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.
Five Point Shot
"Come on, Jim. Give me a break here." Blair Sandburg followed his partner out of the elevator and down the hall toward the doors of Major Crime. "You're saying that just because Lungren is bigger than Van Damme he would be able to kick his butt?"
Jim Ellison shrugged his shoulders casually and waved a hand at his much smaller friend. "Hey, it's pretty obvious, Chief. Lungren is what -- 6'5"? 6'6"? He has to weigh close to 240. I don't think he'd have any problem taking down a shrimp like Van Damme if the script writer hadn't interfered." He grinned as he caught a glimpse of Sandburg's face, knowing the younger man was gearing up to bombard him with historical facts and anthropological findings dating back to God-knows-when showing that size doesn't always prevail. He had been teasing Blair mercilessly ever since they'd watched the much smaller Jean Claude Van Damme annihilate Dolph Lungren in Universal Soldier last night. Jim had picked up the video on his way home from the precinct as a way for them to both unwind. It had been an enjoyable evening spent at home watching a good action flick. Blair had picked up Chinese from Pei's, and they had managed to find a few hours of peace in their hectic schedules.
"Come on, Jim, think about it." Blair's eyes sparkled with a familiar challenge. "History is filled with instances where the perceived underdog has overcome his opponent's greater power and managed to become the victor. What about David versus Goliath's incredible size advantage? Or Perseus versus the power of the Titans? Or yours truly against the seemingly daunting power of Brad Ventris' money --"
"Whoa, Hercules." Jim stopped abruptly, causing Blair to nearly run him over. "Ventris' hired goons could've really hurt you. If I hadn't come along when I did there's no telling what they could have done with that baseball bat."
"Okay, okay." Blair waved a hand in front of him to stop Ellison's comments. "Bad example. My point, Jim, is that even though a battle can be perceived as completely one sided, there is still opportunity for victory if the weaker opponent is able to calmly and rationally outthink his stronger, wealthier, or more aggressive opponent. Sometimes physical or mental quickness is better than brute strength. I mean, how many times have you told me that my being able to think my way out of a fight I couldn't physically win is an attribute, huh? Sometimes it's better to be quicker mentally." He held a finger to his temple and tapped it a few times for emphasis. "Especially when the physical odds are not in your favor."
"Okay, Chief. I see your point. But it doesn't really matter, you know."
Blair's expression changed to one of confusion. "Why?"
Jim turned to his friend and smiled mischievously. "When it comes right down to it, Segal would have kicked both their butts."
Blair gave his partner an incredulous look before bursting into laughter. "Segal? Are you kidding?" He leaned forward, his arms outstretched in a gesture of utter shock and disbelief as Jim just shook his head and continued into the bullpen. "We really have to do something about these delusions, Jim. I'm starting to worry about you, man!" He followed his partner through the maze of desks, lowering his voice as he continued his thoughts. "Of course, it makes sense that you would relate to Segal. You both have the emotional range of a sparrow."
"I heard that, Sandburg."
"No kidding, Jim." Blair gave the older man a cheeky grin and plopped himself down in the chair behind his desk. Ellison feigned annoyance, but only managed to make Blair's smile double in size.
"Jim," Simon Banks called from the doorway of his office. "My office, please. You, too, Sandburg."
Jim raised his eyebrows at his partner, who shrugged innocently and led the way across the bullpen to the captain's office. Blair knocked twice on the open door before entering and quietly moving to stand behind one of the chairs situated in front of Simon's large mahogany desk.
"You wanted to see us, Sir?" Jim's tone was guarded as he joined his partner in the office. Something about the sound of Banks' voice had set his nerves on edge, and he lingered just inside the door, waiting for his captain to speak.
Simon waved a hand at the detective. "Shut the door, Jim."
Ellison shot his partner another look of confusion before complying and taking a seat in front of the captain.
Jim didn't miss the apprehensive glance that Simon threw at Sandburg, which only managed to further his trepidation.
"We've got a body at the bottom of Palisades Cliff." Simon handed a manila folder to the detective. He glanced again at Blair before continuing. "The victim's name is Tyrone Webb. Preliminary reports confirm the presence of alcohol in the car. There were no skid marks and from the looks of it, the kid drove the vehicle straight off the cliff from Palisades Highway."
Jim glanced at the folder, about to inquire as to why a suicide would garner the attention of Major Crimes, but something began tugging at his mind. "Tyrone Webb? Why do I know that name?"
