THE STORM





“I think it bears repeating, fellow citizens of Cascade. This is the storm of the century. The entire city will be shut down for at least four days. Estimates of the anticipated snowfall currently range from 18-to-24 inches with 30 inches possible.” Don Haas’ expression was one of complete earnestness. “While city officials remain optimistic that services will not be unduly impacted for long, they admit it’s reasonable to assume that power outages will be widespread. Citizens are urged to remain off the roads during this storm. However, if power outages occur, shelters will be open and running on emergency power. If you are without power during this storm, contact the Cascade Police Department who will dispatch assistance to you in vehicles that will be able to withstand the deteriorating weather conditions.”

Haas lowered his papers and stared directly into the camera. “Channel 6 News will remain on the air during this time of emergency. We’ll bring you the up-to-date weather conditions as well as other emergency information. Stay with us.”

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Blair Sandburg hunched his head between his shoulders and walked as quickly as possible across the parking lot towards Banners Grocery Mart. The wind blew against his back almost forcing him into a trot. He glanced around the nearly full parking lot, hoping to find an empty shopping cart. “I told you I’d take the grocery store while you hit the camping outlet but you are so going to owe me for this, Ellison,” he muttered. “Oh!, will you owe me!”

Spying a woman in the next row trying to load groceries into her trunk and prevent her cart from rolling away, Blair ran to help her…and claim the now empty cart for himself. Accepting the woman’s thanks with a grin, Blair shoved the cart towards the grocery store.

When he stepped inside, he paused, he stared at the crowd of people. His eyes grew wider with each passing second. “Oh my God.”

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Jim Ellison shook his head as he closed the truck door behind him. While there were a lot of cars in the Coastal Shopping Center’s lot, it looked like most of the people were in the video rental store. Shaking the snow from his shoulders, he opened the door to the camping outlet store he and Sandburg favored and was met with a blast of warm air.

“Jim! I should’ve known you’d be in!”

Jim grinned at the store’s manager. “What can I say, Ellie? You’ve stolen my heart.”

Ellie Ripley managed to snort and blush at the same time. The middle-aged woman then glanced out the store’s front window and grunted. “Now how do those idiots think they’ll be able to watch those movies when the power goes out?”

Jim grinned. “Beats me. I, however, will have hot food.”

Ellie chuckled. “You just love that little camp stove, don’t you?”

“Yep,” Jim admitted. “Sandburg will never admit it, but he does too.”

Ellie feigned a shocked gasp. “You mean Blair ‘Things Taste Better Cooked Over An Open Fire’ Sandburg actually likes the camp stove?”

“Sure…once he realized how easily he could have waffles,” Jim laughed. He remembered watching his partner scramble out of their tent one morning, his nose sniffing the wind much like his spirit animal, as Jim removed the waffles from the small camp stove.

Ellie immediately walked to some shelves at the back of her store. She grabbed a handful of waffle mix packages and put them on the counter next to the register. “Well, let’s keep him happy.”

Jim laughed as he began walking the aisles getting supplies for the camp stove and other items he felt would be handy if the power went out. As he stood by the register while Ellie scanned them, he glanced outside. “You’re not staying much longer, are you?”

Ellie glanced outside. “I grew up in North Dakota, Jim. I know when to call it quits and head for shelter. Brandon’s on his way to pick me up.” She looked at Jim and sighed. “I’ll have to put up with listening to him brag all the way home about what a good idea it was to buy that damned Hummer.”

Having seen the Hummer that Ellie’s son had purchased, Jim refrained from grinning and just nodded.

Ellie, however, saw the gleam in his eyes and snorted. “You men and your vehicles.”

“I just hope Sandburg and that Volvo make it home okay. He’s heading to the grocery store to pick up a few things,” Jim grunted. He looked up as the front door opened.

“Mom, you about ready?” Brandon Riley stepped inside the door.

“I need to make sure everything’s shut off,” Ellie replied. “Make yourself useful and help Jim carry this stuff out to his truck.” She grinned at Jim. “That way he can get a chance to can see that Hummer up close and personal.”

Brandon winked at Jim. “Mom really loves it. Gets a real kick outta riding in it.”

Jim laughed and picked up one box. “Appreciate the help.”

The two men made three trips to Jim’s truck then stood there for a few moments while Brandon walked around the truck in admiration. “They just don’t build ‘em like this anymore,” he admitted.

Jim glanced at the Hummer and imagined Blair’s comments if he drove one home. Then remembering he was probably going to be stuck inside with the younger man for several days and decided it wasn’t worth the effort.

Brandon saw his mother locking the door of the store. “You be careful driving.”

“Yeah, you, too.” Jim raised his voice as Brandon trotted back to his Hummer. “Have fun, Ellie!” He grinned when the woman glared at her son’s vehicle.

Turning back around, he began rearranging the equipment in the back of his truck and tying it down. Then he paused and turned his head slightly to the right and listened….

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“Gerald! Gerald! Get more juice!”

