OK, I just finished my second episode for Black Panther Productions' Cascade Virtual Tales. YAYYY!!!!! Of course, that means I still need to proof it before I send it off to the 'publishers', but that can wait until I get home. After all, I'm on vacation. You're not supposed to work on a vacation, right? Well, maybe not. I've been here a week and I borrowed my niece's laptop to finish the episode. It's rather an interesting situation. This week, I've learned to use a MAC to read my email (good thing, too) and to maneuver the laptop to do what I need it to. I may just have to get me one of these things, someday. After I get a regular computer all my own, that is.
Anyway, the episode doesn't count toward the goal, it was just a commitment that needed to be taken care of before I went back to the eleven stories I need to finish within the next six weeks... Anyway, I'm sitting here in the living room at my sister's house, the lights are out, the fish tank is lit... it's a reef tank, and they have some really beautiful fish, mostly damsels, along with a tang, and a few other interesting fish, my favorite is the puffer. They've had him for several years and he's actually rather cute. His eyes are like black opals, with greens and blues and reds reflecting from the depths. Although, his right eye is now blind, as he became ill some time ago, causing the eye to swell up and it left him half blind. They thought they were going to lose him. Their mouths look like they're smiling.
Anyway, I'm not quite sure what this story is going to be about, as I haven't even thought about it, yet. So...
They still don't belong to anyone other than their original owners, to whom I am grateful for not suing me over their use.
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With no warning, the truck swerved, nearly out of control, the driver wrestling with the wheel, trying to keep the vehicle upright and in its own lane. Pressing hard on the brakes, he managed to bring the truck to a safe stop on the median strip of the highway.
"You OK there, Chief?" Jim Ellison asked, panting a bit from the scare.
"Yeah, man. What was that, anyway? A blowout?"
"Yeah. And I just got these tires, too." Jim grumbled as he opened his door and clambered out to investigate the damage. "Shit. The rim's bent, too." Muttering under his breath, he circled to the back of the truck and got the spare out from its place under the bed of the truck. While he wrestled with that, his partner, Blair Sandburg, worked at getting the jack and tire iron out from their place behind the seat of the old truck. Crawling across the seat and out the Driver's side door in order to avoid the traffic on the highway, he quickly set up the jack and began to lift the truck up. After just a few notches on the jack, however, he stopped in order to loosen the lug nuts on the damaged wheel. When they were loose enough, Blair began to again depress the tire-iron handle of the jack, continuing to raise the enormous truck. Jim, with his spare in hand, joined him and gently nudged him out of the way as he set the tire down.
"Let me get that."
"I can do it, Jim," Blair began, only to find himself gently pushed out of the way.
"I know you can, Chief. But you're already coming down with a cold and it's going to start to rain within a few more minutes," his words seemed to bring the first of the drops spattering down on them. "Go on and get back in the cab, Sandburg, I'll take care of this." Blair reluctantly climbed back in the truck, muttering about 'big, overprotective, bullying, Sentinels...'
"I heard that, Sandburg, and I think you'd rather I was overprotective than uncaring," Jim replied as he bent down and began to quickly jack the truck up.
"Yeah, you're right," Blair agreed, "Thanks, Jim." Jim merely grunted his reply as he wrestled the damaged tire off and set it aside. Lifting the spare, he settled it in place, then replaced the lug-nuts, tightening them before lowering the truck down until the wheel came in contact with the pavement, at which time he again tightened the lug-nuts, just to make sure they were good and tight. He finished just as the rain started coming down harder. Quickly tossing the damaged wheel into the truck bed, he tossed the jack and the tire iron into the truck, not bothering with trying to put it away, Jim scrambled into the driver's seat. The timing was perfect, as the skies opened up and the rain began to pour down in torrents, quickly obliterating the windshield.
"Man. Just in time, Jim," Blair said, shaking his head in surprise. Shivering, he burrowed deeper into his coat, anxiously waiting until the motor was started and the heater could kick in.
"I need to take a closer look at that tire. I think there might have been something wrong with it. There are less than five hundred miles on those tires," Jim complained.
"So, maybe you got a lemon, man."
Finally making it home, the two men scampered across the street, trying to avoid getting any wetter than was absolutely necessary. Unfortunately, there was no real way to avoid getting drenched, as hard as the rain was coming down. Once inside, they hung their soaked coats on their hooks.
