"Baker 38, Baker 38," the dispatch radio crackled.
Officer Peter Caine glanced at his partner, Officer Patrick Michael Epstein.
"Pick that up, kid," Eppy told him.
"Baker 38," Peter spoke into the mouthpiece. "What've you got?"
"Possible 211 in progress, Lucky Convenient Mart, corner of 19th and Main."
"Ten-four," Peter confirmed. "19th and Main. ETA..." He glanced over at Eppy, who'd already put the lights and siren on, and was dashing to the scene. "...two minutes."
"Ten-four Baker 38." Dispatch signed off.
"Lucky Convenient Mart," Peter repeated.
"Not so lucky," Eppy commented.
"No problem. Stop the robbery, lucky again."
"Epstein's rule number 26. A cocky cop is a dead cop. Your shooting trophies don't mean shit out here, kid. Every situation's dangerous, every situation's potentially deadly. Keep your head on a swivel and for chrissake, don't get yourself killed."
Peter smirked. "Hey, caution's my motto."
"Yeah, I've seen your motto, kid. Why do you think the old man put you with me? He's trying to keep you alive. And if I let anything happen to you, he's gonna have my balls for breakfast."
"I don't need you to protect me, Eppy," Peter spat.
"Good. 'Cause I don't wanna. So don't go do something stupid, y'understand?"
They pulled up across the street from the convenience store.
"All right. Check it out, keep it cool, get it taken care of." Epstein put a hand on Peter's shoulder. "Got it?"
Peter smiled. "Got it."
They approached the building cautiously. The windows of the little shop were plastered with sale signs, making it impossible to see in.
"Let's check the back," Eppy said.
"What about backup?" Peter asked.
"Let's see what we got before we go yelling for help. Let's do our jobs first."
They found the back door, but it was locked from the inside.
"Plan B?" Peter asked.
Epstein looked at him. "Eppy's rule number 37. Give 'em something they're not expecting."
"Like go straight in the front door, acting like routine customers. Before they know it, bam, we got 'em."
"And they're just gonna let us waltz in there?"
"They got no reason to suspect...."
A commotion from the front of the building made both men pause, then they ran toward the sound, arriving just in time to see two men bolt out of the shop. There was a bag in the second man's hand.
"Police! Freeze!" Eppy drew his weapon, aiming it at the fleeing suspects.
Who just kept fleeing.
"Shit," he muttered, "I hate it when that happens." He glanced at Peter. "Well, come on, kid. You're the hotshot in this outfit. After them."
Both men set out at a run after their suspects. Peter, being younger and faster, soon left Eppy behind as he gained ground on his prey.
Suddenly, the man holding the bag tripped and went down. He scrambled back up, but Peter had lessened the distance between them considerably.
"Police! Freeze!" Peter shouted.
Instead of obeying, the guy glanced behind him, saw Peter, pulled out his gun and fired off a couple of rounds.
"Shit," Peter exclaimed, ducking into a doorway. Instinctively, he drew his gun and peered around the corner. The man gathered up his bag again and set off, and so did Peter.
"Put your hands up!" he yelled, closer this time.
The guy spun and fired again, and Peter hit the ground, rolling. He came up aiming.
"Freeze!" he shouted again. The man ignored him. "Shit," he muttered, jumping to his feet again. "Where the hell's Eppy?"
The suspect turned around to see where Peter was, saw that the cop was much closer than he wanted, and leveled his gun.
Peter aimed at the same time.
For a split second, there was eye contact.
Then he fired.
Peter heard the dual crack of the weapons, felt the recoil in his hand. It took him a moment to realize he wasn't hit.
It took the suspect a moment, too. He stood there, looking shocked, a red stain spreading on his chest. Then he fell over.
Peter ran to him, gun still drawn, covering him.
There was little point. The open, staring eyes told him everything.
Epstein caught up with him, breathing hard. "I saw the whole thing," he panted and nudged the downed man with his foot. "He dead?"
Peter nodded. He felt detached, like he was watching the scene from far away. His nerves were still singing with the adrenaline rush, the danger high. But it didn't seem real.
Eppy bent down and felt the guy's neck. He looked up sharply. "We've still got a pulse here!" he shouted.
Peter just stared at him. Pulse? The man was dead.
"Call it in." Eppy ordered.
Peter blinked. Call it in? Pulse? "What...?"
