Blair stared at the piece of paper in his hand. Lord, this was not good. Not good at all.
The front door opened and Jim stomped in, jacket beaded with moisture thanks to the Pacific Northwest weather. He shook himself and pulled his coat off. "Hey, it's raining out," he said as he hung it up.
"No, really? Wow."
"Huh-oh. What's wrong?" Jim said as he ran a hand over his short hair to get the dampness out.
Blair simply held out the paper.
Jim took it with a frown. He looked at it, read it. Read it again. Glanced up and said, "So?"
"So? SO? That's all you can say?"
Jim sighed. "Okay, what am I supposed to know that I clearly don't, but that you think I should."
"Did you read it?"
"Ye-e-es. It's a permission slip, Sandburg. A simple, straight forward, permission slip."
"For a field trip, Jim."
"O-kay, a field trip, Sandburg. And this is a problem - how?"
"Hello? Jake on a field trip? To the zoo?"
Jim started to say something, to calm his mate, but then remembered that Blair had an instinct where their son was concerned, so decided on a bit of humor instead. "Okay, so we say no? We say, 'Sorry, but our son tends to draw trouble like his father.' Is that what we should do?"
Taken aback, Blair said, "Jake does not draw trouble to him like me... I mean, I don't draw trouble to me, so of course, Jake doesn't. But... things do tend to happen with Jake, and the zoo is just, you know, asking for it."
Jim put a hand on each of Blair's shoulders. "Chief, I think the zoo is safe from our son, okay? Mrs. Wheaton is a great teacher and I'm sure they'll be other parents along to keep things sane. It's just a kindergarten class trip to the zoo."
"You are so going to eat those words, Jim." Blair took the paper back, signed it, and handed it to Jim who also signed it.
Jake sat at the table, eyes fixed on his teacher even as he fairly bounced in his seat.
"All right, children. In a few minutes, we'll be on our way to the Robert J. Gentry Zoo. Both our class and Mrs. Hutchinson's will be on one school bus, and Mister Jenning's and Mrs. Wibur's fourth grade classes will be on a second bus. Before we line up, I want to acknowledge our wonderful volunteer chaperones." She smiled at the three women behind her. "Please say hi to Peggy's mother, Jean Horner. Tony's mother, Laura Alford, and Lizbeth's grandmother, Helen Wiggins."
"hi, jean, laura and helen," the entire class said brightly.
"Okay, everyone, line up in your usual order, facing the door."
The children scrambled up and got into line, smallest child in front, tallest to the rear. This put Jake third from the front, but he didn't mind at all. He could see way better this way. He couldn't wait to get out into the hall because then he'd be with Cork and Cherry, who were both in Mrs. Hutchinson's class. He hoped they'd be allowed to be partners.
The door was opened and, with Mrs. Wheaton taking the lead, they all marched out into the hall where Mrs. Hutchinson's class waited. The two classes merged and continued outside and onto the playground. They lined up and Mrs. Wheaton quieted them down before saying, "Okay, everyone needs to be in groups of three, so take a few minutes and choose your partners."
Jake immediately ran over to Corky and Cherry and all three high-fived each other. Ten minutes later they were boarding the big Crown school bus that would take them to the zoo.
"So you're saying they're actually going to try and pull something today?"
Blair shrugged and shifted slightly. His butt was going numb. Why was it that when they were all called into Simon's office, he never got a chair? Why was he always left to sit on the edge of the table? Never mind, he knew the answer. He was the youngest.
Damn poor excuse, if you asked him. Which no one ever did because he was also low man on the totem pole.
And damn it, Jake was at the zoo. He rubbed at the back of his neck. He hardly ever worried about Jake, yet here he was, certain that today's field trip would spell disaster.
He looked up. "Sir?"
"Answer?" Simon said as he waggled his head in a gesture that Blair found vaguely familiar, probably because it was his waggle.
"Answer?" he repeated dumbly.
He felt a shove from his partner and frowned. Had he missed something?
"To my question?"
"Oh, that," he said lamely. "Uhmm...."
"I'm sure," Jim said, in an effort to cover for his partner, who'd clearly been daydreaming - or worrying about Jake, "that Sandburg feels as I do, Sir. We've been after the Messelina gang for six weeks. We know the matchbook Vice found at the Tornedo Club belonged to Nick Messelina because he had them specially designed for him. We know how they've operated in both Tacoma and Seattle, and we know that Nick isn't playing with a full deck. It seems reasonable that the numbers on the inside of the matchbook refer to today's date, which is why Sandburg thinks the Messelina gang will act today."
Simon pinched his nose and then rubbed the sore area where his glasses rested. "I see," he said as he decided to get those new glasses Daryl had been after him to check out. Lighter, Daryl had said. No indentations, he'd said. Cooler, he'd promised. Like he, a captain with the Cascade PD needed to look cool? Imposing, sure, but cool? He sighed.
"Okay, so we think some of the numbers represent today's date. What about the other ones?" he asked patiently.
"The time, Sir" Blair said, his mind finally back on the business at hand.
"The time? So... two hours from now? A little late to set up surveillance, Sandburg. You couldn't have come up with this - say - yesterday?"
"Simon, we were only given the matchbook this--"
Blair was cutoff by an elbow in the ribs. Okay, so he'd been close to whining.
Megan leaned in and, in an effort to take the heat off of Blair, said "Sir, if Sandy is right, there are only two stores they could hit that would yield their usual take."
Simon sighed again, looked over at Jim and Blair, and finally said, "Okay, you two take the Glory Crown. Connor, you and Joel take Fifty Carats."
