Novation Productions Presents Season Six Episode Four

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Detecting Sandburg

By Ismaro

For Jane, a little fun in return for her hard work and generosity.

(This episode falls between 'The Debt' and 'Cypher' in the first season of 'The Sentinel')

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Blair Sandburg was debating making ziti with marinara sauce and a tossed salad, or a chicken stir-fry instead, as he turned his key to the loft and entered, but his thoughts about supper crashed and burned immediately. "Oh, no, not again!" He groaned as he shut the door and automatically locked it. Dropping his key into the bowl by the jamb, he ran his hands through his hair, oblivious to the long, curly strands he tore out and shed all over the floor. "How could you do this to me again, Larry?"

The loft was destroyed. The Barbary ape, his test subject in a television violence lab experiment at Rainier University, had once again shown his predilection for finding a way out of his cage and wreaking mayhem on Blair's temporary living quarters at Jim Ellison's place; he was squawking contentedly from the top of the fireplace. There were torn up throw pillows all over the living area, every container on the kitchen counter had supplied fun stuff to hurl at the dinner table, and the curtains to Blair's tiny room were wrenched aside. As much as Blair hated to think what Larry had done to his own belongings, many of which were unique and of real importance to his field of anthropology, Blair had worse things to think about.

What had Larry done to Jim's room?

"Come on, come on," Blair coaxed softly, the first order of business being to get Larry back into his pen so he couldn't undo the tidying up.

But Larry was wise in the ways of Blair Sandburg, and knew a great game to play. He gave throat to an ape-ly noise and bounced up and down on the cold iron stove. Tag!

"Hanuman help me!" Blair uttered as Larry took flight. Blair followed, and the race ran all around the living and dining areas, the kitchen, and the living area again. Larry was halfway up the stairs to Jim's loft bedroom, Blair on the first step after him, when a scratching at the door made both man and beast look up. Jim was home.

Cascade P.D. Detective Jim Ellison opened his door and discovered bedlam. So what else was new? Since Blair Sandburg had fast-talked and begged him into allowing the grad student and his ape to stay at his place, there had been chaos and disorder on a daily basis. This was simply more of the same. He suppressed a smile at the sheer horror on Sandburg's face, and surveyed the mess stonily.

"Ah, Jim, ah, I, ah, um," Blair managed to stammer out, clutching the stair rail like a life preserver.

Larry was mum.

"Yes, Sandburg?" Jim asked icily, gleeful malice in his heart.

"I'll clean it all up. Maybe you could go for coffee at the bakery? Huh?" Blair said hopefully.

"No," Jim returned meditatively. "I don't think I'll go for coffee."

"Uh, well, we need more coffee, Jim," Blair confessed, with a quick glance toward the kitchen.

Larry silently stole around Blair, as if there were a predator in the apartment, and he its prey. Jim caught a glimpse of the sneaking simian and glared at him forebodingly. Larry shivered a little and kept going.

Jim sniffed once, with meaning. "It seems to me as if we need more flour, sugar, salt, and all the spices in the spice rack too," Jim proclaimed tonelessly, "—except allspice."

Blair winced.

Jim's heart was warmed.

Larry reached the bottom of the staircase and scuttled as far away from the big detective as was possible. Jim shot him a quick scowl, and went back to yanking his roommate's chain. "We also need new throw cushions," he stated.

Blair winced again. "Yeah, I'll, um, I'll replace them, Jim. I'm soooooo sorry," he put in at last and there was sincerity in every syllable. "I don't know how he keeps getting out of the cage, honestly, I don't." He ducked his head for a moment, shaking it in confusion, before standing straighter again and pushing hair strands out of his eyes. "I can't figure it out," he admitted, jogging down the stairs and cocking an eyebrow at the detective, asking for help.

Jim harrumphed, but whatever he was about to say was interrupted as Larry made one fast dash for safety and gained his cage before anyone could stop him.

Both men turned to watch his antics. Larry grabbed the combination lock, popped through the open door, and pulled it shut behind him. He carefully threaded the hoop of the lock through the cage door and snapped it closed.

"But how does he get out?" Blair wondered again, throwing his hands up.

Jim heard the note of utter frustration and grinned to himself. "Let me have a look at that lock, Chief," he said dispassionately.

"Why? You think there's something wrong with it?" Blair was at the cage and had the scratched, battered lock open in Jim's hand in an instant.

"What's the combination?"

"One complete turn, then right 28, left a full turn, then left to 45, right again to 6." Blair was intent on his roommate's handling of the lock.

Jim fiddled with the numbers and started turning the dial right in a couple of completed circles, then a couple more to the left. He nodded once and gave the lock back to his roommate.

