Word count: 1,424
A/N: a response to Sentinel Thursday Challenge #492 – “imagine”
That he knocks on the door is enough of a giveaway. But when he enters, wearing a smile that looks like it could have been plastered on with greasepaint and then outlined with a large white crayon, I know he’s as guilty as sin.
Plus, he’s babbling.
“You wanted to see me, Simon… ah, I mean, Captain? Wow, you know, it’s such a beautiful day out there? The sky is so blue and the sun is actually shining. I mean, like this is a major event in Cascade, right? It’s like the whole city is full of joy with it, right now. Full of joy with this great weather. I can just feel it bubbling up. You know, what would be great for the team….”
The glass in the office door rattles – an 8.5-er. I’m proud of my restraint. Plus, it has the requisite effect of shutting him up like a clam. His face goes pale and the inane grin disappears like someone’s flicked a light-switch.
“I’m so glad you’re full of joy, Sandburg,” I say, sarcasm heavy on my tongue. “Me, I’m equally joyful. You can imagine how full of joy I am that the Head of Security over at the Premier Mall has just called to tell me that one of my men was skinny-dipping in the Grand Fountain of the Food Court at 8pm last evening!”
If it’s possible, his face goes paler. I’ve got him.
“Where’s your partner?”
“Ah, well, er…” Now he’s starting to eye me slightly wildly. “Um, Jim… Detective Ellison … has had to take a few hours’ sick leave today, Sir. Sorry, it’s kind of a…” - he dropped his voice - “a senses thing…”
“Be more specific, Sandburg.”
He looks around as if to check for eavesdroppers.
“Simon, he’s had an allergic reaction. I’ve had to cover him in antihistamine cream. He has these huge weals……”
“And he got that through taking his clothes off and jumping in the Mall fountain in full view of the late night shoppers?”
He cringes. Well, I suppose I am shouting pretty loudly, but I think it’s warranted.
“No, sir, it wasn’t like that! It was an emergency! I was…um… required to take executive action to get Detective Ellison into the water so that we could remove the worst of the irritant…”
“Should you have called the HazMat team?” I’m handing him lengths of rope, and he’s taking them blindly.
“Um, no, it wasn’t quite like that kind of situation….”
“And all this was your idea, Sandburg? So you’re a qualified medical doctor now, as well as being a qualified BS-merchant of the highest order?”
His face tells me he’s done with obfuscation, so I give up on the preliminaries.
“They’ve got pictures, Sandburg! They’ve got pictures of Jim ripping his clothes off and diving stark naked into eighteen inches of water right next to the Hanover Hotdog concession.”
“They’ve got pictures?” His eyes are round and staring with horror.
“Pictures?” I parrot. “Of course they’ve got pictures! They’ve got pictures from the very security system you and Ellison went to talk to the security staff about last night after that latest ram-raid.”
He sits down without asking and runs a hand over his brow. I’m not finished with him, though.
“What the hell is wrong with Ellison? Has he gone completely insane?”
He gives me a stricken look.
“Simon, Captain…. It wasn’t Jim’s fault, honestly. Well, I suppose it was his fault in that he insisted on chasing that pick-pocket even though the other security guards were onto him, but…”
“Sandburg,” I growl, “get to the goddamn point!”
“Captain, we were on our way to talk to the Head of Security when this guy comes running through the Mall, the security guys in pursuit, of course. Except they’re all about 40 pounds overweight and the guy is getting away, so Jim just takes off. And he chases the guy to the toy store on the lower level, and the guy just piles into the shelves there, and Jim goes after him, and then all of a sudden Jim stops and he’s clawing at himself – at his clothes, I mean - and howling, and I get to him and start shouting at him to dial it down, but he’s in real pain, Sir, real pain. And I realise this store has all this old-fashioned practical joke stuff on the shelves! I mean, how crazy is that? That stuff is full of toxic crap! And Jim just landed right slap bang into a pile of itching powder, and it sent his senses off the scale. His skin was going red and he had trouble breathing, and I had to do something. I thought about the fountain, so I dragged him there, and I just wanted him to lie in the water. But I guess he was in such a state, Simon, he just had to get it to stop. It wasn’t his fault, he didn’t know what I wanted him to do. He just did the most obvious thing. Honestly, I just meant for him to lie in the water, but… but…”
“But he ripped his clothes off and jumped into the fountain,” I finish for him.
“That’s about the size of it, sir. Although, don’t worry about that aspect. I mean, it wasn’t that much to cover up. Not that he’s not… well, you know… but I got my back-pack in front of him, and that was more than big enough to cover most of the … ah … problem until I could get some blankets onto him, though we did have a few tricky moments getting out of the water, and then there was that point when the Sisters of Mercy came past with their charity collection, but they tried very hard not to look, and then…..”
I hold up my hand.
He stops right away, which kind of shows how rattled he is by this interview and its implications – normally he would have just carried straight on. He gazes at me despairingly. God, I’ve heard Rhonda giggle about his puppy-dog eyes, and here they are, right in the flesh. But you know, I don’t think this time it’s calculated.
“What’s your prognosis of Jim’s condition?”
He gives me a sharp look, startled out of his misery.
“Well, like you say, Sir, I’m no medical doctor...”
“Cut the crap, Sandburg. You know more about Jim’s sensitive… ah… reactions than any doctor. What do you plan to do with him?”
He gives me a look that says ‘Seriously?’ and takes a breath.
“Well, the antihistamine cream seems to be doing quite well right now. Speaking honestly, washing the stuff off that quickly probably did save him from a lot worse. I’m thinking some oatmeal baths, calamine, and maybe some homeopathic anti-allergy tabs as well, just to be on the safe side. If the rash keeps decreasing, we’re on to the right thing. If it gets worse, I’ll take him to the hospital tomorrow.”
“Get on with it, then.”
He looks at me in surprise.
“You mean, I can go? You’re okay with this?”
“Sandburg, I am so far from okay it’s over the horizon, but it sounds like you’re doing what you can, and Jim needs the help. Go sort him out.”
“But Simon, what about…” - he lowers his voice – “…the pictures?”
“You two are real lucky, Sandburg. It just so happens that the Head of Mall Security is ex-PD and owes me one or two favours. He confiscated the videotape right away and has excised that section from his records. Hardly legitimate, but at least Jim’s performance won’t hit the media that way.”
He seems to deflate with relief.
“Thank God! I mean… thank you, Sir!”
“Same difference,” I smirk at him. “At least tell me they caught the perp.”
He gives me a look of pride.
“Of course they did, Captain! Turns out, Jim had already brained the guy with a can of Silly String, so the security team had it easy.”
I wave him away, but as he turns to go, my curiosity gets the better of me.
“Sandburg – you cover him with antihistamine cream? Like, everywhere?”
He gives me a guarded look.
“Pretty much, Sir.”
I shake my head in disbelief.
“That’s one crummy job I’d not want to land.”
And for the first time this morning, the old Sandburg smile of mischief breaks through.
“Well, Captain, I guess it is a crummy job, but someone has to do it…”
The Demon Barber of Cascade.
A story for Sentinel Thursday, using the prompt “keep your chin up”
Summary: Jim gets a shave, and a clue
Now he’s hammering on the door. I look up at the cabinet mirror that’s already starting to steam up and my poor, weary face stares back; lined, haggard, unkempt and still slightly singed.
“Sandburg, go away! Can’t you just let me have a modicum of privacy, for Pete’s sake?”
“Can I hear water running? Is that the hot water running, Jim?” His voice is slightly muffled by the door between us, but his irritation comes through loud and clear.
My reflection and I meet as I rest my forehead on the cold mirror. Sandburg’s not the only one who can do irritation.
“Yes, you can hear the damn water running. Congratulations. Maybe this means you’ve got Sentinel hearing, too. Why don’t you just go off and do some tests on yourself somewhere. Preferably Wisconsin.”
The door opens. He’s standing on the threshold with his arms folded across his chest, looking the personification of pissed.
“Have we not just spent the last twenty minutes dressing your hands? Have you forgotten that those dressings have to remain dry, or we have to do the whole damn thing all over again?”
He darts in past me, turns off the faucet, pulls the stopper out of the basin and retreats back to the doorway before I’ve had a chance to retaliate.
“No, I’ve not forgotten. I’ve also not forgotten that while they’re on I’m subject to your tender ministrations, and God knows that’s incentive enough for me to want them to heal in record time, but….”
I pause, suddenly weary, and sit down on the edge of the tub, gazing at the two mummified appendages at the ends of my arms. Why did life have to be so goddamn complicated?
“But what, Jim?" He’s still snippy. Why the hell is he so snippy when I’m the one with the burns and the discomfort and the sheer aggravation of trying to get along with a couple of golf clubs for hands? I look up at him and return his glare.
“I want a shave, dammit! My face itches, I look like a street bum. I’m tired and I’m uncomfortable and I just want my face to be clean….”
“You’re clean! We just washed….”
“Oh, please, don’t remind me.”
“And anyway, we decided you didn’t need a shave today.”
“No, Sandburg, you decided. I wasn’t allowed much of a say. And now I’ve reflected on the matter, given there’s jack all I can do right now other than just reflect on things, I’ve decided I do want a shave. And that’s what I’m going to do!”
