Goldilocks and the Three Bears

Closing his eyes usually helped. Blair was always harping about relaxing, focusing, meditating -- sometimes he got away with simply closing his eyes and breathing deeply. He was trying it now, in preparation for going inside the house.

It was, he had to admit, a practical method of testing and training his abilities. It didn't change how silly he felt doing it. Hence the moment taken to close his eyes, breathe deeply, and try to calm down before giving in to his desire to say no and go home.

Blair *had* gone to a lot of trouble to set this up, and even Simon agreed that this was a realistic scenario and as such a useful exercise. He'd even helped Blair set things up, and talked Carolyn into helping as well even though they hadn't explained *exactly* what they were doing. Simon had spun a tale about training cadets in basic forensics procedures in order to prevent the usual damage done by inexperienced cops who didn't know what kinds of things were important to the forensics lab.

So they borrowed a safe house and all of them except Jim went through arranging things to Blair's specifications. Then, exactly one hour after they finished, Jim was to enter the house and investigate. Discover everything he could about a house which had -- if Blair, Simon and Carolyn had done things right -- practically no clues to offer.

Jim took another deep breath. There was no way he wasn't going to feel silly; it was all Blair's fault, for calling this the 'Goldilocks' experiment. If he'd kept his mouth shut he'd have been able to think of this as just another exercise, just more police training. But Sandburg's crack had lead to a myriad of bear jokes -- even seeing Simon call his partner 'baby Bear' hadn't made them worth enduring. Saying *that* had of course elicited more bear puns ("becoming unbearable, eh Jim?") until Jim had brandished his gun and threatened to use it.

He glanced at his watch. Five more minutes. He looked up at the house from where he stood by his truck at the end of a long curving drive. The house was partially obscured by trees and Jim knew that Blair and the others would be waiting someplace nearby. "Coming back from our walk while the porridge cools," was Blair's last comment before Jim left them to their work. He wondered what he was to find -- how could they leave nearly undetectable clues for him to find? Anything left by a human could be detected by a sufficiently sensitive detector, and his senses were, supposedly, sufficiently senstive. (Say that five times fast.) They wouldn't make it impossible, would they? What would be the point?

Of course, discovering his limits would have to involve surpassing those limits. His watch beeped, and he left the analysis for later. He walked up the drive and stood at the front door. He knew they'd left the yard alone, and there hadn't been anything unusual on the outside of the house. Nothing that made his sixth sense go on alert, anyway. He scanned again, using his vision to the utmost, to be certain.

He found a partly smudged fingerprint on the doorjamb, not enough to identify whose print it might be. After a second sweep he carefully opened the door. He concentrated on his hearing -- in case they wanted to be cute and leave someone inside, waiting for him. He stepped inside slowly, when he'd heard nothing but the creak of water in the pipes and hissing of air in the vents. He left his hearing on 'scan' and looked around.

It was, to all appearances, a normal house. Nothing out of place, no inexplicable spots of disorderliness -- or of orderliness. No bodies, no murder weapons, no ransom notes. He hadn't expected any and was glad that they weren't going to make this easy. Silly as he'd felt, he'd known that the harder he worked on controlling and using his senses, the better he'd get. He took another step inside and concentrated on catalouging the scents he'd been smelling.

"Sandburg, I'm going to get you...." He smelled the oatmeal in the breakfast nook past the kitchen. He ignored it for a moment and finished checking the living room and entryway -- he found the spot where someone had sat down on one of the chairs, the naugahyde retaining enough body heat to be felt even an hour later. He couldn't tell any more than that though, so he continued into the kitchen.

Someone had prepared oatmeal. Not the instant kind, and they'd washed the pot and counters afterwards. No fingerprints anywhere, even on the inside of the cabinets where the bowls had been stored. He checked the other cabinets and even the icebox, and found nothing of interest. With a deep sigh, he continued on to the breakfast nook.

And there they were. Three bowls of cooling oatmeal. Shaking his head, he walked up to each one -- knowing what it was he'd be expected to discover. He felt the outside of each bowl and determined quickly which was Papa Bear's (slightly warmer), Mama Bear's (slightly cooler) and Baby Blair's (right in between). The butterdish and sugarbowl were on the table as well, and a brief check turned up a fingerprint on the sugar dish's lid. The print was mostly clear, but he didn't know whose it was. He put it on his mental tally and went on to the den.

Seeing the sofa as the only available seat reminded him of what he'd already gone past, and he headed back to the living room. He'd already noticed the body heat on one chair. Surely they hadn't.... A few moments later he'd decided if they had, he couldn't tell. The single chair was the only one he could detect any traces of heat from, and that was rapdily cooling. Another twenty minutes and he wouldn't be able to detect a thing, he suspected. "Wrong sense, anyway," he realised. "The chairs are supposed to be.. what? Too soft? Too frilly?" Jim shook his head, dismissing it as too silly to be bothered with.