"What? What did you find?" Blair asked excitedly.

"Where'd you get it?"

"Yard sale."

"Well, whatever you paid, you paid too much. This lock has had it. I was listening to it, and it's stripped inside. Basically, once you turn it to 6 slowly, not going past it, no matter what you dialed before, the tumbler clicks in and it opens." Jim shrugged.

"You mean Larry figured that out? He copied me, and it was trial and error? Wow!" The anthropologist was well on the way to a lengthy verbal hypothesis about the learning skills of Barbary apes.

But Jim wasn't about to be bored out of his skull by his garrulous guest. "What he did was listen to it, like me, Sandburg. Don't make anything more out of it than that. He hears better than you do; that's all there is to it."

Blair seemed disappointed, but philosophical. After all, his primary research object, Jim himself, had just added to the bulk of knowledge Blair was building toward writing his doctoral thesis. "But not as well as you do, man. Okay, tomorrow I'll get a new lock. Tonight, it's clean-up time – again."

Both men glared at Larry. He just sat there, looking innocent and miniscule. Surely he couldn't have done anything wrong, all tidy in his pen as any good ape would be. 'Ignore the flour on my fur. I don't know how it got there.' His head swiveled treacherously toward the anthropologist. 'It must have been Sandburg,' his eyes said. 'It's the Sandburg Curse!'

"I don't like you anymore," Blair hissed at Larry. "You're mean."

Jim couldn't keep a straight face at that. In fact, he guffawed in a long roll of laughter that startled his audience. Blair and Larry exchanged glances, and watched for incipient signs of madness in the loft's owner.

But Jim had had his fill of teasing. When he was done laughing, he said, "We can clean up together and go shopping afterwards."

"Uh, I don't know what he's done to your bedroom, Jim," Blair told him with trepidation. "By the looks of things, he's been pretty thorough, trashing this place."

Jim shrugged. "I'm not the one with invaluable artifacts in his room, Sandburg. You checked those out yet?"

Blair gasped. "Oh, my God. The Haida mask!" and made a harried dash for the bedraggled curtain serving as a door.

Jim tightened his lips; he really did care about the things Blair valued; he had so little left. When the concrete warehouse Blair had been living in exploded in a meth lab conflagration, courtesy of his drug-dealing neighbors, he and Jim had saved the most valuable things they could lay their hands on, and watched the rest burn. First amongst the valuable things was Larry, but Blair had had artifacts, books and research materials to rescue as well. Last on his list were his own wardrobe and belongings, and there just hadn't been time for them. From what Jim could tell, Sandburg had perhaps two flannel shirts, a few Henleys and a pair of threadbare jeans to his name. But as all of Sandburg's clothing seemed to have come from the Salvation Army, Jim had expected him to resupply his stock readily enough. Only that hadn't happened, and Jim didn't know why. Surely the student could afford both throw cushions and flannel shirts, couldn't he?

"You are a bad, bad ape," Jim scolded Larry. Larry hung his head. "You don't deserve a guy as nice as Sandburg looking after you." Larry pretended to be a statue. "Huh," Jim grunted. "Just stay that way. Sandburg doesn't need to buy me any more pillows, got it?" Larry was still being a statue. "You'd better," Jim concluded intimidating the ape, and started picking up bits of stuffing from the couch. But when his back was turned, a bright black eye followed him all around the room with deeply evil satisfaction.

Blair surged out of his room again. "I got off lucky this time," he said. "I guess I walked in on him before he had time to get to my room. I hope he missed yours, too."

"I'll check," Jim said. "You find a garbage bag and put this junk in it, okay?" He gestured to the heap of debris he'd placed on the coffee table, and made for the staircase. "We can get pizza once we're finished, and restock the kitchen afterwards."

"'Kay," Blair called after him with relief, shuffling around the kitchen for a trash bag. Jim could be a cold, calculating s.o.b. at times, and he certainly had a moral code that recognized very few shades of gray, but for the most part, he reserved that part of his personality for criminals. Blair didn't know why he wasn't treated to it more often, but right from the start, Jim's best 'You're a criminal, I'm gonna drag your ass downtown and book you for drug possession and more' threat hadn't worked on him for more than a few seconds. Of course, having no drugs in his possession had helped, and so had the knowledge that Jim certainly knew that was the truth. Jim's hyper-acute sense of smell would have told him so, and he'd swept the basement office in the Anthropology Department with a gaze better than an eagle's eye, so there was nothing to back up the charge. The menace was empty, and somehow, Blair had known Jim really never meant him harm, no matter how angry he became at times.

