G. Lynn Meadows

A SAFE PLACE to share experiences, info, and questions regarding all facets of writing

title

Click to add text, images, and other content

ride the tiger: awakenings


Chapter 1 - In the Shadow of Golden Mountain

Rock music banged the dingy Tavern walls. Reaching slowly into his back pocket, Erik Slade watched the Mexican bloke one barstool over. The man gave him friendly smile. Erik almost remembered having friends.

Unfolding the flyer he’d picked up in the Tenderloin last week, Erik smoothed it across the scarred walnut bar. Devon King’s big-eyed pout stared back at him from the white paper. It’d been thirteen unlucky years since he’d seen her. She’d been something like a friend and something like a lover, and she’d cost him. But, this was 1986. The troubles that’d driven him back to Australia were gone. So was Devon’s husband.

Erik squinted at Lee Kuan’s photo, wondering if Devon had him now. Why not? Kuan was her type. Still fine of feature and lean of face, those piercing dragon eyes were unchanged. The broken nose – courtesy of Erik’s shoe - lent a certain necessary roughness to his look. The little bastard was the one victory Erik sacrificed for Devon’s sake. Never again.

Finding the two of them together after all these years was unexpected luck. They were both teaching at San Francisco’s Institute of Inner Harmony. Gorgeous! He’d have to drop in on their little book signing and martial arts demo and add a bit of spice to the event.

Erik Slade was back in town. And all of San Francisco would stand up and take notice this time. The bitch-goddess of a city wouldn’t spit in his eye. Not this time. He’d make sure.

Erik surveyed the strong back of the Mexican. An embroidered tiger glared back at him, rising fierce from black leather. Erik wanted that vest. He’d look right fine in it, he thought to himself. Sensing his stare, the man turned. Erik nodded casually. “Whatcha drinkin’, mate?”

Eyebrows rising, the Mexican grinned. “Beer. Cerveza fría.”

Sounds good. Barkeep, two drafts.” The bartender, obviously a refugee from Haight-Ashbury, set up two more beers. Erik gave up three of his last eighty bucks and turned to the Mexican with a phony smile. “So, you live here in Northern California?”

Nah. I just come up for the job, man. My family’s in Mexico.”

Erik nodded. Winding up in Pescadero was not his idea of fun either. But the trick he’d picked up this afternoon on Polk Street, some expensive doctor from Petaluma, got hinky at the last minute and dropped Erik off on scenic Highway One. Erik nearly wasted him then and there, but too many people were in the parking lot, too many eyes. Stuffing his rage, Erik went quietly. He’d learned to love silence back at Grandmum’s ranch in New South Wales. So he got out, mute rage festering. That was the last time he’d let a john take him out of The City.

He’d tried hitching a ride back to San Francisco, but nobody wanted to pick up a blonde bloke like him. His bleached hair was spiked to perfection and his black leather coat gave him a dangerous aura that did not lie. Truth in advertising, mate.

Polishing a stud on his black leather cuff, Erik gave a fake name to the man who’d introduced himself as Julio. The mirror behind the antique bar caught the glint in Erik’s silver-blue eyes. Duarte’s, founded in 1894, had never reflected anything like him before.

Erik glanced behind him at a stuffed stag’s head and smiled at Julio. Mounted kills were on every wall: salmon, pheasant, prong horn. Erik’s grin widened. He loved trophies. “So, what else is there to do in this town except kill things?”

Not much. Pick artichokes. Drink beer. Chase women. I’m on my way back to Mexico, man, this town’s a drag. I’m leavin’ tonight, know what I mean?”

Absolutely.” The two men nodded conspiratorially. Erik raised his glass. “To the floogin’ artichokes.” Laughing, Julio toasted. They swiveled round on their bar seats to briefly contemplate the eight framed pictures of poker-playing dogs. The screen door creaked open and a hot blonde walked in. Feeling their gazes, she gave her hips an extra flick. “Now, there’s one gorgeous sheila.” Julio agreed.

A Springsteen tune came on the jukebox, something about a gun for hire. Erik liked the song. His gun was always for hire. Soon, if he had his way, he’d never have to rent himself out again. Devon was a rich, rich widow now and he’d make damn sure she was glad to see him.

Yeah, man, the biggest thing to hit this town in years was the whale.”

What whale?”

One showed up dead on the beach, man. Then some stupid pendejos went down and sawed off its head. Nobody knows why. But it’s still down there, rotting. I don’t know why they don’t take it away. I was out on the beach Sunday and kids are playing next to it, families barbequing. I don’t understand.”

Save the whales? Hell.”

No, save the beach. That thing, she stinks something awesome.”

I bet.” They finished their beers. Erik eyed the take-out selection behind the bar. A plan came to him in a flash. “Know what, mate? We could get some beers to go and you could show me the damn thing. Whaddya say?”

You buying?” Erik nodded. “Yeah, sure. C’mon, we’ll take my car.”

Great! I’ll hit the dunnie first, then get the beer, and meet you outside.”

Sure. I got the beat-up red Mustang. Can’t miss it.”

Course not, mate, there’s only one street in town.” They laughed. Julio got up. Erik sauntered over to the men’s room, not looking back, not letting on what a fine plan he had. He heard the screen door swing shut. A tune clicked on the jukebox. He locked the door of the tiny watercloset behind him. The pulsing music pounded inside him. He even pissed to its rhythm.

Slowly, closing his eyes, he caressed the head of his gun. It swelled. He smiled open-mouthed and kept up the rhythm, getting ready for the kill. After a moment, he stopped himself. No sense wanking in the bathroom when more potent pleasures were coming.

Stuffing his hard-on back inside his tight black jeans, he swaggered out of the little room. Erik caught the blonde staring at his basket and winked. He ordered a six-pack to go, paying up and adding a standard tip, not too generous, not too lean. He was already too much of a standout on this small town Tuesday night.

Pushing the screen door open, Erik headed down the sloping cement to the street. It was a full-moon night, gorgeous in its crisp splendor. Heading right on Stage Road, keeping his head down like a jaguar on the scent of wounded prey, Erik strode over to the red Mustang. Julio gunned the engine. Erik got in quickly. He didn’t want anyone to know they’d left together.

Hey, pop a top, will ya?”

Erik opened a beer and handed it over. “Right you are, mate. Let’s go. I can’t wait to get out of this town.” A strange, cool wind blew into the car, carrying Julio's scent to him, strong and powerful. This macho had everything Erik needed and he held his gifts so carelessly.

Here ya go.” The Mexican downed his in two strong pulls. “Well, all right. But let me show you how it’s done, Aussie style.” Erik finished his beer in one gulp and crushed the can against his forehead. They laughed and tossed the empties out the window. They belched. Erik bit the last laugh in half. “Let’s go.” His voice cracked like a whip. Seeking to soften it, Erik opened two more cans and smiled.

Julio grinned back, white teeth flashing in a dark copper face. He was a small but macho man, very sure, very strong, and brimming with life. His shirt hung open to the waist, revealing a necklace made of a rattlesnake’s tail. His heart beat strong beneath sweat and muscle. Erik watched it beat. The man was at the zenith of his strength and power. Like the sun at high noon, the man had nowhere to go but down. “You like this charm? I got it from my grandfather…”

They turned right on Pescadero and headed toward the beach on Highway One. Taking a long drink, Erik got ready. He showed no outer sign. He was just a bloke, riding in a car on a Tuesday night, watching a full moon paint pretty pictures on the rolling hills of Northern California, heading into darkness.

Erik let the man ramble while they drove. He knew the bursts and pulses of small talk, he made the right responses at the right intervals, and sometimes he even sought it out. Even now, he missed his twin sister. He wanted to wear her skull on his shoulder for company so she could whisper in his ear. He'd heard of a tribe in Africa that did, and it seemed a fine idea.

The dead still dream. Maybe he’d talk to her that way, just get inside the dream and shout. Twins often shared dreams, like they shared minds, like they shared everything.

With her or without her, the dreamgame lived, rising up with leather wings. As it must. Erik knew now that the game was more than childish fantasy. Far more. It was a doorway to another life, a life more real than this one. All of his living so far only led him back to those hot, high steps of dreaming. As it must. As it always must.

Snapping back to the present, Erik forced a grin. Julio parked in the vacant lot across the highway from the beach. He tucked the car behind two port-a-potties and got out. Erik followed him. “Here ya go.” Julio took the six-pack when Erik thrust it at him, unthinking. Waiting until there was a good interval between headlights, they dashed across the street. As they crossed the parking lot, the stench of death and decay overwhelmed them. “Whew!”

No shit, man. It doesn’t stink as bad down on the beach.” Julio led the way to rickety wooden steps carrying his flashlight and the six-pack. He paused nervously, as the waves crashed into the beach below. Erik smiled reassuringly. Julio gave in to a nervous laugh, but started down the steps. A warm wind blew the scent of his fear back into Erik’s face. When their feet hit beach, Julio swung his light up. “There.”

Huge white vertebrae poked out of a red-black mess of reek. White bone littered the sand. Chunks of rotting flesh caught the light, inspiring him.

Erik felt for his blade. Julio jerked when he heard the snick of the switchblade opening. He was silent as the blade opened his throat. The light swung madly as it tumbled from his hand. Blood sprayed, becoming a black fountain in the moonlight. Erik, hating to waste a precious second, caught the light and switched it off. Salty tidewater foamed around Julio’s kicking feet. Crouching, Erik pushed his clutching hands away.

Embraced by the stench of death, Erik sighed. Hot blood spurted from Julio’s neck, bathing Erik’s hands. Erik gloried in the strength of the life-force entering into him, stiffening his sex, making him whole. Julio’s blood pumped hot into his palms. Reaching inside the wound, with a brief and strangled cry, Erik ejaculated. He collapsed forward over the twitching body, listening to the slap of waves, giving himself a few seconds to enjoy the ebbing flow of life that coated his hands.

Erik wanted to plunge his hungry blade into Julio’s chest over and over, but he restrained himself. He was an artist. Each cut counted. Now, his real work began.

***

Art, according to the dictionary, is the creation of beautiful or significant things.” Straightening his black kung fu jacket, Lee Kuan addressed his thirty students. “Art is the superior ability that is attained by study and practice and observation. Here, in this classroom, we’ve studied martial arts through the form and practice of T’ai Chi. In the quiet of moving meditation, we’ve learned to observe ourselves. Outside this room, we will use what we know. It is my hope that no one here will ever have to use the fighting applications of the form. It is my desire that every one of us use the grace and the peace of T’ai Chi to make our own lives a work of art. And when fear approaches, hungry like a tiger, let us use the strength and resiliency of the form to rear up and -- Ride the Tiger!”

Lee flushed when he saw the admiration in the eyes of his students. “Well, hey, I don’ wanna start sounding like, ‘as Confucius say…‘” He scuffed the toe of his slipper on the brown linoleum floor, trying to hide his little lop-sided grin. He was especially proud of his Wednesday class. “You’ve made a lot of progress. Keep it up. You’ll be doing the form one last time for your final grade next week. Don’ worry; it’s a formality. Attendance at the upcoming demo has nothing to do with your grade. But, for those of you who are not in the demo, I’m trying something completely different, so – come if you dare. Any questions, see me after class.”

Bowing to his students, Lee spoke to them in Chinese and in English. "Thank you for letting me learn with you." He would miss them, miss the sparkle in old Chin's eyes, and the laughter of the woman in red. But, the semester was over, new challenges were waiting. Now, there were goodbyes to be said. Lee went forward, into them.

Some students asked him to sign their copies of his little book, a new translation of the T’ai Chi classics that a rinky-dink local press put out last year. “So, you’re one of the twelve people who bought my book? Excellent!” Embarrassed by all the attention, Lee smiled. His ex-wife would freak if she saw this scene. That might depose her grand idea of his uselessness. Maybe not. He was about as far from being as yappie as a guy can be.

Hey, Sifu!” Lee turned to the deep, warm voice. Always enthusiastic, Terry Spencer smiled and pushed through the tangle of students to take his place at Lee’s side. His roommate, a trust-fund hippie Lee’d rescued from living in Golden Gate Park, was a welcome presence. Terry should know Lee was just another guy, an idiot with women who snored and scratched his ass like any other guy. He really should get that by now. But, no. “That guided meditation rocked! I bet you were a monk in another life.”

Lee raised an eyebrow. The kid could be right. He was certainly living like one now. Lee smiled as the last of his students went out the door. He looked around at his bare classroom. He still wasn’t used to teaching at The Institute of Inner Harmony, San Francisco’s only fully accredited New Age College.

How he’d gotten here was still a blur. It’d all happened so fast. When Lee’s sifu, Calvin Lo sent Lee in his place to the Big Sur conference, he never expected so much would come of it. He hadn’t expected anything at all. But Devon King’s laser blues fastened on him passionately, as if she could not look away. Her recommendation got him this job. The lady’s rapt attention spooked him a little and he’d kept his distance. His wife punished him anyway. It was her way. Soon after Lee got the job, he left her, sick of living in a sexual deep-freeze.

Still, Lee’d kept to his word; he hadn’t slept with Devon. Not yet. But the tension and desire rising between them was boiling high.

Devon stopped in the hall. He saw her big blue eyes peek into his classroom. Then, arching an eyebrow at Terry, she walked on by.

Dude, you’ve gone missing again.” Lee yanked himself out of reverie. “I talked to Cheong Li Chow. He’ll pass out the last of the flyers if we deliver today. You want me to go?”

No, I’ll go.” He immediately regretted his words. Buses were slow and his Harley was in the shop. Again. Lee should be using the time to practice for the demo Friday night.

I’ll go, Lee. I know you hate Chow. Then you can get what you’re after at the herbalist’s shop. Cool?” Lee nodded, moving toward the door. Basically, everything about Terry was cool.

The longhaired young man brought a lot to his life, friendship, enthusiasm, lousy Mosticholli. He was the most promising of all Lee’s students, but Lee would never tell him. The ego boost would stop him from trying. Terry didn’t take his martial arts skills seriously; it was all a dance for him. The kid never got over his one off-off-Broadway show. He’d been the leading man. And why not? He had the looks and the voice for it.

Getting on the Masonic Street bus, Lee contemplated Terry’s profile. To Terry, life was a flow. A dance. Lee bit his lip. Maybe the kid was the master and he, Lee, was but a student.

They rode the bus standing up, hanging from the handrails. Lee’s black gym bag bounced on his shoulder as the bus lurched forwards. He shifted his weight, bending his knees slightly, using his T’ai Chi while the people around him staggered and flailed. Terry caught what he was doing and grinned. Lee looked into Terry’s eyes, warm as the Caribbean. There was no judgment there, but still, Lee had to turn away.

Someone pulled the cord, the bell dinged and people filed out of the bus, sliding around his body. Terry flopped onto a beige plastic seat, tossing his curly brown hair. A young girl stumbled up the aisle and nearly fell, gaping at his beauty. When another place opened up, Lee insisted she take it. Their stop was coming up soon. They’d transfer to the Number 1 bus and ride it down to Powell. Terry’s guitar was in a little repair shop there and, while he stayed and yakked it up about the Post-Modern lyrics of Leonard Cohen, Lee’d walk to Chinatown.

The ride was long and bumpy and they didn’t say a word. Lee couldn’t explain the unease he’d felt lately or the nightmares that he awoke from with a shout. He’d leave the event buried deep in his consciousness, like the thing of death it was. Lee knew Terry would understand, but he simply could not speak of it.

Powell Street.”

Lee and Terry climbed out of the bus. The gray exhaust fumes nearly gagged them. “Give me the flyers.” Doubtfully, Terry unzipped his backpack. Glad to see the last of them, he passed Lee a ream wrapped in brown paper. Lee never opened the package, never looked at what he was delivering. “I’ll drop these off at Chow’s, get the medicine, and meet you at the guitar shop, okay?” They both nodded. Lee knew the area well. Until this week, Lee’d been teaching classes at this time every Wednesday. Just like clockwork. He couldn’t seem to get away from the damn Stockton street tunnel. “Later, man.”

Lee turned, crunching broken glass beneath his heel. He glanced skyward. Rain was coming on and the vibes were evil. Even the light behind the clouds was yellow and strangely slanted. The entrance to the underground tunnel was damp, cold, and gray. Each step echoed, clanging down the metal stairs. Light spilled in from the right-hand path before him as cars whizzed through the tunnel and the pedestrian walkways were studded with pinkish light. The lamp at the bottom of the stairs was broken. Darkness teemed.

A lighter clicked. Its brief flame split the gloom. Lee saw the glint of a silver cross earring and spikes of bottle blonde hair. ”Hey, Daddy, wanna date?” The man lurched away from the tile wall and out of shadow. Leering, the man reached for him.

Lee’s hands flew like Zen arrows. His strike knocked the man’s grab away and took him prisoner. He felt the man’s windpipe quivering in his fist, felt the silver-blue eyes crawl over his face. And he hesitated. Cars whooshed by behind him. The tunnel reeked of exhaust and grime. It had been years. He could be wrong. He’d tried to block the memories, but this face matched his nightmares, these eyes were the icy-blue that haunted Lee.

Take it easy, mate.”

Lee’s grip tightened. There was no mistake. Erik’s voice was a raspy tenor, flavored by Australia and harsh liquor. There was no forgetting that voice, those eyes. He knew the gin-soaked meat smell. He’d never been able to forget Erik. Never.

Take it easy,” Erik croaked. “No worries, eh? I’m just playin’.”

Lee’s hand shook. The rattlesnake charm tied around that neck shivered. It would be so easy to close his hand and crush out Erik’s life. So easy. . . “No.” His breath was an exhalation of fire. Sinking deep, dropping his hands, Lee pushed Erik away.

The silver cross earring glinted as Erik flew backward. Lee heard his head crack against the tunnel wall. Clutching his chest, Erik sprawled amongst the garbage and the shadows. A well-placed hit would make him die there.

No.” Lee’s body quaked with unreleased power. A balloon of heat rose and burst inside him. Each breath was fire as he turned and sprinted out of the tunnel, up the rise and away from darkness. His heart pounded, each pulse throbbing in his head. When he hit Sacramento Street, Lee slowed his pace, forced his fists to open.

He’d kept to his training. He was okay. He hadn’t killed. Not today.

A chill breeze cut through his thin white undershirt, flaring his open black jacket. He turned right onto Sacramento Street. The sidewalk sloped steeply downhill. Looking past the curling red roofs of Chinatown, past the Transamerica Pyramid, past the bridge, and into the Bay, Lee sighed. Foul memories, still half-veiled, shivered inside him. Raindrops fell on his long lashes and he shook them away like tears he did not wish to remember.

Blue pagodas sheltered the playground on his left. Making ferocious faces, little boys threw kicks and punches at him. Xiao Chen and young Song were disappointed when he did not stop to play or teach. But this was not a playing day. Lee patted their heads and moved on.

He glanced across the street to the ornate green-roofed gate of the Chinese YMCA, where he’d stayed when he’d first come to town. It’d been as good a place as any. He’d arrived as that most mysterious and pathetic of all entities, a Chinese without family. A disgrace. Thank Heaven for Uncle Lou; the old man took him in and gave him a job, a place to stay, and the responsibility of managing Lou’s Used Books and the apartments above it on Haight Street. He thought about these things to block what he’d just seen, what he’d just felt from his mind.

The present is future becoming past and past is where he does not wish to go.

Rain wetting his face and his shaggy black hair, Lee passed the monastery he’d thought about joining and remembered the stripper who’d seduced him out of that. He turned right onto Grant, then onto the cobblestone street that is not on the maps they give to tourists. Old women and rain-wrapped kids surrounded him. Lee began to relax. The sound and scent of close-pressed strangers, the bag banging on his ribs, these everyday pressures were welcome.

At a bakery, the loud talking of men and the sweet, dark scent of roast pork buns hit him. In the doorway, a baker who wore his father's face called out in rapid Cantonese. Lee made out only a few words. His mother's legacy was in Mandarin. She died when he was seven, but her poet's eyes would mark him all his life.

The old baker scowled like his father, and Lee hurried on, Father's words pushing him away. "You are no more my son." Hard words for a sixteen year old. Momentous words, spoken in a whisper. That hurt had not yet healed. That whisper still echoed inside his head, making him a stranger here.

Passing a pagoda-roofed phone booth, he narrowly avoided having his picture taken by some overzealous tourists. Everywhere in Chinatown’s gilded ghetto, people, exotic smells, and bright colors crowded together. He’d grown up in Chicago’s Chinatown - he knew how it was - but still, he could not pass this way without sadness; here so many lived so close together with so little, locked out of the American dream. In the shadows of Golden Mountain, old women walked bent with age. Rain fell on their balding heads, on their vests of brown and blue. Their legs bent from too many burdens, yet they carried grandchildren on their backs.

At an open-air market, childhood sights, sounds, and smells reached into him. Tanks of live lobsters. Crates of fat frogs. Voices bargaining in Cantonese and Mandarin. Whole geese hanging, sweet and dark brown, their beaked heads appalling the tourists. Ducking into the herbalists, Lee bought a few things, too distracted to chat or bargain. He dropped off his bundle at Chow’s, too tense for more than a few white-lipped smiles.

He turned back, dread quivering within him. He walked past the smells of fish and incense, past the chatter and song of Cantonese voices, winding his way back toward the Stockton Street Tunnel. As Lee climbed back up Commercial Street, he admitted his fear. Tears stung his eyes as he bit his lip and stuffed the memories back inside. Forget about it. Walk on alone, walk like a man. Lee squared his shoulders and stared at the cobblestone. Brass characters gleamed in the street.

A flock of Chinese girls approached, shining hair like raven's feathers, rippling in from Grant Street, giggling together, rocking away from the past. Their portable radio screamed raucous lust - diamond dust. Almond eyes glittering beneath incongruous blue eye shadow, they invited him to share the secret. Lee did not respond to the music or the invitations in the eyes of the girls. Above their heads, a silver cross glinted. Tall, blonde, and deadly, Erik cut through the group of girls like a leather-winged scythe.

Lee nailed him with a black glare that had stopped trucks. It didn’t stop Erik. The tall blonde stared back steadily, a tiny smile on his wide, pale mouth. Blood rushing in his ears, Lee shouldered his way through the crowd. He walked toward Erik, forgetting to be afraid. His fists tightened, ready. Erik watched him, unlocking the door of a beat-up red Mustang.

Flipping through recent memory, Lee realized he’d seen Erik around before. He remembered the shock of sickness when he’d walked by the stranger, telling himself the resemblance couldn’t possibly be true. His mind compiled other images: blonde hair through a bus window, Erik slouching beneath an awning in the Haight, hiding under an Outback hat, lurking beneath an umbrella outside the used bookstore on Polk Street. And, suddenly, he ran out of excuses. No more denial was possible. Erik was back. And hunting him.

Clenching his jaw, Lee stopped and stared into those ice-blue eyes. He would not run. Crowds parted and flowed around him, moving in fast forward, while he and his opponent remained motionless. Heart pounding, Lee began to sweat. But he did not look away. Every line of his body declared a war, every rush of blood issued a challenge.

Wind ruffled Lee’s hair and narrowed his eyes. His black Chinese jacket blew open, the thin white cotton beneath nearly transparent. The gold yin-yang pendant gleamed over his heart, a symbol of Calvin’s teaching. He was a different man now. He would not look away.

Erik’s smile faded. Wetting pale lips, he blew Lee a kiss and got into the red Mustang.

Lee walked up the sloping sidewalk, squinting into the wind, coming closer. Erik gunned his engine as a little Chinese grandmother dug a sharp elbow into Lee’s ribs. He spun, eyes snapping wide. Jaw dropping, she fell back a pace. Lee apologized in Mandarin, but she did not understand his words. Lee made his way back to the Stockton Street Tunnel.

Gang boys on the street corners watched his dangerous grace with respect. They knew who he was; they saw the way he walked. People steered clear, giving him his way. All the colors of Chinatown had faded to grainy black and white. Adrenalin surges shocked through him and Lee Kuan knew his battle had only begun.

RIDE THE TIGER

Chapter 2 - First Blood

Enjoying the bayside twilight, Erik wiped the last of the blood and garbage off his long leather coat. Crossing the parking lot, head held high, he got rid of Julio’s rags. He had Julio’s car and his necklace. Too bad the bloody vest was ruined. He’d carried it and the head into the car. What a messy mistake. He must be careful this time and not let pride ruin him.

Erik fished the front page of today’s Chronicle from the waste bin. Wednesday’s story on page one: A Beheading in Pescadero. Construction workers in the small town of Pescadero were stunned to discover a man’s head in the well of a portable toilet.

He’d left the rest of his handiwork by the whale. The Powers That Be labeled it a ritual killing. Unfortunately, they’d not been able to find anything out about the victim. Erik patted the worn leather wallet in his pocket as he slid into the car. He’d switched the Mustang’s license plates with a Honda Civic’s in San Mateo. All his tracks were covered.

Julio’s family was all in Mexico. His identity wouldn’t be determined for weeks. Erik knew that going in. He was a good listener. And he was also, ecstatically, safe. He wasn’t messing up again, not like last time when he’d had to leave town. He wanted – no, he needed - to be free to do his work. And San Francisco was just the place for it.

Erik rubbed his chest. It ached where Lee had pushed him, a burning ache that Erik associated with broken ribs. The little Chink would pay for that, he would. Erik would take those glittering eyes as trophies. All he needed was time.

Night fell and the bay glimmered with a thousand jewels he couldn’t reach. Just like the rest of his life. He could look, and sometimes he could touch, but he could never own any of the riches he saw scattered about, love, wealth, companionship, all that belonged to those they called normal, to those they called sane. The bastards. Erik narrowed his eyes and fell to calculating.

Times had been tough since he’d returned to The City of his gloriously wasted youth. Grandmum’s death hadn’t left much. Most of what he’d thought was his inheritance went to others, his asshole Dad included. He’d had to sell the farm in New South Wales to pay back taxes. He’d paid out airfare and saved some spending money. The rest he’d wasted in Sydney.

In the weeks since Erik’d come back to The City by the Bay, he’d been waiting, watching, reconnecting, and working the streets. He needed money - bad. The Vietnamese whore he’d been staying with called in reinforcements to put him out last Friday. He'd settle that score someday. First, he had to pay the rooming house or sleep in the car again. And he didn’t fancy that. No way.

He’d been turning tricks and running scams to pay for a room in one of those shabby pay-by-the-weeks where everything was brown. Hotel California was a warren made of thin brown carpet, thin brown walls, and little rooms full of used-up men. All that’d be behind him soon. Erik had a plan.

Reaching into the pocket of his leather coat, he pulled out the creased white paper. The flyer advertised an Open House Friday night at the Institute of Inner Harmony and that was exactly where he’d be, at the book signing by the divine Devon King and the little martial arts demo by ‘Sifu’ Lee Kuan. Sifu! It was right there in black print, like a door opened from his dreams. He would step back through all the years and he would win this time.

Erik knew he had one chance. He wouldn’t muck it up. He’d made plans, quick and nasty. He was prepared to pay, to prove himself. It would take time. Time he had. Power he needed. Raw, vital power to carry him through the trials to come, power to draw her to him. He touched the rattlesnake charm around his neck. Power surged into him, remembering the kill.

Erik stroked the bloodstains on the upholstery and smiled.

Even if Ian, the only man he'd ever trusted, was dead, his wife was still alive. Erik remembered her from the good old days. A right beaut she was, too, all long blonde hair and wide blue eyes, but she’d had more grit than Ian. Even then. She may not recognize Erik. He’d only been the leather-masked boy her husband buggered, but she was rich now and she was worthy and he was aiming to make her his own. Eventually.

He only had to trust in fate the way he’d trusted in Ian. The very word, trust, terrified him. It reminded him of other words he'd vowed never to say outside the dreamgame, like need, honor, depend, love, and other such shit. It was weakness to need anyone, Pop taught him that.

He hadn't had a father for two-dozen-years, since he and his twin sister went too far with the dreamgame and they’d put him away. He snarled at the memory of the lonely nights at Leeds Youth Hall, trapped like an animal, the other boys shaming and tormenting him. Pop wouldn't speak to him. Mum run off. All because of Sis's game, the favorite game she'd dreamt and taught him. She was gone, too. Only the dreamgame remained, and what memories he could allow. Still, he swore she was smiling as the scissors went in, smiling until her face turned inside out. She screamed, a grotesque open-mouth God-face from the dreamgame. He could not move. The howls went on forever.

Then silence. His throat was torn and parched from his howling. Her eyes were black, as they always were when they played the game, pupils dilated so that the silver-blue barely showed. He watched her eyes die. They were nine-years-old, identical in every way. Except down there. Except that, she was dead.

They hadn't known the dreamgame could be so real. Sissy and Erik knew it took them somewhere else, made them other people, but they’d always come back in time for dinner. It was the dreamgame, nothing more. They never guessed it could take them so far inside the dreamscape that they’d come out. She’d died while they played. It might have been him. They always took turns, always. It should’ve been him. This world deserved punishment for what it made him do. Shrinks didn’t get it. Laws only made it worse. He was irrevocably alone.

Nobody gave him what he wanted. Nobody understood. Until Ian. Ian had played along, he’d understood how Erik’s sister had shown him the dreamgame, taken him into the dreamtime, and given him the only reality that seemed to fit. Sis was the only one he'd ever really needed. Until Ian. Until now. The dreams were eating him alive, from the inside out, like worms. Yet, he was dead without them.

Trusting his dreams, Erik returned to San Francisco only to find Ian was dead. The City had been rough on him. All he had for fun was hunting the little Chink and he’d been working the streets for a living. Ian’s widow would make it right. She had to. Even if she didn’t remember him - and he didn’t expect she would as she was unbelievably high every time he’d seen her - he had Ian’s card, an undying, irrevocable guarantee of assistance. Now he had this flyer to show him the path to fun and profit.

He smoothed the creased paper. The flyer he’d picked up Monday morning was a gift from the heart of Hell. Streetlights slanted in across Lee Kuan’s serious expression and Erik rubbed his chest. The little bastard had learned a few tricks. But, so had he. The hunting knife in Erik’s boot was not for filleting fishes.

Grinning, Erik fired up the red Mustang. Time to go back to work. He’d made his plans, he’d gotten what he needed, and he was going to have some big fun Friday. He gunned the engine and drove off into the night.

***

Bleary-eyed, Lee surveyed the barely furnished room. It seemed to tilt into twilight, or maybe that was just him. He was drunk, drunker than Terry’d ever seen him. Unshaven, shirtless, he prowled the bare room like a puma, pausing only to direct a lightening fast series of kicks at the punching bag that hung in the corner. The picture he’d duct-taped to the heavy bag went flying. The photo of the President wafted to the floor still smiling that patented Reaganomics smile.

Lee took another pull at the bottle of Mescal. “Yo, Ter! Want some more?” A low moan from the other leg of the L-shaped room was his only reply. “Guess not.” He held the bottle up, squinting into the dancing light from Terry’s TV. A bloated yellow caterpillar leered back. Drinking the worm at the bottom was a treat reserved for true machos. “Excellent,” he said without enthusiasm. Tilting back his head, he drank the rest of the burning amber liquor. Lee shuddered ever so slightly as the worm crawled down his throat.

Searching for a chaser, he wandered past Terry. All eyes and hair and big bare feet, the kid was sprawled on the gray camelback sofa watching music videos. Onscreen, David Bowie led a bizarre funeral procession while singing something about Ashes to Ashes. “Wonderful.” Lee padded into the twilight kitchen. The window was open, blowing a cold breeze across his heart. He ran a hand across his bare chest, wiping the light sheen of sweat away. His pulse was pounding. Every shadow, every echo vibrated with menace. Every sense was stuck in overdrive. The booze hadn’t fixed that.

Awash in Mescal and loneliness, Lee fumbled a rubber band from the faucet. It was another of Terry’s annoying little habits, like peeling the labels off beer bottles and biting his cuticles. Lee tied up the back of his hair and checked the answering machine. No messages. Sighing, feeling like a cliché, Mister Sensitive Ponytail-man stared out the kitchen window. He watched the alley dusk grow deeper and wondered where his reality had gone.

The encounter in the Stockton Street tunnel swallowed up his normal life and vomited it out twisted and sour. Maybe it was an anomaly. Maybe not. Either way, Devon had given Erik a perfect set of printed directions on how to find Lee Kuan. He laughed bitterly. What was next? A kick-me sign that read ‘insert knife here’?

Unleashing a string of eloquent Chinese curses offered no relief. Switching to English didn’t help either. He found himself both missing his daughter and being glad she wasn’t here to share the danger. Nothing was clear. Nothing.

A sigh ripped from deep inside his chest, leaving a red raw aching in its wake. Lee thought he’d learned that taking the valley way is best, that one who is low cannot be brought down. He’d believed it and stayed a hidden dragon all these years. Until Big Sur.

None of it mattered. It all came down to this: the snick of a switchblade opening in an alley, blood on his throat, Erik’s hands on him. “Turn round, sweetheart.” The knife sliced again, deeper this time. “Turn.” The memories were so immediate they sickened him. He got a fresh cold beer and took a long drink. But this pain was beyond the power of Budweiser. It all flooded back to him. Bright white headlights. The red-black hole of his brother’s blown-out eye. Cold, rough brick beneath his cheek. Blood. Pain. Take the Valley Way. Force the body to relax and take the beating. Listen to the skin break, a hot sickening pop. Eat the pain. The knife went in and the mind shut down. Throwing back his head to howl – purely animal now. The grunts of closest combat behind him. The hot knife inside…

Enough!” Lee slammed his hand onto the countertop. He’d wear those alley scars forever, emblems of a manhood no one could destroy. Even if he took the Valley Way. Even if he could never remember, even if he could never forget. Turning up the water loud, clinging to the cold metal sink, Lee wept. He was still bleeding inside, letting no one see his wounds.

Hey.” Terry lurched into the kitchen doorway. Turning away, Lee dried his tears brusquely. Terry flicked on the light. “What’s – what’s going’ on?”

Lee flinched. “One of my favorite Marvin Gaye songs.” His situation was obvious.

Terry came up behind him, noiselessly, putting his hands on Lee’s bare shoulders. “It’s okay.” Terry’s hot whisper vibrated against the exposed skin of his nape. A long, slow, shudder ran through Lee’s body but he did not shrug away. A quick light knocking cut the moment.

I’ll get the door,” Lee said softly. It was as good an excuse as any to get away from Terry’s intense scrutiny. Wiping his eyes covertly, Lee crossed their rooms. He opened the door. Devon was waiting in the hallway, the gleam of the stair light in her silvery blonde hair. She was dressed to kill. Her leather coat fell in a narrow swath of elegance from neck to calve. Her beauty hit him like a right cross.

Come in.” Lee noticed that he’d instinctively braced the door with his foot. He’d been ready for an onslaught. Ready for anything except her. Lee let her in and saw her see the liquor in his eyes. She registered her shock with the arch of one delicate brow. “Welcome to my nightmare,” he said by way of greeting.

Setting her delicate jaw, Devon swept past him. Her coat flapped menacingly. Lee saw why those rumors were so persistent. The tall woman dominated the bare room mercilessly.

Well, come on in. Mi casa es su casa. Wanna beer?” Devon was silent. “You look gorgeous, as usual.”

In a black silk dress that tied at the throat and was slit to the waist, she was the picture of understated chic. Her belt was an elaborate construction of black leather and silver ornament. The boots looked expensive. Severely styled, her blonde hair framed her face. But it was her eyes that nailed him, big and blue, framed in black; her gaze was at once vulnerable and defiant. “Why?” she demanded in a low, accented voice. “Why did you explode about the flyer I approved? Why ever would you get so angry about a thing like that?”

Lee turned a lean and desperate face to her. His black eyes were wild, uneven beneath his slanting black brows, and his hollowed cheeks were pale. His body was carved ivory in black sweatpants. Darkness and light warred within him.

She came closer, asking again, “Why?” Perfume wafted toward him, the scent was dark, intoxicating. “Why are you angry? Why are you drunk?”

I’m sorry,” he told her. It was not enough. “I’m hurting, Devon.”

I can see that. Tell me why.”

He shook his head. The memories hurt too much to give them voice. Ever. But her eyes pleaded and the beautiful lady did deserve an answer. “I didn’t want that flyer out there because-” He glanced away, then let her have it straight. “Because I’m being hunted on the street. I don’ wanna be dragged back in time. I don’ wanna have to hurt someone.”

Then the story you told Maggie isn’t bull?”

Nope.” He shook his head, wondering why in Hell everyone expected him to be living in a Bruce Lee movie. He’d thought Devon, at least, was light-years beyond stereotypes. Lee registered his disappointment in silence.

So, you got drunk?” Gently, Devon took the beer from his hand. Lee did not protest. “Oh, Lee, this isn’t what I expect from a master. Not with a demo in forty-eight hours.”

I am no master. I’ve been telling you that since we met at Big Sur.”

Lee.” Her husky alto was sure and strong. “I’m very seldom wrong about people, and I knew the night I met you that you’re… an extraordinary man.”

Lee shrugged, trying not to weave drunkenly. “It was an extraordinary night, a good class, that’s all.”

No.” Slowly, solemnly, she shook her head. “We connected that night. I felt it,” she said softly, untying the knotted cords at her throat. A long swath of satiny rose-gold skin shone through the black silk. Lee touched the ends of the silken cords tentatively.

In the next room, Depeche Mode was wailing ‘Lie to me’. Glancing back, he saw Terry sprawled on the sofa, lost in his MTV, unable to see them from his angle. Devon watched Lee’s face with huge, round eyes. The silvery beige lipstick she wore accented the deep bow of her upper lip and played lightly with the color of her hair. It was truly insane to believe she wanted him, to imagine that she wasn’t playing this time. Devon King, world-class beauty, leaned toward him, eyes wet with empathy. Nothing in his Chinatown upbringing had prepared him for this moment. Lee shook the lunacy away.

Look, Devon, I’m no master. And I have no experience at living in a Kung Fu movie, okay? There’s somebody out there who wants to stick a big knife in me. Again. And I’m in no goddamn hurry to let it happen. Much less hand out directions. Can you blame me for that?”

No. I can’t.”

She came closer, stepping into his shadow. He felt her breath against his face, the nudge of her breasts against his upraised fists. Devon was secure in her mysteries. There was darkness in her, a darkness he knew intuitively, and dark, twisty places that he did not know. Devon's eyes willed him to touch her. Energy sang between them. But he burned alone, a solitary flame. His heart beat very fast. "Devon, what are we doing here?”

Shh.” She silenced him with bare and gentle fingers, tracing a line from his cheek to the center of his mouth. His lips parted under her caress. The touch of her finger on the tip of his tongue sent electric currents through him. Lee opened his hands as he dropped his eyes. Drawn in tight but ashamed of his desire, he hesitated.

Abruptly, she took his face in her hands and kissed him deeply. Passionately. She kissed him until he moaned low in his throat and pressed himself indecently against her. Kissing was something he knew he was good at, her body was testament to that. He felt the shiver of desire in her hips, heard her breath quicken with lust. Lee ran his hands round the silk of her waist, though the silk of her hair, taking the kisses he’d wanted for so long. He snaked his body closer, ran his hot tongue from her collarbone to her earlobe. She leaned back, breathlessly grinding her pubic bone against his obvious excitement.

No,” she whispered suddenly. Drawing back, Lee looked at her. Her lipstick smudged wet and swollen lips, but her bright blue gaze was stern. She glanced quickly, meaningfully toward the next room where Terry watched MTV in darkness.

Come to my room. Come-“

No.” Her tone brooked no argument.

Slowly, Lee shook his head. Not this. Not again. It was cruel. The huge bright sun inside his chest made it difficult to breathe. He let her go, unwilling to back away and let her see what a big, dumb, prick he really was. She’d played him for a fool again. He'd given in to Mescal and testosterone. The lady was in complete control.

Too many times, too many ways Devon had telegraphed that desire for power. He recalled the night on the stairs. Other nights, after he’d left his wife. Devon always knew to come to him when he was in turmoil, playing with him, using troubles to strengthen their ties. Lee remembered. Abruptly, he ran out of trust.

You’re right.” He stilled his breathing, suffocated his desire. “We can’t.”

Devon backed away from him, body stiffening. She hid her hands in deep leather pockets. Silver chains on her wide belt glinted in the rapidly falling night. She gave him a brutal up-and-down, eyes fluttering over his flushed cheeks, brushing his smooth torso and then dropping down for one last jab at the crotch. His erection was huge, and it burned, but his face showed that he was no longer at its mercy. Devon’s eyes glittered pale in the shadows, her power coiled like a serpent ready to strike. Music from the next room rattled and shook.

Get some rest. We’ve got a big class coming up.” He stared his questions into her. “Don’t worry. I’m a professional. Just stick to the topic and you’ll be all right. Okay?” She said, walking toward the door.

There was nothing okay about it, but Lee got the hell out of her way.

Bye,” she breathed in that sexy accent. Her lips curved in a small smile. Anger glinted in her eyes. Lee just nodded.

He let her out and chained the door behind her. In the next room, MTV was playing some mundane crap about love and forever. Turning to the heavy bag, Lee drove his fists into it over and over again. He kept punching until he was bathed in sweat, until his shoulders were sore and his knuckles bled. Only then, at first blood, did he turn away.



Yo, Sifu?” Terry gave Lee a worried look. “Are you okay?”

Lee turned to him with the wild eyes of a jungle cat. Shining with sweat, breathing hard, the man looked like he’d just gone ten rounds with Mohammed Ali. Terry pretended not to notice the blood on his hands.

Need me to hold the bag?” Lee shook his head, teardrops of exhaustion flying from the ends of his wet hair. Terry licked a drop from his lower lip. “Looks like you had a helluva night. Guess I slept through the best part.”

No, Ter, trust me. You didn’t miss a thing.” Lee looked quickly around the room.

Terry handed him the sweatshirt he was looking for. “If I didn’t miss a thing then why are you here in the Dojo of Doom beating up on a heavy bag and screaming?” Lee shrugged. Terry turned away, he wasn’t having any of that. Feeling Lee following, Terry strolled casually into the furnished leg of the huge L-shaped room. “Nice answer. I’m enjoying it almost as much as the fit you threw over at the Institute.” They flopped on the sofa. “You surprised me.”

Lee sighed. He was silent for a long time. “You know what they say about San Francisco… How you keep running into the same six people?”

You ran into one?”

Yeah, a blonde in black leather. Satan’s little helper.”

Terry shook out his long brown hair and grinned. “Oh, I thought that was Devon’s job description.” The thin blonde aristocrat seemed to be on a mission from God to attach herself to Lee Kuan. As far as Terry could tell, her plans were working too well. Everybody called Devon the Dominatrix of Darkness. Lee laughed at the jokes like they all did but he couldn’t seem to break away. Maybe he was just too polite.

Terry hung his head. Lee was closer to him than family. But, sometimes, when the man got so silent and so stern, Terry worried that Lee only put up with him out of courtesy. Lee got no apparent benefit from having a student/actor/rocker/trust-fund hippy for a roommate.

Terry’s long curly hair hung like a sepia curtain, affording him the illusion of privacy as he studied Lee’s fine profile. He’d never seen Lee so tense or so drunk. His chin was set in that angry, stubborn jut but his eyes were sad and scared. Terry wanted to help, but knew better than to ask. Sometimes with Lee the less said, the better. He certainly didn’t need to know Terry’d spent the rent on fine-looking women and a bag of Acapulco Gold.

Lee cleared his throat. “I should tell you that I had a confrontation- Well, no. I got in a fight.” Yawning, Terry waited. “There was a situation. That guy I was talking about jumped me.” Obviously, Kuan won. Terry wished he’d been there to watch. Maybe he would’ve learned something. “He beat the crap out of me when I was a kid. I - I’ve seen him around lately. I think he’s stalking me. And I don’t want you hurt by some shadow from my past.”

So you’ve got a past. Bless Me, Father, for I have sinned. Let me count the ways.”

Terry, I’m serious. Keep your eyes open. Be vigilant.”

I will,” Terry promised. Lee’s complexities made his head ache. He longed to go meet his Eurotrash friends over at Nuerotox and finish of the job of getting righteously wasted. But he wouldn’t cave in to that. No sense turning into Mommy Dearest. That way held nothing but illusion and he’d hit the road to find something real. Growing up insulated from everything but his own twisted family, Terry’d left home after another one of his Mother’s drunken benders to open himself out to life, to find something irrevocable, something real.

In San Francisco, life blew through him in strong, surreal blasts. Marijuana smoothed the scariness away. The chicks were there for comfort, too. New changes were swirling inside him. Like the old Bowie song said, it was time to turn and face the strange.

And things were getting real strange. There was his new obsession, figuring out Lee Kuan’s ripple effect on his life. Kuan was the pebble. Terry was the pond. He’d noticed it months ago. Now he was just watching himself warp, change, and hopefully become something finer. It was, as Mr. Spock would say, fascinating.

More ripples as he morphed. He was actually happy. Weird. He could’ve quit the store to get more hours at the very cool Café Flore, but he wanted to be loyal. Definitely odd. He was dating three gorgeous women and really didn’t care if he got laid. Supremely unsettling. Terry went on about his business in the shop, booked auditions, charmed his dates, and smiled at the right moments as if he were still the same. But, inside, things were different. He was different.

Terry, the guy that’s after me is a killer.”

You’ll be okay.” Lee glanced away. “What? You’re worried about me? I’ll be fine.”

He’d dared death before. In New York, he’d beckoned it, popping pills as he lurched along the median strip on the Brooklyn Bridge, laughing like crazy at the freaked-out drivers. Somehow, he’d lived to leave New York behind. And Chicago. And Sedona. And LA.

What was totally bizarre was that, of all those places, this felt most like home. Terry hadn’t felt this rooted since he was a kid growing up in a rich and delusional household. He’d emerged from that mirage years ago, trading a life of planned privilege for freedom and the road. He’d set out on a mission to find something undeniably real, something that made him real too.

In Sedona, the Sufis called his mission a Hegira, a sacred journey. Whatever it was, his years on the road cleaned him from the inside out. He was older than his twenty-two years now but, in so many ways, completely new.

The Fool. That card arose in every Tarot reading. No matter where Terry got his fortune told, whether in a smoky loft in NYC, a sleek salon in Chicago, or a channeler's den in Sedona, the card came up. Pursuing him from state to state, from deck to deck, the ancient image was always the same: a handsome young vagabond smiling at the sky as he stepped off a cliff. Yup, that was Terry, forever trying something new, grinning up at a dream, and stepping into dog shit.

Maybe this lousy flat on Haight Street was what he’d set out to see. Karma tied them together. “Friends till the end, man.” Terry grinned. Maybe this time the Fool was onto something real. Lee merely rose and paced away to the window.

Hey, you’re my sifu, right?” The word was not enough but Terry didn’t know what else to call the man who’d taken him in off the streets, given him a job and a home. Lee taught him kung fu, sure. That was Kuan’s way, he was a hard-core martial artist. And the kindest man Terry’d ever known. Maybe that was why he felt bad about the fight. Lee was a man of peace, despite - or perhaps because of - his training.

Coming close, Terry slid his arm around the man’s strong shoulders. Lee turned, eyes snapping wide like a jungle cat surprised by lightening. Terry tried to make sense of the drumbeats in his chest. “Your enemies are my enemies,” Terry swore, his voice suddenly hoarse. “Whatever happens, I’ve got your back. Know that. I’d take a bullet for you.”

Biting his lip, Lee turned away. “I hope to Christ it doesn’t come to that.”

Terry shivered.

Chapter 3 Beware of Darkness

Terry sang solo in the Haight Street flat. Lee dropped his throbbing head into his hands and groaned. Thursday morning, coming down. Still damp from the shower, he looked around his room. Once, it’d been his daughter’s nursery. Now he kept the middle bedroom for her weekend visits. The little room was his, sparsely furnished, littered with books. His monk’s cot was a tangle of twisted sheets, but it was the only place to sit. Lee sat, listening to Terry‘s voice echo down the long hall. Good thing somebody was cheerful today.

Dust motes floated slowly toward the floor, sparkling in a shaft of sunlight. The half-closed shade obscured his view of Haight Street, but he heard the street life below. The door that never quite shut swung open. He was way too queasy to care. Getting drunk last night had not been the most brilliant solution to his problems. He’d have to remember this hangover the next time he was tempted to do something that stupid.

Kicking the door closed, Lee dropped the damp towel. He had a hard, compact body, lots of muscle, nothing wasted. Lovers, whispering in the night, had called him beautiful. Lee sighed. He yearned to feel that way again.

It was cold. The room was stark. His black gym bag waited against the closet door like an old friend. Behind it, on the knob, hung his teaching jacket. His one good tweed. It was very professorial, a glaring reminder of this afternoon’s commitments. Working with Devon after last night was not going to be a lot of fun. He groaned again, rubbed his head, and looked for his coffee. The cup was half-full and cold. “Perfect.”

He focused hard on the Here-And-Now. Pulling on black jeans, Lee wandered down the long hall into the kitchen, carrying the tweed and a black sweater over one shoulder. The ever-present gym bag banged against his side.

Terry’s throaty laugh floated down the hall, the kid was on the phone charming some chick. Like always. The kid was a blessing. He did odd jobs around the building, bartering his labor for a break in rent. He worked hard in Lou’s Bookstore downstairs. Terry never complained about the low pay. Or the bad plumbing. As long as Lee didn’t have to eat his ‘special’ Mosticholli too often, life was good.

Lee poured himself some hot coffee and sat at the tiny kitchen table. The black notebook he’d left there last night leered up at him. He picked up the dread glasses. Eyes poached from last night’s wretched excess, he had to carry his contacts in his pocket. Sighing, he forced himself to open the notebook. His stomach shivered. Why had he agreed to lecture? The money wasn‘t that good. He’d obviously been insane.

Terry sauntered in. “Dude, you look pissed. Anything I can do?”

Nope. Thanks.” Lee kept scanning his notes, trying to remember why he should care about any of this stuff. “Ai ya!” It was a disaster. He did not want to do this class, did not want to get even more involved with Devon King. His danger detector was operating on overload. First the tunnel, then last night. All his senses were screaming for release. “Damn it.”

Terry lounged against a countertop, fingering his long dark hair. Lee felt his eyes recording every move of every muscle. “Toss me my shirt, will ya?” Terry obliged. Lee caught the shirt one-handed. He slipped the black turtleneck on, still too aware of Terry’s scrutiny. Embarrassed, he ran a hand through his hair.

I think the chick downstairs has a crush on you,” Terry remarked out of nowhere. “The nurse with the thin thighs and the low voice. Mandy in 2B.” Lee flushed, remembering how it felt to be in her arms, but he said nothing. “I told her you were just coming off a relationship.”

Lee nodded and glanced down at his work. “Oh.” Mandy was big on relationships. He’d had to let her down gently. She was sweet and refined and way too much of a lady for him.

You starvin’?” Lee asked, pointing at the refrigerator with his chin, in the Chinese way. “I could cook something.”

"Nah, let’s hit Cloud Nine. I need cappuccino.” Terry wandered out into the hall and came back a serious slave to fashion. He wore a brown leather bomber jacket and a red silk scarf draped just so. “I gotta be back by three. And tonight, after I close up, I’ve got a dinner date. So many chicks, so little time.” Grinning, Terry lobbed the keys at him. "I’ll buy if you promise not to be real neurotic about this class you’re teaching with Devon, okay?”

Lee shrugged on his tweed and picked up the notebook. “Then I will only say one thing. This class will suck and I am going to hate it. Mark my words. No good will come of this.”

Well, mark my words, dude. Devon wants you bad.” Lee rubbed his thumb across the bridge of his nose doubtfully. “Why do you let her pull your strings if you don’t dig her scene? I know she got you the job and all, but she’s poison. Between the freaky magic, the leather fetish, the rumors about her dead husband and how he got that way, I’d be runnin’ for my life.” Lee hefted his bulging gym bag and headed for the door. “Unless you really like trouble.”

They crossed the large L-shaped room. “Why?” Lee asked. “Why don’t we get some furniture?” Terry shrugged. “You like milk crates? I could get my stuff out of storage.” It’d only taken eight months for this to occur to him. Locking up, Lee headed downstairs.

Terry smiled as he followed, watching Lee’s eyes as they passed apartment 2B. “Thinking’ about it?” Terry asked as they banged down the stairs. “Dude, listen to yourself - to the stuff you teach - and just go with the flow. Ask the nurse out. Follow your passions, ride that tiger you’re always talking about.” Lee nodded, tight-lipped. He watched his feet on the worn burgundy carpeting. “Make your life the ultimate expression of your own way. Not somebody else’s. Or just give in, get it over with and give Devon the ultimate thrill. I’ll be waiting at home with a cross and some garlic.“ They hit the landing and Lee looked up, raising one slanting black brow. “I just meant, uh, the way it is, you’re like a panther in a cage.”

Reaching the entranceway, Lee held the door open and made a facetious bow. “I am humbled by your wisdom, grasshopper.” The wrought iron gate clanged shut. “Well, fuck me,” Lee swore. The weatherman had finally been right. The fog was gone, leaving the sky a flawless azure.

They hit the corner where old black men sat on a blue milk crates, enjoying the sunshine. Across the street, Chinese butchers yelled curses at each other. Blood smeared on their crisp white aprons as Lee snickered. A thin white chick with green hair strolled by, living proof that artists were invading Haight-Fillmore. Lee watched her walk, unaware of Terry's eyes on him.

The orange bus number seven groaned to a stop and they got on. A nervous young man in the back shot Terry a yearning look. Typical. Terry made a point of ignoring it, like always. They took seats in the front, Terry standing aside so Lee could have the window. As Lee slid in, he noticed a girl on the aisle staring at Terry’s skinny ass. He almost pitied the kid. Heads turned everywhere he went. The poor kid couldn't even buy a hot dog unnoticed. Being that beautiful was not without price. Beauty was such a double-edged sword. Seeing it made people feel things they didn't want to feel, uncomfortable things.

He worried about the kid. Having too much of anything was always a guarantee of suffering. Life leveled its own. Eventually.

The bus came up on Buena Vista Park. Abruptly, Lee remembered his youth, a lover, and the wild things they’d been in the bushes. God, they had been fearless then. Now, he bit his lip, and could not meet the reflection of his own eyes in the bus window.

Terry spoke, said something inconsequential about the sea gulls in the park. It slammed him into Déjà vu. Lee remembered this whole scene as if from a dream: his eyes in the window, Terry's voice saying something about seabirds, the brightness of the sky, and the red sweater of the woman in front of him. Déjà vu only came to him occasionally and always before sweeping changes. It was a sign that he was on the right path. It was a welcome sign. Go on.

Their stop was next. Terry poked him in the ribs, breaking rudely into his reverie. Lee looked at him with withering patience. "I know."

They got off the bus in silence. Terry stole a nectarine from an open-air market as they walked down the street. Lee gave him a stern paternal glare.

"So, what're you doing here, Lee?” Terry asked, handing over the fruit.

Say what?” Lee cocked an eyebrow at him. "Where?"

