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.
"So, Henri," Blair Sandburg asked from his desk as Detective Brown walked into the bullpen Tuesday morning, "what's it like? Enjoying that fine Corinthian leather?"
Detective Brown paused to hang up his jacket on the coat stand beside the door. "For your information, Hairboy, Chrysler LeBarons have fine Corinthian leather. This has Imola leather. Red Imola leather."
"Did he name it yet?" Inspector Megan Connor, walking back to her desk with her morning coffee, stopped and asked.
Brown rolled his eyes. "Only girls name their cars, Megan."
Sandburg stifled a chuckle, and murmured "Sweetheart" under his breath. Jim Ellison, Cascade PD's best detective, resident Sentinel -- and devoted owner of "Sweetheart," a 1969 blue and white Ford truck -- glared at his partner, overhearing Blair's comment from halfway across the room.
"C'mon, man, spill it!" Sandburg turned his attention back to Brown, the easy-going African-American detective. "Have you driven it yet?"
"Are you kidding? Rafe's only had his Beemer for a week! How many times have you driven Jim's truck, huh?"
"Two -- no, three times -- but that was the Expedition," Sandburg corrected himself, neglecting to add that Jim had been unfit to drive on two occasions, first temporarily blinded by the Golden drug, then recovering from an attempted hit and run the second time. The third time Blair drove the Expedition was the day that Yaeger had demolished it, necessitating Jim's purchase of "Sweetheart." Sandburg glanced around the bullpen, saw that Jim was now seated behind his desk and changed the subject. "Where's Rafe anyway?"
"Parking the car. He parks diagonally out in the boonies, so he doesn't get any door dings. I made him drop me off first. Figured at least one of us should get to work on time."
"'Out in the boonies'?" Connor's Australian-accented voice was puzzled.
"Short for 'out in the boondocks,'" Sandburg explained, slipping into lecture mode. "It means an out-of-the-way place, or back of the beyond. U.S. soldiers in the Philippines in World War II picked it up from the Tagalog word 'bundok,' meaning mountain area."
"Oh." If anything, Megan looked more confused.
"In this case," Brown simplified the explanation, "it means the back row of the police garage, where no one'll mind if Rafe takes two parking spaces."
Detective Rafe, snappily dressed in a charcoal gray suit and a red power tie, strode into the bullpen. He had barely reached his desk when Captain Banks opened his office door and bellowed, "Rafe! Brown! Sandburg! My office!" He turned to close the door, pausing for a moment to add, "Ellison, you'd better come along, too."
"My, my," Megan teased as the detectives all rose to their feet. "What have you boys been up to?"
Brown and Rafe exchanged puzzled looks, while Jim and Blair shrugged. "Nothing that I'm aware of," Rafe said as the four proceeded towards the captain's office. They knocked, then entered, single-file.
Ellison entered last, closing the door behind him. The first thing he saw was that Simon had a visitor from the FBI. "Agent Mulroney," he said neutrally, addressing the middle-aged man in a plain dark suit. Except for that cooking caper several months back, Jim hadn't worked with Mulroney since the Gordievsky case, with Yuri, the technology wizard/assassin. Mulroney's man had shot the Russian assassin as Ellison was attempting to take him into custody. That case had been politically sensitive, with Mulroney's higher-ups dancing to the CIA's tune. The Chef Deeds case had been a successful collaboration mostly because Mulroney had worked with them the way a lion-tamer works with big cats: from a distance.
"Have a seat, Jim," Simon Banks said from the conference table. The rest of the men were already seated around the long table and Jim took the vacant seat next to Blair, directly across from the visiting Fed.
"I believe you all know Agent Frank Mulroney," Simon said, receiving brief nods from his men, "and vice versa."
"Hey, Mulroney," Blair said with a cheeky grin, "the last time you sent me undercover, I learned how to make a great omelet. What is it this time -- celebrity housemaid? Chief bottle washer?"
Frank Mulroney ignored Sandburg's comment and took the floor. "Captain Banks and I have been ironing out the details of a joint operation. I'd like to use Rafe and Sandburg in an undercover op. They fit the 'look' I need."
Brown glanced from Rafe's immaculate suit to Sandburg's khaki jeans and Grosse Pointe green polo shirt. "What 'look' is that, male models?"
"Young," Mulroney answered curtly, "and fit. Captain Banks tells me they're the two youngest detectives in Major Crimes."
"What would we be doing, exactly?" Sandburg asked.
"I want you to go undercover at an upcoming athletic event."
"Track and field? Baseball?" Blair asked, thinking he might get to show off his pitching arm again.
