Disclaimer: The Sentinel and its characters are completely the property of Paramount and Pet Fly Productions. I use them out of reverence, solely for fun and not for profit.
Spoilers: Cypher and The Debt
Warnings: Bad puns.
By Fair or Fowl Means
Jim brought the Ford truck to a stop close by the cook tent.
"Hey, Jim, I think we're supposed to park over there," Blair prodded, pointing to an almost-empty field beyond the fairgrounds themselves.
The Sentinel took a quick glance around, and replied, "No one is going to know but us, and I refuse to haul Dirk any further than I have to."
There was an indignant quack at that remark, and Blair said soothingly, "That's all right, Dirk. He didn't mean it the way it sounded. Jim likes Dirk!" He brought a quivering bundle of feathers up to Jim Ellison's eye-level. "Doesn't Jim like Dirk?" he sang in baby-talk.
"Sandburg," Ellison ground out. "Get that stinking bird away from me."
"Dirk does not stink," Blair refuted the allegation stoutly. "That's a base canard."
Jim's glance would have pierced anyone but his Guide to the quick. Blair, however, was as usual unperturbed by his partner's hostility. "He does stink, Chief," Jim muttered.
"Turn down the dial, man!" the Guide commanded, shaking his head. When would his Sentinel ever learn? "Dirk doesn't stink at all now, does he?"
Ellison tried to fry Sandburg again, but there again was that wall of 'Blairness' off which bullets, Kryptonite and icy blue glares all bounced. The detective settled for opening the door, getting out, and tossing over his shoulder, "Get the duck out of my truck."
"Oooh, nursery rhymes!" Blair enthused, missing death by mere inches as he vaulted from the passenger seat, Jim lunging after him, but getting hung up on the steering wheel.
"!%*&% the duck!" Jim swore.
"More rhymes, but not at all suitable to the nursery," Blair whispered to Dirk. "I think we've really got him going!"
The duck squirmed in his grasp and extended his bill in Jim's direction before letting out a quack to end all quacks.
"So what'd he say?" Jim demanded to know.
Blair looked at him in total disbelief. "How would I know? I don't talk Duck."
Jim was too mad at himself for asking to do more than mutter about silly Guides who conduct conversations with members of the animal kingdom.
"Oh, like you never talked to the jaguar," Blair riposted.
Jim gave up. The Sentinel instincts had him checking out the fairgrounds and the few people around and about and all of a sudden he lifted his head to the sky and sniffed seriously.
"Right, man, tell me you have to get your ozone from the ionosphere. Dirk does not stink," the grad student declared hotly.
"Hey, Chief, I'm serious here." Jim sniffed again.
"What, what is it?"
"There's a change in the weather moving in. I can smell snow."
Blair was impressed at that. "Wow, you're telling the weather like Sentinels of old! What does it smell like? How far off is it? How quickly is it moving in?"
This was too much like tests to Jim. "Knock it off, Sandburg. It'll hit before sundown. Here, take the hat." Jim reached into the back of the truck and pulled out a Fargo hat.
"Is that where it went to? I've been looking for it for a year. How long have you known it was there, Jim?"
The suspicion in his Guide's voice glazed over the minor hurt from their conversation about Dirk and Jim smiled evilly, at peace with the world, if not with Blair Sandburg. The smile was all Blair was going to get out of him.
"Take it, Blair," Jim urged. "You're sure to be cold when the snow hits."
"S'okay. We're not actually spending the whole day here, are we?"
"No. Once the fool competition is over, we're outta here, Chief!"
"Fine by me," Sandburg replied. "It's nice right now, and we'll be long gone before the snow arrives. I don't want the hat and I've got my hands full at the moment." He waggled Dirk at Jim.
The hat went back into the truck.
"Why am I standing in a field arguing with a duck and a duck's best friend?" Jim asked of the cosmos.
"Because for the first time in twenty years," Blair replied in all seriousness, "Major Crimes is gonna take the Civil And Social Services Annual Thanksgiving Charity Animal Competition on behalf of the Police Department."
