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."
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."
"-- and that, my friends," Sharky finished his last story with a flourish, "is why the Gorge Guide includes tips like 'watch out for poison oak' in its beach descriptions."
Blair and Jim laughed, and Linda and Dan's wife Connie joined in, although Jim suspected they'd heard the story of Sharky's mishap many times before this. Overhearing chuckles and comments from neighboring diners, Jim realized that their audience extended past their immediate table, which only made sense. BWBD was the sponsor of the annual event, and the Burwells and their partners Dan and Connie Selfridge were BWBD. So, tonight at least, the BWBD table was the head table, even though it was in the back of the restaurant.
Blair had asked earlier where the LW got its name and Linda had explained the restaurant's origins. Big Joe Carson, a Texan restaurateur and recent convert to windsurfing, wanted to combine business and pleasure. He sold his Dallas operations, and moved up to Hood River, deciding to open up the Local Wateringhole, a restaurant/bar geared to the windsurfing crowd. The hale and hearty Carson had almost had a heart attack when he heard the cost of 'The Local Wateringhole' in custom-made violet neon lighting, and hastily renamed his venture the LW. The LW did a brisk business during the windsurfing season, especially this weekend; it was packed to the rafters with windsurfers.
Jim heard the sound of ice clinking in glasses and high-heeled footsteps approaching their table. The waitress was returning with their latest round of drinks. One public display coming up, Chief. He pushed his chair back from the table, colliding with the waitress and upsetting the tray. A shower of tea, beer and ice cubes poured over the hapless detective.
"Sir! I am so sorry, sir!" the contrite young woman said, setting the tray on their table. She fished for a clean towel to sop up the mess, trying to dry Jim's shirt. "I'm so sorry, I didn't see you, sir --"
"That's okay, it happens all the time," Jim said resignedly.
A solidly built silver-haired man in a cowboy hat appeared at the table. "Come with me, son," Big Joe Carson said, "I'll get you fixed up with a fresh shirt. And we'll dry clean this one, of course." He looked around the table then spoke to the waitress. "Sally, go get Sharky and his friends their drinks, I'll take care of this gentleman, here. Follow me, please." Carson led Jim through the crowded dining area to the manager's office.
A few minutes later, a clean and dry Ellison returned wearing a freebie T-shirt. The front showed a windsurfer jumping through the air and a stylized purple 'the LW - The Gorge' was written on the back. Jim sat down and sighed, having lost his wonderfully staged spontaneous opening to his 'poor, pitiful me' speech. All eyes were on him and he realized that he hadn't lost his audience after all. "Sharky, I'm sorry I ruined your dinner."
"Nonsense, Jim. What's a little cold water among windsurfers?"
"Yeah, but it always happens to me. Good old Detective Ellison -- emphasis on 'old', always managing to get overlooked and stepped on at the same time." He took a swig of beer and continued. "Old -- that's a nasty word. Take my annual physical a few years ago. The doctor said I passed it with flying colors -- no problem. And then she added the kicker: 'considering your age.' She made it sound like I was sixty, or something! Hell, I'm not even forty!"
Jim sighed. "Maybe that's old for a cop. Couple of weeks ago, a guy told me to my face that police work is a young man's game." He paused to drink more beer. "The other day, I let a sixteen-year old punk wannabe slip through my fingers. The Captain called me into his office and I was sure he was gonna lower the boom, tell me to think about transferring to something easier, like Robbery. He didn't, so I guess he's saving it up for my annual review. The review -- that's always fun. Well, at least IA isn't investigating my butt this year.
"I've thought about retiring, getting out before it's too late, before a bullet finds me. Thought maybe I'd open a franchise or a cop bar on the waterfront. Even checked into a loan. The bank manager laughed in my face. The rate of approval for cops to get new business loans must be zero." He finished off his beer. "So I'm stuck where I am. Probably end my days as a night watchman, trying to live on a lousy police pension and whatever's left of social security."
"But enough about me," Jim hiccuped and pounded his empty beer mug on the table. "I want another beer!"
"You've had enough, Jim," Sandburg was at his elbow, "I'm taking you home." He thanked Sharky for the dinner and made their apologies, escorting Jim firmly out of the restaurant.
Once they reached the truck, Blair held out his hand. "Keys."
"Just in case anyone's watching. Can't have a drunken old cop driving, can we?" Blair took the keys and helped Jim into the passenger seat, then hopped in behind the wheel.
"Man, and I thought I could obfuscate!" Blair said admiringly as he drove towards the BWBD residence. "You'll have to act grouchy in the morning, like you've got a hangover. What'd I saying? You're always grouchy in the morning."
"My reputation is in shreds," Jim said glumly. "Drunk -- on only four glasses of beer!"
