Family Ties

Chapter 4

Sly speaks

There were no more incidents of hysteria from Moses after that, and the only other effect anyone noticed was that Moses stopped climbing on top of the playground equipment whenever he got a chance. When I say on it, I mean exactly that. He didn't go in the big tubes, he climbed on them; he didn't slide on the slide but tried to swing on the sides. I resolved to get him into gymnastics when I could.

Search and rescue wasn't bad. When not in the field, they trained, and I learned a lot. I taught quite a bit, too. While almost as fun as police fieldwork, without quite as much paperwork, the rescue work did not stop me from fretting about the copycat. Carmelita was having just as much trouble with him as she had with me. Without me they were not going to take him unless he made a mistake-fat chance! But the attack from the cult was a lesson I couldn't ignore; I had a family to take care of now. I asked Jeanne about adoption again; she said, very patiently, that there was a waiting period before she could start paperwork. I wanted the process to move, but the problem was that there was no father listed. There had to be a search process followed. There was no hurrying now; if we did, and someone turned up who claimed to be the father, the adoption could be overturned. I grumbled and she sympathized. The copycat was quiet for weeks. Carmelita and I started to relax-our mistake.

I was picking up the children when trouble finally surfaced. I had gone to the playground and could see Moses on the monkey bars, trying to get on the top again. They were the piece of equipment closest to the fence. When I saw him, I put Angelina down to go get him when a raccoon appeared on the fence. He had jumped to the bars, snatched Moses, had him in a sack and was back on the fence before I'd even gotten moving. Moses barely got out one good yell before they were gone. I stopped long enough to tell one of the attendants to call Carmelita before I was over the fence behind them, thanking all the deities I knew that I was wearing my shock pistol and had the staff over my back.

He was fast and he was good, but he had a child on his back and it slowed him. He climbed up to the rooftops within an hour. I kept them in sight without too much of a problem, but I could not quite catch up and I dared not shoot at him. He'd stopped long enough to move Moses to his back and tie him there. I spared a thought to wonder what he'd done to keep the child quiet. It was getting dark. Then he stopped to catch his breath, putting Moses down, and I landed in the rooftop close enough that I could fire, but he couldn't physically attack. Moses tore over as soon as he saw me, while the thief was pulling a gun.

We stood there, facing each other over the rooftop, me squatting with one arm around Moses, who was holding on to me and shivering, and him watching us, in that bent way, alert. We both had the weapons out- staffs on back, gun in his hand, shock pistol in mine. I kept thinking it was like looking in a mirror, but I had never used that kind of firearm. I 'm damn good with a turret gun, but I didn't like guns for close use, too risky. The lights of Paris were bright enough for us to see each other, if somewhat shadowed. He looked enough like me to be my twin. He looked enough like Moses to be his father. But why not come and claim him? Why grab and run, bringing me after? He must have known I would follow.

"So," he said, "we're at an impasse. I could shoot you, but I don't want to hit the boy- you could try for me, but I might shoot, and you won't risk that. Good. We need to talk before your lady gets here." He looked at Moses. "If you haven't figured it out yet, it's about the boy. He's my twin sister's child, and we're the last of our family line-cousin." He chuckled at my shocked look. "You were too young, when the Five got to your daddy, to know about the family lines. He'd have told you in a few years, when you took over from him. But you did all right, so we let it be. Yours was the show-offs, the flamboyant ones, leaving the little cards, going after the rough trade, and buddy, did you follow in those footsteps until you threw it over for the cop." His tone was approving when he added, "Don't blame you there, she's hot, and she's honest. Your line was always suckers for that. We were the quiet ones. We went after who we pleased, but we didn't brag about it like your line did. It's unusual that both Sis and I were in the trade. Most of the family wasn't. Your daddy got damn lucky, he had the one and you were capable." He stopped to cough. I started to move, and he had the gun up. "Don't make me take an ear off, cousin. I can if I need to."

"I believe you," I told him, remembering what Carmelita told me about his way with weapons. Moses whimpered. "It's okay, youngster, Auntie Carm's coming." I told him quietly. He twisted to look at his uncle, still holding on but not shaking anymore.

"Don't hurt him." He sniffled, trying to be brave but not quite able. I patted his back.

"If he stays still, I won't." His eyes went over the boy, checking him.

"Want to stay with Papa Coop, Unk."

The thief's face softened. "You will, baby. I needed to tell him some things first, all right? You be quiet and let us talk, and he can take you home." Moses nodded. "He's yours, cousin, more than he could ever be mine. I was going to take him, but I had to make some arrangements, and then I found out I didn't have long."

