Disclaimer: None of this belongs to me except for some OC's – I take them out, we play – then tired and happy I send them home..
The search had been dirty, and long; and the results they'd expected were still eluding them.
Frank Hardy wiped the sweat from his face without thinking, then grimaced at the fetid odour of garbage his gloved hand left across his forehead. Garbage detail; he shook his head at his questionable luck at his latest assignment.
He turned quickly to see a muscularly built blond man rapidly approaching and cringed inwardly.
"Yeah boss" he answered, trying not to sound too frustrated.
"Report! You got anything yet?"
Frank shook his head, stifling his fatigue. "No, nothing yet…"
"Well, get moving then! I'm not paying you overtime just so you can drag the chain, Detective!" the newcomer spat the last word at him.
Thankfully, the crackle of a radio stopped the berating right there, as Lieutenant Bruce McGowan turned his attitude to an unlucky dispatcher. McGowan threw a final glare at Frank before storming away, hands stabbing madly and determinedly in the air, underlining his shouted orders.
Frank straightened up and stretched, a little surprised at the stab of pain in his lower back. Taking a moment to look around, he noticed most of his brethren had given up the task and some were even enjoying a hot drink around the back of the unit van.
Catching his eye, a couple of them smirked and raised their mugs to toast him sarcastically. Frank swallowed his rising resentment. It had always been this way but to show them that they were getting to him wasn't worth it; only Joe was worth it and that was all that mattered. Whatever the sacrifice he was making now didn't matter in the long run.
Seeing the number of dumpsters that still needed to be searched, he crouched again and continued the arduous task of filtering through the obnoxious refuse. They were looking for the gun used in a murder case. A police informant had tipped them off that it could found in this refuse plant. There had been sizeable groans around the squad room when the overtime for the search had been approved but Frank had already known he'd be the one waist deep in excrement doing the bad ones if his workmates had their way.
Some days he wished he'd never joined the police force; some days he admitted to himself that his brother had been right. He shook his head as his thoughts wandered to Joe. No, he wasn't about to tell him that; Joe worried about him enough, he didn't need any further burden levied on his shoulders; the load he'd managed to heap on himself over the years was more than anyone should ever have to carry. Frank continued doggedly at his task. No, he wasn't going to add to it.
After a further grueling couple of hours the elusive fire-am was located. Frank sighed with relief that the informant had been correct with his information. Towards the end of the search he'd really started to wonder if this had been staged just to give him something revolting to do.
Get a grip Hardy, you're starting to get too paranoid Frank thought silently.
McGowan was marginally happy, but still rebuked his men for taking far too long and kept his glare fixed on Frank as he did so for most of the tirade. Frank only half listened, having heard the speech too many times to count. He focused instead on the thought of a long hot shower, with soap, that would wash away the stench of unidentifiable rotting matter.
"… and Hardy, I want the report on my desk first thing in the morning." McGowan had turned his surly attitude back in his direction. The snickering around him was normal; Frank was the whipping boy of the department and McGowan relished the task of riding him.
"Not a problem" he answered evenly. It pissed McGowan off when he kept his emotions in check and rarely let the man see that his comments or orders caused any kind of consternation. It was a small victory but it was satisfying enough.
Frank turned to the van and climbed in the back. Closing his eyes as they pulled out of the refuse plant, he willed his mind to better days.
In the year he'd worked for the department, Frank had prided himself on not having shown too much of anything to McGowan or his predecessor. There were times when things had been good, but that wasn't here. When he started his career with the Bayport police and Ezra Collig had still been the chief he'd been happy that his decision had been the right one and somehow it dulled the pain to know that. Now he knew his stoic resistance to crumbling under the pressure being applied was starting to wane, and he wondered how much longer it would be before he couldn't keep up anymore.
After Chief Collig's retirement and a good few years of experience, Frank had decided to move to the "big apple", New York. It had always been a dream of his, to walk the same pathway his father had. He didn't need to make his father proud of him, he'd known all his life that his father was, but the pull to become as good as Fenton Hardy had been meant for Frank to do the same "hard yards" and to put the time into learning his craft from the bottom up; and a good place to start seemed to be New York, just as his father had.
