Tuscaloosa County Courthouse
2:45 PM

Sandburg leaned back in the witness stand, satisfied with his testimony. It had taken over two hours, but every detail of the investigation and arrest of both Paul and Raul Newport was now on record. The only thing left was the cross-examination, and then he could implement his plans for Jim.

He watched as the Public Defender for Raul Newport slowly stood up and gathered his notes into a stack. First glance at Walter Butler would not have impressed many people, but Blair looked past the ill-fitting, wrinkled suit and scuffed shoes to see a sharpness to his expression that convinced Sandburg the man was much more aware than he let on.

Butler stepped up to the witness stand and leaned against it, his lopsided grin never reaching his eyes. "So, you're the great wonder cop everybody's so impressed with?"

Already Sandburg was uncomfortable. "No, I'm just a cop doing my job."

"And how long had you been doing that job? On the day of my client's arrest, how long had you been a police officer?"

"Only a few weeks." Sandburg looked over at Ellison, not knowing where the line of questioning was headed.

"In fact, isn't it true that my client was your first arrest?"

"No."

"No?"

Blair decided to take the offensive. "Was my earlier testimony unclear? Would you like the court recorder to read it back to you, or would you like me to explain it to you again, instead? Perhaps if I went slower this time?"

A ripple of soft laughter went through the courtroom. Smiling himself, the Judge banged his gavel to quiet the room, but allowed Butler to continue his line of questioning.

"Are you suggesting that we in the south are slower than you northerners?" Butler looked back and forth between the jury and Sandburg.

Anthropology had taught Blair how to understand people. It was one of the many things that made him a good cop, giving him an insight far beyond the experience of more veteran officers. Knowing exactly how to answer the question and diffuse the situation Butler was creating caused the younger man to smile as he spoke. "Not at all. Your jury seems most thoughtful and intelligent. The Judge is obviously well respected, and rightfully so. The District Attorney has assembled a well thought out case, and obviously understands the events leading up to the arrest of Raul Newport and the earlier arrest of his brother." Sandburg leaned closer to the obnoxious lawyer. "But if you're having trouble with any of this, I'm more than willing to review it again for you."

This time the laughter was loud and raucous and the Judge addressed the attorney. "Mr. Butler, the court has no problems with Detective Sandburg's limited experience as an officer of the law. He made the arrest; the arrest was valid. Either move on or release the witness."

"Yes, your Honor." Several people laughed again at the obvious annoyance in Butler's voice. Butler turned back to Sandburg. "What made you personally suspicious of Raul Newport?"

"Well, he tried to run me down with a stolen truck."

"You didn't consider him a suspect in the bank robberies?"

Sandburg had debated in the classroom too many times to be rattled by this rank amateur. "We were assisting the FBI with their surveillance when it was believed that Raul Newport would try to make contact with his brother in Cascade. He was the FBI's suspect up until he tried to turn me into road kill. As to why the FBI considered him a suspect in the robberies in question, you'll have to ask them.

"In Cascade he was arrested for the attempted murder of two police officers, for resisting arrest, and for grand theft auto. While searching him, we found money that could be traced back to the last bank robbery that Mr. Newport has been charged with."

"Mr. Butler," the Judge's words startled the Public Defender and he turned around to face the man. "I've heard this testimony several times now, as has the jury. This is the last time I'm going to tell you to either move to new questions or release the witness."

Butler nodded, but didn't verbally acknowledge the Judge's request. Instead he jumped back into his cross-examination of Sandburg. "Are regulations more lax in Washington?"

"Excuse me?"

"Well, look at you. I just can't see you in a uniform, at least not here in Alabama. That's why I'm wondering just how strict the regulations are out there."

Sandburg reviewed several responses before deciding on one. His patience with the annoying man was gone, and he could see that no one in the courtroom was taking the questions seriously any longer. He turned wide eyes to the Public Defender. "You mean that your detectives still have to wear uniforms? Doesn't it make it kinda hard to do undercover work? Of course, maybe that's why your clients keep getting arrested. I've found most perps don't try to buy drugs from an officer in uniform with a regulation haircut. At least in my limited experience."

After this line of questioning failed to discredit the rookie detective, Butler gave up. Throwing his hands up in the air, he returned to the defendant's table. "No further questions, your Honor."

In the back of the courtroom, Ellison grinned at the muttered "it's about damn time" he heard from the Judge. Increasing his volume, the Judge spoke to the court. "The witness may step down, court is recessed until Monday morning. Court dismissed!" The bang of the gavel was barely heard over the exodus of tired spectators from the room.

Sandburg stopped in front of the District Attorney. "I'm sorry, I lost my temper a little. I hope it didn't hurt your case."

The DA just smiled. "We've been listening to that blowhard spout off for three weeks now. He doesn't have a leg to stand on with this case, so he's trying to bore the jury to death. You're the highlight of the whole darn trial, kid."

After saying his good-byes to the DA, Blair moved to Ellison's side. "Let's get out of here, man. I am so ready to eat."

"Near as I could tell, the best place to eat around here is a place called the Cypress Inn. It's only a couple of blocks from here, so we can walk."

"Wow, great. Who told you about it?" Sandburg stretched and twisted his back, feeling the tiny little pops as it relaxed.

"Umm, well it wasn't just..." The taller man blushed slightly.

