DISCLAIMER: The Sentinel and its characters are the property of Paramount Studios and Pet Fly Productions. These stories are offered for the enjoyment of the fans. No money has exchanged hands.
Scents and Sensibility
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."
Blair tensed as he eyed Jim warily. He'd heard of sexual harassment in the workplace, but this was ridiculous. His mind went into overdrive with possibilities and theories. If the perfume was sending Jim's hormones into overdrive, then he had to snap him out of it. The image of hosing Jim down with some very cold water came to mind. Unfortunately he didn't have a hose handy. "Jim, you have to listen to me. It's the perfume talking. You have to focus here."
Jim reached out and hooked a finger on the neck of Blair's t-shirt, pulling him forward. His large hands framed Blair's face tenderly. "I am focusing, Blair. I want to focus all my love on you!" He gave Blair a big wet kiss on the lips before breaking out in howls of laughter.
Realizing he had been had, Blair gave Jim a hard shove, sending him stumbling back. "That was so not funny, Jim. I thought that you were really coming on to me."
Jim staggered back, his arm cradling his stomach as new wails of laughter escaped him. He wagged his finger at Blair. "You should have seen your face. Lock your door!" He snorted before laughing again. "Blair, that can't be the first time you've had a guy come on to you."
Blair smirked. That sense of humor was going to get Jim in a load of trouble one day. "Well, it's the last time you're going to do it. I don't want to think what I'd have to do if you did start chasing me around the loft."
"If that happens, just don't slow down. I always catch what I chase." He gave Sandburg a toothy grin.
Blair groaned. "Don't I know it." Dropping the topic of the perfume as a lost cause, he poked around on the Professor's desk. "Man, and I thought your filing system sucked." He picked up a pile of receipts and paged through them.
Jim sat down in the padded leather chair and looked through the desk drawers. "There's nothing wrong with my filing system. Some of us don't subscribe to the shoebox method."
Blair paused in the act of picking up another stack of papers. "Hey, don't dis the shoeboxes. It works. Some of us don't feel the need to be anal about organizing our lives. A little chaos shakes things up, gets the creative juices going. But I guess you're not having any problems getting the juices going today."
A drawer shut with a loud bang. "I thought we had dropped that topic. I don't see an address book in here."
Leaning across the desk, Blair hit the "on" button on a Dell computer sitting on the corner. "He was a man of science. Try the science."
"Hmmm, novel concept. Why is it I'm doing all the work here?" The mouse clicked away as he opened up random programs, searching for the elusive address.
"Because we could get the address at the precinct and because I am trying to get some insight into the victim. Take a look at this." He waved a sheet of paper in front of Jim's face, snatching it away before he could take it. "It's a receipt for a book written by a 12th century English knight. Don't you think it's a strange thing to find in a biochemist's study? I wonder where the book is."
A whisper of a familiar odor tickled the sentinel's nose. Sandburg put the receipt down and picked up another paper. Reaching over, Jim picked up the discarded receipt, breathing in more of the scent.
Oblivious of Jim's reaction to the receipt, Sandburg studied the new piece of paper. "This must be a sample photocopy of one of the pages from the book. Man, you got to love the way they wrote back then. I can't read it, but it's a lot better handwriting than most of the freshman papers that I read. I think this is an s here and this must be a v." He sighed, his mood making one of those lightning quick changes. "You know, I'd feel better if we could find the lady who was wearing that scent. "
Jim's pupils dilated, his heart rate increasing. "Uh, Chief."
"Maybe we could drive you around town and see if you catch the scent somewhere. I know Cascade isn't exactly small, but we could get lucky."
"Chief." He took another breath. His cheeks and lips were flushing a bright red. He squirmed in his chair. It felt as if someone had laid a live wire on him; his skin was humming.
"If Richards was the one who created the perfume, he might have some record of her. Maybe she was a close personal friend of his. Or even a test subject. Either way, we should be to find some sort of records on his computer." He looked up at his friend and partner, who was fixated on the book receipt. "Jim. Snap out of it. Jim." He snatched the paper out of his hand. The crisp paper sliced the webbing of Jim's thumb as it slid out of his hand.
"Ow! Dammit, Sandburg, you how much I hate paper cuts!" Lifting his hand, he sucked on the wound, the coppery taste of blood filling his mouth.
"I know how much more you hate zoning out. Man, it's like babysitting a teenage boy at a nudist camp."
"I don't know anyone stupid enough to take a teenager to a nudist camp," Jim snapped. The leather chair slid back as he stood up and walked to the window. He threw open the sash and breathed in the untainted spring air. Birds were singing outside. He leaned his forehead against the cool glass, letting his hearing roam outside. Rafe and Brown were wrapping up the crime scene. Feeling a little calmer, he turned back to Blair, who was waiting patiently for him. "Sorry about that, Chief."
"No, my remark was uncalled for. I'm just used to you pulling me off the women."
"I think we just found the clue that's going turn this around. Do we know who gave Richards the receipt?"
Blair picked up the paper gingerly, careful not to get any more traces of the perfume on his hands. "Hey, it's Isabelle Whittaker."
"You know her?"
"Yeah, she's a librarian at the Cascade Public Library. She also finds and sells rare books for special customers. She was my best source for finding research material."
Jim frowned. "I don't remember you dating her."
"That's because I didn't. Not my type."
That didn't sound promising. There weren't many women out there who weren't Blair's type. "What type is she?"
Blair blushed and stammered. "What? Well, she's a librarian."
A librarian, Jim thought. He was getting hot flashes over a librarian? "That's not very descriptive. Is she old?"
"No! She's my age. Well, maybe a couple of years older. She has her Ph.D. in library science and information technology. She helped rewire the library a couple of years ago. She's a very intelligent woman."
That sounded even worse. When a buddy started praising a woman's intelligence without mentioning a physical attribute, that usually meant that something was wrong. "Okay, so she's intelligent and educated. Is she pretty?"
Blair tired to hedge. "She's not ugly."
Jim felt like shaking him. "Sandburg, I need to know what she looks like. Will you just tell me?"
He held up his hands. "Okay, okay, she's five-foot-eight, long brown hair, Caucasian, hazel eyes, 135 pounds."
"And she's not ugly?" Jim asked dryly.
"No, no. Jim, you have nothing to worry about."
"Not with that glowing recommendation."
Blair gave a nervous laugh. "Jim, I thought you appreciated the inner beauty of women."
Jim ground his teeth, the paused for a second to deliberately loosen his jaw muscles. "Not when I'm having an irresistible chemical reaction to them. Then it's a purely physical thing. I'd hope that my glands would have good taste."
Sandburg shrugged. "I don't know why they would change their taste at this late date."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Jim, ever since I met you, 23% of the women you date are criminal, 35% are in high risk professions, and 27% don't stick around long enough for you to have a relationship with."
Jim calculated the percentages in his head. "Hey, wait a minute. What about the last 15%?"
Sandburg rolled his eyes. "Those are the ones the guys set you up with. They don't count because you didn't do the choosing."
Jim snorted. "Oh, like you do any better. At least my dates don't try to kill me."
"No, they try to kill me." There was a pause as Jim tried to judge how to take the hastily spoken words. Blair did a half shrug, his lips turned up in an apologetic smile.
Jim gave a bark of laughter. It felt good to be able to laugh about it, even if the words still packed a bite. "Well, Blair, I wouldn't take it so personally. They just don't want to share me with anyone."
They sat there for a moment, savoring the closeness their friendship offered that made it possible to speak of things that had hurt them all those months ago. Had it really been two years since Alex had killed Blair? It seemed as if forever had passed. Maybe it had been that long. "Let's get Jeffers' address and get going."
Blair plucked a sticky note off the computer. "Here we go. I found it while you were meditating."
"Great." He followed Sandburg out of the room, and waved goodbye to the uniform, who was still taking photographs. Jim grabbed Blair by the scruff of the neck and gently shook him. "By the way, those are some pretty impressive statistics there."
Blair grinned impishly up at him. "Yeah, they were for chapter twelve of my thesis: Sentinel Mating Practices and How to Survive Them."
Ellison and Sandburg were sitting at their desks going through reports when Rafe and Brown came in from the crime scene. Going to their own desks, they started to fill out the necessary forms for the current case. Rafe looked up from the 192A form to see Ellison reach down behind Sandburg to pick up a folder from the box between their desks. He blinked when he saw Ellison sniff his partner before going back to work. Not really sure he had seen what he thought he saw, he kept an eye on them as he continued to fill out his own paperwork.
A couple of minutes later Ellison handed the folder he had been working on to Blair and leaned down to get another folder. Again, he sniffed Blair before starting in on the new folder.
A dark hand came down in front of him, making him jump. "Hey, Rafe, I am not staying in here all day. Will you wake up?"
"Brown, "he whispered. "Did you see that?"
"See what, man? We still have some leads to track down on the Thompkins case. As soon as we finish here, we can cruise."
Rafe tugged on his jacket. "Ellison. Watch him."
"What?" Brown's voice rose in incredulity.
"Shhh." Rafe held his breath as he waited for any indication that the sentinel had heard. "Just watch him for a few minutes, okay?"
Rolling his eyes, Brown sat back down at his desk and pretended to fill out a couple more lines on his form. He was almost convinced that Rafe was putting him on when Ellison reached behind Sandburg. He came up with a manila folder. He paused, and sniffed Blair before opening up the folder and inspecting the contents.
"What the hell was that?"
Rafe shrugged. "I don't know. You don't think it's some sort of sentinel thing, do you?"
Henri looked at him as if he'd lost his mind. "Of course it's a sentinel thing. I sure as hell hope it's a sentinel thing."
Ellison closed the file he was working on and stood up. Blair followed suit, tossing aside the file he had been working on. Ellison picked up the file and stacked it neatly with the others.
"Where do they think they're going?" asked Rafe.
His partner shrugged. "Do we need to know?"
Rafe tapped his pen on his desk. "Ellison's acting really weird."
Brown snorted. "Weird is a way of life for those two. Maybe it's a new test Sandburg's come up with for him."
Rafe was impressed with this line of reasoning. "You think so?"
"Yeah. It makes sense. Remember when Sandburg was testing Jim's hearing? He played that music with those dirty jokes in the background. Jim would be sitting there and then he'd bust out laughing."
"When was this?" Rafe searched his memory for the aforementioned incident.
"Three weeks ago. You mean you don't remember that?"
"Yeah, I remember, I guess. How did you know about the tape?"
"I was in the bathroom attending to nature's call when Jim and Blair came in. Jim was laughing so hard that he didn't even notice me there. He told Blair if he ever ran a test like that again in the precinct he was going to have laundry duty for a week plus all the paperwork."
"And you think that Blair is running a test now?"
"You have any better ideas?"
"No. But I can't see what test Blair could come up with that would require Jim to sniff him."
"With Blair, it could be anything."
Jim waited until Blair's seatbelt was on before putting the truck in gear. "I don't know if this is going to work."
"Of course it will, Jim. You said it yourself: you used my scent to ground yourself in the mall. This is the same principle." He blinked as the truck left the artificial lighting of the underground parking lot for the bright afternoon sun. He knew this was going to work. It felt right.
"Yeah, but you were there and all I had to replace was the scent off a sweater. It's going to be different when the scent is from a real live woman."
"Trust me, Jim, it's going to work. You were so much more focused at the end of the trial run. There weren't any mistakes on the last forms you filled out. I don't think it's going to be much different with Ms. Whittaker."
Jim slowed down for a stoplight. "Ms. Whittaker? You mean you aren't even on a first name basis with this woman? How old did you say she was again?"
"She's thirty-three, I think, thirty-five tops."
"You make her sound like an old maid."
"She's not an old maid. Not really. I think that if the right man came along he'd find a lot of passion underneath that controlled exterior. You know what they say. Still waters run deep."
The light turned and Jim eased out into the intersection. Turning left, he gave Blair a sarcastic look. "They also say mountain-fed streams are cold."
Sandburg shivered playfully. "That's cold, man. Real cold."