I’m about to haul myself up when he puts a hand on my shoulder and presses me back down again onto the edge of the tub. With his other hand he reaches over, and turns the hot water back on.
“Why didn’t you just say, you big jerk, instead of getting all riled up and hostile about it?”
I look up at him sharply, ready to snap something back about how much he seems to be enjoying making my life a misery, when I see his face. The mask of annoyance has gone. There are signs of fatigue and worry there, but they’re softened by a sweet, wry smile and a look of resignation. Yeah, I guess I really am not the best patient in the world, and I’ve not been making things easy for him these past few days.
“Okay,” he continues, picking up a large towel from the rail and draping it around my shoulders. “Are you sitting comfortably, sir?” He takes my chin in his fingers and turns my face this way and that, scrutinising.
“You know, the designer stubble look suits you, sir,” he says, starting to camp it up. “Strong, feral, exotic almost - less anally-retentive…..”
I pull my chin away from his hand and return his wicked little grin with one of my better glares.
“Get on with it, jackass!”
“Don’t piss off the barber, man.” he replies amiably. “He’s the one with the razor blade.”
There’s a cloud of steam as a washcloth is wrung out, and, before I can react, my face is enveloped in hot fabric. I manage a “mmmmmph!” of surprise, already primed to hate the whole thing right from the get-go, when something clicks in me. Possibly it’s the firm yet gentle pressure on my head as he moulds the cloth to my face and helps the steam sink into every pore; or maybe it’s the sudden, shocking realisation that he’s got me, I can do this – I can actually relax and let someone else take care of me without my bursting a blood vessel at the perceived indignity. Whatever, I feel myself relax with a whoosh as I slump my shoulders and lean into the hot compress.
He kneads a little more with his hands, pressing gently and smoothing the cloth around my ears and mouth. I can now manage a fairly contented “Mmmm-hmmmm”, and am just starting to fully unbend when the cloth disappears, and he’s there grinning at me. I feel a bit dazed, and I guess I must look it, because he gives me a little quizzical look.
“You okay there, man?”
No need to give anything away…
“Just get on with it, Sandburg”
He turns away to the basin with a little private smile. There is a brief clatter as he prepares the razor and opens the can of foam.
“You know,” he says, rubbing the foam between his hands and then smoothing it over my face – I’m trying hard not to squirm – “ancient cultures are full of shaving rituals. It can be religious, or to do with hierarchy, or to prepare for battle. Kind of readying the person for the afterlife. Crusaders would…."
And so it goes on. I just sit there, balancing precariously on the edge of the tub while his voice floats over the top of my head with his soothing, by now incomprehensible, words and his hands make their firm passage over my cheeks and chin, and linger along my upper lip. I start to dial up the sensation, enjoying the feel of the cool foam and the light pressure of the massage. The tension in me of the past few days leaches out, and by the sound of his voice, it’s disappearing fast from him, too.
He finishes with the foam, giving me a quick grin, and reaches for the razor. I feel the need to be Ellison again for a moment, just to prove to myself I haven’t lost it completely.
“Just be careful with that, Sandburg.”
“Cool it, Jim. I’m not harbouring ambitions of being Sweeney Todd - it’s a safety razor. And, you know, I have been shaving myself for a number of years now. I’ve got the hang of it.”
I can only manage another doubtful “Hmmmmph” as he takes my chin in his hand and starts to stroke the blade across my cheek. I try to look down at what he’s doing.
“Keep your chin up, man. I need access here…”
This is nothing like the perfunctory, functional showering exercise we bitched our way through not half an hour before, with me standing in the tub, my bandaged hands protruding from the shower curtain while he hosed me down with the shower-head, muttering imprecations about Sentinels who won’t trust their own senses and wander into burning buildings when there is absolutely no need, man. This is … intimacy.
Slow, precise, delicate…. tender. The only sound is the rasp of the blade and the gently huff of our breaths, with the occasional swish of water as he rinses out the razor. I can feel his exhalations on my face, tickling my eyelashes, warm and sweet. I look up again into his eyes, but he is totally focused on his task. I can see how his pupils follow the stroke of the blade and yet are still flicking around the areas of my skin that he’s already covered, checking for missed bits. He catches my glance for a moment, and the edges of his eyes wrinkle in a smile.
“You’re doing good, big guy.”
He tilts my face gently, moving to my throat. I feel so exposed to him - my veins, my arteries, all my life blood surging through my neck and pulsing with life - and it’s all in his hands. And I know, right there and then, that’s exactly how it should be.
And suddenly it’s over. The washcloth is back, removing all traces of the foam. He rinses it again, in cold now, and refreshes my skin. I find myself leaning into the pressure, but then he pulls away gently.
“All done, man. Feel better?”
I allow myself a smile.
“Lots. Thanks, Chief. Really, thanks.”
His smile becomes even more sardonic as I impress him with my effusive gratitude.
“Any time, man.” He turns to go.
“You know,” I say hastily, not really wanting the moment to end, but with no idea what’s going to prolong it, “I might need to ask you to do this again. You know, because… my hands….”
He looks at me hard then, and raises an eyebrow. I press on.
“It takes me a while to get used to this sort of stuff, is all,” I finish lamely.
I can see him pondering the possible double-meaning of my words. Hell, even I’m pondering them.
“That’s okay, Jim,” he replies as he turns to go. “I’m a patient man.”
And then I’m in the bathroom on my own. I stop myself only just in time from trying to put my face in my hands, and instead stare dumbly at the bandaged stumps.
How did I miss this? What happens next? And even more important, how long can I wait?
This really shouldn't be so difficult. Why couldn't he work it out? He had plenty of boxes. Just how did he build it?
It was the cold, he knew – hypothermia. It led to confusion and an inability to concentrate, to hallucinations, to failing muscle coordination, a sluggish brain…
Yes, but he knew how to do this. All those weeks with the Inuit, living their life, dreaming their dreams – he'd learned so much. Why couldn't he remember? Maybe if he just put some boxes in a circle...
Yeah, okay, that's better. This looked familiar. Jesus, the turkeys in these boxes were the big guys, no doubt about it. He could barely lift them, and even his gloved hand now was numb and clumsy. At least it didn't hurt so much – he just didn't feel things. Toes, ears, nose, fingers; he kept checking for frostbite, tried to keep the blood moving. If he'd had his backpack, he could've put it on his head. Nah, if he'd had his backpack, he’d have climbed into it by now.
Where was his backpack? Oh yeah, they took it. And his phone. Not that the phone was any use. He saw it now, sailing in a graceful arc from his hands over the balustrade at Rainier, the victim of a clumsy jostling by one of his students on the staircase. He’d just taken it out to ring Jim, to tell him he'd be maybe ten minutes late. He saw the thing shatter on the tiled floor below, students ducking for cover and then gathering to gawp at the dead body. By the time he’d got to the bottom of the stairs, most of Anthro 101 had been to look, and the same clumsy student presented him with the Sim card, a heavy scratch right across it.
“Sorry, Mr Sandburg, I just stood on it.”
He’d shoved what remained of the phone casing back into the backpack. The bad day was getting worse. For all Jim's bad temper and Blair's irritation with the guy, he genuinely wanted to make sure he backed his partner up. Juggling two jobs was a bitch – he knew he was late more often than he cared to be. He hated that; he hated Jim thinking he might be flaky, and ducking hard work at the PD. It pained him to admit it, but he really, really wanted the big lug’s approval. And yet he constantly put his foot in things.
Must try harder, Sandburg.
North yard was unmanned and secured with a high chain-link fence and padlocks, but Jim's bolt-cutters from the truck made short work of them.
“I thought you said we were looking at all Nordyck’s locations,” snapped Jim as he pushed through the high gate.
“I said we got to as many as we could,” Simon retorted. “The guys would have got here later…”
“Yeah, too late!”
Jim ran into the compound. There was row upon row of refrigerated trailers and trucks. He looked in horror at the sheer number of them, and turned to Simon.
“I've got to check…” he began, when three more cars roared up, discharging Rafe, Brown and a number of their MC colleagues. A couple of black and whites were on their heels. Engines were running, voices shouting instructions and men started running up and down the ranks of trailers, trying to force open doors. It was chaos. Simon drew himself up to his full height and used his best foghorn bellow.
“Stand down, you guys! Stand down!”
There was a rapid stilling of feet and voices.
“We’re getting nowhere doing this. I need you to…”
Jim grabbed his arm.
“Wait, Simon, let me go further in. Let me listen. Keep everyone quiet, will you?”
Simon frowned at him and then nodded.
Okay, everyone, to me! Let Ellison have the first look.”
His team regarded him oddly, but withdrew to their vehicles and watched as Jim loped up one side of the seemingly endless rows and then down another. The chatter built up again.
“Shut the fuck up!” roared Jim, turning in midstride with his hands clamped over his years. His colleagues, struck dumb, stared back in puzzlement. Sure, Ellison was worried, but what the hell was that all about?
Simon glared at them, and then raced off to catch up with Jim. He found his friend in the lee of a large truck, breathing quickly, with a hand pressed to his head as if warding off pain. He looked up, stricken, at Simon’s approach.
“I can't hear him, Simon! I can't hear him! If he's here, then he's not… he’s…”
Jim didn’t finish his thought. Simon stood in the now quiet yard and listened himself. Then he nodded.
“You can't hear anything, Jim.”
