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Sandburg sat back on his heels and watched his partner unpack the rest of their gear. "Man it's too bad Simon and Daryl had to cancel out on this weekend. This is such a great camp spot."
"Yeah, but at least Brown and Rafe got to come with us. Brown's been wanting to go fishing for weeks." Ellison looked around the inside of their two-man tent, finally satisfied that everything was in its proper place.
"Well, sure, Brown's happy, but what about Rafe? He sure doesn't strike me as the outdoor type. I'd hate to think that he's putting up with a miserable weekend just because it's what WE like to do."
In the other tent, another conversation was taking place.
"Come on, man, if you hate camping so much, why'd you agree to come with us?
Rafe sighed and sat down on the sleeping bag he had borrowed from Henry. When H had offered his son's bag it had never occurred that it would be covered with purple dinosaurs and only come up to his waist. "How could I say 'No'? I would have looked like a wimp in front of everybody. Besides, I don't know if I hate it, I've never been camping before."
"I grew up in New York, man. Central Park was the closest I came to roughing it. Tell me that we've at least got hot water around here somewhere, after setting up this tent I'm ready for a shower."
Brown had been very proud of the fact that he had not snickered when he caught a glimpse of silk pajamas in Rafe's bag, but this was too much. You're expecting a hot shower? Man, be grateful that there's an outhouse within walking distance, Sandburg and Ellison usually camp where you gotta dig your own."
Sandburg moved up the hill after dumping his catch in the bucket and leaving his fishing spear next to it. Rafe didn't say a word as the younger man sat down next to him.
"You sure you don't want to try it?
"No Blair. You, Jim and Henry have got enough fish to feed all of us."
After a few minutes of silence, Sandburg decided to go for it. "Hey, Rafe?"
"You ever go fishing with your dad?"
"My dad?" That got the other man laughing. "Sandburg, my dad is an investment banker for one of the largest firms in Manhattan. He wouldn't know a fishing pole if he had one in his hand."
"Did you miss it?"
"What was it like growing up in a big city like that?"
A wistful smile touched Rafe's face. "It was great. We had the best opera, the best theater, and you can't even begin to imagine the food."
"It must make Cascade seem like Hicksville."
"No, not really."
Sandburg pushed a little more. "But you miss it."
A nod, then a whispered answer. "Yeah, sometimes."
"Rafe, why are you here?"
"You mean, why did I move to Cascade?"
"No, why are you here in the middle of nowhere with us?" Blair was pretty sure He knew the answer, but he wanted to hear it.
"Do you know what it's like to be the odd man out?
Blair couldn't help but grin. "Who me? Mr. Blair 'stay in the truck, you're not a cop' Sandburg? What would I know about that?"
That brought a smile to the serious face. "All of Major Crime likes to camp and fish, I just want to fit in."
"You fit in by being yourself, man."
"No buts. I don't think Simon could take another Jim. But Major Crime would be missing something if it didn't have a Rafe."
"Thanks." One word, but the expression spoke much more.
Sandburg stood up and clasped the other man's shoulder. "Come on, what do you say we get ourselves a latte'."
"Hey, we're not total barbarians, here."
Rafe kept grinning. "Yeah, but a latte'?"
"You'd be surprised how good instant tastes when you're roughing it."
Accepting the hand up, Rafe stood. "Well, anything's got to be better than that sludge Brown was trying to pass off for coffee at lunch."
Down on the bank, blue eyes followed their progress. A voice to his left startled him.
"Is Rafe OK? I shouldn't have talked him into this."
Ellison smiled at the worried, dark-skinned man next to him. "He's fine."
Sandburg stumbled out of the tent with his flashlight in his hand. A voice in the darkness startled him.
"Hey, Sandburg, why don't you turn that thing on if you're going to drag it around with you?"
"Yeah, what are you doing stumbling around in the dark?"
"Oh man..." Sandburg dropped down beside Rafe "...you scared me. I thought everyone was asleep. I didn't want the light to wake up Jim. What are you doing up?"
"I can't get over the stars. I've never seen them so bright before."
Blair looked up to where Rafe was pointing. "Yeah, when you get away from the lights of the city it really makes a difference. Sometimes Jim and I borrow a cabin from a friend of mine and spend the entire time looking through the telescope he has set up there."
"Yeah it's great. It's about 20 miles east of here, got solar powered water heater, the whole bit. We were gonna go there this week-end, but Brown really had his heart set on fishing."
"We were going to stay there? Remind me to kill my partner later, will you?"
"It's not so bad, Rafe. Well, I'm gonna make one more run to the little fisherman's room before I turn in. See you in the morning." Sandburg stood up and moved towards the path, not turning on the flashlight until he was well past the tents.
