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Chasing Rainbows

Part B

Part 4


Things between Johanna and I remained tense.  

In spite of Dr. Lumley's findings – or maybe because of them – she took a surprisingly rigid stand and insisted on sending Libby to Mary Magdalene Academy, a Catholic girls' school that she selected herself, where the nuns still wore habits, frowned on makeup, and insisted the girls wear uniforms whose skirts had hems that fell a few inches below the knee. Libby wasn't happy there, but she only had a few months of her junior year left, and then her senior year, and for a change, her mother stood firm; Libby had no choice.  

But Libby no longer called her mother 'Mom.'  


When we pulled out of the Summer Olympics because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan , the athletes denied the opportunity to represent our country were disappointed, to say the least. Porter took Clay with her on a wine-buying trip to France to ease that disappointment, and they spent the summer there. She needed to remain a few weeks longer to conclude the sale, but Clay had to return home for school. He was staying with us until it was time for him to start the fall semester at Philips Exeter, and while he still regretted the missed opportunity of the 1980 Olympics, there was a bounce in his gait and an expression on his face that hadn't been there before.  

I came to a halt in the doorway of my study. The thick, plush carpeting had muffled my footsteps, and neither occupant realized I was a silent observer of their tableau.  

"Don't tell me you're being coy, *Cousin* Clay." Libby pouted as he removed her hands from around his neck. Her lipstick was smeared, and there was red on Clay's mouth.  

"I'm not being coy, Libby. I'm just more selective about with whom I choose to make out."  

"Have you ever even made out with anyone?"  

"Yes. And… she… was very good."  

I noticed the slight hesitation before the 'she', but Libby didn't. She gave a screech and struck out at him, her nails curled like talons, but Clay caught her arms with casual ease and held her away from him.  

"Someone should have spanked you years ago."  

"Maybe you'd like to try?" she taunted.  

"I don't think so." His voice was amazingly cool for a fifteen year old, but then he had the blood of Porter and Neville Webb in his veins.  

"Are you going to tell Johanna? You'd better not!  She won't believe you anyway."  

"No, but Uncle Bryan will."  

"Why should he? Everyone knows teenage boys want any girl they can get their hands on." But she looked uneasy.  

"He'll believe me because he knows me; he knows I wouldn't do something like that." He let her go and started to turn. "Don't try to kiss me again, Libby."  

I quickly backed away from the door, then approached again, this time whistling through my teeth so I would be heard.  

"Libby. You don't usually come to my study. Can I help you with something?"  

Her eyes seemed overly bright. She flushed, bit her lip and cut a glance toward Clay, then shook her head. "Johanna just wanted to know if you'd like to come to dinner now."  

"Thank you. Tell her I'll be right along. Clay, if you wouldn't mind waiting a moment?"  

Libby lingered, and I raised an eyebrow. She turned on her heel and flounced out.  

"I'm sorry this happened under my roof, Clay. How long has she been pestering you?"  

"This was the first time." He raised his head and looked into my eyes, and I realized with a shock that he was almost as tall as I was. "It wasn't a big deal, Uncle Bry. Please don't be angry… "  

"I'm not angry with you, Clay." I ran my eyes over him over carefully. He didn't look like the average fifteen-year-old. His face wasn't marred by pimples, and his upper body, clothed in a hunter green tee shirt that brought out the green in his eyes, revealed muscles developed by controlling the thousand pound horses he rode. Even at his age, he had an air of being coolly contained. There would be those who would try to ruffle that containment.  

"I meant please don't be angry with Libby." He accepted the handkerchief I handed him and wiped his mouth.  

"She instigated the kiss, didn't she?"  

He didn't avoid my eyes. "I don't think she's very happy."  

"You're not responsible for her happiness or lack of it. The fact remains that she's still three years older than you. I don't like that she… molested you while you were under my roof."  

"It was just a kiss, Uncle Bry." He hunched a shoulder. "It wasn't a bad kiss, but… "  

"But you said you'd kissed someone who was very good."  

Color mounted his cheeks. "You heard that?"  


"I needed to make her angry enough with me so that it wouldn't happen again. It wasn't right that it was in your home. I'd have been taking advantage of your hospitality."  

"You may be a Webb, Clay, but there's a lot of Sebring in you."  

His eyes lit up. "Thank you, Uncle Bryan. They're two of the best families I know, and I like hearing that."  

I put my arm around his shoulders. "Let's go in to dinner."  

Libby wasn't at the table, and Clay seemed a little relieved, although only someone who knew him would be able to tell.  

"Libby has a headache," Johanna informed us. "She's having a light tray in her room."  

"I'm sorry to hear that, my dear. Where's Billy?" I sat down across from her. "Does he have a headache also?"  

She picked up her napkin and spread it across her lap. "He's spending the evening with his study group."  

We began to eat.  


Time moved on.  

Libby completed her final year at Mary Magdalene Academy and went on to Brown University . In her sophomore year, she ran away with her Egyptology professor, who happened to be married.  

I tracked them to Puerto Vallarta and, unbeknownst to Libby, had a little chat with him. He got a quickie divorce in Mexico and married her.  

Apparently getting a Mexican divorce was all he ever taught her. She was in Mexico now, divorcing her third husband, while husband number four waited in the wings.  

Billy dropped out of the private school he was attending. "The teachers are old fogies who don't know their asses from their elbows." His stance was pugnacious, and he glared at me as if daring me to challenge him.  

I just shrugged, my expression blank. "It's your life, Billy."  

" Bryan !" Johanna was appalled, no doubt expecting me to exercise parental authority.  

"You're seventeen. You can stay here until you're legally an adult. After that, you're on your own. All I have to say is that without a high school diploma, the best job you'll find will be at McDonald's, and believe me, that won't pay enough for you to rent an apartment."  

"* Bryan *!" Johanna's wail followed me as I walked out of the room.  

After hanging around the house for a month eating junk food, playing video games, and listening to what he claimed was music, Billy decided to get his GED. It didn't take him very long.  

Johanna was relieved until her son announced, "I'm tired of living in Baltimore ."  


"I've applied to a small college in upstate New York ."  

"Billy!" Johanna wept again, but it did nothing to stop him.    

He graduated with a degree in English Lit and married immediately after, a New York girl he'd met his sophomore year – what was it with the Harrington siblings and their second year in college? Tess Whittier had been a grad student who was supplementing her student loans by working as a TA.  

Within two years of marriage, their family had expanded to include a boy and a girl, and Billy had called recently to let Johanna know Tess was pregnant again.  



The day finally came when Johanna approached me. "I want out of this marriage, Bryan ."  

I'd been expecting this. I slid the papers I'd been working on into the top drawer of my desk, then folded my hands and rested them on my desk. "You've found someone?"  

"Yes. He's a stockbroker. He's not as handsome as you, but… " She shrugged. "He's a good man, and he loves me."  

"Well, at least you'll know he'll be home for dinner when he says he will."  

