Peter Caine watched the rim of the candle slowly folding down and melting into itself. The small gold flame silently and unwaveringly ate away at a pool of clear, fragrant wax. The last edges disappeared, and the flame spilled hot liquid tears down the sides of the candle and onto a small porcelain saucer. Peter lit another candle and set it next to the first, then another, and another, until the coffee table was lined with gently breathing light.
Then he hurried to the kitchen and frantically yanked open cabinet after cabinet, shoving a stack of plates to the side, knocking small cans of cinnamon, mustard seed and baking powder to the cold linoleum. He pulled out one drawer, the next one down, then the bottom. There. Finally. He grabbed the little plastic-covered box of birthday candles and took them to the coffee table. He tore open the package with his teeth, his fingers trembling as he lit each one. When the room was full of pulsating light that squeezed and stretched hungrily at the thick shadows on the walls, Peter leaned back against the sofa and raked the fingers of both hands into his hair. His elbows rested on his updrawn knees as he stared into the flames.
It was Scotty Thompson's birthday, fuck it. Gunned down in your own house, on your little tenth birthday, that was one way to go. A hell of a way to go, kid. If the bullet to the abdomen hadn't killed him, he would've suffocated after his little face hit the cake. White frosting in yellow hair.
Fuck it to hell.
"You are not hungry?"
Startled from her thoughts, Mary Margaret looked across the dinner table at Kwai Chang Caine. The question was light and nonchalant, but his expression betrayed his concern. He tilted his head slightly to the side, the ends of his gray hair gently touching his cheekbones, and watched her--hell, looked into her for all she knew--with dark, narrowed eyes. She was going crazy. At that moment, with the weight of his gaze pressing into her, Mary Margaret believed every mystical story her partner had ever told her about his father.
"I'm sorry?" she said, realizing she'd been gripping her fork at the same distance above her plate for the last two minutes straight.
"You are...preoccupied?" Caine suggested, setting his wine glass down without having taken a sip.
Mary Margaret simpered and let her eyes drop to the table cloth. She put down her fork and sighed.
"I'm sorry," she said again. "It's been a rough day. Peter and I got called down to an apartment building on Von Bey this afternoon. A whole family'd been murdered in their own dining room. Looked like they were in the middle of a birthday party for the youngest kid when somebody broke in and shot the place up. The room was a mess. The bodies were a mess..." Her voice trailed off, and she looked up sheepishly. "Not exactly nice dinner conversation."
"No, it is not."
She picked up her fork again and started pushing cold noodles in white sauce around on her plate. "I guess it's just got me a little upset."
"That is understandable." Caine reached across the table and placed a large warm hand around Mary Margaret's wrist. "A policeman's life is full of difficult affairs which may lead her to pain and despair. But she must not let these monsters consume her soul. It is good that you should share the burden of these emotions with...a friend."
"I'm glad to have such a good...friend...to share them with," Mary Margaret smiled back. Then she tucked her hair behind her ear and sipped her wine. "Peter's lucky to have you for a father. I imagine he comes to you with all his problems."
Caine didn't reply. Instead, he leaned back in his chair and adjusted his napkin in his lap.
"I mean, the way he took off after our shift today..." She stopped and stared at her date. "You mean he didn't go see you this evening?"
Caine shrugged one shoulder. "I have not seen him for two days. You and he have been busy?"
Mary Margaret frowned. "Yeah, sure we have," she said, somewhat hesitantly.
"You sense something is not right with my son." It was a statement.
The woman looked thoughtful for a moment. Her eyes slowly wandered back to Caine, who was wearing a dark green tunic and had an unreadable expression on his face. She felt slightly guilty for talking about Peter behind his back this way. Sure, it was his father; Mary Margaret knew her partner had some sort of hero worship going for the man. But it still didn't feel right.
The Chief had actually been cutting back on their caseload the past few days, hoping the little bit of extra time might help them wrap up the Lemke case. They'd brought in a suspect yesterday afternoon, and Strenlich, in a rare mood, had been about to give them a couple days off to relax and recuperate. Then they'd gotten the call at Von Bey. When they stepped onto the scene, Mary Margaret had actually watched the blood drain from her partner's face and neck. What she had seen was Peter tired, sad and drained, kneeling down next to the body of a dead little boy. It made her uncomfortable. She was sure when they'd left for the night that Peter was headed for his father's place.
"You're asking me?" she said finally. She shifted uncomfortably in her seat. "Well, maybe he seemed a little depressed. But that's Peter. He lives in a state of depression." She would have laughed, but Caine seemed to be taking her very seriously. Instead, she said, "Not a lot of things make him happy."
"Your friendship is one of those things that do," Caine said solemnly.
Mary Margaret's relationship with Caine was confusing at best. She often wondered if it would ever lead anywhere. When she was alone with him, spending time in his calm company, she thought she wanted it to. But the idea of being her own partner's step mother was less than appealing. She sighed and looked at their cold, half-eaten dinners. She balled her napkin in her lap, wondering at Peter's ability to kill a mood without even being present.
Caine knocked lightly. He could hear no movement beyond his son's front door, but he knew Peter was there and awake.
Caine turned the knob and pushed open the door. Bright light from the hallway competed with the dim glow of Peter's livingroom lamp set on its lowest level. He closed the door behind him and stood in the entryway, waiting for an invitation to come all the way in.
Peter's back was to him. He stood across the room, bent over his train set, fiddling with the track. After a silent beat, he turned to see who'd come in.
"Oh, hey, Pop."
Caine didn't say anything, just stood there taking in the apartment. Besides the fact that it was eleven o'clock at night, Peter had a habit of keeping the blinds closed, so the darkness didn't seem odd. It was the gloom that disturbed him. Peter had always been the brooding type, yes, but Caine had never thought of him as downright morose. He was dressed in dark blue jeans and an untucked white henley. Other than his dark hair being a flyaway mess, he struck Caine as looking very clean and brittle; the emotions the father sensed in him were cold and sullen.
Caine knew this reticence was unnatural for his son and suspected he wouldn't have long to wait before he was met with a barrage of empty, one-sided conversation. Once that was out of his system, perhaps Peter would tell his father what was troubling him.
"What's up?" Peter still leaned over the train. "Not enough excitement for you in Chinatown?"
"I do not seek excitement. It finds me of its own will often enough."
Peter laughed. Too loudly. "True enough. True enough."
"I have just come from a dinner date with Mary Margaret," Caine said.
"Oh yeah? How's she doing?" Caine couldn't see that he was actually doing anything with the train other than touching it and looking at it. Peter laughed again. "Hell, I just saw her a few hours ago. What am I asking you for, right?"
Peter's candles were scattered across the table and on the floor. There was wax spilled and cooled all over the furniture, the carpet, the wall. Caine moved silently into the living area and gracefully knelt to the floor. He reached out to right an upset candle.
He glanced up, and Peter was looking at him.
"Just...I'm sorry. I didn't mean to yell at you. But leave those, okay? I'll get 'em later. They're okay where they are." He turned back to the train. He changed the subject. "Mary Margaret tell you she and I got a few days to kill? Strenlich must've been smoking something. We had a case downtown, but he ended up giving it to Fisk and Roberts instead. I don't know why. We were the first ones to answer the call, so it should've been ours. I guess it's okay, though. I could use the time off. I'm gonna...I really need to..."
"Rest?" Caine suggested.
Peter turned and looked at him again. Then he grinned. "Yeah, Pop."
Caine sat back on his heels for a moment, then reached over to turn up the lamp. His silk sleeve brushed an open and halfway drained bottle of cheap rum sitting on the end table. The light clicked a fraction brighter, and Caine continued to patiently watch Peter's back.
He let the silence hang between them a moment more, then asked, "You have been drinking?"
"Oh, that?" Peter didn't turn around. "Just a little preventive medicine, Pop. You being an apothecary, I'd think you knew all about that kind of stuff."
"That depends...on what you are trying to prevent."
Peter didn't answer.
"Tell me about your cases."
"You don't want to hear about my cases. If it were up to you, I wouldn't have cases, right? You don't need to hear about any of my shit."
"You are upset about a murder."
Peter snorted. "Yeah, go figure. For some reason, murders do tend to upset me."
"A family was killed in their own home," Caine went on gently.
"You know, Mary Margaret really needs to keep her big mouth shut."
"...they were seated around the table..."
"I can't believe you two have been spending so much time together."
"...a father, a mother, a teenager and a child..."
"I mean, did the two of you ever stop to think about how awkward your having a relationship would make things?"
"...the killer used a gun..."
"I bet you talk about me, don't you? God, I can just picture you swapping Peter-stories over a fucking bottle of wine."
"...there was much blood..."
"And I'm sure she finds it all very amusing."
Peter threw his hands over his ears in a childish gesture. "Quiet! Can't you just be quiet for once?"
Caine fell silent, and Peter finally stopped trying to fill the air with his own voice, and the room was quiet, except for the wail of self-pity Caine could hear emanating from his son. They froze in an unpleasant tableau.
"You are tired," Caine said finally.
"Yes, I'm tired."
"Go rest, Peter. I will clean this up."
"No! Don't touch it!" Peter lunged for the coffee table and knelt down beside it. He held his arms protectively over the candles. "You shouldn't touch these. Nobody should touch these. There's still time. It's still his birthday." Peter looked up. "We should celebrate."
"Celebrate...what?" Caine put a steadying hand on Peter's arm.