Jim rolled his eyes. "Look, you're the one who can't say one good thing about the woman. All I have to go on is secondhand impressions from you." He slowed the truck again to let a car parallel park. The library was only five blocks away from the precinct, but it seemed like it was going to take forever to get there. He wanted the meeting over.
The Cascade Municipal Library looked like every other library Jim had ever seen. Two stories high, it was a sprawling brick building with tinted windows. The parking lot was surprisingly full. He hadn't thought a library would be such a popular spot in the middle of a weekday. They entered through the heavy front doors. Directly ahead of them was the round circulation desk. Three librarians stood behind the solid counter helping a couple of older women and a college student check out their selections. Jim immediately dismissed them. They were all too old, or the wrong race, to be Isabelle. A gathering of young mothers with toddlers was moving into a side room. Blair pulled Jim off into the reference section.
"Okay, see if you can locate her in here."
Jim closed his eyes and opened his other senses to their surroundings. Using his sense of hearing, he tracked down the people in the building. A rich feminine voice caught his attention. The contralto was reading a story to the group of toddlers they had seen coming in.
"And the first little piggy built his house from straw. The second little piggy built his house of sticks. But the third little piggy built his house out of bricks."
It was the voice of an attractive woman. A woman who knew what she wanted. The nuances of the voice played like a symphony to the sentinel's sensitive ears. He had to find the owner of that voice. Following it, he crossed the lobby to the cul-de-sac where story time was in progress. Standing behind the crowd of young mothers and toddlers, he had a perfect view of the Voice.
She was in her mid to late thirties, with long curly brown hair and snapping hazel eyes. The features of her face were a bit sharp, as if someone had been hasty when they were putting them together and had only sketched them out. Her chin was too pointy and her mouth on the small side, but her hair was a rich mahogany, catching the light with red highlights. His fingers itched to bury themselves in the long curls. Her siren's voice wrapped itself around him.
Blair was behind him. "Hey, man, that's not Isabelle Whittaker."
Jim breathed in through his nose, scenting the air like a big cat. Her scent was unmistakable. He felt the desire to reach out and pull her to him, bury himself in her soft flesh. "Chief, that is the woman I smelled on the sweater and on the receipt. That has to be Isabelle Whittaker." He breathed in more of her scent, intoxicated. His skin was humming with desire. She was beautiful. She was his!
Blair said, sentinel soft. "Hey, Jim, cool it with the breathing. Dial it down or something. There are children here."
Struggling with his base instincts, he dialed down his sense of smell. But that voice was still there, stroking him with its richness. And her hair beckoned him, teased him by rippling as she turned another page. She held the book up for the children to see the pictures. The book pushed up her breasts beneath her sky blue T-shirt, emphasizing that they were in perfect proportion to her slender body. Not too big, not too small, but just right. His fingers itched to find out if they were as soft as they looked.
A hand fastened itself on his arm, tugging him away. Sandburg whispered in his ear. "Jim, if you don't get out of here right now, you're going to embarrass both of us. Come on." Jim hesitated for a second before allowing the hand to pull him away. He continued to listen to her voice as he walked blindly away.
Cold steel smacking him in the face brought him to his senses. "What the hell?" He had run into the metal divider of the library doors. Rubbing his throbbing cheek, he followed Sandburg outside, away from the presence of his personal siren.
His guide was patently unsympathetic. "Well, if you watched where you were going, you wouldn't have hit it, now, would you?" He pulled Jim's hand away from his face to get a better look.
Jim jerked away from him, annoyed. "If you had told me the truth about Isabelle Whittaker, I could have prepared myself better. That woman is more than not ugly! She's beautiful!"
Giving up on inspecting Jim's face, Blair walked to a waist-high brick retaining wall bordered by orange tulips, putting some distance between him and his stressed out partner. He sat down on the wall. "I don't know about beautiful, but she's certainly had a makeover done. The Isabelle Whittaker I knew wore glasses. Her hair was always scraped into a bun or braid and she liked to wear these ugly brown or gray clothes. She was the stereotypical librarian. It took me a couple of minutes to recognize her in there with those kids. Wow."
Absorbing this information, Jim hesitated only a minute before stalking over and sitting on the cool bricks, leaving three feet between himself and Sandburg. He started the cycle of meditation techniques that his guide had taught him to center himself. He also focused on his guide's scent, hoping to drive out the beguiling scent that had him so worked up. Blair's scent meant sanity. He needed sanity right now.
Slowly, he became aware of the sounds of birds around them, the laughter of children as they entered the building and the growl of cars driving up and down the road. Their exhaust fumes made him cough. Dialing down his sense of smell yet again, he put his hand out to where the shadow ended and the sun began. The contrast of heat and coolness was increased by his sentinel abilities. Feeling sufficiently calm again, he turned back to Blair, who had been discreetly monitoring him.
"Okay, Chief, now what do we do? Your scent replacement technique didn't work."
Sandburg rolled his eyes. "Well, did you try it?" He held up his hands as Jim started to reply. "What I mean is that you looked out of it in there. Like you said, Isabelle Whittaker was a shock, to both of us. I don't think I was totally focused in there either."
Jim mulled over what he remembered of the experience, using Sandburg's scent to keep himself grounded. It had been a shock to see the mystery woman who had been twisting his emotions into a knot. He had expected to be put off by her physical appearance. Instead, it had only increased his attraction. "Yeah, I think the shock of seeing her in person did put me off my stride. Let's try it again."
"You sure? You don't need more time to, uh...."
"Cool off? I think it's like falling off a horse, Chief. You get back on, even if you've broken your arm. It's just harder the next time if you wait."
"You did that?"
"What, falling off a horse? You're not a real horseman until you do." He remembered how Steven had been goofing around, waving his crop. Jim's horse, young and skittish, had thrown him. The sickening crack as the bone broke had been worse than the pain that followed.
Sandburg's eyes sparkled with curiosity. "No, I mean getting back on the horse with a broken arm."
Jim snorted. His father had insisted that he get back on and ride back to the stable. "Yeah. Hurt like hell."
Getting up, they entered the library. The alcove where story time was held was emptying. Most of the mothers and toddlers were gone. Jim and Blair waited until the stragglers were gone before Blair waved at Isabelle. She sauntered up to them. Blair didn't remember her having that swing to her walk either.
"Hello, Mr. Sandburg. How are you doing today?" Her words were cordial, but her tone was cool. Jim wondered if Blair had any outstanding fines or something.
"It's Blair, Ms. Whittaker. This is my partner, Jim Ellison." Her hazel eyes did a once-over, taking in every detail with a glance. They lingered for a second on his shoulders. Standing up a bit straighter, Jim sucked in his stomach.
She held out her hand. "Jim, is it? Hi, call me Isabelle." Her voice was like warm honey pouring over him. Even with his sense of smell dialed down, his excitement levels were rising. Dialing up the smell a little bit, he used Blair's technique to filter out the smell of the perfume, replacing it with his guide's. His desire didn't disappear, but it became manageable.
He wrapped his hand around her cool, delicate one. He could feel the calluses on the tips of her fingers from typing and handling books. His fingers tingled where they touched her skin.
Experimentally, he rubbed his thumb on the top of her thumb. He felt her pulse jump. She wasn't unaffected either. A discreet cough reminded him that they were in a public place. Reluctantly, he let go of her hand. "Nice to meet you."
"The pleasure's all mine." Her smile should have been illegal. "How can I help you?" The tone of her voice made it plain that she would willingly help him with anything he wanted to suggest. What had happened to the cool librarian Blair had described? Jim looked at her eyes again. They were dilated with desire. Desire for him. Suddenly his eyes began to water uncontrollably. He turned away just in time to let loose with a series of powerful sneezes. Sniffing, he looked up to those haunting hazel eyes.
"Are you okay, Jim?"
Blair handed him a handkerchief from his pocket. "Oh, Jim has allergies. You don't happen to have any perfume on?" Jim looked at Blair suspiciously. He hadn't sneezed before because of her perfume.
Her hand rose to her slender throat. "Why, yes. You don't think he's allergic to it?"
"I don't know. Do you know what's in it?"
She shook her head. "No, a friend of mine made it. I know it has some rose oil in it. Other than that, I don't know."
He sneezed again. The only time he sneezed like this was when he was around freshly cut sage. He sniffed cautiously. The pungent odor hit him, sending him into a paroxysm of sneezing. That rat! Sandburg had brought some sage with him!
Isabelle took a couple of steps back from him. "I'm sorry, it must be me. Is he going to be okay?" The last was directed at Sandburg as Jim was still trying to get his rebellious sinuses under control. How much had Blair brought with him? He wiped his nose with the handkerchief, then realized with horror that the fabric was infused with sage oil. Shoving it back at his partner, he headed to the bathroom. He had to get the smell off.
He heard Blair making excuses before following him.
Pushing through the heavy door, Jim turned on the tap and started to flush his eyes and mouth with water, scrubbing his hands with the liquid soap from the pump. He heard Sandburg check the stalls for occupants before locking the main door.
"You okay, Jim?"
"No, I'm not okay! What were you trying to do, Sandburg, poison me?"
Blair took the sage from his pocket. Carefully sealing the plastic evidence bag, he moved to the other sink and washed the exterior of the bag. "I'm sorry, Jim, I didn't think it was going to be that bad. You must be sensitive from all the olfactory input you've been getting."
Turning off the water with a vicious twist, Jim pulled a fistful of paper towels from the dispenser. He cursed at the sandpaper texture of the recycled brown paper as he blotted at the moisture on his face. He snarled at Blair. "No, Blair. I don't think so. Did you have to rub your handkerchief with sage, too?"
Horror dawned in his guide's face. "Ohmygosh, I must have wiped my hands on it when I picked the sage. I'm so sorry, Jim. I just wanted Isabelle to think you were allergic to the perfume so she'd wash it off!"
"Well now she thinks I'm deathly allergic to the stuff. I can hear her in the other bathroom now, washing it off. Are you happy?" Another time, he would laugh at the situation. Right now, all he wanted to do was put his hand through a wall. His body was still tight with desire and his eyes burned from exposure to the sage.
Blair paced up and down the bathroom, pulling at his hair. "Yes. No. I'm happy she's washing it off, but I'm not happy I almost poisoned you." Whirling around again, he stalked to the sink and started to scrub his hands, turning the hot water wide open.
Jim sighed. He knew Sandburg was only watching out for his best interests. "Next time, warn me, okay?"
Sandburg finished washing his hands, waving them in the air to get the excess water off. "Okay. I was hoping I wouldn't have to use it. I guess I underestimated her charms. Did the scent displacement technique work?" He grabbed some of the brown paper towels, scrubbing his hands until they were bright red.
Jim grabbed them out of his hand and tossed them into the trash. "The sce... oh, yeah. Instead of feeling like jumping her bones right then and there, I just felt like getting her alone and jumping her bones."
Blair gave him a wan smile. "That's some improvement. There should be more when we get out of here. Let me see those beautiful baby blues." He reached out for Jim's head.
Patiently letting Blair peer into his eyes, he wondered why these things happened to him. The amount of sage oil on the handkerchief had probably been negligible. Dammit, he felt like a kid who had scraped his knee.
Sandburg made a clucking noise. "They're a little red, but otherwise okay."
Jim looked at himself in the mirror. His eyes were inflamed, the skin around them splotchy and swollen. "Blair, I look like a drunk after a three-day binge!"
"So wear your sunglasses. It's not like you can't see with them on indoors. Besides, Isabelle is going to feel terrible that she poisoned you. You know what females are like when they feel guilty."
"I don't want her to feel guilty. I want her to feel...." He stopped at Blair's raised eyebrows. "What?"
"You do realize this is purely a chemical reaction."
"You do realize how long it's been since I've met a decent woman who's single and without any major psychological problems or a criminal record? Besides, I don't think it's all chemical."
"Jim, you've been drooling over her scent all day. Why would you think it is not chemical? You don't even know her in any sense other than smell."
"I know what she looks like, what she sounds like, what she feels like. I'd like to know how she thinks. Besides, after she gets rid of the perfume, we'll find out whether it's the perfume or just her."
