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Chasing Rainbows

Part C

Part 7


Two days, and there was still no discernible change in our sister's condition. She had been transferred from recovery to a private hospital room on the 6th floor. She looked so tiny and frail in that bed.  

Vases of flowers were on every flat surface of the room, including the floor. Bunches of balloons floated against the ceiling. The cards indicated they were from friends, colleagues, and the organizations to which Porter belonged. So many people called that I'd made arrangements for an answering service to field the calls.  

"We can't expect the hospital to deal with them," I told my nephew and my brothers.  

Tony and I sat at our sister's bedside. The doctors, who were optimistic, suggested we talk to her, and so that was what we did – talked of our experiences when we were young, talked of holidays with the family, talked of operations that had succeeded. We made no mention of those that had failed.  

Clay had been napping on the cot the nurses had brought in for him the first night. He was awake now, although his eyes were still tired. He sat beside the bed, holding his mother's hand, and we listened as he told her about a dog whose love for his young mistress was so great that he rescued her, even from beyond the grave.  

" Clark told me that story, Mother." He blushed, a small smile on his face.  

I glanced at Tony, my eyebrow raised, and he shrugged. He couldn't see anything in the story to blush about either.  

Clay spoke to her about going whale watching up on Cape Cod with Palmer, going to see Phantom of the Opera, playing Monopoly on the weekend.  

"Six boxcars in a row, Mother!"  

I kept expecting Palmer to turn up, if only for a minute or so, but he didn't.  

"I'm a little surprised not to see Palmer here," I said.  

"He was here right after Mother was brought in."  

"But since then… ?"  

Clay's expression was closed. "He has things to do."  

"Of course." I wasn't going to ask him what kind of things. Palmer was in the intelligence community, just as we had been. As much as I wanted to think that being there for my nephew was more important to him than anything else that might come up, I knew that wasn't realistic. There would be other demands on his time.  

Jeff and Ludo walked in. They had been visiting Markov, whose room was a couple of floors down.  

"Any change?" Jeff  asked.  

"In the last half hour? No. How's Markov doing?"  

"He's driving the nurses crazy. He's being discharged tomorrow, and I don't know who'll be happier, him or them." Jeff's laugh was rueful. "Ludo and I are going down to the cafeteria for something to eat. Why don't you come with us?"  

"Sounds like a good idea." Tony and I got to our feet. "Clay?"  

"You go ahead. I'd like to stay with Mother."  

"All right. We'll bring something back for you."  

"No, thanks. I'm really not hungry."  

"Clay, you can't let yourself get run down."  

"I won't; I promise."  

Tony and I exchanged glances, and then I said, "All right."  

The elevator was at the end of the hall. We entered it, and as I turned to face the front of the car, the door to the stairwell opened. A tall man stepped out. Was that…  

"Come on, Bryan , you're blocking the door."  

I backed up a step, and the doors slid closed. *Had* that been Palmer? I opened my mouth to say something, but then Jeff spoke, and all thoughts of Palmer left my head.  

"How long do we let Porter stay like this before we bring in the big guns?"  

"There are some fine doctors in this hospital with impressive credentials," Ludo remarked.  

"Not impressive enough." Tony drummed his fingers against his thigh.  

"Porter's bounced  back from everything: that miscarriage, Neville's death, Clay's kidnapping."  

"Shouldn't Clayton be the one to decide?" Ludo met our eyes steadfastly.  

"Yes… " Tony's lips were in a thin line. "… I imagine you're right. Still, it destroys me to see her like this, and not be able to do anything about it."  

The elevator came to a stop on the ground floor where the cafeteria was located.  

It was after midnight , and the cafeteria was fairly deserted. We each picked up a tray and made our selections, various desserts and coffee. The tea wasn't something we were willing to touch, no doubt having been made with teabags.  

"I want to find out who is responsible for this, and I want them dead," Tony growled as we set our trays down on a table. He pinned each of us with a fierce scowl.  

Jeff raised an eyebrow. "Don't tell me you're expecting an argument from me, Tony. As soon as we learn who's behind it, I'll be going after them."  

"You're both talking like a couple of hot heads."  

They stared in surprise at Ludovic. Even though he'd been with Jeff for so long, he very rarely voiced opinions in family matters, and now he'd done so twice.  

"She's not your sister, Ludovic," Jeff snapped, and Ludo turned pale.  

"That was uncalled for," I murmured.  

He spun in his seat to glare at me. "Who asked you?"  

"You're my brother, Jeff, not my lover. Seeing you in a temper doesn't bother me."  

Tony kicked my ankle under the table, and I gave him a sweet smile. I sliced into the double chocolate triple layer cake, knowing it would irritate my middle brother even further.  

"Yes, well… "  

"Why don't you wait to hear what Ludo has to say before you jump down his throat?"  

Jeff turned his glare on his lover, but Ludo matched it with one of his own. "Porter is as good as my own flesh and blood, Jefferson ."  

I wasn't surprised when Jeff subsided and muttered, "Sorry, Ludo."  

"And so you should be. Prat. Porter was kind to me from the first moment we met, back when she made her come-out, and I had to bend her ear with that painful stutter. And when you were so involved with that blond slut, she…"  

Jeff flushed. "You knew about Willie?"  

"I'm not daft, you know. Of course I knew about him. Every time he turned up, you would disappear, and when you came back, you'd be smelling of his aftershave and looking like the cat that swallowed the canary."  

And now Jeff turned pale.  

Ludo glanced around and lowered his voice. "I'd… I'd do my best to make you forget him, but six months or a year later he'd turn up, and it was as if I didn't exist."  

I remembered those days. Jeff didn't work in my division, but I'd run into him occasionally.  

