Production No. CVT503

written by:
Cindy Combs

edited by:
imbrillig, Emsworth, Carolyn


Thursday morning, Cascade Police headquarters

"Honest, Jim," Detective Blair Sandburg continued as the elevator doors closed. "You'd like them if you actually tried one. Perhaps if I put tomato juice in it."

His partner and roommate, Detective James Ellison, simply shook his head. "Forget it, Chief. Even tomato juice won't mask the smell of that stuff."

"Perhaps fresh squeezed orange juice? The citrus might cover the algae smell."

"I said forget it. I won't drink one of your green shakes."

Blair rolled his eyes as he shook his head. "You'd think I was trying to make you eat green eggs and ham." The elevator doors opened.

Jim chuckled as he stepped out. "Actually, I'd probably try green eggs and ham, if they smelled better than algae."

"Hey you two, Simon's looking for you," Detective Joel Taggart announced as they walked into Major Crimes.

Studying Joel's worried face, Jim's good humor vanished. "Any idea why?"

Joel shrugged. "Not sure. But I think he's been on the phone with the top brass."

Jim sighed. That wasn't a good sign.

Captain Simon Banks was sitting behind his desk rubbing his forehead, another bad sign. Noting the aspirin bottle next to his elbow, Jim briefly wondered if he and Blair could still make a run for it. However, Jim wasn't one to abandon his duty. "Captain? Taggart said you wanted to see us?"

Banks replaced his glasses and glared at his team. "No, actually, Commissioner Mathews wants to see you."

"Cool," Blair piped up enthusiastically. Then he noticed the grim expressions on the others' faces. "Not cool?"

Jim continued to stare at his captain. Quietly, he asked, "Calling in the marker?"

Simon shrugged, looking grumpier. "The first of many, I'm sure."

"Marker?" Blair asked. "What are you guys talking about?"

"In order to authorize your admission into the Academy and assignment as Jim's partner, we had to tell the commissioner that your only fraud was your press conference declaring yourself a fraud." Simon paused as Blair's eyes grew wide, absorbing that fact and its implications. "That's the reason he was so agreeable. He liked the idea that he could call on Jim's abilities when he has a case that needs 'special handling'."

Blair switched his gaze back and forth between Jim and Simon. "So, basically, you guys sold your souls to the devil to get me hired into Major Crimes?"

"Yours, too, Chief," Jim wearily pointed out. He turned back to Simon. "What does he want?"

"Our collective butts up to his office immediately," Simon replied sourly.

Blair had never been to the section of police headquarters housing upper management. It was quite a change from the rest of the building. There were soft, clean, deep blue carpets and light blue walls, all tastefully decorated and immaculately clean. The door opened to reveal a huge circular walnut desk three times bigger than the one Rhonda used. As the secretary announced their arrival to her boss, Jim and Simon stood tensely while Blair stared at the framed print hanging in the reception area. Blair figured it was worth more than a month of his new detective's salary. However, he didn't have a chance to study it for long. Apparently, the commissioner had meant it when he said 'immediately', because she sent them right in. A voice deep inside his head, which sounded suspiciously like Naomi, reminded him that top level pigs couldn't be trusted. Between the voice and the tension radiating from his partner, Blair felt like Daniel walking into the lions' den.

Mentally silencing the voice as he followed his larger friends inside, Blair was soon feeling even more out-of-place. The atmosphere of the inner sanctuary was infused with prestige and power. The young man was beginning to realize his joke about selling their souls to the devil might not have been so far off. Or at least to an archangel. Surely the commissioner is one of the good guys. I hope.

The commissioner was a trim man in his late forties not much taller than Blair. His straight, dark blond hair, peppered with a few strands of white, was cut conservatively. He walked out in front of the imposing desk to offer his hand to Simon. His pleasant, deep voice greeted, "Hello, Captain. Always a pleasure." Then he turned to Jim. "Detective James Ellison. I've been looking forward to talking with you again."