She gave a small laugh. "Yes. I'll be moving to Manhattan . Now that Billy is settled there with his own family... " She hadn't been happy when I'd refused to transfer to the New York office of the CIA, would not even discuss the possibility, although I'd had no objection to her frequent visits to her son. My job was at Langley , and I had more than thirty-five years there. Why she would think I'd leave was beyond me.  

"Yes." I looked around – this house that had been our home for our entire married life – and felt nothing but overwhelming relief. "It shouldn't take me too long to pack my things."   

Mother had passed away eighteen months earlier, and surprisingly, Father hadn't survived her by very long. Jeff had asked Tony, Porter, and me to meet with him and Ludo. They wanted to move out to the manor and were willing to buy out our shares if we had no objection.  

Their place in Adams Morgan had converted to condominiums, and I wondered how they would feel about working out an arrangement with it in exchange for my share. I'd talk to them about it.  

It would be good to be in the heart of things again.  

"You never looked for anyone, did you?"  

"No." I went very still, waiting to see what she was leading up to.  

"That's very sad, Bryan . I'm sorry for you." She held out her hand, and I took it. "I've already packed all my belongings. My lawyer will see that you get the papers."  



I was in the room of the condo that I'd made my study when the doorbell rang, and I paused in my packing.  

I was tempted to let whomever was there continue ringing until they assumed there was no one home, but then the ringing was replaced by pounding.  

"Answer the goddammed door, Bryan !"  

It was my oldest brother.  

I limped out of the study and down the hallway. "Hold your horses, Anthony! I'm on my way!"  

"It took you long enough!" he snarled when I opened the door.  

"I'm not as young as I used to be, Anthony."  

"You're younger than I am."  

"And your point is?"  

"If I can get around, so can you."  

"You didn't take a spill." A few years before, the horse I'd been riding had taken a jump wrong – my fault – and we'd both fallen. The horse had regained his footing, fortunately uninjured, but – unfortunately – not before he'd rolled over on me and broken my hip.  

"Are we going to discuss this in the entryway?"  

"Come into the parlor." I led him to the room off the entryway that was the only one not crammed with boxes. "What, exactly, are we going to discuss? How this damp fall weather isn't helping my hip?"  

He gave me a look.  

"All right. Can I get you something?"  

"No. Sit down. You look like you're about to fall over."  

"I'm fine."  


I sat down. Tony nudged an ottoman closer, and I stretched out my leg on it. "Thanks."  

"You're welcome."  

"What are you doing here, anyway? Isn't this a workday?"  

"I just heard the news. Bryan , this is bullshit! You're a better man than Watts any day!"  

"That's beside the point." I'd been wondering how long it would take for that bit of news to get around town. It hadn't taken very long at all.  

"You're younger than I am!"  

"You've already stated that. So what?"  

"So – the President hasn't asked *me* to resign! Why would he ask you?"  

"Is the word out that he's asked me to resign?"  

He gritted his teeth. "I hate when you answer a question with a question! Explain yourself, please, Bryan ."  

I sighed. "He didn't ask me to resign. I did that all on my own."  

His gaze narrowed as he began to put two and two together.  

"I imagine Watts didn't want what was actually going down to become known. He had big plans for me, Tony." I felt every one of my seventy years. "He was going to give me Carruthers' office."  

"What, that cubbyhole just off the secretarial pool?"  

"That's the one."  

"But you're one of the best analysts the Company has!"  

"He doesn't think so." I shrugged. "Rather than sit there and listen to my arteries harden, I resigned. I feel sorry for Clay. I have a good idea how the Company will be run under Watts , and I don't want to be a part of it."  

"Oh, little brother!" He dropped down in the loveseat across from me.  

I turned and fussed with the pillow at my back so he wouldn't see my face. It had been a long time since he'd called me that. "It doesn't matter."  

"What are you going to do?"  

"A friend who works on the West Coast got in touch with me some time ago. He's offered me a job as a consultant on a new TV show he's developing." I managed to give him a jaunty grin. "It's called 'CIA.' How's that for a kicker?"  

"Where are you going to live?"  

"Jerry has his realtor looking for a place in the Hollywood Hills."  

"You're going to be three thousand miles away!" He sounded as if the thought of that distance between us was something he was unhappy about, but I knew that had to be wishful thinking on my part. Why would three thousand miles bother him, when I'd been not more than twenty, and the only times I saw him were either related to our country's security or when we spent Christmas with Porter?  

"I was just packing," I told him. "It's mostly my clothes and a few trophies, my books and music, so it won't take very long, and shipping them shouldn't be a big deal."  

"You're really doing this?"  


He ran a hand through his hair, which was as thick and as fair as when he'd been a young man, and my fingers itched to touch it. "When are you leaving?"  

"Not for a few days. I want to say goodbye to my friends, and Porter is making the arrangements for a farewell dinner for me with the family.  

"In Great Falls ? She'll have it catered?"  

"Yes. Markov would have done the cooking, but why should he have to? He's as much a part of the family as anyone."  

Tony nodded. "That's true. After Neville died, he was there for Porter and Clay when we couldn't be."  

"And even when we could. Tony… " I worried my inner cheek. "… Clay is going to be there. So are Jeff and Ludo. So will you, I hope?" My oldest brother could be extremely stubborn. If he was angry that I'd left the business without so much as discussing it with him, he might refuse to come to my dinner.  

"I'll be there." He gave a firm nod, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Opportunities to see him were so seldom, and I wanted to have memories of one last evening to take with me. "I'll give Porter a call and let her know I'll be there. I'm sure I can get Clay to drive me." Tony had a problem with night vision. He glanced at his watch. "I have to get going. There are some things… "  

"Of course." Was he in such a rush to leave? I struggled to get to my feet. He offered me a hand, and after a brief hesitation I took it. I walked with him to the front door. "Well, I'll see you in a few days." I wanted to hug him a final time, but instead I offered him my hand. "Thank you for stopping by, Tony."  

He hesitated for a second, then shook it, turned, and left.  

I managed to get the door closed before the lone tear I knew would fall fell.  


The dinner party my sister gave for me was just for family. It was relaxed and pleasant, including all my favorite dishes, and there seemed to be a air of something – anticipation, perhaps? – in the atmosphere. Was Markov going to wheel out a cake at the end and have a scantily clad young lady pop out?  

They'd had no qualms doing that at my bachelor party so many years earlier, but they wouldn't do that with Porter here. I pushed the notion, as amusing as it was fanciful, from my mind.  

Once dinner was finished, we went into the family room, and Markov placed a disc into the DVD player.  

"We're going to watch a movie?" I asked, a little disappointed that my last night with my family would be spent in that manner.  

"Family movies, Bry." Porter smiled at me.  

Father had obtained a movie camera from somewhere, but he was always away, and so Mother had learned to take the movies. At first, her handling of the camera was shaky, but as her brood grew, so did her skill with filming us.  

"On DVD?"  

"Clayton knows someone."  

I smiled at my nephew. "Of course he does."  

Markov handed me the remote control, then dimmed the lights and took a seat. I pressed the 'play' button, and the show began.  

An elegantly lettered placard filled the screen: The Life and Times of Bryan Blackburn Sebring, Esq.  

"That's a very Hollywood touch, don't you think, Bry?"  

