|A Test of Brotherhood
Author: AnneWithane PM
Steve Jamison left Sparta more than a decade ago, and has returned home with big trouble. Will his brother, now a cop, be able to figure out Steve's secret before his problems follow him all the way home?Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama - Chapters: 4 - Words: 16,567 - Reviews: 11 - Favs: 4 - Follows: 2 - Updated: 11-02-05 - Published: 08-06-04 - id: 2000957
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A Test of Brotherhood
Summary: Steve Jamison left Sparta more than a decade ago, and has returned home with big trouble. Will his brother, now a cop, be able to figure out Steve's secret before his problems follow him all the way home?
Rating: Let's say PG for some mild profanity and adultish themes.
Laura Jamison sipped slowly at the last dregs of stale restaurant coffee lingering at the bottom of her mug. It was a special treat to get to have lunch with her husband during the middle of a work week, and she savored her last few moments of peace before she had to leave his company and return to the barely-controlled chaos of her office.
Lonnie had just left the table to pick up the check with a promise that he'd be right back, and as she waited she entertained notions of calling in sick for the rest of the day, 'kidnapping' her husband, and spending a lazy afternoon by the lake. If only he weren't wrapped up in an investigation – nothing new – and she didn't have a trial looming – also nothing new. She sighed. One of these days they'd make the time to take that long beach vacation they kept talking about. Just not this week.
Behind her, an unexpected outburst drew Laura's attention. "Lonnie! Is that really you? Look how old you are!"
At the exclamation, Laura turned around to find the source of all the noise. Sparta was still a fairly small town, especially downtown during the day, and the boisterous voice booming out her husband's name was not one she'd heard before.
Lonnie stood facing the doorway as another man stood in front of him. Laura felt her eyes widen in shock as she realized the man's identity. There was only one person this could be - Lonnie's younger brother Steve. He was shorter and stockier, definitely heavier, than her long and lithe husband. Steve had the build of a football player next to his slender older brother. His hair was a little different, a shade darker and quite a bit curlier than Lonnie's, and his facial features seemed...scrunched somehow, she thought, but there was no doubt to anyone with eyesight that these two men were related.
Though their features were similar, their expressions most certainly weren't. Steve grinned from ear to ear, showing off a nice set of even, artificially-white teeth, while Lonnie had schooled his features into careful neutrality. Compared with Lonnie's mask of cool impassivity, Steve's expression was that of hail-fellow-well-met.
As Laura craned her neck around to watch the two of them, she decided the look on her husband's face made her nervous. His demeanor was a bit too cool considering the situation. She decided he looked about as likely to punch the younger man as he did to greet him. Laura quickly dropped a few dollars in tip money on the table, shoved her wallet back into her purse, and stood. With a quick tug on her skirt to straighten it, she hurried across the room to join them.
"You must be Steve," she said, extending a hand good-naturedly. "I'm Laura."
Steve's grin broadened to seemingly impossible widths. "Well, hello, Laura," he said, grasping her hand a little too strongly. "It is a pleasure. I never would have imagined my sober big brother could ever have such an attractive girlfriend."
Lonnie's expression darkened. "She's not my girlfriend, Steve. If you'd been anywhere near Sparta in the last ten years you'd know that."
Steve had been about to let her hand go, but kept it, and reached out to grab her left hand as well. Unabashedly he examined the bridal set on Laura's finger. "Nice. I've only seen one stone like that in my lifetime. This must have been Granny's, right? Well, it certainly looks lovely on you!"
Laura pulled her hands away as she felt blood rush into her cheeks. 'What do you say to a comment like that?' She glanced nervously back up at her husband. Before either of them could say a word, Laura's beeper went off. Relief swelled through her as she checked the number, silenced the device, and looked back at her husband. "Well, I've gotta run. I've been summoned."
Steve's expression clouded. "But I thought we could sit down and have a cup of coffee or something. Get to know each other."
Impulsively, she grabbed a business card out of the front pocket of her purse and handed it to him. "Maybe one day later this week?"
She felt Lonnie's eyes on her as she spoke – he didn't have to say a word for her to know that her spontaneous gesture must have surprised him.
Knowing Darnelle would page her every two minutes until she showed up in his office; she reached out to briefly squeeze her husband's hand before darting toward the door.
