Warning: Unconsummated incestuous m/m interest.
If you've seen "Time Lock" with Jeff Meek playing Villum, you have some idea where Cousin Caleb erupted from.
If you enjoyed it, read on. If not, "turn back now! For to continue will lead you to your dooooooooom." thanks guys. Dragon sends the doomsayers back to the Labyrinth with a gift for Jarreth, the Goblin King
If you haven't seen TimeLock, Jeff Meek's character is somewhat disquieting to begin with, he gets stranger when taken in conjunction with the estimable Raven-san.
Disclaimer: Jonathan Raven and Herman "Ski" Jablonski and Big Kahuna (BK) are the brainchildren of Frank Lupo and his production company. Hawaii, New Orleans and Angola Penitentiary are semi natural phenomena and may be used without permission. Aaron Acton and Caleb Moorecock are dragon's and belong in classes by themselves (and will be as soon as we get them enrolled)
Time: The Present
Place: Mythical, mystical NOLA
Synopsis: Jonathan Raven leaves Hawaii and his relatively faithful sidekick, journeys to New Orleans, LA and discovers that there are family ties and – er – family ties.
The Acton Legacy
Aaron Beauregard Acton had died in the prison at Angola, Louisiana. He had been in and out of prisons most of his life. His had been a violent life, punctuated by periods of loneliness, self doubt and deep depression. It was over. He left behind very little for a life that had spanned 60 years. He had no grieving widow, no woman who had cared for him and no child of his creation. His life had touched very few who had survived him.
He had made out a will the last time he had been free. He knew his sister's child was still alive, although he did not know exactly where he was. He knew the young man had left Japan, that he had made a life for himself and that he was a man of intriguing talents. He felt there was a tie between them. He wanted to leave the man something to tie him to his family, even if it was a very tenuous attachment.
Aaron Acton had very little to show for his life. He had won and lost several fortunes. He had been in and out of prison. He could kill with ease and had an explosive temper for a man of slender and breakable build. He had learned martial arts skills from a dozen styles, creating his own fluid and deadly style from what he had learned. And he knew about the family that the boy had lost.
He rented a lock box at a local bank and put his treasures away in it. He chose each one carefully, with an eye toward knowledge and emotional impact. Then he closed the deep, long box, locked it and requested that the guard take it and put it away. He paid for ten years of rental with crisp, new one hundred dollar bills.
"Just family things," he told the woman who gave him the receipt for his rent. "But things I want someone to have. And it may take a while to locate him." He'd smiled at her, yet his eyes never seemed to warm.
Six years later, she saw his picture in the newspaper. An obituary for a hardened criminal. Died in prison, stabbed 16 times by a fellow inmate. How horrible. And then she got to thinking about where she'd seen him. Should she contact the prison and let them know about the box? No. Best just to let things go. Four more years and, if she was still at the bank, she could find out what was in his box.
Four months before the rent was due to run out on Aaron Acton's lock box, a letter was delivered to his sole heir. Jonathan Raven, recovering from a virulent bout of influenza, received a letter from a fine old law firm in New Orleans advising him of his inheritance. With the letter came a lock box key, with a number on it and a bank name.
New Orleans. Hot, steamy, muggy. Not unlike Hawaii in mid summer. Jonathan stood up, stretched and retrieved his carry on bag from the overhead compartment before exiting the plane. He hadn't been out of Hawaii in years. He put on his sunglasses, and walked out of the terminal looking for a cab. There were several to chose from. He hailed one, got in, requested transport to the Marriott Hotel and sat back to endure the drive.
Half an hour later, he was deposited at the front of the towering hotel. He looked up at the glass tower and shook his head. He walked to the front desk, removing his sunglasses and inquired about his room. If the look the woman on the front desk gave him was surprising, he didn't show it. She confirmed his reservation, requested that he sign in and handed him a key.
"Enjoy your stay, Mr. – Raven."
The pause before his name brought his dark gaze back to rest on the pleasant faced blonde behind the counter, but she was engaged with the next customer and didn't seem to notice. With a frown, he entered the elevator. He checked the number on the key. Odd, the woman had not confirmed his room number to him. The key was unnumbered. He turned it over. Penthouse. That was all it said. He looked at the number pad in front of him and pushed the top floor button. That was usually where they kept the penthouse if there was one.
The elevator filled and emptied on the way up, leaving him alone when he reached the top floor. The doors opened onto a nicely appointed foyer. He stepped out. There had to be a mistake. The key opened the doors to the penthouse suite. Enough was enough.
He picked up the phone and called the desk.
"Desk? Yes, this is Jonathan Raven. I seem to have gotten the penthouse suite by mistake. – What? – No mistake? – I did not – This is the only room available. – At regular rates – Thank you."
He replaced the receiver in its cradle with a thoughtful look. Somehow, he doubted that a hotel as large and busy as the Marriott in New Orleans would be over booked. Something was wrong here. Very wrong. He sensed a mystery. He sat on his instant reaction. No. He was here to open a box, get the contents and go home. And that was all he was going to do. All.
He felt tired after the long plane ride. He chose one of the bedrooms off the main living area and lay down for a few moments. It was dark when he opened his eyes again. He cursed himself for being a fool. He'd wasted the afternoon when he should have been opening the lock box so he could go home. Damn.
He called the front desk and asked about the restaurant. Then he asked about Japanese restaurants in the area and got a response that pleased him. He would go out. He washed and changed into his other shirt and pants. He'd have to pick up something off the rack tomorrow to look presentable.
There was a knock at the door. Jonathan froze for a moment, regarding the door with suspicion. Dammit, no one knew he was here. Except Ski, of course. He opened the door, expecting anything – except the busboy delivering a suit. The clean cut, scrubbed looking young man breezed in, hung the suit up and breezed out again with a cheery nod. He'd apparently left the elevator waiting since he sped into it and was soon out of site behind its closing doors.
Jonathan closed the door and walked over to examine the suit. Evening tux. His size. Apparently freshly pressed and ready to wear. Since he was already wearing a silk button down shirt, the suit slid on with ease. It was exactly right. The thought disturbed him. He looked for a card. A maker's tag. Anything. Nothing.
He loaded the usual items into his pockets and went downstairs. Maybe someone with an explanation would present him or her self. Instead, the mystery deepened. The doorman opened the door for him and the valet handed him a set of car keys, apparently to the little red Porsche demon parked directly out front. Neither seemed inclined to request a gratuity for the service. He stepped into the car and inserted the key in the ignition. The engine growled to life. Well, best not to disappoint any onlookers. He put the car in gear and pulled into traffic.
Instead of going to eat, he headed for the lake front where he could park and think. He pulled off Lakeshore Drive into an unoccupied parking area and searched the Porsche. The car was registered to the Marriott Hotel. The insurance was in the name of the hotel. The gun in the glove compartment didn't have a registration with it. He closed the glove compartment. The rest of the car was spotless. The trunk was as anonymous as the interior.
What the hell?
He called the restaurant and got directions on how to get there. The place was popular, but not so popular he couldn't get in. He parked the Porsche, walked in and waited to be seated. It was more Americanized than his tastes usually appreciated, but the food smelled right, and from what he could see, he would not be disappointed.
"Good evening," a petite woman in a black gown greeted him. Her accent hinted of the orient, her skin was flawless, her dark eyes rimmed in black to accentuate their elongated shape. She smiled at him, her teeth pale pearls behind carmined lips. Not quite geisha, but close. There was a flicker of recognition in her eyes, then it was gone. "One?"
He was promptly seated at what he surmised was a recognized table. She was sharp, efficient and gone. The waiter appeared almost immediately. He took the order without offering comment or guidance. He reappeared with a wine list. There were several items on it popular with the American public and a small number with appeal to the connoisseur. He chose one of the latter and green tea.
Dinner was excellent. It took a little longer than other orders, but was well worth the wait. He observed as he savored a taste of – childhood. There were several Japanese families, and quite a number of well dressed middle class families, a couple of "cool" younger couples and a sprinkling of military or retired military types. He got a feeling he was being observed himself and realized it was the serving crew of the restaurant. He smiled at the hostess and was surprised when she dropped her eyes and turned away. What was going on here?
