Rain pelted down from overhead on the dreary, early August night. Vickie Jackson raised her face up to the storm, letting the cleansing drops splatter on her face and into her eyes. For a brief second, she closed her eyes and remembered an earlier time in her life when she was still a child and loved to play in the rain. She'd loved splashing in the puddles, spraying the muddy water all around and then getting in trouble by her mother for tracking up their kitchen floor. A part of her heart grieved for the loss of that innocence...before she had ran away at fourteen...before she had learned the harsh reality of life on the streets...before she'd started turning tricks.
She let out a little sarcastic laugh as she shoved the shoulder strap of her black halter back up and flung her wet, dark hair out of her eyes. 'No sense in getting sentimental in your old age, hon,' she told herself. And sometimes, she did feel old. Ten years on the streets had the way of doing that to a person and Vickie had been no exception. Life hadn't been 'too' bad to her though... she'd avoided the lure of drugs that often had claimed so many of her friend's lives...and she did reasonably well in making enough to afford a run down efficiency apartment on the west side. And did it without the help of some worthless pimp either, thank you very much! Still, it wasn't exactly the way she'd planned her life as a little girl when she was read fairytales, played with Barbie dolls, and believed she'd be married with a family by now.
Stiletto pumps clicked against the concrete sidewalk as she passed a closed clothing store. A glance in the dark, reflective glass showed a dark Buick Century slowing down as it came up behind her, rolling to a stop as automatic, tinted windows came down.
"Hey, baby doll, wanna party?"
Vickie kept her smile to herself as she slowly ran her hands down her short skirt that almost didn't make it half way down her thighs. She turned around and peered into the window. 'Jackpot', she thought to herself. In the driver's side was a fairly attractive looking Asian man dressed in a gray tee. The passenger, the man who'd called her over, was a Caucasian man with a definitely more muscular build and short, cropped blond hair.
"Depends on who's going to be invited to this party, sweetheart," she answered, walking up to the car. Neither of these men seemed to be setting off her internal alarms as she looked them over.
"Got a problem with taking us both on?" the Asian finally spoke to her. His dark brown almond-shaped eyes raked over her head to toe and it made her shiver.
"Nah, handsome, but its going to cost you double," she told him. "Eighty for a double blow job, two-fifty for a fuck."
The Asian looked at the blonde and nodded. "We've got a hotel room down the street. We could go there if you don't have a place around here."
"Sounds good to me," Vickie remarked. Out of towners, even better. Maybe she could fleece them before she took off when it was done and over with.
"Get in," the blonde said, the doors clicking as the driver unlocked them.
Vickie climbed in, her leather skirt hiking up a bit as she slid across the dark blue cloth seat. "So, where you boys from?" she asked as the car was put into gear and they took off.
"We're here on business...a conference," the blonde offered.
"And out on the prowl for a little fun, hey?" Vickie remarked.
"Yeah, something like that," the Asian replied.
Vickie quickly realized once they didn't say anymore that she was not in the company of the world's two greatest conversationalists. She didn't really care though, since what they wanted her to do didn't require a lot of verbalizing anyway. After all, how much skill did moaning take?
The Century pulled into the parking lot of a reasonably clean looking hotel. They drove around to the back lot where a long row of building, all looking like the other, stood in the shape of an L. They drove on to the shorter row of building and parked.
"Here we go, babe," the Asian said as he shut off the car and got out.
Vickie climbed out of the back seat and followed the Asian to one of the doors as the blonde man stayed behind her. "I forgot to tell you two, you gotta use condoms...I don't go bareback, ever."
The Asian fished out the large key from his pocket. "I wouldn't worry about that if I were you, doll."
Vickie gave him an odd look as he flung open the door, but didn't say a word as the blonde hustled her inside. As soon as she was across the threshold, she became aware of the other two men occupying the room, one of them holding a video recorder.
"Hey, just what the hell is this?" Vickie screeched as the blonde shoved her hard onto the bed and on top of the sun faded print spread.
"You're worst nightmare, whore, scene one," the Asian sneered, taking the camera out of the hands of the other man.
Vickie's chest started pumping wildly in her chest and tried to scramble away as she watched the blonde and the other two men coming to surround her.
As Caine and Ariel left the small diner where they had just finished eating, Caine noticed the rain coming down had turned into a fine mist instead of the downpour from earlier. To keep the dampness from Ariel, he slipped off his thin jacket and wrapped it around the young woman's shoulders as they walked. "Thank you, for a lovely dinner," the apothecary said, turning his head slightly to look at her.
The dark haired woman suddenly stopped, took Caine by the arm to stop him too, and placed a soft kiss on his cheek.
"Thank 'you' for all your help, Caine," Ariel stated, smirking a little at Caine's discomfiture as he blushed slightly and gave her a shrug of his shoulders.
"I...did nothing, it was you who made the decision to turn your life around," he told her.
"Maybe, but it was your help that landed me that job at the hospital that's even going to give me tuition reimbursement for getting my G.E.D and paying me to go on further if I want to. Who'd imagine me back in school after all this time?"
"The desire was always there," Caine told her. "You merely needed a little...direction along your path."
They slowly began walking again; the rain all but stopped.
