Author's Notes: No profit, copyright laws bent but not broken. Alpha-Beta'd by the ever-patient Arianna (thank you!) and graciously hosted by Starfox in a room of her 'Mansion'.

Spoilers: Prologue refers to the aftermath of "Dead Certain"; Story takes place post-TSbyBS and Blair is a cop; It is also a continuation of my story "The Hamantaschen Defense" but can stand alone.

Summary: Jim learns some details about his 'Genetic Advantages', but they don't appear particularly advantageous.

Warnings: Language, h/c

Toxic Legacy

by Roslyn

********************

Prologue:

Friday, November 29, 1997; 2:45 A.M.; The Loft:

Jim knelt beside the bowl, exhausted and in considerable pain from wrenching abdominal cramps. Dizzy, nauseated and now dehydrated, he simply wasn't capable of another trip up the staircase. Not that the choice was his, any longer.

"Jim? I've made up the couch for you and put an extra quilt on it, too. I know it's warm in here from the fire, but you must be cold from fluid loss by now. Some sweet tea in about ten minutes might help some. Just a bit, though."

It didn't take sentinel hearing to discern Blair's lapse into disgusted muttering. Just as well since his hearing was out of whack, along with the rest of his senses. He glanced again at his shaking hands. At least the burning of his reddened skin had lessened. Unsure if sensations were merely normalized now or unnaturally suppressed, Jim was glad to be able to hear Blair's continued diatribe. The anthropology student was busy consigning agribusiness to the furthest reaches of the netherworld, in anger at the consequences to Jim of contact with pesticides.

Jim comforted himself with thoughts of the week's accomplishments I still caught that bastard, Morrow. He nearly got away in Leland's biplane, but I got him. And got himself coated in the process by the crop duster's spray mechanism. The remembered satisfaction was short-lived as he resumed his miserable retching over the bowl.

A cool hand steadied his forehead while another stroked lightly at the nape of his neck.

"Easy, man. I've got you. The doctor said it would pass soon ..." Blair was thankfully over his own gut discomfort, although his lungs were still complaining about the abuse they'd suffered from the spray. That cough wasn't getting much better. Still, it was Jim's prolonged efforts to purge the chemicals from his system that was most alarming.

Feeling limp as a dishrag, the powerful former Army Ranger was half-led, half-carried to the couch by his sympathetic friend. "That's right, slow and steady. You'll be better soon, tough guy. Very soon..."

********************

Tuesday, July 4, 2000, 12:00 P.M.; Roosevelt Lake Park, Wa.:

"Soon, tough guy. Vacation is coming very soon." Blair dropped a hand lazily to the side of his lounger, stroking the grass lightly. A towering oak provided shade without the overpowering scent of the pines, normally so revered in the Pacific Northwest. Shards of sunlight regularly exited the tangle of branches, warming their skins.

"Yep, next week we head north for some serious trout fishing." Jim stretched happily on the firm nylon webbing covering the aluminum frame of his own lounger. He'd insisted on packing the light, folding beach chairs into the truck for the Cascade Police Department's Fourth of July picnic.

Blair recalled Jim's claim that his 'old bones' deserved better than a blanket on the ground. Of course, he'd immediately spoiled the effect of his announcement by going out and running three miles. "Here's to your 'old bones'," Sandburg murmured softly.

Jim cracked an eyelid open. "I figured you'd approve." Roosevelt Lake was a popular spot and if he was going to have to postpone his vacation camping trip for this shindig, he was damned well going to be comfortable doing it. Pleasantly full from the pot-luck pickings and barbecue, most of the picnic attendees were sedentary.

Blair shifted to his side, facing Jim. "I really appreciate your willingness to postpone the camping trip until next week. It means a lot to me to have this week with Naomi and helping Mrs. 'O' to move down the hallway. We'll still have all of next week."

Jim closed his eyes again, against the strengthening noon sun. "No problem. Might be nice to get a bit mellow before heading up to the campgrounds anyway. We won't have to waste the first couple of days 'decompressing', as you call it. We can only get a five-day pass anyway, this time of year."

"Mellow. Sure." Blair cleared his throat, meaningfully. "I can get behind mellow. Just can't quite connect it with James Joseph Ellison but hey, I'm open to all kinds of mystical experiences."

Jim's grin was wide enough to be audible. "Be nice. I haven't let you cut a hole in my wall yet, Junior."

They both opened their eyes and exchanged glances of eminent satisfaction in the forthcoming arrangement. Blair would take Mrs. Oster's next door loft unit and she would move down the hall to a single level unit, sparing her arthritic knees the climb up to her bedroom each night. Installation of a connecting door would then create the best of all worlds for the roommates. They would enjoy expanded privacy while maintaining the closeness that their working and personal lives demanded.

The sharp call of a bird of prey drew their attention skyward. Blair saw the distant motions of a hawk, perhaps a bald eagle and immediately glanced at Jim. Already enthralled with the sight, Jim broke off his brief study to look towards his partner. The unspoken longing in the gaze led Blair to lightly spring to his feet. "Let's go, man. We'll have some privacy in that glade on the other side of those trees." Blair took off for the nearby tree line that defined the borders of their gathering permit.

Jim followed, eagerly. 'It's been ages since ...well, since.' Still lolling about in a relative stupor following their potluck feast, the rest of the Cascade holiday celebrants quietly watched the more energetic of their offspring jump about in the sunshine. Jim was allowed to slip away, unquestioned. He joined Blair in the next clearing, near the main road leading into the park.

His young partner leaned against a large boulder. That remnant of an earlier age made a convenient backrest from which to watch the birds circle overhead. "I don't understand why they'd be here instead of the cliffs further north."

"Easier pickings here, Chief. Where there's a road, there's road kill. These birds think of the highway like it's a 'take-out' joint."

"Great. Wonderburger for birds."

"Helps keep more of them alive, though. The population declines fast enough with the shrinking habitats to begrudge them a few benefits of industrialization."

"Speaking of. Time for you to gain a few benefits from your vacation time and this setting. The entrance is closed to traffic today for our security so you won't have much of an audience."

The sharp cries of hunting carnivores were again heard. Blair touched his shoulder, lightly. "Go on, Jim. You can tell me about it later." He removed his hand from contact with the Sentinel, in order to let Jim's mind follow his senses more freely.

After a second of hesitation, Jim redirected his gaze upward. His usual resting level of tension subsided as his breathing slowed and his shoulders relaxed. His weight shifted slightly onto his left leg, stance slightly widened for better balance as his concentration shifted to the swooping figures on high.

That one must have a six foot wingspan in full glide. No white under feathers among the dark brown plumage, so it's a mature adult. Not a bald eagle after all; the skull is smaller than that ...and there's the hooked beak with the tell-tale golden cere. My God, the sun is reflecting on the golden feathers at your nape. Bank a turn for me, sweetheart. Dip a wing and let me see your yellow bands. Yes! There they are, on the upper wing coverts. You beauty! I'm with you, cloaked in blue, cloudless ... firmament. The biblical term for the floor of heaven that goes on forever...

The subliminal vibrations typical of any alert human being, settled into a form of physical silence. Blair recognized that his enthralled charge had entered a visual zone. Go for it, man. Go in joy. Content to allow it to continue a bit longer, the younger man relished this rare opportunity to see his sentinel soar.

The rhythmic grasp and release of a solid hand just above his elbow softly summoned Jim into a renewed perception of information from nearer sources; the touch of his partner's hand, slightly cooler temperature as the sun dipped lower into the afternoon sky, the whine of a mosquito, and the laughter of children playing. He sighed and fully returned to the world occupied by his friend, who was carefully guiding him home.

"That was amazing, Chief." Jim's cheeks reddened. "Uhm, how long?"

Blair released his hair tie, now that the day's heat had lessened. "Not long. What an incredible day, huh?" He glanced at Jim in the absence of a response. "Hey, don't tell me you're embarrassed by a little zone!" Blair nudged his friend's shoulder. "What's up with that? Are you afraid all the other sentinels are gonna laugh at you?" he teased.

Jim turned on him, a laughing glint in his eye communicating his gratitude for the acceptance and the support. The raised eyebrow that followed promised retribution for the taunt. "You are in such trouble, Junior." The saunter turned into a stalking approach to the now retreating, but unrepentant man. Brushing his hair out of his eyes, Jim's prey suddenly shouted with laughter and broke for the dubious safety of their colleagues.

Blair made it through the trees ahead of his pursuer to find the rest of the crew had recovered from their feast and were playing touch football. He loped over to join Henri's team. Jim, following closely on his heels, changed direction to join Rafe's group and the battle was joined.

********************

Naomi had arrived after lunch and sat, somewhat apart from the rest of the picnickers, observing Blair playing field games he'd eschewed as a child. Returning triumphantly from the field of mock battle, Blair greeted her effusively and Jim bussed her affectionately on the cheek. While Naomi's feelings about her son's career choices remained unfavorable, she'd begun increasing the frequency of her contacts with him over recent months, almost as if she were in the 'get acquainted' stages of a new friendship.

Refusing offers of a seat on a lounger, Naomi gracefully sank into a comfortable position on the lush grass beside her son's chair.

"So, how's the house-sitting going, Mom?" Blair relaxed happily against the nylon webbing of his chair. Naomi's stay in the nearby home of an absent friend made this visit more satisfying.

"Fine, although I had to tell that gardener not to use any Round-up. Honestly, I can't believe that MaryAnn allows the use of herbicides on her property."

"Does she know you vetoed the use of them?"

"Of course, and she agreed there was no reason for me to be breathing that stuff all week, especially since I offered to get rid of the weeds for her. I've already taken care of the growth between the bricks on the path with boiling water and the dandelions on the border work, with vinegar. A shame, they were so pretty. Now, how can I help with your upcoming move?"

