"Oh my," sighed Mrs. Rose Fontana, pausing in her early morning constitutional. "If only I were forty years younger."
She tucked a few stray gray hairs back under her headband and watched with open admiration as her young male neighbors, Jim and Blair, packed their pick-up truck full of camping equipment. She imagined she could see the muscles on Jim's upper arms rippling beneath his jacket as he lifted the large cooler and set it heavily onto the bed of the truck. Blair, with those lovely curls and that beatific smile, placed two fishing poles and a dangerous looking spear in between the other items, then stepped back.
Jim slammed the tailgate shut with a force that was completely unnecessary, shattering the peaceful silence of the dawn. "What a lousy, stinking day," he grumbled.
Rose blinked in surprised and looked around. Today was Saturday, and perhaps the single, most spectacular day she had ever witnessed in Cascade, Washington. The sky was a sharp, deep blue, with only a handful of powder puff clouds dotting the horizon, and the air was crisp and fresh and invigorating.
"Come on, man, it'll be good to get away for a while," Blair was saying as he got into the passenger's seat. "Maybe we'll even catch some fish."
Jim, a police detective who was usually very nice, told Blair exactly what he could do with his fish. Rose blushed a deep shade of pink and filed the expression away so she could shock Lavinia Levenshire when their bowling group met next Thursday.
That poor boy definitely needs a vacation, Rose decided.
As the blue truck squealed away into the sunshine, Rose decided to forgo the rest of her constitutional, satisfied that she'd already seen the sights worth seeing for the day.
"I hate this assignment," said Jim.
"I would never have guessed," Blair sighed wearily.
His sarcasm was lost on Jim. "Who the hell does Mulroney think he is, anyway, 'reserving' us like some new release at Blockbuster?"
"He likes your work, man," said Blair. "It's not the first time he's asked for your help."
"He lost my respect when he gave the order to have Yuri killed." The angrier Jim became, the higher the needle climbed on the speedometer.
"Jim, calm down." Blair motioned with his hands to ease up. "Getting stopped by a state trooper is not going to improve your mood any."
Jim look confused for a moment, then glanced at the speedometer. "Shit," he said. He clenched his teeth and slowly applied the brake until they were down to seventy mph.
"Besides, what are you complaining about? I had to write up an assessment, analysis, and recommendation report for the mayor. Talk about nitpicky!"
"That's the price you pay for being the only one in Major Crime with a Ph.D."
"Well, at least I'm getting paid for it now. Pull off at the next exit," Blair suddenly decided, pointing to the sign.
"There's a pretty decent grocery store just off the highway. I'm sure the FBI keeps the safehouse stocked, but I'm not sure I trust their idea of food. You can pick up the grocery items and I'll get a few videos."
"We're suppose to be camping, Sandburg," Jim said, but he turned on his right directional just the same.
"Yeah? We've picked up groceries on the way to a campsite before. And they have battery operated TV-VCRs."
Jim tossed Blair his little pocket notebook and a pen. "Make a list," he said. "And understand one thing -- I'm buying Twinkies."
Thirty minutes later, they were on their way again. A skeptical Blair rummaged through the grocery bags while Jim glanced at the Blair's plastic bag. "You only got two videos, Sandburg? We might be there for an entire week."
"It's a grocery store, Jim. Two was the maximum they'd allow you to rent. And I had to practically hock my Volvo just to get these. It's easier to rent a freakin' car than it is to rent a video these days."
"So what'd you get?"
"The Marx Brothers and Shane."
Jim stared at the road and hoped he'd heard wrong. "The Marx Brothers?"
"Yup. And Shane. You know the type. Tall, strong, silent guy? Twitchy jaw? I figured you'd relate. Man, Jim, was six boxes of Twinkies really necessary?"
"Geez, Sandburg, why didn't you get any good movies?"
Blair looked at him with one of his annoyingly tolerant expressions. "It's Saturday morning on the weekend. The good stuff was probably all rented hours ago. I had a choice between these two, or Waiting to Exhale and Love Story."
Jim sighed. "Okay, okay."
By now they'd reached the camping grounds. Jim paid the guy at the gate for one week and provided the necessary personal information.
"All righty then, Mr. Ellison," the gatekeeper said. "Follow the road to your left and take your choice."
