Sentinel Fan Fiction Page || Fanfic -- Everyday Life Series

Fish Stories by Robyn (graphic by Robyn)

Summary: Six short stories. Sometimes Jim and Blair go fishing and the bad guys *don't* show up <g>. Sometimes the fish don't either.

Dedicated to my angler-daddy, who is always there to untangle my bird nests, and my little brother, who believes chartreuse is better than rainbow.

For Iris, who asked for this story after giving me a virtual minnow bucket.

Fish Stories
by Robyn
July 1999

There's a fine line between fishin' and just standing on the shore like an idiot.
-- Unknown

It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bait Boy

Ahhhh.

Eyes closed, Jim Ellison inhaled deeply, filling his lungs with the cool, clean, salty air mingled with the faint kelpy smell of seaweed bathing his olfactory and gustatory senses. He was aware of the gentle rocking beneath him as the borrowed dingy bobbed among the playful waves within the sheltered cove. The sensation was surprisingly enjoyable -- soothing rather than aggravating his sometimes irritable inner ear, thanks to Blair's heretofore unappreciated insistence that Jim practice controlling his predisposition to vertigo.

The peacefulness of the ocean within the isolated cove invited him to relax completely, and for the first time in weeks, Jim felt safe enough to let his senses float about him freely like the last of the lingering coastal morning fog he felt upon his face. His tactile sensors catalogued the warmth provided by the soft knit cap on his head and the thick down jacket cuddling his chest. His hearing sought out the faint ding-ding and soft whoooooo of the bell and whistle buoys calling to each other a half-mile off shore, and the call of seagulls soaring above the water. And last but not least, above the natural rhythms of the sea played a joyful counter-rhythm -- the voice of one Blair Sandburg. Eyes still shut, the sentinel leaned back a little further in his padded seat, propped his long legs up on the ice chest located in the center of the boat, and grinned in spite of himself as he listened to his friend's animated monologue.

"....giant squid. Those things really exist, you know -- I saw one in at the Cascade Aquarium. Maybe we shoulda made an offering to the gods of the sea. Couldn't hurt, you know. I mean, we could get blown off course and get lost, and then nobody would ever know that we'd been eaten by a giant squid. Simon would always wonder..."

Not bothering to open his eyes, Jim shoved his chuckles back down where they came from and mustered the driest tone of voice he could, imbuing it with a pious amount of longsuffering. "We're not gonna get eaten by a giant squid, Chief. And we're not gonna get lost either -- we're still well within sight of land, even for you."

"How do you know?" his friend accused. "Your eyes are closed, man. Even sentinels can't see through their eyelids, and don't try that bat radar line on me either -- you say that waaaaay too often."

Jim knew from Blair's tone of voice that he was grinning. Axing the comment he was going to make about whistling like a -- never mind, the sentinel decided to ask point-blank what he already knew. "Are we within sight of land?"

"Well, yeah, but--"

"Case closed," Jim said, this time not bothering to hide the chuckle. "So no need to worry about bringing flowers and food to that guy with the pitchfork."

"It's a triton, Jim, not a pitchfork."

"It looks like a pitchfork to me."

"What about the squid?" insisted Blair.

"There are no giant squid around here, Sandburg."

"How do you know?"

"I checked," Jim deadpanned.

"You checked," said Blair, his tone unbelieving.

"Yeah, when my eyes were still open. Big sentinel sweep of the area -- no giant squid," Jim said confidently.

"What about man-eating jelly fish?"

"No jelly fish."

"Gigantic poisonous sting ray?"

"No squid, no jelly fish, no sting ray, and the nearest great white is at least a couple miles from here, probably munching on grad student tender vittles," Jim said with finality.

"That ain't funny, man."

Jim laughed out loud. "Now would you hurry it up with the bait, Sandburg? At this rate the chinooks'll have left to spawn by the time we get our lines in the water."

