This was the third Chinese apothecary I'd visited today. Caine was chatting with the proprietor in his own language and I was just breathing in the myriad of scents. I was in Manhattan to give evidence to the DA for a Federal investigation on computer piracy and Caine had come along to look for some remedy he couldn't find at home. I wondered to the back of the shop to check out their tinctures. A mixture of feverfew and dong quai is a mainstay for me when fever strikes, a carry over from my mercenary days.
Someone jangled the door chime and out of habit, I looked warily. You can never be certain when a bad memory from the past is going to pop up and hit you. But this was only a small, dark haired woman. The displays masked her body but nothing could distract from that expressive face, a face that rang a bell. She greeted the man behind the counter in Chinese.
That voice. I knew that voice. Not Chinese but English. Hot sun and desert and pain, always the pain. For a moment the past was all too real then I was back in the present. She was greeting Caine who was bowing in his usual courtly fashion. Then her eyes moved to me, although I stood in the shadows and had made no motion since she entered.
"Griffin?" You could hear the surprise in her voice.
"Dragon." My own sounded tight and restrained. There was so much I wanted to say and no way I could find the words.
We moved towards each other at the same moment and my shock was complete when I saw the distended stomach. The shock must have shown because she laughed at me.
I savored that laugh which I had never thought to hear again, low and husky. It rippled like the breeze over a quiet lake at dawn. I leaned into her hug and felt an unaccustomed tear in my eye, not normal for me at all.
"I see you've been busy, Dragon. Planning to teach this one to fly too?" My tones were wry and if in response the child kicked me from the womb.
She drew back but didn't let go of my shoulders. Her eyes danced with further laughter. "They shall both learn to fly, my friend. And my name is St James. The Dragon is in hibernation for now."
Twins? She never did do anything by halves. I had noticed the diamond wedding band. "He's a very brave man."
She nodded. "His name is Elliot Burch and he's a builder here in Manhattan. And he's very brave indeed. This is the last place I ever expected to see you again. I was afraid you had died after I left you in that Zimbabwean hospital."
"The fever comes back occasionally and I still take that herb combination you made up for me."
"You must be tough as old boots." She shook her head affectionately. "I'm glad to meet you again. Do you have plans for dinner tonight? I'd like to have Elliot meet you. He's beyond curious about my past."
"I'm here with Caine." I motioned to my friend who had resumed his conversation with the storeowner.
"The Shaolin? Even better. I can see there's more than one interesting story to be told here. Let's go ask him. If you are willing?" Her eyes seemed to look right through my dark glasses and into my soul. She moved back a step and dropped her hands to her unborn to give me space to think.
I rarely thought about the past except in dreams or nightmares. This memory was a bittersweet one. Bitter to the point I met her and sweet in what we'd shared in those ancient desert ruins.
"My curiosity always has gotten me in trouble. Why should today be any different. I'm called Kermit, these days."
"Oh, that is so appropriate." She started to laugh again.
Caine turned at our approach and accepted the invitation with calm pleasure. She gave us her address and the time.
"Excellent. We'll see you at seven." She turned to the man behind the counter. "Henry, would you fill this list and have your runner deliver it to the usual place?"
He took the list and read it quickly. "Certainly. It should be ready by this evening."
"No hurry. They still have some in reserve." They exchanged a look that spoke of long acquaintance and shared knowledge. Then, St James shook hands with both of us and made her way gracefully between the displays and out the door.
Caine took his leave from the owner and we left a few minutes later. I could tell he had questions but unlike his son, he would bide his time. We were staying in a hotel not far from Chinatown and we walked there easily. Caine went to meditate while I caught a taxi to the DA's office.
The afternoon was spent in depositions and boredom. Hurry up and wait is a philosophy they seem to have borrowed from the military. Their computers were sadly out of date and their security was non-existent. I could have hacked in with no problem, but I'd promised the Captain that I'd be good this trip. The DA seemed like a caring man but his number two, Jamison, made the hairs on the back of my neck prickle.
I watched them from the waiting area while my deposition was being typed. Maxwell was going over a report while talking on the phone and signing a memo that Jamison held for him. Then Jamison came out of the office and shut the door. He went immediately to another desk and picked up the phone. While he talked, he typed in the memo to his computer. Then, instead of filing the memo, he put it in his pocket.
Odd. I wondered if the DA knew what he'd just signed. I wondered if I was getting paranoid. Well, more paranoid. I wondered if I could just take a look in that computer of his. The DA himself interrupted my musings.