"Here. Hiding out in the Haight, running from your destiny."

Whoa, where’d you get that?”

From you. From listening to you, working out with you. You should be in Oregon. In Eugene. Taking over your teacher’s martial arts school like he wanted you to.”

Not you, too,” Lee muttered, quickening his pace. Except for Calvin, everyone seemed determined to get Lee up to Eugene. Sure, he loved it there. He loved the monastic purity of the school. But he couldn’t hold a candle to Calvin’s brilliance and he knew it. “No way.”

But you’re a master,” Terry said in all sincerity.

Stunned, Lee bit into the stolen nectarine. The juice ran down his chin. “I’m an idiot,” Lee growled, realizing what he was doing. “I’m not even master of myself. On a good day, I think I’m staying here till I meet some lesson. On a bad day, and I have plenty of those, I think that, yeah, you’re exactly right, I am hiding out in the Haight.” Lee wiped his chin with the back of his hand. “Anyhow, the fruit is delicious.”

A punk with a purple Mohawk cut in between them and walked away with the conversation. Lee was glad. Destiny was not his favorite topic. Together they took the street quickly. Lee in front, head down, lost in thought. Terry followed behind. Lee had no way to describe the vision that kept him in The City, no way to illuminate the sense of karma for Terry. But then, he hadn’t even tried.

Terry?” Lee called.

Coming.” Wind blew Terry’s laughter toward him. Terry ran forward, red scarf dancing against blue sky. Brown hair whip lashed into his eyes. He was running blind.

A beat-up red Mustang swung round the corner of Masonic fast, too fast. No time to think. Not even time to breathe.

Lee flung himself forward, grabbing Terry round the ribs, jerking him back, making a shield of his body. Lee felt the fast, frantic heaving of Terry’s chest beneath his hand as the red car screamed past. The fruit rolled, ruined, in the gutter.

"You okay?"

Yeah.” Terry didn’t sound sure. “You nearly got yourself killed,” he whispered.

Lee’s heart beat so hard it made him sick inside. He glared after the beat-up red Mustang. Terry was an innocent. Lee would not let this nightmare-come-to-life touch Terry. Not now. Not ever. He swore that to all the gods and angels - silently. Slowly, he relaxed his fierce protective grip, staying close until he felt Terry’s breathing slow under his fingers. Brown hair blowing into both their faces, the young man turned and studied Lee. “You nearly got yourself killed,” he repeated.

Lee shook his head. He didn’t care, didn’t care about anything but this moment. The blue of the sky, the teal of Terry’s eyes, the scent of patchouli, the taste of nectarine on his lips, it was all so splendid. Every molecule of his being quivered with life. Something caught inside his chest and tore open. Warm wine spilled around his heart and everything made perfectly imperfect sense. The leap his mind had taken could never be undone and that was perfect, too. But, he could not hold onto the instant of enlightenment, he had to let go and go on. He stepped away from Terry, speaking softly. “I’m glad you’re okay. Let's go."

***

Doctor King?” Doug, the blonde with surrealistic eyes, asked urgently. "So, you’re saying you don’t believe in evil?" She smiled. “And you, Mister-“

I?” Lee stopped. Like the hexagram in the I Ching he was named for, Kuan paused, contemplating. He took off the glasses he’d worn for the occasion and his black eyes sparkled beneath slanting black brows. Devon watched. Doug ran nervous fingers through wild curls. Doug’s wore multicolored bracelets that could not conceal the tiny red pricks over blood-blue veins. The tracks of a junky. She bit her lip, mind rebelling, body wanting.

Yes. I do believe in evil." Lee’s intensity rippled through the silent classroom. "I have only to look at history. Hitler. Stalin. Mao. Manson. The Nightstalker. Acts perpetrated upon the innocent with no other intent than to do harm and to take delight in that harm. Yes, I believe in evil. I think to do otherwise is dangerous.”

Devon coughed. “Yet, I think that we draw what we call ‘evil’ to teach ourselves certain lessons that can be learned no other way. I think life masters always forgive because to them there is no good and no evil, just force, energy, power. Even as the S/M practitioner learns to perceive the kiss of the whip not as stinging pain but as pure sensation. As power.”

Jaws dropped. No one spoke. Devon smiled sweetly as the bell rang. She spoke over the bang and clatter of sixteen students packing up to go. "And it is my intention that you all have a good weekend, so as to be rested for Monday's quiz." Still smiling, she turned to Lee. "You’ll be sure to put that stuff about Chi Gung on the test, yes?"

She had little time to relish the expression on his face. Doug approached, handing her a tattered paperback to autograph. She'd written that book a million years ago while in a London clinic, and it was far more fancy than fact. She knew so much more now, so many dangerous truths. Devon sighed as she signed; Doug's pinpoint pupils let Devon know exactly what kind of drugs he was on. Her body ached, remembering.

She walked Doug to the door and closed it. Now that they were alone, all the tension of last night flooded back into Lee. "You did well. You’re becoming more professorial by the moment. Elbow patches on the jacket and everything." Lee shrugged, diffident, uncomfortable. "Nice touch, the spectacles. Though I wouldn't make it a habit, for you have such lovely eyes."

"Give it a rest, Devon." Lee ran a hand through his unruly black hair. There were scabs and bruises on his knuckles that hadn’t been there the night before.

Devon blinked, all wide-eyed innocence. “You did really well.”

Thank you.” Lee tugged at his jacket, obviously ready to go.

Wait.” Devon stopped him, shuffling through her past, trying to pick which version of reality to feed him. “I’m sorry I froze on you last night. It’s just that – that my father used to drink and then he’d… he’d…”

Lee blanched. Her implication was obvious. She didn’t need to say anything more to make her story seem like gospel truth, just stand back and watch his beliefs about her – and his anger - crumble away. “I didn’t know. I’m so sorry, Devon. I didn’t mean to push.”

You didn’t. I just have some awful memories. They creep up on me at the worst times. I’m sorry.” He shook his head, shouldering all the blame. “No. You’ve every right to be angry. I was a tease and it wasn’t fair. It won’t happen again. May I lure you down to my office for a drink and an apology?”

I should practice.”

She gazed at him imploringly, baby-blue eyes wide beneath sweeping taupe brows. The look had never failed her with any man. “One drink?”

You’re asking me into the Forbidden Zone?” No one entered Devon’s office, though speculation ran wild among the staff. “Is it true you keep shrunken heads down there?”

Only a few. Ex-lovers mostly.”

At that, Lee grinned. “I wouldn’t miss it.” She dove down to retrieve her briefcase, and then took his arm. They walked together into the hall.

In the elevator, Devon let herself lean against him briefly, feeling the warmth of his body through the repressive layer of tweed, and remembering his fire. Lee turned away, checking the spectacles in his breast pocket. She glanced sidelong at him, watching as he wet his lips. If it hadn’t been for the presence of his addled roommate, if it hadn’t been for that smell of sandalwood that was so uniquely Lee’s own, or if the horrifying possibility of finally relinquishing control had not loomed so large, she would have given in to those lips last night. He’d been so tempting, all fiery strength, and promising need.

Devon stifled a sigh. His last two words - we can’t - had sounded so final, as if he were actually intent on ending their dance. Those words stole sleep from her. Perhaps he truly believed in his resolve. Testing, she brushed against him as she tossed her hair. Her perfume filled the closed space. His tension increased. She allowed herself a tiny smile of victory as the doors slid open.

This way.” The basement hallway hummed before them. Down here, where it was permanent twilight, she ruled. Devon walked loosely, at one with the place. Their footsteps echoed over the sound of distant fans and the buzz of fluorescent lighting overhead.

So, this is it,” Lee mumbled as she jiggled the key in the lock. “Sanctum sanctorum.”

Price of admission, your mind,” Devon quipped. The door creaked open. Lee hesitated on the threshold. The musty basement smell was thick with Nepali incense. Moves unerring in the dark, Devon clicked on a desk lamp.

The framed picture behind the carved, teak desk was massive. Kali, a dancing Hindu Goddess, looked down on all Devon’s work. She had six arms and ate the entrails of the husband who lay, slain, at her feet. The voracious grin on her black face stunned Lee Kuan.

Whew! I heard it rumored but didn’t really believe it,” Lee muttered as Devon waved him into the Queen Anne armchair. He sat, not taking his eyes off the painting, no doubt remembering all the rumors that had circulated at her husband’s death.

Unfortunately, she couldn’t take credit for Ian’s demise. His cirrhosis had left her a very wealthy woman with a dangerous reputation and a passel of Ian’s ‘friends’ who appeared from time to time wanting money or favors. She did the best she could, paying them off if they threatened to talk too much, keeping some connections yet never getting too close to the treacherous pleasures of the past.

Devon,” Lee said quietly. “I’ve never been anyplace this creepy.”

Why, thank you.” Devon laughed. “Tunes?” Crossing to the teak credenza behind him, she touched a remote control. Samba music filled the air. “It was all the rage in Hong Kong when I was growing up,” she explained as she silently came to Lee’s chair. ”Drink?”

Looking down at the cup Devon offered, Lee nearly jumped out of his seat. It was a brass-rimmed human skull. Devon laughed as she put the trophy on the desk. She’d wager that the hairs on the back of that strong neck were standing in silent ovation. At Devon’s age, her carefully cultivated persona was one of her few remaining powers of thrill.

It’s never been consecrated,” she said walking behind Lee. “But the skull is real.”

Sure looks real.” Swallowing hard, he tried to act blasé. “A trinket from Nepal? A souvenir of your travels? A traveling companion, perhaps?”

No.” Devon smiled, pouring and offering Lee a proper snifter of brandy. “In Tibetan tradition, it is a symbol of universal compassion.”

Wonderful,” Lee muttered, staring at the skull while he took a cautious drink.

Gambai!” Devon toasted in Cantonese. Lee replied in Mandarin. Barely nodding to the hypnotic Samba beat, Devon watched Lee sip the liquor. It looked to be strong. It certainly smelled deadly. She’d bought the ‘medicine wine’ the last time she’d been dragged back to Hong Kong on family business, meaning to give it to Kuan. However, the trip dredged up too much past. Since returning, Devon’d tried to keep her distance from him. She’d failed.

Go on, try it,” Lee said. “Or I’ll think you’re poisoning me.”

Quite right,” Devon agreed absently. The golden brown liquor burnt her tongue. Along with a trace of peach, she made out the papery taste of ginseng and the sweetness of honey. “It’s delicious.” A clarinet solo filled the office. Lee was dark and quiet, his shields almost down. Devon reached out, but her hand curled back on itself. Devon knew the rules, she’d invented them. Lee smiled, but the trouble had not left those dangerous eyes. In China, it is said that the most powerful beauties are snakes. Lee was born in the hour of the snake, in the year of the Monkey, in the year and month of The Beloved’s death. “Are you sure you feel all right?”

Yeah.” Lee cut his eyes to the side. He looked worried, raw.

I know you’re hurting. I know you have secrets. Things you hide inside. You have to let them out. Suffering festers in silence.”

I know,” Lee muttered. So Chinese. He had no idea how beautiful he was.

Keeping it inside, abandoning yourself to solitude, it isn’t good for you.” Lee simply shrugged. "I thought a spiritual warrior never surrendered himself to anything. Or anyone."

Lee took a deep drink and gazed at her sternly. “I don’t.” His voice was harsh.

Electricity shot through Devon’s belly. Blood rushed to her nether lips and she swelled, opening, desiring. Some people can only love once. Devon thought she was one of them. She’d loved once, in Hong Kong, at sixteen when she was invulnerable, when she was sure that she, true love, and the Beloved were invincible. But he’d proved her wrong, he’d turned to dust, and living became her private Hell, living locked away from his face. Then she met Lee. In the right light, but for the color of his eyes, he looked much like her lost love. He was an unawakened miracle, born so near the Beloved’s death.

Smoke?” Devon lit a black Sobranie and offered him one. Despite his finely developed martial arts skills, he smoked like a Hong Kong street tough. Like Sai Man.

Lee made a point of lighting his own Camel Filter. He leaned in to take the lighter out of her hand. Then he saw the photo on her desk, one of the few she had of Sai Man and herself. Lee picked it up gently, careful of the heavy silver frame. Devon fought an impulse to tear it away from him. Instead, she watched in fascination as his sharp black gaze traced the image of a face so very like his own.

I grew up in Hong Kong.” She offered the information casually, taking the photo from his hands, showing no sign that Sai Man’s death was stuck in her like shrapnel no surgeon could slice away. If Devon could, she’d make a deal with the gods and swap their places. She loved him that much. Every man, every woman, every love after that had been secondary, replaceable, temporary, useless.

Hong Kong, huh? Is that where you got your taste for martial arts?” Lee asked.

Who says I have a – taste for it?” She came round the front of the desk and sat upon it. Lee kept his gaze fixedly on her face, ignoring the long slender legs she flaunted before him. “I hate martial arts.”

Why?”

Doesn’t matter.” Devon shook her head. Sai Man had been a kung fu man back in Hong Kong a million years ago when she was sixteen and full of dreams. Now she had only nightmares and an empty heart. Now she had Lee Kuan sitting before her with that shuttered look on his face and so much promise in his body. All she had to do was awaken him.

Lee was carefully unresponsive to her silky display. He had chained his perilous desires to a wall. She did not know why or when and he would not say. But those desires were rising now, writhing like a snake about to shed its skin. She only had to wait.

Smiling, Devon defaulted to small talk. “I see you never got around to cutting your hair for the demo.”

Yeah,” Lee laughed shortly, running a hand through his shaggy mane. “I’m having delusions of Samson-hood. Maybe I’ll fight demons and grow up to be a hero. Maybe I’ll find a way to live in this world that doesn’t hurt so much.” His glass was empty. Devon refilled it. “And, maybe tomorrow night I will perform as the Drunken Master.”

I saw what you’re planning. It’s wonderful.” demonstrating T’ai Chi and Kung Fu at the Institute’s fund-raiser was bound to bring in more business. As Calvin Lo’s student, Lee held a certain cachet for Martial arts aficionados and New Age buffs alike. His performance would establish Lee’s independence from his teacher. That was the chief reason she’d arranged it and encouraged him to be most unorthodox in his approach. “I’m sure you’ll be a success.”

Why do you push for all this, Devon? You get me this job. You bring me into your classes.” On an adequate per diem, Devon noted. “And now this demo. Why?”

Kuan had an unerring psychic sense. At times, it was positively unnerving. Too bad his perceptions were unclear about that derelict of a roommate he’d taken on. Terry Spencer was a beautiful loser. All sculpted cheekbones and strong square jaw, those Caribbean blue eyes and café au lait skin would only get Terry into trouble. As far as Devon was concerned, Terry Spencer needed to be taken out and shot.

Why?” Lee asked again.

Because you’re a good man fallen on hard times very like our Institute. Because the morning meditations you led at Big Sur last summer were remarkable. Especially for a man whose marriage was collapsing. Because you’re amazing at what you do. Because you remind me of someone I once knew. Because I can. Pick any reason, they’re all true.” Lee frowned, obviously unconvinced. He had so little sense of the profundity of his effect on other people.

Just accept it. And relax. I'll be forty six this November. I’m entitled to my whims.” She smiled gently, feeling the corners of her wide mouth draw up as wrinkles formed under her big blue eyes. Growing older with every breath. And he so young, so strong, so solitary. She wanted to fuck him on the desk, to have him fill her with his youth and vigor, to push aside his hesitations and let her thrust inside all his secrets. She closed her eyes. Neither of them made a move.

"Forty six," she whispered. Late in autumn, late in life. Age advanced without a sound. “How bloody strange.”

"Yup, I'm turning thirty.” He had the audacity to look sad about it. No matter what he wanted to believe, Kuan was still so young. Just coming into his own, now that he’d let go of the wife and all the conventional baggage that went with her. It was abso-bloody-lutely high time.

Kuan was a fire monkey, no mistaking that. Short and passionate, he was in a rush to teach people how to get peaceful. Long and leisurely, Devon was in no hurry. She would just go home to finish another book that’d cast people headlong into a crusade toward spiritual mastery. Home was no place for her these days. It was too lonely. Here it was little enough, laughable enough, to be comforted by the proximity of a man who looked so like her lost Beloved.

Together, they sat in silence, listening to Brazil 66. “I hear Jeff wants to hire you when he opens his new school. That ought to be interesting, Aikido, T’ai Chi, and Chi Gung.”

Yeah,” Lee said, exhaling smoke toward the fluorescent light above. “I heard that rumor. But, I dunno.” Devon stretched her long, long legs, admiring her new black ankle boots. Lee bit his lip. “My dance card’s kind of full.”

And besides, aren’t you promised to the inestimable Calvin Lo?” She watched Lee run a hand through his thick black hair. It was the only outward sign of the tension she felt building in him. She was hard pressed not to smile, not to laugh outright. His battle with his feelings for her was so pointlessly noble. “Do you think it’s your karma to work with Lo?”

Lee looked up. She wrapped up his eyes in hers. “Yes. I do.”

Do you ever get the feeling you’ve known him before, in another life?”

All the time.”

Is it good karma?” she asked, crossing her legs. The thin black silk of her skirt rode up on her thighs. Lee struggled briefly to ignore her silky display. And won. He gazed on her as if she were art. Devon wasn’t used to such an impassive reaction from a man. “Is it bad karma? Or merely strong sensation?” Lee held her gaze, letting her know, without strain, that she wasn’t winning. “You know that hate creates as strong a bond as love.”

I do. But the word karma is bandied about so freely these days. So inaccurately. Just because you made certain - choices in one life doesn’t mean you’re doomed to repeat them in another. Sometimes it’s best to just – let go. To break the bondage of desire.”

Ah. Desirelessness. Spoken like a true monk.”

Yeah.” Lee’s little lopsided grin was ironic. So like Devon’s treasured memory. But Lee’s eyes were so uniquely his own, obsidian eyes. “I was a monk. Once. In another life.”

I know. I see that in you. The Tibetans say that being a monk is one of the highest levels a man can attain. It’s only steps below getting off the Karmic wheel altogether. But, here you are.” She slipped down off the desk, coming close. “What happened?” Lee said nothing, yet she felt sure his recollections were real. Just as she was sure his desires, his needs, were real. She circled his chair, touching his hair, his shoulders. “Was it a woman? A man?”

Lee looked up at her. Though she could not read the expression in his eyes, a heaviness of meaning was there, waiting to be decoded. “Nothing happened. I fell in love.” Devon knew he was telling her things he’d never told anyone. She had that effect on people. “And I did nothing about it. Because it wasn’t right.” His voice, though hushed, was very firm.

I see,” Devon said, though she did not see at all. Lee’s warning had been clear. Despite it, Devon found herself weaving webs to bind the younger man to her, knowing all the while that she was concocting the end of her world as she knew it. Devon simply could not help herself. The pull was inexorable. The past, the past, the mighty past was pulling her under and Devon welcomed the tide.

But the desire was there.” It was always the same. Desire bound you to the wheel, kept you coming back for more when you didn’t think you had enough life left in you to go on, desire brought you back, begging for more.

From what I remember, yes.” So, Lee remembered. Or thought he did.

Do you still have the desire?”

Lee pressed his lips together tightly, not meeting Devon’s eyes. “Yes.” His voice barely rose above a whisper, but there was a world of emotion in it. “Yes.” It was all he said.

Then, maybe this time, the goal is to just let it happen.” Like the scent of the South China Sea in Hong Kong, memory was everywhere, and everywhere intangible. Devon wondered if Lee felt the pull. But those eyes, like smoky mirrors, only showed Devon her own reflection, her own need. Closing her own eyes, Devon twined herself around his neck.

Don’ play with me,” Lee said, pulling away.

Who says I’m playin’?” She crouched before him, wetting her lips, ready to kneel. She ran her hands up the strong swell of his thighs, ready to stroke the thrust of life in him. He caught her wrists.

Don’ play with me,” he warned again. Her fingers curled round and stroked the backs of his hands, touching the hurt places on his knuckles as his grip relaxed. Abruptly, he rose, pulling her with him. She let her head fall back, looking at his lips and waiting to have him take the kiss she so plainly offered.

Staring at the black goddess dancing behind Devon’s head, Lee squared his shoulders, and put her hands aside. “I need to go,” he said, quietly, firmly. She hollowed her cheeks and set her jaw, keeping her eyes veiled. Lee picked up his drink and drained the last fragrant drops. She watched the subtle movements of his throat and wanted to taste the skin there, but didn’t dare. He had beaten her so completely.

The demo’s tomorrow, and I gotta go rehearse the kids for the big show.” He set the snifter on Devon’s desk with a decisive clink. “Thanks for the drink.” He glanced around the office and this time that lopsided grin crept into his eyes. “And the atmosphere.”

The music switched off. A prerecorded hiss sizzled through the dank basement lair. Devon watched Lee cross to the door. “Jian Li,” she said, using his Chinese name. The man spun, waiting like an arrowhead ready to fly. “Be careful tomorrow night.”



Chapter 4 – Tectonic Shift

"Retreat, Ride Tiger," Terry intoned. Loudspeakers shrieked feedback into a milling crowd. The six figures moving onstage showed no reaction, just kept flowing through the ancient moves of T’ai Chi Chuan. Their black Kung Fu uniforms were stark on the plain stage. Lee, all in white, led his five students with grace and authority. Monks with yellow robes and shaven heads played drums and bells in subtle rhythm. Terry, stage right in a purple paisley shirt, read off the names of moves like mantras.

Incense rose toward the stage. Lee rippled through the moves as smooth as spring water on rocks. A Tibetan bell chimed. Stepping back, shifting his weight with infinite patience, every molecule moving in rhythm, Kuan wore a subtle smile. ‘Ride Tiger’ was his favorite phrase in T'ai Chi. One who rode the tiger could rarely climb down without being devoured. It was the kind of absolute commitment he loved, the kind of opportunity he sought. Passionately. That was one of the reasons Terry admired him so fiercely.

Sweep Golden Lotus,” Terry said. Slowly, outstretched palms were slapped with Chinese slippers as the kick was completed. Despite the elegance of the move, spectators stared leaden-eyed, hoping for some action. Even Terry’s richly trained voice couldn’t slice the fog. The crowd was restless. A performance of T’ai Chi Chuan struck some observers like an attack of narcolepsy. Jay would never understand the hungry mob and their need for bread and circuses. Lee did. He’d known that Open House Night would be a tough sell for an art like his. That’s why he was saving the fireworks for later.

Lee coached his students through the final moves using only his eyes and the barest exaggeration of motion. You wouldn’t notice unless you’d studied under the man. And, despite his protests, he was a master. The rapid progress of his students was evidence. They were light-years beyond the hulking and stuttering movements of last semester.

Cross. And conclude,” Terry finished. Slowly, Lee’s students turned their palms to the earth, letting go of the flow. The little group bowed to scattered applause. Cameras flashed. With a quick and bashful wave, Lee quit the stage. The smiling monks from the Western Addition filed off after him.

Thank you.” Terry smiled, careful not to step on Lee’s applause. He read the pages Jay’d slipped him right before they’d gone onstage. “Tonight it was our intention to present a short form of T’ai Chi Chuan so that you could see it is truly a way of meditation - of mind/body alignment” God, Jay’s writing was dry. Eyes were glazing in the crowd. Terry struggled through the rote description of T’ai Chi, trying, with his actor’s voice, to make it sound exciting. “…An ancient way of promoting health and long life.”

Some people listened politely. Some got coffee. Shanti warmed up for her yoga demonstration. Lee wandered around the transformed cafeteria. The lunch tables were pushed aside, leaving only twelve for Institute of Inner Harmony catalogs, student art exhibits, New Age handbooks, and a zillion copies of Devon’s latest tome.

It was 7:15 on a Friday evening in the Haight Ashbury District of San Francisco and Devon King looked as if she could think of a million places she’d rather be. But she smiled for her public as they flocked round the table piled with her books. Noblesse Oblige. Devon struck a pose for the camera. Rude cafeteria light glinted in her blue eyes and silver blonde hair. With a boyish grin, a heavy woman in Birkenstocks pointed a camera at her girlfriend and Devon. The High Priestess of Weird meets the Dykes from Berkeley. Say Cheese.

The Teaching staff was out in force, an eclectic mix of counterculture shrinks, ethnic artists, and New Age philosophers. They were thought junkies, they collected perceptions, ate ideas, smoked theories, crapped concepts, and tonight they'd drawn a full house.

Some of San Francisco's more colorful citizens had turned out for this evening's entertainment. Several berets, a Mohawk, and a few tie-dye headbands studded the crowd. Hair colors ranged from florescent green to aged ivory. Berets and dreadlocks and nose rings studded the crowd. Old hippies rubbed shoulders with yuppies slumming in search of soul mates.

College kids kept the refreshment tables stocked with finger foods and made vats of coffee. Four huge pillars dominated the rear of the cafeteria, coated with colorful mosaics representing Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. Up front, white lights washed over Terry and the bare stage. Beyond this well-lit rectangle darkness led into the kitchen and out to the street. Lee kept to himself, skirting the shadows.

Still reading, Terry watched as he was absorbed in a clot of his students. Lee nodded and congratulated them. Yet, his eyes kept darting to the door, as if he could escape who and what he was. Mandy, the cute little Nurse from 2B, waved. Across the room, Devon’s watchful gaze was hot, blue, devouring. The red glazed chips of the Fire column gleamed above her silvery head. Oblivious, Lee gave Mandy a wink and a smile. Terry’s heart beat faster.

Good job, bro!” Bobby Amamoto, six feet tall and matinee-idol gorgeous, glided across the room, slipping an arm around Nurse Mandy’s slender waist. Kuan looked up at Bobby and Terry read his face. Lee resented Bobby’s extra height and especially hated that Mandy was on his arm. But he forced a tight little smile and scanned the crowd.

Devon rose, coming around her white draped table like a thin white goddess in an exquisite Armani suit. The men in the cafeteria watched her move. Her beauty mesmerized. Devon’s books, mystical travelogues of Nepal and other exotic places, made her The Maven of Metaphysics in the New Age Eighties. Her fine white features and eccentric British charm served her well. She’d done book tours, TV, some amazing talk radio, and even gone on tour with the Stones (at Keith’s behest). It showed.

Thank you, thangyouverramuch.” Terry’s voice boomed, Elvis-like, from the microphone as he turned a page. “Tonight, I'm proud to present a… Wow! A very special guest, direct from Eugene, Oregon, T'ai Chi Master - Calvin Lo."

Stunned, Lee turned to lead the crowd in their scattered applause. Calvin came out of the darkness near the kitchen door, looking every inch the master. Calvin Lo took the stage. He wore a navy blue Kung Fu suit, silk and impeccably tailored, gleaming in the key light. His keen eyes searched the assemblage, quickly finding the one face that mattered: Lee’s. Bowing to the crowd, Calvin winked at his student. Smiling apprehensively, Lee returned his Master's bow.



Calvin took a loud, deep, breath. His carved-bone face was serious as he held aloft his weapon. A murmur ran through the crowd. “In T’ai Chi Sword, the weapon is used as a focal point,” Terry read. “A conduit for extending Chi, or vital essence, beyond the body.” Calvin waited, cutting his eyes to the side. Lee knew the look meant get on with it, already. “A way of developing inner energies.” Terry stopped reading and inclined his head slightly, obviously thrilled to be part of this.

The room fell silent. The golden sword was engraved with dragons along the blade, glinting white light back into spectator's eyes. The red silk tassels from the grip swung in a sudden wind that swept the stage from the open fire door. The Master drew a breath and sank, beginning the form, becoming the form.

The sound of Calvin's breathing filled the hushed room. Lee knew that rhythm as well as he knew his own; he had spent years following it through class. In T'ai Chi, the quality of breathing controls the quality of movement. The Chi, vital energy, circulated with the breath, lent strength or softness, balanced Yin and Yang. In T’ai Chi, it is vital that all things balance. In life, it was a goal.

Calvin's sword set was exceptionally difficult for most. He executed it with his usual grace and precision. The crowd gasped as Calvin spun through a series of leaps and turns like lightening. Lee knew Calvin went slow for effect. If he worked at fighting speed the onlookers would only see a blur. Lee knew the form: a thrust, a spinning tornado kick, and another thrust. Now. The point of the curved blade vibrated dangerously, the trademark of T'ai Chi sword technique. Calvin was a master. He made it look so simple. True simplicity is very difficult.

"Oh, damn, I’m dead. I’m so dead,” Lee muttered, choking on stage fright. He’d created a most athletic musical form. It was deeply unorthodox for a student of Calvin Lo's. If his innovation tanked, Lee would rather Sifu wasn’t here to watch.

Don’t worry,” Devon whispered. “You’re his number-one student, right? You could go out there and hula dance and he'd forgive you.” Her fingers adjusted the high collar of his white Chinese uniform. She leaned in close. “You look so terribly handsome tonight.”

A mixed thrill shuddered through Lee. “Uh, thanks.” He sighed and hoped for the best.

Calvin ended with a spin and a final thrust. There was silence, then thunderous applause. Calvin had not broken a sweat. His eyes came back from a quiet place, returning to the raucous here-and-now in the middle of a bow. Applause rang through the room. Next, Shanti would demonstrate yoga and amaze the crowd with her contortions. Lee was on in fifteen minutes.

Sifu!” Calvin and Lee collided in a backslapping bear hugs and a stew of greetings. “What’re you doing here?” “Freaking you out.” “Nee hao?” “Nee hao mah?”

Won't you introduce me to your teacher?" Devon stood a hand’s-breadth away. Calvin’s smile froze when he looked up at her. Lee performed the introductions mechanically, his voice sounded oddly stilted, metallic, even to his own ear. There was some essential wrongness between the two, some darkness that flowed from one to the other like ancient oil. Lee felt the Judas just by saying the words, “Calvin Lo, this is Devon King.”

"Master Lo." With a poisonous smile, Devon bowed so deeply that it was an automatic affront. Calvin responded perfunctorily, as if this white devil didn’t know what she was doing. But Devon King had lived in Hong Kong. She’d given a slap in the face without touching skin and she knew it. Her big blue eyes glittered, serpentine and cruel. "I'm delighted to meet you." There was poison in her tone.

Bobby broke the tension of the moment by coming over with Mandy in tow. The girl tripped and sent her tomato juice flying all over Lee’s new white jacket. She was horrified and he lied, saying it was all right. He shuddered, the red blooms on the white silk looked too much like blood. Calvin stared at Lee’s chest. Kuan knew his thoughts; this was not a good omen.

Lee shrugged off the apologies, using the moment to take Devon’s arm and lead her away from the group. When they were in the hall, he shucked off the jacket, mopping his chest with it. He bit his lip. Performing wearing only trousers and tomato juice was not gonna make this evening any easier.

Neither was Devon. She followed him to the small office, studiously avoiding his gaze. She watched the empty hallway outside through the glass partition. “You come here.” Lee ducked behind the counter, rummaging through the coat rack to find another shirt. She came, hips swinging, eyes on the floor. When Lee was tired of waiting he said, “Excuse me, but what was that? Why were you so rude to Calvin?” The room rang with silence. Lee came close to her, close enough to kiss. “You don’ wanna make me choose.”

You want truth? I’ll give you some truth. Your precious, peaceful, Calvin killed my lover.” Her hot breath beat against his face, and her words broke a barrier inside him. “Ask him about it, ask him why he had to leave Hong Kong. Ask him about Sai Man Lim.”

Stunned, Lee froze. He recalled the man in the photo on her desk, the man who looked so much like him. “I’m sorry,” Lee said because he did not know what else to say.

Devon lowered her head onto his shoulder and Lee held her. Calvin had spoken of bad times in Hong Kong and of a time when he’d put the martial arts aside and atoned. Lee’d never understood why until now. A lifetime of beliefs quaked and split open inside him. For the first time, Lee did not want to be like Calvin, he did not want to live with blood upon his sleeve.

Devon wound herself around him, stroking his back, caressing his buttocks. Lee stood like stone. Speaking before his lack of response became an issue, he whispered, “I have to go.”

Trapping him with her arms and her shapely thighs, Devon whispered, “Not yet.”

Lee pointed to the clock. “I have to get some clothes.”

No,” she said, running her hands over his body. “You’re perfect as you are.”

A chill played across his back and Lee glanced out into the hallway. Small groups of people looked at tables of literature or talked quietly. Turning farther right, a silver cross earring glinted treacherously. Everything inside went brittle and cold. Erik leaned against the wall wearing black leather and a lean jaguar look. His silvery gaze caught Lee, connecting like a hammer blow. Lee started forward.

Devon stopped him, pressing against his chest with surprising strength. “Wait, wait.”

Pulse pounding, Lee shook his head. He did not speak. Keeping his face frozen required all his focus. Lee had no words to describe the nightmare feeling that twisted in his gut. Like tectonic plates, his reality shifted, groaned, and split open.

Erik grinned at him. With his blonde hair spiked for the occasion, Erik raised a foam-white cup. He’d witnessed their tender little scene. It showed in his mocking smile.

Hot blood surged through Lee’s body, every muscle tensed. He knew, suddenly and with absolute clarity, how Calvin could kill. If there were somehow he could get away with it, he’d rid the world of Erik. But Devon took his hand and stroked his arm, nudging her body against him, standing between him and Erik. “Please, please, I see that look on your face.” Lee watched Erik smile and slouch away. He started toward the door but, Devon held him. “Whatever it is you don’t have to settle it tonight. Not now. Not here. Please.”

Breathing hard, Lee forced himself to listen. Tonight, he would demonstrate more sense than he had in the Stockton Street tunnel. He would practice his principles and truly act as a man of Tao. He would simply walk away. Breath in… Breath out. Stay loose. Yeah, right.



Go on. Be brilliant,” Devon said. Shaking back his hair and raising his chin, Lee looked toward the cafeteria door, determined not give Erik even a stare. Good for him. Devon nudged him forward. “I’ll see you afterwards. Break a leg.”

Nodding, Lee exhaled his concern and focused. Someday she would tell him how smashing he looked, but this was not the time. There was a fire to put out.

She’d seen Lee get his back up. And she knew exactly why. Determined to do something about it, Devon King stepped out of the office with the grace of a ballet dancer. Slipping into Mistress mode, Devon grew taller, younger, more menacing as she closed the distance, slicing through conversations like a thin blonde razor, intent on the man with the silver cross earring. She found him at the end of the hall. Posing against the peach-painted wall, Erik smiled languidly, arrogantly. Waiting.

Devon King regarded Erik with lowered head and a fearless gaze. With a slow, conscious grace, Erik arched away from the wall he’d been warming. Slowly he crumpled the white cup. He let it fall. Devon planted herself in front of him.

I need to see you outside.” Devon always spoke quietly when she was in command. Unlike a roar, it forced attention. “Now.” Erik looked at her incredulously, and then a sliver of a smile lit his silver eyes. “Keep your head down, and follow me.” Slowly, the younger man stood erect and, even more slowly, he bowed his head.



Erik admired the crazy courage of the tall blonde woman. He also admired her ass. This one hadn’t let herself go to fat, she’d held up very nicely for her years. But then so had he (with a little help from a plastic surgeon he’d been seeing during his Sydney days). A little nip and tuck around the eyes, a bit of surgery on his pecker to make it hang longer, a bottle of bleach and bango! he was a hot number again.

So he was a bit long in the tooth. Some people liked those what were experienced. That’s what they called him down on Polk Street, the Vice of Experience. He had more repeat customers than many of the younger, prettier boys. Johns sensed that there was no trick he would not turn, that no act, no vice was too perverse. Erik knew he was evil. And so, from past experience, should the illustrious Mrs. King.

Don’t you recognize me?” he asked, pausing at the fire door she so clearly expected him to open. Erik saw something flicker in her big blue eyes. He teased that shadow. “Ian would be sad to see this day.”

And what day would that be?” Devon said, pushing open the heavy door and motioning him through. The woman was clearly used to getting her way.

The day you turn away one of his good and faithful servants.” Devon hollowed her cheeks and folded her arms. Erik reached for his jacket pocket. “Just getting’ me ID, allroight?” Taking care to make his fast hands move slowly, he extracted the lavender card from his wallet. It was tattered, but unused. Devon did not put out her hand, she didn’t need to, she knew one of her dead husband’s IOUs from a meter away. “ ’Ere we go. My get out of jail free card.”

And what - service did you perform for him?”

Oh, I got him a bit of this, a bit of that. And you, too, if you remember. I’m Erik. Erik Slade. I played the man in the leather mask at a few scenes you may remember?”

Devon flushed, memory dawning, but she did not reach for the card. “Just go, and we’ll call it square.”

Erik stood and stared. He remembered the nights vividly. All of them. That one night in the alley, and the others too. He’d been in it for her old man then and not altogether interested in her. But he could be now, he could be.

Slamming the fire door open, she paced away, leading him up the cement steps and away from the door and the lights. Erik knew she did not want to be seen with him, and that was alright, that was okay, he was used to this sort of treatment. But he had an idea that things wouldn’t always be this way. He smiled as she walked them into the darkness of the parking lot and he didn’t stop her. Erik strolled by her side as he felt in his pocket for the handle of the ceramic switchblade knife he’d brought with him from Australia. Devon drew abreast of the red bottlebrush tree. Erik didn’t try to slow her down. He just got ready.

Swifty, with his long reach, slipped out of the shadows and caught her in a bear hug from behind. Devon fought like a tiger, immediately trying to swing her head back and stomp on his arches. Swifty was too coked up to care. Like usual. Seizing the moment, Erik swung round. His blade went snick. He saw the surprise on Swifty’s face.

The big black man wasn’t shocked at the sight of the switchblade, that was prearranged; he was shocked at the softness of breasts beneath his sapling-hard arms. He’d been expecting a bloke. But Erik had found another way to bedevil that little Chink and this woman had a warrior’s heart. Unlike Kuan’s, her manly bravery was not all show. Even now, she fought the big black man with curses and courage.

Dropping into a knife fighter’s crouch, making sure he looked good, Erik waved the knife at his co-conspirator. It was hard to avoid Devon in her struggles. “Stay still,” he hissed, sounding effectively heroic. “I’ll get you out of this.”

Dancing round the big man, he lunged. “Oof!” Swifty doubled over, opening his arms. Devon leapt forward. Erik caught her round the waist, trying not to grin as Swifty lurched away, holding one side like he’d been stabbed.

Go on w’you,” Erik cried. This routine had netted them many tips and many wallets from unsuspecting tourists in the parking garage outside Pier 42 and roundabouts. “Are you all right?” He asked the breathless woman in his arms, glorying in his Errol Flynn moment.

Devon nodded fiercely but kept gulping air so hard she could barely speak. “Come on, have a sit-down. It’ll do you good.” Erik led her over to Julio’s red Mustang and set her inside. “Don’t mind the mess.” It was a good thing the dome light was broken or she might’ve noticed the bloodstains.

He went to close the door but Devon put her hand out, and planted one foot in the street, blocking any speedy getaway he may’ve had in mind. It was a good move, another indication of her fine warrior’s heart, but he had bigger game in his crosshairs now. Chance, at last, looked to’ve swung his way.

He came round the other side and got in. “Now, since I knew your husband so… shall we say - intimately? It did not escape my intention that he was a very wealthy man. No doubt many others knew this also. And you are a woman alone. A perfect target.”

I can take care of myself,” Devon blustered.

Erik merely smiled. “You made some huge mistakes tonight. You went into a confrontation with a stranger that was more properly placed on a man. No Libbers nonsense, now, it’s true. Then you went out into the dark with a strange man. You fought a mugger – one should never do that if you’re alone or outgunned.”

I wasn’t alone.”

He had a hundred pounds on you, luv. Don’t be daft, any martial arts instructor would tell you to quietly surrender your valuables and get the hell away.”

Oh, so now you’re a master of the martial arts?”

No. I make no claim to that. Let’s just say I learned what I needed to learn to stay alive. And that is the service I can, and I’d like, to provide for you. I’d like to keep you alive, Mrs. K. Won’t’cha let me?”

Good Lord, what are you proposing? That I need a bodyguard?”

Well, puzzle it out. There was publicity that you’d be out here tonight. Someone tried to grab you. Who knows what for? I, for one, do not want to wait to find out what for. We’re lucky I was there, is all.”

Yeah.” Devon flipped back her hair. “I guess so. But still, I don’t think I need a bodyguard, I’ll just keep friends around.”

Erik knew exactly what friend she was talking about, and that wouldn’t do, that wouldn’t do at all. He favored her with his most charming pirate’s grin. “Well, per’aps, unlike your other – friends, I can set you up with a bit of this or that from time to time.”

Devon sliced him a cold blue stare. Beneath the pretensions to shock there, he read slow-boiling, unbelievable lust. That was something he could play to. Reaching slowly into his jacket, he got out a tiny zip-lock bag. Her eyes glistened as they ticked toward the dirty white powder. “China White. Your favorite, as I recall.”

The glisten in Devon’s eye spilled over, smudging black paint. Her hand ticked out, curled in, trembled. She sniffled, looking hungry beyond words. “If you’re not too particular, I could use someone around. For… handyman things, and ….” Her words trailed away. Her huge, haunted, eyes had not left the tiny packet. “And…”

For a bit o’ this and that?” She nodded, tears rolling down her cheeks. Erik turned in his seat and tenderly wiped her tears away. “There now, you’re just upset. Anyone would be. If this upsets you,” he said, waving the packet slowly between thumb and forefinger. “I’ll just put it away.” She snatched the packet. “Or not.”

He heard her raggedy breathing cross the cab of the car. “Shall I take you home?”

Devon did not look at him. She just shook her head. Her chin wrinkled up as tears wet her cheeks. Clutching the packet, she could barely speak. “Just come by tomorrow.” Erik looked at her doubtfully. “Tomorrow,” she ordered in her low, hoarse voice. She wiped her tears away with a harsh and restless hand. Swinging both long legs out of the car, she said over her shoulder, “And thanks for - tonight.”

She was putting a brave face on it, alright. But Erik saw through her act. Though she squared her slender shoulders, she walked with the walk of the defeated. Erik smiled slowly. He’d be here for her now, watching, making himself invaluable. Waiting. His game with Kuan was only a warm-up, an appetizer.

Smoothing back her silvery blonde hair, Devon King walked into the pool of light surrounding the stairwell. The light caught and lingered in her big blue eyes as she glanced back at the red Mustang, now an amorphous, innocent shape in the night.



Lee swallowed hard as his name was called. "Oookay, Sifu, wish me luck." Lee took a deep breath. Electric applause jolted him. He walked into it. Terry smiled, clearing the stage. People stepped aside, parting their sea of faces. Rapidly, he climbed the steps and took his place.

In. Out. Lee willed his breathing to slow. Focusing as body/mind came together in a perfect line. White light tugged at the top of his head like serious moonlight. Lee was aware of Terry nearby at stage right. He clapped in slow motion. Lee followed his friend's eyes to where Calvin waited near the stairs, lending Lee strength. Sound and motion blended and faded away. He was ready.

Lee sank into the posture of a crouched tiger. He gestured with one hand and the tape began to roll. A gong sounded. Grace Slick’s voice echoed in the hall. Lee sank lower, energy bubbling into the pads of his feet. The first chord of the famous Jefferson Starship tune swelled. It was a rock anthem from the band’s metaphysical bender a few years ago. The crowd loved it. Suppressing a smile, Lee began. Moving slow at first in Shao Lin fighting forms, then bringing speed and style together as the music built.

At the back of the room, Jay Levine whispered to Devon. “From time to time, it’d be nice to know what’s going on at my Institute. Kuan only said his people would be doing T’ai Chi forms. He never said he’d be working out half naked to great tunes. Pretty spectacular, eh?”

"You think?" Devon replied breathlessly. “I’ve not seen such Kung Fu since I left Hong Kong. It’s innovative, but the movements are fairly typical stuff."

Not typical for my neck of the woods, babe.” Devon hollowed her cheeks, but did not look away. "Better watch out. Lo's giving you the evil eye."

Devon inclined her head and faded into the crowd.

Muscles gleaming, Lee spun with a fiery strength and gave a warrior’s scream. It was purely for effect, but it thrilled the crowd. Glancing back, Devon slid through the crowds and away. Lee flowed easily between Tiger and Crane as he into launched in another leap, using his hands and feet like claws of fire. He was completely engrossed, completely alive, flying high in a state of heightened reality. This was Kung Fu. He lived for moments like these.

It was almost over now. Just the punch, parry, deflect down, roll back, and wait. Lee dropped down into a coiled posture. It was not a pose most people could hold for more than a second or two. Lee hit the move dead-on and held rock steady for fifteen. Sweat gleamed on his naked torso, running into his eyes. He did not waver.

People began clapping like maniacs. Jay shouted “Bravo!” and cameras flashed. A streak of silver caught his eye as the last chord of the song faded away.

Uh- uhn!” Lee cried out as pain seared him. Grabbing his knee, he felt something sharp, something foreign imbedded in his flesh. Steel edges cut his hand, but the thing would not budge. He was falling and he fought the fall even as it sucked him under. The wound was fire, all fire. Guttural cries surged unbidden through his lips. He’d never felt pain like this, so stabbing and so sharp. Fearing another attack, he tried to rise, but could not. His leg buckled useless beneath him, spilling him sideways onto white.

Razor edges slicing fingers, he jerked at the thing that was lodged in his flesh and bone. It was a Japanese throwing star, a shuriken, that had been thrown by an expert. The sucking sound as he wretched it free was louder than thunder. The deadly silver snowflake fell from his slick red hand. Blood spurted through the tear in his white silk trousers, painting deadly blossoms, arcing out to spray the stage.

Lee saw it all in slow motion. Terry yelled, rushing forward. “Stay back,” he cried. There might be more trouble coming. He squinted out at the crowd. It was getting hard to see, everything was dark, foggy, all the colors gone to gritty black and white, only his central vision was clear. Still, he watched the darkness behind the white pillar.

In a heartbeat, Calvin was there, shielding Lee with his body. “Call 911!”

Terry’s face suddenly loomed close, kindness mingling with horror. “Are you okay?” Lee nodded, fighting back a moan, trying to hold the blood inside. It surged out between his fingers, regardless. “Get up,” Terry pleaded, trying to pull him erect.

Like a wounded animal, Lee jerked away. The ragged tattoo of his breathing filled his ears. Using all his strength, Lee clawed his way upright, only to fall, slipping in his own blood on the wide, white stage. Pain shattered his mind into black fragments.

Chapter 5 - Burns Like Napalm

Erik swept the kitchen floor while the illustrious Calvin Lo checked outside for the perpetrator of this evening’s entertainment. The man was intelligent and determined, all right, but he was pushing fifty and he was small. Erik felt sure he’d win any confrontation. But he was enjoying things so much more the way they were. It’d been no great trick to drive round the corner and park again. It’d taken no Houdini to slip in the kitchen door and go through to the cafeteria for a bit of fun.

They’d never even guess. Erik watched the small Chinese check every doorway, every window. Calvin Lo was very thorough, Erik had to give him that. He even stopped to ask Erik if he’d seen anyone come in or out of the kitchen, anyone in a hurry. Staying hunched over his broom, acting stoned and slightly stupid, Erik just shook his head.

College kids wandered in and out, looking busy but mostly ignoring their jobs. They were all abuzz about the bloody mess on stage. Apparently, Sifu Kuan was a great favorite. No accounting for tastes.

Erik said little, keeping to those few phrases he could use while truly sounding American. With his black jeans and bandana, Erik fit right in with the younger, arty set. He’d shucked his leather in the corner with the rest of the kids’ stuff and tied his black bandana over his platinum blonde hair. The trademark silver cross earring was in his pocket.

Lemme get that for you,” Erik offered. The lanky Neo-hippie was grateful to let Erik carry out another pitcher of tomato juice. Making sure to slouch and holding the pitcher high to hide his face, Erik went out into the converted cafeteria to take a gander. He stuck to the shadows and was amply rewarded.

The little Chink was down on the bare white stage, bleeding most eloquently. His too-handsome sidekick was right beside him. How touching. They were tying off his leg. The great-mouthed wound gave Erik a real sense of pride.

The room stank of fear and anticipation. No one noticed the skinny guy in the black bandana. Erik’s hands were wet with excitement. Crikey, there was a lot of blood. He felt its pull, its power, from here. He blinked at the stage, taking mental photographs. It was too bad he didn’t have his Polaroid. This scene would keep him hard for months. Erik knew he would revisit it often. The only thing that could’ve made it better was a kill.

But that, too, was coming. Kuan’s death had been decided tonight when Erik saw that little Chink with the beautiful woman in his arms. His end was coming, and it was going to be good. There wouldn’t be anything powerful about him when Erik finished with him.

Devon waited at the base of the stage, wringing her pretty hands. Anxiety carved harsh lines in her lovely face. Her eyes were wide and wild. The beautiful woman did not notice him. All she saw was Kuan. That would change soon. Devon didn’t like things what were broken and she didn’t like men that were weak. Erik knew that from long ago experiences that made him sweat the sweet sweat now.

The men onstage were on their feet and fixing to come down. As pleasant as that spectacle might be, Erik knew it was time for him to go. Picking up an empty pitcher with his damp hands, raising it high so he could smell his own stink, Erik slouched back toward the kitchen. Inside, several college girls were getting ready to leave. It was too easy to leave with them, too tempting to take one for his own.

Images of that white, white stage and that great wide puddle of blood filled his head, leaving his loins singing with excitement. But he would be strong and stay strong. He knew a trick that would pay to take a ride on his excitement. And money, in any form, was always good. Sliding on his leather jacket, Erik followed the girls out into the sweet early San Francisco night.

***

The small office was quiet. Terry sat beside Lee on the aqua vinyl sofa and watched him carefully. His skin was glossy and translucent as white jade. His thick black brows stood out in sharp contrast, and his movements were loose, his eyes half-closed. Every sobbing breath caught in his throat. All the pain he’d pushed aside claimed him now. He didn’t try to hide it. Terry sat with him in silence, honored by that trust. Not knowing what else to do, Terry took his hand.

Hey! Jian Li!” Calvin’s inimitable voice buzzed from the doorway. “What you doing?”

Uh, bleeding,” Lee answered. He quickly jerked his hand away. His eyes were tear-bright while scarlet streaked his cheeks. “Can’t do much else right now, Sifu. Sorry.”

Calvin entered the office with authority. He pushed the sleeves of his white jacket higher on his forearms, and then hooked his thumbs in the pockets of his pleated pants.

You’re his teacher, sir?” Dr. Flash spoke respectfully, showing some understanding of the profound significance of this relationship in Lee’s life. Their bond was more than a cultural thing. Calvin and Lee were closer than most teacher – student duos. Calvin had been father, brother, priest and healer. Lee’d lived with Calvin’s family, even delivering a daughter when Calvin was snowed in at a Colorado airport. Flash addressed him as a family member. “I was an Orthopedic surgeon before I went into general practice, and as an Ortho-pod, I’m concerned his injury could be serious. I won’t know how bad it is until I get in there, but I want to treat it aggressively. And he needs to help.“

Dr. Flash, AKA Gordon Zirkov, avoided using his surname because of its unfortunate rhyming properties. He’d been a Medic in Viet Nam before he tuned out, turned on, and opened the Haight Free Clinic. Lacing his stethoscope around his neck, Flash turned to Lee. “Look, hoss, I need you to stay with me now. I know how you are about injuries. And you know I know. So, here’s the deal, I’m gonna sew you up the best I know how. But if you strain this again, if you fight before this is truly healed, you could be disabled for life. Life. Got it?”

Lee nodded grimly, staring at the floor. “I’ll be fine,” Lee muttered. “I’ll take it easy.”

No. You need surgery. Then you’ll keep it braced and rest!” In case Kuan wasn’t clear on the concept, Flash thrust his big, bearded, head up to Lee’s shuttered face. “You’ll rest. And you’ll stay on the medication. No bullshit. No going out to avenge your honor, none of that shit. You’ll need at least six weeks down time. Then you can start with herbs and acupuncture, okay? And I’ll be by to check on you, hoss, you know I make house calls. ”

Six weeks,” Calvin said. “You understand, Jian Li?”

Lee nodded, but the dead look that’d come into his eyes at the word ‘disabled’ did not go away. “Six weeks. No cowboy stunts. Take the meds. Wear the ugly-ass brace. I hear you.”

Flash peered closely into Lee’s face to make sure. “I’m not trying to be hard on you, hoss, but I know how you do things. This time you cannot fuck around, this injury could cost what you’ve worked your whole life for.” Lee’s chin wrinkled but he met Flash head-on, stare for stare. “Okay. You got it. I’ll meet you at the hospital.”

Terry wondered how the hell they were supposed to get there. Aimee hadn’t shown up yet. Damn the girl. Swallowing hard, choking down panic, Terry remembered that someone had called an ambulance. Lee was really, really gonna hate that. “Man, I am so sorry this happened to you.” Lee merely glanced away. He didn’t even sigh. “Lee?”

I think I’m gonna be sick. Can I have my gym bag?” Terry gave him the canvas bag, hoping Lee wasn’t going to use it as an air-sick bag. Calvin gently plucked it away.

You’re sick from the Morphine. It’ll pass,” Calvin said quietly, coming to Lee’s side. Terry stood up, relinquishing his place, and watched them carefully avoid looking at each other so that no one would notice the two fat teardrops Lee quickly brushed away. Rustling through the gym bag, Calvin got out a bottle of brown liquid. He rubbed it into Lee’s back. The smell was like nothing Terry’d ever imagined, a blend of bugs, alcohol, metal shavings, and spice.

What is that stuff made of?”

Cicada casings,” Lee muttered, staring sickly at the bandaged lump that was his knee.

Sorry I asked. Are you going to be okay, man?”

He’ll be fine!” Calvin answered too quickly. Though he’d been in the US since ‘56, he hadn’t lost his little Hong Kong accent. “You gonna need someone to take your classes for a while.” Lee cursed. “I can help out a few days, but after that… You got somebody?” Lee looked up at Terry. Calvin followed suit. Grinning like an idiot, Terry bowed his head. “Okay,” Calvin said. It was settled. “You gonna be off your feet for a while so your wife-“

I was, um, meaning to tell you about the divorce,” Lee said. Calvin’s feathery brows shot skyward. He’d been in Hong Kong nearly a year, visiting his father and refining his T’ai Chi. Phone calls had been sparse and Lee’d been too embarrassed to write of his domestic troubles. “Sorry. There’s always Uncle.”

You need more than Lao Lou,” Calvin insisted, shaking his head. “You can’ do this alone.” Stubbornly silent, Lee groped for his bag. “Yi! This is disaster,” Calvin muttered, setting it just out of Lee’s reach. ”Ai ya! You gonna need some help.”

I’m fine.” Lee groaned, reaching for the bag.

You need help now?” Lee shook his head, nearly passing out when he bent over to grab at the bag. Calvin caught him before he slammed face down onto the tiles. “See! You’re gonna need some help, laak ge!”

Weaving in place, Lee said nothing. His lips were white, his eyes unfocused.

