RATED R: Strong Language (a few occurrences)
by Cathryn Mortenz-Teal ("Kate")
Peter studied the glass of amber liquid, turning it slowly in his hand. Late afternoon sunlight braided the beveled crystal, sending a reflected prism of light dancing across the tabletop. Unfazed by the glittering display, Peter drained the contents in one gulp, then shoved the glass aside. Leaning back in his chair, he reached for the bottle of Jack Daniels. He could feel the sun, warm on his neck, where it streamed through the windows of his high-rise apartment--its touch, dry and golden, like desert sand baked beneath a cloudless sky. Briefly, he considered closing the blinds, but that required effort he didn't feel like expending. Instead, he contented himself with peeling strips of the label from the bottle, dropping tiny curls of paper, like wood-shavings to the sun-dusted table.
Hey, Bobby, what'cha doin in there?
He grimaced, remembering a reckless grin; the flash of even, white teeth
in the cool, damp shade of a cave. Two fifteen-year-olds, exploring the
Come on, Pete. Bobby had beckoned him forward, all freckles and
red-headed eagerness. This is so cool! We gotta tell Gordon.
Forsaking the glass entirely, Peter tipped the bottle to his lips and
took a long swig of the whiskey. Can't tell Gordon anything, anymore.
dead. Shot in the back by some low-life street-scum, out to make a name
for himself in a drive-by shooting.
The thought trailed away and he jerked suddenly, shaken by another's
presence in the room. Peter turned, one hand still clutched about the whiskey
bottle, and blinked half-lidded eyes.
"Dad. I thought I locked the door. How did you--" He frowned, a slow
burn of displeasure flushing his cheeks. One hand waved in the air in dismissal.
"Never mind. Just go home. I'm not up for company."
Wordlessly, Kwai Chang Caine stepped to the table. Removing his ever
present pouch of herbs, he shed his jacket and draped both over the nearest
chair--a subtle indication he had no intention of leaving.
Peter scowled. Gee, Pop, just make yourself at home. Clutching
the whiskey bottle, he rose unsteadily to his feet and ambled to the sofa,
collapsing with a groan. Raising a hand to shield his eyes against the
glare of too-bright sunlight, he squinted at the Shaolin priest.
"So what's the lesson today? Every life must end in order to continue?
Adversity makes us stronger? For everything there's a season?" He giggled,
struck by an absurd notion. "That's a song by the Byrds. Guess you didn't
know that, Pop. Bet you don't even know who the Byrds are--"
"Peter--" Caine stepped away from the table. His eyes traveled from
the empty glass still resting on the polished surface, to the bottle of
smoky liquid clutched in his son's hand. Peter wasn't drunk yet, but was
obviously making a valiant effort. Silently, Caine moved to the blinds
adjusting the slats, so the light eased from Peter's face. Tiny dust motes
floated in the air--small dancers engaged in a timeless ballet. "I thought
you might like to talk."
The younger man snorted. "Talk? I just buried one of my closest friends."
A finger jabbed in Caine's direction. "You make it sound like something
to be discussed over coffee. I'm not into kitchen-table therapy, Pop. Just
leave me alone. I've got all the comfort I need." He took another swig
from the bottle, tipping his head back and closing his eyes as the whiskey
burned down his throat. His fingers released their white-knuckle hold,
and he dropped the bottle to the floor, slouching deeper into the couch.
Caine caught the discarded object, righting it before it could spew its
contents over the carpet. Moving it out of his son's reach, he perched
on the edge of the coffee table.
Peter's arms were folded across his chest, his head turned to the side.
Caine wet his lips, sensing his son's hastily erected walls. Hesitantly,
he reached one hand to the younger man's face, tracing his thumb over the
taut line from temple to jaw. Peter flinched.
" 'g way," he mumbled.
Caine's touch shifted. Collecting a strand of dark hair, he rubbed the
silken thread between work-calloused fingers, then carefully brushed the
stray tendril from Peter's cheek. "Paul and Annie are worried about you,"
he offered at last. "You did not return to Mrs. Palmer's home after the
"Couldn't," Peter said. His eyes were scrunched closed. He waited, just a beat, then drew in a frayed breath. Turning his head, he leveled a whiskey-dulled gaze on Caine. "I was best man at their wedding, did you know that, Pop? And Bobby--B-Bobby stood for them
wh-when Amy was born. We--" he tried to sit up, but Caine placed a hand on his shoulder, pressing him back into the cushions. Peter swallowed thickly. "God, I think I'm gonna be sick."
His skin had grayed, mottled with bright spots of color where the flush
of whiskey stained his cheeks. Sweat stood out on his forehead, beading
the ragged fringe of bangs splayed haphazardly over his brow. Caine brushed
the dark hair aside. Long, skilled fingers massaged Peter's temples, silencing
the nausea. The younger man's lashes fluttered, then dipped lower to crest
"Kind of ironic for a cop to go that way," he mumbled, sinking deeper
into the encroaching haze of sleep and the blissful oblivion where reality
bowed before might-have-beens. "Gordon was off duty. Did you know that,
Pop? Bobby said . . . Bobby said . . ." But nothing else came from his
suddenly constricted throat. He turned on his side, burying his face in
the corner of the couch, letting the fine mist of sleep wash over him and
carry him to the realm of dreams.
A shiver raced up his spine.
Hey, Gordon--what'cha doin over there?
Paul Blaisdell rummaged through the stack of papers littering his desk.
Somewhere in the mess of budget projections, operating reports and quarterly
expenses, was a misplaced phone number, linking them all to the accounting
firm the city had hired. Now, if he could just get one of the idiots to
translate the mess into English--
The softly inquiring voice drew his head up. Sucking in a breath, he
tried to quell the eager smile that spread much too rapidly across his
face. "Peter. Come in."
His foster son hesitated in the doorway, a slight frown betraying uneasiness.
