Title: 'Twas the Night the Volvo Died - Part Two of Three
Fandom: The Sentinel
Category: Slash/Established relationship/Humor/Holiday
Summary: Well, see, there was the Volvo and gunrunners and the Coast Guard and it's almost Christmas and Jim and Blair are up to their usual shenanigans...oh, and there's this baby buggy too...
Disclaimer: Not mine, theirs. Or so they would have you think..
From Part One:
"Did you just say baby buggy? Last time I checked, baby buggies weren't required equipment on Coast Guard Cutters."
"Yes. Well. See, it kind of happened like this..."
Jim chewed at his lower lip while trying to figure out a way to explain Blair's injuries. It should be easy since it'd been…oh, hell, the whole thing had been simple - and complicated - and damn it, if only Blair weren't in the hospital because then he wouldn’t have to explain how he’d ended up in the hospital because of a baby buggy--
"Jim? Ellison? Jim!?"
He heard Simon saying his name and thought he'd better free his bottom lip or there'd be blood. Running his tongue over the indentation left by his teeth and, satisfied to find his lip intact, Jim decided he'd better start answering before Simon stroked out.
"I hear you, I'm just trying to... well, this isn't an easy one to ex--"
"I should have asked at the hospital--"
"You did. Sort of. But let's face it, after hearing you had a man down, you were naturally worried-"
"Naturally," Simon added helpfully, if somewhat sarcastically.
"Right. So, when you got to the hospital and heard it wasn't all that serious, as in no blood-gushing-gunshot wounds, you relaxed, naturally--"
"Naturally," Simon interrupted with even more sarcasm before adding, "I hope this 'talking-without-taking-a-breath' thing isn't permanent now that Sandburg’s part of the team?"
Jim offered what Blair called "The Ellison Fake-Out-Smile” and hoped it’d work on Simon. He thought it was a very sincere-looking grin; placating, even. On the other hand, based on Simon’s expression…yeah, fake, forced and obvious. Damn. But then, he never saw the stupid grin, so he’d have to give the point to Sandburg on this one. In the meantime, back to explaining his partner’s injuries. Oy.
"Now Simon, you know you wouldn't have it any other way. I mean Sandburg being in the squad, not the 'not- breathing-part' when we talk."
Simon tilted his head weirdly to the left while looking at Jim with his right eye closed, then reversed everything before he finally opened his eye, straightened his head and said, "You know, before Sandburg, there was a rumor you had a sense of humor, albeit a very dry one, but it was never really proven. But since Sandburg--"
"Surely my sense of humor, BS or AS, isn't worthy of discussion right now...."
Jim let his voice trail off as he realized the mistake in attempting to stop the 'sense of humor' discussion. Because if he'd let it go on, he could avoid the whole Blair-baby-buggy-bumper incident altogether. But judging from Simon's expression - one that clearly agreed this was not the time for a discussion on his sense of humor - it was too late.
Again, with the damn.
As if on cue, Simon switched gears. "Thank you for getting us back to the subject at hand, namely how Blair ended up in the hospital and how on Earth a baby buggy had anything to do with it."
Jim was just about to provide the answers, but apparently Simon wasn't finished.
"And why wasn't the incident in your report? That would certainly have alleviated the obvious discomfort you're now experiencing. It doesn't take a magician to explain a baby buggy, Coast Guard cutter, some drug runners, and Blair ending up in the hospital for three days, which by the way resulted with me helping you decorate this place in such a way that I'm grateful Daryl's in college so I don't have to go through it myself, which begs the question, why did we go through this, all for a man heading toward the age of thirty-five?"
Jim arched an eyebrow and waited, knowing it wouldn't take long for Simon to realize he'd just done the 'talk-without-breathing' thing. He didn't have to wait long.
Simon's eyes widened. "I just did it, didn't I? The whole 'talk-without-breathing' thing?"
Jim nodded and this time, the grin was very real. "Not only that, but I doubt Sandburg would take kindly to being referred to as a guy on the road to thirty-five when he's only one year into his thirties."
Simon gave a little grunt. "Exactly, because that puts him on the road to thirty-five, right?" Before Jim had a chance to agree, Simon must have decided this was the right time for a personal dig as he added rather snidely, "You know, kind of like how you're on the road to forty-five?"
Jim decided to take the high road. "Whatever road I'm on, Simon, you're one lane over and moving faster, which means you're going to get to forty-five before me."
It was just as the words 'before me' came out, that Jim thought maybe his version of the high road wasn't quite as high as it could have been, but too late now. He should have known better too, because Blair taught him long ago that there were two rules he needed to learn in the precinct; never poke the bear, and never reverse-dig your boss - especially when trying to avoid an issue. He'd been to figure out the bear was Simon, so he’d just broken both rules.
A moment later, he was proven correct when Simon’s eyes narrowed dangerously, pushing all thoughts of roads, age and bears right out of Jim’s mind. Simon, in a tone normally reserved for major bad guys and the phrase, "Freeze, sucker," said, "Detective, speaking of reports, we wouldn’t be having this conversation if they’d hit my desk on time, now would we?”