Some days he wished his father was still alive; to be able to talk to him, share his experiences, but in a way he was glad he wasn't there, wouldn't see the way he was actually being treated. It was going to be a long road but he wasn't giving up anytime soon.
The feel of the hot water and soap sliding over his cold aching body was blissful. Never had standard issue no-name soap smelled so good. He vowed to never take a shower for granted again.
He closed out the bantering around him and enjoyed the moment. If anything, he was pleased that he was basically ignored. To him, the only person that he'd banter that much with would be Joe – but that had been a lifetime ago. It just served to add to the ache within his soul.
Getting back to his desk in the squad room dissipated his moment of relaxation from the shower; his desk was piled high with more paperwork than he'd expected. Being the most junior detective in the squad had its drawbacks. Mostly his "peers" if he could laughingly call them that, resented him for who he was - and who his father had been. In Bayport he'd been accepted as a hard working genuine person who's work ethic was always to try and do the right thing, even if it meant going an extra mile or working in his own time. It had been well known in Bayport that if the Hardy boys were on a job it was going to be done, one way or another.
In New York he was surrounded by career cops who'd spent their whole career eeking out an existence, hoping for a break but getting little recognition, and then Frank Hardy came to work with them. Nobody was happy about it and everyone saw him as a spoiled brat who'd make his name and move on ahead of them. The ill will towards him had spread like wildfire through the precinct. It made no difference how hard Frank worked, McGowan's predecessor had known and resented Fenton Hardy from their rookie days together, and McGowan himself had carried on the dislike.
Joe had told him forever to get out of the job, to move on, but Frank had resisted; he'd started down this path and felt strongly that he was going to make a go of it whether he was accepted or not. The argument would always be the same with Frank quietly determined and Joe finally blowing his stack and walking away.
Frank felt for him but also longed for the day when Joe would accept none of this was his fault. When the boys had both still been teenagers their parents had been killed in a boating accident on one of the rare vacations they'd managed to take together. Frank and Joe had been left the house, as expected but still there was a need for income and a steady home life; Joe needed to go to college. Frank changed his own plans and became the bread winner, opting to study at night school. Joe had always felt guilty but there was little he could do about it. Frank would always pull out the trump card and tell him how much this would have meant to their parents.
Frank turned suddenly from his paperwork to see Mack, his partner, standing beside his desk. He hadn't even heard him come in he'd been so engrossed in what he was doing.
"Hey yourself" he replied carefully. Partner he may be - on paper, but still this man was wary of him and reported directly to McGowan.
"What's the boss gotcha doin' now?"
"Just the paperwork on tonight's seizure; you know, the Laudner case." Frank told him, keeping his eyes on the paperwork before him. He didn't need to look at Mack to know he was keenly watching him, hoping for a hint of a complaint that could be taken back to McGowan.
"Yeah, … sorry about that… heard it was pretty bad… I had a thing to do, ya know, couldn't be there…" his voice trailed off as Frank turned and nodded politely.
"Oh well, I'm sure you've done your fair share of these, Mack"
Mack narrowed his eyes. "You ok pardner?" he drawled. "You look a little …"
Frank shook his head good naturedly; much more good naturedly than he really felt at the middle aged, overweight, overbearing and lazy excuse for a detective before him. "Just a long day is all… I'm good" Frank told him and then turned back to his paperwork.
He waited, wondering if this would be the first time that Mack offered to help him. There was more chance of the Pope not being a Catholic but still Frank wondered if the day would ever come.
"Well, if you've got it all covered here then…. I'll leave ya to it." Frank smiled inwardly. Mack would never actually "offer" to help but rather "allow" himself to be asked, then he could magnanimously give of his time, and tell you all about his experience, which Frank had heard from him time and time again.
"Yeah Mack, I got it covered, just a little paperwork… I really want to finish it up while it's still fresh in my mind ya know?" he mimicked Mack's drawl just a little.
Mack raised his eyebrows before turning to leave the squad room.
Frank turned his attention back to the report before him and took a deep breath. Working nights was not a new thing to him and when he'd worked with his father and brother all those years ago there were more than a few "all nighters" pulled in the line of solving a case.
As he worked he smiled to himself that he'd not having risen to any of the bait he'd been thrown. McGowan was itching to give him a lousy review and any kind of outburst was what he was looking for. Even a roll of the eyes, a dark look, it wouldn't take much for McGown to bust him out of the division. The rule was simple; anything done well meant credit given to McGowan. Anything not done well… Frank had held his breath for months that the "not done well" things never got "really really bad".
