DISCLAIMER: The Sentinel and its characters are the property of Paramount Studios and Pet Fly Productions. These stories are offered for the enjoyment of the fans. No money has exchanged hands.
Wind Shift by Sue Wells
Jim Ellison stood in two feet of water, his longboard and downed sail floating behind him. He was a few feet upwind of his partner. Blair, sporting a black wetsuit with light green trim and accent patches, stood on his new used longboard, his windsurfing-bootied feet correctly on the board's centerline, straddling the mast foot. A green and black chest harness and matching helmet completed his outfit. "I still think I'm overdressed," Sandburg grumbled as he compared his attire with Jim's. "You're only wearing a shortsuit and chest harness, why do I need the full suit, booties and helmet?"
"Because the water temperature of the bay is less than sixty degrees this time of year, and beginners spend more time in the water than out of it. And I'm not the one who gets cold at the drop of a hat, either," Jim explained patiently. "Now, let's get this show on the road. Bend your knees and slowly pull up the sail by the uphaul line. That's it, nice and easy, Chief. Good, now hang on a sec and I'll join you."
Jim maneuvered his shortboard so that he was upwind of it, then climbed onto his board and uphauled the sail in seconds flat. Blair hadn't been able to get Jim to tell him the last time he'd actually windsurfed, but the older man certainly looked like he knew what he was doing.
"Where's Rafe?" Blair asked, turning his head from side to side, the helmet cutting off most of his peripheral vision.
"Right here." Rafe said, windsurfing a few yards further out. Rafe's attire was the same black shorty wetsuit that Jim wore, which stopped at the elbows and knees, leaving his forearms and lower legs uncovered for ease of movement. Rafe and Jim had shortboards, while Blair had the easier-to-control novice's longboard. All three rigs had transparent monofilm sails, with the edges and reinforcing horizontal batten stripes in contrasting colors: Jim's was green, Blair's was bluish-gray, and Rafe's was racing red.
"Okay, Sandburg and I are going to go through the basics. Since you're rusty, you can follow along 'til you've readjusted." Jim laid out the agenda and starting teaching. He demonstrated and explained the basics of sailing, how to stand, turn, tack, catch the wind and adjust the sail properly. After a couple of hours of instruction, they broke for lunch, enjoying the weekday quiet of this otherwise popular spot on Cascade Bay. Concerned that Sandburg might be overdoing it, Jim sat Blair and Rafe down on the beach after lunch for an impromptu lecture on the history and terminology of windsurfing. He explained the importance of the universal joint, which connected the sail's mast to the surfboard and allowed the sail and mast to be maneuvered in all directions. Then he pointed out the thirty-some named parts of windsurfing gear and the sailing rules for right-of-way, whiling away well over an hour after lunch.
Back in the water again, Jim remained silent as Blair resituated himself and his gear, checking how much of the previous lessons had been retained. Then Jim ran his student through the basics a few times, before signaling Rafe.
"Hey, Rafe!" Jim spoke loudly, voice traveling to the other windsurfing detective, several yards away. "I want to teach Sandburg how to do a waterstart. Can you show us a butt dip, for starters?" Then Jim dropped his rig and Blair followed suit, leaving them both practically still in the water.
Rafe nodded and changed his tack, so that he was on the shoreward side of his board and Sandburg could observe his movements.
"Butt dip? Who names these moves, anyway?" Blair asked his partner as Rafe sailed closer to them.
"Probably some dude in California," Jim guessed. "Now, Chief, the butt dip is similar to a waterstart, so pay attention. Watch his hands on the boom and see how he's lowering himself into the water?"
Rafe glided swiftly by, feet braced on his shortboard. He was leaning far over the shoreward side and squatting, getting closer to the water until his derriere briefly splashed into water. He recovered, shifting up into the sailing position, then dipped into the water again. "The butt dip!" he announced with a vocal flourish, then turned and zipped back upstream.
Jim cupped his hands and shouted, "Now show us the body dip!"
Rafe turned back and followed his previous route past his audience, this time splashing his entire body into the water and lifting it out and into the sailing position.
"Now, that's almost the same thing as a waterstart, except that Rafe was already on his board before he body-dipped. The thing you have to remember about a waterstart is what direction the wind is coming from and how strong it is. You need to have moderate winds of at least twelve miles per hour to do a successful waterstart. The Columbia River almost always has enough wind power for a waterstart, especially with a shortboard, like mine. We'll work on your waterstart tomorrow."
"Uh, huh, that's great, Jim. Lookin' forward to it," Blair said. "And you've been more patient with me than I thought possible, teaching me the rudiments today." Blair took a breath.
