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.
Blair Sandburg stepped from the doorway into the twilight, jamming his hands into his jacket pockets against the late fall chill. The street lamp on the corner kicked on, and he realized it was much later than he'd thought. He'd gotten hung up talking to his mechanic after dropping off the Volvo for its pre-winter checkup. Mike had been trying to interest him in a newer car, one more suited to police work than his classic '68, and he had to admit to being tempted. His friend had an '85 CRX SI he'd just refurbished and was looking to sell.
He sighed. As much as the thought of the fast, sporty little car appealed to him, Jim would have a harder time getting in and out of it than he did the Volvo. Still, it was in great shape; maybe he would take it for a spin when he came to pick up his car. He began to walk back to the police station, a little surprised Jim hadn't called to check on him since he'd been gone quite a bit longer than the half-hour he'd promised. Patting down his pockets, Blair realized his cell phone was lying on the middle of his desk at the station under the files he'd thrown down when he had remembered his appointment at the garage. Jim was going to be ticked when he called and Blair's desk started ringing.
He picked up his pace, glancing around the neighborhood of warehouses and small industrial businesses for a payphone. He had started jogging toward one he'd spotted a block away when the sound of raised voices stopped him in his tracks. A man and a woman were arguing. Blair looked around for the source of the quarrel as a third voice entered the chorus. "Give us the bag and you won't get hurt!" That constituted a threat in Blair's book, and he headed down a narrow alley in the direction of the noise.
"Bite me!" was the female's defiant reply.
Blair rounded the corner of a warehouse and, by the faint light of a security lamp, he saw two white men struggling with a slim, dark-skinned woman clutching a gym bag tenaciously. One of the men had her by the elbows from behind but she refused to release her hold on the bag as the other man tugged at it. He slapped her hard across the face. Unfazed, she jammed a foot into his stomach. Cursing, he lifted his arm for another blow, his hand now clenched in a fist.
Unable to remain a bystander any longer, Blair snatched up a 5-foot length of pipe from a pile of old plumbing next to a dumpster. He entered the fray, his makeshift staff whistling through the air as he connected solidly with the thug's upraised arm. The man staggered back, clutching his injured limb.
Taking advantage of Blair's attack, the woman stomped on her captor's foot and smacked the back of her head into his face as he doubled over. His grip on her loosened, she took off at a run down the alley, still hanging onto her bag.
Blair found himself facing two very pissed off men. Shifting his grip on the pipe, he shut off conscious thought, letting his training take over. They circled him warily, then the taller of the two stepped into range, and the anthropologist brought the staff around in a low half-arc, sweeping the man's feet out from under him. Thinking Blair occupied, the punk behind him made his move.
Smoothly changing to a one-handed hold on the pipe, Blair half-turned toward the new threat, adding the momentum to the elbow he slammed into his attacker's face. Again he returned to a ready position, silently thanking his teacher for the hours they'd spent drilling for just such a situation. He bounced lightly on the balls of his feet, waiting as the two men picked themselves slowly off the pavement. The dark haired one was reaching ominously into his jacket when the sound of a racing car engine caught the attention of all three.
A Volkswagen Rabbit roared down the alley, screeching to a stop behind Blair. The passenger door flew open and the interior light illuminated the face of the woman he'd saved. "Blair, get in!" she yelled. He didn't hesitate, dropping his weapon as he dove into the passenger seat, pulling the door closed as she stood on the gas and reversed rapidly down the alley. Tires squealed as she slid into a 90-degree turn then threw the car into drive and sped off.
Blair grabbed for the dashboard as his savior took a corner on two wheels. Shifting into fifth gear, she let out a whoop. "Wooooohooo! What a rush, what a rush! Man, I loooove my job!"
He knew that voice, and now he recognized the face. "Cyndi? Cyndi Blake?"
She grinned at him, nodding energetically, her beaded braids clicking musically. "Yep, it's me! Thanks for the save, Ninja Blair!" Taking one hand off the steering wheel, she ruffled his curls affectionately.
