DISCLAIMER: The Sentinel and its characters are completely the property of Paramount and Pet Fly Productions. We use them out of reverence, solely for fun and not for profit. Rated PG. Comedy/Drama. Thanks to Becky for giving this story a good once-over. Warning: Some bad language.
From Dawn: Thank you, Hephaistos, for saving a story I was ready to give up on!
From Hephaistos: Thank you, DawnC, for having such a fun idea and letting me on for the ride! My first collaboration and it didn't hurt a bit.
Jim hated these things. He fidgeted from one foot to the other, then leaned against the wall as his eyes tracked his partner weaving through the mass of bodies in the room. Students, staff, and faculty of Rainier's Social Science Department mingled happily, filling the gymnasium almost to capacity.
Jim watched his partner trot up to the refreshments table where pastries, fruit, drinks, and other assortments tempted the students and faculty. In the center of the table rested a bowl of large red cherries, and Sandburg immediately spooned a sizable helping onto his plate. Then he snatched up three slices of cantaloupe, a doughnut, and a piece of cornbread. He shot an amused look at the detective and raised his plate, pointing toward the pastry. Jim nodded, and Sandburg rolled his eyes, grabbed a pastry, and headed back toward Jim.
The grad student was stopped midway by an older woman with greying hair and thick bifocals. Blair popped a cherry into his mouth as he listened to her speak earnestly on some relevant topic while Blair nodded with interest. The Sentinel purposely kept his hearing tuned down, not wanting to risk a sensory spike with all the people and activity around him. After a few moments, the woman patted Blair's arm and walked away. The young man shook his head, ate another cherry, and started making his way back toward the detective as he flashed an apologetic grin. Jim simply raised his eyebrows and sighed. Sandburg was a social magnet, that much was certain.
As if to prove the point, another woman stopped Blair. She was young, with long blonde hair, and Blair perked up noticeably as she tossed a few strands of golden hair over her shoulder. Jim chuckled, resisting the urge to roll his eyes.
Blair popped a couple more cherries in his mouth, a look of pure decadent enjoyment on his face. He offered one to the young lady who smiled and nodded, plucking a cherry from his plate and popping it into her mouth. Her face lit up at the taste, and immediately reached for one, and then two more. Blair frowned slightly, then palmed several of the remaining cherries during their conversation, hiding them in his jacket pocket. Jim grinned. He didn't know his partner liked cherries that much.
Blair responded to what the blonde woman said, and, as she reached for another cherry, he indiscreetly twisted his plate away with a suave, smooth move. Saying something to the woman, he backed away slightly and started conversing with an older man.
Jim closed his eyes and released another soft chuckle. Sometime this century, Chief. I'm kinda hungry. A few seconds later, a tempting smell tickled his nostrils, and he opened his eyes to see Blair smiling up at him, waving a doughnut beneath his nose.
"About time, Chief," Jim admonished, snatching the doughnut out of Blair's grasp.
Blair simply grinned and shrugged. "Hey man, it's tough being popular. You should try it sometime."
That earned the kid a whack on the head, and he responded with another giddy chuckle. It was then that Jim noticed the slightly flushed cheeks and the thin sheet of perspiration on Blair's forehead. Sandburg eagerly ingested another cherry as he turned to lean against the wall.
"Thanks again, Jim," he said. "I knooow how you hate these things."
"Yeah," he muttered. "So you owe me one."
Blair simply looked at him and released another short burst of laughter. "Yeah man, I owe you, like, a MILLION. Geez, I'm gonna have to take out a loan."
Jim narrowed his eyes and gazed critically at his partner. "You feeling okay?"
Blair nodded quickly, still smiling as he eagerly downed another cherry. "Mmm-hmm," he mumbled, then swallowed. "I'm great, man."
Jim leaned forward, focusing on his sense of smell as he leaned over the cherries. Great. Just great. He'd been so focused on keeping his senses turned down that he hadn't smelled the alcohol.
"Chief, did you know those things are loaded?" Jim asked.
Blair scrunched his nose. "Huh?"
"The cherries," Jim explained. "They've been spiked... You know, with alcohol."
Blair's eyes grew round as saucers. "Really?"
Ellison adopted a tolerant expression and nodded. "How many of those did you eat?"
Blair giggled and shook his head. "Oh man, I don't know. Maybe four. Six, tops. Seven at the most."
"Uh-huh." Jim snatched the plate out of Blair's hand and placed his doughnut on it. Then he used his free hand to grab Blair's elbow and steer him toward the door. "Come on, Chief, let's get you home."
Blair yanked out of Jim's grasp. "Uh-huh. No waaaay, man. I gotta stay a bit. It'll look bad if I, like, you know, just take off." His words were slurring and taking on a sing-song quality.
Jim sighed, grabbing hold of his partner's elbow again. "Trust me, Chief, it'll look worse if you stay."
Blair leaned forward, almost toppling into Jim as laughter erupted from his throat. "Oh man! I am like SO drunk, aren't I?"
Ellison couldn't help the chuckle that escaped. "Yeah, that about sums it up."
The young man's face flushed even more. "You'd better warn people about the cherries, man."
Jim nodded. "Of course. We can't have a bunch of wasted academics, now can we?"
His comment resulted in another burst of laughter from his partner. "Hey, Jim, where'd you get the sense of humor?" he teased. "You aren't this funny when I'm sober."
Jim fought against the smile that tugged at his lips. "Well, I guess you just answered your own question," he replied, making his way toward the exit. He stopped a woman in a business suit who looked like she was staff or faculty and pointed his chin toward the refreshments table. "The cherries have been spiked with alcohol," he informed her, carefully keeping his grip on the giddy anthropologist.
Blair chuckled and leaned forward conspiratorially. "But they're really, really good," he added, keeping his voice almost whisper-soft as though bestowing a secret upon the woman.
She smiled and laughed, throwing a sympathetic look at Jim. "Thanks for the tip... I swear I don't know what I'm gonna do with these kids." Then she turned and hurried off toward the table.
By the time Jim got Blair to the truck, the alcohol had hit him full force. Ellison propped his partner up against the side of the vehicle as he fumbled one-handed for the keys.
"Oh wo-ow," Blair muttered, his head tilted back as he gazed up at the stars. "Look... they're all winkin' at me."
"Uh-huh," Jim grumbled, unlocking the passenger door.
Bubbles of laughter erupted from the young man. "I think she liiiiikes me."
"Who, Chief?" Jim inquired absently as he pulled the car door open.
Blair pointed up at the sky. "The one up there. She'sssss winking at me. You know the Mantuba tribe believes tha-that the spirits of those with pure souls sssssoar up to heaven after death and that the ssssstars are their ancestors looking down on them."
"That's nice, Sandburg," Jim said, steering his partner toward the interior of the cab. "Come on, Chief. Up you go," he said, practically lifting the young man into the truck.
Blair sagged into the seat, looking like a limp ragdoll. "Oh man, Jim," he groaned. "I think I'm gonna be --"
"Oh no you don't!" Jim barked, horrified. He sidestepped out of the way just as Blair leaned forward to dump the meager contents of his stomach onto the blacktop. Jim held him up with one hand until the heaves died down.
Sandburg wiped his mouth with some crumpled tissues from his shirt pocket and released a low moan. "Oh, man, this really sucks."
