Teeth of the Past
Amber and Lo Si had found Kermit. Unfortunately, they could not reach him. He was shielded heavily -- his mind appeared to them in their current state as a tight metallic ball. Amber felt a trickle of leaking emotions -- the culpability almost knocked her over, and the sense of futility was a slow, subtle poison. She longed to comfort him, but her attempts to touch him were fruitless. She was beginning to forget who she was. Amber Adair! I am Amber Adair!
Lo Si grasped her firmly by the ‘arm’. Come, child. We can do nothing more right now. We must return.
With a sense of defeat, she allowed him to lead her back the way they had come. The return trip seemed to take longer -- she was so tired. When they reached their starting point, she remembered something that had puzzled her earlier.
Master, why does my line join his before we met?
Do you not wonder, he smiled, why you were called here?
Amber faced him, wordless in shock.
You were fated to meet him, to be with him, Lo Si told her.
But why? How?
These are things we shall discover, Amber. But later. Do we not have enough to handle right now?
Yes, Master. She conceded.
Your line rejoins with Peter’s here, but there are the marks of fate around the joining with Kermit’s chi. But now we must return. You are tired.
She let herself seep back into her body, then opened her eyes. And promptly fell backwards into Caine’s waiting arms. The sense of strength and support flowing from him into her made her wonder how she could ever have been uncomfortable around him.
Her little mentor opened his eyes, still fresh and ready to go. “We almost had him, Kwai Chang Caine. He is well shielded, and does not want anyone to touch him. We shall have to try again.”
“Not soon,” Caine rumbled. “Amber is...spent.”
She tried to protest, but hadn’t the strength.
“No, not yet. Amber, you need to rest. You tried to do too much,” the elfin man chided gently. “You almost lost yourself in the web. We will try again later.”
Amber felt hot tears of frustration rise but fought them down as her cell phone rang.
“Amber Adair,” she said cautiously.
“It’s me, Blake. I think I found something. There’s a record of the deaths of a squad of terrorist soldiers in a University laboratory twelve years ago in Venezuela. One of the dead was identified as Marguerite Rodriguez. The whole squad was declared dead, although they never found one of the bodies. The damage was astounding -- there had been some kind of firefight, and then the place went up in a fireball. Seems Kermit’s girlfriend was carrying some chemicals that blew when she dropped them.”
Amber drew in a shaky breath. “Tell me everything you have.”
“Well, from the evidence that made it into the report, as I said, there was a fight. A lot of people got shot. The body identified as Marguerite Rodriguez had a bullet lodged deep in the brain -- she was shot from the front, at close range. The remnants right in front of the body seem to have been identified as a box of explosive chemicals. The missing body was that of the leader of the squad, Christina Rodriguez -- Marguerite’s sister. There was enough wreckage that she was presumed dead with all the rest.”
“Holy shit,” Amber whispered. The two Shaolin priests stared at her -- they had never before heard words like that from her. Even Blake, at the other end of the phone, seemed taken aback.
After a moment, he added, “And we have a couple of witnesses who say they saw four men dressed in fatigues near the precinct parking lot this morning.”
Amber demanded harshly, “Where would this Christina Rodriguez take Kermit?”
“I’m working on that. Without Kermit himself at the keyboard, we’re at a disadvantage. We’re all trying to find him, Amber. Hang in there. We’ll get him back.”
She thanked him and hung up, quickly relating what she had heard to the waiting men.
“Yes,” Caine nodded. “That feels...correct. The sister is here for vengeance. I think she will not...kill him soon. We have a little time, but we must...make that time count. Master, when will we try again to find Kermit?”
Lo Si shook his wizened head. “Not right away. Amber is exhausted.” She tried once more to protest, but the old man silenced her with a wave of his hand. “You will rest, young lady. You were in danger today, and I will not allow you to risk yourself again so soon. You will sleep a little and then eat, and then we will make another attempt.”
“I will go see my son,” Caine said softly. “Perhaps I can...assist him and the others.”
Amber almost laughed. She felt the hysteria rising, and fought to push it down. Kermit’s the information man -- what can Caine do? Then again, he and Lo Si are Shambala Masters. Surely that counts for something. Maybe we will find Kermit soon. She allowed Caine to help her up the stairs while the Ancient tidied up the work area. She curled up on the sofa as bidden, shoes on the floor under the coffee table, when her Chinese Angel bustled in with a steaming cup.
“Drink this,” he ordered.
She made a face at the smell emanating from the drink -- and a worse one at the taste. “What’s in this? Peter’s dirty socks?”
“Drink it all.” He was implacable. She drank.
Struggling to sit up, she gave in to a wave of dizziness. The two men helped her to lie down again. Her last conscious memory was of little Lo Si spreading a blanket over her -- and then she was asleep.
When Amber woke, the sun hung low in the sky. She sat up with a little cry.
“Calm yourself, child,” the old man admonished her, rising smoothly from his lotus position. “You have slept.”
“We’ve been wasting time!” She stood, then sat back down hard, still a little woozy. “We can’t waste any more -- we don’t know what she’s doing to him!”
“We do not know for sure that she is doing anything to him. We cannot even be positive that she is the one holding him.”
Amber struggled for a moment with images half-formed. Her sleep had not been without dreams, and some of them had been bad. “I know he’s being held, and I’m sure Christina Rodriguez is the one keeping him. Master, I know Kermit’s in terrible danger.”
He nodded with a sigh. “Yes. I’m afraid you do, at that. But still, we must find him before we can help him.”
“You found me when Shang had me!” She accused.
“You and I have a special bond. I do not have this with Kermit. You have a bond with him, but have not touched his mind often or deeply enough to make this simple, especially as we do not know where to look. We ranged far this morning, and you needed to rest. We will try again as soon as Kwai Chang Caine returns, but then you will need to sleep through the night. Come, sit at the table with me, Amber, and we will eat.”
She contained her impatience with difficulty. She needed to be doing something, searching for that tight-wrapped, intense man. Surely she could find him -- it shouldn’t be this hard! She slept with the man -- it galled her to think how little of his mind she knew.
Amber followed Lo Si into the kitchen. The old man pointed firmly to a chair, which she obediently took. He brought her a bowl of something over a bed of rice. She did not ask what it was, but picked up the chopsticks and dug in.
“Good. You are hungry.”
“If you were not, we would have to worry,” he twinkled as he started to eat his own dinner.
“Oh, Master!” She was aghast. “I am unforgivably rude! I did not wait for you.”
He chuckled. “We will let it go this time. You are the one in greater need. Just remember,” he shook a mock-stern finger, “next time, you must wait and allow your elders to begin.”
Peter erupted into the kitchen.
“Amber, are you all right? Pop told me what you did this morning, and I...”
“I’m fine, Peter,” she replied with a calm she was trying to feel. “I just tired myself out. We’ve got to try again -- we found him, but couldn’t touch him or get any idea where he was.”
“I know. It’s okay, Amber, we’ll find him. Blake’s on the horn with some of his mysterious contacts.” He laughed. “You wouldn’t believe it from his day-to-day behavior, but he’s been a terrier today. He’s not letting go on this.”
“I get the idea he’s known Kermit a long time?”
“I’ve never really figured it out,” the young cop admitted. “Paul brought him onto the force, just like Kermit. Sometimes they act like they’ve known each other forever, and other times you’d think they’d only met that morning. But Blake likes and respects Kermit. He won’t give up.”
“Neither will I.”
She finished her food, but before she could carry the bowl and chopsticks to the sink, Caine stepped to take them from her. She had not heard or felt him come in, but he must have been right behind Peter. The priest quickly washed her things and the Ancient’s.