"Yes, it is, Jeff. Clay, please be sure to thank whoever put this together."  

Mother was in the large four-poster in her bedroom. Cradled in her arms was an infant who was howling – we could tell even without the benefit of sound – at the indignities he'd been put through.  

I wondered who had filmed this. Perhaps one of the servants.  

"That's you, Bry," Jeff said.  

"Are you sure? It could have been you. Or even Tony!"  

"No, no, it's you all right, little brother. The wallpaper in Mother's bedroom is different. Father had it done over for her." Tony laughed softly. "She had gone to New York City to do some shopping, and when she came home, it was to find these huge cabbage roses all over her bedroom walls. She wasn't happy, I remember!"  

"Why did he do that? I don't remember him ever being interested in the house's décor."  

In the light of the television, I could see Tony's face became shut off.  

"And besides… " Jeff was apparently oblivious. "… here comes Tony, and I'm right behind him."  

Sure enough, my brothers, eight and five years old, walked toward the bed, Jeff more cautious than Tony. Mother smiled at them and held me out so they could inspect me. She said something to Tony, and he took the infant me from her arms. The camera zoomed in just as I stopped crying.  

"You always could get the sprout to quiet down, Tony." Jeff laughed softly.  

"I could, couldn't I?" Tony sounded pleased.  

The scenes played out with me tagging along behind my big brothers as I usually did – in the wooden fort one of the gardeners had built for them before I was born, on the apple trees in the orchard where we'd eaten so many green apples we'd all got bellyaches, in the pond where Tony had taught me to swim and where we'd whiled away those lazy summer days.  

Then Porter joined the family, and it was the four of us.  

"Good god! Did you know she was around when we were playing hide and seek?" I demanded.  

"Are you kidding? Tony and I were too busy trying not to laugh every time she would point out where you were hiding."  

"How unsporting of me!" Porter made no attempt to stifle her laughter.  

"Brat." But I said it without heat.  

The years continued to pass on film, Christmases and birthdays, my graduation from Phillips Exeter, formal affairs where I escorted young ladies during their come-out, and finally commencement ceremonies at Harvard.  

A series of still photos were included that had been taken at various government functions.  

"Who knew the sprout would look so good in a tux?"  

"It runs in the family," Porter said. "And of course Clayton got a double dose of it, because Neville also was terribly handsome in formalwear." She nodded toward the TV screen.  

Tony, Jeff, and I were dressed in morning suits, standing with a proud but surprisingly nervous Neville Webb as we waited for Father to walk Porter down the aisle.  

There was my own wedding…  

"I must say, you look cool as a cucumber, Bryan ," Ludovic remarked.  

Jeff laughed. "In that case, you'd better not play poker with him, Ludo. Just before that was taken, I was holding his head over the commode."  

"Thank you so much for spoiling my image, Jefferson ."  

"Nerves, little brother?" Tony appeared to be nonplussed, but I just hunched a shoulder.  

And then came a scene of me with a very young Clay. I was on a horse, walking him in figure eights, while my small nephew, in the saddle before me, held onto the reins with two determined hands.  

"What a shame Johanna couldn't carry to term, Bryan . You would have been a wonderful father."  

"This was at the manor, wasn't it?" I asked, not wanting to talk about it. "Did you take these, Porter?"  

"No. See? Here I come on Gingerbread." She was riding a chestnut mare. "What a sweetheart you were, Clayton." A soft smile lit Porter's face. "Not to say you aren't still a sweetheart."  

"Thank you for that, Mother."  

"You're welcome. Mother must have taken these, Bryan . Do you know, we have so few movies of her."  

"So few pictures at all." I became lost thought.  

It must have been difficult for our mother. Father was always polite to her, but never overtly affectionate, and we picked up our cues from him. When we went to the manor house, it was to see him, to talk business, pausing in our conferences with him to greet Mother with the same reserve that we'd learned from him.  

Although Porter had grown closer to her once she'd left the business.  

I regretted that lost opportunity.  

I gave a start when the DVD ended and the lights came on. Tony went to the DVD player to eject the disc. He put it in a case and handed it to me.  

"With our love, little brother."  

"Thank you." I blinked rapidly, then glanced at the others. "Thank you all."  

Markov must have stepped out of the room while the DVD was still playing. He returned with a tray bearing brandy snifters and offered the first one to me.  

"Thank you, Markov."  

"How will you bear living in the wild west, Uncle Bryan?" Clay took two snifters and gave one to his mother.  

"Hardly wild, Clay."  

"Oh, no? The denizens of Los Angeles are strange."  

"Any more strange than those who live in your Capital?" Ludo asked.  

"Are you calling me strange, pet?" Jeff frowned, but it was easy to see he wasn't angry.  

"Perish that thought!" Ludo laughed at him.  

Jeff accepted two brandies from Markov. He strolled across the room, leaned down to brush his lips across his lover's mouth, and gave him a snifter.  

"Aren't you a little old to be doing that?" Porter stared pointedly at the white wings at Jeff's temples, very noticeable against his chestnut hair, but I could see the laughter in her eyes.  

"The day I'm too old to kiss Ludo is the day I'll be ready to resign… " They had been together for almost twenty-five years.  

"Really, Jefferson !" It was Tony who objected.  

"Oh, damn. I'm sorry, Bry!"  

"Why?" I shrugged. "I did resign."  

"Not because Watts is the better man." Tony scowled into the dark amber liquid in his glass.  

"That's the truth," Clay asserted. "It's a good thing I don't have to deal with him on a day- to-day basis. I'd probably wind up shooting him."  

"Why not shoot him anyway? We'll all help you hide the body. And we could blame Palmer."  

No one needed to ask who Palmer was – we all knew of the senior DSD agent who had a reputation for getting the job done no matter what the cost. Or the odds.  

"I hear he's after Sperling," I murmured.  

"Who's that?" Ludo asked.  

"Deputy Director of Interior Affairs at the DSD. He cost Palmer a good team a few years ago," Clay said.  

"That's right. I heard that too."  

"How'd a Deputy Director of Interior Affairs get involved with one of Palmer's operations?"  

Clay's mouth crooked up in a grin. "Now that's an interesting story."  

"Are you going to tell us?"  

He laughed and shook his head.  

"Why talk about business tonight?" Tony spoke, surprising us all.  

"Are you feeling well, Anthony?"  

"There are other things to be concerned with than the government." He frowned at Jeff.  

Jeff jumped up, strode to his side, and shook him. "Who are you, and what have you done with our brother?"  

"Ass." Tony cuffed him and laughed. "If you're quite finished now? Very well. I'd like to propose a toast. To my little brother. May you be as happy on the West Coast as you've been here on the East Coast."  

"Happier," Porter murmured. She came to me and kissed my cheek.  

"Thank you, little sister."  

"The CIA's loss is 'CIA's' gain." It was Jeff's turn.  

"Pip, dear chap." Ludovic held up his snifter.  

"Show the lovelies in LaLa Land how it's done in DC!" Markov's grin was wicked.  

"God bless, Uncle Bryan." Clay touched his snifter to mine.  

