Blair packed up his study material, shoved them haphazardly into his bag, slung the whole thing over his shoulder, checked his watch and almost gave out with an audible, "Eeek" as he realized he was late. He hurried out of the library, literally ran to his car, threw the bag into the back seat, climbed in and started the Corvair.
Only it didn't start.
He was going to be late *again*.
He pounded the steering wheel with his fist, then looked down at the betrayer, the ignition, which gazed back, unblinking and unstarting.
"Okay, I'm gonna try ~ one more time ~ and you *will* start. Because this is an important day. Not to mention, that if I'm late again, Jim will fry this observer. Okay, I'm already late, but I can't be any later, you see? If I disappoint Jim again, the guys won't let me play tonight......"
He reached out his hand and twined his fingers around the key.....
"They *finally* asked me to play, understand? The guys finally asked me, Blair Sandburg, to join in the weekly Major Crimes Poker Night. So I'm going to turn this key.....and you will purr."
He closed his eyes, sent up a last fervent prayer, then with lips pleading, "Please, please, please", he s-l-o-w-l-y turned the key.
And the Corvair purred to life.
"YES, yes, yes!"
Blair roared out of the parking lot and made the twelve minute trip to the station in a record breaking five.
He swung the car into the first open spot he found in back, shut down, climbed out, slammed the door, ran into the police garage flashing his observer pass and after noting the mass of "just back from lunch" cops gathered around the single elevator, he veered left for the stairs.
Seven flights later, breathing hard, or hardly breathing, muscles bunched up tighter than a drum, a now thoroughly exhausted Sandburg exited the stairwell.
Once in the hall, he let himself hold up the opposite wall long enough to catch his breath. While leaning, knees slightly bent, hands resting on his thighs, he heard Henri Brown, who must have been just around the corner, talking with another MC Detective, David Wilson. When the pounding in his ears subsided, he decided to join the two men, but their words stopped him.
".......yeah, too bad. But Claire insists I help with painting the nursery. But I gotta tell ya, H, I was really looking forward to watching the Junior Hippy-Cop Wannabe, swimming around with the sharks tonight, trying to play with the grown-ups."
"Come on, Wilson. Hairboy isn't that bad."
"Not that bad? Get real, H. What could that kid know about Poker? As much as he knows about detective work?"
"Okay, admittedly the rest of us are a bit ~ leery, but hell, he did okay with that Lash thing, and the game *is* at Ellison's, it's not like we can ignore the kid."
Blair pushed away from the wall and threw himself back into the stairwell. For a moment he just stood, thinking, then he sat, somewhat dejectedly, on the top step, elbows on knees, face propped up by his hands.
His breathing had evened out, which was a good thing. No panic attack. He kept on thinking.
Okay, he couldn't really blame the guys, shit, look at him. Not exactly the kind of guy you would find at a police poker game. Gee, was it the hair? The earrings? Or maybe the native jewelry? Or maybe it was the fact that he was an anthropologist?
Blair smiled inwardly. Well, none of the above facts were going to change anytime soon. Period. Blair Sandburg was, well, Blair Sandburg. He slapped his hand down on one leg, winced, then smiled outwardly.
Maybe it was time to teach these guys that book covers could be very deceiving? And maybe have a little fun along the way?
Oh, yeah. That's the ticket.
His smile grew decidedly wicked as a plan formed in his ever active brain.....and maybe that smile was a little ~ evil?
Sandburg pushed into #307, arms laden down with bags and cartons. He made his way to the kitchen where he let everything fall where it may.
He knew he didn't have much time, but everything had to be perfect. He gave a little chuckle, only slightly maniacal in nature.
He and Jim had wrapped up the Jenkins case at around two p.m. and Blair had the paperwork finished by three. Jim was scheduled to meet with Simon and the Deputy D.A. and since Blair hadn't really been needed, he'd begged off, but promised to stop at the store and pick up whatever Jim needed for the night's game.
Sandburg grinned at the memory of Jim's list.
Oh, yeah, he'd gotten the beer, alright.
The chuckle was definitely maniacal now.
Blair picked up the two bags he'd allowed to fall to the floor and thanked anyone above for Mardi Gras night at Rainier University. The guys from Major Crimes would not soon forget this poker night. No way.
Blair gave himself one last look in the mirror.
Yeah, just the image.
His hair was down, and full around his face. He was wearing one of his old, African tribal shirts, in purple, blue and gold silk. He had several of his native necklaces around his neck, plus Naomi's old peace medallion. He'd replaced his two gold hoops with one short, dangling feather earring and one very long, dangling earring with a small "save
the whale" slogan and he'd chosen the oldest, tightest and most torn jeans, with the rips and tears in every conceivable spot, that he could find......On his feet were his old native sandals *and* one gold toe ring.....leftover from one of his girlfriends.