He decided to indulge in the nightlife offered by the famous French Quarter and found it much tamer than he had thought. There were a lot of people out on Bourbon Street. There were the highly advertised strip clubs and bars, but the gaiety seemed forced and innocent at the same time. He walked down to the French Market and was disappointed to find it had been renovated since he had last been there. The Café du Monde still served French style donuts and coffee, but the Morning Call with its intriguing décor of cypress knees and mirrors had disappeared – or maybe had never been more than a figment of Ski's liquor soaked imagination.
He walked along the river front and then reclaimed his car and went back to the hotel. He found he still tired easily after his bout of flu. He retired for the night.
After an hours meditation and a quick work out to remove any kinks, he washed, dressed, ate breakfast in the restaurant and took the Porsche for a quick spin over to the offices of the lawyers to see what he could find out. He presented his contact letter and asked to see the man who had signed it.
The secretary seemed flustered and asked him to sit and wait. She walked back into the wood paneled halls and returned with a small, very red haired young woman in wire rimmed glasses.
"I'm Court Merriwether. I understand you have a question about your inheritance."
It had not occurred to him that Court might not be male. He rose to his feet with a smile, towering over the diminutive woman. She shook his hand firmly and led him back to her office. The office was cluttered, but not offensively so. Most of the items were books, files and one photograph. She gestured for him to sit down.
"What can I do for you?"
"You sent this letter? With the key?"
"Yes. I believe it was pretty much self explanatory. Mr. Acton's will was very specific. The contents of the Lock Box a the Hibernia National Bank was to be given to Jonathan Raven. It took a while to locate you. But the box is still there. I believe it's paid up through - " she referred to a slender file. "The end of this year."
"Any idea what's in it?"
"No. Mr. Acton did not bring the box in, or the items it contains."
"How did he die?"
"You don't know? As next of kin –"
"Next of kin?"
She sat back in the leather covered chair and regarded him solemnly. The chair creaked. "You weren't aware of the relationship?"
"I was orphaned, out of the country. I was not aware of any family left."
"Oh. Dear. I am sorry."
"It's all right. I just don't know anything about this Mr. Acton."
"Well. Aaron Beauregard Acton was – well, he was a career criminal – of sorts. He spent more time in prison between his 21st birthday and his death than he did out."
"How old -?"
She referred to the file again. "Mr. Acton was 52 when he made this will. He was 60 when he died."
"He was stabbed in the kidneys and back, multiple times, during a prison confrontation." She frowned at the file. "Odd."
"Oh, nothing, really – just –" She looked at Jonathan for a few moments as though struggling against her judgment. "Somehow, he didn't strike me as the sort of man to get caught – off guard?"
"No. That would seem odd for a man who had spent so much time in prison. Maybe he had enemies."
"Probably. He certainly didn't seem to lack for them outside of prison. Three murder convictions."
"Yes. He couldn't seem *not* to take umbrage at people. And the law takes a very dim view of that sort of thing."
"Yes, it does. Children?"
"None. No family aside from you."
"Well, I suppose I should go check out the box."
"Yes. Why don't I take you over. I can vouch for your reality and legal claim to the box."
He stopped in the doorway on the way out. "How long ago did he make this will?"
"Ten years ago. We've been looking for you for a while."
He turned back to look into he greenish eyes. Ten years. Ten years ago this stranger had known they were related. Why hadn't he made himself known? Because he was a jailbird? Because he assumed that Jonathan would not want to know him? Was he truly that hard to an outsider?
They took his car, with Court giving directions. Miraculously, a parking space opened up for them. She took him in, introduced him to the bank officer he needed to deal with and did a fast fade. After about half an hour, he was alone, in the lock box room, with the box. He opened it with a feeling of trepidation. What would he find in here?
For a large box, it was not very full. A family album. A package of loose photos. An old fashioned, leather bound diary. A thick sheaf of envelopes, sealed, held by an ancient, dried out rubber band that broke immediately. He picked up the few he dropped and realized they were addressed to him. Jonathan Raven was written in elegant script on the front of each of them. There was a space for the address and then Japan written below. He checked the rest of them. Half a dozen had Japan written on them. Most of the rest just had his name. The last one had his address in Hawaii. Why had they languished here? Why had he not sent them?
He set the envelopes aside and pulled out a pass book. He opened it. A Swiss numbered account, with password. And a balance 10 years ago of ten million dollars. The man had that kind of money, yet went to prison for murder. Jonathan frowned at that. He knew money could buy a man out of things. He set the passbook aside.
A velvet bag held a gold pocket watch. He opened it. The faded picture of a handsome, dark haired woman gazed out at him. There was an inscription: Jonas Acton, Always Beloved, Jenny. The date was 1894. Carefully, he twisted the stem of the watch three times. It ticked. He stood and stared at it for a long time. He held a piece of history in his hands. He held a piece of his family, his bloodline. He was warmed and chilled at the same time. He slid the timepiece back into the bag and into his pocket.
There were half a dozen newspaper clippings from Japanese newspapers about the murder of his parents. Most were small and downplayed the crime scene, but they rolled in the memories. He started to drop the clippings into a waste can and stopped. He had nothing but memories of his parents. There were no tangible remains, nothing to keep his memories green, nothing to share with Hikari when he found him. He laid the newspapers on top of the small pile next to the box.
It seemed empty then. He put his hand in and checked the very back of the box. There was a box. It was about the size of a hand gun. He pulled it out. It was about the heft of a hand gun also. He opened it. There was a swatch of velvet inside, black velvet. He pulled a corner back. It was a gun. An old .38 automatic. He looked at it curiously, and decided against picking it up. He put the top back on the box. That was everything.
He put the items retrieved into his carry on bag and returned the box and key to the woman who handled the lock box desk. He smiled at her. She smiled back, but thought he would look nicer if the smile reached his eyes. He looked troubled.
Court was waiting for him outside. "Hi."
"I'm sorry. I wouldn't have taken so long if I'd realized you were waiting."
"Well, I wasn't going to wait, but I hate to pass up another ride in your Porsche," she told him with a laugh. "A weakness for fast cars –"
"And loose men?"
She laughed again, whole heartedly. "Wild, wild men," she countered. "And I already have one of those."
"Married?" He didn't recall a ring on her hand.
"Very. 10 years." She caught his glance at her bare left hand. "No rings. We eschewed the commonality."
"Makes life interesting."
"Very. Sometimes. May I?" she hesitated before opening the passenger side door.
He left her at the door of her office building with a wave and a thank you. He drove back to the hotel and went to his room. Once there, he pulled out his inheritance. He looked at the letters, but decided to save them. He started with the journal. It was his grandmother's. He read about his mother, her courtship and her wedding. It ended soon afterwards. It was fascinating to see his mother through someone else's eyes, to see her as a young adult and not as the woman he knew.
The he went through the small album. The first pictures were early Daguerreotypes. He felt himself feeling awe at the age they represented. These were people who were connected to him, people he had not met, had never heard about – that he remembered – but who were family. There were select photos down the century. He stopped and stared at one family photo. His mother, a youth and their parents. It wasn't a very good snapshot. The boy's face was shadowed. He turned the page. Graduation pictures. His mother looking young, lovely, on the edge of her life. The boy – he recognized. The long narrow eyes, the mouth, the attitude. This was Aaron Acton, his uncle.
There was a slyness in the tilt of the head, the look in the eyes. Yet he was a pleasant looking young man, fine boned, almost bordering on effeminate, yet – he could sense the steel beneath. The facing page held a generational picture, grandparents, parents and a baby. His mother and father he recognized. The baby had to be himself. And off to one side, Aaron. He stared at the picture for several minutes. What was that intent look on his uncle's face?
He turned the page and got a shock. A candid shot of Aki, taken from a distance. It had been taken during her pregnancy, late in the nine months. She was looking down, her balance slightly off due to the weight she carried before her. His Aki. God, what he had missed. The facing page was heart stopping. A baby. Black hair sticking out at angles, eyes squinched shut, mouth open to holler, little hands clenched tight in fists. The baby lay on a receiving blanket, naked. A boy. And a birthmark very prominent on one side.
