C. L. Combs
(with contributions from Sealie)
edited by: Melissa, Saga, and Bonnie
Murphy was an optimist
Thursday night, Ellison's Loft
"...tomorrow would be fine..."
Stepping into the loft, Blair barely glanced at his roommate as he walked over to the counter, setting down two bags of groceries. Jim's total concentration was on the phone, so Blair stepped back to close the door.
"I'll make dinner reservations. There's a good Italian place near the Burnell..."
Blair lifted an eyebrow. Manchini's was an excellent, high-class place with a price tag to go with it. Who on earth would his Wonderburger-style roommate take there?
"Six o'clock... Yes, I'll pick up you... see you then..."
Studying the soft smile of pleasure gracing Jim's face, Blair couldn't help the smirk stretching across his own. "So, anyone I know?"
"Huh?" Jim jerked back, then realized his partner was there. "When'd you get home?"
"A couple of minutes ago," Blair replied, surprised himself. As a sentinel, Jim almost always knew what was going on around him. "Are you okay?"
"Fine." Jim waved off his friend's concern. Spotting the sacks, he added, "Did you remember the spaghetti?"
"Yes, I got spaghetti." Blair rolled his eyes as he examined his partner's face and actions. Jim didn't seem to be having sense problems. That left the mystery caller. "Jim, who was on the phone?"
The soft smile again appeared on Jim's face. "Amanda Chambers."
That explained a lot. Blair easily remembered the stunning British brunette who had won Jim at the bachelor's auction several months earlier. He began to unload the grocery sacks. "You two finally going on your date?"
"Yep." Jim's smile grew wider. "She's going to be in town the next few days, and she has tickets for The Scarlet Pimpernel tomorrow night."
"Heard that's a good show." Pausing a moment as he pulled out the lettuce, Blair added nonchalantly, "You're really looking forward to this, aren't you?"
Jim nodded seriously. "She has the most incredible voice."
Blair began to chuckle. "Only you, man."
"What?" Jim asked, puzzled.
"That woman has many incredible attributes, but only you would notice her voice."
"Hey, I've only seen her once. But I love talking with her on the phone. I just can't believe it's taken this long for us to get together."
"So, do you want me to 'disappear' tomorrow night?"
Jim glared at his roommate. "Amanda is a lady with class, Sandburg, and this is our first date. Just because you act like a stray dog with every female you meet doesn't mean I do."
"Yeah, right." Blair rolled his eyes. "And just how classy is Amanda going to think you are when she sees your 'classic' truck?"
Jim studied the countertop like he'd never seen it before. "Actually, I was going to talk to you about that."
Blair stared at his partner for a moment. "Oh, no. No way. You are NOT driving my Cobra."
"Chief, I'm going on a date, not to work. What could happen?"
"Plenty," Blair replied, not convinced. "With the Ellison luck, you'll spot a perp and smash my car chasing him before the night's out. Why don't you take your precious motorcycle?"
"A lady in a nice dress doesn't belong on the back of a motorcycle. Come on, Chief."
"What about Jake's truck?"
"You know I don't have insurance for it yet. Please, I'm begging here."
"No way, Jose."
Jim sighed. "Okay, I'll have to ask Steven if I can borrow his car."
"Hope his insurance has extra coverage."
Blair easily caught the pillow his roommate threw at him and instantly fired it back.
Next afternoon, Major Crime
Blair sneaked another glance at his partner. Jim was sitting at his desk, rhythmically tapping a pencil against his coffee mug as he read the report opened before him. It didn't take a detective to realize Jim was in a good mood. Blair couldn't help but smile as the mood spread to him as well. The researcher in him wondered if there were pheromones involved, though Jim's earlier comments indicated hearing, not scent. Perhaps sentinels were drawn to something in a woman's voice, like some kind of human mating call. Whatever the cause, it felt good to see Jim so excited over a simple date, especially considering his partner's string of disastrous romances. The younger man could only pray that the beautiful Amanda lived up to the promise.
Blair suppressed a snicker at the puzzled glance Megan gave Jim. Due to the rarity of big, ornery Ellison in a good mood, Jim had been subjected to many such looks. Thankfully, he had been oblivious to them.
Suddenly, Jim's head jerked up, nostrils flaring. Blair tensed, ready to spring into action, until a smirk slid across the sentinel's face. "What's up?" he whispered. Jim nodded at the door.
"...could have helped me out!" Detective L.T. Rafe's outraged voice floated in.
Even Blair could hear Henri Brown snicker. "Why? No use in both of us treading sewer water. Besides, you were doing so well."
"But it was YOUR snitch!"
Blair's nose began to wrinkle as a rancid odor accompanied the two men through the door.
"Wasn't my fault he got spooked and jumped into that gunk," Henri pointed out, an evil gleam in his eyes. "Besides, you're the swimmer."
"That wasn't swimming," growled Rafe. The normally immaculately dressed man was covered in slime from head to toe. "That was survival."
"At least you saved him and got our information," Henri placated.
Rafe shrugged as he walked over to his desk. "Yeah, but how am I going to get this suit cleaned?"
Blair, holding his nose, glanced at Jim. Jim was grinning in amusement after already dialing down his sense of smell. When their eyes met Henri's, all three burst into laughter.
"Oh great," Rafe threw his hands up in the air. "I knew I should have gone to the locker room first."
"Not until you get that map of the downtown area for me," Henri reminded him, gasping from laughing.
"Why isn't anyone working?" Simon bellowed from his office. Then he paused, catching the smell coming off Rafe. "Detective Rafe, go change into something less odiferous."
"Yes, sir." Rafe tossed the map at this partner, glaring at him as he walked out the door.
Their captain turned his attention to Brown. "I hope there's a purpose behind him stinking like an outhouse?"
Henri nodded, sobering as Simon glared at him. "Yes, sir. We believe we've finally caught a break on that smuggling ring."
Simon tilted his head to his office. Henri quickly followed him.
Jim glanced over to Megan, who was also holding her nose. "What smuggling ring?"
The Aussie inspector shrugged. "It came up while you two were busy last week. Some group run by an Ernest Rodmore is believed to be smuggling diamonds in from Canada."
Jim nodded. "We've had trouble with him before. He's very slippery." Blair chuckled again, thinking of how 'slippery' Rafe was at the moment.
"Rafe and Brown suspect the stones are delivered somewhere in the downtown area," Megan continued, "then sent to various locations in the States. The problem has been tracking down just where downtown they go and how." Megan scrutinized Jim again. "You're in a dapper mood today, Jim."
The soft smile that was giving Blair such a kick slipped across Jim's face again. "Yeah."
After a pause to see if Jim would elaborate, Megan turned to Blair. "Why?"
Blair smirked. "Jim's got a date."
Megan's eyebrows lifted in surprise. "Do we need to set up surveillance and background checks on the lady?" At Jim's affronted look, she pointed out, "You do seem to attract a bad element, Jim."
"Just my auction date," Jim shrugged as he returned to his report. "Not a big deal."