“I just said, I can't …“
“No, I mean, you can't hear anything, because there's nothing to hear! If any of these trailers were working, then you'd hear the refrigerator units. If none are working then they're not cold. And Blair’s somewhere where it's cold…..”
Now this was more like it!
A sturdy wall, three turkeys high, with the top layer curving in, and one final box perched on one side. He edged himself in and curled up – just big enough. But he needed to fix the roof.
His hands weren’t working at all now. It took ages to shift the last box along the rim so that it covered the hole at the top. Ages – slow painful work. He had to move the box with his wrists. And it hurt to breathe – hurt so much. The ice in the air seemed now to be lodged in his lungs. He couldn't tell how cold he was – he had no sense of touch.
Ironic, huh? He specialised in people – well, a person – with heightened senses, and now he himself had no senses left. No touch, no sight in this little black hole he’d built, no hearing other than the hiss that was his laboured breathing. He thought maybe the woollen glove was now frozen into his skin. Would they be able to pull it off when they found him? Would it have melded with his flesh? Was he going to be like a mammoth in the permafrost, preserved for millennia and then defrosted for his DNA? Better still, Jim could keep him in a chest freezer in the basement. He wouldn't take up much room.
No, no, stop thinking like this! Think cheerful, think warm! Come on, imagine somewhere warm! A beach, the Caribbean, Bob Marley singing about gloves, the palm trees and warm winds, and brightly coloured cocktails in the beach bars, chinking with ice…
No, no, that wasn't right! Beaches didn't work. He didn't get a real feeling of warmth from that. No, warmth was a roaring fire, and tea with honey and lemon, a big blanket, mulled wine, that kind of thing.
Christmas – Christmas sounded warm. All those chunky Fair Isle sweaters that Jim liked to wear when it was snowy, the logs burning brightly on the big stove in the Loft …
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your toes...
Enough Jack Frost, thank you. But there were yuletide carols sung by the choir, too, and folks dressed up like Eskimos. And that was just perfect, because here he was in his own igloo! Though he really ought to quibble with that whole Eskimo misnomer …
Jim and Simon raced back to the cars.
“Brown!” shouted Simon “You got a plan of the site?” Henri Brown nodded and pulled a sheaf of papers from the back seat of his vehicle.
“What we need,” huffed Simon as he rushed up, “is to see if there is anywhere else in this yard that would hold cold storage, refrigeration, something like that. Something that’s operating, running cold right now.”
Brown looked baffled.
“Not on this site, Sir. It’s just what you see. Just truck storage, no buildings.”
Jim turned without a word and punched the side of one of the black and whites, hardly flinching at the blow. His colleagues watched him nervously.
“Anything, anything…” muttered Simon, pawing at the papers.
Then Jim spoke.
“We've missed something,” he muttered.
Simon turned to see him staring at the line of trucks. He moved to Jim’s side.
“What is it, Jim?” He asked quietly. “What do you see?”
Jim's eyes were fixed on the side of a vehicle a long way up the furthest row.
“There's an address there,” said Jim. “South of Madison. Cold storage centre.”
Simon squinted at the distant, miniscule lettering on one corner of the truck.
“That may be so, Jim, but there are cold stores all over Cascade.”
“This one, said Jim, with a quirk of the lip that might have registered hope, “ this one is in Nordyck’s name .
Yeah, that was the warmest place in the world – the Loft.
The Loft, with the fire going, and Jim smiling for a change, all snuggled up in one of his hand-knitted polo-necks. Hot coffee and bagels and eggs in the morning.
Everyone knows that a turkey and mistletoe help to make the season right...
Turkey he had, thank you. When Jim came to fetch him, maybe they could take a box home as a souvenir, and roast it on the open fire with sleigh bells in the snow. Hang on, that was the other song – may your days be merry and bright and all your Christmasses be... something or other.
Yeah, merry and bright. The Loft was merry and bright, when he was there with Jim. Christmas in the Loft would be a delight; no need to go outside, just sitting there on the couch with reindeer roasting on the open fire, listening to the sleigh bells.
Perfect. Blair Sandburg's perfect world.
The journey was mercifully short, considering the havoc the convoy of truck, cars and black and whites caused in late afternoon traffic. Glancing over, Simon observed Jim’s clenched jaw and the working muscles in the man’s face. Jim might like to think he was made of iron, but Simon knew that when it came to Sandburg’s well-being, stress was easy to read in Jim's expression.
Simon tried not to think about what might be waiting for them at the cold store; maybe there would be nothing at all. But if all this was horrible reality, how resilient could Blair – could anyone – be to that kind of treatment? He wondered how Jim would deal, should they not find Sandburg in time. Then again, what if they were simply chasing their tails? Had Nordyck just got them dancing to his tune, racing around like idiots, while Blair…
No, he refused to let his thoughts go in that direction. Blair's survival was a prerequisite. They would find the kid, no doubts. And anyway, it wasn't as if Sandburg had been wandering around in jeans and a T-shirt. The guy routinely wore five layers in summer. Today, in early December, he would have been packing a heavy coat, gloves, scarf, you name it. Sitting for a few – well, quite a few – hours in an industrial freezer, it would just be like a bad day in the Cascades, surely? He’d just sit tight, and …
Jim's voice broke through his reverie.
“What's that, Simon?”
Simon blinked. Had he spoken aloud inadvertently?
“I was just thinking, Sandburg had his big coat on, yeah?”
He glanced at Jim and was shocked at the withering look that Jim returned.
“You don't think Nordyck left him with his coat, do you?”
Jim turned away again and floored the gas pedal once more.
Sleigh bells in the snow – ringing, ringing, ringing. Like the phone on Jim's desk at the PD when he rang from the call box after talking to Sneaks. Nobody picking up – typical.
“Borrow your phone, man?” he’d asked Sneaks, after turning up a mere fifteen minutes after the specified time and finding Jim already gone in a flurry of bad temper and righteous indignation about Sandburg's timekeeping. Sneaks had been bouncing up and down, his eyes flicking to the bus stop every ten seconds.
“I can't lend you my phone, Blair. It's private.”
“Dammit, Sneaks, it's police business!”
“You aren't a cop!”
Blair threw up his hands in exasperation.
“Not you as well? Oh, for Chrissakes…”
So he jammed a glove in his jeans pocket and dialled from the phone box, and when the PD failed to answer, he rang Jim’s cellphone, only for it to go to the messaging service. He ground his teeth in frustration and put on his brightest and most cheerful voice.
“Jim, it's me. I just missed you. I couldn't call you ‘cos my phone got broken. But it's okay, Sneaks has passed on your message. I'll see you there, man.”
He put the phone down and turned again to Sneaks.
“You sure about this message, man? I mean, I’ve no idea what I’m supposed to be doing when I get there.”
“I got to go,” mumbled the snitch, edging towards the bus stop. “Nesbitt and Vine. There's a pre-Christmas sale on.”
A pre-Christmas sale - you could buy all sorts of things for the Loft at a pre-Christmas sale.
Like reindeer, and sleigh bells, and children with their eyes all aglow listening to things in the snow – wow, were these kids Sentinels as well?
Reindeer roasting on an open fire...
After they've been defrosted – A Foster’s Award-Winning Reindeer.
It was a little-known fact that Blair Sandburg was the only man in the world on that day to have been put in two deep freezes in quick succession. Blair reflected proudly on this. First, a ride in a refrigerated truck from the infamous North Yard – may he never hear its name spoken again - to wherever the hell he was now. He’d still had his coat then. Then the second, where the Nordyck guy had been pretty insistent that his boys didn't leave Blair with any unnecessary luxuries. Never mind, he could get new stuff as Christmas presents. Jim could maybe buy him Christmas presents, and lots of toys and goodies on the sleigh.
Sleigh bells roasting on an open fire….
It really was the warmest place in the world. If he knew he could stay in the Loft this Christmas, then this whole freezer nightmare would be a walk in the park. Just thinking about it made him warm. Really warm and sleepy. Pretty soon Jim and he would be relaxing on the couch, watching a game and drinking mulled reindeer and sleigh bells.
Children roasting on an open fire…
Yeah, Christmas at the Loft would be just perfect. He’d give Jim an igloo for Christmas. An igloo for Christmas. An igloo for Jim.
It was a big facility, made more confusing by the fact that Nordyck’s cold stores were only one part of the whole complex. Jim and Simon faced no opposition as they flashed their badges and raced into the heart of the building, but every sector looked the same; dead, grey, cold and dank. Jim's headlong flight slowed, stuttered, and finally stopped altogether in a long corridor of large, anonymous units, each of them sealed and humming gently. Forklift trucks and pallets stood nearby, ready to be called into action to load and unload. But there was no sign of human life.
Jim tilted his head, and Simon could see him gazing into the dark corners behind one of the forklifts. Then he rushed forward, dived into a pile of garbage lying in the shadows and emerged bearing Sandburg's heavy winter coat.
Simon couldn't help the feeling of utter despair that swamped him.
“It's not over!” snapped Jim. “He's here, he must be!”
Jim dropped the coat and turned slowly, his intense concentration showing on his face. Simon moved forward to put a hand on his arm, trying to copy what he had seen Sandburg do on many an occasion – keeping Jim grounded by touch. He could tell the man’s whole body was taut and thrumming with tension. There were some MC colleagues somewhere behind them, but thankfully they stayed clear. Jim didn't need prying eyes at this point.
