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A Continuing Education

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First Day.
Bright and early Monday morning.
Sandburg

 

"Oh. Shit."

The young giant looming next to him leaned over a little more. "Sum'thin' wrong, Sandburg?" he asked.

"Schedule problem," Sandburg said quickly. Here he was, just walking in the door and already. Obfuscating. Already, a problem to deal with. He sighed and put away his schedule.

"Yeah?" the other man said uncertainly, unfolding his own piece of paper. "Whoa, we start at six a...m. Exercise before breakfast. Man. Sucks." He didn’t sound all that distressed, more like he thought complaint was expected of him.

"Yeah, twelve weeks of getting up at five in the morning,"Sandburg agreed. Or in his case, four in the morning. And locker rooms, communal showers, meals in the mess hall and all the joys of Academy life. Of course, this being California, at least the weather was better than home. Sunshine all over the place. Normally a positive, but at this point, he could foresee a lot of sweat in his future.

Not to mention possible fallout from the major ethical dilemma that had just dropped into his lap. "Look, Jon, you go ahead. I need make an appointment at the front desk."

"Right." Jon, who would never have admitted he didn't want to go on alone, said, "Or I could wait."

"Sure. I'll meet up with you at the gate where we came in." The man at the table there at the gate had handed each person a packet as they came into the compound There were chairs there.

"Okay."

Sandburg walked through the big glass door and up to the reception desk. "Blair Sandburg. I need an appointment," he said to the man who sat at the computer there. "With the Captain. At his convenience but as soon as possible."

"What shall I put on the subject line?" the man asked, typing in the name slowly.

Huh. "Put...health question."

"Health question?" the other repeated, blinking. His fingers, curled above the keyboard, did not begin to type.

"Important health question."

"And it's important?"

Sandburg forced himself not to roll his eyes or let his opinion reach his mouth. "I know everybody's gathering in the commons area and he's not available now. An appointment today would be good, however."

"Okay. You'll be notified as soon as the time is confirmed, but I have you down for right after lunch," the receptionist said, as the fingers began to type again.

"Thanks," Sandburg said, and hefting up his duffel bag, he headed down the corridor. Jon was waiting at the gate, as expected. They'd met on the shuttle from the airport, and struck up a conversation. The big young man had been really happy to find that they were heading for the same place and had stuck to his side like glue all the way here.

Now that they'd checked in at the front gate and got their schedules, they had to find their rooms, leave their luggage, and then report to the gym. Sandburg was in no hurry to get to the gym part of the agenda. For that matter he wasn't much looking forward to any part of his Academy experience. Getting out alive and with the right hunk of paper was his only goal.

He and Jon headed out to the dormitory. The exterior of the long building was sixties architecture done in pale yellow brick. Inside, worn lino and beige walls, last updated in 1980. Jon's room was clear at the end of the corridor and he was frowning as he realized that Sandburg was not next door, or even nearby. It was clear to Sandburg that Jon Anderson was a herd kind of animal. He was big and seemed calm and he could at least carry on a conversation. Probably do extremely well with the right kind of partner. He needed.....

Oh, god. He was thinking like an administrator. He forced himself to stop. That sort of thing could lead to–well, administration.

They dropped Jon's stuff off first and then found Sandburg's room. Oh, please. The beds were numbered. He hoped he could have the bed he threw his stuff onto, because the light was best there. Hoped that the guys he shared with wouldn’t be total assholes. Yeah, that would be good.

Together the two of them went down to the gym. The place was filled with hearty young men and women sitting on hard wooden bleachers. All of them were leaning forward, eyes ahead, eager for it all to start, like greyhounds seeing Sparky. Two men, one with a clipboard, were behind a table at the door, checking the names off the list, handing out two t-shirts, a sweatshirt, and another packet of papers to each cadet as they came through. It was going to be a very monochromatic couple a months. Black with white lettering around the Academy logo. White with black lettering around the logo. Grey with white and black lettering around the logo. Heavy thread count, nice quality. Should last forever. It was a vaguely distressing thought. After all, the Academy might turn out to be something he didn't want to be remembering for the rest of eternity.