Megan shared a look with Blair. "Who does he think he's fooling?" she whispered.
Blair chuckled. "No one. But Amanda's clean."
Jim's head swiveled to his partner. "You checked her out?"
"You check out my dates," Blair pointed out.
"That's because you tend to fall for drug dealers, black witches, and daughters of gun runners."
"So? You tend to fall for thieves, hit women, and mobsters' wives."
"Just as long as this one is none of those," Megan jumped in to prevent a blow-up.
Jim glared at both of them. "She is a business woman from Britain. A true lady. So back off."
Megan and Blair again exchanged glances and went back to work.
Late afternoon, Griffin Enterprises
As Jim walked the narrow corridor, a sharp tapping sound filtered down from his brother's office. Turning the corner, he realized the noise was his brother's secretary, Lily Lancin, typing with her long, red- and white-painted nails. Steven was right; the noise was loud. Yet Jim hid a smile when he saw her front white locks braided and draped back over the rest of her dark hair. Steven had complained about finding long hairs in his files. However, the young woman with a penchant for gothic styles was so efficient and dependable, his brother wouldn't dream of firing her.
Lily glanced up and immediately paused in her typing. "Hello, Detective Ellison."
"Hi, Lily. Steven in?"
"He's working on a budget at his desk. Go right in -- he's expecting you."
Jim gave her a nod as he passed. After a quick tap on the door, Jim entered Steven's private office.
Steven glanced up from the pile of papers on his desk, pale blue eyes lighting up as he recognized his brother. "Hi, Jim. Give me a second?"
Jim waved him on as he walked over to the small window. With the office on the inside of the tower, the view was directed at the other three towers of the complex. A dark, winged shape caught his attention. Tightening his focus, the sentinel followed the bird's path until he spotted a half-finished nest on one of the ledges. He smiled when the peregrine falcon landed and continued her work.
"There." Jim returned his attention to the room as Steven laid his pen down. "I wanted to finish that column. How's it going?"
"Great." Jim covertly studied his younger brother. Steven looked fit and relaxed, so his workload must have eased since last autumn. "Feels good to be back home again."
Steven chuckled. "I bet. It sounds like you and Sandburg have had a few wild trips." He slid a drawer open and picked up a set of keys. "You ready for your date tonight?"
The soft smile spread across Jim's face. "Yep."
Enjoying the sight, Steven tossed the keys to his brother. "Then go have fun. And try not to run into crooks with rocket launchers while driving my car."
Jim gave him a playful glare. "You've been listening to Sandburg too much."
"Oh, I don't know," Steven replied with a laugh. "Your captain told me how you destroyed his new car in a matter of minutes in a parking garage. Sounds like a habit."
"When did he tell you that?"
"At your Christmas party."
Jim sighed. Wreck a few vehicles in the line of duty, and everyone thinks you're a menace to anything with four wheels. "I'll be careful. And thanks for the loan." He turned to leave.
"Ah, Jim..." The sudden seriousness in Steven's voice instantly turned Jim back. Having his brother's full attention, Steven shifted uneasily. "Is that Hudson woman still in jail?"
Narrowing his eyes, Jim nodded. He checked once a week to make sure his brother's stalker was safely behind bars. "Yes. Why?"
"I don't know. Just that lately... well, I keep getting the feeling I'm being watched again." Steven shrugged. "Probably just my imagination."
Jim frowned. "Have you spotted anyone? Been contacted? Threatened?"
"No. Just a crawly feeling down the back of my neck, you know?"
"Yeah." Jim quickly reviewed his own list of enemies. None that he knew of were in a position to go after him through his family. Besides, Blair was usually the target because he was Jim's partner and roommate. However, he and Steven had grown closer during the past few months. Jim prayed it hadn't brought his brother some unwanted attention. He raised his eyes to meet Steven's. "Okay, I don't know of any threats right now, but be careful, okay? And let me know the minute you see or hear anything more concrete."
Steven sighed. "Honest, it's probably just nerves."
Jim reached over and squeezed his brother's shoulder. "Steve, trust your instincts. I do." Steven smiled wanly in appreciation of his brother's confidence in him. "If you get this feeling again, do me a favor and head straight for a crowd of people. I don't want anything to happen to you."
"Thanks, Jim." Steven's smile then turned more self-assured. "I'll be okay. You just go and enjoy an evening with your English lady."
"I will." Jim gave Steven's shoulder another reassuring squeeze before letting go. "And thanks for the loan of the car."
"Just bring it back in one piece."
Jim couldn't stop the playful glare as he shut the door.
"It's GOT to be here somewhere," Brown declared with frustration, jabbing his finger into the map.
"We've been saying THAT for the past week," Rafe replied. With a slight shiver, he wrapped his hands around his coffee mug. In spite of the warm sweats and socks he'd put on after his long, hot shower, he still felt cold and scummy. He forced his mind back to the case. "In those sixteen blocks, we've got an import/export business, an Australian Outback store, an exotic pet shop, seven ethnic restaurants, three theaters, a fancy liquor and cigar shop, and even an edge of Chinatown. There is so much international traffic flowing through that section, they could smuggle an elephant through the street and no one would take a second look."
Henri sighed as he sat back in his chair. "I know. The really frustrating part is that our sewer rat is positive the whole ring will be processing a large shipment today. I would LOVE to catch Rodmore in the act."
Rafe shuddered a moment, thinking of the crud he swam through to rescue the 'rat'. "I just got the feeling the key to it all is that red flower Jones mentioned seeing on a box."
"You were both in that crud too long. I've already checked all 57 businesses in the target area, and none use a red flower for their logo."
"Have you checked employee names?"
Henri stared at his partner in amazement. "Do you have any idea how long that list is?"
Rafe met him stare for stare. "Do we have a choice?"
Pausing a moment, Henri sighed. "No."
As Jim waited for the light to turn, he again mentally reviewed the placement of the various knobs and switches in his brother's BMW Z3. They were more complicated than the ones in his 'Sweetheart' and there were a lot more of them. Plus it was hard for Jim's large frame to get in and out of the sports car. He was amazed Steven didn't have problems. Yet Jim had to admit it was a sweet roadster, even if it wasn't his partner's classic Mustang. Amanda should be comfortable in it.
Patting down his tie, Jim's thoughts turned to the British woman. He had only seen her that once at the bachelor's auction. Still, it was hard to forget the wavy, dark brown hair, the regal nose, and the warm, fun-filled eyes. Her graceful movements and figure indicated an athlete and not someone who just starved herself to stay slim. Seeing the light had changed, Jim turned left onto the main road leading to the big hotels in the downtown district. Yes, Sandburg was right when he said that Amanda had several incredible attributes.
Yet for Jim, it truly was her deep, rich voice that drew him. It hinted at a woman who was intelligent, funny, and, yeah, sexy. The British accent only heightened the tingle that streaked through his spine and down to his toes. While his partner probably had half a dozen theories as to why the sentinel was so attracted to the English businesswoman, Jim didn't want to hear them. For once, he simply wanted to have a good time with a beautiful woman and not worry about being the Sentinel of the Great City.
