Trick or Treat
by Jamie Ritchey
Summary: Pre-Halloween treat. Originally published in Sentry Duty 3, available from Agent With Style. Rated PG. Spoilers: A teensy one for Survival.
Disclaimer: The Sentinel and its characters are the property of Pet Fly and Paramount. No copyright infringement is intended.
"Sandburg! It's 1:00AM! Do you know where your bed is? I know where mine is, and it definitely isn't here!"
They were so close to the loft that Detective James Ellison could practically smell it as he trudged wearily behind his partner through the automatic doors into the 24 hour Wal-Drug megastore. Blair had insisted on stopping "for just a minute" on their way home from an exhausting, eighteen hour day. Jim had worked his hyper-active senses to the limit keeping tabs on a serial arsonist, listening to his phone conversations, watching has he made the rounds of what had to be every electronics and chemical supply store in Cascade. Jim's ability to detect the scent of accelerant at the arsonist's final destination had allowed the Cascade PD to catch him in the act of trying to torch a warehouse full of computers.
The unrelenting use of Jim's senses had left him with a pounding headache, eyes burning like they had been scratched with sandpaper, and ears that had only just recently stopped ringing. Blair had yanked him back from an incipient zone so many times that his head felt like that little rubber ball attached to a paddle, the kind that kids played with. All it would have taken was one more bounce and the elastic string would have snapped. Jim had a momentary flash of Blair with a catcher's mitt trying to catch his head as it ricocheted all over the inside of his truck.
Jim groaned and rubbed his forehead. Oh great, when did his life become a cartoon? This made it official, he had gone way beyond tired, all the way to goofy. The only thing Jim's stress-fogged brain wanted to concentrate on was going home, having a quick beer and a shower, then hitting the sack like the ton of bricks his worn-out muscles had become.
But Nooo! Here he was, in the middle of the night, shopping for Halloween candy.
Before Blair had moved into the loft, Jim had never really noticed how many children actually lived in his area. Last 4th of July, Blair had dragged him to a celebration at a park a few blocks from the loft. It was little more that a square block of trees and benches that the city had set up, after clearing out an abandoned building. A parade of kids in all shapes and sizes had marched past him swirling sparklers in the air, the biggest kid of the bunch his irrepressible roommate. Blair's childlike enthusiasm had opened his eyes to a lot of things. But right now, Jim was so tired that just keeping his eyes open was getting to be a big problem.
As Blair led the way through the store, he absent-mindedly smoothed down the hair on the back of his head. Jim took perverse pleasure in thinking that perhaps Blair could feel the laser-glare from his partner's eyes drilling into the back of his head. Blair turned slightly toward the figure stalking behind him and raised his hands in a placating gesture.
"Lighten up, Jim. This will only take a couple of minutes. Tomorrow's Halloween and candy-wise, the cupboard is bare." He turned on his best pleading puppy expression. "You don't want to disappoint all the little trick or treaters, do you?"
"And whose fault is it that we're out," Jim grumbled, stumbling on rubbery legs through the store behind him. "I spent twenty bucks on candy just two weeks ago, and now it's totally gone. Did you think I couldn't smell the chocolate you were stuffing in your backpack every morning?"
"Hey! There were a few suspicious looking bulges in your pockets, too," Blair answered with a cheeky grin while making a beeline for the seasonal merchandise aisle.
It just wasn't fair, Jim thought uncharitably. Blair had been with Jim every hour of the stakeout, but still had the energy to go shopping on the way home. As they finally arrived at their destination, Jim almost collided with Blair as his friend stopped short with a groan.
"Oh, man! This place looks like the tooth fairy went after it with a weedwhacker."
The left side of the aisle was a precarious jumble of misplaced Halloween decorations with bits and pieces of costumes strewn throughout the mess. A plastic werewolf mask grimaced at them from the floor. A long black wig with a white stripe through it was draped over an almost empty box of orange and black candles, giving Jim the impression that Lily Munster was winking at him.
The right side, which had been stuffed to overflowing with bags of candy for months, was now almost completely bare. The few remaining bags sat on the shelves, limp and desolate in their solitude.
