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Problem at Rainier




Jim looked up, gave a silent sigh and crossed to Simon's office.


"Problem at Rainier," Simon said.

"Sandburg?" Anxious. "He's there this morning."

"As far as I know he wasn't involved. But Campus Security called the cops; they arrested several students and at least one had to be taken to Cascade General."

"What happened?"

"Some sort of riot," Simon said. "Nobody's been able to discover just what started it - "

He was interrupted by a sharp tap on the door, which opened before he had time to say anything more, and Blair walked in.

"Sandburg! You all right?" Jim asked.

"Yeah, all the excitement was at Fenwick Hall. By the time I heard about it there was nothing left to see. All Suzanne could tell me was that one guy was hurt - not badly - and half a dozen had been arrested for carrying on fighting after they were told to break it up. Nobody seemed to know what started it." Without realizing it, he was echoing Simon's words.

"Okay," Jim said. "Let's head out and see if the one taken to Cascade General has any idea what caused it. If he doesn't, well, we have the arrested ones to question."

"I suspect none of them have a clue," Blair said.

"What do you mean?" Simon asked.

"Two guys start an argument. Before you know where you are some of their pals have joined in, and from being verbal it's become physical - but nobody actually knows what they're fighting about except the two who started it. It's just an excuse to - well - "

"Show their macho side?" Jim suggested, and Blair nodded agreement.

* * * * * * * *

They headed off to Cascade General, where a quick flash of Jim's badge was enough to give them access to the injured student, who was lying in on a gurney in the corridor outside X-ray looking just a little sorry for himself.

Blair took one look at him, and said quietly, with what Jim realized was remarkable restraint, "Hello, Terry." If this, as seemed possible, was one of his students, Blair, Jim was sure, really wanted to snarl, 'What the hell did you think you were doing?'

"Mr. Sandburg." Terry sounded just a little shamefaced.

Blair took a deep, steadying breath. "What did you do to yourself?" Beside him, Jim let him get on with the questioning.

"I... sort of fell over my own feet. I know I broke my leg - the X-ray is just to see how badly, if the bone is displaced..."

Blair nodded. "All right, Terry. I'll accept that you fell over your own feet, but what were you doing? Why did you fall over your own feet?"

"Well... "

"We know there was a punch-up. What caused it?"

Terry's face reddened. "It... it... "

"Go on."

"Phil Hawley and I... You know our major is psychology. It was a sort of experiment. We hoped to get material for a paper out of it... "

Blair waited, eyebrows raised questioningly.

"It... it was supposed to be a... well, a fairly friendly brawl. But it got out of hand... "

"A *friendly* brawl?"

"We got half a dozen of our friends to start what was meant to be a fairly minor fight. We were hoping to measure the percentage of people who would just stand back and watch and the percentage who would try to stop it, as opposed to the percentage who would join in. We didn't expect that to be high. But... well... we never realized how much... I suppose you could say how much competition there is on campus, maybe even how much animosity there is between some departments. A lot did just watch, and I suppose it was one of them who called Campus Security, but... More people joined in than we expected, and for a lot of them... We realized very quickly that for a lot of them it was a serious fight. They didn't even know what they were fighting about, they didn't know if the guy they were trying to batter unconscious was actually on 'their' side. After a minute or two everyone was just fighting everyone else.

"Phil and I... We tried to stop it, but by then nobody was listening. Even the ones who 'started' it ended up in serious fights with someone who'd just joined in. I tried to pull two guys apart who were seriously trying to kill each other and that's when I was pushed, lost my balance and - well, as I said, tripped over my own feet." He dropped his head guiltily. "I suppose we *could* get a paper out of it but I'm not sure I want to. Not after the way things turned out."

"A paper could be useful," Blair said, "if only to point out that some people don't care what they're fighting about, they just want an excuse to fight."

Terry looked helplessly at him, then transferred his attention to Jim. "You're Mr. Sandburg's policeman friend."

Jim nodded, although he knew it wasn't a question.

"I'm really sorry. It started off... well, like I said it started off as a psychology test. We never thought it would escalate the way it did."

"Are you likely to try anything like that again?"

"God, no!"

"Then consider that broken leg your punishment. And I'd agree - write that paper. Submit it to a magazine somewhere. If the only thing it does once it's printed is make someone else who has a similar idea think twice, it's worth it."

They exchanged a few more words before an orderly arrived to wheel Terry into X-ray.

"A psychology student?" Jim asked as they headed back along the corridor. "How do you know him?"

"I took psychology as a minor," Blair reminded him. "Terry's the other way - he's taking anthropology as a minor. Doing quite well, too."

"Ah. Hence the 'Mr. Sandburg'?"

Blair nodded.

As they drove back to the PD, Blair went on, "I suppose you'll want a word with the ones who were arrested?"

"Yes. I think you were probably right though, when you suggested that they were ones who'd just joined in and didn't know why anyone was fighting."

Blair sighed. "Being told all the time when I was growing up that fighting just damaged my karma and I was better to avoid confrontation might or might not have been the best way to keep me out of trouble, but at least it taught me to know what I was fighting about and to pick my fights."

"And your weapons?"

Blair just grinned, knowing that with his weapons of choice he was deadly.


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