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.
Sentinel Cordon Bleu
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
Ten Years Previously...
The navy blue-clad figure turned at the sound of his name, and smiled at the elderly janitor.
"Hey yourself, Frank. What's up?"
"Got a light?" Frank waved an unlit cigarette.
"Now, Frank, you know you're not supposed to smoke in here." The security guard fished around in a pocket, bringing out a cheap plastic lighter which he handed to the other man.
The janitor chuckled as he lit the cigarette. "Oh, come on now, Earl. You afraid I'll leave ashes lying around?" He tossed the lighter back. "Besides, I'm three months away from retirement. Whadaya think they're going to do, fire me?" He laughed again, a high-pitched wheeze which ended in a cough.
Earl smiled in return and wiggled his finger at his companion. This was an old, old discussion, one they'd had almost every night since Earl had come to work at the museum. The only variable had been Frank's estimate of his remaining time before retirement. "See what I mean? If you quit puffing on those cancer sticks, maybe you'll live long enough to enjoy --" He broke off, frowning. "What was that?"
"What was what?" The janitor puffed unconcernedly on his cigarette, the lit end glowing redly in the semidarkness. "Earl, you're always hearin' things."
"No," the watchman said slowly, unconvinced. "I heard something. It sounded like it was coming from the Americas collection." He pulled his walkie-talkie out of its belt pouch. "Joe, this is Earl. I think you'd better come meet me over by the Conquistador exhibit." He replaced the walkie-talkie and took off at a run.
"Be careful!" called out the janitor to the rapidly disappearing figure. "If you get hurt, who'm I gonna bum lights off of?"
Earl jogged down the hall, conscious of his sweating forehead and extra pounds. He wished now that he'd stayed in better shape. He'd been a night watchman at the Museum for eight years, and nothing much had ever happened except a few kids playing pranks. Every once in a while, some adolescent would read that book about the two kids who ran away from home to hide out in the Met, and they'd try to do the same thing. Each time, the guards would gently turn them in.
As Earl rounded the next corner, he nearly plowed into Joe Burrell.
"Jesus, Earl!" hissed Joe. "Watch it!"
"What's up, anyway?" Joe whispered, as they continued to move down the hall, now more stealthily than before.
"I heard something... and it sounded like it came from the Conquistador exhibit," replied Earl grimly, sliding carefully along the wall as he peered around the corner.
"Shit!" whispered Joe, barely audibly.
The conquistador exhibit was on loan from the Mexican government, and was the pride and joy of the museum. Shiny helmets, Aztec artifacts, and real Spanish gold doubloons worth well over half a million dollars had been drawing in the crowds for the past six months. The exhibit's presence had been well publicized, and that chest of gold doubloons had troubled Earl since its appearance. A new alarm system had been added, but the staff had been having occasional problems trying to get it to function properly.
"Joe, get the police on the horn. Now."
Looking even paler than usual, Joe pulled out his cellphone and began to place the call as Earl crept closer.
Earl could see at least two figures moving around the exhibit, both definitely adult in size. No adventurous children, here. His heart sank as he realized that the dimly visible figures were rooting about in the conquistador exhibit. Why wasn't the alarm going off?
Swallowing against a suddenly dry throat, Earl stepped out with his handgun held in front of him.
Earl caught a glimpse of two startled faces as they turned toward the sound of his voice. As if in slow motion, he saw one of the intruders duck behind the suit of armor... but his attention was riveted on the other figure, who was bringing a handgun into position. Instinctively, just as he'd been taught, Joe aimed and pulled the trigger. Before he could tell if he'd hit anything, he saw Joe run out from behind him and tackle the suit of armor, sending it flying onto the intruder skulking behind it. As Earl ran to help, he nearly fell when his feet encountered the dull heaviness of an unmoving body, bleeding copiously onto the white tile floor.
Simon closed the file folder of the last case in his "review" file and sat back to patiently wait for the gleaming Krups coffeemaker behind his desk to finish brewing its latest batch. He could almost taste the rich, subtle aroma of his latest purchase, a special dark roasted amaretto blend. In a few minutes he would be able to indulge himself with a fresh cup and enjoy a rare moment of hedonistic pleasure. He leaned back in his chair and inhaled more deeply as he relaxed... only to be abruptly interrupted by the ringing of the phone. Glaring at the demented plastic object that had dared disturb him, he grabbed the receiver.
"Banks!" he barked, letting his frustration at being disturbed come clearly across in his voice.
Through the ear piece, he could hear the calming voice of his secretary, Rhonda.
"Captain, there's an Agent Mulroney from the FBI here to see you. Are you available?"
Simon gave a sarcastic snort. "No, I'm in deep communication with my coffeemaker." He sighed noisily. Better to go ahead and get the inevitable over with. If the Fed really wanted to see him, he would hang around until he succeeded, undoubtedly badgering Simon's staff in the process.
"Yeah. Sorry to growl at you, Rhonda. Send him in. Better see if I need rescuing in fifteen minutes." He heard Rhonda's soft chuckle as he hung up the phone. What does Mulroney want? He's got a lot of nerve, showing up here after that fiasco...
Agent Mulroney entered without even a perfunctory knock at the door and seated himself, placing his briefcase on the floor beside him. Folding his arms somewhat belligerently, he launched into his statement.
"Ten years ago there was a burglary at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It involved the traveling Conquistador exhibit from Mexico. One of the thieves managed to make off with most of the genuine gold doubloons. The theft made national news; it became a Federal case due to the concerns of the Mexican government about the fate of their national treasures."
Pouring himself a cup of the freshly brewed coffee, Simon toyed with the idea of offering some to the agent, then discarded the idea. He wants something, and until I find out what, I'm not giving anything away, especially my damn coffee.
Purposely maintaining a slightly bored expression, he responded with what he knew about the theft.
"I remember hearing about it. The Mexican government was pretty upset. It was quite an international incident, if I recall."
The agent nodded, looking slightly less antagonistic. "One suspect was shot and killed at the scene by one of the museum security guards. Another one was arrested and convicted, though he maintained that he was innocent and just in the wrong place at the wrong time. We always knew there must have been a third man present and that he managed to somehow escape with the gold."
"That's all very interesting, Agent Mulroney, but what does that have to do with the Cascade Police Department?" Why are you telling me about a ten-year-old burglary that occurred on the other side of the country? I mean, it's not like I've run across any genuine Spanish gold doubloons lately... not unless Sandburg has been hiding them in his collection of antique doodads.
"The convicted man, Les Hall, is due to be released from the federal prison down in Sheridan, Oregon in just a few days. We've known his scheduled release date for some time. We're hoping he'll lead us to his partner in the crime and the missing gold. The most likely possibility we've been able to find is his former roommate, who just happens to live here in Cascade."
"Mulroney, a lot of people live in Cascade. It's a big city! What is it you want the Cascade PD to do that you can't do yourself?" Simon's tone was abrupt and more than a little sarcastic. My department is not an adjunct office for FBI grunt work. The last time Mulroney had shown up and proposed a joint operation, the entire affair had been a complete disaster. A Russian Inspector had gotten shot, Sandburg and Ellison had been pinned down by a Russian hit man, Yuri, at Mulroney's supposed "safe" house, and a van of agents had been blown up. Simon was not thrilled about the idea of putting his people in danger because of an old, unsolved FBI case. Let them tend to their own knitting.
Mulroney regarded Simon impassively. "The man we suspect of being Hall's partner is now employed here as the head chef at a place called The Glen. Are you familiar with it?"
"Yes. It's a very exclusive resort hotel down by the bay. I've been there once, at a city function." One of those overpriced, undersized "Northwest Cuisine" meals...tiny portions, with hazelnuts and raspberries in everything. Glad I wasn't paying.
"That's the place." The agent opened up his briefcase and handed Simon a photograph. "Boyd Deeds has been there for the past four years, and he's apparently made quite a name for himself. Deeds' life is a classic rags-to-riches story. You know, a poor kid from a broken home, went to culinary school on a scholarship. He was apprenticed at La Maison in New York at the time of the theft. The Times food critic gave him a huge write-up over a dish he created and his career took off. I don't know whether the dish was that good or whether he was, but it gave him the exposure he needed. Then he got the opportunity to come out here as head chef at one of the trendiest restaurants in the Pacific Northwest."
Simon studied the photograph of the suspected thief. "That's all very well, Mulroney, but what do you actually have on him?" Mulroney had held out on them before, almost getting his detective team killed. I don't think you're telling us the whole story, here.
Mulroney paused, appearing to marshal his thoughts. "In hard evidence, nothing. If you count conclusions, quite a bit. He was a former roommate of Hall's for almost a year just prior to the theft. Prior to becoming interested in cooking, Deeds had taken classes at a technical school in electrical engineering. He did well in the classes, but dropped out of the program because of financial difficulties. Neither Hall nor Marten had any knowledge of electronics that we've been able to find... and somebody who knew what they were doing bypassed the outside alarm." The agent consulted his notes again.
"A light colored van was seen leaving the scene of the theft, and we know Deeds owned a yellow van. He'd been scheduled to work that night, but he'd called in sick. When the investigating officers talked to his landlady, she said he'd gone out that night and hadn't come in till after 3 a.m. Deeds then claimed he'd just wanted to ditch work and had gone bar hopping instead."
Simon waited for the agent to continue, but that was apparently the end of his recitation. "That's it? That's all you have on him?"
"I admit it's not much, but he is a strong possibility and the stolen gold has never turned up."
"He must be holding onto it then, if he ever had it in the first place." Simon mentally weighed the credit the department could get if they helped find the missing treasure versus the difficulties of having to deal with the Feds and Agent Mulroney. "What is it you think we can help you with?"
"We had a plan in place to watch Deeds in case Hall heads here to meet with him. It turns out that Deeds is going to be both teaching and judging a combination cooking class and contest, which starts on Monday. That's the same day Hall will be released. We had an agent from the Seattle office we planned to slip into the cooking class. We have his cover all set, and he's signed up as a participant. Unfortunately, he's currently in the hospital with appendicitis."
