Category: Kung Fu–The Legend Continues
Word Count: 16,871
Peter Caine sat up in his bed, his breath coming in painful gasps. He pulled his knees up to his chest, and ran trembling fingers through his sweat-soaked hair, trying to recover from his bad dream. He had nightmares often, about the destruction of the Shaolin temple where he had lived with his father or about the time he spent in the orphanage after the death of the old priest who had taken him when his father was supposedly killed. And since his father’s return, he had a recurring nightmare that his father was killed before his eyes, and he had no way of stopping it.
But this was different. He couldn’t remember the dream, but it had left him with a different feeling. Sure, there was fear, and his heartbeat seemed twice its normal speed. He wrapped his arms around his legs and touched his forehead to his knees, trying to slow his breathing and his heart rate. His lessons with his father on how to control his body were helping, but he did not yet have the control that his father had. He smiled to himself. “No one does it like you, Pop.”
Slowly, as he relaxed and his breathing returned to normal, he became aware of . . . something. He couldn’t quite place the source, though. He closed his eyes, seeking the harmony he needed to help him figure out what was wrong. His awareness grew with each slow breath, until he finally understood. The problem wasn’t that something was wrong; it was that something important was missing.
During the years since Kwai Chang Caine had returned, he and Peter had forged a deep and abiding bond. Part of that bond was a link, a mental awareness. It was mostly on Caine’s part; he always seemed to know when his son was hurt, in danger or just in need of his parent’s help. On Peter’s part, the link was a feeling, an assurance that his father would be there if he needed him. Without his even knowing it, Peter had grown used to a presence lightly touching his mind. Now, however, that sense of closeness was gone, leaving the young police detective feeling bereft and alone.
“Where are you, Pop?” he whispered, peering into the darkness. There was no answer, or course, only a growing feeling of abandonment and anger. Lately, even when his father left, Peter had been aware that his father lived; he had even been able to find his father on one occasion. “Damn it,” the young man raged. “Don’t do this to me. I won’t let you do this.”
Determinedly, the detective got up and dressed. “I wish you had a telephone, Pop,”” the young man muttered as he dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. He grabbed his car keys, a jacket and his department issue pistol, and ran out the door.
Kwai Chang’s apartment was dark and empty. The candles that usually glowed in every room were extinguished, and the rooms were cold and lifeless without the strong, gentle presence of the Shaolin. Peter wandered from room, just to make sure his father wasn’t there. He stood by the platform where Caine slept; it had not been disturbed. The apartment was clean and untouched, except for the usual clutter on the apothecary’s worktable. The kitchen was spotless; the teakettle sat on the hot plate, ever ready to provide the heated water Caine needed for tea or to prepare one of his herbal concoctions. The various jars of teas he used were arranged neatly on the shelf, and the teacups were tidily stacked in the cabinet. The mats in the workout room were neatly laid out, and the racks of candles stood ready to light the darkness.
The detective tried to take heart from the fact that his father’s belongings were still in the apartment. When Caine had gone to fight the Brotherhood of the Bell, he had given all of his things to the Ancient. At least this time, he apparently expected to come back. Confused and lost, the priest’s son went out the French doors and stood in the darkness, shivering in the cool night air. His eyes searched the glowing skyline beyond the brick wall on the terrace. “Where are you, Pop?” he whispered. “And why did you go without me, without even telling me, AGAIN?” He wiped a tear away angrily, and left, taking the fire escape stairs three at a time.
The young policeman drove the streets of Chinatown, hunched tensely over the steering wheel, peering through his windshield, hoping to see the familiar figure of his father walking the sparsely populated sidewalks. It was very late, or very early, depending on how you looked at it. The streets were almost deserted, and even the usually heavy Chinatown traffic had thinned out. Peter drove for what seemed like hours, but he didn’t see his father. Becoming more and more discouraged, he finally drove away from the community and stopped a few minutes later in front of an apartment building in a middle-class neighborhood. He lay his head on the steering wheel for a moment, then squared his shoulders and made his way into the building.
Peter stood in the hallway of the apartment building, staring at a red door with “3E” in brass affixed to it. He closed his eyes, wondering whether he should really do this. “Yes, dammit, I have to know,” he muttered. Taking a deep breath, trying unsuccessfully to calm his anger, he put his thumb to the doorbell and pressed, holding the button down for longer than necessary.
“Who is it?” a sleepy, disembodied voice asked from the other side.
“It’s me, Peter,” the detective said, speaking loudly enough to be heard, but trying to keep the neighbors from hearing the conversation.
“Peter? What’s wrong?” Mary Margaret Skalany opened the door. Peter ignored the fear in her eyes, and pushed his way into the apartment. He didn’t even take note of the decor, just turned to glare at Skalany. “What’s wrong?” she asked again, anxiously.
“Sorry, to barge in,” Peter answered uneasily, his voice tight with the anger he was trying to control. Now that he was here, he didn’t know how to ask what he needed to ask. “I didn’t want your neighbors to hear us,” he added, stalling for time.
“Hear us what?” Skalany’s fear was fading, and she, too, was becoming angry. She closed the door and faced him. “What are you doing here, Peter?” She pulled the velour robe she wore more tightly around herself, irrationally feeling that she needed to tighten the belt.
“Where’s my father?” Peter asked bluntly. “I want to talk to him.” He looked around, and saw a door which he decided had to lead to the bedroom. He started toward it, but Skalany jumped in front of him, blocking his path.
“Now, wait a minute, Caine,” the other detective ordered, her anger increasing. “Just what do you think you’re doing?” She stared into his eyes, the glitter of anger in her own eyes finding a match in his return gaze.
“I told you, Skalany, I need to talk to my dad.” He pushed her aside, but she grabbed his arm and held on grimly. “Where is he, in here? Have you two been here having a good time together while I’ve been worried sick about him?”
He was dragging her with him toward the door. “Stop it, Peter,” she said through clenched teeth. “He’s not in there.”
Peter stopped, looking at her quizzically. “He has to be here.” His face fell and the anger melted away, replaced by confusion. “He has to be . . .”
“Why?” she asked softly, letting go of his arm.
He looked at her and shook his head. “If he’s not here, then he’s . . . “
“He’s what? What’s going on?” She led him to the sofa, and sat him down, watching him closely, while she sat down next to him and waited. He looked like a lost child, bewildered and hurt.
Head bowed, and shoulders slumping wearily, Peter said, in a voice Skalany could barely hear, “I can’t find him. He’s not at his place, and I drove through Chinatown looking for him. Nothing.” He looked up, his eyes bright with unshed tears. “He left me, again, Skalany.”
She moved closer, and put her hand on his shoulder gently. “He was here, Peter. He left just after midnight, and as far as I know he wasn’t planning on going anywhere. He said he’d see me later in the week.”
“Then, where is he?” Peter asked plaintively. “I can’t feel him.”
Mary Margaret was at a loss. She knew Caine loved Peter, and that there was a connection between father and son. But, now, the other detective seemed lost, and she didn’t know how to help him. Caine had been fine when he left her, and not said anything about going away. But she knew the enigmatic priest well enough by now to know that he would keep something from her (or anyone) if he though it necessary. This was especially true of Peter; Kwai Chang would do whatever he thought he needed to do to keep his son out of danger, if the priest decided his son couldn’t handle the situation.
Silently, Skalany went into the kitchen. While she fixed some coffee for herself and her friend, she tried to think of something to say to Peter. “Drink this,” was all she come up with. She handed him the cup and watched him sip the hot liquid absently.
“Peter, you’re a detective. Think. Isn’t there anywhere else he might be, someone he might be talking to?”
“At this time of night?” Peter snorted, glancing at the robe and raising his eyebrows.
“Get your mind out of the gutter,” Skalany ordered abruptly. “You know he has patients that get him out at all hours.” She leaned forward. “Look, Peter, I know you don’t like my relationship with your father. But we have to forget that now. All that’s important is that he’s all right, and that you find him.” Her voice hardened. “Now, Detective, where else can you look?”
Peter looked stricken. “How can I be so dumb? He’s probably with Lo Si. I didn’t even think about it, I was so sure . . .” He refused to look at Skalany as his voice trailed off.
“You were so sure he was here with me.” Skalany shook her head, and said bleakly, “If I’d known he’d end up missing, I’d have made him stay.”
“I’d like to have seen you try,” Peter commented. He stood up, and finally smiled faintly, trying to comfort her. “Look, I’m sorry. Now, I’ve got you worried, too. I’ll find him. And, I’ll call you and let you know he’s okay. Don’t worry.”
“Right.” She didn’t look convinced, but she tried to smile at him. “I’ll be waiting,” she promised solemnly.
He turned in the open doorway and said, “Skalany . . .”
“Just find him, Peter. We can talk when we know he’s all right,” she interrupted, gently. After he left, she shut the door, and leaned against it, her eyes closed. “Please, be all right,” she whispered. She opened her eyes, thinking about the look on Peter’s face when he said he couldn’t feel his father. “Please, both of you, be all right.”
It was still dark when Peter drove into the alley next to Lo Si’s place. The young detective considered for a moment, then left his car and sprinted up the stairs. The lights were on in the old man’s apartment.
Peter was surprised to find the door not only shut, but locked. Usually, the old man felt him coming and left the door open for him. The younger Caine knocked softly, and whispered, “Lo Si? It’s Peter. Peter Caine.”
The door opened silently. Peter walked in, looking around quickly. “Lo Si, I can’t find my Dad. Have you seen him? Is he here?”
He turned to face the small man who was closing the door quietly. “He was here, yesterday, Peter, but he said he had an appointment with his friend Mary Margaret. I am to meet him later for breakfast.”
“Then, he didn’t say anything to you about leaving?” Peter asked hopefully. “He’s still in Chinatown?”
“Yes,” the old priest said softly, but his voice wavered slightly with uncertainty. “I believe so.”
“I can’t find him. He’s not at Skalany’s, or his place. I’ve looked all over for him. You usually know where he is, whether he’s in trouble,” Peter told him. He took two steps, and grabbed the smaller man’s arms. “Where is he Lo Si?” He spoke more harshly than he had intended. Quickly he dropped his hands and stepped backward in unspoken apology.