Ellison grimaced. "Tell me about it," he said, pushing Sandburg back up. Blair absently handed him the used tissues as he closed his eyes and leaned bonelessly back against the seat. Jim grimaced and took hold of the tissues with the very tip of his thumb and forefinger, dialing down his sense of smell against the overpowering stench of vomit. Looking anxiously around and not seeing anyone, he dropped them quickly into the mess already on the blacktop. He'd fine himself for littering later. He leaned over Blair to fasten the seatbelt and then climbed into the driver's seat. Jim couldn't get away from there fast enough.
They'd made it two blocks before Jim's cellphone rang. Casting a glance at his semi-conscious partner, he yanked out the phone and flipped it open. "Ellison here."
"Jim, I need you to stop by the station before 9 tonight. You forgot to sign the Perkins' report and the D.A. needs it A.S.A.P."
Jim stopped the truck at a red light. "Can I come in early tomorrow morning to do it, sir?"
"Now, Ellison. She's screaming down my neck that she needs it in her office tonight. Seems she's pulling a late night to get through the backlog."
Jim sighed and glanced at Blair. He couldn't leave the kid home alone in such an inebriated state, but he couldn't very well cart him into the station.
"Well, sir, there's a problem."
Banks' voice sounded tight. "What problem, Detective? If you had signed the damn paper in the first place, you wouldn't have to come in now."
Jim clenched his jaw and counted to five. "I realize that, sir. I'm sorry." Hell, out of a stack of papers two feet high, he was entitled to miss one line... even with Sentinel vision. "The problem is Sandburg. He... um..."
"What the hell's the kid gotten himself into now?" Simon growled.
Jim sighed. "Nothing like that... well, not exactly. We went to a thing at the University tonight and someone spiked the cherries. Sandburg --"
"-- didn't know and ate some, right?" Simon chuckled. "Hasn't the kid ever heard of a cherry bomb?"
"It was at the University, sir. You know, a bunch of academics... faculty... not some frat party. He never even knew what hit him."
"So you're saying he's wasted?" Simon asked.
"Hey, Jimbo Jim Jimmy Jim Jim Jim... 'zat Simon?" Blair reached over and fumbled for the phone.
"Cut it out," Jim snapped, batting the hand away.
"Hey Siiiiimon," Blair drawled, leaning toward the mouthpiece. "How ya doin' old man?"
Jim heard Banks make a choking sound.
"Yes, he definitely sounds wasted," Simon sighed. "Where are you now?"
"In the truck on our way home, sir."
After a brief pause, the captain decided. "Okay, stop by the station. Park in front and call me when you get here. I'll bring the report down to you and you can sign it in the truck."
Fifteen minutes later Jim pulled the truck up in front of the station, pulling out his cellphone as he turned off the engine.
"Hey, Ji-im," Blair blinked, peering out the window, "what're we doin' at the station, man?"
"Just a quick stop, Chief," Ellison answered, hitting the autodial for Simon's office. The captain answered on the second ring. "We're out front, sir."
"Okay, Jim, I'll be down in a second."
"Thanks, sir." Jim snapped the phone shut just as Sandburg popped his seatbelt and opened the door.
"Whoa, Chief, where do you think you're going?" he asked, grabbing the young man's arm to keep him from toppling through the door.
Blair fidgeted, trying to squirm out of Jim's grasp. "I gotta go, man."
"You know, GO, man! I gotta go!"
Oh no, Jim groaned. Perfect. Just perfect.
"Can you hold it?"
"Um... like, that would be a NO," Sandburg replied, shifting uncomfortably for emphasis. He reached into his backpack and grabbed a couple of things, shoving them into his pocket.
Jim sighed. He didn't like the idea of hauling Sandburg into the station, but, unless he wanted his seats ruined and a very embarrassed friend, he saw little choice... and it wouldn't do for a police officer to encourage public urination outside the station.
"All right, Sandburg, hold on," he said, releasing his hold on his partner to pocket his keys and open the door.
"That is NOT gonna happen, man," Blair replied, stumbling out of the truck.
"Sandburg!" Jim slammed his door shut and ran around the front of the truck in pursuit.
The front doors of the building opened just as Blair reached them, and the young anthropologist collided head-on with Captain Banks.
"What the...? Sandburg!" Banks bellowed, stumbling backward, as Blair bounced off his chest and landed on his rump in a huge mud puddle.
"Sorry, sir," Jim apologized, grabbing Blair's arm and hauling him to his feet in one fluid motion, trying to avoid the muddy, flailing limbs.
"Ow... hey, man," Blair protested, struggling to extricate himself from the firm grip. "Ease up on the bolice prutality."
Simon gave the squirming, giddy observer a long, critical look. Then the edges of his mouth tweaked upward and he released a low chuckle, shaking his head in amusement. "You know, Jim, this is the first time I've seen the kid really drunk."
Jim returned his captain's smile and opened his mouth to reply when Blair interrupted. The young man leaned dangerously toward Simon and flung his free arm over the larger man's shoulders.
"Simon," he slurred, his voice a heavy whisper,
Simon looked with annoyance at the mud slapped across his expensive jacket. "Sandburg! Get the hell off --"
"I'm sorry about the thing with Delores," Blair said sadly.
Simon's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Delores? You were the one --"
Blair sniffed. "I love you, man."
Jim yanked Blair away from the captain and hurried through the doors. "Gotta run, sir. It's an emergency."
Banks stood stunned for a few seconds, then waved the papers in the air and stormed back through the doors after them. "The papers, Jim, damnit! And I wanna know about Delores!"
"Hurry it up, Chief."
"You stopped peeing five minutes ago."
"There's more than one route, ya know," his words were still slurring.
~Bang~ ~Bang~ ~Bang~
"Hurry it up, Jim! I don't want to be here all night."
"Be out in a minute, sir."
"You'd better be, Detective."
The Sentinel glanced at the closed door and smiled. "Sir, since you're here, you wanna come in and give me a hand?"
Jim's sensitive ears picked up the sound of choking, then a muttered curse as something small dropped to the ground. "No, I don't wanna give you a hand! What I want is to see you in my office in five minutes, Detective! Five minutes! You're going to sign that report and then get the hell outta here. Understand?"
Jim's smile widened. "Roger, sir. That's a ten-four."
"Ten and four are 14," Blair's voice floated absently, "That's a Big 14."
Jim, who'd been listening to Simon's footsteps retreat, turned his attention back to the stall door. "Sandburg, are you through in there yet?"
"Lay off, Jim. I can't go with you out there. You're freaking me out here, maaaaan."
"Tough, Chief. You're in no condition to be left alone."
"I'm fine, Jim. Go 'way. You're makin' me tense, and it's not gonna happen if I'm tense."
He sighed. "Fine. I'll be outside. Hurry up."
Jim pushed through the door and stepped into the hallway. The seventh floor was relatively quiet, and most of the members of Major Crime had already gone home. Jim tapped his foot, leaning against the wall as he kept an ear tuned to his partner. He didn't exactly relish the thought of listening to Blair's bodily functions, but, at the same time, he wanted to know if Blair slipped. All he needed to top off the night was a trip to the emergency room. Waiting for hours in a crowded room with an inebriated partner wasn't his idea of a good time.
Finally, Blair did his business, and Jim heard the toilet flush. The young man mumbled something incoherent, and a muffled bang indicated that he had probably fallen against the stall wall for support. Jim smiled at the thought of Blair trying to get his pants up and zipped in his inebriated state. Soon, the faucet was turned on and Blair began to make splashing noises.