For twenty years since the Thanksgiving Fair had been instituted for the benefit of the people helped by various social service agencies in Cascade, the trophy for the Animal Competition had never been won by the police department. It was a black mark against them, and when the task had fallen to Major Crimes this year, they had vowed to take back the honour lost by Fraud and Homicide and Robbery in the past. Simon had entrustedor rather, orderedthat Blair take charge of the duck and get him into shape. Blair had accepted the commission faithfully.
Now he and his Sentinel began the walk to the huge circus tent across from the cook tent where a huge turkey dinner was being prepared for all the beneficiaries of the goodwill from Cascade's many civil service organisations, young and old alike.
"Yeah, right, this year is our year," Jim mumbled, squinting as if something were causing him a headache.
"You okay, Jim?" Blair asked with concern.
Jim looked around and smiled at his best friend. "Yeah, I'm fine. JustDirk does smell bad, and I don't have great memories of duck smells."
Blair shivered suddenly. "Oh, yeah, that." He was remembering the way Jim had found him when he was abducted by David Lash. Duck waste figured in it. "Sorry. I didn't think of that."
Jim was the one concerned now. "Hey, I didn't mean..."
But Blair smiled a sunny smile back. "I know. It's okay, it's Thanksgiving, and that I'm here to listen to your complaints about Dirk is something I'm thankful for."
Jim smiled back, and the change to his normally severe features was blinding; it was something for which he was equally as grateful as his best friend. "Then let's get Dirk over to the tent and work out our strategy."
"Jim, Jim, Jim," the grad student groaned. "I've been working with Dirk for a week now. Don't you think I've got him trained?"
"Yeah, about as well as you had Larry trained." The Barbary ape had managed to tear the loft apart during Blair's emergency stay with Jim, but somehow, although the ape went, Blair had stayed on in the extra bedroom for years nonetheless. The ways of the universe are strange.
Buses and carloads of people had begun arriving, and Jim automatically checked out the newcomers as they disembarked. Nothing nefarious seemed to be going on. But the detective's lips narrowed anyway, for reasons he himself could not ascertain.
They had reached the opening to the circus tent, and Blair signalled Jim to scale down the level of speech. "I've got him conditioned, Jim."
"Like your hair?"
"No, like Pavlov! He comes running at the mere mention of, " and Blair's voice lowered dramatically so that only a Sentinel could hear the secret, "pumpkin pie."
Dirk must have had Sentinel hearing. He started quacking and batting his wings and generally going wild.
Jim put out a huge hand and grabbed the duck's beak. "Stop it," he growled, and there was something so feral, so menacing in his tone that Dirk stopped it.
"That's better," the detective allowed. "So what're we up against, again?"
Every year the animal competition was different. Held always in the circus tent, it was a great crowd pleaser, and in past years the audience had been entertained by greased pig catches, frogs jumping, trained dogs and a feline beauty pageant complete with swimsuit and evening gown events. The Police Department, however, had had the misfortune to let the pig slip through their hands, the frogs hop rather than jump, the dogs lie down on the job and the cats streak, unclothed, to get away, get away!
This year was going to be different!
Blair pointed with his chin at a man carrying a crate. "That's Wilkins with the Fire Department."
"He's got a chicken." Jim was using his heightened Sentinel senses to ascertain that.
"Yeah, but chickens are stupid, Jim. You can't train them to come running for pie."
"Okay, chickens are birdbrains."
"So are turkeys."
"The Community Social Services Department drew the turkey," Blair said with satisfaction. Social Services had won three years running. They had well-trained dogs and cats, and got lucky with their frogs, too.
"Civil Services got the goose." Blair looked meaningfully at Jim. "They're the ones to watch. The goose could be competition here. Bigger, faster, if they've got it trained."
Jim stared at his partner. "Blair," he said carefully, "everybody but us has lives. No one in his right mind is gonna spend weeks training a goose."
