Disclaimer: The Sentinel, Blair Sandburg, Jim Ellison, Simon Banks, and all other characters are property of Paramount and Pet Fly. No copyright infringement is intended, and no money has exchanged hands.

Alas, Poor Fargo

by Arnie

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

It's that time again. You know how people say winter's here when they see the first robin? Or spring's here when you see daffodils. I know that a cold snap's here when I see Sandburg's hat.

Now, don't get me wrong. I know that I'm not the most easy-going of people; I have rules and I like having rules. And don't give me any grief about the colour-coded Tupperware either; it makes sense to me and that's what matters - I mean, would you want to open up your tub of leftover chilli only to find some of Sandburg's Grub Goo inside? I didn't think so. But that hat, oh, that hat....

When I first saw it, I thought Sandburg had to be wearing it for a joke. Either that or he lost a bet. But no, he wears it because he gets cold. Okay, that's only sensible. Wearing a hat in cold weather is good because you lose a lot of body heat through your head; although you'd think Sandburg's mop would be able to keep most of his body heat in - in fact, I'm the one who should be wearing a hat. But I'm digressing.

Anyway, there we were in the truck, watching a factory that might or might not go up in an arson attack, and there's Sandburg. With that damned hat on. I laughed as the hat was funny looking in a dead-bird-on-your-head kind of way. But then he wore it again, and again, and again. I swear it's some kind of Sentinel test. He's trying to see how long he can wear it before I snap and shoot the damn thing.

It's not just how it looks either, although if Sandburg had any idea how he looked in it, he'd kill it himself before it ruined his dating streak. There's no way he'd get a date while wearing that thing...well, not unless the girl had a Muppet and they could double date. Nope, it's not just from an aesthetic point of view; it's from a hygiene point of view. That hat sheds worse than a Persian cat.

I don't feel the cold much so my first hint of a cold snap comes when I walk into the loft, sneeze so hard it feels like my eyeballs are going to fly across the room, and realise that Sandburg's got his hat out again.

It's always the same. The temperature drops and there's Sandburg with a thick coat on, thick gloves, scarf the size of a freeway...and that hat. There's only so much I can take. And sometimes a Sentinel's gotta do what a Sentinel's gotta do.

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

Plan A

Plan A was simple. Jim waited until Sandburg was sleeping and hid the hat.

"Jim, have you seen my hat?"

"Isn't it hanging up?" He smiled to himself as Sandburg rummaged through the coat rack again. There was no way Sandburg was going to find that hat.

"I thought it was." Sandburg abandoned the coat rack and disappeared into his room, Jim trailing along behind him, unwilling to miss the show. "But now I can't find it. Oh, man! I can't believe this. Where's it got to?" His voice was muffled as his head was now under the bed.

"Maybe you left it in your car." His voice filled with laughter as he regarded his roommate. Sandburg's hair was now decorated with a couple of dust bunnies.

"What?"

Jim laughed. "You might want to check your hair before you head out the door, Darwin, especially seeing as you don't have a hat to hide under."

Sandburg scowled and disappeared into the bathroom where his indignant splutterings told Jim he'd found the dust bunnies. Jim made his way to the couch and sat down, stretching back. Life was good. Thinking about the dust under Sandburg's bed, he made a mental note to clean under there the next time the kid was out; although maybe he'd wait until he'd had his shots. You never knew what was lurking under Sandburg's bed.

Two days later, life stopped being so good. Sandburg, being a well-trained anthropologist, was used to searching. He found the hat, although he was immensely puzzled as to how it came to be wrapped up in their camping tent underneath some old suitcases in the deepest, darkest corner of the basement. He also had a Close Encounter of the Multi-Legged Kind when he disturbed a large spider who was sleeping curled up in the warm recesses of the furry hat.

The screams certainly got Jim's attention though.

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

Plan B

Jim decided that Plan A failed because he hid the hat in their building. Plan B involved hiding the hat outside. Jim waited until Sandburg was engrossed in a documentary on the Whatsit Tribe of Outer Not-Cascade and took the hat for a walk while he went to collect some beer. Ducking down an alleyway, he stuffed the hat into a trashcan and carried on his merry way.

"I don't believe this!"

Jim paused in his own rush out of the door. "What?"

"My hat's gone!"

"You probably just mislaid it again."

"I didn't mislay it last time, Jim. How on earth would I manage to 'mislay' it in the basement?"