For a split second, he was back in the vat of oil on the Cyclops rig - until he realized he’d just been lobbed a way to keep the baby buggy on the back burner. Trying not to sound smug, he answered smugly, "They weren’t on your desk right away because, after we told you about every minute of our part of the operation by phone and, in way of thanking us for a job well done, your exact words were, '...head on home, you two. You can do the official report tomorrow.'"
Now it was Simon's eyebrow doing the march of the arches. Jim supposed he could have manned up at that point by explaining Blair’s injuries, but Simon chose to argue with him, which led him to believe his captain might not be any more eager to hear the facts then he was to tell them.
"Those weren't my exact words at all," Simon huffed out. "What I said was ‘Good job, and since I'm certain you haven't purchased my Christmas present yet, get the heck out of there. But I expect to see your reports on my desk by 9 a.m. tomorrow.’"
Jumping at the chance to lob the ball right back at Simon, Jim offered agreeably, "Why yes, I do believe you're right. Those were much closer to your exact words... in fact, they were your precise words."
"Oh goody," Simon said, the degree of sarcasm upped by about fifty percent. "Now that's settled - could we get back to what happened?" He quickly held up a finger, "And before you start talking about me finding out at the hospital, we both know once I arrived, spotted you and your expression, the two most important questions had been answered; it was Sandburg and he wasn't at death's door."
Jim nodded in a way that hopefully telegraphed both agreeability and that he understood Simon was the alpha and he the beta. He also offered up a little prayer that maybe this was almost over and the whole baby buggy thing could stay hidden forever. He rushed in one more time, close to the net with what he hoped would be his final shot. "Not to mention how I immediately got to my feet and reassured you that Sandburg was fine, that--"
"I was there, remember? We know what I said; we know what you said. What we don't know is what you didn't say, which is what I want to know, which in turn brings us right back to the how." He deliberately took a breath before finishing. "And we can toss in the little matter of why it wasn't in the report you finally left on my desk."
Jim's heart sank. Not only had his shot failed but he was still in the oil vat but with no Sandburg to rescue him. Hey, wasn’t he the Great Sentinel of the City? No, wait, it was ‘Sentinel of the Great City’ - oh, hell, whatever it and he was, he was a damn fine tennis player, so he knocked the ball right back into Simon's court. "Now Sir, why would it be in the report when it happened while we were off duty? As you so eloquently reminded me a moment ago, you'd told us to go home. All right, you told us to go buy your Christmas present, but it amounted to the same thing. And second, the how of Sandburg’s injuries had absolutely nothing to do with the case."
Jim felt all this back and forth was really helping insofar as he'd done a pretty good job of avoiding answering the 'how'. Unfortunately, Simon was not only a determined captain and friend, but also a damn fine tennis player too. The ball was flying over the net straight for him.
"If you think all this back and forth between us is going to help you avoid answering the how of it, guess again, Detective Ellison. Now God dammit, sit down and tell me what happened."
Jim hadn't realized he'd gotten to his feet. So, even as he wondered how Simon had known what he'd been thinking, he glanced around and realized not only was he standing, but he'd moved to the windows. Walking quickly back to the couch, he sat down, shot Simon a "WTF" look and said, "Now I know why you're the captain. How do you do that?" He held up a hand in a stop gesture. "Never mind, don't answer. Probably better if I don't know how you always say what I'm thinking when it comes to trying to explain anything that involves Sandburg.” He was careful to take a breath before adding, "Besides, it's too much like me and Sandburg to be comfortable. Plus, you'll just accuse me of trying to find more ways of avoiding the issue." Jim took another breath – a deep one - and exhaled slowly. It was time to boldly go where no man had gone before. At least he was pretty sure no man had ever gone where he was about to go, but then Sandburg had lived 26 years before moving in with him, so God only knew-- and damn it, he was getting off track again.
"Jim, you're really starting to worry me here. How complicated could this be? It didn't happen on the cutter, it didn't have anything to do with the case, no bad guys involved...and aren't I amazing for gleaning that much information so far?"
That was a rather weak strike and an easy one to lob back, so Jim did. "You don't really want me to answer that, do you? I mean, it was a rhetorical, right?"
The ball landed back on Jim’s side of the net as Simon noted drily, "As rhetorical as yours."
Simon rolled his eyes heavenward and thought how life would have been so much simpler if Jim hadn't shown up that morning, almost five long years ago, towing a curly-haired, hippie-wannabe behind him. On the other hand--he never got to the other hand because Jim started to explain. Progress at last.
"Okay, maybe I shouldn't start with the baby buggy--"
No sentence could have made Simon angrier, all things considered. Leaning forward, he said firmly, "Now just one damn minute here. You started the explanation with a baby buggy and you're damn well going to start with baby buggies now or I'm going to baby-buggy you right out that window. Full story and now--no more flim-flam. Stop with your version of table tennis, and no more bantering - or as Sandburg would say, 'witty repartee', not that his repartee is all that witty, because let's face it, if we're going to be honest, you and I do a much better job, and dammit, that isn't the point, which I was veering away from yet again but am back on course. So, Detective Ellison, you're going to tell me what happened, you're going to take breaths, you're going to be clear, concise and succinct, and you're going to start--" He glanced at his watch, did the "5-4-3-2-1" with his fingers and, with the final digit - the not so surprising middle one -said, "Now." He then sat back and waited.
