Reach Out and Touch Someone



by Jeanne DeVore



Peter bounded up the fire escape to his father's apartment. There was no special reason for the visit; simply that Peter had the afternoon off and wanted to spend some time with his father. Since Paul...left, Peter had found himself gravitating more and more to Caine's pressence, as if to reassure himself that the priest wasn't going to leave as well. As if to make sure that his father was right where he'd left him.

Caine was in his work room, writing in a book when his son swung into the room.

"Pop, good, glad I caught you home," he breathed, a little winded from the run up the four flights.

"Is there something you need, my son?" Caine asked, looking up from his work.

"No, just didn't want to come over here for nothing. You're too damn hard to track down out in the community; everybody's seen you, but no one remembers exactly where!"

His father smiled and closed his journal, setting it to one side. "I am glad you have come. I need your help."

Peter frowned. "You need my help?"

Caine nodded, standing up and putting a hand on his son's arm. "Yes. I need you to get me something."

"What do you need?" This sounded very odd; Caine had little need for material possessions, for all his work room was crowded with junk the worth of which only Caine could measure. What could he possibly need that he couldn't get himself?

"I would like--a telephone. And an--answering machine?" the priest said tentatively.

"Wha'?!?" Peter boggled. "Are you kidding me? You're finally gonna put in a phone?"

"Yes," Caine nodded firmly.

"How come? I mean don't get me wrong, Pop, I think it's great. But why now all of a sudden?"

Caine took a deep breath. "It is--required. So that Annie can reach me, if she needs me."

"Whoa--you're gettin' a phone for Mom? For Annie?" he corrected. Caine only smiled, obviously not minding Peter's name for his foster mother. "How come?"

"She is alone, now that Blaisdell is gone. She may need some help. I would like her to be able to call me. She cannot get around, get what she needs...."

"Jeez, you're making her sound like she's crippled, not blind!" Peter laughed. "But you're right there. Anyone else, it's 'Come to Chinatown--ask for Caine'. But it's not so easy for her to get to Chinatown. So if she needs you...." Peter looked sideways at his father. "Did Paul ask you to look out for her?"

"No," Caine shook his head. "He did not ask; he did not need to. He knew that I will always do whatever I can to help his family. They are my family also--through you."

Peter just smiled. Not to mention the special bond between his foster mother and his father, a bond which transcended mere friendship. Peter sometimes thought Annie understood his father better than he did--certainly better than anyone else he knew.

"Well, I think it's great that you're finally gonna get a phone. I'll pick one up for you. Anything special you want it to do?"

"And an answering machine?" Caine reminded him.

"Yeah, sure, I'll get a phone with one built in."

"And--" Caine took a deep breath, "one that can be turned--off?"

"Pop, what's the point of having one if you're gonna turn it off?"

"Not the telephone, the noise. The bell."

"The ringer," Peter nodded. "Yeah, I could see you wouldn't want it to ring sometimes. There are times I'd like to turn mine off, too, but they'd just beep me, so there's no point. Most of the better ones have ringers that can be turned off, no problem."

"If it does not ring," Caine questioned, "will the answering machine still answer?"

"Sure, the ringer's just so you know it's ringing. The answering machine will pick up if you don't. And they've usually got flashing lights so you know if a message has come in. Just remember to look at it occasionally so you'll know if anyone's called."

Caine nodded firmly, and Peter chuckled again. His father with technology was amazing to behold. How the man had gone through his entire life with so little contact with the modern world was beyond him. And yet, the depth of things about which his father did know was astonishing. He was pleased that Caine was finally succumbing enough to the modern age to get a telephone, something which would make his son's life easier. And if it took concern for Annie to make him do it, so much the better.

"OK," he went on, "phone with a ringer that turns off, answering machine... Anything else? How about one of those headphone things so you can talk on the phone and move around the room--what am I talking about, you're hardly gonna use the thing," he shook his head. "Never mind. Oh, does this place have a phone jack?"

"I do not know," the priest shrugged.

"It'd be a box on the wall, or a plate, with a little square hole in it."

"I do not know," Caine repeated. So they scoured Caine's living quarters in search of a phone jack, coming up empty.

"Well," Peter sighed, "we're gonna have to get you wired here. That'll take some time. I'll call the phone company, get your service started--wait a minute. You've got no credit history, they're never gonna give you a phone." Caine simply looked at him expectantly. He took a deep breath. "All right, I'll put the phone in my name with an unlisted number, so you won't get any unwanted calls. That work for you?"