All four detectives moved quickly. As his door closed, Simon sat back and puffed out some air while fingering the ever-present cigar in his pocket. He had a ... not a bad feeling about this whole Messelina gang thing today, just an odd feeling.
Three small faces were pressed against the window in the dark building.
"lookee, over there." Jake tapped the window lightly to point out the spot.
"ooooh, it's biiiiiig," Corky said, clearly awed.
Cherry snorted. "i seen bigger," she said proudly.
"no spider be bigger than that," Jake said, sounding very sure.
"uh-huh, at the lincoln zoo. it's the biggest zoo ever and my grandma lives there."
Corky turned his head to look at Cherry in fascination. "your grandma lives in a zoo?"
"don't be silly, cork. she lives in the same city - i jus' don't 'member the name."
"oh," he said, sounding very disappointed.
Jake huffed and said, "still, that's a big spidey but my jakey could take it down."
"your jakey is stuffed," Cherry said with disgust.
Jake looked at her and said, "so?"
Realizing that there was nothing she could say to that, she walked to the next window in the exhibit. Grinning, Corky followed, but not before he let his fingers crawl up Jake's palm in celebration of Jake getting in the last word.
They made the circle around the snake and spider exhibit, careful to keep with their group. All the children had been given green wrist bands when they'd entered the zoo but Jake hadn't really understood how that would keep a child from getting lost. But still, it looked cool and the first thing he, Cherry and Corky had noticed was that it glowed in the dark. Even now he could look around the building and see green bands glowing even though the snake house did have some light. He thought it was very cool. He glanced down at his wrist again and vowed to wear the band home and test it out tonight, in his bedroom, after his parents turned out his light. He grinned in anticipation.
"we're going outside, jakey," Corky whispered. "maybe now we'll get to see the big cats. do you think they'll have a jaggywaar?"
"my daddy said they do. and a wolfie too," Jake said with the surety of a child whose father had told him something, therefore making it true.
They took hands again, all three of them, and followed their classmates and teachers out into the bright sunshine.
Jim checked his watch. It was ten-forty, already forty minutes past the time on the match book, and all was quiet inside the jewelry store. He picked up the radio mike, depressed the switch, and said softly, "Joel, anything at your end?"
A slight crackling sound and then, "Nothing, Jim. Everything's quiet here."
"Same here," he answered back with a look at his partner.
Blair stared him down and said, "I'm not wrong."
Jim held up a hand in surrender. "Hey, I'm not saying anything. Personally I like criminals with no sense of time."
"Funny, Jim. Very funny."
"So how long should we wait?"
Blair looked at the empty coffee cup in Jim's hand and then out his window at the Starbucks across the street. "Tell you what, if nothing's happened by eleven thirty, I'm buying." He indicated the store.
"Deal. I'll have the Caramel Macchiato and a cranberry muffin with one of those cute cream cheese packets," Jim said smugly.
"It's not even eleven yet, Jim."
"Oh, sorry. I can wait. I'm a patient man."
Jake was not a happy camper. From the snake pavilion, they'd gone not to the big cats, but to the aviary. While it had been very cool, being inside a big cage with lots of birds, it had not been the big cats, let alone his jaggywar. And there hadn't been a wolf in sight. And now it was sea lions, otters and polar bears - but still no jaggywars or wolfies. Not that he really minded because otters were fast becoming his third favorite animule, but wanted his jaggywar and wolfie.
He sighed and went back to watching the otters play even as his tummy grumbled. He giggled as Cork looked at him and grinned.
"i be hungry."
Corky's grin widened.
At that moment, Mrs. Wheaton clapped her hands, which was the signal that they all needed to gather around. She was standing in front of the polar bear pool so Jake didn't really mind leaving his otters, but he did say good-bye before scampering over to his teacher.
"Okay, children, who remembers why a polar bear is white?"
Three hands shot up into the air, Jake's being one of them. Mrs. Wheaton smiled and said, "Jake?"
"poly bears live in cold and icy places like the ... art... arc... arctick and they have to match the snow!"
"Very good, Jake. Okay, who remembers what polar bears eat?"
Several hands went up, including Jake's, but Mrs. Wheaton gave someone else a chance to answer. "Cherry?"
With a sad look back at the seals, she said, "they eat... they eat," she pointed, "those!"
"Yes, they do, Cherry. And while it may seem cruel to us as we watch the seals playing, we need to remember that it's nature's way." She glanced back at the playful, swimming bears and the two cubs and asked, "Who or what is the only enemy of the polar bear?"
Only Jake raised his hand.
Looking very sad, he said, "we are."
"That's right. Man."
The children were silent as they looked from the polar bear pool to the seal pool and back again.
"Okay, children, let's move on to the walruses."
"It's eleven thirty, Chief."
Blair sighed. He'd been so certain the numbers were dates and times. Hell, they'd probably been some woman's number and measurements. Feeling every inch the fool, and knowing that no one would make him feel that way, especially not Jim, he opened the truck door and stepped down. "Okay, one Caramel Macchiato and a cranberry muffin, coming right up. Honk if--"
"Right." He shut the door, walked a few feet to the corner and waited for his opportunity to cross. When it came, he jogged over to the Starbucks and went inside.
Jim grinned. It was too bad they weren't going to be able to catch the jewel theft gang in action, but still - a Caramel Macchiato purchased by his partner was nothing to sneeze at.
"Okay, children, it's lunch time. They've set up the Koala Pavilion for us, but remember: the red tables are for us and the green ones are for the fourth graders."