Suddenly, the frantic, nervous energy was gone. His shoulders slumped. "Pop, I've really gotta get some sleep. I don't mean to throw you out or anything--"
"Do not worry. Tomorrow we will...hang out?"
Peter smiled crookedly, and Caine was surprised by the relief that flowed through him at the sight. Peter's was beauty born out of love, and Caine couldn't help the occasional swell of pride when he saw his son smile.
"Sure, Pop. That sounds good."
Peter smiled until Caine closed the door behind him. Then he folded his arms on the coffee table and bent his head down to rest in the crook of one elbow.
Sometimes it was just too hard.
Alone on the street, Kwai Chang Caine felt Peter's renewed despair.
Paul Blaisdell leaned back in his chair and watched his foster son pace the room. Paul was used to Peter bursting into his office in such a state of agitation, and he decided it best to just ride out the storm and let Peter say whatever it was he had to say when he was ready to say it. He'd been pacing like this for a few minutes already. Paul hoped this was going to be interesting. With Peter, it usually was.
"So how are they coming?" Peter asked finally, stopping next to the file cabinet and resting his elbow against it.
Paul stared back for a long moment. Then he leaned forward over his desk and folded his hands over a manila file folder. He was silent for a while longer, finally looking away from his son's tired face long enough to flick an invisible piece of fuzz off his desk.
"I thought you had the next couple days off," Paul said, leaning back and catching Peter's eye again. "What are you doing here?"
Peter shoved his hands into his jean jacket pockets. "What, I can't come in and check up on a few things?"
"Not on your day off." He held up a hand to stop Peter from interrupting. "Besides, it's not your case."
"That doesn't mean I can't get involved."
Paul didn't say anything, just cast a disapproving eye toward the detective. Peter'd been running on fumes as the Lemke case wound down, but something about the Von Bey murders had seemed to breach a hidden reserve of bitter indignation and determination in him.
"Look," Peter went on, turning to look through the blinds out at the bullpen. The rush and rumble of police activity, dampened by the glass walls of Paul's office, only heightened Peter's desire to get out there and act...react. "I just want to be kept informed. I won't interfere unless they ask me. Deal?"
Paul rapped his knuckles twice against his desk. Then he sighed. "Would it impress you to know they've got a witness?"
Peter spun around. "Wait, what? You mean, somebody actually saw this go down?"
Paul nodded. "A woman from the other side of the hall. Says she'd seen a strange young guy in the building this past week, hanging around the mailboxes, wandering the hall. Made her nervous, but she didn't want to cause any trouble by calling the police. Figured somebody else would if they thought the guy posed some kind of threat."
"That's priceless. He sure posed some kind of threat to the Thompsons."
Paul ignored the comment. "Anyway, she heard the shots, went to her peep hole, and saw the guy leaving the Thompsons' apartment."
"Wait a minute. We talked to the building manager, and he said he's the one who called it in. You're telling me this woman hears gunfire, sees a stranger running out of the apartment and still doesn't call the cops?"
"Peter, she was scared. She came forward this morning wanting to help."
"Yeah, after already being questioned yesterday. We had uniforms working that whole building trying to find somebody who heard or saw something. As a matter of fact, if she's the one who lives directly opposite from the Thompson place, I knocked on her door myself, and nobody even answered. I suppose she was so scared she had to go out and throw back a couple cold ones to calm her nerves, or was she just so shocked she couldn't open the door?" Peter shook his head slowly, a bitter smile reaching his lips. He glanced at the floor, then back out at his colleagues. "They're letting themselves kill each other out there, Paul."
"Peter, go home. We'll call you if we need anything."
"She make a positive ID?"
"She gave us a pretty thorough description. The lab's running a print we got off the door."
Peter smiled sardonically. "That's handy. How many people do Fisk and Roberts think touched that door besides the killer?"
"And left a bloody print? My guess is it's a low number."
Peter stared at the floor.
"Listen," Paul said sternly, standing up and walking to the other side of his desk. He leaned back against the front of the desk and folded his arms across his chest. Peter wasn't going to like what he had to say, but Paul was used to that, too. "You need to leave now, before I'm forced to have you physically removed. You need to distance yourself for a while, Peter. Try to bring it back in perspective. Something's got you on edge, and you're volatile right now. As captain of this division, I can't afford that kind of liability. We will find this killer, and if there's anything you can do, I assure you, the lead investigators will call you in. But until that happens, get out of here." He sat back and waited for the loud reaction.
"I'm supposed to be meeting my father."
It wasn't the angry outburst Paul had been expecting. He didn't know what it was. A statement...a complaint...an admission?
"That's good, son," was all he could think to say. "Have a good time."
Paul didn't understand the look of disappointment Peter gave him before he opened the door and left.
The lights were on, and Caine extinguished the last of the large white candles. A ribbon of smoke twisted and curled up toward the ceiling, disappearing not far above Caine's head. He'd waited all morning, and then all afternoon, and now it was evening, and Peter still hadn't shown up.
Caine wasn't worried. That wasn't it. Maybe he was a bit disappointed. Peter claimed he was no longer the child Caine knew from the temple, but often when he was around his father, a part of him--that part in the hands, the mouth and the eyes--took them both back to a time when father knew best, and all Peter hoped to do was to please him. But now the child's desire struggled beneath the man's pride. Now, after fifteen years, there was a wedge between them.
Caine felt the displacement of air a fraction of a second before the door opened and Peter blew in. Caine continued to attend to his candles, his back to the door.
"Hey, Pop. Sorry I'm late," Peter said, standing in the middle of the classroom floor with his hands in his pockets. Highly trained detective's eyes took in the pictures on the walls, the candles, the shrine to Buddha, the red that signified happiness. He imagined this was a happy place for his father. Caine had been a teacher for so long. Peter was glad his father had once again found so many eager to learn. "You know what they say. Better late than never, right?" He let his eyes wander to the back of his father's head. "So, whaddyou feel like doing?"
Caine turned, a hint of a smile softening his age- and experience-weathered features. "I do not know," he shrugged. "Is there something that you would like us to do together?"
"Oh. Sure. Just lemme think of something." Peter moved to the large, worn punching bag hanging from three chains from the ceiling. He pulled his left hand from his pocket and pressed his fingers into the bag. It swung slowly forward and backward. Forward and back. Then he put a hand out and brought the bag to an abrupt halt. "I don't know. You hungry? We could grab something to eat. I could use a burger and some fries." He stopped and wiped a hand over his face, then grinned and pointed a finger towards Caine. "Ah, I bet that sounds really terrible to you, doesn't it?"
"No, Peter. It does not." Caine reached for his leather pouch, tucked his head under the strap, and started moving towards the door.
Peter's grin melted into a slightly confused half-smile. "You're kidding, right?"
Caine opened the door and walked out.
"Of course you're not," Peter muttered. "What was I thinking?" He took another look around the room. He sighed. "Wait up, Pop. I'm coming."
The things a father will do for his son. Caine watched Peter finish off a large order of fries. His own meal sat virtually untouched before him, so he picked up his basket of french fries and offered them to his son. Peter took them without a word and continued eating. Anything to keep his mouth going some way or another, Caine thought.
"You have had a good day off?"
Peter leaned back in the booth and reached out to wipe his fingers on a napkin that was lying on the table. He let his hand rest there. "Yeah, it was fine."
Either he was saying too much, or he wouldn't say anything at all. Caine sighed. Fatherhood was still frustrating. That much hadn't changed. "And yet you still feel...burned out?"
Peter glanced across the table briefly, then started to scan the restaurant clientele.
"You believe I cannot understand."
"I'm gonna go get a beer." Peter couldn't look him in the eye. "I already know the answer, but I'll ask anyway. You want one?" He started to slide out of the booth, but his father's hand suddenly gripped his wrist. He stared at the hand, at the gold wedding band on his father's ring finger. Then he looked up, and Caine's face was so fatherly stern that Peter thought he could feel himself shrinking right there. "What?" he asked in exasperation. He swore he had no idea what anybody wanted from him anymore.
"You must release your frustration," Caine said calmly.
"Do you realize half the time I have no idea what you're talking about?"
"Why does this particular crime disturb you so much? Have you not seen many such wicked acts since you became a police officer?"
They weren't meant as fighting words, but that was apparently how Peter took them. He pulled his wallet from his pocket, slapped a twenty down on the table, grabbed his jacket and took off wordlessly. He got as far as the door when he turned around and went back to the booth. He leaned his right hand against the table and pointed the index finger of his left directly into his father's face.
"You don't know anything that's happened to me since I became a cop," he said, his voice low.
"I believed you dead," Caine answered evenly. "I regret the time we have been absent from each other's lives, but I cannot erase the pain that befell either of our paths. It is unfair to us both for you to expect that."
Ever since his father's reappearance, fragmented memories had begun to resurface in Peter's mind. They were safe and comforting. In them, his father was so large, strong and reassuring. But when he opened his eyes, the screwed-up reality of his current life muddled all the colors in his mind to somber grey. Peter let his hand drop, and he stood up straight.
"I was just a kid," he said.
"And I am just a man."
Peter looked at the floor and ran his fingers through his hair. "I know that. I'm sorry."
"My son," Caine started, "do you remember--"
"No!" Peter cut him off with a wave of his hand. "I don't remember anything. Look, I gotta go. I'm sorry this didn't work out. We'll have to try it again sometime when I don't have so much on my mind. If you need me, call the station, okay?"
