I have so many other stories I should be working on. CC's been nagging about a particular crossover, so this is her fault. This is loosely related to another story I wrote, but is a slightly different AU. Talk about your degrees of separation...
This was supposed to just be a brief scene, but has, as is frequently the case, morphed into a somewhat longer story, we'll just have to wait and see where and how far it goes. As always, I'm using characters created by others and owned by huge corporations. I'm grateful for their creative genius and their forbearance in not suing me for the use of their intellectual property. I don't make any money from this, either, just the occasional nice message from a reader.
It's All Relative
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All the books say to go to D.C. in 'cherry blossom time'. The blooming trees lining the avenue certainly were spectacular. Of course, the pollen also irritated the sensitive sinuses of certain visitors, most notably, one from the other Washington, the state. The three men were in the Nation's Capitol for a weeklong conference. Detective James Ellison had been sniffling and sneezing practically from the moment they left the hotel. His eyes were swollen, and they had just picked up a package of Benadryl for him. His partner was frowning about it, but had to concede that it would be better to have a slightly spaced sentinel, rather than one choking to death on the phlegm from his unruly sinuses.
"If you'd just try the herbal..."
"Sandburg, the last time you gave him one of your 'herbal' cures, he saw ghosts." The third member of their group growled. "And it mimicked peyote. I think we'll stick with modern medicine, all right?" Captain Simon Banks was glad to get out of rainy, miserable Cascade, even if it was to crowded, traffic congested, dangerous Washington, D.C.
"I'll be fine, Chief. Besides, the space-case only lasts about an hour, then I'll be fine and able to breathe for the next fifteen to twenty hours." Jim popped a tablet from it's packaging and swallowed it dry, unwilling to wait for relief.
"Fine. You'll do what you want, anyway. Even if it isn't good for you." Blair Sandburg grumbled as he shoved his fists into his pockets. "At least WonderBurger doesn't exist here."
"Which explains why the people here are so surly," Jim deadpanned. Simon chuckled.
"Hey, you want to go to the rose garden?"
"No." Jim replied instantly. "Not even Benadryl can help that. I thought we were going to hit the Capitol and the monuments, today?"
"That was the plan," Simon agreed. The three men continued walking down the avenue towards the Washington Monument, where they planned to start their tour. Standing at the Monument, they looked down the length of the reflecting pool towards the Lincoln Memorial, making like tourists. The visit to The Wall left them somewhat depressed, seeing the thousands of names inscribed there, each one representing someone's brother, father, or son; and all the sad little items left there by previous mourners serving as further reminders of a war which would never be over until all the missing were accounted for.
From The Wall, Blair convinced his companions to visit the Smithsonian. Once inside, they decided to split up, each going to whatever exhibits most interested them. They planned to meet for a late lunch at three, on the steps of the courthouse, which was near their hotel.
Blair and Simon had both arrived a bit early and were standing on the steps of the courthouse, waiting for Jim. Blair spotted him, first.
"Hey, Jim! Man, what's with the suit? You trying to impress someone?"
He looked down in total confusion at the man who grabbed his arm. Normally, he was able to glare and make just about everyone back down. "I don't know who the hell you are, but if you don't let go, I'll bust you for assault."
"Yeah, right, Jim. Come on, what's got into you?" Blair tugged him over to Simon, who was frowning at him, as well.
"What's with the suit, Jim? You don't have to wear that until the conference, tomorrow."
"Look, I don't know who you are, but you've obviously got me confused with someone else. My name's not 'Jim'." He didn't have time for this.
"Good one, Ellison. But this isn't the time or the place for trying to jerk our chains. I don't know about you, but I'm starved. Breakfast was too many hours ago."
"Who the hell are you people?" He jerked away from them, debating whether to reach for his weapon. They didn't seem threatening, but he knew how deceiving appearances could be. The tall black man scowled at him.
"What is wrong with you, Jim? You were fine when we split up at the museum..."
He scowled back, frowning. "What are you talking about? Who are you people?"
"Jim?" Blair asked, concerned, "Uh, did the Benadryl have some weird affect on your senses? Did you fall and hit your head? You're acting really weird, man. The suit, the snarling... what's wrong?"
"What's wrong, is that I have no idea who you people are. I'm not this 'Jim' person, and I've been in court all day!" He spun on his heel and headed down the steps almost at a run to escape them.
The voice behind him startled him and he turned. He didn't know the man, and he wasn't in uniform, so he wondered how the guy knew he had been a captain. The man was about his height, older though, wearing a suit and the ugliest shoes he'd ever laid eyes on.
"Can I help you?"
"Yeah, you can help me. What's the big hurry? I want to talk to you about your testimony, just now." He frowned. "How'd you manage to change so fast?"
"I'm sorry? Do I know you?"
The man looked exasperated. "I heard you had no sense of humor, but this is crazy, Hunter."
"Who-who's Hunter?" He scowled, wondering where Rod Serling was.
"Oh, come on, Vince."
"Wait a minute..."
"Okay, sorry. Captain Hunter." He saw the honest confusion on the man's face and frowned. He looked more closely at the man. "Vince Hunter, Captain in IA, remember?" He was worried, now. He knew that the man had been under a lot of stress, lately, ever since the sting that had netted a batch of thieving cops. He was well aware that he'd stomped on the man's toes, and he was trying to maybe make up a little for that, now.
"I'm sorry, but you must have me confused with someone else." He backed away, wondering if the guy was a lunatic. This wasn't his bailiwick and the man didn't seem especially threatening. Maybe it was a case of simple mistaken identity. Wait a minute... "Uh, Hunter?"
"Yeah. Captain Vincent Hunter, DC Metro Police."
Nah, couldn't be. Could it? When he'd met Richard Hunter the preceding year, the guy hadn't mentioned a brother. Still... He frowned. "Uh, how old is this Hunter, guy?"
"What? He's, I don't know. Forty, maybe?" He was confused. The man certainly looked and sounded like Hunter, but he didn't act anything like him. He looked the man in the eyes and realized that this guy didn't have the cold, closed-off look he was used to seeing in the captain's eyes.
"Any relation to a Rick Hunter? Cop in LA?"
He looked surprised. "I have no idea, why?"
The man shook his head, uncertain. "Just wondering. Look, I'm afraid you have me confused with someone else. My name's Jim Ellison. I'm a detective in Major Crime, from Cascade PD, Washington State. I'm here for that conference that starts tomorrow."
"Huh. You're a cop, though?"
The stranger shook his head. "You a captain?"
"Not in the PD. I was in the Army."
He frowned and shook his head. "Man, you look just like Hunter."
"But I'm not him."
"No, I suppose you're not. Sorry."
"That's all right." Jim turned away and headed up the steps. He glanced back at the weird guy who had accosted him, so didn't see the man looking over his shoulder as he came down the steps. They collided heavily, both men going down.