Moving into the office, he closed the door behind him. The chaotic din
of the squad room faded to a soft murmur behind the barrier of glass. Halting
by the filing cabinet, Peter drummed his fingers restlessly across the
top. The other hand filtered back through his hair, in a habitual gesture
much too familiar to Paul.
"Glad to see you back," Blasidell offered casually.
Peter shrugged. He'd kept a low profile since Gordon Palmer's funeral,
opting to work the graveyard shift, thus avoiding his foster father at
the precinct, while maintaining a valid excuse for declining family dinners
at home. Stepping closer to the desk, he trailed one finger over the scarred
edge, quickly lost interest, and began fiddling with a paperweight.
Paul's mouth settled into a tight line, noting the quirky movements
Peter used to mask anxiety. Textbook Peter Caine. He had never quite figured
out why it took the kid so long to work up the nerve for a simple request.
If this was a request.
Paul decided to help the process along. "You wanted something?" he prompted,
trying to keep his voice neutral.
Peter's gaze shifted from the abandoned paperweight to the stack of
reports strewn over the other's desk. A guilty flush stole over his cheeks.
"I'm sorry. You're busy."
"No." Paul was on his feet much too quickly. Damn. I feel like I'm
walking on eggshells. "Sit down, Peter."
His foster son bit his lip, hovered uncertainly, then eased into a chair
across from the desk. Paul returned to his seat. One hand waved expansively
at the mound of paper. He chuckled softly. "Damn, city. We spend a fortune
on an accounting firm to get our budget in line, then can't make heads
or tails of the mess."
A fleeting smile touched Peter's lips. "Like I said--you're busy."
"Not for you, Kid. What do you want?"
"Um . . ." Hazel eyes dipped to the floor. Peter leaned forward, bracing
his arms on his knees. "I was just thinking . . .that I might like to go
away this weekend. Go up to the cabin, if that's okay with you."
Paul sighed. Peter had his own key to the family's woodland retreat,
yet he insisted on asking permission, as if he were an interloper. "Of
course it's okay with me. You know you don't have to ask."
"Sure." The corners of his son's mouth tipped up in a sheepish grin.
"I was thinking of asking Bobby to go along."
"Bobby Cole?" Paul laced his hands across his stomach, musing the notion
over. Bobby Cole, Gordon Palmer and Peter had become friends shortly after
Paul had taken Peter from the orphanage. From that first summer together,
the three had been all but inseparable. Later, they had graduated high
school and attended the Police Academy together. Bobby and Gordon had done
their rookie years with senior partners, then ended up in the same precinct.
Two years ago they'd been assigned as partners, in the 71st.
Paul knew if Peter was taking Gordon's death hard, Bobby had to be taking
it worse. Would it really be healthy for the two of them to spend a weekend
alone mourning their dead friend? "Do you think that's wise?" he finally
Peter's eyes flashed to his face. "Why not?" There was just the slightest
trace of belligerence in his tone.
Paul could see the edge of hostility in the sudden set of his jaw, the
squaring of his shoulders. He held up a hand. "My mistake."
The air left Peter in a whuff of resignation. "Sorry, Paul."
He threaded a hand through his hair, all nervous energy again. Pushing
from the chair, he paced to the window and began toying with the string
for the Venetian blinds. "I thought maybe Bobby and I could lay some things
to rest. You know--sort it out."
Paul shifted uncomfortably. Gordon Palmer was dead and no amount of
analyzing, discussing, eulogizing or philosophizing would change that.
But Peter looked so miserable, framed in the haze of weak morning light,
that Paul didn't have the heart to contradict him. He merely nodded, secretly
hoping the purposed weekend would bring Peter some peace. His son tended
to grieve longer than most, unwilling or unable, to let the departed continue
their journey into the next life. As if somehow, that acceptance constituted
He watched as Peter forced a wan smile. "How about some breakfast?"
his son asked.
Paul's answering smile was just as slight. "Why not?"
"Sealed and delivered."
Kermit Griffin slid the oversized white envelope onto the stack of hastily
arranged papers, shoved in the corner of Peter Caine's desk. The younger
detective turned from his computer long enough to spare the missive a glance.
His eyes darted to the ex-mercenary's face, finely shaped brows arching
into a fringe of tousled hair.
"And this is?"
"Not the reception I was expecting." Kermit folded his arms across his
chest, dipping his chin slightly to peer over the top of his green glasses.
"I seem to recall an overzealous detective begging for dirt on Darryl Matrox."
One hand drifted to the envelope, lightly fingering the flap. "If you'd
rather I deposit this elsewhere--"
"No, no!" Peter practically leaped from his chair in his haste to retrieve
the envelope. Smiling nervously, he eased back his seat, drawing the coveted
item with him. Locating a letter opener in the top drawer of his desk,
he tugged it through the flap. The tip of his tongue appeared in the corner
of his mouth as he worked the wad of papers free. "So what'd you get?"
Kermit appeared indifferent. He shrugged. "Oh, not much. Bank drafts,
tax returns, ledger book entries--all exhibiting some very creative accounting
Peter grinned. The papers were spread over his desk now, and he rifled
through them eagerly, pausing every so often to dispel a breath of disbelief.
"Kermit this is incredible! How'd you get this stuff?" He glanced up, the
smile crinkling the corners of his eyes and drawing fine lines about his
With a start, Kermit realized it was the first he'd seen his friend
smile since Gordon Palmer's death, six days prior. He kept his voice neutral
when he replied. "You're not the only one with snitches, Caine. Mine are
just--shall we say-- on higher levels." Shoving his hands
in his pants pockets, he nodded towards the papers. "What do you want to
do with this?"
Surprised, Peter leaned back in his chair. "What else? Search warrant.
We've got enough dirt to make something stick for a change. Busting Matrox's
pushers isn't getting us anywhere--"
"No, just pissing him off. You've made him sit up and notice you, I'll
give you that."