"Let it go, Pop."
Peter hesitated a moment, and Caine reached out a hand to touch his face. His cheek felt cool and very young. And for a fleeting moment, with his eyes closed like that, Peter was just a child again. And he needed Caine. And he needed this touch. He was confused, but that was all right, because Caine was there to teach him and guide him. He did stumble every so often, but that was expected and acceptable, because he had direction, and that direction was down the path his father had always assumed he would follow.
"You have to," Peter said, pulling away. He tucked his coat under his arm and left before Caine could say anything to further piss him off. He was tired of being angry.
"We just picked up the warrant for Orin Bradley's arrest."
Paul looked up from a file. Jake Fisk leaned in the doorway waving a folded piece of paper for his captain to see. His partner, Phil Roberts, stood just outside the door, his hands in his pants pockets.
"Good. You going to need help bringing him in?"
"We thought we'd take a few uniforms with us," Fisk said.
Paul went back to the file. "Fine. Do it."
"What about Caine, sir?"
Paul looked up and frowned. That was the question of the day. He shrugged. "Your case, your call."
"It seemed pretty important to him."
It did indeed.
"Then call him in. Knowing Peter, he's probably waiting by the phone."
They turned to leave, Fisk stuffing the warrant into his jacket pocket.
"Oh, hey," Paul called after them. "Tell him to pick up Skalany on his way. Maybe she can keep him out of trouble."
"We don't anticipate much trouble, sir."
They obviously hadn't known Peter as long as Paul had. Besides, something about this arrest had Blaisdell increasingly nervous. He didn't understand what made the Von Bey murders so different from any of the other cases Peter had dealt with in his career. It was an ugly thing, but Peter had seen ugliness many times before.
He guessed he would never know why it bothered Peter so much. Just another item to add to his list of places Peter kept locked inside himself and would never let anyone enter or try to understand. Sometimes Paul had no idea what went on in his foster son's head, couldn't figure out what demon was driving him when or where. Paul had been able to pull him through some tough things in the past, but the kid seemed determined to work this one out on his own. Paul didn't like it, but it was something he could respect.
Nature versus nurture. Orin Bradley wasn't sure where he stood. Was the problem that parents these days were doing a shitty job of raising their children, or were kids just born self-absorbed, uncaring and stupid? It had to be some combination of the two.
Bradley changed the channel from a documentary on climbing Mount Everest to the local news. Then he turned the sound way down and went back to grading papers.
The common thought among high school students, and probably students everywhere, was that a poor class average was a reflection of the instructor's ineffectiveness. But that simply wasn't true. That was just a scapegoat for their own ineptitude.
Bradley couldn't help it if he was trying to educate a room full of dummies. And it didn't help that he was only the substitute teacher. Not only was he saddled with the difficult responsibility of cracking through years of compounded ignorance, but he had to do it all before the permanent teacher came back, and he had to overcome the fact that none of these children took him seriously. They didn't think the compositions he assigned would show up on their final grades, so they slacked-off and shitted around all class period. Bradley took it very seriously. He marked another red-penned F.
Being a teacher was depressing. He set aside the papers and dragged himself off the couch, going to the kitchen to throw a frozen dinner into the microwave. It was a little cool outside this afternoon, but the sun was shining. He went to the window and peered out. He put his hands on the window frame and pressed against it, feeling the stretch in his shoulders and biceps. Sure, he was staring down at a trashy alley, but it was still a view, and the sun felt warm in a crisp fall way as it shone in past the brick walls and smudged windows of the city. No matter how crappy the world seemed, there were still some things in life that felt good. A moment of peace like this, that was one of them.
The microwave beeped out the end of its cycle, but Bradley didn't move from the window. Something at the head of the alley had caught his eye. A police cruiser...two...and a couple unmarked cars. They pulled up in front of his building, and Bradley licked his lips. Something was going on.
Bradley kept an eye on the window until the police disappeared around the front of the building. Then he slipped his socks and tennis shoes on and pulled his yellow windbreaker down from the hallway closet. He went to the kitchen and opened the silverware drawer.
"Hi, baby," he whispered, tucking his gun into the back of his jeans. It pressed up cold against the sensitive skin at the small of his back.
The heavy knock at his door came sooner than Bradley expected. He hurried over to the TV and switched it off.
"Police, Mr. Bradley. Open the door."
He went to the window and slid it open.
"Orin Bradley, we have a warrant for your arrest."
He put one leg out onto the fire escape, then tucked his head through and brought the other leg out. As he fumbled his way down the rusted ladder, he heard his front door slam open. They'd probably broken the door off its hinges. His feet touched pavement, and he stood there for a moment trying to decide what to do next.
In his haste, he'd forgotten to close the window behind him. They would see it right away and know he'd gone down to the alley. He glanced around at the dumpster, open on one side. There were upset cardboard boxes strewn all around the alley and old vegetable crates from the Chinese restaurant next door. He stood in the shadow of his apartment building. There was nowhere to hide, but at the same time, he worried that if he left now, he'd never make it back. What about his dinner in the microwave? What about the compositions? He looked down the alley, then back towards the street. If he tried to explain, they would never understand. They thought he'd done something wrong.
Suddenly, there was simultaneous motion at the window and the head of the alley.
There was a cop at his window with a gun trained on him, and two more cops were moving towards him from the street.
"Orin Bradley," the woman cop shouted, "you're under arrest! Put your hands on your head."
Bradley reached behind him and pulled out his gun. He got off two shots in the general direction of the street before he turned and tore off down the alley.
Peter returned fire. "Stupid fuck, don't make me chase you," he muttered, taking off at a sprint.
"He's headed for the wharf district," Mary Margaret yelled up at Fisk, who already had his radio out. "Get us some backup!" She ran after her partner.
"Peter, this is stupid." Mary Margaret had her gun drawn in one hand, and the fingertips of the other rested lightly on the back of her partner's shoulder. She let him lead her down a long, cement corridor inside the old power plant. It hadn't operated in two years, since the city finished building the new plant across town, and the halls were now silent, cold and empty.
They should have waited for backup, but she hadn't wanted to let Peter go in alone. She'd watched him chase Bradley through an old and rusted service door that stood halfway open, as if the place were just waiting for somebody to intrude. It felt like an omen, and she hated it, but she followed anyway.
Every moment Mary Margaret spent with him, Peter's impulsiveness must have been rubbing off. She hoped his recklessness wasn't catching, too. She pressed the palm of her hand against the fabric of Peter's jacket, to make sure he knew she had him covered. He was her partner. He needed her. There was nothing reckless about that.
"We lost him," Peter said. He slowly moved deeper into the dank building, running his hand along the side of the wall. The cement felt porous and slimy. The air was wet and stale from the large reserves of water that used to power the massive turbines, but that now stood stagnant and dirty, trapped inside huge reservoirs.
Bradley hadn't had much of a lead, but he was fast. Once inside the building, Peter had had to stop and wait for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. He didn't want Bradley to have that advantage over him. When Mary Margaret rushed through the door, he'd grabbed her arm and pulled her back next to him in a little recess in the wall where they wouldn't be sitting ducks if Bradley was still near enough to take any more shots at them. He'd let her catch her breath, then they started moving down the hall.
They came to the end of the corridor, where it branched off in two new directions. Peter pressed his back against the wall and gripped his gun, preparing to throw himself around the corner, when he sensed movement down by his feet. He jumped slightly as a large brown rat scuttled over his boot and down the hall in the direction they'd just come from.
Mary Margaret smiled wryly, patting Peter twice on the arm. "You okay there, Princess?"
"Great. And me without my stash of cheese." She peered around the corner, assured herself the hall was clear in both directions, then started walking again. "I knew I brought the wrong purse to this party."
Somewhere there was a generator still running. They could hear the echo of its hum throughout the building, and at the middle of each hallway a weak emergency bulb still burned where the wall met the ceiling. They were deep inside the plant now, far enough in that they could forget it was day outside, the darkness was so smothering.
"This is a huge building, Peter," Mary Margaret sighed, coming to a stop. "We're not going to find--"
Suddenly, gunfire cracked and echoed through the hall, and both detectives ducked.
"Hold it, Bradley!" Peter shouted before Mary Margaret could even tell what was going on. He suddenly took off running down the hall.
Skalany spun around and watched Peter disappear around another corner. Never a boring moment, she thought, taking off once again in pursuit. If she'd known she was going to be doing so much running, she would have worn more appropriate shoes. Her feet pounded hard against the cement, and she rounded the corner just in time to see Peter slam into and then through a heavy metal door. I'm so going to regret this. She braced herself as she ran, not slowing down, and rammed the door open with her shoulder. She burst into the room and suddenly found herself clutching at a waist-level iron railing. She would have toppled over it and down a twenty-or-so-foot drop to a dark reservoir below, had Peter not grabbed onto her coat and pulled her back.
The door slammed shut, and they found themselves in a huge, long room with a deep, water-filled trough running down the center. A five-foot wide walkway ran down both sides of the room, but didn't connect. It felt like standing in a giant sewer or drainage tunnel, and it smelled a little like one, too. Mary Margaret crinkled her nose. They stood with some sort of work station behind them. There was a control box with a worn number pad on it hanging from the wall, and a few thick cords of plastic-enclosed wire ran from the box, up the wall and across the ceiling, where they hooked into a strip of circuitry that ran in either direction down the middle of the ceiling.
"Where are we?" Mary Margaret asked.