"I sense a 'but' coming on," Jim murmured.
"That's right. What about you, Jim? I haven't seen you doing any real windsurfing yet, and you're supposed to be entering this event. Don't you need to practice, too?"
"You're right, Chief." Jim said, after looking at the water for a few seconds.
"The Guide is always right, Jim."
"Okay, stay here and observe, then." Jim quickly uphauled his sail and slipped into the sailing position, heading away from the shore. He turned around and sailed a zigzag course upwind, then turned and sailed downwind, getting a feel for the wind and water. He turned around again and zigzagged, increasing his speed. Then he spotted a whitecapping wave and sailed towards it, hopping over the wave like a mogul in the snow. It felt so good that he jumped another wave, then another one. A gust of wind stirred and Jim tried his first real jump. He leaped upwards, taking the board and sail with him, high enough to make a pole-vaulter drool. He landed upright, skimmed the water a few seconds and propelled himself skywards again. His bare feet melded with and became the surfboard, his sense of touch passed from his hands through the boom to the sail, feeling the slightest change in the wind. Sun, wind, sky, water and Sentinel merged and he felt exhilarated, like walking on water... He ran through all the jumps he remembered from his younger days, giving his audience an eye-opening show.
"Wow, man!" Blair said, impressed. "You jumped over those waves like a tossed stone skipping over water."
"Jim!" Rafe called from his downed rig, next to Blair. "That's awesome, man! Can you teach me how to jump like that?"
Jim sailed quickly back to his friends. "Sure, Rafe. It just takes practice and control."
"I'd add 'and no fear' to your list of requirements," Rafe said, missing Blair's mumbling something about "fear-based responses" under his breath.
"Nah, you just need a sense of adventure," Jim said. "Everyone who works in Major Crimes has that. Lesson's over for the day, guys. Besides, I've still got to show Blair how to derig and stow his gear. We'll meet you here tomorrow morning, okay, Rafe?"
"Okay," Rafe answered, grinning as he headed for shore. "Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel."
Registration Friday, Jim, Blair and Rafe were strolling down the main business street of Hood River, Oregon. The picturesque little riverside town had been transformed by the legions of windsurfers that had descended on the town for the holiday weekend's Event. Mother Nature had blessed the happening with unseasonably warm weather and the ever-present Gorge wind, more noticeable on the water than in town. The three detectives blended in with the laid-back crowd. Jim and Blair wore cut-offs and the younger man's light blue 'Save the Whales' T-shirt fit well with other attendees' ecologically minded T-shirt slogans. Jim wore an old Gorge T-shirt advertising the 1996 event. Rafe's Dockers shorts and Hilfiger polo shirt made him an upscale version of his companions and all three wore sports sunglasses.
Blair watched a trio of T-shirt and bikini-clad ladies walking towards them. "Where did you say Registration was, Jim?"
"I see it." Jim looked over the crowd's heads. He hadn't seen a place as jam-packed with pedestrians since the parade in Cascade's Little Havana. "It's only a few blocks farther." They had decided to register first, then get directions to the Motel 6 that Mulroney had managed to secure as their lodging. Jim wondered what sort of hold Mulroney had on the hotel's manager; Hood River's accommodations had been booked solid for the windsurfing spectacular since March.
A tall dark-haired woman in a tie-dyed beach wrap walked by, then did a double take. "Ray?! Raymond van Rafe!" She threw her arms around Rafe, continuing, "I can't believe it! You're still surfing!"
Rafe squeezed the woman back then eased out of the hug. "Marj, it's been ages!"
"Sure has. I was going to look you up in Cascade next week, but you've saved me the trip, darling."
"I aim to please." Rafe grinned at the young woman in her mid-twenties.
Marj lightly slapped Rafe's upper arm. "Then introduce me to your friends, darling!"
"Certainly. Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg," he said. "May I present to you Miss --"
Rafe sounded like he was practicing to be an awards ceremony presenter, Blair thought. And Jim -- Jim looked as if he was calculating her figure and arrived at the pleasing conclusion of 36-24-38. For a moment Blair flashed on the Sentinel as a beauty show judge, using his senses to separate the contestants' real beauty from their silicone enhancements, to the girls' dismay....
"Marjorie --" Rafe appeared to hesitate slightly.
"Marjorie Sandoval," the lady smiled. "So good to meet you both. Now, gentlemen, you don't mind if I borrow Ray for a while? Jenny and Dirk'll never forgive me if I don't at least take him to lunch and give them a chance to catch up."