I’ll help,” Terry said, helplessly. Slowly, both men turned to Terry, poor hapless Terry, who’d never even managed to keep a houseplant alive. “I’ll take care of you. It’ll work out.”

Good,” Calvin replied heartily, but his eyes were not happy. Something about Terry plainly worried him. “Maybe fo’ a little while. But then you come stay with me.“

Hey, this what you lookin’ for?” He dangled a sweatshirt he’d fished out of the bag. “You are so stubborn. Put your arms up.” As Calvin pulled the fleece over Lee’s head, he kept complaining. “See, I had to show you that you need to accept help now, Jian Li. Ai ya! You never believe the fire is hot until you blow your balls off roasting. I think sometimes you are the death of me. I have never had a more stubborn or a more promising student. Now I gotta go call the wife. Don’ go anywhere. Oh, and Jian Li… Your form was pretty good." With a wink, he turned on his heel and went into Maggie’s office, closing the door behind him.

High praise from the master.” Lee almost grinned. “At least I’m going out with flare.”

Terry swallowed hard, wondering what in Hell he’d signed on for. Lee was the strong one, he was the Batman of this dynamic duo. Terry, boy wonder, spoke softly with borrowed sureness. “You’re not on your way out, Lee.”

Lee gave Terry a sad and grateful smile. “Never a truer heart, Ter. Thanks.” His eyes were heavy-lidded; the morphine was getting to him. “Thanks for saying you’ll help with the classes. You don’ have to.”

I know. But I will.” Lee rubbed Terry’s shoulder with his free hand.

The office was silent. Lee closed his long-lashed eyes. The metallic smell of bugs and tragedy was all around them. “Yup. It’s been a fabulous day. My stalker’s back, my career’s in limbo, my leg’s sliced open and I have never had such pain in my life. A fabulous day.”

You want some more bug juice?” Terry offered weakly.

Lee shook his head and gave Terry a little lopsided smile that did not reach his eyes. “Sure, we can teach together. I’ll sit in a chair like an old man and talk-teach. You’ll be my body, okay?”

Sure, I’ll be your body.” The man’s face was grim. “Are you hurting?” Lee nodded. “I thought the morphine helped.”

It did. But, Terry, this could be the end of my career. I could lose my job. I could loose martial arts.” His eyes swam with misery. Terry turned towards him, having no idea what to say. Martial arts were food for Lee’s soul.

Oh, God,” Lee groaned as pain wracked him. He reached out blindly, grabbing Terry’s shoulders. His grasp was iron. His breath was quick and ragged, slowly easing from the force of his will. Sagging forward, he whispered, “I don’t know if I can do this.” He raised his head. His eyes were tear bright, pleading for an answer. “What am I gonna do? What am I gonna do?”

Fight. You’re gonna fight, Jian Li.” Terry tasted his Chinese name for the first time. “You’re gonna win.” Terry hoped aloud, soothing Lee’s shoulders awkwardly.

Lee said nothing as he pulled Terry close. Every breath shuddered deeply out of Lee’s chest, moving them both. But he made no other sound. Terry just hung on, too stunned to speak, too hard-pressed to move. He had nothing to offer but his presence, nothing to give but his time. And the hope that it might be enough.

When they heard police radios squawking, Lee gently pulled away. “Sorry,” he whispered. They glanced back at the counter and saw Calvin standing there. He had one arched brow and eyes like ice.

Radios squawking, two cops came into the office. The female was a voluptuous broad who looked damn good in a police cap. Whacked out on morphine, Lee’s eyes said as much. Terry blushed for him. Her partner was a lanky Chinese who immediately tried to engage Lee in Cantonese. Lee, a speaker of Mandarin, stared blankly. The bandage at his knee was full and red. Terry knew right away that Lee and this cop were not going to like each other. So, he spoke up. “His doctor just gave him a shot of morphine.”

The nurse explained that to us, sir,” the zaftig brunette said. It was the most pleasantly Terry’d been blown off in quite some time. Terry was not used to being dismissed by women. He took it as a personal affront. She back to Lee. “And your name is?”

Kuan Jian Li. Kuan’s the surname.” Lee gave her the proper pinyin spelling. Terry showed no reaction, although it was a name Lee rarely used.

The cops split up. The partner took Calvin aside. Calvin jumped in, explaining everything in rapid-fire Cantonese, even acting some of it out. He put on a good show while Lee and the lady cop chatted quietly. Lee told her everything he knew but it was still little to work with. No, he hadn’t seen the perp. Someone attacked from shadows. Maybe it was a guy named Erik who was bottle blonde and drove a beat-up red Mustang. No, Lee didn’t know his last name. He had no idea why this man wanted to hurt him. Jealousy, perhaps. Erik had seen him with Devon King earlier.

Calvin swiveled around dramatically at the mention of Devon’s name. “And what were you doing with Ms. King?” the lady cop asked. “Embracing,” Lee answered softly. Calvin’s glare could’ve burnt a hole through Lee’s forehead. “And was she there during your, uh, demo?” Lee shook his head.

Everyone ignored Terry, the one white guy in the room. He seethed. It was obvious that this team was called in because the disturbance involved Chinese-Americans. Blood boiled in Terry’s ears as he considered the extra pain Lee’d had to endure while waiting for a politically correct team to drive over to the Haight. And, furthermore, it didn’t seem that the law was taking this bloody mess as seriously as it should. When Terry couldn’t take it any longer, he produced the gory weapon, holding the throwing star aloft like the key to a mystery.

The cop’s faces fell. “Well, sir, we can take it into evidence but chances are that your handling it got rid of whatever prints were there initially.” Terry could’ve wept.

Instead he tried to remain calm while Officer Betty Boop ran a make on Lee. “Hey, he’s the victim here!” She was polite but firm. It was Procedure. Terry wanted to puke.

The cops stepped into the hallway to confer and await the verdict of their radio requests. Lee sat, bleeding silently, his eyes on the wall. Both he and Calvin were unnaturally quiet, only Terry protested. Lee got whiter and whiter. Calvin, barely able to mask his concern for his student, popped his knuckles and fidgeted.

Is that John Lee Kwan, K-W-A-N, sir?” The Cantonese cop called over his shoulder.

Lee corrected him in a carefully steady voice. A single dark look flared between Calvin and Lee. Terry clenched the muscles in his jaw; suddenly aware that he was in the presence of realities he would never be able to fully understand.

This is insane!”

Ter,” Lee said very softly, keeping his face calm. “They’re running my name for priors and through a national registry. They want to see if I have gang ties.” Terry shook his head; it made no sense. “We’re Chinese. We’ve got stereotypes to live down to.”





The men hesitated at the stairwell. Fuchsia flowers, spilling over the stonework, caressed their shoulders, and lay crushed at their feet. The stars above were bright in the crisp night air. There was a crystalline clarity to each star, to each streetlight, to every tiny touch of light that painted this City out of night. Waiting was a game he’d almost mastered. Working with the dogged perseverance of true hate, Erik had long ago learned to wait. For weeks, for months, for years, if necessary, he could wait and he could watch without fail. This little vigilance was nothing to him. Just a tiny itch. He stood relaxed in the shrubbery, motionless and silent.

He was still excited from watching the ambulance pull away. It’d been a fine show. The cops had scuffed about on the pavement for a while, looking to tidy Devon up, nosing about, and finding nothing. Having had many run-ins with the law, Erik could tell these coppers weren’t about to follow up. This whole event would be just another unsolved San Francisco mystery.

Snap! A fallen branch crackled under his feet. Suddenly, Calvin Lo turned towards the bushes, keys in hand. Erik froze deep in his darkest shadow, sucking scent from the wind.

You hear that?” Calvin reminded Erik of Kuan, he had that cocky way about him. But Erik knew, from years ago, the fragility of Kuan’s manly pose.

I’ve got a question,” Calvin said. “What you know about Devon King?”

Terry shrugged. “Not much. I know what I’ve heard, what everybody knows, I guess. She was hot during the seventies, wrote a couple of bestsellers, on free love among the aborigines or some damn thing. I heard she toured with the Rolling Stones once. After Altamont. She was some kind of rock star of the New Age. Then she started to get really weird, and faded out of sight. Now she’s appointed herself Lee’s guardian angel.”

She’s no angel.” Calvin spoke with utter finality. “How close are they?”

Terry put down the bags slowly, straightening his thin shoulders. “I don’t know. Lee’s a gentleman. He doesn’t kiss and tell.”

It’s gone that far? That’s bad.”

Damn straight that’s bad.”

The parking lot was eerily silent. A pinkish light glowed in the far left corner. A stand of thick bushes grew on the right, beyond the bougainvillea. For a long moment, Calvin took measure of the younger man. Erik enjoyed watching him squirm. “Y’know, kid, I knew Devon long ago. In Hong Kong. I knew of her, actually. Saw her a few times. She was beautiful, like a Praying Mantis. All her lovers seem to die. Somehow. Since then I’ve heard of her, everyone has. That Devon King, she plays dangerous games: mind games, spirit games, skin games. She’s been playing cat-and-mouse with me for years. Then she set her sights on Lee. Got him this job. But she never showed her hand till now. Why now? Why tonight? Why Lee?”

You think she was behind this?”

Calvin nodded, serious as a gravesite. “Oh, yeah. It’s not all smoke and mirrors with her. Never has been. Strike at the future to avenge the past. You heard Jian Li. She’s seducing him and he’s ashamed. And she wasn’t there when he got hit. Where was she? You can’t rule her out. Cherchez la femme. It was true in Hong Kong, and it is true in San Francisco.”

Erik smiled at Lo’s righteous indignation. He fingered the silver throwing stars in his pocket, the flat and the sharp of them. The skills required to use the stars wasn’t so very different from throwing a proper boomerang and he’d had years to work on it. He could take the little guy out. Now. But it was too soon, too public.

I know what went on here tonight,” Lo thundered. Erik was amused to see how wrong he was. “She either had him hit or hired it done. Maybe because he rebuffed her, maybe because he didn’t. Either way, it was perfect to take him down tonight. With me here. I wish she’d just crawl back into her dungeon and leave my boy the hell alone. But I will be watching her. I will be watching when she self-destructs. Because that is exactly what will happen.”

Calvin,” Terry said doubtfully. “I don’t buy it. She’s in love with him.”

Nostrils flaring, Calvin froze. “Johnny Lee’s too smart for that old whore.” Erik tensed, every muscle suddenly shocked with cruel voltage. It was all he could do to stay quiet, stay hidden in his dark shadow. “He’ll never fall for it. They have tales in China about women like her, fox spirits out to steal young men’s strength and their lives. He won’t fall for it.“ The short Chinese stalked off into the deserted parking lot. The pretty boy followed behind, carrying bags. Perfect prey. Dead men. Walking.

The parking lot was dark and poorly lit. Erik touched the throwing stars in his pocket. Their edges were razor sharp, keen enough to do the job. He had cover of darkness. There was nothing to stop him from taking Calvin’s life. He’d avenge the fabulous lady and make the little Chink suffer all in one fell swoop. Erik bent low, blending into shrubbery, sticking to the shadows as he followed the small dark figure to the East end of the pavement.

Intent and focused on his prey, Erik stalked forward, every sense zeroing in on his prey. He did not see her until she ran into him. Her softness, her lilac scent, and her skittering footsteps all slammed into him at once.

Oh!” Aimee gasped as Erik caught her in a strong one-armed grip. Her small soft hands found his leather-covered heart and pushed away as her purse clattered to the pavement. Inside his pocket, silver sharp blades sliced into his thumb. He gazed down into a sweet, soft face that was rounded and white. Cast-off streetlight caught in the corner of her huge, dark eyes and glittered up at him like bits of star. It was all he could do to let her go. Erik was in love.

A-are you alright?” He stuttered, afraid she would see him quivering.

Yes,” she answered, bending to pick up her purse. Erik dove to help her, retrieving the heavy leather bag as he gazed into her eyes. “I’m fine.”

What’s your name?” he asked, expecting her to answer, Juliet.

Aimee,” she whispered, backing away. Her chestnut curls blew softly into star-bright eyes. Erik had seen her before; she went around with the Chink’s pretty boy. He’d watched her walk into that used bookstore looking like an angel, watched her going up to the apartment laughing. The memory of her kissing that fancy boy under the bookstore’s red awning burnt inside his brain. She must’ve been running to her lover.

Nearby, a car door slammed shut. Headlights came on. An engine revved and died.

M-my purse?” she prompted. Her tiny voice quivered in the dark, all breathy and frightened. The fear was so exciting. Erik longed to hear her speak his name.

Oh, sorry.” He’d blundered. Slowly, trying to keep his composure, he opened his trembling hands around a strap he’d forgotten he was holding. “Sorry.”

Have you hurt yourself?” Erik followed her gaze to his bleeding right hand. She backed away, taking two tiny steps, moving warily, as if he were an animal. Tears of embarrassment stung his eyes. He’d disgusted her, ruining everything.

Her small hand flashed forward, silver rings glittering. “Here.” She handed him a tissue. “Wrap it up.” She was so kind. So lovely. Erik backed away, moving into shadow so that she could not read his face.

The heavy fire door of the building clanged shut. Aimee turned toward the sound. Erik, in the shadows, yearned toward her. She was just a reach away. Just a reach…

Men’s voices slashed the night, vivid with life. One was cursing while the other spoke soothingly. Both sounded strong. A car’s headlights came on. Erik faded further into darkness. “Terry!” she called. She cast one quick glance at Erik and ran toward the voices and the light.

***

Devon stood silent near the empty office. She’d watched another man being borne away from her and she saw the caskets again. Two of them, one black and glossy two years ago, and another, white and grainy from a long-ago newspaper clipping. Her chin wrinkled and she nearly let out a sob.

Coming inside after her encounter with Erik, walking into a room full of music and life, the last thing she’d expected was this. But she’d never expected Lee to be so utterly remarkable either. His performance had stunned her. And now he, so excellent in motion, was lying on a gurney. So still. So much like the other.

Squaring her shoulders bravely, Devon turned and ducked into the stairwell. She wouldn’t chance the elevator. She didn’t want anyone to see her this way, didn’t want anyone to know who she was going downstairs to be. Her heels clicked on the cold concrete steps. With every step she debated her future, although she knew that the decision had been made in Erik’s red Mustang. Once she’d felt the weight of the bag in her fingers, and felt the bone breaking ache of that desire, Devon knew her squeaky-clean new life was over.

Once a junky, always a junky. Her family concealed her addiction for years after The Beloved’s death; she’d even hidden in her work from it – for a while. Her husband scooped her out of a shabbily genteel gutter and dried her out and married her. Years later, he’d bought the junk for her himself. When she was stoned, he liked her better. It’d been the only way he could get her to play the sick games his dying libido demanded. At first.

Devon stopped at the fire door. The drugs in her pocket were her way back into that world. Or worse. She hesitated, knowing that once she got to her office, she would use. The gray basement corridor gleamed through the wired glass window.

Invisible fingers tickled the back of her neck lightly. Whispering voices echoed inside her head. Her hand left a sweaty palm-print on the steel door. She waited, trembling, straining to hear and fighting not to hear. Failing. There was no decision, not anymore. Devon raised her chin and went through the door.

The lock to her office stuck as if anything were usual on this long strange day. Devon did not bother switching on the overhead light. Bumping into the chair Lee’d sat in, she crossed her office in the dark. The scent of old incense hung in the air. Devon shuddered, remembering the bundles of incense she’d burned after Sai Man’s death.

Then she switched on the light and stared at his face.

The photo was barely faded even after all these years. Devon had cared for it like the holy relic it was. She lifted the heavy silver frame, and Sai Man stared back at her, chin raised. He wore the white silk that Devon remembered, his famous white silk. He had tossed one arm casually around her a moment before the shutter snapped. And he had smiled that movie star smile that Devon remembered so well and still tried to replicate.

Devon lit a Black Sobranie and ran her fingers over his face. He had been born in the year of the snake, 1929, to a family who had immigrated to Hong Kong from Sichuan Province years before. He died in November, 1956. In the month and year of Lee’s birth. In her sixteenth winter. Sighing, Devon touched her own face. She was still called beautiful, of course. But the fine lines were not so fine anymore, the planes and angles of her face were not so well defined and, after a night like tonight, she could barely stand to look in the mirror.

It seared her to remember being so young. So beautiful. So bloody naïve. She remembered the passion, the delusions of invulnerability. Everything was so important then. Except the only things that really mattered.

How little we know of the tiny events that shape our lives: the missed phone call, the corner turned, the words not spoken, the quick run to the Club where you meet the One True Love, the impulse that becomes a brilliant career, the petty argument that turns out to be the last conversation – ever. The ‘just this once’ that lasts forever.

With trembling fingers, she got the tiny plastic bag from her pocket. She held it up to the light. The fine white powder had a delicious yellow tinge. In her desk drawer were the remnants of her bad old days: the tiny mirror, the razor blade, and the lucky hundred-dollar bill. With eager fierceness, she cut out a line of China White. It was a tiny bit of paradise, just a bump compared to what she used to do. But it was all she had. One quick sniff and poof! Gone.

She touched the photograph. It hurt to remember the smell of that hot Hong Kong day but she could not forget. Devon’s laugh was a bark of pain. That day was the first day she and Sai Man had taken opium together. “Just this once”. The day had led her here.

It hurt too much to remember the last day. She still heard his voice, still husky from making love, begging her, “Just this once.” Then never again. Forever.

Nothing could ever replace The Beloved. So she had never tried. She’d put away her youth and her love the same way she had put away Sai Man’s white silk suits when he no longer needed them. But before she put the last garment away, she buried her face in it just once, hoping to smell a trace of the man that had died. Not a trace remained, nothing tangible, just a few photos and all the memories she could not put aside no matter how hard she tried.

Yet all it had taken was that one split second tonight, when Lee had leapt and spun and flung her headlong back into Hong Kong. Then it was over. Lee had soared and bled and cried and was off to the hospital with his pretty friend, leaving Devon alone with memories eating holes in her head. For one short moment it had been as if The Beloved was there tonight, making her whole again. The moment passed. The pain did not.

It was branded on her soul, the memory of that love. It bent her double on the floor to weep. Even now. Some pains neither death nor heroin can erase. Some loves never come again. Devon wept, remembering the last time she’d kissed Sai Man. Clawing her way back into the chair, she stroked the image of his eyes. She would give her life to touch him again. Just once.

She dropped the tightly rolled hundred into the desk drawer. She shut off the light as the drug washed over her, all silken opulence. Devon let herself drift into remembrance. She would wait here for the sun to rise, for the things she had to do, for the pain she had to face. She would wait inside her wishes, imagining all the ways Sai Man would have loved her.

Chapter 6 - The Flesh Failures

Terry felt Aimee’s soft thighs pull away from his hips. “I’m sorry.” Looking up, he saw her as she would always remain in his memory, Ms. Aimee Brevet in black rubber bracelets and lavender lace lingerie. “I really am sorry.” Tossing her hair, Aimee got up and off him. Terry slid the condom from his rapidly retreating penis. Dropping the second skin full of disappointment into an overflowing ashtray, he sighed.

The noises of the crowded flat crept back into his consciousness. Sweet feminine chaos. Female artists in San Francisco. The flat was full of cats, lingerie, fancy soap, and mascara stained towels. Terry could only bear it for so long before he yearned for the monastery he called home. Terry sat up and reached for his jeans.

Terry?” She gave him that yearning look that cut to the bone. Terry hung his head and waited. Here we go again. Next she would pout and ask why he could not love her. Terry still had no answer. He couldn't name what was going on inside him, but it felt so true and unfiltered that it had to be Real. “Don’t you love me any more?” Whole body tense, he began to sweat.

Terry wished he could just give himself to her, in the kisses, in the loving. Like in the beginning. Their embraces seemed so strong and fevered. Then it became Diner sex, fast, good when you're hungry, and always available. But never, somehow, Real. Terry hid his face behind his long brown hair and yearned for a lover who would bathe him in kisses and afterglow.

Oh, babe, there’s nothing’ wrong with you. You’re a gorgeous woman. And I…” He hung his head and looked down at his body, the body that couldn’t give her what she wanted. Even his physique was changing, new muscles popped out everywhere while new, unnamed drives filled his belly with fire. He was not the same guy anymore and he was glad. But, poor, pretty Aimee with her little French accent was hurt by his changes.

He couldn't think about that tonight, not when they had a Big Night to Deal With.

Tonight, Calvin was bringing Lee home from the hospital. Terry was making his famous Mosticholli and playing charming host. If only he could figure out what - to a man like Calvin Lo - would be charming. Should he be suave while quoting Alan Watts? Could you even do that? Or should he exude a Zen-like simplicity? Or should he just go as he was and tohellwithit?

It was Calvin’s last night in town. Thank God. So far, they’d managed to avoid each other except at the hospital. Terry was really wanted Calvin to like him. After all, he was Lee’s Sifu. To Lee he was like father and brother and priest all rolled into one. Terry knew Calvin was not his biggest fan. It wasn’t as if Calvin disliked him - no, not at all - it was just that Calvin wouldn’t weep if he saw Terry at the vivisectionist’s all trussed up and ready for the first incision. Terry wasn’t sure why, but he wasn’t surprised. Lots of parentals found him unsuitable company for their sons and no one liked him hanging out with their daughters. That was understandable. For anyone dedicated to the straight and narrow, Terry was a menace. Too counter-culture, too hip, too much of a live wire, too wild. Oh, well.

He was an actor. He’d handle tonight. Somehow. He’d gotten through the Calvin encounters by being respectful, making sure everyone had what they needed, and otherwise pretending to be invisible. Tonight, invisible was not an option. Lee was stuck in silent, stoic mode. That left the charming conversation portion of the evening to Calvin. And Terry.

At least he had a great date. Aimee, with her heart-shaped face and her continental accent would take them by storm. Calvin'd love her, everybody did. Why didn't he?

"What?" he looked up, putting on his socks. "I'm sorry, did you say something?"

"Merde! I’ve wasted myself on you. Again."

"Nothing is wasted." Terry smiled, wanting to make her feel better. "Lee says..."

"Oh, fuck your roommate!" She threw a pillow against the wall. It landed in the ashtray. Aimee didn't notice as she paced, kicking a high heeled shoe out of her way and twisting the ends of her hair. Terry pulled on his shirt and silently screamed. It was always the same old song. "If I want your roommate, I would go with him. N'est ce pas? Do you think you could spend one night just you and me? Without quoting him. Or telling me about how the energy is circular. Just tell me I'm pretty and look at me the way you used to do. That's all I want, Terry. I just want my boyfriend back. Or my freedom."

"Aimee. You're as free as you ever were." His voice seemed so deep in this house full of women. He spoke very gently, but still she would not meet his eyes. "Remember our deal? No commitment. Free spirits in the eighties. Remember?" He raised her chin. "You're free. I don't have any claim. No claims, no chains."

"It is different for women. It is not so easy with the woman." No kidding, Terry thought. "We can only be with one man at a time. It is...how you say? Biological. It is." Aimee turned away, leaving him standing there open mouthed and empty-headed. How can you argue with a lady in a lace garter belt? She was stunning. Where had his head been at lately, thinking of her as a flaccid, white - thing? Terry sighed in frustration. He was getting so good at making himself crazy, so damn good.

"Baby, please. Let's put our biology away for now and get dressed. Okay, please? I will stare ceaselessly and unblinkingly into your big brown eyes all night long if you just do this one thing for me. Just get dressed and be your sweet beautiful self tonight, okay? I’m just a little bit scared to death. So, please, cut me some slack. Okay, a lot of slack. I’m way out of my depth here, babe. I'm counting on you to get me through this."

Is that why you can’t fuck me, Terry? Are you so obsessed with this crippled roommate that you can’t see me any more? You are either at the hospital or all the time reading these crazy books: Jung, Mishima, Nin. All the time you have some fancy answer about stress or energy flow. All I know is you can no longer be a man with me." Aimee put her hands on her hips. “And I, as a woman, do not wish to go to this dinner. I hate martial arts. It ees just a silly excuse for bad boys to beat up with each other. And I hate what it has done to you.”

Baby, I need you. Don’t fuck this up for me.”

Fuck? Fuck you! Fuck your roommate!”

"We’ll talk about it later, okay?” It wasn’t okay. She pointed at the door. Her eyes were angry and one violet nail pointed west. Terry paused, giving her one last chance. She was inflexible. He checked his Mickey Mouse watch (anything for comic relief!) knowing he was wasting his time. “Fine! I know the way out. Thank you so fucking much for your support.”

He slammed the door behind him. Like him, the gesture was impotent. If anybody deserved revenge it was Aimee. Doctor Dick just wouldn’t work and he’d disappointed her so many times. He stormed out of the apartment, ignoring the girl with green hair painting vagina portraits in the living room. Terry flew down the stairs, trying to shake the chaos out of his head.

Outside, the sun was setting on a surprisingly beautiful San Francisco day. The tourists in shorts had not been disappointed. Terry walked to the bus stop, head down, wondering how to patch things up with Aimee this time.

I’m leavin’ my pain behind me…” The homeless Rasta-man sang, begging spare change at the entrance to Golden Gate Park. “Hey, mon!” he called, long dreadlocks flying. Terry just gave him mournful wave and a dollar. He did not stop to sing harmony this time. As he walked away, Rasta-man serenaded him with the blues.

The Number Seven bus took forever to come. He lit a cigarette and let his thoughts unwind. Changes were everywhere, dangerous as a tiger. All was changing around and within. He could be eaten by the changes or he could ride them. Blood was singing in his ears and he wanted to grasp every moment with both hands. No matter where the changes took him, he would go. He wanted to ride that tiger. He was no longer content to stand and watch.

With a belabored groan, the bus pulled up. Terry boarded and sat down behind the driver, ignoring the penguins, the working stiffs. Terry shook his long hair at them and leaned back, closing his eyes. He knew by the stops by heart. Haight and Masonic – a few panhandlers would be shuffling down the street, hands out, and faces red from last night’s drunk, while their buddies slept it off on the benches outside the big orange School. Haight and Divisadero; too many commuters... Haight and Scott; the Queen Anne house with the huge Gay Liberation flag and the lousy paint job... two more stops into the black neighborhood where the old men would be hitting the street and the thunderbird. Haight and Fillmore; home, sweet home.

The breeze from Two Jacks Fish was ripe, but the coke dealers didn’t seem to care. The Butchers had stacked bloody boxes on the corner again. Across the street was the Organic grocery full of onions and celery and single mothers coming home from work. Terry got off in front of Walgreen’s, inhaling the buses hot metallic gas. He bought a paper and, as he waited for a green light, flipped to the horoscopes for June 23, 1986. "Today, you will be judged. Be at your best," it read. Grimacing, Terry ripped the horoscope from the paper and crumpled it up. He handed the newspaper off to some homeless guy in a Russian hat.

Hey,” the homeless man hissed, ducking toward the pavement. “God said He only wanted me to have the damn horoscope.”

Terry backtracked; his graceful swoop caught the wad of paper first. “Here. Now you tell God to stop shitting on me.”

First, get rid of the Angel of Death,” the homeless prophet said. Terry stopped, still as a stone. “Or blood will flow. See,” he said, rolling his head, eyes frightened. Terry followed his gaze to the iron gate but saw nothing. “It’s coming.”

Sure, dude. Havaniceday.” Terry backed up to his front door, feeling suddenly chill. Terry turned his key quickly, never noticing the beat-up red Mustang driving by real slow, never catching Erik’s wide-lipped grin, never seeing the silver gleam in his eyes.

***

On the balcony, Devon gazed out into the night, every sense vibrating, restless. Never one to postpone her pleasures, she waited, wrapped in fog and white lace. It was monsoon season in Hong Kong and she remembered too much. The wine at dinner hadn’t touched her, her stately Queen Anne home no longer pleased her, the man she had only whet unhealthy appetites. Nothing was enough.

A nightbird cried. She looked through the trailing white lace of her sleeve at the full moon. She still dressed in mourning. Devon sighed and gazed into fog, into memory. Another place - another time… “Erik,” she ordered without preamble. “Again.”

Spiked blonde hair gleaming in the lamplight, Erik swaggered up behind her. He held the precious vial, wearing his cock at half-mast, enjoying the memories the gray room provided. “C’mere, Angel,” he called. She turned. He smiled, but filled the tiny spoon sparingly this time. “I don’t like it when you do too much.”

You’re jealous of everything, aren’t you, love?”

Erik shrugged away. “I’m not jealous.” The silver cross earring swung angrily.

Of course you’re not. Give us the spoon.” Devon King sniffed white powder from a tiny sterling spoon. It was a hundred-year-old Chinese piece, part of a Gentleman‘s toilette kit, but so ornate as to’ve been displayed hanging from the belt. It’d set her back her a pretty penny. Everything she desired was expensive in some way.

Don’t take too much,” Erik pouted. He was sullen tonight. She’d let him stay in the gardener’s shed since she’d come upon him washing up. It’d seemed a good idea at the time. She’d somehow forgotten to tell him to go. Tonight, his insinuations over dinner were strong. He wanted to move into the house. Devon wasn’t sure. She’d hired him for garden work and a bit of this and that. That was enough for her. He wanted more.

Her refusal had not driven a wedge between them as she’d hoped. Neither had her involvement with Lee. Though she clung to Lee like a lifeboat, madness was all around her like an ice-cold ocean. Nothing eased the sting of need. Having a regular income, Erik stopped going down to Polk Street. Now he only sold drugs ‘socially’. Though she rarely left the house these days except for business, Devon was very social.

Silver spoon drifting carefully to one nostril, Devon tried not to shake. She told herself it was the last time, and knew it for a lie. She shuddered in the silence, echoes of anguished cries still haunting her. Too many memories. She stepped outside, staring into the evening through foggy eyes, watching the kaleidoscope images of memory unfold to take her in. Another time - another place. She ran her fingers through her hair as tears fell.

Devon ran young fingers through ash blonde hair worn fashionably long. Sai Man loved her hair, the soft blonde color fascinated him. He was not alone in his fascination. The tall slender gwai lo attracted much attention in the crowded streets of the Wan Chai district. Even at sixteen, she was fully a woman. Her allure was obvious. And dangerous. Sai Man liked it that way.

Now Sai Man repeated Devon's gesture, running his hands through her hair. A smile crossed his lean, handsome face. He sighed, looking into a face that gazed up at him with so much love, such excellent devotion. Sai Man wrapped strong fingers around the hank of hair and pulled - hard. Devon let her head fall back. He laughed softly and drew his finger across her throat as if it were a knife. She smiled and wet her lips. Tightening his grip, Sai Man sighed. "Even that? You’d die for me?"

"Yes. Even that," Devon replied breathlessly. Desire gave her a power that she hurled at him with her love, with her love, with her undying love. Sai Man opened her robe. He was naked, his white silks tossed carelessly on the foot of the rumpled bed. His fingers were rough, making her whimper with desire. Devon King shrugged away the robe and hung breathless, suspended from her lover's fingertips, completely naked, awaiting her master's desire.

"Anything, anything," she promised him in Cantonese. She spoke to him their secret words and ran her hands up the sides of her lover's body, a strong body, cultivated with dedication and zeal. Like warm marble beneath her fingers. Devon felt the rising of Sai Man's male peak, slow and irresistible. Soon, he would throw her down and drive himself roughly into her, over and over, as if he could imprint himself on her soul.

"On your knees," Sai Man commanded. Devon smiled and knelt, keeping her eyes on the face of The Beloved until the very second she took him in. "You are mine." The words hissed out into the pungent night air of Hong Kong. "Forever." Sai Man groaned as she nodded. This man was lover, teacher, and protector - the only thing standing between her and Daddy - Sai Man promised to be there forever. Life smiled. So did she.

Devon King still believed in forever. Apparently, forever did not believe in her. She leaned out over the balcony, weaving in place, watching her white lace sleeves billow in the breeze. White was the color of mourning and she was a widow twice over. Her husband counted, a little. Sai Man was first, last, and always.

It might be unwise to return to Hong Kong. There, every street corner was encoded with memory, every breath was wrapped in remembrance. Yet, she couldn’t simply sign over her share of the family business to her brother and have done. San Francisco was a most expensive town in which to live. And Devon lived not wisely, but very, very well.

Wrong met her at every turn. She’d been wrong to bring Lee into The Institute, to see his Kung Fu, to kiss his mouth. He made the past a living thing. She never should’ve subjected herself to these trials by fire. Li was the hexagram of fire in the I Ching. Lee, vessel of all that forbidden fire. Devon’d thought she was stronger now, was past all that. But... the face of The Beloved haunted her, tortured her with the belief that somehow, some way, he’d return.

Two Augusts ago, in the month of the Limit of Heat, at Big Sur, Lee appeared, the student of her blood enemy. His face was so like Sai Man’s that she could almost taste her dead lover’s seed. Poor Lee. He had as little vision as a serpent about to shed its skin and he resisted fiercely. Devon knew she should leave him alone, should grant him clemency, should allow him to live out his own destiny. She should not see him anymore. But, Shoulds be damned, the draw was inexorable. The past, the past, the mighty past pulled her under. Devon welcomed the tide.

Here, Devon, come back inside,” Erik said from far away. “You’ll catch your death.” She beat the air at him as if he were a bug, shaking her head. “C’mon, love, don’t be daft.”

Devon let him sink her into a wicker chair. He was talking, but her mind fell away from his insect noises and surrendered to the past. She stroked the white silk of her robe and remembered. Buttoning his white silk jacket, Sai Man took Devon's face in his hands. Devon smiled hopefully. Perhaps the Beloved would not leave so early tonight.

I am going to the old man's school. We need to settle things." Devon knew he meant to see Old Yu who ran the rooftop Kung Fu school. Sai Man hated his former teacher as much as he’d once revered him. The feeling was mutual. Yu was filled with loathing for Sai Man’s personal excesses, but no matter what curse he uttered, he could not revoke the fighting skills he had taught Sai Man. They were almost legendary.

One of Yu's students had challenged Sai Man in the street again. This time it was Calvin Lo, an impudent kid with a crew cut and a passion for American rock and roll. Sai Man was going to teach Calvin a lesson about respecting one's elders. Tonight. They would fight on the rooftop because kung fu was illegal in Hong Kong at the time.

Despite her love, Devon had little to say about how Sai Man ran his life. He drank too much and he gambled recklessly. She tried not to believe he had other lovers despite the stories about the boy in Kow Loon. She loved him. And she feared for him.

Someday his wild temper would get the best of him. At thirty-one, Sai Man still burned too hot. Sooner or later, there’d be one dare too many. But no brash kid like Lo would best him, so Devon contented herself with a single pleading glance.

Sai Man ignored her as she’d expected and put on a fresh suit of white silk. He always wore white. It was his habit since his mother died seven years ago. Sai Man wore white and did not sleep with his wife. This respectable pose gained him some face. He needed all the good face he could get. His family was respected. Sai Man’s dirty secret could bring them down. It was 1956 and Devon was sixteen. But secrets don’t stay secret for long, not in Hong Kong. Their scandal shook out by misfortune. Bad Joss. That was all.

There is a thing I need for you to do,” he said. “It will be difficult. But you must prove your love to me. There is a man. I owe him money, more money than I can possibly pay without my father knowing. And I pay or he talks. I need you to go to him and do for him what you did for me today. All of it, do you understand?" Devon understood. This evil man would forgive Sai Man the fortune he’d lost gambling, and stay quiet, for the rare privilege of an evening with Sai Man’s low fan lover. It was that simple, that impossible.

Devon protested. She would not kneel to another. Even for a night.

Sai Man pleaded, and then commanded. Devon begged and wept, but Sai Man was adamant. It was the fiercest quarrel they’d ever had and it was the last. Sai Man left that night in a white-hot fury. He never returned.

Whether it was his rage that made him clumsy, or his age, or any of ten thousand things, Devon never knew. The cause of Sai Man’s death was listed as an unfortunate fall from a Hong Kong rooftop. The impetus that sent him over the edge was the regrettable result of Calvin Low’s well-placed kick. Witnesses claim that if Sai Man had not come at Sifu Yu with a spear after the match, he would be alive to tell the tale. To come at Sifu like that, before his students, was suicide. Pure and simple. Suicide.

Bribes were exchanged and Sifu Yu apologized profusely to Sai Man’s widow, stoutly maintaining that his student meant no harm. A most unfortunate accident. Bad joss. Nothing else could be done, since young Calvin Lo could no longer be found in Hong Kong.

And so the incident was forgotten. But not by one girl, who heard about it days too late. One girl who would not kneel.

The phone rang, jerking Devon back into 1986. She lurched up out of the chair, hurrying lest Erik pick up the phone and find Lee Kuan on the other end of the line. But it wasn’t him. It was just dear old Jack. But Devon's sudden nausea would wait for no man, no matter how pretty. Devon told Jack she’d ring back in a drug-thick voice and staggered toward the bathroom.

Wait for me.” Erik’s voice followed her. His body was behind her, solid, ready to embrace all her faults, all the inequities of fate she vomited up now. Erik held her above the porcelain bowl, telling her all the while that he loved her, that he was the only one who accepted her true self, her junky self. He was the only one to help her as she swam through levels of consciousness. Lee’s body appeared to her like a miracle and the memory of him was in her mouth as she kissed Erik hard.

***

Lee ran gasping through fog. The burden on his back stabbed into his flesh. No matter how he turned or shifted, he couldn’t loose the dead weight. The Hong Kong street was rain-slick and smeared with strangers. The sidewalk was dented where he had fallen. The imprint of his body was outlined in a chalk that would not wash away.

A woman sang a song of mourning, a low and keening cry. He did not see her but could not escape the sound. Terry was down the street, in a loft, making love to two women. Lee was late to pick him up, panicked, looking everywhere for his car, but it was gone.

Erik strolled by, leather coat flapping wide as wings, brandishing a long sharp blade. He cut Lee casually, with consummate grace. The wound showed bone but did not bleed. Lee staggered into the street, trying to flag down a ride.

Razors of rain pelted his face. Strangers passed by, strangers with hollow-point eyeholes and mouths torn open in permanent screams. Still the woman sang. Fighting for every breath, Lee searched for an escape from her dangerous song.

Doorways surrounded him, blocked with wood and garbage. The street rose, steep, slippery, and narrow. It twisted away into fog. No matter how high he climbed, he could not find a place to rest. Gasping cold air. In and out. Blood pumping, legs moving, he was going nowhere. Fast. Strangers passed by, smiling at each other as their faces sloughed away to reveal sin and bone. He heard Terry’s voice and the women’s wanton moans, even as the thing upon his back stabbed into his flesh, seeking out organs, conjuring his death. “Terry!”

Dream flowers burst forth in fleshy hues, spilling onto the pavement, splitting pods that bled and reached for him with tentacles that oozed sperm-white. He slipped and struggled, trying mightily to right himself. Then his knee gave and, with a howl of pain, he fell. The thing on his back tumbled off. It was a dead man, chest spilt open, heart removed. Dream-strangers taunted him, laughing. Lee crawled on sticky pavement toward a corpse who wore his face.

No!” Lee’s eyes slapped open. The lonely bedroom was an empty bowl for his ragged breathing. Everything in him was ready to run, to fight. But there was nowhere to go, nothing to hit. Only memories, only dreams.

Ignoring his morning erection, Lee sat up. Every movement brought deep bone-grinding pain. The surgery had only condensed the ache. Lee fostered the delusion that one morning he would wake up and find that his injury was, in fact, a dream. Reality check. It was July 23, 1986 and the Summer Session at the Institute of Inner Harmony was ending. And the pain was always with him.

Breathing deep, he led his heartbeat back to a strong, slow rhythm. He’d gotten a lot of practice in that particular Chi Kung of late. Never a patient man, Lee found hidden reserves of strength inside. Maybe that was the point of this injury. There was meaning in all suffering, they said, there was always a lesson in pain. If he couldn’t figure it out now, he’d find out all about it on the next Bardo. No sense suffering over your suffering. Move on. No matter how turgid the waters of life - flow. Sounded like a good motto. He may as well default to philosophy. He needed something.

Lee heard Terry whistling down the hall. The kid always had a soundtrack. The tune du jour was ‘Many Rivers to Cross’. Poor Terry was right on the money, as usual.

Mercilessly, pain had eaten up their lives. June and July were a blur. Lee’d done everything right: surgery, acupuncture, moxibustion, herbs, exercise, even a round of steroids. Still, pain prevailed. He had to sweat blood for every inch of motion he got from his wounded knee. Ice packs after class, heating pads, herbal wraps, nothing worked. He glanced at the mess on his nightstand, looking for the brown bottles of relief. Lee hated taking Western medicine but only it could ease the pain.

Teri made him take the pills faithfully. He was a terrific nurse. He cooked, he cleaned, he took care of the bookstore. He even fluffed pillows. Good old Terry. He brought Mei Mei her favorite sundaes when she visited on weekends and kept her little room neat. She adored him. So did Lee.

Poor Terry couldn’t too thrilled about taking over Lee’s life, but he never complained. They were sort-of teaching T’ai Chi at the Institute; he talked his students through the moves while Terry played body-double. Lee didn’t think he’d ever get used to being the brains behind any operation, but Terry did fantastically well. Students complimented them on the innovative method. Lee was still embarrassed by the injury, still ashamed that he was no man of steel.

Yo, dude!” Terry called through the door that never quite closed. “You okay in there?”

Abso-bloody-lutely fabulous,” Lee replied, using one of Devon’s Briticisms.

Liar.” Terry nudged the door open with one bare foot. He wore a black towel and was shiny from the shower. The cups he carried spilled smells like heaven. “Café au Lait. You can take the boy out of the coffeehouse, but you can’t take the coffeehouse out of the boy.” Terry entered babbling. “You were screaming in your sleep again.”

I know.” Lee sounded unsure. He was. Since the injury, he questioned every aspect of his reality. Dream-demons haunted him, coating his eyes with webs he could not blink away. People smiled and he flinched, half expecting their faces to split and slough away, revealing other, darker faces.

I think it’s from the pain medicine. But you have to take it.” Scowling, Lee slapped another herbal plaster on his knee. The sticky white square perfumed the room with the scents of cayenne and eucalyptus. The bed and its environs were awash in books and papers. Notes for that martial arts book Lee kept threatening to write were jammed into a red notebook. Volumes of mythology rose in a wobbly pile from the floor. “And you say my room is chaos!” Terry handed Lee the coffee and fished two brown bottles out from under a volume of Joseph Campbell. “Time to drink the hemlock.”

Lee reluctantly agreed and set his cup beside the wineglass Devon’d used last night. He flicked it with a nail. Pink lip-prints on crystal echoed her lush kisses. Images from the night tumbled through his mindseye. He’d hated being so needy but it’d been too long between lovers. He’d opened his robe and put a stop to the tease. Devon didn’t seem to mind as she bent over him, licking his scar, taking him in her mouth. All her tender ministrations only took the cork out of the bottle. Now he wanted more. There was no way to coax the hungry beast back inside. He needed more.

Hey, Socrates, take your meds.” Terry handed him the pills, one white whopper for pain, two brown dots for spasms, all guaranteed to leave him in a stupor. Lee lined them up on the nightstand. He stretched. He yawned. He scratched. He put off the inevitable.

Terry stood over him, blowing on hot coffee, watching every move. Lee tugged the comforter closer around his bare body and reached for the robe Devon left so neatly folded at the foot of the bed. “So, how was Devon anyway?” Terry asked archly. Lee washed the pills down with coffee. Bitter tastes mingled. The dark crystal Devon had given him swung heavy over his heart. Lee shrugged into the heavy saffron silk robe Terry’d brought him from Japantown. It was the color of monk’s robes. “How was she?”

Lee tied the antique kimono smartly, with a martial artist’s authority. “We were preparing her final exam, Ter.”

Duuude! She was here past midnight and put you to bed buck-naked. Please.”

Okay.” Lee sighed. “She was okay.” After all the months of teasing, she’d been content to worship his cock. She’d held back for herself, saying that fucking would bond their souls for all time. Lee wasn’t ready for spiritual Superglue any time soon. Now that the fever had passed, Lee knew he’d been a fool to let things go as far as they had. But he flashed on her long, beautiful legs and the full softness of her lips. Nothing any sane man would reject. “I think possibly I have gone crazy. Maybe it’s these freaking meds.”

Terry sat in the one chair beside Lee’s bed, regarding his own big feet seriously. Long hair fell curling into his face. “All this weirdness will pass.” His low voice was soothing. He picked up the big blue brace stashed by the bedside. Its black Velcro straps flapped like oversize ears. “You’re just going through a rough time. It’ll be over soon.” Lee grimaced with the considerable and painful effort of raising his leg while Terry slid the polystyrene nightmare beneath it. “Pain bad today?” Terry buckled the brace around Lee’s ankle.

Yeah,” Lee said, without looking up. Deftly, he worked the remaining three buckles. Lace, tighten, fasten, he’d gotten used to the drill. But today his fingers were trembling. Without asking, Terry got up to help him. It hurt Lee to be this vulnerable, to need someone so much. “Let me,” Lee whispered. Terry moved away, leaving the scent of his shampoo behind.

Look, you’ve been great. And I hope you know that there’s no such thing as rent this month. You can spend all your money on women.” Terry grinned and his towel fell off. “Don’ get so excited,” Lee joshed, blushing. Terry turned around and scooped up the towel, shooting a bare-naked full moon. Shocked, Lee spilled his coffee. “Oh, just fuck me!”

I thought that was Devon’s mission,” Terry shot back, rewrapping his towel.

Grabbing the first thing he found, Lee dabbed at the stain. He’d grabbed last night’s underwear. Great. “Nice pose,” he razzed Teri.

Well, yeah, Mr. Hung-Like-A-Tree-Stump-And-I-Don’t-Care-Who-Knows-It, some of us are modest.” Lee tossed the coffee-covered Jockey short towards the laundry pile. “Nice shot.”

Tree stump?” Lee swung his blue-braced leg over the side of the bed. When he stood, both of them pretended he didn’t wince. “Tree stump,” Lee repeated, grinning, as he grabbed some clothes and limped down the hall. That Terry sure had a way with words.

The bathroom tile was cold beneath his bare feet. The whole time he was washing up and shaving, he thought martial arts. Almost like he was still out there doing his thing and looking good. “I coulda been a contender,” he told his reflection. It would hurt like Hell to miss the Tournament, but that was a thing to keep inside. The next Invitational wouldn’t be for five years, and by then – if he made a full recovery – he might be too old for full contact fighting. November and another birthday were just four months away.

Time was a twisty thing. Last year he’d left his wife after a six-year marriage that felt a week long. In January, in the last gasp of the year of the Ox, he’d found a Terry homeless and miserable in Golden Gate Park. Bringing Terry home had turned out to be a good thing - a very good thing. Time had flown by effortlessly. He’d even gotten used to Terry’s god-awful Mosticholli. It wasn’t a bad life. After all, classes were almost over and none of his students had dropped out. He must be doing something right.

Lee stumped out, dressed in loose cut-off sweats and a muscle T. He followed the scent of bacon and bouncy pop music down the long hall. Leaning on the doorframe of the yellow room, he watched Terry dance around the kitchen.

Ooh, baby, baby.” Terry sang along with the radio, making rock star faces. Lee smiled, wondering how anyone could be so good-looking and live, wondering what good karma had brought them together, and wondering how the young man would receive the heavy burden Lee’s next words would place on him. Terry was oblivious, hands slapping the thighs of his worn jeans. The light sprinkling of hairs in the center of his chest moved in time to the music. Imitating Lee’s obsession with weight lifting was paying off. Terry was building up, but his muscularity would always be lithe, boyish. Snapping his fingers, he spun into Lee’s serious expression. The light that caught in Terry’s bluegreen eyes was so bright Lee winced. “Dude, you okay? You look sort of - strained. What is it?”

Lee crossed to the little table. “Don’ burn the bacon.” Still frowning, Terry took the pan off the burner and joined him at the table. Coffee cups were refilled in comfortable silence. Lee took a sip, considering his words and what he would ask for. Then, he dove. “Ter, I want you to know I’m real serious about you not paying rent. You’re doing so much for me. The cooking, the classes, the cleaning...” Terry pursed his lips, plainly wondering where Lee was going with this. Lee gave Terry a pale imitation of his lop-sided grin. “You know how cheap I am so you better take me up on this. ’Cause it gets worse.

Flash checked me out yesterday. It wasn’t pretty. I need another month of down time. With intensive physical therapy, it’ll give me a 75 percent chance of regaining full function. I even found a therapist who’ll come here. There’re no guarantees, but it’s a shot, and I’m gonna take it.” Terry simply nodded. His silence made it harder to ask. “I’d like to know if I can count on you. I know it’s a lot to ask, but I figured maybe, without rent to pay, it’d be-”

You can’t afford that.”

Lee’s stomach clenched and swerved, afraid he was being turned down. Or maybe it was just the meds on an empty gut. Might as well put a brave face on it. “I have hidden resources, grasshopper.” He smiled. “Don’ worry. It would just be so much easier on me if, y’know, you could just keep doin’ what you’ve been doin’ – nothing extra- and stick around for a while.”

Terry touched the hard knot of his hands. “You know I will. I’m sticking. Count on it.”

Lee glanced out the window, not trusting his eyes. “I do.”

Then, keep your deal. Everything stays as it is. We’ll get by.” Lee opened his mouth, but Terry waved the protests away. “Doest thou forget I am a trust-fund hippy? I know I said I’d never touch that money unless there was an emergency, but I think this qualifies. And I think, for once, that my life is stable enough that if Mommy Dearest wants to look me up, then, fine, let her.” That was a huge step for Ter. “And I owe it all to you.”

Unable to bear the sincerity in Terry’s eyes, Lee got up and limped over to the sink. He got the carafe to make more coffee, covering his emotions with activity. Just as Terry covered his with words. “Lee, I am quasi-stable and semi-respectable at last and I only have you to blame for it. How could I not help you? How could I walk away from you? You didn’t walk away that day in the park, and you could’ve. Everyone said you should’ve. But you took me in and gave me everything I’ve got.”

Yeah.” With a wry grin, Lee slapped a roach on the backboard. “All this splendor.”

He rinsed his hands as Terry came to him. “This is the first Real life I’ve ever had. Why don’t you ever let me say how grateful I am?”

I thought we were past all that, Ter. Like I told you that first day in the park, I’ve been where you are. People helped me. I’m just paying’ back my debt to the Universe. Don’ thank me, kid.” He kept his face straight, his speech macho. Terry knew how he felt, there was no sense getting all emotional about it. “We’ve got class tomorrow. We should work on our moves before we eat.” Lee was doing his thing again. He wasn’t going to let anything stop him. “This week I wanna work on ‘Sweep Golden Lotus’ and you’re a little shaky on that move.” Terry made faces he didn’t think Lee saw. “This won’t take long,” Lee told Terry the dubious.

In the unfurnished leg of the room, Lee stripped off his brace. “Just be careful, okay?” Terry warned him, just like always, and then fell to studying the room. Lee followed his gaze around the room. Blue mats and swords hung on mirrored walls. Trophies glinted on a Cherrywood chest. Otherwise, the milk crates, the heavy bag, and the Weider weightlifting machine were the only furnishings. “I always worry when we’re in The Dojo of Doom.”

Hey! I only fell that one time.” Lee shook back long black hair and laughed. “You don’ need to worry so much, kid. I’m gonna take it light. See?” Lee hit a very conservative Horse stance, feet shoulder width apart, knees barely flexed. “Old man T’ai Chi.” Still, it was perfect T’ai Chi posture. Terry didn’t need to know how much it hurt.

I’m doing it backwards because of the bad leg,” Lee said, checking the mirror. His face was pale, but that was the only outer sign of pain. Staying loose, graceful, and placid, Lee was faking it incredibly well. He raised his hands (with willow palm) before him. Slowly, graceful despite the burning in his leg, he brushed each palm with his toes. The mirror reflected Terry’s admiration. “You go.” Not good. “See, the difference is in the hip, in how you hold your waist.” He got behind Terry. “You keep Dahncing it. I know you had training, but, man, this is T’ai Chi, not Swan Lake.

Try again. Slowly.” He put his hand low on Terry’s hip. “I’m not getting fresh. Do the move and let me guide you.” Terry sank into the proper stance, bending his knees. So far, he was doing it by the book: arms up, hands soft, neither reaching nor grasping. “That’s right. But, here-” Lee grasped Terry’s hips. “Tuck your hips more.” As Terry shifted his weight to the right foot, his left began to rise. “Now, feel me. Here.” He pulled Terry’s hand back to his hip and leg. “Like this.”

Red streaks rising in his cheeks, Terry swallowed hard. His palms were wet on Lee’s thigh. “Relax.” Lee pressed into his hips, urging him away from the automatic turnout he’d acquired in dance class. Energy flowed between them, strong and electric. He spoke very softly. “Do it like I would do it. Do it like you were me. C’mon.”

Terry completed the kick in super-slo-mo, toes reaching for fingers. “Good.” Lee stepped back. “This time, do it slow. With me.” He walked back to his place, squaring his shoulders, trying not to limp. “Now sink, and begin.” Lee watched their images in the mirror, two men, of a size, moving together. Just like in his vision. Terry met his gaze with the oddest searching and Lee wondered what it was he was looking for; whatever it was, he could have it.



Chapter 7 – Cutting Through

Erik Slade watched the lunchtime traffic on Stanyan Street. Loitering in Golden Gate Park, sussing out the bums and the tourists, watching the mums in MacDonald’s with their noisy brats, he saw death in every face. It was a bad day, a blackass day. Nothing had gone his way.

The fog had not burnt off by noon. The park bench was damp on his bum. Wet grass licked his leather boots, and the air was scented with eucalyptus and French fries. He smelled of sweat and denim beneath leather, a sad, defeated smell.

The scent of Eucalyptus reminded him of home, of a trip taken to the Blue Mountains of Australia, when he was a kid. The scent always conjured Sis’s face – smiling, before the scissors went in. She’d been a towheaded kid; now he dyed his hair to match. And Devon was blonde, a beaut blonde, who was coming along slowly, almost according to plan. Erik was patient, he was. But he was getting sick of sleeping in the gardener’s shed. She’d only wanted him that once. Nothing more. It burned him. Busy with her classes and her trip to Hong Kong, she’d done little to ease the burden of his dreams, those busy dreams that came to him each night on leather wings.

Yet, he persisted. He’d gotten close to the lady; he’d made her need him. But she bucked him. Even her trip had been an attempt to escape their growing bond; that’d been plain. She was a proud one, she was. He’d expected a fight, but he hadn’t expected her to be strong as a wild Mickey. Yet, in the end, it would not matter. He’d rope her like he’d roped those bulls. He was to have her. He just needed to stay strong.

The dreams urged him to keep his blade sharp, to feed its hunger. He needed man-blood; his own was no longer enough. Spilling his own blood soothed the beast inside, but settled nothing. He needed feeding, he was not food. Erik remembered Julio’s life spurting out with passion, covering him in shame and glory, feeding his blade. Erik touched the rattler’s tail he wore around his neck, the amulet he’d taken from Julio and washed clean. The dreams came every night on leather wings. They told him what to do. There was no sense resisting, for they operated outside of law, they fed on fear.