"Thank you." I stood and raised my glass to my family, but had to pause to clear my throat before I said again, "Thank you all."  

I finished my brandy and hurled the glass into the fireplace. There was a moment of startled silence, and I realized what I had done.  

"Porter, I'm sorry! I hope that wasn't your good crystal!"  

"It doesn't matter." She followed suit, and one by one so did the others.


Part 5


The party began to break up after that.  

Clay's cell phone rang, and he glanced apologetically at Porter. "Sorry, Mother." He left the room to take the call.  

She sighed and shook her head. "He's gotten so involved with the Company. I wish he had more of a life outside it."  

"Hasn't he been seeing… What was her name? The blonde doctor who was working for the CDC?"  

"Marnie? He saw her a few times, then used the excuse of having to go out of the country to break it off. When he returned, he started seeing Susan Burkhart."  

"The name sounds familiar. Should I know it?" Tony asked.  

"Possibly. She works at Justice," I told him.  

"Ah." He shook his head.  

"He seems to have no desire to get serious about anyone. I'm afraid he'll become as cool as Neville and I were reputed to be." Porter really did look worried.  

"He'll be fine, little sister."  

"I just hope he finds someone who will make him happy."  

We all heard her unspoken words, //Before it's too late.//  

"He'll be all right," Tony said. "After all, he's as much a Sebring as a Webb."  

"I'll have him out to California as soon as I get settled and introduce him to someone who'll distract him long enough to get his mind off Company business."  

"Of course you will." Porter smiled and pinched my chin.  

"Well, it's a long ride back to Sebring Manor," Jeff murmured. "Ludo and I had better start now." He turned to me. "Take care of yourself, Bryan. We'll see you over the holidays, won't we?"  

"Of course. It wouldn't be Christmas or New Year's otherwise."  


"Stay well, Bryan ."  

"Thanks, Ludo. You too."  

Porter walked them out.  

Markov looked around. "Well, I may as well get started cleaning up the glass."  

"I'm sorry about that, Markov. I didn't mean to cause extra work for you."  

He waved aside my apologies. "It's been a while since we did that in this house. I think the last time was when Clay was promoted to Deputy Director of Counter-Intelligence. He'll really be fine once he gets his ashes hauled." He left to get a broom and dust pan.  

Tony and I were alone for the second time in less than a week. I shifted uncomfortably, unsure whether to go or stay.  

"You're getting sentimental in your old age, Bry." His sudden words caused me to jump, and it took a second for my heartbeat to return to normal.  

"Why do you say that?"  

"I may need glasses to read, but my eyes are still sharp enough to spot tears. I saw how touched you were by those old movies."  

"You caught me, big brother."  

He smiled and turned to stare at the fireplace, and I took the opportunity to drink in his features. They had sharpened somewhat with age, but they still took my breath away. His hair was so blond that if there were any gray strands, they blended in. His body…  

"Do you think Clay still has to find his special someone, or has he been brought down by the bane of the Sebrings?"  

"What are you talking about? What bane?"  

"Of only loving once."  

"Oh, god, I hope not!" I thought of all the years I had spent in a lonely bed. It had been lonely, even when Johanna had lain beside me. "We haven't been very lucky in love."  

He looked at me sadly. "You're still upset about your divorce, aren't you? I'm sorry I brought up the subject."  

"It's all right, Tony." I gave a short laugh. "And at least one Sebring has found lasting love."  

"That's true. Who would have thought? Jeff was always hopping from bed to bed."  

"He seems very happy with Ludo, though. And Ludo seems very happy with him." I couldn't prevent a wistful smile from curving my lips. I wished I'd been so lucky.  

"Hmmm." He changed the subject abruptly. "What time does your flight leave in the morning, Bryan ?"  

"9:45. I'd better get going if I want to get any sleep."  

"I'd like to talk to you."  

"Tonight?" My voice cracked as it hadn't since I'd been an adolescent, and I realized I was nervous. I cleared my throat. "Tonight?"  

"Yes, if you… "  

Clay hurried into the room. There was an impatient twist to his mouth. "Uncle Tony, I'm sorry, all hell is breaking loose at JAG. I won't be able to drive you home."  

"That's all right. Bryan can give me a lift. That is, if you don't mind, little brother?"  

"No." For a second he looked startled and disappointed. I clarified. "I don't mind."  


"Yes, thank you, Uncle Bryan. I've got to get going. Take care of yourself."  

"I'll see you at Christmas." We shook hands, and he left.  

"Who's driving our nephew crazy?" Tony asked.  

"That would be Lieutenant Commander Rabb."  

"Harmon's son?"  

"Yes." Since I was CIA, I was more familiar than Tony with what was going on between the Company and the Judge Advocate General's Corps. "It seems every time Clay turns around, Rabb is nagging him for favors."  

"Does Rabb, Jr. have the hots for Clay?"  

"Like Rabb, Sr. had for Jeff?" I shrugged and smiled. "It's possible, although with 'don't ask, don't tell,' I don't think it's likely to be acted upon."  

"Does Clay have any feelings for him?"  

"I'd have to say no. I've seen Clay when he's been even remotely interested in someone, and he tolerates the Lieutenant Commander at most." This couldn't be what he wanted to talk about. "Tony… "  

"Shall we be on our way?"  

"Of course." I picked up the DVD and slipped it into my pocket, and we walked out of the room and down the hallway to the front door. Porter was just coming back into the house.  

" Bryan , remember there is such a thing as the telephone. Call once in a while." She kissed my cheek.  

"Yes, Porter." I returned her kiss.  

"Goodbye, little sister."  

"Tony. You're sure… ?" She rested her palm against his cheek.  

"I am."  

"All right, then. Goodbye."  

What was that about?  

She kissed him too, then shivered. It was a cool night.  

Tony and I walked to my car,  a sporty little fire engine red convertible. The family thought I'd been having some kind of emotional crisis when I'd bought it, but none of them turned down an opportunity to ride in it.  

The top was up. After all, it was fall, even if we were in Virginia .  

I decided to take the bull by the horns. "You said that you wanted to talk to me."  

He was silent for so long I thought he'd changed his mind.  

"Tony, have I done something to displease you?" As old as I was, he was still the big brother I… idolized.  

"Good god, no!"  

"Then what is it?"  

He stopped and took a deep breath. "After I spoke to you the other day, I handed in my resignation."  

"What? Tony, you love the NSA. You can't give it up!"  

"I thought you loved the CIA."  

I shook my head. "Too many things have changed. It was easier than I thought it would be to walk away from it."  

"Yes. I found it easier than I'd thought also."  

I felt a little numb. "What are you going to do?"  

He smiled, but the look in his eyes was uncertain. "I'm moving out to California ."  

"Excuse me?"  

"I thought it might be a good climate to retire to. Bryan , I'd like for us to share a house, but if you'd rather not… "  

My heart started pounding. "Why, Anthony? You know how I feel about you."  

"Even now? Even after all these years?"  

"Even now. Sebrings only love once."  

"But what about Johanna?"  

