I mentioned that I liked challenges. I have three to work on at the moment. On top of which, El Nino is bringing some more rain. I'm gonna need caulks to be able to ride in all the slippery mud. Either that or ride one of the barefoot ones. This one is for Lora, who asked for a different sort of crossover. I thought of having it in Cascade, but decided that my old stomping grounds in California would put them both at a disadvantage, thus leveling the playing field. Besides, there's some great surfing down there. The surfing incident I'm using actually happened to me. I was body surfing one winter day. (Yes, you can do that in California. The water was 65 degrees, the air was about 50. So, by comparison, the water was warm.) I got lucky (obviously, I'm still alive). Oddly enough, I haven't been in surf since, at least nothing over maybe two feet. Of course, there isn't any place to go where I live now. Maybe if I get to go to my niece's wedding in a couple of weeks, I'll go to the beach one evening. If it isn't raining too hard. :) I can't believe just how long this is getting. By the way, strong smarm warnings for this one. Pure, unadulterated, smarm. With no redeeming social importance. Oh, yeah. Cassie is in this one. I'm still trying to reconcile her with the guys. Easier said than done, I'm afraid.
The usual disclaimers apply. I don't own them, I will not make any money from this. This is only for fun, not profit. I mean no harm, please don't sue. Thank you.
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"Aw, C'mon, Holli. Why me? Why don't you take Nui, or, or Kimo?"
"Mack, I need you. You're a cop. You can ask the cop questions. I can ask the forensics questions. Just relax, OK? There's nothing to worry about. It's just a seminar, OK?" She looked up at the worried man before her. He obviously did not want to go. "You're not afraid of flying, are you?"
"Flying? No. I'm not afraid of flying."
"Funny, Doc. I just don't want to miss out on the waves, OK?"
"Mack, tell me you didn't."
"Didn't what?" Defensive.
"Didn't enter that surfing contest that's scheduled next week."
"OK. I won't tell you."
"You did. I can't believe you, Mack. Whatever possessed you to do something so foolish?" Exasperated.
"I can give you twenty-five thousand reasons."
"You don't really think you could take first place, do you?"
"Nah. That's the second place prize money." He grinned.
She shook her head. "Well, you're out of luck. Hertzog already assigned you, so..." She smirked up at him.
He sighed, dramatically. "It was supposed to be my vacation next week, Doc. You owe me. Big time."
"I'm not worried, Mack. Believe me, I'm not worried."
"Captain, you can't be serious. Why me? Why not Taggart, or Brown, or Rafe? Why do I have to go to this thing?"
"Because, you're the one best qualified for the job, Jim. Besides, the Mayor asked for you specifically."
His jaw muscles flexed, showing his agitation. "Not a good reason, Sir." Then he brightened, just a little. "What about Sandburg?"
"What about him?"
"Well, we are a team. Surely you won't throw me to the wolves without my partner along to cover my back. Not to mention keep me from throttling Cassie." Just a hint of desperation in his voice.
"Sandburg, too." Jim heaved a sigh of relief. "Only to keep you from killing Cassie." The Captain grinned. This was working out just as planned.
"Oh, man. This is not how I expected or planned to spend my spring break. I was gonna catch up on my sleep, work on my thesis..."
"You're actually working on it, now?" Teasing.
"Well, yeah. Just because I have more than enough data, doesn't mean I'm not working on it. It's just that new stuff keeps coming up with you and I need to help you, so I get more information for the thesis, then you have something new happen...It's just a never ending cycle, man. I was hoping to get my rough draft done this week. But it doesn't look like I'm going to get the chance, I'm going to this stupid seminar, instead."
"Wait a minute, you mean the academic in you isn't looking forward to the classes? What a shock."
"Funny, man. So funny. Not." He really had planned to work on his thesis this week. Not to mention catching up on sleep. He'd been running himself ragged for the past two months and really needed this down time. Instead, here he was, in California, with Jim, at a seminar, with Cassie, this was so not going to be fun.
They were at the luggage pick up. Jim had to go to the shipping desk to pick up one of the items he'd brought.
"Man. I cannot believe you brought your board. Where are you going to use it? Or when, for that matter?"
"If I have to, I'll surf at night. As for where, the choices are many and varied. There's Malibu, Will Rogers, El Segundo, Hermosa, Manhattan, Redondo, Torrance, Cabrillo. All within an hour of the hotel, Chief. Man, I am looking forward to that." He smiled. It hadn't been such a chore once he'd learned where the seminar was to be held.
Having collected their luggage and Jim's surfboard, they headed for the car rental. Jim had paid for the upgrade to a SUV out of his own pocket, just to make sure there was room to keep his precious board safe. They pretty much ignored the third member of their group.
"I can't believe you brought a surf board. When are you going to find time to use it?"
"Every night after they turn us loose, Doc. There's a lot of beaches nearby. I plan on trying them all." It had been the only selling point, as far as he was concerned.
"Oh, no. I am not riding in the back seat."
"Hey, it's the only way to keep my board safe."
"So, we'll get a bigger vehicle."
"Sorry, Doc. I can't afford to pay the extra twenty a day for a SUV."
She sighed. She had insisted on Mack being the one to accompany her. Sometimes she wondered why. "OK. I'll pay the difference. Now, we're even." She smiled up at him sweetly. He grinned back.
The advantage of traveling on Friday after work, was that it gave them the weekend to acclimatize themselves to the new venue. Jim allowed that Blair could sleep the entire weekend, providing he be allowed to surf all day.
"No, Jim. I'm going with you. I can work on my computer while you play in the waves. Just in case, OK?"
"Chief, Blair. You and I both know you're exhausted. Just stay here and rest. I'll be fine."
"Uh huh. What if you zone on a seagull, Jim? What then?"
"I'll wipe out and wake up?"
"Maybe. What if you forget to breathe?"
They stared at one another for a full minute. Jim finally turned away. "Bring your sunscreen. I don't need you to bake like a lobster."
The advantage of coming in early was, it allowed for them to acclimatize to the new time zone and change in climate. They had adjoining rooms in the hotel where the seminar was to be held.
"Hey, Doc. I'm headed for the beach. I'll be back later." The sun was barely up, and he was looking forward to checking out the local waves.
"Oh, no. You are not stranding me here while you go out and play. Tell you what, I'll drive you there and pick you back up this afternoon. How's that sound?"
"That'll work." They went for breakfast. She couldn't believe how much food Mack could pack away. She decided he must have a high metabolism, which would account for his ability to eat everything in sight and still maintain his physical condition.
"Where are we off to, guys?" Jim and Blair froze, looking at each other.
"I have no idea where you are off to, we're going to the beach."
"OK. That sounds like fun. What are we going to do?" It never occurred to her that they didn't want her along.
"Uh, Cassie? Jim's going to be surfing, and I'm going to be working on my thesis. You'd get pretty bored."
"Oh." Looking from one man to the other in consternation. Suddenly realizing that they really didn't want her along.
"Well, I could work on my tan." Her voice hopeful. She watched them, surprised that they really didn't seem to want her along. She frowned. "Come on, guys. What's the problem here?"
"The problem is, we don't want to be here and we're making the best of it. You go ahead and do whatever you want. Just do it on your own, OK?" Jim didn't really care if he hurt her feelings.
"Oh." Small, lost.
Blair looked up at his partner, saw the implacable expression, met Cassie's eyes, and gave her an apologetic shrug. The two men turned and left her standing there.
She honestly didn't understand.
"So, where do you want me to drop you?" She asked the fidgeting man beside her. She knew what his problem was. She had insisted on driving.
"Let's try Redondo. There's a pier there, so you won't have too much trouble finding me."
"Right." She looked at the map and traced their route before starting the car and pulling out of the lot.
"OK, which beach do you want to try first, Jim?" Blair had the map out.
"I figured Redondo. It's got a pier, which means we won't have to go too far to find lunch." He grinned, looked at the map, and started the SUV, pulling out of the lot and heading south down Pacific Coast Highway.
There were only a few surfers out this early in the day. The waves were running three to four feet, nice and steady and even. Nearly perfect conditions. Holli watched Mack unload his board and called to him as he headed for the surf.
"Mack! I'll be back to pick you up around two, OK?"
He waved. "Sure. If I want to quit earlier, I'll call and leave you a message."
"OK. Later, then." Rolling up the window and driving away.
"Oh, man. That looks good." Jim enthused when he saw the waves. "Perfect. Absolutely perfect."
Blair looked out at the water, recognizing that the waves were all nearly identical and understanding his friend's enthusiasm. "Well, just take it easy, OK? Don't overdo it."
"I won't, Chief." They parked the SUV and unloaded their gear. Jim pulled on his wet-suit in the parking lot, to avoid getting sand in it. Aware of the agony he'd be in if he were to get even a single grain of sand next to his skin. Finishing, he hefted his board and headed for the water, nearly forgetting the presence of his partner.