Hikari. He mouthed the name in silence, his sight blurred with tears. Here was proof. Hikari had been born, had existed. His son. Where the hell had Acton gotten this photo? He sniffed, wiped his eyes on the back of his hand and stared at the picture. His son. Aki's letter had given him a hazy form, an idea, a concept. This was concrete. This was the child the two of them had made, that she had shielded, that she had died so soon after giving life and sending away. He lifted the photo away from the page, sliding it out of the prosaic paper corners that held it.
A birth date. His mother's name. Nothing else. He put it back and closed the album. His mind reeled. Somehow, Acton had been in Japan. Or had he? He needed to think, to focus, to center. He sat on the floor, folding his long legs into the familiar stance, clearing his mind, entering the near trances state of meditation he had practiced for so long.
It was dark when he felt he could face more revelations.
He picked the passbook. He had brought a laptop computer with him, a gift a year earlier from Ski. He plugged the modem into the phone jack and opened the programs he needed. He checked the account number. It was still valid. He used the password and checked the account. It had grown over the last decade. There were quarterly deposits of interest to the account from somewhere else that kept it active. Even with some of his more expensive tastes, the total would keep Jonathan comfortably for a very long time. He transferred a portion of the total to his own account.
He was hungry. He went down to the restaurant, ordered at random and ate with his mind entirely somewhere else. He walked back into the lobby, not quite ready to return to his room, but not certain what else he wanted to do either. He heard a voice.
"If I had the key, would I be asking for it?" The elongated vowels of a soft southern drawl were edged with anger.
Jonathan looked around. Shock. Standing at the desk was a tall, dark haired man in an impeccably tailored suit. His profile was arresting because Jonathan knew that profile. It was his own. Fascinated, he stood in the shadow of a support column and watched.
"No, sir," the flustered desk clerk answered the question, wanting to be anywhere except pinned under the glittering dark stare of the man before her. "But – it's not here and the reservation is for yesterday. The key was picked up then."
"Reservation?" The man sounded as though he didn't know the meaning of the word as applied to him.
"Yes, sir. Reservation. For one. Jonathan Raven."
"Is my name Jonathan Raven?" he asked, as though speaking to a very backward small child.
"No, sir. But – but – "
"But mine is."
He turned, slowly, to face Jonathan. Recognition flickered in the dark eyes which then traveled down and up before stopping to stare into Jonathan's equally dark eyes. His hair was shorter, more sculpted. His mouth had a slightly more cruel look to it. And his eyes were hard, dark, glittering things under arched dark brows.
"Are you, indeed?" Caleb Acton Moorecock was not pleased by the advent of this doppelganger into his life. He lounged back against the desk sizing up his double.
"Yes. I was surprised when I got the penthouse suite instead of the room I had reserved."
"Ah. And did you – point out the error of their ways to the personnel on duty?"
"I was – assured that the room was correct." Now he understood the odd emphasis on his name the day before. "I suspect the error was – expectable."
"Indeed. And do you have the key?"
Caleb held out one well manicured hand in something between request and demand of what was his right and due.
"Why don't *we* go up. I have some things I need to retrieve," Jonathan suggested softly. The arrogance of the other man was grating on his nerves.
"Ah, luggage." Caleb looked around at the desk attendant. "Bell boy?"
"Yes, sir. Right away, sir."
"That – won't be necessary." He met the dangerous gaze. "I didn't bring much."
Caleb seemed to relax. "But I did. Very well." He turned his attention back to the desk. "Have my usual sent up," he told her softly, letting his eyes run over her in a way calculated to make her squirm. He turned to Jonathan with a smile and they walked to the elevator.
The journey to the penthouse was made in silence. Caleb affected to ignore his companion while Jonathan tried to size the other man up. He seemed a set of contradictions. His apparent nonchalance overlay a core of intense energy. Jonathan's steady gaze was getting to him. He stepped out of the elevator first, forcing Jonathan to walk past him to open the door.
Both made a swift, instinctive survey of the open living area. Caleb's eye fell on the photo album sitting on the coffee table. "How sentimental."
Jonathan smiled. "An inheritance."
"Inheritance?" Caleb stepped over to the table to look down. "Not much of an *inheritance*. Unless you're into genealogy, of course." He flipped through the pages carelessly, almost missing the graduation pictures. He stopped on those, his face becoming frozen. "Well, well, well. Aaron Beauregard Acton." There was a sinister tone to his recognition. He closed the album and looked up at Jonathan.
Jonathan recognized pure hatred in a look, after all, he'd seen it frequently enough in his own eyes while he was growing up. And he saw it in the eyes of every Black Dragon he'd killed since exacting his revenge. He braced for the attack.
Caleb sauntered around the end of a couch, putting distance between them. "So. Another whelp to add to the mix. Only, he seems to have known about you."
"My mother's brother."
Caleb stopped. He considered this. "*Uncle* Aaron." He smiled. "Bastard," he said pleasantly. Jonathan wasn't certain whether he meant Aaron or himself. "Well, you seem to have done well. I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised. The man was not inclined toward – respons – ability."
A cursory knock at the door heralded the arrival of Caleb's luggage. The door opened and the luggage was brought in on a rolling cart. "Your usual room, Mr. Moorecock?"
Caleb looked long suffering and nodded. "You'd think they had the hang of it by this time."
"Uh – yes." Jonathan was relieved when the luggage disappeared into a room he wasn't occupying.
Silence reigned while bags were stored and the bell boy left. It was broken by a second knock.
The door opened and a cart was wheeled in. Dinner, under warming lids. The waiter wheeled it over to the dining table and began setting up. He offered the wine for inspection. Caleb nodded.
"You'll join me in a glass of wine?" The look was a derisive challenge.
The waiter indicated that set up was done by standing patiently behind one chair. Caleb sat down in the chair. The waiter pulled out the opposing one for Jonathan and waited until he was seated before pulling the covers off the plates. He waited a moment for Caleb's inspection, poured the first glass of wine and left. Jonathan's glass remained empty for the moment.
Dinner was interesting. Caviar, shrimp remoulade, Thinly sliced steak in a sauce Jonathan did not recognize, and a salad. The only bread was the thinly sliced toast triangles for the caviar. The wine was deep and red with a purple hue. Caleb swirled it around the bubble goblet and smelled it. He looked satisfied.
Jonathan didn't quite know what prompted him to accept. The wine was rich, full bodied and a touch bitter. He didn't recognize it. It lay somewhere between a beajolais and a burgundy. And he wasn't quite certain where.
"Bayou Red. The wine. A group of Cajun boys got together and created a concord grape that will tolerate swamp growth. Ten years ago, they got the first crop that tasted like anything and made wine out of it. This is from the third year's pressing. The bitter is the swamp."
"No. I backed them for two years. I get a couple of cases every year for personal use. It goes with Steak la Belle."
"I was going to ask."
"Don't." Their gazes met again. "I guarantee it would not charm you." He smiled, the even white teeth glazed with a touch of brick color from the sauce. He licked it away, slowly, his eyes locked on his guest.
Jonathan sipped his wine. Silence, again. He should be packing, be leaving this strange alternate version of himself. Yet he found it hard to tear his eyes away from him. "You have a name?" he finally asked.
"Caleb. Caleb Moorecock." He loved the strange play of fate that had blessed him with that name.
Again, that charge of almost electricity that passed between them when their eyes met. He took another sip of wine. "You *always* get the penthouse?"
"Because I deserve it."
"Deserve? Not afford?"
He laughed and downed most of his glass of wine, refilled it and went back to finishing off his dinner. "Because one can afford the best, does not mean one deserves it," he pointed out. "I can *afford* a wife and child of my own, but that doesn't mean I've earned the right to have them, that I *de-serve* them.'
"Or that you even want them," Jonathan observed with a sigh, wondering where this was going.
"Very true. You are a true observer of the human condition, I can tell. Who knows, I may decide to like you."