Had the kid ever been drunk before? Jim had never seen Blair more than tipsy, and that had only been on one occasion -- when he'd gone out with the guys after the wrap-up at the horse tracks. Sandburg was a health-nut, and Jim figured that was probably the reason the kid drank only in moderation.
Footsteps pounded in the stairwell, and Jim pushed himself away from the wall just as a large man with long blonde hair barreled through the doors. He was dressed in filthy, worn clothes, obviously a homeless man and, from the wild-look in his eyes and dilated pupils, probably high on something. He took one look at Jim and released an angry scream, then charged the detective.
Jim twisted just as the man barreled into him, sending his attacker rolling to the floor.
"Bastard! Get away from me!" the man yelled.
"Hold on. Just take it easy," Jim said, listening to the footsteps pounding up in pursuit from inside the staircase.
The man lashed out, and Jim dodged the kick.
"Bastard cop!" He scrambled to his feet, and Jim grabbed the guy's arm, twisting it behind his back as he pushed the man against the wall. In a surprising show of strength, the vagrant pushed backward, sending Jim careening into the bathroom door. The door swung inward, and the two men crashed to the floor, nearly barreling into Sandburg, who, Jim noticed with detached amazement, was brushing his teeth.
"Whoa, man!" Sandburg slid out of the way, stumbling over the two men and catching himself on the sink where he quickly spit out his toothpaste and rinsed his mouth. "Hi Jim."
The door flew inward again, and three uniformed cops descended upon the pair, pushing Blair out of the way. The young man stumbled into the hallway, almost tripping over his feet before careening into the bullpen and grabbing the edge of Brown's desk for support.
"Oh wow," he groaned, raising one hand to his temple. "Head rush."
Blair flinched, automatically straightening as Simon stormed up to him.
"What the hell is going on out there?" he asked.
Blair studied the captain's face, trying to process the question. He'd heard the words, but they didn't make much sense.
"Minty fresh," he said finally, licking his teeth and making a satisfied smacking noise.
Simon sighed and pushed past the anthropologist, heading out into the hall.
"Oh well." Blair shrugged and pushed himself away from Brown's desk, stumbling over to Jim's chair.
A ringing pierced his skull, and he winced, glancing at Simon's office. The phone rang again, causing another jolt of pain in his head.
"Oh man. Shut. Up."
He wobbled over to Simon's office and walked through the open door. Sinking into the chair, he snatched up the phone on the fourth ring.
"Hellooooo? Captain's office."
"Hello? Captain Banks?" a man's voice asked, anxious and whispering.
"Why not," said Blair amiably.
"Look, this is Fitz. I'm finally ready to meet with you, but we won't get a chance to go over details -- the deal's going down tonight, at 10:30. Can you come to 1511 West 33rd Street at 10? I can at least brief you then. I know that doesn't give you much time..."
"Okey dokey," said Blair, looking idly for something to write with.
"Oh, I get it," said the voice, still whispering, "someone's with you. Okay, I'll sign off and just wait to meet with you at 10, then." A soft click.
"Ten then, I need a pen," Blair sang, finally finding one in a drawer. He hung up the phone. With intense concentration, he wrote down the name, place, and time of the meeting as if it were the final exam of a calligraphy course.
The phone rang again. Blair got it on the second ring.
"This is CAPTAIN Sandburg. How may I help you?" he asked, ripping the message off the note pad with a flourish. He leaned back and propped his feet comfortably up on the desk.
"Captain who? Is this Major Crime? I'm looking for Simon Banks." A woman asked.
"This IS Major Crime," he assured her. "You are talking to CAPTAIN Sandburg."
Blair jumped, falling back in the chair and crashing to the floor, pulling the phone with him.
"What's going on? Who is this?" the woman's very annoyed voice filtered from the earpiece.
Simon grabbed the cord and reeled in the receiver. "Hello. Who is this?"
Sandburg struggled out of the chair, rolling onto his stomach and pushing himself to his feet. He glanced at the message he was still holding and shoved it in his pocket.
"I'm sorry, ma'am. Yes, Detective Ellison is here and he'll have that report signed in a minute... I'm sorry... uh... no, well, that was a vagrant who escaped booking, but he's under control now," he said, flashing an angry glare at the inebriated anthropologist. "Oh? Sandburg. Ellison's partner. Oh, yes, he's here... Is that who he said he was? No, ma'am, I assure you that was not the Mr. Sandburg you've met just now on the phone... Yes... Yes, ma'am... It'll be on your desk A.S.A.P."
Banks hung up the phone and glared at Sandburg. "Just what the HELL were you doing?"
Blair smiled helpfully. "I was acting captain in your absence. Sir."
"Let me tell you this just once, Sandburg," Simon shouted, "DON'T EVER DO THAT AGAIN!"
"Hey man, Simon," he muttered, raising one hand to his head. "There is, like, no need to yell."
Jim walked through the door, slightly out of breath, and looked back and forth between the two men. "What's going on here?"
"Do you understand me?" Banks asked again, glaring at Blair.
"That's a Big 14," Blair responded, crossing his heart.
Simon turned with a confused look to Jim. Jim searched his short-term memory and shrugged.
"Ten-four," Jim explained. "Ten and four are 14."
Banks rolled his eyes and pushed Blair carefully towards the detective. "Get this partner of yours out of my office, NOW!"
Jim nodded quickly. "Yes, sir. Just give me that report to sign and we'll be out of your hair."
"I could be a good captain," Blair muttered, swaying slightly and holding his head. "Just for that, Simon, I'm not going to give you your massage." He meant to say 'message' but it came out wrong. "It's mine now."
Banks sighed and threw another irritated look at the younger man. "Fine. I don't need a massage. I need about thirty aspirin and a four month vacation." He grabbed the report from the corner of his desk and slapped it against the detective's chest. "Sign this and get out of here."
Jim took the folder while Blair maneuvered past the larger men, ducking into the bullpen.
"Hey, wait up, Chief!" Ellison barked, spinning on his heels and following after the younger man.
"Sorry, Jim," Blair shook his head seriously, walking toward the elevator. "I have an appointment at ten. Need a pen," he added as an afterthought.
"Goddamnit, Sandburg!" Jim ran to his desk, slammed the file down and grabbed a pen, scribbling his signature on the report. "There, sir!" he yelled, taking off after his inebriated partner.
He caught a glimpse of Sandburg in the elevator before the doors closed, and uttered a curse under his breath. Damnit, how the hell does the kid move so fast? He's loaded, for chrissakes.
Listening to the elevator, he took off down the stairs, following the lift as it made its descent. He heard the elevator stop on the first floor, signaled by a ding and the swoosh of the elevator doors. Huffing wildly, he bulldozed onto the first floor just in time to see Sandburg careen through the front doors.
"Sandburg, get back here!" he yelled hopelessly, taking off after the fleeing young man.
"Getting oooold, Jim!" he heard Blair slur as the young man disappeared into the night.
"Blair! Damnit!" Jim burst through the doors just in time to see a yellow cab pulling away from the curb. He caught sight of a mass of curls through the rear window and released a sharp curse as he bolted toward the truck.
"You sure you wanna go there, kid?" the driver asked, glancing in the rearview mirror at his charge.
Blair nodded. "Yeah, man. One-Five-One-One West Thirty-Thirty-Third Street," he added carefully, reading the piece of paper.