"Detective Griffin? We've got it ready for your signature. I really appreciate your taking the time to come all this way to help us out." He ushered me into his office and handed me the papers. "Computers are a mystery to me. I don't understand them and they hate me. Sparks fly every time I touch one."
"A lot of people have that problem, Mr. Maxwell." I read quickly and signed my name. "I noticed you don't have much security on your computer network. Have you ever thought of putting some in?"
"Not you, too. Chandler is always after me to put more in. But there's no money and nobody who could evaluate all the different systems and keep it running." He accepted the forms back and shook my hand. "But thanks for thinking of us. And thanks for coming here to give us your testimony. The City of New York is grateful. You need any recommendations for dining?"
"No. I'm dining with an old friend. But thank you anyway." I almost said something about Jamison but I was a stranger and I doubted if he'd take advice. "Good luck on your piracy case."
I decided to walk back to the hotel. I have a weakness for big cities where I can blend anonymously into the crowds. You can see a little bit of every kind of humanity on the street corners and in the back alleys. From bankers to homeless and every one in between. But my tolerance level for the teeming hordes was getting lower as I got older. It's why I had picked a small city police department when I came in from the cold. Thinking of the precinct, I could feel myself smiling. Friends and good ones, better than I deserved.
I stayed automatically wary but detached while I walked. It took me about an hour to get back to the hotel, which left plenty of time for a shower and change of clothes before dinner. Caine was waiting for me in the hall outside my room.
"I asked the desk clerk for directions to their address. It is seven blocks from here. Shall we walk?"
"Lead the way."
We walked in a companionable silence for two blocks. Then Caine spoke, "Your spirit is troubled, Kermit. Is there some way I can help?"
I never felt uncomfortable with Caine. He has more secrets than I do. "There may be a situation in the DA's office. Something doesn't smell right there." I told him what I'd seen.
We walked in silence for three blocks. Caine sighed. "If we can help then we will be shown how. I believe we have arrived."
It was a block of five brownstones in the process of being renovated. Our destination was the fourth one in. Our ringing of the doorbell brought Elliot Burch to the door. A thin, wiry man with curly hair and a graying beard; he smiled and ushered us into the front hall. I could hear St James from the back of the house.
"Come on back to the dining room. St James is just finishing setting the table. A friend is cooking for us this evening. Neither one of us is much of a cook." Elliot looked searchingly at me. "She is very excited about visiting with you. There are very few reminders of her past."
"I told him I'd buried most of my past mistakes." She appeared at the polished doors and beckoned us in.
"Haven't we all." I muttered under my breath. Caine heard of course but he let it go while he bowed over her hand.
She wore a shimmering caftan of blue silk and she had a small sprig of lily of the valley nestled in her hair. She held my hand for a moment and with my sunglasses off, I felt naked under her gaze. But she smiled and touched my cheek with a soft caress.
"Kermit, please sit here." She put me on the far side of the table with my back to the wall. "Caine, on this side. We are very lucky this evening to have a cook and a server this evening. So, if we take our places, we can begin."
Her husband seated her gallantly at the far end before taking his own seat. In a moment, a young woman brought in a tureen of steaming soup and proceeded to serve. Dinner lasted over an hour and was delicious. I do some cooking myself and could appreciate the truly great cuisine that came from the kitchen.
We took our tea in the living room and I enjoyed the muted lighting and the antiques that filled the large space. St James and I shared one of the leather sofas while Elliot and Caine examined the wall hanging that hung above the fireplace.
"I understand you met with Joe Maxwell this afternoon." St James balanced her teacup on her stomach.
I could tell Caine was listening by the stiffening of his back. "A computer piracy case I stumbled upon while working on something else. How well do you know the District Attorney?"
"Pretty well. We have mutual friends." She gave a sly glance towards her husband. "I've been trying for over a year to get Joe to invest in a computer security system beyond that off the shelf program that you could probably hack your way into inside of a minute or two."
"I suggested something like that myself before I left but he turned me down." I hesitated. "What do you know about Jamison? He seemed to be in on all the details of the piracy case."
"That's a new name to me. Elliot, does that ring any bells for you?"
Elliot and Caine sat down across from us on the matching sofa. "I don't think so. It's been almost two months since we've talked except for a quick 'how are you' on the phone in August. He was here for the solstice picnic on the roof, remember?"
