by MJ Mink
I'm grinning, elated by our victory over the bad guys. Rykker gives me a high five, and I curl my fist into it, using my dad's Shaolin gesture. Though I'm half-listening to the banter going over my head between Paul and Rykker, I'm also looking over my shoulder for my dad. He's behind us, walking alone. Even though he's got me now, he still likes to go off on his own. But I wonder if he likes it or if it's just something he's become accustomed to?
The rowdiness of the group covers my silent inspection of my father. My breath catches when I see him pause, then turn and walk to a black-clad body that's crumpled in the street. He removes something from his pocket and bends over. His back is to me, so I can't see what he's doing.
I cut away from the group and trot back to him. Paul calls my name in a questioning tone, and I hear Lo Si's "Leave them" in response. I suppose the Ancient thinks there's something significant going on here -- like I'm going to bond with my father or decide to give up my gun and follow in his footsteps right here and now -- but I just want to be sure my dad is okay. He helped us today, but I have a sick feeling that he doesn't approve of what we did.
When I get there, he's kneeling in the dust. I'm tempted to remind him not to touch the crime scene, but I don't. I watch without protest as he rolls the body onto its back. He looks at it. I clear my throat and squat beside him.
"What're you doing, Dad?"
I can see what he's doing: he's using a strip of fabric to wipe dirt off the face. But I don't know why he's bothering. When the face is as clean as possible, he studies it. I glance briefly. It's the face of a young man, probably in his twenties. Brown hair, blue eyes that gaze sightlessly into the sun. I look away.
My dad murmurs under his breath. "What?" I ask, though I suspect the words aren't for me, they're for the dead man.
Dad looks at me. "I am too late. He is gone. More are gone." He stands and gets that faraway look in his eyes. "Many are suffering."
I rise with him, shoving my hands in my jacket pockets. "They're not all dead," I point out. "And what do you mean 'too late'? For what?"
"To help him cross." He turns around, and I move beside him. "Do you not remember? How one's emotions at the moment of death affect one's rebirth?"
Yeah, I remember. It was a basic lesson. There was one time, when I was very young...
...Master Li, his body withered with age and an ailment that ate him from the inside. Succumbing, finally. Lying on the makeshift bed that had been made for him in view of the altar. Surrounded by monks and students. Golden candleglow, joyful chanting, heavy incense. Smiles and warmth instead of grief and wailing. My father reading to him from an old book. The priest's final exhalation accompanied by encouragement and good wishes....
"When Master Li died," I say aloud.
My father nods. "These men," he gestures with his right hand, "died violently, while attempting to harm other living creatures. Their rebirths...." He shakes his head, takes several steps, and kneels again, this time next to a panel truck where two men are sprawled on their backs, arms outflung.
"Harm? They were trying to kill us, Dad." I use a sarcastic tone to disguise the realization that I understand and maybe agree. But I'm a cop. Death is part of my job. I can't afford regret. "What're you doing? They're dead, all right? It's over. Just leave them alone!"
He says nothing aloud, but his lips move, and then he bends and kisses each man's forehead in turn. He ignores my words until he's finished and standing again. "It is not over. As you do your...police work after a death," he murmurs reprovingly, tilting his head to one side, "I must do my...priest work."
I bite my lower lip and glance down, scuffing my boot tip in the dirt. It makes a circle. My dad's hand squeezes my shoulder, and he nods at the mark.
"The circle of rebirth. You understand," he says approvingly.
I jerk free. "It's just a circle! A -- a doodle! Quit making me into something I'm not." He doesn't answer, but he doesn't move either. I erase the circle with my toe. "I didn't kill anyone," I add softly.
He still doesn't answer, and I don't say any more, because I think we both hear the unspoken addition: I didn't kill anyone...this time. I look up. He's watching me with patience in his eyes.
"There are men who are wounded. You will assist me?"
I laugh shortly and run one hand through my hair. "Leave it for the paramedics. I'm not a doctor or a priest, I can't do anything."
His fingers curl around my shoulder again. "Your heart is pure. That is all that is required." He releases me and looks at the rooftop where the sniper fired from, then begins walking toward the building. The man Paul shot is up there.
I know we're not done talking about this, but I guess we're finished for the moment. My dad has more important things on his mind than discussing philosophy or theology with me. He has a job to do.
And he's asked for my help. So I follow him.
Beautiful Celtic dragon art by Bradley W. Schenck at http://www.webomator.com/bws