TALES FROM THE HEART
Production No. CVT514

written & compiled by
Susan Hicks
(additional writer and beta credits for this story are at the end)

edited by: Lisa Krakowka and Kelly Dunn


February 13th, after taking a witness statement

"Oh, not you too, Chief?"

"What do you mean 'not you too, Chief?'" Sandburg asked mockingly.

"Those," Jim pointed to the candy hearts that Blair was eating, "Aren't you the one that is always commenting that junk food is bad for you?"

"I'll have you know that there are two, no three, times a year when candy isn't junk food. Plus, look they've updated the messages on these things. This one says 'page me,' and the green one I just ate said 'e-mail me.'"

"Uh huh." To Blair, Jim sounded unconvinced.

"What?" Blair popped a yellow candy heart into his mouth. "Want one?"

"Nothing. No. Just, get in the truck." Jim walked to the other side of the truck, shaking his head in thought and looking over at Sandburg. "Another trip to the Sandburg Zone," he muttered under his breath as he climbed into the truck.

Shivering, Blair reached for the heater controls, batting Jim's hand away. "Just dial down the heat or dial up the cold."

Jim was about to comment but thought better of it. Sandburg was right; he was using his senses to dial down the cold. Especially with the unexpected cold front that had settled over Cascade. One good thing about the cold front-- the criminals were staying indoors.

"Whatever you say, Chief," Jim replied. "After we interview this witness, we can call it a day. Head back to the station to update the reports, then go home. You can play on your blue computer."

Blair paused in his skimming of the file he held. "That's great." Blair ignored the comment about his iBook. Jim still had the dinosaur loaner from the computer tech people on his desk at work, he just had to wait until Jim complained about it to return the comment.

With the thought that he didn't want Blair to know he'd been right about using his dials, Jim decided that a return to the original topic was in order. "Besides, after the events of last week and one Ms. Allison White, I'd think you'd be avoiding this Valentine's thing."

Blair shook his head, turning only slightly as to not give up his relaxed, lounging position. "I didn't miss the change in topic. We'll talk about that when we get home. As for the other," and Blair launched into lecture mode, "I'll have you know that Saint Valentine's and the month of February are..."


Central Precinct

"Major Crime, Detective Taggart speaking."

"This is Sergeant Anderson down at the desk, there's a young woman here to deliver flowers to you," the desk sergeant said with a smile in his voice.

"I'll be right down. Thanks."

Sergeant Joe Anderson was a delightful older gentleman who took the position of desk sergeant at the Central Precinct seriously, yet always seemed to have a smile on his face and a kind word, though Taggart thought the criminals might disagree.

The sergeant was still new to the position, having moved to it after a shooting incident left him unable to work as a detective in Homicide. Not only was his position relatively new, but so was the new front desk set up.

No longer was it a sealed-in low counter. Now the counter was raised a couple of feet off the ground. Those who worked the counter either had to stand or sit on tall barstool-like chairs. From this position, Sgt. Anderson could see the comings and goings of the precinct. The new corner mirrors and cameras aided in keeping those out who weren't supposed to be there.

After the Golden-spiked pizza incident, the Zeller shootings last year, and the attempted poisoning of Inspector Connor last week, no visitors were allowed anywhere without expressed authorization from a power that be--department captain, the police commissioner, etc or being cleared through the desk.

The only problem with the new system that Joe Anderson saw was the frequent deliveries the people in this building got--especially during the holidays. The desk had already stopped at least a dozen or so delivery people. Plus, the deliveries had to be signed for, then someone from the desk had to take them up to the appropriate offices.

Joel approached the desk, and Sgt. Anderson waved him up and to the side. "I was about to leave for the day when this nice young woman arrived," Joe indicated the young woman holding a vase of flowers and wearing a shirt that read: May's Flowers, "I was going to sign for them, but then I didn't want to leave them here overnight. I took the chance that you were still up there."

"Thanks, Joe," Joel said. He turned to the delivery girl. "I'm Joel. I believe those are for me." The girl handed Joel the clipboard and indicated he should sign on line fifteen. He then took the huge vase of flowers and handed her a ten-dollar bill.

"Thanks!" The girl said, surprise at the generous tip. "Enjoy your flowers."

Smiling, Joel admired the flowers for a moment then, placing his face close to the fragrant blooms, he closed his eyes and inhaled the soft, spicy scent.

"Must have some sweetheart," Joe commented.

"Yes, I do."


February 14, Major Crime, morning

A young man with an ID badge identifying him as one of the civilian aides assigned to Sgt. Anderson walked into the Major Crime office balancing two packages, a clipboard, and a vase of roses. He stopped at the first desk that had a person sitting behind it. "Excuse me, could you tell me where Rhonda Cameron is?"

Rafe looked up from his desk and covered the mouthpiece of the phone he was talking on. "Blonde hair, right over there." He pointed at Captain Banks' assistant.

"Thanks."

The aide handed Rhonda a long slender box, much like a candy box, that had a simply hand written card attached. "With Love, CM."

"And, could you sign on line twenty-three please?" Rhonda signed for the object and the civilian aide quickly departed with his other deliveries. Today was going to be busy. Not only was it Monday, but it was Valentine's Day as well.

Henri Brown wandered by Rhonda's desk to see what type of sweets were just delivered to everyone's favorite office assistant.

"Sweet-talking Rhonda won't get you anywhere, H," Joel Taggart told Henri as he came out of Simon's office. "Besides, didn't Lori send you to work with a large bag of Hershey Kisses?"

"Yes, and the bag is sitting open on my desk for everyone to enjoy," Henri answered. "I just wanted to see what Rhonda had in the box."

Simon came out of his office with several manila folders, handing two of them to Rhonda; he handed the last one to Henri. "Since it looks like you need something to do at your own desk, here's the paperwork back on your last case. Write up the final report and sign off on it. Other than that it looks fine."

It was mid-morning, and for a change, all the members of Major Crime were in. Most were sitting at their desks, catching up on paperwork or cleaning out old case files from their file drawers, and most had noticed the huge bouquet of multi-hued carnations sitting on Joel's desk.

"Hey, Joel?" Blair asked, "I noticed you got those last night. What's the occasion? There's something besides just Valentine's, isn't there?" The rest of the group waited for his response, just as curious as their youngest member but not nearly as assertive about what could be a very personal thing.

"I know. They were delivered right before I left yesterday. My wife always sends me flowers on the thirteenth. For us, it's much more important than Valentine's Day could ever be." The burly detective had a soft, almost dreamy smile on his face.

Sensing a story, Blair prodded, "Tell us about it."

There were several nods of encouragement as he picked up his can of diet soda and took a sip. Joel wasn't used to talking this much, certainly not about such personal things, but these people were friends, and he hadn't been in Major Crime last year at this time of year. His fellow detectives pulled up chairs and got comfortable, realizing that his story might take a while. Captain Banks leaned against the wall behind his detectives, an indulgent smile on his face. Things were slow and he knew Joel's story and recognized it as a good way for his people to bond... not that he'd admit to such a thing.

"You knew that I used to be a soldier, that I was in Vietnam?" he asked. Seeing most of the detectives nod, he began to explain the history behind the flowers.

"I was just a kid..."

...Fresh out of high school, Joel enlisted. Not everyone who went to 'Nam was drafted. Some people enlisted, thinking that it was the right thing to do. Joel was one of those. For him, it was a chance to improve his life, get out of the poverty he grew up with. He had gotten married practically right out of high school. He and his wife were both working hard to get ahead. And, he knew that he was going to be drafted, so he and his wife decided that it might be better if he just volunteered. That way, he had a chance to choose which branch of the service he served. Joel went Army. In boot camp they discovered that he had a talent for explosives, and the training began. When he finally got sent to the front, he was already halfway through his enlistment.

Joel spent several months terrified out of his skull while he was overseas. Scared every minute of every day, not to mention every night. It wasn't one of the better times in his life, he could assure you. He saw friends... He stopped, deciding not to follow that particular route, knowing that if he did, he'd probably bring back some of his nightmares of that time. Taking a deep breath, he continued with the story they wanted to hear.

Joel's Army squad got captured. They were taken to a POW camp, he didn't know where. For the most part they were kept in tiger cages, only taken out for questioning. The Army listed them as MIA, and his wife had been notified. She never gave up hope, though. She kept telling everyone that he'd come home. She was home with their first baby, and Joel had left before she could tell him she was pregnant. And worse of all, it seemed the Post Office or the Army had problems delivering mail to Joel, as evidenced by the returned letters on the table.

His squad was held at the POW camp for about four months before they were rescued. It had just been one of those right time, right location things: a bunch of POWs were being transferred to another camp when they came across a patrol. The Cong were wiped out and the POWs were rescued. None of the half-dozen soldiers were in very good shape, so they were all airlifted back to Clark, where they spent several weeks in the hospital, recovering and being debriefed...

"...But what's that got to do with the flowers?" Megan asked, puzzled.

Joel chuckled. "I was getting to that..."

...When Joel was released from the hospital, not only was his enlistment up, but after having been held as a POW he could be discharged from service if he wanted it. He got his discharge papers. And, instead of going to Hawaii, he got sent straight home, only the notice to his wife that he had been rescued had been lost in the bureaucratic mess of the war.

On February thirteenth, Joel got off the plane in Cascade and took a cab home, wanting to surprise his wife. He bought her a bunch of her favorite flowers, looking forward to seeing her after so long. He had no idea about the baby or that she didn't know that he'd been rescued. When he got home, he just walked in. She was in the kitchen, crying. She'd had a kind of regular crying session when things got rough. But it seemed that the one that day was caused when one of their relatives told her that morning that Joel wasn't going to come back and that she should just get on with her life.

She didn't hear him come in. Although, since he was still on crutches, he don't know how she could not have heard him, but she hadn't. He came up behind her and set the flowers on the table in front of her, then leaned down and whispered, "Honey, I'm home." She turned around, saw him and then fainted dead away. Joel was, to say the least, shocked. Not as shocked as she was, but still. Joel was pretty shaken up over her reaction. She'd just slumped down over the table, she didn't fall on the floor, or anything. And, just as he started to panic, he heard a baby cry. The baby was in a bassinet, over in the corner, the crying was all it took to bring his wife back, she came to and sat up, shaking and staring at him, like he was a ghost or something. She stood up and went over to the baby and picked it up. She just kept staring at him. Joel looked at the baby in her arms and asked, like an idiot, "Who's that?" And, very calmly, she turned the baby for Joel to see, and introduced him to his son...

...The awe on Joel's face more than twenty-five years later as he recalled his first meeting with his son brought a similar sense of wonder to his audience.

"Anyway, once we figured out what all had happened, we settled down and eventually, things got back to normal. After I finished healing, I applied here, went through the academy and started working on the streets. The following February thirteenth, I was called back to the precinct from patrol. I walked in and there was this bouquet of flowers waiting for me. Everybody was raggin' on me so bad, I thought I'd die from embarrassment. But when I read the card, it didn't matter what anyone else thought or said." With that, he pulled the medium-sized card from its little stand and opened it, holding it so the others could read it: "Every year, on this date, she sends me carnations, because I remembered they were her favorite...and I guess they're mine, too."

There were very few dry eyes, as each person read the words on the card, the same words that came every year with the matching bouquet of flowers: "My Love: You promised that you would come back, and you did, right at the moment I had given up hope. I thank God every, single day for bringing you into my life and this anniversary, as on every other, I just wanted to remind you of how much you mean to me, and how much I love you."

Megan's eyes appeared to be watering, as did the eyes of several other detectives and officers of Major Crime who had listened to Joel's story. A sniffle or two was also heard.

Throughout the story, Captain Banks had stayed leaning against the wall, sensing that it was time for his people to get back to work before more developed the weepy-sniffles. He stood to look more like the Captain he was before making his announcement. "Just because crime is down doesn't mean it's stopped. Get back to work." Simon took the folder that Rhonda lifted to him and returned to his office.

The other members of Major Crime quickly moved back to their desks and busied themselves. Another case file from their captain was not what they wanted to receive.


The chiming at the elevator alerted Jim that he hadn't been dreaming, that he had indeed heard Blair's heartbeat and smelled chocolate, chocolate and roses in the vicinity of his partner's heartbeat.

Without looking up Jim asked, "I thought you were just going down to records?"

"I was. I mean, I did."

Looking up and indicating the objects in Blair's hand, "Then," Jim said, "what's all that?"

"Deliveries."

"Deliveries?"

"Yes, you know. Deliver, to take something to someone else and leave it with them."

