2007 FanQ Winner for Best Gen KF:TLC Story

Bolthole

A Kung Fu: The Legend Continues story by Susan M. M.

originally published in Chinook #4

"Sorry I'm late, Mom. Basketball practice ran late," the teenager yelled as he bounded into the house.

"Don't slam the door, Peter," Annie Blaisdell called from the living room. Her instructions came a second too late.

"Sorry, Mom."

The blind woman asked, "How was basketball practice?"

"Fine." Peter Caine walked into the living room and kissed his foster mother's cheek. He was a tall boy with brown hair and hazel eyes.

"And your algebra test?"

Peter didn't answer right away.

"Hope this isn't too tart," a stranger's voice said behind them.

Peter whirled. A black-haired man stood in the doorway, a drink in either hand. "Well, this must be Peter."

"Yeah," the teenager muttered.

"This is Peter Caine, our son," Annie introduced them. "Peter, this is Kermit Griffin, an old friend of the family."

Kermit carefully gave Annie the drink, then turned to shake hands with the teenager.

The dark-haired boy took the proffered hand awkwardly. He looked the stranger in the eye, or tried to. Kermit was wearing dark-tinted sunglasses. He was a muscular man, perhaps 5'9" or 5'10", with short-cropped black hair.

"Kermit? Like the frog?" Peter asked.

"No, Kermit like my uncle, Kermit Reilly." His tone of voice suggested he'd heard about the frog one too many times. Frowning, he turned to Annie. "One of these days I'm gonna sue Jim Henson for taking a perfectly good, albeit mildly obscure, Irish name and associating it in the world's mind with an artificial amphibian. There's a schoolteacher in Aberdeen named Ronald McDonald who wants to see McDonald's over their clown. Maybe we could get a class action suit going."

"The only people that would make happy would be the lawyers." Annie sipped her daiquiri. "No, not too tart."

Kermit sat down and took a sip of his own drink. "Oh, yeah. So, Pete, what grade are you in?"

"Tenth."

"Annie tells me you're on the basketball team."

"Yeah."

"So, how's school going?" He tried desperately to keep the conversation going.

"Okay."

"Do you have homework tonight?" Annie asked.

"Some math problems, and a chapter of history to read."

Annie couldn't see his shrug, but his noncommittal tone of voice didn't fool her. "What about your book report?"

"It's not due until next week."

"I don't want you copycatting your sister and waiting until Sunday night to start a report that's due Monday morning. Why don't you get started on your homework right away, as soon as you get the table set," she 'suggested.'

"Okay, Mom." He hurried out of the living room, seeming more grateful for the chance to escape than annoyed by the orders.

"Set six places, Peter. Mr. Griffin will be staying for dinner," Annie called out.

Peter stopped at the doorway, turned, and stared at Kermit. He tried to look the stranger in the eye, but the dark glasses hid Kermit's gaze. Without another word, he left the room.

"Loquacious," Kermit observed dryly after a moment.

"He's shy with strangers," Annie defended her foster son.

"I don't think he trusts me," Kermit continued.

"I'm afraid life in the orphanage didn't leave him very trusting," she replied.

"I thought Paul said he grew up in some kind of monastery?"

Quietly, Annie explained Peter's background.

*********

Dinner was a noisy, joyful occasion. Paul was delighted to see his old colleague again. Everyone was talking, eating, laughing … except Peter.

"So how was London?" Police Lieutenant Paul Blaisdell asked.

"Scaffolds everywhere. Seems like the whole city is in the process of being refurbished. Half the town was built by Sir Christopher Wren, and the other half is being rebuilt by Sir Robert McAlpine," Kermit joked.

"Sir Who and Sir What?" asked Kelly Blaisdell.

"Christopher Wren was a 17th century architect," her father explained. "He designed St. Paul's Cathedral, and a lot of other famous buildings."

"And Sir Robert McAlpine owns a major contracting firm. You see his name up on signs everywhere for renovation and construction work," Kermit added. "As far as I'm concerned, the smell of London is concrete dust. Concrete dust from the construction, and diesel fumes from the buses."

"Red double-decker buses?" Kelly asked.