She smiled at a memory then frowned. "We've been so busy that we've neglected him. Let me give Catherine a call and see what she knows." She slid forward and got a good grip on the sofa arm, preparing to get up from the deep cushions, but Caine was already there to gently raise her to her feet.
Just then a commotion arose from the back of the brownstone and a grin crossed St James' face. "Well, maybe I won't call," was all she had time to say before a small whirlwind came dashing into the room. Caine was quick to catch the small boy before he could run into St James.
On one knee, Caine and the boy looked at each other in surprise. An exasperated voice echoed from the back, "Chandler. Don't run in the house."
The voice showed itself a moment later. A small woman with long blond hair in a knot on top of her head. A strong woman who moved like a dancer with the regal bearing of a queen. "I'm so sorry, St James. William was trying to tell me you had guests but Chandler just dashed ahead."
"Actually, I was just getting ready to call you when ..." and St James gestured towards the two on the floor. "Catherine Chandler Wells, please meet Kwai Chang Caine and Kermit Griffin."
"It's a pleasure to meet you. The small imp is my son Chandler." Her voice was husky with the same ripple of laughter that had resounded in St James' voice.
"It is a pleasure to meet both of you." Caine shook hands with Chandler and smiled up at Catherine.
"Hello. You are new friends." The child's wise eyes moved from Caine to me. His smile was infectious. Then he turned to St James. "I'm sorry I ran. But I haven't seen you in two days."
She sat down and held out her arms. "A very long time, indeed. The twins need a hug."
We sorted out the seating arrangements and the young girl, Tina, brought in more cups and a plate of oatmeal cookies that made Chandler's eyes light up. His eyes went to his mother and she nodded from where she sat between Elliot and Caine. He very carefully took the plate to each guest before taking one himself and curling up next to St James, eating left handed so he could gently pat the mound that was the twins.
"Now, why were you going to call?" Catherine sipped a cup of the chamomile tea.
"There's a new man in the DA's office. Kermit met him there today. Jamison. Ring a bell?" Elliot asked.
She nodded. "Scott Jamison. Transferred in from Queens about a month ago. I know that Joe sings his praises whenever we talk. I met him a couple of weeks ago. Very sharp and a real computer whiz. Joe is all thumbs when it comes to computers."
The silence that fell was rather tense. Catherine looked from
one of us to the other, her eyes narrowed and she raised one eyebrow in
St James nodded once. "Kermit gave a deposition this afternoon on a computer piracy case. He noticed something strange involving Jamison and a memo. Kermit is now a police detective but he and I shared the same business for a while. He has a feeling."
Catherine's sharp eyes appraised me. "I see. How strong is this feeling? And what can I do to help?"
Her ready acceptance of me spoke volumes of her trust in St James. "It would help if I could get to Jamison's computer and look at his files. I noticed he unplugged his modem after he signed off. I can't access it without a connection."
"Let me think. I no longer have the access I once had but the night guard is an old friend. If I needed to leave a note for Joe, he'd probably let me in. Then I could plug in the modem. How long will you need to gain access?"
"I brought my laptop but the hotel connection is probably slow."
Elliot spoke up. "You can use the computer at Burch Towers. We've got a T-1 line and the best equipment we can get."
"Excellent." St James smiled fondly at her husband. "You can escort Catherine while I take Kermit over to the Towers."
"And I could take Chandler to visit his grandfather." Caine said quietly, his words creating a profound silence. "I met Jacob Wells many years ago while I searched for peace after what I thought was the death of my son. His son, Vincent, was much the same age as this young man. He has his father's eyes."
Chandler took his words matter of factly. "Grandpa says the same thing. But papa says I take after my mother. I'm ready to go now."
Catherine exchanged a long look with St James then turned to Caine. "I'll give a call first and let him know you're coming."
Caine looked surprised. "Communications have improved since I was last in Jacob's quarters."
"We're slowly moving into the twentieth century." Catherine spoke wryly.
The tensions in the room were puzzling. I could see I was the only one not in on the secret. It didn't really matter; I had enough of my own. I was never in a hurry to decipher a secret, unless of course it was in a computer.
Chandler had time for another cookie before Catherine returned with a surprised look on her face. "Father is looking forward to meeting you again. William will guide you to him. Vincent and our daughter Rose are both with him now. You'll get to meet the whole family. I'll join you after Elliot and I deliver an invitation to Joe for dinner."
"Fine. Kermit and I will head over to the Towers." St James was on her feet and ready to go.