Blair growled under his breath. "Keep your leg on, Ahab -- your whale's not going anywhere. And may I remind you that the only reason I'm playing bait boy today is because yesterday you whined too much about your hands smelling like raw anchovies and how you couldn't get the smell off. I am not going through that again tonight, man. Here -- your rig's ready."

Finally opening his eyes, Jim reached over to take his pole from Blair's hand. He smiled sweetly at the anthropologist. "Thank you, Bait Boy," he said in his most polite tone.

Blair glared at Jim as he picked up the end of his own line to bait it for the hopefully large king salmon he planned to catch. "I need to learn to keep my mouth shut one of these days," he muttered, but his blue eyes twinkled and Jim noticed that they'd taken on the same beautiful color of the sea. The kid's hair sprung out comically from beneath his own knit cap as if exploding from the pure energy of its owner.

"Y'know," Jim mused as he proceeded to attach his setup to the down rigger that would lower his line to the proper depth, "the name Bait Boy fits perfectly with the other reason I'm not worried about The Attack of the Giant Squid." His eyes twinkled back.

Blair looked up from baiting his hook and Jim noted that his eyes had narrowed suspiciously. "Oh?"

"'Cause if I saw a giant squid coming," the detective laughed mischievously , "I'd throw you in as an offering, narrowly escaping myself to tell the tale."

"Not if you smell better!" The retort was followed in rapid sequence by a loud splat! as a silver form flew through the air with deadly accuracy and the frozen anchovy made contact with Jim's chest.

"YUCK! .... oh, PHEW! SANDBURG!!!!"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Drag Racing

"I got one!!!" echoed the shout as it traveled across the quiet, calm waters of the isolated lake in the Cascade mountains.

The broad rubber-tipped oar thudded against the inside of the aluminum canoe as Blair dropped it and seized his pole with both hands, eyes sparkling and mouth grinning as he fought to retain control of the jiggling pole. Whhzzzzzzz! Line ripped of the end of the shiny black tip amid shouts of Blair's "whoo hoo!" and Jim's equally excited coaching -- "easy does it -- keep your tip up -- tighten the drag just a tad -- that's it, Chief..."

In a few seconds, a silver form flashed beneath the lake's glass-like surface, glinting in the summer sun, then leaping out of the water in a shower of droplets before splashing back into the lake only a few feet from the boat. Not surprisingly, the glorious display elicited further shouts of thrill and encouragement from the two men in the canoe, both wearing khaki fishing vests, old plaid shirts and blue jeans. The taller man, wearing a black Jags baseball cap, grinned widely as he watched his partner bring the catch closer and closer to the boat, leaning gingerly to one side while readying the green nylon fish net. The younger man wearing his lucky blue fishing hat wrestled with the rod and reel, bringing it down and raising it up, muscles flexed in exertion. "This one's big, man!" he declared, laughing with pleasure.

"It's a beauty, Chief!" Jim agreed as he managed to net the fish without tipping over the canoe.

Blair caught the fish's flopping form and deftly removed the hook, holding the rainbow trout up for show with a huge grin on his face. "This one's pushing 20 inches -- trophy size, man! I'm keepin' this one!" The anthropologist had been the last one to limit out, but he'd caught the largest fish by far.

The sound of clapping drifted across the quiet lake as two other canoes drifted closer to Jim and Blair's. "It's about time," called Daryl from the canoe he shared with his father, "'cause I'm starved!" Daryl had caught the most fish of the morning and hadn't stopped teasing his father ever since he'd won the bet over who could catch five fish first.

"Nice one, Sandburg," Simon called over generously. The captain could assume a surprisingly mellow mood when away from the stresses of his demanding job and in the company of his son and friends.

"You going to cook that fish with those secret herbs, Blair?" called Rafe from the other canoe, his mouth starting to water. Someone had obviously forgotten to inform the detective that one was supposed to look slightly mismatched when fishing. He looked pleased when Sandburg nodded.

Brown laughed at his partner's expression. "I'm hungry too! Whadda you boys say we have a little race back to the campsite? Last one cleans up after lunch."

