by MJ Mink
Peter was exhausted. Not simply tired, but bone-weary. The heartbreaking reunion of father and son, Dennis and Teague, had been another scene in the endless parade of tragedy and heroism that dogged his world. Even Caine had been affected by it -- as well as by something about the Dalai Lama. Something that he would not share with his son.
"Pop? You here? Pop?" he called, certain he wouldn't receive an answer. But it had become their ritual.
He swung into the main room and came to a stop. The duffel bag was on the table, and his father was packing clothes into it. Peter's stomach did a flip; for a moment, he was blinded with grief, already tired of the effort it would take to try to talk his father out of leaving. And Caine would leave anyway.
"Where are you going?" he asked dully.
Caine didn't look up from folding a black shirt. "On...a trip. You are going, too."
"No, I'm not," he answered automatically, but the words belatedly pierced his pain, and a spark of curiosity flared. "What do you mean?"
"Captain Simms has given you a 'week off'? She said you are...overdue?"
He couldn't help but smile when his father pretended he had difficulties with contemporary expressions. Then the import of the statement hit him. "Wait a minute! Are you sure? She didn't say anything! Why would she--"
"I asked her."
"Oh." He grinned, then complications began to arise in his mind. "I can't just take off on some adventure. Jordie and I are going--"
"I have spoken with Jordan."
"Geez, Pop!" he muttered. "Did you stop my newspaper delivery, tell the milkman to keep his quarts, feed the goldfish, and--"
"You," Caine said with a smile, "are being facetious."
"Yeah, well...." He should resent his father's high-handed rearrangement of his life, but he was growing used to it. Sometimes. "So where are we going? Shambhala?"
Caine shook his head. "Nowhere metaphysical. It is, however, too far to walk."
"That's a relief."
He rubbed his hands together in glee. "Great! So where? Hawaii? The Caribbean? We could do a little snorkeling."
For the first time, Caine hesitated. "If you could perhaps...afford tickets for airplane travel? I have no money."
"Sure I will, Pop. Anytime, you know that." Son-of-Shaolin always comes through. But if you were really strapped, you could sell some of those gold chains, right, Dad? Right? Right? "Uh...but we're not going to China, are we?" he asked warily. "Or Europe? Braniff? That last trip put my card over limit, and they charged me a penalty. I don't want to--"
"No." Caine picked up his
lethal-looking blade and sliced a jasmine blossom from its stalk.
He approached Peter and tucked it over his ear. "San Francisco,"
he said and patted his son's cheek.
His Visa card was several hundred dollars lighter -- or would that be heavier? -- but Peter was happy. He'd always resisted taking off more than a couple days at a time, assuming that the precinct would fall apart without him. Crime would take over the city, his father would disappear, his current girlfriend would marry Kermit-- There were all sorts of reasons not to take lengthy vacations. But a week wasn't all that long, his father was safely nailed to his side, and Kermit was definitely interested in Simms. Peter vowed to just forget about crime.
The flight was uneventful, boring even, but the ride into San Francisco was more exciting, thanks to the shuttlebus driver. Several times, Peter reassured himself that Buddha or whoever wouldn't let a Shambhala master and Son-of-Shaolin die an ignominious death on Highway 101. Still, he clung to the seat in front of him as they hurtled down an off-ramp and into the heart of the city.
"Geez," he muttered under his breath as the small bus dodged pedestrians and raced down hills. "It would have been safer staying home and getting shot at."
Caine shot him a look that he couldn't believe he was interpreting correctly.
"Are you scared?" he asked his father incredulously.
"Of course not." But a small sigh of relief came from his father as the vehicle screeched to a halt in front of a small motel.
"Where are we?" Peter asked after they and their luggage had been abandoned on the sidewalk.
"I know that, Pop. Pop!" He hastened after Caine before he could pull another vanishing act. "Don't get lost here," he scolded. "I won't be able to find you."
He kept a watchful eye on his father as he signed in at the office and handed over another chunk of his Visa card. Fortunately, Caine seemed content to study the flowering plants that grew in cedar containers along the front of the building.
"C'mon, Pop." He led the way upstairs, wishing he could buy one of those coiled leashes he saw on tots at the Galleria. Maybe they came in adult sizes.
Their room wasn't large and not at all luxurious, but Peter suspected they wouldn't spend much time in it. "Are we in Chinatown?"
Caine hung his shirts in the tiny closet and didn't answer.
"Guess not. No Chinese signs. But we'll be going there, right?"
"Of course we will," Peter answered himself. "Please, my son, ask any questions you wish. I will be happy to answer them."
Caine chuckled and shook his head.
