Blair stood in a university classroom. The seats that would normally be filled by students were taken by reporters. Naomi squeezed his hand. Taking a deep breath, Blair walked to the podium at the front of the room.
"Hi. Thank you all for coming. I just have a short speech prepared here. Um, in our media-informed culture—"
"Hold it, Blair." Sam stepped through the door.
"It's the sentinel!" one of the reporters yelled.
Dozens of flash bulbs went off in Sam's face. He raised his hand to cover his eyes, blinded by the lights.
"Look how he's reacting to the lights," another reporter said. He pulled a dog whistle out of his pocket and blew it. He frowned when Sam gave no reaction to the ultrasonic whistle.
"The only one who wouldn't react to all those flash bulbs is Helen Keller." Sam walked to the podium and stood beside Blair. "I have a few things to say."
"Jim, I—" Blair began.
"It's OK okay," Sam whispered. "I'm not gonna let you throw your life away."
Al's holographic image walked through the podium and looked at Blair's notes. He read aloud softly: " 'Immoral and unethical act. My dissertation 'The Sentinel' is a fraud'." He looked his illegitimate son in the eye. "Didn't Naomi tell you that the Calavicci are self-centered wretches? What are you doing pulling this Sydney Carton act?"
Blair, of course, neither saw nor heard him.
"Chancellor Edwards, Mr. Graham, ladies and gentlemen of the Fourth Estate: I have a few things I'd like to say to you." Sam turned his head, making eye contact with as many of the audience as he could. "You're vultures. Nothing but a pack of vultures. And when I tell you what really happened, you're going to feel like a pack of jackasses." He paused for dramatic effect. "I'd say something stronger than jackasses, but my mother wouldn't approve of my using language like that in public."
Blair looked up at him, startled. Jim never men tioned his mother.
"Chancellor Edwards, did Mr. Sandburg submit his dissertation to the university?" Sam asked.
"Well, not officially," she began, but then she was interrupted by two men.
"No, I did not," Blair stated emphatically.
At the same time, the head of Blair's dissertation committee, Dr. Tanaka, said, "He did not. The last thing I heard about Mr. Sandburg's dissertation was that he expected to finish the rough draft in a few days, and he wished to speak to me about polishing it and editing it when it was done."
"Chancellor Edwards, do you have so poor an opinion of the doctoral candidates at your school that you think one would be so stupid as to submit a dissertation using the real names of living people? Do you permit graduate students with that poor an understanding of professional ethics to work as teaching assistants?" Sam raised an eyebrow. "Or doesn't your university have a Human Subjects Committee?"
Ms. Edwards hemmed and hawed, flustered by the questions, and embarrassed by the answers.
Sam waited a moment for the information to sink into the audience's minds before continuing. "Sid Graham, senior editor with Berkshire Publishers." He pronounced the name and title scornfully. "Did Mr. Sandburg submit his dissertation to you or your company?"
"No, I certainly did not," Blair declared firmly. "He acquired a copy by accident and refused to return it. Despite repeated requests," the long-haired grad student added for emphasis.
"Is that true, Mr. Graham? Is it true that despite the author's wishes—in spite of the author's demands—you not only refused to return the manuscript, but released excerpts to the press without his knowledge and consent?"
"His mother sent it to me on his behalf," Graham shouted out from the audience. His tone was defensive. Beads of perspiration appeared on his forehead. "I'm an old friend of the family. I was just trying to do right by the kid. Hey, I was nearly his stepfather."
Naomi stepped up to the podium. "Liar! I asked you to critique the rough draft. I never suggested that you publish it. And I certainly never considered marrying you!"
"You tell him, honey," Al cheered her on.
Sam turned toward Blair. "You might want to hire an attorney. You probably have grounds for a lawsuit—copyright violation, misappropriation and misuse of intellectual property, etc."
Suddenly cameras were aimed at Sid Graham, and flash bulbs were going off in his face.
Sam glanced at Blair's notes on the podium. "The document that Mr. Graham inadvertently obtained—the one from which he released excerpts without Mr. Sandburg's knowledge or permission—is 'a good piece of fiction'."
"You mean the whole thing is a hoax?" a reporter shouted out.
"No, I mean it's not his dissertation." Sam stepped away from the podium. Most reporters were good at interpreting kinesics. He wanted his body language to project an air of calm confidence, with just a soupcçon of amused contempt. "It's true Mr. Sandburg did his master's thesis on the sentinel phenomenon in tribal cultures, and that he considered doing his doctoral dissertation on the same subject."
Professor Tanaka raised a slender dark eyebrow. To the best of his knowledge, Blair's dissertation was on the sentinel phenomenon, both as it had existed in tribal cultures and how it still persisted in modern society. At least, it had been last week, the last time he spoke had spoken to Blair.
"It's true that I was one of Mr. Sandburg's research subjects, and that I have better than average vision." That wasn't technically a lie. Sam did have excellent night vision, and he figured Jim Ellison would rather be known as a man with exceptionally good eyesight than a superman with five heightened senses. "However, there's a big difference having one or two senses better than average, like a whisky sniffer at a distillery or a perfume tester, and the sort of superhero the media has been trying to make me out to be. Besides, Mr. Sandburg changed the topic of his dissertation quite some time ago." Sam took a deep breath. It was time for the whopper.