"Sir." Jim nodded politely as he shook the hand.

"And you must be our new Detective Sandburg." Blair found himself shaking the hand belonging to the hard blue eyes studying him. "You sure managed to set the academy on its ear in record time."

"Ah, sorry, sir," Blair managed to strangle out. "I really didn't plan to find a militia there. I just kinda stumbled across them. I couldn't believe they'd have the nerve to recruit at the police academy." Jim softly and covertly stepped on Blair's foot, trying to stem the tide of nervous chatter. Blair shot him a swift glare, but stopped talking.

"That's okay, son." The commissioner waved his hand, dismissing any criticism. "Means we were right in sending you. I need cops like you and Ellison. Cops who are sharp, can get the job done, and have an edge over the criminal element in our fair city." With another sweep of his hand, he indicated the three chairs in front of his desk. As they sat down, he continued the conversation as he walked back to his own dark leather chair. "I have a case for you that will require an edge to keep our city's reputation." Jim, Blair and Simon exchanged glances as the commissioner sat down. "Are any of you familiar with the Riley Dam Arts Festival?"

"Sure," Blair blurted out. "It's the city's largest arts festival held in the old craftsmen district near Riley Dam. While it started 50 years ago as a venue to encourage Cascade's arts community, it has grown into an international event. Artists from across the country and around the world come here to participate, making it a huge tourist draw. It features both exhibitions of well- known artists in addition to a competition for new and upcoming artists. Categories range from oils, prints, photography, sculpture, dance, music, poetry, fiber..."

"Fiber?" Jim interrupted.

"Yeah, like quilts and stuff."

"When is this festival?" Simon interjected before Blair could continue his list.

"Starts tomorrow and runs through Sunday," Mathews answered.

"Why do you need us?" Jim asked bluntly.

The corner of the commissioner's mouth barely twisted up as he turned his attention to Ellison. "The RDA committee has been getting threatening letters, claiming that the sender will sabotage the festivities unless the festival is canceled."

Blair whistled. "Isn't that kinda short notice? I mean, people come from all over the world for this. How can you just cancel it?"

"We can't without making a very black mark on Cascade's good name," Mathews replied grimly. "Nor does the committee want to bow down to terrorism. Yet they're worried there may be trouble." The commissioner shrugged. "There may be trouble or it could be a prank. Security has been increased, but the patrolmen will have their hands full dealing with lost kids and pickpockets. I'd feel better if I had my sharpest pair of eyes there to specifically watch for sabotage."

"What is the security set up?" Simon asked, wanting to get back into the conversation. The more information he had, the better he could arrange backup for his team if they required it.

"There will be a rotating group of about twenty festival workers who roam about, but their primary focus is answering questions and making sure the festival itself runs smoothly. Then we'll have about four pairs of patrol officers in uniform at any given time. They will walk around the area to provide a visible presence and handle any trouble. Then..." The commissioner paused a moment, then reluctantly continued, "There will be a group of People Defenders."

"People Defenders?" Jim repeated, puzzled.

"They're a group like the Guardian Angels," Blair explained. "I didn't know we had a chapter in Cascade, though."

"Just recently formed," Simon replied. "Daryl said he saw them near his high school recruiting last spring."

"Daryl?" Mathews asked.

"My son," Simon replied, a touch of pride evident in his voice.

Mathews nodded. "I've talked to the other cities with chapters. Apparently, they can be both a hindrance and a help, depending on the situation and who's leading them."

Jim glanced at the commissioner. "Any word on Cascade's chapter leader?"

"A former gang member called Elijah Colburn. He's from one of the better chapters, but hasn't been around here long enough to make much of a name for himself yet."

"What do you want us to do?" Blair asked. It seemed to him that the place would already be crawling with security.

"I want you two to walk around the festival, keeping an eye out for possible trouble. If there is any, you're my first line of defense for neutralizing it."