Caine shrugged. "I trust you will do--what is necessary."

"Yeah," Peter nodded. Then he chuckled again. "God, I can't believe it! My father--with a phone. This is good!"

"Peter," Caine frowned, "I will not use it often. It is only for--emergencies."

"Yeah, but it means I can still get in touch with you when I need to, like if we've made plans and I'm gonna be late. Or you can get in touch with me."

The priest shook his head. "If I need you, I will still come to you."

"But with a phone you don't have to."

"But I prefer to."

"Whatever," Peter sighed, shaking his head. His father would be modernized just so far. "Well, if you're gonna get your phone, I'd better set the ball rolling. I'll let you know when the phone guy'll come to install the jack, OK?"

Caine nodded. "OK," he repeated and smiled, making Peter laugh.

"OK," Peter repeated, giving his father a quick hug. "See ya later."



~~~



Three days later, Peter pulled up behind his father's building. He got out of the car, reaching behind the driver's seat and pulling out the bag from the electronics store which contained a brand new telephone/answering machine combo--the nicest, most reliable, and easiest to use model he could find. He'd even resorted to looking through old issues of Consumer Reports for suggestions as to which one to get. He wanted his father's first telephone to be a good experience for the older man, so he wanted one which would work properly, and with as little fuss as possible. Caine was very intelligent, but had little patience for the icons of the technological age.

As he headed up the stairs, Peter noticed the telephone van parked behind the building. Good, the phone guy must be putting in the jack.

He entered the apartment to the sound of banging. "Pop?" he called. "Pop, where are you?" He found his father pacing in the empty room he used for working out and meditation. "Hi," he grinned.

"Peter, that man has been knocking holes in my walls--all morning," Caine began without a greeting. He sounded agitated.

"Well, this place wasn't really designed to be living quarters, he's probably having to bring the phone line up from the street."

"But does he have to make so much noise?" his father hissed.

Peter smiled affectionately and put a hand on his father's shoulder. "They're solid brick, I'm sure he's having a tough time. Look, I'm here now, I'll keep an eye on things, why don't you go out for awhile--clear your head."

Caine looked at him doubtfully for a moment, then sighed heavily and walked out of the room, going into his work room and snagging his hat from where it sat on the cluttered table. The phone man was drilling a hole in the wall at about knee level.

"I will return," the priest told his son, raising his voice to be heard over the din of the drill.

"I'll be here, don't worry," Peter smiled. With that, the older man hurriedly walked out of the room. Peter watched him go, shaking his head. Caine didn't get upset often, only, like Peter, when he felt things were beyond his control. Things like getting a new telephone.

He went back into the workroom. "Hi," he said to the service man.

"Hi," the guy answered back.

"I'm Peter Caine," he extended his hand.

They shook hands. "The old guy your father?"

"That's right."

"He's a moody SOB."

Peter smiled. "Nah. This is kinda new for him--the phone, I mean."

"You're kidding. He's never had a phone before?"

"Nope. Never needed one."

"What kind of guy doesn't have a phone?" the service guy shook his head.

"A Shaolin priest."

"A what?"

"A priest. He's not big on technology."

"No, really?" the guy said sarcastically. "Looks like some mad monk's cell in here." He waved an arm expansively to include the cluttered workroom. "And that stuff in the other room, looks like a shrine or something."

Peter wondered if that kind of stupidity was hereditary or if you had to work at it. "It is a shrine. I told you, he's a priest. He's also an apothocary--an herbal healer. He's a very wise man." He crossed his arms, hoping the guy would drop the line of conversation. "How much more do you have to do?"

"This has been a real bitch; these are all solid brick under the plaster--makes it a pain in the butt to get through. I've had to run channels all the way from the door. What a weird place to live," the guy shook his head.

"Yeah, maybe," Peter grinned, "but you can't beat the rent." He'd been amazed when his father had told him that the owner of the grocery downstairs was letting him live rent-free--something about it being good luck to have a Shaolin priest on the premises.

The guy hammered another set of brackets into the brick. "There--just screw the plate on and we're set." He finished the job minutes later. "OK, Mr. Caine, let's test it out." He pulled out his portable and plugged it into the jack. "Eureka!" He held out the phone; Peter could hear the dial tone. "There you go" the service guy said as he packed his tools away, "you can tell your old man when he gets back that he's now a part of the age of digital communications!"

Peter laughed. "I don't think so, I think I'd just better tell him he has a telephone. Any more than that I'm apt to scare him off. Thanks."