"God, Cyndi, it's been what, two years?" Two years since he'd last seen his friend and fellow Rainier grad student. It seemed like a lifetime ago. "What in the world was going on back there? And what was so important about," he rose a little in the seat and pulled the small duffel out from under him, "this bag?"
The ebony skinned woman lunged across the seat and cranked up the volume on the radio. "Oh, I love this song!" Her palms pounded out the rhythm on the steering wheel as she sang at the top of her lungs, harmonizing with Rob Thomas. "And it's just like the ocean, under the moon, it's the same as the emotion that I get from you, you got the kind of lovin that could be so smooth, give me your heart make it real, or else forget about it..."
Shaking his head, Blair lifted the bag onto his lap. Same old Cyndi. She had always been like greased lightening, shifting rapidly from one topic to another, making connections only her mind could follow. He'd had a hard time keeping up with her then, and now he was completely lost.
Glancing down at the bag, he noticed the zipper was slightly open. What he saw through the gap shocked and disappointed him. It was full of money, rolled up tightly and fastened with rubber bands. He'd been doing the cop thing long enough to recognize drug money when he saw it. "Awww, Cyndi, don't tell me you're dealing drugs."
She shot him an appraising gaze. "So what if I am? It's not like I'm doing the stuff. That is so totally unhealthy."
Blair shook his head, then pushed his hair back behind his ears, trying to think. "What happened? You were on the fast track to your master's degree and then you just disappeared."
"You mean you don't remember? Oh, wait, you were in South America when all that shit went down. They kicked me out, man. That damn bitch stole my thesis, and then claimed I stole it from her, and that was grounds for expulsion."
"Didn't you try to fight it?"
Her laugh was sarcastic. "Oh, right, Blair, they're gonna believe the word of the poor little black student over the white chick with the rich alumni for parents. They did the same thing to you, forced you out. I saw that press conference. They cut the heart right out of you and made you eat it." Her hand dropped from the gearshift to squeeze his knee sympathetically.
His eyes met hers, plainly reading the compassion there. If anyone could possibly understand what he had gone through, it was her. But that wasn't who he was anymore. Shaking his head slightly, he tried to steer the conversation back to the money. "Cyndi, about this drug thing. You could get in a lot of trouble, you could get hurt, or worse, not to mention go to jail."
She turned her attention back to the road, a small grin playing across her features. "Yep, those things could happen. But so far they haven't. And I like living on the edge, Blair, or have you forgotten? Hell, you used to love it too! I mean, didn't that thing in the alley just give you the biggest rush? Danger gets your heart rate going and the adrenaline pumping. And you really did a number on those guys. Don't tell me that didn't thrill you just the tiniest bit!"
Closing his eyes, Blair leaned back against the seat. Man, oh, man, what have I gotten myself into? What do I tell her? That I'm a cop and I have to arrest her? I wish there was some way I could talk her out of this. He felt the car come to a stop, and heard her shift into park and shut off the engine. Opening his eyes, he looked around. They were in the parking lot of some warehouse. He could see a sign over the door that read "Cristo Imports". Cristo... Cristo... where had he heard that name? "Where in the hell are we, Cyndi?"
"My boss' place." She got out of the car and walked around to his side. Opening the door, she snagged the bag of money, then took hold of his arm. "Come on inside with me. I'm gonna tell Frederico you should get a reward for saving my ass."
Oh, shit. Unfortunately, he couldn't see any way to avoid it. Stumbling a little as she yanked on his hand, he followed her inside the warehouse.
It looked pretty much like any other warehouse. Dozens of tall shelves held hundreds of boxes of all shapes and sizes. There was an office to the left of the door he and Cyndi had entered, and two men came out when they caught sight of them through the glass. The smaller of the two seemed to be in charge. He had dark hair and a Hispanic look about him, which was confirmed by his slight accent when he spoke. "Cyndi! Where in the hell have you been? You're late!"
The slim woman drew herself up to her full height and stared him down. Blair could tell there was no love lost between these two. "I had a little trouble, through no fault of my own. If you would give me a bodyguard that could hold his liquor, I wouldn't have had any problems, Frederico."