Jim braced his hands on his hips, an 'I told you so' expression on his face. Snatching a bag of orange and black wrapped blobs, he dangled it in Blair's face. "Looks like the neighbor kids are going to be stuck with these stupid peanut butter thingies."
"No way, man!" Blair objected, waving his hands in front of the bag as if warding off evil spirits. "I refuse to inflict those cement mounds from hell on their innocent little teeth. Once you bite down on one of those glue-like globs, you can't get it out without bringing a baby tooth with it."
Pushing the offensive offering away, Blair squatted down to check the lower shelves, then grinned up at Jim. "Yes! I knew being a little lower to the ground would pay off. There's some of the good stuff still down here. It must have been pushed to the back where most people wouldn't be able to see it."
As Blair stretched out his hand to grab some of the goodies he'd unearthed, he glanced up at Jim. "Why don't you see if Hazel is working in the pharmacy tonight? We can pay for our stuff back there and give her a shock when she sees we're actually in here without a prescription from the emergency room."
"Okay, Chief," Jim agreed with a little laugh. "It's kinda embarrassing that we've been here so often, we're on a first name basis with the pharmacist."
Hazel Vincent, a middle-aged pharmacist with a grandmotherly attitude toward her patients, had somehow been on duty almost every time they had needed a prescription from their too numerous trips to Cascade General. After awhile, she had started to take a personal interest in their welfare. When Blair had been recovering from being shot helping to rescue Simon Banks from Dawson Quinn, she had even called the loft to check up on him. They had a running argument going about Blair's reluctance to take anything he considered 'unnatural'.
Blair stood up and brushed off his pants legs. "Hey, maybe she's got some new pictures of her granddaughter." Arms laden with bags of Hershey's Kisses and Snickers Bite Size Bars, Blair started to walk toward the back of the store when Jim grabbed his shoulder, stopping him abruptly. Startled, Blair turned around to find Jim standing ramrod straight, the familiar tilt of his head showing that he was intently listening to something only a Sentinel could hear.
"What's happening?" Blair asked nervously. Instead of answering, Jim pulled out his cell-phone and punched in the speed dial number for dispatch.
"This is Detective Ellison. I need backup at the Wal-Drug on the corner of Prospect and Vermont. Robbery in progress." Jim grabbed Blair's arm before he could take off for the back of the store without him. After listening for a moment, Jim said into the phone, "Tell them to come in silent. There's only one perp, but he's armed and nervous. So far, he doesn't know he's been spotted and I don't want to spook him." Jim snapped the phone closed and returned it to his pocket.
"Jim, what are we gonna do? Is Hazel okay?" Blair dropped the candy bags on the nearest shelf and started to tiptoe toward the pharmacy, but Jim turned him around and dragged him toward the small office by the front door.
"So far, she's okay. The perp's only interested in drugs. She's kept her head and is cooperating, just like she's supposed to," Jim said, trying to reassure his friend as much as himself. The office was empty, so Jim stepped inside to check out the monitors for the cameras positioned throughout the store.
"You cannot go in there!" challenged the clerk working the front register, a dark-haired, middle aged man with a heavy Indian accent. After Jim flashed his badge and explained what was going on, the clerk left them in the office to get the assistant manager from the stockroom. The cameras picked up only one other customer in the store. He was browsing through the greeting cards and was far enough away to be safe for now. The camera angle in the pharmacy was unhelpful. Jim could barely see Hazel standing part way into a set of shelves, the thief behind her, only their left sides visible to the camera.
Jim watched the manager approach the customer and escort him to the front door, then hustle out behind him with the clerk. With them safely outside, Jim led Blair back to the pharmacy, silently creeping down one of the far aisles along the side wall.
A mirror mounted high on the wall gave Jim a fish-eye view of what was around the corner from their position. He could see the top of Hazel's head, her brown hair just barely showing above a tall vitamin section that took up the entire front of the pharmacy area. When he inched a little closer, the angle improved enough that he could see into the pharmacy. Hazel was standing halfway inside a bay of shelves, the thief beside her, anxiously watching her fill a plastic shopping bag with the drugs from an unlocked cabinet inset into the shelves. He was short and thin and skittish, wearing grimy jeans and a tattered flannel shirt that hung loosely open over a worn out t-shirt. His greasy brown hair stuck out in spikes all over his head. The gun in his left hand was twitching slightly. Every few seconds 'Spike' would bark out the name of a drug and Hazel would tell him that it was already in the bag.
