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.


Amateur Night
by
Nickerbits and Chaz

.

Act I

"Dean, come here!"

Dr. Dean Warner jumped at his fellow researcher's shout. Teresa Grose was normally a reserved individual who rarely ever spoke above a soft tone. Knowing the delicate and dangerous work in which she was engaged, the breathless excitement he heard in her voice now sent him running to her side.

"What is it, Terrie?" he called worriedly. "What's wrong?"

"Absolutely nothing! All is right in the world!" the dark-haired woman responded jubilantly. She waved triumphantly at a lonely microscope sitting atop her workstation. "Take a look."

Squinting into the microscope, Dean stared down at the slide she'd been studying. It only took him a moment to realize what he was looking at. "My God," he breathed as he straightened up to face her.

"Yes, exactly! We did it, Dean, we did it! It works!"

The blonde scientist watched in bemusement as Terrie danced around the lab in a happy little jig. Ah, what the hell, he thought fondly. We've been working on this for so long, she deserves to cut loose a little.

Speaking of which... "That it does, Dr. Grose," Dr. Warner said, catching his partner around the waist and twirling her around the room. "This calls for a celebration. Dinner, I think, my treat. Anywhere you want."

"I just can't believe we did it! A new antibiotic that works against some of those drug-resistant germs! We just have so much to do! We can't go running out to dinner tonight! We need to double check my results, get all our research notes in order and be sure that we can synthesize sample TCC-274X again with the same results -- the FDA is very picky about having their protocols followed, you know." The woman began pacing at a frantic pace around the lab as she continued her list.

"Then, we need to call Pharmco and let them know. They've been funding us for years. We have to let them know that it's been money well spent. We also need to start discussing protocols for lab tests and discuss which other centers we should send this to for independent verification and --"

"Whoa, whoa! Hold on just a minute, there." Dr. Warner laughed, shaking his head. "You're getting a bit carried away again, Terrie. Doing everything we need to do with this drug is going to take a long time. I realize that you're way too excited to leave right now, but, I'll tell you what, I'll make you a deal. You'd keep working without eating or sleeping 'til you drop if I let you. You know I'm right." He smiled down at the brunette who was flushing slightly with embarrassment as he spoke.

"Oh, come on, Dean," the woman protested weakly. "I'm not that bad."

"Yes, you are, and you know it, Terrie. Now here's the deal, okay? We'll stay here tonight and start getting the groundwork laid. We should have things pretty well organized by tomorrow evening. At 6:00 PM sharp, we're going to stop what we're doing and go out somewhere for a really nice dinner. Then, we'll both go home and we'll each get a good night's sleep, and be back here, ready to get going again at 8:00 AM -- no earlier, do you hear me? Don't even try to argue with me. If I have to, I'll give Security very strict instructions not to let you back into the lab -- you know I will."

The other scientist glared at her co-worker, but at last nodded her agreement. "Okay, tyrant, we'll do this your way. Let's get started then -- there's a lot I want to get done before 6:00 tomorrow!"

The two scientists were so busy making plans that they never noticed the shadow that had been standing in the doorway of the next room throughout the entire conversation.

Oh, Jack, you have really stumbled on the mother lode this time, haven't you? The shadow thought to himself. I wonder what the going price for the next super antibiotic is? Time to get the gang together. We did promise to cut each other in if one of us were to ever find something. The shadowy figure silently detached itself from the wall and glided toward the exit from the building.


Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg had had a very rough shift. Now they were looking forward to nothing so much as getting home, enjoying a bowl of leftover stew and kicking back for the evening to watch the Jags crush their latest competition.

"Oh, man," Blair groaned, pulling himself wearily up the steps. "I swear these stairs get longer every time we have to take them. Tell me again why we don't just move into a building where the elevator works occasionally?"

Jim's cheek twitched in a slight smile as he fitted the correct key and pushed the loft's door open. "Come on, Gramps. Grab some plates. I'll heat up French bread and the stew, and we can have something to eat. You know you'll feel better when that aging body of yours has a little something in its stomach."

