DISCLAIMER
All standard disclaimers apply. The main characters are not mine. I recognize and respect the applicable copyrights, including but not limited to those of Paramount and Pet Fly Productions. This story has been created for the enjoyment of The Sentinel fans. On that note, enjoy!


YOUNG CROSSROADS



Teresa Buckley






Another Monday morning and Cascade's Major Crimes Unit was bustling with activity.

"Ellison, Sandburg, in my office," Captain Simon Banks called as the two men were hanging their jackets on the rack near Jim Ellison's desk.

"I wonder what's on tap today?" Blair Sandburg's shoulder length curls were tied back, and flipped from side to side as he silently greeted the people passing by them.

"I don't know Chief." Jim smiled. Blair may not be a cop, but he's as much a member of this squad as anyone, he thought to himself. "Let's find out."

They made their way to Simon's office and closed the door, once inside.

"Glad you could make it this morning Sandburg." Simon offered them some fresh coffee.

"Yeah, thanks." He accepted a cup and handed it to Jim. "My teaching schedule is light this semester."

"So you'll have some free time?"

Simon's easy smile caught Jim's attention. What's he up to?

"I should be able to help Jim on this case for almost all of this week." He accepted the second cup and sat down.

Jim sat in the other chair in front of Simon's desk. "Which case is this, sir?"

"In a minute." Simon held up a finger to delay the question. "So what about Friday," he asked Blair, "do you have Friday or Saturday free?"

"Yeah, both days." He looked at Jim. Blair's raised eyebrows asked, Why?

"Good!" Simon's smile widened. "My son's school is having a Carnival this weekend. The parents are helping out, but it looks like we might be shorthanded. Consider yourself volunteered."

"Oh, sure Simon." Blair smiled brightly.

Jim added, "We'd be happy to help out."

"Sorry Jim." Simon's smile seemed to grow wider by the moment. "Darrel just needs Blair."

Jim wondered again, What is he up to?

Blair said, "A Carnival sounds like fun! Tell Darrel I'd be happy to."

"Wonderful!" Before Jim could ask, Simon continued, "Now back to this case! You're both aware of the arson that took place over the weekend?"

"The mink farm near the edge of town." Jim recounted the details they had heard on the news, "The animals were set loose and the barn they were housed in was burned to the ground." He sipped his coffee.

"Gang symbols were found spray painted near the barn. Have either of you heard of the street gang Straight Edge?"

Jim shook his head 'no'.

Blair leaned forward, and with his cup in both hands he said, "The Straight Edgers of the East Coast, believe in clean living, no drugs, alcohol, or tobacco. They believe they can keep control over their lives and live more positively without those things. But Simon, come on!" his voice wavered, showing his disbelief. "These kids believe in personal freedom and choice. They want to better themselves and the world. They wouldn't --"

Simon put his left hand up before Blair could argue on behalf of these kids. "Before you vouch for them, you should talk with Holly Holloway. She's an expert on this gang. She's on her way up from Utah. She's not a cop, but she was referred to us by them."

"When will she arrive?" Jim asked.

"Any time now. I want you two to take her to the scene, confirm the Straight Edge involvement. Rafe has the reports from Forensics. He and Brown have been handling this case. They are looking into an anonymous tip about our firebug. Mrs. Holloway has her theories, work with her on them."

"Mrs?" Blair asked, sounding disappointed.

Simon continued without missing a beat. "A known Straight Edger named Julie Fox has recently moved here from Salt Lake with her father. Her parents have just divorced. And Mrs.," he glanced at Blair, "Holloway is suggesting that she has started a branch of the gang known as Hardliners, here in Cascade. In case they have already organized, I'm assigning both of you and Brown and Rafe to this case." Simon paused, looking down at his hands on his desk. "If there are kids organizing out there, we could have another arson any day. I'd like to prevent that, gentlemen."

He looked up, and Jim could tell he was thinking of his son, Darryl.

"These kids are probably all teens. If we can find a way to keep them from throwing the rest of their lives away, I'd like to prevent that too." Simon stood up. "Questions?"

Jim and Blair glanced at each other, then Jim spoke for them both.

"No, sir."

"Dismissed."


Rafe was standing at his desk slipping some papers into a manilla folder. He looked up in time to see Jim and Blair approaching. His dark hair was cut short like Jim's, and like Jim, he towered over Blair.

"Hey guys!" He smiled and sat on the edge of his desk. "Simon fill you in?" He motioned in the direction of Simon's office with the folder.

"Yeah. What do the Forensics reports say?" Jim accepted the out-stretched folder.