"Honored, I'm sure," Jonathan shot back wryly, the last thing he wanted was to be liked by this fool. He missed the snap and glitter in the man's eyes, the sudden shift to bordering madness.
"Tell you what. I'm going to be out most of the night. Why don't you stay, and find another place tomorrow."
"I'm leaving tomorrow."
"All the better then. You stay here, use the bedroom you've been using, and we will part tomorrow, having barely gotten to know each other. And probably wishing we hadn't met at all."
Suddenly still dark eyes met hard and glittering ones. Jonathan could see the touch of madness there. He felt a slight chill. He'd lock his door tonight. No sense in encouraging the fool. He rose from the table, his wine half finished, and went to gather up his belongings. He neatly repacked them into the carry on, saving the gun for last.
He pulled it out of the box to check the clip. He expected it to be old and rusty. It was surprisingly clean. He stilled as the other loomed up over him, glass in hand. He looked up into an unreadable mask. Caleb's eyes were fixed on the gun.
"He left you that?"
"Yes," came the wary answer.
"Odd. We all thought he'd gotten rid of it."
Caleb turned one of those brittle, glittering smiles on him. "I suspect that's the gun he killed Madison with."
"Harper Madison. Story goes Aaron was seeing Harper's sister Angelique. She was a beauty, I hear. Harper didn't care for Aaron. Seems he was right. One night, Aaron walked into Harper's house and blew his brains out with a .38 automatic. Then he ran into the swamps. Took six months to catch him. Gun was never found. The law thought he'd thrown it in the swamp. Guess he didn't."
"Why did he kill Harper?"
"He *said* the fellow was ugly, which he was, and that he was evil. Beau Acton said he needed removing from the Earth. And that's all he ever said."
"What about his sister?"
Caleb's smile broadened. "Well, Angelique left town before the shooting. She came back two years later, with a little girl who looked just like her, and maybe Beau Acton, maybe somebody else. He never acknowledged the child and Angelique *said* she got married, had a baby and divorced the father before coming home."
"Isn't it?" He checked the watch he wore, a gold Rollex by the look of it. "My, look at the time. I really must be going." He set the glass down on the table next to the stack of letters Jonathan had yet to open. "Enjoy your evening."
He walked into the bedroom where his luggage was stowed and closed the door. Jonathan relaxed, then chided himself mentally for being so tense around the fellow. / Uh, huh. And since when are you not tense around predators. / He finished packing up his inheritance and stood up. He looked at the glass of wine he had not finished. He went over, picked it up, sniffed at it and finished the glass in one gulp. It was an intriguing vintage.
He was already behind the locked door of his own room when Caleb came out, dressed for the evening in black. Boots, trousers, turtleneck shirt, leather vest and leather coat. He looked supremely sinister. Jonathan might have noticed he was carrying weapons as well. He left the penthouse and went out into the night on foot.
Jonathan lay down on the bed, listening. He heard the doors open and close. He wondered where Caleb would go and what he was doing. Then he wondered why he was bothering to wonder. He needed to get some sleep and go home. He got up and got ready for bed, then realized it wasn't 8 o'clock yet, which explained why he was tired but not ready for sleep. He opened the first of the letters from Aaron.
Condolences on your loss. My sister was a good woman, a loving woman. I will not miss her as much as you will, but I am infinitely saddened at her passing. I would come to bring you home, but am still detained by the officials of the Louisiana Prison system. Know that there is family here.
Jonathan stared at the brief letter. His mother had never spoken of her brother to him, not that he could recall. And the letter had not been sent, although it had been kept for him. His uncle had not known where to send the letter when he heard of the death.
Dear Nephew – What a way to start a letter. I have advised the Warden that there is a family emergency to which I would like to attend. They do not feel that releasing me six months early to leave the country is reasonable. I have not heard from the national officials when you will be returned to the States. And I do not know your father's family to inquire as to their care of you. I will be released in six months, my debt to society paid. I will contact you then and let you decide whether your mother's or father's family best suits your needs. I look forward to meeting you, and believe that you will weather this misfortune with the strength your parents have bequeathed you.
He pulled then next letter from the pile. This one written just before Aaron's release, advising Jonathan that he was coming and expressing concern that after six months, his nephew had not yet been returned to his home country. The next sounded angry and puzzled. Aaron had located the proper authorities, had presented his credentials as the closest next of kin and run into a brick wall on locating his nephew. The letter was three pages of elegant script expressing his frustration. He closed promising that he would not give up on finding his nephew.
Jonathan shook his head over this. Why had the authorities not let the man know where to find him? He had been with his training master. He had not yet been recruited by the Black Dragons. He should have been easy to find. He looked at the letter again. He had never been aware of anyone looking for him. He had never questioned why he had stayed in Japan instead of being sent back to the US. Questions he had never considered began to rise in his mind. Had he been used, even then, by a government unconcerned with the life of a child, but greatly concerned by the power wielded by the Black Dragon Clan?
He read swiftly through the rest of the letters. Aaron had been sent back to prison on manslaughter charges. His letter on the eve of returning to prison was odd.
Looks like I'll be back behind bars tomorrow. They plea bargained to get a conviction, although they are convinced I was cold blooded about the murder. They have no proof. They have only circumstantial evidence. I'd laugh at them, but then they just might believe there was more evidence somewhere. A jury trial might get me off entirely. Or it might just fry my ass. I suspect the plea bargain is the best for both of us. I am sorry I've lost track of you. I still have feelers out. Sooner or later, I will find out where you are, who you are. I am looking forward to that day.
There were only two during that prison stay. Then a long gap between his release and his conviction on murder one charges. That letter was revealing of an older, harder man. He admitted to the murder. He admitted to planning it carefully. He had known there was no way to kill the man and get away. It was an assassination, pure and simple. That was a shock to Jonathan. He wondered if that sort of thing ran in the blood. The last letter was written two days before his death. The hand was firm, the tone – wistful?
I've settled my affairs. I settled them long ago. There is a lock box at a local bank in New Orleans. It contains the past. I still do not know where the child is, for that I am sorry sometimes, but not too often. If he is alive, then it is possibly for the best that I do not know where he is. That ninja clan seems to have very long arms. No, they are not silenced. The young have remained and they hunt you with a fervor that is frightening. I believe you will find him someday. I have come to believe in destiny and both of yours are very strong.
There's a new face in the prison. He's too young to be here, not more than 20. He is too young to be as hardened as those who are already here. And he is not Hispanic, black or "Anglo", as they call us these days. He's Eurasian, as they used to call it. Oriental and Anglo mixed. He seems far too fragile to survive here. But there was a time when I was too fragile to survive. Tomorrow's another day, as they say. I hear Hawaii is beautiful. Maybe I'll look you up when I get out, in twenty years when they believe I am too old to be a problem.
Two days later he was dead. Jonathan pulled together the sheets of paper that shaped his image of the uncle he had never met. He had been strong, strong willed and dangerous. He had never mentioned Caleb. Never mentioned a woman in his life. He had known where Jonathan was, yet he had not sent the letters that would have reached him, had not asked for help where there might have been help to be had. Why? The man was more of an enigma now than he was when Jonathan got the letter telling him of his inheritance.
He yawned and looked at his watch. Midnight. Time for some sleep. He kicked off his shoes and stretched out on top of the bedspread and drifted off to sleep.
"So, you came."
Jonathan Raven, in funeral black, jerked around to face the source of the voice. The soft southern drawl was reminiscent of Caleb's, but it wasn't. Uncle Aaron. This was crazy.
The man smiled at him. He didn't look a day over 40. "Nothing to say?"
"Did you know you have a son?"
One of the man's eyebrows crept upward as though to say "your point is?" "Do I? And how do you know that?"
"He told me."
"Ah. Yes. I didn't know, not when he was born, not later, not until just before I died. I guess my ignoring him festered on him."
"What makes you think that?" But Jonathan already knew the answer.
"He had me killed."
Shrug. "Who knows. Maybe madness runs in the line."
"Told you about that, did he? She isn't mine."
Shock. Silence. "You knew."
"He deserved what he got."
"And his sister?"