Blair invited her to visit his new apartment-to-be for advice on the Feng-Shui aspects of his furniture arrangements. He was pretty much on the fence about such things, but had decided she might as well have the enjoyment of making that determination for him. Not that he even had much of anything yet in the way of furniture, but it would be a simple way of incorporating her into his new lifestyle. "Mrs. Oster is expecting you to come by, so just call a bit ahead of time."

"Such a lovely woman. I'm pleased you have such a nice neighbor. I'm sure her place will have good vibes for you."

"It was a happy place. She'd lived there with her husband for many years before he died a few years ago."

"That's a good omen. Oh, thanks, Jim." Both she and Blair accepted some iced tea from him.

Jim happily resumed a position of indolence on his lounger and sipped his own drink as he listened to the pair discuss his partner's new living quarters. He suddenly frowned as the word, 'purify' came to his ears and he had a brief vision of an open, connecting doorway. "Uh, this wouldn't involve any sage now, would it?"

********************

"So the guy hugs his girlfriend, and swears he'd been with her that night. She thinks about it, not even realizing her hesitation was screwing up his alibi and ..."

"Rafe! What part of 'no shop talk today' didn't you get when we came on this little junket. Too many kids around who'll get upset about what Mommy and Daddy do at work if they listen in. And you can be sure they will!" Simon looked sharply at his man, not really surprised at the lapse. Members of Major Crimes had naturally drifted together over the course of the day. It was unrealistic to expect they could drop their preoccupations with some of the uglier things urban dwellers imposed upon one another.

"Sorry, Captain." The cheerful voice didn't exactly radiate contrition.

"Rafe, m'boy, you have got to mellow out! Now I'm heading for the Island next week and ..."

" Long Island doesn't count as an island, 'H'! You're going to be spending your time in New York City bars and shows, not lying on some coral beach!"

"Yeah, with the 'lying' taking place when 'H' gets back to the office and tells us all about what he did on his summer vacation!" Megan entered the fray following Rafe's rejoinder.

Naomi seemed content to sit near them and responded gaily to all remarks directed at her. Still, she didn't appear to initiate much in the way of interactions.

A cell phone shrilly broke into Blair's animated recital of one of his academy stories, deemed suitable for little pitchers with big ears. 'Hi, Sherry! No, I'm fine, what made you think ...What? No, of course I'm not mad or anything. Sure I'd like to see you, just been really busy. Huh? Why would you be mad?"

Nearby, interested parties began to listen more closely.

"We didn't discuss anything like that." Blair's voice dropped by about twenty decibels and several hundred hertz in frequency, thereby attracting even more attention from those around him. "I don't understand. You wanted to have sex, we had fun. So? Well why didn't you say you wanted more? It was supposed to be, like, casual. I..." He looked incredulously at the phone as he pulled it away from his ear, as if that inanimate bit of plastic had been responsible for shocking him. A dial tone sounded indicating the other party had hung up. Emphatically.

And then his gaze settled on his mother's face.

"Can I speak to you privately, Blair?"

"Uhm, no?"

"Now, please." Blair reluctantly trotted off after her, unable to think of a good reason not to do as he was told.

Simon approached Jim, looking after the pair with no little amusement. Jim looked up and waved his Captain over to take Blair's now empty lounger. "So what was that all about? Can you tell me what they're talking about?"

"I won't listen in, if that's what you're hoping for, but there's no reason not to watch the show…"

The pair watched in fascination as Blair's hand movements and obviously impassioned speech came to an abrupt halt. His mien grew more and more morose as Naomi calmly spoke, and his head dropped in dejection within five minutes of her beginning her lecture.

Simon chuckled. "I think our Doctor of Philosophy just got busted down to his Doctor Dentons."

"You got that right. Maybe it'll do him some good. He's a bit too casual with his dates, and while he may have grown up around 'free love', most women don't quite see it all that free of obligation."

"I sometimes forget how young he really is, after the year that's past."

"He's both the youngest and oldest person I know, Simon."

"Which one do you prefer?"

"They're both a pain in the ass."

"Amen."

They exchanged grins of perfect comprehension. Simon spoke it aloud. "And we're full of shit."

"Amen."

********************

The explanations, once given, sounded rather lame even to Blair. He hadn't 'heard' Sherry's underlying needs, only her outward exuberance and interest in being with him. He awaited Naomi's lecture on yet another reason her son was turning out to be something of a disappointment.

"This is most likely my fault, Sweetie."

"Yours?" Whatever he'd expected to hear, this wasn't it.

"You grew up believing my way was a common way of thinking but it wasn't, not even back in those days. I sought out people who weren't looking for permanence because I couldn't accept such a straitjacket approach to life. But most people want that, and well, I never 'heard' a lot of the men who were interested in me and wanted more than I could give."

"I remember a lot of your guys being upset when we'd move on, but I didn't really analyze all the connections, ya know? Not in the later years, anyway."

"Why would you? You were still very young and involved in your studies. But you mustn't base your relationships on what you grew up seeing."

"Do you have regrets now?" Naomi didn't answer right away. "Mom?"

"No, I don't, Sweetie. I've never felt the pull to others that you seem to have with your friends. Some fierce loyalties yes, but mostly to those championing similar causes than as individuals themselves."

Blair looked at the ground, restraining the emotions engendered by Naomi's, what, emptiness? No, not empty, but still isolated for all her incredibly large number of acquaintances. He looked up at his mother.

"We're different people, Blair. Your needs being different from mine doesn't change the fact that I generally had my needs met with my own lifestyle. You shouldn't feel concern and certainly not pity."

"I didn't mean, well, okay. You need different things, but don't all people need friends more than 'compatriots'?"

"I'm connected to the earth, not its population. And there are enough people who think that a sufficient tie to their fellow 'travelers' here. I've always been sorry that wasn't enough for you, but that's one of the reasons I pushed you into college early. After adapting, you'd be free to form attachments if that was your need. I....I just didn't think it would lead you to this." Naomi hastened to complete her thought. "But I can accept now that this is your need."

"Choice, Naomi. Need has grown out of those choices but doesn't rule it. I would never choose to do anything I didn't believe in."

"Then I guess you really are my favorite son," she teased gently, resignedly.

"And only, right? Right?" He reprised the quote that had become a maxim between them and embraced her happily.

********************

Simon followed Jim and Blair back to the loft, staying to share a light dinner of tuna salad sandwiches. His youngest detective was busy contemplating his vacation plans for the following week. Out loud, of course.

"Jim, could you provide the 'Cliff Notes' for this vacation? I got lost someplace between the artists' colony and a museum for UFOs. Just idle speculation here, but if an Unidentified Flying Object is in a museum, it's identified, right?"

Jim rescued his boss and forestalled what was sure to be an equally obscure, second rendition of their plans. "First, Seattle museums including Museum of the Mysteries, for the paranormal. Then La Conner, a fishing village and artist colony where Sandburg has an acquaintance ..."

"Friend, good friend!"

"... that he met once for thirty minutes, thereby developing an undying, uhm, acquaintanceship. Followed by the real object of this journey, which is four days of steelhead fishing on the Skagit."

"Thank you. I expect phone numbers and camping coordinates for all stops. Approximate dates and times."

"You need a note from Naomi, too, man? Signed permission slip, perhaps?"

"Already done." Jim pulled out a neatly printed slip and handed it to his friend.

"You have a permission slip from Naomi?"

"Itinerary, Einstein. You know the drill when you go off into the wilderness."

Blair grinned at them both, dropping his pretense of indignation. "Of course I know the drill. Bring Jim Ellison. The third army is also desirable, but hey, if they're busy, bring Banks. Sure you can't make it, Simon?"

"Nope, the only way you both got time off in July is if I stayed behind. But Jim, you've got even more accrued leave so whaddya say to taking off a couple days in August?"

"Sure."

"Without me?" Blair drew himself up to his full height. His audience appeared singularly unimpressed with the effect.

Simon laughed. "You're working, rookie. I also figure you'll be breaking in your new, uhm, do they still call 'em 'pads'?"

"Only if you're talking frog and lily."

Jim enjoyed a sensation of contentment washing over him as Blair went on to describe his new apartment.

"It's really cool, Simon. It's big, clean and pleasant enough. I certainly won't mind it being a bit plain - my stuff will look fine against the cream walls. Mrs. Oster says she's going to leave the couch there and take her son's set since he's getting a new one. I can sleep on that until I get a bed for the loft area. The covering is ..."

"Chief, has it occurred to you that you can fix it up to suit your tastes?"

"What do you mean?"

"It'll be your place. You can fix it up any way you want. I'm sure Mrs. Oster won't care as long as nothing you bring inside walks around on its own. You have a 'no pet' clause in the lease but otherwise, it's yours."

"Well, sure, I guess..."

Jim exchanged startled looks with Simon, suddenly recognizing an immense chasm in Blair's upbringing and life up until now. A chasm he'd done nothing to fill, in all the years they'd shared the loft and it angered him. Blair had surrounded them both with many borrowed items from the University, but they'd all been returned. Little remained to mark his uniqueness besides those books of his.

"Stop observing, damn it! You're allowed to be part of the culture, Dr. Sandburg. This is your corner of society to shape, got it?" When no response was forthcoming, Jim regretted his impatient tone and tried again. "How do you want the place to look?"

Blair considered his options. "You're thinking, maybe I should paint the walls?"

"I'm thinking, maybe you should pad them." So much for patience.

"Cute, man. I think I'll move in first and then decide how I feel about, well, my space. Damn, that sounds really fine." Smiling broadly now, Blair's sudden discovery of a proprietary interest in his living space was profoundly satisfying to his partner.

"Good enough, Chief." And about damned time, although the loft is going to look awfully empty without Sandburg's clutter. Maybe it's time for me to pick out a few things myself. No reason for the place to look so spare.'

"And we can break through the wall while you're away in August with Simon, so you won't have to deal with the dust and crap, putting in the new door."

"Not a chance in hell that you're gonna do that in my absence!"

********************

Thursday, July 13; Skagit River campsite:

The cast had been made, allowing Jim's gaze to wander from his fishing line to the living wall along the riverbank, a green stucco of pine needles and deciduous leaves.