"Molotov Cocktails. The place was splashed with gasoline first, all over the walls inside. Someone wanted to make sure the barn would burn to the ground. The wood was old and dry so it wouldn't have taken much."

Blair asked, "Where's Brown?"

"Right behind you, hair-boy." Detective Brown's athletic build made him a formidable figure, but his bald head made the comment purely amusing. He laughed when Blair flinched, and then made the introductions. "Holly Holloway, may I present Detectives Ellison and Rafe."

She shook their hands respectively. Her handshake was solid; her dark eyes were bright.

"And Mr Sandburg."

"Please, call me Blair." His blue eyes were almost as bright as the blush in his cheeks.

"Or, Hair-boy." Brown suggested with another laugh.

"Do you think I could get away with it?" she asked Brown, running her fingertips through her dark, pixie cut.

"Girl," Brown said, "Ellison's got more hair than you do!"

Surprised by the informality of the introductions, Jim asked, "How long have you two known each other?"

Holly answered, "We've just met today." She raised her eyebrows and shoulders in unison.

"We should get started," Rafe said.

"Okay," she said, moving so that she could face all four of them at once, "if I'm right, our transplant, Julie Fox, has gathered a few followers. She's planning another arson. She'll want to do it soon, to keep up the momentum they've got so far," she explained, talking with her hands as much as her voice. In turn, she looked each man directly in the eyes. She was about Blair's height and had a slender figure, but she spoke with an authority that demanded your undivided attention. "They've taken into account the possibility that one of them may be arrested. In fact I'd say she's counting on it. Only one of them will take the blame."

"So that the others can continue onto the next target," Jim said.

"Exactly. And the one that's arrested will use the opportunity to spread the word about Straight Edge Hardliners through televison and print interviews."

"Hardliners?" Blair asked.

"Yes. Many Straight Edgers want a clean and positive life. They have seen their friends fighting and dying and decided that they wanted a future. They began to see drugs and alcohol as counter-productive. Some are vegetarian, some are celibate, but the movement was supposed to be about personal freedom and choice." She pronounced each word precisely. "Now, there are some members that have gone to a violent extreme. They use the clean living ideals as an excuse for violent behavior, then they hide behind it and rationalize their behavior into something acceptable. They are the Hardliners."

"Can you give us an example?" Rafe asked.

"The Hardliners started off as pushy or preachy. They used violence to intimidate. Then it grew out-of-hand. An example," she nodded at Rafe, then took a breath and continued. "A man was beaten with a baseball bat for smoking in public." Her tone was casual.

"Just tobacco, or was it marijuana?" Blair asked.

"Just a cigarette. The one they caught smoking pot ended up in the ER with a slash across his back. It went from his left shoulder to his waist -- right side. Split him right open." Once again her tone was more matter-of-fact than anything else. "The last incident I worked on was just before I left Utah. A group of about thirty Hardliners ambushed a group of fraternity brothers. The college kids were about fifteen in number. They were beaten with baseball bats, chains, and bricks, sending some of the frat brothers to the hospital."

"They are violent, and they are dangerous." Brown almost whispered.

"The most dangerous thing," she began, then began again, "the one thing you'll want to keep in mind is this: The regular rules don't apply."

"The Mafia had rules, but not these street punks?" Rafe was suddenly confused.

"Okay, hear me out." She had both hands up to ward off interruptions. "Utah isn't like the rest of the country, and the Gangs in Utah don't follow the rules that their counterparts in say, California, do. And I mean everything. From membership restriction like: you have to be from the neighborhood, or of a certain ethnic background, to lifelong loyalty. There are girls that change gang affiliation as often as they change boyfriends. She finds a new boyfriend who is a member of another gang, so she changes her affiliation."

"No," Brown shook his head. "You join a gang, you're supposed to join for life. That's why it's so hard to get these kids to give up their gangs."

"Not always, and not in Utah. It is true for some, don't get me wrong, but most of the gang bangers are just wanna-b's. They don't have the organization or influence that their counterparts elsewhere do. That is the most dangerous thing about these kids. Their unpredictability."


Jim, Blair, and Holly arrived at the arson scene. The two-tone, half-ton Ford left a trail of dust as it rolled up the dirt driveway. They passed the modest, one level house with it's small yard and went all the way to the end of the drive. To their left was the charred remains of the barn. To their right was an old tractor, a 1949 Dodge pick-up, and a stack of cinder blocks. They each were marked with a neon green X.

Jim walked over to examine the barn's foundation.

Blair and Holly moved toward the markings.

"Why an X?" Blair asked.