Several blocks later, Jim's enhanced hearing picked up sirens. "No, I'm off duty," he muttered to himself. "Let someone else deal with it for a change." At that moment, he was glad he was in Steven's car and not his or Sandburg's with police scanners. Made it harder to succumb to temptation. Besides, he didn't want to be late picking up Amanda.
As he drove through the next intersection, Jim realized he didn't have to worry about finding the sirens; they were coming toward him at a rapid rate of speed. Even Sandburg could've heard them now. Before Jim could blink, a red Corvette appeared at the left-hand side street with every intention of running the red light -- straight into Jim driving Steven's precious roadster.
Jim hit the gas, realizing his best option was to get out of the way as fast as he could. His brother's car was game and nearly made it. Unfortunately, the Corvette managed to clip the rear fender, spinning both cars out of control.
Jim reacted, twisting the wheel and tapping the brakes with every ounce of experience and skill he had. The BMW spun and skidded, the back end developing an abrupt wag that was difficult to control. Somehow, Jim managed to handle it, avoiding the Taurus behind him and the Geo to the right. He stopped within an inch of a large mailbox. The Corvette wasn't as lucky, sideswiping a fire hydrant before ramming into a parked minivan. Water erupted from the hole like a geyser.
Jim stared at the spray hitting the passenger's side windshield, briefly wondering if Steven knew about the tail wag. Yet why would he? Steven didn't get into 'situations' like his big brother. With a whimper, Jim dropped his head to gently bang it against the steering wheel, afraid to check the damage. Steven was never going to believe he was a good driver after this.
The marked black and whites that had been chasing the sports car pulled up all around the intersection. A moment later, Jim heard a tapping on the window. With a sigh, he rolled it down.
"Are you oka... Detective Ellison?" Lynn Crowder ended with a gasp. "I didn't know you were chasing the bank robber, too."
"Not intentionally," Jim replied grimly. "I'm off duty."
"New car?" Lynn ventured, knowing he usually drove an old beater truck and his partner owned a classic car.
"No, borrowing it from my brother." Tensing as he mentally prepared himself for the worst, he asked, "How bad is the damage?"
Hiding a smile, Lynn replied, "Not too bad, really." She glanced at the back of the car. "Mostly just the fender."
Slowly, Jim pulled himself out the driver's seat to take a look. Lynn was right; it was just the fender, though Jim doubted he could convince Steven that the scraped and dented metal was like that before he picked it up.
Lynn's partner, Jessie Buxton, approached them. "Sir, would you mind giving us a... Detective Ellison?"
Jim gave her a weary smile. "No, I didn't plan on getting involved and yes, I'll give a statement. But can I give it tomorrow at the station?" He glanced at his watch and groaned inwardly. "I'm going to be late picking up my date."
"No problem, Detective," Buxton waved it off with a friendly smile. "We know where to find you. Have good evening."
"Sure not a good start," Jim grumbled as he stared at the fender. Then he looked at the two officers. "Thanks, Buxton. Appreciate it."
As Jim carefully maneuvered around the patrol cars, Lynn couldn't help but shake her head. "He doesn't have much luck with vehicles, does he?"
"Yeah," Jessie agreed, "but if he hadn't been where he was, that perp would have made it to the highway and we might not have caught him. Or else he would have hit a civilian, who without Ellison's cop training and reflexes might have hit other cars and hurt people. We're lucky Ellison's so unlucky."
"Yeah, but I bet Ellison isn't too happy about it," Lynn replied, feeling sorry for the senior detective. Then she remembered something. "Date?"
Jessie's face turned speculative. "That was a very nice suit. I wonder who he's dating?"
Lynn's eyes sparkled. "I'll have to ask Sandburg."
As Jim parked in a visitor's parking slot, he glanced at his watch. A groan escaped as he noted the time. Thanks to the accident, he was late. With a sigh, he stepped out of the car, trying not to look at the damaged fender. The good mood that had carried him through the day had dissipated, leaving him weary and sullen.
He walked into the lobby, barely noting the elegant yet warm furnishings. Without conscious thought, sentinel eyes searched the nooks and couches until he zoomed into the far right corner. Amanda stood near a potted tree, glancing at her own watch. He nearly zoned on the sight. The deep red, silk shift with a V-neck cut emphasized her sleek form. Dark hair was pulled up and held in place with a mother-of-pearl comb, while two locks curved enchantingly around her face. Dangling pearl earrings and a pearl bracelet completed the picture. Any negative emotions were chased away as warm anticipation filled Jim's soul.
With a shake of his head, Jim withdrew his sight and walked over to the corner. "Hello, Amanda?"
The woman turned, accompanied by a faint whiff of vanilla that enticed the sentinel's nose. Their eyes met. For a moment, they both stood motionless. Then Jim softly apologized, still concentrating on her beautiful gray-blue eyes. "I'm sorry for being late."
With a soft smile on her own lips, Amanda replied, "That is all right. I was worried something happened at your workplace."
"No," Jim returned, still caught by her eyes. "Just traffic."
They again paused for a moment. Instinctively, Jim knew that she had forgiven him for his tardiness. He presented the crook of his arm. "Shall we?"
Amanda smiled as she wrapped a hand around the muscular forearm. "Let's."
Jim's soft smile had returned as he led her out to the roadster, bent fender forgotten.
The BMW drew up outside the restaurant. Remembering his manners, Jim tossed the keys to the valet then darted around to the passenger side. Amanda had opened the door and, knees together, was elegantly rising from the vehicle. She accepted Jim's hand with a smile. With only one worried glance at the attendant pulling away with Steven's car, Jim escorted her to the door.
Manchini's sat on the top of a small ridge facing the bay. The restaurant took full advantage of the fact through a two-story glass wall, providing its customers a spectacular view. As Jim opened the door for his date, he had to force his eyes away from Amanda's dress. The silk shimmered in the sunlight bouncing off the glass, displaying more variations of red than Jim had thought possible. A fascinating dress for a fascinating woman.
"Smells positively delicious in here," Amanda commented as Jim escorted her forward.
You smell delicious. Jim shoved that thought immediately out of his head. "The food is terrific." He turned to the maitre d', a small gnome of a man dressed in a dark jacket, red shirt, and green tie. "James Ellison, party of two." He smiled at Amanda as he waited.
The gnome made a great production of leafing through the book of table reservations. "Sir, I am afraid you are not listed," he declared haughtily.
"What?" Jim returned his focus to the man. "I reserved a table for 6:00."
"You are not listed," the maitre 'd repeated, looking up at Jim as if he were something stuck on his shoe. "Nor do we seat anyone without a reservation."
A flare of exasperation flashed through Jim's eyes before he could control it. Mentally counting to ten as he placed both hands on the table, he responded calmly. "Please check again. James Ellison."
"I do not need to check again. You do not have a reservation."
Anger and embarrassment teamed together, threatening to blow Jim's temper. "Yes, I do." He quietly reminded himself that breaking the man in half was not the way to start a romantic evening. Nor would Simon be happy with the extra paperwork.
