Jim and Simon walked into the apartment building. A For Sale sign hung on the front door, and Jim glanced briefly at it. He knew the owner had been having trouble keeping steady tenants in the apartment below his, and he'd gotten a few letters from the management about curbing his "activities" in the loft. Like he was supposed to be able to control all the trouble that flocked his way. It wasn't his fault that the ape had escaped... or that Lash had turned the place inside out. He suppressed a shiver at that particular memory, remembering the cold horror that had clenched his gut when he'd rushed in and found the place a mess... with Sandburg nowhere to be found.
Nor had it been his fault when Chapel had filled the place full of bullet holes... and as for that manure incident... Well, he'd been as pissed off as the rest of the tenants about the smell that had lingered for days.
Jim reached the elevator and pushed the button for the third floor, then shifted to face his captain as the lift doors slid closed. "I think Sandburg's making pasta tonight. I left a message telling him you'd be coming over, so there should be more than enough. And wait 'til you taste his sauce. He claims it's a recipe he got from an old Italian lady he and Naomi met one summer when he was kid."
Simon chuckled. "Sounds very domestic. So, besides cooking, how's the kid spending his time?"
Jim shrugged, the levity draining from his eyes. "Job hunting, I guess. I've found the want ads in the trash with several circled, but he hasn't really talked about it. By the time I get home, he's usually got food on the table. The loft's cleaner than it has been in a long time. It's like he's playing the role of a good houseguest, or something."
Simon's face turned serious. "Well, with no job... living in your apartment... He probably feels like a charity case." His smile returned. "But tonight that's all gonna change. I can't wait to see his face."
Jim allowed the captain's enthusiasm to infect him. "Yeah. I'm glad we've got some good news, finally. I only hope it pans out. I'd hate for him to get his hopes up and then have them come crashing down again."
The elevator languished to a halt, and the doors slid open.
"It's a good plan, Jim," Simon said. "All we gotta do is..."
Jim raised his hand to silence the captain, tilting his head as he listened. Unfamiliar voices filtered from the loft.
"...federal money. We'll need a complete accounting of all funds used, Mr. Sandburg."
"I, uh.... of course." Papers shuffled "This is quite a form... Didn't I already give an accounting when I...?"
"This one's more detailed. It's the first step in our investigation, and I cannot stress how seriously we're taking this matter. Please be as detailed and accurate as possible, and furnish receipts and any other proof you have of how you spent the money. Any amount not accompanied by written proof will be deemed misappropriated. Do you understand?"
"Yes, I understand."
"You'll be receiving a hearing notice in the mail. You may have an attorney present if you wish..."
"Shit." Jim yanked his key out of his jacket pocket and jabbed it in the door.
"What is it?" Simon asked.
"Guests." He said tersely, pushing the loft door open.
The two federal investigators were seated on the couch. Sandburg was perched on the edge of the armchair, a large stack of papers balanced on his lap. At his entrance, all three men rose to their feet, and Sandburg deposited the stack on the coffee table.
"Oh... Hi, Jim." He nodded at the captain. "Simon."
Jim kept his eyes on the two men, his face cold. "Out of my house."
The visitor closest to Jim, a graying man with thin-framed glasses, took a step forward. "Are you Detective James Ellison?"
"That's right." He jabbed a thumb toward his captain. "And this is Captain Simon Banks."
"It's a pleasure to meet you." The man extended his hand, but Jim ignored it. After a few seconds, the hand lowered. "We're from the Office of Research Integrity. We have a few questions for you."
"Get a summons. Now out."
"Do you have a warrant to be here?"
"Then out. Or I'll arrest you myself."
Simon took a step forward. "You heard the detective."
The man hesitated for a moment, then nodded, turning to his younger companion. "Come on, Brandon, let's go." He turned his attention to Sandburg. "Thank you for your cooperation. We'll be in touch."
Jim watched them leave, then locked the door behind them and turned to Sandburg. "Why'd you talk to those guys, Chief?"
