Production No. BPP-623
C. L. Combs
(with contributions from Sealie)
edited by: Melissa, Saga, and Bonnie
MEET THE CAST
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."