"No problem," the guy said, filling out the receipt which Peter signed. "Good luck." He left the apartment, and Peter traced the line of conduit from a hole near the outside door, along the floorboards, and into the work room, where it ended in a jack box just inside the door. Peter unpacked the new telephone and plugged it in, pleased to get a dial tone on it as well. He pulled out the manual, deciding to read up on how the answering machine worked, so when his father came back, he could explain it all to him.

Caine returned a few minutes later.

"He is gone?" the priest asked.

"All done and all gone," Peter confirmed. "Here's your phone; let me show you how it works."

Caine looked at him strangely. "I have used a telephone before, Peter. I know how one works."

Peter took a deep breath. If Caine was going to be obstinate.... "I meant the answering machine and everything."

"Oh." The priest came over and looked at the telephone. "It is bigger than I thought it would be."

"That's 'cause the answering machine's built in. Now, see this button that says record? You press this and you can record your message--what everybody hears when they call you and the machine answers. Go on, record your message."

Caine hesitantly pushed the record button. Then he paused. "What do I say?" he asked.

Peter chuckled and pushed the button again, stopping the record. He rewound the tape. "No, Pop, think of what you want to say first, then record it. Most people say something like 'hi, I'm not here, leave your message and I'll call you back'."

Caine considered for a moment, then pushed the button again. "Hello. I am not here. Leave your message and I will call you back." There was another pause. "Now what do I do?"

Peter shook his head. "You press the stop button, but preferably before you say 'now what do I do'." He rewound the tape again. "Let's try it again. And this time try not to sound like someone's holding a gun to your head."

Caine sighed heavily and gave his son what could only be described as a "long-suffering" look. But he gamely took a deep breath and tried again. This time, he recorded his message and stopped the tape at the appropriate time.

"Well," Peter said, "it isn't the liveliest message I've ever heard, but it'll do. Now, when you go out, or if you just want the machine to pick up, you press this button. That turns the machine on. It'll pick up after 4 rings if you don't pick up first. Do you want to change that, or will 4 rings do it?"

"That is fine. Especially if I do not have to listen to the rings."

"Oh yeah, here's the volume control. You can turn the ringer way down, or all the way off, see?"

Caine nodded. "How do I know who has called?"

"If someone calls, this little red light will blink. You press the stop button, then rewind the tape. Then press play and you'll be able to hear any messages you get. When you've heard them, press stop, then rewind again, and then On, and that'll reset the machine for next time."

Caine frowned in concentration. "Stop, then rewind, then on--"

"No, then play."

"Then play, then-- Then stop then rewind, then on."

"Right."

Caine just shook his head and went to his work table, finding a blank piece of paper and a pen. "Tell it to me again."

"You press stop, then rewind the tape," Peter began, watching fascinated as his father made six little Chinese characters on the page, each symbolizing a step in the process. Peter laughed. "Pop, you've got to be the only person I can think of who'd write out his answering machine instructions in ideograms!"

"The characters tell me more than mere words," Caine explained.

"Yeah, they probably do, too," Peter shook his head. "OK, ready for the next part?"

"There is more?" Caine raised an eyebrow.

"Well, yeah, but this is easy. This is to set the number presets. This phone can remember nine phone numbers, so--"

"I--do not know--nine telephone numbers," Caine insisted.

"So you use the ones you do know," Peter told him. "Here, let's start with Mom, since she's the reason you got the phone. She'll be number one." Peter quickly entered the Blaisdell's phone number. "There, now you don't have to know her number, just remember the number one. You can write them on that slip there that fits into your phone. Now, I'll be number two." Peter programmed his home number in to the second memory slot. "Number three--that'll be my number at the precinct. Number four--that'll be my cellphone."

"Peter--" Caine interrupted, "are all the rest of these numbers going to be you?"

Peter stared at him, surprised. "No, just--I thought you'd want to be able to get hold of me."

"I do. But why does one man need three telephones?"

"It's--well, it's--it's my job. People have to be able to get ahold of me at any time. That's why I carry the beeper, too. Do you want the beeper number?"

"No," Caine shook his head. "Three numbers is enough."

"Yeah," Peter nodded. "Besides, if I'm not at work, they can always beep me for you." He smiled at his father. "Now, who else are you gonna call--the Ancient?"

"No."

"No, you're gonna visit him. How about--how about the Golden Dragon?"

"Why would I want to call the Golden Dragon?"

"Order carry out?"

"Why can I not order it when I am there, like I have always done?"

