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 Hazy Blue Line
Blair yawned as he shuffled into the locker room, his backpack slung loosely over his right shoulder. He glanced at his watch: 6:10 a.m. Too damn early. Most cadets didn't show up until seven-thirty, and those that stayed in the dorms usually hit the showers before then. Blair, however, had started showing up earlier to do some extra practice runs on the obstacle course and go over his notes from previous lectures.
Thanks to a dirty cop named Dallas, Blair now knew he could beat that eight-foot wall, but clearing it and coming close to Jim's record were two completely different things. Okay, so he knew he probably didn't stand a chance in hell of even approaching his partner's record on the course. After all, Jim was taller than he was and just all around more of a 'jock.' Hell, Jim had entered the Academy after making captain in the Army Rangers. Of course he'd take the record.
Still, Blair couldn't help but feel like he had to prove something. Jim would tell him he was being foolish, so he'd never really mentioned it to his friend. However, after proclaiming himself a fraud on television, he knew he'd have a rocky road ahead of him in the credibility department. He at least wanted to get through the Academy with flying colors -- in everything.
Reaching his locker -- fourth aisle, first one -- he placed his backpack on the bench and turned the combination lock clockwise, stopping at fifteen. He heard a noise -- like a squeak of rubber against tile -- and turned around, but saw no one.
He frowned. It was a bit too deserted, even for this time of the morning. Usually Thompson or Jackson were up by now. Jackson he could do without, the man was a liability and a jerk to boot. Thompson was okay, however. Not the nicest guy, but tolerable.
Suddenly, the quiet became unnerving and he felt like he was in one of those B horror movies. He suppressed a shiver and turned back around. Get a grip. There aren't gonna be any psychos on Academy grounds -- well, unless Jackson counts. That probably wasn't far from the truth. He thought back again to Jim's car accident on the Academy course and his frown deepened. He'd seen Jackson with a cell phone in a restricted area. He'd thought about mentioning it to Jim after the Dallas thing was wrapped up, but there wasn't much to go on, so he'd let the matter drop. It still nagged at him, though.
Another squeak -- louder and closer this time -- stole his breath. He was about to turn around when hands grabbed his arms and a thick, cottony ball was shoved into his mouth. He released a muffled scream just as a scarf came around his face and someone pushed him forward into the locker. Rough hands yanked the scarf back so that it secured the gag in his mouth. He caught a glimpse in his peripheral vision of a tall figure wearing a blue ski mask, then a hood was pulled over his head. His hands were yanked painfully behind his back, and handcuffs locked tightly around his wrists.
He struggled and tried to twist free, but more hands grabbed him, lifting him off his feet. He screamed, but the gag muffled the sound, and he coughed, choking on the rough cotton bits pressed against the back of his throat. He bucked wildly, but his legs were held securely by at least two sets of hands. Another pair gripped him beneath the armpits and helped carry him.
Oh God. His mind whirled. Who would attack him here at the Academy? What did they want? Were they going to kill him or just beat the shit out of him? He told himself that if they wore masks and put a hood over his head they probably intended to keep him alive. He hoped.
But it also meant they were going to do something they didn't want to be identified for. He swallowed hard, his heart pounding fiercely in his chest. The gag seemed stifling and he tried not to panic, knowing he'd only end up choking on it.
He felt them slowing, then heard a door creak open. The sound of their footsteps changed, no longer squeaking against tile. Now it sounded like they were walking on cement. Was he inside or outside? Another door creaked as it opened, then their shoes squeaked on tile again.
Oh man, oh man, where are they taking me?
Suddenly, they stopped and he held his breath, no longer fighting. From his count, there were at least three of them, and from the glimpse he'd caught earlier, he knew one of them was around six-feet tall and built like an offensive lineman.
He was moved again. Back and forth. Back and forth. Swinging? They were swinging him. Oh God! They were getting ready to throw him... He felt himself going airborne, his heart lurching to his throat. A second later, he hit something hard. A splash. Pain exploded along his chest and stomach and his hood flew off. He screamed against the gag, nearly hyperventilating. Then he was under water, swallowing it and choking on it as it slid past the ball of cotton in his mouth. Directly in front of his face, he saw bluish cement walls. A pool? He was in the Academy's pool. He choked some more, trying not to take in anymore of the foul chlorine liquid, and his legs pumped automatically, propelling him upward. He broke the surface, but he couldn't breathe, the gag stifling him.
A hand grabbed the top of his head and pushed him under. He struggled, but his legs weren't touching bottom and his hands were restrained uselessly behind his back. His lungs burned, desperate for air. His stomach revolted, expelling the water he'd swallowed, but the gag blocked its exit and he choked on the regurgitation, then gasped inadvertently, sucking in more water through his nose. He twisted and brought his legs up, trying to push off the wall, but more hands grabbed him by the shoulders and held him in place even as he kicked and bucked against the cement side.
His chest felt like it was being ripped open from the inside, and the pain tore a scream from his throat as more water pushed its way into his lungs.
Alex, please... Don't...
He was going to die without ever making amends with Jim. God, don't let this happen! Not like this. Not now...
Then he was yanked upward and slammed into something hard. He didn't realize he was free of the gag until he threw up water. He lay there, gasping and coughing, his chest surging as his stomach tossed up more caustic water.
He also realized his hands were free, the cuffs gone. He slid his arms to either side of his chest and pushed up, but he didn't seem to be moving. Black spots floated across his vision, shifting and dancing like dark, demonic flames. Exhausted, he collapsed against the hard tile and into oblivion.
The phone rang and Jim swiveled in his chair to snatch up the receiver. "Ellison."