“I'm not sure, Simon. These doors are going to be inches thick, with special seals. I don't think even I can get through. Hold on….”
Jim moved forward, tracing the lines of the doors with sensitive fingers, while he stared down at the concrete floor, looking for tell-tale signs; of a struggle, a body being dragged – anything.
And there it was, a mark in the otherwise barren concrete that only a Sentinel could've seen, but which spoke volumes to Jim; of Blair’s boot, the way he’d resisted, the strength of his step. There was still hope.
They clawed desperately at the front of the freezer. The handle didn't seem to work, and there was some kind of programmable lock. Jim was howling in frustration when Henri Brown dragged a startled workman down the corridor and presented him to his Captain.
“Open it! Fast!”
And the guy did. The door, with all its eight inches of steel, was heaved open, and both Jim and Simon gasped as the first touch of the icy air hit their lungs. Simon grabbed the workman’s flashlight, and he and Jim stepped inside.
“Blair?” breathed Jim.
Simon played the flashlight’s beam around the freezer’s interior. The large space inside was frosted all over with a thick white rime. Half of the space was filled with cardboard boxes, each of them with the lettering stamped on the side “A Fosters Award-Winning Turkey”. About six of these boxes were clearly forming a shaky set of steps leading up to a thermostat in the ceiling. The rest were arranged into a rough circular structure, with a precariously-balanced roof.
Without a word, Jim and Simon approached the structure and carefully lifted off the upper box. Inside, huddled with his knees tucked into his chest, one hand shoved into an armpit and the other incongruously wearing a woollen glove, was Blair. His hair was completely frosted over – the rich dark curls now an old man’s white. In the torch-beam, they saw his face and lips were quite blue and his eyes were closed – frozen closed.
He was perfectly still. He was no longer breathing.
Simon heard Jim give an odd, twisted kind of cry. Then wildly, the two men grabbed the rest of the boxes and flung them away from the silent form, until Jim could fall to his knees and push himself into what remained of Blair’s igloo to gather the young man up into his arms. He looked up at Simon.
“Get help,” he said hoarsely. Brown spoke from the doorway.
“Paramedics on their way. You want to bring him out, Jim?”
Jim lifted Blair, and Simon helped carry his friend out of the freezer. Coats were laid on the ground and then more coats piled onto Sandburg’s still form as he lay in Jim's arms. Simon gave Jim a searching look, and his friend threw him a brief nod in return.
“There’s still a heartbeat, Simon,” he said, his voice very soft. “It’s faint, but it's still there.”
The room was oddly cool. Jim had expected it to be pulsing with heat by now, bringing the frozen Sandburg back up to room temperature, but then he remembered his own survival training. The doctors were adjusting Blair’s temperature gradually, minimising as far as possible yet more strain on his body, especially his lungs and heart. He’d had warm water baths, both inside and out – an indignity Jim was looking forward to teasing his friend about – and was now luxuriating in blankets and a saline drip, floating in and out of sleep.
And it was nothing short of luxury for Jim himself to sit by the man's bedside in the shadowy room, listening to the hiss and bump of the monitors, and hearing above all the strong thump of Blair’s heartbeat and the steady whisper of his breathing.
It hardly began to compensate for Jim's anger and guilt at seeing Blair once again confined to a hospital bed, especially when he knew that, however unwittingly, he had played such a part in putting him there. Something of that must have been showing in his face that afternoon when Blair woke, because Jim suddenly found himself stirred from his mild zone over the blessed heartbeat by a hesitant touch on his hand.
“Chief? You awake? You want something?”
Jim bent over the bed, smiling down at the drowsy face below him. Blair’s eyes swam into focus, and he raised a hand to pat Jim’s cheek.
“Don't,” said a quiet voice. It was almost as if Blair had thought the word, rather than spoken it.
“Don't what, Chief?”
“You know what. Just a mistake. Not anyone's fault but mine.”
Jim took his good hand and gently squeezed it.
“It was not your fault, Chief. I should never have stormed off. I should have made sure Sneaks knew what to tell you.”
A barely-there shake of the head.
“Not Sneaks’ fault. Just a confusion. I didn't… just didn't…” Jim frowned.
“Didn't want to be late again. Not let you down, man.”
The heavy eyes closed, but the grip on his hand was still firm. Jim grasped back tighter still.
“You don't let me down,” he breathed. “You don't ever…”
The blue eyes opened lazily. Blair smiled.
“Jim, can I ask you something?”
“Anything, Chief. What is it?”
Blair’s look was almost shy.
“I wondered, maybe, can I stay with you for Christmas? In the Loft?”
Jim looked down in puzzlement at the strange question. Didn’t he know Christmas in the Loft was a given? Was Blair’s mind still confused by the hypothermia? He thought it best to play along.
“Of course you can, Chief. I mean, it's your home. Why are you even worrying about that, huh?”
Blair smiled lazily again.
“Tha's good. ‘Cause it was thinking about it, kept me warm. Kept me warm in that freezer. Thinking about Christmas with you, and sleighbells, and roasting stuff, like - I dunno – like chestnuts?”
“Not turkey?” ventured Jim with a grin. He was gratified to see Blair’s smile widen.
“No turkey, maybe. But I’d like to stay. If that’s okay. I mean, if it's no trouble….”
The grip on Jim's hand slowly relaxed, and Blair’s head slipped sideways, his breath evening out in sleep once more.
“No trouble at all, Chief,” said Jim softly, frowning down at the sleeping man and then settling back in his bedside chair. “Believe me, it's no trouble at all.”
End note: Song lyrics of course come from Bob Marley’s “One Love (People Get Ready)”, “The Christmas Song” (Torme and Wells) and “White Christmas” (Irving Berlin).
Rating: General Audiences
Word Count: 9,079
Summary: It's December. Blair Sandburg is contemplating Christmas. And wondering if he will live to see it this year.
A/N: A gen, angsty, H/C story with a happy ending! In terms of timeline, I think this story could possibly fit into any point in the show but maybe it’s in the early days. Written for TS Secret Santa 2013.
Okay, let's review the situation. How bad can this be? I'm not injured, that's a big plus. They could have cut me into little pieces. They could have smashed my head in with a brick. They could have – wait, this isn't helping.
What did they do? They locked me in here, and left me to freeze to death. Could be worse.
Blair Sandburg contemplated the eight-foot steel door sealed shut before him. Each breath blew out in clouds and ice crystals were already fringing his lashes, glittering in the dim blue light shining from the thermostat high on the ceiling. Frost was forming on the sleeves of his shirt. He had goosebumps the size of carbuncles and shivers were coursing through him, impossible to resist.
Yep, it would have been good to have been left the coat, but hey, could be worse.
He launched himself at the door again, pounding with both fists.
“LET ME OUT OF HERE!”
Simon Banks closed the door of the interview room heavily. He ran a hand over his face and turned to confront the two concerned-looking patrolmen waiting in the corridor.
“Okay, from the top, please.”
The taller of the two exchanged a brief glance with his Captain, who stood next to Simon.
“It's like we said to Captain Donaldson. We were helping the paramedics move the stiffs… er…bodies from the crime scene and we saw the backpack. And I said to Joey, I said, ‘that sure looks like Blair's backpack.’”
“So you removed evidence from the crime scene?” broke in Captain Donaldson, a dangerous note to his voice.
The patrolman's pale face got paler.
“Sorry, Captain, but we … er … we didn't want it to get overlooked. We figured we should bring it back – tell Detective Ellison.”
“Davies, you are well aware of crime scene protocol.”
Simon put a hand on his colleague’s arm.
“Don, I don't want to get into the whys and wherefores. We've got it, it’s definitely Sandburg's backpack. If it was at the crime scene, it strongly indicates that he was there. But he wasn't with any of the perps arrested, nor was he one of the bodies, thank God. So the question is, why was the backpack there?”
“Sir,” ventured Joey, hitherto mute with nerves at being faced by two PD Captains reaching the peak of their slow-burning rage. “I guess Blair … er… I mean… Sandburg isn’t here? Do we know where he is?”
Simon opened his mouth to bark at the patrolman that he should speak when he was spoken to. Today was going very badly indeed, and this latest discovery only made things worse. But then he registered the two young faces in front of him – so young, they seemed – and reflected that they had walked into the aftermath of a brutal firefight which left four men dead – two of them cops -and three badly injured. It was a lot for them to handle.
“Davies, with Captain Donaldson’s permission, I want you to go upstairs to Major Crimes right away and tell Captain Taggart every detail about where you found the backpack, okay? I'll deal with Detective Ellison.”
With a quick look at their Captain, who nodded his assent, the two young men hightailed it off down the corridor.
Donaldson turned to Simon, his voice low.
“So, do we know where Sandburg is?”
Simon shook his head.
“I know that Ellison couldn’t get hold of him earlier, when he failed to turn up for a meet. Not that anyone would care, in the normal course of things. Then we got news of Nordyck’s arrest by your guys – and the firefight. Jim drove down there right away to see what he could salvage from the crime scene. I guess Sandburg kind of went off the radar. But now…”
Simon sighed heavily and went over to the corridor phone, punching in a well-known number.
“Jim, where are you?”
