Author's Notes: No profit, copyright laws bent but not broken; Heartfelt thanks to Arianna for her invaluable help with plot development and to Starwatcher for the TLC of her beta efforts and joyful encouragement. All remaining errors are certainly mine. Special thanks to Starfox, for hosting my pages at her 'Mansion'.

Spoilers: Post TS by BS and Blair is a cop with a Ph. D.; Sequel to my story, "Gimme Shelter", but can stand alone

Content: Gen; warning for language and mild violence

Summary: In the aftermath of a stolen election, two disappointed Sandburgs participate in obtaining justice on other planes of existence.

Negative Energy

by Roslyn

********************

Thursday, 6:30 P.M.-November 14, 2000

"Yeah, I just read the text of Gore's concession speech. I'm sorry, Naomi, but I'm having trouble letting this go... Yeah, I know; lots of negative energy in the universe. Along with one hell of a lot of stupid people! Sorry, didn't mean that... Yes, I'll increase my meditations. For this, I may also consider heavy medication... No, Mom. Just kidding; sorry... Okay, we'll talk soon. Bye."

Blair flopped down on Jim's couch, having answered Jim's phone in his absence. It had been Naomi calling Jim, because she'd forgotten her son's new number in the apartment adjacent to Jim's loft, Her voice on the message machine had attracted his attention through the open connecting door between their apartments. Now, Blair's own depressing thoughts demanded attention, after being articulated by his peripatetic parent. Except that she was capable of blithely tripping along to the next social issue on her agenda. He wasn't quite there, yet. Eyes closed, he tried to regain his perspective. Artificial light was still visible through his eyelids until a shadow appeared. Can't be a passing cloud indoors so it must be... "Jim? Sheesh, I didn't even hear you come in."

"It would be better if you tuned into sounds like opening doors, but I didn't mean to disturb you if you're planning a nap. You feel okay? It's not like you to sleep during the afternoon, especially on a sunny day like this."

"I'm okay. Well, not okay. Physically okay, yeah..."

Jim observed the recumbent form patiently, wondering why he hadn't sacked out in his own space. Knowing Blair's capacity for exposition, he would eventually learn the reason, likely sooner rather than later.

"Naomi just called to discuss the election, now that the Supreme Court stopped the recounts and Gore conceded. She lost my number again and I heard her leaving a message on your machine, so I picked it up."

"I think Naomi is still trying to get me to tell her who I voted for. Ever since she found out I'm a registered Independent..." Jim looked at his morose partner and let out a sigh of weary understanding. "I get it, Chief. But if you're tired, we can talk about this later. There's plenty of time since Bush is gonna be president for a full, four years. If not eight."

Blair opened his eyes and blinked. "Jim, man. Take my advice and don't ever volunteer to work a suicide hot line."

"Lift your legs a bit." Jim slid under Blair's feet, so that they now rested in his lap. Absently, Jim reached back to grab the afghan covering the back of the sofa and tucked it around his partner's legs; Blair tended to feel cold when he was anxious or upset. "It's not like you to dwell on setbacks like this."

"I kind of feel like we gave it up without a fight." The eyes shut once more.

"You did plenty of electioneering where it wouldn't violate departmental policy, so I'm not buying that as the real issue that's tying you up in knots." He absently began rubbing Blair's feet through the blanket, a gesture of comfort in contrast with the less than sympathetic words being spoken. "So, if it isn't about your own actions, it must be a basic disappointment in the actions of other people. Maybe, the Court and the numbers of your fellow voters who opted for Bush?"

Rising to his elbows, Blair opened his eyes and glared at his friend. "I'm not just an observer anymore, Jim. Real-life time as a full participant, ya know? I'd hoped that my fellow Americans would be..." Blair trailed off, hesitant about raising one of the questions in his mind. He sank back into the cushions. "Anyway, Gore shouldn't have conceded."

"He stated his reasons for it. Is it wrong to want the government to proceed without further disruption?"

"Hey, the man gave away votes that aren't his to toss. Those Florida ballots belonged to those citizens and shouldn't have been allowed to count for nothing."

"The courts weren't going to allow much more in the way of new criteria for the recounts, Chief. And we don't do revolutions here."

"Further litigation isn't the same as insurrection, Jim. And evil flourishes when good men do nothing."

"That's a bit melodramatic under the circumstances. You see evil at work every day on the job. Do you really want to classify the Republicans in the same class with Brackett?"

"The Bracketts are a product of Republican influence in CIA operations."

"Okay, bad example. Besides, it isn't like people did 'nothing', exactly. They voted, albeit with some room for error involved."

"Maybe half the eligible people voted. And they based their choices upon rhetoric promoting fear and distrust, instead of commitment to any particular form of governance. They didn't want to analyze, so nearly half of 'em went with the 'trust me' guy, who said he'd do the thinking for them."

"They went more for the appeal of the guy appearing to be an 'average Joe'."

"Hey, you noticed that?"

Jim found that expression of surprise less than gratifying. "Yeah, I noticed. And you can rub your own feet, Junior." He pushed Blair's legs off his lap.

"I thought you liked 'average Joes'." Blair sat upright.

"I do. Among others, Doctor Sandburg." Jim stood up and stretched, happy to have provoked a grin on the younger man's face. "That doesn't mean I want an 'average Joe' running my country. I'd prefer to have an exceptional 'Joe' deciding whether to send me into battle or how my tax dollars are going to be spent."

The afghan slid to the floor as Blair rose to his knees on the couch and gripped Jim's shoulders. "I knew it! You voted Democratic." Standing up, he planted a kiss on top of the older man's head, dancing lightly on the cushions.

"Hey, get off my couch! Go jump on Cheney's furniture!" Jim stifled the inner laughter threatening to spill out with the sudden shift in Blair's demeanor.

Energy seemingly restored, Sandburg jumped lightly to the floor and made his way towards the open, connecting door between the two lofts. A sudden thought came to him and he turned. "Hey, who do you think Simon voted for?"

A couch cushion hit him squarely in the face.

********************

Friday, 9:00 A.M.

As always, the weekly meeting began promptly. Regardless of Simon's tolerance for the individual quirks and informal behavior of some team members, that tolerance was based upon excellence in performance. Each person, grateful for his acceptance of their personal approaches to their work, communicated their respect and appreciation of their boss through their extra efforts to facilitate Banks' own exacting job requirements and the considerable time constraints imposed by his overloaded schedule.

"Last on the agenda is this afternoon's gathering at the docks. As you know from last week, we've got a leak in the department, most likely in Vice, and we've got to plug it up. They've followed leads on high level dealer activity, only to find sanitized locations or very low-level drug activity by locals. The Chief wants this solved; it's a black mark on his watch and the prosecutor is being accused of selective prosecution of ghetto youth because that's all she's been seeing in the dockets. Of course, we're not worried about their career plans, but the idea that upper echelon dealers have free rein in the streets has compromised our role to protect and serve. So, we've been asked to accompany Vice on another lead this afternoon. If it doesn't pan out, we'll go to work and find out what's going wrong." Simon checked his watch. "Well, we've been so efficient today, boys and girls, that we've run through my agenda in record time. Anyone have anything to put on the table?"

"Captain Banks?"

"Sandburg."

"We're pretty organized and rarely need the full meeting time each week. I would like to suggest that one meeting per month include a presentation by each of us in turn, regarding a particular investigative skill or discussion about an intriguing case we can all learn from -"

"Sandy!"

"Chief?"

"Hairboy, don't you have anythin' better to do with my time?"

"Sounds good, Blair." Taggart's contribution was sufficiently audible to the group to draw their ire with recommendations that he not encourage Blair. "Hey, it's us, you know? We don't have to put on a show for each other but we can still learn a lot together. I'd love to hear more about everyone's experiences."