"Oh, Jim," Blair cackled, sounding like the most ancient thing that had ever walked the earth. "You're just too good to such a decrepit old man. Whatever would I do without you here to support this aging body and feed me prune juice in the mornings?" Shuffling feebly toward the cabinets, the young man continued his play-acting as he reached up with hands 'gnarled' by arthritis. "Don't worry though, Jim. I've made sure the old folks home has saved a room for you in their special 'older than the hills' wing."

Laughing, Blair easily avoided the swat his partner aimed as he passed on his way to the table. "You gotta do better than that, Old Man, if you want to play with the big boys."

Laying his spoon down on the stove, Jim turned toward his partner, a small, deadly smile forming on his face. "Old man? I'll show you what this old man can do, Sandburg -- "

Backing away from the big detective, Blair's eyes fell on the blinking light of the answering machine. "Oh, wait a minute, Jim! There're messages on the machine. Maybe it's Serena with the lab results on the Watkins case." Lunging for the device, the young man pressed the 'Play' button. "Now, no horsing around, Jim. I'm going to need to write down any phone numbers or messages."

As he picked up a pen and pulled the message pad toward him, Blair heard his partner mutter, "Those messages won't last forever, Chief. Enjoy it while you can."

Smiling to himself, Blair turned his attention back to the first voice coming from the machine.

"Jim, it's Cathy. I had a really good time Saturday. I got my hands on the office tickets to the Jags game next Friday. Fourth row, center court. Call me if you know anyone who might be interested in going. You have my number."

"Well, I think that one was for you, Jim," Blair laughed, glancing over at his roommate, who was stirring the stew with almost comic concentration.

"Jiiiim, it's Inga. I'd really love to see you again. I managed to get hold of a pair of Jags tickets for Friday night's game. Sixth row, center court. How about dinner and the game and -- maybe -- who knows what else? Call me."

Laughing out loud now, Blair shot an amused look at Jim. "Aw, what a shame. Now you can't go to the game with either one because the other will see you there, and who knows what sort of public scene they might cause."

"Darwin, if you know what's good for you --" Jim's retort was cut off when the next recorded message began to play.

"Hey, Blair! It's me, Mitch. I've got all the props put together that you wanted for that Christmas pageant you and your partner are doing. They'll be ready if you guys want to come to the auxiliary prop building Saturday afternoon and pick it all up."

The speaker took a deep breath and continued more reluctantly. "Um, Blair, I'm really sorry to mention this, but your friend's going to have to sign for everything. You're not exactly well thought of at Rainier right now. Mr. Stanley -- you know him, he's the head of the theater department -- well, anyway, he said that he doesn't trust you, and he won't allow you to sign for valuable props."

Blair continued to stare down at the notepad, but his pen had stilled on the page. Even Jim stopped stirring the stew.

"I really am sorry, Blair," Mitch continued apologetically. "We don't all feel that way. Anyway, you can pick everything up Saturday afternoon. Give me a call and we'll set up the time. I'm looking forward to seeing you again!"

As the answering machine clicked off, Blair sat looking blankly at it for a second or two. His momentary reflection was cut short by his roommate, who sought to ward off the signs of impending depression. "Chief, exactly what was your friend talking about? What's this Christmas pageant you and I are supposedly doing and when were you planning on telling me about it?"

"Huh?" Blair roused himself from his contemplation. "Oh, sorry, Jim. Don't you remember? We'd talked about this about a month or so ago. Jessica called and asked for help on her class with the fourth-grade Christmas play. You know -- 'Christmas Around the World'? You really didn't want to do it, so I met with her teacher several times, and we planned out the play. I know that Rainier loans out props sometimes to other schools. I called to borrow the stuff we needed."

Jim frowned, annoyance and guilt warring in his expression. "Helping my nine-year-old niece isn't part of your job description, Chief. What the hell are her parents doing?"

Blair looked startled by the question. "I don't know. I never thought to ask. Besides, it sounded like fun." He grinned. "And you should see her teacher -- gray hair, dowdy dresses -- I've been thinking she'd be just perfect for you."

