By MJ Mink
NIGHT - PETER
When I'm undercover, I focus all my thoughts on the job, even when I'm "off duty" as I am now. But tonight I can't seem to do that...which isn't a big surprise, considering that I found my father yesterday.
It's nearly two in the morning, and I'm still wide awake, lying here atop a scratchy nylon bedspread in a downtown hotel where I'm registered as Peter McCabe. I get off the bed for the dozenth time tonight and go to the window. I draw open the curtains about a foot, then settle again in the uncomfortable chair that faces outward.
From the nineteenth floor, I can see a lot of lights, but the only ones that concern me are the ones I can't see, the ones in Chinatown. I know my dad must be there -- where else would he go? I was scared shitless tonight when I drove with Chan to the hospital. My mind was racing: did my father get the flowers, did he read the note, did he understand, was he still there, did he leave, how could I shoot him? -- I couldn't shoot him, I'd turn the gun on Chan instead-- Yeah, I had it all planned out. It would have blown my cover with Tan, but that didn't matter. Nothing is more important than my father.
I can't believe he's alive. And here. Out of everyplace in the world where he could have gone, why did he come here? He must've been looking for me. I wonder how he found me? He didn't know I was alive, but that didn't matter. That inner sense of his, all those amazing abilities that I tried for years to imitate -- they brought him here. They brought my father back to me.
I've got to tell somebody. I want to talk to him, but he's not here and I don't know where he is and--
Dear god. I stand abruptly. What if I can't find him again? What if Tan's men find him first? What if--
No. We won't be separated again. Ever.
I stumble to the phone, catching my toe on the desk leg and nearly tripping. I punch in the familiar numbers. As I hear it start to ring, I realize that maybe I should have waited a few hours. A phone ringing in the middle of the night is always bad news.
Except in this case.
His voice is sleep-thickened but alert. For a moment, I'm tongue-tied.
"Blaisdell," he repeats, his voice sharpening. "Who is this?"
"Paul?" My voice shakes. I slide to the floor and lean my head back against the wall.
"Peter? What's wrong?"
I can hear Annie's muffled words in the background and Paul shushing her. "Peter, talk to me. Are you in trouble?"
Annie says something again, and Paul says, "I don't know. He's crying. Peter, for God's sake, talk to me."
I'm crying? I didn't know that. I touch my face and, sure enough, it's wet. I laugh a little. "Paul," I repeat, because I can't quite get the words out. "My father...."
"I'm here. What's wrong?"
I shake my head. "No, not you. My father -- I found my father. He's here, he's alive -- I found him. Remember the fire, that old man who almost died, the man carrying him out? -- that was my father, Paul! He's here! He found me."
"Peter, stop," Paul says in the sharp tone of someone who's repeated the same words several times. "Slow down. What are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about my father!" Frustration wells up inside me, and I try to catch my breath. "He's alive," I say, quieter. "He's here. He wasn't killed in the fire -- I mean, the fire at the temple, not the one last night. He thought I was dead. But I'm not -- he's not. He's here."
"He says his father's here," Paul says in an aside to Annie. There are a few nondescript noises, then her voice comes on the phone.
"Peter, honey, what are you saying? Your father's dead. We've been through this before, remember?"
Well, of course, I remember, I haven't suddenly gone brain dead. She means the nightmares that I used to fight through and wake up certain that I'd had help, that I hadn't fought the demons alone, that my father was out there somewhere, watching over me. When I confessed to Annie about the dreams, she explained about wishful thinking and loss and grief. She didn't understand. I never quit having the dreams; I just quit telling her about them.
"Mom, will you listen? He's alive and he's here. Ping Hai -- the old priest from the temple -- told him I was dead, just like he told me my dad was dead. He's not. He's fine, he's here in town. He saved-- Can I talk to Paul again?"
My patience is wearing thin. I want to share this news with somebody who'll be happy for me, not somebody who thinks I should be committed.
"Okay, Peter, I'm listening," the gruff voice says. "Go on."
So very calmly I explain about the fire and the order Tan gave me to kill my father. When I tell Paul about the visit to my dad's hospital room, I sense a change in his attitude. He believes me.
"Where is he now?"