"Thanks." Jim followed the road past the sites labeled in the 20s, then the 30s. "I'm looking for 42, right?"
"Yeah, that's what Simon said Mulroney said."
Number 42 was almost the last one on that road, up a little hill and to the left. Jim let Blair do all the happy vacation-chatting while they set up the tent and made camp, looking for all the world like two guys on a fishing vacation. When everything was set up, and their packs were filled with the items they really needed, he and Blair grabbed the poles and the spear.
"Let's go fishing," he said, without much enthusiasm.
Blair scowled. Sentinel-soft, he said, "Geez, Jim, try acting a little why don't you?"
So Jim pasted a smile on his face and showed Sandburg what undercover work was all about, all the while looking for the barely visible path that started behind the stone fire place. For two miles they hiked, and for two miles Jim gave Blair a taste of his own medicine. The kid would know everything there was to know about trout, carp, sunfish, bass, and pike, the appropriate bait and fishing lines to use, and the many different ways to descale and debone each.
"No kidding!" Blair said at one point. "I didn't know their fins were so different. What about cod?"
And damned if he wasn't interested. He should have known better than to try to out lecture the master.
Instead of answering, Jim looked up and saw that the path ended about five yards ahead. "We're here," he announced gratefully. He was hungry, sweaty, and tired of all this ridiculous subterfuge. He stepped out of the woods and looked around. "Good God. You must be joking."
"Oh man." Blair stared ahead of him, eyes wide. "And for this I passed up dinner and a movie with Sky. At least you didn't leave a social life behind."
The FBI safehouse turned out to be an architectural monstrosity that had definitely seen better days. Probably unappealing even in its prime, the mansion was the Quasimodo of mansions, misshapen, ugly, and unloved. The foundation was crumbling and cracked, the windows broken and cracked, the front staircase collapsed on one side; even the surrounding land hadn't escaped the ravages of time and neglect. The grass in the yard was knee high and the ancient driveway overgrown with weeds and wildflowers.
"Uh, it's probably better on the inside," Blair offered after a moment's silence. "Remember? Simon warned us. They keep it looking this way on purpose, but the FBI renovated a good portion of the first floor for use."
Jim wasn't convinced, but Blair had already started for the front door, picking his way carefully up the broken down staircase, and he wasn't about to let himself look squeamish by comparison to his partner. He followed in the boot prints Blair had conveniently left for him. To his great surprise, the small front porch felt sturdy and level.
"Who is it?" Rafe's voice floated through the amazingly unbroken but filthy window in the door.
"Sandburg and Ellison," Blair answer, grinning a little. He was actually enjoying all this cloak and dagger stuff, Jim realized. The little shit.
"You got any ID?" Rafe answered.
Jim could hear the grin behind the words. "Yes we do, and you'll find it residing in an extremely uncomfortable place if you don't open this door in two seconds."
"Oh, that's definitely Ellison," Rafe said. Jim could hear him unlocking an inordinate number of locks.
"Get a grip, Jim. He's just doing his job." Blair rocked back on his heels and shifted his fishing pole and spear to the other hand.
"And that's definitely Sandburg." The door opened slowly a moment later, letting out an oddly satisfying creak. Jim slid his backpack off and entered the dark front hallway.
"Good evening," Rafe greeted them using a Frankenstein voice. "Would you like use of the facilities, the ten-cent tour, or something refreshing to drink?"
"All I want right now," Jim said, shoving past Rafe and using his nose to find the kitchen, "is a box of Twinkies and two aspirin."
Simon took an appreciative sip of his new coffee roast, feeling the steam drifting upward from the mug to warm his face. He gave into a happy sigh, then took a careful sip of the liquid. Its strong, rich flavor shocked his taste buds, but after the initial surprise, the next sip proved extremely satisfying.
He set the mug on his desk and picked up the departmental memo sitting on top of the stack of folders that Rhonda had placed on his desk earlier. His eye caught the dark, bold signature of the mayor at the bottom, and another, less happy sigh escaped his lips.
The first sentence read, "As mayor, it is my duty to see that our community offers the best it can in law enforcement. We are fortunate to have the services of Doctor Sandburg as an official consultant to the police department. I assigned Doctor Sandburg to write a report and brief anthropological study on the efficiency of our current PD operating system, and based on his recommendations, I am implementing the following 'rotation' program to commence immediately."
