I would like to thank MR for this story idea. She urged me to write a story featuring a "Pit Bull". I told her I already did a "Pit Bull" story with False Pretenses, and said I didn't want people thinking I was a fanatic (okay, I am... but that's beside the point!) *grin* Anyway, she urged me to write something more prominent, so here it is. I had this on the back-burner for awhile, but Suzie's wonderful story "Programmed for Death" spurred me to finish it. :-) (Thanks, Suzie! It was a great read!!)
First, I want to say that, yes, I am probably more obsessed with American Pit Bull Terriers than I am with The Sentinel, but it's definitely a close call. *grin* I was raised around the breed and there's a big ol' soft special place in my heart for these dogs. As you will see on the main page, I do "Pit Bull" rescue and education work. I also have one of my own, Fitz, who has service training and also likes to enter dog shows... actually, he could probably care less if we entered, he just likes to watch all the other people and dogs!
Every fact and anecdote presented about the breed in this story is true. If you want more info on the breed, just visit the Chako Rescue Association (link at end of story) where you can read all the strange e-mails (hate mail and the like) and see tons of pictures (including Fitz!) :-) Oh, and, as for the Sentinel stuff, there is, of course, some Blair Angst in this story.Thanks to Hephaistos for beta-reading!
The Heart of a Warrior
In Loving Memory of Chako
Jim and Blair waited in the truck, parked a few blocks away from the action near a dark alley. Blair couldn't see a thing that was going on, but he knew Jim's sensitive eyesight was picking up every detail of the transaction.
Jim leaned forward a fraction, his gaze intent, and picked up his police radio. "Ready to move in on my signal," he said.
Major Crimes had been working with Narcotics on busting a gang-related drug ring, and tonight would hopefully be the final culmination of months worth of effort. Blair released a quiet sigh, pulling his jacket tighter around him. It was cold, and he'd been sitting in the truck for nearly an hour and a half. He just wanted to go back home, slip into his sweats, pour himself some tea, and finish grading the stack of papers awaiting him.
A few minutes later, Jim barked the "go-ahead" order into the radio, and, seconds later, the night came to life with flashing red and blue lights and the chaotic sounds of commotion. Blair lurched in his seat as the truck, having leapt into a rather hasty acceleration, came to a screeching halt near the center of the disturbance. Half a dozen police cruisers filled the street, sending the small group of gang members scattering in multiple directions.
It was then that Blair heard the tat-tat-tat of gunfire, and he ducked instinctively, closing his eyes, waiting to hear the glass around him shatter. Fortunately, none of the bullets hit the truck, and, when the gunfire ended, he looked up, surprised to realize that Jim's door was hanging open. The Detective was nowhere in sight. Cautiously, Blair raised his head, peeking over the dashboard to inspect the scene in front of him.
Two dark-skinned men laid in pools of blood on the sidewalk, surrounded by police. Blair couldn't understand why the cops weren't closing in on the two motionless men until a heart-wrenching, inhuman wail sent a stab of fear into his chest. His eyes focused on the shadowy figure of a medium-sized canine, almost as dark as the blacktop but for the white "socks" that seemed to glow on his feet.
The dog sat near one of the fallen boys-- and they were boys. Blair couldn't quite make out their features, but the dim street lamp cast enough light that Blair could tell they were young, probably in their late teens. The dog, a Pit Bull, rested one paw on the fallen boy's chest, but the canine's head was tilted back as it released a deep, undulating wail. It wasn't exactly a howl, and not at all like a bark. Indeed, Blair had never heard anything like it before, and the sound turned his blood to ice.
Slowly, he slid out of the truck, finally noticing that the cops all had their guns drawn, including Jim, and every barrel was pointed at the muscular beast. Oh no. Blair wasn't particularly fond of Pit Bulls, but the sound erupting from that pathetic creature was such an expression of grief, if ever he had heard one, that it practically tore his heart from his chest. Never in a million years would he have believed such an emotion could emanate from a dog.
And then the sound stopped. The Pit Bull seemed to gaze warily at the surrounding officers for several seconds, then slowly, lowered its head and began licking the blood and dirt off of its master's face. Jim took a step closer to the animal, and the dog's head shot up as it released a low growl. Jim cocked his gun, and Blair glanced briefly at the Detective's face, seeing a stony mask that almost hid the pain behind those deep blue eyes. It affected him, too, Blair realized. How could that sound not have affected Jim, a man who had always shown reserved kindness to strays?
"Don't shoot," Blair blurted, not realizing he'd spoken the words aloud until all heads turned to look at him. He swallowed, and took a step closer to the scene. "He's just protecting his master. He doesn't know any better."
"Get back, Sandburg," Jim ordered.
Another officer cocked his gun. "I don't give a shit. That's a dangerous animal and I'm not waiting 'til it attacks."
Blair ignored both orders and, half-wondering what on earth was possessing him, took a step closer to the dog. He crouched closer to the ground, trying to make his frame as small as possible. He gazed at the dog, careful not to make direct eye contact with the animal. Then, knowing dogs understood tone and inflection more than anything else, he began to speak - softly and gently.
"Hey, there," Blair soothed. "It's okay. No one's gonna hurt you." He took several steps closer. The dog simply stared at him, its head cocked slightly. "It's okay. Take it easy."
"Sandburg! Get back," Jim barked.
Blair continued. "Good dog." Another few steps. "You're gonna be okay."
The dog laid down suddenly near the motionless man, its eyes trained on Blair, but there was something in those dark eyes that told Blair the dog knew he wasn't a threat. Gently, the dog began to lick its masters hand, all the while keeping its eyes fixed on the approaching observer.
Blair was inches from the dog, and, slowly, he knelt down. A gentle hand touched the top of the dog's head, and Blair smiled as he petted the dog. The guns lowered, and Jim took a few cautious steps forward.
"There, now. It's okay. Let us check on your owner. Okay?" Blair knew the dog couldn't understand a word he was saying, but the canine did seem to respond to his tone.
The dog lowered its head to the pavement, apparently content to submit to Blair's ministrations. Then, a low, soft whimper rose from its throat, threatening to turn into that heart-wrenching cry Blair had heard earlier. Sandburg's chest tightened, and he suddenly felt a kinship with the animal. He knew, without a doubt, that he would be making a similar sound if it had been Jim laying there on the ground. His eyes flicked to the man he now knew was dead -- he'd taken a shot to the head. He closed his eyes briefly, then opened them when he felt a wetness on his hand. He looked down to see the dog licking his hand submissively, eyes wide and sad. Poor thing. Blair glanced up at Jim briefly. Seems I'm not the only one with a Blessed Protector, he thought, then gazed back down at the dog.
It was a long night, and both men were tired, but Blair had insisted on waiting with the dog until Animal Control arrived. Fortunately, the wait wasn't long. The white van pulled up near the truck, and a tired-looking man in a green jumpsuit stepped out, his eyes immediately falling warily to the Pit Bull.
"This is the emergency pick-up, I take it?" the man asked, jerking his chin toward the dog.
Blair nodded, carefully keeping hold of the dog's leather leash. The leash was attached to a spiked leather collar that encircled the animal's neck tightly.
"Well," the man said, reaching into the back of his van to withdraw a snare, "This ain't your night, dog," he muttered, gazing at the subdued animal.
Blair glanced at Jim, who sat on the front bumper of the truck. Then the young man looked back at the Animal Control officer. "What do you mean?" he asked warily.
The man shrugged. "Well, I was told his owner died, right?"
The two men nodded.
"Well, the animal shelter here doesn't adopt out Pit Bulls. With no owner, he'll be put down. It's mandatory."
Blair's eyes widened. "WHAT?!"
The man took a step closer to the dog, raising the snare toward the Pit Bull's head. Blair took a protective step in front of the animal.
"No way!" He shook his head vehemently. "I'm taking him, then. You're --"
"Sandburg," Jim warned, his voice tired but firm. "Let the man take him. You know we can't keep a dog in the loft."
Blair flashed fiery eyes at Jim. "Then we'll sleep in the Volvo. I'm not turning this dog over to be killed."
Jim raised his eyebrows. "Sandburg, c'mon, you're being unreasonable. You don't even know how stable that dog is."
Blair set his jaw, glancing down at his new companion. The dog simply stared up at him with wide, trusting eyes. Blair swallowed, looking back up at the Animal Control officer.