'Willie Garvin's back,' he'd tell me. 'I'm off to spend the weekend with him!'  

'What about Ludo?' I'd been mildly envious but not surprised when my brother had introduced me to Ludovic Rivenhall. Ludo had just been assigned to the British Embassy in DC. He was good-looking, with a cool façade that gave no hint of what might lie beneath the surface.  

I'd seen the way Ludo looked at my brother and marveled that Jeff appeared oblivious to it. I'd grieved because at the time I thought there would never be anyone to look at me that way.  

Ludo had his own apartment in Dupont Circle , but Jeff was there so frequently he might as well have set up housekeeping with him.  

'We're not exclusive. Besides, he thinks I'll be out of town on Company business. He'll never know.' He'd grinned and left the building, his step jaunty.  

I liked Ludo, and I was sorry to think he wasn't Jeff's one true love, but if that was the way it was, that was the way it was. I never said anything.  

I had been surprised when Jeff brought Ludovic to our brother-in-law's funeral, and I'd seen the matching rings. I'd wondered what had caused things to change, but of course I never asked.  

"Oh, god, Ludo, I didn't realize!"  

"Of course you didn't. You were so bloody single-minded in those days, Jefferson . I was at the point of giving up and breaking it off with you."  

"You… you would have left me?" Jeff looked as if he'd been kicked in the gut. I'd never seen an expression like that on his face. "But… "  

"I ran into Porter one noontime, and she saw how miserable I was. She invited me to lunch at this little place she knew that was like a bit of home. I found myself pouring out the whole story to her. She was quite put out with you, luv, and said something along the lines of, 'We can all see you're the one for him. Why can't he see it?'  I didn't realize what she meant about that until later. If I'd known you Sebrings only love once, I doubt I would have made that pass at you. Anyway, Porter told me that if I… if I loved you, I should bloody well make sure you knew it."  

Jeff's eyes widened as he seemed to recall something about that time. He flushed a dark red, stretched his hand across the table, and caught Ludo's hand.  

"Sweetheart, I couldn't have lived without you! I'm so sorry."  

"Well, we sorted it out, didn't we, luv? And I was even able to be civil to that… to Mr. Garvin when he saved your life that time." Ludo squeezed Jeff's hand, then released it and picked up his fork. "Now, what I was about to say is that I want to see whomever has done this to Porter punished, but I don't want it over quickly. You know the saying about revenge being a dish best served cold. I want them to wake up in the small hours of the morning, years from now, ruing the day their parents had met."   

"That would work for me." I raised a bite of the chocolate cake to my mouth, and paused. "What did you have in mind?"  


"Excuse me, gentlemen." One of the cafeteria workers stopped by our table. "The cafeteria will be closing in fifteen minutes."  

Tony looked at his watch. "Sorry. We didn't realize the time. We just need to get a sandwich to go." A simple look between us had settled the fact that no matter what our nephew had decided, as his seniors, we'd overrule him.  

"Sure. We're just starting to put things away. What would you like?"  

"A roast beef sandwich?" He looked to me.  

"Yes. Clay will like that. You get it, Tony. We'll clear off the table."  

When we got out of the elevator on the 6th floor, it was to see Clay coming toward us. He had the strangest look on his face, and immediately I feared the worst.  

But then he saw us and smiled. "I was just coming down to get you. Mother regained consciousness about forty-five minutes ago."  

We rushed to her room, only to find her sleeping soundly.  


"She was complaining of pain, so the nurse gave her something for it."  

"What? Porter never complains!"  

His smile broadened, and he shrugged. "I have a feeling she said that just to get me out of the room so she could talk to Palmer." There was something in Clay's eyes when he said the man's name. "He was here."  

"Did your mother have another visitor?"  

"Excuse me?"

Jeff nodded at the bunch of violets at her bedside.  

"Oh, no. Clark brought them."  

"He did?"  

" Clark ran into Modesty Blaise… "  

Tony frowned. "Isn't she supposed to be dead?"  

"… and she gave them to him to give to Mother."  

"What is she doing here in the States?"  

"I wondered when Modesty would turn up." The corner of Jeff's mouth kicked up in a grin. "Somehow she's always known whenever something momentous was going on in Porter's life, and she's always sent violets."  

"Well, she's done more than send flowers this time. According to Clark , she's taken care of Mrs. Wexler… "  

"What?" Jeff seemed stunned.  

"… who was the one who had the tires of Mother's Towncar slashed."  

"The Senator's wife?" I was floored. How had she gotten involved with this?  

"Yes. Modesty apparently showed her what happened when you endangered her friends. She must have broken every bone in Mrs. Wexler's face."  

"With her kongo? Yes, she would," Jeff agreed after a moment's thought. "She doesn't have very many friends, and she's… fond of Porter."  

"I don't understand why Elizabeth Wexler would do something like that to Porter, though. I know she and Porter were on a number of committees together, and I thought they were friends. Maybe not bosom buddies, but… " I shook my head.  

"Well, Uncle Bryan, it seems Senator Wexler had a little plan, and Mrs. Wexler got wind of it."  

That didn't sound good. "What was his plan?"  

"He intended to make Mother the second Mrs. Wexler."  

"I can understand that irritating the first Mrs. Wexler. However, she took her irritation out on the wrong person."  


"So Elizabeth Wexler is responsible for your mother's car being disabled?"  

Clay nodded. "And Senator Wexler is behind the accident to my car. Mother wasn't supposed to be in it; I was."  

We all swore.  

"How did you find out about this?"  

" Clark persuaded Peter Lapin to talk."  

"Who's Lapin?"

"The Senator's aide."  

Tony stroked his chin. "Palmer's been a busy boy."  