"There's power there." Blair crackled over the walkie-talkie sitting on the bank behind Jim.

Figuring each would want some solitude over this length of time in the wilderness, they were nonetheless experienced enough to know some form of communication device would keep that luxury free of anxieties. Cell phones wouldn't work out this way, but walkie-talkies did fine as each replenished themselves in this primal environment. Jim focused downstream where Blair was sitting on a rock, half naked in his oldest set of cut-offs. He squinted a bit, unsure of what he was seeing, and then laughed heartily.

"Was the paint job necessary to gain that insight, Chief?" His partner had evidently decided to experiment with Chopec and Amerind markings on his body, courtesy of native mud. Some type of plant had been used to contribute a bluish-purple hue to the glutinous mixture he'd attained.

"It's intended to help in preparing for the intensity of the meditative experience. You know, narrowing your focus and stuff."

"Does it work?"

"Uhm, well, maybe. But the stuff I used just kind of itched a lot after it dried."

"Too bad."

The sound of Jim's poorly suppressed laughter didn't make the next confession any easier.

"Uh, Jim?"

"Yeah?"

"Well, damnit, the stuff doesn't seem to be rinsing off. I'm going to go through life looking like the shaman of a tribe of Smurfs!"

Jim indulged in a wide smile, knowing Blair was too far off to see his expression.

"There's power there." He paused for effect and saw Blair raise an eyebrow. "As in 'power washing', which is what I'm gonna have to do to you! Or maybe I can run you through the Third Avenue Car Wash on the way home?"

He didn't have to squint to see the upstanding finger in the middle of Blair's right hand. "Now, now, Chief. You don't want to insult a pal who's going to generously refrain from taking pictures of this, would you?

A second hand joined in to confirm the message apparently incompletely communicated by the first hand. And both walkie-talkies crackled with unrestrained mirth.

***************************

The steelhead had been incredibly delicious, neither man minding the daily inclusion of fish in their diets. Blair had kept things interesting by shifting spices each day and refreshing slightly wilted greens by washing them in the cold Skagit waters before cooking. A snared and field-dressed rabbit had also added variety on their third day of camping. This, their last night before returning to Cascade, was to be relished even as they engaged in their well practiced routine of breaking camp. Everything except the tent and dirty dishes had been packed up and put into the truck. Tomorrow would see the tent broken down, followed by an early stint of fishing for catch to bring home for the freezer.

"I'll clean up tonight, Chief. You've done the bulk of the kitchen work this trip so far."

"Well, you've caught most of the meals. Thanks for not minding my using this environment to work on my skills. It's slow going but I'm increasing the speed with which I can focus my energies." Blair let out an aggravated sigh. "I guess I'd better plan on a cold water scrub tonight.

"Let me know if you need help with 'power washing' your painted hide, Shaman. You can't go back to the city like that. Let's take the pans and dishes down to the stream too and get all the washing up done in one fell swoop."

"I bet this never happened to Incacha. And if you ever tell Simon or the gang... well, I haven't practiced any shamanic curses yet, but you might be the first one I do!"

"Can shamans really curse people?"

"No, but I can dream, can't I?"

"Move it, Chief, before we lose the daylight." Jim picked up the plastic tub with the dirty pans and motioned to Blair to pick up the coffee pot currently filled with plain heated water. "I'll bring the hot water for you to use in removing the clay dye and then you can rinse off with just a small amount of the colder river water. It'll work better and be more comfortable." The helpful tone was belied by a decided smirk.

Resigned to the inevitable teasing, Blair complied. "Thanks, I wasn't looking forward to a cold soak before bed. Especially with the wind picking up now." He carefully wrapped the pot's handle with a cloth before lifting it and followed his friend down the path to the river bank.

Jim washed the dishes while Blair placed the hot water on a flat rock and surveyed his chest and waist markings. Pulling the snap on his shorts open, he pulled the waistband outward, assuming a look of disgust on his face. A loud snort of amusement came from his partner's position just slightly upstream from him. A blush moved downward from his face across his torso. "Not one word, Ellison. Not one word."

"I didn't say anything."

"You think too loudly."

"Get to it, Nature Boy."

Blair decided the natural, carefree laugh of the older man made it all worthwhile. Completing his ablutions he concluded, "I'll look a bit purple here and there but no one will see it."

"Well, you can always cancel some dates to avoid intrusive questions over the next few days. Or you can claim you're practicing celibacy and you're just not 'that' kind of boy." Jim abruptly ended the ribbing he was giving his friend, jerking his head upwards.

"That damn plane again."

"What plane?"

"A crop duster went by a few miles to the south a couple hours ago. It's coming back but much closer to us. Wait, you'll hear it shortly." Jim packed up the now clean dishes in the storage sack.

Blair grabbed for a hair tie in his pocket and drew back the mass that was out of control in the rising wind that now carried the sound more clearly to his own ears. "Not that close, Jim. Kind of faint. And what would a crop duster be doing out this way? There aren't any farms near here."

"No, there aren't. That plane is a good few miles off course unless they're doing a mail run or some such thing." Jim sniffed cautiously and frowned. Blair ceased to hear the whine of the engines although Jim seemed to follow the plane with his enhanced senses for a few more minutes as the sky darkened earlier than the approaching sunset would forecast. A grunt accompanied by a glance to the southeast informed Blair that the plane had exited the sentinel's perceptual range.

Blair's hair tore free of its tie suddenly, blinding him as it whipped across his face. "Wow, that's some storm coming up. We'd better head for the tent, man." He rubbed briefly at his chest and coughed.

Jim looked at him in concern. "Maybe we should just head for home."

Blair nodded and coughed again. "Yeah, better to drive in the storm than fish in its soggy aftermath tomorrow morning." He coughed once more and noticed that Jim's brow now seemed furrowed; his sight unfocussed. "Headache, Jim?"

"Yeah, all of a sudden and I'm kind of queasy, too. You okay? Your cough sounds funny."

"I'm fine, a little out of breath maybe. Dust or sand from the wind maybe."

"There's something blowing in on the wind, Chief! Smells like pesticides, but what the hell could they possibly be spraying out here and in this kind of wind?" Eyes watering, Jim realized they were going to have to take evasive action of some kind.

Blair's voice was strained now, his lungs further constricting. "We'd better get to shelter. I think the truck will be a better barrier than the tent'll be." He grabbed Jim's shoulder and noticed the tears running. "Can you see at all?"

Jim suddenly gagged, turning abruptly to the brush on the far side of the tent. His stomach emptied itself quickly and violently. Fighting dizziness, he stood and accepted a bottle of water suddenly thrust into his hand by a breathless Sandburg.

"Rinse and spit, man. Don't swallow anything yet - it'll just come back up." He pulled the older man along, rightly assuming his vision was cloudy. "Come on - it's lucky we packed up most of our stuff already." Another fit of coughing led to some creative cursing that Ellison admired despite his own advancing illness.

Jim fought back another wave of nausea and felt the sharp pang of abdominal cramps. He broke away from Blair once again and headed for the bushes. Kneeling again, he was wretchedly ill.

"Jim!" Sprinting after him, Blair found himself seriously short of breath as he tried to help his friend to stand up again. Doubling over in a cramp, Jim pulled away violently.

"Oh, God! Blair, give me some space here." Jim tore at the opening of his pants and squatted in the brush, unable to manage a run to the latrine they'd dug upon arrival at the campsite.

Respecting his friend's dignity, Blair reluctantly retreated and trotted back to the truck for toilet tissue. Blessing his accurate aim, he lobbed it over to Jim where it landed within reach of the distressed man. Another coughing fit forced the younger man to dive for his backpack to retrieve a small device. Shaking it before placing the round plastic end in his mouth, Blair squeezed the attached pump and inhaled deeply of the mist that would restore his suddenly diminished lung capacity. When he looked up, Jim was by his side with a trickle of blood running from one nostril. He winced when he noticed Jim's blurry gaze fixed on the inhaler.

Blair was momentarily distracted from his dilemma about how to explain his ownership of an inhaler, by that dark trickle. "Your nose is bleeding!"

"Blood on the toilet paper, too. Guess I'm bleeding a bit internally." Jim gagged again but had nothing more to eject. "Chief, I'm smelling the same crap we were exposed to in that case a few years ago with that Morrow creep."

"Shit! You were so fucking sick last time. We both were but ..." The deluge broke and Blair was suddenly grateful to be wet. "Okay, we've gotta get the stuff off of us." He feverishly began to unbutton Jim's shirt, coughing intermittently.

Weakly protesting at first, Jim quickly realized Blair was stripping him of contaminated clothing. "I've got it, Chief. Get your own clothing off now. This crap is fucking with your lungs." Blair was forced to help him though, as Jim's movements became increasingly uncoordinated. Naked, they both scrubbed at their hair to clean it thoroughly before entering the truck. Jim sighed in relief as the heavy rain reduced the burning of his previously exposed skin. They entered the truck, shivering, hoping it would adequately seal out the elements and further contamination carried on the wind.

"I don't wanna hear word one about our dripping on the seats, man!" Blair dove over the seat back, buttocks flashing whitely in the dimness of the truck. "Damn, the blankets are still in the tent." He recovered their towels and placed a couple of clean ones beneath them as seat covers. Two used towels were produced to rub against their skins to remove remaining residues of the poisons. Blair was completely focused upon the need to remove the chemicals from Jim's skin and was shocked to hear him give a half-scream of pain from the contact. "Where's touch?"

"Around nine - hundred!" the pained man gritted out between clenched teeth.

"I'm so sorry man, but we can't get you better while you're still absorbing the poisons through your skin. Jim, please - let me..." Blair's eyes misted in sympathy at any pain great enough to cause that outcry.

"Do it. Just ... do it fast."