"Oh, this is going to be good. You're going after a woman because her perfume turns you on. Oh, man, I can't wait to see how this turns out."
Blair's enthusiasm struck a note of dread in Jim. "Hey, you are to stay out of my love life, capish?" There was no telling what disaster could happen if Sandburg decided to help matters along. He did not need lessons in love.
"Hey, no problem. You don't want my help, fine. Just as long as you make sure it's her you're attracted to." He unlocked the bathroom door.
Putting on his sunglasses, he tapped Blair's shoulder for emphasis. "You just stay out of it."
Isabelle was waiting alone behind the circulation desk. The two detectives joined her at the big counter. Her manner was subdued, her gaze lingering in on Jim's face before dropping to his chest. There were watermarks on her T-shirt. "Are you okay?"
Jim smiled reassuringly, despite the lingering burning of his eyes. "I'm fine. A little cold water did wonders, and I'll take something when I get home."
"Right. I washed off the perfume. I didn't realize it was so strong. I thought I only dabbed it on."
Blair broke in. "You probably did. Jim's very sensitive."
Both Jim and Isabelle stared at him. Looking uncomfortable, he started to back away. "Uh, hey, Jim, I have a book I need to look up. Let me know when you're ready to go." As he trotted off to the stacks he whispered, "Five minutes, man. You disappear, I'm coming to find you."
Jim chuckled. "Sorry about that. He feels gu--, uh, protective of me."
"Right." She turned to him, tossed her hair away from her face and smiled, her eyes soft. "So, how can I help you?"
The brown flecks in her hazel eyes fascinated him. They were like the deep shadows in the forest, intriguing. He belatedly realized that she had asked him a question. "Excuse me?"
"How can I help you? I'm assuming you didn't come here just to see me. Blair's been coming to the library for years and this is the first time he's brought such a handsome man with him."
Thinking quickly, Jim pulled a piece of paper out of his jacket. "Do you recognize this?"
She took the paper and scanned it. Anger and a trace of fear crossed her face. "Where did you get this?"
"Professor Richards' study."
The fear flashed in her face again, those hazel eyes searching his for reassurance. Her voice was low and distressed. "He's not in any trouble is he?"
Jim could hear her heart racing. Suddenly realizing that Richards might have been more than an acquaintance, he put a hand on her arm. His voice was soft with regret. "I'm sorry, Isabelle. His housekeeper found his body in the greenhouse this morning."
Isabelle covered her mouth, her face going so white that Jim thought she was going to faint. Her eyes clouded over as she began to shake.
Cursing, Jim walked around the counter. Gathering her in his arms, he guided her back into the maze of offices behind the circulation desk. Ducking into an empty office, he sat her down in a chair. Kneeling beside her, he chaffed her wrists. "I'm sorry."
She shook her head slowly. "I just didn't think it could happen. It doesn't seem possible." Her eyes seemed to snap into focus. "How did he die?"
Jim rubbed her wrists gently. "It looks like he had a heart attack, hit his head and died." His hand moved up her arm, stroking the soft skin soothingly. He tried to ignore the faint traces of the perfume rising from her shirt.
She sniffled even as she leaned into his touch. "I'm sorry. It was just a shock, that's all. I was expecting to hear from him any day now. He was so close to perfecting his formula."
His hand found its way to her back. He could feel the individual muscles beneath his fingertips. She was so small compared to him. He wondered what it would feel like touching her bare back. "What formula was that?" he asked absentmindedly, trying to keep the conversation going.
She blushed. "He was working on something to do with aromatherapy."
His hand stopped as he absorbed this tidbit of information. He could tell she was holding something back, but he didn't want to push too hard. "Did it have something to do with this book?" He handed her the receipt for the alchemist's book.
Her hazel eyes welled with tears as she looked down at the piece of paper. "I guess so. He thought he would have a major breakthrough with this book. He talked of rediscovering the ultimate scent." A single tear ran down one pale cheek.
Jim wiped it away tenderly, conscious of the soft skin beneath his fingertips. He pulled his hand back, not sure what he wanted. "Rediscovering the ultimate scent?" His voice invited explanation.
Isabelle closed her eyes, taking a shuddering breath as she fought for control. The words tumbled out. "The book was a medieval text written by a knight who had been in the Crusades. It was rumored that he had saved the life of a powerful magus and that the magus had given him the recipe to a perfume that was so bewitching that no man could resist. He had no use for the formula, but he wrote it down in his journal." Her hands were twisting in her lap. Jim gently pulled them apart and held them. She continued with her story.
"When the knight got back to England, he found his estates had become rundown in his absence. All he had left was his wife and their three daughters who were a bit long in the tooth for their day. Desperate to save his lands, they say he brewed up a batch of the perfume and gave a vial to each of his daughters. He then held a grand tournament, inviting the richest men in the kingdom.
"Each daughter was to wear one drop on her wrist. But the oldest daughter was vain and wanted all the men to notice her, so she switched her sisters' vials with rose water. On the day of the tournament, she doused herself with the perfume. The men went wild, fighting each other to get her. They were so intent on reaching her that they overwhelmed her and she was crushed beneath the weight of the armor. The father was grief-stricken. He found the other two vials and tossed them into the fire, vowing to never use the recipe again. The journal in which he had written the recipe mysteriously disappeared soon after."
She shook her head sadly, as if it was all nonsense. "The book was donated to the library by the family of a deceased patron. I knew Uncle Jacob would be interested so I bought it from the library and gave it to him for a birthday present. The book was written in a mixture of Latin and old French. He knew enough Latin to translate part of the text. He became obsessed with the idea of the ideal scent soon after that. He even learned French to be able to read all of it. He became a hermit after that, working on his project. He even ignored his own research assistant. When I saw him a couple of days ago, he was very excited. Almost glowing." She turned away from Jim as more tears streamed silently down her face. It was obvious she had been close to her Uncle Jacob.
Jim tenderly pushed a strand of curling hair out of her face before wiping away the tear. "Shh. It's okay."
She looked up "I should have gone to see him this morning. I thought he had just gotten caught up in his lab." She shivered, rubbing her arms as if she couldn't get warm enough.
Jim recognized the signs of the onset of shock. "Does the library have a kitchen or something? Somewhere you can make tea?"
As if summoned, Sandburg poked his head into the office. "Uh, Jim...." He broke off as he saw Jim's arm around the pretty librarian.
"Sandburg, could you get Isabelle here a hot cup of tea? And make it sweet."
"Sure. Tea. Hot and sweet." His head disappeared from the doorway.
Jim tugged on Isabelle's arm, pulling her up. Sitting down, he pulled her into his lap, wrapping his strong arms around her, trying to stop the shuddering.
She laughed again. "It's not even summer yet and already they turn on the AC. It gets a little warm and they turn on the AC."
Jim rocked her back and forth. "Shh. It's okay. Shh."
Blair appeared again, a hot cup of tea in his hand. "One cup of tea, hot and sweet."
Jim took the tea from him and handed it to her. "Here you go, drink up." He watched as she took a sip of the steaming tea. "I'm so sorry, Isabelle."
She inhaled the steam from the tea. "It's silly, really. I mean, I knew he was starting to slow down. He had lived a hard life and since his wife died, he hadn't been the same. I just didn't expect him to die like this." She put the cup of tea down and grabbed a tissue off the desk. She blew her nose. They all ignored the embarrassingly loud honking noise she made.
She leaned her head against Jim's shoulder. "I just can't believe he's dead." She snuggled closer.
Jim became aware that he was holding a very appealing bundle in his arms. A bundle who was part of a case he was actively working on. At least until the M.E.'s report officially listed the cause of death. Ignoring the thought, he gave her another hug. "I'm sorry I had to tell you your uncle died."
"He wasn't my uncle. I just called him that." She leaned back against him, squirming a little to get comfortable. "His wife was my mom's best friend."
He swallowed a groan as her soft bottom rubbed against a very sensitive part of his anatomy. The scent of the perfume still clung to her, despite her thorough washing. The combination was wreaking havoc with his concentration. He tightened his grip on her again. Mistaking the action, she leaned back against him. The movement almost undid him. He stood abruptly, steadying Isabelle as she stumbled.
Blair stood also. Seeing the distress on his friend's face, he blurted out, "Uh, Jim we'd better get going. We have that meeting in half an hour. We're cutting it close as it is."
Discreetly tugging at his jeans with one hand, Jim moved from behind Isabelle. "Yeah. I forgot about the meeting. Are you going to be okay?"
She blinked up at him. "Uh, yeah, I think so."
Impulsively, he leaned down and gently kissed her. Her lips were like roses, velvety soft. Pulling back, his lips hovered over hers, tasting the sugary sweetness of the tea on her breath. Unable to resist, he kissed her again, lingering, nibbling on the outer corners of lips before sucking on her lower lip. She opened to him, sighing with pleasure. Dipping his tongue into her mouth, he tasted her. He was distantly aware of someone coughing, loudly.
Ignoring the noise, he continued to explore her mouth, running his tongue along her teeth before engaging her tongue. A sharp pain in his back distracted him for a second time. Realizing that his partner was trying to get his attention, he eased his way out of the kiss. Her tongue chased his, but he clamped his lips tight. He was still on duty, after all. He gave her a quick peck on the cheek and let her go. She sank down on the chair.
"I'll call you later, okay?"
Isabelle nodded weakly. "Okay."
She barely noticed as the two detectives hurried out, Jim whispering harshly to his partner. Her bones felt as if they were made out of wax, the heat within her softening them so much that she wasn't sure she would be able to walk. Her skin was humming with desire, her breath coming in short puffs. The room spun around her as she tried to reassert control over her body.
A shadow fell across her face as a tall black woman entered the room. "Izzy?"
Isabelle blinked, her eyes slow to focus. "Cami!" She didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
"Izzy, are you okay? I saw you talking to Detective Ellison and then you disappeared."
Isabelle swallowed as she tried to pull herself together. "It's Uncle Jacob. He's dead."
Cami patted her arm. "I'm sorry. I know how close you were."
Fresh tears welled up. Reaching for the tissue box, she gave her friend a watery smile. "Yeah, well, life happens, doesn't it? At least it was quick."
Cami pulled a chair up next to her. "What happened?"
"He had a heart attack and died." She wiped the tears away, sniffling.
Cami made soothing noises. "I didn't know he had a heart condition."
"Neither did I. I don't think he knew. Oh, Cami, what am I going to do?" More tears fell. "It wasn't like this when Aunt Emily died." Aunt Emily had had headaches and dizzy spells. The doctor had diagnosed her with a terminal illness. Two weeks later she was gone. A comforting arm came around Isabelle, holding her close in a maternal embrace.
"Oh, honey, every death is different. Just like you love everyone different, it's going to hurt different when they're gone."
Isabelle leaned her head on Cami's soft, pillowy bosom and let the hot tears flow. The minutes ticked past. Slowly, the tears tapered off. She licked her lips, tasting the salt on them. She could still taste Jim. She gave a weak laugh. "Cami, I'm a wreck."
"Well, you had better fix yourself up before that fine man calls on you again."
Isabelle felt the heat rise in her face. "He came to tell me about Uncle Jacob."
"Uh-huh. I could see that." Her tone was rich with innuendo.
Isabelle pushed away from her, protesting. "He was just comforting me."
Cami chuckled. "I bet he was."
"Cami!" Embarrassment colored her voice.
The older woman laughed her easy, deep laugh. "Girl, I'm not blind. You have the look of a well kissed woman."
Isabelle started to deny it, but stopped. Cami had known her too long. "Yeah, well, he was a good kisser." She felt herself blush as she remembered how he had totally taken her outside herself with that one kiss.
"It's about time. You spend too much time in this dusty library and not enough having fun."
Isabelle rolled her eyes. She had heard this before. "I have plenty of fun. I go out every weekend with the volunteer singles group. I've gone out with a couple of guys I met there. They all liked the perfume."
"Oh yeah, they liked it all right. You almost caused a riot that one day. It's not natural, that's what I say!" Cami scowled.
"Well, Uncle Jacob wanted me to test it. He did water it down a bit. The idea was to attract a male, not get raped."
