"My father is dead," Xia said flatly.
Bon Bon Hai didn't flinch or pretend ignorance. It was, after all, old news. "Killed by Kwai Chang Caine nearly two years ago." He narrowed his eyes and gave her the smile of the striking snake. "And you have waited so long for revenge?"
Her mouth was a slash of blood red, and her eyes burned with the fervor of a martyr. . .or a murderer. "There is a saying, 'Revenge is a dish best served cold'. I have tasted that dish before. . .and the saying is correct."
He inclined his head toward her. "Then how may I serve Tan's daughter?" he asked as she turned and studied herself in the ornate mirror.
"You will kill Kwai Chang Caine." She watched his reflection as she added, "At little risk, but for great reward."
He raised one eyebrow to indicate that she had his attention and listened closely as she outlined her plan.
I'm Peter Caine. I'm a cop.
That's the first thought that comes into my mind, God knows why. I wake up with a head that throbs against the pillow and a neck that must have been bent the wrong way all night. I feel like I've slept in Hell. Maybe I'm coming down with the flu.
I slowly sit up, trying not to cause myself further pain. I glance at the clock. Too much booze, not enough sleep. I know better, but I'll probably do it again tonight. The killer combination gives me a life of dreams that I don't want to abandon. Like the one I just left. I remember carrying boxes, talking to the familiar, tall man. "You know, the Caine family tree is beginning to look more like a creeping vine," I joke. The man looks at me with amusement in his eyes and says....
I want nothing more than to take a handful of aspirins so I can go back to sleep and finish the dream, but I'm driving Annie to the prison this morning.
I stand under the shower, first blasting cold water, then hot, and think about how much I hate this chore. The girls usually drive her, but Carolyn is nine months' pregnant and Kelly's off on a romp with some guy she met at school. So I'm stuck with the job. Shit.
I dress quickly, pulling on jeans that were crumpled on the floor, picking up the shirt, sniffing then discarding it in favor of a pullover from the bureau. I remember to swallow two Bayer and two Tylenol, hoping the combination will knock whatever this is I'm getting. I give my Beretta a longing look, but I know how much Annie hates when I wear it. I compromise my strapping my backup, an old Saturday night special, to my ankle, then I'm out the door. With any luck, we can get this whole episode over in two hours, then I'll be free for the day.
And what will you do with a day of freedom, Peter Caine?
The man, his expression gentle. "Each minute of life is a precious gift. I would gladly share any gift I have with you."
"Whatever," I say to the apparition in the rearview mirror as I pull out of the parking garage and head for the Blaisdell's.
* * *
I leave Annie with Bill Simons, the regular guard at the entrance to the visitors' lobby. If I go farther, I'll be asked to leave my gun behind. No way do I go anywhere unarmed, not in this crazy world.
"Please come with me, Peter," she says as if this is a new conversation. "He'd really like to see you. He asks about you every week."
I shake my head. I said it all the in car. . .and in her house, at the precinct, in my apartment. . .I've said it dozens of times to everyone who's asked. I don't want to see Paul Blaisdell in prison. I still don't know how he could kill Senator Matheison--or think he could get away with it. Did he believe his cop buddies would cover for him? Or that I would? Or didn't it matter? Did he care so little for his family that he'd rather seek revenge and go to prison than stay with us? At the trial, I listened to the others' testimonies, the descriptions of their lives as mercenaries, the atrocities in undeclared wars, the people they slaughtered. I always knew what Paul had been, but I'd never heard the stories told aloud. Hearing them, listening to them, really listening. . .made it all horrifyingly real. I don't remember ever being so disappointed by anyone in my life.
My father was a priest; my foster father, a killer. I don't know what that makes me. Just a cop, I guess.
I'm Peter Caine. I'm a cop.
Restless, I go to the pay phone in the outer lobby and feed it a quarter. I stare at the chipped tiles on the floor while I wait for Captain Strenlich to pick up. The tiles are the same lifeless beige as the painted walls. Same institutional color that all these places use. . .whether they're prisons or orphanages.
"Hey, Captain, it's Caine."
"Whaddya want? It's your day off."
He doesn't like me much, says I'm crazy, says I only made detective grade because of Paul's influence. That's not true; I earned the damned rank, but I'll never convince the captain, so I've quit trying.
"Just checking in." A van of new inmates pulls up. I watch as they climb out, shackled together, then I turn away. The dregs of humanity, my father used to say. Something like that, anyway.