Amused, Banks allowed time for reaction and Joel's diplomatic influence to mitigate everyone's discomfort about making any kind of presentation before the group. Hiding his smile, he ended the debate. "Detective Sandburg's suggestion is duly noted and worth considering. I suggest we try it that wasn't a groan I heard from your seat, was it, Rafe? I thought not. As I was saying, we can give it a whirl and Sandburg can be the first up to demonstrate what he'd like to see with this activity. Next week, Blair. Okay people, that's a wrap."

Blair weathered a few dirty looks on his way back to his desk and accepted a pat on the back from Joel.

Arriving at their adjoining work stations, Jim stood next to Blair's desk as the younger man began to root through his backpack. "Any particular reason you didn't mention this idea to me at home, Chief?"

"I didn't think it was that big a deal."

"Did that sound to you like everyone thought it wasn't a big deal?"

"No, but at least I didn't have you telling me not to do it before I went ahead and did it anyway."

"Since when do I tell you what to do okay, scratch that. I'm just watching your back, after all."

"Yeah, the natives here in the bullpen are a real danger to me, Jim."

"I assumed we'd always talk about work stuff before we acted on it. You know, partners?"

"This is more a case of the rookie with a different background trying to introduce something new which can make a diverse group of people combine their strengths in novel ways. Is that okay with you, Wally?"

"Okay, Beave. I didn't mean to infer you need my permission or anything..." Jim trailed off, a bit embarrassed.

"If the first session goes as I hope, I'll explain my intentions. If it's a bust, then it won't really matter."

"Okay. What will you be presenting?" Jim sat down and lifted the receiver of his telephone.

"That would spoil the surprise, Jim. Hey, who're you calling?"

"Thought I'd give personnel a ring, to make sure your life insurance benefits have kicked in. I think you've worked here long enough to be out of the initial enrollment exemption period. I'm still in your will, right?"

"SO glad you've got my back, buddy."

"Any time. What are partners for? Partners with beneficiary status, of course." Jim grinned as he replaced the receiver in its cradle.

********************

Friday, 2 P.M.

Jim scanned the area around the dockside warehouse carefully. "I can't catch any sense of the perps still hanging around. At least the patrolmen restrained themselves this time and no one's disturbed the scene yet."

"Yeah, looks like it's pure. Uh, no, Jim. Use these gloves instead." Blair rooted inside his backpack and presented his partner with a different brand of gloves for protecting the evidence from contamination by new fingerprints or foreign DNA.

"What the hell are these?"

"Nitrile gloves. Latex is out."

"Out, where? The department stopped issuing them?"

"Nitrile serves just fine for the purpose. Look, latex is highly allergenic and your risk of developing a latex allergy, especially with those powdered versions, increases with each use. Nearly a fifth of health care personnel have had to give 'em up for that reason."

"Latex, nitrile I don't really care, but these are purple, for Chrissake."

"Actually, they're -"

"Don't say it."

"- lavender." Blair grinned. "It was the only color they had at the pharmacy. I'll look for a less distracting color next time I shop."

"I won't get distracted!" Jim dropped his tone down from audible annoyance to confiding irritation. "I'd simply prefer it if we don't get the other cops started on the 'lavender look' of modern crime-fighting. And if the media shows up... So, come on where's the latex?"

"Gone with the wind, man. As in the garbage truck." Blair trotted off to grab more evidence bags from the truck as Simon arrived to check out the scene.

Well acquainted with his Captain's 'hands on' approach to leadership, Jim greeted his superior. "Captain. I'm just about to go over the scene. Care to accompany me?" Three, two, one...

"What the hell is wrong with your hands? Are those bandages? They'd better be bandages!"

"These are all the rage, Cap, for the well-dressed detective. Fashionable, yet hypoallergenic."

"Sandburg."

"You've got it."

"SANDBURG!"

"Shit, Simon. Give a guy some warning when you're about to do that."

"Oh, Lord. Sorry, Jim. Your ears okay?"

"Are they bleeding?"

Startled, Simon's eyes darted to the aforementioned appendages before he realized he was being ribbed. Sandburg arrived on the scene before Simon could begin to bless out his senior detective properly. Turning on the more junior member of his team, he growled his complaint. "Purple?"

Twin glares effectively restrained Blair from making any further references to other descriptive options along the color spectrum. He limited his explanation to the health care issues involved.

"Makes sense. Thank you, Detective. Send me a memo with the relevant information and I'll recommend the shift in gloves to departmental supply."

"Yes, Sir."

"Well, get going before we're all eligible for retirement benefits!"

The partners 'got going' with only Jim a party to Blair's muttered complaints about how some people were a lot closer to their cranky retirement years than others. He repressed a smile at the younger man's continued lack of appreciation for Simon's manner of expressing his approval for his staff members' competencies. He'll get it, eventually.

The search produced only frustration. Despite excellent intelligence that a payoff to a corrupt state representative would be taking place at this location, there was no sign of the suspects. The place seemed to have been thoroughly 'sanitized' from any prior signs of occupancy, as if they'd been expected. The Office of Attorney General had been following a series of tips regarding corruption in local government, but even though the tips had come from generally reliable sources, each and every one of them had failed to pan out. Major Crimes had been requested to look into the matter of interference in those investigations as well.

Returning to headquarters, the partners logged in the evidence bags collected in their 'sweep' out of habit, not expecting much in the way of results. Arriving at the seventh floor, Jim was already nodding his head with resigned amusement as they approached their desks. "Commentary from the crew on 'the lavender look'."

Blair chuckled as he explored the array of items scattered across both their work-spaces, desks abutting one another by one glassed wall of the Major Crimes unit. "Hmm. This little lavender change purse will be perfect for keeping those toll quarters from rattling around in your truck's glove compartment. I assume you won't want this nifty little purple fanny pack for yourself? I can use it for jogging."

"That's lavender, not purple. Don't you have any aesthetic sense at all, Chief?" Let's give him back a bit of his own. Blair's appreciative glance welcomed Jim on board the humor bus and encouraged him to stay in the spirit. Still, the older man's eyes narrowed as they focused upon a discreet package to the side of a garish coffee mug decorated with violets. "Lavender condoms, with a note attached 'If you still have the parts requiring these items'. Remind me to tell you again how much I love those new gloves when we get home tonight." Jim then raised his voice to be heard within the unusually silent bullpen and over the sham industriousness of its occupants. "Thanks, H. This is a very popular color with the ladies." Making a show of tucking the packet in his pants pocket, Jim grabbed the violently violet mug and headed for the break room. "I'm ready for some coffee."

Everyone in the bullpen applauded his smiling progression through their office.

"Ellison's a pretty good sport these days," Henri observed.

Megan's mouth quirked cynically. "Today, at all events."

********************

Saturday, 1:30 P.M.

Simon entered Jim's loft on time for his lunch conference with the off-duty partners. He rubbed his hands together in anticipation, having skipped breakfast in order to get through a backlog of household chores. "What's on the menu?"

"Not sure," Jim prevaricated and gestured to the place settings already gracing his own kitchen table. "Blair will bring lunch in here. Smells like cooked meat of some kind. He's been at it all morning." Irritable with his own hunger and eager to find out the nature of his boss's problem, he called out, "Sandburg! Simon's here, so get your ass in here, too!"

A clatter of pots preceded the good-humored reply. "What a charming invitation! Can the rest of me accompany my ass as well?"

Simon laughed. "He does take all the fun out of being surly, doesn't he?"

"Yeah, but don't let him know we've noticed that."

"I think he's already figured that out."

Jim's grin flashed whitely as he called back through the open connecting doorway, "The rest of you can come too if you're carrying a platter of food."