Blair worked swiftly and then promptly tossed the now-contaminated towels out the truck window. Another pull at his inhaler helped Blair maintain his running diatribe against fate and crop dusters while wrapping a shivering Jim in one of their few remaining clean towels. "That shmuck thinks we're fucking crops? I'm sure they're not allowed to spray near water. Rivers are supposed to be protected from this kind of crap. These fish are gonna be toast." Blair again rummaged in the truck cab to find clothing, clean or otherwise. Jim was looking shocky and needed immediate warmth, but his hands were stayed as he wielded a sweatshirt, hoping to slip it over Jim's head.

"Can't, Chief. I just ...can't. The nap on those towels felt like gravel. The clothing - not yet, please." Jim shook his head in misery so complete it negated his usual resistance to showing any sign of weakness. Blair moved to start the engine in order to turn on the heater when his hand was stayed by his partner.

Jim looked at him with bloodshot eyes. How the hell can I take care of him when I can't even take care of myself? The effort required to speak was nearly beyond him. "No heater, Chief. Your lungs don't need the exhaust fumes right now and we can't chance running down the battery. It'll be awhile before the storm lets up enough for us to travel safely in our conditions." He sagged and reluctantly moaned with pain from his burning gut and raw skin. Hearing sensitive as well, he lowered his voice, uttering barely audible apologies. "I can't, just can't. So sorry."

Blair knew his aid had been accepted these past years because it had been related to defining unique concepts and management strategies for enhanced senses. That realm was sufficiently unrelated to the inhospitable and isolated world Jim had inhabited since the loss of his mother, to be accepted by the stoic loner. But far more basic, physical needs would have to be addressed at this point, with considerable ingenuity.

Blair quickly donned his own jeans and a warm sweater, difficult in the small space he occupied. Wishing he better understood the biochemistry involved, Blair frantically sought past memories of other subjects with hyper-acute senses. Children - he'd known highly sensitive children during summers spent working in programs for the developmentally disabled as an undergraduate. Again diving back over the seat, he found his 'stake-out blanket'. Exquisitely soft, made of brushed cotton quilting, he'd happily withstood endless teasing about his 'blankie' in exchange for the warmth it brought him on cold winter nights.

Voice low, he prepared his friend for his bizarre suggestion. "Jim, you gotta trust me on this now. I've seen this done before with crack addicted babies who are so off-the-scale touch sensitive that they hate everyone who approaches them. I wanna swaddle you in this tightly,"- he held up a hand to forestall the pained protest - "so the surface area covered is so broad that it won't register as a million separate sources of stimulation. It always worked with those kids so the sensory principles oughta be similar." He held up the huge square of cloth expectantly.

Jim nodded, his expression puzzled. Blair was shocked to realize it wasn't resignation but trust he was witnessing in the pale depths. Jim leaned towards him, offering both his pain and his conviction that Blair could alleviate it.

Confidence bolstered, Blair planned the logistics of the aid his partner would require in the confines of the truck cab. He moved the seat to the maximum distance possible from the steering wheel. Struggling to his knees while trying to avoid hitting the horn, he warned Jim in a voice pitched low and minimally audible. "I'm moving around behind you - shove over a bit and towards the middle."

Once again sitting, but now hugging the passenger door, Blair wrapped the man tightly from neck to thighs in the blanket. "Okay, now I'm going to help you lie on your right side across my lap. Bring up your knees in a fetal position to help with the stomach cramps and make you fit in this space. Lying down will also help gravity reduce the twitching and muscle spasms making you work so hard to be upright." Finally, Jim was optimally positioned in their odd shelter.

Blair began the litany of resetting 'the dials', and skipped the process of vision normalization by virtue of having Jim keep his eyes shut. Proximal senses of touch, smell and taste were always harder to regulate and he was counting on the swaddling to work on all of those particular avenues. Jim continued to tense with muscles spasms every few minutes, his inhalations matching the irregularly-timed contractions.

Blair began to breathe audibly, his own bronchial passages thankfully re-expanded to normal levels. Setting a rhythm Jim would pick up by ear and feel, he helped the sick man's respiration fall into a more regular, if shallow, pattern. The auditory assault of rain on the steel roof became a lullaby of nature.

Jim slept.

Blair fought to remain motionless to reduce sensory input to the over-stimulated sentinel, now tightly held like a child in his arms. Meditation eluded Blair's similarly over-stimulated nervous system and he realized he would have to tough it out for the present. Then, mental images swirled. Those same designs he'd drawn on his body in the patterns shown to him by Incacha so long ago. They took him to a place where he could wait in patience for the right moment.

A change in the breathing rhythms of his charge roused Blair from a state that defied definition in his experience. Anticipating some degree of panic to set in when Jim realized he couldn't move, Blair chanced startling him with the sound of his voice, no longer difficult to hear over the sluggish remnants of the rainstorm.

"Everything's okay now, Jim. The storm let up, you're tightly wrapped in a blanket to reduce shock and the sensory spikes you had from the chemical fumes we were exposed to awhile ago. Remember? Take your time waking up; no rush and we need to move slow just now."

'Hands. One on my shoulder, another on my neck. Pressure evenly applied all over my body - he said a blanket. Right. Legs are free though there's not much room. Truck cab. Pesticides, oh God, not again. Stop it, Ellison. Take inventory. I can hear Blair's voice, level fine. Next level - okay, there's the movement of a mouse under the truck. Good place to ride out the storm. So tired. Keep going! Sight - ah, light's dim from the storm. Okay, glove box - check. Next level, oh yeah, the dirt in the carpet nap is disgusting. Gotta clean that out. Check. Touch. Feels good, that stroking over the back of my neck. Ah, okay, this blanket has polyester fibers mixed in with the cotton. Bet Nature Boy didn't know it when he bought his 'stakeout blankie' but I feel 'em. Good. Real good. The cab smells of us, not the chemicals. Jesus, I don't want to reach out any further with smell ... Fuck that. Just get it done. Ah, all's safe there, too. Storm must've blown the cloud further out or the rain cleared the air.

"Jim, man? You're doing okay and had a good rest, a couple of hours, I think. The storm is pretty tame now and I think you'll be able to tolerate your clothing now. Then I'm gonna drive us to the hospital and get you checked out."

Jim pressed his cheek into the soft fibers of Blair's worn jeans, conveying gratitude and a rarely afforded sanction of the care being lavished upon him. The hand at his neck was arrested momentarily and then resumed its firm but gentle, wordless rhythm across the fine hairs at Jim's nape.

Another moment couldn't hurt. Or two.

********************

Saturday, July 15; Cascade General Hospital:

What the hell is happening? Oh, hospital. Where's, oh, there he is. "Chief?" Well that was barely audible, even to me. So fucking tired.

"Jim? Jim, hey Big Guy, nice to see you awake. You are awake, right?"

Damn, these eyelids are heavy. "Yeah, I'm awake. I remember when we left the campground. Why don't I remember getting here?"

Blair modulated his vocal volume to match his partner's and avoid over-stimulating his hearing. "You were in so much pain from the sensory spikes, and still so nauseated, that I talked you into a light zone. Guess we proved the theory that zones exist, to some extent, as healing states."

"I could've lived quite happily without testing that theory, Shaman."

"You and me, both. You'd better fill me in before the medical staff gets back so I know how much bullying I'm gonna have to do."

Jim surprised the younger man by tugging his arm, pulling him down to sit beside him on the bed. "Help me figure it out."

"Sure." Blair grasped his hand, surprised and gratified by the frank request.

"Okay, touch isn't too bad. The gown here was washed in some lousy detergent, but I'm doing a lot better."

"How much better?"

"Give it a six on the Richter scale."

"Hearing?"

Jim winced slightly as he gingerly tested his range. "Still rough, say a seven."

"Vision?"

"I wouldn't exactly call you a 'vision', Chief. You have your good points and all but..."

"Okay, sense of humor around one. Let's go back to sight for the moment."

"From the reflection of the light off your teeth right now, I'd have to say another seven." Jim smiled foolishly too, figuring relief was a contagion worth catching.

"Then close your eyes and take a load off of 'em. Smell?"

"Well, you're no flower."

Blair's laughter was a balm. "That's it, man. I no longer have any guilt about what I've done here today."

Jim decided it was just as easy to conduct this discussion with his eyes shut. "Okay, what have you done?"

"Now, Jim, what makes you think...?"

"I'm in no shape to play twenty questions with you, Junior, but I know the start of an 'obfuscation' when I hear one." Jim sank further into his pillows, content with the feeling of safety that accompanied his partner's relatively calm demeanor and vital signs. "Out with it, Chief. Let's see now. My insurance doesn't cover this but you admitted me anyway? Or maybe you had me committed, just to get me out of your considerable mass of hair? What?"

"Of course your insurance will cover everything. Okay, maybe not all of it but I had to do it or we might not have gotten the right treatment ..."

"I was kidding about the coverage although if that's the case, I'm gonna sell you to the gypsies to pay for the services."

"I called in Sid Handleman. He was able to tell them what to do for you. That probably isn't covered but we'll try to explain it to the insurance company."

Jim struggled to raise himself on his elbows, wincing a bit in the harsh florescent lighting to better see his partner's expression, wincing at the resulting tug on his IV line. "Why Sid?" After a moment, his confusion cleared as his still-sluggish brain recalled that man's credentials. "Oh, yeah, toxicologist. Pesticides are poisons. I got it now." A wave of dizziness drove him back into his mound of pillows, his energy again drained.

"Go back to sleep, Jim. You're gonna be alright."

"I want to see a doctor or nurse before I sleep again."

"What's wrong? I mean, more wrong than just a minute ago?"

"Nothing, just ...oh, hey, Nurse?"

"Yes, Mr. Ellison?"

"Please make sure my partner here gets a full exam. He got as bad a shot as I did with the pesticides or whatever it was that hit us. If you wait for him to volunteer for it, the coroner's report on all of us will cite old age as the cause of death."

"Well, at the risk of violating privacy policies, your doctor already threatened him with a declaration of incompetence if he didn't get himself examined as soon as you woke up. We already drew blood on Dr. Sandburg; now he just needs the exam."