It might not have been a match made in Heaven, but Blair so needed a temporary place to stay, and Jim's was the only one available, and that only through the basest of begging and groveling. He'd already overstayed his welcome; the one week Jim had given him had come and gone a good while back. Damn it anyway! Larry's destructive tendencies had given Jim the ammunition to tease his roommate about a so-called Sandburg Curse, that catastrophe followed Blair Sandburg wherever he went. Now he was laughing, but Jim could kick them to the curb any moment with good reason, and that would be a disaster. Blair vowed to redouble his efforts at finding permanent housing someplace else. His luck had to change, he comforted himself silently. He was too far down. Surely things had to start going his way soon. He was keeping a good thought.

"How are things up there?" he said in the normal tone he used when only he and Jim were together, no matter how far apart they were. Jim's hearing was more than able to catch Blair's words.

"Okay," Jim called back. "He pitched the pillows off the bed, and pulled off the linens, but that's it."

"I think he's scared of you," Blair said in that same tone. He cast a fulminating stare at the culprit. Larry blew him a raspberry. "I wish he was as scared of me."

Jim began to laugh again. "Larry afraid of you, Sandburg? Geez, Chief, you treat him like he's your own child" – Jim reappeared at the stair landing -- "and you feed him better than a prize racehorse. Face it, Sandburg. You're just not scary material."

"You say that now, but wait," Blair crooned darkly, pulling a face that he hoped was spooky, but failing miserably. "I have the mysticism of the East at my fingertips, the mojo of the South, the...."

"The Wicked Witch of the West's broom," Jim finished for him. "Yeah, yeah. The Sandburg Curse terrifies me. Keep cleaning."

This time they both laughed, and fell to putting the loft to rights.

But up on the landing, Jim's detective mind was hard at work on the puzzle of Blair Sandburg, roommate extraordinaire, and his travelling companion Larry. What was up with that cold concrete rattrap he'd been calling 'home' until the fire? Why hadn't he found somewhere else to live yet? And replaced at least part of his lost wardrobe? He'd had time, and Jim knew full well that Sandburg was resourceful and inventive in the clutch. There was a mystery there, and Jim was determined to unravel it. He was going to detect Sandburg.

This was going to be fun.

Simon Banks looked out over his domain at ten-thirty the next morning and sighed. Major Crime was perennially overworked, a casualty of its own success. Only the crème de la crème of investigators made it to the top, and they got top pay for their efforts. Major Crime's budget included bonuses never seen by other divisions, but Major Crime routinely solved the cases the other departments couldn't begin to get a handle on. Homicide, Robbery, the Bomb Squad, and Vice detectives were all in the running when a new slot came open in Major Crime, but there wasn't one on the horizon. Major Crime had Jim Ellison on staff. But he wasn't at his desk.

Simon Banks sighed again. There was the desk, the desk of that same Jim Ellison, piled high with untouched paperwork from the Switchman case onward. True, the siege of the police department by Kincaid's commandos had thrown everything and everyone off-kilter, but they should have been back on track by the end of the Juno file. Simon knew that there were reasons, or excuses, for Jim not having attacked the forms with a vengeance. He was adjusting to life as a sentinel with uncontrolled super-senses, dealing with a temporary roommate who grooved to a different drummer, and living with a mischievous ape. Ellison also had to prepare to testify at the Abramson grand jury hearing, having handled the file at the very beginning, before the Switchman's personal grudge against Jim had demanded that he work it and it alone. The Abramson file had been reassigned to the next best team; intensive review of the case by a number of members of the department was to be expected before they testified; everyone had to know their reports by heart and be clear on the chain of evidence to be introduced at the hearing.

Nevertheless, surely there should have been at least a few reports signed by James Joseph Ellison sitting on his captain's desk. But no, they sat on Jim's desk, lonely and sad and desolate. Oh, crap. I'm getting maudlin about paperwork. Do I need a vacation or what? Simon sighed for a third time. No, what I need is a detective who doesn't take a vacation from his paperwork! The Captain of Major Crime came to a quick and easy decision. He popped his head out of his office.

"ELLISON! My office. NOW!"

Jim thumped the vending machine for the fifth time. "Come on, come on! Give me the candy, already!"

"Geez, Jim, take it easy," Blair said, patting his back a couple of times. "The machine is not your enemy!"

"No, it isn't," Jim allowed. "It's the Sandburg Curse again! You whacked the thing with a Sunrise Patriot, and it hasn't worked right since. It's all your fault, Chief." He smacked the machine again, and gave up on the Mars bar, which was irreparably stuck on the tip of the circular wire dispenser.

"Sure, Jim, I'm to blame," Blair puffed out his chest. "I'm a powerful force for Evil. Fear me!"