"He's my dog," Sandburg stated. "You're NOT taking him."
The man sighed. lowering the snare to the ground. "Listen, kid, that's a Pit Bull, a dangerous, vicious animal. They turn on their owners all the time. They're jaws lock up, and, once they get a hold of you, the only way to get them off is to kill them and break their jaws."
Blair's gaze remained steady. "I'm keeping him," he said, his voice flat. He shivered as he remembered the soul-deep wail that had filled the air earlier. Any creature capable of such grief over the loss of a companion was not a creature capable of turning on its owner.
And grief it was. Blair had never thought a dog capable of such an intense emotion. Previously, he would have attributed those emotions exclusively to humans, chimpanzees, and, maybe, dolphins, but never to domestic pets. Sure, he knew dogs could demonstrate happiness with the wag of a tail and depression with a soft whine... but grief? Pure, intense, soul-wrenching grief? He took a deep breath. Maybe he was bestowing human characteristics to less-than-human canine behavior. He glanced back down at the dog, meeting its dark gaze, and swallowed. Nope. There was intelligence behind those eyes... and sadness. Wow, he thought. This is definitely something I'm going to research...
"So you gonna let me have him, kid?"
Blair's attention snapped back to the man in front of him. "No." That was it. No. Jim could support him, or not... but Blair was not going to turn the dog over to be killed.
A soft sigh next to him caused him to turn his head, and he locked eyes with Jim. The Sentinel offered a slight nod, then looked at the Animal Control officer. "You heard him," he said. "The dog stays."
On the way back to the loft, Jim and Blair stopped off at a twenty-four hour grocery store -- in search of dog supplies. Blair waited in the car with the dog while Jim went inside. Twenty minutes later, the detective returned with a shopping cart full of items. A large crate, disassembled, took up the bottom of the cart, while a 40-pound bag of dog food, along with two large bowls and a shrink-wrapped bone, filled the rest.
Blair smiled as he watched Jim roll the cart to the truck. You old softy, he mused, figuring that the items probably cost Jim a good penny. Quickly, Blair withdrew his wallet to see how much cash he had on him. Twenty-five bucks. He hoped it would be enough to at least cover half of the cost. If not, he'd have to owe Jim the rest.
Jim quickly tossed the items in the back of the truck, then hopped into the cab, putting on a good show of ignoring his two companions. When the dog shifted closer to him and planted a wet kiss on his cheek, Jim scowled and pushed the menacing animal back over to Blair, glaring at the young man.
"He's YOUR responsibility, Sandburg."
Blair nodded quickly, stifling a smile. "Yeah, okay. I know that." He handed Jim the twenty-five bucks and returned the wallet to his jeans pocket. "How much was it, anyway? That's all I have on me right now, but I can give you more later."
Jim accepted the money and shrugged. "This is fine. Don't worry about the rest."
Blair raised his eyebrows. "So how much does dog food, a big crate, two bowls, and a bone go for these days?"
Jim released a long-suffering sigh. "More than you can afford, that's for sure."
Blair looked momentarily taken aback, not sure if Jim was being facetious or sarcastic, but he quickly covered his expression. The Sentinel, however, had apparently noticed it, and he offered a small smile.
"Don't worry about it, Sandburg. It was just a joke. I don't mind, really," Jim said. "The crate was sixty, the dog food thirty, the bone four, and the bowls were about five bucks each."
Blair's mouth dropped open, and he suddenly felt extraordinarily guilty. "Over a hundred bucks?!" He shook his head. "Oh man, Jim, I'm sorry. I swear, I'll pay you back when I get--"
Jim raised a hand, shaking his head. "Nah, never mind. You were there for me tonight when the deal went down, even though I know you've got work to do, so we're even, okay?"
Blair grinned foolishly. "Hey man, was that, like, a thank you?"
Jim chuckled, apparently unable to resist the two sets of puppy dog eyes staring at him. "Don't let it go to your head, Chief."
Jim, Blair, and the new addition walked into the loft. The two men hung up their coats, and Blair held the dog's leash in one hand while he balanced the large bag of dog food over his shoulder. With a sigh and a heavy thud, he plunked the bag on the kitchen floor, groaning in relief as Jim carried the crate, with the bowls and bone nestled inside, into the living room.
In the light, Blair was finally able to get a detailed view of the dog. The Pit Bull looked to be about sixty pounds. He had cropped ears, and white paws. A small patch of white painted his chest. His leather collar was so tight around his neck, Blair was sure it had to be hampering the dog's breathing. He reached down to loosen the collar, and, as he did so, the dog stiffened, sitting still as a statue.
Blair gasped. Oh my God.
Jim spun around. "Wha-?" His question was cut off when his eyes fell to the dog's exposed neck.
"Oh man," Blair muttered, kneeling in front of the dog. "Some master you had, eh?"
The dog simply stared at him, then offered a quick, wet kiss on Blair's cheek. The young man patted the dog on the head as he inspected the raw flesh around the Pit Bull's neck where the collar had dug into the skin. "Jim, man, can you believe this? It looks like the guy didn't adjust the collar regularly as the dog grew."
Jim grimaced. "Yeah, I'd say that's about right."
Blair nodded, his face pale. "God, what the hell kind of a person could do this to their own dog?" His throat caught, and he swallowed. "Jim, you saw the way this dog reacted when his owner died. Can you believe that? That guy had a dog like this and he totally neglects him... How much effort does it take to loosen a collar?"
Jim perched himself on the arm of the couch and rubbed his neck. "The same kind of person who could join a gang and deal drugs," he said. "Tomorrow you'll call the vet and we'll take him to get that looked at. Okay?"
Blair nodded. "Thanks, Jim."
Ellison smiled tiredly, gesturing toward the crate. "You get to set this thing up. He's sleeping in it tonight. I don't want to find a pile of smelly fertilizer waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs tomorrow. Got that?"
Blair chuckled. "Okay, man, it's not like I object or anything."
Jim nodded, apparently satisfied. "I'm going to bed." He turned to walk toward the stairs.
Slowly, he turned around, resting one hand on the banister. "Yeah?"
"Any idea what we should call him? I mean, just until we find him a home?"
Jim cocked an eyebrow. "Call him whatever you want, Chief. I doubt he'll object."
"Funny man," Blair muttered as Jim made his way up the stairs.
Ten minutes later, Blair had the crate set up. It hadn't been difficult, actually. The two halves fit together with screws that were easy to install. The dog gazed at the crate curiously, as though he had never seen one before.
"Okay, now," Blair whispered, mindful of Jim upstairs, "You wanna come lay down in your new bed?"
The dog cocked his head.
Blair had taken off the dog's collar, so he didn't have anything to grab on the dog, and he obviously couldn't pull on the scruff of the neck. Hmmmnnn....
He eyed the refrigerator, rising to his feet and trotting to the kitchen. He grabbed a piece of lunch meat and returned to the crate. He tore a piece off and held it in front of the dog's nose, keeping the rest out of sight behind his back. The dog sniffed the meat eagerly, then opened his jaws to devour it. At the last moment, Blair pulled the piece of meat away and tossed it into the crate. The dog lunged after it, and, like lightning, snatched it up and shot backward out of the crate before Blair could close the door.
Damn! Blair glared at the dog. The dog stared back innocently.
"Okay, so we do this the hard way," he said.
He held the rest of the meat in front of the crate. The dog lunged for it again, and Blair threw it inside. Once again, the dog went in after the treat. Blair moved swiftly, blocking the exit and, as the dog backed out, he pushed the Pit Bull's rear forward, into the crate. The dog resisted, and, before Blair knew it, he found himself flat on his back with the dog on top of him, licking his face.
As Blair raised his hands to ward off the smelly and wet attack, he heard a deep chuckling above him. He tilted his head back to see Jim leaning over the rail of the loft, grinning broadly.
Blair scrunched his face into a look of disgust as the dog continued to slobber all over him. With a monumental effort, he rolled over, pushing the dog off of him as he did so.
"Uggh!" He wiped his face with the front of his shirt and shot the dog a deadly look. "Ingrate," he muttered.
"What's the matter, Chief? Outsmarted by a dog?"
Blair glared up at Jim. "Go back to sleep. I've got it covered down here."
Jim shook his head. "Oh no. This I've gotta see. The guys will never believe me when I tell them you wrestled a sixty pound Pit Bull."