Cami snorted. "I still say you are playing with fire. You know what you need."
"You need a fine man like the one that just left here to wine you and dine you and bed you. You'll feel much better after that."
"Cami! I'm not that kind of woman."
Cami patted her arm, smiling. "Honey, we are all that kind of woman when the right man comes along. I've known you over four years now and I'm telling you, have some fun. Life is too short."
Isabelle thought of Uncle Jacob, how he buried himself in his work after Aunt Emily died. Grief welled up again, fresh and strong. Maybe Jim Ellison was what she needed. "Okay, what the heck. He's cute. If he calls, then we'll see."
"That's the spirit." Cami stood up. "Right now, we have that group coming in from the grammar school. You are supposed to give a presentation on the wonders of the Internet in five minutes."
Looking at her watch, Isabelle cursed. "Can you run some interference for me? I need a couple of minutes to get it together."
Cami smiled. "Already taken care of. Jenny is getting them settled. Take your time. And Isabelle..." The younger woman paused in rushing out the door. "You let this one get away and I'll never let you live it down. He's a keeper."
Isabelle shook her finger at her. "How would you know, Camillia Brown? You didn't even meet him."
She smiled. "I have my sources."
Rafe and Brown were working nearby on their cases. They had finished most of the paperwork on the Richards case. While they were waiting for the autopsy to stamp it closed, Rafe continued his efforts to track down Richards' assistant. He didn't like the fact that Thomas Jeffers was so hard to find. He was a grad student at Rainier, but it was spring break, so he didn't have classes, nor was he on campus. He worked for the professor, but he hadn't shown up for work. That could mean something sinister, or it could mean he was off surfing somewhere chasing scantily clad college girls.
Rafe leaned back in his chair, pushing this idea around in his head. Maybe Jeffers was somewhere down in southern California, on a white beach, the sun beating down, golden bodies wearing string bikinis and covered in gleaming oil stretched out on colorful towels. He let the image build in his mind. He could feel the heat on his face, hear the sound of the waves crashing. There would be this one girl, her long golden hair streaked from the sun, lying in this isolated inlet. Her teeny-tiny top would be undone and lying beneath her. Kneeling next to her, he picked up a bottle of sunscreen. He didn't want that soft skin to burn.
Pouring a small amount of the cool white lotion into his hand, he inhaled the rich scent of coconut. Smoothing the creamy liquid on her sun-warmed back he smiled as her delicate muscles shivered. Moving his hand in ever widening circles, he inched it farther downward, skimming the edge of swimsuit. He was just about to slip his fingers underneath the brightly patterned fabric when he heard his name being called.
"Rafe, man, snap out of it."
Blinking, Rafe looked at his partner. "What?"
"Man, you looked like you were a million miles away."
Shuffling some papers around, Rafe shrugged. "Just doing some brainstorming. There's something about the Richards case I don't like. It's the assistant. The housekeeper expected him to be there, but I can't find a trace of him anywhere."
Henri just shook his head. "Man, spring fever has everyone acting crazy. He probably skipped work and is out enjoying the sunshine. God knows we haven't had weather like this in a while. Besides, if the professor had a heart attack, why worry? It's an open and shut case, right?"
A few minutes later, Ellison and Sandburg entered the bullpen. The sunglasses couldn't cover up the redness around Ellison's eyes.
Brown took one look at his face and whistled. "What happened to Ellison? His eyes look like someone poured anti-freeze in them."
Rafe stood up. "Let's find out."
They wandered to Ellison and Sandburg's desks. Brown grinned as Ellison looked up at them. "What happened? Somebody hit you with pepper spray?"
Ellison reached reflexively for his face, stopping before he actually touched his eyes. "Anti-freeze? Don't I wish," he muttered. In a louder voice, he said, "I got something in my eyes and I had a little allergic reaction."
Rafe sat down on the edge of Ellison's desk. "You gotta hate those allergic reactions. I once got stung by a bee. Swelled up like a balloon."
Sandburg looked like he wanted to be sick. "You don't have to carry one of those syringes, do you? In case you get stung again?"
"No, I had those shots to get rid of the problem. I was stung a couple years ago and the swelling was much less this time."
Sandburg slumped in his chair, his hand going to his hair, his expression thoughtful. "Shots, hmm?"
Ellison sat up straight with an alarmed look. Pulling a folded slip of paper from his pocket, he quickly changed the subject. "I have Professor Richards' assistant's address here. We got it off his computer." He handed it to Rafe.
Rafe read it. It was the same as Jeffers' driver's license. "I already talked to his landlord. He hasn't seen Jeffers in a while. Jeffers is a grad student and they're on spring break now."
Jim nodded. "Has the autopsy come back yet?"
"No reason." Jim played with a piece of paper he had taken out of his pocket along with the address. Rafe could see it was a receipt of some kind.
Rafe's attention was caught by the way Jim was stroking the paper between his fingers. It was almost sensual. "What's that, Jim?"
Jim looked down at the paper as if he had never seen it before. "This? It's a receipt Sandburg and I found in Richards' study. Sandburg recognized the name of the woman who wrote it. We just came back from visiting her."
Sandburg jumped in with his explanation. "It's a receipt for a journal written by this medieval knight. It's rumored the knight wrote the formula to the ultimate aphrodisiac in it."
Brown let out a low whistle. "Jungle juice to make the women go wild. I'd like to get me some of that."
Sandburg chuckled. "The perfume is supposed to make the men go wild, Brown."
Stunned, Rafe looked from Sandburg to Ellison and back again, thinking of the way Ellison had been sniffing his partner earlier that day. He opened his mouth, only to shut it again. There was no way he was opening that can of worms. Brown must have caught the aborted gesture. Henri rubbed his chin; his eyes silently asked what was up. Rafe glanced down and straightened the cuff of his shirt, their private signal that they would discuss it later.
Rafe grinned at Blair. "Too bad it's for women to wear, Sandburg. You could have used some of that stuff for your own love life."
Sandburg chuckled. "I don't need it. Sandburgs are naturally attractive people."
"I hear that." Jim reached out to touch Blair's hair.
Rafe and Brown exchanged looks again as Sandburg flinched a little. Jim calmly showed the bit of fluff that was on Sandburg's hair. "You seem to attract all sorts of things."
They all laughed a little louder than the joke warranted. The conversation moved on to the cases they were working. Rafe and Brown retreated back to their desks.
Blair turned to Jim. "You know, Rafe and Brown are acting a little strange. You think there's something wrong with them?"
Jim shrugged. "If there was something going on, they'd tell us." He picked up the telephone.
"Who are you calling?"
"Isabelle. I thought I'd take her out tonight to Mario's." Jim started to dial.
Blair put his finger on the ringer. "You are not going out to dinner with her."
"Why not? You don't think I can handle myself?"
Blair shrugged. "Well, honestly, no."
Jim pulled Blair's hand off the phone. "Thanks for the vote of confidence, Sandburg. I need to get a handle on my hormones. It's like being a teenager all over again. We're going to be in a public restaurant. What could go wrong?"
Mario's was one of Jim's favorite restaurants. The small circular tables were spaced far enough from each other to give the diners an illusion of privacy. The low lighting and the candles on each table were easy on his eyes. The tantalizing smell of pasta and fresh baked bread filled the air. Jim and Isabelle sat in the far corner, near the kitchen. Every time the door swung open, a wall of warm air carried more of the delicious scents to them.
Jim picked up the menu, his attention more on his date than on ordering food. The long blue silk dress she was wearing was driving him crazy. The neckline draped low over her breasts, calling attention to her smooth, creamy skin. The thin spaghetti straps rubbed on her delicate collarbones as she turned the pages on her menu. Every time they inched out to the edge of her shoulders, she would shrug and they would slide back. Jim decided whoever invented spaghetti straps was a sadist. Taking a deep breath, he concentrated on choosing an entree.
"Find anything interesting?"
Jim looked up from his menu, his eyes skimming over her soft shoulders before meeting her eyes. "Uh, the primavera is good. You may want to try the calamari. Sandburg says it's the chef's special."
"Calamari, huh? That does sound good." She closed her menu and set it aside. "What are you having?"
/You./ "I think I'll try the primavera." He set his menu aside and took a sip of his ice water. He had to keep this date cool and low-key. Isabelle didn't strike him as someone who went all the way on the first date. He wasn't even sure she kissed on the first date. Did librarians kiss on the first date? He could hardly credit that she was a librarian. She was too sexy. Her lips were too soft. If he kissed her right now, it would be just her own unique flavor. Ever since his senses had come online, he had become obsessed with how women tasted. He bet she would be sweet with a hint of tartness. He could smell a hint of mint. She had brushed her teeth right before he picked her up. He smiled. Maybe librarians did kiss on the first date.
A husky young man in a white shirt and dark slacks arrived at the table. He pulled out a pad from a maroon apron tied around his trim waist. Jim automatically noted the wavy blond hair and the friendly blue eyes. Eyes that were enjoying his date's neckline. Jim cleared his throat. It came out as a growl. The waiter jerked his gaze over to him. Jim stared hard at him, silently warning him away from Isabelle. The waiter hesitated before looking away.
Oblivious to the by-play, Isabelle was taking one last look at the menu. She closed the menu again and smiled at the young waiter. "Hi. I'll have the calamari #4, Italian dressing on the salad."
The waiter wrote her order down. "Do you want anything to drink?" He kept his eyes on her face. Jim would have preferred that he didn't look at her at all, but he did have to take her order.
Isabelle folded her hands demurely in her lap. "I'll have a Sex on the Beach, please."
Jim was not amused when the waiter's eyes dipped down briefly before turning to him. He gave his order quickly, requesting a draft beer along with his pasta. His cold gaze remained on the hapless waiter as he retreated with their order and their menus.
Turning back, he found his date looking at him like a cat that had found a curious tidbit. "What?"
"Nothing. I just get the feeling you maybe busted our waiter at one point or another."
Jim busied himself extracting his napkin from around his silverware. "No, never met him before." He decided it was time for a quick change in topic. "So, have you been in Cascade long?"
Isabelle took a sip of water. Her expression remained amused. "All my life. My parents had this great house out on the bay. I went away for college, but I came back to accept my job at the library. Been here ever since. And you?"
They exchanged life histories. Jim skirted around his stint in the army, downplaying the incident in Peru. He found out she was an only child, with an older cousin who had lived with her family when she was in high school. Isabelle didn't say much about the cousin except to say she was extremely beautiful. From her tone, it sounded like it was a touchy subject.
Their dinners came and the topics moved to books. They both loved Shakespeare. Jim liked Othello the best followed by Julius Caesar. Isabelle preferred A Midsummer Night's Dream. They got into a spirited discussion over Hamlet's motive for not killing his uncle after he had learned the truth about his father's death.
Jim pushed away his empty plate and took a sip of his beer, letting the bitter liquid slide over his tongue before swallowing. "Hamlet was just not the murdering type. He was too much the philosopher. The ghost told him Claudius killed his father, he heard Claudius' confession, and he still couldn't kill him."
"He couldn't kill Claudius because Claudius had just confessed. You heard Hamlet's father's ghost. He was in purgatory. How could Hamlet justify sending his father's murderer straight to heaven when his father was suffering unimaginable torture? It wasn't just about revenge, it was about justice."
"Justice? Where was justice when all the other people died as a result of his hesitation? Polonius, Ophelia, Laertes, Queen Gertrude, and Hamlet himself. He killed off the whole royal family in the name of justice." He took another sip of his beer. He was enjoying the conversation.
Isabelle chased a stray piece of zucchini around her plate with a fork. "You forgot Rosencranz and Guildenstern. Those poor saps carried their own death sentences with them. Hamlet didn't have any trouble offing them."
Jim shook his head. "He didn't kill them directly. It's easier for a person to order someone's death than actually kill someone himself."
"He killed Polonius with a sword," Isabelle pointed out.
"Yes, but that was in the heat of the moment and he was plotting with his mother against his uncle. If Polonius had told the King, Hamlet would have been executed for treason. He also couldn't see who he was killing, another important factor. At that point he knew he was going to have to kill his Uncle. He probably thought of it as a trial run. Getting his feet wet, so to speak."
