I Came, I Saw, I Missed The Bus - dolly llama

APRIL

As he climbed the stairs to the studio apartment, the sounds from the stereo grew increasingly louder the closer he got. By the last flight of steps he was able to identify the artist.

Knocking on the metal door proved futile as long as the music persisted so Blair patiently waited until the final strains of the song played out before banging loudly. His efforts were immediately rewarded as it swung open.

“Blair! Hey, man, glad you could make it.” He found himself enveloped in a bear hug from the hulking giant who admitted him.

Blair easily fell into the embrace and gave the man a quick squeeze around the waist before releasing him.

“How’s it going, Tony? So where’s your other half?” he asked, his eyes darting around the large room.

“Trying to get cleaned up so I can get a piece of that action,” a feminine voice responded with a hint of laughter. From behind a large muslin canvas perched on an even larger easel, a woman emerged, wiping her hands with a damp rag.

Shedding the paint-covered smock she wore as she approached, she opened her arms. Grasping her around her waist, Blair easily lifted her and swung her around.

“Danee, it’s so good to see you,” Blair said as he finally lowered her to her feet, placing a quick kiss on her forehead. “It’s been far too long.”

“I’ve been kinda busy,” she said, with an exaggerated sweep of her arm around the room.

Blair’s eyes followed her hand around, widening as they took in the enormity of the accomplishment. “Good God, woman, when Tony told me you were gonna put together a one-woman show, I had no idea how big it was.”

She laughed easily. “When I sold the Sampson Gallery on the idea of my ‘Faces of Cascade’ theme, I figured this might be my one and only shot at displaying my work. So I might as well go down swinging and throw out as many pieces as I can. Hopefully there’s something here somebody will like.”

“Babe, they’re gonna love all of it,” Tony responded genuinely as he embraced her tightly.

“I agree, Danee. This is some of your best work.” Blair walked slowly from one canvas to the next, admiring the intricate brush strokes and vivid colors that comprised the realistic portraits of many of the city’s prominent citizens. “This portrait of the Governor is fantastic. How did you ever talk her into posing for you?”

“I have Tony’s mother to thank for that coup. Turns out they’re old friends and she managed to speak to the Governor on my behalf.”

“So, how many portraits are you planning all together?”

Danee walked over to a small desk against the wall and picked up a piece of paper. Turning around, she handed it to Blair. “Originally, I had planned on having sixty total. That’s the list. Those thirty with a checkmark are the ones that I’ve finished. The seven with an ‘X’ means they flat out turned me down. Right now I’ve got three I’m working on. Those are the ones with a dash besides their names. The rest are still up in the air. I’ve contacted most of them but haven’t yet gotten any preliminary sketches made.”

Blair quickly scanned over the impressive list of names. “This is quite a formidable collection of folks you’ve assembled here. The Mayor, the city’s biggest philanthropist, President of the largest bank, Chairman of the School Board, Director of the Cascade Symphony, Olga Sadosuk who used to be with the Kiev Ballet...”

“She even got Madeline Kelley, the actress who originally came from Cascade, to pose for her,” Tony said, beaming with pride.

“Yep, it’s quite a list,” Danee agreed. “I have folks from the Fire Department, the Police Department, the City Government, and various arts and education fields to volunteer their time to help me out.”

As Blair studied the list a bit closer, one eyebrow rose and a soft smile crossed his face. Catching the last portion of Danee’s sentence he looked up at her. “Um, Danee, speaking of Education...you’ve got an ‘X’ by Dean Thompson’s name.”

“Yeah, she absolutely refused to even consider the possibility of posing for a portrait,” she said with a sigh. “It’s too bad really. She’s a beautiful woman with the brains to go with it. She’s done wonders with the math department from what I’ve heard.”

Blair glanced at the paper in his hands. “I don’t see anybody else here from Rainier.”

“There isn’t right now. I’m still trying to find someone to represent the University.”

“Oh,” he replied simply as he went back to reading the names on the list.

Blair’s head cocked slightly as if an idea had struck him. “What about...”

“Hey, Blair, why don’t you do it?” Tony suddenly blurted out.

“Hold on, Tony. What were you gonna suggest, Blair?”

“I was just mumbling out loud. It’s nothing.” Blair hoped his explanation was sufficient.

Danee took a long and hard look at her friend, studying his facial features with a critical eye. “You know, that’s not a bad idea. What’dya think, Blair? Would you be willing to do it?”

Blair tried to remain impassive during his friends exchange. “Who, me? There are better people out there to represent Rainier. And far better looking ones,” he added quickly.

“Rrriiiight!” his friends said simultaneously before breaking down into a fit of laughter.

“You guys are hopeless. You know that, don’t you?” Blair shook his head in mock disgust.

Regaining his composure, Tony slapped Blair on the back. “Think of the benefits here, buddy...free meals.”

Blair quickly bent his right arm around his back. “Ow, ow. Okay, you guys have twisted my arm. I’ll do it.”

“Hot damn!” Danee threw her arms around Blair and hugged him tightly.

Once released from her embrace, he walked over to return the paper to her desk. With his back to them, he allowed himself a wide grin.

“I promise you, Blair, that this will be very tasteful.”

“Huh?” He turned around rapidly.

“The nude painting I’m gonna do of you, of course,” she replied offhandedly.

“Nnnude?” he stuttered, his eyes widening in surprise.

“Yeah, I’ve gotta have some nudes in the show.”

Looking over at Tony, he caught the wide grin on his face and immediately suspected his leg was being pulled.

“How about you just paint my face like all of those over there,” he pointed at the finished canvases lining the walls.

With a heavy sigh Danee gave in. “Okay, but you’ve gotta pose nude when I paint you,” she grinned wickedly.

“That’s it,” he laughed. “I am so outta here.”

***

MAY

“Blair, will you please hold still,” Danee admonished her friend as he sat poised on the stool. Her attempts at sketching him had thus far been seriously hampered by his nervous energy.

“I’m trying. I really am. You just have no idea how hard it is for me to sit still.”

“Sit there and take a few deep breaths. Think happy thoughts. I know. Think about the person you’re doing this portrait for,” she grinned as she bent to select a pencil from the tray.

“What are you talking about?”

“Don’t even try, Blair. Beyond the fact that you’re nervously fidgeting on the stool right now, I saw just how closely you studied my list of subjects. And do I have to remind you how many times I’ve begged and groveled over the past six years to get you to pose? You didn’t even put up a believable fight.”

“Busted,” he laughed nervously

“So who is it?”

“I can’t tell you, Danee. It’s a long story.”

“Does he know how you feel?”

“What makes you think it’s a ‘he’?”

“Process of elimination. All the women on the list are either married or else much older than you.”

Knowing it was futile to deny Danee’s perceptions, Blair acknowledged it, since she’d been aware of his bisexuality for a long time. “I doubt he knows how I feel, let alone that I’m still here in Cascade. It seems that every time we see each other that one or the other of us is coming or going.”

Noting the wistful expression on her friend’s face, Danee quickly drew a series of sketches trying to capture it while getting him to reminisce.

“So how did you meet this guy?”

“About four years ago I signed on for a dig over in Bali. It was wintertime here in Cascade and cold as hell and I figured the change in temperature would be good. The night before we had to head out into the field we got to stay at a hotel. Last night in civilization and all that. I went down to the bar to check things out. There was this guy sitting at the bar and we struck up a conversation. Turned out he was also an American who was there on R&R. After a couple of drinks, this woman walked in and started hitting on the guy. Next thing I knew, he leaves with her.”

Danee got up to retrieve another sketch pad but held up her hand, signaling Blair to stay seated. “But he came back to the bar later on that night, right?”

“Nope, never did. I hung around a bit, but gave up and went back to my room. We had to leave early in the morning for the dig site.”

Just then the door swung wide open and Tony sauntered in. “Hi, guys. How’s it going?”

“Great. I’ve got some wonderful sketches of Blair so far,” Danee said, as she began putting her pencils away.

“Listen, guys, I’ve gotta head on out. I’ve got a class to get ready for in the morning.”

“Okay. Look, Blair, I’ve got enough here to get started. I’ll give you a call when I need you for the final poses.”

“Sounds good to me.”

***

Although Blair had given Danee the abridged version of his first meeting with the mystery man from Cascade, as he lay naked on his bed, fingers lightly brushing along the length of his burgeoning member, his imagination replayed vividly the chance encounter with his fellow American in that bar. However, taking a detour from reality, it was always Blair leading the tall, well-built man away from the bar and back to his room.

He easily recalled the buff soldier in the tee shirt that fit him like a glove. With maddening slowness the man raised his arms to take a drink of his beer, exposing near perfect, rippling abs beneath the cotton fabric moist from the humid temperature.

Blair’s hand encircled his erection and he began stroking it as his memories continued unabated. As his fingers tightened around his swollen shaft, he imagined it was the hungry lips of his lover eagerly sucking him into the moist depths of his mouth.

***

AUGUST

Looking down at his watch for the fifth time in the last ten minutes, James Ellison sighed as he raised his head and glanced over at the still maddingly long line of art patrons moving slowly through the gallery. How do I let myself get talked into these things any way? he mused as he took another sip of his wine.

Just then, a shrill voice from somewhere behind him began to grow in intensity. “...too big! Don’t you think my nose looks too big, Reginald?”

“It looks fine, Dear.”

“No, it’s definitely too big! Reginald, I want you to find Danee and demand that she take down my portrait until she fixes it. I will not be made the laughing stock of all of Cascade.”

“Yes, Dear.”

Jim rapidly downed the remainder of his wine and exchanged his empty goblet for a full one as the waiter passed him. Oh yeah, somebody’s gonna owe me big time for this. His arm was just beginning its upward arc when he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“So, Jim, what did you think of the Major Crimes’ addition to this show?”

Sighing, he lowered his arm and turn around to face his Captain. “I thought it was an interesting use of color, Simon.”

“You haven’t seen the painting either, have you?”

“Uh, no, Sir,” he said sheepishly.

“Good.” Simon smiled as he nudged his friend forward into the flow of people edging their way through the crowded gallery.

“If we wait a while longer, the lines will go down,” Jim rationalized.

“And the closer we’ll be to Mrs. Vander Myde and her whining.”

“Good point, Sir.”

Both men walked in relative silence past the numerous portraits which adorned the walls. On occasion they would comment about the likeness of a particular subject they recognized. At one painting in particular, Simon paused. Glancing down at his program, he raised his head again to study the work before commenting.

“I think the artist missed on this one. There’s only a very slight resemblance to Frank Paulson, don’t you agree?”