A few moments later, the four of them trooped down the stairs to the basement. Amber was grateful for Peter’s presence. She trusted Caine and no longer felt that fluttering in her stomach in his presence, but the long friendship she shared with Peter made her prefer the idea of his guarding her this time. She sat exactly where she had before and, sure enough, Peter took the place behind her Caine had occupied earlier. His hands rested on her shoulders far more lightly than had his father’s.
Caine sank to the mat behind Lo Si, once more waving his hand to light the candles. All was ready.
Kermit had no idea how long he had been in this horrible room. He’d lain in darkness for a long time, feeling the guilt and despair eat at him. Marguerite was dead -- had been dead all this time -- but now Amber, too? And her shop! Her first Sloanville shop had gone up in flames. It was completely unfair that this one should suffer the same fate. And if Joseph and Mai had been injured or killed in the blast, she would be devastated, whether alive or dead. Kermit had never given too much thought to what happened to the soul, if such a thing existed, upon death -- but if anyone’s soul could go on, Amber and the two old Shaolin were the kind that would. Having known them, he had to concede that Amber dead would be scarcely less angry than Amber alive about the destruction of her beloved shop and the possibility of the suffering of her employees.
Amber dead. He could not let Christina see how much this affected him. Damn it, in spite of all my intentions, she still died because of me. It hardly seemed possible that her light and warmth could be gone.
The feelings of fear intensified. Kermit was puzzled by this, even as his gut churned with the terror. He was not given to this sort of thing. How could the darkness frighten him? Maybe it’s the aftereffects of the drug they gave me. But then he recognized the nausea in his stomach as the feeling he got whenever Amber cranked up her heavy metal favorites. The bass line had a way of making his insides roil. Then the cot shuddered briefly and he knew -- Christina was using sound against him. It was inaudible at the moment, but she was attacking him with subsonics. Unfortunately, knowing this did not help him overcome it.
The lights came on, brighter than before. Floodlights bathed him in intense white. First dark, now bright enough to hurt my eyes. Is she going to add ultrasonics now, too? And what was that remote control thing she had? She’s killed Amber, and after she’s done playing with me, she’s going to kill me too. I just hope the rest of the department has figured out I’m gone.
Amber and Lo Si once again followed the shining line in the web. Once more they found Kermit’s tight little shield-ball, but could not breach it any more than last time. Finally, they gave up, returning to themselves with defeated looks.
Amber fell back heavily into Peter’s waiting embrace.
“No luck?” he asked.
She shook her head wearily. “We can’t get through. That man’s mind is so tightly guarded -- if he doesn’t loosen his control a little, it might be the death of him.”
Now she did cry. She was too tired to try fighting the tears back, so they slid down her face as she silently shook in Peter’s arms. He tightened those arms around her and let her get it out.
“Amber, you know, you and Lo Si might just be too tired to do this right now. Why don’t I take you home, and you can try again in the morning when you’ve both recovered from this morning’s adventure?”
The Ancient nodded his approval. “Very good, Peter. That is precisely what we shall do.” Over Amber’s mute protest, he shook his head. “Peter is correct. We have to rest now. Perhaps tomorrow we will be able to get through Kermit’s shields. And who is to know? By then, the other detectives may have found something more.”
She let Peter help her to rise. He assisted her up the stairs as well, when she would have fallen on her own.
“I shall...also accompany you,” Caine told his son. “There is something amiss. I will help you get Amber home...safely.”
Peter nodded curtly. Amber met the Ancient’s eyes. “Thank you, Master. I apologise for my impatience. I know you’re right -- I need to sleep. I’ll be back in the morning.”
He twinkled at her and bowed as Peter supported her all the way down the steps and into the Stealth. Caine climbed in as well.
As the three entered the back door of ‘The Unturned Page’, Mai caught a glimpse of Amber and hurried to follow. They were halfway up the steps, Amber almost completely supported by Peter, when Kwai Chang Caine gripped his son’s shoulder hard enough to stop him.
“What is it, Pop?” Peter asked irritably.
“I...do not know. There is danger ahead. You...wait with her while I go find out what is wrong.” Caine pushed past them and mounted the stairs to the kitchen door. He rested one hand lightly on the wood, tracing the grain. His hand hovered a moment, then swept suddenly up and to the side. He pulled hard at something and stepped back.
“My son, I will...take Amber now. You must call your...friends at the precinct. Someone has set an...explosive device.”
Peter stared, mouth open. “Are you telling me you just disarmed a bomb?”
His father shrugged one shoulder. “I believe so. I will...check.”
Laying a hand on the lock, he then twisted the doorknob and thrust the door open. Peter shoved Amber against the wall and covered her with his body, but the expected blast did not come.
Caine directed a look full of reproach at his offspring. Amber would have laughed if she’d had the energy. The father’s eyes were wounded at the son’s lack of faith. “It appears I was...successful. Give her to me, and...call it in.”
Mai stepped in the way. “I’ll take her,” the young woman said firmly. “I think she would prefer that I help her get into her pajamas, don’t you?”
Caine shrugged again, but his eyes showed his approval. Amber said softly. “Thank you, Mai. Just help me change, and then I’d better wait for the police.”
Peter left his hurried phone conversation long enough to say, “No. You just go right to bed. You don’t know any more than we do about this, and Pop and I can talk to them for you. You can come make a statement in the morning, or I can bring a form to the Ancient’s tomorrow.”
She nodded wearily and let Mai take her up to her room.
Mai made her drink a cup of herbal tea made from the packet Lo Si had sent home with her. She fell asleep almost as soon as her head touched the pillow. Mai smiled gently at her boss and friend and left.
Blake carefully finished dismantling the explosive device and took it back to the precinct with him, painstakingly bagged and tagged.
“Great, Pete. This might give us a lead on where Kermit is. Whoever set this can’t have helped leaving his own personal touches. Bomb-making is an intimate art.”
Caine left behind the cops with a final light cuff and hug for his son, who remained in Amber’s kitchen. A few minutes later, a soft tapping at the door heralded the arrival of Jordan McGuire, with a duffel bag over one shoulder.
She wound her arms around Peter’s neck and kissed him long and thoroughly. “I figured you’d want to stay here tonight to keep an eye on Amber.”
“You’re being awfully good about this,” his eyes narrowed. He loved her deeply, though he might never have told her, but he also knew she did not usually react well to his being alone with any other woman. Then again, given his reputation, he couldn’t exactly blame her.
She slapped him playfully on the chest. “Hey, I like her, too! And with two cops watching out for her, she’s sure to be all right, don’t you think? Besides,” she looked up at him through her lashes, “you look like you could use a little rest and recreation, too.”
Peter’s eyes strayed to the stairs. Jordy read the look. “Now, I don’t think Amber would mind my staying with you. We’ll clean up everything before she wakes up, and I’ll change the sheets on the guest bed in the morning.”
He forgot any arguments he might have marshaled in her kiss, and did not remember having any objections by the time she released him to say, “All right. Now I’ll see about finding us some dinner.”
Jordan and Peter had almost finished cleaning up after themselves when Amber entered the kitchen clad for a run.
“You’re up!” the blonde vice cop exclaimed.
“I hope you found everything all right,” the young psychic said dryly.
“I didn’t think you’d mind my helping Peter keep an eye on you last night. I’ve cleaned up everything we used and changed the bed.” There was just the faintest hint of defensiveness in Jordy’s voice.
Amber, though she still had a drawn look, gave the other woman a brilliant smile. “No, I don’t mind at all. Thank you both for worrying about me. And the cleanup wasn’t necessary, but very much appreciated. I’m going to go run and shower, but you two just make yourselves right at home and I’ll cook something when I get back.”
As she descended the steps, Peter let out a breath -- he had, for just a moment, feared a fight between his lover and his old friend. But he should have known better, he told himself. Amber was not that kind of woman, and she and Jordy got along well enough.
