Note: Not beta'd. I wasn't feeling compulsive. Rated PG for a minor head wound and a naughty word.

The following is based on a true story. Practically everything has been changed to protect just about everybody...

The Beanie Bandito
--Mackie

They took the call at 10 a.m. and rolled to an upscale antiques and collectibles store in an exclusive part of the completely refurbished tourist trap known as Old Town. At least the City Council had forbidden the too-precious addition of the old-world "e" to the exclusive waterfront-shopping district. The proposed "Olde Towne" had sent long-time locals on a rampage once they had stopped rolling about in unbridled laughter. The council member responsible for proposing that fateful "e" was now back selling three-bedroom, two-bath homes in "the California style" at one of the numerous suburban subdivisions that had sprung up around the city like beige boils amid the tree-covered foothills.

The old (as in elderly, not trendy) Ford pickup looked horribly out of place amid the BMW's, Benz's, and the occasional fully equipped sport utility that had never glimpsed the dust of an off-road path. Even the patrol cars, with their gaudy swirling lights, were at least relatively new. The blue and white Ford was simply old.

The detectives walked to the rear of an ambulance (pristine white and only a year out of the factory) to interview the victim of the crime. A large bruise was forming over a swelling left temple. "A hundred and thirteen thousand, four hundred and twenty-seven dollars!" he ranted to the paramedic who was trying to apply a bandage to the man's mildly bleeding wound. The paramedic was dressed in well-pressed navy blue slacks and a short-sleeved blue shirt; the nearby ambulance driver was in carefully starched whites. He was somewhat younger than the pickup truck.

"Excuse me, sir," detective Jim Ellison interrupted the victim's tirade. He introduced himself and his partner, and felt decidedly under-dressed in his Dockers and flannel shirt. At least the shirt was tucked in, which was more than he could say for the decidedly rumpled appearance of his partner, who tended to dress as if he bought his clothes from a Salvation Army reject sale.

"A hundred and thirteen thousand, four hundred and twenty-seven dollars!" the man repeated to his new audience, much to the relief of the harried paramedic.

"Yes, sir. Are you the owner of the shop?" The high-dollar amount of the theft and the fact that violence had been used made it a case for Major Crime.

"Yes, I am. Kenneth DeMille, owner, buyer, clerk and general factotum," the dapper, middle-aged man replied, barely pausing for breath. "I'm under-insured -- it's the nature of the antiques game -- and the thief knew exactly what merchandise to take. Without my shop tag, it's completely untraceable." He moaned, whether at the pain or the memory was impossible to determine. "My god, a hundred and -- "

"Yes, sir," Jim interrupted, already having that particular figure memorized. "Please describe the robbery exactly as it occurred." Behind him, he heard some officers snickering among themselves. Glancing over his shoulder, he shot them a look that told them to knock-it-off-or-else. The chuckles subsided with effort. Turning back to his witness, Jim had the uncomfortable feeling that this case was somehow going to bite him in the ass.

"I open promptly at ten, and that's when he came in. Well dressed, charcoal-gray, pinstripe suit, one of those gaudy ties in primary colors that young men favor these days, well-polished loafers, black, a white shirt with real cuff-links -- sapphire-blue cabochons, gaudy like the tie, trendy dark glasses like those ghostbusters wear."

"Ghostbusters?" Jim echoed, writing furiously despite the knowledge that the information was virtually useless.

"Uh, Mr. DeMille, do you mean the Men in Black?" Blair prompted kindly.

"Oh, yes, I suppose so. The one with the space ship disguised as part of the World's Fair."

Jim raised his eyebrows. Those sunglasses were still a trendy fashion statement?

Blair hid a smile.

"OK," Jim continued, "can you describe the man?"

"What do you think I've been doing?" DeMille snapped, his expression indicating he was seriously beginning to doubt Jim's powers of concentration.

"The physical characteristics of the robber," Jim said, keeping a rein on his rising impatience. The officers were chuckling again; he knew this case was doomed. "Was he white?"