Jim stepped out of the bathroom after a late-night shower. Wrapped in a white terrycloth robe, he was towel-drying his hair. Blair sat cross-legged on the bed nearest the bathroom, his opened notebook PC in front of him.
"Hey, Jim. I was just checking to see if H emailed us anything."
Jim nodded, letting the towel settle on his shoulder and looked down at the PC, searching for an angle that allowed him to see the PC's tilted screen. "Anything?"
"One message, I'm pulling it up now." Blair waited a few seconds, then said, "According to Henri, Vic Farrell was spotted in Hood River this morning."
Jim didn't seem surprised. "The Feds must've seen him and passed the info along to Brown."
"Feds? What Feds? I thought we were alone, here, Jim."
"They're here for backup, Sandburg. SOP."
"But --" Blair started to object then stopped. He barely knew the intricacies of Major Crime's operating procedures; he certainly knew nothing about the way the Feds operated -- apart from stepping on the toes of the local authorities. He started to compose a reply. 'Roger, willco' did that sound cop-ish enough?
"Hey, could you ask Brown to run a name for me?"
"Sure, Jim, who?"
"Marj? Rafe's old girl friend?" Blair glanced from the PC screen to Jim's face. "Why? Is she part of the case?"
"I dunno, she might be. She and Rafe were at the LW tonight, I saw 'em."
"I couldn't hear everything they said, but they were the only people in the bar not talking about windsurfing."
"Jim, you were eavesdropping on Rafe tonight?! Why?" Jim opened his mouth to speak and Blair continued, sharply. "And don't give me some cock-and-bull story 'cause I won't buy it."
"I told Simon you'd find out."
"Find out what?"
Jim sighed and shifted his feet. "Simon thinks Rafe might be crooked."
"WHAT?" Blair roared and Jim winced at the unexpected volume. "Sorry. But that's crazy, man. Rafe's not a dirty cop." He rose from the bed and started pacing, needing to release his pent-up energy. "Is it because of the clothes? That's strictly on the up-and-up. You know where Rafe gets the money to pay for them." He stopped pacing and glanced at his partner, only a few feet away. "Did you tell Simon about Rafe's moonlighting?"
"No. I was going to but it wouldn't change anything. The clothes aren't the issue, Chief. Rafe's real problem is his car."
"Rafe's new Beemer?"
"Yes. He paid cash for it."
"Do I have to spell it out for you, Detective Sandburg?" Jim snapped, jaw clenching. "You don't get paid $40,000 for saying two lines in a TV-movie!"
"Point taken, Detective Ellison." Blair jabbed a hand in the air. "So where d'you think he got the money?"
"Simon's best guess is Paul DeMontrond."
"DeMontrond." Sandburg had seen Rafe beat himself up over that case a few times in the last three weeks. He shook his head, curls bouncing angrily. "You know Rafe better than I do, Jim. Do you think he's a dirty cop?"
"But you're helping Simon investigate him, aren't you?"
"Because it's my job. The evidence suggests --"
"Evidence, shmevidence! I thought you said you didn't believe Rafe was dirty?"
"I hope he's not. But I --"
"So you're proceeding on the assumption that he is guilty. Guilty until proven innocent, huh, Jim?"
"Look, if I'm wrong, I'll apologize. And Rafe'll join the list of people that I've wrongfully accused of betrayal." Jim massaged his throbbing temples, then met Blair's eyes. "It's a short list: Steven and you." Then he walked silently around the younger man and over to the other bed. He took off his robe and got under the covers, pausing only long enough to slip a Hollywood mask over his eyes. "Night, Chief," he said softly.
"Night, Jim," Blair answered distractedly. He sat back down on the bed and finished his reply to Henri. Then he started surfing the Internet.
Jim parked the Ford in the lay-by and removed his keys. "We're here."
"Huh?" Blair surfaced from the trade paperback he'd been reading.
"Sharky's Strip, some of the Gorge's best windsurfing. Wish I had my camera," Jim said. "I'd get a picture of you reading that." He indicated the Gorge Guide. "Appropriate, eh?"
"Yeah. Like the photo I've got of you, reading the front page of the Times-Sentinel." Blair left the book on the dashboard and got out of the truck. Jim was removing a shortboard and its accompanying sail and rigging >from the truck's bed. Then he pulled off his T-shirt and did a few angry cat stretches in his shorty wetsuit. He took off his sneakers and socks and put them in the truck's cab, then put on his black and green chest harness.
Blair noticed that the green and white shortboard had a BWBD logo sprawled along its side. "Hey, Jim. That's not your regular surfboard."
"No, it's BWBD's demo board from last season." Jim carried the board and rig closer to the beach and began assembling the parts together. "Designed by Dan Selfridge, himself. I asked Dan if I could borrow it at dinner -- that was early in the meal, before my act. Sharky traveled the whole international windsurfing circuit with this board last year -- the US, Europe and Australia. I wanted to check out the board's construction, see if it has any smuggling possibilities."