Blair tugged on Jim's sleeve, dragging his attention back to him. "Can you see what's going on?" he whispered, his voice cracking, his eyes strained from trying to see what Jim easily picked-up in the mirror.
Jim put his hand on Blair's shoulder. "Looks like he's about ready to bolt."
"What?! Backup's not here yet!" Blair clutched the front of Jim's jacket. "You can't let him leave!"
"I'm hoping he'll take off alone, leaving Hazel in the pharmacy. I can jump him before he gets to the front door without anyone getting hurt." Jim pulled Blair's hands loose and turned back to watching the thief.
"What if he brings Hazel with him as a hostage? What if he hurts her before he leaves?" Blair demanded. "We need to stop him now!"
Jim placed a steadying hand behind Blair's neck and pointed to the pharmacy department with the other. "I can't get close without him seeing me," Jim explained. "He's a junkie and he's so strung out I can smell it on him. If I go charging in there, he's liable to start shooting."
Studying the layout of the pharmacy, Jim couldn't see any cover to allow him to sneak inside. Nearest to them was a door, followed by a large open window set at a diagonal to the pharmacy area with enough counter space for two cash registers. The floor in front of the pick-up window was open and uncluttered except for a few chairs for patients to use while they waited for their prescriptions to be filled. At the other end of the pharmacy, there was a smaller window with a sign that read 'Drop-Off' hanging over it. A small sign at the drop-off window said 'Please Use Other Window'. The narcotic cabinet that Hazel was hastily emptying was behind the bins full of filled prescriptions, only a few steps from the cash registers.
Jim squeezed Blair's neck, turning Blair's head toward him to make sure he had his full attention. "I'm going to circle around and try to sneak in through the drop-off window." He stabbed a commanding finger in Blair's face. "Stay put!" He backed away and began to move down the cross aisle that would take him around to the other end of the pharmacy.
When he reached the end of the aisle closest to the pick-up window, he peeked out, checking if Blair was where he left him. He watched as Blair ran his hands through his long, curly hair, a habit he had when he was frustrated or angry. Blair was probably worried that Jim was just too big not to attract attention coming through that small window, no matter how good he was at sneaky covert-ops maneuvers. He imagined he could hear the wheels spinning in his partners inventive mind as he tried to come up with something to help. The stubborn kid must have come to a decision because he silently snapped his fingers, a determined look settling on his face.
Before Jim could do anything to stop him, Blair glanced around the end stand to make sure that 'Spike' wasn't looking in his direction, then scooted forward, hugging the back wall until he reached the pick-up window. Ducking down below the level of the counter, he crawled stealthily under the opening, stopping in the middle of the vitamin section. He ran his fingers up and down the shelves, searching through the various selections. Spotting what he wanted, Blair grabbed two bottles, took a steadying breath and stood up. Jim looked on in horror as Blair walked up to the pick-up window and dropped the bottles on the counter with a noisy clatter.
"Excuse me," Blair said, unnecessarily loud. Startled, both Hazel and 'Spike' swung around to stare at the intruder. Jim had to consciously hold himself back from jumping to his partner's side. 'Spike' seemed to be buying Blair's innocuous customer act, so Jim decided to let it play out.
Blair leaned forward, an inquisitive look on his face. "Is the pharmacist here? I need some advice on these over-the-counter medicines."
Blair waved one of the bottles in the air while pointing at it with his other hand like some manic game show host. Hazel gaped at him, her eyes showing both fear and hope when she realized she wasn't alone anymore. She automatically took a step toward him, but 'Spike' grabbed her arm, roughly holding her in place. Jim could hear the thief's heart racing faster as his panic started to kick in.
Jim didn't waste any time using the opening Blair had given him. While 'Spike' was so involved with Blair, Jim sneaked up to the drop-off window and silently climbed through it while listening to Blair babble on about the merits of natural remedies.
"Could you come and take a look at these?" Blair prattled on persistently. He flashed Hazel a blinding smile. "I've been having a lot of trouble sleeping. It's been a problem my whole life. Burning the candle at both ends, you know," he said, rolling his eyes. "Just can't get the gray cells to shut down for a little rest and restoration. I don't believe in putting unnatural chemicals in my body, so I was wondering if some of these natural herbal concoctions would help. Which one do you think would be the best for me to take?"