Before Simon could answer, there came a token knock at the door...followed immediately by the entrance of Jim Ellison. Jim slipped into the captain's office, holding the door open behind him as Blair Sandburg followed him into the room.
"Sorry to interrupt, Captain, but we've finally gotten somewhere in the Baker case. I think we're ready to get a warrant." Jim's eyes met Simon's, with a look that seemed to say, do you need rescuing?
Simon fought the urge to smile at his secretary's cleverness. Rhonda had found the perfect way to "rescue" him from the clutches of the FBI agent: send in Major Crime's most effective and colorful detective team.
"Ellison, can't it wait? Come back in fifteen minutes." Simon maintained his growl in answer to Jim's question.
"Wait!" This came unexpectedly from Agent Mulroney.
Jim turned toward Mulroney slowly and proceeded to give the FBI agent a cold stare. Undoubtedly, he was remembering Mulroney's high-handed "kidnapping" of Blair and himself that had ended with setting them all up for Yuri. Jim didn't trust Mulroney any farther than he could throw him.
No, Simon reflected, that's probably being too generous. Jim could probably toss Mulroney a pretty good distance.
Then he watched, briefly mystified, as the agent pulled another photograph out of his briefcase. "This is Agent Evan Wahlberg, the man who was going to be assigned to keep an eye on Deeds. It's the same photo we sent in with the contest application, under the name of Ben Wolfe." He handed the 3 x 5 snapshot to Simon, who gaped at it...then raised his eyes to stare across the room with poorly concealed amusement.
Oh my God... he looks a lot like Sandburg. Exactly like Sandburg. I can't believe it... are there two of him?
Silently, Simon stood up and reached across the desk to hand the picture to his puzzled pair of detectives, watching for their reaction.
Jim gave the photo a cursory glance. "Why do you have a picture of my partner?"
"Take a closer look," instructed Simon, then watched as Jim did so.
"It's not him," came the slow response. "But... the resemblance is remarkable." Simon could see Jim's eyes narrow thoughtfully as the Sentinel attempted to hand the photograph back to Simon over the top of Blair's head. "So you have an agent who looks like Sandburg. So what?"
Blair intercepted the picture, snatching it from Jim's hand and studying it. "Hey, this guy does look a lot like me. Well, you never know, maybe my mysterious father got around more than..."
"Never mind that right now, Sandburg," interrupted Simon. "Mulroney, what exactly are you proposing?"
"We believe Mr. Sandburg would be useful to us. We'd like to borrow him for this operation." Briefly, the FBI agent gave a summary of the facts he'd told Simon before Jim and Blair had interrupted. "I understand," the agent concluded, turning around to address Blair, "that you're no longer an observer? That you're now...a part of the department?"
"Yeahhhh." Blair's reply had a cautious, hedging sound to it. If he intended to add anything else to his reply, he never got the chance.
Jim bristled at Mulroney's words. "What about it?"
Simon attempted to steer the conversation to calmer waters. "Detective Sandburg has responsibilities within the department. I just don't see how I could spare him at this time." He shot a meaningful look at the young detective in question, but not in time to keep Blair from coming up with his own interpretation of the situation.
"We don't have anything big going on right now, Captain, just this missing person case." As Mulroney turned expectantly back towards Simon, the police captain was faintly amused to see Blair step on Jim's foot, pressing down hard.
But Simon knew that mere physical pain would not be enough to deter Jim from his line of reasoning. The Sentinel's last experience with the FBI agent hadn't exactly been enjoyable. It would be difficult to convince Jim to let his partner go off with someone who classified people by whether or not they were useful to an operation. Seemingly ignorant of his partner's efforts to distract him, Jim almost growled at Mulroney's dismissal of him.
"Just what is it you want Sandburg to do, Mulroney?" Jim's tone of voice left little doubt as to his opinion of the whole mess, but he quickly moved his foot out of reach of Blair's heel.
As if hoping Ellison would somehow give up and go away, Mulroney continued to face Simon as he answered Jim's question.
"We want Mr. Sandburg to go undercover in the competition and see if Hall makes an attempt to contact Deeds about the stolen gold. It would be a short assignment, no more than a few days. If Hall doesn't show, then no harm's been done." Mulroney turned to face Blair. "Can you cook?"
"Cook? Sure I can cook. At least better than Jim can anyway." He laughed a little, but Jim wasn't amused.
"And what will you be doing if Sandburg agrees to participate in this little game of yours?"
Mulroney sighed and looked briefly up at the ceiling, as if hoping divine intervention would make Jim Ellison disappear. Apparently resigned to dealing with him directly, he turned to face the detective.
"We would have a team nearby in case Hall did show up. Hopefully, he and Deeds would lead us to wherever the gold has been stashed. We would then make the arrest and recover the stolen property."
"The last time you had a team 'nearby' we almost got killed waiting for them to arrive." Jim continued to direct an icy glare at the FBI agent.
Angrily, Mulroney stood up. "That wasn't the way it was supposed to work out." He paused, taking a breath. Directing his next statement directly to Blair, he continued. "I'm asking for your assistance in this. If you don't want to help, that's fine." He started picking up the photographs of his suspects and returning them to their proper manila envelopes.
"I never said I didn't want to help," Blair responded in a slightly injured tone. His statement hung in the air. Watching Jim, Simon could see the Sentinel stiffen at those words. Blair met Simon's eyes and nodded, with just a hint of a plea written on the deceptively guileless features.
Against his own better judgement, Simon found himself acknowledging Blair's request. "Fine. You're on loan to the FBI for a week, Sandburg. See if you can wrap it up sooner. We need you back here."
Jim frowned, but before he could voice any objections, Blair spoke quickly to Mulroney. "There's one thing," he hazarded. The agent looked up in response as he gathered his briefcase in hand. "I'd like to have some backup a little closer than you have in mind. Is there a problem with that?"
"I don't have any other agents I could assign to this case. We were planning to send Wahlberg in alone, and he was fine with that." Sounding reluctant, Mulroney added, "It hasn't exactly been considered to be a high-priority case."
Then why are you so interested in solving it? wondered Simon. Is there some hidden agenda you've got up your sleeve again?
"The backup I had in mind --" Blair turned to face Jim directly, meeting his eyes, "-- is my partner. Is that a problem?"
From his vantage point behind his desk, Simon watched as Jim's expression thawed by degrees. First the eyes, then the mouth, and finally the jaw relaxed, until he was smiling at Blair.
Mulroney looked from one to another and tried another tack. "I don't have another cover set up and there's not enough time..."
"Don't worry about that. I'm sure Sandburg can come up with something. He's very --creative -- when he wants to be." Simon relaxed back into his chair. Another minor problem solved. And since Jim would be with Blair, Simon wouldn't have to worry about his newest detective -- nor would he have to put with a grumpy, irritated Sentinel for the week Blair would be gone. I just might have a peaceful week.
Mulroney looked as if he was still not happy with the situation, but Simon knew there was little the agent could do. He'd come here to request Sandburg's help, after all, and Sandburg wanted Ellison's help. "Just keep me informed on what you're doing." He handed over the file to Blair as he left the office.
"Okay, you two, turn over the Baker case to Brown and have him come talk to me about the warrant." He waved a hand at them. "Go on, get out of here and start planning Mulroney's expedition into the Sandburg zone."
"Here's an article in the paper about this cooking contest thing." Blair waved the "Local" section at Jim. "It's scheduled to run a week. This article says that the whole affair will be jointly sponsored by The Glen and by the Cascade Culinary Institute, and the winner will win a full scholarship to the cooking school." He grinned at Jim, his eyes dancing. "Hey, this could be fun."
Jim snorted. "We just got you through cop school, Chief. Don't go getting any ideas about another career change."
"It's always good to have a backup, though," Blair intoned solemnly. "You never know." He smiled and put out a hand to touch Jim's shoulder briefly. "I'm kidding, I'm kidding."
Jim looked down at his desk for a moment, unable to suppress the quick wave of regret that washed through him. Always good to have a backup career, right. You never know when you're going to have to give it all up to save your partner's career. Covertly, he eyed Blair, who stood leaning against his desk, now studying the file on Deeds. He's grown up so much since we first met, become so much steadier and more serious. Sometimes, I miss the old Sandburg. Giving his head an imperceptible shake, he wrenched his thoughts back on track.
"All right, Mr. Frugal Gourmet. So how are we going to explain my presence at this grand culinary affair? It sounds like it's too late to get me in as a contestant, or the Feds would have just used one of their own men in the first place."
Blair sat down on the edge of Jim's desk, perching comfortably. Jim smiled slightly. No, there's still a bit of the old Sandburg there. It surfaces now and again.
"Well, that's going to be kind of hard, Jim. You're not exactly easy to camouflage. You look like a cop."
"I could always be a janitor, or maybe I could pose as a dishwasher or something," mused Jim. "That'd at least get me into the building."
Blair laughed. "Jim, no one in their right mind would mistake you for a dishwasher. Or a janitor. And neither of those'll get you into where Deeds is going to be." He stared off past Jim's shoulder, the blue eyes going soft and unfocused. "Maybe you could be a journalist. You know, a reporter from the feature section of the paper, covering the contest. That'd give you an excuse to hang around all week." He smiled encouragingly at his partner.
"You've got to be kidding, Chief," groaned Jim. Me, a reporter? I'd be laughable! Blair could pull it off, but not me. "You know I hate reporters. How could I be one?"
"Come on, Jim, it's only for a few days."
"No. Forget it. Think of something else, Sandburg."
"You've got no sense of personal adventure, man," griped Blair, grinning. "I guess you could always be my all-purpose lackey and personal therapist. Or trainer. You know, you could talk like Arnold Schwarzenegger and make me do exercises to increase my endurance for beating eggs or something." He raised a hand, laughing, as if anticipating Jim's reaction to that idea. "Wait, Jim, I'm just joking!"
"I don't appreciate you making fun of me, Sandburg," growled Jim with mock severity. "Behave, or I'll tell everyone in Major Crime about those pictures your mother sent last week." He was rewarded with an embarrassed flush that spread slowly across Blair's face.
