The following story is based on real events. I was at the State Fair, yesterday (Saturday, Labor Day weekend), and stopped off at a local wildlife demonstration. Some of the animals will be released into the wild, like the opossum, the raccoon, possibly the bear cub. The other animals had been imprinted by humans, like the cougar kittens and the fawn. The story I'm going to tell is the story of Sunshine, an American Bald Eagle. The actual events occurred in Alaska.. I've rewritten the facts to fit into the parameters of the show. Be warned, there are graphic depictions of violence and animal cruelty following. Rate this one an 'R'.
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The fishing trip was quite a success. The Fall Salmon run was better than expected, and they easily caught their limits of quite large fish. Simon had a friend who was going to smoke the salmon for them, so they decided not to eat any fish during their little vacation. Simon had also insisted on renting a cabin for the week they had off. Telling his friends that he didn't want their bad luck with camping trips to affect this one.
The cabin was luxurious. Three bedrooms, all the amenities. Jim's brother owned shares in the cabin. He was out of the country and had offered it to his brother for the week. The timing couldn't have been better. Crime was fairly slow, for the moment, and the three men decided to take advantage of it. Blair had to arrange for someone to cover his classes, something he really hated to do this early in the semester, but he needed this time away just as much as his friends did. Needed this time with his friends. A time of bonding. Of communication, even if words were never spoken. A brief moment of peace and respite from the day-to-day worries and cares of their lives.
It didn't hurt that the fishing had been tremendous. Their smallest fish more than twelve pounds. Blair had done most of the cooking. After five days of nothing but 'healthy' food, the two older men rebelled. Both of them wanted something more substantial. Like a steak. With his partner on one side and their captain on the other, both men towering above him, Blair had wisely decided that: "Steak is good. I could eat a steak."
It was more a bar than a restaurant, but it was close and they cooked up great steaks. The three men were relaxing, quietly preparing to enjoy their meal and the company. Until the 'mighty hunter' came in. He arrived already well on his way to drunk. After a couple more drinks, he started getting loud. Bragging about his skill as a hunter. Talking about all the animals he'd killed. He'd trapped a couple of men at the bar, pushing his tales on them, even though both men looked uncomfortable with the conversation.
Blair offered to get them refills of their drinks, rising and stepping over to the bar to get another round of beer. He tried to ignore the drunk's rantings, but the words penetrated anyway, the description of the man's atrocities sickening him. He glanced over at the drunk, then cast a worried look back at his friends. Jim stiffened, and listened:
"You shoulda seen it. I shot it in the head, you know? But it didn't die I mean the beak was blown away, just a few pieces hangin' down from just below where the eyes used to be. Squawkin' and flutterin' around on the ground. It was a real laugh, you know?" Laughing as though the torture-killing of an animal was funny.
Jim had come over, ignoring Blair, who paid for the drinks and returned to the table to fill Simon in on the goings on. Simon shifted in his chair and focused on the scene at the bar, just in case.
"What was it?" Jim asked the drunken man.
"Jus' a dirty eagle. Big one." Smiling at his new 'friend'. Finally, someone who was really interested in his story.
"Oh, yeah? You finish it off?"
"Nah, Jus' left it there. Figgered I could go back and play with it a little more, you know?" Smiling, his teeth tobacco stained and crooked. Jim grinned.
"I'd like to see that."
"Well, I can show you, my friend. I can sure as f***show it to you." He staggered to his feet, leading the way out. Jim cast a glance at his friends, silent communication passing between them.
"Blair, stay here, give us five minutes, then follow. I'll make sure you don't have any trouble following us."
"No way, Simon. I'm going with you, now." Blair signaled their waitress, explaining that they would be back shortly and to please hold off on their order until they could get back.
"You rangers?" She asked.
"No, Cascade PD." Simon replied.
"So, that means you're gonna bust Greg, right?"
"Do you have a problem with that?" The tall, imposing man asked.
"Nope. I was raised to only kill what I'm plannin' on eatin'. And to never under any circumstances leave something wounded behind. I wouldn't mind seein' him get his face blowed off, see how he likes it. But that's just me. If the bird's still alive, there's some folks who do wildlife rescue. The vet in town works with them, taking care of the injured ones. You come back here with it and I'll have him come down and get the bird, OK?"
"Why hasn't anyone turned this guy in?" Blair asked.
