Wolfpup gave me a challenge. Wild dogs and a chest cold. I love dares. Of course, the way I answer them is up to me, right? I decided to have a little fun with this one. OK, more than a little fun. I would actually like to own a Wolf/Whippet mix. I've done so well with my Dingo/whippet that I'd like to move up in the world. Actually, I'd like to clone Raffles. I know that I'm going to have to make that decision soon. Maybe I can keep her around until next winter, but I don't think so. She's starting to have more and more trouble getting around. Of course, it doesn't help that the German Shepherd puppy and the Wolfish/Huskyish/Shepherdish puppy like to play, using her as a chair or launching platform as the need arises. She's fifteen and I love her dearly. (I've had her since the day before Memorial Day, 1983) At least I have a lot of fond memories and some great photos of her. R.I.Eaton The usual disclaimers apply. I don't own them, I don't get any money for this, I have to wait anxiously for strokes via email. The more email I get (and lately, the more challenges I receive), the more I write. I might even run out of stories, some day. Nah. At least, I hope not. :)
The Road Taken
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He was running. He didn't recognize the area, but he had to keep going. He could hear the baying of hounds behind him; knew they were chasing him. Suddenly, he tripped, falling and skidding forward on the grass. He scrambled to his feet and turned, placing his back to a nearby tree, facing the pack of wild dogs that now had him cornered.
The pack leader was an enormous Great Dane, solid black. The dog's head nearly level with his own. Right beside it was an almost as big mongrel, looked like a cross between a Greyhound and a wolf, actually. It had blue eyes that seemed to look right through him. The other members of the pack were a motley collection. There was a large Staffordshire Bull Terrier that seemed friendly, but it was too far away to do anything. There were Pit Bulls and Rottweilers and terriers, even a poodle. The rest of the pack was made up of mongrels. All of them barking and snarling at him. He didn't dare move, for fear of provoking an attack. The enormous Great Dane sniffed at his face, then turned and circled the tree he had taken refuge against. The gigantic animal sat beside him, ignoring him. Next, the huge Wolfdog stood on his hind legs, placing his front paws on the motionless man, the animal thoroughly checked him out, apparently deciding he was acceptable, the beast tapped him on the side of the head before he dropped down and sat beside him. The same sort of thing happened with several other dogs. The Staffordshire Terrier, a Rottweiler and a German Shepherd. The terrier dropping down to lie at his feet, the other two going off to romp and play. The rest of the pack continued to bark at him, and if he moved, snap at him. He stood there for hours. Most of the pack worrying at him, his nerves frazzled.
He was tired. He was sore and aching from maintaining only one position for so long. He was afraid. Afraid to move, afraid of not moving. All he wanted was to go home and rest. He shifted his weight to one foot. One of the mongrels snapped at him. The big Wolfdog opened his eyes and growled at the audacious mutt. The other dog backed down, immediately. The bigger animal stood up and stretched. Then the beast looked him in the eye. Unlike most dogs, this one had no difficulty maintaining eye contact. He thought he could see a question in the beast's eyes.
"I want to go home. Will you help me?" he was surprised at how weak his voice sounded. The animal seemed to grin, took his hand in it's mouth and led him through the pack of vicious animals. The other four semi-friendly dogs rose and surrounded him in a protective phalanx. When the rest of the pack started barking, snarling, and howling their anger at being kept from their prey, the one holding his hand glared at the smaller animals.
There was something familiar about that glare, if only he could remember. He was amazed by the number of dogs. There had to be close to a hundred of them, all wanting a piece of him. Even his escorts seemed to want something from him, all but the one holding his hand. He reached over with his free hand and tentatively stroked the animal's head. The blue eyes looked up at him, laughter in their depths. He smiled at the beast, who finally released his hand, turning to look at the road they had reached. It seemed to be some sort of crossroads, but each road was crowded with the wild dogs. All but one. The one where the sort of friendly dogs stood, waiting for him to decide. There were a couple of roads that looked interesting, the one with the Basset Hound and some Beagles, for example. But they were all fat, lazy animals. The one with the group of terriers, but they kept snapping at one another. He looked at all his options. Finally, he looked at the Wolfdog. The animal sat and regarded him, the blue eyes patient, almost hopeful. The beast cocked his head to one side, as though asking a question. Then the beast stood and joined his friends. Watching, waiting for him to decide. Showing nothing but polite interest.
He took another look around, deciding what to do. Finally following the big dogs who had intimidated him, but not offered to harm him. The big Wolfdog jumped around him in pleased acceptance of his decision. Romping and dashing back and forth, crouching down in the universal canine invitation to play. The Great Dane sighed in resignation and responded briefly, then knocked the exuberant animal down, reminding the animal of his position as pack leader. There was almost a fight, but at the last moment, the Wolfdog capitulated, granting superiority to the larger animal, although he didn't show subservience. It was more a case of granting leadership than being forced to accept it.
They traveled for a long way, he was really tired, and finally complained.