Jim might have answered, but the words, "ELLISON! My office. NOW!" were reverberating all the way down the hall to the break room. So it was with ill grace that he left off the recitation of bad luck, which he claimed had descended on the loft and himself with the advent of his ride-along, to respond to Simon's bellow. He knew perfectly well what that was about. "C'mon," he gritted to Blair. "You might as well get a taste of Simon's true character."

Blair mimicked shuddering. "Run!" he teased, waggling his hands in the air, warding off danger. "Run for your life, Jim!"

Jim glared and grabbed Blair by the shoulder of his blue and green plaid flannel shirt. "I said, 'Come on.'."

Blair was dragged down the hall, snickering to himself, all his attention on not getting his shirtsleeve ripped at the seams. He didn't pay any heed to the other cops hanging around the break room.

"Wouldja look at that?" Cam Rider said, looking after the team with contempt. "Ellison pulling that punk kid after him. I never thought I'd see the day!"

"Me either," her partner said with a smile as broad as his shoulders. "I guess opposites attract." He took his packet of peanuts over to a table and sat down, stroking his mustache.

"Well," the tall rawboned redhead returned to Henri Brown, joining him, "not with me," she said with utmost revulsion.

"Yeah, but you're a finicky one, Camille," H stated. "All that Jarhead training and service to your country and Semper Fi stuff you got going. Who could be good enough for Marie the Marine with ambitions to become Commander-in-Chief?" He flinched at the not-much-pulled punch to the biceps she landed. "Watch the merch, Cam. Can't you take a joke?" He massaged the abused muscle. "So what date did you get in the new pool?"

"Two weeks today. Man, I hope I win. That scruffy little perennial student leech-on-society riding with an ex-Ranger like Ellison? There's no justice in this world." Cam ran her hand over her super-short hair. "I wouldn't put up with it. Ellison's a real war hero, a stand-up guy, to me, and I think he deserves legitimate backup, a real partner, you know? What's Captain Banks thinking? I mean, he could have assigned me to Ellison. At least I carry a piece. No offence, Brown. I'm just saying."

H flapped a hand at her. He'd heard it all before, pretty much every day since Rider had transferred into Major Crime from Vice three weeks before, and been handed over to Henri to partner; Camilla Rider had a motor mouth. She was always 'just saying' that she and Ellison should have been partnered.

She changed the subject. "Did you hear Rick got two hundred and fifteen dollars when Captain Banks pulled Sandburg's pass?"

"Well, duh," Henri said sarcastically. "Is there anyone in every department who hasn't heard it twice over? You told everyone, and afterward, he told everyone. What's the beef, anyway? Why do you both hate him so much? Something about him ding on your Vice-o-meters?"

"I think it ought to have been a rollover, that's all," the one-time partner of Rick Pryor in Vice explained, ignoring the rest. "It was Ellison's fault, not Sandburg's. All that dough Rick got, it should be in the pot now, along with the new ante's."

"We didn't structure the pool that way," Henri said sensibly. "Rick won. So what?"

"I'm just saying," Cam commented and stood up again. She was diving for dimes in her pockets. "Rick'll have spent it all by now. Shoot, he'd have spent it that night, or lost it on the Jags, or the Orcas, or the Cascade Effect. Too bad it's not still in the pot."

"Hey, Brown, what date you got?" It was Detective Doug Finn from Vice, a tall blond in his forties, and Rick Pryor's current partner. "I got more than a month and a half away. I think I was gypped."

"Uh, Rick's got today and tomorrow, and I have the next seven days. Then it's Rick again to the end of the month. He sold me the tickets; he bought a block of dates, then came up short for something or other, and offloaded half of it onto me, keeping the later dates for himself. I figure I'm the one who was gypped," Brown said. "I'm thinking Sandburg may be more of a keeper than you'd guess."

Finn and Rider stared at him. "He's kidding, right?" Finn turned to ask Cam Rider, at the pop machine, getting a cola.

"Nah, I'm guessing he's serious," put in Kevin Wilborough, a short African-American from the Bomb Squad, and everyone twisted around to look at him and his partner, Bill Buck, a Wilborough clone, behind him. "Captain Taggart thinks a lot of the guy. He won't let any of us put him down. Amanda Schuller, his secretary, you know her, got a real chewing out this morning for saying he doesn't look professional enough to ride with Jim. He's got a point; Sandburg's a civilian, after all, so it's not like he's refusing to wear the uniform. Is there hot chocolate in the machine?"

"Spend the money and find out, Wilborough," Cam suggested with a snicker. She took a drag on her cola. "I'm sorry for Amanda, though. She didn't deserve that," the Major Crime detective commented. "She's got a crush on Ellison, even though he is a hardass." The last word was spoken with deep approval. "I used to think he had potential, you know? Until he took up with that ragtag piece of scum," she said in an aside to her partner.