The buzzing of his cell phone startled him. Checking his watch he was surprised to see it was nearing 2:00am.
"Frank Hardy" he said quickly, flipping the phone open without looking at the caller ID display.
"Hey big brother…" Frank smiled at the sound of Joe's voice on the line.
"Hey little brother…" he replied warmly, then quickly added: "Are you Ok?" He could literally hear Joe's eye's rolling and clearly heard the heavy sigh.
"Yeah Frank, I'm good… oh! – sorry; just realized how late it was for you… We just got back from.. a job and well, wanted to let you know I'm back in circulation for a bit."
Franks spirits rose dramatically. He was always worried when Joe was away working and often wondered if this is what it had been like for his parents when he and Joe would disappear undercover for periods of time. "Cool, are you in town yet?" he asked hopefully.
"Nah… soon I think, but not yet."
Frank knew better than to ask. Joe had sailed through college and set his sights on the Secret Service and had succeeded to build a career in their organization. The downside was that it was secret and though the boys were close and trusted each other implicitly, Joe could never talk about the sensitive stuff. Frank didn't prod for more than Joe could tell him. Joe felt bad about it but Frank was proud that Joe was honoring his commitment to the oath he'd taken.
"Anyway…" Joe continued, "watcha doing up at this hour anyway?"
Frank grinned. "You phoned me, brat! – Of course I'm up."
Joe chuckled. "That – and I bet you're at the precinct anyway aren't you? – oh, and I'll save you the embarrassment of catching you out in white lie, I've already rung your apartment several times and you're obviously not answering… care to share?"
Frank let out a deep sigh. "Nah, nothing I can really say; just working on paperwork that's due first thing… I'm almost finished and heading off in a minute. When am I going to get to see you?"
"I'll give you a call on that, works a little busy at the minute… go finish your report, I'll talk to you later." Joe told him lightly.
Frank smiled. "Thanks for the call Joe, - it's good to hear from you,"
"Are you sure you're - " Joe started before Frank interrupted.
"'Night Joe" Frank chuckled, flipping the phone shut.
His mood had lightened considerably and he smiled to himself as he finished printing out the last of the report. He'd learned to be careful, printing at least two or even sometimes three copies of the reports and setting them in blank department folders. More than once a report he'd placed on the boss's desk had "vanished" by morning leaving McGowan roaring at him and Frank scrambling to try and re-print it. On one of those occasion he'd found his computer access compromised right at that moment and worse, sometimes his files had been mysteriously deleted.
That had been when he was still very green. Now he encrypted his files, copied them to his own remote drive and prepared extra report copies that he filed away secretly in his desk.
He still enjoyed the memory of the day that McGowan had roared at him for a "missing" file, making accusations at Frank of not having done the work. Frank had calmly walked to his desk and taken out a fresh copy and handed it to a red faced McGowan. Frank had decided to add a little oil to the fire in those days and lightly told McGowan that it would be a good idea to look after that one, that he was sure if he checked he'd find his computer files had miraculously vanished and it would take an hour or two to have it re-typed. That was when he thought he could make a difference to the way he was treated and even more naively believed that the squad was a team.
The fallout had been severe. Frank had been given the nightshift for months, and every rotten job, every floater in the river that came in - was his. McGowan's reach was far and it was well known in the department, shitty detail equaled the Hardy boy.
Taking a last look around the squad room for the night, Frank turned the lights out and left. Tomorrow was another day and he was due back at the station in less than six hours.
Though tired and feeling washed out after the late night overtime Frank was glad that he'd put the hours in to finish the paperwork when he did rather than try and get in early. To his surprise the day improved dramatically when the morning squad briefing revealed a new assignment for him; in Bayport.
At first he thought it must have just been fatigue that made him think he heard "Bayport" but grudgingly McGowan called upon him during the briefing for local knowledge. The suspects in the Loudner case had done a runner and there had been possible sightings in the Bayport area. Frank marveled at just how much it grated on McGowan's nerves to assign him to the case.