Jim shrugged and opened the front door. "I don't know, Sandburg. But if you don't get a move on, you're going to be late."

"I'm not checking that basement again. I swear that spider was bigger than Shelob. It's probably waiting for me to come back so it can leap out at me again."

"Here's a thought, Chief, maybe the spider stole your hat." Jim grinned at his indignant roommate and left.

Unfortunately for Jim's good mood, Plan B also failed. The garbage had been collected the day before and Sandburg's observant eyes noticed his hat sticking up out of the trashcan when he called into the store on his way home to buy some no-fat milk that he was convinced Jim would love. He got his hat back and washed it thoroughly. It shed twice as much and Jim hated the milk anyway.

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

Plan C

Giving up on throwing away the hat, Jim gave it to a tramp, with the view that charity begins at home. Or rather, he gave the tramp ten dollars and made him take the hat as well. The tramp was delighted with the ten dollars but refused point blank to wear the hat. He had standards. He dumped the hat in a trashcan and enjoyed the ten dollars.

Jim's head jerked up as his roommate, partner, best friend and Guide screamed in anguish. "Sandburg? Something wrong?" Never let it be said that Jim was slow on the uptake.

"My hat has gone again!"

"How can it have gone again? Where did you leave it this time?"

"I didn't leave it anywhere! I put it on the coat rack and now it's gone."

"It can't have just gone. Well, unless that thing's got legs. You know, with all that fur it could be alive."

"That's not funny, Jim. Now help me search for my hat!"

"Don't worry, Darwin. I'm sure it'll turn up."

To say that Jim was dismayed when he turned out to be right, is putting it mildly. Once again, Sandburg found his hat, this time in a trashcan near Rainier University. He decided that he must have left it in his office, although he would have sworn he'd taken it home, and some well-meaning cleaner had thrown it out. He took the hat home and lovingly washed it again, not even noticing when its rate of daily shedding went up exponentially.

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

Jim was getting desperate. He was ex-Covert Ops, for God's sake. He knew nineteen different ways to kill a man with wet spaghetti (none of which involved choking on the stuff) and he couldn't even get rid of one stupid hat. He had a Plan D, which involved bribing one of his Major Crime colleagues to shoot the hat in a freak accident but as Sandburg would undoubtedly be wearing the hat and, with his luck, he'd end up being shot as well, Jim decided to save Plan D until he was really, really desperate. He renamed Plan D, Plan Z and came up with a new idea.

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

Plan D

Deciding that it was in his boss' best interests as Police Captain to not have one of his detectives driven to murder over a furry hat, Jim enlisted Simon's help. Simon was exceptionally reluctant to get involved in the 'Fargo Fiasco' as he called it, but one view of Jim's white-knuckled grip on his favourite jar of coffee and Simon caved.

"So what exactly is it that you want me to do?"

"It's simple. Just take the hat with you when you and Daryl go to visit your uncle, and leave it in San Francisco."

"That's all?"

"That's all."

"Okay, Jim. That I can do."

Accordingly, the next time Sandburg and his hat made an appearance in the Major Crime unit, much to the hilarity of Joel who hadn't seen the hat before, Jim sent Sandburg down to Records and Simon snaffled the hat. Well, he made Jim snaffle it and hand it over in his office. He said he hadn't become captain just to go around snaffling anthropologists' hats.

"Jim, where's my hat?"

"Your hat?" Jim looked around as if expecting to see the hat on his desk or lying in a heap on the floor although he knew very well it was in the bottom drawer of Simon's desk. "I don't know." He kept his face turned towards his computer screen but his eyes were following Sandburg.

"I know I was wearing it when I came in." Sandburg disappeared under the desk to search the floor, but reappeared a few seconds later as it became apparent that the floor did not have his hat.

"Maybe you left it in the break room." Jim's voice was calm and he was glad that he was the Sentinel instead of his partner. If Sandburg had been able to scan him as easily as Jim ran his senses over Sandburg on a daily basis, he could not have failed to miss the tell-tale signs of lying that raced through Jim's body.

"Why would I leave it in the break room? I took my coat off in here."

Jim shrugged, his gaze briefly meeting Sandburg's before turning back to the monitor. "Then I have no idea."

"Argh!"

Sandburg stalked off in the direction of the break room, and Jim smiled. That hat was sooooo gone.

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

"Oh wow! Jim, you'll never guess...."

Jim gave an explosive sneeze and looked up from opening his own mail to see the parcel that Sandburg was opening. "What the hell?!"

