Chapter Twelve

Family Ties

I

"It's going to be a beautiful day," Danielle heard the weatherman on the radio say. She closed her eyes tightly. Behind her closed lids her eyes felt hot and dry as if she had stared into a desert windstorm. She couldn't cry. The tears wouldn't come. All she felt inside was nothing, as if she was dead instead of her father.

Denial.

She had seen that diagnosis in Detective Morrisey's eyes. Behind the tough cynicism existed a good cop who gave a damn. John didn't cry, neither did Lee. Men were expected to be dry-eyed. Women, especially daughters, weren't. Morrisey had been with the cops who had arrived at the marina. He had heard John's explanation without comment even though she could see he knew it wasn't the entire truth.

Not lies. No, John hadn't lied to him, nor to the other cops, nor would he to the cameras and the reporters to come. He had told the truth, just not all of it. Nothing that had to do with the Green Hornet. Britt Reid had courageously given up his life to save his daughter. His son had battled the Nazi until a bolt from the sky had rendered God's judgement.

That would soon be on the Sentinel's front page. It would be DSTV's lead story. The Sentinel would be bannered in black in mourning. The newscasters would wear black bands on their arms. So would everyone at the Sentinel. Especially Britt Reid's family.

Danielle looked out over the lake. It was quiet, peaceful, as if the night's storm had not happened. As if it had not taken three more lives into its frigid depths. Lee sat up in front with Morrisey. Morrisey had silenced the unmarked car's police radio in favor of some inane morning duo chatting up the morning drive. Morrisey hadn't said a word, accepting with only a nod, Danielle's request that they drive along the coast, following the path Archer's ship had taken in the rain. John sat beside her, sharing Danielle's silence, sharing her grief.

He should be able to cry, she thought, It's crazy for a man not to be able to cry. Am I mad? she wondered. Why can't I cry?

Denial.

Danielle suddenly sat upright in her seat. "Detective Morrisey," she said in a rush, "Stop the car."

"Wh-wh- what?" Morrisey stammered out, broken from his own glum thoughts, going instantly into defensive mode.

"Stop!" Danielle yelled urgently, "Now!"

Morrisey slammed onto the brakes, pulling to the lake side of the road. Horns from cars behind them blared in angry protest at their sudden stop. Barely waiting for the car to come to a full stop, Danielle barreled out of her door, heading for the lake.

"Is she sick?" Morrisey demanded of John, who could only shake his head in puzzlement.

The three men lumbered up and over the guardrails that Danielle had leaped over like a panicked doe. The girl was already several yards ahead of them when she suddenly stopped. She knelt over a huddled shape draped over wave-washed rocks.

"Dad!" John yelled, running to his sister's side. He helped her drag their father further out of the water.

"Is he okay?" Danielle asked shakily.

"Is he alive?" Morrisey demanded, ever the fact-seeking cop.

Britt Reid's eyes opened slowly, their color between the blue of the sky and the green of the sea, "I think so," he answered. He forced an exhausted smile, bestowing it on his children, "What took you two so long?" he said, glad to be alive to ask.

"Daddy!" was all Danielle could say before wrapping herself into her father's arms. Now the tears came. They came freely, without grief.

Further down the coast, hidden by rocks too high to be seen from the road, or for the people clustered around Britt Reid to see, jealous green eyes watched. Shannon de la Culebra could have caught their attention. They would have carried her to safety and warmth, but she did nothing but watch. Not for her the jail cell or the trial. She would make her own way. She would again rise to power. She was a survivor. She knew secrets. Many of them. The time would come when she would use them. When it suited her.

II

George Cheung angrily regarded his son and grandson as they stood before him. Their heads were bowed with downcast eyes before his righteous wrath. "You two have dishonored the family name. You have shamed me by your actions."

"Grandfather . . . " Tommy began hesitantly.

"Did I give you leave to speak?" George snapped.

Tommy shook his head.

"Your foolish pursuit of the girl cost our family much, not only in honor but in the terms of debt and favors to be repaid. I had to call in many favors that could have been used for a more worthy cause . . . "

The elder Cheung waved his hand impatiently when it looked like Tommy was going to say something. "I should have known better than to acquiesce to your request. Indeed I would not have but your idea that young Lee might be the heir to the Peacock throne was too good to ignore. Of course, as I should have expected, the stupid girl didn't know what she was talking about. That boy is no more heir to the throne than I am."