A chorus of agreement settled the contest, and the men maneuvered their canoes into position. Blair had the use of one of the canoes as payment for helping out another grad student by teaching her classes when she'd come down with the flu last month. The green one Simon and Daryl were using was one of the things the captain had been able to keep after the divorce, and Rafe and Brown had rented their aluminum one from a friend of H's who owned an outdoors equipment shop.

The men were about a half mile from their campsite, and all of them eyed their goal across the lake with a keen sense of competition and the added incentive of a delicious meal.

"Okay, I'm ready," called Blair, having stowed the tackle and the fish. He grabbed his oar and grinned, waggling his eyebrows at Daryl who shook his head and gestured at himself and his dad, indicating that they were going to win.

"Simon, you make the call," suggested Henri.

Simon nodded and offered one last bit of trash-talking. "Don't take too long, men -- I don't want to have wait several hours for my meal!"

Rafe and Blair sent warning splashes with their oars in the direction of the captain's canoe with their oars while Jim and Brown booed and hissed. But all of them seemed to take on an added glint of determination in their eyes.

"On your mark.... get set.... GO!" shouted Simon.

The previously glassy lake turned into a churning, swirling, splashing pool as six oars hit the water with fury. At first the three canoes remained neck and neck, but Jim and Blair began to fall behind after the first twenty feet or so.

"C'mon, Chief!" Jim yelled above the grunting and splashing. "Stop dragging your foot in the water! I don't wanna pull K.P. tonight, do you?"

"I'm rowing as fast as I can!" protested Blair, whose feet had both been securely inside the canoe the entire time. "Maybe you're gettin' old!"

"I'm dragging you to the weight room and strapping you to the rowing machine from now on!" retorted Jim, but he'd started to think something was wrong. Catch taken into consideration, they hadn't had this much trouble rowing to the fishing sites this morning. In fact, he and Blair had easily beat the others to the farthest spot, and their rowing had always been by far the most in sync of the group. It really does feel like Blair's dragging his foot in the water... Wait a second. Jim stopped rowing, calling up to his partner in the front of the canoe. "Chief -- where's the minnow bucket?"

Blair felt the absence of Jim's powerful stroke before he heard the question, and he turned around to see what was going on. "Jim?!? Why'd you -- Huh? Minnow bucket? Don't you have it, man?" Blair's oar began to drag in the water as his eyes got big and a look of comprehension mixed with horror dawned on his face. "Oh man..."

Sheepishly, the anthropologist leaned over the side of the boat and grasped a thin metal chain, hoisting a small gray metal bucket back into the canoe. The lid hung open and the inside was as full of lake water as it was empty of minnows.

Meanwhile, the other men had realized that Ellison and Sandburg had uncharacteristically stopped their rowing, and all of them paused as well, looking back to see if something had gone wrong.

Seated in the back of his canoe, Henri was the closest to Jim and Blair's position and the first to realize what had gone wrong as Sandburg guiltily pulled out the offending object and Ellison rolled his eyes. "B-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!!!" H burst out, dropping his oar and howling at the comical situation. Rafe realized what was going on a second later and also started laughing loudly, himself unable to continue rowing.

"If you love something, set it free?" Blair offered lamely.

Even Jim was unable to maintain the stern look on his face and he started guffawing himself. "But did ya have to apply that to our bait, Chief?" he laughed.

"What happened, Dad?" Daryl asked as he turned around to the sound of several howling detectives.

Simon chuckled. "I think Ellison and Sandburg just figured out where their additional drag was coming from, son." Then his eyes narrowed and he grinned, plunging his oar back into the water and motioning for Daryl to turn back around in his seat. "Well, don't just sit there, boy! Keep going, keep going! Let them laugh it up -- I did dishes last night and it's not gonna happen again today! Go, go, go!"

"Right, Dad," agreed the teenager, grinning at their good fortune.