"I don't know." I sigh heavily. "But I'll find him. If Tan's men are looking for him--"
"We'll keep an eye on them. And you watch yourself. Don't let them make you."
There's a moment's hesitation before Paul adds, "I'm happy for you, kiddo," but he doesn't sound especially happy.
"Thanks. Sorry that I...woke you. Go back to sleep."
I hang up the phone and stay there on the floor, dissatisfied with the conversation. I'm half-hoping there'll be a tap at the door and my dad will be there, that his Shaolin instincts will lead him to me again. But that doesn't happen.
With a groan, I push myself up and fall face first onto the bed. I turn my head to one side and stare at the green numbers on the clock. Then I roll onto my back and pretend I'm in a hospital bed. I pretend I'm my dad, lying there full of smoke, opening my eyes and seeing...me. I wonder what he thought of me right then. He didn't recognize me -- or did he? I thought there was something in his eyes right at first. But later, when he said "Peter", I thought that was when he recognized me.
I roll onto my side. What did he say about Central Park? Yeah, that it must be hot. God, how I've missed his dry wit. When I was a kid, I couldn't always tell if he was serious or joking. I'm sure I'll be able to tell now though.
I wonder what he thought of me. All grown up. He looked so sick, so small and fragile against those white sheets. Until he grabbed me by the tie! Yeah, my dad's as strong as he used to be.
And that hair! It's terrific, I've never seen him with hair. It's so long, he looks like a hippie. Well, that's my dad, always marching to a different beat. I wonder if he still wears robes? At the fire, I don't remember what he was wearing, nothing special, I guess. I mean, what do you ever wear to a fire? God, why didn't I go to him then, two nights ago when I watched him collapse on the street? I couldn't take my eyes off him, because there was something so familiar....
I wonder if he lived in that building. Could he have been in town for years and I never saw him?
I raise my right arm in the air and try to repeat that gesture he made with his hand. I can do it easily -- and why not, I saw it often enough at the temple.
So I'm supposed to see with more than my eyes, hmm? I grin. Yeah, I've heard that one before! Just because I said-- My smile fades as I think about what I said to him. All the anger that came pouring out. All those emotions -- disbelief, joy, love, grief -- turned into bitterness. All I really wanted was for him to hold me and tell me everything was all right again. I wanted to be twelve and for the last fifteen years to be just another nightmare.
I wish he'd found me a long time ago.
I can't fall asleep. I get up and go to the window again. The pinpoints of light blur, taking me back in time...
...dusk at the temple, standing in the courtyard that was generously filled with flowers and blossoming trees. My father and the other monks lighting candles. Darkness gradually sliding over the temple, creating an eerie scene: dots of light, stars in the moonless sky, flickering flames here on earth. There was a communion between them and us, and a beauty I didn't appreciate until I lost it....
I have to stop thinking and get some sleep or I'll be no good tomorrow. Tomorrow -- today will be an important day. Gotta keep on my toes, watch what Tan is up to. Something is about to break, I can feel it. I got a job to do. I have to pay attention, be alert, keep my cover intact--
And find my father. Today I have to find my father.
Today I'm going to be with my father.
God. I never thought I'd be able to say those words again.
DAY - CAINE
The Old One whispered two words to me as I placed his weakened body on the bed in the attic room of Mr. Sho's house: "My medicines."
He did not mean medicines for himself, bottles of pills left behind when we fled the hospital. He was thinking of others.
That is why I am standing here in the doorway of a burned-out husk, the Old One's home. It seems impossible that any of the delicate herbs will have survived the inferno, yet I know many things that appear fragile on the surface have cores of solid iron.
I run my forefinger through the soot that coats the mantle of the old fireplace and bring it to my nose. It smells of a mixture of herbs, and for a moment I despair. But I remind myself that even in the darkest of times, an ember of hope may fan into a flame.
So it is in this room.
So it must be with Peter.
My eyes close when I think of what has become of my son. I relive yesterday morning and the joy of our reunion -- I thought I would never again know such happiness in my life. In one glorious moment, my years of grief were lifted and my spirit was set free. When Peter's anger and bitterness descended on me, my joy was tempered with pain for what he had suffered; yet at last we were together again and I believed we could conquer anything.