"Yeah, well, I figure buying you dinner every now and again is the least I could do to say thank you," she said softly.
"And even that, is more than is necessary," Caine informed her.
Ariel shrugged. "With Peter working night shift tonight, I figured why should you cook for just one if you didn't have to?"
Caine was well aware of the fact that Ariel knew that Peter was living with him now, but the woman had no clue about what all their living arrangement entailed. It did not seem odd to the formerly homeless woman that Peter had moved back in with his father, understanding that they were close, but did not know how close...that they were in fact lovers.
Caine opened his mouth, prepared to say something about his son when the hairs on the back of his neck pricked up and stood on end in a familiar warning. Immediately his hand darted out across Ariel's stomach to hold her back from the unknown danger as his dark eyes narrowed and scanned the ill-lit surroundings.
A faint voice called to them from a near by ally. "Help me..." The voice was fragile and weak and Caine could pick up the desperation in the tone as it pleaded for help from someone, anyone, that was near.
Both Caine and Ariel rushed down the deserted ally that was cluttered with garbage and discarded refuse. Laying face down in one of the piles was a very thin, unclothed, dark haired figure. Caine dropped down on one knee and gently rolled the body over.
Ariel gasped. "My God, that's Vickie!" she exclaimed, dropping down next to Caine.
The woman was badly beaten, blood pooled under her from her mouth; her eyes already swollen from punches; livid bruising showing up around her neck in signs that she'd been strangled. Caine did not have to exam the young woman to know she had extensive internal damage, and several broken bones, as a result of her attack. Ariel took off Caine's jacket and covered the woman with it. "Go now," Caine ordered. "You must call for an ambulance."
Ariel nodded and ran off back in the direction from which they had come, back towards the restaurant where she knew a pay phone was, as Caine stayed with the woman who slipped into unconsciousness.
Once at the hospital, Ariel was pacing the floor as Caine watched her. The formerly homeless woman had grown silent on the drive over in the back of the ambulance, but her concern was quite obvious. Her dark eyes jerked up every time someone came through the metal double doors that her friend had been carted past, disappointed when it wasn't Dr. Sabourin who'd promised to keep her appraised of the situation.
Caine came up behind her and gently laid his hands on her shoulders and squeezed them in assurance. Ariel paused in her pacing, leaned back against Caine's chest, and briefly let some of the Shaolin priest's calmness wash over her.
"She is in capable hands," Caine reminded her gently.
"Yeah, I know," Ariel granted. "It's just...."
"It is just...what?" Caine prompted.
"I feel...guilty...somehow," she confessed. Turning around, she faced Caine and looked into his mild eyes. "You see, before things changed, she'd kinda look out for me, you know? Make sure I had enough to eat, a place to stay if the weather got bad...that sort of thing."
Caine nodded in understanding. "And now you feel as though you were not there for her when she needed you?"
"Yeah, like somehow I should have stopped this," Ariel said softly.
Caine took both of her hands into his own. "I do not know how or why this happened, but I am certain that you would have not been able to stop it from happening. You are here now, and that will no doubt provide her comfort in the aftermath."
Ariel nodded. "Yeah, I guess I'm the closest thing to family that she's got around here. She hasn't spoken to her real family in years."
At that moment, both of their heads turned when they saw Dr. Sabourin stepping out of the double doors. The brunet doctor saw them immediately and walked over to them. "Caine, how are you?" she greeted with a smile.
Though their first meeting had been rocky, Dr. Sabourin had developed quite a fondness for the apothecary over time. She had been filled with doubt and skepticism when she first met him while he was trying to save a little girl with liver problems that by all appearances had been terminal and fading fast. Through a tea made from a rare herb, he'd managed to completely reverse the disease process and left the child thriving. It was that day that convinced her that the healer had a lot to teach her and her respect for him bloomed.
Caine shrugged. "I am well," he responded. "What is the condition of the patient?"
The doctor's face turned grave. "If she'd arrived just five minutes later, the internal bleeding was so bad that she would have died," she said honestly, her eyes going back and forth between Caine and Ariel. "Luckily, we were able stop the bleeding, and replace the blood lost. The bad news is that she suffered extensive head trauma. While in surgery, she slipped into a coma."
Ariel's body started trembling. She simply could not believe this was happening to someone she knew, someone she'd considered a friend. "How...how long is it going to last?"
"I don't know," Dr. Sabourin told her. "It's hard to say. As much damage physically she suffered, it could be days or it could turn completely irreversible. There is no way to be certain."
Ariel turned to Caine. "Why don't you go back home and wait for Peter to get back. Let him know what's happened. I'll stay here in case she wakes up."
"Are you certain?" he asked, even though seeing the determination in her eyes. "Will you be all right?"
Ariel nodded. "I'll be okay. I'll feel better once I know Peter will be trying to find out who did this to Vickie."
With a subdued nod of assent, Caine arranged the worn fedora on his head and left.
If it hadn't been for a distinct lack of sunlight coming through the windows, Peter Caine would have had no clue that he was on night shift instead of day shift. He'd been perpetually busy from the second he'd stepped foot in the 101st. He'd followed up on several leads, went over some medical reports from Nickie Elder, and was still buried up to his neck in unprocessed reports.