Erik stroked the rattler’s charm and rose from the bench. He turned toward the heart of Golden Gate Park, lollygagging up the path, like any other stranger. No one knew his true shape, his true power. He came to the tunnel beneath the bridge. Teenage girls shivered away from him, going quickly into sunlight as if they sensed the dreams that caressed him every night. He spread his arms, and his long leather coat swung wide, like night-dark wings. Erik strolled into the tunnel, darkness entering shadow, sniffing for new blood.



Smells good,” Lee said, smiling. The scent of Cantonese food filled the doorway of his Haight Street flat. Devon stood at the door with a paper bag in one hand and a box in the other.

The hall was cold and he was barely dressed. As soon as Terry’d left the apartment for his date with Aimee, Lee’d thrown off the brace and his shirt to practice punching. Her eyes brushed over his body, ignoring the new scar on his leg. “Looks good,” she said.

Yeah,” he grinned back at her. Her attire was casual, skintight black jeans and a blouse of turquoise silk. Lee let his eyes roam Devon’s body without apology. Her nipples were hard, getting harder beneath his stare. He wet his lips.

It’s lunchtime. I thought you might be hungry.” He was. He was hungry beyond reason and she knew it. She’d undressed him last night, sliding the robe off him slowly, and he still felt her mouth on him. They’d had months of foreplay. And today he’d reached critical mass. It was time to fuck: it was simple enough between men and women; it was something he was good at. The torture had to end before he got all twisted up inside.

For you.” He turned his eyes to hers, letting her know exactly what he wanted. She stuttered, but kept talking, blush deepening. “I- I’m not sure but I thought you’d like Abalone. It’s not Fook Lim, but…”

Thank you,” Lee said softly. Food was of little importance now. She was breathing quickly. He was getting hard. He slid his arms around her waist. “Feelin’ brave enough to come inside?”

Oh, I – uh.” He pressed his hips against her body. “Yes.” Her lips curved in a smile that was delicious as he kissed her. Sunglasses tumbled from the top of her head, leaving her silvery blonde hair in disarray. Lee took the gifts from her hands and set them on the weight bench. She dropped her eel skin bag and knelt to pick it up.

Lee stood before her, every muscle standing out in hard definition as he offered his hand. She smiled to see he wore her gift of crystal around his neck and smiled again as she swept her eyes along the inseam of his shorts.

Yes.” His word confirmed her diagnosis. “We’re alone.” His voice was smoky. Lee came closer, still holding her hand. Devon made a whimpering sound and buried her face against his hips. She bit his sex gently before he urged her to her feet. “Come with me. I want you to come.”

Devon followed him down the long hall. He drew down the blinds and closed the lace curtains. “Let’s not tease each other anymore, Devon.” Her lips parted. “Don’ deny me,” he whispered. He heard her moan deep in her throat as he kissed her and knew it for a sound of surrender.



Silence hung heavy in the noontime air. Surrounded by greenery, Terry sat hidden behind tall orange flowers, on the slope overlooking the Lily Pond. It was his favorite spot, his usual spot in Golden Gate Park. The fog gave way to a bright warm sun. Still, Aimee had not arrived. Terry tossed bits of grass down the slope. She knew to meet him here. This was his place of peace.

Usually. But today was different. He thought he felt eyes like grits of pepper all over his back. Lighting another smoke, Terry kept his back to the thick stand of trees and underbrush, defying the imaginary noises behind him. He definitely should not have watched that flesh-eating vampire movie last night, it’d given him the crawls.

Maybe he was just nuts. He’d been profoundly unsettled since the workout. Oh, yeah, now he was good at ‘Sweep Golden Lotus’, but he couldn’t get that mirrored look out of his head, that wild look Lee wore, like a jungle creature startled by lightening. Something changed then. Or opened. He couldn’t tell which.

Terry bit his lower lip, remembering the electric snake he’d felt unwinding in his belly when Lee touched him. Maybe they were getting too close. Maybe he was truly going crazy. Maybe it was just too much Chi rising to his head – he’d heard of that happening, heard of perfectly good martial artists who one day just get too much energy stuck in the old brainpan where it simmers until it stews and they go whacko. Or maybe it was just a bad day.

Terry dropped his head into his hands. Even hidden here, every sense was on overdrive. Help me, mister, my life is stuck in red alert. Terry forced himself to focus on the here-and-now. The grass was damp and very green. The sun was hot. Hummingbirds visited orange flowers. But Aimee did not show. She’d promised to meet him here at noon. He was late - yeah, sure - but he was always late. Aimee should be here already; she knew the spot. Terry bit his lip and shivered again. He felt eyes on him, hungry eyes.



Watching, waiting, Erik crouched in the bushes. Slowly, he caressed the blade of his knife. The cutting edge was razor sharp. The longhaired youth sat on a tacky red blanket and brushed grass off his jacket. Erik silently cursed as another branch cracked beneath his boot.

Babe? Is that you?” Terry called.

The Chink’s pretty boy had a nice low voice full of smiles and charm. That would be what Erik took first, slitting that slender throat from ear to ear. He’d heard of a kill called a Columbian necktie and it sounded like fun. You slit the throat and pull the tongue out through the cut. That might just be the way to go. The thought of it made him hard. Watching Terry’s graceful back, Erik roughly rubbed the bulge in his trousers. The kill was such a potent pleasure.

Moving nothing but his eyes, Erik looked left. The rise of the slope and the greenery hid them well. He glanced right, freezing as a group of Japanese tourists walked the path toward the Lily Pond. His heart banged so loud that he waited for them to turn toward the sound. He was hidden, but he wouldn’t risk making a move now. The tourists took the right-hand path like most folks. Erik waited until they were away. Sweating bullets, mouth watering, he paused before the kill. Back here, on the left-hand curve of the path, hidden from prying eyes by tall orange flowers, it might be days before they found Terry’s body.



Body on body, Devon locked her ankles behind Lee’s back. Her blonde hair whipped his strong dark shoulders. The room was full of slow Asian music and sandalwood incense and their hot jungle sounds. Their sweat ran together. He took her head in his hands and kissed her again. She held onto him, moaning. “You even fuck like a monk.”

Maybe he did. He took her sitting up, holding her in his lap. The Tantric position was designed to prolong pleasure. Even so, holding back was immeasurably difficult. It had been so long. He couldn’t think of that now, couldn’t think at all. Every breath made her more liquid, more alive. Her face and chest were flushed. Her honey ran over him, decorating his sheets. Lee hadn’t known she’d wanted him this much.

Slowly, using all his strength, Lee pierced her to her core. She washed over him until he was lost in the sound and the passion and the pleasure. Devon crooned more loudly now, digging her nails into his back, shattering his control. Lee flipped her onto her back and thrust into her, heedless of his broken knee. She began to scream as he moved with pure animal need.



Hummingbirds hovered around the stand of tall orange flowers in Golden Gate Park. The lily pond rang with happy human sounds. Erik crouched in darkness, awash in acrid sweat. He’d come in his jeans again, alone.

The happy couple ran away, laughing together, leaving the left-hand path. The pond echoed with their mirth. Aimee had come to claim her rock-n-roll boyfriend at the last possible second. It was seeing her sweet face what sent Erik over the edge. Terry, who’d been only inches away from death, had bolted up and run to her, forgetting his red blanket. Now the longhaired pretty boy laughed and spun her around. He had another day to live. They left.

Safe and disappointed in his warren, Erik listened to his own harsh breathing, damning himself. There were no voices around him and he heard everything here on the rise. Crushed berry bushes made this den. It was safe here. Heavy tree cover stopped most of the rain and the surrounding berry brambles made walls what weren’t easy to go through or get out of. Unless one knew the spots.

Erik knew all the spots. He’d stayed here when he’d first come to town, before he scored the red Mustang. The car was another thing; he’d have to get rid of it somehow. He would miss it, he would, but it was a dangerous toy to be keeping. He’d have to think and he was so hungry for a kill that thinking was next to impossible. Something had to be done.

Erik slid the ball of his thumb over the shining blade of his knife. Up and down, up and down, until blood came. His mind clouded. His passion rose.

Adrenalin shot inside him as he heard someone approach. “Hey, mon,” a Jamaican voice behind him said. Erik glanced back. A brown bum had come into his warren in the bushes, probably looking to steal something. Erik’s heightened senses told him that only one came, no others. They were alone. “Spare change?”

Erik spun. His knife slashed the man’s throat open, stopping his words. Rasta-man made a garbled sound as he hunkered forward, dreadlocks waggling. Erik turned, avoiding the spray of arterial blood. He watched the magic fountain spurting red in a single shaft of sunlight. A magnificent sight.

Looking quickly left and right, listening hard, Erik knew he was safe, for now. But it wouldn’t last. Turning, he thrust his blade splat! into the middle of the yellow Happy Face cartoon on the man’s T-shirt. “Have a real nice day, mate.”

As Erik pulled his upraised knife closer to him, it caught under the breastbone, exactly as it should. He skull-drug the brown man forward. Hidden in the heavy underbrush, Erik pulled out his knife and let the Rasta-man fall. He had a few lovely seconds to decide what he should do with this, his latest prize. The man was dead. He wouldn’t feel nothing. It was time for Erik’s artistry to begin. Breathing hard, feeling the frenzy rise within him, he bent to his work.



Devon’s blonde hair spilled carelessly onto pearl gray sheets. Lee held her close, still breathing hard, still hard inside her. He gave himself to kissing her with complete abandon. He wanted to revel in kisses, to bask in the afterglow, and give in to the sensuality he’d hidden for so long.

Mercy,” Devon sighed. She pressed him back and held her smile between them. “Give a girl a chance to breathe.”

Reluctant, Lee withdrew. The intensity of his need had blinded him. Now he felt that he could see clearly for the first time in months. “It’s been so long,” he whispered. And, now, it was her. His heart cried out in darkness. He’d been wrong again.

Lie back.” She settled her head on his shoulder. Her hands were restless, running over his body. “I see that those Taoist sex secrets really do work,” she said, smoothing balm upon his male ego. “You’re still… Did you…?“

Yes. Oh, yes.” Lee knew he’d pleased her. There was no need to ask. He would’ve had to’ve been deaf, dumb, and blind – or on the next continent - to miss that. Yet, her fingers were too busy and he was too sensitive. He stopped her touches with his own firm hand. “I’m fine.”

Devon condensed into herself. Lee felt her pull her energies inside. She was silent, withdrawn. “Is everything okay?” He kept his voice carefully gentle, nonthreatening. “Is it something I did?”

No.” Her tone lacked conviction. “It’s just-“ He waited while sweat cooled on his body. She said nothing. It was a long nothing. She raised her head, still sighing, and wove a web of platinum hair across his chest; he watched it rise and fall with the beatings of his heart. Long moments passed. Curiosity and resentment grew. He began to feel too naked.

The first time was always the worst time. He knew that. But he’d forgotten how awkward it is in the beginning, especially when a man is not sure he should be starting anything at all. Lee knew he should say something enchanting, but he was low on polite small talk, isolated in his awkward silence. Like a jungle creature caged in glass.

I know so little about you, really.” Devon toyed with his left nipple casually. Her voice was loaded with charm. “Where did you grow up?”

Chicago. Chinatown.” Lee shrugged her hand away and sat up.

Devon sat up and dug for a cigarette in her purse. Her pack came up empty. She gave him a movie-star smile and settled for one of Lee’s Camels. As he lit their cigarettes, she looked across the flame into his eyes, first searching, then shy. “That’s funny, you don’t seem-“

Like a Chinatown boy? I am.” He saw that the little he was giving her was not enough and settled back against the pillows, easing into his story. “My father is descended from the slave labor brought from Shanghai to build the railroads in the USA. Sojourners who stayed in Golden Mountain. My mother’s people were from Sichuan, on the mainland. Nobles.” Devon nodded as if she’d suspected as much. “Mother taught me poetry and Mandarin and told me so many wonderful stories. Made me believe in a better world than the one we live in, that’s for sure.”

They were tangled together on his narrow bed. It was the bed of a monk, not a lover. Devon slid her long, smooth, thigh across his and smoked in silence, watching his profile. Lee felt the admiration in her gaze tingle in his chest. He blew smoke at the ceiling and smiled wryly.

I don’ know how they stayed married. They were complete opposites. She was water. Ba was stone. We had a good life until she died. Then we moved to Chinatown. From the suburbs. I was thirteen and broken hearted. My brother did better - he was much more his father’s son. My father moved us into Chinatown to be close to his relatives, so they could help with us boys. But we didn’t fit in. Especially me. I couldn’t speak Cantonese. I was skinny and shy and, uh, inept. I guess I’m still socially challenged. Always on the outside, looking in.

So, the only way we could fit in was to try and be tougher than the toughest guys. That strategy worked. It worked too well. I got out when I was seventeen, and I never looked back. I couldn’t look back. My brother is dead. I am dead to my father. I am a man without family. Except for Uncle Lou. And of course, my child.”

Devon came up off his shoulder, knowing what it meant to a Chinese to be disowned. She’d grown up in Hong Kong. Lee didn’t need to say anything more. He did not turn into her concerned frown. “Are you okay with that?”

Yes. I am. I tried the whole nuclear family bit. It didn’t work for me. My wife… Well, she said she grew up. Suddenly, all the things she’d loved about me were bad. I was socially unacceptable. Too counter-culture. My hair was too long. I cared more about Kung Fu than about doing the whole yappie thing. I don’t care if I ever drive a BMW. I’m happy with my Harley.

It was okay when I was putting her through school, but when she got the big job with the TV station, wow! I was an embarrassment at parties. A warehouse mystic, yikes! After she had the baby and I became Mr. Mom, she got even more distant. So did I. The whole thing faded. Almost like it never was. Except for my little girl. I adore her. She is my heart, grown large.”

You are a poet,” Devon said, stroking the hollow over his heart.

Not anymore.” Lee stirred, putting out his cigarette. “And you?”

Oh, everybody knows my story. I had a fabulous education, a marvelous – if stunningly unconventional - career. I married well. I have enough money to do the job I want and not worry. I have a gorgeous home, intriguing acquaintances, and…” Her voice trailed off. Sitting up, she stabbed out her cigarette in the ashtray.

And?”

And my heart is broken and I don’t think it shall ever mend.” Devon looked in his eyes for something she did not see. Lee memorized the long lean lines of her. She was lovely, but the longing in her eyes overwhelmed him. He had to look away.

I’m sorry,” Lee said softly.

Silence fell like a stone. Devon stubbed out her cigarette. Long minutes passed. Lee covered them with the old satin duvet and stroked her lower belly to remind her of the pleasure they’d shared. Lying back, Devon sighed heavily. “C’mere,” Lee said, offering her the comfort of his body. It was all he had to give.

She wrapped herself around him. Eyelashes fluttering against his chest, she looked up and flashed her great blue eyes at him. “So, tell me, how did you come to be such a great lover.”

The same way you did, Devon. Practice.”

I’ve got a class in an hour, but…” She stretched her leg across him so that he felt the wetness of her sex against his thigh.

Potent sense memories flooded back to war with logic. “Devon, I don’ think…”

Devon arched up to straddle his body. Lee raised his chin and gazed at her as at a worthy opponent. With a randy grin, she quoted the supreme martial arts movie. “Don’t think. Feel.”



The scent of her stayed with him all the day, waking and sleeping. She left him in bed. When he slept, he dreamt of falling, of hurtling off a rooftop, white silk like wings whipping around his head. Red and yellow signs loomed larger as he fell: Jin Hua’s fish market, Hong Kong Palace Bar, Bai Mei’s place where bargirls hustled sailors until dawn. Fog horns. Staggering drunks ran to get out of the way. And still he fell. This couldn’t be the way it ended, but the upturned Asian faces, his father’s white hair, his wife’s sad eyes, Calvin’s fearless eyes, all those faces said it must. And still one more face waited, fogged in memory. He fell, the street below looming larger every second.

Lee awoke howling. Glass shattered. The air was heavy with wax and smoke. The white candle he’d lit guttered out and died in its broken glass. Wax ran down his dresser. Lee tried to lurch out of bed quickly but he stumbled. Quick, he caught himself on the dresser before he fell. Hanging there, gasping for air, Lee could barely blink away the last images of the dream.

Terry rushed in as he was dressing. “Ready to go?” Pulling down his shirt, Lee was glad Terry hadn’t seen the scratches on his back. He didn’t want to discuss Devon; she was a puzzle. The gift she’d brought played on his mind. It was a white silk suit of Chinese cut. She’d called it a replacement for the uniform he’d bled all over, but that photograph on her desk played on his mind. The man in the frame had worn a suit like the one she’d given him. Lee’d suppressed a shiver as he’d lifted it from the box, his fingers dark against silk the color of death.

But time did not let him dwell on her mysterious gift. They barely made it to the Institute on time despite, or perhaps because, it was the last day of classes. Terry was unusually silent en route. Lee was glad of it, for teaching today was a solemn trust, a sacred duty. Pain and mysteries did not matter; he had a job to do.

Lee approached the classroom with his gym bag on his shoulder, his black kung-fu jacket buttoned to hide the hickey on his neck. He pulled all his strength together and, refusing to limp, entered the classroom with a serious expression.

His students radiated pride in him. Lee accepted their radiance gratefully. Slowly, he bowed. “Today, as you leave class you begin a journey. Even as you began a journey by coming to my class, you complete the circle today.”

Terry, by his side, nodded and smiled. Lee looked into the faces of his students, seeing all of them complete. Today, for the last day, he would lead them in the form. He would be with them every step of the way, walking amongst them as he taught and evaluated. He would summon all his best and give it all away.

The wounded warrior took his place. Slowly, he sank into Wu Chi, holding the ball that was his energy, and began. With Terry beside him, Lee commenced to guide his students through the ancient circles of the T’ai Chi.

"Retreat. Ride tiger," Lee called out from the back of the room. He paused near the woman in red, falling easily into step with her, falling back, bringing down his right foot heel first on the floor. "So. Gently, but firmly. See? Do you understand?" She smiled and he saw in her blue eyes that she did. “Good.”

He moved among the thirteen students all facing southwest, all moving slowly, some with more grace than others, but all together at their own pace. “Good.” There was an easy warmth in the room despite the gray chill outside. Touching Yu's hand, Lee raised it slightly. Yu was fourth generation, here to cure his arthritis. The old man’s eyes were still a bit wary. Even after all this time he did not quite know what to make of this young Chinese-American. Lee just smiled.

Taking his position where all could see, he moved through the downward deflection with the fluidity his teacher had taught so well. He missed Calvin sharply. If he listened inside he still heard that soft voice, that little Hong Kong accent. Go slow. Do not do the form, be the form. Lee took a deep breath. Always on the punch and parry, it was hard to slow his motions. He’d grown up at fighting speed. Swiftness was not important in Tai Chi. It was the fluidity, and the concentration. "Slower, feel the air, like water, all around your hands. Swim. You swim. Do not look at your hands - look at the ocean beyond. Feel your energy reaching out to it, cutting through the water. Feel it. That's right."

Calvin Lo lived at his Oregon School year-round now, in the country, on the mountain. When Lee came he could not stay. Calvin had sent him forth to be in the world. On Lee’s last night there, his teacher departed from the usual pattern of things and sparred with Lee, pitting his mastery of Zen and Tai Chi against Lee's Kung Fu. Soft against hard, he deflected every punch, every kick with no effort. Ultimately, he turned Lee's strength on itself and held him pinned to the mat, laughing. As they bowed, there was no mistaking the humor in Calvin’s eyes. "Leap."

Without thinking, Lee was in the air. Glancing down, he saw how far off the ground he was with detached wonder. He had an awareness that his form was perfect. It did not matter; he was the form. He was the leap and the air rushing past him, too. It was a moment unlike any that had gone before, as if awakening, finding himself connected to all things, finding limitless energy available to him. It seemed a sudden revelation, but he knew it had been there all along. His feet touched the floor.

The moment was over. Nothing would ever be the same. Breathless, he met his teacher’s eyes. The question was asked, and it was answered. His training was done.

"Cross." Slowly, Lee crossed his wrists before his heart. Since that moment, nothing had been the same. The new cycle that began then had ripened. A new rhythm pulsed deep inside. He lowered his arms. "And conclude." He bowed to his students. "Thank you for letting me learn with you."

All through the congratulations and goodbyes, that leap was on his mind. He may never know a moment like that again. When his students were finally gone, Lee sagged against the wall. Only now could he let his effort show.

Good class,” Terry said. “But you look like you could use a drink.” Lee shook his head; he hadn’t had a drink since that day in Devon’s office. “You wanna go to the park? Walk it off?” Terry didn’t say the ‘P’ word. He didn’t need to. Pain emanated from Lee’s every pore. “You did good. Nobody knew.”

Thank God.” Lee sank into the folding chair, keeping his hurt leg straight.

C’mon, we’ll go to the lily pond.” Rummaging in the ever-present gym bag, Lee shook his head. “C’mon, c’mon, I’ll show you my favorite place.” Terry was dancing in place, doing his best to be adorable. “I’ll buy you ice cream.” Lee’s reserve caved and he chuckled. “Peppermint? Or how ‘bout that drink? We can go to Nuerotox and meet all my Eurothrash headbanger friends.”

Oh, gee, now there’s someplace I’d fit in.” Lee slapped a Japanese plaster on his knee. “Terry, can you really see me in a place called Nuerotox?”

You’ve got a point. Back to the G-rated plan. The park.” Terry kept babbling while Lee rolled his pant leg down and gathered up his things. Lee was amused, but paid little attention. He was too busy taking one last look around what could be his last classroom. “So, anyway, the doctor said it would be good for you to walk, right?” Lee’s hand was on the doorknob. “Ground Control to Major Tom?”

A bubble of hurt got stuck in Lee’s chest and he could not respond. Instead, he closed his eyes and silently prayed. Terry waited by his side, a comforting warmth, a hand on his shoulder. “Let’s go,” Lee said, softly. He closed the door behind them.

The hall seemed long and empty. Maggie waved as they passed the office window. Lee flashed Jay the hand sign for peace and left their grins behind. It was unseasonably warm out. They tossed their jackets – thrift store Armani knock-off for Terry and traditional Chinese cotton for Lee – into the back of Aimee’s borrowed car. “So, like, Calvin’s coming in two weeks for that tournament, right?”

Two and a half. And I’m not thinking about that until he gets here.” Lee sighed and ran restless hands through his shaggy black hair. He hadn’t cut it since last October, Ten-ten, the day he left his wife. His hair was symbolic of his freedom. Calvin hated it, said it looked too girlie. Lee kept trying to explain that girls liked it. Look at Ter, long hair sure worked for him. “So, how’s Aimee?”

Shit on a stick! Don’t ask.” Terry peeled out of the parking lot. Lee studied his cuticles. “It’s absolutely horrible. All we ever do is fight. Well, I mean, when we first get together it’s all sunshine and roses, like today…” Tuning out Terry’s litany of woes, Lee gazed out the car window.

It was a typical day in the Haight. Folks with green hair and nose rings sauntered past longhaired hippies in tie-die. The all-in-black crowd tried not to look as if they felt too superior to the ‘throwbacks’. They failed. Homeless people camped on sidewalks with their dogs, begging for spare change. Tourists posed smiling on the corner of Ashbury and Haight.

Terry was in a good mood, despite his protestations to the contrary. He kept talking, driving casually, smoking cigarettes. “How many points do I get for that tourist? The one over there with the plastic hair?” The middle-aged suburbanista’s hairdo was truly scary but Lee quoted a low figure anyway. He didn’t enjoy the game of Chicken that Terry and the tourists played at intersections. “Oh, you’re no fun.”

The sky above was gradient shadings of cobalt warmed with the yellow of late afternoon. Soon, the sun would be setting. Lee lit a cigarette and listened to Terry’s fast wit and faster words. The closer they got to Golden Gate Park the cooler, the more night-like, the air became. Lee loved the scent of fog and Eucalyptus. Terry cut over to Fulton Street, driving past the place in the panhandle where they’d met.

You were... against the sun... Sorry. I didn't… recognize you," the stranger said.

Wiping the sweat off of his forehead with the sleeve of his navy blue sweatshirt, Lee leaned closer to the young stranger. Even as he was doing his morning T’ai Chi, he’d been aware of the waves of panic that rose and rippled off the boy. “It’s okay," he said in a soothing voice.

"Had you last semester.” Lee stared at him, trying to remember details. He had so many students. They came and went so quickly here, expecting to become enlightened in a week or a semester. Enlightenment took longer than that, and becoming was a never-ending prospect.

He struggled toward a memory. He knew the bluegreen eyes darting away. Those eyes drew him closer, like a mystery, but there was some hidden terror in their depths that had not lived there before, making a stranger of this boy that he had taught and whose name he could not recall.

Terry sat huddled in the shadow of the old oak tree. His uniform was familiar, the wild hair and the denim, blemished here and there with bits of grass and twigs, as if he had slept in the park, like so many other lost boys on drugs. Not your ordinary bum, Lee thought as he stared at the thin young man, taking in the expensive boots and the perfect teeth. The young man laughed, bravely shaking his head at his own madness. Long crimson hair fell from dark roots, partially obscuring a white face with remarkable bone structure. That face was not easy to forget. But Lee had no name to go with it.

Terry, Terry Spencer.” Recognition slammed against his cranium. It was the rich kid, the one with dance training. Lee knew this young vagabond knew him in ways beyond the simple lessons that had passed between them. Lee let his eyes loose their focus as he willed himself to stillness, so that he could see past the barriers of flesh and form to what it was that bound him to this boy. Terry spoke, interrupting his reverie.

Yo! Spaceman! We’re here.” Terry slid the car into park. Lee stubbed out his cigarette. “I’m gratified to know that the most intimate details of my life are so fascinating to you, Kuan.” Lee spread his hands in apology. “Where the hell were you? Oh, never mind. Let’s go”

Terry had parked illegally, near the conservatory. Waving his unfastened red shirtsleeves before them, Terry led the way into greenery that was god-like. Giant ferns surrounded them; staghorn ferns, tree ferns, regular ferns. Late afternoon light cast magical shadows, amber on green. “This is where they shot that Star Trek movie.”

The Genesis planet,” Lee said quietly, never afraid to be a geek. He limped along by Terry’s side, seeing the place as if for the first time. The grove was misty and primeval. Tall trees with the frond-leaves of ferns swayed.

So, anyway, after the fiasco…” Terry picked up his monologue undaunted. “I took Aimee out for lunch. We had our palms read. It wasn’t good for me and Aimee, naturally, but the reader said I was very close to someone I’d known in a past life. And naturally I thought of you. So she did, like, this trance thing and said we’d been monks together. Go figure. Said something had been started but never finished-“

The scent of eucalyptus and fog mixed with some stronger, darker, undertone. It was the smell of death. Nostrils quivering, every sense on red alert, Lee took the lead. Terry followed him onto the right-hand path, still talking.

Oh, my God, what’s that?” Lee breathed. Panic raced, icy, through his veins. He advanced slowly, cautiously, though he knew the thing he saw could not hurt him. “Oh, God.” Gorge rising, he turned away. Behind him, Terry repeated his words. Trembling all over, Lee looked one more time, just to be sure. Someone had hung a human head on the lowest branch of a tree.

Long black dreadlocks blew behind the head, dancing in the breeze. The long locks tied the head to the branch. Flies crawled in and out of the wide-open mouth. Lee rushed to the side of the path, hand clamped over his mouth, trying not to vomit. One dead glazed eye surveyed him calmly. A crow had picked the other out. Lee groaned.

Don’t look.” Terry’s hands were clammy, but steady, as he turned Lee away from the nightmare scene. While the smell of death rushed in and out of his parched lips, Lee fought for control. Breath came in rapid pants, shuddering, cold, through him. Eyes watered. Heart raced. The sight slammed against his head, knocking him back in time. He’d seen something too like this before. Terry put his arm around Lee’s shoulder. “Breathe. Just breathe.”

Chapter 10 - ‘Round Midnight

Terry leaned from the third story window, going head and shoulders into foggy midnight. In the garden below, roses perfumed the mist and Calvin relaxed in the hot tub. But Terry saw a shadowy figure in the alley, saw a glint of blonde hair outside the garden gate and adrenalin shot through him. The lurker was back. It was probably Erik, probably inevitable.

Lao Sifu, nee hao?” Terry called. Night birds screamed. The shadowy figure faded into the alley, sliding into darkness. Terry was glad of the six-foot cedar fence. Dobermans would have been good. Or a moat. He hated that dark vein of alley and the danger it concealed.

Nee hao?” Terry called again. He’d used up most of his Chinese words and hoped he’d got them right.

C’moooon down,” Calvin called. His inflection was showman-like ala Bob Barker. “The water’s fine.” The hot tub glowed with cyan blue light. Hot water roiled, steam rising around Calvin’s outline. Sage scented the night breeze. Beach Boys tunes wafted up to him. Terry grinned and crawled out the window onto the fire escape. He barely avoided kicking over Lee’s potted herb garden. “Be careful, kiddo. We don’ need any more accidents.”

Terry laughed his way down the metal stairs. His body moved effortlessly, loosely, taking each step without thought. He’d never had cause to realize what a luxury it was to move so easily, free from pain, until Lee’s injury. While Lee was still lost in contemplating the causal, karmic, nature of his injury and its repercussions, Terry was accustoming himself to the changed nature of their lives. Everyone expected him to be a grown-up now. Bummer.

The grass was crisp and damp under his bare feet as he carried his little cooler over to the hot tub. Nerves still singing from seeing the stranger in the alley, Terry cased the fenced garden, keeping his smile clipped in place, trying to look cool. Everything seemed to be in order. At least there were no severed heads in the trees. Grinning, Terry opened the cooler. “Beer?”

Calvin smiled up, the blue light from the hot tub casting an unearthly glow beneath his cheekbones. Despite his smile he cast a concerned glance at the third story window above. “Dragoneyes still up there with the rock rolled in front of the cave door?”

Yup.” Terry set the cooler on the cedar steps and shucked off his jeans. He’d worn red Speedos underneath. The night air was cold on his thighs as he climbed the three steps to the hot tub. The water was hot, hot, hot. He grimaced though he knew that Lee liked the water even hotter. As Calvin moved over to make room for him, Terry noticed that he was wearing Lee’s plaid boxer shorts. Even alone, locked up in his room, Kuan was all over them.

Blue light caressed their faces. The boom box gave them the pulsing chords and intricately interwoven harmonies of the Beach Boys. “Good vibrations,” Calvin grinned. His stylish brush cut had wilted from the hot water and his Hawaiian shirt was draped atop a trophy he’d posed on the wicker table. It was a uniquely California moment. Too bad Lee missed it.

A yellow bug light puddled around the wicker table, glinting gold off the trophy. After spending the day judging a Martial Arts Tournament, Calvin won another Push Hands competition. Terry twisted a brown beer bottle open and handed it to Lee’s teacher. “Why not?” Calvin said. They drank together.

Terry longed to fire up a joint but that would be breaking the rules. “So, your day was good?” he asked instead.

Yeah. Good, but sad.” Terry looked at him inquiringly. “You know Lee was supposed to compete over at Doc Moy’s?” Terry shook his head. When the notion of Calvin spending the night arose, Lee’d only said his friend was in town for a big event. “Yeah, they hold the tournament every five years. It’s invitation only, very much best of the best.” Calvin sighed. “Yeah, we fully expected him to take Grand Prize in T’ai Chi and Kung Fu open hand forms. I thought he’d kick ass sparring, too. Until the injury, that is.”

What?” That would explain the dismal mood that had been seeping out of Lee lately and darkening their whole house. He’d been making excuses not to see people, not coming to the phone, not eating. “Lee never mentioned it.”

He probably didn’t want your pity. I mean, you do everything else for him, why should you have to feel bad for him, too?”

Too late. I already do. Hey, do you really think he’ll be okay?” A shadow crossed Calvin’s face. While the next tape clicked in silence covered them. “What if he’s not?”

Then he’ll learn how to live without Kung Fu. It’ll hurt him, but he’ll learn.”

Terry bowed his head, watching hot jets of water caress his body while George Harrison’s guitar gently wept. “He has to be okay.” They were silent until the end of the song. Despite the cool night air Terry wiped beads of sweat from his forehead. Glancing up, he forced a short laugh. “Full moon. Don’t it just figure? I saw that whacked-out guy outside the fence, or at least somebody I assume is our very own whack job.”

Calvin laughed, wiping his feathery brows. “Terry, would it be too much trouble for you to tell me A: what you are saying and B: what you are smoking?”

Oh. I said I thought I saw Lee’s stalker lurking outside the fence just now. All I saw was a shadow and blonde hair. That was enough, man. He’s gone now. I guess I scared him back into whatever shit sack he’s been hiding in. Let’s hope it stays that way for a while.” Terry tossed his long damp hair back. “And B: I haven’t been smoking anything tonight.”

Holding off on my account, eh?” Terry winced. He’d been cheating on the ‘no pot’ rule lately and hated getting busted. Calvin gave him that cocky know-it-all look. “I don’ really care, kiddo. I just wanna know about this stalker. I thought there was no more problem.”

Terry bit his lip and wished Lee would stop sugarcoating everything he told Calvin because Lo always got to the truth. Damn it. “I donno much about him. I guess I know what you know. He’s a six-foot tall blonde guy. Lee says he bleaches his hair and drives a beat-up red Mustang. I never saw him.”

Calvin sighed. “So, you still got trouble. That explains a lot of Lee’s attitude.” He did not elaborate. “So, how did classes go? In your experience.”

I - uh – adjusted. I had some dance training back in my off-off Broadway days. Never thought it’d come in handy. But it did. Lee drilled me on sequences. I either went in and pretended to be him or he just pretended to be fine. I think it was a ‘face’ thing.

Most of the time he sat in a folding chair and talked us through the moves,” Terry explained quickly. “Some of the stuff he came up with is really beautiful. Especially the meditations. I think he’s teaching now better than ever, even though he had to use my body to demonstrate techniques. It made him crazy. But, hell, I don’t mind. I learned more than ever. I think the class was satisfied, too. But Lee still has the pain, and can’t do what he used to do. He suffers. He listens to Leonard Cohen a lot. He stares, and he’s silent, so silent.”

He doesn’t know that the best teachers are wounded. From pain grows compassion and wisdom. But he’s only been down a while, he probably doesn’t realize that yet.”

But you’re not wounded, Calvin.”

Not where it shows.” Terry lit another cigarette. Calvin solemnly regarded the nasturtiums Lee had planted and took measure of the young man sitting next to him. “You’ve made yourself invaluable, kiddo, but what are you doing for a life?”

Terry got his grin on. “It’s raining chicks in San Francisco.” Like that mattered.

Calvin had spent last night holed up with Lee in his room. All evening the tones and echoes of their conversation filtered down the long hall. Terry’d sat in what passed for their living room feeling like a nurse on call. Aimee got bored and left. Terry was glad, he hadn’t been in the right space to try to redeem himself from their latest bedroom disaster. Just the thought of it felt irresponsible with Calvin in the house. He’d even cleaned up his room, so Lao Sifu had a private space. Terry slept on the sofa without question or complaint. Lee said he was getting the hang of being Chinese. To Terry, that read like a huge compliment.

They listened to a bird singing on the wisteria vine Lee’d planted when he’d first come to town. It reached the second floor window now but no one had the heart to cut it down. Calvin scowled up at the third floor window. “If he stays up in that room, I’m afraid he’s going crazy.”

He’s taken up calligraphy, I think,” Terry offered.

Calvin laughed. “That Johnny Lee’s a pistol. You’d think he invented being Chinese.” The fine-boned Chinese man shook his head. Terry had never really thought of Lee as being brawny until now. Looking at Calvin, Terry couldn’t help but compare their bodies. Calvin was thin and strong, but not beautiful. Lee’d been using dumbbells to keep in shape and the shape he was in was amazing.

He’s a good boy,” Calvin continued. “His father don’ know what he’s missing. It’s shame throwing away a boy like that. And his only living son. It’s a shame.”

Lee had a brother?”

Calvin nodded sadly. For a long minute he did not respond to Terry’s questioning stare. “He had a brother who died in a street war. Shot through the eye.” Terry winced and Calvin sighed. “They were set up by a gangster, way back when. So, there’s the how of his coming to California and one reason he flies so low on the radar. At least it’s one of his favorite excuses. Ah, well, keep your head down, stay out of trouble I always say. It’s true.

But he took so long to start making a name for himself. Working in that warehouse, writing poetry in the bins… Being the Warehouse Mystic when he was capable of so much more. But he had that wife – and her education – to support. Now that she got the big job, she dumps him flat. Now Lou’s his only family. Him and Gracie out in the Sunset district. And his kid, now that his no-good wife is out of the picture. The bitch.” Joan’s infidelity scandalized Calvin. He showed more anger about her betrayal than Lee ever had. But, now that Terry thought of it, so had he. All the man ever mentioned was missing his daughter. It was almost as if Lee had registered her infidelity with relief, grimly satisfied that she’d finally given him a reason to bail out on the marriage.

Calvin stewed, watching pictures from a past that was completely alien to Terry. They finished the beers and claimed seconds. Calvin stretched. Terry watched him abstractly, his head a muddle of questions. “Uh, Calvin, how come Chinese people have so many names? Like, Lee’s daughter. Her name is Melissa, but he calls her Mei Mei and Shao Ling.” Terry pronounced the Chinese words carefully.

Mei Mei is a way to say daughter,” Calvin explained. “Shao Ling, little pretty one, that’s her milk name. Given for childhood. Her real Chinese name is Li Song. But on the books it’s Melissa.” He grinned at Terry. “See, it’s simple.”

How do you Chinese people keep track of each other with all these names?”

Calvin smiled. “How do you White people know who you are?”

Dude, you’re asking’ me?” Terry laughed. “I’m in a whole new incarnation here. Nurse Terry. Man, I never even had a puppy and now I’m on Sifu patrol day and night.”

You don’ really mind, though, do you?”

Terry wiped his brow and met Calvin’s piercing stare. “Dude,” he said with all honesty, “I don’t mind at all.” He could almost hear the click and whirr of the machinery of Calvin’s mind. He saw a judgment flicker behind those eyes, but it was carefully hidden by a smile.

Terry grinned broadly. “You don’t like me much, do you?” Calvin’s jaw dropped a little. “But that’s okay,” Terry said quickly. “I think I get it. For years you’re the only person Lee confides in, the only one he really trusts. Then I come along, a skinny little rock and roll guy. He picks me up off the streets and Pow! I’m his new best friend. Y’know what, dude, from where you’re sitting, I wouldn’t trust me either.

And that’s what I like about you. You’re really protective of him. Like a father. So, I guess you’ll just have to sit and wait it out and see if I stick. I’m not worried. I know I’ll hang tough with him no matter what. Because I owe him my life.” Terry paused for several long seconds. “I admire you, Calvin. How could I not? You’re exceptional. Wise. Caring. A man of honor and principle. Everything a master should be. You’re even halfway hip.” Terry played it for laughs. It worked. “But you, better than anyone, should get that there’s a long tradition in martial arts, especially in Japan, of the lone warrior and his faithful squire.”

So, is that how you explain it?” Calvin’s tone was soft but his eyes were steel.

Terry threw back his head. He was flushed with the liquid confidence beer gives a man. “Yeah. A bond that goes past death. You had it with him and now he has it with me.”

Maybe you’re right, kiddo. Maybe you’ve got some kind of mystical bond. But you’ll forgive me if I don’ trust it, and you’ll forgive me if I tell you that the friendship I have with Lee is nothing like the symbiosis I’m seeing here. There’s no comparison. I don’ dislike you, kid, I just see that you carry a lot with you, secrets you may even be keeping from yourself. And I don’t like the direction that I feel your influence could lead Lee. But, as you say, I will wait and I will watch, and I will hope you stick. I will hope you are that faithful student, loyal and unswerving. Because I have only seen Lee this vulnerable once. It nearly destroyed him then.” His face got grim, full of dark secrets. “I do not want him to go there again.”

Did this have something to do with Erik, that stalker guy?”

Calvin looked up sharply. The music clicked off and the night grew suddenly cold. “Yes.”

Tell me.”

Night birds sang. The fog was palpable, caressing them like a living thing. Calvin took a long time to answer. His distinctive voice with its little Hong Kong accent buzzed through the night air. “It’s Lee’s history. It’s his to tell. Let’s leave it at that. Every man’s got a battle that haunts him. Whether it’s a physical or a mental struggle. You know what I mean,” Calvin said with absolute certainty. “And if you don’t know yet… You will. I can promise you that. Every man has wounds that cannot be seen. Scars that do not heal.” Terry gazed at him, disquieted and completely open. “Even me.”





Lee prowled the darkness of the L-shaped room, staring at shaded windows. With Terry and Calvin safely out of the way, he could limp around his useless martial arts room without the burden of their pity. Moonlight from the fire escape stole into the room. Swords glinted on white painted walls. Sitting out today’s tournament burnt like fire in his belly and his body rocked with a tension he could not release.

Terry thought he was the strong one, but that was just an image Lee projected. His performance at Golden Gate Park put proof to that lie. Terry’d known the dead man, they’d sung harmony together. But Terry’d been the strong one that day: keeping it together, calling the police, taking Lee out for kamikaze shooters at Eurothrash, and joking about their jitters. The shock of finding that head in a tree was still in his system, poisoning his chi.

Balancing his chi did not seem to be an option. Devon was in Hong Kong and women were not exactly lining up at his door. Lee rubbed sweaty palms on his thighs and his heart beat fast beneath the white shirt he wore. His faded jeans clung like a second skin. Maybe that was what he needed to do - shed his skin. This one wasn’t doing him a whole lot of good. Life chafed. Lee gulped the rest of his wine and set the empty glass on the glossy black pad of a weightlifting bench. He sighed heavily. They’d had a jug of cheap wine with dinner. Lee was determined to finish it now. Maybe it would make the question marks go away.

But the wine wasn’t working. Every outcome was still unsure. His leg could get better or it could get worse. It was still a crapshoot and Lee wasn’t feelin’ real lucky these days. Tears he did not want to cry ran down his face. He dashed them away and found the green jug of wine.

Moonlight snuck in through the window and curved around the trophies on the bookcase. So much useless metal. Prizes couldn’t save him now, they could only turn him into a bitter man fixated on days of glory past. Lee wanted new glory, wanted a future more Real than his past. Moonlight shimmered like false promises. His unruly black hair fell forward into his eyes. Tilting back his head, wanting to howl, looping the wine jug over one thumb, he took a long pull. To hell with the narrow way, he wanted to be a wolfman tonight.

A soft sound at the door startled him. Two knocks, then silence. Just when he was beginning to think it’d been a hallucination, the rapping began again. It was Devon’s rap. He stashed the bottle and limped to the door. There she was, big eyes shining. “Hey,” he drawled, hoping she couldn’t smell the booze on his breath.

Poor baby,” she whispered, touching his face.

It’s not so bad,” he lied. She knit her brows and gave him that look. “Okay, it is that bad.” He moved aside to let her in and wobbled painfully. “Ah!” He hadn’t realized he was so wasted. Devon didn’t seem to care.

I had to see you, Lee. I felt something wrong.” Devon wet her lips. Her hands caressed him, fingers grazing nipple, buttock, thigh. “I felt like you were hurting. Do you believe me?” Raising her chin, Devon looked into his eyes. Already he felt the heat between them. “I need you,” she said. Lee shook his head, even he wasn’t drunk enough to believe that. “I do,” she said. “I tried to stay away… I can’t.” He smiled and she pulled his head down to hers, sighing against his lips, pressing her body against his hips.

Mouth hungry for kisses, he bent to her. Her tongue touched his. His response was intense, immediate. Still, even with his breath catching in his throat, he backed away, leading her deeper into what Terry called the Dojo of Doom. Her hair slid silky through his fingers. Stray moonlight made a marvel of her face. She followed him into darkness. “I’m sorry I didn’t call first.” She stepped a little closer with each word. “I couldn’t wait.”

Lee kissed her softly, mouth open, wanting more. She clawed his back, setting off little fires. Her body let him know he could have her here, now. Lee moaned deep in his throat as he kissed her. So much for self-restraint. They’d maintained radio silence since last she’d been in his arms. And now her kisses were wanton and he was dying with the burning need to fuck, to feel a passion that was mirrored back, to move in some warm, wet, wanting, space. Already the eye of his cock was weeping semen tears against the tight skin of his belly. She mumbled something in Cantonese that he did not understand. But his body responded to her tone.

Devon,” Lee said softly. “You don’ know what you’re doing’ to me.”

She looked up at him, eyes glittering and serious. “Yes, I do.” He touched her breasts, stroked the high arch of her pubic bone, all the time looking inquiringly into her eyes. There was something different in her eyes, something pale and strange.

It’s your night,” she whispered, shrugging away. “Let me love you.” Wanting desperately to see her face, Lee tugged on the shade. It sputtered up all the way, making a noise she laughed at. Leaning back, cutting his eyes to the side, Lee saw Terry and Calvin in the hot tub below. It didn’t look like they were going to move anytime soon.

Her fingernails, like tiny crustaceans, crawled over his belly. He would ponder her strangeness later. She unzipped his trousers and began to kneel. Lee caught her hand and pressed it against his heart. “Not here,” he said, wishing he didn’t have to say no. “Come.”

Over the rapid beat of his heart, he heard her promise, “It’ll be worth the wait.” The long hall had never seemed longer. They kissed again as they entered his room. Distracted, he kicked the door shut hurriedly.





Erik keyed the great iron gate open. He entered Devon’s garden silent as nightfall, sure as death. Here in the moonlit garden where white roses bloomed and gave up their perfume to Mistress Night, here with the scent of earth and just-buried secrets in his nostrils, only in the night, he felt live blood flow in his veins. In the day, he was what God had made him, an angry ghost full of hunger and excrement. Only in the night was he fully alive.

Warmth rose from the garden he tended. Stripping off the denim shirt he wore, Erik leaned back, letting moonlight flow over his sinuous torso. Mistress Night, divinely uncaring, took him in her arms. Swimming in silver, he extended his arms and sighed.

Glancing up, he remembered Devon on the balcony of the gray room. The long white gown she’d worn was diaphanous. He’d not seen it before. But he had seen her go into that Haight Street apartment tonight. He’d put an end to that soon enough. As soon as she gave him an opening. It’d be stacks of fun. Erik smiled, moonlight making silver disks of his eyes.

The night wind picked up as he conjured Devon. He saw her in his mindseye, silver-blonde hair blowing back off her noble face, the nightdress around her like a fog. She leaned forward, one hand on her breast. Crying silently. Her tears were not for him. Were they for dear dead Ian? That idiot Chink? Or for that other one she longed for and never mentioned?

She would never cry for Erik. He knew that well enough. And he burned, a night white fire full of cold power. He was fine to play Lady Chatterley with, good enough to work in her garden, run her errands, and fuck her when she needed fucked. He could do all that well enough but there was no love lost between them. Each of them longed for another even as they reached for each other. Erik knew his place.

That’s not to say he accepted his place. He had aspirations, he did.

So now he shed his jeans and rubbed his long limbs, stretching, washing in moonlight. Bending slowly, he drew his shining weapon and led his body through the circles of Ninjutsu that he’d learned in Sydney. One of his marks had been happy to pay for the lessons. No knife fighter should go without learning how to control a man by using his own strength against him. Erik’s blade had eaten up a few men, drinking down their power as it drew forth their blood. And, now, his blade was hungry again.

He thrust his blade into fog, trying to visualize his equal. He failed. The men talking in the garden on Haight Street were meat. Talking meat. Food for his blade.

He could take the pretty one’s power in a mouthful. He was not man enough for Erik to be concerned with, besides he was always with the angel and Erik could not kill in front of her sweet eyes. Aimee. Thinking the name like a prayer, Erik swung around, thrusting, slashing, trying to break the hold she had on him. But even his undefeated evil was powerless before the love he felt for her. He could not kill a thing she cared for, not now, not yet.

Aimee. He saw her eyes in the darkness and stopped, stood motionless, simply breathing, and remembering her lilac scent. He could not harm her, even if his blade could set her free.

Breaking the spell, Erik shook his head and reached into his boots for the throwing knives he kept there. Turing toward the old cypress tree, he was himself again. He reveled in the perfect balance of the shining weapons. They were new, bought with his wages. Now that Devon was paying him a regular salary, he’d been able to get out of The Life. No more hooking in tricks on Polk Street.

Spinning, he sent a blade sailing. It flew, it spun, vibrating as it pierced the craggy tree bark. They were good knives. They cut through flesh like butter. One of his first experiments was buried beneath the tomato plants. Devon still could not believe her beloved Persian cat had run away. Erik had been careful to bury it deep and take its collar down to Haight Street. He smiled, remembering the squawk and cry of its dying.

Grinning, Erik flung the other knife into the tree trunk. It landed, singing, beside its sister.





Terry froze in the hallway, shivering in his wet Speedos, when he heard the voice. “On your knees.” He’d never imagined Lee could sound like that. “Now.” Devon answered in a hot, thick, voice. Terry did not move, did not breathe.

Then, slowly, sinfully, he turned. The door that never fully closes had not betrayed its name. Lee was leaning back, moonlight pouring over his naked body, offering himself to her. Devon’s back was to him and Lee’s hands were in her hair. Terry knew he should leave, should turn away, but he was frozen. Terry heard blood rush through his ears as Devon bent forward to take Lee’s thick, dark, cock in her mouth. His whole body rippled in response. Her long blonde hair swung forward, mercifully, like a veil. Head thrown back, shoulders against the windowpane, every muscle on his strong body stood out in relief, gold skin shining. Lee raised his eyes. Terry stopped breathing. Then, Lee turned his head, he hadn’t seen, had no idea he was being seen. Moving naked, his body rocked and he moaned softly.

Oh, no. Thoughts collided. Whoa, everything they said about Asian men was a lie. He’d better get out of here. He’d better block the door in case Calvin decided to come up. Lee’s face was transformed. Terry didn’t want Lee to see him like this. He didn’t want to see Lee like this. He didn’t want to feel that moan burning in his blood.

He shivered, painfully aware of his own sudden erection. Lee moaned again and Terry felt the sound inside his body. Lee wouldn’t notice him sneaking through the hallway now. Hell, he wouldn’t notice if the hall exploded. Propelled by the urgent cry, Terry slid away.

He walked like a ninja with a hard-on, holding his damp towel in front of him as if the corridor had eyes. He had his hand on the bathroom doorknob when Lee cried out in ecstasy. The sound shivered through him.

Something inside him ripped loose, something inside him wept. But his brainless erection wouldn’t go away. He slid his wet Speedos off and slipped into the shower. But the sounds and images wouldn’t wash away. His mind fought the feeling even as his hand worked the head of his cock. It was his fault how he felt. It was natural. Everything inside brain and body fought. Maybe it was just seeing other people fuck that’d got him hard. But Devon had been there, too, and he wasn’t seeing her in his mindseye. Truth bites.

Terry suddenly knew what gay people meant by the term, ‘coming out’. It felt like his brains were coming out his ears, there was explosive static in the brain wave. No. Yes. No way. Maybe. Okay, that’s what I was looking at. That. Oh, God. Oh, good, the Corn Husker’s Lotion was still on the vanity from his last bedroom farce. Time to take what Aimee could no longer give him. Off with the pretensions and on with the Corn Huskers. Oh. Ah. God. Funny how God always gets called in at moments like this. It would only take him a moment. Just a moment, a flash that changed everything. His crazy brain kept flashing that moonlight tableau… Devon with her little pointed boobs hanging out and her red mouth... the way Lee's skin sort of shined gold... the way the muscles in his stomach undulated as he leaned back and offered himself to her... her red mouth... the thick dark head of his swollen cock. Don’t monitor the images in your head. Let them flicker. Faster. Swelling. Rocking. He saw them together in the mirror, Lee so very close behind him. Moving naked. Faster. Incredible bliss. Ah, now he was alive. Faster, now…now… NOW!

Terry stifled a moan as fire shot out of his body, blowing his mind into fine shiny splinters that flew away from him and melted out into night. The intensity of his orgasm left him blind and gasping in the water. He leaned his forehead against cool tiles. As his breath slowed and self-consciousness returned, guilt set in. He wrapped a towel around his guilty body and walked out into the hall, careful to cough loudly in case they were still at it. They were.

The woman kept moaning. Damn, Lee must be good. Devon sounded like Yoko Ono on the Double Fantasy album. Terry’d never gotten a woman to moan like that. Then Lee cried out. He would never forget that sound.

Terry leaned against his closed bedroom door. He dressed hurriedly, like a criminal, wondering how Lee would get Devon out of the house before Calvin came up. Maybe he should distract Calvin and give the bitch a chance to slip away.

He fished the last of his hidden joints out of his dresser. Maybe getting high would wash the images away, would cool his anger and his lust. Terry fired up the joint and took a hit. He’d wanted to strike, to hit her. Who was she anyway? How could she just show up and completely disrupt the harmony of their house?

He tried to reconcile his petty anger and his ridiculous sense of betrayal with the concern he’d felt for Lee these past months. He’d never been able to understand why Lee wasn't seeing anyone. All these months there’d been nothing, not even a one-night stand, just Devon. It blew Terry away. The guy was so handsome, so smart, and he lived like a monk in a town with some of the world's most gorgeous women. It was nuts, like fasting at Thanksgiving. He’d thought Lee stayed chaste for spiritual enlightenment. To him, Lee was clearly a Bodhisattva. Yeah, but do Bodhisattvas get blowjobs from blondes? Only in San Francisco... Lee’d fallen off his pedestal with a resounding thump and Terry blamed the woman.

Terry faced his emotions. He lined them up, looking at some, and pushing others, those big scary monsters, aside. It’d made him so damn angry to see them together. Then why had he stayed, frozen, fascinated? Watching them, getting harder, and madder, and harder, by the second. He knew his reaction was no anomaly. In fact, he’d known for months. He’d battled back the knowing with all those interchangeable women.

Truth suddenly hit. He’d wanted to take Devon’s place. Why was he so dense? Even Calvin seemed to see the self Terry’d been hiding under his bed. All the schoolyard taunts that had tormented his youth suddenly rang true. He’d probably only stayed straight this long to spite those voices. Or until he met Lee.

Terry stubbed out the joint and sprayed the room with air freshener. Calvin might come in at any moment. Time to put the scary monsters to bed. He tried, but they weren’t going anywhere. He flung open the door and heard Lee’s gentle voice. Devon answered in the sweet tone she reserved for Lee. Everybody was normal now. Everybody but him.

Kuan had better get his demon lover out of here before Calvin greeted her with a flying sidekick from Hell. Terry went forth to stall Calvin, feeling like he was breaking, and wondering how he was ever going to face his friend – his very straight friend – again.





I love you,” Devon had moaned as his mind and body dissolved into black velvet heat. “God, I love you.” Her words had exploded into obsidian shards as he shot his fire into her. Now he laid back sighing, hoping she’d been praying. Devon collapsed forward, her hair decorating him. “God, you’re good,” she whispered. Lee said nothing. She’d said she loved him and fear had him by the balls.