"Gosh, Simon, you really should stop and take a breath every now and then, you know?" Jim couldn't have helped saying it any more than what he said next. "You wouldn't want to be accused of sounding even more like Sandburg, would you?"
When Simon didn't answer, when instead he chose to glare; the deadly one, not the fake deadly one he used when he wasn't really upset but wanted everyone to believe he was, and damn it, now Jim was rambling in his brain.
Enough was enough.
Time to dive into baby buggies, Sandburg and... the Volvo.
"All right, Simon, here goes. It started innocently enough, with going to work--"
"Is this where I'm supposed to say something really clever like, 'Jim, you two go to work five out of seven days a week?"
"Ha-ha - not. And it's more like six or seven days a week but that's not important. What’s important is whether you want this story or not."
"You know damn well what I want. Just skip the extraneous information which, by the way, is just another method of stalling."
"No, honestly, this is important to the...you know..." he fumbled as he tried to come up with the right word, then felt like an ass when he said, "You know, the story. Because it does start with how we went to work. See, Sandburg had an errand to run afterwards, probably Christmas shopping, but that meant taking separate cars, so I was in mine and he was in his--"
"That's what taking separate cars means, Jim. And I thought you were going to stop the extraneous information?"
"Sorry, sorry. But I need to insert something that might seem obvious, but then again - not. For instance, once we got to work and jumped in on the gun-runners operation, we continued taking separate cars."
"All right, I'm ruling in favor of accepting your explanation to the pertinence of that information and trust it'll eventually prove to be... pertinent." Simon then gave him what Jim referred to as the Royal Wave, signifying 'go forth and speak'.
So, he did. "Okay, so on that final trip to the Coast Guard facility, I left first, with Sandburg right behind me. But you know him and how he always thinks he knows the best way to get somewhere--"
Simon nodded. "I'm fully aware of that trait and the fact that he's usually correct."
Trying to hide his discomfiture, Jim ducked his head. "Yeah," he admitted, "probably should've followed him because I got caught in that traffic jam at Fremont and 45th."
The word 'snide' popped into Jim's head at Simon's tone, but since he was the boss Jim decided it'd be best to ignore it and went on. "So obviously Sandburg got there first which is when he remembered I had the pass. Instead of wasting time at the guard gate trying to get them to make a phone call while they searched his car--"
Puzzled, Simon rubbed the back of his neck. "Searched his car? What am I missing here?"
"The Coast Guard was on high alert as part of a three-day exercise, remember? They were searching every car going in and out."
"Shit, yeah. How could I forget? Okay, move on."
Jim got that royal hand wave and was almost tempted to suggest a Knighthood for himself, but then thought better of it and just went on with the story. "So, Sandburg found a parking spot in the Marina, as close to the gate as possible, and settled in to wait for me. And before you ask about calling for clearance, he'd forgotten to charge his phone. So that's the background and you already know what happened with the case; we did our job, spotted the sub, radioed you, flew back, landed, boarded the cutter, got the bad guys, returned to port--"
Simon made the chatter gesture. "Yadda yadda. Just get to the baby buggy part already. I'm aging as you speak."
"Okay, okay. So we're heading out, with me expecting Sandburg to get in the truck with me so I can take him over to his car; but instead he says he'll walk because--don't know if you knew it, but that was the last night of the Marina Festival and Christmas Boutique...."
His voice trailed off thanks to the look Simon gave him, which clearly said he couldn't have given a flying reindeer whether it was the last night of the world, let alone a Christmas festival. So, after making a sound he hoped would generate the idea that he was clearing his throat, Jim cleared his throat and continued. "Anyway, I started to follow him but he waved me on, making that shooing motion, but when I didn't shoo, he said something like, 'You're the one I'm shopping for, so amscray' which was his way of telling me to get the hell out of there because he wanted to find me another gift."
"Yeah, Sandburg's always been that way; clever with words, and you've always been equally clever about picking up on his clues."
Once again Simon's sarcasm wasn't lost on Jim, it was also not lost on him that he should continue to ignore it. "Right. Okay, so Sandburg headed for the boutique tents but suddenly stopped, turned around and ran over to the Volvo. I couldn't figure out why, so I pulled over and waited to see if he'd changed his mind or something. I watched as he opened the door, then lean across the driver's seat. He was obviously reaching for something and, you know me, I could easily see what he was reaching for; his wallet." Jim stopped because he knew what was coming.
"What do you mean his wallet? Even with the pass, he'd need his ID to get into the Coast Guard
"He doesn't keep it in his wallet. Remember, he's got that handmade billfold the--"
"Yeah, yeah, the tribe from wherever, and you’re telling me one of my best detectives leaves his wallet in plain sight on the front seat of his car? Sheesh. But no matter, just go on, Santa's getting edgy."
"It wasn't in plain sight, Simon. It was in his jacket, which was on the front seat of the Volvo. He was reaching in to pull it out, okay?"
Simon made a go-on motion with his hand, a move that was starting to get to Jim, but nevertheless....
