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Jim looked up as the loft door opened, aware even before Sandburg entered that there was something wrong.
Sandburg was annoyed about something. No, correct that - Sandburg was seriously pissed off.
Now that in itself was odd. Jim reckoned he could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times Sandburg had been seriously pissed off about anything; the occasional times he'd been anything other than even-temperedly and philosophically accepting of something, it had been when Jim himself had taken what his partner considered an unnecessary risk.
There was no risk involved here, today - Sandburg had gone off to the movies, alone because a) Jim really didn't want to see Fantasia 2000 and b) while he might have been persuaded to go even though he didn't want to see the movie, he was completely tied up dealing with the paperwork on a fairly complicated case, and if Blair had waited in the hope that Jim would finish there was no way he would have made it to the cinema for the start of the movie.
And how seriously could anyone be pissed off about seeing a cartoon movie, for heaven's sake?
Sandburg stopped, halfway to his room. "Hi, Jim."
Yes, he was annoyed; he was having to make a definite effort to control his voice.
"Enjoy the movie?"
"I would have, if I could have seen it!" He changed direction and moved to sit beside Jim.
Ellison glanced at his partner. "I don't quite follow you?"
"Come on, Jim. I'm not what you might call tall, right? I'm... vertically challenged. A few inches short of six feet. Not the sort of person who stands out in a crowd."
"Oh, I dunno about that," Jim murmured. "I've never had any trouble finding you in a crowd."
"You have certain advantages, Jim. Like height."
Ellison frowned slightly. "I didn't think your height bothered you. OK, sometimes you remind me of a dominant small dog who's determined not to be overlooked, but hey, that's not a bad thing."
"Jim, the last time you went to a movie, did you have any problems seeing the screen?"
Ellison frowned slightly, not sure what Blair was getting at. "Can't say I did, Chief."
"Because you're tall. You sit there, you can see over the heads of everyone in front of you. But did you ever think that behind you there might be an undersized geek who can't see the screen because you're there in front of him? Or her, come to that."
"Oh. Someone taller sat in front of you?"
"Yup. So I moved along a couple of seats. And it happened again. I moved again. And it happened again. There were plenty of empty seats, but no matter where I sat, someone taller came and sat right. in. front. of. me. I'm not paranoid, man, but it happens every time I go to see a movie."
"Every time, Chief, or does it just seem that way?"
Sandburg took a deep breath. "Seems that way, I suppose. But I'll swear it does always happen when it's a movie I really, really want to see."
"Then you'll just have to go again, Chief, and this time sit in an aisle seat so that you can lean over and see around the tall guy in front."
Sandburg grinned. "I'm making an ass of myself, amn't I. But I swear, at times it looks like people do it deliberately!"
"Nah - we giants just never remember that the guy behind might be - er - vertically challenged." He dropped a casual arm round Blair's shoulders, and instantly felt the tension in them. "Blair? What's really wrong?"
"No, that's all it is, Jim. Just Sandburg getting close to a panic attack because he's a bit stressed."
Jim looked at him. "Okay. The film will be coming out on video, right?"
"So when it does, we'll get it and watch it here, in comfort."
"You mean that? I know you weren't all that keen on seeing it."
"I mean it. And then... "
"I can sit in front of you and you can have the fun of imagining you're in a cinema."