"Cause he carries a loaded rifle all the time. Folks are afraid of him, or don't care. He doesn't usually brag about what he does. Never mentioned killin' eagles before."
"We'll be back later." Simon told her, then led the way outside, where they were just in time to see Jim behind the wheel of the drunk's jeep, pulling out of the parking lot. They ran to Simon's car, jumped in and took off after the other vehicle.
Meanwhile, Jim was following the drunken Greg's directions into the woods. It was just a little over five miles to the dirt road that turned off the paved one. He could see his friends in the rear view mirror. He kept pumping Greg for information on the eagle and the other game he'd killed out of season. Greg was too drunk to realize they were being followed.
"You get a kick out of killing animals?" Jim probed.
"Oh, yeah. It's a bunch of fun. Watchin' 'em jerk and flop all over the place. It's a real hoot." Laughing again.
Jim managed to not show his disgust with this man. He strung him along, getting him to talk more about the animals he killed. Finally, they arrived at the end of the dirt road. Jim parked the jeep, keeping Greg occupied and distracted from noticing Blair and Simon behind them.
"It was just up here." Greg told Jim. "I need my flashlight, so's we can find 'im." Excited to show his new friend his skill at shooting. "Took his beak right off." He bragged again.
Jim tuned him out. Knowing that Blair and Simon were there to back him up, he tuned out Greg's irritating voice and stretched out his hearing. There. Following with his eyes, he saw the helpless bird huddled beneath a bush, the blood dry from it's injuries. Blind, maimed. His stomach roiled with the anger and disgust at the sight. Simon and Blair had heard most of the story, Blair had also called the Department of Fish and Game, reporting the man's claims. They weren't surprised when another vehicle pulled up behind them. Greg squinted into the glare of the headlights and was surprised to see Blair and Simon already there.
"Who the f***are you?" He blustered. Staggering toward them.
The doors of the newest arrived vehicle opened, and two uniformed men stepped out. "Captain Banks?" One of the men asked. Watching Greg, more than the strangers.
"I see you've got Greg Dean with you. You friends of his?"
"Hardly. He was down at the bar, bragging about shooting the face off of an eagle. Jim Ellison," He gestured to indicate his friend, "Got him talking and asked to see the bird."
"If it's still alive, you're not going to be able to find it in the dark." The driver of the patrol car insisted.
"It's right here." Jim called out softly. "Simon? Do you have a blanket in the trunk?"
"Sure, Jim." Simon opened his trunk, pulled out a blanket, handed it to Blair, who carried it over to Jim. Cautious when he got close to the drunken Greg Dean.
"Well, since you've got the bird, did all three of you hear him say he shot it?"
"I doubt if anyone in the bar didn't hear him. We just decided to do something about it." Simon told them.
"Good. In that case, it gives me great pleasure to arrest you Greg. I've been hoping you'd screw up so's I could lock you up."
"I don't know what you're talkin' about." Was Greg's surly reply.
"Yeah, you do. These guys aren't local, they aren't afraid of you. You're under arrest for violation of federal fish and game laws. You have the right to remain silent..."
The drunk wasn't about to be quiet. He started yelling, arguing and swearing at them all. Trying desperately to distract them from what was really important. All except Jim and Blair.
"How bad is it?" Blair asked, unable to see the injured bird in the dark.
"His description was accurate." Jim started to murmur quietly to the frightened bird, finally managing to toss the blanket over the maimed creature, moving in quickly to secure it's wings so it wouldn't hurt itself any more than it already was.
"We need to get it to that vet, Chief." Jim said, trying to calm the frightened bird. "It's in shock, lost quite a bit of blood. I don't know if they can save it."
The two sheriff's deputies were placing the handcuffed suspect into their patrol car. The senior officer asked one final question before getting back into the patrol car. "You folks will testify, won't you?"
"You can bet on it. Jim growled. Glaring at the prisoner. Simon gently guided the angry Sentinel back to his car. Jim, for a change, opted for the back seat, unwilling to give up his burden. The injured eagle was making soft chirping noises, as though seeking reassurance from this human. Jim carefully uncovered the battered creature's head, making sure his handling of the poor thing hadn't started it bleeding again. Blair turned in the front seat to ask him a question, but forgot all about it when he saw the damage to the bird's face.
"Oh, man. Why would anyone leave it to suffer like this? For that matter, how could anyone just kill something for fun? I don't understand." Turning back to the front, unwilling to look any more, sickened by what he had seen.