"Where's Bradley?" Peter countered.
"Good questions, both," a voice answered.
Orin Bradley stood on the other side of the room, leaning with both hands against the railing. He smiled when Peter drew his gun, pulling his own from the back of his pants.
"Give it up, Bradley."
"Or what? You'll shoot?" His smile faded, and he shook his head slowly. "I didn't do anything. You'd be killing an innocent man."
"You fired on two police officers and resisted arrest." Mary Margaret's eyes narrowed. "What else have you done, Bradley?"
"It's Orie, lady."
"It's Detective, ass hole," Peter bit back, his gun still trained on Bradley's chest.
"Well, guess what, Detectives. That door you came through..." He reached behind him and pressed a button on a control panel similar to the one behind Peter and Mary Margaret. They heard the sound of a heavy latch sliding through metal. "...I just locked it! Looks like you're stuck in here, unless you're gonna swim across. That water's probably nice and deep and diseased."
"You mean we're stuck in here."
Bradley smiled again and went to the door on his side of the room. "See, that's the super cool part about this locked doors thing. Yours is, but mine's not!" He threw open the door and ducked out of the room, a bullet from Peter's police-issue deflecting harmlessly off the doorjamb as the door slipped shut.
Mary Margaret turned instantly, making sure they were really locked in. Bradley was right, so she moved to the control panel and started pressing buttons. "One of these has to open this door," she muttered.
"Or some combination," Peter replied, eyes scanning the room for options. There didn't seem to be any. "You're never going to find the right one."
"Well, what the hell else do you suggest I do?"
Peter didn't answer for a moment. He eyed the cords connected to the box. Then he said, "Help me tear one of these down."
Mary Margaret stopped her fumbling with the buttons and turned to look at her partner. He quickly went to the wall and started yanking on the cord. "You're going to electrocute yourself."
"No, I'm not," Peter grunted, pulling hard. The cord broke free from the control panel. He pulled again, testing the strength both of the wires and of their connection to the ceiling. Then he looked at Mary Margaret and said, "I'm gonna tarzan over to the other side."
Skalany blinked. "You're what?"
"You know, jump...swing." He rolled his eyes and, holding onto the cord, started to drape one leg over the railing. "Just close your eyes for a second, and when you open them again, I'll be on the other side."
"Sure you will. Flat against the wall."
"You're such a doubting Thomas." Peter wrapped the cord around his left hand a few times, then held on above that with his right.
"I'm a realist, partner." Mary Margaret knew there was nothing she could say or do to stop him.
Peter winked. "Once I'm over, I'll send it back for you."
"Wait a minute," Mary Margaret said, grabbing onto his jean jacket sleeve. "Aren't you afraid of heights?"
"Skalany, right now Bradley's either laughing his head off at us, or running far away. Probably both." He took a deep breath. "I'll just try not to look down."
Peter brought his other leg over the rail and stood poised to jump. He tested the cord one more time, then pinpointed his desired landing spot on the other side. If he fell...well...he was a pretty good swimmer, and he didn't like this shirt and pair of jeans anyway. But he couldn't help it. He glanced down at the water. It looked thick, and black and deep. No telling who or what was living in it. He shook his head to clear the brief cloud of dizziness that had decended before his eyes. Then he took one more breath and jumped.
All of a sudden, the railing rushed forward to meet him, and Peter slammed into it, grabbing onto it with his free hand. He held himself there for a moment to catch his breath and orient himself. Then he pulled himself over and onto the walkway. When he turned around, Mary Margaret smiled and shook her head.
"Oh, ye of little faith," Peter grinned. He unwound the cord from his wrist, then wadded it up and leaned over to throw it back across to his partner.
He'd just released the cord when he heard Mary Margaret call out. But before he could turn, something hard hit him on the back of the head.
"Fuck you, Bradley," he muttered. Then he blacked out.
Peter woke up trapped in a cage with Orin Bradley. He felt heavy. At first the pain at the back of his head was disorienting enough that he wasn't surprised to be lying in a drafty corner while Bradley silently evaluated his condition from eight feet away. Then it finally started to come back to him, and he pushed himself up until he was sitting with his back pressed against the wall. He felt awkward...stupid, in a naked sort of way...with his head throbbing and Bradley watching him--gloating!--at the other side of the cage.
The cage walls, ceiling and floor were made of chainlink fencing. There was a chainlink gate in the center of one wall, but it was swung shut and apparently locked. They were still inside the empty power plant. The room they were in was dark except for what little light glowed through the grimy, nearly opaque windows lining the tops of the walls. A few of the panes had broken out, and the late afternoon sun funneled a cone of harsh light down onto the back of Bradley's head.
Peter looked up and realized they were very close to the ceiling. He noticed a system of pulleys and heavy steel cords connecting the top of the cage to the rafters. There was a catwalk six feet above them and far off to the left.
Suddenly, realization struck. Peter grabbed onto the metal floor and clutched at the chainlink so hard his knuckles turned white. He clamped his eyes shut and couldn't stop a low groan from escaping his lips.
"Oh, God, don't tell me."
Peter opened one eye and looked at Bradley, who sat with his legs drawn up and his elbows resting on his knees.
"You're afraid of heights."
Peter grimaced. "If I say yes, will you take us back down?"
Bradley shook his head. He nodded towards the gate and what looked like it used to be a small control box. The wires that ran from the box and connected to the machinery controlling the pulleys were severed and slightly frayed, singed.
Peter closed his eyes again in disbelief. "Where's my partner?" he asked quietly but urgently.
Bradley snorted. "What am I, her keeper? How the hell should I know? Last I saw her she was waving her gun around, screaming at me. I hate that. How can people honestly believe screaming ever accomplishes anything? It just pisses people off, you know? It sure pissed me off."
Peter swallowed the bile that had risen into his throat and shook his head a little to clear the haze. "So what are we doing up here, Bradley? You gonna kill me, too? Then what happens?"
Bradley frowned. "You keep saying stuff like that. You gonna kill me, Bradley? We've got a warrant for your arrest, Bradley. Freeze, Bradley! It bugs the frickin' shit out of me. I haven't done anything wrong."
Peter opened his mouth, but before he could get anything out, Bradley held up a hand. He was holding Peter's Beretta.
"I know who you are and everything," Bradley went on, shifting positions and causing the cage to slowly swing from side to side. He brought his legs under him and squatted, reaching into his back pocket. "Your badge, Detective Caine," he said, handing the wallet over. When Peter didn't move to take it, he threw it across into the cop's lap. "See, I don't want any trouble. I have better things to do than spend the day up here with you." He sighed. "Now, your gun...well...if I gave that back, you'd probably shoot me, wouldn't you? You cops're so trigger happy, you know that? God. I blink, and you're waving that thing at me. Besides, I like your gun better than mine. I think I'll keep it."
Peter took a deep breath and tried to center himself. He stared over at Bradley. The man's face was twisted in shadows, and the light at his back cast an eerie white halo around his head. He was about 6'2", probably around thirty-five years old. When he turned, harsh light illuminated one half of his face. Peter could see a thin, pink scar running from just below the cheekbone down to the jaw.
"So," Bradley said, sighing. "What to do...what to do?" He shrugged. "I don't know how long I'm going to have to keep you here, do you? Like, when do you expect your comrades to bust in and pull your ass out of the fire?" He laughed. "I mean, that's what you guys do, right, Det. Peter Caine? You get yourselves into these impossible situations and have to take turns getting each other out. You know, I thought about becoming a cop once."
"But instead, you opted for murderer?" Peter said. All he had to do was stall. Backup was on the way, and then they'd finally bring this twist in. He should've been on this case to begin with. Fisk and Roberts were just too inexperienced. He wouldn't have botched the arrest. None of this would have ever happened. Bradley would already be locked away in a holding cell, waiting for somebody to write up the paperwork.
Bradley's smile disappeared. "Oh, that was pretty low. Even for a stupid cop who obviously doesn't have his facts straight."
"You're denying having shot Curtis Thompson, his wife and two children in their apartment two days ago?"
"Yes! How much more vocal do I have to get about this denial?" He stood up and threw his hands into the air. "I deny it!" he shouted into the rafters. "I deny it!" he yelled down at the floor. "I deny it!" he screamed out into the room. Then he stopped and looked back at Peter. "You know what, Pete--can I call you Pete?"
"You're the guy with the gun."
"You're so right, Pete." Bradley smiled again. "See, that's what I like about you. Didn't know there was anything I liked about you, did you? Well, there is. I like the way you talk to me. Well, you're kind of shitty, but that's an act."
"You should hear me when I don't have a concussion."
Peter slowly started to push himself up the cage wall, until he was standing with his back pressed into the corner. "You know what's not funny," he said, taking a cautious step along the chainlink wall opposite the suspect. Bradley waved the gun at him slightly, and Peter raised both hands in submission, but he kept inching almost imperceptibly along the wall. If he could just get the gun back. "That massacre you committed two days ago in the Thompsons' apartment on Von Bey." This time Bradley didn't interrupt, so Peter continued. "Why'd you do it? Huh, Bradley? Do you get off on the blood? Enjoy seeing people in pain? Making them cry? You feel like you're in control? Like to have them begging you for mercy? Begging you not to hurt them? Begging you not to hurt their kids? It was that little boy's birthday, Bradley. That's some kind of present you gave him, you damn son of a bitch."
"Okay, hold it right there!" Bradley warned. He brought the gun up and aimed it at Peter's chest. "You don't know anything. What you just said, that's so screwed up. That is so screwed up."