Reflexes took over and Jim rolled away from the collision. The other man did the same thing. Scrambling to their feet, they both started to apologize, the words dying on their lips as they saw one another.
"You must be Hunter."
"You must be Jim."
They spoke simultaneously. They stared. Hunter had a bit less hair than Jim, and what he had was a bit longer, but other than that, it was eerily like looking in a mirror. The men they'd just been speaking with hurried up, concerned.
"Damn, Jim. You're one of triplets, now?" Simon asked in shock.
"Yeah, Chief?" Hunter couldn't take his eyes off his double.
"Oh, man. Another one who calls people 'Chief'?" Blair asked.
The man in the funny shoes frowned. "I'm Jack Manion, Chief of Police," he announced. Blair blushed in embarrassment.
"Sorry. Jim calls me Chief." He grinned. "Blair Sandburg, Cascade PD. This is our captain, Simon Banks, and I guess you met Jim."
Manion looked at the 'twins'. "Yeah. I wondered how and why he'd changed. Should have known better." He shook his head.
Simon laughed. "Yeah. We couldn't figure out why Jim, who hates suits, would have gone and changed into one." They turned back to the look-alikes, who were still staring at each other in shock.
Jim finally found his voice. "You any relation to Rick Hunter, from LA?"
He cocked his head to the side, frowning. "My brother."
"Son of a bitch," Jim growled, darkly. "That lying son of a bitch!" Jim turned away, breathing hard.
"What?" Hunter wondered what was going on.
"How old are you?" Jim demanded.
"Shit. You're younger than me." He looked away, his jaw spasming.
Hunter frowned. "I don't understand?"
Jim looked at him. "I met your brother last year. Seems my dad and his mother were married in college. My dad's folks disapproved of her and got the marriage annulled. She was pregnant with him."
"Yeah. I knew about that." Vince was frowning.
"We need to go somewhere and talk. Somewhere a little more private than this."
"I'm still on duty, and it looks like the chief wants to talk to me. Here." Hunter took out his wallet and took out a business card and a pen, writing on the back. "This is my home number. Call me this evening, okay?"
"Okay. Is Rick supposed to be here for the conference?"
"I don't know. We don't talk much." He still had a rather shell-shocked look about him, "Just, call me, okay?"
"How about seven? We could maybe meet for dinner or something?"
"Yeah. Okay. I got to go." He aligned himself at Chief Manion's shoulder and they watched as the three visitors left.
"Relative of yours?" Manion asked.
"Yep." Hunter's mouth was tight, holding it all in, the confusion, the anger, and the fear. Manion sighed.
"Well, anyway, what I wanted to talk to you about was..."
"Jim?" Simon asked, uncertainly.
"I need to make a call." Jim was scowling and looked ready to bite someone's head off.
"Jim, relax. Maybe it's just a coincidence?" Blair suggested, placatingly.
Jim glared at him. "Not likely. Rick and I have the same father, not the same mother."
"Oh, shit," Blair and Simon mumbled in chorus as they followed their companion.
Jim pulled his cell phone from his jacket pocket and stabbed in the first phone number he had ever learned. "Hey, Sally, is my dad there? Thanks." Jim allowed his friends to lead him where they would, concentrating on his call.
"Yeah, Dad? I have a question for you. When did you see your first wife last?"
"What do you mean, Jimmy?"
"When I was real little. Did you take a trip to LA? Did you meet her and have an affair?"
"Jim, that was forty years ago. What difference would that make? She remarried..."
"You had an affair with your first wife while you were both still married?" Jim was furious and his voice gained in volume. His companions steered him away to a more secluded area.
"No. Her husband had just died... it was an accident. I never meant..."
"Yeah, fine. Did you know she had another son? One younger than me? Who looks enough like me to have people who know us to mistake us for one another?"
"What? No! She would have told me!"
Jim sighed. "Maybe she thought he was her late husband's son, Dad."
"Too late for that, dad." He disconnected the call, his shoulders slumped and he shook his head. Bringing his attention back to his friends, he shook his head again. "You heard."
"Yeah," Blair agreed, as Simon nodded.
"This sucks," Jim said, defeatedly as he put his cell phone back in his pocket.
"Do you know if Rick's going to be here?"
"I have no idea. He's not real happy to be related, you know? I wonder why he didn't notice the similarity between, what's his name, Vince? And me."
"Jim, isn't your brother going to be here? I mean, your other brother? You know, Mack?"
Jim closed his eyes and nodded in dismay. "Yeah. He's due in tonight."
"This could be very interesting," Blair said thoughtfully, a strange glint in his eyes.
Manion watched the captain, concerned at the man's confusion and anger. He knew about his anger, how he had to fight to control it at all times. In that, he could see the difference between him and the Ellison guy. He was wise enough not to press, just yet. Instead, he asked the questions he'd had about Hunter's testimony. As usual, Hunter's responses were clipped and cold, but he was also obviously distracted. Manion let it go, deciding to let the man's similarity to the visiting cop go.
"You going to the conference, Captain?"
"Yeah. I lost the drawing," Hunter mumbled his reply, not realizing that he'd given the chief more information than he should have.
"Well, then, I'll see you when you get back." Lost the drawing? He'd have to look into that. The conference was a prestigious thing to go to, if you wanted to be seen and get a national reputation, providing you actually participated. There were only so many tickets available and he knew that they held a lottery for them, he hadn't thought, however, that the 'losers' were the ones who got to go. He watched in concern as an obviously still distracted Hunter headed off.
He couldn't believe it. He couldn't remember how he got to his car or home. He was shaking. He and his older brother had never been close, particularly. By the time he was old enough to actively interact with him, Rick had graduated from high school and joined the Marines. His dad had been killed before he was born, so he had no memories of him, except the things his mom had told him and the pictures. He frowned. He couldn't imagine his mother cheating on his dad. Not even with her first husband. He checked his photo album and noticed that the obituary on his father was almost exactly nine months prior to his birth. He frowned. Ellison. So, if he was born a bit early, and he remembered how his mom had told him that he was pretty tiny at birth, perhaps, in reality, he had been premature? Oh, hell. He sat on his sofa and buried his face in his hands. It had to be true. He didn't know what to do about it. Everything was a lie, his conception, his birth, his parents, his entire life.
Simon insisted they have something to eat. Jim wasn't particularly hungry any more, but they coerced him into joining them. Blair said that they needed to go to Maryland and eat crab. Simon vetoed that by telling him that he was not going to fight the rush-hour traffic. Besides, Jim needed to try and call his brother and find out some things. They finally settled on a local seafood restaurant. Jim wasn't paying any attention, having withdrawn deep within himself to try and figure it all out. Blair ordered Surf and Turf for him and he didn't even remember eating it.