Lined up and only slightly squirrelly, the children followed their teachers through the red turnstile and into the Pavilion. Under several awnings sat groupings of red, yellow, orange and green tables. The children hurried to the red tables, all eager to get the ones bordering the fence that overlooked the "African Plain". Jake ducked and ran, his small body allowing him to easily squeeze by everyone in order to secure a fence table. Panting, he slid in triumphantly and waited for his two friends, who were still making their way past several fourth graders.
From his seat, he could see the giraffe and he immediately started bouncing. He couldn't wait to see them up close. As Cherry and Corky slid in next to him, their teacher, along with the other parents, began to pass out the special box lunches. Jake's tummy growled again and he hid his giggle behind his hand even as he and Corky pointed down at a baby giraffe nuzzling up against its mother.
Their box lunches were set in front of them and all three dove in. They were pleasantly surprised to find that it consisted of peanut butter (chunky) and jelly (grape); a fruit cup with all of Jake's favorite fruits; an oatmeal cookie with raisins; a small bag of Fritos and juice (apple). They quickly opened their sandwich package and started chomping. After Jake had devoured half his sandwich, the fruit and the Fritos, he decided to save the other half of the peanut butter and jelly for the bus ride back to school. He wrapped it up very carefully and snuck it into his pocket. Mrs. Wheaton came by and urged them to gather their trash for dumping because it was time to go to the bus. When Jake heard that, his mouth fell open.
"What is it, Jake?"
"the jaggywars? and my wolfies? we haven't seen them and i have to see them and there's a baby geeeraffy that wants to see me and... and ... and--"
"I'm sorry, Jake, but we have to be back at school by twelve-thirty, which is when your grandmother will be picking you up. We do plan another trip next month and we'll be seeing the back half of the zoo then, honey."
His expression was totally crestfallen but there was nothing he could do. No jaggywars or wolfies. They began to dump their trash and then started to line up. Just as they started going through the turnstile, Jake remembered that he'd left his juice container on the table. He whispered in Cork's ear that he'd be right back, and scooted out of line. All the children, including the older ones, were leaving at the same time, so he had quite a crowd to get through. When he finally made it to the table, the back side of the Pavilion was empty. He grabbed the container, tossed it in the trash, and was just about to head for the exit when a sound in the bushes next to the fence caught his attention.
Blair waited patiently for his order, the crowd of people forcing him back until Jim's drink was ready. He glanced out the window and could see Jim tapping the steering wheel impatiently. He smiled. He walked closer just as a woman opened the door to Starbucks. It swung back and caught Blair's attention. He frowned at the reflection from the sign next door.
"Brills - We buy gold."
Something rang a bell. Brills. He snapped his fingers. Of course, the entire second floor of the building next door held businesses that specialized in diamonds, gold, and gemstones.
Ignoring the man calling out his now-ready order, he hurried outside and onto the sidewalk. He knew there was an alley behind Starbucks and that would be the perfect spot for a gang of thieves to park....
"Jim." He barely whispered the word, but of course Jim turned and looked right at him.
"Brills - We buy gold," he said as he jerked a thumb backwards. "Alley. I'll take the front."
Jim nodded, spoke quickly into the mike, and started the truck. As he pulled away from the curb, Blair walked over to the unassuming door that proclaimed "We buy gold". He opened it and started up.
Jake got down on his hands and knees and peered into the bushes. Two golden brown eyes blinked back at him. He grinned.
He started to reach in but the animal shook its head and backed away before giving Jake a "yip".
"you want me to come with you?"
Jake looked over his shoulder at the children still moving through the turnstile... and then back at the animal. He bit his lower lip. He had to rescue this animule. He had to.
Jake crawled through the barely-there opening.
Blair pulled his gun and started up the stairs. Like many of the older buildings in this part of town, the entrance opened to nothing but a set of stairs leading up. He moved slowly, head cocked as he listened for anything that would tip him off that his hunch was right. He knew Jim could hear everything going on, and that made him feel surprisingly cut off. They really should have ear radios. A sudden thump brought him to a temporary stop and, when another thump followed, his instincts told him this was it.
Jake scrambled through the brush and ended up with a bunch of trash cans. A whimper caught his attention, and there, just ahead of him, staring at him, was his animule. Jake smiled. His animule was a puppy! It was seated on its back haunches, head cocked, one silky ear flopped over. Jake waved three fingers at it and said, "hi."
The tail thumped.
Jake blinked, and took another step closer. The dog got up, waited til Jake was closer... and took off with another "yip". Throwing his hands dramatically up in the air, Jake ran after it.
Damn, Blair really hoped he'd make it into the hallway before all hell broke loose. He really did. He sure as hell didn't want to be caught on these narrow stairs if any of the thieves started down.
Wait. That was silly. They'd be going out Jim's way. The back way. Blair moved faster.
Jake ran after the dog, who seemed intent to stay near bushes and behind buildings. He knew the bus wouldn't leave without him and the Aviary was behind him so he knew about where he was. He kept running.
Several minutes later, he lost sight of the pupper. He stopped, looked around a bit, and realized that this part of the zoo was virtually empty, including several of the exhibits. He looked frantically back for the dog... and spotted it.
He approached slowly and, again, just as he was within reach... the dog bolted, but not before it gave him its patented, "Follow me" yip.
Jake took a deep breath... and followed.
When it broke, it broke fast. Blair was just entering the hallway when a door opened halfway down and three men spilled out, all wearing masks.
Dead giveaway, Blair thought. He knew this wasn't going to work, but he yelled it out anyway.
"FREEZE! CASCADE PD!"