That evening, warehouse district

Gloom hung heavily in the barren room, not quite hiding the dingy gray walls and scuffed up tile floor. Only a small lamp placed on the room's single piece of furniture cut the darkness, throwing dark, eerie shapes which chased each other along the back wall. At an ancient metal and plastic dining room table sat a man hunched over a laptop. His face was in the shadows as he tapped on the keyboard. To his right, under the strong circle of light from the lamp, sat a stack of papers. On the top were two newspaper clippings. The first headline declared, 'The Sentinel: Cascade's Protection Against Crime', while the second, partly tucked under the first clipping, announced, 'Sandburg Declares Sentinel Research a Fraud'.

Fingers flew across the laptop's keyboard, intent on the hunt. The screen shifted until the emblem of the Cascade Police Department was displayed, its blue design sharply contrasting against the white background. Another couple of clicks later, 'Major Crimes' was displayed in bold letters, along with the name of Captain Simon Banks. Swiftly, it was replaced by a duty roster. A deep chuckle carried over the clicking keyboard as the page for the Riley Dam Arts festival appeared. Windows full of schedules, artists' names, and other miscellaneous information were soon flashing across the screen.

Finally, the man leaned back in his chair and further into the surrounding darkness. A hoarse, slightly accented voice whispered, "Now we will see what is truth and what is fraud, Captain Ellison." The laptop screen now displayed a colorful map of the Riley Dam District.

Next morning, Riley Dam district, North side of Dam

As Jim parked his blue and white '69 Ford truck, Blair studied the map of the Riley Dam district in his hands. "Man, this is a large area to cover."

Jim could only nod his head in agreement. The Riley Dam district covered several blocks on either side of the Togash River. Small shops and art galleries lined the banks with the Riley Dam just upstream. The old dam, with the river water flowing over moss-covered concrete, provided a delightfully rustic feel to the historic area. A two-lane bridge, dating from the same period as the dam, arched between the banks. Its weathered lines blended well with the natural surroundings. With the numerous trees in autumn splendor, Jim briefly wondered why anyone needed an arts festival here. The natural beauty would outshine anything man could create. Then he pushed the thought away as he got out of the truck. He had a job to do.

Blair was still studying the map. "At least they put the food booths together. Five years ago, they were all scattered about so you couldn't find what you wanted. This year they have concentrated them into two rows, one on either side of the river."

"As long as they aren't serving your algae shakes, it doesn't matter to me." Jim knew he could simply follow his nose when he got hungry. It was certainly a lot more reliable than Blair's map reading skills. He glanced over the embankment to the water twenty feet below. "Though if you look, you might be able to get some more breakfast down there."

"Very funny, Jim." As they approached the festival's partitioned-off section, Blair glanced at his partner. "Is the waterfall bothering you?"

Jim shrugged. "Not really. Like you suggested before, it's constant enough I can tune it out."

"One obstacle down, a hundred more to go," Blair muttered darkly. Knowing well the festive chaos that permeated the popular arts festival, he was worried about how the multitude of sounds, colors, and scents would affect his partner. His dissertation may be a distant and painful memory, but Blair's true research continued as long as he protected his sentinel.

"I'll be fine, Chief," Jim assured him as they walked over to the uniformed officers setting up by the first barricade.

When the younger patrol officer turned around, Blair called in surprise, "Hey, Crowder!"

Rookie Officer Lynn Crowder gave Blair a wide smile, green eyes sparkling. "Hi, Sandburg! What're you doing here?"

Blair shrugged. "Just going to keep an eye on things." He glanced around them. "When do the festivities start?"

"In about thirty minutes," the pretty brunette answered. She turned to the slim, yet tough looking woman beside her. "Blair, this is my new partner, Officer Jessie Buxton. Jessie, this is Detective Blair Sandburg. We were at the academy together." She turned to give Ellison a smile. "And I've never been formally introduced to Blair's partner."

"Detective Jim Ellison," the older woman interjected. She gave him an acknowledging nod. "'Morning, Detective."

"Good Morning, Officer Buxton," Jim greeted. "Can you point us to the festival headquarters?"

