Jim had driven the classic blue-and-white pickup truck into its accustomed spot three hours previously. A chain-link fence overgrown with honeysuckle vines screened them from casual view of the house, but Jim could enhance his vision to see clearly through the gaps; nothing would go down without him being aware of it.
"This is gettin' old, Jim." For Blair, the alley offered no interesting views to divert him, even given the light of a three-quarters moon in a cloudless sky.
"S-O-P, Chief. This is the part of police work that doesn't make it into the TV programs. Gotta be done, though."
"What's the longest stakeout you've ever been on? How long do you watch before giving up?"
"Longest I've been on was eight days, back when I was in Vice. Round-the-clock watching till we caught the scum. Longest I've heard of was eleven days. Giving up depends on how important the case is, or if we get a more solid break, or how much manpower we can spare from other cases."
"Jeez." Blair lapsed back into staring out the window of the truck, across the dimly-seen alley, at the vine-covered fence that effectively screened his normal vision from the house where nothing was happening... where nothing had happened for the past three nights during their watch, or any other watch. He sighed deeply; even his normal font of verbosity had finally dried up.
"Not bored, are ya', Chief?" Jim's voice was entirely unsympathetic.
"Yeah, man, what do you expect? Four nights of the same damn thing, staring at the same damn fence -- hell, I know each leaf on that vine by its given name!"
Jim snorted. "You're not lookin' hard enough; I know each spider and ladybug that makes its home on the leaves. Like I said -- one of the joys of policework."
Sandburg shifted restlessly. He could be still for long periods of time -- like, when he was meditating, or hanging on the words of a tribal elder speaker as he recounted his people's history. But he couldn't meditate here; as closely as Jim was using his vision and hearing, he might need Blair to prevent a zoneout. And there wasn't a tribal elder or speaker within... well, the Tulalip Indian reservation wasn't all that far from Cascade, but they certainly weren't within speaking distance. He sighed deeply, slumped down in the seat, and started banging his head softly against the back cushion.
"Cut it out, Chief. You're worse than a kid on a cross-country trip."
"I feel like a kid on a cross-country trip," he groused. He pitched his voice to a child-like whine. "Is anything happ'nin' yet? I want somethin' to do-o-o!"
Jim snorted again. "This from a man who never has enough time in the day to finish all his work. What about grading papers, or doing lesson plans, or studying for your classes? I know the batteries in your light are still good." He glanced at the miniature portable reading light he'd surprised the kid with a few weeks previously. If Sandburg was going to join him on stakeouts, things would go smoother for both of them if he could use his time productively. It certainly helped to save wear and tear on Jim's nerves if Blair had something to occupy his mind.
"Done, done, and done. It's amazing how much paperwork can get taken care of in three nights of nothin' else to do. Shoulda' brought a deck of cards, or the Scrabble game."
Jim's voice conveyed his amusement. "Chief, with all your studying of primitive tribes, you should understand this concept. It's not so different from hunting, and lying in wait for the game to get close enough to kill. The hunter -- that's me, in case you miss the point -- can't afford to let his attention wander from his intended target -- which is that house over there, and the piece of scum inside. Even if we had cards or Scrabble, I wouldn't play with you. We only have another hour until our relief shows up. Why not just take a nap, and I'll wake you if things start happening."
"Lotta good I'd be to you if I'm napping and you start to zone." He forestalled the anticipated objection. "Yeah, yeah, I know your control is way better and the chances are slight, but they're not zero or I wouldn't be here. I suppose..." He considered and discarded several possibilities that might help him stay aware and alert enough that he'd be ready if Jim needed him. "Twenty questions! You get to keep your eyes on the house, and I get to learn some stuff about you that I don't know."
His voice tight with displeasure, Ellison snapped, "Sandburg, to quote a certain brainiac, 'This is gettin' old'. After all this time, you don't have enough yet for the dissertation? I don't want my dirty linen aired in a book; think of something else to keep your mind busy."
"No, man, no," Blair hastened to assure him. "Not for the diss. In fact, not even any sentinel stuff. Just, you know, 'getting to know you' kinds of things, like -- oh, I don't know -- school."
"Yeah, when you were a kid."
The sigh was a formality; after all, he had standards to maintain. "All right, but turnabout's fair play, Chief. I get to ask you, too." Truth be told, it would help alleviate the boredom of waiting till their suspect slipped up.
"Cool, man, I can dig it. So -- who was your favorite teacher?"
Jim thought for a minute, casting back through the years. "Mrs. Corn, third grade. Actually, she was a lot like you, Chief -- enthusiastic, and she got that across to all her students. Of course, we all called her 'Corny' behind her back, but I don't think there was a kid in that class who didn't love her. Who was yours?"
"Mr. Delgado, fourth grade. Well, first semester of fourth grade, before we moved somewhere else. But during his Social Studies lessons, he told us about so many of the various peoples of the world, and their different customs. I'd already seen some of it, of course, but it was thrilling to learn that people actually studied this stuff, and that I could learn more than I'd seen firsthand. He's probably the one who... well, he didn't start my fascination with other cultures, but he showed me that it could be directed and expanded. So, least favorite teacher?"
"Too predictable, Chief," Jim grinned. "I knew that one was coming. Mrs. McDonald, my seventh grade history teacher. She sucked all the life and interest out of the subject -- not that there was much there, to begin with. Droning lectures and rote memorization -- it was painful."
"Aw, man, that sucks. History should be one of the more fascinating subjects -- what people did, how they lived, the changes that occurred in the world -- if a teacher would just give it a little effort," he proclaimed earnestly.