"Detective Ellison? This is Sergeant Jack Wirsig at the Academy. I'm afraid I have some bad news about Blair Sandburg."
Jim tensed, gripping the receiver until his knuckles went white. "What happened?"
"There's been an incident here, we don't know exactly what happened, but he's in transport to Cascade General. Two cadets found him unconscious in the poolroom. He had marks around his wrists -- reddish rings that looked like they could've been made by handcuffs. We also found a newspaper clipping taped to his locker door about his near-drowning at Rainier's fountain. Someone wrote 'Sandbags can't swim' in block letters over the face of the article."
Jim was out of his seat, pacing, tethered to his desk by the phone cord. "Was he... Can you tell me what condition he was in? Will --?"
"The paramedics said they thought he would be okay, but they weren't very specific. I'm sorry, that's all I know. We're investigating this here, but we probably won't find out anything useful until Sandburg wakes up and tells us what happened."
Jim nodded. "Thank you. I'm going now." He slammed the phone down and waved to Brown on his way out. "Tell Simon I'm going to the hospital. Blair was attacked at the Academy." Without waiting for a response, he flew through the doorway and ran towards the elevators.
"NO! Alex!" Blair's eyes jerked open and he jack-knifed into a sitting position, gasping for air. Hands grabbed his shoulders and he flinched, one arm lashing out at his attacker.
"Easy, Chief!" A strong hand wrapped around his wrist and Blair looked over to see Jim staring at him, the Sentinel's brow creased with concern.
"Jim?" He dropped back against the mattress, expelling a hard, relieved breath. A steady beeping to his right grabbed his attention, and he turned his head, seeing the familiar sight of a heart monitor, his eyes tracking the blips on the green line. Guess this means I'm alive.
He pulled his gaze away from the machine and looked at Jim. "Some guys jumped me in the locker room. They wore masks and put a hood over my head, so I didn't get a look at them. Then they dumped me in the pool -- held me under. I... I thought..." He swallowed, closing his eyes. "Man, I thought they were gonna kill me. Then it was like I was right back at the fountain. I was choking on water. I couldn't breathe... I..."
"Take it easy." A firm hand on his shoulder steadied him, and he opened his eyes. Jim peered down, his eyes narrowed with concern. "You have no idea who did this to you?"
Blair shook his head. "No. I didn't see their faces. Like I said, they wore masks."
Jim nodded grimly and dropped into the small chair next to the bed. "Did they say anything? Could you recognize their voices? The investigative team didn't find much evidence at the scene. We were hoping you could --"
Blair shook his head. "No, they didn't say a word. I just don't know who would do something so sick. I mean, I know there are a few guys who aren't too crazy about me, but why would someone do this?"
Jim swallowed hard, fidgeting in his chair. "They, uh... They found a newspaper clipping about your drowning at the fountain. It was taped to your locker. They dusted it for prints, but it was clean."
Blair closed his eyes, his lips pressed into a thin line. "Man, what total assholes. And these are guys who are gonna be cops with guns. Real nice."
"I have an idea who might have done it, but it's weak."
Blair opened his eyes to look at the Sentinel. "Who? Jackson? He's the only one I can think of off-hand who's jerk enough to do something like this."
Jim nodded, a slight smile tugging at his lips. "Yeah. We'll make a detective out of you yet."
Blair grinned weakly, but the smile faded quickly. "Okay, so why do you think it was him -- besides the obvious reasons, I mean?"
"On the article taped to your locker someone wrote, 'Sandbags can't swim.' It was written in block letters, so they can't match the handwriting."
Blair snorted, anger flashing in his eyes. "Of course. These are cops-to-be. They wouldn't be so stupid as to leave traceable evidence."
"But we can question Jackson."
Blair shrugged. "He's not going to confess, Jim, if that's what you're thinking. And we've got no other evidence. That 'sandbags thing is thin. Everyone knows that nickname by now and more people than Jackson have used --" his mini-tirade was interrupted by a coughing fit that shuddered through his chest. He felt like knives were slicing through his lungs, and tears welled up in his eyes.
A hand slid beneath his back, lifting him up until he was sitting, his chest leaning forward over his legs. Footsteps pounded into the room and he heard Jim's voice, but couldn't focus on the words. He tried to get control over his breathing, but the rumbling hacks wouldn't let up and he couldn't get air into his lungs. A woman's voice sounded in his left ear, then something hard was shoved in his mouth, touching the back of his throat and gagging him. He felt a hard mist explode down his windpipe and into his lungs -- once, then twice. The coughs died and he could suddenly breathe again. He dropped back to the mattress, gasping as he sucked in huge lung-fulls of sweet, blessed air.
More footsteps drummed against the tile and a hand pressed down on his forehead, then slid upward to sweep the curls out of his eyes. He blinked, once again seeing Jim leaning over him, his face anxious.
"Better?" the Sentinel asked.
Blair nodded, still breathing heavily.
A deep voice rumbled from somewhere behind Jim. "Is he okay now?"
Blair struggled to sit up again to look past Jim, but a hand on his chest kept him down. "Hang on, Chief, let me raise the bed for you."
Blair stopped struggling and nodded, still concentrating on just breathing. A second later, a low hum sounded and the top portion of the bed rose, finally stopping at a comfortable 60-degree angle. Now Blair could see past Jim, and he spotted Simon standing a few feet from the door, looking anxious and uncomfortable.
When did he get here?
When the captain saw Blair's eyes on him, he managed a smile and stepped forward quickly, stopping to stand just behind Jim. "I hope you don't feel as bad as you look, Sandburg."