Henri put down his Ho-Ho. "Only Ellison is good enough to partner you in Major Crime, but he's not good enough to date? He wouldn't make a good First Gentleman? Who are you holding out for?"

Cam shrugged a negligent shoulder. "I'll know him when I see him. Haven't seen him yet. As for Ellison, he's just a stepping-stone. I'm following in his footsteps, marines to police, fast tracking, but I'm not gonna stop dead in Major Crime like him."

"Oh, so you're after Simon Banks' job." Henri picked up his Ho-Ho. "Never gonna make it, babe. You ain't got what it takes to manage a department."

"Which is?" his partner said, her face ugly.

"You don't have any people skills," he told her bluntly. "You'd have the whole department on strike in a week.

Cam flipped him off. "Anyway," she said to the room, "there's not gonna be any space for a trade up to Ellison's partner for anybody, what with Sandburg there, civvie or not." There was a chorus of disgruntled agreement.

"Captain Taggart does have a high opinion of Sandburg," Brown agreed with Wilborough, instead of replying to his partner's comment, "and it's only natural, in my view. I mean, he was there to see Sandburg in action when Kincaid's men were in charge. We weren't," he said pointedly, with a cock of his eyebrow at his partner.

"We were undercover on the Abramson case," Cam put in with disgust. "Shoulda been Ellison, but noooo."

"Yeah, but it's not Taggart who's riding with him," Wilborough said. His partner, Bill Buck, grabbed a chair at a table, and Wilborough took the other beside him, cradling the cocoa in his hands. "It's Ellison. That makes all the difference."

Heads nodded all around.

"Iceman Ellison'll crack any day now," Buck predicted. "He's always bitching about the Sandburg Curse. The kid's more trouble than he's worth. I hope he hangs on a while longer, though. I'm up for the end of the month, myself."

"Rick figures it'll be soon, and he should know: he partnered Ellison off and on in Vice, before he transferred out and I transferred in. He says Ellison's tough as nails and doesn't stand for any kind of garbage, which is what you'd expect from an ex-Ranger. Still," Cam said musingly, "he's put up with the freak for a while now. Maybe I'll put another couple of dollars in the pot and grab a later date. Just as backup." She smiled and lifted her eyebrows. "Anyone else for enriching the pool?"

"Why not?" Brown decided. "I want the latest date available, got it?" He slapped ten dollars on the table for the privilege.

"Sure," the others said with puzzled faces. "Why?"

"Hairboy is living with Ellison, has been since the warehouse in that gang case blew up. He's a keeper," H laughed.

"More like a kept man," Cam whispered darkly.

Henri Brown stood up abruptly and crossed his arms across his chest. "That's bullshit, Cam. Sometimes you have the lowest mind of anyone I know. Sandburg saved Ellison's life the day they met, coulda died doing it, too. Someone does that for me, especially a civilian, I don't forget it, you know? I don't think Ellison would either, and Hairboy looks to be a little down on his luck, probably didn't have any tenant's insurance. I'd help out someone who'd saved my life if I could, glad for the opportunity, and I think that's what Ellison's doing right now. Ellison's being a friend to a friend in need, and I don't need to know any more than that.

"So sit here and gossip like a bunch of vultures picking him over if you want, and if you can't talk anything but gutter-talk and meanness, that's your problem. I have work to do." He left, without the funnyman face he usually wore, and half a pack of Ho-Ho's lying forgotten on the table.

Cam Rider looked after him. "Pfft. I still think Ellison's gonna cut the freak loose any day now. The Sandburg Curse'll strike once too often. Too bad it broke the vending machine. I wanted some hickory nuts."

The vending machine had made enough enemies in its lifetime at the P.D. to make scapegoating Blair Sandburg generally acceptable, especially since Brown wasn't there to stick up for him any longer. The pool was renewed, and talk changed to other things. Rider was in no hurry to leave her likeminded associates to join her now-peeved partner. She stuck around without him, and hailed Rick Pryor as a long-lost friend when he headed in for his break, repeating with éclat her rant about Sandburg as Ellison's 'partner'.

It was quiet, peaceful, even serene, in Simon Banks' office. Both Jim and Blair fell silent. The hush was unnatural. Would they make it out alive?

"Ellison," Banks said genially. "Sandburg. What are you doing here? I didn't ask for you." The words were less genial and more poisonous.

"Um, you didn't exactly 'ask' for Jim, either," Blair muttered, and his friend with the hyper-hearing ability bit down on a smile.