Peter grinned. "I'm starving, Pop." He stood and twirled his sunglasses a few times before sliding them on. "Let's eat. I saw a tempura place down the block."
"Tempura," Caine said noncommittally.
"Number One Son say deep-fried grease good for you once in awhile."
"Indeed, I did not know that."
But Caine followed him agreeably.
When he woke in the morning, his father was gone.
"Damnit, Pop!" Peter hastily threw on his clothes, grabbed a lightweight jacket, and left the room.
The sleepy-eyed clerk in the office denied seeing his father leave. Peter stood on the sidewalk, hands on his hips, distracted by the deep blue of the pre-dawn sky and the freshness of the air. He closed his eyes and focused past the distracting noises of traffic. San Francisco's aura was different, nothing like his home, yet there was something welcoming and seductive about it. The emotions that flickered across his senses made it difficult to feel his father. Eventually, he passed through the city's blandishments and touched his father's essence. He followed a mental path that led him downhill toward the waterfront and found Caine sitting on the top of a series of giant concrete steps. It looked like an amphitheater, but it faced nothing but the Bay.
Peter hesitated a moment. "Lots of pigeons here, Pop," he observed before he gingerly sat down next to his father. He looked up at the spreading shade tree, but saw no reason for alarm. Maybe the pigeons were still asleep -- as he should be. The sun was barely rising above the horizon to his right.
Caine slowly raised one hand and pointed to the pier where eager anglers were already dangling their lines. "It is here where I first saw her."
He knew immediately. "My mother," he said softly. So that's what this trip is about. "What was she doing?"
One shoulder lifted in a shrug. "She was asking the fishermen to return their catch to the water. She wished to save the lives of the fish."
"What?" He couldn't help it: he giggled. "Pop, you fish!"
Caine slid him a glance.
"Okay, you return the fish, too. Did you go help her?"
"No. I watched." The brown eyes looked inward and outward at the same time, and it unnerved Peter.
"What did she look like? And don't say Rhonda Fleming."
"She...looked like a goddess. And like a million other women looked that summer. She was barefoot and her feet were very dirty. She wore a long patterned skirt and a vest with many beads. Her hair hung past her waist, and she had flowers and ribbons tied in it. They were dirty, too."
"She was a hippie?" Peter asked, astonished.
"It was the '60's," Caine replied with a shrug.
"Whoa, Pop! Are you saying you were a hippie, too?" It shouldn't surprise him because Caine always walked to his own drummer, but-- "I mean a smoking grass, burning incense, chanting mantras kind of hippie?" Not unlike what you are today...except for the grass part. I hope. "Did you have a guitar and a tambourine and sing in the streets for money? Or--" an astounding thought occurred to him, "--you didn't wear a saffron robe and give away flowers at the airport, did you?"
Caine shrugged again.
"Will you stop that and answer my questions?" He laughed, both annoyed and amused. "C'mon, Pop!"
"That was the Hare Krishna. You have been lax in your study of history."
Peter leaned back on his elbows and stretched out his legs, draping them over the next step. "You're unbelievable. So...what did you say to her?"
"I did not speak to her." Caine smiled fondly at the pier. "I knew I would see her again."
"What?" He straightened. "What if you hadn't? Damn, Pop, in a city this size-- You might never have seen her again! I might never have been born!"
"Yet here you are," Caine said sensibly.
"Yeah, well...." Peter allowed himself to be mollified. "Where did you see her again?"
"In the Haight," Caine said dreamily.
"Oh, man," Peter said, swallowing his impending burst of hysteria, "you really were a hippie! The Haight? That's so...'60's, Pop."
His father smiled. "We will go there later."
"We're retracing the first steps of my parental units, right?"
"Many times you have requested that I tell you more of those days."
"I'm not complaining! I think it's great. I just can't-- No, that's not true. I can picture you as a hippie. You're practically one now, Pop."
Caine rose. "Come, Peter."
"Did you drive a VW Bug covered with peace symbols and psychedelic paintings? Did you say 'peace' and 'groovy'? Did you march in protests and go to love-ins and sit-ins?" He followed his father down the steps to the narrow strip of sand. "Did you burn your draft card? Did you smoke dope and get stoned on LSD? Did you see the Airplane at the Fillmore?" It had been awhile since he'd had this much fun. "Hey, Pop, were you at Woodstock?"
Caine came to a dead stop. "Peter. Do you wish to continue this trip?"
"Aw, what're you gonna do? You can't send me to my room. C'mon, Pop, I want to know this stuff!"
"You do not. Or you would allow me to answer."
Peter grinned, unabashed. "So answer, I'm not stopping you."
They were at the foot of the pier. Peter stared down its length. "Here we are at the famous almost-meeting place, right, Pop? --Pop?"