"Did you check on him at the daycare?" The thief nodded. That explained Moses' hysteria. He was told, several times, that if family did not come for him, he would stay with us, so when he saw his uncle-tantrum time. "A message would have worked, if you wanted to talk. Or see him." I watched him closely. It didn't take a doctor to see something was wrong.

"Not for what I'm planning. Quick now, there's not much time. I don't know who his father is. I think it's a cousin."

"Not me." I was sharp. Much as I would love to claim Moses, I would never have left a child and his mother unsupported.

"I know that. Sis might have tried, she did like your style, but you were too cautious for her. That she wouldn't have liked. She didn't want anyone else to have a claim, and she damn well made sure no one did. Sometimes I wonder if she went from one guy to the next, to be sure nobody knew, including her. She had a lot of plans for him. She did what we all do; when she was ready to stop, she got the child. It was after she had him she met the rabbit. She wasn't into anything more than training the tyke when they hit the house. You needn't worry about who it was. They won't be bothering anyone anymore."

So he was the one who took out the priest. It shook me; this guy was ruthless. "So what was the deal? Why go after a pregnant woman and her husband, and leave the child?"

"Same reason Clockwerk went after your daddy. They wanted revenge, and they somehow knew about the book; they didn't know about the baby, it just took them that long to track her down. She should have known better than to settle down yet. They never found me. I found out who betrayed her, and you won't have to worry about them either." That explained the other death. "She didn't have the book then; I did. I think they just missed the tyke; you guys got there fast. Had a tip?" I nodded. "I've taken care of her estate. You'll hear from those parties when the time comes. "For a moment he was quiet, panting. You could see he was in pain. Where was Carmelita? "Don't raise the boy to be a thief."

"I didn't intend to. Look, who are you? Kids this big aren't that good at names."

He chuckled. "Same as yours, cousin. Pure coincidence, it's just a popular name with the family. Most of mine is in the States; they don't mention me or Sis. They'd have come for the child if they knew the situation, but he'd be a burden to them, and he isn't to you. They might show when they hear about our deaths. We were trained by our uncle, Sis and I. He's gone now, slipped at a bad time. He's the one gave us the book. We were a team, the three of us, and that I know of we were never caught out. They didn't even know our names. That's convenient, since they only have one Cooper file- yours."

Finally it clicked. "You're the copycat."

"You got it. They'll have a Cooper-me. Case closed. You'll be safe, and the kid'll be safe with you. I'm dying. If I'm unlucky, I've got two weeks. He's all I've got left, cousin, so take care of him for me and Sis." I could hear shouting. Then he looked over to the side, and his gun came up again. I went down, with Moses cradled under me and wailing his head off at the noise that broke out. I heard Carmelita shouting at the excited cops to stop, dammit, stop, before they killed me and Moses, and her pistol went off. There was silence. I got up, to see Carmelita land beside me and haul Moses up to see if we were okay. Moses screamed again when he saw his uncle lying still, and she swept him up while I ran over. The thief who was my mirror image was still breathing; the only shot that landed was Carmelita's. The other cops came up while I was checking Unk Sylvester over and stood looking at me and him until I demanded handcuffs and an ambulance. Then they woke up and started doing their jobs.

He was right about his illness; the cancer was all in his gut, from the lung .He had managed to pull his grab for Moses and the run only by taking a street drug that essentially made him numb for a while. I thought the doctor would faint when she found out what it was. He didn't make two weeks and each day he was in more pain than the day before. He woke up enough right before the end to talk to me again. He refused to talk to anyone else, including a lawyer. I could see his point. He was dying, and there was not a damn thing they could do to him. One cop suggested the pain meds be withheld until he talked. If a doctor hadn't verbally ripped him to pieces, I would have physically. So bunches of cops came and charged a dying man with old crimes he would never stand trial for, to get them off the books when he died. Since they were all crimes that my gang and I did, but never got caught for, he got exactly what he planned.

When I came in to talk to him, he said," I'm not confessing to anything, so don't get your hopes up." He looked awful. "The social worker was in here, but I hurt too much to talk to her. She left some stuff. Go over it with me." It took a long time, as he had to think past his pain, but he got through it all. It was enough to get the adoption going faster. Then he started rambling, talking about his sister and uncle and some of the stunts they pulled off. I listened, both fascinated and repelled. They were good, but while they preferred not to kill, they would, and if it was someone who was just in the way, that was just too bad. At some point he went quiet. I went after a nurse, and she checked and said he was just asleep, but it wouldn't be much longer, and shooed me away. The next day we got word he was dead.