Tommy looked up in surprise, but the look in his grandfather's eyes warned him that despite what they both knew, the truth was whatever he said. It was either that or die. Hui Ying, if that was her true name, had warned them so. The Lin Kuei had decided that the time was not yet right to kill Lee. Maybe in the future, if he became a threat to their interests, but for now they would let him live. It was easier that way since he seemed to have no interest in China and more importantly, he had powerful friends who could either be useful or a danger. Only time would tell. She had made it clear that the Lin Kuei would be watching matters very closely. Death could come at any time, from any where.

"What do you have to say for yourself, young man?" George Cheung demanded.

"I beg your forgiveness, grandfather. I am not worthy. I have been a fool," Tommy said humbly.

George Cheung nodded with satisfaction. True, in the old country in the old days, the boy would have had to kneel and knock his head on the ground three times, but this was after all, America. "There will be no more of this acting foolishness," the elder Cheung continued. "You will return to the University to continue your studies. Studies, that I have chosen for you. This family is in need of one who can handle business," he cast a disgusted look at his son, "One idealist in this family is enough. I am no longer a young man, if you do well, I will send you to mainland China to handle our interests there."

"Thank you, grandfather," Tommy replied, bowing deeply. "You will not regret your trust in me."

"I have no trust in you, grandson," George rebutted pointedly, "That will come later. If you prove yourself to my satisfaction."

"I understand," Tommy answered.

"Good. Now leave us," George said with an imperious wave of his hand.

After Tommy had left, George turned to his son. "I can understand the boy's failures. He is after all, only a child, but you, Michael. You have no such excuse. You are a grown man, at least I had always led myself to believe that. Through your actions, you not only betrayed your family, but your duties, as well. That is unforgivable . . . "

"Would you rather have seen your grandson murdered?" Michael demanded.

George's eyes flared in anger, "You dare argue with me?"

"Yes." Michael dared to answer. "There is nothing more important to me than my family. Not my life, not my honor, nothing."

"Not even honor?"

"Without my family, what is honor?"

"What about family honor?"

"If there is no family, how can there be family honor?"

"The ancestors . . ."

"The ancestors are dead," Michael retorted, "Long dead. In China. This is America . . . "

"So again, you defy me. You did it when you chose the public defender's office instead of the corporate position I had chosen for you . . . "

"And it went well, didn't it, Father? That a company wound up failing because of corruption from inside. I would have been caught up in it if I had joined them as you wanted. Now I'm on the fast track to the state senate."

"Which your involvement in this matter will endanger . . . "

"It would except I intend to confess everything."

"Confess? Why? How many know of your betrayal?"

"No one knows for sure, but there are those who suspect."

"Then remain silent on the matter."

Michael shook his head, "No way, father, there are always those who will talk, and more importantly those who will listen. Half truths and suspicions have killed more than one promising political career. The public is more forgiving of sincere repentance than it is of duplicity. I intend to tell the truth; that Julius Archer had kidnaped my son and threatened to kill him if I didn't do what he said."

George nodded thoughtfully, "The distraught father, not knowing what to do . . . "

"Exactly."

"What about the Lin Kuei assassin?"

"I will plead ignorance if anyone brings her up. It is after all, the truth. I had no idea that you had hired a Lin Kuei to rescue Thomas. If you had let me know . . . "

"So it is my fault then?" George said testily.

"No," Michael answered, "Except for the fact that you have never chosen to rely on me. I am, after all, your son . . . "

"And my heir . . . "

"If you do not allow me knowledge of what you are doing, how can I act appropriately? We are, after all, family."

"And there is nothing more important than family," George said thoughtfully, finding to his surprise that he had new respect for his very American son.

III

Frank comfortably stretched his legs as he settled into the chair in Britt's office at the Daily Sentinel. "Glad to be back?" he asked Britt.

"Very," the publisher said. "There's stacks of paperwork for me to go through, but I'm glad to be around to do it."

"So am I," Casey agreed, as she took a seat next to her husband, "I always figured that I could do the work. I've been here long enough. But . . . " she smiled as she placed her hand on Britt's, "It's something I'd rather have Britt do." Her smile grew teasing, "It's so boring . . . "

"Thanks," Britt said with a crooked grin, "I appreciate that. I think." He reluctantly tore his eyes away from Casey's. "So, Frank, how did it go?"