His father was gone, following a line of curved blacktop. Peter hastened to catch up with him.
"Hey, Pop, this is a very steep path," he observed after a half-block of going uphill at a sharp angle.
"Yes. Conserve your energy by not talking."
"Oh, that's why we're climbing up here. I got news for you, I can talk and climb at the same time." But already his breath was catching. Why hadn't his Shaolin training prepared him for this? "Where...are we...going?" he panted.
Caine didn't answer, and Peter focused on simply making it up the hill. When they arrived at the top, he noticed two things: his legs ached, and they were level with the waterfront again. "Pop...we could have walked around this hill!"
"Really?" his father asked, his eyes round with innocence.
Peter punched his shoulder. "Yeah, really!"
They walked in silence along the wide boulevard. Large houses lined one side of the street, while on the other, a green expanse stretched down to a marina filled with tethered boats. Beyond, a handful of colorful sails were already dotting the water in a random pattern, the Golden Gate Bridge their backdrop. Slanting sunlight turned the bridge a vivid orange. Behind it, in startling contrast, pale fog clung to a steep hill. The entire scene was dreamlike.
"I was born here," Peter said eventually. "Is that why I think it's so beautiful?"
"Perhaps you see the truth."
"What?" He sorted that out in his head. "You mean I think it's beautiful because it's beautiful? That's too simple."
"My complicated son." Caine half-turned and cuffed his face.
"Yeah. Wow--look at that! I've seen it on tv."
They crossed the street and after a few minutes of walking stood beside a tree-draped pond that was nestled comfortably into a small park. "The Palace of Fine Arts," Caine said, nodding at the ornate rotunda and columns reflected in the water.
"Our destination," Peter decided. "What did you and Mom do here?"
Caine's head turned sharply. "You have never called her 'Mom' before."
"I know." He shoved his hands in the pockets of his jacket. "I guess I feel close to her here. More than anywhere else, even the temple."
"Laura was never at the temple."
Caine touched his shoulder. "Here we would picnic. Here we brought you when you were a babe."
His father sank down to the ground. Peter joined him and tried to copy the half-lotus position, but failed as usual. He raised his hands on his knees, fingers dangling.
Caine sent him a reproving glance.
Peter sighed and curled his palms upward, making circles with his thumbs and forefingers. "Sun up," he reminded himself aloud.
The quiet began to reach into him. The city was waking, the traffic growing heavier, but its sound was distant. He drifted into a relaxed state, hearing only the rustle of birds in the shrubs, the swans making ripples in the water as they glided in near-silence across the pond, the sound of small splashes as their heads ducked underwater to search for their bug breakfasts. He felt the grass--its scent, the dew that dusted it, then the feel of its life as it grew infinitesimally around him. He stretched his senses further, glorying in his blossoming abilities. He reached into the ground and felt the coolness of dirt and fill. Small worms and insects that made the earth their home tickled him. He pushed, found water and dampness, kept traveling toward a destination that promised heat and friction. He fell and tumbled screaming into oblivion--
And opened his eyes to find himself sitting cross-legged on the grass. His father's hand was on his arm.
"Are you all right, my son?"
"What the hell was that?"
"A fault." Caine smiled. "You must learn caution, Peter. Be aware of where you tread before you travel too far."
"A fault? You mean, as in an earthquake--?" He shook his head. "Oh, man, what would happen if I was in there when-- Never mind, I don't want to know. I'd become One with the worms, right?"
His father's eyes closed. Hesitantly, Peter reached out with his mind, trying to feel what his father felt. The park disappeared, the cool morning air turned warm. Welcome blew across him like a feather pirouetting on his skin. He slipped into the warmth, susceptible as always to the love that was freely offered. There were lights and darknesses, depths he wasn't ready to explore. He drifted past them, then--
The park surrounded him again, but it was... blue. The scene spun in a circle... water, grass, trees, music from an unseen guitar, swans flapping their wings, the ornate building whirling, the elegant columns tilting and--
She laughed and looked down at him.
"Mother?" he breathed incredulously.
She wore white -- her feet aren't dirty, Pop! -- and her hair hung over her shoulders like a thick satin sheet. It fell against his stomach. She wrapped a lock of it around her fingers and tickled his chest and face, making little cooing sounds.
"What's my darling trying to say?"
"I believe it is 'dad'," a familiar voice said.
Peter turned his head. "Pop?" he croaked, but something was wrong with his voice.
"It sounded more like 'pop' to me. I told you he has your eyes. Look at that!" Mother smiled fondly and held up her hand. "He likes to watch you."
A younger, dark-haired Kwai Chang Caine grasped her fingers and carried them to his lips. "He has your nose."