"Sure, Rafe. Go ahead," Blair spoke before Jim could say anything. "There's plenty of time to register. We'll meet up with you later." He smiled at Marjorie. "Have fun."
"I'll meet you guys at three, back at the parking lot," Rafe said, then he and Marj left.
Jim watched them walk half a block ahead then turn down a side street. Marj was talking rapidly and the Sentinel was in listening mode. He frowned slightly; Marj Sandoval was talking a blue streak about nothing of any consequence.
"Jim!" Blair poked his arm.
"Need I remind you, Chief, that we're not here to have fun, we're here to work."
"I know that! What kind of rookie d'you think I am? I just thought that we'd cover more ground if we split up -- and Marj looked like she might be a good source of information for Rafe. I mean, she knows his first name. I didn't know Rafe's first name was Raymond, did you?"
"Yeah, it's in his records," Jim answered absently. "Look, Blair, from his first day in the department, he said he wanted to be called Rafe, so that's what everyone did."
"Some sort of macho surname hang-up? I thought that was only the British, part of the stiff upper lip mindset," Sandburg mused. "Maybe it's just male-dominated social structures in general."
Jim's face twitched. "Well, I'm the General, here, and it's time for the troops to move out. Let's go get registered!"
They followed the crowd to the registration booth, a couple of rectangular all-purpose tables under an extra-large blue and white open-faced tent. A cloth banner with 'Welcome to the Gorge's 17th Annual Windsurfing Pro-Am Event -- BWBD' hung over the tent opening. A blonde woman was seated behind the center table, an opened notebook PC in front of her. She quickly handled the woman in front of them then Jim and Blair approached the table. "Name, please?" she asked not looking up, fingers poised over the keyboard.
She started to type 'Elli' then glanced up, startled. "Jim?! I can't believe you're here!" She sprang from her seat and hugged him from across the table, Ellison obligingly leaning forward to return the hug. She released him and Jim saw that her blue-gray eyes were as penetrating and sparkling as ever, although her sun-streaked blonde hair was no longer entirely natural. "Sam'll flip when I tell him you're in town!"
Sandburg nudged Jim's side. "I'm sorry, I've forgotten my manners. Linda Burwell, this is my friend, Blair Sandburg. Blair, this is Linda Burwell, the organizer of this event."
"Nice to meet you." Blair smiled and shook hands, then Linda sat down and resumed business.
"So, Jim, what're you registering for?" Linda asked, hands poised over her notebook's keyboard once more.
"Amateur freestyle, senior division. I decided I'd take Sharky up on his challenge this year."
"Where are you staying?"
"At the Motel 6."
"Absolutely not. You're staying in my guest room, I insist."
"Linda, that's a wonderful offer, but you've got a million things to do this weekend, I don't want to impose."
"You're not imposing at all. And there's plenty of room for your friend, too. Blair, is it?"
"Ma'am?" Linda shook her head, laughing. "Linda, please. Now, Blair, are you entering any of the events?"
"No, ma' -- Linda, I'm strictly a beginner -- haven't even been windsurfing for two weeks. Jim said the Gorge is a great place to watch the experts, though."
"So that's one amateur competitor and one observer, then." She told Jim the total registration fee and he wrote out a check. Accepting the check, she rose and handed him a receipt. "I mean it, Jim. I expect you both. Here's the address to the resort, just go up to the big house and give whoever answers the door the password." She leaned over and whispered something in his ear, then withdrew. "See you later."
"Bye, Linda, and thanks."
Jim and Blair stepped away from the table and the next registrant burst forward. "It's about time," the young man in T-shirt and cut-offs complained. "I've been waiting in line for a ridiculous amount of time while you just stood there, chatting."
"Now, Joe -- it's only been a few minutes," Linda soothed the irate customer, a slightly tanned, very fit man in his early twenties. "Let me pull up your record and you'll be out of here in no time."
"Some people." Jim reached the tent's entrance and turned back to scowl at the angry young man. "Who does he think he is, anyway?"
A young woman who couldn't have been more than eighteen overheard Jim as she stood in line. "You don't know? That's Joe 'Cool' Culkin, the best amateur windsurfer in the world!" She paused, correcting herself. "Well, in the US, at least. By the end of this season, though, who knows? He could be number one everywhere!
"I can't believe you don't know who Joe is," the teenager looked at them as if they'd just come in from Mars. "He's even a local -- from Cascade."
"Well, we'll certainly remember him from now on," Sandburg glanced back towards registration, seeing the back of the man in question. The back of his shirt had a large drawing of Snoopy carrying a surfboard under his paw, with the title 'Joe Cool' and the added word 'Culkin' at the top. Definitely a man who believed in the power of advertising.