Blair shrugged and dropped his gaze to the stack on the coffee table. He stooped and retrieved the pile. "I have to talk to them sooner or later."
"What did you tell them?"
"Not much." Blair padded to his room, disappeared for a moment, and re-emerged empty handed. He avoided Jim's gaze and moved to the stove, giving the sauce a half-hearted stir. "Just answered a few basic questions."
"What kind of questions?"
"Stuff they already know. Like the amount of my grants. That kind of thing."
"Why didn't you just tell them to get lost?"
Blair sighed and turned off the heat. "Because they'd just come back." He rested the spoon on the edge of the pot and faced Jim. "You know that."
"Jim." Simon gave him a small pat on the shoulder. "Lay off." He lowered his voice. "It's likely all gonna be a moot point, anyway."
Jim glanced back at the captain and nodded. "Yes, sir."
"So," Simon brightened, clapping his hands once, "what smells so damn good?"
Blair managed a weak smile. "Wait 'til you taste this sauce, Simon. You'll never look at Italian food the same way again."
"That's what I'm afraid of," Simon managed to look moderately severe, "especially after the last dinner you made us."
Jim chuckled. "The dinner was great. It was the dessert that gave me nightmares."
Blair looked heavenward as he turned and pulled three plates from the cupboards. "That was payback for having me arrested and put in holding for four hours."
"Oh come on, Chief, you can't possibly still be sore about that."
Blair grunted. "Oh, yes, I can."
Simon slid into an empty seat at the table. "Oh, quit your arguing, you two, and serve the food."
Jim nodded. "You got it, sir."
"Coming right up, Simon," Blair chimed.
The dinner conversation stayed light throughout the meal. Jim and Simon exchanged frequent glances, both men wondering how to bring up the subject of the publisher and the university, but they had already agreed on the way to the loft that Jim would be the one to broach the subject. The questions were, when and how?
Jim took the last bite of his pasta. The sauce was as good as he remembered. It was a shame Blair didn't cook it more often, but it took hours to simmer, and Blair had rarely had the time between his school work and the Sentinel thing. Now he had all the time in the world.
Jim swallowed hard, almost choking as the food went down wrong. His eyes teared, and he stifled a cough, taking a quick gulp of his water.
He glanced up to see Blair staring at him. "Yeah. Just went down the wrong pipe." He glanced at Simon, read the encouragement in the older man's eyes, and took a deep breath before facing his partner again. "Chief, there's something we need to talk to you about."
Blair glanced at Simon, a hint of apprehension on his face, then back at Jim. "Oh? If it's about what I'm going to do, don't worry. I've been job-hunting all morning, and I'm sure..."
"Uh, that's not it... exactly. Well, I mean, sort of, but not like you think." He took another deep breath. This was good news, so why did he feel like he was telling his father he'd dented the car? "Simon and I have worked out a potential deal with the university and the publisher. We have a meeting with them tomorrow."
"What?" Blair dropped his fork to his plate. His eyes narrowed. "What did you do, Jim? You... You didn't tell them the truth, did you?"
Jim shifted uneasily in his seat. "I was going to, but Simon persuaded me to try another way first."
Blair glanced quickly back at Simon. "What other way?"
"I'll come out as having one hyper sense, smell, and one above average sense, vision. The publisher will admit to releasing portions of your dissertation without your consent. He'll also admit that he released nonconsecutive portions and that some of it mislead the press into thinking that I was your primary subject. Instead, Alex Barnes was your primary subject, and I was simply another one of your many test subjects. You were working with me in the field to see how heightened senses can benefit the modern tribal protectors -- or whatever you wanna call it. You held that press conference because the media coverage was interfering with my job and endangered many lives. You needed to end the media circus fast, and just coming out and saying I had only a couple special senses wouldn't have done it at that point. So, we arranged the whole press conference and gave you the speech, but now that we've dealt with Zeller, you can come out with the truth." Jim paused, trying to read the expression on Blair's face, but the younger man looked mostly stunned. "The mayor's backing us up on this one, and to lend you that extra air of credibility, Simon will give the speech himself, as the Captain of Major Crime, to the press thanking you for your help in resolving the media attention and helping to put Zeller, a dangerous criminal, out of commission. And, since you never actually submitted your dissertation, we figure it should be easy to clear you with the university as well. All they have to do is go along with us and they save face. I don't think that Chancellor of yours will have a problem with that, do you?"