A heaping platter of sliced meat preceded the compact form of the chef. Sandburg blew a damp strand of hair - courtesy of the steam generated by a large boiling pot - away from his lips. "Sandburg's ass, reporting for -"

"Do NOT finish that sentence."

"Okay, Simon. How about, 'Come and get it', instead?"

"Much better. Smells good, but what is it? Odd-looking roast."

Jim avoided making eye contact with Blair, looking forward to Simon's reaction when he was faced with tasting the dish rarely seen in local cooking. "I know most of your cooking repertoire, Chief, but it smells like something new has been added. I was really looking forward to lunch. Did you have to get creative with it?"

"Poor Jimmy, wasting away. An obvious culinary casualty of the cooking of Blair Sandburg. Tongue, anyone?"

The tongue was demolished, along with a large bowl of potato salad (mustard and dill being the novel ingredients), and coleslaw made with freshly-ribboned cabbage. They finished their meal with slices of a home-made apple cobbler. The dessert course signaled an end to office gossip and sports talk, easing them into the details of the case which required the kind of privacy only offered outside of normal business hours.

Ellison finished his coffee, setting the cup down with comfortable satisfaction. "That was a great lunch, Chief. Now, Simon, what's so sensitive that it needs to be discussed outside of headquarters?"

"Yeah, thanks, Blair. I can honestly say it was a novel taste experience for me, but a good one." Blair nodded his acknowledgment of efforts and Simon continued, "I've been asked to keep this investigation kind of... under the table for now. It's a bit delicate, because it involves the Chief's mother."

"Naomi?" Jim's voice was incredulous.

"Not that Chief, Ellison! Chief Warren. You know, the guy with the BIG badge who can fire us any time he wants."

"Oh. Stop snickering, Sandburg. It was an honest mistake."

"Well, okay, given the fact that it's only been a short time since Naomi was actually being investigated and we were involved. Speaking of politics ... Ah! Never mind." Blair obeyed the light kick to his ankle under the table, discouraging idle curiosity about Simon's political leanings. "Anyway, Simon, Jim and I were just discussing Naomi because she called the other day to talk about the election results."

"Oh, well. Give her my best, Blair. Anyway, Mrs. Warren has been going to some psychic or medium -"

Jim bristled. "So, naturally they think of me and Sandburg!"

"Now, Jim. The two of you, hell, the three of us, have been given a lot of latitude by the powers that be because of your combined talents at solving let's call them 'unclear' cases. That doesn't give us the right to object when someone is looking for your rather rare skills to employ on the 'QT'."

Jim exhaled slowly and he nodded his acceptance to his long-suffering Captain. "Sorry."

"Having gotten that knee-jerk response out of the way," Blair paused to receive the dirty look directed at him by said 'knee-jerker', "this sounds really cool. Go on."

"As I was saying, this whatever- has been taking in modest sums from the Chief's mother and we know the amount since the Chief balances his mother's checkbook himself. Seems a pretty average type of exchange for these kinds of services if you believe anyone can honestly peddle that kind of crap. Still, he's worried about the potential embarrassment if it gets out that his mother is doing astrological charts for his job duties, like Nancy Reagan did for Ronald."

"Actually, Simon, the science of astrology is different from what a medium does. The psychic arts are still a third kind of -"

"Do I need to know this?" Simon's dark eyes sought a reprieve from what promised to become another Sandburgian descent into the mystical and obscure.

Blair relented at the man's obvious discomfort. "No, but it makes sense to see what services Mrs. Warren is actually buying from this woman so we can figure this out from her 'angle', and whether the Chief is at risk for any political fallout. But isn't it rather self-serving of the Chief to set spies on his mother because of her choice in advisors, or even just entertainment?"

Jim fielded that one. "We can justify it from the standpoint of a potential for fraud by the nature of the service, depending upon what is promised by the charlatan."

"Hey, man! We don't know that she isn't the real thing."

"Like Charley Spring?" Simon contributed, dryly.

"He wasn't all bullshit, Simon."

"This is where I really want to put my fingers in my ears and go 'la la la la la'."

Ellison continued. "So, we can avoid calling it like it is a freebie for our esteemed leader."

"Easy there, soldier."

"Yes, Sir. So, we're going to look into efforts to part a poor, sick, old lady from her money."

Simon laughed. "Mrs. Warren is only seventy, wealthy, five foot-ten in her stocking feet and walks two miles a day, which is more than I can say for myself."

"Like I said, a respectable senior citizen expecting a bona-fide service, however eccentric, is being had."

"You have a future in politics, Jim. I'd never have guessed it."

"Speaking of politics... Ow. Damn it, Jim! Uh, sorry Simon. But I just had a brilliant thought, though. When she gets here, why don't I get Naomi to become a client? Who better to ferret out a real from a fake practitioner of these arts? And next week she'll be coming in for Chanukah. This way, there won't be ethics questions raised over two detectives minding the Chief's business in their off hours. If something is wrong, I can report a problem with my own mother's involvement with a fraud."

"I hate to say it, but that's just too good an option to resist."

"Can't you try anyway, Sir?"

Simon stared his senior detective down. "Not this time, James. But I won't be able to bankroll expenses for anything other than that psycho woman's fees."

Blair sighed. "Psychic, not psycho. But that's okay, since Naomi is staying with me for the holiday."

"Terrific." Jim rose from the table. "Antacids for two, Simon?"

"Good call, Jim." Simon looked sorrowfully at the remains of their meal. "I guess there really isn't any such thing as a free lunch."

After Simon left, Blair threw a dishtowel at his partner, who caught it reflexively. "What's this?"

"It's a cloth designed to dry dishes. You employ it after you wash them."

"Hey, the mess is in your kitchen."

"And the food I cooked is in your stomach. You can take care of the clean-up."

"And just what will you be doing?"

"Research. For our, uhm, 'uncase'? I've got to use my laptop here at home so that there won't be a record of searches in the departmental record."

"What's to research? When Naomi comes in, she puts on a wire, consults with that charlatan, and we figure things out from there."

Blair looked at his friend, pityingly. "First we need to know if the woman actually is a charlatan."

"Of course she is. Why would you assume otherwise?"

"Jim. Do the names Incacha, Molly, and Charley Spring ring any bells? Panthers? Wolves?"

"Okay, already. Jesus."

"So, I need to study how the fake ones operate since it's easier to prove a negative than a positive in this case."

Jim scowled as he trailed after Blair, ready to take on KP duty. Blair got started on his laptop, the sounds of Jim's activity fading into the background as he delved into the realm of psychic phenomena. Naomi was going to love this assignment, and the study involved wouldn't do his developing shamanic skills any harm either.

********************

Tuesday, 8:00 P.M.

"You want me to help you with a case? It isn't about supplying you with information about anyone from my past again, is it? Oh, Sweetie, I thought we had an understanding about that."

Blair halted en route to his sink, where the dishes from dinner were waiting for his attentions. Jim had gone out with Simon, ostensibly to allow Blair some degree of privacy with his mother on her first night in town. Blair suspected it had more to do with the two of them fortifying themselves for the coming events. I hope they don't knock back too many. "Of course not. This is cool, undercover work of a kind only you can do."

Absorbing the details, Naomi asked a key question that had been occupying Blair's list of problem scenarios. "But what if she's really talented, Blair? How will we make the others understand that?"

"There are really three possible scenarios here. First, she's a fraud and cheating her customers. Second, that she's really sensitive but not very effective in guiding others, so Mrs. Warren is still wasting her money. Lastly, that she's a real talent and Mrs. Warren is getting her money's worth in terms of the service. And I don't really know how to convince anyone if she is real because their default mindsets are that it isn't possible."

"We'll just have to persevere in presenting the Truth."

"On the other hand, I've been doing some research and we can use the recording of your sessions with her to see what strategies she uses to draw her conclusions about your life. I figure if you go in for a straight reading, we can tell a lot about her."

