Cost of Living by Lisa, Duncan's Twin

Cost of Living - Lisa, Duncan's Twin

Jim shifted uncomfortably at his desk. His leg was throbbing and he was having a hell of a time trying to focus on the dials without Blair around.

Smiling to himself, Jim thought about Blair’s first day at the academy. He’d been like a little kid on his first day of kindergarten. It was the first time in a long time that Blair had started something new where he was worried about the material he was learning. Jim had tried to talk sense into him, telling Blair that he would help him study, do whatever was necessary to help Blair graduate and become Jim’s official partner.

Jim’s musings were cut short when Simon stepped out of his office.

“Ellison, grab your jacket.”

Standing stiffly, Jim stretched as he reached for his jacket. “Where are we going?”

“You’ll see,” Simon answered cryptically.

***

District Attorney Yvonne Hart looked like she was about to give her closing argument in a capital murder case.

“Jim, your service record has been exemplary, you have the highest solve rate in the Cascade police department history. When your cases go to trial, they always result in a conviction.”

“But…” Jim said through clenched teeth.

Police Chief Ray Schneider continued, “But the publicity of this Sentinel disserta—”

“Which was recanted by Blair Sandburg,” Simon interjected.

“And who is at the academy right now with special dispensation from you,” Jim added, gesturing towards the police chief.

“Yes,” Schneider said, “but things have changed.”

“What things?” Jim asked.

Yvonne opened a file on the desk in front of her. “Several of your cases have been called under review.”

“Which cases?”

“Well, the Ventriss case for one.” She slid the file across the table.

Jim waved it off. “Mommy and Daddy will try anything and everything to get their kid off. The evidence was solid then and it still is.”

“Ellison, they have enough money and influence to make people question the investigation.”

“So this is about how much money they have versus how guilty the kid is?” Jim said, shaking his head.

“It’s about the negative publicity which clouds the issue. All they need is a sympathetic judge and a new trial. Reasonable doubt will get this kid’s conviction overturned,” Yvonne argued.

The room was silent for a minute as her meaning sunk in.

“So what do you want him to do?” Simon asked.

“Take some time off. Let your leg heal,” Schneider gestured.

“And after that?” Jim asked.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. We just need all this Sentinel stuff to blow over before we can get you back out on the streets,” Schneider said forcefully.

Jim stared stonily out the seventh floor windows.

“Right now,” Yvonne said softly, “we just need you to keep a low profile and we’ll see what happens.”

***

It wasn’t so bad taking a little time off; it gave Jim time to do all the little things that he’d been meaning to do but just hadn’t had time for. He tuned up his truck and Blair’s Volvo, refinished the loft floors, installed a new backsplash in the kitchen, cleaned out the basement storage locker, put his culinary skills to work and made dinner every night when Blair came home from the academy.

This day, Jim was armed with a dust mask, organic cleaners and gloves and set about cleaning every flat surface. He was standing near the top of a 6 foot ladder when Blair came home that afternoon.

“What the hell are you doing?” Blair yelled as he dropped his bag and ran over to steady the ladder.

“Picking my nose,” Jim said, looking down at Blair. “What the hell does it look like?”

“A fool with a wounded leg standing too high on a ladder that’s about to topple over.”

“I was fine,” Jim said, slowly climbing down. “Besides, it’s not going to clean itself.”

Jim took off the dust mask and smiled at Blair’s concerned face. “Worried I’d break something useful?”

“Hey man, if you want a broken arm to join your gimp leg, I won’t stop you, but I think it might put a serious crimp in your sex life.”

“Not to mention yours?” Jim said, pulling Blair into an embrace.

“Man, I’m all hot and sweaty from the gym,” Blair said, trying to push Jim away.

“Just the way I like you,” Jim growled and licked Blair’s neck.

Dinner was late for the first time in weeks.

***

Three weeks passed before Jim darkened the door of the Cascade Police Department; he had been called in for another meeting.