"And those who, in your opinion, are not innocent. . .are they not worth saving also?" asks the soft-spoken man of my dreams. Then, unexpectedly, I'm seeing through his eyes. Seeing me. Tense, solemn, but. . .there's something bright in my eyes that I don't see when I look in a mirror.
I shake my head to clear the vision. I gotta stop drinking so much. Or maybe I need to drink a lot more. "I have some spare time this afternoon, so I thought--"
"Don't think, Caine," Strenlich says before he hangs up.
"I get no respect," I mutter. I slam down the receiver and stalk outside. The inmates are lined up, so I glower at them. Goddamn scrum. I evaluate them one by one. Rudy Printup--this is about his fourth time behind bars. Some guys never learn. Hector Rodriguez, another multiple loser. Three guys I don't recognize. One Asian who looks familiar, but I can't place him. Likely part of Tan's organization. Hell, who in Chinatown isn't part of Tan's gang? He and his daughter Xia--a gorgeous woman, I have to admit--took over Chinatown three years ago, ousting the Tongs in a bloodbath the likes of which hadn't been seen in this country since the Mafia wars decades ago.
And now, with Bon Bon Hai linking the remnants of his formidable forces with Tan, that leaves Tan as the city kingpin, an influence all the way up to the governor's office. A respectable businessman and philanthropist on the exterior. . .rotten through to the core.
I hate him. I take it personally, each crime he orders committed, each person he terrorizes. I want him dead. And if my hands are the ones to kill him, I won't regret it. People like Tan don't deserve to live.
. . .are they not worth saving also?
No, not when other people, good people, are dead.
Christ. I stride to the small patch of grass near the parking lot. I lean sideways and let the thick trunk of an oak support my weight. I've been forced to the department shrink enough times over the years to know what she'd say. . .that I'm projecting my grief over for my father's death onto Tan, blaming him for it just because. . . . I don't know why, there's no logical reason. He wasn't at the temple. Nothing that's gone wrong in my life is Tan's fault.
But I still want to kill him.
"Caine. What a surprise. Do you come here often?"
I recognize John Chan's voice and don't bother to turn. "At least I'm just a visitor. You out on parole or what?"
He laughs. "You cops have never been able to pin anything on me and never will. Because I'm clean. Squeaky clean, Peter, like the day I was born."
I don't bother to debate him. Chan and I have this relationship. It's not quite love-hate, more like. . .dislike mixed with reluctant respect. He has his own reasons for occasionally acting as my snitch--and they all have to do with power and greed--but he's been reliable and, in a perverse way, I think he's a good man. No, that's going too far. He's bad with the potential for ambiguity.
"No, nothing at all." I don't share my thoughts. "So what brings you here? Looking for new recruits?"
"Picking up old ones. Two of the boys get out today." He bends and pulls up a long stalk of grass, twirling it between his fingers before sticking in his mouth and chewing absently. Then he sits, inviting me to do the same with a wave of his hand.
I hesitate, glancing at my watch. What the hell, Annie will be awhile yet. I'd like to know what Bon Bon Hai's main lackey has on his mind. I lower myself to the cool grass.
"You ever wonder, Caine, why things happen the way they do?"
I snort and look at the sky. "Philosophy so early? It's not even lunchtime."
"I'm serious." He spreads his fingers apart and stares at his hands. "Things happen, we don't know why. We hear things, we don't know whether to believe them. We're told to do things that don't make sense."
"What've you heard, Chan?" I ask quietly.
"I've heard a lot of things, my man," he says with false heartiness. Then his voice lowers. "Xia says a lot. She doesn't think she does, but when I put it all together. . .."
"You're still seeing her?" I shake my head. "You're treading dangerous waters."
He shrugs. "Bon Bon knows, Xia knows, Tan knows. They all think they control me. They each believe I'm really on their side."
"Chan is on Chan's side."
"That makes you smarter than all of them." He grins. "You see the truth, Caine, that's why I'm going to do you a favor."
Not for one minute do I believe that his thug friends don't see right through him--and I don't think he believes it either. "What favor is that?"
"Bon Bon Hai wants a meet with you."
"Gee, I'm honored." I check the main entrance again and see Annie waiting for me. "I gotta go. Tell your Bon Bon buddy to send me an invitation."
"Peter." Chan stands with me and grabs my arm. "It's something about your father."
A current of ice sweeps through my body. "My father died eighteen years ago. Bon Bon Hai has nothing to say about him that I want to hear." I pull myself free and walk away.
"Are you certain?" Chan calls in a low voice.
"There's nothing I want from your boss except his ass in jail."