Oh, yeah. Junior Hippy, AnthroKid. Just one last touch. He popped out his contacts, put them away and slipped on his glasses.
*Now* he was the Junior Hippy AnthroKid.
This was going to be so ~ totally~ fucking ~ cool.
He went out and downstairs to his car, to bring up and assemble the final touch to the evenings poker game.
It was after six when Jim and Simon finished with the Deputy District Attorney.
"Shit, Ellison, you're going to be late to your own poker game."
"I'm not worried. I'm sure Sandburg has everything under control. He even agreed to pick up the groceries."
"Beer and Pretzels, I hope. I mean, he wouldn't, didn't, couldn't get anything, exotic, would he?"
"Beer and Pretzels. That's it."
"So with Joel's chilli, we're set."
"Can the kid play?"
"Simon, I don't think he'd agree to join us if he couldn't play, do you?"
"Right. Nothing to worry about."
"So why are you worried?"
"Why are you?"
Jim had to think about that for a minute, but just a minute.
"Because we're talking about Sandburg."
They'd arrived at their separate vehicles and as Simon got into his, he couldn't resist one last jab.
"You sure you don't want *me* to stop and pick up some *extra* beer and pretzels?"
"Simon, don't make me shoot you."
Banks responded in his most Captain-like, professional manner. He flipped him the bird.
Jim returned the favor as Simon sped off.
In spite of Bank's headstart, Jim still beat him to the loft, but not by enough. He'd broken more than a few speed laws, in his attempt to get upstairs before Simon arrived. As he got out of the Ford, Simon was just pulling in.
Jim wasn't ~ concerned, really. More like.....scared shitless. Sandburg's first game with the guys and Jim was worried for him. He'd been listening to all the talk and it was amazing how one young observer could become the main topic of conversation among a bunch of hardened detectives. The opinions on "the hippy's" poker prowess ranged from, "nil" to "bet he can't even shuffle"........
As Jim waited for Simon, he found himself praying that Sandburg did indeed, know how to shuffle.
"OH ~ MY ~ GOD. Jim? Jim?"
But Jim couldn't answer Simon. He was seriously contemplating a zone-out.
He and Simon were standing just inside the door to the loft and were staring at the transformation.
His kitchen table now rested against the back of the couch, and was covered by a white paper tablecloth, decorated in a multitude of different poker hands. On the table were platters, bowls, bottles, plates, utensils, etc. And in the center, a big, silver foam centerpiece, depicting a poker chip.
The platters held food that was totally unrecognizable by either man, *and* each food item had a colorful toothpick stuck in the middle!
Jim took a tentative step forward, but Simon's hand griping his arm stopped him short.
Simon was now gaping at what stood where the kitchen table should have......
It was a huge, regulation, Poker Table.
A Green felt, octagon shaped, chip trays, mug holders, fucking, regulation Poker Table.
"Jim, we've got to....."
"It's too late, the others are here, downstairs, on their fucking way up."
"Damn. And have I ever told you, I hate it when you do that?"
Jim *did* take a step into the room then and yelled, "SAAAANDBUUUURG!"
Sandburg stepped into the hall from the bathroom.
"Hey, Jim, you're home."
And the two men got their first look at Sandburg.
"Shit." Simon breathed out.
"Fuck." Jim breathed in.
"Exactly." Simon whispered.
"SIMON!" Jim yelled.
"JIM!" Simon yelled back.
"Hey, guys, what's the matter?" asked the guileless Junior Hippy AnthroKid.
Jim, the ever in control Sentinel, gathered his wits, scolded his lower brain back into submission and bellowed, "BEER AND PRETZELS, SANDBURG, BEER AND PRETZELS!"
"Why, Jim," and the young man walked over to the *buffet* table, "the beer is right here," he waved an arm expansively at the rows of brown bottles, "and the pretzels are here," again waving, this time at two large bowls on either side of the table,"These are yogurt covered pretzels, and these are carob covered......and check out the beer, man! I've got blueberry beer, gensing beer, rasberry beer and these," indicating four large bottles in the back row, "these are from the *Yooboo" tree in the rainforests of Brazil. The natives make the beer and sell it to protect their home. It's expensive, and a little bitter, but hey, *very* environmental."
"Oh, shit, they're here, Simon."
"Don't look at me. This is *your* poker night."
Jim was backing toward the front door, but if his intent was escape, it was too late. A pounding on the door, followed by yells of, "Hey, Jim, open up!" said the guys were here.
Jim's hand was on the knob, and without really thinking about it, he turned it and the door swung open.
Escape was out of the question, but murder was still an option. Except that Sandburg looked so damn cute.
The loft was suddenly full of talking detectives, jackets were discarded, backs slapped, hands shaken. And Jim and Simon were finally forced aside and the "gang" got *their* first look at the loft.