Blair started to say something, but Jim cut him off. "At least, that's what I'm putting in my report, for Mulroney. The real reason is -- I wanted to try out the board." He grinned and slapped the shortboard. "Dan is one of the sport's most innovative and respected surfboard designers, and a big part of BWBD's success. And I need all the help I can get, if I'm going to beat Sharky on his own turf. So let's get this show on the road."
Jim carried his rig out to shallow water, stepped onto the shortboard and uphauled the sail, Blair watching from shore. Jim had laid down the law on Sandburg's windsurfing activities at Hood River. The Gorge's strong winds combined with Blair's beginner status and still-mending bullet wound relegated him to sites like The Hook, one of the few places a beginner could safely surf the Columbia River.
The wind was moderate, about fifteen miles an hour, Jim judged. He sheeted in, letting the sail catch the wind and set a zigzag course upwind. He changed his direction slightly, looking for the best wind. He executed a few turns to get the feel of his rig, then sped to a calmer stretch of water and did a quick carve jibe, the tricky downwind turn allowing him to change direction without losing any speed. He upped his sense of touch, seeking to connect himself through the rig to the wind and water, as he had with his own equipment in the Cascade Bay. Sandburg would doubtless label this some weird Sentinel offshoot of Zen windsurfing; Ellison just found it stimulating.
"Jim's really in the zone, isn't he?"
"What?" Sandburg jerked his head around, to see Linda standing next to him, wearing a Gorge T-shirt and shorts. He then glanced anxiously at Jim out on the water.
"You know, when athletes are performing at their peak -- in the zone."
"Oh, yeah," Blair relaxed. "He's using Dan's shortboard, I guess that means he likes it."
"I didn't mean to startle you, Blair. I saw Jim's truck and wanted to see if he was all right this morning."
"He's fine, Linda. More embarrassed than anything. Jim's way of dealing with an embarrassing incident is pretending that it didn't happen." He shook his head. "Immature, I know, but it usually works pretty well for him."
Not sure how to answer that, Linda turned her attention to Jim's windsurfing. He had been chop jumping over the whitecaps in a series of little hops. Now he took off from a wave in a serious jump, launching himself and his rig upward. He sailed upright twenty-five feet above the water, then dived earthward, splashing into the water.
"There's a lot of friendly betting going on at the event and I always back Sharky. This year, my money's on Jim." Linda glanced at her watch. "Oops, I've got to get to the Event Site in town, the professional racing starts in less than an hour. Tell Jim 'hi' for me, and I'll see you both later."
Jim walked leisurely down the main street in Hood River, heading for the LW. Sandburg and Rafe were already in the LW, at their previously arranged positions. Jim hunched his shoulders; his skin felt itchy where the hidden microphone wire was taped. He paused a moment to slightly adjust the collar of his black polo shirt, dialing down his sense of touch at the itchy spot at the same time. The professional windsurfing events would be held today, with the amateur portion on Sunday. Since Farrell was an amateur competitor, Ellison figured his best chance of bumping into Farrell would be today, Saturday. Judging from last night's crowds, the LW seemed to be the Rick's American Cafe of Hood River, sooner or later everyone came to the LW. Add the Ellison/Sandburg penchant for attracting attention in any situation, and something was bound to happen.
"Jim! Just the person I was looking for."
"Sharky." Jim fidgeted awkwardly. "About last night, I wanted to apologize-"
"Forget it, Jim. Water under the bridge... But it does bring up an interesting point." Sharky glanced around the immediate area. Even though they were on the main street, it was relatively deserted; almost everyone was at the beach at the Event Site, watching the competition. "Linda's pregnant -- just over a month now."
"That's wonderful. Congratulations!"
"Thanks, Jim. It's our first and we've only told a few close friends and family. Because of her age, technically Linda falls in the high-risk pregnancy category. After this weekend, she's going to scale back on her business activities a lot. She's looking forward to it, says it'll give her more time to paint.
"Anyway, with a baby coming and especially after the baby arrives, I'll be spending a lot more time here at home, rather than on the international circuit. You know Dan, he's not into the promotional aspects of the business at all, he's plenty happy here in the Gorge with Connie and the twins. But one reason that BWBD's so well-known is that I've been on the tour, promoting our surfboards and sails, giving impromptu clinics and demonstrations, whatever's needed to keep our name out there.
"So I'm looking for someone to take over as BWBD's international sales and event rep. It's a great job, lots of travel, excitement and one-of-a-kind experiences. It's yours -- if you want it."
"Sharky, I-I don't know what to say." Jim looked stunned. "You haven't even seen me windsurf in years."