"You'll take the car. You walked enough this afternoon." Elliot was firm. St James smiled and patted his cheek indulgently.
"Of course, we will. Hurry over after you finish."
So, I got a tour of Burch Towers and the tale of how St James came to be Elliot's security chief. I'd been where she had been but for Paul's invitation to watch his back. It hadn't taken me long to realize he was offering me a safe haven from my life and my past. I wasn't stupid and I was so tired of running. I had never had cause to regret my decision and it looked like St James wouldn't regret hers either.
Burch Tower had a communications room that made my eyes widen in amazement. He hadn't been kidding when he said it was the best. St James got me past the security they had installed then got up to let me sit down.
"We'll change the codes as soon as you're through with this little caper. Someone very wise taught me that." St James laid a hand on my shoulder. Even ten years ago when computers were not main stream, I had known that much.
She left me to check in at security while I checked my e-mail. Not much but the one from Peter I called up immediately. Nothing much was going on and he wished he'd come with us. He asked me to watch out for Caine and keep him out of trouble. Like anyone could do that. I wrote him back a short précis of events so far. I enjoyed teasing Peter from long distance. He'd pull his hair once he realized what he was missing.
Elliot came hurrying in and seemed rather taken aback to find me alone. "We got the modem plugged in and it's ready to go. Here's the phone number. Where's St James?"
"Security." I answered absently, starting the procedures that would get me in.
"She just can't stay away from the job. Even though Raven is more than capable of handling things." His tone was indulgent.
The name caught my attention. "Raven is your security chief now?"
"Yes. St James insisted on calling him in when she got pregnant. I didn't care so much for myself but I like the idea of having her protected and the twins, when they come."
Something in his voice made me look up. "Are you nervous about the twins?"
"Terrified." He spoke so quietly I almost missed it. Then in a more normal tone he continued, "I lost every person I ever loved through my own stupidity or my need to be in control or sheer blind fate. Until St James. What if something goes wrong? Women still die in childbirth these days. I want to wrap her in security and watch every move she makes but she won't be bound. I expect she told you how we met?"
I nodded and he smiled. "She took over my security and then my life and I can't imagine a world without her in it. But what if . . ."
I'd been where he was now and if I could ease his mind I would. "I met St James in Zimbabwe almost ten years ago. I was a mercenary. A gun for hire and I took the wrong contract and ended up in the middle of a civil war where it was damned difficult to figure out who were the good guys. There was a woman who touched my heart as it hadn't been touched for a long time. Her farm was right in the middle of the war zone and she refused to leave. Her grandfather had taken the land at the turn of the century and she swore to fight for what was hers." I paused, the memories coming thick and fast. I shook myself free with difficulty. "I trained her men and added my gun to theirs, all in vain. The main conflict rolled over us like a steamroller. I was wounded and left for dead. Rachel was lying by my side."
This was harder than I thought it would be. For a moment, I was there again. The smell of blood and dust and death thick in my nostrils. "She had tried to bind my wounds and taken a bullet to the head. I think I went a little mad then. I remember cradling her body and swearing vengeance. I must have headed out into the desert to find her killers. But in my delirium I headed in the wrong direction and ended up in some ruins of a previous civilization. And that's where St James found me. She never did tell me why she was there but she tended my wounds, broke my fever and kept me alive until she could catch a camel and get me back to what passes for civilization in Zimbabwe."
Elliot was sitting beside me by this time, his eyes intent on my face. I wished I were wearing my sunglasses. I felt naked. "Before she left me, she scorched me clean of guilt. She can be gentle and she can be steel. I learned later who she was and why she was called Dragon but by then I'd already felt the dragon's fire. She took all my sins and burned them away. Pain, rage, guilt, fear, shame. Oh, I ran the gamut but she sees the world clearly and her gift to me was a new beginning."
I sighed. "She told me that there was a plan for this world and even though she and I didn't know what it was, we were a part of it. What we do for love endures. And that's the test. What we give our souls for, lives on beyond what we can know. And where ever we are, that's where we are supposed to be."
"She said something like that to me once." Elliot smiled a tender smile. "All our choices lead up to now and what we have to do is a direct result of what we've done before."
"Oh, yeah." Part of me had kept working on the computer problem and suddenly I was in. "This is interesting. He calls a certain number frequently and downloads files each call."
"What files?" Elliot leaned forward to study the screen.
"Drug cases, the computer piracy case I just brought them ... It looks like all the federal cases that pass through his hands. Could he be a Fed? Maybe there's some other leak and he's there to plug it."
