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The Replacement

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Inspector Lewis Erskine and Special Agent Jim Rhodes are in Lew’s motel room. (Jim’s room is adjoining.) They’re relaxing, maybe Lew is in pajamas and robe. It’s about 10:30 PM.

They’re in St. George, Utah. Jim will be there for awhile at the resident agency, working on a case. Lew is on his way to Reno to supervise an inspection of the field office. But he’s taking an extra day, a vacation day, to accompany Jim, and also to visit with the Senior Resident Agent, Scott Silverman, an old friend, maybe from their academy days.

They flew in late, and so drove directly to the motel without checking in at the office. The motel is close to the office.

A knock at the door. They glanced at each other – did you order room service? – no.

Lew opened the door, and in a delayed reaction his expression shifted from defensive curiosity to beaming smiles. “Tom! what are you doing here?” he greeted in surprise, as he ushered the newcomer in.

Tom admitted, “I would have met you at the airport, but I couldn’t get away.”

“But I thought you were in Billings, Montana.”

“I was. But I was called down today to take over Scotty’s desk.” At Lew’s questioning expression, he explained, “Scotty had a heart attack this morning – you didn’t know?”

Lew stiffened. “No, we’ve been traveling since eight this morning – we were laid over in O’Hare, and then again in Salt Lake. We just got in about and hour-and-a-half ago. How is he? is he all right? is he alive?”

“Yes, he’s alive. He’s in St. George General. The last I heard, he was out of surgery and stable. They called me down to take over the office in his absence; however, it may turn into a permanent transfer. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t go out on a disability retirement. This is his second attack, you know.”

“Yes, I remember his first several years ago. I was hoping he was completely healed. I’ve been telling Jim here all about Scotty. Jim’s temporarily transferring to St. George. Oh, you’ve never met, have you? Jim Rhodes, my assistant for the past two years, this is Senior Resident Agent Tom Colby – another old friend of mine.”

“So I gathered,” Jim smiled and offered his hand. “Hi – I guess we’ll be working together.”

Tom shook his hand. “Yes, I saw your transfer papers on Scotty’s desk – haven’t read them yet. Tell me, how did you get to be Lew’s assistant? You’re not old enough, or grey enough” – a wink to the older man who rubbed a self-conscious hand through salt-and-pepper hair and pouted a moue – “to be an Assistant Inspector.”

Jim grinned. “No, just Special Agent. Somehow, so far, I’ve managed to bystep the normal career path. I was a year out of the Academy and barely out of my training, working in DC, when by some strange twist of fate, the Inspector here picked me for a special assignment. And has kept me with him ever since – I have no idea why…”

“Fate had nothing to do with it,” Lew retorted with a grin. “Jim here was top of his class. And he had a special aptitude relevant to a case I was absorbed in at the time. Since then, he’s proven himself time and time again as an invaluable asset to me. I’m sorry to lose him, but you’re gaining a fine investigative mind.”

Then Jim left the room for some reason, maybe to get something from his own room.

A warm smile grew on Lew’s face. “It’s so good to see you again, Tom. I’ve missed you.” He reached out to embrace the other man, and willingly Tom closed the gap.

“It’s good to see you too.”

And they kissed lengthily.

Jim reëntered the room, saw with mild surprise, cleared his throat.

Tom broke the kiss, a little guiltily.

Jim noted a little humorously, “You seem to know each other pretty well.”

Lew didn’t act guilty at all. “Yes, we go back quite a ways.”

“To the Academy?”

“Further than that. We met in Korea.”

Jim noted with interest.

Tom commented, “You don’t seemed surprised about Lew.”

“No – no, I was warned – uh, told – about the inspector by various parties when I took the position of his assistant. And he’s been trying to convince me ever since.”

“And he keeps turning me down,” Lew chimed in. “Insists he not so inclined.” A nod to the side indicated the extremely attractive younger man. ‘Isn’t that a sad shame?”

Tom grinned a little at Jim, a quick glance over his body, but said nothing.

Jim smiled. “It’s not my class standing that Lew keeps me around for.”

Lew noted, “You know, you two look enough alike to be brothers.”

Tom quipped, “And I’ll bet you’d just like a matched set.”

“Well now, there’s a thought – a very pleasant one.”

“Stop it, we’re scaring him.”

“No you’re not,” Jim assured mildly. “I’ve worked with Lew for two years – like I said, I’m used to it. You, uh, fought together in Korea?”

“We were in the same division. I was a captain supervising a rifle company. Lew was a major in the Provost Marshal’s office. After the war, we happened to run into each other in the Bureau.”