Jim studied his friend, waiting for a response. Blair didn't seem particularly inclined to give one right away. He just sat there, staring at Jim, his jaw slack.
"Well, Sandburg?" Simon leaned back in his chair. "The meeting with the publisher and the university is scheduled for tomorrow at two. What do you think?"
Blair shifted his gaze to Simon, and he seemed to come out of his stupor. His lips turned upward in a slow smile that blossomed to a chuckle. "What do I think?" He looked back at Jim, grinning. "I think if there's a chance I can get my life back, I'll take it." He blinked rapidly, his grin growing broader. "The university really agreed to meet with us?"
"Yes, and from Simon's preliminary conversations with the publisher and the university, it sounds like both of them are desperate for a way out of this mess. And," Jim grinned broadly, "if this all works out, the Mayor has agreed to offer you a position as a paid civilian consultant with Major Crime."
"This is great." Blair practically leapt out of his seat and began pacing near the kitchen island, his arms moving wildly. "I mean, I never expected this. I've been job hunting for days with no luck, and even if I managed to find something, it was gonna be tight paying back my college loans on minimum wage... not to mention all that grant money." He stopped in his tracks and turned slowly to face Jim. "Wait a minute... You... You were really gonna come out and tell the truth?"
Jim nodded. "I was. Simon convinced me that we could put our heads together and maybe find a better way for everyone."
"But I don't understand... Why the change of heart? I mean, you were really gonna stand up in front of the world and declare yourself a Sentinel? That's been your worst nightmare all these years, and when the shit hit the fan recently, you... Well, we got a preview of what it would be like for you. So why would you even consider doing that?"
Jim rose from his chair and walked up to Blair, leaning against the kitchen island as he looked down at the younger man. "Because you gave up everything to protect me, Chief. What kind of a friend would I be if I weren't willing to do the same thing?"
A slow, bashful smile brightened Blair's face. "Thanks, man. That, uh.... That means a lot."
"Welcome, Mr. Sandburg."
"Thank you." Blair nodded at the Dean, then looked at the Chancellor seated at the head of the table. "And thank you, Chancellor Edwards, for agreeing to meet." The words came out hard, practically scraping the back of his throat. He hated playing kiss-up, but if he wanted his life back, he'd have to swallow a bit of his pride.
Besides, he owed it to the Chancellor and the Dean... All they knew, after all, was that he had claimed his thesis a fraud. They didn't know the truth, so he couldn't very well blame them for kicking him out.
"We've agreed to meet, Mr. Sandburg, because your captain has promised us that the fiasco of your press conference can be explained and that our institution's academic reputation will be restored." Edwards leaned forward in her chair. "I certainly hope that's the case."
Blair glanced at Simon seated across from him. Jim was in the chair next to Blair, offering silent moral support and, when the time came, he'd be able to confirm Banks' claims, if necessary.
Sid Graham and another man Blair hadn't seen before, but who had introduced himself as Ron Sables, sat at the opposite end of the table. Simon had said that the publisher had already agreed to the stipulations if -- and only if -- the university agreed not to institute legal action. All parties had signed nondisclosure agreements for this session, but as far as Blair knew, the University was unaware that some of what the publisher would be admitting to was a fabrication.
"Let's get started, please," the Dean began. "Captain Banks, why don't you tell us why you asked us here?"