Blair stared back. "Good thing, too, for them. I've got Dirk trained, and he's smart, isn't he," the police observer cooed to the duck. Dirk rubbed his bill against his captor's arm. "There's a good duck!"
Jim couldn't take any more of this. "In the tent. Now, Chief!"
Blair lowered his eyes so that his roommate wouldn't see the satisfaction in them from having gotten Jim's goat so well and entered the marquee with mock obedience.
"Okay, where do we set up?" Jim asked.
Both partners looked around. The tent was an amphitheatre, with spectator rows descending in height down to the pit where the race would be held. The fact that the tent was enclosed seemed to everyone involved to be sufficient disincentive to keep the birds from trying to fly, or at least those that could. There was simply nowhere for them to go.
"The lanes are marked out down there," Jim pointed out. He read the small print on the signs far away. "We're number two, between the chicken and the goose."
"Hmmm," Blair mused. "I think Dirk has a fighting spirit in him. If the goose does decide to go for the gold, Dirk's gonna show him who's the real champion, aren't you, pal?"
"If you're gonna give the bird a pep talk, Sandburg, you'd better put on your cheerleading uniform, short pleated skirt and all."
"Ha-ha. Here, you take Dirk," and a bundle of warm and unhappy duck changed hands, "while I go find us a pumpkin pie."
"You don't already have it?"
"Jim, look at me. Do I look like I have a pumpkin pie to you? I had the duck. He would have attacked me and you to get to a pie if I'd had it in the truck. Now I'm gonna go buy a pie at the baked goods and preserves tent. You go ahead and get Dirk settled down in the pit and used to the racing conditions." Blair marched off purposefully without a backwards glance at his benighted companion.
Jim fixed Dirk with a bolt of blue lightning. "I'm boss, and don't you forget it."
Dirk hissed and ducked his head.
As long as we've got that straight, Jim thought. I can put up with this, I guess.
The Sentinel took the bird down to the pit and walked him around the whole area. The other contenders were beginning to show up. The chicken and its handlers were first, and the duck and the chicken ignored each other completely. That was fine with Jim. He nodded amiably at Geoff Wilkins and got an amicable smile in return.
Then the turkey was brought in, and Jill Burton glanced tiredly at the other birds, sighing with defeat. Jim grimaced at her with fellow-feeling and Jill winked back. The turkey was heavy and just plain looked as stupid as all get out. Jill clearly felt she'd been set up to be the fall girl when Social Services lost at last.
But when the goose arrived, it was another story. Two sets of beady little eyes took stock of the competition and decided they hated each other. Much hissing and quacking and honking was heard.
"Keep your duck under control," snarled Peter Parnelli of Social Services, eyeing Dirk blackly.
Jim snorted. "Dirk's been trained. It's your goose that's be cooked if you don't watch out."
Parnelli said something under his breath about a dead duck, but Jim caught it and a kind of aura of malice in the comment, too.
There was no time to think about it, though. The event co-ordinators showed up with clipboards and official forms and waivers for the various organisations' representatives to read, fill in and sign. Jim set Dirk down at the start of lane two, a short leash tethering him to a stake. Dirk was used to this, as Blair had taught him that there were yummy scrumptious rewards in the form of pumpkin pie bits if he was well-behaved.
The goose hated being pinioned to the stake and tried to rip the pants off Parnelli as soon as he turned to leave. Parnelli took a hit to the seat of his pants and jumped as he was goosed. Jim couldn't suppress a chuckle.
But now the paperwork was calling at the back of the tent, and Jim couldn't put it off as the tent was filling up quickly for the show. The animal competition was just the first, not the only show of the day. There would be trick riding, roping, archery and whip use courtesy of Dan Wolf's connections within the Native American community, clowns presented by the Civil Services personnel, and a sing-along hosted by the two other groups which would last only as long as it took the cook tent to get ready to bring out the festival dinner with all the trappings.
So Jim took his eyes and his mind off Dirk for a few minutes.
