Amber watched, helpless, as Shang's men carried her and Jody down the steps and out the back door while the alarm screamed. She could not move, and Jody was still unconscious. She tried to reach out with her mind, to call Kermit or Peter, or even Caine or Lo Si, but found she could not do that, either. This frightened her even more than the unnatural physical paralysis. Amber could not remember a time when she could not touch other minds.
Outside, a man of obvious Chinese descent held open the back door of a dark sedan. Jody was dumped into the floorboards, while this new man slid into the back seat to sit over her with a gun. The men carrying Amber slid her onto the seat beside him, where she sat as placed. There was something familiar about the man beside her -- she thought he might have been the leader of those who had attacked her a week ago, but with her mind as locked up as her body she could not be sure.
One man got into the driver's seat. The other men were getting into another dark car. Just then Jody groaned, turning her head a little.
"Amber, you okay?" She rasped.
"Miss Adair cannot answer you right now, but she is fine," the man with the gun laughed softly. Amber knew that voice! He had been one of her attackers. "You would do better to worry about your own continued health, detective."
"What do you want with us?"
"Miss Adair has an appointment with Shang Kai Zeng," the man told her. "You are an additional bonus, no more. When we found you with the lady, we decided you might be a...bargaining chip. Miss Adair might be more amenable to our employer's suggestions if she understands it is not merely her own neck on the block."
Amber's heart sank. Whatever was going on here, she had done Jody Powell no favors.
Jody sank back down to the carpeting. It was not comfortable, but uncomfortable was better than dead, and she could do neither herself nor Amber any good by trying to take on the armed man in this car. She would just have to see where this was going and hope Amber recovered from whatever they had done to her soon.
The ride was not long, and Amber's spirits sank even further as she realized that these men did not care that she could see where they were taking her. This did not bode well for her getting out. The driver pulled the car up in front of a warehouse. The loading door rolled ponderously open and they pulled inside. As the door closed again, the driver climbed out and opened Amber's car door. The man with the gun got out on his side and roughly helped Jody out of the car.
"You're not really all that necessary," he told the blonde detective. "So you just watch yourself."
Jody nodded silently.
"Welcome to your new home, Miss Adair," a smooth voice came out of the gloom. A man stepped forward -- he was of middle age, with shiny black hair and hard eyes. His smile reminded Amber of a crocodile's. "You may get out of the car now."
Suddenly, Amber could move. She carefully slid out of the car to stand on concrete. She was still clad in her green pajamas, which left her feeling even more vulnerable. The chill of the floor seeped up through her slippers.
The man stretched out a hand. "I am Shang Kai Zeng. I hope you will approve of your new accommodations. We have gone to some trouble for you."
She let him shake her hand, numb with fear and confusion. So this was the man behind all of her troubles here in Chinatown. He seemed slippery somehow, too slick and cultured to have ordered his man to beat her on the street.
"Please, come with me, Miss Adair." He had a small black object in his hand -- it looked like one of those palmtop computers. Amber followed. Shang looked at Jody's captor, who still held his gun very close to her side. "Huong, you may bring Detective Powell, as well."
So Huong was the name of the man who had beaten Amber with his cosh. She would remember this, even though it might never do her any good.
Amber and Jody followed Shang silently, Huong bringing up the rear. Shang led them to a steel staircase and up to the second floor, which had a balcony running around to overlook the center of the cavernous downstairs area. Once upstairs, he led the women through a door and into the most ostentatious living room Amber had ever seen. She stood still a moment, blinking.
The walls were white with gilt trim. Someone had taken some trouble over the mural on the ceiling of a Chinese warlord oppressing some of his subjects on a field of battle. The furnishings had been crafted with an eye to conspicuous consumption. It all reminded Amber of one of those Victorian mansions Aunt Edith and Uncle Dougie had dragged her to one school vacation. They were supposed to be National Landmarks and very educational, but had only taught the young woman the evils of wretched excess. She shuddered and returned her attention to Shang.
"Please, ladies, have a seat." He waved negligently to a creamy little sofa on spindly legs. Amber sank onto it and Jody joined her. "I think you will be my guests here for some time."
Amber opened her mouth and was surprised to discover that she could speak. "Your men set off my alarm when they came for us."
He smiled. "Ah, yes. But I suspect your police friends will be unable to find you. You see, we left no clues for them to follow, and you cannot call for help, can you?"
She blinked again.
"Yes," he continued with a trace of smugness. "I have found a way to keep you from using your talent without my approval. That is precisely why you are here, my dear. I want you to work for me."
"But if you've blocked my ability, what use can I be to you?"
"I can allow you to use your talent when I wish for you to. Once you have agreed to my terms, I will allow you limited use of your psychic ability."
"And what of my friend?"
Shang shook his head with seeming regret. "When you agree to my employ, Detective Powell may remain here with you as your companion. She has seen too much for me to allow her to return to her job."
"And if I say no?"
Now he did look as though he regretted what he was about to say. "That would be unfortunate for both of you, I am afraid. That decision would bear rather painful and fatal results." He turned to Jody. "It was perhaps a poor choice on your part to spend this particular evening with Miss Adair."
Amber felt like crying. She could not reach out of her own head -- was this how `normal' people felt all the time? After a lifetime of trying to keep her mind to herself, she now desperately wished she could reach out. She would not waste any thought on the morality of invading another now if only she could call for help. She thought of Kermit, of Peter and Skalany and Caine, of the luncheon she would now miss tomorrow with Jim Willard and Karen Simms. The face of Lo Si, that charming little man who had welcomed her and made her feel a part of the Chinatown community, rose in her mind. She wanted to scream, to break furniture and hit her captor. None of this would do any good, however, and might cause Shang to punish Jody. She made herself sit still.
"Some of my men will make sure you have more...appropriate clothing in the morning. For now, why don't you ladies try to get some sleep?"
Shang rose and they followed suit. He showed them to a bedroom off the living room. It, too, was plush. There were two double beds, a dresser and wardrobe and a large writing desk. Shang waited until they were both in the room, then said,
"I do hope the accommodations are acceptable," and closed the door.