"As I understand it, it started on the East Coast." Holly began the history lesson. "Somewhere in Washington D.C. there was a club that used to mark minors with an X on the back of the hand. That was to prevent them from getting any alcoholic drinks. Then some of them started showing up with the X already drawn on. They said that they were there for the show or to see their friends, but not to drink. So the X became the symbol for these kids to identify each other with."

"I see," Blair nodded. "You know, it's not unlike the tribal ritual tattooing of the eastern--"

"Don't get him started Mrs. Holloway, please," Jim interrupted, "this could last for days." He smiled, then nodded in the direction of the barn's foundation. "The foundation is solid. The reports say that the owners intend to rebuild."

"I wonder if we could use that," Holly thought aloud.

"How do you mean?" Jim asked.

"Well, I'm no expert on reform," she shrugged her shoulders, "but I've heard it said that a child who is involved in building up a community is less likely to tear it down."

"Are you talking about rebuilding this barn?" Blair asked. "As a punishment for burning it down, these kids should be involved in rebuilding it?"

"That could work." Jim's jaw was set firm as his mind calculated the possibilities.

"Like a form of Community Service!" Blair nodded as if it had officially been decided.

"We'll have to run it by Simon when we get back to the station," Jim said.

The two men headed for the truck, but it only took a few steps for them to notice Holly had not joined them. She seemed to be staring off into the neighboring field.

"Mrs. Holloway? Is everything all right?" Jim asked.

"I was just thinking," she said, looking around. "When I said I wasn't an expert on reform, it reminded me of my son." She motioned toward the field, "And the quiet out here! We used to go camping. Joe would always say how quiet it was, and how peaceful." She turned with a blush on her cheeks. "I am an expert on Straight Edge. And that I owe to my Joe."

"Your son is a Straight Edger?" Blair asked.

"Was," she corrected. "When they first showed up in Utah, I thought: This is great! Sign my kid up." With a slight shake of her head and a dimming in her eyes she continued, "He got caught up in the movement. He didn't know when to say when. It happened so fast. The next thing he knew he was involved in a bombing. Something went wrong. And the next thing we knew we were planning his funeral."

"I'm sorry." Jim's tone was somber.

"Yeah, we're both . . . is there anything we can . . . " Blair's compassion stopped his voice.

"Oh, I'm all right," her voice was soft and worn. "These kids want so much to belong. To be a part of something more. They want that so much, it hurts."


On Wednesday, at lunchtime, Blair and Jim were going to treat Holly to --

"-- the best Italian food in Cascade. Trust me!" Blair's loose hair lifted lightly in the breeze. "And it's just down the street within walking distance."

Jim noticed a young man hovering near the main doors which they had just exited. He was wearing cowboy boots, tight blue jeans, a white t-shirt, and ball cap.

"Hold on just a second guys." They stopped and Jim took two steps back toward the building. "Hey, are you looking for somebody?"

The young man looked Jim over, then seemed to assess the two waiting at the sidewalk. "Yeah," he hesitated. Then acted as if he had just made the most important decision of his life. He took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, stood tall, and approached Jim. "My name is Mike and I would like to talk with someone about the mink barn that burned down." His blue ball cap shaded his eyes. His light hair was long and permed in the back. The curls covered his neck. His boots scraped the cement when he stepped back to face the two that had joined Jim.

"Okay, I'm Detective Ellison, Cascade P.D. You can talk to me."

Jim moved toward the door, but Mike just looked nervously at the building.

"Or?" Holly suggested, "We could talk about it over lunch."

Mike grabbed his hat off his head revealing a buzz cut. All but the hair in back was cut short. "Ma'm, thank you. The police station kinda makes me nervous."

"I can tell," she said.

"Have you ever been to Big G's?" Blair asked Mike.

"Big G's Spaghetti Company? Well sure! Best garden fettuccini in town!"

Mike and Blair walked ahead discussing cuisine, while Jim and Holly followed. The conversation continued until their orders were taken and bread sticks served to them in a booth in the back. Big G's was busy but the booth provided enough quiet and privacy for Jim to bring up their original topic.

"So Mike, what do you know about that mink barn?"

"Yeah, guess we should get back to that," he said, shifting in the booth and moving his cap onto the bench beside him. "My girlfriend said she did it."

"When did she tell you that?" Jim asked.

"Last night. I knew she was into that Straight Edge stuff, but I didn't think she'd go that far out on the edge." He shook his head to hide the disbelief in his eyes. "She's really sweet. I don't even know if I believe her."

"Then why did you come to the station?" Jim asked.

