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…”