Jim looked exasperated. "I know that, Darwin. I mean, what are you doing making deliveries?"

"I'll explain in a sec." Blair took the box of chocolates over to Detective Dills' desk, then placed the roses on Carter's desk. Both detectives were out on calls, and would enjoy the surprises when they returned.

"Okay, where was I? Oh, yeah, explaining the deliveries. I was coming back up through the lobby when I passed Sergeant Anderson's desk. There was this delivery guy trying to leave things with him. And you know how they've been since Ms. White and the poisoned chocolates. They're still being extra careful about who and what finds its way from down there to up here. Sort of like they did after the Golden pizza incident. Anyway, when I heard he had things for people up here, I told him I'd take them." Stopping Jim before he could say anything, he added, "After the packages and delivery guy were checked out."

Jim nodded. But Blair wasn't watching his partner, he was watching Carter's face as she came in and saw the flowers on her desk, and the emotions that ran across her face as she read the attached card. Those MasterCard commercials are right, he thought, moments like these were priceless.

"Whatever, Chief. Want anything from the breakroom?" Jim asked.

"Coffee," came the standard reply.

Coming back into Major Crime, two cups of coffee in hand, Jim passed by Henri's desk, where the detective seemed to be having a quiet disagreement with whomever he was talking to on the phone.

"What's with H?" he asked Megan, who only shrugged that she didn't know and returned to the files spread out on her desk.

Hanging up the phone, Henri grabbed his coffee cup and headed toward the breakroom. He didn't acknowledge anyone he passed, and seemed to still be deep in thought a few minutes later when he returned to the bullpen. So deep in thought, he almost plowed over Blair trying to get back to his desk.

"Come on Henri, what are you so grumpy about, man? Don't tell me that you and Lori had a fight on Valentine's Day?" Sandburg's voice broke through his funk, and Brown smiled in spite of himself.

"Nah, her folks are coming for a visit. They didn't even ask, they just told us what day they'd get here."

Rafe was puzzled. He knew Brown derived great pleasure from tormenting his father-in-law. "Come on, they do this to you almost every year. What's the problem?"

"Grandpa's coming with them."

"Oh."

Sandburg looked back and forth between the two partners. "What, doesn't he think you're good enough to be married to his granddaughter?"

Rafe almost choked on his coffee. "Sandburg, he's a Grand Wizard in the Ku Klux Clan!"

"What?!" Sandburg gaped at Brown.

Megan added, "You've got to tell us how you met."

"I'm probably never going to hear the end of it until I do, right?" Henri looked at the faces that surrounded him, nodding their agreement.

"Okay, I was working my way through school as a plumber and a call came for an emergency repair..."

..."Brown, you available?" The voice crackled through the ancient radio and Henri fumbled to pick it up.

"Brown here sir. I just finished the broken tub faucet repair at the sorority, and one of the girls told me about a study group tonight, so I was hoping..."

"One of the girls?" The dispatcher's laughter seemed to make the radio vibrate.

"Mr. Jacobs, if I don't get my economics grade up, the coach is gonna bench me."

"Okay, kid. They asked for Montgomery, but he's got another hour before he finished installing that water heater over on 4th street. Tell you what, you go and get this job started, and he'll be there as soon as he's done. When he shows up, you can go to your study group."

"Thanks, Mr. Jacobs."

"I've got fifty bucks riding on Friday's game. If you don't play and Ol' Miss loses, I'm taking it out of your hide."

"Yes, sir." Brown bit back his laughter as he wrote down the address he was given.

Twenty minutes later he pulled up in the driveway of an old brick building. No street numbers were on the exterior of the building and Brown wasn't sure if he had the right place. Before he could call in a request to confirm the location a man ran out of the door.

The short, mousy looking man came up to the truck, pushing his stringy blond hair out of his face. "Thank God you're here. We're knee-deep in water and we can't get the main valve shut off." Suddenly he looked past the Forestview Plumbing truck and saw the man driving it. "You're black."

Henri hadn't registered anything past 'knee-deep in water' and was pulling on his waders as he unloaded the truck.

"I said, you're black."

"No, I'm Brown." The meaning of what was being said to him didn't quite click in his haste to stop the damage being done inside the structure.

Bypassing the still jabbering man, Brown headed up the stone steps, only to be stopped by an imposing figure at the top.

"Who in the hell are you?"

Henri looked up for the first time. Standing in front of him was a tall white man with steel blue eyes and a shock of white hair. Deep lines across the aristocratic face indicated an age that belied the strength he exhibited.

Grandma Brown had always told her favorite grandson to never let a stranger intimidate him. Henri drew himself up to his full height and never let his gaze wander from his questioner. "I'm the plumber, sir. Name's Henri..."

"He's black, sir!" Mousy had caught up to them. Panting, he repeated himself, "He's black Mr. Thompson."

With all the patience ever found in a college sophomore, Henri finished introducing himself. "Brown. Not black, Brown. Henri Brown, the plumber. You did call for a plumber, didn't you?

"We were expecting Mr. Montgomery." As he spoke, two large men stepped out of the door and joined Thompson, flanking him in a protective stance. A slight nod from the older man sent them back a step, but they continued to watch the now nervous Brown.

"He's on a job on the other side of town, and there's no one else available. The call sounded like it was an emergency, so they sent me to get started until he can get here." Brown made to walk back down the steps. "If you'd rather wait for him, you're more than welcome to. He should be here in about an hour or so."

"Grandpa!" The feminine voice caught Brown's attention and he turned back around as a petite blond stepped out from behind the group of men. She was beautiful, barely coming up to Henri's shoulders, with straight hair that hung to her waist in a neat braid. Her voice was vaguely familiar to him.

"Do I know you?" Henri asked. "Your voice sounds familiar."

She smiled warmly at him, obviously pleased at the recognition. "We're in English Lit together, but I sit in the back."

"They make you sit in back of a nigger, Miss Lori? What kind of school are you going to, child?" Henri caught the warning glance from the girl's grandfather, but his muscle man did not.

"Excuse me?" She whirled around, causing several of the men on the porch to duck in order to miss the whip-like braid. "I will have you know, Mr. Parker, that I have never met a 'nigger' in my life. I have, however, met many fine African-Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics, Orientals..."

"I'm sure Mr. Parker didn't mean any harm, child."

"Grandpa, I don't think Mr. Parker is the point here. You know what I think of your views, yet you still come up with excuses for me to come visit you while you're here. No more, if you want to see me, you come to my home, with my friends." Before the stunned man could react, she changed the subject. "Are you really going to let your basement flood because of the plumber's skin color, or are you going to let him fix it?"

Thompson was fixated on the first part of his granddaughter's comments. "You're leaving? You're not going to stay and visit with me?"

"Only if he does."

"What?"

"This man is one of my classmates. I'm not leaving him here with your vile friends, so if he is staying to work on the broken pipes then I'll stay. Otherwise I'm going."

Family stubbornness showed as the two locked eyes. Eventually the eldest conceded defeat. With only the slightest grimace on his face, he turned towards Henri. "Mr. Brown, isn't it?"

"Yes, sir."

"Mr. Brown, we seem to be in a bit of a dilemma here. Would you mind making some emergency repairs until our regular plumber arrives?"

Henri wasn't sure any job was worth the hassle this one obviously was. One look at the beautiful face waiting for his answer gave him back his resolve. "Of course. Let's see what it's going to take to get you folks high and dry again." Swallowing hard, he followed them into the building.

One look at the photos on the walls removed any doubt Henri had about what kind of place this was. Although it was impossible to identify any of the figures in the pictures under their robes and white pointed hoods, he was reasonably sure they were in the room with him.


Henri had the repairs well under way by the time Montgomery arrived on the scene. "Sorry, kiddo," he whispered in his thick Southern drawl. In a louder voice, he continued, "That's a great temporary repair you've got there, Henri. I've got the new section of pipe out in my truck. You want to give me a hand bringing it in? Then you can go to your study group."

"Thanks, man. I've got to ace that economics quiz or the coach is gonna have a cow."

"Economics?" The young woman spoke for the first time since the repairs had commenced. "Is it for Professor Martin's class?"

"Yeah, do you have him too?" Henri was sure he would have noticed that beautiful face in more than one of his classes. "I've got him first thing in the morning."

"Yuck! Afternoon's bad enough. Do you think I could tag along with you to your study group? That's my worst subject."

"Lori, the campus at night is no place for an unescorted lady." Thompson's concern shone through his arrogance for once.

"Don't worry sir, I'll make sure she gets home all right." Brown was sincere when he made the offer and it showed in his voice.

Before Thompson could come up with another objection, his granddaughter cut in. "See, Grandpa, I'll be fine. You always said Ol' Miss has the best defense in the league. Who better to protect me than the player of the week?" Shifting gears, she turned to Henri. "We've never been formally introduced. I'm Lori Thompson."

Henri quickly wiped his palms on the seat of his pants before taking the proffered hand. With a slow smile and his most debonair voice he answered her. "Brown, Henri Brown. It will be my pleasure to escort and protect you Madame."

Lori giggled and leaned close, speaking in a voice only Henri could hear. "I think economics just got a lot more interesting...."

..."We started dating shortly after that."

"And I thought they would never get married," joked Rafe.

Brown turned to stare at his partner and smiled up at him. "Ha ha, partner. Just wait until you find the right person and meet her family." The detectives and officers that were or had been married all smiled at that comment.

Megan, having turned to answer her phone, was now getting her coat and signaling Joel that they had to go to a crime scene.

"Oops, guess we're up next," Joel told Henri. "But don't worry, I'm sure Lori can handle her grandfather." Turning to Megan he asked, "So, what are the prelims on the case?"

"A man in a giant red heart suit robbed the Crown Jewelers on 5th," Megan waited for the reaction from Joel. She didn't have long to wait until he stopped putting on his coat and turned to look at her.

"You're joking?" he asked.

"No."

"That doesn't sound much like a case for Major Crime though," offered Blair.

Megan smiled. "This is the third store he's hit in the last hour. The first was a candy store and the second was a florist."

"Still doesn't sound like a case for Major Crime," Rafe joined the conversation.

"Oh, agreed," answered Megan. "His first two takes only totaled about fifty dollars each. However, the ring he stole from the jewelry store is worth about a hundred thousand."

"Whoops."

Joel shook his head slightly. Jim muttered something about Valentine's Day bringing out the nuts, which earned him a pat on his shoulder from his partner.

"Just one question," said Joel as he and Megan walked out of the bullpen and toward the elevator. "A human heart or a paper cut-out heart?"

Megan waited until they were in the elevator and the doors were closing to answer, "A paper cut-out."

"And it's only morning," muttered Jim.


Major Crime, after lunch

The officers and detectives were enjoying a quiet lunch. Most of them had ordered from the deli across the street, especially since fresh homemade soup was on the menu.

"So, what happened with the paper cut-out guy?" Rafe asked Megan.

"She turned him down," replied Megan.

"Huh?"

"The girl the heart was trying to woo turned him down. So he ripped his heart in two." Megan replied with a grimace on her face.

"She broke his heart," Henri joked.

"Don't start H. The guy was crying as they put him in the squad car."

Jim kept his comment about the holiday to himself this time. He swore though, that it brought out the weirdoes.

The bullpen quieted down again just as Sgt. Anderson walked through the doors and over to Rhonda's desk. Smiling, he placed a very nice crystal vase with a single long-stemmed rose in it on her desk. "This arrived for you down at the desk, Miss Cameron."

Rhonda thanked the sergeant, and offered him a piece of candy from her earlier gift.

"Hey, Joe, how come you're making the deliveries?" Simon asked from his office door.

Sgt. Anderson smiled and answered "lunch" as if that explained it all and left the bullpen.

"So, Rhonda, who's the rose from?" asked Megan.

Rhonda was reading the small card that was attached by ribbons to the vase, and simply answered, "My date."

Megan returned to her desk to find Henri waiting for her. "Did you find out?"

"No. It wasn't that she didn't answer, she just didn't seem to answer, you know?"

"Well, whoever he is, his initials are 'C' and 'M' and I think they've been dating for a couple of months now," added Rafe.

"Ah, it's the season for romance," offered Blair. His partner only snorted at that. "Okay, I'll admit, there are a few weird things that happen because of romance and love. I'll even go as far as to say to just get a date, but come on, it's romance."

"Uh huh."

Blair looked around at his fellow detectives, "Are you guys trying to tell me you never did anything really out there to get a date?"