"It's over there behind the stage." Buxton indicated a path through the various white canvas booths being set up.

Jim immediately headed in that direction, Blair a step behind him and waving good-bye to Lynn. They were half-way to the stage when Jim started chuckling. "What?" Blair asked.

"Buxton just told Crowder to stay sharp."

"How come?"

"Because," Jim paused a moment to remember the exact words, "if Ellison and his partner are here, something big is up."

"Man, do you have a reputation or what?"

"You, too, Chief. Lynn said that after what you did at the academy, she'd believe it."

~Crackle~ "Man, do you have a reputation or what?" ~crackle~

Perched on the flat roof of a ten story building near Riley Dam and hidden in the shadows of a nearby ventilation shed, a long, lanky man listened in on the conversation. His canvas shirt and pants matched the tan stone of the building. To his right, a state-of-the-art dish on a specialized tracker system picked up the private communication between the partners. High-tech binoculars followed them into the small trailer parked by the sidewalk.

"So you have a reputation, Ellison. Have you earned it?"

The trailer's interior was dark compared to the sunshine outside. Trying to adjust his eyes to the change, Jim accidentally bumped a man standing only a step away from the door. "I'm sorry," Jim apologized.

"You should be!"

Jim glanced down at the snarling man with a French accent. Very slender and much shorter than even Sandburg, the dark haired man was wearing a black tunic that reached mid-thigh and matching tight pants. A black beret and ankle high boots completed the outfit. Taking a deep breath and ignoring the man's rudeness, Jim attempted to step around him.

"Where do you think you are going!" demanded the man, tipping his head back so Jim could see his narrow face. "If they make me, Franchot Pascalle, stand in line, so shall a no-name like yourself!"

Seeing the bewilderment on his partner's face, Blair quickly jumped in. Holding out his hand, he enthused, "Franchot Pascalle? Wow, I love your work."

The artist pointedly ignored Blair's hand. "What's not to love?"

Jim rolled his eyes. He had had just about enough of the jerk. It was a struggle to force his voice to remain calm and polite. "Excuse me, sir. We need to see the committee vice president."

"What makes you so important?" the artist retorted.

"We're security," Jim forced out of his clenched jaw as he held up his badge. Using his bulk, Jim pushed his way past the man and stepped around the registration table, Blair on his heels.

As they walked towards the back, Blair whispered, "Jim, don't you know who that was?"

"An arrogant foreign jerk?" Jim growled.

Blair rolled his eyes. "One of the most famous living abstract painters in the world, man."

"So," Jim replied, "I hate abstract art. Give me Charles Russell any day."

"The Western painter? Figures."

Jim held back his retort as he knocked on the door. Stepping inside, Jim found a tall woman, gray hair in a tight bun, barking orders at her assistant. "...make sure the crew knows to anchor those booths well on the bridge. We don't want any of them to fly away like last time."

"Yes, Mrs. McAllister," the chubby man with curly red hair responded with a long-suffering sigh.

"Mrs. McAllister?" Jim held out his hand. "Detectives Ellison and Sandburg. Commissioner Mathews sent us."

"Right, you are the ones who are going to look into the threats," she replied with the kind of limp handshake that Jim hated. "Dennis can give you the letters."

The assistant nervously shuffled through the folders. Offering one to Blair, he asked, "You don't think there'll really be trouble, do you?"

"We plan to make sure there isn't any," Blair comforted him. "Is there someplace where we can look at these?"

"The bedroom next door isn't being used," he replied.

Ten minutes later, Blair leaned back and sighed. "Not much to go on here."

"Nope," Jim replied as he studied the two neatly typed letters. "Printed on cheap paper by a computer printer. I don't see a fingerprint or even a stray mark."

"All they say is that the festival has strayed from its original purpose of promoting local art and, unless all the outside exhibits are shut down, there will be trouble." Blair shook his head. "Doesn't even give us a hint of what to look for. Do you think the writer is serious?"