"Well, if she's a good person, I don't see how this could bring harm upon her. I'd be happy to help you."

"Great, Mom. We'll go over things later with Jim and Simon. They're bringing dessert. In the meantime, let's get you settled upstairs. I'll take the couch down here."

Naomi had settled in for her week-long stay by the time Jim and Simon strode in through the connecting door between the lofts. "Hello, Simon." Her genuinely warm tone set the nervous Captain at ease. "I'm so excited to be going undercover. Thank you for trusting me with this." She clasped Banks' hand in welcome, but greeted Jim with a hug.

"You're looking very well. I'm really glad you managed to get away for Chanukah this year." Jim bussed her on the cheek, ignoring Blair's scowl as Naomi got in a second hug.

"Blair's first Chanukah in his own place was something I didn't want to miss. Since the holiday is this Friday on the twenty-second, I've arranged to attend a local solstice gathering here in town. The celebration is a bit of a challenge in the cold weather, but it'll be good to see some old friends again."

Simon's acquaintance with the solstice came only from the more bizarre doings of misguided followers of that tradition. He hoped he'd never become acquainted with any of the people with whom Naomi would be spending the night of the twenty-first. "Ms. Sand-, Naomi, we really appreciate your help with this. I know Sandburg filled you in about the circumstances already. Tonight, I'm here to learn more about how to evaluate the evidence you'll be collecting for us. Not my specialty, by any means, and I don't have much time to spare for it with bigger problems facing us at the moment."

"What kind of cases, Simon?"

"Drugs. It's been in the local papers, so I don't mind telling you that we've been making a huge effort to stop concentrating on the lower echelons of the drug industry. Busting local types doesn't do squat for our efforts since those people are considered expendable and easily replaced in the scheme of things. It also only hits the poorer consumers, and most users are middle and upper class. We're aiming for the upper echelon dealers and users, but even with good intel, er, information, the perps seem to know when we're coming."

"I can't tell you how glad I am to hear you aren't going for the quick prosecutions of the poor. Law enforcement has always been skewed in that direction to make the district attorney's conviction records higher. They must put pressure on you to keep going for the quick and easy busts. Which is not to say I don't think life would be easier all around with the legalization of drugs."

Jim stifled a groan. "We aren't talking pot, here, Naomi. Serious stuff like heroin, crack and the date rape drugs they harm every community and can't be seen as recreational. I'm sorry if that assessment troubles you."

"No, I really hear that, Jim. You care deeply about it and have obviously come to some clear conclusions about where you stand on such issues."

"Mom, of course he has. We have. This isn't mindless grunt work, you know."

"Of course, Blair. And while I hate the danger you're in sometimes, I do remember that you deal with the most serious crimes and aren't patrolling the streets picking up pot smokers and teens necking in the parks. So, getting back to my project, it seems your Chief Pi..., of Police has a mother involved with a psychic and this is just a favor for him. It certainly seems like 'small potatoes', given your usual pursuits."

Simon tried to get back in control of the conversation, knowing the odds of success there were slim. "Fraud of any kind isn't tolerable, Ms. Sandburg. Who knows how many vulnerable people she takes in, less able to afford the costs than Mrs. Warren? But yes, this isn't our usual."

"I'm happy to help out. I was just talking with Blair about what we ought to do if the woman isn't a fraud."

Simon blinked, never having considered the possibility.

"Okay, Mom. Let's go over the possibilities here. Tomorrow, you schedule an appointment with this woman, Serene Waters -"

"Please tell me you're kidding?"

"James."

"Sorry, Chief." His grin belied any claim to contrition.

"Right. Anyway, there won't be much time for her to learn anything about you in advance if you try for a same-day appointment. We've got the audio wire for the meeting and Jim will wait with me across the street, out of site in the alley, while you're in there. As far as assessing her performance, I've been reading the recently published work of Rowland. He's an entertainer who does magic and psychic tricks. After he has the audience believing he's the real thing, he tells 'em how he pulled it off."

"Wait, Blair. I want to take notes on this. How interesting! I got used to telling the frauds from the talented through seeing their auras. Simon? Are you feeling alright?"

"Dinner was a bit greasy. Jim, I could use another antacid, if you don't mind."

********************

Wednesday, 7:00 A.M.

Jim wondered at the lack of activity next door. Blair should have been getting ready for work by now and Naomi was generally an early riser. Focusing his hearing more specifically, the sounds of slow but steady heartbeats indicated his Sandburgs were meditating. Blair had become as proficient at it as his mother, requiring less time these days to slip into the necessary state. Maybe I should start worrying about him zoning, too.

Simon's indigestion notwithstanding, the remainder of the evening had been most profitably spent in discussing Blair's research on the methods by which mentalists pass themselves off as psychics and mediums. He'd found some valuable material by successful entertainers and researchers explaining the techniques. In the academy, they'd discussed some of the basic methods used by con artists to acquire access to the assets of their 'marks' such as the 'Barnum Effect', but the details here were worthy of a seminar all its own. Of course, Sandburg was thrilled at the prospect of writing up a curriculum for it as long as the concept that practitioners might actually be legitimate was also presented.

That had rather dampened Simon's enthusiasm right there.

Leaving the shower, he could tell that normal activity had resumed in the next apartment. Dressing hastily, but cursing at a strained back muscle from changing a tire on his truck the previous day, Jim heard Naomi's summoning him for breakfast. Praying the summons didn't entail facing a tofu omelet, he entered his friend's residence.

"Good morning, Jim. Breakfast is almost ready."

"Thanks, Naomi." He gave her a peck on the cheek. "Is that a new caftan?"

"Yes, I love the natural clay dyes the women make in this Honduran cooperative. Natural fibers and pure colors, I try to buy a lot of my clothing from places like that."

Having no reply to that announcement, Jim leaned over the pan and sniffed, carefully. "Scrambled eggs?"

"Yes, Blair said you'd like to start your day with something plain. Shall I grate some cheese into it? I brought some nice goat cheese with me. So hard to find sheep products here, you know?"

"Plain scrambled is just fine, thank you."

Blair approached, hair still damp though fully dressed. Kissing his mother on the cheek, he sniffed appreciatively and zeroed in on the fragrance of the coffee pot. "You know, the mothers of single men in Italy often continue to cook and do laundry for them, even from separate residences."

Naomi looked at him. "You're not Italian. And even if you were, I am definitely NOT Italian."

"Just an observation," came the innocent reply.

"Please don't spoil him while you're here," Jim begged. "He's finally housebroken. More or less."

"He's looking wonderful. Blair, Sweetie, you're simply shining this morning. You must have had a wonderful meditation."

"It was really good today. Uhm, Jim? You feel okay?"

"Sure, why?"

"You look like you're moving a bit stiffly. And, something else, I can't pinpoint."

Naomi checked from the periphery of her vision. "You're right, Blair. He is a bit pale."

"No, I'm not pale. My skin looks perfectly normal."

"I wasn't talking about your skin, Jim. Blair, that was very perceptive of you and when you were looking at Jim, I saw a distinct shift in you towards the green. You're progressing wonderfully."

Blair beamed at that while Jim blinked, and refrained from asking for clarification. With Sandburg, it simply wasn't necessary.

"Naomi is referring to the color of our auras. Cool, huh? Well, tough guy, just let me know if you need something later on."

"I'm fine, thank you. And I'd rather not have a partner who's green around the gills."

"Since that happens every time I'm a passenger in a car that you're driving, I should think you'd be used to it by now."

Breakfast was conducted in a companionable fashion, with the detritus of the meal properly disposed of by nine o'clock. They then gathered in Jim's living room to make the initial call to Madame Waters.