"Jesus, kid, wake up." Eppy yanked the radio out of his own pocket. "This is Baker 38. Officer-involved shooting, corner of 19th and Cleveland. Suspect is down. Repeat, suspect is down. Request an ambulance, stat.
"Confirmed, Baker 38," Dispatch answered. "Is the officer injured?"
"Negative. Only the suspect. One suspect apprehended, the other...got away."
"Ten-four, Baker 38," Dispatch confirmed.
Epstein put his radio away and looked at Peter.
"I can go after him," Peter said. After all, there was still a man on the loose. The adrenaline high was fading, leaving him shaky. But he still had a job to do.
Eppy just shook his head. "He's long gone. We've got this one. And we've got the bag."
Peter nodded and looked again at the man on the ground. His chest was barely moving and his eyes were still wide open, staring sightlessly. Eppy said he was still alive, but to Peter, he looked dead.
And I killed him.
"I saw the whole thing," Eppy said again. "He fired; you fired back. He missed. You didn't. It was a righteous shoot."
"I know," Peter nodded. He looked at Eppy. "I guess those shooting trophies are worth something after all," he grinned.
Instead of laughing at Peter's joke, Eppy frowned. "Yeah, kid," he said and patted his shoulder.
A crowd had gathered, of course. That's what crowds did.
"Let's try and get these people to back off," Eppy said. Then, "Okay, folks, nothing to see here. Move along." He used his best "Cop" voice. Peter started urging he crowd back, too
"Hey, man, he dead," a guy called out.
"No he's not," Eppy said. "An ambulance is on its way."
"You shoot 'im?" someone else asked. "Why'd you shoot 'im, cop?"
"Because he shot at me," Peter snapped.
"Officer Caine," Eppy interrupted, "you don't discuss this with anyone until there's been an investigation."
Peter took a deep breath. "What's to investigate? He...."
"Can it, Caine," Eppy warned.
Peter sighed. What was Eppy getting so uptight about? A minute ago, he was saying it was a righteous shoot.
Thankfully, the ambulance and three squads arrived just then. Peter's attention was divided between the paramedics checking out the injured man, preparing him for transport, and the other officers, investigating the incident.
One of the officers was interviewing bystanders, including the man who'd asked Peter why he'd shot the man. Of course, he wasn't allowed to be part of the interview process, but he stood back and listened to their descriptions, stories which meshed with Eppy's and his own.
Finally, the other teams finished up their investigations.
Sergeant Mike McNeill came over to Peter.
"We've got about everything we need," he said. "I just need to collect your gun and we'll be on our way."
Peter looked at him blankly. His gun? "What?"
"For the ballistics tests, Peter. You know the drill."
Peter blinked. "Oh yeah. Sure." He unholstered the weapon and dropped it into the evidence bag McNeill held.
McNeill smiled and labeled the bag. "You and Epstein get back to the precinct. The sooner we get this started, the sooner it can be over with."
"Get what started?" Peter asked.
"Of the shooting. You know that every officer-involved shooting has to be investigated. And you're gonna have about twenty sets of triplicate forms to fill out because you fired your weapon. Come on, Caine, where's your brain?"
Good question. Peter felt like his brain wasn't attached, like what was happening around him wasn't registering. He was forgetting basic procedures, like a rookie. "Wake up, Peter," he muttered under his breath.
McNeill just laughed. "See you back at base," he said. "Hey Eppy!" he called to Epstein, who was talking to another officer.
"Take your partner here and get back to Base. I don't think he can find it on his own."
"Gotcha!" Eppy called back.
McNeill and his partner left and Eppy waved Peter to the car. "Come on, kid, let's get goin'."
Peter shrugged and climbed into the car and Eppy pulled out into traffic.
"You okay?" he asked.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Peter answered. "Just...." he shrugged. "I don't know."
"You'll be okay. Once we get this nonsense over with. Goddamn Internal Affairs. They're like vultures. Wait 'til you're down, then bam!" He struck his hand with his fist. "They're gonna try and trick you with their questions, so make sure you know what happened."
"Why should they do that?" Peter asked.
"Because that's what they do, kid. Because they issue you a gun and teach you to use it, but when you do, then you have to answer questions from now 'til doomsday."
"Why? It's not like I shot him for kicks."
"I know that and you know that. But you've gotta convince IA of that."
"Won't the witness statements do that? Won't your testimony do it?"
"Sure, kid, they'll help. But they're gonna question every aspect of it. Just be prepared."
