Sitting in his dorm room, Duke University freshman Daryl Banks silently contemplated his blank notebook and his first major writing assignment for his English class. The one word essay topic had caused groans throughout the lecture hall but it had struck a deep chord with him... how could it not? He'd been one of several witnesses to something remarkable over the last few years - something that was now lost. He hadn't been there for all of it, but he'd heard the anecdotes and the quiet talk for the rest. This was a topic he truly felt he could do justice to... he owed it to them both to try.
Dumping several pens on the bedspread beside him, Daryl took one, opened it, and began to write - thankful for the open ended approach their lecturer had given them. Anything went - as long as it was readable. In fact, Dr. Sanderson had said, "Write as the spirit moves you. We can work on the rules of grammar later. I want you to express yourselves as honestly as you can."
Writing Assignment 1 - English 104
Friendship (They Showed Us the Meaning)
By Daryl Banks
This topic is important to me because it's played such an important part in my life - and the lives of everyone I know. It's not what you think, though. It's not a case of an American kid who became best friends with the kid next door and hung out with them from kindergarten to high school - though that would be a pretty cool story to tell. My story about friendship is about two people in particular - work colleagues of my dad. A bit of background first.
My name is Daryl Banks and I am a native of Cascade, WA. I am the only son of Simon and Joan Banks. My parents divorced when I was still a teenager. Mom and Dad didn't really get along after the divorce, and I was, to put it bluntly, a bit of a handful. You know... hostile, alienated... sullen. To be perfectly frank, I was a bit of a brat. I'm not the only kid in the world to have his world fall apart on him when his parents split up, I know that. Sure felt like it at the time, though.
Mom is cool enough and I love her dearly, but she isn't really a part of this story so you'll bear with me if I stop talking about her now. My Dad, however, is one of the central players in this story so I'll tell you more about him. Captain Simon Banks of the Cascade Police Department; he's the captain in charge of the Major Crime division of the department.
When I was younger, I felt that my dad put more emphasis on the 'captain' part of his life, rather than the 'dad' part. I was wrong. I sort of knew it then, and I know it now. Still, it took a very special person to make me see that 'dad' was the role that my father took most seriously to heart... I'll get to him soon enough.
Have I set the scene enough? Alienated teenage son of a police officer? Is the cliché suitably embedded in your mind? I was always marked with what I felt was the stain of my father's job when I was a kid at school. I always felt a little isolated. I had friends and stuff but I missed out on a lot of the cool parties because nobody wanted to invite the cop's kid. My presence could officially put a damper on things if my dad found out about some of the stuff that went on... at least, that was the excuse.
I could see their point. By the time I was thirteen, I'd been pulled out of school twice because of threats against my dad, and once because he was injured in the line of duty. If he couldn't pick me up - and mom was unavailable - he'd ask one of his friends from the department to do so, and bring me to the station. Nobody I knew particularly wanted to get a ride home in a cop car.
It wasn't all bad, though. That's how I met people like Joel Taggert, Henri Brown and Jim Ellison; Joel was captain of the bomb squad at the time, Henri - H - and Jim were both detectives in my dad's division.
Joel has always been kind of like an adoptive uncle, he's been a friend of my dad for years. Even at that age, I honestly can't remember a time without seeing him at least a couple of times a month. H has always been - and probably always will be - a fun loving kind of guy, not to mention a really good cop.
Jim Ellison was another story entirely then, and, as he's one of the two people this essay is about, I need to give you a lot of background.
When I first met Jim I was about ten. He'd transferred not long ago into my dad's division, but I'd heard a lot about him when other cops were round at our house: I think they forgot I was there and talked a little more freely than they should have.
Iron-man Ellison; he had a legendary temper and surly personality and was - according to most people - the living personification of a grouch. The first day I met him, I was waiting in the bullpen of Major Crime for my dad to get out of a meeting - his assistant Rhonda was keeping an eye on me. I looked up from where I had literally been sitting kicking at my heels when I felt a sort of hush fall over the bullpen - kids are not completely oblivious to nuances in a room.
In stalked the scariest guy I had ever seen in my life! Tall, muscled, face set and jaw clenched, with blue eyes blazing, he was literally prowling across the bullpen to what I presumed was his desk. Apparently, he'd been undercover for a few weeks on a smuggling case only for the feds to screw something up that had necessitated pulling him out before the arrests went down. He was not a happy camper. I freely admit that I hunkered down in my seat and tried to avoid breathing too loud near him. He was out on another call before my dad's meeting got out, so I didn't officially meet him that day.
