Blair took one look at the various low fat and whole grain offerings and whistled. "Evie's really keeping an eye on you, isn't he?"
Melly nodded. "She won't let me eat *anything*." She eyed the plate Evie was filling for her. Jim did the same for the one Blair was making for him...he was piling far too many carrots and not enough chicken.
"Chief, that chicken is...skinless." He suppressed a shudder.
"Melly's not the only one we want around for a good long time, James. Eat your veggies." Blair grinned.
"Yes, dear." Jim put on a face and did as he was told.
"So, my darlings...you will *never* guess what happened today." Melly grimaced and took a mouthful of steamed broccoli and brown rice.
Evie leaned forward to pour some wine into Melly's glass.
"It was absolutely delicious...like these would be with just a *touch* of butter, Evie." Evie stuck out her tongue.
"Tell us, already."
"Well...since the gallery is between showings, I spent the afternoon *all* by myself. So, with *no* company except for my baby Buster and *nothing* on television but soap operas and talk shows - so boring - I turned on the radio, *hoping* for something decent playing. And, *purely* by chance, I found this *horrible* thing by that conservative homophobe...you *know* the one..."
Evie froze in midbite while Jim and Blair looked at each other. "'Hunter's Arrow', Miss Melly?"
"Why, *yes*, baby girl. I didn't listen for long - he made my *toes* curl - but he described someone who sounded *exactly* like our Dr. Blair. Now, there's no way you'd *know* someone like that, would you, dear?"
"Excuse me, Melly. I have to...I have to...I'll be back." Blair nearly knocked his chair over in his rush to leave the room.
"Oh, dear. Did I say something?"
Jim carefully folded his napkin. "He's...very sensitive, darling. I'll go take care of him."
He followed the sound of muffled laughter to the bathroom down the hall. The door was unlocked, so he opened it and leaned against the doorway. "You know, you really have to control your emotions, Chief."
"I'm famous, Jim! I'm the poor man who is too angry to be helped." Blair blinked and his laughter turned to fury so quickly Jim got whiplash. "And I'm going to walk into my classroom tomorrow, and at least *one* of those students is going to have heard it. How the hell am I going to explain it to them."
"You loved it this afternoon."
"This afternoon, we'd just spent the morning with him and his secretary. This afternoon, it was a joke that I figured only we'd get." Blair got up from the toilet seat and began pacing from the sink to the end of the tub and back. It wasn't a big bathroom, so a circuit didn't take long. "This is something else. This is...people are going to be talking about me."
"They've done that before. When I - when *we* - came out. You lived."
Blair shook his head. "That's not the same. I mean, even at the station, you remember. They figured something was up before we ever did anything. This is...this is someone talking about me and...anger and self-denial and...he has no *right* do that in front of everyone." His eyes flashed.
"That's what I thought before. In the station. *You* laughed."
"I know. I was *stupid*. James, we *have* to call him. People are going to wonder how we met. I mean, they're not going to ask *him* how he met Dr. Blair Sandburg, because it doesn't work that way, but they're going to ask *me* how I know him, and I know I can shade things so no one will think it's a case and all, but he has to know what he did."
"And someone *is* going to make the wrong connection, or maybe it's the right one, and *know* that he went to the police, and it's going to mess up everything and, James, we *have* to call him. Now." His breath was coming fast and shallow, and there was an edge of panic to his voice.
"We will, darling, but first, *you* have to calm down." He took Blair by the hand and sat him on the seat again, kneeling next to him. "Maybe this is a *good* thing."
"*How*?" He gripped Jim's hand tightly. "I mean, my *reputation*...people are going to think I hang around with *him*."
Jim shook his head. He would *not* laugh. He refused to laugh. "Darling, no one will *ever* think you've gone over to the radical right."
"You sure? I mean, I do have to keep my liberal academic credentials." Blair managed a smile.
"Yeah, Sandburg. I'm *talking* about the case, Dr. Ego. If the blackmailers do make a connection...and that's not too likely..."
"About as likely as Melly listening to him today?"
"You got me there." Jim smiled and kissed Blair's cheek. "Maybe it'll get the blackmailers to act. And then we can finish this damn case and not have to talk to Hunter again."
"Amen to that."
Blair stood up and hugged Jim. Jim held him as close as he could, burying his nose in Blair's hair.
Then he let go. "The girls are waiting for us. You can practice your obfuscation on them."
"I *hate* that. I don't want to lie to those guys."