"Hello. My name is Naomi and I'm here in town for the holidays. I understand that you do readings? Wonderful. You see, I'm a bit troubled about some things and I'd love it if you could give me a reading. I know it's short notice, but do you have any openings? Oh, thank you. See you at noon, then. I appreciate you giving up your lunch hour for me. Okay. Bye." Naomi handed the phone to Jim, who promptly called Simon to arrange for use of the surveillance van.

"Okay, we're on. Blair is going to drop you off at Water's place at noon and come by afterwards to pick you up. Chief, make sure you wear your hair down and pick your brightest vest. I'd like you to meet Waters after the reading and give me your personal impressions of her."

"Check. I'll imply that I've got some money to spare and might be by on my own after Mom leaves town. That'll allow for further contact if this isn't enough to do the job for us."

"Naomi, you have a bare-bones script here so feel free to improvise as necessary. Just try to be very unrevealing, minimize physical cues and all the other things we talked about last night."

"Okay, Jim. I'm ready. But before we go, I've got some wonderful analgesic herbs with me..."

"I'm fine. Well, I'd better go collect our equipment. Blair will help you put on the wire that Simon brought last night and we'll test it when you swing by the van on your way to Waters' place."

********************

The surveillance van was well-equipped, and the pair didn't need to rely upon Jim's hearing. That made it easier to discuss the proceedings as they were being recorded. Naomi was in the woman's waiting room while Waters was finishing up with another mark.

"Client, until proven guilty, Jim."

"Sure, Chief. Wait, here they come. Oh, shit!" Jim clapped his hands to his ears as a screeching noise filled the van.

"Hold on, I've turned it down. What in Hades what that?"

Jim swallowed heavily, clearing his head in the aftermath of that auditory assault. "Sounded like some kind of feedback. When a mike comes too close to other similar equipment..."

"Damn it! I hope it doesn't give Naomi away as a shill. Wait! Jim, listen to this." The volume was increased despite the fact that Jim was now looking at the machinery as if it were a serpent ready to strike. "Waters is introducing someone to Naomi. Oh. My. God."

"It's Mrs. Warren!" Jim chuckled appreciatively at the irony. "A lot of shuffling." Jim tried to zero in on the greater details he might obtain with his own hearing but failed. "I can't listen with the listening device going, Chief."

"Don't try and we'll figure out how to get around that some other time. This must be one of Mrs. Warren's regular appointments."

"What I want to know is why Waters isn't reacting to the feedback. She had to have heard it but no one is talking about it."

"As long as no one thinks Naomi caused it, we can figure that out later. She's entering the inner sanctum now, so let's see what's up."

Jim opened a bottle of water and took a healthy swig, offering a second one to Blair. It was accepted and they silently drank as the preliminaries were completed and the reading begun. "Naomi seems kind of quiet."

"Yeah, she's trying to avoid offering more cues than she has to for the woman. There! You hear Serene shotgunning her now, throwing out general experiences that most women my Mom's age have had, and likely hoping to see a reaction to direct her further."

"Does that make her a fake?"

"Too soon to tell. They have to get their teeth into the subject, metaphorically that is, in some way. Hits don't always just come out of the blue on demand.

Here we go. This is more of that 'Barnum' approach that we talked about last night. Waters is going for specifics, flattering her with remarks about her personality qualities that anyone might like to claim for themselves."

"The key to any successful scam. You can't lose by telling people the stuff they want to hear."

"And here come more of the 'cold-reading' techniques. At least they're pretty easy to spot. Oh, yeah. She's backpedaling now, throwing out opposites for a response. She's damn good, Jim. Did you hear that? 'You don't have a particularly rigid approach to your life-style, do you? No, I didn't think you did. Definitely a free-spirited person with an immense love of people. But you are even more drawn to the earth.' No hits there, just the usual exploratory crapola."

"I love it when you use technical jargon like that." Jim dodged the swipe easily. "So you're convinced?"

"Pretty much, although it doesn't prove she's without talent. Just that she isn't using it, if it's there. I'd like to hear Naomi's impressions and go through this transcript in more detail before reaching any conclusions. As for Chief Warren, I don't see that there's any actions to be taken here other than discussing the methods used in these sessions with his Mom so she realizes they aren't really enlightening."

"Well, that's his problem."

"Of course, I could refer his Mom to a real psychic and - Ow! Hey, watch the elbow there. I was just kidding."

"Sure you were, Junior."

The session came to a close after Naomi requested advice on when it would be most propitious to make certain financial decisions. It was sufficiently vague and didn't require her to lie about any particular issue, yet invited the assumption that there was money to spare in that family. Blair went to pick up his mother, leaving Jim to continue recording events until he'd extracted Naomi. Afterwards, Jim would use his own acute hearing to follow any remarks the woman might make to others about her work, although that wouldn't be discussed with anyone for the obvious reasons.

Upon entering the room, Blair felt his skin tingle and he was drawn to examining the various crystals, rocks and plants placed strategically around the room. A life-like sculpture, delicately carved, showed a water sprite. On second glance, the facial details were more akin to that of a demon. Chilled, he heard the women approaching and, out of the corner of his eye, thought he could see an orange-brown light surrounding the turbaned female leading his mother. A hint of yellow floated around Naomi's head. The visual impressions rapidly disappeared as he turned, full face towards them. Disturbed, he recognized the feeling of power here from his time spent around the Temple of the Sentinels.

Serene Waters looked at him, eyes widening in what would be, in a less controlled person, a signal of distress or outright shock. Seeming flustered, she hastily referred to her expectation that another woman would be arriving momentarily for her own reading.

"Naomi, it was a pleasure to meet you, but I just realized that my schedule is going to be so hectic that I doubt I can offer you another appointment during your stay in Cascade. I'm sorry."

"I understand, but I'm disappointed that my son won't be able to begin working with you right away. Blair, honey, this was a very revealing session. I must pursue more of what I learned here today with my own advisor back home."

"It's great you had a good reading today. Well, Ms. Waters, is it? We'll get going now. Thanks for seeing my Mom today."

They parted and began comparing their impressions, Blair knowing that Jim would still be listening.

"Well, what did you think?"

"She seemed very distant and just did a standard interview that might have been done by anyone. Still, it was almost as if she could have done it right, but held back. I don't understand the mixed signals I got from her. She certainly became nervous at the sight of you, Blair. What was that about?"

"I'm not sure either but I felt something there that smacked of some kind of power. Just don't know what kind. What was that screeching noise we heard over the wire at the beginning of your session?"

"Oh, Blair! I was so scared at first that it came from this microphone I'm wearing. But it seemed to come from the woman who was leaving at the same time I was to have my appointment. Serene nearly pushed her into the next room, it happened so fast."

"Jim and I figured it was feedback from your mike as well. But, if it wasn't, then maybe that other woman was bugged holy crap!"

"Really, Blair. A PhD ought to have a better way of expressing himself."

"If that other woman was the source of feedback, then SHE may have been bugged. You're wearing a really high-quality device that wouldn't be affected by most speakers. That might connect Waters to some other problems we've been having in the PD! Look, I've got to get back to Jim right away. Let me put you in a cab back to my place." Blair kissed her cheek with exaggerated sound effects. "I LOVE you, Naomi. You may have just broken a case for us!"

"Life takes us in strange directions. I have to start packing for the Solstice celebration, love, since Kari is picking me up around four. So, I'll be back on Friday night and we can light the menorah together."

"Sounds terrific. I also made reservations for us at a restaurant in the Marina. We'll have a great time."

They were shortly able to flag down a taxi and Blair rushed to get back to Jim and discuss the new developments.

********************

Thursday, 1:20 P.M.

The confines of the truck had become somewhat... confining. Blair recalled at least having schoolwork to do in the old days when they were on stakeout. Not to mention that the temperature had dropped steadily through the late morning hours, and he was a few layers short of flannel, given that their shift still had several hours to go. "I think it's cool that Naomi broke the case for us."

