[personal profile] starwatcher_fic

Title: Them's the Breaks
Summary: It can be surprising who's 'essential'.
Style: Gen
Size: 3,715 words, about 8 pages
Warnings: None
Notes: December 2008.
Feedback: Not necessary, but I certainly do like to get it!
Email: If you prefer not to post a comment that everybody can see, you can reach me at starwatcher -at- dreamwidth.org

Them's the Breaks

by StarWatcher


"I'm telling you, Jim -- beauty is not only in the eye of the beholder, it's a factor of one's culture as well." Blair hopped out of the truck and followed Jim to the elevator. "Like -- in our culture, there's an expectation that women will have full, lush hair, and men just have to wash and comb theirs. But in the Masai culture, women keep their heads shaved, while the warriors wear long braids, which they've dyed with red clay. Both standards are considered beautiful in their culture, but would stand out as unusual, or even ugly, when judged from a different culture."

"Sandburg, what does that have to do with the price of tea in China?" Jim asked as they stepped out of the elevator and headed toward Major Crime. "Or, more specifically, this case?"

"I don't know, yet," Blair admitted. "But I'm pretty sure that when we figure out why the perp is leaving pictures of spiders on the victims' kitchen tables, we'll have a major clue to his identity that will lead us right to him. I'll hit the library this afternoon and do a little research; I bet I can--"

He stopped short, staring at the attractive young woman behind Rhonda's desk. Speaking of hair -- hers fell in soft auburn waves, framing a golden complexion and setting off a pair of warm, brown eyes. Wow; a goddess. Blair quickly stepped ahead of Jim, who chuckled and moved back, leaving the playing field to his horndog partner. Blair was deliberately projecting 'friendly and sincere'.

"Hi! I'm Blair Sandburg and this is Jim Ellison. Are you looking for someone? I'm sure Rhonda will be back in a few minutes, but maybe I can help; I know everyone on this floor."

The goddess returned his smile. "I'm Felicity Harris; nice to meet you. But, no, I'm not looking for anyone. The temp agency sent me over while your secretary is out, and I'm just trying to figure out these forms in the computer."

"Oh, I can help with --"

"Temp agency?" Jim's voice overrode Blair's. "Why? What happened to Rhonda?"

"Is that your secretary?" Felicity shook her head slightly. "I don't know; I was just told to report here."

"Thank you." Jim's nod was curt. "C'mon, Chief; let's see what Simon knows." He strode away so quickly that Blair had to trot to keep up.

"Jim, get a grip. So Rhonda takes a couple of days off; it's not the end of the world."

"You should know better than that, Chief, either through your 'cultural observations' or because you've dealt with it at the university. A competent secretary is priceless, and one who doesn't know what she's doing can cause more damage than a dozen terrorists. If you think the Sunshine Patriots were bad..." Jim knocked briskly on the captain's door, and was through it while 'Come!' was still reverberating through the air.

"Simon, what happened to Rhonda, and when will she be back?"

The captain tossed down his pen and leaned back in his chair. "Good morning to you, too, Jim. Would you like a cup of coffee?"

Jim shook his head impatiently. "Simon, you know how fast things go to hell whenever Rhonda's not here. What happened, and how long will she be out?"

"Oh, come on, Jim!" Blair protested. "Temps are usually pretty good -- they have to be flexible, and comfortable with different types of systems. I mean, Rhonda's good, but she's not some magical superwoman. I think we should give Felicity a chance."

"Make time on your own time, Sandburg," Simon ordered, almost by reflex. "We can't keep her around just because you see dating possibilities. Jim's right. I don't know whether it comes from being a police secretary in general, or if it's the specific assignment to Major Crimes, but every time Rhonda's away, we start a slow slide toward Hell." His face tightened grimly as he shrugged. "But it can't be helped. Some idiot kid who should have known better lost control of his skateboard on a patch of ice and slammed into Rhonda outside of IKEA last night. The doctors tell her she can't use crutches or drive for at least six weeks, so she's stuck at home in a wheelchair."

Blair's creased brow showed his concern. "Man, that's rough. And Rhonda lives alone -- will she be able to manage? We could all pitch in--"

"She's okay. Rhonda said her niece is on Christmas break from college; she'll move in to help her aunt for the next month."

"Which is great for Rhonda," Jim growled, "but what about us?"

"We're adults, Ellison, and trained police officers; we don't need Rhonda to be our surrogate mommy. We'll just have to suck it up and deal with the secretarial fallout."

"But --"

"I'll help." Blair's offer couldn't hide his eagerness to talk to the lovely temp. "I can show her the ins and outs of the computer system."

"Fine; have at it. Now if you'll excuse me, gentlemen, I have paperwork to attend to -- as I'm sure you do as well, Ellison. Close the door behind you on your way out."