The father and son had generated a rather impressive wake and distance between them and the other men before they heard mild swearing and splashing behind them as the four partners suddenly gained control of their laughter and scrambled for their oars.

"Daryl! Simon! Wait up!"

"Sir -- come back! We're drowning!"

"Captain -- you dropped your cigars back here!"

"Simon -- I love you, man! Don't leave me...."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bird Nest

Jimmy cast his line out into the stream with a technique rather impressive for a nine-year-old. Plop! The red and white bobber landed just inches from the nose of a large trout hovering among the smooth brown and gray rocks and pebbles lining the riverbed. The boy zoomed in on his potential catch, his vision cutting through the bright glare of the sparkling tributary more easily than the polarized sunglasses grownups wore. Sunlight streaming through the leafy trees partially overhanging the water created dancing patterns of brightness and darkness in the outlines of leaves. The boy found the effect mesmerizing, but did not allow nature to distract him from his prey.

Closer...

Closer...

Gulp!

Jimmy watched with delight as the large fish inhaled the hook covered with red salmon roe and white marshmallows. The bobber disappeared beneath the surface, though not from the boy's view. He yanked the line with all his might, straight over his head like he'd been taught, setting the hook. "Got one!" he shouted as he struggled to reel the fish in.

"Awww, noooo!" An anguished wail broke through Jimmy's thoughts, startling him. Jerking his head in the direction of the cry, he saw his younger brother clutching his own little pole and looking like the world had ended.

The older boy instantly dropped his pole to the ground, fish forgotten, and rushed the few feet to the side of his four-year-old brother. In seconds, the fish sensed the slack in the abandoned line and swam free of the hook. "Lemme see, Stevie," said Jimmy, crouching down and taking the rig from his brother's hands. A jumbled mass of whitish monofilament lay in a formidable bunch against the spool, as if daring anyone to bring order to it again.

"I broke it," wailed the younger boy, tears streaming down his face.

"No, no you didn't," Jimmy consoled. "It's just a bird nest."

Stevie sniffled. "Bird nest?"

"Yeah, that's what you call it when your line gets tangled. Looks like a bird's nest. Bud says it happens to the best fishermen, Stevie, so don't cry."

The younger brother rubbed his eyes and sniffled one last time. He looked up hopefully into the blue eyes of his older brother. "You fix it?"

Jimmy looked at the bird nest again -- it wasn't huge, but it wasn't small either. It would be easier just to cut the whole thing off and retie the line. Then he looked back into the face of his younger brother, tear tracks still visible on his cheeks, the smile one of infinite trust. He couldn't let him down. Not now, not ever. "Yeah," Jimmy answered finally. "I can fix it."

Stevie's face immediately lit up with the biggest grin of his life as he looked up gratefully at his brother. "Thank you, Jimmy," he said.

Spying a large, flat granite rock fortuitously positioned at the river's edge, the older boy sat down on it and began the painstaking process of separating and untangling the mass of line.

"Everything okay here, Chief?" An older man with kind eyes and a floppy fishing hat adorned with colorful flies and lures looked down on the two boys. He'd been fishing several yards away from the boys and it had taken him a couple minutes to maneuver around the boulders when he'd heard Stevie's cry. But quickly realizing that the situation wasn't serious and that Jimmy seemed to have everything under control, he hadn't bothered to rush over too quickly. The man looked down at the bird nest but said nothing about it.

Jimmy looked up, aware that Stevie had inhaled sharply beside him and a look of fear had flashed across his face.