"Without Joe's knowledge? Of course, we don't know if Joe does know what's going on. Maybe, this is all a mare's nest. Let's check that number and see who belongs to it."
I accessed a database of numbers that I shouldn't have been able to access but I'd done a favor for an old acquaintance and he'd given me a password. The security prompt told me to whom the number belonged and I quietly backed out and erased my trail. I hadn't come up against that group in a long time and I didn't particularly want to now.
"Why are you erasing that?" Elliot sounded bewildered.
"I'm getting out so they won't know who just asked about them. Why don't you get St James and we'll have a little chat about the situation. It's not good." My voice was grim.
Elliot nodded and headed out. I got up to pace the room and try to get my thoughts in order. The men were known as the Consortium and they were movers and shakers in the world of politics. They were the men behind half of the trade wars and 'police actions' in the third world countries. They guarded their privacy jealously and I had just tripped an alarm that would send them searching for answers.
Damn, it was hot in here. Computers need to be kept cool and it was steaming in here. Funny, I hadn't noticed it earlier. My thoughts seemed to spin in the heat. Then, St James was by my side and Elliot was holding on to my arm.
"Oh, Griffin. You're burning up. Come on to the penthouse. I've got some of that tincture." St James had my other arm and her words made no sense but I let them lead me out to the elevator.
Once in the penthouse, Elliot got me to the sofa and loosened my tie. St James was back in a moment, softly coaxing my mouth open and squirting something under my tongue. The bitter taste of alcohol and dong quai brought me back from the fever land where I traveled. I laid my head gently onto the back of the couch and took deep breaths.
"I've got a glass of water when you're ready." St James spoke from beside me. I hadn't even heard her sit down. I'd come very close to losing it.
"Reminds me of the third night when the stars were so bright." My voice sounded far away.
"And I told you the story of the first Griffin."
"The fever was at its height and it seemed we had traveled back to the First Times. When such miraculous creatures might have existed."
"Half eagle and half lion, brave and valorous from the beginnings of the world. You reminded me of a wounded lion that night. I was afraid that your eagle spirit would fly away and leave me alone to mourn the passing of an old friend I'd just met again." Her hand was soft on my temple, checking the temperature.
"I wanted to but something kept me." I opened my eyes and the room had begun to right itself, the colors muting from fever brightness. "Caine would say that I had something left to do. And I have tried over the years to right those of the wrongs I could. But never the greatest wrong of all."
"Love is always the hardest. Especially when you feel unworthy and afraid to try again." Her voice held a tremor of mirth.
"Oh sure, make fun of the wounded." I shot her an injured look
that didn't quite hide the laughter that bubbled inside me. "Caine
is never going to let me live this down. He rarely says 'I told you
so' but I can just see it coming now. I was obviously 'meant' to
come here now and meet you again. Which brings up the real problem."
She sat forward intently. "Elliot said you found something then erased your trail."
"I sincerely hope I erased my trail." I considered a moment. "Yes, they won't be able to follow back to you. Your security is very good. But we're talking about the Consortium."
To my surprise, Elliot groaned. I expected St James to know of them but not her husband. Which meant there was more to Elliot Burch than met the eye. St James' eyes had narrowed in concentration.
"We've fought worse. But not recently. Jamison must be setting Joe up so they can get their own man into the DA slot. Damn. That is so unfair. Joe's an honest man, doing his best for this city." Elliot was getting angry.
"I know, love. But it is exactly what the Consortium is known for. We need a plan to get Jamison out of there, reverse any damage he may done already and keep the Consortium out of the DA's office. Think fast, my Griffin." St James was smiling but completely serious.
Just what I didn't need - a crusade for Right. Especially when I was still feeling the effects of the latest bout of fever. Fever. . . Viruses ... Interesting.
"Oh, that is an evil smile. What are you thinking?" St James sat up and touched my forehead again.
I caught her hand and held it. "What if we could infect the Consortium's data banks and wipe out all the current transactions. Jamison has only been there a month. Not so long. I created a program the other day on a whim after I saw an episode of Babylon 5."
Elliot's eyes lit up. "The TechnoMage episode with Michael Ansara."
"Ah, a fellow addict." We exchanged a look of complete understanding. Nobody but a fellow aficionado understood how strong a hold that TV show had on its watchers. The sheer multiplicity of layers of meaning had intrigued me from the first and led to my creation of a little erasure program that turned very nasty before it died. Just like the TechnoMage had done to Londo's computer system.