Blair shrugged, finally finding his voice. "Don't know. How do I look?"
Simon leaned forward on the tips of his toes, peering over Jim's shoulder and taking on his best fatherly look. "Like you're about to pass out. So, I'll leave you to your rest. I just want to have a word with Jim, if you don't mind my stealing him for a second."
Blair smiled weakly and waved a hand in the air. "No, go ahead. Take him."
Jim scowled, looking back and forth between the two men. "How did I suddenly become a commodity to be lent and borrowed?"
Simon chuckled. "Quit your grumbling. You should be flattered. Now, if you don't mind..." He gestured to the doorway.
With a nod, the detective followed his captain out into the hall.
Jim closed the door and turned to face his superior. "What is it, sir?"
"Has Sandburg told you who did this?"
He shook his head. "No. They were wearing masks, and they put a hood over his head."
"What about voices? Did they say anything? Could he recognize who they were?"
"No, they didn't say anything."
Simon sighed heavily. "Well, then we've got squat to go on. If he can't ID the guys, they're gonna get away with this."
"I'm pretty sure it was Jackson, sir."
"Because of the 'Sandbags can't swim' note. That's Jackson's nickname for Blair."
"How many other cadets know about and use that nickname?"
Jim's shoulders sagged. "I'm guessing all the cadets know about the nickname, but I don't know how many have used it. Blair did say a few of the guys have called him that on occasion."
"Well, then we've got nothing."
"I know, sir."
Jim tossed his keys in the basket and stepped aside to allow Blair to enter, then he closed the door and hung his coat on the rack. Eyeing his partner critically, he noted the younger man's sluggish movements and hunched shoulders.
"You want something to eat?"
Blair glanced back at him and sank onto the couch. "Yeah, I'm starving, actually. That hospital food leaves much to be desired."
Jim glanced at the clock: 8 p.m. The deli should still be open. "You feel like a sandwich? Or we could go Chinese, but I'm guessing that'll be a bit rough on your system right now."
"Sure, I can go with a soup and sandwich. You thinking about ordering delivery?"
Jim nodded. "Yeah, it's late and I don't feel like cooking."
"Fine by me. My wallet's... uh, well my wallet's in my backpack which I think is back in the locker room."
"Don't worry about it. Dinner's on me."
"Thanks." He reached for the remote on the coffee table and settled back on the cushions, flipping on the TV.
"I'm going to be poking around the Academy tomorrow. Can you give me a list of people who know you show up at the locker room that early? I also need you to tell me if there are any cadets who're normally there that early but weren't this morning. Also, any enemies you have -- guys who've hassled you. That kind of thing. Don't bother listing Jackson. He's already on my list."
Blair muted the newscaster and turned back around to look at Jim, who was reaching for the phone. "Don't go hassling a bunch of guys about this, Jim. I'm having a hard enough time fitting in as it is."
"You want to get to the bottom of this, don't you? You just want to let these guys walk?"
"No, that's not what I'm saying. I just don't want you to go overboard. Do you think it's a good idea for you to be questioning guys you suspect attacked me? Why not send someone else over? You know, someone a little less involved?"
Jim looked coolly at Blair, his eyebrows raised. "Who else can listen to a suspect's heartbeat to find out if he's lying?"
"Okay, good point." Blair turned back around and revived the TV's volume. "Just do me a favor and behave yourself."
"Don't I always, Junior?"
Blair just grunted and flipped the channel, hoping to find something more interesting. He'd make up the list of suspects after dinner.
"Okay, Sandburg, go!" Sergeant Loker bellowed.
Blair took off, making the dived entry through the open window and rolling onto his feet. He launched into a sprint, panting hard already, his lungs burning. He'd only been released from the hospital yesterday, but he didn't want to get behind in his coursework and he sure as hell didn't want his 'pranksters' to think they'd gotten him down. So, he'd insisted on returning to the Academy with only one day missed.
Next came the chain link fence. He leapt off his feet and grabbed the top, vaulting over. The balance beams were next and, by the time he reached the last one, he felt on the verge of passing out. He jumped down from the five-foot-high beam and landed hard. His knees buckled and he collapsed on the ground, struggling for air.
Damn, damn, damn. Okay, so maybe it had been too soon for him to get back in the swing of things. Guess I should've gotten a note and skipped all the physical stuff. He almost smiled at that thought, but he couldn't waste the effort. His lungs screamed, and he realized he was lying there kissing the dirt in front of his entire class.
"Sandburg!" He felt hands on his shoulders, and they rolled him onto his back. He found himself staring up into the rugged face of Sergeant Loker. "Damnit, kid, I thought you said you were up to this."
Blair managed a weak, shaky smile as he continued to pant hard. "Guess... I lied."
"There's a surprise," a voice commented from somewhere to Blair's right. He turned his head to see Jackson smirking down at him. "Who'd expect a self-proclaimed fraud would lie?"
"Enough, Jackson!" Loker threw the man a warning look. "Back off and shut your trap."
Blair finally got his breathing under control, the burning in his chest fading. He moved to sit up, and Loker helped him, grabbing his forearms and pulling him to his feet. "You're out of here, Sandburg. Go home."
"No, sir. I can finish my classes and..."
"That's an order! I'll clear it with the administration. Got it?"
Blair nodded reluctantly. "Fine, sir." He turned around and headed back to the building to get his stuff.
Jackson's voice mocked him from behind. "You're gonna be some back-up for that Ellison guy. You'll probably end up getting him killed."
That's it! Blair spun around and launched himself at Jackson, but he never reached the man. Loker grabbed his arms and pulled him back.