Clay stiffened, and I wondered what had disturbed him.  

Tony didn't notice, however. He continued. "He's learned a good deal."  

"Mind if I ask how he managed to get Lapin to talk?" I had a feeling there was more to it than that.  

"He didn't say." A small smile played about Clay's lips. He was relaxed now, and I wondered about that too.  

I had an even stronger feeling that our nephew knew more than he was telling us.  

"We'll want to talk to Lapin." Tony was looking grim.  

"That won't be possible. He was in a car accident; he wasn't wearing his seatbelt, and his neck was broken."  

"If we want a piece of Wexler, we'll have to hustle to get to him before Palmer does."  

"Yeah. Why should he get to have all the fun," Jeff growled.  

"Mother and I knew you'd want to take care of the Senator. We told Clark to back off."  

"And he'll listen to you?"  

Clay's grin was rueful. "As much as he'll listen to anyone. I told him I intended to sue Wexler in civil court. Mother won't be awarded more than nominal damages, but it will annoy the hell out of the Senator to have his name in the newspapers."  

"He should be brought up on criminal charges, Clayton. His actions border on the criminal," Ludo said.  

"They've gone beyond that. We couldn't prove he was behind it, though. We'd get nowhere in a court of law."  

"And there's still the problem of Watts . We don't want to forget him." We'd been so worried about Porter we'd let things with him slide.  

"He's going to realize sooner or later that his lousy trick with your cell phone is no longer working. We have to come up with something." Jeff worried his lip.  

"We will." A sudden yawn caught Clay by surprise. "Sorry."  

"Why don't you get some rest, Clay?" I squeezed his shoulder, and he smiled at me.  

"I think I finally can now. I'm going home to pick up some things. I'll return and spend the night with Mother, and then tomorrow… "  

"You'll stay with us at the Madison Arms. There's enough room in our suite to accommodate all of us, Clay."  

"Thanks. I'd appreciate that. I wasn't looking forward to the drive to and from Alexandria ."  

"Don't be an ass. As if we'd have it any other way." I checked my watch. "Tomorrow's going to be a busy day. I'll take Markov out to Great Falls to pack some clothes for himself, and then bring him back to our suite. He'll want to be near Porter, and we'll want to keep an eye on him. Although we won't tell him that."  

"No. If you're going to Great Falls , would you mind getting some things from home that Mother asked for? Some nightgowns and her robe and slippers, her toiletries and a book she's been reading." He handed me a piece of paper. "I made a list."  

"Very good. You know, Clay, if you prefer, we can stop at your townhouse on the way to Great Falls ."  

"Thanks, Uncle Bryan, but that won't be necessary. I've got a ride home tonight. I'll shower and change and pack what I need for a few days. I was just waiting for you to get back from the cafeteria… "  

"We brought you something." Jeff held up the sandwich.  

"In spite of what I said?"  

"We're your uncles."  

He chuckled. "I'll have it when I get back. I've got to go now. Clark Clark 's waiting for me. Keep an eye on Mother, all right? I should be back in a couple of hours."  

Tony looked at him, his expression contemplative. "It doesn't take two hours to drive to Alexandria and pack a bag, especially at this time of night."  

"It doesn't, does it?" Clay was a little flushed, but he made no attempt to explain. He went to his mother's sleeping form and kissed her cheek, then whispered something in her ear and left.  


The next morning, no one wanted to go down to Markov's room with me.  

"Porter needs us to be here with her."  

"Cowards," I muttered at them.  

"We know what he can be like when he's recovering. Do you remember the time in the late 80s when that bastard shot him, and Porter insisted he stay with her? I'd rather face a nest of pissed-off rattlesnakes."  

"Fine. See if I care. 'It is a far, far better thing I do… '"  

Jeff snickered and tried to look innocent. Ludo did a better job of it.  

Tony gave me a smile that clearly stated he would make it up to me later that evening, and my return smile told him I'd be holding him to that.  

"Porter, I'll see you later."  

"Take care of Gregor, Bryan. He was injured because of me."  

"That wasn't your fault, little sister, but I'll leave Tony to argue with you over that."  

"Thank you. It's good to know that the fact that I'm the big brother is appreciated." He winked at me, and I left the room, smiling, and took the elevator down to Markov's floor.  

"I've been discharged." His attitude was pugnacious. "I'm going up to see Porter."  

"Fine," I said mildly.  

"And I'm not going back to Great Falls ," he growled as he gathered his belongings and limped toward the wheelchair hospital regulations required he ride down to the first floor in.  

"Yes, you are. You'll need some clothes of your own."  


"You're staying with us at the Madison Arms."  

"But… "  

"I'm not the Sebring who does the packing."  


"I'm telling you, Markov, the thought of you parading around in a johnny gown with your Russian ass hanging out does not appeal to me."  

That made him laugh, but he quickly grew serious. " Bryan … "  

"Gregor, don't bust my chops. You're going to want to see Porter, aren't you?"  

"Yes, of course, but Jeff told me that he and Ludovic are already staying with you, and the last thing you need is me hanging around. I can take a room at the Madison Arms, or some other hotel nearby."  

"The suite I reserved for us has a couple of sleeper sofas in the living room as well as two bedrooms. We've got plenty of room. Clay will be with us too, you know."  

"So Jeff and Ludovic and you and Tony have the bedrooms?"  

"Yeah." I realized I might have painted myself into a corner. None of the family knew about our relationship. I thought quickly. "Tony and I are too old to trust our backs to a sofa." I shrugged. "It's a king size bed, so there's plenty of room for both of us. If you want it though… "  

"No, there's no need to put yourselves out. I'll take the sofa."  