I officially met him two weeks later at a PD picnic in the park. He was still intimidating - a lot - but that was tempered with the sight of the bandage wrapped round his left upper arm from the bullet graze he'd got when he saved an eight year old girl being used as a human shield by some psycho armed robber in a jewellery store.
That day, I actually talked to him for the first time. I knew about his army past - dad had made sure to remind me not to bring it up - and I knew about his reputation in the department. I saw something that day. His eyes were as scary as they said, but they were also a little sad, and a little lonely.
Jim - in a mood - still intimidated me after that day. It would intimidate any sensible person. I also knew something else, though. I trusted him. I knew that he would put his life on the line to keep a civilian safe - whether he knew them or not. It was a bit ironic but the scariest man in the department was also one who could make kids and victims feel safe.
When I was about thirteen, there was a really bad campaign of bombings going on... the bomber went by the name of the Switchman. Jim was the lead investigator on that case and he received personal emails from the bomber, taunting him... daring him to capture him.
Ellison did capture the Switchman when she - yes, she - targeted a bus full of tourists. Ellison leapt onto the bus knowing full-well that she was mad, hated him personally and had a bomb, and faced her down - with the help from someone else on board the bus. Someone that he knew - someone that had been 'unofficially' helping him with the investigation. That person held the Switchman under guard while Jim searched the bus for her last bomb - throwing it through a window with only seconds to spare. The blast that would have killed everyone on the bus instead only caused some structural damage to its intended target and the bridge it had ended up on.
The friend who helped Ellison was a grad student at Rainier University called Blair Sandburg. At the time, it was a little bit weird to hear that a civilian had helped Jim catch Veronica Sarris, but I can officially say that that was the first time any of us associated with the department heard the name of Blair Sandburg.
Jim was notorious for not working with a partner - not that many people were crazy enough to want to ride with him voluntarily anyway - so maybe that was why it was such a surprise when Jim approached my dad to ask for a ninety-day ride-along pass for this 'student' so he could write a paper for his dissertation.
On the surface, Jim and Blair are as different as chalk and cheese, so I suppose the stories I've heard of the initial reaction to Blair are to be expected. Jim was an ex-Army Ranger Captain and one of the best detectives in the department. Blair, on the other hand, was a little bit different. He looked like a cross between a grunge rocker and a hippy. Lots of flannel, riot of long curly hair - you get the idea. Blair was younger than Jim too, and shorter, not to mention a lot more hyper. Energizer Bunny on Speed is still my favourite definition of Blair.
Anyway, on the day Jim took Blair to get his ride-along credentials, a crazy militia called the Sunrise Patriots took over the department - long, long story. Jim, my dad, and half the department were lured away under false pretences. Those of us left behind - and, yes, I was there, it's another long story - were held hostage by Garret Kincaid and his trusty band of nut jobs.
Blair - newly credentialed civilian observer - somehow got overlooked in the round-up of all the people in the building - and remained on the loose. He - an unarmed grad student - took out two armed militia men before they caught him! Kincaid was not very nice to me when he realised I was the son of Simon Banks - I'm not going to say any more than that on that particular subject other than to say that I was not physically hurt.
Jim and my dad managed to sneak back in to the department and subdue some of Kincaid's men before they could shoot us. Kincaid had left to head to the roof - using Blair as his only remaining hostage. Jim took off after them, desperate to get Blair back alive. I never really got the full story about what happened, other than it involved Jim and Kincaid dangling from one of the landing struts of the helicopter and Blair bringing the pilot into line with a flare gun.
That was the day that I met Blair Sandburg. Shock-y though I was at the time, I still noticed a change in the usually stoic and intimidating Detective Ellison when the pair first walked back in to the bullpen from their adventure with the helicopter. His eyes were not quite as cold, his laugh was just that little bit easier, his body language was not as tense...
I heard the name Blair Sandburg more and more over the next few weeks. How could I not? Dad, and Joel, or both of them together, would talk about the latest stuff happening at work. A few examples for you: it turned out that Blair unknowingly lived next door to a drug lag. It blew up when Jim was visiting Blair. Further showing the mellowing of his famous isolationist attitude, Ellison gave Blair a temporary home. Blair moved into the spare room in Jim's loft apartment and never moved back out.
Then, there's the time when Blair was kidnapped from the loft by the very serial killer that they had been tracking. Jim saved Blair from Lash with literally seconds to spare.