It was only days later, as I was arranging the funerals, that I got a call from the Captain to report to a different office than usual. He said that the matter was personal, so I went. I was somewhat impressed by the level of administration I was seeing, until I got to the office I was looking for, going past two levels of security on the way, enough to make me wish I could climb in the window and bypass all the formalities. There I discovered an older version of my father. "I'm Isaiah Cooper," he said, wasting no time. "Sit. In answer to your first question, yes, we're related, second or third cousin." When Uncle Sylvester told me he had made arrangements, he meant that he had detailed a bank to contact Isaiah within three weeks, knowing by then he would be dead. Isaiah, it seemed, already knew all about the whole situation. He informed me that he would pay for the funerals, he would set up a trust account for Moses, with the bank and I as co-trustees, and that he had informed the family overseas of the deaths and they would arrive shortly. Then he sat back and looked at me.

"All right," I said. "So why haven't I met you up to today?" What I was having a hard time not shouting was where the hell were you when I was dumped in the orphanage, where the hell were you when I was taking all the hell from the Contessa, and why are you butting in now?

He looked at his hands. "Look," he said, "I'm not the kind that's any good at kids or family or anything. When you were young, I was undercover in the field, and your father and I never saw eye to eye when we were young, much less when he started his career and I started mine. It wasn't until I got done that I found out about the mess, longer before I found out you were alive. You were doing all right at that place. I checked on you. I was going to bring you into the department when you ran off."

"You were the army recruiter?"

"It wasn't the army, but yes, I talked to the headmistress. Is that what you thought?" I nodded. It was why I left; being in a position where I would constantly bossed around and have to kill anything that moved did not appeal to me then or now. "It doesn't matter now, but I tried to catch up to you. You were too good, you and that gang."

I felt somewhat better. "And when I was in the Contessa's fortress? I went through hell in there."

"I was in the hospital, recovering from being poisoned. Several Interpol members were being manipulated, and I found out, but made the report to the wrong person. I'm the reason you're here now. I had to stay behind the scenes to arrange matters." He sighed and fidgeted with a pen. "I can't say how relieved I am that you straightened out. You've made a damn good cop. "He straightened. "Here's my number. Tell me when, if you please, and I'll arrange with the twins' family and myself to be there."

He nodded, and I left with a great many mixed feelings.

So, at the service, I found myself approached by a family of raccoons. They introduced themselves as Joshua, Daniel, Dinah, and Aaron Cooper. Dinah was the grandmother to Sylvia and Sylvester; the rest were cousins to them. Isaiah left as soon as the service was over, and I took the rest to Mama Fox's house, where Carmelita and Angelina were waiting. I had Moses with me, and hearing that one of them was his grandmother, Moses clung like a barnacle until they assured him they wouldn't take him away. Grandma Cooper and Nana Fox took over the kids and the rest of us gathered in the living room, crowding it. I told them what Sylvester told me, and that started the marathon session.

There were three different family lines they were aware of. One was mine, thought lost when my father died until rumors of me surfaced. Before that, they believed that I died when my parents did. They were afraid Sylvester had the boy, and in fact were quite relieved that I intended to adopt Moses. I was shocked when I discovered they had followed my career with interest. They knew as much about me as Carmelita did when she was after me, and they had an idea what happened between us since; slowly it dawned on me what they were, and finally I asked. "Are you telling me your line is cops? Most of you? Like Isaiah?"

"Told you he'd figure it out," Joshua told the others triumphantly. "Yep, that's right. One line was the one Ves and Sis went into- the pure thieves. One was yours, the ones that went after other thieves and played the games. Ours is cops, or close. Sometimes we get into something like but pays more. Isaiah was going to bring you in as soon as he could get hold of you, let you know there was another way, see if you would come over. Took you long enough to bring him in," he said to Carmelita critically.

"And where were you?" she bristled.

"Couldn't butt in. We don't go after family. He qualified." He jerked a thumb at me. "For one thing, like Ves proved, hard to see who's who." Carmelita scanned all the Coopers in the room and grinned, acknowledging the problem. "And he was doing all right."

So were you," Aaron added grudgingly. "Usually nobody sees much but shadows." He gave me a sideways look. I gave him a bland one back. "'sides, you did bring him in, just not how anybody expected." We all laughed. I had not missed the admiring glances they made at Carmelita. "And you helped get rid of Clockwerk and that mess afterward. We'd have helped if we'd known in time, but our contact in Interpol, while Isaiah was sick, was screwed up. He had no clue what was going on; he thought you'd gone over the edge and she was helping you. Idiot."