We were at the hospital every day to see Porter. Occasionally she'd say, "What a shame. You've just missed Clark ."  

"Is he avoiding us?"  

"Of course not. Why would he?" she asked, all innocence. "After all, it isn't as if he knows you plan to ask what his intentions are toward your nephew."  

"Porter… "  

"Do you like this color, Tony?" She held up a blue and green scarf she was crocheting. It had a zigzag pattern.  

"Yes, it's very pretty."  

"Good, because this one is for you. Jefferson, you and Ludovic will get matching blue and gold scarves."  

"Are you making one for me too?" I asked as I picked up a colorful cloth balloon with 'Get Well Soon!!!' across it and a Smurf in the basket below it. "Interesting."  

"Isn't it? Make sure you take that home, please." There had been so many flowers and balloons that she'd donated the majority of them to other wards. "And yes, I'll make one for you too. Green and blue, I thought."  

"That's ni… " My eyes shot up to her, but she was concentrating on the row she was crocheting.  "Uh… "  

Tony walked past me and surreptitiously nudged me. I glanced at him, and he gave a slight shake of his head.  

That evening we talked about it in bed.  

"Does she know?"  

"How can she? We've always been so careful."  

"Then why… "  

"I don't know, little brother. Maybe because it's just the two of us." He stroked my hair.  

"What do we do?"  

"Nothing. Unless she actually asks us – unless anyone actually asks us –  we don't say anything."  


"*Are* you okay?"  

"Excuse me?"  

" Bryan , I'm not ashamed of what we do, of how I feel about you."  

"I know that, Tony."  

"If people knew… "  

"Listen to me, big brother. People can go fuck themselves for all I care. For twenty-five years I had what society said I should have, and I was miserable."  

"You told me you weren't."  

"I lied." I kissed the corner of his mouth. "This last year… I've never been so happy."  


"Would I lie to you?"  

He laughed and pinched my ass, then reached up and framed my face with his hands. "I love you, Bry."  

"Love you too, Tony."


Part 8


It was Porter's last day in the hospital.  

We were all there to take her home and were just waiting for her doctor to come in and discharge her.  

"I don't understand what's keeping Dr. Franke. He told me he would be here first thing this morning." Clothes had already been laid out at the foot of her bed.  

"An emergency perhaps?" Ludo offered.  

"No doubt. I don't want to sound childish…"  

"Not a chance, little sister."  

She smiled fondly at Tony. "… but I am tired of looking at these four walls."  

"And the view from the window isn't much to write home about." It was simply another wing of the hospital.  

"I can't say I blame you, Mother. You must be really looking forward to sleeping in your own bed again."  

"Yes, I am. Although with my hip like this, I must confess that I'm not looking forward to climbing the stairs."  

"That's something you won't have to worry about. We've seen about having a stair lift put in for you. It's got a very smooth ride."  

"Oh? You've already ridden it?"  

"Well, I had to make sure it was safe for you, didn't I?"  

"You're such a thoughtful son."  

Clay grinned at her. "I think you'll enjoy it, Mother. You can pretend it's Pyrrhic Victory."  

Outside in the corridor we could hear the trundling of the carts bearing lunch, and he turned his head to glance in that direction.  

That grin and that movement – for a brief second, he looked very much like his father, and Porter's expression became wistful.  

An orderly walked in with a tray and placed it on the bedside table.  

"I'm not supposed to have lunch today. I should have been discharged before now."  

He shrugged. "Dunno nothin' 'bout that, ma'am. All's I know is this here paper got your name an' room number on it." And he left to continue delivering lunches.  

"You may as well eat, Porter."  

"Yes. Especially since it doesn't look like I'll be discharged just yet." She sighed.  

"I'll be right back." I walked out of the room. Tony followed me.  

"What's bothering you, little brother?"  

"Shouldn't someone have come to tell Porter if Franke was delayed for any reason?" I approached the nurses' station. "Excuse me, Artie," I said to the ward clerk.  

"Oh, hi, Mr. Sebring. Mr. Sebring." He grinned at my brother. "What are you still doing here? Didn't Mrs. Webb go home yet?"  

"No, and that's what I wanted to ask you. Where's Dr. Franke?"  

Alice, the head nurse, joined us. "Dr. Franke had a family emergency. Dr. Baxter, his associate, was supposed to discharge Mrs. Webb."  

"He hasn't been by."  

"Something must be delaying him. I'll see Mrs. Webb has a lunch sent up."  

"One already was."  

Alice seemed surprised. "Oh. Well, that happens from time to time, a minor glitch with the kitchen. I'll just call Dr. Baxter's service and see what's holding him up."  


It turned out that there had been a pile-up on the Beltway, and he was in surgery. "I'm afraid he won't be in until sometime this afternoon."  

We returned to Porter's room and told her.  

"There's no point in you all sitting around watching me eat. Why don't you go to the cafeteria and get yourselves something?"  

"Sounds like a good idea. I'm starved. Do you want us to bring you anything? A bag of chips, a piece of pie?"  

"No, I'll be fine."  


"Go ahead, Clayton."  

We left as she opened the plastic wrapper that held a fork, spoon, and knife.  

The cafeteria was crowded, and it took a while before we got our lunch and found a place to sit.  

Because of the crowd, we had to guard our conversation, and so we chatted of the mundane. None of us was in the mood to linger however, so as soon as we finished eating, we disposed of our trays and returned to the 6th floor.  

It wasn't too long after when a white-coated doctor strolled in. "Good afternoon, Mrs. Webb. It's so nice to see you again."  

"Doctor Baxter."  

Finally. I studied the man. He was a little under average height and rotund, with sandy hair and myopic eyes.  