"Well, she said she has something special planned for tomorrow night. I was thinking maybe a candlelight dinner." He glanced at Holly and blushed. "But then she said to wear all black clothes and to have a full gas can handy when we meet at my house." He seemed to be studying the table. "I didn't know what else to do. If she was telling the truth last night?" He shrugged his shoulders.

"You did the right thing," Jim reassured Mike.

Holly asked, "What is your girlfriend's name?"

"Julie Fox."

Holly and Jim exchanged a glance. Jim began to slide out of the booth, but their salad arrived.

Blair thanked their waiter then asked, "So what do we do now? I'd hate to waste all the food we've got coming."

"Mike, would you be willing to work with us on this? With your parents permission we can hide a microphone in your living room, maybe even a camera. When she shows up, you invite her in and let her talk about what she's planning," Jim spoke, holding the boy's gaze.

"Yeah. If Julie is the one you're looking for, you'll be able to stop her before anything happens, right?"

"We'll be nearby the whole time. All you'll have to do is get her to tell you about either what she is planning, or what happened at the barn. That gives you a couple of options to work with. I'm going to call Simon, he can get things rolling on that end. We may as well finish this interview here. After all, we do need to eat." He smiled to put Mike at ease, and left to make the call.


Thursday evening Mike's parents went out to dinner. The surveillance van was parked two houses away with Holly inside. The neighbors across the street were on vacation and Jim's truck was parked in their driveway with the hood up. Jim had a rag and wrench and was peering in at the engine.

"That must be her," Blair said, turning away from the young blond that was walking towards Mike's house. "Black jeans, black long-sleeved shirt, even her shoes are black."

"Yeah, but she doesn't look nervous," Jim said, looking over Blair's shoulder. "She's not looking around, her pace is casual."

The sun had just set and the light was quickly draining from the sky.

She walked up to the door and rang the bell.

"Here we go," Blair said, casually glancing up the street.

Jim closed the hood, and they climbed into the cab.

They watched Mike open the door and step aside, but Julie didn't go in.

"Jim?" Blair asked, looking out the passenger window.

"Just a second, Chief, I'm trying to hear what they're saying." Concentrate, he told himself, focus on hearing.


"Come on outside, I have a surprise for you," she told Mike.

He took a few steps while protesting, "Can't it wait? I want to talk to you, Julie."

"Nope." She walked backward toward the street. "We can talk in just a minute."

"One minute?" Mike asked, following her helplessly toward the street.


"Ah, Jim?" Blair asked again.

With a jerk of his head, "Chief, you know I tuned up my hearing!" Jim's scolding was cut short when he saw what had caught Blair's attention.

A yellow jeep filled with teenagers was approaching Mike and Julie. It reached them just as Jim dialed for Simon on his cell phone.

"I didn't hear the rest of their conversation!"

Simon answered. Jim said, "Captain!" Then the Jeep's tires squealed and put a three foot patch of rubber on the ground. Jim dropped the phone on the seat beside him.

"Aw, you've got to be kidding me!" Blair nearly shouted as the old Ford's engine roared to life. He took the phone from the seat, but Simon had already hung up.

They followed the Jeep through three side-streets and an allyeyway then lost sight of them.

"They can't be very far away," Jim said, leaning out his window. "They didn't have enough time to get very far."

"Try listening," Blair suggested. "Tune out everything else. Remember their conversation back at the house. Focus on the voices, then add the sounds of that Jeep."

Jim settled down, and turning his head slightly he found the sounds he was looking for. "Got em!"

They drove slowly, navigating the back roads by following the sounds only Jim could hear. Within five minutes they pulled over and stopped.

"What is it Jim?"

"They've stopped up ahead. I don't want to pull up and scare them off."

"Do you know where they are?"

"Not specifically." Jim's jaw was set firm. "Let's get closer and find out exactly where they are, then call for back-up." Jim pocketed his cell phone and stepped out of his truck.

They walked around a corner and up the road to where the Jeep was parked by an open field.

"I smell gasoline."

"More Molotov Cocktails?"

"Could be." Jim pointed across the field. "They went that way."

As they neared the far end of the field Blair began to hear the commotion that had drawn Jim.

"They're by that warehouse," Blair whispered. "It's too dark. Can you make out any sign or markings on the building?"

"Yeah, Leather House Inc. They wholesale leather goods to stores all over town."

"Are they trying to break in?"

"Not yet. The group by the door is working with the gas. Mike and Julie are in the parking lot, there." Jim pointed to the shadowy figures away from the building.

They called Simon and relaid their information, then crept closer to Mike and Julie.