Jim was already moving forward in line. A sudden jerk at his elbow pulled him backwards. “Wha?”

“I said, I don’t think this is a very good portrait of Frank Paulson, Chairman of the Board of Supervisors.”

Refusing to look over at the elegantly framed painting on the wall, Jim turned his head over the shoulder furthest away and responded abruptly, “That’s because it’s not Frank Paulson, Simon.”

“Are you sure?”

“Jim, Simon! Glad you could make it.”

Any response Jim might have been meaning to make was blessedly sidetracked. “Hello, Carolyn. I was beginning to wonder how far we were going to have to go to find all of you.”

“Carolyn,” Simon acknowledged. “So where’s everybody else? Don’t tell me they’re actually trying to soak up some culture.”

“Not hardly,” she laughed easily as she fell into line with them. “They all made a beeline for Rafe’s portrait as soon as the exhibit opened and haven’t budged since. Every time a new group comes by, Rafe launches into his story detailing his experience of posing for the artist with Brown explaining how much Rafe had to pay the artist to let him pose.”

“Rafe?” Simon looked over at Jim in confusion. “I thought you were chosen to represent Major Crimes?” Immediately Jim’s head drooped as he seemed to be intent on studying something on the floor.

“She originally wanted Jim as her subject but he turned her down, repeatedly. Rafe was her second choice,” Carolyn volunteered.

“I still think you would have been a better choice, Caro,” Jim said honestly. “I tried to tell her.”

It wasn’t hard to find the group from the Major Crimes Division as their voices gave their location away.

“‘Protect and Serve’, that’s me.” Rafe’s voice could be heard above the others.

“Give it up, man.” Brown’s voice was quick to respond. “That was too easy a title.”

“Jim! Hey, man. What’dya think?” Rafe asked anxiously as Jim finally reached the other members of the squad.

“Lay off of him. It’s just a dumb picture,” Brown teased.

Joel moved closer to Jim, patting him on the arm. “You’re in for it now, buddy. These two have been at it for over an hour now.”

“So Rafe, how much did you have to pay the artist to make you look better than real life?” Jim goaded his friend.

As he watched the interplay between his detectives, Simon took the opportunity to pull Carolyn to one side. “Back there where you joined us, there was a portrait I mistook for Frank Paulson. Jim was adamant that it wasn’t, yet he hardly looked at it. Any idea who it was?”

Carolyn glanced back in the direction Simon had indicated and knew immediately which painting he was referring to. “Yeah, it’s William Ellison...his father.”

“His father?” he blurted out, louder than he intended.

Jim spun around and glared at both of them.

“They aren’t on speaking terms, Simon,” she whispered.

Rafe pulled Jim back around to focus his attention on the painting before them. “Come on Jim, honestly, what do you think of it?”

Draining the last of the wine in his glass, Jim walked up and stood an arm’s length in front of the portrait and then backed away several feet. “Honestly? I think it shows a man who’s dedicated to his job. Who’s hard working and a really fine human being.”

“Really? You see all that represented there?”

“Nah,” Jim grinned broadly. “But it’s damn fine use of color.”

“You are so full of shit, Ellison!” Rafe said loudly as he punched Jim in the shoulder.

Brown smiled. “It’s only a picture, partner.” He glanced over at Jim, but Ellison had turned away. Undaunted, Henry found Joel. “He’s gonna be hell to live with, you know that don’tcha, Taggart? Look at the swelled head he’s gotten already.”

Jim’s attention had suddenly been diverted by a portrait which hung several feet away from Rafe’s. His eyes had been captured by the haunting look of a young man which drew him closer.

“Penny for your thoughts.”

“I doubt they’re worth that much, Caro,” he laughed.

“Somebody you know?” she asked, indicating the painting.

“I don’t think so. There’s something awfully familiar about him though.”

“Somebody you busted maybe?”

“Somehow, I don’t think that a criminal would fit into the theme of ‘Faces of Cascade’,” he snickered.

Carolyn had to smile at that thought. “You’re probably right, Jimmy. Maybe with long hair like that he’s an artist as well. Or perhaps a musician.”

The longer he studied the painting the more familiar the face became. The long, flowing auburn curls did nothing to jog his memory, but there was something about those brilliant blue eyes that begged to be remembered, if only he could remember from where...

A subtle tug at his arm jogged him from his daze and he looked down to see Carolyn urging him forward.

***

“You did it, Babe!” Tony said just before placing a light kiss on her forehead.

“I have to agree with your young man, Ms. Hurdle.”

Danee blinked quickly and looked over at the elegantly dressed woman addressing her. “Mrs. Sampson, I can’t thank you enough for giving me the opportunity to display my paintings. I never in a million years expected this kind of reception for my work.”

“Get used to it, my dear,” the gallery owner laughed. “Your work is exquisite. Almost half the pieces are sold already and it’s quite possible the rest of them will be sold before the show is over. The Governor is ecstatic with her portrait, as is the Mayor and several of your other subjects.”

“I’m so happy they’re pleased,” Danee said quietly as she began to look around the still crowded room.

“I’ll leave you two to enjoy your triumph,” Mrs. Sampson said, patting Danee on the arm as she moved away.

Grabbing two wine goblets off the passing waiter’s tray, Tony handed one to Danee. “Still looking for Blair?”

“Yeah, I thought sure he make opening night,” she sighed.

“You know Blair. He’s probably just running late as usual.”

“You’re probably right.” Danee glanced over in the direction of the boisterous group from Major Crimes. She watched with interest the tall, athletic man who stood a short distance away from the others, frankly admiring one of her favorite portraits, while an attractive women sought to gain his attention. Looking off in the opposite direction, however, Danee, felt a cold shudder run throughout her body when she observed an older man openly ogling a portrait of a high school football player. Spinning around quickly, she gulped down the remainder of her wine hoping to drown her disgust.

***

“Come on, Jim, there’s more of the exhibit to see.”

Reluctantly, Jim moved forward only occasionally glancing over at the framed pictures hanging on the walls as they passed by. Here and there, Carolyn would offer commentary as she recognized some of the people whose likenesses had been captured by the artist.

When they at last made the final turn and finished the tour, Jim led her back to where he knew the group from the station was still huddled around Rafe’s portrait. They were not disappointed.

Glancing over to his left, Jim noticed several people standing in front of the painting of the mysterious young man, openly admiring it. For some unknown reason, Jim found himself willing the people to move away from the picture and resume their tour of the gallery. His unusual behavior didn’t abate with the next few patrons as he continued to unconsciously telegraph his feelings of displeasure at them viewing his picture.

‘Jim?” A hand on his shoulder broke his concentration.

Turning slightly, he sheepishly faced Brown. “Yeah?”

“Hey, man, we’re all going out for some beers. You wanna join us?”

“No, I think I’m gonna call it a night. But thanks anyway,” Jim replied. With a backwards glance at the portrait he reluctantly followed his fellow detectives out of the gallery.

***

She stood against the wall, preferring to stay somewhat out of the way of the patrons filing through the gallery. From her vantage point, however, she was able to keep track of guests making their entrance as well as gauge overall interest in her particular favorite paintings.

The crowd had thinned somewhat by the time Mrs. Sampson approached Danee again. This time she was not alone. Danee’s body began to tense up as they neared.

“Danee, dear, Mr. Thompson here is interested in purchasing that portrait you did of that young man over there, but I can’t find a price listed on my control sheet.”

She already knew which painting he was referring to, but Danee glanced over in the direction the gallery owner was pointing in order to calm her nerves. “I’m terribly sorry, Mr. Thompson, but that painting isn’t for sale.”

The man was undaunted. “Everybody has their price, my dear. Would you sell it to me for $5,000?”

“I’m sor...” Tony grabbed her wrist, spun her around and dragged her several feet away.

“Are you nuts? $5,000! It’s just Blair. You can get him to pose for another one.”

With a slight shake of her head, Danee turned back to the man. “I’m sorry, but that portrait was done as a gift and I really can’t sell it at any price. I hope you can understand.”

“You’re quite sure?” Mr. Thompson implored.

“Yes, Sir, I’m sorry,” she said, as politely as she could.

Frowning, he walked away quickly, leaving the gallery owner shaking her head.

“I hope you understand the opportunity you just passed up?” she said as she departed.

Danee sighed in response.

“Hey, why is my favorite artist so glum?”

She spun around, a smile instantly lighting up her face when she saw him.

“Blair! You made it.” She hugged him tightly.

“I told you I would. Just took me longer than expected. Damn car wouldn’t start again,” he laughed.

“See I told you he’d make it, Babe,” Tony said. He grabbed a glass of wine from the closest tray and handed it to his friend.

Blair immediately lifted it high and offered a toast. “As soon as I walked in I heard everybody talking about how successful the show was. So here’s to many more successful shows.”

Danee and Tony raised their glasses in response.

“So why the long faces when I got here?” he questioned.

“Danee just turned down an outrageous sum for your portrait,” Tony quickly answered.

“Whaaa?”

“See that guy over there?” Tony pointed to the man standing in front of Blair’s painting. “He offered Danee $5,000 for it.”

Blair glanced over in the direction his friend was indicating and then quickly turned away. Facing his friends he only shrugged. “Oh well, it’s Danee’s painting to do with as she wants.” However, as soon as Tony had looked away, he caught her attention and mouthed the word “thanks.”

Danee regarded him questioningly. But before he could respond, Tony draped his arm around her shoulder and drew her closer.

“How about we blow this joint and take this celebration somewhere else?” Tony offered.

“I’d love to, man, but I’ve got some research that I have to finish,” Blair apologized. “How about a rain check for this weekend?”

“You’re on,” Tony agreed quickly.

***

Standing outside the gallery, Danee quickly hugged Blair and kissed his cheek.

“Thanks for coming by.”

“This has been great. It’s about time other people recognized your talent,” Blair said.

With a wave, he walked in the opposite direction towards his car.

***

Despite his exhaustion, Jim found sleep to be elusive. When, at last, he was able to take refuge in the arms of Morpheus, images of the young man with the long, flowing curls and piercing blue eyes haunted his dreams.

The visions continued to swirl wildly through his mind until suddenly everything became focused.

***

AUGUST, THREE YEARS EARLIER

Jim found himself seated at the end of a long oak bar, loud music pounding into his head. Spying the schooner of beer in front of him, he took a long swig of the golden liquid, reveling in its calming effects. Placing the glass down, he twisted around in an attempt to familiarize himself with his surroundings. Leaning against the wall by the small dance floor, Jim immediately recognized an officer he knew worked in Vice. The man nodded in subtle recognition. Turning in the opposition direction, Jim saw Peter Adams, another Vice officer he’d worked with.