"Hey, Brudda!" Mack greeted as he spotted his twin. It was just after six in the evening and Mack's plane had actually been on time, surprisingly. Blair greeted him enthusiastically and Simon was cordial, but Jim was withdrawn and aloof, not even acknowledging him.
"What's with him?" Mack asked, curiously.
"Family problems," Simon explained as Blair grabbed one of Mack's bags.
"What, notified of a kid he didn't know about?" Mack teased.
"Yeah, but not his," Blair mumbled. Mack frowned in confusion. "Let's get to the hotel and we'll try and explain. Hopefully, by then, grumpy here will have managed to process it."
"So, you're saying that not only are we twins, but we have an older and a younger half- brother? One of whom looks like us?" Mack was sprawled back in a chair, wolfing down a Hawaiian Pizza.
"That's about the size of it." Jim mumbled, wrinkling his nose at the smell of the pineapple.
"So, do I get to meet these brothers?"
"Well, one, at least. The younger one lives here." Jim managed a grin. "Oh, and they're both cops."
Mack choked on his pizza as he burst into laughter. "No way, Jim. You've got to be kidding."
Simon and Blair smiled. "Truth," Simon insisted. "Both Hunters are cops. Rick in LA, and, what's this one's name?"
"Vincent. Named for his father, John Vincent Hunter." Jim shook his head. "Which reminds me, I promised that I'd call him." He pulled the card from his pocket. Glancing at the card, he mumbled, "Oh, great."
"What's wrong, Jim?" Simon asked.
"He's a headhunter." The four men exchanged concerned looks. No honest cop particularly liked Internal Affairs. They thought that they were out to get good cops, not understanding that there were bad cops, as well.
"I wonder why?" Mack asked, curious.
"What was that other guy's name? His boss?" Blair asked.
"Manion. Police Chief Manion." Simon answered.
"So? Call him and ask about him," Blair suggested.
Simon laughed. "Oh, sure. Call up the DC Metro police and ask to talk to the chief?"
It really was that easy. They were transferred several times, finally speaking to a woman who asked why they needed to speak to the chief.
"My name is Jim Ellison, I met him earlier today at the courthouse. I had a couple of questions. Is there any way I could get a message to him, please?"
"Hold on, just a moment." Ella turned from the desk and looked up as the chief passed. "Chief? There's a man named Jim Ellison who says he met you earlier today? He has some questions."
"Thanks, Ella. I'll take it in my office." He entered his office and grabbed the phone as he sat down. "This is Chief Manion. How may I help you, detective?"
"Tell me about Hunter?"
Manion loosened his tie as he leaned back in his chair. "What do you need to know?"
"Well, as near as I can figure, he's my half-brother. We look too much alike not to have had the same father, but he was raised thinking his brother's stepfather was his real father. I, uh, couldn't help notice that his card says he's with Internal Affairs? What kind of man is he?"
Manion sighed and rubbed his face with one hand as he juggled the phone with the other. "He's pretty conscientious. A bit cynical, I'm afraid. He used to be a detective."
"Used to be. Why'd he change?"
"He, uh, came home one day and found his partner and his wife together. They all worked in the same office. He got out of court early or something. That was a couple of years ago. I wasn't here, then, but the people I've talked to say he was a good cop. Those who liked him say he just shut down and turned everything off. He found them together, turned around and left. He didn't go back; the next day, he requested a transfer and got it. His ex is no longer employed by this department, and his former partner has since retired."
"Crap," Jim muttered. "His brother, Rick, never mentioned him, when I met him last year. Seems that he knew about me, but my dad never mentioned him. I called him, by the way. He admitted to meeting her on a business trip just after her husband died."
"You talked to him, yet?"
"No. Look, I don't want to scare you, but, uh, I have a twin brother who's here for the same conference."
Manion was silent for several long moments. "Uh, please tell me he's not an identical twin?"
"Sorry, no can do," Jim couldn't keep the wry humor from his voice.
"So... there are now three identical men here?"
Manion sighed. "So, I suppose he's just like you and Hunter?" Although, Jim seemed a little less intense than Vince...
"Nope. Nothing like me," Jim grinned at his twin. "He's Hawaiian."
"Excuse me? I thought you said you were from Washington State?"
"I am. It's pretty convoluted. We were separated at birth. Met a couple of years ago at... a... Police... Conference..." Manion could picture Jim closing his eyes in realization. "Simon? You are never going to make me go to another police conference, are you?"
The plaintive tone of the man made Manion laugh out loud.
"Three of us is more than enough, don't you think?"
Manion could hear Simon in the background. "Hell, yes. More than enough!" There were audible snickers from two other voices, one of which sounded suspiciously like Jim, except that he could hear Jim groaning in dismay.
"So, you going to call Hunter and talk to him?"
"Yeah. I think I'd better. I just wanted a little background on him. Hmmmm."
"We're all three divorced, too."
"Ouch." Manion winced in sympathy. "Look, uh, let me give you my direct line. If you need anything, or, if you think Hunter does, give me a call?"
The call to Hunter was tense. Jim steeled himself, knowing intrinsically that this half-brother was not going to be at all happy with the news.
"Hunter? This is Jim Ellison."
"I figured." He didn't know what to say and the five shots he'd downed since he got home hadn't exactly helped matters any.
"I called dad."
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "And?"
"And. He didn't know about you. I'm not making excuses for him, but he didn't know."
"You sound pissed off."
"That's because we have a kid brother, who has the same mother I do."
"That about sums it up." Jim was quiet, hoping that Hunter would be interested in meeting and talking, although, Jim suspected the guy was drunk.
"So. What do you want to do about it?"
There was a weariness and hopelessness in the man's voice that worried Jim. "Well, I'd like to get together and talk, if that's all right with you?"
"Sure. When and where?"
"Uh, not a good idea. I've been drinking." At least he wasn't so far gone that he'd drive after drinking.
"We can come there?" Jim suggested.
"Uh, my twin is here, too. He's a Homicide lieutenant in Honolulu."
"Shit. Is the kid brother a cop, too?" Hunter's voice held just the tiniest trace of humor.
Jim grinned. "Nope. Took after dad. He's a businessman."
"That's funny. The man both Rick and I thought of as 'dad' was a cop, but not even related to either of us." There was a strong sense of bitterness in the words.
"Yeah. I'm sorry."
"Hardly your fault."
"So, can we come there?"
"Hell, why not?" He gave the address. Jim wrote it down.
"We'll be there in about an hour, just in case we get lost."
"Whatever. Hey, what hotel are you at?"
"Yeah? Well, you might as well make it a full family reunion. Rick's in room 1209."
Jim collapsed, laughing. "Oh, man. I don't think I ever told him about Mack."
"We'll see you in about an hour, okay?
"Sure." Vince hung up. He really didn't want to deal with this just now. What he really wanted was to crawl the rest of the way into his bottle and find a few hours of oblivion. But, as usual, he wouldn't. He had to work in the morning, and he'd already had more than he usually allowed himself.