They needed to send "somebody" to work with the Bayport Police. It was a no-brainer that since they had a detective with local knowledge that he'd be the logical choice. He'd left Frank on the most innocuous of cases for so long that there was nothing pressing to keep him in New York. Not even McGowan could ignore that nor find a way out of it; he wasn't quite that friendly with the Chief Commissioner.
"Don't let me down on this one Hardy, I'll be watching you." McGowan pointed his finger menacingly at the young detective. Frank watched his superior stomp back to his desk, his face red and flustered as he started to dial the phone.
Frank couldn't have cared less what the threats or insults or backlash from his peers were at the moment, he was going home, and it startled him to realize just how much he wanted to do that. No McGowan, no Mack, no shit from the others… just home.
As he packed what he'd need from his desk he became aware of Mack's eyes burning through his back. He turned and gave his partner a quizzical look.
"What's up Mack?" Frank watched him for a few seconds expecting some kind of complaint about how it wasn't right, fair and all the rest of the bitching Frank had heard since the briefing.
Mack stared a moment then pursed his lips slightly. "Nuttin' kid; best you watchya back up there."
Frank nodded, frantically trying to look less excited about his impeding secondment.
"Hmm… Thanks Mack, I'll be sure to…" He couldn't help but hold Mack's gaze a moment longer.
The ruddy faced man before him said nothing more, just continuing to stare with narrowed eyes. Frank tried to ignore the stale cigarette smoke and bourbon on his breath. There were few members of force that could look as unkempt as Mack did and not be chewed out by their superiors. Mack made "rumpled" look like an art form.
Frank bit his top lip as he turned to leave and on a whim patted Mack on the shoulder as he passed him. "Well, if you've got it all covered here then…. I'll leave ya to it."
From the venom dripping down his spine he knew there would surely be ramifications for his sarcasm, but not today and oddly for once Frank didn't fear what would be, for today he was free - and on Department time. He grinned at how much that alone would be getting under McGowan's skin.
Walking back into Bayport Police Station warmed Frank more than he could have imagined; he hadn't realized just how emotional he was at the moment as tears threatened to prick his eyes. Taking a deep breath and bending down to check his shoelaces he pulled himself together.
"Hey Frank!" the desk Sergeant called out, seeing him for the first time.
"Hey Tom" Frank straightened up and went straight over to shake the older man's hand. "How's it going?"
"Yeah, yeah – it's Bayport, ya know, not as exciting as New York I'm sure but still we have our fair share of things on the go." Tom smiled warmly and grabbed Frank's shoulders to hold him out at arms length. Beaming he shook his head at the young man before him "You're a sight for sore eyes Frank Hardy; It's just so good to see you back, are you staying long? How's that brother of yours going – keeping out of trouble? – I bet he isn't; wouldn't be Joe if he was!" Tom laughed loudly at his own joke and before Frank could answer even one of his questions he was grabbed into a bear hug.
Frank marveled at how good it felt to be really welcome somewhere. He hugged Tom back and couldn't wipe the smile from his face. Tom let him go finally after much back slapping but then quickly put his arm around Frank's shoulders and guided him firmly around the desk and into the station.
"C'mon son, there are people here who have missed you and want to say hello."
Frank felt a fleeting pang of sadness when Tom referred to him as "son". The last person to call him that had been his father and hearing it now was like giving a beer to an alcoholic.
Take care of things son, we'll be home in a couple of weeks… his father's voice echoed in his memory.
The rest of the morning was spent catching up with old friends and being introduced to new police members. Frank kept looking over his shoulder expecting McGowan to come through the door and roar at him for wasting time chatting. By lunchtime the social time had ended and they were all down to work, briefing each other on the case that was now being worked on by the two precincts.
It took Frank all his resolve not to go out searching down the leads they had, and he had to forcibly reign himself in on more than once occasion when he almost voiced his intentions. There were Bayport police officers to do that; he was there to liaise, not to do their legwork. For now his job was here at the station.
After a long but satisfying day Frank drove to Elm Street and braced himself for the lurch he always felt, seeing his family home again. For a brief moment he always looked for his and Joe's van, or his father's car in the driveway; for a brief moment he refused to let reality tell him it would never be that way again and for a brief moment he would still hope. It was always the same, it killed him inside a little more each visit finding the house as quiet as a tomb, locked up, empty - silently waiting.