"Over the edge?" I asked, beginning to bristle myself.

"Turned killer. " My black look prompted a quick,"Hey, we know better now. Somebody was playing with the computers, altering the information." That sat both of us up. Not even Bentley was good enough to do that to the Interpol computers. "He was internal. We found out who it was when they were found with a knife in their backs- work of your pal Neela, we think. Nasty piece of work, that one was. Never did figure out what happened to her."

"She put herself into Clockwerk's rebuilt body, and we destroyed it," I said.

"Care to tell us about it?" Joshua suggested.

"No," we said in unison. They blinked at that, but they backed off, seeing that we weren't willing to talk. Instead they talked about the cop line, which mostly seemed rooted in the States. My mother had been one of them. She met my father and married him against the clearly expressed wishes of all of them, and left without a backward glance. By the time they found out I was orphaned, I was already attached to Bentley and Murray and going through the international red tape had been more than they could handle financially; Isaiah saw no reason not to leave me where I was until I was ready to be brought into the 'department'.

"Damn fool waited too long," Daniel grumbled. He seemed to be the quietest of the family. "He said he was busy, that he'd get to you when you were old enough, and then you lit out before he could get hold of you. Then you started on your happy little career, just like your dad and the ones before him. Grandma was fit to be tied. She was ready to row over here in a rowboat and rip his ears off every damn time we heard another story. " Carmelita started shaking with laughter. "You were too damn good, you and that gang of yours. Hell, Interpol must have gone through eight-"

"Six," I corrected, entertained,

"- all right, six, cops before they found her," he nodded at Carmelita, "who could keep up with you. It's a wonder you didn't get yourself killed, going up against Clockwerk and that Klaw gang by yourselves." He glared at Carmelita. "And you weren't much better, never wanting help, always had to do it by yourself." Carmelita stopped laughing and glared.

"You saw what I got when I got a partner!" Daniel didn't wilt at all under that glare. "Dammit, anyone I looked at either thought he should be left alone, he got rid of the nasty ones without the paperwork, and the others were trigger happy!"

"Daniel wanted to come over and shake the cockiness out of you," Joshua said to me apologetically. "He's your closest relation."

"My dad was your mother's sister," he grumped. "Pop died of stomach cancer two years ago." I reflected that cancer seemed to run in the family. "Anyway, if you and Carm here want to adopt the boy, that's right with us. He'll be with family. And Ves wouldn't have let him go to you if he didn't think you were okay. He was a cold arraogant son of a-" he glance into the yard and stopped, then went on," you know, and Sylvia wasn't much better, but they cared about each other, and he would have made sure Moses was taken care of right."

"All right, then," Carmelita said. "Now would you mind telling us which one of you is Moses' father?"

Dead silence reigned for a while as three Cooper men stirred uneasily. After a while, Joshua finally admitted, "We aren't sure."

Carmelita rolled her eyes. "Are you three at least the best possibilities?" They nodded. It was something to see, those three confident tough cops squirming, hating to admit that each of them might be the father of the three year old currently shouting at his foster sister at the top of his lungs for kicking a ball into the brambles. "Look, if we can't find out who the natural father is, then we have to waste months waiting until a search process works its way around to adopt him. The tests are painless, I promise. You take the test, you get the results, you sign some papers, and it's all over."

"We can't stay that long," Aaron said.

"You can stay long enough for the tests, and then come back." Carmelita wasn't letting them off the hook. "We'll cover your expenses." At that they all brightened, and I remembered that cops don't make that much, something Carmelita knew quite well.

So they did the tests- I still remember the phlebotomist asking if we didn't just want to flip a coin, all of us and Moses looked that much alike- and it turned out that it was Daniel, quiet grumpy Daniel, who was the father. He came over and signed all the paperwork and made us promise to keep him informed. Three weeks later we got word that a trust fund had been established for Moses through the estates of his mother and uncle. I almost wrote back to tell Isaiah what he could do with it, but refrained; Ves had taken care of Moses the best he could manage. We compromised by putting the income in an education account for him.

This meant that it was only a few months when Moses, Carmelita, and I stood in front of the courthouse, papers in hand, saying that Moses was now legally our child. We explained as well as we could to Moses, and he asked Carmelita if he could call her Mama now. She managed to laugh instead of cry when she said he could. When we got home he told Angelina she was too his baby sister, and they got into a fight about it.

That's kids. I wouldn't have it any other way.

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