Ignoring his partner's jibe, Jim frowned slightly. "So you volunteered us even after I said I didn't want to?" His irritation was fading rapidly. At the time, his mind had been on a dozen things besides Christmas. Now, with their small, cheerfully lighted tree and other not-so-subtle decorations of the season insisted upon by Blair, he wasn't quite so opposed to the idea.

"I'm really sorry, Jim." Blair spoke rapidly to explain his reasoning. "You weren't supposed to be involved in this at all. I was just going to pick up the props and take them over to the school. The play is Sunday night. I'd return them on Monday, and that would be the extent of it. I just gave them your name because it sounded good. You know, Police Officer of the Year and all that. How could their props be any safer? I didn't think they'd actually want you to show up in person and sign anything. I really didn't mean to put you out over this. It just never occurred to me that my academic 'standing' would be a problem in getting the props. I can just get Ms. Hawthorne, that's Jessica's teacher, she's directing the play, to go with me and sign for everything. They'll give it to her." The last few sentences were spoken with a faint trace of bitterness. Although he'd accepted the consequences of his choices, some of the memories still rankled.

Turning off the stove, Jim came around the kitchen island to lay a reassuring hand on his friend's shoulder. "No, no, that's fine, Chief. Jessica is my niece, after all. I certainly don't mind doing a little something to help out where I can. I just wish that you didn't have to -- you know -- put up with this stuff. You didn't do anything wrong."

Summoning up a weak smile for his partner, Blair waved off the other man's concern. "No, it's cool, Jim. I knew what I was getting into when I talked to the press. I made my decision, and now I have to live with it. Can't ask for anything more than that, can I? Let's have something to eat now, and watch that game, okay?"


Late the next night, four men stood outside the locked laboratory doors.

"You sure you know what you're doing, Jack?" Tony Armstrong fidgeted nervously as he spoke. Smaller and darker than the others, he looked out of place in the midst of the rest of the group. What he did have in common with the other three was an interest in biochemistry and a desire to be fabulously wealthy.

"For god's sake, Tony, quit your whining!" the man holding the penlight hissed. Ron Nowak, a tall and brawny redhead, had little tolerance for cowards or complainers. "We've been over the plan dozens of times. Your job is to keep watch. So shut up and keep watch!"

The thickset man on the other side of Jack merely nodded his agreement. Bob Coulter had never been one for idle chatter and, being the closest confidant to the mastermind of this whole scheme, he knew the plan better than anyone but Jack himself. It would work as long as nervous little twits like Tony didn't screw it up.

"It's simplicity itself, Tony," the mastermind replied confidently as he tapped in the correct entrance sequence on the number pad beside the metal door. "Being a lab assistant has its privileges. I memorized both doctors' pass codes a couple of months ago, and I saw exactly where they put the sample tonight before they left. Campus security won't be by for another 15 minutes. We're wearing gloves, so we won't get fingerprints on anything." The door slid up silently, and Jack waved the others in grandly. "What did I tell you?"

Circling behind his three partners, Jack approached the freezer situated along the back wall. "It's in here, Bob. Let's see those magic lock picks you're always bragging about do their thing."

As Bob knelt by the keyhole, Jack turned to his other co-conspirators. "Tony -- go out and keep an eye on the hallway!" He checked his watch. "Eleven minutes before Security is due, but we shouldn't take anything for granted. Ron, stop gawking and keep the light steady. Bob, how are you doing there? C'mon, c'mon, we have a schedule to keep!"

"Keep your shirt on, Jack." The chunky man working at the lock peered up at his blond-haired companion. "I'm almost done here -- ah, there we go." Standing up and stepping away from the freezer, he bowed deeply to the other man while gesturing grandly toward the now unlocked compartment. "Would you care to do the honors, oh great leader?"

Striding forward, Jack rested his hands almost reverently on the door's handle, and turned for a moment to face the rest of his friends. "Well, are you all ready to be rich? This is the moment we've all been waiting for."

Turning back around, he turned the handle with a flourish and opened the door.

A split second later, the raucous howl of the lab's alarm system filled the air.

"Oh, shit!" Tony wailed. "You said there wouldn't be any problem! I'm don't want to go to jail! What're we gonna do now?"

"Shut up, Tony," Ron growled, advancing on the smaller man. "I thought taking out the video cameras and alarms were supposed to be your responsibility, anyway."