"Hey, partner, it can't be all that bad," Mary Margaret said when Peter let out a low moan as Strenlich walked over and sat a few more manila folders down on top of Peter's pile.
He shot her an annoyed glance. "Are you kidding? I've got five murders on my plate. All homeless or prostitutes and all killed by severe beatings over the last three months." His hand shot through his mussed hair. "I need to be on the streets digging up leads, not sitting behind the desk filling out reports," he grumbled.
"Hey, it's all part of the job, Peter," Mary Margaret reminded him. "You think I like it any better than you?"
Peter winced slightly in his seat. He seemed to keep forgetting that Mary Margaret had been restricted to light duty after being released and given the okay from the hospital after she had gotten shot. She seemed to be doing remarkably well, but Peter knew she was even more miserable than he was at being kept off the streets.
A part of him couldn't help thinking that being desk bound might not have been the best thing to happen to Skalany for the time being. Even though he wasn't suppose to know, Mary Margaret was several months pregnant.
Man, had it only been weeks since Pop had told him about the baby? It seemed much longer than that. Peter had been so certain that the baby was going to destroy everything he'd found with his father... his lover. Peter's fingers drifted to the jade medallion around his neck...the pendant, a constant reminder that they were going to have a commitment ceremony soon. It reminded him how nothing was going to change between him and Pop, even if Mary Margaret's child was also Pop's.
Since then, he'd taken it on himself to keep an eye out on Mary Margaret and the baby, which is why he was glad she wasn't putting herself in danger on the streets. It wasn't as though he didn't think Mary Margaret wasn't capable of taking care of herself, she was one of the best cops on the force, but he was still glad he didn't have to worry as much about her as he would if she was on the streets.
"Yo, Peter, still with me here?" Mary Margaret called, snapping her fingers at him.
"I'm sorry, what did you say?" Peter asked, shaking himself out of his thoughts.
"What I said, is that if you want me to, I can take some of that paperwork off your hands," Mary Margaret responded, fanning herself with one of the empty folders.
"Really? You're sure?" Peter perked up.
"Yeah, why not. It's not like there's much else around here for me to do," Skalany answered with a resigned sigh.
Peter noticed that Skalany was looking a bit flushed and a little on the gray side. Having seen her disappearing into the bathroom, he suspected that the battle with morning sickness was on. Getting up, he walked over, got himself a cup of coffee and also grabbed a can of ginger ale, opened it and sat it on her desk in front of her. She looked up with a surprised expression.
"Thanks," she responded appreciatively, taking a sip of the cool liquid.
"No problem," he shrugged, leaned down and kissed her on the forehead. "Thanks, by the way for helping with the paperwork. I'll bring you back some dinner later on. Rice soup maybe?" He knew something light would be better for her if her stomach was giving her trouble.
Mary Margaret's eyes narrowed slightly and measured Peter from head to toe. "All right, who are you, and where is the real Peter Caine?"
Peter reared back with mock indignation. "What? Here I am, simply trying to do a favor for a friend and...."
"Okay, okay," Mary Margaret said with a laugh, holding her hands up in surrender. "Yes, some rice soup sounds great," she conceded. "Can I get some yogurt out of you too?"
"Sure thing," Peter agreed.
"Okay, so tell me about this case you've got. Are the murders connected?" Mary Margaret asked, wanting to be in the thick of things as much as possible. She hated being on desk duty, it made her feel left out of the loop.
"They've got to be...they're too similar not to be, but so far we've got nothing to go on and if there are any witnesses, they're certainly not biting at the bit to come forward," Peter told her.
Mary Margaret could well imagine her occasional partner's frustrations. In some ways, the community of those who lived on the streets were as tightly knit and closed mouthed as the Chinese community. Neither one taking to trusting cops too easily regardless of the circumstances.
"What about crazy Jane?" Skalany asked him. Crazy Jane was the self-appointed nickname for a homeless woman who sometimes helped them out with the gossip of the homeless underground.
"I've already talked to her," Peter replied absently. "She hasn't heard anything either."
"Well, go ahead and hit the streets and see if you can't dig anything up," Skalany told him. "I'll cover the paperwork."
"Thanks," Peter said, already out of his seat. "I owe you one."
"More than one, buddy boy," she called to his retreating back. "Hey, and don't forget my yogurt!"
Jack Greyson stepped out of his bathroom, glad to have changed out of his dress shirt and slacks for a more comfortable T-shirt and faded jeans. As he was drying his dark blonde hair, head buried under a thick towel, he caught the tail end of a news report about a devastating avalanche in Switzerland that killed hundreds of tourists. Shaking his head, he turned the TV off and decided to get some dinner in his stomach since he'd worked through lunch at the office.
The architect glanced over his meagerly furnished apartment. He had enough furnishings to be comfortable, but nothing overly extravagant since he wasn't around his place that much to begin with.
It wasn't anything he could help, really. Ever since his break-up with Adam Haun several months ago, he didn't care much for the feeling of coming home to an empty apartment. Yeah, he was glad he left Adam, it was the only sensible thing to do under the circumstances, and he didn't regret his decision in the least. Still though, sometimes in the late night hours, the walls had a way of closing in on him. Jack shook himself out of that thought and reminded himself of what could have happened if he'd stayed with Adam...the thought sent a shiver through him.
