Rustication by Mab Browne

Rustication - Mab Browne

If you'd been standing (very unobtrusively) in a stairwell at the Central Precinct of the Cascade Police Department, sometime around February of 2003, you might have seen and heard two men having an argument. They were both of them perhaps somewhere in their mid to late thirties, one tall, one more average height, and you might have observed that they were both clearly distressed and angry, and that would have kept you very quiet and still.

"What was that, Jim, what the hell was that?"

"What that was, was me making a point to Jacobsen."

"I don't think it can be called making a point when you nearly end up using your fists, man. Pretty fucking blunt, if you ask me."

"I'm not asking you."

"Oh, that's obvious." You might have seen the shorter man rub one hand through his hair, scrubbing hard. You might have thought that it looked uncomfortable but he did it anyway. "It's great that you want to defend my honour, man, admirably loyal, but god you have to get a grip. This is not helping. It's really not helping, and I can't deal with crap from you as well as the mouth-breathers, Jim, I just can't."

You wouldn't have heard anything for a pause, except maybe rough, tense breathing.

"I'm sorry, Chief. But it burns me up listening to them talk trash...."

"Then dial it down. Dial it the fuck down. We both know that nobody's to blame for what happened except for that poor druggie fuckwit. We're nearly out of the shit here and we don't need anything that's gonna douse us in it even further. It is going to be all right, Jim. You get that?"

"Yeah, Chief. I get it."

You might have observed the taller of the men didn't sound very convinced.

***

May 2005

The night sky was incredible. The thin cloud rippled across the moon like a silk scarf, and the stars were abundantly, coldly beautiful. Slugs were less exalted to consider, but Jim kept at his work, moving down the rows of plants, fingers grabbing the slimy beasts and dropping them into an old bean can half-filled with salt water.

He heard the noise of a car and smiled to himself. Not long after, and he could hear the back door open, see the wash of light over the yard, watch the long line of a flashlight beam lead Blair towards him.

"Great view." Blair's voice was slyly insinuating.

"Yeah, Chief, it's a beautiful night." If Jim knew that Blair was referring to the sight of his ass as he bent down, elbows on the ground, head low because it was the easiest way to check the underside of the plants – well. Teasing Blair was a long-term, long-time amusement. "I'm nearly done here."

"How many?"

"Eight."

"Death to the predators of leafy greens."

"Bloodthirsty little guy, aren't you?"

"Less of the 'little'. I was thinking I might be interested in getting some this evening, but insults, they hurt me, Jim, deep inside."

"Uh-huh."

"We'll see how cool you are about it when my deep hurt means I roll over and cry myself to sleep." Out of the corner of his eye, Jim could see Blair fervently clutch his chest about where his heart would be, and then drop the theatrics to ask, "Want a drink when you're done? Anything hot?"

"Rather have a beer. There's still two in the fridge."

"Good idea."

Jim stood up and brushed futilely at the mud on the knees of his jeans. Blair came closer and put his arm around Jim's waist.

"Careful there, Chief, I'm kind of dirty."

"Uh-huh." Deadpan, perfect copy of Jim's grunt earlier and the pair of them grinned at each other. Jim kissed Blair's temple, because he could.

"How'd the meeting go?"

"They were happy with the press release, the county Eco-Organic Association is a go, but the undercurrents were pretty tense tonight."

"Sam's affair with Colleen finally out in the open is it?"

Blair's eyebrows rose in a speculative sort of way and he said, "So how'd you know, Sherlock? Not that I don't know in general, but specifics, man, specifics."

"Scent. I met him in town the other day smelling like Colleen, with Abby right there beside him and looking frazzled with their baby."

"He's a bastard, that Sam. I feel sorry for Abby, but I'm still jazzed that this thing is going ahead."

"Yeah, you're a selfish SOB there, Sandburg. Always thinking of yourself."

"Knew I could rely on you for validation."

Jim's "Always," didn't sound quite warm enough to his ears, and he stopped and planted another kiss on Blair. "You can't stop Sam from being a womanising bastard. You worked hard to get this thing off the ground. Congratulations."

Blair smiled, but said nothing. They walked back to the house; Jim could see their small kitchen, which he'd painted yellow and blue, through the window. Blair paused under his hands, and looked up at the night sky in his turn.

"Less light pollution out in the boonies," he said meditatively.

"True," Jim agreed.

"Are you still okay with all this, Jim?" The hand that Blair didn't have wrapped around Jim waved to encompass the night sky under which Jim picked slugs off the plants by hand to avoid chemicals, and their little house and the extensive garden and everything that wasn't crime-fighting in Cascade.

"Yeah. I'm fine." Jim looked up at that wide, deep field of stars. He felt good, he realised; he wasn't about to get lost in the depth of the sky; the dirt from the garden lined his nails, but didn't weigh his hands down. The night air was cool against his skin, but the goose pimples were a simple, manageable feeling. Body heat met body heat where he and Blair stood side by side, and the scuff of their clothes was no more than a whisper in Jim's ears. Blair was flushed with success and wanting to share it with Jim. "I'm fine."

***

If you had access to the notes Peter Tonklinson, MA, LMHC, wrote over a period from June to August 2003, you might have read the following observations.

