by Cathryn Mortenz-Teal
Margaret Skalany lifted the chipped Redskins mug to her lips, effectively
muffling a giggle beneath a swallow of lukewarm coffee. At her side, Detective
Jody Powell was not as discreet. The blonde-haired woman dispensed a short,
quick chuckle, then drew her lips together, raising one hand to cover her
mouth and silence the laughter. She set her coffee mug aside, but made
the mistake of lifting her gaze to the other detective. The direct eye
contact obliterated any remaining shred of self-control, and the two women
simultaneously dissolved into giggles.
at his desk, leafing through what appeared to be an ever increasing mound
of paperwork, Peter Caine studiously ignored them both.
know," Kermit Griffin announced, joining the two female detectives at the
coffee pot. "Heís feeling pretty miserable." This last was said with a
nod in Caineís direction. The remark failed, however, to make the desired
impression. Mary Margaret rolled her eyes.
baby," she poohed, enjoying herself far too much to conjure any significant
amount of sympathy.
Jody chimed in, "Itís not like weíre enjoying the fact that heís got laryngitis,
but Peter Caine without his voice is like . . ." her shoulders rose into
a shrug as her mouth tilted up in a grin, " . . . Superman without his
cape; Siegfried without Royó"
Muffett without her Tuffett," Mary Margaret added just loudly enough for
her voice to carry to a certain dark-haired detective. The investigator
in question retaliated by snapping shut a book heíd been perusing and leveling
a hostile glare on the trio.
shrugged and turned away, helping himself to a cup full of the sludge that
passed for coffee at the 101st precinct. Seemingly chastised, Mary Margaret
and Jody tried their best to look repentant. Failing, they succumbed to
another bout of hand-concealed giggles.
you detectives have anything better to do?" a new voice inquired, each
word precisely modulated and clipped with precision. Three heads turned
in the direction of the sound. Karen Simms stood in the doorway of her
office, arms folded across her chest, the look on her face one a teacher
might take with an unruly student. One eyebrow arched meaningfully beneath
a perfectly coiffed fringe of golden hair.
did it now," Kermit muttered to the women. He turned, offering a lop-sided
grin to his new captain, then promptly vanished into his office, leaving
the co-conspirators to fend for themselves. Each muttered the appropriate
"Yes, maíam; sorry, maíam" and quickly dispersed.
Simms frowned, her mouth tugging down into a severe white line as her attention
shifted to the source of the disturbance. Peter Caine was studying the
half-completed report on his desk, his pencil scritching across the paper
in occasional short bursts.
the Dawson report?" she asked with a nod for the paper, as she stepped
to his side. He spared a glanceóhis rendition of a brief acknowledgmentóand
her frown deepened. She had seen the glint of fever in his luminous hazel
eyes; the thin sheen of sweat stippling his upper lip. Dark tendrils of
hair clung to his neck, beneath his collar, wet with perspiration. She
hadnít known him long enough to form any lasting impression, but his reputation
led her to believe he was cocky and self-sufficient, with a marked penchant
for bucking the system. She should have known heíd be stubborn too. "I
thought Strenlich told you to go home hours ago?"
dropped the pencil on the desk. It rolled among the paper, finally coming
to rest in the crease of an open file folder. Karen Simms watched as it
stilled, then lifted her eyes to the man who swivelled to face her. The
chair creaked with his movement, more vocal than he had been. He opened
his mouth as though to speak, then closed it, obviously deciding better.
He cleared his throat and tried again. "I thought . . . Iíd catch up on
some . . . paperwork."
do her any good to smile, but the thin, halting thread of his voice was
so unlike the rapid-fire speech he normally favored. No wonder Skalany
and Powell were having such a good time of it. She schooled her expression,
lightly tapping the fingers of one folded arm on the other.
fine, detective, but I need you whole and with your voice intact, next
Monday. Youíre the only one who saw Snipes shoot Wheeler. A murder conviction
isnít going to stick, if I have a detective who canít testify. I want this
dealer, Caine. Do us all a favor and go home."
I just need to finish . . ." She had to strain to hear him over the background
noise of ringing phones, banging file drawers and general squad room chaos.
With each effort of speech, the fragile thread of his voice grew weaker.
