Busman's Holiday-- a holiday in which one does much the same thing as his daily work.
"Pembleton! Bayliss! In my office now!" Lt. Al Giardello bellowed across the room housing the Baltimore P.D.'s Homicide Unit.
Tim Bayliss grabbed some notes off his desk and scowled at his partner. "Why am I always the primary when we get called to the office?"
"Do you really want me to answer that, Tim?" Frank Pembleton asked.
"No, Frank. I definitely don't want you to answer that," Bayliss replied. He knew what Pembleton was implying and he really didn't want to dwell on his insecurities before meeting with the lieutenant. Frank was one of the best homicide detectives Baltimore had ever had and the detective was well aware of it. Sometimes his arrogance was hard to swallow and the fact that Frank was as good as he thought he was, was especially demoralizing to the man considered to be his partner.
"Come in, gentlemen," Giardello said as they tapped on his door. "Close the door behind you."
Bayliss couldn't figure out what he'd done wrong. "If this about the Gregory case, Gee--" he began.
"Gregory? No, no. Haven't had any complaints. I called you in here to thank you for not forgetting about your poor, overworked, underpaid, lieutenant. I suppose this takes care of the Christmas presents I never got from either of you," Giardello added with a grin.
Pembleton looked at Bayliss. Bayliss looked at Pembleton. "Uh, we have no idea of what you're talking about, Gee," Pembleton finally admitted.
The lieutenant laughed. "Still playing it close to the vest, huh? Well, here it is in black-and-white, gentlemen." He handed them a letter with an official seal at the heading.
Bayliss read it and his grin almost matched Giardello's. Pembleton read it and looked at his partner in horror. "You didn't?" he asked, dread dripping in his voice.
"I did," Bayliss said proudly. "Well, we did actually."
"But you involved me."
"We did. Relax, Frank. It'll be fun. Don't you agree, Gee?"
"Oh, fun doesn't begin to describe it. Gives me something to look forward to. I am deeply satisfied, detectives. Get out before you spoil my mood."
"You know, I know who is to blame," Pembleton said as they walked out of the office. "And under normal circumstances, I wouldn't be against causing bodily harm. But..."
"But?" Bayliss urged.
"But his partner would beat the crap out of me," Pembleton said matter-of-factly.
Bayliss nodded. "Yeah, Frank. He would."
"Sandburg! Ellison! In my office!" Captain Simon Banks yelled as soon as the detective and police observer returned to the bullpen of the Major Crimes Unit of the Cascade P.D.
Jim Ellison looked at his partner who glanced up at him with an innocent look. "I haven't done anything today, Jim. Honest. I've been with you all morning," Anthropology grad student Blair Sandburg declared, his curly dark ponytail bouncing on his neck.
"Perhaps it's not anything you did today. Perhaps old sins are exposing themselves," Jim guessed.
"Well, if that's the case, maybe one of us should order lunch before we go in," Blair said laughingly. "I'll be back in an hour or two."
"Come on, Chief. It's time to face the music. You can't get out of it."
"Tell me something, Jim. Why do you always assume it's something I've done when Simon yells at us? Could be you, you know."
"Yeah, but the odds are in your favor."
"That's because nine times out of ten, it is about me," Blair muttered. "I think Simon scrutinizes everything I do because I'm not officially one of you guys."
"You're probably right," Jim agreed. "You have to remember Simon's ass in on the line with yours if you screw up. He's the one that made it possible for you to have observer status. He's the one who allows you to be my back-up, hell, my partner in every sense of the word. He's ultimately the one who will take the blame if you get yourself killed. And you know the press would have a field day with that one: Civilian Killed While Acting As Cop."
Blair shook his head. "I don't know why either of you bother to worry so much. Between the two of you always being on my back, how would I ever manage to get myself killed?"
Jim smacked the back of his partner's head as they walked into the captain's office. "You're a bright boy, Sandburg. I'm sure you'd figure it out somehow."
"Jim, stop being abusive," Simon chided, handing Blair a cup of coffee. "Are you alright, son?"
Blair and Jim froze, their blue eyes showing matching concern for their friend. "Something wrong, Simon?" Jim asked hesitantly.
"Wrong? Just the opposite, gentlemen, and I have Sandburg to thank for that." He motioned for them to sit. "You know when I receive an envelope with the government seal on it, I'm slightly wary of the contents. Imagine my surprise when I opened it."
"Good news?" Jim guessed. He picked up tentative excitement building in his partner and suddenly he wanted to know what was going on.
"We've been given a government grant to run a study on the effectiveness of building inter-personal relationships between law enforcement agencies throughout the country."
"We got the grant!" Sandburg yelled. "Alright, Simon!" He went around the desk to get a better look at the letter. "Writing proposals for these things are so tricky, but a friend of mine has it down to almost an art form. This is so cool."
Jim patiently waited for his friends to stop gushing over the letter. It took about five minutes before they noticed he hadn't reacted. "Someone explain to me what's going on. In plain English, please," he requested firmly.
Before Simon could open his mouth Blair was already talking, his hands moving as fast as his tongue. "See, I thought that it would be a good idea if police departments across the country, especially those on opposite coasts, came together one on one in a workshop or outing designed to teach them to rely on each other. Sort of one of those team-building retreats big businesses have, you know. Maybe then, bridges could be formed and the communication network would be more natural, less of a chore and more of a neighborly act. So I wrote a proposal and the federal government said cool."
"And you're for this idea, Simon?"
Simon smiled. "Sure am. Especially since the policemen involved in the retreat are to bring along their commanding officers because, as everyone knows, you men look up to us. We need to set a good example as well."