"I'll see you later," she called over her shoulder. As she stepped outside into the bright afternoon sun, she tried to focus on the rest of the day ahead, but knew she was going to be terribly distracted by Steve until she'd had a chance to satisfy her curiosity.
Lonnie pushed open the swinging gate and headed back toward the office without sparing so much as a glance toward Sweet and LuAnn as they sat near the radio desk. He wondered if perhaps his mind was playing some kind of strange trick on him. 'Was that really Steve, after all these years? What could he possibly be back in Sparta for now?'
Preoccupied as he was, he didn't miss the, "Uh-oh," issued by Sweet.
Lonnie pretended he didn't hear a thing and went straight to the office, settling himself behind his desk as he tried to focus on the afternoon's work. He realized that not greeting his fellow officers had been a mistake when first Sweet, then LuAnn, appeared in the doorway.
Willson Sweet had only been back with the Sparta Police Department a few months, and while Lonnie was thrilled his friend once again felt comfortable enough in Sparta to rejoin the force and become Sparta's second detective, it was during moments like this when Lonnie remembered that it was far easier to keep one's thoughts private when close friends weren't around. He studiously ignored his friend as Sweet sauntered into the office and propped himself against the old writing desk next to the door.
"Do I detect the honeymoon is finally over?" Sweet needled.
"I don't know what you're talkin' about, you old busy body," Lonnie grumped, refusing to look up from the files spread across his blotter.
"I'm not sure I do either, Sweet," LuAnn said skeptically.
"Note," Sweet began, "the subject's unusual post-lunch behavior. Now, normally, when he's able to slip away to have lunch with a particularly tall, leggy red-head we know, he returns with a certain...shall we say, bounce in his step. Today, however, he's seems..." Sweet trailed off, pretending to search for the right word.
Lonnie sighed, finally looking up at the two of them. "Are you havin' fun?"
"Cranky?" LuAnn supplied.
"I was gonna say 'annoyed,' but cranky works," Sweet nodded agreeably. "And so I come back to my original question..."
"Is the honeymoon over?" LuAnn finished.
"It is an interesting question. If for no other reason than if the answer is 'yes' you and I'll both know we're gonna be livin' hard around here for a while."
Lonnie groaned. If he didn't stop Sweet now, there was no telling what tangent his friend would take off on next. "If you two're done with your Masterpiece Theatre over there, there just might be some work around here for you to do. If you have a hard time findin' any, I'm sure I can help..."
Sweet held up a hand in surrender, but his grin hadn't entirely disappeared. "Seriously, man, what's goin' on? You were in a better mood when you left. Is everything okay?"
Lonnie sighed again, too preoccupied to hide the truth from someone who knew him as well as Sweet did. "Guess who walked into the restaurant as we were gettin' ready to leave?"
"Preston Donner?" Sweet guessed.
Lonnie laughed in spite of himself. "No, but that's a good guess. The man does annoy me. Actually it was Steve."
"Steve?" Sweet and LuAnn questioned simultaneously.
"Steve Jamison," Lonnie said, giving Sweet a meaningful look.
Sweet's jaw dropped. LuAnn clearly didn't understand, but Sweet did.
"No way!" Sweet exclaimed. "Your brother? Wow."
Lonnie quirked an eyebrow toward the ceiling. "Seems he just happened to walk into the restaurant we were eatin' at..."
Sweet crossed his arms over his chest and shook his head. "Of all the gin joints in all the world..."
"Somethin' like that."
LuAnn waved a hand to attract their attention before interrupting. "Whoa. Wait a minute. I didn't even know you had a brother."
Lonnie nodded. "Exactly. I haven't talked to him in twelve years. I haven't seen him in almost seventeen. He didn't stay in Sparta ten minutes after we buried Mama. So I gotta wonder what he's doin' here now."
Before he could continue, Lonnie's phone rang. He glanced at the display panel and grinned as he recognized the number. This was a call he had expected. "Hang on a second, guys," he said before greeting his caller. "Hey."
"Hi, handsome. I know you don't wanna talk about it right now, but I just wanted to check on you. You fine?"
The note of gentle concern in his wife's voice soothed some of the chagrin he'd felt since Steve walked into the restaurant. "Yeah," he answered softly. "Thanks."
"What do you think he wants?"
"No clue," Lonnie snorted. Pausing a moment to consider the possible implications Steve's return to Sparta could have, he sighed. "I guess I might be willin' to find out. Or maybe not. I don't know yet."