"No, windsurfing. If I may continue...." Mulroney opened a folder and extracted a bunch of black and white 8 x 10's. He passed the photos around and Jim peered at the black and white shot of a tanned man in his early thirties, with cold dark eyes.
"Vic Farrell," Jim identified the man. "He's a top lieutenant in the Orlando cartel -- mostly drugs, but they dabble in other crimes, too. What's his connection to windsurfing?"
"He's an avid windsurfer, and pretty good by all accounts. There's a big tournament coming up, and he'll be attending, and competing in it. The Seventeenth Annual Pro-Am-"
"Windsurfing Event at Hood River. It's two weekends from now," Ellison finished, earning an out-and-out gawk from the Fed.
"How'd you know that?"
"It's common knowledge," Rafe cut in. "The TV sportscasters have been promoting the heck out of it lately."
Mulroney turned his attention to Rafe. "Do you know how to windsurf, Detective?"
"Yes -- but it's been awhile. I'm a bit rusty."
Mulroney looked questioningly at Sandburg.
"Nope, never been windsurfing in my life," Sandburg answered honestly.
"That's all right, this meet is big enough to attract groupies as well as competitors. Now, the event is organized by a couple who live in Hood River, Oregon." Mulroney extracted some more photos from his folder and passed them around.
Jim barely glanced at the pictures. "Sam and Linda Burwell. I suppose you have a photo of Dan Selfridge, too?"
"Ellison," Simon Banks entered the conversation. "I asked you to sit in on this conference so you'd know about Sandburg's next assignment. Now it seems that you're more familiar with the case than any of us. Would you mind enlightening me as to how?"
"It's simple, sir. Sharky -- er, Sam and Linda started a windsurfing club at Rainier when they were college students. I was a charter member, along with Dan Selfridge and a few other students. It was the summer after my freshman year; the others were all a couple of years older than me. We'd get together on weekends and windsurf on the bay."
"And now? Do you still windsurf?"
Simon fidgeted at the one-word answer. "Good enough to enter the event?"
"The amateur competition, yes. Windsurfing's like riding a bicycle, Captain. Once you learn, you never forget."
"I see where you're going with this, Banks," Mulroney spoke again. "You want Ellison to be included, too. That wasn't the original plan."
"Yes, but if Jim has an 'in' with the organizers, we should use it," Simon told Mulroney. "The closer we can get to the event, the better chance we'll have of catching Farrell."
"Catching Farrell doing what, exactly, sir?" Rafe asked.
"We're not sure, but word on the street is that he's meeting someone at the event."
"We think he's putting together a drug pipeline," Mulroney said. "Windsurfing is an international sport, and a lot of the top competitors are world travelers -- an ideal setup for international drug trafficking."
"Something we all want to avoid happening," Banks said, "which is why we should add Ellison to the op, Mulroney."
"Okay, he's in. We need all the help we can get on this one."
"Jim," Sandburg shifted in his seat to face his partner. "How many people attend the windsurfing competition at Hood River?"
"Upwards of a thousand, counting watchers and participants."
"So keeping an eye on Farrell isn't going to be a piece of cake, is it?"
"No," Simon answered. "Where are you going with this, Sandburg?"
"What if we gave Farrell a reason to contact us, instead of just observing him?"
"And that reason would be?"
"Jim. See, he goes to the event seeking to reclaim his youthful glory," Sandburg started spieling, on a roll. "He joins up with the Burwells, in full mid-life crisis. He's stuck in a dead-end job, with nothing to look forward to but a gold watch and a lousy police pension. He's stepped on too many toes to advance up the ranks, and he's not getting any younger --"
"Are you saying I'm old, Sandburg? I'm not even forty!"
"Struck a nerve, didn't I, Jim? Don't worry, you can use that in your role-playing. Police work is like athletics, it's a young man's game."
"I-I-I --" Jim sputtered.
"I like it," Agent Mulroney announced. "I think an aging cop interested in some fast money would definitely get the attention of Vic Farrell, provided he hears about it."
"Windsurfers are like all other sports communities, it's a close-knit group," Sandburg said. "Farrell'll hear about it -- especially if Jim puts on a public display someplace."
"C'mon, Jim. You went undercover as a cop-killer at Starkeville. Playing a crooked version of yourself a few years down the line should be a snap."
"I'll leave you to work out the details," Mulroney said, gathering his photos and slipping them back into the folder. "Detective Brown will be your liaison while you're in Oregon. Meanwhile, the three of you have until next Friday to get your windsurfing skills up to speed."
"Brown and Connor will take over your most pressing cases, and I'll reassign the rest. Good luck, gentlemen." Captain Banks' manner made it clear that the meeting was over. His men rose and walked out the door, Jim leaving last.