Jody leapt to the door as they both heard the click of a deadbolt lock. "Damn," she said. "It's a steel door under all this white paint."
Amber went over and peeked into the lavish bathroom. "No windows. Not even a skylight."
Jody nodded. "Guess he wants to make sure we can't go anywhere."
"There's not much we can do tonight," Amber said. "And whatever he's done to me, I doubt I will be any help to you. I'm trapped in my own head, and if we tried to get away, I guess he'd just lock up my muscles the way he did earlier tonight."
"Well, maybe if we can get some sleep, we'll have some more ideas in the morning." Her friend sighed.
Kermit pulled up outside Amber's building. It seemed the entire 101st precinct had turned out. The alarm had alerted Kermit and Blake, and Peter and Skalany were there, as well. Captain Simms screeched to a halt out front. Blake immediately walked through the open door and turned the screaming alarm off. He then reached down to a metal box below the console to remove a roll of film.
"I'll get this developed and see if we have anything," he said. "If you don't need me here, Captain?"
Simms nodded. "Let us know the minute you have something."
Kermit ground his teeth. "I'm going up."
"I see Powell's car. Where is she?"
"She was staying over with Amber. I don't know if she's here."
Peter and Simms followed Kermit up the stairs to Amber's apartment. He made a complete tour, coming back with an expression of disgust. "No sign of either of them. Jody's bag was up in the guest room. Her gun's still in it."
Peter met his eyes gravely. "There's not much sign of a struggle. The rug's been mussed, and the pillows from the sofa are tossed around."
At that moment the fingerprint men arrived.
"Maybe they walked somewhere, forgot about the alarm?" Peter tried.
Kermit merely glared at him through the glasses. Peter dropped his eyes. "Okay, I don't believe it, either."
The Captain looked at them. "Shang Kai Zeng?"
"We'll find out," the ex-mercenary ground out. "If so, that man has a lot of answers I want."
"He's taken one of my detectives, Griffin," she returned firmly. "I think I'll want some of those answers, too."
Monday morning Karen Simms found herself trying to explain to Jim Willard why Amber would not be joining them for lunch. Jim was a big man, built heavily. He looked as though he wanted to break something. Karen couldn't blame him. Not only was Amber gone without a trace, but so was one of her detectives. She would not stand for this.
"You know, I just can't understand why anyone would want to hurt Amber. She doesn't always work within the rules I tried to give her, but all she's ever done is help people. She and I might have gone around a time or two about proper procedure, but she's got a good heart. People just like her -- they don't want to hurt or kidnap her."
Simms gave him a brief smile. "Yes. She wooed over my whole department in a matter of seconds -- even my chief and one detective I thought was immune to that kind of thing."
Jim laughed curtly. "Half of my men fell in love with her on sight. Now, that passed quickly, but she made a lot of friends. I can't go back to Cleveland and tell them she's vanished."
"We're working on it," Simms sighed. "We all want her back, too. Not to mention that one of my best detectives seems to be with her."
"That tears it. This Shang took one of your people and Amber? I can't leave. I hope you don't mind, but I want to stick around and help out if I can. I'll stay out of your way, of course, but I want to be here."
"I'll take all the help I can get. I'll introduce you to the detectives on the case. They're my best men."
She led the big man to Kermit's office and rapped at the glass before opening the door. Kermit's attention was fixed on his computer screen as he tapped furiously. Peter stood over him, looking over his shoulder. Both men looked up as Captain Simms cleared her throat.
"Detective Caine, Detective Griffin, I would like you to meet Captain Willard of Cleveland PD. He stopped by on his way to a conference, but he's a friend of Amber's. He'd like to help us find her."
Kermit grunted, but nodded. "Friend of Amber's? Good to meet you." He didn't sound like it was all that good.
Jim shook the hand Peter proffered. "Miss Adair worked with my department a few times. My men would lynch me if I went back to them with only the news that she's gone. We have to find her, or I can't go back to my precinct."
Peter gave him a wry grin. "Amber's got a way with her, all right. We'll get her back, Captain Willard. She's got a lot of friends here, too."
Kermit was still focused on his screen. "We certainly will. We'll get Jody back, too."
Karen asked, "Any word?"
Peter told her; "Word on the street is that Shang's got her, just like we thought. Nothing specific, but Shang's got a reputation for wanting every tool he can use. He's not been above stealing relics that he thought might have some arcane power, and he has been known to seek out psychics in the past. So far, he hasn't been able to get his hands on a real one. The few con artists he has gotten to before usually suffer at his hands or end up dead. Always without a scrap of evidence to pin it on him. Donny Double D heard that Shang was planning to get Amber into his stable after chasing her out of town or killing her failed."
Simms nodded brusquely. "Good start. Blake is working on getting blowups of the pictures from Amber's alarm system. So far it's mostly useless, but the camera caught a few face shots. We normally wouldn't even be able to call it a missing persons case yet, but since a police officer is missing, I think we can move a little early."
Kermit looked at her through the dark glasses. "That's good," he said neutrally.
She gave him a mirthless smile. "Because you'd be working on it anyway."
Monday morning Lo Si opened his eyes, disturbing Caine's meditation as well. "We must go see our friends at the precinct, Kwai Chang Caine."
The other priest gave him a questioning look.
"Amber is in trouble, my old friend." He elaborated.
"I have...felt no such trouble," the taller man said.
"Yes, I see that...but I know she is in great danger. I cannot feel her mind, which tells me that she is in need."
Caine rose gracefully from his lotus position and waited for the Ancient to stand as well. "Then we must go."
"But first," the little man told him, "we should visit her store."
Mai Wang was running the shop with the help of one of the part-timers. As the two Shaolin entered, her eyes told them of her concern. "Amber is missing."
Lo Si patted her hand. "Yes. We will find her. I must see her apartment, child."
"Of course. You know the way, Ancient. I would go with you, but we have to keep `The Unturned Page' running for her."
"That is well. She will be pleased to know of your dedication. I will need only a few minutes. You and Joseph keep the store operating -- you know what to do. We will have her back soon."
Mai nodded. She was unconvinced, but dared to hope now.