"That's what I said. Did I not say that? I meant to say it. It's screwed up, Bradley. It's screwed up, and it's fucked up. It's twisted and sick, and you did it, didn't you?" He was yelling now, every muscle in his body tense and aching to strike out at this man holding his gun, holding all the power. "Didn't you stake out that apartment? You knocked on the door, let Curtis Thompson invite you into his home, and then you executed every one of them in their own diningroom. You made those two kids watch their parents die, then you shot them, too, you bastard!"
Suddenly, everything around Peter blackened, and it was just him and Bradley suspended in a horrid vacuum. He swore he could hear the echo of the gunshots, the mother's scream. He could feel the father's helplessness, and the children's confusion. He was angry. He was furious. And the man to blame was standing right there, staring at him with wide, shocked eyes.
"Did you touch them, Bradley? Did you put your hands in their blood? Did you like feeling the last bit of warmth and life draining out of them? Because you left something behind, Bradley. You left a perfect, bloody print on the door. That's how we found you. That's why we came to your apartment. That's why you ran. That's why you made us chase you. That's why you're going down for this murder, and that's why every time you deny having committed this crime, I get sicker and sicker to my stomach."
"What are you gonna do, cop?" Bradley demanded. He had noticed Peter's slow advance and now countered to the other side of the cage so that they stood directly across from each other, only the length of the cage separating them. "I've got your gun."
"I don't need the gun. I could fuck you up pretty good with my bare hands."
"Well, this is quite the little pissing contest we've gotten ourselves into..." Bradley clutched Peter's gun in both hands and stared at the detective, his face an equal mixture of fear, insolence and rage. Then the raw emotion dulled into an expression of indifference.
A fraction of a second before it happened, Peter knew Bradley'd made the decision. He braced himself as he watched Bradley pull the trigger.
"...I guess I win."
Paul Blaisdell looked up when he heard his door open and was mildly surprised to see Kwai Chang Caine enter the office wearing his usual tan garb and sandals. What with the hard time Peter was having adjusting to the changes his father's renewed existence entailed, Paul found it remarkable how, at least in his eyes, everything about the priest seemed to remain more or less unchanged. He always carried about him the same encompassing sense of calm, with an underlying intensity of spirit. Paul labeled it restful alertness: all the tension released from the body, yet all the muscles poised and ready to react.
Paul took off his glasses and stood, coming around to the front of the desk. "Caine," he said, extending his hand, which Caine accepted and shook with a slight bow of the head. Then Paul leaned back against his desk and folded his arms across his chest. "I assume this isn't a social call. What can I do for you?"
"I am looking for Peter," Caine admitted.
Paul gestured for Caine to take a seat, then went back around to sit behind his desk. "He's not here. He's out making an arrest." Paul corrected himself, "Assisting with an arrest."
Caine nodded. "His murderer?"
"His murderer?" Paul frowned. "Oh. Yes, his murderer. He told you about that?" He smiled slightly. "Of course he'd tell you about that. You're his father."
"As are you."
An awkward silence ate up the room. Both fathers stared at each other.
"Look, this isn't a competition," Paul said finally, leaning back in his chair. He hoped it wasn't.
"No, it is not," Caine agreed.
"Good. Because that wouldn't be fair to Peter."
"No, it would not."
"I'm glad we agree."
Paul could understand why Peter found his father so frustrating to talk to. "Then is there something else I can help you with?" he asked patiently.
"You know Peter well," Caine started.
Paul immediately held up a hand and shook his head. "I won't talk about him behind his back. If you want to know something or say something, say it to him, okay? You need to talk to him before he--"
Paul paused with his fingers pressed against his lips. Then he folded his hands on his desk. "I wasn't going to say that." He looked down at his hands, then back at the Shaolin priest. "But you see things, don't you? Is that something you see in him? Is he in danger?"
"We learn from our suffering," Caine said, shrugging a shoulder. "My son is strong at the broken places."
Paul didn't respond. He was ready for the conversation to end.
"I did not come to make you uncomfortable or to worry you," Caine apologized. "I only wish to ask your help finding--"
Before he could finish the request, the office door swung open, and Strenlich leaned in, a grim look on his face. "Captain, Fisk just put in a call to dispatch. They've got shots fired. Suspect resisted arrest and fled on foot. Skalany and Caine are in pursuit, headed towards the wharf district."
"I'm on my way," Paul said, pushing his chair back from the desk. He stood, grabbed his coat, and went to follow the Chief out the door.
Paul turned back into the office and found himself face to face with Peter's father. They scrutinized one another for a moment. Then Paul sighed. "You should come with us."
Caine nodded succinctly and followed.
"Peter!" Mary Margaret screamed.
The door slammed shut with a cruel smack of finality. She hadn't been able to fire a single shot for fear that she might accidentally hit her partner. All she could do was watch as Bradley struck Peter at the base of the neck and then dragged him out of the room. They should have waited for backup.
Mary Margaret's eyes darted from the locked door, to the dismantled control box, to the reservoir, and then to the cord hanging down from the middle of the ceiling. Peter hadn't managed to get the cord all the way over, and now Mary Margaret was stuck on the wrong side.
She ran to the wall and started tugging at another group of wires. She put one black shoe against the cement wall and pushed against it, while she pulled with both hands on the cord. It started to work loose, tearing apart from its connection to the box. After a few more good yanks, the cord broke free, sending a fountain of white and yellow sparks into the air and throwing Mary Margaret backwards and down to the floor. She lay there for a moment, catching her breath, her long dark hair dangling over the edge of the walkway. They don't pay me enough for this.
She pushed herself back to her feet and gingerly took hold of the wire cord. It didn't electrocute her, so she went to work tying a couple knots in the wire. Then she looped the end and tied it into a bowline knot.
"Peter, if I wasn't trying to put the moves on your father..."
Mary Margaret grimaced, climbing onto the railing. She brought her legs over and sighed. If Peter could do it...well...so she would have to as well. Besides, she didn't have a choice. It was either fester away in here until backup came and found her, or swing over to the other side now and get her partner back.
She grasped the cord with both hands above the knots and slipped her foot into the loop at the bottom. She paused a moment more, gazing down at the rancid pool below. Then she took a deep breath, pushed off from the cement and sailed toward the other side.
The wind blew Mary Margaret's bangs back from her forehead, and she braced herself as she saw the other walkway racing towards her. She took another quick breath and prepared to grab hold of the railing. She reached out, straining her fingers and wrist. But instead of catching the iron rail, she caught only a fistful of air, and she was suddenly moving back toward the far side of the room.
Mary Margaret's eyes widened in disbelief. She hadn't pushed off hard enough, and she ended up swinging fifteen more times before finally coming to a precarious standstill, dangling over the middle of the reservoir.
"Oh my God," she muttered, tightening her grip on the cord.
Somehow, this was all Peter's fault.
"I really hate you."
Peter clutched at his left side, blood starting to seep warm and sticky through his fingers. He felt as if there were an enormous, hot pressure being applied to his torso, just below the ribs. He brought his left leg up and leaned into the pain, staring up at Orin Bradley through dark, narrowed eyes.
"I believe you." Bradley lowered Peter's gun slowly. "But you know what? I don't hate you at all, Pete. I don't hate anybody. Honestly, I missed you on purpose. Well, I guess I nicked you a little bit," he admitted, squatting down and pulling a clean white handkerchief from his pocket. He tossed it over to Peter. "But I could've put a major hole in you. This one just stings, right?"
Peter closed his eyes and gritted his teeth, ignoring the handkerchief. He wondered how long he and Bradley had been hanging there, and how much longer Bradley would keep this up. For all practical purposes, Peter was a hostage, a position that didn't sit well with him. He would just close his eyes and rest for a minute, conserve his strength. Then if nobody turned up soon to help him out, he'd just have to deal with Bradley by himself.
Bradley watched the detective lace the fingers of his free hand into the chainlink and squeeze. That shot must have hurt more than Bradley thought it would. He stood back up and leaned his shoulder against the wall. He stared out at the empty air around them.
"Ever heard of a place called Pineridge?" he asked suddenly.
The question startled Peter's eyes open.
Bradley turned to him. "Well, have you?"
Peter nodded. "I lived there once, a long time ago."
Bradley looked at him and smiled, as if they were sharing a fond remembrance. "You did? Hey, that's some kind of coincidence, isn't it? Hell of a place, huh?"
Peter grimaced against the memory and the pain in his side.
"Well, anyway," Bradley went on. "A few of those Pineridge guys and I, sometimes we'd talk to each other, right? And I'm not talking any of that posturing shit, either. I mean real talking. Genuine stuff.
"We'd talk about the absolute stupidest things, like finding our parents and impossible shit like that. Not about going out and searching for them ourselves or anything. But like, if they actually put forth the effort to come and find us, we wouldn't've been against seeing them, you know?"
Peter stared back in silence. Bradley noticed something slightly raw in Peter's eyes, and he paused long enough to bend down and pull Peter's bloody hand away from his side. Bradley pressed his folded handkerchief against the wound, then placed Peter's hand back over it. Then he stood again and folded his arms across his chest. A line of thick black smeared from his hand onto his jacket sleeve.
"But then the craziest shit is, I grow up. I get out of there. I get a job, and a place, and I'm living my life. And I stumble across him!" Bradley threw his hands up and laughed. "Is that not one of the shit-ass craziest things you've ever heard in your entire fucking miserable life, Pete? I mean, I swear to god! Of all the places in all the world, you know?