"I'm tired. I'm hungry and thirsty and I need to rest." The Great Dane turned and looked at him, then sighed and moved a short distance from the road and sat down. Indicating that it was time to take a rest. The Wolfdog led him to a nearby stream, where he found fresh, clean water and bushes loaded with ripe, juicy berries. He stuffed himself, drinking his fill, as well. Satisfied, he returned to his chosen pack. He settled down, finding himself using the Wolfdog as a pillow, he fell asleep.
He awoke from his strange dream coughing. Once started, he couldn't seem to stop, it simply continued until he was seeing little flashes of light behind his closed eyelids. He heard his roommate's worried trip down the stairs to check on him.
The racking cough brought him instantly awake. He listened to his roommate down in his room. The cough sounded like he might just collapse a lung, if he didn't get it under control soon. He slid from his nice, comfortable bed and trotted down the stairs to investigate.
He opened the door to Blair's bedroom and realized that the kid had a raging fever along with the killer cough. He moved to the bed, crouching down and reaching out to feel the sweat-dampened forehead, gently stroking the damp curls back.
"Chief? Blair? You OK, buddy?" The watery blue eyes opened tiredly, the painful rasp of air filling and emptying from congested lungs punctuating the obvious exhaustion of the sick young man. "Why didn't you tell me you were sick? You sound awful."
"'M OK." Was the raspy reply. "Jus' a cold. Nothin' to worry 'bout. 'M fine." He couldn't keep his eyes open. Then the coughing started again, leaving him nearly unconscious from the uncontrollable spasms.
"Sure, you are, Chief. I think it's time to take you in for a doctor to take a look." Checking and deciding that his partner's temperature wasn't really very high, no more that a hundred and one; not really serious enough for a trip to the hospital.
"No, Jim. Please. No doctor. No hospital. I'm OK, really. It's just a cold, man. I'll be just fine in a day or two." Pleading. He couldn't afford to be sick, he was still paying for his last hospital stay. He struggled to sit up and try to demonstrate how well he was feeling. He almost made it, until the coughing started again, leaving him hanging weakly onto his Blessed Protector's arm for support.
"Uh huh. You're just fine. Perfectly healthy. I'm going to call the pharmacy, see what they suggest. You don't have much of a fever, but you might be looking at pneumonia or at the least, bronchitis. Here, let me get you a couple more pillows, so you can sleep more upright, help control the fluid in your lungs." He left, climbing the stairs back to his own room for more pillows. Returning and bolstering his friend up until he was sitting almost vertical, but with enough support to lean his head back to sleep.
"You don't have to do this, Jim." But it did feel better. He was having an easier time breathing; and there wasn't quite the urge to cough so much.
"Yeah. I know. You want some of that tea of yours, what is it Ecanacia? Or something like that?"
"Lemon and honey, it's good for a cough. It's made with lemon juice, like lemonade, only you use honey to sweeten it and you heat it."
"Do we have any lemons?"
"Just use the lemon juice concentrate in the refrigerator."
"You got it. I'm still going to call the pharmacy, see what they suggest."
Blair knew better than to argue with Jim in mother hen mode. He wearily settled against the pillows and closed his eyes, dozing almost immediately. Jim just smiled at him, listening to the slightly better sound of his breathing.
A call to the all night pharmacy, a quick trip out to pick up some over the counter cough medicine and herbal cures for coughs and colds, then a stop at the 24-hour grocery store for some fresh lemons and the ingredients for home made chicken soup, and Jim was ready for Blair's cold.
Back at the loft, he set the shopping bags on the counter, then checked on his roommate, pleased to find him asleep, although his breathing was still pretty raspy. Leaving the sick young man asleep, he returned to the kitchen and began his preparations.
Blair awoke to the smell of...chicken soup. He opened his eyes to see Jim, in that ugly apron, with a tray. Looking for a safe place to set it down. Blair pushed some of his books away, clearing his lap for the tray.
"You didn't have to go to all this trouble, man." But secretly pleased that he had. He inhaled deeply of the steam rising from the soup, then again from the cup of hot lemon and honey. He smiled, bleary-eyed, up at Jim. "But thanks."
"Eat. I got you a bunch of those herbal cure things you like so much." He watched closely as Blair sampled first the hot lemon mixture and then the soup. "So, did I get it right?"
"Oh, yeah. Did you go out and buy fresh lemons?" Looking suspiciously at the cup.
"I was out anyway, so, yeah. I figured fresh was better."
"Mmmmm. You made the soup from scratch, too." He suddenly looked in the bowl, shocked. He turned his startled eyes up to Jim, "Matzoh balls? You made matzoh balls?" Astonished, especially when Jim blushed.
"Uh, yeah. I thought maybe...well, uh," He shrugged, embarrassed.
Blair cut one of the dumplings in half and popped it in his mouth. His eyes closed in blissful delight. "Oh, man. This is good. Where did you find them?"
"Promotional aisle. Recipe's on the box. I just followed the directions." He shrugged again, a little uncertain as to his motives. Well, a little uncertain about sharing his motives. His Guide/Shaman/Partner/Brother/Friend was sick and he wanted to help him feel better. Simple.