Even his face had grayed, the skin almost waxen in appearance; cheeks hollowed
and gaunt, fever-bright eyes smudged with shadow. He hadnít lost his voice
from screaming at perps, that much was certain. She remembered one particulary
bad bought of flu a few years back, when sinus congestion had infected
her vocal cords, leaving her speechless for three days. Apparently, he
was battling something similar.
her head slightly, the severe placement of chin, imbuing each clipped word
with agitated sternness. "Detective Caine, I would like to assume youíve
reached an age where you know whatís best for yourself, but as you seem
to be experiencing a lapse of common sense, Iím going to make this decision
for you. Youíre no good to me on the streets in your present condition,
and your presence here, is a distraction to the other detectives in this
squad room. Iíll say this only onceógo home. Go see a doctor. Go to bedóyou
look like shit."
his eyes, obviously running low on his usual reservoir of snappy comebacks.
With almost pointed satisfaction, Simms turned on her heel and strode to
her office, confident that her command would be obeyed. Another day he
might have challenged her. Another day he might have offered one of those
irritating half grins, and done just as he pleased, as though she hadnít
cavalier, headstrong, unquestionably loyalóthey were all words used
by Paul Blaisdell in the reports he had left her, describing his foster
son. How to win past the stubbornness for a much-needed glimpse of the
loyalty? Peter didnít trust her yet. She knew thatósaw it in his eyes every
time he turned that dark-lashed gaze on her. He was still measuring her
worth, deciding on which side of the fence she fell. It shouldnít matter
what he thought, but she felt oddly compelled to win his trust. He was
goodóno questioning thatóbut beyond his ability as a homicide detective,
lingered an individual who made others gravitate towards him. Probably
just that damn, cocky charm. Works on me too. She turned, hands on
hips, and let her gaze sweep back through the doorway.
Caine shrugged into a long black winter coat and headed for the exit.
taking perverse enjoyment in the victory. Simmsó1; Caineó0.
air seeped beneath Peterís collar the moment he stepped outside, the icy
breath crisp with the bitter edge of a February afternoon. Ducking his
head deeper into the elusive warmth of his coat, he used black-gloved hands
to draw the woolen collar tighter against his neck. Pinching it shut with
one hand, he dug the other in the pocket of his jeans, searching for his
car keys. They came free with a metallic jingle. He flipped them back into
his palm, feeling the notched edges through the thin leather of his glove,
as he strode briskly across the precinct parking lot.
rained earlieróa freezing drizzle that had left the macadam glistening
and black; the sky a faded strip of charcoal overhead. Beyond the connecting
alley, Peter could see a string of traffic winding sluggishly down Poplar,
red tail lights unnaturally bright in the gray afternoon haze.
the Stealth and slid behind the wheel, grateful to sink in the relative
comfort of the soft interior. It was cold inside the car and his breath
plumed in the air, fogging the rearview mirror. The ignition engaged with
one turn of the key, despite the frigid temperature. He let the engine
idle for a few moments before slipping the car into reverse, and joining
the string of traffic that meandered through the cityís congested streets.
He was halfway home, the heater cranked, fan blowing warm air, before the
chill gradually seeped from his bones.
then did he realize, home and an empty apartment, was the last place he
wanted to be. There was something to be said for the comfort of oneís own
bed, but more to be said for the comfort of family.
sneezed. He turned the car at Magnolia and headed for Chinatown. It was
the first time he could remember, actually looking forward to one of his
fatherís distasteful herbal remedies.
Chang Caine knew instinctively that something was wrong. Surrounded by
the soft amber glow of candlelight, he had enjoyed a particulary restful
meditation period, and was unusually surprised to have it interrupted by
his sonís unannounced entrance. He hadnít seen Peter in two days; certainly
hadnít expected him this afternoon. Peter had told him earlier in the week
that he was working odd shifts and probably wouldnít see him until late
Friday. Therefore, the unexpected visit, coupled with the lack of a customary
Pop, you in here?" left Caine oddly anxious.
from a full lotus, coming gracefully to his feet. Peter hovered in the
doorway, the muted light of the room casting his face into shadow, while
accenting the gem-bright glow of his eyes.
Caineís voice lilted up in concern. In three quick strides he was at his
sonís side, one hand raising to grip his upper arm. He could feel a quiver
of tension through the thick fabric of the heavy coat; the lick of heat
at his fingertips despite the intervening material. Peter glanced away,
turning his head to the side, and Caine saw the damp strands of hair clinging
to temple and jaw. The priestís mouth tightened in carefully controlled
restraint. "How long have you been sick?"
shrugged, wet his lips. "A . . . few days." The words were raw, brittle
like string about to snap.
had to lean forward to catch his sonís whisper, shocked by the lack of
strength in his voice. He shifted his hand to Peterís throatófelt the inflamation
of glands beneath his fingertips, the throbbing swell of a rapid pulse;
the sweat-slick groove of heated flesh. "Have you seen a doctor?" he asked.
shook his head. "I have you," he whispered, the last word almost cutting
out completely. Caine drew back, brows dipping low over his eyes, using
a time-tested when-will-you-ever-learn
look, much favored by parents.
