Word count: 1,424
A/N: a response to Sentinel Thursday Challenge #492 – “imagine”
That he knocks on the door is enough of a giveaway. But when he enters, wearing a smile that looks like it could have been plastered on with greasepaint and then outlined with a large white crayon, I know he’s as guilty as sin.
Plus, he’s babbling.
“You wanted to see me, Simon… ah, I mean, Captain? Wow, you know, it’s such a beautiful day out there? The sky is so blue and the sun is actually shining. I mean, like this is a major event in Cascade, right? It’s like the whole city is full of joy with it, right now. Full of joy with this great weather. I can just feel it bubbling up. You know, what would be great for the team….”
The glass in the office door rattles – an 8.5-er. I’m proud of my restraint. Plus, it has the requisite effect of shutting him up like a clam. His face goes pale and the inane grin disappears like someone’s flicked a light-switch.
“I’m so glad you’re full of joy, Sandburg,” I say, sarcasm heavy on my tongue. “Me, I’m equally joyful. You can imagine how full of joy I am that the Head of Security over at the Premier Mall has just called to tell me that one of my men was skinny-dipping in the Grand Fountain of the Food Court at 8pm last evening!”
If it’s possible, his face goes paler. I’ve got him.
“Where’s your partner?”
“Ah, well, er…” Now he’s starting to eye me slightly wildly. “Um, Jim… Detective Ellison … has had to take a few hours’ sick leave today, Sir. Sorry, it’s kind of a…” - he dropped his voice - “a senses thing…”
“Be more specific, Sandburg.”
He looks around as if to check for eavesdroppers.
“Simon, he’s had an allergic reaction. I’ve had to cover him in antihistamine cream. He has these huge weals……”
“And he got that through taking his clothes off and jumping in the Mall fountain in full view of the late night shoppers?”
He cringes. Well, I suppose I am shouting pretty loudly, but I think it’s warranted.
“No, sir, it wasn’t like that! It was an emergency! I was…um… required to take executive action to get Detective Ellison into the water so that we could remove the worst of the irritant…”
“Should you have called the HazMat team?” I’m handing him lengths of rope, and he’s taking them blindly.
“Um, no, it wasn’t quite like that kind of situation….”
“And all this was your idea, Sandburg? So you’re a qualified medical doctor now, as well as being a qualified BS-merchant of the highest order?”
His face tells me he’s done with obfuscation, so I give up on the preliminaries.
“They’ve got pictures, Sandburg! They’ve got pictures of Jim ripping his clothes off and diving stark naked into eighteen inches of water right next to the Hanover Hotdog concession.”
“They’ve got pictures?” His eyes are round and staring with horror.
“Pictures?” I parrot. “Of course they’ve got pictures! They’ve got pictures from the very security system you and Ellison went to talk to the security staff about last night after that latest ram-raid.”
He sits down without asking and runs a hand over his brow. I’m not finished with him, though.
“What the hell is wrong with Ellison? Has he gone completely insane?”
He gives me a stricken look.
“Simon, Captain…. It wasn’t Jim’s fault, honestly. Well, I suppose it was his fault in that he insisted on chasing that pick-pocket even though the other security guards were onto him, but…”
“Sandburg,” I growl, “get to the goddamn point!”
“Captain, we were on our way to talk to the Head of Security when this guy comes running through the Mall, the security guys in pursuit, of course. Except they’re all about 40 pounds overweight and the guy is getting away, so Jim just takes off. And he chases the guy to the toy store on the lower level, and the guy just piles into the shelves there, and Jim goes after him, and then all of a sudden Jim stops and he’s clawing at himself – at his clothes, I mean - and howling, and I get to him and start shouting at him to dial it down, but he’s in real pain, Sir, real pain. And I realise this store has all this old-fashioned practical joke stuff on the shelves! I mean, how crazy is that? That stuff is full of toxic crap! And Jim just landed right slap bang into a pile of itching powder, and it sent his senses off the scale. His skin was going red and he had trouble breathing, and I had to do something. I thought about the fountain, so I dragged him there, and I just wanted him to lie in the water. But I guess he was in such a state, Simon, he just had to get it to stop. It wasn’t his fault, he didn’t know what I wanted him to do. He just did the most obvious thing. Honestly, I just meant for him to lie in the water, but… but…”
“But he ripped his clothes off and jumped into the fountain,” I finish for him.
“That’s about the size of it, sir. Although, don’t worry about that aspect. I mean, it wasn’t that much to cover up. Not that he’s not… well, you know… but I got my back-pack in front of him, and that was more than big enough to cover most of the … ah … problem until I could get some blankets onto him, though we did have a few tricky moments getting out of the water, and then there was that point when the Sisters of Mercy came past with their charity collection, but they tried very hard not to look, and then…..”
I hold up my hand.
He stops right away, which kind of shows how rattled he is by this interview and its implications – normally he would have just carried straight on. He gazes at me despairingly. God, I’ve heard Rhonda giggle about his puppy-dog eyes, and here they are, right in the flesh. But you know, I don’t think this time it’s calculated.