But in the evening, as dusk began to settle on the city that stretched out beyond the slatted hospital windows, Xiaoli came to visit her uncle and me. Her well-meant words smashed my dreams as a finely-honed fishing spear shatters a thin sheet of ice.
"I know he came to see you today -- the young man, Peter McCabe. He's one of Tan's men. Did he threaten you?"
At first I did not know the man of whom she spoke. Only one man had visited me that day, and he was my child. So it was a double blow when her meaning pierced my clouded mind.
Now, finally, I have time to think at length about her words. The name first: McCabe. Peter McCabe. My son has abandoned our family name, his heritage and...me.
Yet...he was alone -- and he mentioned an orphanage. I think of my bright, questioning boy forced into obedience in an institution. Perhaps he was adopted. It was for the best, then, that he took the name of his new parents. I grieve, yet I also rejoice that he might have had a family to love him.
But what kind of love would allow him to become a criminal? I have heard talk of Tan and how his wealth and ambition have corrupted the young men in Chinatown. I have known such evil before. Our own temple was destroyed by such a man. And now Peter works for a mirror-image of his own desolation.
Yet...he had no guidance. He was frightened and desperate and confused.
For all my excuses, there is one injury I cannot comprehend. Tan's men came to the hospital in the dark of night, eager to kill the Old One and me. It cannot be that...Peter knew. Or that Peter sent them.
I stifle the cry of grief that rises in my throat. My Peter, my curious child...a killer? Who could have done this to him? How could anyone poison a spirit so pure?
It is my fault. I think what I have thought so often during the empty years: I should have saved him. I should not have been injured, I should have been quicker, gotten out of the way of the collapsing wall, gotten to Peter, protected him--
I should have saved him from what he has become.
But...Peter, a killer? It cannot be. It must not be.
I accept that it may be. When Peter spoke to me yesterday, his tone was hostile and cynical, full of bitterness when he admitted, I took that pain with me into the streets.
I wonder which streets they were. Was he not adopted? Did he live as a hungry, homeless child? Did my son find acceptance among criminals, did murderers and thieves nourish his starving soul and teach him their crafts? Did he find a family not among the merely downtrodden, but with the dregs of humanity?
My spirit fills with sorrow and anger, and this time I cannot prevent the moan that is torn from my heart. I will not believe my beloved, innocent boy has grown into a man who can direct the murder of his father. That is not the young man who cried in my arms yesterday. I must be wrong. But...when he spoke, and his words rejected all that I believe, all that gave me strength through the empty years, I wonder if he also rejected me.
But if my heart is correct, like this burned shell of a home that can be rebuilt, Peter can rise from the ashes of the man he once promised to become.
As I stand in the burned wreckage of the room, my heart weeps. Then I do what I have done for fifteen years: I lock the door that protects my loving memory of him. In that way, I keep him safe.
I stoop to rescue a small bottle from where it has rolled under a charred table. I brush ashes from it and see that it is still sealed, its rare contents intact. The old Shaolin has set his love free to share with others in the form of the healing arts. In the past, I have done so also, but now....
I sigh. I feel Peter's essence very close, that which I had sought for so many years of wandering. How can his essence feel so pure when he has chosen a path of darkness?
I dare to wonder: Will he allow me to help him back to the correct path? Or has Tan's evil poisoned him beyond redemption?
Though it is unworthy, I curse Tan and his predecessor Dao. Twice evil men have taken my son from me.
Hatred that I thought buried long ago rises again in my breast.
Then Peter is here. I do not turn, but I feel the warmth of his presence in the room. Lost for so long, it is still as familiar as my own soul. He glows like the sun and the moon. Brilliance and darkness, much as is in every man. Yet in Peter, the division is sharper, and I wonder what it means. I dare to believe that there is goodness in him, as strong or stronger than the venom Tan has administered.
For all my reservations, my heart responds to him. Whatever he has become, he is my son, and I will always love him.
"I just wanted to make sure that you were all right."
His face has changed, but I recognize my boy in his singular features and vulnerable eyes. I feel his pain now as I felt it when he stood at my bedside; it is a memory from long ago, never forgotten.