"It's a sick world we live in, Sandburg." Simon said, softly. "We get to see a lot of it, as cops. Usually, cruelty to animals is just the forerunner of worse crimes against people. That isn't to say that I condone animal cruelty, I find it to be just as abhorrent as you do." He could feel the younger man's distress, as well as the distress Jim was feeling trying to comfort the injured bird. "Jim, how's it doing?"
"Well, it isn't fighting me." He had allowed the wrapping of blanket to slip down, freeing the animal's wings. But it sat, quietly. No struggling, no battering with it's wings. Jim was absently stroking its back. Murmuring softly, almost inaudibly. The eagle tilted it's ravaged head, listening to him. Making soft, nesting noises in response to the soothing rumble of the man's voice.
By the time they got back to the bar, the vet had arrived, as the waitress had called him after they left. He came up to the car to take a look, as soon as they pulled in.
"I'm Dr. Vanderhook. My office is just a couple of blocks away, if you'd give me a ride, I can take a look on the way."
"Sure thing." Simon said. Waiting for the man to get in, then following his directions to the vet clinic. The doctor gave a quick, cursory look at the bird, noting the hideous damage, doubting his abilities to save the once magnificent creature. He was amazed at how well the bird behaved for Jim. How it just sat on his arm, gripping only hard enough to stay up on his arm. How it allowed the human to stroke its back.
Once at the clinic, he had a better chance to observe the bird. He had a perch for it to cling to, It chirped its concern as Jim guided its feet to the perch and then moved away. The trio from Cascade decided to wait for the vet's decision, they stood, silently watching as the doctor gave the bird a thorough examination.
"What's the prognosis, Doc?" Jim asked, when the exam was finished.
"Well, the blindness is permanent, the beak's badly damaged. It's a shame, really. She was a fine specimen of a young, healthy Bald Eagle, until that son-of-a-bitch shot her." He shook his head in sorrow.
"Bald Eagle?" Simon asked, surprised. "But it doesn't have a white head." Confused.
"That's because she's still a juvenile. Bald Eagles don't get their distinctive white heads and tail feathers until they're five years old. This one's about two, you can see a few white feathers coming in on her neck, here." He pointed to the white spots on the bird's neck. "She'd continue getting more white feathers as she matured, but that's not going to be possible, I'm afraid."
"Why?" Blair asked, suddenly concerned. "You can help her, can't you?"
"Well, she's blind, that means she'd have to be kept in captivity, and the damage to her beak, well, I think it would be kinder to put her down."
"But she wants to live." Jim muttered, dismayed. "Just look at her. She's quiet, letting you handle her. Surely that should mean something?" He gently reached out and stroked her back, receiving a soft, gentle series of chirps in response, as the eagle's head swung toward him, inquiringly.
The vet sighed. "Well, she is quite calm, I suppose...." He looked at the bird. "Well, the beak should grow back, fairly well. The base is still intact..." He paused, considering. "She is quite calm, isn't she?"
"Alive, she'd make a beautiful piece of evidence against the man who shot her." Simon pointed out. "And, aren't there agencies who take in wounded birds like this and take care of them? Use them in educational programs? Maybe she could do that? Even hurt, she's still beautiful, majestic...." He trailed off as the words to convince the vet ran out.
"Well...." The doctor reached out and gently stroked the bird's chest, eliciting a pleased chirp in response.
"Please? It would be a shame to let that guy win. Please?" Blair added his plea.
Jim just stared at the bird. One hand gently stroking the feathers, his index finger curling down, he started to scratch through the feathers on her neck, working his way carefully up the back of her head, receiving chirps of pleasure, as the bird arched her neck toward him, directing the scratching finger to her favorite spots.
"OK." The vet gave up. "She obviously is accepting of human contact. Hell, she's acting like a parrot, the way she's got you scratching her neck. I'll do my best. She's going to have to learn to eat hamburger, at the moment, though. Without her beak, she won't be able to tear her food." His three visitors beamed at him, pleased with his decision. Blushing, a bit at their reaction, he fussed around the bird. "I'll have to find someplace to keep her, she won't do well in a cage..."
"Why don't you just leave her on the perch?" Blair asked. "You could keep her almost anywhere. Once word gets out, everyone's going to want to see her."
"That might not be such a good idea, Blair." Simon said, shaking his head as he pulled out a cigar to chew on. "Don't forget, these are the people who are going to be on the jury in this case. If they see the bird now, it might taint the jury pool."