"Isn't it great? Tiffany, a friend of mine, she's in San Francisco, and I was telling her about losing my Fargo hat. I can't believe she found another one for me." Sandburg's eyes devoured the fluffy hat with a love that Jim thought should only be devoted to Wonder burgers.

"Yeah. It's great."

The flat tone was missed by Sandburg as he carried his hat over to the coat rack, handling it as if it were the most precious artefact ever discovered. He placed it on the same peg as his coat and took a few seconds to stroke the fluff into place, his face filled with joy at having his hat back in his life.

Over his shoulder Jim glared at the hat. This was war.

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

"I can't believe this, Simon, I totally can't believe it!" Jim stalked up and down in Simon's office, his fists clenched and his back rigid.

"Just calm down, Jim, I'm sure it's a coincidence. It can't be the same hat!"

"It is, it is!" Jim stopped and leant his fists on Simon's desk as he glared at his friend. "It's the same hat and it's come back. And now, it's taunting me, that's what it is."

"Jim, it's a hat." Simon's voice was calm. "How can it be taunting you?"

"It has ways and means that we've only begun to scratch the surface of." Knowing instinctively that his Guide was near, the Sentinel turned to look through the blinds of Simon's office. His Guide, and that hat, entered the bullpen. Jim flattened his face against the glass and growled.

Yanking him back, Simon slammed the blinds shut. "For God's sake, Jim, get a hold of yourself."

Jim grabbed the door handle. "That hat's days are numbered, Simon. Mark my words."

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

Plan E

Jim sat at his desk, his hands steepled as he considered his options. It would be far easier to steal uh...extract the hat while Sandburg was asleep but if Sandburg got suspicious, (and after his hat had disappeared this many times, he was going to, sooner or later), his list of suspects would consist of one name: a hat obsessed Sentinel named James Ellison. On the other hand, while the initial extraction would pose more of a challenge, if the hat went missing in the bullpen there were far more suspects to catch the kid's eye. And, as a plus point, he'd probably suspect Henri and Rafe as having stolen it as a practical joke.

Watching Sandburg approach the desk, two cups of coffee in his hands, Jim smiled. That hat wouldn't know what had hit it.

"My hat's gone again!" The indignation in Sandburg's voice got everyone's attention.

"It can't have gone, Chief," Jim was the voice of reason, "it must be here."

"Well, it's not!"

Jim watched as Sandburg scoured the bullpen, casting suspicious looks at Henri and Rafe as he went.

"Hairboy, I didn't touch your hat."

"No one's saying you did, H., Blair's just trying to find his hat," Jim jumped in before Sandburg could say anything he'd regret later.

"This isn't funny, Jim. My hat keeps on going missing! This is driving me nuts."

Jim restrained himself from pointing out that it would be a very short journey as he really didn't think the kid would get the joke at the moment. "Look, I'll buy you a new hat, okay?" He thought that was only fair, and he had been intending to buy a new hat for the kid since he first removed the other hat. After all, he didn't want Sandburg catching cold. He'd just been waiting for Sandburg to admit his need for a hat before he could plausibly buy him one.

"I don't want a new hat! I want my hat!"

He grinned. For a grad student, a Teaching Fellow, an anthropologist and a police observer, Sandburg could sure sound about five years old at times. Of course, the indignant bouncing wasn't helping either.

Finally, the bullpen had been searched from top to bottom with no sign of Sandburg's hat. No one had thought to search Jim's desk though, which probably had a bearing on how unsuccessful the search was.

The next day was Saturday and Jim returned to the bullpen alone and very, very early. He wanted no witnesses while he packaged up the hat. He had, he was sure, come up with the best way to remove the hat: he was going to post it to an old army buddy of his with a note asking him to get rid of it. Somehow, he doubted that hat would be able to make its way back from Alaska. And maybe someone up there would like the hat, well, that's if they didn't already have a similar one. He smiled to himself as he wrapped the hat in brown paper, thinking of everyone in Alaska wearing Fargo hats. Suddenly his smile disappeared and he shuddered. There was no way he was ever going to go to Alaska.

"So you stole the hat again, huh?"

Jim's head snapped up in horror, then he relaxed as he realised who his witness was. He'd been so wrapped up in the thought of the entire population of Alaska wearing Fargo hats that he'd completely missed Simon's approach. "I'm posting it to an army buddy of mine in Alaska. I figured he might appreciate it."