Devon was a siren, a dream, too beautiful. Only drowning men could feel her love. He was dying in her embrace, every second dying. She fell across him. Leaning out for a love he did not have to give. Guilt and sadness wracked him. Her lips and thighs were beautiful, but they gave her no right to take him in so completely. He’d shot his strength into her, now he was weak and longing desperately for a love he could not name.

Her hands on him were too light, too feathery. She looked up, lips stained from the kisses they’d shared. The look in her eyes was complete, she’d surrendered all of herself to him, expecting him to share her every sentiment. It was a gift he did not want. He did not want to be her master. Lee Kuan was no master, not even master of himself.

He stirred and turned away. Devon moved with him, like a rubber band that was tied to his heart. He held her away and looked into her unnaturally constricted pupils. “The love you have, it’s not for me.”

I’m sorry for what I said.” She shook back her long blonde hair. “I couldn’t help it. I do love you; who you are, who you could become.”

I don’t want to be that man,” Lee said. “I want to be who I am.” She pulled his hand away from his heart and cupped it around her small breast. He shrugged away. “I want-“ He could not bring himself to finish.

Do you know what it is you want?” Her narrowed eyes glittered in the semi-darkness.

Yes.” And the pressure of it cuts me like a knife, cuts me inside where you cannot see. You pleased my body, you touched my heart, but Devon, inside I am alone and waiting. All he said to her was, “I’m sorry. I can’t be who you want me to be. I’m sorry, Devon.”

Candlelight did not soften the blow. Devon turned to him, head lowered, lips disappointed. A tear rolled down a line he had not seen until now. Lee quivered inside, hating himself. He was not alone. The flame that flickered in her blue eyes was rage.

Chapter 9 - Changes

She's my little red coupe - you donno what I got. . .’ The tape deck blared as Calvin shifted the Fiat into high gear. The orange-red sports car tore up the mountain curves of Pacific Highway. Calvin had the tunes turned up past ten. Speed reaching eighty, wind tore much of the music away. ‘You donno what I got…’

What the hell is this- music to match your hair?” Lee growled, grinning.

Calvin laughed and floored the red convertible as they rounded a curve. His Hawaiian shirt was almost as loud as the music. His smile was broad. “Listen and learn, little brother.”

Wind ripped, reckless, through Lee’s hair. It was good to ride shotgun in the sun, good to get away from all the vibes and innuendos back in Ess Eff. There, Terry was strained, almost flirtatious and Devon was full of icy rage. Here, he felt free. The rims of his black shades and sunlight on highway were all he saw. The rush of freedom and the hot August sun were all he felt. Loud Sixties Rock and the motor’s roar were all he heard. Kuan leaned back in the bucket seat. He was only here, only now, riding in the sun and the wind.

The last three weeks had been peaceful and round, same as it always felt when he was with Calvin studying martial arts. This immersion in the now was worth more than months in therapy, worth more than days in meditation. Like his wife used to say, Kung Fu was his mistress. Lee felt whole for the first time in months.

Music banged his ears. Lee wondered what they’d played in the Operating Room. What was considered music to fix kneecaps by? He sure hoped it hadn’t been Country. Terry insisted he’d told the surgeon to play the Eurhythmics but Terry was very whimsical these days. His weirdness was one reason Lee’d decided to fly to Oregon. Devon was the other. Lee needed time and distance. Badly.

Calvin swung the Fiat off the highway and swerved down the familiar route. He pulled off the road by a split rail fence. He clicked the tape deck off. “You up for this?”

Hoo yeah!” Lee got out of the car. Calvin stopped to tie his shoe and Lee went on ahead. He had to go slow over the fence this time, and the tall grasses were browner, but he knew the path. To hell with the pain and the caution. Lee dove through the thicket onto the trail. He had come here to leave well-traveled paths and easier ways behind. He had come to remember himself.

A crow called to its mate. Sunlight filtered through the trees. The path was thinly worn beneath his feet. Insects serenaded and the humid air hung green and still around him. Cobalt sky gleamed through the arched roof span of trees. Lee sweated as he limped along, refusing to wait up or to turn. He didn’t want to see the pity in Calvin’s eyes. He tied a red bandana around his forehead and lurched on. Still, the heat was nothing like a Chicago August.

Memories were not like money, try as he might, he could not spend them away. Billy had been dead thirteen years last month and being here, at Calvin’s, Lee thought of his brother every day. In his mindseye, Billy was frozen at nineteen, lieutenant of the Dragons, falling forever in a flare of gunfire. He wondered who they could have become if they’d grown up as Calvin’s sons. Maybe Uncle Lou was right, maybe the Marines had squeezed Ba’s soul out through his ear and sent home a sharp-spined husk. Lee wondered if Ba had mellowed with age. He’d never know, because Ba claimed two dead sons now.

For a dead guy, Lee sure was busy. Doing Push Hands with Calvin last night might not have been the safest thing he could do for his recovery but it sure had been fun. Tonight there was the dinner with his Kung Fu brothers and then he’d catch the red-eye back to Ess Eff, the land exotica. Feeling tension crease his brow, Lee pushed his concerns away. San Francisco wasn’t going to fall into the ocean before he got home, her dilemmas would wait.

Here a twig snapped beneath his feet and a squirrel swung overhead. The sloping terrain presented extreme difficulty but he wasn’t going to wait for help unless his liver fell out. Since there was no chance of that happening today, he forged ahead, ignoring the searing pain in his leg. The most he gave himself was the luxury of shooting one dark glance at his swollen kneecap. Flash claimed to’ve fixed him. Couldn’t tell it by Lee. He’d heard all kinds of terms bandied about: state of the art surgery, serious case, longer healing time, odds, luck, gamble, recovery. It was almost enough to make a fatalist out of him.

He believed in karma, but unconventionally. To him, karma was a pull, a challenge, another bar to be leapt over. Nothing was purely fate and nothing purely random.

Beyond the arch of trees, the old fallen Oak provided a bench they’d polished on many days after T’ai Chi in the clearing below. Lee stepped into sunlight, smiling at the memories. “Ah.” The vista was immense, rolling greens falling away to the distant teal of ocean. The August heat made him feel lazy and content. The pain pill he’d taken an hour ago fogged his head quite nicely. San Francisco was a fuzzy echo, the remnant of a dream. He was safe here. It was safe to remember…



The alley was foggy, deserted. Billy slid the powder blue Corvette into reverse, backing out to the mouth of the alley. Their headlights searched the gloom. “I don’ like it. They’ve never changed the location of a meet before,” Billy said. He killed the lights, but left the engine idling. Lee shut off the radio, soul music still ringing inside his head. A stray cat cried.

Just as his eyes adjusted to the dark, a brown Mustang pulled into the other end of the alley. Headlights threw the alleyscape into a harsh relief of garbage cans, brick, and fog. The car doors opened. Two men got out. They had the strut of trained fighters.

Lee clenched a fist, slamming it into a palm, testing his weapon. Billy shook his head and reached. “No,” Lee told him. “No way.” Billy leaned toward the glove box anyway. In the gloom, Lee saw the character for his name glint streetlight back into his eyes. He’d etched it into the glove box just for fun. He wasn’t having any fun now. Billy fumbled the gun. “Last resort, okay?”

Don’ worry, kid.” Billy stuffed the gun into his waistband. “I got your back.” He ruffled Lee’s hair. “Let’s hit it.”

They got out of the car. Lee took the lead in case there was trouble. He looked proud, but icy terror shivered inside. Wong’s strategy was brilliant, two brothers running dope to California in custom cars, with an underage boy as muscle. Lee’s fighting skills were what made the Flying Dragons notice them in the first place. Until Lee’d grown into his skill set, Billy Kuan barely rippled Wong’s radar. Now he was flying up the ranks of the Hip Sing Tong. And Lee was set up to take the fall if the five-o got involved. Kids do less time. Especially nice kids with good grades and clean records like Johnny Lee Kuan.

The two toughs approached, speaking in Cantonese. Their figures cast long shadows. Alley smells of metal and garbage came at Lee. The men drew near. “Okay, you give the car.”

You Ian King?” Billy asked contemptuously.

The men smiled. The one in the red shirt got up in Lee’s face, his cheekbones high and oily. His lieutenant was all pimped out in leather and a Superfly hat, pretty wild for an Asian guy. Red shirt snapped his fingers. The Mustang flung on its brights, nearly blinding Lee. Billy edged closer as Lee glanced back over his shoulder. The alley was blocked. There was nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide. He would have to fight.

Lee pivoted, easing into a sidelong stance. There were two of them, more in the car. And they had him squinting into the light. Unfair advantages. He felt Billy’s hand twitch toward his gun. Lee nudged his brother and prayed that this confrontation would not turn into a blood bath. “We don’ want any trouble,” Lee said. His voice vibrated in the night like a metal wire.

The men laughed in his face. “Sure, little boy. You just give us what we want and you can go back to yo’ momma’s tit.”

Shut the fuck up,” Billy cried. Lee raised his hands. He waited, keeping low stance, ready. “Who sent you?”

All you need to know is I’m gone kill your brother and send you to hell,” Red Shirt said.

Only Wong’s people knew they were brothers. This was an inside job, set up to look like a third party rip-off. They were going to die. For dope. “No!” He wouldn’t let that happen. Lee edged his front foot forward, asking for the hands. “Here I am, baby, come get me.”

They came. Lee dodged the first few blows, ducking and weaving. Then Red Shirt connected. Lee let his head roll with it but did not break his stride. He swallowed the blood, and feinted. He’d needed that blow to assess his adversary’s strength and skill. They were not commensurate with his own.

Red Shirt lunged, leaving his midsection open. It was a simple matter to land a sidekick to his sternum. With a gasp, Red Shirt flew back, knocking his head against the brick alley wall. Lee watched him collapse, knocking over garbage cans, spilling filth onto pavement. This was not his first street fight; he knew Red Shirt was down and would stay down.

Superfly stepped in with a curse and an awkward kick. Eyes wide and unflinching, Lee struck first, punching high, kicking low. Superfly gasped as Lee’s kick dislocated his knee. Kuan used the moment to land three punches, darting in and away. While Superfly swayed drunkenly, doubling over, Lee kicked him in the head. This was almost too easy.

Then a man exited the brown Mustang. His power entered the alley like a strobe light. Lee would never forget the moment. Fog on the ground. The man’s silhouette rising from bright headlights, blonde hair gleaming like electric wires. The single shot. Billy fell. He didn’t even have time to scream. Lee fell with him, fell howling to his knees.

The blonde man advanced, aiming his gun. Lee stared into the small black eye of death, undaunted, undefeated. Death came to him, black leather coat spreading in the lights like wings. “Well, you’re a little beauty, ain’t ya?” The man’s Australian accent broke into shards of fire in the dark alley. Lee couldn’t speak. Breath hissed hot and heavy through his chest. Knowing they could be his last breaths, Lee rose. He would not die on his knees. He heard the snick of a switchblade opening.

The tall man’s hand struck like a snake, drawing blood from Lee’s neck. “Turn round, sweetheart.” The knife sliced again, deeper this time. “Turn.” Lee obeyed. Big hands caressed his ass. “Oh, yeah.” Instinctively, Lee knew what came next. His stomach turned and he tried to bolt. The razor-sharp blade stopped him. He couldn’t tell where the gun was as his clothes were cut away. Teeth cut deep into his shoulder. Ramming his forehead into the brick wall, Erik thrust inside his body. Lee struck back with his elbow, with his head, using all his strength. It only made his own pain worse. This time the blade bit deep. Blood flowed hot over his heart. Death was his only escape.

He was too weak to take that way out. White light broke into fragments before his eyes and Lee felt nothing, not even pain. A little while away, Billy’s dead face watched, one eye a bloody hole and the other vacant. Billy’s big soul gathered in the alley and blew away, like the smoke of a cigarette. Fog consumed them. Lee’s mind shut down. Time stretched out, then snapped tight.

The blonde man staggered back and Lee saw his face full-on in the light. Erik’s bloodthirsty grin was burnt forever into his brain in that split second before the gun came up. Lee was bleeding, sliding down, leaving his skin on the cold brick wall as he groped for a weapon. The deadly gun rose, fixing its cold eye on his forehead.

His fingers connected with the handle of a garbage can lid. He grasped the handle tightly in his left hand and prayed his aim was true. He waited until the last possible second, then slammed the lid up like a shield. There was a deafening clang as bullet bent metal. Desperate, Lee tried to fold his ravaged body behind the shield. Eric shot again. The bullet cut through metal and grazed his temple. Lee fell to one side, stunned.

Pain and harsh headlights blinded him. Erik’s booted foot came closer, then slammed into his face. Lee heard his nose break. He tasted blood. He curled in upon himself, waiting for the end. “No!” a woman cried. “Leave him!” Her slurred words stopped Erik. “Let him live.”

Aw, y’know what they say about saving a life, luv. Ya gotta take responsibility for it.”

Lee heard no more until a cop nudged him awake him with a nightstick. He was the only man living in that alley at sunrise. The car was gone, his assailants were gone, and he was sticky with blood. Flies crawled into his brother’s mouth as the cop talked nonsense at him.

Lee talked truth to his father from the hospital bed. He was ashamed, but he was alive. The favorite son was in a morgue, headed only for a pine box, and there was no going back. Ba was angry, he needed someone to blame. Lee spoke the truth he had concealed from the authorities as gently as he could, watching his father’s eyes, holding out his heart in his hand, wanting comfort for his pain, for his loss, too. Only a kind word. One. He waited.

You are no more my son.” Those momentous words, spoken in a whisper, sealed his fate. Ba threw a white envelope fat with money onto his bruised chest and walked away.



Hey, dragoneyes, you okay?” Calvin’s voice jerked him back to the Here-and-Now. Sunlight fell yellow-green through the treetop canopy. Cicadas buzzed. A fly landed on the bare patch of knee that showed through his favorite jeans. It bit at his scar and he shooed it away. “Is the pain bad?’ Lee shook his head. “You’re a lousy liar.” They sat in companionable silence. The vista was magnificent, teal blues and greens that swept into each other and fell away together to the far-off sea. "Lee, I think, having you here again, that maybe I - screwed up."

"You were the one who said I wasn't ready to stay." And it had cut his heart out. He had wanted more than anything else to stay at the Kwoon. Calvin, Karen, and the kids felt like family. His two years here had been happy for all of them. But he’d taken Calvin’s advice and, in the years that passed, he’d grown a new life: two jobs, a daughter, an old uncle to look after, classes to teach, and a business to run. "You told me to go out, marry, have a child. I did. Now I have responsibilities in The City. What can I do?"

"It is your Tao to be there, Jian Li, yet I wish...” His voice trailed off into a sigh. His face became very serious. Lee narrowed his eyes and watched his teacher closely. “So, you miss The City?” Calvin asked, picking up a stick.

No.” Lee lit a cigarette. “Not as much as I thought I would.”

Calvin began to scrape at a mess on the bottom of his shoe. “You miss the girl?”

It was his last night in Oregon. Certain issues had been assiduously avoided until now. Lee sighed. He’d known they’d get to Devon eventually and had decided on brutal honesty, no matter how unflattering. “No. I miss the sex. I don’t miss the girl.” Calvin’s calligraphic eyebrows shot skyward. “I know, I know… I wasn’t thinking. It was thinking.”

Well, I hope ‘it’ had its thinking cap on.” Like an overprotective Dad, Calvin thought of everything. “And another thing- she may look ten years younger, but she’s about my age, kiddo. It may not seem like much now, but it’ll matter down the road.”

This is not a ‘down-the-road’ kind of relationship, Calvin. In fact, it’s a non-relationship. A non-issue. I broke it off with her.” Calvin shot him a glance. “I hope I did.”

So long as you didn’t break it off in her.”

It was close.” Lee smoked in silence for a moment, wondering if Devon would really let him go this easily. He sighed heavily, doubtfully. “But it’d never work out. Too many weird vibes. Crazy stuff. With that damn suit, and the food, and all those references to Hong Kong. I keep remembering that picture on her desk and thinking – I know it sounds ridiculous – that she wanted me to be that dead guy, that she wasn’t really seeing me at all.”

Calvin bit his lip, considering. They watched a hawk fly overhead, its proud wingspan brown and white on the cobalt sky. “White suit?” Calvin looked as if it was significant. "Chinese?" Lee nodded again. Calvin scraped.

You saw the photograph?” Lee kicked at some soggy leaves underfoot. "I donno, Calvin. It just struck me as real good sense to get out of there for a while. It wasn't fair to her." Lo groaned. "No, really. She says she’s in love. Maybe she is. I was selfish, thinking I could accept all her - kindness without having her expect something back, something more, or at least something different from, what I have to give. I had to bail. It wasn't fair to either one of us. I feel like a jerk, but I also feel like an idiot for playing into her game. Like a tease."

"There's some truth in all of that." Lee hung his head. Why couldn't Calvin ever say something just to make him feel better? Calvin was silent for a beat, looking at Lee. "You look like a man she loved a long time ago. But I didn’t see a photo of her lover, I knew him. I fought him. It's because of that man that she hates me. It’s because of him that I am here.

Back in Hong Kong - it’ll be thirty years ago this November - I challenged that man, Sai Man Lim to a kung fu match. He was a former student of Lao Sifu Yu, supposed to the best and the most scandalous. They hated each other passionately. And I was vain, I wanted to prove I was the best, wanted to win points with my Sifu by besting a man he hated. Oh, I was no box of candy when I was a kid. I was what you would call a macho pig. Anyway, we sparred. Whew, he was a great fighter. But his energies were off that night and I trounced him, fair and square."

Lee crushed out his smoke and immediately lit another, despite the disapproval in Calvin’s eyes. "Okay, the Demon Seed meets Jackie Chan. So?"

"So… Sai Man went crazy. He came at my Sifu, a very old man in a chair. And he came at him with a spear. Grabbed it off the rack and went for him, in front of the whole school. Sai Man should have known we'd rush him. We all did. I got there first. I kicked him. Too hard. I was young. I was panicked." Calvin dropped the stick. He dropped the excuses. “I killed him. I kicked him and he fell off the roof and down into the street.”

Lee choked, remembering his nightmares. He stared wide-eyed at Calvin. Even after all these years, Lo held back tears. “He fell. I didn't mean fo’ it to happen. I was a kid. But, that don’ excuse my fault. Or his.” He shook his head. “But why he did that. . . Like a man with a death wish. . . I'll never know why.

I had to leave Hong Kong. I stayed in Taiwan for a while. But, Devon sent assassins after me. So, I went to Thailand. I moved around. Gave up martial arts. Went to a monastery. Went to University. Then I ended up here, with Karen. I thought I left that part of my life behind me. I managed to evade her all these years. Till now. That’s why I worry for you, kiddo. I think she’s got her mind so twisted up that she associates you with him. I think she’s a real sick puppy. I want you to beware.”

I’m out of it. I’m clear.” At last, all Calvin’s old stories fit together. Devon’s adulation seemed suddenly crazy. Remembering their intimacy made him queasy. It showed.

Is she why you’re here?”

No.” Calvin didn’t believe him. “Not solely. Terry’s been - strange. I think the stress of looking after me got to him. He started dressing different, seeing different people. I don’ know. I think there’s something wrong.”

You want to know what it is?” Lee swallowed hard, not at all sure that he did. Calvin held his gaze, sure as steel. “I think he’s a little light in his loafers, pal.”

He’s not,” Lee shot back. He read the disapproval in his oldest friend’s face, he saw the fear, and slowly his gaze became defiant. “But so what if he were?”

Don’ you think that’s taking him a little lightly?”

Is that why you didn’t invite him up here for the school’s anniversary?” Calvin glanced away. “I was really hoping it was an oversight.” Lee attended the anniversary barbeque every year. “I’m planning on bringing him.”

No, Jian Li. It’s not a good idea. Even here, you know what they’ll think-”

Well, ‘they’ can be damned!” The thunder of Lee’s voice cracked against tree bark. “Look, he is my student, my number-one student. He’s helped teach my classes, he’s taken care of me, he’s looked after my kid, my Uncle. I can’t – I won’t - be this rude to him. Don’t ask me to.” His words came out in short staccato bursts. “I am begging you, don’t push me. Calvin. You can’t discount him because you think he’s gay. That’s-“

It’s not because he’s gay. Maybe he doesn’t even know it yet. But he’s toxic to you. You’re a man who is strong alone, you can handle anything. Don’ let him make you weak. You’re a man now, Jian Li…”

And if I fuck him, I’m still a man.”

Calvin slapped him. At the sudden sound, the birds went silent. Everything went into slow motion. Lee tasted blood and touched the stinging palm print on his cheek. It was then that he noticed that he was shaking. “I’m sorry, Sifu, I’m so sorry.”

So am I.” Calvin looked at his hands, ashamed. “I shouldn’t have-”

Lee cut in, not willing or not caring to hear Calvin out. “I am sorry.” His voice was deadly quiet. “But I cannot let another man dictate my soul. I haven’t done anything wrong. I haven’t done – anything. And neither has he. I won’t punish him because you consider him unsuitable company. No matter how much I respect you, no matter how good you’ve been to me, I won’t be cruel to an innocent. And Terry’s got the most innocent heart I’ve ever known.

I appreciate your concern. I do. I’m honored that you care enough to treat me as your son. But, like you said, I’m a man now, Sifu. And in my life, I’ve only known two wholly good people, you and Terry. I hope someday you’ll see that.” Lee took a deep breath. “But, until then, he goes everywhere a student is supposed to go. Or I, as his teacher, will not.”

Stung, Calvin looked away. “I hope you’re right,” he said stiffly. “Perhaps I am too harsh. But, it’s only that… You are like a son to me.” Lee nodded but his body was still rigid with anger. “I’m sorry I hit you,” Calvin said though they both knew he didn’t have to.

I donno why I said that- thing.” It was as near to an apology as Lee would dance.

Calvin waved his concerns away. “I know why. You always stick up for the underdog. I should know that about you by now, yes? You’re a good boy. You have such a big heart.” Lee knew Calvin was choking back a lecture and from his look, it was about as much fun as swallowing cardboard. “I worry for you, I worry. I just want to say one thing and then I let it drop forever. All those things he did for you, just ask yourself why. And answer honestly. No bullshit. No cosmic foo foo. Until then, we’ll agree to disagree.”

Lee nodded, making a stern line of his mouth. The humid air coated his bare arms. He laughed sadly as the sun went down. This argument wasn’t going away. Their relationship had always been nontraditional, but today he may, at last, have gone too far. What a mess he’d made of his last night in Oregon. Lee contemplated the mountainside falling away all around, green melting into green. A sudden tear stung his eye. A deep, dark, sadness filled his soul.

"That’s not why I brought you up here. I wanted you to hear my story. Only you and my wife know. Devon knows, but I’m sure her version is different. So, Jian Li, if anything ever happens to me. . . No revenge. Promise me." Startled, Kuan looked up into his teacher's eyes, looked in deep, still frowning. The statement was not cavalier. Calvin did not believe in idle chatter. "Promise me." It was a command that reached across the gated distance between them.

Profoundly uncomfortable, Lee nodded once shortly, and stubbed his cigarette out on the wet log. Suddenly, it tasted bad.

Calvin patted his shoulder, glancing away from the questions in his eyes. "Good boy. Keep your karma clean. Revenge is bad business, it keeps you on that wheel - going around, coming around. It has very little to do with right-mindedness, and very much to do with desire. And desire is the source of all suffering.”

Safe again on philosophical ground, Lee dissented. “Oh, I donno, Calvin, I think it’s attachment, not desire. One can have desire and not act on it. One can have desire and yet not be attached to that desire. And I know I have to put my money where my mouth is here. Devon caught me at a weak moment. I know you think she engineered it. But I don’t give her that much power, man. She may be dark, she may even be deluded, but she’s still worthy of compassion. Just like Terry is. Just like I am.” Calvin stared at the treetops, resolute. “I’ve never known you to be so uncharitable, Calvin. What’s wrong with you?”

Attachment.” Calvin answered without irony. “Desire. I want you to be okay. I desire that very much and I’m attached to that desire. You are my spiritual son and you’re walking point in a war zone in that city. Everybody wants a piece of you there. Here, no one wants anything except your good and your growth.”

I know.”

The wind whispered through the trees, growing colder. Soon it would rain. By then, they’d be home getting ready for the dinner. Lee warmed at the thought of seeing Karen and the kids again. Damp seeped through the bottom of his jeans. He squirmed, but Calvin was not ready to leave. Not yet.

Here.” Calvin pulled out his overstuffed wallet. He rifled through it until he found a small newspaper clipping. He handed it to Lee. “This was in my Sunday paper.”

Noted T’ai Chi instructor, Calvin Lo, passed away- What the hell is this?” Calvin shrugged; he had no answers. Lee studied the clipping in stunned silence, remembering his journalism classes. “There must be some mistake. Newspapers write obituaries in advance for prominent people. Calvin, they must’ve made a mistake.”

I don’ think so. I checked with the paper. They’ve never heard of me.”

A shiver crawled down the back of Lee’s neck. It was getting dark. The sun had been sucked down into the ocean without his noticing. “Who would do this?”

I think you just broke up with her.”

***

Feeling the music in every pore, Terry spun. Strobe lights echoed in his eyes. Sweat ran down the center of his bare chest. The bandana he’d tied around his head was soaked. And the beat banged on. The dance floor throbbed with sweating, pumping bodies. This crush went beyond anything he’d experienced on the West Coast. Nonetheless, when Terry put his heart into dancing, people stood back to watch. And Terry was really dancing tonight.

Six men boogied in a circle around him. Terry flashed his grin at each of them in turn. He felt their eyes on his hips as the music changed to a slow bump and grind. Sly Baldwin waved to him across sparks and darkness. A red light strafed the crowd. Bathed in a circle of red light, Terry winked goodbye to his little group.

He pressed through the crowd, letting the beat move him, going nipple-to-nipple with a Chinese boy with blonde-streaked hair. He’d seen a lot of Asian gays in these last two weeks but none of them had eyes like Lee’s. No one did.

With a Cheshire cat grin, Sly waited at the bar, waving a tiny paper parasol in time to the rhythm of the night. Antonio, posing beside Sly, looked even more handsome than he had last evening and he knew it. He was counting on it. Terry dropped his eyes. Maybe he’d let Tonio take him home tonight. Maybe not. He didn’t want anyone to cling. He was still learning who he was.

Coming out had been terrifying, exhilarating, and tacky in turn. He’d changed a whole lot more than his hairdo. Nothing he’d ever known approached the tension of that final moment before the trousers hit the floor. It was like the hesitation of a roller coaster car at the apex. But, fall they did. And they fell loudly enough to be heard in Manhattan.

His embarrassments with Aimee seemed distant, predestined. Everything was different, more Real. He’d even gotten an ear pierced to proclaim his queer identity. But summer vacation ended tonight. Lee was coming home.

Love how you dance.” A burly biker dude grabbed Terry’s arm.

Sorry, sweetie, he’s taken.” Strobe lights glinted off Sly’s high black cheekbones as he peeled Terry, who was doing his best deer-in-the-headlights look, away from the big man. “Some guys can be so handsy.”

Uh, yeah,” Terry stuttered. He was totally unglued by Antonio’s come-fuck-me stare. The best he could do was mutter, “Hey,” as his hands began to shake. He struggled into the turquoise shirt Sly had picked out for him and buttoned a few buttons. He was ready.

Cocktail?” Sly did not wait for him to answer, merely handed over a tequila sunrise. Thirsty, Terry drank it quickly. He didn’t know where it’d come from but he did know another would appear. He hadn’t had to buy a drink in weeks.

Antonio signaled the bartender and turned up the intensity of his gaze. Another drink arrived. Terry nodded his thanks. Antonio wet his lips. Nervous tremors did an electric dance in Terry’s belly. The room was too loud for small talk and none was really needed. Everything was said with the flick of a hip or a slow bedroom stare. Terry knew bar-language; he was simply learning a new dialect with Sly as his tutor. The little black man radiated pride. He’d been right about Terry at last.

I’m so glad I lived to see this, sugar.” Antonio had been a real success. Sly was in matchmaker’s paradise. And Terry was scared to death. Not that these last weeks with Antonio hadn’t been thrilling. Despite the racket and the hubbub in his head, Terry’d been very safe, very careful. There’d been important questions to resolve. Like, could he? Would he? Should he? The answer was yes.

But not without reservations. Antonio had shown up at the I-beam without warning, obviously expecting that tonight he would go where no man has gone before. Terry wasn’t ready for that step yet. The hopeless romantic in him wanted to wait and have the first man to fuck him mean something.

Everything okay?” Sly shouted in his ear. Terry barely heard. “Okay?’

Yeah,” Terry smiled and flexed his new muscles. “Thanks to you.”

That’s me, darling’, the Obi Wan Kenobi of queer.” Sly’s coaching and impromptu lectures transformed him from baffled rock and roll boy to blow-dried G.Q. babe. And, in all his trials and tribulations, in all his permutations, Terry’d never felt more Real.

Terry straightened the narrow belts he wore around his pleated pants. Everything about his look was au currant. He took off the bandana and wound it around his wrist. Antonio swayed toward him. “Having a good time?” Terry smiled while Blondie in the background sang a song from last night. “Want to dance?”

No. I want…” Terry paused to consider. There were so many options now. Since Lee’d left town, Terry’d been living on an adrenalin high, kicking his life into high gear. “I want to go home.” He pushed at Antonio’s chest as the good-looking Spaniard swayed closer. “Alone.” Grabbing his brown bomber jacket off the barstool, he slung it over one shoulder and smiled. “Ciao.” Sly blew him a kiss. Antonio took one.

Terry strutted through the crowd. Groups of gorgeous men parted before him with admiring eyes. The dark stairway down to the street was carpeted in blood red. Pretty people were stacked up two deep on it. They stood aside. He’d never been more confident of his power. A punk with magenta hair and a feather boa made his way up the stairs, picking a feather out of his teeth as he returned Terry’s grin. The double doors swung open. Neon and streetlights greeted him. Warm night air was misty on his face. He lit a smoke as he looked for a bus. He brushed his sweat-soaked hair back off his face.

A blonde man heading into the club stopped to give him a cruise. Terry didn’t bother to glance at his face, just pretended he didn’t notice, and crossed the street. No bus was coming, so he started walking. Long strides took him away from the crowds, trekking down Haight Street, heading home. Heavy fog muffled every sound. Terry never heard the footsteps behind him.

Chapter 10 - Blue Highway

Lee and Calvin stood in the driveway, staring up at the beautiful Oregon morning, not really ready to say goodbye. Steam rose from Kuan’s coffee mug and wind ruffled his shaggy black hair. He was looking very handsome today, ever the tragic hero in black, with those fine dark brows drawn together in a watchful frown. Calvin kept going over the route with him, as if he hadn’t found his own way here. Lee waited, patient and kind.

But Erik, hidden inside the garage, thought that if Calvin repeated himself once more about it being a straight shot down I-5 he’d go mad. If this was what it was like having a proper Dad, he was just as glad he’d never had one. Erik clenched his fists and bit the inside of his lip until it bled. He hadn’t driven balls-out all night long to listen to this drivel.

This suburban neighborhood gagged him. Children played on the front porch of Calvin’s rustic brown house, laughing and shouting. Happy housewives greeted each other from station wagons and mailboxes. Cats licked their paws, stretching in the sun. Everything was hideously chipper and bright.

Calvin’s large lot sloped down to the street. The garage was perched halfway to the street. The old-fashioned garage was visible from the house, but at an odd angle. Someone had to be looking hard to get a glimpse inside. It was a good garage, stacked high with boxes on one side. Erik hid behind them. Delighted to find the garage door unlocked, Erik’d been waiting inside since sunup, pissing into Calvin’s toolbox.

As their small talk dribbled away, Kuan kept rubbing his leg like it hurt. Erik hoped it hurt real good. “I better hit the road,” Lee said, handing over the coffee mug. Calvin looked surprised as Lee drew him into a brief bear hug. The back-thumping ritual that followed appeared to cheer them both.

Oh, yeah, I forgot this.” Lee retrieved an autographed baseball from his duffle bag and tossed it to Calvin. “Give it to Johnny for me, willya?” Lee strapped his bag to the back of his big, black motorcycle and zipped his leather jacket.

Laughing, Calvin rolled the ball in his fingers. “This must’ve set you back some. You know my son doesn’t need any more reason to love you. He already wants to be just like you.”

Man, I hope he grows out of that.”

I don’t.”

Lee got on the bike and tied back his shaggy black hair. “Look, about the other day-“

Forget it.” Calvin waved his words away. “Just watch your ass, kiddo.”

Will do.” Lee kick-started the Harley and drove slowly down the blacktop driveway. As he turned out onto Timberline Drive, he looked back. His gaze was sad, the poor bloke looked like he’d lost his best friend. He raised his hand in a solemn salute, trying to put a brave face on things. Then he gunned the engine and took off.

Tossing the ball from hand to hand, Calvin watched until Lee was out of sight. Then he sighed heavily and, shaking his head, looking like he felt his age, he walked up toward the old garage. Still hiding behind the stack of boxes, Erik waited. Lost in some private thought, completely unsuspecting, Calvin paced closer. The moment had come. Erik knocked a small box over, trying hard not to laugh with glee.

What the-“ Calvin paced uphill and into the garage. Erik held his breath, every muscle and every nerve singing with anticipation. Squinting into the gloom, Calvin bent to pick up the box. He never completed the motion. Erik swung out of the shadows and rammed his blade up and into Calvin’s liver. Grunting with surprise and pain, Lo staggered. A fierce elbow to the spine drove him down to the cement floor.

Erik was on him in a heartbeat. Even with the bigger man on his back, Calvin struggled and called out. “Shut up!” Kneeling on his back, Erik pulled Calvin’s face up from the floor, gagging him with one leather-jacketed forearm. “Make any sound and I take out the wife and the kids, too. Ya got me, mate?”

Calvin nodded slowly, very aware of the switchblade at his throat. Both men were breathing fast, sweating, straining. They both knew Erik was in a perfect position to break Lo’s back. “Now, are you going to be good?” Erik applied some pressure, just for spite. Lo nodded, still clutching the baseball.

Ya know yer dead already.” Calvin wasn’t too bloody, yet. The killing injury was all inside. Untreated, he’d bleed out in twenty minutes.

Erik intended to enjoy every single one of those minutes. He deserved some fun. He’d lost the pretty boy last night through no damn fault of his own. Just as he was closing in, blade in hand, some Latin lover-boy drove up in a BMW and offered Terry a ride. Enraged, frustrated, hungry, Erik drove all night to get to Lo. Mister Kung Fu would be better food for his blade than that little pansy anyway. And there was another benefit to this kill. Devon would have to love him once he pulled this off. She’d have to. Erik would bring her proof.

Now if you’re a good boy and get up with me, I won’t have to cut the tits off your pretty little wife.” Lo struggled to his feet, trying not to show the pain. The black blood from his liver blended perfectly with his black clothing. Erik grabbed one wrist and twisted it brutally behind his back. With some kung fu magic, Calvin spun and twisted away. But he was hurt, bad hurt, and bleeding inside. It slowed him down. Erik pivoted, slamming a kick into his bloody midsection. Clutching his gut, Calvin flew back against the tool bench. Even now he had his pride, he would not let himself fall.

Using all his height, Erik loomed large over the dying man. “Now I’m gonna cut you up good. But first, let me tell you why. You’re being executed today for killing someone who was very dear to my lady, Devon King. Some bloke back in Hong Kong. You know the one?” Calvin knew. Erik waggled a finger under his nose. “What goes around comes around and all that. Got any last requests?”

Not – not here. The children- might see-“

Right on cue, a little boy ran up to the bright mouth of the garage. “Daddy?”

Erik turned his face away, glad of the shadows, and glad he’d worn the black watchcap. His blonde hair was too distinctive. “Be cool or I do you now,” Erik whispered, digging the tip of his blade warningly into Lo’s back.

Straightening up, trying to appear normal, Calvin tossed his son the baseball. “It’s okay, Johnny. Go play.” The kid looked at the white ball. The bloody handprint on it was vivid in the sunlight. “Go play by Mommy. Go!”

The little boy ran up to the house. Doubtlessly, he’d show the blood to his Mum and she’d call in the coppers. “You wanker!” Erik jabbed the point of the knife in and twisted it hard enough to make Lo groan. “I bet you think you’re clever. We’ll just take our little party on the road, then.” He jabbed the knife in again. “Walk.”

The red Mustang was parked less than forty feet away. Lo could walk it, even doubled over and staggering as he was. Erik jabbed him again for motivation. “Walk. You come without a struggle and I’ll forget this address. Otherwise… I do so love children.”

Lo lurched forward. Every word cost him. “How do I know you’ll keep your word?”

You don’t. But it’s all you got.” Erik opened the car door and stuffed him inside. Hurrying around the front of the car, Erik tried to act casual while his eyes raked the area. He knew Lo’d try to fight or even make a run for it. He also knew they were being watched. Some bloody housewife probably had the Mustang’s plate number scrawled on a grocery list by now.

Sliding into the driver’s seat, Erik looked at the white sheen of shock on Lo’s face. The man was hunched over, in severe pain, black blood oozing between his fingers. His eyes were damp as he looked at his home for the last time. “Oh, sweet Jesus.” Erik spat in disgust and gunned the engine. “I thought you were tougher, mate. I really did.”

***

Papa’s Joint on Main Street in Weed, California was not the greatest place in the world for a longhaired Chinese guy to hang out. Just doors down from the thrift shop and the hardware store, it was the only bar in town that offered nothing besides drinking space. After 5 hours on a bike, all Lee wanted was a drink.

The little logging town of 8,100 looked like a set from a 1960’s Western. Two-story buildings painted peach and beige crowded an empty street. Getting off his motorcycle, Lee wiped the dust from his face and stepped up onto the sidewalk. He heard people on the wooden balcony above his head comment on the lovely mountain view.

Tension flowed through his veins. Some of his ancestors lived and died in little towns like this, towns dependant on the railroads to bring them life. A great-great-uncle on his father’s side was lynched in a town like this for loving a white woman. Lee glanced around him. He was tense and he was in pain and he wasn’t feeling very lucky today.

He followed the music of Jimi Hendricks into Papa’s Joint. When the fat man wandered over, Lee kept it terse. “Shot of Tequila. Beer back.” Two white-haired gentlemen in the back watched a girl feed money into the jukebox. A redheaded biker watched him and Lee couldn’t get Calvin’s face out of his head.

Though still half deaf from the roar of the motorcycle, Calvin’s voice echoed in his ears. He’d even pulled over at rest stop 112 around 10:30 to call Calvin’s house. Karen grabbed the phone on the first ring, sounding strange and panicked. No, no, everything was alright, she’d said. Lee didn’t believe her then. He didn’t believe her now.

He checked the clock. It was a vintage timepiece, pitching beer by showing three bears playing by an illuminated waterfall. ‘From the land of sky blue waters’ was the beer’s slogan. 2:15 was the time. Not thinking about very much, Lee drank. He watched the biker and the old duffers in cowboy hats watch the girl, wondering what was so special about her. Her ass was skinny and her shoulders were broad, but her hair was lovely, all wild and curly and brown.

Lee caught his breath when she turned around. She had no breasts at all but that didn’t matter. She had huge blue-green eyes with bristling black lashes. Shadow was kind to the high planes and hollows of her face and her lips were impossibly full. She could pass for Terry’s sister. And she was on the prowl.

The girl brushed those long lashed eyes over him and immediately discounted him. Asian men got such lousy press as lovers. It wasn’t fair.

She brushed by the biker with an air of even greater disinterest. The biker spoke to her in a low tone. Lee did not strain to listen. He was only here for the beer. From the way the respectable gents in back would not meet her eyes, Lee guessed that the girl had a pretty bad reputation in town. She sauntered away, half dancing. By the way she stroked her thighs Lee knew she needed a man badly. His wife used to do that sometimes, unconsciously, and on those nights she was a tigress in bed.

Another shot, bud?” Lee nodded and tossed some money on the bar. Stretching his painful leg, he lit a cigarette. “You from around here?” Lee shook his head, wishing the bartender would go tend something else. “Come to see Mount Shasta?” Lee ground his teeth and thought about taking some pain medicine. “Lots of folks come up here to see old Shasta.”

Lee’d seen it from the highway and the parking lot of the Hi-Lo Motel and RV Park. That was enough for him. The fat man wasn’t going to let Lee off easy, so he mustered a wan smile. “Nope. I’m just passing through. On my way back to San Francisco.”

Oh, you’re from Frisco, eh? What part?” The fat bartender was so determined to squeeze conversation out of him that Lee wondered if he got paid by the word or by the drink.

Haight-Ashbury,” Lee said hoping to scare the fat man. “Yup, I live in the heart of the Haight.” He didn’t, but that was a technicality.

The biker two barstools over put down his beer and listened. He’d been eyeballing Lee since he walked in the door. He rubbed foam into his red beard and leaned over. “Nice hog.”

Thanks.”

You riding with anyone?” The big red-bearded guy scratched his beer gut.

Sure that was some kind of code for gang connections, Lee hesitated. “I ride alone.”

Hmm. That’s not always real safe, especially for a little guy like you.”

Lee bristled, tapping the ash off his cigarette in time to the loud rock music. “I can take care of myself. And any two guys that wanna make trouble for me.”

Whooee,” the big guy squealed. Lee’s sidelong glare was not encouraging. But with a face redder than his beard, the biker pressed on. “You know some of that kung fu shit?”

A little.” The air throbbed with tension. The petite brunette emerged from the ladies room and cocked her head, watching the skirmish. Lee knew what came next. Everybody did.

Oh, quit tryin’ to get a rise out of him, Rusty.” Her voice was low, almost boyish. “Not everybody’s as impressed with you as you are.”

Rusty got up and lumbered over to her. “You could show a man some respect.”

When I see me a man around here, I’ll think about it.” Rusty grabbed a handful of her curly brown hair. Her blue eyes widened with pain. “Hey!”

Let her go.” Rusty paid no attention, grabbing the thin girl by the ass and dragging her toward him. Lee got up. The girl, in a mini skirt cowboy boots, and a halter top, pushed at the big man with both hands, trying to get away. “I said, let her go.”

Now that he was closer, Lee figured the guy had about five inches and a hundred pounds more to work with than he did. If this fight went to the ground, he was in trouble. He’d have to end it fast, using no wasted motion and nothing fancy. “Yo!” Lee tapped him on the shoulder. “I don’t want to have to hurt you.”

Tossing the girl back against the pool table, Rusty turned. Moving with surprising lightness for such a burly dude, he smashed a meaty fist into Lee’s face. His silver skull ring opened a cut over Lee’s eye. No real harm was done, Lee’d taken the blow and rolled with it. But now that the big guy had taken the bait and thrown the first punch, the playing field was wide open. Coming out of a coiled posture, Lee struck.

Rusty’s nose crunched under his fist. The old gents jumped at the sound. The girl darted away. Rusty staggered, lurching, into the pool table, his face and beard bloody. Grabbing the eight ball, he swung it at the side of Lee’s head.

Using fook sao, Lee hooked his striking arm and blocked the blow. At the same time, he leaned in and hammered the man’s face with a killer left jab, a vertical punch, and a right cross to finish. Rusty fell to his knees, eyes rolling loosely back in his head. He fell forward, spewing blood and drool. The eight ball hit tile and rolled.

Is he out?” The girl asked breathlessly, clutching a pool cue.

Out cold.” Lee stood over the fallen man, breathing hard.

Here.” The girl grabbed a wad of white paper napkins and wiped at the blood flowing into Lee’s eye while he watched the bartender. The fat man pointedly did not reach for the phone. “Let’s get out of here before Rusty comes to.” The little brunette was right beside him, holding her purse. “C’mon.” It seemed as good an idea as any. “Oh, shit.”

Lee turned as the screen door swung shut behind two really pissed off bikers. They glanced at their buddy lying in a heap, then made straight for Lee. He was, after all, the only other bloody guy in the place.

Boys, I don’t want any more trouble here,” the bartender warned. “Get your motor running,” the jukebox dared. “Oh, shit,” the girl said again.

Lee walked toward the two men quickly. Before they could decide what to do with him, he moved. Lee slammed one silly with a roundhouse kick even as he dropped the other with a knifehand strike to the throat. “C’mon.” Lee called the girl. “Let’s go.”

Bouncing off the wall, the man he’d kicked flew at him. Lee grabbed his punch, then dropped into a crouch at lightening speed. The man flew forward, eyes rolling as he headed for the floor. Lee shot up and slammed a palm up under his chin. The clang of teeth on teeth split the music. “Say goodnight, Gracie.” The man fell.

Still coughing, the taller, thinner man came at Lee.

Let’s not,” Lee said. Tall guy didn’t listen. Lee ducked his wide, sloppy swing and bounced back up. His fist cut through the man’s defenses and blackened his eye. Tall guy struck again. Lee blocked the high strike, simultaneously kicking low. Tall guy howled, stumbling so close that Lee felt his acrid breath. Pulling every molecule of his being together, pulling from the very soles of his feet, Lee coiled, then struck. Tall guy flew back six feet and into a pinball machine. He fell, coughing and clutching his ribs while the machine went crazy.

Ignoring the bells and whistles, Lee stood firm. “You stay down,” he ordered. This time, the tall guy listened. Lee glanced over at the bartender. Gesturing at the phone, the fat man shook his head. Tall guy held up both hands. Nobody was calling the police. “Good. Come on.” He held out his hand for the girl. She came to him with a skittering step.

Outside, he rubbing his knuckles, he squinted into the sunlight. “Need a ride?”

Tossing her long brown curls, the girl wet her lips. “I need somethin’.” Lee smiled and fired up the bike. She hopped on behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist. “I’m Honey. You take me home and I’ll fix up your cut.” With her low voice in his ear, the wind in his hair, and a roaring steel beast between his legs, Lee began to think he might be having an adventure after all.

***

The closer she got to coming, the lower Honey’s voice got. “Oh, daddy, just keep giving it to me. You’re gonna make me come on you again.” He did. And she screamed. She was the most verbal and the most sexually aggressive woman he’d ever been with. He loved it.

They’d started ripping each other’s clothes off the minute they got in the door. He’d never even told her his name. She hadn’t asked, just kicked off a boot and said, “I’m gonna take you places you ain’t never been before, boy.” By the time they made it to the bedroom, he believed her. She pushed him down on the bed and started to fuck him senseless. Still wearing one cowboy boot, she’d pinned his wrists over his head and rode him like a bull.

Now he had her down on all fours. “I want it slow.” Not caring about his wounded knee, he took her from behind, fucking her deeply. She was a small woman and, curving his body over hers, Lee could bury his face in her hair. It had the most intoxicating scent, so familiar, so fine.

Inhaling deeply, he moaned. Fire was in his cock. He doubted he could get any bigger without exploding. She was hot and tight and it was hard to hold back. That fragrance made it nearly impossible.

Trying to distract himself, Lee focused on placing the scent. She arched her back and tossed her curly brown hair over her face. Yet, he saw a face. Terry’s face. She must use that fancy shampoo. Helpless, without shields, Lee swelled at the scent. He thrust into her, building his rhythm, trying to block the memory of Terry’s eyes, trying not to wonder how it would be if it were Terry’s sleek body beneath him and around him. Every breath was fire.

That shiver began in her hips and he knew she was coming again. This time she’d take him with her. He couldn’t stop his body, couldn’t stop his mind. She groaned in a guttural voice. Arching his back, crying out as he shot fire into her, Lee saw Terry’s face before the orgasm blinded him.

Breathing, quick and ragged breathing, filled the room. Lee came back to himself in a messy bedroom in Weed, California. The furniture was white ‘French Provincial”. He guessed it came from Sears, circa 1973. He noted the tatty floral wallpaper and the laundry basket in the corner. Recovering from the most intense orgasm of his life, he noticed the framed wedding photo on the bedside table. “That your husband?”

Yup.” She struggled to rise beneath him. Lee moved to the side, feeling like the stranger that he was to her. “That’s Roy. He’s a trucker. He’s on the road a lot.”

Oh.” The room was full of their sounds, their smells, and his guilt that grew every second. “When’s he coming home?”

Tomorrow.” She smiled, lighting up a Newport. “When are you going, lover?”

Any time now.” Lee glanced around for his clothes. “In fact, now is good. Does that work for you?”

Well, okay. But I was hoping you’d stick around for seconds.” Curly brown hair fell over her face and again he saw Terry. Lee hit the mental reject button, but still the vision stayed.

I’d love to, darlin’. But I’m tired and I’m thinking that maybe Weed isn’t the safest place for me to be staying overnight. I don’t want to fight any more bikers. I don’t want to run into any stray husbands. I just want a bath and a meal and a bed.”

You could stay here. The kids don’t get home till six.”

Oh, this just keeps getting better, Lee thought, heavy on the irony. “How many kids?”

Three. Dave and Janelle…” Lee stopped listening and started dressing. He was not a guy who finds himself in this sort of scene. He felt dirty and tired and scared of the visions in his head. While Honey prattled on about her kids, Lee backed out the door, buttoning his fly. At the kitchen door, she gave him sloppy kisses and offered to make him eggs. Lee got out as gracefully as he could. Weed was not his kind of town.

He was glad to go. Though he’d taken a room at the Hi-Lo, he wasn’t going to sleep until he was far away from Weed. It was fifty or sixty miles to the next town he knew. His knee was killing him but he didn’t dare take anything for the pain. With the wind in his hair and the roar of the engine, there was nothing between him and his thoughts.

And, right now, that was a bad thing. Lee had some hard truths to face. Honey excited him with her vague resemblance to Terry and because she wore his scent. What he’d seen while he was in her had nothing to do with her and shouldn’t have anything to do with him. When Jay and Maggie put together a class on human sexuality, he’d heard the term ‘homosexual panic’ bounced around. It wasn’t bouncing anymore.

Lee turned into the parking lot of the no-tell motel, making gravel fly. He had to get out of town quick. He didn’t want anything else from those three angry bikers. Time to get the gear and hit the road. But, inside his room, the beige plastic face of the telephone beckoned him.

Sitting down, feeling foolish, he reached for the phone. Dialing home with shaky fingers, Lee had no real idea of what he would say, of how he would feel when he heard Terry’s voice. The phone rang while he envisioned Terry in their dingy yellow kitchen burning something for dinner. The phone rang again. Maybe Terry was in the shower, soaking wet… washing himself, and thinking of me. Lee stopped his mind while the phone rang on.

Talk to me,” Terry’s low voice was seductive. The Eurhythmics, in the background, sang about the rain, again. “C’mon, c’mon, talk to me. Leave your message at the beep.”

His heart pounded. The visions knotted up with those dreams he did not wish to remember, slid through his fine theories of life and love as they curled around his throat like an Anaconda. Lee started to sigh, then spoke, wonderfully surprised he could still speak in English. “It’s me. I’m on the road. I’ll be gone longer than I’d planned. Don’t worry. I’ll be in touch.” Grateful that he’d only had a Memorex version of Terry to deal with, Lee hung up the phone. “I think I’m having a breakdown.”

Looking through his wallet, he found Jay’s number. Jay was a psychiatrist, he’d know. Lee dialed. “Jay? I’m about an hour from your place.” He listened to Jay ramble on about what a ‘righteous blast’ they were having at his Shasta Lake retreat. Groovy music filled the background and he heard the yelps of children playing. “Could I crash with you tonight?”

Great, thanks.” Lee hung up. Leaving the key on the dresser, he slammed out of the hotel room and onto his bike. Locking his revelation deep inside, he rode the blue highway.

***

Gray gasoline smoke billowed. Erik smiled. In the sweet-scented Oregon twilight, the fire was a beacon of evil and death. Just the way he liked it.

Erik tossed a match into the front seat of the beat-up red Mustang. Fire licked bloody black upholstery. It would take time for folks to notice the car burning in this little snip of forest outside Portand. He’d have time to hitch a ride to the airport and get away. He’d set it up so beautifully. Devon’d wired a vat of money to him before he’d had his little run-in with Mr. Kung Fu. And there was a ticket waiting for him at the Portland airport.

The Mustang, unfortunately, was too bloody, too recognizable to keep. So, he threw another match. The black passenger seat was soaked with blood and gas, it took extra care to ignite. He’d had to drag his prey into the car to complete the kill. That one had fought, so hard, so long, fought even as the life gushed out of the fatal slash in his throat. He’d wanted to be a hero, that one had. Erik sighed, remembering. The gold medallion he wore around his neck would be a constant comfort, an everlasting reminder of his own strength, of his ultimate victory.

For a small man, Calvin Lo had owned an amazing reserve of power and strength. Good food for the blade. His dying made Erik stronger. Each kill made him tougher. But this one had been the best, drinking in all that power had made him drunk with an ecstasy most men would never know. But Erik was not most men. He was a predator. He was strong.

Devon was gonna love him when he got home. She had no choice. She could not reject him now. Not after he’d taken revenge on her worst enemy. He even had pictures to prove his worth. When she told him about the love she’d lost to Lo, Erik made his plan. It was inevitable. It was destiny. When he heard Lo viciously tearing her down at that school, his fate had been sealed. Lo had been dead since that moment.

Erik watched the fire, feeling hot power burn inside his chest. It was a good thing, it was the smart thing, to destroy the car that linked him to two kills. All predators must cover their tracks. And he was nothing if not a predator.

He tossed the orange gas can into the beat-up red Mustang and threw his head back arrogantly. There was no time to enjoy the flames. He’d best get away before the car blew. The beloved Polaroid and the trophy were safe in his backpack. Erik strutted toward the highway. Behind him the car burnt brightly.

The deserted stretch of highway beckoned. He strode confidently toward it. No telling what adventures awaited him on the road. Erik laughed and he spun back for a last glimpse of his handiwork.. With a hot rush of flames, the red Mustang exploded. The boom was magnificent. Flames shot brilliant toward the sky. Erik reached towards the flames as if to keep this moment alive in him forever. The leather coat billowed behind him like conqueror’s wings.

Chapter 11 – Against the Rocks

Haight Street sizzled. It was one of those rare hot days when even the natives wore shorts. Turning on Fillmore, Lee saw that the butchers had put their bloody boxes out for the garbage man early again. The dead blood smell stuck in his nostrils as he turned into the tiny shack that passed for a garage. Lee got off the bike and patted it like a faithful companion. “What a road trip,” Lee muttered, wondering what awaited him upstairs.

Legs still vibrating from the Harley, Lee let himself into their tiny backyard. The hot tub was nothing compared to the set-up Jay had at Lake Shasta. The morning after he’d arrived, Jay went camping. Lee hadn’t had to share his confusion with anyone. It’d been quite soothing.

He went in the back way, and stopped to check on his Uncle. Lou was out, so Lee just fed the cat and went upstairs. As he turned his key in the lock, Terry opened the door, flinging it wide. His skin was shiny from the shower and his curly brown hair was wet. “Welcome home!”

