by MJ Mink


I stand back a little bit from the balcony--you'd think a Shaolin wouldn't be afraid of heights--and watch until I can't see my father anymore. It doesn't take long. One second he's there, hat bobbing, flute and duffel bag banging against his butt, then he turns a corner around a building and he's gone.

And I'm left holding down the fort.

Come to Chinatown and ask for Caine. Right. People are gonna be more than a little surprised to see me when they expect the wise healer/priest. Great, a cop...ex-cop. Sorry, officer, my problem can't be solved by a gun.

Well, I don't have my gun anymore. And I'm not going to buy one. I've got my hands and my feet, they're all the weapons I need. Who's going to attack a priest anyway?


My bravado falls flat on its face, and I go back into my father's apartment. I wonder if "look after it while I am gone" means "move in"? I decide it must, because without my detective's wages, I can't afford to keep my place. The end of the month is coming up, so I'll move in here.

I wonder if my dad pays rent to somebody? He must. But who?

Well, some landlord will show up. Surely the rent can't be very high. I don't know how my pop affords things anyway.

I go in the bathroom. The mirror is too small for what I want to do, so I decide to go "home". Maybe I can scrounge a few boxes and pack some stuff before going to Delancey's tonight.

So I do just that. The Chinese grocer down the street has only a couple large boxes, but he promises to save more for me. He's upset to hear my pop is gone, glad to hear that I'm staying. Maybe Come-to-Chinatown-Caines are interchangeable.

My apartment looks strange to me. I've lived here for years, but today it looks...different. Dark. My pop's place is so bright and airy. How could I have stayed here for all these years, cooped up in this little cube, no balcony covered with plants, no rooftop garden? It feels claustrophobic. I yank open all the drapes and blinds, which helps marginally. I look around and dread the idea of packing. Not that I can bring everything over there. Maybe I'll have a sale, invite my former coworkers over--raise funds for the priest, I'll say, it's tax deductible--and they won't be able to resist. Kelly's always lusted after the pots and pans, and Captain Simms once admired my photographs.

Not that I'll get rid of everything. The stereo system I'm keeping, maybe the tv. I walk into the bedroom and stared at the bed. Lots of good memories there. But I suppose a futon would be more austere, more fitting to my new station in life.

I sigh and strip off my clothes. I turn on the shower and step in. Tepid water, Lo Si said, so I obey, trying to be a good little Shaolin. But I hate it. Still, the idea of hot steam against my arms convinces me that he's right. The tepid water is painful enough.

The point is to learn not to care about the pain. Well, okay, I can do that. I let the spray hit the inside of my elbows and run down across the burns. I think about...Cleveland.

That doesn't work. I blink back tears and think much it hurts. Hell.

I climb out of the shower, wrap a towel around waist, flop a smaller one over my hair, and fumble around for the little pot of goo that Lo Si made for me. I finally find it in the kitchen, god knows when I left it there, and smooth the paste over the dragon and the tiger. It's brown and stinks, but the pain vanishes immediately. I dry and comb my hair. By the time I finish, the goop has turned to a transparent paste, so I can do what I wanted to do at my father's place: hold my arms up to the mirror and admire them.

It's probably not very Shaolin-ish and probably no other Shaolin in the history of the world has done this, but I want to check them out. When I stood in front of that cauldron, for a minute I couldn't think of my destiny or my dad needing my help--all I could think of was to please, please get the marks in the right places. And all of them. I didn't want one of those half-dragons like I saw on some of the guys at the temple. Imagine, going through all that pain and getting a lousy tiger's ass with no head.

Mine are...perfecto. Perfect. I swear, my dragon has scales. I lean closer to the mirror and tilt the arm up toward the light. He's even got eyes. Great. And the tiger.... I subject the other arm to examination. Yeah, even the tip of his tail came out okay!

Peter Caine is good. Still. Yep, this boy is no slouch.

I rest my hands casually atop my head. "So, how's everything? Doing okay?"

Not subtle. I lower them. I try raising my left arm, bending it at the elbow, letting the forearm lean nonchalantly against the door. I look like I'm soliciting.

If I put my hands on my hips, then everyone behind me can see them--but then I can't see their faces. There's got to be a better way.

Skalany's probably told everyone by now anyway, damnit.

This is not very adult. I'm not a kid with a new toy, I'm a Shaolin priest. I don't need to show off my brands.

Maybe I should wear my beads tonight. Or a monk's robe.

Jesus, there's a thought, am I going to need a robe? My dad has one... maybe I can wear his. But maybe he's rolled it up and stuffed it in his duffel, in case he needs it in Paris.

I pad into the bedroom and pull jeans out of a dresser drawer. I miss him already. I dunno about this business of my mother maybe being alive. Why have I been dreaming about her? If she is alive--which seems too fantastic to consider--then I'm not sure... well, I'm not sure if I like the idea that she might come back with Pop. I'd never say that to him, of course. But I have this...well, it's not a nightmare or a dream, I don't know what it is...but I have this idea of her crouching down, holding out her arms to me--and then she looks up and up and sees me all grown up and I'm not what she expects. She only remembers Peter-the-toddler. I'm...shit, I'm older than she was when she "died"! She won't know me. She won't love me. She won't like me. I know it.

But Dad looks almost the same as he did then, so she'll still love him.

Hey, where will I live?? If he brings her home, I can't stay at his place! Where will I--

"Okay, Caine," I tell myself. "Settle down. Don't...project." That's what the department shrink said to me, she said I have a problem with "projecting". Well, she didn't say "problem", they never say things that directly, but that's what she meant. If I'd gone to her more than once, she probably would have said a lot of other things.

Anyway. I pick out a blue cotton shirt, one with sleeves that are a little baggy and hopefully won't rub against the burns. I'd rather wear a t-shirt so nothing rubs on them, but I remember what my dad said about a Shaolin walking with his arms covered so he doesn't invite fights. Makes sense. Showing those brands is like wearing a t-shirt that says "I'm Tougher Than You" and wait for bad guys to beat me up. Still, I could do my favorite, get a t-shirt with the abbreviation...which, as I consider it, is "ITTY" and perhaps that's not the image I want to convey either.

Enough screwing around. I look at the empty boxes I brought home and decide not to pack anything today. Maybe I'll sell some stuff first. Christ, how am I going to rearrange my entire life--the way I leave, what I eat, what I--

Oh-oh. I stop and consider a new thought: I'm a priest now. Should I be saying "Christ" in that tone? I wonder if "ohmygod" is still acceptable? And "Jesus"? Maybe I should change my vocabulary. I could say--well, hey, I can still say "shit", right? And "damn". I should be able to get by with those two.

Not that I've ever, ever in my entire life heard my father curse. I sigh. Okay, I can do this. I can hold my forearms against a cauldron and give myself third-degree burns, I can sneak into Shambhallah, I can see in the dark--surely I can clean up my language.

Of course I can. Piece of cake.

I decide to start practicing tonight when I meet the gang at Delancey's.