"I thought… " Oh, hell, I was tired of burying my feelings. "I thought, if I couldn't have you, it didn't matter who I had. And one of us needed to give Father a grandson to carry on the name."  

"Only it didn't turn out the way."  

"No. It didn't."  

"But you were happy with her, weren't you?"  

"No. Oh, we weren't miserable, and I tried to be good to her, but… " I pressed the remote. The car chirruped, and the doors unlocked. "Get in, Anthony."  

He lowered himself to the seat with a grunt and was buckled up by the time I went around to the driver's side and slid into the front seat.  

"Why weren't you happy with her?"  

"Because she wasn't you, goddamn it!"  

He seemed taken aback by my vehemence. "I'm sorry. I didn't want to stand in the way of your happiness." He looked out the window. "All those years ago… I thought you'd be … Do you remember what I told you?"  

"Of course. You said that what I felt wouldn't last beyond our first sunrise together."  

I hadn't asked him why he'd been so sure of that, coming instead to the conclusion that he was reluctant to indulge me because he simply hadn't loved me like that, and what could be more tedious than … It had been too painful to pursue that thought, and so I'd turned to women who wanted nothing more than to be seen on my arm, and eventually I'd married my wife.  

"Maybe… maybe that would have been true, Tony, but I would still have had that one night."  

"And you would have been happy with that?  

"If that was all I could get?" I started to pull my seatbelt across my chest, grateful for a reason to avert my face. "I would have grabbed it with both hands."  

"You were only eighteen, Bryan . I thought you were blinded by patriotic fervor and the uniform I wore. And of course Jeff made being involved with another man seem so easy."  

"Easy? Are you out of your mind? Did you ever wonder why he took self-defense classes?"  

"I thought he learned that in the Army."  

"He learned more in the Army, but he started taking lessons when he was thirteen. It was Mother's idea, would you believe it? He came home from the movies with a black eye and a split lip."  

"And where was I?"  

"You were at Harvard, Tony. You couldn't be around to protect us all the time."  

"But if you realized how difficult it could be… "  

"You still don't understand, do you? I'm a Sebring, Tony. I didn't want a man in uniform. I didn't want any man." Briefly I thought of Frank Holloway. "All I wanted was you."  

"Bry… "  

"I'm sorry." I ran the heels of my hands under my eyes, jammed the key into the ignition, and turned it on with a vicious twist.  

Before I could put the car in gear, he turned it off.  

"I was wrong to tell you what you felt wouldn't last."  

"Then why did you?"  

"I was so afraid!"  

"You were afraid?" I felt as if I'd been hit in the head with a 2x4. He'd been awarded the Bronze Star not once, but twice. "Of what?"  

"Of you, Bryan. You were so young. You hadn't even begun to live. And you were my little brother!"  

"After I told you that I … After I told you how I felt, you stopped calling me that. I missed hearing it."  

"It didn't seem to take you long to be over whatever it was you thought you'd felt for me; you seemed happy to be with women, and I… "  

"Were you blind?"  

"I stopped coming around, if you'll recall. I was terrified I'd run into you one day, and I just wouldn't be strong enough to keep my hands to myself. I'd back you against a wall, and it wouldn't matter that it was in Mother's house, in plain sight for her or Father or Jeff or Porter – oh, god, especially Porter! – to see! I'd have had your trousers down around your ankles so fast you would have wondered what the fuck your big brother had for brains."  

I couldn't catch my breath. My cock was harder than it had been in years. "And… " I swallowed. "And what would you have done to me, once you had my trousers down around my ankles?"  

"Whatever you would have let me do. Suck you. Fuck you."  

"But you never did."  

"You were eight years younger."  

"I still am."  

"Yes, but I'm tired of being noble. And besides, somehow it doesn't matter as much now. It's occurred to me that people in California aren't going to care much that a couple of old men are living together, especially since we're brothers. If anyone asks, we'll just tell them… "  

"It's none of their fucking business. They won't believe us anyway, you know. They'll think we're gay."  

"Does that matter so much to you?"  

"Y'know, big brother," I laid my fingertips against his face and ran my thumb over his cheekbone, "for someone who's supposed to be such a smart man, you really don't have much going on between your ears. It *never* mattered to me."  

"So you love me anyway?"  

"I've always loved you, Tony." It didn't escape me that he hadn't said he'd loved me. He loved me as his brother, and that was enough. "Just… "  


"Be gentle with me, all right? It will be my first time." I couldn't help laughing a bit, even as I looked away in embarrassment. That was so cliché.  

" Bryan , what are you saying? That you never… "

"Not with a man, no."  

"But I thought… "  

"It was you, Tony. It was only you. Don't you understand? If I couldn't have you, I didn't want anyone."  

"Oh, little brother." He cupped my chin and turned my head to meet his eyes. "All these wasted years."  

I gave a watery laugh. "Not wasted if they've finally got us to here."  

He leaned forward and kissed me for the first time. It was closed mouthed and chaste, but it was the most erotic kiss I'd ever had, and I was whimpering and shivering by the time he drew back.  

"I love you, you know."  

"I know."  

"I don't think you do. It's not just because we share the same blood. It nearly killed me, all these years, knowing you were just out of my reach… You're my one love, Bryan ."  

"Oh, god, Tony!" I unbuckled my seatbelt and threw myself at him, cursing the console that separated us. I covered his face with kisses, petting his arms and chest, incoherent with my desire to have him as close to me as I could get him.  

He laughed and stroked my hair, brought my mouth to his and kissed me again, then wrapped his arms around me and leaned his forehead against mine. "Come back to my place, little brother?"  

Startled, I looked around. "Oh, my god! We've been necking in front of our sister's house!" I got myself back into the driver's seat, buckled up, and turned on the ignition.  

He laughed again, and this time he let me put it in drive.  

"I just have one question."  

"And what's that, big brother? Who's pitching, and who's catching?"  

"No. Well, yes, that too."  


"What are we going to tell Porter?"  

"I'm sure we'll think of something." I reached over and stroked his thigh, then eased the gas pedal down and headed for the road that would take us home.  


It was very early the next morning. I stood by the window in Tony's bedroom, watching the sky lighten. He came to stand beside me, his arm a warm weight on my shoulder.  

"Our first sunrise."  

"The first of many." I turned in his arm and kissed him, then leaned my cheek against his.  

"Any regrets, little brother?"  

"None, big brother. You were worth waiting for."  


We settled in to life in Los Angeles , and it was like a honeymoon, better even than the time I'd spent with Johanna in Hawaii . I never knew my older brother to be so relaxed, and I… I was almost giddy with a joy I never thought I'd feel.  

Tony wasn't pleased with the place Jerry had found for me, a one bedroom apartment that would never hold all the furniture he intended to have shipped from the East Coast, although I didn't care as long as we were together.  

During the week, Tony caught up on reading all the books he'd never had time for, and on the weekends we went looking for a house.  

We finally found one that he fell in love with at first sight. It was supposed to have belonged to Ramon Navarro, and Tony was so thrilled by that fact that it really hurt to tell him the house had actually been built the year after the silent-screen star had died.  