"West Thirty-Third is in a pretty shabby neighborhood, and you're in no shape to be walking the streets at night."
Blair sighed, reaching into his back pocket and pulling out his wallet. "Yeah, I'm surrrre," he slurred, pulling out his hundred dollar bill and handing it to the man. "You got a prob'lm w' that?"
The man grabbed the bill as it slid through the slot in the plastic partition. "No, man. No problem."
"Good." Blair nodded in satisfaction and leaned back against the seat. "I'm w'the police, you know, and this issss official police business."
"Uh-huh," the driver muttered. "If you say so."
"I do, man. So drive."
"You got it, kid."
"Goddamn fucking son of a bitch!" Jim slammed the truck door shut, his hands madly searching every crevice of his clothes. "Damnit! Damnit! Damnit!" His keys were nowhere to be found. With another muttered curse, he stormed back into the police station. He'd have to check the hall and the bathroom, figuring he'd lost the keys during his scuffle with the vagrant. "Stupid rookies!" he snarled. Couldn't they control one doped up homeless guy?
"Screw it. I don't have time for this shit," he snapped to whatever deity was listening as he dashed into the elevator. Punching the seventh floor button, he focused on his breathing, trying to calm the rage churning in his chest. Several seconds later, the doors opened, and he stalked into Major Crime, bursting unannounced into Banks' office. "I need your car, sir."
Banks' head shot up, a glint of anger in his eyes. "What was that, Ellison?"
Jim huffed impatiently. "Your car. I lost my keys, sir, and Sandburg's taken off in a cab," he said quickly.
Banks rose from his seat. "A cab? What the hell --"
"I don't know, sir, but I'm losing him!" he barked. "He was heading away from the loft, so I have no idea where the hell he's --" He stopped mid-sentence, staring at the blank notepad on Simon's desk. "Message!"
Jim shook his head, snatching the notepad off the desk, reading the slight indentations on the blank sheet with Sentinel eyes. "Fitz. 1511 West 33rd Street. Ten o'clock, sir," he said, looking up at the captain. "He meant message, not massage!"
"Fitz?" Banks grabbed his coat off the rack and yanked out his keys, maneuvering around the desk. "Fitzgerald. Damnit! He's one of the inside men on the --"
"Barinski case," Jim finished. "I know. Let's go -- it's already ten minutes to 10."
"I'll kill the kid," Simon muttered as he followed Jim out the door. Yanking his cellphone from his pocket, he added in a strained whisper, "If he doesn't beat me to it."
1511 West 33rd Street turned out to be a huge, empty Woolworth's store in a desolate, abandoned part of Cascade near the waterfront.
Blair got out of the taxi and stood on the corner, momentarily undecided. He stuffed his hands in his jacket pockets against the chill night air and flinched when he felt several round lumps on the right side.
"What the... oh yeah." Blair pulled out one of the cherries he'd pilfered from the reception, and was looking at it as if it were a 12-karat diamond. He started to put it in his mouth and then stopped. Jim said I shouldn't eat these, he remembered, although he couldn't for the life of him remember why. Returning the cherry to his pocket, he decided to get down to business, if he could only remember what 'business' was. Fitz. That's right. Simon sent him in his place to meet with Fitz. He could do that. He didn't want to disappoint Simon.
"Fitz!" he whispered a bit too loudly. Blair still had a pretty good buzz going, but between the elapsed time and the fresh air, he was steadier on his feet and his words were slurring less. He walked over to the front door of the Woolworth's building, and found that it opened easily. "Fitz?" he called again, peeking inside.
Suddenly, a large arm reached from behind the door and yanked Blair into the semi-darkness.
"No disrespect intended, sir," Jim said through clenched teeth, "but what the HELL were you thinking?"
"Jim, I've apologized as many times as I'm going to. I didn't know the bridge was out. I thought this way would be quicker." Simon threw the car into reverse, backed into an alley, and twisted the steering wheel around to the left to continue on in the opposite direction.
"Well, sir, you were wrong."
"That's enough, Detective. I know you're worried about the kid, so am I. But I don't think he's in any real danger. Fitz's meeting is just to give me details about the big buy that's going down at the end of this week."
"Just how did you get involved in one of Robbery's investigations, anyway?"
"Captain Delgatto's in the hospital recovering from an emergency appendectomy. Lt. Sampson's away on a cruise with her husband. I was familiar with the case so they asked me to take over."
"And Fitz was just going to meet with you to pass on information?"
"That was the plan." Simon took a right turn at the next stop sign. "Fitz's a good man, Jim. He'll just stick Sandburg in a cab and send him on his way."
"You're discounting Sandburg's Law," Jim answered. "Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong."
"I thought that was Murphy's Law."
"Sir, Murphy had nothing on Sandburg."
Fitzgerald scowled at the kid in front of him. "Who are you?" he asked in a whisper. And where was Banks? It was almost 10:30!
The kid stood tall and straightened his jacket. "I am Captain Banks. You must be Fitz," he whispered back, enunciating carefully.
"You aren't Captain Banks." Fitzgerald was confused now. What the hell was going on?
"Well, Captain Banks sent me, then."
"No, he didn't." Fitzgerald could smell the alcohol on the kid's breath even before he'd dragged him inside. "Why are you here? Where's Banks?"
"Come on, man. Why are you so sure Simon didn't send me to help out?" The kid sounded disappointed.
"You're drunk... He wouldn't send someone drunk." Fitzgerald paused a moment. Simon. He called Captain Banks 'Simon.'
"Oh. Good point." The kid ran his fingers through his hair, looking confused. "Man, I'm sorry. I don't know what to say. It seemed like a good idea at the time."
"Look," said Fitzgerald, taking the kid by the shoulders and pushing him gently toward the door, "why don't you go over to that old pharmacy across the street and stay just inside the door, and I'll have a cab come and pick you up in a little while. Okay? It might get a little dangerous here."
"You think?" The kid looked up in concern. "Oh man, Jim is going to kill me."
Jim? Fitzgerald knew Jim Ellison worked in Major Crime with Captain Banks. Hell, the guy was a legend. He'd also heard about his partner, a young, unconventional, long-haired... what was he? An archeologist or something.
"Are you Sandburg?" Fitzgerald asked.
The kid's face lit up like a Christmas tree. "Yeah," he held out his hand and shook Fitzgerald's vigorously. "Nice to meet you."
Fitzgerald smiled in spite of himself. "Yeah, Sandburg. Nice to meet you, too." He pushed him toward the door again. He had to get the kid out of there before Barinski and his goons got back, which was any minute now.
"With whom are you speaking, Finelli?"
A tall, dapper gentleman with two well-dressed bodyguards approached Fitzgerald and Sandburg from the back. "Please don't tell me this is your buyer."
"No sir," Fitzgerald said, doing his best to look the part of a subordinate. "Just some homeless kid off the street, is my best guess." Please Sandburg, play along.
"I see." Barinski looked Sandburg up and down.
"Hey, man. What's with you?" the kid asked.
Barinski wrinkled his nose in disgust. "You, young man, are drunk."
"And you, sir," Sandburg said, poking the taller man in the chest, "have an abundance of nose hair."
Fitzgerald shut his eyes. Dead. They were both dead. When he looked up again, Barinski had stepped back from Sandburg and was gesturing to Paulie, one of his goons.