"Linda did, this morning at my Strip. Said I'd better look to my laurels. That's good enough for me." Sharky checked his watch and frowned. "Damn, I've got to get back to the Site. Look, Jim, you don't have to tell me anything right away. This is a serious offer, though, so think about it, okay? We can discuss it in detail later, after this weekend. See you later." Sharky walked briskly down the street towards the Event Site beach at the edge of town.
Jim stared after his old friend for a few moments, then walked purposely towards the LW. He entered the restaurant, picked up a complimentary copy of the Hood River Gazette and selected a table for two along the left-hand wall of the restaurant. A young brunette waitress, thankfully not Sally from last night, approached and took his order for a roast beef sandwich and beer. After she left, Jim started reading the paper; he could be in for a long wait.
Forty minutes later, Jim had almost finished his lunch and was planning on ordering another beer the next time he could flag down his server. The microphone crackled to life. Sounding loud to Jim's ears, it wouldn't have even caused a dog's ears to twitch. The calm voice of Agent Driscoll issued from the mike, "Farrell is heading towards the bar, ETA three minutes."
Blair watched from a back table as Ellison straightened and folded up his newspaper. A few minutes later, a tanned man in his early thirties dressed casually in khaki pants and a red polo shirt strolled past Jim's table. He stopped by Blair's table. "Aren't you from Rainier?"
"Yes," Blair answered without thinking. Great, Sandburg. Jim'll just love hearing that. But old habits die hard. "Er, ah- the University of Rainier, not the mountain."
"Yes, of course." Vic Farrell took the vacant seat at Blair's table.
"Or the town -- well, village, really, of Rainier in Oregon." I'm babbling. "It was just a joke, y'know, Rainier University, Mount Rainier?"
"Yes, the University," Farrell said curtly. "Now, I didn't come here to do a 'Who's on First' routine with you, kid. I am here on business, Mister --?"
Blair ran a hand nervously through his curls and surreptitiously tapped his ear, hoping Jim got the message: listen and STAY PUT. He sounds like he doesn't know my name, or whoever he was supposed to be meeting's name. Is this a trick? One way to find out. "Sandburg, Blair Sandburg."
Farrell relaxed slightly, glanced at the tabletop, empty except for an ice tea glass, then spoke, an edge to his voice. "A suspicious man would think you've come to the table empty-handed, Mr. Sandburg."
Blair frantically searched for an acceptable answer. "A cautious man would find this locale too public for -- our type of business transaction."
"Judging from your posts, I wouldn't have pegged you as a cautious man," Farrell paused, his ice-cold brown eyes staring into Sandburg's steady blue ones. "However, it appears I'm mistaken. Where is our second meeting going to be?"
"Someplace away from prying eyes. I thought maybe the empty Hood Winds building, near the riverfront." Sandburg was very thankful that he was paying attention when the Feds had briefed Ellison about where to set up his meet with Farrell.
"Very well. Since you picked the place, I'll pick the time. Midnight, tonight."
"And Sandburg, I'll expect a complete demonstration on my equipment. Your passwords must get through all the firewalls to the highest level of clearance on the University's system, or the deal is off. Permanently." Farrell rose from the table. "Until midnight."
Blair remained at the table and watched Farrell leave the bar. Agent Mulroney's batting a thousand again. His drug pipeline is really a major case of cyber-espionage. He knew that Rainier handled a lot of R&D for the Pentagon, and bet that's what Farrell was after.
11:45. Blair Sandburg unlocked the back door to the deserted Hood Winds building and entered. He wished he had Jim's eyesight as he proceeded deeper into the darkened single-story dwelling. The abandoned building was essentially one huge room, stripped and ready for the next owner's remodeling. Being a small town with a growing industry, Hood River's business properties didn't stay vacant long. Any halfway suitable building was occupied by some kind of windsurfing or windsurfing-connected business. Most of the firms and buildings were new, springing up within the last fifteen to twenty years. They were built practically on top of each other, so Jim, Rafe and a couple of Federal agents were very close at hand, watching and listening from the factory next-door. Jim had swept the Hood Winds building with his senses, privately assuring Blair that he was arriving first on the scene. Vic Farrell had yet to put in an appearance.
Continuing his walking, Sandburg suddenly bumped into something at mid-thigh level, fortunately with his uninjured leg, the one that didn't have the bullet hole in it. He flipped on his penlight, discovering that he'd walked into a table. Well, not really a table, just a piece of paneling resting across two sawhorses. He quickly circled the room with his mini-flashlight, noticing that the paned windows, high up along two walls, were painted over so the light from the penlight wouldn't register outside. He kept the light on and scanned the room's back wall. Spotting a straight back chair he fetched it and placed it next to the table.