He called in next door to the neighbors' to let them know he was staying a few days and after promises of sharing a meal and further visiting whilst he was there he finally made it to his own front door.
He found his hands shaking as he tried to insert the old familiar key in the lock and couldn't help the tears that started to blur his vision when the familiar smell of his home met him. If he closed his eyes for just a moment and waited then perhaps he'd hear his mother's voice call out, or hear his father in his study. If he concentrated for just a moment he'd smell dinner cooking in the welcoming homey kitchen. Instead there was silence.
Not for the first time that day he took another fortifying breath and headed into the house. He and Joe had both decided they were unable to face selling the house and though neither lived there full time they kept it maintained as it had been, and visited, usually together when they could, or needed to.
Leaving his bag at the door and resisting the urge to call out "I'm home", he quietly made his way into the main living area, ignoring the closed doors along the hallway. The lump in his throat grew when the room came into view and he tried desperately not to let his grief overwhelm him again.
The dust sheets loomed like silent white ghosts hanging motionless in the air and a memory flashed back into Frank's head from his childhood; "Casper the Ghost". He chuckled at the thought and was startled at how his voice echoed. Shaking his head and taking in yet another deep breath he uncovered the living room furniture then opened windows to let in some fresh air.
The boys had been lucky; the Ryan's next door had insisted on popping in at odd times to keep an eye on the place, keeping it dusted and maintained. Mrs Ryan had argued with the boys that she wanted them always to know their home was waiting for them whenever they'd be coming home. Deep down Frank knew she meant "home for good" but for now this would have to do.
The boys had protested that she didn't need to trouble herself, but thanked her profusely and handed over a set of keys. It was hard to think of another woman cleaning their mother's house - but deep down they understood it was something Mrs. Ryan needed to do too; she and Laura had been friends for over thirty years, she wasn't ready to let go yet either. On the up-side it meant the boys always found the house neat and clean on their return, only having to switch on the refrigerator and stock the kitchen.
A quick tour of the house left Frank unable to control his tears any longer. There was always a need to check the house regardless of the Ryan's efforts and he knew he'd not be able to rest until he'd walked every inch. He hadn't really wanted to see their old rooms, his parents room, his fathers study, but he couldn't not do it, each room holding the same promise of "maybe", "maybe" it was all a bad dream and if he wished really, really hard… he opened the door to the next silent room.
The pain was enormous as he stood in each empty room and let his tears flow unchecked. It'd been years but still the pain was as fresh as it had been the day they'd died. He was really starting to feel like he'd made a mistake by deciding to stay at the house on his own after all; perhaps a motel would have been better.
The sound of a key in the door brought him from his thoughts with a rush and with heart pounding he made a beeline for the entry.
"Frank, ya here yet?" Frank rolled his eyes and shook his head at the sound of Joe's voice.
"Joe! – what the hell are you doing here?" Frank grabbed him and hugged him fiercely.
Joe had been trying to manhandle his bags through the door when Frank grabbed him and he stumbled into the hug.
"Steady on bro! – I only spoke to you last night man!" he laughed, wondering what had spooked his brother to react quite this enthusiastically.
When Frank released him Joe could see the tear streaked face and nodded; knowing the problem straight away. "Sorry, thought I might have been able to get here before you had to … you know… come in and everything."
Frank nodded, his bottom lip trembling a little. "Never gets any easier Joe, I hadn't given it a thought, what it would be like, until I put the key in the door…"
Joe nodded, looking around for himself. "Yeah… I still keep thinking I'll hear mom calling out…." Frank nodded silently, tears threatening to spill again.
Joe sighed quickly and picked up his dropped bags. "Ok, well, anyway we're here and we're together so let's get settled in…, you got food yet?"
Frank rolled his eyes and laughed. "Trust you, always hungry… no, I've just gotten here a little while ago… checked the house over, seems it's all good." He turned away and headed to the kitchen leaving Joe to do his own wandering. "We've still got tinned food but we're going to have to do a trip to the market for anything else… what are you doing here anyway?" Frank called out as he checked the cupboards.
"I heard on the grapevine you were going to be here and I thought I'd spend a few days… you know…" Frank spun around at the nearness of Joe's voice. Joe raised an eyebrow questioningly. "So, back to my original question…are you ok bro?"