"Wait up!" Rafe scrambled to his feet and rushed to catch up with the other man. "I'll never find Brown's flashlight. I'll go with you."
The two men were silent until they could see the wooden structure.
"This is probably a stupid question, but..." A rustling in the underbrush attracted his attention.
"But what, man? It's OK, you can ask me anything."
"There aren't any bears around here, are there?" The disturbance in the bushes became louder, then a dark shape bounded through with an unearthly growl.
Rafe desperately shoved Sandburg out of the path of the animal, but it was too late as he felt the impact of a fur covered body against his legs and the two men went down under it.
The sleeping Sentinel was aware of his Guide's departure from the warmth of their tent. The soft voices tickled at his hearing without really waking him fully. Suddenly the tone of the voices changed, bringing him instantly awake.
"There aren't any bears around here, are there?"
Ellison rolled to his feet, and grabbed his gun as he heard the growl. He shoved one foot into his boot, then heard the sound that made his blood run cold.
Abandoning the other boot, he ran out of the tent and down the path his best friend had taken only moments earlier. Brown stuck his head out and saw the panicked detective run past. He didn't ask questions, just followed, his own gun in hand.
Ellison entered the clearing and raised his gun, waiting for a clear shot to protect the two downed men. The sharp odor of blood was in the air, and the Sentinel dialed up his sight in an attempt to ascertain the level of injury that had befallen his Guide.
Red caught his eye and he zeroed in on it to find........
A red bow.
"What the hell?" Ellison lowered his gun and stared at the sight now visible to him in the moonlight. Sandburg was sprawled on the dirt, flattened by Rafe's form on top of him. The third body in the pile was not the bear or cougar that he was expecting. Instead it was a large poodle; complete with painted toenails and a perky bow next to one carefully groomed ear. The dog turned and looked at him.
Just then, Brown dashed into the clearing. With normal sight and no flashlight he did not see Ellison and ran into him, sending both men down into a pile next to their partners.
Before any of them had a chance to untangle themselves and regain their dignity, a feminine voice could be heard from the camp just past the bushes.
"Lucy Lynn? Lucy Lynn, where are you, you naughty girl?" A heavy-set woman with frosted hair and bright red pedal-pushers, stepped over the bushes to stand next to the four men.
"You naughty girl, did you knock these nice men down?" She looked down at the tangled detectives and smiled apologetically. "I'm so sorry; she gets a little wild when she eats sugar, and she just stole a whole box of petite-fortes."
The woman turned back to the dog. "Now look at you, you've got frosting all over you. Let's go back to the RV and get you cleaned up." Woman and dog left without another glance.
Rafe accepted a hand up from his partner while Sandburg just rolled onto his back and moaned. "Oh, man.... was it my imagination, or was she color-coordinated to the dog?"
Ellison didn't answer, just started checking for the blood he had smelled earlier.
"Oww, oww" Sandburg pulled his arm away from inquisitive fingers.
"What happened there, Chief?"
"I cut it on a rock. Man, take it easy."
Rafe leaned against a tree with his partner hovering nearby. "Man, I don't believe this!" He shook his head in disgust.
Ellison pulled Sandburg up and leaned him next to Rafe. "What about you, are you hurt, Rafe?" He focused a little more closely on the other man, but saw no reason for his agitation.
Brown watched as his partner shook his head again. "What is it, man? Come on, talk to us."
"A poodle. A damn poodle. You guys must think I'm an idiot."
"An idiot? Why would we think that?" Ellison turned a puzzled face to him. "In the woods, in the dark, something jumped out and you protected my partner. Hell, I didn't know what it was until I saw that stupid bow. How were you supposed to know? Thanks, man." Jim held out his hand.
Rafe slowly took the offered hand and shook it. "Thanks, Jim. That means a lot." After a moment, he began to laugh, and then Blair joined him.
Ellison and Brown looked at each other, then back to the two young men. Ellison spoke first. "What's so darn funny?"
Blair wiped at the tears now streaming down his face. "You, man." He stopped, laughing too hard to continue. After a second, Brown began to giggle.
Rafe swallowed hard and tried to regain some composure. "The look on your face when you saw that poodle, it was priceless. And then when Brown ran into you, it was like something out of the keystone cops, man."
Ellison's jaw twitched, once, twice, then he couldn't hold back any longer and his laughter joined the others.
Notes: The poodle encounter actually happened to my Mother when I was a child. It came through the bushes outside the campground restroom in the dark and my Mom screamed, absolutely terrifying the poor dog. We had many a chuckle over the story of her "wild animal" experience.
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