In the brief second of silence that followed his comment, his mind's eye could perfectly picture the wry quirk of her eyebrow as she listened to that remark. "Well, he really can't ask for more than that after all this time. See you later?"
"Yep," Lonnie answered. He returned the receiver to its cradle just as Chief Forbes stepped into the office.
Forbes looked at each of them in turn before noting, "You guys look like you're up to somethin'. Did someone win the lottery?"
"No, sir," LuAnn assured him as she slipped behind him and headed back to the radio desk. "If I'd won the lottery, you would not be lookin' at my face right now."
Lonnie glared pointedly at Sweet as the Chief asked, "Is there somethin' goin' on I should know about?"
Sweet held up a hand again, this time as if to reassure Lonnie he'd keep his mouth shut. "No, sir," Sweet echoed before turning to follow LuAnn out the door.
Forbes looked back over his shoulder, then to Lonnie, before shaking his head. "Ooookay," he said in that tone that indicated he knew they were lying to him and didn't really want to know what about in this instance. As he crossed toward his desk, Forbes was quick to get back to business.
"So, Detective," Forbes began. "Bubba tells me we may be closin' in on our suspect in the Elizabeth Hodges case. What's the latest?"
Lonnie was only too glad to have some help focusing on work so he could push the uncomfortable wrinkle that had arisen in his personal life out of his mind for the rest of the afternoon.
'Quaint,' Steve thought to himself as he stood outside the library surveying Main Street. 'This is just how I remember it. Sparta is still as sweet and quaint as it ever was.'
In Steve's book, the words sweet and quaint had never been accolades. An afternoon's worth of research had answered some of his questions, but the others would have to be answered at City Hall. The two-year old obituary told him that his Aunt Cordelia died in a night club 'of all places,' during a Ches Collins show. 'The old bird may have been more fun than I gave her credit for.'
Steve removed the photo-copied obituary he'd secured at the library from his pocket and looked at it again. Lonnie was listed among the survivors, but he was not. He didn't suppose that surprised him very much, and he certainly wasn't offended. It wasn't the obituary that mattered to him. What mattered was the money. 'Now that I know where it is, how can I get at it?'
Steve raised a hand to smooth his wind-ruffled hair before heading down the block to the courthouse. What did surprise him was that more than a decade's absence from Sparta hadn't dimmed his memory of the place. Parts of town showed significant growth, but the area surrounding the town square seemed frozen in time.
Even the people seemed the same. The very same librarian that had served the community when he and Lonnie were young – Mrs. Edwin Robinson – was still behind the library counter, collecting late fines and giving out library cards to the town's children. Steve supposed that whatever chemicals publishers used to preserve the pages must be doing a pretty good job of preserving Mrs. Robinson too.
It had surprised him only a little that the old woman placed him after a few minutes, automatically referring to him as 'Stevie' – his mother's nickname for him. When he'd asked for a copy of his "Auntie Cora's" obituary, Mrs. Robinson had patted his hand sympathetically, gently admonished him for staying away from home for so long, and happily helped him find what he needed. She'd also been only too willing to discuss the details of the funeral of Sparta's grand dame, and casually mentioned the fact that Lonnie had inherited substantial wealth and property with his aunt's passing.
It had taken every scrap of self-control he had not to sputter at that piece of news, but the old woman had hardly seemed to notice. She went on to tell him that since Cordelia Woodlin's death, Lonnie hadn't touched any of his inheritance.
Mrs. Robinson claimed that Lonnie had been unable to decide what to do with the wealth left to him – "Comin' from a modest upbringin' like y'all did an' all..." – and was considering selling everything. However, since he'd been unable to decide what to do with the proceeds even if he did find a buyer, Lonnie had so far left everything just as it was before the grand lady passed.
With this interesting bit of information in mind, Steve made his way toward the courthouse. He wanted to see a copy of Cordelia's will so he'd know exactly how the property and other assets had been distributed.
Steve would have preferred that Grant's family or someone else had inherited the bulk of Cordelia's estate. If that were the case, it would be easier for him to do what he had to than if he had to take the money he needed from his own brother. But he also knew his options were limited. It would only be a matter of time before his past caught up with him, and he planned to be long gone from Sparta before that happened. He didn't want to hurt Lonnie – he truly didn't – regardless of however stormy their relationship had been when they were children. But if it came down to it, his instinct for self-preservation would take over. He was certain of that much.