"Why don't you get a hot shower while I get the fire and dinner started. By the time you're warmed up, so should the rest of the loft?" Jim offered.
"Thanks, Jim," Blair replied, sniffling. "Just let me get some sweats and I'll do just that."
While the younger man used up all the hot water, Jim got the fire started in the wood stove, then started chopping vegetables for soup. Pulling out a couple of cans of chicken broth, he set the pot on the stove, dumped the vegetables in, poured the broth over them and turned the fire on. While he waited for the soup to come to a boil, he headed up to his bedroom to dry off and change.
Coming back down the stairs, dressed in warm sweats, Jim glanced toward the bathroom, where the door was finally opening to emit an enormous cloud of steam and in the midst of it, one damp, curly-haired, young man who was obviously coming down with a serious cold.
"You want some tea, Chief?" Jim offered, heading back to the kitchen.
"Yes, please. The green tea," Blair requested.
"You want that other stuff, too? The zinc and the what-is-it?"
"The vitamin C with eucalyptus?" Blair asked, hopefully.
"Yeah, that stuff. I know we've got some." There were sounds of rummaging in the kitchen, "Yeah, here it is." He left the kitchen and brought the homeopathic remedies to his friend. "Here you go. You suck on these and I'll get the hot water started for your tea." Blair took the items and selecting one of each, unwrapped the tablets and popped them in his mouth.
"Ugh. Orange and eucalyptus. Yuck," Blair muttered.
"Hey, you bought them, so don't complain," Jim called back.
"Yeah, yeah. I know. I can still not like the combination, can't I?"
"Sure you can. I just hope it works."
"Yeah, me, too," Blair muttered softly, although he was well aware that his roommate could hear him.
"Do you want the vegetables moosh, or still a little crispy?" Jim asked from the kitchen where he had just put the teakettle on the fire and was stirring the soup.
"Uh Moosh, I guess. My throat's a little sore, so I don't think crisp will be a very good idea. What kind of vegetables did you use?"
"Rice, green beans, celery, onion, carrots, and the leftovers from the past few days, with a couple of cans of chicken broth."
"Oh, sounds good. Yeah, moosh is good. Besides, you need to let it cook long enough for the rice to cook."
"I used leftover rice, Blair. It's already cooked. Probably another fifteen minutes will get the veggies soft enough to not hurt your throat," Jim said.
"Oh, OK. Thanks, man."
Half an hour later, they sat down to their dinner. Jim kept a watchful eye on his friend, trying to determine just how sick he was going to get. As they finished, Jim gathered up their bowls and spoons. Carrying them to the kitchen, He called back, "You go ahead and just drink your tea, Chief. I'll take care of the kitchen."
"Thanks. I think I'll just take my tea and head for bed, if it's all right with you."
"Sounds good, Chief."
In the morning, the rain was still falling. The weather was heavy enough that neither man was willing to go outside without grave provocation. Fortunately, it was Sunday and they didn't have to go out unless they wanted to. Instead, they just made a quiet day of things, with Blair taking it easy and allowing his body to work through his cold.
The rain was still falling on Monday, with no sign of letting up. Many of the lower creeks were over their banks by then and it was starting to look like there would be some serious concern with the possibility of floods.
"You up to going in to the station?" Jim asked.
"Yeah. I'm pretty much over the cold, man. I'll be OK, just so long as I don't get a chill. I'm going to dress really warm and wear my rubber boots. I'll be fine, man."
"If you're sure "
"Yeah, I'm sure, oh Blessed Protector," Blair teased. "But we'd better get going if we're going to get there at all."
"So? Get your boots, Sandburg, I'm ready to go."
The drive in to the station was insane, between flooded streets and drivers who had seemingly forgotten how to drive in wet weather.
"Man, I thought for sure that one old car was going to cream us. I can't believe how people seem to forget that they need to slow down when the weather gets bad," Blair muttered, shaking his head.
"Hey, what do you expect, Chief? Three days ago, it was summer. We went for an entire month with no rain. They've gotten complaisant."
"Yeah, I know," Blair agreed, "But why do they do it?"
"To tell you the truth, I've never been able to figure that one out. It's just how it is."
Pulling into the station, they parked the truck and climbed out to head upstairs to Major Crime. Saying their good mornings to their colleagues as they made their way to their desks, where Jim quickly settled in while Blair grabbed their cups to go and wash them and fill them with coffee. As he was making his way back from the break room, he spotted Simon Banks, their captain, arriving.