"'Cause he's the star forward for Rainier's basketball team."
Both Jim and Simon turned to look at Blair, more surprised at the low, flat tone of his voice than the actual meaning of his words.
"Did you know him?"
Blair looked at the captain and gave an almost imperceptible nod of his head. "He was in one of my Intro classes as a freshman. He was a good kid, good student." He ducked his head, pulled his arms around his torso, and took a deep breath. "I can't believe he would kill himself. The kid was a sure bet for the NBA, man. He had everything going for him."
Simon leaned back in his chair and looked from one to the other. "Coach Wallace feels the same way. That's why he's requested the two of you handle the investigation"
Jim watched his partner closely. Blair had always looked up to Orvelle Wallace as one of his childhood heroes. When Orvelle had been a suspect in the death of his arch rival a few years back, Blair had not wavered in his belief that the man was innocent. He'd even put himself at risk to get the proof that would turn the case around.
Since then, Orvelle Wallace had become the Head Basketball Coach at Rainier, much to Blair's delight. The anthropologist had begun to build a relationship that most kids only dreamed of with his hero when the fallout from his dissertation had forced him to leave his position at Rainier and everything connected to it behind. As far as Jim knew, Blair had not had any contact with Orvelle since then, and Jim wasn't sure how the young man would take the possibility of facing his hero now.
"Chief?" Jim stood and closed the short distance between himself and his partner. "You don't have to do this. I can --
"No, Jim." Blair glanced up at him, a look of determination quickly settling on the expressive face. "It's okay. I know what you're trying to do." He shifted his gaze to the captain. "Both of you. But I can't hide forever." He took another deep breath and stood up straight. "I told Orvelle if he ever needed anything, he only had to call. I can't be going back on my word now, can I?"
Jim placed a hand on his partner's shoulder and squeezed lightly. "No way, partner."
The clouds had rolled in quickly, and Blair shoved his hands deeper into the pockets of his jacket as the winds picked up, tousling the hair around his face. He wished he would have pulled it back this morning, but Jim had ushered him out of the loft so quickly he hadn't had time to mess with it. Right now, though, having his hair slap him continuously in the face was the least of his problems.
He stood on a cliff just off the Palisades Highway and watched as Jim made his way back up the steep hillside after surveying the wreckage below. The coroner had already taken the body, the lanky frame of the 6'6" basketball star barely squeezing into the familiar black bag. Jim had ordered him to stay up top and, somewhat uncharacteristically, Blair had obeyed. He had no desire to navigate the steep slope and was getting a bit queasy just standing at the edge looking down. He had gotten a report from one of the uniformed officers who had first responded to the call. A truck driver from Detroit, who had stopped to relieve himself on the little traveled highway, had seen the wreckage and called it in. From what the forensics team could determine, the crash was at least six hours old, the heat from the car's engine having faded away -- much like the life of its occupant.
Blair held a hand out and helped his partner the last few feet of the climb, then stepped back quickly from the edge. "Anything?" He purposely kept his eyes averted from the scene below.
"The car reeked of alcohol." Jim wrinkled his nose in distaste. "Some kind of cheap vodka. There were some pieces of a bottle, but it's a common brand." He held out a plastic bag, which held the charred remains of a 4" x 4" gold colored piece of paper. "And then there's this."
"Suicide note?" Blair still did not want to believe that a kid like Tyrone would throw his entire future away, and his disappointment showed in his voice.
"No." Jim shook his head. "It's what's left of a check. The name of the bank and the amount are charred but readable, and the check was obviously made out to Tyrone."
Blair took the bag from Jim's outstretched hand and turned it around, careful not to disturb the fragile contents. He could barely make out the check number in the upper right hand corner and the letters E-B-B written on the check. But what surprised him was the clearly legible $10,000 written in the amount box.
He frowned as he stared at the charred paper. "Who'd be writing Tyrone a check for that kind of money?"
"Maybe Tyrone was accepting more than just a scholarship."
Blair shook his head, flashing a look of anger at his partner. "No. I told you, Tyrone was a good kid. He studied hard and he played hard. I can't believe he'd jeopardize his future by taking money."
Jim took the bag and handed it to the forensics technician as he walked by. "Look, Chief, I know you want to believe this kid had his head on straight, but you haven't seen him for what, nearly a year? Things change, Sandburg. People change."