Lo Si bowed his head, closing his eyes in concentration. He clasped his hands together and tried to reach out to his friend. Slowly, sadly, the Ancient raised his head and shook it. “I do not know, Peter. I cannot feel his presence.” He looked at the anxiety in the young policeman’s face and sighed. “I am sorry, Peter.”
“Is he alive, Lo Si?” Peter finally managed to ask the question that was haunting him. He closed his eyes, steeling himself to hear what he couldn’t possibly accept if he heard it.
Lo Si stepped closer, and put his hand on the stiffened forearm. With his other hand, he gently pulled open Peter’s clenched fingers and massaged them, as Caine so often did to help his son relax. “I do not know, Peter. I cannot say for sure, but I hope he lives.”
“Then where is he, damn it?” Peter abruptly pulled his hand away, and began circuiting the small room frantically. “Why isn’t he here or at home?” Or even at Skalany’s, he added silently. Even finding him there would be better than this uncertainty, this fear.
The old man could only shrug.
“Did he say anything. He tells you stuff he’d never tell me. You always know when he has to go save the world. Has he said anything?” Peter was grasping at straws.
“He has said nothing. His remorse at not telling you when he went to fight his brother, Damon, has bothered him greatly. I do not think he would leave without telling you, or at least me,” Lo Si observed.
“Remorse? My father?” Peter thought a moment. He stopped circling the room and stood in front of his friend. “He did apologize for not telling me that time, and I accepted it. Why is he remorseful?”
“He knows that you are hurt when he leaves. He believes that you accepted the apology out of your duty as a son, not real understanding. And, he does not know how to help you understand, when he cannot explain his actions to himself.”
Peter leaned forward, one hand on his hip. The other hand ran through his hair several times. Finally, he muttered, “I don’t know what to do, Lo Si.” He searched the other man’s face for answers, but was unable to find any in the loving expression. He pulled the old priest to him, hugging him tightly. “Please help, me,” he begged quietly.
“I fear I cannot, Young Caine,” the other man replied sadly. “I will try, but so must you. Go to your police station. Perhaps your answer is there.”
The detective nodded. “All right, but if you hear anything . . .”
Lo Si smiled his irrepressible smile. “You will be the first to know.”
Peter grinned, hugging him one more time. He winked at the old man, and left, taking the stairs two at a time. But when he reached his car, he leaned his head on the steering wheel for a long time, wondering where his father was, and shedding tears of frustration and fear. Finally, he got himself together, and after quickly wiping his eyes with shaking fingers, the son of Kwai Chang Caine drove to the 101st precinct.
That day was one of the longest of Peter’s life, but whenever he thought about it later, he could never remember any details of those hours. He spent the day in the precinct. After witnessing her detective’s argument with Kermit Griffin over a doughnut, and the cold silence between Detective Caine and his partner, Skalany, Captain Karen Simms decided that the streets could do without Peter Caine for one day.
She sat in her office, wondering if she was showing favoritism to the volatile young man. He was the foster son of Paul Blaisdell, former captain of the 101. She had tried not to play favorites, even as she knew her predecessor had tried. But, Peter was special. A brilliant and intuitive investigator, a mercurial personality who genuinely wanted to help and protect the innocent, a loving man who was capable of great empathy for the victims of the crimes he tried to solve, an impatient mixture of stubbornness and courage. She knew his record by heart, and knew that his father’s presence in his life, after an absence of fifteen years, had a calming effect on the young policeman. Because of Kwai Chang Caine, Peter was a better policeman, and perhaps a better person.
Karen closed the file she was staring at without seeing it with a loud thump. She had seen Peter and his father together, and had watched Caine in action in stressful situations. His calm in the face of adversity, when she and the priest were among a group of customers being held at gunpoint by terrorists bent on robbing a bank, had amazed her and sustained the other hostages until the situation was resolved. She remembered the slight smile that Caine had managed to send to his son, when Peter came into the bank disguised as a paramedic. She remembered the haggard, concerned features of the priest when he came to visit Peter in jail; and the hug father and son had shared at Chandler’s after Peter, with the help of his father and Detective Griffin, was exonerated of the murder charge.
Playing favorites? Maybe. But, the city would do all right without Detective Caine for one day, much better than the young man was doing without knowing where his father was.
The captain looked up, when her Chief of Detectives knocked on her door. He looked a little uncertain, but he said, “Captain, I understand Peter and Skalany will be doing paperwork in the precinct today?”
“Yes, Chief.” She sat back in her chair, folding her arms, and stared at him. “Any problem?”
Frank Strenlich looked even more uncomfortable, but he said, “I just wanted to double check.” He turned, but said over his shoulder, “I think it’s a good idea.” He left quickly, but Simms knew that Strenlich shared her concern for both Caines.
As was her practice, she stood in the doorway of her office, after lunch, watching the detectives she commanded at work. Kermit Griffin had been in his office all day. He hadn’t even stopped for lunch, but he had looked up from his monitor screen, not slowing the speed of his fingers flashing across the keyboard, to answer her question about his activities, “I’m checking hospitals, morgues, whatever. I’m hoping I don’t find him, but I have to look.” She didn’t ask who “him” was.
Peter was staring at his computer screen, too, but he hadn’t touched a key in several minutes. And his partner was at her desk, smiling whenever anyone spoke to her, but without the acid remarks she could, usually, be depended upon to make. Jody Powell was on leave, and the other detectives in the room carefully refrained from speaking to Peter, leaving him alone in his fear and misery.
Finally, the endless day was over. The shift had ended, and Peter was still at his desk, wondering what he was going to do. Skalany had already gone home, after avoiding his eyes all day. Kermit was still keyboarding frantically, but he wasn’t coming up with anything, and he was running out of places to look.
The exhausted young detective sat back in his chair considering his options. Going to his father’s empty apartment was out of the question, and he really couldn’t face his own place. Annie Blaisdell was out of town, so he couldn’t go to her; anyway, going there would only remind him that his foster father was gone, too. He looked up sluggishly, when someone stopped in front of his desk.
It was Broderick, the desk sergeant, standing uneasily in front of the volatile detective. Peter stared at him; some part of his mind noted the quiet in the squad room and the sudden stillness of his coworkers from second shift.
Peter opened his mouth, but no sounds came from his suddenly arid throat. He could only lock his gaze on Broderick’s face, waiting for him to speak.
The sergeant slowly held up something. A worn brown rawhide pouch, with a long strap for carrying over the shoulder. Peter swallowed, hard. “Where. . . where did you. . . get that?” His voice was a whisper of pure fear.
“Then it is your father’s?” Broderick asked, his voice not much stronger than Peter’s. “I thought so, but I wasn’t sure.”
“Where did you get it?” Something bad had happened. Caine was never without the pouch. Peter sometimes thought it was physically attached to his father.
Broderick gestured, and a young patrolman crossed the room. Peter had seen him around, but never talked to the rookie, who was only a couple of weeks out of the Police Academy. The detective’s main impression had been that the patrolman was a cocky kid who had a lot to learn. The sergeant introduced the new man as “Officer Keeler.” “He found the pouch, Peter.”
Peter sat forward in his chair, his arms wrapped protectively around his waist. “Where. . .?”
The young officer looked uneasy, under the detective’s unswerving gaze, but he straightened his shoulders and said, “My partner and I were on patrol this morning. We found a drunk in an alley over near the Strand. He had this over his shoulder. I took it to check for ID, but there wasn’t any. Just some old papers with Chinese writing on them and a lot of little bags of stuff. I though there might be some marijuana, but the lab says its all dried herbs.” He looked around, hoping someone would compliment his initiative, but no one spoke. “It was just routine. I forgot to give the bag to the guys driving the wagon. I brought it in to put in lost and found.”
Peter stood up slowly. “Routine. . . What if he needed his pouch? Weren’t you going to give it back to him? And, how do you know he was drunk? Did you take a blood test, or even smell his breath?”
“It wasn’t necessary. He was so drunk, he didn’t even wake up when we rousted him. We called the wagon, and they took him to County Hospital, to the detox ward.” He shrugged, not understanding the apparent fuss over a drunk in an alley. Peter wasn’t the only one who cringed at the rookie’s callous attitude.
“Did you check him for injuries?” Peter’s voice was cold, and dangerously calm. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Simms and Strenlich advancing slowly, but he didn’t care.
“No need to,” the rookie answered cockily. “We find these guys all the time down there. Smashed out of their minds, lying face down in the alley. We pick ’em up, they dry out, and they’re back on the streets again, looking for more booze.”
Peter reached out and took the pouch from Broderick, cradling it against his chest. “What did this man look like?”
Keeler shrugged. “Nothing special. Tall, maybe a little shorter than you are. I never did see him standing up.”
Peter frowned, but the younger man was blissfully unaware of the effect his description was having. “His clothes were old, and dirty, and, oh yeah, he had this long gray hair, down to his shoulders. Must be a hippie throwback.” Keeler looked around, expecting the others to laugh, but the detective’s room was totally silent.
“This pouch belongs to my father. He doesn’t drink, and the only reason he’d be face down in an alley is if he was badly hurt.” He walked around the desk, and stared into Keeler’s eyes. The younger policeman flinched slightly. “The description fits, so I’m going to County, to check this out. If it is him, and if your negligence has caused him harm, I’m coming back . . .”
“That’s enough, Detective.” Simms had come up behind Peter; she put a placating hand on his arm. “Go see about your father.”
Peter walked out slowly, still holding the pouch to his chest. Behind him, he heard Captain Simms say, “Chief, I want to see Officer Keeler and the watch commander in my office in 10 minutes.”
“I’m Peter Caine. I’m looking for my father, Kwai Chang Caine.”
The admissions clerk typed something into her computer, squinted at the monitor screen and then looked up. “He hasn’t been admitted.”
Peter drew a deep breath. “He’s here, he has to be here.”
“Sorry, no one by that name has been admitted,” the clerk answered impersonally, already dismissing the detective.
“He was brought in this morning,” he continued desperately. “The police brought him in. They took him to the detox ward.”
She looked up again, and stared into hazel eyes and a face. . . what a face! She leaned forward, and said in a more sympathetic tone, “Detox? He’s probably still there. We’ve been snowed under today. They probably put him in for 24 hour observation. His name won’t show up on the computer until he’s formally admitted.”