"Probably nothing as far-fetched as you, Hairboy," answered Henri.

"Yeah. So why don't you tell us about it? And the whacko from last week doesn't count."

Blair looked over at Megan. "But that wasn't my fault."

"I know," Megan reassured him. "But, come on Sandy, you do attract a... um... bizarre and eclectic group of dates."

"That's not true, not exactly." Blair was slowly succumbing to the needling of his friends.

"Yeah, Sandburg. Spill it."

Blair looked at Jim with one of those "oh thanks for the help" looks. "Well, there was this one time when I was mistaken for..."

...Blair looked up at the menu on the wall, then over at his friend Daniel. The new cafe, several blocks from the university, heralded itself to be the "healthy eaters' haven." By the prices, Blair decided it was an expensive way to eat healthy. And, if the food wasn't worth it, they were going to stick with the restaurant less than a block from the university.

"Well, are you going to order?" Daniel stepped away from the counter to give Blair access, knowing that his friend did not share his ability to size up a menu in seconds flat.

Ignoring Daniel, and then taking another minute to decide, Blair addressed the young man behind the counter. "I'll have a number three, no mustard, and an orange iced tea."

Blair handed over his money, and together he and Daniel looked for a table while waiting for their order numbers to be called. A bus boy cleared a table toward the back, away from the windows and the general traffic flow of the restaurant.

Still waiting for their orders, the two started to discuss Dr. Jones' Anthropology Methods and Theories class and the paper that would soon be due. Blair paused, distracted for the second time in five minutes. Daniel, getting a bit irritated that their "working" lunch wasn't going anywhere because of his friend's lack of attention, finally asked, "What is it?"

"That girl over there, she keeps staring at me. Like I've got a neon sign over my head."

"Maybe you do," Daniel joked. Blair didn't get a chance to respond as their order numbers were called. "I'll get them. You hold the table."

From his vantage point, Daniel took the opportunity to survey the woman Blair was referring to. Long brown hair, styled to high-hill, a bright yellow sun dress, and if Daniel's eyes weren't playing tricks on him, her fingernail polish was the same color. She looked like she should be in Southern California, not Cascade. She was probably no taller than five-five without the heels, and had a slight frame. Not bad. Not bad at all. And she was still staring at Blair, to boot.

Blair and Daniel were just finishing up their lunch when the young woman made her move. "Excuse me." Blair looked up to find her slipping into a seat at their table. Daniel noticed she still seemed to be enamored with Blair. "And I really I do hate to bother you while you're eating, but I just had to tell you how much I enjoyed your last movie, Aleksei. And, I was just thrilled to see that you were going to be here for the Indie Film Festival. By the way, my name is Abby. It's just unbelievable to see you eating here. I, well, wondered if maybe you'd have dinner with me tonight?"

"Thank you miss, but I think you..." Daniel's left foot made contact with Blair's right shin, "...thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed it." Daniel nodded in encouragement, and mouthed something about just playing along. However, Blair wasn't sure if that was the best thing to do, and he found a way out of it. "But I think you're party over there is trying to get your attention."

"Umm, thank you," the young woman said.

"You're welcome," Blair responded, smiling warmly, but not answering the question about dinner. When the young woman was out of earshot he turned on Daniel. "Why did you kick me?"

Daniel blinked at his friend. "She thinks you're some actor. Wants to go to dinner with you. And, she's very attractive. So, have dinner with her. You can tell her the truth after that."

"I don't know. I don't think this is a good idea."

"Come on, live a little. She is the one who thinks you're someone else. For a night, be an actor. Consider this a chance to improve your obfuscation skills."

Blair caved. Daniel did have a point about her being attractive, after all. On the way out, he stopped at Abby's table, and accepted her phone number and a dinner date for seven-thirty that night at Maxwell's.


Maxwell's, 7:45pm

"I've been a fan of yours for a while now, and I was very excited to hear that you'd be in town for the Indie Film Festival. And it was just so exciting to see you eating lunch in that cafe, and I couldn't stop myself from approaching you."

Blair nodded, as he wasn't sure what to say, but from her response to his "I'm glad you did" he guessed that was exactly what she wanted to hear.

Why exactly am I doing this? Blair thought. Oh yeah, there's a beautiful, young woman who is interested in me. Only she thinks I'm this Aleksei person. Who knows, maybe this will work. Blair sighed to himself, maybe.

The waiter arrived with their main course, and Blair hoped this would stop Abby's questions and allow them to eat, but after one bite, she started again.

"I like what you've done with your hair. I mean making it a darker brown. Is it for your next movie?"

Blair kept his answer simple, "Yes."

"But, Aleksei, why are you speaking with an American accent? Isn't that hard to do without messing up?" Abby asked, taking a bite of her salad.

Blair put his fork down and finished chewing, then wiped his mouth with his napkin, all the while formulating an answer in his head. "Like the change in my hair color, the American accent is for my next project. I thought it best that I try to use the accent as much as possible so that it comes off on screen as natural."

"Oh, that is why I absolutely loved that one review on you in the Indie Film Review that said: 'Aleksei Marik is a bright and upcoming Russian actor who works hard to make the audience believe that the character he is portraying is as real as you or I. He dazzles the audience with his performance as a British dancer struggling to make it in the cut-throat world of the London stage...'"

As Abby continued to recite the review from memory, Blair realized that he finally had the last name of the actor, an actor he had never heard of--Aleksei Marik. Blair was brought out of his thoughts as Abby finished her recitation. He thanked her for remembering the wonderful review. That comment seemed to just spur on more questions. Blair kept giving answers that he hoped she wanted to hear. That was, until dessert.

"Can I see your tattoo?"

"Not in public." Blair's answer caused Abby to giggle lightly.

"How about later at my apartment?" she asked with a gleam in her eye.

"I don't think that would be appropriate, not yet at least."

"How about after our next date?" Abby asked in Russian.

Blair didn't speak Russian. His only response to her question was a very charming smile. Abby saw that as a positive sign that there might just be a second date, and continued speaking in Russian. Blair stopped her when he put his hand on hers.

"It's been a long day," he said in English. "I'm very tired. And I must get up early in the morning for a meeting." Blair smiled sweetly, but kept an expression of being tired on his face. Abby looked like she believed him, so he added, "But I'd love to meet with you again."

Abby perked up at that. "I'd love that."

Blair paid the bill then escorted Abby to her car. She kissed him on the cheek and then quickly got into her car and drove away....

"...Did you meet with her again?"

"Better question would be, were you more prepared the second time?"

Blair looked at Jim. "Real funny, man. But, yeh..."

...The next day Blair called Daniel to see if he'd ever heard of this Russian actor. Daniel's only advice: "Check the Internet, and good luck, man."

Three hours later Blair had a working knowledge of Aleksei's life, the roles he'd played, turned down, where he went to school, his age, and even a little on the current movie he was working on. Blair was very happy to see that Aleksei was indeed playing an American in that movie.

Just to be on the safe side, he spent a few more hours visiting several Russian translation websites picking up useful but general Russian phrases he could possibly use on his next date with Abby. Which, if all worked out as he planned, would be tonight.

When Blair called Abby, he asked her in Russian if she'd like to go out tonight. In Russian she replied that she would. Switching back to English, he said, "Very good. It will give me more time to work with my American accent." Blair figured that way he wouldn't have to speak much Russian at the restaurant. "Shall we try Maxwell's again, say 6pm?"

Abby agreed.


Maxwell's, 6pm

Blair was at Maxwell's for the second time in two days. This time, Maxwell's was very busy. And, it was only because Blair had called early for a reservation that they had a table. He also got there early, at least ten minutes before Abby arrived, so that his real name wouldn't slip from the host's mouth. Abby was nice, but Blair wasn't sure how she was going to take being deceived by an Anthropology graduate student.

Like a gentleman, Blair stood when Abby approached, then offered her a chair, and scooted it in. Because Abby had her back to the majority of the restaurant, she didn't notice when the real Aleksei Marik walked in.

But, Blair did. He used the menu to hide behind. "Oh, boy," Blair muttered under his breath.

"Did you say something, Aleksei?"

In Russian, Blair answered, "No, nothing, my dear."

Abby smiled. "Remember, you're suppose to be working on your English."

Blair nodded. "Thank you."

From his seat, Blair could see Aleksei and his date's table. Thankfully, the way the dining room was set up, neither Aleksei nor his date could really see Blair and Abby's table.

Aleksei attempted to pull out a chair for his date, but she offered him a polite smile and did it herself, leaving the actor looking slightly befuddled as she scooted up to the table and began to survey her menu.

Aleksei's date looked familiar to Blair. She was about five-six with long brown hair that was cut in a style with bangs. Blair thought for a moment. Then it came to him. Melissa Shay. She was a grad student in something at Rainier. Blair turned his thoughts back to the menu and his date.

Blair and Abby waited for their waitress to return for their drink order. It didn't take long before Abby started asking questions again. This time, armed with the information he learned from the web, Blair answered to the best of his ability.

Unlike the dinner the night before, this time Blair was able to learn a little more about Abby. What he learned was that Abby was very into Aleksei. She lived and breathed his career. Blair decided that it was best that he just let her continue to talk. He'd nod or give the appropriate response, but after dinner, he was going to tell her the truth. It wasn't fair to her, and he didn't think he could take much more of the "Aleksei this" and "Aleksei that."

From their table, Blair noticed that Aleksei and his date weren't hitting it off so well. Melissa didn't seem interested in whatever Aleksei was talking about. Blair started to formulate a plan.

Their waitress came for their drink orders about the same time as Aleksei and Melissa's waitress took their drink order. After that, Blair saw Aleksei excuse himself and head toward the restrooms. Blair thought his plan might just work. If he could explain his plan to Aleksei, and Aleksei agreed. He too excused himself from the table and headed toward the restrooms.

After the restroom door swung shut, Blair asked, "Aleksei Marik?"

"Yes." Aleksei turned around. It was almost like looking into a mirror. Both men had long curly brown hair, although with the lighting in the restaurant a person probably wouldn't notice that their hair was two different shades of brown, Blair's being darker with just a hint of red. They both wore wire-rimmed glasses. And they were almost dressed alike: a pair of dressy black jeans, a white dress shirt and a multi-colored vest. The vests were going to be a problem though, they were different.

Now that Blair was here, he wondered how he was going to do this. Well, he thought to himself, direct has always worked best.

"Look, this is going to sound very strange, but my date thinks I'm you. She's really interested in your career. I'd even go as for as to maybe call her a 'groupie.' And I couldn't help but notice that you don't seem to be having fun with your date. What would you say to switching dates?"

"And exactly how would we do this?" the actor asked, cocking an eyebrow at the man blocking his way to the paper towels, wondering if all Americans were equally strange.

"We'll switch vests, go back to our tables and 'dates.' After ten minutes or so, and after the drinks arrive, we'll say there's a problem with the drinks and meet at the bar."

Aleksei, saw that this American's plan might work. He was right, he wasn't enjoying the company of Melissa Shay. She just didn't seem interested in him and his career as an actor. She was attractive and all, but she just wasn't that interested in acting in general or his choice of careers, and they didn't have much in common to talk about. Meeting Blair's eyes, Aleksei added, "Then, if this plan isn't working, we'll switch back the vests and our dates. If we like our new dates, we'll simply switch drinks and return to our new dates.

The two men finalized the plan, as well as exchanging addresses so if everything worked out, they'd have a way to return the vests to the rightful owners. Blair told Aleksei everything he could about Abby and their first date. He made sure to warn the actor that Abby chattered nonstop and liked to ask hundreds of questions about him and his career.

Aleksei, in turn, told Blair everything he knew about Melissa, including that this was their second date, and that she really wasn't interested in his career. She wanted to talk more about the day's events and what was happening in the news. Aleksei also made sure he mentioned that Melissa was a graduate student in creative writing at Rainier.

They switched vests and headed back into the dining room....

"...Did the girls ever figure out what happened?" Rafe broke in.

"Yes and no. I was just getting to that part..."

...The two men went to their new tables. They arrived just as the waitresses appeared to take their dinner orders.

After their orders were taken, Abby began to ask questions of her date again. This time, and to Abby's great surprise, Aleksei answered her back, and in detail no less. Guess it just takes him time to open up to new people, thought Abby.

Across the dining room, at the other table, Blair and Melissa were talking about that week's episode of The X-Files and whether Chris Carter was going to be able to pull off the storyline or not. During their conversation, Melissa began to wonder what had caused the dramatic change from an actor obsessed with his own career to a guy that knew what happened yesterday in the news. He seemed much more down to earth than the previous night, for that matter, since they'd arrived.