Frank stopped and closed his eyes, resting his forearms on the counter top, letting his eyes drift to the garden beyond the window. "Yeah Joe, I'm ok… just got a lot on my mind… work and stuff."
Joe stood languidly in the door way, his ankles and arms crossed. His steady blue eyes never leaving his brother. "Yeah… I can see that."
"What do you mean you heard it on the grapevine?" Frank asked quietly.
Joe smiled conspiratorially. "I have my ways, bro."
Frank straightened up suddenly and smiled tiredly at Joe. "You want Pizza? it's been a long day and I've hardly eaten." Franks attempt at changing the subject worked.
Joe smiled and nodded, uncrossing his ankles and making way for Frank to leave the kitchen. "Sounds good, let's go." Frank didn't see Joe's thoughtful furrowed brows as he followed him to the car.
The two young men spent an easy evening at Mr. Prito's pizza place and laughed more than either of them had in a long time. Mr. Prito made a royal fuss of them, catching them up on news of Tony and Chet and other old friends. Some of them were still in Bayport and Frank and Joe were eager to be able to catch up with them this trip.
"How long are you staying this time?" Mr. Prito asked after plying them with seconds on dessert and coffee.
"Only a few…" Frank started to say but was cut off by Joe.
" – weeks we think at the moment Mr. Prito" Joe said easily.
Frank glared lightly at his brother; he hated it when Joe spoke for him. "Well, perhaps Joe will be here that long but I think I'll be heading back a little sooner than that."
Mr. Prito nodded enthusiastically. "It's like old times having you boys here again!" There was more laughing and talking before Frank and Joe excused themselves blaming an early start for Frank in the morning and played up the fact that they'd both been travelling that day. Mr. Prito quickly let them go after they promised they'd be back to see him again.
Getting back to the house was a silent affair. Joe drove, marginally surprised that Frank hadn't actually argued the fact; not in the slightest. They both murmured when they saw their home come into view.
"Looks better doesn't it?" Joe remarked, referring to the welcoming glow of the porch light and a couple of internal lights they'd left on.
Frank nodded, drinking in the sight, his heart aching. "Yeah… much better now."
The business of making beds and unpacking bags gave Frank the out not to have to discuss anything too much and before long both men made their way to their old rooms and said goodnight. Joe let him go easily, not pushing the subject any further. Instead he lay in the dark wondering how bad things had become to make his brother so emotionally unstable.
They'd been on their own for quite some years now and though both boys missed their parents and their old family life, he really had thought both of them had grieved and learned to move on. After today he wasn't so sure… He wasn't so sure about a lot of things.
The morning was brilliant. That would be really brilliant. Frank had forgotten just how bright his room was first thing in the morning with the warmth of the rising sun waking him early. Laying for a minute he had to get his bearing as to where he was and actually wondered for a brief moment if this had really been all a dream.
Yesterdays flooded back for him and for a few more minutes he closed his eyes and enjoyed the warmth and softness of his old bed. If only we could all go back … He didn't often let his memories come to the fore but being in the house now with Joe was bringing things back he hadn't felt in a long time; things he hadn't let himself feel.
The sound of running water in the bathroom that connected their rooms surprised him; the thought that Joe was actually up at this hour shocked the hell out of him. He padded across the floor to the bathroom door and knocked gently.
"Hey, whichever alien you are that's taken my brother, can you give him back now please?" Frank asked in an innocent voice.
"Oh funny Frank, very funny…" Frank laughed at the muffled reply that only meant that Joe was in the process of brushing his teeth.
Frank set about getting his clothes out for that day and busied himself until he heard Joe's door click on the other side. He showered, shaved and dressed before heading downstairs.
Joe met him in the dining room, car keys in hand. "We've got a problem" he stated simply.
Frank felt his stomach lurch and his eyes darted around the room quickly. "What? What's happened?"
Joe raised his eyebrows expectantly. "Chill out bro, gosh I was just going to say we've got no milk, no coffee and nothing to make breakfast with…" He watched Frank visibly relax.
"Yeah, I know, I was going to head over to the market …" Frank started before Joe stopped him.
"Yeah well, why don't we go out and eat now and I'll take care of the whole grocery thing today while you do the whole working thing; after all, I'm the man of leisure here."