Obviously, further complaints would be useless. Jim headed toward his desk and booted up his computer, while Blair swerved toward the lovely Ms. Harris. Surely he could help her figure out the PD systems, and enjoy her company until Rhonda returned.


As soon as he stepped into the bullpen, Jim noticed the undercurrent of aggrieved mumbling; his fellow detectives were swearing quietly as they hunched over paper forms and notepads. What the hell?

Blair ignored this unusual behavior and turned eagerly toward Rhonda's desk -- to be met by the sharp gaze of an older woman, her brown hair liberally sprinkled with gray, wearing an air of firm competence.

"Uh... what happened to Felicity?"

"Ms. Harris decided her experience level was not suited to this position and asked to be reassigned. I'm Mrs. Saunders; I'll be taking over."

"But I thought Felicity really had a handle on things when we left yesterday," Blair protested. True, he'd had to leave her on her own when he'd followed Jim to ask more questions of the 'spider thief's victims, but what could have happened in the two hours before quitting time?

"Not so's you'd notice, babe," Henri said as he walked up. "Somehow she knocked out the entire computer network on this floor. We're just lucky the PD doesn't have the entire building on the same network; not everyone's been tossed back to the stone age." He handed some paper-clipped pages to their new temp. "Here you go, Mrs. Saunders; one copy to the prosecutor's office, another to the DA's office, I get the third copy, and the original goes in the permanent-file room at the end of the hall; turn right as you head out."

Blair stared slack-jawed as Henri headed back to his desk, then rallied and turned back to Mrs. Saunders. "Well, hey, I guess it could happen to anyone; I hope Felicity doesn't feel too bad about it. But anyway, thanks for stepping in."

"Do you have an estimate when the computers will be up again?" Jim asked, abruptly.

"The technicians are working; they expect it to be just another hour or two." Her reply was crisp and self-assured, but her eyes didn't meet theirs.

Jim grunted and strode toward his desk. Blair scrambled to follow, and gave Jim a light punch on the arm when he caught up. "Jeeze, man, can't you at least try to make nice?"

Jim shrugged as he sat down and noticeably aborted his move to switch on the computer. "I told you, Chief; everything will go down the tubes while Rhonda's out." He glared at the dark computer, then stood. "C'mon. We can check back at the earlier robberies; maybe the computers will be up when we get back."


"Detective Brown!" Simon thundered. "Why is the DA's office complaining to me that they don't have your information for the Clellan case?"

"Captain?" Henri blinked his confusion. "I don't know; I handed it to Mrs. Saunders yesterday, and told her where all the copies had to go. I thought I was clear."

Simon sighed as he pinched the bridge of his nose. "I suppose the pain was distracting, even though she tried to work through it. I'm quite sure she didn't expect to come down with acute appendicitis and leave here on a stretcher." He waved at Rhonda's desk; it was much too early for him to feel this tired. "You'll just have to go through those stacks of pages to find yours, make the copies yourself, and get them sent off."

"Yes, sir." Henri sat down and tentatively started going through the largest stack. "So, do we get a temp today, or do we have to wing it all by our lonesome? I just hope the next temp can get things in order."

"You and me both, Brown. Supposedly we've been granted a very competent woman, but I'm told she'll be in 'later'; she's had something come up," Simon growled as he returned to his office.


Blair pulled his coat tighter around him, and shivered as he looked toward the lowering gray clouds. It was a miserable day for an evacuation. "It's an ordinary break-room; how did she manage to start a fire?"

Jim shoved his hands into his pockets and lowered his sense of skin sensitivity another notch. "Good question, Chief. Ms. Flynn is either highly talented or highly inept. I did warn you--"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah; temps never fit into the PD. I'm beginning to believe you." Blair shivered again. "Can you tell how soon we'll be able to go back inside?"

Jim cocked his head as he extended his hearing, monitoring the progress of the firemen. "It'll be a while; the fire's out, and it sounds like the damage is minimal, but they have to check for hotspots."

"Great," Blair groaned. "Think we can wait in the truck? It'd be a little warmer."

"I've got a better idea." Jim used an arm around Blair's shoulders to urge him away from the PD. "I think we can wait in the coffee shop down the street, and make guesses about how the next temp will fall on her face."

"That's cold, man, really cold."

Jim watched the first scattered snowflakes begin to fall. "No pun intended, Chief? Besides, the temperature of my observation doesn't make it any less correct, does it?"

"I guess not," Blair agreed. "We need to give Rhonda a medal when she gets back. I knew she was good, but I wouldn't've believed that her job would put four temps on the ropes!"


Mrs. Williamson seemed unexceptional -- plump and cheerful, with softly-waving dark hair and a serene 'can-do' attitude. Blair welcomed her with a small, insincere smile, then made a beeline toward Henri's desk.