Blair and Simon decided to let them go on their own, not wanting to overwhelm him with too much. Jim and Mack were going to be more than enough stress for the poor guy.
Rick was a little surprised by the knock on his door. He frowned as he opened it, and stared. His jaw went slack and he caught his breath. "Jim?" he asked, uncertainly.
"Yeah. This is Mack Wolfe. My twin. I, uh, don't think I remembered to tell you about him."
"No. You didn't." He was staring. Except for the fact that Mack was wearing a loud, Hawaiian shirt and a jacket, there wasn't much difference between the two men. At least, not that he could see. Mack tended to slouch a bit, but other than that... "Uh, come on in. You must be here for that stupid seminar, right?"
"That'd be it," Mack replied, looking his half-brother over.
"I, uh, met Vincent, earlier today." Jim gave Rick a rather hard look. "I'm a bit surprised that you didn't notice the resemblance."
Rick frowned, looking at his visitors, then his expression turned to one of surprised realization. "Shit. I never realized... Vince was only four or five when I left home and joined the Marines. I just wasn't around while he was growing up. We haven't really ever been close, I'm afraid. Birthday and Christmas cards is about all. We don't talk much, either. He's never even met Didi, or the kids."
Jim nodded his understanding. "We're on our way out to talk to him."
Rick frowned, "What for?"
Jim sighed. Hunter just didn't seem to be getting it. "I talked to dad. He admitted to being in LA on a business trip right after your dad died, and meeting up with your mom."
The implications were not lost on the older man. He closed his eyes for a moment as the anger rose. Then he began to softly curse. Jim and Mack exchanged understanding looks and simply waited for Rick to wind down.
Finally, he stopped pacing and swearing and looked at them. "So, he's my full brother, and he looks like you two?"
"Yes," Jim replied.
"That's putting it mildly," Mack grinned. "So, you want to go with us?"
Rick looked at the two men. "I think that maybe I'd better."
Jim drove. "He said he'd been drinking, so I want to take some food with us. What's he like, Rick?"
"I have no idea," Rick replied. Seeing Jim's frown, he shrugged and tried to explain, "Like I said, I wasn't around while he was growing up, and I haven't had a lot of contact with him, since."
Jim and Mack exchanged uncomprehending looks. They couldn't understand not wanting to know their own brother. Even though Jim had had problems with his full brother, Steven, in the past, they were now actively working towards a better relationship.
Mack glanced over at Jim, "Bet he likes Chinese," he suggested. Jim nodded and they started looking for restaurants along the way. Rick spotted one, and Jim found a parking space about a block later. They walked back and went in. Figuring that Vincent had probably not eaten, and had been drinking his dinner, they ordered a huge quantity of food.
When they arrived, they climbed the stairs to the second floor, where Vincent's apartment was. Rick knocked on the door and called out. They were all surprised when Vincent answered that the door was open and to come on in. Jim frowned and exchanged concerned looks with his brothers. This was not what any of them would consider 'normal' behavior for a cop, particularly not one in IA.
They were hesitant opening the door. The apartment was practically dark, only a single light on in the living room. Jim held the others back as he used his senses to check it out. Deciding it was safe enough; he was the first one to enter.
They found Vincent sprawled on his couch, nursing a beer. The apartment wasn't as neat as Jim's, nor was it as messy as Mack's. From what Jim's nose told him, though, Vincent had been drinking something a lot stronger than beer, and for quite a while.
"We brought you dinner," Jim announced. Vincent looked up and shrugged. "Knock yourselves out." He gestured towards a doorway, "Kitchen's through there."
They set their bags of take-out on the coffee table, and while Mack went in search of plates and cutlery, Jim and Rick took a good, long look at their inebriated younger brother. Sensing their disapproval, Vincent looked up. "What's wrong, big brother? I'm not living up to the 'Hunter' standards of excellence?" Despite his drunkenness, he seemed well aware of what was going on. That worried both of his brothers, knowing that long-term alcoholism tended to make the victim 'normal' only with sufficient blood-levels of alcohol.
"I don't know," Rick replied, annoyed with his younger brother. "Maybe you should ask Jim if you're living down to the Ellison standards, instead." Both Vincent and Jim stiffened at the crack.
"Knock it off. You can't go blaming him for any of this. It's not his fault. If you want to go putting blame on someone, put it where it belongs, on your parents," Mack said from the doorway, plates and chopsticks in his hands. He scowled at Rick, wondering what was behind the deliberate jab. It was hardly Vincent's fault, he had never suspected. How could he have?
"Come on, you guys," Mack continued, passing out plates, "Eat. We can talk afterwards."
They ate in strained silence. Rick got up to go and find himself a fork, rather than mess with the chopsticks. Jim surreptitiously snared Vincent's beer and replaced it with a soft drink. Both Jim and Mack did their best to force all the carbs into their younger brother to help counteract the amount of alcohol he'd consumed. It seemed to work. By the time they had finished, Vincent was definitely more clear-headed.
"I'm sorry," Vincent shook his head. "I don't usually drink that much."
"Coulda fooled me," Rick sniped back, only to be smacked by both Jim and Mack, one from each side. That startled him, and he looked from one to the other and met two identical, steely- eyed glares. He shivered, despite the warmth in the apartment. "Sorry. That was out of line."
Vincent looked up, frowning, but unable to hide the hurt from his eyes. "Yeah. It was." He sighed and shook his head. "I never had a clue, you know? Oh, man." He stood and turned away with a shiver. He could see the close resemblance between himself and the two strangers. He had no doubt that they had to be related. Brothers. He had two more brothers. Closer to him in age, though. He didn't look at Rick. He'd always felt that his brother resented him, because he was John's son. What a joke that was. He choked out a laugh and turned to look at Rick.
"Well, you don't have to hate me, any more," Vincent said, softly.
Rick frowned, "Hate you? Why would I hate you?"
"You always thought John was my dad. Well, it turns out that he wasn't." He looked away again, his head down, dejected.
Rick stiffened at the comment, and blushed. He hadn't any idea that Vince even suspected... He again caught the uncomprehending glares from the twins. It was terribly disconcerting; particularly now that there were three of them. He couldn't think of Vince as being younger, they all looked too much alike.
"That isn't your fault, Vincent," Jim murmured, standing and approaching the younger man. "You had no control over who your parents were. I'm sorry that we had to find out like this, but I'm glad to meet you."
Mack stood and approached from the other side, "Yeah, brudda. You belong with us, now." He extended his arm and clasped Vincent's shoulder. Feeling how tight the muscles were, he cast Jim a quick glance and moved closer and began to rub the younger man's shoulders. His strong fingers brought an almost stifled moan of mixed pain/pleasure from Vincent.