Blair watched as the severely overweight woman with pink sponge rollers in her hair shouted at the equally overweight balding man. He glanced in her buggy and saw six gallon containers of juice.

“How many, Shirley?”

“At least six!”

‘Okay, maybe they’ve got a lot of kids.’ Blair followed Shirley down the aisle and grabbed two of the twelve-pack containers of individual serving juice bottles. He saw Shirley glare at him and quickly turned back to put them in his cart.

“Gerald! Gerald! Don’t forget the milk!” Shirley yelled as she grabbed three of the twelve-pack containers of juice.

Blair sighed, realizing there was no room to maneuver around the people ahead of him. Silently, he began plotting how Jim was going to make this up to him.

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“Bitch thinks she’ll keep me outta my own home! Huh! Like I’m gonna sit somewhere else while she squats in my home keepin’ me from my kid!”

Jim casually looked to his right then moved so his back was to the man walking from the liquor store to his car. ‘Damn. Jake Stone’s going to bust his way back into his house. So much for the restraining order Leah took out on him.’ Jim glanced over his shoulder and watched as Stone loaded two boxes of liquor into the trunk of his Buick. ‘He’s got enough booze in there to keep him drunk and mean for a week. And with the weather keeping patrols off the street during this storm, Leah’s gonna be stuck there with him.’

Jim tied a tarp over the equipment in the back of the truck then walked to the driver’s side. As he unlocked the door, he listened.

“Damn bastard tellin’ me how much I can buy. Lost himself a good customer! I’ll finish getting’ stuff over on McDowell and then it’ll be home sweet home!”

Jim pulled out his cell phone as he watched Stone drive away. “Leah, it’s Jim Ellison. Remember how we talked about maybe you and Suzie going to that shelter? It’s time. I’ll be there in fifteen minutes. Pack enough for the two of you to ride out the storm. No…Leah, it’s okay. I’ll be there before he is.” Hanging up, he started the truck.

As he drove towards the small house on Jefferson Street, he recalled the domestic abuse call he and Sandburg had rolled on three weeks earlier.

Leah Stone had put up with her husband’s abuse for five years. Orphaned at the age of ten, she’d had no family to call on for support; and her husband’s controlling nature ensured she had no real friends. However, the night her husband had drunk too much and kicked their daughter was the night Leah picked up the phone and called the police for help.

Jim and Blair had only been a few blocks away when the call came over the radio. The dispatcher reported that a child had been heard screaming in the background when the woman made the call for help. By the time they’d arrived, two patrol cars were already on the scene and three officers were struggling to subdue Jake Stone. He’d shouted threats at his nearly hysterical wife and daughter even as the officers dragged him to a waiting patrol car. The senior patrol office, Sgt. Kevin Delmore, took particular delight in slamming the patrol car door shut, cutting off Stone’s diatribe.

In court, Stone’s parents had provided him with not only an attorney but a psychiatrist both of whom tried to put the responsibility for Stone’s alcoholic addiction onto his wife. Stone’s parents testified that Leah nagged and pressured her husband day in and day out until it was no surprise that he snapped. As for the assault on his daughter, Stone denied it, claiming that Leah was lying and pressuring their daughter to lie as well.

Jim and Blair along with Sgt. Delmore testified as to the threats Stone had made and his drunken aggressiveness. In a barely-audible voice, Leah testified to the years of abuse she’d suffered. The judge, after talking with the Stones four-year old daughter, immediately granted Leah a restraining order preventing Stone from contacting either his wife or daughter or entering the home where Leah now lived with their child. He’d set what he thought was a high enough bail to keep Stone in jail, but Jake’s parents raised the money and took their son home with them.

Jim pulled up in front of Leah’s house and got out. He was halfway up the walk when Leah opened the door. A blur of pink flew through the open doorway and wrapped itself around Jim’s leg.

“’Tective Jim!”

Jim smiled and picked up the little girl. “Hello, Suzie-Q! Ready to go visiting?”

The four-year old gazed at him with solemn dark eyes. “It’s okay, ‘Tective Jim. I know Daddy’s coming.”

Jim glanced at Leah who had set two suitcases on the front step and was locking the door. He set Suzie down and leaned down to zip up her pink jacket. “He’s not going to hurt you or your Mommy again, sweetheart.” He walked forward and picked up the suitcases. “I’ll get these, Leah.”

“Thank you, Detective.” Leah shivered. “I don’t know how you found out but God bless you for rescuing us again.”

“Just in the right place at the right time,” Jim admitted. “I called St. Anne’s on my way over. They’re getting a room ready for the two of you.”

“Will it be safe?” Leah whispered. “For us?”

“Not many people know that St. Anne’s runs a shelter for victims of domestic violence,” Jim assured her with a grin. “Not to mention it’s next door to a fire station and three blocks from the Seventh Precinct.” At the truck, he unlocked the door. “In you go, Suzie-Q.”