Isabelle giggled and took a sip of her drink. It was her second Sex on the Beach. "You are terrible. A trial run. I wouldn't have to have a trial run. I would do my research and scrrrrrrick." Her finger crossed her throat, indicating the object of her plotting would be done for.
"You know I'd have to hunt you down." Jim looked at her neck longingly, wanting to nibble on the delicate flesh of her throat.
"Hmmm, first you'd have to have proof that I did the deed. Never mess with a librarian; we are very detail-oriented people. I can think of half a dozen ways to kill someone without leaving a trace." Isabelle gave a soft hiccup. Picking up her glass, she drained the last half-inch of her drink. She smiled. "What would you do to me if you did catch me?"
Jim placed his hand over her wrist, rubbing the delicate skin over her pulse point. "Well, I would have to put you in handcuffs."
Her fingers curled around his palm. "Mmmm. Handcuffs, huh?"
Jim grinned, enjoying the sensation of skin on skin. "Uh-huh. And then I would have to read you your rights."
Her lashes shadowed her hazel eyes. "What are my rights, detective? "
He leaned down and replaced his thumb with his lips, nipping and nibbling. She tasted of honeysuckle. He paused to look up at her. Her face was flushed. "You have the right to remain silent."
"Hmmm." Her eyes were mesmerized as she watched him.
He continued nibbling upwards, reaching the crook of her arm. There was an intriguing musky scent here. He inhaled it, impressing it on his memory. He forgot what game they were playing. He wanted to take her somewhere private, where he could find all the secret places with that scent.
Isabelle gasped. "Jim?"
"Yes?" He licked the soft skin beneath her lips. He could feel the faint shiver that went through her.
"That feels really good." Her eyes were beginning to lose their focus.
"But people are staring. Do you think we could slow down, just a bit?"
Jim jerked his head back, their surroundings suddenly registering again. /Damn./ Sandburg would be laughing his head off if he could see him. He reluctantly let go of Isabelle's arm. "Sorry about that."
Isabelle gave him a shy smile. "No, don't apologize. I don't think I've ever had a man get carried away over me like that before. It's sorta nice." She fiddled with the jade beads of her necklace.
The conversation became more general. They talked about the weather, the construction on Route 348, and the new coffee shop on Tanner Street. Jim watched her relax again, her posture soften. Her hands remained busy, straightening her silverware, repositioning her water glass, tugging on the tablecloth to remove a wrinkle. He noticed her fingernails, neatly trimmed to a practical length. He imagined how they would feel on his back.
The waiter returned to take away their dishes. They decided on a dessert and ordered the double chocolate mud pie with shavings of white chocolate.
Isabelle oohed as the thick slice of pie was laid between them. "Ohh, Jim, it's so big!" Her wide eyes were riveted on the big pile of chocolate in front of her.
Jim grinned. "I get that a lot from women."
She looked up at him quickly, her mouth dropping open in shock before laughing. He joined in, enjoying the way her face lit up with the humor. She shook her finger at him. "You are so bad. You keep it up and you may have to arrest yourself for crimes against comedy."
"Hmmm, that could be a problem. I don't think I could do that. Maybe you could make a citizen's arrest. I hear librarians are very strict disciplinarians." He thought how he would like her to discipline him.
She picked up her fork. "Oh, we are. Discipline and order are very important to a librarian. Everything has a place and a place for everything." Her eyes dropped to his hands. There was a quality to her voice that said she was thinking of other places she'd rather be.
"Hmmm, if there's anything my partner has taught me, it's that sometimes there's a place for chaos in order." He wasn't sure if that made sense, but he was rapidly wishing they were somewhere else right now. "Are you going to spear me with that fork, or are you going to take a bite?"
Her lips gave him a little pout. "I could just take a bite out of you." Isabelle looked at the pie consideringly, as if calculating the maximum amount of chocolate flavor in her first bite. "I'm not sure I should eat this. It looks criminally rich." Her fork teased the whipped cream on top.
Jim's mouth watered, but not for food. He liked the game she was playing. "Don't worry, I can assure you, it is legal to eat."
Her fork sliced into the smooth confection, lifting it away from the white china plate. Her hazel eyes flicked to him before her lips opened, welcoming the rich slice of dessert. She sighed in pleasure, her necklace rising on her chest. Her pink tongue licked her fork clean before she carved out another bite. This one, she held up to his lips, silently offering it to him.
Jim accepted it, wrapping his lips around the fork. He could taste her on the bottom of the tines. As she slipped it out of his mouth, the chocolate mingled with her taste in a montage of flavors. He held the chocolate mousse in his mouth, letting it melt. "Mmm, that tastes good."
"Yes, it does, doesn't it?" She smiled.
He took the fork from her hand, hearing the catch in her breath as he deliberately brushed his fingers over her hand. His nostrils flared as he caught scent of her excitement. His foot moved under the table, his leg rubbing hers. "Would you like another bite?"
He fed her another bite. "You know, I think we should explore our ordered chaos theory more fully."
"Hmmm. Give me the fork."
He handed over the fork. She fed him a bite. "I think you might have something with that theory. We could do some research." She took a bite of her own.
"I don't know. Research isn't my strong suit. I usually let Sandburg do the heavy research. Do you think you could show me the ropes?" He accepted another bite from her fork, deliberately holding onto the fork for a second with his teeth.
She gently tugged on the fork until he let go. "I don't know. Do you think you're up to it?" She cut the remaining piece of pie in half. Abandoning the fork, she picked up the pie by the crust. "Open up."
He opened his mouth. The crust was crumbling as she pressed it up against his lips. He nibbled, deliberately prolonging the contact. His teeth scraped her fingertips as he finished the piece. He licked them, enjoying the way she blushed as he cleaned her fingers with his tongue. "Hmmm, that tasted good."
She started to pull her hand away, but he caught it with his left hand. He picked up the last piece of pie with his free hand and held it to her lips. His thumb was rubbing her pulse point as she accepted the rich, creamy dessert from his fingers. She moaned lightly as she finished the dessert. "Ohhh, that was really good."
"You want to go?"
Her eyes met his, their hazel depths smoldering. "Oh, yes."
Jim was at the bathroom mirror, shaving, when the door opened, a draft wafting through the warm, moist air. A rumpled Sandburg came into the bathroom, wrapped in the robe Jim had given him a couple of Christmases ago. His eyes were barely open as he shuffled over to the shower and turned it on.
Jim continued shaving, ignoring Blair. Sandburg wasn't always the sharpest in the morning. He lifted up his chin, scraping the underside of his jaw as the shower curtain opened. He knew Sandburg was going to grill him on last night. Right now it was a question of who was going to speak first. He turned the other cheek, working from his ear down to his chin in careful strokes. There was a moan from behind the shower curtain, the first sign of real life. Jim lifted the cup of coffee he had prepared from the counter and handed it through the opening in the curtain. It was taken, followed by a grateful moan.
The cup reappeared on the edge of the tub, half full. Jim continued shaving, waiting. He had two strokes left when the first question came. "So, Jim, how was your date last night?"
"Good." He rinsed his blade. The mirror was fogging up again, so he wiped it with a towel and continued to shave.
The shower curtain was pulled aside and Jim could see Sandburg's head in the hazy mirror, his long, curly hair dripping around his face. "Good? Is that good the food was good, or good your date was good?"
The razor hovered over his upper lip. "Both. You'd better hurry, Sandburg, we're supposed to meet the D.A. about the Keller case in forty-five minutes." He knew it was killing Sandburg not to know about last night. Jim hadn't come back to the loft until early this morning. Sandburg had been sacked out on the couch, his hands tucked up beneath his cheek like a little boy who had been playing too hard, papers scattered on the table next to him. He'd covered him with a blanket and made a pot of coffee, hoping the smell would wake him. He'd wanted to tell him then how well the date had gone, how good it had felt to be in Isabelle's bed. He could still smell her scent on him despite his shower. He adjusted the towel wrapped around his waist. He wondered if he would ever be able to think of her without that happening.
There was a scraping sound as the curtain was pulled back into place. The steamy air was filled with the scent of Sandburg's herbal shampoo. "You know, Jim, I think we ought to think about desensitizing you to sage oil. I've been bouncing the idea around and I think if we start with a small amount and work our way up, we could get it so you don't have such a bad reaction to it."
Jim rolled his eyes. "Sandburg, it's really not an issue unless someone tries to rub my face in it."
A watery snort came from behind the curtain. "I tolb you I waz sorry."
"I know, but I want to handle one sentinel issue at a time. Right now, I want to get my hormones back in line." He carefully scraped the skin over his upper lip with the razor.
"So how was last night, then? You didn't try to take her on the table, did you?"
Jim nicked himself. Cursing, he grabbed a piece of toilet paper and stuck it on the wound. "No, I managed to restrain myself while we were in the restaurant."
"So what happened when you got her out of the restaurant? You didn't come home last night."
"No, I didn't come home last night." He was aware that there was a wealth of male satisfaction in that statement. "And it felt good."
Blair stuck his head around the curtain again. "How good?"
Jim met his eyes in the mirror. "Let's just say there are definite advantages to sentinel sensitivity."
Blair groaned. "Oh man, that is so unfair. Why doesn't being a shaman carry the same benefits?"
"I thought being a shaman was all about altered states of consciousness. I don't remember Incacha being a celibate. You should do some research." Jim looked down at his watch. "We have thirty minutes till our meeting, Sandburg. I want you dressed and ready in ten." He washed off his face and quickly slapped on the aftershave. As an afterthought, he flushed the toilet, grinning at the accompanying yelp. "Don't be late." He made his escape out the door.
Jim and Blair walked into the bullpen a little after ten. Their meeting with the District Attorney had been relatively short after they had finally gotten to see him. They had arrived on time only to be told that D.A. Evans was running late. Jim tried to call Isabelle while they waited. The phone rang and rang and rang. He was going to call her work when Evans arrived. Totally unapologetic, Evans greeted them with the news that the defense attorney had served the court with a continuance and the trial was being pushed back another two weeks. Sometimes Jim wondered how justice ever got done. He was grateful to be back at his desk. A large envelope was waiting for him. Opening it up, he found the M.E.'s report on Jacob Richards.
He paged through it. Jacob Richards had died of a heart attack. Arterial buildup of cholesterol was consistent with advanced heart disease. A detail caught his eye. There were traces of saliva found on the tip of one finger. There was a puncture mark found, but no sign of poison present. Interesting.
A cup of coffee appeared on his desk, courtesy of his partner. Sandburg plopped down in his chair. "Whatcha got there, Pardner?"
Jim replied with his cowboy twang. "Well, could be nothin', it could be somethin'. M.E. says Richards died of na-tree-al causes." He passed the folder to Sandburg.
Sandburg looked it over. "You have any problems with that?"
"Well, there were traces of saliva found on his finger -- like he sucked on it before he died -- and a puncture mark."
"You don't think he was murdered?" Sandburg asked.
"I don't know. I'd thought maybe we could go back and check out the crime scene again."
"This has nothing to do with a certain librarian, does it?" Sandburg asked, grinning.
"Sandburg, she's not going to be there. I just want to be thorough, that's all." He looked at the phone. He had called her workplace earlier only to be told she wasn't there. She wasn't at home. He wondered where she was.
Jim's fingers tapped on the wheel as he steered the truck through the quiet neighborhood. Despite the runaround at the D.A.'s office, he still had that deep, relaxed feeling that comes after a night of really good sex. He couldn't believe how wild Isabelle had gotten him. Or how wild she had been. It was like she had fed off his lust. A smile lingered on his lips as remembered the way he had left her, the rumpled sheets barely covering her slim body, her thick brown hair spread out on her pillow, as if reaching for him. It had taken every bit of willpower to leave her there. All he had wanted to do was crawl back under those warm, soft sheets and lose himself in her. He wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not. He had expected the edge to be taken off of his desire. Instead, he just wanted to stroke the curves he had learned in the darkness, exploring her one more time. The urge was so overwhelming, he had scribbled a quick note and left, barefoot and half-dressed. He shook his head, mentally shaking off the lingering tendrils of doubt gripping him. He could control himself. Being a sentinel meant he had to guard against the chaos the outside world could wreak on him.