Jim turned, wondering just who else besides Amanda was going to witness his humiliation and add to it by calling him 'Jimmy'. It took a moment for him to place the tiny, gray-haired woman approaching them. "Mrs. Tollson?"
"Once upon a time, dear, but now I'm Mrs. Manchini. I remarried last year. Was just too lonely by myself without George, God rest his soul." She smiled broadly as she squeezed Jim's arm. "You look so grown up now. Why, it seems like it was just yesterday that you and my Brad were running around the backyard, shirtless and all covered in feathers and watercolor paint." She leaned conspiratorially towards Amanda. "They were pretending to be Indians, you know."
Amanda tried to hide her smile behind a hand as she glanced at her mortified date. "I imagine that was quite a sight."
"Oh, it was." The lady gave Jim a huge smile. "Now Jimmy's all grown up and protecting the entire city. I have a stack of newspaper clippings on your exploits." She grinned at Amanda again. "Our Jimmy is such a hero. It just does my heart good to see how well our neighborhood boys have turned out."
"And how is Brad?" Jim inserted, hoping desperately to avoid any more embarrassing stories.
Mrs. Manchini brightened. "Brad is running a software company down in Silicon Valley. Given me two darling grandkids, though I don't get to see them often enough. Thankfully, my dear husband Ricky's kids have so generously welcomed me into their family. He already has seven grandkids, and two more on the way." She turned, realizing that the maitre d' was standing there. "Oh, Bernard, I want you to give Jimmy and his girl one of our best tables. In fact, give them number three."
"But, Mrs. Manchini..." the gnome began his protest.
She waved him off. "I don't care what table you were going to send him to. Jimmy's an old friend and I'd like to give him a view tonight." She smiled at the couple happily. "I'll try to get Ricky out of the office so you can meet him later." The bouncing senior citizen waved as she disappeared into a small office.
Knowing he had been outranked, the maitre d' gave Jim and Amanda a perfect bow, in spite of the sour look on his face. "This way," he stated, no emotion in his voice. Jim escorted Amanda in his wake, both trying hard to keep their faces somber.
Bernard led them up to the second floor loft, presenting a table for two along the railing. Mrs. Manchini was right; the view from the perch allowed them to see most of the lower floor and out the large windows in front. Jim pre-empted Bernard again by seating Amanda himself. Politely, the couple waited until the man was out of sight before breaking out in quiet chuckles.
"Bernard certainly doesn't look very happy," Amanda managed to whisper.
"Serves him right for losing my reservation," Jim replied as he admired how her eyes lit up in mirth.
"And why does he use that fake accent?"
Jim tilted his head. "Fake accent?" He had thought that it was a 'proper' British accent, but then again it did not strike the same chord as Amanda's voice.
"That's not a real English accent. He sounded like the gentleman who introduced a programme I watched last night. Masterpiece Theater, I think it was called. Terrible accent."
Jim nodded his head thoughtfully. "I guess we Americans aren't privileged often enough with the real thing to know the difference." He gave Amanda his most charming smile.
"Then again, the British are not privileged enough to know much about your natives," Amanda pointed out. She couldn't help but tease, "Watercolor paint and feathers?"
Jim shrugged. "Can't be a warrior chief without them."
Glancing up from his computer, Blair brightened as Lynn Crowder walked in. "Hey, Crowder! How's it going?"
"Not too bad, thanks to your partner helping us catch a bank robber."
"What?" Blair turned away from the screen. "When did Jim do that?"
"Oh, about an hour ago. Our perp ran a red light and hit him."
Blair's eyes widened. "You're kidding?" Then he paused. "What was he driving?"
"A cute BMW roadster. Said it was his brother's?"
"Yes!" Lynn blinked in surprised as Blair spun in his chair. "I knew it! Thank God I didn't let him borrow the Cobra."
"How bad?" Lynn and Blair looked up to see Simon Banks' stern face.
"Just dented the fender," Lynn replied cautiously. "Detective Ellison was unharmed, sir."
"Yeah!" Rhonda cheered in the background, increasing Lynn's astonishment.
"Rhonda just won the pool," Blair explained with a grin.
"Pool?" Lynn asked.
"On how badly Jim would wreck his brother's car tonight," Megan added as she sat on Blair's desk. "I had 'torn off door.'"
"You were closer than me," Blair replied. "I had 'blown engine.'" He grinned up at his commander. "I think our Captain here had 'broken headlight.'"
Lynn's eyes simply grew wider. "You all bet that Jim would wreck his brother's car?"
"Hey, I even got Steven in on the action," Blair defended. "Though he picked 'nothing'. I could have told him that was wishful thinking."
"Was his date in the car?" Megan asked, curious what another woman would think of Jim's English lady.
Lynn shook her head. "No, though he said he was late picking her up." She turned to Blair. "Who's his date? Anyone I know?"
Blair shook his head, still smiling. "She's a businesswoman from Britain who won him in that auction last fall."
"Ah, kinda like a blind date then," Lynn commented.
"Nah, Jim saw her at the auction." Blair gave a sharp cat call. "Very nice."
Megan rolled her eyes. "At least she wasn't in the car with Jim. He's trying so hard to impress her."
"...So my brother had to walk home with a sprained wrist and torn pants." Amanda finished her story as they waited for their food. "That's the last time he tried to ride my Rainstorm."
Jim gave her a warm smile. He was enjoying Amanda's stories of her childhood, learning more about the beautiful woman before him. "Do you still ride?"
"Every chance I get." Amanda took a sip of her wine, trying to think up another line of conversation as the current one ran its course. "My family still owns the stable. Do you ride?"
"Yes, though I haven't ridden much since I got out of the Army." An idea popped into Jim's head. "Perhaps we can go while you're here."
Amanda gave him an enthusiastic smile. "I would like that."
"I'll see what I can arrange."
The conversation stalled again. Amanda shifted the fork on the table slightly as she searched her mind for a new avenue of conversation. "Well, I've talked about my family. What about yours?" Jim barely kept from flinching. "I know you had a brother in the auction. Any other siblings?"
Jim relaxed slightly. He could handle talking about Steven. It was his parents that would be a show-stopper. "No, just Steve. Though my partner feels like a second kid brother."
"Blair Sandburg. We're both detectives with the PD and he's my roommate."
Amanda gave him a funny glance. "Roommate?"
"Yeah, his place blew up and I told him he could use my spare room for a week. That was about five years ago."
"Long week," Amanda chuckled, replacing 'roommate' with 'flatmate' in her mind. "How did his place blow up?"
Jim smiled as he enjoyed Amanda's throaty chuckle. "Sandburg was a broke grad student at the time and thought this drafty old warehouse with cheap rent was a great deal. Dumb kid didn't realize there was a meth lab next door."
"Which blew up?" Amanda guessed.
"Yep. He was lucky he wasn't killed." Jim shook his head in remembrance. "Afterwards, all the places Sandburg could afford were in high crime areas, so I told him just to pay me rent and we'd call it even. Figured it saved me the gray hairs from worrying about him."