"It's also not a good idea for her to have that much stress. It's going to be touch and go, anyway, just from her injuries. I'm still not convinced that she can survive, but I'm going to try." The doctor added as he gently began cleaning the bird's wounds.
"Well, at least you're willing to give her a chance." Simon lauded, "I suppose if we hadn't been here, you'd have put her to sleep."
"Well, probably. But she's very calm. That's really the determining factor. She's letting herself be handled, without fighting. That attitude will go a long way in our ability to help her." He looked at the three men, "If you'll excuse me, I need to take care of our patient, it isn't going to be very pretty, so..."
"Oh, of course." Simon replied. Turning, he placed a hand on a shoulder of each of his men, gently pushing them toward the door.
"Can we come and visit her?" Blair asked, just before Simon could push him through the door.
"Of course. Come back tomorrow or the next day. She'll be looking better by then, I promise."
They returned to the bar to finally have their dinner. They were all subdued in light of the events. They were all silent, each alone with their thoughts about the events of the evening. Trying to work through their feelings about the atrocious act against a protected species, the national symbol. Each man drawing comfort from the presence of the others, not needing words to comfort and soothe.
They ate almost automatically, not noticing what they ate, not tasting anything. Barely aware of the presence of one another, lost in their musings and dealing with their feelings about what had happened. All secretly worried about the bird's chances of survival. Knowing that, even if she lived, she would be dependent on people for the rest of her approximately fifty year life expectancy.
"I wonder if she'll miss being able to fly." Blair murmured, as they sat over their coffee, after dinner. The other two men looked at him. "Well, she'll never be able to fly again, never be able to mate or raise a family. Maybe it would have been better to put her to sleep." Searching his friend's faces for reassurance.
"She seemed to like people, Chief. I think she'll be happy not having to work so hard for a living." Seeing Blair's skeptical expression, he continued. "I mean, maybe her purpose is going to be to show people what an eagle looks like, and, and what horrible things people do to animals in the name of so-called 'sport'. She may just help save other birds and animals from her fate, by teaching people the consequences of their inconsiderate acts." Jim tried to explain, working through it as he spoke. "You've seen some of those groups, where they take in permanently injured or abused animals and take them around to schools and civic meetings and show what they are and how people have ruined their lives, how they can never be free again because of something people have done to them....It won't change what's happened to her, but it could still give her a purpose. Much better than being put to sleep and stuffed for an exhibit somewhere, don't you think?" Unsure as to whether he was making himself clear. Wishing, not for the first time, that he had Blair's ability to communicate.
"I guess." Blair replied, his brow furrowed, as he considered Jim's words.
"Most animals are just happy to be alive and fed. Even wild ones. Hell, people, too." Simon added. "If she can heal, I don't think she'll be too unhappy. The vet will make sure she gets to go someplace where she'll get the care and attention she needs. Even if it's only to be an exhibit for the next fifty years or so. She's alive, she'll be cared for, she'll have plenty of attention, maybe even find a mate..."
"That's just it, Simon. She can't ever find a mate. Eagles mate for life. They mate thousands of feet above the ground, plummeting toward the earth, only to separate a few hundred feet above the ground." Blair explained.
"No, but she might find a companion. Another permanently injured eagle. So she won't be alone." Jim agreed with his captain. "We don't know. She can't tell us what she wants. All we can do is help her to get the best care possible. Then, we just hope for the best."
Silently, the three drove back to the cabin. Finishing their trip subdued. They had two more days of fishing, after which it would be time to return home and get back to their normal lives.
The fishing stayed exceptional. They again caught their limits of nice, big salmon. On Sunday, as they prepared to return to Cascade, Blair asked:
"Would it be OK if we stopped to see the eagle on our way home?" Uncertain. Jim looked at his partner, reading the need in the smaller man's eyes. He turned to their other friend, cocked his head in question, after all, Simon was driving.
"I don't see why not. It sounds like a plan to me." He agreed. When Blair's smile lit the room, the two older men smiled in return. Jim finished loading their gear into Simon's trunk. They had packed their mostly frozen catch in ice for the trip home. After one last check of the cabin, they were ready to go.
They arrived at the vet's office. Jim noticed a Fish and Game truck parked out front and pointed it out to the others. They walked into the office. The receptionist was just coming back out from the examination room. She looked up at them, recognizing them on sight as the men who were responsible for their currently most popular patient. She smiled at them.