Caine followed his old friend up the steps. The apartment was not sealed off, as the police had done all they could last night, but come up empty. Lo Si went into the great room and sank to the floor in a lotus position. Caine sat facing him, reaching out to take the old man's hands in case he should need to call on Caine's chi. The Ancient smiled briefly, then closed his eyes.
A few minutes later, he opened them again, nodding decisively. "Thank you, Kwai Chang Caine. There is something very powerful blocking Amber's mind. I needed some of your strength to find what I sought. We must go see the police now."
They walked the blocks to the precinct in silence. As they reached it, however, Caine stretched out a hand to stop his old friend. "Master, I must ask..."
Lo Si smiled gently. "How I know that she is in trouble when you do not?" Caine nodded once and the Ancient continued. "I have formed a bond with Amber. After the attack on her last week, I grew more concerned, and so initiated a connection to her. If our situations were reversed, she could find me. It is just a little harder now with her mind blocked."
Caine bowed his head. "I should have realized. Perhaps I might have done the same."
"I do not think so. You have already the responsibility of so many souls, Kwai Chang Caine. It was right that I shoulder this task. When we have her back, I shall take the time to instruct Amber further in her gift."
Caine bowed his head once more and the two men mounted the steps to the station.
Kermit looked up. "What the hell? Oh -- it's you." He hated the way these two Shaolin could sneak up even on him. No one should be able to walk so softly. "We're a little busy right now."
Lo Si nodded at him benignly. "Yes. You are trying to find our young friend Amber. I believe I can help."
Kermit gave him a sharp look, then included Caine in that gaze. "You know where she is?"
Caine shrugged. "I...do not. Lo Si believes he can help you find her."
The Ancient said gravely, "I have sensed something that prevents her from reaching out and calling us for help. I may be able to trace that...difference in her mind, follow that which blocks her."
"Let me get my gun."
Amber sat in the desk chair in that gilt bedroom, staring blindly at the walls. Jody was on her bed, both still clad in pajamas. The tap at the door startled them both. Huong came into the room carrying a large tray. Another man followed, with a big shopping bag in one hand, ugly snub-nosed gun in the other. Shang himself brought up the rear.
"I trust you slept well?" He asked smoothly. Amber merely looked at him.
"Here is your breakfast, ladies. And we have provided clothing more suitable for daytime wear." The man with the bag dropped it on Amber's bed. Huong set the tray down on the desk, brushing past Amber. Shang continued, "I hope you enjoy your meal. Then, after you've had the opportunity to clean up and change, I will return to continue our discussion."
The three men left, locking the door behind them. Jody came over to check out the breakfast tray. There were several dishes with lids, which she raised to peek under.
"Well, it's apparent Shang doesn't want us to starve," she observed. "I really am hungry."
"You don't think he drugged the food, do you?"
The detective shrugged. "I can't see why he would. He's got us right where he wants us! You can't even try to escape and he knows I'm not going to try anything without a clear opportunity -- the only way I would leave you is to get help. So this is probably part of the service, like the too-plush accommodations."
Amber had to agree. They fell to and finished off the food. She hated to eat what Shang had provided, but she was starving, and if they were to have any chance of getting out of here, they would both need their strength.
They took turns showering in the big bathroom, and then put on the clothing provided. Jody's was a blue pants suit; Amber's a green and amber patterned shirtdress. Shang had thoughtfully provided undergarments, stockings and shoes, as well. They had finished and were sitting once more when the bolt turned and Shang returned.
"I do trust the clothing fits and you are more comfortable," he began. Neither woman responded. "We must talk now. Miss Adair, I am pleased to see that you seem to have recovered from the...unfortunate incident of last week."
She met those hard, glittering black eyes without comment. "I cannot tell you how sorry about that I am. Huong has been disciplined."
"For failing to kill me?"
The expression on his face was terrifying for a moment -- then he regained control. "Huong acted on his own that night, my dear. I would never order you harmed -- surely you see that. I merely wanted him to ascertain whether or not you were a true psychic. There are so many charlatans in the world," he sighed. "He was merely to find out if you really had talent. When you felled two of his men using only your mind, it was proof positive you were the woman I wanted. Huong seems to have had his own reasons for not wanting you to work for me. Fortunately for him, we have, shall we say, changed his mind."
Amber did not reply -- what could she say to this?
"Now, on to the business at hand. As I told you last night, you have a choice to make. You can work for me, in which case, you and Miss Powell may live here in comfort together. Everything you require will be provided."
"Except freedom, or time in the sun."
"I think that once you have become accustomed to my rules, we might arrange for time out on the roof, where you could bask in the sunlight."
Amber snorted. Jody had remained silent through all this. She did not trust herself to reply.
"And if I refuse, you kill us?" the young psychic asked.
Shang sighed with feigned sadness. "I am afraid that would be necessary. You would die slowly and painfully, but not before I made you watch your friend die before you, also slowly and in great pain. But now, I do not ask for your decision right away. You have today and tonight to think about it. Talk it over. I will come ask you for your choice in the morning."
"Before you go," Amber put in quickly. "Would you at least tell me how you've managed to block my ability?"
Shang smiled beatifically. "I cannot see what possible good it would do you to know. However, I also cannot see what harm the information can do me. You remember your little mishap at the opera?"
The Chinese man who had bumped into her!
"I took the liberty of arranging that. The gentleman used the opportunity bumping you provided to deposit a few microscopic robots into your ear. I must say it was kind of you to wear your hair up that night. It made his job that much easier."
Both women stared at him, disbelieving. He continued. "These little robots have worked their way into your head. They prevent you from using your talent, make you receptive to my commands, and can keep you from moving if I wish it. You have seen the proof of that."
Amber laughed without mirth. "You're talking science fiction, Shang."
"Ah, no. I have a rather large network of operations, my dear Miss Adair. One of my investments several years ago was a highly secret laboratory devoted to nanotechnology. The little things inside your head are the product of millions of man-hours, more time and effort than you can imagine. Many scientists have worked and died to create the very robots that now make you my prisoner."
"Then why don't you just force me to work for you?" She challenged.