"I don't believe that, Jim." Blair's anger dissolved as quickly as it had appeared. "Circumstances change, situations change, but people like Tyrone don't change."
Jim patted his friend on the arm and nodded toward the truck. "Let's go talk to Orvelle. Maybe he can tell us what did change for Tyrone Webb."
Jim was aware of his partner's increased heartbeat as they pulled onto the Rainier campus. He really couldn't blame Blair for being nervous about stepping foot on university grounds again. After all, the kid had effectively cut his own academic throat by declaring his dissertation a fraud in front of the Chancellor, his department head, and the reporters who had gathered at the University for the anthropologist's hastily called press conference.
Naomi had told Jim what the Chancellor had said to Blair after he had given his speech and publicly dismissed his own painstaking work as a fake. She had ordered him to clear out his office, citing that he had embarrassed the university for the last time. According to Naomi, Blair had just walked away, dazed and not even responding to the woman's angry words.
Naomi had used the term "shell-shocked" to describe her son's expression as he hastily exited the scene. Jim had been stunned at the anthropologist's statement, although it had taken days before the ramifications of what Blair had done had been able to sink in. Jim knew that while Blair's head and heart were at peace with his decision, his emotions were still in turmoil. Not all of the students and faculty that Blair had worked so closely with in his extensive time at Rainier had abandoned him. He still had some support from the ones who really knew him and recognized the kind of man he really was. But these people were of the minority, and Blair had to deal with the label that had been erroneously attached to him.
Jim could only imagine what it was like to have to live with that label, undeserved as it was, for the rest of one's life. He believed Blair would be able to overcome whatever doubts and accusations had been thrust upon him in time, and he had vowed to be there for his partner, no matter what went down -- he owed the kid that at the least. But he would never forget that, although Blair had made his own decision, it was for Jim he had made a choice few people would ever have the strength of character to make.
It was a debt Jim could never repay -- and one that Blair would never want to collect. But Jim would do everything in his power to protect the young man sitting next to him and keep him from having to endure any more pain because of it.
Jim pulled the truck into a parking space outside the Rainier sports complex. "Are you sure you're okay with this, Chief?"
Blair nodded slowly. He was gazing out the side window, but Jim could see his face reflected in the glass. The sadness in Blair's eyes took his breath away, and he let his eyes drift past the window, following his partner's line of sight. Just past the parking lot, he could make out the shape of the large fountain that stood directly outside Hargrove Hall, and he shuddered at the memory the sight of it resurrected.
But the memories of Rainier were not all bad. Blair had a lot of history here. They both did. He placed a hand softly on his friend's shoulder and gave it a slight squeeze. "Blair?"
"I'm okay, Jim." Blair didn't turn, but opened the passenger door and hopped out of the truck. "Orvelle's office is on the second floor."
Okay. We'll play this however you need to, partner.
He opened his own door and followed Blair into the sports complex.
Jim took the lead as they neared the office of Coach Wallace, noting that Blair had not uttered a word since entering the building and kept his eyes down, not looking at anyone who passed them in the halls. Jim noticed at least two students do a double take when they saw the former Teaching Assistant, watching him as he walked past, but Blair didn't seem to notice. The whispers from the students pricked at Jim's nerves and he purposely kept his hearing in check. He didn't want to hear what was being said about his partner. Whether that was for Blair or himself he didn't know. He stepped up to the open doorway marked "Head Coach - Orvelle Wallace" and knocked lightly on the heavy oak panel before sticking his head through the opening.
"Detective Ellison!" Orvelle smiled as he maneuvered his 6'6" frame out from behind his desk. "Thank you for coming. I was pleased when Captain Banks phoned and told me you'd agreed to look into Tyrone's death. Come on in." He shook the detective's hand and motioned him into the room. Jim didn't miss the brief flash of relief in his eyes when he looked and spotted Sandburg's quiet form. "It's good to see you, Blair." Orvelle held out his hand in greeting. "I'm glad you came. It hasn't been the same around here without you."
Blair looked up momentarily, but could not meet Orvelle's eyes. He took the offered hand and shook it briefly, a tentative smile on his expressive face. "It's good to see you, too, Orvelle."
Wallace held the smaller man's hand for a moment, smiling sympathetically at the bowed head. He looked at Jim, raising his eyebrows in a silent question.