"Will you be OK here, Chief?" He asked, focusing on the waves and the other surfers.
"I'll be fine, man. I've got blankets, a chair, an umbrella, towels, sunscreen. Soft drinks. I'm all set, man. I'll be right here. Keeping an eye on you, OK?"
"That's great, Chief." And with that he broke into a run and raced down to the sea, unwilling to miss another single wave.
Most of the guys out there were either high school kids or old men, retirees. He didn't pay much attention to them. Although there was one guy who wasn't wearing a wet-suit. Guy must be nuts, or freezing, or both. But the waves were calling and he had to catch one. That was why he was there.
The waves were perfect. Just the right amount of lift; just enough curl. Easy rides. He caught a seventh wave and rode it clear to the beach. Yelling his joy. Blair looked up, hearing him approaching. Smiling. This was the next best thing to sleeping. Relaxing and listening to his friend enjoying himself. It was a far cry from their usual days.
He was freezing his ass off. But the waves were great. He noticed that everyone else was wearing a wet-suit. Now he knew why. He stayed, anyway. He might not be able to stay out as long as he'd planned, but he wasn't going to miss any more than he absolutely had to.
One of the teenagers cut him off, causing him to wipe out. He came up under the kid's board, hearing him laugh, even from under water. He reached up and twisted the kid's board out from under him, then swam after his own board. The kid came up swearing. When he paddled back past him, he smiled at him. The kid glowered, but didn't say anything.
He saw what the kid did to that other guy. So when the kid moved over beside him, he glared at him in warning. The kid gave him a puzzled look and turned to look back at the man he'd caused to wipeout. Shaking his head, he moved further away. Mack grinned.
The waves started shrinking after a few hours. The sun was pretty intense, even though it was slightly overcast. The older surfers had long since quit for the morning. Jim caught one final two-footer and headed up to join his partner. The guy without the wet-suit had pulled out a few minutes earlier and was sitting nearby.
Blair was staring. When Jim planted his board and sat down beside him, he didn't even look.
"Chief? You zoning on me here?" He was feeling pretty good. His only wipeout having been caused by someone else, he was quite satisfied with his morning.
"Uh, Jim?" Slightly strangled sounding.
"What is it, Chief? What's wrong?" Suddenly worried.
"Uh, please tell me that you have an identical twin brother."
"What?" Totally confused.
Blair gestured toward the other surfer. Jim looked, focusing in on the stranger...and zoned.
"Jim, Jim. C'mon, man. Don't do this to me. Come back Jim. You're starting to scare me here, man. C'mon, Jim. Please? Jim? Jim. This is so like not funny, man. Jim?" He was shaking his friend, trying to bring him back. He'd stopped breathing. "JIM!" Shaking him violently. Relieved to hear the sudden intake of air. "OK. That's good. Just breathe. It's OK. Easy. Come on back, man." He looked up when a shadow crossed him. The man was staring at Jim, much the same way Jim was staring at the stranger.
"I heard you having trouble...I" He shook his head in shock. "I wondered if I could help. I...Who are you?" Totally confused. Unable to tear his eyes away from the man who looked exactly like him.
"Uh, hi. I'm Blair Sandburg, this is my partner, Jim Ellison." Still gripping Jim's shoulder in a white-knuckled grip. Unaware that he was going to leave bruises.
"Mack Wolfe. This is weird." Still unable to look away. The piercing blue eyes meeting his own, it was almost like looking in a mirror. Only it wasn't. He shook his head. "Totally weird."
"I'll go along with that." Jim replied, softly.
"Oh, man. You even sound the same. This is altogether too weird." He compared the two men. Jim was a little more buff than the stranger, but they appeared to be about the same age. Although, this Mack guy looked as though he smiled a lot more than Jim, and was tanned a bit darker, as well. Things that most casual acquaintances probably wouldn't notice. He smiled at the two men.
"Now, if you tell me you're a cop, as well..." His eyes widened in shock at the reaction from Wolfe.
"You're a cop, too?" Shocked.
Jim grinned. "Yeah. Cascade PD. I'm here for some stupid seminar."
Mack looked at Blair. "You the forensics chief?"
"Uh, no. I'm Jim's partner." Nonplused.
"We left our forensics chief back at the hotel. She's a little, uh, bossy." Jim explained.
"You in Narcotics, or Vice?"
"Neither. Major Crime. We get the stuff that either doesn't fit into other divisions, or crosses lines between divisions, or is too sensitive."
"I'm actually just an observer. I'm working on my doctorate, and Jim's been assigned as my subject. I'm writing on closed societies." The lie falling glibly from his lips. "How about you?"
"Homicide, mostly. Honolulu PD" Shaking his head in wonder.
"That explains why you don't have a wet-suit." Jim grinned.
Mack smiled in return. "Yeah, well, I tend to forget that there's cold water in the Pacific, as well as my balmy south sea currents. Where's Cascade?"
"Oh, sorry. Washington State. Up near Canada." Blair answered. Jim was still staring bemusedly at his double.
"I thought it was cold up there. Where can you surf?"
"There's a lot of places. You just have to watch out for the rocks." He couldn't get over the likeness. "This is just so weird."
Blair had to ask, "Are you by any chance ex-military?" Mack finally turned his eyes away from his double.
"So am I. Rangers."
"Marines." The two men sized one another up again. Jim stood, to better compare.
Blair just stared. Jim had more of a washboard stomach, and their scars were in somewhat different places, but only someone who knew one of them well would be able to tell the difference.
"Man. This is so weird." Blair was repeating himself in his awe.
"So, Mack. We were just thinking of going and finding ourselves some lunch. Care to join us?"
Mack grinned. "I'd love to, but Holli's got the car, so I don't have anyplace to put my board."
Jim and Blair exchanged looks. "What hotel are you staying at?"
"The Hilton by the airport."
"So are we. Why don't you put your board in our car, then we can just walk down to the pier, grab lunch. You can call, what was her name, Holli? And let her know that you've got a ride back." This was just too weird to let pass.
Mack looked at the pair, deciding. "Sounds like a plan." He finally agreed.
They wandered around the entire pier before deciding on the fresh fish market located under the pier. They perused the fresh fish and seafood, finally deciding on the crab. They picked their crabs out of the tanks and when they had enough for lunch, paid the man, picked up their claim ticket and continued to wander the shops on the pier. Blair was seriously jazzed at the kite shop. He found a nylon pillow kite that he just couldn't resist. Now he'd have something to do while Jim was surfing. He grinned like a kid with a new toy. Much to the two older men's amusement.
Mack made his phone call and they went back to pick up their lunch. The crabs were hot, and succulent. The Cole slaw ice cold, their beers likewise. They sat at one of the little outdoor tables and dug in. Blair, scientist that he was, watched closely. Finding even more similarities between the men. The two cops talked shop, while the observer did just that.
"Oh, man. That was good." Mack groaned, leaning back. He'd polished off three crabs. Same as Jim, who was mirroring his actions.
"Yeah, it was." He grinned at his partner. "OK, Darwin. What's up with you?"
"You two are like so similar. I think I can tell you apart, but I don't think too many other people could. Not even Simon. Maybe your wife, Mack."
"Sorry. I'm single. No wife."
Jim got a speculative glint in his eye. "You think we could fool Cassie, Chief?" Thinking how much fun that might be. Mack looked at him, curious.
"Our forensics chief." Jim replied. "She wants to be a detective. She just has a little trouble with facts and evidence, on occasion." Watching as Blair started to smile and bounce in anticipation.
"The only way that would work is if you were both dressed alike." He informed his partner.
"I'm afraid I mostly brought cotton shirts. Fairly quiet colours. Didn't want to embarrass Holli by appearing too Hawaiian."
"I have a couple of cotton shirts. Light blue and white. In case I have to wear the suit."
Mack grimaced. "Yeah. That, too. I've got a light blue one." He looked at Blair, "With jeans OK?" Hopeful.
"Jeans is fine. So are chinos, since I know that Jim wears a lot of them."
"Chinos is better. I've got some navy blue ones..."
"So do I." The pair exchanged mischievous grins.
"Will it upset Holli?" Blair asked, curious.
"Probably. But we'll have to see just how much fun we can have before they figure it out."
"Cool. This is going to be interesting. Oh, do you have any fashion anomalies?"
Mack looked puzzled. "Like what?"
"Like Jim always wears white cotton socks. He's allergic to the nylon and dyes in dress socks."
"Oh. Uh, I don't usually wear socks. At all."
"I can do that. Make it harder for Cassie and Holli to figure out." He was grinning even wider.
"Cool." Blair replied, bouncing.