"Hey, Simon. Great morning, if you're a fish," he called.
"Tell me about it. I nearly got stuck getting through the intersection by my house. The water's two and a half feet deep and my brakes got soaked. Good thing I know my streets, or I'd have barreled through like one guy I saw, you should have seen the wake he threw up, but it got his wires wet and he stalled out in the middle of it. I called it in, but I was already through and wasn't about to stop," the captain explained. "Did you and Jim have any trouble?"
"Just some people who forgot that it takes longer to stop and that with this much rain high speeds means you're going to hydroplane out of control, is all. No accidents or anything, though."
"Well, that's something to be grateful for, at least. How about you? On Friday you sounded like you were coming down with something. How are you feeling?" the tall captain asked in concern.
"I think we caught it in time. Jim kept me full of hot, homemade chicken and vegetable soup and all the green tea, eucalyptus, vitamin C, and zinc I could stomach as of Saturday night. The man has a serious mothering instinct going, you know?"
"Yeah. At least where you're concerned. Kind of nice, isn't it?" Simon was well aware of how different his detective's life had become since the longhaired academic had entered their lives.
Blushing, Blair replied, "Yeah, actually, it is." Smiling up at the older man, he added, "But don't let him know I said that!"
"Are you kidding? As long as you don't tell him I said what I did," Simon agreed.
"Too late, guys. I heard it all." Glittering, pale blue eyes pinned his partner in place, "Mothering?" he asked.
Pulling himself up to his full six-foot-four-inch, most intimidating posture, the captain replied for the younger man. "Yeah. Mothering. Want to make something of it?"
"Coming from his adoptive father? Nah," Jim replied, smirking. Simon nearly choked at the thought.
"Now wait just a minute, Jim. I'm no more..."
"Hey, Simon?" Joel Taggart called out, "You've got a call. Seems the Cascade River is going over its banks upstream and every available body is needed for sandbagging and rescue." The bulky former head of the bomb squad was pulling on his raincoat as he headed for the elevator. "I'm going downstairs to help put together some sandbagging equipment. Then I'll take the stuff down to the levee and start building. I'll have my cell on if anyone needs me," and with that, the man entered the elevator and was gone.
"Just what we need," Simon groused, moving quickly towards his office. Blair handed Jim his coffee and the pair followed their captain, knowing full well that they would soon be needed elsewhere.
There was a levee that had been built back in the forties to divert the mouth of the Cascade River a few hundred feet from its original location. The original reason was to provide a better harbor area for the surrounding warehouse area. Of course, over the years, many of the warehouses had fallen out of use and into disrepair. In fact, there were a lot of buildings that had simply been abandoned and were now frequently inhabited by scores of homeless people. There were a lot of people who didn't think that anyone should be concerned whether or not the area flooded, as there was very little economic impact should any of the old, abandoned warehouses be destroyed. However, there were still the homeless to consider. While many people strove to shore up the leaking levee, others went through the warehouses trying to roust out the squatters to move them to higher ground.
"Come on, Jim. I'm fine. I'm wearing thermals, jeans, heavy rubber boots, a T-shirt, a flannel shirt, and a sweater. Not to mention a jacket and a heavy raincoat. I'll be fine."
"Not until you put this on, too," Jim smirked as he held out his friend's ancient hunting cap, the one made of rabbit fur and that had earflaps.
"But you laugh at me when I wear that hat, man. What'll everyone else think?" Blair whined.
"They'll think that you're warm and dry. And that I'm the mother hen from hell, most likely," Jim replied, ruffling the shorter man's curls and placing the fur hat on Blair's head. "Now come on, we have people to find and get moved to shelters."
"Wait, Jim. Over there, I'm sure I saw something move," Blair called out, pointing through the windshield and the driving rain. Jim nodded and pulled the truck over; parking and turning off the engine.
"Stay here, I'll go check," Jim insisted. "I'll..."
"Jim, don't get out, man. Use your senses, you can tell if there are any people out there, if there are, then we can go and get them, OK? Come on, try listening. Filter out the sounds of the storm, can you hear any voices?"
"Yeah, Chief. It's a woman and maybe some kids." Jim looked over at his partner. "Come on, Sandburg. I think you may be able to help."