The man glanced around, his gaze flicking over Blair then dismissing him. "Where's Leo?"
"Leo got drunk last night and got himself arrested. Far as I know, he's still in the slammer. And because of that, I damn near lost the stuff and the payoff. If it hadn't been for Blair, you wouldn't have your money." Cyndi thrust the bag at him. "Count it, it's all there."
Unzipping the bag, Frederico took a quick look inside. "Who's Blair, and what kind of problems did you have?"
Cyndi waved a hand in the direction of her companion. "That's Blair, an old friend who just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Those two new dealers thought they could get off not paying because I didn't have Leo with me today. They tried to keep the money, but Blair showed them." She flashed a grin in his direction.
For his part, Blair remained silent, taking it all in, trying to formulate a plan to get out of this alive. If they didn't take Cyndi at her word and searched him, he was in trouble. Casually he reached a hand into his jacket pocket, and discovered his police id was missing. Had he left it back at the station with his cell phone and gun? Had he dropped it in the alley? Or could it be at Mike's garage?
Frederico snorted. "This guy showed them what, Cyndi? He packing? And you know better than to bring strangers here. How much does he know about what you do?" He took a step toward Blair, intent on patting him down.
She took a small step forward, and Blair realized she was putting herself between the two drug dealers and him. His heart began to pound even faster as it dawned on him they might shoot him for simply being there. Rico moved around her and quickly ran his hands over Blair, who submitted to the search quietly, hoping the man couldn't feel him shaking.
"Blair knows what I do. He's in the same boat I was; Rainier tossed him out on his ass, and now he's looking for a way to make some fast money. He's smart, he's tough, and he's a hell of a lot more reliable than Leo ever was. We don't have to worry about him getting hauled off for starting a fight in a bar. I want him as my new bodyguard."
Blair felt his heart stop. Cyndi, Cyndi, what in the hell are you doing? You are going to get me killed!
Both men began to laugh, Frederico doubling over and wiping tears from his eyes. "Madre de dios, Cyndi, but you have a sense of humor! This... this hombre pequeno as your bodyguard?"
She grinned at him, shaking her head. "'Rico, you should know better than to judge a book by its cover. Blair is a regular Bruce Lee, a Jewish Jackie Chan."
Oh, god. He was dead. Sorry, Jim, sorry. This is not how I pictured my last moments, and I kind of wanted to say goodbye.
Rico's eyes narrowed and he gave Blair the once over again. "Bruce Lee, uh? Let's see what you got." He gestured at the man standing behind him. "Let's see how you do against Manuel."
Swallowing with difficulty, Blair gazed up at the other man. He was at least a couple inches taller than Jim and about twice as broad. I'm toast. "Um, look, Cyndi, it was real nice of you to try and help me out here, but I can see your boss doesn't think I'm cut out for this line of work, and who am I to argue with him? I'm just going to head on home now..." He began edging toward the door they'd entered, when one of the big bay doors rumbled open automatically and a long black limousine pulled into the warehouse.
It came to a stop a few feet away from the four of them, and the driver jumped out to open the back door. All thoughts of flight vanished as Blair was struck by the need to know who was in the car. The man who exited was not much taller than Sandburg and appeared to be about the same age. He had light brown hair that fell in soft waves to his shoulders and a neatly trimmed beard and mustache. His hazel eyes were soft and kind, his slight smile benevolent. He wore an unstructured sand colored silk suit over a high collared cream shirt; a simple wooden cross hung from a cord around his neck. In one hand he carried a walking stick, but when he moved it was evident it was for appearances only. Blair let out the breath he'd been holding. The guy looked like the painting of Jesus that was on every Sunday school wall in the country.
The newcomer's keen eyes took in the little scene before him, and he quirked an eyebrow. "Is there a problem, Rico?" Before his foreman could answer, he had moved on, pulling Cyndi into a swift hug and kissing her cheek. "Cyndi! My darling girl! How have you been?" Once again, he shifted his attention before she could reply. His inquisitive gaze fell on Blair. "And you are?"