"What Blair didn't realize was how, when reaching for his jacket, he'd somehow dislodged the parking brake and, unfortunately, the Volvo was already in neutral--"
Simon closed his eyes in a typical 'tell me it ain't so' gesture, one that almost always pertained to Blair, before asking, "Do I want to know why it was in neutral?"
"It couldn't hurt," Jim said thoughtfully. "Lately, he's been having trouble with the car, specifically getting it out of park. Since he can't leave it in drive, he's been shutting it down in neutral and, of course, setting the parking brake." Jim got to his feet again, mostly because he really didn't think he could get through the next part without something stronger than coffee. As he headed for the kitchen, Simon, who was obviously thinking along the same lines, said, "I'll take whatever you're getting - but make it a double."
Trying to figure out what that double drink should be, Jim stared at the cupboard where they kept their liquor. As he looked at the array of bottles, he remembered Sandburg had put together a batter necessary for the Tom and Jerry's they’d be serving at their Christmas Eve party. Since the hardest part of the drink had been done by his partner, and he’d made enough for a small army, and it was right there in the fridge, he thought, "Why the hell not?" Especially since it was obvious that using some now wouldn’t be noticed later – plus the worst part of the story coming up. Yep, a couple of 'T and Js' was just what the doctor ordered to help the rest of the story go down a little easier. Who knew a couple of T&J's could act as Merlin, waving his magic wand over Simon, in preparation for the rest of the story?
He took down two mugs, got out a sauce pan, then the batter and milk from the fridge and, from the liquor shelf, two different bottles. After pouring enough milk for two into the saucepan, he set it on low and, while the milk was warming, put the two mugs in the microwave to heat them up as well – a trick Sandburg taught him a few Christmases ago.
Being careful to watch the milk, he pulled the now-warmed mugs out of the microwave, added a heaping tablespoon of the batter into each, then an ounce each of dark rum and brandy. Remembering Simon's order to make it a double, he added a dash more alcohol into each. At times like this, his senses came in handy because he knew the exact moment the milk hit the perfect temperature. Taking it off the heat, he poured the warmed milk over the liquor/batter combination and stirred gently before adding a dash of nutmeg. It was, after all, the holiday season and nutmeg was SOP this time of year. Besides, according to Sandburg, no respectable T&J would be caught dead without the spice.
Mugs in hand, he headed back to the living room, somewhat surprised Simon hadn't said a word the entire time he was in the kitchen. Curious, he walked over to the couch and handed the mug down to his friend, who took it eagerly. He was just about to inquire into Simon's strange silence when Simon chose that moment to break it.
"I haven't had a Tom and Jerry in years. I could smell the batter the minute you took it out of the fridge," he said, even as he closed his eyes dreamily and took in the scent of the fragrant drink.
Jim looked warily at his friend and, incredulous, asked, "You smelled the batter?"
Simon savored his first sip before finally swallowing and, eyes still closed, answered, "Don't be ridiculous. Sandburg told me a week ago he'd made up a large amount in preparation for the party. And, being a detective with a keen sense of hearing, albeit not as good as yours, I cleverly put two and two together and came up with," he held up the mug, "this, which, by the way, is delicious. Sandburg's a magician when it comes to recreating drinks from my era. And it's definitely well worth sitting through the rest of the story - which, by the way, I'm beginning to regret ever having asked about in the first place."
Hope blooming in his heart, Jim asked, "So no need to finish then?"
Looking up from his drink, he asked, "Do I look like Santa Claus to you, Ellison?"
Jim took a sip of his own T&J, felt its warming magic, and immediately took another one for good measure before saying, "There are times, Simon, when I could easily mistake you for the jolly--"
Seeing the warning look Simon was giving him over the rim of his mug, Jim quickly switched gears. "I'll stop there since you always present the strong and imposing figure of a great leader." Satisfied he'd done the job of placating his boss and friend, it was probably time to return to the job at hand - because, despite his placating words, Simon didn't look like anybody's version of Santa.
"...Sandburg shut the door not realizing he'd dislodged the parking brake. Under normal circumstances, everything might have been fine...but he'd chosen one of the few parking spots in the new front row."
"What am I missing? What's wrong with the new front row? It faces the water."
"True." He stopped long enough to finish off his drink before adding, "You remember how last year they had to redo the parking lot after that huge storm surge?" At Simon's nod and, despite the fact he seemed more interested in the Tom and Jerry than the parking lot, Jim nevertheless continued. "In redoing it, they decided to raise that aisle up, thus placing the row on an incline. That accomplished two things; first, it created what they hoped would be a buffer against another possible surge, and second, it allowed an even better view--"
"Don't worry, I got that part," Simon murmured. "Go on. I'm starting to get a feel for the story now."
"Oh, right," Jim said, somewhat dubiously. Maybe he shouldn't have added the extra booze? Oh, well, too late now. "Okay, so Sandburg started walking back towards the tents and yes, as you'd expect, the Volvo started rolling back. Since I'd 'moved along' as directed by Sandburg, I was near the exit by then so nowhere near close enough to do any good, not even to yell. Not that he’d have heard over the kids, Christmas music, carolers, and--"
Simon waved the royal hand in the air, again signifying those details were unnecessary. Jim was beginning to think that hand had a life of its own. He scratched the back of his head and really gave thought to getting another Tom and Jerry, but damn it, he needed to finish this damn story.