"Protective big brother," Amanda murmured, studying him a moment.
"Yep." Jim's face turned serious. "Both Steve and Blair are important to me. Though out of the two, Blair gets into more trouble." An unexpected ping on sentinel senses tightened Jim's body.
"Didn't they say at the auction your brother's a businessman?" Amanda asked. "I'd imagine that would be safer than being a police detective."
"True." Covertly, Jim began searching for the reason his senses were now on alert. "Though half of Sandburg's problems are due to women. While Steve usually has steady relationships with nice women, Blair'll date anything with curves and felonious tendencies." Jim's attention was drawn to the front of the restaurant where Bernard appeared to be having an argument with someone.
Amanda's eyes narrowed when she noticed her date was no longer relaxed and concentrating on their conversation. "Something wrong?" Jim held up a hand as he listened.
"...don't need a reservation to rob the place..."
"Damn," Jim grumbled as he saw the glint of metal between the two men. He glanced around the loft area. "Is there a back way out of here?"
"Back way?" Amanda returned the whisper. "Why?"
"Because someone else apparently doesn't like Bernard's accent and they're holding a gun on him." Jim finally spotted the 'Exit' sign between a potted tree and the drinks station.
"What?" Amanda stared at him in shock, trying to keep her voice low.
"I'm going down there," Jim continued softly. He handed her his cell phone. "Hit the third speed dial; that's the department. Tell them there's a robbery in progress at Manchini's and Detective James Ellison from Major Crimes told you to call. If things go bad, I want you and anyone else up here to go out that door. Got it?"
Amanda nodded firmly, though her eyes were large with worry. "Be careful."
Jim gave her a cocky grin before stepping away from their table and trotting down the stairs. Quietly slipping around the tables, plants and waiters on the first floor, Jim reverted from a normal man on a date to a hunter stalking his prey. Someone dared to threaten his tribe and interrupt his night off with the most fascinating woman he'd been with in a very, very long time. The Sentinel of the Great City was going to find them and make them pay.
Every sense on alert, Jim pinpointed harsh voices in the small office Mrs. Manchini had entered earlier.
"...Open that safe, Mr. Manchini, or Shorty gets it. Then we'll start on little wifey here..."
Jim clenched his jaw. Brad's mom had always been nice to him and Steven when they were kids. There was no way she was going to be hurt if he could help it.
He snagged a waitress just before he entered the foyer. Quietly, Jim explained the situation, suggesting she start moving the customers nearby to a safer location. The older woman nodded her head in agreement and began her task.
Stealthily, Jim leaned against the wall next to the office door, which was slightly ajar. He pulled his backup weapon out from under his jacket. Imagining Blair's voice in his ear, he concentrated a moment. One, two, three, four -- five accelerated heartbeats were within the room.
"I have arthritis in my hands. I cannot go any faster."
That placed Mr. Manchini furthest into the room, probably near the back wall. Brad's mom was off to the left side, gauging from her voice earlier. The mouthy robber was between them. So where were Bernard and the probable robber number two? Cautiously, Jim laid his hand on the door and painstakingly pushed it in an inch. He spotted a lanky man in a mask, holding Bernard to his chest with a gun to his head. Jim took a deep breath. There was no way he could enter at this moment and ensure that neither Bernard nor the Manchinis were hurt.
"...Place the money in that bag..."
Then Jim heard soft, careful steps behind him. Swiftly, he turned to discover Officer Doug Roberts behind him. Doug lifted his hands along with his gun in a silent shrug, tilting his head towards the door. Jim raised two fingers, mouthed 'perps', then raised three fingers and mouthed 'hostages'. Doug frowned, then lifted an eyebrow in question.
"...Now, all three of you, face down on the floor, NOW!"
Registering the perps intent, Jim gave Roberts instructions using hand signals. Together, they waited. As the two masked men stepped outside the office, Jim ordered harshly, "Freeze! Cascade PD." The two robbers, guns pointed directly in their faces, obediently froze.
Industriously, Blair pulled up the menu and clicked on 'print.' The last of the paperwork for the Louisiana extradition was finally completed. Considering his fear for Jim's life during that trip, it felt good to know his roommate was currently involved in nothing more dangerous than a first date.
After Tandy from the bank had turned Jim down, Blair had begun to despair that his friend would ever go out again. Thankfully, Amanda with her clean background seemed like a good choice. Blair grinned in anticipation, thinking up his questions for Jim when he returned home. With his partner acting so 'mushy' over the whole deal, it was going to be fun to bait him. Add in Steven's dented fender and he had teasing material for weeks. Standing up, he merrily walked to the printer.
At his own desk, Rafe closed his eyes a moment. The location of the smuggling ring had to be in front of their faces, but nothing seemed to be clicking. Of course, the way his stomach was churning didn't help. He just hoped he'd be able to eat the pizza Megan was picking up for them. Food didn't sound like a good idea at the moment. Running a hand over his face, the young detective forced his mind back to the matter at hand. "It's got to be here."
"You've been saying that for over an hour now," Brown moaned, dropping his head dramatically on the piles of paper.
"Doesn't mean it isn't true," Rafe sniped back. He paused a moment. "What plays are playing?" Henri lifted his head to give his partner a pointed look. "You know what I mean. At the theaters."
With a sigh, Henri sorted through the papers on his desk until he found the right one. "Okay, As You Like It is playing at the Trinity. Forever in Plaid is playing at the Grand. And The Scarlet Pimple is playing at the Burnell."
Rafe shot his partner a look. "The Scarlet what?"
"Pimpernel," Blair inserted, pausing at their desk as he caught part of their conversation. "The Scarlet Pimpernel is playing at the Burnell tonight."
Rafe's face became still. "You're kidding?"
"What's a Pimpernel?" Henri asked, puzzled.
Blair sat on a corner of a desk as he entered teaching mode. "The Scarlet Pimpernel is a work of fiction about an English nobleman named Percy Blakeney during the French Revolution. He pretended to be a brainless fop to his wife and at court, while in secret he and his men pulled intricate rescues of French nobility scheduled to be put to death by guillotine. Kinda like a British version of Zorro or Batman."
Rafe jumped up from his chair. "That's it, H."
Henri looked at his partner in disbelief. "What's it?"
"Our red flower. Percy's secret symbol was a small red flower called the scarlet pimpernel."
"Small red flower?" Henri immediately perked up. "That's got to be it!"
"But the play's only in town for this week," Blair pointed out, trying to catch up. "It tours all over the country."
"Yeah, but who's going to notice one extra box among all their equipment?" Rafe pointed out.
Henri nodded. "The production itself doesn't even have to know they have the diamonds."
"Yeah," Rafe agreed. "And how much you want to bet their last stop was Vancouver? For that matter, how many play productions stop here after doing shows in Canada?"
Henri stood up with his partner. "Let's grab the Captain before he leaves."
"Wait a minute." Rafe turned to their fellow detective. "How did you know what was playing at the Burnell?"
"That's the play Jim and his date are going to tonight."