"Alas, the control is not so fine yet. These are the first generation of nanites not to kill their host immediately. I can force you to remain still, can keep you from defending yourself or helping your friend, but I cannot force you to do anything active. If I were to issue the command for the robots to replicate anywhere near enough to accomplish that, the sheer pressure of them inside your skull would likely kill you. In fact, that is exactly how you will die if you refuse me. I will issue the command, and the last sound you hear will be your own screaming. You will want to kill yourself, but I will lock every muscle in your body as I enjoy each lingering moment of your agony."
Amber shuddered as Shang politely bowed and left.
Jody rose and went to her. "It's all right. We'll be all right. The others will come for us."
Amber felt tears of frustration threatening. "How will they know where to find us? I can't reach anyone, and Shang's men were fast. I don't think anyone saw them take us!"
"Come on, you know Kermit and Peter are probably combing Chinatown for us. I'll bet Kermit's burning up the net looking for possible places Shang could have us. Your alarm was going crazy when we left. The whole precinct was probably at your shop minutes after we left."
"I'm sorry you're in this with me, Jody. It's not much of a choice, is it? Either we're prisoners here for life or we die."
"Agree to work for him, Amber. That will buy us time for the others to find us."
Amber sighed explosively. "I don't know if I can! This goes against all the training my family gave me. First Mother, then later Aunt Edith -- I don't know if I can even pretend to go along with him!" The idea of being kept a prisoner in this gilt cage was beginning to make Amber panic. She felt her stomach knot up, felt her shoulders tensing as she struggled against Shang's lock on her mind.
Jody patted her arm gently. "We'll take things one at a time. We have all day for you to work yourself up to lie to him. Maybe you could be too sick to do anything for Shang for a few days. You tell him tomorrow morning that you'll work for him, but then you collapse and he'll have to let you rest for a while."
"Play sick?" Amber managed a weak grin. "I'm not sure I'd have to pretend. I feel like I could throw up already."
"That's a girl," the blonde detective returned. "Might as well use this case of the nerves to our benefit."
Amber felt a little better now, having some kind of plan. The faces of those she had come to care about haunted her, though. Peter -- she had only just found him again. She did not want to lose their recently rekindled friendship. His father and Skalany, Jordan and Blake, Karen Simms...they were all important to her life now. The Wangs -- they would surely be able to handle the store without her, but she missed them. And Jim Willard! She was supposed to have lunch with him and Captain Simms today! He must be wondering where she was. Then there was Kermit Griffin; the man with the green glass walls who had begun to let her past those defenses. She could not face never seeing him again. And dear little Lo Si...his image rose in her mind, and somehow she felt suddenly calmed, as though the little man had put a comforting hand on her shoulder. She felt reassured. Even the thought that Aunt Edith and Uncle Dougie might never know what had happened to her seemed to fade quietly away as Amber felt the serenity Lo Si's image radiated. A spark of hope flickered deep inside her.
Things had not gone as quickly as Kermit wanted. He had indeed gotten his gun, but just then Peter walked in.
"What are you doing here, Pop? You know something about Amber?"
"I do not. But Lo Si does."
Peter looked sharply at the old man. "You know where she is?"
"No. But I will."
"Let's go see the Captain," Kermit led the way across the bullpen. He stopped himself just short of storming in -- knocked instead.
The former spy led his little party in. "Captain," he saw Jim Willard slumped in the corner. "Captains, that is...the Ancient has some information for us."
Lo Si made a little bow to Captain Simms. "Not precisely information," he corrected. "But if someone were to take me to `The Unturned Page' in a car, I think I can find Amber's trail."
Jim stood up. "What are we waiting for?"
Simms stood, too, but with a restraining gesture. "We can't just go haring off. Here comes Blake with his pictures."
The man beetled into the Captain's office, looking around the group nervously. "I have some pictures. They're not very good, but we have gotten two ID's from them."
He put four blowups on Simms' desk. "These two," he indicated "are Paulie Ton and Modo. They've been charged before with assault, racketeering and a few other things."
Peter stepped over. "Word is they work for Shang. These other two are harder to see, but I think that one is Huong Long. He's definitely one of Shang's men."
Karen Simms nodded. "I'd say we have enough for a search warrant. I'll get to work on that. With this information and the fact that one of my people is missing, I think the judge will be disposed to listen, but it's going to take me some time."
Kermit ground his teeth. He couldn't sit idle while she tried.
"We've got to find where they have Amber and Jody," Peter put in softly. "I want to make sure we can get in there without putting them in any more danger."
Everyone turned to stare at the young cop. Kermit even pulled down his glasses to give his friend a look of disbelief. Simms asked with a half smile,
"You feeling all right, Caine?"
Peter looked around. "What?" He demanded.
Kwai Chang Caine smiled. "It seems your training has modified your impulsiveness, my son." He gently punched at Peter's jaw.
The young man looked abashed. "Those are two of my best friends Shang's got. If we go charging in there unprepared, someone may get overexcited and shoot them."
Lo Si spoke. "Perhaps if Detectives Caine and Griffin were to take me to the shop, we could find where our friends are being held and decide how to best proceed from there."
Simms nodded decisively. "Go on, gentlemen. Captain Willard and I will go see the judge as soon as you give us an address. Blake, you'd better come along with those photos."
Kermit led the way again, giving in to the need to be moving. He called to the others, "We'll take my car."
Caine followed his old friend, saying nothing. As they left the squad room, Karen Simms was briefing Skalany and Strenlich on the situation. When the four men reached the Corvair Kermit raised an eyebrow at Caine, but silently allowed him to slide into the back seat with Lo Si.
Peter hopped into the front seat and Kermit peeled out of the lot before he got himself back under iron control.
"I can see Shang wanting Amber for her abilities," the man grumbled. "But why would he take Jody, too?"
Lo Si replied gently. "Can you see Amber letting any harm come to a friend? I am sure they took Detective Powell as incentive for Amber to behave herself."
"I've got a few things to say to Shang Kai Zeng," Kermit replied. Peter nodded his agreement.
The ex-mercenary pulled in behind `The Unturned Page'. "All right, what now?"
