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Pinball Wizard

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Jim was following Blair's Corvair to Rainier, still unsure why he'd agreed to give a speech to Blair's class. Simon harrumphed when Jim called to let him know he'd be in late but said little else. Jim mentally shrugged at his boss's attitude. Perhaps Simon remembered that Jim escorted Derek Wilson on the "train from hell" when Jim could have easily called in sick. Putting in the extra effort gave Jim a lot of latitude when he asked for favors. Especially since it was for Sandburg, who'd accompanied Jim on the train trip.

At the stop light, Jim rummaged around in the glove box, looking for some gum. Damn, he still had that sour milk taste in his mouth. It felt like it was coating every available surface. He found some mints and popped one in his mouth, wincing a little as the mint burned his sensitized taste buds. He thought back to the previous hour when Blair had convinced him to do a quick test on his sense of taste. He'd likened these sensory tests to pop quizzes and Jim hadn't minded when the tastes were vanilla, sugar and salt. But when he took a swallow of the sour milk Blair had carelessly left on the counter, he'd minded--a lot.

Sometimes he thought Sandburg was playing with him. In his imagination, he saw a mad-scientist Blair playing with his very own Sentinel doll. Or maybe it wasn't playing with him, just playing him. Like a pinball machine. Blair would pull the launcher to release the ball--"C'mon Jim, see if you can smell (taste, see, hear, feel) this. And when his sense started pinging around, Sandburg hit those flippers, bouncing Jim this way and that, getting the sense to go just where he wanted. Sometimes the ball went sideways and popped down the drain. Other times, though, damned if he didn't hit the jackpot. Remembering those times helped Jim get over the annoyance he often felt. That didn't mean he let Sandburg off the hook when he got pushed to his limits. He razzed and complained, but Blair knew he didn't mean it. At least he hoped Blair knew.

The sour taste was almost gone. Jim popped one more mint in his mouth as he pulled into the Hargrove Hall parking lot.

*****

As he wrote up his report, Jim reflected back on the last few days. Defeating Brackett and recovering the canister of ebola virus had taxed all of his skills, especially his sentinel senses. He'd used them all at one time or another. He'd fought Brackett in the dark, only being defeated when Brackett had tossed him what turned out to be a fake bomb. He'd used touch to open the combination lock. He'd used smell and taste to discover the toothpick that led them to Brackett's restaurant. He'd used hearing any number of times: to detect the heartbeats in the auditorium and the hissing from the sleeping gas canister, to hear the fake bomb's timer and to get across the bridge's minefield. And, except for the one zone-out on the bridge, he'd done remarkably well in not being overwhelmed; he didn't spike when the fire alarm was pulled at Rainier and was able to function without being overcome by the smoke and tear gas. Perhaps he was finally getting a handle on the damn things, instead of having the senses control him.

Of course, there'd been some shortfalls. He'd been fooled by the white noise generator into missing the sound of the trigger in the lecture hall and didn't smell that the so-called C-4 was actually harmless clay. He sighed. He could just hear Blair explaining how missing those things would mean more tests.

As if summoned by Jim's thoughts, Blair looked up from where he'd finished typing his own report. It was technically a witness statement, but in reality it explained away Jim's abilities as a combination of good detective work and military experience. Blair walked over to the printer to pick up the pages, signed the last sheet and stapled them together, then dropped them on Jim's desk. "You know, Jim," he said, "I was thinking."

"Always dangerous," Jim replied, hoping levity might divert him. A faint hope at best.

Blair made a face. He looked around to make sure they were alone, then lowered his voice anyway. "You were awesome. Did you know you used all of your senses, and some of them on really tiny stuff, like that toothpick, although I still shudder when I think of you tasting it." He stopped for a breath. "But, you know, Brackett pointed out some holes. Like using that white-noise generator to mask sounds. I think, if we work on it, we could figure out how you could defeat it." He hesitated, and Jim wondered if Blair thought he was still pissed about the sour milk fiasco. "It'd take more testing--which I know you hate--but, Jim, it's really important."

Visualizing Blair in front of a pinball machine, moving back and forth as he hit the flippers, crowing when he scored big points, his flying hair emphasizing his enthusiasm, Jim gave a mental shrug and gave up. Brackett had called Blair a "guide" and, while Jim wasn't really sure what that meant, Blair had indeed taken the lead, from bringing in Jack Kelso to figuring out the best ways for Jim to use his senses. "Okay, but not tonight, huh? I'm starved. Were you going to see Dr. Price again?"

Blair shook his head. "Nah, she's headed back to Atlanta. What do you want to do about dinner?"

"Well, since it's my turn to cook, how about we go out to the Chop House? A little celebration for putting Brackett out of commission and saving Cascade from an ebola outbreak. I'm in the mood for a nice rib-eye."

Blair grinned. "Sounds good to me." He picked up his jacket and put it on. "By the way, d'ya think the department would reimburse me for that shoe that got blown up on the bridge? I'd ask the CIA, but it'd probably take forever for the paperwork to go through. Besides, after Brackett, I've had my fill of those guys.

Jim put his arm around Blair's shoulders. "Tell you what," he said, "I'll spring for dinner and a new pair of shoes. Can't have my guide running around barefoot."

Blair's grin morphed into a full-blown smile. "Thanks, Jim." As they walked out to the elevator he asked, "What the hell did Brackett mean by that, anyway?"

Hearing that imaginary pinball bouncing around, Jim just smiled and shrugged.

~~the end~~