He sat in the chair and ran through his deep breathing exercises, trying to relax. The preparations for tonight's meeting had been accomplished in a dizzyingly short amount of time. Agent Mulroney had obtained the necessary passwords and instructions for Sandburg's midnight demonstration. He'd been hand-delivered a coded computer diskette and detailed instructions early this evening and had spent the last few hours memorizing the passwords and practicing Rainier's high-level access routines on his notebook PC, so he could perform the same task for real in front of Farrell.
Sandburg took another deep breath. Really, the hard part was over. All he had to do now was show Farrell how to gain access to the top-security parts of Rainier's computer network, give Farrell the diskette and receive the payoff: $30,000 in small bills. Then Jim and the cavalry would swoop in and arrest Farrell. Piece of cake, he tried to convince himself, rubbing his hands nervously against his jeans. He tried not to think of the listening wire concealed in his belt or dwell on the fact that Farrell could be armed. Blair had seen Farrell's rap sheet. The man was dangerous, despite his happy-go-lucky jet setting playboy appearance.
What if he's not alone? The unsettling thought passed through his mind and his heartbeat accelerated slightly. Damn, Jim'll hear that. Deep breaths, he instructed himself. I am relaxed, I am ready. This is part of my job and I know what I'm doing....
A door closed and Sandburg picked out two sets of footsteps approaching him from the semi-darkness. Seconds later Vic Farrell and a swarthy-complected heavy-set man who could stand nose-to-nose with Simon walked into Blair's small circle of light. Both men wore long black raincoats that reminded Sandburg of the good guys' attire in The Matrix.
"You're on time, good," Sandburg said, rising from the chair.
"Yes." Farrell snapped his fingers and his goon set a notebook personal computer on the makeshift table. He unlatched the PC and flipped the screen into ready position. Farrell powered up the notebook, logged on and established his Internet connection. "Let's not waste any time. I am competing in tomorrow's slalom race."
"May I?" Sandburg moved the chair in front of the PC and sat down. He directed the browser to Rainier's site and waited for the university's homepage to fill the screen. He de-iconized the login window and entered a password, which showed on the screen as:
He clicked on one of the icons on the menu bar to the left of the screen and pulled up the Engineering Department's homepage. Punching in another starred password, he explained, "All the passwords that I'm using are on a diskette in my pocket, along with detailed instructions for accessing the system's various levels."
Farrell, standing directly behind Sandburg's chair, nodded, his movement partially reflected in the PC's screen. Sandburg accessed two more levels of engineering department screens, then clicked on a small RU logo that looked like it was just part of the title of a submenu panel. The entire screen turned green and Sandburg's fingers flew over the keyboard. The green screen remained unchanged. "Timed access," he explained. "And there's no second chances, either. You almost need to be able to type the password in your sleep to get past this page. Incorrect passwords are noted and actively pursued."
The green screen blinked and was replaced by an all-red one. Sandburg pressed alt and a function key simultaneously and a format menu popped up. "You need to change the color palette here." He selected Palette C. "The colors have been scrambled so that they print red on red otherwise."
The red screen morphed into a normal-looking homepage containing a listing of joint Rainier University-Department of Defense projects. "I can go further if you like, but the university's computer security does a ten-minute sweep of who's accessing the classified files and we're due for another sweep in just about a minute. The diskette will tell you what to do from here."
"Very well, Sandburg. You can shut down the screen, your demonstration is satisfactory."
Sandburg nodded and began exiting the screen. The first few screens had extraordinary exiting procedures, which he identified as he backed out of them. A minute later, he was at the final logoff screen. "That completes your demo, sir."
"And the diskette?"
"Right here." Blair reached slowly and carefully into his plaid jacket's breast pocket and removed an unlabelled diskette. He stood up, diskette in hand. "I am curious why you're paying top dollar for information that you could get without too much trouble from an ace hacker. I know it's none of my business but --"
"Hackers are a bunch of maladjusted showoffs, spray painting 'Kilroy was here' signs in cyberspace," Farrell said disdainfully. "My people are cyber-ninjas, who infiltrate a site, obtain and possibly alter information, and leave no trace that they've ever been there. A thousand times more discreet than hackers, and the results are very rewarding."
Sandburg handed the diskette over to Farrell. "The files are password-protected, of course."
Farrell glanced sharply at Sandburg. "Yes, a very cautious man. Bruno, give Mr. Sandburg the briefcase."
Bruno placed a leather attache case on the table next to Blair and opened it. Rows of neatly-stacked ten and twenty-dollar bills filled the case. Sandburg rifled through a couple of random stacks of bills, making sure they were real bills from top to bottom. "That looks in order." He closed the case and added, "The password for the files is cavalry charge."
Suddenly the room erupted in bright lights. "FBI! Freeze!" a voice bellowed from behind the blinding spotlights.