Blair scowled. "You wanna give it a try, man?"
Jim grunted. "Nope. This is your responsibility, remember?"
"Then quit with the commentary, all right?"
"Whatever you say," Jim replied, leaning heavier on the banister as he gazed in amusement at the mismatched duo below.
The dog walked away from the crate, sniffing its way toward the kitchen.
Jim stiffened. "Sandburg..."
The dog lifted its leg.
"Hey!" Blair sprang from the floor, startling the dog enough that it lowered its leg suddenly and ducked its head as though expecting to be hit.
Blair stopped in his tracks. "Oh, I'm sorry," he said, taking care to keep his voice soft. "It's all right. Why don't I take you outside, okay?"
The dog slinked over to him, keeping its body low to the ground as it stared up at him with sorrowful eyes.
Blair realized he'd have to put the collar back on the dog, but he saw no choice. The dog had to use the bathroom, and it needed to be kept on a leash. Reluctantly, Blair grabbed the severe-looking spiked collar and knelt in front of the dog, who was now laying on the floor sulking, if Blair read the body language right.
Blair put the collar on the dog, keeping it as loose as possible, but tight enough so that it couldn't slip over the dog's head. He wondered if the dog's wounds hurt. The Pit Bull never even winced, so he figured it wasn't in any real pain.
"I'll be back," Blair muttered, as he grabbed the leash.
"Be careful," Jim said. "It's late out."
Blair raised his eyebrows, gesturing to the dog. "Who's gonna mess with me when I've got Cujo, here?"
Jim did not look convinced. "Just hurry back. It's starting to rain, anyway."
Blair did not look happy about that. "Oh man! You know, sometimes I really hate Washington," he said as he headed to the door.
Jim laughed and returned to his bed, slipping beneath the covers and trying his best to fall asleep.
It was only twenty minutes until Blair returned, and Jim hadn't managed to fall asleep. He heard his Guide's keys jangling in the hallway, followed by the sound of the door opening. Squishy footsteps made their way toward the kitchen, and Jim smiled as he listened to the now-heavy rain outside. With a sigh, he sat up in the bed and peered over the railing.
What he saw made his jaw drop open. "Sandburg, what the hell happened?"
Blair, covered from head to toe in mud, jumped and looked guiltily up at him. "This stupid mutt saw a cat, that's what!"
The dog looked up at Jim, wagging its tail fiercely, seemingly oblivious to Sandburg's fury.
"I can't believe this," Blair ranted, gesturing wildly and flinging drops of water and mud on the cabinets.
Jim almost berated Blair for adding to the mess he'd dragged in, but the sight was so comical he just couldn't muster the appropriate anger.
"He pulled me right off my feet," Blair continued. "I didn't dare let go, because I didn't want to risk losing him and have him wind up in the stupid shelter. So I held on, and this miserable, ungrateful... MUTT dragged me through a mud hole after some stupid furball."
Jim felt the laughter rise from his stomach just before it burst out of his mouth. He fell back into bed, laughing heartily, as he listened to Sandburg rave below.
"Oh yeah, man, laugh it up," Blair whined. "Real funny!" Squish. Squish. Jim laughed harder. "This was a new shirt! And these shoes are probably ruined!" Squish. Squish. Squish. "And now I've got to clean up this mess!" Squish. Squish. "And you wanna know something? That damn cat ran up a tree... and get this! The dog followed it up! Geez, he almost pulled me with him, but he got to the end of the leash and fell back down... on me, of course!"
Jim roared, burying his face in the pillow.
"And that cat... well, let's just say that was one pissed off feline," Blair continued, seemingly oblivious to Jim's hysterics. "You should have seen its hair stand on end when the dog reached the bottom branch!"
An hour and a half later, Blair was showered and the loft clean. He'd had to take the dog in the bathroom with him so he could keep a half-eye on the canine while he washed all the mud and grime out of his hair. Now, he found himself sitting once again in front of the crate, eyeing the obviously suspicious dog warily.
"Come on, boy, can't you just do me this ONE favor? I mean, if it weren't for me, you'd be on death row right now," Blair pleaded.
The dog backed slowly away from the crate.
"Come on, let me help you."
Sandburg jumped, turning around to see Jim looming above him, his face lined with fatigue but his eyes betraying amused tolerance.
"Well, okay, Jim," Blair said softly, almost sheepishly. "I'm really sorry, man. It's just--"
"Save it, let's just get this mutt into the crate," Jim said, kneeling down next to the dog. The Pit Bull's collar was still on, so Jim grabbed it and coaxed the dog forward. "You hold the crate steady, Sandburg," Jim instructed, "But first go get a piece of meat."
Blair complied, returning with another piece of lunch meat, then shifting the back of the crate against the kitchen island and holding onto the top for support. Blair threw the piece of meat into the crate, but the dog simply stared at it longingly, apparently having learned the ploy behind the maneuver.
Jim raised his eyebrows in mild annoyance as he gazed at Blair.
"Hey, man, don't look at me," the young man said, shaking his head. "He's stubborn."
"Uh-huh, well, looks like we do this the hard way." Jim yanked the dog's collar forward and pushed its head into the crate. The dog whined and set its legs, refusing to budge. Jim and Blair took up positions behind the dog and pushed it forward, both men straining. Finally, the dog gave in and moved forward, and Jim slammed the kennel door closed quickly.
Both men fell back with audible sighs.
"Goodnight, Sandburg," Jim said, rising to his feet and heading back to his room.
"Yeah, Goodnight," Blair said, glancing at the VCR clock. Or rather, good morning. "Thanks, Jim."
Ellison waved a hand in the air in casual acknowledgment and climbed the stairs to his bed.
"Arrr-arrr-arrr-arrrr-arrr! Arrrr-arrrr-arrr-arrrr! Arrrr-arrr-arrr-arrr!"
Jim and Blair both jumped out of bed. Sandburg flew out of his room, while Jim simply looked down over the railing.
"Sandburg," Jim growled.
Blair raised his hands. "I know! I know! I don't know how to shut him up."
"It's 4 a.m. and he's been doing this for over an hour!"
"Arrr-arrr-arrr-arrrr-arrr! Arrrr-arrrr-arrr-arrrr! Arrrr-arrr-arrr-arrr!"
"I know that man. Don't you think I hear him? Geez, I'm sure the whole--"
Jim glared at Sandburg. "You answer it. You get to deal with any irate neighbors on the verge of a sleep-deprived psychotic rage."
"Okay, okay," Sandburg said, walking to the phone. "Hello?"
He immediately pulled the phone away from his ear. Jim could hear the woman's angry voice as though she were in the same room with him.
"I know Mrs. Pallgraff. I'm sorry... Yes, yes, we'll shut him up... Uh-huh. Yes, I know. I'm sorry."
Blair hung up the phone.
"Arrr-arrr-arrr-arrrr-arrr! Arrrr-arrrr-arrr-arrrr! Arrrr-arrr-arrr-arrr!"
Blair stormed over to the kennel and slammed a fist down on top. "Shut up!!!"
Instantly, the dog quieted. With a sigh, Blair walked back to his room. The moment he closed the door, the dog started up again.
"Arrr-arrr-arrr-arrrr-arrr! Arrrr-arrrr-arrr-arrrr! Arrrr-arrr-arrr-arrr!"
Damnit! Blair flung his door open, gazing up at the loft. Jim had apparently laid back down in bed, fuming, no doubt. Blair took a deep breath and opened the kennel door. The dog bolted out of the crate and laid down at his feet, eyeing him sadly.
"Come on," Blair grumbled, walking back to his room. The dog followed eagerly.
The soft morning sunlight guided Jim toward consciousness. With a groan, he rolled over, pulling the covers over his head to block out the sun's intrusion. Five minutes later, his alarm sounded.
With a resigned sigh, he turned the alarm off and slid out of bed. He listened for sounds below him, but encountered only the soft rhythms of breathing. Blair and his new companion were still asleep. With a yawn, Jim trudged down the steps, glancing at the french doors leading to Sandburg's room. Quietly, he walked over to the doors and gently pushed one open, peeking his head inside.
Well, would you look at that....