"I brought him, Captain. Might as well let him see what really goes on around here." Jim was at attention, his line of sight somewhere over and beyond Banks' head.

Blair worked on being invisible.

"What really goes on around here, huh, Ellison?" Banks took out a cigar, felt its texture and smelled its freshness with evident pleasure. Then he put it back in his pocket. "Well, he certainly hasn't seen what really should go on around here YET, has he, Detective?"

Jim hesitated a moment, clearly at a loss.

Simon grinned evilly. "You go out into the field with your – observer. You and he observe. You investigate. You catch the perp and bring him in. Then you go out in the field with your – observer again, and observe, and investigate, and bring the perp in again. There's something missing from that sequence of events, Detective? Can you perhaps 'fill in' the gaps?"

His meaning was not lost on his best friend and subordinate. "Sorry, Captain. We've been so busy...."

"Yes, you have, but you only have one open file now, don't you?"

"The Low file," Jim agreed.

"As of this second, the Low file is now assigned to Brown and Rider," Simon decided.

"But, Captain," Jim protested, "I...."

"You have some gaps to 'fill in', Detective. GO FILL THEM IN! Get out of here, and don't come back empty-handed!"

Jim dragged Blair out post-haste, with Banks on their tails.

"BROWN, RIDER, my office, NOW!" Simon Banks took his victory to heart, and went for the B-team in the All-A department.

"What crawled up Simon's nose?" Blair asked with befuddlement.

Jim looked sour. "Take a gander at my desk, Chief."

Blair cast a glance over it. "It's a desk." He shrugged his shoulders and threw up his hands. "What's to see?"

Jim turned on his heel and almost bumped into his roommate. "I don't need sarcasm, Rickles."

Blair turned up a limpid, innocent gaze. "What? I don't get it. I really don't."

Jim stared at him, nonplussed. Blair just gazed back, looking sideways at the desk, then back at his roommate. "You're serious," Jim said wonderingly, giving his desk another glare. "You don't see a problem?"

Blair stepped back, the better to view both his roommate and the offending desk from a different angle. "No. It's just like you, anal. The pens are where the pens should be, and lined up alphabetically, black, blue and red. The paperclips and the stapler and staples, all at hand. The computer monitor's precisely parallel to the desk edge, and the keyboard too. All the forms are in a neat pile...." He didn't get any further.

"All the forms," Jim hissed, cutting off the scenic tour. "All the forms."

Blair took a deep breath. "Ah," he said intelligently. "All the forms. So what's the problem? Fill them in, and get the Whatsit file back."

"The Low file," the sentinel said, his head swiveling to listen in on the conversation Brown and Rider were having. "It should still be mine. Henri and Cam are pissed at the workload. And she's especially pissed at having it handed down from me, because they caught the Abramson case from me when the Switchman began e-mailing me, and they're working on that one too, for the grand jury hearing."

Blair spared a second's consideration of two disgruntled faces in Major Crime. "Professional jealousy, huh?"

"Yeah, well," Jim said in something akin to a whine, "I get more than my fair share of cases."

Blair was unsympathetic. "You like it like that, and you want to be a lone gun on them too," he said. "You have to expect professional jealousy when you get the most and the hardest cases and solve 'em alone, Jim. You know, there's this tribe in...."

"Spare me the travelogue, Chief," Ellison said. "I'm riding this desk until I get the paperwork done."

"Simon didn't say that," Blair protested.

"Yes, he did," Jim told him.

Blair thought a moment. "Yes, he did. That sucks, Jim." He reached a hand out to pick up the topmost form in a pile at least thirty documents high, and got slapped down for the effort. "Yowch! What's your problem, man?"

Jim grunted. "You observe me doing paperwork, asking all your questions, and it will take me ten thousand years to finish, that's the problem. So don't touch."

Blair Sandburg rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet. This was an opportunity. To offer, or not to offer? He decided to gamble. "You know, if you had a partner who could do your paperwork, you'd be out in the field in no time."

Ellison dropped into his seat and threw deadly darts at his roommate with his eyes.

"A partner who was used to doing paperwork. Who had to fill out forms pretty much daily for all kinds of things, and knew how to work with paper." Blair was tapping his fingertips together, pointing now and then to the pile of documents, and then to himself.

Ellison looked stunned, as if at the verge of a new and undiscovered country:


"A partner who can type with all his fingers, and knows computers?" Jim asked in an awed, hushed voice.

"Yes," Blair said cheerily. "Exactly the type of partner to get you back in the field PDQ. One who won't ever breathe the word 'partner' to anyone who isn't supposed to know about it." He was bouncing manically.

"How long can you stay today?" Jim needed to know.