Jim winced. "Let's not go that far, Junior. It was still just a theory that Waters bugged the Chief's mother for inside information until she made that call after you left her office. If her contact comes by as planned to pick up the recordings, we can get him to roll over on the man in charge. Someone with access to Warren's home is planting that bug strategically once she gets into the house with it in her clothing. Still, if it's discovered, all evidence will just point to the old lady."

"It makes sense. Everyone knows the Chief is working at home more than anywhere else while his wife recovers from her stroke. But not too many people would know that his mother is living there, as a helper. There's the leak."

"We'll find out. What matters is that the Chief found the bug in his mother's scarf and we got the warrant to monitor Waters' operation. It could be one of the house staff as they would have access to Mrs. Warren's personal belongings and have reason to enter the Chief's office. None live there, though. They only have day workers so it's likely they remove the devices each night, to avoid detection."

"Heads up, man. Here's company."

An SUV pulled up in front of the Waters' home office, driven by a dark-haired man with an eye patch. His cohort was a squat, bald man who disappeared into the house. Jim established the pick up of the recording in question, although few words were exchanged. Alerting other units that it was alright to search the psychic's premises at this point, the partners then followed their suspects just out of range of the Waters residence. No longer needing to conceal their intentions, Blair put their flashing light on the dashboard and flicked the siren briefly. Closing down the noise, he announced over their speaker, "Pull over, immediately. Cascade Police are requesting you to pull over, now."

The van took off.

"Here's where all of me goes green and I'm not talking just my aura here."

"Call it in, Shecky."

"Sandburg and Ellison in pursuit of a white van heading south on Vine, just passing the intersection of Fourth Street, license plate showing Tango, Echo, Golf seven-three-three and the last number is indecipherable."

The radio crackled. "Copy most of that Sandburg, but what is the last number?"

Jim choked on a laugh before swerving sharply around a turn. Swearing, Blair tried again. "The last number is inde -uhm, unreadable, dispatch. Dunno. Can't see it. Covered with dirt."

More static. "Ten-one. Will alert other units."

"What the hell is a ten-one? Jesus, Ellison, take it easy. I wanna see what's in my Chanukah presents tonight."

"A ten-one means poor reception. You threw them for a loop when you said you didn't know the last number. By the way, it was a seven."

"Now you tell me."

"I was concentrating on my driving, not zoning on a license plate."

"Good choice, Jim. I approve. Oh, God. I forgot the Hebrew words to the traveler's prayer. I wonder if they have a 'hurtler's prayer?"

"Here we go." The truck made a sharp left and swerved immediately to the left to avoid the SUV, which made a sudden stop. The occupants rushed out of it in two different directions.

Jim leaped to the pavement, automatically putting up a cautionary hand, "Stay in the - oh, shit. Never mind. I've got Long John Silver. Call for backup, before you go after Curly." Jim kicked up some gravel as he sprinted down the street.

Blair stifled an undignified giggle as he followed suit, the cell phone already speed dialed to the dispatcher. "Officers need assistance. Ellison and Sandburg, pursuing two suspects on foot east and west of the intersection of Hancock and..., where's the fucking sign when you need it? The intersection only has the one sign. Tell 'em by Toys R Us and they'd better not stop to do any holiday shopping!" Wanting to pick up speed and unable to talk and run effectively at the same time, the squawking dispatcher was left to her own devices. The cellphone was deposited in a back pocket, without taking his eyes off of the perp, despite the increased distance between them.

Making up time in the race, Blair saw that 'Curly' had turned and seen his pursuer catching up to him. Half a block further down, he darted around a corner. Blair pulled his weapon and skidded to a halt by the edge of the corner building, swiftly glancing around the solid brick to establish that his target wasn't waiting to ambush him. As Blair advanced more fully around the corner, he saw no sign of the runner down the long stretch of blocks; he'd probably entered a building or alley. Walking now, grateful for the mid-day slump in activity in this residential section of the city, Blair was fully conscious of his vulnerability to the invisible threat. Standing sideways by a light pole to make a thinner target, he took a cleansing breath and viewed the street, concentrating more on the periphery of his vision. A haze seemed to emanate from behind a parked SUV, dirty brown wisps of... what? There wasn't any fog. Even if the temperatures were low enough to see condensation from someone's breath, it wouldn't be brown.

Pursing a hunch, as avidly as his quarry, Blair dropped down low and duck-walked along the curb to stop beside the Prius. Recent construction in the area had left a lot of gravel scattered about the streets, and a crunching sound confirmed his belief that 'Curly' was on the opposite side of the car. With the street empty and sirens sounding in the distance, he decided to act upon his assumption.

"Cascade Police! Drop to the ground and put your hands behind your head NOW!"

The sound of scraping soles on the rough pavement brought Blair up to peer through the windows in time to see Curly change tactics and rush him, to avoid becoming a target running across open territory. The glint of a knife ended any hopes that his gun might not be needed. Hoping to avoid having to kill the man, Blair ran around the other side of the SUV and prepared to fire a warning shot. No sane man would come up against a gun with a mere knife, and these guys were involved in a scam that was too sophisticated to rely upon hopped-up junkies. Intent on their respective positions, Blair didn't watch his footing. His heel slid on the gravel and he wound up on his left hip and elbow, resting upon sharp stones. The warning shot went into the side of the SUV, even as he rolled to peer under the vehicle, scraping his cheek along the runner of the car.

Curly was now face down on the sidewalk, hands empty and firmly clasped behind his head. Sirens blared as patrol cars arrived on the scene. Not wanting to be mistaken as a danger to the cops, Blair assumed the traditional stance with his gun and covered the perp, whose knife remained too close to the prone body for comfort. Standing far enough away to avoid being grabbed, he began chanting the Miranda Act, loudly enough to reassure the swarming uniforms now approaching.

"Detective Sandburg, Major Crimes. He's got a knife, so don't approach him yet. Okay, Curly. Toss that weapon away from you, so we can finish this up." The knife was pushed out of reach, falling under the SUV and Blair nodded to the nearest uniform. "Okay, cuff him. You're still covered, man, so don't give the nice officers any grief here."

Completing the Miranda script, he asked if the instructions were understood. The obscene reply failed to address the question asked but it was in English, so no one felt compelled to Mirandize him again in another language. It wouldn't have been a problem; Blair had memorized the Miranda script in at least six languages.

As he turned away from Curly to retrieve the knife as evidence, Blair noted more wisps of a darker brown - now flavored with black spikes around Curly's head. But, when he turned back to look upon the suspect more directly, the colors vanished. He smiled happily, as he recovered the evidence with a stick.

Simon pulled up with the rest of the 'clean-up' crew necessary after any bust resulting in the discharge of a weapon. Sighting Blair bent over an evidence bag, the Captain strode towards his newest detective. Noting the mottled and bleeding forearm visible through a ripped flannel sleeve, Simon figured the man hadn't calmed sufficiently to be aware of the pain yet. Blair had had numerous run-ins with violence, but such things took a toll on some of the more sensitive men, and Blair was no exception; he'd feel more than just an adrenaline rush after the action subsided. Luckily, this one had no tragic outcomes to go with it. I ought to encourage him to pursue the forensics training. I owe him more than just a classification as a detective and a sentinel-sitter. "How you doing, Sandburg?"

"I'm good."

"Standing is good. But that gravel rash and that cut on your face need attention."

"A shower will do -"

"Did you hear me ask your opinion, Detective?"

Blair straightened, the tempo of his breathing now slowed and even. "Of course not, Sir. Who's gonna take my statement, here? I, uhm, got off a round during the take-down."

Simon was examining the hole in the door of a rather expensive-looking sedan. "Did you miss or were you firing a warning?"