"Agreed, and I learned to appreciate history more with my tenth grade teacher, but Mrs. McD ruined it for a lot of kids. And your least favorite teacher was...?"
The curls danced across his shoulders as Blair shook his head vigorously. "Least favorite, hell. I hated Mr. Poncé, my eighth-grade physics teacher. 'Poison Pounce', we called him, and he had no business being a teacher. Monotone presentation, and could not explain it in a way to make it clear to kids -- physics, man, which tends to be difficult anyway." He grinned, teeth flashing in the darkness. "At the time, I'd been on a real science fiction kick for about two years. Turned out, the only concepts that I was able to grasp in that class were the ones that I'd already encountered while reading Heinlein and Asimov and all the others. Not the first time that being a bookworm helped me in school, but one of the more obvious instances. Favorite subject?"
"What year, Chief? It makes a difference you know. Kindergarten, I was fascinated by fingerpaints. First grade, recess, second grade, math, third grade..." His voice trailed off as the door of the darkened kitchen opened and a shadowy figure slipped out. Interesting; their suspect had left the lights and TV on in the living room, and was dressed in form-fitting black. The stealthy movement indicated that he might suspect surveillance and hoped to avoid it by his surreptitious exit; he certainly wasn't taking out the trash.
"Jim? What's going on?"
"It's Ludlow, Chief, sneaking out his back door and -- get down!" he hissed.
Obediently, Blair bent over and ducked his head below the level of the window, while Jim had to lie sideways along the seat, folding his body over Blair's. It was certainly awkward, but apparently their 'surveillee' overlooked -- as intended -- the seemingly empty truck half-hidden in the shadows; Jim listened as the cautious footsteps passed their location and proceeded up the alley. When the sound was about fifty yards away, Jim eased himself upright.
"Okay, Chief, this won't do any good unless we catch him in the act. We've gotta let him lead us to his stash; he's too used to fencing with the cops to allow us to trip him up or give himself away. Call it in; he's heading toward the east end of Grants Avenue. Tell backup to establish a loose perimeter about two blocks outside that area, and I'll call you on the cell, if need be, to relay any changes."
Ellison reached up to turn off the dome light, and quietly slipped out the door without even the faint chance of betrayal from that small brightness. Though he quickly lost sight of his friend, Blair was confident that the Sentinel would be able to follow their suspect easily; it was just a matter of time until Jim would be able to bring him in. He reached for the mic.
"Rafe? Brown? You out there?"
Brown's easy, confident tones came back to him. "Yeah, Hairboy. What's up?"
Quickly, Blair passed on Jim's instructions. "Watch out for him, Brown, okay? You know he doesn't think about danger when he's in the thick of things."
"Got it covered, Kid; no sweat."
An hour and a half later, Blair waited for Jim to come out of Simon's office while he listened to Brown and Rafe as they gave an enthusiastic description of the latest piece of the mosaic that formed the Ellison legend.
"I tell ya, Hairboy, it was the prettiest thing you'd ever want to see. There we were, surrounding the house..."
"...Eight officers covering both exits, with a squad car at both ends of the street and one in the alley..." Rafe chimed in.
"...And when we busted in, there was about a dozen guys there. They scattered like cockroaches..."
"But we thought we grabbed everyone, except..."
Brown wasn't about to let the punch line slip from his grasp. "...Mr. Bigbrain Chemist hisself managed to slip into a kind of hidden coal closet..."
"It was an old house," Rafe explained.
"...And the old delivery chute was on the side away from either door..."
"...Screened by a big lilac bush..."
"...And while we sorted out the confusion inside..."
"...He thought he could slink away without anyone noticing."
Brown's grin was huge. "But of course supercop Ellison figured it out somehow and ran outside just in time to see him sneak around the corner of the next house."
"When he shouted, the guy took off like a scared rabbit..." Rafe shook his head in feigned dismay.
"...And my man Ellison took off after him, looking like an Olympic sprinter on his best day..."
"...Still going strong when he disappeared from our sight."
"So me and Rafe hopped in the car and headed that direction. Shoulda known we wouldn't be needed." Brown's grin grew even wider.
"Yeah," Rafe confirmed. "There he was, with the perp laid out and handcuffed under a handy streetlight..."
"...And he's huffing like a beached whale, but he says as cool as can be..."
"'I've been waiting, gentlemen. Next time, don't stop for coffee.'"
"Good one!" Brown crowed, and exchanged high fives with his partner.
"Got to admit, he makes the whole department look good," Rafe conceded. Chuckling, they headed toward their desks to write their own versions to contribute to the growing stack of paperwork.
Blair sighed in mingled exasperation and respect -- would Jim ever understand that he wasn't a superman? -- and sat down to pull up the required forms on the computer. He knew enough about what had gone down to start filling in the general areas; Jim could add the details after he finished with Simon.
They headed home in companionable, satisfied silence, which didn't last long under the drive of Blair's curiosity. "So, Jim... according to Brown and Rafe, the guy was ten years younger than you and had fifty yards' head start. Wouldn't it have made more sense to run for a squad car and follow him in that? Your Sentinel senses could have kept a bead on him."
Jim shook his head. "Not really, Chief; cars can't cut across yards and over fences. Besides..." Blair could hear the smug satisfaction in his voice, "...my favorite class in seventh grade -- before I filled out enough for football -- was gym. Specifically, track; I was the top sprinter and long-distance runner that year. Add that to your notes... this old man's still got it."
ETA - Blair's story about only understanding the physics that he had already been exposed to via reading science fiction is true; it's the only reason I passed that class.
Send feedback to Starwatcher
Go back to Home Page