Able to hope again, the detective asked faintly, “Where is Detox?”
She smiled. “Fourth floor. Take a right when you get off the elevator.” She watched his retreating back, and yelled, “My name’s April, by the way!” He waved, but he didn’t stop running.
He had to talk to two orderlies and a nurse before anyone remembered the nameless patient who had been brought in that morning. “He’s still out. He must have really tied one on,” the nurse finally told him. “We’ve been really busy today, so we just left him to wake up when he sobered up. . . He hasn’t yet,” he added as he led him through the corridor. “He’s in there.”
Peter grabbed his arm as the nurse turned to leave. “Wait a minute, haven’t you even looked at him? What if he’s injured?”
Nurse Jeffers tried to pull away, but the detective’s grip tightened. “He’s drunk, not sick. He’ll wake up when the alcohol gets out of his system.”
“Humor me, okay?” Jeffers tried to resist, but, unable to free himself, he was pulled into the room.
There were four beds in the room. One was empty, and two held dirty, disheveled men who were conscious, but still obviously not wholly free of the alcohol in their systems.
Peter walked to the other bed, still holding firmly to Jeffers. Kwai Chang Caine lay still and pale, and didn’t respond to his son’s whispered, “Pop?”
Jeffers stared. “He’s your father?”
“Yeah, and he’s not a drunk. Check him out.”
“I don’t need to check him out. He’s not hurt! Do you see any blood?”
Peter continued to hold the nurse in an unrelenting grip, while he stared at the patient lying unmoving on the bed. “Wait a minute. What’s that?” He let go, and lifted the injured man’s head gently with both hands. There was a bright red stain on the pillow.
Jeffers reached over and lifted the fine gray hair. A deep wound, still oozing blood, cut across the base of the patient’s skull. It was hidden by the hair, unless someone really looked for it.
“Hey, I’m sorry, man. We thought he was just drunk.” Jeffers started backing out of the room quickly, anxious to get away from that cold, accusing stare. “I’ll get a doctor.”
Peter took a limp hand in his, and said, softly, “It’ll be okay, Pop. I’ll make sure you’re taken care of.”
The man on the bed stirred, moving his feet restlessly. His eyelids fluttered for a moment, then opened. He looked around, finally focussing on the man who held his hand. His eyes narrowed, and he frowned, staring at the other man in confusion.
Peter took a breath, but he couldn’t get any words out. The usually loving hazel eyes stared at him, bewildered and full of pain. There was no recognition, no love in those eyes. Just disorientation and uncertainty.
“I. . . where am I?” The voice was low and strained.
“Sh! Just relax. A doctor will be here in a minute.”
“Doctor?” The man on the bed looked around. “Is this a. . . hospital?”
“Yeah, but you’ll be all right.”
“I. . . cannot remember.” Peter’s heart skipped several beats when the questioning eyes looked into his and the other man asked faintly, “Do you know who I am?”
Two hours later, Peter sat wearily in an uncomfortable chair in the cluttered ‘lounge’, waiting for someone to tell him what was going on with his father. To Jeffers’ credit, the detective had to grudgingly admit that the nurse had not hesitated to get Caine the care he needed. “I just hope it wasn’t too late,” Peter whispered to himself. He sat with his head bowed, his arms folded, wishing that someone would tell him something. “You must be patient, my son.” Footsteps in the hallway hesitated at the door of the waiting room. Peter looked up, into the tired features of a young doctor.
Peter stood, clasping his trembling hands in front of him. “I’m Peter Caine. How’s my father?”
“He received a hard blow to the base of his skull. I can’t tell for sure, but it looks like a bullet wound.” The doctor held out his hand. “I’m Stan Noffsinger. I’m your father’s doctor,” he explained unnecessarily.
Peter was stunned. “A bullet wound? Did he say how it happened?”
The doctor shook his head, and gestured for the detective to take a seat. He sat down on the chair next to the young detective, positioning himself so that he faced the other man. “The bullet, or whatever, caused major head trauma. He has a nasty concussion . . .”
The younger Caine sat quietly. He knew there was more coming.
“The injury has caused profound amnesia. He doesn’t remember anything right now, not even his name. There’s some swelling, but I don’t think there are any complications.”
“Complications.” Peter repeated the word softly. “He will remember, won’t he?”
The doctor smiled, a professional, reassuring smile. “I hope so. Once the healing begins, and the swelling goes down, I don’t know of any reason why he shouldn’t make a complete recovery.”
“I don’t know. Each injury heals in its own time, and head injuries are particularly unpredictable. It could come back all at once, or little by little over time. Let’s see how he does for a couple of days. Then I’ll know a little more.” He smiled that falsely reassuring smile again. “He’s awake. Would you like to see him?”
Peter was on his feet. “Yes!”
Dr. Noffsinger grabbed his arm. “There is one thing. He needs to remember on his own. Don’t tell him anything about yourself or his life. Otherwise, we won’t know when his memory starts to return.”
Before they got to Caine’s room, they were stopped by a tall, blond man with cold eyes. He wore a business suit instead of a white coat, and his name tag said, “Roger Sandlin, Business Manager.”
“Are you Mr. Caine’s son?” Sandlin asked without preamble.
“I’m Peter Caine.”
“We’re transferring him,” the business manager explained brusquely.
“What?” Dr. Noffsinger sounded as surprised as Peter felt. “Why?”
“Mr. Caine doesn’t have insurance.”
“I’ll make sure his bill is paid,” the detective protested.
“Hospital rules are very explicit. If a patient doesn’t have insurance, or a means of paying his bills. . .” His eyes were somewhat warmer, but his face was stubborn. “We do take welfare cases, but we’re at our quota right now. He’s being sent to Glen Cross.”
“I’ll pay his bill.” Peter spoke louder, trying to get through to the man.
“We checked his credit rating. He doesn’t even have one.” Sandlin sounded as if he were talking about an alien life form. “Therefore, he goes to Glen Cross.”
As Roger turned away, Dr. Noffsinger asked, “When?”
“The ambulance is on its way.” Sandlin looked at the other two men, his expression somewhat sympathetic. However, he had a job to do. “We don’t want to accrue any expenses for this patient that we don’t have to.”
Peter lost the temper he had been holding onto so tightly. “Damn it, I said I’ll pay his bill. You don’t have to do this! Run a credit check on me!”
“We did.” Sandlin turned on his heel and left.
After a long silence, Noffsinger said quietly. “Come on, Peter. Let’s get your father ready to go.”
But there was no need. The was bed was empty.
“I’ll find him, Doctor. Can you call the ambulance, tell them to cancel the trip?” Peter smiled bitterly. “We wouldn’t want them to accrue an unnecessary expense.”
“Take it easy, Detective.” The doctor was thoughtful for a moment. He looked at Caine’s chart, then back up at Peter. “Listen, if you do find him, don’t take him to the hospital. If they take him as a charity case, he won’t get much better care than he did in the detox ward today. It’s not that they don’t care, but the most badly injured patients get the most attention. Take him home. Someone will have to stay with him, and make sure he can wake up when he goes to sleep. Just wake him up every couple of hours, and, make sure he rests.”
“What about the amnesia?”
“I think it will clear up, but it will probably be a few days. Staying in familiar surroundings will help. Just remember not to tell him anything. Let him remember on his own.” He put a sympathetic hand on Peter’s shoulder. “And, you can call me if you need me.”
“Thanks.” Peter took a deep breath. He wasn’t really good at taking care of people. But this was his father. “I’ll keep in touch if I need to.”
Hours later, Peter walked into his father’s apartment, his shoulders slumping tiredly. He really didn’t know why he was there. But he’d looked all over Chinatown, but his father was not to be found. He didn’t know what else to do. He had dutifully stopped at the precinct and filed a missing person’s report on his father, and reported a possible incident in the alley where Caine had been found. He told Broderick that he wouldn’t be in for a couple of days, subject of course, to Strenlich’s approval. He requisitioned a cellular phone, so he could keep in touch with the precinct, in case they found his parent, and continued to search until he ended up at his own apartment.
There was no solace there for him. His train set held no allure, and the cold pizza in his refrigerator didn’t tempt him. He sat for a few minutes on the sofa, half-heartedly “surfing” through the channels with his remote control, but his eyes didn’t register what was on the screen. Finally, he decided that he needed to be in Chinatown. If his father was anywhere, he was there, and Peter would be better able to monitor things if he were there, too. He rushed around, randomly throwing toiletries and clothes into a gym bag, then left the apartment without a backward glance.
Once at his father’s place , he was still at a loss. He tried to regain some equilibrium, standing at the French doors, looking out onto the terrace and the city skyline beyond. But the quiet surroundings gave him no peace, and he sighed in frustration. Tired of being in the dark, he lit several candles, and sat down on a mat. Eyes closed, he tried to meditate, to embrace and accept the worries of the moment. A sound alerted him, and he was instantly on his feet, walking quietly to the door. He eased out into the corridor, and came face to face with the injured man.
The other man leaned against the wall, obviously needing the support.
Peter took his arm, and overcome by many and vastly different emotions, said quietly, “What are you doing here?” He lead and supported the older man into the candle lit room.
Confusion was evident in the hazel eyes. The amnesia victim took a deep breath, and whispered, “I don’t know.” Peter caught him as his knees buckled, and lowered him to a mat.
Kneeling beside the semi-conscious man, the detective frantically tried think of a way to help. “Tea. That’s it. I’ll give him some tea.” Not really knowing what else to do, Peter loosened the man’s clothing, trying to make him comfortable, and went into the kitchen to make the tea. There were probably some herbs he should be putting in the brew, but he had no idea what they were. So, he took a measure of tea from the canister by the hot plate, and took one of the cups from the cabinet.
The injured man was stirring when Peter returned. The detective knelt, and helped him sit up. “Here, drink this.”
Two sips of the tea seemed to restore him, and his eyes were clear when he looked at Peter and said softly. “I’m sorry to have bothered you. I’ll leave now.”
Peter immediately panicked. “No! That’s all right. Stay here!” The other man sat back, startled at the younger man’s emotion.
“Why?. . .” He looked, closely, at the young man. “I saw you. . . You were. . . at the hospital, weren’t you?”