Bruno reached inside his jacket. From out of nowhere, an iron hand grabbed his in mid-reach and Ellison's voice growled, "I don't think so." He used his free hand to extract Bruno's snub-nosed thirty-eight from its concealed shoulder halter. Sandburg joined his partner, reaching for Jim's handcuffs and placing them on Bruno while Ellison read him his rights.
Meanwhile Rafe and Agent Driscoll had similarly collared Vic Farrell who said nothing beyond, "I want my attorney."
Blair's eyes had adjusted to the brighter lighting and he noticed that in addition to Jim, Rafe and Agent Driscoll, his cavalry consisted of three other men wearing black windbreakers with FBI lettered on the backs. One of them was carefully closing and sealing the notebook PC in an evidence bag, then he closed the briefcase and handed it to Driscoll.
"Great job, Chief," Jim said as the group got ready to escort their prisoners out of the building.
"Yeah, thanks, Jim," Blair answered, then walked over to Rafe and tapped the detective's shoulder. "Hey, Rafe, got a minute?"
Blair moved back to the lighted area by the table and Rafe joined him. They were the only two left in the building. "Nice job, Sandburg."
"Thanks -- but that's not what I wanted to talk about." Sandburg looked squarely at his colleague. "You need to tell Simon how you paid for your new Beemer."
Rafe looked uncomprehendingly at the rookie detective, completely caught off-guard by the topic. "What? Why?"
"Because Simon thinks you got the money from Paul DeMontrond," Blair said carefully, knowing that Rafe could only draw one conclusion from that.
"DeMontrond," Rafe said bitterly. "Well, that's just great. How about you, Sandburg?" he challenged. "Where do you think I got the money?"
"I'm a better researcher than Simon, Rafe. I surfed the web's legal and genealogical sites. I know where you got the money. It was an inheritance >from your great-uncle Ezra on your mother's side, who recently passed away. He lost a fortune in the Depression and didn't trust banks after that so he stipulated that all his beneficiaries received their bequests in cold hard cash. The money could not be deposited in any sort of banking institution in the United States or anywhere else in the world. The will only passed through probate in the last month, and you used your portion of the estate to purchase your BMW."
"That's the whole story in a nutshell. The dealer was pretty freaked when I paid for the car in good old US currency, but he took it, all right. Thanks for believing in me, Blair. You're the only one who did."
"Don't be too hard on Simon, Rafe. He's a total cop, and he has a cop's sometimes-jaded and cynical perspective. Jim said Simon didn't want to believe it, but --"
"Jim, too? Does the whole squad know about this?"
"No, just Simon, Jim and I." Blair decided that Captain Banks should be the one to tell Rafe about Mulroney's knowledge of the matter. "However, I think you should tell Brown. About the Beemer, about your moonlighting as an actor, everything." His tone deepened. "You don't keep secrets from your partner, Rafe. That's something Jim and I learned the hard way."
"I think you're right," Rafe agreed. "I'll tell Simon and Brown when we get back to Cascade. What about Jim?"
"I'll just tell him your hat is still the same color as your new car."
"You're one of the good guys, Rafe." Sandburg grinned, and added, "You know, like in Bonanza: the good guys always wore white hats."
Jim, Blair and Rafe stood on the beach with the rest of the masses, waiting for the next amateur windsurfing race. Jim and Rafe wore their black shorty wetsuits and Blair wore cut-off jeans and a 'Greenpeace' T-shirt. Since Rafe had already competed earlier that morning, finishing a respectable eighth, he wore a Gorge Event Participant T-shirt over his shorty. Jim, whose freestyle competition was later in the day, wore his shorty suit and chest harness.
The next race was a One Design Class race with every entrant in the race fleet using virtually the same identical board and sail. The course was a huge triangle, marked by a series of buoys. The first leg was five furlongs long, heading towards the Washington side of the mile-wide river at a sixty-degree angle. Then the course turned and ran parallel to the shore for another five furlongs, then turned back shoreward, ending at the starting point in front of the Event Site beach. Since everyone used the same equipment, the thrill and skill of the race came from judging the wind shifts correctly and taking advantages of the changing conditions faster than the other racers.
"I'm thirsty," Blair said, gesturing towards the LW, only a few blocks away. "Does anyone else want a drink before the next race?"
"No, thanks," Rafe answered.
"I'll pass, too, Chief."
"Okay, I'm not sure how crowded it'll be, so I might be awhile." He lowered his voice to almost a whisper. "Don't forget to dial down your hearing before the next race starts." Blair had discovered that windsurfing crowds were like horseracing crowds at the start of a race: super noisy.