"It was a warning. He only had a knife so I basically hoped the noise would encourage him to give it up."

The practical discussion was having an even more calming effect upon his man, so Simon continued. "At least you shot a foreign car. Wouldn't be patriotic to hit a Chevy. And, not that I'm complaining mind you, but why would a warning shot go through the car door?"

Blair blinked. "Uhm, the gun was pointed in that direction at the time?"

Simon looked upwards. Instinct had Blair directing his gaze similarly skyward. "What are we looking at Simon?"

"It's called, 'up', Sandburg. The direction for warning shots. Just in case the situation arises again at some point. Civilians tend to appreciate that a lot."

A quick visual check indicated that Simon now had a grin on his face. Blair realized he'd been 'finessed' by one of the best and did feel considerably more relaxed for it. "Thanks, Captain."

"Nice work, Blair." A warning hand came up even as Blair aborted his own instinctual move towards his boss. "Ah! Go hug Ellison." He nodded in the direction of the senior detective, coming up behind his partner, moving stiffly.

A hand tousled Blair's tangled hair. "I'll take a rain check, Chief. You look okay for someone who was rolling around in the street. Let's head for the medics over there. You're gonna have to go to the ER, but I'll go over you again at home to make sure they didn't miss any grit."

"Shit, man. This is gonna take all day."

Twin glares fixed upon him. "On the other hand, I happen to be free for the rest of the day." Twin nods acknowledged their easy win.

"You okay, Jim?" Simon verbalized the concern that Blair was nonverbally communicating as he circled his partner, looking for damage. Damn, if he isn't seeing something or other, but now he's looking off to Jim's side. "Sandburg, what ARE you doing?"

"Chief?"

"I think you pulled a muscle here, in your lower back maybe? I see a paler shade here and it's thin..."

"I don't need to know this, gentlemen." Simon stalked off to survey the damage to his budget from collateral damage.

"How can you tell?"

"Jim, I seem to be able to see auras now, like Naomi can. It's pretty cool but maybe this should be another one of those things that doesn't make it into our reports or get discussed with Simon."

"Hell, Junior. Even I don't want to discuss it."

"Tough. This is an important source of information and understanding of the people and things around us. I'm not going to bypass this kind of knowledge just because you don't want to acknowledge it. Believe it or not, that's how I figured out where this creep was hiding."

"You're serious, aren't you?"

"Don't look so upset, Jim. It really has a lot of practical applications. Of course, I'm going to need to study this in detail. It takes a lot of practice."

"I'm going to regret asking this, but can you give me a quick definition of what an aura actually is?"

"It's an energy emanation of..." Blair realized he'd lose the important aspects of the concept if he went with technical information that he couldn't demonstrate in a lab. "Jim, think of an aura as the visible skin of your soul."

Jim gravely considered this. "It's gonna take me awhile to get with this program. I'm hard-wired from all my experiences to resist this kind of thing. But there's one thing you have to believe. Anytime I appear less than... ah, receptive, to this stuff, remember that it's the concepts that are hard for me to grasp. It's not the Shaman that I'm doubting. Never you, Chief."

"Thanks, man. I'll cut you the slack you need. After all, it isn't something you have to learn to do. But, uhm, can I practice on you back in the lofts? There's these exercises I need to do..."

"I knew there'd be a catch. You and me. Medics. Now."

"Hey, don't you wanna know what colors you are?"

"No."

"Killjoy."

********************

Friday, 8:45 A.M.

"Please thank your mother for me, Blair. Her help was invaluable. Waters turned over right away and identified the culprit in the Chief's security. Thank God for the fact that it wasn't a cop who was dirty. Not that it's a compliment to Cascade's government that it was a deputy DA working with one of the household staff, but I'm relieved it wasn't a cop." Simon studied the two men before him, reassuring himself that the wrapped forearm and the butterfly bandage gracing Blair's face didn't seem overly distressing to him. Another glance indicated Sandburg's self-appointed protector was also well, if moving a bit stiffly.

"I'll tell her tonight, Simon. She'll be back to celebrate Chanukah with me."

"And me," Jim added.

"That's cool and I promise not to tell the members of the Cascade Country Club about that."

"One. I'm not a member. Two. As far as I know, they aren't restricted. Three. I'm not a member."

"Hey, you counted something twice there, buddy."

"Caught that, did you?"

"PhD here. I can get all the way to eleven without removing my shoes."

Simon laughed at their antics, please to have resolved a sticky situation with his own boss. "Okay, you two. My only question is, how the hell did they know when to hide a new microphone on Mrs. Warren? The timing wasn't consistent and the Chief didn't conduct business there every day. It couldn't have been random, since there wasn't a single mistake made in our schedule of busts."

Jim coughed and looked at the various pictures and announcements posted on the walls. Blair began lacing up his shoes...

"And what did I say about sneakers in the bullpen, Sandburg? I don't ask for jackets and ties, but... never mind that now. Someone gonna answer my question here? Staff meeting in two more minutes."

Blair cleared his throat. "You won't like the answer, Sir."

"Oh, no. Don't tell me Waters really was..."

"Okay, I won't. But she is. Real, I mean. Has talent of some degree, that is."

"And you know this, how?"

"Negative energy there. Just pouring from her in waves. Even the objects in her office were..."

"Enough. I see another incomplete report for me to sign, gentleman. And here come the rest of the crew."

The business portion of the staff meeting was concluded within twenty minutes. Simon put his half chewed cigar down on his desk, prepared to see what his youngest detective had up his sleeve for departmental development. "Today we'll inaugurate Doctor Sandburg's idea regarding staff presentations. And you're up at bat, Blair."

Blair looked up at his audience, gazing at him expectantly and not without a bit of anxiety about having to take their own turns after a college professor set a high standard for this particular activity. "Okay, my presentation for today is about the subject of using cultural stereotypes as a basis for embarking upon the questioning of witnesses. My conclusion is that we shouldn't do that. Anyone have any questions?"

Glances were exchanged. "That's it, Hairboy?" A glare from his Captain regarding demeanor at formal meetings had Henri recanting. "I meant, isn't there more to this subject Blair?"

"You tell me. We've all questioned victims and perps of many races and cultures. I know I've blown it a time or five when I was studying cultures in the field. In one Thai village, I was interviewing this really old man who remembered when the area was...well, that's not important. It's just that I crossed my legs with, like, my right ankle resting on top of my left knee and the bottom of my shoe pointed towards him. He got all quiet and the interview was pretty much shot for insightful observations. Just basic answers to questions, real stilted-like. When I was reviewing my notes with my supervisor, he was very disappointed since he'd assumed I'd ace the job. When he had me act out the entire meeting, he was able to pinpoint exactly what the problem was. You just don't show the soles of your shoes to people from that culture. It's a terrible insult. While the guy seemed to get that it was unintentional, it was real disrespectful of me to conduct the interview without knowing how to act."

"Then you think we ought to have more training in cross-cultural interviewing?"

"Well, there was the case out here last year where a tourist was charged with child endangerment. She'd left her kid in his baby carriage outside on the street, while she went into a store to shop."

"That's terrible." Megan looked outraged. "It's an invitation to kidnapping."

"Not in Denmark. There, anyone on the street might stop to entertain a child waiting for its mom and they'd certainly stop any suspicious doings. Not that those are highly likely."

"Well, how were the cops to know?"

Simon nodded. "By asking, when they saw she wasn't a citizen."

"Ask who? Er, whom?"

"Hairboy!"

"Thanks a lot, H. My partner has better things to do than -"

"Than what, Ellison?" growled his Captain. "Help out his fellow officers?"

"Well, no, of course not. But the PD can get its own anthropologist -"

"Because this one's yours?" Rafe pointed out to an extremely amused crowd.