Another shrug. "I loved her. She would not marry me. She would not live with me. She ran away, had the child, and came back after it was all over. She died before I did."
"It doesn't concern you."
"Didn't I mail the letters? You have enough problems with finding your son. It worked out."
"It worked out," he repeated. "Assuming *your* son doesn't try to kill me."
"There *is* that possibility. You'll manage."
"Why leave everything to me?"
"Why not. You're family."
"So is Caleb."
"Caleb has money. Caleb is – not torn about who he is, what he is. Guilt. I could not be where I should have, when I should have been. Money isn't everything, but it's a damn fine start sometimes. Keep an eye on that boy while you're here. He's dangerous."
Some infinitesimal sound alerted him to danger. He snapped awake in the darkness of his room to feel cold steel touching his neck. A dark form stood over him, gleaming sword in hand, the edge of the blade resting against his skin. He moved swiftly, rolling off the bed to the other side. His assailant pulled the sword and laughed.
"What the hell was that all about?" Jonathan demanded.
"Curious, that's all," came the reply from Caleb.
"You do this all the time?"
Caleb grinned again, his eyes alight with laughter. "Hardly, I don't usually have house guests," he replied as he sheathed his sword. Something about his reaction to the action disturbed Jonathan, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it.
"How did you get in here?"
"Picked the lock."
"Un-pick it and leave."
Caleb's face took on a remote look. "All right," he came back softly. "Sleep well."
As Caleb went through the doorway Jonathan's voice stopped him. "How did Aaron die?"
"He was stabbed to death." Caleb looked back around at Jonathan who was looking a bit stunned. "The report was, he was protecting someone," he added in almost a whisper. "It's over and done with. Go home." The door closed with a definitive snap behind him.
Jonathan settled down again, certain that he was safe from attack again that night. He amended that, safe from his new found cousin. He settled into sleep. If he dreamed, he was unaware of it when he awoke the next morning.
Caleb retired to his own room, divested himself of his sword and clothing and went to bed. He lay there in the darkness staring at the ceiling he could not see. He fought off the anger and hurt that plagued his existence. He should have called one of his ladies, should have stayed out, should have - hell. He turned over onto his stomach and glared into the darkness. Meeting Jonathan had thrown his life out of kilter. He did not like having someone out there wearing his face.
Considering this, he was not certain that he liked having someone else's face. He knew nothing about this double, except that he was fast, intelligent and dangerous. That meant enemies, enemies who could make mistakes. Having his life cut short by one of his own enemies was one thing, having it shortened by someone else's enemy in error – the thought was an affront.
He consulted the clock. One a.m. His eyes refused to close. He glared into the darkness and got up. He slid into his clothing, loaded up his two favorite weapons and left the penthouse again. The hotel was mostly in darkness, the bars winding down, the restaurant and shops long closed. No one saw him pad silently across the lobby and out of the hotel.
Two hours later, he found himself facing a consummate swordsman in ninja garb. It was surprising that he was still alive, although he had learned the techniques of samurai and ninja sword fighting in the last few years. He was holding his own, but he was losing ground steadily. And he did not understand the comments in Japanese that were being flung at him as they fought.
He stumbled back into a wall, knowing that this was his end. Damn. He blocked a slice designed to disembowel him. "Dammit, who are you?" he hissed breathlessly. "The least you could do is let me know who's killin' me."
The other stopped, still holding his sword ready, he pulled off his headpiece revealing a middle aged Japanese face. "You should know me, traitor," the man growled in heavily accented Japanese.
Caleb laughed, a wild sound in his own ears. "I should? I beg to differ, sir. I have never seen your face before."
The man looked puzzled. He stepped forward into a pool of light. "Take a good look, Jonathan Raven. I am your death."
"You may be my death," Caleb shot back breathlessly, playing for time. "But I am * not * Jonathan Raven."
"What foolishness is this?"
"The name is Caleb Moorecock. It has been Caleb Moorecock since the day I was born," Caleb drawled, getting his breath back.
"You lie!" the other hissed.
He laughed. "I do not lie. I am not the man you seek. Although, I might know where to find him," he ended thoughtfully, never dropping his guard.
The Japanese batted his sword aside and out of his hands. Adrenalin surged through his body, making him tremble as he awaited a final stroke that would take his life. The blade approached him, caressed his neck, but did not cut into his skin. His opponent stepped in close to look at him. He stared back arrogantly. He tried to quell his reaction to the danger in which he stood. He thrilled to the danger he stood in, the thought that death stood so close to the two of them.
"You are not Jonathan Raven. Who are you?"
"I believe I already introduced myself."
The ninja backhanded him for that, cutting his lip, bruising his cheek against his teeth. "You are a fool."
"Quite likely,' he agreed softly, bringing his gaze back to meet the dead black gaze of his assailant.
"Where is Raven?"
He shrugged eloquently. "Make it worth my while."
The sword drew blood this time. The edge slid across his throat, slicing his skin. The pain followed in a moment. He trembled, but not with fear. He was close to full arousal and in need of release. "Make – it – worth – my – while," he repeated.
He read death in those eyes, then puzzlement. He almost laughed aloud. He had done it again. The man he faced was off balance. Although the ninja had the upper hand, he recognized that there was something here he did not understand.
"You would sell him?"
"I might. For a price."
"What is that price?" The ninja sneered at the man before him. This was not Jonathan Raven. The traitor would not sell a man out to save his own life. But the resemblance was uncanny. Perhaps it was evil.
"I don't know yet. We can start with letting me go."
"You will go and tell him I am here."
"I might. That * would * be one way to get him to you." The eyes glittered in his pale face.
"He is here?"
"* That * would be telling. I'll send him to you."
A negligent shrug answered him. "I have no love for a man who carries my face," he said softly, almost more to himself than to the man he faced. "Tomorrow night. Here. Let me go."
The ninja backed away. He sensed the wrongness in the man he faced. He would release him, but he would watch him. "Go. Do not betray me." The black clad man faded into the darkness.
Caleb pushed away from the wall. He was still hyped on his own adrenalin and in need of release. He checked his watch. It was late. He walked away, took a quick bearing and then headed for Royal Street. He found the townhouse he wanted. With a look of mischief, he climbed up the outside wall to a wrought iron balcony. The lights were off inside, but the door onto the balcony was open. He slipped inside. His quarry seemed to have fallen asleep on the couch.
She was tall, although not as tall as he was. Slender built with nice hips and surprising breasts. He leaned over her, trapping her wrists in his hands. She came awake with a soft cry, both frightened and startled by his presence. He covered her mouth with his. She struggled against him, then recognized the kiss. She softened, she pressed against him, responding to his kiss, his mouth and tongue. She moaned deep in her throat.
He pulled her into his arms, his need pressing against her belly. She chuckled. "Out raising hell again," she murmured. "Facing death. Almost getting killed."
He pushed her back onto the leather-covered couch, pulling her clothes away to reveal her nakedness to him. She let him tear the cloth away, reveling in the controlled violence the action implied, the abandon she fantasized. Soon, they were fully engaged in satisfying their needs with each other's sweat slicked bodies.
He left her sleeping on the couch, her clothes scattered on the floor. He slipped out the front door, locking it behind him. He looked back at the door and frowned. Something was lacking, some indefinable something. He sighed. He'd have to find another playmate; this one was becoming predictable.
He let himself back into the penthouse at the Marriott just as the sun came creeping into the morning sky. He was surprised to find his "guest" already up, sitting in the middle of the communal area, meditating. He regarded Jonathan curiously for a moment, allowed himself a quick grin and slipped silently into his own bedroom. He stripped out of his clothes and fell into a dreamless sleep.
Jonathan was aware of the entrance of his double. He was trying to quell his curiosity about where Caleb had gone after they had parted. There was something about the man that both annoyed and intrigued him. They were, by Caleb's admission, related to each other. Caleb was the only family he knew he had outside of the son he had yet to find. Yet the other man was disquieting, unsettling. There was something – wrong – with him.
Jonathan continued to meditate, trying to calm his mind, to find a center that would not yield to the turmoil he found in his thoughts. Finally, hunger brought him out of his near zen state just as there was a discreet knock at the door. He opened it to admit a waiter and a small cart.