"This is so cool, man." Blair hadn't felt well enough to want to eat, but with the discovery of all the extra work Jim had gone to, not to mention the wonderful smell and taste, he tucked in and ate, quickly polishing off the bowl. Settling back with a contented sigh, he looked up at the bemused Sentinel.
"Nothing." Jim smirked.
"It is not 'nothing', man. What are you grinning about?"
"Just thinking, Chief. It takes so little to, I don't know, make you happy, I suppose. It's just soup and some anti-cough concoction. It's no big deal."
Blair looked into his friend's eyes. "Yeah. It is a big deal. Even my mom didn't go to the trouble you go to for me. Oh, sure, she'd give me chicken soup when I was sick, made from a can, not fresh. It's the little extras, man. You always go the extra mile, you know?" Watching, as his Blessed Protector blushed. "Thank you. For being there when I need you. For doing everything you do for me, rescuing me, saving my life on a fairly regular basis. Making homemade Chicken soup complete with Matzoh balls. It makes me feel pretty good, just knowing that you care. About me, man. I...well, you know what I'm trying to say, don't you?"
Jim smiled, "Yeah. Me too. I know we don't usually talk about it, but, yeah." He reached over and mussed the curls on the top of Blair's head, then let his hand slide down the still slightly feverish cheek. "Now, take all your medicine, get some more sleep and feel better in the morning. It's getting late, and I, at least have to go to work tomorrow. Making soup at ten at night is not my idea of how to spend my sleeping hours." But he smiled even as he chastised.
Blair looked at the clock. "Oh, man. It's almost one in the morning. I'm sorry, Jim. I..."
"Go to sleep, Blair. You can talk again in the morning." He picked up the tray, turned to the door and switched off the overhead light on his way out.
"Good night, Jim."
He was back at the crossroads. No, it was a different crossroads. Once again, he was accompanied by the pack of large, vicious-looking dogs. Once again, there were different packs on each road. He again examined his choices. Even though some of the roads looked easier, some of the packs made up of smaller dogs, he again joined the pack he had started with. Even though the animals frightened him, somehow he still felt safe in their company.
This road was a little different. Each member of the pack had his own lane, sometimes walking together, more often apart. He stayed with the Wolfdog, taking comfort in the animal's acceptance of him. Frequently, they found themselves sharing their piece of road with one or another of the others, most often the Great Dane, slightly less often with the Staffordshire Terrier, occasionally with the Rottweiler or the German Shepherd. He was pleased that his path never veered or parted from his Wolfdog. When had he started thinking of the animal as his? He wasn't sure, but it felt right, somehow. They traveled on for a long time, he lost track of how many miles he thought they might have covered. Every once in a while, other animals would appear. Mostly other wild dogs. Many of them large and menacing. At those times, his pack (when had he started thinking himself a part of the dog pack?) would attack the offending animals and drive them off. Other animals, they would care for and send on their way when they were able to go on their own. It was a most puzzling and confusing situation. He couldn't remember anything from before. Not even his own name. All that mattered was that he was where he felt he belonged, with his Wolfdog as companion and the rest of the pack as friends.
The Staffordshire Terrier was limping. They all stopped while he worried at his paw. They traveled on quite some distance, the poor animal's limp getting worse. The animal started falling behind; farther and farther.
He stopped, with a hand on his Wolfdog's shoulder. The beast looked at him with concern in its blue eyes, waiting. He turned back to the limping Terrier, and held out his hand for the injured paw. The others had stopped, turning back to watch, but none made a move to help.
Hesitantly, the distressed animal offered his injured paw. He looked, feeling carefully, finding a large thorn imbedded between two of the poor creature's toes. Speaking softly to calm the animal, he gently grasped the visible portion of the thorn, and pulled out the impossibly long instrument of torture. The stricken beast moaned in pained relief at the removal of the agonizing splinter. The animal lifted grateful eyes to him, reaching up to lick his hand, tail wagging slightly in gratitude. He stood and returned to the rest of the pack, the Terrier following him, his limp diminishing with every step. They continued their journey. The other members welcoming back their friend; looking at him differently, somehow, since he'd helped one of them. The Wolfdog smiled at him and licked his hand, tail waving slowly in approval.
They were traveling through a dark forest, with frequent influxes of animals in need of subduing. He was watching one such fight, when he was attacked from behind. He yelled in terror, only to be dragged off the road and into the bushes. He looked up into the face of an angry bear, certain he was about to die, when the Wolfdog suddenly appeared, snarling and snapping at the larger animal.
The fight was horrendous. He watched in terrified fascination as the much smaller animal fought the bear. He was shocked when the Wolfdog finally managed to grasp the throat of his adversary and kill it. When he had finished, his rescuer crawled over to lay its battered body at his feet. He knelt down beside the exhausted animal and checked him for injuries. There were cuts and bruises, but no apparent broken bones. Gently, he lifted his rescuer and returned to the road, where the rest of the pack was waiting for them. Each animal came to check out their comrade, then they followed the Great Dane to a small clearing nearby, to rest and recover from their ordeals.