“Everything okay, Jimbo?” a voice in his ear asked anxiously.

Jim raised his hand to his head and began to rub his temple, while unobtrusively fingering the device in his ear. Glancing in the huge mirror which served as a backdrop to the rows of liquor bottles, a long forgotten reflection stared back at him. Jim’s fingers moved down to the object which sparkled from the middle of his earlobe and smiled.

“Everything’s fine, Pete,” he assured the man softly as he took another sip of his beer.

“I don’t know about you guys, but I’m bored shitless. I think we’ve struck out again,” Bob said struggling to suppress a yawn.

“You’re probably right, Bob,” Jim said quietly into his hidden microphone. “Why don’t you guys call it a night. I’m just gonna finish my beer and then I’m outta here myself.”

“Sounds like a plan to me, man.” Pete quickly settled his bar tab and exited the club.

Jim got up from his stool and headed towards the bathroom, giving Bob a slight nod as he passed by. Closing the door behind him, he quickly removed the wire from his body and jammed the mike and earpiece into his pants pocket.

As he made his way back to the bar, Jim noticed that Bob had already left the club. As he resettled himself on the wooden stool, Jim couldn’t help notice the bartender place a beer in front of a young man seated further down the bar. He was fairly certain the man hadn’t been there earlier.

As Jim raised his schooner of beer to his lips, he stole a glance in the young man’s direction. He nearly choked as the liquid rushed down his throat. Within moments he felt a hand thumping against his back.

“I’m okay,” Jim said weakly.

“You sure,” the stranger said.

“Yeah. Thanks.” He looked over and watched the man’s retreating back.

The young man grabbed his beer and returned. Pointing to the empty stool next to Jim, he asked, “You mind?”

“Be my guest.”

Placing the beer on the wooden surface, he pulled the stool away from the bar and sat down. “You sure you’re okay, man?” he asked, genuinely concerned.

“Yeah. Just went down the wrong pipe,” Jim lied smoothly, eying the skintight jeans the man wore which had proven to be the true cause of his undoing.

Laughing easily, he took a sip of his beer. “I hate when that happens.”

Jim could only nod as he took a healthy swig from his own drink. As he set the glass back down, he caught the glimmer of shiny metal from the corner of his eye. Glancing over, he noticed the nipple ring just barely showing through the sleeveless mesh shirt his companion wore. Damn! was the only thought his mind could muster as he quickly downed the remainder of his beer.

Noticing that his drinking partner had almost finished his own beverage, Jim waved the bartender over and ordered another round for both of them.

“Thanks, man.”

“Least I could do.”

“At the risk of sounding cliche and all that, do you come here often?” he looked up at the older man as he took a sip from the ice-cold beer.

Something in the question struck a sour chord in Jim’s brain and he frowned slightly. Jeez, is this the guy we’ve been after? He’s young enough and definitely good-looking enough He tried to recover and hide his disappointment with a crooked smile.

“It’s okay, man. I know it was a bad line.” He’d seen the scowl which marred the handsome face of his companion.

“If I just had a quarter for how many times I’ve heard that one,” Jim attempted to cover his blunder.

“I hear ya,” he laughed as he ran his hands through his short auburn curls. “It’s a nervous habit of mine.”

Jim started to stare at him as his fingers carded through the thick hair. “What is?” He lifted his glass and finished his beer.

“I tend to talk too much.”

“I hadn’t noticed, Chief.” Jim stood up and reached into his jeans pocket, pulling out several bills. “I don’t know about you, but it’s time I was hitting the road,” he said as he placed the money on the bar.

The young man looked disappointed as he stood as well and began to dig into his own pockets. “I suppose I should split as well.”

Jim grabbed his arm before he could retrieve it. “My treat, Chief.”

“Thanks, man. I really appreciate it.”

***

Once outside, Jim pointed to his truck. “That’s my ride over there.”

“That’s mine,” his companion said, pointing to a Corvair. He shivered noticeably despite the denim jacket he hugged tightly around himself. “Damn, it got cold out here.”

Jim only nodded his agreement as he walked with him over to the smaller man’s car.

“You sure you have leave?”

Once again Jim’s suspicions rose to the surface. “What do you have in mind?”

“I dunno, maybe we could go get a cup of coffee and talk some more,” he suggested.

Taking a couple of steps forward, Jim forced him against his car. Leaning closer, Jim placed both of his arms on the roof of the vehicle, effectively trapping the young man.

“Talk, huh? Is that what they call it these days?” he said sarcastically.

As the caustic remark began to sink in, a sudden icy contempt flashed in his eyes and his back became ramrod straight.

“Yeah, talk, man! We’ve done it before, remember?” he spat out as he twisted away from Ellison’s grasp. “Guess I was wrong about you.”

Puzzled, Jim could only stare at the miniature volcano that was erupting in front of his eyes. Done it before? What’s he talking about? Does he mean when we were talking at the bar? As he continued trying to unravel the mystery, Jim noticed the man struggling to fish his car keys out of his painted-on jeans.

Unable to suppress a grin, Jim stood rooted to the ground as he watched in fascination as the sought after goal had finally been retrieved, only to be quickly fumbled to the ground when he tried to insert the key into the door lock. Without hesitation, the man dropped to his knees, presenting Jim with an unobstructed view of his perfectly shaped ass. Groaning softly, Ellison spun around quickly, hoping to hide his obvious discomfort.

Taking several deep breaths, Jim dared to look over his shoulder and found the man still crawling around on the ground in search of his keys. He turned around and silently joined the hunt.

“Got ‘em, Chief,” he said as he grabbed the key ring out from under the vehicle.

“Thanks.” He extended his hand.

Jim carefully placed the keys in the outstretched palm. For a brief moment, their fingers brushed against each other and both men looked up, blue eyes locking on their twin.

Blue eyes? His eyebrows rose in amazement. He quickly reviewed the physical description of the suspect. Brunet, medium height, medium build, good-looking, dark eyes. DARK EYES Gazing straight ahead into the puzzled face in front of him, Ellison saw only deep indigo illuminated by the large street lamp overhead.

His face broke into a broad smile. “Is that offer of a cup of coffee still open, Chief?”

The younger man did a double take at the obvious change of heart. However, he composed himself quickly. “It is getting late, man. I really should be going.”

“Hey, if it’s about earlier, I’m sorry. I thought you were...”

“It’s okay.” He turned around and inserted the key into the door lock.

For some unexplainable reason, Jim was loathed to let him leave. Reaching out, he firmly grasped the man’s shoulder and pulled him away from the car.

As he whirled around, Jim’s vision zeroed in on the sensuously full lips begging for attention. Like a moth drawn to the flame, Jim’s mouth swooped down to capture his.

The club’s heavy wooden entrance door slammed, startling the men. Jim stumbled backwards several paces, his face a deep crimson. Looking up, he noticed the scarlet hue that crossed the young man’s checks as well.

Jim glanced over and discovered the source of their interruption. The bartender was taking out the trash. He began to chuckle. Turning his attention back to his companion, he found him smiling as well.

“I really should be getting home, man.”

“Can I get a rain check on that coffee, Chief?”

He smiled broadly. “Sure.” He started to climb into his car.

Jim started to walk away towards his truck when he suddenly turned around and ran back to the Corvair. “How can I find you?” He asked, even before the window was rolled down.

“What?”

“How will I be able to find you?”

“I come down here most of the time.”

“Sounds good.” Jim smiled and started to turn away as the car began to inch forward. Then it hit him. “Hey!” he called out. The car stopped. As the window opened again, Jim looked inside sheepishly. “You know, I don’t know your name.”

“My name is Blair,” he said in a deep, dusty voice.

“I’ll see you around, Blair. I’m Jim.”

Blair started to wind the window up and slowly edge the car away. “I know,” he called out before driving off.

Jim stood in the parking lot bewildered.

***

Jim sprang up in bed as if shot out of a cannon. Completely disoriented, it took several minutes for him to realize that he was in his bedroom at home.

Finally daring to look over at the alarm clock on the night stand, he discovered it was 5:15 in the morning. Convinced it was futile to try to go back to sleep, he made his way downstairs and started a pot of coffee. Staring intently at the water rushing from the faucet, Jim tried to recall some of the important facets of that night he’d just dreamt about; particularly about the young man he’d met. Frustrated in his failed attempt, he angrily grabbed the coffee pot and filled it with water.

A quick shower and two cups of coffee later, Jim still wasn’t any closer to his goal. With a shrug, he grabbed his jacket and keys, having decided to head into the station for an early day.

***

“Ellison! My office.”

“Yes, Sir.” Jim closed the folder that lay open on his desk and quickly walked into his Captain’s office, shutting the door behind him.

Simon Banks was standing at his credenza, his back to the detective, as Jim entered. Turning around, he offered Jim a cup of coffee. Once seated, Simon immediately opened his cigar pouch and lovingly fingered one of his stogies.

Preferring to stand, Jim looked at the floor as he nervously shifted his weight from one foot to the other and waited impatiently for his Captain to inform him of the reason for the impromptu meeting.

As he performed the ritual of preparing his cigar, Captain Banks glanced over the top of his glasses and noticed his detective’s restlessness. Seemingly unwilling to release the man from his control, he took his time before finally lighting the cigar.

He cleared his throat to make sure he had Ellison’s full attention. “Jim, is there a reason, I should know about, why you’re going through your old files from Vice?”

“Excuse me, Sir?”

“You heard me the first time. Why are you going through those files?”

“Um, I’m...Well, Sir, there’s a case I’m working on that’s similar to one I had worked before in Vice and I was just trying to refresh my memory to see if there is any connection.”

“Have you found anything?”

“Not yet, Sir.”

“You’ll let me know if you do?”

“Yes, Sir.” Jim quickly left the office before Simon could say another word.

Opening the folder once again, he read the official report concerning the undercover work involving the search and ultimate apprehension of the prostitute who had been frequenting several of the City’s gay clubs and robbing and assaulting his marks. Nothing about the kid with the blue eyes Jim sighed heavily. His eyes widened noticeably; then he smiled broadly. He did have the most incredible blue eyes he remembered happily.

Jim continued to go over the statement, hoping to jog more of his memory. Although he didn’t expect any reference to the young man to be there, perhaps he’d find some information that would prove useful in tracking him down.