Jim nodded, beginning to see the picture. "And this retreat is to be held where?"
"Someplace neutral to the West Coast and East Coast teams involved. The geographical center of the U.S. is in South Dakota so we'll be at a government-owned facility near Mt. Rushmore," Blair said in a rush. "Man, the Black Hills are great. Hiking, camping--"
"Fishing," Simon added excitedly.
"And getting along with strangers," Jim said dryly. "Where's the other team coming from?"
Blair grinned. "Baltimore."
Jim laughed. "This is what you and Tim Bayliss have been cooking up? An all-expense paid weekend with friends? I have to hand it to you, Chief. You did good."
"I did, didn't I?" Blair crowed. "I wonder if Tim knows yet?"
"I wonder if Pembleton knows yet," Jim mumbled. The homicide detective wasn't exactly the great outdoors type. In fact when asked about camping and fishing, Pembleton's reply had been, "Keep your big woods, man. I'm city born and bred. If I want to see animals I go to the zoo. If I want to see fish, I go to the Aquarium. The only other time I want to see fish is on my plate, preferably non-moving."
"What did you say, Jim?" Blair asked distractedly as he made plans in his mind.
"Oh, nothing, Chief. This is going to be an experience for sure."
Rapid City, South Dakota
"I wonder what's taking so long?" Blair asked, nearly jumping up and down at Rapid City Regional Airport as they waited for the arrivals from Baltimore. The flight from Cascade had arrived two hours earlier so they had already checked in at the facility, then returned to the airport to meet their friends.
"Settle down, Sandburg, or I'm going to have to cut your sugar intake," Simon declared impatiently. "The plane just landed. Give the crew at least enough time to open the doors before the passengers are released."
Blair wondered, not for the first time, why he had included the commanders in his proposal. Just because Simon and Lt. Giardello were old friends and he thought it would be nice if they could come along too, wasn't reason enough to mess up his own vacation with the captain's aversion to nervous energy.
"They're coming, Chief," Jim said, seeing his partner's mutinous expression. He didn't need Simon and Blair at odds with each other; if his instincts were right, there was going to be enough problems with one of the approaching trio.
"Tim, Frank, Lt. Giardello," Blair was calling and then reintroductions were made all around. Since the three-day weekend required no more than a couple changes of clothing, they didn't have to wait on luggage and soon all were piled into the Chevy Suburban provided with their lodgings.
"So where are we staying?" Bayliss asked Blair who was sharing the middle seat with him.
"It's this great cabin," Blair said enthusiastically. "Four bunkbeds so it sleeps eight comfortably. It reminds me a lot of a summer camp I went to one year. But this time I got a top bunk and the company's a lot nicer."
"Sounds good," Bayliss said. "Which do you want, Frank, top or bottom?" he asked, turning around to the back seat that Jim and Pembleton shared.
"Don't start with me, Tim," Pembleton warned. His jaw had been clamped shut since introductions. But his eyes spoke volumes of his opinion of the retreat.
Simon, who was driving, looked at Giardello with a frown. "Problems?"
"Frank's a little high-strung. Play nice, fellas," Giardello called to the back of the vehicle. "You wouldn't want Uncle Al to come back there and have a talk with you, would you?" Silence. "Why is it that the good ones are always temperamental?" he asked his fellow commander.
"Because if they weren't good, we wouldn't have to put up with them."
"Good answer, pizon. You have the weekend planned out?"
"I signed us up for a fishing tour at the main lodge. Our first trip out is this afternoon. All gear is included but I'm hoping you brought along those special lures from our last get together."
Giardello patted his jacket pocket. "Got them right here. Is everyone coming along?"
"Nah. I tried talking Jim into tagging along, but he decided to stay behind with the others. Which may be a good thing; fishing with Jim can be depressing."
"Can I help it if I'm a natural?" Jim called out.
"Is that what you're calling it now?" Simon inquired meaningfully. He was one of the few people aware that his detective was a Sentinel-- a person with enhanced senses. Jim could literally see the fish in the water and knew where to drop his line.
"Careful, captain, or I may join you after all."
"Too late, Ellison. No more seats available. But I'm sure the four of you will find something to do."
"Actually, captain, you and the lieutenant were supposed to plan and coordinate our activities," Blair pointed out, reciting the text of the grant.
"Uh huh. And I've done that. Al and I are going fishing. The four of you are going to do something else. Sounds coordinated to me. How about you, Al?"
"Simon, you are a bona fide planning genius," Giardello said with a booming chuckle. "Is this the place?" he asked as Simon turned into a parking lot. In front of them was a large wooden lodge with people wandering in and out.
"Yeah. Our bunkhouse is over in the woods to the left. We have just enough time to get you out of that suit and into fishing clothes before we meet with the group."
"You should have told me," Blair said as he and Bayliss walked around the compound, checking out the facilities.
"I thought he'd be over it before we got here. I mean, we found out about the grant two months ago. Who knew he could hold a grudge that long?" Blair looked at his friend in disbelief. "Okay, so I knew he could hold a grudge. I just didn't think he would, that's all."
"What exactly does he object to? The workshop, the participants, the location?"
Bayliss adjusted his prescription sunglasses. "Location, mostly. And I think he's feels he's been manipulated. You see, his wife, Mary, has been in on it too. The only reason he didn't come here with suits and wingtips is because Mary not only packed for him, but drove him to the airport and stood by until he was on the plane. She's worried about him working too hard and having another stroke. I think it's in the back of all our minds, including his. That may be why he's fighting it so much."
Blair nodded. People never liked doing what was "good for them." "Well, hopefully when we get back, he'll be in a better mood. Jim's going to have a talk with him."