Frank nodded, thinking the plan out as he did. "Sounds good… you still haven't told me why you're here though… man of leisure?"
Joe smiled his easy boyish smile that Frank had missed so much. "Yeah well, I told you I was back from a thing didn't I? - just decided to take a little time off."
Frank tilted his head and narrowed his eyes at him, reaching out to stop him from passing through the doorway. "Yeah, I heard that bit, but what about the whole thing of being so snowed under at work at the moment?"
Joe shrugged his shoulders, his face passive. "Plans change man, chill for goodness sakes…I've got time off, you wanna spend the whole time talking work or what? C'mon, I need coffee." He pushed gently passed Frank, patting him on the shoulder.
Frank watched him for a moment then followed him out to the car, locking the house and resetting the house alarm as he went. "Yeah, but you still haven't told me; if you're not an alien impersonating my brother, what kind of torture did they inflict on you to have you get up so early in the morning."
Joe gave him a withering look and feigned disgust. "You are just so funny you know that?" Frank smiled, then laughed and tossled Joe's hair as he had when they were younger. "It's good to have you here Joe, for however long you've got."
The next few days flew for Frank and couldn't help but feel he'd been transported back in time. Working with the Bayport Police was so comfortable and he easily slipped into the old rhythm, even the dark cloud of having to return to New York eventually couldn't spoil his current mood.
His nights were spent hanging out with Joe and catching up with friends. Every night was a late night with a promise that tomorrow night wouldn't be, but it always was. It was obvious to each of them how much good it was doing for the other just to be there and be together again.
The surprise for Frank was getting a call from Ezra Collig. He smiled warmly at the familiar voice on the phone.
"Frank, son, I heard you were back from the big smoke, come over and see me when you've got the time, in fact, you and Joe come for dinner tonight, can you?"
Frank agreed readily and it wasn't until he'd hung up the phone that he wondered what the Chief wanted. To most it would have sounded like a casual invitation but to Frank he knew it had been more than that.
He quickly called Joe and left a message on the answering machine for him to call him back, biting his lip when he heard his father's voice on the answering machine tape. Maybe it hadn't been such a good idea to plug the old machine back in while they were home. He made a mental note to change the tape; well, maybe.
Dinner at the Collig house was wonderful. Mrs. Collig had gone all out and prepared a fabulous roast meal with all the trimmings. By the time dessert had been served Joe lamented he'd not need to eat again for a week which of course had them all laughing loudly. Joe's love of food was well known to all that knew the Hardys.
After dinner the three men relaxed in the living room and Mrs. Collig made busy in the kitchen, clearing away the dishes. After a few minutes of idle chatting Joe excused himself to help Mrs. Collig in the kitchen. Frank had thought the Chief had wanted to speak to both of them and was mildly surprised that their host didn't stop him. Mrs. Collig readily accepted the help.
"So Frank, how's it really going in New York…?" the older man eyed him carefully.
Frank had expected the question but still felt a lump rise in his throat. "It's ok, you know, head down, working hard…" his voice trailed off when he saw Chief Collig start to shake his head.
"What?" Frank asked, unsure of the response his answer had produced.
"C'mon Frank, you're working with Lieutenant McGowan; you can't honestly tell me that you're doing ok there can you? The man is brutal, not to mention he hated your father…" Frank was stunned at the directness of the question.
"It doesn't matter" he found himself stammering slightly, "It doesn't matter because I just need time to work hard and fit in… Dad would have …" but Ezra Collig stopped him again.
"Son, …" he started gently, "You're dad wouldn't have wanted this for you… not for a minute. I know what you're trying to do but honestly Frank, don't you see that there's more to this than you realize?"
Frank stared at the floor, unable to trust himself to look directly at Chief Collig. Retired or not he'd always be "the Chief" and he'd always be Frank's superior.
"I don't understand why it has to be so hard." Frank stated simply, surprising himself that he'd spoken out loud.
"It's hard because you don't know what you've gotten yourself involved in." Ezra continued softly. "You think it's a coincidence we brought you up here?"
Frank stared in surprise. "We brought you?...but Loudner? He was…"
"Oh sure, Loudner… for goodness sake Frank did you honestly think the Bayport police couldn't sort that out without someone to 'liaise' from New York? Think about it…" Ezra stood and made his way over to a small cupboard. "Don't tell my wife" he muttered, then proceeded to pull out a bottle of Scotch and two glasses.