"Till one o'clock. I have a lunch date then, and a class at three to teach. I can come back afterwards, though. Say about four-thirty?"

Jim sighed. "Nice thought, anyway," he said wistfully.

Blair was bamboozled. "What's wrong, Jim?"

"Well, if you can only stay for just over an hour...." his voice trailed off.

"In an hour, you can show me the various forms, and what they're for," the professional grant applicant said briskly. "I can scan all the different types, if not each particular one necessary for every file here. Once I know what the forms are for and the language they're written in, legalese, I mean, we're on the way to being able to create a template for filling the things in, Jim. Standardized methods of stating the variables. Don't angst about it, okay?" Blair took the top form off Jim's pile. "What's this for?" he began the process of getting Jim back into the field again. "No, don't tell me," he contradicted himself.

Jim watched Sandburg's gaze flit from section to section of the blank final report for the Switchman case, no tension or anxiety in him, an expert at paperwork taking in a comprehensive understanding of the reason and value of doing the documents right the first time, in one fell swoop, and suddenly grinned as if he'd won a lottery.

"Wanna copy of the criminal statutes?" he queried, and Sandburg grinned back, his face lighting up. A true partnership, if a limited one, at last!

An hour and a quarter later, Blair and the Forensics Chief were outside Piccolo's Pizza Palazzo, and he was holding the restaurant's door open for her. "Thanks for meeting me," Blair said. They found seats for themselves, Blair pulling out Carolyn Plummer's chair for her, and getting a surprised smile in return.

A waiter came up with two menus, slyly slanting his eyes at the grunge-dressed young man, who looked about eighteen, and the elegant professional woman in her thirties. He was never to know.

Carolyn made her choice quickly. "Fettucine Alfredo and spring water, please."

Blair did a little calculation and opted for two all-loaded pizza slices and water also.

The waiter vanished with the menus and orders.

"So what exactly do you want to talk about, Blair?" Jim's ex-wife opened the discussion. The smile was gone now that they'd gotten to the point of talking, and she was obviously wary.

"Well, I'm writing my diss on a thin blue line topic," Blair began his cover story, "and I'd like to know how Forensics works in conjunction with the investigating officers on a case. How you see the function you perform, where there's a good fit, where there's friction if any, and how you solve any difficulties with the departments. You seem to be the right person to go to for answers." His eyes were wide and hopeful.

"Puppy-dog eyes," the Forensics Chief muttered to herself. "The police in general, or a certain police officer in specific?" she suggested skeptically.

Blair blushed again. "Am I that transparent?"

"That is so cute," she muttered again, and rubbed her eyes. She pinned him with her gaze for an answer.

"Well, both, really," Blair said, "if you don't mind talking a little about Jim, but I've got to do an interview with you on the operation of your department, also."

"Tell me what you want to know about Jim first," she said, accepting the spring water the waiter delivered. Blair likewise took his. Carolyn continued, "I'll decide then if I want to give you any more time about my department."

Blair gulped. "I, I don't want to be intrusive. I mean, I'm not asking about your marriage or divorce or anything. Just – I'm staying with him now, did you know that?"

Carolyn nodded, her face like flint.

"I'm trying to find a new place, but haven't gotten one yet. Jim's been great, but it may be another week or two before I find something. I've already extended my stay beyond what he was willing to allow me...."

"And just how did you do that?" Carolyn wondered icily.

Blair's brows drew down questioningly. "How? Well, I explained about my lab experiment."

"Your lab experiment?"

"Yeah, I'm doing this experiment on the effect of television violence on primates, using a lab animal, Larry. He's a Barbary ape."

"The one that keeps tearing up the loft?" Carolyn had a twinkle in her eye.

Blair sighed gustily. "That would be him. Jim told you about it? I should have guessed. Anyway, because Larry went through the trauma of having been in a fire and losing his home, my lab prof, Dr. Singh, and I decided the original experiment was compromised, and we worked out a new one."

Carolyn Plummer the scientist was interested. "How'd you save it?"

An engraved invitation to babble in science-speak! Blair took it and ran for a good five minutes straight. "Variables." " Statistical probability." "Control group." "Baselines." Many other bits of science-speak made their way into the conversation.

At the end, Carolyn said, "Making lemonade out of lemons."

Blair tilted his head to the side. "I've had a lot of practice at that," he smiled. "I've been an impoverished grad student for over six years now."

The Forensics Chief smiled back. "I know the name of that tune, too. Are you bringing that kind of enthusiasm to your study of the P.D.?"

Blair gave a quick nod. "I hope to. I don't like covering ground others have already trodden, but you never know what life's gonna hand you. The experiment with Larry was just an obligatory lab credit until the fire. Now I think we can get a paying, professional paper out of it – assuming Jim doesn't toss us out of the loft anytime soon."