"And that's going to put him in a better mood? What's the number of the cloud you live on, Blair?"
"Jim will reach him, you'll see. I know my partner."
"Yeah, well, I know mine."
"Breakfast on the loser?" Blair challenged.
Jim sat on his lower bunk, relaxed as he watched the detective doing the same across from him. But it was obvious Pembleton wasn't relaxed. His back was straight, his head defiantly tilted as if to snub his fellow officer. You owe me one, Chief. He should have gone with Blair and Tim as they went to explore the grounds of the retreat, but Blair had pleaded silently with his solemn blue eyes and Jim had let them go, leaving him alone with Pembleton.
If he had thought the homicide detective was just being a complete ass, he would have told him off and been done with it. But either he was getting sensitive in his old age or maybe he just recognized the symptoms, anyway, he realized there was much more going on than a temper tantrum. Something was bothering Pembleton, causing him to be so stubborn.
"Let's take a walk," Jim suggested as his cool blue eyes finally forced Pembleton to acknowledge him.
"Because I asked."
Pembleton shrugged. As soon as Blair and Tim had high-tailed it out of the bunkhouse, he knew Ellison's friend had once again conned him into dealing with "the problem". "Is this where I get part two of the partner talk?" he asked dryly as they went out into the sunny, mild day. If he stopped being angry long enough, he would probably enjoy it but he wasn't ready to give in just yet. Because that would be admitting...
"This is the part where we just talk, Frank," Jim said mildly, wondering how he was going to get the cop to open up. The things he did for the man he considered his family... Hey, that was an angle. "You don't want to be here. Fine, that's your prerogative. But you're here anyway. So my advice to you is get over it, Frank. Unless you've been damn lucky, this isn't the first time you've had to do something you didn't want to and with two kids, this isn't going to be the last," he pointed out. "Just wait until you find yourself in the middle of Chucky Cheese or at Barney On Ice."
His companion's brown eyes widened in mock horror. "I know your partner told you to cheer me up so I hate to tell you, Ellison, but you're doing a lousy job." Pembleton declared. "By the way, you do know Barney's the Anti-Christ?" he added with tongue planted firmly in cheek.
Ah. Signs of humor. That was a start. "What else would a big purple dinosaur be?" Jim said solemnly. "That's why you have to be there watching him do figure-eights and camel spins. To protect your children from his influence."
"His evil influence," Pembleton corrected, trying not to smile but failing. "Damn it, man, what is it about you that gets to me every time?"
"My charm?" Jim queried. "Or maybe my smile?" He flashed his pearly whites. "Or maybe it's because we mutually respect each other, Frank. You may, and I stress the may part, even at times consider me an equal."
"I wouldn't go that far," Pembleton replied, but his smile took away the sting of the remark. "Okay, we may be equal but we aren't the same. Jeans, a flannel shirt, and hiking boots work for you. But look at them on me," he said, indicating the items his wife had packed in his bag. Gifts from her and the children, she said. "It's not me, Ellison. It's not who I am."
"So the only Frank Pembleton in existence is the one who wears a tie and suspenders?" Jim asked as they passed by the main lodge. He absently searched for a familiar heartbeat. Not there. "I don't buy that. We are all capable of being someone else. For instance, who are you when your in-laws come to visit?"
Pembleton cut his eyes toward Jim. "What makes you think I'm any different around Mary's parents?"
"Maybe it's the fact they haven't dragged their daughter and grandchildren away from you yet?"
Another near-smile. "Very funny, Ellison. And by the way, when did you meet my in-laws?"
Jim laughed, then sobered. "You've had time to resign yourself to this 'wilderness' adventure, Frank, and I know you're the type of guy who rolls with the punches. But instead of rolling, you've stubbornly planted your feet. What's really going on?"
Pembleton rubbed his hand across his nearly bald pate. "Maybe I'm just tired of rolling, Jim. A while back I watched a man die. It was a homicide investigation; the only thing was that death didn't occur until an hour after the murder. He was pushed in the subway and ended up pinned in the scant inches between one of the trains and the sidewall. He was dead the minute it happened. His body got twisted up and everyone knew as soon as he was freed, he was a goner. So I sat with him while some of the guys went looking for his girlfriend and the engineers figured out the best way to finalize the murder."
Two red-headed children bull-dozed past them, a red-headed man making belated apologies as he trailed them. Pembleton glared, then continued. "Now this guy was a real son of a bitch and under normal circumstances, I wouldn't have spent five seconds with him. But there was something so tragic, so ironic about what was happening to him, that I couldn't leave. The man was to all extents and purposes, a fucking ghost. You should have seen the look on his face when he realized... Tim found the man who had deliberately pushed him in front of the train. The bastard was just some head case; nothing personal involved. Just one of those freak occurrences you hear about and pray you never experience, you know.
"So this man is pinned there, his top half functioning normally, which means he is fully aware that once the train is moved, his insides are going to pour into his legs and, bam, lights out, the curtain drops, the fat lady sings. And all he has for comfort is me. Big bad Frank Pembleton who speaks for the dead. But I can't speak for this dead guy; he's speaking for himself."
"What happened?" Jim urged softly. Damn. Frank deserved to have a few bad moods.
Pembleton shrugged. "They inflated some airbags. The train moved. He died. Didn't even locate his girlfriend in time."
"At least he had you."
Pembleton laughed bitterly. "Yeah, he had me-- as impotent as I was when I had my stroke. We found his killer. So what? Didn't make him die happier knowing his death was just some shitty random act of fate. All he wanted to do was live and we both knew that was impossible. I have to admit the situation troubled me and I think maybe that was what brought this on."
"Brought what on, Frank?"
"You're going to think I'm paranoid."