"Oh, yeah," Kermit confirmed. "And the noise! Busy city, very crowded. Always something going on. In Kensington Park, I saw a man copying 15th century Dutch paintings on the sidewalk in colored chalk. And there was a street musician playing a violin next to Westminster Abbey. He was horrible! Sounded worse than Jack Benny on the old radio shows."

Paul flashed a smile at his friend, grateful that he'd described London's smells and sounds in addition to its sights, so Annie wouldn't be left out of the conversation.

"Did you see the queen?" Caroline asked.

"Yes, and I frightened a little mouse under her chair," Kermit teased.

Annie turned toward her foster son. She couldn't hear his fork scraping against the plate. "Peter, is something wrong? You're not eating."

"Nothing's wrong," he muttered. Peter tried not to blush. It was impossible to try and get anything past Annie Blaisdell; her ears were sharper than most people's eyes.

Kelly and Caroline plied Kermit with questions about London. Paul and Annie tried to draw Peter into the conversation. So did Kermit, once he saw what they were doing. But the boy answered only in monosyllables, and asked to be excused as soon as he finished eating, not even asking for a second helping of spaghetti.

*********

After dinner, Annie took care of the dishes while the children did their homework. Kermit and Paul retired to the living room for some masculine conversation.

"Hope I didn't make things uncomfortable for Peter. He doesn't seem to like me," Kermit observed. He normally got on well with young people.

"It's not you," Paul told him. "He's uncomfortable with strangers, but he seems even more awkward with anything family-oriented: old family friends, visiting cousins, anything beyond Annie and the girls and me. He just needs time."

"I could use some time myself. I am so tired."

"Anything in particular?" Paul held up the whiskey bottle in silent inquiry.

Kermit shook his head. "Mostly I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired. I'm tired of shooting people, and I'm tired of being shot at. I'm tired of stealing secrets. I'm tired of doing the dirty work that Washington claims the good guys don't do, and I'm sick of being underpaid for it. I could make a lot more money if I offered my skills to the highest bidder."

"You've got too much self-respect to do that," Paul said.

Kermit sighed. "You know what I really hate? Turning on the TV, seeing a Mission: Impossible rerun, and knowing Leonard Nimoy doesn't look a thing like me."

Paul shrugged. "Peter Graves doesn't look that much like me. Don't worry about it. There's only a handful of people in the world who know that show is about us."

"I've had enough, Paul. I want out. I need to rest, to get away from people trying to kill me." He added in a half-whisper, "And to get away from killing people."

"I've got a cabin in the mountains. You and Peter and I could go up for a guys only weekend, fishing or hunting."

Kermit shook his head. "No hunting. I've had enough shooting for a while."

"If you just wanted to catch your breath and get your bearings, you could borrow the cabin, for as long as you needed it."

"That's a temporary solution. I want out, Paul, out of this while dirty game completely. I'm like Kerr Avon; I need a bolthole."

"A bolthole?"

"Someplace to hide, somewhere the KGB won't shoot at me. Somewhere the CIA won't shoot at me."

"The cabin is available for as long as you need it."

"That's okay for a weekend, for a month even, but it's not a permanent solution. I need out," Kermit repeated.

Paul leaned forward in his chair and looked at his old friend. "Are you serious?"

"Yes."

"Have you thought about doing what Blake and I did? Joining the police force?" Paul asked. "A lot of your skills would be useful."

"I'm a little too old to go to the police academy."

"Who said you had to? We hire you as a civilian consultant, as a computer expert. Your programming skills are every bit as good as your marksmanship. You could hide in the bureaucracy. Believe me, anything – or anyone – could get lost in our red tape. Then later, if you wanted, simply request an in-house transfer to the detective division. I could use you by my side again." Paul took another sip of his whiskey.

"That's generally more than just an in-house transfer," Kermit pointed out.

"Not if you're the one programming the computer," Paul suggested innocently. He added, "Sloanville's a lot quieter than Beirut. The winters here are cold, but not nearly as cold as in the mountains of Afghanistan. And summer here isn't as hot as in Zaire."

Kermit said nothing, thinking it over.