"Enough, Sandburg!" The sergeant released his arms to grab him by the collar, giving him a good shake. "Get your ass out of here. Now."
Blair swallowed, his angry eyes locked with Jackson's. "Yes, sir." He spun on his heels and stormed off, trying not to let them see that how hard he was still breathing.
He heard Loker yelling something at Jackson, but he didn't bother listening to the words. He just marched into the building and headed for the locker room to gather his things.
"Okay, this is our hypo." The instructor grabbed an erasable marker and wrote 'HYPO' on the board. "You pull a suspect over for speeding. As you approach the car --"
The door opened and the department secretary stepped inside. She was a petite woman who always wore her hair in a bun and dressed in pastel colors. She smiled shyly and glanced down at a piece of paper held in her hand. "Uh, excuse me, Sergeant, but I need to pull Cadet Thompson out of your class." Her eyes scanned the group of students.
The sergeant nodded, waving at a large, dark-haired cadet in the back row. "Thompson, go."
Thompson nodded and rose from his seat, gathering his pen and notebook. Jackson sat two seats up and Thompson gave him an anxious glance as he passed. Then he followed the secretary out into the hall.
"What's this about, ma'am?"
She glanced over at him. "There's a detective here to see you."
"He's doing an investigation into the attack on Mr. Sandburg."
"Oh. Why does he want to talk to me?"
"He said it's just routine. He's talking to as many cadets as he can."
She led him into a room and then pointed toward a closed door in the far wall. "Over there. Just go right in."
With a nod, he left her and headed towards the door. Almost hesitantly, he turned the knob and peeked inside. Sure enough, there sat Detective James Ellison. Thompson swallowed and stepped into the room, straightening automatically as he closed the door.
"You wanted to see me?"
Ellison nodded, smiling politely, his eyes gentle. He gestured to the vacant chair directly across the table from him. "Yes. Please sit down. I hope this isn't too inconvenient a time for you?"
Thompson breathed a sigh of relief. He doesn't know. This really IS just routine. He'd heard about Ellison, and those rumors had caused him to almost back out of the little prank, but, damnit, he'd let himself get pulled in. Jackson could be a real force to be reckoned with. Then there was the matter of the money he owed Jackson. This had seemed like a good way to get out of the debt while having a little fun. And he wasn't supposed to get hurt.
Thompson returned the detective's smile and dropped into the chair, setting his notebook and pen on the table.
Act II (Final)
Ellison studied the young man, holding the fake smile as the cadet took his seat. Thompson's heartbeat had been racing when he'd first entered the room, but it had slowed since then. Ellison's smile broadened. Thompson was nice and relaxed, just like Jim needed him to be.
He'd gotten the list from Sandburg late last night. Seven names. Not too many, fortunately. Thompson was number two on that list as someone who normally showed up at the locker room as early as Sandburg, but who had not been there that day. Jackson was the other name on that particular list, but Jim decided to interview Thompson first. He already knew Jackson's type. That guy wouldn't be intimidated into confessing and, if he was put on guard about an investigation, he'd have an opportunity to "talk" with his accomplices.
Jim hoped he could pry a confession out of Thompson. It would make his job so much easier -- and any confession he got here should be perfectly admissible. No Miranda problem. After all, this was just a friendly chat. Thompson wasn't in custody yet and this was therefore not a custodial interrogation.
"How are your classes going?" Jim asked, leaning forward, looking like he was genuinely interested in the answer.
"Oh fine. Not too bad."
Jim nodded. "Good. Glad to hear it. I remember my Academy days. I couldn't get out of this place fast enough." He chuckled. So did Thompson.
"I hope this isn't too terribly inconvenient for you?" Jim leaned back in his chair, looking relaxed and taking on the air of someone chatting with a friend over coffee. "We don't have to do this now. If you want to go back to class, that's fine with me. We can reschedule."
"No, no. This is fine. Is this about the attack on Sandburg?"
Jim heard a slight jump in the young man's heartbeat. "Yes it is. Just some routine questions. You understand, right? In a few years, you'll be doing what I'm doing. So just look at this as a learning experience."
"Sure, okay." Thompson smiled, looking relieved. "Shoot."
Jim pulled out a small notebook from his jacket pocket and flipped through the first few pages. "Okay, let me see here... Uh-huh. Oh right. Two cadets, Rick Carney and Stephen May, found Mr. Sandburg at about 7:00 yesterday morning. Do you know those two men?" He glanced up briefly at Thompson.
"Uh, well I've seen them around. I know who they are, but I don't know them personally."
"Do they harbor any kind of grudge against Sandburg that you know of?" Of course, he already knew the two cadets were relatively good friends with Blair, but he wanted to keep Thompson off his guard -- make the young man think the suspicion lay elsewhere.
"I don't really know. Sorry."
"Okay, next question. I have to ask this of everyone, of course. Where were you yesterday morning between six and six-thirty?"
"I was asleep. I stay in one of the dorms here."
"I see. What time do you usually wake up?"
Thompson shrugged. "It varies. My first class yesterday was at 8 a.m. and breakfast is always served from 6 a.m. to eight-thirty. So, I usually set my alarm for six, but sometimes I hit the snooze button a few times before getting out of bed."
Jim grinned. "Don't we all." Nice cover, kid. Thompson had no doubt anticipated the reason behind the question and come up with a logical cover. But that's not an alibi, and you're not out of the woods yet. "So, uh..." Jim flipped through his notepad some more. "The investigative team found a fresh footprint just inside the locker room door. It doesn't match Sandburg's shoes. It also doesn't match either of the two cadets who found Sandburg, nor the duty sergeant they called. So we're guessing it matches one of the attackers. Would you be willing to let us take a print of the bottoms of all the rubber-bottomed shoes you own?"