Jim shrugged. "Hard to say. It might be a prank to simply upset the committee or it could be dead serious."

"How can we tell?"

"We can't, until the first 'accident' happens." Jim stood up. "Time to starting patrolling, Chief."

By the time they stepped out of the trailer, activity was picking up. Booths filled the street, leaving the street's center as well as the sidewalks on either side free for pedestrian traffic. A small crowd was already gathering in front of the tall outdoor stage where an emcee was providing information before introducing the first group. Jim focused on the feet of the dancers waiting for their performance. "Sandburg, are those clogs?"

Blair turned, squinting at the stage. "Well, I can't see the footwear, but the outfits do suggest clogging."

"Great," Jim groaned. "Let's get out of here before they start and give me a headache."

Chuckling, Blair led the way down the fairway. They were at once immersed into the festivities. "Man, Jim, how are we suppose to find sabotage in all this?"

"Just try to find what's out of place," Jim replied. Without a thought, each of Jim's sentinel senses went on alert. Jim swiftly noted two patrol officers, waist belts thick with radios, night sticks and other items, walking along the right sidewalk. To the left, a customer was trying to haggle the price of a painting with the artist. The young couple up ahead were more interested in each other than the festival, ignoring a glassblower setting up his delicate wares. Under the shade of an oak tree turning orange was an ice cream vendor. Dark hair carefully arranged in a mass of braids and beads, she was giggling as a young man in a red beret flirted with her. Jim's brow wrinkled slightly as he studied the man's light red and blue jacket. It looked like a uniform of sorts, but didn't match any of the gang symbols he knew.

Blair followed Jim's gaze. "I think that's one of the People Defenders."

"As long as they flirt with girls and stay out of my way, we won't have a problem." Jim muttered.

Suddenly, a high female voice shrieked, "Oh MAN! You're PERFECT!" Jim jumped as a woman dashed over to him and started circling. Her dark brown hair was covered in a brightly colored scarf, its wild flower pattern matching the woman's long gypsy skirt. The turquoise blouse reflected in her blue green eyes, which were currently examining Jim like he was the last piece of chocolate pie on the counter. "Look at those biceps! That chest!" She moved her hands about as if measuring Jim's dimensions from a distance. "Muscles! Oh my, you've got muscles! I love muscles. And that sweet, tight..."

"Ma'am!" Jim blurted out as he dodged out of touching range. "Excuse me, Ma'am?"

"You're perfect," she sighed again. "You must model for me!"

"Model?" Jim asked politely, trying not to panic. He took a glance at his partner, who had stepped closer to the booth the woman had dashed out of. The sudden widening of Blair's eyes plus the accompanying smirk did not bode well.

"Oh yes, model. I need models for my drawings. Woman aren't too hard to convince to take off their clothes, but good looking, muscular men..."

"Take off my clothes?" Jim practically squeaked. Blair stood by, hand curled around his mouth and nearly doubled over from his effort not to laugh at his partner's predicament.

"Of course. The human body is the most interesting of subjects, don't you agree?"

"Not mine!" Jim declared. He quickly took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, Ma'am. I don't model."

"But you're perfect!"

"Thank you for the compliment, but I'm sure there's lots of other 'perfect' men out there for you." Jim hastily assured her as he backed down the street.

"Not really," she called out after him. "Don't you want to be immortalized?"

"No, thank you," Jim called back nervously, then muttered to himself, "I've already had that offer this year." He swiftly turned around and continued walking, his face beet red.

"Come on, Jim," Blair teased once he caught up. "How bad could it be?"

"I didn't see you volunteering, Sandburg," Jim growled.

"Actually, I think it would be fun, but I'm not the one who's 'perfect'."

"Drop it, Chief."

"No, I think that's what she wants you to do with your boxers," Blair snickered. After another glance at his embarrassed partner, Blair decided he'd teased enough for now.

Trying to regain his composure, Jim stopped at the closest booth. "Now, this is something I'd hang on my wall."