He was right, it didn't work. Well, that wasn't exactly right. They did pause -- right before they started shooting up the hallway. Blair ducked back even as he returned fire. One of the thieves yelped but kept on running backwards toward the other set of stairs. As they disappeared around the corner, Blair took off after them. He knew Jim - and probably the others - would be waiting in the alley, so his job now was to keep them from backtracking and going out the front. He expected back-up any minute.
As he peeked around the corner, he spotted one of the thieves going up the stairs even as the others were scrambling down them and into what Blair hoped was a trap. A moment later, he heard Jim's voice telling the others to "FREEZE!" Behind him, he could hear the huffing and puffing that could only be Henri Brown so he felt confident enough to go after the one who'd taken the stairs up.
Jake felt like he'd been running forever. Ducking, jumping, keeping the pupper in sight, narrowly missing running into the few people he came into contact with, but trying his best to avoid being obvious for fear an adult would notice that he was a child alone and thus try to stop him.
Blair felt like he'd been running forever. And it was only a couple of sets of stairs - okay, four. If he'd still lived at the loft, he'd have been better prepared, which sounded like a damn good excuse for his own huffing and puffing. He could hear the guy above him, heard him exit a door -- and since this was a four story building, that had to mean the guy had just hit the roof.
Damn. He hated going out onto roofs after the bad guys. For one thing, getting the damn door open without getting his head shot off was always tricky.
He got to the top of the final set of stairs and decided it would be a good time to tell Jim where he was and what he was doing.
"Jim, one of them has headed for the roof. I'm about to go after him. Feel free to join me."
There, that should do it.
His foot hit something and he glanced down. Oh, good, a beer bottle. This could work. He retrieved it quickly and approached the door that would take him onto the roof. He flattened himself against the wall, reached out and opened the door slowly....
Jake was tired, but he was not going to give up. The pupper always seemed to stop just long enough so that he'd catch up, but then he'd be off again.
Jake was small and he was fast, but trying to keep track of where he was within the zoo was getting more difficult. Suddenly the pup stopped. Grateful, Jake stopped too and caught his breath. He scrunched up his face at the dog and said, "you be a handful, my pupper." The dog yipped and Jake could have sworn the dog was laughing. He glanced to his right but didn't recognize anything, so he looked to his left... and froze.
He was standing in front of a cage, a large one, with trees and tree limbs and it was beautiful and staring at him from its perch on one of the tree limbs and its coat was shiny black but he could just see the faint outline of spots... and then two yellow eyes blinked at him.
He whipped his head around and realized there was no one else near by. He wasn't really surprised. This part of the zoo was at the farthest end and it took a lot of walking - or in his case - running, to get here.
Jake stepped up to the railing, hiked himself up so that his chest was resting on the bar and peered intently into the cage. The cat simply sat on the limb looking at him, its tail swishing back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.
"hi, lonely jaggywar," Jake said. "i'm jake."
The tail swished even faster and the cat blinked again. It lifted its right front paw and swiped it over its face before making a graceful jump down. It padded over to the edge of its cage and sat down again. The cat was now only a few feet from Jake and he could see it really, really, really good.
He was in love.
"you are soooo beeeeutiful," he crooned.
The tail swished faster and a low rumbling sound came of its chest. Jake's eyes widened. His jaggywar was... purring!
He probably would have stayed there forever, but something nudged his leg and he looked down. At the pupper. Who was leaning against his leg. He started to bend down to pick it up, but it immediately... took off.
Jake groaned, waved longingly and lovingly at his jaggywar ... and took off again.
Blair tossed the bottle through the door -- and when nothing happened -- he followed. He rolled and came up with his arm outstretched, gun ready. His quarry was just leaping onto the next rooftop. Blair was up in an instant and giving chase even as he told Jim what was happening.
He hated this part of Cascade. Nothing but narrow buildings, all with connecting roofs but of varying heights. The thief was still running, ducking, jumping, and running and ducking some more. Blair couldn't get off a good shot, but then, neither could the thief. Gee, a silver lining. And where was his damn back-up?
Couldn't this guy trip or something?
Jake was running again, the pup always just that much ahead of him. Wasn't the pupper tired yet? Suddenly it stopped again and Jake had to put on the skids to keep from barreling into the bushes. Panting, he bent over and rested his hands on his knees. Time to check out where he was. He looked up and frowned. There was a green patch of lawn with a couple of benches - which looked pretty good to him - but not much else in front of him. He checked out the area to his left but found only an empty cage. It was a big one, with lots of trees and rocks, but still - just an empty one. He was wondering why when suddenly something shifted on the other side of the bars. He was amazed when what appeared to be a boulder - moved.
Jake blinked. And blinked again. The rock stood up and shook itself. Jake's mouth dropped open. He gulped -- and -- gulped again - because he was staring at his brave and beautiful wolfie.
His wolfie. Just like jakey. Only... only... only... way more ... just... more.
Jake was completely awed by the sight of the wolf, but not so much that he couldn't groan at thought that it should be over by his lonely jaggywar. Didn't the zoo know?
A small bark reminded him of the pup and he glanced down. It was several feet away, sitting in front of a clump of rocks and bushes. Its tail was wagging furiously. Jake hated to tear himself away from his wolfie, but he had the feeling the pup had finally led him to the spot he'd wanted him to be all along.
Jake got down on all fours and crawled over to the pup, who gave out with a small bark of impatience. When he reached it, the pup butted his shoulder with its head and gave Jake the opportunity to scratch behind its ears.
"okay, i'm here. do you want me to take you home? is that it? no, you woulda let me carry you, wouldn't you?"
At that moment, the bushes behind the pup moved. Jake reared back, shocked. The bushes moved again and the pup immediately walked over, stuck its head in, and whined. Jake bit his lower lip. He really needed to see what was back there, but maybe... the pup whined again and wagged its tail. Jake crawled over and the pup moved aside so he could peek in....