Sandburg moved close so he wouldn't be overheard. "You were using your senses to scope out a restaurant rather than listen to my testimony?"

"I thought you were hungry?" The hurt look Ellison was going for was spoiled by the grin he couldn't keep off his face.


Economy Inn, Room 27

Ellison stared at the large box that had just been delivered to their room. Without looking up he asked, "more stuff for your friend?"

Sandburg was digging through his smaller suitcase and just answered with an affirmative grunt. Peering through his hair, he watched his friend circle the box that followed them from Cascade.

Puzzled, Ellison continued his questions. "Why didn't you just have it delivered to your friend? Now we've got to lug it to him along with the stuff you brought down on the airplane. You're not thinking things through, Chief."

"I'll have you know that I spent a great deal of time thinking this through, Jim." Sandburg found the sweats he was looking for and headed for the bathroom. "I'm gonna take a quick shower, open that up for me, will ya?"

"What..." Ellison's question died off as he realized he was speaking to a closed door. Complaining about nutty partners, he grabbed Sandburg's Swiss army knife off the dresser and began to open the box. Recognizing the contents, he sank down on the bed waiting for Sandburg to come out of the bathroom.

Blair emerged from the bathroom clad in his favorite sweats with a towel draped over his shoulders. He didn't say anything, just plopped down on the other bed and waited. When Jim looked up at him with a questioning face, he grinned and tilted his head towards the unopened suitcase.

Ellison retrieved the large case and swung it onto the bed. With one more glance at his grinning partner, he opened it up.

"These are my clothes." If possible, Jim looked even more puzzled.

Blair tucked his feet up under him, settling cross-legged on the bed. "Merry Christmas, man."

The light was not dawning for the Cop of the Year. "You're giving me my clothes for Christmas? Gee, thanks, and it's even early."

"You know, you're really hard to buy for."

"What, so you're recycling now?" Ellison knew that his partner was going somewhere with all this, but so far he hadn't a clue as to where.

"What happened the last time we tried to go camping?"

Jim didn't have to think hard for the answer. "We got called in on a case."

"And the time before that?"

"They moved the date on a trial, and I had to go testify." Ellison was beginning to see where his partner was headed. "You're right, we haven't actually made it to a camping trip in a long time, but... camping... here?"

"Some of the most beautiful campgrounds in the country are right here."

Ellison began to grin, the smile taking years off his face. "Simon knows? He gave us a few extra days?"

"How about two weeks?"

"Two weeks! What about our cases?"

"Reassigned."

"The truck insurance is due next week."

"Paid in full."

"Power bill?"

"Paid, so is the cable bill."

"Wow, you did all this for me? What about the mail?"

"Simon will pick it up, along with the paper. He's going to water the plants too."

"Wow."

Sandburg was grinning from ear to ear. "You said that already."

"Yeah, I did." Jim shook his head in amazement. "Chief, no one, and I mean no one, has ever done anything like this for me before. I don't know what to say."

Blair tossed Jim his coat. "Say that you're buying dinner, 'cause paying for your insurance premium just about broke me."

Ellison laughed as he caught his coat and followed Blair to the door. Before Sandburg could open the door, Jim reached out and clasped his shoulder.

"Blair..."

The younger man didn't need to hear the words with his ears. As he looked into the eyes of his best friend, he heard them with his heart. Nodding, he reached up and squeezed the hand still on his shoulder.

"Yeah, man. Me too."


Back at the Cypress Inn
9:30 PM

The waitress had brought them each a slice of peach pie before their conversation moved back to the camping trip. Ellison leaned back with his coffee and began to ask his questions.

"All right, Chief, where are we going, and how do we get there?"

"I rented us a SUV for the two weeks; we're going to drive up to Lake Lurleen State Park. We've got a camp spot reserved right next to the river. Man it's going to be great! We park on one side of the river, then we just have to hike across a footbridge to the camping area on the other side. There's a lake with boat rentals, miles of hiking trails, even a horseshoe pit. It's only a couple of miles to a store and we can rent bikes there if we want. There's a bike path clear around the lake."

"It sounds perfect, but it's the middle of winter. Aren't you going to be freezing?" No matter how wonderful this vacation seemed, if his best friend was miserable, then Jim wouldn't be able to enjoy it.

"You didn't take the tent out of the box, did you?" Sandburg was almost bouncing in his seat.

Jim took another sip of coffee before answering. "No, I just saw the tent and our sleeping bags in it. I never pulled anything out. Why?"

"Because underneath it is our Christmas present from Simon; a brand-new, top of the line camp stove. Guaranteed to keep us toasty and warm, no matter how cold it gets here."

"Wow."

"And while we're here, we can work on your vocabulary skills."

Jim threw a wadded up napkin across the table at him. "Very funny, Sandburg. When do we leave?"

"Tomorrow's Saturday, they've promised to deliver the SUV by mid-morning. We can leave as soon as we're packed. We're booked on a flight back to Cascade on the 23rd, so we've got lots of time to relax and enjoy ourselves.

"Blair?"

"Yeah, man?"

Ellison waited until his partner was looking up at him before continuing.

"Thank you. This is the best present anyone has ever given me. I may not say the words as often as I should, but... thank you."

Not quite trusting himself to speak, Blair nodded instead.



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