Thompson's heartbeat jumped and Jim leaned forward, studying the man. His breathing was shallow and rapid and a very fine sheen of perspiration wet his forehead. The kid was definitely nervous.
Bingo. Jim's smile turned almost predatory. Of course, there wasn't any footprint, but Thompson didn't know that.
"Uh, well I... I don't know. I mean, I only have one pair like that -- running shoes. I kind of need those."
"Are you wearing them now?" Jim glanced under the table, eyeing Thompson's sneakers and trying to estimate the size. The cadet's heart rate skyrocketed.
"Uh, well, yes... I mean, uh... yeah, yeah. These are the only pair I own. What, uh... What size did you say that footprint you found was?"
Jim sat back up and looked straight at Thompson. "I didn't say. Size nine." He'd estimated Thompson's shoe size. Now he'd find out if he'd guessed right.
The cadet's face flushed, his heartbeat nearly frantic.
Jim raised his eyebrows. Yep. Right on the mark.
"Uh... I, uh... yeah, I'm a size nine," Thompson stammered, "but so are a lot of guys."
"Of course." Jim shrugged nonchalantly. "You didn't attack Sandburg did you?"
"Of course not!"
"Then you have nothing to worry about. The sooner we can take your shoe print, the sooner we'll be able to eliminate you from our list entirely."
"You mean I'm a suspect?"
"Well, pretty much every cadet here is until we find out who actually did it. That's the way police investigations work. Haven't they taught you that in class yet?"
"Uh... Yeah, I guess so. So, you want my shoes? I mean, I need them to run the obstacle course. I can't just hand them over, you know."
"I have a small kit in my car. We could do this right now. It'll only take a few minutes."
"Uh... well, uh..."
"Is there a problem?"
Thompson's shoulders sagged. "I think I'd better talk to a lawyer first."
Jim straightened. "Why's that?"
"Am I under arrest?"
"No, you're not. You're free to leave whenever you want. Of course, I'll just have to phone in a warrant for your shoes. That'll take ten minutes."
Thompson buried his face in his hands. "Look, it wasn't my idea. Jackson thought it all up. All I did was help carry Sandburg to the pool. We were just messing with him, that's all. We didn't really hurt him. I mean, we weren't supposed to. Jackson got a little carried away, though. He was holding him down too long and I told him to let go. He wouldn't, and then I pushed him away and yanked Sandburg up. I mean, it was just a joke. You know, like a hazing thing. All cadets get targeted. Even me. One time somebody stole my clothes from the locker room, along with all the towels, and I had to run naked back to my dorm room. It's no big deal. It --"
Jim rose from his chair and placed his palms flat on the table. "You handcuffed him, put a hood over his head, and dumped him in the pool. You held him under. He --"
"I didn't hold him under! It was Jackson!"
"You were there. You helped. That makes you just as guilty." He leaned forward so that his face was inches from Thompson's. "He sucked in water. He nearly drowned. You think this joke of yours was funny? Have you ever died, Thompson? You get a kick out of making him relive that experience? Do you think it's funny now?"
"No! I didn't think it'd go that far!"
"Your joke almost killed him." Jim's voice was now ice. "How does attempted murder sound?"
"Oh God." Thompson's shoulders began shaking as he cried, his face hidden by his hands.
Jim walked outside, a slight grin on his face, though inside his emotions were mixed. A squad car had taken Thompson to booking. The interrogation had gone even better than he'd hoped, and he felt on top of the world. He'd tried to talk to Jackson afterward, but the cadet refused to speak with him, insisting he had nothing to say and had to get back to the obstacle course. Grudgingly, he had to admit the kid was slightly smarter than he looked.
Jim debated arresting Jackson right there, but he didn't want to move too quickly. If he arrested Jackson, then he'd be entitled to a lawyer before questioning, and once a lawyer got involved, there was virtually no chance of Jim gaining additional information from the arrogant cadet.
However, the administration had agreed to open its own official inquiry, and Jackson would soon find himself on the hot seat. Hopefully, either Jackson or Thompson would turn over on the third man and all three of Blair's attackers would find themselves behind bars.
A familiar voice reached Jim's ears, and he cocked his head to listen. "No, sir. I can finish my classes and..."
"That's an order! I'll clear it with the administration. Got it?"
"Fine, sir." Blair didn't sound right. His voice sounded strained and he was breathing much too fast.
Jim shook his head. Damnit, Chief, don't tell me you actually tried to do the obstacle course. When Blair had insisted on going back to class today, Jim had told him to take it easy. Obviously the young man's idea of taking it easy included jumping fences and climbing ropes.
Jackson's voice: "You're gonna be some back-up for that Ellison guy. You'll probably end up getting him killed."
Jim clenched his jaw.
Sounds of a brief scuffle ensued, then a loud voice rang out and Jim winced. "Enough, Sandburg! Get your ass out of here. Now."
Jim spun around and headed back toward the main building, tracking Blair by the sound of his rapid breathing. He traced the source to the locker room and ducked inside, passing two half-naked cadets as he walked up behind his partner.
Blair was busy stuffing the contents of his locker into his backpack -- a binder, a sweatshirt, a book. Jim read the title, his brow furrowing. Magic, Religion, and Witchdoctors. Hardly cop stuff.
"You planning on putting a spell over a suspect to make him confess?"
Blair spun around, nearly dropping his pack. "Jim! Man, what are you... Oh, yeah. Let me guess, you're here to question some of the guys, right?"