He went back to the den and found a single human hair -- Carolyn's. Nothing else of interest, and he headed reluctantly to the bedrooms. The smaller bedroom was first, but he went to the master bedroom instead. The master bath hadn't even been occupied as far as he could tell, not even containing any of the usual store of supplies. The closets were empty, and the nightstands untouched.

The bed, of course, was another matter. One side was -- and there was only one way to describe it -- too hard. A quick check found the board which had been slid inbetween the mattress and box springs. The other side was soft, with a foam mattress added. Fingerprints all over the foam told him they hadn't taken the care with this as they had with everything else -- rubber gloves, maybe? He could make out several different prints, but again didn't know whose they were.

He also found a scrap of paper under the bed, and retrieved it with a pen. It was a sales receipt for the wood, foam, and a plastic tarp from the local Home Depot. Someone had used cash yesterday at 3:01 p.m. to make the purchase. He wrapped it up in his handerchief and pocketed it, wondering if he'd get tapped for the reimbursement.

He left the room and checked the hall bath. This one was stocked, if poorly, with two hand towels and some hotel soaps. The hotel logo was not one he'd ever heard of so he pocketed one of those as well. A strange scent led him to check the toilet tank, where he found a plastic wrapped package. Now he knew where the tarp had gone. He pulled it out and unwrapped it, finding nothing but a small smear of butter along the inside surface. A useful substitute for hiding drugs or contraband in the second most common locale.

Finally there was only the small bedroom left. He went inside, and looked around. Nothing odd. The bed had not been tampered with, and the closet and dresser drawers were all empty. He had a suspicion that he was missing something -- Blair would have left something else, something more -- so he checked everything again, this time concentrating deeply on each sense at a time.

Blair looked at his watch. "It's been an hour. You think he's found everything?"

"Don't know. Probably everything he's going to find. Come on, let's go." Simon got out of his car where he and Blair had been waiting. They'd sent Carolyn back to her office by telling her they were only making a trial run. This way they could get Jim's immediate reactions -- even though it had meant Simon and Blair sitting together in a car for over an hour. Simon had sent Blair down the street for coffee twice.

Now they headed up to the house. No sign of Jim outside, waiting for them, so Blair bounded up the stairs and looked in the open door. He didn't call out, in case Jim had his hearing tuned way up. He walked quickly through the house, with Simon following, through the living room, kitchen, and den before heading for the bedrooms.

They found him zoned out in the smaller bedroom.

"Come on, Jim, come out of it. Can you hear me? Jim?"

Jim followed his Guide's voice out of the fog and found himself lying on his back, staring at a ceiling. He blinked a few times and looked over. "What...?" He didn't remember exactly what he'd been doing, or where....

Blair started laughing as Jim's faced cleared, then frowned as the cop realised where he was. Simon waited long enough to ask if he was all right, then began laughing as well.

"And he's still sleeping in my bed!"

With that, Jim launched himself off the bed and chased Blair out of the house.

"Hey! Take it easy!" Blair ducked underneath an outstretched arm.

"Hold still! Come on, Sandburg -- take your punishment like a man!"

"Punishment? For what? Helping you train your Sentinel abilities?" Blair dashed around the couch, and tried once again to keep it -- or any other piece of furniture -- inbetween himself and the irate (or at least acting it) man. "Not my fault you zoned out, man -- you'd already found everything we left in that room!"

"I didn't know that... I thought you would have left something else in there and was trying to find it." He lunged again.

The other man laughed. "I know! That's why we didn't leave anything else in there." He weaved around an endtable and back behind the couch.

"And how often will solving a crime depend on the temperature of oatmeal?" Jim lunged partway over the couch, and rammed his knee into the frame. He backed up and fell back onto the coffeetable. He remained where he was, rubbing at his knee and glaring at Blair.

"You never know." He glanced down at Jim, judging his expression of pain. Cautiously -- still staying out of reach -- he asked, "Are you ok?"

"Yeah, I'm ok. I think you had too much fun, though."

Blair laughed again. "And I'm not supposed to? Look, *you're* the one who zoned out in *just* the right place to fall onto 'baby bear's' bed. It's not *my* fault-- hey!"

Jim had a handful of Blair's shirt and gave a sharp tug. Blair fell sideways across Jim's legs and rolled onto the ground. Jim kept ahold of the shirt, and placed his other hand on Blair's ribs.

"You wouldn't, man... I'm warning you!"

Jim ignored the warning and began tickling. Blair tried flailing away, but Jim's grasp was too tight on his shirt and he was soon laughing too hard to move much at all. Soon he was gasping hard for air.

"Do you surrender?"

Blair nodded, and kept gasping.

"No more bear jokes?"

Again Blair nodded.

Jim waited a moment then asked, "And you'll clean the bathroom?"

"Not on your life!" Blair wriggled out of his shirt and scrambled away. He made it too his room and slammed to door, before Jim could catch him.

Following, Jim stopped outside the jammed-closed door. "You'll have to come out of there to eat, you know." He listened in for the reply, and grinned when he heard it -- Blair opening his window and stepping out onto the fire-escape. Laughing, he went to find some ice for his knee.

After locking Blair's window and the front door.