"You're a cop; you should be. In my handbook, paranoia is in the job description," Jim said honestly.
Pembleton chuckled. "We're definitely going to have to work on getting your handbooks and guides published."
Jim shook his head. "No dodging, Pembleton. Out with it."
"Okay. Everyone thinks I'm going to stroke out again. Mary, Tim, Gee, they all watch me when they think I'm not looking. That's the reason behind forcing me on this trip, buying me these clothes... They're waiting for my head to explode and I'm starting to feel just like that man in the subway terminal," he admitted gruffly.
"But you're not helpless, Frank. At the moment, you are alive and you have choices. Like taking your medication, watching what you eat, avoiding stress."
"Easier said than done, Jim. Avoiding stress at work is not a problem. There aren't too many homicides that I can't leave at the office when necessary. But the outside world is different. The children get sick, Mary has her own problems I have to deal with, and my partner... Hell, my partner has decided to date a man."
Jim stopped walking and had to consciously keep his jaw from dropping. "He's what? I had no idea that Tim was gay."
"That's the problem," Pembleton said in disgust. "He isn't. Hell, he dated Julianna Cox over the holidays. Of course, no one knew about until they broke up. Then we had this murder of a gay man. I thought Tim was going to be uneasy with the investigation because he's never really been comfortable in that environment. But he did really well and he even got the murderer to confess. After the case, I see him talking to one of the gays who had helped us out. I ask him what's going on. He tells me that he hasn't been happy, and maybe dating this man is the answer." He sighed and tilted his head, trying to remove the tension he felt. "Every time I try to talk some sense into him, he thinks it's because I have something against homosexuals. But it's not about the lifestyle; it's about Tim."
Jim understood. Partners watched the other's back. Bayliss was walking headlong into trouble and Pembleton was reacting instinctively. He sensed a bond between Frank and Tim, not anything as strong as the one he shared with Blair, but he suspected if Tim had been gay and was coming out of the closet, Frank would have backed him-- whether he agreed or not. But for a man, who had never shown any indication of being gay or bisexual, to date another man because "he wasn't happy" was different. Tim was asking for abuse, even courting it. How could he expect Frank to just sit back and watch?
Before Jim could let Pembleton know he understood, he heard someone running in their direction. He turned and saw Bayliss hurrying their way and when he didn't see Blair behind the tall, lanky detective, he knew his partner had once again stumbled into his own particular brand of trouble. "What's happened?" he asked tersely, his body primed for action.
"There's a hiking path on the grounds here," Bayliss said, bending over and resting his hands on his thighs as he attempted to breathe and talk at the same time. "A woman came running up to us, crying that her seven-year-old daughter was lost. Blair ordered the woman to contact the ranger office, then told me to come get you. He went to search by himself."
Jim was gone before Bayliss managed to spit out the last words. "Hell, he didn't even wait for me to tell him where," Bayliss said as he turned to follow the big detective.
"He knows, Tim," Pembleton said meaningfully. "Catch your breath, then you can show me where."
"Sometimes I forget, Frank. They seem so normal." The Baltimore detectives knew there was something weird about their West Coast counterparts. On their two previous encounters, Jim had done impossible things like seeing a body fall from a mile away and knowing which bones were broken in Tim's foot before X-rays were taken. He and Frank hadn't let on they were aware of the inconsistencies. For one thing, it would probably tug on the tenuous strings of their new friendship and two, as long as they kept their mouths shut, they could pretend nothing odd was going on. That worked until things like this happened.
"Yeah, well, weird or not, they're probably going to need our help. Let's go."
"Blair!" Jim yelled as he climbed the woodsy, mountain trail. The Sentinel had zeroed in on the familiar heartbeat rather quickly and aside from acceleration due to anxiousness and fear, his partner sounded okay. Still, the cop in him needed verbal reassurance.
"Jim, I'm over here." The words weren't screamed. Blair was Jim's Guide, his assistant in all things Sentinel, and he was fully aware of the capabilities of his friend. "Well, actually 'down here' is probably more accurate."
Jim followed the voice and found his partner spread-eagled, face down on a rocky slope. Looking beyond him, he saw the child just below and slightly to the left. Both appeared uninjured but their positions were precarious, especially since the slope ended in a sheer drop to a rocky ravine. "Do I want to know?" he asked as he uncoiled the length of rope he'd swiped from a vehicle he'd passed as he'd run through the parking lot. Being a cop made it easy for him to remember the license number; he'd either return the rope or reimburse the person later.
"I saw little Julia down here and I thought I could make it down to her. But the entire slope is very unstable, Jim. I started sliding."
Typical. Blair always thought of everyone else first, and himself later. "I brought rope. Just hang on."
"Now why would I want to do that?" Blair muttered dryly.
"Sorry, Chief," Jim replied as he looked around for a steady belay for the rope. Unfortunately the nice big forest ended too far away from the rocky slope to be of use. Instead, he had to settle for a small tree that had stubbornly decided the rocks weren't going to stop it from growing where it wanted to. It wasn't the strongest anchor but between it and his own strength, it would do.
Blair reached out and grabbed the rope with his right hand. "I'm going to ease down beside Julia, Jim. That way I can tie us both together and neither one of us will be in danger of going farther."
"Okay, Chief." Jim stepped back, bracing himself and winding the rope around his waist and wrist as Blair moved crab-like toward the child.
But even that movement was too much and the rocks beneath shifted. The little girl screamed as the rocks she clung to joined the host of others and she plunged toward the edge of the slope. With his right wrist wrapped up in the rope, Blair shot out his left hand and clasped it around the girl's wrist. The rope grew taut as it supported the weight of both man and child.