"I am," Peter confirmed. "I'm in the right. I know it, you know it, the witnesses can back me up. IA will see it, too."
Eppy just looked at Peter sideways, as if avoiding saying something.
Peter frowned. What was his problem? He'd seen it all, it was straightforward. Why was he getting all uptight about it? Why did he think there would be a problem?
Back at the Precinct, Blaisdell met them as soon as they came in.
"Peter, how're you doing?" he asked, a concerned hand going to Peter's shoulder.
"Fine. I wasn't hurt," Peter explained. He had no way of knowing what his captain had been told. Maybe he'd thought Peter had been injured.
"I know. But I wanted to make sure...." His words faded. "I just heard from the hospital. Your man didn't make it."
Didn't make it.... Funny, he'd already been thinking of the guy as dead. "Oh," was all he could think of to say.
"I'm sorry, kid," Blaisdell said, and he squeezed Peter's shoulder gently.
Peter shrugged. It wasn't like he was broken up about it, why was Blaisdell treating him so tentatively? "He fired at me, I fired back. I was the better shot."
Blaisdell looked at him sharply. "Willis from IA will be here shortly. They want to get your side of the story, and Eppy's."
"Yeah, Eppy said they can be pretty tough."
"They can, but you don't have anything to worry about. It was self-defense. The ballistics on his gun will prove that he fired it."
"You're relieved of duty until the investigation's complete," Blaisdell went on. "So once you're done with Willis, why don't you...."
"Standard procedure, Peter. You know that."
"Even though I was in the right?"
"It still has to be investigated."
Peter sighed heavily. Why was everybody going on and on about this? Why wouldn't they just leave him alone to get on with things? "Seems like a waste of manpower," he grumbled. "I can still do my job."
"A man was killed today, Officer Caine," Blaisdell said sternly. "Whether it was a lawful shooting or not, procedure must be followed. That's by the book. Not my book, Metro's. So until this is wrapped up, you're off duty." Blaisdell's expression softened. "Why don't you go on out to the house? Let Annie fix you some dinner, relax...."
"Nah, I've got some paperwork to finish up here," Peter shook his head. Annie would probably try to make a big deal about it. And it wasn't a big deal at all.
"Off duty means off duty, Peter. Not just off active duty. Once you're done with Willis, I don't want to see your face around here 'til we're given the all-clear. Got it?"
"No buts. Those are the rules. Besides," Blaisdell looked at him, concerned. "I think you should take some time. Come to terms with what happened."
Peter swallowed. Come to terms.... What terms? There weren't any terms to come to. "I'm okay, Paul. Really. I mean, I just did what needed to be done. I wish it hadn't come to that, but it did and that's that. I acted correctly, and if you're expecting me to...." He stopped, unsure of how to explain what he was feeling. Or wasn't feeling. "I'm okay about it," he said finally said, knowing that sounded lame, but not knowing what else to say.
An expression Peter couldn't identify flickered across Blaisdell's face. "Why don't you and Eppy head down to Interrogation Room Two? I'll send Willis down as soon as he gets here," he said.
Peter nodded and turned to head downstairs. Then he turned back. "I was in the right, Paul," he said.
Blaisdell smiled kindly. "I know you were, kid."
Somehow, that helped, knowing Paul was in his corner. He left his captain's office and went to find Eppy, to await his grilling. He only hoped it wouldn't be barbecuing besides.
Paul Blaisdell looked up at the knock on his door.
"Come," he said.
The door opened and Epstein stepped in, closing the door behind him.
"Done?" Blaisdell asked.
Epstein nodded. "Kid handled himself like a pro, even when Willis tried to goad him. He knew his facts, knew his motivations. The story never changed. Very cool. Willis said that once the ballistics tests come back, they ought to be able to close the book on this one."
Blaisdell leaned back in his chair, relieved. "Good." Not that he'd had any doubts, but it was always a strain when the conduct of one of your officers was called into question. Even more so when that officer was Peter. Paul knew that he didn't give Peter any special privileges around the precinct because of their relationship, but that didn't mean that the "father" part of him didn't occasionally get the upper hand.
Blaisdell looked at Epstein again. "Where's Peter now?"
"Went home," Eppy said.
Paul steepled his fingers in front of him, thinking. "Eppy, how did he seem to you?"
"Like Caine. His usual mix of serious and cocky. Impatient. Kinetic."
"Uh-huh. And how were you after you'd killed your first man?"
Epstein paused. "Upchucking in the bushes."