Jim wouldn't meet his eyes as he climbed from the truck. "Yeah. You won't scare them like I might. Let's go."
Once they had found the homeless family, Blair convinced them to let them call for transport to take them to a warm, dry, and most importantly, safe place to spend the night. Getting back in the truck after seeing them off to safety, the pair continued to search for other people to evacuate from the area.
Fourteen hours after they first headed out into the rain, they were called in. A second shift had begun the sandbagging operation on the levee and the local National Guard had been called in to assist, allowing those who had been on the front lines since early morning the opportunity to take a break and go home for some well-deserved and needed rest.
"Man, I can't believe this rain. Fourteen inches in three days and still coming down hard," Blair muttered as they pulled in at a grocery store to get some needed supplies on their way home.
"Yeah, I know. It usually takes a week or more for that much rain to fall. I wonder if Noah managed to finish the ark?" Jim said, jokingly.
"Not funny, man. If that levee goes, the entire old warehouse district will be under water and I, for one, would not like to try to get anywhere in town with that many buildings under water, you know?"
"Yeah, Chief. I know. Although I'm still more concerned with all the people I think we missed when we swept through. The only way to really find them all is to do a building by building foot search. Unfortunately, the city probably figures we've already wasted enough time on this 'little project'." There was disapproval in Jim's tone, which was not lost on his partner.
"So, how many do you think we found? Percentage-wise, that is?"
"Maybe a third. That old warehouse area is a rabbit warren when it comes to places for people to hide. On top of that, so many of those old buildings are so run down and decrepit that it simply isn't safe for anyone, and unfortunately, the homeless aren't considered worth risking anyone's life for."
Blair was surprised by the bitterness in his friend's voice. "Um, any particular reason this has you so upset, Jim?" Blair's voice was soft, not wanting his friend to clam up, as was his usual reaction to such prodding.
Jim cast a startled glance at Blair. His jaw spasmed and, for a moment, Blair thought that his friend wasn't going to answer him. Then, Jim sighed and looked away into the distance, "No one knows, but I think my mother's out there, somewhere."
Blair was shocked, "You think?! Don't you know? Why haven't you looked for her, man? She's your mother!" Blair turned on his friend. Jim looked around the nearly deserted grocery store, wanting to hush Blair to prevent anyone from hearing.
"Shhhh! I said I think my mother might be there. I'm not sure." There was a haunted look in Jim's eyes that calmed Blair down.
"Just as soon as we get home, you're going to tell me everything, man. Got it?"
"Yeah. Let's just get what we need and get out of here, OK?"
Not too surprising, but the grocery store was nearly out of milk, bread, and toilet paper. Fortunately, those were items that they didn't need. Instead, they stocked up on soups, crackers, vegetables and meat, knowing that the freezer compartment on their elderly refrigerator didn't hold very much, they settled for canned vegetables, even though Blair complained about the amounts of salt in them. At least he'd managed to convince Jim that the low-sodium-low-fat soups were just as good as the original varieties.
Carrying their purchases, they entered their loft home and, while Blair put the groceries away, Jim built a fire in the wood stove. Once the fire was burning satisfactorily, Jim entered the kitchen and prepared a fresh pot of coffee. Blair glanced at him, gauging his friend's mood. Pulling out the ingredients for a stir-fry, he asked, "Okay if I do a stir-fry for dinner? I know we haven't eaten since breakfast and that was at seven this morning. I know it's late, but we need to eat something and this will be done pretty quick, OK?" His voice was soft and as non-antagonistic as he could make it.
"Yeah, that sounds good. I'm starving."
"Good. So, while I'm fixing dinner, why don't you set the table and tell me about your mom?"
Jim froze for a moment, his body stiffening in resistance, then he seemed to fold in on himself, "All right," he murmured, barely audible. He gathered plates, cutlery and glasses for them and set the table, then he sat down, sighing and refusing to meet Blair's concerned gaze.
"When I first got back from Peru, I think I saw her. Just once. Her clothes were old and threadbare. It was pretty obvious that she didn't have much." He shook his head in wonder at the woman who had deserted her family back when he was a boy. "Thinking back on it, I think she knew about my senses. Maybe that was why she left... maybe that was why she never came to see me again." His voice was mournful, saddened by his loss, but unable to know how to fix it. "Anyway, back when I was in Vice, I spotted her a few times down in the old warehouse district, she obviously had someplace to live, since she wasn't dragging her belongings along with her, but still..."