"Search him for weapons," the boss said. Paulie stepped up to Sandburg who obligingly raised his arms. Paulie began patting him down.
"Hey, stop it, man, that tickles." Sandburg was squirming and trying not to laugh. "What kind of a tough guy are you?" Paulie grinned slightly, then paused at Sandburg's pocket, pulling something out. Fitzgerald squinted. A cherry?
"Hey, man, those are delicious," Sandburg whispered loudly. He reached into the same pocket and popped a cherry into his mouth.
Paulie shrugged and ate the cherry he was holding, then continued with his search. Finding Blair's wallet, he flipped it open and his eyebrows bounced to his hairline in surprise. "Shit! He's with the police, Mr. Barinksi," Paulie said, tossing the wallet to his boss.
Barinski glanced in disapproval at the identification and turned hard eyes on Fitzgerald. "Homeless, kid, indeed." He shifted his gaze. "Paulie, take this young man out back in seclusion until I decide upon an appropriate method of disposal. I don't want anything to interfere with this deal."
"But, sir, he's a cop!"
"No, he's got a Rainier ID and an Observer's Pass. He's unarmed and intoxicated. I sincerely doubt he works in any real capacity with the police. Look at him. This deal is too lucrative to jeopardize because some waif stumbled into the wrong neighborhood," he said, glancing at Blair, then at Fitzgerald.
"Yes, sir." Paulie grabbed Sandburg who floundered off balance for a moment.
"Whoa!" said the kid, holding his head as he was dragged out back. Barinski turned his attention back to Fitzgerald.
"Well, Mr. Finelli. Are you a snitch, or is there, in fact, a buyer?"
Oh god, now what? Fitzgerald thought, desperately trying to come up with a plan. He didn't even know if Banks had gotten his message.
"No... No, sir, I mean, I'm clean. I didn't know the kid was working with the police. He's so loaded, and filthy, I figured he was a vagrant."
Barinski nodded, but he did not look completely convinced. "Barney," he said, eyeing the other goon. "Tell the boys outside to do a sweep of this area. Make certain no unwanted pests are about, and check the radio bands for anything suspicious."
"Yes, sir," Barney said, making a hasty departure.
Barinski turned a cold glare onto Fitzgerald. "If any more police officers make an unexpected appearance, you are a dead man. If the close of this deal finds me in handcuffs, and I am jailed, I promise you, Finelli, you won't last a day."
Fitzgerald nodded, his Adam's apple bobbing nervously. "Yes, Mr. Barinski. I know. I wouldn't be stupid enough to double-cross you. I swear, the kid just wandered in here." At least on that point he wasn't lying.
"They know he works with us, sir," Jim said, his head tilted in an all-too familiar position.
The sedan was parked a few blocks away from the warehouse. Jim had overheard enough to tell Simon that apparently the 'buy' had been moved up to tonight and that Fitzgerald was not alone -- Barinski and six of his 'employees' were also present.
"They're searching the area for cops, but it sounds like there's a chance we can still pull this off. Barinski seems to think Blair's harmless. If we can convince him we're the buyers, we might be able to make the bust and get Sandburg out of danger."
Simon nodded, reaching for his radio, but Jim stopped him with a hand on his arm. "They've tapped into radio dispatch. Use the cellphone."
Banks sighed. "Jim, remind me to think about giving you a raise soon."
"Think about, sir?"
"Yeah. I have to balance the level of aggravation you and Sandburg cause me against the arrest rate," Banks replied, flipping open his cellphone.
"Hey, man, go easy!"
Paulie pushed Blair with surprising gentleness into the small storage room and shut the door behind them. "Don't give me any grief, kid. It's been a rough day." It was more of a weary request then an angry command.
"Sure, thing. You're the boss here," Blair said amiably, trying hard to overcome his light-headedness. When Paulie momentarily turned away to tug a crate closer, Blair ducked under his arm and made a beeline for the door. He was just turning the knob when he felt a giant hand grab both his collars at once and yank him back into the middle of the room.
"Now why'd you go and do that," Paulie sighed. "Now I have to tie you up." Which he did, with surprising efficiency, pulling rawhide straps from one of his jacket pockets. Blair guessed they were common goon gear. He sat quietly, resigned to having his hands and feet tied, and still too drunk to put up any more of a fight.
"That's not too tight, is it?" Paulie asked.
Blair looked, really looked at his captor for the first time. The guy seemed pretty loyal to the boss, Barinski or whatever the hell his name was, but he also seemed genuinely concerned. Blair felt a twinge of guilt when he considered how to use that to his advantage.
"I'm good," Blair told Paulie with a friendly grin, "But whatever you do, don't you dare eat any more of my cherries."
Jim got out of the car. "I think it would be better if I took the role of the buyer, Captain."
Simon scowled. "And your reasoning for that would be...?"
"I'm dressed for the part. You're not." Jim straightened his suit jacket and smoothed his hair rather unnecessarily, then looked pointedly at Simon. While Jim was still dressed up from attending the University reception, Simon had removed his jacket, muddied by Sandburg's sloppy embrace earlier, and replaced it with a pullover he kept at the station. Clothes-wise, Jim definitely seemed more the buyer type.
"All right," Simon gave in. "We'll need your advantage, anyway. You can listen in on any of their private conversations and wing it from there."
"Yes, sir," Jim agreed. He and Simon removed their guns and badges and left them in the glove compartment, carefully locking the car doors behind them. Jim nodded to himself, satisfied that the sedan was fairly well hidden.
"Just one more thing, Captain," he said as the two men began walking toward the abandoned store. "What exactly are we buying?"
Simon looked heavenward. "Oh yeah, this ought to be good."
Fitzgerald peeked through the boarded-up window yet again, knowing it was pointless but still trying to put on a good show.
"It appears as though your buyer has forsaken us," Barinski decided, his voice dripping with disappointment. Fitzgerald was just about to form a reply when Barney slipped back into the room from outside.
"Two men, Boss," he reported to Barinski. "Headed this way. On foot."
"Well, it's about time," Barinski replied.
Fitzgerald felt almost weak-kneed from relief, hoping against hope that one of the men was Simon Banks. Really, what else could go wrong tonight?
"And then Mom left to buy a packet of cigarettes, and we never saw her again," Paulie said sadly as he popped the last cherry into his mouth.
"Man, that's rough," Blair said sympathetically.
Paulie was turning into one hell of a melancholy drunk. At least his plan was working. Well, sort of. Paulie, nice crook that he was, had insisted that Blair have at least one more cherry with him, and the buzz that had faded pleasantly to the background earlier in the taxi, was returning with a roar.
"Never came back," the big man said again, shaking his head. He patted Blair on the knee.
"Hey, Paulie, you think you could loosen these a little?"
"Sure, kid," Paulie reached over to untie the rawhide with his clumsy hands. "My mom, she was really the greatest, you know? Her name was Edna." He said it reverently.
"No kidding!" lied Blair guiltily, but with enthusiasm. "That's my mom's name!"
Jim walked into the gloomy abandoned store with what he hoped was an air of expectation. Simon trailed confidently behind him. A plan had formed in his head on the walk over, one that he had chosen not to share with his captain. It was a simple plan, a clever plan, a plan that should work to the best interests of all good guys involved.
A plan that he was pretty sure Simon would hate.