A smile found its way to his lips as he gazed at the two figures on the bed. Sandburg was scrunched against the wall, while the dog laid sprawled comfortably on its side, obviously getting the better of the deal. It opened its eyes and gazed at Jim, then lifted its head, its tail beginning to wag slowly.
In a single leap, it jumped off the bed and trotted up to Jim. Blair stirred, but did not awaken. Jim grinned, patting the dog on the head.
We're gonna have to come up with a name for you soon, Jim thought.
The dog turned and jumped back onto the bed, licking Blair's face furiously.
"Ugggh... Hey!" Blair turned his head away, raising his arms in defense. The dog seemed to take delight in Blair's resistance and only increased its efforts to wet the young man's face.
"Get away!" Blair pushed the dog off the bed and buried his head beneath the pillow. The dog jumped right back on, nudging underneath the pillow to resume its attack. Finally, with an angry sigh, Blair jack-knifed into a sitting position, throwing the covers off his body. "All right! I'm up!"
Jim chuckled. "'Mornin', Chief."
Blair yawned, gazing at Jim irritably. "Man, you look like hell," he commented.
"Well, for some reason, I didn't get much sleep last night," he dead-panned.
Blair rubbed his hands through his hair, casting an angry glare at the dog. "Yeah, me either. Sorry about that, Jim."
"Just get your butt out of bed. You can make breakfast, and feed the dog, and walk him, and clean up the spots of mud you missed last night."
As if on cue, the dog trotted out of the bedroom and headed toward the front door. Blair pushed himself out of bed as Jim headed into the bathroom. Peeking his head out of the room to keep an eye on the dog, he noticed that the canine was now laying in front of the door, gazing at it sadly.
"Hold on, I'm coming," he grumbled, throwing on a pair of sweats and slipping into his sneakers.
He walked over to the dog and grabbed his jacket from the hook. Then he snapped the leash onto the collar. The dog rose to its feet, tail wagging slowly. Blair opened the door, and the dog darted out, pulling Blair with him.
"Hold on!" Blair yanked back on the leash, and the dog sat down, looking down the hall. Then, unexpectedly, the dog rushed back into the loft. A second later, the dog was back in the hallway, his eyes darting back and forth as though searching for something.
Blair furrowed his brow, pulling the dog toward the elevator. "Come on, let's go."
The dog seemed to hesitate for a moment, then followed, sniffing the air as he walked down the hall.
"What's the matter with you, boy... err... Rover? Fido? Cujo?" Blair shook his head. "Man, I have GOT to come up with a name for you." He studied the dog as the elevator doors opened, then stepped inside the lift. "Aha!" He snapped his fingers. "I've got the perfect name for you!"
Fifteen minutes later, Blair and the dog returned to the loft. Blair hung his jacket back on the hook and unsnapped the leash. The dog trotted hastily into Blair's bedroom as Jim glanced up from the morning paper.
"How'd the walk go?"
Blair shrugged. "So-so," he commented. "Man, I never noticed how many people have dogs in this neighborhood... and how many of them walk them OFF-leash. There was this guy with a Dalmatian, and the dog came running up to Taz, and--"
Jim raised his eyebrows. "Taz?"
"Yeah, that's what I decided to name him," Blair explained. "Whatdya think?"
Jim pursed his lips. "It fits."
Blair grunted. "Tell me about it. He's like a whirlwind of chaos." He shook his head. "Anyway, this Dalmatian comes barreling up to Taz, OFF-LEASH, mind you, and growls right in his face. Well, let me tell you, that was an education. Taz just went off, and I could barely hold him back. The guy started yelling at me, saying I shouldn't walk a vicious Pit Bull in public." Blair took a deep breath. "Taz was fine until his stupid dog decided to start something, and then this guy has the nerve to yell at me. Well, I told him that he needed to put his dog on a leash, and he said something back -- I won't repeat it -- and then stormed off, yanking his dog by the collar. Then, of course, a few witnesses had observed the event and looked at me and Taz as though we were to blame." He released a disgusted sigh. "You know, I never stopped to think about breed discrimination before, but today I'm gonna do some research on the 'net and see what I can find out about Pit Bulls."
Jim grunted in reply, turning the page of the newspaper.
"I'll have breakfast done in a jiff," Blair promised, hurrying to the stove.
"Don't worry about it, Sandburg," Jim said. "I had a leftover Danish and a bowl of cereal."
Blair returned the pan he had retrieved back to the cabinet and opened the refrigerator. "Thanks, Jim. I'll make breakfast tomorrow, okay?"
Jim nodded. "You gonna call the vet?"
Blair poured himself a glass of orange juice and said, "Yeah, just let me scarf something down and then I'll make an appointment."
"We've gotta be outta here in half an hour, Chief."
"I know. I know," Blair replied. "I'll be ready."
Twenty-five minutes later, Blair hung up the phone and tucked the piece of scratch paper into his pants pocket. "Well, he's got a four O'clock with Doctor Barbri."
"So I heard," Jim commented, still engaged with his paper. "You ready?"
Blair nodded. "Yeah, I'm ready." He was, thankfully, clear of classes until Monday, so he could help Jim out at the station.
Blair sat at Jim's computer in the bullpen, his eyes glued to the screen. Jim sat at the corner of his desk, letting Blair have the rest of the space, as the Detective finished up some paperwork.
"Some of this is incredible," Blair said, scrolling down the web page. "Did you know that Pete the Pup of the Little Rascals was a Pit Bull?"
Jim scribbled something down on the comments section of the report and shook his head. "No, Chief, I didn't," he muttered.
"And Helen Keller owned a Pit Bull! Now that's something I never would have guessed!"
"Mmm-hmmm," Jim acknowledged.
"And did you know that these dogs, although historically bred for dog fighting, were also used in bull-baiting. I mean, they would take down full-grown bulls by grabbing onto the bull's nose and bringing him to the ground. Can you believe that? A fifty or sixty pound dog taking down an animal that size?"
"Amazing," Jim mumbled.
"And they DON'T have locking jaws. That Animal Control officer obviously doesn't have a clue," Blair continued.
"And did you know that in some counties it's even illegal to own a Pit Bull?"
Jim raised his head. "Really?"
Blair nodded eagerly, happy to finally have Jim's attention. "Yeah, man. Actually Ohio has state-wide restrictions on the breed."
"Any in Washington?"
Blair shrugged, turning back to the computer. "I don't know. I'll check that out." He scrolled down the page some more. "Oh, and get this, these dogs can pull over five thousand pounds! It says they also tend to be dog-aggressive unless properly socialized, so that puts the whole Dalmatian incident in a new light... oh, which leads me to another thing. Did you know that Dalmatians, statistically, are more prone to bite than Pit Bulls... right up there with Cocker Spaniels?! Of course, I guess a Pit Bull would do a heck of a lot more damage than a Cocker Spaniel if it did bite... but Dalmatians are pretty big dogs, and they are known to be snappish. As a matter of fact, and I kinda got sidetracked here, when the new 101 Dalmatians movie came out, people were running to pet stores to buy Dalmatians, then shelters got a huge influx of unwanted Dalmatians when parents realized the breed wasn't the best for children." He shook his head. "Man, I never really stopped to think just how much power the media has over things like domestic animals. People rush out to buy a dog they see on T.V... like the Taco Bell chihuahua, without stopping to think about whether the dog will fit into their lifestyle." Blair paused to take a breath, then continued relentlessly. "Oh, and it says here that Pit Bulls were bred to be people-friendly. This was because they were used for dog fighting and the owners didn't want the dogs turning on them, the referees, or the spectators during the fights... especially since the dogs are so strong. As a matter of fact, and this is pretty bad, but Pit Bulls that had a tendency to bite out of fear or pain were culled on the spot." Blair shook his head. "Man, that's a pretty gruesome history, but it says here that a true game-bred pit bull is one of the most people-stable animals on the planet. Dog fighters often had to set bones on the spot, without putting the dog under, and these animals would NEVER even snap at them. They have an incredibly high pain tolerance and an enormous affinity for people. According to the information on most of the Pit Bull web pages, it's the amateur backyard breeders who start selecting for people-aggressive dogs to use to guard drugs and other things that have led to what they call 'manbiters'."
Jim grunted. "Sounds a bit like propaganda to me, Chief."
Blair shrugged. "Maybe. The dogs are very territorial and loyal. They actually make good family pets. Even the AKC released a book rating the breed as being good with children, so it can't be all propaganda.... Oh! And there are actually three breeds commonly referred to as..."