Jake recognized it immediately. He'd seen pictures in his books at home and at school. Only this was like the pupper - a baby.
A baby meercat.
Jake stuck his head in and started cooing. "come on, meerkitty, come a liddle closer, 'kay? i'll 'tect you and i have peanutty butter and i'll share, 'kay?"
The meercat cocked its head and chittered at him. Jake pursed his lips, and finally reached into his pocket for the rest of the sandwich. He unwrapped it quickly and tore off a small bit. Slowly he held it out.
"please? my bus is waiting for me and i can get you to your mommy and daddy, 'kay? although, maybe you have two daddies like me?"
He wiggled his fingers and the meercat's nose wrinkled up while it sniffed the peanut butter. A moment later the animal took a tentative step forward. It reached out with one hand and small, skinny fingers wrapped around Jake's. He felt his finger being pulled toward the animal and watched as a pink tongue lapped up the peanut butter. Slowly, Jake reached around with his other hand... and very carefully... captured the meercat.
Scrambling back out of the bushes, he heaved a sigh of relief. Now that the meercat was in his arms, it seemed content and settled right in by making a nest in the crook of his arm. Jake sat back and took a breather.
Blair was tired of chasing this asshole.
He'd made up a great deal of ground and had almost caught the guy twice, only to have him make another jump to another roof. Now he was darting in and out a few feet ahead. Blair looked around, spotted a brick, jumped over to it, lifted it, and a moment later, threw it with all his strength.
It hit the guy in the back and took him down.
Jim had been following his partner from the moment he'd told him one guy had taken off in the opposite direction, namely up. The other two men were down and cuffed with Connor and Joel reading them their rights even as Connor confiscated the small sacks of diamonds just stolen from Jessup's Jewelers.
He could hear Blair cursing, and Henri and the others trying to follow. Jim stepped back in the alley, just enough to arrow in on his partner. Once he had a bead, he started running down the alley.
He turned and ran through the third building's back door. He started up the stairs on his right. It didn't take him long to get to the to, thanks to taking three steps at a time. He crashed through the roof door and turned right. He could see Henri, Watson and a beat cop running across the other roof and Jim immediately took off after them. He caught - and passed them -- quickly. He was just about to jump to the fifth building when Blair threw the brick. Jim skidded to a stop, Henri almost thudding into him.
Panting heavily, Henri said, "Nice... shot."
Grinning, Jim said, "That's our Hairboy."
At the same moment, his cell rang.
Blair was sitting on the edge of the roof, head down while trying to get air back into his lungs where it belonged. He heard the footsteps approaching but didn't look up until he recognized the shoes.
"Hey, man. What took ya?" he croaked out.
"Chief, Jake's... missing."
"This won't be easy, Jim. It's a zoo."
"I know, Chief. But you'll help me."
"How did it happen?"
Eyes on the road ahead, Jim said, "He went back to dump his juice container."
"He wouldn't go off without good reason, Jim."
It was forty minutes from the east side of Cascade to the zoo. With lights and siren -- Jim made it in twenty-five.
Jake knew he'd gone too far to try to walk back with a meercat in his arms, not to mention the puppy, who was sound asleep on his lap, so he decided to wait right where he was until his poppy found him.
Which gave him all the time in the world to watch his wolfie - his beautiful wolfie.
Mrs. Wheaton watched Jake's parents as they ran down the long concourse to the entrance where she waited with two zoo security officers. Even as they were ushered through, she found herself explaining, "The buses have already returned to school with the other children and there are several security officers searching for him. They have a complete description."
Jim had moved several feet away from her as she spoke and now stood still, legs slightly parted, head held to one side. She frowned but looked back at Blair and added, "No one saw him after he headed back to the table, not even Corky or Cherry. The older classmates," at Blair's puzzled expression, she clarified, "we had two buses, one for the kinders and one for the fourth graders. Anyway, the older children were moving through the turnstile when Jake went back to dump something he'd forgotten. Corky and Cherry lost sight of him when they were moved through the turnstile. I noticed that Jake was missing within minutes of the last child exiting the Pavilion and the first I thing I did was to go back and check the tables. He wasn't there, Detective Sandburg. He was nowhere to be seen."
"I checked that next but it too was empty. The Pavilion is the back part of a food stand and I even checked in the kitchen. There were two employees and no one else. Nor was there any other way out."
Blair nodded even as his gaze drifted over to Jim. Seeing the now too-still form, he put a hand on her arm and said, "Okay, we'll take over now. Thank you for remaining behind."
She started to answer him but he was already moving toward his partner. She closed her eyes and thought of Jake - alone and frightened - and moaned low in her throat. Nothing bad could have happened - it just - couldn't have.
Blair touched Jim's arm and said, "Too deep, Jim. You've gone too deep."
A shiver ran through Jim's body and a moment later he said, "I couldn't... too much noise, too many smells, Chief."
"I know. Okay, so let's do this right. You know the drill. You filter out a sound at a time... that's it, animal from human... human from human...."
//you are a greedy little meerkitty, you are. you ate all the rest of my samich and poor pupper here only got one bite and he led me to you! my poppy would call you an... in... an in...gate. and what about our wolfie?//
Jim didn't know whether to be angry or deliriously relieved. He settled on both.
"I've got him. Find out where the wolf exhibits are, Chief."
"I know where. Follow me."
Not the least bit surprised, Jim followed his partner.
Walking fast down the center of the zoo, Blair asked, "I take it he's all right?"
"Oh, yeah. Seems a 'pupper' gave him a merry chase and ultimately led him to a meer... kitty."