“Yeah.” Now what? He wasn’t supposed to tell his father anything. So he couldn’t say what he wanted to: “Yeah, I was there because I’m your son, and I thought you’d left me again, and when I found you, all I wanted to do was hold you and keep you safe.”
“You’ve been injured. You need to rest,” Peter finally managed. “There’s plenty of room, and I know. . . uh, the man who lives here won’t mind. So just stay here for tonight, okay?”
“What’s your name?”
“Uh. . . I’m Peter.”
“Peter. . . I like that name.”
Peter grinned fondly. “Thanks. So do I.” Seeing the fatigue in the other’s eyes and posture, he added briskly, “Okay, let’s get you settled.” He pointed to the sleeping platform. “You can sleep there.”
The injured man looked at the platform, the blanket that covered it and the round hard pillow. “There? Are you sure it’s comfortable?”
The younger man couldn’t help smiling. He’d asked that question many times, and in that same skeptical tone. “Tell you what, we’ll put a mat up there for you to sleep on.”
“Aren’t there any beds?”
Stifling a laugh, Peter shrugged. “Sorry, this is all we’ve got. Look, I’ve slept on the mats. They’re pretty comfortable. Just lie down, okay?”
“Okay.” The other man lay down, and it took all or Peter’s control not to laugh at the doubtful look on his face. But, in a few moments, the patient was peacefully asleep, and Peter settled down on another mat. Exhausted by the roller coaster of emotions he had experienced during that long day, soon, he, too, slept.
As instructed, the policeman woke up twice during the night, and gently shook the sleeping man awake. Peter hoped against hope that the other man would recognize him, but the hazel eyes remained confused and tired, showing no recognition. All the younger man could do was go back to lie down, trying not to give in to despair.
The next morning, the young man woke to bright sunlight. His eyes automatically went to the platform, which was empty and neatly made up. The detective shot to his feet, looking around frantically. He drew a deep breath when he saw the quiet figure standing on the terrace, looking down at the city.
“Good morning!” Peter’s voice sounded falsely hearty, even to his own ears. “Did you sleep well?”
The other man nodded. He turned and hesitantly told the young stranger, “I’m leaving, now. But I wanted to thank you for taking care of me last night.”
“Where are you going?” Peter’s mouth was dry, but he managed to choke the words out. It suddenly came to him that he had no hold on this man.
“I don’t know,” the older man admitted, shrugging in a manner that made Peter wince at the familiarity of the gesture. “I’ll find something. I don’t want to impose . . .”
“You’re not imposing,” Peter protested desperately. “My. . . the man who lives here, isn’t. . .isn’t here right now. I’m sure he won’t mind if you stay here until you’re feeling better.”
“Don’t you live here?” the older man was puzzled.
“Uh. . . no. I have an apartment in another part of town.”
His puzzlement increasing, the man asked, “Then. . . what are you doing here?”
“I’m sort of ah. . . housesitting, until the man who lives here gets back.” Peter was struggling hard, trying to come up with answers for this bizarre situation he found himself and his father in.
“Where is he? Who is he?” The injured man walked back into the apartment, looking around at the candles and the jars of herbs. He turned to face Peter, spreading his hands in question.
The younger man closed his eyes. “He’s a Shaolin priest.”
“Shaolin. . . priest?” For a fleeting moment, Peter thought there was a light of understanding in the injured man’s eyes, but if it was there at all, it was quickly extinguished.
“Don’t worry about it,” Peter said quickly. “It’s a Buddhist sect. Anyway, he’s gone at the moment, and I wish you”d stay, just until you’re feeling better.” Peter tried not to beg, but his emotions overruled his tongue, as usual.
“All right,” the other man, finally, agreed.
The younger man let out a relieved sigh, and suggested, “How about some breakfast?” He, briskly, walked into the small kitchen and started considering his culinary options. “We have cereal and milk. . . hmmm.”
“That will be fine.” The older man stood in the kitchen, looking around uncertainly. “Your friend, the priest?”
“He doesn’t seem to have many modern. . . conveniences.”
Peter laughed affectionately, “I’m trying to get him into the 20th century. I think I’m a few centuries short, but he’s doing better. He doesn’t have a telephone, but he’s been known to use one, lately.” He turned to the man and asked, “Would you like some tea?”
The younger man raised an eyebrow, but didn’t’ reply. The two men sat down at the table and ate their cold breakfasts silently. Peter cleared the table, and was giving the bowls and silverware a quick wash when the other man called, “Would it be all right if I clean up?”
Peter came to the doorway, a bowl and dishtowel in hand, and replied, “Sure. Go ahead.” He stopped at the abashed look on the older man’s face. “What’s wrong?”
Looking embarrassed, the man at the table said, quietly, “I have no other clothing.”
“Oh, uh. . . just a minute. I think my uh. . . friend, might have something.” Peter put down the dish and went to the chest where Caine kept his silk outfits. Maybe wearing these will trigger his memory. . . “Here, I think these will fit you.”
The policeman finished cleaning up the kitchen and wandered around straightening up the already immaculate apartment, while he listened to the shower run and then the other sounds from the bathroom. When the door opened, Peter waited for the other man to come out, but he remained in the small room. The detective walked to the door, and found the injured man looking into the small mirror over the sink, examining his face as if trying to find information about himself in the reflection. Seeing Peter, the man turned and walked out, carrying the silk tunic in his hand, looking pale and startled.
Peter went to him, supporting his arm. “Are you all right?”
The other man looked down at his bare forearms, at the dragon and tiger tattooed on them, then at Peter. “I’m branded.”
Great. How do I get out of this one? Should I tell him he’s a Shaolin priest? How do I do that, if I can’t tell him anything about himself? “Don’t worry. It’s okay. You’ll understand when you get your memory back.”
“Will I? I’m not so sure.” For the first time, Peter saw fear in the other’s eyes. Hesitantly, he put a gentle hand on the man’s shoulder and said as confidently as he could, “It’ll come back. You just have to be patient.” He laughed to himself again. I never thought I’d be telling my Pop to be patient. But then, I never thought he’d look at me, and not even know who I am.
Kwai Chang Caine was meditating, seated in the center of the great hall of the temple in northern California. The hall was otherwise empty, and the Shaolin was deeply engrossed. A small figure, the size of a boy about 7 years old, crept into the hall, and quietly zig zagged his way across the temple. He was dressed in clown costume, and wore a hat with a ball of yarn on the end, and a mask. Silently, he moved behind the priest.
Without opening his eyes, Caine said, softly, “Hello, Peter.”
The little boy came around, his body stiff with anger. “Father, you’re not supposed to know who I am. I’m in dis. . . I’m all dressed up.” “I will always know you, my son.” The priest opened his eyes and touched his son’s shoulder gently. “You are ready for the Halloween party?”
Young Peter looked at his feet for a moment. “Are you sure I can go? I heard Ping Hai say. . .” The little boy looked up, the fear in his eyes evident even behind the mask.
“Your friend Jason invited you, did he not?” Peter nodded miserably. “It is all right, my son. Halloween is not a holiday for the temple, but we must learn to accept the people of the town, and they must learn about us. Mrs. Hanson will. . . pick you up. . . in a few minutes. Please be sure to thank her for allowing you to borrow the costume.” Caine rose gracefully to his feet. “I will walk out with you. All I ask, my son, is that you do not forget to come back to me.”
Peter took his mask off and grinned up at him. “I’ll come back, Father.”
Please, Father. I want you to come back to me, now. I need you, Pop. Don’t leave me like this. Peter stood in the shower, letting the water cascade down his face and mingle with his tears. His father was lost to him, as surely as if he had deliberately walked out of his life, and Peter wasn’t sure he’d ever return. He allowed himself a few minutes of self-pity, then turned off the shower and got ready to face the rest of the day.
The injured man was staring out the french doors when Peter emerged from the shower. He turned to face the young policeman; his face showed the strain he was under.
“Why don’t you take a nap? You look tired,” the younger man suggested gently.
“You know me, don’t you? You know who I am.” He wasn’t asking questions. Peter couldn’t find any words, but his face told the answers. The other man turned back to the French doors. “After I left the hospital, I didn’t have anywhere to go. So I just walked. Somehow, I found myself here. I didn’t know why, but I knew I should come up the stairs.” His shoulders slumped, and he leaned his forehead on a cool pane of glass. “I’m the man who lives here. I’m the Sh. . . Sha-o-lin priest.” There was no joy in his discovery. He was repeating words, but they had no meaning for him.
The man didn’t move when Peter came beside him, and laid a protective arm over the slender shoulders. “It’s going to take time, like I said. You have to relax. It’ll all come back, I know it will. Why don’t you get some rest?”
Peter helped him lie down, and watched him drift into sleep. He stayed with him for a few minutes, then remembered a promise he needed to keep.
Taking the cell phone from his jacket, he went out onto the terrace and dialed the precinct. “Yeah, Broderick, this is Peter. Let me speak to Skalany.”
“Mary Margaret, I found him again. He wandered in here last night.. . Yeah, his apartment. . . Still real confused, and he doesn’t remember anything, yet. . . Yeah, maybe it’ll help. You can keep me up to date. . . Okay, I’ll see you later.”
Peter was practicing tai chi forms on the terrace. He turned, and saw the injured man watching him quietly. “Hi. Did you sleep, okay?”
The man nodded. “What is that you were doing?”
“It’s called tai chi. It’s a discipline used to bring the mind and body into harmony.” Peter grinned and put his hand out. “Come on, I’ll show you.”
They moved slowly through some of Peter’s favorite forms. The other man followed, moving hesitantly at first, but seeming to enjoy the movements and become more at ease with them as they progressed through the forms.
When they completed the exercise, the older man asked, “I do this, too, don’t I?” Peter nodded eagerly. “Do I do it, often?”
“Every day,” Peter replied, a little breathless, but feeling exhilarated by the exercise. “Why?”
“I didn’t know what movements to make, but my body did. It was as if it took over on its own, as if it knew what to do even if my mind didn’t.” Peter had been standing with his back to the French doors. The other man stared beyond him, into the apartment. “Mary Margaret is here.”