"Of course."

Jim ignored that sweeping bigotry. "Age?"

"Oh -- " DeMille squinted in concentration. "Late twenties, early thirties, maybe. Certainly no more than forty."

Jim felt his chances plummeting. "Height? Weight?"

"Oh, about average -- you know, five-nine or ten, one-sixty, one-sixty-five."

"Hair?"

"Brownish, worn short, very neat."

"Eyes?"

"He had those dark glasses -- "

"Yes. Did you see any distinguishing marks?" Jim ploughed on gamely, sensing the futility of the exercise. "Scars, tattoos, birthmarks, jewelry?"

"He wore gloves -- very nice doeskin driving gloves. And he had a gun."

"Pistol or revolver?"

DeMille frowned. "What's the difference?"

Patiently, Jim explained. He ended up with the description of a short-barreled revolver with plain, brown grips. Newish; at least it hadn't appeared scratched or tarnished to the accessory-conscious Mr. DeMille.

Great. He had Mr. Average-white-male with neat but gaudy clothes and a newish handgun of uncertain caliber.

"Do you know if he had a vehicle?"

"I didn't see one, but he must have," DeMille answered.

"Why?"

"Well, just look at the neighborhood," the shop-owner replied, as if the answer were self-evident. "Nobody walks very far around here."

"Do you have a security camera?" Jim persisted, hoping to get a break.

"Of course, but it won't show you any more than I've already told you," DeMille insisted.

"We'll take a look at the tape anyway, sir," Jim replied calmly. "Can you describe the merchandise that was stolen?"

DeMille put a hand to the bandage on his temple. "I gave a complete list to one of the officers," he said, starting to look a little pale as shock caught up with him. "I'm sorry, I really can't tell you any more. I'd like to get to the hospital."

"Of course," Jim sympathized. "Just one more thing -- when did he hit you?"

"When? When I tried to stop him, of course." DeMille sounded as if it should have been obvious even to a cretinous lout like Detective Ellison. "My god, a hundred and thirteen thousand, four hundred and -- "

Jim motioned quickly to the ambulance attendant, who shoved the gurney into the rear of the vehicle and closed the door on the shop-owner's lament.

" -- twenty-seven dollars," the detective concluded darkly as he watched the ambulance pull away.

"Not much to go on," Blair sympathized.

"Not unless he lives in that charcoal-gray suit with the gaudy tie and well-polished loafers," Jim admitted. He glanced toward the officers who had originally taken the call. "I know I'm gonna hate this. The guy probably stole a bunch of old pornography or something."

Blair brightened with interest. "You know, a lot of the old Victorian stuff is really collectible. Some of it's worth a fortune even though the subject matter is pretty mild by today's standards."

They'd reached the uniforms. "The victim said one of you has a list of the stolen merchandise?" Jim asked.

Barely restraining a grin, one of the officers handed him a list, a computer printout of the shop's inventory.

Jim glanced at it. "What the hell?" he murmured as the cops dissolved into helpless mirth. He read, "Brownie, Chilly, Derby -- " and glanced at his partner, who was waging a war against laughter and losing handily.

"They're Beanie Babies," Blair confirmed, his voice strangled as he tried to keep his tone serious.

Jim couldn't believe it "Good lord, I bought two of these for my niece. They cost about twelve bucks apiece."

Blair finally managed to control his laughter. "It's a whole cult thing now, Jim. The older Babies have become highly collectible. There's a whole industry booming around the Beanie Baby phenomenon -- conventions, accessories, collector's clubs, on-line trading." He glanced at the list. "I mean, look -- Nana the monkey is priced at forty-eight hundred. That's hardly a toy for your niece."

"But why?" Jim countered, baffled. "Why would anyone over the age of eight want to collect small, stuffed animals with silly names?" Better yet, why would anyone want to steal over a hundred thousand dollars worth of the toys?

Simply because they were untraceable. The thief could sell them at a flea market or collector's show and never have to worry about anyone tracking the stolen merchandise back to him.