The captain nodded and cleared his throat. "Of course." He glanced briefly at Jim and Blair, then back at the Dean and the Chancellor. "As you know, portions of Mr. Sandburg's dissertation were released by Berkshire Publishers without Sandburg's permission. In fact, when Mr. Graham called Mr. Sandburg and offered him an advance to publish the document, Sandburg expressly told Mr. Graham that he wasn't interested. Mr. Graham went ahead anyway and released portions of the manuscript to the press, but the parts he released and the way he released them led the media to believe that Detective James Ellison is a full-fledged Sentinel. That is not true. As you know, Sandburg has been working with our department as part of his thesis, and he is, in fact, studying Ellison as part of the dissertation. But Detective Ellison is not a Sentinel. He only has a couple of special senses. I'll let Sandburg explain that part..." He gestured to Blair.
Blair nodded and shifted in his seat. "Right." He took a deep breath. "Detective Ellison has a hyper sense of smell and above-average vision. I've been studying him to incorporate data into my thesis about how heightened senses may prove useful in a modern society. Detective Ellison, as a police officer, is like a modern watchman, a protector who uses his senses to protect the tribe, or in this case, the city of Cascade."
"Mr. Sandburg," Edwards began, "if James Ellison was never your primary research subject, who was? Did you have one? Did you have any evidence of these so-called Sentinels?"
Blair nodded. "Yes, in fact, I do. Alex Barnes."
The Chancellor nodded. "We had wondered about that..." She glanced at the Dean, then back at Sandburg. "She was your primary research subject?"
"Yes. I found her recently when she was arrested at the station. She was complaining that the car headlights were too bright and that her clothes were scratching her skin. I invited her to my office, and from there we developed a professional relationship. I conducted a few tests and was working with her to help her learn to control her senses. I didn't know at the time that she was a criminal. Even though I only had a short time to work with her, I accumulated enough evidence, including evidence the police have on file, that she has extraordinarily heightened senses and qualifies as a bona fide Sentinel."
"So why didn't you explain this earlier?" the Dean asked. "Why tell the media that your dissertation was fraudulent?"
Banks spoke. "Because the mayor and I asked him to. Our department was involved with a very delicate case involving death threats against a union leader, Jack Bartley. Klaus Zeller, a professional assassin whom we had encountered previously, was trying to kill Bartley. We had set up a sting operation to draw Zeller out. That was when the paparazzi ambushed Detective Ellison and blew the entire operation, nearly getting Ellison and Bartley killed in the process. The media frenzy also led Zeller to believe that Ellison was some kind of supercop, and Zeller tried to take Ellison out at the station. That resulted in a visiting detective and myself being shot. So, as you can see, the media attention was hampering our law enforcement efforts and jeopardizing lives. We had to get the heat off of Ellison and the department as fast as possible, and coming out with the truth that Ellison only had two senses, at that point, would very likely not have done the job. So, Sandburg graciously agreed to read the statement we prepared for him... He shifted the media's fire onto himself and, by doing so, allowed us to work unimpeded. We've dealt with Klaus Zeller, who was killed in a shootout. So, now that the case is resolved, we can come out with the truth. Blair Sandburg isn't a fraud. Quite the contrary, he's a hero who helped us eliminate a dangerous criminal."
Chancellor Edwards didn't look entirely convinced. "You were shot before Mr. Sandburg gave his press conference?"
Simon nodded. "Yes, I was."
"I seem to remember the news reports on that. I thought you were in critical condition. How did you have time to ask Mr. Sandburg to do this, much less help prepare his speech?"
Banks hesitated a moment, but recovered quickly. "The mayor and I had approached Sandburg with the idea after the paparazzi blew our sting operation. The shooting at the station simply resolved the issue, and the mayor and Detective Ellison took care of the details at that point."
The Dean nodded. "We see." He looked at Ron Sables. "Is what the captain and Mr. Sandburg say true? We already know you released the dissertation without his permission, but did you release portions that made it appear as though Ellison were a Sentinel? Did Sandburg's thesis, in fact, cite Alex Barnes as a Sentinel?"