I look directly at my son. "I should not be." Sharpness creeps into my voice; I swallow it, for he shall receive no judgment from me. "Two men came to the hospital to kill the apothecary and myself."
Peter's eyes shift away. "Well, they just didn't know who they were dealing with, did they, Kwai Chang Caine?"
Perhaps I only imagine mockery in his words. Still, I frown and shake my head. I must look away from him, this stranger who has stolen my son. "A wise man accomplishes his goals without love of glory," I sternly remind him.
"Without love of violence," he finishes.
If my words are burned into his memory, why does he not follow them? "I'm glad to see you remember some of my useless sayings." I swing around to face him, my heart pounding because of his nearness. "You mentioned something about...an orphanage?"
He walks away as if he cannot bear being close to me. "Ping Hai became very sick. Maybe carrying around those lies."
Involuntarily, I blink when hit by the corrosive reality of his rage.
"He put me into an orphanage before he died. Nifty place if you're into discipline and loneliness."
His pain becomes a dim echo as it runs through my own nerve endings. I walk to him. He moves as though to escape -- then changes his mind and remains still, but poised like a wild animal prepared for flight.
"Guy by the name of Paul Blaisdell used to come around and talk to the kids. He's a cop. He became, well, like a...."
"Father?" I ask quickly, hoping to finish the thrust of the knife that has just grazed my heart.
"More like a big brother," Peter says clumsily, and I wonder if he lies to comfort me.
I want to clutch him in my arms and thank him for his care, but I no longer have that right. Instead, my hand goes to a bottle of herbs. I stare at it and handle it unnecessarily.
"He took me out of that mausoleum and threw me into the police academy. What happened to the old apothecary?" Peter flees from my gaze, as far as he is able in this small cage. He crosses to the opposite side of the room.
I follow him. I can barely answer. My eyes locked on his face at the moment he said 'police academy'. "I took him to Sho, the man who runs the meat market," I respond with unthinking trust. "He will take care of him." My face feels flushed and warm. "They all think you are working for these killers. But you are not." My heart soars, bursting with a long-buried feeling, and I nearly laugh aloud as Peter shakes his head. "A...cop?"
"I grew up watching The Rockford Files and Hill Street Blues," he says with a smile. "I wanted to be one of the good guys." His momentary lightness fades, and he glances upward, away from me. "I also wanted you to be proud of me...though I believed you'd never really know about it. Mind my asking where you've been for the last fifteen years?"
I am unprepared for the suddenness of his question and cannot form the words to answer him immediately, for when I look back upon those years, I see the grief that fed upon the emptiness in my soul. The room around me fades from my view, and I remember a day, a moment in a far-off Chinatown on the West Coast. A temple, boys with shaved heads, dressed in familiar garments. I remember how I staggered, my heart leaping as I thought for one moment-- "Searching," I say finally, barely able to speak.
"Oh, right, right. Right, for the solution to the mystery of life? Embracing the One with your soul."
I shake my head to loosen the hold these memories have on me. I turn to face him, trying to hold his emotions at bay. "Looking for my son. Or the essence that was his being." Joy and relief overcome my sadness, and I dare to touch him, to trace his beloved features to once more feel warmth and softness beneath my fingers. "Never did I believe I would find him alive." I smile and almost I am persuaded to laugh. "And a cop!"
One cannot predict the course of another man's life, but I am relieved that he has not chosen a way of darkness. A cop, one of his many youthful ambitions. My delight flowers. Peter ducks his head. The warmth and pride of possession return to me as easily as if they had not died fifteen years earlier.
Then Peter turns away from me, and I feel a stab of pain. But he is only being a 'cop' again, suspicious and protective.
My son. He is so serious, so uncertain. For the moment, my anger at those who hurt him fades. My beautiful child is damaged, but he will heal, for he has always been strong. Perhaps he will allow me to help him.
Perhaps he will not. But now that I have found him, my meaningless wandering has come to an end. I cannot leave him. My young boy is gone forever, and a troubled man has taken his place. He is grown, but he is still my child, and he will look to me for answers that I do not have, to questions that should not be asked.
I will try not to disappoint him.