"Did you ever have a sled, Jim?" Blair had been hunched over his computer for twenty minutes, clicking site after site in search of an elusive goal.
Jim raised an eyebrow as he looked up from the newspaper. "I did, actually... well, me and Steven together. Didn't do us much good; Cascade so seldom gets a decent snow. I think I used it maybe half a dozen times before I outgrew it."
Blair groaned softly. "Yeah, that's what I was afraid of. I'll bet there are plenty of places in this country where the same conditions occur – where snow isn't reliable, but kids still want to go sledding. You'd think someone would've invented a conversion kit, but I can't find anything remotely suitable."
"Well, I'm sure you'll figure out something," Jim replied comfortably as he turned his attention back to the newspaper; whatever harebrained idea Sandburg was contemplating, Jim would learn about it soon enough.
After another twenty minutes of fruitless searching, Blair closed his laptop with an exclamation of disgust. "This isn't getting me anywhere; I need to do some on-site research." He shrugged into his jacket and grabbed his keys, then paused in the doorway. "Want anything while I'm out?"
"We could use the latest upgrade of our super crime-fighting kit."
Blair grinned. "Last time I looked, Home Depot was fresh out; you know how all the cops snatch them up as soon as they're available. I'll see if there are any new supplies." He chuckled as he closed the door behind him.
"I'll have you know I'm a genius!" Blair proclaimed as he crossed the room and dropped assorted bags on the table; they clanked as they hit the hard surface. "In fact, if I patent it, I could make a fortune – or at least pay off my student loans."
"Right up there with Einstein," Jim agreed from the kitchen as he sprinkled parmesan cheese on top of the mixture in the casserole dish. He slid it into the oven, then set the timer.
Blair chuckled as he hung his coat on its peg. "More like Da Vinci. I'm going beyond theorizing to inventing. It won't win me a Nobel Prize, but it will make a certain little boy – and his mom – very happy." Crossing back to the table, he upended the bags to reveal various pieces of hardware and four small, but sturdy-looking wheels.
Interested despite himself, Jim poked at the bits and pieces on the table, trying to guess what Blair planned. "Boy and Mom?" he asked, with a raised eyebrow. "You hiding a torrid love affair, Sandburg?"
"Absolutely. I can't expose an impressionable young kid to a grumpy old sentinel; I'd be hauled in for child endangerment." Blair snorted as he sorted the nuts, bolts, brackets and clamps into four identical groupings. "Between the university and the PD, when would I have time to maintain a separate household?"
Jim tried to recall any conversation over the past few months that might have mentioned a child, but there was nothing. "So... is this some kind of charity project?"
"Not exactly," Blair hedged. "Or maybe, kinda sorta?"
"Spill it, Sandburg. Why is this place going to be turned into a mad scientist's workshop?"
"Mandy – one of the librarians at Rainier – is a single mom; her husband died in a construction accident about eighteen months ago." Blair sighed. "Her son, Peter, really wants a sled for Christmas, but she hates the idea of how disappointed he'll be when he can't use it very often; kind of hard to explain to a seven-year-old why winter doesn't necessarily bring snow to Cascade. So I said I could find a set of removable wheels, to make it a kind of all-terrain sled."
Jim regarded Blair closely for several long seconds.
"What?" Blair's tone was somewhat defensive. "Did you miss the part about librarian? It behooves every grad student to be on good terms with the library staff. Otherwise, books you need to assign are already spoken for, or won't be back till next week, or whatever."
Jim smiled as he raised an eyebrow. "'Behooves'? Do you think the fancy lingo will hide your caring heart?" He reached out to tug on one of Blair's curls. "It's one of your best attributes, Chief; no need to downplay it."
"Theoretically, you're right. But when you're a guy with long hair and earrings, you learn to pick your moments. But thanks, man; I appreciate the support." Blair gave Jim a wide smile, then continued briskly, "Anyway, I told Mandy I bet there would be some kind of conversion kit available on the Internet; it just makes sense that someone has a dual-purpose sled – or maybe a dual undercarriage would be more accurate – whatever. I said I'd find her one, but there's no such thing. Can you believe it? Conversion kits for snowmobiles, but nothing for kids' sleds. But then I figured there was no reason I couldn't build it myself, and voilà!" He waved grandly at the bits and pieces spread out on the table.