Aleksei would later tell Blair that Abby never figured out the switch. That he and she had ended up going out a couple more times while he was in Cascade. As a matter of fact, in an email that Blair would later receive, Aleksei would mention having run into Abby at another Indie film festival, them going out to lunch and her mentioning the dinners at Maxwell's.

Melissa, on the other hand, figured it out. "So, who are you? I mean, don't take this wrong and all, I've really enjoyed our dinner, but you're not the same guy I came in here with."

Blair froze. Melissa smiled. The look on Blair's face was priceless. Melissa couldn't help laughing. "I should probably be angry. I'll wait until I hear your explanation though."

"Blair Sandburg," replied Blair. "I'm a grad student at Rainier," Blair pointed to his old table. Melissa had to turn around in her chair to see where Blair was indicating. "And I was with Abby over there."

"Well, it seems like they're having a good time. Better than he and I were."

"She really wanted to meet Aleksei," Blair began. "She thought I was him, and then he appeared." Noticing that Melissa was still waiting for an explanation he added, "Maybe I should start at the beginning." And Blair did. By the time he was finished, Melissa was laughing again....

"...She took it well?" Henri asked in disbelief.

"Yeah, she seemed alright with it. I guess she found it so funny and hard to believe that she forgave me. Like Aleksei said, she wasn't really interested in his film career, and the two of us had a lot more in common-- we were both working on our Masters'. We went out several more times after that, and we still stay in contact with each other. She teaches creative writing at WestLake High School."

Jim looked up at that comment. "This the same Melissa you had lunch with about a month ago?"

"The same. She was on winter break."

Jim nodded, glad that Sandburg still kept in contact with people from before the whole dissertation fiasco.

"Okay Megan," Blair started. "You pushed for me to tell you about a strange date, what about you?"

Megan tried to look busy at her desk, but the other detectives wouldn't go for it. She looked at her colleagues and sighed. Turnabout is fair play, she thought. Thinking for a moment, she stared off at nothing.

"We've all had our dates from Hell," offered Henri.

"A date from Hell? Okay, I've got your date from Hell. It was midday Friday and my partner..."

"...Oh come on Megs. It won't be that bad. Just one dinner." Inspector Tristan Daniels promised his partner. "Carol and I were supposed to take him out, but the kids are sick. He's only here for a weekend."

Junior Inspector Megan Connor sighed. "But Tristan, I don't do blind dates. It's a personal rule of mine."

Her partner shook his head. "It's not like we're trying to set you up for a romantic relationship or anything. It's a simple dinner. He's here for one night until his connecting flight leaves and Carol doesn't want her cousin to eat alone."

"If he's a relative, why can't you tell me more about him?"

"Because it's a cousin Carol hasn't seen since childhood. He's 25 and not from this country, his mother asked us to keep an eye on him. Please Megs, we're desperate."

"Tristan..." Megan tried to look stern, but when faced with puppy-dog eyes, just couldn't. "Oh all right. One dinner."

He couldn't hide the relief in his eyes. "Thank you, Megan. Both Carol and I really appreciate this. Really."


Saturday night

Megan sighed and swirled the liquid in her glass before taking a sip of the dark amber brew.

"I'm going to kill them," she muttered darkly to herself. "If I survive this tonight, I'm going to kill them."

She looked around the room, wondering if it was too late to back out. When she had arrived at the 'Walkabout' bar, it had been nearly empty. An hour and a half later, it was beginning to fill up and was becoming noisier and rowdier.

In front of her lay a sheet of paper, from Tristan's cousin-in-law. "Running late. Heard about a great bar, the Walkabout. I'll meet you there, Kyle Rogers."?

Great bar? Megan thought with a snort. It looked like something from the movie "Crocodile Dundee." All it needed was for Paul Hogan to come bursting through the door carrying a stuffed croc. Then again, she thought, eyeing the clientele, that might be a drastic improvement.

She had just about given up on her "date," telling herself she'd give the guy fifteen more minutes before going home and calling Tristan to find out what had happened. Reminding him why she didn't go out on blind dates.

"Well hello there little-shelia!" a voice boomed out behind her as a hand touch her shoulder.

Megan's hand went for her gun just as she realized it was in her car. She hadn't planned on needing it for a dinner date.

"Whoa there, I'm guessing you must be Megan Connor," the voice belonging to the hand said from behind her. She looked around to gape at the man, nodding numbly, not quite believing her eyes.

A young man moved to stand in front of her. But instead of wearing regular slacks, or even jeans and a shirt, he wore what had to be the ugliest pants ever made. Crocodile? The man was wearing crocodile skin pants and a matching vest. On his head perched a brimmed hat, also made of the animal skin.

Megan blinked, wondering when she had stepped into the Paul Hogan movie. The bar, the man in the crocodile skin. All that was needed was a huge stuffed croc. If he pulls one out, she thought to herself, I'm out of here.

Planting a smile on her face, she held out her hand. "I'm Megan Connor. You must be Kyle Rogers." She was hoping desperately that he wasn't.

"Sure am. Like the outfit? I wanted to blend in." The young man smiled, obviously pleased with his choice of outfit.

Megan coughed. "Um...it's certainly different. The accent is nice." I think, she added silently.

"You think so? I've been practicing and driving my roommate crazy for weeks. Ever since I saw 'Crocodile Dundee', I've wanted to see the Australian Outback. Take a walk-a-bout and all that."

Megan nodded, unsure if the man was kidding or not. Taking in the whole costume he was wearing, she decided he wasn't. The only thing she decided was that she was going to kill Tristan the next time she him.

She was saved from a vocal response by the server approaching to get their drink and dinner orders.


Later that night

"Excuse me, Megan? Is anything wrong?" Kyle asked as Megan's gazed wandered to a table across the room.

Megan turned back to her companion. "No, nothing. At least I don't think it's anything. There's someone over there that looks really familiar, but he shouldn't be here. I must be mistaken."

Smiling, Kyle went back to eating his steak. "I really appreciate you spending the evening with me. This is all just too cool!"

"My pleasure," Megan told him, turning her attention back to the Alice Springs Chicken, which was way overcooked.

When they were finished eating, Kyle suddenly stood up and in a loud, fake-Australian accent he pulled Megan up from her seat. "Little shelia, would you like to avago at dancing?"

Megan stared. "Um...I'm not that good of a dancer really," she tried to say, but was cut off as she was pulled from her seat and spun out onto the dance floor.

Megan's thoughts of finding a way out of another dance were interrupted when an accented voice spoke from behind the couple. "May I cut in?"

Megan felt herself being turned quickly. Kyle just missed hitting the speaker. The tall man ducked, turning a smile towards the couple.

"Sorry about that, I didn't mean to startle you. But I'd still like a dance with the lady." Megan stepped away from Kyle and turned to find herself looking at a tall handsome man with dark hair and brown eyes. He held out a hand to her.

"No, I don't mind at all." Megan returned the smile and stepped towards the stranger. "Not a problem, is it Kyle?" she asked, ignoring the sputtering from behind her.

The man guided her expertly onto the dance floor, moving with the music. "I'm Scott Brunell. And you are?"

"Megan. Megan Connor."

"Nice to meet you, Megan. You'll have to excuse my interruption. I'm having a drink with some business partners and couldn't resist asking for a dance."

"No problem. Kyle is relative of a friend. And, my friend begged me to go on this blind date."

As they moved around the dance floor, Megan got another look at the men her dance partner had been sitting with. An older man wore a frown as he watched the couple dance.

"Your partners don't seem happy that we're out here," Megan commented.

Scott laughed, "He just doesn't like interruptions. I suppose I need to be getting back to our meeting though." He bowed over her hand. "Thank you for the lovely dance." With that he turned and walked back to his table.

At the same time, Megan recognized Scott's "business partner"-- the man at the top of organized crime in New South Wales, Walter Paulins.

Still smiling brightly, she casually returned to the table where Kyle sat sulking. "What's the matter, Kyle?" she asked.

"I thought we were supposed to be spending the evening together," the younger man said.

"We are," Megan told him, trying to keep the impatience from her voice. "But I wanted to get a better look at Mr. Bruenell's business partners."

"Why?"

"His partner is wanted by the police." She dug out her cell phone and slid it to Kyle. "You call the authorities and stay here. I'm going to try something."

Before Kyle could utter a protest, Megan picked up a piece of paper with a phone number on it and walked purposefully across the room. As she approached the table, she called out, "Oh Scott! I wanted to give you this."

Brunell gave his partner an embarrassed look and stood up to meet the woman before she got any closer. "Thanks Megan, that was sweet of you. Maybe we could go out sometime?"

Before Megan could answer or even hand the piece of paper to Scott, the door of the bar burst in and police officers poured into the room.

"FREEZE! NO ONE MOVE!" Nearly all movement ceased for a brief moment. Then confusion took over.

Paulins stood up with his bodyguards, heading for a back door, only to be stopped by the Chief Inspector of the New South Wales Police Department.

Brunell pushed by Megan and ran for a group of terrified patrons. Megan lost sight of him in the mass confusion.

"Megan!" Tristan's voice called out over the noise.

"Over here, Tristan." She waved to her partner, motioning him over to the table where she now sat.

The older man approached, a wide smile on his face as he shook his head in disbelief. "Only you Megs. Only you could take a simple dinner date and turn it into one of the biggest busts of the year." He gently squeezed her shoulder. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine." She smiled. "It was pure dumb luck. Dumb being the main thing. Who would have thought an escaped felon would pick a public bar like this to meet? This isn't exactly the movies. What are you doing here?"

Tristan snorted. "I got a call that a major tip had come in that Paulins was in town. The department was short handed and they wanted me to come in. I'm sure Paulins didn't expect to find a New South Wales Inspector here on a Saturday night. Speaking of which, why are you here? What happened with the dinner date with Kyle?"

"Oh my god. Kyle!" Megan looked around for her date. "I'm sorry! I forgot about Kyle." She moved to stand up, worried for the brash young man.

"OW!" yelped a voice from under the table.

Megan and Tristan looked under the table to find Kyle Rogers huddled against the wall. "Is it over?" he asked.

"Yes, Kyle. Everything is fine." Tristan reached under the table to pull his wife's cousin out....

...Megan looked at the shocked faces around her. "I told you Brunell and I went way back. Granted at that time no one knew who anyone was or anything."

"You danced with him?" asked Joel in disbelief.

"Yes," Megan smirked. "And last year I threw him into a van door and arrested him." The members of Major Crime laughed.

"Whatever happened to your date, Megs?" Blair asked, using the newly discovered nickname.

"Kyle. After he got home, he wrote up what happened, fictionalizing it quite a bit and sold it to some short story travel book place or something." Megan shrugged her shoulders. "After that, I'm not sure what happened to him. I do know that no one else asked me to take relatives on blind dates."

"I'm thinking that's a good thing," commented Henri.

"For Megs or the relative?" joked Rafe, who also couldn't resist a chance to use the nickname.

Megan coughed, but smiled. "Funny. I think I hear paperwork calling me."


Major Crime, early afternoon

"Eight-six-seven-five-three-oh-nin-eee-ine." Humming the rest of the song and then repeating the phone number when he felt like it, Blair entered Major Crime and headed towards his desk. He'd returned just in time to hear Rafe and Brown lightly arguing over exactly what they'd seen or maybe it was heard, he wasn't exactly sure-- and it appeared that neither were they-- at the case they'd been called to right after lunch. Their conversation seemed to be the same one that the two always had every time they investigated something weird.

"You going to call Jenny, Chief?"

"Huh? No. The song was playing on the radio in the evidence room. What are they," Blair pointed to L.T. and Henri, "arguing about?"

"Oh, seems someone wrote on the side of the Shaw and Ladd Buildings."

"And?" prompted his partner.

Jim paused. He was having fun dragging out the story, watching his partner waiting for him to drop the 'punch line' of the crime.

"And? Come on, Jim. Get on with it." Jim smiled; his partner didn't disappoint him with his reaction.

"Alright, Chief. It seems that someone wrote 'K-I-S-S-I-N-G, first comes love, then comes marriage, will you marry me Irene?' in some kind of chalk-like paint. A nice pinkish color paint, I might add. At least from what I've eavesdropped so far."

"Where's the person who painted it?"

"No one knows, and no one saw anything," answered Rafe.

"Typical."

Ignoring his partner, Rafe continued the story where Jim had left off. "It's a water-based chalk paint, so the first rain should take care of it."