Rick watched, frowning. He could see Vince relaxing and accepting the idea that he had two more brothers, far more easily than he had. But then, they all looked alike. He felt a bit left out, but realized that that was his own fault, for not being closer to Vince. He had no one to blame for that but himself.
They didn't talk very much, merely reassured their younger brother that he was a welcome addition to their family. He was still too inebriated to do any in-depth talking, or to understand anything more than that his new brothers were happy to have met him. They ended up putting him to bed and locking up, on their way out. Jim left his card by the phone, with his home and cell phone numbers, as well as their contact numbers at the hotel.
In the car on the way back to the hotel, Jim glanced at Rick. "You never knew that he knew, did you?"
"What do you mean?"
"He knew that you didn't like him. That you were jealous because you thought that your step- dad was his real father."
Rick didn't say anything.
"I bet that as a kid, he worshiped the ground you walked on, because you were the only father figure he had. But you pushed him away and didn't want anything to do with him. Right?"
Rick looked out the window, still not answering.
"He still loves you, man," Mack added. Rick flinched.
"God knows why, but he does," Jim agreed.
Rick still said nothing.
"So, what are you going to do about it?" Jim asked.
"I don't know that there's much I can do at this late date," Rick finally said after a long silence.
"I didn't talk to my brother, Steven, for more than fifteen years, but when we finally did, we discovered that we had both been staying away due to false assumptions. Each of us was convinced that the other one hated us. It was a big relief to find out that we didn't." Jim nodded and glanced at his twin and older brother, "We even found out that we have things in common, and we actually like each other, now. We still both have flashes of those old feelings, but we consciously choose not to act on them, we choose to be friends, instead. It's good. We're good."
Rick met Jim's eyes and frowned. "You think I can ever get him to forgive me?"
"Brudda, he did that a long time ago," Mack softly informed him. "You're his big brother, the one man he's always looked up to. I bet he became a cop to be like you, not because of a man he never knew. All you got to do is reach out to him, and he'll grab onto you so fast..."
Rick thought about it, nodding finally. "Maybe."
"Probably," Jim insisted.
"So, how'd it go?" Blair asked, the moment Jim entered the room.
"Not too bad. Rick and Vince need to do a lot of talking, but only after Vince sobers up."
"Alcoholic?" Simon asked, concerned.
Jim shrugged. "Hard to say. He's had some pretty heavy-duty shit fall on him the past few years." He glanced up at Simon. "Reminds me of when I came to Major Crime... Similar attitude."
Simon winced. "Ouch. I feel sorry for his boss."
"The chief of police is his boss," Blair reminded them. "He's a captain, remember?"
Simon grinned. "Maybe I should take him aside and give him a few pointers, heh, heh, heh."
"Maybe we all should," Blair agreed.
"Well, the seminar starts at nine, and it's almost midnight. I'm going to hit the sack. I'll see you gentlemen in the morning," Simon announced, standing.
"Good night, Simon," Jim and Blair chorused. Simon grinned and shook his head as he left.
The worst thing about drinking too much wasn't the hangover, Vince decided. It was remembering everything else that went along with it. This time, it wasn't as bad as usual, but then, he'd eaten a fairly substantial meal, based on the amount of garbage in the trash basket under the sink. He felt like a fool. Worst of all, he'd let Rick see him like that. One more reason for his older brother to dislike him. He was afraid to use the word that he felt really fit, hate. He'd known all his life that his brother hated him. Only now, it seemed, the reason for it was no more.
He wasn't John Hunter's son.
In a way, it was a relief. Rick couldn't hold him up to the impossible pinnacle of the dead man he'd never known. And, the two men he now knew to be his half-brothers seemed not only to like him, but wanted him to be their brother. That brought a faint grin to his face. A mischievous little imp he'd spent most of his life squashing away and denying the existence of was wriggling around inside and trying to get out. He came out of the shower, a towel wrapped around his hips, and spotted the card by the phone. He picked it up and called the number for the hotel, asking for Jim's room.
"Uh, yeah. Is Jim Ellison there?"
"Yeah, just a minute. He just got out of the shower. Is this Vincent?"
"Right, Vince. Hold on, here he is."
"Yeah. Uh, I'm supposed to go to that seminar, today. Uh, would it be okay if I hung out with you?"
Jim grinned and gave Blair a wink. "That'd be great. Mack and I have this little game we like to play. Would you care to join in?"
"Game?" Vince asked uncertainly.
"Yeah. We dress alike and let people think we're each other. You're more than welcome to play along..."
Vince felt a slow smile growing and the little imp gave a leap of joy, "What do I need to wear?"
"Navy Dockers, and a light blue cotton shirt, with slip-on shoes, white socks."
Vince chuckled. "Long or short sleeves?"
"Done. Where should I meet you?"
"Well, we have two and a half hours until the opening stuff. How soon can you get here? We can all have breakfast together, if you want?" He almost said, 'if you're up to it', but stopped himself in time.
"Give me about forty-five minutes and I'll be there."
"We'll be waiting. You have the room number?"
"Yeah. It's on your card. I'll see you then."
"I'm looking forward to it."
Blair and Simon were snickering. Except that Vince needed a haircut, and Mack was a bit more tanned, they didn't think anyone would be able to tell the three men apart. Vince's stance was nearly identical to Jim's, and Mack's was more relaxed. This could be fun. When Rick arrived, he froze, frowning. He couldn't tell them apart.
"What is this, the three little pigs?" Rick grumbled.
Blair burst out laughing. "Oh, man. That sounds like something Naomi would say."
Simon snickered. "It does, doesn't it?"
Three of the men looked puzzled. "Naomi?" they chorused.
"My mom," Blair explained. "She's still stuck in the sixties, still a hippie, I think."
"What does she think of you being a cop?" Rick asked, remembering his homecoming from Viet Nam and his early years as a cop.
"She's... reconciled to it," Blair grinned. Mack and Vince looked at each other, unconvinced. Rick just shook his head, skeptical.
"So, what are we having for breakfast?" Simon asked, changing the subject.
"Do you want to eat here, or somewhere else?" Vince asked.
"Here's as good a place as any," Mack said.
"Fine by me," Jim agreed.
They got a few surreptitious glances from some of the other patrons in the hotel dining room. Their waitress was a bit taken aback at first, but decided that it was perfectly possible for there to be a set of absolutely yummy triplets at her station. She flirted with them, shamelessly, much to everyone's amusement.
It always amazed Blair's anthropological tendencies to note how much relatives could be alike, even when they hadn't grown up together. Scrambled eggs, toast, bacon and sausage, and hash browns all around. Although, Rick put catsup on his hash browns, and the other three shuddered at the sight. They even took their coffee the same way. Blair got a mischievous glint in his eyes. Simon noticed and raised an eyebrow in question.
"I'm picturing lunch, Simon."
"What about it?"