"That's right." He lowered his voice and leaned forward. "And I've got some good news. Why don't you and I go grab lunch? I know you're free the rest of the day."
Blair closed his eyes and groaned. "Please don't tell me you heard."
"Well, I heard Loker tell you to leave. What happened?"
Blair slammed his locker door shut and cinched his backpack closed, then slung it over his shoulder. "Nothing. No big deal."
"Cut the crap, Chief." He walked alongside his partner toward the locker room's exit.
"I kind of almost passed out on the obstacle course."
Jim grunted. "No big deal -- right." He shook his head. "Do you need me to say it?"
"I know, I know. You told me so. Happy now?"
"No, I'd be happy if you'd listened to me. Why the hell do you do these things?"
They walked out the front doors. Blair veered to the left while Jim veered to the right. Both men stopped when they realized they were parting.
"Where are you parked?" Blair asked.
"Obviously not where you are." He walked closer to his friend, listening closely to Blair's breathing and heartbeat. Both sounded much better now, so Jim didn't think a trip back to the hospital was merited. All Sandburg needed was rest -- if he'd stay still long enough to get it. "Look, Chief, let's go get some lunch. How does Quizno's sound? We can meet there."
"Sounds fine with me."
"Are you okay to drive?"
"You get into an accident and I'll kill you myself."
"Hilarious, Jim, but don't give up your day job."
Blair ducked the attempted swipe at his head and grinned as he turned around and headed to his car. "You're moving slower these days, Detective! Getting old!"
"Smartass," Jim chuckled as he walked toward his truck.
Jackson was just on his way to Evidence class when the young department secretary stopped him in the hall.
"Excuse me, Mr. Jackson." He turned to look at her. She had large blue eyes, but kept her hair in a bun. Pity. She'd be pretty if she pulled her hair down and did something with her face.
"Yeah? What do you want?"
She smiled sweetly and handed him a note. "Decker wants you in his office now."
"Decker?" He stiffened. He knew of only one reason why the Academy overseer would want to see him in his office.
Damn Ellison. Thompson, fuck you, man. You should learn to keep your mouth shut! He thought he'd managed to dodge that Ellison jerk well enough, but he knew Thompson had been arrested for the attack on Sandburg. He also knew Thompson had fingered him, but so far nothing else had happened. Ellison hadn't arrested him, so he figured there wasn't any evidence whatsoever to pin on him. Hell, he knew there wasn't any evidence. He'd made sure of it. He wasn't stupid, after all.
The secretary nodded. "Yes. Right away." With another smile, she turned around and headed back down the hall.
Jackson didn't go straight to Decker's office. Instead, he stopped off at the library where he knew his roommate would be. He found him seated in the rear of the large room, studying his class notes.
"Davis, listen up," Jackson whispered as he took the vacant chair on the other side of the small, round table. "There's trouble."
"I know. Thompson got busted. Did he finger us?"
"Yeah, both of us." That was a lie -- sort of. Jackson only knew for sure that Thompson had fingered him because Ellison had told him as much. He had no idea if Thompson had also implicated Davis, but he intended to make sure Davis damn well believed he was on the hot seat. Because if I go down, you go down, partner. "We need to get our stories straight. You and I were in our dorm room together yesterday morning."
"I know man. We went over that before we even worked out the rest of the details of this stupid joke of yours."
"Watch it, Davis. Sandburg's a fraud and a cheat. We're doing society a favor by hassling him. Maybe he'll realize he doesn't have what it takes to be a cop and drop out. We certainly don't need guys like him watching our backs on the street."
"Yeah, well, now look at all the trouble that's going down. Was it worth it?"
"They can't do anything to us if you and I stick to our story. Those phone calls went through -- I checked. I also uninstalled the program, so there won't be any evidence that those calls were made via the computer."
Jackson had a 200 MHz computer in his dorm room with a phone program on it. He'd scheduled a call over the dorm phone line to be sent to Stacy's voice mail at 6:00 a.m. The phone program was set to send a pre-recorded message from Davis saying how much he loved and missed his girl and how he had a romantic night planned for this Saturday. Next, Jackson had programmed a call at 6:30 a.m. to his brother's home. He knew he'd catch the answering machine because his brother worked the graveyard shift and didn't get home until 7:30 a.m. Then, after they'd dealt with Sandburg, they'd shown up for breakfast at the cafeteria. So they had an unbroken string of alibi's. It really was a beautiful plan.
"Yeah, yeah, okay.."
"So just stick with the story." He kept his voice very low. "No matter what they say, you don't deviate from our story, got it?"
"Yeah, I got it."
"Good." He rose from the table. "Now, I've got to go see Decker. Keep cool, man. If they start asking me about it, I'm using you and that phone call as my alibi, just like we planned."
"Yeah, yeah, I got it already!"
Blair shuffled into his room and headed straight for his bed, slipping his shoes off a moment before he dropped onto the mattress. He didn't bother undressing. Damn, he was tired. His chest hurt, and his arms and legs felt like Jell-O. This is what I get for not listening to Jim -- and I swear I must be really out of it if I'm admitting I should've listened to Jim.
He closed his eyes and managed to crawl under the covers. His jeans felt uncomfortable, restricting his movements, so he forced himself to stay awake a few minutes longer while he squirmed out of his pants and tossed them onto the floor. Then he gave willingly in to sleep.