Peter shrugged. "Time to introduce myself--" the grin resurfaced. "--personally."
Peter drew a breath as he pulled the Stealth into the alley outside his father's apartment building.
Mustard gold light glowed from curtainless windows, warm and inviting
as a crackling hearth on cold winter nights. Peter silenced the engine
and slid from the car, taking a moment to stretch tired muscles and work
the stiffness from his joints. Overhead, the sky had grayed with twilight,
broken only by the pale, fickle light of a few virgin stars. The excitement
and vindication of ordering the search warrant for Darryl Matrox's corporate
headquarters was finally wearing off. Though Peter had been dogging the
drug lord for months, alternating strong-arm tactics with subtle feints,
the end result was a protected criminal the system couldn't touch.
High-priced lawyers went a long way to buying freedom. Peter had done everything
from busting Matrox's pushers to maintaining in-your-face surveillance,
until Matrox's lawyers had called him on harassment.
He grimaced. Okay, so maybe he had gone a little over the edge, but
an angry man was a careless man, and he had done everything imaginable
to make Darryl Matrox irrate.
Peter chuckled softly. Leave it to Kermit to pull the final string.
As he stepped away from the Stealth, he caught a glimmer of movement
from the corner of his eye. A car rolled past the alley, just accelerating
to speed. Though difficult to tell in the thickening twilight, it looked
suspiciously like Paul's Buick. The pleasure he'd been feeling evaporated
instantly. He sprinted to the fire escape, taking the steps two at a time.
"Pop!" Peter's voice bridled with anger. Surprised that his irritation
was so easily manifest, he tried to curb his natural belligerence. Brisk
strides led him into the apartment, where he found Kwai Chang Caine behind
his workbench. The Shaolin priest glanced up, distracted from the assortment
of dried herbs he was carefully measuring into hand-labeled jars.
"Peter." Greeting, chastisement and parental concern all rolled into
Damn, how does he do that?
Peter half-turned, one hand pointing in the direction of the terrace
and the street beyond. "Was that Paul Blaisdell who just left?" he demanded.
It occurred to him that he sounded very much like a spoiled child, but
the irrational edge of anger kept him from caring.
As always, his father took his time answering. The current mixture of
herbs, resembling nothing so much as red sawdust threaded with licorice,
held the priest's attention. Using a piece of waxed parchment to gather
the precious flakes, he deposited them in a green jar. One shoulder rolled
slowly into a shrug. "If you saw your foster father, then it must have
Peter glared. He could feel the heat rising on his face. As usual, his
father danced around the question, side-stepping the issue with practiced
ease. Peter bit his lip, determined to have a straight answer for once.
Perhaps it was nothing more than the strain of Gordon's death, or the raw
remorse he had heard in Bobby Cole's voice when he'd phoned earlier to
ask about the weekend--whatever the cause of his sudden restlessness, it
left him hungry for a confrontation.
"If you and Paul were discussing me, I'd like to know about it."
Caine's fingers stilled. He raised his eyes, his gaze quietly dissecting.
"Are you so shallow, Peter, as to think your foster father and I have nothing
else to discuss?"
Peter blanched. He had been prepared for cloaked denial, or a question-within-a-question
answer. The stinging retort left him off-balance and ashamed. Warm color
flushed his cheeks, making him duck his head. The wave of anger broke and
subsided, ebbing into the awkward stillness. Peter cleared his throat and
lifted his eyes, glancing at his father through a veil of thick lashes.
"I'm sorry, Dad. I just immediately--"
"Annie has been having problems sleeping. I gave Paul a tea that should
help her rest easier."
"Why's she having problems?" Peter moved closer to the workbench, clearly
distraught. He'd been so careful to avoid his family lately, wrapped in
his own cocoon of misery, it hadn't occurred to him that someone he cared
about might be suffering. Damn, why didn't Paul say something this morning?
"Dad, if something's wrong--"
"Annie is fine," the priest assured. "There is nothing unusual for a
person to experience occasional difficulty in sleeping. Perhaps it is merely
the strain of the last week. Your friend Gordon's death, surely effected
Mrs. Blaisdell as well."
Peter expelled a breath. Spinning on his heel, he paced to the other
side of the room, one hand raking back through his hair. He chewed on his
lip, silently berating himself for self-indulgent pity. Gordon was dead.
He'd make peace with that this weekend and move on. Surely his friend didn't
want him abandoning his family, snapping at his father--oh hell, Pete,
just admit it--being a general all-around asshole. He walked back to
the table, hovering uncertainly. A sprig of some unrecognizable plant became
the unfortunate focal point of momentary interest. He grazed his thumb
over the small, delicate leaves, carelessly bending the pear-shaped appendages.
"I guess I've been pretty preoccupied lately, huh, Pop?"
"Understandably," Caine replied, and carefully removed the plant from
Peter's hand. He set the abused sprig aside, watching as his son's touch
strayed to an urn of crushed basil. Peter fingered the pungent leaves briefly
before losing interest. He drew a breath, then raised his head, glancing
sideways at his father. The shroud of dark lashes was not sufficient to
hide the emotion in his eyes.
"I-I've got some time. Maybe . . . um . . . we could have dinner." Hazel
eye flashed to Caine's face. "That is, if you haven't eaten yet," he added
The priest smiled. He bowed slightly. "I would be honored."
"You should have seen him," Peter said. "The man looked ready to shit
himself. He never thought that warrant would bring us anything, but those
books told us right where to look. It's going to take more than a high-priced
lawyer to pull Matrox out of this one."
Bobby Cole nodded. Slumped in the passenger's seat of the Stealth, he
was idly drumming his fingers on the dashboard. "Yeah, Gordon and I did
our fair share of investigating him. I think just about every cop in city
did, at one time or another." He wet his lips and glanced aside at Peter.