The first thing upon awakening, the Sentinel stretched out his hearing to check on his Guide. Satisfied that the younger man was still sleeping, and that his breathing didn't sound quite as congested as he had the night before. He slid out of bed and made his way downstairs. He started the coffee, then headed for the bathroom to shower and get ready for his day.
He awoke to the smell of...chamomile tea. Mmmmm. He took a deep breath, and started coughing. He couldn't seem to catch his breath, he was spasming so hard. He felt an arm go around his back and a hand grasping his shoulder, another hand holding his head. His hands reached to grab onto the shirt covering the chest belonging to the arms that were holding him. Grasping, trying to stay conscious as the coughs racked his body. Finally, barely holding onto consciousness, the spasms stopped. He took a shallow breath, fearful of starting it all over again. Gasping a little. Still clinging to the support of his best friend.
"Easy. Easy, there, Chief." Holding his suddenly sweat-soaked friend, keeping him from collapsing from the excruciating spasms, supporting and comforting. Finally, the coughing stopped. He kept hold of his friend, waiting for him to start breathing more normally before he would be willing to let go.
It took several minutes for Blair to regain control. "Oh, man. What was that?" He hoarsely asked, having abraded his vocal cords with his coughing.
"I think they call it a bronchial cough, Chief. Are you sure you don't need a doctor?" He knew better than to use the word 'want' and doctor in the same sentence. Hell, neither one of them ever wanted a doctor. At least not past 'slap a bandage on it and call it done.' "No. Honest, I'll be fine. Really." His throat hurt.
Jim pulled back a little, looking at his roommate. "Uh huh. Sure you will. I think you need some antibiotics. Kick this thing out of your system." He let go with one hand and picked up the tray he'd been on his way with when Blair had started coughing. "Here." Handing the cup of tea to him.
"Oh, thanks, man." He inhaled cautiously, eyes closed, savoring the smell of the tea. Allowing the aroma to soothe his frazzled nerves. He took a sip, held the liquid in his mouth a moment, then swallowed. He smiled, his eyes crinkling as they opened. "That is so good. Thanks, Jim."
"You're welcome. I have to go in to the station. If you need me, call. Otherwise, stay in bed, get some rest. DO NOT go out. I don't want you to start coughing and cause an accident, or anything. OK?"
"Yes, mom." Blair smiled. "I'm already feeling a lot better." Seeing his Blessed Protector's skeptical expression, he hurried on. "I am, honest. I don't even feel like..." He started coughing, again. Not nearly as severely as when he first woke up, but still pretty bad.
"Uh huh. Sure you're feeling better. Look, you want me to call in I can..."
"No! No. That really isn't necessary, man. Honest. I'll just stay here and veg. Maybe get some reading done, or some work on my notes. I don't have any classes today, and I don't really have to go anywhere, so I'll be good. You just go on in to the station. I'll be fine. Really."
Jim's expression was more than just skeptical. But he just shrugged, unwilling to push it. "OK. You need anything, and I mean anything, you call me. Understand?"
Blair smiled, warmed by his friend's concern. "Yes, sir, boss-man, sir." He didn't bother to duck Jim's mock-threat to hit him. He just grinned wider. "I'll be fine. If I need anything and I mean anything, I'll call you. OK? I promise."
"Well,...OK. Just take it easy, OK?"
"Yes, mom. I'll..."
"Never mind." Jim chuckled. "I get the picture. I'm out of here." With that, he took Blair's empty tray to the kitchen, grabbed his jacket and headed out the door to go to work.
Blair snuggled back down on the stack of pillows, warm, snuggly, comfortable. He sighed and dozed back off to sleep.
He awoke to the sound of his pack's barking. He opened his eyes to see that they were surrounded by a larger pack of dogs, that looked like they wanted to have them for lunch. He stood, the Wolfdog moving to place himself between him and the threat. He placed his hand on his friend's shoulder, he wasn't sure why, only that it seemed like the right thing to do. The animal cast him a quick glance and a grin, then refocused his attention to the matter at hand.
The Dane was growling at the apparent leader of the opposing pack. Regal, he just showed his teeth and emitted a low, rumbling growl that seemed to come from his back toes. He glared into the eyes of the other animal, as though daring it to do something. The Wolfdog suddenly turned and attacked an animal that had darted in to attack from behind. The Dane never flinched from the distraction, and the leader of the other pack suddenly found himself being dangled from the mighty jaws of the majestic creature. It struggled, futilely in the massive jaws, quickly deciding to hang limp and whimpering its discomfort and fear. The huge Dane shook the offender once, just as a caution, and dropped it. The animal lowered its head, tucked its tail and ran away, his pack following. Leaving behind the one who had thought to attack on the sly, dead at the Wolfdog's feet.