"And you know how I knew it was him? It was the eyes. I mean, all this time alone in the world, and I'm walking down the street, and I see this guy who looks just like me! Can you even imagine that?"
Peter's eyes closed again.
"You wanna know what his license plate said? It was A-C-C-N-T-N-T. My father is an accountant." He chuckled and slid back down to a sitting position. "So I start thinking about all the things I could've learned from him. Like, he could've...he could've helped me prepare my taxes. Make sure I don't fuck 'em up and get screwed by the government. I...I could've asked him how I should invest my money, like do I go with stock or fucking bonds?"
He paused again and looked over at Peter, who was starting to go pale.
"You're not looking so hot over there."
"I'm fine," Peter muttered.
"Don't," Bradley said, holding up a finger. "Don't mistake my simple observation for concern." He frowned. "Those two kids..."
Peter gazed over at his captor. A sudden, desperate need to lash out consumed him and dulled his pain. The burning was replaced by a hollow, gnawing sensation in his stomach.
"They were my half brothers." Bradley smiled. "Can you imagine me, somebody's big brother?" The smile faded. "You think my father would be proud of me?"
"Are we talking before or after you shot him?" Peter asked venomously.
Bradley smiled again and blew out a puff of air. "Touche, man. Okay, before, I guess. I mean, I'm a fucking substitute teacher. I get paid 45 bucks a day to teach kids to dot their i's and cross their t's.
"Sometimes I'll assign them a short composition. I ask them to write me a page about why they love their parents. You know, like what do your parents do for you that you know you can't get anywhere else? But half the time they don't even do it. I'm a substitute. What am I gonna do, right? Instead, they sit there and read their little books. They write in their little notebooks, and they pass their little notes.
"What I want to know is, what's so all fire fucking hard about that assignment, Detective? I mean, they shouldn't have any kind of trouble with that whatsoever, you know? I just ask them to tell me something nice about their parents. But they don't get it. They...I just...I don't understand."
He took a deep breath and looked over at the cop. It was an open, honest gesture, and it caused Peter indescribable pain. Two days ago it was Scotty Thompson's tenth birthday. Two days ago, Peter yelled at his father. Peter had walked out on Caine, pushed Paul away. Fifteen years ago, the temple had burned. Both Peter and his father had perished. Three years later, Peter had found himself alive again in Paul Blaisdell's home. Scotty was dead. So was his father, mother and brother. Orin Bradley killed them, and Peter was next.
"I'm sorry," Peter mumbled, his eyes glazed over. "Why is this happening?"
Bradley furrowed his brow in confusion. "I don't know, Pete," he said. Then he leaned forward and glanced around at the emptiness, as if he were getting ready to divulge a heavy secret. He whispered, "I didn't go there planning to kill him."
Peter's eyes slid shut, and when he opened them again, they were very alert and very cold. "Then why did you take the gun?" he demanded quietly.
Bradley didn't know what to say. He stared at Peter for a moment, then stood up again and pulled out Peter's gun. "What? Like you've never killed anybody before?"
"In self-defense, Bradley. There's a big difference between what I do to people like you, and what you did to that family."
"You're a killer, cop!"
The sudden outburst made Peter jump.
"You're a killer. I'm a killer. And that makes us a lot alike, doesn't it? But you wanna know what makes us different? I'm gonna go down for it, and you're not. Now is that fair? Is that just? Is that right?" He paused, his breathing heavy and angry. "I'm gonna die tonight."
Peter slumped a little further against the wall. "They won't kill you."
Bradley laughed, and the cage swung. "What are you talking about?" he asked. "Do you even listen to yourself? Look at me! I've got a gun. I've got a cop. I've got a gun and a cop in a cage, and I shot you!" He sat down slowly and leaned his head wearily against the fencing.
"You grazed me," Peter muttered.
They were silent, staring at each other. Then Bradley cracked another smile.
"You're a cocky son of a bitch," he grinned. "I bet if you weren't scared shitless about being up here, you'd be bawling like a baby over that wound."
"How little you know me."
The smile faded again, lingering only at the very edges of Bradley's mouth. He sighed deeply, glancing around the large, empty room. He studied the walls and doors for a moment, then he reached over and put a firm hand on Peter's shoulder.
"I'm gonna let you go now," he said quietly, calmly. "I'm gonna get us both down, and then I'm gonna run." He pointed a finger in Peter's face. "But don't you shoot me, Caine. You let one of your buddies do that."
Peter closed his eyes. "No one has to die here, Bradley. You made a huge mistake, and you're going to jail, but you don't have to die in this place. You don't want to die here, and I don't want you to die here. Let's just do this right."
"Look, I know you can't understand this, Pete. But what you do, and what I did...well, to me, there's a very fine line between the two, if such a line exists at all. I mean, where you come from, and where I come from...well, we're both orphans. We do what he have to to survive. Another day, another time, and it could've been you in my place, and me in yours. You don't want to believe that, and I understand. You found a good path to follow." Bradley's eyes dulled a shade, and his shoulders slumped resignedly.
"But the man was your father," Peter whispered.
"Yeah, he was." Bradley handed Peter back his gun and looked the cop in the eye. "What does either of us understand about that?"
Jake Fisk leaned his forearm against the top of Paul's sedan and joined his captain in surveying the exterior of the power plant. He knew Caine and Skalany had followed Bradley inside the deserted building, but there was no telling their exact location or what was happening.
"Point of entry...that door over there," Fisk said, pointing. "City cut power to the building immediately after final shut down, but there's still a generator powering some emergency lighting and several safety and security functions."
"Any cameras or alarms?"
"So they could be anywhere."
Fisk nodded. "We've got fifteen units suited up and ready to go in, but we don't know what's going on in there. If they'd apprehended him, they would have already brought him out and reported in. Since they haven't, I feel like we've gotta assume either they haven't found him yet, or something's gone wrong. No further gunfire since we got here, but I don't think we'd hear it from our position even if there was."
Paul studied the building a moment longer, rubbing his thumb absently across his bottom lip. Then he pushed away from the car.
"Okay, we're going in. I want five units with me at this door, five on the east entrance with Roberts, and the rest with you on the north. Take a map and a headset and maintain radio contact. Let me know the minute you find any of them, and then wait for my order to proceed. He'll be expecting us, but there's no point in giving away our presence any earlier than we have to. What's Bradley's state of mind?"
"He's wound, Captain. I don't think he'd hesitate to take somebody out."
It wasn't what Paul wanted to hear. For the first time since they'd gotten there, he turned to Peter's father. He reached into the car and pulled out a hand-held radio. "Take this and wait here. You'll be able to monitor our progress--"
"I will accompany you," Caine said firmly.
Paul glared back. "Out of the question. You're a civilian, and this man is dangerous. Now, you've helped me before, and I'm grateful for that. But we have no idea what the situation is in there."
"Please," Caine said. "I must be there when you find my son."
Paul eyed the priest sternly, and a chill ran down his spine. Looking into Caine's eyes was eerily like looking into Peter's.
"Are you as stubborn as your son?" he asked finally.
Caine shrugged a shoulder and smiled slightly. "We prefer 'tenacious.'"
Paul shook his head. Why did he even bother? He already knew there was no stopping a Caine when that Caine had his mind made up.
"And here I thought he got that from me." Paul threw the radio back into the car and turned toward the deserted plant. "Okay, move out! Caine, you're with me."
Mary Margaret pulled back on the rope with both hands and pressed forward with her feet. She'd been at it for five minutes now and had almost worked up enough momentum. Her fingertips were only a foot away from touching the railing. Just a few more agonizingly slow swings, and she would be on the other side.
Finally, after three more tries, Mary Margaret felt the cool, smooth metal in her palm, and she clamped her fingers tightly around the rail. She let go of the cord and pulled herself up, then reached down and freed her foot from the loop. She brought both legs over and dropped lightly to the cement floor. She paused only a few seconds to catch her breath, then ran to the door and quietly, slowly pulled it open. She drew her gun, took a deep breath and threw herself into the hall.
Empty. Of course. What had she expected? For Peter to have left a bread crumb trail?
She hesitated for a moment, glancing down each direction of the dim corridor. The emergency bulb for this hallway was right above Mary Margaret's head, and either direction ran off into thick, uninviting shadows. Leave it to Peter to get lost in this mess.
Her heart was pounding, and her hands shook slightly from the adrenaline rush. Peter probably felt like this every minute of his day. She rolled her eyes. Yeah, and look where it got him.
Suddenly, above the muffled rumble of abandoned machinery, Mary Margaret thought she heard voices whispering. She slipped back into the room and stood poised with her shoulder pressed against the doorjamb, her gun raised so that the dark barrel nearly touched her flushed cheek.
The voices were getting nearer, but they were still too low to be understood or recognized. From the sound of careful footfalls, Mary Margaret could tell there was at least two of them, probably more. Bradley had no reason to move with such stealth, so maybe Fisk had finally gotten his ass in gear.
She took yet another deep breath, steeled herself, and flew around the corner, bringing her gun up with both hands.
Six weapons came up simultaneously, and somebody yelled out a desperate, "No!"
Mary Margaret quickly brought the gun back up near her cheek and searched the shadows. "Caine?"
Paul Blaisdell hurried into the light, followed by Peter's father and five officers from the 101st. He put his hands on Mary Margaret's shoulders as she reholstered her gun.
