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Scents and Sensibility
by
Wildeskind

.

Act I

Professor Jacob Richards hummed under his breath as he admired the delicately colored orchids gleaming under the fine mist of his spray bottle. The humid air of the greenhouse always reminded him of his days on safari in Africa, hacking his way through the thick undergrowth, dreams of a miracle plant that would make him a rich man pushing him farther and farther into the jungle. That was more than thirty years ago. Most of his hair had fallen out and he had a limp from where a snake had bitten him and he hadn't gotten the antivenin quickly enough, but he still had hopes of finding the elusive plant that was going to make him famous. He was so close this time. Oh, he had dozens of minor patents for miracle skin creams and antibiotic ointments, but they were a dime a dozen. This new formula was going to make his name a household word.

Poking at the soil of a potted plant to test its dampness, he was surprised by a sharp prick of pain. He jerked his hand away, and watched as the pot fell off the worktable as if in slow motion. Dropping the spray bottle, he reached to catch the plant, but it slipped through his outstretched hands, shattering on the floor. The rich black soil splashed across the red bricks, exposing the fragile roots of the orchid. He muttered a soft curse. What a bloody fool thing to do. He wiped his hand on his khaki shorts and inspected the injured finger. A bright tear of blood welled up among of the swirls on the tip of his forefinger. Sucking at the wound, he started to limp to the corner where the broom and dustpan were kept. He wasn't even halfway there when a shaft of pain paralyzed the muscles in his chest. He stumbled into a bench full of seedlings, sending them crashing into the floor.

Gasping for air, he clawed at his white linen shirt, desperately trying to loosen the bands of pain winding their way around his chest like a boa constrictor. His foot hit a wet spot, the combination of dirt and water on the brick making a slippery combination. His head hit the sharp corner of the workbench as he fell. His last thought was that the jungle had gotten him after all.


Soft wool tickled his hand. Detective Jim Ellison rubbed the knitted fabric of a sweater between his sensitive fingers. The low roar of the crowd around him faded to a murmur as he identified the individual strands that made up the sensual fabric. Long, coarse hairs provided an intriguing contrast to the shorter, softer hairs. The pungent scent of the dyes that gave the garment its rich garnet and forest green colors overpowered the various odors of the people around him with their colognes, perfumes, deodorants, shampoos and conditioners. His fingers tingled as he handled the soft fabric. Beneath the strong scent was a second, more beguiling one.

Breathing in, he tried to categorize the scent against the millions of others he had smelled before. It tantalized him, seeming as familiar as it was unknown. It was like the scent of a sudden summer rainstorm sweeping through the countryside, blowing down trees and stripping flowers of their petals only to rain itself out, leaving the air heavy with moisture. He could feel himself slipping away from the here and now as he became mesmerized by the essence. He knew he was on the verge of zoning. He dialed up his sense of sight, following a strand of green wool as it crossed the border of a burgundy stripe. The woolen strands looked like huge, scaly ropes woven together. Unable to stop himself, he turned the sweater over and brought it closer to his face, breathing in the scent of the last person to wear it.

Shuddering, he looked around for his partner. Blair was on the other side of the store, sorting through a stack of men's dress shirts. Needing his presence to ground him, Jim strode across the store, ignoring the startled looks of customers as he pushed past them. Coming up behind Blair, he stopped, breathing in the familiar scent of his guide, pushing out the unsettling feelings the fragrance from the sweater had brought forth. Feelings he had known once before, in the presence of a certain thief. Scanning the crowd, he searched for the owner of that scent, but he couldn't find a trace of her. Jim put a hand on Blair's shoulder.

Blair jumped. "Hey, Jim. Didn't see you there. What do you think?" He held a large gray dress shirt, with subtle vertical stripes in a lighter gray, against his chest. The short, stiff collar scraped his chin and the long sleeves flapped past his hands.

Jim stepped back and eyed the garment, not really seeing it. Everything seemed to be sharper, the light brighter. He tried to focus. Blair was buying the shirt to replace the one that had been destroyed when he sprayed Simon with invisible ink. The ink itself had lived up to its reputation, disappearing in a couple of minutes. Unfortunately for Blair, when the ink hit the shirt Simon had jerked backwards, bumping into cabinet behind him where, judging from the thick sludge and mold that had cascaded onto Simon's chest, someone had left a coffee cup approximately a week before. The captain had not been amused by the prank. The one Sandburg was holding was a reasonable facsimile of the infamous shirt.