Jimmy grinned. "Yeah, Bud. Everything's fine."

~~~~~~

Jim Ellison smiled as he remembered how he'd worked with that line for almost a half hour, but he'd eventually untangled the entire mess with his brother watching intently, much to his own relief and Steven's as well. The detective looked out at his line where it entered the water. The gray and brown rocks and pebbles hadn't changed much in over thirty years, and the sunlight still cast mesmerizing patterns on the water's glittering surface. Hopefully the fish were still as big...

"Aw, man!" a voice exclaimed.

"Problem, Chief?" asked Jim, looking over at his partner who stood a few feet to his left.

"Yeah, man -- I just bird-nested -- big time," Blair sighed. "And I think I left the extra spool of line at home."

Jim chuckled. "Happens to the best of us, Chief. Lemme see that. Reel in my line, will you?"

Exchanging poles with the anthropologist, Jim assessed the damage. "It's not as bad as you think."

"You mean you're gonna try to fix that?" Blair said incredulously.

"Sure, I can fix it. You think I've never done this before?" Jim teased.

Blair grinned at the tone of Jim's voice. "Yeah, guess you probably have."

Jim smiled back, then walked downstream a few feet to sit down on a certain large, flat granite rock at the river's edge. Blair followed and sat down beside him, stretching his legs out in front of him with a sigh. The quiet sound of the stream trickling over the water bed was comforting and friendly.

As the taller man began the tedious but deliberate process of untangling the line, he felt a gentle nudge. Jim turned to look into the eyes of his friend. "Thanks, Jim," Blair said.

Jim grinned.

Everything was fine. Just fine.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Scent

"It's all in the scent, Jim. Of all people, you should understand that, man," Blair said, not looking up from the sparsely grassy shore area where he was crouched over his rig and a couple small bottles, baiting his hook.

"Which is precisely why I'm using tried and true Berkeley Power Scent, Chief," Jim answered, "not some questionable concoction you picked up from Joe's Bait and Tackle in the seedy part of town. I've half a mind to search that guy's shop for illegal substances." The detective had almost finished molding a small marble-sized piece of fluorescent dough onto his hook.

"Hey, Joe's got some good custom baits," said Blair. "Besides, I didn't get this stuff from Joe's. I made it myself." The anthropologist looked rather proud as he unscrewed the cap of the old peanut butter jar, now containing a rather viscous brown liquid.

All at once, Jim's nose and face wrinkled into an amazingly contorted expression and a hand flew up defensively to cover his nose. "UGH!" exclaimed the sentinel. "So that's what I smelled last Wednesday when I came home! I thought it was just one of your tribal cooking disasters. YUCK! What did you put in that, Sandburg? Roadkill and a bushel of garlic?" choked Jim.

"Don't knock it, man -- Professor Wilde swears by this recipe and I saw a picture of the big one she caught last Sunday," Blair warned as he dunked his piece of bait several times into the gooey liquid.

Jim grunted, unconvinced. "Professor Wilde is on the verge of Alzheimers, and the paper said last Sunday the bite was so good here you could've thrown a boot in this lake and gotten a hit!"

"Just be glad I stored this juice in the basement till this morning," retorted Blair.

Jim reeled his line in a couple cranks, then angled his pole backwards in preparation to cast. He glanced at his friend and grinned. "I guess if I can put up with you, Chief, I can put up with your skunk smell. Besides, if you move any farther downstream, that flock of sixty Canada geese feeding on shore might pass out from the smell, and I do not want a pile of dead birds ruining our favorite fishing spot."

Blair grinned back as he threw out his line several feet to the left of his partner's. "You just want me to stay so if we get skunked today you can blame it on me."

"No, I want you to stay so I can give you pointers on finesse fishing," Jim said as he sat down on the small folding camping stool whose canvas seat was patterned with dark green and brown camouflage.

Blair laughed as he sat down on an identical stool beside Jim's. "No, you want me to stay so I can give you pointers on finesse fishing."

"No..."

"Yes..."

"No..."

"Yes..."