He sat on the hard bleachers at the edge of the crowd and listened hard. Jon sat beside him, also intent on the speaker. Twelve women, sixty-eight men. Most of them younger than he, although he wasn't the oldest here. Maybe. Possibly the shortest, however.

It was going to be such a long two months.

If he didn't get asked to leave today.

Opening remarks. Welcome and yada yada. Dos and don'ts. Slide show, not even a PowerPoint, an old fashioned slide show, narrated by a middle-aged man with a raspy voice. Somebody needed to update, big time. Then a short break for the bathroom followed by another speaker, this one focused on doom and gloom and then, rather unexpectedly, an almost-funny skit about keeping your room clean. Pigs aren't pigs? Even Naomi would have laughed. An hour later, they were directed to jog to the mess hall for lunch. The mess hall was a very ugly room, dim, full of echoes until it filled up with chattering cadets. Lunch was uninspired. Salad, of the limp leaf variety, followed by chicken-fried mystery meat with white gravy, next to a big mound of green beans straight from the can, and a little square of chocolate cake. Sandburg forced himself to eat it all. Fuel for the body and all that.

He was the first out the door when they were dismissed, but ended up sitting in a hard green plastic chair outside the Captain's office for ten minutes before he was called in. The Captain stood up and held out his hand. "Cadet Sandburg. There seems to be a problem?"

"Could be," he replied, firmly returning the handshake.

"With your health?" the other asked, looking him up and down, then at the note in the appointment book.

"No, I just said that because I didn't want to cause fatal curiosity, or shock, to your front office staff." Blair sat in the chair at a wave from the older man. "It's...personal. Something I think you should know."

"You going to confess about your dissertation?" the man asked with a shrug, "’cause we looked into that when we got your application." He picked up the cup of coffee which sat at his elbow and took a deep swallow.

"No. And I was honest about that on the application." He worked hard keeping his voice even.

"Just didn't mention any pesky details?" One dark brow arched up.

"You didn't ask for details, pesky or otherwise. I didn't do anything wrong. In fact, I had my life's work stolen from me, by idiots who presented it in an altered form to the media, who then did their usual exploitative and inaccurate job of delivering it up on the six o'clock news. I trashed the whole thing rather than try to fix it, because it couldn’t really be fixed.. They don’t make band-aids that big."

"You admitted to fraud."

"Had to. Had to put the publisher in an untenable position, convince them to abandon the whole idea, not try to salvage it and publish something similar under someone else’s name later. I had to kill it publicly and I wanted it dead, not rising again in a few years to haunt me. Not to mention I saved the city millions of dollars. Literally. Look, this is not what I wanted to talk to you about."

"Yeah? So, talk," the man ordered, with a shrug that suggested the alternative was to take a hike and quit wasting his time.

"I need to know something first." Sandburg drew a deep breath and asked, "Where's..uh, Hutch?"

The man hesitated, and then said, "Home now. Came home yesterday from the hospital."

"Hospital? What’s wrong with him?" Sandburg asked, startled into leaning forward. "He's okay?"

"Going to be. Knee surgery. What I can't figure out is why you're askin'. Do we know you? Hutch know you?"

"Long story. And I didn't know if I should bring this up or not, only I didn't want to be accused later of keeping it from you. Didn't want something stupid to happen if it came out later. But I also didn't want to put you in a bad position."

"Spit it out, kid. There's got to be a point to all that."

"I just want to say that if it's a problem, I'll leave the Academy now, apply somewhere else. I don't want to...."

"Dammit, will you just say whatever it is you're trying to say?" barked Captain Starsky impatiently.

"The thing is. Sir. According to my mother? Either you or Ken Hutchinson? Is my father."