“What’s your prognosis of Jim’s condition?”
He gives me a sharp look, startled out of his misery.
“Well, like you say, Sir, I’m no medical doctor...”
“Cut the crap, Sandburg. You know more about Jim’s sensitive… ah… reactions than any doctor. What do you plan to do with him?”
He gives me a look that says ‘Seriously?’ and takes a breath.
“Well, the antihistamine cream seems to be doing quite well right now. Speaking honestly, washing the stuff off that quickly probably did save him from a lot worse. I’m thinking some oatmeal baths, calamine, and maybe some homeopathic anti-allergy tabs as well, just to be on the safe side. If the rash keeps decreasing, we’re on to the right thing. If it gets worse, I’ll take him to the hospital tomorrow.”
“Get on with it, then.”
He looks at me in surprise.
“You mean, I can go? You’re okay with this?”
“Sandburg, I am so far from okay it’s over the horizon, but it sounds like you’re doing what you can, and Jim needs the help. Go sort him out.”
“But Simon, what about…” - he lowers his voice – “…the pictures?”
“You two are real lucky, Sandburg. It just so happens that the Head of Mall Security is ex-PD and owes me one or two favours. He confiscated the videotape right away and has excised that section from his records. Hardly legitimate, but at least Jim’s performance won’t hit the media that way.”
He seems to deflate with relief.
“Thank God! I mean… thank you, Sir!”
“Same difference,” I smirk at him. “At least tell me they caught the perp.”
He gives me a look of pride.
“Of course they did, Captain! Turns out, Jim had already brained the guy with a can of Silly String, so the security team had it easy.”
I wave him away, but as he turns to go, my curiosity gets the better of me.
“Sandburg – you cover him with antihistamine cream? Like, everywhere?”
He gives me a guarded look.
“Pretty much, Sir.”
I shake my head in disbelief.
“That’s one crummy job I’d not want to land.”
And for the first time this morning, the old Sandburg smile of mischief breaks through.
“Well, Captain, I guess it is a crummy job, but someone has to do it…”
The Demon Barber of Cascade.
A story for Sentinel Thursday, using the prompt “keep your chin up”
Summary: Jim gets a shave, and a clue
Now he’s hammering on the door. I look up at the cabinet mirror that’s already starting to steam up and my poor, weary face stares back; lined, haggard, unkempt and still slightly singed.
“Sandburg, go away! Can’t you just let me have a modicum of privacy, for Pete’s sake?”
“Can I hear water running? Is that the hot water running, Jim?” His voice is slightly muffled by the door between us, but his irritation comes through loud and clear.
My reflection and I meet as I rest my forehead on the cold mirror. Sandburg’s not the only one who can do irritation.
“Yes, you can hear the damn water running. Congratulations. Maybe this means you’ve got Sentinel hearing, too. Why don’t you just go off and do some tests on yourself somewhere. Preferably Wisconsin.”
The door opens. He’s standing on the threshold with his arms folded across his chest, looking the personification of pissed.
“Have we not just spent the last twenty minutes dressing your hands? Have you forgotten that those dressings have to remain dry, or we have to do the whole damn thing all over again?”
He darts in past me, turns off the faucet, pulls the stopper out of the basin and retreats back to the doorway before I’ve had a chance to retaliate.
“No, I’ve not forgotten. I’ve also not forgotten that while they’re on I’m subject to your tender ministrations, and God knows that’s incentive enough for me to want them to heal in record time, but….”
I pause, suddenly weary, and sit down on the edge of the tub, gazing at the two mummified appendages at the ends of my arms. Why did life have to be so goddamn complicated?
“But what, Jim?" He’s still snippy. Why the hell is he so snippy when I’m the one with the burns and the discomfort and the sheer aggravation of trying to get along with a couple of golf clubs for hands? I look up at him and return his glare.
“I want a shave, dammit! My face itches, I look like a street bum. I’m tired and I’m uncomfortable and I just want my face to be clean….”
“You’re clean! We just washed….”
“Oh, please, don’t remind me.”
“And anyway, we decided you didn’t need a shave today.”
“No, Sandburg, you decided. I wasn’t allowed much of a say. And now I’ve reflected on the matter, given there’s jack all I can do right now other than just reflect on things, I’ve decided I do want a shave. And that’s what I’m going to do!”
I’m about to haul myself up when he puts a hand on my shoulder and presses me back down again onto the edge of the tub. With his other hand he reaches over, and turns the hot water back on.
“Why didn’t you just say, you big jerk, instead of getting all riled up and hostile about it?”
I look up at him sharply, ready to snap something back about how much he seems to be enjoying making my life a misery, when I see his face. The mask of annoyance has gone. There are signs of fatigue and worry there, but they’re softened by a sweet, wry smile and a look of resignation. Yeah, I guess I really am not the best patient in the world, and I’ve not been making things easy for him these past few days.