"Listen," he said urgently, "I think I've figured out a solution. You grab Dills, Rafe and Bennet. I'll pick up Jim, Joel, and Samuels, and we'll all meet in Interrogation Room Four in ten minutes."

It took fifteen minutes. Blair stopped the rising volume of questions and speculations by putting two fingers to his mouth to deliver a sharp, shrill whistle. "C'mon people!" he ordered. "We need to get this done before Simon gets suspicious."

Jim chuckled. "You're the one giving the lecture, Chief. Make it as long or as short as you want. I don't have any trouble blaming you if Simon comes charging through the door."

Blair rolled his eyes, but refused to dignify the teasing with a response. "Okay, in words of one syllable -- since it's likely that Major Crimes won't survive a succession of temps for the next month, I think we should talk Rhonda into coming back early. If we all pitch in and help, we can make it work -- but you'll all have to do your part."

As easily as that, he had everyone's attention. "What do you want us to do, Hairboy?" "Anything, Blair; it'll be worth it." "What's the plan, Chief?"

"It's simple; we'll have to be her transportation and legs until she's back on her feet. We'll set up a schedule -- a different person to pick her up and take her back home each day. She won't be able to reach the permanent files, so whoever's in the bullpen will need to take turns going to file things when Rhonda has a stack -- maybe around eleven and four each day."

Blair look around the table. There were approving nods as the others considered his suggestions. "And we'll need to arrange things a bit to make it easier for Rhonda to do things from her wheelchair," he continued. "Like, get a low table in the break-room to set the microwave and coffeepot on; she won't be able to reach them on the counter, and there might not be anyone around to help if she wants to grab a cup of coffee or heat up her lunch."

"It sounds like a good plan," Joel said. "If everyone does their part, it should work -- assuming Rhonda's willing. She might be enjoying a little time off."

Blair grinned. "I'm going to visit tomorrow; I'll wow her with my Hanukah cookies, then ask her. I'll get down on my knees and beg, if I have to. But I wanted to be sure we had it all worked out and everyone was on board before I suggested it to her."

"What about the copy machine?" Rafe asked. "She won't be able to manage that from her chair."

Henri poked him with an elbow, while Blair gave him a sharp look as he replied, "It's not like we're chiseling hieroglyphs on stone tablets. I think we can manage to do our own copying for the duration."

"I'm a pretty fair weekend carpenter," Dills offered. "I could make a good, sturdy railing to stand in front of the Xerox machine. If she wants to, Rhonda could stand on her good foot and use the railing to hold on to, and for balance."

"Thanks, Dills. Why don't you go ahead and make it, and Rhonda can decide if she'll be okay to use it. Even if it's not right away, she might feel comfortable giving it a try in a week or so." Blair looked around the table again. "Okay, transportation -- who wants what days?"

In short order, the plans were finalized. The transportation schedule was approved, and the 'incidentals' spoken for -- Dills would make the railing for the copy machine, Henri had a sturdy low table that he would lend for the duration, and Joel had a small, padded footstool that would allow Rhonda to keep her foot elevated. Bennet and Rafe agreed to look at the bullpen with an eye toward wheelchair-access; anything that would interfere with Rhonda moving from the door to her desk, or from her desk to Simon's office or the copy machine would be moved to another part of the room. A little crowding would be acceptable if it allowed Rhonda to take her proper place as Major Crimes' secretary.

Blair's face wore a broad smile. "This is great, guys! With just a little luck, I think we can make this work. -- Luck!" He turned toward his partner, radiating excitement. "Jim! Your 'spider thief' is Ukrainian... or at least has family from the Ukraine. C'mon, let's look at your notes."

He hurried from the room, while Jim shrugged at the puzzled glances coming from his fellow detectives. "That's what you get when you work with the absent-minded professor," he said with an affectionate smile. "But I'll lay you odds he's on the right track."

"I knew it!" Blair exclaimed as soon as he saw Jim. He pointed to the relevant place in Jim's case file. "Mr. Lutsenko works part-time as a stocker at Abbott's Pharmacy, and all of the victims get their prescriptions there. In Ukraine, a spider on a Christmas tree is a sign of good luck. He probably felt bad about robbing the people, and left the spider pictures to give them a little luck!"

Jim frowned over the name. "Sandburg, he hardly qualifies. Maybe his grandparents were from the Ukraine, but he was born and grew up an American."

"Exactly!" Blair crowed. "It's actually a neat story -- about a poor family who couldn't afford to decorate their Christmas tree, so that night the household spiders spun webs all over the tree. The next morning, the rising sun turned the webs to golden sparkles, so the family felt blessed. It's just the sort of story from the 'old country' that a grandmother would tell her grandson, and something that would enthrall a little boy... a story he'd remember all his life. I'm telling you, Jim, you've gotta check him out again!"