"And yet Peter's just like normal."
"So he's internalizing."
Blaisdell looked at him. "This is Peter, Eppy. He doesn't internalize. Everything he's thinking, everything he's feeling gets played out across that expressive face of his. But when I talked to him earlier, I couldn't read him at all.
"Peter hit a dog once, with his car. And he was upset about it for weeks. Now he's killed a man and he's not feeling anything? I don't buy it. It's not Peter."
"So what do you think's going on? Shock?"
"Maybe. I asked him to come out to the house tonight, let Annie cook for him. Maybe she can get to him."
Epstein shrugged. "And maybe he'll deal with it in his own way, his own time. You can't push these things, Cap'n. He'll deal with it when he's ready to deal with it, not on your schedule."
"Yeah, maybe," Blaisdell sighed. "Listen, Eppy. He'll be back on duty by tomorrow or the next day. He has to meet with Doc Kinney to get passed fit for duty, but that shouldn't take too long. Do me a favor and keep an eye on him. If you see anything that doesn't feel right, you tell me. I don't want this to hurt his ability to perform his duties."
"Yeah, and as a father, you don't want it to give your kid nightmares," Eppy smiled.
"This has nothing to do with my relationship with Peter...."
"Don't bullshit a bullshitter, Cap'n. You can't separate it. Peter's my partner and he's a damned good cop, and that's what's important to me. So that's why I'll keep an eye on him. He's too young, with too much potential, to let something like this mess him up.
"But looking after your kid, that's up to you."
Blaisdell smiled. Eppy was mannerless, rough, blunt to the point of crassness. And it was for exactly those reasons that Blaisdell trusted him, the reasons he'd paired him with Peter. It might be a baptism by fire, but Peter would learn plenty from the senior officer.
"Thanks, Eppy. I'll let you know when I get the final reports from Willis and ballistics."
"Sounds good," Eppy nodded, getting to his feet. "I think I'm gonna go home, find the biggest, richest Italian meal I can, fall-face first into it, then hide out in a bottle of cheap wine. I'm gettin' too old for this kinda thing."
Blaisdell chuckled. "Got bad news for you. It doesn't get any easier."
Epstein laughed and waved his farewell as he left Blaisdell's office.
Blaisdell watched him go, smiling. Then the smile faded. He knew Peter Caine, knew every emotive bone in his body, knew every sensitive nerve in his being. This was not normal, not for anybody, especially not for Peter. Though God knew what he could do about it. Eppy was right on that count. Peter would either learn to cope, or he wouldn't. And there was nothing Paul could do to change it, except to be there for his foster son, should Peter need him. He just hoped that would be enough.
As Blaisdell had commanded, Peter went right home after his interview with Willis. The interview hadn't been nearly as bad as Epstein had warned, and at the end of it, Willis seemed convinced that Peter had acted appropriately.
The only tense moment came when the IA investigator had asked Peter how he felt about killing someone. Peter replied that he wished it hadn't been necessary, but that he didn't see any way for the outcome to have been different, not once the guy, whose name was Jack Farrell, had pulled his own weapon.
Both Eppy and Willis had looked at him funny after his answer, but it seemed to pass muster, because they didn't bring it up again.
Afterwards, Eppy patted him on the shoulder. "You did good, kid," he said.
"Gee, thanks, Uncle Eppy," Peter replied snidely. Sometimes he wished everybody would stop treating him like a baby. He was twenty-two years old, for God's sake!
But Eppy just laughed good-naturedly and slapped him on the back. "Now get out of here before the boss finds you hanging around. Go home. Get drunk. Get laid. Hey, now there's a good idea! Go find some willing broad and do it 'til you can't walk no more. Then sleep it off 'til you have to come back to work."
Peter laughed. "Yeah, sure, no problem." Like there were women lining up outside his door. In his dreams.
"With your young stud looks, it shouldn't be," Eppy said. "Tell ya what--have one for me."
Peter just laughed and Eppy pushed him toward the door, sending him home.
Actually, Eppy's suggestion had some definite appeal. It would feel good to bury himself in something warm and willing tonight. But since Peter wasn't seeing anybody right now, there didn't seem to be a good prospect for that particular activity. Instead, he figured that he'd spend the evening with a pizza, several beers, and the remote control, letting himself go boneless.
Unfortunately, his brain and his body had other ideas. He couldn't settle and his mind was racing. He paced around his apartment, picking up things, putting them down. As if he was looking for something, but he didn't know what. He felt vaguely dissatisfied, like something was missing.