"Gord would be proud of you, Peter. You really hounded the man and it paid
Peter shrugged. The mention of Gordon had soured his mood, but wasn't
that what this weekend was about? He watched as Bobby's eyes skimmed back
to the road. His friend seemed preoccupied, restless. Maybe Paul was
right. Maybe this is a bad idea. He tried to find common ground; tried
to ease the tension steadily mounting between them.
"Hey--" he smiled easily. "Last summer, up here. Wasn't that when Gordon
hooked that record large mouth?"
Bobby chuckled--a tangled snort of laughter that sounded as pained as
it did amused. "Swore it was a record. Then dropped it off the edge of
the boat instead of into the cooler."
"Cooler was filled with beers," Peter countered, grinning at the memory.
"Yeah. Empties," the other replied and they both laughed. The silence
grew comfortable, familiar. Bobby cracked his window and drew in the cool
woodland air. The day was already lengthening towards evening. Shadows
slanted across the road, disappearing into fragrant thickets, where the
light was low, dusty and gold. Early spring in the higher elevations meant
warm afternoons and crisp nights. Already the promise of a cooler evening
could be felt in the fern-scented breeze that whistled into the car. Absently,
Bobby traced a finger over the edge of the window. "Talked to Gail, yesterday,"
he offered neutrally.
Peter swallowed with visible effort. He hadn't approached Gordon's widow
since the funeral. Coward, a merciless voice accused.
"H-how is she?" Peter kept his eyes on the road. He felt Bobby shrug.
"About as good as can be expected. She has Amy and that's helping her
cope. A two year old's pretty trying."
"Yeah, I guess so. What about--" Peter hesitated, wet his lips. "What about the baby?
T-T-There's no . . . complications or anything . . . I mean with all
that's happened . . ?"
This time Peter did glance aside. Bobby was watching him, an odd expression
on his face. He shook his head. "No, everything's fine. Gordon's son is
due in two months." He scrubbed his hands over his jeans, the action oddly
nervous. "Doesn't this toy of yours go any faster?"
"Relax, Bobby. We're almost there. Besides--it's too late to do any
"Sure, 'cause someone screwed around getting started--"
"Hey, I had paperwork. You know the drill. A search warrant doesn't
just magically appear, no strings attached."
Bobby scowled, seemingly displeased by the mention of the search warrant.
"How 'bout we bag the office for awhile? I could do without the reminders
of impending caseloads."
"Sounds good to me." Peter flicked on the radio, jabbed a few buttons,
then gave up when he encountered only static and commercials. He eased
back in his seat, holding the steering wheel steady with a wrist draped
across the top. "Hope Brenda doesn't mind me borrowing you for the weekend."
"Nah. She's at her sister's place in Richmond. After I wrap things up,
I'm gonna head down there."
Peter arched a brow. "Wrap things up?"
"Huh?" Bobby tensed. "Uh, you know . . ." he waved expansively at the
air in front of the dash. "After this weekend . . . " A nervous smile flitted
across his lips. "Hey, Pete, come on. You know how women are. Be glad you
aren't married." Forced laughter followed the jittery smile. "Kind of odd,
Gordon ending up with Gail. I remember you two going at it hot and heavy,
after high-school. We used to have to pry you apart."
Peter forgot all about Bobby's nervous slip. Turning his attention back
to the road, he frowned. "That was a long time ago," he said quietly. His
hand tightened on the steering wheel and he fell into silence.
At his side, Bobby Cole relaxed, breathing a silent sigh of relief.
Peter tugged the collar of his denim jacket closer about his neck. An
early morning mist still clung to the banks of the lake, puddling into
purple shadow where the vaporous breath receded between the thick trunks
of beech and oaks. Thin splinters of pale yellow pierced ponderous branches,
dappling the ground with the welcoming touch of morning sunlight. The air
was cool, underscored by the lingering touch of the night's crisp caress.
It would warm as the day wore on, and the sun edged higher in the blue
expanse of cloud-streaked sky.
Peter clapped his hands together. "Hey, Bobby, come on. Hustle it up,
will you?" he called over his shoulder. A glance at the house told him
Bobby was still inside. Stepping from the dock, Peter moved agilely into
the boat, bent on retrieving the thermos of coffee he had deposited earlier.
At his feet was an assortment of fishing gear: three rods--always bring
a spare, Paul had told him, in case you break a reel--tackle
box, net, even a bag containing some freshly baked blueberry muffins Annie
had thoughtfully sent along. Locating the thermos, Peter poured coffee
into an accompanying mug. The hot liquid helped banish the early morning
chill, but couldn't ease his growing disquiet.
Though he and Bobby had talked until nearly 1:00 a.m., his friend had
remained oddly distant, wrapped protectively inside himself. An occasional
grin had lightened the debts of his carmel-colored eyes, revealing quick-silver
glimpses of the friend Peter knew--but the moments were brief and far apart.
Peter took another swallow of the coffee and gazed out across the lake.
must be taking it harder than I am. Sudden chagrin spread fire across
his cheeks. Of course he is. Don't be a idiot Caine, they were partners!
Heaving a frustrated sigh, he glanced back towards the house. Bobby
was trudging down the bank, tackle box in one hand, jacket in the other.
"Hey, Bobby, I've got plenty of tackle," Peter said with a nod for the
olive green box in the other's hand.
"Not like this," his friend countered as he clambered into the boat.
The Alumacraft wobbled, then righted itself as he moved to the front
of the vessel. Though the air was brisk, a thin sheen of sweat clung to
his cheeks. Depositing his jacket on the swivel fishing chair, he glanced
pointedly at Peter. "Well--you gonna crank this thing to life or what?"