Jim glanced at his solemn partner and shrugged in response. He wasn't sure how to help Blair with this, and he had no idea how to explain it to the coach. It was obvious Orvelle still considered Sandburg a friend, despite his damaged reputation at the university, but Blair was not ready to believe anyone connected with his alma mater was willing to look past his academic transgression. Hopefully, Orvelle would be the one person who could convince him otherwise.
Orvelle patted Blair's arm and moved back around the desk, gesturing for the two police officers to be seated in the dark leather chairs in front of it.
"Captain Banks told me you went out to the crash site?" Orvelle sat down in the high-backed chair.
"Yes, sir, we did." Jim glanced again at his partner, but Blair made no move to join in the conversation. "There were pieces of a broken liquor bottle found in the car and no skid marks on the road."
"What does that mean?"
"It's not conclusive, but it does seem to indicate Tyrone had been drinking. At this time, we don't know exactly how much alcohol was ingested or how much of an effect it would have had on his ability to drive. Of course, any amount of alcohol could slow a person's judgment enough to cause such an accident."
"An accident?" Orvelle shook his head slowly. "That's better than the thought that Tyrone committed suicide, but it still doesn't fit."
"Tyrone came from a very poor family. His father died when he was 14 years old. The old man was an alcoholic who literally drank himself to death. Tyrone found him in the street outside their apartment building after he'd been gone on a weeklong binge. It was something he never forgot." He leaned forward on the desk, his lanky arms folding across the blotter on the mahogany surface. "Finding his father like that had a real impact on Tyrone. He never touched alcohol. He hated it -- hated what it could do. As far as I know, he didn't even drink socially. His future was too important to him. He wanted to make it, Detective. He wanted to give his the life his old man could never provide. He was a very special young man."
Jim nodded silently. The bottle itself was hardly conclusive, but he'd smelled the alcohol on the body. They would have to wait until they got the coroner's report to find out if Tyrone had actually ingested enough to impair his judgment.
"We won't know anything conclusive until after the autopsy," he said. "We also found part of a check for a $10,000 made out to Tyrone. How would he come into that kind of cash?"
Orvelle's eyes widened at the question and he shook his head. "I'm not sure. Tyrone was on a full scholarship. All of his expenses were taken care of, but I can't see the scholarship committee cutting him a check for that amount." He shifted in his seat and looked intently at his visitors. "There is one thing, though. Tyrone called me last night. He said he had something he needed to talk to me about. It sounded pretty important, so I told him I'd wait in my office."
"Did he say what it was?"
Orvelle shrugged. "No, and he never showed up. I just figured that he got sidetracked and would catch me in the morning before practice. You know how kids are -- they can sometimes be pretty irresponsible. When he didn't come to practice this morning, I called his house. When his mother told me about the crash, I got this weird feeling. When she told me they assumed it was alcohol related, I called Captain Banks and requested that you guys take the case."
"Is there anyone we can talk to who might have an idea what Tyrone has been up to off the court? Anyone he might confide in?"
"He had a girlfriend," Orvelle offered. "Her name is Shirese Parks. They've been going together for almost a year. If he confided in anyone, it would have been her."
"Is she a student here?"
"Yeah." Blair's voice surprised the other two men. "She's a Psych major. We should be able to get her address from the student directory."
Jim stifled a smile, glad his partner was starting to feel comfortable enough to join in the conversation. He certainly didn't want to work this investigation alone, and he was grateful his partner's loyalty and sense of duty had begun to win out over his anxiety.
"We'd also like to speak with Tyrone's mother if possible. Is she here in town?"
"Uh, yeah, she is. I'll get you the address." It had taken Orvelle a moment to answer; the former NBA star's attention had been focused on Blair. Jim could see the affection in Orvelle's eyes as he gazed at his young friend, and he reminded himself to thank the man for looking past the surface and seeing the real man inside. It would mean a lot to Blair to know that his hero still respected him. If only they could find a way to make him believe it.
Jim accepted the piece of paper with Mrs. Webb's address and stood, moving toward the door.
"We'll keep you informed."
"Thank you, Detective." Orvelle stood but didn't move from around the desk. "Blair?"
This time, the younger man managed to meet Orvelle's eyes.
"It was really good to see you." The coach's voice was soft, and Jim could sense the sincerity in it.
Luckily, Blair did, too.
"You, too, man." His smile only lasted a second, but it was real.
It was a start.
Continue on to Act II...
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This page last updated 2/2/01.