He turned to his girlfriend with a look of concern. “Do you think we should have let her go alone?”
“She’s a big girl, Peter. She knows how far to go. She won’t run any farther than she can handle.”
By the time Amber returned, Peter and Jordy had finished the cleanup. “Shall we make you breakfast?” Peter asked. “I know you said you would, but you still look tired. And I can drop you at the Ancient’s before I go to work.”
Amber thought for a moment. “I could walk over to Lo Si’s but I’m not sure I could make it home later.”
“We’ll drop you off, and either Peter or maybe Jody or Skalany will take you home,” Jordan decided. “I would offer, but I’ll be back on nights, trapping rapists and pimps.”
Amber nodded. “Thank you both again. And yes, Peter, if you don’t mind, I would love for you to fix breakfast. I need to shower.”
Peter let her out of the Stealth in front of the Ancient’s home, promising to call her if Blake or Simms came up with anything. All of the ex-mercenary’s friends were doing what they could to help find him, though many of them had heavy caseloads.
“Hang in there, Amber,” Peter touched her curls gently. “If anyone can make it through something like this, it’s Kermit.”
“I know,” she sighed. “I keep telling myself that.” After a moment she said, “You’d probably better tell Jody and Skalany that we’ll have to put off the girls’ night.”
“They called last night to say as much. They want to wait until we know Kermit’s all right.”
Lo Si took one look at the young woman and put her on the sofa. “You will sit and rest until Kwai Chang Caine comes. I will prepare a tea to help give you strength.”
“Thank you, Lo Si.”
“You will have to sleep a bit more tonight, and we cannot use this preparation often. It could cause many problems if you take too much.”
“I doubt if I could drink any of your preparations too often -- they all taste so bad.”
“And this is precisely why. If the patient does not enjoy taking the medicine, she gets better quickly rather than remaining sick or coming to rely on an outside solution.”
She chuckled in spite of herself. “Yes, o wise Master. Thank you for your instruction.”
Despite the foul flavor, she drank the tea down as instructed. She could feel the strength seeping back into her tired bones. Caine arrived soon after and they went back down to the basement to work. Caine sat behind her again, and this time she could feel him lending her some of his prodigious strength.
Amber and Lo Si once more sent their minds flying along the shining web, following Kermit’s line.
Kermit awoke suddenly. Something was sliding up his leg slowly, sensuously. He opened his eyes to the hellishly bright lights. Christina stood over him, lightly drawing a blood-red fingernail up his thigh. Something was wrong with his sight. Then he remembered -- she had taken his glasses, and his eyes were unprotected against the glaring floodlights.
What could he do? The answer was simple: nothing. He remained still, watching her warily.
“If you’re a good boy,” she rasped, “maybe I’ll give you back your glasses. Then again, maybe I won’t.”
Her hand stopped trailing over his flesh and he almost relaxed before he realized that might just make her angry. Then she slapped him hard across the face. “You pig! You were not given leave to sleep. Now I think you will have to miss your meal.”
He remained silent -- it seemed the safest course. He had fallen asleep in spite of the situation -- and she had found him thus. The idea that anyone could catch him unawares rankled.
She returned to touching his leg gently. Her hand continued on, sliding lightly over the area covered by the pink thong. “Do you like this?” She purred. “You liked it when Marguerite did it.”
He tried to turn his head towards the door -- a man in green fatigues holding a large, ugly gun, stood guard. Christina had brought reinforcements this time. She caught his crotch in a cruel grip.
“She never did that,” he told her softly, maintaining an even tone despite the pain.
She slapped him even harder this time, one nail catching on his cheek. He felt the trickle of blood.
Christina smiled and Kermit knew this was not over. “You lie, Kermit Griffin. And bad things happen when you lie to me.” She raised her other hand so he could see the black bar in it. She depressed a button and pain arced through him. It must have been a pretty low voltage -- she could not hope to keep him alive and undamaged long if it was too high -- but the agony was enough.
As it ceased, he fell back to the cot, panting heavily.
“We will continue our little game later,” she told him conversationally. “Just now, I have to go see about locating your precious sister.” At the look on his face, Christina laughed. There was no mirth in it, only a sense of power. “Oh, yes, Kermit. My sister told me all about you in the evenings she was with us. She did love you, and planned to return with you. But you killed her, and now I will kill everyone you love -- and then you. You see, you stole the person I loved most in the world, and then you killed her. You have no idea how long I’ve waited for this chance. All that summer, listening to ‘Kermit this, Kermit that’...she was going to leave me. You killed Marguerite, gringo, and I will make you pay in many ways. I have something special in mind for you, dear Kermit. By the way, if you’re wondering what your charming garment says...it’s your new name: Lady-killer.”
The guard let her out and then followed. As the door closed, Kermit let his head sink back on the cot in defeat. Lady-killer -- that’s apt enough. Marguerite was dead, Amber was dead, possibly with the innocent Wangs -- and now the crazy bitch was after his sister. And there was not one thing he could do about it.
He felt the now-familiar nausea and knew that the subsonic torture was beginning again. Sure enough, the nervous feeling he’d been expecting all along joined the churning of his insides -- she had added the ultrasonic range. Then an earsplitting cacophony assaulted him. Atonal ‘music’. That would make him vomit in not too long, he knew. Young musicians trying the technique frequently made themselves ill this way. And he could hardly get to a bathroom -- wait -- there was a sink in the corner. If he could make it up off the cot in spite of being off balance from the sound and having his hands manacled to his waist, he could walk to it and avoid soiling himself.
Amber almost wept with frustration. He was right there! She was looking for the third time at the tightly-shielded ball of his mind, and she could not reach him. Lo Si watched sympathetically, but could do little else. Then, as she watched, the iron control of the sphere wavered and feelings of nausea, fear, despair and guilt trickled out through the cracks.
The negative emotions roiled over her. Amber Adair, I am -- who was she? What was she? Struggling against a tide of darkness, she knew only that she had to find the center of that maelstrom.
She rushed to enter through the nearest breach. Lo Si saw and called to her Remember, you are Amber Adair! Do not lose sight of this! He flew to follow, trying to snatch his young protégée away before she was lost.
Kermit leaned over the little sink, retching hard. After several attempts, he managed to turn the tap on enough to get a trickle of water. It wasn’t a lot of help, but he felt a trifle better after lapping a bit of the liquid. His stomach rolled and heaved as he twisted the knob to turn off the tiny flow. He leaned against the sink once more as the memories crowded in again, combined with the sick sensation the subsonic pulses incited.
He was back in the South American summer, sweating in his jungle gear and laden with a portable, or what passed for it then, computer and an array of weapons. A young girl, dark and pretty, dressed similarly but seeming not to feel the heat, placed a light hand on his arm, ignoring the sweat and insect bites.
“I could love you, Kermit.”
The despair flooded him, along with the guilt and pain. And then the image was shattered by the breath of a new fragrance -- no, a familiar one. Was it even a scent, or a feeling of sun and warmth? He thought suddenly, irrationally of cool sheets and amber curls and a gentler hand than Christina’s on him. For just a moment, he felt that presence he’d become so accustomed to, that sweet hint of her mind that only touched him when they made love. Was it Amber? Or merely wishful thinking? Christina had told him Amber was dead -- her shop gone up in a blast and flame.
No, he could not have imagined it. He was not the type to imagine these things, even under the kind of pressure he now faced. She must be alive! She was searching for him -- if he could only let her know what Christina had threatened, perhaps he could save her and she could get word to Marilyn to get away somewhere, to disappear until this was all over.
How could he help her find him? Wait, what was it she said about touching Aunt Edith? Focus! Tight beam transmission! He struggled to concentrate through the assault on his senses -- the atonal music was still blasting at him, the feelings incurred by the ultra- and subsonic tones still in force. He closed his eyes and tried to imagine his thoughts as a tight beam. He put everything he could into sending that beam outward, seeking the warm, comforting presence he’d so briefly felt.