Frowning slightly, Peter slid into the driver's chair and engaged the
key. The 150 horse power
Mercury purred to life, startling a pair
of mourning doves from the low hanging branches of a nearby elm. Through
the small curved windshield mounted above the steering wheel, Peter watched
as Bobby moved the tackle box behind the chair. "There's a thermos of coffee
and some muffins," Peter offered with a nod of his head towards the rear
of the boat. His friend grunted a negative reply. Dropping into the seat,
Bobby draped the jacket across his leg, and gazed out across the water.
Peter bit his lip as his sense of disquiet grew. Okay, we did kick
half a case last night. Maybe he's just feeling the beers. The annoying
twinge in his temple told him he hadn't completely recovered from last
night's binge, himself. Two or three light beers was normally enough to
satisfy him, but between Bobby's odd behavior, and his own anxiety and
guilt, Peter had managed to down a six-pack on his own. Thank God for
coffee. He grinned sourly and opened the boat's throttle, easing the
seventeen foot V-bottom onto the lake. It sliced through the cobalt water
sending oyster-pale ripples, like white lace, cascading to shore.
"How 'bout we try that hole up around South Bend?" Peter called over
the rumble of the engine. He grinned easily. "Might even get that muskie,
Gordon always wanted."
Bobby turned, gave a brief nod, then squinted up at the sun. He pawed
restlessly at his hair, sweeping copper-bright strands from his brow.
"Hey, Bobby, you okay?" Peter asked gently.
The other jerked. "Fine." He shifted nervously and offered a shaky smile.
"Guess I'm still feeling those beers from last night. Brenda says I can't
drink like I used to. Then again--maybe she just wants me to believe that."
Peter chuckled softly. The rakish glimmer was back in Bobby's eyes.
His friend winked and glanced away, humming softly as he studied the passing
scenery. Slowly, Peter relaxed. He opened the throttle wide, sending the
boat bouncing over the sun-dusted lake.
It had been awhile since his last visit to the Blaisdell's cabin, tucked
away on a wooded hillside overlooking the twelve-mile lake. Here, houses
were few, scattered sparsely among thickets of dense trees. Peter could
tell from the drawn house blinds and canvas-covered boats, bobbing languidly
by the docks, that most of the homes were empty. It was still too early
in the season for weekend visitors.
Breathing deeply, he inhaled the green scent of moss and fern, the pungent
scent mixed with the fainter trace of boat fuel. The distinctive odor conjured
memories: a patient Paul Blaisdell taking a trio of excited fifteen year
old boys on their first overnight fishing trip; explaining the difference
between crankbaits and spinnerbaits; skillfully showing them how to dress
Peter shook the memory aside, disturbed that it left him oddly empty--that
a childhood memory awash in innocence, made him feel tarnished and worn
With a start, he realized he smelled smoke. A quick glance at Bobby
identified the source. "When did you start that?" he asked sharply.
Bobby shrugged, taking another drag on the cigarette. "Dunno. Awhile,
Peter's nose crinkled at the acrid scent. "Um . . . just don't do it
in the cabin, okay?"
"Sure." Bobby fished in his pocket and came up with the pack of cigarettes.
He offered the crinkled package to Peter. "Come on, Caine, live a little."
Peter waved a hand in dismissal. "No thanks."
With a snort of disgust, Bobby tucked the pack into his pocket. " 'Should've
known," he mumbled.
Peter frowned. "What does that mean?"
"Only that you always were a little too pure. Gordon went and got himself
killed and screwed us both."
"I don't follow you."
"Guess not." Bobby flicked the cigarette off the side of the boat. Reaching
for the tackle box, he dragged it over by his feet. "He was the balance,
Peter. You and I, we've always been on opposite ends. Even as kids. Without
Gordon, we probably would have been at each other's throats."
"You're exaggerating." Peter was cold. He eased off the throttle, slowing
the boat to a speed where he could talk conversationally over the motor.
He watched as Bobby flipped open the tackle box, raising the swing-arm
tray to rummage in the storage hold beneath. "You're not making any sense,
His friend's face was gray, the skin waxen in the early morning dawn. Beads of sweat stippled Bobby's upper lip and his eyes were dark like river mud. "I was gonna wait . . . work up my nerve. But there's just no sense . . . I gotta do this . . . get it over with . . . like I did
Gordon . . ."
Peter went cold to the bone. He eased the boat to a crawl, half rose
to his feet. Alarms were going off in his head. Still he hesitated. "Bobby--"
He had only a second's warning--a glimpse of the silencer-equipped gun
as Bobby wrenched it from the tackle box--and then he was diving over the
side of the boat, as the shot pinged over his head. He dove into the water,
bracing himself against the shock of numbing cold; kicking downward, propelled
into puce-colored darkness and Dresden-blue shadow, by heart-thumping horror
and fear. A series of shots struck the water, slicing through the murky
depths, jolting him with the crackling path of their nearness.
Peter felt a sudden twinge in his leg, just above the knee and knew
that he'd been hit. The numbing cold kept the pain from registering as
he swam for the bank. His lungs were on fire, ready to burst. Spots of
color danced at the edge of his vision, warning that he was perilously
close to blacking out. Just a little more. Just a little farther.
It became a litany, a chant, as he powered tired arms and legs towards
He was almost to the bank when he could stand it no longer--when his
oxygen-deprived lungs demanded he surface. Sputtering, he broke from the
water, gulping greedily at the chill morning air. Huddled in the grape-purple
shade of an ancient oak, his eyes swept the lake. Bobby was still on the
boat, bent over the side, anxiously scanning the water, the gun clutched
possessively in his hand.
Peter shuddered, remembering his words: " . . . like I did Gordon."
Oh God, oh God, he killed Gordon.
The thought left him sick and shivering. Weakly, he stroked towards
shore, then drug himself onto the muddy bank, too shaken to do anything
but curl up against the trunk of the sheltering oak. He could feel the
sting of tears in his eyes, the white-hot needle of pain splintering down
his leg. Oh, God, oh, God, he killed Gordon . . .