It produced the desired effect. Peter coughed and lowered his head, a fleeting
red stain spreading over his flushed cheeks. The color vanished almost
as quickly as it appeared, making his skin all the paler for its departure.
Head still lowered, he raised his eyes, glancing up through a veil of dark
lashes. "Iím tired, Pop."
all Caine needed to hear.
was warm, comfortableónot the heated chill-sweat of the fever, but a velvet
warmth, that made him want to sink deeper into the blissful cocoon. Heíd
been sleeping. Wasnít certain how long, didnít really care. He shifted
once, turning on the bed and felt his fatherís hand brush across his cheek.
His eyes feathered closed as the touch lifted to his hair.
had made him drink somethingóa noxious medicinal brew that had tasted of
wet leaves, chalk and licorice. He had scrunched his eyes closed, downing
the foul concoction as quickly as possible, before surfacing for air. Within
moments heíd grown groggy, and Caine had led him to a room in the back,
with its newly acquired full-sized bedóa gift from a local merchant the
priest had helped. Peter had peeled off his overcoat, jacket, boots and
gloves, then crawled into the bed, tucking the soft pillow into the crook
of his arm.
caught in the murky daze of half-sleep, he felt his fatherís light touch
like a butterflyís wings, gently skimming the hair from his forehead. The
bed creaked and he realized Caine had settled behind him, seated with his
back pressed to the headboard. His fatherís hand shifted to his arm, lightly
brushing up and down, sending a welcome string of goosebumps dancing through
the sleeve. In moments, warm and secure, lulled by his fatherís touch,
he drifted to sleep once again.
was hesitant to move, unwilling to leave Peterís side. He sat with his
back propped by pillows, legs stretched out before him. Beyond the small,
curtainless window, the sky had deepened with night, the myriad lights
of the city creating a haze on the horizon, not unlike the setting sun.
Traffic still meandered through the darkened streets, the steady drone
comforting in its familiarity. In the small room, flickering candlelight
chased shadows to the far corners, and haloed the bed in a soft glow.
eyes fell to his son. Peter lay on his side, his faced turned into the
pillow, his breathing steady and deep. Behind closed lids, his eyes fluttered
with the rapid dart of REM sleep. Caine knew he wasnít likely to awaken,
but was still loathe to move.
lingered on the shadowed lines of Peterís faceónoting the soft, full curve
of lips; the high angled line of cheekbone; the sharply defined brows.
There had to be something of himself in his sonís face, but he couldnít
see it with Peterís eyes closedóknew that the hazel coloring was the trait
he had bequeathed to his son. His own hair had been dark onceósimilar,
but not quite like, the silken strands splayed on the linen pillow case.
The candlelight drew threads of copper and gold through Peterís dark hair,
making Caine ache to touch them.
those years in the temple, they had routinely shaved their heads, and Caine
had thought nothing of it. Now, since re-encountering his son as an adult,
he found himself continually wishing to touch Peterís hairódelighting in
the feel of the thick strands beneath his fingertips; in the way he was
able to sweep the long bangs from Peterís eyes; the curling ends from beneath
parent, he couldnít help marveling at the man the child had become. The
boy and been lanky and awkward, while the man moved with long-legged ease.
Appealing young features had matured into sculpted lines that routinely
drew sideways glances. Caine had been in public with his son often enough,
to witness the lingering looks women bestowed on Peter as he passed by.
Heíd even commented on it once, causing the young man to blush and duck
his head, embarrassed by the observation. A slight smile tugged Caineís
lips. No matter Peterís reaction, he was sure his son enjoyed the attention,
and often responded to it. That skill at least, had not been inherited
from Kwai Chang Caine, who didnít have his sonís easy charm around the
contentedly, long fingers idly brushing through the silky locks of Peterís
dark hair. Heíd nursed his young son through other illness at the temple,
but had missed the intervening years of runny noses, sore throats, sprains
and sports-related injuries. The Blaisdells had seen Peter through those
hurdles for which Caine remained eternally grateful. Now it was the occasional
cold, coupled with the greater fear of knife or bullet wounds; the almost
routine threat of broken bones.
fingers stilled, his feeling of contentment violently obliterated as though
doused in glacial cold. Peter had chosen his pathóthe life of a police
officeróand with it the inherent danger faced by every officer of the law.
In choosing to protect others, he exposed himself to harm on a daily basis.