Lee flinched, trying to avoid the scent of that shampoo. As Terry waited for the great nothing that was coming out of Lee’s mouth, a sleepy puppy wobbled up to the door. “What the Hell is this?” Rolling liquid brown eyes, the puppy dropped its head onto Lee’s boot.

Meet our new security measure, Rosalinda Wu. She’s our dog.”

Terry, this isn’t a dog, it’s a Brillo pad with legs.” Lee picked up the small dog. She set to licking his face with intense affection. “Oh, man. I never had a dog before. I donno how to take care of her.”

That’s okay. I never had a Sifu to take care of before. She can’t be much more trouble.”

No, I suppose not.” He passed the dog to the younger man and came into this new version of his home. It was like walking onto a movie set. Terry caught his reaction and gave him that new, strange, grin.

Unzipping his leather, Lee stared intently into the younger man’s eyes. Something hurt Terry, some private pain he would not name. Lee hung up his leather jacket and stood there, road-worn and dusty in skintight black, wondering what to say. “What’ve I missed?”

Grinning while he dodged the question, Terry’s longlashed eyes wavered up to his face and away. Lee felt that flutter in the pit of his empty stomach. “You look like you could use a drink.” Terry’s smile did not reach his eyes. Lee sat on the weight bench to take off his combat boots, wondering why Terry was so silent, wondering where he’d got that brittle new grin. Something told him life was going to get even weirder at 516 Haight.

Smiling, Terry stuttered. “How – how was your trip? I see you got your ear pierced.”

Lee fingered the tiny gold ring. He liked the wild-eyed pirate vibe it gave him. “Yeah, Calvin’s oldest girl wanted her ears done and then lost her nerve at the mall. I went first so she wouldn’t be scared.” Terry’s eyes were brighter then he’d remembered; they saw too much. Lee glanced away, pretending his palm were not shaky or sweaty, pretending he had nothing to hide. “I guess I should’ve called you. I stayed at Jay’s cabin an extra week. I thought you got my message.”

Yeah, I did. But you didn’t leave a number. You should have.” Curious, Lee raised one eyebrow. “It was a - really long week. I’ll get that drink.” Terry padded away.

Dropping the boots, Lee glanced around the dojo. Terry’d been busy. Every weapon shone brightly. The photo of Ronald Reagan was neatly duct-taped to the heavybag. Everything was perfect. Too perfect.

Magazines lay in perfect lines on a brand new coffee table. Even the potted herb garden looked better. Curiouser and curiouser. Calvin’s words rang in his ears. Lee shrugged. How could Terry be light in his loafers when he didn’t even wear socks with his loafers?

The stereo clicked on. Peter Gabriel, one of Lee’s favorites. “Here, have a drink. Bourbon and water, a gentleman’s drink.”

You must have me confused with someone else.” The ice cubes clinked invitingly and he took a sip. “Whoo, you got the good stuff this time.” He noted the fresh flowers in the living room. They were white, the color of mourning. Terry wore all white, as well. The pleated pants were very trendy and the t-shirt clung to his still-damp skin. His damp hair was combed back to show off his impeccable jawline and that scent was all around him. Lee took another drink. “What’d I do to deserve all this?”

Terry raised a goblet of red wine and took a long, slow sip. “You lived.”

Jay told you about my fight with the three bikers?” Lee dropped his gaze and his guard. It was still the same old Ter after all. There was no truer heart. “I’m fine. Just tired.” He finished his drink too quickly and stared out the window. As the liquid warmth began to ease his hurts, he sighed. “I’m sorry I didn’t call you sooner. But after Calvin-“ Wordless, emotionally and physically spent, he spread his long hands before him.

Terry came into his arms. “I know,” he whispered against Lee’s ear. “I know. I don’t blame you. But, I worried. I was so scared. But, you’re here. And you’re safe. No matter what else, I want you-“ Everything in Lee cried out for mercy as he felt that warm breath on his ear. “Safe.”

With the slightest of moves, Lee inclined his head toward Terry’s. A stray tendril of hair fell between them, dampening both their cheeks. “Thank you. For - caring.” Heart racing, Lee moved his hands around Terry’s narrow waist, slowly, caressingly. “I care, too.”

Terry stepped away.

Hey, you really don’t know, do you?” Stomach swerving, Lee stared while Terry demurred. “Let me get you another drink,” the beautiful young man said softly.

What are you trying to do? Get me drunk so you can take advantage of me?” He tried to sound glib, as if he were not being so utterly naked, so completely sincere.

No!” Terry was startled. “I couldn’t do that.” Why not? “I just want you to be - okay.”

When he was sure Terry’d left the room, Lee dropped his head into his hands and thanked God he hadn’t embarrassed himself any further. Calvin had been wrong, dead wrong, for once. Lee’s head spun. All those thoughts and feelings… “Ai-ya!” Maybe it was just the air here in San Francisco, making everybody think they’d turned queer for a second. Thank God Terry hadn’t registered his fall from grace.

But when Terry came back from the kitchen, his brittle brightness was gone. His face was grave. “Lee, I think you’d better sit down.” Lee took the proffered drink and noticed it was stronger. Judging by Terry’s pinched frown, he’d be needing it. “I really think you should sit down.” Lee sat.

There’s something I have to say to you.” Terry’s deep voice was solemn. “I don’t want to. But I need to.” Lee felt sure he was about to catch hell over that embrace. A tense silence spread gray around them. Lee lit a cigarette, he glanced at the white flowers, he considered how soon he would have to replace the freshly vacuumed carpet, he did anything but meet those bluegreen eyes. “I don’t - I don’t even know how to say this to you.”

Just do it,” Lee muttered, clenching a fist.

It’s about…” Terry’s voice trailed away. He took a moment to gather himself. “It’s about Calvin.” Lee looked up sharply. That was the last name he’d expected to hear right now. “Calvin… He - he was... mugged.” Stunned, Lee just stared at Terry while the room got white and began to shake around them. “He didn’t make it, Lee.”

Lee felt his face working. His eyes were wide as oceans and he could not speak. Somehow, he managed to shake his head although the room was full of thick white fog.

Karen said - she said it was quick.” Lee bowed his head. Thick black hair fell around his face like armor but it couldn’t keep out the next words. “He didn’t suffer long.”

The fog around Lee trembled and ran down his face. His fists were ready to fight fate, those powerless fists that were shaking. “How can you say that?”

Terry winced. His eyes spilled over. “Because she told me to say that,” he whispered.

Slowly, with tremendous effort, Lee pulled his energies back into himself. “When?”

The day you left. He went out to say goodbye and never came back.”

Lee jerked to his feet. A big red rage burst out of his chest, spraying the room like arterial blood. “Why?” Lee shouted his question. “Why?”

I don’t know.” With a trembling hand, Terry raised his cigarette to quivering lips. Lee knew the young man was crying, but right now he didn’t care. He wanted to hurt something, to break something, to tear apart a world that would allow such tragedy. So much knowledge - gone. So much pain in his heart. For years Calvin was father, brother, confessor, Sifu, dearest friend. Now he was gone. And their falling out - over Terry - would have to stand as their last private conversation. Forever. No chance to say a real goodbye. Forever.

Terry seemed to have some sense of that as he came to Lee and stroked his bare arms. He spoke softly and with feeling. “There’s nothing you could’ve done, Lee. Even if I had been able to find you. It was all over by 10:30 that morning.”

Breath froze in Lee’s chest. At 10:30 that morning he’d been on the phone to Karen, worried out of his skull. Calvin must’ve walked into a trap. “I should’ve been there. It should’ve been me.”

Don’t say that!“ Terry clutched his arms and sniffled once, loudly, making Lee remember how young he really was. Without thinking, Lee raised his hand between them. He felt Terry’s fast heartbeat throb beneath his fingers. Life pulsed so strong in them both, and Calvin had no more pulse. Too heavy, Lee’s head fell forward. For a microsecond, he leaned into Terry’s shoulder. The young man threw his arms around Lee and hugged him so hard that his chest would ache for days. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I would’ve found you if I could, but going to the funeral wouldn’t have made you hurt any less.”

I missed that, too?’ Lee stared through wavering tears at the threadbare carpet.

Yes. But you can go, be with the family, whatever, whenever you want. I’ll take you.” Lee shook his head. That was the last thing Calvin would want. Remembering Calvin, Lee pressed Terry away from him. “Maybe if you go, you’ll be able to process some of the grief.” Lee backed away, rising both hands between them. Terry’s words came to him across a great distance. “You’ve got to do something.”

I’ll pack.” Lee left the room, walking away like a wooden man, a hollow man, a ghost.

***

Lee sat in his yellow kitchen drinking hot Arabian coffee and listening to Stevie Nicks sing about the Welsh witch Rhiannon. Devon King was on his mind. No surprise. She’d been dancing through his dreams again. And again. And again. She’d afforded him no rest on the long, hot, nights since he’d returned to San Francisco.

He’d flown to Oregon, to weep at Calvin’s gravesite, to hold Calvin’s children tightly and tell them what a great and special father they had known. Calvin’s widow, Karen, had been gentle and sad. She’d given him Calvin’s swords and photographs of them together. She’d forced him to eat, given him letters and journals to comfort his torn soul, and she’d asked him to stay; it was Calvin’s will that Lee take over his school.

Lee spent long nights not sleeping in Calvin’s favorite chair. He spent days meditating in their clearing in the woods. There he had a foggy vision that he trusted to be true: Two men, of a size, moving together like a twin-tongued flame. It led him back to this city by the Bay. It was, as Calvin said, his Tao. So, weak and in the grip of grief, he returned.

Friends offered comfort. Lee couldn’t say much. Normalcy seemed distant, warped, as if he saw through foggy eyes. Day and night he writhed against the rocks of his life like a serpent fights to shed a too-tight skin. Terry was attentive, but busy hiding something. Lee spent hours trying to undo the feelings that tied him to this young man, trying to be the man Calvin wanted him to be. And failing. Sometimes Lee could barely get through the day.

Devon called. Lee replayed her voice on his answering machine but did not return her calls. Despite Calvin’s warnings, Lee couldn’t forget the comfort of her body, the pleasure, and the release. He needed to touch life again and to be touched. He needed what she gave so freely. But he’d turned from her to that which he dared not take. He struggled, aching inside the skin of his life.

The coffee was bitter in his mouth as he sighed. He’d thrown the I Ching this morning and gotten the Hexagram Kuan. Contemplation. Pause. His cosmic name. He read the text again: ‘The wine cup trembles in the supplicant’s hand, but he does not make the offering. Awaiting the great, he continues to watch.’ Running a hand through his newly shorn hair, Lee sighed again and wondered if he had the sighing sickness, he wondered if there was a cure.

He was alone and it was a relief. Things had changed at 516 Haight Street. Terry waltzed around the apartment singing, his new brittle happiness firmly in place. He went on late dates and stayed out all night. Lee knew Terry had some little bickey stashed somewhere, but he said nothing (for once) and Lee did not ask. Terry and Aimee had an open relationship. It wasn’t Lee’s business.

Yet, darkness grew between them. Lee knew it was his fault; there was too much he had to hide. His suspicions and his plans, his dark desires and his fears must remain hidden. But distance grew in darkness, leaving Lee lonely.

The buzzer shocked him out of his brown study. Lee didn’t want to answer. He was barely dressed for company. Yet he went to the intercom. “Yes?”

It’s Jay.” Lee buzzed his boss up. Levine took his time getting up the stairs. Lee leaned against the wall, wondering what to expect.

The big man rapped once. Lee swung the door open and found himself engulfed in a huge, sweaty bear hug. “Lee. I’m sorry about Calvin,” Jay said, his blonde beard tickling the top of Lee’s head. “I’m so sorry, man.” Lee nodded quietly. Jay backed up and looked Lee over, meaty hands on Lee’s bare shoulders. “You really look like shit.”

Lee laughed shortly. “Yeah, thanks.” He ushered his boss into the newly arranged living room. “Thanks for the batiks,” he said by way of explanation for his outfit.

Jay grinned. “You’re only guy I know with the balls to wear a sarong and carry it off.” Lee glanced down at the large and colorful cloth tied around his hips. “It’s warrior’s garb in Indonesia.” Lee cocked his head dubiously. “Well, I’m pretty sure it used to be. Anyhow, when I was in Bali, everybody was wearing them.” Jay patted his ample gut. “Everybody who didn’t look like me, that is. Got any coffee?”

Absolutely. I just brewed a pot of Arabian.” Lee padded into the kitchen, the puppy biting at his bare ankles. While he poured coffee, he wondered what Jay’s agenda was. The founder of The Institute never just stopped by anywhere. Lee hoped the big guy didn’t have a pink slip in his pocket. Loosing his job would complete the decomposition of his life. It would be just his luck. Coming back, unwilling to even ask what brought Jay here, he set the steaming mug on the coffee table. “Cream and two sugars, right?”

Perfect.” Jay looked Lee over. “The gold medallion, is that Calvin’s?”

Lee sipped his coffee carefully, wishing people would stop mentioning Calvin. The loss was too fresh. “No. We had two made. His had the yang rising, and mine the yin.” Jay studied his face and Lee knew exactly what he saw: dark circles under huge, haunted eyes, new hollows under high cheekbones, the tired mouth of a tired man wounded nearly unto death. “Just ask.”

Okay.” Jay rubbed his beard, a sure sign that he was calculating. “Aren’t you supposed to take over Calvin’s school? I mean, wouldn’t that be the usual way of it.”

Yes, that would be the usual way. And, no, I am not.” Lee paused. That decision had been hell to make and harder to acknowledge. “Not yet. I couldn’t do him justice. I can’t teach hard style Kung Fu, not six hours a day, not at this point in my recovery. I had to let that honor pass to another man. But I am up to classes this fall at The Institute. If you still want me.”

Jay pulled a pin joint out of the pocket of his Hawaiian shirt. “Smoke?” Lee shook his head. “Mind if I do?” He lit up without waiting for an answer. The room filled with the thick sweet scent of reefer and the sound of his noisy inhalations. “You really look like you could use some of this, man.” Jay extended the marijuana cigarette. “Go ahead. Catch up. Knock yourself out.”

It had been many years since Lee tasted pot smoke. The first two hits blew him away. He felt the curious relaxation of his usual awareness with mixed regret and relief. Lately he’d been shattering a lot of his own commandments. Right on cue, the radio began to play one of his favorite songs. “Hoo yeah,” Lee sighed, leaning back in his blood red chair.

Jay took another toke before he stubbed out the joint in the green ceramic ashtray. He tugged at the cuffs of his khaki shorts. “So, pal, how bad is it really?”

Which part of it? Loosing my Sifu? And my best friend? The injury? Being laid up? Wearing a sarong? Which part?” Lee laughed softly. “Well, boss, the stitches come out tomorrow and I’m gonna start training like hell, because that’s about all I got left to keep me afloat in this sea of inequity.”

Actually, I was thinking about Devon.”

Devon?” Lee’s eyes snapped wide. “Devon?”

You did really well teaching the ‘Hero’s Journey’. Maybe ‘cause you are one.” Lee smiled dismissively. “I heard you and Devon were an item. Then I heard you weren’t. It’s not my business either way, but I like to keep my ear to the ground, and I was wondering how you’d feel about teaching the class again this year. It’d mean more money.” Lee cocked his head. “And of course the T’ai Chi classes are in the schedule. We’ve, um, had to open up another class to accommodate the overflow. The kiddies love ya, Kuan. Get used to it.”

Hoo yeah, I can get used to that.” His pitiful salary had just been tripled. Now he’d be earning nearly a living wage. “Cool.”

If you don’t want to work with Devon,” Jay said anxiously, “I can pull her off the class.”

What?” Although Lee was legitimately shocked, he knew why Jay considered it. Despite Devon’s degrees, Lee was the one who did his homework; he was the one who came to each class armed with facts and history. Devon was coasting. And it showed.

I’ve got sources everywhere and a lot of what I heard I didn’t like. The class is supposed to be about personal growth through comparative mythology, not personal agendas.” Lee pressed his lips together. He’d been careful not to complain about Devon’s eccentricities, even to Maggie. “Don’t worry. You did a great job covering for her, but her performance has been falling off over the last two years. That’s why I approved your participation in the first place.” Jay, a doctor of psychology, was adept at concealing his brilliance under old-hippie trappings and a streetwise manner. “After the spring semester, she really went downhill, almost like she was- Nevermind.“

Jay broke off but Lee guessed his meaning. Devon’s past drug problems were common knowledge. If she started using again, she could become a public embarrassment, and the already struggling Institute could loose sorely needed funding. Her dark history led to her employment being contingent on her sobriety. Maggie had told him this and Maggie never lied.

The Institute of Inner Harmony began in the Masonic Avenue apartment Jay shared with his girlfriend in 1973. Growth had been slow but steady. Now The Institute was the only accredited college in the country to teach such subjects as Psychology, Alternative Healing, Hypnosis For Personal Growth, Art, Tarot, Yoga, and T’ai Chi under the same roof. Since breast cancer had taken Linda, The Institute was Jay’s only passion. He would protect it at any cost. Even if that meant cutting loose the only one of his teaching staff with a high recognition factor.

Jay stroked his blonde beard and said abruptly, “So, you want the job or not?”

Lee sipped his coffee. Despite whatever awkwardness it may entail, teaching with Devon would be a perfect opportunity to watch her. And that was what Jay wanted. The old truism rang unspoken between them: Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer. He and Devon would be very close indeed. If she’d anything to do with his beloved mentor’s death, Lee needed to know. “Of course I want the job. I will work with Devon and I’ll - be watchful.” Now her fate was in his hands. “Yes, I’m pleased. Very pleased.”

There’s a fundraiser coming up, a catered affair at her manse. It’s gonna be big. We could raise enough to cover your salary. I know you’re grieving, but, Lee, can I count you in?”

Lee nodded. He wouldn’t miss an opportunity to get inside Devon’s home, to get inside her head. He’d promised Calvin no revenge, but no one said anything about justice. “Yes,” Lee said as it came to him what he must do. “Absolutely. I’m in. You can count on me.”

***

Late September at the Institute of Inner Harmony: cobalt blue skies, fresh-faced students registering for classes, free concerts on the front lawn. Jay believed in free publicity. Apparently, he also believed in Kuan because it was on his recommendation that Terry became an official part of the Institute of Inner Harmony. The paycheck was infinitesimal but Terry found the honor immense.

Even with a hangover. He’d spent last night sparring with Antonio over sex. Terry’s rules were still in effect and Antonio had trouble with the concept of patience. So it came to be that Terry showed up for his first day of orientation wearing night-black shades and rubbing his throbbing head.

On the back lawn, sweet-cheeked coeds leaned against the sculptures and serious matrons checked their notes in the shadows of the Golden-chain trees. A man and a woman sat on the swings kissing. Terry shot them a jealous glance that his shades concealed.

Sweet-scented wind ruffled his hair and tugged at Devon’s skirt. She kept her magnetic eyes on him as she walked away. When she’d asked him to be part of her soiree, he’d said yes. A past life regression was something he’d always wanted to try. And her bash was an event not to be missed. So, he was in, even if it meant going as a party favor.

Off to one side, half hidden by bottlebrush bushes, Lee rose from a deep horse stance. Terry shook his head. Kuan was deep into his killer-ninja-of-death routine. He’d been training hard for six weeks. Every time Terry turned around, Kuan was in the Dojo of Doom beating up on something or slashing swords around. Or worse, he’d be sitting there half-naked and half-lotus, staring at nothing. His new practices disturbed Terry profoundly. Lee was transformed, muscles flaring overnight, high-contrast eyes flashing blackest black and gleaming white. The difference in Lee's eyes frightened Terry most. You could conceal nothing from those eyes.

And Terry had plenty to hide. While Lee prepared for war, Terry could only watch, fascinated, and fear. Electric snakes slithered in Terry’s belly as Lee moved. But no one saw.

A discreet gaggle of student and faculty stood around Kuan on the lawn. Lee saw him coming across the lawn but did not stop rippling through the movements of the Tiger-Crane form. Jay called these exercises ‘shameless acts of self-promotion’ and loved Lee for them. Terry called them madness after what had happened at the Demo. Lee called it a way of breaking free of fear. Whatever it was, it made for an interesting afternoon break.

Jeff Fortunati, a karateka Lee sparred with, kept the watchers at bay. Terry gave him a friendly nod as Maggie drifted up, all smiles. “Really something, isn’t he?” Terry said nothing. Maggie already knew his answer too well. “He’s so focused.” In every drill of punches, kicks and blocks, the martial artist was taught to visualize an opponent. Terry knew Lee was envisioning Erik. Vividly. He wished he knew Erik’s face too, so he could kill the rat-ass-bastard who’d caused so much pain. “Is he like this at home?”

Yeah,” Terry sighed. “It’s an obsession. He works out, he eats, he sleeps. That’s it. If he’s not working out, he’s meditating. Like, I come home from the store and he looks embalmed, just stuffed, a dead guy sitting up. I am naturally somewhat concerned. He says he’s just sitting.” In those moments, Lee was beautiful like a white jade Buddha is beautiful. And as impervious. “If that’s just sitting, I’m Fond du Lac, Empress of China. He goes a million miles away. When we talk, which is rare, he answers in Zen koans.

He doesn’t touch anyone, nobody touches him. I keep telling myself it’s grief, it’s the attack, he’s got a lot to process.” Terry was even starting to talk like an Institute employee. “But I think he’s kind of maxed out this ethnic bit. Couldn't he just be, like, a regular guy again? I miss my friend.”

Maggie smiled sympathetically. “What I’m hearing is that you don’t want him to go away again, even in meditation. And that’s your reaction to the attack. You nearly lost him then and it nearly killed you. I know. But you have to give him space to be who he needs to be.” Sometimes Maggie’s honesty fetish went too far. She patted him on the shoulder and hollered, “Hey, Bobby, what you got?”

The art-therapy teacher toted an armful of boards out to the green. Terry groaned. “I second his emotion,“ the handsome Japanese said. “I hate violence. But I’ve got a wood-burning fireplace at the new place, so…” Bobby’s investments were paying off big time. He’d got himself a spiffy new condo, an expensive redhead, and Lee’s motorcycle. Teri still couldn’t believe Lee’d traded his beloved Harley for an anonymous Civic. Strange times at 516 Haight were getting stranger still.

Taking off his sunglasses, Terry looked from Lee to Bobby. “You guys get the same haircut?” Lee’s hair was black as a raven’s wing in the autumn sunlight. Bobby, two inches taller, had a nice trendy cut that did nothing for the slight wave in his coffee brown hair.

I turned him onto my barber. He specializes in strong Asian hair, none of this wimpy blonde stuff. Uh, no offense.” Terry shrugged, he wasn’t a blonde. Lee gestured at them and Bobby slapped a board against his chest. “We’re on.” Jeff stepped forward and took a board. “Three on one.” Oh, joy. Terry took his place, hoping his board wasn’t the one Lee sidekicked this time. That move always sent him flying.

They stood around Lee, roughly within his striking circle. Jeff held his board high, over his face. He had nerves of steel. Lee positioned Bobby’s board heart-high. “Brace yourself,” he said softly. Bracing, Terry got down on the grass, keeping his board at the height of a tall man’s knee. Lee began the breathing. Inhale, exhale, test the boards, Terry knew the drill. Lee’s every breath was audible, every stretch of his strong body was compelling. Terry bit his lip as his belly quivered. There was silence on the lawn.

With a fierce cry, Lee slammed the heel of his hand through the high board and snapped the Bobby’s board with a sidekick from hell. Spinning, he smashed another sidekick through Terry’s board.

The green was very green as Terry flew backward. He tucked and rolled, making Lee’s blow look more dramatic than it already was. Coming up and out of his trajectory, he laughed. Bobby always looked so surprised when he always ended up on his ass. Some folks in the crowd started clapping. Lee, coming back from the never-never land he visited when he did this, looked embarrassed. He always got that ‘aw, shucks’ look, Bobby always went flying, and Terry always ate grass. But it kept the crowds amused.

Lee put out his hand to help Terry up. “I’m okay.” Terry got up on his own, brushing grass from his pleated trousers and wishing for the easy flow they’d once had between them. Lee seemed to be studying the grass as they walked back into the school. He followed the man into the office of the small gymnasium. Lee was in a hurry, though his shirt and shorts were wet with sweat and, despite the red bandana, he seemed pale. Once inside, he flung himself into the desk chair and gazed up at Terry, testing his bad knee.

You hurt it again.” Lee shrugged, and then slammed his kneecap back into place with a sickening crunch. Lee sagged back in the chair, dead white, eyes closed with pain. “Is this, like, a midlife crisis or something?” Terry demanded. “Will it end soon? I want my friend back.”

Lee smiled sadly. He put out his hand but they did not touch. "I'm still here, Ter, as regular as I ever was."

"That's not saying much." Lee conceded the point easily. Terry sat beside him. "I think it was the Numchucks from hell that got me. Last night."

"Oh. I'm scared of nunchuku. That why I work with them. They scare the shit out of me. So, I have to work through that. Understand? I've been laying low for a lot of years, Ter. Just going with the flow, taking whatever came to me. Some of it’s not been so wonderful. Some has. Either way, I've built up a lot of crap around me: walls, fears, resistances, denials. I need to cut through all that crap. I used to be pretty fast, pretty hard, pretty strong. I want that back. And that's just one part. I'm rethinking my choices, that's all. Like you would say, I'm looking for what is Real. In me. And letting go of what is no longer Real. See? Do you understand?"

Terry listened past the words and a hopeless hope caught fire inside him. “I'm getting this fear - no, that's the wrong word - this readiness in you, like you're expecting something drastic to happen. And I don't want to see you make it happen. You’ve had enough, we’ve had enough.”

I know, I know.” Lee spoke gently. “There are just - things I need to do. Big changes are coming up for me. I have to be ready. I can’t tell you when, I can’t tell you how, but things will change. So, until then, I’ll tell you this: if I do things you don't understand, if I act in ways you think are crazy, I can guarantee that I will have some kind of reason. And I will tell you, if I can. All you have to do is ask. Just ask, don't get mad and pull away from me. I miss my friend, too. I haven't seen him around much these last few weeks."

"What is it you can’t tell me, Lee? Let me help.”

Lee glanced up at him, golden pale, eyes wide and luminous. For a moment Terry wondered if Lee even recognized him, so odd was his expression. Draw your own conclusion, said those eyes, like the eyes of a wild thing, a forest creature startled by lightening. Terry’s pulse raced, his dry lips parted of their own accord. He wanted to speak but had no words. Another breath, another heartbeat, and the ordinary man returned.

Only five seconds had elapsed, but Terry would never forget that look. His heartbeat went back to normal as his friend spoke in his familiar voice, his sensible tone. “Ter-“ Lee glanced up from beneath his long black bangs, guilty and shy. “Damn it!” Then his face became impassive. “I wish to hell I could, but I’m afraid I can’t. Not now, not yet.”

Chapter 12 - Interesting Times

October 17, 1986

The moon over Pacific Heights was full to bursting. Devon’s stately Queen Anne home was lit with lamps the color of starlight. Her façade was painted to match the twilight autumn sky, every graceful curve ticked out in paint the color of wounds unhealed.

Inside, on parquet floors, Devon worked her way through the crowd with lipsticked smiles and a practiced ease. All eyes were on her. Her backless satin gown was silver. She smiled as smoke from imported cigarettes curled around her elegantly coiffed head. The most valuable players and favored denizens of subterranean San Francisco swirled around her. Tonight Venus kissed Pluto beneath the sign of the Scorpion and Devon shimmered.

Lee waited in blue-lit shadows, white silk jacket slung over his shoulder, scanning the throng. He’d managed to check every room in the house without attracting attention but he’d found nothing so far, just some men’s shaving things in the upstairs bathroom, no surprise, he’d expected that Devon had lovers. The master bedroom suite was locked and all his instincts told him that there the lady had something to hide. He had to get into those locked rooms.

Scanning the crowd, he found Terry and Aimee staring agog at a white-haired folk-singing legend. Jay held court across the room. The party was going well, funds for and consciousness of The Institute would be raised. The guests were a mix of rising young professionals and seasoned power brokers, dealers and dominatrixes, artists and mystics, professors and whores.

The atmosphere crackled with attitude and élan. It was not a cheap crowd. Very few courted cool. An invitation here was evidence you'd arrived. Devon's collection of people outdid her collection of rare books. He was supposed to be impressed. Glancing over the heads of her guests, Devon beamed for him alone. Kuan smiled back tolerantly and clinked the ice cubes in his glass. What a joke. He'd officially arrived and didn't even care.

Watching Devon come his way, Lee sighed and set his drink aside. He'd had a long day. He’d sparred with Jeff this morning and bench-pressed one too many big plates. Even leaning on the cool gray wall hurt. Training took all his time, all his passion. But the lady was coming for him, so he summoned all the cold power he had inside. Lee ran a hand through his slicked-back hair. The severe style matched the silver studs on his black leather cuff. Crystal earring and tight black jeans beneath a white silk Chinese jacket, his look was updated James Dean, righteous New Age greaser. He fit right in. The party was hot, crowded, and it was ten o' clock; time to bring out the space aliens.

"Want anything?" A young Japanese waiter smiled. His eyes were lined in black and a lightening bolt emblazoned his cheek. One thin shoulder rose naked from a fuchsia leotard. "Want anything?" he pouted over his offered trays. Craning his neck, Lee saw that Devon had disappeared. Snagging a steamed dumpling, Lee took a white wine. He'd pass on the rest.

Strolling past tables of smoke and sushi, he nodded politely to old money and new waiters alike. Techno-pop pounded at 10,000 decibels. The crowd pulsated with heavy-edged energy. Kuan retreated to curtained patio doors, seeking quiet. The dim sum was too bland, too cold. The music was too loud. Outside the garden was a long hush of darkness. Beyond the canopy, gray raindrops fell slowly, softening the city sounds. He stood behind a chaise, leaning against the garden wall.

A woman sighed. Lee turned toward the sound. The transparent lace of her sleeves fell away from the moonlit crescent of Devon’s face. She beckoned. Cold air swept over him.

Everything was in her eyes: his history, written and unwritten, all his sins and all his distant passions. She came toward him, loose blonde tendrils blowing across her face. “Lee . . .” Her voice began hot as sin and ended cold as death. All in one syllable. He was impressed, and just hammered enough to let it show.

Slowly, she pushed back her hair, her great blue eyes taking in all of him at once. "Excuse me." Coolly, she edged past him, sliding taut buttocks against his groin. Knowing he could not step back, she flashed a smile over her shoulder. "Or do you like it this way?"

Lee flushed. His back was against the wall. "You don' play fair."

"Where's the advantage in that? Strike when the opponent is weak, when he's hungry. See, Sun Tzu is even useful to women like me.” She leaned against him and felt his hunger. “A real man takes what he wants." She smiled wickedly and stepped away.

Not always. A real man has no need to prove his manhood.” Devon glanced over her shoulder. The long smooth curve of her back was inviting. “It simply flows out of him, is apparent yet invisible in all he does.”

Moody music drifted out from the party. The sexy downbeat was cool as vodka gimlets in November. Devon’s slender hips swung as she approached.

A real man reveals himself without revealing,” Lee said. “He controls his passions without controlling others. And when the time is right, he lets himself indulge.” Lee leaned against the garden wall and took a long, slow, drink. Lingering and deliberate, her eyes swept his body, fixing on the bulge in his tight black jeans. Lee raised his chin; let her work for it.

I’m impressed with your recovery. You’re strong again.” She came very close. Her slim fingers touched his arm, trying to read the hardness of his muscle, the coolness of his flesh like Braille. “Perhaps stronger than ever. Perhaps you’ve changed.”

I have.” Earlier today, he’d prepared himself for this moment. While he bathed and shaved he’d steeled himself to the game. He knew the woman Calvin named as a potential murderer would be plying him with sex and he knew just as clearly that he’d turn her weapon back on her. He would use any means necessary to get close enough to dig up all her secrets.

Now Devon smiled into his eyes, tracing a pattern on his chest. Her face was pale in the moonlight, getting paler as she picked up his medallion. “Calvin?” she asked, eyes all sympathy.

Lee shook his head, trying to stay loose. “It’s mine. He had them made for us in Hong Kong.” Lee kept talking, watching her eyes, wondering how she knew about Calvin’s medallion. “Mine has the darkness - yin- rising.” Devon kept playing with his talisman, touching his chest, his hair, his lips as he spoke. “His had yang. But it was, otherwise, the same.” Lee caught his breath as she came closer, stroking his thighs. “Are you trying to seduce me?”

With a naughty smile, she asked, “So, tell me, how’m I doing?”

Very well.” Lee sighed as he gave her his mouth. Her kisses were sweeter than he remembered. “Devon,” he whispered, holding her away. He hated what he was doing, hated that his body responded, yet he kept the look in his eye mild and his tone soft. “You have guests. Let’s keep you perfect.” He wiped away a smudge of lipstick and slid on the white Chinese jacket she’d given him. Her eyes flashed in the moonlight as she noted that he’d accepted her gift. “Ready?” He offered her his arm.

Lee led Devon back into the Great Room as if she were a baroness. She adored it and turned her radiance on him. Her lips and her smile were meant to dazzle him. She almost succeeded. But, while they greeted potential contributors to the Institute and made polite small talk, Lee scanned the crowd for his friends. But, of course, he did not let that show. Chandeliers threw luminance on Devon’s blonde hair and silver satin. Lee, beside her in white silk, maintained a pose of mystery.

Across the room, Teri laughed with one of the overzealous young men who'd drafted Lee for the new magazine, ‘Bamboo’. Jin Zhang flipped back long black hair, pretending indifference while he waited anxiously for feedback. Lee'd seen his act before: tortured rebel poet, torrid about social change. Zhang didn't have the balls to live the part. In five years he'd be an embittered accountant with interesting memories. And Terry stood there laughing his charming new laugh, throwing back his head and showing off his slender young neck. Zhang was enchanted. Terry was an idiot.

"Rice Queen," Devon said acidly, following Lee’s eyes.

Lee said nothing. Taking her arm, he led her to the refreshment table. Devon picked at the luscious offerings, still watching Zhang. Lee piled sushi on a plate unseeing. Devon consoled him by listing Zhang's character defects. "Selfish, spoiled, and fickle," Devon concluded. "But you should be grateful because his inconstancy is what got you the column in Bamboo. He was planning on using that Kung-Fu guy over on Clement Street."

"Cheong Li Chow!?! That old fut!” Devon batted her eyes, enjoying his masculine outburst. “He's a bad Kung Fu movie going somewhere to happen. The only real thing he gives his students is their monthly statement! Chow’s a `Carry The True Secrets Of Your Art To Your Grave' kind of guy,” Lee growled, waving a shrimp. “Men like Chow are killing Kung Fu in America. Bury enough ‘secrets’ and you wind up with a diluted art that buries itself."

Then it came to Lee that Devon had engineered the job at ‘Bamboo’ he’d been so proud of. He shut up. He glanced up at the chandelier where small electric lights pretended to be candles. Everything tonight was pretense, was manipulation, was rain on the windshield of his heart. He looked again for Terry, setting his jaw. The younger man was gone.

Devon watched his eyes too closely. "Gone? I honestly don't think he’s your type."

He’s not.” Lee spoke firmly. “You are.”

Devon quirked an eyebrow and stared until he had to look away. Lee contemplated his plate. Glossy red tuna, impossibly fresh, nested raw on rice and wasabi. Luscious pink shrimps. He hung between the dangerous woman and the peril that surrounded him, looking covertly for the reasons behind both traps; but the food was delicious.

Maybe you’re just too much my type.” Maybe she would take him into her locked domain if he played her right. “I was wrong before. I was frightened by your intensity. Y’know, afraid to commit…” He let his words trail off, saying nothing yet promising everything. With a small smile, Lee gave Devon his best sexy stare. His lies were not wasted. She licked her lips as she looked at him. “Devon, they wouldn’t miss us if we went upstairs.”

Can’t. Not now.” Devon’s blue eyes, usually so fearless, were clouded.

Later?” She shook her head. Lee glanced into the crowd. Terry was nowhere in sight. “Why not now?” He slid his hand around her waist and licked the rim of her delicate ear.

She merely shook her head. “I can’t, Lee. I can’t explain.”

There was to do to but eat and avoid Devon’s eyes. At last, the flirtatious Japanese waiter took Lee’s empty glass as he handed over a full one. Lee watched Devon’s beautiful face, her growing confidence, over the rim of his drink. A mischievous smile twisted the corners of her full lips. She discretely checked the grandfather’s clock. "Come with me,” she whispered softly. "Come on. Hurry." Huge eyes glimmering with childlike glee, she danced Lee through the crowds. "I've got something to show you."

Devon led him into the library. There, amidst plum velvet draperies and antique books, a silent congregation waited, sipping drinks expectantly. “Lovely room,” Lee said. Finger to her lips, Devon took Lee’s hand. Smiling politely, she led him to the focus of the circle. Lee’s shoulders tensed at the sight.

Terry lay on a velvet chaise, eyes closed. Jay sat in an armchair beside him, speaking gently, with the vocal roll of a quality hypnotist. Like the penetration of the wind, his voice carried Terry. “Higher and higher, ascending, transcending levels of consciousness, you are rising up.” Jay released the pause button on the tape recorder, and checked the level one last time. His moves were smooth, automatic, not interrupting the calm roll of his voice. Lee remembered the time Jay had regressed him. “Up. Up. Higher and higher, and on the next count you will be there. Five. You are there. You absolutely have the power and ability. You can see clearly now. Look at your hands. Are they the hands of a man or a woman?"

"My hands are dirty. Dorje will be angry. Oh. I must wash them. He will be angry.“ Terry spoke with the voice of an Asian child. The sound thrilled Lee, like a bell rung at night. But Devon was studying Lee intently, so he struggled to keep his face stone.

"Who is Dorje?” Jay asked. “Is he often angry with you?"

"Oh, no,” Terry said in that not-Terry voice. “He is my master. And my friend. He is never really very angry with me. No more than I deserve. I am not such a good boy sometimes. Dorje says that we have been together before. Perhaps I was his son in another life. I hope so."

Lee raised an eyebrow. It wasn't often that a subject brought up conscious awareness of yet other lives in trance. "Perhaps,” Jay said. “But where are you now?"

"Why, TakTsing, of course. The Tiger's Nest."

Lee reared back, stunned. The Tiger's Nest was a fabled lamasery high on a mountain ledge in Bhutan. The place held a fascination Lee’d kept to himself until Jay gave him a past life regression last fall. He’d been a monk there, in Bhutan, and he was still paying off the karma on that lonely life. Lee knew Jay wasn’t feeding any prompts. This scenario was coming from somewhere inside Terry. And it was so close to his memory, so close…

Jay prompted Terry. "What is your name, and your age?"

"Tenzin, son of Lingpa,” the boy responded obediently. “I am eleven - eleven winters. I have been here three years now. I am good at the chanting. It brings great honor to my family that I am a novice in the Tiger's Nest, that I offer light to Buddha."

Lee felt a wire of fire run through his body. He saw. Long slender hands reaching out of the vermilion robe, touching a taper to the wick floating in yak butter. Lighting the lamps. There were so many, small round ceramic lamps, all very similar, all dwarfed by the bank of flickering lights. So many lights. In his home they offered light to the Buddha, of course, with the sounds and the smell and the food and the drink. But until he came to the Lamasery, he'd never seen so many burn at once. Here there were as many stars in the sky.

So many stars, so many hungry minds waiting to be fed. Behind him the older boys waited as the music grew louder. It was a welcome change from the drone and buzz of chanting that filled the Temple everyday. The older monks played long trumpets, they blew flutes made of the thighbones of holy men, madmen, and fools. They sounded the spirit cymbals that came from Tibet. A shiver ran up his spine. The air was fragrant with snow leopard incense.

Lee,” Devon whispered. He blinked and looked around. No one was burning incense.

The first time I offer light in temple is at the festival,” Terry continued, a smile playing on his lips. “Dorje is pleased. I did not stumble.” He giggled a boy’s high-pitched laugh.

Several spectators laughed also, not sure this regression was for real. For Lee, there was no doubt. He could almost hear the thighbone flute. Jay cut in. "Now I want you to move ahead to a time when something important happened in this life."

"We are at the river. It is time to bathe."

"How old are you? What is happening?"

"Fifteen winters. I take off my robe. The river water is very cold." Terry's naturally deep voice was higher, the timing and the pattern of his speech wholly different - there were hesitant, feminine tones Lee’d never heard before. "The stones are smooth. I say the prayers for the lice I may kill, ask their forgiveness as I begin to wash. He sits on the bank with the other monks. He is so young in their midst, the best scholar, it is whispered that he will be the next high lama. Still, he is alone even in their midst. I feel his eyes on me. And I know he loves me too. The way he looks at me… I hurry back to the bank. I fear they can all see into my heart."

"Who is he?"

"Dorje. My heart is full of him. He says, ‘Tenzin, it is wrong to love so much, we should wash away desire and attachment.’ In the temple, in the evening, my prayers are false, they are lies. Why can my heart not be still? I do not want him to go. I am afraid of what will happen there. But he goes - tomorrow." Terry sounded close to tears. “Tomorrow. I live only for him."

Flinching in embarrassment for his friend, Lee rubbed his hands together. They were cold, suddenly, so cold. “I know the time will change him. It changes them all. But it is what he must do and I have nothing to say about it. I have not yet taken the two hundred and fifty six vows, but I do not think it will change what I feel. I would surely die there, all by myself. Yet he says, ‘Tenzin, my heart will embrace that solitude.’”

Jay asked his next question quickly, without emotion. "Where is he going?"

"To the cave of meditation.”

Lee felt like he’d been kicked in the gut. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. And he saw. The small hand-held drum was made of yak skin. Balls were attached with thongs, so that it made rhythm as it twirled in your fingers. It was built for economy of motion, a simple thing to keep a man from going mad spending so many months alone, alone so high in the mountains, in the fog. He tended the fire and stripped away the layers of the ego, slowly, peeling himself of desire before the fire. He had not expected it to be so difficult, but it was the hardest thing he’d ever done and he was cold, so cold . . .

Devon coughed discretely. Lee shook his head. He had fallen into that so fast, so deep. He tried to rid himself of the images, to force away his fear and focus on what Terry was saying.

"I wait. He does not come." Lee listened in amazement as the youth drained out of Terry's voice. Gradually, with the precision of life, the voice became old and brittle, crackling with age. "He never comes again. They find him months later, sitting as if in meditation, dry as his bone flute. I am sick with grief at the funeral. I try to recall that this body they are burning is only a husk. I pray much to the Buddha. For the first time, I pray with my heart. His spirit will return to this place. I know, so I tend the boys and light the incense and I wait. I do not run off for a woman and sons like so many. I am an old monk, not a good monk. And - I - wait.”

It was impossible that Terry was acting. No actor was this good. Unwelcome tears stung Lee’s eyes. He cleared his throat and turned away. He did not want to hear the rest of this, but he could not walk away.

"One day a boy comes from the provinces. He has the same eyes. This boy is not like the others; there is no fear in him of this place. They have brought the new boys to see me. I am the oldest now, and they honor me as such. I raise my hand. It is difficult, very difficult. He comes to me. He says he has come back. The others fade. I do not see their faces any more. It is hard - to see. I see only this face. And I can - at last - let - go. . ."

At his last sigh, the room was silent. Everyone leaned forward, listening for his next breath. It took too long to come. Spectators looked at each other, checking their neighbor’s reactions. Lee froze in fear, tears standing in his eyes.

"Terry,” Jay said quickly. "I want you to release this experience. Now. Move into your higher mind. You're coming back, letting go of any negativity, coming back. You are back in the present, in your own body. You will remember this experience, but feel no distress. Now, on the count of five, you will awaken. Your head will be clear and your heart will be at peace."

Jay began the ‘out-count’. Lee took a deep breath. Devon studied him from across the room. Her eyes glittered. When had she moved away and lit her long black cigarette? Aimee hovered over Terry, lovely in apricot, despite her tortured hair. Lee looked away, he was shaken and stirred. But his reactions would be nothing compared to Terry's. Poor Terry, to be laid so naked, so publicly. To say things aloud that should never be spoken... Lee bit his lip, wishing he were made of steel, made of stone. And it was the count of five. “Wide awake, wide awake.”

Terry sat up, slowly, and gave a sheepish grin. "There's no place like home, no place like home." Aimee led the room in nervous laughter. Terry nodded, a little dazed. His face lit up when he saw Lee. Their eyes locked and, for that instant, all the barriers between them dropped, all the recognition in the world was there.

"How do you feel, Terry?" Jay’s voice sliced into the moment.

Playing it for laughs, he asked in a breathy voice, "Was it good for you, too?"

People laughed outright. Lee grinned, satisfied that Terry was okay. Jay shook his head and turned off the tape recorder. "Well, Ter, Devon was right. You're one hell of a subject. Thanks for being such a good sport."

"Like, no problem. Glad I volunteered." A suburban couple began the applause that rippled through the small crowd. Terry took a bow, all the while shooting bluegreen glances at Lee. He shook Jay’s hand with an abstracted grin. The crowd relaxed and began nattering.

Terry cut through the crowd, doing the smiling and the talking that was required, but he was headed here; Lee felt it in his chest. Terry came close. His voice was pitched for Lee alone. "You were him."

Lee bit his lip and looked away. The memory of the cave and the cold had been too strong to deny. Terry held out his hand, palm up, pressing against Lee’s heart. Lee knew the look, it was the same look he’d given his father before he walked away; he knew the feeling behind those eyes that were pleading for acceptance. Yet, with Devon watching, he said, “No.”

My mistake.” Terry dropped his hand. Red streaks of anger colored his cheeks and his eyes flashed with an anger Lee’d never seen. No words were spoken but curses hung in the air.

Lee straightened his jacket as Devon came to retrieve him like a favorite purse. Jay clapped him on the shoulder. “So, how does it feel to have another monk in the room?”

Odd. This is the first I’ve heard of matching past life regressions.”

Questions flared as the observers circled Lee and Terry. “Hey, Terry, how did it feel?” Terry told him with a glance that he was not up to answering, so Lee took over.

When Jay did my regression, I described a very similar experience.” Terry slipped away as Lee slid into lecturer mode. He turned into the questions, making all the right answers, all the while wishing he could’ve spoken his heart to Terry. His mouth was dry with regret. Devon watched him closely. “Are these perceptions real? I don’t know. Even if reincarnation scenarios are fantasies, as some scholars argue, they are still symbols of how the subject perceives life.

And having lived through one of Jay’s regressions, I can say it feels very real when you’re in there. And, afterward, there is impact, a real impact, on how you live your life, on how you perceive others. If you adopt a reincarnational perspective, I think it makes living easier. After all, you don’t have to get it all right in just one life.”

The listeners laughed and Devon smiled. “See, if you buy the theory, everyone of us had lived many lives before this one. And in every life we encounter others, those we’ve loved, those we’ve hated, and try to balance the scales. From this perspective, any loss, even death, is less final. For reincarnationists, those we love we will see again, in other lives, in other bodies. But, hey, that’s just my belief system.”

Lee waited for the questions to end, as he yearned for a fresh drink, as he looked for Terry, as he wondered if it would take an earthquake to get him out of here and how he could conjure one up. At last Jay rescued him by regaling the remaining listeners with tales of other past life adventures. On the way out Devon was hijacked by a heavy investor. Lee was free.

He wandered the crowd, looking for Terry. He rubbed his temples, muttering the ancient Chinese curse, ‘May you live in interesting times. . . interesting times.’ He did.

At the refreshment table, he idly piled things on a plate. He really didn't notice what. The wine had loosened the mask he’d been wearing so that it slipped aside and he could feel all the emotions he’d been stuffing into his shoes today. Maggie and a stranger drifted up next to him as the fullness of the night smacked him upside the head. “Hey, Mags,” he greeted her, barely smiling. It was okay to be tired, to not be ‘on’ with her. After all, it was only Maggie and she smiled as if she knew how overwhelmed he felt.

He'd never been to a function like this. A real Growth Center Event. The visiting human-potential luminaries staggered him. Lee couldn't believe they were listening to him, could barely believe he’d gotten in for free. The table was crowded. Listening to snippets of conversation, Lee hid behind his hair and tried to act as if he knew what was going on. His attempt must have succeeded, for a chunky woman with a New York accent suddenly turned to him and said, "So, tell me, what is Zen?"

Lee just looked at her. Seconds ticked by slow and silent. Stumped, he offered her his plate. "Have a carrot," he said.

Maggie and the silver-bearded gent burst into long uproarious laughter. "Maggie," the philosopher laughed over the rim of his vodka glass. "You never told me he was a master."

The man turned. Just as Lee remembered his name. "Was that-" Lee spluttered, aghast at his own idiocy. Still laughing, the famous philosopher walked away. Lee looked at his feet; he was out of his league here. Utterly. Maggie just laughed. "Come with me." Lee set his plate aside untouched and followed her out onto the patio.

There the full moon glowed above twisted trees. Lee hesitated though he knew it was his time to speak. Only with Maggie could he unburden his heart. A bird cried loudly. He heard its wings beating against night breezes, the way his wild heart beat against the cages he’d created.

"Maggie, I am either going insane or I am falling in love. Either way, it’s impossible.” She quirked a brow, curious. “No, I won’t say who. Just that it’s a radical departure for me. I’m sick about it. I can barely eat… Can’t sleep. And Calvin’s gone. I think about him all the time. I want to live up to his expectations. And I can’t. I’m grieving so hard I can barely see and now this other thing… And it’s so impossible.”

Is all this emotion a reaction to his death, maybe?”

No. It - this change - it came to me while I was in Oregon, before he died.” Lee blinked rapidly but tears still crowded his eyes. “I think I know what I want. I think I might be willing to make that change. But, I can’t speak. And the silence is killing me. So, I look to the past.

Our lovers are always our mirrors, yes? My wife was cold, withholding. What about me? What is there - in me - that I am blocking from full expression? I had to remember all the things I’ve put aside to face myself head-on. And it hurt. But I came home with my new insights and find there’s nothing I can do with them. I reach out and… Nothing.

I’m still quivering on the brink when I find out that Calvin is gone. That changes everything. And I replay all the lectures I’ve given, all the so-called wisdom I’ve dispensed. I can say all the right words… Yet, still, I grieve." His voice rose in passion like the wind. "I tell myself that the greatest loss always precedes the greatest gift. I can’t do anything with this pain, and with this love I cannot give away. I’m stuck.

So, I tell myself open to love, become a channel for love. Without expectations. Without demanding that it come in this shape or that shape. One shape is as good as another. Ideally, I think it should be the person that you make love to, not just their body. It's should not be the form, but the content, the emotional content, that makes the difference.”

So, I reached out. Finally. I was turned away. And I am so damn scared of reaching out again, of voyaging to such a foreign shore. It would be like learning to love all over again. But, it might be worth it. Might. And, for that maybe, I chance ruining all I already have.”

He etched a pattern in the dust with his toe. It was the character for his name. “I am lonely in my heart, in my body. So lonely it hurts. So much the same as it always was. And I am so tired of living half a life. I want to be loved, simply - be loved.”

"I tell myself , ‘Be in the moment. Be true to your essential nature. That's all you need to do.’ But it’s not that easy.” Lee dropped his hands but kept gazing at the moon. “To open your heart to a love like this, so fraught with danger, so fraught with differentness, is the most frightening thing in the world. But it feels so real. Maggie, what should I do?”

She touched Lee's shoulder. “May I ask who this - person is?”

You can ask. I won’t answer.”

I think maybe I already know. I think I’ve known for some time. And all I know is what John Lennon said, ‘Any love is good love’. You’re the warrior, honey. Take the chance.” She turned and saw Devon leaning in the open door. “I’ll leave you two alone.”

Devon smiled as Maggie walked away. Squaring his shoulders, Lee turned his back on the moon and faced Devon. His heart pounded heat within his chest. His breath came fast as a cornered animal’s. Yet, he kept his face impassive.

With swaying, measured steps she approached, moonlight glimmering her gown, shining in her hair and her eloquently shadowed eyes. “Don’t worry, I only heard a bit,” she said softly. “You’re afraid, afraid of love.” He walked beside her into a thicket of trees and oleanders. Turning, Devon stroked his cheek with perfectly manicured fingers. “Have we fallen in love?”

Cool night air caressed their faces. Lee touched her shoulders gently, sadly, as he considered. He searched for the right words, the words that would reveal without revealing, conceal without concealing. “Yes,” he said softly. “I think we already have.”

I’d guessed.” Devon swayed toward him, looking at his lips. Lee ran his fingers up the cool hollow of her spine, his lightest touch moving her forward until they were close enough to kiss. Lee recalled her voice that night in the alley. “Let him live!” He brushed his lips against hers teasingly, repressing the tenderness and gratitude he knew she would hate.

Oh,” she whispered. Lee took her mouth in a brutal kiss that left her breathless and whimpering. All his nerves were tingling, blood was singing in his veins. Flesh on flesh, it was still the same, no matter whose name he wanted to call. His hands were on her face. Turning her head, she took his fingertip into her mouth. Potent sense memories of what her mouth could do flooded him. Devon brushed her hand down along the front of body, slowly, taking hold of what she wanted so much. Against his will, his hips pulsed forward into her waiting hands. In this moment, he wanted nothing more than what she could give him. Even if it was a lie.

Then he remembered Calvin’s words and his obituary and stepped away. Torn, half-drunk, he wanted to fight, he wanted to fuck, he wanted to weep. But he remembered his role, he kept his course. “Not here, not now.” His voice was hushed and lush as the garden.

Neither one of them noticed the window in the gardener’s shed slide open. Neither one of them saw the pale blonde head or the stark silver eyes watching them with perfect hate.

Yo, Lee!” Terry called. Eyes wide, lips parted, Lee turned. “Time to go.” Terry looked him over in that new way he had. His voice was angry. “Get your shit together, man. The carriage turns into a pumpkin in five minutes.”

This moment took a kind of courage he didn’t know he had. He raised his chin. “Devon,” he said in a voice of smoke and satin. “I could stay.” Clues to Calvin’s murder could be anywhere, especially, he expected, in her bedroom. “Please.”

Devon bit her lip with genuine regret. “I can’t. I’m so sorry. Another time, soon.”

Soon,” Lee promised while he caressed her arms. Terry spat and walked away in disgust. The window of the gardeners shed slid shut. “We’ll come together soon. I promise.”

Chapter 13 - Human Contact

I did what you wanted,” Erik said. He leaned over the dining room table, picking bits of toast off the fine white linen. His breath was hot on the back of her neck and Devon struggled to repress a shudder. “I stayed in the shed like a bloody pet goat while you was off having a swanky party and playing dress-up. I was good.” Picking up a butter knife, Erik tossed it from hand to hand while he paced.

But you… Yeah, you was very bad. I saw you messing about with that little Chink. And after all we been through, luv... I gotta say I’m little bit disappointed in you, I am. While I’m off minding me manners, yer out in the bushes playing with his pecker.” Devon regarded her manicure fixedly. “I donno what you find so endlessly fascinating about that bloke- Hey!” Erik slammed his palm onto the table; it hit like thunder, rattling the Lennox china. “I’m talkin’ to you. The least you could do is look at me.”

