming poker games."

He left Simon coughing on bits of bitten-through cigar. Jim Ellison never hosted anything. Wonders apparently weren't ceasing, at least not in Cascade.

Detecting Sandburg had become Jim Ellison's official duty and he was on his own.

Continue to Act 3

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