Simon nodded. "It's cold in Alaska."

Jim stood up and stretched, then picked up his parcel. "Gotta go, Simon. Got a parcel to post."

On his way back from the mailbox, Jim ducked into a clothing store and found a nice, plain hat for Sandburg. It was thick, it was water-proof and it was not fluffy. What more could anyone ask for?

Naturally, Sandburg thanked Jim for being such a great friend as to buy him a hat to keep his head warm, and Jim got a little glow of pleasure every time he saw Sandburg with his new, plain, unfluffy hat.

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

Two weeks later....

"What's that?" Jim looked at the wet mess of brown paper that had been dumped on his desk, fortunately not on any files.

"It is, or was, a parcel." Rafe demonstrated why he was in Major Crime and not out walking a beat.

"I can see that but...." Jim approached the mess with caution, Sandburg behind him.

"Looks like someone dropped it in a puddle," Sandburg pointed out helpfully, also demonstrating his eligibility for being in Major Crime and not out not walking a beat somewhere - after all, not being a police officer he wouldn't be able to officially walk a beat although he could unofficially walk one on a volunteer basis, if he really wanted to.

Jim poked the parcel with a pen. It was too soft to be a bomb.

"My hat!"

The pen had torn through the soaked brown paper exposing the grey fluffy mass that was within. Sandburg's hand snapped out and he snatched up the parcel, ripping the rest of the sodden mass away and revealing the contents.

Staring, dumbfounded, at the contents of the parcel, Jim was silent. The hat was back. Fortunately for him, the paper had been so badly soaked that the handwriting on the parcel was illegible and could not be identified as belonging to anyone in particular. The only thing that was positively identifiable was the 'not known at this address' that was written across the front. As Rhonda pointed out, it was a miracle the parcel was returned to them at all.

Fortunately for Jim, Sandburg decided that it had been one of Henri's pranks gone wrong, although Henri protested his innocence on a regular basis, and life returned to normal. Well, as normal as it could get with one Sentinel on the hunt.

This time, he was determined that nothing would stand in his way.

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

Plan F

It was time, Jim decided, for more ruthless methods. He had tried to dispose of the hat without harming it, only to have it rebound into his life none the worse for wear, unless you counted the shedding. To Jim's eagle eyes, the hat was starting to look positively bald in places although Sandburg's biased gaze saw nothing wrong with the hat at all.

With that in mind, Jim was determined to destroy the hat so that nothing remained of it to come back to haunt him. It wasn't just for his sake. Sandburg was becoming paranoid about that hat and for his Guide's mental health, the Sentinel needed to end the situation.

Once again, he chose the bullpen as the scene for the latest extraction of the hat that would not die.

"H., where is my hat?!"

Even Simon looked up as the normally cheerful police observer went ballistic.

"It was here, it was here half an hour ago, and now...it's gone!"

"Don't look at me, Hairboy, I didn't touch it!"

"Sandburg, calm down!" Reaching out, Jim snagged Sandburg's arm and tugged him away from Brown's desk.

"He stole my hat!"

"I didn't steal your hat, Blair! And I didn't take it last time either!" Henri was on his feet now, indignantly ready to defend his honour.

Jim held Sandburg back easily. He wasn't about to let the two of them get into a fight.

"Sandburg! Ellison! My office, now!"

Re-directing Sandburg towards Simon's office, Jim shook his head as he pushed the reluctant police observer forward. He was glad he'd ended this situation. Sandburg was really getting far too attached to that hat.

"Sandburg, I'm sure that Brown doesn't have your hat."

Even Jim was surprised by the mildness of Simon's tone. Then again, Simon was well aware that Sandburg's hat had been disappearing more often than a magician's rabbit, and he knew who the culprit was, so Jim wasn't surprised when the police captain's gaze met and held his for a few seconds.

"I'm sure that your hat will turn up again. It's probably been...misplaced." The tone in the voice made it an order. "For now, Blair, just try to refrain from accusing anyone of taking your hat."

"Sorry, Simon." The kid sounded embarrassed.

"Okay. Ellison, can I see you for a second?"

"Sure, Simon. Chief, I'll be right out." Jim shut the door firmly behind his partner and turned to face his boss.

"This ends now, Ellison. Give the kid his hat back and leave it alone. That's an order!"

"With all due respect, Captain, I can't do that." Jim stood to attention, his head held high.

"And why not?"

Jim regarded the ceiling for a few seconds, then, "The situation has been neutralised, sir."