Though Caine was proud of his son, the thought that a stray bullet could
steal Peterís life away in the blink of an eye, left him shaken and cold.
Each time that fear had wormed into his consciousness, he had tamed it
with meditation and discipline. Still it persisted, lingering like a fungus
on the hem of this thoughts. There was little he could do. Peter had chosen.
must choose his own path.
words came back to haunt him. At his side, still lost in sleep, Peter moaned
softly. He shifted, turning to face Caine, propping his head against his
fatherís arm. A mass of moon-silvered dark hair flowed like liquid over
the priestís sleeve. Gently, Caine dragged the back of his knuckles across
Peterís flushed cheek. The fever was recedingónot completely abated, but
assuaged, nonetheless. Restful now, Caine recalled a day just two weeks
back, when Peter had been anything but calm:
watched as Peter paced to the balcony doors and nervously fiddled with
the brass-plated handle, its edges heated like desert sand by the bright
afternoon sun. Watched as the younger man turned away and made another
circuit of the room, stopping to finger the leaves of an aloe plant; trace
the rounded edge of a candle holder; pick up, then set down an unused incense
is troubling you," he announced into the thick silence when his son began
a third rambling circuit of the room. Peter stopped, flushed guiltily and
glanced at his feet. He chewed on his bottom lip, then swept his
hand back through his hair in a habitual nervous gesture.
justó" His head came up, his hazel eyes made leaf-green by the emerald
turtleneck he wore. "I-I have to testify in court the end of the month.
About a shooting I witnessed."
stood behind his workbench, carefully pruning dried leaves from the potted
herbs heíd been forced to move indoors for the winter. His fingers never
halted in the familiar task as he considered his sonís words. "You often
testify in court. Is there something about this particular case that troubles
stuffed his hands into the pockets of his black jeans. "Yeah," he said
softly. "The guy that was killedóWheeleróI busted him before. Lots of timesódrugs,
petty theftójust one of those guys who couldnít pull it together. Iíd bust
him, and pow!óthe system would put him right back on the streets."
failed to see the cause of his distress. Peter wasnít revealing anything
they hadnít discussed before. Though heíd often lamented how the system
worked, Peter accepted it as part of his job.
know this is often the case," Caine said carefully, trying to decipher
the underlying reason for Peterís anxiety. His son stepped nearer; trailed
one finger over the scarred edge of the wooden workbench. His eyes were
lowered, black lashes effectively hiding the emotion in his eyes. Still
the betrayal lingeredóevident in the taut line of his jaw, the downward
scrawl of his mouth.
didnít know Wheeler had a son," Peter said quietly. His eyes darted to
Caineís face. The priest drew a shuddering breath, unprepared for the raw
pain he saw reflected there. Peter blinked and glanced quickly away, his
gaze suddenly liquid. "Hi-his nameís Jared. I-I met him when I went to
the house to notify next of kin." Peter snorted, dragged his hands over
his face. "Houseóhell, itís a dump off Vine. Should have been condemned
moved to his side, lightly touching his arm. He could feel the quiver of
muscle beneath his fingertips; the resilient tension racing through Peterís
body like leashed energy. His son shook his head, skewing his eyes sideways,
glancing at the older man through wet lashes. "It doesnít make sense. Iíve
seen worse things in the streetóhorrible things. Things that would give
the average guy nightmares for the rest of his life. Why am I getting so
bent out of shape over this kid?"
fingers tightened on his arm. "There is a mother?" he asked.
shook his head. He pulled away, placing distance between himself and his
father, deliberately refusing his comfort.
brand of punishment, Caine thought. He heard his son sniffle.
to friends, the woman took off years ago," Peter said over his shoulder.
"Thereís no other kin, so the kidíll go to Social Services. Orphanage.
Foster home if heís lucky."
folded his hands at waist level, waiting to see if more would be offered.
But Peter fell into silence, staring moodily into space, his own hands
tucked into his jeans. The priest studied his sonís profile. Peterís face
was dry, but the raw edge of emotion remained, suppressed only temporarily.