"He was using an inhaler earlier today. Or yesterday, I have no idea what time it is. Make sure you pry the 'whys' and 'wherefores' out of him about that. And don't be fooled by his 'doctor' title. That's a PhD, not an MD."

"Jim, man. I'm fine and..."

"And I'm not dead, so you're stuck explaining all of that to me later. After my next nap. What day is it?"

"Saturday."

"Seems like I'm going for the gold in the sleep marathon. I don't know how that can happen with ...everything wired up like it is." He knew Blair would catch his reference to the spikes that couldn't be explained to the medical staff.

Blair placed his hand on his friends shoulder. "Sleep's the best thing for you right now. Even if it isn't the purest kind of sleep, ya know?"

Still zoning in some way. I don't care. Need more...

********************

Tuesday, August 1; 6:30 P.M.; The Loft:

"Jim, man, you've got to go lighter on those spices. Your taste is gonna spike on you."

Jim turned a sour look on the source of unwanted advice and added a bit more pepper to the simmering tomato sauce. "Don't worry about me. It's been two weeks and I'm fine now. Wait 'til you taste this spaghetti sauce! Sally broke down and gave me her old family recipe."

"Sally has an old Italian recipe in her family? Maybe handed down from Marco Polo's travels through China?"

"Never mind where it came from, smart-ass. It's terrific stuff. Go get the door. I hear Simon and Sid coming up in the elevator."

"Sure, you're fine. You're only hearing people in the elevator through the white noise generator we run non-stop these days." Taking the dismissal of his concerns with practiced equanimity, Blair went out to greet their friends. Life was so much simpler knowing that both of their guests were 'in the know' about Jim's sentinel abilities.

Sid seemed a bit startled at being greeted at the elevator while Simon smiled in amused resignation.

"Hey, guys. Cool, wine. Organic wine! Even better! Thanks, Sid. Uhm, not that I didn't enjoy the wine you brought last time you were here, Simon. I mean, it was good and ...good and all." Blair awkwardly recalled how he'd told Jim not to drink it.

Simon took pity on Blair's inarticulate attempt to pick himself up out of the hole he'd dug. Clapping him on the shoulder, the tall Captain herded him back towards the loft's front door. "It's okay, Blair. I'm not the toxicologist, Sid is. That means I take no responsibility for even dreaming up what all is in the stuff I buy and leave it up to the recipients to fend for themselves!"

Jim was still laughing at Simon's riposte as the trio entered the apartment, and happy not to have to pretend he hadn't been able to hear it. Remaining by his stove, he waved a tomato-stained wooden spoon at them in greeting."That's the spirit, Simon. Excuse me for not shaking hands, kind of busy here. And welcome to the loft, Sid. We're really glad to have you here." The partners had met Sid after Blair had mistakenly tested positive for drugs in a routine urine screening for the PD. They'd developed a solid respect and liking for the easy-going, but brilliant specialist. "I hope you don't live to regret our inviting you 'into the fold', so to speak."

Sid returned the greeting. "Nonsense. I can't tell you how flattered I am that you confided your, uhm, remarkable circumstances to me." Slightly embarrassed, he adjusted his glasses higher on the bridge of his nose and searched for acceptable 'small talk'. Not always his best suit. "Smells great in here. What's on the menu, Blair?"

Blair handed around bottles of imported beer as he tossed an annoyed look over his shoulder towards the cook. He could smell the spicy creation that his stubborn partner was sure to regret creating. "Ask Wolfgang Putz in there." The sulky tone only provoked a knowing grin from its intended, but unabashed, victim.

Sid managed to avoid spewing his drink while Simon took the comment in stride. "Okay, what are you two arguing about now?"

Jim fielded that one. "Pay no attention to him, Simon. Blair's still in mother hen mode, protecting me from the dangers of cumin, garlic, pepper and oregano. Dinner's ready, so sit yourselves down for a pasta dinner to die for."

"God, I hope not." Simon grinned and rubbed his hands in anticipation.

"Figure of speech," the chef remarked, airily.

Blair maintained an expectant silence as he helped Jim bring in the first course of salad and garlic bread. And watched his suddenly subdued partner nibble around the crusty edges of his chunk of the Italian loaf. The crusty and bare sections of his chunk of the Italian loaf. Suddenly feeling more validated, if not actually cheered, Blair tore into his own steaming bread with enthusiasm.

Sid dug into his appetizers while observing the subtle by-play. Studying the faces before him, he was sure he would adapt to this new view of reality. Eventually.

"So, Sid. How were my latest test results?" Jim abandoned his bread and dug into his salad. Blair's mild dressing was interestingly flavored with fruit instead of spices.

"Still improving, but not yet to your previous baseline. I figure around two more weeks to get your enzymes back to normal. We can take another test then to confirm it."

Blair looked up in concern. "How far from the baseline are we talking here? He was just above the lower boundary of normal before this exposure."

Jim caught his friend's eye. "I really feel good now, Chief. You've got to quit worrying so much." He looked at the faces of his dubious companions. "Okay already! Jesus, I give up. I feel better but not yet back in one hundred percent control, okay?"

"I wasn't sure you were admitting that to yourself," Blair threw in with a grimace of some relief. "But as long as you know it, I'm good."

Simon sighed with frank relief. "So, I'm not going to have to fight with you to keep you on desk duty a bit longer?" He looked at his senior detective, hopefully.

Jim nodded his agreement brusquely.

Blair swooped in on that acknowledgment. "Then why the hell did you spice the spaghetti sauce so heavily?"

"It's for you guys." Jim didn't even try for the innocent look. "I'm having my spaghetti al dente. Never said I was going to have any sauce."

"Sid?" Blair addressed the scientist with a bit of asperity. "Please tell me the man's sense of humor is going to improve along with his blood chemistry."

"I make you no promises." Sid helped himself to a serving of steaming spaghetti and passed the bowl on to Simon.

Blair accepted the bowl next. "That's the trouble with modern medicine. The priorities are all off. No cures for puerile humor." He transferred an extra large helping onto his plate.

"I'd take offense at that, Chief, if I knew what it meant. But I'm happy to see it hasn't inhibited your appetite." Jim partook of his own culinary creation with some enthusiasm. Even if it is plain. He winked at Sid, a wordless reassurance that his verbal tussles with Blair were nothing more than play. Most of the time, anyway.

***************

Blair began clearing the table of dirty dinner plates. "No, sit still, guys. I'll get the dessert." He wasn't really looking forward to the upcoming discussion which would be fraught with hazards for his defensive partner. Not to mention certain confessions on his part that would likely not be received well by certain parties.

Sid patted his lean stomach. "I may have just enough room for dessert left. I gather the business portion of this dinner will take place over coffee?"

Simon sighed. "I guess there is no such thing as a 'free lunch'. Or 'dinner' in this case."

Blair returned to the table with a stack of cake plates. "Yeah, we have issues to cover and they aren't going to resolve themselves if we ignore 'em." He handed over the stack of plates to Simon for distribution along with a mug of coffee.

The Captain inhaled with pleasure. "Hmm, smells like a blend of vanilla and mocha."

"Smells like..."

"Jim!" A word of warning was fired off from the kitchen where more cups were being gathered and filled. "We don't need an appetite-suppressing play by play on the meal, thank you very much."

"Sorry, Chief. I'll be good if you promise to refrain from commentary when I take a second piece of that coffee cake. The chocolate pie is still too sweet for me at this point."

"Hey, chocolate pie? Never thought I'd see that in this house!" Simon looked forward to his serving.

"Well, we're all entitled to celebrate the end to a rough couple of weeks. Jim lost quite a bit of weight but his appetite is finally getting back to normal." Blair solemnly placed his hand on his heart, his tone comically earnest. "I swear, man. You can have anything you want, free of commentary."

"Thank you, Mother."

Blair laughed, his relief in his partner's continued recovery apparent."There may be hope for your sense of humor after all, Jim. I recall a time when you would only have used that phrase if the noun were part of a compound word."

Sid chuckled, picking up the linguistic humor while the others pondered it a bit longer. "Okay, I gather I'm 'on' now?" He sipped his coffee appreciatively as the others prepared to offer him their full attention. "Mmm, good stuff. Well, I finished reading the monographs you gave me, Blair, along with some material from the 'fictional' diss you never handed in. When I recovered from the shock of you telling me last month about Jim's talents, and had a chance to study up a bit on perception, the test results began to make more sense to me."

Simon perked up at that. "Wow, a chance at hearing something beyond mystical mumbo. Ow! Sandburg, watch your feet! Oh. Okay, uhm, sorry."

Blair looked heavenward in apparent pity for the slow-witted.

Sid coughed. "Okay, so I apparently don't have all the pieces yet. I'll give you what I've figured out might be relevant." He gathered his thoughts while chewing on a forkful of pie. "Perception varies greatly between individuals in terms of thresholds, difference limens and interpretation of input."

"Well, that was helpful." Simon cut a second helping of dessert for himself.

Sid laughed, well accustomed to explaining difficult concepts to law people and industry employees. "Well, this stuff is pretty dry but I can promise you the movie version isn't any better. Now, thresholds are the intensity of a stimulus that allows you to be aware of it, fifty percent of the time."

"Not all the time?" Simon seemed surprised at that form of measurement.

"Nope. That's a supra-threshold measurement. And difference limens are the ability to tell if a stimulus is the same or different when you change it by a hair. Like changing pitch by a single frequency or loudness by a single decibel. Then there are the different interpretations placed upon things which affect thresholds for comprehending input."

"Can you give me an example of that? You had me until that last bit. How does interpretation affect sensory reception?"

Blair fielded Simon's question with ease, having studied and guided a sentinel over the past few years. "For one thing, you'll recognize your name at a lower level of loudness than you will some unfamiliar word in the presence of background noise, like at a party."

"Ah, I get it now, thanks." Simon took another bite of pie.