Sables nodded quickly. "Yes, Sid Graham, our senior editor, did. We are willing to make a public statement to that effect, which, we hope, will restore Mr. Sandburg's and your university's reputation, but only if the university and Mr. Sandburg both sign agreements that neither of you will institute a civil suit against us for the improper release of the thesis."
"I have no problem with that," Blair said quickly.
"Detective Ellison, what do you have to say about all this?" Edwards asked.
Jim's head came up, and he looked momentarily uncomfortable before his usual stoic mask fell into place. "I feel just fine about it. It's all as Captain Banks says."
"And can you prove that you do, in fact, have these senses?"
"My police record is full of proof, and all that is public record."
Banks nodded. "I assure you it's all true. In fact, Ellison's hyper sense of smell helped us locate serial killer David Lash and save Mr. Sandburg's life. Detective Ellison was able to identify the smell in water recovered at a crime scene as duck waste, and we tracked the killer to an abandoned warehouse located very close to a duck pond."
A slight smile touched Jim's lips. "In fact, Chancellor, I can smell cat on your clothes and garlic on your breath. Did you have Italian for lunch?"
The Chancellor's cheeks flushed, and she looked away quickly. "Uh... Greek, actually."
The Dean chuckled. "I believe we've heard enough. I don't think we even need to deliberate about this." He paused a moment, waiting for any objections from his colleagues, but when none were forthcoming, he continued. "If everything is as you say it is, Captain, then we will gladly reinstate Mr. Sandburg and allow him to officially submit his dissertation." The Dean looked at Blair. "When can you have it to us?"
Blair swallowed hard. "Uh... Well, I was putting the polishing touches on it when...."
"Will two weeks be enough time? This mess has already put you behind schedule, and since you just missed graduation, you won't officially be awarded your PhD until the next ceremony."
Blair nodded, looking somewhat unsure, but his voice was firm. "Two weeks will be fine."
"Wonderful." The Dean smiled. "That being the case, I see no reason why you can't move back into your office immediately and resume your normal duties. In fact, since the summer session is starting, you can teach Anthro 250. Welcome back, Mr. Sandburg."
"Hey, guys, come here and look at this." Joel Taggart waved the Major Crime gang into the captain's office. "Sandburg's on T.V."
"Again?" Brown shot out of his seat and hurried quickly to the office, followed closely by Rafe.
The group clustered around the small screen where Blair stood at a podium similar to the one he had stood at when he delivered his press conference just a few weeks ago.
"Ladies and Gentlemen of the press, thank you for coming. I have a confession to make. Contrary to what I told you just a short while ago, my thesis on Sentinels was not a fraud."
"Out of the way, please." Jim pushed through the mass of reporters to clear a way for Sandburg and Banks. The press conference was over. Now, if they could just get out of the crowd and go find a nice, quiet place to celebrate.
The flash of bulbs permeated the air, and he blinked against their glare, reaching the doors and pushing them open. The Chancellor was at the podium now, addressing the media, but he didn't listen to what she was saying. All he wanted to do was get out of there. Blair and Simon ducked past him quickly, and he rushed out, letting the double doors close behind him.
He was just about to break into a trot when he came up short behind a motionless Sandburg. He looked up just as a round of applause filled the air. A mixture of what looked like students and staff filled the hallway to capacity, smiles on their faces.
An elderly man stepped to the forefront of the crowd and reached out, grabbing Blair's hand. "Welcome back, Blair."
Blair smiled shyly. "Thanks, Dr. Stoddard."
"...my thesis on Sentinels was not a fraud."
"Oh, damn." Harrison turned up the volume and listened to Sandburg describe Alex Barnes as his primary subject. He continued to eye the newscast as his right hand reached for the phone. He dialed the familiar extension and waited until his colleague answered. "Jason, are you watching the news?... That grad student, Blair Sandburg, is on. He just scooped me. Claims Alex Barnes was his primary subject and he has a shitload of data measuring her heightened senses.... What?" He straightened suddenly, flicking off the television with the remote. "What do you mean, she's escaped?"
- The End -
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