Peter caught his breath, overwhelmed by a powerful surge of jealousy. His father had remembered Mary Margaret Skalany, but not his own son. A voice of reason whispered, “Come on Peter, you should be glad. This means he’s remembering.” Peter tried to shake off the hurt, but it wouldn’t go away. “You remember her?” was all he could manage to say.
To Peter’s shame, his heart lifted when the other man shook his head, and said slowly, “I do not remember her. I heard you on the phone, telling her you’d see her later. Isn’t this Mary Margaret?”
“Yeah. Come on in, say hello.”
The injured man was polite to Skalany, but it was obvious that he didn’t remember her. “Kermit’s parking the Corvair,” she told them, trying not to stare at the man with Peter. She signed inwardly, wondering if she’s ever again see that wondrous smile that seemed to be meant just for her.
“He’s another detective from the precinct.”
“Detective,” the older man repeated. “You didn’t tell me you’re a cop.”
“Oops. That’s right, I didn’t.” Peter berated himself for his failure. “I’m sorry. I’ve got a lot on my mind.”
Footsteps in the hallway announced the arrival of Detective Griffin, resplendent as usual in blue suit, red tie and dark glasses. His dark, curly hair brushed his shoulders in a thick, unruly mass. He approached them slowly, watching for a reaction from the man standing next to Peter. There was none.
“This is Kermit Griffin.” Again, Peter didn”t introduce the man with him, and neither of the other detectives pressed the issue.
Peter grinned at his friend. “We’re honored, Kermit. What made you break that chain that the Captain uses to keep you at your computer?”
“Mary Margaret and I have some information on that report you made last night.” Kermit’s eyes flickered to the quiet man for a fleeting moment.
“I think I’ll fix some tea. Does anyone else want some?”
Peter relaxed, relieved that his charge had understood and was leaving them alone to talk privately. “Sure, I’ll have a cup.”
Skalany and Kermit nodded agreement. The three detectives moved, with unspoken accord, to the terrace, out of earshot of the kitchen.
“What have you got?” Peter asked brusquely.
“That’s our Peter, straight to the point,” Kermit remarked with a grin.
Skalany grinned, but she folded her arms and urged, “Come on, Kermit. Tell him.”
“Okay, okay. Simms had a hunch about your alley, so forensics went over it this morning. Lucky it hasn’t rained since you father was found there.”
Peter was standing stiffly, waiting impatiently for his friend to get to the point. Kermit took the hint, and continued, “Turns out, two different sets of blood stains were found, with different blood types. One of them is your father’s. I have it my database, from when we looked for him when he was kidnapped. The other is the same as a kid’s we found a few blocks from the alley. They’re trying to do DNA matches now, but we’re pretty sure he died in the alley where your father was found.”
“Who was the kid?”
“His name is Wong Mao. He doesn”t have a record with Juvenile, but his mother said he’s been staying out to all hours, and suddenly become sullen and rebellious. She thinks he joined a gang. The MO fits with a gang style execution.” Kermit stopped, then added in a choked voice, “He was only 15.”
“Any leads on why he might have been executed?”
“He was wearing the colors used by the Jade Tower gang. They’re in a turf battle with the Imperial Dragons over Chinatown. Word is, the Imperial Dragons are being bankrolled by somebody behind the scenes, including automatic weapons.”
“These are just kids, Kermit,” Peter objected.
“Kids kill each other all the time,” Skalany pointed out, glumly. “We think your father saw the execution, probably tried to stop it, and was shot for his trouble. Wong Mao’s body was taken to another alley, so there wouldn’t be a connection.”
“So what we’re looking for, among other things, is the vehicle they used to transport the body.” Peter’s voice was thoughtful, with an underlying determination. Somebody had hurt his father, and he would find them.
“We’re on it, Peter. The Dragons have several cars, but only one van. We’re working on a warrant, but the case is kind of thin right now.” Skalany smiled reassurance she wasn’t really feeling. “Don’t worry, we’ll get them.”
“Okay.” Peter reached a quick decision. “Listen, I’ll be back to work tomorrow. We’ll get these guys. . . before they can come back for my father.”
“What about him?” Kermit gestured toward the apartment.
“I’ll get Lo Si to stay with him,” Peter decided. “He’s physically recovering, but his memory is still blocked.” He smiled a bitter smile. “Maybe it’s just as well. If he could remember what happened, he’d be in real danger.”
Kermit nodded agreement but he added a new thought, “If they don’t know he can’t remember, he could still be in danger.”
“Another reason why we need to make our case, so we can arrest them as soon as possible.” The three nodded in agreement, and walked back into the apartment.
The visitors took token sips of the tea, and left, pleading the need to get back to the precinct. Peter settled on the floor, cross legged, and drank his tea while he thought about what his friends had said. He looked up when the other man touched his shoulder.
“You seem to have a lot on your mind.”
“Yeah, some. Listen, I need to go back to work tomorrow.”
His charge nodded. “All right, I will leave in the morning.”
“No! That’s not what I meant.” Peter spoke quickly, trying to think at the same time. “You can stay here. I”ll be back tomorrow night; I want you to stay.”
The other man shook his head, but Peter pressed on, “Where would you go? You don’t have anyplace else to go, so why not stay here?” He regretted his harsh tone, but he didn”t apologize, just watched the other man closely.
Losing his memory had not made the injured man’s features any easier for Peter to read, but the younger man thought he saw fear, anxiety and resignation flash across them. Finally, acceptance clouded the drawn face, and the other man agreed reluctantly. “I’ll stay for a few more days.”
“Hello, Peter.” The detective wasn’t really surprised to see the Ancient standing quietly in the doorway, and didn’t fail to notice that the old priest said nothing to the other man.
“Lo Si,” Peter bowed slightly, but the injured man just watched. Ignoring the man’s lack of respect, the old priest took his hand, and gazed steadily at him. The young policeman saw an expression of great sadness in those ancient eyes.
“Uh, would you mind getting another cup? I’m sure Lo Si would like some tea,” Peter suggested quietly.
Lo Si let go of the injured man’s hand, and nodded. “I would like that, Peter.” The other man disappeared into the kitchen.
Without a word, the detective propelled the old man out onto the terrace, as close to the wall as he could without being able to look down. “What is it?”
The old man faced him calmly, his hands hidden in the sleeves of his tunic. He drew a deep breath, and told the anxious young man earnestly, “Perhaps it is nothing. Perhaps I am mistaken.”
“Sure, like that’s going to happen. What is it, Lo Si?” When the old priest was silent, Peter began to panic. “You’ve got to tell me, whatever it is,” he whispered urgently. He looked over his shoulder, making sure that his charge had not come out onto the terrace.
“All right, Young Caine. I tried to reach your father’s chi when I held his hand, but I could not. He is lost, and cannot find his way. He does not know me, or anyone, not even himself. He is in great pain.”
Peter was quiet for a few moments, willing his lips to stop trembling and his brain to begin functioning again. “Are. . . are you. . . are you saying that his memory won’t return?”
“I do not believe so.”
“He’s injured, Lo Si. The doctor said that when he heals, he’ll probably be all right. He’s just not healed yet.” Even Peter didn’t know whether he was consoling himself or the old man. “All he needs is time.”
With a sad shake of his head, Lo Si told him, “I do not believe so, Peter.” He smiled a little. “But you may ask for a second opinion.”
Peter grinned in spite of himself. “Who should I ask? The only person whose opinion I value more than yours is. . . ah. . . unavailable right now.”
They were unable to say more, because the other man came out onto the terrace with Lo Si’s tea, and they all went inside together.
The old priest watched the injured man closely while they drank their tea, looking for any signs of recognition in the man’s exhausted features. The man listened quietly while the detective and the Ancient talked, but didn’t join the conversation and showed no sign that he knew the people the other two were talking about.
Before he left, Lo Si made an herbal compress to put on the man’s head wound, and made up an herbal concoction for him. The man had watched the old apothecary in fascination; but, he just shook his head when the old man asked him for some comfrey. He stared at the rows of jars helplessly, while Lo Si retrieved the correct jar.
“He is still weak from the wound, Peter. Make sure he rests as much as possible. He is healing physically,” the Ancient assured the young man, “but, it will take a few days for his body to recover fully.” He agreed to spend the next day with the wounded man, and silently left the other two alone.
Late that night, after making sure that his charge was asleep, Peter sat on the terrace, looking at the stars and thinking about what Lo Si had said. You may have really done it this time, Pop. You may have left me for good. And it’s even worse than if you just walked away. You’re here, but you’re a stranger. You look at me, without seeing me; you touch me, but it’s not your touch. I can’t feel you anymore. Where are you, Father? He sat there for a long time, remembering nights at the temple, sitting in the darkness with his tall, strong father beside him, watching the stars and leaning against his parent’s chest. A warm arm around his shoulder sheltered him, and he usually went to sleep listening to his father’s voice, talking about the wonders of the universe. Now, since his father’s return, there had been many evenings when he sat on the terrace, listening to his father play the flute and watching the stars. Unheeded, tears slowly made their way down his cheeks for a moment.
Come on Peter, get hold of yourself. You’re Shaolin, now. You have to behave like a Shaolin. He took several cleansing breaths, and closed his eyes, resting his wrists loosely on his knees. He sank more and more deeply through the levels of consciousness, trying to find harmony and strength. When he opened his eyes, his panic was gone, and he had accepted, if not embraced the situation. But, he had not entirely rid himself of the feeling that his father was abandoning him again.
The next morning, he left the injured man eating breakfast, and drove to the Ancient’s apartment. He wanted to talk to the old man alone before going to the precinct. “Lo Si, isn’t there anything we can do? Maybe I should get a second opinion. I could talk to his doctor.”
“Yes, Peter. I suppose you could,” the old man agreed. “But, I do not know of any treatment they can offer. I have heard that electro-shock therapy is sometimes used. . .”
“No! I won’t let that happen. Please Lo Si, isn’t there some kind of herb you can use?”
“I am sorry, Peter. Herbs will not help in this case.” He stopped, then went on slowly, trying to ignore the dawning hope in the young policeman’s eyes. “There is a possibility. . .”
Peter grabbed his friend, holding his forearms tightly. “What!! Why didn’t you say so before?”
The old priest extricated himself from the detective’s grip, and said seriously, “It is only a small chance. And, I cannot do what must be done. . .”