Jim cocked his head, listening to Blair's soft snores. It was only 1:30 in the afternoon. He and Blair had just gotten back from lunch, and he could tell his partner was losing steam during their conversation. Several times, Blair's eyelids had drooped and he'd muttered vague "Uh-huh's" at rather inappropriate places. Figuring Sandburg was in no condition to drive, he'd steered Blair to the truck and driven him home. The kid hadn't even realized he wasn't going to his own car. Hell, he'd been practically sleep-walking. The Volvo remained parked on the street, and Jim would just drive Blair to his car tomorrow morning before heading to work.
The phone rang, and he snatched it up quickly, not wanting the noise to wake Sandburg. "Ellison."
"Detective, this is Jake Decker at the Academy. I'm calling to tell you I just spoke with Jackson. He gave Davis, his roommate, as an alibi. I called Davis into my office and he confirmed Jackson's story."
"With all due respect, sir, Davis could be the third man."
"I know that, Ellison, but both men claim to have been together in their dorm room. In fact, they said they made phone calls. I'm having those records checked, but if they're confirmed, the case will be dropped."
"What about Thompson, sir? He fingered Jackson."
"Jackson says he and Thompson got in a quarrel over some money. Jackson loaned him $275 and Thompson has yet to pay it back."
"That's not enough of a reason for Thompson to falsely accuse Jackson. He'd name the real culprits."
"Not necessarily. We all know what can happen to snitches. If the alibi checks out, we're dropping the investigation. We've got no hard evidence, Detective."
Damnit! "I guess that's that, then."
"Yes, it is."
"Let me know what the phone check turns up, will you?" And I'm going to do a bit of checking into that myself.
"Sure thing. Give my regards to Mr. Sandburg. Will he be in class tomorrow?"
"Probably. He's hard to keep down."
"So I've heard. Goodbye, Ellison."
"Goodbye." And thanks for nothing.
Damn, this Jackson guy was thorough, but it wasn't over -- even if the phone calls did give him an alibi. His type could never keep out of trouble and, eventually, he'd make a mistake. And I'll be watching when he does.
"And if you pull over a car filled with a bunch of teenagers and want to search their vehicle for drugs, what do you first do? Sandburg?"
Blair straightened when he heard his name. He'd missed that second day of class when Loker had sent him home, and now here he was back at the Academy less than twenty-four hours later -- only this time he'd stay away from the obstacle course for a few days. "Why would I want to search their car for drugs? Just because they're a bunch of rowdy teenagers?"
"Good question. Do you need probable cause to ask?"
"No. They can consent."
"Right. So let's just say you have a 'hunch.'"
"Well, assuming I had some kind of a hunch, I'd ask them if I could search their vehicle."
"Suppose they say, 'No.'"
"I'd ask them 'Why not?'"
"They say 'Because I don't want you to. This is my car and you can't just search it.'"
"I'd let them be on their way. I can't legally search their car."
"Suppose they really are drug dealers. You just let them get away."
Blair straightened in his seat. "We have a Fourth Amendment. As a cop, I'm sworn to uphold the law, and the Constitution is the Supreme Law of the Land, right?"
"So you don't care that you missed out on a bust? That more drugs get out on the street? That kids die as a result?"
"You think I should hassle them? Make them think they don't have a choice and worry about suppression later?"
"Do you know how many 'questionable' seizures get admitted? The majority of them. That's how we make busts."
"So you're saying the Constitution gets in the way and we should ignore it whenever we can get away with doing so?"
"The Constitution is a piece of paper that was written by old white men over two hundred years ago."
Blair shook his head. "No, the Constitution is a piece of paper that was written by the People after they learned hard lessons living under a dictatorship. Without the Constitution, we're not the United States. We're just a mass of borders."
"Sandburg, you keep this idealism on the field and you'll make a lousy cop."
"Maybe I'll make the best kind of cop -- one who obeys the law and respects the rights of citizens."
The instructor didn't have a reply for that argument.
"Jackson, go!" the sergeant bellowed, a stopwatch in each hand.
Ten days later, Blair found himself back on the obstacle course with the rest of the class. He'd returned to his regular routine, including the physical stuff, a week ago, but this time running the course would be different. This was the first 'test' run. The cadets each had three chances to officially pass the obstacle course, but they had to wait three weeks in between tests. If they passed the first time, they'd be done on the course. If they failed, they'd have to continue with the class until they either passed or their remaining two chances expired.
Blair was well aware of the disdainful glances Jackson had been throwing at him from his place in line up ahead. Just ignore him. Blair closed his eyes and concentrated on his breathing. Don't let him get to you. You're doing this all for Jim. You're going to be his back-up. His life depends on you. Don't screw up. He remembered how well he'd run the 'real obstacle' course when he and Jim had been after Dallas. Hearing those gunshots had been all the motivation he'd needed to scale that eight-foot wall.
The sergeant's voice boomed sporadically in the background as he told cadets to start and called out the times of those who'd finished. "Time, Jackson! 10 minutes, 58 seconds."
So I'll just pretend I'm back there and Jim's life depends on me. While I'm at it, I'll imagine those two psychos who almost killed me during the Quinn thing are on my tail. That ought to do wonders for my time. Hell, I must have broken all kinds of records during that run.
He kept his eyes closed, visualizing himself going over each obstacle. He'd been through too much already to fail this. He already knew he could scale the wall, the difference was adrenaline. He'd had a ton of it in his system when he'd been after Dallas. He just had to get control now. Force himself into that state of mind. He was a shaman, after all. He'd taken that trip. He'd been initiated. Shamans learned to use their minds to control their bodies.
Easy. Piece of cake.
Oh God! I'm up next. He took another deep breath. Okay, do this for Jim. Show that asshole Jackson that Ellison's gonna have the best damn partner he could possibly get.
Minutes passed and, finally, he heard his name. "Sandburg, go!"