"Perhaps this strikes you too close to home?" he suggested.
turned, and for once Caine found his gaze unreadable. But Peter had never
been adept at concealing emotion. His mouth tightened and bewilderment
flooded his eyes. "I saw Wheeler take the hit. He crossed one of
the dealers weíve been trying to nailóguy by the name of Snipes. I got
there just a little too late for Wheeler. Asshole died in my arms. What
kind of father shoots himself full of drugs when heís got a kid at home?"
kind of father lets his son die in a fire . . . does not look for him,
when the childís life essence continues?" Caine asked softly. "What kind
of father was not there for his son when he was growing upówhen the dragons
were real, and the son needed him the most?"
glanced away, a strangled sound dredged from his throat. "Thatís not what
this is about," he snapped, but Caine heard the uneven timber of his voice;
felt the choked emotion lingering just beneath the surface. He moved to
his sonís side, cupped warm fingers against his cheek. Peter flinched,
but Caine caught his wrist before he could draw away again.
share this boyís pain. Is it so difficult to understand the source?" His
fingers trailed down the rigid jaw line, feeling the muscle loosen even
as his touch stroked tension from the smooth skin. Peterís eyes were much
too bright, rimmed by a glittering veil of tears. "It is all right to be
angry with me Peter. I promise that your feelings of bitterness will not
drive me away. The longer you deny them, the greater the chasm you erect
exhaled a pent-up breath. "Father, Ió"
grip on his wrist tightened. He tugged forward, dragging Peter against
him. When his son did not protest, he folded him into his arms, gently
paving the path to healing.
sunlight filled the small kitchen, spiking lemon-bright ribbons across
the floor. Caine adjusted the slats on the window blind, easing the glare,
but inviting the warmth inside. He swirled a spoonful of honey into his
sonís tea, then set the cup on a small wooden tray. Adding a plate of hot
buttered bread, he was just about to turn when he felt the presence at
should be in bed," he said with a pointed glance at Peter.
glimmer was gone from his sonís eyes, but his face remained drawn with
lingering illness. The dark hair was disheveled, one stray lock curling
haphazardly over his forehead, the longer, uncombed ends strewn against
the collar of his rumpled shirt. He smiled crookedly, but the action was
a pale ghost of his normally cocksure grin.
Popó" the words barely made it past his lips, before he had to stop and
clear his throat. "I didnít mean . . . to stay the night. Guess I just
. . . fell asleep . . ." His voice was still weak. Painfully so. It would
be a few days before he regained full use of his vocal cords. Testing the
waters too soon, was certain to put a damper on his recovery. Caine handed
him the cup of tea.
this. It will help."
accepted the cup, but eyed it skeptically.
remedy," Caine clarified when his son made no move to ingest the liquid.
"Lemon tea, laced with honey. It will ease your throat."
smiled wryly. "Next youíll be feeding me . . . chicken soup."
talk," Caine admonished. He folded his arms over his chest, assuming one
of his sternest parental looks. Pointedly, he raised an eyebrow. It was
amazing that the ploy still worked on Peter after so many years. His son
lifted the cup to his lips and took a sip. Satisfied, Caineís face softened.
He reached forward and swept the tangled lock of hair from Peterís brow,
allowing his touch to linger. Cool flesh greeted his fingertips, all traces
of his sonís fever having departed with the night. "I do not know if you
shook his head. "Thanks, Dad. Iíll just grab a shower."
finger stabbed in his direction. "Do not talk!" he said again, this time
with greater force. "I know it is difficult, Peter, but you will never
regain use of your voice if you continue to abuse it. Nod your head."
eyes crinkled at the corners, his mouth curling up in a grin. He lifted
the tea cup in mock salute and nodded. For a momentójust a momentówhen
the glimmer of cavalier lightness returned to the hazel eyes, Caine almost
believed his son was back to normal.
showered, then redressed in the clothes he had slept in. As he buttoned
the rumpled shirt, he made a mental note to bring a few sets of spare clothing
the next time he visited his father. He frequented the apartment often
enough, that the additional clothing made sense. Though Caine had offered
one of his silk
gees, the thought of wearing the lightweight material
outside had left Peter shivering, and heíd politely refused.
from the bathroom, he ruffled a towel through his damp hair, belatedly
wishing for a blow-dryer. Though the warm shower had felt wonderful, heíd
grown chilled the moment he Ďd left the heated spray. Strands of damp hair
lying across his neck and brow only heightened that sense of cold.
made him drink another cup of medicinal elixir, this one tasting suspiciously
like over-ripe strawberries and wet sand. One glance at Peterís damp hair
left his father chagrined that he did not own a blow-dryer, and insistent
that the car be warmed before departing. Relegated to waiting in the apartment,
Peter fretted, shifting from foot to foot as he imagined his father stripping
the key in the Stealthís ignition; activating the siren instead of the
heat; accidentally shifting the car from "park." Tortured by the
possibilities of all that could go wrong, he covered his face with his
hands and crumbled to a seat at the kitchen table, too unnerved to look
into the alley where the vehicle was parked.
minutes Caine reappeared, smiling his pleasure at having mastered the art
of starting a car. As soon as the vehicle had warmed to the priestís satisfaction,
Peter bundled into his heavy coat and gloves, anxious to be home. He was
already contemplating changing into sweatpants and thick socks; folding
into the couch with the remote and yesterdayís sports page, a heavy blanket
for company. Though a beer didnít have the appeal it might on another day,
a bowl of hot soup was appallingly enticing.
wound the Stealth through the cityís streets, thankful that morning rush-hour
had passed. He didnít feel up to navigating weekday work traffic. Overhead,
the sky was bright blue, littered with a few wisps of tattered clouds.