"Did you ever approach her or try to talk to her?" Blair's soft tones asked, almost like Jim's own conscience had asked him so many times.
"Yeah, but I was never alone and couldn't exactly chase her, since she wasn't soliciting or anything like that," he admitted. "I haven't actually seen her since I left Vice, but I try to keep an eye out for the homeless in that area."
"Keep an eye out? How?" Blair sat down beside his friend, keeping one eye on their dinner and the rest of his attention on his friend.
"Father Julian. I don't think you know him. He's an old Priest who works down in the warehouse district. He tries to help them, but so many of them are beyond wanting any help..."
"Like your mom?" Blair's voice was soft, barely audible.
Jim glanced quickly at his friend, then back down, "Yeah. Like my," he had to pause to swallow hard, "Like my mother."
Blair glanced toward the stove, realizing he had to get up, or their dinner would burn. Rising, he gently lay a hand on one of his friend's slumped shoulders, squeezing gently in commiseration. "I've got to take care of dinner. Go on talking, I'm listening," he said as he made his way over to the stove and began stirring the meat and adding the vegetables.
Taking a deep breath, Jim continued, "Anyway, I've tried to track her down a time or two, but she's a real street person, now, and I've never been able to find her. I kept track today, so I know that she wasn't among those we sent to the shelters."
"Well, after dinner, do you want to go out and look some more?" Blair offered, bringing their dinner over to the table and filling their plates before returning the pan to the stove.
Jim looked up in surprise. "Sandburg, we've already worked fourteen hours today. It's after midnight and we have to be back at the station at eight. Do you really think that's a good idea?"
Blair looked Jim straight in the eyes, "Yeah. I do."
Jim seemed surprised, "Why?" he asked uncertainly.
"Because you need to know that you've done everything you can. If we have to call in tomorrow, I'm sure Simon will understand. Besides, if the levee breaks, we'll be needed."
"You don't have to..."
"I just volunteered, Jim. Don't knock it, OK?"
With a gentle smile, Jim replied, "OK."
They headed back out into the rain as soon as they finished eating, Jim deciding to leave the dishes 'til later. That in itself was enough to tell Blair how concerned his friend was. Searching the dark and flooded streets of the old warehouse district proved to be much easier than it had been earlier. Now, there weren't swarms of cops searching for and rousting out people. There were just the two of them, cruising the streets, Blair driving and Jim searching with his senses. Whenever they found someone, they'd approach and do their best to convince them to go to one of the shelters set up for the purpose. Most refused, but some agreed, so they spent a great deal of time ferrying people out of the danger zone to the Red Cross evacuation centers, where they were given a hot meal and a safe, warm, dry place to sleep.
It was nearly three a.m. when Jim suddenly heard the ominous rumble of the collapsing levee. "Get out of here, NOW!" he shouted frantically. Blair, already facing uphill, floored the accelerator, hoping to outrun the raging waters of the Cascade River as they returned to their original bed through the heart of the old warehouse district. They barely made it to high ground as the water inundated the low-lying area. Stopping to look back, Blair shuddered in horrified awe.
"Man, three seconds later and we'd have been in that, Jim," he murmured softly.
"Yeah. Now what? Should we go get a boat, or what?" Jim was in shock, knowing that he'd failed in his mission, but that he'd done the best he could.
"I think we need to head to the station, after one last sweep around the area. We might just get lucky and find someone else, you know?" Putting the truck in gear, Blair cautiously steered through the still rising waters around the edge of the newly flooded area.
They had to stop several times to pick up people who had managed to flee the rising waters. The only means of transport being in the bed of the truck, they crowded the dozen or so people they found into the back, driving slowly to try and avoid jostling them any more than necessary. Finally heading towards the shelters, Jim suddenly called for Blair to stop.
"What do you hear, Jim?"
"Wait here," Jim replied, opening the door and sliding to the ground. Blair watched anxiously as his friend waded out into the fast-moving water toward a rickety old abandoned building. As Jim disappeared inside, he began to nervously drum his gloved fingers on the steering wheel as he anxiously awaited Jim's reappearance.