The Ancient closed his eyes. Even seated, Caine seemed to hover, concern for his friend written on his face. Lo Si spoke, "I am beginning to feel the traces of her passing."
After a moment, eyes still closed, he ordered, "Pull out forward and take a left at the end of the alley."
Kermit drove slowly, following the Ancient's directions. He kept his frustration to himself, and was surprised when the old man told him, "Here. Pull over here."
It had not taken very long -- how could Shang keep Amber so very close, and at the same time so inaccessible?
Lo Si opened his eyes and pointed to a warehouse. "There. That is the place where Shang Kai Zeng is holding our friends."
It looked almost abandoned -- there was no sign of anyone coming or going from the building. Someone, though, had pressure washed the place and the big steel loading doors gleamed.
"You're sure about this?"
Caine spoke now. "There are...many men inside. I believe they are armed. It will take me a few minutes to tell you more."
"Right," said Peter. "I'm calling it in."
Kermit chafed at the delay, but made no move. Peter had been right -- they could not endanger Jody and Amber any further by charging in without backup. He felt that his eyes might burn holes in the walls as he glared at it, trying to get any sense of where Amber might be. He was worried about Jody, too, but she was a good cop with a solid right cross and good self-defense instincts. Amber was a civilian and a gentle soul. Could she defend herself if they stirred everybody up by charging in? Lo Si answered his unspoken question.
"Shang has done something to Amber to control her. She will be unable to help us when we go in to rescue her. Jody Powell, on the other hand, is coiled and ready to strike. She has no weapon, but as soon as we give her the chance, she will act."
Caine opened his eyes. "There are perhaps...twenty of them. And Shang Kai Zeng is inside. He is on the second floor, which is where I believe...Amber and Jody to be."
Peter was relaying it all to Captain Simms over his cell phone. He snapped it shut and turned to Kermit.
"We sit tight and keep watch. In fact, maybe we ought to go around the block and find a less conspicuous spot. Captains Simms and Willard are going to the judge now to get a warrant. They'll come meet us with backup."
The older man nodded once. He pulled away from the curb and went around the block.
Peter added, "Let's get a cup of coffee, and maybe something to eat while we wait for the others." The younger cop had seen Kermit's hand twitch once. As controlled as Kermit was, that could only mean he needed something to help occupy him while they waited. Peter found this a refreshing change -- usually it was Kermit trying to coax him into being patient and waiting for backup.
Kermit stopped in front of a coffee shop and Peter jumped out to return a few minutes later with a cardboard cup holder and a bag. He handed two Styrofoam cups to the back seat. "Tea for you and Lo Si, Pop. It's probably not very good, but I thought you'd like it better than coffee."
Caine accepted the cups and handed one to his friend. The Shaolin priests sniffed at the tea suspiciously. Then Caine shrugged and took a sip. "Thank you, my son. It is...not bad."
Lo Si snorted as he sipped. "Yes, it is, Kwai Chang Caine. But thank you, Peter. You are right. It is better than coffee."
"And I got some food, too. Thought we could use a snack while we wait."
"Not doughnuts," Kermit said warningly.
Peter laughed. "Would I do that to a pal? Doughnuts on a stakeout? No, they had some fresh muffins."
They parked a little further away from the warehouse this time, but still with a good view. Caine closed his eyes for a moment. "Nothing has changed. The men there are the same. No one has...departed or...arrived since we left."
Kermit watched the building intensely as he methodically picked apart the apple-bran muffin.
Caine said, "I notice you have not tried to convince us to...go elsewhere while you rescue Jody and Amber."
The man snorted. "I seem to remember how you have ignored such suggestions in the past."
Peter's father smiled.
Lo Si added, "Besides, you know we can be of help to you."
"I'm counting on you to help us find them, Lo Si."
"Pop, you know what I'm going to say. I want you to be careful."
I know, my son. I am always...careful."
It was Peter's turn to snort.
When Peter's phone finally rang, he jumped. Kermit did not, but Peter could have sworn the man had wanted to.
"Caine." He listened for a long time, and then said, "Gotcha, Captain."
He flipped the phone shut. "We're to wait here for the others. It's almost dark now. As soon as it is, they'll come up here and we'll go in."
Kermit's gun hand flexed once.
Caine said softly, "There are twenty armed men in the warehouse. I sense much tension."
Lo Si added, "The ladies are still upstairs." He smiled fondly. "Jody is very tense. She is not happy with this enforced inaction. Amber is still holding herself together."
"She won't have to for much longer." Kermit pulled out his desert eagle, checking it over quickly. He patted his pockets -- extra clips ready. Good. Peter was checking his own weapon. Caine merely slid into breathing exercises, but both cops knew that he would be as ready as anyone.
Peter called Simms back, relaying the numbers and deployment the two Shaolin had given him.
"No, Captain, I don't think there's any chance they'll stay out of it. Lo Si is set on getting Amber out of there, and you know my Pop."
"All right," he turned to address the others. "They're around the corner. They're coming up on foot -- be here in a minute. The Captain wants to talk to us all, and then we go in."
The ex-mercenary checked his gun one more time and holstered it.
"You know, Kermit, I'm just as worried as you are. Jody is a friend and a good cop, and Amber may be your girl, but she's been a friend of mine for a long time. We're going to get them out."
"My girl? Did I say anyone was my girl?" Kermit tried half-heartedly, old defenses springing into action.
Peter clapped his shoulder. "You didn't have to. I'm not all that stupid, my friend."
The older cop sighed. "All right, she's my girl. And you're damn right we're going to get them out. Both of them."
Lo Si was grinning happily in the back.
"What's so funny?" Kermit snapped.
"Nothing. I am just pleased that you have admitted your feelings for my young friend."
The ex-mercenary wisely let that pass.
In the gathering darkness, Karen Simms tapped on his window. "All right, people. Let's get set to move out."