It was certainly an innovative idea, but Jim suspected it would be more complicated to execute than Blair realized. "I don't think you can claim 'voilà' yet; you still have to build the thing. And how will you be sure it fits the way it needs to?"
"Got it covered," Blair assured him. "Mandy already has the sled; she's keeping it in the library storeroom until Christmas, so Peter won't find it. So tomorrow I can swing by after class, tell her about the plan, and bring the sled here to work on it. Just a couple of hours, Jim, I swear!" Blair hurried to alleviate the slight frown that had appeared between Jim's brows. "Or, you know, Murphy's Law being what it is, maybe four or five hours – but I'll finish by midday Saturday at the latest, and take it right back to Mandy as soon as I tighten the last bolt!"
Jim deliberately heaved a deep sigh, though a smile quirked the corner of his mouth. "Could be worse, I suppose; the loft could be ankle-deep in wood shavings because you decided a hand-built sled was the way to go." He winked at Blair's relieved expression, then turned into the kitchen. "But now dinner's ready; time to get your voilà-stuff off the table."
Fair enough. Blair quickly bundled the hardware into his room, then helped Jim set the table. They enjoyed generous portions of chicken-and-spinach casserole as they discussed the vagaries of the latest stupid criminals, and the chances of the Seahawks reaching the playoffs, recharging their batteries before facing tomorrow's routine of teaching, and combating crime.
Blair had moved the dining table to take advantage of the sunlight that shone through the balcony doors. The Flexible Flyer lay upside down on a pair of old towels to protect the table's surface as Blair muttered under his breath, talking himself through the complications of designing a system that would allow the wheels to carry the sled without interfering with the runners, and would be easy to put on and take off as needed. Jim took a break from his cleaning to wander closer.
"Need some help, there, Sandburg?"
"Maybe... how good were you in shop class?"
"Straight A's, of course."
"Of course; I should have known." Blair chuckled, then gestured with his chin to bring Jim closer. "This will clamp around the struts, and it's solid enough, but I can't get rid of the wobble." Pulling on the assembly of nuts, bolts, and brackets, he demonstrated a slight side-to-side movement.
Jim used a wrench to tighten it more, but the wobble remained. "You're right," he agreed. "That'll make the wheels unstable; it could be dangerous. Easy fix, though; you just need a size down in brackets."
"I thought of that," Blair argued, "but the smaller size won't fit around the struts."
"No problem; just bend the corners out a bit. Then the bolts will bend the sides inward around the struts, and everything will be nice and tight. But young Peter probably won't be able to put them on by himself."
"Didn't expect him to. As long as Mandy can use a wrench and screwdriver – and I know she can – it won't be a problem." Blair crossed the room and grabbed his jacket from its hook. "Thanks for the suggestion, man; back in forty-five."
"I'm impressed, Chief; it works as advertised."
The sled was on the floor; the wheels extending to the side gave the runners an inch clearance. It was sturdy enough to carry an adult, as both Jim and Blair had tested, sliding across the floor; it would easily carry an adventurous child as he rolled down every hill he could find – or those that his mother would allow him to try.
"Gotta admit, I'm rather proud of it," Blair said, trying not to sound too smug. "I'm pretty sure I'll be in Mandy's good graces for as long as I'm at Rainier." He put a foot on top of the sled and gently rolled it back and forth.
Jim shook his head as he walked into the kitchen. "Don't sell yourself short; regardless of your relationship with Mandy, you'd have done it just to make a little boy happy. People talk about the Christmas spirit, but your little demonstration definitely goes above and beyond."
"You know the old saying – giving makes the world go round." Blair picked up the sled and leaned it against the wall under the coathooks. "I'll call Mandy and see if this is a good time to bring it over."
"Yes, I know the old saying... it's love makes the world go round." Jim used a wooden spoon to stir the mixture simmering on the stove, then poured some into two mugs. "Though I suppose we could make an argument that giving is a manifestation of love. Regardless, I think anyone who helps a child have a happier Christmas deserves a reward." He handed a mug of spiced cider to Blair, then lifted his as if for a toast. "Merry Christmas, Chief."
Blair lifted his mug and clinked it against Jim's. "Since you helped, that means you also deserve a reward. Merry Christmas, Jim."