After an interminable fifteen minutes, just as Blair was about to go after him, Jim reappeared, carrying two small children and leading several adults and teen-agers. Pulling open the door, he set the two silently shivering toddlers in the front seat, where the heater was blasting out warmth, then he turned and helped the rest of the group into the rear of the truck, hesitating over one elderly woman, speaking softly to her. Once everyone was safely ensconced in the truck, he climbed back in the cab and, after fastening the middle seatbelt around the two toddlers, fastened his own lapbelt and looked at Blair.
"Let's get these folks to the closest shelter, OK, Chief?"
"You got it," Blair agreed, putting the truck in gear and easing slowly down the street. "So, did you find her?" He cast an uncertain glance at the shivering man on the other side of the truck.
"Yeah, I did. She's in the back," he looked blindly off into the darkness, "She doesn't know me."
"Give her some time, man. Talk to her. Maybe..."
"Forget it, Chief. She doesn't remember me." Jim's tone indicated that he thought that maybe she didn't want to remember him.
"Give it a chance, Jim. Do you want to take her home with us?" Blair offered.
Jim looked at him in surprise, "Do you think that's such a good idea, Chief?"
"Hey, she's your mom. It's not as though we'd be leaving her there all alone, you know."
Jim shook his head. "I don't know. Maybe once we've got everyone settled down, I can try to talk to her again."
"You want me to be there?" Blair offered. He caught the grateful look his friend passed him.
"If you don't mind?"
"Not a problem, Jim," Blair said, reassuringly.
"Hey, any time, man. That's what friends do."
Arriving at the shelter some fifteen minutes later, they helped their passengers alight and escorted them into the gymnasium of the parochial school which had been set up for the purpose of providing shelter to those forced out of their homes due to the flooding. The church and the Salvation Army, however, were running this particular shelter. The refugees were greeted at the door with towels and blankets and offers of hot coffee and cocoa. Jim hovered over the woman who had given birth to him. Blair watched them surreptitiously, hoping for some sign that his friend's mother recognized him. Blair noticed that Mrs. Ellison seemed more afraid than confused, however. He decided to try and talk to her, himself. Approaching the pair, he smiled at the woman whom he could see must have been the mother of his friend. There was a strong family resemblance. Smiling, he touched Jim's arm.
"Hey, Jim? Why don't you see if they can spare us some hot cocoa? I'll find the lady a nice, warm place to settle down, OK?" Jim's grateful look was all it took. As Jim hurried to fetch the requested beverages, Blair gently took the former Mrs. Ellison's hand and led her over to a warm, quiet corner of the huge room.
"Hi. My name's Blair. What's your name?" he asked.
"Grace," came the hesitant answer.
"Grace, huh? I think that's my friend's mom's name. I'm sure he said her name was Grace. Oh, my friend's name is Jim, well, James, really, Ellison. He's a policeman."
The old woman looked up at him, surprise on her features. "Jimmy?" she whispered in surprise. Craning her neck to look back in the direction he had disappeared in, she tried to find the tall man, "My Jimmy?" There was hope in her eyes. "I thought he was lost in South America. William said he was dead. I... I don't understand."
Blair was shocked. She had spoken to William and hadn't known that her son had survived? Wait a minute, she had been in contact with William and no one had ever told Jim? Uh- oh. He could feel the storm that was going to ensue when Hurricane Jim found out and decided to ask his father why...
"Here you go," Jim said, handing out cups of hot cocoa. He stared avidly at his mother, a look of longing in his eyes. She took the cup and then looked up at him, closely examining his face. Finally, she took a sip of the sweet, warm liquid and with her free hand gently reached out to touch her son's arm, hesitantly, as if uncertain whether he was real.
"Blair, here says that you're Jimmy Ellison. Is that true?" her voice wavered slightly as she stared up into the face of her son.
"Yes, ma'am. My father's name is William." He held his breath as she examined him, her eyes searching for the child he had once been.
Shaking her head in wonder, she murmured, "Jimmy. My Jimmy." There was a hint of pride in the old voice. She stood up straighter and looked her son in the eyes. "Do you remember me?" she asked.
"Yes. I've seen you several times on the street, but I was never able to catch up with you. I tried," his voice rose, plaintively. His mother smiled.
"William said you died in South America. I thought..."
"Dad? You've spoken to him? When was that?" Jim's surprise colored his voice, making him sound harsh.
"Oh, the last time was... let me see... 1993, I believe. Yes, Spring, 1993. Why?"