"What time is it, Chief?" Jim asked.
"Uh, twelve-thirty. Why?"
He looked at his double. "Want to check out some more waves?"
Mack looked down the beach, disappointed at the lack of waves. "Not here. Where do you suggest?"
"I was thinking Cabrillo. It's just south of the point, should have some good action."
"Sounds good to me. What about you, Chief?"
Blair did a double-take. Mack called him 'Chief'. Just like Jim. He looked from one to the other, shaking his head. "Are you sure one of you isn't a clone? I mean, come on, now."
The duplicates looked askance at one another, uncomprehending.
"What are you talking about, Chief?" Jim asked.
"He does it, too." Pointing.
"Does what?" Still not understanding.
"Called me 'Chief'. Just like you do. This is altogether too weird, man." Shaking his head in consternation.
The pair exchanged surprised looks. Blair was starting to get a little nauseous from the duplicate images, not to mention the sounds. "Uh, I'm up for the trip to Cabrillo. I can always fly my kite, or take a nap, or work on the thesis." He smiled.
They returned to the car. Blair automatically climbed in the back seat. Allowing the larger men the leg room of the front. It also gave him the opportunity to watch them some more. Still amazed at the identicalness of the two men. He couldn't help wondering if Mack was a Sentinel, as well.
Cabrillo Beach consists of two separate and distinct areas. Depending on which side of the breakwater you're on. Inside the wall, the sand is soft, the water, calm. The park has picnic benches and nice trees for shade. Outside, the waves crash constantly. Surfers have to be careful not to be thrown into the boulders of the breakwater. There is no shelter there. The waves are usually fairly rough. Primarily due to the rip current formed from the breakwater.
The surfing was good. Blair entertained himself by going to the small maritime museum in the park and flying his kite. He was out on the breakwater, his kite nearly at the end of his five hundred feet of string, nearly invisible, the blues of the kite blending with the blue of the sky. He was also keeping an eye on his partner and his double. The two men were obviously competing. Seeing how many, how fast, how well they surfed. He shook his head in wonder at how alike the two men were. Noticing how late it was getting, Blair started reeling in his kite. He was tired when he was finished, but oddly content as well. He made his way down the rocks to the narrow surfing beach. He stood there, watching them for several minutes, until Jim noticed him there and waved. Blair waved back. The two men both caught the next decent wave and surfed all the way in to the sand. Blair noticed that even their boards were similar. Same design, slightly different colour schemes.
"So, who won?" He asked as the pair planted their boards in the sand, and collapsed on their towels. Jim had discarded his wet-suit before lunch and hadn't put it back on.
"Draw." Mack grinned. "He's good for a guy who has to surf in the arctic." Jim chuckled in reply. Both men were obviously tired.
"I suppose you plan on doing this tomorrow as well?" The pair exchanged glances, then gave matching grins to the younger man. "Uh huh. I thought as much. Just as long as you don't skip out on the seminar, you should be OK. Are we supposed to meet anyone for dinner? 'Cause, if we are, we're late. If we're not, I'm starved."
"I didn't make any plans with Holli. So I guess I'm free." Mack said.
"I know we didn't talk to Cassie. I suppose we should call and let her know we haven't skipped out on her." That decided, they went to the museum and used the pay phone there to call the hotel and leave messages for their respective forensics chiefs. Neither woman was in her room to take the call.
They ended up in San Pedro for dinner. There was an old tourist spot there, called Ports o'Call Village. They found a wonderful little Italian restaurant there. They were early enough that after dinner, they still had time to take the harbor cruise. They laughed at the tour guide's lame jokes and enjoyed the hour long trip. Upon their return, Blair insisted on ice cream. They stopped at the Ice Cream Parlor and had sundaes. Finally, Blair found an easy way to tell them apart. Mack ordered Pineapple. Jim hated pineapple. They visited the shops. Blair spent a long time in the little Indian store. The elderly man who ran it had been in the same spot for nearly fifty years. He had a lot of stories about the area. Not to mention some lovely examples of Native American arts and crafts. Blair bought a tiny silver cat fetish, along with some southwestern incense. He held the little blocks of sawdust up for Jim to smell.
"What do you think?" Hoping he wouldn't be allergic.
"Smells good, Chief. What is it?"
"This one's juniper, this one's mesquite, and this one's pinon. They're supposed to smell like a campfire."
"You going to try and switch Naomi away from the sage?"
"Uh, no. I was going to get it for me." He looked up at his roommate. "Is that OK with you?"
"You mean, in the loft?"
"Uh, yeah. I can just use it in my room and keep my door closed. I mean..."
"It's OK, Blair. I'll have to smell it burning, but I don't think there'll be a problem." He smiled at the younger man and patted his shoulder. "C'mon. It's getting late and I'm about ready for some sleep."
Mack yawned. "Sorry. Me too." Grinning.
Blair finished making his purchases, adding a little log cabin shaped incense burner to his treasures. After which they returned to the car and drove to the hotel.
"What time did you want to meet in the morning?" Mack asked as they unloaded the surfboards.
"I don't know. Chief? You coming tomorrow?"
"Uh, I hadn't thought about it. I'm hoping to sleep in tomorrow. How early did you want to go, Mack?"
"Well, the best surfing is usually at high tide. Why don't we check the paper for the times and work it from there? "Sounds good. We're in 1472, give us a call?"
"OK. I'm in 1238, if you need anything."
"You got it. See you in the morning."
"Count on it."
"I still can't get over the two of you being so much alike. I mean, I can accept the physical resemblance, but even your vocal mannerisms are the same. This could be a whole other paper. I..."
"Blair. I'm tired. You're exhausted. Go to sleep. The puzzle will still be there in the morning, just waiting for you to unravel it."
"Oh, I'm sorry, Jim. OK. Sure. Sleep."
"Blair." Tired exasperation in his voice.
"Sorry." He tossed and turned, trying to find a comfortable spot in the strange bed. He hadn't had this much trouble the previous night, so why was he having so much trouble now? Like he hadn't a clue. Hearing Jim sigh from the other bed, he forced himself to lie quietly, letting his mind roam free over the puzzle of the duplicate men.
It was full daylight when there was a soft knock at the door. Jim woke immediately and pulled on his robe as he slid from bed. Padding quietly to the door, he opened it to admit the third member of their group. She stared at him, then over at the still sleeping form of Sandburg.
"Oh, uh, I was wondering if you wanted to grab some breakfast. If you're, uh, still sleeping, I guess I can..."
"That's OK, Cassie." Jim replied, looking at the time, shocked that it was after nine. "We need to get up and going anyway. Well, I do. Maybe Blair would rather catch up on some more sleep."
"Oh, no you don't man. I'm awake. Just get me some coffee and I'll be just fine and ready for another day." The lump in the other bed sat up, revealing a disheveled and still sleepy Blair.
"If you're sure, Chief."
"Oh, yeah. Positive. Hi, Cassie. How are you doing?" Turning his attention to their visitor.
"Oh, I was wondering if you guys might be interested in a little sight-seeing, this afternoon. If you already have plans, though..." Trailing off, lost. Here she was in a strange city, and the only two people she knew were blowing her off to hang out at the beach. It was enough to give a girl a complex. Maybe she'd been mistaken about these guys interest in her. She was surprised how much it hurt. She wasn't used to being ignored. At least not like this. She turned to go.
Jim and Blair exchanged volumes in the quick glance they exchanged. Jim reached out and stopped her. "That might be nice..." The phone rang. "Hold on. Let me get that." He pulled her into the room and closed the door on his way to the phone.
"Yeah, Jim. It's Mack. High tide isn't until almost six tonight. I figured I'd spend some time with Holli and maybe catch you later?"
"That'd be perfect. We were kind of thinking the same thing. Meet you at six-thirty?"
"Yeah. At you car?"
"Yeah. That's good. We'll see you then." He hung up the phone. Looking at Blair, he answered the question in the younger man's eyes. "Six-thirty tonight."
"Cool." He turned to Cassie. "So, where did you have in mind?"
"Well, there are some really interesting museums around, I thought maybe we could check out a few of them, or, something." She trailed off, lamely. Realizing that museums were Blair's idea of fun, and that they might exclude Jim. She'd realized that she needed to stop pitting them against each other. She was coming to understand that if she wanted to be friends with one, she had to be friends with both. It was a package deal. She wasn't used to having male coworkers as friends. Rivals, yes. Pursued by them, yes. Friends? This was new territory, and she knew that if she wasn't careful, she would permanently alienate both men.
Blair looked at Jim for his reaction. There wasn't any sign of one. He winced, knowing the response. "Uh, well, what kind of museum?" Giving Jim a pleading look. Watching the jaws flex.