Mulroney stayed behind and closed the door, Jim noticed as he walked back to his desk. Jim sat down and started flipping through his current case folders, deciding which cases needed to be reassigned. Mulroney's not telling the full story, again -- and guess who's in the middle of it, again. Jim wrestled with his conscience for half a minute, then discreetly cranked up his hearing, eavesdropping on the conversation in Banks' office.
"-- Ellison's not the issue, here, anyway," Banks said.
"Yes, that much of the original plan remains intact," Mulroney agreed. "We'll give him enough rope...."
"I still hope I'm wrong about this," Simon said. "I hate to think --"
"Either way, we'll know for sure at the end of the op. Isn't that what you wanted, to know for sure if one of your men is dirty?"
"Yes. Thanks for your help, Mulroney." Jim heard Simon rearranging paperwork on his desk. "We'll keep in touch."
"That we will, Captain. Good day." Mulroney left the captain's office.
Jim scanned the Wilson file while listening to Mulroney's footsteps as the Fed walked out of Major Crimes and caught the elevator. He slapped the folder closed and left his desk, heading for the captain's office. He knocked twice, then entered after Simon's bellowed, "Come in!"
"Hey, Jim," Banks looked up from his desk as Ellison closed the door. "Look, if you're worried about Sandburg being physically able for this assignment, I ran the idea past his doctor before I even discussed the op with Mulroney. The shooting was several months ago and the doctor assured me that this assignment would be a good transition step from light duty back to fully active duty. I concurred, especially since you'll be there to sit on him if he does overexert himself." Jim remained silent and Simon frowned. "I hope you're not having second thoughts about the assignment?"
"No," Ellison said shortly. "But I'm not the only one playing a double role here, am I?"
Simon straightened his glasses and asked sharply, "What's that supposed to mean?"
"'We'll give him enough rope --'"
Simon Banks jumped to his feet angrily. "You were eavesdropping on me? How dare you!? Have you done this before?"
"I don't get it, Simon!" Jim's voice rose until he was practically shouting at his superior. "After all he's done for the department, everything he's given up and gone through -- how can you possibly think Sandburg's a dirty cop!?"
"Ellison!" Simon roared back. "Sit down! Now!"
Jim glared at his captain, but followed orders and sat.
"Now, hear me out, Jim! It's not Sandburg I'm worried about -- it's Rafe."
Jim shook his head, as if he hadn't heard correctly. "Rafe?"
"Yeah, Rafe. You've seen the way he dresses... GQ all the way. He certainly spends his money freely."
"But --" Jim's thoughts raced. He knew Rafe moonlighted as an acting extra to pay for his movie-star wardrobe. He also knew that the Cascade PD was like most other police departments. It frowned on its members moonlighting, unless it was in a job-related capacity, like patrolmen directing rush hour traffic for private businesses, or working as security guards. But Jim didn't want to be the one to reveal Rafe's secret; perhaps he could divert the captain's suspicions with an alternative explanation? "Maybe Rafe has an uncle or a cousin in the fashion business, and he gets his clothes at a steep discount?"
"He doesn't -- I've checked." Simon admitted and Ellison realized that his boss was taking this matter very seriously. Maybe he needed to clear the air, and tell Simon about Rafe's moonlighting, after all.
"Besides, it's not just the suits. The real sticking point is the car."
"Aw, c'mon, Simon. Everyone's entitled to buy a new car if he feels like it."
"A white 2000 BMW sports sedan with leather interior. D'you know how much a car like that costs?"
"About $40,000?" Jim guessed.
Jim shrugged. "Okay, so he's in hock up to his eyeballs for the next five or six years, paying it off --"
"He paid cash for it," Simon interrupted.
"What? How'd you find that out?"
"I have my sources."
"Mulroney," Jim guessed darkly. "Does IA know about this?"
"No, so far I've kept this an unofficial investigation, but --" Simon shook his head. "It's the timing, Jim. As Sandburg would say, it sucks."
Jim considered his captain's words and a light bulb went on. "The DeMontrond fiasco, three weeks ago." The department had spent several weeks keeping Paul DeMontrond under surveillance and building a case against the suspected drug lord. Rafe had been the lead investigator on the case and it had blown up in his face when DeMontrond skipped town just before he was supposed to be apprehended. Rumor had it DeMontrond had been tipped off about his impending arrest and had flown the coop.
"So you think that Rafe tipped off DeMontrond and that's how he paid for his Beemer? That doesn't sound like the Rafe I know."