"Hi. You're the cops who caught Greg Dean, aren't you?"
"Yes. We were wondering how the bird was doing." Simon spoke for them.
"She's doing quite well. She's eating, now, and is starting to use her ears to make up for her lost sight. She's really friendly. She is having a little trouble with food, yet, but as her beak grows back, that should get easier for her."
"Her beak will grow back?" Jim asked, surprised.
"Oh, yes. Birds beaks grow constantly, like our fingernails, in fact it's a similar process. Since none of the beak-generating areas were severely damaged, we hope she'll make a complete recovery." She smiled at them. "Would you like to see her?"
"Yes, please." Blair said.
Her damaged eyes were bandaged, her ravaged beak had been trimmed, allowing her to be able to eat very small morsels of food. The vet's assistant was using a pair of forceps to place tiny bites of ground meat on the back of the bird's tongue, where she could swallow it. It was a long, painstaking process.
Jim stepped up close to the bird, who pulled away from the tidbit she was being offered to turn in his direction, cocking her head and making an interrogative noise.
"Hi, baby. How you doin'?" His voice soft, his hand reaching out to gently stroke the bird. She ruffled her feathers and brought her head down to touch his hand, bumping it as a dog might when asking to be petted. Jim chuckled softly, carefully scratching the feathers at the base of the bird's head. The vet tech was surprised.
"Wow. She must like you a lot. She hasn't accepted any of us that well, yet."
"Well, I was the one who picked her up. I guess she remembers me." Pleased.
"What do eagles usually eat?" Blair asked.
"Oh, rabbits, mice, snakes, gophers, small animals, fish." She smiled. "They even scavenge. They prefer fresh caught, though. I think that's why she doesn't really like the hamburger. Probably too much fat, wrong texture, or something. At least she's eating today. We had to give her an IV last night."
"Fish?" Simon said. He looked at his companions, a question in his eyes. Jim smiled and nodded. Blair broke into a big grin and turned and went out.
He returned just a few minutes later with one of the enormous salmon they had caught that morning. It was nearly twenty pounds, and beautiful. He carefully unwrapped the fish and, with his pocket knife, filleted one side of it. He then carefully sliced off a small piece, which he handed to his partner. Jim took the small sliver of salmon and offered it to the bird, careful not to bump it's injured beak or head. Apparently, her injuries had not affected her sense of smell or taste. She swallowed the piece whole. Then begged for more.
"Well. Smart bird. I'd rather eat fresh salmon than hamburger myself." The vet tech said. Laughing at the bird's actions. She had spread her wings a bit, tilted her head back and gaped open her mouth, like a baby bird begging from it's parents. Jim just smiled, feeding one slender strip of salmon after another to the ravenous raptor.
"Hey. Not my finger. It won't go down. Wait a minute, sweetheart. There's plenty more. Here." Now using both hands to feed the eagle. Simon shook his head, chuckling.
"Jim, you're starting to look like a frazzled mama bird faced with a ravenous cuckoo in its nest."
"Well, she's hungry." Jim replied.
"I think she just likes the salmon." Blair piped up. Slicing the fillet into small strips as quickly as he could, barely able to keep up with his partner.
"Wait, hold on a minute, guys. You really do not want to overfeed her. She's likely to..." Too late, the warning. The bird abruptly regurgitated the last several pieces of fish she had gobbled down. Right on the front of Jim's Jacket.
"Oh, man." Blair started giggling. Simon took one look at Jim's shocked expression and started chuckling, himself. Jim looked from one of his friends to the other, finally giving in and laughing, as well.
"OK. I can take a hint. No more food for the ungrateful bird." Shaking his head and stepping back to remove his jacket.
"I'm sorry. I was just a little too late with the warning. I was just so happy to see her taking an interest in food, that I didn't think about the consequences of letting her overeat. Here, give me that. I'll clean it off." Taking Jim's jacket from his hands, she slipped out.
Leaning close to the bird, Jim growled at it, "That is no way to treat the guy who carried you to safety. You're an ungrateful wretch, do you know that?" Smiling, in spite of the words. His friends just kept laughing.
When Dr. Jacobs came in, he was surprised to find his patient fluttering her wings, not in distress, but in contentment. "Well, Terri did say you'd come to see how she was doing. But I have to tell you, she's doing better at this moment than she has since she arrived. She must like you." He spotted the salmon. "You gave up that beautiful salmon for her?" Surprised.