"Okay, fine, Jim," said Blair. "Just try not to zone on any flying pelicans, man. I still remember that time we were going for steelhead in the river with Megan -- ha-ha-ha -- when you got so distracted watching those birds that you threw your line in the tree! Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!" laughed the anthropologist. "Talk about a big-time snag! And then -- ha-ha-ha -- you almost fell out of the boat when you were reaching up to get your lure unhooked from the branches! Ha-ha-ha-ha! Megan and I couldn't stop laughing!"

"Kinda like now," grumbled Jim, though he didn't deny the incident. "You'd better watch it, Sandburg, or next time I'll make you climb the tree and get my lure. And get the story straight -- they were herons, not pelicans."

"They were so pelicans!" insisted Blair, still trying to stop himself from laughing.

"I'm the bird-watcher here, aren't I? And you were laughing too hard to notice. I'm telling you, they were great blue herons."

"Pelicans!"

"Herons!"

"I got one!" yelled Blair as he set the hook. "See, I told you that scent was good!"

Jim's pole tip wiggled and he yanked it backwards as well. "I got one too! Ellison's skill prevails in the face of a massive toxic waste slick..." Jim announced as both men struggled with their lines.

"We'll see who's fish is bigger, Ellison!" warned Blair as both men shouted "whoo-hoo!'s" while fighting their catch.

"Mine is, shorty....'cause I use Rainbow Power Bait with sparkles!"

"No way, man -- chartreuse is waaaaay better and you know it!"

"Rainbow!"

"Chartreuse!"

"Rainbow!"

"Chartreuse!"

Simultaneously, the detective and anthropologist beached their respective fish on shore and seized the flopping, silvery trout.

"Ha! Yours is barely legal, man!" shouted Blair in triumph as he held his catch near Jim's and eyeballed both fish.

"At least mine's BIGGER!" retorted Jim. He had to admit, both fish were rather small for what they'd come to expect at this lake. They would release these, of course.

"Is not!"

"Is so!"

"Is NOT!"

"Is SO!"

Blair shook his head sadly, his eyes twinkling. "For someone with enhanced vision, you really have trouble when it comes to accurate fish sizes, don't you, Jim?"

Jim growled, glaring down at the younger man. "For your information, Sandburg, the only way that fish will ever be bigger than mine is if you to tell a fish story -- excuse me, obfuscation -- the size of -- of --"

"All the vehicles you've ever wrecked?" Blair laughed as he agilely escaped Jim's lunge.

"SANDBURG! COME BACK HERE!"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rain

The mid-morning Washington sky above the lake poured down a seemingly endless supply of copious amounts of early spring rain from its slate gray canopy. The deep green of the surrounding forest reflected in the lake water like an imperfect mirror of a million expanding ripples merging into one another. The wilderness and rainstorm seemed to be void of human presence -- except for an old white and blue pickup with its windows rolled down just a crack, parked at the bottom of the asphalt boat ramp just above the small waves lapping at the shore.

Hands in fingerless gloves cupped around the plastic insulated lid, Blair sipped the hot liquid from the thermos top a little more noisily than necessary, then sighed in contentment as he leaned back in the vinyl-covered front seat of the old pickup and listened to the soothing patter of rain on the truck's metal roof. He had never felt this cozy and warm -- not to mention dry -- while fishing in March. This definitely beats standing out in the rain or fishing from the door of an only partially-waterproof two-man tent swaying precariously in the wind like we did last year, he mused. The anthropologist turned his head toward the taller man sitting in the driver's seat. "Now this is what I call the perfect way to go fishing in the rain," Blair declared as he grinned sideways at his partner.

Jim grinned back. "It is now -- after I ingeniously put that tarp up to keep the rain off the windshield," he teased, nudging Blair with an elbow. "At least now I don't have to listen to the 'Do I have a bite yet Jim? Do I have a bite yet Jim? Do I have a bite yet Jim?' every five seconds."

Blair finished swallowing his mouthful of hot coffee and laughed. "Hey, I can't help that it's raining so hard I couldn't see out the windshield and you could," he protested.

Jim reached over and seized the thermos resting on Blair's lap. "No more coffee for you, Chief. There won't be any left for me, and plus you're fogging up the windows with all the steam."