"Looks good to me. Is it the right size?"

Blair nodded. "I asked Daryl."

"Did you ask him if Simon's cooled down yet?"

Sandburg gave a sheepish grin. "Yeah. He said he found his dad in the laundry room, a bottle of detergent in one hand and the shirt in the other. Daryl swears he saw tears in Simon's eyes. I didn't mean for it to happen."

Jim patted him on the shoulder. "I know that and Simon knows that. You have to understand, it was his lucky shirt. He always wore it when had to meet with the committee to discuss the budget. This time, he had to wear one of his spares to the meeting, which threw him off his stride."

Folding up the shirt, Blair sighed. "I'm never going to play a prank on Simon again." Jim snorted. "I mean it, never, never, never again!"

"Fine, let's get the shirt and get going." He cursed silently when Blair glanced at him, his expression assessing.

"You okay?" He looked at the sweater dangling from Jim's clenched hand. "Isn't that a little too small for you?"

Jim looked down at the sweater, surprised. He'd forgotten about it. Trying to act casual, he shrugged. "My niece's birthday is coming up in a couple of months; I thought I'd shop early."

Sandburg shoved the shirt at him and grabbed the sweater. Jim resisted for a second before letting it go and accepting the trade. Blair's eyebrows rose at the deep neckline. "You think this is appropriate for a twelve year old?"

He could feel heat move up his neck as he blushed. "I was, uh, looking at the colors."

"Uh-huh. Yeah. 'Fess up Jim. Who is she? Madaline down in records?"

Jim hesitated for a second. It would be easier just to let Blair believe what he wanted, but the near zone concerned him too. "I caught a scent on it."

"Was it familiar? Someone I know?" Blair's eyebrows wiggled suggestively.

Jim felt the heat spread across his cheeks. "No, no one we know."

Blair's eyebrows stopped comically in mid-wiggle. "No one we know?"

Jim shrugged. "It smelled, you know, intriguing." He tried to sound casual about it.

A sly grin spread across Blair's face. "Intriguing, huh? How intriguing?"

Jim crushed the dress shirt in his hands. "Too intriguing." The words were like ashes in his mouth. It had been months since he had been that close to zoning out. The fact that just her scent could do it was disturbing.

The grin disappeared. "Jim, man, it's just a scent. You can block it out." Blair reached out to put a hand on his arm.

Jim let the touch of his guide calm him for a second before turning away. "That's just it, I couldn't block it. Not like I can with most smells. It was like Laura McCarthy all over again. I didn't think there would be another woman who couldˇ." He searched for words to describe what this scent did to him.

His partner, as always, came up with some 'helpful' suggestions. "Push your buttons, rev your engine, fan your flames?"

He felt a red tide of heat rise up his neck again. "Sandburg, I haven't even met the woman."

Blair looked up at him innocently. "So?"

Jim growled, aggravated beyond all bounds.

Blair held up his hands. "Okay, okay. I get the point. You don't like strange women messing around with your body chemistry. What do you want me to do about it?"

Jim twisted the shirt in his hands as if he was twisting the feelings of desire out of himself. "Isn't there some meditation or control technique you can teach me to help handle this?"

Sandburg shrugged. "Take cold showers?"

Jim smacked his head with the shirt. "Thanks a lot, Sandburg."

Rubbing his curls, Blair looked around. "Okay, okay. Is she still in the area?"

Jim didn't even bother to cast around with his senses. "No."

Blair looked surprised, but didn't question him. "What does she look like?"

Jim rolled his eyes. "All I have is the sweater, Sandburg. I don't know what she looks like." His voice got louder, attracting the stares of some of the other customers.

Sandburg grabbed his arm and marched him towards a quiet corner in the back of the store. "Okay, okay. Take a deep breath, man, and chill. We'll figure this out."

"How? We don't know who she is or where she is."

"We're detectives, right? And it's not like we haven't dealt with something like this before. I'll do my research, you keep your eyes and ears and nose open. I'm sure there are some meditative techniques out there to help you deal with your problem. After all, you're not the first man with an overactive libido."