"Doctor Franke was unexpectedly called away, and I'm filling in for him."  

"We're aware."  

He glanced at us, an eyebrow raised. "And you are?"  

"Her son." "Her brothers." "Her… bodyguard."  

"B- bodyguard?" He paled a little. "I didn't realize… " He swallowed and pasted a smile on his face, and turned back to Porter. "How are we feeling today, Mrs. Webb?"  

"I don't know about you, but I feel fine, and I want to go home."  

I was a little surprised at the shortness of Porter's response. Usually she was gracious to a fault. A glance at Tony and the others revealed they were just as nonplussed as I.  

"Yes, yes, I imagine you're impatient to leave." Apparently Dr. Baxter saw nothing amiss in her reply. "How was your lunch?" He studied her tray. "You seem to have eaten most of it."  

"As appetizing as the hospital's food has been, I'm sure you can understand that I *am* anxious to go home."  

"Well, now, as to that… " He tapped his lower lip thoughtfully. "I'm afraid it looks like we'll need to keep you one more day." He raised his hand to forestall the protest he was correct in anticipating. "Although your tests have all come back very positive – for the most part – Dr. Franke and I want to be sure that the insult to your lung is completely healed." He took the stethoscope from around his neck. "Lean forward please. Now, breathe in. Breathe out. Again. And one more time." He let the stethoscope dangle from his neck and thumped her back.  

"I trust they're working appropriately, Doctor Baxter?" she asked dryly.  

"Yes, they are!" His smile seemed patronizing to me, and I wondered how his female patients put up with him. "However, I do think it best to keep you here for another night."  

"And will I be able to leave tomorrow?"  

"Oh, yes. I promise you."  

"Well, whoop-de-doo," Markov muttered under his breath.  

Doctor Baxter frowned at him and cleared his throat. "I have to finish my rounds. I'm quite behind. A rather serious accident, you know… "  

"We know."  

He cleared his throat again. "I'm sure Doctor Franke will be back to check on you again first thing in the morning, Mrs. Webb." And he left.    

"Supercilious, condescending, arrogant… I told Dr. Franke I didn't want him at my bedside again."  

"I don't blame you, little sister."  

"I don't get it," Markov fumed.  

"Neither do I. And what's more, I don't like it." Tony looked unhappy about the whole situation. 

"You think he has an ulterior motive in keeping me here?"  

"But it doesn't make sense," Ludo said. "Why would… "

There was a tap on the door. "Excuse me for interrupting." We turned to face a girl wearing a candy striper's uniform. She couldn't have been much more than fourteen.  

"What can I do for you, Megan?"  

She gave a shy smile and approached the bed. "I have these for you, Mrs. Webb." In her arms was a stack of magazines. "The floor supervisor said I should bring them to you." She looked around for a place to put them, and I took them from her.  

"People, Entertainment Weekly, Soap Opera Digest… " I started to laugh. "Are you keeping something from us, Porter?"  

"You know I'm more likely to read Time or Newsweek. Who are these from, Megan?"  

"I don't know – "  

"All right, thank you."  

" – but there's a card." Megan took it from her pocket and handed it to her. "I'm sorry you won't be going home today, Mrs. Webb."  

"How did you know that?"  

She jumped at the sharpness in Tony's tone. "I… I must have overheard… I'm sorry. Did I do something wrong?"  

"No, my dear. You didn't do anything wrong," Porter said soothingly.  

"I'll just be… I have to go now."  

We watched her as she scurried out.  

"What do you make of that?"  

"I don't know." Clay worried his lower lip. "I don't like it though. How possible is it that anyone on this floor could have already known you'd be staying another night, Mother?"  

"If something was wrong, then yes, it is possible, but you're right, I don't like it." She opened the envelope and took out the small square. Her mouth tightened. "'A little light reading to pass the time. I'm sorry you'll be staying another night, Porter, my dear,'" she read. "It's signed with an 'R'."  

"Richard Wexler?" With a grimace of distaste, I dropped the magazines on the heating unit beneath the window.  

"Who else? You saw that Birnam Wood of a flower arrangement he sent."  

"I say, that was in ruddy poor taste."  

"It was, wasn't it, Ludovic?"  

"But how did he know you'd be here another day?"  

"We'll have to assume either Baxter or one of the nurses is on Wexler's payroll. Or even one of the aides." Clay pulled out his cell phone. "He had the sense not to show up before now, but I wouldn't put it past him to use this as an excuse to pay you a visit. I'm staying with you tonight, Mother."  

"All right, sweetheart." It said something that she didn't argue with him. "But it's Friday."  

"It doesn't matter. Excuse me." Clay hit speed dial and was silent for a few moments until whoever was on the other end picked up. "Hi, it's me. I won't be able to make dinner tonight."  

Markov groaned and rolled his eyes. "Palmer," he mouthed, and we all listened with unabashed interest.  

Clay raised an eyebrow, and when we smiled innocently, shook his head and turned his back on us. "No, Mother is doing well. She won't be discharged until the morning, though. Doctor Baxter… Baxter. Apparently he's Franke's associate. I haven't met him before, but Mother has. She doesn't like him. Baxter said something about wanting to be sure her lung is healed. I know, that does make sense, but I don't believe it either. Yes, *he* might be involved. Listen to me. I don't want you doing anything." He lowered his voice, but it was a small room, and we could still hear. "Don't give me that – 'Don't I always listen to you, baby!' Yes, I'll bet you're cut to the quick." Clay's laugh was soft.  "Just don't do anything. I'll talk to you later tonight or tomorrow. Bye."  

Porter was smiling too, and more than ever I wanted to meet Palmer face to face. Then my sister's gaze fell on the magazines, and her mouth tightened.  