While visiting old friends at a commune on the Oregon coast, Naomi had run across someone who had some old photographs of Blair taken when he was about four. She'd had some copies made, and had sent them to Blair as a surprise. He'd make the mistake of opening the envelope at the dinner table in front of Jim, though, and had nearly died of embarrassment as Jim snatched them up, howling with laughter at the shots of a naked little Blair running through the surf.
"Okay, okay, sorry." Blair laughed and climbed down from the desk. "I deserved that. Look, it's lunchtime, and I'm getting hungry. Let's go get a bite to eat before we bite each other's head off instead."
"Sounds like a plan, Chief."
They headed for the diner around the corner, where they could have some compromise in the choice of food. Blair was fond of their sandwiches, and Jim liked almost everything on the menu. They'd come there together often in the time since Blair had graduated from the academy.
Jim studied the menu while Blair flirted shamelessly with Rosie, the cheerful waitress who was placing glasses of water of the table. It didn't seem to bother Blair that she was at least ten years older than him; he still apparently found it worthwhile to turn on the charm. Keeping in practice, no doubt.
I still find it hard sometimes to think of him as a police officer, Jim admitted to himself. He's junior to me, yes, and less experienced with the seamier side of our business... but quite capable of taking care of himself. Some days he's Mr. Professional, all business; then other days the facade slips and he reverts back to this eager-puppy persona.
"Jim. Hey, Earth to Jim. Are you going to order?"
"Sorry." He gave the menu another quick glance. "Uh, the bacon burger and a cup of chili, Rosie. Thanks."
Blair favored the waitress with another one of his heart-stopping smiles. "I'll have the turkey and avocado on a croissant."
After Rosie left, Jim found himself staring at his glass of water, toying idly with the condensation patterns on the glass. "You know, it's too bad about the Baker case. We were getting close there, I think." Daniel Baker was a prominent local businessman who'd turned up missing a few days previously and was now feared to be dead.
"Yeah," Blair agreed, not seeming to object to the change of subject. "I think you were on the right track there, wanting to search his ex-wife's house. Hopefully -" Blair broke off, his gaze moving to the counter where an older couple had just been seated. Jim turned to see what his partner was staring at, and watched as Rosie came up to take their order. The man pointed silently to items on the menu, after first using sign language to consult with his companion. Rosie smiled, wrote down the order and moved on. The couple then settled back to converse with each other using what Jim assumed to be ASL.
Jim turned his attention back to his own table, noting with amusement that Blair had a far-away look on his face.
"Hey, Chief, are you with me here?"
Blair's eyes refocused and he seemed to come back to the present. The blank expression was replaced by excitement. "Jim, that's it!"
"That's what?" asked Jim, reasonably. "You just remember where you left your keys?"
Blair ignored the remark. "Jim, have you ever learned any ASL? American Sign Language?"
Jim frowned. "Sign language? I learned a little years ago from a girlfriend who was studying it. I don't think I remember too much. Why?" The last word was delivered with a hint of suspicion.
"I used to know quite a bit of it. I took a couple of classes in it. And it's not that hard to look as if you know what you're doing."
An uncomfortable premonition was growing in Jim's mind. "Just what are you driving at, Chief?"
Blair took a deep breath, and leaned forward with both elbows on the table. "I think that 'Ben Wolfe', the aspiring young cooking student, is going to turn out to be profoundly deaf. And I think that he's going to bring his very own signer to the class."
Jim stared. "Oh, no. You're not serious."
"Jim, it's perfect. No one would dare to kick you out, or question my right to bring you along. The advocates for the disabled would have an absolute cow."
"Except that you wouldn't really be disabled," Jim pointed out. How does he come up with these ideas? "One slip, and not only would our cover be shot, but you'd probably get kicked out of the class."
"But we could do it!" Jim could feel his partner's excitement growing. "Jim, you'd be in a perfect position to hear everything that's going on. We'd be much more effective as an investigative team, because you wouldn't have to do much other than stick close to me and pretend to translate things!"
Jim shook his head. "It's a pretty dicey set-up, Chief," he said slowly. "We'd both have a lot to keep track of. You'd have to pretend to be deaf, and that won't be easy." Why do I feel like I've already lost this argument? "Besides, won't the people running the contest get suspicious?"
"No!" answered Blair earnestly. "That's the beauty of it! There was a copy of the agent's 'application' to the contest in that file that Maroney gave us. There was nothing in there that would blow our cover. I mean, come on! They can't discriminate against the handicapped. That is like the most politically incorrect thing you can do these days."
"Worse than discriminating against short, long-haired detectives?" deadpanned Jim.
"Much worse, Jim," intoned Blair solemnly, his eyes laughing. "Short, long-haired detectives don't exactly have much in the way of lobbyists."
Rosie appeared just then, smoothly placing their food down in front of them with a smile. Blair grabbed his sandwich and took a bite hurriedly. Jim watched him absently for a few seconds, thinking about his partner's suggestion.
It's a typical Sandburg scheme... bizarre, creative and something that no one else would ever think of. So it just might work. He smiled to himself.
"So, Jim, what do you say?" Blair looked as if he was holding his breath waiting for Jim's response.
Jim raised a spoonful of chili halfway to his mouth, gesturing with it. "All right. For the sake of argument, let's say we try your idea. What happens if we run into some real deaf people?"
Blair waved a hand, dismissing the idea. "Pretty unlikely, Jim. We only have to keep up the pretense during the contest. And I can teach you enough ASL to make it look good."
Looking across the table at the animated face in front of him, Jim found himself nodding slowly.
"All right. We'll try selling it to Simon. But, if he won't go for it, Chief, we'll need to come up with something else." He picked up the dripping burger and looked at it appreciatively. "Now, shut up and let me enjoy one of the wonders of nature."
Blair felt his already buoyant spirits lift even more as he walked through the revolving doors at the public library. At last... a really good undercover assignment! And something I can actually have fun doing! This doesn't even sound very dangerous for a change... not that that stopped old Mother Hen Ellison. I really thought he was going to burst a blood vessel when Mulroney first said that he wanted me for this case.
No, Jim hadn't looked happy at all in those few seconds. He'd been starting to get that broody, overprotective look. He's got to learn to cut me a little slack here, soon. I'm not an idiot or a child, or even an observer anymore. I can certainly handle this assignment. I want him there, but I think I could do it by myself if I had to.
Seating himself at the computerized on-line catalog, he pulled up the listings for books on cooking. Whoa, slow down there. Way too many. I'd better just write down the section number and go look at the titles on the shelf.
With a bounce in his step, Blair strolled to the pertinent shelves and set to work selecting volumes that looked to be potentially helpful. Let's see... French cooking, Italian cooking, Oriental cooking... Julia Child, James Beard, Marcella Hazan, all of the great authors. Finally, weighted down by heavy tomes, he headed for the checkout desk.
When Jim returned to the loft several hours later, he found his partner seated on the living room floor, surrounded by open books. He smiled at the sight. The scene needed only a stack of ungraded term papers to turn the clock back to Sandburg's grad student days. As always, that particular thought brought with it a vague feeling of sadness, and Jim quickly veered his thoughts away onto a less painful topic.
"Hey, Blair, isn't it your turn to cook dinner tonight? I don't smell anything."
The younger man sat up and peered at the clock. "Oh, geez... yes, but I lost track of time. Sorry, Jim, but this is so fascinating! Did you know that in the golden age of French haute cuisine, apprentice chefs started by chopping wood and hauling water... as young as eight or nine years old?"
Jim grunted, feeling slightly annoyed. "Huh. Well, we don't have any wood to chop, and the faucets were working last I checked. Do you think that maybe you could manage to fix some dinner anyway, Chef Sandburg?
Undaunted, Blair grinned and scrambled to his feet. "How about 'les grilled cheese sandwiches' for 'le barbarian clientele'?" he responded, with a fair parody of a French accent.
"You just watch who you're calling a barbarian. At least I don't go fishing with spears."
After dinner, Blair gathered up several of his cookbooks and retreated to the couch, much to Jim's secret amusement. He's taking this so seriously... really getting into the role.
Reluctantly, Jim picked up his own homework assignment for the evening: a videotaped lesson in beginner's American Sign Language. I need to at least know enough of this to not look like a complete idiot on Monday. As he was popping it into the VCR, he heard Blair clear his throat in preparation to ask a question.
"Hey, Jim... how did it go with Simon? What did he think of my idea?"
Jim eyed his partner, who slouched on the couch half-buried beneath the heavy books, and suppressed a grin. "He said it had better work, or you'll need those cooking skills to find yourself a new career."
"Hey, man of many talents, that's me. I bet he loved the whole plan."
"Well, he's going to let us try it, anyway." Jim directed a mock glare at the young man on the couch. "God help us. A deaf-mute hippie former anthropologist undercover cop chef student. It was hard enough to explain you to people before, but now -" Jim's string of words was abruptly cut off as the brightly colored couch pillow made contact with his mouth, having sailed across the room in a perfect arc.
"Well," deadpanned Blair, "people do refer to them as 'throw' pillows."
Jim glared. "You know, you don't need to wear a gun. You're dangerous enough with everyday objects."
"Hey Jim, speaking of my gun... should I be wearing it on this assignment, or not? I mean, it seems kind of silly."
"It's your first official undercover assignment, hotshot. You wear it. There won't be anyone frisking you at the door, so you'll just have to keep your jacket on and endure it like the rest of us do." Jim's face grew serious. "I know this whole assignment doesn't sound very risky, but we're still dealing with at least one convicted criminal. You've got to learn to expect the unexpected, Chief."
Blair sighed. "I can see it now... the aspiring young cooking student leans forward, and his weapon falls into the soup."
"That'd certainly grab their attention."
Jim lay blinking in the darkness, not entirely sure why he'd awakened. He rolled over and stared at the clock, knuckling his eyes. It's 2 a.m. Why did I wake up?
Lying still, he realized he could still hear sounds coming from downstairs: the rustling of thin pages, the scratching of a pen, the occasional muttered-under-the-breath comment. He smiled to himself. I haven't heard those sounds in the middle of the night for months.