A door opened behind him. Caleb, looking not much rested, stepped out of his room wearing a black brocaded kimono. It bore an uncanny resemblance to the ones Jonathan usually wore. He waited while the waiter set up the table, this time for two. He took his seat before the waiter was ready and waved the man away. He looked around at Jonathan. "Hungry?"
A gesture invited him to join Caleb. "I thought you were leaving."
"I am. I'll be out of your way today. I may be staying in New Orleans for a few more days."
The covers were removed to reveal sashimi, miso soup, peppered eel and an assortment of Japanese side dishes and condiments. Jonathan shot his host a curious look. "You enjoy Japanese cuisine?"
"And assumed that I would also?"
"Was I wrong?"
"No. I grew up in Japan. I sometimes find American foods – confusing."
Caleb actually smiled at that. "Yes. There is an entirely different philosophy between a largely agrarian island population and one that has an entire continent to play with. I find the – austerity of presentation intriguing. Although I was raised on more Cajun/back bayou cuisine as a child."
"Yes. Alligator. Rabbit. Fish. Crawdads. Cooked over open fires. Made into etoufees, jambalayas, gumbos. This is an intriguing change."
They ate in silence.
"For a day, or so. I'm curious about my uncle."
"He was a petty criminal. Surely that does not require further investigation."
"A three time murderer is hardly petty. I'm curious as to what he did when he wasn't in prison. And how he kept getting out."
"He served his time and was released," Caleb said softly.
There was something very unpleasant in the dark eyes that met Jonathan's gaze. "He did."
"Did he know about you?"
"Does it matter? He's dead."
"And he left all he had to me, not his own son."
"It doesn't matter. You should leave."
"New Orleans can be very dangerous to those who don't belong here," the other drawled.
"I can be very dangerous."
For a long moment they held each other's gaze. Then Jonathan looked away from that almost reptilian look. His heartbeat seemed unreasonably inclined to accelerate. A part of him wanted to shake his cousin and find out how much he really knew about Aaron Acton. Another part of him wanted to get away from the man and his unsettling looks and behavior.
"I disturb you."
Caleb chuckled. "I said 'I disturb you.' It was a statement, not a question. What do you see that unsettles you so badly?" He asked leaning forward.
Jonathan smiled. "Your lack of control," he answered easily. It was partially true, but only partially.
A snort of laughter greeted his answer. "I lack no control," Caleb told him. "That is the one thing I have never lacked. You see too much of yourself in me, that's what disturbs you, that's why you want to leave and it's why you want to stay as well. Aaron Acton is only a part of what keeps you here. You need to know more about family, * your * family. Such as it is."
"Then tell me."
'There's nothing to tell."
"You're a liar." Jonathan's face had grown cold at the response.
"Of course. I thought you already knew that. Now, I really must dress." He disappeared into the bedroom, closing the door behind him.
Jonathan stood there for a few moments, frowning at the door. He felt he had missed something in the exchange, but he wasn't certain what. He stepped back into the room he occupied, showered and changed into more appropriate clothing for going out.
In the other room, Caleb leaned back against the door and trembled for a moment. Damn. It would be a pleasure to get Jonathan Raven out of his penthouse and out of his life forever. At the same time, he did not appreciate being threatened by foreigners on his own turf and he was not wholly certain he wanted them dealing with Jonathan. If his – cousin – was adept at fighting, and there were some indications that he might be, perhaps he could dispose of both the unwelcome intrusion and the cousin at the same time.
He bathed and dressed carefully. Small sounds from outside told him that Jonathan was still there. He heard muffled words of a phone call. He wondered who his cousin had called. Someone who cared about him? A woman? No. The tones were quiet, but not that private. A friend? An associate? A partner? Perhaps he should find something out about his cousin before he turned him over to the sword carrying hunter. Well, he had the rest of the afternoon.
Jonathan had called Hawaii to let Ski know he was delaying his return a day. Ski had wanted to know all about it: how Aaron had died, what he had left him and why he needed to stay in New Orleans.
"You ain't plannin' on staying in New Orleans, are you?"
"No," he answered with a laugh. "I am not staying in New Orleans. But there are some questions I need to get answered. Ski, he had a picture of Hikari."
"What? How old?"
"That ain't gonna help much, Jonathan."
He laughed at that. "No. But the birthmark is clear and – Ski, it proves he existed, that there is a reason to continue to look for him. I need to make certain he hasn't been killed already, that he has a chance at a life."
"And that's what's keeping you in New Orleans?"
"So what is?"
"A what? All right, I know what a cousin is. Be careful."
"Jonathan, that's the kind of statement that is inclined to make me question who I'm talking to."
Jonathan laughed. "I'll be careful. I'll be back the day after tomorrow."
"I'll meet you at the airport."
"I'll see you then."Break
He looked around the room, his gaze resting on Caleb's door for a long moment, almost sensing his cousin on the other side half listening to find out what he could hear of the conversation. He almost moved to the door, to shove it open, to confront his sneaky cousin with his dubious actions. But what was the point? There wasn't one. Caleb was responsible for his own actions. Nothing his new found cousin did would alter that.
He gathered up his belongings from the bedroom he'd occupied and left. The front desk had assured him there was a room available for him. There was. He signed in for the new room, got his key and deposited his bag in the room, taking a moment to hide his legacy, just in case. / Just in case Caleb gets bright ideas? / he asked himself. / Or just in case a Black Dragon comes calling? / He frowned at the thoughts. / Or just in case your paranoia gets the better of you? /
He laughed at the last thought. It's only paranoia if you *aren't* being followed.
He went out to do some research, stopping first at the Times Picayune offices to find out if they still retained archives their old issues. He was relieved to discover that they did. Most of them on microfiche. He asked for the three years he believed involved in Aaron Acton's convictions. The attractive young lady with the incredible Southern drawl behind the counter inquired what particular sort of article might interest him. He told her. She pulled up a computer query and found exactly the items he was looking for. She directed him to a computer terminal on the other side of the room and he spent the next hour reading about Aaron Acton and his run-ins with the law.
The last article was a small single column item detailing a ruckus at Angola Prison. Died: Aaron Acton, serving 20 to life for murder. In critical condition: Kenneth Usagi, serving 5 to 10 for drug dealing, first offense. He cross referenced Usagi.
The young man had a long record stretching back to Juvenile Hall. His juvenile records were sealed at this time, but he had been seventeen when he was convicted. Due to his background, he served a year at a juvenile correction center before being transferred to Angola on his 18th birthday. Aaron had been right about the boy being young, but hardly fragile. Even a hardened lifer like Aaron could be fooled, sometimes.
Then he went looking for information on his cousin Caleb. Surely, as violent as he was, he could hardly have avoided being caught doing something. / Right. And as violent as you are, you could hardly have avoided being caught doing something. / He reminded himself that the difference between the vengeance he had extracted, however ill conceived it might have been in retrospect, was nothing like the hostility and random violence of Caleb. His inner voice snickered at that. It reminded him that he had nearly beat a felon to death because he was annoying a woman Jonathan cared about. That lack of control had seriously disturbed him for days.
Perhaps he was looking in the wrong place. He thanked the young lady and left, ignoring the wistful look she gave him as he went.
He realized it was long past lunch and went looking for a restaurant. He found a café that served sandwiches, po'boys here in Louisiana, resembling submarines and hoagies, but with a subtle difference on warm French bread with a crisp, crumbling crust.
While he ate lunch, solitary, and watched life go by on a New Orleans street, Caleb was doing his own research through a knowledgeable acquaintance. The Barrister, as the little man was known, was a font of knowledge on both sides of the law. He was unequivocally neutral. He would not break the law, but he would not turn in the law breaker either. He brokered information only.
"Jonathan Raven," the older man repeated. "Interesting name."
"Very. He lives in Hawaii, he has money, he is, or *was*, related to Aaron Beauregard Acton and he looks entirely too much like me. I want to know all about him. And I want to know before sundown."
"How very dramatic of you. I'll do what I can."