"Would one of you mind removing them?"  


We stayed until after dinner, but when Wexler still hadn't put in an appearance, "Go on back to the Madison Arms," Porter ordered us. "You're making the nurses nervous, standing around and looking as if you'd like to shoot someone. Clayton will make sure nothing happens."  

"Call us if you need to be spelled, Clay."  

"I don't think that will be necessary, but thanks, Uncle Tony."  

"Porter… "  

"I'll be fine, Gregor. Now go!" She reached for a ball of yarn and a crochet hook.  

We returned to our suite at the Madison Arms, still disgruntled by the latest turn of events.  

"I'll make some coffee." Markov, his limp almost gone, went into the kitchenette.  

"Is it too early for 'CIA'?"  

"Wrong night, big brother." I grinned at Tony. He grinned back at me, a slow, sensuous curl of his lips that went right to my cock. "How about 'Jeopardy'?"  

"Sounds good to me." Jeff, unaware of the byplay, turned on the television. He loosened his tie and was about to drop onto the loveseat when he paused. "What's this?"  

Lying on the cocktail table that was angled between the loveseat and the couch was a padded envelope. He picked it up.  

"Hmmm. That's odd." He looked up. "It's addressed to Markov."  

"What's odd about Markov getting a package?"  

"Nothing. What's odd is that there's no postage on it. That would mean it was hand-delivered, don't you think?"  

"But the front desk didn't mention anything about a delivery." Tony took it from Jeff and examined it.  

"No, you're right." I took it from Tony and turned it over and over. "It feels like it might be a tape. Markov… " He was coming from the kitchenette bearing a tray with five coffee cups. "… were you expecting anything?"  

"No. Who's it from?"  

"No return address. Who knew you'd be here tonight?" If Porter had been discharged as she was supposed to have been, he'd have been in Great Falls .  

"No one, to my knowledge. This is making me nervous." He put the tray down on the bar that separated the kitchenette from the sitting area, took the envelope from me, and studied it in turn.  

"Are you going to open it?"  

He held it to his ear. "It isn't ticking. It should be safe enough." He took out a pen knife, slit open an end, and tipped it over. A VHS tape slid out.  

"You were right, little brother."  

"What the… " Along with the tape was a folded piece of paper. "//You might find this useful.//" Markov read aloud. "//It should help you deal with the matter that's been of concern to you all. Don't worry about screwing up the tape, there are copies.// Goddammit! This is from Palmer!"  

"He signed it?"  


"Do you recognize the writing?"  

"It's been printed out, but I have no doubt he's behind this!"  

I raised an eyebrow, but I couldn't help grinning. If we tried to track it down, we'd probably find out the printer belonged to the FBI.  

"Palmer is slipping." There was triumph in Markov's voice. "This is less than useless. There's no VCR in this suite."  

"That's right."  

"But where did this came from, then?" Ludo asked.  

A small video cassette recorder had been hooked up to the television.  

"Well, hell." Markov glared at it.  

"Let's see what's on the tape, shall we?"  

Markov turned on the VCR, griping the whole time. "The man wouldn't dare… He's got more gall than… How the fuck could he…I don't like it!"  

"We get that impression, Markov."  

He put the tape into the machine and hit play, and we stood around the set and watched.  

A very pretty brunette and two equally pretty young men, a blond and a redhead, appeared on the screen. They were in a bedroom that looked as if someone had gone wild with the Pepto Bismol, and they were all naked.  

"That's Delilah Carson, the party girl who was killed around the beginning of the year."  

Four sets of eyes turned to stare at me.  

"And you know this how, little brother?" Tony's expression was flat, and I was startled to realize he was jealous.  

"Don't be an ass, Tony. I read the newspapers."  


I hooked my little finger with his surreptitiously, liking the fact that he was jealous, even if it was in retrospect.  

'Suck him, Delilah!' A falsetto voice off screen was directing them. 'I want to see you take his big cock all the way down your throat.'  

'Sure, sugar. Whatever you say.' Delilah went down on the redhead. 

"It's a stag reel! Palmer is yanking our chain! Oh, if that isn't just like the son of a bitch!" Markov moved to turn it off.  

"Do you really think Mr. Palmer would do that without a purpose?"  

"You don't know him, Ludo. The man's a sociopath!"  

"You've been listening to Commander Rabb." 

"As if I'd pay attention to someone who only appreciates Clay for what he can do for him!" Markov was affronted.  

He reached forward to shut off the tape just as the off screen voice ordered, 'Fuck her up the ass!' It was no longer falsetto.  

"Just a second." Something about that voice nagged at me.  

"Don't tell me you want to watch this garbage, Bryan … "  

"No, listen!"  

'Don't ask her! *I'm* paying for this! Shove your cock into her! Make her squeal!'  

"So this guy is into butt sex. So what?"  

"That sounds just like James Watts!"   

"Are you sure, Bry? He couldn't be so stupid as to let himself get caught in such a compromising situation!"  


We continued to watch as the younger man began to have anal sex with Delilah Carson, all the while kissing the redhead she was deep-throating.  

'I can't see!'  

Delilah let the cock she was sucking slip from her lips. 'Why don't you come around here, sugar? You'll have a great view.'  

An ass with a strip of material running up the crack filled the screen.  

"Some people should not be allowed to wear thongs."  

We could see the birthmark on one cheek before he settled himself at the head of the bed. Long, curly red hair spilled over his shoulders, and he was wearing a shocking pink bra and panty set.  

"Some redheads should never wear pink."  

"He isn't a natural redhead. Look." The flared head of an engorged cock poked against the material that contained it, causing it to gap at the leg and reveal coarse brown and gray pubic hairs.  