It needed a lot of work, but because of that, we got it for a very good price, and while I was at the studio, Tony found a contractor and worked with him on its restoration.  

We returned East for the holidays and stayed with Porter. Naturally, she put us in separate bedrooms.  

At dinner that night, she said, " California must agree with you, Bryan. You're looking happier than I've seen you in a very long time."  

"Good grief, don't tell me I went around looking like a sour puss!"  

"Well, I won't, because you didn't, but it stood to reason life with Johanna would affect you."  

I kissed her cheek and took my seat at the table. "I am happy, little sister, and I'll tell you why!" Tony raised an eyebrow, and I grinned at him. "I don't have to deal with James Watts."  

"And what's Tony's excuse? He's looking very self-satisfied himself."  

"It's living with the younger generation." He grinned and winked at  me. " Bryan 's given me a new lease on life."  

"I'm so glad you're both finally happy."  

I looked at her sharply, but she was helping herself from the platter of sliced pork loin that Markov was holding, and I couldn't see her expression. Tony just picked up his wine glass and took a sip.  

That night, after everyone had gone to bed, I slipped down the hall to his room.  

"You can't stay here long, little brother."  

"I won't." I stripped off my robe and pajamas and got into bed beside him, and laughed when I realized he was naked under the covers.  

His arms came around me. "You know you sleep like the dead after we've made love."  

I showed him the watch I was wearing. "State of the art, big brother. It has an alarm that will wake me, guaranteed or my money back."  

He nuzzled my ear. "It had better, or Porter is going to be very shocked!"  

Afterwards, after I'd caught my breath and settled comfortably against him, he whispered in my ear, "Merry Christmas, Bryan."  

"Merry Christmas, Tony."  

That New Year's we stayed with Jeff and Ludo at the manor, and this time it was Tony who wandered down the hallway to the bedroom that had been mine as a boy.  

It was only illuminated by the fire in the fireplace, and the crackling flames highlighted his fair hair.  

He leaned back against the door, letting his weight close it. "Do you have that watch, little brother?"  

"You bet." I held out my left wrist, then drew back the covers to show that this time I was the naked one. "Now hurry up and get in bed… "   

He chuckled and within seconds was naked also. He got under the blankets and pulled me into his arms.  

"It was never like this," I murmured, shivering as he stroked the curve of my hip.  

"I'm selfish enough to be glad of that. I love you, Bryan."  

I smiled against his throat. "Love you too, Tony." I shifted and couldn't prevent a sudden sharp gasp.  

"What's wrong?"  

"This damn Eastern winter! My hip doesn't like it!"  

Tony angled me so my weight wasn't on my hip and rested his palm against it. The warmth of his palm felt good.  

"It would be nice if we could have the family out to California next Christmas," he murmured.  

"Yes, but Porter would miss going to Arlington to talk to Neville. Maybe for New Year's?"  

"In the renovated ballroom? That's a marvelous idea, little brother! We'll make plans with the others first thing in the morning."  

"And right now?"  

"Right now, I've got other plans, just for you!"  

It was a good thing it was common knowledge that the winter bothered my hip. When we finally joined the others, late the next morning, no one questioned the fact that I was limping.


Part 6



Fall had arrived once more, and soon the holidays would be on the horizon.  

'CIA's' second season opener, the conclusion to the previous season's cliffhanger finale, had premiered a few weeks before, and the ratings were so good there was talk that season three was already locked in.  

I was in my office on the set when my cell phone rang. It was Tony. He'd still been sleeping when I'd left, and sometimes when that happened, he would call me just to wish me a good morning. He might have been stubborn about us having a relationship that was more than familial when I was 18, but he was making up for it now with a vengeance.  

"Good morning, big brother," I said. It was just before noon . I couldn't keep the caress out of my voice, but that was okay, I was alone.  

"Bry, we have visitors. Clay and Markov." His voice was curt.  

All thought of a discreet flirtation left my mind. "What's wrong?" As much as I enjoyed seeing my nephew and the man who was my sister's bodyguard, I started imagining the worst.  

"Everyone is fine," he hastened to assure me. "I don't want to talk about it over the phone. Can you come home?"  

"I'm on my way."  

"We'll be in the dining room," he informed me, which was a good thing. It was a large house on a fairly large piece of property.  

I notified the woman who had been kind enough to tell me she was my secretary when I'd started working for 'CIA' that I was leaving early because family had flown in unexpectedly from the East Coast.  

"Very good, Bryan ." Things were relaxed in LA, and from the beginning she'd called me by my first name. "Have a nice visit."  

It took me three quarters of an hour to get home. I'd learned the back streets and shortcuts, but even so, traffic in LA was horrendous. Tony refused to drive in it, and so I was the designated driver.  

A rental was parked in the drive, and I left the little sports car I'd brought out with us parked next to it. My hip was reacting well for the most part to the balmy California weather, and I ran into the house.  

I went through to the room that looked onto a small rose garden. The remains of a light lunch were on the table, which had been set for six, and I raised an eyebrow at my brother.  

"Cara Mia's taken Sunday out shopping for a Halloween costume."  

I nodded and glanced at our guests. Markov had his eyes on an orange he was peeling. Clay's expression was blank. The family was unsure what to think of Cara Mia 'Nme and her four year old daughter.  

Cara Mia's father, Allen Ford, had worked for Tony, and he'd known her while she was growing up. After her father had been killed, a stupid mugging gone wrong, her mother had moved the family away, and Tony had lost track of  them. When Cara Mia had turned up, now a lovely but frightened young woman on the run from an abusive ex, he saw it as a perfect solution to what he called 'our situation.'  

'The family will think she's an old man's last fling!'  

'You're not an old man, Tony,' I'd growled at him. I was willing to go along with it – I could see he was uncomfortable with letting the family know we shared a bed – but I didn't like them thinking he was becoming senile.  

He'd stroked my cheek and smiled. 'All that matters to me is that you don't think so.'  

"Uncle Bryan." Clay rose from his seat.  

"Clay. It's good to see you." I hugged him. I hadn't seen him since the holidays the previous winter. "Markov." I hugged him too. "What's going on?"  

"This involves the Company, Bry." Tony offered me a bowl of sliced fruit. Since coming to California, I'd gotten into the habit of having that for lunch, and he often teased me about it – grapes, citrus wedges, apples, pears, strawberries, and honeydew, cantaloupe, and watermelon, with shredded coconut topping it all.  

"Thanks. Don't tell me the Pres has gotten a brain and is ousting Watts ?" I put a strawberry into my mouth, holding onto the stem and pulling gently, and I happened to catch my brother's eyes on my lips. I grinned at him, and he winked.  

"No such luck, but Watts is involved," Markov snarled.  

I turned to my nephew. "Clay, you said you didn't have to deal with him on a day-to-day basis."  

"Things change."  

"Since the incident with Prinzip." A scowl darkened Markov's features. His gesture toward Clay was, 'you tell him, this is your organization.'  

"Yes. Ever since last spring… " Clay ran a hand through his hair. " Watts put Counter-Intelligence under his personal aegis. He's been sending me on a lot of useless assignments."  

"Passive-aggressive. That always was Watts ' middle name."  