Impulsively, he slipped into a robe and padded down the stairs to the living room. Blair sat on the couch wrapped in a quilt, so absorbed in his work that he jumped violently when Jim touched him on the arm. The motion caused Blair's disheveled hair to fly about and the notebook to slide to the floor.
"Augghh! Don't do that, Jim!" Blair reached down to retrieve his fallen notebook.
"Jumpy, aren't you?" Jim perched on the arm of the couch. "What are you doing still up? You don't have to learn everything in those books, especially in one night."
The younger detective looked sheepish. "Oh. Well... I was revising."
"Yeah. You know, all of these traditional French and Italian recipes... they taste great, but they're loaded with saturated fat and animal products. I thought I'd make a few changes here and there, maybe try the new versions out on you."
Jim laughed, shaking his head. "Go to bed, Chief. You can save my arteries some other time."
Les Hall dutifully filed away the last book on his cart in the prison's library. Putting the cart away in the storage closet, he took his seat at the small worktable and began logging in the newest shipment of magazines and books. The librarian, Ms. Dewey, hardly glanced up from her perusal of the federal penitentiary inter-library catalog. A walking caricature of a librarian, Mrs. Dewey wore her graying hair pulled tightly back into a bun. She typically wore reading glasses on a cord around her neck, and had a perpetually pinched, severe expression on her face.
The only enthusiasm she ever expressed was in her devotion to watching her favorite talk shows. Since all the audiovisual equipment was kept in the library, she was able to indulge herself and tune in to the Portland stations during her entire workday.
The clock hands moved closer to the hour of nine, when he would be subjected, yet again, to six hours of non-stop chatter from the TV. Somewhere, the Devil is laughing at me. Most people don't have to put up with purgatory until they die. Me, I get it every day at nine a.m. sharp. Just two more days and I'm out of here. No more playing games with these fools, no more walls, just looking up an old buddy. The pencil point snapped with an audible pop. Glancing to the side to see if the old biddy had noticed, he was relieved to see she was occupied with positioning the TV closer to her desk.
Just ignore her and that damned TV. He swore to himself that once he was out, if he so much as heard another talk show, he was busting the TV, no matter what. Just for the satisfaction of doing it. The theme song of 'Chatting with Cathy' was starting so he went to the pencil sharpener to grind away the irritating music. Wonder if she'd notice if I sharpened pencils for the next six hours? The whirring of the sharpener only caused her to turn up the volume, so he gave up and resumed his seat... half-listening to the programs even though he hated them.
"Today on our show we have a very special treat for all of you. Our first guest will be the well-known chef of one our most trend-setting restaurants in the Pacific Northwest, Chef Boyd R. Deeds of the Glen. The Glen is located in scenic Cascade, Washington, with spectacular views of the harbor. Chef Deeds will be here giving us some pointers on an easy to prepare appetizer and talking about an upcoming competition he will be judging and hosting at the Glen. Also, we will have..."
Deeds! What the hell! The rest of the host's patter faded into the background, as one thought led quickly to another. That little worm is supposed to be in New York, not Washington. And he's a famous chef now, huh? He was still opening cans for dinner when I got caught. What has that maggot been up to?
Now that he actually wanted to listen to the stupid program, the Devil laughed at him again and a series of never ending commercials began. Come on, come on. Get back to the damn show. Ten interminable minutes later, the show returned.
"Welcome back everyone, and now I'd like you to give a big welcome to Chef Deeds."
I'd love to give him a big welcome myself, with my fist!
"Thank you, Cathy, it's a real pleasure to be here today."
What is he trying to do with that phony French accent? He sounds like Pepe Le Pew. Boyd, old buddy, what have you been up to? Not taking very good care of yourself either, putting on a little bit of a pot belly, huh? Maybe you've been tasting a bit too much of your own cooking.
"Thank you for coming. We hear you're pretty busy now days, what with your work at The Glen and a competition you've got coming up."
"Yes, I don't have much free time to myself..."
Neither do I, hotshot.
"...what with the culinary competition The Glen is hosting beginning in a couple of days and having to get ready for that."
"You'll actually be judging that competition, won't you? And awarding a scholarship to the Cascade Culinary Institute to the winning competitor."
"Yes, this will give one fortunate person a chance to train at one of the finest schools in the northwest in the art of fine cuisine."
"You also instruct at the school, don't you?"
"Yes, I have the honor of being a lecturer there also."
"Would you tell us the Chef Deeds story and how you came to be here today with us?"
Oh yes, tell us. I can't wait to find out a spineless shrimp like you managed to be serving them.
"Well, it all began in New York. I had always enjoyed cooking..."
Eating, you mean, and it looks like you haven't lost your taste for it either.
"...since I was a little boy. I loved to cook for my family..."
Your mother ran off and your father dumped you with his sister.
"...and dreamed of the day I would have my own restaurant. I scrimped and saved my way into culinary school on a scholarship."
You mean stole and lied.
"Eventually I was apprenticed at La Maison..."
Because you were sleeping with the bimbo doing the screening for the apprenticeships.
"and the Times food critic discovered my Sauce Printemps and loved it. The rest as you say, is history."
Yeah, revisionist history.
"And now you reign supreme over the fantastic kitchens and tables of The Glen."
"I've been there for the past four years and I hope for many more."
"Any plans for the future we should know about?"
I've got plans for your future, you weasel. We're going to have a nice, little talk about where my money is.
"One never knows what the future will hold, Cathy."
I know what yours is going to hold if you don't cough up my money.
"It's time for us to get started on that treat I promised the audience. Are you ready?"
"A good chef is always ready for the unexpected."
We'll see about that.
"Then let's adjourn to the kitchen and we'll be back, folks... after this commercial message."
Where did I put that issue of Northwest Travel Guide?
Jim pulled the truck into a "Visitor" space at the Cascade Culinary Institute, then turned to his partner.
"You ready for this?" Am I?
Blair grimaced, flexing his fingers. "I think so. But between all of the chopping and mixing, and the sign language practice, my hands are already hurting." He looked up at Jim with a faint smile. "I never thought I'd actually admit to this, but I'm not looking forward to having to keep my mouth shut for the next few days. I mean... words have always been my weapons of choice."
"I could, of course point out how peaceful and quiet this week will be for me," said Jim, his face carefully serious.
"You could," deadpanned Blair in return. "And I could point out that I'll obviously have to talk twice as much in the evenings, just to make up for having to play deaf and mute all day."
Jim snorted. "This was your idea, remember?" He glanced at his watch. "Come on. It's almost 9 a.m., Chief. And remember... no real talking out loud. Just subvocalize, and I should be able to hear you."
At the registration table, Blair carefully signed in as the mythical "Ben Wolfe" while Jim explained his own presence to the officials.
"So, I'll need to be with Mr. Wolfe at all times," finished Jim. "He can read lips a little in an emergency, and he has some limited speech... but he's very difficult to understand, and he relies on me. He's very self-conscious about trying to talk in front of other people."
Blair could see one of the officials frowning. "If we'd been notified in advance, Mr. Rasmussen, we could have supplied a sign language interpreter."
"That won't be necessary," Jim assured them smoothly. "My client really works best with me. He uses a... a non-standard form of ASL, so he doesn't do well with new interpreters."
"Well, if you're sure..." The woman trailed off, still looking uncertain.
"Completely. Let me just tell Mr. Wolfe what we've been discussing." Jim turned to Blair and made a few gestures. Most of the motions were complete gibberish to Blair, although he had to suppress a giggle when he recognized the sign for "hat". He managed to keep his face straight, and nodded solemnly.
Jim turned a bland face back to the officials. "We'll be on our way inside, then."
About half of the students were already assembled at long tables. Jim selected places at the end of one of the front tables, positioning himself sideways at the end. Blair nodded approvingly. He'll be able to watch Deeds and pretend to translate, plus keep an eye on the rest of the room. He glanced at the class outline which lay on the table in front of him. As for me, I guess I'd better pay attention to the lesson, or I'll blow our cover.
Blair was beginning to realize that this assignment might not be as glamorous as he had first thought. Jim'll be far more likely to actually find out something helpful than I will, he realized glumly. And I feel extremely silly, sitting here armed. He was painfully aware of the still-odd sensation of the cold metal lying heavily against his ribs.
Finally, a pudgy and balding man in a white chef's smock and toque stepped to the front of the room.
"Good morning. I'm Boyd Deeds, executive chef at The Glen. I'll be your instructor this week, and I'm to judge your creations and decide which of you advances to a full scholarship here at the Institute." He went on to make a few more introductory remarks.
Blair made sure he kept his vision focused both on Deeds and on Jim's gesticulating hands as the chef launched into a description of the first day's lesson. "To begin with, we'll make a simple dish that will illustrate a couple of important principles... the use of fresh herbs, fresh seasonal vegetables, and the proper treatment of eggs as we make my famous Sage-Scented Zucchini Pancakes. First, you will grate the zucchini..."
So, where's our elusive chef off to now?
As soon as he'd hastily explained the dish, Deeds had left the room. Blair, happily grating and chopping, didn't appear to notice. Jim glanced around at the other students with some amusement. They all have that same excited look that Sandburg does... intent on their work, hoping to be noticed.
Turning back to his partner, he watched as Blair tossed a handful of green leaves in some sizzling butter with the garlic already in the pan. The younger detective grinned and signed a message to Jim with painstaking care. "Smells good; you like?"
Absently, his eyes on the door, Jim leaned over the pan and took a deep breath... and almost choked. Sage fumes! He backed away hurriedly, coughing. Several of the other students looked up and gave him brief, curious glances.
Damn, I'm an idiot. Burnt sage, or sauteed in a pan... whatever form it's in, it doesn't seem to agree with me. When he stopped coughing and was able to see out of his streaming eyes, he could see Blair looking horrified. With all eyes of the class on them, the younger detective made no attempt to whisper to Jim... but the Sentinel could read the apology in his partner's eyes. He forgot, too.
Jim waved his hands at Blair in what he hoped was a reassuring motion, then headed out the front door of the cooking classroom. Got to wash my face, get this stuff out of my eyes. Natural Sentinel tear-gas, that's what the kid's cooking up in there. For some reason, he felt less annoyed and more amused than he expected.