The threat of rain had fled with the night, leaving bright sunlight and
chill temperatures behind.
turned the corner, heading onto the main thoroughfare, Peter noticed a
gray sedan in the rearview mirror. He thought heíd seen the same sedan
a few streets back, following at a discreet distance. Cursing his unnaturally
dulled observational skills, Peter shifted lanes, maintaining a steady
speed. The sedan stayed where it was, but when Peter put on his blinker
for a left turn, it quickly navigated traffic, following suit.
swore silently. The sedan had been made, and itís driver knew it. Peter
swerved to the left, barreling down a side street. The Stealth bottomed
out when it hit a dip in the road, jarring Peter against the seatbelt.
Jostled roughly, he banged his head against the carís roof. Cursing, he
jammed the gas pedal to the floor, engaging the clutch with his left foot.
His wrist popped as he yanked back on the gearshift, and his eyes darted
hastily to the rearview mirror. The sedan was still with him, looming dangerously
near in the narrow rectangle of glass. Ahead, an elderly lady stepped from
the curve and started across the street, oblivious to the tons of near
bumper-to-bumper metal screaming down on her at 78 miles-per-hour.
yelled so sharply, his voice cut out completely. Wrenching the wheel to
the left as hard as he could, he swerved into on-coming traffic, then out
again, missing a black mini-van by a hairís width. The gray sedan was not
so fortunate. It tagged the van with the edge of its bumper, the resulting
impact, ripping the offending item half-off the car. The bumper dragged
across the street kicking up a wall of sparks, before finally crumbling
beneath the wheels of the sedan. Through it all, the elderly woman remained
turned sharply, diving into a cross street, then another. He was far enough
ahead now, that he could afford some planning. Just as the right front
edge of the sedan rounded the corner, Peter slipped the Stealth into a
connecting alleyóonly far enough to hide the carís tail lights. Within
moments the sedan flashed by in his rearview mirror. Peter slammed the
car into reverse, ducked from the alley and gave chase.
realizing he was now the pursued, the driver of the sedan accelerated,
weaving dangerously through traffic. Glued to his tail, Peter reached for
his mic, intending to radio the call to headquarters. There was no plate
on the car, but the chase was taking them close to the waterfront area.
Enough black-and-whites could make an effective barricade against the unknown
perp, all but ensuring capture.
lifted the mic to his lips, opened his mouth to speak . . . and wheezed
on air. Not
a whisper passed his trembling lips. Gasping, he tried again, desperately
trying to force any sound from his abused vocal cords. Nothing came. That
last instinctive scream at the elderly woman had shred his voice completely.
Disgusted, he tossed the mic away. It bounced to the floor, suspended on
its spiral cord like a bungee jumper. Looks like Iím on my own.
the cherry on the roof and activated the siren. If nothing else, maybe
someone would phone in the chase. He could feel sweat clinging to the back
of his neck, and realized with a sudden sense of light-headedness that
the fever had returned. The seatbelt and thick winter coat were suddenly
confining. He killed the heat and cracked the window, glad for the icy
breath of winter air on his flushed skin and still-damp hair. Ahead, the
sedan wove to the left, threading through a string of lumbering traffic
which had slowed to a near crawl, on hearing Peterís siren.
car cut sharply to the right, winding through yet another cross-connector,
before emerging into the warehouse district of the city. Peter had a clear
view of the car in front of him, when suddenly the rear end of a tractor-trailer,
backing from a factory yard obstructed everything.
slammed on the brakes, wrenching the wheel violently to the side. There
followed the high-pitched whine of tires screeching over blacktop; the
sickening sweet smell of rapidly heated rubber; a slow-motion sensation
of events unfolding in stop-action time. Peter felt the bruising bite of
the seatbelt against his chest and shoulder; the sting of his teeth slicing
open his bottom lip. Blood flooded into his mouth, hot and velvet as the
fever clouding his mind. His surroundings whirled past in a dizzying kaleidoscope
of color and sound, before coming to a violent halt.