Slowly, Devon rolled her eyes up to Erik’s face. Scarlet streaks of rage sliced across his cheeks and his silvery eyes were wild. “There, I’m looking. You happy?” Erik was not happy, but he was, finally, blessedly, silent.

Devon was not pleased with Erik today, because of him she’d had to decline Lee’s delicious offer to spend the night in her bed. Lee’d passed all her tests. He’d been nearly perfect, right down to the white silk jacket and his thrilling words in the garden. But, of course, her standards were too high. He would learn. Still, she’d so longed for him last night, especially after hearing his confession. It could’ve been their new beginning. As it was, she’d had to settle for a bottle of Chardonnay and a lonely bed while Erik sulked in his room across the hall.

She stared her displeasure into Erik while she sipped her tea. He remained sullen, motionless, like a recalcitrant child. “I told you last night was a working party. I had to be on all night. Except, of course, for that one brief moment you saw. I don’t know why it upsets you. We’re not exclusive.”

Maybe we should be,” Erik said, sitting next to her. She watched an idea come into his head and hoped it was fleeting; she wanted to enjoy her high. “Maybe we should get married.”

Devon laughed uproariously. “You want to make an honest woman out of me?”

Somethin’ like that. I do.”

Oh, bloody hell, you can’t be serious!”

Why not?” Devon pushed her breakfast plate away, hoping it was only the cocaine talking. She kept her eyes down. Leaning forward intently, Erik’s words came faster and faster as he warmed to his idea. “I’m the only one who knows the real you, you know that, luv. I’m the only one who’ll never want to change you. And I’m the one takin’ chances every day to keep you happy. I’m the one who gets your high. That’s got to count for something. I do it all for you, Devon, all for you. Because you’re the only one who knows me, too.

You know what I done for you, killing that bloke. Murder still carries the death penalty, luv. But a husband can’t testify against a wife.” Devon looked up abruptly, terrified, sick. “A wife can’t testify against a husband. See, it’s the only way we can really be safe. You’re my salvation and my security, you’re my angel and I love you, yes, I do, but neither one of us is very big on trust. If we was married I wouldn’t get so skittled every time you messed about with someone else. You could even have him, if you had to. So long as we’re both safe, it’d be fine.”

Daring her hands not to shake, Devon sipped her tea. “I daresay I don’t think it’d be fine with him.” Her imitation of calm was extraordinary.

And I’m sure the coppers would love to know about the money you wired me in Oregon. Murder for hire don’t come cheap, sweetheart.”

I didn’t hire you. You took it upon yourself.” Tears started. “Are you threatening me?”

Not at all, luv.” With a vicious grin, Erik sank to one knee. “I’m proposing.”

The fine china cup shook violently in the saucer. Setting it down was difficult. Devon could barely see the tablecloth for the tears welling up and running over her face. She pressed a trembling hand to her heart, closing her eyes, remembering Lee’s touch last night. Time was running out. Sins were catching up. There was no solace in blindness.

Erik stared up at her. Opening her eyes, his feral features were the first thing she saw. Predator met predator in a proper English dining room. “I- I need time,” she stuttered, rising unsteadily. Erik caught her as she lost her balance. Their eyes locked and they both knew what her answer would be. “I need time.”

Devon staggered out of the dining room and somehow pulled herself up the stairs. The carpeting muffled the sound of her shuffling feet. She groped past the gray room Erik had invaded. She was trapped, held helpless in a sticky web. With nerveless fingers, Devon felt her way through the polished pearl corridor. The hallway lights glistened like dewdrops on a web.

The deep teal walls of her room reached out to embrace her. The four-poster bed beckoned. Devon collapsed on her satin duvet. She must think, must work her way out of this net. She’d trusted her charm, her wit to keep her clear of traps like this. But she was past it. Age clenched bony fingers inside her gut. Wanting the drugs Erik had now more than ever, she ran desperate fingers through her hair. She’d done it again, fallen into the funnel web of addiction and lawless need. Her soul screamed out, tortured.

Hands trembling wildly, she glanced at the trophies on her bedside table. They would’ve been hard to conceal, had she given in to desire and let Lee into her bedroom. The gold medallion was spread out carefully, so that the lamplight glinted on the yin-yang symbol. She noticed now that yang was rising.

But yang was dead, lying in a puddle of blood, his death scene preserved in lovingly taken Polaroids. Devon shuffled the photographs - Erik’s proof of his devotion - into an oversize ochre envelope. Killing Calvin Lo had always been a fantasy of hers. When she’d blurted out the story of The Beloved in a haze of drugs and wine and desperation, Erik took her fantasy and made it real. Too real. Looking at Calvin’s broken body gave her more horror than satisfaction.

Yet, she’d taken revenge for The Beloved; he had a taste for blood, he would enjoy this savage display - Lo dead, ear sliced off, throat cut open, eyes staring blankly, sentenced to contemplate his crime forever. And, despite Lee’s strength and resolve, The Beloved waited behind his eyes. He was awakening. She yearned to see that iron spirit gazing out at her.

Darlin’” Erik leant against the doorframe, smiling. His sinuous torso was bare, the spider tattoo on his shoulder stood out plain. He’d looped a black silk tie around his neck. Slowly, he extended two hypodermic needles. “I thought you could use a bit o’ this.” Devon bit her lip and swallowed hard. “You look like you need to relax. I know I do. I never proposed to anyone before. Bit of a nerve-wracker, that.” He came and sat on the bed, playing the nervous suitor very well. Almost too well. He held out the needles. She was to pick one at random, as was their custom. Fighting tears, fighting fears with a trembling chin, Devon pointed.

Smiling, Erik tied the silk around his upper arm. “China White, your favorite.” He pumped his arm and found a vein, moaning softly as the heroin went in. Devon ached inside, in every part of herself, as she shot poison into her vein. Erik untied the silk and sagged back, rubbing his arm. His eyes closed and it came to her how she could rid herself of him forever. It would be easy. One bad shot and poof! Freedom. Erik fell on the bed beside her. “It’s so good we understand each other, darlin’.” With a subtle smile and a secret hope, Devon agreed.

***

Still pissed about the party, Terry finally emerged from his room late Monday afternoon. The kitchen was empty and dim. He'd had another rough and nearly sleepless night. The yellow Post-It stuck to the coffeepot read: 'In the garage if you want to talk- L.'

Terry wasn't sure if he wanted to talk or just brain Lee with a camshaft. Retreating into Devon's arms disgusted him. But Lee let no one touch him these days; he needed human contact. Maybe Devon was merely a port in a storm. Maybe Lee knew Terry'd come out and was avoiding him. Or maybe Antonio was right and he was just plain jealous.

Jealousy was something Antonio knew all about. Instead of a romantic weekend, they'd had a string of arguments aflame with Latin passion. Terry hadn't taken him to Devon's soiree: Wasn't he good enough? Why was Terry still pretending to be straight for that damn roommate? Did Terry think he'd ever get to first base with such a macho? Was he loco?

"Yup," Terry told his coffee. That was him, not real hopeful and probably half-crazy.

Lee was in the garage with axle grease smeared on one cheek, looking so much like his old self that Terry nearly forgot last night's pale replica. The Rolling Stones blasted on his boom box. Lee bent over the Civic’s engine block wearing worn-out jeans that fit like mortal sin.

"Hey," he drawled, glancing over one shoulder. "How ya doin'?”

Terry stood frozen like a yearling in the beacon of those black eyes, hand on the brass doorknob, words forgotten in his chest, anger turned to dust in his open mouth. Lee turned down the tape and smiled. He wiped his hand on the bandana tied around his head. "Beer?" Terry shook his numb skull. "Ancient Chinese hangover cure."

Terry brandished his coffee mug and stepped into the garage. Lee crushed his empty can in one hand. "You sure?" Taking the blank uncertainty in Terry's eyes for an answer, Lee fished two cold beers out of the little cooler. "Whatever." He set a sweating can on the tool bench beside his wordless friend. "Look, I'm sorry about Friday night."

"No, no, forget it. I was being silly," Terry burbled.

Lee shook his head and scratched the center of his chest. "You were acting like anybody does after one of those. Regressions take a toll emotionally. Leave you feeling naked and raw. Sorry I had to blow you off."

Terry popped his top. The beer smelled barley-sweet and tasted bitter. "Why did you have to blow me off?" Lee blinked rapidly and took a drink. He wasn't going to answer. Suddenly that camshaft idea didn't seem so bad. "Why did you have to do anything?" Lee sighed and set his jaw. When he got that look, there was no logic in pushing. Terry wasn't feeling real logical this morning. "Besides, who could make you do anything?"

Lee gazed at him with tired, troubled eyes. Terry saw the ghost of Devon there and felt his ears grow hot with rage. He kept his voice just barely level. "Why'd you go back to her, Lee? Why do you have to be with her?"

"I'm not with her, Ter." His lips were pale, his face turned away, like a man telling a lie.

"Bullshit!" Terry’d seen them making out in the garden, seen the courtly stud-muffin Lee'd let himself become and it made him want to puke. Terry grabbed Lee's shoulders roughly. "Then who the fuck was that guy - Luigi, your evil twin? Or didya do it all with mirrors?"

"It was mirrors, Terry," Lee said, carefully not reacting to Terry's grab. "All smoke and mirrors." Terry stared at him defiantly. "I don' love her. I never will. There're things going on here that you don' understand. Things I can't explain."

"When're you going to quit running your life on a 'Need-To-Know' basis? When're you gonna let somebody in? I need to know, Lee, because I'm on your side. Whatever you need, whenever you need it, I'm there for you. But I just don't understand how you can make love to a woman you don't trust, don't even like?"

"We don't 'make love', okay?" Lee bit his lip, angry. "Terry, I've had sex - hell, I've had a lot of sex, some of it great - but I don't think I've ever made love. Not the way I've wanted to, not when it counted for something - to use your favorite word - Real. But I don' get where you suddenly inherited the right to inquisition me. When did you grow sexual scruples?" Terry shrugged. "Me? I've always had too many of 'em. I got married because I had to. I've always been a good boy- even when I was bein' bad. Maybe I'm just gettin' free."

"Or maybe you're lying to me. Lying to yourself." Lee closed his eyes, but Terry refused to be quieted. "Look at you, John Lee, look at you. It's like there's a battle within you and a battle without. I can help. I have to.” He clasped Lee’s shoulder. Kuan glanced sharply at his hand. Stung, Terry moved away. “You’ve gone so far inside yourself that it hurts to watch you. My God! This morning is the first time we've touched for weeks. And I'm closer to you than anyone, but Calvin, there used to be Calvin."

"He was never closer."

Confused by the words, by the turning away, Terry grabbed for Lee's hands, but Lee would not give them. Terry turned, voice hoarse and gritty in the early afternoon. "Don't you think that this desirelessness shit has gone far enough? Don't you think you did it well enough back in Bhutan? Do you have to do it again? You refuse to let people in, you refuse food, comfort, love. You just keep turning away - keep turning inside.

You're killing yourself, Lee, slowly, by degrees. And I have to watch and that is killing me, too. I do not give you permission to hurt me like this." He was shouting now. "So, like, just fuck it, Mr. Monk, why don't we just pour the gasoline over your head and light the flame? Or we could just roll in a cross and nail you to it. And have done."

"Terry.” Lee’s words and tone gained in intensity, growing louder, becoming a fevered demand. “We are not in Bhutan. I am just - me. No monk. Just a man. Wrestling in the dark with things inside of me that I don't want you to see. Give me that respect, damn it!"

"Stop protecting me." Terry slammed his fist down on the tool bench, making wrenches shiver. "I'm not a child. I'm not weak. I want to see what's Real, god damn it. That's why I'm here. I don't expect it to be pretty, just Real, that's all I want, Lee. That's all."

Lee turned to the window. His straight, strong profile was silhouetted against the light. Terry watched his chest rise and fall rapidly. But his voice was soft. "That's everything. You want everything. The question is - can you handle it? Can you deal with it, once you get it?"

"Yeah, that is the question, isn't it?" Terry shrugged, feeling very small.

Lee turned the full intensity of his eyes on Terry. "Is that all you can give me?" Terry felt that searching gaze in his gut, but could not fathom all the shades of meaning. "Don't you see the position I am in?" He looked away again, shooting a hostile look at the eggshell-colored walls. There were deep shadows beneath his cheekbones and grim new lines around his mouth. "I think that to give you what you want, the man I am, the man I have worked so hard on becoming, will have to die. Will have to."

Terry opened his eyes wide. His head was tight with that grainy feeling that came when you've had too many cigarettes and precious little sleep. Why the hell had he started this? Oh, yeah, human contact. He sighed. He had started this; he had damn well better finish it. "You're beginning to sound like you're wrapped a little too tight, Kuan. I'm not going to let you die. I'm not going to let Devon drive you to suicide. That's what it is, isn't it? Devon. You were fine before, happy even. Now you're back at the Institute, having to deal with her every day. And you've rolled the rock in front of the cave door again, you slink around the house with a guilty expression all the time, like you did somebody wrong."

"Maybe I did! Maybe I-" Lee shook his head.

Terry rubbed his temples where it ached. Good old human contact. "It's so fucking stupid to have secrets from me. I don't care what you've done. Don't you get that by now?" Lee's head was down, long black bangs hanging into his eyes. Terry did not need to see his face to know the guilty look he would find there. "Or maybe, even after everything we’ve been through, you still don’t trust me. Maybe none of it means anything.”

Ter, that’s not true.“ Lee was torn, anybody could see that, the center of his being was shredding and, for the moment, Terry no longer cared. No more of his precious little words were forthcoming. His black eyes were abruptly veiled. Terry prompted him, but Lee couldn’t speak. Terry wanted to scream. He couldn't let himself. So, instead, he laughed. Didn't Lee see him breaking into little tiny pieces? Didn't he hear the craziness in his laugh?

Wonderful. I am so deeply fucking gratified that my contributions to your life mean so goddamn much.” Lee reached for Terry's sweating hands. His grip was strong, his eyes intense. But Terry shook him away. “Y’know what? Fuck you. Just fuck you!”

Lee grabbed for him, coming close. Terry pushed at him as hard as he could, using all his frustration. He didn’t budge. Lee’s upper body just rolled back with the motion, neutralizing it, same as in class. Terry was rocked by the emotion that flowed back to him; it was so tangled, yet so strong. Heart hammering in his ears, Terry sprang back, ashamed of his angry tears. “Everything in my life is not about you.”

My God, Terry, I never expected it to be. Tell me what’s got you so crazy. Tell me what’s hurting you. Let me help.”

Terry wiped Lee's hands away. Shaking his head wildly, he backed out of the garage and headed inside and up to his room. He tried not to cut and run. Once inside, he collapsed against the door, chest heaving. "This being gay thing is not a lot of fun, Terry, not a lot of fun at all." Then he sank to the floor, back against the door and his head upon his knees.

A bus passed by in the street below like it was any other day. Terry began his litany of denial: It'll never work, He is straight, He'll reject me, I'll loose my best friend, Maybe this is only a phase... And then there's ass fucking. I have finally lost my motherfucking mind. Mother. It's all her fault. Jesus, Mary, and all the saints, I'll loose him. I've lost it.... He banged his head against his knees. "I've lost it." He got up. "I have definitely lost it big time."

There had to be a joint stashed somewhere in his dresser. There had to be. Fuck house rules. Jumping up, Terry rooted frantically through the accumulation of personal oddments and pocket lint that was all over his dresser top: old bus transfers and receipts, change, grimy sticks of gum, pens, buttons that went to nothing, notes, shopping lists, crap. A letter he had forgotten to give to Lee. Fuck Lee. His magic started this madness, his crazy Taoist magic was making Terry insane too. What was he doing? With so many pretty men to love, in so many different ways, he had to go and fall in love with a Chinese saint. Where was that goddamned joint?

It was under his book of Chinese poetry. Of course. He flung the book across the room. It flew, white pages ruffling, like a dove. It fell like a broken bird into the corner. Why was he reading Chinese poetry anyway? It was only indulging his obsession.

Terry lit the joint as he started to cry. He played with the silver matchbook. Café Flore, it said. He carefully folded the matchbook and stared into the mirror. He was handsome, really handsome. Hadn't Lee noticed? People noticed all the time. Men cruised him constantly at the Café. And then there was Antonio. Why didn't he pick one of them to obsess over? Maybe then he wouldn’t fuck up the one solid friendship he had. Maybe it was just San Francisco finally getting to him. Something in the fog made everyone want to be in love. Well, not everyone. Just him. But not with everyone, just with his roommate who was as straight as they come.

His therapist kept telling him to confront his feelings, that he'd feel better if he did. Bullshit. He felt worse. A lot worse. Explore your fantasies, she said. Oh, that helped a bunch. Now he could look at Lee and feel really guilty, not just mildly uneasy anymore, but wildly, flamingly, guilty. Confront him with your fantasies, she said. Oh, right. Good morning, Lee, guess what we did last night? Charming. That would go over. Like a lead blowfish.

He flung himself down upon his messy bed, two mattresses on the floor, and sucked hard on the joint, needing the anesthesia. This was too painful by far. And it was getting worse. Now Devon was back in the picture, with her wafting perfume and her beautiful, pleading, eyes. Lee could never turn down a damsel in distress.

Terry laid the joint in the Raku ashtray. Let it just go out. Let the fire die.

Lee knocked upon his door. "Oh, shit.” Terry sat up, rubbing his eyes, wanting to appear straight. In so many ways. If he had air freshener, he would've sprayed it, for all the good it would do. Terry was definitely not up to an anti-drug lecture now. "It's open."

Lee stood in the doorway, uncertain. He looked at Terry with a worried frown, standing there in his faded jeans with his grease-streaked cheek. Terry felt that warmth begin to spread in his chest and had to smile. Lee looked sad and scared. Terry wished he could make all the weirdness inside himself go away, so he could just see his friend, not a man with gleaming muscles and beautiful eyes.

Terry, I know I’m no good with words, but I thought you knew how much I value what you’ve done for me, what you’ve been to me. I thought, well, that to say thank-you would be to cheapen the gift.” Terry bit his lip as Lee came in and sat close to him on the bed. “I thought…”

Terry bit his lip as Lee came in and sat close to him on the bed. The dog nestled beside Lee, her muzzle on his thigh. He stroked her curly fur and she rolled over on her back, legs in the air. "Rosalinda Wu," he said, laughing, and rubbed her belly with long smooth strokes. He fed her a dog biscuit and smiled. His eyes were warm and wistful and crinkled up at the corners. "She loves so easily. Look at her."

Look at me, Terry thought, me too. It was insane to be jealous of a dog. But watching the sensuous way Lee ran his fingers through her fur, he was. They sat close enough to touch, but they did not touch. Lee lit a cigarette, looking at Terry’s burnt out joint. He said nothing.

Yeah, she’s great,” Terry muttered, caging a light. Lee's eyes got very wide, lighter's flame reflected in them. He fell into that dark gaze, seeing the flame reflected there, seeing it mirrored and doubled. It was a twin-tipped flame, dancing as the universe expanded and contracted around them. The famous fog of San Francisco seemed swirl around the room , blotting out all but the flame, the eyes, and the rhythm of breathing that they shared. Teri found it all remarkable: the fog, the flame, the enormous unity of the moment.

Ah.” Lee dropped the lighter and raised a burnt finger to his lips. The spell was broken.

Terry watched Lee closely, watching his lips, watching the gold skin moving beneath his soft white shirt. It was an old shirt, well worn, the thin cotton clung to him, and he hadn't bothered to button the six buttons that ran down the front. Lee called it frontier underwear. He looked better in it than Antonio did in his Armani. Terry sat in his dilemma, with his scrambled brains and his serene expression, trying to work up the nerve to say the words that kept sticking in his throat. He’d nearly spoken them so many times these past few weeks.

But nearly doesn't count for shit in real life. You either do or you do not. I do, but I'm not sure how to do it with you. To do or not to do, that is the question. Oh, just do me. Do you want to? Do you want to do what I can’t teach you? Oh, teacher, you don't know - do you? I bet this kind of stuff never entered your head, not you. Saints don't do it. Why don't we do it in the road? Do it. Do I gotta do it all by myself? Do you do it by yourself? Do it till you're satisfied. Do you have the slightest idea of what I'm going through? Why don't you, you know everything else? I think you do, I'm sure you do, da doo doo doo.

Gently, Lee spoke. “Terry, how can I help?” He put his hand on Terry’s knee. It was probably supposed to be a soothing gesture but Terry flinched away, tugging at his messy sheets. He hoped Lee would not notice the come stains. If he did, then he’d know.

"Terry, what is it? You can tell me. If there's anything, anything at all, I can do to ease your pain, all you have to do is ask. I'd do anything to help you. Just tell me. Please." Terry hung his head. He couldn't say it. All he could do was hang his head and stare at his lonely wrinkled sheets, watching their outlines waver.

C’mon.” Lee pulled him into a rough embrace. Weakened by emotions he was not supposed to have, Terry made to push Lee away from him. “Don’t,” Lee said. “Don’t push me away again.” Terry put his head down, hiding in the only way he could. He felt the stubble of Lee’s unshaven chin against his forehead. “Terry, please don’t cry. You’ve cried so much lately. I want to help you, I want to be with you, but-“ Terry felt Lee stiffen. It was totally the reaction of a straight man who knew he's said the wrong thing - only thing Terry wanted to hear. “Let me help, let me…”

Terry raised his head. He knew his face was a wreck, he didn’t cry pretty, but he had to look, had to see Lee’s eyes. They were close enough to kiss. He felt Lee’s breath on his lips and wanted so badly to lean forward and kiss him hard enough to wipe all of Devon’s kisses away. Suddenly, Lee seemed to realize the position they were in. His eyes took on that jungle look, like a wild thing startled by thunder.

Palms sweating, Terry twisted free. Lee’s was the only rejection he could not bear to face. “I’m sorry.” Kneeling on the bed, he spoke imploringly. "Yeah, I'm in trouble. But I can't - tell you. You have no idea of what absolute unmitigated hell I am going through right now, so, please..." His voice broke. "I love you, man, I really do. Now, please, go away."

Lee did not move. “I’m not goin’.”

Oh, great, if I listen to any more of this, I will go crazy, Terry thought. I'll tell him everything if he touches me again. Desperate to change the topic, Terry looked around his messy room. “I've got a letter for you."

"For me?” Lee tilted his head. “Is it from you?"

"On the dresser." Get off my bed and go get it. I don't want you on my bed; mattresses are for making love. Get off.

Lee just smiled. "I'm scared of your dresser. Things live in it. When you find the letter, show me." Terry hopped up and flung himself at the dresser. Finding the stiff envelope, he thrust it at Lee. The expectation in his eyes was plain. “You want me to go.” Terry nodded hard enough to rattle his brain. Lee mustered a brave and befuddled grin. “Okay, you win. I’ll go.”

Collapsing on his bed, Terry dropped his head into his hands. He wondered what his therapist would have to say about today’s wonderful adventure. Suddenly, he heard a long, sick groan and a muffled thud. Without thinking, he leapt up and rushed into the hall. Lee was huddled on the floor, motionless, speechless. Terry’s first thought was that the stalker had finally broken in. Then he looked again. Something had been broken but it was not the lock.

Are you hurt?” Lee shook his head but Terry’d never seen anything like the desolation on his face. Spilled by his knees were the envelope and the photos it had contained. Lee glanced at them, cheek hollowed, fists clenched, shaking violently. Terry knelt beside him, sweeping up the Polaroids. “Oh, my god!” Calvin’s body was splayed across a car seat, head at an odd, inhuman, angle. The gash in his throat had nearly decapitated him. Photo two was a headshot. The master was missing an ear.

Someone groaned; it took Terry a second to realize it’d been him. Cold winds blew inside his chest. Terry jammed the photos into the envelope. There was nothing he could do for Calvin. He threw the envelope aside and pulled Lee’s head against his chest. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” He’d never felt another shake so hard. “He didn’t deserve it. You don’t deserve it.

You’re a good man, such a good man,” Terry crooned, smoothing his hair, stroking his back. Lee permitted it. Terry kept speaking soothingly, kept handling him as if he were a prize thoroughbred. Slowly, Lee’s body relaxed under Terry’s hands. He raised his head. Terry tasted tears he’d never wished to see. “Such a good man,” he whispered and kissed Lee on the mouth.

Chapter 14 - Welcome to the Jungle

Insects sang in the moonlit garden. The sound brought back happier days, and that hurt, but at least the sound was not lonely. Regret sang solo inside his head, howling like a midnight train. Terry poured another drink, but even Stoli couldn’t wash away his guilt.

Maybe Lee was better at oblivion. Terry hoped so. He’d done the little he could for the man; he’d brought Lee a bottle of Bourbon, a Leonard Cohen album, and his repentance. He’d left them bundled outside that silent door, yearning with every cell of his being to make things right. But death could not be undone, nor its bloody images erased.

Terry had no excuse for the rest and Lee didn’t ask for any. He did not ask for anything at all. He was shattered. His hands wouldn’t stop shaking and the little he said didn’t make much sense, as if his mind raced ahead only to be seized by fits of utter blankness. The least Terry could do after the worst he’d already done was to leave Lee alone with his grief. Terry knew that the photographs had ripped through Lee like steel hooks, dragging him back by the scars to his own slashing. That memory would spin like an endless tape inside Lee’s head, seeing Calvin try to fight his way through. And loosing.

After leaving the whiskey and a profuse apology at Lee’s door, Terry visited the cops. Again. They took down his words and his fingerprints. They said he was right about the death-scene photos; if examined closely, a running horse emblazoned on the steering wheel was clear. The Polaroids were shot inside a Mustang. Just like Erik’s. After the photos were dusted for fingerprints, and theirs were eliminated, whoever’s marks were left on the damning photos lost. If those prints were on file, the stalker/killer/demon could be identified. And maybe stopped.

But the police needed Lee’s prints to do it. Terry wondered when he was going to break that little bon-bon to Lee - before or after begging his forgiveness. Kissing him in the corridor had been a wrong Terry was not sure he could right.

He’d spent hours this evening watching an orb spider weave its web. The cunning little animal knew exactly what to do, all points led to a strong, clear, center. Too bad Terry hadn’t been born with that kind of sense. Oh, no, he was the rocket scientist who needed to go and compound the crash of Lee’s world with a sex crime. No point trying to explain that his motive was pure -no sense deluding himself with that ghost of a response.

As many times as he’d envisioned that scene, he’d never imagined it taking place on the dusty floor of a corridor. Or in such a tragic moment. He’d been so intent on offering his dreadful comfort. For something like a second, Lee seemed willing to take it, too. But then that stricken look, that awful word - No. Terry couldn’t recall if he’d said, I can’t do this, or if he’d said, I can’t do this now. Didn’t matter. That one black, backward glance rang loud as thunder in the narrow hall.

Good move, Ace!” Terry congratulated himself sarcastically. He poured another shot. The Stoli went down smooth tonight. It matched the moon reflected in the glass tabletop. It was a Harvest moon. Whatever that meant.

A little moth burnt itself in the flame of his candle. It fell crumpled on the tabletop, still kicking and trying to fly. Terry shook his head and picked the hurt insect up carefully. Gingerly, he placed it in the spider’s web. The spider hung dancing at the center of its web, each delicate foot clinging to transparent silk. Its season was coming to an end. “Party on, dude,” Terry said. It had maybe a week to live; might as well go out in style. In a flash, the spider darted out and grasped its prey. One bite and the moth was still, feeling no pain.

Terry raised his glass. “To anesthesia!” Maybe when he got thrown out of the house he’d go back to New York, bite the Big Apple, become a maggot. He wasn’t sure when Lee would tell him to leave, Terry was only certain that he would. Being a warrior, he’d probably choose the quick, clean cut. That might be best. Terry didn’t want to watch this relationship slowly strangle. It had been, until now, his finest hour. He’d thought about that while buying the whiskey for Lee and the Stoli for himself. This had been his finest hour. He’d discovered he could value another human being above himself, he’d groped his way toward love, and learnt something of what it meant to be a gay man in a world of prejudice and AIDS. There was so much more to learn, and he’d wanted to do it here in this third floor flat on Haight Street.

The moon was high. Midnight had come and gone. Lazy steam rose from the hot tub. Terry wandered over, wondering why he wasn’t staggering, and flicked on the cyan blue light. Grimacing, he evoked bathing with Calvin. The image hurt, but he pulled on it, trying to blot the photographs out of his mind. Staring at the rippling water, his face bathed in ghostly blue light, he recalled so many nights in the hot tub with Lee, talking T’ai Chi and complaining about women, back in the days when things were easy. Tears stung his eyes, but he did not let them fall. His own losses seemed so petty next to the blood and death others faced. He was no hero.

The spa could only be seen, and then vaguely, from the third floor window. Lee wouldn’t be up prowling the dojo at this hour, so he couldn’t lecture Terry about skinny-dipping. It was the end of the season anyway - might as well enjoy it while he could. Terry got the candle, the bottle, and the shotglass. He piled his clothes on the cedar steps and sank into the hot water. He leaned back, sighing at the moon.

Insects sang around him. Terry drank, silently toasting the only two heroes he’d ever known. He leaned back against the tub’s thick rim and closed his eyes. Time passed effortlessly as the hot water relaxed his body and stilled his monkey mind. Questions came and he let them go unanswered, learning to trust the silence the way Lee taught.

Then he heard the sound. Someone stumbled in the yard and he was up like a shot, quivering, ready. “No. Stay,” Lee said. Emotion and tobacco roughened his voice. He stepped slowly from shadow into moonlight. “It’s okay,” he said. Terry so wanted to believe that. Lee walked deliberately toward the hot tub, moving slowly, without his usual easy grace.

All the tragedy that burdened him hadn’t wasted his body; he’d only grown stronger, more clearly defined. The batik cloth slung around his hips was red. Moonlight glinted his eyes and shone silver on broad shoulders. Terry’s chest ached watching him. He had to look away. Lee climbed the cedar steps. Terry became aware of his own nakedness and clenched his fists. He seemed destined to offend today. Slowly, rolling guilty eyes, Terry raised his head.

Lee had paused on the top step. His gold medallion glimmered, catching candlelight, swaying over his heart. His skin gleamed. Grasping both ends of the red Batik, he untied the knot at his hip. Taking a deep breath, he opened the cloth, spread it wide, and let it fall. Cyan light bathed his naked body. He never took his eyes off of Terry’s as he stepped into the steam. He came closer. Each step lasted a lifetime.

Death was in the black velvet eyes Lee kept fixed on his; something was dying. Terry couldn’t move. He couldn’t breathe. Lee came to him, body bathed in blue light, naked and fine as a Greek God. He raised a hand to Terry’s neck. He could break it now, that would be okay as long as this was his final sight.

What you did today-” Lee began. Terry tensed, silently begging for this dying to be quick. Edging closer, Lee wrapped his hand around the back of Terry’s neck, brushing the curling hairs aside. “It didn’t hurt me.”

Terry watched him breathing, saw how the skin gleamed on his throat, and wanted to kiss the scars away. Trembling, he reached out, all his life in his bluegreen eyes. He lost his nerve and settled for an acceptably masculine hand on the shoulder, not daring a more intimate touch.

Lee glanced at Terry’s hand the same unreadable way he had in the garage. Terry thought to pull back. But the man was too quick; he covered Terry’s hand with his own, not letting Terry take back his caress. His dark eyes glistened. And he sighed, leaning forward, sliding a slow hand up Terry’s bare arm. A simple gesture. Amazing the power of seduction in it. Electrical fires went off in his nervous system and he had no desire to extinguish them. Energy pulsed up out of this man and entered him through this simple bridge; Terry was frightened by the intensity. But he did not move away.

Terry let himself be pulled closer, as if to share a confidence. He heard Lee breathing, felt his fingers brush beneath the soft curls at his nape. Their faces were so near that all Lee had to do was turn, a little - a tiny - movement. Even to raise his chin, now, would change everything. Forever.

A night bird sang. Terry dropped his gaze, afraid to let his feelings show. The last note of the song echoed, and hung in the air. Time slowed for him as he saw Lee raising a hand. He saw how that hand trembled. He did not want it to be so painful for Lee. His own pain was enough. It was more than enough.

Lee raised his chin.

His kiss was gentle. Terry felt the hesitation and the smallest move to pull away. It would be alright for him to pull away. But he did not. He took Terry's face in his hands and gave him a lover’s kiss. When the tip of Lee’s tongue touched his own Terry heard himself groan, felt the sweet tingling of lifeblood below. They kissed as if they had been born to do it. Lee pulled him closer, ardently. Terry loved the feeling, loved it too much. Lee needed a shave and he tasted of Jim Beam. Terry kept his eyes closed, praying that this wasn’t just the liquor, as tears slid, stinging, out the corners. He heard himself whimper, heard Lee’s breathing change. He knew what that sound meant, but had never really expected to hear it, not for him.

Terry pulled away, throwing back his head, gasping, feeling cool night air on his wet lips. “Wha - What are you doing?”

Seconds passed with only the night sounds. Only their breathing. Only awareness of the fire in them. “Taking what I want,” Lee said. “I’m taking what I want.” His voice was soft, but strong. His hand played in the curls at the back of Terry’s neck but he seemed afraid to meet Terry’s eyes. “Look, I know I’m a bad deal. I’m scared to death and I’m down to the bone, but I want…” He urged Terry closer, caressing the curve from hip to thigh. “I just want to… be with you tonight.” When Terry did not move away or speak, Lee brushed his open lips over Terry’s face, gently, maddeningly. “I want to be inside you. Is that alright?”

Arching his back, Terry took the kiss Lee offered; let himself caress the strong body he adored. The man was fire and steel beneath his fingertips. When Terry looked up, that jungle look was back, wilder than the night. Terry knew, at last, where that look came from. He held the proof in his hands. Lee tried to muffle an urgent sound of passion. Surrendering from the deepest part of himself, Terry said, “It’ll be how you want it to be, Johnny Lee, it’ll be how you want it to be.”

***

Rainforest surrounded the ruins at Coba. The Villa Arqueologica was a white stucco affair facing the lake, set back from the road and the tiny town by green lawn and papaya trees. Devon glanced back over her shoulder. Down the gravel road, a brown girl walked beside a bony dog. The sun beat brightly on the Mayan lake. A virgin pyramid, El Castillo, swelled high and green beyond still blue waters. Devon’s shoulder was sunburned; the hat was more for beauty than function. It was a white hat. A bride ought to wear something white.

They entered the cool darkness of the hotel. A desk clerk sat in a tiny old-fashioned room awaiting them. “Buenos tardes,” Erik said. Spanish spoken with an Australian accent. How odd. The desk clerk brought glasses of orange juice and soda. Devon raised the cocktail to her smiling lips. She and Erik were spending their honeymoon in the ruins. How appropriate.

Devon wanted to introduce Erik to the heart of the jungle, a place like the light side of her soul. The road from 180 was paved, but mesmerizing. Jungle on both sides, hot wind in the jeep. There were no gas stations, no convenience stores. A monkey’s head on a stick marked a driveway. No doubt the Mayan roads that entered Coba had been more impressive in their day. Now the temples and the ballcourt stood majestic and unexcavated in the heart of the jungle, housing only the jungle creatures that lived there. The silent Stela proclaimed the greatness of a civilization that had fallen. Butterflies and birds flocked here. But the stones were silent, waiting.

Erik had so enjoyed Chichen Itza; it’d lit a candle in his soul. He’d stood atop the platform of the skull racks and gloried in it. He’d touched the Chac Mool that received the still-beating hearts of victims with a passion bordering on lust. She’d had to pry him away from the Temple of the Warriors. He swore he could see the colors that once brightly decorated each pyramid. He vowed to return there. But she needed to take him to the real jungle, untouched by time. For he was a predator and the heart of the jungle was where he belonged.

Now he turned to her sunburned and smiling. “Ain’t this grand, luv?” She smiled indulgently. The Villa had been built for the comfort of archeologists working at the site. After the money for excavation ran out, Club Med bought the hotel. But little was changed. They walked down the hall, following the porter and glancing at the priceless artifacts in glass-covered niches in the stucco walls. The library’s texts were in English, French, and Spanish, though she doubted she’d find Erik there. Their room was adequate. A stucco niche was in one corner. The bed was firm enough, and covered in blue.

She dropped her hat on the bed and let him tip the porter. Erik seemed to enjoy the role of rich husband exceedingly well. Devon sighed. She wasn’t used to their new status yet but she was making the best of it. He was certainly more handsome than her last husband, and his expertise in smuggling in their drugs was beyond compare.

Lord, I love it here,” he said, flopping onto the window seat. “I could just run out into that jungle and never come back.” His face was red and shiny from the sun, his hair was bleached to white, and he wore a contented smile she had never seen before. She almost wanted to let go of her dreams about The Beloved; she almost wanted to let him live. Almost.

Mexico would be a perfect place to kill him. He was a junkie; death from drugs would not be odd. And if the authorities got curious, she was a rich woman. She would have no problem.

C’mere, baby,” he said, unzipping his jeans.

Don’t you think I’m worth a bit more than that, Erik?” she said twirling slowly, so that her skirt flared out in a circle around her shapely thighs. “Make me want it.”

***

Two-o-clock in the afternoon. Lee didn’t feel like very much. Good thing there were no classes today. Fresh coffee brewed. Moody music played in the living room, that singer with the cry in his voice. Sighing, he washed his hands again, that fingerprinting ink was stubborn. As he dried his hands, he looked again at his obituary. It was quite a nice write-up. But he wasn’t dead yet, despite what the morning Chronicle said. Vision grainy from a long night and longer day, Lee Kuan stared out the foggy alley window. But no righteous vision to solve his problems was forthcoming.

Time was what he needed, time and space for contemplation of what he’d learned, of what he’d done. Lee sank his head into his hands, cold and tired from the sleepless night. His eyes were raw; his voice was hoarse. He’d been awake considering the newest evidence - and all he’d done. He’d done it in the hot tub, he’d done it in the dojo, and he’d done it in Terry’s bed, sanctifying it with their passion. His body ached from so much touching. There were rug-burns on his knee. They’d stifled questions with movement. There hadn’t been much time for words.

Just the bits about Antonio, and the police. Lee got jealous when he’d heard about Terry’s boyfriend, but tried not to let it show. Terry’s coming out to him was less surprising - maybe because they were making out when he said it. Lee sighed and shook his head. Making out with his roommate… He’d been trying to readjust his vision of his life all night.

He’d never been good at loving a woman, though he’d tried. Now he loved a man with body and soul. He had no words for that. No concepts. No framework. It could only be Terry for him, forever. He knew that plain. Yet…

It is one thing to live with a desire and quite another to live with its fruition. But, God, the passion, the pleasure. He’d never forget. The few words they’d spoken thrilled Lee, though he doubted Terry’d remember them today. And, anyway, words of passion sound different in the morning light. In one quick cut, he’d changed his life. Forever. He’d never felt stronger, truer, or more a man than he had last night. The feelings would remain with him for the rest of his days. He’d never forget.

Still, Lee had no words for what he had become and what was yet to be. Maybe it was good Terry had been so drunk, maybe he would forget the evening entirely. Maybe he’d make it into a joke. Maybe that would be best. There was not enough left in Lee for anyone to love and now that he discerned what he must do, he knew there’d be even less.

Lee was going to battle. The young man with his tousled hair and his impossibly perfect face was not to be involved. Lee must keep the secret of his plans locked inside himself. Sure, holding back hurt. Terry would comfort him, would believe in him, would give him strength. But Terry would also try to fight Lee’s battles. And he was no warrior. Erik had taken Calvin. He could not have Terry. More than anything, even his own survival, Lee wanted Terry safe.

Lee poured himself a coffee. His body needed sleep. It was warm in Terry’s room, with the dog, and the comforter, and another body so near and warm. Lee clenched his fists. He’d stayed away, stayed awake, trying to squeeze answers out of air.

Hey.” Terry’s voice was deep and sleepy. “Coffee smells good.” His voice startled Lee, setting off a biochemical reaction. Adrenalin, desire, and fear all mixed up. Just like him. Terry strolled into the small yellow kitchen, wearing Lee’s saffron robe. He was smiling like a sunrise in June. And Lee hated himself for what he was about to do.

You been up all night?” Lee nodded, pouring coffee into a blue mug incised with dragons. “You look so pale. Like something’s hurting.” Terry took the mug and grinned. “Oh, yeah, you hurt your back.” Lee studied his cup and noticed his hands shaking. Terry’s memory was clear as a bell. He’d hoped, hopelessly, that the younger man wouldn’t recall. “And how’s the rug burn?”

Fine. I’m fine.” Hiding guilty eyes, Lee sipped coffee, burning his lips.

Terry set his mug on the table and swayed closer. “Aren’t you even going to kiss me?” Freshly shaven, he smelled of toothpaste and expensive cologne. “Hmm?” There was a smile on those perfect lips and a new, deep, happiness in his eyes that Lee hated to take away. Lee stood like a stone and let himself be kissed. He struggled not to respond, but his body betrayed him. Terry felt that and smiled as Lee sighed against his lips. “Come to bed.”

No.” Lee held him away. “We have to talk.”

Oh.” Terry stiffened. “I hate that line. It’s right up there with, ‘it’s not you, it’s me’.” Lee glanced too quickly at the floor while Terry’s eyes flashed bright hot fire. “Or the ever popular, ‘can we still be friends?’ and the all-time fave, ‘I can’t fall in love right now, but if I could it would be you.’ Which one did you pick?” Lee said nothing. Sitting heavily at the table, Terry said, “Go ahead, you talk. I’ll listen. Because you know what I’m gonna say. I said it all last night.”

Lee closed his burning eyes and took a moment to collect himself. “I thought I knew what I was doing last night. I’d read the books, seen the pictures. And you were - really good to me. No one’s ever been better. That’s true, but…” Crimson streaks appeared in Terry’s cheeks as he set his jaw. “I don’t want to loose our friendship. I don’t want anything to change between us.”

Hunching forward, Terry exhaled like he’d been kicked in the chest. His crestfallen expression cut Lee. Kuan suddenly knew he couldn’t kick hard enough to make the younger man stay away. No matter what he’d planned. Lee wasn’t strong enough to be a hero and he wasn’t selfish enough to be a lover. He settled on the middle way. “I don’t want anything to be different. At least not out there, not in the outer world. I don’t want anyone to know.”

Terry shook his head. “Oh, man, I thought you were bigger than that.”

So did I, thought Lee, so did I. “Okay, so I’m scared of loosing my macho persona. I’m not ready to plunge into another lifestyle. Maybe I don’ have the guts to be gay.

But it’s more than my fragile ego, Terry. It’s about you. I went to the police, like you asked. I showed them my obituary.” Terry blanched and Lee handed him the clipping. “Erik’s still out there. And he’s coming for me. I don’t want you in the line of fire. That’s why I don’t want anyone to know how much you matter to me. What if Calvin was killed because he meant so much to me? What if Melissa is next? Or Lou? Or you?”

Oh, please. I can take care of myself.” Terry scoffed, as if Lee were using the danger to avoid what was Real between them. And he was, but that was such a small percentage of his reasons. Good as Terry looked in class, he had no power behind his strikes. He could not protect himself. The monster who’d butchered Calvin could chop Terry up for tarts in twenty seconds.

I’ve talked Uncle into going to stay with Auntie Grace. You know it has to be really bad to get him to do that. I’ve canceled my visits with Melissa. I don’t want anyone following me to her and hunting her next. I want you to leave town, I want you to do that for me, just disappear until this thing is over.” Terry shook his head emphatically as Lee’d expected he would. Lee took a deep breath and let it out very slowly. “Okay, then just hear me out because it gets worse.

If it was Erik who killed Calvin, and I’m certain it was, then the cops think he was behind that murder in Pescadero. SFPD is cooperating with the authorities there and in Eugene. Calvin was photographed in a red Mustang. In Eugene. A red Mustang was found there burnt to black the day after he died. Its serial number matches a car registered to a Julio Benitez from Pescadero. Benitez was the guy who got his head cut out. Calvin was probably killed in the dead man’s car. Or killed first and then - moved.”

Whoa!” Terry slid back in his chair, anger evaporating. “And they think you’re next?”

Yup.” Lee sat at the table, leaning forward intently. “At first, they didn’t believe it was Erik, but then I showed them. Remember the night of the Demo, when I was hit by that shuriken?“ Terry nodded vehemently; he would never forget the bloodied silver of that throwing star. “I gave them Erik’s description then. Six-two, slender.

Well, it took a while, but they found a cop who fit the description and we reenacted my assault. When I demonstrated with him, everything fell into place, my defenses, the angle of the wounds, everything. Benitez had his heart removed. Calvin, well, his - his ear was gone.” Lee choked back emotion. “Both men had their throats slashed through. To the bone. Body parts removed. Just like Erik tried to do me. Now, Erik is the only slasher with a red Mustang that I ever heard of. And I do not believe in coincidence.

With the revelation of these photographs, things change. I’m part of a pattern of homicide. Suddenly, I’m not a nut-job who keeps getting cut up and blaming it some mysterious punk, I’m a valuable witness, the only surviving victim of a killer who likes to remove body parts.” Terry shuddered. “After that, the sketch artist wanted to be my new best friend. Okay, so I did that. Even with a sketch and a first name, they don’t have much to go on. And if I’m the only survivor of a killer like the Nightstalker, you can bet he’s not going to want me alive for long. Add that to Erik’s personal agenda and my danger factor triples.”

So, I take it you’re completely discounting Calvin’s hunch about Devon?”

No, she’s the third part. Calvin said, in case of foul play, cherchez la femme, look to Devon. And it’s not like Calvin to be wrong.” He certainly hadn’t been wrong in his beliefs about Terry, or his suspicions about Lee. “I tried all night to work it out. But I still can’t fathom how Erik and Devon could be connected. Maybe her fabled past finally caught up to her. Maybe they met on Polk Street. Hiring a male prostitute don’ strike me as out of line with her M.O. She’s a rich widow with eccentric tastes.”

Well, that’s fer-shured, since she’s after you.” Lee made a face. “Calvin said Devon wanted revenge. But if she hired Erik to kill Calvin, why have him strike you? She wants you.”

Oh, I donno if she wants me, exactly. I’m just an image, a replacement, a ghost dildo. She’s just not done with me yet. If she were, maybe I would be dead. Maybe she hired him to whack Calvin, get revenge for her dead lover. I’ve got to stay cool with her to stay alive. My hit is that the closer I get to her, the closer I get to solving this thing. Can’t solve it if I’m not alive.”

Terry took a sip of coffee and arched his brow. “You could leave it to the police.”

Oh, yeah, that’ll be fabulous. Everything they’ve got to work with came from us, Ter. They’ve got a sketch, a first name, and three states to look in. The cops are so over-loaded it’s stupid. If anybody’s gonna right this wrong, it’s gonna be me.”

You?” Terry spluttered. “Why the hell does it have to be you?”

Because I survived Erik twice, that’s why!”

Terry got up and paced to the coffee pot. “What the-?” He poked at the gun on the counter. Lee usually kept it under the counter in the bookstore. Not anymore. “Even with this, next time you might not be so lucky.”

Next time I’ll be prepared. Next time I’ll win. But I need you to help. You can’t be a target and you can’t get in my way. Promise me. I need you to get out of town.” Terry gave him a skeptical stare. “No, this is not about hiding from whatever is going on between us. It isn’t. I’m not even gonna see Melissa. I miss her, man. It cuts me. But first, I want her alive and safe. Same as I want you, safe, alive, and out of town - out of danger. We’ll put you up in Carmel, you like it there. Or Detroit or anywhere - anywhere but here.”

Terry lit a cigarette and considered. “Let me see if I got this right; our life has become an action movie and - I’m the chick.” He threw back his head and gave Lee a tough-guy stare. “No. I don’t think so, dude. I’m in this with you, and I’m in all the way. All the way. If you’re out there putting your life on the line, you’re not allowed to do it alone.”

Yes, I am!” Lee slammed his palm on the table for emphasis. Silverware shook. Coffee spilled. But Terry met his hard black glare head-on, unafraid. Lee rose, dropped his head into his hands, and paced. When he looked up, Terry had that same fearless look. “Oh, you.” Lee took Terry’s face in his hands and kissed him, trying to put all his emotion, all his spirit, into that one gesture. Pleading, he crouched by Terry’s chair. “Can you shoot? Can you fight? Can you imagine how hard it’ll be for me to protect you and do what I’ve got to do at the same time? Please, just go, get out of town for a while. Do it for me.”

Being out of town didn’t do a helluva lot for Calvin.” His statement cut. Lee took in a quick breath and bit down on his pain. “Lee, think! What are you gonna do? Chase this Erik guy around in the fog with a gun? Isn’t that just a little bit crazy?” Lee’s stare could’ve burnt holes in the flooring. “Let the police handle it. They don’t have a lot to go on but-”

Damn it.” Cutting him off, Lee rose. “I don’t want you in this! I never should have told you. I wasn’t going to. I was gonna cut you out of my life entirely.” Lee’s angry words vibrated against bamboo yellow walls. “Maybe that would be best. Maybe that’s what I should do!”

Silence entered the kitchen like a greasy cloud. Terry waited. But Lee wasn’t hurling any more heavy words and he wasn’t slapping the table. The beautiful young man came to Lee, he came very close. He spoke softly. “You can’t do that, Lee. You need me.”

His eyes were warm as the Carribean. Once again, as in the ancient texts, yin vanquished yang. “Yes,” Lee sighed, exhausted. “I do. But, you’ve gotta play this my way. It’s not negotiable. I will find Erik. And I’ll take crazy chances and I’ll act in ways that don’ make sense. To you. But I need you not to question me. I can’t have any chains on me. Not now.”

Oh.” Terry sat down slowly. “Is this your way of saying you have regrets?”

Lee paused to consider. He’d had a long time to prepare for last night. But, always, until then, he’d waited. The photographs changed his mind. Once he worked past the shock of seeing Calvin dead, he got the lesson. There was no living without seasons, without death, and there was no knowing when death would come. Life is fragile, and precious. Love is rare. Seeing his Sifu cut down reinforced these beliefs. Lee was in the summer of his life and it was brief. He must live it - no more standing on the sidelines. Calvin’s death made him sorry for all the Should-have-saids. He would not go through that again. So he stopped waiting, he seized the moment. “No, no regrets.”

Terry got up and went to the sink. He shook a pill out of the brown bottle that sat nearby. He ran some water into the cleanest dirty glass and handed them to Lee. “Take this. I know you’re hurting, you know you’re hurting, so you’re not foolin’ anybody, Johnny Lee. Even a warrior gets to rest sometimes.” Lee did as he was told. For once. “Do somethin’ for me?” Without thinking, Lee said yes. “Come to bed.” Terry winked at his warning glance. “Nothing sexy. You dropped your bombshells, big guy. The world didn’t come to an end. Come on.”

Relief flooded his body like a good stiff drink. Lee rose. He was in pain; all his war wounds had come back to howl on this cold and rainy day. It always amazed him how Terry knew when he was hurting, knew when he was hungry, and tried to soothe it away. He let Terry lead him into that messy bedroom, let him lay him down naked and cover him with that warm blue comforter. Rosalinda snuggled up to his back and sighed. Terry sat beside him and said, “I think you just had too much day these last few days, Johnny Lee. I think you scared yourself real good. I know how that feels.” His tone was gentle balm on Lee’s savaged soul. “But everything’ll be how you want it to be, Johnny Lee, it’ll be how you want it to be.”

Terry, I- Thank you.” It was all he could say. And, for now, it was enough.

Things would change. Final justice would strike Calvin’s killer like lightening from heaven and karma from hell. He knew that. But, in the meantime, there was earthly justice. The penal system would be too little, too late. He’d promised Calvin not to seek revenge. Some promises are made to be broken.

***

Devon walked slowly up the dirt trail, wiping her brow with a red bandana. High above her in the tree canopy, birds sang and monkeys scattered. Filtered sunlight dappled sandy red soil. The jangled stones of a fallen temple were piled two stories high on her right. They had the feel of a guardhouse. A congregation of iridescent green butterflies fluttered by, looking for more lantana. Just as Erik would be looking for his next high.

They’d just come from El Castillo. Erik had insisted on trying to climb all eighty feet of pyramid, but his energy evaporated as soon as the cocaine wore off. He’d worked very hard on a Margarita hangover last night and stank of it today. Even the flies seemed to leave him alone.

Erik, where’ve you gotten to?” Devon called without energy. Two tourists looked up from their butterfly manual to give her a sympathetic glance. Through the trees she saw a flash of his white shirt, but she continued wringing her hands and pacing until the tourists turned on the path and out of eye line. Erik was resting atop a seven-foot rise in the jungle. Dodging liana vines and mosquitoes the size of double-decker buses, she made her way up to his perch. “You lazy sod, it’s time to go.” The eyes he raised to hers were near white-blue in a sunburned face.

I can see them all around me, I can,” he whispered. Devon stopped and squatted beside him. She’d never seen him look like this. “I can hear ‘em, too. The ones what used to live here.” She smelled the weed he’d been smoking and knew that wasn’t always a good combination with cocaine. But he’d never raved like this, at least not around her. Devon dropped her eyes and saw a decoratively shaped tile lying half-buried beneath a tree root. “D’ya see this bit, it’s part of a roof.” Devon frowned, her minor had been in archeology, he could easily be right. “Part of a home someone made. We’re walking on the tops of a row of houses. Here’s another one.” He pointed to another rise.

Devon noted the geometric precision of these high ripples in the forest floor. He was right; they were looking out over rows of jungle-covered debris. Most probably upper-middle class housing. Coba had housed over 55,000 people in its glory days. But the Erik she knew had no care for such knowledge. It would be a bit of a shame to off him just as his mind caught fire. Oh, well.

Leaning forward, she felt his forehead. “Here, then, you’re simply over-excited.” She reached into her breast pocket with a naughty smile. “I brought you a treat.” She’d filled the syringe, carefully, while he was sleeping off the tequila. She’d made the mixture strong enough to kill. Rolling up his pant leg, she skillfully slid the needle into a vein a junkie would usually use. She pressed the plunger.

Suddenly, Erik smacked her hands away. The needle ripped his skin. “Not here. Not now.” Devon looked after the needle. “Leave it.” Erik didn’t care that he was bleeding. He raised his foot and kicked her in the chest.

Windless, Devon rolled down the rise. “I said, not now,” he thundered. As if nothing had happened, he put out his hand and helped her to her feet. Tears started. “Don’t blubber. It’s a long walk back and I don’t wanna take it listening to a woman cry. Yer a bloody Brit. Where’s your stiff upper lip?”

Wordlessly, Devon King-Slade followed her new husband. Her upper lip was stained with the blood that leaked from her nose. Hot tears ran silently down her face.