"A ... meerkitty?"
"Yep. At the moment, it's trying to eat the buttons on his jacket."
It took ten minutes of brisk walking to get to the wolf compound and both men spotted Jake at the same time. He'd been hidden from view by an outcropping of artistically arranged rocks, flora, and fauna until they got past the first pen. They stopped, neither able to move forward, the sight that greeted them holding them in place.
Jake was resting against the rock, the wolf exhibit to his left. On his outstretched legs, a small white and tan terrier-type puppy was curled up and asleep. But it was the animal held so carefully in Jake's arms that captured their attention.
It really was a meercat. A young meercat and it was still trying to eat Jake's buttons, it's small hands reaching and retreating, playfully chittering as Jake tapped its nose and repeatedly said "no", his voice never losing its wonder, humor or patience.
Jim finally shook his head, half in exasperation, half in wonder. He stepped in closer and said, "Oh, Jaaa-ke."
Their son looked up at the sound of his father's voice and sighed dramatically.
"it's about time! i been waiting here forever, poppy!"
Jake was looking at the ground, but both Jim and Blair could see that he was pouting. They'd already heard the story and had returned the meercat -- who actually seemed sad to be loosing his guardian -- to grateful and stunned zoo personnel. They were now standing in front of the meercat exhibit with Mrs.Wheaton while the puppy that started the whole thing rested comfortably in her arms. Jim was trying to impress upon Jake why he'd been wrong to do what he'd done.
"Jake, you were lost and alone and you know--"
Head still down, Jake said with an air of stubborn practicality, "i weren't lost, i knew 's'xactly where i was, poppy. if i knew that, how could i be lost?"
Jim sat back on his haunches and regarded his son. This whole parent thing was rough, even after almost a year. Seeking help, he glanced up at Blair and received a bit-back grin for his trouble. Fortunately, Blair decided to take pity on him.
He joined Jim on one knee in front of their recalcitrant child and said patiently, "Son, you should never have run after the puppy. You should have gone to Mrs. Wheaton and asked for her help. Do you understand that? And do you understand why we're so upset?"
The pouting lower lip went into overtime. "the puppy came to me, daddy. he knew what he was doing and he took me all over the zoo to the meerkitty and we saved it and i even had some samwich left to give the meerkitty and it weren't afraid of me and it tried to eat my buttons but i didn't let it and i took care of it and i know not to talk to strangers and i be good and i waited here 'cuz i knew you and poppy would find me but i got to see the lonely jaggywar and my wolfie and the wolfie has a baby too but they keep the lonely jaggywar way," he spread his arms out wide, "too far away from the brave wolfie and you have to tell the zoo people to move the jaggywar closer because you know it's lonely and needs the wolfie, right, daddy?"
Blair chewed the inside of his right cheek. He was going to lose it - he was. He could hear a gurgling sound coming from Jim, and he knew damn well that Jim was getting ready to burst. Okay, deep breath and try again. Control the laughter - laughing would so not be good.
"Jake, I need you to--"
Forgetting all about stubborn, Jake lifted his face to his father and, eyes bright with excitement and hope, said, "daddy, can i keep the puppy? it chose me and it rescued the meerkitty and saved its life and it likes peanutty butter and jelly even though it only got a little bit and it's all alone with no poppy or daddy but the meerkitty has both and brothers and sisters and the puppy needs me and can i?"
Blair did the only thing he could - he took Jake into his arms and held on fast. As he brought his hand up to cup the back of Jake's head, he knew damn well they would be leaving the zoo with a tired but brave little boy and a puppy.
Blair held the acquiescent pup while Jim held Jake, and together thanked Jake's teacher. She tried her best to look stern as she said good-bye to Jake, but ultimately failed as badly as Jim and Blair. She ended up kissing him and, at his very strongly worded suggestion, kissing the puppy as well. She had a feeling that if Jake Porter-Ellison-Sandburg ever took into his head to rule the world - he'd have no problem at all.
Tomorrow would be a very interesting day as Jake would undoubtedly tell them all about his new puppy's first night in his new home. She didn't envy Jim or Blair. Grinning, she turned away and spotted her husband, who'd agreed to pick her up when she'd had to let the bus head back to school without her. It was kind of nice having all their children grown and gone. And their dog was thirteen and long since housebroken.
Life was good.
It had not escaped Blair's notice that Jim had been very silent since leaving the zoo. Jake was in his car seat, the puppy, cleverly docile, lying next to him on the seat. They were going to have stop on the way home tonight and buy dog supplies, which was funny considering how well they'd avoided taking one of Maggie's puppies last year. Of course, they'd almost ended up with a rabbit at Easter. Maybe they could leave the dog with Naomi while they shopped? But of course, Jim would worry about the hardwood floors so maybe he'd better address that right now.
"Jim, the floor at the loft will be safe, and we can--"
"Not now, Sandburg."
Jim pulled into a parking space in front of 852 and shut off the ignition. He got out and opened the back door. Jake was already unbuckled and holding the puppy. His face was literally shining as he first kissed the puppy's soft temple and then its white, scruffy beard while cooing nonsensically into its ear.
"Come on, son, we need to get you upstairs. Your daddy and I have to get back to work."
Jake let his father lift him and the puppy down and, with his backpack flopping and tennis shoes lighting up, he hopped onto the curb and walked under his other father's arm and into the lobby. All three rode up in the elevator and got out at the third floor. The front door was open, Naomi anticipating their imminent arrival, thanks to a call from Blair.
"Hey," she said as she walked out of the kitchen, drying her hands.
Then she spotted the dog.
