He'd been lurking all day.
Following without following, spying without spying, hiding in doorways, staying several cars back, ducking in and out of sight, and all to find out where Jim Ellison went on Sundays. Where Jim Ellison was suddenly going on Sundays.
It had started six weeks ago with a careless, "I'm out of here for the day, Sandburg. See ya tonight" thrown over his shoulder as Jim had walked out the door, and it had been that way for each of the Sundays that had followed. No explanation (not that Jim owed him one -- but really, Jim owed him one), just "See ya tonight".
None of it should have mattered to him, except that Jim always came home with the stupidest grin on his face, a grin Sandburg would have given anything to have put there, as opposed to some criminal bimbo Jim was seeing on the sly. Because Sandburg had no doubt that it was a criminal bimbo putting that stupid "I'm so in love" grin on Jim's face every single fucking Sunday for over a month of Sundays.
That's why he was now following a fucking sentinel, and does anyone know how fucking HARD following a sentinel is? It's fucking hard, Blair Sandburg could tell you. Yes, sir, fucking hard. First off, you had to wear a different aftershave, which he'd done. AND new deodorant. AND new toothpaste; a cinnamon concoction that actually tasted pretty good. He'd even purchased new body soap and mouthwash. In fact, he'd purchased all the products for the express purpose of following Jim today, and had kept them hidden in his room until Jim had left early that morning.
Fortunately for him, the one thing he did know about these Sunday mornings was that Jim stopped at Mimi's Cafe first -- for a Rooty-Tooty pancake breakfast. Which gave Blair time to get up, grab his new toiletries, shower, shave, get dressed, and be downstairs and a block away when Jim came out of the restaurant. Of course, all new toiletries wasn't his only form of turning himself into a chameleon. Oh, no. There was his hair, which was currently bunched up under a ridiculous cowboy hat, and there was a long pea coat borrowed from a friend, and a Mini-Cooper, red and white, also borrowed from a friend who owed him big time. (You don't loan out your Mini-Cooper unless you do owe someone big time)
No way would the sentinel from hell ever spot Blair Sandburg today. No, sir. A cowboy in a red and white Mini-Cooper? HAH!
Jim shook his head in fond exasperation. Did Sandburg really think that cowboy hat and... what the hell were those baby cars called again? Whatever. But really, a cowboy hat? Like that could hide Sandburg from him? Although, changing his toiletries had been a stroke of genius. Too bad the genius didn't realize he had a scent that transcended personal grooming products. But what the heck, it was time Sandburg found out anyway. If he laughed, he laughed. If he told the world and they laughed -- well, given the reason he'd been making himself scarce for the last several Sundays -- laughing would be a very good thing.
Ah, his destination. This should pop the whiz kid's eyes open. Jim pulled into the parking lot, took his usual space, shut down, got out, pretended not to look at the red and white baby car, and headed toward the back door of the building he'd parked next to.
Blair frowned, craned his neck to see the name of the place, and his frown deepened.
The Laughing Cow.
So the criminal bimbo worked at The Laughing Cow. Sure, why not. Probably in some kind of witness protection thing-a-mabob. Wait. He and Jim both had already done that. Although, Michelle could... no, she'd never come back to Cascade. Ever.
He checked his watch and groaned. It was only a little after ten, which meant that no way would The Laughing Cow be open. It was a club and it didn't open its doors until seven. So what the hell was Jim doing there now? Why would the criminal bimbo of the month be there now?
Hey, maybe she owned the joint? Sure, that was it, and Jim was picking her up for their day together. Smiling, Blair settled in to wait, confident that he was right, and that any moment, Jim would come out with the redhead (they were always redheads -- unless they were blonde) and they'd get into his truck, and Blair would be back in the business of following him.
Ten minutes slipped by, and still no Jim. But in those minutes, Blair felt his mood evaporate. Knowing where Jim went, and knowing why, had suddenly put a damper on his sense of success. It was one thing to wonder, another thing to make elaborate and foolish plans to find out, and still another to actually know that Jim was seeing someone on the sly.
Man, Blair was pretty certain his heart was breaking, which was silly, since there was absolutely nothing between him and Jim. Nothing.
If you didn't count three years.
Three years of Jim choosing him over and over again. Okay, so Jim didn't know he'd been choosing Blair -- but Blair had, so as far as he was concerned, he and Jim were a couple. And Jim was cheating on him. The dick.
An hour later -- still no Jim and bimbo. Man, this so sucked. They were probably in there, in her office, going at it like monkeys. Or rabbits. Or whatever. The fucking sentinel boinking the criminal bimbo.
This was no longer fun.
But he would stick it out.