A medium-sized man with thick black hair rushed over to them as soon as they were through the door and hesitated for a split second, looking from Simon to Jim and back to Simon again. His gaze finally settled on Jim and he extended his right hand. The moment of truth.
"I'm so glad you could make it, sir," Fitzgerald said. Jim shook the undercover officer's hand and dismissed him as a buyer would. Barinski stepped forward and eyed Jim critically up and down.
"This is your buyer?" he finally asked.
Fitzgerald nodded. "Yes, sir. Mr. Barinski, meet Mr. --"
"Ellison," Jim said smoothly. He extended his hand which Barinski shook after a brief hesitation. Jim felt like he was shaking a handful of overcooked spaghetti.
"You don't look like a collector to me," Barinski said to Jim.
"What exactly should a collector look like, Mr. Barinski?" Jim replied pleasantly. Barinski didn't bother with an answer, just waved Barney over to search them. Barney was thorough, but polite, and paused only momentarily on their wallets. They had carefully left all identification tying them to the police department back in the car.
"They're clean, Boss."
"Good." Barinski seemed to relax, as did Fitzgerald, Jim noted out of the corner of his eye. "Perhaps we can proceed with our transaction and limit the time we must spend in this disgusting edifice. Barney, if you would be so kind as to get the item from the back room... oh, and while you're there..." Jim eavesdropped shamelessly, stretching his hearing as Barinski whispered softly into his employee's ear.
Shit. thought Jim. He closed his eyes and made an effort to control his emotions.
Barney disappeared out back.
"I believe a lot in Serendipity," Paulie was saying. Blair tried not to yawn. In between not yawning, he was trying to get out of the rawhide straps Paulie had loosened for him. Yes! he cried triumphantly to himself as he felt his left wrist start to slide through one loop. His triumph was short-lived, however, when Barney opened the door and stepped into the room. He was carrying something quite heavy in a soft piece of chamois cloth.
Blair blinked. He couldn't be that drunk.
"Hey Paulie!" Barney was saying. Paulie finally looked up.
"Yeah, Barney? Boss want me?"
"Nah. The buyers showed up, so he wants you to take care of the kid here. Down at the docks."
Paulie looked crestfallen. "Aw no. That's too bad."
Blair, however, seemed oblivious to his fate. He was staring at the object Barney had cradled in his arms.
"Qidan Apsaras," he gasped.
That got their attention.
Blair plowed on, and, in spite of his inebriation, managed to go into lecture mode without slurring too many words. "That's the statue of the female spirit, Apsaras, from the Liao Dynasty. It's part of the Genghis Khan exhibit on loan to Rainier for three months from the Provincial Museum of Alberta. Man, I was just at a reception tonight celebrating the opening of the exhibit tomorrow!" Blair couldn't help the surge of emotions as he stared at the golden goddess. "It's beautiful," he sighed.
Barney shrugged and left the room, taking the ancient statue and its mesmerizing effects with him. Blair stared after him, his drunken mind not quite connecting the dots.
"It's beautiful," said the anthropologist. "I can die a happy man."
"Good. That's a good thing kid," Paulie said sadly. "Come on. Let's go down to the docks."
"Mr. Barinski," Jim said, sounding hesitant, following through with his plan. And the quicker the better. "We have a confession to make. You see..." he shuffled his feet and looked nervously at the floor. "We are not the actual buyers." Simultaneously, Jim heard Simon gasp softly and saw Fitzgerald stiffen ever so slightly.
"An interesting confession, Mr. Ellison. Finelli," Barinski motioned, and Fitzgerald brought out his gun, aiming at Jim.
"No sir, please, let me explain," Jim said, hands slightly raised in supplication.
Barney returned at that moment. "Boss, I have the --"
"Quiet, Barney," Barinski raised his hand. "Mr. Ellison is in the midst of a confession."
Barney frowned in confusion, but stood his ground, carefully holding something in a soft cloth. Jim assumed it was the statue he overheard Blair mentioning from the back room. He realized his partner didn't have much time, so he talked fast.
"You see, the actual buyer is, well, truth be known, a spoiled, selfish, irresponsible young man. He got himself quite drunk at a reception for the museum exhibit earlier this evening, and while we were driving over here with him, he jumped from the car at a red light and disappeared." Jim sighed like a long suffering employee. "The kid hates having bodyguards, but his father insists on it. He really shouldn't be alone in his condition in this part of town."
"What does this young man look like?" Barinski asked casually.
"He's a small guy, long hair, earrings. Like I said, his father is very indulgent. Got him into Rainier University in spite of his less than stellar academic record. Even got him a Police Observer Pass when the kid started talking about becoming a cop. He never would have made it, of course, so his father pulled some strings and got him in as an observer. I think his interest in that lasted about a week." Jim shook his head in disgust. "That statue is very important to the young Sandburg, which makes it important to the older Sandburg, which makes it important to us. We don't want to blow this deal. But if you could just give us a little more time or maybe even some manpower to help search for the kid..."
"I see," said Barinski. Jim could almost hear the wheels grinding in his brain.
"Could be true, Boss," Barney said softly, not knowing that Jim could hear. "The kid saw the statue a minute ago and knew exactly what it was. He almost cried."
"Get Paulie and the young man back here, and pray it's not too late," Barinski ordered just as quietly. Barney shoved the statue into Fitzgerald's arms and ran off.
Barinksi turned toward Jim and Simon. "Well, gentlemen, I believe I have a confession for you as well. But first, an egregious error may have been made."
Barney ran out of the old building just as a dark sedan rounded the corner. The car weaved slightly, almost hitting the sidewalk before disappearing from view.
"Great," he muttered. "Fucking wonderful."
Well, maybe it wasn't too late. Maybe he could still catch up with Paulie and stop him from killing the kid. He pulled out his cellphone and sprinted toward a second sedan, hitting the autodial for the boss's phone. He cast a final glance at the large curb Paulie had almost driven into. It'll be a miracle if he doesn't wreck it and kill them both.
"You what?!" Jim did a good job of acting completely surprised.
Barinski shrugged. "I do apologize, gentlemen, but these things occasionally happen, especially in our line of work. I shall --" He was cut off by the shrill ring of his cellphone. "Excuse me, please," he said, whipping out the phone. "What?"
Jim tilted his head, listening to the caller. After a few seconds, he glanced at Simon, his face grim. The situation was spiraling out of control, and he had to do something fast to make sure Blair didn't become fish food at the bottom of the ocean.
Barinski snapped the phone closed and dropped it back into his pocket. He flashed an apologetic smile at Ellison. "Sorry, sir, but it seems my men are quite speedy when it comes to following orders. Young Mr. Sandburg is still alive, but on his way to the docks with one of my man Paulie. I assure, you, though, that Barney is in pursuit and will do everything in his power to return Mr. Sandburg to your care alive and unharmed. I do hope he will still be interested in purchasing the item? I'd hate to be the cause of bad feelings between us."
Jim took a deep breath, his brow lined with worry. "I assure you, Mr. Sandburg is most interested in the item. It's all he's talked about." He took a step forward, his body pulsing with the drive to rush out and save his partner, but he struggled to play it cool. "You won't mind if my associate and I go after your men? The older Mr. Sandburg would be quite upset if anything happened to his son, and he is my boss, after all. He's also a very rich and powerful man, and he is known to have quite a temper -- his grudges are legendary in Cascade."
Barinski nodded. "Of course, gentlemen," he said quickly. "You may ride with me."