head cracked against the steering wheel as the car spun to a stop. He groaned,
rolling backwards in the seat, curtains of blackness shuttering before
his eyes. He could feel blood seeping into his hair, dripping onto his
eyelashes. He blinked, trying to focus, but the world went alarmingly black,
snuffing him beneath its oppressive weight.
sagged against the seat. A moment later he jerked to consciousness, summoned
by the presence of someone looming over him. His eyes came open slowly,
the right clotted with blood from the scalp wound. His vision swam as he
fought to focus on the face of the man at the driverís window: lank blonde
hair, a pock-marked face. Peter tried to moveógroaned, found he couldnít.
the barrel of the silencer-equipped gun bead a line to his temple. A whisper
of breath seeped through his lips, eyes already fluttering shut with the
weight of returning darkness. His head lolled to the side. He heard the
pop of the pistolóonce, twice, followed by a sharp twinge of pain. And
then there was nothing. Only darkness.
groaned, struggling to open his eyes. An intrusive spray of light knifed
beneath his lashes, leaving him dazed and disoriented. He felt the soft
brush of fingers against his cheek and tried to focus on the slow caress.
From far away, the thread of a familiar voice prodded the gray fog of his
to raise his head, and was instantly rewarded by a sickening wave of nausea.
His hands convulsed into fists, fingers curling into unfamiliar fabric
as he bit back bile. A shuddering eruption of pain splintered from his
left shoulder and careened to his wrist, wrenching a startled cry from
settled on his right shoulder, easing him back into welcoming softness,
and he realized that he was in a hospital bed. The fabric knotted between
his sweat-slick fingers registered as cotton sheets. "Lie still, Peter,"
that same voice instructed near his ear.
he rasped. His right hand groped blindly. Strong fingers curled about his,
raising his hand and pressing his open palm, flat against warm flesh. Peter
swallowed thickly, the spiking pain in his shoulder, drenching him in cold
sweat. Another wave of punishing nausea corkscrewed from his stomach, constricting
his abdominal muscles and wedging acid in the back of his throat. He moaned
softly, and tried to fold his left arm over his middle, but found it restrained.
That brought a sudden wave of panic, quelled only by his fatherís quiet
now, my son." The warm caress was back on his face, lightly tracing his
brow, gently dusting the heavy sweat-soaked fringe of hair from his forehead.
He swallowed, tried to speak. But the darkness had returned, effectively
swallowing the last feeble string of his senses.
Peterís voice was raw and unused, lacking strength. Still it drew the attention
of the man at his bedside. His fatherís face warmed with a smile, imbuing
his dark hazel eyes with a radiant glimmer. The priest leaned forward in
his chair, propping his arms on the edge of the bed. His fingers curled
over Peterís right forearm, as his smile settled into a line of pure joy.
good to see you well, my son."
lips lifted in a sleepy half-grin. He felt tired, drugged. There was a
dull ache in his left shoulder, a slighter twitch of pain above his eye.
"Is that what I am? I feel like shit." A glance down revealed a heavy bandage
on his shoulder; a translucent IV tube snaking from his arm. The arm was
immobilized, strapped securely across his chest. Tentatively, he flexed
his fingers, needing to assure himself of his capability of movement. "Did
I . . . break my arm?"
was still much too fickleóstrong one moment, cutting into near obscurity
the next. He cleared his throat and turned his head on the pillow to gaze
questioningly at his father.
leaned forward, draping one arm over the pillow behind Peterís head. His
fingers filtered through strands of dark hair. "You do not remember?" he
brows drew together as he struggled to reassemble the pieces from memory.
He wet his lips. "I left your apartment . . . and . . . there was a chase.
I-I think I lost control of my car, and thenó" he halted suddenly, eyes
widening as he recalled a gun leveled at his temple. The image was surreal,
oddly bloated, as though suspended in a fish-eyed bubble. He had a brief
recollection of a man with wheat-colored hair and a pock-marked face. "There
was a man . . . with a gunó"
Caine agreed softly. Lightly he touched Peterís left shoulder. "The bullet
entered here and exited clean. Two shots. Each deflected. One into your
shoulder, one into the car seat."
man who caused your accidentóthe tractor trailer driver. He was coming
to check on your condition and surprised the assailant just as he fired
the shots. It was his blow that deflected the gun."
exhaled slowly, briefly closing his eyes. His stomach was still unsettled,
protesting now and again with a threatening flutter of upset. He swallowed
and glanced at his father. "D-did you get the manís nameóanything? Iíd
like to thank him. If not foró"
moved his hand, laying it across Peterís chest, halting the weakening thread
of his voice. "You should not talk so much. You have been here almost two
days, but it is still not sufficient time for your voice to heal. And yes,
Peteró" he added, when he saw his son move to protest, "óI have the manís
name. When you are well, you will be able to thank him."
about the guy that shot me?" he persisted, despite his fatherís disapproving
frown. There were too many questions ricocheting around in his head, too
many sketchy memories that cried for completion. He could still feel the
lingering effects of intravenous drugsóthe fog on the edge of his senses;
the numbness in his shoulder that was certain to dissolve into renewed
pain once the medication wore off. He was edgyótired, yet oddly restless.