He turned left as he exited the classroom, since he'd spotted the door to the men's room when he'd arrived earlier that morning. No one else was in the restroom; he filled the small sink and began rinsing his face and eyes.
Ahh... much better. Just a few more minutes, and I'll head back. If I'm lucky, the worst of the fumes will be gone. You'd think those industrial-style range hoods they've got in there would do a better job.
As he dried his face with paper towel, he heard a snatch of conversation from the room next door.
"...are you sure? Today?"
That's Deeds' voice, Jim realized. Who's he talking to? He closed his eyes, concentrating on hearing the conversation through the bathroom wall.
"Well, does he know? Dammit, I've got a good thing here. The last thing I need is for him to show up and... yes, I know... you'll call if you hear anything?"
The accent... he's dropped the phony French bit. Now he sounds like a New Yorker. Huh. Jim shook his head. Maybe, just maybe, Mulroney was on the right track with this guy after all.
"You'd better." There was the unmistakable loud click of a phone being hung up.
Hurriedly, Jim moved away from the wall and left the bathroom. There was no sign of Deeds in the hall; the room adjacent to the bathroom had an unlabeled, closed door. He must be in there... must be an office or something. I'd better get back; if he's done with his phone call he could come out any minute, and I'll look pretty suspicious eavesdropping here in the hall.
Blair looked around quickly as Jim approached. "Where were you?" he hissed under his breath, remembering only at the last minute that he wasn't supposed to talk out loud.
"Finding things out," Jim muttered cryptically. With his hands, he signed, "Later."
Just then, the classroom door opened and Deeds re-entered the room. "How are we all doing, class? Anyone ready to have me inspect their work?
Jim turned to his partner and made some ASL signs. This time, the signs he chose from his limited vocabulary translated roughly as "Teacher here now; time to eat." Blair again fought the urge to laugh, and instead raised his own hand tentatively.
Deeds noticed the motion and started over. "Mr. Wolfe, I believe? Your dish is ready?"
Blair looked at his partner, who simply used the "ready" sign. The younger detective turned back to the chef and nodded.
With a sharp knife, Deeds sliced off a small piece of the steaming vegetable pancake and placed it in his mouth. He nodded as he chewed.
"Very, very good," he said at last. "Excellent texture, superb flavor, and just the right amount of seasoning. A very promising start, Mr. Wolfe." He smiled at Blair, made a notation on his clipboard, and moved on.
Most of the other students had already left for the lunch break, and the parking lot was nearly deserted.
"Did you hear what he said, Jim? 'A very promising start,' that's what he said! And I was the first one to finish, too!" Blair grinned wickedly as they climbed into the truck. "The next time you complain about one of my ethnic concoctions, I'll have to remember that."
"Chief, if you want to value the opinion of a probable felon over the opinion of your loyal friend, roommate and Sentinel, you just go right ahead." He smiled in an effort to take the sting out of the words.
Blair winced anyway. "Ouch. Yeah, you've got a point. Besides, I wouldn't cook something like that for you, anyway. Not with all that sage." He became more serious. "Hey, sorry I forgot about the whole sage thing, Jim. Are you okay?"
"Fine, now." Jim paused for a moment. "It's okay, Chief. I forgot, too. But your sage brought us some good luck, even if it didn't chase away any 'negative energies'... I heard an interesting bit of conversation in the bathroom."
"I'm not sure what the context was... but Deeds was talking to someone, and he wasn't very happy. Something about someone showing up."
"Three guesses, and the first two don't count." Jim started the truck. "So where shall we go for lunch, Monsieur Sandburg?"
"You know, I can't believe they're not feeding us lunch. You'd think a cooking school would have plenty of extra food just sitting around."
"You ate your zucchini pancake stuff," Jim pointed out, pulling out of the parking lot onto the crowded boulevard.
"Yeah, but you couldn't really eat it, and I'm still hungry anyway." Blair shrugged. "Anyplace close to here is fine; we don't have a lot of time for a break."
Jim smiled slowly, and guided the truck into a parking lot. "That's what I was hoping you'd say."
Looking up at the brightly-colored WONDER BURGER sign, Blair groaned.
As they pushed through the swinging glass door, Blair felt Jim's hand on his arm.
"Hey, Chief, wait a sec," Jim murmured, and Blair drew back to listen. "Look around. This place is crawling with people from the class, so we're going to have to stay in character. I'd better order for you. Why don't you go find us a table?"
Nodding reluctantly, Blair wove his way through the mob of noontime customers, miraculously finding a small formica table-for-two that was yet unclaimed. He sat down on one of the molded plastic chairs, and watched as the line that contained Jim slowly moved forward.
I can't believe all of the cooking students ended up here, he mused. Maybe they're all from out of town, and don't know any better. Or maybe they're all broke.
So what's my excuse?
Finally, Jim reached the front of the line. Staring into space, thinking moodily about the case, Blair wasn't really listening until he heard his 'name.'
"...and Mr. Wolfe, my client, will have the bacon double cheeseburger, and a large fries. Oh, can you add a fried egg to that burger, as well?"
Jim!! Jim, what the hell are you doing? I can't eat all that! Gross! Blair wasn't sure whether to protest, or to laugh... but he couldn't do either, not without breaking their cover.
"Sure thing. Anything else?"
"No... wait, a large chocolate shake. Mr. Wolfe has this thing about your chocolate shakes." Jim shook his head, and managed a supercilious sniff. "Personally, I don't really see the attraction."
A thing? Yeah, like I hate them, that's what. Jim, you are so going to pay for this.
Blair folded his arms and sat back, trying not to fume too obviously, trying to stay in character. He stared fixedly ahead at a plastic fern, thinking of possible ways to get revenge on his partner (A little cayenne in the coffee tomorrow morning, that'd do the trick) when he heard the rattle of a plastic tray on the table... and looked up to the sight of a grinning Sentinel.
After some rather ostentatious mock sign-language, Jim handed Blair a paper-wrapped package and a beverage. "Food," he signed finally, smiling brightly.
Shooting a dirty look at Jim, the younger detective unwrapped his lunch... then looked up at the other man in silent astonishment.
Laughing blue eyes met his own, accompanied by a smile which said Gotcha! without the need for spoken words. Blair chuckled softly, then picked up the chicken Caesar wrap that he'd found inside the dubious-appearing paper bundle. Jim had obviously ordered the wrap (and the beverage, which Blair discovered to be nothing more sinister than iced tea) before playing the rest of his little joke. Hah! Yep, he got me. Hope he enjoys his greaseburger.
"I hope you all had a nice lunch, and are ready to learn and demonstrate more about the principles of fine cooking." Deeds smiled at the class from the front of the room. "This afternoon, we will visit the fabled East! The Orient! India... the land of a million exotic spices!"
This guy is really starting to get on my nerves, thought Jim for about the hundredth time that day. That fake accent... he's no more from France than I am! How does he get off pretending that he's some hot-shot European chef?
He sighed, and dutifully waved his hands and arms in a few signs to "translate" the chef's remarks. Since Blair was sitting right there and could hear every spoken word, he didn't bother to make the motions into anything intelligible.
Sandburg's sure paying close attention, though... I think he keeps forgetting that this guy is a suspect and probably a complete fraud. Maybe the kid always wanted to go to cooking school or something.
"Our dish that we shall create," Deeds was saying, "is the delicate vegetarian delight known in India as Mataar Paneer. It is green peas and Indian cheese, in a sauce of many ingredients." He motioned to the dry-erase board, upon which was written a lengthy list starting with "onions" and "tomatoes" and ending with things that Jim had never heard of. "It would take too long for you to make the cheese, so we shall supply it to you, but it is an easy process.
"After we cook the dish and taste the results, we will do a little surprise blind taste-testing to see how well you have all learned."
The explanation of the dish took another five minutes, then the students were turned loose to work on the project. Jim settled down and prepared to be bored, as this time Deeds seated himself at the front of the room and showed no signs of sneaking off to meet with former cronies.
Boredom changed to interest, however, as he watched Sandburg and the others go about the intricate process of creating the Indian dish. Onions and garlic were chopped, ginger was grated, and spices were tossed into hot oil. The rich, pungent aromas tantalized Jim with the promise of the finished creation.
Blair stirred the skillet carefully, having just gently folded in the peas and the little cubes of the bland, white cheese that reminded Jim of tofu. Apparently satisfied, he sprinkled the result with a fresh chopped green herb - cilantro, Jim's nose informed him - and stepped back a pace as if to announce by his body language that the dish was complete. He grinned at Jim.
Just then, Deeds walked to the front of the room. He looked around, sniffing the air with obvious appreciation. "Ah, you are all doing splendidly, I can tell. Now, does everyone have their dish nearly complete, or at least at a point where you can leave it for a bit?"
Jim nudged Blair and signed, "Cooking man talk; quit picking nose."
Blair choked briefly, but nodded at the instructor... ignoring his partner.
"Excellent. Then I have another task for you." He motioned to a table in front of him, which held half-a-dozen or so small white bowls. "In each of the bowls is a slightly different version of the sauce for the dish that all of you are making right now. To be more specific, each version is missing one of the herbs or spices. I'd like you each to file through and taste them all; I have slips of paper here for you to write down your best guess as to what's missing in each one."
Jim looked at his partner. Blair's eyes were dancing with amusement, and his entire face had a mischievous "are you thinking what I'm thinking" look to it. Jim grinned back, nodding, and rose to follow his partner as they joined the line waiting to taste the mystery sauces. If I'm careful, I can taste them too... or maybe I can get away with simply smelling them. Having Blair pull a perfect score on this little test might keep Deeds off balance, keep him distracted... besides, he admitted to himself, it'll be fun.
By concentrating and inhaling deeply as they approached each bowl, and comparing the list of ingredients written on the board with the information that his nose sent him, Jim was able to identify the missing ingredients. Not wishing to alert the rest of the class to the fact that he was essentially helping his friend to cheat, he simply leaned close to Blair and passed the information to him in a low whisper. There was enough background noise to cover the sound,
"Cumin... cinnamon... garlic... hey, no salt!... fennel... uh..."