Jim smiled. "Yeah, after all, you deal with it all the time, right?"

"Ha ha." The ringing of Blair's cell phone cut off any retort he might have made. "Sandburg."

The nasally voice of their captain rumbled in his ear. "Give me Ellison."

"Simon! Can I help you?"

"No, Sandburg." The last name was stressed. "I think you've been helpful enough. Give me Ellison."

Jim, who had been listening in, plucked the electronic device out of Blair 's hand. "Yes, Captain?"

"Why isn't your cell phone working?"

Jim winced at the irritation "It fell out of Sandburg's pocket when he climbed up a tree last week to rescue a dog."

"How did a do... never mind. We have a body at the Kentlands. Rafe and Brown are already at the scene."

Mentally shifting gears, he listened as Simon gave him the address. "Right. We'll be right there." Closing up the cell phone, handed it to Blair. "Let's pay for these and go. We have another case."


Rafe poked around the hot greenhouse, frowning as he felt the humidity wrinkling his Armani suit. The building was split into thirds by two long tables just wide enough to accommodate a triple row of lush exotic ferns interspersed with delicate orchids and brilliant jungle flowers that filled the air with their heady scent. Low workbenches were pushed up against the translucent walls, covered in flats of seedlings, assorted trowels and miniature rakes. Careful of the dirt spilled on the floor, Rafe searched for clues to how the man died. He had already seen the bruise on the victim's temple. From the indentation in the skull, it looked like the blow could have killed him. But his face was contorted, as if he had been in agony when he died. If he had died from the blow to the head, it should have killed him instantly and there wouldn't have been enough time for him to feel the pain.

Brown walked up to him, a sheen of perspiration covering his broad, dark forehead. He was accompanied by a faded woman, who was somewhere in her late forties. Her gray-streaked brown hair was wound in a limp bun on the top of her head, putting her a little over average height. Something in her watery blue eyes reminded Rafe of the abused women he had seen when he'd been a uniformed cop. Her eyes narrowed briefly within the sagging folds of her face, the spite in them sending a sliver of unease through him. Then the look was gone and she was just an ordinary woman, her red, rough- skinned hands fluttering around a water-stained apron wrapped around her thick waist.

She was talking to Brown as they approached, her high-pitched voice grating on his ears. "It's terrible, just terrible. I came in this morning and emptied all the trash in the house. I was tidying up in his study when I realized that I hadn't seen him. That's not too unusual, except that he hadn't had his morning cup of tea. I could tell because there wasn't a cup in the sink. He always has tea in the morning and he never washes his cup."

Henri looked relieved that he had survived her chatter long enough to get her to Rafe. He broke into her monologue. "Mrs. Louden, this is my partner, Detective Rafe. Rafe, this is Professor Richards' housekeeper, Anna Louden."

She had a grip like an orangutan, her callused fingers crushing his. Disengaging his hand, he tried for a reassuring smile. "Mrs. Louden."

Her lips twitched in a quick smile before they started flying again. "Detective, it's nice to meet you. I mean, it's terrible what happened to Professor Richards. I feel awful that he lay here all weekend, all alone. I just came in this morning and took out the trash." She raised the hem of her flowered apron to wipe her eyes.

Rafe jumped in before she could start again. "Mrs. Louden, did Professor Richards have any enemies?"

She paused for a split second before blinking her eyes at him. "Enemies? Why, no, not that I can think of. He didn't see many people. He spent most of his time here in the greenhouse. Why, the only other person he really ever saw was his research assistant, Thomas Jeffers." Rafe wrote the name down in his notebook. "Such a nice boy. Real quiet. You don't think someone murdered Professor Richards?" Her voice was filled with a fascinated horror.

Brown patted her muscular forearm. "These are just routine questions, ma'am. When was the last time you saw the Professor?"

"Why, Friday, of course. I cooked him a nice casserole for the weekend. Tuna, I think. And then I left at five o'clock, just like I do every Friday."

"Did he seem upset, or did anything unusual happen recently?" Rafe asked.

The housekeeper shook her head. "No, I don't think so. He was excited."

"Excited?" repeated Brown.