Suddenly, Jim relaxed and grinned at his friend. "Hey, Chief. I dragged you along with me yesterday, I can follow you around the museums today." He was rewarded with Blair's blazing smile and bounce of excitement.
Cassie watched the interplay. Admitted, at least to herself, that she envied them their easy camaraderie. "Well, I picked up some brochures, there's the Museum of Science and Industry, it's kind of downtown, next to USC, then there was this place called the Huntington Library, it's someplace called San Marino. East of the city, then there's..."
"Oh, cool." Blair interrupted. "I've heard of the Huntington." He turned to Jim, "They have some of Burton's original manuscripts. I'd have had to make arrangements months in advanced to examine them, but even just to see them. Man, that would be so cool." The bed was beginning to squeak from his excited bouncing.
"OK, Chief. OK. The Huntington Library, it is." He exchanged amused looks at the startled Cassie. "What? You haven't seen him like this before?"
"Uh, no." She cast her confused gaze upward, noting the amused tolerance on the big man's face.
He shrugged. "It happens all the time. You'll get used to it." She nodded. "Look, give us half an hour, we'll meet you in the dining room."
"OK. Can I order you breakfast? Say for..." She looked at her watch, "Ten o'clock?"
"Yeah. That'd be perfect. Save us some time. I'd like eggs, toast, bacon, sausage and hash browns. Chief?"
"Uh, eggs, toast, fruit, orange juice." He smiled at them. "Thanks, guys. This is going to be great."
As soon as Jim closed the door behind her, Blair was up and running for the bathroom. "Dibs on the shower, man."
"Just remember, we have to be downstairs in forty minutes, Chief."
Cassie was a little surprised by the horseplay from her two companions. They had their heads together, laughing. Pushing and shoving. When they came to the table, she smiled up at them. "Well, you're both certainly in a good mood. Care to share?"
"The good mood? Just feel free to join in." Blair giggled, unable to meet Jim's eyes.
The two men sat down, just in time for the arrival of their food. They asked Cassie how her day had been while they were at the beach. She'd simply stayed around the hotel, meeting a few of the other forensics experts. She wasn't about to let them know that she'd been bored out of her skull without anyone interesting to talk to and no place to go.
Jim picked up on her real feelings. He had a sudden attack of conscience. He vowed to himself not to leave her out of things so much. Even if she could be a real pain.
After breakfast, they headed for the car. Blair grabbing the front seat, beside Jim. Cassie was a little nonplused that no one got the door for her. She opened the door herself and climbed in. This was as bad as the trip from the airport. She recognized her hurt feelings and struggled not to show it. Blair got the map from the glove box and looked up their route.
"I guess the easiest way is just to take the Airport Freeway to ... the Pasadena Freeway. Get off, on Huntington Drive, then..." His finger traced the convoluted course through surface streets. Jim looked at the map for several minutes, attempting to memorize their course. Then he noticed an easier path and pointed it out.
"Pasadena Freeway to the San Bernadino, off at Del Mar, north to San Marino. There aren't quite as many twists and turns."
"OK." Blair replied. "Just so long as you don't get us lost." He added with a teasing grin.
"Right. That's your specialty, Chief." Teasing back. Checking that everyone had buckled up, he started the vehicle, put it in gear and made their way toward the freeway.
Being a Sunday, traffic was light. Especially going through downtown. It took a while to follow the labyrinthine streets to their destination, but even Jim had to admit that it was worth it.
It wasn't the art gallery, whose claim to fame was the original oil paintings of 'Pinkie' and 'Blue Boy', although the artwork was excellent. It wasn't the house with it's wonderful Victorian architecture and magnificent statuary, or the other artworks displayed within. It wasn't the library, where Blair found numerous books of Burton's translations. Or even the gift shop, where Jim used his credit card to purchase some reproductions of Burton's work for his protesting, but thrilled partner. Cassie looked on, puzzled. It was only obvious that Jim was bored out of his skull; that he was only there to make Blair happy. But to spend over a hundred dollars on some copies of obscure texts? It seemed a little much. Then she caught sight of Blair's expression, and realized that that was what their friendship was all about. Blair had gone with Jim while Jim played, now they had reversed positions, Jim going with Blair, just because it pleased his friend. It gave her a lot to think about. She realized that the extravagant purchase was basically the same thing. A friend doing something for a friend, just because he could, and because it pleased both, to make the other happy.
The thing about the outing that made it all worth while, were the gardens. They were magnificent. The roses weren't in bloom, but the rose garden was such a small part of the whole. The desert garden; the Chinese garden, complete with pond and red lacquered bridge; the Shakespeare garden with it's long green lawn, surrounded by shrubbery and trees, lined with statues depicting Roman gods and goddesses; the Japanese rock garden with its wonderful bonsai trees and patterned pebble areas, which Blair explained to his companions in detail, drawing something of a crowd to listen, much to his embarrassment when they applauded at the end of his lecture. The carved marble chair, of which one of the griffins forming the arms bore a remarkable resemblance to the late Vincent Price. Even the Mausoleum. They spent most of their time outdoors, just wandering through the various areas, enjoying the peacefulness and beauty of the outdoors.
They stopped to rest on the lawn in front of the house. It was on a hill, overlooking a magnificent view of the property. It was a remarkably clearday, and the view included distant hills, faintly visible through the huge trees bordering the grounds. Jim leaned back and rested his head on his interlaced fingers, watching the huge white fluffy clouds drift by.
"Hey." Jim said softly. Look at that, will you?" Blair and Cassie followed his gaze, up into the clouds.
"What?" Cassie asked, puzzled.
"That cloud, It looks like Snoopy. You know, from the Peanuts comics?"
Blair shifted to lie beside Jim, mimicking his position. He gazed up at the clouds. "You're right. And the one next to it looks like Garfield." Smiling.
Jim chuckled. "Uh huh. And there's one that looks like an old man."
"Where?" Cassie asked, finally joining them in their supine positions. She peered up at the clouds.
Jim moved one hand from behind his head and pointed. "There. See it?"
"Oh, Yes. Now I do." They watched the clouds for several minutes, when Cassie suddenly giggled. "Look. That one. The big one? Who does that look like to you?"
The two men squinted, trying to make a picture of the cloud. They both broke out in laughter, chorusing their replies of "Popeye!"
They lay there nearly an hour, watching the clouds and seeing pictures in them. Finally, Jim looked at his watch and sighed. "It's four o'clock, guys. If we're going to get anything for supper, we need to get a move on." With that, he rolled up to his feet and turned to help the others to their feet.
They made their way back to the car. Jim held the door for Cassie. She smiled her gratitude. Jim looked again at the map. "How about Chinese?" He asked.
"Sure." Blair replied. "How about you, Cassie?"
"I like Chinese."
"Good. I think I can find my way to Chinatown." He looked a little longer at the map, then followed the maze out of the little town and back to the freeway.
Chinatown in the City of Los Angeles is a short distance from the Pasadena/Harbor Freeway. Looking at the number, Jim commented that the two freeways were really only one. Getting off at the Third/Fourth Street exit, he managed to find his way through the one way streets to Chinatown. Parking, they got out and strolled up and down the two blocks or so of the tourist area, finally settling on a Dim Sum restaurant.
"I've never had Dim Sum, before." Cassie admitted.
"Oh, You're going to love this. Here, try this." The waiter had stopped by with several trays of Dim Sum. Blair chose several different types of the dumplings that make up a Dim Sum menu.
"What is it?"
"This one is Hah Gow, it's shrimp. This one is Sieu Mai, it's pork with shrimp. They're both steamed. This is a baked bow, barbecued Beef?" He asked the server, who nodded. "And these, of course, are pot stickers." Jim also chose steamed chicken bows, as well as several other exotic looking items. The two men were adept at using chopsticks, much to Cassie's dismay, afraid they would laugh at her clumsy attempts to maneuver the utensils. She was surprised when Jim picked up one of the tempting morsels and held it out for her.
"It's OK. It takes a while to get the hang of it." He was smiling, no censure in his eyes. She gratefully accepted the offering.
"Oh, wow. This is good. What was that one, again?"
"Hah Gow. Seasoned pulverized shrimp wrapped in a sort of pastry wrapper and steamed until done. It's one of my favourites, too." Blair explained, with a smile.
They thoroughly enjoyed themselves, there were even sweet Dim Sum for desert. Full, Jim paid the bill for all of them, over Cassie's protests. Telling her to relax and not to worry about it. Remembering how they had stuck her with the check the only other time they'd gone out to eat, she quickly backed down.
Back at the car, Jim again got the door for her, even offering her a hand up into the vehicle, this time. She smiled her thanks. Jim then proceeded to drive them back to the hotel, arriving just a few minutes after six.
"So, what are you going to do now?" She asked.
"Back to the beach for some surfing." Jim replied, with a grin.