As Leah helped her daughter into the truck and got in herself, Jim tucked the suitcases under the tarp. He glanced at the snow falling harder from the sky and pulled out his cell phone.

“Sgt. Delmore, please. Kevin? Jim Ellison here. You remember the Stone case? Domestic violence? Yeah, with the little girl. I saw Jake Stone at a liquor store a while ago. Yeah, big surprise there. Could be he’s planning on coming back to his house. And since patrols are going to be pretty non-existent during the storm…Exactly. Well, I happen to know that Leah and Suzie are heading to a DV shelter as a precaution. You really want me to answer that? All I’m saying is that the restraining order on Stone is to also keep him away from the house. Uh-huh, it would be a shame if he was caught inside. Yeah, I could probably have Mrs. Stone give you a call. Thanks, Kevin.”

When Jim got into the truck, he looked over at Leah. “Do you have a cell phone?” When the woman nodded, he started the truck. “You probably should call Sgt. Delmore and let him know that you and Leah will be in a DV shelter for the duration of the storm. No need to tell him which one.”

“’Tective Jim, where’s Blair?”

Jim grinned down at the little girl. He half-listened to Leah’s conversation as he answered. “Oh, he’s safe and sound at the grocery store, Suzie-Q.”

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‘Ouch!’ Blair grimaced as Shirley’s cart rammed into his side. He saw Shirley glaring at him again as he reached for the containers of biscuits. He put three into his cart and turned back around to see her literally throwing eight of the biscuit containers into her cart.

“Gerald! Gerald! Eggs!”

“Juice. Milk. Biscuits. Canned Soup. Peanut Butter. Chips. That’s all I came in for.” Blair muttered under his breath. “I’m gonna die before I get out of the dairy aisle.” He continued muttering under his breath as the line slowly inched forward. Once they reached the end of the aisle, he spotted an opening and with a move that would have done Dale Earnhardt proud, he shoved his cart forward and passed both Shirley and Gerald’s carts.

“Well! Imagine!” Shirley’s voice followed him. “Some people don’t realize you have to be accommodating to others in times of emergency!” She craned her neck. “Gerald! Gerald! Butter!”

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Jim was standing by the balcony doors anxiously watching Prospect Street for his partner’s Volvo. The snow had begun falling harder and a couple of inches were already on the ground. He smiled at the crackling of the wood in the fireplace and nodded to himself. The loft would be warm for Blair when he returned.

A gust of wind hit the balcony doors and brought his attention back to the weather outside. He’d almost decided to call Sandburg’s cell phone when he heard the chugging of the Volvo’s engine. He whirled around and grabbed his keys and jacket. Trotting down the stairs, he arrived outside in time to see the Volvo fishtail into a parking space and come to a stop.

Automatically hunching his shoulders upwards, Jim stepped into the wind and quickly walked across the street. When he saw Blair exit the car, he shouted, “Hey, Sandburg! I was just gonna call you to see if you’d gotten stuck somewhere.” Then he saw Blair’s face. “You okay?”

“No. No, Jim, I’m not.” The younger man stared at his partner. “It…it was horrible.” He should his head. “The humanity…”

Jim blinked. “Open the trunk, Sandburg.”

Blair obeyed, and the two men began juggling bags.

“I think we can get it all in one trip,” Jim decided. “You can tell me upstairs what happened.” He kept glancing at his partner as they rode the elevator to the third floor. Even with Sentinel hearing, all he could make out from his partner’s mumblings was something about dying in the dairy aisle.

Inside their home, Jim kicked the door shut and the two men put the grocery bags on the counters. Jim turned to Blair only to have the younger man put up both hands.

“Don’t even ask. I can’t even begin to explain.” Blair shrugged off his coat and hung it on the hook by the door. “I’ve got bruises on top of bruises on both shins. My knuckles are all scraped up. I know I’ve got the imprint of Banners Grocery Mart on one hip, courtesy of a shopping cart. I don’t want to know how many gallons of orange juice two people, however overweight they are, can consume. And you don’t want to know what happened in the aisle with the peanut butter, mustard, and pickles!”

Jim stared at his ranting friend for a few seconds. “Chief, why don’t you take a nice long hot shower? No telling how long we’ll be able to do that. I’ll unpack everything.”

“Did you get the supplies for the camp stove?” Blair asked as he headed towards his room.

“I did. Ellie says hi. She got to ride in Brandon’s Hummer when he came to get her,” Jim raised his voice as he replied.

Blair, carrying sweats, emerged from his room. He pointed a finger at Jim. “Waffles, Jim. I want waffles when I’m done in the shower.” He glared at the shopping bags on the counters then slammed the bathroom door shut behind him.

Jim winced then extended his hearing. After a minute he shook his head and wondered who Shirley and Gerald!-Gerald! were and the importance of kosher pickles versus bread-and-butter pickles…and the awful disaster that the store only had twenty bottles of yellow mustard left on the shelves.

Jim shook his head as the shower began running and started unpacking the groceries. ‘Gonna be a long couple of days.’



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