"Well, yeah. It was caught this morning, we've got plenty, and we figured that she might like some, too. Your assistant mentioned that they eat fish?" Blair said.
"Yes. They're quite adept at snagging fish from the rivers, especially when the salmon are running. I'm sure she'll be grateful for it. Since it's what she'd be eating now, anyway, it's seems to be stimulating her appetite. We just have to be careful not to overfeed her."
"Uh, yeah. We noticed." Blair stifled a chuckle, glancing sideways at his partner, who was blushing slightly.
"Your assistant said she didn't want to eat yesterday?"
"No, I think it was more due to the residual effects of the anesthesia, and the initial reaction to the antibiotics, than anything else. We gave her an IV primarily to prevent dehydration. She's been a little hesitant about trying to eat, but, as you no doubt noticed, she willingly accepted the salmon. I have to tell you, I was feeling a little discouraged about her chances. The fact that she ate to excess is actually a good thing. It means that she's willing to work with us. I'd say her chances of survival just doubled, possibly tripled. I'm glad you came to see her. I was just talking to the game warden. He was hoping to talk to you before you left, would you mind?"
"Not a problem." Simon agreed. The three men followed the vet, Jim rather reluctantly leaving the injured eagle after one last soft ruffling of her feathers, which rewarded him with a contented chirp.
The game warden was grateful for their intervention with the bird. He'd been trying for several years to get something on Greg Dean, but no one had ever been willing to testify, before. He took down all the information he needed to get in touch with them, for when the trial came, promising to keep them informed about the eagle, as well.
"Thanks. I wish it hadn't happened, but I'm glad you were there to rescue her, even if she has to be kept in captivity, it's still better than what that s.o.b. had planned for her."
"You're welcome." Simon spoke for them all. "It isn't exactly the sort of thing we could just let go, if you know what I mean?"
"Yeah. Once a cop, always a cop. Even on vacation." He stood up. "Well, I've got everything I need. I'll be talking to you later. If we're lucky, Dean'll be smart enough to just plead guilty. That bird is going to be a great witness against him. Along with your testimonies, of course." He smiled, shook hands with each of them and left.
"Jim, you want to see the bird again before we go?" Simon asked. Recognizing how much his friend had bonded with the injured bird.
"No. I'd be too tempted to want to take her home with us, and I could never give her the care she's going to need for the next fifty years, or so." He managed to smile.
Blair stayed close to his partner, offering support for his friend. They left without speaking to anyone else; climbed in Simon's car and drove home.
They were surprised that they had to testify. Fortunately, the bartender and his waitress were also willing to attest to the fact that Greg Dean had been in bragging and Jim simply came up and asked questions and expressed an interest in seeing the mutilated bird. When the photographs of the maimed creature were shown to the jury, it didn't take very long for them to make up their minds. When the bird, herself, was brought in as evidence, her beak still badly misshapen, but growing, she seemed to recognize her attacker, she started to struggle, her sightless eyes focused on the defendant, screeching her displeasure. The bird's handler was unequal to the task of controlling her, so Jim, without thinking, approached, speaking softly. She froze, mid-beat of her wings, cocked her head, turned toward him and made a soft, chirping noise, questioning, settling her wings back down and fluttering her feathers, inviting him to pet her.
"Easy, sweetheart. It's OK. He's not going to hurt you again. I promise, baby. Shhh. It's OK." Gently stroking the bird's neck and head, soothing the agitation away. The entire court was surprised that he was so easily able to subdue the eagle. Once she was calm, she was entered as evidence.
"I still think her reaction to Dean was what convinced the jury." Blair insisted, as they drove back to Cascade. "I mean, she picked him out; blind and maimed, she picked him out and reacted. That was really cool."
"I thought her reaction to Jim was a bit more spectacular. I mean, it's been almost six months, and she still remembered him. So, Jim. Was that a Sentinel thing, or just a Jim thing?" Simon asked.
"I don't know, Simon. I honestly don't know. Did either of you hear what's going to happen to her now?" Slumped down in the seat, his head back against the headrest, eyes closed, trying to force himself to relax.
"I didn't hear anything." Simon admitted.