"I did my job, I did my job!" the smaller man babbled as he backed into a corner. "I took out the cameras and alarm system. This one must have been on some sort of separate line! I bet they did that back when that nut case managed to steal the Ebola virus a couple years back! Or when that wacko stole the nerve gas! It's not my fault!"

Taking a moment to grab the vial they'd come for, Jack turned sharply on his co-conspirators. "Look, something went wrong, Campus Security is on its way here now. If we panic, if any one of us gets caught, we're all as good as dead. Now, let's go!

Flashing red security lights cast vaguely threatening shadows over his face as Jack led the way quickly down the hallway. He swiftly approached an emergency exit door and pushed it open, retreating into the cold darkness of the December night.

The four men stopped a moment, looking desperately around for some way out of their predicament. After a moment, Ron snapped his fingers and pointed at a building barely visible in the gloom.

"C'mon, guys! This way!" Digging through his pockets, he pulled out a ring of keys and began flipping frantically through them, looking for the correct one to open the door.

"Hurry it up, will you! We gotta get outta sight! I can see cop cars headed this way!" Tony's voice sounded frantic and very loud in the still night air.

Bob leaned in close, invading Tony's personal space with his much larger bulk. The man's voice was a nearly silent, deadly hiss. "Shut your mouth before I have to do it for you."

"Guys, guys." Jack moved between the two men, speaking softly in an attempt to soothe jangled nerves. "C'mon. Ron's gonna open this door, we're all gonna step inside and we'll be looking calm, cool and completely ignorant when the campus cops come to talk to us. Okay? Just keep it together a minute longer."

"Yeah, yeah. Almost there." Ron's voice was ragged and a little breathless. He fitted one last key into the slot and sighed in relief as it turned and the tumblers of the lock snapped open. "Okay, guys, let's go. In! In!"

The four young men pushed their way quickly through the open doorway into the darkened building beyond. Jack, following at the back of the procession, pulled the door shut just before the first security guards arrived at the Rainier Medical Research Lab next door.

Feeling around on the wall, Ron flipped a row of light switches to reveal a large warehouse-like interior crammed from floor to ceiling with a wildly varying array of costumes and props. Heavily embroidered Elizabethan dresses in a deep purple velvet hung side by side with studded black leather biker's gear and a ragged scarecrow costume leftover from some long ago production of "The Wizard of Oz". Haphazard piles of shields, rubber-tipped spears and other theatrical weapons lay heaped on those rare areas of the floor that weren't already taken up by furniture of all shapes and sizes and shelves crammed full of every manner of knick-knack and bric-a-brac known to man.

Looking around, Jack raked his blonde hair back with one hand and smiled a very self-satisfied smile. "Oh, yeah. This is good. Just what we need."

"Huh?" Ron's expression mirrored the confusion his other companions felt.

Making a slow circuit of the room, Jack considered various items, rejecting them all for one reason or another until he finally came to a battered surfboard nestled in a corner of the room. Opening the small bag hung over the top of the board, an evil smile lit his face as he reached in and pulled out a small, round metal tin of Sex Wax.

A few minutes later, when the campus cops widened their search, they found four young men industriously sorting props in the back room of Rainier's theater department. Since one of them, Ron Nowak, had a key to the building and a letter from Doctor Albert Stanley, head of the department, instructing him to inventory theatrical props over the weekend, the cops questioned them only briefly. They were forced to conclude that whoever had broken into the lab had made a clean getaway.


"Team Two to Team One, over," a crackly voice came over the walkie-talkie clutched in Rick Winston's hand. He was senior officer on duty for Campus Security at Rainier University tonight. God, what a night for that honor.

"Team One, go ahead," the sandy-haired man replied, glancing at the luminous dial on his watch as he did so.

"The perimeter is secure, sir," Howard Tan, the second most senior officer on duty that night, reported.

He sounded a little nervous, and Rick couldn't blame him. This wasn't just another drill they'd practiced dozens of times since the recent thefts at Rainier's Medical Research Laboratory. This was for real.