Amber sat on the bed now while Jody paced the length of the room. The blonde detective was restless. Amber was trying valiantly not to fall into depression. Every time she had tried to reach out with her mind, her spirits seems to sink lower. The panic that rose each time she failed threatened to overwhelm her until Lo Si's image would again rise in her mind. A thought occurred to her. Could Shang be trying to use his little robots to influence her this subtly? Perhaps it was he, convincing her that her position was hopeless, that her only option was to agree to be his prisoner and tame psychic. This time, Lo Si's image seemed to dispense resolve as well as calm. If that were Shang's game, she would not give in to it. She might have to pretend to go along with him in the morning, but she would not give in to the despair. Kermit would find her.
"You think Shang's forgotten about us?" Jody demanded.
Amber had to laugh. "Not hardly. But I suspect we won't get dinner until they're sure we're hungry. Shang wants to make sure we know who's in charge. Make sure I know just who controls our lives. Jody, I can't get you killed. I'm going to agree to work for him."
"Right. Just like we planned."
"I know Kermit will find us." Her face flamed. "I mean the others will find us."
Jody grinned. "Maybe, but I think you said what you really meant the first time. He'll find us. You know he'll tear apart Chinatown brick by brick if he has to."
The honey-haired woman tried to smile. "I hope so. I know I would, if it were him."
The blonde patted her shoulder. "I've seen the look on his face. He won't give up until we're out of here."
Kermit looked around. Karen Simms wore a dangerous-looking gun on her belt holster -- she was a sharpshooter. He felt much better about the whole thing knowing she was taking charge of the rescue. He knew he could count on his Captain. He scanned the other faces. Skalany was there, along with Frank Strenlich and Kelly. Even Blake had joined them -- the man who had not willingly left his desk in years. There were a few uniformed officers, as well.
"Who's minding the shop?" Kermit asked Strenlich.
"Oh, we left a few folks behind to answer the phones and explain why crime has to stop for the night," the chief of detectives drawled.
Simms cleared her throat. Jim Willard stood just behind her, waiting patiently. She said, "Caine tells us there are twenty men in there, plus Shang. Sixteen on the ground floor, four upstairs with Shang and the prisoners. Let's keep it simple. We're here to get Miss Adair and Detective Powell. The search warrant gives us the right to look for them and to get them out. We're not here," she looked directly at the man in the green glasses, "for revenge or punishment. We'll get the women out if they're in there, arrest their captors and get out."
Kermit nodded slightly in acknowledgement. He wanted revenge, that was certain. He knew, though, that Simms had gone out on a limb to get them this far, and he would not cause her any trouble by taking vengeance tonight. He would wait for that.
Karen Simms looked around at her people. Lo Si stood in front of Kermit, looking at her with an odd little smile. He gave her an encouraging nod. Caine regarded her gravely. Clearly, neither civilian was going to leave or stay outside. There was nothing she could do about that now. She gave a brisk nod.
"All right. I'm going to try to serve the warrant first. Remember, proceed with caution. We don't want Miss Adair or Detective Powell harmed." Everyone nodded. "Then, let's go."
Lo Si caught at Kermit's sleeve. "You stay with me. Let the others handle the fighting this time. We will make directly for the second floor where our friends are. I am concerned about what has been done to Amber. She may even fight against her own rescue, if Shang has that much control over her."
Kermit looked down at the old man, wanting to argue. He abruptly changed his mind, nodded his agreement. He was here to get Amber back, and the best way to do that seemed to be to stick with Lo Si.
Captain Simms strode to the side door and knocked. "Police!"
"Police! Open up! We have a warrant."
Caine stepped forward, wiping his hands together in preparation. Simms stepped back, eyes widening as Caine touched the lock and she heard it turn. She looked over at Peter and Frank, who nodded and stepped up. Peter met his father's eyes. Caine nodded to his son and opened the door, stepping out of the way as the cops stepped through, guns level.
"Police! Freeze!" Frank snapped.
That was when the first shots rang out, and the cops crouched, sidestepping inside as the others came forward to cover.
Amber and Jody exchanged glances as they heard the muffled sound of gunfire. Suddenly Amber went stiff again. She was once more paralyzed. Jody had no time to worry about her now -- she had to be ready when her chance came. If this was a rescue, she would help her fellow officers, and they could deal with Amber once Shang and his men had been subdued.
The bolt turned and the door opened. Huong stepped through, gun at the ready. Shang was right behind him.
"It seems, ladies, that your friends are more resourceful than I thought. Miss Adair, I regret the necessity of incapacitating you, but I cannot risk you running to them." He pulled the palmtop from his pocket. "Stand up, Miss Adair."
Woodenly, she obeyed. Amber's green eyes pleaded for Jody to do something, but Huong was holding his gun firmly on the blonde woman.
"The control program for the nanites is housed on my network." Shang told Amber conversationally. "This little toy will suffice until we can get to another of my computers. Come along."
They stepped through to the living room. Jody followed Amber, conscious of Huong's watchfulness behind her. There were shouts from down below and heavy running footsteps on the steel stairs. Huong was distracted for just a moment -- it was all Jody needed. As the sounds of struggle on the balcony raged, Jody whipped her elbow back into her captor's midsection, bringing her other hand around to snatch the gun. Turning, she clipped him over the ear with the butt. He sank silently to the floor.
The detective turned again, aiming at Shang. His hard eyes did not react, and he merely said, "Miss Adair, stop her."
Amber stepped toward her friend. Then she stopped, turning back towards Shang. The look on his face told her he had remembered that he could not force her to act, only to refrain from acting. Shang paused in consternation as he cast about for his next move.
The door burst open and Kermit stepped into the room, the big ugly gun trained on Shang. Blake, Skalany and Lo Si were behind him.
Then Shang laughed, a hollow, chilling sound. He backed away toward a shadowy hallway.
Suddenly Blake darted forward, running for him. The two men disappeared down the hall.
Kermit and Skalany watched in shock. Was this their old friend Blake? Lo Si stepped past them to Amber.
"Come, child. You are safe. We have you."
She could not move. She wanted to sink to the floor in weary relief, but her muscles were once again locked fast. Blake reappeared carrying Shang's palmtop computer. He sat heavily in a fragile-looking chair and began to shake.
"Why didn't somebody stop me?" He demanded.
"What's wrong with her?" Kermit snapped at Lo Si.