As he was flipping through the various pieces of paper, he remembered that he’d gone back to the same club on several occasions with the hopes of seeing the man again, but never did. One piece of information did catch his eye, however, the name of the bartender. Jim quickly scribbled a notation on a scrap of paper and tucked it in the inside pocket of his jacket.

Closing the folder, Jim slid his chair backwards in preparation to standing when he noticed the figure standing in front of his desk.

“Captain?”

“Jim, I need you to cover for Harris tonight on stake out with Rafe and Brown in the Waters case.”

“But, Sir...”

“Sorry, Jim. Harris’ wife just went into labor and he’s with her at the hospital.” Putting his cigar in his mouth, Captain Banks spun around and returned to his office.

As if on cue, one half of the partner team approached Jim’s desk. “Hey, man, sorry you got stuck with this,” Brown said apologetically.

“You and me both, H.” Jim sighed. “So fill me in.”

“Hang on, let me get the file. Hey, Bri,” he called to his partner.

Bri...Brian?Bla...Blair!! He’d almost shouted the name out triumphantly, but fortunately stopped himself short.

“Whatd’ya say, Jim?”

“Um, nothing, H. I was just thinking out loud. Sorry.”

He was saved from further embarrassment when Brian Rafe approached with the current files. Between the two detectives they brought Ellison up to speed on the case.

“So why don’t we meet around 10:00, Jim?” Rafe asked.

“I would think we should get there no later than 9:00,” Jim responded. “We don’t want to draw attention to ourselves when we pull up.”

“He’s got a point, Bri.” H acknowledged.

“Oh, man.”

“Why, you got a hot date or something?” Jim grinned.

“No, man. He wants to hang out at the art gallery and stare at his picture. I can’t decide whether he wants to see if somebody buys it or if he’s secretly hoping it won’t sell so he can buy it for himself.” Brown chuckled.

“I wish I could afford it,” Rafe sighed. Her prices are out of my league. Most of those paintings are $1,000.”

“You’re kidding?” Brown whistled.

“Nope.”

“Okay, tell you what? How about we meet at the gallery? We’ll split the difference and get to Waters’ house around 9:30.” Jim looked over at his two friends to see how receptive they were to his compromise.

“Works for me,” Brown agreed.

“Sure,” Rafe agreed.

Jim smiled to himself as he stood up, pulled his jacket from the back of his chair and strode out the door of the bullpen.

***

The first thing that registered in Jim’s mind as he walked through the heavy oak door of The Hideaway was that it hadn’t really changed in the years since he’d last been inside the club. Walking over to the bar, he waited until he caught the attention of the bartender on duty.

“What’ll ya have?”

“Information.” Pulling his shield from his jacket pocket and quickly flashing it for the man, he identified himself. “Detective Jim Ellison, Cascade PD.”

Several men who were seated close to where Jim stood, quickly rose and moved to the opposite end of the bar.

The bartender didn’t flinch. “What can I do for you, Detective?”

“I’m trying to find a man who use to work here about three years ago. His name is Paul Barclay. Does he still work here?”

“Nah, he doesn’t work here anymore.” He was interrupted as a waiter approached and placed an order. “Excuse me for a minute.”

As the man turned away, Jim’s head drooped in frustration. Grateful for the momentary distraction, Jim struggled to erase his disappointment. He raised his head slightly as the bartender efficiently mixed the requested drinks and placed them on the waiting tray.

“Sorry. Now, you were asking about Paul Barclay?”

“Y-yeah.” Jim straightened up quickly. “So do you have any idea, where he might be working now?”

“Is he in some kind of trouble?”

“No, I just need to ask him a few questions about a case I was working on several years ago.”

The bartender took a long, hard look at Jim. “Okay, hang on a minute. Let me check the files in the office. I think his number’s in there.”

“Thanks.”

The bartender called one of the waiters over and asked him to watch bar while he disappeared into a back room. He was gone for approximately five minutes when he finally returned and approached Jim.

“Why don’t you come with me and I’ll show you what I’ve got on Paul.”

“Works for me.”

Jim entered the office and discovered a man seated behind a large desk. As soon as Jim approached the man stood and extended his hand.

“Detective Ellison?”

Jim shook his hand. “Yeah. And you are?”

“Paul Barclay,” he smiled. “Sorry for the deception, but I’m sure you can understand we have to be careful around here. Mike was just looking out for my best interests.”

Ellison frowned slightly as he looked at the man. “I thought you didn’t work here any longer.”

“I’m not a bartender any more. I own the club now.”

“Ah.” Jim watched as Mike retreated back to the bar. “So why couldn’t Mike just tell me you’re the owner when I said I needed to speak with you?”

“Excuse my bluntness, Detective, but I would think you’d understand why we can’t necessarily trust the police department to be honest with us.”

“So why did you decide to trust me now?”

“When Mike came back here and told me you were outside looking for me I checked to make sure it was you. You’ve always been fair with us in the past and I would hope that’s not gonna change any time soon.”

Jim nodded his silent agreement.

“Good. Now what did you need to ask me about?” Paul motioned for Jim to take a seat in one of the vacant chairs. “Mike said something about a case you were working on a few years ago?”

“About three years ago I was part of a team of Vice officers working the club. You were bartending then.”

“I remember that. You guys were trying to catch that hooker who was beating the crap out of the johns and then robbing them blind. You caught him, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, we finally did.” Jim assured him.

“So how can I help you?”

“I...um,” he stumbled. “One of the nights when I was here on stakeout I meet this kid at the bar, after the other two detectives left the club. We had a couple of beers and talked. He told me he use to come into the club occasionally. I came back a few times but never saw him again. I was wondering if you might remember him or how to find him?”

“Detective Ellison, I...”

“Jim.”

“Excuse me?”

“Please, call me Jim.”

“Okay, Jim. Look, I’ve met lots of guys over the years. And three years ago...”

“This is really important to me. He’s medium height, maybe 5'8" tops. Curly, brown hair that came just below his ears and blue eyes. He wore a couple of earrings in his left ear.”

“That description could fit a number of the guys who come in here. I’m sorry Det...Jim.”

His eyes closed as his shoulders slumped forward. Reluctantly, Jim stood. “I appreciate your help Paul. I was...” Jim bit his lower lip as he tried to remember. “Blair...His name is Blair.”

The owner’s head shot up. “Yes, I think I do remember him. The guy could talk your ear off.”

A broad smile crossed Jim’s face. “That’s the one. So does he still come in here, or do you know where I might find him?”

“Unfortunately, no. He used to come in here two to three years ago. There were times he’d come in and hang around for a little while and then leave. In fact, now that I think about it, I do remember him coming in a couple of times and asking about you. But after the second time he came looking for you, he didn’t show up again for a long time.”

Jim glanced over, puzzled. “What did you tell him?”

“Nothing really. Usually he’d come in, order a drink and act like he was waiting for somebody and then leave after maybe an hour. It was maybe three weeks before he asked me about you. He just asked me if I knew ‘Jim’ and described you. I said yeah, but I hadn’t seen you for a few weeks. Then he’d leave.”

“And he just stopped coming in?” Jim’s eyebrows rose as he looked over at Paul in puzzlement. “Pretty much, yeah. Wait a minute. He did come back maybe a month or so after that. We were just talking when he said something about you being a cop and him figuring you’d been too busy working.”

“Wha?...” Jim sputtered, his eyes widening in surprise.

Paul leaned back against his chair and stared at the detective seated across from him. “I take it from your reaction that you never told him, did you?”

Twisting uncomfortably in his seat, Jim found it hard to meet the man’s gaze. “Um, no, I never did.”

“I didn’t tell him, if you’re worried. At least not...”

“I wasn’t exactly worried. Not really. It’s just that...” Jim’s voice trailed off. Damn. How did this get so screwed up so quickly?

“The kid didn’t really ask me. He made it sound like he already knew so I assumed you’d told him. I just agreed with him that you’d probably been busy.” Paul released a loud sigh as he shrugged his shoulders. “I’m sorry, Jim.”

“It’s not your fault. I guess I know now why I never saw him after that when I did come in here.”

“Could be.” The owner rubbed his forehead with his fingers. After a few uncomfortable minutes of silence between the two men, Paul lifted his head, gazing over at Jim. “I can’t remember exactly when, maybe a year or so later, Blair started showing up again. By that time I had bought the club and pretty much was here in the office.”

“So he still comes around?” Jim asked hopefully.

“I doubt he goes to any club, if he’s even still living in Cascade these days,” Paul said.

“Why?”

“Shortly after he started coming back into the club there was this older guy who started to hit on him. At first, he seemed to accept Blair’s rejections. Of course, he’d make the attempt every time he’d see Blair in the club. He was really a creepy sort, too. But wealthy...Jeez! The guy would order several rounds of drinks for the entire crowd most of the time he was here.”

“So you think Blair just got tired of having to tell him no every time?” A knot in Jim’s stomach tightened as unpleasant thoughts filled his head.

“I heard that the old man actually followed him home from the club one night. Blair got spooked by that and had to move. That was the last time he’s been in the club. The old man still comes in every now and then but doesn’t stay very long. I think he keeps hoping Blair will show up.”

His face tightening with anger, Jim stood abruptly in an attempt to maintain his composure. “I really appreciate you telling me this, Paul,” Jim said sharply. His hand shook slightly as he pulled a business card out of a leather case. Taking a deep breath Jim handed it the man. “If this creep comes around again and bothers anybody, give me a call.”

“You’ve got it,” he said, grasping Jim’s hand firmly as they shook good-bye.

“Oh, and if you should see Blair again...” He couldn’t continue.

“I’ll let you know, man,” Paul said simply.

Jim nodded. “Thanks.”

***

“So, Jim, are we having fun yet?” Rafe’s disembodied voice carried through the small speaker.

Jim picked up the two-way radio from the passenger seat. “I don’t know about you ladies, but I’m bored shitless.”

“Well, no duh,” Brown chimed in as he laughed heartily.

“This is getting old really quick. Come on guys, what’s the deal here? We’ve been at this for five days now. I thought your source said that the deal was going down this week.”

“The week’s not over yet,” Rafe helpfully provided.

Jim lapsed back into silence as he leaned against the truck’s door.

***

“Hey stranger, I thought you were gonna call me,” Danee said as she sidestepped around the various mountains of papers on the floor of Blair’s office.

“Danee! I’m sorry. I’ve been really busy doing research for my dis.” Blair quickly removed several books from a nearby chair. “So how’s the show going?”

“It’s going great. The show’s only been open six days and I think most of the pieces have already sold.”

“Fantastic. I knew you were gonna be big one day.” He flashed her a brilliant smile. “And I can tell them I knew you when.”