"As much as I'd love another T and J," Simon said, once again eerily echoing what Jim had just been thinking, "I'm on the edge of my seat here."
He wasn't of course, but Jim got the message. "Okay, so even though I couldn't yell, there was someone who could, and he did. Naturally Blair turned around, but there wasn't really anything he could do. Not that he didn't try. He started running back to his car, probably with some idea of jumping in and slamming his foot down on the brake, or at least reaching in and pulling the brake."
"Ah, so that's how he was hurt," Simon deduced. "Anyone could have told him trying to get into a moving car could be dangerous. He's lucky not to have been run over by the Volvo."
Simon's voice sounded mellow, something Jim chalked up to the drink. He just wished he didn't have to ruin the man's mellow mood. "Well, that's not exactly how it happened."
At his words, Simon looked only mildly curious. Jim thanked God for the holiday drink. In fact, he was considering making Simon another one - until the mellow man asked, "So, what did happen?"
So much for that idea. Jim took a deep breath and drove back in one more time. "Well, you remember the guy who yelled--"
"It was only a minute ago, and I'm not that mellow, so yes, I remember. Go-o-n."
Based on Simon doing a sing-song version of the last part, Jim decided he was that mellow - but he went on anyway. "Okay, so the guy yelled that a car was rolling backward and people started to panic--"
"As is perfectly natural," Simon interjected pleasantly.
Jim nodded even as he gave Simon a worried look. Maybe he shouldn't have added the extra alcohol after all. Shaking the thought off, he went on - yet again. "People started to look wildly around and there was this lady with a baby buggy--"
"Ah, finally, the baby buggy."
"Uh, yeah, finally. Well, she panicked, whipped around to see where the rolling car was and, in doing so, let go of the buggy--"
Suddenly a hell of a lot less mellow, Simon shot forward, but before he could say a word, Jim just held up a hand. "Let me finish, Simon. In the name of all things holy, just let me finish."
Frowning, Simon sat back and waited.
"Blair and I saw the danger at the same time; the buggy was headed straight for the Volvo."
"All right, I'm confused." Simon rubbed his temples. "Give me the logistics here. I get the Volvo's position but, since that row is now on an incline, his car should be rolling straight back and either hit the car directly across the aisle and if no car, then the divider between the aisles. And was the lady walking down the same aisle and, if so, I don't see how...okay, as I said, I'm confused."
Jim rubbed the back of his neck as he tried to figure out how to explain everything. "Okay, picture that part of the lot; it's the corner lot at the end of what they call Restaurant Row, right?"
Simon nodded. "Right. And it's triangular instead of square or rectangular like the other lots within the Marina. Got it."
"Plus, there are six aisles running north-south and six going east-west, and yes, that's important," Jim quickly reassured before 'The Hand' could make another appearance. "And you're right, the Volvo should have rolled straight back, but it didn't. As for the lady with the baby buggy, she was walking down the aisle that ran opposite the Volvo and Blair was one aisle over from her when he realized the rolling car was his and that a baby buggy had been released.
"And before you ask, the Volvo didn't roll straight back...it kind of…you know...turned." Jim, to replicate the Volvo's movement for Simon, gestured with his hand. "Apparently, when renovating the lot, they also put in a slight slope so any water that might come over, would flow down and towards the newly-installed drain, all of which was painfully obvious once the car became a runaway. And of course, with a baby buggy, there's no predicting its course. Hell, a pebble on the asphalt could alter its direction."
He stopped a moment before adding thoughtfully, "You know, actually that slope was lucky because the tents were at the other end of the parking lot, lined up east to west, but the Volvo was headed south. On the other hand, and unfortunately, so was the baby buggy."
Simon sat forward again, all signs of his mellow mood gone. "So, what, Blair got between the Volvo and the baby buggy; pushed it out of the way?"
"Not...precisely. Okay, so we've got the Volvo going backwards and down, we've got the baby buggy doing the same. Now picture the parking lot again; specifically, the special driveway for delivery trucks - the one that comes up from Canal Street?" At Simon's urgent nod, Jim continued. "Yeah, well, a large truck chose that moment to come up the incline into the parking lot. It was one of those rent-a-tent trucks, coming for the tents once the festival ended."
"Oh, shit," Simon uttered in disbelief.
Jim nodded in agreement. "Yeah, that's what I said when I heard it coming." He shook off the memory and went on. "Against all odds, the Volvo suddenly turned again and right into the path of the truck and, also against all odds, the baby buggy hit a bump, which changed its trajectory – also right into the path of the truck. The only thing that didn't turn… was the truck."
"What do you mean he didn't turn?" Simon asked angrily.
Considering that Simon looked as angry as he sounded, Jim was grateful the truck driver was nowhere near them at that moment. "I mean, Simon, that he didn't turn, but if you'll recall the driveway, you'll remember it's one lane, going only one-way, and that way is up. It's got the wall on each side, so there’s no way to turn--"
Simon jumped to his feet. "Well, damn it, man, tell me he at least stopped!" As quickly as his anger burst forth, it was just as quickly contained. He immediately sat back down, wiped his forehead and said, "I know damn well Sandburg wasn't hit by any truck, so this is me calming down. Just finish the story."