"Should I include that in the minutes of this meeting, Captain Banks?"

"Rhonda!"

"That's what I thought, Sir."

Ellison's neck might have shown a touch of red. Blair blushed rather more obviously, but pushed on gamely. "I'll bet all of you have had some kind of cultural confusion sneak up and bite you on the ass."

"Well, one time in Melbourne, we had a case of what we all thought was child abuse. This little boy had these thin red marks along his back, like mild welts. We all hoped the responsible party would try and resist arrest."

"Conner," Simon rebuked mildly.

"No, it wasn't like that after all, Captain. Turns out this family 'coined' the kid. They were Chinese immigrants practicing an old folk remedy for reducing a fever. Seems you're supposed to heat a coin and run the edge across the skin."

"Wow, does it work?"

"Sandy!"

"Well, of course you weren't going to encourage the family to continue that, but it would be -".

"As I was saying, we got a really nice chap, also Chinese and a former physician in China, to explain to the family better ways to manage their health. And to explain that we would look rather unfavorably upon any repeat performance."

"I gotta look that up." Blair scribbled some notes while other minds percolated.

"I remember feeling like a damn fool when I had to question some witnesses to a bombing in Chinatown, here. Dragged a translator all the way from Spokane out this way only to find out the witnesses spoke Cantonese. Translator spoke Mandarin or something like that and we were no closer to getting our questions answered than if we'd brought in a Frenchman."

"Yeah, Joel. There are quite a few countries with different languages spoken based upon class or caste and education. Most countries, including ours, have significant dialectal differences based upon region."

"Like when that Texan tried to pick me up in a bar last week. I swear, I didn't understand anything he said to me."

"Do we really need to hear about your love life, Conner?" Ellison smirked.

Rhonda laughed. "Well, I was there and there was a pinch given in a universal language!"

Simon hastily interrupted. "We also have to be alert for perps claiming cultural differences. I remember some guy was beating his kid in the mall downtown. Security called us and the guy tells us it's a cultural thing. We hauled him in anyway, politely of course, and notified the DA. Her research found that the guy was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri. His folks were also born and raised here. We booked him on child abuse."

"What would you have done if it was a cultural difference, Captain?" Blair wanted some sense of policy for the realities of American life and child safety.

"Brought in social services for some monitoring system to be set up. And, a representative of whatever embassy might be appropriate, to explain that some customs can't be transplanted within these borders."

Nods of approval were seen all around. Simon was growing happier by the moment at allowing this bull session in his bullpen.

Jim coughed. "This may be a bit outside the topic but I think I broke up what could have become a nasty altercation in Office Max last month."

"Yeah? I don't remember you mentioning it."

"Guess I figured it would incite a lecture. Seems this man from India went up to this lady clerk and asked to buy some rubbers. She got all incensed and answered rather rudely that they didn't carry those things. He insisted the store would have to carry rubbers and she was all set to call security when I introduced myself and, having lived with Dr. Sandburg for awhile, I knew what to ask. Turns out 'rubbers' are erasers in his dialect."

Simon grinned. "On that note, we're out of time, people. And thank you, Detective Sandburg, for that interesting discussion."

"Oh, yeah." Henri looked slightly embarrassed. "Sorry I was skeptical about doing this kind of sharing, but I guess we've all got some stuff to talk about that relates to the work. And hey, there's always the stories we've heard to talk about, too. With the holidays coming up, I guess you're gonna be in your element, Hair.. Blair. You must've seen a lot of different ways people celebrate Christmas. I'd like to hear about that at our office party, next week."

"Oh, yeah! It's one of the best things about studying different cultures. You can find a lot of similarities in their oral and written histories; their folklore and mythology, which all hark back to a single idea or thread. You know, Jim, I was curious about which form of the Messianic birth story you were exposed to, growing up."

Distracted by thoughts of their afternoon plans, Jim still had time to catch the question and subdue the urge to laugh. Instead, he intoned with great solemnity, "Well, Sandburg, I knew you'd be interested in that question, so I've arranged for us to take a little trip to my Dad's... there's that look of arrested fascination ...sweat lodge so you can examine the family cave paintings. I'm sure the answer lies somewhere on our walls."

Even Simon's presence was insufficient to stem the outpouring of mirth from the meeting participants, including Blair. Finally, controlling his own amusement, he brought the meeting to a close. "So, who'd like to lead next month?"

"Captain, you approved me to attend that conference on arson next week. I can present the information from it at that meeting."

"Thanks, Joel."

********************

EPILOGUE

Blair looked out at the weather. The rain had turned into sleet and the 'Weather-Vains', as he liked to call the decorative nitwits who read the predictions on the local news, had said the temperature would continue to drop. Naomi walked up behind him and wrapped her arms around him, looking over his shoulder at the turbulent scene.

Jim called out over his shoulder as he headed towards the kitchen. "I don't think we'll be having that Hanu... uhm, Chanukah dinner at the Marina after all. The driving just won't be safe on the return trip. I'm sure that, between the two of us, we've got enough in our freezers to do justice to a small feast right here."

"Of course!" Naomi said brightly as she gently tugged her son away from the window, and towards the warmth of the kitchen. "All that's needed for a celebration is right here, the presence of family. And friends," she added quickly.

"Yeah, we're cool. I've got all the fixings we need here it is an eight-day holiday after all - and Naomi's vegetarian cooking prowess is legendary, including latkes."

Jim couldn't inhibit the automatic wince that accompanied any suggestion of a novel adventure in taste. "I can't wait."

"Chill, it's fine. It's simply potato pancakes and I got a light sunflower oil for frying them. You'll love it and there's nothing in them you don't like in other dishes.

Distinctly cheered, Jim clapped his friend on the back. "Sounds great."

Dinner followed the lighting of the menorah, leading into a pleasant evening of conversation. They agreed to avoid the subjects of crime or politics, despite Sandburg's assertion that there appeared to be little distinction between the two topics. He wasn't surprised that the observation earned him an affectionate scold from Naomi, anxious to reinforce only 'positive energy' for the rest of her visit.

Jim awoke to dazzling light and squinted at the unusual brilliance of his generally overcast climate. It was colder than usual as well and he grabbed a rarely-used robe before heading down to the bathroom. No sounds came from next door and the absence of activity or even sleep-breathing drove him to the balcony.

Christmas trees abounded along the usually mundane streets. Bare branches dripped with jewels as sunshine turned ice-covered boughs into prisms. Bowing under the weight of their burden, even the postures of the trees were astonishingly lovely in poses of dramatic stillness.

Blair and his mother stood at the building's entrance, entranced by this arrested dance of nature. Jim grinned and dressed swiftly so he could join them.

Blair turned even before the elevator doors opened. "Hey, Jim! Come join our party. I know I told you there's no such thing as a Chanukah bush but I think these trees dressed up for the holiday after all."

Naomi sparkled, her effervescence rivaling that of the dormant growth around her. "I dare you to find a gift more precious than this."

Jim shook his head. "No takers here, Naomi. I'd lose that bet."

Blair suddenly bowed in front of his mother. "May I have this waltz?"

Dipping into a curtsy, Naomi accepted the invitation by starting to hum a tune by Strauss.

Jim leaned against the door post of his lair, smiling indulgently. He tuned out the sounds of frustrated pedestrians, forced to seek public transportation to avoid an icy drive. One disgruntled woman stopped to watch the odd couple revolving about the parked cars. "Are they crazy or what? Maybe I should call the police."

"No need for concern, ma'am. I'm a cop; they're being properly supervised."

"A car could come at any minute. They'll distract drivers you really ought to do something!"

Jim looked at her in amusement. "You're absolutely right. I should do something." Stepping into the street, he caught up to the pair and tapped his partner on the shoulder.

"May I cut in?"

THE END

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