"It was sweet," commented Megan. "A crime, but still sweet."

"At least the rest of it hadn't been written on the building."

"The rest of it's not that bad," Simon commented with a smile.

"What do you mean by that?" asked Henri.

"Just that sometimes the rest of the rhyme can bring you good news," answered Simon as he walked back into his office.

"Simon, you can't just say that and walk away," spoke up Joel.

Simon looked over his shoulder and smiled. "Yes, I can. I'm the captain."

"K-I-S-S-I-N-G, first comes love then comes marriage, then comes Simon with the," sang the detectives of Major Crime.

"Oh alright," interrupted Simon. "I'll tell you just to get you to stop singing."

Simon leaned against a desk, trying to find a relaxed half-standing, half-sitting position. "It was February 14, 1981, and I was stuck in a traffic jam at the wrong time..."

...Glaring through the snow-glazed windshield at the cars surrounding his own, Simon sighed at the complete unfairness of life. Here he was, married less than a year to the woman of his dreams, the love of his life, and today was that all-encompassing day for lovers. A day for which he'd been eager--Valentine's Day.

And here he was, stuck in two lanes of still cars during a snowstorm while someone scraped up the truckload of road salt that had dumped all over the intersection of Spring Street and Danvers Avenue. The major intersection had ground to a halt because some idiot driving the salt truck took the corner too fast and spun out on the ice, fishtailing before finally tipping over with a crash that shook the street, spraying ice, snow, and salt everywhere.

Ordinarily, the salt wouldn't have been a problem, Simon told himself. After all, this was Cascade. This city eats salt for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, not to mention in-between snacks on the sly. The salt truck, however, was full and ready to be spread on the asphalt, to protect innocent travelers.

Simon was left sitting behind the wheel of his car, listening to the radio, allowing the soft jazz strains he preferred to wash over his mind while he wished his wife could be in his arms. "Jesus, I could've walked there by now!" he grumbled. At least the walk and the crisp cold weather would have cleared his head from the day's depressing end.

So far, the special day he had planned didn't seem to be progressing too well. Everything had been great about his shift; he and Joe LaCasse, his partner, got along just as well as always. Mister Watch-The-Moths-Fly-Out-Of-My-Wallet-Whenever-I-Open-It had even sprung for the coffee and danishes that morning. Simon had been sufficiently shocked as to feign a heart attack, anticipating the light smack to his arm.

They'd had a relatively quiet day on patrol, riding their beat in their blues, both glad they didn't have a walking beat like the foot patrol. The criminal element of the city apparently had taken the day off; surprising, considering the holiday. Maybe the thieves had gotten their "shopping" done early.

The first mistake was answering the domestic call that had come in right before the end of their shift-- normally the call would be given to officers just beginning their shift. But several things prevented that from happening. First, the address given was right around the corner from their current location. Second, it was a domestic, and those could get ugly real fast if help didn't arrive soon enough. Third, a seven-year-old girl, crying that her uncle was beating her mommy, had made the call.

Simon wondered how people could do that in front of their own children, or anyone's children. If only I knew the answer to that, he thought.

Simon clenched his teeth. He wasn't going to think about that now. He was going to go to pick up Joan, and then they were going to go out and have a lovely time. He wasn't going to think about the coke-crazed addict in Holding right now, the once-lovely woman in the morgue, or the bruised little girl in the white and pink dress.

He had to focus, instead, on the evening, on what he needed to prove, what he needed to show. While he had courted Joan, he had been a rookie, fresh from the academy, and she had been a newly-minted attorney in the D.A.'s office. He had won her with stories, poems, and songs that expressed his love to her. She had read and listened to his words and blushed.

Now, it was Valentine's Day. Simon knew he had to prove that just because they were now a married couple that all the love had not left them. True, they no longer qualified as newlyweds, but they had a busy and a happy life together. He'd arranged everything for today: flowers to her office in the morning, a gift of a teddy bear in the afternoon, and reservations at Renee's-- one of the nicest seafood restaurants in Cascade-- for the evening. All of this would be accompanied with soft words, sweet poetry and lovely music, and wherever that all led was, well, good.

His lateness was never factored into the equation. Uncanny how many things could go wrong when you're in a hurry, he thought. Four desperate cops, three missing pages from the other responding officers' reports, two jammed typewriters, and one dead typewriter ribbon made for an unhappy cop. A very unhappy, very late cop.

Shaking himself out of his musings, Simon saw that traffic was, finally, beginning to move. Slowly, but it was moving and that beat staying still. "It's about time," he snorted as he put his car into drive. Passing slowly through the cluttered intersection, the officer spotted the overturned dump truck and couldn't stop the low half-whistle that escaped from his mouth at the massive pile of salt spread all over the road. Using shovels, gloved hands, and brute strength, city maintenance had forced a path through the white grains, allowing traffic to resume. In spite of the mess he was in, he couldn't help but feel sorry for the poor hapless shmuck sitting dazed on the sidewalk.

Once the traffic was moving, it didn't take very long to get to the law firm where Joan now worked. She had left the D.A.'s office after about two years, saying that although the work was challenging and fast-paced, it didn't offer her much chance of advancement.

Sleek in a trim green suit and as beautiful as ever, Joan was waiting on the sidewalk when he pulled up to the curb. She didn't look upset, but you could never tell with women. "Hey, you beautiful thing, you. Want a ride someplace?"

"I'll go anywhere with you, baby." Hopping in and closing the car door, she chuckled at his levity before giving in and asking. "What took so long? I've been waiting for you forever." Warmth shining from her eyes, Joan reached over and lightly stroked the knuckles of his hand. "I was starting to worry."

"Sorry, sweetheart. I tried to call your office, but couldn't get through." He risked the traffic for a brief moment and leaned to kiss her on the cheek. "We took a domestic call at the end of our shift." Simon paused for a moment, willing his voice to control. "It was a bad one."

"Tender, I'm sorry. Do you want to talk about it?"

The simple use of her pet name for him had a calming effect, showing him how much she loved and supported him. "Not right now, but maybe later." He reached over and took her hand, "Right now is just for us. I made reservations at Renee's."

"Simon!"

"And it should still be there for us, since I called to tell them we'd be late. I even requested a secluded table." His leering grin was answered by a sweet smile, the same smile that had stolen his heart two years before.

Unfortunately, it held no power over anyone else, as Simon discovered, clearing a path for his lady through the throng of people waiting for tables. His initial smugness at having the foresight to arrange reservations faded quickly after seeing the host's seating chart. The unique two-tiered dining room simply couldn't have held more people if they'd tried. Even the bar area was filled with diners. "Banks, party of two. We have a reservation for seven p.m., but I phoned two hours ago to say that we'd be late. They haven't lost us, have they?"

The young man adjusted his red jacket, and carefully examined both the seating chart and a second list filled with names before nodding vigorously. "We received your notification just fine, Mister Banks, but as you can see," he nodded at the filled-to-capacity dining area, "we have quite a line. What we've had to do is create a waiting list by order of priority. Those with reservations are seated first, by order of arrival, while those without reservations have to take their chances. You are listed as fourth in line right now."

Simon slowly released the breath he hadn't been aware he was holding until that moment. "How long of a wait are we looking at?"

The young man's shrug did nothing to ease his fears. "The average wait has been thirty minutes, but it all depends on how long the other people take."

Simon got the impression that the young man had already heard this question and repeated the same answer several dozen times this evening, and it was still relatively early. Looking out over the sea of happy eating people on one side and a sea of impatient people on the other, Simon could empathize with his feelings of being trapped. "Thanks for your help."

Simon retreated back to the corner bench where his precious wife sat waiting for him. "We're fourth in line. They're not saying, but looks like someone overbooked for Valentine's Day." He settled next to her, taking her hand in his own in a possessive gesture, taking every opportunity to show everyone within view that this lovely woman was with him and how much he loved her.

Thirty minutes passed before the host found them a table. Unfortunately, it was placed too near the kitchen doors for Simon's tastes. But at this hour what could he expect? Renee's did have the best seafood in town, after all. As soon as they were seated, the waitress took their drink orders and left them to peruse the menu in peace. Ten minutes later, she returned with their drinks and took their dinner order.

Time passed in soft discussion about their work, their friends and the latest local news. In between such banalities of life, Simon recited gentle sonnets of love and devotion, poems of the masters and some of his own creations, running the gamut from delicate beauty to bawdy delight. He held her hands in his own, massaging her fingers gently from tip to knuckle, loving the soft sounds she made.

Somewhere in all of this, realization began to set in that their food had not arrived. Deciding it would be a poor move to simply drop Joan's hand and ask about their food, Simon continued his soft words while raising her hand to his mouth and nuzzling it gently in a series of small kisses. With a soft smile to her, he motioned as unobtrusively as possible to a passing waiter.

"Could you please check on our food? It's been quite a while since we ordered."

Maybe fifteen minutes passed before the waiter, embarrassment written in clear lines all over his face, approached their table with some trepidation. "I don't know how this happened," he paused to swallow hard, "but it appears that when your waitress finished her shift, she failed to turn your orders in to the chef before she left."

"What?!" Simon couldn't believe it, and he knew Joan was equally shocked.

Another large swallow from the waiter. "Believe me, we will do everything possible to make this up to you, I'm sure the inconvenience must be great."

"You've got that right!" He wasn't yelling, he controlled his anger rather admirably, but still used the force and intensity of his voice to his own advantage, making it seem more powerful, more forceful than normal.

And right now Simon rained fire and brimstone in equal measures down on the hapless waiter. True, he wasn't at fault, but honestly! How could such a thing have happened?

"The chef has been instructed to see to your dinners personally and at speed. They should be out shortly." Ending his speech, the waiter hurried back into the safety of the kitchen.

True to his word, their meals arrived within twenty minutes, accompanied by profuse apologies and offers of extra sides to enhance the flavor. In spite of all the problems the French Onion soup and scallops excelled every expectation. The bill they were presented with also met the expectations of a fancy restaurant, but with a nice discount to make up for the earlier problems.

As they approached the car, his police instincts kicked in and warned him that something was coming. Joan's body language didn't sit right. Could something be wrong? "Honeybun," he began cautiously, allowing his concern to seep between the cracks in his tone, "is something wrong? I can't help but think you've been miles away tonight."

To his surprise, she blushed, the warmth rolling up her skin in waves. "No, I don't think so... I think everything is fine." Suddenly a smile bloomed on her face, and everything was alright again.

Simon gently touched her cheek and ran one finger to her beautiful mouth. "You are my summer rose whenever you smile. Passionate and rare, so hard to escape."

"You'd want to escape?"

"Never, my love." He kissed her once, under the parking-lot light, for all to bear witness. "I will never leave your walls, poor I, a prisoner of love, a captive of your unfolding bloom."

"That is so tacky, Simon."

He chuckled, knowing the mood was destroyed but willing to allow it to fade somewhat. All the better it would be for the mood to be recreated later; a little soft music, soft lights, and true feelings made for a good romance. Who said romance is dead? "So I take it the flowers went over well this morning?"

At that, she paused and went silent, only speaking with her eyes. Instantly, Simon knew. "The flowers never made it, did they?"

"No, Simon, I'm sorry."

"You don't have to be sorry, Joan, but someone else will be, that's for sure!" He ran his hand over his head in frustration. "Damn it all, it's February the fourteenth, not Friday the thirteenth."

She started laughing then, and couldn't seem to stop. Her laugh was contagious and he gave up on his anger and started to laugh along with her. "Come on, I'll show you what flowers I had planned for you to receive at work today. You won't be able to take them home, but at least you can see what I had in mind, what I always want you to know."

A short walk in the moonlight led them to the indoor winter home of the Cascade Botanical Gardens. As they walked around the beds, holding hands, Simon told her the meanings of all the flowers. "Together, red and white signify unity, the unity of us, of you and me."

Joan seemed about to say something but was interrupted by a popping and hissing sound. Right on time, the sprinklers kicked in. Too bad someone had accidentally shifted the direction of the water flow away from the gardens and into the walkways.

Tracking mud in their wake, they left the Gardens. Simon was drenched head to toe and squishing as he walked. He wanted this Not-So-Sweetest-Day to be over with as soon as possible. This most recent disaster however, gave him the perfect excuse to get undressed and seek the warming comfort of Joan's arms as soon as they got home. If her laughter was any indication, he knew that at least she was having a good time. The drive home was punctuated by spurts of Joan's giggles and a dripping certain to haunt his dreams.