Sid nodded his thanks to Blair for the clarification and continued, satisfied that his audience was keeping up with him. "Anyway, the reception and understanding of sensory information is based upon neuronal excitation coupled with experience."

"That's what I tried to tell Mary Lou Hemmings back in high school, on our third date," Simon replied with a straight face.

Sid grinned and grabbed a pencil from a pocket in his sports jacket. Well into his own personal 'science zone', he began drawing a diagram on the nearest available material. "Here is a basic nerve cell. It serves as a communication device between one part of the body and another. Here's the cell body with its nucleus. Extending from there are these narrow things called dendrites that go into the spaces between nerve cell bodies. Nerve impulses, electrical signals, travel slowly along those structures but jump across that space, called a synapse, and activate the next cell under the right conditions. On the other end of the cell body is a long extension called an axon, which carries a nerve signal much faster than the dendrites do because of its conductive covering called myelin sheathing."

Sid glanced upwards, noting that Jim looked a bit dumbfounded. "Am I going too fast, Jim?"

"No, but you're drawing on my tablecloth."

"Oh, hell. I'm sorry. All my tablecloths have drawings and formulas all over them. It's kind of automatic, which is why I don't generally talk shop at the table."

"Don't worry about it. But, if we ever go out together to a fine restaurant, don't be surprised if I frisk you for writing implements beforehand. And don't teach this trick to Sandburg, please. He's hard enough on the loft as it is." Jim skillfully evaded Blair's feint towards him with a sharp elbow.

Sid chuckled, reassured by the horseplay that his lapse was forgiven. "The thing about nerve cells," he continued, "is that they work on an 'all or none' principle. They're either 'on' or 'off' with their potential for activation changing based on biochemical conditions, the strength of a stimulus or the presence of toxins. A lot of poisons can stick the cell in neutral or make it keep on going. Most pesticides kill bugs by making the nervous system light up like the fourth of July. They keep those fireworks going until the cells burn out from hyperactivity."

"Which is the pesticide that sickened these guys precisely? I can't recall its name from their first go-round with the stuff." Simon pushed away his empty plate and prepared for the technical details they had all been waiting for through the early stages of Jim's recuperation.

Sid looked at them all, apologetically. "I know you've all been anxious to know exactly what we're looking at here. But it was important for me to see the blood test results at this juncture before I could make any predictions about the recovery period. On two occasions now, you were both exposed to methamidophos. It's used on potato fields, among other crops known to the Skagit Valley, and falls under a class of really bad-news poisons called organophosphates. They stop you from producing one of those enzymes that belongs in the synapse, called acetylcholinesterase or AChE for short."

Blair expanded upon that for Simon's benefit. "That's the enzyme that inhibits or stops nerve signals from jumping across that space and activating the next nerve cell along the pathway." He'd studiously applied himself to some internet research during their down time.

"Exactly." Sid nodded approvingly. "Take it away and you wind up with the problems you guys have both experienced in varying degrees. Stuff like muscle tremors and spasms, gastrointestinal spasms and distress; cardiac and respiratory abnormalities, increased sensitivity to stimuli; dizziness; excessive salivation, unconsciousness and even death. Blair, your tests show you're back within normal limits of this stuff now. But it can take the system up to a month to replace this enzyme in its normal amounts and Jim isn't quite there yet, from what your last exposures told us about the levels that are normal for you."

"That makes Jim pretty vulnerable to the effects of further exposures until his levels are fully restored, right?" Blair's returning anxieties for his friend calmed significantly when Jim placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

"Yes, that's true but according to his history, Jim is well on his way to recovery. Still, it's important to remember that permanent suppression can come from frequent or chronic exposures. Pesticides can also do a whole lot of other really nasty things too, but let's not go there right now. Jim, you'll have to be monitored for some longer term problems and will have to avoid contact with this stuff in future, to the extent that's possible."

Simon looked horrified. "And we eat food with that kind of crap on it? Aren't there better ways to kill bugs?"

"Hell, yes, we can do a lot better than this stuff. This type of chemical was invented by the Nazis for use in bio-warfare and their death camps." Sid continued, his tone contemptuous. "Did you know that more than eighty percent of the population has byproducts of organophosphate pesticides in their urine? Not just from eating, but they spray this stuff in offices, homes and gardens all over the country. Two months ago, the EPA announced it was taking the best seller, Dursban, off the market for residential uses after decades of damage. And I hope you aren't planning to play any golf, Jim. Golf courses have a waiver allowing them to keep using it all over the greens."

"Why did I get so much sicker than Sandburg each time we got nailed with the stuff?"

"According to the tests, you have a lot less of that inhibitory enzyme in you than Blair has, even on a normal day. Everyone has varying amounts of it, a function of genetic diversity and environment. A low level seems to be a genetic trait in you, partially accounting for your having such acutely active sensory reception abilities. You're always 'up and running' in the sensory areas of your brain which are located in at least three of your four lobes. And with transmission tracks that develop between areas so you can interpret what you take in accurately."

Blair nodded vigorously. "That's where the experience comes into play. You have to build those neuronal tracks through repeated use which is why we need training sessions with your senses. It makes those tracks run more smoothly, right?"

"Well, certainly faster, if not smoother. Haven't you had times when you picked up the presence of a noise or a flash of light from far away and had no idea what it represented?"

"Frequently, until the Chief here started putting me through my paces in his lab." Jim looked chagrined at Blair's smile of satisfaction upon hearing that reluctant confession. "But don't let that drive you to new heights of enthusiasm for testing me, Einstein."

Sid looked impressed by the achievements of this pair. "Well that's the nervous system for you. Very plastic or open to training but it requires the experience to make the traveling of nerve impulses down the right pathways 'smooth'. Still, your higher level of central nervous system activity comes with a price. Lots of things can set it off in the environment and even internally. It can't be easy." Scanning the faces of his companions, Sid recognized confirmation of that hard fact.

Simon was the first to break the silence. "Jim, I knew it could be really hard sometimes but hearing about how some of the physical processes actually work is... well, I want you to know how much I respect you for accepting the costs."

Blair put a hand on Jim's shoulder. He'd long known the price paid by his partner but knowing some of the biochemistry involved meant he could at least help curb the exposures that made things even harder.

Jim shook his head in wonder. "Why wouldn't these kinds of exposures make regular people into sentinels?"

"Jim, you are regular people," Blair chided.

Feeling at a loss to deal with that issue, Sid continued along his current train of thought. "It does hyper-activate people's neurological functions but in different ways. Seizure disorders represent abnormal electrical brain activity for one. It's about how localized and directed the stimulation becomes. There have to be numerous factors allowing for your particular skills and we just accidentally stumbled over one of them from your poisoning episodes."

"Well, if they take this Dursban off the shelves, it means they'll start using better stuff, right?"

"In a word, no."

Blair looked outraged. "Whaddya mean, 'no'?"

"I mean they're substituting chemicals called pyrethrins and pyrethroids for the organophosphates. They don't inhibit AChE but they still kill bugs by hyper-activation of the nerve cells via other mechanisms."

"And that's supposed to be an improvement?" Blair rose and began pacing.

"No but it is less easily traced as a source of illness. And while the active ingredients in them are supposed to be less toxic than the organophosphates, manufacturers add an ingredient called piperonyl butoxide to the marketed product. That increases their toxic effects by as much as ten-fold. Plus you've got the solvents used to deliver it in spray form, which happen to be toxic in their own right. Crap like xylene and trimethylbenzene."

Simon shook his head, angrily recalling incidents in which he'd exposed his own family to those poisons. "Why the fuck don't we know about all this?"

"Most people never know they're even being exposed to pesticides. There aren't many laws that require advance notice to be given and applicators don't know much about the stuff themselves. There're only a few states that even offer notification to kids' parents or teachers in the schools, and even then you have to register with them to get that information."

Jaws dropped around the room. Sid could only nod his agreement. "Yeah, it's so incredibly stupid that if you made a movie about it, no one would believe you. Everyone believes the EPA would never allow this, but they don't even test the stuff. They just issue selling approvals based upon the makers' word for everything. So what's been happening with your inquiries about the source of your exposure last month? "

Blair took his seat again. "I couldn't leave Jim for awhile after that happened, so I called my Mom to deal with the environmental reporting process. You'd love Naomi! A real flower child and naturalist. Anyway, she told me her contacts in the EPA told her it would fall under the supervision of the Department of Agriculture in this state. So I filed the complaint about the pesticide for consideration by the EPA purely for when it comes up again for re-registration. It appears they never leave their offices anyway. Mostly paper pushers, the lot of 'em."

Jim automatically stilled Blair's fingers, nervously drumming his distress on the table top, and took over. "By then, I was feeling up to doing a little calling around myself, so I phoned Agriculture. At first they said it couldn't have happened since spraying over water is illegal. I told them I was a cop and arrested people for illegal activity for a living, so it was definitely possible. That got their attention and they started transferring me around until I was ready to shoot the damn telephone out of sheer frustration."

Jim took a sip of his coffee, grimacing at its cool temperature. "Then I get this guy who wants to talk with me, but tells me I can't quote him as my source. At that point, I didn't care if I had to talk to the King of Siam as long as I got some clue about all this. So this nameless guy tells me that the pilots flying the crop dusters hate to drain their tanks of unused pesticides once they're back on the ground. Evidently, the disposal process is time-consuming and expensive to boot, under Hazmat rules. So some of them just dump the extra stuff left in their tanks over adjacent areas and go home empty." His tone turned bitter. "So there's nothing left to do about it. The last place which should've been safe for me, isn't anymore."

"No! Not true, man! We don't know that this isn't an isolated instance. Simon, tell Sid what you did after that."

"I know some people over at Fish and Game from previous joint enforcement projects. They went over there to take water samples. The results are due in any day now."

Blair pounced on that thread of hope. "So, if the samples are positive for this shit, we're gonna take it to the wall! The media will have a field day with the fish kill that F&G found just downstream of our camping spot, so that can become the media issue instead of Jim. The news will make the topic so hot that the fuckers won't be trying it again knowing the Feds are watching." Blair felt a definite pang at the cynical expression Jim's face had assumed during this recitation.