Jim held up his hand. "Sandburg, I've got paperwork to finish."
Blair looked dejected, then turned back to the screen. "Oh, yeah. Sorry. It's just there's some awesome information here. One Pit Bull, Weela, won an award for heroism. She knocked the family's son out of the way of a rattlesnake, then started doing search and rescue work. She had a talent for sensing 'sink holes' and she saved many, many animals during a flood by carrying fifty-pound packs of supplies back and forth through floodwaters. Finally, during one of Weela's trips back from delivering food to stranded animals, she came upon a group of thirty people who were attempting to cross the floodwaters. Weela, by barking and running back and forth, refused to allow them to cross at that point where the waters ran deep and fast. She then led the group to a shallower crossing upstream, where they safely crossed to the other side." Blair whistled. "Now that's something even I'm having a hard time believing," the young man commented.
Jim gazed at his partner critically. "Does it say anything about getting them to sleep through the night in a crate?"
Blair's face colored. "Uh, oh yeah, I'll check on that, too."
At 3:00, Jim dropped Blair back at the loft on his way to a meeting with Sneaks... a meeting Blair was more than happy to miss. Blair pushed the door to the loft open, pausing momentarily to appreciate the silence. Ah, no whining, yelping, or barking. He eyed the crate, and closed the door. A soft thump-thump indicated the wagging of a tail inside the crate, and Blair crouched down in front of the metal door to gaze at the dog.
"So, how ya been, buddy?"
The dog cocked its head, releasing a small whine. "Okay," Blair sighed, opening the crate door. Taz rushed out, immediately jumping on Blair's chest and pushing the young man to the ground.
Blair chuckled as he pushed the dog off of him. "Come on, Taz," he said, rising to his feet. "We've got to get you to the vet."
Fortunately, Jim had given him his credit card, so Blair could pay the vet... always a good thing. He felt a twinge of guilt in his chest, but pushed that aside when he promised himself to pay Jim back between the next two paydays, even though the Detective had said it was unnecessary. Things would be tight for the next couple of months, especially since he had just spent $200 on repairs to his Volvo. He only hoped the car was really fixed this time. It had already been to the mechanic three times to "fix" the same problem.
Blair grabbed the leash and led -- err, followed -- Taz out of the loft. Blair hurried to keep up with the eager dog. The moment they reached the sidewalk, Taz relieved his bladder, then proceeded to sniff around for a place to continue his business.
Uh-oh. Blair looked guiltily up at the windows, realizing he had completely forgotten to buy "pooper scoopers". After Taz finished, Blair led the dog to the Volvo and urged him to stay on the passenger seat. Remarkably, Taz obeyed and Blair hopped into the driver's seat and headed toward the vet clinic.
Blair walked out of the clinic's front doors with Taz's leash in one hand and the bag of prescriptions in the other hand. Taz pulled eagerly on the leash, and Blair had to wrap the leash several times around his wrist and hand to keep a firm hold on the thing.
As he approached the Volvo, he spotted an old black Mustang parked on the street. Four men sat inside, each wearing red bandanas. Two of the men were dark-skinned, one looked Hispanic, and the other was Caucasian. All four sets of eyes were turned in his direction. Blair furrowed his brow and hurried over to the Volvo. Taz's owner, he was pretty sure, had been wearing an identical red bandana.
He held the small bag of prescriptions in his teeth as he fumbled in his jacket pocket for his keys. The doors of the Mustang opened, and all four men stepped out. Blair's heart jumped to his throat as his fingers wrapped around the keychain. He yanked the keys out of his pocket and found the correct one. The four men trotted toward him, and, before he could turn the lock, they surrounded him.
Blair opened his mouth and the bag fell to the ground. "H-Hey, guys. What's up?"
A large young man with dark skin and a hard jaw stepped closer to him, forcing him up against the Volvo. Taz gave a low growl, and the man looked down at the dog.
"That's my brother's dog," the guy stated, turning cold, black eyes onto Blair.
Sandburg swallowed. "I don't know what you're talking about, man. He's my dog."
Anger flashed across the man's face, and he pushed Sandburg into the Volvo. "Don't fucking lie to me you little hippie punk. I know you and your cop buddies killed my brother, and now you've got his dog."
Two of the other men pulled guns out of their jackets, keeping them hid inconspicuously in the sleeves of their jackets. Blair's chest tightened, and Taz's growl turned more menacing.
"Do him," the lead guy ordered, and, in a heartbeat, one of the gang members aimed at the dog and pulled the trigger.
"NO!" Blair lunged forward but the guy slammed him back up against the Volvo.
Blair saw the dart hanging out of Taz's shoulders. The large Pit Bull wobbled a bit, the growl still caught in his throat, then sank to the ground. Taz turned his head to cast a foggy, almost apologetic look up at Blair, then, slowly, lowered his head to the pavement and closed his eyes.
The gang member with the 9 mm Berretta waved it at Blair as the lead man grabbed his collar and pulled him away from the car. "You're coming with us," the leader said. "The cops are gonna learn that if they hit us, we hit them."
Blair found himself being dragged toward the Mustang, and he tried futiley to twist out of the large man's grip. His struggles ceased, however, when he felt the hard jab of the barrel in his back.
"I'm not a cop," he protested. "I'm an anthropologist. I only consult for the police. Man, they were gonna kill this dog. I only took him in to save his life. I--"
A sharp blow to his right kidney silenced him, sending a bolt of pain through his body and robbing him of his breath. Oh God, that hurts! The blow hadn't even been all that hard, but it had evidently hit a sensitive mark. Blair struggled to control his breathing as he was pushed into the car.
Two men slid into the backseat next to him, one on either side. Blair looked behind him as the leader opened the trunk and dumped Taz inside. Blair hoped the trunk wasn't airproof, as he didn't know how long of a drive they'd be taking. The leader seemed to want the dog alive, so Sandburg figured the trunk had a few airholes. The leader walked around to the driver's seat and slid in, starting the engine. As the car drove away, he wrapped his arms around his torso as though to protect himself from the cold and fingered the cell phone tucked in the inside of his jacket pocket. Now, if only there were some way he could dial Jim without alerting the four men around him.
The driver leaned forward and turned on the radio, sending blaring rap music drumming through the car's interior. Blair couldn't believe his luck. The passenger in the front seat turned around and cast him an anxious glance, then looked at the leader.
"So what're we gonna do with him, Jer?"
The driver looked at Blair in the rearview mirror and smiled menacingly. "We'll use him as a treat for Goliath. Dog needs some fresh blood."
Blair felt the blood drain from his face, and he fingered the cellphone once more, taking care to keep his movements very small and inconspicuous. He pressed what he hoped was the autodial for Jim's cellphone and then pressed the SEND button. Fortunately, the loud music covered the low beeping of the buttons as he pressed them.
Oh please pick up, he silently prayed. He figured Jim's cellphone was the best bet, as the detective was likely to have it on him wherever he went. He clenched his jaw, wishing he had Jim's hearing so he could know for sure. He wasn't even certain he'd pressed the right button. It was entirely possible that he'd just dialed the chinese delivery place two blocks down from the station.
Jim grabbed his jacket from the chair, glancing at his watch as he headed out of the bullpen. It had been a long day, and he was looking forward to relaxing in front of the T.V. at home. Sandburg should be home from the vet's office by now. He grimaced as he stepped into the hallway, releasing a tired sigh. Damn. He'd forgotten about the dog. He probably wouldn't get a whole lot of relaxing done with that sixty-pound pain-in-the-ass in the loft. That thought brought a small smile to his face. Okay, so, yeah, the dog was big, strong, and noisy... and it made the entire loft smell like dog, at least to his sensitive nose. Still, he had to admit, the mutt had a certain charm. Maybe he'd go for a jog tomorrow morning with the dog.
His cellphone rang and he snatched it out of his pocket, flipping it open. "Ellison."
No one answered him. He heard music over the line and, with a frown, extended his hearing. After a few seconds, the sound of a familiar heartbeat reached his ears.
No answer. He stopped just in front of the elevators, listening. Two seconds later, he heard his Guide's anxious voice.
"Hey, guys, c'mon. You don't have to do this."
"Shut up," a rough, deep voice answered.
"Where are we going?" Blair asked, ignoring the order.
