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.
The Baboon's Foot
The young man tapped away furiously on his keyboard, oblivious to the world around him. Occasionally stopping to insert a CD, remove a floppy, or print something off the laser printer, his hands and fingers remained in perpetual motion. The deadline was almost there, intoxicating with its proximity.
No wonder he didn't hear the soft footsteps behind him, nor feel the whoosh of air as a smooth cord wrapped suddenly, painfully around his neck, then twisted impossibly tighter.
Eyes bulging, fingers clawing, the young man's body twitched and spasmed as it starved for oxygen. In a sudden moment of clarity just before death, he finally realized where he had gone wrong in his algorithm. Shit, he thought. His dying hope was that Heaven supported PCs.
December 28, 1999
Jim Ellison pecked away lazily on his keyboard, painfully conscious of the world around him. Rafe was reviewing old unsolved cases and tapping his pen against his desk in an annoying non-rhythm. Henri was catching up on paperwork and crunching his way through a bag of thick pretzels. Joel... Joel was doing something unexciting -- Jim wasn't quite sure what -- and sighing dramatically every five minutes.
Crime was way down. Boredom was at an all-time high.
Given all the hype concerning the year 2000, Jim had assumed that the week before New Year's would be inundated with crime sprees, murders, and general chaos, but he couldn't have been more wrong. One domestic murder, being handled by Homicide. One homeless man dead in a straightforward mugging, also handled by Homicide. One failed attempt to clean out the cash register at a local gas station, being handled by Robbery. No major crimes reported within miles. The gangs seemed to have gone south for the winter. Potential terrorists stuck to the border towns. Politicians and their campaigns were back east in New Hampshire. As peace officers, the men and women of Major Crime were grateful for the current reign of lawfulness. As imperfect human beings, they were desperate for something -- anything -- to happen.
Until then, Jim, like Henri, was stuck working on his own backlog of reports, forced to earn his paycheck one way or another. Even Blair was having more fun, sitting over at the courthouse in case he was needed to testify.
"People! Your attention please!" Simon Banks entered the bullpen from the hallway and stood front and center.
All tapping, crunching, and sighing stopped and eight glazed eyes looked up at their captain.
"I just came from the mayor's office," Simon continued, "and he confirmed what we suspected. Because of the potential panic surrounding Y2K, every officer available will be on duty New Year's Eve. Since Megan's in Australia on 'holiday,' and Dills is in Florida visiting his parents, they're excused. But the rest of us will be here Friday night."
No one even blinked. "Whatever," said Rafe.
"Good." Simon frowned. "It won't be the same, I know, but I figure we can have our own little New Year's Eve party here, sans alcohol of course. I've taken the liberty of assigning food for each of you to bring." He began passing out squares of notepaper.
"Assignments? Can't we just bring what we want?" Jim scowled at his piece of paper. Swedish meatballs?
"What the hell is jelly salad?" asked Henri. "Lettuce mixed with strawberry jam or something? That sounds disgusting."
"That's 'Jell-O' salad," Simon said patiently. "You know, Jell-O mixed with fruit? And the reason for assigning food is the Christmas luncheon last week. If I recall correctly, we had twelve orders of Wonder Nuggets, six bags of potato chips, one large beefstick, a block of cheese with no crackers, tofu-spinach something-or-other, and a dreadful lemon store-bought pie brought in by yours truly. I think the new millennium deserves a little more effort than that."
"I thought the luncheon was pretty good, even that tofu stuff." Jim shrugged and stuck the note in his pocket. "And don't mention the phrase 'new millennium' around Sandburg or you'll get a math lecture on the base ten number system and what constitutes an actual millennium."
"Why am I not surprised? Now if there are no arguments concerning the New Year's Party..." The captain's glare dared anyone to argue with him. "Good. Ellison, my office."
Jim sighed in relief. Even though Simon's tone made it clear that the news, whatever it was, wasn't good, at least was going to get him away from his mind-numbing paperwork.
"Here." Simon handed Jim a cup of coffee as he entered the office. "What's with the look?"
Jim held up a hand and continued to eavesdrop. The 'look' turned into a smile. "Brown's trying to get Rafe to trade party dishes with him, though he's not much happier with Rafe's assignment. Rumaki, sir?"
"Mm. Chicken liver and water chestnuts wrapped in bacon. Delicious."
"I know what rumaki is, Captain. I also recall that it's one of your favorites. So are Swedish meatballs."