Caleb left without threatening the man because he knew that threats would not work.
About six in the evening, as he was headed back to the hotel for dinner, Caleb got two calls. One was from a sinisterly whispery voice urging him not to betray the owner and to bring him Jonathan Raven. The other was from the Barrister.
"You had better have found something." Caleb's tone was acidly in earnest.
"Well, Jonathan Raven, born, raised in Japan, orphaned, taken into a supposedly non-existent clan of assassins." Caleb perked up. "Around 1983/84 something happened to the clan. Mr. Raven surfaced a little later as an assassin working for a department known as "The Agency" to most people. He was very good at his job. Then he shows up in Hawaii with a friend, Herman Jablonski, a private investigator. No obvious ties to the Agency, frequent problems with people trying to kill him, but nothing to show that he is still in business with anyone other than the private investigator. Martial arts skills in several areas. And something of a temper. Not a man to cross."
"Neither am I."
"Yes, Mr. Moorecock. Will there be anything else?"
"You missed one item."
"And that was?"
"That his mother was Aaron Acton's sister."
"I presumed you were aware of that connection, Mr. Moorecock."
"Thank you." He cut the connection with a snap as he closed the cover of his cell phone. Annoying little – he pulled himself up. The Barrister was not someone even he could afford to offend or pick on. He entered the penthouse and was aware of its emptiness. He looked toward the room his cousin had occupied. As good as his word, he had vacated the premises. He called down to the desk to find out what Mr. Raven's room number was.
He started to call down, then decided it would be better if he went in person. He took the elevator down to the proper floor and walked down the thick carpeted hallway to the room. He met Jonathan coming out.
"Well met," he said softly. "Although hardly moonlight."
"And not proud Titania," Jonathan responded, recognizing the quote. "You wanted something?"
"You asked about family, Mr. Raven."
"You gave me your answer."
"Yes. But I was rude. And I was – wrong. Join me for dinner?"
Jonathan could almost sense the wheels going behind the bland façade, but he accepted anyway. New Orleans was not quite comfortable for him on his own, he kept sensing someone watching him. If it was his cousin, he might as well watch in comfort and from an observable distance.
The Royal Orleans Rib Room lived up to its reputation. The Prime Rib was melt in your mouth tender, and the rest was well presented, well cooked and well received. In spite of his Japanese upbringing, he did not feel overwhelmed by the food here.
Whether it was the food, the alcohol or the company, and Jonathan doubted it was any of the three, Caleb was inclined to talk. He told Jonathan everything he knew about Aaron Acton, which wasn't a great deal, but was more than the newspapers and Aaron himself had revealed.
"Did you set it up?"
The eyes glittered dangerously for a moment, then his companion relaxed. "I am hardly going to admit to having my father killed. Besides. There was really no reason to do so. He had enough enemies on his own."
"As does the boy he was apparently protecting."
"Kenneth Usagi. Japanese American, drug dealer."
Caleb's brows drew together slightly. "Usagi – ah, yes. Beautiful young man. Quite a lot of enemies. You shouldn't always believe what you read," he said softly.
Jonathan frowned. He decided not to explore this avenue of investigation. He asked Caleb about his childhood on the bayou.
"Nothing like it was fifty years ago. By the time I was old enough to remember things, the Cajun lifestyle was being memorialized on film with us being anything from the good ole boys who help save the day to the pin headed morons who were the problem. Henchmen and helpers. Of course, you never get anyone who actually *is* back bayou Cajun to play one. There is a limit to the box office draw, I presume."
Dinner passed off well enough. The drive back to the hotel was another matter. Caleb made an excuse to stop off in the warehouse district close to the riverfront. He slid out of the Porsche and disappeared into the darkness while all the warning bells in Jonathan's mind were screaming "TRAP" at him. He cussed silently at his duplicitous cousin and threw himself out of the car.
He crouched in the shadows several feet away a few moments later, waiting. The car had not exploded. That was a good sign. But he could sense others here, in the darkness. Others who were as attuned to working in the dark as he was. And he had come out unarmed. He wondered briefly if the glove box of the Porsche still held the gun Caleb had left there earlier.
A quarter of an hour passed. He eased out of the shadows and over to the Porsche. Just as the door to the glove box dropped, something whizzed out of the darkness and skimmed his cheek. Small and metal, it pinged off the Porsche and fell into the darkness. He dove into the car, grabbing for the gun and then stilled, waiting.
Silence. He popped the driver's side door open and pushed it out. Thump. Shuriken. A star shaped one was imbedded in the door liner. He threw himself out of the passenger side, hoping to confuse his attackers. Thump. Ping. Thump. He rolled into the deeper shadows behind a trash bin and grimaced to keep from acknowledging the hit he'd taken in the thigh. He reached down and found a dart imbedded in his thigh. He pulled it out, wondering what might have been on the point. He sniffed it cautiously. Blood. His blood. Nothing else.
Still, the damage would work against him. He checked the magazine on the gun. Full. Good. Now, to wait. And when he was through with the attacker, he would deal with Caleb.
Caleb discovered that the ninja was not quite so satisfied with his assertion that he was not Jonathan Raven. Two black clad forms had been waiting for him, armed with swords and throwing stars. He'd taken one in the shoulder before he eluded the two of them. He fumed over having left his sword at the hotel and his gun, one of them, in the car. Damn. Well, found weapons could work just as well. And this *was* the warehouse district.
Jonathan could feel blood oozing out of the wound he'd taken, soaking into the fabric of his trousers. He wished his opponent would make a move.
"Raven-san. Traitor. Murderer. Betrayer of Clan. Come out." The Japanese was fluent, stinging.
Jonathan chanced a look. A stocky form stood out in the open. Clad all in black, it was impossible to tell anything about it, although the voice placed it as male, approaching middle age and from the Kyoto area. Well, he couldn't stay crouched here forever. Jonathan stood up and stepped out of the shadows.
The other looked him up and down. "You are Jonathan Raven."
"You are a dead man."
"I've been told that before."
"Your bloodline ends, here, tonight."
He felt a cold chill. "I don't think so," he answered softly. "There is no reason for this."
"You betray the clan and you say there is no reason for this?"
"The Black Dragons murdered my parents. They boasted of it on the walls of the room in which my parents died. I sought vengeance. The Black Dragons died for the murder they had already committed."
"We are dishonored as long as you and your whelp survive."
"My son has nothing to do with this. I do not know where to find him. You do not know where to find him. Let this end, here and now." He was offering them his life, although he wasn't completely aware of what he was doing. To keep Hikari safe from a vengeance he didn't even know existed, Jonathan would willingly die.
"You are unarmed."
He brought forward the pistol. Caleb, watching, swore silently. That was *his* gun, dammit. He swore again as Jonathan tossed it into the Porsche.
The ninja made a hand motion. A sword came flying out of the night. Jonathan caught it. It was his sword, the one that should have been in his house in Hawaii. To the death it would be. For Hikari.
They stood, at the ready, like Japanese statues out of time. Jonathan breathed easy as he had been taught. Let the other begin the fight. You end it. Small noises became bomb blasts. He could hear breathing. His own. The ninja. And two more silent attackers nearby.
The other man moved, like lightning. Jonathan countered, ducking and striking in his own turn. Steel hit steel. He turned to face the other as he launched a second attack. Swords striking sparks from each other, they met as katana's were not meant to meet. The razor edges took blows and flamed in the darkness. The ninja's metal broke suddenly, with a k-tang that could be heard for miles, or so it seemed. He abandoned the broken haft and pulled a pair of knives.
The ninja waded in, striking, striking, striking, turning, and striking again. Jonathan was barely warding off his blows between the sword and his empty right hand. One knife broke through, slicing along his rib cage, but not doing much damage. The cut burned, like a razor cut would.
Jonathan abandoned the sword for his other skills, including dodging around, under and through obstacles. His thigh burned where the dart had penetrated it. Blood was soaking his shirt. He had to end this and end it now. He called on all the skills he had mastered over the years and grappled with his opponent. A flurry of strikes knocked one of the knives away, leaving only the other one to worry about. They strained against each other.