"Well," Frank said, "We have most of Hakenkrueze's people in custody. A few of them put up a fight, but thanks to the information Mr. Sprite provided, we had the people to take care of them. We didn't lose any of our people although some are wounded and are in the hospital. None critical, thank God. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for those Nazis. At least ten of them died fighting the police. Another ten or so were killed by the gangs that for some reason decided to turn on them. Lucky for us, but not for them. Some of the gang members might have been killed. We have rumors some were, but no confirmed bodies. We also have a few Nazi bodies that look like they were sliced to pieces by some kind of sword. I take it that was the work of your Lin Kuei assassin."

Britt nodded. "Any sign of her?"

"Nope," Frank said, "I don't expect to either. Those kind of people go through our borders like ghosts. Nobody sees them, nobody knows that they exist."

"What about Shannon De la Culebra?"

"No sign of her either. No body matching her description has washed up on the beach, so we have no confirmation if she's dead or not."

"Too bad," Casey said quietly. At Britt's and Frank's shocked looks, she added, "I'm sorry to sound so cold blooded, but that woman has dragged our family through all sorts of hell. I'd just rather she was dead so she couldn't cause us any more heartache. Besides, she knows . . . "

Britt sighed, "That she does. As long as there's a chance she's alive, we can't ever relax our guard."

"She'll be back," Casey said, "Only worse. That type of woman won't rest until she has her revenge."

"So," Frank said, in a slightly bantering tone, "Is a woman's vengeance any worse than a man's?"

"Much worse," Casey responded, allowing the edge of her bitterness at Shannon De la Culebra show through.

"Anyway," Britt said, quickly covering his surprise at the depth of his wife's feelings, "What about this Millennium Group?"

"The stuff that we pulled from Sprite's computer and the files the authorities were able to subpoena from Archer's company will go a long way toward helping them track that group down."

"But . . . " Britt said, catching the dissatisfaction in his old friend's voice.

"It looks like the Millennium Group has its fingers in almost every government and business in the world. They've been around a long time and have buried themselves in very deeply. I don't think there's a way to root every single member out from wherever they're hidden. There's too many of them, and too many with a lot of power."

"So there's the good likelihood that their plans will continue," Casey said.

"Unfortunately, yes," Frank said, "but a lot of damage was done to their plans, and the fact that these plans are not so secret anymore should slow them down quite a bit."

"You hope," Britt said skeptically.

"I do. I have a right to hope that too," Frank responded. "It's like you always said as the Green Hornet. The most important thing that you can do is to reveal hidden corruption to the bright light of public scrutiny. It's a lot harder to operate if people are aware that you are doing something."

"I hope you're right, Frank," Britt said.

"Do you think they might want to get back at us?" Casey asked, "To punish us to messing up their plans?"

"I don't honestly know," Frank answered. "You're very much in the public's eye. They might decide that the risk would be too great."

"But that doesn't mean that we should let our guard down," Britt said.

"I'm afraid it doesn't," Frank admitted.

"I had hoped it was all over," Casey said unhappily, "but now it looks like it isn't."

Britt squeezed his wife's hand, "It's never over, Casey." He grimaced at the thoughts running through his mind, "It'll never be over, I'm afraid. Not for us Reid's. Not since the Reid brothers in that canyon over a hundred years ago. There's always going to be some new threat or danger." Shaking his head, he added with pride, "And there's always going to be a Reid to meet it."

"Then you've decided . . . " Casey began.

"Yes, I have." Britt answered.

"Mr. Reid," Linda Travis said after knocking on the office door, "There's a call for you. It's Dr. Grant about Mr. Axford."

Britt took the call.

"Britt, I think you better get down here as soon as you can," Dr. Grant said.

"Why?"

"An aneurism has developed in his brain. So far it's stable, but . . . "

"It's not going to stay that way." Britt finished for him.

"They never do," Dr. Grant answered.

"Isn't there anything you can do? Some kind of drug or surgery? I'll cover whatever cost there is."

"I'm sorry, Britt, there's nothing I can do. We can't reach the aneurism and even if we could, most people die before we ever get them to the operating room. We're lucky as it is to have spotted it before it blew."