Blair glanced at his watch again. Sheesh. It was after seven, the parking lot was rapidly filling, and still, after all these hours -- no Jim. Time to go inside. Yep, that was the answer. Go inside and confront the man. Demand that he drop the bimbo and come home with him... where he belonged.
With a firm resolve, Sandburg climbed out of the Cooper, locked it, and made his way to the front of the building and the entrance to The Laughing Cow.
Holy shit -- there was a freaking line. A line to get into some dumb club? Not even a hot spot? Shaking his head, he got into line. Jim was so going to owe him for this.
Jim stood in the wings and tapped his foot. This was it. His night. Seven weeks of rehearsals and dry runs... and tonight, he was finally going on. He absently touched his hip... and frowned. No gun. He really needed it tonight. Talk about confidence builders. Nothing beat a .35 at your hip.
"Hey, Jim, you ready?"
He turned and looked down into the bright eyes of Max Shelton, the club owner, and college buddy. "Yeah... no. Yeah. Maybe."
Laughing, Max said, "Don't worry, you're ready. Just do what I taught you, be yourself, tap into yourself and your life, and you'll do great." He slapped Jim on the back and said, "Gotta go get everyone else ready. See you in a few."
Nodding, Jim watched him go, then wondered if alcohol would kill the rampaging elephants in his stomach. Probably -- and him too. Which wouldn't be bad.
He peered around the curtain, eyes raking over the crowd, and sighed. No Sandburg. Which was kind of ... disappointing. He'd figured Sandburg would have gotten bored several hours ago and come inside, thus finding out what Jim had been doing with himself for the last several weekends. But no. Which meant that Sandburg had given up and gone home. The wuss.
The small band started tuning up and Jim took a deep breath. Almost time.
Blair paid the cover charge (and vowed that Jim would pay him back even if Blair was a little shy of actually having a reason why Jim should pay him back) and edged his way past the swarm of bodies bellying up to the bar. It was hot in the already crowded club, so he shucked the coat, draped it over his arm, and using talents honed during years of being the shortest guy in a clubbing group (and the youngest), he scoped out a table, ducked and bobbed his way through the crowd, and beat out three other groups all vying for the same table.
Let's hear it for the short guy.
Settling in, he looked around, satisfied that he had good position for spotting Jim without being spotted himself. Had a pretty good view of the stage too, and as long as he had to do this, well, if he caught a good show while waiting to confront Jim and his bimbo, all the better.
"What can I get you, honey?"
Blair glanced up, and into, a set of boobs that had he not been hankering after a six foot cop with a receding hairline, great pecs, and legs that went all the way up to his chin, he'd have been happily drooling over. Unable to find anything else to look at, he mumbled a brilliant, "What?"
"Food and drinks? What can I get you?" She reached over him, her left boob threatening to spill out and onto Blair's cheek, plucked up a tattered menu, and held it in front of his eyes. "We got nachos, hamburgers, sandwiches, and chili fries. We got twenty-seven kinds of beer too. Don't order anything stronger, though, cause we'll rob you blind." She winked at him, bent a bit lower, thus ensuring that he got a real good look at her merchandise, cracked her gum, and said, "So what'll it be, sweetie?"
"Uhm... chili fries and a Coors."
"You got it, babe."
She flounced off, giving Sandburg a good view of her scantily clad rear-end. He grinned. There'd been a time when he'd have tried to walk out of the club with her on his arm... but that was then, and this was now, and now he was crazy for only one rear end, and that was Jim Ellison's.
Times, they are a'changin'.
He spent a lovely hour munching on chili fries, drinking beer, fending off the overly-friendly waitress, and looking, in vain, for Jim. He was just about to give up, while at the same time admiring Jim's fortitude where bimbos were concerned, when the lights went down, followed by a short, portly man jumping onto the stage and into the spotlight. He took the microphone and, grinning broadly, said, "Good evening everyone! You all know me, I'm Max and I own the joint. I'd like to welcome you to the third annual 'Do You Have What It Takes?' contest!"
Unable to say anything more until the applause died down, he waited, and when the noise abated enough, he grinned and said, "We've been waiting for weeks for tonight, and I'm here to tell you, it's going to prove to have been worth the wait. Tonight, you'll listen to eight men and women, all Cascade residents, all with jobs right here in the city. You'll hear firemen, teachers, clerks, salesmen, even a minister -- all with one thing in common; the desire to make you laugh, and thus win the contest. So get ready, fasten your seatbelts as I bring you the funniest working stiffs in Cascade!"
The applause was loud and excited, and since it was now obvious that the woman Jim was here to meet, wasn't the owner, Blair figured she must be one of the contestants. He decided to stay where he was. The club was full, standing room only, and the event sounded too good to miss. Besides... any woman Jim fell for couldn't be very funny, so he figured the man would need some support when this thing was over. And no one did support better than Blair Sandburg.