The Great Dane looked at his pack, his puzzled eyes seemed to look through him, at first; then looked at the Wolfdog, and back. Something obviously didn't make sense to the animal, but he chose to accept his presence. Turning, the great beast led the way, once again, down the trail.
The ringing of the phone dragged him out of a sound sleep. He groggily lifted his head, his bleary eyes managed to find the phone and his hand reached out to lift the receiver to his head.
"'Lo?" His voice croaked from disuse.
"Just calling to see how you're feeling. I take it I woke you?" Jim's voice sounding a little apologetic about waking him.
"'S OK, man. What time is it?" Yawning.
"A little after two. You getting plenty of rest and drinking lots of fluids?"
"Um, lots of rest, yeah. I fell asleep just after you left and just woke up when you called, so I haven't been drinking a lot of stuff. I am feeling better, though." Then he started coughing. It wasn't nearly as severe as it had been before, lasting less than a minute.
"Well, you sound better, anyway." He could hear the grin in Jim's voice.
"I do feel better, man. Honest. How're things going there?" Readjusting the pillows and settling back down into them.
"Nothing too serious. Just a series of robberies." He paused for a moment before continuing, "I hope you're feeling better soon, I could really use you in going over the crime scenes. There have been six robberies over the past week, and there's something there, but I can't seem to pinpoint it." Careful to keep his voice neutral.
Blair felt a little guilty. He wasn't that sick. He could go down now and... "I'm feeling pretty good, man. Why don't I come down there and we can go check it out, OK?"
"No, that's all right. I'll manage." He didn't want his partner to get worse, just because he felt guilty about not being able to be there to help him every single time.
"No, Jim. Really. I am feeling pretty good. I..."
"No, Chief. It's OK. We can wait until..."
"Jim." Both men became silent. After a minute, Blair started speaking again. "Jim, why don't you come get me? Then we can go to the scenes, I'll help you figure out what is setting you off; then you'll go catch the bad guys, and I'll make notes while waiting for you in the truck. Then we can go to the station, write the reports and come home. If I have any trouble, you'll be right there. OK? You can't put your investigation on hold, just because I have a cold, man. OK?"
Jim was silent for a long enough time for Blair to start to worry about a zone out. Finally, "You sure, Chief? I don't want you to get worse. It's raining pretty hard." Giving him every chance to change his mind.
"It'll be OK, man. Just come and get me and we can get this over with, OK?" Blair could hear his enormous sigh.
"Yeah. OK. I'll be there in about half an hour. Dress warmly, and eat and drink something, OK?" He was grateful that Blair was willing to help him when he was so sick, but he didn't want him to overdo it or take any risks.
Blair chuckled, pleased that it didn't turn into a cough. "Yes, mom." But he was pleased about his partner's concern and added. "Thanks, Jim. I'll be ready. Is there any of that soup left?"
"Oh, yeah. I must have made more than a gallon. Otherwise it would have been chicken stew."
Blair chuckled. "Great. Nothing like Jewish Penicillin when you're sick. See you when you get here."
"Dress warmly." Was Jim's final admonition before hanging up.
Blair set the soup to heat as he took a shower and shaved. He dished himself up a bowl and sat down to eat it, still in his towel. It was even better for having set overnight. He kept inhaling the steam, wondering, once again, what it would be like to have Jim's senses to savor the wonderful concoction. Finishing his meal and sipping at a glass of cranberry juice, he set his dishes in the sink, rinsed them and went to his room to dress.
He grinned in amusement when Jim came in and checked to make sure he had eaten and drunk something. "I followed all your instructions, mom. I..." He choked when Jim suddenly grabbed him from behind and gave him a noogie. "Aw, man. Don't mess with the hair!" Laughing and struggling. Unfortunately, he started coughing again. Jim immediately let him go and held his shoulders as the paroxysm shook the smaller man's frame.
"Oh, hell, Chief. I'm sorry." He murmured as the fit finally ceased, leaving Blair weak and wheezing. "Maybe you should just stay here after all..."
"No. Just give me a minute." He took several cautious deep breaths, finally pushing Jim away and standing on his own. "I'm OK. I've just got to be a little more careful here. No laughing, no tickling, no more noogies. Got that?" He looked up at the worried countenance of his friend and smiled. "It's all right, Jim. See? I'm fine." He coughed once, just to clear his lungs, and grabbed his coat. "Let's go. What's going on?"
He didn't give Jim a chance to force him to stay home. He was out the door and halfway down the stairs before Jim got the door locked and started after him.
"Six robberies. Six different kinds of businesses. None of them with more that a couple of grand on the premises. They take cash and any other valuables they can find. Each one lasts about fifteen minutes. Then they disappear. No one's been hurt, yet. There's something....I just can't seem to connect with it..."
"OK. Could it be a smell? Something you've seen?"
Jim sighed. "I don't know. That's why I need you. To talk me through it, OK?"
"Oh. Sure. We can do that." Realizing that his Sentinel was upset, probably over the earlier coughing jag, possibly because he was feeling guilty about dragging his sick partner out into the storm to help him. Most likely, both.