"Won't it be cold?" She couldn't understand why someone would want to go surfing after dark.
"Which is why I wear a wet-suit." Jim informed her, with a grin. They rode up in the elevator together, separating and going to their respective rooms. Pausing at her door, while Jim and Blair continued on to their room next door, she turned to them.
"Thanks for today. It was a lot of fun." Almost shy. The two men turned brilliant smiles on her.
"So did we." Jim answered for them both. "We'll see you in the morning, OK?"
"OK. Good night."
"Good night." The two men chorused back, softly.
After he made the call, Mack left his room and knocked on Holli's door. When she opened the door, he asked, "So, got any plans for today?" as he leaned against the wall.
"Well, I was hoping to do a little sight-seeing, maybe a little shopping. Why? What did you have in mind?"
"I don't know. I'm at loose ends until this evening."
"Going surfing again?" Motioning him to enter.
Following her in and closing the door behind him and leaning against it, he answered. "Yeah. That guy I met yesterday. He's a cop from Washington State. Here for the same seminar. The tide changes at about six, so we're meeting at six-thirty to go hit the beach."
She gave him a speculative look. "So, you have nothing to do until then?"
"Uh huh." Pulling out a red vine and starting to nibble on it. "Got any ideas?"
She sat in a chair, thinking. "Well, I was thinking of hitting a museum, or two. I suppose you could tag along." Watching him.
"How about the Maritime Museum in San Pedro?" He offered. She looked at him in surprise.
"OK. I'm surprised you know about any museums around here." Curious.
"Passed it last night. Looked interesting." He shrugged. "I can handle it. It's not like one of those pretentious gallery openings." Smiling.
She laughed. "No, I don't suppose it is." Standing, she picked up her purse and a light jacket. "Let's go."
The museum showed the history of the LA Harbor, and the shipping and fishing industry. Although not a large museum, it held a lot of interesting artifacts. Including detailed models of many ships from both sailing and early steam days. When they left, they drove across the Vincent Thomas Bridge and Terminal Island Bridge to Long Beach, where the went to see the Queen Mary. Fascinated by the floating museum, they even had lunch at the restaurant aboard the lovely old ship.
Leaving the Queen Mary, they drove north a short distance and found the Pacific Coast Highway. Turning left, they followed the famed street as it wound its way west and then north back toward the airport. By mutual agreement, they continued on north, up the coast, taking in the sights. Reaching Santa Monica, they decided to go to the pier.
"Oh, Mack. Look at that old carousel. Isn't it beautiful?" Holli enthused as they walked up the pier.
"Want to go for a ride?" He was having a good time, and was wise enough to recognize that it was the company, not the activities, that was so pleasant.
They rode the carousel several times. Laughing like kids. Then they walked the rest of the pier. Afterward, they started back toward their hotel, stopping again to stroll up and down the Venice Beach walkway. It's occasionally called a boardwalk, but the area is paved. They laughed at the strange sights and odd people. They stopped at muscle beach and watched the body builders working out.
One of the huge muscle bound men made the mistake of coming on a little strong with Holli. She tried to fend him off politely, but Mack could smell the beer on the guy's breath from ten feet away.
"C'mon, pretty lady. 'S gonna be fun. Jus' you 'n me. 'K?" He glanced dismissively at Mack. "Ya don' wan' this loser. He-he's not the right guy for you, baby. You need a real man." He had hold of her arm, and she was starting to struggle.
"Look. I told you that I'm not interested. Just let go and there won't be any trouble, OK?" Starting to worry, just a bit.
"Trouble? From this pansy you're with?"
Mack had had enough. He reached over and grasped the much larger man by the wrist, pressing and twisting using his other hand to press against the guy's elbow to prevent his escape. The big drunk suddenly found himself up on his toes, hissing in pain, in the firm grasp of Mack's 'come along' hold.
"Now. The lady asked you nicely to leave her alone. So, we can do this the easy way, or the hard way. The choice is yours." He spoke softly, twisting just a little to enforce the point.
Just then, two bicycle officers pulled up. Scoping out the situation and recognizing the big drunk, one of them asked, "Is there a problem?"
Holli looked at the two uniformed officers. "He didn't quite want to take 'no' for an answer."
Mack added, "No. No problem. Is there a problem, Chief?" Asking the big drunk. Twisting the man's wrist once more, just a little, just enough to make his point.
"N-no. No problem." He was up on his tiptoes, trying to escape the pain and pressure of the hold. When Mack finally let him go, he rubbed his shoulder, then his wrist and elbow. His beer-fogged brain considered punching Mack's lights out, but he recognized the cops and backed down, muttering to himself.
"George, go home. You've been warned. Any more trouble and you'll spend the night in the tank. You hear me?" The older of the two patrolmen advised.
"Yeah, I hear you, Connors. I'm goin'." He glared once more at Mack and lumbered off.
The two cops took a good long look at the stranger who had managed to stop one of their chronic problems without getting hurt. The older one did all the talking.
"Are you folks all right?"
Mack looked at Holli for confirmation. His brows lowered as he realized that her arm was bruising from where George had grabbed her. He reached out and gently examined the arm.
"I'm fine. Just a few bruises." She smiled up at her companion. "Thanks, Mack."
"You sure?" Worried about the bruises.
"I'm sure." She turned to the officers. "Thank you, both. Mack had him, but it was kind of like having a tiger by the tail. Once you have hold, you can't let go, or you're dead meat."
"Yeah. We're sorry. George only gets drunk once every couple of months, but when he does...well, let's just say we call for a lot of backup for him."
Mack laughed. "I can believe that. I wouldn't have had a chance, if he hadn't been so distracted by Holli, here." He extended his hand, "Mack Wolfe. Honolulu PD. This is Doctor Dawn Holliday, our forensics chief. We're here for a seminar."
The older man shook Mack's hand. "Ted Connors. Nice to meet you. This is my partner, Dave Robertson." The younger man shook hands as well. "Well, if you're sure you're both OK, we'd better get back on patrol. Enjoy your visit."
"Thanks, we will." Holli replied as they parted company.
The drunk had ruined the mood. By mutual consent they headed back to the car and returned, subdued, to the hotel.
It was late afternoon, and Mack was hungry again. "Hey, Holli. You want to get an early dinner?" Comfortable in her company.
"Where did you have in mind?"
"Well, I had lunch yesterday at this place on Redondo Pier, the crab was fantastic." Waiting, hopeful.
"Mmmmm. I can handle that. Let's go." They returned to the car and drove to the pier, where they wondered around while waiting for the dinner. She watched him as he seemingly inhaled the crab. Shaking her head in wonder. "How do you do it, Mack?"
"Do what, Doc?" wiping his mouth, puzzled.
"How do you manage to eat so much and stay in shape?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. Genetics? Exercise?" He shook his head. He wasn't going to worry about it.
She shook her head, envious. After dinner, they walked along the beach for a while. Shoes in hand, barefoot in the surf. Comfortable in one another's company. Holli watched her companion, surreptitiously. Happy to be friends, finally, but missing his flirting, too. Too bad. She was finally interested in him as a man, and he seemed to have lost interest in her as a woman. She startled herself with that realization.
They drove back to the hotel. Riding up in the elevator, Mack spoke.
"I had a good time today. Thanks for letting me tag along."
"You're welcome. It was fun, wasn't it?"
"Yeah. It was." The elevator opened, depositing them on their floor. "I'm meeting those guys I met yesterday. We're going to do some more surfing. So I'll see you in the morning, OK?"
"That's fine." She hesitated a moment. "I'm glad you found someone to surf with. I'm sure it will help keep you happy during this seminar." She was careful not to admit that it was her fault that he had been the one assigned the task.
"Don't worry about it. At least this way, you have the car." He smiled. "See you in the morning, Doc."
"Good night, Mack."
They met in the lobby, both men wrestling their surf boards out of the elevators. Blair watched in amusement, at their struggles. "Why don't you guys just leave them in the car?" He asked.
He was met with two pair of sapphire lasers. It was a little disconcerting.
"One. I don't intend to lose my board to some thief, causing damage to the rental." Jim growled.
"Two. I don't want to damage my board by leaving it in a hot car during the day." Mack added.
"OK, OK. Don't get mad. It was an honest mistake. Sheesh." Blair laughed. The two surfers relented and smiled. Blair shook his head. Even their teeth were the same.
"So, where to, tonight?" Mack asked as they finished loading the SUV and climbed in.
"I thought we'd try Malibu. It's only about an hour up the coast. Pretty open."
"Sounds good to me."