Two hours later and seven comics down, (only three were women, and all were married) he had to admit the laughs had been few and far between. Oh, a couple of the 'would-be' comics had given the crowd a few laughs, and the last one, Corinne Pilling, the teacher, had been a real hoot, but other than that, the working stiffs weren't doing so hot. Of course, there was one left -- and he didn't dare move since this one -- could be the one. Jim's one.
Max took the stage again, cleared his throat, and announced, "Well, gang, this is it, our last contestant. I'd like you to put your hands together and welcome one of Cascade's finest, and if you're currently doing anything illegal, you might want to stop, because here he is, Detective Jim Ellison!"
Well knock me over with a feather. Or a blow job, Blair thought, mouth hanging open. He watched Jim exit the wings and take the stairs up to the stage two at a time. His mouth remained open as Jim and Max shook hands, and as the microphone was turned over to Jim. Only when Max left Jim alone on the stage, a spotlight turning his blue eyes into sparkling diamonds, did Blair shut it.
"Good evening, and please note," he turned slightly to his left, "no gun tonight." A few nervous titters could be heard and Jim smiled, his charming, "You're safe with me" smile. "Considering that I really want you guys to find me funny tonight, I'm thinking I should have brought it. But I haven't had my donut break for the day, and I'm a little edgy, so I figure you're all safer with it at home."
The laughter was more confident at that, and Blair sat back as all the air in his lungs whooshed out. Well, I'll be damned, he thought.
"As you all heard, I am a cop, a detective, and let's face it, we're not known for our sense of humor. My partner would agree wholeheartedly with that assessment, by the way. But I figure any cop who actually hits the streets with a five foot seven, one hundred and forty pound, twenty-nine year old anthropologist who refuses to carry a weapon, never shuts up, and wears jewelry, had better have one hell of a wicked funny bone, you know?"
The laughter was loud and real, and even though it was at Blair's expense, he found himself smiling and nodding.
"Not that I'm any joy to be around, as the anthropologist could tell you. See, I have this little problem with my gun. I keep dropping it." The answering guffaws caused him to nod and add, "Yeah, really, I do. You put me in a tight spot, the kind where it's just me and the bad guy, and yep, I drop the damn thing every time. My partner, whose name is Blair, by the way, and you have to know that's another cross I have to bear; a partner named...Blair. Anyway," he said around the laughing, "Blair's started chewing gum now. He says that the next time I pull my gun, he's gonna pop the gum out of his mouth and into my palm. He figures that'll hold the damn thing and I might actually get a shot off." He paused for a beat, then said, "Personally, I think the only it'll do is make my gun smell minty fresh."
Blair's grin was widening as the people around him laughed heartily. Jim was a hit -- and more importantly, there was no bimbo in sight.
Jim's 'set' lasted the requisite fifteen minutes and the laughter continued to build as he discussed Simon, his gourmet coffees, criminals who enjoyed leaving huge piles of horse manure in the homes of friendly and unsuspecting detectives, and finally, an entire diatribe on the housebreaking of a grad student.
Judging by the groans when he wound down, the crowd didn't think his set had been long enough... and Blair agreed. He could have listened to Jim, and laughed with Jim, for hours. But then, he could watch Jim do anything for hours.
Max popped back onto the stage, waved out the other contestants, and when things quieted down, he raised a hand and said, "Okay, folks, you've heard 'em, you laughed with them, now it's time to vote for 'em! You know the drill. I'll hold my hand over each of our comic wannabes, and you clap. The person who receives the loudest set of applause, wins. And we all know what they win. A contract for performing here, two nights a week, and a brand new -- JEEP!"
Everyone, including the contestants, clapped excitedly at that, everyone but Blair. From his spot at the table, he frowned. A contract? Was Jim ... was Jim thinking of actually becoming a comedian? Did sentinels do that? Could sentinels do that? A funny tribal guardian? And a new car? Jim wouldn't dream of giving away his truck. Never. Let alone for a Jeep.
Oh, God, he was doing this to impress ... the bimbo. The criminal bimbo was somewhere in this room and she had a fixation on comics. Jim was doing this whole thing ... for her.
Well, God damn it to hell... and back.
"Okay, let's get this vote on the road." Max interrupted Blair's dark thoughts and held a hand over the first contestant, a very unfunny bank teller. The applause was nothing more than barely polite for the man who'd spent his time talking about adding machines and people who never remember to sign their deposit slips. Max held his hand over the next contestant, a quick-order cook, and on it went.
Only contestant number five, a taxi driver, got a decent hand, and Blair had to admit, he'd been fairly funny in his attempts to tell them all how stupid his customers were, and how many times he'd had to listen and watch couples fucking in his back seat. Then Max got to the second to the last contestant, the teacher. She'd been very funny and the applause she received reflected that fact. She was definitely in first place - until Max got to Jim.