"It's a limited program that terminates itself after 24 hours. Which should be more than enough time to right this particular problem. But I can't do this over the phones. I'm going to need direct access to Jamison's computer and about fifteen minutes of uninterrupted time." I laid my head back down. It usually takes a few hours to get my strength back after one of my fever attacks.
I could feel St James and Elliot communicating silently. I was envious, no doubt about it. There was someone back home who popped into my mind every time I thought about love and commitment but I closed that door again. I had nothing to offer that wouldn't be sure to embarrass and confuse. I was doing all right alone and that's the way it would stay. But sometimes I felt that little flicker of envy, especially when I met a couple like these two.
"There may be a way, Kermit. But it depends on someone else. We're going to take you back to the hotel to rest. Get a good night's sleep and Caine will bring you over to the house tomorrow for breakfast. We should have word by then."
Between the two of them, they got me up and down to the limo. I felt as weak as a kitten and limp as an al dente noodle. Caine was waiting at the hotel, of course. Sometimes I think he's telepathic. He took over and got me to bed properly when I would have just gone to bed in my clothes to save the trouble. I didn't mind him seeing the scars. He never asked and never judged. One of the reasons we had become such friends. He gave me another dose of the tincture and I fell into a dreamless sleep that lasted a good ten hours.
Breakfast was delicious. From the scrambled eggs and bacon to the fresh bagels with winterberry jelly and the steaming English Breakfast tea, everything tasted wonderful. My appetite had come back with a vengeance and I ate enough for two men. Elliot was really a good cook. Although he joked that this was the only menu he knew.
Chandler came to visit when we were almost done. Heading for Caine, he clambered up into his lap and took the offered bagel half with polite thanks.
"Papa says that they're looking forward to meeting Kermit. He and Grandpa sat up real late talking about it. I told them it would be all right but Grandpa can be very stubborn. Mary finally told him not to be an old grump." His tones mimicked someone else's tones and St James burst into peals of laughter.
"Your grandfather has great responsibility for your community. He wishes only the best for everyone." Caine admonished the child but with a smile.
"I know. But Kermit is your friend too so he must be all right. He can keep a secret. I just know it." Chandler's eyes met mine and I thought again how wise they were. Truly, an old soul looked out from the young blue eyes.
"I can keep a secret and I promise to do so." I spoke solemnly to him but loudly enough so all could hear.
"Jacob Wells has been the leader for over thirty years of a very special community. It's their location that is the secret. That and the fact that they exist at all." Caine spoke simply.
"It's a safe haven for those who have been rejected by society. For those who are ... different." Elliot took up the tale. "Or special. Chandler's father is one of those who grew up there."
"Papa isn't like anyone else. He's very special and we have to protect him and keep him from harm. Mother and Grandpa worry about him sometimes." Chandler looked at me gravely.
"I promise I will do nothing to endanger the community or your father, Chandler. Safe havens are few and far between. Such rarity is precious and worthy of everyone's protection." My curiosity was growing by leaps and bounds. "Does this have something to do with how I'm going to get into the DA's office tonight?"
Chandler giggled infectiously. "Come and meet Papa. Then
you'll understand." Sliding off Caine's lap, he took my hand and
"We're all going, Chandler. Why don't you start and we'll follow?" St James pushed back her chair and carried her dishes to the dishwasher. We all followed suit and left the machine filling up behind us.
It's an amazing world they showed me. From the moment we passed through the hidden door in the basement to my meeting with Vincent, I suspended all my notions of reality and simply absorbed the wonders of Below. Funny how at home I felt. Like a traveler come finally to rest. Maybe not so odd. God knows I've felt like an outcast most of my life. Different from everyone around me but never as different as Vincent.
My first glimpse of Vincent was brief but frozen in my memory forever. A tall man with long blond hair stooping over a cradle tenderly lifting a baby up to his chest. The clawed hands and lion's visage were secondary to the emotions clearly shown on face and body, like a legend come to life here in this secret place.
The next few hours passed like a dream. Jacob Wells was a formidable man indeed but understanding when all was explained to him. Lunch was delicious and I finally got to meet the William who had prepared last night's dinner. St James made me take another dose of medicine and tucked me up for a nap in one of the guest chambers. I slept free of dreams; a deep and healing sleep.