The surfing was moderate. But just being out on the water, with the moon waxing toward full, made it enjoyable. Blair flew his kite for a while. Tiring of it, he started work on his thesis. Typing away for a couple of hours. Periodically checking on the pair in the water. Tiring, finally. He saved his work and put the computer aside. Watching the two men out on the water, he wondered how it appeared to Jim. Could he still see colour in the moonlight? Did the colours change in the dimness? He'd have to remember to ask.
The next thing he knew, was that someone was dripping ice-water on him. He started up, waking with a protest on his lips. "Oh, man. That is so not nice." Glaring up. He had to check, as both men wore nearly identical black trunks.
"What's the matter, Chief. Can't tell which one of us is which?" One of them asked. Smirking.
Blair looked closely at the pair. Then he grinned. Remind me to tell you how payback can be a bitch, Mack." Smiling triumphantly up at the man who had dripped on him. The smile widening when both men reacted to his accusation.
"Damn. He's good." Mack intoned to Jim. Jim shrugged.
"I could have told you that." Turning to his partner, "So, Professor, how could you tell us apart?" Curious.
"Well, since it isn't something that you can do anything about in the few days that we'll be here." He smirked, "Mack's not quite as hard as you are, Jim. He doesn't have quite the abdominal definition that you do."
The two men compared themselves and realized that Blair was right. Shaking his head in awe, Jim replied. Well, Cassie won't have that little bit of information to work from. Besides, I don't expect to be running around shirtless tomorrow." Exchanging a grin with Mack.
"You guys ready to go, yet? I'm tired." Blair wasn't wining, exactly, but he was tired.
"Yeah. Just let us dry off a little, here, Chief, and we'll be good to go." Mack replied.
Nodding, Blair rose and gathered his things, starting for the car, where he waited for the others to join him.
The next morning, they put into practice their plan to drive the two forensics specialists crazy. Dressed in similar clothes, the two detectives made sure that they kept meeting their prey just after their double had gone the other way. Both women were feeling dizzy by the end of the day. Not realizing that each time they saw 'Mack' or 'Jim' (who of course admitted to being whomever the lady in question thought he was), that it wasn't necessarily who they thought he was. Blair was having a ball. He could still tell them apart, but he thought it was because he knew Jim so well. They traded partners for lunch. Mack eating with Cassie and Blair, while Jim ate with Holli.
Both women were confused by how flirtatious their companion's were. But neither woman said anything. Chalking it up to the generally weirdness of the day.
That evening, the three men again picked out a beach to surf. Laughing over their being able to fool the women so well. They continued their game throughout the week, never getting caught.
Friday, the last day of the conference, the administrators of the seminar set up various scenarios for the participants to try the new methods they had been taught. They paired up the teams from the various cities randomly. By some miracle, the team from Cascade was assigned to work with the team from Honolulu. When the five people came together, the two women goggled in shock.
"Mack..." Holli began, anger in her voice.
"Ji-im!" Cassie wailed, furious.
Blair stayed out of the line of fire. The doubles were grinning. "Yes?" They chorused in unison. Causing both women to flinch. They stared from one to the other. Unsure as to which one was which. Then they looked at each other. The doubles, having practiced for this moment, chorused introductions. "Doctor Dawn Holiday, Chief of Forensics, Honolulu, this is Cassie Wells, Chief of Forensics, Cascade, Washington." Then the pair smirked and backed away from the line of fire.
The two women looked at each other. "I take it that you're as much in the dark about this as I am?" Holli asked.
"Totally." She glared at the three men, focusing on Blair. "You were in on it. How long has this been going on?" Absolutely feeling made a fool of, and furious about it.
"This is your surfing buddy?" Dawn asked. The pair nodded.
"Stop that!" Cassie demanded of the duplicates.
"Uh, maybe we should do this crime scene thing?" Blair asked, placatingly.
"All right." Holli agreed, "But you have an awful lot of explaining to do, afterwards."
The room had been set up as a crime scene. The five entered, looking around. Their scenario was supposed to be a murder. There was a dummy lying on the floor, a puddle of what was supposed to be blood beneath it. Jim stopped in the doorway, blocking the others from entering.
"Shit." He murmured. Blair was immediately at his side.
"What is it, Jim? What's wrong?" One hand reaching out to touch his friend's back.
"That's a real body. The blood is real. Yes. He's dead." He turned to his partner and met his shocked eyes. Watched as Blair turned a pasty white.
"Oh, man. This is so not cool." He turned aside to avoid seeing the body and the blood.
Mack's nose twitched at the smell of blood. "I can smell the blood. I'll go get help." Turning to leave them as he went in search of the local authorities.
Holli peered over Jim's arm that was blocking the entrance. Cassie looking over her shoulder, itching to get in.
"Move it, Jim. Let us in there."
"Not until the locals ask, Cassie. This isn't our case." For a change, Cassie actually backed up. Holli started to follow her, when she noticed how pale Blair had become.
"Are you all right?" She asked, touching his arm, concerned. Jim turned to look at his partner.
"Oh, hell, Chief. I'm sorry. Come on, let's get you away from here." Taking hold of the smaller man and moving him over to a chair, where he forced him to sit. Cassie watched in concern, while Holli looked on in puzzlement.
"Rookie?" She asked.
"Anthropologist." Jim replied, crouching before his partner and reminding him to breathe.
"I thought he was your partner, I mean in the police department." Unsure of what the circumstances between these two were.
"He is. He's studying closed societies for his doctoral thesis. I got tagged as his subject, since I didn't have a partner. He's become my partner for real." He looked up at the pathologist. "He's got some of the best instincts for police work I've ever seen."
"He just hasn't been inured to the bad stuff, yet." Cassie added.
"I hope he never does." Jim replied shortly. "He reminds me of the humanity I've lost with this work." He looked up again. "He reminds me of what this is really all about. That these are people. Not just victims, perps, bodies. People." He returned his focus to his Guide, rubbing his shoulders, speaking softly, reminding him to take deep, slow breaths. Calming and soothing the younger man.
"I'm sorry, man. I just wasn't prepared for this. This was supposed to be a staged setting. Not the real thing." Shaking his head. "I'm OK." Seeing the skeptical look on Jim's face, "No, I am. Honest. It was just a surprise, OK?" He'd gotten his breathing back to normal, and was ready to face his adopted responsibilities again. "Come on, Jim. Let's see what you can see from the door, OK?"
Jim glanced at the two forensics specialists for a moment, then shrugged. "OK, Chief. If it gets to be too much for you, you make sure you tell me, OK?"
"I promise, man. I wouldn't want to hurl and mess up a crime scene." Smiling weakly.
The two men moved back over to the open door. The two forensics specialists watched, curious. Jim crouched down in the doorway, focusing on the scene, the touch of Blair's hand on his shoulder anchoring him.
"The blood is still seeping out around the body." The two women came to stand behind him, watching. Seeing what he saw when he pointed it out. They could see the stain still spreading. Holli added her input.
"That places the time of death within the last fifteen to twenty minutes."
Jim scanned the floor around the body. "There's something under him. It looks like a piece of paper. We'll have to wait for backup." He searched some more. "Can you see that little sliver of something metallic by his right hand? It looks like a pen." Blair nodded. Cassie peered over his shoulder, "I can barely see it. You've got really good eyes, Jim." She added.
Jim turned up his sense of smell, filtering out all the normal smells and the smell of blood. He cast a glance at Blair, who was watching him, not the scene. Jim touched his nose and shook his head, indicating that he didn't smell anything.
Blair finally looked into the room. "Do you think it was a suicide? Or were they just trying to make it look like one?" Curious. The two forensics experts stared at him in surprise.
"What makes you think of suicide?" Cassie asked.
"Piece of paper, pen. He was probably writing something. Could be a suicide note, or just someone trying to make it look like one. We didn't hear a shot, but that may not mean anything." He looked askance at his partner who shook his head minutely to let him know that he hadn't heard anything. "The blood is still spreading, which Doctor Holliday..." He glanced up at her. "Sorry, I'll bet you get a lot of jokes about Doc Holliday." Smiling, a little grimly, but still seeing the humour. "Which Doctor Holliday indicates that the time of death is narrowed down to the past half hour." He shrugged. "We won't be able to tell anything else until they turn him over."
"Very good, I'm sorry, I didn't get your name." Holli said.
"Oh, I'm sorry. Blair Sandburg." He straightened up and offered his hand. Holli reached out to shake it. Surprised that this young academic was able to piece together so much from so little information.
"I can see why you're a detective." She smiled at the younger man.
"Oh, I'm not. Not really. I really am just an anthropologist working on my Doctoral Thesis." He smiled back at her, the puppy dog eyes doing their thing.
Jim chuckled. "OK, Chief. Let's get out of the way, now. The locals are here."
The four of them moved back out of the way. Watching as the locals began their investigation. Mack returned with them, and joined his friends. They all watched the investigation unfold. Each noting things that they would have done differently. Blair intentionally sat facing away from the scene. When they turned the body over, Jim focused in to see what he could.