He channel surfed for several moments, watching image after image flash past his vision, then shut the TV off. Whatever he was looking for, he wasn't going to find it on the idiot box.
He got up again, pacing some more, feeling uneasy, restless. The events of the afternoon kept playing over and over in his head: the high-speed chase down the street, the shit-panic when he realized that the guy was shooting at him. The instinctive reaction: his gun had been in his hand before he even realized what he was doing.
And then there was that interminable split-second, in which they both knew that one of them wouldn't be getting up again. Was it luck or skill which had determined the victor? Peter wanted to believe it was skill, that his marksmanship trophies really had given him the edge. But he couldn't be sure. He'd never be sure. His stomach lurched, not at the thought of having killed someone. But at the realization that a fraction of an inch off-target, a fraction of a second slower, and he might be the one belly-up in the coroner's office.
"You're in a cheery mood tonight, Caine," he muttered to himself. "A real riot."
He flipped the TV on again, looking for something to distract him.
He flipped it off almost as quickly.
He got up and paced around his apartment like a caged animal, feeling edgy and unsettled.
Finally, Peter gave up, threw on his coat, and headed out the door.
He ended up at Maxwell's, the club most of his friends on the force hung out at. Several of them were there when he made his way into the dimmed interior. They greeted him cheerily, with handshakes and good-natured back slaps. He'd barely ordered his first drink when several of his buddies came up to him and gathered around him in a clump.
"Hey, Pete, how's it going?" Jeff Campbell asked. Jeff had joined the force a couple of years before Peter, and the two had worked together occasionally.
"Fine," Peter answered.
"Heard about what happened today," Campbell went on. "I'm sorry."
"Thanks," Peter said automatically. Sorry for what?
"How you holding up?"
"Okay," Peter shrugged. Everyone seemed so concerned about him. Why? Did they think he'd be falling apart?
"I remember how I felt after the first time it happened to me," Campbell told him. "Went home and got sick. Then I got drunk."
Mike Lee, who'd joined the force about the same time as Jeff, laughed. "At least you made it home. I did it right there on the street."
Campbell joined in the joke. "I'll bet that won you points."
"Hey, as long as I didn't do it on my partner's shoes, it didn't matter," Lee said and Peter tried to imagine Eppy's reaction if Peter'd puked on Eppy's shoes. He shook his head. Nope, couldn't even imagine it.
"If it's any consolation, Pete," Campbell addressed him again, "that sick feeling never really goes away, but it does get easier to deal with. I've fired my gun around a dozen times in the course of my career. Made contact four times, two fatalities. I still remember each of them like it was yesterday. That never changes. But eventually, they stop giving you nightmares."
"Thing is, Pete," Lee went on, "don't try and do anything to make yourself feel better. Don't try and see his family, for instance. You can't make any difference and they're gonna hate you, with good reason. It sure as hell won't take away your guilt, it'll only make matters worse."
Peter nodded. He had no intention of seeing the guy's family. In fact, he just wished everybody would forget about it, stop treating him like he was made of glass, and let him get on with his life.
"My advice," Campbell draped an arm around Peter's shoulders, "is to get drunk, call your girlfriend, get laid, and go to sleep until say, tomorrow afternoon sometime. They'll probably clear you by Thursday, so enjoy the time off while you can. Relax, put it behind you. It's the best thing."
Peter chuckled. "Funny, Eppy told me the exact same thing."
"Well, it's good advice," Campbell said. The time-honored way to deal with things like this." "Okay, thanks," Peter said. "Maybe I will."
"Nick!" Campbell called for the bartender. "Another for our buddy, Pete here!"
"Comin' up!" Nick replied and set another beer in front of Peter.
"Drink up, my man," Lee said. "You've earned it. Don't worry about driving later, we'll see you get home safely." He patted Peter's shoulder.
Peter smiled and picked up his beer. Inside, he was a roiling mass of confusion. The way they were all acting, you'd think someone close to him had just died, that he'd just killed his best friend. It was as if they expected him to be broken up about it, expected him to fall apart. Instead, the only problem he was having was with their attitudes.
He took a big swallow of the beer.
Unless that was what he was supposed to do-- fall apart. That's what everybody else did. Threw up, felt sick, felt guilty.
But not Peter. He didn't feel anything. Except maybe glad it was over, and glad that when the smoke cleared, it hadn't been him lying face down on the pavement.