They paused in front of the last bowl. Blair helped himself to a second taste, obviously trying to stall. Finally, Jim had to shrug in confusion. I don't understand... I can smell all of it in there. Maybe it's a red herring. Blair shrugged in turn, and left that last line blank on the answer sheet. He handed the paper to Deeds, and the two of them sat down.
Deeds smiled obsequiously. "Everyone done? Well, I'm sure you're all curious to know the answers. Let's see: the first sample was missing the cumin, so it wasn't as hot. The second version had no cinnamon. No garlic in the third bowl. For the fourth sample, I left out the salt, and I'll be most disappointed if you didn't all figure that one out. The fifth version had no fennel, and the sixth was missing the ginger."
Jim sat up straight. No ginger? What's he talking about? That sample, and all the others, reeked of ginger. He nudged Blair, who looked at him with a puzzled expression.
Since Deeds' back was turned to the board, Jim took a chance and held up his hand. "Excuse me, Chef Deeds, but I must protest on behalf of my client. He is absolutely certain that he tasted ginger in that last bowl."
"Jim, what are you doing?" Blair muttered the words under his breath. "Forget it."
Deeds looked at both of them. "He's absolutely certain, is he?" The man's facial expression was almost a smirk. "Well, I certainly don't remember putting any in, but I'll taste it."
As the chef placed the spoonful of sauce in his mouth, his face changed. "My apologies," he said at last, sounding embarrassed. "I must have scooped this out of the wrong pot. You are absolutely right; it isn't missing anything." He looked at Blair, with an expression almost of respect. "You have a rare sense of taste, young man."
Blair chuckled as he fit his key into the door of the loft. "Jim, that was hilarious, but you didn't need to make such a big deal out of it, man."
"It was a matter of professional pride, Chief," Jim insisted. "And it was kind of an automatic response, anyway, after all those tests you've put me through. I couldn't just sit there and let him give a wrong answer to all of you."
As the lights flickered on, illuminating the loft, Blair tossed his jacket on the hanger. "Well, I appreciate the help, anyway. I couldn't have done it on my own, that's for sure. Except maybe the salt, or the garlic." He walked to the fridge and removed two cold microbrews, handing one to Jim.
Jim sighed as he took the beer. "Well, astounding Deeds with your discriminating palate appears to have been our only accomplishment for the day. I didn't hear any other useful conversations in the building, and our suspect only left the room to use the bathroom." He took a swig of the dark, chewy stout. "He seemed both more nervous and more friendly, though... almost as if he was afraid to leave the class and go home."
"Hey, what's stopping Hall from just catching Deeds at home, anyway?"
"You should have paid more attention in the briefing, Junior. The Bureau's got a team watching his house. That's the easy part." Another swig followed the first. "No, it's the real undercover work, that's where we come in. Real men, doing a man's job."
Blair snickered. "All right, macho man, get out of the kitchen. I've got something I want to make for dinner."
Jim became more serious. "Chief, you've been cooking all day. I can whip something up."
"Nah, I planned this out last night and picked up everything I need. It's lamb souvlaki. Greek food."
"Very funny, wise ass. Go on, get out of the kitchen while 'le artiste' works his magic." Blair shooed Jim away toward the living room, then began pulling out supplies and ingredients.
Let's see... make the marinade first, then get the lamb cubes soaking in it. He poured olive oil and red wine into a bowl and added prodigious amounts of chopped garlic. Now, some parsley, a bit of oregano, and a lot of mint. He opened several of the little glass jars of dried herbs, looking for the mint. I know I bought some... wait, what's in this little jar? He opened the container, and was rewarded with a burst of minty aroma.
With the meat submerged in the purplish, aromatic marinade, and the rice bubbling in the electric rice cooker, Blair grabbed his half-finished beer and joined his partner in front of the television.
"Hey, that was good, Chief. I take back at least fifty percent of all sarcastic remarks I've made about your cooking." The Sentinel had been delighted with the meal, putting away three helpings of the aromatic lamb dish.
Blair grinned. "I didn't really believe more than half, anyway, so we're even. More wine?" He poured the last few drops of hearty red Merlot into Jim's glass.
They sat there for a few more minutes in a relaxed, companionable silence, punctuated by occasional burps, then Jim heaved himself to his feet and headed for the sink. "I'll take care of the dishes."
You'd think that just once in a while, Jim would just walk off and leave the dirty dishes on the table. "I'll give you a hand. I think I used every pot in the kitchen."
Blair ended up with a dishtowel in his hand, drying the dishes. At first, he whistled cheerfully while performing this task... his roommate was a fast, careful and efficient dishwasher, and the younger man had to work to keep up. But as the pile of dirty pans and plates in the sink rapidly decreased, Blair began to frown at what he was finding. "Jeez, Jim, whadaya want me to do? Just wipe off the grease that you've missed? You're getting sloppy!"
To his surprise, Jim began to... giggle.
There wasn't any other word for it. Blair stared, shocked and a little bit unnerved, as Jim dropped the pot he'd been working on back into the suds-filled sink, splashing soapy water all over the countertop. "Ah, forget it, Chief. Let's do them in the morning."
Without even drying his hands, Jim walked into Blair's bedroom and disappeared from view... only to emerge a moment later, bouncing something with his hand. By its color and impossibly high bounce, it had to be the Bouncing Eyeball Blair had picked up at the Archie McPhee store last weekend when he was in Seattle.
Blair reached out a hand, trying to snatch the little toy out of mid-air without success. "Hey, man, don't lose that! I've got plans for it involving Simon and a cup of coffee!"
Jim's only response was to bounce the rubber projectile even harder, sending it careening around the loft. Blair resisted the temptation to hold his arms protectively over his head.
What's the deal, here? The wine? He had less than half the bottle, and I feel fine. The younger man crept back to the kitchen and seized the empty bottle to read the label. Thirteen percent alcohol, nothing out of the ordinary there. I don't understand.
Feeling a bit safer in the kitchen, he watched as the Sentinel played with the bouncing orb. The layout of the loft made for some spectacular bounces, and Blair winced as the ball's trajectory brought it particularly close to a fragile tribal mask that hung from one wall. Well, for whatever reason, he's feeling no pain. I may as well finish cleaning up.
Blair was opening the cupboard to put away the herbs he'd left out earlier when one of the little plastic jars toppled off the shelf and rolled to the floor. Cursing under his breath, he reached down and retrieved it. He was just getting ready to place it back on its shelf when the label caught his eye.
"Dried Mint," it read. This is the mint I bought the other day! Then... what was that other stuff I used in the marinade that smelled like mint?
Realization rolled over Blair like the fog from the waterfront. "Oh man... oh, Jim, that wasn't mint I put in the marinade. You're not drunk!"
"Glad to hear it, Chief. 'Cause I don't feel drunk," came the cheerful answer from the direction of the couch.
Blair walked back into the living room, only to find his partner on the floor in front of the couch, one long arm stretched out underneath the heavy furniture as if he was trying to reach something. My Bouncing Eyeball... good, maybe he won't be able to get it out. He sank down onto the couch cushion beginning to laugh helplessly.
"It's not supposed to affect humans," he gasped out between waves of laughter. "But leave it to you to be different. Leave it to you, with a panther for a spirit guide..." What am I supposed to do, scratch him behind the ears?
Apparently giving up on the ball, Jim pulled his arm back and rolled into a sitting position to look at his roommate. "Sandburg... I feel really weird. Just what did you feed me?" He spoke without any trace of anxiety or animosity in his voice. To Blair, he sounded... well, he sounded stoned.
Blair choked. "Catnip. I fed you catnip, Jim." He looked at his partner, who was now scratching his back on the corner of the couch.
Well... if I'm lucky, he won't remember it in the morning.
"At least you don't have to worry about hairballs."
"Jim, look. I didn't do it on purpose. You know that."
They were pulling into the parking lot of the Cascade Culinary Institute. As Jim parked the truck and set the emergency brake, he looked sourly at his partner.
"You laughed at me. For hours."
Blair snickered again, obviously prompted by the memory. "I couldn't help it, Jim. You were funny. And honestly, it only lasted about thirty minutes before you went upstairs and fell asleep."
Jim gave his partner another dark look. "Did you dump all of the catnip tea stuff out?"
"No, but I'll give it away. Maybe one of our neighbors has a cat." Blair began to giggle again. "A real cat, I mean."
"Sandburg, you are not being even remotely funny here," Jim growled. "Now shut up and get into character."
Most of the other students had arrived by the time the two detectives entered the room, but Deeds was nowhere in sight yet. With an audible sigh, Jim settled into the same chair he'd occupied the day before and cautiously extended his hearing to sweep the immediate area for any signs of Deeds.
"Excuse me, Mr. Wolfe?"
Responding automatically to his partner's "name", Jim looked over to see Blair staring into a pair of intense green eyes set in a heart-shaped face surrounded by long blonde hair drawn back into a French twist. With amusement, Jim noted that the girl had one soft hand resting on the younger man's forearm as she leaned into his personal space.
Blair's lack of immediate response gave Jim the opening he needed to insert a reminder of their cover story. "Mr. Wolfe is deaf, Miss, and he doesn't read lips very well. I'll have to translate for you if you want to speak to him." Considering the expression on his face right now, he probably couldn't talk anyway. He looks... stunned.
Without even looking at Jim, the young lady continued speaking slowly and precisely with his partner. "I just wanted to introduce myself. My name is Yvette Marcel. I'm from Toronto. I thought maybe we could meet for lunch later?"
Checking his impatience, Jim waited for his mutely besotted partner to look at him so he could "translate" what Yvette had said. Finally, Blair shifted his attention to Jim. Don't even think about it, Chef Casanova. We're working. Jim signed, "No lunch date you" and threw in a few meaningless gestures for good measure.
Blair smiled and nodded his head at Yvette before signing back quickly to Jim, "Eat must. Cute girl. Protect cover. You chaperone."
Not a chance, Romeo, I'm not playing translator while you two bat eyelashes at each other. "Mr. Wolfe is very sorry he can't make it, but he's promised to call the twins every day at lunch. They look forward to hearing from Daddy while he's away."