"So there's nothing you can do?"

"Nothing. I've already contacted the chapel here. The priest will be here soon to deliver the last rites. I believe that's what Mr. Axford wanted . . . "

"Yes, it was," Britt said. "As well as 'no resuscitation'. There's also one other thing Mike wanted."

"Axford," a firm voice broke through the haze in Axford's brain. It felt like he had been floating in a grey gauze for an eternity. He remembered the droning voice of a priest giving him the last rites. He hadn't bothered to respond. He knew it was time to go. He was ready except for one thing. "Axford." the voice repeated.

Mike opened his eyes, not surprised to see the green masked man standing before him. "Hornet," he said.

The Green Hornet nodded. "I made you a promise."

"I remember," Mike said. "I was waiting for you."

"You were?" the Green Hornet asked.

"Yeah," Mike said, knowing that it was the truth. "I wasn't about to let you get away with it."

The Green Hornet nodded. "I understand. Are you sure you really want to know who I am?"

"It's not like I have a whole lot of time to think it over," Mike said. His eyes narrowed, "Can I make a guess?"

"Yes."

"You're Britt, aren't you?"

The Green Hornet removed his mask and hat. "Yes," he said. "How long did you know?" he asked.

"I don't know. I don't think I ever really knew for sure. I just had my suspicions, that's all."

Britt nodded, "But you never told me of them, why?"

"I didn't want to look like an idiot if I was wrong. I kept on telling myself it was impossible that Frank's boy was a master criminal . . . "

"I'm sorry, Mike . . . "

Mike weakly raised his hand, "No, let me finish. I couldn't ever believe that you were really some kind of crook, so all I could think of was that you were some kind of masked crime fighter. As farfetched as it seemed." Reaching for the mask, Mike looked narrowly at Britt. "That's what the Green Hornet really is, isn't he?"

"Yes," Britt admitted, as he sat down on the edge of Mike's bed.

"Why didn't you ever tell me?"

"I wanted to. Hundreds of times. But I couldn't. I guess in a way I was afraid how'd you take it, and . . . "

"And?" Mike asked pointedly.

Britt allowed himself a small smile. "I think it would have ruined your fun."

"My fun?" Mike tried to act outraged, but failed. A grin spread across his face, "It was some fun, wasn't it, Britt?"

"The best Mike. You kept me on my toes all the time. I don't think I could have done it without you."

"Without me? How? Seemed like half the time you were trying to keep my fat butt out of the fire."

"Your stories, Mike. They helped make the Green Hornet what he is. Because of you everybody believed that the Green Hornet was indeed a dangerous master criminal. I couldn't have done any better if I had written a script. If it hadn't been for your stories, I could have never been able to convince the underworld to accept the Green Hornet as a fellow gangster, especially as a dangerous one."

"So you didn't think I was a fool then?"

"Far from it. My father taught me how to run a newspaper, but you taught me how to get the story, how to get the facts even when people didn't want them revealed. I'll never forget what you taught me." Britt glanced over at Mike's heart monitor. He wasn't a doctor, but even he could see that the old reporter was starting to fail. "You taught the kids everything about being a good reporter, too. And about being a good person. That especially. You're the grandfather they never had."

Mike ran his fingers thoughtfully over the green mask. He looked up at Britt. "Dani's okay, then?"

"She's fine."

"So the Green Hornet rescued her in the nick of time, like always?" Mike asked in a light tone.

"Not quite," Britt admitted, "I'm not sure who actually rescued who."

"What about Johnny-boy? And Casey?"

"They're both fine," Britt answered. He noticed that the light in Mike's eyes were starting to fade.

"I'm glad you showed up," Mike said, "I can rest easy now."

"Mike," Britt said, placing his hand on Mike's. The reporter's hand felt chilled to his touch. "Everyone's waiting for you to get out of the hospital," he said. "We're going to have a big party when you get out."

Mike's gaze sharpened. "Don't try to fool this old man, Britt. I know my time's up. It's all right. I'm looking forward to the stories I'm going to write on the other side. You gotta promise me one thing though . . . "

"What's that?"

"I don't want everybody to get all weepy about me. I want you to throw a big party when I am gone."