Blair closed his eyes; this was not good. In Spring of 1993, Jim had been a policeman who had just transferred from Vice to Major Crime. His father had been well aware that his son was back, there was no excuse for letting Jim's mom not know...
Jim's jaw clenched. "I was here, Mom. I'm sorry. I didn't know how to get in touch with you." His voice was sad.
Grace looked up at her son, "After the divorce, I promised not to contact you. At least not after the year you turned eleven. That was the year Bud died. Do you remember Bud, Jimmy?"
"Yeah. I remember him, Mom. I wish..." He stopped. There was no use wishing. Too much time had been lost to ever make up. Still, she was here before him, now. Maybe there was still some hope of something developing between them. "Why did you leave us, Mom?" He had to know that much, at least.
"Because I couldn't bear your father's belittling any longer. I had no skills to find any kind of good paying job, and your father had all his friends, so he was able to get custody of you boys. I'm sorry. I would have liked to have been able to take care of you, but I just couldn't. I really am sorry..." her voice trailed off, remembering all the things that she had missed in her children's lives.
"I am, too." Jim replied, taking the fragile old woman's hand in his. "How are you doing? I mean, I know you live on the street, is there anything I can do to help you?"
She looked up at him in surprise. "Oh, Jimmy. I don't live on the street!" she laughed. "I'm a social worker who helps the homeless. I have a little house down by the old warehouse district, over at the end of Prospect, you know where I mean? By the park?"
Blair nearly choked. This was too much. Jim's long-lost mother lived less than ten blocks from them? He cast a quick glance at his friend, noting the stunned expression on his face. "Uh, you mean those little cottages across from Bayside Park?" he managed to squeak out.
Turning her smile on the younger man, she nodded, "Yes. I'm right across from the entrance to the parking lot," she agreed.
They drove past his mother's house almost daily. Jim couldn't believe it. Shaking his head, he smiled shakily at his mother and said, "I know where that is. We live on Prospect, too. In a loft above some shops. This is unreal. I must drive by your house all the time and I never knew you were there."
She looked up at her son, "I'm sorry. I thought you were dead..."
"It's OK, Mom. It's all right. You know, now. And we've found each other... that is, if you want to?"
"Of course I want to! You're my son! I love you and Steven, I always have and I always will," she said insistently, reaching one frail, bony hand out to touch her son's tear-streaked cheek. "Oh, my poor baby, I'm so, so sorry..." She drew him close and enveloped her eldest son in a warm embrace. Blair smiled at them, tears in his own eyes as he observed. He looked up as one of the nuns approached.
"Hi, I'm Blair Sandburg. We brought in this latest batch of refugees. Do you need anything from us?"
"Oh, no. I was just wondering if there was anything I could do to help?" the elderly nun gestured to the pair hugging, oblivious to anything but each other.
"I don't think so. It's his mom. They haven't seen each other since he was a kid. Kind of a surprise, you know?"
"What a wonderful thing to come from all this disaster!" the nun exclaimed, pleased. "I'll let you alone, then. If you need anything, just ask. We have plenty of everything, at the moment, although we may run out of coffee, unless someone comes back with some, soon." The nun smiled at them and turned to see if anyone else needed anything. Blair took the time to look around the room and saw that the newest refugees were being well cared for, with offerings of warm, dry clothing to replace the soaked rags many of them were wearing. Turning back to his friend, he was in time to catch Jim kissing his mother's cheek as he drew back.
"Would you like us to take you home?" Blair asked, softly.
"Oh, that would be nice. Perhaps you could come in for a bit?"
"I'd like that," Jim agreed, his expression hopeful.
"OK, then. Let's go?" Blair suggested.
Grace Ellison's home was small and cozy. Jim was surprised to learn that his mother had retained her married name. Surprised to discover that she was happy in her life and enjoyed her work with the homeless. Happy to find out that she was not one of the homeless and that she was interested in rekindling a relationship with her sons. They spent a couple of hours with her, making sure that she didn't need anything and making plans to get together again, soon.
"We're late for work, Jim," Blair finally had to point out. Jim looked at his watch and jumped to his feet.
"I'm sorry. I lost track of the time. We have to go, Mom. Would it be all right if I called you? Maybe got together again, some time? At your convenience, of course!"
"Of course, Jimmy. Any time you like. You're my son and I love you. Of course I'd like to see and talk to you again." Smiling at the two men, she rose and escorted them to the door, "I hope you won't be in too much trouble for being late?"