“You are so full of it, Blair,” she chuckled.

He walked back around his desk and sat in the wobbly chair. Leaning forward, Blair glanced at several pages of notes in front of him.

“Blair?”

“What? Oh, sorry. I’ve been trying to sort through my notes, hoping to make some sense of this mess so I’ll have something to submit to the Committee next month.”

“I was hoping that I could talk you into having dinner with Tony and me tonight. Nothing fancy, we just felt like having a mini celebration because of the show.”

“Oh, man,” he sighed. “I’d love to Danee, but I can’t. I’m heading out of town to interview some possible candidates for my thesis. Can I get a rain check though?”

“You’re leaving again? How long are you gonna be gone this time?”

“I dunno. I might be gone three weeks this time. I’ve gotta go to New Mexico, Belize and the Yukon.”

Danee scooted her chair closer to his desk. “Do you really think you’re ever gonna find this one person you’re looking for?”

Looking over at his friend, Blair slowly removed his glasses. Rubbing the bridge of his nose, he closed his eyes momentarily and took a deep breath. “I wish I knew, Danee.” His hand automatically moved to rest on an old, leather bound volume. Of their own volition, his fingers began to almost caress the treasured book. “I’ve gotta believe that somewhere out there this person exists. I’m close...I just know it,” he said softly.

“If such a person exists, Blair, I’m sure you’ll find him,” she assured him.

He swung his chair around and pointed to numerous file folders stacked on a table behind his desk. “See these? These are documented cases of people having one or two heightened senses. There’s gotta be...”

“Easy, tiger. I’m not your damn committee. You don’t have to sell me on your theory.”

Blair shrugged his shoulders as he sunk deep into his chair. “Sorry, I tend to get carried away with this whole thing, don’t I?” He chuckled at her silent nod. “So you tore yourself away from all your newfound fame and glory just to wander the dark basement halls of the University trying to drag me out to dinner?”

“That’s part of it,” she said with a smile. “I also wanted to find out if having your picture hanging in the show drew your mystery man out of hiding?”

“Ah hah, the ulterior motives come to the surface.”

“Hey, you were the one who told me the story about this guy and how he swept you off your feet and then disappeared into the night.” She looked terribly smug as she sat across from Blair.

“Swept me off my feet? Get real, will ya.”

“You still haven’t answered my question,” she pointed out.

“No,” he shrugged. Catching the disappointment etched into her face, Blair sighed. “I don’t think he’s interested anyway.”

“Why not?”

“I ran into him a few years ago here in town at a club and we talked. I don’t think he remembered me from Bali. Anyway, when we were leaving the place to go home...” Blair saw the hopeful expression on her face and laughed. “Alone!” he quickly pointed out. “We agreed to hook up again at the club but it never happened. After that I never saw him again.”

“That’s it? That’s the end of the story? There’s gotta be more to it than that,” she begged.

“What were you expecting, a fairy tale ending?” he chuckled.

“Well...no, but I...” she stammered.

“I read in the papers awhile back that he’d gotten married so I basically stopped looking around for him. He’s apparently divorced now, so I just had this momentary lapse of good judgment and thought maybe I still had a chance. So sue me for being stupid.”

Danee got up from her seat and walked around to Blair’s side. Throwing her arms around him, she hugged him tightly. “I don’t think you’re stupid, Blair. A little weird maybe...”

He spun around quickly in his chair. “Watch it, I resemble that remark.” Grinning broadly, Blair reached out and tousled her hair.

A knock on his door startled them both. Danee quickly moved away from behind his desk as Blair called out. “Come in.”

One of the department student secretaries breezed in and handed a thick envelope to Blair. “Here are your plane tickets for your trip, Professor Sandburg.”

“Thanks, Sandy,” he called to her retreating back. Looking over at his friend he sighed. “Guess I’ve gotta get back to my notes here so I’m prepared for this trip tomorrow.”

Danee nodded solemnly. “I’ll talk to you when you get back then.”

“Yeah, I’ll give you guys a call. And good luck with the rest of the show.” Blair started to rifle through various papers on his desk.

“Hey, Blair?” He glanced over at the door where she stood. “I’ll keep my fingers crossed that you find that guy you’re looking for,” she said.

As he watched the door close behind her, he suddenly was struck with the possible double meaning behind her words.

***

Pulling the truck into an empty space across the street from the art gallery, Jim finished the last bite of his burger before jumping out his seat and crossing the street.

“So you guys ready to move?”

Rafe turned around slowly. “Hey, Jim. Listen, give me a couple of minutes more, will ya?”

“Yeah, man.” Brown moved next to Jim. “He’s trying to impress his fan club.”

“Again? Jeez, he’s been at this every night. Doesn’t he ever give it a rest?” Jim just shook his head in mock disgust as he wandered past the men.

He soon found himself staring into the large, cornflower blue eyes that had tracked his movement as he approached. Stepping closer towards the framed canvas, Jim had to forcibly restrain himself from reaching out to touch the realistic curls cascading over the man’s shoulders.

Shutting his eyes momentarily, he could still see the face just as clearly, but the hair was different. Jim blinked as he looked over at the portrait again. Blair The realization hit hard.

Hearing several voices growing louder, Jim looked over and noticed several people headed in his direction. He stepped back away from the paintings to give the patrons room to pass by. Jim leaned against the wall behind him, lowering his head as he focused in on an imaginary piece of lint on the floor to hide his frustration when the group of young women chose to halt directly in front him.

“That’s the painting, I’m interested in.”

“Let’s see, ‘Uncovered Secrets’. Um, it’s not listed in my catalog,” another woman responded. “If you ladies will please excuse me a moment, let me ask Mrs. Sampson about this one.”

Hearing the woman’s high-heeled shoes clicking over the marbled floors as she departed, Jim slowly raised his head. You can’t have that one, it’s mine he decided as he watched the ladies hovering around the painting.

“I think you’re crazy, Pam. You can’t possibly afford that painting.”

That’s right, Pam. You can’t afford it. Jim mentally began calculating his bank account balance.

“We’ll see about that. I can just call Daddy and he’ll buy it for me.”

Jim felt a large lump forming in his throat.

Just then the gallery’s owner approached from the other direction and joined the group. “My assistant tells me you had a question about this painting, Miss Quinn?”

“How much is this painting?” The young woman pointed at the wall.

Jim closed his eyes and held his breathe as he waited for the answer he was dreading.

“I’m terribly sorry, Miss Quinn, but that portrait isn’t for sale. Perhaps...”

“What do you mean it’s not for sale?” she demanded.

Jim released a sigh of relief as he glanced over at the women. A sly smile broke out as he watched the woman continue to rant at the owner.

Mrs. Sampson finally had enough and began to walk away. Abruptly, her arm was grabbed and she was spun back around by a very angry Pamela Quinn.

“Do you have any idea who my father is, Mrs. Sampson? I demand that you contact the artist immediately and have arrangements made for the sale of this painting to me.”

“I would suggest, young lady, that you apologize to Mrs. Sampson right now and then you and your friends leave this gallery.” He said loudly enough to be clearly heard.

“Just who the hell do you think you...” She turned around and almost collided with Jim, who’d come up right behind her.

Pulling his badge from his jacket pocket, he smiled as he flashed it. “Detective James Ellison, Cascade PD. So what’s it gonna be, Miss Quinn?”

“Come on, Pam, we don’t need any trouble. Let’s get out of here,” one of her friends pleaded.

“But I want that painting,” she whined.

“Jim, what’s going on?”

“Ah, Detective Brown, thanks for coming over to assist. It seems this woman is threatening Mrs. Sampson.” Jim winked at his friend.

Brown glanced over at the somewhat shaken owner. “Mrs. Sampson, would you like to file charges against this lady?”

“Well, I...uh...”

“Look, I’m sorry, Mrs. Sampson,” the sullen young woman said. “I apologize for my bad behavior. It won’t happen again.”

“Very well, Miss Quinn, I accept your apology.”

As the detectives began to escort the women out of the gallery, Mrs. Sampson placed her hand on Jim’s shoulder.

“Detective Ellison?”

As he hesitated, he indicated for Brown to go on ahead. “Yes, Ma’am?”

“Thank you so much for taking care of that little incident. It was indeed fortunate that you happened to be in the gallery just now.”

“I was glad to help out. As for fortunate,” he chuckled, “ well, Brown and I are just sort of waiting for Detective Rafe over there to stop admiring his own portrait.”

She nodded in agreement. “I certainly hope we’ve seen the last of Miss Quinn,” she said quietly as she glanced over at the painting on the wall next to her.

“Why, do you think she’ll come back?”

“I can’t say for sure, but I think you were most persuasive in discouraging her, Detective Ellison. Tomorrow’s the last day of this exhibit, so perhaps we’ll make it without another incident.”

Jim looked over at the women puzzled. “You’ve had other incidents?”

“It’s probably nothing, but this is the second time now that somebody’s gotten extremely upset to find out that this painting’s not for sale.”

“When did it happen the first time?”

“At opening night. A gentleman wanted to purchase it and was willing to pay quite a large sum of money for it, but Ms. Hurdle was just as adamant that it wasn’t to be sold. I believe she told me it’s to be a gift.”

He glanced over at the portrait hanging on the wall and sighed. “Mrs. Sampson, I was wondering if...”

Jim felt a tap on his shoulder and turned his head.

“Ready to go, man?”

He turned to find Rafe and Brown behind him. “I’m afraid we have some business to take care of, Mrs. Sampson,” he apologized as he headed towards the front door.

“Thank you again, Detectives,” she called after the men.

***

Jim sat in his truck, pushing the remainder of his Kung Pao chicken around the bottom of the flimsy cardboard container with his chopsticks. Glancing over at the front door of the gallery he sighed as he pulled the last of dinner from the box and ate it in silence.

At least this is the last night of the show, he mused as he prepared to hop out of the truck. However, when he crossed the street Jim found that thought strangely distressing.

Jim found the two detectives in their now customary location, with Rafe holding court in front of his portrait.

“So what’s he gonna do after today when he has to revert back to plain old Brian Rafe, Detective?” Jim whispered in Brown’s ear.

“Oh, man, you have no idea how glad I am that this thing is finally over. I’m about ready to get a new partner,” Henry chuckled”

“Well, don’t look at me.” He smiled as he patted his friend on the back.

Jim stole a glance down the corridor and noticed the crowd had thinned around the area where one painting, in particular, hung. Moving away from his friends, he headed towards it.

“He’s got the most intense eyes, dont’cha think? They seem to follow you around.”

