OUTSTANDING HUMOR STORY
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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.
He was summarily settled in Jims 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.
"Youve got quite a sprain going there, Chief. Want to tell me what happened?"
"Oh, man ..." Blair dipped his face into his hands. "Ive 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 havent told me what happened."
"Uh, yeah," Blair grunted as the elastic wrap tightened over a particularly sensitive spot. "You know that grant proposal Ive been working on?"
"The one thats 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 its finally done," prodded Jim when an apologetic hand gripped his arm.
"Oh ... yeah, its finally done. I mean it had to be. Todays the due date. Has to be in the hands of the federal government before the clock strikes midnight. And you saw the thing, man. Its, 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 dont provide them then well 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 werent knickknacks, Jim. They were Olmec fertility fetishes."
"They still werent Washington apples."
"I *know*," said Blair. "Thats 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."
"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 hes 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 Jims benefit, shaking it violently. "'This *has* to come off!'"
"And Im thinking that this is a way less coherent conversation than Ive had with people in Borneo where I didnt even speak the language. Uh, guy, *what* has to come off? And hes like, 'You *cant* have *plastic* tape! It has to come off!'"
"And see, I was thinking, and it would have been better if I hadnt been thinking, because you know, last time, with the apple-issue, they wanted all the apple stuff obliterated but they didnt have a permanent marker and they claimed they didnt keep *tape* for, you know, the use of people who might want to mail something. So Im standing there trying to grasp the concept of how we were going to mail the thing after Id 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 didnt seem like the sharpest tack in the bulletin board.
Cause Im 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 youre-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. Its kind of this little intake of air when you think Ive said something na´ve. Its like this little Sandburg-doesnt-know-shit snort."
"Sandburg, I do not snort."
"Sure you do, Jim. The other day in Simons 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 hed get some paper tape, which surprised me because, I mean, I didnt think they gave away tape."
"Im with you on the tape thing, Blair."
"Okay, so Im 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. Jims 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 Im 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 hes 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 didnt 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 youre going to mail *registered*.'"
"And the whole time were having this really pitiful excuse for a conversation, hes 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 Im pretty much dumbfounded."
Jim lifted his face slightly from where it was cradled in his broad palm. "You said something else, didnt you, Chief?"
"Well, yeah, I mean I couldnt 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. Im talking full werewolf transfiguration here. He reared back. I saw paws, Jim. *Paws.* And he yells 'You didnt *have* to mail it registered!'"
"Tell me you didnt go through all that ..."
"Oh, no, Jim. It had to be mailed registered. Thats 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 its the same thing if you put it in their possession as when you put in the grant committees. So, see, it had to be registered."
"So you made your deadline."
"Well, like theyd have any doubt about that, its 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 ..."
Blairs 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.
"Youre not going anywhere without crutches. Theres a spare pair in the closet. Ill 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."
"Just hold still. Ill get the crutches and then Im 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."