Simon frowned as he demanded, "And what exactly does that mean?!"

"I burnt the hat."

"You what?!"

"I took it up on top of the building and burnt it." Jim's tone was reasonable as he reassured his captain, "It was the only way, sir. The hat had to be destroyed."

"You burnt Blair's hat?" Simon sounded as though he didn't quite believe him.

"Yes, sir."

Simon sat down rather suddenly. "How on earth are you going to explain it to Blair?"

"Nothing to explain, sir." That had been a Covert Ops mantra, and Jim found it very useful in his civilian life.

"Nothing to explain? He's blaming Brown for stealing his hat, and all the time you've burnt it and you think there's nothing to explain?!"

Jim frowned as he thought that over for a few seconds. Yes, Sandburg was upset over his hat, and yes, Brown was being blamed for it. But Sandburg had no proof and he would accept Brown's word in the end that he hadn't touched the hat so.... "I believe the situation will blow over, sir."

"This isn't a military situation, Jim. This is your partner's hat we're talking about."

"Yes, sir. It's just a hat. Or rather, it was just a hat." Jim smiled, relieved beyond belief that the hat was gone, out of his life. He'd scattered the ashes in the breeze from the top of the police station.

Simon buried his face in his hands, then finally straightened up. "Ellison."

"Yes, sir."

"Go. Leave my office, take your partner and go home."

Jim was surprised. Simon seemed to be taking the loss of the hat rather too seriously. "If you insist, Simon."

"I do insist. Go. I'll see you tomorrow." Simon's voice was calm.

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

No mention was made of the hat for the next few days. Blair, deciding that Henri hadn't taken the hat and knowing that life was too short for such grudges, let the subject drop. While the hat Jim had given him was fine, great, in fact...it was just a hat that kept his head warm as opposed to the fluffy mass that kept his head, ears, cheeks and neck warm.

Jim, for his part, had nothing to say on the subject. The hat was gone. He couldn't pretend to be sad about it, in fact, just thinking of the hat made him smile.

Simon, too, had been remarkably silent on the subject. That had surprised Jim but he decided that Simon had accepted the situation and was willing to let it go. He realised later that he should have suspected something.

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

"Ellison, Sandburg, my office."

Jim led the way into Simon's office, totally unsuspecting the ordeal that lay ahead. However, his sixth sense started pinging when he saw the pleased look on Simon's face. Either the Chief of Police had announced his retirement, the criminals of Cascade had taken a holiday, or Simon was up to something.

"Sit down, gentlemen."

Exchanging a surprised glance with Sandburg, Jim sat, then sneezed violently as Simon pulled a grey fluffy mass from his desk.

"I believe this is yours, Sandburg?"

"My hat!" Sandburg grabbed his hat, his smile lighting up the room. "I can't believe you found it! Where was it? I thought I'd looked everywhere for it!"

"It was in the bullpen. One of the cleaners found it behind a filing cabinet."

"Oh, man, I've missed this hat!" His tone changed suddenly. "Oh, man! I owe Henri an apology!" He turned towards the door then turned back, "Was there -"

"That was all, Blair. I just need a word with your partner here."

"Okay." He turned to go again and turned back once more. "Simon, thanks."

"My pleasure, Blair."

Jim watched as Sandburg dived for the door, shouting for H. as he went. Well, at least Henri would be off the hook. Turning back, his gaze met Simon's levelly.

"Shut the door, Jim."

The door was shut and Jim leaned against the doorframe, his arms folded across his chest as he regarded his friend. "Where did you find another hat like that?"

"Mail order, Jim. Those hats are very popular in Alaska."

Jim sighed.

"And, Jim," Simon rose to his feet to use his few extra inches of height to their best advantage, "that hat is off-limits to you, understand?"

"Si -"

"I don't want to hear another word about the hat. It disappears, it gets damaged in any way whatsoever, and I will know who to blame. Got it?"

Jim ground his teeth for a few seconds. He was going to have to put up with the hat. For now, anyway. "Got it, sir."

"Good. Now get out of my office and do some work, Detective."

"Yes, sir."

Jim shut the door behind him and stared across the bullpen at his partner who was busy letting Henri try on his hat. Unsurprisingly, Rafe had passed on the experience. Jim sighed once more. He guessed the hat was back to stay.

At least until the weather got warmer.

~finis~

Comments, criticism, suggestions? Please e-mail Arnie.

Back to Arnie's page.