Gesturing with a bottle in each hand and holding them just far enough away so that she would have to step forward to see, he pressed on with his spiel. "I've heard that Valerian was good, but some friends of mine were telling me about Melatonin. What do you recommend?"
"Look, man," 'Spike' spit out, his raspy voice wavering with agitation. He nodded toward the front of the store. "We're busy. Come back later."
"What?" Blair snapped, the picture of incredulous outrage. "I'm a customer and I demand some service!" he said, waving his arms around, upsetting a display of hearing aid batteries on the counter and sending it crashing to the floor.
'Spike' finally lost his tenuous control on his patience. He stepped around Hazel toward Blair, raising his gun, but Jim had managed to creep up behind him unnoticed during Blair's tirade. Jim grabbed the hand holding the gun and slammed it down on his knee. Spike lost his grip and the gun went tumbling to the floor. Jim spun Spike around and threw a mighty right fist into the thief's chin. As Spike's legs started to sag, Jim grabbed him and laid him down, face first on the floor, pulling his hands behind him. Slapping handcuffs in place on Spike's wrists, the detective snarled, "Trick or treat, scumbag. Our trick on you has been a real treat."
Jim had heard the pounding of hurried steps and creaking of leather holsters from two uniformed officers who had arrived during the action. Since there was no room in the pharmacy for anyone else to move freely, they had been watching from the pick-up window, ready to step in if needed. When Jim had the perp under control, they moved in to take him into custody and read him his rights. Jim glanced at their name badges, then jerked 'Spike' to his feet.
"Here you go, Lewis. I'll get you my paperwork tomorrow." Lewis, a seasoned officer that Jim had known for a long time, took 'Spike' by the arm and led him out the pharmacy door. Freed from his charge, Jim looked around for his partner.
Jim had heard Blair jump the counter as soon as he saw Jim making his move. He had grabbed Hazel, steering her outside the pharmacy. Jim found them sitting in the chairs in the waiting area, Blair was holding Hazel's shaking hands. When Jim sat down on her other side, she enfolded him in a warm, smothering hug.
Reaching out with her other arm, Hazel included Blair in the hug. "Thank you, thank you, thank you! I've never been so scared in my whole life." Jim hugged her back, then gently loosened her death-grip. Giving her a self-conscious grin, he said, "Just doing my job."
Lewis' rookie partner, Bartlett had returned from securing 'Spike' in their squad car, so Jim motioned him over. Helping Hazel to her feet, he said, "This officer is going to take your statement. You did great tonight, Hazel. If you need anything, just let me or Blair know."
After handing Hazel over to Bartlett, Jim turned around, crossed his arms and glared at his partner.
"What did you think you were doing?!"
"C'mon, Jim. There's no way you could have gotten close without a distraction. It worked, didn't it?" Blair grinned impishly. "Besides, I knew you had it covered," he said, giving him a 'tough guy' smack on the shoulder.
"You could have been hurt," Jim argued, conscious of the dangers when dealing with punks like 'Spike'. Junkies were unpredictable. Anything could have set him off and Jim didn't want to contemplate what it would be like without his friend in his life.
"But I wasn't," Blair insisted, arms spread wide. "And we saved Hazel from getting hurt. It's lucky for her we were both here and healthy for a change."
Jim cuffed him gently on the back of the head. "How do you expect to stay that way, pulling stupid stunts like you did tonight?" Knowing this was an argument they had been over many times before, and would probably have many times again, Jim decided he was too tired to battle through it right now. He waved good-bye to Hazel, and with a weary sigh, began to bundle his partner toward the front exit.
"Well, Chief, unless you want to hand out Valerian and Melatonin to all the little monsters in our neighborhood tomorrow..." He glanced at his watch, "I guess I should say tonight, I suggest we get what we came for and go home."
Blair hunched one shoulder up against his ear and scrunched his face in a Popeye kind of squint. Holding his hands curled crookedly to his chest, he limped after Jim dragging one foot behind him, calling in an over-the-top Transylvanian accent, "Yesss, Mahssterr!"