“Okay,” he continues, picking up a large towel from the rail and draping it around my shoulders. “Are you sitting comfortably, sir?” He takes my chin in his fingers and turns my face this way and that, scrutinising.
“You know, the designer stubble look suits you, sir,” he says, starting to camp it up. “Strong, feral, exotic almost - less anally-retentive…..”
I pull my chin away from his hand and return his wicked little grin with one of my better glares.
“Get on with it, jackass!”
“Don’t piss off the barber, man.” he replies amiably. “He’s the one with the razor blade.”
There’s a cloud of steam as a washcloth is wrung out, and, before I can react, my face is enveloped in hot fabric. I manage a “mmmmmph!” of surprise, already primed to hate the whole thing right from the get-go, when something clicks in me. Possibly it’s the firm yet gentle pressure on my head as he moulds the cloth to my face and helps the steam sink into every pore; or maybe it’s the sudden, shocking realisation that he’s got me, I can do this – I can actually relax and let someone else take care of me without my bursting a blood vessel at the perceived indignity. Whatever, I feel myself relax with a whoosh as I slump my shoulders and lean into the hot compress.
He kneads a little more with his hands, pressing gently and smoothing the cloth around my ears and mouth. I can now manage a fairly contented “Mmmm-hmmmm”, and am just starting to fully unbend when the cloth disappears, and he’s there grinning at me. I feel a bit dazed, and I guess I must look it, because he gives me a little quizzical look.
“You okay there, man?”
No need to give anything away…
“Just get on with it, Sandburg”
He turns away to the basin with a little private smile. There is a brief clatter as he prepares the razor and opens the can of foam.
“You know,” he says, rubbing the foam between his hands and then smoothing it over my face – I’m trying hard not to squirm – “ancient cultures are full of shaving rituals. It can be religious, or to do with hierarchy, or to prepare for battle. Kind of readying the person for the afterlife. Crusaders would…."
And so it goes on. I just sit there, balancing precariously on the edge of the tub while his voice floats over the top of my head with his soothing, by now incomprehensible, words and his hands make their firm passage over my cheeks and chin, and linger along my upper lip. I start to dial up the sensation, enjoying the feel of the cool foam and the light pressure of the massage. The tension in me of the past few days leaches out, and by the sound of his voice, it’s disappearing fast from him, too.
He finishes with the foam, giving me a quick grin, and reaches for the razor. I feel the need to be Ellison again for a moment, just to prove to myself I haven’t lost it completely.
“Just be careful with that, Sandburg.”
“Cool it, Jim. I’m not harbouring ambitions of being Sweeney Todd - it’s a safety razor. And, you know, I have been shaving myself for a number of years now. I’ve got the hang of it.”
I can only manage another doubtful “Hmmmmph” as he takes my chin in his hand and starts to stroke the blade across my cheek. I try to look down at what he’s doing.
“Keep your chin up, man. I need access here…”
This is nothing like the perfunctory, functional showering exercise we bitched our way through not half an hour before, with me standing in the tub, my bandaged hands protruding from the shower curtain while he hosed me down with the shower-head, muttering imprecations about Sentinels who won’t trust their own senses and wander into burning buildings when there is absolutely no need, man. This is … intimacy.
Slow, precise, delicate…. tender. The only sound is the rasp of the blade and the gently huff of our breaths, with the occasional swish of water as he rinses out the razor. I can feel his exhalations on my face, tickling my eyelashes, warm and sweet. I look up again into his eyes, but he is totally focused on his task. I can see how his pupils follow the stroke of the blade and yet are still flicking around the areas of my skin that he’s already covered, checking for missed bits. He catches my glance for a moment, and the edges of his eyes wrinkle in a smile.
“You’re doing good, big guy.”
He tilts my face gently, moving to my throat. I feel so exposed to him - my veins, my arteries, all my life blood surging through my neck and pulsing with life - and it’s all in his hands. And I know, right there and then, that’s exactly how it should be.
And suddenly it’s over. The washcloth is back, removing all traces of the foam. He rinses it again, in cold now, and refreshes my skin. I find myself leaning into the pressure, but then he pulls away gently.
“All done, man. Feel better?”
I allow myself a smile.
“Lots. Thanks, Chief. Really, thanks.”
His smile becomes even more sardonic as I impress him with my effusive gratitude.
“Any time, man.” He turns to go.
“You know,” I say hastily, not really wanting the moment to end, but with no idea what’s going to prolong it, “I might need to ask you to do this again. You know, because… my hands….”
He looks at me hard then, and raises an eyebrow. I press on.
“It takes me a while to get used to this sort of stuff, is all,” I finish lamely.
I can see him pondering the possible double-meaning of my words. Hell, even I’m pondering them.
“That’s okay, Jim,” he replies as he turns to go. “I’m a patient man.”
And then I’m in the bathroom on my own. I stop myself only just in time from trying to put my face in my hands, and instead stare dumbly at the bandaged stumps.
How did I miss this? What happens next? And even more important, how long can I wait?