Smoky bars were not conducive to sentinel comforts. Jim suppressed the urge to cough and considered his options. He needed out, now.
But he had a problem. This group would know something was wrong if he left. Even though they all knew him as James Ellison, Cascade police detective, they thought he was dirty. Jim had labored hard for two weeks to fabricate that opinion, with the help of the Feds and Simon.
Jim checked his watch. He could hear Simon and a small force of backup outside, waiting. He could also hear Blair arguing with his boss.
“I know something’s wrong, Simon. Just let me walk in and walk out.”
“Come on! Jim maybe in trouble.”
“Get out of my face, Sandburg!”
Jim smiled as he sipped his beer. How did Blair do that? Jim wasn’t wearing a wire, so there was no way to send a message. The guy on his left was telling a raunchy joke about a dog and his ex-wife, the other four creeps were ready to cut loose with boisterous laughter. Jim didn’t have time for this shit. People were likely to die soon.
He saw his chance as a familiar pair of holey jeans and flannel shirt walked by with a head of long, wavy hair.
Simon must have turned his back.
Jim boiled up from his chair and slammed Blair face first into the bar, knocking an empty stool over. “What did I tell you? The next time I’d haul your ass to booking, Sandburg! You should have left Cascade!”
Blair didn’t resist. “Hey, HEY, man. Just Chill!”
“Need help, Ellison?” The man offering, an ex-bank guard, had a pair of shoulders worthy of a linebacker.
“Nah, I’m just going to run my little drug-dealing EX-roommate downtown.”
“Shit, you’re off duty. We’re supposed to be celebrating,” Wide Shoulders said.
“It’ll just take a minute.” Jim pulled Blair up, the duel fistful of flannel a convenient handle. “I’ll meet up with you guys later.”
Wide Shoulders didn’t look happy. Before Jim could stop him, he snatched up an empty longneck from their table and brought it crashing down on Blair’s head. Glass fragments pelted Jim’s arm and shoulder.
“Shit!” Jim had to move fast to keep Blair from collapsing. He snaked an arm around the flannelled chest and leaned him against the bar.
“I always wanted to do that,” the ex-guard chortled.
Jim saw red. “Don’t you *ever* hit my- one of my prisoners again! Understand me?”
“Cool it! I’m just having fun.” Wide Shoulders backed away. “He’s all yours.”
Bair was still conscious, but subdued when they reached the cool night air.
“Chief? You okay?” Jim asked, switching from arrestor to supportive friend.
“What the hell was his problem?” Blair muttered, touching the bleeding lump above his ear. “Owwwie.”
Blair groaned, leaning heavily into Jim as they crossed the crowded parking lot. “Can I please pretend to be knocked out?”
Jim cut off Simon’s approach. “No time, Sir. I finally overheard two of them talking. The job’s going down in less then twenty minutes. Sandburg was right. I needed a way out. They’re hitting the Portland branch.”
Simon continued to glare at Blair, but waved hurriedly at the pair of Feds standing by their cars. “Okay, but damn it! One of these days, I wish you two could remember I’m the captain!”
The arrest had been a complete victory for the good guys. The bank robbers walked into a well placed trap, making Portland PD the heroes. The Feds were happy, Simon was finally happy and Jim was no longer ‘undercover’.
“I get to move back now, right?” Blair asked, scratching at the gauze bandage circling his head.
It was three AM. The initial reports and paperwork filed. Jim led the way down the hallway, unlocking the door to the loft.
“Yep. It’s over.”
“Oh, man. Can’t tell you how happy that makes me.” Blair walked in first. “Hey, my mask is missing!”
“It’s all safe. I boxed your stuff up. We used the loft for a few planning sessions. It was just easier not having your stuff out.”
“Yeah, I suppose.” Blair rocked on his toes, gracing Jim with a mischievous grin. “After all, *I’m* a big, bad drug dealer, right?”
“Right.” Jim went to the closet and pulled out the box. “You’re room’s basically untouched. I kept it locked. Here’s your clutter.”
Blair leaned over and opened the flaps. He removed his tribal mask, holding it reverently. “You dusted it.”
“The thing may be ugly, but it doesn’t have to be a dusty-ugly.” Jim teased. Actually, he had missed seeing it.
“My pictures!” Blair dove into the box like a pearl hunter.
“Your clutter.” Jim countered.
“Evidence of domestically, dude.”
“Besides, culturally speaking, even primitive man was known to decorate his cave walls with art.”
Jim dropped onto his favorite sofa and let the coming lecture play out like a ritual. If forced, he’d admit he had hated the last two extremely long and boring weeks, the missing clutter, the solitude, things exactly where he left them, a quiet loft at the end of his work day.
As Blair would say, it sucked.
Blair was replacing his treasures to their previous locations as he chattered. Jim didn’t find it odd that the two of them were doing this instead of falling into their beds.
“That retarded looking statue was on the next shelf up, Chief.”
“Oh.” Blair’s hand paused. He tilted his head. “Yeah, I think your right, Jim, thanks.” Then he continued his discourse as if he hadn’t been interrupted. He returned to the box for another armful of knick-knacks.
The loft was looking more like home now. Jim reached over the back of the couch and picked up the cordless. Thank God for all night pizza delivery service. He dialed the number by heart. “Thick or thin crust, Sandburg.”
Yeah, domestic living was okay. Jim preferred his cave decorated ‘a la Sandburg.
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