"Given your behavior, I'm willing to guess that most of you sharks are high school drop-outs." Sam stopped and smiled maliciously. "I'm sorry, that was rude to the Class Selachii to compare you to them."
Out the corner of his eye, Sam could see Blair struggling to keep his face calm and impassive. He didn't want to spoil whatever Jim had up his sleeve, but he was finding it hard not to react when he heard his partner tossing around Latin names so casually, and pronouncing them correctly.
"You probably have no idea how much stress a doctoral candidate is under," Sam continued, as though he hadn't just insulted most of the audience. "Blair Sandburg teaches introductory classes in anthropology. He takes advanced classes himself. He does research on modern day closed societies, and works as a police observer. He spends more time in the library in a month than I have in my entire life. In order to relax, he scribbled a story of what things would be like if I had the powers of a sentinel. Since he'd spent so much time on the sentinel study before he changed topics, Bl-… Mr. Sandburg decided to do the story in the form of a dissertation. It was never intended for anyone else's eyes. It was just a silly bit of scribbling, like—…" Sam suddenly remembered a previous leap. "…Like the middle-aged housewives who write fan fiction about Star Trek or Starsky and Hutch."
"If 'The Sentinel' was just a joke, why all the fuss? Why didn't you say so before?" demanded one of the reporters.
Blair sighed, very dramatically and very artificially. "What do you think we've been trying to do?"
"If it's a novel, then why protest at publication?" another journalist demanded suspiciously. "I never heard of an author who didn't want his story published."
"The reason Blair tried to get the manuscript back from Graham is because he used real names," Sam explained. "My name, my co-workers' names, even the names of real criminals. It's a mix of fact and fiction. If he decides to submit it for publication someday, it'll probably be under a pen name, and it'll take a lot of editing. To tell you the truth, some of it he wrote when he needed to vent, and parts are less than flattering to me and some of my co-workers. And sometimes," Sam glanced pointedly at Chancellor Edwards, "he used the names of people who annoyed him in real life when he needed a name for the bad guys."
A few heads nodded. Many reporters had half-written novels tucked into their desk drawers, and more than one had used the names of particularly obnoxious editors or ex-wives when they needed a villain's name.
"As for the idea of him being Nobel material, well," Sam shrugged, "he's bright, but he's no Sam Beckett."
Four or five reporters, the ones who normally covered the science beat, chuckled. The rest muttered, "Who?"
Sam turned to Blair. "Was there anything else you wanted to add?"
Blair smiled up at the man he thought was his roommate. "No, I think you pretty much covered it."
One reporter asked, "But, Mr. Sandburg, why did you put Ellison in your novel?"
"Didn't you ever tease your big brother?" Blair replied.
Al looked down at his handlink. "Sam, Ziggy thinks you've done it. As of today, Blair is still a graduate student at Rainier University, working on his dissertation on closed societies. And he's a student representative on the Human Subjects Committee. Since being an anthropologist is safer than being a cop, Ziggy predicts that Ellison and Blair will both survive." He looked from his son to his friend. "Thanks, Sam."
Sam picked up the medical chart hanging at the foot of Simon's bed and examined it carefully.
"Why are you bothering to look at that thing?" Simon half-asked, half-complained. "You know you can't read it."
Sam just smiled. He could read it, and he was pleased with it. The surgery had gone well, and the bullet had missed any major organs. Then he sensed the familiar tug, saw a blue light, and leaped out of Jim Ellison's body.
Jim felt woozy, disoriented. He stared in shock at Simon laying in a hospital bed. The last thing he remembered…. He couldn't remember the last thing he remembered, but he knew he hadn't been in a hospital.
"That was a good job you did at the press conference, Jim," Joel complimented him. "Best mix of truth and lies I've ever heard."
Jim raised one light brown eyebrow. What press conference?
"Officially, it's like Jim said; the whole thing is nothing but fiction," Simon said.
"Officially, sure," Joel agreed. "But the whole office knows the truth." The heavy-set detective turned to Jim. "Not that we'll say anything. Don't worry, Jim. The fuss will die down in a day or two."
Simon announced, "I'm more worried about Bartley dying in a day or two. Now that Zeller's out of the picture, he wants to have his rally after all."
"That's what Jim and I came down to tell you, Cap." Joel looked at Jim. "You want to break the bad news, or shall I?"
Since Jim had no idea what Joel was talking about, he said, "Be my guest."
"The coroner said the body at the hobby shop was Haber's. Unless Zeller was completely consumed in the fire, he's still out there, and he'll still be after Bartley," Joel predicted.
Jim took a deep breath. This must have been some variation of a zone-out. He'd better not tell Blair, or the kid would want to run ten thousand different types of tests. But crime wouldn't wait for zone-outs, or sleepwalking, or whatever had happened to him. Time to get back to work and catch the Iceman.
Author's Note: This story would've been impossible to write had not Becky transcribed the finale of The Sentinel and posted it on the Internet. Some scenes were taken word for word from Bill Froehlich's "The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg." Muchas gracias, Becky.
Copyright Susan M. M., March 13, 2006 Based on characters and situations created by Danny Bilson, Paul DeMeo, and Donald Bellisario. No intent to defraud or break copyright—characters & setting merely borrowed. Previously published in the fanzine Chinook #3. Forgive my lack of modesty in bragging, but this story was the 2007 FanQ Honorable Mention for Best MultiMedia Story.