"That wasn't the problem." He shrugged, waving it aside. "We get assignments like that… "  

"Not when Bryan was analyzing the data!"  

"No, Uncle Tony. That's true. I've been sent on so many wild goose chases lately… And now there's something else. Gregor?"  

Markov reached into his suit jacket and withdrew a small, sleek cell phone.  

"That was my phone. I haven't been sleeping well since the beginning of August," he explained, "and it was getting increasingly worse. The nightmares… I thought it was post traumatic stress from the kidnapping, but someone… "  

Markov snorted and glared at Clay.  

"… suggested that this phone might have been tampered with."  

"And it has been?"  


"Any idea who might have done it?"  

Clay's expression darkened. "I realized the only time I didn't have it on me was when I was at Langley ."  

Tony and I both swore. " Watts ?"  

"With everything that was going on… I have to assume so."  

Markov nodded, looking grim. "I had it checked out. Something was planted in it."  

"I couldn't ask around at the Company – I couldn't trust anyone, not Syd, not Page, not even D.B."  

I exchanged glances with my brother. They were friends, and it must have killed Clay not to be able to trust them.  

"What about this 'someone' who discovered the problem?" Since I was the one who had worked for the Company, Tony let me do the talking. "Assuming he or she isn't CIA… "  

"Definitely not CIA." Markov growled.  

Clay ignored him. "This friend is a 'he.'"  

"Friend... " Markov make a rude sound.  

A faint frown line appeared between Clay's brows, but his gaze remained steadfast on mine. "He would have looked into it himself, but there would have been a serious conflict of interest."  

Tony's eyebrow climbed, but he said nothing. I waited to hear what else Clay had to say, but Markov spoke first.  

"*Not* the FBI, if that's what you're thinking," he snapped. "What division, which isn't even supposed to be an entity, is in such keen competition with the CIA?"  


"Give the man a cigar."  

"Gregor… "  

"Could *he* have done it then, this… friend of yours – sabotaged your phone?"  

Clay's mouth took a stubborn twist. "No. He would have no reason to do that to me."  

"'No reason,' my ass." Markov could be just as stubborn. "Does Palmer ever need a reason to do anything?"  

"Palmer?" I kept my voice noncommittal.  

"Oh, please, Uncle Bryan. Don't try to tell me that Mother hasn't mentioned that I've been seeing Clark Palmer. That for a time he was living in my townhouse."  

"No, she hasn't," I said mildly.  

"Oh." He flushed and subsided.  

It was Markov who had called with the news, rabid that Clay was involved with the senior DSD agent, and impotent because there seemed to be nothing he could do about it. 'I wouldn't be surprised if that bastard even planned the whole kidnapping thing just to get close to Clay!' he'd ranted.  

Tony and I had both looked into it, using resources we had acquired over the years, and we'd been reassured that Palmer had no connections to Prinzip and had nothing to do with our nephew's kidnapping by the rogue organization.  

Porter *had* called a short time after Clay had returned home and asked if I could find a copy of the John Wayne movie 'Hondo' on DVD.  

'It hasn't been released on DVD,' I'd told her, a little surprised she'd wanted the western. It had been a favorite of Neville's, and I'd thought the memories it brought back would have been too bittersweet.  

'I'm aware of that, Bryan . I want it for Clark Palmer, to thank him for saving Clayton's life. You'll see to it, won't you?'  

'Of course.' I'd brought up no further objections, and after asking around discreetly, I'd found someone who would transfer a pristine copy of the movie to DVD for me. He'd also included extremely rare interviews which John Wayne and Louis L'Amour had given about the movie, the book, and the character.  

"Gregor is just pissed because Clark managed to get around the security system at Mother's house twice."  

I swallowed a smile. Yes, that would piss off the former FBI agent.  

"I had Callahan in Security update everything," Clay went on to say.  

"He's a good man, and his team is the best the Company has to offer. We won't need to be concerned for your mother's safety."  

Markov ground his teeth together. "The only thing that would keep me unconcerned is seeing Palmer with a bullet between his eyes! Or better yet, putting one there myself!"  

"Gregor, that's enough." Clay turned pale. "That was part of the nightmares."  

Markov had the grace to look abashed.  

"All right." Tony stepped in. "What does all this have to do with your nightmares, Clay?"  

"Palmer saw something when I was using my cell phone – a flashing green light. I never noticed it." It was easy to see he was upset with himself.  

Markov patted his shoulder. "It isn't likely you would. Watch." He opened the phone, tapped in the code to retrieve messages, and held it to his ear, turning so we could see the light. Then he closed the phone, and the light went out. "It does the same thing when a call is sent or received."  

"Son of a bitch! Subliminal messages?"  

They stared at me, surprised.  

"There were rumors of something like that going around for years; it was Hazelton's pet project." Hazelton was the DCI before Watts , and there had been no love lost between the former Director and the present one. "I left before anything workable had been developed, and I was sure that with Watts as Director, it would be cancelled."  

"Well, shit. I could have asked you." Markov was disgruntled.  

"You had fun looking into this, though. Admit it."  

He grinned reluctantly. "Yeah, I did. Because of the not-getting-in-touch-with-anyone-from-the-CIA thing, I got to use some of my old sources. They enjoyed exercising their chops again too."  

"So what's the story? It all comes back to Watts ?"  


Tony ran a hand through his hair, and I wondered if Clay had picked that up from him. "You'll need a new cell phone, Clay."  

He took one from his pocket. " Clark insisted on it as soon as he realized there was a problem with the old one."  

"You were together." It wasn't a question.  

He sighed. "Are you going to give me a hard time over him too? Gregor never lets up."  

"He's *Palmer*, Clay!" Markov's tone was pained.  

"Look… "  

Tony cleared his throat. "I think we have more important things to discuss right now than your respective feelings about Clark Palmer. You're staying overnight, aren't you?"  

"There's no need for us to put you out."  

"The only way you'll put us out is by not staying with us."  

"Tony's right. You haven't been able to come out here. Wait until you see what he's done with the bedrooms on the second floor."  

"I'll get our carry-ons from the rental."  

"Thanks, Gregor." Clay waited until he left. "Are you two all right with me being involved with another man?"  

I looked to Tony, and he smiled and spoke for both of us. "Clay, your uncle and I have been aware since before you graduated from Harvard that you were occasionally … involved… with other men. As your former colleagues, it isn't any of our business with whom you choose to … be involved, but as your uncles, we are pleased that the man you've chosen is capable of watching your back in a sticky situation."  

"I never expected to… " He gave a small, rueful smile. "… be involved with someone like him, you know. I… like him."  

Tony opened his mouth just as Markov returned with the carry-ons. He changed what he was going to say. " Bryan , why don't you make reservations for us for dinner at Chez Henri?"  

"For around 8?"  

"Does that sound good?" When Clay nodded, he continued, "All right, now I'll show you to your rooms. There's a Jack-and-Jill bath between. Bryan and I put that in ourselves, and I expect you to be suitably impressed... "  

I watched them as they climbed the curving staircase that led to the second floor.  