“Who can? Tell me who we need, and I’ll get them, whoever it is.” Peter felt hope for the first time in a long time.
“It is you, Peter.”
The policeman stepped back. “Me? What are you talking about?”
“Do you remember when you and your father went into your mind, to find your memories of Bill Eagleton?”
“Yeah, I remember,” Peter mumbled. He didn’t think he’d like what the old man was going to say next.
“Yes, Peter, you must help your father find his memories, just as he helped you.” Lo Si put a reassuring hand on the detective’s shoulder, but it was shrugged off.
“I can’t. . . I can’t Lo Si. We’ll have to find another way.” Peter turned, and left the apartment, his shoulders hunched, as if to ward off a blow.
At the precinct, Detective Caine’s mind was occupied by the case against the Imperial Dragons. Skalany and Kermit filled him in on the results of the forensic tests and surveillance of the gang. “The DNA tests showed that the blood in the alley was Wong Mao’s. And we think something is going to happen soon.”
Peter spent the rest of the day reading the reports, working on some of his other cases and brain-storming possible strategies to use against the Imperial Dragons.
He was sitting at his desk, when Skalany came over and announced, “It’s time to go home, partner.”
“Yeah, home,” Peter responded.
“What’s the matter, Peter?”
He sat for a long moment, staring at nothing in particular, then looked at her. “It’s too early to say, Skalany. I could be worrying about nothing.”
“Is it your father?” Her voice was suddenly strained.
Peter ran a nervous hand through his hair, and nodded. “Possibly. I just don’t know, yet.”
She stiffened, trying to keep her emotions from being broadcast. “Have you talked to Lo Si?”
“Yeah, and he’s not sure, either.” Peter stood. “I gotta go, Skalany.” As he crossed the room, he felt her eyes boring into his back. He stopped, shoulders slumping, and turned back to her. “I’ll take care of him, Skalany. I promise. Trust me, okay?” She nodded, but she couldn’t smile as she watched him turn and walk, quickly, out of the room.
The young detective wasn’t ready to go home. Without really thinking about it, he drove to the park in the center of the city, and walked to the small lake, to the spot he called his “secret place”. He needed to think, and this was the place he always came to when he needed to be alone. Since his father’s return, he hadn’t come here much. He found the soothing presence of the Shaolin to be all the comfort he needed, most of the time. So, he, usually, went to his father when he was disturbed. More often than not, the Shaolin was waiting for him, already knowing that his child was hurting in some way. And, many times, Peter’s father had sought his son out, offering comfort without question. Sometimes, the detective admitted to himself, the comfort was offered when it wasn’t wanted. He preferred not to think of the hurtful things he sometimes said and did when his father tried to give him unwanted sympathy.
But, now, the situation was reversed. He had it within his power, or so Lo Si thought, to help his father; but, could he? He remembered telling his father that he wanted to complete his Shaolin training, and his father’s response that the path was not an easy one. This was one of the steps on that path, and Peter wasn’t sure he could do it.
He had always told Caine that he would do “anything, anything at all” to help him, and now the Shaolin needed his help, only his help, and he was hesitating. Why?
“Come on, Peter. Get yourself together.”
He stared out at the peaceful lake, watching the last of the sun’s rays reflected on the water. “I don’t know how to do this stuff. That’s Pop’s way, not mine. I might even hurt him. I couldn’t handle it if I made things worse. . .”
Tired of the same thoughts, circling his tired mind like a merry-go-round, Peter stood and made his way through the evening shadows. He quickened his pace when he realized that his car phone was ringing.
He opened the door, and reached in the car for the phone, leaning against the roof of the car while he talked.
“Where have you been, Kid? Never mind, I’ve been trying to reach you for an hour.”
“Sorry, Kermit. What’s up?”
Detective Griffin hesitated for a long moment. “I’m at your father’s place, Peter.”
“What is it?” the young detective spoke stiffly, finding it hard to breathe.
“He’s all right, Peter. He and Lo Si were walking in Chinatown, and one of the Imperial Dragons tried to take him out. Lo Si took care of the assailant.”
“Is Lo Si all right, too?”
“Yeah, they’re both fine, and we got the kid in custody.” Kermit hesitated again. “I think you’d better get up here, Peter.”
Kermit was silent, then he said, slowly, “I think you need to talk to Lo Si. Look, Kid, I have to get back to the precinct; I want to check on the interrogation. Talk to Lo Si, and I’ll see you later.”
As Peter got into the car, his eye fell on the brown pouch he had thrown in the back seat on his way to the hospital. He picked it up, hugging it to his body for a moment, then threw it into the passenger seat, and drove off with a roar of the Stealth’s powerful engine.
At his father’s place, he walked up the fire escape slowly, clutching the pouch, as if for protection. He found Lo Si in the workroom staring out the French doors.
“Lo Si, are you all right?”
The old man turned and smiled, but there was a glint of unhappiness in his eyes. “I am fine, Peter. And so is he.”
“I took him for a walk. I hoped that seeing Chinatown and its people would help him regain his memory. We were attacked by a young man, but I managed to overcome him.” The old priest bowed his head.
“Something’s still wrong, I can feel it. There’s something else.”
“I still believe that his memory will not come back, but I took him into Chinatown, hoping I was wrong.” The old man didn’t raise his head. “I thought it would help him to see Chinatown. He seemed confused, and when someone stopped us, asking for his help, it hurt him that he could not give them aid. And then, we were attacked.” He finally raised his head and looked at the young man. “He is leaving, Peter.”
“Leaving? What are you talking about. Where’s he going?” The young policeman’s voice rose.
“I don’t know,” a quiet voice behind Peter, admitted. “I only know that I can’t stay here.”
“Why? Why can’t you stay here?” The young man whirled, facing the other man, angrily.
“I don’t belong here, not as I am now,” the injured man told him, gently. “I can’t do what people think I should do, what I did before.” He touched, Peter’s face gently. “Your eyes look at me with such pain. I can’t stay here, knowing that I cause you pain, and I can’t do anything to help you. I couldn’t help Lo Si today, either. I’m not helping anyone by staying here. All I’m doing is putting people who are trying to help me in danger.”
“You just need to rest. You’ll get better, your memory will come back.” Peter spoke desperately, trying to think of anything he might say to make the man stay.
“I don’t belong here.”
“Yes you do!” Peter grabbed him pulling the surprised man into a fierce hug, holding on with all that he had. “You belong with me!”
Startled by Peter’s desperation, the man in his arms asked, softly, “Why? Why do I belong with you?”
Without thinking, totally forgetting what the doctor had said, Peter whispered, “Because you’re my father, that’s why.”
The other man nodded. That explained everything. Why the young policeman had taken such care of him, why he was trying so hard to prevent his leaving. He raised his arms, returning Peter’s embrace gently. “I still have to go.”
“Why? Why can’t you stay here with me?”
“If I leave, it won’t be because of you, Peter. It will be because of me, because of something in me.” He pulled back, smiling into tear filled hazel eyes. “I may never recover my memory, but somehow I know that I love you, that you are important to me. But there is more, and I have to find it, or replace it. And, I can’t do that here.”
Peter was silent, unable to voice his misery.
“People here seem to expect a lot of me, things that I can no longer give them. Until I am able to take my place again, I need to leave.” He hugged Peter again, promising, “I will come back, if I can.”
The younger man pulled away, and held up the pouch that had been crushed between them. “This is yours. You’ll need it when you travel.”
“Wait! Before you decide anything, just stay right there! Lo Si! Where are you?” The desperation in Peter’s voice made the other man wince.
The old man materialized out of the shadows. “I am here, Peter.”
Peter went to him, his eyes pleading. “Will you help me. . . us, Lo Si?”
“Of course, Young Caine. I will do all I can.”
The young man drew a deep breath. “Thanks, Lo Si.” He turned to the other man. “Do you trust me?”
The man nodded, not understanding the turn in the conversation, but willing to acknowledge his trust in the young man.
“I mean, do you really trust me?” Will you let me do whatever I have to do to help you remember?” He stopped an arm’s length away from the injured man, waiting in an agony of uncertainty. Finally, a small nod of acceptance let him breathe again.
Peter paced, circling the meditation room impatiently, while Lo Si arranged mats on the floor and lit strategically placed candles. The third man watched quietly, still holding the pouch.
“Please, come here and sit down,” the old priest requested calmly. He made the two men sit, facing each other, and instructed them to hold out their hands, entwining their fingers with those of the other man. “You must close your eyes and relax. Hold onto each other, find strength in each other. I will do what I can, but it is you who must do this.”
The two men closed their eyes. Peter focussed his energies, sinking deeper and deeper. . . Each man was aware of a soft voice whispering, “You can do this. Do not be afraid. You can do this. . .”
Peter was falling. . . falling into a deep hole; it spun around him until he landed abruptly. He was in a place he had never seen before. The Chinese believe that the mind is divided into eight houses; one is for thinking, one for combat, one for memory. . . Each house has many rooms. . .
He was on a quiet tree-lined street. On the street were several houses, all exactly alike, and all of a architecture which combined Western and Eastern influences. He walked past a few houses, but stopped when he saw a slumped form seated on the steps that led to one house.
Carefully he approached the bent figure, fascinated by the long hair that gleamed almost silver in the light, the large, strong fingers cupped around the bent neck.
The bent figure looked up, his face breaking into a smile. “I am so glad you are here!” He stood up and held out his hand. “Please, can you help me?”
The younger man grabbed him, engulfing him in a desperate hug. “You know me?”
“You have been helping me.” Peter released his hold, disappointed that this man ‘t know him. “I must ask for your help again. I am sorry for the necessity, but I have been unable to break through.”
“Break through what? What are you talking about?”
“We must work quickly. Come.” The other man lead the way to the top of the stairs. He pushed his shoulder against the door, but it wouldn’t budge. “Help me, please. We must get this door open.”
“What’s wrong with it?” asked Peter, through clenched teeth, as he pushed against the obstinately closed door.
“There is a blockage on the other side. I cannot break through it. I feel that I must do so, although I am not sure why.”
The two men struggled, pushing will all their strength. Despite the energy they were expending, the door didn’t move.