Steve jogged up the front steps of the city courthouse and followed the small sign pointing downstairs toward the Office of Records. The office was much like he'd have expected for an historical building in a town like Sparta - small and worn. A smallish woman with mousy brown hair and thick glasses stood behind the counter arguing with a large, heavy-set man in a green John Deere cap as Steve entered the outer office.
"I'm sorry, Sir, but there's just nothin' more I can do for you today. I told you – a deed that old isn't going to be in this office. It's gonna be over at the warehouse."
"Fine! Just tell me who I need to speak to at the warehouse and I'll go over there and take care of it myself."
"You can't take care of it yourself," the clerk said stubbornly. "The building's locked up tight. Someone from our office will have to make arrangements to go over there and find it. You can call back in a few weeks to see if we've been able to get it yet."
"Look, lady," the man huffed. "I need a copy of that deed right away to settle a dispute over Mama's farm. I've got to have it right now. This is important!"
As the man's volume rose, so did the red color in his cheeks and neck, and Steve watched as the much smaller woman flinched backward. He thought she stood her ground admirably under the circumstances.
"Well, sir, if your mother's been gone as many years as you say she has, and you've been able to make it this long without a copy of that deed, I reckon you'll be able to manage a few more weeks. Please come back around the end of the month and we may have something for you by then."
Steve hid the smirk that rose to his lips as the man turned around, cast a challenging glare in Steve's general direction, and stomped out of the office. Steve turned back toward the woman behind the counter and was about to speak just as a tall, elegant woman with ebony skin and silver hair stepped around the corner into the records office.
"Melanie," the woman said from her spot by the door. "Could you step into my office for a minute, please?"
"Yes, Mrs. Weeks," the clerk said as she hurried around the edge of the counter. "Excuse me just one moment," she said to Steve. "I'll be right back."
He nodded, taking a seat on the bench just inside the door as the woman hurried by. He counted to three, stood up quickly, and peered around the corner out into the hallway. The clerk was on the heels of the older woman, hands waving frantically as she tried to explain the altercation she'd just had.
Steve knew how to make the most of an opportunity when it presented itself. Quickly he sneaked behind the counter and looked around. The area in front of him seemed to be largely administrative. The records must be behind the door to his right.
Taking another quick look over his shoulder, he ducked through the door and closed it softly behind him. As he'd hoped, the filing cabinets in the musty room were clearly labeled. He made his way to the "Wills" section and found the drawer marked "W" and gave it a tug. The drawer resisted for just a second before creaking and allowing him to pull it open.
Steve's sharp eyes scanned the names, quickly finding the one he wanted – Woodlin, Cordelia Simmons. He snatched the file from the drawer and started toward the copy machine in the corner.
Before Steve had time to copy the first page, he heard the faint clicking of high-heeled shoes drawing near. As he gave the file drawer a shove with his foot, he tucked the manila folder in the top of his pants and buttoned his blazer over it. He raced out of the filing room, closed the door quietly behind him, and ducked around the counter as the sound of Mousy Melanie's heels drew closer.
By the time Melanie came back through the doorway, Steve had reclaimed his seat on the bench and pretended to wait with his hands folded patiently in front of him.
She smiled at him apologetically before crossing to her post behind the counter. "I'm awful sorry about that. What can I help you with today?"
Steve favored her with his most winning smile. "Oh I understand, ma'am. That wasn't your fault. Some folks just ain't neighborly, are they?"
Her cheeks colored slightly as she ducked her head in embarrassment. "No, I suppose they're not."
"Well," Steve assured her as he stood up and closed the distance between himself and the counter. He leaned toward her casually. "I just have one little question for you today."
"Oh, alright," she said. "Ask anything you like."
Flashing his dimpled smile once more, he leaned a littler farther over the counter and lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "Do I need a court order to obtain a copy of a will if I want to contest the distribution of property therein?"
The clerk looked shocked that after the last encounter, this was such a simple question for her to answer. "Yes. You do."
Steve nodded gravely, pretending that this was heavy news. "Why, thank you kindly, ma'am. You've been most helpful. Y'all have a nice day now."
As Steve made his way back toward the staircase, he paused to stop and wink at the clerk over his shoulder. He had to bite his tongue to keep from snickering at the flush that sprang to the woman's cheeks.