The thought returned, raw and merciless. Peter gasped, rolled his head
back against the gnarled trunk of the massive tree. The sky spun overhead,
blue-gray like a robin's egg. He closed his eyes as the first punishing
wave of nausea battered his stomach. Groaning, he folded his arm over his
middle and vomited. His breath hitched between his teeth, rapid and thin,
spurred by the force of his intense shivering. Slumping back against the
tree, he took a moment to collect himself. His head was spinning and there
was a horrible pounding behind his eyes. Tentatively, he examined the wound
on his right leg. His fingers were shaking uncontrollably, but the damage
done by the bullet was minimal.
It had struck just above the knee, gouging a path across his thigh.
No longer hampered by ice-cold water, the wound bled profusely. A dark
crimson stain spread over the sodden fabric of Peter's jeans. Surface
wound, he thought, too much blood. Though it hurt like hell,
the bullet had only grazed him. He pressed his hand over the sodden denim,
applying pressure. The sudden whine of a boat motor made him jerk his head
up. He cursed.
Scooting around the base of the tree, he stole a glance across the lake.
As expected, Bobby was turning the boat in ever widening circles, while
maintaining a studious watch on the the water. Peter sighed.
Unarmed, he couldn't remain where he was. It was only a matter of time
before Bobby's exploration brought him to shore. His best chance was to
move through the woods, locate a house and get help, even if it was via
phone. He had a fairly good idea of his location. Unfortunately, this side
of the lake boasted few dwellings. The nearest was a good five miles away.
With his leg in its present condition, the hike didn't seem likely.
He scrubbed a hand over his face, drawing a ragged breath. The cold
was growing increasingly hard to ignore. His fingers felt numb, and his
sodden clothing chilled him to the bone. A slight breeze rippled through
dark, dripping hair and he shuddered at the touch. If he didn't do something
That's when he remembered the cave.
Hey, Bobby, what'cha doin in there?
It was only a half mile away, tucked in the hillside. The odds that
Bobby Cole would remember that autumn afternoon and be able to locate the
cave, where slim. Besides, Peter didn't have much of a choice. Long fingers
splayed behind him, gripping the tree for leverage, he struggled to his
feet. The sudden pressure on his right leg sent a white-hot spear of pain
ricocheting from ankle to hip. Peter gasped once, then bit his lip to stifle
a cry. He felt blood ooze into his mouth; tasted copper on his tongue.
Stealing himself against the pain, he pushed away from the tree, hobbling
deeper into the wooded copse.
Peter found the cave, its moss-covered opening sheltered by maples and
elms. It seemed an eternity ago that he and Bobby had explored this cave,
anxious to tell Gordon of their discovery. Shivering, he moved into the
steel-blue shadows, weakly crumbling to his knees.
His strength was gone. He had stumbled more times than he could count,
on the brief hike through the trees. Countless cuts scored his palms, and
a cut above his brow, left a spider-thin trail of blood trickling down
his cheek. The bullet wound was oozing again, plaiting his mud-covered
jeans with fresh blood. He curled on his side, wrapping his arms around
him, desperate to trap his escaping body heat.
Shedding his sodden jacket, he inched closer to the sunlight slanting
through the mouth of the cave. It sparkled on the stone, marigold-bright,
coaxing him nearer, even as he felt the whispering touch of darkness held
too long at bay.
Peter stretched his hand to the light.
And slumped forward into the gray void of unconsciousness.
"Hey. Wake up."
The voice grazed the edge of his thoughts, angry, insistent. Something
prodded him in the leg, rekindling the fire of the bullet wound. He moaned,
rolling his head to the side. Rough, uneven stone cut into his skull. He
blinked, trying to orient. For a moment there was only darkness--a jet
black cloak that brought him close to panic--and then he saw Bobby's face
leering down at him from overhead.
Peter jerked; tried to roll out of the way, and realized his hands were
tied behind his back. He scooted to the side; managed to gain a sitting
position, his back pressed to the cold stone wall of the cave. Grinning,
Bobby crouched down in front of him. Absently, he waved his gun at Peter.
"Thought I forgot about this place, didn't you?" Easing back, he leaned
against the opposite wall, keeping the gun leveled between them. Though
sunlight streamed through the mouth of the cave, his face remained mostly
in shadow. "I gotta admit, Caine, you gave me a good run. I wasted four
hours tracking you down. It's almost noon."
Peter ran his tongue over his lips, feeling dry, cracked skin beneath.
With consciousness came a return of the cold, coupled with a staggering
wave of nausea. He swallowed bile and fought to keep the tremor from his
"Yeah, I thought you'd ask that." Cole lit a cigarette and blew the
smoke across at Peter. The bitter odor was just enough to push Peter past
the edge of control. Groaning, he turned his head to the side, swallowing
thickly and convulsively as his stomach threatened upheaval.
Bobby Cole snickered. "You don't look too good, Caine."
"God, what's happened to you!" Peter spat.
Non-pulsed, Bobby twirled the cigarette between his fingers. "Darryl
Matrox is what happened to me."
Peter went cold to the bone. He blanched. "You're in his pocket?"
"Deeply." Another drag on the cigarette, another exhalation of smoke directed at Peter.
"You and Gordon?" he snapped his fingers. "--in the way. You figure
Peter shook his head, unable to believe what he was hearing. A swell
of black rage bubbled up from the pit of his stomach. He spit his words
with fury: "You were his partner. We went to school together. You f**king
bastard--you stood for his daughter when she was born."