"Hey!" Peter squealed. "What's going on? Talk to me! Am I invisible?"
They both looked down at him. "Hungry?" Father asked.
"No," he tried to reply, but--
"I think he needs changing," Mother said. "It's your turn."
"WHAT?" Peter shrieked.
"No...." Father said slowly. "He's speaking to the swans."
"He is not speaking to the swans. You're just trying to get out of changing him."
"I wouldn't!" Father said indignantly.
"I don't need to be changed," Peter assured them. "I'm a grown man. Trust me on this."
"Yes, he does. Kwai Chang... do your duty."
"NOOOO!" Peter shrieked.
But he was packed under his father's arm like a football and fingers probed the waistband of his pants.
He screeched as loudly as he could, then giggled because it tickled. His parents dissolved into helpless laughter. Father fell back on the blanket with Peter on his chest, and Mother leaned over both of them, laughing and--
The park was green again. Peter sobbed once, trying to control the sudden rush of emotions. A hand brushed his face and one tear was captured on a fingertip. He looked up.
Caine smiled at him, his own eyes glistening.
"God," Peter muttered and ran fingers through his hair. He stood and brushed the seat of his pants before holding out a hand to his father. "Let's do something mundane and totally un-mystical... like have breakfast, okay? This is too...."
Caine nodded. Peter threw
his arm around his father's shoulder and left it there as they walked back
in the direction they'd come.
They were both subdued; breakfast had done nothing to change that. "Should we go to 'the Haight'?" Peter asked without enthusiasm as they stood on the dock, watching the boats arriving and the fishermen unloading their catches.
Caine shook his head. "Another day."
He agreed heartily. His emotions were raw; a second encounter like the last one would totally unravel him. "It stinks here," he observed. "The fish, I mean. Why don't we go to Chinatown?"
There was a pause before his father nodded. He tapped his forefinger against Peter's chest. "Yes. But there are memories everywhere in this city. It is why I have not been back here since...."
Peter blinked and looked across the bay, his eyes following a seagull as it dipped toward the water. An ocean breeze swept across his hair, and he brushed it away from his forehead.
"Peter...we do not have to stay if this is difficult for you. We can go elsewhere."
"No! I want to stay. I want to learn about her." He met his father's troubled gaze. "Unless it's too painful for you."
Inevitably, his father shrugged, and Peter smiled fondly. "I love you, Pop," he said impulsively.
The gray head bent, and Peter was struck by the realization that his father was aging. Stop getting older! he commanded with sickly panic. I don't want you to ever leave me again. He butted his shoulder against his father's arm. "Hey! She didn't mind that I called you 'pop'."
That brought a slight smile and a nod. Then the dark eyes focused on his face. "We were together only four years."
Tears welled in his eyes again, and he wanted to close his ears, not hear anymore. But this was what he'd always demanded: entry into his father's thoughts, his heart, his pain. "I'm so sorry," he whispered, while the demon in his mind, the one he usually tried to ignore, hissed: You've been with me longer than with anyone, even her. Therefore: You love me more. His face heated and he turned aside. Unworthy thoughts... if his father knew he thought such a thing--
He lifted his eyes and looked at Caine. The hazel eyes glowed with warmth.
His father knew.
And it was all right.
Peter heaved a sigh of relief. "Chinatown, then. And if either of us melt down on emotional overload, we'll--we'll--"
"Overload on the street and be arrested?" his father suggested lightly.
He picked up the thread. "Nah, they'd call in a SWAT team. Can't take any chances with lunatic tourists. Or they might not notice us. Probably think you're just another old, stoned hippie on a pilgrimage."
"Peter!" But Caine laughed.
"C'mon," he said, relieved. "Let's hop on a bus and--"
"We will walk."
He groaned. "How far is it? You know, if you'd let me rent a car--"
"It is not far. It is just...there." His father pointed south.
"Do not whine."
"I'm not whining," he protested as he trotted across the street after his father. "Just making an observation. Hey, Pop--that reminds me of a joke."
Caine quickened his pace.
Peter hurried to catch up. "A duck walks into a bar and says to the bartender--"
His lungs were bursting. "Geez, Pop," he protested between unsteady breaths. "Can't we go someplace downhill for a change?"
"When we return, the hotel will be downhill," Caine said without a noticeable catch in his voice. "For... part of the way."
"Great, just great." The sidewalk leveled out--but only for a block, Peter noticed glumly. Then it was uphill again. "The people who live here must be in great shape. I bet they don't have many cardiac surgeons. Or they have a lot. Depends. Great buildings, right, Pop? Look at that one over there. I like it here." He stopped and turned around, surveying the hill they'd just climbed. At the bottom sat a giant pool of blue water with a building in the center. "Is that Alcatraz? Hey, Pop, can we go there later? I saw somebody wearing a great t-shirt with an Alcatraz prison number on it. I could bring one back for the Chief."