On West Street, a flash in the rearview-mirror caught his eye. Simon groaned. Why is this happening to me?

Weaving in and out between the broken yellow lines, an obviously intoxicated driver had clearly decided to test his skill in public. There was no doubt this man was a menace, an accident waiting to happen. What if he tried his next trick on the highway? But that didn't happen, as the driver ended up on the sidewalk and parked on top of what had been a bus stop bench.

Pulling his car over with ease, Simon smiled briefly as he indicated that Joan should stay in the car. He hoped this wouldn't take long. A unit was already on its way and the drunk would be someone else's problem for the rest of the night.

The black and white rounded the corner and things were once again looking up. For the intoxicated driver, however, things weren't. Loudly protesting his innocence and staggering around the area, barely able to stand, let alone walk the required sobriety tests, the drunk didn't notice the police car that he almost walked into. Of course, to him, it seemed as if the cops had just run him down and he screamed, "You dirty cops, you killed me! I'm dead and you killed me! My leg, my leg!!"

He wheeled around and tried to make a break for it, stumbling and lurching in his effort to run from the police.

Having dealt with drunks in the past, Simon had expected this and had been waiting less than two steps away from their perpetrator. He stopped the man's flight with ease and lowered him to the ground, ready to be taken down to the station and booked. The drunk managed to get in the last word, retaliating by divesting himself of his dinner: six bourbons on the rocks, and three rum & Cokes. Simon's pants leg the target.

Ignoring the smirks on the officers' faces, Simon let his annoyance show only briefly before he made his statement. He had no doubt that the tale would be told to all shifts within the next two hours, if it even took that long. "Nelson, McCoy, I'll come in early tomorrow and write up the report." He couldn't hide the disgust in his voice.

"No problem, Banks. It's pretty clear that the guy's smashed," McCoy indicated the remains of the bus bench. "Go on home."

Shaking his leg vigorously with each step, Simon made as dignified a retreat as he could manage. With some effort and reminding himself that he loved her dearly, he endured an encore of tiny giggles interspersed with genuine commiseration.

Home had never looked so good to Simon Banks. The normally ten-minute drive home took five instead, and only a quick check that the lights were off and the doors locked separated him from a shower and time alone with his wife.

Joan plucked a note off the door and read it quickly. "Mrs. Desjardins signed for a delivery for us, and she used her key to put it on the dining room table. I wonder what it could be?"

The surprise was clear as soon as they peered into the dining room. The flower shop had delivered the blossoms to his home. While it hadn't been what he ordered, at least they had arrived in time for the holiday. It was worth it to see the look of pleasure on her face... and something else too. The something else he saw worried him. He knew he couldn't smother her, and that he wouldn't ever stop loving her. It made him want to share whatever this secret she seemed to be keeping was.

He hoped the minor error in the flower order was not a precursor to whatever it was Joan was keeping a secret. A single yellow rose-- symbolic of sorrow and jealousy-- hid amongst the other red and white roses. Hurrying into the bathroom, Simon unfastened his pants and mentally ran through all the possibilities. The nice silk tie followed the pants into the clothes hamper, and he had gotten the shirt unbuttoned before he asked through the opened door, "Peachcakes, what is the matter? Whatever it is, you can tell me."

Joan entered, her heels clicking on the blue tile floor, and smiled softly at him. Her voice rose in a light clear alto, a caress of love in single notes. "Simon and Joan, sitting in a tree."

Simon was puzzled. Why on God's green earth should Joan be singing a children's rhyme?

"K-I-S-S-I-N-G."

No, it couldn't be.

"First comes love, then comes marriage."

Holy Mary, Mother of God!

"And here comes Simon with a baby carriage!"

Before the line was finished, he had scooped her up into his arms and swung her around, before setting her back on her feet. He traced her stomach with his fingers, as he listened to her speak. "I suspected it for a couple weeks but I wasn't certain until the doctor confirmed it this morning. An early to-mid September baby, she thinks." She turned within his protecting arms to face him before going any further with her story. "Are you hoping for a girl or a boy?"

Simon smiled and kissed her, now he was sure. "Doesn't matter, as long as they're healthy, a little bit me and a little bit you."

"That's the corniest thing I've ever heard you say, and I love you for it."

"I love you, too."

A persistent ringing at the door interrupted the moment. Without thinking, Simon rushed to answer it, aware of little more than his wife's love and their news. Only a voice he knew and respected penetrated his state of shock and brought him into the world again.

The tall man had a wry expression on his dark face, amusement twinkling in his eyes. "I especially like the underwear, Banks." Captain Albert commented with a straight face. "Don't know too many men who can carry off white hearts on a red background." He chuckled briefly before getting down to business. "I just wanted you to know that your drunk driver tonight has warrants out on him from Massachusetts and Connecticut for DUI. He's not going anywhere."

"That's good, Sir."

"Damn right it's good. You were in the right place at the right time, for the first time tonight, according to your statement at the scene." Anderson shook his head. "Everything bad happened to you tonight, didn't it, but at least you stopped this moron. Must have had a dark cloud following you around tonight, son."

Son. The word and its implications reverberated around in his head.

Simon took a deep breath. There it was, the reason for all this bad stuff on today of all days. "Don't forget the silver lining, Captain."

The Captain chuckled as Simon closed the door behind him. Leaning back against the door he held his arms open for Joan to join him. "A son Joanie, I want a son...."

...Simon glanced around at his detectives, their expressions held a slight mischievous appearance. "What, what is it?"

"What?"

"Nothing."

"I don't like the way..." Simon was interrupted before he could finish his thought about the way his detectives were looking at him.

"Hi Dad."

The detectives started laughing as soon as the speaker's voice registered in Simon's mind. Plus, he turned around so fast that he had to stop himself by grabbing a hold of the desk beside him. "How long?"

"Long enough," Daryl smiled.

"What...are you doing here?" Simon asked his son.

Bending down, Daryl retrieved his backpack from the floor. He'd dropped it there when he realized his father was telling his detectives about the Valentine date where his mom had told his dad she was pregnant. He'd never heard his dad's version of the story. His dad's was a little more hectic than his mom's, but still on the romantic side. I don't think I'll ever understand my parents, he thought.

"I'm here to interview Captain Taggart for my research paper. I know I mentioned it to you," Daryl answered.

"That's today?"

"Yes, dad, it's today."

Taggart looked between father and son, and decided to rescue both from the other. "Come on Daryl, we can do the interview in the breakroom." Daryl smiled at his dad, but quickly followed Joel into the breakroom.

"Why is Daryl interviewing Captain Taggart?" inquired Megan.

"It's an assignment for one of his introductory criminal justice courses," answered Simon, who was still watching his son and Joel.

"Why didn't he interview you?"

"Bias," Simon replied. "And Taggart is another captain. I guess Daryl thinks that will go over well with his professor."

"Probably," Blair and L.T. answered in unison.

Jim held up a folder to his partner. "If you think you and Rafe are finished being a stereo, do you think you could sign this and give it to Rhonda?"

"Funny man," Blair said, accepting the folder.

Blair finished with the report and headed to Rhonda's desk at the same time as the civil aide from earlier in the day returned with another package for Rhonda. "Must be your lucky day, Ms. Cameron," commented the aide as he handed her the clipboard to sign and laid a long, thin package on her desk. Once again Rhonda thanked the aide before opening the box.

"What's in the box?" asked Blair.

"A ring?" Henri added.

"Nah, the box is too long," Megan answered.

"There are worse ways of getting an engagement ring," commented Simon.

Ignoring his captain's comment, Rafe added that it was the wrong type of box and that an engagement ring was meant to be given in person.

Jim had noticed Rafe's reaction to Simon's comment, and couldn't pass up asking about it. Rafe said nothing and for a minute or so, as Rhonda opened the box, everything seemed to be forgotten. At least Rafe hoped so.

Rhonda pulled out the piece of paper that was folded inside the box. Inside the paper was a note telling her about the dinner reservations to a very nice restaurant near the Wilkes Theatre and that they had seats for that night's event.

Jim smiled at Rhonda and mouthed "very nice." She blushed. Jim decided that Rhonda would love the attention to be on someone else and away from her desk. "So Rafe, what did the captain mean about other ways to get a ring that caused you to try and ignore him?" he asked.

"He was talking about... well, not exactly. I mean, the ring wasn't mine or anything. It was more about the first time I met him. That was when I finally decided I wanted to be a cop."

"Uh-huh."

"Come on partner," prompted Henri. "Tell us about this meeting."

"Okay." Rafe paused, getting his thoughts into order. "It was mid-September 1993, and I was playing basketball when my friend Molly appeared in my driveway..."

"...He shoots, he scores." Rafe mumbled without much enthusiasm as the basketball spun lazily around the rim of the basket, only to fall off and bounce sluggishly down the driveway and into the street. Rafe watched it, hoping a car would come by and put the ball out of his misery.

Wiping his face with the hem of his shirt, he sagged against the garage door, staring off into space. No place to go. Nothing to do. No prospects in sight. What a rotten year this had been. What a rotten rest of the year this was going to be.

His pessimistic introspection was cut short when the basketball bounced energetically back up the driveway, rebounded softly against his chest, and landed in his lap.

"She shoots, she scores!"

Rafe knew that voice. Rafe loved that voice. He looked up at the young woman who was standing before him, hands on her hips, grinning.

"Molly!" She was grabbed, hugged, swung around in a wide circle, and kissed enthusiastically on the cheek. "Molly! Damn. What on earth are you doing here?"

"What do you mean what am I doing here?" She straightened out her shirt and tucked it back into her jeans, looking a bit dazed from being spun around. "I told you I was starting at Rainier this fall. Going back to school for my Masters, remember?"

"Well, yeah," Rafe said, picking up the basketball and tucking it under his arm. He felt a bit goofy because he couldn't wipe the grin off his face. "But I figured, you know, new friends, new life, we haven't seen each other in a couple of years."

"Give me a break, Rafey." Molly rolled her eyes dramatically. "You think I was going to come all the way out west to go to Rainier and then ignore you? What a jerk!" She swatted him good naturedly in the arm. "Got any water? It's quite a hike from the bus stop and I am dying of thirst."

"Bus stop?" Rafe blinked. "You walked from the bus stop?"

"Well sure." Molly opened the side door to the garage and shoved Rafe through. He absently dropped the basketball into a cardboard box as they made their way past a brand new Chevy Citation, up a small flight of steps, and into the kitchen. "I don't drive, remember?"

"Still? I thought you were going to take lessons the summer after we graduated?"

"I was, but... I don't know, I just didn't get around to it. Public transportation is highly underrated, you know."

"Chicken." He knew quite well that on her first--and last--driving lesson she backed up over her brother's bicycle, her mother's anniversary rosebush, and almost took out her father as well.

"Chicken!" Molly tried to sound indignant, but ended up smiling sheepishly. "Yeah, okay, I'm still chicken. Some things just stay with you."

Rafe grabbed a couple of glasses from a cabinet and some bottled water from the refrigerator. He paused while the door was still open, taking inventory. "Do you just want water, or something a little more interesting like Coke, Orange Crush, orange juice, iced tea, or milk?"

"Just water. So where's your BMW?"

Sighing, Rafe just shook his head sadly. His beautiful '72 BMW bit the dust just a couple of days ago. The latest event in his summer from hell.

"Gone? Oh Rafe, you loved that car. Wait, please tell me that Citation isn't yours?"

He shook his head vehemently as he filled two glasses, handing one to her. "God no. It's belongs to my buddy's folks. They're up visiting and off somewhere now with Charlie, lunch probably."

She seemed relieved. "So what's going on with you, besides the car, I mean?" she asked after draining half her glass. "How's Helene?"

Helene. Rafe cringed. That was the start of the summer from hell.

Molly looked crestfallen. "Oh no. No, Rafe."

"Yeah," he said. "We broke up in July." Six years down the drain, he thought.

"I'm sorry."

"Yeah, me too."

Molly drank some more of her water, more slowly this time, almost pensively. Suddenly, she brightened. "Well, you got the job at that research center, right?"

Rafe shook his head and stared out the kitchen window. "I'm currently unemployed... again."

"Oh, man." Molly frowned. "I can't believe they didn't give you that job after all they..."

"Hey, I never said they didn't give it to me."

"What? Oh. Oh! You turned them down?" Molly looked incredulous, and that look soon morphed into smugness. "I knew it! You still want to be a cop, don't you?"

"I don't know what I want to do." That sounded petulant, even to him.