"Yeah, it's nice to know they have some hefty fines for poisoning fish, if not people." Jim rolled his shoulders stiffly and escaped scrutiny by going into the kitchen to make more coffee.

Simon put an unlit cigar in his mouth, his usual, after-dinner ritual. "So Jim just continues his recovery now, right, Sid?"

"Not quite. There's the problem of increasingly severe effects from further exposures. What's used in your building? I'm sure you guys have things sewn up pretty tight here at the loft."

"I'm sure I'd know if stuff was being sprayed at the PD." Simon's doubtful expression contradicted his statement.

"Probably not, from my experience."

"Well, I'll inquire first thing tomorrow but will they tell me?"

"Yeah, law allows for getting the information after the fact."

Blair's jaw firmed. "We'll be changing that, and very soon."

"Damn straight we will." Simon's tone was implacable.

Sid pitied the poor slobs who tried to stand in the way of these men protecting their friend from something far more insidious than bullets. 'Well, I'm deadly serious about you figuring out how to reduce your everyday exposures." He paused, deciding how frank to be with these men."

"I want to know everything you can tell me, Sid. I'm in it for the duration with these senses."

"Sorry, but I don't know how to put this gently. Hyper-activated brain cells can become damaged and die, meaning early senility and other forms of deterioration. If you ever feel your sensory acuity lessening, you let me know and we'll arrange for the tests you'll need to monitor for that. Otherwise, I'll just keep an eye on both you and Blair for the usual post-poisoning risks like inflammatory and autoimmune dysfunction. Those are more common in women but men get them, too. It's also an increased risk for cancer but your other risk factors are pretty low. You really look like you're both going to get out of this, unscathed."

********************

They adjourned to the living room after clearing the table. Jim had one more bit of business to conduct that evening and he looked at Blair expectantly.

"What?" In the complete absence of a response, Blair gave up trying to delay his confession.

"Simon, I have asthma. Who do you think will take the series this year? I like the ..."

"Chief!"

"Sandburg? You've got what?"

"Just keep cool, okay? After we had that first pesticide exposure taking down Morrow, I had some minor problems with my breathing."

"I remember you coughing up your lungs for awhile there, but you never said a word about it being some kind of condition." Simon's expression revealed his increasing ire over the prior lack of disclosure.

"Yeah, well my chest got tight sometimes and I asked the doctor about it when I had to go get my annual physical for Rainier - all teachers need an annual TB test. So, they made me take some pulmonary function tests, go over the history and everything. The results showed I had mild asthma in the presence of certain irritants. They called it extrinsic asthma and handed me an inhaler. Which I keep around but never use. Okay, maybe I needed it once in awhile, like whenever Simon sent me to Iceland but..."

"Hold it!" Sid was getting lost. "You get asthma when you go to Iceland?"

The detectives broke up, considering Sid's literal interpretation of the word. Blair explained about the basement 'cold case' files and how the group all referred to that locale as the 'tundra' or, more often than not, 'Iceland'.

"Okay," he chuckled. "I got it. But if that's in the basement and you reacted down there, it sounds like you were taking hits from pesticides. Basements are usually the preferred location for spraying. You'll be lucky if the spraying is limited to that floor alone."

"Shit. I wonder if any of Jim's headaches or sensory spikes at work only happened because he'd gone down to the basement or handled old files from there. I always thought it might be stress or food, you know, the usual assumptions you make. Yeah, the usual assumptions showing we're all idiots to believe regular office work is all that big a stress on us. It must be what we're breathing indoors!"

"Got it in one, Blair. You're talking about why people use my services. I have an unlimited pool of clients because of all the toxic chemicals used today." Sid turned to Jim, smiling broadly. "And yes, you're still getting a bill from me!"

The partners exchanged grins. Sid had told them he'd take anything Jim's insurance would pay on assignment and not one penny more.

Simon was less entertained, as he contemplated Blair's revelation. "Detective Sandburg. If I might have your attention for a moment here, just what the hell is wrong with you? You think you can withhold that information from me when it might have some bearing on your performance and safety in the field?"

"Whoa, Simon. Uhm, Captain, uh, help me here, Jim! Is this work or not work, being here in the loft and all?"

"You're on your own, Junior. I told you that Simon was going to take a dim view of this asthma business, just like I did. I hope he creams you."

"Thanks a bunch. You're out of my will, man. And just when it looks like the reading is gonna be tomorrow, too."

Simon counted to ten. Aloud. "I'm glad you all find this amusing. Sandburg, you meet me in my office at ten A.M. tomorrow. And notify your doctor to fax your records to my office about your asthma. By ten o'clock. Is that clear?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Go to your room, Sandburg!"

"Yes, Sir." Sandburg actually took two steps in that direction before he realized what he was doing. "Hey! I live here, damn it!"

The three spectators slumped in their chairs, laughing uproariously. The disgruntled rookie shuffled back in embarrassment to occupy his former spot on the couch. "Very funny, guys. I knew all that academy training would leave me brainwashed." He resentfully mimicked the voice of an unpopular instructor. "Discipline, Sandburg! Never mind the 'quick' thinking, just 'quit' thinking!" Blair grabbed a throw pillow and clutched it to his chest. "Does this mean I don't have to meet you in your office tomorrow, Simon?"

"Not on your life. You'd better be there and on time, mister, or else!"

"Yes, Sir."

Sid glanced at Jim, silently indicating that he was impressed by the effect the imposing Captain Banks had on the irrepressible Sandburg. Jim nodded, glancing skyward in gratitude for that fact. Someone had better have an inhibiting effect on their rookie since neither pesticides nor Jim, himself, appeared to have that kind of power.

********************

Wednesday, August 16, 10:45 A.M.; Captain Banks' Office:

Blair was immensely grateful for the phone call that interrupted the reaming he was getting from his boss. There had been little he could find to say in his own defense, under the circumstances. But Divine Intervention, (whichever aspect of the Divinity had smiled kindly upon him), appeared to go by the name of 'Target Pest Control' and they'd pissed the Captain off even worse than he had.

"You CAN'T be using Dursban in my building, son! I have it on good authority that the EPA took it off the market recently. What? For how long is that idiocy allowed to continue? Months? YEARS? Not in my precinct! I'll get back to you."

Sandburg winced at the slamming of the handset back into its cradle. That was one abused baby of a phone. "Captain?"

"I have to tell Sid about this. They spray our basement with Dursban once every fu, uh, damn month. I'm not going to stand for this." The handset was again lifted. "Rhonda? I want statistics on sick days used by the staff working down in the basement and also on the first floor. I also want statistics on any disabilities reported in those personnel files on workers on that floor. Got it? Thank you."

Simon glared at Blair. "Do you know what the law actually says? The poison was banned from residential use but industry gets to claim it's been 'voluntarily' withdrawn from the marketplace. They can still sell what's already on the shelves for two more years and then people can keep using that for a few more years. Are they nuts?"

"Well, we are talking about the government."

"We're government, too. Don't try me, Sandburg. You're on thin ice as it is."

"Yes, Sir."

"You're getting that diabolical expression on your face. The one that says I'm not gonna like what comes next."

"I think I have an answer to the problem, Si...er, Captain."

"Which problem, what answer?"

"How we can get rid of the Dursban and protect Jim all at the same time."

"Okaaay."

"We use the Americans with Disabilities Act and get an accommodation which demands the replacement of the Dursban with, uhm, well, whatever Sid says we oughta be using."

"Sure, I can see it now. Excuse me, Commissioner, but we've got a disabled sentinel on the force. Mind if we stop using pesticides?"

"No, we'll say it's for my asthma and take our chances with the review board that my activities won't be restricted. I don't see any other alternative since nothing illegal is going on here."

"Run it by Jim and see what he wants to do. I'm concerned that needing accommodation for asthma, versus just having it, might change your field status. I have absolutely no clue at all as to how Jim's problems would be described or categorized. So get other options from Sid and, while you're at it, ask your union rep about accommodation issues and their consequences for asthmatics."

"Yes, Sir."

"Dismissed."

"Thank God."

"I appreciate the promotion, Sandburg."

********************

Wednesday, 7:00 P.M.; the Loft:

"The ADA is for anyone who experiences a problem in accomplishing basic functions of breathing, eating, getting around, working and what have you. All you need is for a doctor to certify that you have a condition that interferes with those things in the absence of accommodation. I can do that with my asthma and there won't be any focus placed on you that way." Blair took a bottle of juice out of the fridge and took a seat in the living room.

Jim was already ensconced on the sofa, relaxing with a beer. "Yeah, that should help immensely. You remember Cassie? The cute, pain-in-the-ass forensics expert who was denied entry into the academy? Because of her asthma?"

"That was way different. Her condition was chronic and pretty bad given how often she used her meds. Also, it pre-dated her entry in the force. My asthma is mild and reactive in nature. No biggie. I doubt they'll consider taking me off active duty. Even if they did try to stick me with a paper route, I could always appeal that after we get the accommodations settled. It's worth it."

"I don't like it."

"Oh, well then."

"Look, I gotta think about this some more."

"It's already set up, Jim. I had the union set up a meeting with the brass for Monday."

"You what? When did this become another reason for you to kiss another part of your life goodbye on my account? Cancel the fucking meeting!"

"Don't give me any shit about this, man. It's my choice and it isn't as if I'm lying to them about anything. The pesticides do bother me. And what would you claim as your condition? Oh, pesticides interfere with my ability to contain my hearing, vision, taste, touch and smell to normal levels? You going to get a doctor to sign-off on a diagnosis of 'Sentinelitis'?"

On the verge of exploding, Jim suddenly recalled the feeling of a soothing hand on the back of his neck. His own tone softened in recognition of Blair's need, despite not fully understanding it. "Settle down, Chief. I appreciate what you're trying to do here but you really need to restrain this tendency you have towards self-immolation..." The glare directed at him indicated this discussion wasn't going well. Okay, I'm already screwing up this discussion. Reason, try reason. "There must be another way to do this. Neither of us has a disability. The damned environment is disabled."