A small Oriental woman looked at him, then glanced down as she hurried away.
"Pop?" He turned in a circle. "Pop? Don't do this. You know I hate it when you do this. I'll be quiet, I promise. Pop, where are you?" He turned again, and his father was two feet away.
"God!" He clutched his shirt dramatically. "Between the hills and you 'popping' up, I'm gonna have a heart attack."
"This," Caine said, "is Chinatown."
He turned in another circle, this time seeing his surroundings. They were at an intersection, and in every direction were signs in Chinese and English. Far down one street, he could see the traditional red gate guarded by ornate dragons. On the side street, was an intriguing pagoda. "Look at that--"
A woman screamed.
Peter whirled toward the sound. Just inside a neighboring alley, a woman was being accosted by five men dressed in black. He and Caine raced to the rescue, pursued, Peter realized, by a distinct sense of deja vu.
Couldn't they go anywhere without getting in a kung fu fight?
Five martial arts experts were child's play for two Shaolins. In the midst of the fighting, just when Peter was starting to feel exhilarated, the men broke away and ran. Peter turned to the woman who had plastered herself against a brick wall and was still screaming.
"Are you all right?" he asked, grabbing her arms.
She hit him in the face with her purse.
"Police! Hold it right there!"
Peter raised his hands and turned to the voice. "I'm a cop!" he called.
"Up against the wall!"
The barrel of a gun pointed at him from three yards away. Two officers were covering him and approaching cautiously.
"Shit," he muttered under his breath. From the corner of his eye, he saw his father standing in the alley looking harmless, bewildered, and very, very innocent. "Pop...."
He was frisked and cuffed. "Hey!" he protested. "I was just helping! There were five guys-- Tell them, lady!"
"You can tell your story downtown," a large officer told him and began reading his rights.
"Hey -- hey! Look I'm a cop! My ID is in my... is at home. Damn. Pop -- Pop, tell him I'm a cop."
Caine shrugged and spread his hands. "He is a...cop."
"Thank you, sir. Now if you'll just stand back--"
"No," Peter interrupted. "He's my father. We can't leave him here." He lowered his voice and added wickedly, "You can see he's a little...slow. He might get...lost."
Caine cooperated by showing the two officers a vacuous expression.
"Look," Peter continued persuasively, "I'm Detective Peter Caine from the Sloanville PD. My father and I are here on vacation. We heard this woman screaming. There were five men dressed in black, maybe Dim Mak or--"
"Or dim sum," the shorter officer mumbled to the other.
"Where's Sloanville?" the second officer asked.
"Northeast," Peter said.
"Midwest," Caine chimed in simultaneously.
"Kinda...North Central...mid...area," Peter added, shooting a glare at his father.
"Uh-huh. As I said, you can tell your story downtown, sir."
Great. "What about my father?"
The young officers studied Caine. "We can bring him," one finally said. "But he'll have to be cuffed, too."
Caine helpfully held out his arms.
Peter swallowed a protest. Handcuffs meant nothing to his father.
In fact--maybe he could slip out of them, too, now that he was Almost-Shaolin-Son. Briefly he considered getting a t-shirt with those initials, but dismissed the idea immediately. He watched while his father was cuffed. Caine put on a great show of staring at the cuffs, lifting his hands to study them, and smiling at the officers.
"You're enjoying this," Peter accused under his breath after they were settled in the back seat of the squad car. He had an urge to bare his teeth at the gathered crowd, but restrained himself. Son- of-Shaolin had a certain... image to maintain. "I can't believe it. First day of vacation, and we get arrested. What'll we do for an encore? Who's going to bail us out? Maybe Lo Si will show up. Pop? Pop, I'm serious. You'll have to get money from somewhere. Look, take my ATM card--"
He groaned. "Don't go Unworldly-Shaolin on me, Pop. They haven't arrested you. You'll have to bail me out, okay?"
Caine peered out the window. "The city is much larger than I remembered."
"Pop, pay attention."
"Ah, look -- a fountain."
His father finally heeded him. "Peter, I shall simply tell them to call Captain Simms. She will explain--"
"No! Are you crazy?"
"Hey!" the officer driving the car said over his shoulder. "Is that any way to talk to your father?"
Caine inclined his head in thanks.
Peter muttered under his breath and copied his father by staring out the
window for the rest of the short trip to the police station.
"I am never going to live this down!" he said tightly as he stalked into the late afternoon sunlight. He turned around.