Donaldson could hear the irate answer clearly in the comparative quiet of the corridor.
“Cap, I’m just coming back from the shootout. Jesus, what a mess! If it weren't enough that the uniforms blundered in, it looks like a lot of the records we were after were torched. We've lost so much ground.”
Simon heard the sharp intake of breath by Donaldson as the man heard the clear criticism of his own people. He interrupted swiftly.
“Jim, Captain Donaldson is here with me right now. We’ve been getting Nordyck’s interrogation underway. Exactly where are you?”
The phone crackled a bit.
“Just walking into the precinct, Simon.
Okay, meet me on 2, by Interview 6.”
“Just get here fast, Jim.”
Simon rammed the phone back into its cradle. He saw Donaldson watching him with some irritation.
“Ellison is going to be ticked off about this foul-up, Don. He and the MC gang have been building a case against Nordyck and his arms smuggling connections for a couple of years now. It’s not been easy and Nordyck’s a nasty sonofabitch, as you well know. But we had new intel and I know Jim thinks it would have brought all Nordyck’s operations to a halt.”
Donaldson opened his mouth for a retort but Simon held up a placating hand.
“I know, I know. It was a genuine mistake – a missed call by Dispatch and unlucky timing on the part of the uniforms. Your boys didn't have a clue what they were walking into. I'm sorry indeed for what's gone down, and the casualties. But I'm just saying, my team won’t be happy.”
“Neither are those two new widows,” grated Donaldson. But before he could continue, the swing door at the end of the corridor burst open and Jim Ellison strode in, aggravation personified. He was already on the offensive.
“Captain, I don't know what we can rescue from this mess, but I'd like to lead on the interrogation of Nordyck. That new information can easily make part of the case and…”
He stopped dead in his tracks. Simon faced him in the corridor, holding Blair's backpack by a strap. Jim stared at the battered piece of Sandburgiana and then at his Captain.
“Oh, Jesus, what's he done now?”
Rolf Nordyck, still sprawling on the floor where Jim’s punch had sent him, shuffled back against the far wall of the interview room. He pointed a wavering arm at his assailant, while mopping at his bloody mouth with his other hand.
“What the fuck is this? This is police brutality! Where the fuck is my lawyer?”
Jim was still held in Simon's vice-like grip, preventing him from following through in his attack. He was breathing heavily.
“Let me at him, Simon!”
“Don't be an idiot, Detective, hissed Simon, menace in his voice. “What the hell are you thinking? We foul up this arrest, we’ll never nail him!”
Nordyck struggled to get to his feet, still bleeding from his mouth and nose. One of the uniforms in the room righted the chair and helped him back into it.
“Don't waste your sympathy on that bastard!” yelled Jim.
“Captain Banks,” said Captain Donaldson with barely concealed anger, “you want to get Ellison out of here? This interview will be suspended.”
“He knows where he is!” shouted Jim, pointing at Nordyck, who leered back at him.
“I told you, Captain, so you find a guy’s backpack in my compound? What does it mean? Doesn't mean I wasted the guy, right? You better take that animal Ellison and lock him up – he's the real criminal here!”
Simon tried to usher Jim out of the door. Donaldson turned to his uniformed men.
“Cuff him again and take him down to Holding to wait for his lawyer. We'll recommence then.”
“See, Ellison?” crowed Nordyck. “See, you think you got me, but you got nowhere near me. Now you, I got you right where I want you, and you can't do a damn thing about it!”
The unstated threat was obvious. Simon halted in his tracks. Both he and Jim turned round again to face the man at the table.
“Nordyck, don't kid yourself you got the upper hand here,” barked Simon. “We’ve already got enough evidence put you away for a very long time. So if there's something you’re withholding, something about Detective Ellison’s partner, you better cough up fast.”
Donaldson was already interrupting.
“I want this to stop now, Captain Banks. I don't want to jeopardise the arrest.”
“Oh, you got jeopardy, okay!” laughed Nordyck. “My lawyers are gonna have a field day! I don't need to make no deal with you on this. I don't need to help you out with backpack guy and I don't intend to.”
He turned to Jim with a vicious smile, his eyes full of hate.
“Oh, you’ll maybe find him one day, Ellison,” he continued. “And you’ll wonder how long it took for him to die, and whether he forgave you for never getting to him in time. And you know what? That'll be the best Christmas present I ever had!
“You’ve been following me for two years, Detective. You’ve been bugging me for two years, destroying my life, my livelihood. Well, you can't hold me, and I ain't gonna tell you shit about where to find your little friend. You think you’re such a great cop, yeah? Such a great Detective? You see if you can find him, see just what kind of turkey you got partnered with. But you better hurry, because he's getting real cold in there…”
Jim moved again to break out of Simon’s grip but his Captain held firm. Both Simon and Donaldson dragged him out of the room, Nordyck’s echoing laughter following them into the corridor.
Simon threw Jim against the far wall, and glared at him to stay put.
“Detective, you are gonna be up against disciplinary if you don't watch yourself!” growled Donaldson. “You’re more than halfway there already.”
“You heard, Captain!” Jim's face was set. “He knows where Sandburg is, and Nordyck doesn't treat his enemies well. Sandburg … well … he's at serious risk.” He turned to Simon.
“Give me five minutes,” he pleaded. “Five minutes! I’ll make him tell me!”
Donaldson grabbed Jim's arm and shook it.
“Are you out of your mind? I can't condone that kind of behaviour! Not to mention that anything you beat out of him will be unreliable as well as inadmissible, and our case will be down the toilet before it’s even started.”
“The case?” yelled Jim. “This is about Sandburg's life!”
“You don't know that,” started Donaldson.
“With respect, Captain,” said Jim, his voice tight, “you know Nordyck’s reputation as well as I do. Sadistic and violent. I'm not surprised he tried to shoot himself out of his run-in with your uniforms, and I'm sorry for the losses you sustained. But if Sandburg did walk straight into Nordyck’s operation somehow today, then Nordyck won’t have wasted the opportunity to get back at the PD in some way. Sandburg is in serious danger.”
“And for all you know, he could be beyond your help already,” rejoined Donaldson, fighting hurt with hurt. Jim’s face tightened, his eyes suddenly cold, and Donaldson relented a little at the sight of the man’s obvious distress. He gave a heavy sigh.
“Look, I've lost two good men to that lowlife and his hoodlums and I've got two in hospital badly injured as well. As far as I’m concerned, nothing is happening to Nordyck that might jeopardise the case against that bastard. I owe my men that. They might have stumbled on a Major Crimes op, sure, and upset your plans for a take-down, but we got enough on Nordyck right now, just with this shoot-out, to take him out of circulation. That's good enough for me.”
He turned abruptly.
“Keep a tight guard on Nordyck,” he instructed his uniformed officer on the door, with a meaningful glance at Simon and Jim, and then strode off down the corridor.
Jim took a step back towards the interview room door, but Simon grabbed his arm.
“Don't even think about it,” he growled. “It’ll get us nothing but grief and we’ll be no more certain of finding Sandburg. Look, Donaldson is focused on Nordyck. What about his goons? We might be able to lean on them to find out what happened.”
“Ah, Captain?” broke in the uniform at the door. “Sorry to interrupt, but I don't think that'll help. There were three with Nordyck. Two were killed outright, and the third was gut-shot – pretty bad. He's in Memorial, I think, still in surgery. They say it's likely to be a few hours.”
Simon huffed his annoyance, then turned in alarm as Jim snatched the backpack from him and started off down the corridor.
“Where are you going?”
“Back-track,” called Jim over his shoulder. “We need to back-track. Sandburg must've been where the backpack was found. So chances are he’s around there somewhere, or there are clues. I just have to look for them.”
Simon broke into a run, powering through the doors after his friend.
“Wait up, I'm with you!”
Bad move, Sandburg. Don't touch the wall with your bare hands. Or any part of you for that matter. Be sensible, you asshole. Cold steel at Christ-knows-what-below and human flesh is not a good combo.
He danced around the freezer, waving his hands. It was a weird pain; a burning feeling. He shouldn't have spent so long searching the door seal. The possibility of some kind of emergency override was a nice thought, but slabs of cod didn’t usually get locked in by mistake. Other than the remote, unreachable thermostat blinking away and the door frame, the room was featureless; a space some eight feet high and wide, and maybe twelve long. There wasn't even racking, just a double row of large boxes lined up along the back wall.
Great, not even a popular freezer. How soon would anyone come and check it? Would anyone?
He rubbed his hands up and down his arms, dancing on the spot in a futile attempt to warm himself. The hand with the glove on was more effective, so he kept switching the glove, kidding himself it was making a difference.
Come on, Sandburg, think. Thermostat – controls temperature. Can you change the temperature in the freezer? Only one way to find out.
The thermostat winked its red eye at him from its corner of the ceiling. The rest of the device was lit with a blue glow from somewhere in its metal heart. The red light presumably was just to confirm it was running okay, like a kettle…
Kettle. What he wouldn't give for some tea right now. Anything warm – but tea, Heaven. Or coffee, Jim's good, flavoursome breakfast coffee. There hadn't even been time for that this morning….
“Sandburg! Get your sorry ass out of the bathroom now or I'm gonna drag you out by your hair!”
Blair gathered up his clothes and towel and exited hurriedly, cannoning into Jim who had been poised at the threshold.