"Well, there's a speaker, right?"
"Usually," Jim agreed, frowning in uncertain curiosity. He knew that Blair's mind could come up with some of the most interesting things to do to keep a seminar from getting too boring.
"I have an idea."
Simon shivered. "What might that be, Sandburg?"
"A new sporting event." He had all of their attention, now. When no one said anything, he ducked his head and took a bite of his own eggs. "Synchronized eating."
There was a long silence, while his companions looked at one another and thought about it. Three matching grins slowly spread across their owner's faces. Oh, yeah. This could definitely liven up an otherwise boring seminar.
The opening remarks were just as boring as expected. Then, they went off in separate groups for the various classes. None of the brothers were in the same class at the same time. That worked perfectly. Each man was a highly visible participant, and afterwards, many people were puzzled by how quickly they were forgotten by the man who had been in their class. At lunch, Blair managed to snag them the table right in front of the podium. He made sure that Jim, Mack, and Vince sat side-by-side, facing the podium. Their synchronized eating definitely distracted the speakers, much to their amusement. The afternoon classes were duplicates of the morning classes, and the instructors wondered why the same man came to all three of his lectures, and participated, but not the same way. No one noticed that the nametags had different names on them. Blair was in Vince's classes, Simon was with Jim, and Mack was with Rick. The instructors didn't notice them at all.
Blair gave them instructions for the mixer that evening. Each of the men was dressed differently, but all planned on answering to any of their names. There was near anarchy caused by the confusion. They just blithely moved through the evening, seemingly never noticing any confusion. Later, in Mack's room, they laughed over their fellow seminarians' confusion, and planned the festivities for the next day.
Sunday was more or less a repeat of Saturday. By the end of the last class of the day, one of the instructors, from the FBI, accosted Vince before he could escape and asked him why he took the same class three times, if he was that stupid.
Vince, working in DC, held the Feds in even lower regard than most policemen. He frowned and growled softly at the hand on his arm. The agent ignored the warning. Vince looked down into the smaller man's almost colorless gray eyes. "Obviously, I'm not the stupid one, here. I haven't been in any of your classes until this one."
"Oh, come on. You sat in the same seat each time! What kind of game are you playing?"
Vince almost snapped out a surly reply, and then suddenly thought better of it. "Game? Why, it's a game called 'how observant are you?' You just failed." He turned to Blair. "You ready, kid?"
Blair grinned, bouncing lightly on his toes. "Yep. I think it's time to compare notes and draw up our findings."
"Findings?" the agent asked, frowning.
Blair turned his brilliant smile on the annoyed Fed. "Yes, I'm conducting a study on how agencies that put on seminars tend to just go through the motions and never even notice their students. If they did, they wouldn't be so boring."
Vince had to stifle a snicker as he turned and followed the younger man from the room, leaving a very annoyed and confused agent behind.
Over dinner, Blair explained his ideas for the next, and final, day of the seminar. There would be three more classes, starting earlier, followed by closing ceremonies. To make it more interesting, each of them was to dress 'normally'; Vince in a suit, Jim in jeans and plaid shirt, Mack in Dockers and a Hawaiian shirt, the louder, the better.
If anything, the reactions were more confused. When Mack arrived at his first class of the day, the FBI agent teaching the class accosted him and snarled that he hoped that Mack planned on only attending one session with him. Mack looked confused and asked why would he want to attend more than one of his classes? And that the man was possibly the most boring speaker he'd ever had the misfortune to have to listen to. Then he asked that the agent at least strive to not put the entire group to sleep. The agent nearly swung on him, but Rick Hunter, six-foot-five and two hundred thirty pounds, standing right behind Mack gave him pause.
Apparently, during lunch (while our heroes went out for lunch, not wanting their victims to see them together just yet), the instructors compared notes... each of them complaining that they had one man who stayed through all three sessions of their class. The FBI agent was the loudest and most foul-mouthed about it.
None of them had bothered to look at a nametag.
By the time for the wrap-up speeches, all the instructors were upset. The man who sat through three sessions of their classes didn't seem to have learned a thing by the time the third session began.
Some of the other attendees, however, had realized what had happened.
He turned to look at the young black man. "Can I help you?"
"Uh, you don't remember me, do you, sir?"
"What's your name?"
"Temple Paige, sir. I work for the Chief." He frowned when the captain smiled at him. "You're not..."
"No, I'm not."
Paige stared, hard. "You sure do look a lot alike, though."
"Brothers do that, some times."
The younger man gaped in shock. "Brothers? OH! I'm sorry. I didn't know..."
"You weren't supposed to. Jim Ellison, Cascade PD, Washington State." He offered his hand.
Paige took his hand and shook it, smiling, "It's good to meet you, sir. I couldn't figure out why you'd changed clothes."
Jim chuckled. "My partner's idea. It's a game we play when we're at the same seminar. Drives the instructors nuts."
"I heard what Agent Duckworth said. He's really upset with you."
"He shouldn't be. We're all wearing our nametags. All they ever had to do was look."
"But I don't think they'd be able to tell you apart."
"You did, and I get the impression you don't know Vince all that well."
"No, I don't. Not really."
"But you knew I wasn't him."
"He's... kind of intense."
Jim smiled, a bit sadly. "Yeah. He's a lot like I was about five years ago."
Paige looked interested, "What changed for you?"
"My partner." Jim's eyes shifted to behind the younger man. "Speaking of whom..."
"Hey, Jim. Man, are all Feds that stupid? I swear, that one jerk, Duckworth? Man, he needs a keeper. He took a swing at Vince." He turned to the young man Jim was talking with. "Hey, there. Blair Sandburg, Cascade PD, the other Washington."
"Temple Paige, DC Metro."
"Oh, you work with Vince?"
"Not directly, no. But we've met."
"He's one of the chief's men." Paige turned to see that they had been joined by three more men... Captain Hunter, he recognized, but the other three... well, one of them... He blinked, turning from one to another of the nearly identical men.
"Uh, family reunion?"
Jim and Mack laughed, as did the tall black man and the short man who had just introduced himself. The last member of the group had just a faint smile on his lips.
"The third member of our little gaming society is my twin brother, Mack Wolfe, the grumpy guy there is my half brother, Rick Hunter, and this is my captain, Simon Banks," Jim introduced. "Vince and Rick are full brothers. Of course, Sandburg, here, is a cousin. Simon's just our boss."
"Wait a minute, Rick and Vince chorused, staring at Blair in shock, "He's a relative, too?"
"Yeah. Mack and my mom is his dad's sister. So, you're in luck. You don't have to claim him as a relative, if you don't want to."
"Your loss," Mack added, grinning and stretching an arm around the shorter man's shoulders, giving him a quick hug. "That side of the family is... interesting."
"How interesting?" Vince asked. His own family relationships weren't all that good. Perhaps...