What kind of man kills another man and feels nothing?
If you rejoice in victory, then you delight in killing.
If you delight in killing, you cannot fulfill yourself.
Words from another time, another self, came to him, words he hadn't thought about in far too long, spoken in a voice he hadn't heard in....
Ten years! Ten years this month.
Peter shivered involuntarily.
I have traveled far from your path, Father.
When Peter became a cop, part of him hoped that his father, his real father, would be as proud of him as his foster father was.
I don't think you'd be proud of me now, would you?
Suddenly, his beer tasted bitter, and the company of his fellow officers was too noisy and too raucous. He set his glass back on the bar.
"You know, guys, I appreciate what you said, but.... I think I just need to be alone for a little while," he told them. "Thanks for everything. I'll see you around."
Campbell frowned. "You sure you're all right?"
"Yeah, I'm fine, I'm just...." He shrugged. "I guess I'm more tired than I realized. I think I'm gonna make it an early night. Sleep 'til tomorrow some time, like you said. 'Night."
They said their good nights and Peter made good his escape.
Outside the bar, he stood on the pavement and breathed in the cool night air. He leaned against the brick wall, closing his eyes.
He was a killer.
He'd always known, intellectually, that some day he'd have to fire his gun, some day someone might die because of it. He accepted the idea of it, he even accepted the actuality of it. It didn't bother him that the guy was dead, or that he'd been the one to kill him. After all, it was one of them or the other, and Peter was damned if it was going to be him. They'd both fired, only Peter's bullet was the one which had found home. Maybe it was luck, but it was also skill. Peter was a cop; he'd just done what he'd been trained to do. He'd acted like a cop. Even Willis had agreed.
So why was he supposed to feel like he'd done something terrible?
Worse, Why did he feel like he had done something terrible but it didn't matter to him? Was he so cold, so heartless that he could no longer feel for someone whose life he'd ended?
When had he moved so far away from his father's teachings?
Peter opened his eyes. Joe, Maxwell's bouncer, was standing there, looking at him.
"You, okay?" Joe asked. "You want me to call you a cab?"
"No, I'm fine," Peter shook his head. "I only had one beer. I'm just tired. I'll be okay, but thanks."
"Yeah, I'm sure. I'm going right home and straight to bed. See you, Joe." He waved and headed down the street toward his car, an '87 IROC, white with blue detailing, the latest of his cars from the Police auction, and his favorite so far.
Peter climbed in and started the engine, pulling out into traffic. He glanced at the dashboard clock. A little after 9:00. It was too early and he was too restless to go home. If only he was still seeing Lisa, he could give her a call, go over there and take Eppy's suggestion--make love until he couldn't see straight, until he could forget about the events of the day. But Lisa had ended; it was over about the time Peter got so wrapped up in an investigation he'd managed to blow her off three times in a row. Not that he blamed her, but he really missed her now.
Peter didn't know how long he drove around the streets of the city, no destination in mind, his thoughts a jumble of confusion. But he suddenly realized where he was and smiled ruefully. Like a migratory bird returning to roost, whenever Peter's heart was troubled, he still found himself heading for the one place he could find peace: home.
The Blaisdells were in the family room, Kelly watching television, Paul reading and Annie knitting a sweater for Carolyn, when they heard a car in the driveway.
"That's Peter," Annie said, her sensitive hearing recognizing the sound of his car.
"Figures that he'd come right in the middle of Moonlighting," Kelly sighed.
"You can catch it in reruns," Annie told her.
"These are the reruns," she grumbled. "Why's he coming over so late, anyway?"
"Peter had a rough day today, babe," Paul answered. "Just...just treat him like normal."
"Why wouldn't I?" Kelly frowned. "Why, what happened?"
"Later, honey, okay?" Annie said.
Kelly sighed, exasperated. "No one ever tells me anything," she muttered.
They heard the front door open and close again, but Peter didn't come into the family room. Instead, they heard his soft tread on the steps, and in the hallway upstairs.
Annie put her needles down, but Paul's hand on her arm stopped her.
"Let me talk to him, Babe," he said. "If he doesn't come down, you can go up later."
"All right," she nodded. "Call if you need me."
He leaned over, gave his wife a kiss, then got to his feet and headed for the stairs. As he went, he heard Kelly ask, "What's going on, Mom...?"