The moment the hand hovered over Jim's head, the place erupted, and Blair was among those who jumped to their feet, comic-loving bimbo be damned. He applauded madly, then stuck his fingers in his mouth and gave several cat whistles, finally pumping his arm up and down in the air as he gave out with several loud whoops. He never noticed Jim peering into the audience, then grinning.
"Well, ladies and gentlemen, it looks as though we have our winner. May I present you with our third annual "Do You Have What It Takes?" and yes, he does, winner, Detective Jim Ellison!"
Jim tucked the registration into his pocket and smiled at Max. "Thanks, buddy. This is gonna mean a lot to Sandburg."
"Are you sure you don't want that contract? You're really funny, Jim."
"I'm sure. I'm a cop, it's what I do. Besides, Corinne was hilarious and she deserves the contract." He patted his pocket and added, "But I deserve the Jeep. Or should I say... my partner deserves it."
"You know, you are one weird dude, Jimmy. But then, you always were."
Grinning, Jim shrugged and said, "Thanks for the opportunity, Max. You're a good man."
"Hey, you're the guy who was so funny. You earned that car. Now go on, get out of here. I have a teacher to make deliriously happy."
Jim got out.
He paused in the hallway outside of Max's office and debated going out the front... or the back. He knew Sandburg had already left, and he was betting he was outside now, in the shrimp car, waiting. Which helped decide him. Back door and the parking lot.
He walked out, and without appearing to do so, looked for Sandburg... and spotted him. Hiding his smile, he made for the truck.
For the second time that night, Blair was shocked. Jim was... alone. No bimbo. Just... Jim. He watched, stunned, as Jim drove out of the parking lot.
Maybe he was going to her place now. Yeah, that must be it.
Blair started the car.
Okay, unless the bimbo was hiding in their home, there was no bimbo.
Blair sighed and got out of the Mini, which he'd be returning tomorrow. Too bad there'd be no Volvo to climb into. His dearly departed car now resided at Chuck's Auto, where it would be put to its final resting place. And wouldn't you know, Jim had just won a new car. Hey, maybe he'd let him buy the truck? Heck, it couldn't hurt to ask, right? Right.
He walked up the three flights and, as he hit the landing on their floor, the door to the loft opened and Jim stood there, a smile on his face.
"Hey, Chief, did you like the show?"
"Damn, Jim, how did you know?"
"Sandburg, you could hide in a gorilla outfit and I'd know you."
"But I worked so hard at it," he whined as he brushed past his partner. "I even changed my aftershave, my toothpaste, hell, even my deodorant."
"I know, and by the way, I really like your new toothpaste. Keep it. The soap too. Smells terrific," Jim said as he punctuated his statement with a sniff.
"So why didn't you tell me about this second career of yours?" he asked as he got a water out of the fridge.
"I didn't tell you in case I lost, Sandburg. I didn't want to get your hopes up."
Pausing in taking a sip, Blair said, "Huh?"
"Brilliant, Chief, brilliant. Your ability to utilize the English language never ceases to amaze me." He took the registration out of his pocket and waved it under Sandburg's nose. "You needed a new car, so here it is. One Jeep, with a CD player."
"You did... you stood up there... did that whole routine, practiced all these weeks... for ... me?"
"Well, sure. Who else? You've lost the Volvo, you needed a new car, we're both tapped out right now, and besides, it's a given that you can't afford any monthly payments on what you get from the university, so this seemed the answer. And don't ask me where I got the nerve, I don't know. I guess I was ... motivated."
Blair was overwhelmed. No one had ever done anything like this for him.
Guilt swamped him.
"Damn, I was so... and I followed you... and invaded your privacy, and all the while you were--"
"Why did you follow me, by the way? That wasn't typical behavior for you, Sandburg. You could have just asked, not that I would have told you, but you didn't know that."
"I... well, I thought... you know, you were meeting... someone. A woman type someone. A criminal woman type someone. I was going to save you from yourself," he finished lamely.
"Really? Save me from myself?"
"Er... yes. You know how you can be... and well... oh, hell."
Jim stepped closer to Blair and gently tucked the registration into his pocket. Then he smiled.
That smile. The funny, goofy, sweet, smile.
Blair blinked up at him and his mouth dropped open again. Making small "tsk-tsk" noises, Jim shook his head and said, "Sandburg, Sandburg, Sandburg, what am I going to do with you?"
Hope springing eternal, Blair waggled his eyebrows and said hopefully, "Anything you want?"
Jim patted his cheek and said, "Now you're talking, Sandburg. Now you're talking."
End The Lurker