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Mary became a staple around the precinct house after that. My mornings really weren't complete until she'd complained about the coffee several times and asked why my breakfast consisted of rye toast and cantaloupe instead of donuts.

"Cops are supposed to eat donuts," she said in the same tone she reminded me every morning, chewing on a swizzle stick and picking absently at her bear claw.

"Donuts are nothing but fried dough coated in sugar," I said in the same tone I reminded her every morning, pulling at the string on the teabag in my mug and pointedly not looking at her. "They're terrible for your cholesterol and I'm convinced they are the reason such a large percentage of the police force is incapable of pursuing their targets on foot."

She made a keening noise and shook her head fiercely. "You are just all work and no play, aren't you, Vergil?" she chuckled, sitting back in the chair she insisted on parking in front of my desk and crossing her legs. "Do you even know how to relax?"

I lifted my head from the case file and stared at her for a moment longer than was necessary. "I don't have time to relax," I said then, and she rolled her eyes. I went back to my file.

Wesker's gambling ring was mostly off the radar, but there was a good chance he owned several of the sleazy pawn shops south of the freeway in the 45th Precinct area. So all we needed to do now was plant someone at each of those places to see what we could find.

I saw Mary shift in my peripheral vision, and she reached forward, plucking something from the edge of my desk. "This is a nice photo," she said, and I glanced up.

"Hm?" She turned the frame in her hand so I could see the picture, and something squelched in my stomach. I kept that photo turned away from me for a reason. "Oh." I went back to the files, jotting a note in the margin with a red pen.

She waited a moment, then huffed an impatient sigh. "It's your family, isn't it?" she asked.

"Was," I corrected, still not looking at her, and she was quiet for another blessed fifteen seconds. She knew my parents were dead, why was this surprising to her?

She hesitated, and I heard her breath hitch briefly before she finally asked, "Is this your brother?"

The pen stilled, but I didn't look at her, and I just breathed for a moment before I set the pen down and sat back in my chair.

"I don't have a brother," I said, and she tilted her head gesturing at the picture again.

"But this kid looks like he could be your twi--"

"He's dead."

Her jaw closed with an audible click, and her eyes lingered on mine just long enough to be uncomfortable. It was like she was searching my face for something that wasn't there.

"I... I'm sorry," she said, shaking her head, and I sat forward again, retrieving the pen and going back to my notes.

"Don't be," I replied. "It's his own damn fault."

"That's a terrible thing to say," she scolded. "He's your brother--he deserves better than that." I thumped my fist on the desk.

"I worked my ass off and graduated high school a year early, and he dropped out against my advice," I said. "I went off to college in England for three years, I wrote home every two weeks, and my letters were never answered. Not one." I stared her down, the tendons in my neck taut and quivering, though I didn't raise my voice. "When I came home, I went back to the house in the Hamptons and found it robbed, empty, and visibly untouched for at least six months. There was a pile of unopened letters just inside the door." My face twitched with contempt. "My letters," I said, and my lip curled a bit as I scoffed derisively and my eyes moved back to the papers in front of me. "I was dead to my brother long before he died, despite my best efforts to do right by him, so don't presume to tell me what that bastard deserves."

I wasn't sure how long it was quiet after that, and it wasn't until there was the click of Mary's boot on the floor to break the silence as she leaned forward that I realized I'd been hunching my shoulders and clenching my teeth all that time. She put the photo back on the edge of the desk. I could feel her eyes on me.

"I'm sorry," she said again, and it was all I could do not to start ranting again. My brother... bah. Dante had been my identical twin, but I doubted we could have been less alike if we'd tried. He had been boisterous and unsinkable to my stoic and sensible. He had been flash and flair to my understated and practical. He had been a reckless, impetuous fool, and it had gotten him killed, and I...

My shoulders sagged a little.

I didn't miss him one damn bit.

My notes in the margin were heavy, dark bold lines now, the tip of the pen pressing hard against the paper.

"What's this?"

I glanced up then when Mary's voice interrupted my silent fuming again, and gave her an impatient look. "What's what?"

"There's something written on the back of the frame," she said, and twisted the back of the photo to me again. I reached for it and ran my fingertips over the words scrawled into the wood of the back of the frame. It was my father's handwriting--crisp, sharp lines and clean angles. I had forgotten about that.

I handed the frame back to her.

"It's in Italian," I said, and Mary set the frame down again and folded her arms.

"So what does it say?" she asked.

"Do I look like I speak Italian?"

"Your last name is Zavattoni."

I just sort of growled at her infuriatingly irrefutable logic. "I don't feel like translating," I said. "I'm kind of busy."

"Fine, fine, forget it," she sighed. "I guess if you really don't know--"

"It's none of your damn business," I snapped, and she rolled her eyes. I hated giving her the satisfaction of knowing she had hit a nerve, but it really wasn't any of her business, any more than my brother and the photo itself were. Why was she so nosy? Why did she even care?

I had put the tip of my pen through the paper. I got to my feet, my movements tight and my lips pressed together: a thin, grim line across my face.