"Victor, shut him up!"
A gun cocked, and Blair's heart thumped frantically.
Jim clenched his jaw and spun around, heading back to the bullpen as he kept his ears tuned to the sound of his Guide's heartbeat. Just shut up and do what they say, Chief, Jim commanded silently.
He ran into the bullpen, raising one hand to cover the mouthpiece of the phone. He burst into Simon's office, and the Captain looked up sharply, startled.
"Captain, Blair's been kidnapped. I've got an open cellphone line on him and I need a trace A.S.A.P."
Two of the gang members dragged Blair into a large garage and dumped him unceremoniously onto the cement floor. A large kennel sat against the far wall, housing a monstrous Rottweiler. The moment the black and brown dog spotted him, it began to bark and growl, hurling itself against the chain link angrily. Blair scampered back, trying to put as much distance as he could between himself and the dog. The leader walked passed his two men and smiled when he saw Blair's reaction.
"That there's Goliath," he informed the young man. He gestured to his two men, and they rushed forward, grabbing Blair's arms and hauling him to his feet.
The leader walked over to a cabinet on the wall and opened the door, withdrawing a pair of handcuffs. Blair swallowed hard as the guy turned toward him and offered a pleasant smile, dangling the metal rings in the air.
"We're gonna work Goliath a bit. He needs to keep the taste of human blood if he's gonna make a good guard dog."
Blair's knees weakened, threatening to spill him onto the ground. The two men supported him, keeping him upright as they dragged him into the center of the room. Blair looked down, spotting a large metal ring jutting out of the cement. The gray floor was stained with dark spots, and Blair had a sinking feeling that those dark spots were actually blood stains.
The leader tossed the handcuffs to one of the men, then pulled a gun out from his waistband. He pointed the barrel at Blair's chest and jerked his chin toward the man with the cuffs.
"You best not move, hippie," he warned as the other man stooped down and secured the handcuff around Blair's ankle.
Blair did as he was told, allowing himself to be secured to the metal ring in the floor. His heart pounded furiously in his chest, and he prayed that Jim was still on the line. He found it amazing that the guys hadn't searched him yet.
The fourth man walked in carrying Taz's limp figure over his shoulders. The leader walked over to the kennel, grabbing a large leash from the wall.
The Rottie obeyed instantly.
The leader opened the kennel, snapping the leash around the dog's collar. The dog kept its eyes glued to Blair as it was led out of the kennel. The man carrying Taz walked forward and deposited the Pit Bull inside the kennel. Taz stirred, offering a soft growl as he lifted his head groggily. A second later, the large kennel door was slammed shut and locked.
Blair eyed the Rottie fearfully. He had a pretty good idea what the four men intended to do with the dog, and he suddenly found himself wishing he'd struggled earlier. He much preferred a quick death by a bullet to being torn apart by a large dog. He'd seen videos of dog attacks on those sensationalistic specials aired on various networks, and he had no wish to learn first hand just how it felt to be the victim of such an attack.
"Stay!" The leader commanded the dog.
Without further comment, the four men walked to the door. The Rottie stayed perfectly still, but its wild eyes remained locked onto Blair. Sandburg heard a deep growl, and he looked passed the Rottie. Taz stood on wobbling legs, snarling at the larger dog through the chain link. The Rottie turned, releasing its own growl.
Instantly, the Rottie snapped its head back around, but the growl in its throat remained alive.
The leader stared at the dog for several seconds, then, with a sardonic smile, said, "Go!" and slammed the door shut behind him.
The Rottie bolted forward, and Blair raised his arms defensively. He screamed as the dog's massive jaws clamped around his forearm, its sharp teeth digging into his flesh.
Taz went wild, barking and snarling furiously as he lunged at the chain link. Blair tried to kick the dog, but he only had one free leg, and he couldn't get enough leverage. The dog shook its head hard, its teeth tearing through the muscles of his arm.
Blair continued to scream, trying to yank his arm out of the dog's jaws. Part of his mind remembered the cellphone in his pocket and wondered if Jim was listening to his screams, but the majority of his mind kicked into primal mode, sending adrenaline coursing through his blood as he tried to fight off the attack.
Suddenly, the Rottie flew forward, releasing its grip on Blair's arm. Sandburg instinctively curled into a fetal position, cradling his throbbing arm against his chest, bracing himself for another attack. Loud, angry snarling reached his ears, and it took him several seconds to realize that he was no longer being attacked. Cautiously, he raised his head, sweat dripping down the sides of his face.
Taz and the Rottie were locked in battle, and the two dogs looked very much like David and Goliath. Blair blinked, his vision clouded by sweat and tears. He glanced at the kennel and saw the large hole that had been ripped out of the bottom of the chain link. Then, he turned his eyes back to the fight. The growling sounded distant in his ears, as though he were hearing it from behind a heavy door. He wondered vaguely if he was in shock, and he lowered his head to the ground, watching with numb detachment as the two dogs battled next to him.
The sixty pound Pit Bull, remarkably, was holding its own against the 150-pound Rottweiler. Blair found it odd, wondering if he weren't dreaming the whole thing. His head began to spin dreamily, and his eyelids felt heavy, but he couldn't tear his gaze away from the fight.
Random facts began to play through his memory, and he remembered reading on one of the web pages that Pit Bulls had been pitted against much larger dogs... and bulls... and hogs... and rattlesnakes... horses... sinkholes... his eyes fluttered as the disjointed information floated through his brain. Hadn't he read something about horses, too? Oh and, yeah, Pit Bulls were bred to fight, that was it. They had been matched against virtually ever breed of dog, and there was only one bred that had been able to hold its own against the Pit Bull. Blair's eyes fluttered closed. What was the name of the dog? Hadn't it started with a 'T'? It was over two hundred pounds, that much he remembered, and the web page said something about needing at least a sixty-five pound Pit Bull to 'beat' such a dog.
He felt himself falling toward the darkness, and, finally, allowed it to overtake him.
Jim listened to his partner's screams as Simon drove the speeding truck toward their destination. His grabbed the phone tightly, his knuckles white.
"Sandburg! Blair! Answer me!"
He heard only angry snarling and the agonized, terrified screaming of his partner. He'd heard the entire conversation, so he knew exactly what was happening to his friend. His chest felt tight, as though burdened with a heavy weight, and his stomach clenched in a knot. God! The screams sliced through his skull like a knife, sending pangs of empathy into his chest.
"Hurry, Simon" he urged. "He hasn't got much time."
Simon glanced at the Sentinel, his face etched with worry. Jim suspected that even the Captain could hear Blair's screams echoing from the cellphone.
Blair felt something warm and wet against his cheeks, and it pulled him out of the darkness. Slowly, he opened his eyes, seeing a dark blur in front of him. Gradually, the blur took shape, and he recognized the short muzzle and wide eyes as belonging to Taz.
The dog released a soft whine, lavishing a few more wet licks on Blair's cheeks. Sandburg groaned softly, and Taz lowered his nuzzle, sniffing Blair's injured arm. Blair curled defensively into a ball, protecting his bloody arm. It throbbed with hot pain. Taz crouched to the floor, and it was then that Blair noticed the dark blood that dirtied Taz's white chest.
The door opened, but Blair didn't bother to lift his head. Taz sprung to his feet, however, and hopped over Blair, positioning himself between Sandburg and the door as he issued a low warning growl to the men that entered.
"Son of a bitch! He killed Goliath!"
"Fuck man! All right!" a second voice chimed in.
Taz's growl turned into a snarl.
"Get the tranquilizer," the leader's voice ordered.
Blair closed his eyes. He felt so cold... and so tired. Something teased at the back of his mind... there was something he was forgetting.... something important. He furrowed his brow, trying to grab hold of the fleeting thought.
Then he heard the faint voice calling his name.
"Jim?" he croaked.
Had Jim found him? He allowed himself a small smile and opened his eyes. Jim was coming. Of course, Jim always came... just in time. But, Jim, man could you maybe manage to show up just in time five minutes sooner from now on, he silently pleaded.
Blair forced himself to focus on the situation in front of him. Two men stood in the doorway, and Taz crouched low to the ground, protecting Blair. Sandburg saw one of the men raise the dart gun, and he opened his mouth to shout a warning to Taz. Of course, the idea was absurd, but his thoughts were too muddied to recognize that fact. His warning died in his throat, however, when Taz lunged forward, clamping down on the gunman's hand just before the man pulled the trigger. The guy screamed and fell backward, and Taz shook the wrist hard.