He threaded his way through the crowd, heading away from the beach. Once outside the crowd, he rapidly covered the four blocks to the LW and ducked inside the restaurant. The restaurant's trade was very light with only a few tables occupied. He walked back towards the bar, thinking maybe he could get a plastic glass of beer to go and get back to the Event Site beach before the next race.
He paused at the last occupied table, recognizing the Snoopy T-shirt that the seated young windsurfer wore. The younger man looked up and Sandburg got his first look at Joe 'Cool' Culkin's face. To his surprise, he recognized him.
"Aren't you from Rainier?"
"The University, not the mountain," Culkin answered calmly.
Sandburg did a double-take and then stared straight into Culkin's eyes. He understood the significance of the exchange about the same time that Culkin concluded that he'd blurted out the password to the wrong man. "Shit!" The windsurfing expert jumped to his feet and ran for the door, Blair in hot pursuit.
Once outside, Culkin tore down the street, racing for the Event Site beach. He whipped his T-shirt off and blindly threw it behind him, hoping to slow down his pursuer.
Sandburg easily dodged the flying shirt and yelled, "Jim! Culkin is Farrell's contact!"
"THEY'RE OFF!!" The crowd of hundreds roared from the beach and the next One Design race was underway.
Culkin headed with single-minded purpose for the beach, Blair still dogging him. The windsurfer reached the edge of the crowd and disappeared into it. Blair tried to follow, but fully half of the crowd consisted of fit young men wearing black shorties. Instead, he hotfooted it back to Jim and Rafe, keeping up a running conversation in case the Sentinel had dialed his hearing back up.
"Jim! Culkin is Farrell's contact. He gave me the password by mistake at the LW. He took off for the beach and I lost him in the crow --"
Sandburg spied Jim only a few yards ahead of him, head slightly tilted and listening intently.
"Jim!" Blair ran up to his partner.
"Culkin grabbed someone's rig and is heading for the water," Jim said. "He's making a break for the other side of the river!" He took off towards the beach, making a beeline for his own rig, 'parked' on the beach until his event. As quickly as possible, he hoisted his rig and headed for the river, the crowds hastily parting as he approached.
Jim heard the wind catch Culkin's sail as he dashed into the water. He set the shortboard on the water and leaped onto it, uphauling the sail at record speed. He grasped the boom and the wind caught his sail. He shot forwards, zigzagging after Culkin, who had almost seventy yards' head start.
Rafe and Sandburg had followed Jim as far as they could, stopping right at the beach's high water line. "We need a boat!" Rafe said.
"Look! There's Sharky!" Blair pointed to the event's sponsor, and raced towards him, Rafe following. "Sharky!"
"Blair!" Sharky lowered his binoculars and focussed on the excited young man at his side. "Can you tell me what Ellison is up to?"
"We need to borrow a boat, Sharky! We have to go after them." Sandburg said, gesturing towards the river.
"Maybe you could get us in a press boat," Rafe said, indicating a large powered rubber raft not too far up the beach from them.
"Please, Sharky," Blair explained breathlessly. "I'm Jim's partner in the Cascade PD. We're here undercover. Culkin's an Internet spy and he's getting away!"
Sharky made up his mind quickly. "Come on!" He ran along the beach towards the raft and yelled at the man closest to it. "I need your boat, Harry!"
"I'll come with you," Harry the photographer leaped inside the raft and started the Evinrude engine. He checked for his camera and equipment that were lying at his feet as Sharky and two other men scrambled into the raft. The rubber boat took off with a roar.
"Try to catch up to those two!" Sharky yelled over the wind, pointing towards the two windsurfers who weren't part of the race.
Blair and Rafe tracked Jim and Culkin as the boat sped along.
Ellison was taking advantage of every bit of wind he could feel, racing after Culkin. Although he was speeding towards the distant Washington shore, Culkin's lead was evaporating as the pursuing detective narrowed the water between them.
Jim changed his angle of sail and coaxed even more speed out of his sail. He surveyed the water in front of him, plotting an intercept course to Culkin. He instantly noticed that the wind was picking up and altered his course as the sudden gust of wind increased his speed and he zipped closer to the fleeing Culkin.
Culkin hadn't been as quick to respond to the shift in the wind's direction and speed, and it cost him. He had to tack sharply and change direction so he wasn't heading straight upwind.
Jim spotted a promising white-capped wave directly in front of him and along his planned course. He jumped over the wave and threw himself and his rig forward in a spectacular leap that was less than ten feet above the water. His low-level leap cut directly across Culkin's projected path, like the proverbial shot across a boat's bow.
"Aggghhh!" Culkin executed a desperate carve jibe, turning for all he was worth to avoid the low-flying rig. He managed to miss it and zigzagged forward, still intent on reaching the opposite shore.