“Wha?”

Startled, Jim looked over to his right. A young woman, plainly dressed in a peasant shirt and jeans, stood next to him with her hands jammed in her pants pockets.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sneak up on you like that.”

“It’s okay, I was just...” Jim eyes were drawn back to the picture. “You’re right...about his eyes, that is. They are intense.”

“That’s pretty much the way he is.” She smiled.

Jim’s head jerked around as he made eye contact with her. “You know him?”

She laughed easily. “You could say that. I painted him.”

“You’re Danee Hurdle, the artist?”

“Depends. If you think my work sucks, then nope, never heard of her. Otherwise, that’s me.”

“I definitely fall into the otherwise category.” Jim grinned broadly as he extended his hand to her. “I’m Jim Ellison.”

“Ah, the one who got away.”

“Excuse me?”

“We talked on the phone, Detective Ellison. You were suppose to pose for me and then cancelled out,” she explained.

“Oh, right. I was in the middle of a case when you called and didn’t have a lot of free time.”

“Now that I’ve seen you ‘up close and personal’, as they say, Detective, I must say, I regret not having the chance to paint you.”

“Judging from the number of patrons I’ve seen coming through the gallery for the show, I don’t think it was much of a loss.”

“Speaking about the show, Detective...”

“Jim. Please call me Jim.”

Smiling up at him, Danee continued. “Okay, Jim. Mrs. Sampson told me that you rescued her from an unpleasant situation the other night.”

Jim shifted the weight on his feet, growing uncomfortable with the conversation. “There wasn’t much to it. A woman just refused to take ‘no’ for an answer.”

Danee began to chuckle softly as she pointed to the painting. “It’s his fault, you know.”

“I don’t follow you.”

“Trouble seems to follow him around.”

“How long have you known Blair, Ms. Hurdle?”

“It’s Danee. I’ve known Blair for maybe seven years now. But probably not as long as you, right?”

Jim eyes widened as his eyebrows shot up. “Why do you say that?”

“I’ve seen you here in the gallery many times since the show opened and you’re almost always here in front of Blair’s picture. You get this look on your face every time you see it. I don’t know, I can’t even begin to explain it, but it’s as there’s some sort of spiritual connection between you two,” she said matter-of-factly.

“We met a few years ago and then lost touch unfortunately,” he said softly.

“But I could’ve sworn that...”

Jim glanced back to where Rafe and Henry were standing and found them engrossed in a conversation with several people. Returning his attention to the young woman by his side, he grasped her elbow and gently pulled her back towards the wall, away from the paintings.

“Danee, I know that you weren’t planning on selling this portrait, but is there anyway I could persuade you to sell it to me?”

She crossed her arms in front of her. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“Very. Look, I don’t understand this myself, so I probably don’t stand much of a chance being able to explain it to you, but I’ll try. A few years ago I was overseas and I met Blair in a bar. We had a few drinks and talked. About a year or so after that, I ran into him again here in Cascade. We talked for a while and were really getting along well, at least I thought we were. We spoke about hooking up again, but never managed to. I don’t know if my being a cop had anything to do with him not seeing me again, but it never happened,” he sighed.

“I wouldn’t...” Pausing, she seemed to regard him with a speculative gaze. “So where does the painting come in?”

“It’s been awhile since I’ve seen Blair, but when I saw your portrait of him, it brought it all back to me. Hell, up until a few days ago, I didn’t even remember all the times we’ve crossed paths.” Jim glanced over at the young woman and sighed heavily. “Too much time has probably passed by now for me to hope that he even remembers me. But if you’d be willing to sell it to me, at least I could always have a small part of him.”

“Give me a few days to think about it, Jim. I’ll give you a call and let you know one way or the other, okay?” she offered.

“Thank you. I appreciate you listening, at any rate.” He pulled out one of his business cards and wrote his home phone number on the back before handing it to her.

Out of the corner of his eye, Jim noticed Rafe waving him over. “I have to go now, but thanks again.” He started walking towards his friends.

***

SEPTEMBER

Simon took the keys from Jim and unlocked the door. Pushing the door open, Simon helped Jim walk through it and over to the couch.

“Need anything?”

“I could use a beer, Simon, but I don’t suppose you’d let me have one.”

“Not with those painkillers you’re on,” he chuckled.

Looking around the loft, Jim softly smiled. “God, it’s good to be home. You have no idea how much I hate hospitals.”

“Oh yes I do. And so does just about every doctor and nurse at Cascade General.”

“Well, I didn’t ask them to keep me there so long,” he said gruffly.

“Jim, you had four fractured ribs and a punctured lung. It’s not like you were gonna heal overnight.”

“Give me a break, Simon. Did they have to keep me for five weeks?”

“You would’ve been out sooner if you hadn’t gotten pneumonia,” he pointed out calmly.

“Yeah, well, I could’ve done just as well here.” Jim began to yawn and started to stretch out on the couch.

Simon stood up and headed for the door. “I think I’ll let you get some rest, Jim. I’ll be back tonight to check on you.”

***

OCTOBER

Jim was in the middle of packing his duffle bag in preparation for his one-man stake out at a lumbermill when he was interrupted by the soft knock at his door. “Dammit, Simon, I’ve only been back a couple of weeks and you have to send me to the middle of nowhere,” he grumbled to himself as he descended the stairs. Pulling the door open, he discovered one of his neighbors.

“Mrs. McPherson, how are you? I heard you just got back from visiting your daughter in Spokane.”

“I’m fine, Jim. More importantly, how are you. I heard about your terrible accident just before I left.” The elderly woman looked very concerned.

“I’m back to normal, Ma’am. Thank you for asking. Listen, I hate to rush you, but I have to get to work. I...”

“I’m sorry, Jim. Where is my mind these days. The reason I came over is because while you were in the hospital, a package arrived for you and I signed for it. I left town before you got back home and I’ve had this an awfully long time, I’m afraid.” She picked up the large package from the floor where she had leaned it against the wall.

“Thank you so much, Mrs. McPherson. I appreciate you keeping it for me.”

Closing the door, Jim laid the package on the table and ran back up the steps to his bedroom to continue packing.

“Simon, I’m gonna be heading out in about thirty minutes,” he spoke into the phone as he walked down the stairs carrying the duffle bag. “No, I don’t know how often I’ll be able to report in.” He placed the bag on one end of the table and walked around to look at the package. “Yes, I’ve got the contact information, Simon.” There was no return address on the mailing label. Cradling the phone between his chin and his shoulder, Jim began to carefully unwrap the packing materials. “Yes, you told me that Carolyn was heading up the task force.”

When the last piece of paper was pulled away, Jim dropped the phone. Dropping to his knees, he fumbled around on the floor to grab it. “Sorry, Sir, the phone slipped. Yes, Sir. Bye.” He quickly put the phone down and stared wide-eyed at the portrait of Blair.

Carefully lifting the painting out of the packing crate, Jim carried it reverently over to the narrow table opposite the couch, and leaned it against the wall. “Dammit! It’s not fair,” he said angrily. After staring at the painting for several long minutes, Jim turned away towards the door.

***

(One Week Later)

Jim was sitting in Simon’s office, staring off into space, as his Captain held out a fresh cup of coffee. Placing the mug on his desk he approached his detective.

“All right, Jim, what's going on?”

“I need a leave of absence,” he replied firmly.

“Are you nuts?”

“I don't know. Maybe. I ran a blood test to see if I'd been drugged, but I'm clean.”

Simon was taken aback. “Hey, slow down. What drugs? “

“How else can I explain what happened to me out there, Simon? I fell off the back of that bike because I was seeing things.” Jim found himself becoming more agitated as he spoke.

“Look, you were stressed, okay? You heard something. You smelled some fumes. You got dizzy. You fell off the bike. What, now you want a vacation? Come on. Is this the guy that toughed it out in the jungle for a year and a half? Take a shower, get some aspirin, and go back to work. 'Cause right now the only thing I want more than my divorce papers is an arrest.”

“Hey, this isn't a joke. I lost the prime suspect, Simon, and I don't even know how.”

“Guilt's a good motivator, but don't take more than your share. Air support lost him in the trees. The road block didn't snag him, either. All right, look, you can take the afternoon off. See a couple of specialists if that'll make you feel any better. But that's all the slack I can cut you, Jim.”

“Well, that's not enough. I'm losing control of my senses, Simon. I don't know how else to describe it. It's scaring the hell out of me.”

“All right, so let me get this straight. This is all about you being scared?”

“Yep.”

“So the Switchman psyched you out. He's gonna make you fold.”

Jim stood up and glared at his Captain. “All I know is I can't do my job this way. So either you grant me a leave or I'll take one.”

***

Blair sat in his office, frantically transcribing his notes into his laptop. Abruptly, the phone began to ring. “Not now,” he pleaded.

With a sigh he picked it up on the third ring. “Hello. Hey, Brenda. Listen, I don’t have time right...WHAT! Damn! I can’t.” He stood up and began pacing around the desk as far as the phone cord would permit him. “I just can’t, Brenda. I’ve got a meeting with my Committee in an hour. Look, give this guy my office address and tell him he really needs to talk to me. I don’t know...tell him I’m the only one who can help him. Just get him to come over here. That’ll work. Yeah, just fax the chart over to me when you get a chance. Good. Thanks, Brenda. Yeah, I owe you big time for this.” Blair continued to stare at the phone long after he’d hung it up.

Two hours later, Blair was returning to his office frustrated. He’d managed to buy himself additional time to submit a formal outline of his thesis when he explained that new information had just been obtained and he needed to go over the material. However, it was stressed that this was the last such extension that would be granted.

A stop by the Department secretary’s desk proved equally fruitless when Blair learned that no one had been by to see him and no incoming faxes had been received for him.

***

Jim was drained by the time he finally walked through the door of the loft. Tossing his keys into the waiting basket, he headed over to the refrigerator and grabbed the nearest beer bottle. Opening it, he helped himself to a long, cool drink before walking over and sinking into the waiting couch.

“Damn doctors,” he muttered as he took another drink, hoping the liquid would help wash away his frustration.

Just as he was about to hit the power button on the TV remote, he happened to catch something out of the corner of his eye. The pile of wrapping paper and packing materials was still sitting on the dining table. Unwilling to allow the trash to remain any longer, Jim got up and walked over to the table. As he was gathering everything together, a small piece of pastel green stationary fluttered to the floor. Stooping to pick it up, Jim discovered it was a note from the artist.