Simon scowled and sat back in his chair. "Would you like to know why I asked you in here or not?"
"I don't know, sir." Jim remained standing, but crossed his legs and leaned against the conference table. "Would I?"
The captain's expression turned serious. "Actually, Jim, I found out something at the courthouse that I thought you should know. Oliver Perron is defending Gillespie."
"Damn." Jim rubbed his hands over his face, then looked up angrily. "What the hell is a hard-assed, well-known lawyer like Perron doing defending a smalltimer like Gillespie?"
"Apparently he's the kid's uncle. Wife's sister's son."
Jim banged the table with the palm of his hand and started pacing. "We should have known. We should have asked."
"Whoa there, Detective. This is nobody's fault. And the kid was going to have to face this sooner or later."
Until now, Blair Sandburg had been spared having to testify in a trial. Normally this wasn't a problem for a rookie detective, but given Blair's admission of academic fraud earlier in the year, everyone in Major Crime was dreading the day when he'd have to testify, pitted against a lawyer whose sole purpose would be to shred the young man's reputation into a thousand pieces.
The Gillespie trial had seemed like the perfect forum for breaking Blair in. Micky Gillespie had been seen purse snatching in front of several witnesses, and Blair had been the one to capture and arrest him. Simple. Straightforward. At least ten other witnesses. They knew Gillespie was going to plead not guilty, hence Blair's having to testify, but they had assumed the public defender would be on the case, a sensible young lawyer who concentrated on cleverly manipulating facts, not destroying witnesses. But Oliver "The Pirhanna" Perron was another story, the slimiest, most evil, corrupt, repulsive, and uncompassionate lawyer Jim had ever run across. And of course he had to be Micky Gillespie's uncle. Just Sandburg's luck.
Jim gazed absently through the window, down the street in the direction of the courthouse. "Maybe I should just --"
"No, you shouldn't 'just,'" Simon cut in immediately. "Sandburg's smart and he's tough. He'll be fine. He knows he has your unconditional support. You don't need to be there in person."
"But there's nothing --"
"Unless you were going to finish that sentence with '...like a captain's advice,' I'd just leave it unfinished. I'm willing to bet a month's salary that you haven't finished your paperwork yet."
"I thought so. You know, the higher the closure rate, the greater the quantity of paper work. That's something the ancient Sentinels didn't have to worry about." Simon gave Jim one of his throaty "heh heh heh" laughs and chomped down on an unlit cigar.
Someone knocked on the door. "It's open."
Henri stuck his head in and searched out Jim by the window. "Sorry, Captain. Jim, there's some old guy sitting at Sandburg's desk."
"Yeah. Didn't say what he wanted."
Jim sighed. "Let's hope he has a crime to solve."
Henri and Simon trailed Jim as he returned to the bullpen. Rafe, Joel, and even Rhonda had unabashedly stopped working in order to watch the scene in front of them.
The old man was in his 70s, perhaps early 80s. Small and thin, he had a shock of thick, wild, grey-white hair sprouting from his head and, in contrast, a very neatly trimmed salt and pepper beard. The man stood up and smiled politely when Jim headed towards him. Dressed in a subtle brown plaid suit and large spectacles, the man had a clear, probing look that missed nothing.
"Sir?" Jim held out his hand. The man's return grip was strong and brief.
"You must be Detective Ellison. I've heard so much about you."
Returning the polite smile, Jim cocked his head and waited.
"I'm Professor Stoddard," the man explained. Of course. The stereotypical professor. "Eli. A former professor of Blair's."
Jim straightened at that. "Oh yes... um, Borneo?"
"Correct! That was some time ago, now." The professor's smile brightened. "Blair would have been invaluable on that study with me, but I think he made the right choice."
Damn straight he did, Jim thought, but simply nodded. Stoddard was looking at him with that intense gaze, sizing him up and down until Jim felt compelled to add softly, "He did make the right choice, sir."
"Yes. Yes, he did." The professor smiled again, nodding as if he and Jim had reached some sort of secret understanding, then reached behind himself for a paper bag. "I gather Blair isn't here at the moment? Too bad. Perhaps you could give this to him for me. It's an artifact that's recently come in to my possession, and I'd be most interested in his assessment of it."
The bag was one size larger than a typical lunch bag. Jim took it from Stoddard and reached inside. Grimacing, he removed something L-shaped and furry, something that instantly made his flesh crawl. "Uh, what should I tell him this is, exactly?"
"A baboon's foot."