Something was wrong with that statement. Jim frowned and shook his head to clear it. He looked down at his lover, who had turned to the mirror in the gilded little room and was combing his hair. "I'd offer, but I'm not very good at lying."
Blair narrowed his eyes. His reflection did the same thing. He then shook his own head, his curls settling down to their normal pattern. "Whatever you say, James." He waited a beat and then turned and smiled. "Let's go."
They walked back to the dining room toghther. Jim placed his hand on the small of Blair's back. Blair gave him a blinding grin, reached behind himself and took it as they walked.
Melly jumped out of her seat. "Are you all right, Blair, darling?"
"Please, Mellie. Sit down. I'm just fine. That Hunter thing threw me." Jim waited until first Mellie and then Blair sat down before sitting himself.
Evvie looked up from adding cream and sugar to her coffee, brushing her hair back from her face in a familiar gesture. "Blair, do we *have* to talk about that *awful* man? I can't even bear to listen to him on the *radio*." Evie's eyes flashed bright green, in contrast to her carefully langurous expression. They looked oddly familiar. Jim chided himself. He'd known Evie for years. Of course her eyes looked familiar.
Blair shrugged and reached for some cake. "Works for me. Oh, wow. Carrot cake...my *favorite*."
Jim took a bite off Blair's plate. "Not bad. But how could they *ruin* something as purely *bad* for you as *cake* with carrots?" He smiled.
"Because that the only way to get *some* people to actually *eat* carrots." Jim relaxed as they fell into one of their standard discussions. Everything was just fine.
The dinner party broke up around ten o'clock, when Melly started to yawn. They said good bye at the door with hugs and kisses and promises to be careful and to take care of each other. With a final demand that Melly or Evie call them if they needed anything, they left the apartment and walked hand-in-hand to Jim's truck.
Jim climbed into the passenger side. Blair gave him a look and took the keys. "You sure about this, man?"
"Don't you *want* to drive?" Jim smiled to himself. Blair always wanted to drive.
"Yeah, but it's your truck."
"Yes!" He got behind the wheel and got the truck started. "You're out of gas, James. Want to stop someplace tonight?"
Jim shrugged as he fastened his seatbelt. "Sounds good to me. There's a little station not too far from here." Jim gave the address.
"Yeah. I know that one. Cute attendant." Blair shot a look at Jim as he pulled out.
Jim leered. "Why do you *think* I want to go there? That boy fills out a pair of coveralls..." Blair laughed and began to negotiate the quiet streets.
To Jim's relief, the station was still open. Blair pulled up by a pump. They had a brief staring match to determine who would actually pump the gas. Jim, as usual, lost. He rolled his eyes in mock protest and went to the minimarket to give money to the counter person.
The minimarket was brightly lit, and there was a car sitting in one of the slots in front. There was a man sitting in the driver's seat, but that was hardly unusual. Except he jumped when he saw Jim pass by. If he hadn't, Jim wouldn't have spared him a glance.
As it was, he focused in on the guy's face. Oh, the man looked familiar, but nothing came to mind immediately, except that he was *ugly*. Didn't matter - there were too many faces in his past, for good and for bad. There was no way he could walk in without the guy seeing him.
Thinking quickly, he walked around back of the minimarket, where he knew they'd put the rest rooms. This put him out of sight of the driver and who ever was in the store.
He hit speed dial and told Blair to take down the license plate of the car and to keep an eye on it. Blair told him he had it covered, and that he should find out what was happening. Taking his suggestion, Jim focused his hearing inside the store and listened for anything. Three hearts, all beating fast. One had to be the clerk, scared to death. The other two had to be just excited and nervous about something. Still nothing conclusive, but more than enough to make him worried.
He checked. Men's room door and women's room door, both clearly marked with sexually stereotyped figures. Two more. One had to be a delivery entrance. He tested the door. Locked. Did he have time to pick it? He tested the other door. Also locked. Okay.
He took out his lockpick kit. He listened carefully as he tried the tools. Door one opened quickly. The room was filled with shelves of chips and nuts and other non-perishables. Must have been a recent delivery. He ignored the smell of salt, grease and flavorings as he looked for the entrance to the main part of the building.
He stood by the door and listened. "I don't have the money, dude! I swear!" Sounded like a sixteen year old. One scared out of his wits. "Please, don't hurt me."
"Tell us the combination, and we won't shoot you." The door opened and closed. "Who the hell are you?" The newcomer must have distracted him.