He looked over at Blair, busy scribbling in a notebook, his guard against the chaos. He knew Sandburg doubted his abilities to find the answers Jim needed. A bit of memory teased him, a line out of a movie. 'He trusts your guesses more than most people's truth.' That's how he felt about Sandburg. Even when Sandburg was working on sheer instinct, it seemed like he knew what to do.
Sandburg tapped his pen on his notebook. "Jim, have you noticed anything different about Isabelle?"
Jim turned the truck down a secondary road. They were getting close to the late professor's house. "What do you mean, different?"
"I don't know. Does she get any headaches or space out on you?"
Jim shot a glance at Blair. "I don't know. I didn't notice her having a headache last night." His voice was amused. "What is going through that big brain of yours, Sandburg?"
Sandburg shook his head. "Well, I was thinking. There have been three women you've been irresistibly attracted to. One of them was a thief, the second a sentinel thief and the third a librarian. I was trying to figure out how Isabelle fits into that group. What if this attraction isn't just pheromones? What if this is about perpetuating the species?"
Why was it that with one phrase Sandburg could make him feel less than human? "Sandburg, I'm part of the same species as you are."
"Well, yes and no. What if sentinels are an evolutionary experiment? With sentinels having been around for thousands of years, the genes must be floating around out there."
"What makes you think that Isabelle might have this sentinel gene?"
"Well, Barnes didn't know that she was different until she was put into isolation. What if Laura McCarthy and Isabelle are pre-Sentinels? They could have the genes, but their abilities haven't been activated yet."
Jim shook his head. "I was aware of my abilities when I was young."
"We don't know if there was an incident when you were very young that accidentally activated them. Or maybe Isabelle's and Barnes' abilities were suppressed when they were young. Or it could be lack of usage. We know there is a window of opportunity for very young children to develop skills, like language usage. If they don't receive enough stimulation, then they don't develop them. Maybe Isabelle and Laura were never stimulated in the proper manner."
Jim thought he had stimulated Isabelle quite well last night. "It's a nice theory, but you don't have any proof."
Sandburg shrugged, not appearing concerned. "At this point, I'm trying to develop my theory. Think of it. There may be people out there with unrealized sentinel abilities. Don't you find it a little curious that Alex and Laura were both thieves? They could have been drawn to their occupation because of their pre-sentinel abilities trying to express themselves."
"And Isabelle? I can't see sentinel abilities being much use to a librarian."
Sandburg made a quick notation in his notebook. "People don't always make use of all their abilities. Maybe Isabelle chose to find a quiet occupation to help her cope with her sentinel tendencies. If she is a pre-sentinel, maybe she is sensitive to stimuli and working in a library helps her limit the stimuli. Sort of like an agoraphobic staying at home with familiar surroundings."
Jim deliberately misconstrued what Sandburg was saying. He didn't want to think that his genetic code could control him so easily. "So are you saying that sentinel abilities could be the cause of mental illness?"
"No, they could mimic the symptoms of mental illness. That's why the first places I looked for sentinels were insane asylums and hospitals. That's where I bumped into you."
Jim rolled his eyes. "You didn't bump into me. You bribed a nurse to steal my chart." He turned the truck into the driveway. "We're here."
Blair's face was thoughtful as they got out of the car. "You know, I probably could think up a couple of easy tests to find out if Isabelle is a pre-sentinel."
"No." The word came out more forcefully than Jim had intended. All of his protective instincts were raised at the idea. Blair was his friend, but somehow it seemed very important to protect Isabelle from him.
"Jim, it wouldn't be anything intrusive. I could design it so she wouldn't even know it was happening."
They walked into the house. Jim held up his hand. He could hear someone in the study and the sound of papers shuffling. "Someone's here." He scanned the house with his senses. Whoever it was, they were alone. He took a careful sniff. His senses became sharper, as if they had been kicked into a higher gear. "It's Isabelle."
"What is she doing here?"
"I don't know. She didn't mention anything about it last night." Of course, they hadn't done much talking last night after they'd left the restaurant.
Sandburg smirked. "I didn't know you did much talking last night."
Annoyed and amused that Blair had echoed his thoughts, Jim raised his hand. Sandburg automatically ducked. Jim ruffled his curls. "Come on, Junior, I'll show you how grownups handle a mature relationship."
Sandburg chuckled. "This I have to see."
As Jim entered the room, he saw Isabelle kneeling on the floor, her back to him as she looked through a box full of papers. She was wearing a pair of tight jeans that hugged her hips in an appealing way. She leaned forward to get something out of another box. Jim cleared his throat.
She whirled around, the notebook in her hand dropping to the floor. "Jim!"
Grinning, Jim helped her up. A whiff of the haunting perfume rose up from her shirt, causing his gut to tighten. His hand gripped hers tightly as his blue eyes met hers. For a second he forgot his partner was standing there, as his gaze dropped to her lips. He almost moaned as her pink tongue came out and licked them.
Sandburg cleared his throat. "Uh, Jim, I think she can stand now."
The spell was broken and Jim reluctantly let go of Isabelle. "I'm sorry."
There was wickedness in her smile as she innocently asked, "For what?"
"For, uh, startling you." Realizing how lame that sounded, Jim tried to recover. "And for leaving you this morning. I had an early meeting."
Her fingers ran boldly down his shirt. "So your note said."
He captured her wandering fingers in his hand and kissed them. He watched as the color flooded into her cheeks. He liked the way she blushed. "It's really too bad because the meeting was canceled. I would have really liked to have shown you some more of my ideas on that chaos theory." He chuckled as her blush deepened.
She pulled her fingers out of his hand, rubbing them briskly. "To what do I owe the pleasure of you gentlemen's company? I wasn't aware the police made housecalls."
"We wanted to check out the crime scene again," Sandburg blurted out.
"The crime scene?" Isabelle repeated. "I thought you said Uncle Jacob died of a heart attack."
Scowling at his partner, Jim tried to downplay their presence. "That's what the M.E. says. But there was a fresh puncture mark on his finger. I just wanted to see if I could find out what had made that mark."
"Oh, he probably hurt himself on one of his plants. Not all of them were user friendly. He has these roses that have inch and a half thorns. He gave his wife some for their anniversary one year, and they scratched her terribly. She threatened to use one of his clippers on him if he ever gave her roses with thorns again. Let me show them to you." She led them out of the study, to the back of the house.
"Professor Richards was married?" Sandburg asked.
Isabelle's footsteps slowed for a second. "Yes. She died a year ago. It was very sudden." She opened the back door and led them to the greenhouse.
"How did she die?" Jim asked.
"Oh, she had a heart attack." The glass door opened easily for her. "Isn't it strange they both died the same way?"
"Yeah, real strange," Sandburg muttered.
The roses were in the back of the greenhouse. "These are a very special variety. They don't do well in the harsh Cascade winters, so Uncle Jacob kept them in here. He was going to move them outside soon." She brushed the soft petals. "So delicate, but look at the thorns, very sharp." When she pulled aside the dark green leaves, the long thorns were evident.
Jim mentally compared the thorns with the puncture mark. The thorns were hook-shaped and thick. The puncture mark looked like it was from a needle. "I can see why Richards' wife was upset." He looked back to where the Professor was found. The pot that Richards had dropped was still on the floor. Zooming in on it, he caught the gleam of metal. He walked to the pot and squatted down next to it. "What do we have here?"
Isabelle and Sandburg moved to stand next to him. For a second, the perfume drifted around him, distracting him. Shaking it off, he held out his hand to Sandburg. "Can I borrow your tweezers?"
Sandburg took out his lucky Swiss Army knife and pulled out the tweezers. "What have you got?"
Working carefully with the tweezers, Jim pulled out a thin piece of wire tucked in with the dirt and inspected it. The tip was dull with blood. "I don't know. Looks like a thin piece of wire." He dropped it into the bag. He didn't want to say more in front of Isabelle.
"Do you think he was poisoned?" Isabelle asked, her voice curiously calm. Jim could hear how her heart was pounding.
"I don't know," he said matter-of-factly. He didn't want to say until he could investigate further. He sighed in relief as Sandburg jumped in and changed the subject.
"You know, Isabelle, I really liked that perfume you were wearing the other day. Did Professor Richards make it for you?"
Isabelle rubbed her neck. "Why, yes he did. It was a very special formula. I was testing it for him."
Sandburg took a step closer to Isabelle. Jim realized the scent was getting stronger. "This was the perfume you were wearing the other day?"
"Well, that was one of them. He was testing different doses and different formulas. I notice you aren't sneezing today." She batted her eyelashes at him.
Sandburg was almost on top of her. Seeing the dazed look in his eyes, Jim realized the new perfume was affecting his partner more than it was him. He pulled Isabelle to him, trying to give Sandburg some space. "No, I'm not. I guess it was something else. You know, we didn't go dancing last night." He swept her into an impromptu waltz.
Isabelle laughed. "No, we didn't. I didn't know you were such a great dancer. I should have guessed from your sense of rhythm."
It was Jim's turn to blush. He spotted Sandburg as he bumped into a potted tree. The tree fell over, spilling dirt everywhere. He needed to get Isabelle out of here. "You know, all this dancing has gotten me really thirsty. Do you think you could fix us something to drink? Sandburg and I have to finish up here and then we can meet you in the kitchen." He twirled her around a couple of times, finishing up with a low dip at the door. He held her there as she laughed.
"I guess so. Mrs. Louden usually had something to drink in the refrigerator." She yelped as he brought her upright abruptly.
"Sounds great. I'll see you in a couple of minutes." Jim kissed her soundly, keeping an eye on his partner, who had enough sense to straighten the tree up before homing in on Isabelle. He practically shoved her out the door. He blocked the door as Sandburg tried to follow her.
"Jim!" Blair tried to push him out of the way.
Jim grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him. "For God's sake, snap out of it, Chief. She's not your type, remember?"
"She could be. She smelled so good." He licked his lips as he watched her through the thick glass of the greenhouse.
"Chief, she's wearing another version of her perfume. Now snap out of it. Or am I going to have to hose you down?"
The desire started to fade from Blair's eyes. "A new perfume?"
"Yes. So much for your pre-sentinel theory. Evidently, Richards made a whole slew of different perfumes. I guess she has your number now. Number Nine, I believe." He grinned at the look of outrage on his partner's face.
"I can't believe it. How come you weren't affected?"
Jim shrugged. "Who says I wasn't? I just have better control than you."
"Yeah, right. He must have used a different pheromone or something in that particular perfume. That's why the perfume industry makes so much money. They create this big illusion that there is one scent that will drive all men crazy."
Jim raised his eyebrows. "What if someone did? Can you imagine what the dating scene would be like? Women would have all the power in the relationship."
Sandburg snorted. "Who says they don't now?"
Rafe hung up the phone, his face thoughtful. Brown caught the look. "What's up, man?"
"That was the university. I tracked down a fellow T.A. of Thomas Jeffers. He said Jeffers had plans to go away for spring break with his girlfriend, but that Jeffers broke it off. He said his mother needed him. The funny thing is, when I asked the registrar about his next of kin, he was listed as an orphan."
"Maybe he received a call from the other side?" Brown joked.
"Or maybe he just received a call. I'm going to pull the phone records from his apartment and see what comes up."
"Rafe, the case is closed. Are you sure you want to stir things up? We have plenty of other cases to solve."
"I'm curious about why Jeffers lied to his friend." Rafe sent the email with the request.
An hour later, Ellison and Sandburg arrived back at the bullpen just as the LUDs hit his inbox. Rafe scanned through the list. "I'll be damned."
"You probably will with language like that." Brown commented. "What did you find?"
"Thomas Jeffers received a phone call from Jacob Richards Saturday morning, after he had supposedly died." He scanned down the list. "He also regularly had phone conversations with Anna Louden."
"The housekeeper? I can't imagine a college kid cheating on his girlfriend with her."
