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As he entered the bullpen, Brown glanced over at Sandburg.
"Better watch out. There's a new cop transferred to Vice - came from LA - and man, does he have an attitude! Just saw him in the restroom. He has the look of a guy that's gonna take one look at your hair - "
"Long-haired hippy queer, huh?"
"Yeah. I got the feeling he was one to look for trouble."
"OK, I'll watch it - and thanks, H."
Sandburg seemed to return his attention to the reports he was checking, but he was actualy thinking hard. It was an attitude he'd met altogether too often, and he knew how difficult it was to deal with someone who saw a wish to avoid confrontation as weakness; it brought out the bully in a certain kind of character.
He was still thinking about it when Ellison came out of Banks' office.
"Come on, Chief - I need to see a couple of guys - "
Circumstances decreed that it was nearly a week before Sandburg went back to the precinct; two of his fellows at Rainier called in favours he was owing, and he found himself doing some extra lecturing; then two or three of his students had problems he was too conscientious to ignore. On the day he returned to the PD, he hurried in, and decided on a quick visit to the restroom before joining Ellison at his desk.
The first person he saw was - to his very average height - a giant. Taller even than Simon Banks, well muscled but - to Sandburg's wary eye - going ever so slightly to seed; a man so used to being the strongest one around he was no longer taking the regular exercise he needed to remain on top form.
He swung round, looked Sandburg up and down, walked round the smaller man. "Well, well, what have we here? What's a long-haired hippy queer doing in the PD restroom?"
Sandburg looked steadily at him. "I'm a consultant with Major Crimes. Guess you're the new man in Vice I heard about?"
"Yeah. Dave Holmes. And I see enough queers on the street without seein' any in here, punk."
At his desk, Jim Ellison lifted his head sharply. '...enough queers on the street without seein' any in here, punk.'
Recognising the voice - he had met Holmes three or four times during the week - he was on his feet instantly and heading for the door almost before Holmes had finished speaking.
"You might try asking around, see who all I've dated from here before you start calling me queer, man."
*God, Chief, don't antagonise him!* Ellison thought.
"There are races where long hair is considered really masculine, you know," Sandburg went on.
"Is that so. Well, in my book it's the sign of a queer - " He pushed Sandburg against the wall, held him there, noting the fire in the smaller man's eyes. "Think you can fight me, huh?"
"You know, man, all this is proving is that you're heavier than me and that you've got longer arms." Sandburg's voice was perfectly steady.
The door opened and Ellison walked in with studied casualness. "Oh, hi, Chief." He glanced at the vice cop. "Holmes. What do you think you're doing?"
Holmes glared at him. "You know this punk?"
"Punk?" Ellison looked round as if curiously. "I don't see any punk here."
"This... this... long-haired..."
"Oh. You mean my partner? You'll be lucky if you ever get a partner half as good."
Holmes took one look at the expression on Ellison's face and stepped back, releasing Sandburg, but with a sneer on his face. "I don't think so. I don't want a partner I have to defend because he ain't big enough or strong enough to defend himself."
"You think Jim has to defend me all the time?" Sandburg asked. "We're partners, man, we look out for each other. But I think you need to have that proved, don't you? Mmm. We've already established that you're heavier and have longer arms." He grinned mirthlessly. "I wouldn't have a chance against you in a fist fight, and I know it. Fancy a bit of arm wrestling? I used to be quite good at that."
Holmes laughed derisively.
"Come on, man - Jim's my witness. I challenge you. Best of three. Out in the bullpen where there are plenty of people to watch. I'll even bet a C-note that I can beat you."
"I know what I'm doing," he murmured, too softly for Holmes to hear. Then, more loudly, "If I win, you accept that I'm a man and stop hassling me. If you win, I'll keep out of your way so you don't have to be offended by Major Crime's long-haired hippy. And a C-note on it."
Holmes could hardly speak for laughing, but he managed to nod. Then, after a moment, "Easiest money I'll ever get."
As Ellison and Sandburg cleared a space on a small table, Holmes made sure everyone knew that he was about to slaughter Sandburg at arm wrestling. Word spread through the building as if by magic; men from several departments began to appear; within seconds there was some active betting going on. Most of the cops reckoned that Sandburg stood no chance at all, but when Ellison put down a bet on his partner, most of the others in Major Crimes did the same, partly guessing that the big man knew something nobody else did, partly to support one of their own - though several of them had more than one doubt when Holmes stripped off his jacket to display biceps that screamed 'strength'.
The two men gripped hands, and pushed against each other. There was surprisingly little strain on Sandburg's face, and Ellison found himself grinning as Holmes' hand hit the table after about thirty seconds. Hell, even if it was a fluke, his partner had scored the first of the three attempts; he hadn't disgraced himself.
There was barely controlled fury on Holmes' face as they took position for the second go, and Ellison's grin widened, guessing that Blair was at least in part psyching the bigger man out - though how he could look as if it was so effortless, Ellison couldn't begin to imagine.
This time it lasted longer. At last Holmes began to push Sandburg's hand slowly backwards; for the first time, the smaller man showed signs of making an effort, and regained the lost ground. Watching, Ellison could see the beginning of a dawning respect in the vice cop's eyes. And then it was over. For the second time Holmes' hand hit the table.
There was a yell of triumph from the Major Crimes detectives, echoed by a groan from the Vice cops. As money changed hands, Holmes looked at Sandburg. "I'd never have thought you were so strong, man."
Sandburg grinned. "You're good yourself. No hard feelings?"
"No hard feelings." Holmes held out his hand. As Sandburg shook it, Holmes glanced over at Ellison. "Yeah, he doesn't need you to protect him, Ellison. You got a good partner there."
Ellison grinned. "I know."
That night, Ellison slung an affectionate arm round his partner's shoulders as they watched TV. "You were completely confident, were't you."
"Yeah." Sandburg grinned. "I've always been stronger than I look, man - and I could see that he's been letting himself go - he's been depending on how tough he looks for too long. His muscles are losing tone. It wasn't quite a sure thing - but by betting a C-note on myself, I planted a doubt in his mind. That made all the difference."
"He's been psyching people out by looking tough - and you psyched him out by making him doubt himself?"
"Yup. And word will get around the guys who missed the show. With luck, I won't ever have any more problems with cops who think I'm soft."