"I will, Mike," Britt promised, "I'll throw the biggest damned wake this city has ever seen. There'll be singing and dancing and drinking . . . "

"And beer, lots of beer. The good stuff, nothin' cheap," Mike urged.

"Of course, only the best. People will talk about your wake for years to come," Britt continued.

Mike smiled, but the light in his eyes were dimming. "I want some green beer there too," he said, glancing at the mask in his hand.

"Green? I thought you hated the stuff."

Mike winked. "It's in honor of the Hornet. My old adversary. You tell people that when they ask. You tell them about my stories."

"I will," Britt said. "I'll tell them how you were the best reporter this city has ever seen." He clasped Mike's hand harder, but there was no answering response. "Mike?" Britt said. The old reporter was gone. "Good night, Mike," Britt said gently folding Mike's hands over the green mask and hat. "You're released from your duty. You did a good job." He choked out, "This edition's ready to be put to bed and the presses are ready to roll."

"Britt," Dr. Grant said as he shut off the heart monitor's alarm, "He's gone."

"I know," Britt said very softly.

Dr. Grant glanced at the mask and hat in Mike's stilled hands. He grasped Britt's shoulder. "So you told him."

Britt nodded. "Yeah, I promised him that I would." He rose slowly to his feet.

"Do you think you should leave the mask and hat? People will ask."

"Good," Britt choked out, fighting the grief that threatened to overwhelm him. "They should ask. Let everybody wonder."

The doctor worriedly tightened his hold on Britt's arm. "Are you going to be okay? I can get you something . . . "

Britt placed a reassuring hand over the doctor's. He shook his head. "No. I'll be fine. I have to make some calls," he said heading out of the room.

"Britt, if you want me to . . . " Dr. Grant began.

Britt pulled himself erect, his eyes shining with restrained tears, "No, it's my duty." He glanced over at Mike's body, then forced a smile. "I promised Mike that we were going to throw the biggest wake this city has ever seen." His voice broke, then strengthened. "That's the least I can do. He was the finest newspaperman I had ever known."

"I know," Dr. Grant said. "I know."

IV

"What are you two doing now?" Britt asked as he closed the barn's door behind him. It was several days after Mike's funeral. It had been a grand one, with pipers and a long line of newspapermen and cops who had known the old reporter following Mike's hearse to the cemetery. Britt had never realized before how many people's lives Mike had touched. He knew Mike would have been glad to hear his funeral had rivaled those of important statesmen. Britt smiled to himself. The wake too, had been grand. There were still people getting over the hangovers from it. It was going to be talked about for years afterwards.

That's good, Britt thought, Now on to other business.

"Well?" he said, trying not to laugh at the way John and Lee quickly spun around, unsuccessfully hiding the guilty looks on their faces. Lee was trying to move some papers of Britt's sight while trying to maintain a look of studied innocence. He wasn't succeeding. John trying to cover for Lee stammered out, "Nothing, Dad, we were, uh, doing some maintenance on the Black Beauty."

"I can see that," Britt said archly. The Black Beauty was sitting in the middle of the barn's wide expanse with its rocket doors, gas gun and stinger gun ports open. A few of its rockets and the scanner were sitting on the work bench next to Lee. "Checking out the weapons systems?" he asked.

"Yeah," John agreed, too hastily.

Britt walked over to the workbench. Noticing how slowly his father was moving John asked, "How are you feeling?"

"Fine," Britt answered, moving his cane to his other hand while he reached for the papers that Lee had not successfully hidden. "Still moving slower than I like," he admitted, "But what's a bunch of bruises compared to being dead? At least this way I know I'm still alive. C'mon," he said to Lee, "Let's see what you have there."

"Uh, it's nothing, Mr. Reid," Lee said, vainly trying to keep the papers out of Britt's sight.

"If it was nothing, you wouldn't be trying to hide it," Britt answered with the rise of one eyebrow.

"We were working on some ideas for a replacement . . . " John said sheepishly as Lee handed his father the papers.

"For the Black Beauty . . . "

"Yeah," John admitted reluctantly. "She's a great car and all, but . . . "

"She's behind the times," Britt finished for him.

John nodded. "Yeah," he said in a very quiet voice.