"Well, the environment is having a meltdown all on its own and it isn't getting an accommodation either!"

"Can we not argue about this? We don't have to make a decision tonight. You're a researcher; let's get all the facts from Sid and the union people before we go having another press conference!"

"So we're back to that, are we?"

"I'm sorry, Chief. I just don't want you to have to keep sacrificing pieces of your life for me. One career in a lifetime is enough."

"It isn't about that, Jim."

"I think it is. You, you're so dedicated to each of your commitments, with me being one of them. But…"

"You're my friend, not some obligation."

"I know that, but that doesn't mean one of us has to win and the other lose. I shut down on you before and you didn't have anyone else to help you puzzle all that stuff out back then. Now we've got a whole team of people to help and, well, I'm not going anywhere. Let's go for the 'win-win' scenario before anyone makes any sacrifices. We both need and want the same thing so it's just about strategy now." Jim looked hard at Blair, as if willing him to understand what he couldn't explain well in words.

"No use trying to intimidate me, Jim."

"Actually, I was going for the 'imploring' type look but I haven't had much practice with it."

"It's just that I don't want to see you targeted. After all we've been through, for that to happen now would be..."

"Chief, listen to me. It's because of everything we've been through that I want to make sure none of it is in vain. Look, you don't take any shit from me. That's been well established by now, right?"

Blair flashed him an impudent grin. "Oh, you noticed?"

"Yeah, I noticed. So why should you keep taking shit on my behalf? I can do this and if, eventually, the brass takes notice, so be it. I'm sure half the people in the Bullpen are in the 'know'. We aren't asking for it but we can't live on tenterhooks, either. Let's just take it as it comes."

"When did you become so reasonable? Or, let me rephrase that. When did you become more reasonable than me?" Blair relaxed back into his chair, beginning to like the sound of all this.

"Sheer process of elimination. One of us has to be reasonable. Maybe it was my turn. So, let me call Sid."

"And tomorrow, I'll talk to the union rep. And let's keep the meeting set up for Monday. We have enough time to get our strategy together, whichever way we choose to play it and we have to do it before the end of the month. The exterminators are due in on the first. Okay?"

"Deal."

********************

Thursday, August 17, 4:15 P.M.; the Bullpen:

From: Sandburg@CPD.net
To: S_Banks@CPD.net
CC: Ellison@CPD.net PoisonsRus@aol.com
Re: Fwd: IPM protocol with permission of Dr. Sid Handleman
Date: Thursday, 17 Aug. 2000 04:25:13

Sid sent me this protocol of what our maintenance company needs to instruct their pest control company to convince their licensed applicator to teach the supervised technician to do. Got that? This is called Integrated Pest Management, a progression of interventions in pest problems from nontoxic to least toxic product required to get the job done.

Just in case it isn't clear, I put my own bracketed notes in Sid's text. What I've learned about all this is making me nuts. Putting poisons in the hands of these ignoramuses is just too frightening to believe. I am no longer afraid of guns, just of the Orkin man. My Smith and Wesson inflicts less damage than a backpack in the hands of a Terminex tech. I have a formal protocol that is getting express mailed to the union for Monday's meeting. This is just for you guys to look over.

The union rep [that nit, Garrison], tells me things could go either way with the asthma diagnosis. On the other hand, they've never heard of Jim's label so it might be sufficiently confusing for everyone to just cave and do it.

Blair

Sid Handleman at poisonsRus@aol.com [He promised me he has a dignified email address to use for business purposes] wrote:

Blair, this is no big deal. Instead of an automatic, monthly spraying, there should be an inspection of the premises. At that time, the technician will look over a log book, kept by maintenance, of pest sightings during the prior month and determine whether it exceeds the sense of what is acceptable [who sets those standards, us or the arachnophobes in records who keep asking for spraying?].

First level of defense is foundation maintenance. This reduces entry by pests into the building and can be as simple as doing some caulking, patching of holes etc. [So when they spray the outside of a building, the gas comes in the same way pests do through the cracks!] Next, sanitation/maintenance is a constant to reduce access of interior pests to food and water by stopping leaks, cleaning up food stuffs and removal of trash etc. This leads to reduced migration of pests to the area as well as reduced survival and reproduction of pests. [In other words, close down the cafeteria in the roach motel.]

Remaining insects are removed via the use of least toxic methods of pest removal, such as HEPA vacuuming. Done with a red light in the dark, the insects are all quite active and visible. Insects can't see red spectrum light. There are also repellents like mint oil for placement in cabinets; gel baits and traps using boric acid and aspartame for pests to bring back to the nest for fatal ingestion. [We are never eating anything containing aspartame again.]

Spraying is very rarely needed, as in the case of an infestation by dangerous vermin such as fire ants. I can't really conceive of a need for it in your building. Anyway, it would require advance notice/evacuation of personnel along with a carefully timed re-entry program allowing for dissipation of fumes, cleaning of residues (never entirely successful) and removal of contaminated materials not relocated or protected before spraying. Any porous material such as fabric, paper, wood, soft plastic etc. retains these chemicals [This means all the cold case records we have down in ' Iceland ' are contaminated. Jim, you'd better not handle them for a while. Simon, maybe they can be xeroxed if Jim needs to read them.]

In the absence of sunlight, pesticides don't degrade so the information in the agricultural studies is essentially useless. Indoors, they persist for years in dust and become airborne when residues become heated as when sprays are applied to baseboard heating units or when rugs are steam cleaned.

Sid

********************

From: Sid Handleman PoisonsRus@aol.com
To: Sandburg@CPD.net, S_Banks@CPD.net, Ellison@CPD.net
Re: Re: Fwd: IPM protocol with permission of Dr. Sid Handleman
Date: Thursday, 17 Aug. 2000 04:55:34

Blair,

Nice summary of the information. But don't think I didn't notice your snide remark about my snazzy email address. However, you are a quick study and I wish I had a dozen student interns like you. Not that I'd want the grief that would entail; just the free labor.

Gentlemen, let me know if you need me for anything further. Jim, your letter requesting reasonable accommodation for your condition is ready for you any time you want it.

Sid

********************

Monday, 9:00 A.M.; Interrogation room B, Cascade PD:

Simon desperately wanted a cigar but realized there would be no more smoking around Sandburg. And I ought to stop around Daryl, too. "My men will be here any minute now. I trust this isn't going to be complicated."

The union representative and the head of 'Human Resources' for the Cascade PD exchanged glances. Twin shrugs indicated that no problems were anticipated.

"Captain?" The knock seemed tentative for Ellison. His usual, preemptory hit on the glass always signaled he was ready to take care of business and inferred that anyone on the other side of that door had better be ready as well.

"Come in, Detectives." The door opened. Jesus, they're both wearing suits and ties.

Garrison seemed to shrink in upon herself, as Ellison's entry seemed to make the office suddenly appear smaller. "Ms. Garrison, nice to see you again." Jim next turned to the suit representing the department "Thanks for coming, Mr. Gleason."

"Nice to meet you, Detective Ellison, Detective Sandburg." Hands were shaken all around.

Gleason cleared his throat. "I've established with our pest control company that we can select different methods of control in a top-down listing of strategies in order of preference. They call it 'Integrated Pest Management'."

Jim cleared his throat. "Yes, Sir. We've all seen the document already." And we sent it to the department ourselves, you idiot.

"Well then, I'll just need the letter of medical necessity for the record and we can put all this into practice. Which of you is the asthmatic?"

Ellison glared at his partner. "Forget something, Sandburg?"

"Oh yeah, sorry but I forgot to tell you there's been a change in plans. The accommodation is still needed but not for asthma."

"I'm the person requiring accommodation. I have a biochemical condition requiring avoidance of prolonged exposure to neurotoxic pesticides." Retrieving an envelope from his jacket pocket, Jim handed it over. "This is a statement from my doctor, recommending the specific forms that my ...uhm, accommodation should take."

"Oh, I thought Detective Sandburg was the person with the disability."

Jim retained the polite mask he wore when speaking to administrators and slow-witted beings. "As I said before, I'm the one needing accommodation."

Blair decided to take some of the attention off of his partner, who would continue to use precise language, avoiding the term 'disability' and thereby end up confusing everyone.

"Actually, I do have asthma but if you accommodate Detective Ellison, I'm not going to need my own accommodation plan. His needs will take care of the oncerns of dozens of other staff here and likely reduce your rates of sick leave, health plan usage and premature disability. I've taken the liberty of drawing up a cost-benefit plan for you so you can see how the minimal increase in price for extermination services using IPM will be amply covered and yield a savings through reduced insurance costs as physician visits decline in frequency along with medication purchases."

Simon's head dropped to his chest but he recovered gamely. "Why don't you just give Mr. Gleason the analysis and he can crunch the numbers with the appropriate people."

"But this is a ..."

"Now, please." The tone was uncompromising and Blair complied.

"What is the diagnosis?" Gleason opened the envelope.

"Toxic Effects of Chemicals." Jim dredged up another paper from his jacket pocket. "Here are the relevant numbers from the AMA approved codes included in this letter from my clinical toxicologist, Dr. Sid Handleman."

"Very good. Are you planning a worker's compensation claim for your original injury?"

"No, I lost no income from it and it wasn't anything the department could have foreseen or prevented."

"That is very objective of you, Detective."

"I'm not looking for money. I just want to do my job without getting killed by some idiot who thinks you need an atom bomb to kill a lousy bug."

"That isn't ..."

"The hell it isn't."

Flushing, Gleason doggedly continued his protocol. "Yes, well. One more thing, Detective. Did you check with your toxicologist to get an estimate of the numbers of persons in the building likely to have these biochemical effects from organo...uhm, these types of insecticides?"

"Yes."

"Well then? How many?"

"Everyone."

THE END

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