"We're okay, Jim," Blair called, hoping the Sentinel didn't hear his gasps of pain as the rope cut into his wrist. He would do anything to relieve the pressure on his wrist, anything but release the grasp he had on the child.
Jim could hear movement on the trail behind him and relaxed. He and the tree could hold Blair and the girl steady until help arrived. Unfortunately, the tree disagreed. Not used to the pressure, the roots tore loose from the rocky soil and suddenly Jim found himself holding the rope alone. He jerked forward, then hearing the screams of Blair and Julia, he closed his hands tightly around the rope and dug in his heels. The friction of the rope burned through the palms of his hands and his feet threatened to slide out from beneath him, but he knew failure was not an option.
"We're here, Jim!"
He must have zoned, gone into a trance-like state, for he blinked and Tim and Frank were in front of him, adding their weight to the rope. Together they pulled until Blair and the child were safely up.
"I hated tug-of-war when I was in school," Pembleton commented as he kneeled in front of Blair to help him remove the rope which had cut into his wrist. "Now you know why."
"Yeah, I think I can forego it in the future myself," Blair said, wincing as Pemblton examined his wrist. "How's Julia?" he asked Jim, who was examining the girl. It was obvious she was in shock.
Jim took off his shirt and wrapped it around her. "Just cuts and bruises. And her wrist is broken."
Wrist? "Not the one I grabbed?"
"Better than a broken neck, Chief," Jim replied quickly, hearing the guilt in Blair's voice. "Tim, take her and start back down the path. You should run into the ranger rescue team." Bayliss carefully picked up the child and loped toward the path. "So how are you doing, Chief?" He frowned at the bloody wrist. He placed his fingers on the injury and carefully extended his sense of touch.
"Jim?" Blair said softly, hoping to keep his partner from zoning. It was a problem with the hypersenses-- if Jim concentrated too hard, he easily got lost in himself.
"Sorry, Chief, but it's broken. Let's get you to some medical help."
"And what about you, Ellison?" Pembleton asked, pointing to Jim's own bloody hands and wrist. He shook his head as he helped both his friends down the trail. Should have known these two would take team-building way too seriously.
"We do have commanding officers, don't we?"
"Well, someone was snoring when we got in last night, Chief. Had to be the master fishermen."
"Read the note they left?" Pembleton asked as he shrugged into a sweater. "They're in some kind of contest and they're currently running second. We probably won't hear from them again until they reach first place."
"Team fishing. For some reason, I don't think that's what the government had in mind when they funded this outing," Blair said as he tried to button his shirt with one hand because of the cast on his other.
"I guess they should have been clearer," Bayliss said as he reached over to button the shirt for Blair. "Then again, we are learning to share and get along. Aren't we, guys?"
"Oh, yeah," Pembleton commented as he helped Jim fold a cuff away from his cast. "We're regular bosom buddies. So what are we doing today, ladies?"
"Sightseeing," Blair said, unofficial group coordinator by default. "I'm the only one of us who's ever seen Mt. Rushmore. It's something that shouldn't be missed. Got your camera, Frank? It'll be something to show your children one day." Blair bounced out of the cabin before Frank could reply, Tim on his heels.
"Is he always this... peppy?" Pembleton asked as the two older men followed behind.
"Nah. I think the pain medication is slowing him down a bit," Jim said as they headed for the Suburban.
"Speaking of... I didn't see you take yours this morning."
"I'm fine, Frank. But thanks for caring. Hey, aren't we going to have breakfast?" he called out.
"On the road, man," was his partner's reply.
"On the road where?" Jim asked as his stomach growled five minutes later.
"Mt. Rushmore is about twenty-five miles away, Jim. I'm sure we'll pass a decent restaurant between here and Keystone. This stretch of highway is probably as bad as the Orlando area in Florida. The last time I went to Disney World, about six years ago, there had to have been a restaurant, gift shop, and/or fruit stand every hundred yards. Good thing Disney and Company are animatronics experts. No decent real animal would stand a chance."
Bayliss, in the driver's seat, turned his head slightly toward the back where Blair was sitting. "You went to Disney World that recently? It's been years since I was there."
"Oh, man, you really have to experience it as an adult. I got a whole new appreciation of the setup. Jim, you've never been, have you?" he asked his partner who was sitting on the back seat alone to stretch out his legs. Although he hadn't said anything, his calves had cramped most of the night due to the strain of yesterday's rescue.
"No, and if that's a hint I'm hearing in your voice, forget it." Kids screaming. Grown men in furry animal suits. "It's A Small World" whining in the background. Jim shuddered.
"I understand, Jim," Blair said sadly. He had already begun to imagine the tests he could run on Jim's senses there. And there was a lot even he hadn't seen. For instance, MGM Studios hadn't existed when he was there. He'd seen the preview of it's new rides on television. Everything sounded fun except the Tower of Terror; after riding in a real falling elevator, he never wanted that experience again.
"Aw, c'mon, Ellison. It won't be the first time you do something you don't want to do. You're the type of guy that rolls with the punches, aren't you?" Pembleton called from the front seat, throwing Jim's words back at him.
"Frank, remember that part about mutual respect? I lied," Jim replied dryly. Pembleton just laughed.
"Hey, something's going on ahead," Bayliss called out. People were in the middle of the street and Bayliss pulled over like the rest of the cars had to.
"What's going on?" Blair asked as they piled out of the car.
An elderly man looked back to reply. "Somebody said something about a hit-and-run."
Instantly the foursome went into cop mode. They cut through the crowd until they reached the center where a man, late twenties or early thirties, lay in a pool of blood. Jim knew instantly the poor guy was dead, but having been a medic in the Army, bent to examine the body anyway.