"It sounds thin to me, Sandburg, but it's the best lead we have so far. Okay; grab your coat and let's go talk to Mr. Lutsenko.


Jim and Blair held the doors open while Henri pushed Rhonda into Major Crime. Henri used a brisk pace, then stopped short and turned with almost military precision so that Rhonda faced her desk, and the large banner draped above it.

Welcome back!
We missed you!

As soon as she caught sight of it, every person in the room rose to give her a standing ovation, interspersed with cheers and whistles.

"Welcome back, Rhonda," Jim said with fervent sincerity as he crossed behind her desk and pulled out the brand-new, top-of-the-line, ultra-cushioned executive chair. "Your throne awaits."

"Hmm... if I'd known the perks were this nice, I'd have broken my leg years ago." Despite her teasing words, Rhonda seemed a bit flustered. "You didn't have to do this; if I get tired of the wheelchair, my regular chair will be just fine."

"Not even!" Blair insisted. "You need more back support and stability, to keep your body aligned so your leg will heal properly." He gestured broadly. "Try it out; see what you think."

Rhonda had learned -- along with everyone else in Major Crime -- that you could either follow Blair Sandburg's suggestions, or listen to thirty minutes of explanation as to why his suggestions made the most sense. And, realistically, it didn't matter where she sat, as long as she could stay off her feet. She shrugged and grabbed the edge of her desk to pull herself up, then eased into the new chair that Jim had moved into position.

Once settled, with her bad leg propped on a handy carved wooden footstool with a cushioned, tapestry top, Rhonda looked up to see the entire room watching anxiously. She smiled gratefully and spoke up. "I think this will work. I actually had my doubts, but we all know how persuasive Blair can be, so I thought I'd give it a try." She winked at Blair, as the detectives chuckled. "But I never expected that you'd all go to so much trouble to make it easier for me. It wasn't necessary -- any competent temp could handle my job -- but I really appreciate the way you include me in the group; thank you."

Blair shook his head vigorously. "I said the same thing, but five temps last week have proved us wrong. You must have some sort of secret mojo, because no one can do your job like you can. So now you see before you a roomful of people prepared to offer any assistance you need, just so we can have your steady hand at the helm. And to that end..." he reached into the desk's top drawer, pulled out a small hand-bell, and presented it to her with a flourish. "If you need anyone to fetch and carry, just ring."

"Oh, really?" Rhonda was almost giggling; she'd been bored stiff at home, and it felt wonderful to be back among her coworkers and friends. "I think I need to test it out." Lifting the bell from Blair's hand, Rhonda shook it sharply, her expression almost impish as she waited to see what would happen.

Obviously, no one had discussed this part of the plan; the responses were disorganized and varied. But all were heartfelt, from Henri's automatic, "Yes, ma'am?" to Bennett's snappy salute accompanied by, "Ma'am, yes ma'am!" to Jim and Blair's synchronized -- how did they do that? -- stylized butler-bow. "You rang?" they intoned together.

This time, Rhonda did giggle; the attention wouldn't last, but she could have fun for a while. On the other hand, she saw Captain Banks standing in the doorway of his office. His eyes were amused as he watched the goings-on, but this was a police department; enough was enough.

"I need Blair to bring me a cup of coffee. The rest of you -- go be detectives." So saying, Rhonda scooted herself closer to her desk and booted up her computer. If the temps had fallen down on the job, there was no telling what kind of damage-control she needed to do.

Blair picked up Rhonda's mug and headed toward the break-room, but was stopped by the Captain's voice. "In here, Sandburg."

As he entered the office, Simon lifted his coffeepot and held it out toward Blair. "I think Rhonda deserves the good stuff today, don't you?"

"Absolutely, Simon!" Blair agreed heartily. "You guys were right all along, so anything that keeps her here is a good thing. Although..." he continued thoughtfully, "it really seems contrary to common sense. There should be a paper in there, somewhere; I wonder if I could measure what Rhonda does different..."

"Sandburg, go take Rhonda her coffee and do your brainstorming on your own time. Some of us have work to do!"

"Oh, yeah... sorry, Simon."

"But, Sandburg?" The Captain's voice stopped him midway through his turn.


"Thanks, kid. We all owe you one." Simon scowled at the smile that spread across Blair's face. "Now get out of here; that coffee's too good to let it get cold."

"You got it, Simon. After all, we all know who's the real boss around here; I'll be sure to keep her happy and comfortable."

Blair scampered through the door, leaving only a chuckle behind. Simon's scowl deepened for a moment, then changed to a reluctant grin. Let it go; for once, the kid deserved to have the last word.

The End

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