"But it fits the facts," Simon said. "I don't want to believe it either, which is why Mulroney and I put together this windsurfing op."
"To catch Farrell -- or see if Rafe tips him off, too." Give him enough rope... and he'll hang himself, Jim had no trouble finishing Mulroney's overheard words.
"Yes. Now that you know the plan, I want your word that you won't tell anyone else."
"I don't keep secrets from Sandburg, Simon," Jim said flatly. "I can't afford to."
"I understand and normally I'd agree with you, Jim, but Sandburg's a rookie, here. You know how loyal he is to his friends, Jim. If he finds out, he could go straight to Rafe. If Rafe really is dirty, that would be a big mistake, possibly even a fatal one."
The hackles on Ellison's neck rose at the possible danger to his Guide. His undercover assignment just got a lot tougher. In addition to keeping an eye on Farrell, he now had to keep Rafe under Sentinel surveillance, too. "I won't tell Sandburg up front, but if he asks what's going on, I'll level with him, sir."
"All right," Simon sighed, realizing that was the best Jim could offer. "Now clear out of my office and let me get some work done," Simon ordered.
"Oh, man!" Blair Sandburg, laden with packages from their shopping spree, opened the door and entered the loft's living room. "This is gonna be so cool!"
Jim Ellison trailed his partner inside, carrying a second-hand windsurfing longboard under his right arm. "What's cool?" He asked as Sandburg slipped past him to close the front door.
"All this neat equipment, and being paid to learn how to windsurf. I feel like I'm playing hooky!"
"Just keep in mind that this isn't your ordinary undercover assignment, here." Jim leaned the longboard against the wall to the right of the front door and walked into the living room. "Remember the Shang Syndicate case, when we were street bums, with the Salvation Army supplying our wardrobe? That's a typical undercover op. But Agent Mulroney wants you to be a windsurfer, so you have to look the part, eh, Chief?" The 'look' that the Fed wanted didn't come cheap and Ellison was looking forward to presenting the bill for Sandburg's equipment to Mulroney.
"Sure, Jim, whatever you say," Sandburg said, sorting through his packages. "Which reminds me, how come you never told me you went to Rainier? I just about fell out of my chair when I heard that this morning."
"It was before your time, and I was only there for my freshman year." Jim shifted the topic. "How about you start cooking dinner while I step out on the balcony? All that indoor shopping sort of got to my senses and I need a little fresh air."
"Sure, Jim. No problem," Sandburg said, and watched as Jim crossed the room, opened the balcony door and stepped outside.
Jim closed the balcony door and stepped over to the edge of the balcony. He took a deep breath and watched the city lights spread before him as sunset fell. Another deep breath brought the refreshing scent of Cascade Bay back to him and memories of a distant summer....
Jim Ellison leaned backwards over the choppy water, legs properly positioned and feet secured by the foot straps on his shortboard. He held the boom with both hands and looked through the clear cut-out window in his light green monofilm sail. The board's attached sail dipped slightly towards him as the nineteen-year-old windsurfer skimmed the water, judging the wind for his next maneuver. There! He jumped the board over the next whitecap and launched himself, board and sail upwards. For a few seconds he was airborne, suspended parallel to the water with his sail and the surfboard almost perpendicular to the flowing river below. He shifted his weight and the surfboard's nose dipped downwards as it rapidly fell earthward and splashed into the water again. Jim skimmed the water for a few seconds, then jumped the next wave and was up in the air again.
This time he twisted his knees outward, sending the surfboard to the side like a hotdogger on a skateboard. Immediately he straightened out his legs, bringing the board back under him and heading rapidly riverward in a controlled fall. He changed course slightly, seeking a better angle of sail, then launched himself into the air once more. Ellison was suspended in the air as he pushed the shortboard up and over, trying to do a full rotation. He hung upside-down as the board and sail passed the top of the loop and catapulted downwards. Jim realized that he would hit the water before completing the whole loop, so he kicked his feet free of the foot straps, let go of the boom and fell into the river, the board and sail falling into the water behind him.
"That was great, Jim. You almost did it!" he heard as his head surfaced above the water. Jim glanced around and saw Linda Danziger sailing her own windsurfing gear nearby. The twenty-one year old blonde jerked her head shorewards. "Time to call it quits. We're having an early dinner then it's back to Cascade. Sharky wants to get back home before nightfall."
"Okay, I'm right behind you." Jim had swum to his shortboard and positioned it and the sail parallel to each other and perpendicular to the wind. Linda tacked and moved further away from Jim, then watched as he executed a perfect waterstart. Back out of the water and in control of his rig, Jim sailed for the shore.