“It will not work,” the older man, finally, said softly. “You must go now.” He put his hand against Peter’s cheek, gently. “I am sorry.”
“Wait a minute. What happens if we don’t do this?” Peter’s chest was heaving, his words came between gasps.
“I do not know. I only know that there is something I must do, and I cannot if the door stays closed.”
“You must open the door, Peter. It is the first step toward regaining his memory.”
“Hurry, Peter. You must act quickly.”
“I’m not giving up, and neither are you. We’re going to do this.” The injured man canted his head, and smiled at the other’s determined tone. With a nod, he put his shoulder against the door again, and the two men began pushing.
This time the door moved, slowly, imperceptibly. Under the combined pressure of the struggling men, the opening grew ever larger, until the two men could enter the house.
Inside, they found several floors, each with many doors, all of them closed. The two men looked around, then at each other.
“Now what?” Peter wondered.
“He must open the doors. They guard his memories.”
“All of them?” the younger man looked around in dismay.
The other mans body was slumping with fatigue. “What must I do?” he asked faintly.
“You have to open the doors.” Peter told him sympathetically.
“All right. You do not have to stay. I will do it,” the man said softly, but with a note of determination that the young man knew well.
“What if you can’t get a door open?” Peter had been looking around, but he only had eyes for the man with him now.
“Then, I will not succeed.” The words were simple, but it was an effort to say them.
“Well, just in case, I think I’ll stick around. You might need my help.” Peter put his hand on the other’s shoulder. “Let’s go.”
The man hesitated, looking at the many doors he had to confront.
Gently, the young man moved his hand, putting his arm around the other’s slender shoulders, pulling him close. “What is it?”
“I do not know, but I fear that there are things hidden here that I do not wish to confront.” He tilted his head, and with a wry smile, said, “But I cannot pick and choose what I do here. I will face all of it.” He shrugged away from Peter’s arm. “Come, we must hurry.”
The younger man followed, promising, “I’ll be with you. We’ll face this together.”
The doors were all sturdy and solid. Some opened easily: a very young boy playing in the sunshine, watched by a beautiful Chinese woman and a tall man who looked remarkably like Peter’s father; another young boy, in the gray tunic and trousers of a student, walking through a wooded area, listening closely to the guidance of the man in orange robes who walked beside him; two boys practicing kung fu, grinning at each other as they practiced new moves and one of the shouting, “That was a good one, Dao!”; a young couple, a red haired woman and a tall, slender man, walking hand in hand; a father watching his son, a quiet gleam of pride in his eyes, seeing his son complete training as a Shaolin . . .
Some doors offered slight resistance: a young child, coming slowly out of a place of concealment, looking around frantically for the mother who had been taken away from him; an older boy and his father, hiding in the countryside, running from the Chinese Army which had destroyed their temple; a teenager, confronting the father who was leaving him to go to the Himalayas in search of antiquities, and later that same boy, crying alone after being told that his father was dead; two men, once friends, struggling with each other for supremacy in a Shaolin temple in Northern California; an older man, walking a long road, alone and bereft.
And, some of the doors offered strong resistance, requiring the strength of both men to get them open: a young man, kneeling by the bedside of his dying wife, holding her hand and trying to control his tears; an older man, kneeling beside a marble obelisk, dropping clods of dirt on a grave as his tears dropped to the earth; a man tending to the son he had only recently found, trying to fend off the effects of a drug overdose; the same man sitting in a hospital, holding his wounded child’s hand and willing him to live; a man walking down a crowded street, away from his son, not knowing when or if he would return . . .
When the last door was opened, Peter turned to his father. Caine’s face was very pale, but he managed a weak smile.
“Are you all right?”
“I remember. . .” was all the Shaolin could manage. His eyes filled with tears, and he pulled his son into a strong hug. He buried his face in his son’s shoulder, overwhelmed by the flood of images. “Failed. I have failed you, my son, as I did your mother. Many . . . so many . . .”
Peter felt the tears wetting his shoulder, as the exhausted man slumped in his arms. “Sh! Hold on, Pop. It’s all right. Just hang on to me.” Holding his father tightly, he focussed his energy, preparing to return.
He was floating, higher and higher, toward the light that beckoned him. His eyes flickered open; he was lying on the floor, with the Ancient kneeling beside him. He turned his head, and saw his father lying next to him. He jerked to a sitting position, reaching out for Caine while he asked, “Is he all right, Lo Si?”
Caine was very pale, and he breathed in shallow gasps, but the older priest reassured the young man, quickly. “I believe he is fine, Peter, he is just very tired. We will know for certain when he wakes up. But he needs rest; he will not wake up for awhile.”
Peter settled himself, preparing to wait for his father to awaken. But the shrill ring of the cellular phone shattered the peace of the moment. “Caine. Now? Okay, I’ll be right there.”
“Can you stay with him, Lo Si? One of my cases is breaking, I need to be there.”
“The gang that shot your father?”
Peter didn’t even stare. He was used to this by now, wasn’t he? “Yeah, that’s right. If my pop wakes up, tell him I’ll be back as soon as I can.” With a quick kiss to Caine’s clammy forehead, and a pat on the old priest’s shoulder, the detective was gone.
Peter finished handcuffing his prisoner. The raid on the warehouse had gone well, and the Imperial Dragons were all in custody or nearly so. The detective looked up to check the other policemen’s progress. He stopped short, his breath freezing in his lungs. Kwai Chang Caine stood in the middle of the warehouse, having kicked the weapon out of a gang member’s hand. He struck the man in the sternum with the heel of his hand, and watched him collapse. He stood over his assailant, breathing hard; he was still fighting the effects of his injury and the physical and psychological strain he had been under.
Across the large room, behind the priest, above him on a catwalk, a man took aim at him with a high powered rifle. The Shaolin was concentrating on recovering his energy, and didn’t notice the gunman.
Peter didn’t have time to wonder why his father was there. He tried to call out, but he couldn’t get air, and his cry had no sound behind it. He could only watch; this was his nightmare, come to horrifying reality. He raised his pistol, knowing that even if by some miracle the bullet could travel the distance to where the man with the rifle was, it was too late. Even as he aimed and fired in one swift movement, a split second before his hand squeezed the trigger, he heard a shot. His nightmare, watching his father die and not being able to stop it, was coming true.
Peter closed his eyes, unable to accept what had happened. He stood, head bowed, arms limp at his sides, the gun dangling from numb fingers. As the agony of grief rolled over him, he felt his knees weaken, unable to support his body any longer.
A warm hand on his shoulder steadied him. A beloved voice whispered, “Peter.” The priest’s son kept his eyes closed, unwilling to believe.
“I am all right, Peter. Please, look at me.” Warmth encircled Peter’s jaw, as a large hand was laid against his face. “Please, look at me.” The voice held a note of concern, now.
Peter opened his eyes, still not quite convinced that his father stood there, alive and whole, and knowing his son.
“My son.” The simple words electrified Peter, who grabbed his father’s shoulders, holding on fiercely. “Are you all right? I thought he’d killed you!!”
Caine’s reply was muffled by his son’s emphatic embrace. Peter pulled him close, and buried his face in a strong shoulder, whispering over and over, “You came back.” He relaxed against the supporting form, smiling as his father’s hands massaged his neck and back, relieving the tension that had knotted his muscles for days.
Eventually, the policeman in Peter came to the fore, and he released his hold. He stepped back from the hug, but kept his hand on Caine’s forearm. “He was going to shoot you. I tried to stop him. . . What happened?”
“Mary Margaret shot him,” Caine explained.
“Thank God, and Mary Margaret,” Peter whispered, pulling the Shaolin into another hug, overwhelmed by gratitude. He held on, feeling his father’s love flow through him, washing away the pain, fear and frustration of the last few days. He opened himself, joyfully aware that his father’s presence was back in his mind, restoring the assurance and feeling of well-being that his father instilled in him.
His head rested against Caine’s shoulder. He could feel the love between them, sure and as strong as ever. Slowly, he became aware that someone else was there. He turned his head, and smiled a little at the sight of Mary Margaret Skalany leaning against the priest’s other shoulder, her eyes closed, a look of contentment on her lovely face.
Caine’s arm tightened around his son’s body, and Peter, suddenly, realized that the love he felt coming from his father wasn’t diminished by the emotions passing from the Shaolin to Skalany. This man loved his son, and that love was always there for him, no matter who else came into his father’s life. His parent’s seemingly endless capacity for love would allow room for others in his life, without taking anything away from his beloved child.
With a final kiss to his father’s jaw, Peter straightened and said, in as business-like a manner as he could, “Okay, let’s get these guys out of here.”
Much later, after statements were taken and reports filed, Peter stood in the squad room at the precinct, watching a low-voiced conversation between his father and his partner. Mary Margaret smiled radiantly at the Shaolin, and reluctantly let go of his arm. Caine kissed her hand, and smiled, telling her, “I will see you, Wednesday, then.”
“You’d better, or I’ll come after you.” They grinned at each other.
“Uh, Pop, I need to talk to Skalany for a minute.”
Caine looked from one to the other, and bowed slightly. “I will wait at the front desk.” The younger man promised silently to be quick. The priest’s exhaustion was evident.
Peter walked to Skalany, who was sitting on the edge of her desk. She looked at him warily.
“I just. . . uh, I just wanted to thank you for my father’s life. It’s very important to me.” Peter spoke uneasily, but with determination.
“It’s very important to me, too, Peter,” she acknowledged.
“I know that now, and I wanted you to know that I’m sorry I’ve been a little selfish about your relationship with him.” He held up a hand to forestall her interruption. “Please, let me finish. I know now that he doesn’t have to give me all of his love, that he can care about. . . love other people, without depriving me.”
“I’m glad you realize that, Peter,” she replied quietly. “I never intended to take your father away from you.”
“And I learned something else, too,” Peter added with a small smile.
“What’s that, Peter?”
“I learned that there are other people who love him, and who can protect him. That I don’t have to take sole responsibility for his well-being.”
She shook her head. “He doesn’t need protection, Peter, or at least I never thought so until tonight.”
He looked at her seriously, his voice earnest with his conviction. “That’s just it. He protects everybody else, but there’s nobody to watch his back, if I don’t. He’s my father, and he’s human. If I don’t protect him, nobody will.”