Lo Si was pulling Amber away from the ball when a flickering beam of light poked through, reaching desperately for her. To his relief, the Ancient saw that she had begun to pull her scattered self together.
Child, he is trying to reach you. Do you think you can focus on who you are this time?
Will you help me, Master? Her thought was like the pleading of a child. He could not refuse, though she had almost lost herself going into Kermit’s tortured mind.
I will help you. His mind sighed. Like this, child, join with me.
She did so, and immediately felt stronger, more anchored. Again she could feel Caine’s chi coursing through her mind, and she reached out to embrace that flickering, weak beam of Kermit’s thought.
Amber? It was like talking on an old copper phone line -- static crackled between the joined minds. He was not good at this -- his shields were so natural that he had never even thought about learning to reach out. She was amazed that he had been able to get far enough out of his own protective walls for Lo Si to notice.
We hear you. Where are you?
I don’t know. She was able to hear better now as Caine and Lo Si tightened the connection. He continued. She’s got me, and she’s insane. She said she’d killed you -- check your kitchen door for a bomb.
Caine’s already disarmed the bomb. Blake took it to the station,
Good. Wait -- Caine did it? The surprise in his tone was palpable. Anyway, you’ve got to warn my sister. Peter knows how to get her. Christina -- that’s who has me, Christina Rodriguez, Marguerite’s sister -- threatened to find Marilyn and kill her. Tell her to take her family and go somewhere.
We will. Kermit, we’re trying to find you. Where are you? Can you tell us anything?
No. I can’t be too far away, unless you’ve had reports of unauthorized planes or helicopters in the area.
We know about Christina. Amber told him. We’re working on locating you and getting you out of there. What’s she done to you -- are you all right?
Nothing. The reply was curt. I’m all right. She’s playing sound and light games with me right now, but I’ll be all right. Tell Caine I said thanks for keeping you and your store safe.
You are...welcome. Caine’s ‘voice’ cut in. We will...find you.
A spasm shook the fragile beam and Kermit was gone. Before Amber could try to reestablish contact, the sphere of his shields slammed all the way shut, once more a smooth, metallic thing.
Lo Si was pulling her back, back away to her own body. She opened her eyes and fell heavily into the waiting arms of --
He grinned down at her. “I came by on my lunch to check on your progress. Pop just moved over behind the Ancient and I sat here. You doing okay?”
“We touched him! He’s all right, Peter!” Her face clouded. “For now. But we still don’t know where he is.”
“We will,” her old friend soothed. “We will. It’s a relief to know he’s all right.”
She sat up on her own and pondered for a moment the feeling of Kermit’s mind. For that moment she had been inside before Lo Si pulled her out, she had touched a dark place. She was used to the cool masculine feel of him, that hint of danger about him too. But there was, in his chi, the feel of old blood and guilt. She was not ready to explore that, and now knew why he had unconsciously built such excellent shields around his mind. None of this was important now -- whatever he had been, he was on the side of the angels now. Not all angels had white wings; some carried secrets and old guilt.
Kermit had a small piece of power now. It would not help him physically at all, but did wonders for his mental state. Amber was alive, and the explosive disarmed by Caine of all people! He had not slept -- when she did not play atonal music to make him ill, Christina treated him to loud punk rock, or came to taunt him. She had subjected him to several more demonstrations of the belt and manacle affair and his body throbbed with remembered agony.
But Amber was alive, and she was getting a warning to Marilyn, so Christina might kill him but would not get those he cared about. That was enough to lift his failing spirits. He did not even argue when one of the men came in to spoon a gritty, gooey substance into his mouth, as if he were a child. He choked it down. Any nutrition meant he stayed alive that much longer. Staying alive meant there was a chance he would get out of this. When his feeder called for a comrade to help walk him to the bathroom, he went meekly. It would not do for his captors to find out that he did not still wallow in despair.
Of course, the guilt over Marguerite still haunted him. It was also the weapon Christina used most frequently. The image of the young woman who’d professed to love him hovered always in his mind. It always ended the same way -- the bullet penetrating her forehead, the warmth in her eyes turning to shocked disbelief and then glazing over. Always, she slumped to the floor, dropping the box and releasing the fires of Hell itself.
Christina entered the room and the nausea subsided. The tonal assault ceased as she prepared for another, more direct attack.
“You look ready,” her voice was almost loving as she ran a hand down his chest. He did not dare close his eyes -- she would take that as escape, and punish him even more harshly for it. He watched her instead, holding on to that small victory: Amber was alive, Marilyn would be all right, and his friends were looking for him.
Amber was recovering from her ordeals -- first overextending herself, then almost losing herself in the attempt to touch Kermit’s mind. Again, Lo Si had been right -- she was less tired from this third try than she had been following the first two. She went with Peter to the precinct and signed the statement regarding the bomb in her home. While her old friend skimmed his phone file for Marilyn’s number, Blake pulled the young woman aside.
“I’m getting some nibbles. We’re closing in -- it’s just a matter of time now. I’m looking near the west side of the city. You know how grocery stores and pharmacies tend to be the anchors of strip malls?”
“Well, I’ve been checking out some reports. Apparently, one such pairing has had a certain group of men in fatigues coming in for the past couple of weeks. They’ve been stocking up -- enough groceries to feed about fifteen people. And the drug store has them purchasing first aid supplies. Now, I think it’s possible that the group has chosen these stores because they’re actually not near where our friends are staying, but it’s not very likely. It would be dangerous to go too far out of their way -- since I suspect they’re not here legally. Right now I’m looking for unauthorized power siphoning. They’ll need electricity.”
“That’s great, Blake, thank you.” She hugged the man hard, leaving him flustered but with a smile.
“Got it.” Peter said. “I’ll just call Marilyn.”
Amber put a hand over his. “Let me?” She asked. “I’d like to do this for Kermit.”
“I’ll put you on with her.” Peter gave her a look of such understanding that a lump rose in her throat. “I think, though, it would be better if I were the one to break the bad news. Cop duty and all.”
She nodded, not trusting herself to speak, and sat in the ‘witness chair’ beside his desk.
Jody passed by on her way somewhere and paused to squeeze her friend’s shoulder sympathetically.
“Marilyn, this is Peter.” He said into the phone. “Yes, I’m afraid there is trouble. Seems Kermit’s been kidnapped. No, no, we’re working on it. You need to stay calm. We’re closing in -- he’s fine so far. Look, what I’m calling about -- we’re sending a few officers your way. Kermit thinks his captor may try to harm you or the kids. Please, just stay where you are for now -- our people will be there shortly. We’d like to put you in protective custody. Look, don’t argue. It’ll only be for a couple of days, until we get these nuts, okay? Yeah. Look, there’s someone here who’d like to talk to you.”
He handed the phone to Amber. She gulped and took it.
“Hello? Um...you don’t know me, but I’m a friend of Kermit’s -- Amber Adair...”
“I know who you are,” the woman’s tired voice told her. “Kermit talks about you all the time. I assume it’s your...psychic talent that makes Peter say he’s all right?”
Amber swallowed again. “Yes. I...spoke with him, you might say, a little while ago. He’s very worried about you. The woman that has him has already tried to kill me -- she set a bomb in my apartment. Please, let the police help you. I don’t know how Kermit would take it if anything happened to you.”
Marilyn chuckled raggedly. “I do,” she said dryly. “You win. I’ll do what they ask. And when you get my brother out of wherever he is, tell him three things for me.”
“First -- call me. Second, I want to meet you, Amber. He has to bring you to the house. And third -- tell him I love him.”