Twenty minutes later, Jim, Linda and three other members of the Rainier Windsurfing Club were gathered around a picnic table, enjoying a summer feast of hotdogs, corn on the cob, potato chips and soft drinks.
"Did you see Jim?" Linda asked as she helped herself to a second hotdog and trimmings.
"I did," Connie Mears popped up. "He was awesome, jumping all over the place. I felt pretty good just keeping afloat in the wind," the petite redhead admitted.
"And you should," Sam 'Sharky' Burwell agreed. The tanned twenty-one year old was the founder of the university's club and its best windsurfer. His green eyes glanced around the table as he continued, "The Columbia River is the windiest river I've seen, just perfect for windsurfing." He tapped Jim on the back. "Gotta admit, you're my best student, Hotshot. From beginner to jibe jumpin' near-expert in one summer, that's amazing." He winked, "You're gonna be better than me if I don't watch it."
"Hey, Sharky." Dan Selfridge, a quiet dark-haired engineering major entered the discussion. "Thanks for setting this up. It's a great way to wrap up the Club's first summer. What'll we do for an encore, next season?"
"I'm coming back," Sharky said. "No, I mean it. After I graduate next year, I'm settling in -- what's the nearest town, Hood River? -- and set up shop."
"Doing what?" Linda asked, perplexed. "What can you do with a degree in marine biology in Hood River? I thought you wanted to get your master's, anyway. We talked about it...."
"I know, Linda -- but this is what I want. You guys've been windsurfing for just a season. I got hooked on the sport three years ago, in California. Windsurfing is growing in popularity all the time, and it's even bigger in Europe. Why, it's going to be an event at the '84 Olympics a couple of years from now. It's only going to get bigger, and the Columbia River Gorge has the potential to be the biggest windsurfing spot in the US. Counting my strip, here, I can think of at least twenty places that are excellent windsurfing spots right along the river." Sharky took a deep breath. "I know, big dreams."
Linda reached out a hand to Sharky. "There's nothing wrong with big dreams, hon," she told her boyfriend. "This is a beautiful spot, surrounded by Rooster Rock State Park. There's all kinds of subjects to paint here, and landscapes are my specialty, anyway." The young artist looked at the man she hoped to marry. "We could both be happy in Hood River."
Sharky looked into Linda's blue-gray eyes and grinned. "Well, now that we've got that straightened out, anyone else want to get in on the ground floor?"
"I will," Dan said. "You get your operation started and I'll join you on the production side. You've heard me complaining about the design of the boards all summer. There's got to be all kinds of improvements in material and design that could be made to increase the efficiency of the board, and there's certainly room for improving the sail technology."
"Okay, Dan, you've a got deal." Sharky looked around the table. "How about you, Jim? Want to be my windsurfing instructor? Of course, that'll be a few years down the road, once I've added a surfing camp to my business."
"Sounds great, Sharky -- but I can't. I'm not going to be attending Rainier this semester." Jim suddenly had the whole table's attention.
"What? You're transferring?" Connie asked. "Why didn't you tell us?"
"I'm not transferring, I'm quitting."
"Quitting? That doesn't sound like the Jim Ellison I know."
"Look, Sharky. I've told you guys something about my situation. I'm in college because my old man wants me to be. He let me live on campus this year so that I could rush the 'right' fraternity. I'm a declared business math major, then I'm supposed to get an MBA and become the next generation of successful Ellison businessman.
"Last year was pretty easy -- almost all freshmen take the same basic courses. I only had to go home for Sunday dinners, and to defend my grades to my Dad. Listening to your plans has only firmed up my decision. I can't -- I won't -- live in my father's shadow. I'm not cut out to be William Ellison, Jr. -- and I've tried to tell him that, but he won't listen. Of course, he's been gone on business trips most of the summer, promoting Pacific Rim commerce.
"So I'm joining the Army. I've already signed up and been accepted, have to report for training two weeks from now. I'll tell Dad when he gets back from his trip to Australia, later this week. My Uncle Cody was a career Army man, so I'm sort of following in the family footsteps." Jim shrugged. He knew his father wouldn't see it that way, he'd heard William Ellison rant about his older brother's ill-informed decision to join the military when he could've been a prosperous, respected businessman instead. Young Jim Ellison had come to realize that the words of his cowboy heroes were true, in the case of him and his father; "This town isn't big enough for the two of us."
"Jim, Jim!" A hand touched his arm and Ellison started, meeting Sandburg's blue eyes. "Are you okay, man? Stir fry's been ready for ten minutes."
"I'm fine, Chief." Jim answered. "Let's go eat."
Continue on to Act II...
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This page last updated 2/2/01.