Jim locked his face into a poker expression in order to watch the effect of his little bombshell. Blair's eyes widened, then narrowed as the unspoken message was telegraphed clearly.
Yvette withdrew her hand, which she had kept on Sandburg's arm, and stepped back a pace. "Oh, of course, I understand. Can't disappoint the little ones. It's been nice meeting you, Mr. Wolfe. Perhaps we can speak...I mean talk...I mean, we'll see each other later. Bye." She turned her attention back to the front of the room, where she stared fixedly at a spot on the blackboard.
Jim tuned into Blair's subvocalized message. "Just keep enjoying yourself, man. I'm keeping track and there will be payback."
Silently laughing to himself, Jim caught the sound of footsteps in the hall just before Deeds entered the room and strode to the front. "My apologies for being so late. Today's project will be a classic... a souffle, to test your skill. We will flavor it exquisitely, with tangy goat cheese and fresh thyme."
Jim tuned out most of the rest of the recipe description and instead concentrated on making another auditory sweep of the building, then the street outside. Half-aware of the cooking activities beginning to go on around him, he let the aromas of fresh herbs tickle his nose.
Catnip, he snorted to himself. Talk about an undignified weakness. Superman has kryptonite, I've got catnip. At least he didn't put a flea collar or anything on me while I slept.
A flash of motion out the window caught his eye, and he moved nonchalantly to look out through the glass. A delivery van bearing the words "Rainier Farms Fresh Eggs" had pulled up to the curb outside. As Jim watched, a coveralled man got out and went around to the back of the truck. Carefully focusing his eyesight, the detective zeroed in on the man's face, which he'd seen before on a photograph in the hands of Agent Mulroney.
That's Les Hall! Now, we're getting somewhere.
The disguised ex-con got the back of the truck open, pulled out a telescoping ramp, and disappeared inside. Jim tensed, half-expecting the man to come back out bearing heavy artillery. Instead, Hall re-emerged pushing a handtruck loaded with egg cartons, and again disappeared out of view of the window as he headed into the building.
Still tracking Hall's progress through the building with his hearing, Jim stepped back to where Blair was doing something with stinky goat cheese. Suddenly unable to remember any vestiges of sign language, he settled for elbowing Blair in the ribs and hissing, "Stay alert!" under his breath.
A few seconds later, the door to the class opened and the egg-carton-laden handtruck rolled in, followed by Hall himself. Watching Deeds' face, Jim was secretly gratified to see the chef's already pasty complexion turn several shades paler.
"What are you doing? Get those eggs out of here!" huffed Deeds, hurrying to the door.
Hall looked hard at his old partner. "I was told to deliver them here."
"No, no... we're only using a few dozen in here. Take them to the walk-in fridge."
"I'll do that," the disguised Hall said slowly. "But there's another delivery out in the truck that you need to come inspect."
Jim watched with interest as several emotions crawled across Deeds' face: shock, suspicion, and apprehension. Finally, the chef nodded jerkily and turned back to the class.
"I'll be back in a few minutes. Meanwhile, get those eggs separated, and start whipping the whites. Stiff peaks! Remember, they must be stiff peaks!" The two men left the room.
Sure enough, Hall and Deeds headed back out to the truck. Without even going back to the window, Jim was able to tap into their conversation. He pretended to watch as Blair carefully separated eggs for the souffle.
"-a nice little setup you've made for yourself, here, Boyd." Jim recognized the sneering voice as belonging to Hall.
"What do you want, Les? I'm legit now, I've got a real career. Can't you just leave me alone?"
Hall laughed unpleasantly. "Gotten soft, have you? But you can't have forgotten... half of that lovely gold is mine, old friend. And I'm sure you've just been saving my half for me."
"Keep your mouth shut!" hissed Deeds. "Yes, I've still got it. What was I supposed to do with it? Stealing those doubloons was the dumbest thing we ever did. I couldn't fence them anywhere safely."
"We won't fence them," replied Hall.
"We'll recycle them. Smelt them down, start over with something that can't be traced. You mean you never thought of that?"
"I'm a chef, not a goldsmith! I've got no idea how to go about doing that, nor do I have the equipment."
Jim heard Hall sigh. "This is why I planned the operations, not you. Look, you split with me, and I'll see that we have everything we need to do this. Then, you can take your half and stay legit. Buy half a dozen restaurants if you want."
A pause. Then, Deeds spoke slowly. "The doubloons are well hidden. I'll have to meet you somewhere to show you where they are, then we can work out the details."
"All right. How about -"
An impossibly loud metal-on-metal crashing sound assaulted Jim's hears. He clapped both hands to his head, seeking to block out the sound, and frantically tried to dial his hearing levels back down to normal. As the sound dimmed somewhat, he was able to identify it as the rough clash of a metal whisk on a metal bowl.
No, make that about thirty whisks on thirty bowls. A quick visual sweep around the room showed him that the cooking students were all busily whisking their respective bowls of egg whites. By some quirk, most of them had reached the same point in the recipe at the same time. Jim ran to the window, hoping to catch sight of Hall and Deeds and re-establish his auditory link to the conversation.
The delivery van was just pulling away, with Hall at the wheel. Deeds was nowhere in sight.
A hand on his arm made him jump slightly. He whirled around, only to see Blair. The younger detective looked worried.
"I'm okay," Jim signed, mindful of the eyes upon him. But I just missed my best chance at solving this case quickly.
"Jim," Blair was saying, reasonably, "it's not as if you could have done anything else. It would have blown our covers to go after Hall."
It had been a long and fruitless day. As Jim had pointed out earlier, their sole accomplishment had been Blair's perfect souffle. Hall hadn't come back the rest of the day, and Deeds had let nothing else slip. The chef had looked edgy when he returned to the room, but hadn't made any phone calls or contacted anyone as far as the two detectives could tell.
"Yeah." Jim sighed. "Dammit, I was so close! What if Deeds leads him to the gold tonight? They could both be gone by morning, maybe even out of the country!"
"There's an FBI team watching Deeds' house, remember? Besides, I don't think Deeds will leave, not if he has any say in the matter. He's happy here. I get the feeling that half the time, he forgets he even has that gold."
Jim shook his head. "I still don't like it, Chief. Suspects have slipped away from a stakeout before. I think we need to be there ourselves."
Blair stared. "You're serious." Uh oh... I sense a long and boring night ahead.
"I've got an edge, Sandburg. I can listen to everything that goes on in that guy's house. You think the FBI can do that?"
"Well, no. At least, probably not legally." Blair grinned at his partner. "Okay, I'll fill the thermos with coffee. What the hell... it's a lovely night for a stakeout."
"Knew I could make you see things my way, Chief."
Jim studied his watch. 5:01 a.m. Only a couple more hours to go... He turned to look at the figure in the passenger seat, slumped against the window and snoring gently. He smiled into the darkness.
I suppose I should wake him up; he'll be annoyed that I let him fall asleep.
As far as Jim could tell, Deeds had done nothing out of the ordinary all night; Jim had heard only routine sounds. No one had visited or left, and no one had called. For the last several hours, he had been foggily trying to decide whether he was listening to Deeds' snores, or Sandburg's. He knew that he himself had drifted off a couple of times, but doubted that he had missed anything.
We should pack it in, he thought to himself reluctantly. Deeds isn't going to...
Jim sat bolt upright. That... was the sound of a telephone being lifted out of its cradle. The click was followed by the beeps and boops of a touch-tone phone, then it rang.
"Who's he calling at five a.m.?" Jim muttered aloud. In the house, he heard another "click" as the call was answered.
"It's eight on the East Coast," a sleepy voice answered him, as Sandburg sat up and rubbed one hand across his face.
Jim focused his hearing even more intently, trying to catch both sides of the conversation.
"Lehman's. Can I help you?"
"Uh..." Deeds sounded hesitant. "Do you carry old-fashioned metal-working equipment?"
"Yes... what exactly were you interested in? Do you have our catalog? We carry a full line of authentic blacksmithing equipment."
"Umm... could you melt gold with that?"
Silence on the other end. Punch-drunk with fatigue, Jim repressed a snicker. Lehman's, a mail-order company based out of Ohio, catered mainly to the Amish farmers and to people looking for old-fashioned tools and implements. They probably don't get many calls about gold smelting.
"I'm not sure... but I could have someone check on it and call you back."
"No..." Deeds answered, somewhat skittishly, "that, uh, won't be necessary. Never mind."
"What was that all about?" asked Blair, now looking fully awake.
"I thought you were asleep, Chief."
"Yeah... and that's another thing. How come you let me fall asleep?"
Deciding the first question was safer, Jim returned to it. "Looks like Deeds is thinking about a little double-crossing here... he's trying to locate gold-smelting equipment on his own."
Blair shook his head. "Can't trust anyone these days."
"Up until now, students, I have asked you to prepare specific dishes. Today, you will be asked to demonstrate some creativity."
Blair propped his chin wearily on his left fist while he watched Deeds through half-lidded eyes. Despite his naps in the truck last night, he felt as though his head were stuffed with wet cotton. But I bet Jim feels worse. He didn't get any sleep.
A quick glance at Jim showed the Sentinel to be alert and rigidly upright, without obvious signs of fatigue. Only the eyes revealed evidence of the long, cold night spent parked in front of Deeds' house. Blair sighed, slightly envious of his partner's unflappability, and turned his attention back to the front.
"Taped to the blackboard is a partial list of ingredients that we have available for you to work with. If you are interested in using something that isn't listed, just ask; we may still have it. Give your lists to Hilda," he gestured to a cheerful matronly woman to his left, "and she'll have one of her assistants bring it all out.
"Your theme, however, is 'Northwest Cuisine'. Therefore, you must use at least one native Northwest ingredient. And no, water doesn't count, even if it does rain all of the time."
The class laughed, and Deeds responded with a brief, tight smile. The chef definitely seemed a bit edgier than usual this morning.
"Take your time. You have the entire day. Feel free to ask for any supplies or equipment that you don't see." With a glance at his watch and a final nod, Deeds moved aside to the desk in the front corner.