"Did you have to call the precinct? And talk to Skalany? She's gonna tell everyone."
"It seemed the only reasonable alternative."
"You could have bailed me out!"
"But now you are not arrested," his father pointed out. "There will be no court appearance. You will have no...record."
"I wouldn't have had a-- Oh, never mind!" Where the hell were they? He had no idea how to get back to their motel. "I'm not going back to Chinatown!"
"Perhaps not today," his father agreed.
"You're enjoying this," he accused for the second time that day.
There was a distinct twinkle in Caine's eyes. "Being with you is always an...adventure."
"Very funny." He halted. Shit, it was funny and snapping at his father was unkind and unwarranted. "Yeah, well...usually you're the one who drags me into adventures. I figured it was my turn."
Caine punched his chin.
"Ouch." Peter rubbed it. "I'm still sore where she whacked me with her purse. Last time I'll rescue a damsel in distress." He sighed. "Pop, can we just have dinner and go back to the motel? Or maybe to a movie? I can't handle any more excitement today."
Caine nodded and pointed his finger to the left. "This way."
"Is it far?" Peter asked, trailing after him.
"No. A few miles, no more."
Great. "My feet hurt. Can we fly?"
His father stopped. "Do you think you are ready?"
Peter caught his breath. "Ah...are you serious? Are you really gonna teach me to--? Nah, you're kidding, right, Pop?"
Caine continued to regard him steadily.
He bit his lip, considering it, and looked around at the crowded sidewalks. "Shouldn't we wait until...uh, you know...night?" he finally offered. "In case I'm not very good and people see me hanging here, suspended in air and flapping my wings?"
His father's face turned a rosy color, and he burst out with something Peter realized he'd been holding in: laughter. Caine laughed so hard that tears formed in the corners of his eyes.
"You're teasing me?" Peter demanded indignantly. "You mean I can't-- You can't-- You can! You can fly, I know you can! How come you won't teach me? Stop that! It's not funny!" But his own lips were turning upward.
"You--" his father spluttered between gasps, "--are not...ready."
"Oh." The better he knew his father, the less certain he was. Used to be, he assumed his father was always serious. Now.... "I'm ready for dinner. You can't argue with that, can you?"
"Indeed I cannot. We will have to walk around the outskirts of Chinatown. Perhaps...ah, there. The Rice Bowl. It is very old. Your mother and I ate there often."
Oh, that figured! The Rice Bowl. "I really don't want to have a vision of Mom with my...rice, Pop." Maybe they'd have noodles on the menu.
"You will not. Come, Peter."
Knowing that surrender was his only
option, he followed his father toward the small restaurant. And rice.
"So, where's The Haight?"
His father pointed upward. Peter bent his neck and saw that the street sign he stood under said Haight/Ashbury. He sighed. "Right."
Near as he could tell, the famous area consisted of just a bunch of funky little shops. "I hate shopping," he grumbled as he tagged behind his father.
Caine approached a small store and came to a stop in the doorway.
"What? Are you going in or not, Pop? Make up your mind." He waved his hands in a shooing motion.
"It is not as I remember."
Peter rolled his eyes. "Well, of course it isn't!" he said loudly. "It's been thirty years--what did you expect?"
"Thirty years?" a voice said from somewhere.
A head appeared behind the counter, slowly rising to reveal a person attached. It was a young man who could have stepped out of the pages of an old teen magazine. Round glasses were perched on the end of his nose, and his sandy hair was frizzy and shoulder-length.
"Are you real?" the man whispered reverently.
"I think this is what they call a head shop," Peter hissed to his father.
"All is real," Caine replied, making an expansive gesture with one hand. "And all is unreal."
"Oooh, boy," Peter muttered.
"You are!" The man clapped his hands together and raised his voice. "Brad--Brad, come out here! We've got a real one!"
Peter leaned back against the counter, folded his arms, and crossed his legs at the ankle. This should be interesting.
The man surveyed the length of him. "Is he your...um...?" he inquired delicately.
"Father," Peter snapped emphatically, and straightened.
"Ah... of course." The man winked. "I'm Fielding."
"Congratulations," he grumbled, but took the offered hand and shook it with as much machismo as he could manage.
"BRAD! Oh, there you are. Look!" Fielding gestured toward Caine who was poking around a dark corner of the store. "He's real. And I think he's having a flashback."
Brad lowered his rose-colored lenses and peered over them. "Far out."
"Far out?" Peter repeated.
Fielding heard him. "Isn't he?"
"Isn't he what? Far out? Well...."
"No, a...." Fielding looked around and lowered his voice, "a...hippie."
"He's a Shaolin priest," Peter responded, but stopped when he saw disappointment appear on the faces of the two men. "But he used to be a hippie. Still is, at heart."