"Well, Dad's a retired spook, so's Uncle Paul, and then there was Grandad, he was a general in the second world war, Army Air Corps. Oh, and there's a bunch of cousins... lots of cousins."
"Dozens of cousins," Mack agreed. Jim just grinned.
Paige was lost. He looked from one man to another, trying to understand. "May I ask a question?"
"Sure," Jim replied.
"Uh, if you're brothers, why don't you have the same last name?"
"Got a couple of hours?" Simon asked. "Short version? Jim and Mack were separated at birth. Basically, Mack was stolen. They met a couple of years ago. Rick and Vince carry their step-dad's name. But they all have the same father."
Paige shook his head, bewildered. "I think I need a cheat-sheet to keep track."
"You should try the rest of the family. Our grandfather had a lot of children, who made for a lot of grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. I still can't keep them all straight," Jim confided.
Blair chortled. "Oh, yeah. For sure, right, Mack?"
"Definitely. I kept my adoptive parents' name. It actually makes it a lot easier to tell us apart," Mack added.
Paige shook his head, glancing at Vince, still unsure. "I saw how the instructors were going nuts over you. Didn't they realize that there are three of you?"
"So far as I can tell, you're the only one who noticed," Blair congratulated him. Glancing at his partners in crime, he offered, "You want to join us for the denouement?"
"What are you going to do?" Temple didn't want to get involved in anything unethical.
"We're going to sit in the front row, the three of them together, doing synchronized fidgeting."
Temple looked puzzled. "Synchronized...?"
"Fidgeting. The classic 'one does something, and everyone else does it... one after another. Like a wave?"
"For example, Simon crosses his legs, and the rest of us do, too... but one right after another, from one end of the line to the other."
He got it. He'd been so glad to get one of the assignments to this, and it had turned out to be one of the most boring things he'd ever had the misfortune to have to sit through, and he'd had to miss church, too. It sounded harmless enough... "I'm game."
All the presenters were up on the platform for the closing ceremonies. It took them a while to realize that they'd been had. It wasn't until the fifth or sixth 'synchronized move' that the group in the front row started catching their attention. Seeing one presenter's eyes widen when he realized that there were three identical looking men in the front row...
It was as though the 'synchronized fidgeting' was contagious. The first to notice them, nudged his neighbor, and gestured to the front row, he gaped, and nudged his neighbor, from one end of the stage to the other. Soon, all eyes were focused on the front row of the audience. And they stopped moving, sitting at attention, like statues.
It flustered the closing speakers, to realize that they'd been had. It was no wonder that the accosted men were so confused, although it was fairly obvious that they were in cahoots. Unfortunately, it just served to point out to the organizers and presenters how far removed they'd become from the people they were trying to help. It definitely pointed out that they weren't very observant, and since much of the seminar had focused on observation, it rather negated their entire program. The organizers rather hoped no one else noticed.
Of course they did. When the final words were spoken from the podium, the first people up were the group in the front row, who turned and looked back over the audience. There was a surprised silence for about five seconds... then the snickers began. The laughter never got out of hand, but it was pretty obvious to everyone what had happened.
Vince couldn't remember ever having so much fun at a seminar. Jerking those pompous asses chain had been a lot of fun. Rick was flying out that evening, wanting to get home as soon as he could. He pulled his brother aside to talk to him, first.
"Look, I'm sorry. I've been, well, a jerk."
He never thought he could get his brother to like him, but at this moment, after spending most of three days in the company of not only Rick, but Jim and Mack, who had welcomed him wholeheartedly, he finally felt a bit of hope for his relationship with the only father-figure he'd ever had. "It's okay."
"No. It's not." Rick sighed. "But if you can forgive me, I promise I'll try harder."
"I'd like that. Maybe, one of these days, we can be friends, at least?" He was forty-one years old, and he was still begging for his big brother's approval.
Rick realized what he'd done. He'd talked to Jim and learned how Jim and his brother Steven hadn't talked in over fifteen years, due to a misunderstanding, he wasn't willing to waste any more time. In their line of work, every good-bye might be the final chance to speak. He stepped into his brother's space and gave him a hug. For a moment, Vince stiffened and pulled back, then he relaxed and returned the hug.
"I don't know about friends, but I'd like to try and be brothers, if that's okay with you?"
Vince swallowed hard, "That's more than all right with me." Both men hugged as hard as they could, feeling the warmth and honest caring from one another. It was a good start.
Jim, Mack, and Vince, decided to go to dinner, just the three of them. They talked. Mostly, Vince listened, but he learned a lot about his family. He discovered that his brothers hadn't had it any easier than he had; yet they had managed to not give up. Learning about them and some of the things they'd gone through had helped; that and the fact that they seemed genuinely happy to find him. He left with requests for visits, and promises to keep in touch. He had plenty of leave saved up, maybe, one of these days, he might just take some of it and go visit one or another of his brothers. The little imp inside him wriggled in joy as it told him of the fun he could have with a couple of brothers who looked just like him. He smiled, all the way home, and for the first time in a couple of years, he didn't have a nightcap before going to bed.
Mack was flying out on the red-eye. He couldn't wait until he was back on his beach. He and Jim said their good-byes after dinner, promising to talk again, soon.
"So? How'd it go?" Blair asked, the moment he was through the door.
"It went good," Jim replied, nodding. "It went real good. He knows that he's wanted."
Blair frowned, "He wasn't, before?"
"Not really. Rick was always jealous that Vince was John's son, and he wasn't."
"But..." Blair frowned.
"Right. Vince isn't John's son, either. He never knew him, at all, and grew up rejected by the only man that ever mattered to him."
"It does. Of course, I think he had a lot of fun, fooling those idiots at the seminar."
Blair grinned, bouncing lightly on his toes. "Do you think Simon will be sending us on any more seminars?"
"Not with any luck. I don't need any more relatives, if you know what I mean."
"Oh, yeah, man. Three of you... that is really scary."
"You should try it from here, Chief." Both men chuckled. "Well, our plane out is at eight, so we'd better get some sleep. Get the light, will you?"
"Got it. Good night, Jim."
"Good night, Chief."
He was waiting for them when they checked out at five-thirty the next morning. He was a bit nervous and uncertain, but felt that he needed to do this. Blair was the first one to spot him and nudged his companions. Jim looked over and grinned. Speaking briefly to his friends, he came over.
"You didn't have to come see us off, or did you just want to be sure we leave?" Jim teased.
Vince grinned. He couldn't help it. "I just wanted to make sure you were real, I think. Double checking, you know?"
"Yeah. I do. Hey, do you surf?"
Vince looked at him in surprise. "Not since I left home. Used to do some when I was a kid, why?"
"Oh, just another similarity." Jim reached for him and gave him a hug, "It was great meeting you, little brother," he whispered.