"I heard that they were going to send her to some rehab facility down in California. Where she'll also be taken out to schools and such to teach kids what can happen when hunters are careless. She's going to be fine, Jim." Blair was concerned. He'd never seen his friend this upset over anything like this, before. But, then again, he'd never seen Jim's reaction to animal cruelty, before, either. He suddenly realized that Jim was treating the eagle the same way he treated any other helpless being, the same way he treated a child, or Blair himself. As understanding came, he knew how to help. He leaned forward in the back seat, reaching over and gently grasping Jim's shoulders. He began a soft, gentle massage and felt the tension leaving the larger man.
"It's OK, Jim. She's going to be just fine. We did the best anyone could have done. There was no way we could prevent what happened, but we did everything possible to fix what we could. Greg Dean is in jail for a really long time, because you cared, because we cared. No, her life won't be what it might have been, but it's going to be the best possible under the circumstances. If she can go to that rehab place and keep just one other animal from being hurt, it's worth it, man. But she's going to keep a lot more than one from being hurt like she was. She's got a great presence, man. She's going to have a good life." He kept his voice soft and low, his 'guide' voice.
"Just not the life she was supposed to have, the one she deserved to have." There was a trace of bitterness in Jim's voice.
"It's better than dead, Jim." Simon insisted. "That would have been the other alternative for her."
Jim sighed and straightened in his seat. "Yeah. I suppose so."
"This was a no-win situation, man." Blair murmured. "The only good thing to come out of this is that Greg Dean is never going to be able to have another gun. Hurting that bird was a Federal offense, man. There is no way he's ever going to be able to do anything to hurt another animal until he's too old to be able to shoot straight." His hands were still rubbing Jim's neck and shoulders. "We just have to accept that the eagle is going to make the best of a bad deal. At least she'll be cared for and won't have to worry about being mistreated again. That's all we can hope for, man. There isn't any more we can do."
"No. There isn't, Jim. Listen to your partner. He's telling it to you straight. You have to get past this. Get back on track. Please, Jim." Simon was worried about his subordinate, his friend. "We need you now, Jim. She doesn't need you any more. She's being taken care of. We need...I need you back on track, with us. Please, Jim."
Jim sighed again. "I hear you, Simon, Chief. You're both right. I just wish..."
"If wishes were horses, we'd all starve to death trying to feed them." Blair interjected, softly.
Jim chuckled. "You're right. I'm going to be OK, guys. Really."
"I'm going to hold you to that promise, Detective." Simon said in his best no-nonsense Captain's voice.
"Yes, Sir." Jim finally found his smile again. He reached up with one hand and patted one of his friend's hands where it lay on his shoulder, much of the tension leaving him. "You think, maybe, we can go and visit her some time?"
Simon came to a sudden, startling realization. For all of Sandburg's obvious emotionalism; for all of Jim's demonstrated stoicism, the detective was far more affected by the incident than he would have thought possible. He couldn't hide the delighted smile. Blair noticed.
"What's so funny, Simon?" He asked, concerned.
"Jim. Big, tough, military, no-nonsense, Mr. I-don't-need-anybody-or-anything-Ellison. The man who can glare holes in the best made up alibi...."
Blair laughed, while Jim just looked on in puzzled amusement, "You're point being, Simon?" Blair chuckled.
"Well, it's all a lie. The man is pure mush. Nothing but mush. That tough-as-nails exterior hides a heart full of mush."
"You just figured that out?" Blair laughed. "Man, some detective you are. I had him pegged a long time ago."
"Do you mind? I'm sitting right here." A mock irritated Jim replied, sitting up straight, stifling a smile.
"Wait a minute, what do you mean you had him pegged a long time ago?" Simon demanded of the grinning Blair.
"Well, sure. He's the kind of guy who adopts strays. He feeds any dog in the park, even if it means going hungry, himself, man."
"Yeah. Like stray anthropologists." Jim growled, trying to hide his amusement.
"Well, yeah. I guess." Blair agreed.
"Why wasn't I aware of this?" Simon blustered, having a little trouble maintaining his lane position while laughing.
"Lack of observation skills?" Blair teased. Smiling as he watched Jim shake off his melancholy over the plight of the eagle.
"Nah. Lack of insight." Jim added, in a teasing tone of voice.
"Now wait a minute..." Simon blustered.
"How did you say he made captain, Jim? Blackmail, was it?"
"Nah. That would have called for some good detective skills."
"Now hold it right there!" Simon tried to interrupt the joking going on at his expense. "I..."