"Blair? Honey? Did you leave a little something out when you called?"
The personification of innocence, Blair said, "Did I?"
Jake rushed up to his nomi and said, "this is my new puppy, my nomi, see? an' it saved a meerkitty and it chose me to find the meerkitty and it 't'wer only a puppy isself and--"
"Naomi," Jim said as if Jake hadn't said a word, "would you mind doing us a favor? We'll need supplies, dog food, a carrier, toys -- you know -- the works." He took out his wallet and removed two twenties and a ten and handed them over. "And whatever else you think we'll need?"
Stunned, Naomi took the money.
"Oh, and you might want to get double of everything since, for awhile anyway, both Jake and the puppy will be here after school."
Blair had remained back a bit, unable to cope with his mother and her aversion to dogs. He was sure he'd told Jim about that... many moons ago. He gnawed at his lower lip as he watched Jim work her now while Jake played with the puppy, who was... sniffing. He started to move in, to clue his mother and Jim into the fact that the dog was looking for a place to let loose, when Jim put his hand behind his back and waved a finger at him.
"And I know for a fact," Jim continued, "that the poor thing hasn't - you know - since we found Jake, and--"
"my nomi, pupper just pee'd on the floor," Jake announced proudly.
Jim retreated a few steps until his back nudged Blair's front. "Well, I think you see where I was going with that. Anyway, we'll be back about five or so. Jake, you be good and you take a nap, you hear me?"
Not looking up from where the puppy was still relieving its bladder, Jake said, "me and pupppers is pooping and poopted, poppy. we be good and nap together, 'kay?"
Noticing that his mother still hadn't said anything, and realizing that now was their chance to make a clean get-a-way, Blair snagged Jim's shirt and started pulling even as he said, "That'll be up to your nomi, Jake. See you in a few hours."
With that, he pulled Jim out the door and watched as Jim, in turn, pulled the front door closed. For a moment they stood in the hall outside of 307, each looking at the other.
Blair shook his head and said, "You are something else, man."
The ride back to the station was oddly quiet as Blair digested the fact that his mate had pulled a fast one on his mother. This was going to take some getting used to.
They were stopped at a light when suddenly Blair's thoughts were interrupted by Jim's raucous laughter. It took three minutes for Jim to quiet down enough for Blair to ask, "Jim?"
Eyes streaming, Jim turned to him and, after trying to catch his breath, said, "Puppers... is pooping and poopted, poppy...."
That was all it took to get Blair going, and once he started laughing, Jim started up again.
They walked into the bullpen and were immediately assaulted by their fellow detectives and a slew of questions. Jim had called Simon moments after they'd found Jake, but evidently their friends just had to "hear all about it, you guys." Between the two of them, they shared Jake's adventurous day at the zoo and described their newest family member. Once everyone was satisfied and had shared a good laugh over puppers pooping and poopted, they went happily back to work. Simon, seeing the lull, waved them into his office.
"Shut it, Sandburg," he said as he took his seat.
Blair did as asked before perching on the end of the conference table. Jim remained standing.
"Good job today with the jewel thief gang, but I'd really love a little something in writing. You know, just to keep the Commissioner happy and all."
"We'll have them on your desk within the hour, Simon," Blair offered apologetically.
"Good, good." He sat back and regarded his two best detectives, his gaze finally settling on Jim. "So... Sandburg took out Nick Messelina with a brick."
Looking very professional and serious, Jim nodded. "Yes, sir, so it would seem."
"How many rooftops did he travel before the lucky brick showed up?"
"I do believe it was... five--"
"Four, and he's right here, guys," Sandburg interrupted.
"No, I'm sure it was five rooftops, Chief," Jim insisted.
"It was four and what's the big deal?"
"The big deal is," Simon said, "if you took on five rooftops, you'd be the new record holder. But if as you say, it was only four," he shrugged, "then the record remains unbroken."
Looking stunned, Blair said, "There's a record for rooftop chases?"
"Yep. Care to know the current record holder?" Simon asked.
"Wait, Simon. We should clarify." Jim turned to his partner. "There's a record for the most rooftops traversed and not catching the runner, and there's a record for the most rooftops traversed and catching the runner."
"So who?" Blair waggled his head.
"Jim, of course," Simon said smugly.
Blair nodded sagely. "You know, it just might have been ... five... rooftops."
"So you're telling me this dog led Jake to an escaped ... meercat?"
"Yep. Zoo officials still don't know how the thing got out but they've moved the entire family to another cage until they find out. They weren't surprised about the dog, though. It seems," Jim said, "that the area around the zoo is a haven for strays. Lucky for the meercat."
"And you left Naomi alone with a puppy?"
"Gee, Simon, I guess we could have brought it ... here," Blair said.
"Glad you left it with Naomi. Yep, very glad. Of course, the payback will be a bitch, but hey, it's your family. Now why don't you two get me those reports?"
Both men saluted smartly before leaving. Simon sat back and tried to picture Naomi dealing with a puppy. And Jake.
A puppy and Jake and Naomi.
Come to think of it - he hadn't taken his lunch hour yet. Mmmm....
Day's end with the Messelina gang behind bars and a meercat bravely rescued. Blair figured it was a pretty good day overall. He walked next to Jim through the underground parking lot and listened to the numerous beepings of cars being unlocked by remote control.
"Damn symphony," Jim muttered as he pulled out his keys.
"Twenty-first century, man."
Jim unlocked the truck door in the old-fashioned way and climbed in. Fastening his seatbelt he said, "Yeah, well, there's progress and then there's progress, and a cacophony of strange beeps does not meet my definition of the word."