"Yes, well, okay then. So, we have the truck, the baby buggy and the Volvo, all on a collision course, with Blair running straight for the whole thing in his effort to save the baby. The truck driver couldn't see the baby buggy, and he couldn't know that the Volvo was driverless, so he was angry as hell and started honking his horn even as he revved up the engine. And before you ask, he was honking in order to get the attention of a driver he thought was behind the wheel. The noise of the revved engine was meant to scare Sandburg, who he could see and probably thought was a crazy nut.
"That's when Blair made his move. The truck driver was oblivious to the facts and still moving and, at that point, it was a toss-up as to whether the truck or the Volvo would hit the baby buggy. As it turned out, the Volvo won, but not the way you think.” He paused then and swiped a hand over his face before saying, "I tell you, Simon, I saw it, but still don't believe any of it. First, and I'm not entirely sure how Sandburg did it, he jumped a couple of the dividers and even a parked car, sliding across it like stuntman, you know, like on those TV crime shows?"
At another urgent nod of understanding from Simon, Jim continued. "I swear, Simon, no Olympic hurdler could have done better. When he hit the ground again, he did a kind of," Jim made a little circular motion with his finger, "pirouette; the only word that adequately describes the move, and don't say it, because yes, I agree, its use falls under the category of Sandburgian Influence."
"You're forgiven for the use of 'pirouette'. Now what the hell happened next?"
"Somehow Blair managed to - miraculously - snag the baby buggy from behind. It was just bad luck that the angry truck driver accelerated--"
"Accelerated!?" Simon almost squeaked out the word in a mixture of horror and anger.
"You need to remember the guy thought someone was behind the wheel of the Volvo. He figured they'd get out of the way if they saw his truck thundering towards them. And yeah, 'thundering' might be a slight exaggeration, considering it was a huge truck going uphill...maybe lumbering's more accurate, but still...." This time he got not only the Royal Wave, but the rolling eyes. He moved on. "So just when I thought Blair had it, the truck reached the top, its front bumper clipped the Volvo, which in turn swerved again, and its rear bumper clipped the buggy."
"Oh my God," Simon whispered in horror.
"No, Sandburg," Jim corrected. "He somehow managed to keep hold of the buggy." Before Simon could relax too much Jim hurriedly added, "Unfortunately, the truck driver, who could now see the baby buggy, went for the brakes, but in his panic, hit the accelerator instead--"
Simon jumped to his feet. "What!? What the hell's wrong with that idiot? He's a professional truck driver, for crissakes, he should have seen everything to begin with because he's a fucking professional with special fucking training!"
Jim waved him down. "Simon, we're talking about the past - hello?"
Simon gave him a less-than-reassuring look but grudgingly retook his seat, then rather stubbornly crossed his arms over his chest and waited.
The body language wasn't lost on Jim, but since finishing the decorating, that's all he'd been doing - just one long series of 'going on' and 'continuing' but never finishing. He had this horrible feeling that New Year's would come and go before he ever got to the point of the story and, unless he wanted to make that prophecy come true, he'd better...yeah, continue.
"Okay, Sandburg still has the baby buggy, is pulling it towards him and out of the way of the truck." At Simon's expression, Jim warned, "Don't say anything else about the driver hitting the accelerator instead of the brake, it's over and trust me, the poor guy felt terrible, okay?"
Simon simply held up both hands in surrender before waving Jim on to finish what had officially become "The Never-Ending-Baby Buggy-Bumper-Volvo-Truck Story."
"Sandburg got the buggy safely out of the way, but then something odd happened--"
"Oh, so everything up to now hasn't been odd?" Simon asked, his sarcasm back to full strength.
Jim chose to ignore him and went on as if nothing else had been said. "Because when he pulled, he naturally pulled hard, fully expecting to pull it into himself. But instead, the buggy went flying and...at the same moment, the truck hit the Volvo, which sent it back towards Blair. No one else was close enough to help; the woman was frozen in place and, while I was out of the truck and running as fast as possible, I knew there was no way in hell I'd get to him in time."
As he felt the emotion of that moment return, Jim found himself unable to go on and badly in need of another drink, and he didn't mean a Tom and Jerry. Picking up his mug, he got to his feet. "Sorry, Simon, but I've got to... to get something. Just… just hang on, I need another drink; a stiff one."
Simon's response was to simply lift his mug as Jim walked by him. He took it and, just as he entered the kitchen, heard Simon's muttered, "Make mine a double whatever."
Jim didn't even have to think twice. He took down the Lagavulin 16-year-old Single Malt Scotch -- a gift from his dad after hearing he and Sandburg were getting hitched. His father had handed it to him and, after unwrapping it, said, "I figure with Sandburg as a life-partner, you'll need it."
Oddly enough, his father's remark had nothing to do with the press conference. No, Dad had come to like Sandburg a great deal and, in coming to like him, he’d gotten to know him well – well enough to understand his son would need the Scotch. Jim had never said his father wasn't a smart man. He'd said many other things during the years when they'd been less than close, but he'd never said that.