Jack looked over to his answering machine when he caught sight of the glowing light that told him he had a message. Someone had called while he had been in the shower. He walked over to it and pressed the play button.
\\ "You know who this is, so why don't you pick up you're phone?"// There was a lengthy pause. \\ "Fine, but just remember one thing, Jackie boy, you're mine. You know what that means don't you? No matter where you go, what you do...I'll know. You can't run and you can't hide. One of these days you're going to get tired of trying and beg me to take you back."//
Jack shuddered at Adam's voice...he always did anymore. Oh, Adam's tone didn't sound threatening in the least, but Jack knew him all too well...knew what Adam was capable of and fear shot through him. When was enough going to be enough? When were the cops going to do anything about him? Adam wasn't intimidated in the least by the restraining order he'd been talked into getting, and now the calls were getting even more and more frequent. Jack wondered how much more he could take...he felt Adam's eyes on him everywhere he went, knew he was being followed. What was going to happen on the day Adam that decided he wasn't satisfied with just watching and harassing Jack on the phone anymore?
Jack wrapped his arms around himself and walked over to the picture window looking out from his living room and closed the drapes tightly. 'This is ridiculous,' Jack told himself. 'There's no reason for a man to be afraid in his own home!' But even as he told himself that, he couldn't squelch the rising fear prickling under his skin. His heart was thumping heavily in his chest, his mouth was getting dry, and he could feel himself getting chilled. He shut his eyes and took a long deep breath, and kept taking deep breathes until he calmed down. 'Get it together, Jack. You need a good night's sleep for once.' The truth be told, he'd not had a good night's sleep since before he'd left Adam...every little noise woke him up.
'Maybe a movie before bed would help me sleep?' he wondered to himself. Jack found his eyes shifting to a large cardboard box on the floor by the television set. It held a few of his possessions he'd grabbed when he packed in a hurry and left Adam while he'd been at work. He'd just threw things together and got out as fast as he could without looking back and many of the things he'd taken were still packed away. It had been easier to just leave most things in boxes instead of dealing with what had brought him to that point.
'Well, you're going to have to do it sometime, now is as good a time as any.' Walking over to the box, he crouched down on his knees and opened up the flaps where most of his movie collection waited for him. He dug through the box, feeling the need for a light comedy to ease the tension he felt, when he found an unlabeled blank tape within the pile. He looked with confusion at the tape. He didn't remember packing it, but he'd grabbed things so fast, it wouldn't be surprising if he'd grabbed a few of Adam's things and tossed them into the mix. The tape had to be one of them.
Pushing the play button, Jack sat back on his heels and watched the tape turn to grainy snow. He hit the fast-forward until a blonde woman appeared on the screen. Three men surrounded her, one grabbed her wrists while another one tied them to the bed post, the third held her legs down. Jack grabbed the remote and took the TV off of mute.
"No! Stop, please, for God sakes, I'll do anything you want, just don't hurt me!" the blonde pleaded, thrashing her legs around on the bed.
One of the men on the tape slapped her viciously across the face. "You're damn right you're going to do anything we want, you little bitch, and we'll do with you whatever we want to."
What the hell was this? Jack had never seen this tape before and his stomach lurched as he continued to watch the scene playing out in front of him with a horrible fascination.
The woman cried out and flailed, but instantly turned white and stopped her screaming when one of the men pulled out a large hunting knife. The dark haired man trailed the tip of the blade along the side of the woman's throat and down her chest and over her stomach.
"That's a good girl, just go with it baby," he whispered harshly, a thin smile pulling his lips up.
The man then grabbed the bunch of the fabric of her T-shirt in one hand and sliced through it with ease. Sliding the blade against the woman's trembling chest, a flick of the wrist took care of the skimpy black-lace bra she wore underneath. He pawed one of her small breasts and pinched a nipple, causing her to cry out and whimper.
"Please don't, please..." the blonde begged, tears starting to streak down her pale cheeks.
The dark haired man simply laughed at her. "C'mon babe, we're just starting to have fun," he taunted her, one hand sliding up under the band of the shorts she wore. The other two men were grinning lascivious and removing their own clothing.
The dark haired man then slid the glinting silver blade under the shorts and shredded them as well, tossing to the floor next to the bed. Now left only in her panties, the blonde woman shivered and sniffled, seeming to have lost her energy to even try to fight of the men around her since she didn't have any of her limbs free. The steel blade sliced up the side of her panties, then the other side. Once fully exposed, the dark haired man took the panties and held the blonde's face as he shoved them in her mouth to gag her.
Jack watched the tape, fighting down his urge to give into his tumultuous, queasy stomach. The woman was repeatedly struck and beaten as all three men took their turns in using her body in every conceivable way without mercy. The young woman's muffled cries only seemed to urge them on to give her even more abuse, her pale face bruised and bloody as they continued their attack.
Finally, when all three men had their fill, the man with short, cropped blonde hair wrapped his beefy hands around her neck and began squeezing. The woman's hands came up and grabbed at the guy's wrists, but she was no match for his obvious strength. Her head twisted violently from side to side, trying to gasp for the smallest of breath. Her body was depressed deeply into the bed as the guy moved up and put all of his effort into choking her. Blue eyes bulged out as her pale skin turned an ashen gray, droplets of bright red blood poured out of her flaring nostrils. The blonde man's fingers didn't release her until she'd quit moving.
