Cheryl did a double duty Beta job on this so thanks. PG for no particular reason.

Takes place some years after TSbyBS. Two strangers meet at the Last Chance Cafe.


LAST CHANCE



Crowswork






The shabby and footsore man looked young until you saw the pain in his eyes and the silver threading through his close cropped hair. He came into Last Chance's only diner and flopped down in a booth with a weary sigh. He was oddly still as he huddled deep into the high backed seat. It was as though he had a lot of practice looking insignificant. None of the regulars noticed him as he sat sipping endless cups of coffee all morning.

The Sheriff came in at noon and ordered his customary lunch. He was a balding middle-aged man who walked with an obvious limp. He settled gingerly onto a barstool at the counter as he glanced around the diner before looking back at the waitress.

"How are those campers you rescued?" Katie, the waitress, smiled at the dusty, khaki clad figure as she handed the sheriff his lunch. "It was something how you found those kids, Sheriff. The chopper pilot said you were like a Superman or something."

"They're fine. And finding them was just dumb luck, Katie."

The man in the booth waited until the waitress left before he spoke. "Maybe you have enhanced senses? Better sight and hearing? Smell and taste off the charts. Extra sensitive touchy feely."

The Sheriff tensed but didn't turn as he continued to eat. "Shouldn't believe everything you hear on the radio. It was a one-time thing."

"I knew someone once." The younger man ran his hands through his short hair. "He had all five senses enhanced. A Sentinel. He was a detective in a big city out west."

"Really?"

"I wanted so desperately to study him. I think... Sometimes I forgot that he was a person first and a Sentinel second."

"Really?" The older man's tone was slightly less skeptical than the last time he said it.

"I do know that he was my best friend -- until we had a falling out."

"A falling out?" The Sheriff glanced sideways as Katie returned and refilled his sweet ice tea.

"Okay... Big honkin', knock-down, drag-out fight. I stormed out in a rage and left town." The young man sat still and spoke very quietly. "I calmed down and came home to find my friend, Jim gone. He'd just vanished. A lot of people believed that he was dead... murdered by some enemy. Or snatched up by the government. Or maybe hiding from the vultures in the media."

"Shame. Law enforcement could use someone like that."

"Anyway. I set out to look for him -- God, I've looked forever -- but I never found him. I heard a story about you on the local radio, so I decided to stop here. I thought if I could find and help another Sentinel... It just might help, you know, make up for failing my friend."

"Katie give me two pieces of that apple-raspberry pie." The tall, gray-bearded man limped slightly as he carried the desserts and his sweet tea over to the table. "Here kid, eat up. You look like a strong breeze could carry you off."

"I'm not very hungry." The thin figure didn't move until a fork was placed into his fist. Then he wolfed down the luscious confection in four bites. "Thanks."

"Not hungry, huh?" The empty plate was replaced with the untouched second serving. "Save me from myself, kid. I need to lose a few pounds, anyway."

"It's good." A shadow of a smile ghosted across the stranger's face. "Okay. It's the best pie ever, in the history of the world."

"How long has it been since you had a decent meal or a good night's sleep?"

"I don't know. I've been looking for so long -- I guess, I gave up eating and sleeping about the same time I gave up hope."

"I know what it's like to lose a friend, you know. I had a buddy once -- years ago -- one in a million. He'd walk through fire for me." The Sheriff leaned back and looked out the window at the desert. "I was a real self-centered jerk back then. I kept testing his loyalty. Doubting him. Finally, he had to give up his way of life to prove that he... loved me. I use the word love in a platonic way, of course."

The young man nodded, returned the slight smile and took another bite of pie.

"Anyway... I couldn't live with the idea that I'd destroyed my best friend so I turned self-destructive. Took chances, chased the wrong guy down the wrong alley. I was grabbed and worked over pretty badly. They tossed me in a truck and dumped me out here in the desert to die. I survived... sort of."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be. I have a good life. The only vultures out here are the flying kind."

"Sounds like a nice town."

"If you like dry and hot."

"Beats cold and wet."

"You're looking kinda beat. I have an empty room over at my place. Think, maybe you might wanna hang around a while?"

"I'd need a job if I stayed."

The Sheriff grinned. "You came at a good time. My dispatcher-secretary -- oh hell, the person who does everything I can't, over at the jail -- just quit."

"Was that a job offer?"

"Yep, I believe it was."

"Sounds good to me." The not-really-so-young man put out his hand. "Jacob Blair."

The Sheriff's wide smile made him remarkably handsome. The corners of his eyes crinkled and their pale blue color was startling next to the deeply tanned skin. "Good to meet you, Blair. My name is Ellis... Jim Ellis."

"I'm happy to meet you, Jim." Blair Sandburg grinned and for the first time in years he looked and felt like himself. "You have no idea how happy."

"I have a pretty good idea, Chief." Jim's voice was soft as he stood and gestured for Blair to follow. "Let's go home."

"I could sleep for a week."

"Do whatever you want, Chief." Jim grinned, looking down at the other man who was almost staggering with exhaustion. He placed a steadying hand on Blair's shoulder. "We have all the time in the world."

The End

This is based on a country song and Herbert My Hedgehog.


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