"Anybody see what happened?" Pembleton asked. A few hands went up and in a matter of minutes the witnesses were divided from the onlookers and the street was cleared enough for traffic to flow. By the time Jim heard the distant wail of an approaching siren, most of the preliminary investigation was complete.
Just as the Sentinel was preparing to adjust his hearing to normal, he heard a rapid heartbeat. Following the sound to the source, his eyes caught those of a guy in his late teens. The heartbeat speeded up to the point of being erratic as Jim's icy blue gaze stared into widening hazel orbs. Immediately Jim realized the driver had returned. Before he could move, the kid took off.
"Runner!" Jim yelled. The word galvanized the cops and without thought, Pembleton tackled the guy as he ran past.
In a matter of seconds, the young driver was flat on the ground, his arms held in Bayliss's tight grip. "You okay, Frank?" he asked, hearing his partner breathe heavily behind him.
"No." Bayliss jerked his head around and saw Pembleton cradling his wrist. Comprehension dawned on Bayliss and he couldn't stop a small smile from escaping.
Jim ran up to them, and ignoring the teen at his feet, took Frank's wrist between his fingers. The Baltimore detective looked up at him, daring him to say it. "Welcome to the club, Frank."
"He took it better than I expected," Blair said as he joined Jim on the hood of the Suburban. "Although I thought he was going to deck the doctor when he looked at all of us and said, 'New fashion trend?' Three out of four people having broken wrists is pushing the laws of probability."
"When have we ever operated within the laws of probability, Chief?" Jim questioned as he adjusted his sight to the sculpted monument of four presidents before him. Pembleton had insisted that the four of them go on to Mt. Rushmore after his wrist had been set. He had tried to be grumpy and bitch about the bodily harm that befell the group when they were together, but his heart hadn't been in it. Jim figured Frank was on a high after the hit-and-run had been solved. Homicide cops got that way after years on the job. "Frank's not all bad, Chief." In fact, he had happily agreed to accompany Tim on one of the monument's tours.
"I know that, Jim," Blair said absently as he got out his laptop computer and checked the battery pack. "He reminds me of you when we first met. If I hadn't been so intrigued by your Sentinel abilities, I probably would have run away screaming. You were such a cop back then, man."
If Jim hadn't found the details of the monument so captivating, he would have turned and glared at his partner. But with his Sentinel sight turned up to its most powerful, it was as if he was scaling the mountain instead of seeing it from a parking lot. "And what am I now, Sandburg?"
"Still a cop, Jim." He shrugged. "Maybe I'm just getting used to the species. Even Simon doesn't scare me as much as he used to."
"Don't tell him that."
"I said 'not as much', not 'not at all', Jim," Blair clarified. "And Pembleton's not half as scary as he was when he got off the plane yesterday."
"We all carry baggage, Chief. Sometimes it gets a little heavy to haul alone."
"That's why we have friends, Jim. And I'm glad you could help Frank."
"You know you could have gone with them on the tour. You didn't have to hang around here making sure I didn't zone."
"You forget how I feel about heights, Jim?" Blair asked. "Besides, I need the peace and quiet to work."
Jim had heard the clicking of the keyboard but he was so used to the sound, it really hadn't registered. "What are you working on?"
"The report of our retreat. It just hit me today, when we came upon that accident, that the rescue yesterday and the hit-and-run were really what team-building was all about. I mean we all just spilled out of the car and went to work this morning. No one questioned what was to be done or who was going to do what. I even found myself directing traffic. We were a team, Jim, the four of us. And what we did as a team mattered. Of course, in the future I would prefer mock scenarios, like on one of those murder mystery cruises. Reality has a way of becoming too real."
"I know what you mean, Chief."
"So, go ahead and enjoy the view. I'll keep an eye on you just in case you start to enjoy yourself too much. I can't even imagine how it all must look to you."
"I wish I had the words to explain, Chief, but as you said I'm just a cop. No soul of a poet or writer anywhere in sight."
"No, just a soul, Jim. And that's enough for me."
"Mary can dress two babies and herself quieter than those two," Pembleton griped as Giardello and Banks left the cabin bright and early.
"Did they ever decide which of them was going to leave us the note saying they were camping out tonight and would meet us in the lodge for breakfast in the morning?" Bayliss asked with a huge yawn.
"One of them scribbled something," Jim said as he removed the pillow from his head and sat up. The pillow had done little to mute the sounds of the two big men as they went through their morning rituals.
Bayliss looked across at the top bunk opposite his, a shapeless form huddled beneath a blanket with no evidence that it was human. "Don't tell me Blair slept through it all?"
Jim shrugged. "He's still a college student. They can sleep through anything."
"Our plans today are to do nothing, right?" Bayliss asked. "That means we can go back to sleep for several hours. Right, Jim?" When there was no answer, not even a grunt, Bayliss looked down from his top bunk and saw the detective was sitting deathly still, his eyes wide and unblinking. "Frank?"
"Huh?" Pembleton had already pulled his covers up. At Bayliss's call, he looked toward Jim. Whatever the man was doing, it wasn't normal. Bayliss leapt from the bunk and started toward Jim but Pembleton held him back. "Sandburg," he called, keeping his voice at a normal level because he didn't know what would happen if Jim were startled. "Sandburg, something's wrong with your partner."
A curly head emerged from the blankets immediately. He peeked over his bunk at Jim, then sat up quickly, shoving the covers aside. "What happened?"
"We were talking and..." Bayliss threw up his hands.