Jim met Simon on the way to the seventh floor.

“Simon,” Jim said, stepping aside so his friend could step into the elevator.

“How’ve you been?” Simon asked.

“Good, good. Busy.”

Jim didn’t need his senses to feel Simon’s nervousness. The rest of the ride was silent.

They were ushered into a conference room where the mayor, police chief and the district attorney awaited them.

The mayor, Benton Hadley, stepped forward.

“Jim.” He offered a hand.

Jim looked at the proffered hand and the somber faces, reading the situation as clearly as if he’d been given a script in advance.

“I guess I’m not coming back to work,” Jim said ruefully.

“Ellison,” the mayor started, dropping his hand, “you’re an excell—”

“Excellent officer, I have an unmatched arrest record. But my presence on a case would call the evidence collected into question because the opposing council would always throw the allegations that I might be a Sentinel into the fray. It would take the attention off the case and put it on me. I would create reasonable doubt.”

The room was silent. Jim had nailed it.

The police chief picked up a file from the table and held it out to Jim.

“Human resources put together a retirement package.”

Jim looked at the file but didn’t take it.

Simon finally seemed to get beyond his shock at the situation.

“Retirement? Couldn’t Jim’s skills be better used elsewhere?” Simon said, gesturing boldly. “The crime lab maybe?”

The district attorney started to answer but Jim cut her off.

“Any evidence collected by me would always be questioned.”

“The academy then, he can teach. Jim’s career shouldn’t be over just because some wild accusations put him into the public spotlight. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?” Simon was practically on the verge of yelling.

Jim put a calming hand on his friend’s shoulder and said, “It’s okay, Simon, really.” He looked at the group of people gathered. “I quit.”

***

“You quit?”

“Quit or retire, Chief, either way I was out,” Jim said, stirring the chili on the stove.

“Well, what are you going to do now? What should... I mean, should I drop out of the academy?” Blair asked.

“No, don’t do that.”

“But Jim, the whole point of going to the academy was to be your partner,” Blair said softly. “I don’t want it without you by my side.”

Jim smiled and cupped Blair’s cheek. “And I appreciate that, Chief, but don’t quit, finish it.”

Blair nodded. “So what are you going to do?”

“Dunno. Something.”

“And you didn’t even look at the retirement package?”

Jim laughed weakly. “It was a ‘shut the hell up and go away’ deal. I didn’t have to see it to know what it was. I’m sure there was some kind of confidentiality agreement which would keep me from telling why I was let go, a partial pension plan, basic health coverage and a lump sum to sweeten the deal. I don’t need that shit. This way, I’m free from them. We’ll be fine.

“I know that, Jim. I just want you to be happy.”

“I will be, Chief. Besides, I’ve got you, right?”

“I don’t know,” Blair said softly. “I was only with you because of the badge.”

“Get over here,” Jim said, grabbing Blair by the arm and pulling him down onto the couch for some personal face time.

***

Word got out, as it always does about Jim quitting the force. The press called and asked for a quote but Jim was mum. Friends called and offered support. It was enough to know that the true friends he’d made on the force were still there. Simon brought over a case of beer the weekend following Jim’s resignation and they shared a few laughs.

Even Jim’s dad called.

“Son, we can sue. Prove you’re a Sentinel and they’ll have to give you your job back.”

“Dad, dad, no. It would actually be worse if I came out and publicly admitted to being a Sentinel.”

“You sure, son? I have the best lawyers in the state.”

“No, really. I appreciate it though.”

“Well, I can have your name on a corner office tomorrow.”

Jim’s laugh was heartfelt.

“I appreciate it, Dad, really, but I don’t think I’m cut out to sit in an office all day.”

“Well, what can I do?” William Ellison asked, frustrated. “Money. Do you need money?”

“No,” Jim said. “I have plenty in savings, but it’s nice to know the offer is there.”

“Anything, son. If you need anything, just let me know.”

“I will, dad, and thanks.”