"I don't think they had that kind of relationship," Rafe responded dryly. "I think we just found Mr. Jeffers' long lost mother." He noticed Jim looking at him. "What's up, Jim?"
Jim walked to his desk. Sandburg trailed his partner. "Are you still working on the Richards case?"
"Yeah. I wanted to track down the assistant. He was supposed to be out of town on spring break, but I just found out he was here."
"And he received a call from the Richards Estate after Richards had been killed."
Rafe picked up on Jim's slip. "Been killed? Do you have proof he was murdered?"
Jim held up the plastic bag with a piece of wire in it. "I just found this at the greenhouse. It looks like it has blood on it."
Rafe didn't doubt it. "What were you doing over at the Richards estate?" He asked, curious.
"I read the M.E. report. Richards had a puncture wound on his finger. I thought I would check it out."
Sandburg snickered. "Along with other things."
"Other things?" Brown asked.
Ellison shrugged. "Isabelle Whittaker was there."
Rafe nodded. "Right." He waited for Ellison to explain. When nothing was forthcoming, he continued. "Anyway, we have phone calls linking Jeffers to Mrs. Louden, the housekeeper. He told his friend that he had to cancel his plans because of his mother."
"You think Mrs. Louden is Thomas Jeffers' mother?" Sandburg asked.
"It's a possibility. I'm going to track down his birth certificate and see if I can find anything more about Thomas Jeffers." He plucked the plastic bag from Ellison's grip. "But first, I think I'll just take this down to the lab."
Ellison shrugged. "Be my guest."
Sandburg protested. "Hey." He stopped as his partner's hand came down on his neck.
"We still have work to do. You have to finish that report on the Kilmer case." He gave Sandburg a little shake.
"Hey, wait, you were supposed to do that last week!" Sandburg protested.
Back at their desks, Blair opened his folder. "Why did you let Rafe take that evidence?"
Jim shrugged. "He wanted it and he had already figured out something fishy was going on. If he wants to break the case, then he's welcome to it."
"It's not because a certain woman is involved with this case?"
Jim smiled innocently. "Involved, who's involved? By the way, you have the loft to yourself tonight. Isabelle asked me out to dance. It's probably going to be a late night."
"Jim are you sure you should be doing this?" Blair asked. He hadn't believed how strong desire could be until he had been hit with a whiff of that perfume earlier. It was like all his glands had started pumping all at once. He'd thought he would die if he couldn't touch her hair or smell her skin. He didn't want Jim to get trapped in a situation he couldn't handle.
"Don't worry, Sandburg. We're going to be in a public club and I do not plan on taking her home tonight."
Blair groaned. "The best laid plans of mice and men, Jim. I hope you know what you're doing."
The next day, Jim wondered if Sandburg had been right. He lay in bed next to Isabelle's warm body. She had finally drifted off to sleep after the second or third time. He didn't know, he had lost count. His body was sated, but his mind couldn't seem to shut down. He couldn't tell if it was the perfume or the woman that turned him on so much. Her apartment was permeated with the stuff. He could smell it on the furniture, on the sheets. Even the bathroom reeked of the sensual perfume. On the dresser sat neat little perfume bottles, labeled in a clear hand. Number 170, number 143. Professor Richards must have worked a long time on perfecting his formula. Jim wondered if he knew how well he had succeeded. He looked down at Isabelle. Pretty well, he would say. He tried to look at her objectively, trying to decide if it was her scent or her beauty that attracted him more. He couldn't tell.
His eyes went back to the bottles lined up on her dresser. He couldn't help but wonder how many other men she had tested the perfume on. How many other men had tasted her lips. He considered himself a pretty modern man. He didn't care how many men a woman had before him or after him, as long as he was the only one she was seeing with she was with him. But for some reason, it mattered now. Slipping out from underneath the warm covers, he dressed. He wrote a note and left it on the indentation in the pillow he had used. Isabelle's face looked so innocent in her sleep. He gently stroked her cheek. The warm scent of her perfume was still on her. Turning away, he left, not sure if he would be back again.
Isabelle woke slowly. Without opening her eyes, she reached out next to her. All her fingers met were cold sheets. Jim had disappeared, again. Rolling over, she read his note. 'Had a good time, will call later.' She wondered if it had something to do with her. This was the second time she had awakened to an empty bed and a note on her pillow. She reached out and hugged said pillow to her, breathing in his scent. Last night had been wonderful, just like the night before. The man moved with such grace and dexterity. And he wasn't a bad dancer either. Somehow, he had managed to avoid all the other couples, creating an illusion that they were all alone on the floor. The man must be a magician. He certainly did disappear this morning, she thought sourly. Rolling out of bed, she wondered if she would ever understand men.
Anna Louden held up the bottle to the sun, letting the light play on the golden liquid. "This is the correct formula?" Her work-roughened hands were a stark contrast to the delicate crystal of the atomizer.
Thomas Jeffers ran his hand through his sandy brown hair, muttering an affirmative. His mother had hounded him right after they had left the professor's house to re-create the special perfume. He had spent hours poring over the stolen notes, trying to sort through the huge mess of them. There had been so many perfumes, each a variation of on the same basic formula. He'd had to go back to the lab twice to retrieve exotic scents Richards had used in his creation. Each time, his skin had crawled as he went through the dead man's house. "I still don't understand why you had to kill Richards," he whined.
A strong hand slapped him on the back of his head. "He was dangerous and not the fool you thought he was. He was becoming suspicious. I had to kill him." Her hand soothed the hurt it had inflicted.
Thomas endured the patting. Those hands had raised him after his father had left them. He knew his mother was a little neurotic, but wasn't everyone's? She had had a hard life.
"I'm sorry, little man. I've had a hard life. I just wanted yours to be better." It was her favorite refrain. "Jacob Richards deserved to be killed. He killed my father, your grandfather, while I was just a girl. It was very hard, you know, to lose your father so young."
I lost my father, thought Thomas sullenly. He didn't say anything, though. His mother could get violent when she was in one of her moods. If he could just ride it out, he would be okay. He didn't want to examine too closely why he was afraid of his mother when he was a grown man. He just accepted it.
"But you know, of course. Your poor father, he couldn't handle being a father. He couldn't handle being a husband. And then that hussy came along. She turned him against me." Her hands tightened in his hair painfully. He winced, but didn't cry out. She let go of him and twirled around like a young girl, her skirt swirling around her short, sturdy legs. "I will have the last laugh, though. I will be able to have any man I want. Thank you, my darling boy." Her watery blue eyes were alight with greed as she hugged the bottle to her.
Thomas Jeffers hung his head and nodded. "Yes, mother."
"I'm going out, dear. Why don't you stay here and rest up? You're looking a little peaked." She picked up her purse. "Mother has a little test to run."
Mary Jo Plumber pushed the stroller ahead of her, intent on keeping her active three-year old son from reaching out and rubbing his sticky fingers on the dresses she was searching through. Her fifth anniversary was coming up and the pump redhead wanted to find the perfect dress. A fine mist tickled her nose as she turned around to get a face full of perfume. "Hey!" Wiping her stinging eyes, she tried to find the perpetrator. Hearing the high-pitched giggle of a child nearby, she assumed she had been the victim of a youthful prank and went back to her shopping. The scent wasn't too bad, sort of citrusy. Seeing the little hand come out of the stroller, she jumped to pull a black dress out of harm's way. She had her hands too full with her bundle of joy to worry about someone else's kid.
Jim pulled into the mall parking lot. "You know, Chief, I could do this after work."
"Jim, you left her with a note on her pillow for the second time in a row. Do you know how bad that is? You have to buy her something to make up for your boorishness!" Blair shook his head as if he couldn't understand his partner.
"Why it is men have to buy their way into a woman's affection and women just have to be attractive for me? You don't see a woman buying a man a gift when she's pissed him off." Jim parked the truck and got out.
"That's because women plan relationships. When they meet you, they already have the name of their first child picked out. They're constantly examining a relationship for flaws and conflicts. By the time they're through psychoanalyzing every action, they already know what you are going to do before you do it. Sheesh, Jim, didn't you learn anything from your marriage?" He stopped as he heard screaming. "What's that?"
Using his superior height, Jim spotted the commotion a couple of rows down. "It looks like there are four or five guys fighting over there. Call it in. Security is over there, but they don't look like they're having much luck." Sprinting, he wove his way through the rows of cars. The shouting got louder and the smack of flesh on flesh could be heard. Jim winced as a car alarm went off, sending spikes of pain through his head. Turning down the dial, he burst through the last row. A woman was pressed up against her car, holding a child protectively against her. Surrounding her was a group of four guys, one of them dressed in a security uniform. Another man lay on the ground, blood trailing from his lips. Jim could see he was breathing. Tuning out the car alarm, Jim tried to sort out what had happened. The strong scent of orange and lemon hit him. Underneath, he recognized Richards' love perfume. Desire hit him hard in the gut. Looking at the source of the scent, he saw a love goddess pressed up against the car. Her Reubenesque curves beckoned him to explore them. Her fiery red hair was flames, drawing him closer. He took a step toward her. Instantly, two men blocked his way. The taller of the two was built like a Mack truck and was ten years younger than Jim. The shorter man looked like an accountant or a bank manager. They both showed signs of earlier fighting. Breathing through his mouth, Jim turned down his sense of smell. He had to get the woman out of there before one of the men overpowered the others and took her away. He pulled out his badge. "I'm Detective Ellison of the Cascade PD. I want you to disperse immediately." He held the badge up high.
The big guy snorted. "We know what you're up to and it won't work. We were here first." The muscles in his short neck bulged intimidatingly as his hands fisted. The other guys yelled in approval.
Jim pulled out his gun and pointed it at the men. "I want you to lie down on the ground now."
The little boy whimpered in his mother's grasp. Jim's eyes barely flickered, but it was enough. The leader came at him like a steamroller, knocking the gun out of his hand. Cursing, Jim pounded on his shoulders as the man tried to squeeze the life out of him. Clasping his two hands together, Jim brought them down hard on the man's neck. The big man cried out in pain and dropped him. Jim felt two of his ribs creak as he rolled away, trying to locate his gun. The security officer came at him, his arms swinging. Grabbing his shirt, Jim helped him face first into the back of a BMW. He winced as the car alarm went off.
Swinging around, he faced his last two opponents. The accountant grabbed a plastic baseball bat from one of the bags scattered on the ground. Screaming, he came at Jim. Ducking, Jim popped the accountant right on the nose. The guy fell. He sat up, holding his nose, looking somewhat surprised. Blood was gushing out of it, covering his neat white shirt and bow tie.
The last man looked at Jim and then at the woman. Jim hoped he was going to take the smart way out. He could hear Sandburg coming up behind him. The last man charged, yelling and cursing. Jim barely had enough time to put his arms up before he was slammed into the car behind him. Jim grabbed the man's arm and twisted it up behind him. The man still struggled, his free hand reaching back to claw at Jim. Jim slammed him down on the car and handcuffed him. "You have the right to remain silent, all of you. You have the right to an attorney. If you can't afford one, one will be provided to you." Taking a deep breath, he groaned as he felt a sharp pain in his side. "My partner will explain the rest of your rights."
Jim tensed as Sandburg strolled up, expecting his partner to be overwhelmed by the scent of the perfume. Blair picked up Jim's gun off the ground and handed it to him, butt first. "Hey, Jim, you didn't leave any for me. Here, rub this under your nose." He tossed Jim a small plastic jar.
Catching it, he read the label. "Victoria's Vapor Rub?"
Sandburg sniffed loudly. "Yeah, not only does it clear up your nasal passagesˇ"
"ˇit also blocks the scent," Jim finished for him. He unscrewed the jar and scooped out a generous dose, rubbing it under his nose. Instantly, he felt some of the aggression leave him. Looking at the woman by the car, he saw only an ordinary woman. "It works."
Sandburg grabbed the jar from him. "Of course it does." He lathered the stuff under the noses of the unconscious men. The accountant was still trying to block the bleeding.
Jim went to the woman. "Are you okay, ma'am?" Her face was so pale that Jim could count the individual freckles on her nose.