Rafe suddenly set his glass in the sink with a loud thunk and swiped an arm across his face. "Okay, enough of this mood crushing conversation. I'll go grab a quick shower, and then I say we go out to dinner and then to a movie. Charlie's dad said I could use their car tonight if I needed it."

"Great!" Molly beamed again, and immediately began searching through the newspaper still sitting on the kitchen table from breakfast.

The shower felt good. Steam dragged away the cobwebs that had taken over his body. The pinpoints of water woke his atrophied muscles, sore and achy from the lack of activity over the past few months. God, it was so great to see Molly again. She'd been in the room next to his in the freshman coed dorm at Dartmouth, where he'd gone on scholarship. They'd hit it off instantly. Both chemistry majors at first, Molly had eventually switched to psychology. And, in his junior year, Rafe had switched to business administration. Molly was horrified, but really, he'd just been being practical-- not much to do with just a BS in chemistry these days, and he'd really had no desire to go on to graduate school. Not that he'd done much with his BS in business admin so far, but who was counting?

"'Joy Luck'?" asked a female voice from the door of the bathroom. Rafe was so startled that the soap squirted out of his hands and smacked him in the face before falling onto the black hole of the shower floor.

"I beg your pardon?" he finally managed, glancing self-consciously towards his crotch. When he looked up he could see Molly's blobbish outline through the almost opaque shower curtain. She seemed to be staring at the newspaper in her hand, and not in his direction.

"The 'Joy Luck Club' is playing at the cinema. You know, the one about Chinese women and daughters? It's suppose to be really touching."

"Chick flick. I don't think so." Rafe found the soap and continued his lathering.

"Good." Paper crinkled. "How about 'Loaded Weapon One'? It's suppose to be really funny."

"Think I'll pass."

"Okay, well, there's something called 'Ronquilla' that I've never heard of. And I see that 'The Fugitive' is still playing."

Rafe sighed.

"Oh. I bet you already saw that with Helene, huh?"

Damn, thought Rafe. How does she do that?

"We need something fun." More crinkling. "Something funny. Hey, I know!" The newspaper went flying into the air and scattered all over the small bathroom. The classifieds floated into the shower stall with Rafe and soon newsprint mixed in with the suds as they spiraled down the drain.

"'Airplane' is playing on campus tonight, sponsored by the Film Society. And Slater Hall is located right near that new Italian restaurant in Cascade. The movie's at 6, so we'll have to eat soon and fast. Have you seen 'Airplane'?"

"No. What is it? Some documentary?" It sounded boring as hell.

"A documentary," Molly smirked. "Oh yeah, this is going to be fun."

And it was. They had a great dinner and half a carafe of wine, reliving all those exciting college moments that always seem to get funnier and more outlandish as time goes by. And the movie was nothing like Rafe expected. It was ridiculous, corny, punny, incredibly silly, full of parody, satire, and every bad joke ever written. Whether it was the wine, the company, or just the mood he was in, he couldn't tell, but he hadn't laughed that hard in ages.

He was still feeling a bit silly as they walked back to Main Street and he unlocked the car. Barely past 8 p.m., it was just starting to get dark.

"I knew you'd like it! It was just what you needed."

"No, you were just what I needed. Thanks." Rafe smiled and patted her hand as they settled into their respective seats. Yeah, it was just fine having a girl as a best friend, even if they hadn't seen each other in two years. He started the car and looked around the dashboard. "Okay, now where's the knob to turn on the lights?" He tried one and was successful. "All right, now to turn off the high beams." This was trickier. He tried pulling a small lever near the light switch and the steering wheel suddenly changed position.

"Whoa!" Rafe jumped back and Molly laughed.

"Ha ha." He tried another switch and the windshield wipers went on. Molly laughed harder. Ordinarily, he'd have been annoyed and swearing at this point, but between the movie and Molly, he felt a little giddy himself.

"Maybe this is it." Molly leaned over and pressed a button on the side of the steering column. The hazards started blinking. Rafe and Molly just looked at each other and practically fell over themselves laughing.

"Turn them off!" sputtered Rafe, beginning to feel embarrassed. Sitting in a car with the hazards blinking, the high beams on and the windshield wipers whooshing back and forth on a perfectly clear evening was not cool.

Molly choked, pushing and pulling the little knob. "I can't."

Suddenly, someone rapped loudly on the driver's side window. It was a man. A very big man, tall and dark-skinned, whose expression said that he never, ever smiled. He had a gold detective's shield pressed against the car window. Rafe and Molly laughed harder.

"Yes, sir?" Rafe gasped as he rolled down the window.

"Having some trouble there, son?" The detective's voice was deep and rumbling, and he stared suspiciously at the occupants.

"No. Well, yes..." Rafe couldn't make his mind work to explain.

"May I please see your license and registration?"

Clearing his throat, Rafe decided the best thing to do was just nod. He handed the man his license and then tried to figure out where Mr. Summers would keep the registration. Molly searched the glove compartment while he checked behind the visors. The man's suspicious look became more suspicious.

"Is this your car, mister, " he glanced at the license, "Rafe?"

"Yes. Well, no... I mean..."

"Got it!" Molly's eyes were shining as she handed Rafe the registration.

"And you are?" The officer was looking at Molly as Rafe passed the registration off to him.

"Molly Webster. Um, sir," she explained earnestly. "I'm a graduate student in child psychology here at Rainier and I work as a clown part-time. You know, birthday parties and stuff." Rafe glanced at the policeman, but he didn't even bat an eye, as if clowns hitching rides with car thieves were a common phenomenon. Molly had been doing the clown thing for as long as Rafe had known her; and she practically glowed when she was around children.

The officer nodded, but was looking back and forth between the registration and Rafe's driver's license. Then he looked back down at Rafe.

"Could you please step out of the car?"

"What?" Oh man. He just realized that the registration had a different last name and state of residence than his license. This didn't look good.

"Surely you're not going to arrest him!" Molly gasped. Without thinking, she had quoted one of the running gag lines from the movie.

"Quit calling him Shirley!" Rafe blurted out before he could stop himself.

That set them both off again, even as Rafe obediently stepped out of the car. "Honestly, officer," he explained, trying to get the laughter under control. "It's my friend's father's car and he knows I have it. It's brand new and I drove a '72 BMW for eight years, but it died a few days ago."

"Just be quiet for a moment, son, and stand here. And it's Captain, if you don't mind." The man pulled out a cell phone and kept an eye on Rafe and Molly. A small crowd was gathered, mostly college kids who were enjoying the show. Rafe smiled politely at them and tried not to look like a car thief.

"Thief!"

Both the captain and Rafe jerked to attention at that. A woman ran out of the jewelry store a few doors down and pointed at a man running towards them.

"Police! He took a ring, a fifteen hundred dollar engagement ring, from the store!"

The policeman had already moved to intercept the thief as he ran through the small crowd and past a young blonde woman. Molly had gotten out of her side of the car to watch, her eyes large and full of excitement.

A skinny young man, kid really, was brought over and told to 'assume the position' against a Sedan parked two spaces down. Rafe now realized that the captain must have stopped for a bite to eat and had noticed the strange goings on in the Citation. So it hadn't been an official 'stop.'

"I'm sorry, ma'am," the captain was saying to the jewelry store clerk. "There is no ring on him."

"He took that ring!" the woman insisted.

Rafe relaxed a little and leaned against the parking meter. "That woman's got it," he said, calmly pointing to the pretty young blonde the thief had passed in the crowd. The officer looked at Rafe, then at the blonde, who acted like she was trying to melt into the brick wall behind her. When all the attention became too focused on her, she tried running. Rafe moved in quickly and grabbed her wrist.

"How did you know?" the captain asked.

"She wasn't wearing a ring a few minutes ago," Rafe explained. "She is now." He held her left wrist up for the cop to see. A beautiful gold band with a healthy single diamond practically glowed from her third finger. The young woman tried to pull her hand away, but Rafe hung on. "He must have slipped it to her as he ran through the crowd."

"We just wanted an engagement ring," she whined as tears welled up in her eyes. "We're gettin' married, and Joey couldn't afford no ring for me."

The captain got confirmation from the jewelry store clerk that it was the same ring, and started to handle the attempted theft according to proper police procedure. When both would-be thieves were placed in the back of a newly-arrived patrol car, arguing heatedly, the captain returned his attention to Rafe and Molly.

"I'll need you to come down to the station."

Molly interrupted the captain. "After what he just did for you? That stinks! This really is his friend's car, you know!" Molly was absolutely indignant.

"Molly! For Pete's sake. He wants me to come down as a witness. Right?" Rafe suddenly wasn't so sure. "You do want me to come down as just a witness?"

For the first time, the captain's mouth looked like it might possibly smile. Maybe he did have a sense of humor after all. "Yes, son. I believe you about the car. Nobody who's obviously as smart as you could be that stupid."

"But you're going to call Mr. Summers, anyway, aren't you?"

"Damn straight." The officer raised his eyebrows. "You ever think about going into law enforcement, Mr. Rafe?"

"Well..."

"Yes!" Molly jumped up away from the car and joined them on the sidewalk. "Yes, he has. He's just not sure. But he can come down and talk to you sometime, right Captain?"

"Molly!"

"I know it's what he really wants to do, even if he doesn't. He'd just be so good at it! "

"Yes, he would." The captain looked Rafe up and down, then nodded approvingly.

"Yes!" Molly punched into the air and looked extremely satisfied.

"And you." The captain turned to glare at Molly. Molly immediately stopped her end-zone dance and looked up, startled.

"Yes?"

"Do you, as a clown, really do children's birthday parties?"

"Yes." She relaxed and smiled winningly at the policeman.

"Good. My niece Casey's turning 5 in a couple of weeks, and I'd like to have you come to her party. Here's my card." He handed a card to both Molly and Rafe and then returned to his car.

"Thank you, Captain Banks!" Molly called after him. "What a sweetie."

Rafe wasn't so sure about the 'sweetie' part, but he seemed like a decent man. He tucked the card carefully into his breast pocket and felt his future click neatly into place. "Me a cop," he muttered. "What am I going to do with all those spiffy suits I've been buying for my big career in business?"

"Easy. Just save them till you're a detective. Armani goes nice with gold shields!" Molly hugged him sincerely before jumping off the curb and back into the car. "Now get me home. I have my first test tomorrow!"

Rafe sat back in the driver's seat and looked at the dashboard. Captain Banks had stopped the wipers, the blinking hazards, the high beams, and even returned the steering wheel to its original position, giving him strict orders to drive the car to Charlie's house and get lessons before taking it out again.

"And Rafey dear, just what were you doing looking at the ring finger on that woman's hand?"

Rafe just grinned and pulled out of the parking place. Maybe this year wouldn't be so bad after all....

"...So Rafey," started Megan. And with that, Rafe knew he should never have called Megan Megs earlier. "Is Molly still around?"

"Yes."

"You dated a clown?" questioned his partner.

"No. Molly's like my best friend. We never dated. And yes, she still does her clowning act a couple times a year for the local children's hospital."

"Rafey."

"Megs."

"If the name-calling is over with, can you get back to work?" Was all Simon barked as he re- entered his office.

"So, you glad Molly talked you into this?"

"Only when I'm not doing paperwork," joked Rafe. "But yeah, I like it."

"Good, because here's the files on the two cases we have to go to court for this week."

Rafe glared at his partner, then at the files that now sat on his desk. I think I need to call Molly, he thought. Yes, if he had to do paperwork all day, she was going to get a call tonight. Rafe smiled to himself as he picked up the first file to review. Maybe they could even get together later in the week, especially since the cold front was supposed to break, do something outdoors- like.


Major Crime, late afternoon

The civilian aide was back. This time though he was delivering to everyone in Major Crime. Half the detectives had puzzled expressions on their faces, the rest were laughing. For the aide had delivered a miniature Klingon holding a small heart with "thank you" written on it in one hand and a small bag of candy held in the other.

"I know what a Klingon is, but why did we all get them?" asked Megan.

"Seems the Police Commissioner's niece is grateful to us for saving her and her family a couple of weeks ago. This is her way of thanking us," answered Simon.

"That was nice of her."

"Uh huh."

"Could have been worse. She could have made them little cars covered in garbage and trash cans," joked Henri.

"I'm never going to live that down, am I? Don't answer that. I only took out a few garbage cans. Let's talk about Jim's driving instead."

"No," was Jim's only response to his partner's comment.

"No offense Sandy, but it's a given that Jim's going to destroy the vehicle he's driving."