"Are you all right?"
Mary Margaret nodded briefly. "I'm fine, but Bradley's got Peter. I don't know where he took him. They could be anywhere by now."
"They are...this way."
Both Paul and Skalany turned to see Caine start moving down the hall again, back into the darkness. He walked cautiously, but quickly. His sandals made no sound as they hit the grimy cement floor.
"I'm good with numbers."
Peter was so tired. His anger was ebbing, and pity was slowly taking its place. Pity for the Thompsons, who never knew what hit them. Pity for Bradley, who was royally fucked up. Pity for himself, because he was who he was, and that didn't seem to satisfy anybody.
Poor Peter, son of Kwai Chang Caine, never good enough. Poor Peter, set ablaze in the temple, couldn't save anyone. Poor Peter, lost in that orphanage, and then found by one father, only to rediscover the other and lose himself again. It was a deep, relentless feeling of loss and abandonment. And it ached...and it ached.
"So maybe I could've been an accountant, too, instead of an English sub. You think--" Bradley turned to Peter and saw that his eyes were closed again. He kept doing that. "Pete? Hey, Pete. Hey, don't leave yet, cop."
Bradley reached over and rubbed at Peter's cheek.
"See, Pete, you know me now. I swear, you know more about me than...well, than anybody. That is so fucked up, but sometimes the truth's like that, you know? Sometimes the truth's just one big old, fucked up mess, isn't it? So don't go dying on me or anything like that." He chuckled. "I mean, at least Thompson had his family with him. That son of a bitch."
Bradley leaned back against the fence wall and sighed.
"Look, I just don't want to die alone, and you're the only one who knows anything about me. So if you could just hold off on passing out on me a little while longer, okay? Seriously, is that so much to ask?" He smiled bitterly. "God! I mean, after all, won't that be so fulfilling for you? Knowing I'm dead? Won't that give you such a great sense of closure? I mean, that's the whole reason people become cops, isn't it?
"People are going to deviate. You can't stop that. But you become a cop, and you get to chase them down, make sure they get what they've got coming.
"So being a cop's all about fucking revenge, right? You feel like you deserve some kind of consolation from this big, bad, cock-sucker world, don't you? I know you do. The way you see it, it's commit the crime, pay the price, everybody feels better. So you see me die, and you get your ultimate revenge on a killer, right?"
Peter opened his eyes again, sheer will power and anger the only things keeping him conscious.
"What I want from this world and what I think I deserve are none of your fucking business," he said coldly. "Neither are my reasons for becoming a cop.
"You have to pay for what you did, Bradley. But what I want from you are justice and retribution, not revenge. Revenge doesn't bring closure. It just puts you in a cycle."
Bradley eyed Peter skeptically. "Justice and retribution, huh, Detective?"
"Justice and retribution, asshole."
Bradley leaned forward. "Then allow me to let you in on a well-known fact, Pete. When you go to trial, you don't get justice. You get a verdict. You get revenge. And you're right. It is a cycle. And it just goes on and on, perpetuated by people like you and me."
"That's not true...that's..." Peter didn't know how much longer he could take this. Nothing either of them said made any sense anymore. His eyes slipped shut again, and his voice took on a plaintive tone. "You killed them, Bradley. What the hell do you want?"
Caine stopped before a set of thick double doors. He touched his fingertips to the metal and closed his eyes.
Paul waited a moment, watching the priest. Caine was very still, and it didn't look like he was going to move any time soon, so Paul waved over two officers and motioned for them to break in the door.
"Wait." Caine held up a hand.
"Are they in there?"
Caine turned to Paul and Mary Margaret, registered the tension in their eyes. "I sense much grief...and much pain," he said.
"Peter?" Paul wished to God Caine could just once speak at a normal speed. His own mind was racing, and Caine's deliberate pace only added more fuel to his growing anxiety.
"The killer is with him," Caine said, letting his palm press against the door. He closed his eyes again and let his hand slide slowly down the surface of the door. "They are both overwhelmed and confused. We must hurry. Both their lives are in great danger."
According to the map, the room beyond the double doors also opened out onto the parking lot on the west, and another corridor to the north. Paul held the mouthpiece close to his lips and ordered Fisk and Roberts into position. He glanced at his officers, then at Mary Margaret, who drew her gun and nodded her readiness. Then he turned back to Kwai Chang Caine.
"All right. On my signal. Three...two...one..."
Bradley watched Peter's head drop forward. He scooted closer to the cop, and the cage swung slightly. His handkerchief was soaked through and dark reddish black, so he pressed against the cloth with his fingers, trying to stop the incessant bleeding. He cringed sympathetically when Peter flinched at his touch. All the Thompsons together hadn't had this much blood! Or maybe he just hadn't stayed long enough to find out.
He didn't answer.
Bradley brought both hands up to Peter's cheeks, and his fingertips smeared blood over the cop's face. He froze for a moment. Then his hands started to shake.
"I'm sorry, Detective Caine," Bradley whispered, wiping bloody thumbprints away from Peter's cheeks as if the prints were tears. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Come on. Stand up, and I'll get us down from here. Can you stand?"
Bradley hauled Peter to his feet, and the cage started to swing more violently. With everything else going on, that was all Peter needed. He thought he was going to be sick. Bradley propped him against the corner of the cage, then went over to the gate and pulled out a metal peg that was keeping the gate locked.
"Now, remember what I told you, right?" Bradley said with a hand on Peter's chest, hoping the cop wasn't going to pitch forward. Although he thought Peter could probably stand on his own, Bradley was for some reason afraid to let go of him. "You got your gun back, but I don't want you to shoot."
"I won't shoot you," Peter insisted, slowly running a shaky, bloody hand through his hair. The anticipation of finally being on solid ground again made him feel a little stronger than he had a few moments before. "You know where I stand."
Bradley turned to face Peter and put his other hand on Peter's shoulder. He looked into the detective's eyes, searching for something. But it wasn't there, and Bradley suddenly regretted what he'd said about another day, another time. Peter Caine would never have strayed down Bradley's path. Bradley knew this now, and it scared the shit out of him. Somehow, sometime, he'd gone terribly wrong. He'd wrecked something, and he was going to pay for it.
"I'm so sorry," he repeated. His voice lost its urgency, and now he simply sounded tired and resigned. "I followed him home, Detective Caine. I went there for weeks, just watching to see when he left for work, when his family went out, when they all came back. I knew when they ate dinner, when they got the mail. I knew that at 8 o'clock they liked to sit in the family room and watch TV.
"Finally, I...I got angry. I mean, all this stuff was going on without me. You think he ever told his wife or those kids about me? You think he ever wondered what happened to me, what I was doing with my life, whether or not I had a family of my own? He left me. And he wasn't coming back, and I guess I just couldn't forgive him for that. I couldn't let it go.
"So one day I skipped work, and I took my gun over to the Thompsons' apartment. I knocked on the door, and he let me in, and you know what? I think he recognized me. But he didn't say anything. He just asked what I was selling. He said could I make it quick, because it was his son's birthday, and they were in the middle of celebrating.
"And that's when they all died, Detective Caine. I did that to them, and I did this to me. It's my fault I'm alone now. You'd think I'd be used to it by now, wouldn't you?" He smiled briefly and shook his head. "But you never get used to that. And it's my own fucking fault this is happening.
"Now you tell me," Bradley said, shaking his companion harshly, his voice suddenly hard and angry. "Could you forgive me for that, Detective Caine? Is that forgivable? You sure all you need is justice and retribution?" His hands were still clutching Peter's shoulders, and he pulled the cop close, so that his lips were right next to Peter's ear. "You saw what I did to them. Pretty gruesome, huh? Well, listen." He clamped a hand over Peter's mouth and shoved Peter's head back against the chainlink. "Do you hear it?"
Bradley waited a moment, and when Peter didn't answer, he grasped a wad of Peter's shirt in his other hand. "Do you?" he demanded. "It's that little kid! Just before I shot him, he yelled out, 'Father!' in this sorry little ten-year-old voice. And he was talking to my father, Detective Caine. Do you think if I ever called that out, that any fucking one would come to me? You ever tried it, Pete? Who ever comes when an orphan calls out 'Father?' Nobody, Detective. Nobody. Never.
"Well, I tell you, that's unforgivable! There's no consolation for that kind of fucking madness. And for that, Detective Caine, I want revenge. Yes, I put my hands in that little kid's blood." Bradley shook his head knowingly. "Just like right now you want to put yours in mine." He let go and stepped back, setting the cage rocking again. He lifted his arms from his sides, presenting himself as an open target. "Well, go ahead, Detective. You've got your gun back. And I know where you really stand, you son of a bitch, hypocrite cop. Go ahead and take your revenge. I did. I mean, Thompson and his family lying there...now that is justice," he said, thrusting a finger out towards Peter's chest. "And Pete, my friend, that is revenge!"
Bradley's last word echoed through the room and chilled Peter's blood.
Then everything was quiet except for the low rumble of the generator, and the creaking of the cords connecting the cage to the rafters as they swung back and forth.
Cold light from the broken window streamed across Peter's face, casting a pale yellow glow onto his blood-stained cheeks. His knees started to buckle; he'd had absolutely enough.
"You're wrong," Peter declared sadly, clutching the cage wall for support. His voice was so focused and steady that it carried across the empty room, into the cold walls, and up through the dingy windows. "Sometimes you have to wait a very long time. But if you call with enough conviction, someone will hear you. And they will come."