"Yes, I am. Thank you. Were they on drugs?" She lifted her kid higher on her hip, pushing him back.
"Sort of. That perfume, where did you get it?"
"My perfume? I'm not wearing any. Was it crack? They don't look like drug addicts." The little boy waved his hand at Jim.
"Ma'am," Jim began.
"Call me Mary Jo." She grabbed the little boy's hand and kissed it.
"Oh, someone sprayed it on me. I think it was a kid. Anyway, I was trying on dresses and it didn't smell too bad. Whoever sprayed me hit me in the face, though. I'm lucky it didn't blind me. Are those men going to jail?"
"We'll see. Why don't you wait in your car? The patrol cars should be here soon." He escorted the lady to her van.
Jim leaned back in his chair, cradling his aching ribs. "How many more tapes do we have to see?"
"Two." Sandburg patted the pile. "I never knew the department store had so many dresses. Petites, Misses, Women's sizes."
"It would help if Mrs. Plumber was a little taller." He fast-forwarded through the tape. A figure flashed across the screen. He stopped the tape and rewound it. "Here we go."
They watched as Mary Jo Plumber pushed her stroller along, weaving it about to keep her child from grabbing the dresses. She stopped to take a look at one dress. Suddenly, she turned, putting up her hand to shield her face. Jim stopped the tape. Facing the camera was her attacker. It was a woman, taller than Mary Jo, her hair curled up in a bun. Jim hit the print key. "Here we go."
"Do you think it's Richards' housekeeper?" Blair asked.
"It fits the description Rafe gave us. If it is, then we have enough evidence to get a search warrant for her house."
Simon sat in his car as Ellison, Sandburg, Rafe and Brown got ready to search Anna Louden's house. Jim assured them that someone was in the house, though he couldn't tell who it was. So far, Louden was only accused of burglary, since they couldn't yet prove she had killed Professor Richards. Simon shook his head. A love potion that made men crazy. If he hadn't seen the condition of the men from the mall, he wouldn't have believed it. Their statements, plus the woman's, had convinced a judge to let them search Mrs. Louden's house for illegal substances. They weren't sure what was in the perfume, but whatever it was, they wanted to be careful.
Sandburg knocked on his window. He rolled it down. "We're ready, sir."
"Okay." He exited his car and followed Sandburg to the group.
Ellison nodded to Simon. "I'm taking point with Sandburg. You're with us. Rafe and Brown are going to cover the back. There are only two exits, front and back. The person is on the first floor, toward the back, in the bathroom.
"Fine. I've got your back." Ellison cat-stepped up the stairs, followed by Sandburg, with Simon in the rear. A uniform followed with the ram to open the door. Jim knocked on the door. "Cascade PD, open up." He waited for two heartbeats before nodding to the uniform, who stepped up and broke down the door.
Jim went systematically through the first floor. Rafe got to the back bathroom before he did. On the floor, face down, was a half-naked man. "Well, that's not Anna Louden," Sandburg commented.
Two hours later, the house had been thoroughly searched. A lab had been found in the basement with a notebook full of entries about the perfume. It was clearly labeled as the property of Jacob Richards. Thomas Jeffers had been arrested and taken into custody. Of Anna Louden, there was no sign.
Thomas Jeffers sat in the interrogation room, handcuffed to the table. He had been fingerprinted and photographed. As he watched his reflection in the mirror, his foot tapped nervously on the floor. He couldn't believe they had caught him. He wondered where Mother was. His butt was numb from sitting on the hard metal chair. Standing up, he tried to walk a little, only to be brought up short by the handcuffs. Sitting back down, he waited nervously for what would happen next.
Rafe and Jim watched as their prisoner stewed. If they went in too early, he wouldn't talk. Jeffers finished his second cup of water. He refilled it from the pitcher, splashing the water on the table. He crossed his legs, his face scrunching up in discomfort. "There it is," commented Rafe matter-of-factly.
"Right." Jim opened the door and walked in, Rafe following him. "Hello Mr. Jeffers," Jim greeted the prisoner calmly.
Rafe shut the door behind him, just short of slamming it. Jeffers jumped. "Hi," Rafe spat.
Jeffers looked between the two men. "I've been waiting here for a while. Could I maybe see a lawyer?"
"A lawyer. Sure we could arrange that, but if we do, then we can't talk to you until he gets here, and that means we can't help you." Jim turned around a chair and straddled it.
Rafe stood in a corner inspecting his manicured nails, looking uninterested in the proceedings.
Jeffers looked from one detective to the other. "What can you do for me? I didn't do anything."
"What my fellow detective means, is that right now, the charge is just a B&E. We found Professor Richards' notebook in your house. We also found the vials of perfume. The perfume that was used to create a riot today at the mall."
"Riot?" Jeffers swallowed hard. "I don't know anything about a riot. Professor Richards gave the notebook to me before he died. He wanted me to work on some of the formulas for him. I was his assistant." His foot started to tap louder.
Rafe pushed off from the wall and put his hands on his chair, leaning on it until Jeffers was staring up at him. "Was that before or after he called you from beyond the grave?" He rocked the chair a bit.
Jeffers squealed as he tried to keep from falling. "I don't know what you mean."
Rafe shoved the chair forward, causing Jeffers to hit the table. "Sure you don't."
Jim leaned forward, putting his hands on the table. "Excuse my friend, he just got his dry cleaning bill back. It was rather high this month. Those bloodstains can be hard to get out of silk."
"Bloodstains?" Jeffers stuttered.
"Don't worry, it's only liars that piss him off. You're not going to lie to us, are you?" Jim smiled.
"No, no. Of course not." Jeffers squeezed his thighs together. Those two glasses of water were making themselves known. "Can I go to the bathroom?"
Jim stood up. "Sorry, they're working on the plumbing right now. They said it should be done in an hour."
"An hour?" Jeffers moaned. "Don't they have a bathroom on another floor?"
"The water is out in the whole building." Jim's voice was sympathetic.
Rafe sat down in front of Jeffers. "So tell us about this perfume. I hear it makes the women hot."
"No, it makes the men hot for women." Jeffers pushed his water glass away. His bladder was aching.
"Oh, so that's what you and Richards were working on." Rafe nodded. He slammed his hand down on the table, palm down, making Jeffers jump. "That's too bad."
"What do you mean?" Jeffers swallowed hard.
Jim rocked on his chair. "A very nice lady with a little boy almost got mobbed by a bunch of men today at the mall. Evidently someone sprayed her with your formula. I guess that makes you responsible."
Jeffers shook his head. "You have to believe me, I had nothing to do with that. I don't know how that happened." He stood up and tried to get away, only to be jerked by the handcuffs again.
Jim shook his head. "It's too bad you don't know anything. If you helped us," He shrugged, "we could have helped you."
Rafe got up and stood over Jeffers. "I don't know, Jim. I think he does know something." He pulled out a piece of paper and slammed it on the table in front of Jeffers. "You do know who this is, don't you?"
It was the printout of Anne Louden, showing her spraying Mary Jo Plumber. Jeffers shook his head. "No, I don't."
Rafe slammed the paper down again. "You mean you don't know your own mother? She is your mother, isn't she? We know she's your mother." He shoved Jeffers face down to the paper. "Take a closer look."
Jeffers bit his lip. Mother would be mad if he talked, but they already knew about her. She couldn't fault him for tell them something they already knew. "Yes, it's her."
"Who is it, Jeffers?" Rafe pressed.
"It's my mother. She sprayed the lady. I swear I didn't know she was going to do that." A trickle of sweat ran down his back. He needed to go to the bathroom so badly.
Jim motioned Rafe to step back. He sat forward, all compassion and concern. "Of course you didn't know. She never tells you anything does she, until after the fact? Like with Professor Richards."
"She called you after she had killed him, didn't she?" Jim crooned.
Jeffers shook his head. "No."
"She poisoned him and then she called you to clean up the mess." Jim continued.
"No." He clenched his hands together, trying to beat back the urge to let loose. He squirmed in agony.
"We have the phone records. We know she called you from Richards' estate the day she killed him. We know she used a poison. We searched her house and we have the poison. We also have the piece of wire she dipped into the poison and put into the plant pot. Tell us what happened, Thomas. Maybe we can help you. We know you would never do something like this. You're just a student."
He put his hands on his ears. "No, no, no, no, NO!" He beat his head against the table.
Rafe grabbed his shoulder and slammed him back into his chair. "Maybe you like being the son of a murderer. She kills so easily. Did she tell you how she killed your father?"
Jeffers stared at him in shock. His father ran away with his secretary. "She didn't kill him, he ran away."
Rafe sat next to him. "Oh, no, he didn't. I did a background check. He died of a heart attack in 1985. The coroner ruled it natural causes, even though he had no history of heart disease. I guess they were just sloppy."
"No," Jeffers moaned. His father had left him. His mother told him his father had left him.
"I guess she didn't tell you that, did she?" Rafe pressed him.
"Noooo." He moaned. "She couldn't have killed him!"
"Why, because she would never kill another human being? We both know that's not true." Rafe sat back, giving him his space.
Jeffers bit his lip. She couldn't have lied, she couldn't have. Years of pain and anguish washed over him. All those years he had lived with the abandonment of his father and SHE had killed him. "She did it."
"What did she do?" Jim asked.
"She poisoned Professor Richards. She didn't know when he would prick his finger, so she had to keep on checking on him. She called me to ask where his notes were. She couldn't find them." His eyes were dry as he calmly recited his story. He gave them all the details. How she had created the poison from plants in Richards' greenhouse. How she had waited until he had completed his formula before killing him. He wrote everything out and signed his full confession.
Anna Louden was picked up an hour later by a patrol car. She denied everything, claiming her son was demented.
Jim sat outside on the balcony, cradling his beer bottle in his hands. The sun had just set, leaving the sky a fiery red with hints of purple and navy blue. He took a sip, letting the bitter liquid wash down the melancholy feelings. The door behind him opened with a soft snick. Warm, fragrant air from inside washed over him, carrying the delicious odors of baked fish and steamed green beans with garlic. Setting the bottle aside, he looked back to see his partner standing in the doorway. "Hey."
"Hey. Dinner's about done. You want to come in and wash up?"
Not budging from his seat, Jim gave his partner a half shrug. "Sure, give me a second." His ribs gave him a twinge, warning him that movement could be hazardous to his health.
"You're really quiet tonight," Sandburg commented.
Jim stifled a yawn. "It's been a busy day."
"Tell me about it." Sandburg fiddled with the door catch. "You know, you and Rafe were great with that interrogation today. The good cop, bad cop routine."
"Yeah, well, it was nice not to have to play the bad cop. Rafe really did his homework on the guy."
"Yeah, he did." There was silence as the sky darkened to a deep rose color. "So, are you going to take Isabelle out again?"
Sighing, Jim picked up his bottle again and took a drink. "Yeah, maybe. I don't know. That stuff she wore drove me crazy."
"Good crazy or bad crazy?"
"Both." He rolled the bottle between his hands. "You know, I think there's a reason why not everybody is attracted to the same person."
"Why is that?"
"I don't know, probably just mixes up the gene pool or something." He stood up. "Did you say dinner was ready, honeybunch?"
"Honeybunch?" Blair backed away from the door, alarmed. He tried to remember if he had handled any of the perfume when they bagged everything for evidence.
"It smells really nice. So do you. Is that a new perfume you're wearing?" Jim brushed up against him, sniffing him.
Blair rolled his eyes, laughing. "Not tonight, dear, I have a headache."
"But snookums," Jim whined, "you always have a headache."
"I wonder why."
~ Finis ~
E-mail the author of this story, Wildeskind, at firstname.lastname@example.org Read Wildeskind's other fan fiction for The Sentinel at Wildeskind's Sentinel Fan Fiction Archive E-mail Faux Paws Productions at email@example.com IN TWO WEEKS on THE SENTINEL: Road Racer (1/31/00, FPP-611) by Brenda Bailey
Remember those driver education cars with a steering wheel and pedals on both sides? Maybe the guys should invest in one.
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