"He was stabbed, Chief. Definitely not a suicide." Blair only nodded. His eyes closed. A frown marring his face.
"Jim? Who was the one who assigned us this scenario?"
"Uh, I think it was Richardson?" He looked at the others for confirmation. They nodded. "Yeah. Richardson. Why?"
"Well. Since he was the one who set up the different scenarios, and then assigned them. He was in here within the last half hour, wasn't he? Shouldn't he have seen something?"
"Maybe you should be the detective and I go back to school, Chief." The others nodded ruefully, realizing that they had missed the obvious. Mack pulled one of the local cops aside and passed on their information.
The seminar was over. The ending wasn't very satisfactory, but when one of the organizers of such an event murders his partner on the last day and expects to escape detection; when what they had supposedly been teaching were methods of detection which would allow detectives and forensics specialists to work better together; it would have been surprising if anyone really were very satisfied with the outcome.
Richardson was actually surprised when he was arrested so quickly. Amazed at how fast the people he'd assigned to work the 'case' had it figured out so easily. The participants in the seminar watched in silent disapproval as he was removed to the waiting squad car.
They had a lot of explaining to do. But, once they had done so, they were forgiven. It wasn't as though they had actually done anything really bad, just sneaky and confusing. Thinking back on it, the women laughed. Mostly because neither one was the only one fooled.
They had gone out for dinner together at one of the fancier restaurants in the area. Afterward, Jim and Mack wanted to get in one more evening of surfing. The ladies decided to join them. They went to Torrance Beach. The waves were the best they'd seen all week. Five to six foot breakers. Rolling in one after another in a seemingly endless string.
"So, Doc," Jim asked, "Do you surf?" Still flirting a little.
"Oh, no. Not me."
"You, Cassie?" Mack asked.
"How about body surfing?" Mack asked both women.
"How do you do that?" Cassie asked.
"Come on out. We can teach you." Jim offered. "Coming, Chief?"
The lesson was simple. You swim out past the breakers, tread water, when you see or feel a good swell under you, you swim like mad to keep up, then let the breaker push you in to the beach.
They were all having a blast. Blair's hair came out of its tie and kept blinding him, much to everyone's amusement. The moon was full, so it was almost like daylight. They caught wave after wave. Blair turned out to have a knack for picking the biggest waves, so the others started to watch him and swam when he swam, laughing and cheering at the rush of adrenaline when they rode the breakers in to the shore.
Cassie was getting tired, but she didn't know when to quit. She'd managed to have almost no asthma attacks the entire week. She wore her inhaler on a cord around her neck, even in the water. The waves started getting bigger, as there was a storm approaching from up the coast. She had just repositioned herself to catch the next wave, when she started to have trouble breathing. She grabbed her inhaler and dispensed her medication, twice. Gasping slightly. She stopped paying attention to where she was. She had drifted shoreward a bit, unaware of how much bigger the surf had gotten. By the time she recovered enough to realize what was happening, it was too late.
The breaker broke just over her head, dumping down on top of her. She was caught in the roiling water, tumbled and tossed. She instinctively curled up into a ball to try and protect herself. As she ran out of air, getting ready to panic, she had the lucid thought to kick out with her feet and pray for the miracle that they were pointed toward the sand.
She was extremely lucky. Her feet made contact with the sand while she still had quite a bit of flex in her knees. She thrust off as hard as she could. An eternity later, she broke the surface, gasping, struggling, panic-stricken. Her asthma full blown, helpless.
She barely felt the hands that grabbed her arms, or the body that pressed against her back, turning so she was floating on the surface. Couldn't hear the voice telling her to hold on, that he had her. That she was going to be all right. Didn't notice the rush of the ride in or the strong arms that carried her out of the water and up the beach. Couldn't hear the concerned voices gathered about her, worrying. Never noticed when she retched up sea water, or when someone pressed her inhaler into her mouth and held her nose and administered several blasts of medication from the device.
She was unaware of everything except the fear that she was about to drown, until she suddenly realized that she was wrapped up in towels and being held in someone's lap. His strong arms around her, holding her, warming her with his own body heat. Rocking and murmuring soft soothing words in her ear.
"Are you sure we shouldn't call an ambulance? Blair asked.
"Give it a few minutes, Blair." Holli replied. "It takes up to five minutes for the inhaler to work." Mack crouched beside them, watching closely, worried.
"Jim?" Blair asked softly. "How's she doin, man?"
"She's coming around." He shifted, turning Cassie so that the others could see her. She reached out to pull herself back into his warm embrace. "Hey, Cassie. It's OK. You're going to be fine. Shhh. Come on, Cassie. Open your eyes and let everyone know that you're going to be all right. Cassie?" Rubbing her back and shoulders. Finally, she pulled away.
"I'm sorry. I...I'm not quite sure what happened. I had an attack, I used my inhaler, then...I got caught in a wave?" Uncertain, afraid.
"Yeah. You got tumbled pretty bad. I was too far away to get to you, but the second your head came up, I went after you and we got you to shore. How are you feeling now?"
"Like I've been through the spin cycle of the wash." She finally realized where she was, and struggled to escape. Jim held her lightly, handing her to Mack to help her stand up. "I'm OK, now. J-just cold, is all."
"That's OK." Mack told her. "It's getting late, and we need to get back to the hotel. Holli? Do we need to check into an emergency room?"
"I don't think so, Mack. But I'll do a more thorough exam once we get back to the hotel."
Blair helped Cassie walk to the car, the others gathering up their things and following.
Once back at the hotel, Holli helped Cassie get a hot shower and dressed for bed. Then she did an exam, checking her breathing, listening to her lungs. Finished, she sat back with a smile.
"Well, it looks good. Take it easy for a few days, and if you have any problems, see your regular doctor when you get home."
"Thanks. I will." She sat back in bed, watching Holli put her equipment back in her bag. "What do you think about the guys?" Holli looked up.
"I think that I'm glad they didn't do anything worse than seem to be in two places at once. It was pretty freaky, I've got to tell you. Considering what they could have done, I think we got off lucky. I'm going to thank your guys for that. Mack would have run us ragged, if he'd had his way." Smiling.
"I would have thought the same thing about Jim. I guess, maybe it was Blair who modulated them down."
"I wouldn't be too sure. He's an anthropologist. I imagine that he would go out of his way to aggravate the entire situation, just to further his studies."
The two women smiled, comfortable with their unusual situations. Cassie confided, "I can't tell them apart, can you?"
"No. Scary, isn't it." Holli agreed.
"I noticed that Blair seems to be able to tell which one's which." Cassie added.
"Well, they are partners. Unless there's something more going on there?" Curious.
"Well, I don't think that they're an item or anything. But sometimes, I can't help but wonder what's going on. They seem to be able to find clues that everyone else misses. They've freaked me out several times doing that."
"Maybe one of them is psychic?" Holli offered.
"I just don't know. I'm afraid I've gotten off on the wrong foot with them and they really don't trust me. But, to be honest, I haven't exactly been demonstrating that I'm really all that trustworthy. I'm used to men trying to bully me around, and I tend to jump in first, and pick up the pieces later. I just hope I haven't permanently alienated them." She snuggled down into her pillows a little, relaxing more, heading for sleep. "Although, Sunday was great."
"What did you do Sunday?"
"We went to the Huntington Library."
"Well, when I suggested museums, Blair lit up, and Jim turned into a rock. Does Mack do that?"
"You mean the tight twitching jaw?"
"Yeah." Both women giggled. "Well, as soon as I said it, I knew that that wasn't fair to Jim, but he agreed to go, anyway. I know he was bored going through the art gallery, and the rest of the museums, although he did perk up a little when Blair started going off on some books by Burton, whoever he was. When we got to the gift shop, Jim bought several reproductions of Burton's works. I knew he wasn't interested and I couldn't figure out why he would spend so much on his partner. Then I saw them." There was a wistful expression on her face. "They're best friends. The kind that will do anything for the other. The kind you don't see very often. Jim spent over a hundred dollars for some books he has no interest in, because his friend was so excited about them. It was amazing."
Holli listened, enthralled. Nodding encouragement for her to continue.
"Then we went outside. That's when Jim came alive. They have all these different types of gardens. They were beautiful." She chuckled. "Blair started explaining the Japanese Rock Garden, he never noticed the crowd he was drawing, until he finished and they applauded. I think they thought he was a tour guide or something." Holli joined her in her laughter, picturing the incident.
"So, then what happened?"
"Well, we sat down on this big lawn, to rest for a while and look at the view." She stopped, an odd, contented look in her eyes.
"Jim lay back and pointed out a cloud that looked like Snoopy."