The plan was a relatively simple one. Once the alarm sounded from that particular site on campus, a security perimeter was immediately placed around the lab and the surrounding structures. Four teams would then be sent inside this circle to make a thorough sweep of the buildings and grounds in the hopes of catching the intruders before they made it off the campus. Howard Tan was the perimeter supervisor for this shift. Winston was in charge of the sweeps.

"Good job, Team Two," the senior officer praised Tan. The Chinese man and his team had beaten their best time by 30 seconds. Rick assessed his own team with cool gray eyes. "Okay, people, you know what to do. Carnes and Knoll, suit up. You got the lab. The rest of you, spread out. Let's see if we can catch these jokers."


"God, I hate wearing these things," Campus Security Officer Jacob Knoll griped as he clumsily maneuvered his suited body through the laboratory doorway. He groped for the light switch and flipped it on. The lab was bathed in a spotlight glare.

Behind him, his partner, Molly Carnes, equally sheathed in a bright orange contamination suit, gave a little snort. "You'd rather be infected with the Ebola virus? Or typhoid? Or any of a dozen other delightful diseases that could be floating around in here?" She carefully entered the room and passed the other officer on her way around the equipment-laden table in the middle of the lab.

"Thank you, no," Jake replied with a grimace, trailing gingerly behind her. "It's just that these things are so damned bulky. I feel like a bull in a china shop with it on."

Eyeing her six and a half-foot, two hundred seventy-pound partner through the face shield of her protective suit, Molly replied dryly, "You are a bull in a china shop, Jake."

"Yeah, yeah," the big man dismissed her comment with a wave of his hand. He turned in a slow circle and surveyed his side of the lab. "So, you see anything missing or broken into?"

"Shit."

Jake turned as swiftly as the suit allowed at his partner's softly muttered curse. "What's wrong?"

The stocky woman was staring at an open freezer door. Jake swallowed hard. He couldn't see her face because of the face shield, but it had to be bad if his normally clean-mouthed partner was swearing. Oh dear God..

"What's usually stored in there, Mol?"

She looked up at him blankly. "I dunno, Jake, but there's definitely something missing in here. We'd better give the docs a call."


In a swirl of evening gown and tuxedo, the two Rainier scientists burst through the small ring of campus security personnel and onlookers surrounding their laboratory. They were about to barge straight into the building when Carnes and Knoll caught them.

"Wait just a minute, doctors, we don't know what's missing yet," Molly informed them firmly, "No one goes in there without a suit." Jake moved into position behind her to effectively block the scientists' entrance.

"But you don't -- " Terrie started to protest, striding towards the door regardless of the intervening officers.

Dean laid a gentle, silencing hand on her shoulder. "What was broken into, Officer Carnes?"

Keeping careful eyes on the smaller of the pair, Molly reported, " One of the freezers. It looked to me like only one or maybe two vials were taken. Whoever the thief or thieves were, they knew what they were looking for."

Terrie took a calming breath, then asked in a soft voice, "Which freezer?"

Jake shrugged. "The one farthest against the left wall as you walk in."

"Dammit!" the little brunette exploded. "Get me a suit! So help me, God, if they've taken what I think they have.."

Ten minutes later, Dr. Grose was no longer swearing. She was crying. It was gone. The cure she had worked so hard and so long to find was gone. Dean wrapped an arm around her shaking shoulders and murmured soft reassurances, but his eyes snapped with the same outraged disbelief that shook his smaller colleague.

"So it wasn't anything contagious?" the big security guard asked in relief.

Two pairs of angry eyes pinned the hapless man in the act of removing his suit helmet. Terrie shook off Dean's arm and advanced on Jake.

"No, Officer, it's not contagious," she mocked angrily. "It's a cure, not a disease or poison. A cure that could stop or even prevent illnesses that have plagued the human race for generations --"

"It's also worth millions to someone who has the right connections," Dean added quietly. Over in her corner, Molly nodded to herself.

"I figured as much," she said after taking off her own helmet. She glanced over at Winston, who had joined them after the all clear had been signaled. "We can't deal with this ourselves, sir. We have to call in the city cops."

The senior officer nodded resignedly and went to make the call.

Continue on to Act II...


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