Voices and the gentle tapping of the pipes woke me in time for dinner. I hadn't felt so rested in years. We ate privately in Jacob's quarters. Most of the discussion circled around the coming wedding of Jacob and Mary. Mary was a serene woman with eyes that looked into your heart and accepted all the good and bad she found. She would be a fitting Mother for this special place.
But after Mary had gathered up Rose and Chandler for story time with Rebecca, the conversation turned to what we were about to do.
"But is it ethical to load a virus onto their computer?" Jacob shook his head thoughtfully.
"The Consortium is not as powerful as Gabriel but they have been gathering in power over the last five years. Much of Gabriel's empire ended up in their hands. If they continue unchecked they will soon rival him." Elliot spoke authoritatively. "Raven did some further checking this afternoon." He threw me a quick smile. "Not by computer but the old fashioned way with a few phone calls to some old friends."
I put in my two cents, hoping to allay Jacob's fears but knowing I would do it even if I had to go it alone. "The most it will do is discredit Jamison and if we're lucky change a few of their investments."
Elliot grinned and we shared a brief memory. St James shook her head fondly. "You two and your television show." Then she got serious. "Jacob, this is quick and bloodless. It will clear Joe of whatever snare they are laying for him and keep them out of New York for at least a while. We need to do what we can to keep them away from our home."
Vincent nodded gravely and held Catherine's hand. "Father, I know the ethical questions are important but, " his voice roughed with an emotion I was familiar with - fear, "these men have the power of life and death over those who work for them. Joe has been a good friend to us and the thought of evil men going unpunished because of a corrupt District Attorney, like Moreno, fills me with anger. Where is the justice in that?"
Catherine leaned her whole head and body into his in reassurance. "That won't happen, Vincent. We are going to stop it tonight. And we'll be on the lookout for them from now on. I expect Kermit has a plan for that as well."
"Oh, yeah." Actually, I had an idea floating around that I was working
on, a sentinel program that would watch for incursions in the computer
system of the officials of the city. But that could wait for now.
"Very well. I can see you're determined to go through with this. Just be careful." Jacob's tones were resigned.
"Of course, Father." Vincent got up and kissed Jacob's forehead. The entrance to Joe's building is some distance from here. We should get started."
"Too far for this pregnant lady. Take great care, my Griffin. And listen to Caine." St James hugged me and went off with Catherine.
Vincent, Elliot and Caine accompanied me down the miles of tunnels. Stories of their world wiled away the hour and a half it took to cross Manhattan. Vincent's voice took on a hypnotic quality and I found myself wanting to say, 'tell me another one.' The entrance was into the parking garage and we waited for the rotating security camera to move past us so we could sprint to the fire stairs. First problem.
The door was locked. Caine touched the lock with a brief surge of power and the door opened.
"Someday you are going to have to teach me that." I muttered, going past him to listen at the foot of the stairs. Vincent followed me.
His velvet whisper echoed in the stairwell. "The guard is on second floor. He'll be taking a break soon in the fifth floor break room."
"Interesting. I think we'll wait. Is he coming down floor by floor or up?" I was trying to estimate how long it would take me to reach the seventh floor.
"Down. His break is about half an hour then he'll start on twelve and work his way down again." Elliot shrugged at my raised eyebrow. "St James did a study a while back and Raven did a reconnaissance last night."
"Thank God for professionals." It was a real help to have such meticulous friends. "Caine and I will go up while you two wait here. You can be our backup."
Elliot looked as if he might protest but subsided at a touch from Vincent. Caine simply nodded. "Let's go."
"Good luck." Two whispers blended as one.
Caine, of course, moved like a shadow up the stairs. I wasn't that quiet but being a soldier of fortune teaches you stealth. There are no old, noisy mercenaries. There was a light on in the DA's office. Second setback. We could see Joe bent over papers on his desk. It looked like he was there for the duration.
Thinking quickly, I sent Caine down to Elliot. A diversion was needed. The next twenty minutes lasted forever. But then Caine rejoined me and I heard Elliot's voice calling out a jovial greeting.
"Hey, Maxwell, I thought I was the workaholic around here."
"Elliot? What the hell are you doing down here at 11:00?" The DA sat back with a wry grin.
"We're worried about you, Joe. I know you're busy but surely you can find the time for some old friends." Elliot went in the office and closed the door. That was my cue.
Bent over so I wouldn't leave a shadow, I crossed to Jamison's desk, ten feet from Joe's office. Thirty seconds later, I had the computer on and the modem plugged in. I went over the coded sequence in my mind, while it slowly loaded Windows and the other programs that it needed for the main menu. Another minute passed while I broke his security. Then another while I searched for traps. Finally, I was ready to load the program. That took longer since part of it was a long string of numbers that had to be just right.