Jack was still staring at the screen when it turned to snow again. Oh shit, God, what had he just watched? His hands shook as he pushed the eject button, his fingers trembling as he took the tape. What was he going to do? He had tell someone about this, someone had to know about it...someone who could do something about it.
As his numb mind started to kick back into action, the shock propelling him across the room to grab at his phone. Quickly, his finger punched in the number of the only one he knew might be able to help him...his uncle. Joseph Greyson was a private investigator and the only family Jack had in town. He'd know how to handle this.
The line on the other end rang several times. "Come on, come on!" Jack urged from his end.
There was a click on the other end. "Joe Greyson here."
Jack expelled the breath he'd been holding. "Uncle Joe, it's Jack, listen..."
"I'm not in at the office at the moment, but if you'd leave a message, I'll get back to you as soon as I can."
Shit! The answering machine. Jack waited to hear the beep before speaking again. "Uncle, this is Jack. Look, this is important. Call me back just as soon as you can," Jack pleaded into the phone and slammed it back down.
The architect ran his hand impatiently through his dark golden hair and shoved it out of his face. Okay, so what was he going to do now? If Adam had this film, then he 'had' to have been involved with it somehow. God, he'd just witnessed a murder!
Jack felt the walls starting to close in around him, his breathing was turning more erratic and his pulse was racing wildly. 'Get a grip, Greyson, now!' he told himself. He forced his breathing to slow down and squeezed his eyes shut until he felt the rising panic start to subside. **** Jack watched the security guard walk off after having ordered Adam to leave before turning to Peter. "Peter, I'm so sorry to have dragged you in on that. Adam just can't take a hint," he said and took Peter's hand in his. "Thank you."
Peter squeezed his hand. "No problem. Hey, if you ever...you know... need someone to talk to about it...."
Jack could feel that beginning fluttering deep in the pit of his stomach, the room starting to sway a little in front of his eyes.
"Thanks, but there isn't much to say about it. I'd rather forget about it actually."
"Yeah, I understand," came Peter's understanding reply.
Jack gave himself a mental shake. "Peter, I've been having a great time, but...I think I need to go home."
"Okay, think you'll be okay or would you like some company home?" A reluctant smile teased the edges of Jack's mouth. "You know, any other time, I'd jump at the offer." He watched as Peter's cheeks became flushing again. "But right now, I think I need to be alone." "All right, if you're sure you're going to be okay," Peter conceded.
Jack gave a brief nod and turned to leave. Peter caught him by his hand and tugged until Jack turned around again.
"Hey, if you change your mind and decide you want to talk, or if you ever need any help with anything, come to Chinatown, ask for Caine, and you'll be able to find me." "I'll do that," Jack said softly and gave Peter a final glance before disappearing into the mob of people. ****
The memory faded from behind Jack's closed eyelids. Opening them up, he knew he had his answer. Peter Caine would help him.
Clutching the videocassette in his hand in his fingers he headed out the door with one destination clear in his mind...Chinatown.
Caine stood outside on the veranda under the cloudless night sky, broom in hand. He'd started his cleaning soon after arriving home as he waited for Peter to return to him from work. In the background, coming from Peter's portable radio, soft jazz lofted on the night breeze. Caine let the soft strains soothe him as he made quick work of the dirt that had collected on his balcony. Smiling a little to himself, he found it strange how he took comfort in the music while he worked when he used to be satisfied working in silence. Ah, but it was just another influence of Peter's presence, as his son often liked to hear music while working around the loft himself.
With that chore quickly completed, he moved over to his workbench and gathered up several jars of herbs. Placing the bones of a small scorpion into his mortar along with some other various roots, he began crushing them into a fine powder and preparing Mrs. Feng's arthritis medicine. He would have to visit Ting Yung's shop soon in order to replace some of his rarer ingredients.
The breeze blew in from the veranda with a gust, causing several of Caine's candles to flicker. Suddenly the apothecary tilted his head, his senses became heightened. A visitor approached, but it was no one with whom Caine was familiar. He walked into the main room to wait for his guest.
"Hello?" a masculine voice called out, heard before the form of a young man with sandy blond hair presented himself.
"Hello," Caine greeted and bowed slightly. "May I help you?"
Jack stared at the man before him for a moment. This was definitely not Peter Caine, but there was something distinctly familiar in the warm, inquisitive hazel gaze that was looking him over.
"I'm looking for Peter Caine? I was told I could find him here."
"Ah," Caine clasped his hands in front of him. "You seek my son. I am afraid he is not here at the moment."
"When do you expect him back? I need to talk to him about something immediately," Jack declared, his hand darting through his ruffled hair.
Caine could tell by the young man's flushed face, wide eyes, and nervous movements that this was indeed a very serious matter to the gentleman, though he got no sense of what the problem was.
"Please, sit," Caine offered and indicated the sofa in the corner. "Perhaps I could be of some help."
"I-I don't know," Jack stammered a bit. "Peter might be the only one who can help with this, and I'm not even sure if he could."