And then there was the incident with the rogue CIA agent who stole a canister of Ebola and threatened to use it on Cascade if Jim and Blair didn't help him commit a crime. They did, Jim arrested him, and the Ebola was safely recovered.
There's also the time when my Dad took me to Peru while he was at a drugs conference. We were stranded when our helicopter pilot was shot down while on a sight-seeing trip that he had arranged for us. Getting word about what had happened to us, both Jim and Blair came down to rescue us. They saved dozens of people from the local villages at the same time, and destroyed the drug running operation that was behind all the trouble.
It wasn't till months later that any of us found out that immediately upon returning to the US, Blair turned down a place on a prestigious anthropological expedition to stay with his friend.
I know what you're thinking... this should have taken longer than ninety days. It did. And, yes. I know their cases sound like the plot for a crazy television series. They're all true! Anyway, Blair continued to ride-along doing supposed research for his dissertation on closed societies. The thing was, he only ever rode with Ellison. The entire department wondered about it, but it was understood - if never fully explained - that Sandburg was Ellison's unofficial partner.
It wasn't just Jim that was protective of Blair, either; it worked both ways. Jim was kidnapped once by an old acquaintance from the army - he was going to frame Jim for the assassination of a DEA agent that he was going to kill. Blair dodged the people sent to eliminate him as a loose end and worked tirelessly with my dad till they got his partner back safe and sound.
The cases they worked are too numerous to go in to in great detail. What I will say is that not only did the solve rate for the entire Major Crime division go up, Ellison's solve rate rocketed so high after Sandburg came into his life that it became the best in the entire state. Two seemingly polar opposites came together to form an almost unbeatable team.
Two strangers became acquaintances. These acquaintances became friends. The friendship grew so close that they became family. Everybody who saw it thought that nothing could ever destroy it. They weren't far wrong; only two things came close.
The first was Alex Barnes. She was a thief and her presence in their lives set Ellison and Sandburg against each other. Nobody could believe it when Jim threw Blair out of the loft - it had been their home for the past three years.
One of their newer colleagues - Inspector Megan Connor, an exchange officer from Sydney, Australia - saved Ellison before Alex could kill him but she escaped in the process. Megan and Jim - realising that Blair would be her next target - raced to the university, but they were too late. They found Blair floating face down in the fountain at Rainier.
Department legend - and I've talked to all parties involved so I know it is true - goes that Jim and my dad did CPR till the paramedics arrived on scene and took over. When they pronounced Blair dead five hard-bitten detectives fell apart, Jim in particular. He refused to accept the Blair would leave him. He placed a hand on Blair's face, another on Blair's heart and somehow - though neither of them have ever given us the full story - he brought Blair back. Blair Sandburg coughed up the fountain water, cradled in his partner's arms, and the Cascade PD got the miracle they needed.
When Blair was safely in the hospital and Jim and Blair had talked some, Jim and my dad set off to Sierra Verde to bring Alex Barnes in and retrieve the nerve toxin that she had stolen. Worried about his partner, Blair had himself checked out of hospital and went after him, accompanied by Megan.
The nerve toxin was recovered and something weird happened in the jungle that none of the four of them ever really talked about. The bad guys that Alex was going to sell the toxin to were stopped but Alex herself ended up catatonic. She's currently in Conover - it's a maximum security institution in Cascade.
After that, things kind of returned to normal. Blair was back living and working with Jim, still acting as his unofficial partner when not studying for his doctorate at Rainier.
Then came the second thing that nearly did the unthinkable and tore them apart: Blair's dissertation. His mom - trying to help him - sent the finished first draft of his diss to a publisher friend to go over it and offer some hints to polish it up.
Blair never authorised this, nor did he authorise the publisher or the university to release excerpts of this document to the media. He never once submitted it as an official dissertation. Nobody listened to his instructions to stop.
As it turned out, the dissertation was about Jim and not the closed society of a police department. The excerpts released to the media painted Jim as a man with super-senses and the media's harassment just fanned the flames further - talk of million dollar book deals and a potential Nobel Prize didn't help to dull the uproar.
The tension this caused between Blair and Jim nearly destroyed their friendship completely. All this occurred while Jim was attempting to protect a city politician who was the intended next target of a professional assassin. As a direct consequence of the constant media barrage, Jim lost Zeller once when he was close to capturing him. As a result, Zeller was able to injure two severely wound two members of Major Crime: Megan and my dad.
Jim and Blair did eventually stop Zeller but the damage was done... or so it seemed. While Jim was at the hospital with their friends, Blair called a press conference and officially called the dissertation a fraud and said that he made the whole thing up.