Big mistake. When he turned back, he realised the duck had flown the coop.
Jim raced to the second lane and was examining the tether when Blair reappeared.
"Hey, Jim, where's Dirk?" Blair was full of dismay.
"Ducknapped," Jim reported direly. "Or should I say, Dirknapped."
"Don't make a joke out of it," Blair chided. "I care about him, y'know? I don't want him ending up on someone's plate for dinner tonight."
Jim looked at his tender-hearted partner's big blue puppy-dog eyes and, of course, fell back into line again. "We'll find him," the detective vowed. "It's a matter of the department's honour at stake."
Blair peered at the scene of the crime. "What have you got, Jim?"
"The tether was undone by human fingers, no signs of duck bites anywhere. I can pick up an odour, one I've smelled before, but I don't know where. It's too faint to remember, I think it may have been a one-time chance meeting kind of thing."
"Can you trail Dirk by his smell?"
"Yeah, I think so, Chief, but I gotta say, you smell of him too. It's misleading."
Blair hurriedly took off his jacket and his flannel shirt, leaving himself dressed in jeans and a T-shirt only. He dumped the top layers of clothing at the back of the tent and returned to ask, "How about this? Is it too misleading now?"
Jim considered the air before he answered. "No, Chief, it's fine. I can distinguish between the old scent on your jeans and the fresh scent of Dirk himself now. But you're gonna have to wash everything, truck and yourself included, after this!"
Blair shrugged impatiently. "So what else is new? Go on, Jim! We have to find Dirk before the contest starts."
Jim had a quick word with the contest organisers and got their agreement to delay the contest by fifteen minutes as Blair dashed out of the tent and looked wildly around for a hint of Dirk's whereabouts.
"No, Jim, nothing. What about you?"
Again Jim stopped and sniffed the air. "That way," the Sentinel decided, pointing at the field where Blair had first suggested they park.
There were more cars and buses parked there now, and people milling about all over.
"Okay, piggyback your sight on your sense of smell. What do you see?" the Guide instructed Jim, all the while grounding him with a hand at the detective's shoulder, the other holding the pie.
Jim pinpointed the location of the duck. "Got him! Can you see it? A baby buggy with the hood down, a bag of Pampers sticking out from under the hood."
Blair strained to look. "Oh, yeah, I see the buggy now, and the guy pushing it. Hey, they're leaving, not arriving! That must be Dirk. Great job, Jim."
The detective brushed off the compliment, although it made him feel warm inside when his partner said things like that. He knew Blair was entirely sincere, that he didn't flatter Jim or pander to his sense of accomplishment. Jim was now more than ever determined to get Dirk back, for Blair's sake, not just the Department's.
"To the truck!"
Both cop and police observer took off running toward the cook tent, fending off bystanders in their way, Blair following in Jim's wake to protect the pie. They made it to the truck safely and as Jim started up the truck, Blair gave out a news bulletin. "Jim, the guy's dumped the carriage and put whatever was in it"
"Dirk," Jim supplied.
"Yeah, Dirk, in the back of the red SUV over there."
Jim followed Blair's lead. "Got 'em, Chief." He revved the engine and started forward with a lurch.
"We're gonna have to circle around the tents to get over to the field, Jim." Blair sounded worried.
"Nah, this baby can take the potholes and the ditches between here and the parking lot just fine."
Blair now looked terrified. With a pie in his lap, the pie of victory, he was handless in the attempt to keep himself from injury. He knew how Jim drove, and the state of the untended fairgrounds. There were gonna be owies out of this one.
And there were! The Ford flew over the landscape, bouncing, jouncing, forcing the police observer to curse the concept of inertia. Despite the seatbelt, he would be thrown against the door, only to be pitched up to the roof, and then plummet back down again.
But the pie survived.
Jim was a maniac behind the wheel. This had gotten personal quickly. That a duck under the protection of the Sentinel of the Great City, a duck personally trained by the Shaman of the Great City, should have been lifted from under his very nose (just because he'd turned down the dial on smell!) was an insult he felt like bed of nails against his skin.