Britt pulled the papers out onto the workbench to look at them better. "Impressive," he finally said after several moments of careful study. "It's got a lot of stuff Kato and I never dreamed of being able to fit into a car. Hell," he nodded in wonderment, "There's stuff we never even dreamed would exist." He rolled up the blueprints and regarded Lee and John thoughtfully. "Good job," he said, "the perfect car for the new Green Hornet."

"Now, Dad, I didn't mean . . . "

"That a new Green Hornet was needed?" Britt said as he walked over to the Black Beauty. He ran a hand over her sleek sides, then patted a hand thoughtfully on the vinyl-covered roof. "She's seen a lot of action. We both have." he sighed. "But it's time for us to rest from our labors and let a new generation take over."

"You mean . . . "

"I mean the job's yours. If you want it. If you and Lee can work together, that is. The Green Hornet has to have a Kato. The job requires two men. Do you think you two can do it?"

"Sure!" Lee said, obviously relieved. Suddenly he backed up, "I don't mean that I don't enjoy working with you . . . "

"But you feel like you're always working with your father's ghost looking over your shoulder."

Lee stared at Britt with widened eyes. "Yeah," he said in amazement. "How'd you know?"

Britt shrugged. "I felt like that for a long time when I first took over the Sentinel," he admitted. "I always felt like everybody was waiting for me to fall flat on my face."

He regarded Lee thoughtfully for a few moments, then continued, "I made a few mistakes, but I always landed on my feet. So will you."

"Thanks," Lee answered, "I'm always worried that I'll never be as good as my father."

Britt's eyes fell on John who had been listening closely to their exchange, he smiled. "Don't let it worry you, I'm sure he'd be proud of you. Just like I'm proud of you, John," he said looking directly at his son.

John looked up in surprise, "Dad, I . . . "

Britt clapped him on his shoulder, "I always figured that I never had to tell you, that you automatically knew. But I've been thinking that I was wrong. I should have told you more often how proud I am of you."

He grasped his son's shoulder, then added, "Think you're up to doing some extra work at the Sentinel?"

"Why?" John asked worriedly, "Are you okay? There isn't anything wrong is there?"

Britt shook his head, then smiled reassuringly, "No, I'm fine. And before you ask, so is your mother. No, I'm thinking is that we're due for a break, your mother and I Maybe do a little traveling; maybe head to France, England. Who knows? Now that I know that you can handle things, why not?"

"Thanks Dad, your faith in me means a lot. You can rely on me. And Lee. And Danielle, too," John added.

Britt nodded. "I know I can," he said, giving John's shoulder one last squeeze. He gave the Black Beauty a final glance before heading for the barn door.

Stopping in the open door with the sunset spilling through behind him, he regarded Lee and John for few moments. Their faces were lit not only but the sun's ruddy light, but by their eagerness for the future ahead of them. Tellingly the light didn't reach the Black Beauty. Her time was over, as was his.

Were Kato and I ever that young? he thought. For an unguarded moment he leaned heavily on his cane, feeling the weariness of the years and of all the battles he had fought, then he straightened. One door may be closing, but there were others waiting to be opened.

V

"I'm impressed," Stormy said as she walked arm in arm with Jacques Le Blanc down the long hallway to the private aircraft gates. "They're pulling out all the stops for you. Private jet, hot and cold running blondes, all the comforts of home."

Jacques laughed heartily, "Non, I am not the one that is considered important" He shot a wry glance at a large crate that was being loaded on the plane, he sighed dramatically. "I am merely the delivery man."

"The El Greco," Stormy said knowingly.

"Oui, the El Greco. Horrid picture that it is. I am to escort it back to France."

"So, no blondes?"

Jacques nodded toward one of the heavily armed guards, "None that I would care to spend my time with. Unless of course, you changed your mind . . . "

Stormy shook her head with a laugh, "On such short notice? I don't think my credit card could take the strain."

"I would never presume to ask a lady to pay her own expenses," Jacques answered, placing a hand on his chest, acting mortally wounded.

"Would the expenses be covered by the sale of a certain necklace?"

"Merely the wages due for a job well done, besides in the right setting those emeralds will be absolutely gorgeous." He ran a hand tenderly through Stormy's honey-gold hair, "As would you, my dear Stormy."

Stormy shook her hair free of Jacques's fingers, "Sorry, Slick, no go."

"Ah, but you have never seen Paris in the Spring. The chestnut trees in bloom . . . "

"Talking about chestnuts," acidly remarked a female voice, "that has got to be oldest one of them all."