"You can, but--well, I just thought--" He sighed. "Never mind. Anyone else you want to call?"

Caine thought for a moment. "Perhaps--Mary Margaret?"

Peter was stunned for a moment. "Skalany?"

"Yes," Caine nodded and there was a twinkle in his eye.

"Um, err--" he stammered, "I don't know Skalany's home number--her number at the precinct's the same as mine."

"I will find it out," Caine said confidently and Peter shook his head. Just when he thought he had his father all figured out....

"Anyone else?" he asked.

"No," Caine shook his head firmly.

"OK, then, that's it. You're all set. Why don't you try it out?"

Caine frowned. "I cannot call you; you are here."

"Well, you could if you wanted, my machine would pick up. But why don't you call Mom?"

"Yes," he smiled. "She is--one?"

"Yep. Go on."

Caine picked up the receiver and firmly pressed the number one. There was a pause, then he said, "Annie? It is Caine." He broke into a grin. "I am talking on my new telephone!"

Peter chuckled, too. For all his father's hesitance about getting a telephone, once he'd made the decision, he'd been really great about it. It would be accepted, just like the television at the temple had been accepted.

Caine was talking to Annie, telling her about the telephone. "Peter, what is my phone number?" he asked.

"Um--" Peter dug out the piece of paper from the phone company. "555-7917," he answered, and Caine repeated the number to Annie. While they continued to talk, Peter pulled the slip out of the slot in the telephone and wrote the number on it, as well as the names of the four numbered presets. Admittedly, it looked a little silly having three "Peters" listed there, but he identified them with a location--Peter home, Peter work, Peter cellphone. He thought about adding Peter beeper, but decided his father was right--that was overkill.

He slid the slip back into place, pointing to it so that his father would notice. The older man nodded, his concentration focused on his phone call. Peter packed away the pieces from the box, putting them back in the bag, ready to be thrown out. Then he sat down on the edge of the platform to wait for his father to finish.

Five minutes later, with Caine showing no sign of hanging up in the near future, Peter got up and went in search of a broom and dustpan to clean up the mess made by the telephone guy. That chore finished, Peter returned to the work room to find Caine still talking to his foster mother. He shook his head. This was a twist he hadn't expected--the idea that his father would spend a long time on the phone just--chatting. Of course, it was to Annie, that probably made a difference. And, to be fair, it appeared that Caine was actually listening more than speaking, though he did make comments now and then--real comments besides the "um-hmm"s and "yesses".

Peter looked at his watch. He had to leave in a half-hour anyway, he might as well go now; surprise Kelly and actually get home early for a change. Especially since his father seemed absorbed in his phone call and wasn't paying any attention to him....

Don't pout, Peter, he told himself, he's just enjoying his new toy. He smiled at the thought and his petulant mood vanished.

"Pop?" he said softly to attract his father's attention. Caine didn't look up. "Pop? Dad?" That did it. Caine looked at him questioningly. "I've gotta go; I'll talk to you later."

His father nodded. "Just a moment, Peter is leaving," he said into the phone. He moved the mouthpiece away. "You must work tonight?"

"Nah, but Kelly's cooking dinner, and if I'm late she'll skin me alive." He kissed his father on the top of the head. "I'll talk to you later; give me a call sometime. Bye, Mom!" he called, loud enough so that his foster mother would hear his voice over the phone.

Caine chuckled. "She says to drive safely," he told his son.

"Tell her I always do," Peter grinned.

"He says he always does," Caine said into the phone. Then he told Peter, "She says she has driven with you before."

Peter's mouth opened in surprise. "If you two are gonna pick on me, I'm goin'!"

"You said you were going before," Caine reminded him calmly.

Peter laughed. "I'll see you later," he said again, giving his father's shoulder a squeeze. Caine patted his hand, returning to his phone conversation before Peter was even out of the room.

Peter shook his head as he left his father's apartment. The length of Caine's phone call to Annie had been a surprise. Fortunately, she was only a local call; God forbid he should discover long-distance! Peter suddenly had a flash of vision: of his father, wandering around his apartment, phone pressed to his ear, dispensing wisdom over the phone lines, even as his hands prepared the medicines he dispensed to those who came to him. The method of communication may have changed, the message remained the same. It was a fascinating thought; a juxtiposition of past and present, and a use for the telephone which had not occurred to Peter before. Still, this telephone marked one more way in which Caine had moved into the twentieth century.

Now, if only he could convince his father of the wonders of burritos....

~End~



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