Rafe and Henri exchanged glances. "You know, I don't even know why we bother," Henri commented lightly. "Any time we have a big case, we should just follow Ellison and Hairboy around. One of them is bound to lead us to the perps."
"Hey," Blair protested. "We aren't that bad." Rafe and Henri both looked at him. "Okay, but not always. Besides, Jim and Amanda should still be having dinner right now."
After watching Doug place the would-be robbers in the back of his police car, Jim walked over to the Manchinis. Mr. Manchini was holding his wife, gently rubbing her shoulder comfortingly. They both looked up as Jim approached. "Oh Jimmy," Mrs. Manchini sighed, giving him a trembling smile. "Thank you SO much, honey."
Jim returned the smile reassuringly. "Any time. Have to take care of Brad's mom, right?"
Mr. Manchini held out his hand. "Thank you, Detective. I wanted to do something to stop them, but with guns on Mary and Bernard, I didn't know what to do."
"You did the right thing, sir," Jim replied as he shook his hand. "In that situation, the best thing you can do is what the robbers ask you to. If you had resisted, someone might have been hurt." Mr. Manchini nodded at Jim's words, feeling better hearing them from a policeman.
"Oh Jimmy, we have ruined your evening," Mrs. Manchini moaned.
Jim barely held back a sigh. "We still have the play. If she's still talking to me, that should salvage the evening."
"Bring her back here, anytime," Mr. Manchini insisted. "Dinner will be on me."
"Thank you, sir." Jim gave his hand a final shake, then wandered back towards the main dining area.
"Jim?" Looking up, Jim spotted Amanda stepping off the stairs, waving his cell phone. Unbeknownst to her, a busboy pushing his cart of dishes was just rounding the corner.
"Look--" Jim winced as the two collided. As the two apologized to each other, he rushed forward to check on his date. "You all right?"
Amanda rubbed her hip, lifting her eyes to him sheepishly. "I'm fine." Then she glanced down at the cart. "But I dropped your phone."
"Here it is, ma'am." The busboy pulled it out of a champagne bucket, which was half-full of melted ice water.
Both Jim and Amanda stared as water drained out of the device. "Oh, I'm so sorry, Jim," Amanda apologized, her eyes stricken.
Jim gingerly took it and flipped it open. More water ran out onto his hand. He looked up and gave her a half smile. "That's okay. It's the department's phone. If it doesn't work once it dries out, I'll requisition another one."
Amanda sighed. "If they don't reimburse you, I'll buy you a new one."
"Don't worry about it." Jim turned it off, dried it with a towel the busboy handed him, and slipped it into his pocket. "Did dinner come while I was gone?"
Amanda shook her head. "Apparently, the kitchen was evacuated during the burglary, so it will be a while yet." She glanced at her watch. "And we only have twenty minutes before the show."
Now Jim sighed. Surely his bad luck this evening had to break soon. Ignoring the rumble from his stomach, he lightly suggested, "Why don't we grab a few of those bread sticks, see the show, then go out for dessert afterwards?"
Amanda's eyes lit up. "Are there any of those really good American ice cream places around? The ice cream back home is so plain compared to yours."
Jim returned her smile. "I know just the place. And they're open late, so we can hit them after the show." Presenting his arm again, he requested, "Shall we go?" With a smile, Amanda took his arm.
Once along the drive, Jim gave his ticket to the valet. The young man glanced at it, then back at Jim. "Ah, sir..." Jim gave him a lighter version of the Ellison glare. It was enough to scare the kid even further. "Ah, ah, about your, your car..."
"What about my car?" Jim could only guess what else could have happened to Steven's roadster.
"Well, sir... it had a flat tire. Jeremy's fixing it now, but it'll be a few more minutes."
Jim sighed. Amanda gave him a commiserating smile. "How close are we to the Burnell?"
"About six blocks." Jim glanced down at Amanda's dainty shoes. "Would you mind walking?"
Amanda gave him an infectious grin. "Of course not."
Jim returned the smile. "Let's go."
"Sorry, Simon." Blair hung up his desk phone. "It says it's unavailable."
Simon scowled at his detective. "Do you think he turned it off?"
"Well, he is off duty and on a date," Blair pointed out.
"I didn't think Ellison was ever off duty."
Blair gave him a smirk as he wagged his eyebrows. "Yeah, but you should see his date. I'd turn off my phone, too."
"Your phone's off or lost half the time anyway." Simon stared at his cigar a moment. "Still, I don't like the idea that he's going to be in the same area as our possible diamond smugglers without any warning. I want you and Megan to back up Brown and Rafe on the warrant. I have a bad feeling about this."
Blair studied the older man a moment. That sounded more like Simon-the-friend than Banks- the-Captain. "Do you think this could get dangerous?"
Simon sighed. "We are going to have a theater full of people and possible smugglers. Yet if we don't search the premises now, we may lose Rodmore. I'd feel better if we had more than just a couple of detectives and a few patrol officers on the scene. And it would be nice if we could possibly warn Jim before everything goes down."
"No problem," Blair replied with a shrug. He stood up to find Megan.
"Oh, and Sandburg?"
Blair turned back. "Yeah?"
"Be careful out there. I don't want to share the pool with Rhonda simply because Jim decides to run me over after you get hurt."
Blair resisted the urge to stick out his tongue.
Although Amanda had easily matched Jim's walking stride, they were a few minutes late to the theater. By the time they reached the doors to the auditorium, the usher had closed them. "I'm sorry, but I can't seat you at this time. You will have to wait until the overture is finished."
Amanda sighed. "At least we'll see most of it."
Jim nodded, wondering if the fictional Percy ever had as much trouble with his double life as he did taking care of Cascade. "I'm sorry about this."
"Not your fault someone decided to rob the restaurant," Amanda pointed out. She closed her eyes. "You know, you can hear the music from here."
Jim closed his eyes, too. He had heard it earlier, but was never sure where normal range started and his own extended range began. Relaxing, with Amanda's vanilla fragrance under his nose, Jim let the music flow over him.
Then other sounds intruded. "Sir, if you let us pass..." Jim's head tilted slightly, recognizing his partner's voice. What was Sandburg doing here?
Backstage, The Burnell
"We have a performance under way!" The backstage manager crossed his arms in front of his chest. "You have to wait until after the final curtain."
Henri leaned forward, waving a thick piece of paper under his nose. "Do you know what this is? This is a search warrant for the entire theater. That means we can search where ever we want to."
The manager looked even more fierce. "You can not enter here."
Seeing Henri's face grow angrier, Blair stepped in front of him. Matter-of-factly, he explained, "Sir, if you let us pass, we can search the basement now, and not bother anyone until after the show is done. OR, we can search under every seat in the theater while your performance is under way. Which would you prefer?"
Grumbling, the manager stepped to the side. Blair gave him a brilliant smile. "Thank you." The four detectives, followed by a couple of patrol officers, walked through the door.
Megan leaned closer to Blair. "Nice."