Timing is everything. The captain had just taken another big swallow of his coffee, and the spray as he reacted covered most of the desktop area. He started to choke, but as a worried Sandburg rose out of his chair he held up one hand to motion him back, while with the other one he covered his mouth until he was done coughing.

"Want to try that again?" asked the man hoarsely. He took a cautious sip of his coffee to moisten his throat and then gave part of his attention to the answer as he pulled out a paper napkin he'd found in his drawer. It got soggy fast.

Sandburg loosened his grip from the arms of the chair, wondering when he had grabbed hold so hard. Relax. Deep breath.

"I never knew who my father was. Mom, she always sort of evaded the answer when I asked. I thought she didn't really know, and when I got older I just learned to avoid asking. But when I decided to become a cop, she pulled me aside and said maybe it was time she told me about it. Frankly, I think it took her thirty years to come to terms with it. And this explains her attitude toward cops, too."

The look he got caused him to hurry on with his story. "My mom was a hippie. Her own version of it, anyway. She left home in her teens and went wandering around, ended up in California in sixty-eight. She'd had a bad relationship which caused her to split from the group she had been with, swear off men for a few months. Then she found herself with a bunch of beach squatters sharing some cabins and shacks. End of the summer-long party, and groups were breaking up and reforming as most of them started to work their way south for the colder months. She's hangin' on because she's waiting for a sign to show her which way to go.”

The captain was absently wiping up the last spots on his desk with his clean handkerchief, head down but still listening intently.

“One night, she meets a guy on the beach and likes him. He's older, makes her laugh, has great eyes. Buys her a huge dinner, so she takes him home to her room, all hers because the three people she's been sharing with have taken off that morning in a converted bus for Texas for the winter. Has a wonderful night and makes plans to see him the next day. Only the next day, he doesn't show up. But another man does, good looking blond hunk, charming, with great eyes. She always did have a thing for eyes. This new guy says the first guy can't make it, apologizes, offers to make it up to her. She falls for it, but hey, she was only sixteen, so...are you all right?"

The man had made the mistake of trying for another mouthful of coffee. "Sixteen?" he choked, as he dabbed with the hankie at the coffee splotches now liberally spread across his shirt.

"Sorry, but yeah. Not like she told you, huh?"

"Sixteen...." He sounded horrified. Maybe a little pissed, too.

"So she goes to dinner with the other guy. I figure food was sort of haphazard in the communes she'd been in and hey. Two days in a row of decent food. So, she ends up in bed with this guy, too, and has a great night, and the next morning...."

"The next morning," groaned the man, at the memory.

"Yeah, well, the first guy shows up and all the sudden there's a huge fight going on in the kitchen, screams, blows, beating the hell out of each other sort of thing. He really lays into his friend, who'd sent him on some wild goose chase while he moved in on the lady himself and they're screeching at each other about their friendship and calling each other idiots and in the course of it she finds out that they're cops on vacation, which as she never asked it wasn't as though they lied to her, but cops had like, really given her grief, beat up a friend of hers until he almost died, and she really hated cops at that point in her life.

"She's trying to get to the door so she can run away, and yet she's sort of fascinated because they're rolling around on the floor screaming about partnership and lies one minute and the next minute, they're kissing."

"Oh, jeez," mumbled the older man. He was now clutching his head with both hands, his eyes closed. The memory was obviously coming back to him in excruciating detail.

"And they're apologizing to each other and saying things that make it utterly clear that they've loved each other for years but never could get past the macho guy shit until now, and she says that later she thought it was sort of cosmic that she was the catalyst to something that was so meant to be, but at the time all she felt was that they'd both sort of used her, not only physically, but in that weird game they'd been playing with each other where they moved in on each other's women.

"So she runs out and goes down the beach and when she comes back they're gone, and so she gets her stuff and leaves with the next bunch out. Off men again. Six weeks later she discoverers she's pregnant and she decides this is her baby to raise on her own. Because she knows it doesn't matter which of the guys it is, he's a cop and she's not having her kid around cops. And besides, most likely he's in a committed relationship now. She respects committed relationships. No space in it for us, and she can't stand the idea of settling down in one place anyway. So she just goes on."