Blair nodded and scrambled down to the floor. He squatted in front of Jim, put his hand on his shoulder, then began to talk in a voice so low that the other detectives couldn't hear. Not wanting to disturb whatever was happening, Pembleton motioned for Bayliss to get dressed, and then both men left the cabin.
Five minutes later Blair and Jim, both hastily dressed, tore out of the cabin and toward the parking lot. Glancing toward each other, Pembleton and Bayliss followed, barely scrambling into the back of the Suburban before it took off with Blair at the wheel.
"Tell me where, Jim."
The Sentinel shook his head. "There's no sound."
Blair kept heading down the road, but put a hand out to Jim's shoulder. "Try smell, man. You know what a downed helicopter would smell like." Jim nodded and rolled down the window. "Now concentrate. Remember what the fuel smells like."
"Got it," Jim said. "Make a right at the next road."
Blair did what he was told, then glanced in the rearview mirror at the two faces behind him. "A military helicopter has crashed out here somewhere."
"Do you know the coordinates?" Bayliss asked, having stuck an area map in his pocket yesterday. Because they had just been getting out of the way, he had just grabbed the clothes he'd taken off the night before.
"Jim?" No answer. Blair kneaded the shoulder beneath his hand. "Jim, did you hear them radio in their position before the crash?"
"The engine was so loud," he replied vaguely.
"Forget the engine. Focus on voices. Did you hear voices?" Jim mumbled something.
"Got it," Bayliss said proudly. He looked up from the map. "We're headed the right way."
It was a good thing the Suburban was four-wheel drive because soon they lost the road and headed cross country. "Up ahead," Jim said and a few minutes later, a dark trail of smoke came into view.
The helicopter had slammed windshield first into the hard ground, killing the two up front upon impact. Four others were pulled from the back with a variety of injuries. Their distress signal must have made it through because it wasn't too much later that Jim was signaling the arrival of another helicopter.
"Captain Ellison?" one of the arriving military officers asked hesitantly as medics scrambled to assist.
"Just Ellison these days, Artie," Jim replied. "I see you made it to Major West, finally," he added with a smile.
"Hang around long enough and they promote you just so they don't have to look at your face." He looked around the wreckage. "What happened?"
"Engine trouble I suspect," Jim said. "The two in the cockpit are dead. The other four should survive."
"How did you manage to get here so fast?"
"We were going to catch the sunrise in the Black Hills and we saw it go down," Blair interjected. "Hi, I'm Jim's partner."
Artie nodded and shook Blair's hand. "I'd heard Ellison was a cop. Traded one uniform for another? Might as well stayed in the Army."
"I'm a detective, Artie. No uniform required," Jim said jokingly, then a snapping sound caught his attention. "Watch out!" he yelled as the propellor started to slide from the top of the helicopter. One of the medics was in its direct path and Bayliss, now used to acting quickly when Jim said something, reached out and grabbed the woman. They rolled away out of danger just as the heavy metal rotor slammed into the ground.
"Thank you, sir," the young woman said politely as she separated from Bayliss. Then she looked down and paled. "Oh, no."
Bayliss followed her glance and laughed. The others rushed over to the two and when the cops saw what had happened, they laughed too. The medic wondered if all of them should be taken in for evaluation. When did a broken wrist become something to laugh about?
When Bayliss entered the waiting area after his cast had set, he noticed Blair and Jim with their heads together in the far corner of the room. He sat down beside his partner. "What's going on?" he asked curiously. The last time he'd seen the two of them talking like that, the next minute they were on their way to an accident.
Pembleton shrugged. "Ellison's probably having some problems with what happened."
"What do you mean? He saved four people, five if you count the medic."
"When Jim was in the Army, his helicopter crashed in Peru. There were eight people aboard. Only one survived."
"Damn," Bayliss swore softly. "Things like this must hit him pretty hard. Think he'll be okay?"
Pembleton looked at the two men who were so dissimilar, yet so alike when it came to the things that mattered in life: caring for their fellow man, duty to their work, loyalty to their friends. They were prime examples why no book should be judged by its cover. "Yeah, he'll be okay."
"How do you know all this, Frank, about Jim and the crash?" Bayliss asked. He would have sworn that between the two of them, he knew Blair and Jim better. He hadn't even been too sure Pembleton had moved them from acquaintance status to friend.
"The internet, Tim. Ever heard of it?" Bayliss looked at him in confusion. "What?"
"You never cease to amaze, Frank."
"Thanks for the compliment."
Lt. Al Giardello and Captain Simon Banks grabbed a table for six and waited for their men to join them for breakfast. When they had returned to the cabin to pack this morning, they had been greeted by a note which stated the policemen (and observer) had gone out to watch the sunrise over the mountains. Al thought it was weird, but Simon was used to Jim and Blair being weird and figured they had talked the other two into joining them. In fact the whole idea had "Sandburg" written all over it.
"Neat trophies," said idea-maker called as he entered the restaurant.
"First place," Simon said proudly, holding up his gold loving cup with a fish engraved on it. Giardello had one as well. The captain's mouth thinned when he saw the cast. "What the hell happened, Sandburg?"
"He wants to know how this happened, Jim," Blair said as his partner came in behind him. He held up his wrist to indicate what he meant.
Jim raised his as well. "Team-building," he said simply.
"Good answer, Jim," Bayliss said, making sure the commanding officers saw his as well.
"Of all the idiotic..." Giardello muttered. "Where's Frank? I'm sure he didn't get involved in whatever nonsense you guys pulled this weekend."
"Morning, Gee, Captain Banks," Pembleton said politely as he joined his fellow officers. He looked at all the raised white-wrapped wrists and added his to make a complete set. "We have to ask for permission to go to the bathroom? Or is something else going on?"
