Jim looks at the young man besides him. They’ve run out of the old brownstone, turned and now, they’re at something of a loss, really. And the kid’s breathing heavy and he’s got his hands on his thighs and his head down, and that hair is beginning to come loose of his ponytail.
And he realises Jim is looking at him and puts a hand out, palm out flat. Stop, wait, five minutes, five fingers, unarmed. The hand tells the detective in Jim so many things. And then he knows as Blair, weird name for a guy, adds, “hey, just wait a second, I’m bushed.” Jim knows it’s not the run that’s exhausted him so much as the run and the adrenaline and the sheer flux of emotions and chemicals knocking around his heart and pushing his breathing out of sync.
So Jim, stops, waits. And Blair looks up at him, with those piercing eyes, and…
…suddenly, Jim’s back in his office, talking to a woman with henna-ed hair (he can smell it, pure henna not some chemical mixture with a little henna mixed in to bring the dollars flowing in) and younger dress sense. And he doesn’t mean the way her scoop neck is a little too deep for somebody her age, she conceals it well but there’s something about her smell, but that it’s like stepping into a time warp and looking at girls spitting on boys going to ‘Nam and waving flowers like candles.
He asks her whether she wants some tea. She just waves her hand expansively, expressively; no she doesn’t want tea. It’s not as if the tea knows. He says, thank god, he drinks too much tea in this job and he tried decaf but it tasted off. She says it’s the chemicals, the solvents, they use to lift the caffeine and that a friend of hers figures they’re carcinogenic anyway. Then she adds the words that twist his heart. It’s not as if the power’s in the tea, is it, she says, it’s in you, young man.
The consultation passes in a blur, he’s too off balance to get into the swing, she’s probably not going to be a repeat customer since all he gets is that it’s about her son, and he tells her that something’s wrong and he can normally tell stuff. And she just smiles and touches his arm in a way that he’s not sure is an advance, and tells him that she can’t really expect him to perform on demand, can she?
And he’s back, and it doesn’t smell like henna and spice and the electricity of slightly too much Indian silver against not quite dry skin. There’s trash and piss in the doorway of the shut down shop twenty yards further down, and he can smell the faintest smell of henna…
That must be his imagination.
“You got a car, Chief? Be a better idea than taking mine, kind of conspicuous and they’ll know about it,” subtle, Ellison, nothing like a massive Ford pickup.
The kid’s regrouping and for a moment Jim wonders how long he was gone and how fast Blair’s recovery actually was. “Slight problem, man,” he says, pushing the loose hair out of his eyes and making a gesture, “I had a car, but…”
“Tell me about it later,” Jim says and turns and heads out towards the truck. The kid, Blair, Blair Sandburg, Agent Sandburg, says that this is not the sort of car he’d expect a medium to drive, even a large and, like, obviously built medium like Jim. Jim says something about protecting himself against murderous vengeful ex-clients as he pops the hood and gives everything a last check and smells and listens for something wrong. He can’t smell the sweat of plastique or battery acid or gas; or any sign that the guys out after him have got to it.
He signals to the kid to get in, and he just does. For a moment, Jim remembers his evaluations before Peru in a smell of autumn paper and military bluster, “has the innate voice of authority” they say in a susurration of script.
“Okay, Sandburg, let’s get going, and tell me, what happened to your car…”