How did the conversation get turned to me, wondered Jim. Then Jim saw his way out-- Daryl had finished interviewing Joel.

"How'd the interrogation go Joel?"

"Daryl did a very good job," replied Joel.

Daryl knocked on the door to his father's office, then went in. Ten minutes later he came out. "I'll see you for dinner Wednesday night, Dad. Later, detectives." Then Daryl was out of Major Crime and to the elevator before anyone could say anything.

"He's moving at warp speed."

"By-product of being a college student."

"I see."

Joel and Megan were softly discussing something at his desk. "Rafey," laughed Joel. Rafe ignored them.

"I think we've heard a romantic tale from everyone," commented Joel. "I really do like slow days in the office, gives us time to bond," he joked.

"Not everyone," replied Megan, who was looking at Jim.

Jim, on the other hand, was trying to look busy by finishing up the last of his case reports. While he had been listening to everyone throughout the day, he was hoping they'd just forget that he'd been quiet. Guess not, he thought. He also thought about pleading with his partner to get him out of this, but then why would Blair do that, he had not helped Blair get out of his.

"Okay, Jim, we've shared, now it's your turn," Simon insisted.

"I'd rather not," Jim replied, hoping his stoic expression hid his thoughts.

"Come on, man. We've shared ours. What's your most memorable 'romantic-like' moment you've shared with someone you thought was special?" Rafe encouraged.

"Well." Jim's expression showed that he was trying very hard to find something he would be willing to share. After a few more moments of anticipatory silence, he continued. "I guess it was just after I transferred into Major Crime, when I first met Carolyn," he began. Stoic, reticent Ellison, was about to come forth with something very private, something he probably would never have shared, had not others spoken first. "I had picked up some evidence at a crime scene and, after tagging and bagging it, I took it down to forensics. She was arguing with Walters, you remember him? He retired about five years ago?" Those who knew the man in question nodded, but some of the others shook their heads in puzzlement, "Well, he was something of a character," Jim explained.

"Oh, yeah. A real character," interrupted Joel. "If you told that man that the sky was gray, he'd say it was orange. Possibly the most contentious, obnoxious, infuriating, far worse than Cassie..."

Jim took a deep breath. "I was dropping off evidence and hoping to maybe run into Carolyn when I heard voices from her office. It was kind of hard not to. They weren't being very quiet..."

...Jim paused at the door to the area that housed the forensics team of the Cascade PD. He looked around for a member of the team handling the Hanson murder, more than happy to have the bloody material off of his desk and in the hands of forensics. Just as the thought struck that he hoped Carolyn would be in, he heard voices from her office.

Carolyn Plummer was reading Walters--aka Mr. Contentious--the riot act. Jim leaned against the door, enjoying the scene in front of him.

Walters was purple with rage. He looked like he was going to have a heart attack as he opened and closed his mouth, looking like a large purple fish. But Carolyn wasn't letting him get a word in edgewise.

"Walters, I don't give a damn who you think you are, but you do NOT get in the way of my people! They are there to do a job which can ultimately make YOUR job easier. I will NOT have you yelling at them, especially at the crime scene. All that does is slow down the process and get everyone upset," Carolyn raged.

"Lt. Plummer," the now embarrassed man started.

"Just hush. You've obviously had your say. It's my turn now, Detective."

She was, in Jim's opinion, magnificent. Walters had a habit of arriving on a crime scene and badgering the forensics people to the point where they missed pieces of evidence, or upset the newer people who then refused to deal with him afterwards.

Carolyn saw Jim, and stopped her commentary. "Get out, Walters. You'll have our report on the Carlton case when it's ready. Yelling at my assistants won't get it done any faster."

The detective glared at Carolyn, unable to form a suitable comeback. The man actually left without saying anything, a shock to those in the outer room.

"Hi, Jim. Sorry about that." Carolyn waved him into her office as she dropped into her desk chair.

"No problem. From what everyone upstairs says, he's had that coming for some time."

Carolyn smiled at the detective. "So what can I do for you? Or are just here to watch the afternoon side show?"

Jim stared at her, the evidence bag momentarily forgotten as a thought formed in his mind. Pushing it away, he recovered and held out the bags. "More stuff from the Hanson case. Maybe this will be enough to at least get the warrant to search the cousin's house."

The forensics officer took the bags with a soft "ick" and dug around on her desk until she found the correct paperwork. "Maybe so. I hope so. You must still think the cousin had something to do with it."

"He's definitely hiding something. But we're not going to know what until we can get in the house ourselves. My hunch is that he killed Brad Hanson to keep Hanson from going public about the thefts."

As they chatted about the case, Carolyn logged the new evidence and both officers signed the transfer of evidence from Major Crime to Forensics. Not having an excuse to hang around any longer, Jim moved towards the door. He paused as he got there, his instinct taking over, before his brain could stop it.

"Carolyn?"

"Yes, Jim?"

Taking a deep breath and feeling a bit fearful of the answer, "Would you like to have dinner with me Friday night?"

There was a long pause, or at least it seemed long to Jim. Silently he berated himself for even asking the question. The woman barely knew him, why would she want to go out with him?

Just as he was ready to run from the room in embarrassment, she answered him. "That would be wonderful, I'd love to have dinner with you."

Jim's expression became a mixture of delight, surprise, and fear. "Great!" he stammered slightly. "There's a new restaurant that's opened downtown, in the Harbour Court building. 7:00pm sound good?"

Carolyn stood up from her desk, evidence bags and forms in hand. She stopped as she reached the spot where the stunned detective stood. She kissed him lightly on the cheek. "That sounds great. See you then." She disappeared down the hallway.

Jim decided that Friday would be a long time coming.


Friday, late afternoon

When did someone curse my Friday and make it a Monday? Jim thought morosely, trying not to see the stares and looks of disgust coming from anyone that passed within six feet of him.

Jim had been assigned to investigate a homicide that thanks to the over abundant rain, had resulted in a rather messy floater. As the body was being pulled from the water, Jim had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and when one of the straps on the rigging broke, releasing the body, it had erupted all over him.

Worse yet, it was Jim's first floater, and he did some serious contamination to the crime scene. By the time he got back to the station he was fairly rank, and Simon banned him from the bullpen until he had gone down to the locker room, showered, and changed into his sweats.

It didn't help that the only sweats he had were the set he had been working out in every night after shift during that week.

"Still, its better than the DB," Jim argued with himself as he pulled on the slightly smelly clothes. "At least as long as I stay down wind of everyone."

When he got back to his desk, exhausted and still able to smell the floater as well as his own sweat, he saw Carolyn waiting beside his desk. He looked at his watch in horror. 8:00pm.

"Damn. I can explain, Carolyn."

The look on her face was not one of amusement, and her reaction wasn't much better. Jim figured he'd completely blown any chance he had, but once she'd heard about the floater she was forgiving.

"Jim. It's okay. I've had my share of floaters. Why don't I follow you home, you can change and we can go out. Unless you're too tired."

"No, no. That sounds good to me," Jim agreed, anxious to make up for messing up the start of their evening.

So Carolyn followed him. After he had taken another shower and changed into clean clothes, they finally made it to dinner.

"Jim? You look really tired. Are you sure you feel up to this?" Carolyn asked, concern in her voice.

"I'm fine," Jim smiled, trying to convince himself as well as Carolyn. "It's been a really long week and I've really been looking forward to tonight."

As their orders were taken and the wine began to have an affect, Jim started to calm down and truly enjoy the evening. He had been more shaken by the day's events than he wanted to admit. He was happy to let Carolyn steer the conversation as they talked about work, current events and life in Cascade.

The food was excellent, but Jim found he had lost his appetite for the beef tenderloins and mushroom sauce he had ordered. He picked at it with his fork, trying not to look at the cioppino and pasta marinara that Carolyn was eating.

"Jim?" Carolyn paused, watching with growing concern as the detective gave up the attempt to eat in favor of just keeping the contents of his stomach down. "Jim, you don't look good. Is it the food?" She motioned for the waiter as Jim attempted to stand up, looking around for the restroom.

"No, not exactly. I just..." Jim gasped, horrified as he fell to his knees, stomach heaving, and began to retch. All over the table and Carolyn.

"Oh god. Waiter!" Carolyn yelled as she simultaneously tried to help Jim and stay out of his way. She snatched a towel and pitcher of water from a passing server and started wiping Jim's face. "It's okay, Jim."

"I'm sorry," he gasped, sitting back slightly, his face pale. As he got a look at the mess, his face went even whiter. "Oh no. I'm sorry, Carolyn. I'm really, really sorry," he whispered.

Ignoring the stares of the other patrons, most of whom were motioning for their checks, and the manager who looked as though he couldn't decide to be concerned or angry at having his patrons upset, Carolyn helped Jim to his feet. "It's not your fault, Jim. After today, I should have known to expect this. That can affect anyone no matter how long they've been on the force."

Jim shook his head, the queasiness giving way to mortified embarrassment. "But I've ruined our dinner. And your dress. Between military training and police training, I should be able to handle things like that."

"Don't worry about it. I can get another dress and we can try dinner again later. Your reaction is no different than anyone else's has ever been. I've even seen Captain Banks turn a few shades of green." Carolyn finished wiping at her clothes. "Come on, let's get you home. Do you feel up to driving?"

Jim nodded mutely, thinking that despite feeling so bad, he was really very attracted to the woman helping him out of the restaurant. "Thanks, Carolyn," he said, once they were settled into the Explorer. "Again, I'm really sorry." He paused as her earlier words caught up to him. "Were you serious? You'd go out with me again? After this?"

She laughed. "Yes I would. Provided you supply better entertainment. No offense, but I'd much prefer a movie or something."

Relieved, Jim answered, "I'll see what can be arranged. Maybe next Friday?"

"I'd love to." Carolyn reached over and squeezed his hand gently before settling back in her seat.

Jim smiled, happy that he managed to salvage something from the evening after all....

...Jim hadn't really looked at anyone in particular while he reminisced about his meeting and first date with his ex-wife. He'd smiled part way through the story, as if he'd never really looked at that meeting as a happy thought before.

"Guess you guys know the rest. We got married, then divorced." The smile faded a little as he looked at his friends.

"But hey, man, you guys are still friends. Probably even more so than when you were married," added Blair, hoping to keep the happy thoughts with his partner.

"True." Jim looked at everyone. "Hey, sometimes it's just not meant to be. The good times will be what I will always remember." Surprised, Jim realized that he meant that. The smile that had faded a few minutes ago returned. Jim also realized that he just needed to finish this last report and he could go home.

"Night all," called Rhonda.

"Wait, Rhonda. Who sent you the flowers?"

"And the other gifts?"

"Hmm. You're all detectives..."

"Come on, you can tell us," pleaded Henri.

Rhonda turned around at that comment and smiled. "Maybe, but not tonight. Tonight, I'm going to dinner with a romantic." With that said, Rhonda continued on to the elevator.

Henri started to sing "love is in the air," but was quickly stopped when Rafe put his hand over Henri's mouth. "No singing."

"Butluvzndee-r," mumbled Henri.

Ignoring Rafe and Henri for a second, Megan looked at the other detectives. "Well, we do know that whoever Rhonda is going out with, this isn't their first date."

"And his initials are 'C' and 'M'," added Joel. "At least that's how the three cards were signed."

As Jim walked back to his desk from retrieving his final report for the day from the printer, he added, "Maybe it's the Police Commissioner."

"Nah."

"Why not, Chief? He's got the same initials."

"Yeah, but so does Chris Miller in Missing Persons," added Rafe.

"And Chad Marks in..."

The End


Like this episode? Email the writer: comet@ao.net
Want to comment on production? Contact Black Panther Productions: bpproductions@wildmail.com


Credits

Coming Home (Joel's tale)
by TAE
with assistance and betaed by Susan Hicks (and Lisa Krakowka)

Brown, Henri Brown (Henri's tale)
by Emerald
betaed by Susan Hicks

Who's Who? (Blair's tale)
by Susan Hicks
concept by Carolyn
betaed by Lisa Krakowka and Virginia Foster

Bad Date, Right Location (Megan's tale)
by Virginia Foster
betaed by Susan Hicks

Silver Lining (Simon's tale)
by Evermore
with assistance and betaed by Heidi McKeon

Decisions (Rafe's tale)
by Hephaistos
with assistance and betaed by Kelly Meding

Finding Peace (Jim's tale)
by TAE
with assistance and betaed by Virginia Foster

End Notes: I just want to publically thank all the writers, beta readers, ghost readers, and everyone else who helped with this episode, thank you.