"Yes. He was wrapping up some research he'd been working on for the past year. He had retired from his teaching position with some college in the east to do his research here. He taught biology and chemistry, you know. Or was it biochemistry?" She made a clucking noise. "It was something like that. He had his own laboratory in the basement of the house. He wouldn't let me clean up there. Dishes would disappear and I had to ask him to bring them up every week. They were in awful condition, all the food dried and mold growing on them. You'd think a man of science would be neater about things, but no. He generated a surprising amount of trash." She finally took a breath.

"Do you know what he was working on?" Rafe asked before she could wander onto another topic.

"Well, he didn't talk much about what he was researching. You know those academic types. They don't like to share their secrets. He did have a lot of deliveries. Didn't want me to sign for them. Told me to have the people go to the greenhouse with the packages. Hmph. Like I would care what he was doing as long as he paid me to clean his house. Suited me just fine. If only he'd brought up those dishes more often. The mold bothered my allergies."

Rafe closed his notebook. "Thank you, Mrs. Louden, for your help. We'll contact you if we need any more information."

Mrs. Louden nodded. "I'm happy to help. Such a shame about Professor Richards. He was such a good employer. Always paid me on time. Kept good records too, in his study. If you want to find out about his assistant, I'm sure you'll find his address in there."

Brown waved a uniform to escort the housekeeper out of the greenhouse. "Thank you, Mrs. Louden."

They watched as the heavyset woman left the glass building. Brown sighed in relief. "I'm not surprised Professor Richards didn't talk too much with the woman. Her voice could shatter glass." He turned and studied the fallen academic. So what do you think, my man? The old man slipped on that muddy patch there, hit his head on the table and boom, " Brown slapped his hands together, emphasizing the noise, "he died."

Rafe shook his head, walking to where the delicate orchid lay in the shattered remains of its pot, separate from the other fallen plants. "Look at this plant here. It's a good ten feet away from the other plants. How did it fall?"

Brown looked at the scene, rearranging his scenario of the death. "He drops the plant, goes toward to the corner to get the broom, slips on the bricks and hits his head."

Mulling it over, Rafe nodded. "Yeah, that's good. But look at his face. That man was in agony when he died. See how his hand is clutching at his chest?"

"You think he was having a heart attack when he died?"

The handsome man nodded. "I think so. The M.E. will be able to tell us for sure after the autopsy."

There was a disturbance in the ordered chaos of the crime scene as Ellison and Sandburg arrived. Sandburg looked a little distracted, as if he had something on his mind. Jim stopped, tilting his head as he scanned the greenhouse like a bloodhound scenting a fox. Rafe grimaced. It looked like Ellison had picked up on something they had missed. Jim moved like a heat-seeking missile to a pile of dirt underneath a workbench on the far side of greenhouse away from the body. There was a whispered conversation before they continued around the low bed of plants to meet them where the body lay on the bricks.

Sandburg circled around them, reaching out for a brief pat on their backs before taking in the scene. "Hey, guys, what's the story?"

Brown pulled his notebook. "Jacob Miles Richards, age fifty-six, single. According to his housekeeper, who found him, he was a retired professor of chemistry and biology who was heavily into some type of research."

Sandburg jumped on that bit of info. "Does she know what he was working on?"

"No, she said he was really tight 'bout his research. Something to do with his flowers. He did have an assistant, a Thomas Jeffers, who didn't show up this morning for work. The housekeeper said that his address should be somewhere in the professor's study."

Jim moved them to the body. "Do you think he had something to do with Richards' death?"

Rafe did a quick sweep of the crime scene again, trying to spot anything he might have missed. "No, not really. It looks like Richards dropped that plant over there, went to get the broom, had a heart attack. He must have hit his head on the way down and died. We won't know whether it was the blow to the head or the heart attack until the autopsy is done."

Jim nodded and started to prowl the crime scene again. Blair went in the opposite direction, heading to the far corner of the greenhouse, which was devoted to herbs. Rafe stood back and watched Jim as he sifted through the multitude of sensory impressions he was getting from the scene. The rest of Major Crimes had quietly discussed what Jim was actually doing when he cased a scene. Rafe had this image of a computer sucking in data, making thousands of calculations before spitting out the correct answer. Overlaid on that image was one of an animal, scenting out clues, spotting minuscule details that were overlooked by human eyes. They were two disparate images that somehow managed to coexist together. Sort of like Sandburg and Ellison.