"Oh, crap."

"Tell me. I decide to be a cop, so *then* she finally tells all this to me and I'm stunned. Not to mention thirty years old and more than a bit upset because she could have mentioned any of this at any time, what was the big secret, anyway? And, I mean, cops? There are worse things, let me tell you, and I’ve imaged most of them. Drug addicts, petty criminals, married lovers. Makes you wonder about fate, of course, but it isn’t exactly the big mystery she always made it out to be.

“She told me she can't remember the last name of one of them, but his first name was Dave and maybe the last name started with an S or a Z, and the other was Ken Hutchinson, called Hutch by Dave. And I open up my schedule this morning and there's a list of the faculty at the top of it and here are two certain names and I had really strange moment. Only no classes are listed for Hutchinson and so I thought before I started talking I'd better make sure he hadn't just dropped dead or something. So...uh. You two are together? Thirty years?"

"Thirty years of mostly in the closet."

That was a warning as well as information. The questions rose in the silence between them, unasked, but obvious to each of them. The quiet stretched out for almost a full minute.

"Hey," Sandburg said quietly. "I don't believe in blackmail and don't want any favors because of this. That's why I offered to drop out now, if you want me to. Don't want any questions raised later about my record, my honesty. Or yours. I can't afford any more black marks, and we both know it."

"You don't want to drop out?"

"No, I don't. Captain Banks picked this place out for me personally. Plus, I have a partner back in Cascade who's mostly going to be riding a desk until I get back. This was the fastest way to get the minimum certification I need to be a probationary Detective. I can do it back home or somewhere else, but it will take longer. Not to mention I don't know what your refund policy is, and I'm mostly broke. But if it makes you uncomfortable or there's an ethical objection, I'm outta here."

"Huh. Look, I'm going to have to talk it over with some people." Captain Starsky was rubbing the side of his head with one hand.

Sandburg nodded. "Yeah. Whatever you need to do."

"Okay. I'll get back to you. Probably tomorrow or the next day. You go on, follow the program, see how it goes. And don't worry about the refund. If you have to leave, maybe we can even get the tuition transferred."

Sandburg stood up. "Thanks, man."

"Oh, and Sandburg? Keep your mouth shut about, uh, this. Until we work it out."

"Right, Captain."

Sandburg nodded and left. Felt really strange not to...well, what did he expect, a hug from dad? Another handshake? What?

But now that he wasn't face to face with the maybe-dad, he wondered. What had Naomi seen, thirty years ago? Not this man, who was what, over sixty? Almost retirement age, and that was a strange thing. He'd always imagined his dad as being the same age as his mother. Had been thinking of dad as being a stupid teenage boy who didn't have the price of a condom to his name. His mother had said that back then everybody was more focused on not becoming a parent than the possibility of STD's and the solution to everything was making sure the girl was on the pill. She'd not been taking any pills, couldn’t afford them and also she had been so sure that she was off sex forever. He remembered her commenting to a friend later that a baby in her arms had been better than any pill for reminding herself and her potential lovers of the consequences of carelessness.

Strange, though, to think of his dad as about the same age as Jim's. There were deep lines in the face he had just studied. The short more-salt-than-pepper curls were about the only thing he could think that he might have inherited from the guy. The face was not really coarse, but it was drawn with a broad pen, the nose was a little big for the face and obviously had suffered a break or two, or three, through the years. It was a tanned face, and maybe some of the lines around the eyes and mouth were laugh lines. The rest of them came from what, thirty, thirty five, forty years as a cop?

He wondered what the other man looked like. The blond partner. Hutch.

And then he went up to his room, put on the official t-shirt and went to join the rest of his class in the lecture hall. Good thing Jon was the type to take notes, and share them.