"Hey, hey, you don't to do that, man."
Blair. What the hell was he doing there? Jim didn't need to hear more. He held his gun in both hands and pushed his way through the intervening door. "Police! Freeze!"
He allowed his reflexes to take over. Two men in jeans and flannel standing by the counter, pimply kid on the other side, eyes wide. Blair standing by the closed door, hands in the air. One of the men had a gun pointed at Blair; the other had an empty sack in his hands. They were all looking at Jim. The room was filled with the scent of fear.
"Okay, big guy. Drop the gun. *Now*."
"You'd better do it, man." Jim could see Blair looking right into the gunman's eyes. "Unless you *want* him to shoot you."
"I'll get you first." The man took a step towards
"All of you...on the ground, now!" The kid and the other guy dropped immediately, but the gun man and Blair stayed standing their ground. "You two! Down!" Jim prayed that Blair would listen.
"Your hand is shaking. You'll miss, and the cop'll get you. Listen to him."
The gunman shook his head, and took aim.
"Dammit, Sandburg! Get the hell *down*!" Jim pointed his weapon at the gunman. The gunman took a step towards Blair. Blair finally fell to the floor just as the man squeezed the trigger. The bullet went wild and hit a display of corn chips and salsa.
"Good going, Mr. IQ. You just tried to shoot my partner."
"Y-your...he's a...damn." The gunman dropped his piece on the ground. Blair pulled a bandanna out of his pocket - Jim remembered giving him the colorful package at his last birthday - and used it to pick up the gun by the handle and put on the safety. He stood up and handed the weapon to Jim. He did more than that. Blair looked at Jim in a way that he hadn't seen in a long time - a mixture of pure lust and something else. Admiration? Whatever it was, it sent a message straight to Jim's groin.
Blair leaned close. "Sorry I didn't listen, Jim."
"Why didn't you..why the hell did you even come in here?"
"I was worried about you, man. You disappeared. And there is only so long a guy can sit in a car waiting, you know?" Blair licked his lips.
Jim did his best to ignore that. He failed, but at least he hoped nothing showed on his face. Blair was just too sexy. "You have a point, Chief, but you had no idea if they were...you called back up?" He could hear sirens in the distance.
"The car had been reported stolen." Blair shrugged.
"Good thinking, then. Hold it!" Jim turned at the sound of sneakers against the floor of the minimart. "Get back on the ground, you! Sandburg, cuff him for me." Jim reached into his back pocket for the manacles and handed them to his partner, smiling a little at the brief contact. Blair did more than smile - he winked. But he also took the cuffs and efficiently restrained the gunman.
The sirens came closer. "You think maybe I should make this official, Sandburg?"
"Be a good idea, Jim." Blair went to the other man and pushed him over to his friend. "Now you can do both at once." He then went to kneel over the kid. Jim was not surprised to see the boy hold on to Blair like a lifeline.
Jim smiled and tossed his head. "Okay, boys. You're now under arrest. You have the right to remain..."
Five minutes later, the unit pulled up at the minimart door. They took charge of the two potential thieves. Blair stood by the kid as he gave his statement, holding on to his shoulder. Then the two of them managed to tell what happened without mentioning superhearing at all. Jim wasn't happy about that, but it was necessary and they were used to it. Then, to his delight, the uniform suggested that they just go home. It would be morning by the time those two were processed, and, anyway, it wouldn't hurt them to spend the night in a holding cell.
The two began screaming for a lawyer as soon as the uniformed officers dragged them to the unit.
"Th...thanks..." The kid stared at Jim with wonder in his eyes. "I was...that was the coolest thing." His voice was still shaking, and his eyes were wild, but he was trying to hold himself together. Jim could see the effort.
"You just keep safe. And we still need to fill up our car." He handed the kid a twenty.
"You want to...to pay me? After that?" Jim grinned at the boy's amazement, although he was also rather bothered that the kid assumed he wouldn't. Silly child.
"Yeah. I do. Take it."
"Jim? I'm going to pick up some stuff here while you get the gas, okay?"
Jim nodded, but he knew that Blair wasn't buying anything. Sure enough, when he turned to look through the window, his partner had a hand on the kid's shoulder. By the time the truck was full, the kid had a real smile on his face. Blair, on the other hand, shot Jim a look of pure lust, a look that just made Jim react more.
He went inside to pay the difference. Blair gave the boy a final handshake, leaving a card with him, before joining Jim at the truck.
On to Chapter Six.