"Where are you going?" Mary asked, turning in her chair as I stalked toward the door.

"To get donuts," I said.

"I thought you didn't eat donuts."

"I don't." I yanked the door open and looked at her. "They're to shut you up."

And with that I slammed the door behind me.

Wesker was a difficult man to find. After putting surveillance teams on several of his alleged pawn shops south of 95 and monitoring known gambling rings on the northern side of the highway, we finally caught wind of his movements. Within a week, we had a good idea of where his next poker night, as it were, would be held.

Mary had been chomping at the bit the whole time. She was so childish sometimes; I almost felt as though I needed to keep her on a leash so she wouldn't just run off and blow the whole operation out of some need for revenge that outweighed her ability to think rationally. Thankfully, it seemed she was capable of reining in her enthusiasm long enough to wait for a clear shot, but as soon as we had the time and address we believed Wesker would be at, she was off like she'd been fired from one of her own guns.

Grabbing her arm as she rounded the side of my car, I tugged, arresting her movement.

"Mary, wait." She turned and looked at me, her face pulled in something between irritation and desperation, and I shook my head. "Don't do anything stupid," I said, and she wrenched her arm away.

"I'm not a child," she snapped, baring her teeth again. "I'm not going to just charge in and blow everything now when we're this close."

I stepped back and lifted my palms, attempting to placate her a bit. "You've been charging ever since we figured out Wesker was our connection," I reminded her. "I thought you were going to suffer an intracerebral hemorrhage during the stakeouts."

She blinked, as if it took her a moment to actually process what I'd said, and then went back to glowering. "I don't like stakeouts."

"I noticed."

She tried to pull the car door open, but it was still locked, and this prompted more scowling in my direction. "Can we go now?" she asked.

"You have to swear you're not going to lose your head over this," I said. "We're close."

"Whaddya want me to do, cross my heart and hope to die?" she asked, folding her arms beneath her bosom. She still wasn't wearing a coat, and her shirt was still open too far to be appropriate. "I promise, okay? I'll behave."

Satisfied for the moment, I pressed the button on my keys and unlocked the car. She yanked the door open and slid into the passenger seat, still looking peeved. Closing my door after me, I turned the car on and adjusted the heater.

"Don't ever do that," I said then as I reached for my seat belt, and she tilted her head a little, her hands frozen over her own seat belt like she expected it was booby trapped.


I threw the car into reverse and backed out of the parking space, turning onto the main road. I heard Mary click her seat belt into place; she was still looking at me.

"Don't ever what?" she asked again, and I glanced at her sidelong.

"Hope to die."

Friday, 11November, 23:08:52
Tiemann Avenue and Boston Avenue, The Bronx, NY

"Why would anyone run a poker game out of a shop called Vital Stars?" I wondered aloud as I stepped out of the car. The wind was biting, sharp as any blade as it swept across the side of my face. I didn't understand how Mary wasn't freezing.

She slammed the door and I cringed--didn't she know how bad that was for the car? Her eyes slid up the building facade and then she shrugged.

"I guess nobody's gonna suspect a health nut place to house a gambling ring," she said. She took a moment to make sure all of her guns were in their appropriate holsters. I didn't know why she felt the need to have so many; at any given time she seemed to have at least five pistols and a compact rifle on her person. Checking the clip in her favorite custom Glock, she leaned her arms on the roof of the car and lifted her eyebrows. "So what's our next move, chief?"

I turned as three unmarked squad cars pulled into the parking lot, then glanced back at Mary. Backup had arrived; it was time to crash the party.

The shop had closed at 9pm, and it was now just past eleven, but Mary was a top-notch lockpick on top of all of her other unusual skills. I wondered sometimes why she had chosen to become a cop, to be honest. She had all the makings of a supreme thorn in my side (not that she wasn't either way) and yet she had turned to the side of justice. Maybe she was following in her father's footsteps, or maybe she just liked doing illegal things on the state's payroll, but whatever it was, I was almost a little reluctant to admit just how handy she was to have around sometimes.

There was no alarm--not that it mattered. We were the police--and as we moved silently into the darkened store, it appeared at first that there was quite literally nothing going on. The shelves were pristinely fronted, the counters were clean, and the tile floors shone. It was arguably the cleanest establishment I had encountered in the Bronx yet. We knew Wesker was here, though; there was no doubt about it. We fanned out between the lines of shelves that made the thin aisles of the store, and then regrouped near the far wall.

"All clear," one of the reinforcements said, and three others agreed. "He's not here."

"Oh, he's here all right," Mary's voice floated, hushed, through the still air. Glancing down, I spotted her crouched behind the counter, shoving a heavy traction rug aside with her boot. Beneath the rug was a barely-visible door in the floor, a thin metal handle folded into the faux tile. She lifted her head and grinned. "You want the honors?"

"Ladies first," I replied with a roll of my eyes. She'd found the door; she could go first if she wanted.