They arrived at the most recent victim. It was, of all things, a music store. It was in a small strip mall, with a grocery store and several other small businesses. Blair noticed an herbalist just a few doors down from the music store, and decided to check it out when they finished, as it wasn't one of which he had been aware.
He grinned at the name of the music store, Music to Soothe the Savage Beast. Glancing at Jim, who was obviously not in any mood for levity. Once inside, Jim showed him the layout and described what had happened. Blair concentrated, then it hit him.
"You said there were three of them, right?"
"They came in separately, each wandered around the place for a while, until the rest of the patrons had left."
"Why didn't anyone notice this?" He picked up a rubber glove from one of the stands of CDs." Jim groaned.
"Careful with that, Chief. There could be prints inside." Blair grinned and dropped the item in the evidence bag Jim produced. Before closing the bag, Jim sniffed it.
"That was it. The latex and powder. This is a surgical glove, chief. With that special lotion that they use at the hospital, the stuff that turns to a powder when exposed to air."
"You smelled it at all of the crime scenes?"
"Yeah. I bet if we go back, we'll find some more of these." Disgusted that the forensics people had missed the gloves, annoyed with himself that he hadn't recognized the smell before.
"Cool. You call it in. I'm going over to that herbalist. It's a new one. Maybe see what they have for my cough. You going to be OK?"
"Yeah. You go ahead. I'll catch up in a bit." Pulling out his cell phone and punching the speed dial for his boss.
"Captain? Jim. We found a surgical glove at the latest scene..."
The herbalist's was a well-lit, bright and cheery place. Designed to put the customers at ease. He was busily checking out the various forms of herbs, their combinations and recommendations, when he heard an, unfortunately, familiar noise. He looked quickly around, realized he wasn't visible to whomever had the gun, and looked for a hiding place. He found it in an empty space between aisles, where the end cap had been removed and left an opening to the space between the two shelving units. He quickly ducked into the space, praying they wouldn't notice him there. He pulled out his cell phone and punched the speed dial for Jim's cell.
"Jim" Blair was barely whispering, afraid that someone might hear him. He could hear the three robbers as they worked, threatening the clerk, forcing her to open the cash register and emptying out the drawer. He abruptly realized that they were thinking about molesting the clerk.
"Those robbers are in here, man. They didn't see me. I found a hiding place, but they're thinking about hurting the lady clerk." He knew that he didn't need to be any more explicit.
"On my way. You stay put. Keep quiet, and don't do anything. Understand?"
"Understood. Jim? Please hurry. They're pushing the clerk around."
"I'm on it."
Jim speed dialed the station and requested backup. Simon and the rest of Major Crime were on their way, as were several patrol units. Jim checked out the herbalist's shop from the parking lot. Unfortunately, he couldn't see anything.
Blair could feel the pressure building up; the unrelenting urge to cough. He knew that if he did, they would find him for sure. He kept swallowing, trying to ease the pressure, knowing that, eventually, he was going to lose control and cough.
Jim tuned his hearing to the little shop. Listening to the three robbers as they threatened and manhandled the young clerk. Jaw clenching at their threats to the girl. Worried, when he heard Sandburg's wheezing, trying to keep from coughing. The first of the patrol cars arrived. He motioned them over, leaned in the window and filled them in on what was going on.
His cell phone rang again, as the patrolmen set up a perimeter.
"Jim? They're getting pretty rough with her, I need to cough, and if something doesn't happen real quick, she's going to get hurt."
"Hang on, Chief. I..." He heard the woman scream, even without the telephone. "Blair! Just throw something at them to distract them. I'll be right there!"
He turned off the phone, shouted to the patrolmen and the just arriving men from Major Crimes, and sprinted for the shop. The other officers sprinted after him, unable to catch up.
Blair crept from his hiding place. He knew he had to do something. Jim had told him to throw something to distract them... He spotted the perfect thing on a nearby shelf. Smiling, he cracked the seal on the bottle, loosened the cap, stood, took careful aim, and threw the bottle over toward the three robbers. He heard the satisfying sound of the bottle hitting flesh, breaking open and scattering its contents over the three men. They started coughing, violently, and Blair smiled in satisfaction. He moved toward the back of the shop, crept cautiously around one of the shelving units, and straight into the fourth member of the group of robbers, who, fortunately, wasn't paying a lot of attention to what might be happening around him. His attention focused on the other three members of his gang, and their reaction to what was happening. Blair found one of the shop's fire extinguishers, removed it from its rack and snuck up on the fourth member of the gang, who was busy removing a latex glove and hiding it on a shelf. He never noticed Blair, sneaking up on him. Never realized what was about to happen, when Blair raised the fire extinguisher and brought it crashing down on the back of his head.
Jim burst through the shop doors, gun drawn, with a dozen patrolmen right behind him. He raced toward the back of the shop, where the three robbers were coughing, sneezing, and sputtering. Trying to wipe their eyes.