Chan catches up with me, and we both stop walking. "Not even if your father is still alive?"
The man from my dreams, sitting across an expanse of table, his eyes full of love and pain, studying me with concern while I speak. "Now that I've got you all to myself, I can't think of a damn thing to say that would make you want to stay."
I shake my head. "Go to hell." If he were alive, I'd know.
I don't wait for an invitation. I show up on the front steps of Bon Bon Hai's headquarters and stand under the watchful eyes of two guards who are undoubtedly--and illegally--armed to the teeth under those expensive Italian suits.
I stare at the building. It used to fit neatly into the neighborhood, a two-story brownstone with a store below and apartments above. It burned three years ago, part of Tan's campaign of intimidation toward those in the Chinese community who spoke against him. An old man died in the fire, a Shaolin priest. I remember that when I heard the news...a fire, a Shaolin priest dying. . .it brought everything back, all the nightmares. And that's when the dreams started, the ones about the gentle man with sad eyes whose identity I refused to name. I wanted to crawl into a hole and hide out for weeks, dreaming about love and hope, but I didn't have that luxury. That was back in the days when we cops still thought we could stop Tan somehow. Before he became a big wheel in the political cog of the city and state.
Anyway, one of his first acts was to rebuild the brownstone into an impenetrable fortress of steel and chrome and bulletproof glass. The warmth of the building was gone; it was as unyielding and cold as Tan himself. He'd never occupied the new building. It had stood empty until last year when Bon Bon Hai finally caved in, became part of the Tan organization, and took up residence.
The door opens, distracting me from my musings. Chan's lips curve in a mocking grin. "Detective Caine, what a surprise. The boss will see you now."
"This had better be good," I mumble as I push past him. "Damn good."
* * *
"There was a time," Bon Bon Hai says dreamily, "when I was the power in Chinatown, I owned it--and I could have ruled the world!" He emphasizes his wannabe status by pounding his fist on the table.
"There's a name for your condition," I say sarcastically. "I'm sure the docs in the psych ward will be happy to explain it."
His dark eyes glitter, but he doesn't react with the anger I expect. "Laugh at me while you dare, Peter Caine, but you will not be laughing long. I have something you want."
"I doubt that."
"Do not be hasty in your judgement. Your father would hear me out."
I fold my arms and lean back in the chair. "Leave my father out of this."
"I cannot." He gives me a false smile, so evil and cold that I shiver. "For it is your father that I am offering to you."
I squash the leap of hope that flares in my heart. He's baiting me, but I'm no hungry trout. "My father's dead."
"Yes, he is."
Three small words that shouldn't have the power to hurt me, but they do. Bon Bon Hai never knew my father, never had anything to do with him-- "How do you know?" I hear myself ask in the hesitant voice of a child.
He leans forward, resting his arms on the polished surface of malachite. "I killed him."
I can't see anything but black. I can't hear anything but the pounding of my heart. Avenge, avenge, it chants with each beat. Here is one of them, one of the soldiers of evil who took my father and destroyed my life.
"Wait, wait! I can bring him back!"
The words gradually penetrate my rage-fogged brain. My vision clears. I relinquish my grip on his throat, and he falls back into his chair, gasping. I can't look at him. I lift my gaze and see Chinatown through the window. It's crowded and colorful, just like it is every day. But this day is different.
I focus on Bon Bon Hai. "Explain," I demand harshly.
He's recovered enough to display his trademark arrogant smile. "It began as Xia's idea. A brilliant one. She is as devious as her father. And she betrays as beautifully as does Tan."
"I don't care about your problems with your master." I choose the final word deliberately, and it goads him.
"Your father did not die in the fire at the temple. He lived. He lived here, in Chinatown." Again his fist connects with the table. "He killed Tan. . .three years ago."
My fingers are running through my hair, my feet are pacing. I become aware of both actions and stop in the center of the room, clenching my fists at my sides. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"I was the heir then. I possessed the Book of Shambhallah. I only needed to understand its secrets, how to fully unleash its power and-- But your father interfered--how I hated him for that! Then Xia. . . ."
He stops and stares out the window. I wait wordlessly. This is probably all a crock, but. . .I have to hear the rest.
"She offered me everything. The secrets of the Book, money, power--herself. In exchange, I only had to kill your father. It would be easy, she said. All I had to do. . . ." He looks at me with a thin smile. "All I had to do was travel back in time and kill him before he arrived here."
"You expect me to believe this bull?" My mouth feels like it's stuffed with cotton, and my head begins to pound again.