***

Jim’s quiet afternoon of cleaning the grout between the bathroom tiles was cut short by a slamming door and a string of curses that would do a Ranger proud.

“Chief?”

“Who else has a key?” Blair muttered sarcastically.

“The only person who can get away with being a smart ass,” Jim answered as he stepped out of the bathroom. “What’s up?”

“Guess who got a visit from some flunky from the police chief’s office?”

“What? What the hell did he want?”

“He wanted to inform me that even though I’m in the top 5% of my class, my service will not be needed by the Cascade Police department now or in the foreseeable future.”

“What? Why?”

“Same reason they wanted you to retire,” Blair said, pacing. “I’m a publicly confessed fraud. With a reputation like that, it would bring into question any case I work.”

“And they’re just figuring that out now? Five weeks into the program?”

“Yeah, it seems that after your meeting, I was the next on the hit list.”

Shaking his head in disbelief, Jim said, “Why did they even let you start if they weren’t going to let you finish?”

“Dunno,” Blair said with determination, “but I’m not going to let them make me quit.”

Jim looked at Blair quizzically.

“They basically said they didn’t want me, not that I couldn’t continue or graduate. I won’t give them the satisfaction of quitting,” Blair declared firmly.

“Do you think I was wrong for quitting?” Jim asked suddenly.

“No,” Blair said quickly. “Definitely not. Our situations are totally different.” Blair took Jim’s hand and led him over to the couch.

“They want us both out but on their terms. You with a gag order and me as a quitter. But with you quitting and me not, we’re telling them that we aren’t going to roll over and play dead.”

Blair suddenly got up and started pacing.

“We need to do something, maybe hold a...”

“If you say ‘press conference’, I’ll pop you one,” Jim said with a grin.

“You know, that’s not a bad idea,” Blair replied, grinning back. “The press conference, not popping me one.”

Jim got up slowly and walked over to where Blair stood with a determined expression on his face.

“You really want to go public again?”

“I don’t know,” Blair said, running a hand through his hair. “I just don’t want them to think they’ve won, that they’re getting everything they want and we’re getting screwed.”

Jim smiled and tried to lighten the mood, saying, “Oh, you’re going to get screwed alright.”

“I’m serious here, Jim.”

“I know, Chief, and I’m serious too. Let’s just get you through the academy and then decide what to do. No more hasty decisions. Okay?”

“Okay,” Blair agreed. “Oh, and one other thing.”

“Yeah?”

“It’s you that’s getting screwed tonight!”

***

The day of graduation dawned clear and bright, not a cloud threatened the pure blue sky. Jim sat with his dad and Steven, who had surprised Jim by showing up to support not only Jim but Blair. Their friends from Major Crime sat nearby.

After the usual pomp and circumstance, the police chief gave the keynote address, talking about sticking together as a city and keeping the streets safe for all citizens. Then it was time for the valedictory address.

Blair Sandburg stepped to the microphone, as he had three months prior, but in front of an audience of friends and family. Naomi had chosen not to attend but sent a peace offering instead. Blair was surprisingly confident in his crisp blue uniform as the sun beat down on his upturned face.

He focused his attention on Jim and began to speak.

“Nine weeks ago a group of men and women came together to join the fraternal order of police. We sat together in our classes, stood together on the firing line and ran together on the obstacle course. We’ve cheered each other, helped and encouraged each other through the tough times. This is what I think of when I think of the police, the men and women on the streets, helping others. This is why I wanted to become a police officer, to serve and protect the city I love.”

Blair paused and looked pointedly at the police chief.

“I want to congratulate my fellow graduates. I know you will make this city safe and serve with honor, dignity and respect.”

Blair returned to his seat amidst thunderous applause.

***

Standing with Jim and the guys at the end of the service, Blair watched as the police chief came his way.

“Sandburg,” he said, putting a hand on Blair’s shoulder, turning him away from the group, “I appreciate your discretion today.”