Blair allowed himself a small smile. It looked like he had found himself another Blessed Protector. His relief, however, was short-lived when he found himself looking up into the barrel of a large gun. He followed the gun upward until his eyes met the angry gaze of his captor.
"You fucking piece of shit!" The man stooped forward and yanked the cellphone out of Blair's jacket, placing the phone against his ear. "Hey, cop, you there? You the one that killed my brother?" He paused for a moment as though listening to someone, and Blair could just hear Jim's angry voice coming from the earpiece, though he couldn't make out the words.
Then he remembered the thing he'd forgotten. The phone. He'd dialed Jim on the cellphone. Stupid, he berated himself. How could he have forgotten such a critical fact?
"Time for a little payback," the man told Jim, keeping his cold gaze fixed on Blair.
Sandburg found himself drifting. His body felt as though it were floating in a pool of thick molasses. The good news was that his arm no longer hurt. He glanced down to look at his arm, feeling the sudden urge to make sure it was still attached to his body. Yep, it was still there... along with an alarming amount of blood. Ah, so that's it, he thought with an absurd state of detachment. I can't feel anything because I'm bleeding to death. He smiled, releasing a soft chuckle. He didn't know why he was laughing, it just all seemed so ridiculous all of a sudden. There he was, chained to a metal ring in the floor, staring up at the barrel of a gun next to a dead Rottweiler while a Pit Bull battled one of his captors somewhere out of sight. How did he manage to get into these situations?
"What's so fucking funny, hippie?" His captor asked.
Blair forced his laughter down. He could still hear Jim's voice drifting from the earpiece. "Hey, Jim," he said, surprised at how groggy his voice sounded. He wanted to say more, but what could he say? Besides, with the way his voice sounded, he'd probably just scare the hell out the Detective. Heck, he was beginning to scare himself. It wasn't normal to burst into giggles in the face of death... was it?
The gang member straightened his arm, aiming the barrel at Blair's head. "Shut the fuck up! You hear that cop, I've got your partner. You killed my brother, and I now I'm gonna kill your partner. Same way. A bullet to the head. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."
Blair looked straight into the barrel of the gun, and his chest tightened, clamping down on any desire he might have had to laugh. Oh God. This was the end for him. Jim was somewhere else... on the other end of the line, and there was no way he'd make it in time. No, instead, the Sentinel would be subjected to listening to the final gunshot...
A black blur shot across Blair's vision, and the gang leader flew to the ground. A shot rang out, and Blair braced himself, expecting a searing pain to shoot across his body. Surprisingly, it never came. He swallowed, wondering just how many lives he had left. Two? Three? Jim's spirit guide was a cat, right? That probably counted toward his nine lives. He released a choked laugh. Good one, Sandburg.
Angry growling and human screams echoed through his skull, and Blair once again found himself drifting toward unconsciousness. His eyelids fluttered closed. Another gunshot rang out, and Blair flinched as his eyes shot back open. He saw the gang leader lunge out the open door, and slam it shut behind him. Then Taz moved into his line of sight, his dark eyes gazing down at him with something akin to worry.
"Hey, boy," Blair mumbled weakly. He tried to raise his hand to pat the dog on the head, but he couldn't really feel his limbs.
Taz collapsed to the cement floor, placing his muzzle on Blair's shoulder. His wet tongue licked Blair's ear once, then a soft whine escaped his throat. Blair forced himself to raise his good arm. He felt fresh blood run down his neck and back, and he knew something was wrong with the dog. Oh God, please don't be shot. Don't be shot.
He slid one hand down Taz's body, searching for wounds. He felt a sickening amount of warm, wet fluid, and Taz released another whimper. Blair closed his eyes. Hold on, Taz. Jim'll be here soon.
As if on cue, a commotion sounded in the distance. Blair heard shouting, followed by two gunshots. Then silence reigned. Seconds later, the door flew open. Jim, Simon, and Brown rushed into the garage, and all three men stopped dead in their tracks when they saw the bloody duo.
Blair figured he and Taz probably made quite a sight, laying there on the floor in a large pool of blood. Blair offered a small smile, then his eyes drifted closed. He heard a jangling of keys, and soon the pressure around his ankle abated. Then he felt hands pulling on his shoulders, and Taz's weight suddenly disappeared.
Blair swallowed, forcing his eyes open. Jim stood above him, his face lined with worry.
"Shot," Sandburg croaked. "Taz is shot."
Jim placed a hand on Blair's forehead, brushing the wet curls out of his face. "Don't worry about that, Blair. It's okay." His hand slid down to Blair's injured arm. "Let me see," he said, his voice soft. Gentle fingers probed the arm, and Blair winced, flinching away. "Sorry," Jim muttered. "I'm sorry, Blair. You've lost a lot of blood. I have to stop it."
Blair swallowed. He knew that meant more pain, and he really didn't want to feel anymore pain. It felt so nice being numb. Taz was in worst shape, anyway.
Blair struggled to sit up, but Jim's firm hand pushed him back down. "Take it easy, Chief. Don't try to move."
"Taz," Blair rasped, his eyes searching for the dog. He spotted the canine's limp figure a few feet away. Brown stood over the dog, his hands pressed against the dog's chest.
"No." Blair gritted his teeth and pushed Jim's hand away. He used his good arm to pull himself over to Taz.
"Sandburg. Jesus," Jim cursed.
Blair ignored him. He placed a gentle hand on Taz's head, and the dog opened his eyes to stare up at him. Slowly, Taz lifted his head and licked Blair's cheek gently, his tail thumping softly against the cement.
"Hey there, boy. You're gonna be okay," Blair soothed, stroking the dog's head.
Taz's eyes fluttered closed, and his head drifted back to the ground. Out of the corner of his eyes, Blair saw Brown shake his head sadly.
No. Blair took a deep breath as tears welled in his eyes and spilled onto his cheeks. "No. No. Come on, Taz. Don't do this. I swear I'll never make you stay in the crate again. You can sleep on my bed anytime you want. I'll take you to the park every morning. I'll--"
A firm pressure on his shoulder stopped him, and he shook his head in angry denial. "No man. He's not dead. Somebody do something. We need to get him to the vet. He'll be okay. He's gotta be okay." He looked up into the pained faces of the three men around him, urging them to understand. "He saved my life. He fought the dog and he took the bullets that were meant for me. For me. He can't die." His eyes locked with Jim's. "Jim, man, please, do something."
The Sentinel's pained blue eyes stared back at him. "I'm sorry, Chief," Jim whispered. "He took two bullets in the chest. He's already gone."
Blair released a choked sob, dropping his head onto Taz's shoulder as he continued to stroke the dog's head gently. "Thank you, boy. I'm so sorry, but thank you."
Jim drove Blair home from the hospital. The young man's right arm was bandaged almost to the shoulder. He'd spend five hours in surgery as doctors worked to repair the damage to his arm, and he'd taken an infusion of plasma to compensate for the blood loss. Jim glanced over at his partner, noting with a frown just how pale and tired his friend looked.
The ride home was silent, and Blair stared out the window the entire time. Jim kept his eyes focused on the road, but his ears remained tuned to Blair's catchy, shallow breathing and accelerated heartbeat. He gripped the steering wheel tightly, his mind reviewing the tumultuous events of the past twenty four hours. One day. God, how could so much happen in a day? He spared a quick glance over at his partner, but Blair seemed oblivious as he stared out the window.
Jim swallowed, turning his attention back to the road. Last night Blair had seen a man get killed. Then the young man had took it upon himself to care for the decedents' dog. Even with all the trouble Taz had caused, Jim had to admit that the dog possessed a certain charm... and, when it came right down to it, that trouble-maker had saved Blair's life at the price of his own.
Jim inhaled a deep breath as he pulled the truck up in front of the loft. Blair continued to stare vacantly out the window, and Jim wondered if the kid was even aware that they'd arrived home.
"We're here," he said.
Blair sighed, glancing briefly at Jim. Then he opened the door and stepped out onto the sidewalk. Jim exited the cab and trotted around the front of the truck, planting a firm hand on Blair's shoulder as he made his way through the front doors.
"You okay?" Ellison asked.