Blair fastened his belt and said, "You're just upset because you no longer hold the rooftop record."
Blair did a double take. "That's the best you could come up with, Jim?"
"Give me a break. I'm thinking of a dog that will need walking at midnight."
"Don't be silly. We put him in the kitchen with papers."
"You've never had a dog, have you?"
"We put that puppy in the kitchen all night and he'll scream bloody murder. All night."
"Oh. So what do we do?"
"The dog carrier."
"He sleeps in the carrier. If he has to go, he does it in the carrier, but in the morning, we take him out. We take him out every hour when we're home, after every nap and every meal. When we're gone, he stays in the carrier, but when we get home, we take him outside. Eventually, he learns."
"The dog. It's a she."
"Well, of course it is," Jim said in disgust.
Blair wisely kept quiet.
"You go up, Chief. I'll wait here."
"Got it in one."
Blair got out and managed to restrain himself. He really wanted to slam the door. He ran inside and took the stairs. Once in front of his mother's door, he took a moment to straighten his jacket and let his breathing calm before knocking.
Pounding feet told Blair that Jake was on his way so he stepped back. The door was thrown open and sure enough, Jake launched himself at his father. It was always a good idea to give Jake room; it was the only way to keep one's balance when Jake made his leap.
Blair caught him easily and kissed him as Jake wrapped his arms around his neck. "How's the pup?"
"he be bery good, daddy! even my nomi says he's a good pupper."
"Do we have a name yet?"
"da-dee, his name is pupper!"
"Jake, he's a she, so maybe something a bit more... feminine?"
Jake's eyes went round. "a she?"
Blair chuckled as he walked into the loft and almost into his mother. "Oh, hey, mom. Nice dog you have there."
Naomi had the puppy in her arms. She wasn't smiling - exactly.
"Nice job today, Blair."
"Now, mom," he said as moved past her.
"Don't you 'now mom' me, young man. You're just lucky this puppy is such a sweetie. And, I might add, already well on its way to being house broken. Her earlier performance was mostly nerves, I think."
"Really. She goes to the balcony window when she needs to ... you know. Jake and I would simply take her downstairs and she'd trot over to the tree and do her thing. She's very good."
"i could call her goody, couldn't i, daddy?"
"Goody?" He looked at the dog currently trying to lick his mother's make-up off and decided that the scruffy-faced mutt did indeed look like a "Goody". "Hoss, I think you've hit on the perfect name. Goody it is."
Goody immediately stopped licking and yipped her agreement.
Blair put Jake down and said, "Go get your things, Hoss. Jim's downstairs waiting."
"okey-dokey, daddy!" He ran into his room, leaving Blair with Naomi.
"So, Jim too chicken to come up?"
"Big, bad Jim Ellison, Mom?"
"Yep," Blair admitted. "But right now, he's downstairs denying it to us."
"Fat lot of good it will do him." She faced the windows and said, "You're chicken, Jim."
The sound of a horn honking caused both Sandburgs to laugh out loud.
Naomi handed the puppy over to Blair, who took it much like someone who'd never held anything smaller than a four, now five, year old. The puppy immediately tried to finish its licking job, obviously figuring that one Sandburg was as good as another. Naomi nodded at Goody and said, "I understand they do that a great deal."
"Oh, goody," Blair said.
Goody yipped again.
"Yes, well, let me get her things," Naomi said.
Five minutes later, Blair had the carrier, which in turn, held all of Goody's food, toys, and other assorted necessities that Naomi had purchased. Jake had Goody on her new leash and together, they preceded Blair out, but only after both boy and dog had lavished enough kisses to last "my nomi until tomorrow."
Walking to the elevator with them, Naomi said, "Tell Jim I took his advice. I bought two of everything."
Blair stepped into the car behind his son and turned around. Smiling, he said, "I won't have to."
"Of course. Jim, you're still a coward, but I love you anyway," Naomi finished with a gentle smile.
Chuckling, Blair leaned out long enough to drop a kiss on his mother's cheek before ducking back in. "See you tomorrow, and thanks, Mom, for everything."
"You're welcome. You too, Jim."
The elevator door slid shut on Naomi's laughter.
Jim stared at the dog.
The dog stared at Jim.
Blair stared at both of them.
Jake was in bed and finally asleep, but it had taken both Jim and Blair to explain umpteen million times why Goody couldn't sleep in his bed - yet. Now the puppy sat on its haunches, head cocked while staring adoringly up at Jim, whose lap Goody coveted. Jim shook his head. Goody yipped.
"Sandburg, do something."
Blair patted the couch. Goody made it in a single leap. She immediately started for Jim's lap.
"No," Jim said sternly.
Goody froze. Waited. Started for his lap again.
"I said... no."
Goody stopped. Looked back at Blair, who said, "Keep trying, girl. He's a pushover."
Goody took advantage and jumped the short distance to Jim's lap.
Goody proceeded to circle his lap three times to the right followed by three times to the left before sinking down, curling up, and going to sleep.
"Now what?" Jim asked.
"Which one of us had a dog when we were growing up?"
"Do you think for one minute that Rupert was allowed in the house?"
"Rupert? Rupert, Jim?"
"Steven named him."
"Sandburg, I can't move."
"Remember the permission slip, Jim?"
"You know, the one I was less than thrilled to sign? The one allowing our son to go on a field trip to the zoo?"
Blair grinned. "Payback's a bitch, Jim. And you haven't heard from the other Sandburg - yet."
Goody lifted her head and yipped.
Jim shook his head. "A hippie wannabe, a five year old, and now a puppy. What's missing here, Sandburg?"
"Sex with the new rooftop record holder."
"Damn, life is good."