"Thanks." Blair beamed at her. "That was straight from the Ellison 'threaten them where it hurts the most' rule book."
Megan chuckled. "But you do it with such flair."
"Have to. I can't scare 'em like Jim can."
Behind them, Henri was studying his partner. "Are you okay?"
"Babe, you haven't looked this green since you ate the bad chip dip at Nelson's retirement party."
Rafe rolled his eyes. "All right, I'm a little nauseated. Let's just find the damn diamonds and wrap up this case, so I can go home and pray to the porcelain goddess in peace."
Henri raised an eyebrow. "Maybe you should go back--"
"After fishing your snitch out of the sewer, I want this guy." Rafe picked up the pace to catch Blair and Megan. Henri could only sigh and follow.
Lobby doors, The Burnell
Jim frowned as he listened to his partner serve the search warrant. The accompanying voices of their Major Crimes colleagues didn't ease his mind. Why were they here? And what was so big that Simon would send four detectives instead of just two?
With a shake of his head, Jim glanced down into Amanda's gray-blue eyes. "Ah, I'm going to have to make a detour. You go ahead; I'll join you in a few minutes."
Amanda lifted an eyebrow. "I can wait."
Jim waved his hand. "Don't worry. I'll catch up with you later." With another smile, he trotted silently down the hall and around the corner.
Puzzled, Amanda watched him go, recognizing the same confident grin he used on her at Manchini's before chasing the robbers.
Basement, The Burnell
After leaving the two officers to stand watch at the door at the top of the stairs, the four detectives trotted down the narrow passage to the large room below. Rafe couldn't believe how full the basement was. Every manner of costume and theater prop was there, tossed about in a very disorderly fashion. "We have to search for diamonds in THIS mess?"
Henri thought a moment, then shook his head. "No, they are supposed to be packing them up for shipping tonight. You couldn't do that in here."
Blair had picked up a fortune teller's globe from the corner. Glancing at the two older detectives, he pointed out, "You know, this is the old part of town. A lot of the original buildings were full of secret doors and passages."
"Whatever for?" Megan asked, holding up a worn black sweater that was larger than some small tents.
"Either hiding loot from pirating, or hiding valuables from the Native Americans." Blair gave her a wide grin. "They were also used during prohibition for speakeasies and making alcohol."
"So where would you hide a secret room," Henri pondered.
Rafe pushed his way through to the wall behind them and began to tap on the deep red bricks. Henri nodded and fought his way past racks of clothes to the wall on the right. As Megan picked her way left, Blair more or less followed a winding path through the props towards the rear. Tripping, he stumbled into a set of bookshelves, displacing both books and shelves. At the same time, a section of wall two feet from Rafe slid away. All the detectives' mouths dropped open as a hidden room was revealed to contain Rodmore and six partners, leaning over a table counting sparkling gems. The smugglers in turned stared at the detectives, uncertain what was going on.
Henri was the first to break the stalemate. "Freeze! Cascade PD!" his deep voice boomed as he drew his weapon.
One of the smugglers drew his weapon and fired as the rest of them scattered. Blocked from the stairwell, Blair instantly ducked for cover. Henri shot the perp in the arm, then flinched when a ricochet flew past his ear. The two uniformed cops raced into the room, then tackled a huge man running towards them. It took both of them to subdue him. Henri maneuvered around the clothes racks to block the rest of their suspects from making the stairs, Megan only a few steps behind him.
Rafe, the closest to the smugglers yet unnoticed, stepped back towards the shelter of an old- fashioned trunk. Suddenly, his foot slipped on a pile of fake snow spilling out of a box. He fell hard, gun flying out of his hand as his stomach rolled in protest.
Auditorium, The Burnell
In the theater, Amanda was following the usher to their seats when the sound of muffled shots echoed off the walls. The actors on stage looked startled for a moment, then the man playing Percy piped up in his foppish British voice, "The French certainly are frisky tonight."
The audience laughed, but Amanda wasn't so sure it was funny. She could still see Jim's smile in her mind. Then she realized that if her date had run into trouble, he no longer carried his cell phone to call for help. Yet she still had hers. Turning to the usher, she whispered, "I'm sorry, but I believe I will go on a 'detour', too." Silently, she tiptoed back up the aisle and out the back door.
"Damn!" Jim muttered as he clamped his hands over his ears. The shots were not so muffled for the sentinel. Jim's hearing had been wide open, the voices of Blair and their colleagues leading him toward the back of the theater. In spite of the ringing in his ears, Jim quickly shook his head. If someone was shooting, his friends were in trouble.
Dashing ahead, Jim yanked open the basement door. Hearing sounds of struggle, he pulled his gun and cautiously slipped down the stairs. The scene that met his eyes would have been comical if it hadn't been so serious.
Closest to him were two uniformed cops, struggling to cuff a huge bear of a man. A little further in was Brown, fighting hand-to-hand with a husky man in a Detroit Tigers jacket while trying not to get entangled with a rubber fern. Connor had managed to tackle another smuggler, preventing him from reaching the door. When the man beneath tried to buck her off, she punched him.
Towards the center of the room, Sandburg had grabbed a wooden staff and was currently holding two smugglers at bay, whipping and spinning the staff like he'd been doing it all his life. Jim winced when the staff connected with a glass vase and smashed it to the floor. He was about to go help his partner when he spotted Rafe to the left.
Scrambling through a pile of plastic snow pellets, the younger man had managed to finally find a gun and swung it towards Rodmore and another smuggler approaching him. "Freeze! Cascade PD!" he shouted.
Rodmore laughed. "You're going to shoot us with that thing?"
That's when Rafe noticed the flag hanging out the barrel of the gun with 'BANG' written across it. He threw it at the smuggler and struggled to rise to his feet in spite of the pellets.
Jim fought his way through the junk to his fellow detective. Just as the second smuggler reached Rafe, Jim tackled him out of the way. The force of hitting the ground jarred his arm, causing his gun to slide into a pile of rubbish. Jim decided to ignore it for the time being and immediately turned his attention to his perp.
Rafe grinned a moment when he recognized Ellison, but had to duck as Rodmore threw a punch at him.
Blair was finishing his own battle by connecting with the middle of one of the smugglers and swinging him into a clothes rack. Turning, his back swing clipped the head of the other man, who fell to the floor. Blair yanked out his cuffs and swiftly fastened the guy struggling through the clothes to a support beam. Noticing the second guy was dazed, Blair spared a quick glance towards the last place he had seen Rafe. He grinned when he spied Jim trading blows with one of the smugglers. Glancing around, Blair spotted a roll of duct tape and used it to secure his second smuggler.
Jim had finally knocked out his opponent. Turning, he spotted Blair duct taping his guy, Megan with her foot on the back of hers, and Henri lifting his cuffed suspect to his feet. Only Rafe was still fighting. Jim swiftly worked his way over in time to see Rodmore had landed a hard blow into the detective's middle. Rafe fell to his knees, clutching his already woozy stomach. Rodmore pulled out his own gun and aimed it at the bowed head.