Amber drew in a breath. “I will. As soon as he’s safe, I will.”
“Thank you. I’ll wait here for the police.”
Peter took the phone back. “Marilyn, you remember Skalany, right? Good. Don’t open the door until you see her. Right. See you, then -- and be careful.”
He hung up and looked over at Amber. “You okay?”
She nodded, not trusting herself to speak.
“All right, then. I think you need some lunch and to go back to your shop and rest. I’ll come for you later -- I think Lo Si wanted to do some more refined work this evening.”
“Yes. We’re going to try to get a location on Kermit,” she replied. “I’ve never done anything quite like it before. I’d better go get a nap after lunch -- I guess this is going to be as bad as yesterday morning. Every time the Ancient takes me through something new, I end up needing someone to make sure I get home in one piece.”
Kermit was losing it fast. Christina had allowed him no sleep, and only the gooey food spooned into him by a guard. He had no idea how long he’d been here, but it must have been a few days, given the length of the facial stubble he saw during his infrequent trips to the facilities.
Christina watched with a sly smile as the guard fetched water from the sink in the corner and gave Kermit a sip from the tin cup. She raised a bottle to her own lips and drank deeply. As much as he wanted more, her prisoner would not ask.
The woman tossed her long dark braid back over one shoulder and said casually, “If I had not already decided how to kill you, gringo, the water would take care of it for me, eventually.”
He regarded her through narrowed eyes. “Radiation poisoning?”
“Chemical,” she grinned nastily. “Your government is so lazy about these little accidents, don’t you think?” .
So: he was held somewhere there’d been a chemical spill. If only Amber or the Ancient came back -- if he could just get that information to them, maybe they could find him sooner. He wasn’t sure how much longer he could wait before the idea of dying by electrocution in an escape attempt started to sound good.
Jody had taken to sleeping in Amber’s guest room. She was determined the young psychic should not be alone. Amber was grateful for the company, though she knew she hadn’t said so. She resolved to, once this was all over, give her friend a treat in thanks. In fact, she would have a dinner for all of her 101st friends and the Shaolin once Kermit was back safe and sound. She would do something special for Jody alone afterwards.
Amber ground her teeth. “This isn’t right. It shouldn’t be this hard to find where he is!”
“If Kermit lets down his shield again, it will be much easier,” Lo Si told her. “When you go inside as we are doing, it is very difficult to see external details. When you touch your aunt, do you know whether she is in the kitchen or the garden?”
“No,” the young woman replied sulkily. “But I never thought about it before. Why can’t we see what’s around him?”
“We work from inside, Amber. What you are talking about is called clairvoyance, and is a different skill than those you have learned. Can you teleport? Are you skilled in telekinesis?”
“No,” she conceded again. “I was trained in telepathy, empathy and a little psychometry.”
“You see, it is akin to trying to learn Chinese or Japanese if you grew up speaking English and French. We are trying to learn a new skill...how do you say it -- ‘on the fly’. I know the theory, but it has been many years since I have needed this ability.” He shook his head. “If Detective Griffin would let down his shields so we could speak to him again, he may have some more clues that could assist us.”
They had been trying for two days to reach him again. They could find Kermit’s mind easily enough, but it was still that smooth, metallic ball. Was Christina was easing her treatment of him or had he grown better at controlling his reactions to it? Either way, it was causing a problem. The only reason they had gotten through to him before was that his pain had been strong enough to weaken his shields.
Amber knew she looked like a few miles of bad road. She was not sleeping well. She made herself run each morning, but not far and not as hard as she knew she should. Her appetite was waning, too. She knew that little Lo Si was worried for her, but she could not stop trying. If he refused to help her, she would try on her own, regardless of the risk. She suspected he continued to help her in order to avert that potential disaster.
Caine was at the precinct with Peter and Blake. They thought they were narrowing the search area, but it was not enough yet. At least they knew now how Kermit had been caught unaware. Under his car, not far from a small puddle, they had found the computer expert’s little hand held computer, fried by electricity. Blake theorized that Kermit had stepped in the puddle and been immobilized by electrodes placed there.
Skalany reported daily on Marilyn and her family. They were fine, holed up in a safe-house. They wanted to go home, but understood the need for protection. Marilyn was, however, becoming impatient with the lack of information about her brother.
Amber was lying on the Ancient’s sofa, resting for a moment, when her cell phone rang.
“I think we’ve got something!” Blake’s excited voice startled her.
She sat bolt upright. “What?”
“I’ve found an illegal power tap. It’s not precise, mind you, but it’s going to give us a much smaller area to search. The Captain would like to see you when you have time. “
“I have time,” she told the man tersely. “Tell her I’ll be there shortly.”
Lo Si gave her one look and declared, “I will come with you.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“Yes, I do. You are ready to fall over, child. If I do not accompany you, you may not make it.”
She followed the frail-looking old man with difficulty. For all his age, he was as fit and strong as many younger men only wished to be. When they reached the 101st, she stopped to catch her breath before approaching Broderick.
“Go on back. The captain’s expecting you,” he waved her through. His face reflected the concern all of Kermit’s co-workers felt.
Karen Simms beckoned Amber into her office, merely nodding as the Ancient joined them. Shutting the door, she gestured for them to sit.
“Amber, you’ve actually been in contact with our missing hacker?”
“All right. You know he’s alive and been taken captive?”
“Thank you. That’s something.” She rose and paced behind her desk. “I don’t have enough hard evidence to get a warrant. Because of that, I cannot be directly involved in the situation. In fact, my people shouldn’t even be working on it.” She raised a hand to forestall any protest, but Amber was making none. “I am hoping that you will be able to get through to Detective Griffin again and get more information. When that happens, I will give certain of my people a day or two off. They will have to use personal time to help you, as you have no official capacity.”
Simms continued. “Now, you know I am not advocating civilian action. I do not recommend that anyone put him or herself in danger, or that members of the general public engage in vigilante activity. In fact, I must say that I heartily disapprove of these things.”
Amber nodded again, heart sinking.
“That being said,” Karen turned to face Amber, eyes searching hers. “Go find him. Bring him back, Amber. Peter and Jody will go with you. Skalany has to stay with Kermit’s sister, and I can’t spare anybody else.”
Amber let out the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. “Thank you, Captain...Karen.”
The older woman nodded wearily. “I wish I could do more, but I can only wish you luck unofficially and hope that you can find him.”
“I will.” Amber spoke firmly. She did not feel as confident as she sounded, but it would never do to appear afraid. She stood and clasped Karen’s hand. “Once we find him and go in, we will call you the minute we have him safe.”
As she walked back through the bullpen, Amber saw that she was not the only tired person. Blake looked as if he hadn’t slept since Kermit’s disappearance. Peter appeared only marginally better-rested. Even Kwai Chang Caine, silent at his son’s desk, had an air of weary vigilance.
Blake gestured her over.
“I think we’re getting something. Look at this.” He had a map out on his desk, marked heavily with a wide pen. “We need to look in this area. The power drain is here, and the stores the foreigners visited are not too far away. It’s still a lot of ground to cover, but we’ve gotten this far.”
His eyes met hers through the thick lenses of his glasses.
She smiled tiredly. “I’ll see if I can get anything from Kermit to help narrow it. Thank you for showing me this.” She leaned over to kiss him lightly on the cheek.
Peter came over and gently squeezed her shoulder. “You’d better catch a nap, Forest-Gem. We’ll need you to try again soon.”
“I’m going,” she gave him a gentle smile in turn. “I’ll call if I get anything.”
Lo Si followed her back out to the street. “You are going home?”
“I guess I’d better. You and the others are going to keep at me until I take a nap, aren’t you?”
“I do not know about the others,” he twinkled. “But I surely will.”
“Then I’ll go take one.”