Silence fell. Like a ton of bricks.
And Blair's voice piped up.
"Hey, guys, help yourselves, load up your plates and let's play poker!"
The next few minutes crawled by as Jim and Simon watched, open mouthed, as their friends, or soon to be "ex-friends", picked up plates, walked around the buffet table and whispered.
Jim heard, "What the fuck is that grey stuff?" and "Did he say *Octopus*?" and "Who the hell serves octopus at a poker game?".....
The two men observed lots of chili being ladled onto the plates....lots and lots of chili, watched the guys grab bottles of beer ~ without ~ reading the labels, and then walk over to the poker table, where they stood, as if in trances, staring at the sight, until they finally sat down.
Jim and Simon looked at each other, shrugged, and joined the men at the regulation ~ fucking ~ poker table.
Henri was first. He twisted off the cap of his beer, took a desperate swig, swallowed, then took another swig. And immediately spewed it across the table and into Larry Wilkins face.
"What the fu.....? What is this stuff?" Brown sputtered.
Sandburg looked up in delight and said in complete innocence, "Oh, that's the blueberry beer, from the Collins Micro-brewery, on Fifth Street. You like it, H?"
Henri looked into those artless sapphire orbs, bright behind their lenses, gulped and said, "Sure, it's great. Just great."
Blair clapped his hands to get everyone's attention and asked, "So, who's the banker tonight?" And he reached down to the floor and picked up the ugliest, biggest, black and gold chip bank that any of them had ever seen, and plopped it down in the middle of the table.
The five other men looked at the bank of chips, looked at each other, looked daggers at Jim and then in complete unison, pointed fingers at the detective.
He "harumphed" and plucked the offending item off the table.
Then Blair tossed out one, shiny, new, red die.
"I rolled a three. Guess I won't get the first deal."
Silence dropped with a thud.
Six jaws joined the silence.
Six heads swivelled to look at the observer. Who picked up the die and handed it off to Wes, on his left.
"We, usually, um, cut the cardsforthedeal. You know?"
The Junior Hippy looked at each man around the table, let his smile fade slowly, frowned ever so slightly and said in a low voice, "Oh. Sure. Got it." *And* he managed to look utterly and completely crestfallen.
Wes jumped to his rescue.
"I *like* rolling for the deal." He flashed Sandburg his best smile as he tossed the die. And Jim Ellison once again thought of murder.
And Simon's unlit cigar dropped out of his mouth and onto the floor.
"Cool, Wes, a six. Looks like you'll be dealing the first hand, unless we get a tie." Blair practically bounced in his seat as the die was passed to Joel.
Jim immediately sent up a prayer that there would be no other six rolled. He really didn't want to know how Sandburg would break a tie. But visions of "Pin the Tail on the Donkey" did flutter past.....followed by visions of his pining something else to Blair's tail.....which forced an uncomfortable shift in his jeans and another very terse lecture to his lower brain.
And Wes did indeed win the deal.
"Alright", Wes intoned, "Lets open with five card draw, jokers good for aces, straights and flushes, jacks or better to open. Ante up."
The cards were dealt, but before Wes could make the rounds for discards, Blair set his hand down, got up, went into his room and came back with a pad and pencil.
"Uh, Jim, could you remind me?"
"Chief? Remind you of what?"
"You know.....what beats what?"
Five pairs of eyes looked at the observer.
Jim looked into those wide, pure blue eyes and immediately started to recite.....and was soon joined by the others......
"One pair beats high card, two pair beats one pair, three of a kind beat two pair, a straight beats three of a kind, a flush beats a straight, a full house beats a flush, four of a kind beats a full house, a straight flush beats four of a kind, a royal flush beats a straight flush and five of a kind, when using wild cards, beats everything."
The Major Crimes Poker Chorus ended and Blair looked up, sprung his best smile, and said, "Gosh, guys, thanks. I've got it now."
Henri won the first hand, but after one look at the dejected Sandburg, he mentally vowed that it would be his *last* win of the evening.
They went three more hands, with Jim, Simon and Joel taking the wins.
At conclusion of each hand, Blair just got quieter, shoulders slumping a bit more.......
On the fifth hand, everyone folded, leaving Blair the winner with a pair of two's.
"Wow! I won. Cool."
The other guys felt much better. The bounce was back.
Blair won the sixth hand as well, when Simon finally threw in his hand after one look into those innocent baby blues.
The cards were passed to the Junior Hippy and it was finally his turn to deal.
He slowly parted the cards.....painfully shuffled them, losing several and having to start over.....then he began the slow, careful, counting of his deal.