Jim: I’ve thought a lot about it and I finally decided that I couldn’t find a better person than you to have this portrait of Blair. Keep him safe and treasure him always. Danee

Jim stared at the paper for a minute before folding it and putting in his wallet. Carefully sorting through the wrapping paper and assorted packing materials, Jim looked for any other pieces of paper before finally tossing everything into the trash can.

He found himself drawn over to the table where he had placed the portrait. Reaching out, he ran his fingers over the smooth painted surface of Blair’s cheek. He could feel the build up of the various paint layers, but longed to feel the soft skin of the real person. With a loud sigh, Jim stepped backwards towards the couch and sat down. Focusing on the expressive blue eyes and the full sensuous mouth he soon was lost.

***

Blair stuffed several folders into his already overfilled knapsack and was closing it when the door to his office opened.

“Hey, Blair, this fax came through for you earlier this morning and this was the first chance I’ve had to run it down.”

Stepping away from his desk he reached out to accept the papers from the young woman. “Thanks, Valerie. I was just getting ready to split and I was gonna stop by your desk on my way out, but you’ve saved me a trip.”

“No problem. So, are you coming back later this afternoon, in case Professor Williams is looking for you?”

“No way, man, especially if Williams is looking for me,” he chuckled. “I’ve got some research I need to do and lots of papers to grade.” Blair opened his knapsack and slipped the papers into one of the folders inside.

The woman smiled at him as she turned to leave.

“Oh, hey, Valerie?” She spun around. “If anybody other than Professor Williams should come by looking for me, page me will’ya?”

“Sure, Blair. I’ll catch you later.”

***

Jim paused as he reached the top of the stairs to Hargrove Hall. Pulling the piece of paper from his inside pocket, he looked at the address again. Slipping the note back into his jacket, he walked inside the building.

As he stood in the hallway in front of the wooden door, Jim stared hard at the handwritten sign - - ‘B. SANDBURG’. Retrieving the paper once again, he verified the office. ‘Artifact Storage Room 1'.

Knocking several times on the door brought no response. Jim tried the door knob but found it locked.

“Professor Sandburg?” Jim called out as he knocked once more, even louder. Dammit! I knew this was a waste of time, he thought as he headed towards the stairs.

His hand had just grabbed the railing when he spotted a young woman walking towards him. “Excuse me, Miss?”

“Yes, Sir, can I help you?”

“Um, yeah. I’m looking for a Professor Sandburg. Could you tell me where I might find him?”

“I’m sorry, but he’s already left for the day.”

“Thanks,” Jim said quickly as he began to ascend the stairs, mumbling to himself.

“Can I let him know you stopped by, Sir,” she called after him.

“No, thank you,” he said without turning around or breaking his stride.

***

Blair removed his glasses and set them down next to him on the sofa. Closing his eyes, he began to vigorously massage the bridge of his nose. He glanced over at the stack of folders with ungraded papers. Shrugging his shoulders, he put his glasses back on and reached for the next one.

“What the...” Blair stared at the first piece of paper in the folder.

Within moments he realized he was looking at the medical records his friend had faxed to him. Quickly he pulled out the four page document and began studying it.

“Oh, man, this has got to be the one,” he said as he bounded into the kitchen for a beer. Returning to his seat, he continued scanning the information before him. “Yes! Yes! Yes!” Taking a quick sip of the beer, he jumped up from the sofa and started pacing the floor. “Unfuckingbelievable! And right here in Cascade. Oh, man...”

Glancing over at the papers scattered on the sofa, Blair’s eyes widened. Rushing back over, he picked up the first one, his eyes quickly focusing on the top of the page. His heart sank. “Oh no,” he moaned loudly as he saw that the name and the address of the patient had been crossed out.

Crossing the room rapidly, Blair snatched the phone from its base and punched in a phone number.

He continued to pace, as he listened to the phone ring on the other end of the connection. “Hello? Yes, can I please talk to Brenda Nickels? This is very important.” Glancing over at the battered clock hanging in the kitchen, he breathed a sigh of relief. 2:30. Good, she should still be there. he anxiously assured himself. “What? Oh, no,” he gasped. “Yes, I understand she can’t be disturbed while she’s in surgery. No. No message. Oh wait. Yes, tell her that Blair called and ask her to call me at home. Thanks.” Frustrated, he tossed the phone towards the sofa.

“Damn. So close,” he sighed as he sat down, picking up the papers.

After staring at the first page for several minutes, Blair removed his glasses and brought the paper closer to his face. It was then he noticed it. I can almost make it out.

Is that a three or an eight, he wondered. Suddenly his pager sounded off.

Reaching down, Blair retrieved his knapsack and began rummaging through it for the small device. With a quick glance at the displayed number, he stretched out for the phone and began dialing.

“Hey, Valerie, it’s Blair. What’s up? Oh, man, about an hour ago?” he groaned loudly. “Did he leave a name or anything? Nothing, huh? Okay. Well, thanks for telling me anyway. Yeah, see you tomorrow.”

Staring coldly at the paper laying next to him, Blair struggled for a solution. His eyebrows rose as he glanced over at the laptop sitting dormant on a nearby table. Jumping up he quickly plugged it in to the phone jack and connected online.

From what he could decipher of the address he had to work with, it was either ‘352 or 852 Pros#### 307'. A quick search of the street map for Cascade came up with ‘Prosperity’ and ‘Prospect’ and only Prospect had the right number of letters to fit. Furthermore, there wasn’t a 300 block on Prospect so that eliminated that possibility.

Blair grabbed his jacket and rushed out the door.

***

Thirty minutes later, Blair stood outside the door of apartment 307 and tentatively knocked on the door. Man, what AM I doing? he finally realized.

The door swung open and Blair eyes widened as he stood frozen in the doorway.

“Blair?”

“Jim?”

“What are you...How...” Jim grabbed his arm and dragged him inside, shutting the door behind him. “Never mind,” he chuckled.

Running his hands through his hair, Blair had to laugh. “Oh, man. I had no idea...”

“You want a beer or something?” Jim offered.

“Yeah, sure.” He followed Jim with his eyes and he walked over to the refrigerator and pulled out two bottles.

Jim held one out and pointed him in the direction of the couch. The two men sat facing each other at opposite ends.

“Man, I almost don’t recognize you without the mustache,” Blair said a bit nervously.

“Yeah, well, it was time for a change,” he said with a shrug.

“I guess I should talk, huh” Blair ran his fingers through his hair.

Jim looked over at the man sitting across from him. “Blair, you should know that...”

“Hey!” Blair blurted out, pushing himself to a standing position and moving towards the table in front of him. He stood motionless for a moment before spinning around to stare at the man still seated behind him. “You bought my portrait?”

Jim lowered his eyes. “Yeah,” his eyebrows shot up. “Didn’t Danee tell you?”

Blair took a sip of his beer and walked back over to the couch and sat down. “No, I haven’t talked her for awhile now. Why?”

“I assumed that’s how you found me.”

He felt a knot forming in the pit of his stomach. “Um...actually Jim...uh...did you happen to go over to Rainier today?”

“Yeah, as a matter of...how did you know that?” Jim’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Shit! B. Sandburg. That’s you, isn’t it? Professor BLAIR Sandburg.”

Blair sighed heavily. “Yeah.”

“Is this some kind of sick joke?” Jim spat out angrily.

“No, man. The nurse who spoke to you at the hospital is a friend of mine. She faxed me over a copy of your chart.”

“She what?” Icy blue eyes flashed with outrage.

“Take it easy, Jim. I'm working on my doctorate in Anthropology and you just may be the living embodiment of my field of study. If I'm correct you're a behavioral throwback to a precivilized breed of man.”

“Are you out of your mind?” Jim stood up abruptly and began to pace around the room. “You show up at my door to tell me I'm some sort of caveman? “

“No, no, you’ve got it all wrong. What I mean is...”

Jim grabbed Blair and backed him against the wall.

“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t slap you right now with harassing a police officer not to mention turn your girlfriend in for breach of patient/doctor confidentiality.”

“Hey, man, she didn’t...” his voice trailed off “Hell, what’s the point.”

“I’m waiting, Sandburg.”

Blair studied him thoughtfully for a moment. Finally, placing his hands firmly on either side of Jim’s face, he leaned in and kissed him.

Stunned, Jim released him and stepped back.

“Why did you do that?”

Blair looked up, his mind still reliving the velvet warmth of the kiss. “I’ve been waiting three years for the chance to do that again. And honestly, I care about you. Maybe now you’ll believe I really want to help you.

Jim regarded him cautiously. “Say I believe you...”

“I’ve got hundreds of files of people who have one or two heightened senses. But you, you’re special, man. You’re the only one I’ve found with all five. And I can teach how to control them.”

Jim walked back over to the couch and picked up his discarded beer and took a sip. “I don’t want to control them. I want to get rid of them.”

Blair followed him. “You can’t get rid of them. They’re a part of you. You just have learn to live with them.”

“And what do you get out all of this? I mean, what’s the pay off for you?”

“My doctorate. I want to write about you. You're my thesis.”

“No way. I’m a cop. I can’t have you following me around.”

“For one thing, you’re desperate, otherwise you wouldn’t have gone into the hospital to have the doctor run all those worthless tests on you,” Blair stated calmly.

Jim sighed heavily as he glanced over at the young man seated across from him. “And what’s the other thing?”

Blair calmly pointed to his portrait setting on the table across from them. “It’s destiny, man.”

***

(TWO DAYS LATER)

“We’re gonna have to tell Simon something, man, because we’ve proven you need me around to help you with you senses,” Blair said calmly as he took another bite of his dinner.

Sipping his beer, Jim regarded the young man sitting across from him at his table. “We’ll think of something, Chief. Right now, I just want to relax and enjoy the couple of days off Simon gave me.”

When they finished dinner, they worked together to make short work of the dishes. Jim discovered that Blair’s close proximity afforded him an opportunity to further imprint his unique scent upon his senses. Jim’s mind was in turmoil. At times, he was embarrassed to find himself so uncharacteristically distracted, and that made the turmoil worse.

Blair seemed to recognize this and once they’d finished straightening up the kitchen, he moved towards the door. “I guess I should be going. I’ll catch you...”

“You don’t have to leave, Chief.”.

He eyed the older man wearily. “We’ve been down this road before, Jim.”

Jim nodded in silence. With his head still bowed, he began to speak so quietly Blair almost couldn’t hear him. “I looked for you at the bar again but never found you.”

“Which time?”

Jim met his accusing eyes without flinching. “Both times.”

Blair’s eyebrows rose seemingly in surprise at that revelation, however, he kept his face emotionless. “Since then, you’ve forgotten all about me until now. Why now, Jim?” There was defiance in his tone as well as a subtle challenge.

