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                                                             OUTSTANDING HUMOR STORY


Going Postal

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Jim was on one side of him, a hand wrapped under his arm, and Henri Brown was on the other before Blair could take a second limping step into the bullpen.

"What happened?"

He was summarily settled in Jim’s chair, Sentinel fingers divesting his shoe and sock before he could even start to form a protest. H frowned as Jim knelt, his head tilted slightly to the right and his eyes unfocused, everything dialed down except touch. Blair knew exactly what he was doing, to Brown it must have simply looked bizarre. He winced as Jim deepened the probing.

"You’ve got quite a sprain going there, Chief. Want to tell me what happened?"

"Oh, man ..." Blair dipped his face into his hands. "I’ve been having the worst day."

"Hey Brown," Jim gestured toward the bank of file cabinets with his chin, "want to get that first aid kit?"

Strong fingers moved above and below the bulb of bone, gingerly pressing.

"We need to get it elevated."

Jim grabbed a chair and swung it toward them, straddling it before urging his partner to rest his foot on the seat. The former medic competently began to wrap the swelling limb with the Ace bandage Henri tossed him.

"You still haven’t told me what happened."

"Uh, yeah," Blair grunted as the elastic wrap tightened over a particularly sensitive spot. "You know that grant proposal I’ve been working on?"

"The one that’s caused you to be up the last four nights making little clicky-clack sounds on the laptop until the wee hours of the morning? That grant proposal."

"Sorry man," the student whispered, Sentinel-soft.

"So it’s finally done," prodded Jim when an apologetic hand gripped his arm.

"Oh ... yeah, it’s finally done. I mean it had to be. Today’s the due date. Has to be in the hands of the federal government before the clock strikes midnight. And you saw the thing, man. It’s, like, four inches thick by the time you get all the attachments and you know how the department is about office supplies. They figure if they don’t provide them then we’ll scrounge them from art and architecture. So the only thing I had to put it in was a Mooseridge Coffee box. And you know how the post office was last time I tried to mail something in a perishable goods box."

"Chief," the detective bit back a grin, "you tried to mail knickknacks to Osaka in a box marked 'Washington apples.'"

"They weren’t knickknacks, Jim. They were Olmec fertility fetishes."

"They still weren’t Washington apples."

"I *know*," said Blair. "That’s why I knew they were touchy about the whole borrowed-box thing. So I figured if I was going to send a coffee box full of non-coffee to D.C. I better cover up all those moosey bits."

"Moosey bits?"

"You know, the big guy with the antlers and the steaming mug of coffee?"

Jim pulled the Velcro tight as Blair grimaced.

"Anyway, I go to the post office and I take my certification post card thingy and my registered mail slip and I walk up to the next-available window. The guy is none too happy of that cause he’s just picked up his Dean Koontz book, but, hey, you know, government service. Anyway I hand him the stuff and he looks at me. He looks

at the box. He looks back at me, then he *points* at the box and says 'This has to come off!'"

"And, like, I am so not following. So I say 'I beg your pardon?' And the finger shakes at the box." Blair pointed a finger for Jim’s benefit, shaking it violently. "'This *has* to come off!'"

"And I’m thinking that this is a way less coherent conversation than I’ve had with people in Borneo where I didn’t even speak the language. Uh, guy, *what* has to come off? And he’s like, 'You *can’t* have *plastic* tape! It has to come off!'"

"And see, I was thinking, and it would have been better if I hadn’t been thinking, because you know, last time, with the apple-issue, they wanted all the apple stuff obliterated but they didn’t have a permanent marker and they claimed they didn’t keep *tape* for, you know, the use of people who might want to mail something. So I’m standing there trying to grasp the concept of how we were going to mail the thing after I’d pulled all the tape off it and they refused to lend me any more ..."

"Ah, Chief?" urged Jim, carefully putting the sock back on the wrapped appendage.

"Okay, so at this point I probably didn’t seem like the sharpest tack in the bulletin board.

‘Cause I’m still wrestling with the whole unavailable-tape concept." Sandburg curled his expressive hands inward. "And so I dared venture the question 'So, what would we do then?' which got me a major you’re-so-not-a-cop kind of sniff from the postal guy."