"Please...ah..." Caine paused.
" Oh, Jack...Jack Greyson," the architect introduced himself.
Caine nodded. "Please, come sit and wait for Peter then. In the meantime, maybe you will share the problem with me anyhow?"
Jack felt Caine's warm hand on his shoulder, exerting the gentlest of pressure to urge him towards the sofa.
"Would you like some tea while we wait?" Caine offered.
"Huh? Oh, yeah, tea. You don't have to go to any trouble for me," Jack responded, his foot tapping up and down on the wooden floor.
"It would be no trouble at all," Caine assured him and disappeared into the kitchen.
Jack spared a moment to take in the surroundings of the loft. The soft glow of candlelight filled the room and bathed it with warmth, an altar stood against one wall, and opposite that stood a wooden bench filled with jars of all kinds. The architect couldn't help getting the feeling that he'd somehow stepped back nearly a hundred years into the past at least, or he could easily have thought so if the room's decor hadn't also had the modern sofa he was sitting on, as well as the modern bookcase and stereo he could see from where he sat. The combination of new and old gave him a very comforting feeling.
Moments passed slowly by, the pounding in Jack's chest abating ever so slowly. His whirling mind was actually starting to slow down a bit. He watched Caine return, carrying two cups of fine porcelain with him. Jack accepted one of the proffered cups.
"Thanks," he murmured, taking a sip of the spiced beverage. It didn't taste like any tea Jack had ever tried before. The blend was rich, full, and sweet as it slid down his throat. "This is wonderful."
Caine bowed his head ever so slightly. "Thank you," he said, taking a sip of his own. "Perhaps now you will tell me what has you so troubled?"
Jack's eyes flittered to the door and back to the serene hazel gaze resting on him.
Caine could see the agitation the younger man continued to have. He laid his hand softly on Jack's forearm. "You are safe here," Caine reminded him softly.
Jack looked up from his cup quickly, as he tried to read the expression on this relative stranger's face. He wasn't expecting to find open concern, and genuine interest from a man he'd only just met. There was such a sense of calmness Jack could feel emanating from the other man, and he could almost feel him transmitting it through the hand still on his arm.
"I've never even asked your name yet," Jack said abruptly, realizing that it had slipped his mind while worrying about the tape.
Jack watched Peter's father shrug his shoulders humbly. "I am Kwai Chang Caine."
"Kwai Chang," Jack repeated, trying out the sound of it. "The reason I need to talk to Peter is because I have something important to tell him about and it needs to be soon," Jack said, his voice sounding more steady than he actually felt. "I'm in trouble and I didn't have anyone else I knew of to turn to besides your son."
"Because he is a police officer," Caine said calmly.
Jack nodded. He had found out that Peter had lied to him when a few hours after they had met at the Falcon's Club, Sandra Mason had broke in with a news report of the murderer that had been stalking gay men having been brought down by police after an undercover police officer lured him. Somehow, Jack had the suspicion it had been Peter who had been the one undercover. The next day, he went to the newspaper archives and discovered Peter's career was fairly well chronicled. He'd read about everything from Peter rescuing a busload of children held hostage to stopping an assassination attempt on a well known foreign dignitary and even Peter's own escape from a courthouse where he was being investigated for murder. He realized then why Peter 'had' to lie about what he did and who he was that night to protect his cover.
"If you wish to talk about...." Caine begun.
"No," Jack cut in, shaking his head. "I can't tell you about it because I'm afraid that it would be a risk to anyone else who knows."
Caine smiled a little at that, touched by the concern. He began to say something when he felt his son's presence very nearby. "I believe Peter is here now." Within moments, both men heard Peter's calls from the stairwell.
"Hi, Pop, look, I can't stay long, just stopping for a quick bite. It looks like I'll be working longer tonight because of..."
Peter stopped short when he realized that he and his lover were not alone in the loft. His eyes darting back from his father to the face of another he recognized but hadn't seen in weeks.
"Jack? Hi," Peter greeted with surprise.
"Peter, your friend has come looking for your assistance," Caine told him, as Peter shrugged out of his jacket and tossed it over the sofa.
"Yeah, Peter, I need your help," Jack told him, his heart starting to race again.
"Why? What's happened?" Peter asked, his eyes focusing on Jack now instead of his father.
Peter watched Jack glancing over at his lover knew by Jack's serious expression that the other man didn't know if Caine should witness what he was going to say or not.
"Whatever it is your going to say is as safe with my Pop as it is with me," Peter reassured him, coming to stand near his father.
Shifting his eyes between the older and younger Caine, Jack began telling them both about the tape he'd just found, and what he witnessed on it. He watched as the expression on the two other men's faces grew more and more grave as he continued to tell his story. In a shaky voice, he left nothing out in the way of details, then paused for their reactions.
Peter was the first to speak. "All right, first of all, you're not going back to your place. Chances are if they haven't noticed the tape has been missing yet, they will soon enough and probably know where to start looking."
"Then what are you suggesting? Police custody?" Jack asked.
"Something like that," Peter murmured, going over to his coat on the couch and pulling out his cell phone. "I'm going to call my captain and sees what she'd suggest, but I think I know what we're going to end up doing here." He dialed into the office and requested to be transferred to Simms's office.