"It'll be fine, Mrs. Ellison," Blair reassured her, "We'll just explain what happened and it will be all right." Making their good-byes, they hurried out to the truck and headed in for work.
They explained their tardiness to Simon when they arrived, but Simon just waved them off. "I heard about the extra sweep you did of the warehouse district and the number of people you rescued and took to shelter. I can't give you any overtime, but we can call it 'unofficial comp time'. Just don't make a habit of it, OK?"
"Thanks, Simon," Jim smiled, relieved.
There were several blocks of the old warehouse district that were under water, but so far, no serious injuries or fatalities, for which everyone was grateful. The rain continued falling for another day and night, but there were no further incidents of flooding. Due to the weather, the crooks wisely decided to stay home, so the police department had very little to do, for a change. While they waited for the weather to clear so that cleanup could begin, Jim decided to take care of one other little matter...
"Yeah. This is Jim Ellison. I was in about three weeks ago to get some new tires. Uh-huh. That's right. Well, one of those tires had a blowout a few days ago, just as the rain started. I took a good look at it and it looks like the supposedly new tire you sold me was nothing but a retread... That's right. Look, I just want to bring my truck back in, get the rest of the tires checked and if they're as bad as that one, I want them replaced... I don't think you want to do that. Why? Because if I take that tire down to forensics, that means I'll have to bring in the Fraud's unit and contact the Bureau of Automotive Repair, the Better Business Bureau, and... Yes, I can bring my truck in today. Sure. One o'clock. Thank you." Hanging up, he caught his partner's smirk. "Something funny, Sandburg?"
"Nope. Nothing funny at all. I'm not laughing, see?" He turned a smirking face to his partner. "Not me. I wouldn't dare laugh at a fine detective and the Sentinel of the great city throwing his weight around with a tire shop to make sure he gets the service he thinks he deserves. Not me. Huh-uh."
"Well, considering that you bought basically the same tires for your car..." Blair stopped snickering and a look of worry crossed his face.
"Uh, Jim? You think you could maybe check out my tires this evening after work? The last thing I need is to have a blowout on the Volvo, you know?"
"Sure, Chief. I can do that," Jim's smirk was hidden as he looked down at the email he had just received from his mother, inviting him over for dinner that weekend. "Hey, Chief? Do we have any plans for Saturday?"
"Uh, I've got a date..."
"Good. So do I." Jim's smile was blazing as he contemplated the idea of dinner with his mother.
As they headed out that evening for home, both men in good moods, Jim was the first to notice it. "Hey, Blair, look!" He pointed toward the eastern sky. There in all its glory, was an enormous double rainbow, arcing across the sky, nearly from horizon to horizon.
"Oh, man. That is absolutely beautiful," Blair breathed in awe.
"Yeah, it is, isn't it?"
"The promise," Blair said softly.
"Yeah. The promise God made Noah after the flood dried up. He placed His bow in the sky to remind man that He would never again destroy the world with water." Blair bounced in his seat, "Even though we still have floods, we don't have to worry about it ever destroying the world."
"Yeah, next time, it will be fire."
"Maybe, Jim. But since we're not firefighters, that's not exactly our problem, you know?"
Jim shook his head, "Maybe, maybe not," he replied. "I just hope I'm not around to find out, you know?"
"Yeah. Actually, I do," Blair replied, smiling. Then, abruptly changing the subject, "So, tell me about this date you have Saturday night?"
"That's none of your business, Sandburg," Jim mock-growled.
"Uh-huh. So, who is it? That new dispatcher, what's her name, Joanne?"
"Uh, is it anyone I know?"
"Uh, is it anyone you've dated before?"
"Do you think you'll have more than one date with her?" Blair's voice turned teasing.
"I hope so."
Blair looked in shock at his friend. "So? Who is it?" His voice took on a tone of pleading.
"Oh," Blair replied, then, "OH! Hey, that's great, man. Have you talked to Steven, yet?"
"No. I think I'd like to have her to myself, just for a little while, you know?"
Blair beamed at his friend, "Yeah. I think I do. You know, this flood was a pretty good thing, considering."
"Yeah, Chief. It was," Jim agreed as he negotiated their way home and contemplated the possibilities brought about by the preceding week. All in all, it had been a pretty good thing...
Sometimes, the lemons you gain in life make the sweetest lemonade.
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