The upstairs hall light was off, but there was a single light in Peter's old room. Paul paused before entering; this was Peter's private domain, even now. And Peter had come here for the sanctuary it offered, a sanctuary he obviously couldn't find in his own apartment. Paul heard the sound of paper rustling, pages turning. He took a deep breath and stepped into the room.
Peter was standing next to the bookcase, thumbing through a large paperback book.
"Peter?" he said softly, not wanting to disturb him.
Peter looked up at him, something sorrowful in his eyes.
"We thought you'd be here earlier," Paul said, trying to keep his voice neutral. "Annie can probably heat you up some leftovers if you want."
Peter smiled sadly. "That's okay. I'm not hungry." He glanced down again at the book in his hands. Paul recognized it as a copy of the Tao te Ching Peter had bought several years ago, being more taken by the stunning black and white photography and the Chinese calligraphy than he had by the translation of the text. Paul had read the book himself, and had recognized in its pages many of the quotations Peter had uttered as a boy, words of wisdom taught by a father gone, but never forgotten. What had prompted him to look for this book tonight?
"You all right?" he asked.
Peter shrugged. There was a contained stillness about him, the same as when he'd first come to live with them all those years ago. Back then, Paul sometimes wondered whether he'd ever manage to see inside the depths of Peter Caine. Eventually, that eased, though it never went away completely. There was always a wall, always a barrier behind which Peter allowed no one. No one except a father long dead.
"Are you worried about your interview with Willis?" Blaisdell prodded gently. "Because I talked to him before I left. He said everything checks out. From here on, it's just a formality. Get the ballistics tests back, get the okay from Doc Kinney, and you're set."
Peter nodded and there was a weariness in him. As if the simple act of nodding took tremendous effort. "I'll be glad to get back to work," he said, but his tone sounded more resigned than pleased.
Paul watched him for a few more moments, looking for an opening. Peter remained contained, closed off.
"Peter, is there something else the matter?" he finally asked.
Peter sighed. When he looked at Paul, his expression was bleak. "I went to Maxwell's," he began. "A bunch of the guys were there. Jeff Campbell, Mike Lee, some of the others. They kept going on about how I shouldn't feel so bad, and that eventually, the sick, guilty feeling would go away, that it was normal. It happens to everybody."
"It affects everybody differently," Paul said. "But eventually, yeah, it does go away."
"But it's not affecting me at all," Peter said, his voice beginning to rise, the first emotion Paul had seen in him since this whole mess began. "It's almost like it didn't happen. Didn't happen to me. Hell, Paul, most of the time, I can't even remember the guy's name! I don't feel sick, I don't feel remorse, and I sure as hell don't feel guilty for blowing a lowlife like that away! But I'm supposed to? So what kind of person does that make me if I don't?" He looked down at the book again, his knuckles going white as he gripped it.
"When did I become so amoral?" he asked quietly.
"You're not amoral, Peter," Paul assured him. "Far from it. Are you glad you killed him?"
Peter considered. "Not glad like 'boy that was fun', but glad that if one of us had to be dead, better him than me."
"Well, that's normal enough," Paul said. "We all have to use our guns at one point or another. We may not like the idea, but we all have to accept the fact that we may at some point injure someone, maybe even kill them. It comes with the territory, and accepting that as part of the job doesn't make you amoral, or sick, or warped, or anything like that." Peter looked at Paul sharply, as if he didn't believe him. "You did what you had to do today. You did your job."
"But everybody keeps going on about how hard it is to handle, the idea that you've taken another life. But it doesn't bother me," Peter said emphatically.
"Ah, but does it give you joy?"
"Did you get off on it? Get a thrill from it?"
Peter swallowed. "Um...there was a rush, yeah. When I realized I was the one still standing."
"Adrenaline. That's expected. But did you get a rush from the realization that you'd taken a life? A thrill from the sense of power?"
"No," Peter frowned. "Nothing like that. Relief, mostly."
Paul smiled. "Then you don't have anything to worry about. Everyone reacts differently. It could be that the reaction will set in later tonight, or tomorrow, or a week from now. Or you may never get a reaction. You come into this with a slightly different frame of reference after all," Paul said, nodding at the book. "You come from a martial arts background. The Shaolin probably look at death differently from Western society."
Peter sighed heavily and opened the volume again, flipping the pages. He paused at one section. "What others teach, I also teach," he quoted, "that is: 'A violent man will die a violent death!'"
"Jack Farrell was a violent man," Blaisdell said.