"FREEZE! CASCADE POLICE!" He could hear Blair nearby, suffering another bout of coughing. The other officers spread out to search for any more suspects. The other members of Major Crimes came in just then, ready for anything. Jim held the three suspects at gun point, while they were read their rights, searched, and handcuffed. As soon as he was sure they were under control, he turned to find his partner, only to realize that the uniformed men had made a serious mistake.
They had decided that Blair was one of the robbers. Someone had thrown him up against a display, knocking the shelves down. Then they roughed him up some more, shoving him around and then knocking his feet out from under him, causing him to hit his head on someone's night stick on his way down. Blair was in the throes of another coughing fit, and they were beating him up. Luckily, the other members of his squad got there first. Brown snagged the one with the night stick, took it from him and hit him in the stomach with it.
"That's our man." He growled into the ear of the gasping cop. Rafe had grabbed one who was about to kick the fallen man, spun him around and then stuck out his foot to trip him, causing him to fall, striking his head on one of the displays in the process.
"Oops. Sorry." Was his insincere comment. The other two officers stepped back in shock. Joel went to his knees beside the helpless anthropologist, gently lifting him, holding him until he got the coughing under control, the perspiration soaking through his clothes, gasping for breath, nearly unconscious from the paroxysm.
"Easy, Blair. It's OK, now. Easy." Then Jim was beside them. Taking his partner in his arms, supporting, checking his injuries.
"I'm OK, guys. Honest. Just started coughing again. I'll be fine." Still gasping for air.
"Sure you are, Chief." Jim murmured. "However, you're going to the hospital for certain, now." He was careful not to look at the four uniforms who had started to beat up his partner. Knowing that if he did, he might not be able to control himself. He'd told them his partner was inside the shop. There was no excuse for their actions.
Captain Banks was glaring at the four patrolmen. He'd seen the entire incident. Blair was in the midst of his coughing fit, doubled over; and these four had treated him as though he were a suspect resisting arrest. He was not happy. He was going to see to it that they weren't even as happy as he was over this incident.
"He was helpless, trying to cough up a lung, and you push him around, hit him a few times, knock him down and hit him with a night stick. You have a great deal of explaining to do. Were you aware that Ellison's partner was in the store?"
"I informed them of that fact, Captain." Jim growled, still supporting his partner, having helped him to his feet. Blair was watching the scene, a bemused expression on his face.
"Can you stand on your own, Chief?" Solicitous of his friend.
Blair nodded, finally able to breathe without coughing or gasping. "I'm OK. Thanks. Why did they do that?" Lifting puzzled eyes to the men of Major Crimes. His eyes suddenly widened as he noticed the way everyone was standing. Simon, tall and imposing. Glaring at the offenders, cigar clamped in his teeth. Brown and Rafe, slightly back and to the side, Joel next to Blair, and Jim. Jim rather obviously placing himself between Blair and his assailants. He couldn't help himself, he started to chuckle.
"What's wrong, Sandburg?" The captain asked, concerned by the inappropriate reaction.
Gasping again, Blair stifled his amusement. "Nothing, sir. I just figured out the dream I've been having lately. It just all of a sudden makes sense. His eyes filling with tears of laughter from trying to stifle his amusement.
"What dream is that, Chief?" Jim asked, curious.
"Uh, maybe later?" Not wanting to offend any of them, especially in front of strangers.
"At the game?" Joel suggested, mildly. Blair blushed, but agreed.
The uniformed sergeant arrived just then, and the Captain took her aside and read her the riot act about the conduct of the four uniformed men. First, she blushed in embarrassment, then turned pale in anger, glaring at the four. They all stood quietly, waiting. Jim had his head cocked to one side, mouth slightly open in his classic listening pose. Blair whispered to him, "What are they saying?"
"This isn't the first complaint against these four. But this is the first time that another cop has caught them at it. I don't think we're going to have to worry about them anymore, Chief."
He smiled down at his partner. "By the way, how did you manage to take down that fourth robber?"
"I hit him over the head with a fire extinguisher." The other members of Major Crimes heard him, and broke into laughter along with Jim.
"Good job, Chief. Good job."
Friday night. Poker night. Since Blair was still a little under the weather, the game was being held at the loft. The guys were having a good time, as usual.
"So, did that guy ever explain why he left a surgical glove at each scene?" Blair asked.
"Yeah. He wanted to 'sign his work'." Simon shook his head. "Of course, I had a long talk to the forensics people for missing such an obvious clue, I mean, he didn't even bother to hide the darned things." Disgusted.
"He also didn't know that we can get prints out of them." Joel added. "It made connecting them to the other robberies a lot easier."
"You were going to explain what was so funny about those four uniforms beating you up." Rafe reminded him.
Blair's face fell. "Oh, yeah. I was going to tell you about the dream I'd been having." It was obvious to everyone that he didn't really want to tell them.
Jim looked at him, eyebrows raised in question. "Embarrassing, Chief?"
"So?" Brown urged. "C'mon, give."
Jim watched, realizing that a major obfuscation was about to occur. He hid his grin, knowing that he'd get the truth later.
