Snippet follows 'Brother's Keeper'
“I’m serous, Jim. The trip stunk.” Stephen sipped his coffee, his
shoulders hunched. “Dad was a jerk. Pissed about that damn car. I felt like an
Jim had to smile. Part of him hurt for his brother, the other part waited for the dream to end. Here he was, sitting at a secluded table in the wee hours of the morning enjoying a stroll down memory lane with his brother.
Sandburg was right. Jim had stopped listening. “Like I told you, Stephen. You were just a kid. Hell, I was just a kid.”
That produced a wry grin, erasing some of the guilt from Stephen’s eyes. “Used to ask Sally to skip your birthday so I could catch up.”
Jim chuckled. “Wish that was possible. I’d like to slow down the age process a bit.”
“Or that receding hairline?”
“Watch it, little brother,” Jim warned with a stern look, the rest of Jim’s comment forgotten as he turned to view his fellow detectives.
Simon had gone home hours ago. Rafe, Joel and Henri were still sitting with Blair at a larger table, laughing and drinking. The gang seemed happy to give Jim and his brother space. Now the four of them were in the midst of some drinking game. Even with the bar’s crowd, Jim had kept one ear on Blair, well aware the other cops were trying to get Blair to share his betting tips, how he picked the horses, worked the spread. So far, Blair hadn’t shared.
Blair’s responses were taking a turn into the weird zone. Jim stood. “Excuse me a second.”
He walked over to Blair’s table, eyeing the assorted bottles of hard liquor and overfilled ashtray. They still wore those stupid-looking red jackets. Blair’s was too large and hung on his shoulders like a bear’s skin on a rabbit. It looked like Simon’s.
“Heyyyy! Lookie, it’s Jim!” Blair sang, tilting sideways into Henri’s shoulder as he looked up. His words ran together like a multiple car pileup on a foggy stretch of interstate. “Don’t worry, man. They want me to talk. But I don’t. I don’t talk. Do I Jim? I don’t tell secrets. We know secrets, huh? But I don’t talk.”
“Jesus, Sandburg.” Jim pulled Blair off Henri and removed the cigar from his fingers, saving it from falling into Blair’s lap. “You’re shit-faced.”
Big blue eyes widened and Jim realized he’d come across too harshly. Forcing a smile that seemed to slow Blair’s heart rate back down, Jim turned to his fellow cops, his words forced as his anger grew.
“How much did you guys give him?”
Rafe answered first, his face honestly surprised. “Not that much, Jim. Just a few more than H.”
Brown was one of those happy drunks. The big man softly hummed a jazz tone, breaking off to answer. “Yeah, he’s got it handled, babe. Lighten up.”
Blair swayed in his seat. Jim could hear the stomach acids in the smaller man’s gut and knew what sort of night he could look forward to hearing… and smelling. Jim tightened his grip.
“You idiots. He’s close to half your body weight and he skipped dinner. What’s the plan? Poison him with alcohol for his betting secrets?”
Joel looked concerned. “Seriously? You think he’s sick?”
Angrily snuffing the cigar out in the ashtray, Jim shook his head. Shit. Blair was an adult, but he was also a kid in his twenties that loved new experiences. And hanging out in a cop bar with a bunch of veteran cops like this, to be included into their cultural group was stuff he lived for.
Jim ignored the guilty looks at the table. “Come on, Sandburg. It’s time to call it a night.” It was like trying to get a handle on liquid mercury. Blair kept oozing out of his grasp.
Stephen appeared by his side and together they got Blair out of his seat. Stephen was taller than Blair and between them the younger man’s dress shoes barely touched the floor.
“This reminds me of the time you found me at weird Eddie’s. Remember that bottle of Black Velvet?” Stephen said.
That brought a smile to Jim’s face. “Yeah.”
Henri started to rise. “We’ll help.”
“Forget it,” Jim said, draping Blair’s limp arm across his shoulder.
“You guys can pick up his tab. And if he pukes on us, you’re all sharing the dry cleaning bill.”
Halfway to the door Blair seemed to realize he was no longer at the table. “Jim.”
“Did you start listening?” Blair’s question was slurred as he talked to his own chest.
“Yeah, Chief. I started listening.” Jim caught Stephen’s puzzled expression as they left the warm interior and felt the cool, briskness of the predawn parking lot.
“Wanted a brother, ya know?” Blair lifted his head, blasting Jim with a face full of warm liquor-breath. “Asked Naomi for one. But she wouldn’t.” He giggled. “Okay, she prolly did, but she wouldn’t… *ya* know. Used to lie ‘bout having a brother. Pick out some guy in a crowd at school and tell strangers he was mine… mine.”
As they reached the Ford Blair passed out. Jim managed to get the passenger door opened and they got the unconscious man into the seat and buckled up.
“He’ll be okay,” Jim said, his throat tight as he thought over Blair’s last comment. “I’ll watch him.”
Stephen’s gaze skidded around the dark lot, reluctant to meet Jim’s. “Seems like a nice guy.”
Maybe it was the late hour, the satisfaction of finishing a tough case, or just getting second chances, but Jim found himself reaching out and giving his little brother a bear hug.
“I’ll call you, okay? We’ll get together soon,” Jim promised.
Stephen delayed a scant second before returning the hug with fervor. “I’d like that. We’ll catch a basketball game, okay? I’ve got season tickets. And we’ll get another for Sandburg. For making us *both* listen again.”
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