"Excuse me?" Someone behind Jim made an "eew" sound.
The professor looked amused. "A real honest-to-goodness baboon's foot. I've been studying a fairly new tribe discovered in the outer regions of Arabia, and from what we can determine they considered the indigenous baboons sacred. Far back in their history, a baboon named Oppehsiah saved the entire tribe from annihilation, though we've yet to decipher how. When this baboon died, they removed his left foot and had it preserved, mummified if you will. This foot has magical powers, according to the legend."
Jim's smile became pasted to his face as he nodded absently. "That's nice."
"Magical powers?" Joel shared a look of skepticism with the others.
"According to tribal lore, anyone holding the baboon's foot thusly --" Professor Stoddard demonstrated in midair "-- could make a wish, and this wish would be granted within a 24-hour period."
Simon "heh heh heh"ed again and Jim shook his head slightly. He returned the baboon's foot to the paper bag and dropped it on his desk. "I'll be sure Sandburg gets this."
"Thank you, Detective." They shook hands again. With a final, penetrating look at Jim and a quick nod, Professor Stoddard left.
After the elevator doors had closed, the entire bullpen exploded into laughter.
"Magic foot, my foot!" Henri guffawed.
"It doesn't have a leg to stand on!" Rafe hollered, almost tipping himself off the desk.
"At least it has 'sole,'" Joel roared.
"Wish for something, Ellison," Rafe said. "Come on! Let's see if it works."
"I..." Jim didn't really know what to say. The whole thing was just too ridiculous.
Simon nudged him. "Just wish Sandburg good luck or something."
"Good luck?" Joel wiped the tears away from his eyes. "Something go wrong in court?"
"Turns out The Pirhanna is the defending attorney at Gillespie's trial."
"Shit." Henri looked stricken.
"Well, now you've got to give it a try," said Rafe. "For Sandburg's sake."
Simon removed the foot from the bag and plopped it into Jim's hands.
Jim sat down heavily in his chair and sighed. "This thing gives me the creeps."
"You're holding it wrong." Rafe demonstrated the way the professor had shown.
"You do it then," Jim said irritably.
Rafe held up his hands. "No thank you, Ellison. That honor belongs to you."
Everyone waited. Jim looked from one man to the next. Even Rhonda had paused mid-staple to watch.
"All right, all right." He grasped the sole of the foot portion in his right hand and the back of the leg with his left and closed his eyes. "I wish..." Jim cleared his throat and got into the part, intoning with a deep voice: "I wish Sandburg wouldn't have to testify before Oliver Perron."
The bullpen erupted into cheers.
Blair sighed and looked at the clock. Man, was this boring or what? He'd been sitting on the same hard chair in the same deserted hallway for the past three hours. His butt was sore and he was incredibly thirsty. What was taking so long? The defense didn't have a prayer of winning, so he had been genuinely surprised when the kid had gone through with his "not guilty" plea. Even so, he should have been the second witness up, following Mrs. Gavin, the lady whose purse had been stolen.
Just then, the door to the courtroom opened and Mrs. Gavin staggered out. Her hair, carefully piled into a bun that morning, was in complete disarray. Mascara tracked where tears had fallen and her eyes were puffy and red. Her clothes looked like she'd been trampled by a herd of elephants.
"Detective Sandburg," the bailiff who had opened the door announced.
"Yeah, okay." Blair's attention was on the woman reeling past him. "Mrs. Gavin? My god, what happened to you?"
"It's that monster," she croaked. "He's evil. I would have given that boy my purse if I'd known."
Blair held out his hand hesitantly, not sure what to say. Mrs. Gavin just blew her nose and hurried off.
"You're next, Detective." The bailiff held the door open and waited. Blair swallowed nervously and entered the courtroom.
Yes! Jim thought triumphantly as he tore yet another report off the printer and stacked it neatly on the witness statements pile... right next to the evidence logs, the field notes forms, the crime reports, the probable cause forms, and the ever-popular follow-up reports. His triumph was short-lived, however, when he realized he had still only completed about half the reports due. Somewhat discouraged, he returned to his notebook and computer.
An hour later something made him look up. "Anyone else hear that?" he asked, looking around.
"I didn't hear nothin'," Henri shrugged, eating a cruller.
"It's..." Jim cocked his head, listening. There it was again.
Oh man oh man oh man oh man oh man oh man...