He had to force the words from his suddenly dry throat. "Blair Sandburg, sir. Cyndi... um, thought I might be right for a job with your organization... but, well," he jerked a thumb in Rico's direction, "he doesn't think so."
The man's smile widened. "And what seems to be the problem, Rico? If Cyndi vouches for him, we can surely find something for him to do."
Cyndi broke in at that moment, moving a little closer to him. "Mr. Cristo, sir, Leo got himself thrown in jail again. I can't work with a partner who isn't reliable and can't stay out of trouble. I was hoping you would approve of Blair as my new partner."
Cristo glanced at Sandburg for a brief second, then back to Rico. "Well, Rico? Leo has been a liability in the past."
"I was just about to test his abilities, Jefe." He crooked his head in Manuel's direction.
"Ah, very well then. I'm sure you don't object to a test, Mr. Sandburg. I have to know if you'll be able to keep my Cyndi safe." Cristo gave her a smile and slid his arm around her shoulders.
Taking a step back, Blair moved into a more open area, dropping into a fighting stance. He really didn't want to do this, and yet, there was something about Cristo he trusted, a sense of honor. Manuel followed him, throwing a lunging punch that Blair easily dodged.
The two men circled each other warily, Blair staying on the defensive. He quickly realized that he could duck and weave all he wanted, but sooner or later the large man would get his hands on him and then he would be in trouble. He needed an edge, like he'd had in the alley. His eyes fell on the oak walking stick Cristo held loosely. Grabbing it out of his hand, Blair said, "Just borrowing it, sir!" Sensing Manuel behind him, Blair whirled, bringing the stick in low, hitting him solidly in the knee. Letting out a bellow of pain, the big man staggered a little, and Blair followed up with a strike to the stomach and one to his shoulders as the bodyguard doubled over. Blair danced out of reach, then spun back around, nailing him with a kick to his already aching leg. Manuel fell to his knees and Blair moved up behind him, holding the stick in both hands, bringing it across his neck and pressing it against his throat until the man began to choke.
The sound of a sharp handclap broke Blair's concentration. "Enough!" Cristo commanded. "I think our Mr. Sandburg has proved himself admirably. And he's quite resourceful too."
Releasing Manuel, Blair returned the cane to Cristo. "Thank you, sir."
"Starting tomorrow, you are Cyndi's new partner. She'll show you the ropes." Cristo held out his hand and Blair shook it tentatively. "Welcome to my organization, Blair." The sudden turn of events finally registering, Blair could only nod in reply.
"Mr. Cristo, sir," Cyndi said, "Blair already saved me today. He kept a couple dealers from making off with your stuff and their payment."
Cristo snapped his fingers. "Then he deserves to be paid. Frederico, get Cyndi and Blair their pay." The dark haired man disappeared into the office and returned a moment later with two envelopes. He handed one to Blair and the other to Cyndi.
Waving a quick goodbye to her boss, Cyndi grabbed a still stunned Blair by the arm and they exited the warehouse.
Jim Ellison looked up from his computer screen as two men entered Major Crimes through the door closest to his desk. One was a tall, dark-haired man with his right arm in a sling, the other a stocky blond with two black eyes and a well-taped nose. Though dressed in jeans and the standard wear of the Pacific Northwest, flannel shirts over tees, their bearing and the imperious glances they were shooting around the bullpen immediately caused Jim to label them as Feds. He tried to make himself inconspicuous, and failed.
One Arm moved to stand in front him. "Where's Detective Sandburg?" It wasn't a request.
Jim rose smoothly to his feet, folding his arms over his chest in a show of territoriality. "Who's asking?"
Broken Nose flipped open a badge. "I'm Agent Collier, and this is my partner, Agent Manning. We're with the DEA."
"No! I thought you were with the World Wrestling Federation," Jim deadpanned.
Manning slammed his good hand down on the desk. "We demand to see Detective Sandburg!"