"It was just that when you guys all came to my rescue, it reminded me of a dream where I was being threatened and then A bunch of guys came and protected me. I just hadn't realized that it was you guys. That's all." He was carefully watching for their reactions. They laughed and continued the game. He glanced at Jim, noticing the question in his eyes. Knowing he wasn't going to get away with it, at least not with him. He smiled weakly and picked up his cards.
Washing the dishes after everyone had gone, Blair didn't have long to wait.
"So, Chief. Why don't you tell me about this dream you've been having?"
"It's embarrassing, man."
"Uh huh. C'mon. Give." Curious. He watched his partner until the younger man finally met his eyes.
"I was being chased by a pack of dogs. When I fell, they surrounded me. Some of them protected me from the rest."
"Yeah. Wild dogs." His voice barely audible, even to Sentinel ears. Jim watched, curiously.
"Dogs. What kind of dogs?"
"Uh, well, Simon was this enormous Great Dane, Brown was a Rottweiler, Rafe was a German Shepherd, and Joel was a Staffordshire Terrier."
"Uh huh. And what was I?"
"A Lurcher. Half Greyhound, half Wolf. With blue eyes. Huge..."
"Oh." Nonplused. "Lurcher?"
"Uh, yeah. That's what they call anything crossed with a Greyhound or Whippet." Watching for the censure he was sure was coming.
"Oh." He thought about it. "Simon's a Great Dane, huh?"
"Uh huh." Nearly cringing.
"I can see that. He's big enough."
"And has the presence, and the elegance." Blair added, getting into the comparison a bit.
"Joel's a...what did you say? A Staffordshire Terrier? Isn't that like a Pit Bull?"
"Yeah, but it's a purer breed. Less viscious. Like the dog on the Little Rascals."
"OK, I can see that. He's certainly as loyal as a Pit Bull." He smiled, getting into the game. They finished in the kitchen and moved with their beers to the couch. "Brown as a Rottweiler. Yeah, I can see that, too. And Rafe as a German Shepherd." He was smiling now. "Now, explain to me why I'm a mongrel?"
Blair's eyes widened in horror. "Oh, no, man. That's not what it meant. A Lurcher is a great dog. They're good family pets and..."
"Family pet?" Growling.
"Uh, back in the middle ages, only the aristocracy could own a sight hound, like a Greyhound, or Deerhound, or Wolfhound. The commoners would entice the noble's well bred dogs with the local females, and the puppies were called Lurchers. Probably from the way they'd use them to poach. They were nearly silent - so are you. They were big - so are you. They were intensely loyal - so are you. They can track using sight and scent - so can you. They...
"OK. OK." Laughing now, "I'm a big mongrel." He sobered a bit, smiling softly at his friend. "I can't deny the comparison. So, what kind of dog are you?" Smirking at the double entendre.
"Me? Uh, well, I guess I'd have to be some kind of terrier, I guess. Maybe a Jack Russel, or..."
"Terrier? Yeah, I can see that. But it would have to be an Irish Terrier." Grinning.
"Because it's a little dog that thinks it's a big dog. More guts than brains, never knows when to quit. Won't back down, even when facing impossible odds." The smile turning gentle. "Sound familiar?"
Blushing, "Yeah, I guess it does." He looked up, meeting Jim's amused blue eyes. "In the dreams, you were always between me and danger, except once, when everyone was busy in a big dogfight with some other dogs, I was attacked by a bear, and you came for me, killed the bear." He blushed even deeper. "There were several times when everyone surrounded me to keep me from being attacked by other wild dogs. It was like I was a part of the pack, I felt safe. We kept coming on these crossroads, I always had to choose. The first time, there were a couple of roads that looked interesting, but on one of them, were a bunch of terriers that kept snapping and fighting with each other, the other one I was tempted to take had Basset Hounds and Beagles, but they were all fat and lazy. Then there was the road you guys were on. Of all the groups, yours was the only one where I felt safe." There was an expression in his eyes, pleading for understanding.
"Deciding between academia and police work, Chief?" He asked softly.
Blair looked surprised. "I...I guess. Maybe. That would explain the two I didn't follow, the staid, laid back world of teaching and the manic world of research." He smiled.
"Pretty deep, Chief."
"Yeah. I guess it is." He looked deep into the eyes of his partner. "I think I was working out the decisions I've made. Staying with you. With the research. The guys accepting me into your...pack." He smiled at the analogy. Looking hopefully up at his friend.
"So. You've decided to stay?" He was met with Blair's blazing smile.
"Oh, yeah. If it's OK with you?" Suddenly uncertain.
"Yeah. It's OK with me. Come on, kid. It's late. I'm ready for some sleep."
Not trying to stifle his yawn, Blair replied, "Me, too. Uh, Jim?"
"Uh, don't tell the guys, OK?" Not wanting to have to try to explain it to them, or take the terminal ribbing he would be subjected to.
"Not a problem, Chief."
He was at another crossroads. The pack was watching him. He never even looked at the other options. He simply smiled and ran to join his pack, who welcomed him into their midst.
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