Blair studied the photo of a curved desert rock, its red and textured surface seeming to swirl elegantly across the scene. "Rather calming."

"With the work we do, I'll take calming." Jim leaned forward to read the tag, then whistled. "Though for that price, I could almost fly out to the desert and snap my own shot."

"At least cover the air fare," Blair agreed. They stepped further into the booth. "Here's another nice one with the rocks curved around a small puddle of water."

For the next hour, the two men looked through the booths on the south side of the river while keeping eyes and ears alert for trouble. However, once they reached a booth of intricate wooden sculptures, Jim paused to rub his temples. "Jim?" Blair questioned softly.

"Sudden headache," Jim explained. His fingers extended the rubbing to around his eyes. "Feels like a migraine."

Blair searched around them, noticing the booth nearby. "I bet it's the glues used on the sculptures. Who knows what kind of chemicals are in them? Can you dial it down?"

"Huh?" Jim mumbled hazily, trying to think.

"Turn down your sense of smell," Blair hissed barely under his breath, not wanting the crowd around them to hear him guide his sentinel.

Just as Jim started, another smell caught his attention. "Wait."


"There's something else." Jim replied, his soft voice full of pain and confusion.

"Okay, big guy, can you ignore the glue? Identify it and filter it out."

Struggling, Jim managed to filter out the acrid chemical odor, easing the headache. He then recognized the other scent instantly. "Chief, it's propane."

"I think we're close to the side street with the food booths," Blair pointed out. "Maybe that's the source."

"Probably, but it's too strong for just cooking," Jim replied as he swiftly walked in the direction of the odor. Turning the corner with Blair nearly jogging to keep up, Jim focused his sight onto the smell. A spare propane tank sat on the curb next to the 'Buddha's Mexican Grill' sign. Next to it, a small Asian man was about to strike a match. "STOP!!!!" Jim shouted, racing to the portable grill to grab the man's arm. "GAS!"

Behind him, he could hear Blair telling the other vendors to turn off any open flames. Within seconds, Jim had dropped to one knee as he inspected the tank. Blair lightly touched his shoulder. "Jim?"

"Right here," Jim pointed. "This line has been cut just enough to slowly leak gas."

"Guess our letter writer isn't fooling around," Blair softly muttered as he took in the gathering crowd.

Glancing around at the vendors and the stores behind them, Jim inwardly shuddered at the thought of the explosion and possible damage. "No, they aren't fooling around at all."

"What's the trouble here?"

Jim stood up to find himself staring into the face of a large black man wearing a People Defenders' jacket. "It's being taken care of."

"Are you giving this man trouble?" the man questioned sternly, getting into Jim's face.

Blair immediately identified the angry face as the same one he had studied the night before. It was Elijah Colburn, the leader of the People Defenders. However, the picture had not shown the huge chip on the man's shoulders. Blair could also see Jim's gaze growing steadily colder on his inquisitor. Deciding an argument on a busy festival street right after a near disaster wouldn't help anyone's nerves, Blair quickly announced, "Actually, we're the Cascade PD."

The man gave Blair an examining, almost derogatory look, focusing on the short ringlets Blair now fought with on a daily basis. "With that mop? Give me a break."

"Detective Ellison?" A shocked voice interrupted.

Jim's glare quickly turned to surprise. "Marcus Watson?"

The young man in a People Defenders jacket walked in between his leader and the detective. "Hey, man! How's it hanging?"

On the rooftop

"Glue smells give you a headache, yet you found a tank before it exploded. Is this an example of you using your heightened senses? Or are you just overly sensitive?" A gloved hand reached for a prescription bottle nearby, popping the lid and shaking two pills into the other hand. After a quick sip from his canteen, the watcher again picked up the binoculars, training them on Ellison talking with the tiny Asian vendor. "How do you handle the enormous input streaming in from your senses? Do you have a way to filter it, or is it hit and miss? You are becoming even more of a puzzle, Ellison."

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