"Believe. . .or don't believe." He shrugs. "There is more, if you are willing to listen."
"Sometimes it is enough that we listen," the man says. He touches my face and my heart warms.
"Go on." I wipe my hand across my mouth. "Finish it."
"Xia possesses a book of her own. Not the Book of Shambhallah, but the Book of Time itself. There are pages. . .." His voice drifts into silence, and his eyes are haunted. After a few moments, he shakes his head and begins again. "I went back fifteen years. It was the night Tan attacked your temple and--"
"What!" I'm having trouble breathing again. "What do you mean--Tan? Tan destroyed the temple?"
"Yes. You did not know?"
How could I know? Yet somehow, on a subconscious level, I did. I had no other reason to hate him so irrationally, so personally. He's a master criminal, a thief, and a killer--but I hate him with a passion far beyond what I feel for others of his kind.
Bon Bon Hai correctly takes the silence for my answer. He turns back to the window and stares at the kingdom that's just out of his reach. "Caine was pinned under a fallen pillar, unconscious. I raised a rock and smashed his head. Over and over until I saw his brains."
I shove my fist against my mouth, biting down on my knuckles to stifle a cry of grief and horror. Father, Father--
I am here.
No, no, you're not. And this man is the one who--
Bon Bon Hai continues talking, oblivious of my agony. I struggle to focus on his words. When he's told me everything he knows about my father, I'll kill him. Right here, right now, with my bare hands. I don't care that I'll probably die, too. I just know that I'm going to kill him.
"--and the money is gone, wasted on men and arms to fight Tan and Xia. There is no Book of Shambhallah, it has not been found. It belonged to the old priest who died in the fire. . .here, in this building. Your father was not here to save him, so he perished, taking with him the secret of the Book's location."
In the darkness of night, like an apparition drifting through smoke and fire and water, the tall man staggers with his burden...an old man he carries in his arms. I see him, but I don't go to him, I turn away, back to my assignment....
"And so you see, Peter Caine. . . ."
I look up as he pauses. His expression weakens under my angry scrutiny, but he gathers his strength and continues. "I have nothing of what I was promised. You can give it all back to me. . .and I can give your father back to you."
What he proposes is unbelievable--the sick fantasy of a warped mind. "You think that I'm going to--to let you take over Chinatown in exchange for-- Christ, in exchange for nothing? You're crazy. You're--" I'm at a loss for words. "This is the most bizarre thing I've ever heard. And you expect me to take you seriously when--"
"He is tall," Bon Bon Hai interrupts smoothly, "with gray hair to his shoulders. He wears a hat, a shabby brown coat, and carries a pouch so old that its leather has worn to suede. He used to run a kwoon."
Bright colors frame its exterior, the doors and windows are covered with fabric that glows, illuminating the cold winter sidewalk with the golden flicker of candles, the shadows of moving figures.
The man is standing outside the doors, hands folded together, a white tiger on his shirt.
"Then he lived up high, in rooms with doors of many panes. There were plants, herbs. . .and the Ancient, Lo Si was his name, he was a friend."
I've dreamed these things, all of them. My stomach churns, my head spins, my knees go weak--unexpectedly, I collapse into a chair. I know that name--I know those places. I know it all, everything he's saying and more. I know it, yet I don't. I know my father is dead--but I know my father should be alive.
"Why are you telling me this?"
"Tomorrow is the next page in the Book of Time--the day your temple burned, the day years later when I returned to it. Tomorrow is the day when your father can be saved. . .or lost again."
I know I'm grasping at straws, but: "If you don't go back-- No, if you go back tomorrow and don't kill him--"
Bon Bon Hai shakes his head. "No one can travel twice through the Book. I cannot go again, and there is no one else. If your father lives, Tan will die, and Xia's power alone will not be strong enough to conquer me. I will possess the Book of Shambhallah."
"I can't let you do that."
"Look around, Caine," he chides with a laugh. "Soon Tan will control the entire East Coast network of drugs. I am not as ruthless and ambitious. I no longer wish to rule the world. Chinatown is small and...I am a small man." He still smiles, but his lies are unveiled in his eyes. They sparkle with glee as he contemplates his coming kingdom.
"I'm a cop," I reply, dazed by all the scenarios speeding through my mind, "and I can't let a criminal off just to--"
"Just to save the life of your father?" He shrugs. "It is your choice. But perhaps," he adds craftily, "you have not weighed the rewards of your father being among the living against the effect his death had on the world. Particularly your world. You must wonder who you might have been...what you could have become."