Palmer was no longer in the field, but when he had been, he'd had a reputation for being like the Shadow, appearing out of nowhere, and vanishing just as quickly. I thought of the KGB agent who had actually broken down into tears when he'd learned that Palmer was targeting the man he'd been assigned to transport from Ho Chi Minh City to Moscow . The man had turned up floating in the Mekong River , and the agent had defected.  

Tony was right. Having a man of Palmer's caliber watching our nephew's back was a good thing. I wondered if we would get to meet him.  

Maybe it would be soon.  

I went to make the phone call to Chez Henri.  


It was just after lunch the next day, and Clay and Markov were about to leave to catch their flight out of LAX.  

"Tony and I will put our heads together and see if we can come up with a means of persuading Watts to lay off you." The four of us had spent the previous evening trying to come up with something, but Watts had some powerful men backing him, and beyond the tempting idea of shooting him, it had been to no avail. "In the mean time, try to make it appear as if his little plan is working."  

"Will do, Uncle Bryan. I told Clark I'd do that. Which reminds me. Would you like to come to Alexandria for Thanksgiving? Mother will be joining us."  


"Clark and I. He's just bought a condo, and … "  

Markov groaned but kept his mouth shut.  

"Thank you, but with Cara Mia and Sunday here… "  

"Oh, they're invited too. Look, give it some thought, all right?"  

"All right, Clay. We will. Have a safe flight back."  

We stood watching as they got into the rental and drove off, then closed the door.  

"What do you think, little brother?" Tony asked as we strolled into room that would eventually become our library.  

"I don't know. We need something to nail the bastard. The problem is, he's careful. They used to call him the Rubber Man."  

"Why? Oh, because everything bounced off him?"  

"Yes. Well, I have a few people who are still in the loop. I'll contact them and see what they know."  

"Good idea." He crossed to the French doors that opened out onto the back yard and gazed at the area where I worked sporadically on a koi pond.  

For a moment I allowed myself to drink in his figure, but then he turned and caught me staring, and he grinned at me.  

I flushed a little but grinned back at him, then picked up the phone and dialed the various numbers from memory. None of them seemed to be home, so I left the same message with each one, along with my phone number. "This is Bryan Sebring. I need some help with a family problem. Give me a call if you're interested."  

"I guess that's all we can do for now." Tony glanced around the room. "We've got some time before Cara Mia and Sunday come over to grill hotdogs and hamburgers."  

Sunday had promised to model her Halloween costume, Ariel, the Little Mermaid.  

I'd never had the opportunity to take my stepchildren trick-or- treating – Johanna didn't believe in it – and I was looking forward to finally doing that. I was going to go as Zorro, complete with cape and sword. I'd thought Tony would laugh when I tried on my costume for him, but instead he'd flushed, ripped open the fly of the snug trousers that encased my legs, pushed me back onto the bed, and fellated me.  

I grew hot at the memory.  

"What do you want to do?"  

"Well, we could do some work on this room."  

"Yes." He smiled and waited to hear what else I had to offer.  

"Or… We could go upstairs and lie down for a while." I waggled my eyebrows at him. "No one would think anything of two men our age taking a nap."  

"Little brother, I like the way you think!" He linked his arm in mine, and we went up the stairs to our bedroom.  


The next day, Sunday, was a beautiful day, the kind they write songs about – the air so soft and balmy you could get drunk just from breathing it in.  

We woke early – the man could be taken out of the government agency, but the government agency couldn't be taken out of the man – and drove to a little place that only opened for breakfast on the weekend.  

Once we returned home, Tony took all the newspapers that we subscribed to. "Give some thought as to what you'd like for dinner, all right, little brother?" And he retreated to the study.  

I looked after him fondly, then trotted up the stairs to our room to put on a pair of shorts. I was setting up a waterfall for the pond out back that would be stocked with koi once it was finished.  

The phone rang a couple of times, but stopped before I could pick it up, and I assumed that Tony had gotten it.  

" BRYAN !"  

I dropped the shorts, bolted out of our room, and ran down the stairs. I'd never heard that tone in his voice before. "What is it?"  

Tony stood at the study's doorway, shaking and looking pale, and I was afraid he was having a heart attack.  

"What's wrong?"  

"Clay's on the line. Porter's been in an accident."  

I felt my stomach twist. "How is she?"  

"She needed to be operated on."  

"*How is she*?"  

"I don't know. She's in recovery." Blindly, he handed me the phone, and I pushed him toward an armchair. He sank into it and buried his head in his hands. I put my hand on his shoulder and squeezed, offering what comfort I could, and he rubbed his cheek against it. His cheek was damp.  

"Clay, what's going on?"  

"Uncle Bryan. I'm sorry… " His voice was hoarse. It cracked, and he cleared it and started again. "Mother came through the surgery all right, but she still hasn't regained consciousness."

"What happened?"  

"Gregor was driving her home from the embassy ball last night. It was raining. Someone rear-ended my car… "

"*Your* car, Clay?"  

"The tires on Mother's Towncar had been slashed. I had an alternate means of getting home, so… "

"So you gave your Lexus to your mother, and your car was rear-ended." My mind was racing over the possibilities. Had it been an accident, or had it been deliberate? And if it was deliberate, who had been the target?  

"Yes. Gregor has some minor injuries, but Mother… her ribs are badly bruised, her hip was fractured, and her spleen had to be removed; it was torn. The anesthesia has worn off, but she's still unconscious. I… " His voice shook, and he drew a deep breath. "I don't know how long she'll be like that."  

"What hospital is she in?"  

"George Washington."  

"Tony and I will be there as soon as we can get a flight. Have you got in touch with Jeff?"  

"Yes. He and Ludo got here a short time ago. I'm sorry I didn't call sooner… "  

"Don't worry about it. Will you be all right?"  

"Yes. I… Palmer was with me. Yes."  

"Good. Hang in there. We're on our way." I hung up.  

" Bryan ?" Tony's color was better now, but he was still a little gray. Porter was the baby of the family, and we all loved her. I reached for him, and he wrapped his arms around my waist and held on.  

"She'll be all right, big brother. She's in the hospital, and that's the best place for her right now."  

"We have to get there."  

"Yes." I knew someone who had a Lear jet. She could get us to DC in half the time it would take a commercial jet to do the distance. "Can you go upstairs and pack for us?"  

He nodded.  

I ran my hand over his hair. "She will be all right, I promise you. She's stronger than you ever gave her credit for."  

"I know. It's just… "  

"I understand. You've always been the big brother." I tipped his chin up and kissed him. "Don't forget it's fall back east. Pack appropriately." As I'd hoped, that made him smile.  

"I will." He rose, straightened his shoulders, and headed for the door to the hallway. He paused just inside it. "Cara Mia… "  

"I'll call her too, let her know that we'll be out of town and to stay alert."  

He nodded and left the room.  

I made the phone calls and followed him upstairs. He'd laid out trousers and a sweater for me to change into.  

"Thanks, big brother."  

He squeezed my shoulder and finished packing. In minutes we were on the way to LAX, and a few hours later, we landed at Reagan International.



To Part C