"If it's all the same to you," Jim said quickly. "I'll drive." He turned to Simon. "You stay here and keep an eye on things." Jim watched Barinski out of the corner of his eye, waiting for the man to object. The criminal looked momentarily uncertain, but then glanced at Fitzgerald and said, "That goes for you, too. I trust you will keep things in order here?"
Jim almost smiled. Things were starting to look up -- if he could just get to Sandburg in time.
Fitzgerald nodded quickly. "Yes, Mr. Barinski, sir. Absolutely."
"Good. So let's go before your man kills your buyer," Jim prodded.
The car skidded to a halt in front of the dock, and Blair breathed a sigh of relief. He promptly lifted the lock, opened the door, and threw up. Oh man, what a night this is turning out to be. He would never, ever, ever get drunk again if he could help it -- not that he had been able to this time.
"Sorry, kid," Paulie said sadly as he opened his door and stumbled over to Blair's side.
Blair lifted his head to look at the large man. The cold night air broke through the fog of intoxication clouding his thoughts, and he slowly became aware of his precarious situation. Night. Bad guys. Dock. Alone. Not good... Oh man. How do I get myself into these things?
"Come on, kid," Paulie urged, gently grabbing Blair's collar and pulling him out of the car.
Blair closed his eyes as the world spun. He thought he was feeling better, especially after emptying the contents of his stomach onto the pavement, but the sudden motion put that impression to rest.
"I reeeaally hate to do this to you, man," Paulie slurred. "But the boss is The Boss."
Blair nodded, allowing Paulie to guide him onto the pier. "Hey man, you know, you don't have to do this," he said, leaning a bit too heavily on the large man in an attempt to keep from toppling over. The world hadn't exactly stopped spinning, and his stomach threatened to make another revolt.
Paulie stopped at the edge of the pier and pulled out his gun. The sight of the dark steel kicked Blair's heart into overdrive, and he backed away from the man until his back hit the rail.
He raised his hands, shaking his head. "Look, man. Come on. Think about your mother, Edna. Would she want this for you? You think she'd be proud of this?"
Paulie's eyes reddened, barely visible in the light of the full moon. He waved the gun. "She ran out on me, so why should I care what she'd think? Now turn around, kid, and I'll make this fast and painless."
Blair's stomach churned, and his heart did a flip-flop in his chest. Slowly, he turned around, keeping his arms loose at his side. "Look, Paulie, don't shoot me. Please. I'm wasted. I'd rather drown than get shot. You can just toss me in and the tide'll do the rest." It was true. He could barely stay on his feet, so he knew he'd never be able to swim, but at least being dumped in the ocean without a bullet hole would give him a better chance of survival than being dumped in the ocean with a bullet hole.
Paulie remained quiet for several seconds. Finally, he said, "Sure, kid." He sniffled. "Sorry about this, you know."
Blair swallowed, glancing over his shoulder. He saw Paulie lower the gun and wipe at his eyes. He saw an opportunity, and, before his brain made a conscious decision, his body reacted. His leg shot out, knocking the gun out of Paulie's hand, and Blair almost lost his balance with the impact. He grabbed onto the rail, his head spinning, and bolted into a clumsy run. He only got a few feet when a large mass sent him sprawling forward.
"Aw, kid, why'd you have to go and do thaaat?" Paulie slurred, hauling Blair to his feet. "You're just making this harder."
"On you or me?" Blair shot back. "What did I ever do to you, man?"
"Nothin'," Paulie replied. "Sorry."
Blair gave it one last shot. He ducked his head and ran forward, slamming his shoulders into Paulie's midsection. The large man crumpled, falling backward, toppling over the rail. Blair slammed his head into the rail just as he lost contact with Paulie. Pain shot through his skull, and he felt the warm trickle of blood down his forehead. He heard Paulie scream, then hit the water.
Oh no. Ignoring the pain in his head, he peered over the railing. Paulie's head broke the surface of the water, barely visible in the darkness.
"Help! Something's got me! Oh, man, don't let me --" The water enveloped him, dragging him under the surface and silencing his pleas.
No. No. No. Paulie's wet clothes were dragging him down, Blair realized. He couldn't stand there and watch the man die. Paulie wasn't a bad guy, he'd just gotten on the wrong path, made a few mistakes. He didn't deserve to die, and Blair certainly didn't want to have the man's death on his conscience.
Slipping out of his shoes, he climbed onto the railing and tossed his legs over, letting gravity pull him toward the ocean. It was on his way down that he remembered he was afraid of heights and that, in his current state, he probably wouldn't be able to swim. He opened his mouth and screamed just before slamming into the water.
Jim drove like a maniac. He glanced at Barinski sitting pale and rigid on the passenger side of the car trying to maintain a semblance of dignity. Frankly, Jim didn't care a whit about Barinksi. When he screeched to a halt in front of the waterfront, Barney was pacing like a caged animal on one side of the dock. Jim jumped out and ran over to him, Barinski following at a more dignified pace.
"What happened? Where are they?" Jim demanded, knowing that his concern would only maintain his undercover identity until help arrived. Not that he cared about any of that at the moment.
Barney pointed at the murky water below. "Just as I got here, I saw the kid push Paulie into the drink, then he kinda looked funny, and jumped in after him. That kid ain't right in the head."
Jim stared into the water trying to use his Sentinel vision to detect signs of life, but his desperation was working against him.
"Why didn't you attempt to save Mr. Sandburg?" Barinski admonished his employee, sauntering up to the two men. His face had regained some of its color now that he was no longer subjected to Jim's driving.
Barney looked uncomfortable, and shrugged his shoulders. "I never learned how to swim, Boss. I tried, back at YMCA camp, I wanted to be a 'shark' real bad, but every time I took the test, I always ended up with the little kids in the 'minnows' group. The teacher said I lacked all the natural skills evolution provided mankind for swimming, and it's a wonder my ancestors survived the climb outta the primordial ooze. That's what my teacher said."
Jim ignored the conversation behind him and focused his enhanced hearing onto the water. There! Splashing and muffled coughing could be heard beneath the dock about 20 yards ahead of them. Jim took off his shoes and his jacket and jumped in.
"There," Simon announced with intense satisfaction. He tied up the last of Barinski's perimeter soldiers while Fitzgerald covered them with his gun.
"Why did you send Sandburg here tonight?" asked Fitzgerald. "And why was he drunk?"
"Trust me, Fitz, I did NOT send the kid here tonight to meet you," Simon said decisively. Then he sighed. "And the drunk part wasn't his fault. It's kind of a long story. Look, Jim and Sandburg and I will take you out for a drink as soon as this thing is wrapped up and we'll explain everything. We owe you a drink at the very least."
"Thanks, Captain. I'd enjoy that." Fitzgerald grinned. "I think I'd like to get to know the normal Sandburg a little better, too."
"There is no 'normal' Sandburg," Simon said absently, checking his pockets. Car keys were still there. "Look, Fitz, I'm going to go get my car and gun and call this in, then head down to the docks and give Ellison a hand. You okay here with these guys?"
Ten and four are fourteen , Simon thought. God, let the kid be okay.
Jim resurfaced and swam between the supporting pilons, heading toward the splashing sounds he now heard quite clearly echoing beneath the dock. Paulie was clinging mightily to one of the slimy moss-covered pilons and Blair was floundering dramatically next to him.