He was promptly abandoned. The shop's proprietors hovered around his father, admiring his hair, his hat, and his ever-present pouch.
"What do you carry...if I may ask?" Brad inquired in awed tones.
Caine shrugged. "Medicinal herbs and...other things I might need."
"Machetes," Peter told the ceiling. "Quarters for telephones to call police captains. Hankies for weepy sons. Hot water to make herbal tea. Flutes, amulets, magic stones, a sliver of Kryptonite...you name it, Pop's got it."
Bored, he stared at the t-shirts hanging from the light fixtures. He briefly considered having one made for his father that read "Yes, I'm A Hippie", but knew Caine would never wear it. Peter stifled a yawn. Incense hung heavy in the store, far stronger than his father ever used, and he stepped outside. He inhaled the fresh air and waited with uncustomary patience. His mind drifted into a light meditative state, but he was immediately aware when his father approached.
"Did you have a good time?" he asked mildly. "They sure were intrigued by-- What the hell is that?"
Caine tilted his head quizzically.
A golden heart dangled from a hoop in his left ear.
"Oh, Pop-- You didn't!"
His answer was a charming smile. "Perhaps you would prefer a...cablecar?"
Caine reached into his pouch and pulled out a small bag. Peter scowled at him, then looked inside. A tiny silver cablecar charm lay at the bottom. "No, Pop, trust me--the cablecar would not be better!"
"Also, they have a Golden Gate Bridge, but I thought--"
"Absolutely not! Are you getting senile?" he demanded.
His father's expression never changed. "Peter, you are becoming very...conservative and traditional."
"Yeah, well.... Oh." Stuffy, that's what his father really meant. "A heart, huh?"
Caine nodded. "I have something for you." He reached into his pouch again.
Peter groaned. "I never should have given you shopping money. Not an earring, tell me you didn't buy me an earring."
A round bundle was slapped into his hand. He unrolled it. "A t-shirt. Okay...." He shook it out, wary of what might be emblazoned across the front. "SoS," he read with delight. He held it up to his chest. "How did you know? I never said 'Son-of-Shaolin'...aloud. Oh. Reading my mind again, Pop?"
One shoulder was raised. "If you would prefer Almost-Shaolin--"
"No, that's okay," he said hastily and leaned over to kiss his father's forehead. "Thanks, Pop. It's perfect. But the earring I will discuss with you later."
Caine ducked his head.
"Yeah, you should look sheepish! Can't leave you alone for a minute, can I?"
"I am not the one who was arrested," his father pointed out as they continued down the street. "Ah. Look. A...tattoo...parlor?"
"Absolutely not." Peter linked their arms. "I'm not letting you out of my sight again. Let's go somewhere else."
His stomach quivered. "Not again. I don't think I'm ready--"
"No, the other."
Caine pointed to a sign that read "Golden Gate Park". Peter wondered how long this walk would be.
"It is not far."
"I wish you wouldn't read my mind!"
he complained, not meaning it, and turned the street, leading the way to
their next stop.
They walked past a Japanese pagoda and sat on boulders. It was difficult for Peter to believe they were in the heart of a major city rather than lost in a small wilderness. In front of them was a tiny pond edged with lily leaves, and they were completely surrounded by a thick curtain of shrubs and trees.
"So this is where you were married?" Peter ventured, picking up some of his father's thoughts.
"Yes." Caine subsided into silence again.
I will not cry, Peter told himself. He wondered if these were his tears so close to the surface--or his father's. You never cry. Am I crying for you?
Caine's head turned.
Peter met his gaze. "I never used to cry much," he said in a low voice. "I didn't cry at your grave."
"I cried at your grave," Caine countered quietly.
Peter bit his lip and looked away.
"We were here alone," his father said eventually. "We two. And the birds." He gestured toward the trees.
Peter finally heard the birdsongs. "No witnesses? No friends? Who performed the ceremony?"
He'd regained enough control to look at his father. "What? Then...you weren't legally married. Pop, am I...?"
Caine shrugged. "We had a...piece of paper from the city. But that was not a marriage. This was the joining. In harmony with nature."
"Yeah." He rose and paced to the opposite side of the pond. "I'm gonna...." He made a vague gesture. "Uh, I'm gonna walk a little."
He shook his head. "Stay as long as you want. I'll just be...I'll be around," he mumbled before leaving.
He left the natural enclosure and wandered across a vast lawn of grass. Following a gentle slope, he continued, knowing he was going too far, but knowing his father would always find him. Finally, at a distance, he saw a huge Victorian glass enclosure, the Conservatory of Flowers. He didn't approach it, wary of the possibility of more painful memories, but instead sat under a drooping willow tree. The sun was hanging low in the sky and reflecting with blinding intensity off the building's many panes, so he closed his eyes.