"*Fuck*!" Markov's eyes were goggling. The wig had fallen off enough to reveal that it actually was the director of the CIA. "Fuck!" He swallowed.  

"This is too good!" Jeff was almost choking on his laughter.  

"Oh, I say!" Ludovic sounded shocked down to his British soul, but the grin on his face was positively wicked. "I do believe Mr. Palmer has given you more than just a voice!"  

"Fuck!" Markov shook his head, still unable to believe his eyes.  

Tony blinked, speechless.  

"Well." I cleared my throat. "I don't think Clay will have to worry about being sent on useless assignments any more."  

"I could sure use a shot of whiskey in my coffee." Markov was finally able to say more than 'fuck.' "Anyone else want one?"  

We all nodded, and he went to the mini bar, took out the miniature bottles, and passed them around.  

"I'll share with Bryan, Markov. Thanks," Tony murmured.  

"Sure." Markov handed me the bottle.  

"So Palmer is giving us Watts ." I cracked the seal on the bottle and split the contents between us, and Tony touched his cup to mine. "I have to say, that's the last thing I expected."  

"Palmer's generosity?" Markov sat down on the cocktail table.  

"No. I was thinking more along the lines of Watts in women's underwear."  

"I think I'm going to have nightmares."  

"Definitely not a pretty sight."  

"All right. So who gets to beard James Watts in his den?"  

"I'll do it. I was the most recently fired."  

"You weren't fired, little brother. You resigned, remember? And if you tell me you lied…"  

I nudged my shoulder against Tony's. "That's irrelevant, big brother."  

"Count me in." Jeff's grin would have made Watts nervous if he'd seen it.  

"Me, too. I may have been FBI, but I'm not letting you have all the fun."  

"And you're not leaving me out, either," Ludo said. "Clayton is as much my nephew as he is yours!"  

"Wouldn't dream of it, dear chap." Jeff pulled Ludo against him and rubbed his cheek against his lover's hair.  

For a moment I was saddened by the thought that my lover and I could never blatantly display our affection, but then I took myself sternly to task. Little more than a year ago I never would have dreamed that I would have the one I loved.  

I was startled when I felt Tony run his hand over my hair. He tugged a lock and smiled into my eyes, then turned to the others.  

"Now let's start making plans."




According to plan, I entered the DCI's office. Alone, which was also according to plan.  

"I'm so glad to see you're in, James. I'd like a moment of your time, if you don't mind?" I took a seat on the other side of his desk.  

"Sebring." He scowled at me. He hated when any of his officers called him by his first name, but then I'd never been one of his officers. "I thought you were out in California . What are you doing in DC?"  

"You may have heard my sister was in an… accident."  

"Ah. Yes, I'd heard Porter had been hurt. I sent flowers."  

"She got them." And as soon as she'd read the card, she'd had them sent to another ward. She still held it against him that he'd made no move to have her son rescued when he'd been kidnapped. "We've been staying here until we were sure of her recovery."  


"My brothers. Gregor Markov."  

"I trust her recovery is complete?"  

"No. Oh, she's out of the hospital now, but she'll need to have extensive physical therapy."  

"I… I hadn't heard." His face turned gray. "That wasn't… " He chopped off whatever he had been about to say.  

I wondered if he'd had any knowledge of Wexler's little plan concerning my sister. If we brothers ever learned that he did… I smiled at him, and he moistened his lips and his eyes seemed to want to skitter off mine.  

"Well, I'm sure you didn't come here to discuss… er… What exactly can I do for you, Sebring?" he asked, his tone bluff.  

"You always were straight to the point, James. That was one of the few things about you that I could tolerate."  

"Sebring… "  

"My brother and I are flying back to LA, and I'm sure you'll understand that I can't stay long, so I'll keep this brief. I want you to stop sending my nephew on fruitless and ineffective missions."  

"I don't know what you're talking about!"  

"Don't you? Perhaps you'll recall his assignment to Bangkok ?"  

"I had perfectly valid information… "  

"The fact remains that the mission was less than useless."  

"If he's not capable… "  

"*All* the recent missions you've assigned him have been useless. You've been trying to establish that he's no longer a competent officer."  

"That's bullshit!"  

"Is it? Let me make this perfectly plain, James. This country means a great deal to us Sebrings; you counted on that, and you were right. But there's something of which you are apparently unaware: family – my brothers, sister, nephew – means even more."  

His face darkened. "And *your nephew* sent you to complain to me about it? He isn't man enough to… "  

I sat back in my chair and crossed my legs. "No, no, James, you really *don't* want to get into a discussion about manhood with me."  

"Excuse me?"  

"Do you think I will?"  


"Excuse you, especially when on top of that, there's the little matter of subliminal perception?" He turned pale. "Who did you have tinker with Clay's cell phone?"  

"That's nonsense! It's… it's  right out of a science fiction novel!"  

"Do you think so? Or did you just think that I was unaware that Hazelton had that in the works before he decided it was too risky with the present administration?" I uncrossed my legs and leaned forward. "Clayton Webb is one of the best officers you've got. I'd suggest you forget you ever agreed to reassign him to Paramaribo , and leave him alone to do his job."  

"And if I don't?"  

"Do you remember Delilah Carson?"  

"Everyone in the Capital is aware of who Delilah Carson was. *What* she was."  

"I have something I think you'll want to see." I took the tape out of my pocket and placed it on his desk.  

His expression was disdainful and self-righteous. "Are you peddling porn now, Sebring?"  

"Why would you assume that, James?"  

"You mention a known call girl, then display a video tape." He curled his lip and sneered. "What else am I to think?"  