Now he opened the bottle, poured two fingers worth in each mug - then added another two even as he vaguely wondered how a great single malt would taste when mingled with the vestiges of the Tom and Jerrys. Not that he cared. In reaching for the cap - Jim was surprised to find his hands shaking. Chalking it up to sense memory, he glanced at the bottle of Scotch - picked it up, took a healthy swig, replaced the top and then stuck it under his arm before picking up the two mugs. And no, he didn't give a damn that he'd just drunk straight out of the bottle. He walked back into the living room, handing off Simon's mug on his way to Blair's favorite chair. Once seated, he and Simon looked at each other, lifted their mugs, did an in-the-air clink and, to Simon's "Down the hatch," they did just that.
When Simon finished, he cocked his head slightly and said, after licking his lips, "Interesting flavor. Not necessarily bad, either."
Jim had to agree. Not bad at all...but not one he necessarily wanted to repeat anytime soon. He sat the mug and bottle down on the table next to him and asked, "Ready for the rest?"
Simon put his legs up on the coffee table, crossed them at the ankles, put his hands behind his head, fingers locked, and said, "Have at it."
"And mellow was back; let's hear it for mellow,” Jim thought even as he cleared his throat and waded back into the story that would seemingly never end.
"...and Blair realized what was happening; that he'd somehow lost control of the baby buggy, which was still in the air. Things were flying all over the place - and then Blair realized the Volvo was spinning towards him--"
"The truck, what about the truck?"
Jim made a downward motion with his hand. "I'm getting to that. One thing at a time." He shifted around in the chair to get more comfortable before going on, which he didn't have a chance to do because Simon had another question; the same question - almost.
"But the truck. How could the Volvo be spinning backwards towards Blair? And at what point did the truck stop? Did the Volvo spin past and then do a 360?" Suddenly Simon's expression went from demanding curiosity to horror. "Oh, hell, I forgot about the baby, what about the baby? Don't tell me he didn't get to the baby in time?"
Jim shook his head, not so much as a response but more in resignation. With a trace of exasperation in his voice, he said, "You think this is easy, trying to relive it and get all the pieces in the right places? Just... just don't ask any more questions, all right? I'm almost finished if you'll just let me concentrate and get it out." He glanced down at the bottom of scotch. "But first," he picked up the Scotch, took another healthy swallow, then wiped his lips. He refused to look at Simon, who was undoubtedly wiggling his fingers, signaling his desire for the bottle, but one of them had to stay sober and his vote went to Simon. He took what had to have been his twentieth deep breath since starting - yet again - to finish the story of....
Wait, what? Puzzled, Jim scratch the top of his head, as if he could scratch the answer off... oh, yeah. Sandburg. He sat back in the chair, bottle firmly grasped in his hand. "So, back to where we were... where we are... whatever. Anyway, as the cab swung...in whatever--"
"Cab? What cab? When did a cab show up in the parking lot?" Simon looked not only puzzled but really, really, thirsty, which might explain why he was suddenly walking towards Jim, eyes fixed on the bottle of Scotch.
Deciding to be unselfish, he held it out and, as Simon took it, said very slowly, "I don't mean a taxi cab, Simon. I mean the cab of the truck. It jack-knifed, remember?"
Simon was - sipping would be too polite a description – but guzzling was perfect. Simon was guzzling Jim's Scotch. At least he knew now what to ask his father for Christmas this year.
Having quenched his thirst, he was headed back to the couch – with Jim’s bottle – which was quite obviously not coming back Jim's way. After retaking his seat, Simon offered the now familiar hand-wave.
With a roll of his eyes, Jim said, "Right. Okay, so the trailer swung at the same time the Volvo slid back and kind of... you know, hit the Volvo, shoving it into the embankment - the wall between the beach and the parking lot. At the same time, Blair, thank God, tripped over a water sprinkler--"
"Whoa," Simon interrupted, "where did a water sprinkler come from and why 'thank God', for crying out loud? He fell!”
"Oh, you know him. He'd try something stupid and probably get squished like his car. And yeah, I know squished isn't exactly police talk, but his car was squished and if he hadn’t tripped, he’d suffered the same fate so yeah, thank God, okay? I gotta tell you, Simon, you've never heard anything like that sound."
Simon gave a little nod of understanding before saying, "And the Court accepts the word squished."
"Why, thank you. I appreciate that." Jim wasn't so far gone that he wasn't aware he and Simon were drunk as skunks. Suddenly he asked, "Where the hell does that expression come from, anyway?"
Simon asked the obvious. "What expression?"
"You know, 'drunk as skunks'?"
"Ah, yes." He reached for his jacket, pulled out a pocket notebook and pen from the inside pocket and, flipping the pad open, started scribbling. When done, he replaced them and grinned kind of lopsidedly at him.
"A note to myself to ask Sandburg about that expression. If I don't write it down, I won't remember tomorrow when we pick him up."
"Wow, I'm in... I'm... you know, that was good thinking for a guy who makes a drunk skunk look sober."
Simon gave him another lopsided grin. "Nice try, Sentinel boy. Finish the story."
Jim decided to let 'Sentinel boy' fly by while praying Simon would forget he'd said it by tomorrow. "Don't worry," he assured. "The finish line's in sight."