Jim shot a glance toward Captain Banks' office, seeing the man beginning to rise from his desk at the noise. He decided it was time to be civil. "I'm Detective Ellison, Sandburg's partner. Perhaps I can be of some assistance?"
"You can tell us where the son of a bitch is and then get out of my way 'cause I'm going to kick his ass from here to the Pacific Ocean!"
Simon's foghorn voice cut through the room. "Gentlemen, gentlemen! Can't we discuss this rationally?"
Collier turned what should have been a piercing glare on the tall black man, but his swollen eyes and taped nose only made him look pitiful. "Who are you?"
"Captain Banks. Sandburg is one of my men." Simon scowled back at the agent.
Manning shook his head, his good hand clenching and unclenching. "Don't you locals know how to handle a drug deal going down? You don't fucking interfere! Because it just might be part of a sting operation!"
Jim was trying very hard to keep up. "Sandburg interfered with a drug deal? Then where in the hell is he?"
"How the fuck should I know? He beats the crap out of us, then jumps in the car with the mark and takes off!"
Simon made a small choking noise, and Jim realized he was trying to hold back his laughter. The idea of Sandburg beating up on the two muscular DEA agents was pretty funny. He looked away to hide his own expression of mirth. As he did, he caught sight of the clock on the wall. His partner should have been back two hours ago. Picking up the phone, he punched in the number for Blair's cell. A few seconds later, the desk facing his began to trill. "Damn it, sir," he said, catching Simon's eye, "he left his cell phone here." Walking around his partner's desk, he pulled the bottom drawer open. "And his weapon."
Removing his glasses, Banks wiped his eyes, then replaced the spectacles. "Are you sure it was Sandburg? What you're describing sounds very much out of character for him."
Collier threw a leather flip-fold open on the desk. Blair's gold shield and ID stared up at them. "Oh, we're sure. He dropped this."
"Thanks for the lift, Cyndi," Blair said as he got out of her Rabbit. Closing the door, he leaned back through the window. "You'll call me and let me know where and when tomorrow, right? You have my cell number."
Cyndi nodded, her beads swaying. "I got your number. It won't be too early, and I'll pick you up since you don't have a car." She grinned at him. "We are gonna have so much fun, Blair!" Letting up on the clutch, she drove off.
Blair stood on the corner watching until she was out of sight. "Yeah, fun," he muttered under his breath, then turned to jog the four blocks to the PD, wondering what in the hell he was going to tell Jim and Simon.
Exiting the elevator at the sixth floor, he walked into chaos. Everyone in Major Crimes was standing in a circle around Simon and Jim, who were facing off with two men Blair didn't recognize, and all of them were yelling at once.
"Sandburg is not capable of..."
"Broke up our bust..."
"Broke my freaking nose..."
"Probably made us to the girl..."
"This is all very amusing, gentlemen, but..."
As one, all the occupants of the bullpen turned toward the door, suddenly silent. Blair's attention fastened on the two strangers. Underneath the bandage and the black eyes, the blond one looked familiar, like the... the guy from the alley! His eyes widened as a sudden wave of terror swept over him. The flight response came a little too late. Broken Nose rushed him, grabbing him by the collar and slamming him into the glass next to the door hard enough that Blair heard it crack.
"You fucking son of a bitch! Do you know how much you cost us? You blew our whole setup, you worthless druggie piece of shit!" The man was so close Blair could feel his spit hitting him in the face as he ranted. Then Jim and Simon were on either side of the nutcase, pulling on his arms, trying to make him release his hold, as Blair clawed at the hands twisting his collar, cutting off his air.
"Let him go!" Jim roared. "Can't you see he's choking?"
The pressure suddenly vanished, and Blair lost his balance, staggering forward, feeling something drop from his coat pocket. Catching himself on the corner of a desk before he went all the way to the floor, he looked up to see stunned faces staring back at him. The room was dead silent. "What? What is it, guys?" He pulled himself to his feet, then looked down.
A plain white envelope lay on the floor, hundred dollar bills strewn around it in a fan.
"Uh, would you believe I just won the lottery?"
Continue on to Act II...
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This page last updated 2/3/01.