“All yours, man.”
“It is mine, Sandburg!” snapped his landlord. The bathroom door closed with a bang. Blair sighed and trudged to his room, flinging his towel on the bed and picking up his backpack. Think, think, what did he need? Paper on Kenya, the essays he'd finished marking at 2 am – yeah, that was all. With luck, a fair wind and no breakfast he would still make Rainier in time; oversleeping this much was manageable, whatever Jim’s choleric view on the matter.
Said partner slammed out of the bathroom, still complaining.
“If you hadn't been keeping me awake with your goddamn marking all night, I wouldn't have overslept as well. Look, not even time for coffee!”
Irritated, Blair spun round from his contemplation of the schedule for the day.
“That's rich! And a pack of lies! You were snoring from the moment your head hit the pillow. You never stirred once while I was marking. That's the result of one too many beers with Joel last night.”
“I didn't have too many beers.”
“Oh, no? So why is your jacket still on the floor, instead of on its hook?”
Jim went to retrieve the offending garment and shrugged it on.
“You coming or what, Sandburg?”
Blair stuck his head out of his room.
“You know I'm due at Rainier this morning, man! I told you! I have to get these essays back and check the budgets over.”
Jim finished buckling his shoulder-holster, picked up his keys and immediately dropped them on the floor.
“Goddammit! Sandburg, I was counting on you being with me this morning. Sneaks has promised key information on Nordyck today. There's a hell of a lot of background stuff I'll need your help with and I want you to talk to Sneaks, too.”
“And you'll get my help, man! For Pete's sake, it's only a couple of hours. You don't need me to talk to Sneaks. I'll see you at the precinct.”
“Sandburg, I don't know where I'm going to be later, do I? Look, I can't hook up with Sneaks until he’s made his first contact this morning. He said to meet him at ten-thirty – the usual cafe. Can you get there by then?”
“I don't know, man. I'll try.”
“Well, if it's not too much effort for you, Sandburg…”
“Oh, for God's sake, Jim, take your head out of your ass! I got work to do this morning. I'll do my best to be there at ten-thirty, okay?”
Jim glowered at him and opened the door.
“Try not to be late, Professor. This is important work.” The door slammed and he was gone.
“Asshole”, muttered Blair. “And my work’s not important too?” He dragged on his coat, scarf and gloves, gave the cold, empty coffee pot a lingering glance, and followed suit.
There were still uniforms all over Nordyck’s small compound on the outskirts of the industrial district. Forensics were there as well, sifting through the burnt paperwork found in the office area, and Scenes of Crimes personnel were recording the grisly aftermath of four deaths and large-scale bloodletting. The slush and ice on the frigid ground were stained with large patches of red. There were two burnt-out cars, one clearly the remains of an expensive SUV.
Jim and Simon ducked the plastic tape cordoning off the area, and Jim made unerringly to where Joey and Davies said they had found the backpack, lying near one of the burned vehicles. Simon watched him move carefully over the remains, then prowl around the spot in an increasingly wide circle. He was still clutching the backpack. Simon was exchanging words with the officers in charge, still with one eye on what Jim was doing, when he saw the big detective stop abruptly, his head cocked as if listening hard.
Oh God, a zone.
Simon excused himself quickly and went to join his friend. Thankfully, a hard slap to the man's arm brought him quickly to the surface of his senses – he hadn't gone too deep.
“I thought…” started Jim, frowning at the backpack, “… I thought, you know - surely, if he was here, if he had been here, there’d be some trace of him that I’d pick up. That maybe somehow I'd missed it when I was here earlier, even though they’d taken the backpack away before I arrived. But there's nothing. Not a footprint, not a thread, not a hair. Nothing. It's like his backpack was here, but not him.”
“Forensics have looked at all the buildings and vehicles,” Simon reported. “No trace, they say. Maybe you should check too.”
Jim looked bleakly at Simon.
“It's a small site, Simon. It’s Sandburg I'm looking for. I know by now, if I can't sense him, he's not here, and he's not been here. So maybe they dumped him, just brought the backpack out of carelessness or curiosity. So maybe he's…”
Simon grabbed Jim's arm and shook him.
“Remember what Nordyck said? ‘You'd better hurry.’ Sounded like Sandburg was still … still viable when Nordyck left him, wherever that was. Question is, where do we look now? The guys are tracking down all known Nordyck depots and properties, but it's a big area to cover.”
“ ‘He's getting real cold’,” repeated Jim, thinking back to Nordyck’s jibe.
“Jim, it's December. Everywhere is cold.”
“Yeah, but Nordyck was enjoying himself there. He will have wanted to hurt Blair – anything to get at Major Crimes. And he’ll enjoy the idea that it’s hurting us too. So there’s a meaning to all that stuff. Maybe we should be looking for cold storage. Or refrigeration units, ice factories. That’s a big part of Nordyck’s portfolio – one of the main ways he moves his weapons shipments. We need to get the team concentrating on that."
Simon got out his cell phone to relay the instructions, and Jim once more opened the backpack and did another inventory of the contents.
“One wallet, contents $30 and one credit card. One Rainier schedule. One copy research paper on Kenyan language forms, one case spare glasses, one broken mobile phone...”
His call over, Simon’s eyes still ranged over the compound, trying to piece together the chain of events that led to so much loss of life, as well as maybe Sandburg’s disappearance.
“Seems to me,” he mused, “that Nordyck was already on the edge when the uniforms turned up. Otherwise, why torch his office and the papers? He must have known we were closing in, so was moving his business out before we got to him. The black and whites rolling in, looking for contraband tobacco, should've been the least of his worries. He could have fobbed them off with time-wasting about warrants. No, something spooked him, which is why he decided to turn the whole thing into one big bloodbath.”
Jim was still scrutinising the phone. He turned to Simon.
“Blair called me earlier this morning, but the signal must have failed because my phone didn't pick it up – it went straight to the messaging service. He said his phone was dead, but that it was okay, because he’d got my message and he'd see me later. I didn't really think about it – what he meant by ‘my message’, I mean. He was supposed to meet me after he dropped something off at Rainier, but we were both running late this morning and I chewed him out a bit for having to spend more time at Rainier when I wanted him on this case with me. Dammit.”
Jim paused, reflecting on the words exchanged with Blair that day. Unnecessary, he thought bitterly. So unnecessary, when the guy was only doing his best. You are such an asshole sometimes, Ellison.
Then he looked sharply at Simon.
“This phone was smashed earlier today, but not by Nordyck or his goons. It happened before he met Nordyck. Blair called me from a public phone, I could tell from his voice. I never gave him a rendezvous this morning, other than to meet Sneaks with me, but because he was running late he never turned up, and I just assumed it was a foul-up and went on to the PD to start planning the final move on Nordyck with Joel.”
Simon frowned, trying to follow Jim's train of thought.
“Sneaks’ information was what you'd been waiting for?”
“Yep, it was from a contact of a contact, in the usual way, but Sneaks had finally got hold of the key locations where the next weapons shipments would be delivered – locations that would implicate Nordyck completely. We’d never been able to prove his involvement for definite before. It would have made a water-tight case against him. Until Donaldson's boys came to the wrong address, looking for contraband tobacco.”
“But I still don't see how Sandburg fits in.”
Jim waved the phone at him again.
“Because he must have gone to see Sneaks. It’s the only place he could have thought he’d been given a ‘message’ from me. After I'd left, he must have tried to catch me up. If he found out something, tried to follow it up on his own…”
“He's not crazy, Jim. He knows what Nordyck is capable of.”
“I don't care, this is the only link I can think of, so we need to check it out. Come on!”
He ran back towards the truck, Simon hot on his heels.
“So where are we going?”
“Nesbitt and Vine.”
The truck roared off, making a turn practically on two wheels. Simon fumbled for the switches that got the blue light working.
“Nesbitt and Vine,” he repeated, holding on for dear life and casting a concerned glance in the side mirror at the swerving vehicles in their wake.
“Yeah,” said Jim grimly. “There's a sale on.”
Gloves! Gloves were a great invention!
Blair wondered who exactly first thought of gloves, with all the little fingers in them – not huge unwieldy mittens. Two gloves were a perfect combination, but if you only had one, that was good too.
For instance, keeping the gloveless hand in his pocket and using only the gloved hand made him feel a lot warmer, a lot. And he could in fact move the boxes fairly easily with one hand as well, dragging them across the floor. Not slabs of cod, as it turned out. Instead, each box contained a turkey and all its trimmings, apparently. That's what the stickers said on the sides – “A Foster’s Award-Winning Turkey”. So these turkeys would be packing out of there quite soon, because they’d be needed for Christmas. Blair contemplated the timings involved, and concluded he might not be able to wait that long.
With resignation, he extracted his gloveless hand from his pocket.
One glove was better than none. Lucky he’d put that glove in his jeans pocket, not back in his coat. Otherwise it would have gone with everything else. One glove…
“One glove,” he started to sing, “one heart! Let's get together and feel all right! One glove, one scarf….”
Laughter bubbled up, uncontrollable.
“Hear the children crying – one glove! Hear the children crying – one scarf!”
He bent double for a moment, gasping. Laughing in the freezing air was bad news. He wasn’t so far gone he couldn’t recognise hysteria, either. When his breathing was reasonable again, he used both hands to move the boxes. Three at the bottom, then two, then one – hey presto, a step ladder!