Simon gave a little half-hearted fist pump. "Yippee. Oh, and by the way, I'm betting Sandburg was injured by a hoard of angry sprinklers."
Jim shook his head. "No, no sprinklers. It was the baby buggy," Jim said rather sadly.
Simon slapped his forehead. "Oh my God, I forgot about the baby buggy and baby - again." He shook his head before adding, "So Blair got hurt saving the baby."
Simon's voice was so soft and full of wonder, Jim almost hated having to tell him the truth; but truth was truth, so he said, "There was no baby, Simon. That damn buggy was full of presents."
At Simon's dumbfounded look – and at least Jim now knew exactly what ‘dumbfounded’ looked like – he explained, "She’d borrowed the buggy from her sister, who wasn't using it any longer because her kid's nine. Anyway, she thought it'd not only get her a seat on the bus but would hold all of the stuff from the boutique." Jim then held up his right hand and started to tick off Sandburg's injuries one by one: "He injured his back when he hit the ground; his ankle when making contact with the sprinkler; his shoulder, ribs and head were thanks to the baby buggy’s landing on top of him, and his wrist and facial laceration were thanks to the items that fell out of the baby buggy. The only good thing was that between the noise and trying to fend off all the crap falling out of the buggy, Sandburg didn't see or hear the death of the Volvo."
At last, Jim relaxed into the chair, satisfied that he was finally done. He felt as though a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders – weight like maybe that of a baby buggy. A few quiet moments drifted happily by - until Jim realized there was a weird sound coming from nearby. He blinked a couple of times only to see Simon's fingers two inches from his face and snapping repeatedly. He reached out and grabbed them in order to stop the infernal noise.
"What the hell are you doing?" he asked even as Simon pulled his hand out of Jim's.
"You were zoning," Simon answered as a flexed his slightly numb fingers.
"No, I wasn't. "
"Yes, you were," Simon snapped back.
Simon's eyes narrowed dangerously. "You were zoning, and I don't want to hear another word about it. Understood?"
"Still say I wasn't."
"And unless I'm mistaken, that was another word – four to be exact. But in order to satisfy you; I've been standing here snapping my fingers in front of your face for five minutes. Is that proof enough? Or should I call Sandburg?"
Truly surprised, Jim repeated, "Five minutes?"
Simon waived a hand in front of his face. You heard me; five minutes."
Looking truly sorry, Jim lowered his head. "I guess seeing it all again, well, you know... although if it weren't so horrible... it'd be kind of--"
"I think the word you're looking for is funny," Simon offered helpfully.
Jim lifted his head and looked up into Simon's smiling face. "Yeah, funny, in that, 'slip-on-a-banana-peel, Three-Stooges' kind of way."
"More like the Sandburg kind of way," Simon added. "After all, this could only have happened to him."
"Very true." He gave a nod to the Scotch, which was sitting on the coffee table. "You want to get that? I could use a bit more." At Simon's doubtful look, he added, "I'm not the one who has to drive home – and speaking of driving – you’re welcome to stay the night."
Considering how much he'd had to drink already, the alacrity with which Simon moved to get the bottle was damn Olympic-worthy.
The Christmas lights were on and there was a small fire in the fireplace. That loft looked cozy and quiet with both men enjoying complete relaxation for the first time that evening. What was left of the Scotch was back in the cupboard, and the mugs had been washed, dried and put away. Suddenly the comfortable silence was broken by Simon. "So the Volvo's really dead?"
"The word 'completely' was superfluous--"
Jim grinned and said, "Don't forget extraneous."
A few more minutes passed before Simon spoke again, with a softness generally reserved for Sandburg. "Does he understand it's truly gone?"
"Yeah. I tried to shield him when getting everything off him, but he saw it, so yeah, he knew immediately that it was a write-off. His expression isn't one I want to see again. And then telling him there was no baby in the baby buggy? Not my best moment, but damn, he was looking around, a terrible dazed look on his face, so how could I not tell him, you know? Hell, I thought it’d make him feel better. And it did…but damn--"
"Yeah, damn. The Volvo died for nothing." Simon's voice was flat.
"That's pretty much what Blair said - later. But then I pointed out the logistics behind everything that happened, how if it had happened any other way, if just one thing had been different – well, Blair could have been killed by the truck."
Simon sighed heavily. "So no car for the kid."
Suddenly grinning, Jim got to his feet. "Follow me. Got something to show you."
"Where the fuck are we going?" Simon complained once they were out on the sidewalk. It was cold, and he wasn’t a happy man.
"The garage across the street. Hang in there."
"Garage? You guys have a garage now?"
"Belongs to a friend of mine, he's letting me use it since he's spending the holidays with his family in Vancouver."
When they reached the building, Jim unlocked it and pulled up the garage door. He took one step in, reached for the light, and finding it, flipped it on.
The shape under the tarp told Simon it was clearly a car. With a stunnded expression on his face, he walked around it before finally saying, "Oh my God, you bought him another Volvo." When Jim didn't answer, he asked, "Where in the hell did you find another one?"
Smiling much like a canary who's outwitted the cat, Jim removed the cover… and was thoroughly satisfied by Simon's shocked gasp.
End Part 2
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