...further discussion about medication, but still a no go area. Tried to explore reasons but met with continuing evasive behaviour. Client admits that this is becoming a source of conflict with his partner, and is distressed about that but still adamant about refusing drugs. Getting frustrated myself – am concerned about client, I think that lifting mood via medication would greatly assist in therapy process, but no dice. Dr Gonzales confirms availability for referral....

...sleeping patterns are still disturbed, which is of concern, although I'm relieved that client has fewer issues than I would have expected with understanding concept of psychosomatic symptoms. Doesn't take it as hard as I might have expected from his background. Client admits to some physical symptoms but several sessions I've had the impression that he's operating under more physical pain than he's acknowledging, certainly headaches are suggested, and I've seen evidence of skin conditions. Underlying condition exacerbated or purely stress induced?...

...some progress today. Client admits that his issues with the shooting are greatly exacerbated by avoidance relating to the situation arising from the 1999 press conference (note: further investigation on this matter – important). Considerable guilt from 1999 and now current depression – client feels that he failed people and made wrong choices, both in how he dealt with the 1999 situation, and now with his current depressive illness, even though he feels he dealt adequately with the particular circumstances that precipitated depression, and is generally satisfied with the support he was able to offer his partner at the time. Substantial guilt now, however, that he's only adding to partner's burden. Further discussion of cognitive and practical approaches. I also suggested inviting partner to a joint counselling session...

***

August 2005

"I saw Steve Wrightson when I dropped off the recycling. He tells me that you've applied for the Volunteer Brigade."

"You knew that I was going to do it."

Blair slouched onto one of the kitchen table chairs and frowned. "I think I still would have preferred some more discussion about this, Jim."

"Why, worried it'll take time out from saving the environment one Washington county at a time?" And right there, he could hear Peter's voice about recognising patterns, and he took a deep breath, slow and steady, and looked at Blair, who was staring hard at the table, and doing some slow, steady breathing of his own.

"No." Blair softened his tone before he continued. "In some ways, it's a good enough move. There won't be that many calls on your time, and public relations-wise it works pretty well, the airy-fairy tree-hugger doing something practical. But, hell! You want to charge out and expose yourself to as many sensitising chemicals and carcinogens as you can? I showed you the stats, Jim. Seems counter-productive. Not that sensible for a sentinel." There was a pause. "I've finally gotten used to you being well again. I'm selfish enough on my own behalf to want to keep you that way.

Blair looked Jim in the eye, his jaw set, ready to battle Jim for his own good – and Jim felt something hot and grateful in his chest. Jim liked seeing Blair okay too, finally doing something right for himself, with Jim behind him backing him up. But Jim wanted the brigade work, too.

"I get why you're worried, but the brigade needs the help, I have useful experience and it's time, Chief." Jim rubbed his hands across his face. "The senses could make one hell of a difference in an emergency situation, and it's time for me to step out on my own without Mother Hen Sandburg."

"You think I'm being over-protective." It came out flat and hurt, and Jim got up to stand behind Blair, and put his hands on his shoulders. Blair was warm under his touch, reassuring and sturdy, but also rigidly tense.

"Now, just for this moment, yeah, I think you are. I'm fine, and I've thought of a contribution that I can make to this good life thing you got started for us out here."

Blair leaned his head back against Jim's torso. His head rested there, cradled against Jim's gut, and Jim knew that his eyes were shut. "I guess you could have a point," he said.

"I like working with you in the business, Chief, it's valuable work and a damn good idea, but I need to do this. You're worried about the senses here but I don't think they're going to be a problem. The things that stressed me back in Cascade..."

Blair broke in. His shoulders were stiff under Jim's hands, Atlas-broad shoulders supporting too damn much and taking too much blame. "The things that stressed you back in Cascade were always things to do with me, after all."

"That's not true," Jim breathed against Blair's ear. He could hear Blair's distress and smell it and not letting it tip him down into something irrational was a hard-fought battle. It always had been. He stayed stooped, and let Blair lean on him. "You wouldn't let me take more than my share of the blame for the shitty stuff. I get to do the same."

"I shouldn't worry so much any more, huh? You're a big boy, now."

"That's right," Jim said, like it was obvious.

Blair heaved a breath, everything rising and sinking in Jim's embrace.

"Fire Brigade. Do I get to see your hose?" It was a joke but Blair's voice was still rough, his throat still too tight to make his voice sound normal.

"Yeah, sure. And my extendable ladder," Jim said and felt the worst of the tension shift in laughter.

***

If you subscribed to the Cascade Herald, you might have read the following article in the edition of 5th January 2003:

Investigators in Cascade say they are still trying to determine the sequence of events after a confrontation between a man and a Cascade police detective in the Seafront Mall on Wednesday left the civilian dead.

Shoppers in the mall scattered after several shots were allegedly fired by the dead man, who may have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol according to witnesses. He was under pursuit after an alleged robbery and assault.

The Cascade Medical Examiner will conduct an autopsy today. Authorities believe the dead man was usually a resident in Yakima although this is yet to be confirmed.

As is standard procedure, the detective who fired the fatal shot has been placed on administrative leave while the shooting is investigated. He is 33 and has been with the Cascade police department for 3 years, according to Captain Simon Banks of the Major Crimes unit.

The end

Back to the Slashdex

Acknowledgments: Thank you to Psychgirl and Elaine for beta. It was much appreciated because it was much needed. Thank you to Patt for the cover art.