"Okay, gentlemen, the game is 7 card stud, eights, threes, one-eyed jacks and jokers are wild, the third card after the first red queen is wild *and* the guy to the left of the guy who gets the first black jack, gets half the pot. Ante up, boys, this dealer is hot!"
And for the umpteenth time that evening, silence fell. Like a guillotine.
Blair's head perked up, eyes round as saucers.
A chorus of, "Oh, no, nothing, nothing at all!" met him.
"Oh, good. But before we actually bet, could you excuse me for a sec?"
"Oh, sure, no problem," they all chorused.
To the frenzied whisperings of, "what cards are wild?" and , "Did he say the guy on the left, or the guy on the right?" and, "Is it the third card after the red queen, or the second card after the black queen?" .....Blair Sandburg slipped into his room, barely containing his laughter.
A few minutes later, he came back out, walked over to the kitchen, opened a bottom cupboard, pulled out two, big bowls of Rold Gold Pretzels, plopped them down on the table, went back and pulled six, icy, cold bottles of Heineken's out of the fridge, passed them around, went back and got himself a cold one, then took his seat.
Gone was the african shirt, replaced by a soft, grey T-shirt with the Cascade P.D. emblem emblazoned across the front. Gone were the necklaces, and the earrings, replaced by his usual leather thong ankah around his neck and his usual two gold hoops in his ear. His hair was tied back and he'd replaced the jeans with warm, comfortable sweats and the sandals with grey sweat socks. He still wore his glasses.
He gathered up the cards, re-shuffled so fast that even Sentinel sight could barely keep up, then with nimble fingers he quickly and efficiently dealt. Two cards down, one card up.
"Seven card stud, jokers wild, gentlemen."
Then he sat back and enjoyed the explosion.
He wasn't disappointed. A multitude of, "Shits", "Fucks", "Hot damns" and, "Well, I'll be......" were unleashed as the guys yelled and screamed.
The loud and very vocal exclamations were followed by a volley of chips flying through the air and "thwacking", "thudding", "splatting" and "kerplunking" against Blair's anatomy.
Don't let it be said that the Major Crimes Poker Club can't take a joke.
After the last chip had fallen, Blair looked around, blue eyes reflecting only the purest of innocence and said, "Gee, guys, something wrong?"
The poker game went on into the wee small hours of Saturday morning with Sandburg emerging the eventual winner. And while the other detectives were tired and broke, they all had to agree that it had been the best poker night that any of them could remember.
Wes even went so far as to ask for Sandburg's recipe for the garlic octopus and was only slightly cowed when Jim threatened his life and Sandburg told him that he undoubtedly *had* a recipe for garlic octopi, but that what was on the table was rubber. From the prop department at the University.
Simon was the last to leave and as he pulled on his coat, he gave one last look around the loft, then down at his observer.
"I suppose we deserved this, Sandburg?"
"Yes, sir. Just a bit."
"Well, you throw a mean poker party."
"Thank you, Captain."
"Simon, call me Simon. But *not* at the station."
"Yes, sir, uh, Simon."
As Jim opened the door to let Simon out, Banks leaned in and whispered, "Glad you didn't cut him loose, I think we should keep him."
Ellison just patted his captain on the back, and gently, but firmly, shut the door.
When he turned back around, Sandburg was already starting to clean up.
"Chief, we can do that in the morning."
"Number one, it *is* morning, and number two, who are you?"
"Hey, I'm serious, we'll clean up later, let's go to bed."
Sandburg frowned, walked over to Jim, put one hand on his forehead and shook his own head.
"Nope, you don't have a fever. Did you eat one of the rubber octopi?"
Jim pulled the hand away from his brow.
"Very funny, Maverick. I *do* understand the concept of Sandburg rule number 43 - "Do it later"....."
"Yeah, but can you actually follow that rule without succumbing to the stress and eventual breakdown? And did you know, you're still holding my hand?"
"Yes ~ and ~ yes."
"So, do I get to be Brett or Bart?"
"BEAU! But he was just a cousin."
"Yep. A kissing cousin. You would rather be brothers?"
Jim was now pressing the palm of Sandburg's hand with his thumb, making lazy circles and purring.
"No, no ....no at all...no, brothers would not be good. I'm Beau. Brett's kissing cousin."
Using the hand he was still caressing, Jim pulled the younger man into
his arms, lowered his head and nuzzled an ear, whispering, "I always knew there was something going on between Brett and Beau, and it wasn't poker."
"I'll raise that bet."
"Already rising, Chief, already rising."
Jim lay on his side, one arm under his new bedmate, watching Blair sleep. A new pastime. Better than the Jags. He let one finger run along the beautiful jaw, rough with stubble, then traced those lips. Blair stirred but didn't waken.
"Oh yeah", he whispered to his sleeping lover, "I'm keeping you. Forever. Even if you hadn't known how to shuffle."