Out of options, Jim grabbed the first handy item, a fire extinguisher. With a roar, he slammed the end of it into Rodmore's head. Rodmore crumpled.
However, the extra pressure on the end of the old extinguisher somehow released the canister's contents. A squeal raised Jim's head. There, with a look of shock on her face, was Amanda staring at her silk dress covered in white foam. Jim felt like he'd been the one punched in the stomach. Her eyes raised to meet his for a moment. He was unable to read them.
Then Amanda straightened up. Pulling together the shreds of her British dignity, she announced, "I believe I will find the ladies room now." She turned around and climbed back up the stairs.
Jim continued to stare until he felt a pat on the arm. "You would have impressed her more with flowers, man," Blair commented softly, hoping to make his friend laugh.
It didn't work. Jim could almost hear some of his ex-wife's more stinging remarks about his lack of feeling or finesse echoing in his ears. He mournfully shook his head. "That wonderful lady will never go out with me again." Then he knelt down to check on Rafe.
Overhearing the words, Megan handed her prisoner over to one of the newly arrived officers. Then she grabbed the black sweater she'd picked up before and raced up the stairs. She entered the first ladies room in the hallway. Leaning against the counter was Amanda, tears streaming down her face. Megan was about to offer her condolences for the silk dress when she realized the other woman wasn't crying, but laughing -- hard. Megan couldn't help but join in.
"I'm fine," Rafe insisted weakly as he sat on an old throne prop.
Jim, monitoring the feverish face, firmly ordered, "'Fine' doesn't cover five solid minutes of dry heaves, L.T. You ARE going to the hospital to get checked out."
When Rafe shook his head, Henri added his own weight. "Yes, you are, babe. God only knows what kind of crud you picked up in that sewer water this morning."
"But..." Rafe waved weakly at their suspects, heading for jail.
"I'll start the paperwork and then meet you there," Henri interrupted, squeezing his partner's shoulder. He nodded towards Serena and her team as they carefully picked up the diamonds scattered on the table. "With the evidence we've got, it oughta be a slam dunk."
"And I'll take you," Blair added. He didn't like Rafe's color, either.
Jim sighed as he fingered the tear in his suit jacket. He would like to go, too. But somewhere was a woman for whom he had single-handedly managed, through no fault of his own, to totally ruin both her evening and an expensive dress. The least he could do was make sure Amanda got back to the hotel okay, even if she wasn't speaking to him.
An elbow in the ribs from Blair made him raise his head. Amanda, now engulfed in the black sweater that reached her knees, was walking towards him with Megan. Before he could say a word, she asked, "Are you all right, Jim?"
Astonished, Jim nodded. "I'm fine." He waved his hand toward Rafe. "The only injury to our side is a case of stomach flu."
Amanda gave Rafe a commiserating smile. "Blair?"
"No, ma'am," Rafe replied politely, realizing this had to be Jim's hot date. "Detective L.T. Rafe."
"I'm his partner, Henri Brown," H. injected with a wide smile for the beautiful woman.
"And I'm Jim's partner, Blair Sandburg," Blair smoothly slipped in, offering his hand.
"Yes, I remember you from the auction now," Amanda nodded as she shook his hand. "Your eye looks much better."
Blair chuckled, remembering the shiner he had gotten from Steven's stalker. "Yep, much better."
Amanda smiled shyly, then turned back to Jim. "I hate to ask, but since I'm sure we've missed most of the play by now, could we get that ice cream?"
Jim blinked. "You're still talking to me?"
"Of course, silly. You were doing what had to be done to protect your friends."
A wide grin slowly spread across Jim's delighted face. "Then let's go get some ice cream." He offered his arm to Amanda, who happily accepted.
Watching the couple leave, Blair whispered to Megan, "How did you manage that?"
Megan chuckled. "Didn't take any managing. You should have heard her laughing in the ladies room. It seems that the way the evening has gone, it wasn't surprising her dress would get ruined. So I told her about Jim being turned down flat last month, then about how his last date was nearly two years ago with an ex-girlfriend who set him up to fall for her husband's murder."
Blair shook his head. "And with all that she STILL wants to go out with him?"
"Most definitely. She finds him fascinating, as well as strong and courageous. I just figured I'd let her discover all his annoying traits on her own."
Blair couldn't contain his snicker. "Yep, why ruin a bad evening with those?"
Next morning, Ellison's loft
Rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, Blair smelled the coffee as he wandered out of his bedroom. He was surprised to spot Jim leaning against the counter, reading the newspaper. "Jim? You make it back last night?"
Jim leveled a glare at him. "Of course I made it back, Sandburg. It was our first date."
Blair poured himself a cup of coffee. "So whatcha do?"
"Went for ice cream at Walston's," Jim replied, mentioning the best ice cream parlor in the city. "Then we talked."
Jim glared at him again. Knowing his partner's one-track mind, he decided to change the subject. "How's Rafe?"
Blair sat on one of their stools, holding his mug with both hands. "He was pretty dehydrated, so they had him on an IV for a while. Guess he'd been feeling bad all afternoon, but didn't want to stop working on the case. The doctor thinks it's just a stomach bug. But they gave him antibiotics and wrote up a list of things to watch for in case it was something else. We gave it to David when H. and I dropped L.T. off."
"I'll have to give him a call tonight when I get home," Jim noted thoughtfully.
"Get home?" Blair asked.
"Yeah." Again the soft smile appeared. "Amanda and I are going horseback riding today after we go out to breakfast."
"Breakfast? Horses?" Blair blinked at his friend. Then he pointed out, "But isn't Steven picking up his car this morning?"
"Should be here in a couple of minutes." Jim glanced at his watch.
"You picking her up in your 'classic'?"
"No." Jim smirked into his own cup. "Amanda loves Harleys."
"Cool," Blair laughed. At the knock on the door, he stood up and opened it. "Hi, Steven."
"Hi, Blair." Steven studied his brother a moment and smiled. "It went well?"
Jim shrugged, attempting to be nonchalant, but failing. "We had a few mishaps, but it ended well. We're meeting for breakfast, anyway."
Chuckling, Steven held out his hand, palm up. "Great. Just give back my keys, and I'll let you make your rendezvous."
Jim sighed and looked down at the counter. "First, I have to tell you something."
A worried frown immediately replaced Steven's smile. "What do you have to tell me?"
Before Jim could say anything, Blair piped up, "You lost the pool." Steven's eyes grew wide with the implications.
"Pool?" Jim repeated, staring at his roommate. "What pool?"
"What happened to my car?" Steven demanded, forcing Jim's attention back to him.
"Well..." Jim slowly drew out guiltily.
Steven turned to Blair. "Who won?"
Jim glanced between his brother and his partner. "Who won what?"
"Rhonda," Blair supplied, taking a step back from Jim.
"Rhonda?" Jim repeated bewilderedly.
"My fender?" Steven glared at his older brother.
"How did you know I dented the fender?"
"You DENTED it?"
Blair silently slipped out of range with a smirk, carrying his coffee to his bedroom. Maybe having brothers would have been more fun than he thought.
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