He destroyed his academic career and reputation, lost his position as a TA at Rainier and was dropped from the doctoral program as a result. He did all this in the public eye - it was the only way to give his best friend back his privacy.
He did all this even though he personally had done nothing wrong. He never claimed that the information released was his finished dissertation - and he certainly never authorised its release! He willingly trashed his life and work of the past three years to protect his friend... to protect Jim.
That to me - and to everybody who knew better than to think Blair would ever commit fraud - was the greatest act of friendship that we had ever seen.
Major Crime acted to help one of their own. Blair's ride-along status had to be revoked, but they offered him an alterative - they offered him a detective's badge of his own. He'd been doing the work of one unofficially and unpaid for three years. He was part of their team and they wanted to keep him.
Blair accepted their offer, attended the Police Academy and graduated at the top of his class. He slotted straight in to Major Crime as Jim's partner. An acknowledged academic fraud being accepted into the best division in the department caused more than a few raised eyebrows, but my dad and his team stood firm. They trusted Blair implicitly, and eventually the furor died down.
Jim and Blair took the trials of the dissertation and Alex and put them behind them to forge an even tighter friendship. Their partnership was the stuff cop legends are made of. They were the best of the best.
As a team, they shone brightly; like a beacon for good in the city that was finally officially recognised as something its residents already knew - the most dangerous city in America.
By the time I was ready to leave for university - after my year out traveling with friends - Blair and Jim had been awarded co-Officer of the Year titles three years running.
The last one of those awards was made posthumously.
Three months ago to the day, those two men died in the line of duty. In an act of karmic symmetry that it is hard to ignore, they were trailing another serial bomber.
They got to his last target in time and got the kindergarten kids out of the building even though the bomber set off a small device to start a fire.
They went back in to get two teachers who had been trapped by the flames. The bomber set off his last blast - killing them all instantly and leveling the school.
The Cascade PD went into shock. Their best team was gone. Their friends were gone. Two of their brothers in blue were gone.
They held a double funeral on a sunny June day. At the request of both their families, Jim and Blair were buried side by side. You may have seen the news reports - there was national coverage there that day.
The massed ranks of the Cascade PD that marched behind their funeral cortege brought the city to a near-standstill. It was later reported by the skeleton staff who manned their duty posts that day that there was a three hundred percent drop in crime that day... the criminals of Cascade seemingly decided discretion was the best approach that day.
In the reading of their joint Last Will and Testament, Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg further stunned their city by revealing what their friends already knew - Blair's dissertation was true.
In his spare time from fighting crime, Blair had turned his dissertation into a novel and the finished script was left in the care of the Ellison and Sandburg families. The book is due to be released for the Christmas market and is fully expected to top the bestseller lists. All proceeds are going to the Benevolent Funds for Cascade's various emergency services.
Blair's getting something else posthumously - his doctorate. His old mentor Dr. Eli Stoddard headed the campaign demanding it. He's also got that nomination for the Nobel Prize.
The rest of the country and the world may be caught up in the whole saga of the fact that Jim and Blair really were a Sentinel and Guide. My family and friends are more concerned with what we've lost.
We'll remember Jim and Blair always. We'll miss them always. We'll remember the good they did and the joy they brought us. We'll remember our friends.
They were many things to many people in the space of their lives. Three things gave them greatest pride.
They were police officers sworn to protect Cascade.
They were Sentinel and Guide, bound by ties no one else will ever fully understand.
They were best friends and brothers of the heart.
Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg - to all that knew them, they showed us what friendship really was.
Daryl re-capped his pen and put down the notebook, shaking his tired and cramped hand as he did so. It had helped... writing it down. It had cleared his head of the last vestiges of the sorrow that he'd clung to. He looked to the photos on his cramped bedside table; his mom, his dad, one of the whole Major Crime gang... and the last one: Jim, Blair and him - taken by his dad on their last group camping trip.
I'll fly free, Blair. Jim, I'll stand tall.
He'd do this university thing because it was the right thing to do. It'd be good for him, and it kept his parents happy. It still wouldn't change the fact that he'd be going home afterwards and joining the 'family business'.
Be it by blood, or by friendship, his family was tied by one basic creed - to serve and protect their tribe. So would he. After Duke the police academy in Cascade would follow. It was his dream... and Blair and Jim had shown them all that if you reached for your dream long enough, and hard enough, you could get it.
A quick note from the author: Daryl got an A- for his essay.