His words are a trap. I see that...but I also see myself walking willingly into the snare. If I don't try, I'll never know if I might have saved my father. It's so easy for me to imagine another world, one in which we were together. No tears, no orphanage...a different future for me, one I've never dared to dream about.
"So, Son of Kwai Chang Caine, you must go back in time to save him. You must go at midnight tonight or your chance will be lost forever. I can get the Book one time, but I cannot hide from Xia for long. She will kill me for this betrayal. I can send you back through time...and I can return you to the present."
His eyes narrow as he leans toward me. "If you find me there, in your temple, and think to kill me...remember that you would remain there, dying in the holocaust, for neither the Book nor I will be here to bring you back. We must trust each other," he adds with manifest disgust. "It is the only way we will both have what we want."
I need time. I need to think, I need to talk to someone--but there's no one to talk to. There's no father, no Lo Si, no one to help me see what I should do. No one to advise me, no one to tell me if Bon Bon Hai is talking crap. Even Paul isn't here anymore--although I know what he'd say, that it's some kind of scam.
If I don't go, nothing will change. I'll still have what I have now, be who I am. I'll be safe with the devil I know.
But if I go.... Maybe my father will be alive tomorrow. Maybe my dreams aren't dreams at all, but visions of the other reality, the time when I lived a different life.
Unless it's a trap. If time travel is a reality, maybe Bon Bon Hai is sending me back to die in the temple along with my father.
But why would he bother? I'm no threat to him. His only threats are Tan and Xia. He's like Chan, always looking out for himself.
My thoughts are still spinning, but I keep coming back to his lust for power. So it is that I let greed--his and mine--make my decision.
I don't know what to expect. When I was a kid at the temple, I was better at handling mystic stuff. It wasn't abnormal there, the setting was right, everyone believed in it...and my father was there to protect me from whatever beasts might be set loose among us.
Except for one. Fire.
But a modern office, even one furnished in rosewood and jade and Chinese antiques, doesn't seem the right location for an expedition into the Unknown.
"We're...sailing down the Mystic," sings a voice behind me.
I look over my shoulder at Chan. "Very funny," I mutter. I study his face. It's his usual mocking expression, but tonight there's something beneath the mask. He's either a believer or he's very scared. Or both. "You don't really buy this stuff, do you? Altering the future by traveling back to the past?"
"I believe in Chan!" He directs his remark to Bon Bon Hai, who is standing by the wall, staring at the book that lies on the credenza in front of him. Then Chan adds in a hiss meant only for my ears, "You think you're the only one who has dreams?"
Startled, I want to ask more--what does he know about my dreams? Or were his words simply a chance arrow that hit the target? Chan winks at me, then crosses the room. "Almost midnight, boss. We about ready to roll? If I don't get this book back into Xia's cabinet by morning--"
"Yes, yes, don't interrupt!"
Chan looks at me and rolls his eyes. I grin nervously and join them. I fold my arms. "If anything happens to me, the cops--"
"If anything happens to you," Bon Bon Hai interrupts fiercely, "it is possible that I may not exist. Now...approach. Stand before the book. It is almost time."
Almost time for Time. I'd like to make a joke, but the butterflies in my stomach have flown up my throat and turned into something much bigger. Like bats. Eagles. Ghosts.
The air in the room seems to grow colder, though it may be just my imagination that makes me shiver. I stare at the binding of the book. It's very old, soft, burnished leather the color of a saddle. It reminds me of--
Sudden the cover flies open, thudding against the table. The pages begin to flip, faster and faster until they create a wind that whirls papers around the room. I hear Chan call something, hear another shout from Bon Bon Hai. Then all the air is sucked out of my lungs, and I'm falling...falling and falling, but I never hit the carpet. I keep spinning, I don't know which way is up, which way is down. There are no colors, only white that's as thick as fog...but it's not air that I can breathe. I'm passing out, I hear them call to me, hear them shouting, screaming, I see fire behind my eyelids.
I land with a thump. A sharp pain shoots through my elbow. Christ! Groaning, I open my eyes, ready to give Bon Bon Hai hell, and I see--
A kaleidoscope of stone and smoke and fire. Saffron and gray and black. All spinning, with me at the center.
Then it stops.
I stagger to my feet. Men run past as though they can't see me, men in black with automatic weapons chasing men in saffron, children in gray. Chasing them through smoke, chasing them into fire, shooting, killing. I want to stop it. I reach for one of the invaders, but my hands slide right through him.