“Bloody marvelous. That means I may sleep, too. I will come to you tonight, and we will try again. I have an idea that might help.”
Amber hugged the old man and kissed his dry cheek. “You always have an idea, and it always helps,” she whispered. “Maybe now I’ll be able to sleep.”
Kermit had all but lost the hope that Amber’s escape from death had given him. The woman holding him captive was insane -- there was no sign of rational thought left in those dark eyes. She held the black remote control in one clawed hand, raised as if she might strike him with it. His entire world narrowed to that smooth black object and the red-tipped fingers holding it. As one finger pressed a button, pain exploded across his universe and he arched up off the cot. He did not scream, though only by a narrow margin.
“You are losing interest in me,” Christina rasped as he fell back down, struggling to catch his breath. “I’m a very jealous woman, you know.”
“Why don’t you just turn that thing up all the way?” he asked when he could speak.
“Oh, no,” she replied softly. “I have plans for you, my dear. You will die -- don’t worry about that. But I think you should be found in a state fitting such a Lady-killer. I’ve decided you’re to die of auto-erotic asphyxiation.”
He groaned involuntarily. As if the thong and the lack of privacy weren’t enough. Now she’s got to humiliate me in death, too. He could just see the newspaper headlines “Missing Cop Turns Up Dead -- Shocking Details Inside” on the Enquirer. His fellow officers would not believe it of him, but others might. His reputation would be ruined -- Marilyn would suffer for it. And Amber -- what would this do to her? His resolve hardened. He had to get out of here before Christina decided it was time for his degrading end.
It was a long shot, but no less likely than his escaping physically, wearing the manacled belt and thong. How had he done this before? Focus. He told himself. Focus my thoughts into a tight beam again and just call her as hard as I can.
Christina was talking again, telling him how Marguerite had loved him, had planned their future together.
“Do you have any idea what it was like for me? She was my sister! I trusted her, taught her everything -- and she was going to leave me to run away with you, you pig! All I heard about was ‘Kermit this, Kermit that’. She had no time for our plans any more -- no time for me! And you killed her, gringo. She loved you, was ready to betray me for you, and you killed her for it.”
She raised the remote as if preparing to shock him again, but for the moment he was free of the sonic torture that kept him awake and off-balance. It had to be now.
Amber and her mentor sat in their customary lotus positions on her bedroom floor. Across her lap was draped Kermit’s green and black striped tie.
“You see, it was when you reminded me you had some skill in psychometry that the idea began to form. This is a way of sneaking around using clairvoyance,” he grinned impishly. “We will use this tie of Kermit’s as a starting point. We know how to find his mind now. With these two things, perhaps we can work around the problems and locate him.”
“Thank you, Master! I knew you would have the answer.”
“Do not thank me until we know it works,” his tone turned grave. “We must act now.”
Dropping through the levels of trance, Amber thought wryly that she had come farther than she’d expected to in so short a time. Necessity is the best teacher of all.
The best teacher after myself, Lo Si thought to her with a grin.
They reached the ball of Kermit’s mind in a flash. The tie was certainly helping so far. We have a tie to him -- but what a sad pun. Amber might have been more amused, had it not been for the desperate situation. She touched the smooth shields, searching for a way through. At that moment, a small fissure opened and the ragged beam of his thoughts shot out.
She ‘grasped’ it quickly, adding her own strength to fortify the connection.
Kermit! She could not keep the relief from her tone. You’re still all right.
Yeah, I’m fine. I’ve got a little more info for you. I still don’t know where I am, but wherever it is, there’s been a chemical spill. They’re not drinking the water -- they’ve brought bottled stuff. I asked if it was radiation and they told me chemical. A slip a pro shouldn’t make. The disapproval in his thought made her smile despite herself.
Then I’m glad they made it. Blake thinks he’s narrowed the search area down, but this ought to help.
There are no windows in the room they keep me in, nor in the hallway or the facilities. That’s all I’ve seen. It has the feel of being underground, but she’s addled my wits so much I can’t be sure.
Instantly, Amber’s ‘voice’ took on a concerned tone. Are you all right? Can you hold on a little longer?
I’ll have to, won’t I? Don’t sweat it, Green Eyes, just send in the marines.
He was gone again, but Amber had not been alone, and Lo Si crowed suddenly.
I think I have found them! Come, child, let’s hurry back. We must go to see Blake.
They returned quickly to themselves, eyes opening to meet in a kind of wary victory.
“I believe I can help Blake to find Kermit now,” Lo Si told his protégée.
“Then let’s go! Jody’s in the guest room and her car’s just outside. She’ll drive us, I’m sure.”
The blonde would and did. In a matter of minutes the three were crowded around Blake and his desk. The old man spent several minutes regarding the map, hands clasped before him, eyes narrowed. Then he pointed with one long finger. “There. He is there.”
“Kermit said that there had been a chemical spill where he was -- his captors are not drinking the tap water,” Amber supplied.
Blake peered at the map himself now. “Yes. I see. This neighborhood,” he indicated the spot Lo Si had pointed out, “was built a few years ago. It was to be a residential community for the upper middle class. The best builders participated, and everything was planned to be perfect. ‘The Oakes’ was already finished and people moved in before they discovered that the whole place had been put on top of a former chemical waste dump. Seems children were coming down sick, and then a few adults. It all ended up with a big investigation and everyone being relocated. The whole neighborhood was surrounded with a chain link fence and signs telling everyone to keep out. It’s on the list of sites to be cleaned up, but you know how far behind the government is on that kind of thing.”
“Amber and I can find the correct house now,” The Ancient said. There was a trace of smugness in his eyes and the set of his mouth, but Amber thought it was justified.
“Well, then, let’s get Peter and get going,” Jody cried. “I’ll go tell the Captain.” She sprinted for her desk, snatching up the phone.
Out of the shadows stepped Kwai Chang Caine. “I will...come along, as well.”
Blake called Peter, and relayed the message that if they did not wait for him there would be hell to pay. Amber fidgeted with Kermit’s tie as they waited. Suddenly, she cried, “Wait! I’ve got to go home for a minute, and then I want to get my car. Do we have time?”
Jody grinned tightly. “As soon as Peter gets here, I’ll make time. We could all go in my car, but it’ll be better to have two. If Kermit’s hurt, it would be bad to cram all of us in one vehicle getting him to the hospital.”
Peter arrived, and Captain Simms was just walking in from the police lot.
“All right, Detectives Powell and Caine. You are, as of right now, on personal days. I don’t want to know where you are going or what you are doing. Although, naturally, if you should come across evidence of criminal activity during your off-hours, I expect you to call it in.”
“Naturally,” Peter replied dryly.
“Of course, Captain,” Jody added.
Blake spoke. “I’d like to request...”
“No, Blake, I need you here for a little while longer. Just in case,” her eyes darted around the group, “someone calls in a serious crime and needs backup.”
He looked downcast, but answered, “Yes, Captain.”
“I’ll be in my office, going over some files if I’m needed.”
Amber took only a few moments in her apartment, getting back into the SUV with a duffel bag slung over one shoulder. Jody then pulled up in front of a valet garage. Amber fidgeted and shifted her weight from foot to foot as she waited for the man to bring her Mustang around.
Lo Si climbed into Amber’s car, while Peter, Caine and Jody remained in the blonde’s SUV. Amber led the way, aided by the Ancient. She could not focus on tracking Kermit’s location while driving. The old man was lightly touching her mind to access the bond she shared with her lover, and holding the tie in his gnarled hands.
“I don’t know how they managed it, but your sister and her lovely children have vanished,” Christina spat. “I had hoped to even the score this way -- your sister for mine, one girlfriend for another. I suppose I’ll have to be content with having killed your lover and, soon, with your death.” She left the room and the familiar feeling of nausea returned.