Another unmarked car pulled up -- a shiny, new sedan but still too basic to appear comfortable amid the upscale traffic.

Looking very natty himself in tan slacks and sport jacket, Rafe climbed out and joined the little group on the sidewalk. "What's up?"

Jim gestured toward the store. "Forensics is giving the place a once-over. They won't find any prints. The perp wore gloves. Make sure you get the tape from the security camera."

"Sure thing," Rafe acknowledged, heading inside to see what the crime scene techs were coming up with.

Jim looked up and down the block. "OK," he said to the cops, "if that's everything you've got, you might as well get back on patrol."

"Sure thing," one of the officers replied, heading toward the driver's door. "Good luck." He and his partner exchanged a grin that said the detective was going to need it.

Jim gave them a sour look as they drove off.

"Now what, Jim?" Blair asked, following his partner's gaze along the block.

"Now we do a door to door and see if anyone saw anything," Jim answered, not relishing the legwork. "And we find out which shops have security cameras that might have a view of the street. Maybe we can catch a glimpse of our perp leaving the store."

It proved to be tedious but ultimately rewarding. Most of the exclusive, high-priced shops had multiple security cameras, and many of them did show part of the street. By piecing together various video footage, they were able to see the robber leave the collectibles store with a large canvas shopping bag in his hand, follow him up the street until he climbed behind the wheel of a white BMW convertible, and watch him pull away from the curb. After studying the tape a bit, Jim's keen eyesight was able to pick out a partial license plate.

"Cool!" Blair approved when they were finished.

Jim smiled modestly. "All accolades duly accepted," he murmured.

They took their results to Simon Banks by early afternoon.

The Captain frowned around an unlighted cigar. "You know who this is?" he asked.

"DMV says he's Charles Royce, the Third," Jim answered. "I'm assuming that means he's the son of Charles Royce, the Second, who is currently the CEO of Royce International Investments, Inc."

Simon only sighed. "Be discreet, Jim. I know the air can get a little thin in the rarified atmosphere of the very, very rich, but try to keep your professional decorum."

Jim nodded solemnly. "Professional decorum, sir," he agreed soberly. Behind him, Blair bit his lip to hide a grin.

"You, too, Sandburg," Simon shot at the police observer.

Blair sucked in his cheeks. "Yes, sir," he promised, trying to drag his rebellious lips into a serious line and failing miserably.

Simon was not appeased. "Just remember, gentlemen, the man had a gun, so be careful." Thoughtfully, he added, "Unless that turns out to be a toy as well."

"If it does, I'll feed it to the little twerp," Jim vowed under his breath.

"What was that, detective?"

"Professional decorum, sir," Jim repeated.

"Royce Senior plays golf with the mayor -- he is not a man you want to upset. Play it by the book."

Jim nodded. "Absolutely, sir. By the book."

He steered his partner out the door.

The Royce dynasty lived in the most secluded, wealthy section of an already secluded, wealthy neighborhood. The blue and white pickup definitely looked out of place parked under the portico, but Jim pondered that he rather liked the effect of the old Ford surrounded by tall, white columns and perfectly manicured hedges. Kind of ante-bellum retro.

A formally dressed butler answered the front door after a lengthy chime duplicated the ringing of the bells at St. James Cathedral (or maybe it was the clock of Big Ben -- Jim really wasn't knowledgeable about bells).

"Master Charles is not at home," the man answered stiffly after Jim's brief introduction and query.

"And where might Master Charles be?" Jim countered, not to be thwarted.

The butler looked him up and down as if determining the suitability of his appearance. Clearly, it was found wanting. "He is attending a garden party at the estate of Dame Hargrove," he relented at last.

A strangled moan escaped Blair's lips. Not Agnes Hargrove!

Jim looked at him oddly. "Dame Hargrove?" he repeated numbly. "When did this country start giving out knighthoods or whatever the hell it's called?"

"She's British, sir," the butler responded, over-emphasizing the "sir" to let Jim know it was bestowed only at great reluctance.