Cole sneered, a thin wolfish curl of his lips. "At least I didn't f**k
Peter snapped. With a snarl of rage, he launched himself across the
cave, heedless of his wounded leg. Startled into motion, Bobby's finger
convulsed on the trigger of the gun. Peter heard the whine of the bullet
as it whizzed past his ear, followed by the ping of the ricochet as it
struck the wall behind his head. His wounded leg buckled beneath him, and
he sprawled face forward unable to halt his fall. His shoulder struck the
ground with enough force to send his teeth clattering together. Pinpricks
of light exploded in his head, pushing him dangerously close to the brink
of unconsciousness. Groaning, he rolled to the side, waiting for the first
blow to fall. Miraculously, it never came.
Peter lay on his back, gasping. When his own panting subsided, he became
aware of a new sound in the stillness--a rattling wheeze of breath, like
the hiss and click of a respirator, or the whistle of winter wind through
straw. Using his bound hands for lever, he dragged himself to a sitting
position and propped his bruised shoulder against the wall. The sight that
greeted him made the breath catch in his throat.
"Bobby--" His friend glanced at him from near-lifeless eyes, arms hanging limply at his side. He sat slumped against the wall, legs sprawled awkwardly before him. Even in the charcoal shadows of the cave, Peter could see the bright splotch of red spreading rapidly across his chest.
"Oh, God, Bobby--" A tangle of gut-wrenching remorse and righteous anger
brought tears to his eyes. His lashes dipped, sending the flow of water
streaming unheeded down his cheeks.
Bobby Cole laughed softly. "Shit, Caine. You're even pretty when you
cry." He wet his lips, tried to raise his hand. "Tell Gail . . . tell Gail
. . ." But nothing else came. The hand fell to his side, rolling lifelessly
off his leg. Peter stared at the open palm; the half-curled fingers. He
lifted grief-stricken eyes to his friend's face. "Bobby? B-bobby?"
"Thank God, Peter!"
He flinched at the intrusion which shattered the thick, sticky silence
of the tomb. A silhouette blocked the spray of sunlight at the cave's mouth,
then melted forward into the shadows. Peter caught the glint of light along
the barrel of a gun before it was holstered. Strong hands gripped him and
guided him forward. Too weak to protest, he slumped against Paul Blasidell's
chest as his foster father unknotted the rope binding his wrists. He could
feel the warm beat of Paul's heart against cheek and immediately began
"H-h-he killed G-gordon," he choked.
"Ssh. I know." Rough fingers stroked over Peter's hair. "I'm sorry,
Kid. I really am."
His hands free, Peter clutched at his foster father's coat. Unwilling to raise his head, he clung to the material, feeling the tortured sob build in his throat. "I'm so s-stupid," he said.
"I-I should have seen. I-I should have known--"
"You couldn't have," Paul countered. "Sometimes we're just too close
to see the ties breaking."
Closing his eyes, Peter shuddered. He wept silently--not for himself
or even Gordon Palmer, but rather for Bobby Cole, whose innocence had died
"Hey, yourself," Peter said softly. He glanced up from his position
on the sofa, as his foster father entered the apartment. Kwai Chang Caine
had departed only moments before, making Peter wonder if the two men hadn't
encountered one another in the hallway. "You just missed--"
"Yeah, I saw him in the hall," Paul confirmed. Stepping forward, he
propped a hip on the arm of the couch. "Some convalescence reading," he
offered, passing Peter the latest issues of MRE and
Peter grinned. "Thanks."
"So." Paul popped an eyebrow. "How are you feeling?"
"I'm fine, Paul, I just--" Letting the magazines drop to his lap, Peter spread his hands. "I don't know. I guess I'm still kind of in a daze . . . how it all happened. How Bobby could go
from . . ." he shook his head, fanning a hand through the air dismissively.
"It doesn't matter."
"It does, Peter. It matters to you, so you better come to terms with
Surprised, Peter glanced at his foster father. Caine had side-stepped
the issue, not wanting to distress him, but Paul in an uncharacteristic
move, had gone right for his throat. Perhaps it was because Gordon and
Bobby had been cops--one corrupt, one unjustly murdered.
It was Brenda Cole, Bobby's wife, that had tipped Paul off to the situation
at the lake. Unable to keep silent anymore, she had phoned Paul and told
him of Bobby's plan to kill Peter. Apparently Matrox had contracted the
cop, and the weekend had presented the perfect opportunity for the murder.
After killing Peter and disposing of the body at the bottom of the lake,
Bobby was to take Peter's car and drive to Virginia where Brenda was waiting
for him. Money wired from Matrox, after the job was completed, would see
them out of the country temporarily. Later, they would return with new
identities already intact. Bobby Cole was to be set up in Miami, where
Matrox hoped to extend his operations. The murders of Gordon Palmer and
Peter Caine would be proof that Bobby was ready to head the expansion.
The affiliation between cop and drug lord was older than anyone had expected,
dating back to Cole's rookie days. The only solace gained in the whole
affair, was that Matrox was now behind bars, held without bail.
Peter himself, had been released from the hospital two days after coming
home, with strict orders to rest. The bullet wound proved the least of
his worries, though his leg was stiff and sore, and required mild exercise
to keep it mobile. The exposure to cold, however, had sapped his strength,
leaving him weak-kneed and wobbly. He had blacked out once since returning
to his apartment, and the incident had scared him enough to realize the
doctor wasn't such a fool after all. Since then, he had divided his time
between the bedroom and the couch. Though only a few days old, the routine
was quickly wearing thin.
Peter sighed and ducked his head. Shifting uncomfortably, he fingered the edge of the closest magazine. "Paul, um . . ." He squirmed lower in the couch. A wandering hand located a throw pillow and he handled it momentarily before returning to pluck at the magazine. "Did
you . . . did you know that . . ." He dog-eared the cover, then rolled
the crinkled paper back in a tube.
Leaning forward, Paul gently tugged the magazines from his hands and
set them aside on the coffee table. "Did I know what?"
Peter raised his eyes--too large and too green, in the drawn shell of
his face. He swallowed. "Did you know that Gordon's wife and I were-were
. . . intimate . . . before--"
Paul sat on the edge of the table. "What does that matter?" he asked.