Frank was surprised but readily accepted the proffered glass. He wasn't a big drinker but right now he'd have taken battery acid if he'd been offered it.
"I don't understand." Frank said after his first sip, concentrating on the way the liquor burned a trail of warmth down his throat.
Ezra sighed and nodded. "I figured you were too close to the subject to see it clearly. I'd hoped it would have played out differently, but it hasn't."
At the quizzical look from Frank he continued. "Ok, here's a bit of history you more than likely don't know. McGowan and your father went through rookies together."
"Yeah, I already knew that, believe me, everyone in the precinct knows and McGowan never lets me forget it."
The Chief nodded knowingly. "But I'm assuming what you don't know is why McGowan and his predecessor hated your father so much. It's not common knowledge anymore, the files have been sealed. McGowan's own father was a dirty cop and it was your father that brought him down. That's why McGowan hated him so much and having you in his squad means he can finally have some payback."
Frank raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Dad never told me…"
"I know; but that's not the half of it, if it was just the bad blood I'd be telling you to suck it up and stand up for yourself. Hell, he's only a Lieutenant, not the Commissioner and it were that simple I'd tell you – but what you need to know is the whole precinct down there is under surveillance at the moment. There's a lot more going on than you realise and that's why you're getting kept at arms length. You're never involved in anything too big because they can't afford for you to be."
Frank felt like he'd been sucker punched. He knew his hand was shaking and quickly placed his glass on the table beside him.
"I know about the beating you took." Ezra told him quietly, his old eyes piercing Frank's soul.
Frank returned his stare for a moment. For a moment Ezra Collig thought the young man before him would crumble where he sat but in an instant he saw Frank's face turn into a mask of passiveness. Well practiced I'm sure Ezra Collig thought sadly to himself.
"Things happen Chief; that was a mugging gone wrong; I was stupid - thought I could handle it without back-up, I didn't wait, I rushed in and I paid for it. Trust me, I've learned from the experience."
"I'm sure you have; three broken ribs, a hairline fracture of the jaw, concussion… do you want me to continue?"
Frank stared at the floor. "Why would you even know this?"
The old man sighed and leaned forward resting his forearms on his knees. "Frank, I've been watching you since the day you left here… and it's not just that your dad and I were lifetime friends, it's more than that. You and Joe are family; to me, to a lot of people – whether you realize it or not; and family looks out for family."
Frank couldn't speak for the lump rising in his throat. Instead he nodded. "Thank you" he managed to whisper.
"You were being taught a lesson – never caught the guy did you? The case was taken off you and handled by another cop in the squad wasn't it? I know you don't want to believe it, but you were set up. Your service revolver disappeared in the attack as well didn't it? It's never been recovered and it hasn't surfaced in any crimes since…"
The room was silent except for the muted sounds of dishes clinking in the kitchen. Finally Frank lifted his eyes to the man before him, mask firmly in place.
"What you're telling me is McGowan's dirty? But how?... I mean I would have… I haven't…" Frank fell over his words as his thoughts swirled. He was surprised at how calmly and quietly the man before him was telling him all this. His mind started to click into place and thoughts flashed through his head.
Ezra Collig nodded silently, giving Frank time to digest what he was being told.
"Does Joe know?" Frank asked suddenly.
Ezra nodded. "More than you know… He can't tell you… but I can since I'm not technically in the Department anymore… well, not officially…"
At that moment Joe chose to re-enter the living room and the sheepish look on his face told Frank he'd heard everything from the kitchen.
"Dishes are done" he muttered, biting his lip and sitting down to face the two already seated men. Joe cringed at how pale his brother had become.
"Joe?" Frank asked breathlessly.
"Oh c'mon Frank, you know how tied up in red tape I am. I couldn't tell you, I still can't …"
Frank found for the first time in his life that he needed to put some distance between two people that he'd always been totally comfortable to be around. Right now he needed to be on his own. Apologizing suddenly he rose and stumbled for the door. Mrs. Collig was nowhere to be seen, and Frank heard himself thanking an empty kitchen for a delicious meal. He was out of the front door and walking less than two minutes after Joe had entered the room.
To be continued…