Simon frowned, his eyes narrowing as he continued to read. Just what had Sandburg recommended? It wasn't until he reached the end of the page, where the mayor had listed the assignments, that the full horror of the situation presented itself to him.
"What the hell?"
His shocked bellow reverberated through the office, followed only a second later by another, much more gleeful sound from the bullpen. A loud "Whoop!" followed by a less distinctive but obviously joyous exclamation came from a voice Simon identified as Detective Henri Brown's.
"When I get my hands on you, Sandburg...." Simon didn't finish the sentence as he rose from his seat. No doubt the new acting Captain, Henri Brown, was going to want to commence the assignment as immediately as possible.
Brown leapt out of his chair and did a little jig, barely noticing the smile on Taggert's face.
"Don't let Simon catch you doing that," Taggert chuckled, his eyes scanning the list of assignments again.
Brown lowered himself back to his chair, his grin growing slightly more subdued. "Finally, Joel, my talents are truly being noticed."
Joel shook his head, still grinning. "It's a temporary assignment, you realize."
"Of course." Brown placed the memo on his desk. "But, hey, gives me the chance to play boss."
Simon's door opened and Brown swiveled in his chair to face the figure hovering in the doorway.
"Detective Brown," Simon took a step into the bullpen, his face dark, "I take it you got the memo?"
Brown nodded somberly, but his lips twitched upward. "Uh, yes, sir... or, uh, should I say, 'Detective'?" He lost the battle and gave into a delighted chuckle, swiveling completely around in his chair. "Yes!" One fist sliced through the air to punctuate the exclamation.
Simon sighed, shaking his head, his eyes crinkling somewhat in amusement. "You touch my coffee roast, I'll kill you. You touch any of the things on the bookshelves, I'll kill you. You so much as scratch my desk, and after this little rotation stint is over, I'll have you walking the beat down by Broadway for a good couple of weeks and then I'll kill you. Got it?"
Brown nodded eagerly, jumping from his chair and giving a hasty salute. "Aye-aye, sir." He bounced on the balls of his feet. "So, uh, when do you want to start?"
"The memo says immediately." He gestured to the office.
He barely had time to move out of the way before Brown barreled past him and disappeared into the office, giving another "whoop!" and then, after a moment, trotting back to the doorway. "Thank you, Capt... err... Detective." Brown chuckled again. "You're dismissed." He ducked a bit too quickly back into the office.
The tap of footsteps sounded from the hall a moment before Inspector Megan Connor stepped into the bullpen. "Hello, mates," she grinned and headed to her desk. "Why so glum?"
"Who's glum?" Brown reappeared in the doorwary, his broad grin still plastered on his face. "I sure ain't glum. Today is a very good day."
Simon rubbed a hand over his face. God, he was too old for this. "It seems, Inspector, that you and I are going to be partnered for the next forty-eight hours." He glanced at the clock. Nine-thirty. In two days, at precisely nine-thirty, the Sandburgian nightmare would be over.
"Uh, sir?" Megan's brow furrowed. "I don't understand."
"You got a memo," Joel explained, gesturing toward her desk. "The mayor, compliments of Blair, is implementing a new program -- temporary rotations to give administrators a plunge back into field work and give field detectives a sense of the burdens and responsibilities of command to foster greater understanding between the two levels and increase the effectiveness of communication."
"Did you memorize the damn thing?" Simon growled, storming to Brown's desk and quickly rifling through a couple of the file folders resting on the corner. "What this means, Inspector," he glanced up at Megan, "is that I get Brown's cases and Brown gets my office for the next two days. And, as the memo says, I get to be teamed with you."
"Well, I'd love to stay and chat, but ta-ta!" Brown gave a wave. "Oh, and uh," he deepened his voice, "get to work!" Ducking back inside the office, he closed the door, but his delighted humming still drifted into the bullpen.
Simon grimaced, then pursed his lips. A slow smile lit his face.
"What?" Joel asked. "Why are you so happy all of a sudden?"
"I just realized that if Brown's captain for the next two days, he gets all the privileges...and burdens." His smile grew to a broad grin, and he chuckled. "Excuse me, Joel. I need to make a phone call."
Continue to Act II