"I thought that's what my sleeve was for," answered Blair as he pulled out a generous-looking sandwich wrapped in wax paper and purposely avoided looking at his probably-glaring partner. "Jim?" he asked between chews of the huge turkey sandwich, "if we're out here fishing in the pouring rain, does that put us in the crazy fishermen category?"

"Hey, it started pouring when we were only an hour from the lake, and it takes almost two hours to drive here. It would've been wrong to turn around -- waste of gas -- yeah," Jim rationalized. "Besides, the fish bite better when it rains."

"That's what I figured," Blair concluded. "We're crazy."

"I got it from living with you. Gimme that bag of chips and the beef jerky."

"You're the one who got me into this sport." Blair was about to reach for the bag of food at his feet when he froze, his gaze fixed on his pole nestled snugly in the metal pole-holder, droplets of water decorating the line and dripping from the rings lined up along its length. "Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh! My pole's wiggling! I got a bite! "

<click!> <SLAM!>

In a flash, the passenger side door flew open and shut as Blair leaped out of the truck and down a few feet to the water's edge where he grabbed his pole and jerked to set the hook. Jim followed behind him more slowly with the small net, thankful he was wearing one of his old Jags caps with a bill to partially shield his face from the rain. In no time Blair had reeled the fish in and Jim netted it.

"This is huge!" yelled Blair over the roaring downpour as he removed the hook from the fish and proceeded to put it on the metal stringer. The anthropologist, dressed in a forest green parka, grinned widely as beads of water began to form on the curls that had managed to escape the safety of the waterproof hood. "Dinner, man!"

Jim grinned back and nodded. "Let's get back in the truck!" he yelled.

Waiting only long enough for Blair cast out his line again, both men jogged back to the pickup and jumped into the cab, shivering somewhat as they shut the cab doors, the insides of which were now almost as wet as their jackets.

"Whoo-hoo! Th-that was f-f-FUN!" exclaimed Blair, his teeth chattering. "C-can I h-have some more c-coffee, J-jim? P-please?"

"Here you go, Elmer F-fudd," Jim teased as he retrieved the thermos from the dashboard and poured another cup for his partner.

Blair took the cup and sipped from it gratefully, allowing the warmth to penetrate his body again. "Ahhh. That hits the spot. I'll drink it quickly so it doesn't fog the windows too much."

Jim chuckled. "That's okay, Chief. Could you just hand me the bag of chips and the beef jerky?"

"Oh yeah -- sorry Jim. I totally forgot about -- WAIT! I got another bite!"

<click-SLAM!>

Jim grumbled to the steering wheel, not moving in his seat as the entire truck shuddered with the door's closing. As he opened his own door, he muttered to himself, "maybe they do bite better when it rains..."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Skunked

A summer Sunday. A mountain stream fed with pure, cool water from the Cascade mountain snow melt -- running full but not swollen. A gentle breeze. Warm sunlight, but not too warm. A surprisingly comfortable old fallen log to sit upon. Plenty of snacks and drinks, which somehow always tasted better out here than in the loft. A best friend standing a few feet away, dressed in comfortable blue jeans and an old green plaid shirt, smiling face turned to the sun, absorbing its solar caress in a way only a sentinel could. It was a beautiful setting -- a beautiful day.

Everything was perfect. Almost, Blair thought. They'd been at this stream for over three hours. Three hours and no fish! Not even a nibble. Jim said they were out there -- big ones -- but for some reason they just weren't biting. And they were going to have to leave soon, because Simon had asked them to help with a stake-out back in the city this afternoon.

In a few moments, Blair felt Jim sit down beside him on the log. The detective leaned back, bracing himself with his hands, and stretching out his long legs with a sigh. Then he pulled them back and turned his head toward Blair, giving the younger man a gentle smile. "Sorry we haven't had much luck today, Chief. Looks like the fish just don't want to cooperate."

"We're gonna get skunked, aren't we?" said Blair.