Suddenly, three sets of doors crashed open, spilling armed officers and thick streamers of light into the room. Bradley grabbed abruptly onto the front of Peter's shirt and flung him roughly towards the unlocked gate. Instinctively, Peter grasped onto the fence with both hands, sending Bradley off balance. The gate flew open, and as Bradley felt himself start to fall, he reached out and found Peter's wrist, wrenching the cop hard to the cage floor.
"Peter!" somebody yelled. One of his fathers.
"Don't shoot him!" Peter cried out breathlessly.
Bradley was still holding onto him, dangling forty feet off the cruel cement floor. Peter wrapped his hand around Bradley's wrist and held fast, his body pinned painfully against the fence. The whole cage tilted and dipped toward the men's combined weight.
"He has to get a fair trial." Desperation and complete exhaustion made Peter's voice break. "I promised him he wouldn't die here, Paul."
Nobody said anything. As a matter of fact, Peter couldn't even hear himself breathing anymore. He turned his head as far as he could and looked down through the fencing at Bradley.
He was such an unremarkable-looking person. Maybe they'd passed each other before on the street. Maybe they'd spoken to one another at the orphanage. Peter's mind raced to memorize the light brown of Bradley's short hair, the blue eyes set far apart on Bradley's face. He had a strong nose. A strong aquiline nose. Peter tried to imagine what Bradley must have looked like as a child, but all that would come to mind was little Scotty Thompson lying face down in his birthday cake.
Bradley's lips curved into a weary smile, and slowly, the pressure around Peter's wrist lessened, until Bradley wasn't holding on anymore. Peter watched helplessly as Bradley reached into his yellow jacket with his left hand, and it dawned on him vaguely that although he'd given back Peter's Beretta, Bradley still had his own weapon.
Then somebody screamed, "Gun!" and multiple shots rang out almost simultaneously.
Peter would never know exactly whose gun discharged when and whose bullet hit Bradley where, but he felt each impact as a distinct and brutal tug on his arm.
When it was over, Peter couldn't think. He couldn't move. The dead weight of Bradley's body had him crushed up against the chainlink wall, and his muscles trembled from the strain of holding on. The pain in his side flared with agonizing intensity, but he didn't let go. He couldn't let go. And for the life of him, he didn't know why not.
Kwai Chang Caine stepped forward into the light and gazed up at his son.
"I'm so sorry, Pop," Peter muttered softly, knowing his father would hear.
"I know," Caine replied soothingly. "Peter, you must let him go."
"My son...you must."
Finally, Peter released his grip.
A cold wind blew in from the parking lot, through the room and through the rafters. The cage swung. And Peter lay very still.
Mary Margaret sipped at her coffee, then gently replaced her cup on its saucer. She leaned forward with her elbows on the table edge, her fingers laced delicately beneath her chin, and smiled across the table at her date. A long white taper burned between them and slightly off to the side. The flame flickered and bobbed, reflected in Kwai Chang Caine's eyes as he watched her watching him.
"I know what you're thinking about."
Caine's head tilted slightly to the side, and a tender smile crossed his face. "I would never try to hide my thoughts or feelings from someone I trust," he said. "But please, tell me then. What is it that you sense?"
Mary Margaret looked earnestly into Caine's eyes. There was so much about him that she would never know, but one thing was very clear. "Not a second goes by that some part of you isn't thinking about him."
Caine shrugged a shoulder. "He is my son," he explained simply. "He is a part of me, and I cherish that. I love him."
Mary Margaret reached forward and took one of Caine's large hands in hers. She ran her thumb over his calloused palm, then folded her fingers in his. She gazed down at their hands for a moment, then looked back up at Caine.
"He's my partner, and I know him pretty well. I still believe not many things in this world make him happy." She squeezed Caine's hand. "But the love you have for him...the connection you share...well...that's one of those things that do."
Caine squeezed back and bowed his head slightly.
"Hey," Mary Margaret suggested, as they stood and Caine helped her with her coat. "Would you like to take a walk in the park? I know it's kind of chilly out, but it's beautiful at night."
"I would like that very much," Caine said, pulling on his own soft tan coat. "But may I...take a rain check? There is someone I must speak with tonight."
Mary Margaret nodded her understanding. She paused for a moment with her hands in her pockets. Then she chuckled and took Caine's arm.
"What is funny?" he asked, leading her out into the quiet night.
Mary Margaret stopped, turning to face her date. "Well...this." She put her hand in his again, looked up into his eyes and smiled mischievously. "I bet this drives him crazy, doesn't it?"
Caine laughed out loud and squeezed Mary Margaret's hand. "Ah. You do know my son."
Peter sat with one knee bent and the other leg extended out in front of him. He pressed his back up against the empty wall, and his right hand wrapped protectively around his bandaged torso. He absently rubbed through his t-shirt at the dull ache in his side where the bullet from his own gun had grazed him, while his left forearm rested on his updrawn knee. He stared across the narrow hallway at the yellow police tape hanging from the Thompsons' front door. The tape was already starting to fall off.
As a homicide detective, it was Peter's duty to apprehend the sickos who committed these horrible crimes. But everything in him felt there must be some way, something he could do, to prevent them from happening in the first place. Just putting people away--or worse, executing them in the name of the law--wasn't enough anymore. Mankind had already engaged itself in the cycle of revenge, and Bradley had been absolutely right: it was people like Orin Bradley and Detective Peter Caine who kept the cycle spinning at a wickedly terrifying pace. And it was people like the Thompsons who suffered.
Maybe Curtis Thompson might. Maybe his wife might. But those two kids would never know why they died that way, or who their killer was. Nor could they ever understand what pushed their killer to commit the act. And Bradley was right yet again: they would never be able to forgive.
People made promises, and people had regrets. Peter had promised Bradley that he wouldn't die in that old power plant. And Peter regretted having broken that promise. At the very least, Bradley hadn't died alone. He'd died with his hand gripping a gun, staring up into the eyes of the only man in the world who knew anything about him. Bradley didn't understand that being known couldn't save him. He didn't understand that he had to know himself.
Peter leaned his head back and closed his eyes. He was on medical leave from the precinct for the next two weeks, and he hadn't seen either of his fathers since leaving the hospital with white tape strapped tightly around his stomach and a bottle of pain pills for his trouble.
He didn't need the time off. He had bled a lot, and he had a bump on the back of his head, but nothing Bradley had done to him hurt more than sitting alone in that hallway across from the Thompsons' apartment. He could still hear the ghostly whisper of their last moments echoing through his mind.
He brought a hand up and pulled his fingers back through his hair. He let the hand rest there, clutching at a fistful dark brown curls. Then he sighed and let go, letting his arm fall back down to his side.
"You look like you're waiting for someone."
Peter looked up, and Paul Blaisdell smiled ruefully. He slowly bent down to sit next to his son. They were silent for a long time, watching the door. Then Paul said, "Manager's got someone coming to clean it out tomorrow morning. I guess the mother on the wife's side will be taking care of all their personal effects."
"None of them ever had a chance," Peter said, eyes not moving from the door. "That's what disappointment does to people."
"And what does it do to you?"
Peter looked over at his foster father, saw the genuine concern in his bright blue eyes. It was the same concern that had always been there, from the moment they came into each other's lives.
"It kicks my ass, Paul," he said honestly. He smiled sadly.
"I bet it does," Paul replied, turning back to the door.
The hall was silent for another few moments before Paul spoke again.
"You know you can say anything to me. If there's ever anything--anything at all--that you need, I'll always be here for you. I'll always be your friend, Peter."
Peter squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head slightly. Then he felt Paul's hand on his shoulder.
"Listen to me now," Paul said. Peter opened his eyes again and turned his head to face his captain. "No matter what happens, or who happens, I want you to understand. You will always--always--be my son."
"I know that, Paul," Peter said quietly. He smiled briefly, but the smile quickly faded away. "It's just...sometimes I'm afraid none of these emotions can ever be resolved. And the things Bradley said to me up there..."
Peter's face sort of crumbled for a second as he struggled for control, and the expression broke Paul's heart. No matter how old he got, or what he'd experienced, Peter would always have the face of a child.
"He didn't want me to shoot him, Paul. He saw in me the underlying need for revenge that I couldn't even see in myself. And it was like he was trying to save me the guilt. But I still feel guilty. For everything. For all of it."
It's my fault I'm alone now. You never get used to that.
"Your father came to the station tonight." Paul leaned his head back against the wall. "He's the one who told me where to find you. I asked him if he didn't want to come talk to you himself, but he said he knew you'd come to him when you were ready." He paused. "You've got time. You've both got time. He'll wait for you, son. Just let it happen."
"I let things happen to me all the time. Sometimes I feel like I've completely lost control."
"We all feel that way sometimes, kid." Paul sighed. "What would your father say to you right now? Something about a stick of incense...how you blow out the flame, yet the fire continues to burn."
Peter turned to his foster father and grinned. "That sounds like something he might say."
Paul smiled back. He'd known from the first time he saw Peter Caine that for the rest of his days, a part of him would always worry and fear for this kid's life. But Peter was brave. He was tough. And he would continue to burn strong.
"Of course," Peter went on thoughtfully, "he would've said it more eloquently."
"And it probably would've made a little more sense..."
Paul stood and held a sturdy hand out to his foster son.
"Were you waiting for someone, Peter?"
"I was. And I'm glad you came."