"Forget my son," Jonathan whispered.
"Never. The line *must* end. Now."
Shift. He felt an opening, surged into it and was almost surprised when the other gave a surprised grunt and stopped fighting. They parted. The hilt of the knife protruded from just under the man's heart. "We – will – be – avenged." He dropped to his knees, then fell the rest of the way flat onto the pavement.
Jonathan dove for the gun in the car. He could hear the soft susurration of soft ninja boots as the others left. Now to find his cousin. He checked the steering column. The keys were still there. Caleb was not going to abandon his car. He slid out of the driver's side of the car, wishing he could just quit and go home. The adrenalin surge of the fight waning, he was beginning to feel his wounds.
A quiet step behind him. Not one of the ninja. Caleb. Jonathan crouched beside the car. He heard the other man pick something up. The fallen knife, probably. Caleb came around the back of the car, looking into the darkness for his cousin, but not right beside the car. He turned to look farther out into the darkness, a frown pulling his eyebrows together. He wanted to find Jonathan, although he wasn't completely certain that killing him was the answer he sought. He sensed Jonathan's presence behind him just fractionally too late.
He stilled as the cold metal of the gun touched the sensitive skin on the side of his neck. He was closer to dying, right now, at the hands of his look a like cousin, than he had been at the hands of the Black Dragons, or anyone else, for some time. The feeling was electric. His heartbeat accelerated, his respiration was shaky, his temperature was rising and he was getting a major hard on. The pressure against his neck was exhilarating and frightening, as was the touch of his double's arm firmly around his neck. Finally acknowledging the double edged sword of his ambivalence toward Jonathan, he waited.
Jonathan Raven found he was not certain what he wanted to do with his damnable cousin. The man was a conscienceless killer. He was crazy. He was trembling under Jonathan's touch. As close as they were, he could feel the hard core of tension in the man. It dawned on him that Caleb was getting very turned on by their confrontation. That the man was waiting for the violence that would give him release. More disconcerting was the recognition that Caleb was by no means the only one aroused.
Caleb relaxed back against his captor. Part of his brain was looking for an out, part of it was just enjoying the contact. Was *that* what he thought it was? He risked turning his head slightly, his heavy lidded gaze met Jonathan's. They both trembled. Faces within inches of each other, sensual mouths far too close and inviting. Jonathan was tired, he hurt and he was having trouble dealing with the close proximity of his double.
Caleb reached up and gently stroked the side of his cousin's face. Then his fingers tangled in the unruly black waves the other wore just slightly longer than his own. He could feel the hand holding the gun tighten, the finger on the trigger aching to complete its mission. He smiled. "I surrender."
The tension that had gripped Jonathan's entire body eased away. His eyes closed, his head sagged forward slightly toward Caleb. He eased back on the trigger he had come so close to pulling. The soft touch of the other man's lips on his forehead brought his eyes open again. Caleb grinned at him. There was a wicked gleam in his eyes. And a touch of supplication. Jonathan pulled back. Caleb read the look. No. This cousin might be tempted, but he was too solitary to give in. Pity.
"May I have my neck back?" he asked coyly.
Jonathan let him go. "Where does this leave us?" he asked, leaning heavily back against the car.
Caleb shrugged his shoulders carelessly. "Not enemies."
"You'd have pulled the trigger."
"Of course. But you're not me."
"And you traded on that," Jonathan ground out.
"No. Not at all. I didn't know, until now."
Jonathan looked into those fathomless eyes, so like his own, and read the truth. Caleb was a risk taker because it was life and breath to him. He would turn the card, take the gamble, kill or be killed with the same abandon because it was all one to him. It wasn't even faith that he would come out on top that drove him. It was the game itself, the play, the tension, the temptation. It was what made him know he was alive.
"Neither did I," he admitted in a tired voice.
The quiet admission got a real smile out of Caleb, one that lit his eyes. He chuckled, straightened his coat and suggested that they get Jonathan the hell out of there before someone else came hunting him. It was then that Caleb realized Jonathan had taken damage. His concern became real. He helped his cousin around into the passenger seat and took them back to the hotel. On the way, he placed a call to his personal physician.
"Don't worry. He's discreet. Very discreet."
He helped Jonathan to his feet and into an exclusive elevator that went directly to the penthouse, not stopping anywhere else en route. The doctor arrived moments after they did. Jonathan pulled off his ruined shirt to reveal a long shallow cut, most of the blood dried and clotted already, but in need of stitches. The hole in his thigh was cleaned and bandaged.
Caleb stayed and helped through the whole procedure, only having his own wound seen to when Jonathan was resting comfortably. If he noticed the swift drawing together of his cousin's brows when he realized the other man was damaged, he gave no sign.
Jonathan was just about dozing off, when it occurred to him that there was something odd about Caleb's back. He opened his eyes and looked as the doctor finished taping a pad into place over the wound in his shoulder. Very faintly, there was a cris-crossing of scarring across most of his back. As though someone had whipped him. The word flayed came to mind. And the scars were old, stretched, faded. He had been very young when it had happened. He wondered if Caleb would tell him, if he asked.
Caleb had caught the flicker of Jonathan's eyes across his back. There were some secrets he occasionally forgot he had. He pulled his shirt back on, showed the doctor out and went back to make certain his cousin was settled in. He was looking very remote as Jonathan tried to hold his eyes open to look at him. Damn, the doctor must have given him a sedative. Caleb sat down on the bed next to him, reached over and gently pushed sweat damp curls out of Jonathan's face.
"You're safe for tonight."
"There isn't much of tonight left."
Caleb smiled. "You're safe from me for the rest of your stay. I've played my hand for now."
"Why?" Jonathan found himself asking, in spite of the earlier revelations he'd had. Those were becoming fuzzy now.
Caleb leaned down, close and whispered. "Sheer envy, cousin. You walk half in the light, something I will never do. And sometimes, that is so very attractive, so very alluring. But the dark has its needs."
Jonathan met the black gaze squarely, saw the darkness he had once thought would always claim him. He reached up with his good arm and gathered his surprised cousin into a fierce hug. "Sometimes, the light burns," he murmured. He felt Caleb's arms go around him, hold him. There was a fierceness there too; a protectiveness that surprised Caleb. Maybe there was something more to life than games and risks. He sat there until he felt his cousin relax into sleep. Then he sat there a while longer, knowing that each owed the other nothing more than blood calling to blood.
Caleb left the penthouse at dawn. He wasn't certain he wanted to be there when Jonathan woke up. He didn't want to see the regret in the other's eyes over what they had shared in the depths of the night.
Jonathan awoke alone and aching. The doctor arrived a few minutes later, clucked over him, gave him some painkillers that wouldn't knock him out and asked after Caleb. Jonathan couldn't tell him.
Lunch came and went. No Caleb. About dinner time, Caleb called and apologized for his absence. He asked how Jonathan was doing.
"Not bad. Cluttering up your penthouse."
There was a laugh in Caleb's voice as he assured him it was all right. "When are you leaving?"
"When will you be back?"
"I asked first."
"I'll know when I get an answer."
"You've gotten too many already, Jonathan," came the soft reply. "I won't be back for a week."
"I'll be gone before then."
"It's all right. I'll be in touch."
Jonathan looked thoughtful for a long time after he put down the receiver. The truth in Caleb's voice had been obvious. It would take some getting used to, but now he had family other than a son he couldn't seem to find and a friend. He blinked self consciously at the sudden dampness in his eyes. Now he knew he hadn't made a wrong decision letting his cousin live.
Two days later, still sore, but functional, he checked out, took a taxi to the airport and sat down to wait for his plane. He took with him new hope that he might find his son, new knowledge that he was not alone, whether he found that son or not; and an understanding that there were paths he had chosen not to tread, dark places in his soul that were far more gray than black. He was content to continue his search.
Ski met him at the airport looking tanned and fit. If the older man wondered at the sudden bear hug that engulfed him, he didn't let on. There were depths to his friend that he would never know or understand, he would just accept.
"Talk about it?"
"Later. Right now, it's just good to be home."
See how easy life can be?