Brown insisted that Jim had to have some psychic ability supplementing his sentinel abilities to find all the clues that he did. He didn't believe hyperactive senses could account for all of his successes. He pointed out the time that Ellison had seen the ghost of a dead woman. It had freaked out most of the department when it turned out that her artist lover had murdered her decades before. The killer, now an old man with Alzheimer's, had been so out of it that they hadn't even tried him for the murder. There were rumors that he'd refused to pick up a paintbrush after his confession. He just sat in his wheelchair for six months talking to himself before finally succumbing to his disease. For Brown, that had cemented Ellison's reputation for being psychic. To him, that was even freakier than Jim's being a sentinel.

Ellison was squatting by the body, studying it. Sandburg had joined him there, quietly whispering instructions, with his hand on his partner's broad shoulder. It was like seeing one person in two bodies, the way they worked together. Even when they were at odds with each other, they were still in concert.

Jim stood up abruptly, catching Blair off-guard. Rafe swallowed a chuckle as Ellison casually stretched out a hand to steady his partner, already anticipating where he was, before strolling back to where Brown and he were standing.

"I don't see anything to dispute your theory. Why don't you and Brown wrap up the crime scene while Sandburg and I check out the house?"

"Sure, go ahead. We can handle it on this end." Rafe waved him off, pleased that Ellison hadn't found any additional evidence to complicate what looked like an open and shut case, but annoyed that he had to have their stamp of approval. Major Crimes had been able to solve cases long before Ellison's sentinel abilities came along. He wondered how they would function if Ellison ever lost them. Not that he would want that. He just wondered what they would do if Jim wasn't running at full capacity.


Blair frowned as they walked up to the main house to find the assistant's address. "Jim, are you sure you're okay? You were pretty out of it in the greenhouse."

Jim shrugged off his concern. "I'm fine, Chief. Let's get the investigation over with. It was just an unfortunate coincidence that took me by surprise, that's all." Walking through the open French doors, he nodded at the uniformed officer who was taking pictures of the interior of the house. They probably wouldn't need them, but it never hurt to be thorough.

Blair waited until they were out of earshot of the uniform, following Jim into Professor Richards' study. "I don't think you can classify smelling the same unique perfume twice in the same day as a coincidence. You heard Rafe: the man was a biochemical researcher. Who knows what he was cooking up in his lab?"

Jim snorted. "First of all, what I smelled in that greenhouse wasn't exactly the same as the scent on the sweater. I didn't get the same reaction."

Sandburg cocked a skeptical eyebrow at him. "Are you sure?"

Jim stopped and looked down at Blair with a strange glint in his eye. Closing the door with one graceful shove, he turned, his eyes glowing with a soft blue heat. Reaching up, he brushed Blair 's cheek. "Well, I didn't want to tell you, Chief, but when I was in there..." He paused to take a shuddering breath. "Well, it was so hard not to touch you." Jim tucked a stray strand of curly brown hair behind Blair's ear as he crowded into Sandburg's personal space.

Blair knocked his hand away. "Hey, don't even joke about that, man. What do I have to do, lock my door at night?" He took a couple of steps back.

Jim batted his eyelashes at him. "Locked doors couldn't keep me away from you. I don't know why I never realized how soft the curve of your cheek is. And your shoulders, mmm, yummy." His mouth dropped open as he slowly licked his lips, his eyes eating Blair up.

Alarmed, Blair backed up until he was pressed up against the large walnut desk. A pile of papers cascaded onto the floor. "Jim, you're scaring me. Snap out of it!"

Jim stalked toward him, his nostrils flaring. "Have I ever told you I like the way you smell in the morning? You always have this warm, musky smell when you get up out of bed. When you pass by me I can feel the heat coming off of you."

Blair edged his way around the desk. He tripped over the trashcan next to the desk, spilling the contents on the floor. "Jim, you know, I really don't think you want to be telling me this."

Jim leaned over the desk. "But I do, Blair. I want to tell you everything. How I love the way you play with your hair when you're deep in thought, or the way you wave your hands and pace when you're really excited about something. I especially love the way you flush. It starts from underneath your shirt and creeps up your neck. It makes me want to rip off it off and see if you're blushing all over." He leaned closer. "You're blushing right now."

Continue on to Act II...


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