"Uh, never mind." Jim's face flushed a little as he realized it was Sandburg he was hearing, in the elevator, still several floors down. A nervous tapping accompanied the 'oh man' mantra, and when Jim concentrated he could hear his partner's elevated heartbeat. Apparently the trial had not gone well. So much for the power of the baboon's foot.
Concentrating on the elevator doors behind him while pretending to browse his notebook, Jim was ready when the doors opened and Blair popped out. He forced himself to wait until Blair actually came into the bullpen area, flung his pack to the floor, and collapsed in his chair.
"You okay, Chief?"
Blair nodded, a bewildered expression on his face.
"Hairboy's back!" Henri called out, and Simon joined them from his office.
Blair didn't seem at all surprised by the sudden attention. "Man, you would not believe what happened. There was this lawyer --"
"Oliver Perron," Jim supplied.
"The Pirhanna," Henri corrected.
"--and he was representing Gillespie, not Paul whatshisname, the nice guy. Now, I don't know what he said or did to Mrs. Gavin --"
"The woman whose purse was stolen," Jim said for the sake of the others.
"--but she looked like hell after testifying. I'll tell you guys, I was scared to death. Then the PA warned me just before I got on the witness stand that this guy... Perron?... was a real bastard and I thought 'oh man, he's gonna bring up'... well, you know. So the bailiff swears me in and I get on the witness stand, and the PA asks me about the purse snatching, and I respond with brief, concise answers like they taught us... thanks, man."
Blair paused to gulp water from the cup Jim handed him.
"And?" Simon crossed his arms.
Blair set down the cup and wiped his mouth. "And then the judge asks this Perron asshole if he wants to cross-examine me, and the guy -- I kid you not -- rubs his hands together gleefully and says 'do I ever, Your Honor.'"
"Gleefully?" Henri whispered to Rafe.
"And I think 'oh shit, now I'm really in for it' and my palms start sweating, and I can feel my heart beating like the tribal drums of New Guinea..." he paused to take another drink.
"And?" from Simon again.
"And then he approaches the witness stand and flips open this notebook, presumably with all this information on me that he can't wait to make public, and he asks 'Mr. Sandburg' -- won't even call me 'Detective' -- 'Mr. Sandburg, what line of work were you in prior to joining the police force?' And the PA yells 'I object, Your Honor! Relevence!' and the sleazy guy yells back 'Oh, I'll give you relevence' and then they start this major yelling match and the judge is trying to interrupt them, and finally she just takes her gavel and slams it against the little wooden disk --" Blair demonstrated with his fist on the desk "-- and the head of the gavel flies off -- WHAM! -- right into the back of the sleazy guy's head."
Jim started to get a funny feeling in his gut. "Quit scratching," he said automatically as Blair reached for the healing bullet graze he'd acquired last week. Blair immediately pulled his hand away and ran it nervously through his hair instead.
"Did it knock him out?" Rafe asked, looking at the others.
"Knock him out?" Blair's eyes were wide. "Yeah, man. It knocked him right out of Cascade and into the Great Beyond. I mean, one minute he's screaming at the PA, and the next minute he's flat on his back with his eyes just kind of, you know, not staring up at the ceiling. And blood..." Blair grimaced and waved his hand as if to erase the image. "Lotsa blood."
"Whoa," Henri said. Everyone but Blair looked directly at Jim who was studiously avoiding looking at his third desk drawer.
"And," Simon prodded gently.
"And that's it. Finito. Q.E.D. End of trial. That's all she wrote." Blair shook his head and finished off the water. "Weird."
"Weird," Rafe echoed.
"Captain?" Rhonda called, holding out a telephone receiver.
No one had even heard the phone ring. Simon returned to his office to take the call, and the others crowded closer around Blair.
"So he never really got to question you, right Hairboy?"
"Well, I guess not."
"And you never actually testified, did you?"
"Never. Not yet, anyway. I guess there'll be a retrial."
Simon stalked out of his office with a note. "There's been a murder at Cascade National. Ellison! Sandburg, you up for this?"
Blair nodded and re-zipped the jacket he'd never completely taken off. Jim grabbed his own coat.
"Finally. Some action."
Rafe and Brown grabbed their coats as well.
"Where do you think you're going?" Simon asked them as he handed Jim the address and basic information.
"Uh..." Henri started.
"Canvassing? Witness interviews?" Rafe offered.
"Captain, if I eat one more doughnut..."
Simon scowled and let the moment hang. Then he waved his hand in resignation. "Go. Get out of here."
They couldn't get out of there fast enough.
Continue on to Act II...
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