Debra Fran Baker


"Get your damn hands off me, Ellison!"

I froze, my hand on Sandburg's shoulder. "Chief?"

He thrust me away with a twist of his body. "Just get away from me, okay?"

"What's wrong? You'd think I'd never touched you before." I pulled my arm back and, as an added safety measure, picked up my beer instead.

He just glared at me from the far corner of the couch, where he was crouched. "You touch me, all right. You touch me *all* the time."

"Yeah, so? What's the big deal? You're acting like I just *hit* you."

"Look. Just...let me be for a while, okay? Let's watch the Mariners get trounced again in peace."

And then he clamed up. Sandburg is *never* quiet when we watch television. If it's a game, he yells at the umps and at the players. If they're especially annoying, he yells at the announcers. If it's a movie, especially if it's one he's seen before, he makes snarky remarks and calls me Mike. It's just part of the whole experience.

But not this time. This time he sat there in his corner, glaring at me like I was going to attack him at any moment. His hair was wild and his eyes were flashing and who could watch a ball game, especially a 3-8 ball game, with that going on?

He certainly wasn't watching, so after the Yankees hit another single, I just turned off the set. He glared at me some more.

"Okay. Spill."

"Spill what?" He never took those eyes off me, even while I walked to the kitchen to get a Coke. He's got some eyes.

"Spill what? Chief, you just told me to stop doing something I've done for years."

"Yeah. Years." I handed him a can of flavored seltzer. He took it warily.

"So what's the problem?"

"The problem is...you're a cocktease."

I spat out a mouthful of soda. All over the couch. "I'm a *what*?"

"You, Jim Ellison, are a God-damned *cocktease*. And you can't tell me you don't *know*."

"I have no idea what you're talking about." I began mopping up the sticky stuff from the upholstery.

"Right." He held his unopened can like a weapon. "You just keep touching me, touching my *hair* - what is this thing you have with my hair? You never stop touching me. And when you *don't* touch me, you're in my personal space...and Jim, I have a *tiny* personal space. I wouldn't have survived Naomi without it."

"So? I'm that kind of a guy."

"No, you are not. Simon is your best friend, right?"

"Other than you...normally."

"Do you touch him? No, you don't. You don't touch Taggert, you don't touch Henri and you don't touch Megan. You barely touched Carolyn, and she was your damned *wife*."

He slammed the seltzer on his coaster.

"So? I touch you a lot. You *are* my best friend. And my partner. And...umm...you help my senses. That 'guide' thing. How does this make me a cocktease?"

"H...h...how does this..." He hit himself in the head and ground his teeth. "You've been teasing me for four years now. You walk around the apartment wearing nothing but a towel...*if* you remember the towel. You touch me all the time. You...you *look* at me."

"It's my apartment, we went over the touching, and...umm."

So, I looked at him. And I touched him. It's not like he was interested...

"And you expect me *not* to get...interested? Damn it, Ellison, either stop teasing me or *do* something. I'm sick of spending my life frus