He leaned his head back against the tree trunk and thought back to the days of his life. Not the temple, not the orphanage, not the Blaisdells -- he had relived those days so many times, so futilely. But the newer days, the last four years. What he had been four years ago.
What he was now.
What he would have become if his father hadn't returned.
Oh, great, here come the tears. He swiped them away and wondered what it was about this city that made him-- Stupid question. Mother, he whispered in his mind, because she seemed so close. I wish I'd known you longer and better, but...the only mother I remember is my father.
He smiled when the hand touched his cheek, not caring who it was. Mother/Father. Their love for him was identical. Except his father's was tangible, it was here. He'd thought it lost forever, but in what had been a miracle equivalent to the Big Bang, the love had returned. And stayed.
Yeah, right, the demon commented. So why did he wait so long to come for you? You don't believe that crap about him not knowing you were alive, do you? Bull. He feels you now... he felt you then. All those lost years....
He leaned into the arms that encircled him, burying his face in the silk shirt. It smelled of incense from the shop.
"I knew you would find your way here," Caine said.
Another mystery? "Why?" he asked, sniffling.
Caine produced a handkerchief and held it to his face.
"I can do it!" Peter protested, grabbed it, and blew his nose. He held out the square of fabric. "You can have it back now," he added with a grin.
A hand was raised. "You may keep it."
" 'Kay." He'd probably need it anyway. "So why am I here?" When his father didn't reply, Peter looked at him. "What?"
"What?" Peter repeated, narrowing his eyes.
Caine looked down at the grass.
"Father...." he said warningly. "You know how I feel about secrets--" He stopped. "Hah! I was-- You mean, I was--? Here? In the park? What, didn't you have an apartment? Or at least the back seat of a car? Geez, Pop, in the park?"
He rolled away and lay on the neatly cut lawn, laughing. "I don't believe it! Talk about going back to your roots--!"
His father sent him a dignified glare that only served to make him laugh harder. "Oh, Pop! You're killin' me! I wish I'd known you then! You must have been a hellion!"
"You are, I have noticed, prone to exaggeration," Caine said haughtily.
Peter widened his eyes. "I've never heard that tone before-- I've really got you riled, don't I, Pop?" He rolled onto his back. "I was conceived here, I was conceived here!" he sang to the few clouds in the sky. "My mom and my pop--"
Caine stood and strode away. Peter scrambled to his feet and hastily followed him.
"Pop--hey, Pop, I'm just teasing. I think it's great--really. It's so...earthy." He choked back a giggle. "Sorry. Uh...honest, it's nice to know where...well... anyway.... Are you hungry?"
"Must you always talk of food?" his father demanded irritably.
"Hey!" He caught Caine's arm, contrite. "I'm sorry. You're not-- Are you angry with me? I must have been a precocious baby, too, right? I mean, it's not like you didn't know I'd turn out this way."
"Aw, c'mon! You're the one who brought me here. Now that Son-of-Shaolin can read your mind sometimes, you should've known it was a dangerous move."
Caine cuffed his jaw with more force than usual.
"Hey!" He jerked his father's arm and pulled him to a stop.
The dark eyes weren't angry, but there was something in them that made Peter uncomfortable. "I'm sorry, Father," he said seriously. "I love you. I love Mother, too."
With his thumb, Caine traced his son's features, something he hadn't done in a very long time. "I know, sweet child. You are very like her."
"Disrespectful?" he asked as he melted under the heat of his father's affection.
"Exactly," Caine agreed. His thumb pressed into Peter's chin. "Perhaps it is time to leave here."
"Yeah. Let's go to the next stop on the tour. Come, Pop," he added, trying to imitate his father's usual command.
A trembling voice didn't have the same authority.
Caine's lips twitched, but he followed without protest.
"Hey," Peter said, walking backwards while he talked, "let's go back to the other park. I want to...I want to talk to Mom some more."
He'd said the right words, because he received love in return.
And if you hadn't said the right--
"Oh, shut up!"
His father raised one eyebrow.
"Not you," Peter added quickly.
Caine nodded. "You are speaking to your demon."
"How did--?" He didn't bother finishing the question.
Because he knows everything you think -- your hopes, your fears, your dreams.
He stopped, but his father kept walking, and he shot a glance at Caine's back. "You know what I'm thinking now, don't you?"
Caine paused, returned to him and unexpectedly kissed his cheek.
"Yeah, you do." Peter slung
his arm around his father's shoulders. "Let's get Mom to referee.
Lead on, Pop-of-Son-of-Shaolin."