As Caine listened to Peter discussing the details to Simms, he sipped his tea and watched the eye contact play back and forth between Jack and his son. His son was barely making eye contact with either himself or Jack and the other young man's gaze kept shifting from the floor to Peter when his son was not watching. The apothecary could sense a current of unease, or perhaps uncertainty was a more accurate description, between each man and it disrupted the harmony of the loft.
"All right, Captain, first thing in the morning," Peter assured Karen Simms before clicking the phone shut and turning to Jack. "Jack, here's what's going to happen. Captain Simms thinks the best idea right now is for you to stay at my apartment until tomorrow morning when she's going to set up an appointment for you to talk to the DA and turn the tape over."
"Peter, staying at your place? Are you sure?" Jack asked.
"Yeah, my apartment is pretty secure and I'll be able to do my job better if I'm on my own turf," Peter said, deliberately choosing not to make eye contact with his lover. "It isn't going to be a problem is it?"
"I-no-but is it going to be safe? I mean...."
Peter was close enough to lay a hand on Jack's shoulder, giving it a little squeeze. "Don't worry, it's going to be fine," he said with a conviction that didn't ring totally true. The past had taught Peter repeatedly that nothing is a certainty.
Jack gave him a hesitant smile. "All right, it doesn't sound like I have much of a choice here, do I?" he asked, looking towards Caine.
"My son is very stubborn once his mind is set," Caine stated, then turned to hold his boy's gaze. "But when it comes to police matters, you could not ask to be put into safer hands."
Peter felt the blood starting to rise to his cheeks before turning back to Jack. "Um...why don't you go downstairs and wait for me in the blue Stealth out by the curb. I'll be out in a minute."
Peter watched Jack leave, then turned to his father. "Pop...."
"Peter, are you certain that he would not be safer with both of our protection?" Caine asked.
Peter moved into Pop's embrace and circled the older man's waist with his arms. The police officer let his forehead fall against his father's. "Pop, I don't want you to take this the wrong way, but...."
"Yes, Beloved?" Caine encouraged.
Peter sighed. "You're a trouble magnet...it seeks you out almost as much as it does me." Peter kissed Caine's lips and let them linger there a moment. "I'd just feel better if I knew I wasn't tempting Fate 'too' much, you know?" Pop smiled and Peter nuzzled against his cheek. "Besides, it'd be kinda hard to explain the living arrangements if Jack stayed here."
"Ah," Caine said slowly. "You do not wish your friend to get the...wrong idea."
Peter smiled mischievously, his hands running up and down his lover's broad back. "Or in this case, the right idea."
There was a momentary lag and Peter could tell something was concerning his father.
"What is it Pop?"
Caine's dark eyes locked onto those of his son. "Is this man the gentleman you met while undercover?"
Peter's eyes studied the floor for a second before answering. "Yeah, yeah he is." Peter had told Caine the following night after Terry Ames had been taken down, about meeting Jack and how he had danced and talked with the architect. It hadn't felt right 'not' to tell Caine about it, but he 'had' left out certain details...like how he'd almost been kissed.
"The fear he feels is great," Caine stated firmly.
"And he should. If what's on that tape is genuine...."
"It is." Caine confirmed.
Peter didn't even bother questioning how his lover knew for certain. "Yeah, well, all the more reason for him to fear those animals that made it. If they find out he has that kind of evidence, there's no way they're not going to try and do something about it."
"All the more reason for you to be careful, Precious One," Caine reminded him gently, his hands caressing Peter's hips.
"I know, Pop, I know," Peter murmured, leaning in for another tender assault on his father's warm lips that parted under his.
Peter took a moment to savor the spicy taste offered to him, his tongue sweeping across his older lover's teeth, stroking against the soft inner-cheeks, before each of their tongues challenged the other in a sensual battle of supremacy that neither lost or won.
When the kiss ended, Peter closed his eyes and leaned even more against his father's chest. "God, I'm going to miss you tonight so much."
"As will I, you, my darling," Caine promised him, rubbing his cheek against his lover's. "Have you decided on a witness for our ceremony yet?"
Peter's eyes sparkled as he thought about the bonding ceremony they had been planing. "I haven't asked them yet, but yeah, I've got someone in mind."
Caine kissed Peter's full lips once more. "Good, do not wait too long to discuss it with them, as it should not be much longer before the time will be right to hold the ceremony."
"I won't," Peter promised, nuzzling against Pop's nose and stealing one more kiss. "I guess I should go," he said with regret.
"Yes," Caine agreed, a hand coming up to finger the pendant around Peter's neck, the one he'd given his son in promise of their joining. "Stay safe, my darling. If you need me, I will be there."
Peter smiled softly. "I know you will." Peter snatched one more kiss, one hand stroking his father's silver hair "Love you."
"I love you, too," Caine responded, squeezing his lover tightly in one last hug. "Now go, your friend is waiting."
With a nod, Peter pulled himself from Caine's embrace, grabbed his coat and took off down the stairs, feeling his father's gaze on him with every step.
Once on the road, Peter looked over to Jack out of the corner of his eye. "Are you okay?"