"So am I," Peter said softly. "I carry a gun. I use it." He turned away, dragging a hand through his hair. "I killed a man today, Paul. How does that make me less violent than Farrell?"
Paul reached for the book, taking it from Peter's hands. He thumbed through the pages until he found the passage he'd remembered reading all those years ago.
"Weapons are instruments of fear;" he quoted. "They are not a wise man's tools. He uses them only when he has no choice." He closed the book and handed it back to Peter. "You had no choice today, Peter. He pulled a gun and fired at you. If you hadn't used your weapon he might have shot you. He might...he might have killed you. And I'd much rather be standing here having this conversation with you than...," Paul took a deep breath, pushing the overflowing emotions back. "...than making arrangements for your funeral."
Peter stared, his usual warm compassion warring with fear and sorrow. He felt nothing? Bullshit.
"Serve and protect and kill?" Peter asked ironically.
"If that's what it takes, yes," Paul agreed firmly. "I don't advocate my officers going out on shooting sprees, but in certain situations, there's no other choice."
"My father used to say there is always another choice."
"Lao Tsu didn't think so," Paul countered.
Peter ducked his head, swallowing. His finger traced the intricate Chinese characters on the cover of the book. He took a deep breath. "Did you know it's been ten years?" He looked up again. "Ten years next week."
"I hadn't realized,"
"I hadn't either, until tonight," Peter admitted softly. He sighed heavily. "I can't help but think...that he'd be so disappointed in me."
"Disappointed in a responsible, intelligent, strong, courageous, caring son? I don't think so."
"If you delight in killing, you cannot fulfill yourself," Peter quoted.
"You aren't delighting in this, Peter. If you were, we wouldn't be having this discussion. What you are doing is your job, the one you've been trained for. Surely your father would respect that."
Peter just shook his head. "I've drifted so far from the path we were on together...."
"Maybe just gone a different direction toward the same goal," Paul suggested, taking a deep breath. "I can't know how your father would have reacted to all of this, Peter. But I know how I feel." He reached up and put his hands on Peter's shoulders, fingers stroking the cords in his neck, feeling the tension there. "I know that I couldn't be prouder of you, of the cop you are, and of the man you are. You have never done anything which would make me ashamed to call you my son. And you have never done anything to make me unwilling to number you among the officers in my precinct."
Peter looked away again, flushing. "Yeah, well you're prejudiced," he said, but there was the slightest smile playing at the corners of his mouth.
"Yeah," Paul agreed. "You wanna make something of it?"
Peter chuckled and shook his head. "Thanks," he whispered.
"Any time," Paul replied warmly, patting his shoulder. He watched that play of emotions across his son's face, grateful to see them again. This was the Peter Caine he knew. "Come here," he murmured pulling him into a hug, one Peter returned willingly. "The day you're too old to get a hug is the day they can bury me."
"Never," Peter said hoarsely, long-pent up emotions now coming out all over the place. When the hug broke, Peter wiped at his eyes.
"You want to stay tonight?" Paul asked.
Peter closed his eyes and nodded, not trusting his voice.
"Good. Annie's been worried."
"Does she know?" Peter looked at him, and there was a touch of panic in his voice.
Paul nodded. "When I thought you'd be coming by earlier, I had to tell her why."
"How is she about it?"
"Glad it's Farrell and not you who's spending tonight in the county morgue."
"What about Kelly?"
"She knows something's up, but not what. It's up to you if you want to tell her."
Peter thought for a moment. "Can I get away with not telling her?"
Paul shrugged. "She's getting pretty sharp; I can't promise anything."
"She's always been sharp," Peter said.
Paul smiled. "Why don't you come downstairs and say hello."
"Yeah, okay," Peter nodded. He looked at the book in his hands again. Then with a sigh, put it back on the shelf. His fingers lingered on the cover. "I didn't know you knew the Tao," he said.
Paul smiled. "I took a Shaolin trainee into my home. I wanted to know what made him tick. The Tao, Chuang Tsu, Sun Tzu. I read them all."
Peter looked at him curiously. "Did it help?"
"Only in that it taught me patience," Paul said gently. "Funny how it never worked that way with you."
Peter flushed and ducked his head, not looking too much older than that fourteen year old boy he'd been when he first came to stay. Older, wiser, street savvy, sharp. And still that kid from the temple.
Paul smiled put his arm around his foster son's shoulders. "Come on, kid, let's go downstairs."
Together father and son went downstairs to join the family.
Chapter 20: Young Friends and Old Whiskey
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