Kermit wasn’t sure if hope was a good thing at this point. Once more he made his slow way to the sink to retch. He’d stopped trying to rinse his mouth out since discovering the chemical spill -- he only drank the few sips they forced into him. He knew Christina would tire of the game soon -- it would not be long before she decided to kill him and leave his body in the humiliating scenario she’d promised. The idea of being found with a noose around his neck and pornography strewn about him bothered him more than he’d ever expected. It wasn’t so much for himself, but for those who cared about him and would have to suffer the embarrassment. After all, he would be dead, wouldn’t he?
The worst was not knowing if his friends had found him. I wonder why Amber hasn’t come back. She touches everyone else’s mind so easily -- it couldn’t be any harder for her to say, “Hey, we’re on the way,” could it? Or even “We still can’t find you.” I thought I was good at waiting. Then again, I’m usually waiting with a gun, not waiting for the cavalry.
The feelings of nausea and nervousness subsided along with the sound of the Sex Pistols at too many decibels. Christina was returning, and he had to get back on the bed before she came in.
Amber stopped her car in front of the chain link fence. Lo Si did not wait but climbed out. The others clambered out of Jody’s big vehicle. Caine stepped to the Ancient’s side.
“You are...all right, Master?”
“I am fine. Amber spared an old man’s ears and refrained from playing her heavy metal music.” He smiled at her to let her know he was joking.
Peter spoke softly but impatiently. “Can we get on with this? We’re standing outside a condemned neighborhood at night. We’re likely to attract attention.”
“Yes,” Lo Si sobered. “Kwai Chang Caine, those we seek must have cut through this fence. You must locate the spot.”
Caine shot his old friend an unreadable look but went to the fence, placing his hands on it. After a moment, he spoke quietly. “This way.”
They followed him along the barrier until he stopped. “It is...right there,” the priest gestured towards the middle of a street. The chain link fence crossed the street, but even in the dark Amber could see the cut place. Peter led the way now, and pulled the length back for the rest to enter. It was obvious that the damage had been done to accommodate vehicles, and the fence pulled back across to conceal it. Peter likewise replaced the length of fence. Now, Lo Si took the lead again, making no more noise than a mouse. Amber followed him, trying to reach Kermit.
She had become impatient with his shields. He might have blood on his hands from his past life, but she had known what he was from the beginning. If there was anyone in the world who would not judge him based on that past, it was her. Why would he block her out so steadily? Was there something about Marguerite or her sister he didn’t want her to know? I wonder if he realizes how hard it is to reach him when he’s so tightly wrapped in his defenses.
“Calm yourself, child,” the Ancient advised. “All of your questions will be answered soon. We will have Kermit back safely and his captors in custody. You must calm your chi or you will be useless to him.”
“Yes, Master,” she breathed. She struggled to find her center once more.
“You should be able to center in a hurricane by now, Amber,” Lo Si spoke firmly, reminding her of her training.
She nodded, chastened, and emptied her mind of her worries, creating the calm and readiness needed.
Peter called a halt. “Lo Si, you can find the right house?”
“Of course. Amber and I will lead you there.”
“Well, you’d better stop before we reach it. Ms. Rodriguez would be a fool not to post sentries. Now, we know they have enough food for fifteen people. We’ll have to go carefully. Stealth and speed are our allies now.”
“Your father and I can take care of the sentries.” There was again just a trace of smugness in the old man’s tone. Caine measured the Ancient with another of those expressionless looks, but Lo Si merely smiled serenely. “We are outnumbered and out-gunned, are we not? We must use every non-lethal weapon at our disposal.”
“All right. Lead the way. Once you’ve dealt with the sentries, let Jody and me go first.” Peter pulled out and checked his gun, the blonde following suit. Peter met his father’s glance. “Pop, I have to start with it. I won’t shoot unless there’s no other way.”
“There is always...another way.” But the priest made no further protest.
Amber and her mentor joined hands around Kermit’s tie and started down the street. The duffel bag slapped lightly at her side. It was awkward, but she would not have left it behind for any reason.
The neighborhood had been laid out on a grid with many cul-de-sacs. Amber found the complete silence of the place unnerving -- it was a visually perfect community, but the total lack of habitation gave it the feel of a ghost town. She cast uneasy glances down the side streets they passed, half expecting some dead thing to jump out at her.
She and Lo Si stopped together. There were two sentries ahead in the gloom. Casting her mind out a little way, she sensed two more. The Ancient and Caine exchanged a nod, then looked toward the as-yet unaware enemies. All four men slumped, then fell nerveless to the ground.
“They will not awaken until we reverse the procedure,” Lo Si said softly. Then, turning to Peter, he said, “This house. I believe our friend is in the basement.”
The young cop nodded and gestured for Jody to join him. The two walked forwards softly, guns drawn and pointed toward the sky. They reached the front door -- it was locked.
Caine stepped up, rubbing his hands together. He placed the fingers of one against the lock. The click of the bolt was audible. The priest stepped back with a nod to Peter, who reached out and turned the knob, pushing the door in carefully. A klaxon shrieked through the night.
“So much for surprise,” Peter grumbled.
Amber and the Ancient had caught up now, and saw four men look around in surprise. Amber ducked back out of the line of sight while Jody pumped off three shots. One man went down and another winced as a bullet grazed his shoulder.
Peter took one look at his father’s face and holstered the gun, checking his distance and crouching for a flying leap. His foot connected with a man’s face and they went down together, tangling with the man’s gun.
Caine took a few steps inside the door and met the eyes of the one uninjured man. The Venezuelan raised his gun, but dropped it as though it were on fire. He lunged for Caine, but the priest did something Amber couldn’t track, and his attacker slammed into a wall. The fourth man could not decide whether to run for reinforcements or try to shoot Jody. He chose wrong, and as he raised his machine gun, the blonde detective squeezed off another round and he dropped.
Peter had freed himself from his opponent. He slammed the man’s head to the floor and looked back at his father. “Can you make sure he doesn’t wake up any time soon?”
Caine nodded and did so. Lo Si was already repeating the technique with Caine’s victim. Jody checked the men she’d shot. “I think they’ll live.”
The two Shambhala Masters repeated the process with these downed foes, and the little group moved on.
“There -- that is the door to the basement,” the Ancient announced. The klaxon was still screaming its warning, and Peter opened the door with caution. The stairwell was empty. He led the way down, moving carefully in an attitude of readiness. Amber trailed at the rear of the line, casting about for her lover.
There was a short hallway, and two men guarding the door at the end of it. Peter and Caine exchanged a glance and moved towards them.
“Hey, buddy, “ Peter shouted over the noise of the alarm. “I’m kind of lost, and I thought you might be able to...” the men raised their guns just as the Caine men reached them. Guns flew one way and the men flew another, colliding with the walls in the cramped hallway.
Caine opened the door.
Christina had been ‘playing’ again, experimenting with the length of time Kermit could take the electric current without screaming when the klaxon sounded.
She rounded on him, all trace of sanity gone from her face. “It looks like I might have to kill you sooner than I wanted, Lady-killer.”
“I still don’t understand,” he tried, still panting from the last dose of voltage, “why you have to kill me.”
“You killed my sister, pig!” She shrieked in her ruined voice, slapping him hard enough to drive a tooth into his lip -- he tasted blood.
It was time. He heard the sounds of fighting, and knew this was his only chance. “You killed your sister, Christina. You shot Marguerite, all on your own. She saw me in the lab and was ready to run out on you, and you couldn’t stand it. You shot your own sister in the head.”
She screamed. There were no words to the shriek -- it was an animal sound. Her eyes rolled back in her head, her face went a sickly white around the burned pink patch and she screeched, raising the remote. This was what he had been waiting for, and Kermit kicked up desperately, throwing all the strength he had left into that leg. It worked. His bare foot connected with the remote. As it flew across the room and he grunted with the pain, the door opened.