Jody shook her head, stepped out of Skalany's worried embrace. "Shang said something about controlling her -- he said he's put nanites in her ear. You know what those are?"
Kermit looked at the blonde detective with stunned disbelief. "You've got to be kidding." He pulled off the shades to meet her eyes. "That's crazy. Nanites are purely theoretical."
Blake looked up from the floor. "Maybe, but people have been working on them for years. Did he give you any details?" He rose, handed the palmtop to Kermit. "Shang got away from me, but he dropped this when he jumped into the freight elevator."
Jody thought for a minute. The sounds of fighting were fading away downstairs. It sounded like the others had things well in hand.
Caine appeared in the doorway. He took a look around and went immediately over to Lo Si, who was carefully checking Amber over.
"That seems to fit with the sense I am getting from her," the old priest stated. "There seems to be some kind of...machine?...controlling her."
Jody said, "He said there were microscopic robots in her head. They make it so she can't use her talent and so he can keep her from doing things."
"This is not good." Kermit told them all. "If she's actually got those nanites in her head, we have to shut them down, get them out of her."
The blonde detective told him, "Shang was using that," she pointed at the palmtop in his hand, "to control her. He said the control program was on his network and that would suffice until he got her to another computer."
Kermit and Blake ran down the hallway, leaving the others to wait. Karen Simms found them like that a minute later. "What's going on here?"
Skalany tried to fill her in as Jim Willard and Peter joined them.
Tears filled Amber's eyes. Only Lo Si saw. "Jody, if Shang gets to another of his computers, what could he do?"
Jody looked suddenly stricken. "Oh, no! He said something about a limit to how many nanites Amber could safely have in her head. I'm afraid he's going to make them multiply -- kill her by overloading her brain!"
Lo Si gazed at the immobile young psychic gravely. "We must find Kermit and warn him that there may not be much time."
Simms threw up her hands. "As if Shaolin mysticism were not enough! Now I have microscopic robots to worry about? I'm going back downstairs to make sure all this gets mopped up. Let me know what happens."
Peter said, "I'll go with you, Captain. I called for paramedics and the police transport van."
The two left the room. Skalany was still standing with Jody. "Are you okay?"
"Someone's got to find Kermit and Blake," the blonde was insisting.
"No need. We found Shang's local computer," Kermit announced. Jody hurriedly told him of her fears.
"Right. We're on it. First things first," he tapped at the palmtop and spoke. "Green Eyes, you should be able to move now. Can you speak?"
She drew in a deep, shuddering breath. "Thank you," she managed. Her eyes told him how much more than that she meant. "Can you get them out of me?"
"Oh, yeah." He took her arm gently. "Come on. We'll go exterminate your little pests."
"Thanks, Mercenary Man," she whispered.
"Don't thank me yet," he told her. "Let's get you fixed up first, and then you can thank me all you like."
Only the tightness around his jaw revealed the anger and uncertainty. He drove away thoughts of failure by thinking of the retribution he would take on Shang Kai Zeng. Of all the people in the world working toward the realization of nanotechnology, for Shang to have succeeded, and put it to this use...Kermit wanted to break something. But there would be time for that later. Right now he had to get to work and shut down those nanites.
Lo Si followed right behind the pair. The old man was not about to let Amber face this without his support, though he could do nothing to help save hold her hand.
Caine went to join his son, knowing that Lo Si would be well looked after with these cops. Peter might need him, though.
Jim Willard, Jody and Mary Margaret followed Lo Si into the office, where Amber was already watching intently as Kermit sat in the chair. Blake had pulled up another seat and was looking over his colleague's shoulder.
"See, Kermit, it's a radio-controlled system. The radio waves emit from here," he indicated a square black box. "And the nanites receive them."
"Right. Now we just have to get into the program and tell them to shut down."
Amber stood by. She was free to speak now, but could think of nothing to say. She was still terrified. Kermit had found her -- Kermit and Lo Si. But it could still all come to nothing if her lover could not crack the system in time.
The Ancient sensed her distress. He moved to her side and took her hand. She squeezed it briefly in gratitude and found her voice.
"Lo Si, how did you find me?"
"Yes, Master. I would...like to know that, as well." Caine had come silently into the room, followed by Peter.
"I felt that you were in trouble," Lo Si told Amber. "When I went to your apartment I could feel the difference in your mind. I merely focused on that difference and we found you."
Caine bowed with respect. "I...should have thought of this, myself."
Impulsively Amber kissed the old man. "You really are my little Chinese angel," she told him softly. "Every time I thought of giving up, of giving in to Shang, you came to me and calmed my fears."
He grinned like a child. "I am glad I was able to help. When all of this is over, young lady," he gave her a mock-stern glare. "You and I are going to have some lessons."
"Yes. I believe I can help you to become even better, stronger in your gift."
"Yes, Ancient One," she did not add that this could only happen if she survived the next few minutes. Lo Si had saved her life twice now: if Kermit made it three, she would happily accept any lessons the old man wanted to teach her.
"He's in the operating system now," Blake announced. Amber would have slid around to look, but she feared that would serve no purpose. It was up to the two experts now. She could not help them help her.
Kermit had abandoned the mouse when he'd gotten into the OS. He was tapping furiously now. It really was ludicrous, the passwords people used: Shang had made his own birthday his secret code. The ex-mercenary was hacking into the nanites control program. What made him frantic was not knowing whether Shang was even now at another terminal, accessing the program himself to try to hurt or kill Amber.
"Damn!" He growled. This was the second time he had received this error message. One more try and he'd have to think of something else. Amber was watching him, her hand still in Lo Si's. She had such a look of trust in her green eyes; Kermit could not let her down. He pushed the green glasses farther up on his nose, took a deep breath and tried again.
"I'm in," he cried. Now he only had to find the settings and change them. There -- the menu was before him. Wonder of wonders, there was a `shutdown' option. He quickly selected it and slapped the enter key with a resounding thwack.
He closed his eyes, removed his glasses, and looked up at Amber. "Green Eyes, try your talent now."