She carefully lifted the handle and gave the trap door an experimental tug. It lifted easily, and she folded it back, resting it silently against the floor. There was a darkened stairway beneath the door, and I found myself thinking that this was almost painfully cliche. Wasting no time, Mary clutched one gun in each hand and started down the stairs. I followed, the backup team moving behind me.

The staircase was long, made of stone, narrow and dank. One of the men behind me had a flashlight, and shone it forward and onto the ceiling, illuminating the stairs just enough that we didn't all stumble and end up in a tangled pile of broken limbs at the bottom. I counted 24 steps down, meaning we were nearly two stories beneath the shop itself. Was this some sort of old bunker? A bomb shelter? Admittedly, there were many things I didn't know about this area, nor did I really care to; I supposed that a secret underground bunker was an ideal place to hold an illegal poker game, in any case.

Stairs gave way to a hall, and the flashlight beam moved, circling what appeared to be a strip of gold at the end of the corridor: the line of light beneath a door. Mary had paused, and glanced at me as if to ask permission. It was dark, but there was sass in her eyes, as always. I nodded my head, then signaled the men behind me to move forward. We flanked the door, and I swept one hand out to invite Mary to kick it down. That was her favorite part, if I recalled correctly.

She counted down on her fingers--3, 2, 1!--and then snapped up one leg and kicked the door in with a loud clatter.

"Freeze, police!" she shouted, spreading her arms, her guns pointed in two directions. "Nobody move."

For half an instant, nobody moved. At a glance, I counted maybe two dozen people in the room, mostly men and a handful of whores, seated at mismatched tables, cards in their hands and multicolored chips scattered across the tabletops. Every pair of eye turned to us, startled, genuinely surprised.

The moment of quiet was over almost before it began, though, and there was a sudden wave of movement, and then the clicking of about twenty guns being cocked. We didn't waste time. Half the men from the reinforcement team had swarmed past me as the first shot was fired, and I spun, drawing my sword and using it to slice the rounded edge off the nearest table, kicking it onto its side to duck behind it as bullets flew all around me. My colleagues always chided me for inevitably bringing a sword to gun fights, but I rarely found myself hindered by the tilted odds.

Pandemonium was expected in cases like this: the bad guys were surprised, they tried to flee, and it was a free-for-all as they did anything and everything they could to escape, but I wasn't going to let it happen. One of these bastards had killed my captain, Mary's father, and they weren't going to get away with it.

The table shook as someone crashed into it, and I straightened, driving the pommel of my blade into a startled man's face, effectively breaking his nose and sending him reeling. Twisting, I slammed the back of the blade into another man's ribs as he tried to rush past me, easily breaking two and probably fracturing several more. I swept my leg out to trip a prostitute with blond hair that was as fake as her breasts, and as she stumbled forward I snapped my knee up to catch her in the gut. She pitched to the floor like a sack of wet sand, wheezing and semiconscious.

So it went. We were outnumbered, but efficient. Shots were fired, but so far as I could tell we hadn't taken any casualties. I spotted Mary standing on a table, watched her fire a shot at a man's feet and then kick him in the jaw as he reached for her. She whirled and dropped to a crouch as someone shot at her head; the bullet ricocheted off the stone ceiling and she twisted to the side as it bounced back and struck another man in the shoulder. Someone grabbed her by the ankle, and she neatly shot one of his fingers off without even grazing her boot.

In the instant I had taken to acknowledge her skills, however, it seemed I had left myself open. I felt the air shift beside me, heard the cock of a gun, and I spun, reflexively snapping my sword arm up. Providing the assailant wasn't significantly shorter than I was, my forearm would strike the underside of his, throwing off the shot and theoretically putting him off-balance, at which point I would drive the pommel of my sword into his celiac plexus. This would send a paroxysm of mixed pain signals to his brain and would likely take him to his knees. Once there, I would drop my elbow to the back of his neck, rendering him unconscious and neutralizing the threat.

I got as far as striking the underside of his forearm.

As I twisted, I saw a flash of eggshell white--the barrel of a custom pistol, I assumed, since no mainstream guns I had seen were that color--and the impact of ulna against ulna sent a shock through my arm. The gun didn't fire, the assailant's aim was blown, but he didn't seem to be thrown off balance. Easily rectified; I hated to resort to hitting below the belt--it was so uncouth--but I needed the guy down. I saw a swirl of red as the long coat he was wearing shifted with the abrupt cessation of his forward motion, and shifted to snap my knee up.

That was when I saw the man's face.

It was like looking in a mirror.

... It was like looking in a mirror that made you look scruffy, disheveled, a bit sleep-deprived, and gave you half a day's worth of stubble, but a mirror nonetheless. The man's hair was the same blanched silver as mine, his eyes the same ice-blue. His gaze met mine and widened in surprise the same way mine did, his brow crinkling together and his jaw sliding slightly ajar as recognition swept across his face.

I felt my jaw move soundlessly, a name forming, unbidden, on my tongue. There was no mistaking it: this man was my brother.


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November 2012

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