"We haven't pulled our lines in yet, Chief," said Jim, staring hard at his own rig in hopes of seeing a nibble.

"Jim, a spider's building a huge web between your pole and your line, and there's a dragonfly snoring on the tip of mine," Blair observed.

"Things aren't looking too good."

Blair smiled, glancing sideways at his partner. "At least it's a nice day."

The men sat in silence, enjoying the last moments of peace and quiet together before they would have to return to their work in the busy city that needed them.

The anthropologist picked up a nearby pebble and tossed it into the river where it landed with a plop. "What're we gonna tell Simon? You know how he gave us such a bad time last time we got skunked," Blair said.

"No need for the captain to know all the facts," offered Jim, his blue eyes twinkling as he answered.

Blair's eyes widened, and he started to grin. "You mean we're gonna --"

"-- say we had a great time... and do some embellishing of course," finished the detective.

Blair snickered. Pivoting around to face Jim on the log, he bounced and gestured with his hands. "Okay, I'll be Simon and you show me what you'd do."

Blair pulled out his glasses and put them on, then pasted a closed-lipped, slightly evil smile on his face. Wrapping an arm around Jim's shoulder, he changed his voice to imitate the imposing captain. "So tell me, Jim, did you have a nice time fishing yesterday?"

"Oh, yes, sir," Jim answered enthusiastically.

"So, how many fish did you get?"

"Sir, we caught so many fish we could have filled the entire bullpen with trout and had some left over for your office."

Blair's eyes narrowed, and he removed his arm from Jim's shoulder. "Is that so? I think you and Sandburg got skunked, Ellison. I can see it in your eyes," growled Blair.

"Why don't you ask me how big our biggest one was, Captain?"

Blair rolled his eyes and sighed loudly, giving his voice the right amount of annoyed impatience. "How big was your biggest one, Ellison?"

Jim's blue eyes remained cool, his face unmoving. "Sir, our biggest fish was so big we would've had to tie a rope around it and drag it behind the truck all the way home 'cause it wouldn't have fit in the truck bed. Unfortunately, I had to insist that we release it because I don't own a trailer license." Jim cleared his throat, then took on an even more solemn tone. "More than that, sir, if we had removed that fish from its native habitat, the stream and even the Pacific Ocean would have lost so much volume there would have been a terrible imbalance of the tides, wreaking immeasurable havoc upon the entire marine ecosystem in the western hemisphere." he finished calmly.

Blair's lips quivered, then he choked, unable to keep from laughing. "Simon's gonna die, Jim!" he howled. "You look so serious when you say that!"

"Hey, embellishing is expected when you're telling a fish story, Chief!" grinned Jim. "After watching you obfuscate for four years, I picked up a few pointers. You obfuscate; I embellish."

"Can I tell Simon that?" Blair laughed.

"Not unless you want me to stop for lunch at WonderBurger on the way home," warned Jim.

Still laughing, the two men stood up from the log, collected their poles, pole holders, the small net, and the knapsack containing the snacks and extra tackle. As they took the dirt trail that led away from the spot, Jim draped his arm lazily around Blair's shoulder, and Blair's opposite arm went up to wrap around Jim's.

"Maybe we should bring one of those WonderBurgers here next time for bait."

"Great idea, Chief! It could be like those Carl's Jr. ads where the fish jumps out of the water and steals the burger. And everyone knows WonderBurgers are way better than Carl's Jr."

"Actually, Jim, I was thinking more along the line of what happens when you light a cherry bomb and toss it in the water. All the fish come floating to the surface, belly-up."

"No, that's what would happen if we threw one of Simon's cigars in there."

The friends' laughter filtered through the forest, blending perfectly with the stream's own laughter, tickling the aspen leaves, the ears of a doe emerging to watch them leave, and the gauzy wings of a butterfly. Nature understood. No matter what the weather was, no matter how many fish they caught, no matter who caught the biggest or the most -- Jim and Blair always had a great time whenever they went fishing together.

And that was no fish story.

"Can I tell Simon you said that?"

"SANDBURG!!!"

~ The End ~