"Wait, a *what* kind of sniff?"

"You know what I mean Jim. You and Simon do it all the time. It’s kind of this little intake of air when you think I’ve said something na´ve. It’s like this little Sandburg-doesn’t-know-shit snort."

"Sandburg, I do not snort."

"Sure you do, Jim. The other day in Simon’s office ..."

"Blair." Jim ever so gently lowered the bound and socked foot he was holding to rest on the seat. "Does this eventually get to how you got hurt?"

"Yeah. See, he stormed off into the sorting area saying he’d get some paper tape, which surprised me because, I mean, I didn’t think they gave away tape."

"I’m with you on the tape thing, Blair."

"Okay, so I’m valiantly trying to rip the tape off, not really wondering why the other postal guy, who is looking right at me the whole time I'm yanking, doesn't bother to offer me some scissors when Mr. No-plastic-tape comes back and asks 'So you had it on good?' And I am so ready to say 'no, I was really hoping the proposal that it took me a week to write would fall out on its way to the committee' because, I mean, that was totally uncalled for."

Blair looked concerned. Jim’s eyes were getting a bit glassy.

"Jim, are you getting ready to zone, man?"

"Could you just finish the story, please, Chief."

"Okay, so I think I’m done. I pass the box back over to him and he shoves it right back at me. Seems I put the label on with the plastic tape too. So I write a new label and he’s taping the box back up. And, I mean, at no time has he explained this whole aversion-to-plastic-tape thing to me. It was kind of unwise for me to even attempt conversation again, but, you know, I didn’t want to be single-handedly responsible for the downfall of the U.S. postal service or something. I just wanted to know if I should steal paper tape from now on and he snarled. I swear to God, Jim, snarled, he practically grew fangs. 'Only if you’re going to mail *registered*.'"

"And the whole time we’re having this really pitiful excuse for a conversation, he’s like taking the little government-sanctioned date stamp and stamping all along the edge of the box every half-inch. The man could have been a Sentinel, Jim. You could have measured it. *Every* half-inch. At that point I’m pretty much dumbfounded."

Jim lifted his face slightly from where it was cradled in his broad palm. "You said something else, didn’t you, Chief?"

"Well, yeah, I mean I couldn’t help myself. I just asked if the gist was that my insanely complicated government grant application had to be mailed in an insanely complicated manner? Karmic balance and all that. Boy, that got me a glare. Red eyes, Jim. I swear he got *red* eyes. I’m talking full werewolf transfiguration here. He reared back. I saw paws, Jim. *Paws.* And he yells 'You didn’t *have* to mail it registered!'"

"Tell me you didn’t go through all that ..."

"Oh, no, Jim. It had to be mailed registered. That’s the only way you can get proof of your mailing date and it had to be filed by today, but since the postal service is a branch of the federal government it’s the same thing if you put it in their possession as when you put in the grant committee’s. So, see, it had to be registered."

"So you made your deadline."

"Well, like they’d have any doubt about that, it’s got the date stamped about three-hundred times all exactly half-an-inch apart all over it. I mean, I can see a certain amount of security precaution, but this guy had to be the most anal-retentive government employee who ..."

Blair’s voice trailed off.

"Probably the kind of person who color-codes the leftovers, hey, Chief?"

A square hand waved off the comment. "Forget it, man. Thanks for wrapping the ankle, though."

Blair started to get up to give Jim back his chair but was pressed down immediately.

"You’re not going anywhere without crutches. There’s a spare pair in the closet. I’ll get them for you - just as soon as you finally tell me how you did this."

"Oh," Blair shook his head. "I was headed back to the car and missed the step off the curb. Went splat in the middle of the crosswalk."

One hand made a splatting gesture and Jim patted his shoulder. "Twenty minutes of exposition on the tape and one minute on how you injured yourself this time. Gotta be a new record there, buddy."

"Uh, what?"

"Just hold still. I’ll get the crutches and then I’m taking you home."

Across the bullpen Brown gave Jim a sympathetic look as the senior detective retrieved the crutches and mumbled almost too low to be heard. "Gotta get the guide some paper tape."