Peter blinked, surprised. "I-I don't know," he admitted truthfully.
"Bobby made it sound . . . dirty . . . and now I feel--"
Peter dropped his eyes. "Yeah."
"Did Gordon know?"
"I'm not sure. He knew Gail and I had a relationship . . . before. But
I don't know if he realized we were, um . . ." Peter flamed scarlet. "
. . . you know."
Paul bit away a grin. Though the subject obviously troubled Peter, he
couldn't help be amused by his son's handling of the topic. Peter had never
outgrown that awkward shyness about discussing sex, despite any number
of steamy relationships. "It would have been up to Gail to tell him. Don't
Peter nodded. Something still troubled him. "There's just one thing."
"I never told Bobby. Which means if Gordon didn't know, then Gail would
have been the one to tell him."
"Maybe Gordon did know."
"I don't think so, Paul."
The older man sighed. "Peter, don't you think you're making just a bit
too much of this?"
"No." Peter sat forward on the edge of the couch, his knee nearly brushing
Paul's. "Bobby thought enough of it to keep bringing it up. I've just got
a bad feeling."
Peter wet his lips, not certain he could even get the words past his
throat. "Like maybe . . .maybe Bobby wasn't the only one who betrayed Gordon."
"Peter!" Paul shoved to his feet. "The man isn't two weeks dead and
you want to accuse his widow of sleeping with his murderer?"
"I know! I know!" Peter ducked his head, dragging a hand through his
hair. His fingers were trembling, but a stray thought kept nipping at his
conscious: Why had Bobby's last words been about Gail and not Brenda?
He cursed softly. He had to be wrong, had to be! And yet the thought refused
to fade. "Gail avoided me at the funeral," he told Paul.
The older man scowled. "Hate to break it to you, Kid, but the world
doesn't revolve around you. In case you didn't notice, she was distraught."
Peter flushed. "She avoided me because she felt guilty," he persisted.
"Because the son she's carrying belongs to Bobby, not Gordon. I don't think
Bobby ever intended to take Brenda anywhere. I think he was going to dump
her when he left the country--maybe off her too--then come back for Gail."
"And you're going to prove all of this how?"
Defeated, Peter slumped back against the couch. "I'm not. At least not
until the baby is born and we run a parentity check."
"There's no legal reason," Paul countered.
"There is, if it's part of a murder investigation."
Paul clamped his mouth shut and stared at his son, certain Peter would
look away. Instead, the younger man held his gaze, his own eyes tortured
with self-loathing. "You're determined to drive this woman away from you.
Peter, I think you'd better ask yourself if you're doing this for Gordon,
or if you're doing it to appease your own guilt."
Stung, Peter lowered his eyes. "Maybe you're right," he whispered.
But he knew he couldn't back off.
Gordon Palmer's son was born with flaming red hair and a blood test
that traced him to Bobby Cole. When pressed by Peter, Gail Palmer broke
down weeping, and admitted to being party to her husband's murder. She
had sent him on the errand that placed him in the path of Bobby's bullet.
Though knowing he had vindicated Gordon, Peter couldn't shake his sense
of remorse. Gordon's sister was granted custody of the children, and they
were promptly swept away to a new home in the mid-west. The world returned
to normal and he was left with a gaping hole in his heart and a horde of
unanswered questions. The betrayal cut to the bone.
"Take a few days off," Paul had said, wrapping a protective arm around
his shoulder. In an uncharacteristic moment of weakness, Peter had agreed.
Nodding meekly, he had headed home, where he rambled aimlessly through
his apartment--too keyed up to sleep, too weary to engage in anything that
required effort. Somewhere near ten o'clock he had tried to sleep, even
made the effort of getting undressed and crawling into bed. But an hour
and a half of staring at the ceiling had spurred him into clothes. Before
he knew it, he was in the Stealth, driving to the Blaisdell's home.
He found Paul in the kitchen, sitting in the glow of yellow lamp-light,
a photo album open on the table before him. Peter hesitated in the doorway.
He could smell the thick, sweet scent of hot-chocolate; the aroma of freshly
baked cookies. A glance at the counter revealed a plateful of Annie's finest,
and an empty mug. Moving into the kitchen, Peter closed the door.
"Your mother thought you might stop by. Hot chocolate's on the stove,"
Paul said with a nod over his shoulder.
Peter pocketed his keys. He jutted his chin towards the photo album.
"What'd ya got there?"
Paul turned the book so he could see. Peter's breath caught in his throat. Three impossibly young faces stared back at him, grinning ear-to-ear. Arms linked, the boys stood on the front porch of the Blaisdell's lake home, eight fish lined on the plank boards at their feet. Beneath the picture, Peter's young hand had scrawled a caption: Bobby, Gordon and Me. First Fishing Trip.
He trailed a finger across the photo. "Damn, I miss you guys," he whispered.
Lifting tear-filled eyes, he glanced at Paul. "Mind some company?"
The older man rose from his seat. Hooking an arm around his son's shoulders,
he tugged him close. "Anytime, Kiddo." Peter leaned into the embrace, but
his gaze strayed back to the photo. He closed his eyes, trying not to remember
Bobby in the cave, his chest red with blood, breath wheezing from collapsing
lungs; Gordon, his face like wax, framed by the satin backdrop of the casket.
It was time to let go.
Pushing away from his foster father, he reached for the photo album
and gently closed the book. Sweeping trembling fingers below his eyes,
he offered Paul a weak smile. "I think I'm okay after all."
The other nodded. "I could still use the company," he returned.
Peter grinned. "And I could use the hot chocolate."
Together, father and son retrieved mugs from the cupboard, something
they had done countless times through the years. But for Peter, tonight,
the simple action had never been so welcome.
--End Broken Ties--
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