They talked some more, then Lew asked of Tom, “Where are you staying?”

“I’m staying here until I find a permanent place in town. That’s why I knew you were here as well, I saw you come in when I was on my way to dinner. My room’s upstairs.”

“Well, I’m only here tonight and part of tomorrow, before I head on to Reno tomorrow afternoon. Why don’t you spend the night? It’s been nearly three years – we have a lot of catching up to do.”

Tom glanced at Jim. “I don’t mean to impose.”

But Jim just shook his head. “You’re not – my room’s next door.”

Tom and Lew made love that night. In his room, in bed, Jim could hear a little and imagine a lot more.

* * * * *

Tom and Jim have to go by horseback to follow their case – there are no roads in the canyon narrows. Tom is at home in the back-country, but Jim is a city boy. He’s ridden, but only at rental stables. For this duty, they actually have to pack in.

They get to know each other, Jim asks about Tom and Lew’s past – did they join the Bureau together? Tom says no, Lew joined first, right after the war. Tom joined maybe five years later. And no, Lew didn’t help him get in – they weren’t close friends during the war, just acquaintances, and hadn’t tried to keep track of each other after the war. It was only by accident that they rediscovered each other – maybe Lew taught a seminar at the Academy, or maybe they were assigned to the same office for awhile.

Jim suggested, “Why don’t you put in for a transfer back to DC? – you and the inspector could be together again.”

But Tom just shook his head. “Our relationship was never like that. When we’re in the same town, maybe we’ll get together. But months or years can go by, we don’t see each other or even try to keep in touch. There’s nothing serious between us – there never was.” He grinned. “Besides, big-city life doesn’t agree with me. I’ve already put in my requisite term in DC, and I have absolutely no plans to go back. As far as my career goals, a small resident agency like St. George is just fine with me.”

* * * * *

Finally Jim mentions that Tom seems as interested in him too, like Lew.

Tom half- apologizes – is it that obvious?

Jim says no, not as obvious as Lew, who can hardly keep his hands to himself, but Jim is definitely picking up vibes, lingering glances behind his back, etc.

Tom admits he understands why Lew has a hard time keeping his hands off Jim. He queries, “You’ve never done anything with Lew? never even fooled around a little?”

Jim says no, his upbringing was pretty conservative, when he meets the right girl, he’s going to get married, and have the requisite 2 ½ kids and cottage-with-standard-picket-fence.
* * * * *

Later on, though, Jim casually commented that the Academy did urge new agents to avail themselves of the experience of veteran agents. So if there was any experience or knowledge that Tom would like to share, Jim would be a very attentive student.

They were in the car, and Tom took his eyes partly off the road to give a lingering sidelong glance at Jim. The tiniest teasing smile played along Jim’s lips. And only with a heavy sigh, did Tom turn his attention back to the road.

“What about Lew?”

“Well, Lew is several hundred miles away right now, so, uh, what about him?”

“Meaning he wants you.”

“He’s also quite a bit older than me. I mean, I love him like a father, or a mentor. But not a lover. At least you’re closer to my age.”

“I’m older than you, kid.”

“I’m not a kid – hey, I’m older than I look.”

“Well, you look 21,” Tom noted wryly. “So, what are you, 22?”

“I’m 26.”

A tiny grin wisped across Tom’s face. “Even my kid brother would be older than that.”

“Would be?”

“Yes. He died – in Korea.”

“I’m sorry.”

Another lingering look over his seatmate, then Tom came to a decision, turned the car around. “There’s nothing at the office that can’t wait ‘til tomorrow.”

Jim grinned.

“Have you ever been with another guy?” Tom probed.

“Well, I don’t know if this counts, but once in high school, when I was on the swim team, one of the other guys and I – y’know, teased each other, dared each other,” Jim admits. "We, uh, kissed, but then we both chickened out. And that’s the sum total of my wild sexual experimentation.”

“Well, why now? Why me? Why not Lew?”

“So, umm, how is Lew in bed?”

“You wouldn’t be disappointed. Y’know,” Tom commented, “Lew is will be exceedingly jealous, if you and I were to… become better acquainted.”

“Well, I wouldn’t tell him.”

“And how long do you think before he figures it out on his own?”

“Five minutes, maybe?”

“Five seconds probably.”

Settling back in his seat, arms folded, Jim squinted out the windshield at the red rock outcroppings passing by. “So,” he inquired, “do you have any plans for tonight?”

“I guess I do now.”

. . . . .

(that's all I have!)