Jack's gaze followed the passing of the street lamps and intersection lights as the Stealth moved steadily along. "I...I still can't believe it," Jack whispered. "What I saw... what they did to that girl. It was just...." Jack shivered, even though the heater was blowing right on him.
"Yeah, it never ceases to amaze me at the depths human depravity can sink to," Peter mumbled, his eyes trained on the slick road, raindrops glistening against the headlight beams.
Jack looked over at Peter. "Yeah, I guess you've probably seen your fair share."
Peter glanced over. "More than I've ever wanted to, trust me."
The two men remained quiet for the rest of the trip until Peter pulled into the parking lot behind an old warehouse off of the pier. "I thought we were going to your place?" Jack asked.
"We are, but I need to make a pit stop first," Peter told him. "Come on in with me."
Both men entered the old building, dull, hazy yellow lighting barely lit their way as their steps echoed on the concrete. The amount of dust and the pungent smell of must told Jack this building had been abandoned for quite sometime.
"Yo, Donny, where are you?" Peter called out, his voice bouncing off the walls.
"Could you perhaps be any louder, Peter?" they heard another voice respond.
Out of the shadows, Peter watched as Donny Double D approached.
"Hey, Donny, glad you could show up," Peter greeted. He turned to Jack. "This is Donny Double D, a friend of mine that often is the first to hear about the goings on underground." Peter turned back to Donny. "Donny, this is Jack, a friend of mine."
"Nice to make your acquaintance." Donny shook Jack's hand. "You must be all right if you're a friend of Peter's here."
"You're his informant?" Jack asked.
Donny smiled a little. "Actually, I prefer to think of myself as an information specialist, but informant would suffice." He then turned his attentions onto Peter. "Speaking of which, Pete, I don't know how much longer I will be able to assist you in these nocturnal engagements. You see, Lula is starting to get upset with my frequent absences."
"What's the problem, Donny?" Peter asked.
"Well, you see, Lula, though she's the love of my life, can tend to become rather...insecure...sometimes," Donny said.
"Lula? Insecure?" Peter asked, trying to hide a smile.
Donny held up his hands helplessly. "I know, I know, you'd never think such a strong woman as my Lula would behave in such a manner, but when I depart anymore to make our encounters, she can tend to get rather upset. Believe it or not, she thinks that 'I' am being unfaithful to her!" Donny pressed both hands against his own chest, sounding completely appalled at the suggestion.
"Oh, come on, Donny. Lula knows you'd never cheat on her, you love her too much," Peter argued.
"Believe me, I know this, but apparently my darling wife will not be soothed by my words of reassurance," Donny stated. "I mean, as soon as I'm ready to start out the door, she does one of these numbers...." Donny grabbed Peter by the flaps of his leather jacket and jerked him forward. " 'You little weasel, if I 'ever' find out you've been stepping out on me, I swear there ain't going be enough of you left to mop up with a two-by-two."
Peter arched his eyebrow and glanced down at Donny's hands on his coat. "Donny?"
Donny glanced too, dropped his hold and patted Peter's chest. "Sorry, Peter, but I just don't know what I'm going to do with her."
"What do you think could be causing this all of a sudden?" Peter asked. Lula had seemed to mellow out slightly after they'd gotten married.
"I don't know, Peter, but it appears that since Lula has become in family way...."
"She's pregnant?" Peter exclaimed.
Donny blushed and grinned happily. "Yeah, we found this out last month."
Peter slapped his friend heartily on the back. "My god, congratulations, Donny! Who would have thought it? You becoming a father!"
"Not me Peter, believe me," Donny confided. "I haven't been this frightened since Lula and I got married."
"I'm sure it's going to be just fine," Peter assured him. "You're going to make a great dad."
"You really think so?" the smaller man asked with uncertainty.
"I'd bet on it," Peter said with another slap to his back. "Although this 'does' explain why Lula has been acting the way she has."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, it seems like most women start thinking about how the pregnancy is going to affect their look as they start getting further along and they get to thinking that their husbands don't find them attractive anymore," Peter explained.
"Are you kidding?" Donny asked, astonished. "I think she's the most beautiful woman in the world, even more so now."
"Well, then don't tell me that, tell her," Peter advised. "I tell you what, why don't you take her on a nice romantic date. Do the dinner, the flowers, and the whole bit. Maybe even get away for the weekend to a little bed and breakfast or something, make her feel special. She'll love it and realize you still love her."
"You think that might work?" Danny asked.
Peter shrugged. "It certainly couldn't hurt."
Donny thought about it for a moment. "You know, I 'have' been wanting to take Lula on a second honeymoon for months...." The shorter man's dark brown eyes looked at Peter. "Thanks, Pete, I just might do that. Now, since you have helped me, how may I be of service to you?"
Peter's smile faded as he got down to business. "Donny, what have you heard about a snuff film ring operating in this area, or about any prostitutes or street people that end up missing and found dead later?"
"I am truly sorry, Peter, but I've not heard anything on such matters. The associates I keep company with are not into dealings that are that unsavory," Donny informed him. "But I 'will' keep my eyes open and my ears to the ground. If anything turns up, I'll let you know immediately."
Peter nodded. "Thanks, Donny, and give Lula my love."
"Will do, Pete, will do," Donny said, as he moved back into the shadows he'd appeared from.