"Just tell me why," Mike said, spreading his arms out at his sides. "Why do you want to hurt these people?" He pointed at the warehouse.

"Because they hurt animals!" She nearly shouted. "Those animals are helpless and they don't have anyone willing to fight for them. No one is willing to take the actions necessary to show them that what they're doing to these animals isn't right."

"And burning a business is right?"

"It doesn't really hurt those people anyway. They're insured, and they'll probably just rebuild. But what they're doing can't be undone! We can't rebuild those animals and bring them back."

"Julie, it's more than just a business. It's a family's livelihood." Mike pleaded for her to understand.

"Well then maybe they should find another livelihood."

"And who are you to decide that?"

"Who was it that freed the slaves? And who were they to decide that those people should be free?" She asked defiantly. "They were revolutionists. They stood up to that injustice back then, and we're standing up to this injustice now!" She stepped toward him with outstretched arms. "If we don't do it, who will? Someone has to stand up for those that can't stand up for themselves."

From near the door to the warehouse, "Hey guys, we're ready to go here."

"Hold on just a second," she commanded. "Mike?" She held her arms out to him again. "I could show you statistics and pictures of how they treat these animals. But it doesn't matter right now. It doesn't matter," she tried to reassure him. "What does matter is how you feel in your heart and in your soul." Her empty hands still reached out for him.


Blair whispered, "Jim we have to do something. They're about to break in."

"No, wait. I hear cars approaching. No lights or sirens, but they're close and there are several of them."

"You think it's Simon?"


Mike reached out and took her into his arms. "I care about you Julie. I don't agree with what you're doing, but I do care about you."

"You don't have to participate, at least not tonight. We can talk about this more later. I can explain--"

"No," he interrupted, "I can't let you do this. I never could."

She looked into his face. Then their eyes were assaulted by flashing blues and reds. Some of the kids fled into the field only to be apprehended by the police officers waiting on the other side. They were all taken into custody.


"I'm glad you could stay an extra day Mrs. Holloway."

"Please, call me Holly. And thank you. I haven't been to a Carnival in years!"

"There's Simon." Jim guided her through the crowd.

Simon's bear chest glistened in the sun. His purple tights rolled with the muscle of his legs. "What about you, sir?" He bellowed, "All you have to do is take this, hit that, and ring the bell!" He caught sight of Jim and Holly. "YOU!" His commanding voice threw the crowd's attention in the direction his finger was pointing. "Ring the bell, win the lady a prize!"

With a smile, Jim accepted the mallet. "You look good in purple, sir."

"Wait till you see Sandburg." Simon smiled and stepped back. "Ladies and gentlemen!" he bellowed again. "Let's see if this one can --"

Bing! Went the bell.

"Oh, ladies and gentlemen!" Simon announced as the crowd clapped their approval. "We have a winner!"

Holly picked out a stuffed baby kangaroo from an arrangement as Simon's replacement arrived.

"Where is Blair anyway?" Jim asked Simon.

"Right this way!" He made a grand gesture and led them down the fairway. "Oh, and I heard back from Judge Sandavol. The mink farm owners agreed and they're working the rebuilding of that barn into the community service for those kids."

"That's great Simon." Then Jim heard Blair's voice.

"Aw, come on! Is that the best you can do? You throw like a girl!"

They were working their way to the front of the crowd when there was a very audible Ding and Ker-Splash! They were just in time to see a dripping Blair Sandburg climb out of the tank. His ruffly white clown suit was decorated with multi-colored pom poms and soaked. He sat back into the seat held out over the tank.

"That's better," he mumbled. He shook his head vigorously, expelling droplets in all directions.

The crowd laughed, and Simon approached the young lady who was next in line.

"Now what is he up to?" Jim asked.

Holly called out, "Hi Blair!" She waved enthusiastically.

Blair looked up, and waved with one hand while replacing his red ball nose with the other. "Hi Holly, Jim! Where's Simon?"

They both pointed.

Simon stood ready, with a ball in his hand. "Hello Sandburg!"

"Hey Simon, you're not gonna'--" Blair started.

Simon brought his arm up and back.

"No Simon, you wouldn't--" Blair giggled nervously.

Wosh!

Ding!

Ker-Splash!

AUTHOR
Young Crossroads was written by Teresa Buckley. Your comments are always welcome. Click Here to e-mail me.

SPECIAL THANKS
To Agnes Mage, my beta-reader and friend.
To Wolfpup, our gracious hostess.
And to Ferret Boy who's Straight Edge page gave insight into the positive aspects of the movement that have not been buried by the extremists.


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