Giardello shook his head. "I had such high hopes for you, Frank."
Pembleton was confused. Blair tried to help him out. "They want to know what happened."
"No, we don't," Simon amended quickly. "I'm just grateful you're all over eighteen because I could see Al and myself trying to explain this to a social worker. Are there any other injuries we should be aware of?"
"No, sir," Jim said, taking a seat and picking up a menu. "Other than the fact I haven't had breakfast since I got here."
"Who's fault is that?" Blair asked.
"Yours!" three detectives yelled back.
"I refuse to take the blame," Blair replied stubbornly. "I didn't know I had to be coordinator this weekend. There were others who were supposed to do that."
"I agree," Jim stated firmly. "I think we all know who's to blame."
"Just a minute," Simon began.
"And I even wrote up a report that only needs their signatures," Blair said, handing them the copies he'd run off in the lodge's office. "One-handed, I may add."
"Good man you have there, Simon," Giardello said before the long-haired guy could snatch the obviously detailed report away. Apparently things were done a lot differently in Cascade: police dress was casual and cops could have ponytails even if they weren't working Vice or Narcotics. Of course, Sandburg wasn't actually a cop... Nah. He wasn't going to delve into that one. When questioned indirectly, Simon had implied he should mind his own business and that was what he was going to do. But it was strange that this man acted like a cop, was treated like a cop, and, hell, even Pembleton accepted him. Definitely business better left alone.
"Sandburg, you have such an imagination," Simon exclaimed as he scanned the report. "First day of team-building: rescue child from mountain. Second day: solve a hit-and-run. I love it," he said with a smile, which suddenly disappeared as he read on. ""A helicopter crash?" He looked quickly to Jim, then back to glare at Blair.
"It was my idea, sir," Jim said softly as everyone at the table grew uncomfortable. Everyone except Giardello who had no idea what the problem was.
Before Simon could comment further, a child ran over to the table and, wonder of wonders, she too was sporting a wrist cast. "Hi, detectives," Julia said, her mother coming up quickly behind her. "I wanted you to sign my cast, but I see everybody's got one now."
"No problem," Blair said. "You can sign ours too."
The child happily pulled out a set of markers and while everyone concentrated on the awkward task of writing on a cast, Julia's mother began thanking them profusely for saving her daughter. As soon as mother and daughter left, Giardello demanded the attention of the group. "Gentlemen, if I'm not mistaken, that was the 'mountain rescue girl'. This report is true, then?"
"Yes, sir," Pembleton replied.
"And the hit-and-run?" Everyone nodded.
"Jim, you really worked a helicopter crash?" Simon asked sympathetically. "Man, that had to be rough. What happened?"
"That's what we would like to know." Major Artie West approached the table. Brief introductions were made. "Jim, you mentioned something about hearing a problem in the engine? As a personal favor to me, I'd like you to come out to Ellsworth and listen to the fleet of helos we have there. This is the second downed one we've had in a month. If there's a general problem, I want to know."
"Sorry, Artie. I'm scheduled to fly back to Cascade in a few hours," Jim explained. Although Ellsworth Air Force Base was only a few miles away, there was no way he could check the aircraft and make the plane.
"I could have military transport drop you off in Cascade when you're through. Look, you'd be doing me a huge favor. I figure you're like my old mechanic back home; he could hear engine trouble a mile away. If you can too, it will save me the trouble of having each engine torn down and rebuilt."
Jim shrugged. "Captain Banks, sir?"
Simon sighed. He had a lot of questions that were now going to have to be delayed. "Sure, Jim. Get back to Cascade when you can."
"Sandburg and I will have to get our stuff out of the Suburban."
Artie looked a little stunned that Jim assumed Sandburg was coming along, but he made no comment. He just turned and motioned to one of the men who had come in with him. "Sergeant, Captain Ellison and his partner will be returning to the base with us. Help them transfer their belongings when they're ready. No rush, Jim. I'm going to have a cup of coffee."
They finished their breakfast and the waitress asked if they wanted individual checks. "One check," Bayliss said, "and give it to me." Everyone looked at him in surprise. "I lost a bet," he explained, glancing at Blair.
While Bayliss made a show of trying to come up with enough money, Jim motioned Pembleton to one side. "Here," he said, handing his fellow detective a card with his name and numbers on it. "Just in case you ever find yourself between a wall and a subway," he explained casually.
Pembleton pocketed the card with care. "Working with you is always an experience, Ellison."
Jim grew red. "Uh, about that..." Some things could be ignored, but the way he'd tracked that helicopter yesterday morning had been a bit obvious.
"Hey, no explanations needed-- among friends," Pembleton said. "Just try to stay in one piece until we meet again."
"I'll do my best, Frank."
Jim and Blair watched the Suburban take off with their friends and turned toward the Humvee which was waiting to take them to Ellsworth. Simon's parting words were still in Jim's mind. "Listen up, Ellison. I don't want to get back to Cascade and receive a telephone call saying you two have gotten into trouble. Understand?" Sometimes Simon reminded him of himself-- always worrying when Blair was out of sight. But considering their track record, maybe Simon had a right to worry. As did he.
"I think this weekend worked out quite well," Blair commented with satisfaction.
"You're a pro, Chief," Jim agreed heartily. "What will your wicked mind think of next?"
"One never knows," he replied with an evil grin.
"Heaven help us all," Jim muttered.
"You know, Jim, I don't think the major intended to include me in this invitation," Blair said anxiously as they neared the vehicle.
Jim shrugged. "Captain Ellison was a loner. Detective Ellison is not. People are just going to have to get used to that."
"It's that simple, huh?" Blair said with a grin.
"Yeah, Chief. It's just that simple."