“I didn’t do it for you. Today wasn’t about you, it was about the men and women who graduated today. It was their day to celebrate.”

“Still, I wanted—”

“What I did today wasn’t for you, it was what was best for Cascade. And in the end, it doesn’t really matter what you want.”

Without another word, Blair turned and walked away.

***

Blair had been up before dawn typing on his laptop, so Jim gave up on sleep and went for a run. He had another job interview that afternoon.

Still typing when Jim got back from his run, Blair brushed Jim off and kept working.

“I’m going to get a complex,” Jim said as he dropped his shorts by the kitchen table. Blair glanced at (and appreciated) Jim’s fine body, then looked back at his work.

“Shit, that’s what the save button is for.”

***

Dressed in his best suit, Jim shook his head at Blair sitting again at the table typing, wearing his bathrobe.

“What’s so interesting that you can’t get dressed?” Jim asked.

“You didn’t complain earlier.”

“Earlier I was horny.”

“Ha ha,” Blair said, looking up from the laptop. “No, I had a dream last night. I was on Oprah talking about my new book.”

“Book?”

“Yeah, ‘The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg'. A novel.”

“Huh?”

“It’s about a cop with heightened senses who uses those senses to fight crime.”

“Seriously?” Jim asked with a frown.

“Well, I did say it was a good piece of fiction. Maybe some publisher will think so too.”

“Maybe you could apply a little leverage to Berkshire Publishing to get them to publish it,” Jim suggested.

“Now you’re thinking, Sherlock.”

“This cop of yours have a trusty sidekick, Watson?”

“Yep,” Blair said with a smile. “He’s got this gorgeous partner who has legs that go all the way up and make a real ass out of themselves.”

Jim laughed. “So, what, I’m the sidekick now?”

“Hell yeah, you are. I’m a cop now, and don’t you forget it.”

“Ohhh,” Jim said. “Maybe later we can play good cop, bad cop.”

“I thought we already did,” Blair said with a wink.

“No, that was wet cop, hard cop.”

“Ahhh... I always get those mixed up.”

Jim leaned over and kissed Blair’s upturned lips. “I gotta go.”

“So, where’s the interview today?”

“Some museum downtown,” Jim supplied.

Blair raised his eyebrows. “A museum?”

“Sure,” Jim shrugged. “Why not? I can appreciate art.”

“Says the man who wanted to put up ‘dogs playing poker’,” Blair laughed.

“Bite me,” Jim replied, turning to the door. “Just get back to work and write that novel so I can stay home and be your house boy.”

Jim was halfway out the door when he heard Blair mumble under his breath.

“Let’s play that when you get home.”

***

“Well, Mr. Ellison, what can you tell me about yourself?”

“Everything to know about me is written on that page,” Jim gestured to the resume in the young woman’s hand. “The number you can reach me, my social and my age.”

“You were in the military?”

“Yes, I served in the Army, that’s where I learned to shoot. Eighteen months in the jungle, pouring water out of my boots.”

The woman smiled gently.

“And you were a police officer?”

“Yes, I worked in Major Crime, but I can start this job at any time.”

The woman studied Jim’s resume as if it would reveal more about the man in front of her.

“I’ve got a strong back, steel toes. I rarely call in sick. I’ve got a good truck. What I don’t know, I catch on real quick.

“I’ll work weekends if I have to, nights and holidays. I’ll give you forty and then some, whatever it takes.”

She seemed sympathetic to his words but didn’t say anything.

“I’m sure others have applied; rumor has it you’re only taking five.”

She nodded slowly.

“The cost of living is high and going up.”

The end.

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Notes: This story was inspired by the song "Cost of Living" by Ronnie Dunn. The last section is largely made up of lyrics fron that song. Many thanks to Kelly, Annie and Kerensa for the beatings... I mean, betas. :) I didn't take all their advice about changes but I appreciate the suggestions. Yes, there will be a sequel, and no, Jim doesn't get the job. But it all turns out for the best. :)