I stare at my palms. I reach for someone else, a child who was my friend...a child who died. But he slips through my fingers like water through a sieve. No! No, it can't be. The universe can't be this cruel! How can I be here and not be able to stop this? Screaming inside, I stagger through the grand hall, searching for my father. If I can't save him, if I can't help him--at least I can see him one more time.
My foot catches on a large rock, and I trip over it.
The implication hits me immediately. I can't reach people directly, but I can use inanimate objects. Bon Bon Hai told me that. I raised a rock and smashed his head. Over and over until I saw his brains.
"I wonder what else you told me that I didn't hear?" I don't have time to think about it now. I grab the stone and race through the temple, looking for my father.
I see Master Khan and the other teachers fighting for their lives and to protect their students and sons. I see a horribly burned man fleeing, screaming and holding his face. But I don't see--
"Yes!" I whirl, searching for him. I hear his voice, he's very near. "Father--I'm here!"
And there he is, framed by an archway of stone. Tall--a little shorter than I am, now--tanned, his head smooth and golden, his robes dirty, his face not reflecting its usual serenity. I reach out for him, but he doesn't respond. His gaze is fixed beyond me. I turn to see what he's looking at--
Me. Young, small, scared. The child Me looks at my father, then collapses with a moan of anguish.
I close my eyes, remembering.
And you...you turned away....
There was a second explosion. I was injured.
My eyes fly open as a pillar collapses with a terrible noise. Two sections of it fall on my father. I cry out, but he's unconscious. I drop to my knees, my hands scrabbling desperately at the beams, trying to free him.
A shadow looms over us. I look up to see Bon Bon Hai's face contorted with rage and shock. "You! What are you doing here? Get out of my way!" He raises the jagged rock that's clutched between in his hands. I imagine my father's blood on it.
I rise, leaping between him and my father, grabbing the rock, grabbing him. He's no phantom of time; he's flesh that can be squeezed and bones that can be broken.
"Nooooo!" he wails. "You'll ruin everything--all my plans! How did you get here?"
"You sent me," I pant as I dodge a kick to my gut. Damn, I wish I'd paid more attention in kung fu class. I could use those skills right about now. "When you killed my father, you set in motion a chain of events--the Book of Shambhallah is gone, Xia betrayed you--you ended up as Tan's flunky!"
He's not listening. My father could die under this beam...or be bashed in the head until his brains....
I reach down and grab the gun from my ankle holster. I point it at Bon Bon Hai, and he finally gets the message. I promised I wouldn't kill him, but what the hell...even a bullet to the arm will slow him down long enough for me to free my father and get him out of the temple.
"You do not need that," a voice says. It's very low but I hear it clearly above the cacophony of terror that echoes through the building.
I swivel my head. "Ping Hai!" I breathe. I want to grab him, hug him--and for some reason, I want to hit him. "You can see me!"
He smiles in response to my joy. "You cannot stay, Peter. Go now. We will care for your father."
"But--" I spin, searching for Bon Bon Hai. "He's gone!"
"His time was up. As is yours."
"No!" I can't leave, not yet. I kneel beside my father, barely able to see him for the thick smoke that's filling the hall. "I don't want to go. I have to stay and help! I have to stop this! I have to save my--"
I begin to choke on the fumes and smoke. My eyes tear and I grow dizzy. I reach out with my hand to fend away the fire, to brush away the clouds....
...and my hand is captured in a strong, warm grip. "Do you know where you are?" someone asks softly.
I moan in response. My head hurts.
"You are in the hospital."
I must have been.... "Burned in fire...."
"No." There's a moment of silence. "Do you know who you are?"
"Of course!" I mumble. "I'm Peter Caine. I'm a cop."
"Ah...Peter," the voice murmurs, its relief clear even to my sleep-clogged ears.
I force my eyes to open and look up. He is tall, with gray hair to his shoulders. He wears a hat, a shabby brown coat, and carries a pouch so old that its leather has worn to suede.
My father smiles at me, but his eyes are filled with fear that is only just beginning to lift. "You have been very ill, my son."
"Have I?" I whisper, feeling myself begin to slide into sleep again. "Well...I'm glad you're here, Pop."
I struggle to hang on until I hear his voice again. When it comes, it's warm and indulgent.
"Where else would I be, my son?" His hand strokes my hair, coming to rest against my cheek.
For a blinding moment, I sense another world, a lifetime without my father at my side. It's so familiar, almost real...but it's a nightmare born of fever, nothing more.
"Nowhere." I close my eyes and surrender to the inevitable slumber. "Nowhere at all."
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