She drew in a deep breath, let it out shakily and closed her eyes. Tentatively, she reached out with a tendril of thought. Lo Si was almost dancing with delight! Jim and Jody waited tensely to see if she was going to be all right. Caine and Peter were beacons of calm assurance, trusting in Kermit's ability. Kermit -- was wound as tightly as a Swiss watch and seemed ready to explode if she did not respond soon.
Amber Adair laughed a real laugh, spinning in a little circle in sheer joy. She threw her arms around Kermit's neck. "You've done it! I'm free!"
He grinned, slammed his dark glasses back on, sliding the other arm around her waist. "Oh, yeah. Now, you'll have to let go for a minute. I have to finish off this program so Shang can't reactivate it before the nanites break down in your bloodstream."
She reluctantly straightened and stepped away to give him room. Then she hugged Jody, Peter, Caine and Skalany. Jim Willard looked stunned when she wrapped her arms around him in turn. "Thank you, Jim," she said. "You don't know what it means to me that you came, too."
"Hell, Amber, you know the boys at the 216th wouldn't let me back in the building if I told `em you'd been kidnapped and I hadn't helped to get you back."
She turned to Blake and kissed his cheek. "You! You scared me half to death! What were you thinking going after Shang like that?"
The electronics man squirmed, pleased. "Well, someone had to try for him. Good thing he got away, though. I don't know what I'd have done if I'd caught him."
She turned back to Lo Si. With another hug and a kiss on his cheek, she said, "But you...you managed to find me, even though Shang had locked me within my own mind."
The old man said with a shrug, "When you are looking for something that has been changed, you must seek the change rather than the thing itself."
Caine laughed softly. "A lesson I should have remembered."
Kermit rose. "I've fragged the nanites program, but I've also started downloading Shang's files onto my box back at the precinct. We'll have to go down there to file reports, anyway. But now maybe we'll have something to pin on Shang next time we see him."
Jody looked at Amber. "We'd better get moving along, anyway. If we don't, Amber's likely to start crying."
Amber shot a look at her friend, but the other woman was right. She could not remember two weeks when she'd cried so much -- not since her mother's death.
Kermit put an arm back around Amber. "Let's go, people. Captain Simms will be expecting paperwork out of all of us. Jody and Amber will have to make statements, too."
Amber was grateful for her lover's arm around her waist. She was very tired, and rather than resting his weight on her, he seemed to be holding her up.
She let him help her into the Corvair, Lo Si slipping into the back seat. Caine and Peter opted to ride with Skalany, and Jody and Jim went with Captain Simms. Amber merely closed her eyes and let Kermit drive, rolling down the window to enjoy the fresh air.
At the 101st, she found herself in a flurry of people. Everyone wanted to make sure that she and Jody were well and unharmed. Karen Simms finally stepped in, steering the two into her office. As she shut the door, Amber breathed a sigh of relief.
"Too many open minds for you, Amber?" Jim drawled from his corner.
She laughed softly. "You know me well. They're all very kind, but I'm so tired."
Karen told Amber and Jody to sit. "Now, before we go any further, I do need to know if we need medical exams. Was there any..."
"Rape? No, Captain," Jody put in. "Shang was quite the gentleman when he was not threatening us with painful deaths."
"Good. In a few minutes, I want you to go back out there and give your statements. Then go home. I assume you'll be pressing charges?"
Amber had to be honest. "I'll press charges against the ones I recognize, but I didn't see many of them."
"That's all right," Simms reassured her. "There are plenty of other charges against them, but since it was the kidnapping that we used to get the warrant, we do need to charge some of them with that."
Jody nodded. "You can count on me, too, Captain."
"I knew I could. The abduction of a police officer is a crime most juries take a dim view of. Now, are you both up to giving statements?"
"Thank you. Then you can both go home."
"My car!" Jody remembered.
"Is right outside," Simms told her. "Skalany brought it over for you earlier. Your bag and keys are in your desk, as well. Do you need anyone to stay with you?"
"No, thanks, Captain. I think I'm going to triple lock my doors and sleep for a week."
"Take tomorrow off, Detective. I'll look for you Wednesday morning."
"Make lunch on Wednesday, Amber?" Jim put in.
"You've got it."
"Great. See you then. You take it easy, young lady."
Amber rose and followed Jody back into the fray with a parting smile for the Captains.
Kermit emerged from his office and made for the coffee looking like the cat who'd found the cream sitting out on the counter. "Got Shang's files safe and sound. We have got plenty on him now!"
Lo Si approached Amber. "You are safe and well now."
"Thanks to you."
He waved that off. "You will come and see me Thursday."
She gave him a little bow. "Yes, Master."
The Ancient patted her cheek. "You are a good girl."
Caine stepped away from Peter's side and the two Shaolin said their farewells.
Peter waved Amber over to sit by his desk. "Ready to give me your statement?"
She smiled. "This precinct knows how to give a girl personal service." She grew serious and recounted the whole story for him.
"Great," he said finally. "I'll get this typed up. Can you come by tomorrow and sign it?"
She agreed. "Thanks, Peter."
"Go home and get some rest."
Kermit took her hand and helped her up. "Don't worry about that, Caine. I think I'll see to it myself."
"See?" Amber grinned. "Personal service."
Outside, she drew in a lungful of clean night air. "I thought I'd never see the outdoors again."
He laughed softly. "A bird in a gilded cage."
"I almost gave up. And I wasn't even there all that long."
"But you didn't give up."
"I kept thinking of Lo Si. And you." She turned to face him in the moonlight.
"I'm glad." He slid his glasses off and bent to kiss her gently. She slipped her arms around his neck and gave in completely to his kiss, grateful to be back in his arms. Had it been only two days? It felt like a lifetime.
"You know I'm going to have to leave town," she finally murmured into his chest.
Kermit pulled away, turned to look back at the precinct replacing his sunglasses. "You're leaving?" His voice was flat.
She chuckled softly. "Only to visit my Aunt and Uncle," she told him. "I thought you might come with me."
He looked at her, removing his glasses once more. "You want me to meet your family?"
"Would you like to?"
"Oh, yeah." She found herself swept into his arms again.
With another soft laugh she kissed him soundly. "Why don't you take me home?"