It was a wobbly ascent. He checked himself with the gloved hand on the wall as he went . High enough, just high enough. The thermostat was a sealed unit, embedded in the ceiling. He picked at the sides but there was no purchase. The red light winked implacably and the blue glow showed a digital readout – minus 30°Celsius.
Not even turkeys needed to be that cold, he reflected bitterly.
Mason’s Shoe Store on Nesbitt and Vine was a maelstrom of queues and tussles and empty shoe-boxes. Jim made quickly for the biggest pile of boxes, and sure enough, Sneaks was there in the midst, jealously guarding his hoard. His look of surprise at seeing Jim turned to horror as the Detective lifted him by his collar and carried him bodily out of the shop.
“They’re my shoes! My shoes!” he yelled in panic, reaching futilely back towards his pile which other shoppers were already dismantling.
Jim got him through the door, and then dumped him unceremoniously on the pavement.
“Sneaks, I’m gonna ask you once and I want a quick answer because I don't have a lot of time here.
Sandburg’s in trouble. I need to know, did you see him today?”
Sneaks looked bewilderedly from Jim to Simon and back again.
“Yeah, yeah, I seen him. Like you wanted, I waited for him, to give him your message.”
Jim gave Simon a look of bitter triumph.
“Yeah? My message? And what time was that, Sneaks?”
He reached down and lifted the smaller man up by his lapels, breathing into his face. Sneaks looked even more panicked.
“I dunno! Eleven? No, ten forty-five - because I said to Blair, I said, I got to be at Masons by eleven. That's when the pre-Christmas sale starts. Pre-Christmas, huh? It’s once in a life-time! I just had to be there. I told Blair, just as well he got there in time.”
Jim shook him again.
“And what did you tell him, Sneaks? What was the ‘message’ you passed on, hey? Think real hard here, because if you get this wrong, and Sandburg’s… and something’s happened to Sandburg because of you, shoes are gonna be the least of your worries.”
Sneaks looked genuinely stricken.
“Blair, hurt? Oh no, no, Jim, I never said nothing. I just told him what you said to me.”
“Spit it out!”
“Ah, ah, I said… I told him…” Sneaks screwed up his face in concentration. “I told you about the drop, remember? And you were rushing off, not even a word of thanks, face like thunder – remember? And I said, shall I tell Blair to go to Nordyck’s north yard? You know, where that main shipment was gonna be? And you said, sure, that's exactly what you wanted, for Blair to go straight to Nordyck’s north yard. And you were going in to the PD.”
Jim shook his burden until the man's teeth rattled.
“You fucking liar, Sneaks! Why would I have told him to do a damn-fool suicidal thing like that? Why? Tell me the truth, you little bastard!”
Sneaks’ eyes went wide.
“It's the truth, I swear! That's what you said to me. You never told me nothin’ different.”
Jim's mouth opened in shock. His grip loosened on Sneaks’ jacket and the little man fell to the ground, where he quickly shuffled himself towards Simon and out of Jim's reach.
Jim turned slowly to Simon, realisation and horror dawning on his face.
“I was ticked off at being on my own, and because he was late again. I thought he would follow me to the PD. I’m going back to the truck and Sneaks says, ‘so, do you want me to tell him to go to the north yard?’ As if I'd want Blair or anyone walking into something like that! And with my head up my ass I say to Sneaks, ‘oh sure, Sneaks, that's exactly what I want him to do.’ Never dreaming Sneaks was going to think… never dreaming …”
Jim ran a hand over his face.
"Simon, what have I done?”
Simon pulled Sneaks off the ground and onto his feet, just as the little snitch was crawling to safety.
“What's at the north yard?”
Sneaks looked from one to the other, from Jim's haunted face to Simon's patent glare.
“Don’t you know already? Trailers. Lots of refrigerated trailers. They’re for frozen food deliveries - that’s Nordyck’s legit business. Fish, meat, that kind of thing. Trucks parked there all the time. That's how he moves his arms shipments around.”
Simon let him go, and grabbed Jim's arm.
“Jim, that’s our lead! Remember what Nordyck said? Sandburg would be ‘getting real cold’? Like you thought – refrigeration! Maybe a refrigerated truck?”
Jim snapped into life.
“Okay, okay, let's go! Get the team to meet us there.”
Simon was already in the truck, and on the radio. Jim jumped into the driver's seat and the engine burst into life. He powered the truck away, but not before he'd cast a final glance at the retreating Sneaks, who knew for sure that there was unfinished business. Time for a Christmas break to Anchorage, maybe.
Just a little fic in response to this challenge - "Humane"
Me? I'm no one
“You can get dressed now, Mr Ellison.”
He sits up, automatically reaching round to drag off the surgical gown. The machines have stopped beeping, and now he's pretty much stopped caring. He had come into the hospital with a determination to get answers, but the non-committal shrugs and kindly smiles of the various technicians have pretty much squashed any optimism that he’s going to find the answer here – the answer to whatever it is that’s slowly and steadily destroying his life.
As he drags his shirt back on he surveys his torso dispassionately. He knows people look at him admiringly, but he’s not fooled. He's felt so long like he’s a shell, disconnected from the rest of humanity, that his body looks to him now like some kind of artificial device, perfectly moulded in plastic, not flesh, and filled with imperatives and instructions that he no longer controls. He's a real-life, full-size Action Man by Mattel; there’s a string in his back, somewhere, and if anyone pulls it, the right things come out of his mouth.
Hold your fire until I give the order!
Freeze! Cascade PD!
Gimme a Wonderburger to go!
Except right now, not even the standard programming is coming out right. His colleagues, co-workers – he can't talk about friends, he doesn't really have any - look at him like he’s the freak his childhood told him to fear. They keep away from him like he's radioactive. Like he’s not safe to be around. Like he’s gone wrong.
And what do people do with things they can't fix? The job is the one thing that holds him to any kind of human contact. If he can’t do that, if he loses that, he knows with absolute, cold certainty that he is lost, too.
Human contact – not his specialist subject. It’s always been easier to stop people getting too close, to avoid the searching questions and dangerous commitment. Because other people break too, go wrong, go away…..
And not just people. He’s thought a lot in recent days about his childhood, and one image keeps coming back. Betsy was very old when he was very young – Steven still in the baby carriage. She was rheumatic and wheezy and he loved her warmth and loyalty and stability. He would sit for hours with the dog’s head in his lap, pulling gently on her soft ears and running his hands through her thick fur while she happily dozed her elderly years away, or gazed at him adoringly with her cloudy eyes. It was to Betsy he ran when the shouting and the sniping got too much, so he could bury his head in her warm flank and concentrate on her gentle breathing, blocking out the adult arguments circling round his head.
And yet one day she was gone. No preparation, no farewell. Sally had been crying – Betsy had been her dog far more than his parents’ – and trying to tell him that Betsy had been so ill, so old, that everything was going wrong with her, that she was suffering…. And then his father had simply swept into the kitchen where Jim had been bawling his eyes out and told him sharply that it had been the humane thing to do, and Jim should quit his blubbering.
He had looked the word up in the dictionary a few years later, when Stevie was still too little to understand but Jim had been old enough to listen unwillingly to those adult arguments and flinch vicariously with every cruelty inflicted. When he had heard his mother hiss:
“You know, if this marriage was a dog, it would have been put out of its misery years ago!”
he had looked it up then. Humane: Pertaining to kindness to other persons or animals. Funny, that people used that word, that concept, as a justification for their actions when kindness seemed so very far from their aim.
What would be the humane thing to do with Jim Ellison now, this malfunctioning piece of kit? He reckons that the medical world’s opinion would be to say as little as possible and render him as harmless as possible; therapy, exploratory surgery, disability. Jim Ellison is suffering all right, and that’s the medical fraternity’s best approximation of kindness when faced with something they don’t understand. But he’s not ready yet to be tested to destruction, thanks all the same. Though his options right now seem as dead and grey and featureless as this tiny hospital room.
So when the door opens to admit not a Marcus Welby clone but the smiling, antsy guy with the too-big white coat and the trainers that squeak on the polished laminate floor, why is it that colour and light seem to flood in? Why do all his too-active senses reach out for the contact even while his cop’s logic and cynicism keep his outward reactions severely in check? And even while’s he’s snapping at the perceived intrusion, part of his troubled brain is listening hard, picking out those words with the little bits of hope attached:
“You don’t need medicine, you need information!”
“Me, I’m no-one, but his guy, he is…. The only one who can truly help you.”
“You’re too far ahead of the curve for this techno trash…”
And when the real Marcus Welby clone brushes past the fleeing imposter, Jim is still holding tightly on to the little business card. The words are ringing in his ears:
“You’re a detective. See the man!”
Someone who has a real interest, finally? Someone who cares enough to listen? No, don’t get ahead of yourself, Ellison. The world doesn’t work like that. You know that for a fact.
But Jim’s going to see him, anyway.
The truck made a full handbrake swerve on the dockside. Jim was out of the driver's door almost before it had had a chance to rock back on its axles.
“They're getting away! Call for backup!”