"Right," Jim recalled. He glanced at Blair again, ignoring his partner's pale and petrified expression. "You know where she lives?"

Blair managed a nod.

Jim glowered at the butler. "Thanks for your time," he said, over-emphasizing the "thanks" just enough to receive a glare in return.

"Not Agnes Hargrove," Blair groaned, climbing into the passenger seat like a man on the way to his own execution.

Jim recalled their one and only meeting -- Blair had been auctioned off as a date at a fund-raising bash for the anthropology department. Agnes, matriarch of Hargrove Hall and its primary benefactor, had a real thing for Blair, not to mention a zest to lay her hands upon his body whenever opportunity presented itself. After a lengthy round of furious bidding, she had held off all challengers to claim the prize. Unfortunately, Jim was also part of the package, having been suckered by Blair into playing the role of "bodyguard" during the date -- guarding whose body from whom, he was not quite certain. The date was just two weeks off, and Blair was dreading every minute of the countdown. Jim was rather looking forward to it -- all he had to do was drive and enjoy the spectacle of his partner fending off the advances of an eighty-three year old admirer.

"Which way, Don Juan?" he asked when he'd reached the end of the drive.

Blair pointed right. "Up the hill -- all the way to the top."

Jim whistled. In this neighborhood, elevation really was an indicator of financial worth; Dame Agnes Hargrove clearly ranked at the pinnacle.

Once again, the pickup declared its humble roots as it joined the parking queue behind a bevy of Rolls Royces, Bentleys, a lowly Mercedes or two, the odd Lexus, Ferrari, Porsche and one very low-to-the-ground Lamborghini that looked like a Tonka Toy.

Blair's footsteps dragged with reluctance as the two men hiked up the long drive toward the massive front entry. Jim paused and listened. "Around back," he commented, detouring around the side of the mansion.

'Around back' proved to be several acres of cultivated English gardens backed by tall woodland. A buffet ran the length of the long brick patio. A couple of hundred people in various degrees of daytime formalwear strolled among the pathways through a large variety of botanical splendor. The surrounding lawns sported a dozen or so linen-covered tables, each of them displaying a wealth of little stuffed animals.

Beanie Babies. It was a Beanie Baby convention for the ultra-rich.

"Ah, shit," Jim murmured. He raised his badge and his voice. "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm Detective James Ellison with the Cascade Police. Everybody please stop and put down your Beanie Babies."

He was trying very hard to maintain his professional decorum, but it was difficult with Blair giggling hopelessly against his back. The anthropologist had lost it completely when he'd seen the spectacle in front of them.

Everyone paused long enough to glower at him -- after all, one didn't raise one's voice at such a somber function -- but no one really believed him. For a moment, Jim was afraid he was going to have to pull his weapon and fire it into the air to get everyone's attention, but he was saved this embarrassment by the arrival of several uniformed police officers, whose presence managed to convince the guests that Jim's request was for real.

With Blair sticking to his back like a post-it note, Jim headed into the throng in search of his quarry. Just as he spotted Charles Royce III, he felt his partner plucked away and heard an accompanying squeak of alarm. He turned his head just enough to see the anthropologist in the clutches of the hostess, Agnes Hargrove, and smiled before turning his attention back to his suspect. After all, Blair was not in any danger -- he would be returned at some point, bruised and embarrassed but otherwise unharmed.

Jim looked down at the assortment of animals displayed on Royce's table. "How many have you sold?" he asked conversationally.

"A few," the young man admitted nervously, looking around wildly but seeing no unguarded escape route. Fortuitously, he was still wearing the charcoal-gray pinstripe suit and the white shirt with the gaudy sapphire-blue cufflinks; they would give the shop owner something easy to identify.

Jim officially charged him and read him his rights, then informed the suspect he was confiscating the remaining Beanie Babies as evidence.

"You can't do that," complained a tiny woman at Jim's elbow. "I was about to buy Humphrey."