"Jim knows this?" Carolyn asked dubiously.

"Oh, yeah, I mean, I think he does. I talk about what I'm doing at school all the time. I just don't know if he hears me. He's got this strong, silent thing going, and I can't always tell what he's thinking, what he's feeling. He shuts me out."

The waiter delivered pasta and pizza, and the short break gave both of them a chance to think.

Carolyn came back to herself first. "You know, Blair, I wasn't really sure I wanted to help you at all."

Blair blinked at her and pasted on a big fake smile. "Thank you for your time," he started.

"But now, I have to say I like the way you've rolled with the punches, at school, and – with Jim. I'd like to read the paper when it's done, by the way. You're still looking for a new place?" She wanted reassurance.

"Oh, yeah, but it's tough, especially since it's mid-semester and absolutely the wrong time to look for student housing." Blair pinched the bridge of his nose. "I must have seen fifteen dives in the last two weeks. I don't enjoy bedding down with vermin, you know? But I'm caught between what I want and what I can afford, at least until the end of term, when I get the next installment of my stipend."

"So you're with Jim for the interim, at least until the Larry experiment runs its course."

"Yeah. I hate inconveniencing him, but...."

"Okay, then. About Jim: he's never been forthcoming with anyone I know. Not me, as his wife, not Simon, who's a damned good friend to him, not even with Danny Choi – you know about Danny?" she interrupted herself.

"Yes. I was there when he died," Blair whispered, his face darkening with old concern.

"Yes, you were, weren't you?" Carolyn's eyes softened. It might well have been the first time the grad student saw an innocent die violently, so close to him. "Jim's – well, Jim has a fear of intimacy, I guess you'd put it. It's hard to get close to him, and to be honest, I've been a little envious of how well the two of you seem to be getting along. He's a very private person. He doesn't share his feelings easily. I'm not sure how much of it goes back to his tours with the Army, especially in Peru and all the trauma from the helicopter crash, not to mention manning the Chopec pass alone for a year and a half; but whatever the reason, Jim's closed a lot of himself off. He just won't talk about it.

"I don't know how in touch he is with his own heart, Blair," Jim's ex-wife said sadly. "But he's a good man, and if he's not talking, it isn't your fault or because he doesn't like you. That's just the way he is. Sometimes a bad attitude, but never a bad man."

"Oh, hey, thanks, Carolyn," Blair said, touched. He reached out to tap her hand gently. "Jim's the best. I know that. I didn't mean to rake up bad memories or anything."

Carolyn lifted the corners of her lips in an almost-tragic grin. "You haven't. But I think I'm done with talking right now. Let's eat. We can get into Forensics another time. Oh, and I'll pay for myself, too. You can have more than the pizza if you like."

Blair looked at the mock-maternal eyebrow and simply said, "Thanks."

Blair Sandburg was back in Major Crime at four-thirty, as promised, with one Mars bar to perk up his candy-deprived partner and another for himself. He entered the room, oblivious to the lull in conversation all around him, his one-track mind fixed firmly on doing paperwork as efficiently as possible.

People came and went about the place, bustling. Everyone seemed to have a jones for candy, a late-afternoon pick-me-up until the job was done, and chocolate bars came through the department doors minute by minute. Jim got up to fetch a couple of cups of coffee for himself and his computer guru. Not even clocking Jim's leaving, Sandburg worked alone at the monitor, nearly as deeply concentrating as Jim in a zone-out. Henri Brown left for a washroom break. Amanda Schuller dropped off a note from Captain Taggart of the Bomb Squad about his participation in the Switchman and drug gang cases, and all but threw it under Blair's nose. Jim returned to find her there and glared at her. She tossed her head and sauntered out, hips swinging. Rick Pryor came in from Vice with a file for Cam's perusal, tying up loose ends on a case they'd worked together; he sat with her for a while. When Henri Brown reached the threshold to the department and saw the two occupying his desk, he disappeared again. Blair approached Cam Rider to get the Abramson file, which she found for him on Henri's desk, and he took it over to Jim's desk. Rick Pryor left. Henri came back in with a cup of coffee, Jim sat back down, Cam looked to the Low file, and Simon Banks smiled to himself behind his office doors.

At five-fifteen, Henri Brown's keyboard stopped functioning. He let out a whine, stood and smacked the desk on either side of the computer. "Come on, come on. What the hell's wrong with this thing?"

All the cops looked at Henri, then his computer. All but Jim looked next at Blair Sandburg.

The Sandburg Curse had struck Major Crime.

Continue to Act Two

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