They took all the potholes and ditches and rough spots and closed the distance between themselves and the red SUV, when suddenly the SUV roared forward. The quarry had finally realised it was being hunted.
Jim ran down the higgledy-piggledy rows of cars and automobiles in the parking lot almost neck-in-neck with the Dirknapper. Blair stuck the siren light on the roof and the klaxon almost drowned out the "Vroom, Vroom" of the truck's engine. Jim put the pedal to the metal and the truck leaped forward.
The SUV's driver, apparently taken aback by the siren, had seized for a moment and lost momentum. It was just enough of an edge to allow Jim to pull so far ahead that he could slew the truck around at the end of the vehicle rows and block the SUV's passage. With a shrieking of brakes and motor, the SUV came to a halt mere inches away from the truck, blocking Jim's door.
"After him, Chief," Jim cried. "Can't let him get away now!"
Blair was already out of his side of the truck, and circling the front.
The driver of the SUV hopped out. It was Peter Parnelli, goosemeister of Cascade Civil Services. He made a dash for escape, but just as he was clearing the truck's hood, Blair stepped out and neatly clotheslined him with a pie to the face.
"Oh, !%*&%!" Parnelli squealed. "Why'd you have to do that?" He was dripping with dark orange custard and crumbs of flaky pastry were strewn everywhere. "You've ruined my suede jacket! I'll never get this stuff off it!"
Jim had climbed out of the passenger's side door and now confronted the pie-faced individual. "I should take you in," he growled fiercely. "What did you do with the duck?"
Peter Parnelli just handed over the keys to his vehicle. He was still attempting to clean up when Jim and Blair opened the back hatch and found Dirk happily asleep in the baby buggy, all light blocked from his eyes by the Pampers bag and the hood. Blair took the groggy bird tenderly into his arms and began crooning. Dirk just look unhappy that his nap was over... until he got a whiff of the pie!
Sentinel, Guide and duck returned to Parnelli's side, carefully choosing their location so that Dirk was within jabbing distance, and he started to undertake a clean-up job of his own.
"Ow! Ow! OOOWWWW!" Parnelli yelped, driven backwards by the duck's helpful beak. He stumbled over a hummock and dropped on his butt.
With malice aforethought, Blair held Dirk out and over the fallen foe. Dirk did not disappoint.
"Looks like you really never will get that clean, huh, Parnelli?" Jim was laughing. "Figure he's been punished enough for the ducknapping?"
Blair stared in fascination at the utter mess that had once been a pristine tan suede coat. "I think Dirk dumped on him enough. Let him go, Jim."
"'Kay. Parnelli, you're free to go. Just remember when you decide to nobble the competition the next time that you're never out of reach of the long arm of the law!" Jim tousled his partner's hair in commendation of the capture of the perp, and Blair protested weakly, secretly pleased that it was his long arm that had brought Parnelli down.
"Uh, maybe we should extract one more piece of vengeance, Jim," the Guide whispered.
"He washes the truck!"
"Oh, good thinking! Parnelli, you get to spend tomorrow washing the truck, inside and out. I'm a little, um, sensitive to duck odours, so you'd better do a very good job at it."
Parnelli rose to his feet, invigorated now that he knew he wasn't going to be placed under arrest. "No way, no how!" He stripped off his coat and dropped it to the ground where, apparently, he was going to leave it.
"Put that back on," Jim ordered, his face grim.
Parnelli took one look at the Sentinel and picked up the coat to don it once more, in silence.
"Now we're going back to the tent where you're going to explain to everyone just exactly how you got into this state. You'll drive your car. I'm not having you in my truck like that!"
Parnelli knew better than to argue with a man who was an ex-Ranger with Covert Ops and who looked as if he'd just decided to exercise the fingernail on the little finger of his left hand. He nodded once, broken, and climbed into the SUV, meekly driving back the way he came, followed by the triumphant trio in the truck.