"Help me, oh please, help me, someone," Paulie chanted, teeth chattering.
"I've got you, big guy," Blair was saying, though in truth all he had was a big chunk of Paulie's jacket which he tugged at uselessly.
Jim swam to his partner and grabbed him from behind, around the chest with his left arm using the official life-saving method taught by the Red Cross. He noted with a burst of anger the blood pouring from a wound on Blair's head and determined then and there that he'd leave the good Paulie clinging to his pilon for all eternity.
"Come on, Chief, I've got you," Jim said trying to swim toward the shore. But Blair refused to let go of the jacket. "Chief... Sandburg! Let go, damnit!"
"Jim?" Blair choked, spitting water out at the same time.
"I'm cold," Paulie told the pilon, clinging even tighter.
"Who else? Now let go, Chief, I've got you." Blair let go of Paulie's jacket and, in a moment of panic, twisted and grabbed a handful of Jim's shirt instead, his movements almost dragging them both under the water. "Sandburg, let go of me, damnit! I'll do the swimming, you just relax."
"Huh?" Blair stopped his struggling and let go of Jim's shirt as a small amount of awareness crept back into his inebriated, exhausted brain. He coughed and tried to twist out of Jim's grasp, making a feeble attempt to swim in the opposite direction. "I can swim, man," he added stubbornly.
"Sandburg, right now you couldn't dog-paddle in a kiddy wading pool," Jim's grip became tighter as he swam for the both of them toward the shore.
"Drowning sucks, Jim," Blair said as he stopped struggling again and leaned back bonelessly against his partner's chest. Fortunately the shore wasn't very far away. As soon as Jim touched bottom he hefted Blair up under the arms and dragged him onto the beach, well away from the water. Blair sank onto the gritty trash-infested sand and coughed the water out of his system while Jim gently rubbed his back, panting from the brief excursion.
"Now... Paulie," Blair gasped between coughs.
"Jim, please. His mother's name was Edna. Just like Naomi," Blair added cryptically as he struggled to sit up.
"Naomi's name isn't Edna," Jim sighed as a he resigned himself to returning to the water to save the Neanderthal who tried to kill his partner. Barney and Barinski were still arguing on the dock and he doubted he could count on them for being much help.
"It isn't?" Blair said, blinking. "I lied?"
"Obfuscated," Jim said, and returned to the water.
Simon pulled onto the dirt parking lot next to the other two cars, prepared for the worst and wishing for the best. He got his wish. At least, he think he got his wish. Barinski and Barney were seated back to back on the dock, in the process of being tied together with mooring rope. He could hear Jim reciting the Miranda warning to them loud and clear and, Simon thought, with great satisfaction. Sandburg seemed alive and well, comforting an oversized tied-up lug that he assumed was Paulie. Both were soaking wet and Paulie was covered with a fine sheen of slime. After getting out of the car, Simon grabbed a blanket from the trunk.
"Ambulance and back-up are on their way, Jim," Simon said as the two met up heading toward Sandburg. "Fitz has the other men detained at the store. We've got them on grand theft, conspiracy to commit grand theft, kidnapping, and attempted murder."
"That's great, sir," Jim said. He took the blanket from Simon and approached his shivering partner. "Come on, Chief, let's get you into the nice warm car."
"Not my car..." Simon said hopefully, looking at the dirty, drenched, drunken anthropologist.
"Yes, your car, sir," Jim replied, leaving no room for argument. Simon scowled and watched as Jim reached over and all but yanked Blair to his feet. Without the extra support, Paulie tipped over into the dirt like a giant Weeble, but unlike a Weeble, he didn't bounce back up. Jim barely gave him a second look.
"Whoa," said Blair, teetering unsteadily, one hand on his head as if to keep his brains from shooting out his ear. Jim eyed his partner carefully, monitoring his vital signs.
"Say goodnight, Chief," Jim smiled slightly, bracing himself.
"Huh?" said Blair, then he passed out, collapsing rather ungracefully against his Sentinel. Jim wrapped him in the blanket and slung him over his shoulder as they walked back to the parking lot.
"Good night, Chief," Simon answered for him, sighing as he calculated the cleaning bill for his car.
Jim heard the captain arriving as soon as his car turned onto Prospect Street. When Simon got off the elevator, Jim pulled two mugs out of the cabinet and headed over to open the door.
Nah, thought Jim, pulling his hand back. This time he'd give his captain the satisfaction of knocking.
Simon, however, had other plans. The big man just stood outside the door, chewing his unlit cigar.
Jim smiled at the unintentional stand-off, folded his arms and waited.
After a minute, Simon growled from the other side of the door. "Damnit Jim. I know you know I'm here. And you know that I know you know I'm here. So open the bloody door before I give you a shitload of grunt work to do for the next month."
Jim grinned and opened the door. Simon gave him a glare and headed for the kitchen table.
"Okay, so where's that delicious breakfast you promised me?"
"Hello to you too, sir. Breakfast is coming. Bacon's done and the eggs are almost ready; help yourself to some juice.
"How's the kid?" Simon asked, nodding toward the french doors as he poured himself a glass of orange juice.
"A few stitches on the forehead -- just a cut, no concussion. An insignificant amount of water in his lungs. And what's going to be one hell of a hangover." Jim set a bowl of scrambled eggs on the table and handed Simon a mug of coffee. "The ER couldn't wait to get rid of him. He started singing the Pahuate love chant to a physician's assistant who, I might add, had no sense of humor."
"Casanova struck out," Simon nodded, smiling. "Well, Paulie sobered up and has decided to turn State's Evidence against his employer. Seems the kid made a positive impression on him. And frankly, if I'd gone into that thing cold last night, I would have been a dead duck. Fitz was suppose to have advised me about the stolen item before the meet so I, or whoever went in undercover as the buyer, could have researched the artifact enough to sound like a real collector. Somehow, Sandburg screwed everything up rather nicely."
"Yes, he has a way of doing that, doesn't he?" Jim cocked his head. "Speak of the devil."
By that time even Simon could hear the muffled groans, curses, and thumps coming from beyond the french doors. After a moment, Blair stumbled out of the room, eyes bloodshot beneath a big white bandage, hair flying off in all directions, and a decidedly green look to his skin. He paused like a deer caught in headlights when he saw the two men staring at him.
"Hell Sandburg, you look like death on a cracker," grinned Simon.
"Nice outfit," was Jim's comment.
Blair blinked and looked down. He was wearing bright purple boxers completely twisted to the side, a green and grey mis-buttoned flannel shirt, one white athletic sock and one black dress sock, and a soft mint green woman's cardigan with little bunnies and strawberries embroidered around the hem.
"Shit," groaned Blair. He looked up again. "About last night... Did I...?"
The two detectives grinned.
"At the reception...?"
"You sure did," said Jim.
"In Simon's office...?"
"To the D.A., no less," Simon said.
"On the docks...?"
"And did I... were we at the hospital...?"
"Yup," answered both police officers.
"Shit," Blair said again and closed his eyes, leaning his forehead against the wall.
"And Sandburg..." Simon's voice was dangerously pleasant.
"Yeah?" The anthropologist asked cautiously.
"We need to discuss what you know about Delores."
What little color remained in Blair's face drained instantly down to his feet. He looked in horror at Simon and then at a suddenly uncomfortable Jim. "Oh man, I am SO screwed."
Jim nodded sympathetically. "That's a Big 14," he said.
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