"You're right, Jim. He just must have been the best choice, but what does that say for the rest of the detectives on the force?"
"Well, I wasn't eligible at the time, so you could be right, or, maybe he did someone a favor?"
"That's enough!" Simon bellowed, then caught Sandburg's wink and realized the real purpose behind the new game and change of subject. Jim was smiling. Jim was laughing. Jim was accepting the eagle's fate. Jim was back with them. No longer stressing over what he had no control over. He sighed. "All right. Fine. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and caught the Chief of Police in flagrante delicato." Grinning.
"Ooh. It was blackmail." Blair chuckled.
"Hey, white boy. That's extortion to you." Laughing.
"You know, you two could do a pretty good stand up routine, you know that?" Jim said, laughing.
"With him?" Blair exclaimed. "No way, man. Never work."
"What do you mean, it wouldn't work? Why not?"
"You're just not funny, Simon."
"I can do funny."
"No, you can't." Jim and Blair chorused, breaking down in helpless laughter.
"I can. Hey. Quit that. I can so, do funny." Simon protested, pretending to be miffed at their amusement, but secretly pleased to see his best detective and good friend coming back. "I have a great sense of humor." He insisted. Wait...
"No, you don't." Blair laughed.
"Of course I do. I put up with the two of you." Smug smile as the other two men realized how Blair had walked into that one with his eyes wide open. Jim was nearly hysterical with laughter.
"Good one, Simon." Tears streaming down his face as he laughed helplessly.
"Hey, he was including you in that crack, Jim." Blair groused, smiling broadly.
"I know." Jim howled. "And he's right." Unable to look at either of his companions.
"Should I be insulted?" Blair asked Simon.
"Probably. But who cares?" Catching the younger man's eyes in the rear-view mirror. "Is your seatbelt on?"
"Yes, dad. I'm just leaning into it real hard."
"Don't make me pull over to check on you." Simon said with a threatening growl, smiling as he said it. Causing Jim to laugh even harder.
"See?" Blair leaned back and showed that his seatbelt was properly fastened.
"Well, sit back, anyway. I can't see through your head in my rear-view." He smiled, as he said it, though.
"That's because my head's full of brains."
"Yeah. Gray, mushy ones." Simon smiled, glancing over at the slowly-getting-it-under-control Jim.
"Oh, please. Enough. I laugh any more and I'm liable to have an accident here, guys."
"Don't you dare!"
"Um, how about a rest stop, Simon? There's food available at the next offramp...." Blair suggested.
With a glance at the still laughing Jim, Simon agreed.
With the vote at two to one, they ended up at WonderBurger. Blair groused about the grease, ordering a chicken sandwich, while both of his larger companions ordered double WonderCheeseburgers with the works and warned their smaller companion that it was still a long walk home.
"Fine. Clog up your arteries. See if I care." Blair muttered softly, receiving a gentle slap to the back of his head from his partner for his comment.
With the depression broken, the rest of the trip was peaceful and uneventful. Just three friends going home after a long trip. With laughter and pleasure in one another's company. Preparing to return to their normal day-to-day lives. Better for the experience, closer, more in tune with one another. Each man grateful for the presence of the other two, in friendship, in work, in their lives.
Wow. This went on much longer than I thought it would. It just didn't seem to want to come to a conclusion. Sunshine does, indeed, live in California. Her willingness to allow people to handle her was paramount in her survival. Her beak did grow back and she's magnificent. She's between three and four, now, and about half of her tail is now white, and her head mottled brown and white. She actually does chirp. It doesn't seem to bother her that she's no longer free, or that she's blind. She seems content with her lot in life. I'm glad that the man who did that to her is spending many years in a federal prison. Personally, I doubt if it's enough. But I'm not so bloodthirsty as to wish him grievous bodily harm. I'm sure he's sorry...that he got caught. I actually worked with such a man, once. He would come in on Monday mornings, bragging on what he had killed over the weekend. Mostly, it was birds, like magpies and seagulls. But he would also shoot anything that moved. One day, he came in telling about the beaver he'd killed. I asked what he'd done with the meat, and he said he'd left it on the bank to rot, taking only the pelt. I told him the next time, to bring the meat to me, as I had friends who would be more than happy to have it. He did have a hunting license, and there are no laws protecting what he was shooting, but it still annoyed me. I only believe in killing for food or to protect livestock or people. OK. I'm through ranting, now.
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