"Dani! What a pleasant surprise!" Jacques said, stepping back to see Danielle arriving with Britt and Casey behind her. "How did you find out that I was leaving?"

"You know Dad, he has his sources."

"Oui," Jacques answered, "So it appears."

"Monsieur Le Blanc, you must get on board now," said a man dressed in a solemn black suit.

"Of course," Jacques answered. He turned back to Danielle. "Au revoir mon sourette he said, giving her a light peck on the cheek.

"Kid sister?" Danielle said.

"Oui," he said regretfully. "I may have lost a lost lover, but at least I have gained a sister."

Jacques caught the concern in Britt's eye, "Do not worry mon père, I am only kidding, Danielle and I have always been just friends."

Britt cast a look at Danielle who nodded her agreement. "Not for lack of trying," she said, then quickly added at the look on his face, "On my part. Jacques was always a gentlemen." She sighed. "Now I know why."

"Britt . . . " Casey said, placing a hand on his arm.

Britt shook his head, then said, "I'm glad we got to meet," he said to Jacques. "Do you know the story in that paining?"

"In what way?" Jacques asked.

"The parable of the Prodigal Son. The painting shows the moment when the father welcomes back his wayward son."

Jacques nodded, wondering where Britt was going. "Oui?" he said.

Britt thoughtfully chewed on his lower lip, then said, "I once had only one son, now I have two. I'm glad." Then at a sudden loss for words, he added, "Remember me to your mother. Tell her, I, uh, I remember her fondly," he finally said.

Jacques took Britt's proffered hand and shook it, saving the older man the embarrassment of dealing with the traditional French way of leave-taking. "And I am glad to have met you. I am proud that I carry your blood in my veins, if not your name."

Britt looked downcast, "I'm sorry."

"Don't," Jacques said, "You did not know." He shrugged. "Things happen as they should," he said, surprising himself at his own philosophical viewpoint.

"Sir..." the guard pressed, this time making it clear that further delays would not be tolerated.

Jacques took a moment longer to press his lips to Casey's hand, "Au revoir, Madame Reid. Take care of yourself and your family. Perhaps we will meet again."

"Maybe we will," Britt said before Jacques left. An odd look passed between them, green-blue eyes locking with green-blue. "In France," he added.

Casey leaned against Britt as they watched Jacques' plan head off into the evening sky. "What was that remark about France?" she asked.

"Who knows?" he answered. He looked down at her with a slight smile and a glimmer in his pale eyes. "How'd you feel about a European vacation?"

She looked at him closely, "Would it be really a vacation?"

"Of course."

Epilogue

In the dim green light the Black Beauty rose from its hidden berth beneath the garage floor. The Green Hornet glanced at Kato whose eyes were locked in admiration on the big black car. It was her first night out on the town, but people would soon be calling her a rolling arsenal.

The passenger and driver side doors opened in invitation and the Green Hornet and Kato slid inside. "I always love that new car smell," Kato remarked lightly.

The Green Hornet nodded. "So do I."

Smiling, feeling the low thrum of excitement surge through his veins, the Green Hornet pulled out a slender green gun from the weapons locker. He pressed a button on the side, lighting up a digital display that reported pressure and volume. "Hornet gas gun, check," he said, satisfied with the readings.

Next he pulled out the Hornet Sting. It was still a slender black extendable rod, but inside microchips and fiber optics had replaced transistors and gold wire. He pressed a button and a low hum filled the air. "Hornet sting, check."

"Kato," the Green Hornet said, "Check the Hornet scanner."

Kato pressed a button on the weapons control console. A hatch in the middle of the Black Beauty's trunk opened. A small device, looking much like the original even down to the blink of its ready light, rose out of its bay. However, it was much more powerful with a longer range and greater sensitivity. Kato glanced at the readout on his "heads up" display. "Hornet scanner, check," he said. Then looking at the rest of the readouts on the "heads up"including fuel, rockets, hornet gas and a host of other weapons, said, "All systems are go," adding with a sparkle in his black eyes, "Boss."

The Green Hornet smiled. Tradition was after all, tradition. Then he nodded. It was going to be a good night. He felt in his bones. He took a deep breath, the said, "Let's roll, Kato."

The End (?)