Then he was off, haring along the dock. He could vaguely hear Sandberg whooping something in the background, and hoped to God the kid had enough sense to stay in the truck this time. Dixon and his gang were at the end of their long rope right now, and likely to be increasingly desperate as they tried to get away. But that was something Jim couldn't allow. Crammed into the back of the sedan was Tricia Hollins, a completely innocent bystander caught up in this deadly confrontation. He could *not* let Dixon take her.
The sedan itself had screeched to a halt at the end of the deserted dock where only a few smaller vessels were moored. Dixon and his men were clearly heading for what looked like a Hollywood approximation of an old tramp steamer. He wondered vaguely why the bad guys always seem to pick such conspicuous hideouts, and indeed why the dock authority hadn't had their curiosity piqued earlier. Academic at this point, as the vessel's motor was already running, and Dixon and his men were swarming over the gunwale. Dixon has his arm tightly round Tricia Hollins’ waist as they jumped onto the deck of the boat. Crewmen were already at the ropes to cast off, so there was really only one option for Jim. He launched himself from the dockside, grabbing hold of a convenient rope on his way, and swung, Errol Flynn-like, right into the midst of the group on the deck.
He had his gun out the moment he straightened up, and lining it up on Dixon was enough for the moment to freeze the rest of the men in their actions, as they waited for Dixon to make the first move.
“Let her go, Dixon!”
Dixons’ arm relaxed, and Tricia wriggled out of his grasp. She looked from one man to the other.
“It's okay now, Tricia,” said Jim, his eyes never leaving Dixon’s. Come over here to me...”
He raised his voice as he addressed the rest of the men on deck.
“Okay, guys, I don’t want any of you moving a muscle until my friends get here, otherwise…”
In the periphery of his vision he saw Tricia Hollins move, but frankly what happened next was entirely unexpected. With a strength that her slender frame belied (even though Jim had had some experience of that strength already in a different context, and so should have perhaps known better) she brought a convenient metal pole up from the deck and smashed it hard into Jim's face. It was as if the night sky exploded: his eyes were full of stars and suddenly he was on his ass on the deck, gun missing, and blood streaming from his nose and mouth.
Tricia moved back to her man.
“Real sorry, Jim. Guess you shouldn’t go just by appearances.”
Dixon’s arm was back around Tricia’s waist, and in his other hand he held Jim's gun.
“Too bad, Ellison…”
Once again the night was ripped apart, this time by the god-awful roar of a semi-automatic weapon, and both Jim and Dixon’s men flinched back as the wooden deck exploded in a mass of splinters. The bullets carved an intricate tracery round Dixon, Hollins and the men bearing down on Ellison, and had them cowering back looking for cover.
“Just stay right there! Freeze! Cascade PD! Don't move a muscle!”
The commands were punctuated by another rattle of the semi-automatic. Jim, his hands full of blood, looked up towards the dock, and saw with a mixture of exasperation and pride that Sandburg stood above them, brandishing the semi, which he must have found in the back of the abandoned Sedan.
“Jim! Jim! Chrissakes, are you okay, man? Jim!”
Sandburg dragged a radio from his back pocket.
“Just where is my fucking backup? I said backup at the docks! Officer down! Get your butts over here NOW!”
He lined the semi up against the crowd of men once again.
“Don't you move! Jim! For Chrissakes, say something!”
Ellison spat out some blood.
“I've lotht my tooth.”
He could always count on his colleagues at Major Crimes for appropriate sympathy at times when he felt like crap. So his reward for dragging himself into the bullpen the next day was some highly fake commiseration to his face and, behind his back, some quietly whistled versions of “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth”. When Megan herself joined in, Jim whirled on them all.
“For your informathion, it'th juth the one tooth!”
He stormed in to Simon's office without knocking, and slammed the door to block out the wave of laughter that followed him.
“For God's sake, Jim! Should you really be here? You look terrible!”
“Gee, thankth for the thupport, captain. I thought you'd want me in the Department to deal with the paperwork. I've been to the doctor and the dentith and they've thigned me off till later.”
Simon gazed at him in something like queasy wonder.
“Well, if you're sure, but doesn’t it hurt? It sure looks like it hurts.”
“You're darn right it hurths, but, you know, jutht doing my job...”
The door burst open, and Blair entered, his arms full of photocopying. Simon raised his eyes heavenward.
Yeah, sure, come right in, he thought resignedly. It's not like I have an office with a door or anything.
“What the hell are you doing here, Jim? You should be home resting! What's the point of wandering around like a goddamn pumpkin? You can't even talk properly! Go home and take the painkillers!”
“Jethuth, chief, will you lay off? I’m bored at home!”
“No, I will not lay off!”
Blair dumped his photocopying down on Simon's desk.
“Look at the state you got yourself into!”
“You back being my mother again, Than’burg?”
Blair turned to Simon, gesticulating at his partner.
“Look at him, Simon. First he believes he can fly like Peter Pan, taking them all on single-handedly, then Captain Hook's girlfriend slugs him in the face with a hunk of metal. And he's damned lucky it was only his tooth...”
“Well, gee, thankth, Than’burg.”
“No, be serious, Jim! You went barrelling in there, you didn't wait for me or for backup! You’re damn lucky she didn't pull a gun on you. Because she would have used it. That's obvious!”
Simon thought Jim looked slightly abashed, though it was quite difficult to tell, given the general state of his face.
“Yeah, well, the fact thee was involved with Dikthon is thomething that hadn't cropped up till then.”
Blair slumped into a chair, running a hand through his hair.
“Not like I didn’t offer a few words of caution back there a ways, man. But I gotta say it again, for posterity. You can pick ‘em, Jim. You really can.”
“Anyway,” retaliated Ellison, reviving slightly against this tirade, “what about you making like a one-man army latht night?”
Blair was still looking daggers.
“Just as well I did,” he muttered.
Jim's mind slipped back to seeing his friend, semi-automatic raised, holding the full forces of the bad guys at bay until his bloodied partner could drag himself from the boat, and the PD backup finally came screeching down the docks.
“Well, I'm glad you did, Chief.”
Blair glanced up, and gave him a rueful look. But Jim captured his gaze and held it until they were both kind of smiling. Or at least, Jim's face was stretching minutely to an approximation of the same.
Simon huffed loudly.
“For Pete’s sake, Jim, just go home, and let the swelling die down. You're frightening the detectives.”
Jim got up to leave. He looked down at Sandburg who was smirking.
“And now what'th tho funny, Chief?”
“You been measured for your first set of false teeth yet, Jim?”
“Than’burg, that joke wath old latht night!”
Simon snorted in amusement.
“Old-age is creeping up, Jim.”
“Har har, very funny, you guyth. And pleath note, it'th JUTH ONE TOOTH!”
“Hey,” said Simon suddenly “what are you going to ask the tooth fairy, Jim?”
Blair joined in, grinning evilly.
“Just don't wish for Tricia Hollins any more, Jim!”
Jim gave him a pitying look.
“Been there, done that.”
Jim heard Simon's quick intake of breath, and realised he had slightly overstepped the mark. Blair’s leer got dirtier.
“Wow, man, lewd or what?”
“I hope that wasn't what I think it was,” said Simon swiftly, business-like and with all humour suddenly gone. “Now, get the hell out of here, Ellison, and don't come back here until there’s a chance you won’t be picked out in a line-up.”
They stood by Jim’s desk, Blair fiddling with the photocopying again. The combination of Jim's bruised and swollen visage and his gimlet glare directed at anyone who approached was enough to prevent general chitchat from their colleagues.
“So,” said Blair “if you don't need to wish for Trithia Hollinth anymore…”
“Thmirk away, Than’burg…”
“… what you gonna wish for?”
Jim reached out and ruffled his friend’s hair.
“Oh, I've given up on hoping the tooth fairy will get me what I want, Than'burg,” he said softly.
Blair looked at him quizzically for a split second, but Jim held his gaze. Then Blair’s look changed to one of mock horror, eyes wide.
“Ellison!” he gasped, “You *never* gotta give up hope! Because if you do, the tooth fairy...”
Ellison slapped him upside the head, and they both burst out laughing.
“Get out of here, man,” said Blair, shooing him away, “and take your enormous pumpkin head with you!”
He was in bed. A quiet evening with a little food and drink and not much talk, and his face was hurting less. Now he drifted on the edge of sleep and his mind ran back over that conversation.
“Yeah,” he told himself. “You can wish all you like, Ellison. The tooth fairy stopped listening to you long ago.”
The door creaked open, and Jim jerked awake, his body rigid. But the shape in the doorway was familiar, if unexpected.
Blair moved silently towards the bed. His hair was loose, brushing his shoulders. The moonlight streaming in through the windows picked up every curve of muscle and elegant bone. He sat gently on the edge of the bed, and then drew up his legs and slipped beneath the covers next to Jim. The other, for his part, was still looking at him with disbelief.
Blair leant over and kissed him softly on the cheek, somewhere above the injured mouth. Jim let out a breath he felt like he had been holding for years, and suddenly he was completely relaxed in Sandburg’s arms. Only one thing remained rigid…
“So, did she get it right, Jim? The tooth fairy?”
“Right on the money, Chief,” said Jim as he pulled the other man closer to him. “Right on the money.”
My first creative foray into the wonderful world of Jim and Blair. The Sentinel has been my love for a short while now, and though I've been late to discover it, I feel I shall be there for some time.....