"C'mon, Sandburg, let's go eat. Then we have to tell Rafe that he's staying at the Motel 6 by himself." Jim had mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, staying with the Burwells put them right in the middle of anything happening this weekend; on the other hand, it left Rafe much freer to pursue his own devices than Jim had originally planned.
Jim Ellison parked his truck at the end of the driveway. "Here we are," he said, gesturing to a sign in front of the large Victorian-style house in front of them: "Big Winds, Big Dreams Resort and Windsurfing Clinic." An arrow pointed off to the right, towards a cluster of twenty individual cabins that managed to echo the Victorian theme on a smaller scale. They got out of the truck and walked up a short flight of steps to the gingerbread-trimmed house's wrap-around front porch. A discreet sign next to the door said 'Please knock, then enter.'
Jim tapped the lion's head knocker twice, then opened the door and walked into a large airy room. The front of the house had been converted into a hotel lobby, complete with a transplanted mahogany bar doubling as a registration desk and a series of pigeonholed room boxes behind it.
Blair was admiring the conversational grouping of sofas and cushioned window seats tucked under the room's two bay windows, one on each side of the front entrance. Jim reached for the service bell on the countertop, then paused as he heard footsteps approaching from the back of the house.
A moment later, he heard a scraping sound coming from the white wood paneling along the inner wall. A concealed pocket door opened behind the mahogany desk and a tall man in his late thirties or early forties appeared. "May I help you?" he asked politely, then examined his visitor more closely. "Well, look what the cat dragged in. Jim Ellison!" He stepped from behind the desk and clapped Ellison on the shoulder. "How the hell are you, Hotshot? I haven't seen you since that night two years ago, in Cascade."
"Actually, Sharky, it was three years ago." Jim reminded the slightly older man, motioning to Blair to join them. "Sharky, this is Blair Sandburg. Blair, this is Sam Burwell, the founding father of the Gorge's windsurfing industry."
"Pleased to meet you, sir," Blair said as he shook hands with the older man. Burwell was casually dressed and shook Sandburg's hand firmly. Blair noted that his host had green eyes and a lot more hair on his head than Jim, although the dark hair contained a smattering of gray.
"Everyone calls me Sharky, except for my wife."
"Sharky it is, then. And it's Blair. You have a wonderful room here, sir." Sandburg pointed to an oil painting hanging on the white paneling to their left. It was a landscape of the town of Hood River, with snow-covered Mount Hood rising majestically behind it. "Is that a Danziger?" He asked, recognizing the style as similar to a painting in Rainier's undergraduate library.
"Yes, Linda painted it when we first came to the Gorge, eighteen years ago. Back then, we were living in a cramped one-bedroom apartment above the drug store."
"Your wife is L. Danziger? She's a very talented artist. I've seen her work in several of Cascade's art galleries, and at Rainier."
"Thank you, Blair. Not too many people around here recognize Linda as an artist. They only know her as the outstanding businesswoman she is."
"We met Linda at registration earlier this afternoon." Jim re-entered the conversation. "She insisted that we stay in your guest room, but I know how much of a zoo this weekend is. We just dropped by to say hello, then we'll head back to our hotel."
"Nonsense, Jim. Linda's sister and her family couldn't make it this year, so the guest room's available. Let me get you settled, then I've got to go check out the Event Site and the Hatchery to make sure everything's ready for tomorrow." Sharky walked towards the paneling and swung open the pocket door. The floor plan changed dramatically on the other side of the paneling. Once past the lobby, the rest of the house was decorated in livable and relaxing American country.
"Here's your room." Sharky opened a door and walked in, Jim and Blair behind him. "We decided the area was too small to make into two separate rooms, so we turned it into a guest suite instead." He indicated the two queen-sized beds in the center of the room, and a private bath off to the side. "We borrowed a few ideas from the hotels around here. This works great when Linda's family or my cousins drop in, and some of our instructors prefer staying here over the cabins. Now, take all the time you need to get settled." Burwell dug into his pocket and pulled out a key ring. He removed a key and handed it to Jim. "Here's a key to the back door, so you won't have to go through the lobby to get to your room.
"Dinner's at seven sharp at the LW, that's a restaurant and bar that the windsurfers frequent. Anyone'll tell you how to get there; it's Hood River's closest bar to the beach. We have a reservation for one of the back tables. Dan and his wife Connie'll join us and we can catch up on old times." Sharky walked over to the door. "See you later, Hotshot. Nice to meet you, Blair."
Continue on to Act III...
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This page last updated 2/2/01.