"Oh?" Smiling at the picture the words engendered.
"Uh huh. We must have spent an hour there, flat on our backs, staring up at the sky and making pictures out of the clouds. It was wonderful."
"Then we went to dinner in Chinatown. They introduced me to Dim Sum."
"Oh, isn't it wonderful?"
"Well, I'm not very good with chopsticks. I was kind of out of my element, if you know what I mean."
"Oh, I know. I'm still struggling with them." They shared a smile of understanding.
"Well, they didn't make fun of my efforts or anything. They were really both very nice. Not at all like I expected. Not after the way I set them up when I first started work there. I think that's when I really blew it." Her expression rueful, she told about how she had treated the two men, how she had accused them of being competitive with one another, and how they had retaliated. Holli laughed.
"Oh, that sounds like something Mack would do." Enjoying the girl-talk. "I can't get over how much those two are alike. It's unreal."
"I know. I wonder if we could get them to try and fool Blair?" Cassie asked conspiratorially, giggling. They followed that idea, deciding to try to get the pair to trick the young anthropologist.
Holli stayed with Cassie until she fell asleep. Learning almost as much about the men from Cascade as she knew about Mack.
Jim was waiting for her when she left Cassie's room.
"How is she?" He asked.
"She should be just fine. She's asleep, now. I can come and check her a couple of times during the night, if you want."
"No, that's OK. I'll do it." He wasn't about to say just how he intended to do it.
"Can I ask you something?"
"Can you and Mack fool Blair?"
"I thought so, we tried once, on Saturday; but he figured it out in less than ten seconds. It was something of a surprise. I think it may have to do with the fact that he's my roommate, as well as my partner and friend. Hell, he knows more about me than my family does." And without the judgment or hurt that that entails.
"You're really close." Curious, but not asking overtly.
"He's my partner, my friend, my brother in everything but blood. Sometimes he annoys me to the point of wanting to kill him, then he does some foolish, totally unselfish act that more than makes up for it."
"You love him." It wasn't a question.
"Yeah. I do. Maybe not in the way you mean..."
"Like family. Platonic." She hurried to explain.
He met her eyes, seeing...envy?
"Yes. And more. I would die to protect him. I think he'd die to try to protect me. We're closer than lovers, but it isn't sexual." He paused, trying to come up with the right words to explain. "I think its...spiritual. Something far stronger than anything I've ever experienced before in my life. I wouldn't trade it for all the wealth on earth."
"You're very lucky. Not many people ever find that kind of relationship. Not even in marriage."
He smiled softly. "I know. And I do my best to protect it. Protect him. I wish, sometimes that I could just wrap him up in protective wrap and keep all the crap I have to deal with in my job away from him. But I know that that isn't what he needs. He's much stronger than I ever give him credit for. We take care of each other. Without question. Without feeling put out by it. We just do what we have to do." He finally ran out of words, unable to explain any better.
"You have a very special bond. I know that you'll take care of it." She smiled, turning toward the elevator to return to her room. "If you think about it, I'd love to see you and Mack try and fool Blair. After all, you've been doing it to us all week."
"I'll think about it." He smiled. Watching her all the way to the elevator. She waved to him as the elevator door opened and she stepped in. He waved back. She was, of course, totally unaware that he tracked her all the way to her room by listening to her heartbeat. Even five floors below. He turned back to his own room. Smiling at Blair, who had been listening from just inside the door.
"Hear enough, Chief?"
"Uh, yeah." He smiled up at his friend. "Thanks."
"You're welcome." Sometimes, they didn't have to talk.
Jim tuned in to Cassie's heartbeat before drifting off to sleep. Therefore, when she started having a nightmare, he woke and ran to her room, using her card-key to enter.
"Cassie, It's all right. Wake up. Come on. Wake up. It's just a nightmare." He sat on the edge of her bed and picked her up, shaking her gently, then folding her against his chest. Talking to her until she woke up and calmed down. Fortunately, she didn't suffer another asthma attack.
"Shhh. It's OK. You're safe. Shhh." Holding her and rocking her. Cradling her against his chest. "Shhh. Shhh. It's OK. You're safe."
She clung to the warm strong body that held her. Fighting off the dream-demons. Whimpering with fear, remembering the horror of nearly drowning. Eventually, she came fully awake, recognized the soothing voice that murmured soft reassurances in her ear. Cuddling her close.
He heard her heartbeat begin to calm down and her breathing smooth out. Finally, he stopped rocking and pulled back from her. "OK? Better, now?"
She sniffled, trying to snuggle back close to his warm body. "Um-hmmm. Much better. Thanks." She was totally relaxed. Falling back asleep. When he was certain that she was, indeed, asleep, he gently lay her back down and tucked the covers around her. Brushing a gentle kiss on her forehead before he left. Not even realizing that he had done it.
Rising, he made his way back to his own room. Slid back beneath his own covers and extended his hearing to check on Cassie. Listening to the soft thumping of the two hearts under his protection, allowing them to lull him back to sleep.
Saturday morning. One final day before their return flight to Cascade. Cassie awoke, recalling strange dreams. Or, memories. She looked around her room, seeking some clue. Wondering whether or not it was just a dream? There was a soft knock at her door. After which the door opened, and she realized that she didn't have her card-key. Jim poked his head in, his eyes seeking hers.
"Good morning. Feeling better?" He spoke softly.
"Much better, thank you. Did you...last night?"
"You had a nightmare. I just came and woke you up." He admitted.
"Is that all?" Disappointed.
"Well, I held you for a while, until you woke all the way up. Then until you fell back asleep." His concerned blue eyes meeting hers.
"OK. That's what I thought I remembered." She smiled. "Thank you."
"You're welcome. Look. I'm going to go down to Mack's room. We're going to try that little test you and Holli wanted to do on Blair. See if he can tell us apart?"
Her smile widened. "Oh, cool."
He smiled back, surprised that she had the same bouncing reaction as Blair often had. "Why don't you get up and we'll meet you downstairs in about half an hour, OK?"
"You've got it." The idea of Sandburg getting a little back was enough to get her up and out in a hurry. Jim smiled and closed the door.
Heading down the hall, he smiled. Oh, yeah. They'd try and fool them all, this time.
Thirty minutes later, the five met down in the hotel restaurant. Jim and Mack were dressed identically, in brand new clothes, right down to the sandals on their feet. They moved in unison, they spoke almost in unison. Holli and Cassie were unable to tell them apart. Blair stared at them, eyes narrowed, speculatively. Then he smiled, smugly. They were having breakfast. The pair ordered the same breakfast. They were almost perfectly in sync. Blair had an ace up his sleeve. He had a pretty good idea which was which, but he wanted to be sure. He noticed that the fruit served with their meal included the one thing that was sure to make the difference.
Cassie and Holli were laughing, totally unable to tell which was which. Blair was joking about clones, how he was going to flood the world with 'Jim Ellison Clones'. But he watched them like a hawk. One would make eye contact with him, and smile in a certain way, then the other one would. Very unfair. He'd made his decision. He sat back, relaxing, until he got confirmation. When it finally came, exactly as he thought it would, he said, "So, Jim, what time's our flight?" Reaching out and touching the hand of the correct one.
Jim and Mack looked at each other in surprise. Shaking their heads in awe.
"OK. How'd you do that?" Cassie demanded. Blair just smiled. Meeting the eyes of his blessed protector and exchanging a warm glance.
"Do what?" All innocence.
"Tell them apart." Holli added.
"Oh, can't you tell? I mean, it's only obvious." Exchanging a grin with the pair.
"Give." Holli demanded.
"Now." Cassie added.
Blair started to laugh. "OK. Look at them. What do you see?"
"Two identical men." The women announced.
Blair shook his head. "I don't. Mack has a slightly darker tan than Jim has."
"That's how you can tell them apart?"
"Well, that's the start."
"Well, it's hard to tell, since their fully clothed, but Jim's a little more buff than Mack. More of a washboard stomach."
The women exchanged looks. "That can't be enough." Cassie insisted.
Blair nodded. "Well, there are the scars, but again, you have to see them to be able to tell which one is which. I used the ultimate test."
"Ultimate test?" Holli asked, interested.
"Uh huh." Smug.
"So, what is this ultimate test?" Cassie demanded.
"Pineapple?" The women chorused, as Jim grinned widely.
"Uh huh. Pineapple." Blair agreed.
"Why is that the ultimate test?" Holli asked, bewildered.
"Simple. Jim hates pineapple."
Jim and Mack roared with laughter, while Blair sat back like the cat who swallowed the canary and smirked, and the ladies exchanged shocked expressions which dissolved into uncontrollable giggles.
I like this as the ending. I know that I could write more, but this in enough for now, I think. Besides, it's taken me three days to write this, while leaving everything else on hold.
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