"Sorry, ma'am," Jim told her blandly, "but it's suspected stolen property. The camel is evidence." He addressed the gathering. "Folks, anyone who purchased a Beanie Baby from this man should come forward now, or you risk being charged with receiving stolen property."

No one came forward. With a scowl, Jim thumbed through Royce's little cash box and retrieved several checks. He read the names and addresses of the people out loud in an unforgiving tone. "If any of you are still here, I suggest you come forward." He paused, waiting for a reaction. Nothing. "Now."

Reluctantly, several guests came toward the table, their purchases clutched grimly in their hands. They would not relinquish their treasures without a fight.

Thirty minutes later, the detective had it sorted out enough so the rest of the garden party could get underway again. As his suspect and the stolen Beanie Babies were carted off, he looked around for his partner.

Blair was having a mobile conversation with Agnes Hargrove, being polite and attentive but wisely keeping a table between the woman and his more tender body parts. She was stalking him mercilessly, talking all the while about innocent university matters, while he answered and scuttled away from her advances.

Jim enjoyed the scene for a minute, then finally took pity. "Excuse me, Mrs. Hargrove," he said politely, stepping between them, "but my partner and I need to be going."

Her probing, lascivious gaze made him feel as if he's just been stripped and displayed for public consumption. Prudently, he backed up a step to remain out of reach. "Two weeks," she murmured suggestively to him.

"Yes, ma'am," Jim answered nervously, urging Blair away from the table. "Two weeks."

"She almost had me," Blair whispered as they crossed the patio and fled the scene. "Another minute, she would have had me cornered for sure."

"Take it easy, DiCaprio," Jim answered lazily, "I've rescued you from your adoring fanclub."

"Yeah? What about in two weeks, man? We'll be at dinner -- sitting next to her! What am I supposed to do then?"

Jim shrugged. "Smile a lot, and try not to flinch," he suggested, climbing behind the wheel.

Back in the bullpen, what should have been a simple wrap-up took hours of haggling with the Royce family attorneys (three of them) followed by more hours of paperwork that took longer to finish than the case had taken to solve. After helping with a lot of the work, Blair left early to pick up some take-out dinner and have it ready for Jim's arrival home.

With the case finally turned over to the DA and the rest of the legal eagles, Jim made it back to the loft at last, his involvement with the case officially ended until the trial. As if a trial were even a possibility considering the high-dollar profile of the suspect's father.

They ate a late dinner and watched a little TV, the conversation carefully avoiding all mention of Beanie Babies and Agnes Hargrove. Jim had made the news as the detective from Major Crimes who had successfully busted the Beanie Baby Bandit, which soured his mood considerably before the evening was over.

When it was finally time for bed, he climbed stiffly up the stairs, wishing for nothing more than a good night's sleep and a few days free of teasing from his colleagues about the case. The first was possible; the second highly unlikely. His friends and co-workers would get a lot of mileage out of the Beanie Baby caper, and Jim knew he'd just have to grin and put up with it. Why not? It did have a high silliness factor.

He paused with his tee shirt half over his head and stared down at his bed. There, sprawled neatly atop his pillow, was a little stuffed Beanie Baby -- Velvet, the black panther.

Without visible reaction, Jim continued to undress, moved the toy to his bedside table and crawled beneath the covers. If Blair had been anticipating a response, he was doomed to disappointment.

After awhile, Jim heard his roommate turn out the lights, check the doors, and go into his room. When he was certain his partner was asleep, he got up and went downstairs to the coat rack, where he retrieved something from his jacket pocket.

He placed it on the lid of Blair's laptop on the dining table.

Strider, the wolf.

Jim couldn't have given a reason why he'd chosen that particular Beanie Baby out of the hundreds available as a gag gift for his partner.

It had just seemed suitable.

With a smile, he went back up to bed.

THE END

Note: OK, before everyone rushes out to their local Beanie Baby outlet, there isn't a Strider. In a toy line that features two bats and an assortment of crustaceans, you'd think they could manage one lousy wolf. Who knows, maybe there'll be one for winter 1998....

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