Well, better stay in character.
Blair rose from the table to join the throng of students studying the list of suggested ingredients, leaving Jim behind. As he scanned the list and scribbled down his requests, he saw the Sentinel cock his head slightly in that unmistakable listening pose that Blair had come to know so well.
Something's up. Jim watched Deeds check his watch for about the fourth time in fifteen minutes. While Blair and the other students took their turns at studying the list and scribbling notes to hand to Hilda, Jim focused on watching Deeds. Nudging up the sensitivity on his hearing, he listened to the nervous chef's heart rate... fast and erratic. The man was also sweating profusely, as Jim's sometimes-all-too-sensitive nose told him.
A few minutes later, Hilda and her assistants returned with carts of the chosen ingredients. Blair walked over and returned with a tray bearing fillets of salmon as well as various seasonings. Jim could smell soy and garlic, and maybe vinegar.
While Blair busied himself mixing something up, Jim continued to watch Deeds. He was not at all surprised when the chef looked at his watch one more time and slipped quietly out of the room.
All right. This time, I'm going to follow him. Jim cruised silently up behind his partner, touching the younger man on the elbow to get his attention.
With this many observers within earshot, Jim knew he dared not speak or whisper to his partner. So, he waited until Blair turned to look at him, and signed "Cooking man go, I go."
Blair nodded slowly in apparent response, and signed back something. Jim caught the motion for "me" then the sign for "follow". He veered away, already headed for the door.
By concentrating just a little, Jim could hear Deeds' footsteps and the sound of his nervous breathing heading down the hall to the bathroom. Keeping back to avoid being spotted, he prepared to track the chef through the building.
To Jim's surprise, Deeds merely headed into the bathroom.
The detective fought back a surge of disappointment. Guess I mistook a simple bathroom break for something suspicious. He was thinking about going back to the classroom, when he realized he was hearing two heartbeats coming from the restroom. As he focused his hearing into the small echoing chamber, he heard voices.
"All right. I'm here. I've got everything arranged on my end. Where's the gold?" Hall sounded both exasperated and impatient.
A sigh from Deeds, and a sound that Jim recognized as that of a window being slid open. "You see that little stretch of trees over there? Out beyond the golf course? It's buried out there, but I'm the only one who knows exactly where."
"You buried it on the resort property? Are you nuts?"
Behind him in the hallway, Jim heard light footsteps. He turned, relieved to see only Blair. "What's up?" whispered the younger detective.
"Deeds and Hall. Be quiet." He turned his attention back to the conversation in the bathroom.
"-won't have much chance of being spotted," Deed was saying. "The trees are pretty thick over there, and I've been known to go out there to pick mushrooms. We've got a couple of spots where we're cultivating some shiitakes and morels; it makes a great cover."
"Well, I'm ready. Let's go now."
A pause. "Can we wait until the noon break? My students might have questions, and they might come looking for me."
"To hell with your students, Deeds. This is the time we agreed on. We go now. And just in case you need a little persuading..."
The unmistakable 'click' of the hammer being pulled back on a handgun sounded boomingly loud in Jim's ears. He reacted rapidly and instinctively. He drew his own weapon, signaled Blair to do the same, and hit the bathroom door with his broad shoulder. As he crashed into the room, he could sense Blair at his back.
"Cascade P.D. Drop your weapon!" Knowing that Hall seemed to be the more aggressively dangerous of the two, he kept his weapon trained in that direction. Deeds already had his hands in the air, and looked as if he might faint, slumping slightly toward the wall.
"Drop your weapon, Hall!" Jim repeated... just as a wave of painful, rushing noise assaulted his ears. He looked up to see Deeds leaning against the electric hot-air hand dryer. In a stunning case of sheer bad luck, the man's body weight had set it off. The resultant white-noise filled the Sentinel's head as he fought to keep his attention focused.
Jim dialed his hearing back down, but not before the momentary inattention had proved invaluable to Hall. With one quick motion, the suspect threw himself forward into the doorway, pushing past the stunned Sentinel and colliding with Blair. The younger detective careened into the wall, losing his grip on his weapon... and Hall burst out of the room.
Jim swore, giving his head a shake in an attempt to clear the ringing in his ears. "Take care of Deeds!" he yelled over his shoulder as he took off down the hall in pursuit of his suspect.
Picking himself and his weapon up off the floor, Blair holstered the gun and addressed the chef. "You're not going to give me any trouble, are you?"
Looking as pale as his white clothing, Deeds shook his head. "No. Oddly enough, that former partner of mine frightens me more than prison. I've been half-expecting something like this for years," he said with a forced, bitter-sounding chuckle.
Blair felt a stirring of sympathy for the man, in spite of Deed's history. "Well, the theft was a long time ago. I can't promise anything, but if you cooperate fully, I think that the D.A. will be more than fair." He pulled out the set of handcuffs that he carried, and cuffed Deeds to the exposed plumbing. "You wait here. I need to help my partner catch your partner."
Checking to make sure that his weapon was secure in his holster, Blair left the bathroom and took off down the hall. Sentinel senses would sure come in handy right now. I'm not sure where Hall was headed. In the end, he picked a direction at random, and hoped fervently that he was right.
His route led him away from the classroom areas and toward the half of the building that housed a restaurant and diner operated by the Institute's regular students. As he ran closer, he could hear the beginnings of some commotion. He followed the sound, and crashed through a set of double doors.
Blair found himself in the kitchen of the Institute's restaurant, an area that was most certainly not deserted... and bore definite signs of a foot chase having recently come through its environs. Cooking students, wait staff and bus persons all gaped at the young detective as he flew past.
"I'm with the Cascade P.D.! Which way did they go?"
One of the students yelled an answer. "The walk-in fridge, man! Turn left!"
Skittering to a near-stop on the slippery linoleum, Blair managed to execute a left turn down the indicated passage. The door to what looked to be the large walk-in refrigerator was open, and Blair could hear the unmistakable sounds of scuffling and cursing. He ran in.
Inside, the lights were off... probably something Jim had done on purpose, in order to take advantage of his superior sight. Blair considered the problem for a fraction of a second, then hit the light switch. Since it sounded as if Jim and Hall were using each other for punching bags, a little light wasn't going to make much difference.
There was a faint buzz, then ghastly fluorescent light illuminated the room. The floor was littered with the remains of various chilled salads and desserts. As Blair pulled his weapon out again, uncertain as to whether he could even begin to get a clear shot on the struggling Hall, the suspect broke loose, giving Jim a mighty shove into a nearby cart.
Slipping slightly on the already gooey floor, Jim slid along the top of what was now clearly revealed as a dessert cart. Plates of cheesecake, chocolate torte and caramel turtle pie went flying. Moving rapidly but unsteadily, the now apparently unarmed Hall whirled about to seek the door...
...only to find his face on the receiving end of a very large, very luscious-looking lemon meringue pie that Blair had been holding. The suspect howled in evident frustration, but lost his footing and went down hard with Blair already on top of him.
As Blair prepared to wrestle the cuffs onto the suspect, he became aware of his chocolate-besmeared partner kneeling across from him on the other side of Hall. "I've got this arm, Chief. Nice job with the pie."
Panting with his exertion, Blair sat back on his heels and grinned. "Ellison and Sandburg, Cascade's own Keystone Kops."
Jim glanced down ruefully at his clothes as he and Blair watched Hall being stuffed into the back of a patrol car. "What a mess," he said softly.
Blair reached out one finger to touch Jim chocolate-coated shirt front. "You know, it's too bad you're not dating anyone right now. I know some of my girlfriends would find this an interesting problem."
"Want to loan one out? No, scratch that thought. You know the strangest girls." Jim turned to watch as another of the uniformed cops led Deeds down the front walk toward them.
"Hey, here comes our chef," Blair said.
Deeds stopped next to the two detectives, and the officer leading him made no attempt to hurry him along.
"Detectives... I wonder if I might beg a favor." Unlike Hall, who had been furious, the chef appeared merely to be sad.
"Maybe," answered Jim cautiously. "What?"
"I realize that I am under arrest... but I believe the students must have finished most of their projects by now. Might I be allowed to go ahead and judge them? I hate for them to have all of their hard work go to waste."
Jim turned to his partner. "What do you think, Chief?"
Blair exhaled softly. "Let's let him. What the heck... what's a few more minutes?" Then he grinned. "But you've got to taste mine last. I need to get my salmon on the grill first!"
Simon reached for the coffee pot and poured a generous dollop into Jim's waiting cup, then handed the pot to Blair. "An excellent job, gentlemen... and I use the term loosely." He leaned back against his desk, looking supremely pleased with himself. "Deeds has agreed to cooperate fully with us, and the D.A. tells me that our chef's recall of the events ten years ago seems to be clear and accurate. He points to Hall as the real mastermind of the museum break-in."
"And the Mexican government gets its national treasures back," murmured Blair, sipping at the coffee. "Too bad about Deeds, though. He may be a criminal, but I was really enjoying learning from him."
"What did he say to you about the salmon dish, Chief? You never told me," asked Jim.
"Oh, that. Well..." Blair suddenly found the depths of his coffee cup to be extremely interesting. "He, uh... he told me I'd better keep my day job."
The men and women of Major Crimes looked up briefly a second later, as the loud rumble of deep male laughter, joined in another instant by a third and lighter voice, rang through the glass door of Simon's office. They listened, and smiled indulgently, and returned to their work.
~ Finis ~
E-mail the author of this story, Kim Heggen, at firstname.lastname@example.org Read Kim's other fan fiction for The Sentinel at Shycat's Sentinel Domain The artwork in Act IV, Sentinel and Guide, was created by lyrade... Enjoy more of lyrade's art at her website, The Labyrinth 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 email@example.com NEXT WEEK on THE SENTINEL: Five Point Shot (11/24/99, FPP-509) by Sue Pokorny
The death of Rainier's star sophomore forward takes Blair back to the University and his former colleagues. Orvelle Wallace (of Three Point Shot and Four Point Shot, now head coach, asks Jim and Blair to investigate the kid's death.
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