Blair nodded, but kept his eyes ahead.
It wasn't until they stepped into the elevator that Jim remembered all the dog items in the loft. The crate. The bowls. The bone. Damn. He didn't know how his partner would react to such painful reminders of Taz's death.
The elevator doors opened, depositing them onto the third floor. Jim retrieved his keys and opened the loft door, clenching his jaw as he and Blair walked inside. The Sentinel watched his young partner carefully, noting the pale face and trembling hands. Blair's gaze immediately fell to the empty crate, and his eyes glistened with new tears. Slowly, he walked past the kennel, running his fingers along the top. Then, almost angrily, he pushed himself away from the crate and hurried to his room, slamming the door behind him. Jim heard the lock turn, followed by the soft rustle of fabric as Blair plopped himself down on the bed.
Jim leaned back against the couch, squeezing the bridge of his nose as he released a tired sigh. The phone rang, and he quickly snatched up the receiver.
"Jim, how's the kid?" Simon's voice greeted him.
"Not too good, Sir. He's taking it rough."
"We're not quite sure what to do with... uh... Taz's body. Normally it would be sent to the county for disposal, but, under the circumstances, I'd thought I'd check with you first. Considering what happened, it doesn't seem right letting them toss the dog into an incinerator."
Jim closed his eyes. "No, Sir, that wouldn't be right." He paused for a moment, collecting his thoughts. "Where is the body now?" he asked, keeping his voice low so Blair wouldn't overhear the conversation.
"The Animal Control is holding onto it until we give them instructions," Simon replied.
Jim raised one hand to rub the back of his neck. "I'm not quite sure what to do about it. Blair's locked himself in his room right now, so I don't want to ask him... not yet, anyway. How long are they willing to hold off?"
"Until tomorrow afternoon."
Jim nodded. "Okay, Sir. I'll let you know tomorrow."
That night proved to be an unpleasant one. Blair stayed up all night, which meant Jim stayed up all night. The Sentinel listened to his partner alternate between writing in his journal, working on his laptop, and crying. It was heartbreaking, and all over some stupid dog that they'd found a little over twenty four hours ago.
Jim swallowed, immediately regretting his thoughts. Taz had not been a stupid dog. In fact, he'd died protecting Sandburg, but there was a small part of Jim that wished Sandburg had never crossed paths with that dog. He sighed, clenching his jaw and rolling onto his side as he listened to the soft tapping of keys downstairs.
Jim knew Blair was not only mourning the loss of the dog, but was also feeling his own brand of guilt over having been the reason why Taz died. He's just a dog, for chrissakes! Jim took a deep breath. Maybe if he kept telling himself that, he'd start to believe it.
Morning came sooner than expected, and Jim slid out of bed and headed downstairs. He heard Blair moving around in the bedroom, and decided that he'd let the kid have enough 'personal space.' He poured some water in the tea kettle and set the flame, then walked over to the french doors and tapped lightly on the glass.
After a brief pause, Blair replied, "Yeah, Jim?"
"Breakfast will be ready in ten minutes."
Another pause. "Thanks, but I'm not really hungry."
Jim clenched his jaw. He did NOT want to play this game. "Sandburg, please just come out here and have breakfast. We need to talk."
He heard footsteps approach the door, then the lock turned and the doors opened. Blair looked up at him, his face pale and his eyes sunken and red. "What?"
Jim shook his head. "You look like hell, Sandburg."
The doors slammed in his face and the lock was once again engaged. Jim cursed himself silently, tapping again on the glass.
"Chief, come on, I'm sorry. I just meant that you look like you need some sleep. And you need to eat something. And we have to go into the station so you can give your statement. And..." He paused, taking a deep breath. "And Simon needs to know what to do with Taz's body."
He heard the click of the lock again, and the doors opened slowly. Sandburg stood there, his head bowed, and shrugged. "I... I don't know. What do they normally do...?" He shook his head. "Nevermind. I know what they normally do with dead animals."
Jim placed a hand on Blair's shoulder, bending his knees slightly so he could look at Sandburg's face. "I have an idea that I want to run by you."
Blair lifted his head, finally meeting Jim's gaze. "What is it?"
"Well, when a police dog dies in the line of fire, he gets a police funeral. Taz wasn't a police dog, but I was thinking of doing something similar. Of course, the department won't pay for it, and we don't actually have to bury him... unless you want to, I mean. We could hold a ceremony and, you know, scatter his ashes somewhere. Then I'll talk to Simon about getting a fund going... you know, having all the guys chip in, and we could donate the money in Taz's name to one of those Pit Bull rescues you found on the web. Maybe we could even sponsor one of their dogs. What do you say?"
Blair's jaw went slack, then a slow smile formed on his lips. "Jim, man, that's one of the best ideas you've had." He swallowed hard. "Thank you."
Jim felt his own smile coming on. "Hey, I'm good for a few moments of inspiration now and then."
Blair's smile widened, and he glanced back down at the floor. His face colored slightly, and he offered a small shrug. "I kinda thought... well, I mean... I thought you'd figure I was acting stupid, or something."
Jim chuckled gently, slapping Blair's shoulder. "Chief, the only way you've acted stupid is by thinking I wouldn't understand." He patted Blair cheek once. "You were right that night, you know. Taz was something special. He proved that yesterday, didn't he?"
Slowly, Blair nodded. "Yeah," he said, his voice soft. "I only wish he'd never proved it."
Blair finished scattering the ashes over the place where Taz's owner had died... the place he'd first found Taz. The event had turned into a mega-media circus. Banks had gotten the street blocked off for the event, and the press had gotten wind of the ceremony. Dozens of random spectators had shown up to witness the event, and the media had jumped on the "Pit Bull saves Police Observer" story. In a way, Blair was glad for the media attention. It was about time the media showed something positive about the breed.
He looked around at the faces in the crowd. Jim, Simon, and the rest of the gang from Major Crimes stood in the forefront, looking appropriately solemn.
Blair smiled brightly, happy to be making the forthcoming announcement. "And thanks to the Cascade Police Department, $850 has been raised and will be donated in Taz's name to Pit Bull rescue."
The crowd clapped, and bright lights flashed as photographers snapped their cameras in the overcast morning light. Blair took a deep breath, glad to finally have the ceremony over with. One on hand, he was delighted to pay tribute to his canine friend and raise a bit of positive press for the breed, but, on the other hand, he felt somewhat uncomfortable surrounded by a third of the police department and half a dozen reporters, and he just wanted to go home, make some tea, and relax in front of the television. It had been a long week, and he just wanted to put it behind him.
As the crowd dispersed, the guys from Major Crimes approached him, with Jim in the forefront. The Sentinel slapped a hand on Blair's shoulder and offered a reassuring smile. "Great speech, Chief. Whatdya say we all go out and get something to eat?"
Blair shrugged, offering his own smile. "Sure, whatever you guys want is fine with me. Thanks for coming.... and thanks for donating the money."
Brown stepped up, offering a wide smile. "So tell us, Hairboy, is it true Taz dragged you through the mud and up a tree?"
The gang laughed, and Blair threw Jim a wicked look. "You are a dead man, Jim. Dead."
Ellison smiled innocently and pushed Blair toward the truck. "And you should have seen him trying to get the dog in the crate!"
Blair groaned, but couldn't resist the smile that tugged at his lips. A large part of him still ached from the loss of his canine friend and savior. Taz had truly been one-of-a-kind. Blair found some solace in the fact that Taz had found two people who treated him with kindness and compassion before he died... and the dog had returned the generosity a thousand-fold. A touch of sadness touched his eyes. What did it say about society when loyalty and sacrifice were exemplified, not in the heart of humanity, but in a dog that knew almost nothing but cruelty and abuse most of its life?
Aha! See once in awhile I just have to write something with a social message.
*shiver* I know, it's over now. Fear not! I promise to get back to writing pointless fluff once again! *grin*
Oh, and, yeah, I wrote the "mud bath" scene from personal experience *sheepish grin*
Of course, I was much younger then!
E-mail me or post something on my message board.
If you want to know more about American Pit Bull Terriers, visit the Chako Rescue Association
Oh, and, just so the Rottie owners out there don't send me hate mail: I love Rotties! *grin*
There are no vicious breeds. Dogs are products of their breeding and upbringing.
In other words: Blame the owners not the dog!