Jim landed safely and set his sights on Culkin's rig once again. He shifted position and sheeted in, trying to capture every possible bit of wind. He was closing rapidly on the other windsurfer. This time, he eschewed the niceties and aimed for the back of Culkin's surfboard. The front of his shortboard rammed into the back of Culkin's board.
The force of the crash knocked Jim's feet loose from the foot straps and he lost hold of the boom, thrown backwards into the water. He thought he heard a splash just before he met the water's surface with a spectacular splash then disappeared below the surface.
Ellison heard the frantic voice from underwater and kicked his way back to the surface. He popped up only twenty feet away from the temporarily merged rig and swam towards it. He grasped the floating shortboard with both hands, then winced at the sudden pain in his right wrist. Culkin glared at him from the water, clinging to the opposite side the other board. Jim ignored him as he heard the sound of an approaching boat.
"Jim!" He turned towards the direction of the shout and saw Sandburg, Rafe, Sharky and another man in a large rubber boat approaching rapidly. He thought about waving, but settled for shouting across the intervening water. "I'm okay!" Well, that's almost true, Jim thought as he treaded water, waiting to be rescued. A sprained wrist is very minor damage compared to, say, a bullet in the leg.
Henri Brown was sitting in the catbird seat and he knew it. He was seated behind his own desk in the bullpen, his dapper partner in the witness chair at the side of Brown's desk. As Ellison and Sandburg had been known to do, they'd had an earlier heart-to-heart behind the closed break room doors.
"You have to let me drive the Beemer, sometimes."
"Sure, no problem."
"And you owe me dinner at a fancy restaurant."
Blair, passing Brown's desk on his way back from Simon's office, paused, blatantly listening.
"That new French restaurant is supposed to be good," Henri continued. "What's the name? Oh, yeah, Dans L'Argent."
"Dinner? What, no movie?" Sandburg piped up. "Sounds like a cheap date to me, Rafe."
Rafe swiveled in his chair. "No, Sandburg, a rock-solid partnership."
"And speaking of partners," Brown motioned towards Ellison's desk. "Your better half wants to see you," he told Sandburg.
Blair nodded and walked over to Jim's desk. Ellison glanced up from reading the open file on his desk "You wanted to see me?"
"Yeah, Chief. Have you signed off on the Farrell case?"
"Good," Jim closed the file and handed it to his partner. "Can you take it over to the file rack? Simon wants Rhonda to start the final paperwork and filing as soon as possible."
"And you can't do this yourself because --?"
"I'm injured," Jim pouted, indicating his wrist, wrapped in an ace bandage and blue flexi-splint.
"And that prevents you walking because --?" Blair challenged, grabbing the folder. "Never mind, I'll do it. I could use the exercise." He turned and walked back down the main aisle, then turned left at the desks in front of the captain's office, striding towards the unmarked door on the far side of Simon's office. "I mean, having to walk clear over to the other side of the bullpen, that must use up all of three calories," he muttered to himself. The wall-mounted file rack was immediately to the left of the door, its marked slanted slots packed with folders, manila envelopes and miscellaneous bits of paperwork. He reached to drop the file in Jim's assigned slot, second from the top on the right column, and froze.
The nameplate on the slot directly under Ellison's leaped out at him in white block letters:
with another placard below:
"Oh, wow," he said, then carefully slipped the Farrell folder into his slot.
"Congratulations, Sandy." Megan's voice came from behind him, and he swiveled to face the room. Rafe, Jim, Brown, Connor and Simon formed a loose circle behind him, with Rhonda taking the scene in from her nearby desk.
"You're not very observant in spotting a tail, are you Chief?" Jim teased. "Never mind, we'll work on it."
"Yeah, right," Blair said, smiling.
"I requisitioned your placard months ago, Sandburg," Captain Banks said. "It finally showed up last week. You know, bureaucracy in action. Congratulations, Detective. You're now an officially recognized member of Major Crimes."
"Thank you, Captain." Blair said to a small round of applause and a hearty "Hear, hear!" from Rafe.
"Which means, in police lingo, your butt is mine." Simon's gaze swept over his audience, signaling an end to the impromptu induction. "Why am I seeing people standing and not working?" His words sent the detectives scurrying back to their desks. Simon grinned, satisfied. Back to business as usual in Major Crimes.
~ Finis ~
E-mail the author of this story, Sue Wells, at email@example.com Read Sue's other fan fiction for The Sentinel at Mackie's Idol Pursuits Please visit our Virtual Season 5 Staff Page to learn more about the hard-working behind-the-scenes crew responsible for bringing you this episode E-mail Faux Paws Productions at firstname.lastname@example.org NEXT WEEK on THE SENTINEL: Bad Desire (3/1/00, FPP-526) by Kim Heggen
Jim stands accused of an unspeakable crime; will he and his partner be able to clear his name?
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