"That I might have it in mind to blackmail you?" His eyes widened, and when I smiled this time, he couldn't prevent a flinch. "On this tape are images of a known call girl, as you termed her, and two rentboys. With them is a high ranking director of intelligence. You, James."  

"You… What… I never… "  

"You can watch it if you'd like, just to verify that it is what I say it is."  

He stared at the tape as if it were a venomous snake, then raised his eyes to mine, and he must have remembered something, because his complexion had become sickly. "What do you want from me?"  

"I already told you. Leave my nephew alone to do his job."  

"And if I refuse to allow myself to give in to your ineffectual threats? After all, I'm divorced. If that is me on the tape – not that I'm admitting to anything – who would I be harming?"  

"I think we both know they aren't ineffectual threats, James. This administration doesn't look kindly on alternative lifestyles. However likely the Pres might be to look the other way if it was just you and Delilah, he'll be much less likely when there are two young men involved as well, and you're dressed in women's lingerie and wearing a red wig and makeup."  

"I can claim those images were manipulated."  

"True. But there are ways to ascertain whether they were or not. And it will become clear that they were not. Julia."  

His expression abruptly became conciliatory. "There's no need for us to be less than civilized over something as innocuous and clearly open to misinterpretation as I'm sure this tape is." He smiled, and I wished he hadn't. He wasn't very good at trying to convey good-fellowship. He leaned forward, his right hand disappearing behind his desk. "Is there anything I can do to persuade you to… "  

"Keep your hands in view, James."  

"What are you… "  

"I know about the Colt you keep in that drawer."  

"That's… "  

"And did you think I'd be so stupid as to come here alone? My brothers and Markov are in your outer office. If you shoot me, they'll have no qualms about killing you."  

"Suppose I'm willing to take that risk?"  

"You're an asshole, James, but you never struck me as being a stupid asshole."  

He glanced at his desk drawer, then stared at me for a long moment, breathing heavily. Finally, he folded his hands together and rested them on the top of the desk. They were gripped so tightly his knuckles were white. He saw where my gaze was directed and made a concerted effort to relax his fingers.  

"And if I… if I agree to your demands?"  

"Demand, singular, James. Leave Clay to do his job." I pushed the tape toward him. "I'll go back to California and forget I ever viewed this."  

His fingers flexed as if he desperately wanted to snatch the video off the desk and tear the tape from it in a long black ribbon.  

"You may have me by the short hairs, but it won't do you much good, Sebring. It goes higher, you know. It's not just me."  

"I know. Senator Wexler."  

"You knew? How could you know?"  

"James, James, James. We're a family of spooks. How could we not know? And of course there's one additional detail: the Senator is not as smart as he seems to think he is." A Midwestern newspaper had found its way to our suite, and Tony and I had read it with growing disgust. Secret deals with foreign governments that poured money into offshore accounts. I'd torn out the pertinent pages and folded them into my pocket. Now I took them out and passed them across the desk to Watts .  

He unfolded the sheets, smoothed them, and began to read. The further he got, the more his color leached out.  

"Interesting about him, isn't it? I imagine he's going to be too busy denying these allegations and dealing with the IRS to be concerned with my sister or my nephew."  

"Very well," he finally said, his voice little more than a hoarse croak. He bunched the newspaper and threw it into his waste basket, and gave a sour laugh. "I agree. I don't have much choice. Give me the tape!"  

I nodded toward it, and he grabbed it.  

"I believe that's all." I rose to my feet and crossed to the door. Just before I opened it, I paused and turned back to face the DCI. He was beginning to regain his color. "Just in case you decide, after a few days, that with the tape in your possession there really isn't any need for you to honor our agreement?" I displayed a small recording device about the size of a credit card. A former contact had gotten in touch with me in response to my message on her answering machine, and when I explained what I needed, she'd over-nighted it to me from New Mexico.  

"You taped our conversation? How did you get that in here? That's… "  

"Un-Constitutional? Y'know something, James? I don't think the Pres would really care much." I didn't see any need at this point to inform him that I'd made copies of the incriminating tape itself.  

"Get out!" He rose jerkily to his feet, and his fingers scrabbled at his collar in an attempt to loosen it. "Get out!"  

"Have a good day, James." And I closed the door behind me. I smiled at his secretary. "Thanks again for squeezing me in, Roberta. Oh, and you might want to see Director Watts has a cup of tea. He seems to be a bit under the weather." I turned to my brothers. "Ready, gentlemen?"  

They followed me out the door.  

"Well done, little brother." Tony removed an earpiece from his right ear. He slid his arm around my shoulder. His hand closed on my upper arm and squeezed gently.  

He had insisted I wear a wire on the off chance I couldn't convince Watts that going for his gun wasn't in his own best interest. 'I don't want to lose you so soon after I've got you,' he'd whispered before I could object. The expression on his face had revealed how devastated the thought alone made him, and I'd taken him in my arms and agreed.  

Jeff, Ludo, and Markov also removed earpieces and tucked them away in their pockets. They'd been listening in to the entire meeting as well.  

" Bryan , I never would have suspected… You were downright frightening, did you know that?"  

"You're just realizing that now, Ludo?" Jeff grinned at his lover. "The sprout could be deadly for a desk jockey."  

"Good work, Bryan !" Markov thumped my back. "I loved you telling Watts he didn't want to get into a discussion about manhood with you. You're a pistol!"  

"It's always the quiet ones." Tony's eyes were full of pride.  

I blushed and bumped his shoulder with mine. "Let's go. Porter's going to wonder what's keeping us."  

We were having a final dinner with her and Clay, and then Tony and I would drive back to DC. In the morning we'd check out of the Madison Arms and fly home to California .  

We entered the elevator, rode it down to the parking garage, and started the drive to Great Falls .



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