Beyond the blind-shrouded window of the hospital room, mustard-gold light
hinted at late afternoon.
been . . . taken into custody?" Caine tested the fit of the words. "Mary
Margaret has linked the assailant to a man named Snipes."
made a soft sound of disgust. "The dealer Iím supposed to testify against.
The one that shot Wheeler." He lifted his free hand and probed the tender
spot above his eye, only to encounter more gauze.
snagged his fingers and drew his hand away. Absently, the priest traced
his thumb over Peterís knuckles. "Apparently you hit your head when you
lost control of your car. You have a few stitches," he explained with a
nod for the newly discovered bandage. His thumb continued its warm path
across the back of Peterís hand. "Wheeler is the father of the boy you
told me about?"
Peter was silent a moment. He cleared his throat. "Guess Snipes didnít
want me testifying. Came pretty close to getting his wish."
hand stilled. "Peter." He said the name carefully, drawing his sonís attention.
There was an odd inflection to his voiceóa twinge of fragility Peter had
never heard before. He felt his fatherís fingers tighten on his own; felt
the welcome rough edge of callouses, padding the priestís hand. Caine leaned
forward and pressed a warm kiss through the scattered fringe of bangs on
Peterís forehead. Slowly, he sat back.
Peterís lips parted without sound. Astounded, he lifted his hand, catching
the single tear that tracked down his fatherís cheek. For almost three
days he had been without the power of his voice, but he never felt as speechless
as he did now.
man . . . almost took you from me," the priest explained quietly. Liquid
fringed his lower lashes, threatened to spill onto his cheeks. He lowered
his eyes and the water rushed forward, flowing unheeded over weather-lined
flesh. "I think of this child, bereft of his fatheróof the pain he must
feel. I think of the anguish I carried inside for fifteen years, when I
thought you were dead. Of the fear that I bottle each day, knowing how
truly precious our time together isóand how very fragile."
choked, unable to believe what he was witnessing. His father rarely showed
emotion, reigning wayward feelings into tightly leashed control. Though
he had often lamented that personality trait, Peter had grown to accept
it, even expect it. That he was the cause of this uncharacteristic distress,
was almost more than he could bear. He struggled to sit, the sudden movement
wrenching a groan from his lips. His fatherís head came up in a flash.
must be still."
I-I-Iím sorry. Not just about this. Ió"
have no cause for remorse, my son. Pleaseó" he stilled Peter with a hand.
"I do not wish to share you with these strangers. But you must heal to
come home, and for that you must rest."
Peterís gaze was bewildered; pleading. Gripping Caineís wrist, he sagged
against the bed, his strength sapped beneath the weight of his fatherís
command. Suddenly nothing was as important as pleasing the man at his side.
He turned his head on the pillow so he could face the priest. The ache
in his shoulder sharpened as the blissful haze of medication began to fade,
but the pain was a minor distraction. His stomach knotted as age old fears
tangled with newly awakened emotions. "Please donít go," he whispered.
smile was soft. He raised his hand and traced his thumb down Peterís cheek.
stay," he promised. The commitment reached beyond the present, binding
both father and son; twining past and future in a newly forged, unbreakable
swallowed the lump in his throat. In the distance he could hear the muted
warble of the intercom, paging a Dr. Foller to the third floor nurseís
station. Somebody walked by the door to his room, and he heard the scritch
of rubber-soled shoes against waxed tile. Caine was watching him steadily,
his dark hazel eyes augmenting the vow. Slowly Peter relaxed. His fingers
uncurled, easing their grip on Caineís wrist. He winced as a sliver of
pain rippled through his shoulder. The priest stroked the back of his fingers
over Peterís temple, coaxing the newly etched furrow from his brow.
he instructed. Peter felt his eyes growing heavy; felt his lashes tumbling
down of their own accord.
not tired," he mumbled, but the darkness was warm and velvet and his father
had promised to stay. Only then did he realize that wound which healed
was deeper and older than the hole torn in his shoulder; rawer than the
blistered thread of his voice. He fell asleep, soothed by the gentle caress
of his fatherís hand.