They just made it in time for the competition. Dirk was duly lined up, and the Sentinel and Guide magnanimously allowed the goose to take its place at the starting line, having decided that the whole Civil Services Union shouldn't be punished for the act of one felonious member. They knew the pressure to compete. Civil Services hadn't had a win for decades, either.
Their mercifulness did not go unrewarded. As Blair squatted down at the finish line and Jim let Dirk go at the signal, Dirk sped quacking to his teacher at the mere mouthing of the syllables, "Pumpkin Pie." The turkey hadn't even gotten the idea in its head that it was supposed to move, while the chicken was pecking up gravel for its crop from the pit floor. The goose was running, but it didn't have the motivation Dirk had and Dirk left him in his dust.
The place went mad! Well, the spectators were amazed, but all the other Cascade departments were angry as hornets. There were cheers from the stands and catcalls from the pit, but Jim and Blair high-fived each other, silly with the triumph, both of them petting Dirk.
Dirk, disappointed of his pie treat, started chowing down on Blair's arm.
"Ouch! Hey, stop it, I'll get another pie, I just haven't had time yet. OW! Here, Jim, you hold him."
Blair extended the duck to his partner who was about to refuse until he realised that the grad student was shivering slightly.
Taking the duck in his arms, Jim said gently, "Hey, Chief, go put on your shirt and jacket. It's getting colder, and you're chilled to the bone."
Blair looked up at his Blessed Protector and smiled. "Sure thing, Jim. He went for his clothing, and as Jim watched a small voice said with awe, "Gee, a trained duck. You're awful lucky to have him."
Standing next to him was a small child, a boy about eight. Jim looked around, and spotted the child's parents standing a few feet away.
"He loves animals," the mother said. "Would you let him pet the duck?"
Jim grinned that devastating grin and squatted down to the child's level. "Here you go," he said putting his charge in the boy's cradling arms. "His name's Dirk and he'll do anything for pumpkin pie."
It was love at first stroke. Jim exchanged glances with the parents: he can have him if you'll let him; really?; yes; oh, it would make him so happy!; Happy Thanksgiving to you all; thank you, officer.
When the boy realised he was going to be able to keep the duck, he lit up as if it were his birthday, Hallowe'en and Christmas all rolled up in one.
Blair returned to see the interplay and touched Jim's arm. "Great call, Jim."
"You're not mad?"
"Why would I be mad? We were not gonna keep Dirk at the loft; he stinks."
"You heard me."
"You little stinker, Sandburg!"
"But I didn't want to see him ending up as someone's dinner tomorrow, so this is really good, Jim. Thanks."
The Sentinel's irritation at his Shaman's annoyances evaporated. He put his arm around his partner and walked him out the door, both basking in the win once more. The trick riding group was setting up behind them as they left the tent, collecting the huge steel and brass trophy, and they stepped out into the daylight again, heading to the cook tent to report to sous-chefs Simon, Rafe, Brown and head chef Joel that Major Crimes had been the victors at last.
But when they had shown off as much as they wanted, let themselves be talked into staying for the meal, and promised to tell the tale of the Dirknapping over supper, Jim and Blair took the cumbersome trophy out to the truck together.
As he carefully stowed the prized piece of metal behind the driver's seat, Jim snagged the Fargo hat once more. "Here ya go, Chief," he said, handing it out.
"You haven't noticed yet, but it's begun to snow."
Blair looked up to see the first crystals of the winter season wavering on a chill breeze. Gossamer-gentle, a few fell on his face to melt softly. He turned back to his partner and held out his hand for the hat.
"Thanks, Jim, thanks for... everything." There was so much more in his eyes than words could tell that Jim couldn't help himself.
The Sentinel reached out and pulled his Guide into a bearhug. "Thank you, too, Blair. For everything."
It wasn't the Fargo hat that kept Blair Sandburg warm through the rest of the day and into the evening.
~ End ~
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Page last updated 8/15/03.