Christina whirled on Caine, crying out to the two men inside the room with her,
“Kill him! Kill them all!”
Caine did not blink, but raised one hand and both men threw suddenly-burning guns to the floor. Christina lunged toward the door, but Jody and Peter were already inside and Amber stood in the entryway. Amber hardly thought about it, but as she saw the screaming harpy coming her way, raised a fist and swung.
It was a good punch. It landed solidly, and Amber felt the satisfying crunch of knuckle hitting chin. The madwoman crashed to the floor, unmoving.
Kermit looked around. Peter and Jody had disabled the two guards and were coming his way with Caine. The manacled man gave them a tired look. “Can you find the release for these things? Juan over there, the one with the mustache, has it. Jody, Sweet Cheeks, could you maybe turn around or something?”
She smothered an involuntary giggle at what passed for his attire and obeyed, but at that moment, Amber pushed past the others.
“Jesus!” snarled Kermit. “Caine, couldn’t you have made her stay home or something?”
Peter froze in the act of searching the downed man. “What?”
Amber stepped back, stung. What had she done? Her lover was filthy, hair a straggling mass, several days’ growth of beard, and clad in some kind of pink...thong? She tossed the duffel on the cot beside him and stepped away, trying to hide the tears of hurt. “Thought you could use those,” she managed, making for the door. To Peter, she said, “I’ll call Blake and he can send the troops. I guess we’ve got enough to satisfy the Captain.”
Lo Si followed her up the stairs. He waited silently as she pulled out her cell phone.
“Blake? It’s Amber. Yes. We have Kermit, and the lunatic fringe is wrapped up and ready for the boys in blue.”
She cut the conversation short and went to stare out the front window, opening the blinds to see the night sky. Someone must have found the alarm controls, for the horn finally went silent.
“He is under stress right now, child,” the old man placed a gentle hand on her back. “You will see.”
“I don’t know, Master,” her voice shook and she drew in a breath to steady herself. “He was so...angry that I’d come! What do you think I did?”
That was not Lo Si’s voice. She whirled. She hadn’t brought one of his suits, but a pair of jeans and a plaid shirt he’d promised to wear on a weekend hike someday. She almost didn’t recognize him but for the spare pair of Wayfarers she’d thrown in the bag, now firmly settled on his nose.
“You didn’t do anything wrong, Green Eyes. I just didn’t want you to see me like that.”
“Like what? Shackled? Captive?”
“In that damned thong,” he admitted.
She laughed. She couldn’t help it. Her whole frame shook with laughter she suspected was partly hysterical. She fell into his waiting arms, still roaring with mirth.
“What’s so funny?” he demanded.
“You’re absolutely impossible! You’ve been here for almost five days now, almost got killed and you didn’t want me to see you in a thong?”
“It had ‘Lady-killer’ printed on it,” he replied, as if that explained everything.
Amber only laughed harder.
The others entered the front room now, watching in amazed disbelief. Kermit turned to look at them, his expression helpless. Then he recovered himself. “I trust,” he said sternly, “you all know that if any of you ever mentions the state in which you found me...”
“You’ll have to kill us,” they chorused. Jody sat down on the ground, giggling too hard to stand any longer.
Amber was regaining control of herself.
“We’d better go check on our friends,” Peter put in. He handed Kermit’s gun over. “Found this in the kitchen along with some other things.” He held up a coil of rope.
“Reinforcements are on the way,” Amber told him.
Peter headed for the stairs with Kermit right behind. Amber followed before anyone thought to stop her. Jody took Lo Si and Caine to help round up the four men they’d left outdoors.
The two cops looked over the men in the hall, dragging them into the small room Kermit had lived in for the past few days. While they secured the Venezuelans with the rope, Amber bent to inspect the damage she’d done Christina.
She yelped as the woman’s red-tipped hand shot out, clutching her. Christina used Amber to climb to her feet. “I may not have killed you before. I’ll correct that mistake soon,” she hissed. The madwoman turned the young psychic around, holding her tightly. Amber felt the tip of a knife at her back. “But first, you’re going to get me out of here.”
Kermit’s eyes narrowed and he reached back, pulling the recovered desert eagle from his waistband. Holding it up, he cocked it, checked it and aimed. His expression was cool, even relaxed.
“You won’t shoot,” Christina rasped. “You won’t risk hitting your slut.”
The ex-mercenary spoke calmly. “Amber, go limp.”
She didn’t need her talent to know what he meant. Immediately, she slumped as though boneless, dragging Christina off-balance. As her captor struggled to remain upright, Kermit, expressionless, pulled the trigger.
Amber fell to the floor as the other woman released her, but Christina crumpled more slowly.
“And don’t ever,” Kermit said evenly as he took the few steps to look down at Christina as she clutched at her chest, “touch my girl again.”
Kermit awakened slowly, blinking at his surroundings. Automatically, he reached to the side of the bed for his glasses and put them on. Then he realized -- it’s been a long time since I could do that. And the light...I’m in the hospital.
It had been a long morning -- he’d been checked over more thoroughly than he’d wanted by Dr. Sabourin before she gave him the okay to shower, shave and brush his teeth, all of which had felt like a slice of heaven. Then an intern had given him a shot, and he’d sunk into blackness.
Now he looked around the room. The late-afternoon sun streamed in the window, casting barred shadows from the blinds over Amber, who was sleeping curled up in the chair. She didn’t look very comfortable. His lips curved in a gentle smile he rarely let anyone see.
As he watched, Amber’s eyes fluttered, and she stretched and sat up. Seeing him watching, she grinned. “Hi, there, Mercenary Man.”
“You still look tired, Green Eyes.”
“I had to raise hell to get them to let me stay. Now that you’re awake, Dr. Sabourin will let me have a few minutes, and then I think she’s planning to chase me out until tomorrow morning.”
He looked down at himself. The hospital gown was not much of an improvement, but improvement it was over what he’d worn for the past several days. He almost laughed -- the idea that a hospital gown was better than anything was ludicrous. At least he’d been allowed to shave -- his face didn’t itch anymore.
“What about me?” he asked.
“That’s why I come back tomorrow morning,” Amber chuckled. “I’ll be taking you home then.”
He scrutinized her face through dark glass. “How long since you had any real sleep?”
“Well, I think I did more recently than you, but I admit I could use more. I’ll rest a lot easier now that you’re all right. Dr. Sabourin wants you overnight for observation. She’s running tests on your blood for chemical contamination.”
“I didn’t have enough to cause problems. A few more days, though, and...why didn’t you come back and let me know you were on the way?”
Amber straightened, tensed. “I tried, Kermit. Hell, you made it so hard Lo Si and I almost couldn’t reach you to begin with!”
“I made it hard?” he gave her an incredulous look.
“You, Mercenary Man. Your shields were so tight I couldn’t touch you. When I did get through was when you let me in, and then you kicked me out suddenly both times!” she regarded him sadly. “I don’t understand why you felt you had to keep me at bay. I was only trying to help.”
The memories washed over him again -- Marguerite, so young and pretty, then dead; Christina with her mad eyes and need for revenge; himself helpless and in that ridiculous thong. Suddenly, he wasn’t sure himself why he’d had to keep Amber out. She had obviously lost sleep over him -- he could see that in her tired face. She had worked hard to free him from his captors, and almost been killed twice: first the bomb and then Christina’s knife.
Kermit reached over and took Amber’s hand. “I...I’m sorry, Green Eyes. I should have told you everything from the beginning. Then I wouldn’t have felt stuck in the past. Maybe I could have relaxed those shields.”
She smiled. “When you’re ready, I’ll listen.”