“Never forgotten,” he murmured. Taking a deep breath, Jim forced himself to continue as he stepped closer to Blair. “Suppressed maybe, but never forgotten. When I saw that painting, it all came back to the surface. I found I couldn’t keep it hidden any longer. I was afraid I’d never find you again, and I wanted ... no, I needed that small part of you.”

“How do you know that I’m ready for this?” Blair’s voice was steady, his heart wasn’t.

“Aren’t you?”

Jim ran his finger over Blair’s lips before either of them realized his intentions. When they parted instinctively at his touch, Jim sighed.

I’m sorry,” Jim said as he backed away slightly. “I didn’t really have the right to ask that or even touch you like that.”

“Then why does it feel like you do?”

The smoldering flame Jim saw in Blair’s eyes startled him and he was drawn back. His hand cupped Blair’s neck, sliding into the silky depths of his hair.

It required a major effort on Blair’s behalf to restrain himself from either burying himself in Jim’s arms or pulling away completely. Outwardly, Blair appeared cool and calm.

But Jim had been deceived. He realized this the moment his lips brushed against Blair’s. There was nothing cool about the mouth that clung hungrily to his, nor calm about the hands thrusting into his hair.

When Jim finally lifted his mouth from Blair’s, he realized that his hands were actually shaking.

He wanted Blair now. He wanted to drag him upstairs to his bed, or to the couch, or better yet, drag him down to the hardwood floor, and strip off the clothes he wore and bury himself deep inside his welcoming warmth.

Looking down, Jim found there was an invitation in the smoldering depths of Blair’s deep indigo eyes.

Enveloping the younger man in his warm embrace, Jim rested his head on Blair’s shoulder.

“Come upstairs with me?” he invited, his deep voice simmering with barely checked passion.

Blair nodded mutely.

Once Jim reached the top of the stairs he spun around, pulling his lover towards him, his lips recapturing Blair’s, more demanding this time. Blair moaned softly, which only inflamed Jim further as his tongue darted deeper inside the young man’s mouth.

Jim released him momentarily as he stepped back. Placing a quick kiss on his forehead, Jim unbuttoned his lover’s shirt and pushed it aside. He made fast work of the second shirt as well, lifting it over the young man’s head and swiftly pulling it free. Jim wasted no time exploring the open expanse of skin before him with his hands. As his fingers began to gently pinch the hardening nipples, he could feel Blair shiver slightly beneath his touch.

As Blair started to unbutton Jim’s shirt in an effort to remove it, he found himself distracted as Jim began to suck on the soft skin of Blair’s neck.

“Please...so good...” the younger man began to whimper as Jim continued to nibble on his tender throat.

“Easy, babe, we’ll get there,” Jim soothed, as he let go of his lover. Straightening up, Jim finished unbuttoning his own shirt and pulled it off. As he began to remove his khakis and boxers he glanced over and noticed Blair had already stripped off his jeans and was climbing into the large bed. Chuckling, Jim quickly followed.

Maneuvering himself on top of Blair, Jim straddled the smaller man carefully to avoid crushing him with his weight. Lowering his head, Jim’s tongue began teasing one rosy nub. As it hardened, he drew the nipple into his mouth and sucked on it with tantalizing possessiveness. Slowly Jim turned his attention to its neglected twin.

Blair’s hands hung onto Jim’s shoulders as he began to writhe uncontrollably beneath him. As the pressure from Blair’s fingers increased, Jim’s head lifted up questioningly.

“Don’t stop, Jim, please...” he begged.

“Ssssshhh,” Jim soothed him, placing his finger on Blair’s pouting lips. Rolling over on his side, Jim reached over and pulled Blair closer. After a few moments, however, he could feel Blair’s uneven breathing against his chest as he held him.

Releasing his hold, Jim pulled away slightly and looked over at his lover. “What’s wrong, babe?”

Blair didn’t raised his head and spoke into Jim’s chest. “Did I do something wrong?”

“Oh, God, Blair, No.” Jim hugged him tightly. Gently Jim lifted Blair’s chin until his eye’s made contact with his own. “I just need to know... Blair are you sure you’re ready for this?”

A smile slowly crept across Blair’s face as he raised his hand, caressing Jim’s cheek. “I’ve been ready for this for four years,” he chuckled.

Jim closed his eyes and nodded.

Suddenly he found himself flat on his back with Blair pinning Jim’s arms to his sides. Jim cried out in surprise as Blair opened his mouth and latched on to his right nipple and began sucking. Moving over to the opposite side, the left nipple received equal treatment before Blair began to lick and kiss his way further down Jim’s abdomen.

Jim struggled to free his hands from Blair’s iron grip, wanting desperately to touch the soft hair that blanketed his chest. As Blair moved lower, he released his hold on his lover. Jim’s hands immediately found their way into Blair’s head and his fingers dug into the thick curls.

He groaned as Blair’s fingers wrapped around his erection and slowly began to stroke him. Jim’s own fingers tightened in Blair’s hair as the pressure increased.

As Jim watched, Blair slid further down until he was kneeling between Jim’s legs and then he leaned down toward the straining shaft. He closed his eyes and groaned as Blair’s tongue encircled the ruby crown, teasing, taunting.

“Blaaiiiiiirrrrrrr!” he screamed when Blair took Jim’s cock completely into his mouth, his throat relaxing as he nearly swallowed him. Jim’s hips arched up off the bed and his thin hold on reality threatened to dissolve at any moment.

Jim’s hands clutched frantically at the sheets as Blair continued lavishing attention to Jim’s engorged erection with his talented mouth. By alternating between applying powerful suction and licking up and down the impressive length, Blair was able to keep Jim reduced to nearly incoherent moaning.

“Oh...God...soooo gooo...I can’t take...” Jim’s body twisted and shook in response to the sweet torture.

Blair held on to Jim as best he could with one arm as he increased the motion of his mouth rising and falling over Jim’s swollen cock. Moving his free hand down around Jim’s firm ass Blair began to massage the tight muscles. When he felt Jim relax from his touch, he moved his fingers closer to his true goal. As Blair brushed his fingers lightly across the dusky puckered opening of his lower, Jim began thrashing even harder.

“Blaiiirrrr....Please...I’m gonna come...I can’t...”

Blair seemed oblivious to his pleas as he started stroking and petting Jim in earnest. Releasing his hold on Jim’s thigh, Blair quickly licked his fingers before recapturing Jim’s cock in his mouth.

“So good....please...,” he groaned louder.

Jim’s passionate pleas were suddenly drown out as Blair gently inserted one finger at the entrance to Jim’s tight opening and began to ease it past the guardian muscles. It was the beginning of the end. With a feral howl, Jim shut his eyes tightly as he thrust his hips upward., trying to dive deeper into Blair’s willing mouth. His body spasmed uncontrollably as he released a stream of hot, molten liquid down his lover’s throat.

Blair continued to bathe his lover’s softening cock with his tongue, unwilling to release Jim until the tremors abated in the aftermath.

Propping himself up on his elbows, Jim looked down at the young man whose head lay on Jim’s thigh.

“Come here,” Jim said softly as he reached down to pull Blair to him. Rolling them over on their sides, Jim pressed his lips to Blair’s before gently covering his mouth.

As the kiss deepened, Jim slowly released his hold on Blair and lowered his arm, stroking the young man’s body. Blair was softly purring when Jim he reached down to grasp Blair’s erection, intending to return the favor.

Jim’s body froze for an instant, when he discovered the sticky, flaccid organ. Pushing himself up slightly, Jim looked down into Blair’s face.

Blair could only make eye contact for a moment, before he had to look away. “Sorry,” he said, sheepishly. “Guess I got carried away.”

Jim hugged him tightly. Brushing aside several damp curls from Blair’s face, Jim gently kissed his eyelids and cheeks. “Don’t be sorry,” he soothed, before placing a soft kiss on Blair’s passion swollen lips. “Thank you for giving me such a gift.”

Blair looked up at him and smiled.

Reaching down, Jim retrieved the comforter and pulled it up around them. Holding Blair close, Jim softly stroked his hair.

“Did you really come back looking for me at the bar in Bali?” Blair asked softly.

Jim’s hand stopped its motion for a moment. “Yeah,” he said with a sigh. “I went down there almost every night, but never saw you there again before I had to leave.”

He could feel Blair’s body sag heavily against him. Jim hugged him tighter. “I went back to the Hideaway here in town several times looking for you, too,” he said softly. “I even found the guy who was bartending back then to see if he had seen you recently. I was still trying to find you.”

Blair lay beside him motionless. After a few moments he took a deep breath. “I did go back looking for you at the club a couple of times but you weren’t around. I heard you were a cop and...” Blair’s voice trailed off.

Jim looked over at him. “And you wondered if it was all an act on my part?” he filled in.

Blair couldn’t meet his eyes. “Maybe not at first. Later, when I read in the papers that you had gotten married, I had to wonder,” he said honestly. “But then I learned about your divorce and I found I just couldn’t get you out of my mind ...

“Getting married was one of my bigger mistakes, I’m afraid.”

Blair’s head shot up, his eyes locked on Jim’s. “One of?”

“Yeah,” Jim chuckled. “Wasting all these missed chances to be with you was definitely the biggest mistake.”

Blair cuddled closer to the bigger man. “I think maybe we’ve got plenty of time to catch up.”

“Count on it, Chief,” Jim agreed. With a smile on his face, he felt himself drifting off to sleep.

The End.

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Author's Acknowledgments: Thanks to Lisa for giving me a chance to participate again in the ezine experience. This is a very talented group of writers and artists and I'm very fortunate to be able to be a part of this.

Thank you to Blue Tattoo for once again allowing me to use one of her lovely pictures in my story. It truly inspired me.

Thanks to Diana, Mary and Sue for their last minute 'tag team' beta reading [g]. Despite my best intentions, RL, injuries and a lack of cooperation on the part of the boys, seriously hampered my ability to get this story whipped into shape until the last minute. If not for the help of these three wonderful people, it never would have seen the light of day.

To my best friend Cheri, for once again providing inspiration and feedback as well as pointing out all those continuity flaws [G].

And last, but certainly not least... Thanks to Patt for all your words of wisdom when I wasn't sure the whole idea was working, for the needed laughs when RL was getting me down and, of course, for your great pictures. I couldn't have done it without you. Who needs sleep when I've got you around to share my warped sense of humor with? And Patt's one of only two people who knows the alternate ending this story threatened to take at one point. [WG].