Then, I was into the Consortium's computer network and could start to work. And that's when the third setback occurred. I heard someone at the door. A moment later I had the monitor off and I was sitting under Jamison's desk. Praying that the visitor wasn't the man himself.
I heard heels clicking past and realized it was a woman. She went two desks down and flicked on her light. Just great, I only needed two minutes and I was done. Maybe she was just picking something up?
Then Joe's door opened and Maxwell stuck his head out. "What's up, Angie? Forget something?"
"Eek!" She was definitely startled. "Sorry, Joe, you scared me. Yeah, I forgot the Brunelli file and I wanted to go over it before tomorrow."
"Well, take it home with you. Elliot and I will walk you out. Have you got a ride home?"
"Harry is waiting for me." Angie was stuffing a file in her briefcase and zipping it up.
"Harry, huh? You've been going with him for quite awhile now. Must be serious?" Joe's voice was teasing as he and Elliot strolled out of the office.
"Serious it is, Joe. Tonight, he asked me to marry him. I said yes." Angie's voice was tender and just a little shy.
"Hey, that's great. Congratulations, Angie. It speaks for your dedication to duty that you even remembered the Brunelli file." Joe's voice was wistful.
"Congratulations, Angie. You must tell Catherine. I know she'll want to hear." Elliot's voice was warm and more important, by the doors that led to the elevator hall.
Their voices disappeared and I waited a moment to be sure nobody came back. Then I was back into my program and surfing through their files. Oh yeah, they were going to wake up to some very interesting stock transactions. A little adjustment to their phones and a slight shift in their address files was going to make their lives miserable for a few weeks at least.
I waited for the message that told me the fever had taken hold and backed out gracefully. I shut everything down and unplugged his modem. Leaving everything just as I'd found it. He'd find out soon enough that he was in deep trouble. Joining Caine, we dodged the guard and headed for the parking garage.
By now, I was feeling the effects of tension and the remnants of my own fever. I wasn't looking forward to the long walk back. But we had a little surprise waiting for us in the parking garage. Elliot's limo with St James driving was parked by the door. We all crowded into the back and she drove decorously out of the garage.
"Mission accomplished, gentlemen?" She grinned. "What did you do with my husband?"
I explained and enjoyed her laughter. It took only a few minutes to get to the brownstones and with his hood up, Vincent crossed the street and in the front door. Catherine and Elliot were waiting. They both breathed a sigh of relief and began to fuss over their respective mates. I just sat down and went limp. It occurred to me that I was completely comfortable with these people I'd just met, comfortable enough to act naturally without trying to disguise my weakness.
St James leaned over me and told me to open my mouth. She fed me the tincture like a bird with her young. She was going to be a great mother. I swallowed and waited for the nasty taste to dissipate.
"We moved your stuff over here today. Why should you pay for a hotel room when we've got two empty guestrooms? So, why don't you go to bed and we'll decide what to tell Joe in the morning?"
It was a plan. Nodding tiredly, I let myself be put to bed and again slept soundly. I wish I could stay this relaxed back home. Over breakfast we decided not to say anything to the DA, just watch events and see what happened to Jamison.
Saying goodbye was harder than I expected. St James took me to one side at the airport. "Don't be a stranger, Kermit. Now that I've found you again, I'm not letting go easily. Caine wants to come to the Chinese Bronze Age exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in October. Come with him and you may get to meet the twins in person." She smiled up at me.
"I'd enjoy that. Didn't Elliot say that you were one of the patronesses'? Maybe you can get us in before the crowds." I joked.
"It's a deal. And, Kermit," she was serious now, "don't let this chance pass you by. You deserve to be happy and you have so much love to give to that person I can sense is waiting for you. Let it happen?"
I just shook my head. "Maybe. There's ... complications."
"Love is never wrong and too precious to throw away. Let your eagle soar, my Griffin. And bring your significant other with you the next time." St James grinned. "Catherine and Vincent say farewell and come back." Then she was giving me another hug and one of the twins kicked me again.
I was definitely going to have to come back after they were born. I got the impression they were going to be something special. As for the other, I'd think about it. Thinking about Vincent and his family made me realize that just about anything was possible. Maybe it was time to emulate my namesake.
Just maybe it was my time.
The end for now