“I will,” she said simply.
“I know. Thanks, Skalany.” Silently, they made a pact to safeguard the life of Kwai Chang Caine, whether he wanted them to or not.
She smiled at her sometime partner, and stood to kiss his cheek lightly. “Good night, Peter.”
Driving through the streets of Chinatown, Peter kept glancing at the shadowy form of his father. “Pop, I have a question.”
“What is it, my son?”
“You know what I said to Skalany, don’t you?”
A long silence, then, “Yes.”
“Good. . . Pop, there’s something else I want you to know.”
“Go ahead, Peter.”
“I’m a cop. And I have a job to do. You could have been killed tonight.. . Listen, Pop. This is important. I can’t do my job if I have to keep tabs on you. I lose my concentration, trying to make sure you’re safe. That’s not good, Pop.”
“I agree, my son. I know exactly how you feel.”
Caine looked out the window, his face serene in the shadowy reflections of the street lights they passed. Peter drove steadily, his eyes straight ahead, while he though about his father’s response. A glimmer of understanding made him smile. “So sometimes, ‘we’ have to leave part of ourselves behind, so ‘we’ can do what ‘we’ have to do,” he, finally, said, musingly.
The other man was silent, but Peter caught the flicker of movement as his father nodded.
“But why can’t ‘we’ be honest about it. If you’d just tell me, I’d understand.”
Peter felt those piercing eyes on him, and heard his father whisper, “Would you really understand, my son? I do not think so. And, even if you did, I. . .” his voice faltered for a moment, but he drew a sharp breath and continued, “I have said many ‘goodbyes’ in my lifetime. They become harder and harder as the years pass.” He put his hand on Peter’s shoulder. “And, I know, they are equally hard for you. Whatever I do, it will cause you pain, whether I tell you when I must go, or I just leave.”
“I guess that’s something we’ll have to work on, Pop.”
Later at the Shaolin’s apartment, Caine sat lotus style on a mat, surrounded by candles, meditating. Finished for the moment, although he knew more rest and meditation was needed before his chi was fully restored, he looked up to see his son watching him.
“We need to talk, Pop.”
Caine nodded, accepting the cup of tea Peter held out to him. “Yes. You are troubled about something?”
Peter sat cross legged in front of his father and looked at him solemnly. “No, but I sense that you are.”
The Shaolin smiled, and leaned over to put his hand on the young man’s arm. “I am all right, Peter.”
Shaking his head, Peter protested, “I don’t think so, Pop. Can’t you share with me?”
Caine’s face set in grim lines, but he only shook his head, once.
Peter refused to let it go. “Let’s talk about failure, Pop.”
“Failure?” Caine stiffened. “What do you mean?”
“I mean let’s talk about how you think you failed Mom, and me and just about everyone else you’ve ever loved. That’s it, isn’t it?” As Peter spoke, he began to understand, too. “That’s one reason you’re so protective now, because you believe you failed me when the temple was destroyed.”
The Shaolin’s head rested on his chest, and Peter could barely hear his words. “I could not save you. If it had been up to me, you would have died. If I had understood Dao’s evil . . .”
Peter moved into a kneeling position, pulling Caine into his arms. He stroked the silky hair pressed against his shoulder. “I love you, Pop. I know you’d never deliberately do anything to hurt me. You never failed me.”
“Except when I walked away, again?” The words were barely audible against Peter’s shoulder. He looked up, his eyes cloudy with fatigue. But within the hazel depths, the younger man read remorse and sorrow.
“You didn’t mean to hurt me, Pop. I know that, now. Just like I didn’t mean to hurt you when I said those things to you when I was being controlled by the Brujo.”
Caine shook his head against Peter’s shirt. “That was not your fault, Peter. The Brujo . . .”
Peter chuckled in spite of himself. “You’re always ready to forgive me, aren’t you, Pop?”
“You are my son. I love you, and I am proud of you.” Exhaustion colored his words, and he sagged in Peter’s arms.
“I love you, too, Pop. We’ll talk about this again, okay?” Peter had more to say; the fatigue in his father’s eyes stopped him for the moment. “But not tonight.”
Peter helped his father lie down, and covered him with a warm blanket. “Good night, Pop.”
“Good night, Peter.”
Kwai Chang was in a deep, dreamless sleep, when cries in the distance woke him. He opened his eyes, somewhat groggily, but came to instant alertness when he realized that it was Peter he heard, crying out for Caine in his sleep and tossing restlessly. Moving quickly, he knelt beside the young man, and pulled the struggling body into his arms.
“Sh! It is all right, Peter. I am here.” With soothing words and gentle caresses, the priest calmed the agitated man in his embrace, and the shadowed hazel eyes opened.
Peter took a deep breath, as his eyes focussed on the person who held him. “Father?”
“Sh! You were dreaming.”
Nodding, Peter managed a small smile. “I’m okay, Pop.”
Caine returned the smile, but he could feel the pounding of his son’s heart beneath his hand. “Perhaps it would help if you talked about your dream, my son.” Peter shook his head emphatically, but the priest continued, “It was about me?”
“I said we wouldn’t talk about this tonight,” Peter objected, while he leaned against his father’s strength.
“Sometimes, the heart cannot wait for the answers it seeks. So, the dream was about me.”
Peter looked startled. “How did . . .”
“You called for me.”
The younger man sat up a little straighter, but didn’t leave the comfort of his father’s arms. “Okay . . . I’m standing on a street in Chinatown, watching you walk away. You’re leaving, without telling me where you’re going or when you’ll be back. I run after you, calling you, but you won’t turn around. You just keep walking . . .”
The younger Caine felt his father’s hold tighten, as the priest rested his cheek against the top of his head. “Have you had this dream before, my son?”
The young man nodded. “It’s an old dream, Pop. I have it sometimes when you get yourself in trouble.” Innocent hazel eyes looked up at Caine through long dark lashes. “Actually, I have it pretty often,” the young man teased.
Caine only shrugged, his gaze as guileless as his son’s.
The Shaolin settled himself on the floor, pulling Peter into a sitting position, and putting an arm around him. Peter settled against him, wrapping both arms around the slender waist and laying his head on his father’s shoulder.
“Peter, we must talk.”
Without looking up, the young man asked, “Us? You and me?”
Kwai Chang slapped at him playfully. “Yes, it is something I should have done long ago.”
Relaxing even more against his father’s warmth, Peter mumbled, “Okay, you first.”
Caine was silent for so long, his son decided that, once again, their “talk” would be put off. But, finally, the Shaolin drew a deep breath and said, softly, “After the Emperor’s ascension to the throne, I was very confused. I had made the exoneration of our family name a central part of my path, and the need was no longer there. As I told you, then, my path had become obscure.”
“I remember, Pop. But, you left, and you were gone so long.”
“Many things had happened in a very short time, Peter. We found each other, the Emperor restored our family honor, and Cheryl . . .”
“Cheryl betrayed you. That must have hurt, after you gave her a place to stay when no one else would.” Unbidden, an image came into Peter’s mind: Kwai Chang Caine, having stopped Cheryl’s assault on the emperor, bent over her, asking imploringly, “Cheryl, why are you doing this? Why?”
“I now know that Cheryl was under another’s influence, but at the time, I could not understand . . .” Caine’s other arm came around Peter’s shoulders and he whispered against his son’s temple. “I found this new life to be very disconcerting.”
“But why couldn’t you stay, Pop? I’d have helped you.”
Caine’s face grew stern, the face of a man who took fatherhood very seriously. “I could not ask that of you, my son. You had only resumed your training a short time before. You were making wonderful progress, but I could not expect you to help me. As your father, it was my place to teach you, not have you teach me. And I could not expect you to understand what I taught, when my mind was so confused that I could not understand myself. I felt I had to leave.”
He paused for a moment, then added, speaking even more softly than before. “I did not think you would be so hurt, my son. I would not have left you if I had thought . . . You had Paul and your family, and your friends at the precinct. You had made a life without me for so long, I did not realize that my leaving would hurt you so.”
“I needed you, Pop,” Peter confessed, speaking softly in his turn. “I still do.”
“I am here, my son.”
Peter nodded against a strong shoulder. “But, you stayed away so long. Why, Pop?”
Caine chuckled quietly. “The Way is sometimes hard to understand, Peter. I thought to find my path by leaving here; it was only during my travels that I realized where I needed to be. My new path was here, all along, had I only known it.”
“Took you long enough,” Peter mumbled, but a feeling of calm and contentment began to wash over him.
The Shaolin sighed. “Forgive me for causing you such pain, Peter. I wanted to teach you so much, and all you learned was uncertainty and fear. I tried to get back as quickly as I could, especially after I knew that the Shadow Assassin had returned.”
Peter lifted his head, and stared into his father’s eyes. “You were coming back before the Shadow Assassin and his master came to town?”
The priest nodded.
Smiling happily, the younger man put his head back on Caine’s shoulder. “Thanks, Pop.”
“For what, my son?”
“For telling me that. It means a lot to me that you were coming back, even if the Shadow Assassin hadn’t come after me.” He raised his head, and kissed his father’s cheek, feeling more at peace than he had in a long time. “Let’s get some sleep, Pop.”
“There is something else you must know, my son.”
“What?” Peter was a little apprehensive. He didn’t think he could handle too many more revelations from the reticent priest. Be careful what you wish for, you might get it.
“I said that I left because I did not think you could help me. I want you to know that I am proud of the way you have grown in spirit, Peter, and that I depend on you now, as I cannot depend on anyone else.”
“Not even Lo Si?”
“Lo Si is not my son,” Caine replied, looking into his son’s shining eyes. “I love you, Peter.”
“I love you, too, Father,” Peter replied with a grin. “Goodnight.” He put one hand behind his father’s neck, and pulled him close for a kiss on the forehead.
“Father?” Caine repeated. “You don”t call me ‘Father’, now, unless you are upset. Have I upset you?” There was a trace of anxiety in the quiet words.
Peter was already on the mat, but he admitted sleepily, “No, Pop. This was great. I just like to keep you off balance.”
Caine sighed again, the release of a long-suffering parent, but a betraying smile was on his lips when he slept once more.
***The End (for now at least)***