He opened his eyes and took off like a rocket.
He dove through the window. Then hopped onto the beams. Next came the chain link fence, which he scaled easily. Then the rope. He climbed it, his palms burning. He dropped down, landing hard, but didn't hesitate as he ran toward the wall. It loomed over him -- eight feet tall. He jumped, grabbing the top with his fingers, and propelled himself over like a pro.
All right! I made it!
The hardest part was over. He flew through the monkey bars better than Larry, the Barbary Ape, could have done. The four flights of stairs waited up ahead and Blair ran up them, then back down, never slowing his pace. Hell, he'd run the three flights in the loft hundreds of times. He was definitely in shape for this. His lungs, however, were beginning to protest and the muscles in his legs began to burn. Breathe. Keep going. This is for Jim. For Jim. C'mon, Sandburg! Do it! Keep it up!
The 'unconscious person' was next. Blair grabbed the 150-pound dummy and dragged it fifty feet, imagining it was Jim and he had to get the Sentinel out of the way of an oncoming train. Hell, with the cases they worked, that wasn't such an outrageous scenario.
Once the dummy was out of 'danger,' Blair headed for the track. The last obstacle was the mile course. This is where he'd really have to let his adrenaline pump. He closed his eyes briefly, just long enough to get his frame of mind set. It wasn't hard to do. He still had nightmares about that day -- Jim was tracking Simon and Quinn, and he was left looking down the barrel of the survivalist's gun, expecting the bullet, waiting for death. He'd almost pissed his pants.
He was back there in the woods, running for his life.
"Time! Hot damn! I don't fucking believe it Sandburg!"
Man, talk about a vote of confidence. The sergeant didn't even think I'd finish. Blair collapsed onto the track, limp as a ragdoll, his chest tight and his lungs screaming.
"10 minutes, 3 seconds! You broke Ellison's record!"
What? Blair lifted his head to see half his classmates cheering. Jackson, however, looked like he wanted to punch someone. Probably me. He dropped his head back to the ground and smiled. Wow. The record. Jim, man, have I got news for you.
At 5:30 p.m., Blair bounced into the bullpen and headed straight for Jim's desk, depositing his backpack on the floor and taking up the spare chair.
The detective raised his eyebrows. "What's up, Sandburg? Why are you grinning like the... Wait! You passed your test!"
"Yep man, flying colors, first try!"
Jim was out of his seat and pumping Blair's hand as he slapped him repeatedly on the back. "Way to go! Hey guys, listen up! My partner here just passed the obstacle course!"
Brown, Rafe, Megan, and Joel all broke into whistles and cheers.
"Way to go, Sandy."
Simon's door opened and he stepped out of his office. "Did I hear that right?"
"Yes, sir." Blair nodded, almost blushing.
"So what was your time?" Jim leaned against his desk, grinning like a fool.
Blair shrugged one shoulder. "Well, the important thing is that I passed."
Jim's smile faded just a bit. "Hey, don't worry if you didn't do as well as you wanted. You're still recovering. Like you said, the important thing is that you passed."
"Oh, I did better than I expected."
"Really?" Megan piped up. "What was your time?"
"Come on, Hairboy. Spill it."
A slow grin broke out on Blair's face and he tried to sound nonchalant as he made the announcement. "10 minutes, 3 seconds."
A sudden quiet followed his words. Brown looked at Rafe. Rafe looked at Megan. Megan looked at Joel. Joel looked at Simon.
And Simon looked at Jim. "Uh, wasn't your time -- the record --"
"10 minutes, 5 seconds," Jim answered flatly.
Blair swallowed, rising from his chair as his partner turned to look at him. Okay, maybe I should have kept my mouth shut. Slowly, Jim moved away from the desk and sauntered towards him.
Blair took a few steps back. "Uh, hey, Jim, man. You know, it doesn't mean anything. I only got through it because I was thinking of you." He smiled and playfully punched Jim's shoulder, trying desperately to lighten the mood.
"You little punk," Ellison growled, his face hard, but he held the look for only a few seconds. Then his eyes twinkled and he broke into a huge smile and tackled Blair, pulling him into a firm bear hug. "My partner broke the record. Come on, guys, this calls for a celebration."
Blair cried out in surprise as the detectives descended upon him. He was lifted up and carried by several pairs of hands toward the hallway. "Hey guys! Put me down! This is kidnapping."
"The operative word being kid!" Simon yelled, evoking a roar of laughter.
"Don't worry, Sandburg," Jim ruffled Blair's hair. "We're going to fill you with beer and food and embarrass the hell out of you tonight."
"It'll be a blast!" Brown chuckled.
"Oh man!" Blair tried to sound indignant, but he couldn't suppress the surprised grin that broke out on his face as his friends carried him toward the elevators.
He suddenly didn't care that Jackson had gotten away with the 'prank.' I beat him where it counts -- on the field.
~ Finis ~
E-mail the author of this story, DawnC, at DawnC@bigfoot.com Read Dawn's other fan fiction for The Sentinel at Blair Angst Fiction Page The artwork in Act I, The Newspaper Article, was created by DawnC 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 In TWO WEEKS on THE SENTINEL: Rock and a Hard Place (11/3/99, FPP-505) by Eddie(Story concept by Eddie and Renae)
With the Academy behind them, Blair and Jim head to Yosemite National Park to spend some down time with Naomi. But dark shadows fall over the trip almost from the beginning as Blair finds himself assaulted by strange nightmares. And it only gets worse when Naomi and her friend Emily Mesgar, a reclusive-for-good-reason scientist, are kidnapped.
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