Vince's eyes closed, hugging back, hard. "Yeah, it' was great to meet you, too, big brother." It was. He had two brothers who wanted him. If he and Rick ever managed to heal their relationship, that would be wonderful; if they didn't, well, he now had two more brothers to relate to. Brothers who had already made him feel welcome and wanted. It was more than he'd ever thought possible.
They parted, smiling and patting each other on the back. "I'll call," they promised to each other. Vince watched as they left. Yeah, he'd call. He was looking forward to it. He looked at his watch, he had lots of time before COMSTAT, so he might just as well stop off somewhere for breakfast.
"It has come to my attention that a number of our people went to the seminar that ended yesterday. What bothers me is that I have learned that most of those who went, did so as losers in the lottery for the slots. Now, this bothers me. I would like to know how many of you went, and if you learned anything? Also, why aren't the slots given to people who actually want to go? I'm sure that there are any number of lower ranking officers who would have loved to have had the opportunity to have gone." He looked out over the audience. None of them seemed willing to meet his eyes.
"Captain Hunter. You went to the seminar, did you not?"
Hunter stood. "Yes, sir. I did."
"Would you mind telling us some of what you learned?"
Hunter frowned, uncertain, then shrugged. "I discovered that the people who put on this particular seminar should take some of their own advice."
Manion frowned, puzzled. He had heard from Temple that the seminar was interesting, but hadn't gotten the details, yet. "In what way, Captain?"
"Much of the information stressed observation. Yet it became rather apparent that the people putting on the seminar were possibly the most unobservant people there." Hunter was relaxed. He could handle this.
"Can you give me an example?"
Hunter shifted his weight and tilted his head to one side, his expression almost a smirk. "As an example, yesterday, I was constantly being accused of remaining in the same class for all three sessions. I did not duplicate any sessions."
Manion frowned. "Why would they think that, Captain?"
"My brothers, sir."
"What about them?"
"They also attended the seminar, sir."
Every eye in COMSTAT was on him. He was, for the first time in years, having difficulty not laughing. He saw Temple Paige up by Manion, his hands over his mouth and his eyes bulging, trying to keep his laughter in check.
"So, they thought we were the same person."
"Do you look that much alike?" Manion was starting to have a little trouble keeping his own smile in check.
"Well, I was wearing a suit, Jim was wearing jeans and a plaid shirt, and Mack was wearing a rather loud Hawaiian shirt with white Dockers."
"That doesn't sound like anyone should have had any trouble telling you apart," Manion frowned.
"We also had our nametags on, sir."
"But they thought you were only person?"
Manion looked around the room, he noticed a number of frowns, people who had supposedly been at the seminar, and who he was aware had not attended. "Do you have an explanation?"
Hunter frowned. "I suppose I have a possible explanation."
"Which would be?"
"Two of my brothers are twins, sir."
"And, they're only about a year or so older than I am... and I look like them?"
Paige finally lost it and started snickering.
Manion frowned as he turned to glare at his assistant. But the glare was spoiled by the wink he gave the young man. "So," he turned back to the group, "No one noticed that there were three of you?"
"Officer Paige did, sir."
"Is he the only one?"
Manion glared out at the senior officers. "So, out of fifteen slots for the seminar, only two of you went? Is that what you're saying? Thank you Captain. That will be all." Hunter sat down, suddenly glad he wasn't one of those who had ducked the seminar.
"Now, most of the seminar took place over the weekend, but it ran into yesterday. I seem to recall that several of you were not here, yesterday, claiming to have gone to the seminar... yet, none of you were seen by either Captain Hunter nor Temple Paige. No, I didn't send them to spy on you. They just happened to have 'won' the lottery for slots. What happened to the other thirteen slots? Who else went?" Four hands rose.
"Four? All right. Did you happen to observe Captain Hunter, there?"
One of the hand-raisers rose, "Yes, sir. But I didn't realize anything was strange, until the closing ceremonies, when they were all sitting in the front row, sir." The other three who had admitted to having gone snickered.
Manion nodded, understanding the amusement. Paige had managed to tell him that much. "What about the rest of you? There are still nine slots unaccounted for. I want to know who held those slots, and where they were. I realize that the slots were gratis to the District, as the hosting city, but it's still fraud, waste and abuse. I do not want to hear of this ever happening, ever again. Is that understood?" Seeing the nods, he turned away for a moment.
"I understand that those of you who skipped this thing really missed out on quite a show. I wish I had been there."
There was total silence for about ten seconds, then there was a choking sound. All eyes turned to Captain Hunter, who was leaning back in his chair, laughing helplessly. Everyone looked at him in shock, except Paige and Manion; Paige, because he'd been there, and Manion because he understood.
Manion ignored the nearly hysterical captain and continued. "All right, then. Now, as for the weekend crime statistics. Ella? If you please? Could we have the murder stats on screen? Thank you. As you can see...
He couldn't help himself. It was the most fun he'd ever had. His little imp was dancing a jig on his ribs, tickling him unmercifully. He couldn't seem to stop, so he eased out of the room, hoping the Chief didn't call him on it. Outside, he leaned helplessly against the wall. He wondered if there was any way he could get his brothers to come back for a visit... and introduce them to his colleagues in COMSTAT... He howled in hysterical glee at the thought.
"Are you all right, Captain?" Temple Paige was grinning, too. He had a fair idea of what was going through Hunter's head.
He had tears running down his cheeks from laughing so hard and his ribs ached. "I-I'm fine. Oh, God. That was... oh, God."
"Yes, it was." Temple smiled at the recovering Captain.
"I couldn't help thinking that if they ever come back for a visit, I need to bring them to COMSTAT."
Temple's eyes widened for a moment in shock, then he, too, began to chuckle. "That... that would definitely be interesting." His smile was returned, and Hunter patted him on the shoulder. "I'll see what can be arranged. One of these days..."
"I think the Chief would enjoy that, sir."
Hunter regarded the earnest young detective. "Yeah, I bet he would."
"He was hoping that you and I could fill him in on what went on at the seminar. This afternoon, if you're free?"
"I'll be there."
"Thank you, Captain."
"Thank you, Detective." They smiled at each other. They had a shared experience, and it had brought them closer. Despite the fact that Hunter was IA, he was still a cop, and a dedicated one, at that. Temple's opinion had modified over the weekend. He'd learned a lot from the seminar... or at least, from what happened there. They turned and returned to COMSTAT, not friends... yet, but they weren't going to be enemies, either. Shared experiences equal shared understanding.
Temple glanced up at the older man and debated sharing his faith with him. He recognized the Captain's need and almost spoke; then they were back in COMSTAT and his moment was lost. He thought about it and realized that the man didn't trust him enough, still; perhaps after a few more interactions, not quite yet, he decided. But soon. Definitely, soon. He gave him a final smile as he left him at his seat and worked his way back down to the front.
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