Chapter 15 - Truth and Bone

Terry gazed out of the locker room door at the two men sparring in the empty gym. Tall Jeff, with his all-American ass and his almost blonde hair, was trying to land kick after kick on Lee Kuan. Failing. Lee spun, a small dark tornado, trying to get inside Jeff’s long reach and land his firecracker-swift blows. Not always succeeding. This was the real deal, two men going at it, trading strike for strike. No phony Kung Fu movie sound effects were required. These sounds were bone on bone, muscle on muscle, fleshly weapons slapping skin, going in.

Hoo yeah!” Lee held Jeff’s windpipe in his fist. They laughed, but when they backed away the livid handprint was real. Even fighting at half-strength, the bruises were bona fide. And the men had been working out for over an hour. They were tired, their control was slipping. The cut over Lee’s eye proved that.

You win. Let’s call it a night.” Terry’d bet Jeff, a chiropractor by trade, would need his colleague’s services tomorrow. After all, he was pushing forty. Terry knew Lee would be icing his knee and swabbing himself with Chinese medicine. He hated the smell of that bug juice, a reminder of blood and anguish.

The two men walked toward the locker room, breathing hard, sweating harder. Terry came toward them with towels and a well-practiced smile. He was jealous. Lee no longer sparred with him. But he’d learned that being useful was a good cover for just about everything. Jeff took a towel without looking at Terry. Good old, invisible Terry.

Thanks. Just keep working on those kicks, Lee,” Jeff said, panting. He always liked to pretend he was teaching as well as learning. “You’ve got a lot of power, but you need to be able to throw a kick as fast as you throw a punch.” Lee nodded, too absorbed in evaluating his performance to notice that he’d thrown an arm around Terry’s neck. “It’s just muscle memory. It’ll come back when you forget you were hurt.”

They all strolled into the locker room. Jeff and Lee kept talking technique and the art of fighting while they stripped. Terry leaned against the office door, watching the men, comparing their bodies, and wondering again if that one night had been a hallucination. Lee rolled the black Kung Fu pants Terry washed yesterday into a careless ball while quoting the T’ai Chi classics. He slid his Jockey shorts down to his ankles and sat on the bench to take off his socks while talking Taoist philosophy. Jeff, his back to Terry, listened fascinated as he slipped out of his black cotton gi. He had a high, round, athlete’s ass. Terry watched them go into the showers, craning his neck to see if Lee noticed. He didn’t. Mister Oblivious.

He wandered into the office, wondering what they expected him to be doing all this time - polishing his sword? Maybe so. That was all the sex life he had since he’d dumped Antonio. His Latin lover’s words still haunted him. “You’ll be back, mijo. That straight guy will shit on you. They always do.” Sly hadn’t been any more encouraging. And Lee? He kept himself insanely, impossibly busy.

Maybe he really couldn’t help it. Devon was AWOL, leaving him to handle their classes alone. And midterms were coming up fast. The store needed inventory. And there were those insane errands every night; he came back late, exhausted, from his fukakta missions. Terry felt the danger and desperately wanted Lee to stop. The man couldn’t solve Calvin’s murder by himself. But it’d been four long days without a word, without a sign they’d ever touched.

Bye, Ter,” Jeff hollered. Good ole Ter, always there when you need him, invisible when you don’t. Good ole Ter was about ready to shoot himself or go insane. Whichever came first.

Hey.” He heard Lee’s soft voice at the doorway and didn’t want to look up. “You okay?” Terry bit his lip, trying to hide his pout. Lee leaned against the doorframe wearing leather pants and a smile. “I thought, if you’re feeling alright, I could take you out.” Terry just blinked. Lee did not go away. He came forward slowly, as if uncertain of his reception. His hair was wet and the cut over his eye was neatly taped. “That’s if you’re not busy.”

Do I look busy? I’m not busy.” Terry choked on his toes. “I mean, I feel okay, I’m just… I’m an idiot.” Lee was close enough to touch. Terry just swallowed hard and didn’t dare.

No, you’re patient. And kind.” As Lee ruffled his hair, Terry glanced out the door. “He’s gone. We’re it. There’s no one else here, so I thought…” Lee paused, shifting his weight. He stood very close, pelvis out, shoulders rolled back. So, that’s how it was going to be - sex on demand, buddies the rest of the time. Terry slid his hands up Lee’s sides and wet his lips. If this was the only way he could get it, then that’s the way it would be.

I thought maybe,” Lee continued, not brushing Terry’s hands away. “After I lock up, we could go out. It’s Friday night. I thought we could go for dinner, a drive, a movie, whatever you want. Maybe Japantown? Do some sushi?”

Sushi?” Terry repeated, dumbstruck.

Yeah.” When Terry said nothing, Lee went on. “Look, I know I’ve been no damn box of candy lately. I’d like to make it up to you. You’ve, um, been stayin’ home a lot and-“ Terry really hadn’t thought he’d noticed. “It’s okay if you don’t want to.”

Terry shut off his internal madman before Lee could turn away. “I do. I do want to. I just thought, well, I thought maybe you wanted something else.”

Lee frowned, trying to puzzle it out. Then his eyes snapped wide. “Here? Are you nuts?”

Absolutely.” Terry drew himself up and out of the old wooden chair with his most seductive smile, running his hands up the hard muscles of Lee’s body. “Jay’s the only one with keys and he’s gone. Like you said, we’re alone. Besides, haven’t you ever thought about it? Didn’t you ever wonder, maybe when you were younger? Locker rooms. All those naked men. In the showers. Steamy. Lonely. Together.” Lee cut his eyes to the side and Teri knew he’d stumbled onto something. He was close enough to feel the heat radiating from Lee’s bare chest. “Go and lock the door.”

***

Night rain fell softly as Lee pulled into the alley. He hit the control and watched the garage door raise, half-expecting to see words written in blood. The dirty and dangerous vibe of that Polk Street alley lingered. Slamming the car door, he glanced at the empty space next to Mandy’s red Chevette. He missed his Harley but his white Civic was barely noticeable. With the new haircut, he was not, on first glance, himself. He needed camouflage to hunt his hunter. But he’d unearthed no clue that Erik ever existed.

He was weary, played-out, worn down to bone. Between his increased class load and covering for Devon, there wasn’t a lot of him left to go around. He’d been cruising past Devon’s house at all hours, especially at times like this when he knew she would not be home. The rear entrance wasn’t visible from the street and creeping in over the gate wasn’t easy. He’d pulled his hamstring last time. Once he’d seen light in the gardener’s shed. But the other times, it’d been more of the same nothing. His intuition screamed that the answers were inside her house. But, he couldn’t get in.

Devon was not responding as he’d expected. Her ardor had inexplicably cooled. They hadn’t had sex. Lee wasn’t sure he could bypass his morals long enough to manage that. And, after his feeble excuse about keeping a low profile at work, she no longer tried to lure him into her office. Despite his best efforts at making her trust him, she wouldn’t let him into her house. The times he’d stopped by, she’d kept him at the door with stories of terrible migraines, housepainters, important business calls. He had learned precisely zip.

Grabbing the brass doorknob as if it were an answer, Lee let himself out into the backyard, still not knowing what the hell he was going to do with poor Terry. He missed their old unthinking ease with each other. They’d been together a few times since Devon’s party. It was getting harder to keep distance and peace between them. His efforts at that and at playing Romeo to Devon’s Juliet tormented Terry. He’d even begun to talk about moving out.

Pausing under the red awning of Lou’s Books, Lee frowned, his internal alarms flashing. The street and the store looked safe. But his intuition warned different. He hesitated near the storefront window for a moment, in perfect yin posture, just feeling. Danger. Listen to the rain. A blue Buick Skyhawk drove by, very slowly, but Lee couldn’t make out the white face inside.

At Lou’s Books, although Halloween was over, paper skeletons posed in the windows. Terry stood behind the counter, head tilted back, listening to music. It was an hour till closing time and he needed a shave. The sexy shadows beneath his eyes were evidence of another night where sleep evaded him. Lee felt guilty, as if he were picking apart a living dove bone by bone.

Steam rose from pavement with a thick and unclean scent. He felt dirty from mixing with the whores down on Polk Street. The damp and chill had seeped inside his bones.

The headlights of an old Chevy appeared in the glass of the window. Through the lights he saw Terry laughing. The car pulled up in the No Parking zone, radio blaring as the car door opened. Lee swung around, adrenalin pumping. Quick footfalls echoed behind him as a heavyset white man dashed from the car to Al Fong’s Pizzeria. Pushing down panic, Lee turned slowly. Maybe Joe Normal there had the right idea. Pick up a pizza, go home, and watch TV. Indulge in a wee bit of normalcy.

Lee sighed, wishing he could do just that. But the night wasn’t through with him yet. "Hey, kids." The brass bells on the door rang as he came in. Terry didn’t bother to smile. Lee glanced quickly away, biting his lip. Aimee waved without looking at him and kept talking in her sweet little accent. Lee didn’t track what she was saying. The bookshelves needed dusting, the magazine rack was a wreck, payroll needed to be done, and it all just seemed too fucking much. Lee sighed. The brown cat came out from the back room and rubbed against his legs, purring. "Karma, good Karma, good Karma." It was a name and a prayer. “You okay?”

Sure.” Terry lied in time to the pulsing radio beat. “It’s been a slow night.”

Lee sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose doubtfully. The sign in the window still read open, as if anyone cared. This shop was little more than a self-indulgence at times. Maybe they should sell. Lou'd had an offer last week from two feminist lawyers. Lee mulled it over now, poking through the wooden discount bins where they put the books that were too badly marked or mildewed, the ones that made him sneeze.

"Bless you," Aimee murmured, not looking his way. The woman was always polite, but Lee knew she hated him. He couldn’t say he blamed her much. Terry was a prize and she’d lost him to something she could not see. She still hung on in hope, not knowing why.

Lee sneezed again and backed away from the discount bin. This happened all the time. It was mildly embarrassing. He got the tissues from under the counter, next to the chuks he practiced with when business was slow. It was his new phase; welcome to weapon-of-the-month-club. Lee thought he was awful with the nunchuku, Terry thought he was a master, and some things never change.

San Francisco was a small town, despite its sophistication. As the west coast mecca for young intellectuals and wanna-be writers, The City had many used bookstores. But Lou's Books was a nondescript and dusty place, its stock purchased without focus, without direction. With so many stores competing for business, you had to have an angle. And Lou's Books had... well, it had Lou. Business sucked. In order to stay aloft, Lee added whole new meanings to the phrase `padding expenses' in his record keeping. At least Lou’s was good for a tax write-off.

Slowly, he’d been adding to the New Age section, the ethnic and gay sections, and a small variety of inexpensive items: incense, crystals, silk-covered journals, T’ai Chi swords and shoes, Florida water, and hats made from African cloth. His additions were popular with his students and the café crowd. Now he glanced from the glass case to the young man behind it.

Terry’s eyes were dull and dark-circled. His face showed everything: the worry, the hope, the fear, and the heartache. “Are you going out again?” Lee flinched. The cost of loving him was far too high; maybe he’d be doing Terry a favor if he ended it. No way was he worth so much suffering. “Are you?”

Lee was completely unnerved. No creditable lie came to mind and he could not face Terry's accusing stare any longer. Abstracted, lost in a mental ‘kick-me’ sign, Lee took the gun out of his waistband, held it up to the light, and checked it, making sure the safety was on. Terry gaped. Clearing his throat, Lee slid the gun beneath the counter. “It’s for protection.”

Terry shook his head and said nothing. He’d been doing that a lot lately. He was sallow in his purple paisley shirt. Lee hated the weary pain on Terry’s face, hated that he’d put it there.

Are you staying?” Aimee asked.

Sorry, I’ve got a date.” Oh, brilliant, Kuan! That truth really makes it better. “I’ve got a meeting with a - colleague. Tell me everything’s good here.”

Everything’s good here,” Aimee and Terry said. Everybody was lying.

Store bell jingling behind him, Lee Kuan left 518 Haight Street and walked out into the cool November rain. A sidewalk smell rose up to him as he walked over torn bits of wet newspaper and clumps of old chewing gum. It wasn't far to go. The Gaia Café two doors down spilled yellow light and coffee smells onto gray pavement. Lee walked quickly despite the scars that, in wet weather, became multi-headed monsters that liked to gnaw his bones.

Lee opened the café door and didn’t see Devon. Oh, well. The front of the café was deserted except for two chess players. No one wanted to watch the rain. They were tired of rain already, and the season was only beginning. Music played sad and slow, a baritone backed by Grecian guitar. Jenny, working the counter, drifted up to Lee. "Double cap, right? Creature of habit. How's your gorgeous roommate?"

"Gorgeous." Lee picked up a Bay Guardian from a pile by the counter. He scanned the menu on the green chalkboard over her head. Nothing caught his fancy. “How's the cheesecake?"

Jenny paused and a thin blonde braid fell into her eyes. “Old. Have the soup. It's better for you." Lee glanced up. Soup du Jour - Armenian Lentil. Okay. She nodded, and returned her attention to the milk she was steaming.

Textile art swayed on either side of the menu. Vibrant orange and brown fabrics woven together with skin and threaded with bones, with beads, with feathers, with leaves - announced the urban primitive. Lee studied the hangings, fascinated by the bones. They exchanged no words. It would be pointless to try over the loud hiss of the cappuccino machine. Besides, what could he say? He really didn't care what he ate and Terry was charming indeed. Even when Lee banged the headboard off his new brass bed. Even if he was currently obsessed with collecting every shred of information on Erik and Devon, even if he had a bad habit of thinking the police could fix their troubles. He was the only sunshine in this rainy November town.

Lee was cloud-covered, fading into shades of gray.

"That'll be four fifty. Saw your girlfriend in here the other day. Is she a nurse or is she into some spiritual order?" Lee chuckled. Mandy was the last person he could feature in a cult. He laughed as Jenny tried to shake chocolate into his cup. Her blonde dreadlocks and her firm young breasts bounced with the effort. He noticed. She noticed his noticing. They smiled.

"She's a nurse, Jenny." Lee took the shaker. Jenny had a garnet stud in her nostril and a twinkle in her eye. If she weren't so worried about being outrageous, she'd be beautiful. He was getting old - that thought proved it. Time accelerated as he left his twenties with mingled regret and relief. Jenny smiled, pupils dilating slightly. He colored, answering her unspoken question. "She’s not my girl." Jenny found him rather attractive, not bad for a rapidly aging man. It was an early birthday present he could not return. "Keep the change."

Changes upon changes and he was still so much the same. He picked up his red plastic tray and looked at the bowl of Lentil soup. Sliding between the mismatched wooden chairs and tables, he found a table meant for two. He sat down alone. Waiting for the soup to cool, he sighed. He was always sad around his birthday, but it was worse this year. Calvin was gone. The big three-oh was roaring up and Lee was disappointed; he should've become Wonderful by now. He wasn’t beautiful, he wasn’t rich, he wasn’t even all that smart, but he’d hoped to have become someone fascinating and kind by the time he hit thirty. Instead, he’d become an asshole awash in grief and guilt, searching for answers that never came.

He couldn’t find Erik. It seemed every red Mustang in San Francisco had dried up and blown away. The only thing Lee was getting good at was lying. Maybe too good. Devon believed everything he’d said on the phone last night. And Teri believed what he’d overheard. He was loosing faith in Lee. Lee was buckling under the pressure he felt from the younger man. Melissa was mad that Daddy didn’t take her trick-or-treating. Everybody went to bed alone and angry last night. And midterms were hell. No matter how you cut it, life was a shit sandwich these days. Maybe he expected too much from himself. After all, he was just a man.

He was a Chinese man who wrote in English and taught the theories of a German. He dreamt in color. In his dreams, white men whistled Swahili and yellow men rapped street corner jive, red men sang in classical Italian, while lovely black women spoke only in sighs, children could fly and were not bound by time or language. Somehow, he understood them all and they understood him. He was only the dreamer; he was not the dream. He was just a man at a table covered in Moroccan tiles, eating Armenian soup in a café in San Francisco.

A sudden wind blew the scent of rain into the café. Another patron entered. Lee drummed his fingers on the blue tiles and wished Terry were here.



"So, here we are, lovers without a trysting place,” Devon said. Her low voice seemed to startle him, but then he’d been so jumpy of late. Lee rose as she slid into their tiny table. He offered to get her something. Devon refused. She had no appetite tonight. Lee pushed his bowl away, like a man with a secret, with something to hide. He was pale but handsome. Men wear fatigue so much more gracefully than women do. “You look about as cheery as the weather." She took his hands. He glanced quickly out the window, as if afraid someone would see. Devon knew who that someone was, but despite her jealousy, despite her rage, she’d play his game. "I could make you feel better,” she purred. “I wish you’d let me book a room."

No, no, it wouldn’t be right. And, I’m so sorry, my place is… awkward. Terry…“ Lee brushed his eyes over her like moths wings. “You know he hates you.”

And he loves you." Devon’s voice crackled with electricity. Let him try to deny it now.

Don’ be crazy,” Lee said softly. He leaned closer. “We just have to get through this time. Will the painters ever be done with your house?”

Devon pursed her lips, considering. Odd that he’d never questioned her lies about the painters, or the clean-up crew, or her headaches. She could not chance him running into Erik; that would be a bloody awful scene. They were both of them so primal that something violent and male would surely transpire. “Soon, very soon,” she lied.

Tilting her head, Devon narrowed her eyes and saw the rippling patterns of energies that were Lee Kuan. He’d been afraid to own his power in the early days. Now he wore it like a jewel between his brows.

She remembered his call last week when she’d just come back to town, before she learned his secret. She’d grabbed the phone like a rescue rope. Lee’s soft voice was kind, seductive, not The Beloved’s voice at all. He wanted to see her, wanted to come to her now, now when she could not let him in. She made excuses and hung on the line listening to him talk about the details of his life, wanting her to soften her resolve and let him into her home, her body, her prison. Devon hung silent on the line, bound with transparent lines stronger than steel. His voice was sex and sanity. Desire licked like flames at her feet.

I’m sorry, sorrier than you can know, but this - isn’t a good time.” He pressed for details, expressing concern, sounding sincere. “I- I’ve had some bad news.” Her voice broke. “Please, Lee, let me go now. I’ll see you tomorrow.” As he said goodbye, she spoke to the worry in his voice. She spoke to his kisses beneath the stars. She spoke to the spirit of The Beloved who wore his flesh. “I love you,” she said. He said nothing.

Tonight, watching his guilty backward glance, she wondered if that nothing wasn’t the most honest thing he’d ever given her. Certainly it was truer than the promises and lies last night. It’d all been a fabulous charade, marvelous to listen to, but insubstantial. He no more loved her then she loved Erik. Lee could make his voice so seductive and his mouth on hers was eloquent fire, but when he looked at her, his eyes were obsidian.

She saw him clearly - a man with strong shoulders and passions, sitting in a café in the Haight. Perhaps that's all he was - a younger man in black, a man who just happened to look like someone else. A fantasy. But, he was not as ignorant as he pretended. There were secrets within him, riddles she would solve even if she had to strip him down to truth and bone.

Devon pulled her hands back into her lap. She should not have come here like this. She needed to be more careful of her dosage before she went out. She felt the past sucking her in and the hated thing she’d been threatening to become her future. And she was afraid. Yet, she said nothing. She did not want to see those eyes look at her with pity. She did not want to sound foolish. Whatever it had been with Sai Man, it had not been foolish.

When she was just a girl, she’d been filled with cravings. Surely, she thought, she was the only one - ever - to feel such longings and to feel such hate for the fake father that had made her unclean. She could tell no one. The strength of her shame became prisoner to the wise governor of Silence. Slowly, over years, Silence became servant to Duty. Then Sai Man came.

Sai Man's love made her whole for the first time, a vital part of the Universe, not a stranger after all. Their love, their sacred and profound love, blessed the hungers that had frightened her. But Silence and Duty governed the satisfaction of their appetites. For many months, by virtue of their superior minds, the lovers continued their daily deceptions, doing what was necessary, feeding at night on the strength of appetites that would have shocked even jaded Hong Kong. Then, Sai Man died and the passion they had gloried in became sin. She was cast out of heaven, never to see the face of The Beloved again.

After Sai Man's death came the pain and, later, the drugs to ease the pain. She'd switched need for need, addiction for addiction. Devon needed something outside herself, something larger, to rule her. As a woman of superior intellect, that was difficult to find. But she searched.

Broken, a sinner bereaved, Devon roamed. When God is vanquished by Death, what is there to worship but Death itself? In the foothills of Nepal, a renegade priest initiated her into the ancient Bon ways that predated Buddhism in Tibet. In the dark of night, in the stillness of the burial grounds, Devon heard the call of the thighbone flute. She offered herself piece by piece to the demons. She allied herself with Death in order to return to life. The teachings were not pure, she knew they were not pure, but they cast a spell over her pain and bought her release from the drugs. Every form of freedom has it price. The old Bon priest warned her that this path was the hardest. Like a rock climber facing a rugged cliff, the devotee would find either a straight ascent from the realm of karma or a crash on the rocks below, total enlightenment or madness and death.

These were the images of her dreams: Fire on the mountains, the glowing mother of obsidian, everywhere the fire. Li, the hexagram of fire, Jian Li and his obsidian eyes. Dung-smeared mountains too slippery to climb, below a sea of lava, her bleeding hands clinging to obsidian cliffs, obsidian eyes, her father’s face - red with drink, Sai Man falling past the red and yellow signs of Hong Kong, entering the earth …

"Devon?" Lee called from a distance. Devon flowed forward into the present, landing with a bump. "Devon? Are you alright?"



"Sorry,” she said softly, eyes pleading for mercy. “I haven’t been feeling well."

Lee waited, watching the chess players, watching the black Knight take the tall white Queen. Devon’s large blue eyes were glassy, ringed in black. He saw the tiny pupils, the slightly out of kilter body motions, and his suspicions congealed into knowing. Devon was back on drugs. Heavy drugs. The knowing filled him with deep sadness. Some demon was eating her from the inside. "How long have you been using?"

Devon glanced sidelong, nervously. He waited, watching out the window into darkness. Her black Crown Victoria sedan was parked right in front of the cafe. She hadn’t had far to walk, so he hadn’t noticed her weaving. Now she traced the tile patterns of yellow and blue, a Mona Lisa smile on her lips. "Not long.” Lee shook his head, not believing. “A few months."

"Why?" Lee’s heart ached. "Why?"

"I needed to - see things differently for a while, needed a different perspective." Devon’d told herself the lie so many times that it came out smoothly. "It's an experiment. Don’t worry."

A year ago he would have believed her. No more. "Devon, what are you so afraid of?"

There was laughter at the table behind them. Devon reached out and traced a line from Lee's cheekbone to the corner of his mouth. She leaned across the table, silver-blonde hair falling into her eyes. "And you, what are you so frightened of? Separateness? Togetherness? Love? You're so afraid of love that you won't let anyone inside. How much like me you've become. You keep your real beauty hidden under layers of lies. How easy it is for us to believe our own lies, Lee Kuan, and how hard it is for others.”

"Devon." Lee paused. Resting his chin on his hand, Lee looked intently into Devon's face. It was a lovely face, even backlit by harsh gray streetlights. Lee had read Plato too many times, ‘what is beautiful is good.’ He still wanted to believe that. But their circle dance had been broken long before this winter café. Now, with her admission of drug use, Lee had the power to crush her. That was the one power Devon had never had over him. One who is low cannot be crushed. One who takes the valley way cannot be brought down.

"I know who you see when you look at me." Devon’s eyes went wild and she quickly looked away. Lee took her hands. He did not relent. “I know.”

She took a long time to respond. "My first love," she whispered the words like an invocation, like a prayer. “My only love.” Her gaze devoured him. "Your face is so like his that it frightens me. And, sometimes, I - cannot look away. So, I always felt a need, a desire, to give you things, help, opportunities, love, that I would have given to him. As if, through you, I could still see him. Still - be close. As if - as if. . ."

Lee spoke gently, giving her madness total acceptance. "He has not come back, Devon.” He could not say: I feel it, too. “I am only myself. I'm changing, that's all. It’s not karma."

Devon reared back, stung. "I heard your little friend’s little story. Frustrated love at a monastery, boo hoo. When you want the truth, you’ll come to me.”

Lee bit down hard on what he wanted to say, reminding himself that he was cast as an ardent lover in this psychodrama. He made his face softer, his tone less harsh. And, while keeping to his role, he tried to speak true. “Devon, why can’t both memories be true? I bet every guy in here has had at least a hundred past lives. But, so what? They still drive trucks, cook spaghetti, make lives, make love, make babies. The past impels, it doesn’t compel. We’re here now and we’re who we are now. That’s all we can be, that’s all we can love.”

You’re wrong.” She stood shakily.

Maybe I should take you home.” Lee rose to steady her. He didn’t know what to feel. When she’d been with him, she’d been making love to a ghost. But, despite her madness and Calvin’s suspicions, he felt silent strings tying the two of them together. “I can’t let you go like this. Not yet." Lee took Devon's hand, turning toward the window. “What the-“

Spinning, starting to run, he tore through the night-damp cafe. Erik hadn’t moved. He was still bent over Devon’s car, looking inside. Erik was dressed in black, his hair white-blonde and spiked. A silver cross earring dangled from one ear. Lee came at him in a flash, pivoting, slamming a sidekick into his chest.

Erik flew backward, grunting. Lee’d kicked him hard enough to send him back six feet. Scrambling up, Erik turned and ran. Those extra few feet became an advantage. Lee chased him down Haight Street, past the red awning of his store, across the intersection at Fillmore. The streetscape blended together gray on gray. Lee kept his eyes fixed on his target, ignoring the searing pain in his leg. But Erik’s longer legs and inhuman speed were letting him win.

Not again, damn it, not again. Heart pumping, breath coming hot and fast, Lee pursued until a green car whipped around a corner, spraying him with gutter water. Lee leapt back to save his life. The startled driver shouted curses. Lee cursed back. When he looked up, Erik was gone, vanished into night.

Damn!” Lee hung over his knees, panting. He heard running feet behind him and knew without looking who it would be. “Lost ‘em,” he told Terry.

Damn.” Terry put an arm around Lee’s heaving shoulders. “You okay?”

Lee nodded, hating himself for letting Erik get away, hating himself for what he was doing to this beautiful young man who held him so tight. “Thought you were mad at me.”

I am,” Terry said softly. “But you were right about one thing - he didn’t disappear.”

Devon sat still, frightened, frozen in the café. She sat just as he’d left her. The sight of him in battle cut to her core. She was not wrong, she knew that now. And for him to speak of it openly meant he felt it too. Devon sat still, letting the music invade her. A choir of haunted children sang along with the poet. A tear rolled down one powdered cheek. Erik had been following her. Even her stolen moments were no longer her own. She would have to finish the job she’d started in Coba. Soon.

Devon sat still, watching Lee return. He was limping slightly. But he’d come back; Devon had to focus on that. She watched him walking. He was a warrior. Even clothed she saw every strong muscle moving. His long black bangs had fallen forward over those serious eyebrows. His lean cheeks were red from running or anger, she couldn’t tell which.

Behind him was Terry, the disgustingly faithful page. Perhaps before she dispatched Erik, he could do one more thing for her. Since she was accused of hiring a murder, since Erik had everything he needed to make those charges stick, perhaps she should make that fiction truth. Devon smiled.

Ignoring the stares of the counter girl and the chess players, Lee came back to their table. He sat down and took her hand. Terry, standing behind his shoulder, went white. “Darlin’, do you have any idea why that man was at your car?”

China blue eyes wide as innocence, Devon shook her head. “Why’d you go after him?”

That was the man that cut me at the Demo.” Devon’s eyes snapped wide. Her jaw dropped. Surely, Kuan was mistaken. Erik would’ve told her, he simply wasn’t bright enough to hold anything back from her.

I’m sure of it,” Kuan continued. “I knew it before Calvin died.” Devon lowered her head. Funny how things broke up for him into Before Death and After Death. She knew how that felt. “Anything you know about him would help.” (Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.) Devon held her tongue and stroked his cheek, more to aggravate Terry than not. “I’m okay.” Lee shrugged away. “Just pissed.”

So, that was how it was to be. No touching if the pretty boy was around. All the more reason to cancel him. Devon hollowed her cheeks and raised her chin. Terry was looking too curiously at her eyes. A rock-n-roll boy like him would know about drugs, would know what to look for. Devon turned her telltale eyes to Lee. “I’ve got to go, Jian Li. I’m not feeling well. And… About that experiment. I trust you. Do not fail me.”



Rising, she swept her eyes over them each in turn. Terry shuddered. Her look was a mockery of her old seductive stare. “Goodnight, boys. Enjoy yourselves.” Devon's voice was as soft as ermine and as vicious as age. Lee inclined his head slightly as if to a worthy opponent. Maybe that’s all she was to him. A boy had to have hope. Devon returned his bow. "Don’t do anything I’d do.” She made a smile that was like a snarl to Terry. “Goodnight, little monk."

"Take care." Lee sighed. When Devon was gone, he dropped his head into his hands and his shoulders sagged. If he hadn’t shown that weakness, Terry would’ve indulged the rage that boiled in his belly. But Lee’s vulnerability always brought out that fiercely protective, unconditionally loving side Terry’d never known he had until he moved into 516 Haight. Lee’s gift. Terry’s burden. Whatever it was, Devon had no business taking pot shots at it.

Terry unceremoniously dragged another chair up to the little table. He dumped himself into it, more than a little bit cranky from being on his feet all day and from witnessing this little scene. A haunting Spanish guitar solo played in the background. He glared at Devon’s chair as if it were contaminated. "What the fuck was all that about?"

Lee shook his head. He looked so tired, so wired. Terry sat beside him, rubbing his thigh under the table, staking a claim. Every time Terry saw him with Devon, something inside him screamed danger, danger. Lee said he was just working her, but after everything he’d overheard last night, Terry had to wonder whom it was that was being worked.

"I wish to hell I knew.” Lee’s eyes were warm and sad under slanting black brows. "She's - out there. Way out there. I don' know what sent her over the edge, but I get that she wants me to join. I'd rather pass. I saw a person in so much pain that she's doing crazy things, throwing away all she has, and wanting to believe that there's some great cosmic reason for it. God, it's sad.” He toyed with his stained napkin for a moment. "Terry, what did you see?"

"A trap," Terry replied quickly, very sure. "She’s trying to pull you in deeper." Terry paused, as the couple at the table behind him began to argue. “I know you say you’re making progress, but, look at you. You’ve got to get out now."

"I can’t. Not until I know, not until I figure things out.” He leaned his shoulder against Terry’s and spoke softly. “Please don’t ask me again. I’m committed to this course. I will find Calvin’s killer. No matter what it takes. I only want justice, I only want truth.”

No matter how many lies you’ve gotta tell to get it?”

Yes.” The answer in Lee’s eyes was final. “Just not about us. I’d never lie about us.”

How could you? You never say anything about us.” Terry shot back. He immediately felt bad. The tension in Lee cut to the bone. He was a fighter, slanting black brows drawn together, cheeks hollow, a serious man, a man who needed a second. Terry knew he was necessary to Lee, yes. But there was only so much of the man and Devon kept chipping away more than her share.

I know.” Lee did not apologize. “I know I seem insane, and selfish, but I’ve to get through this before I can see anything else clearly. I’ll make it all right in the end, Ter. I promise I will.”

Despite all the unanswered expectations, despite the way he thought things should be, Terry believed him. “Let’s go home,” Lee said. They rose and threaded their way through the narrow and smoky café. Lee going first. Terry following after. Terry couldn't quite get his shoulders to move the way Lee's did, but he walked proud. It was hard for Terry to imagine a time when they had not walked together.

Outside, it was still rainy. The moon, what he could see of it, was a simple smudge of yellow in a charcoal sky. They walked rapidly through the rain and glanced into every doorway. They were ready for a fight. Scenes from old movies flipped through Terry's mind. He imagined Devon in an opium den committing unspeakable acts, with dwarfs, while caged girls watched, red lipstick glistening. He conjured the embers of the pipes and the smell of dirty silk.

Lee fumbled for his keys and cursed. Terry opened the gate while Lee leaned against the iron bars, his fatigue obvious. “Please, let’s not fight tonight. Let’s just - be.” He glanced up, and Terry saw that wild look again. Smiling, Terry thrust the gate open. The fog rolled in thick and fast as they went up the stairs.

Chapter 16 - Streetlights

Rain fell warm in the San Francisco twilight. Lee glanced out the window of the used bookshop on Polk Street. As streetlights came on outside, hookers materialized from the fog. Guided by the window’s reflection, a blonde Asian boy put on silver lipstick. He blew Lee a kiss. Rolling aside the wooden ladder, Lee wet his lips and gave the boy a significant stare. He set down an overpriced volume of Jung and went into action.

Steam rose from the pavement as street life heated up. Lee shouldered his way past a gawker’s block and followed the boy across the street and into an alley. “Hey baby, want a date?” a creature with violet spiked hair crooned. Lee went deeper into the alley. “You buying or selling?” a stud in a cowboy hat wanted to know. Lee saw silver lipstick in a lighter’s brief flare. A schoolboy junkie with vacant eyes tried to block his way. Lee stared him down. He strode deliberately toward the boy with the bleached blonde bangs. “Great pants,” the boy said.

Rain beaded Lee’s leather trousers. The boy wiped it off, dragging his hand up Lee’s thigh. It was all Kuan could do not to flinch away. “How’s your night?” he said real slow.

Silver lips puffed petulant on a long white cigarette. “You wanna make it better?” The boy had to be all of sixteen. Vietnamese from the look of him. He wore skintight jeans and a Lurex shirt tied high around his midriff. He did not remove his slender hand. “Come home with me.”

Oh, darlin’, I donno. I was looking for someone.” The hand dropped. “Maybe you could help me out.” Quickly flipping a bill out of his back pocket, he slid it into the boy’s hand. That bought him a smile. “Maybe you know the dude. He works this street, I think. About six foot two. Blonde hair, spiked. Likes leather. Australian accent. Goes by the name of Erik.”

Oh, yeah, the vice of experience,” a tubby transvestite interjected.

Guess I came to the right place.”

There’s something for everyone here, honey. And if you don’t see anything you like, I’d be more than happy to make something up.” She leaned her head against Lee’s chest. “Your heart’s going two forty. You must be excited.”

Lee shrugged away. “So, has this vice of experience got a last name?” The transvestite grinned, hand out in the universal gesture for money.

The Vietnamese boy laced his arms around Lee’s neck and swung closer. He flinched when he saw the livid scar on Lee’s throat. “You come home with me, honey-darlin’, I cook for you.”

She really likes you, daddy,” the transvestite laughed, pulling out the lace of her sleeves. “Next she’ll be taking you home to mama-san.”

Carefully not reacting to the ethnic bullshit, Lee put his arm around the boy’s bare and narrow waist. The boy clung to him like a wet shirt. He moved them through the alley to a more private spot, worrying that the boy would catch cold. “A last name?” Lee prompted as the young prostitute embraced him.

The boy touched the scars on Lee’s neck. “This one like knives,” he whispered in Lee’s ear. Lee shook his head no. “Erik. He got one all the time. He show me.” Lee saw that the boy was sincere, and angry, and frightened. “He stay with me a while. He like Asian boy. He like you.” The boy swung closer, looking into Lee’s eyes. “You come with me tonight.” The silvered lips grazed Lee’s cheek. “You come, honey-darlin’, I tell you more.” The slender hands reached under Lee’s jacket and found the nine-millimeter Beretta stuffed into his waistband. “You a cop?”

How ‘bout you tell me last name, honey-darlin’, and I forget I saw you out here on the street,” Lee said. His voice was a soft growl. “My lieutenant will never need to know. Last name?”

The boy kept his head down and muttered something. He was afraid like a cornered animal is afraid. Lee’s heart pounded. The boy could have a weapon and he’d hate to shoot someone so pretty. “No, keep your head up. What’s gonna happen is - we’re gonna walk outta here, okay? Make it look like we’ve cut a deal. Everybody’s happy. That’s right. Great smile.” Slowly, brushing aside his bleached blonde bangs, the Asian boy led Lee from the alley. They made a left turn onto a casually traveled street. “You go home and wait long enough to make it look like we - like we fucked. So, when you come back here, you know nothing. If Erik ever finds out, the fat queen told on him.” They stopped beneath a streetlight. “Got it?”

Slade,” The boy said, pouting his smeared silver lips. “Erik Slade. I saw it in his wallet. He’s very bad.” He looked at Lee’s scar intently. “He do that?” Lee nodded and the boy pulled the wings of his collar apart. He put his head back. “See? He do this to me. That’s why I like you. We the same kind, we suffer the same thing from a same bad man. I feel for you, honey-darlin’. You take me home; I give you discount.”

Lee smiled, steering them into shadow. “No, honey-darlin’, no discount. You got the wrong guy. I’m married.” The kid just blinked at him like he’d heard it all a million times before. “And I’m real loyal guy once you get my attention.” Lee sighed, that line used to be true. “Go home. Put on some warm clothes.” The boy walked away, doing a sad and affected stroll. Lee turned up the collar of his coat and began to double back, surreptitiously, to his car. After weeks of searching, he’d finally gotten what the police had failed to find, Erik’s identity.

***

Sophia’s, a cozy Italian eatery off Washington Square, was where staff went for the weekly detox. Terry loved North Beach, he’d lived here when he first came to town. Every Friday, the In-crowd from the Institute of Inner Harmony came for big dishes of pasta and gossip. Terry’d been coming with Lee for months, but he was officially staff now and somehow that made all the difference. His jokes were more frequent and they laughed louder. Like now. Maggie waved a goblet of red wine, Flash guffawed, and Bobby laughed so hard the pasta fell off his fork.

Only Lee was silent, handsome and pale in his mystery. Terry watched him over the rim of his wine glass. Getting through today’s classes had sucked up all his strength. All that late night patrolling was beginning to show. Terry wished he’d stop playing junior G-man before it killed him. Catching Terry’s eye, Lee managed a wan smile.

What’s the matter, Kuan? They don’t have jokes on the planet you’re from?” Bobby teased. “Or don’t you love us anymore?”

Sorry. Just tired, that’s all.”

Terry keeping you up late?” Bobby waggled his eyebrows suggestively. Maggie choked. Lee froze. Flash paid very close attention to his Alfredo and Terry stuttered. “Don’t look so freaked out, guys,” Bobby continued, slowly loosing his charming smile. “Everybody knows. It doesn’t make a difference. We’re happy for you. Right, Maggie? Flash?” The table was an island of quiet in the crowded ristorante. “Is it supposed to be a secret or something? Did I screw up?”

Lee cleared his throat. He’d been doing that a lot lately. “As a matter of fact, it was supposed to be a secret, Bobby. And now that you know, I’ll have to kill you.” Bobby’s laugh was uncertain. “Just out of idle curiosity, who let the cat out of the bag?”

Well, you guys did.” Bobby had the face of a Japanese matinee idol. And it was getting redder by the second. He’d gone past his one drink limit tonight and met his embarrassment quotient for the month. “I mean, fucking in the shower isn’t exactly subtle.”

Lee choked on his mineral water. Terry felt himself blush; that little adventure had been his idea. They’d never expected Jay to use his key and come wandering in through the locker room. Jay avoided gymnasiums like plague. Except, of course, for that night. It’d been one of life’s most embarrassing moments. Full frontal nudity with one’s boss wasn’t exactly his idea of fun. Especially when you’re on the receiving end of an especially passionate fuck. But Jay’d backed out so discretely that they hadn’t imagined he would say a word.

Terry was shocked. Lee looked more shocked. Terry handed over his goblet of wine. Kuan made quick work of it. People really were amazing. A whole month and nobody’d said word one. In front of them.

Oh. Lovely.” Lee held his mouth tightly, barely controlling the anger that flared in his eyes. Terry sighed, wishing he’d never agreed to be closeted. He wanted it on the evening news; ne’er-do-well finds true love, film at eleven. Maybe not the shower scene footage, but he was proud, he wanted the world to know. But Lee said no, not now, not yet. He thought going public would make Terry a more tempting target for Erik. Or something. “What’d Jay do, announce it at a staff meeting?”

No, no,” Maggie said. “It was here. He walked in late, had two or three martinis, and said, ‘Guess which new employee I caught getting frisky in the showers? His boss was getting more than his teaching assisted, I’ll tell you that.’” Terry grimaced. He knew from her tone that it was a direct quote and everybody knew he was the only new employee. “I got that he was a little freaked out. I’m pretty sure it was a first for him.” Lee stared at his plate, pushing pasta around and looking miserable. Maggie patted his knee. “I think he had you on some macho pedestal. His illusions got dented, that’s all. He got over it. It was Devon who seemed really upset.”

Terry saw Lee file that bit of information away in his head. The Devon files were getting big, taking too much space and time away from them. Though Lee searched tirelessly for a clue or connection to Calvin’s murder, he kept getting the same fat nothing. The police hadn’t found Erik Slade. There was no more violence, no more obituaries. Terry wanted to believe it was over. Lee’s grim determination wouldn’t let him.

So, I guess Devon was scary enough to make you switch sides,” Bobby said to Lee.

Lee laughed, loosening up. “Pretty much.” That started a round of Devon jokes. Bobby wanted to know if she did it in a coffin. “Oh, come on, don’t you highly trained professionals have something to talk about besides my sex life?”

Pouring more wine, Flash stepped in with a long anecdote about a homeless patient that would’ve been fascinating if Terry weren’t so pissed. He wished Devon’s name had never come up. Since he’d walked in on that twisted little scene at the Café he’d fervently and heartily wished her dead. Daily. Watching them hold hands enraged him. Finding out she’d known about them from the beginning made her obsession with Lee more psychotic. Whatever game Lee was playing with her had better end soon. Before Terry blew.

“…So, this week Jay is all upset because the one light in the parking lot is out. Big deal. Enrollment is up by twenty percent. Midterms are sailing along. And he’s upset about a light bulb. Sometimes I don’t understand that man,” Maggie complained.

Lee had another coughing spell, turning away from the table, trying to be polite, trying not to show how weak the spasm left him. “Sorry.” He took a sip of water and sighed. Terry watched Flash watching Lee. Maggie and Bobby tore into a new game of ‘Ain’t Life Strange?’ Ignoring their litany of the bizarre that he usually found so amusing, Lee leaned his head back against the red leather banquette and closed his eyes.

Oh, honey.” Glad he no longer had to pretend, Terry touched Lee’s forehead. “You’re burning up!” Damn the man, he’d been sick for a week and wouldn’t slow down. “Flash?”

I’m not even gonna ask if you’ve seen a doctor,” the big man grumbled. “Head.” Lee shot Terry a look as he leaned across the table. Terry didn’t care. Lee’s self-abuse enraged him. “Your better half is right. You’re burnin’ up. How’d ya do it to yourself this time?”

How’d he get sick? Staying out all night hunting bad guys in dark alleys,” Terry answered for him. Caught, Lee’s jaw dropped. Terry knew he was going to get it when they went home, but kept talking. “Since the police can’t find the guy that attacked him, he’s become a do-it-yourself-cop. Scouring the city in search of truth, justice, and the American way. Coming home soaking wet and dog-ass tired. Barely eating. Not sleeping. Kissing hookers. Take your pick.”

Dark alleys, eh?” Flash shook his head and got up. “Okay, danger-boy, come on out to the car. We’ll play doctor.” Betrayed by another fit of coughing, Lee got up and went with him. But not before he shot Terry a glance full of promises, none of them happy. Flash draped an arm around Lee and muttered as they walked away. “You really got yourself married this time, hoss.”

Maggie chuckled, pushing aside her plate. “Ain’t it cool? My man and your man bonding.”

Bobby shook his head. “I gotta get outta here before all this couples stuff gives me hives,” he laughed. “Man, he’s pissed at you.” Terry tossed his head. Lee’s annoyance was nothing compared to the sweeping sense of freedom he felt. Moods pass, liberation is permanent.

Hey, Ter, want me to run Lee’s stuff over to the ‘Tute? That way you can get home for your flogging a little early.” Terry gave him a smile and a wink. It was stunningly great to be able to admire this gorgeous man openly. “Careful. You might get me thinking about switching sides.” Bobby grabbed the backpack full of books and notes Lee’d accumulated for the ‘Hero’s’ class. “What’s in here, bricks? Oh, well, anything for a trip on the Harley. I love that bike. Why’d Lee sell it? Not gay enough? Never mind. I’m outta here.” He kissed Maggie on the cheek and, after a beat, planted one on Terry, too. “Good to have you in the family. Bye!”

Bobby left Terry and Maggie laughing. They split the rest of the wine and were considering ordering another bottle when Flash came back in, alone. “I sent danger-boy home. I shot him up with penicillin and gave him some pills. He’ll sleep. Let’s get some wine.” Maggie beamed while Terry shredded napkins, wondering what to do. Flash caught the questions he was radiating.

I take it you said something you weren’t supposed to say. Well, y’know, kid, sometimes somebody’s gotta take hold of that stick he has up his ass and give it a good yank. But he’s a good man. Don’t let it get you down. He’ll see the light. You’ve got a right to tell us if he’s putting himself at risk. We’re friends. We look out for each other. Hell, you’ve got a right to say any damn thing you please. As long as you’re buying the wine. Just give him an hour or two to chill out. We’ll take you home, drunk or sober. Now, where’s that waitress?”

***

Erik sat inside the blue Buick Skylark tossing matches at the ashtray. That Mustang sure had made a beaut bonfire in Oregon. Too bad he’d had to torch it for a crapmobile like this. But wheels was wheels and he was happy just to get out of the house. Married life stank like shit but the money was good.

Most of the time he only had himself to talk to. He counted his woes and tossed his matches. Devon had to be high or she cried all the time. That stank. Cast a match. She was starting to look her age. Stinks. Toss. Next. She kept him on a tight leash, like as if she didn’t trust him. Shit. Toss. Pinch out the fire. Suck the burnt finger and keep an eye out, mate.

The parking lot was dark. He’d noticed that the one light was busted when he’d come to fetch Devon last night. How bloody convenient for a little bloodletting. He’d come hunting that little Chink. Maybe putting an end to Devon’s fantasy flesh would cheer him up.

Oh, she’d cry when he conquered her beloved but it’d be for the best. She’d see it his way in the end. She was a strong Sheila. Maybe not his match in the brains department, for all her airs, but she was strong. And wild in the sack. There was nothing she wouldn’t do. Pleasure or pain, it was all the same, all good as long as it was intense.

With the right drugs, Erik was very intense. Hell, he could do it all night, every night. That’s what kept him such a hot property on the street for so long. Too bad he didn’t have to do it anymore. He missed the danger and the dirty thrills. Maybe after he was finished here, he’d go down to Polk Street and have himself a bit of dick. It’d be fun to be buying, not selling.

But for that he’d have to keep the car clean. Or go home and get her Corvette. That’d impress the boys he used to work with. Yeah, that was the ticket.

Light patterns changing tickled the corner of his eye. His prey was in the brightly lit schoolroom again. He couldn’t see much through the blinds, just the shiny black hair and high cheekbones of an Asian face. He’d put Devon’s pet away like he’d done her cat. He’d barely give the bastard time to squeak, just long enough to feel himself dying and to know who it was what took his strength for all time. That face wouldn’t be so handsome when he was done with it. He’d had a long while to plan it this time. That little bastard wasn’t getting away this time.

The lights inside went off. Showtime. Erik got out of the car silently. He sank into the knife fighter’s crouch as he ran silent, on his toes. He sliced across the dead-dark pavement, blood and life singing in his veins. Every sense on overdrive, he could hear every cricket, feel every pebble beneath his feet.

Red Bougainvillea vines dipped down into the stairwell, making a lovely display over his head. Erik wore black from head to toe, form-fitting, severe. His newly bleached hair bristled up from his scalp. The drugs in his veins caught fire. There was nothing like cocaine and a kill. The little bastard must be nearly at the door by now. Erik felt him walking inside the building, seeing the movement with his hidden senses. He’d be waiting here when the door opened, waiting with his hungry blade exposed and ready for action.

***

Devon rolled her head against the high back of her hand-carved captain’s chair. She pressed her hands into her eyes but that didn’t help. There was no concentrating tonight. No matter that there were midterms to grade. She simply couldn’t do it. Lee prepared the midterms. He’d have to grade them as well.

So what if he’d been covering for her a lot lately. He deserved the extra work. Anything that kept him away from his pretty little roommate was a good thing. Devon was waiting until that perverse passion died. Waiting and hating.

She pushed away from her desk with sweating hands. She stacked the papers around her shakes. There was no hurry to get home. Here it was calmer, and clean of Erik’s dirty lies, his filthy vibes. He papered her house with his mean spirit and his obscenities. These weeks since Mexico had been nightmarish. Erik hadn’t hit her again. He hadn’t needed to; she stayed meek and subservient, vacillating between the euphoria of the drugs and the dark night of depression. But, carefully, lest they consume her.

Here she had all the drugs she needed. And a bottle of the white wine she’d come to love. She could spend the night or stay the weekend. It was all the same to her. But Erik might be angry if she stayed away any longer. If his outer anger could match her inner rage, she had no doubt that the city would catch fire.

Rage had been her constant companion since she’d come back home and heard the news about Lee and Terry. Jay had been most definite when she’d taken him aside. She wanted to put them in cages, to make Lee watch her peel his lover like a grape and then turn loose the rats. Fantasies of making them scream sang her to sleep each night. After the invitations in his eyes and lips at her party, Lee’s betrayal was like a burning brand stabbed into her most private parts.

Devon’d come so close, so many times, to asking Erik to settle things his way. But love and hope would not let her. Kuan’s experiment would end. It had to. Even after he’d gotten trapped in Terry’s web, he’d come to her, wanted her. He was a strong man. He needed an intensity that silly little boy simply could not provide. Devon passed the time in anger. In agony. She’d waited so many years, and now that The Beloved was so near, it was torture not to touch.

Sighing deeply, Devon patted loose strands of her silver-blonde hair, intent on looking presentable for no one. She took the stack of papers and headed out to the elevator. The nervous buzzing of the overhead lights scraped across her raw nerves. The gasp and swallow of the elevator took her upstairs. The halls were dark, deserted. A sound like distant voices got closer, but she could not make out the words. She found her way to the office. No sense turning on the light, the dim glow of the desk lamp Maggie always forgot to turn off lit her way. She pushed the stack of exams into Lee’s mail slot. No need for a note, he’d understand.

Turning toward the half closed blinds, she saw lights on the tarmac. Red and blue lights. She went to the window, opening two slats with her fingers. There were squad cars in the parking lot. A flock of officers surrounded something on the ground. They were talking, to each other, into radios. Distant voices. An officer walked over to an unmarked car. His moving let her see what was no longer standing, two splayed legs on the ground. A body.

Devon walked toward the door, toward the sounds, like a woman in a trance. Her hand moved without her knowledge to open the door. Mouth dry, shaking wildly, she stepped outside.

Hey, lady, you better stay back.” A middle aged officer took her arm and turned her away from the body on the ground. It had no face. The officer spoke again. His words made no sense. How could they? He had no face.

No, I work here,” Devon said, struggling. “I can help.”

Nobody can help him, ma’am. He’s gone.” He kept turning her away. Shaking off his hand with a wild strength, she spun toward the body as a camera flashed. The man on the ground had red-black holes where eyes and nose and mouth should be. She doubled over, holding back vomit. A lady does not vomit in front of others.

Come away.” She let herself be led. “You say you work here? Maybe you can help us identify him.” Her head nodded. Her wicked eyes, huge and dry, kept trying to find what she could not bear to see. “We found two wallets on him. We don’t know how or why. We don’t think it was a robbery gone bad. This kind of thing doesn’t usually happen in a robbery. Unless you’ve got a real sicko involved.”

How did he - how did?”

It looks like somebody grabbed him from behind when he was coming up these stairs.” The basement stairs. “There’s a blood trail. And the assailant got him over here and slit his throat and - did the rest.” While he was still alive. The words, unspoken, rang in her mind.

It would help if you could look at the wallets, or maybe you know of some identifying marks. Birthmarks, scars, the like. Got this one from the backpack.” Devon nodded, dumbly. A wallet of worn black leather was put into her numb hands. She opened it. Saw a picture of a little girl. A girl with Lee’s eyes. She wanted to fling the wallet away, but could not let it go. “You know him?” She nodded, mouth working, no sounds coming out.

Here’s the other.” Somehow he pried her hand off Lee’s wallet and made her take the other. She didn’t want to let go; it could be the last bit of him. But the policeman’s hand was strong and hers was weak, so weak. This wallet was gray eel skin. Blinking away fat hot tears, she opened it. Inside there was a platinum Visa and a photograph of Bobby Yamamoto, smiling gloriously, his arms around a stunning redhead. Only Bobby would keep a photo of himself in his wallet. She handed it back, nodding numbly when she was asked if she knew Bobby. Of course she did. He was an incredible amount of fun on sake. Was. Is. Was. The officer was speaking.

The driver’s licenses give us two Asian males, approximately the same height, weight, and age. Both of them drive motorcycles. That would match the bike we found in the parking lot.”

Devon nodded. “Lee’s - Lee’s Harley.”

Then you think that’s our man?”

No. No!” She couldn’t think. Couldn’t think it could be him, lying there cold and lonely, his face cut away. If it were, she’d never think again. She’d see to that. “I have to see.” Blinded by tears, she stumbled forward.

Just tell us if there are any birthmarks, any scars.” She kept edging closer to the death scene. “I don’t think you should. Maybe there’s a male we can call?”

At that, Devon drew herself up stiffly. “Lee Kuan had - has a scar on his left knee. And he recently had a surgery on his thigh. Left. He was attacked.”

Is that the same guy who was slashed here not too long ago?” She nodded. Officers conferred and someone went over to the black clad body and began cutting away at the fabric that shielded his leg from offending eyes. Unguarded, she went up to the horribly mutilated man.

Standing over him, shaking from the inside out, she stood guard over him, wondering where the pieces of his face were. Eyelids were gone, and lips, and nose. Gone. Just gone, as if someone had popped them into a baggie and zipped away. There was so much blood, and the rip in his throat was so deep. Someone moved his arm to get at the pants leg. And then she saw it. A glint of silver on his right hand. A ring.

Devon exploded, laughing and crying in the same instant. “It’s not him. It’s not. He never wears a ring.” She turned to the officer who was pulling her back as she sank to the ground. “Lee never wears a ring,” she spoke in the voice of the little girl she had been. Looking up, eyes wide, she said very softly, very clearly. “It’s Bobby. Lee never wears a ring.” It was a long, long time until she spoke again.

Chapter 17 - Fire Serpent

Night-driven rain was cold on Erik’s face. Erik dashed down the alley. Running was all right. He had the rain as an excuse. But he had nothing to run to, nowhere to call home. Wouldn’t think he was a bloke who’d miss that, but he did. He missed it horrible bad.

Devon’d been fierce and bright in her beauty the morning she’d thrown him out. “Wake up, you bloody bastard,” she’d cried, ripping the bedclothes off him. She’d wakened him from a dream of riches and he’d never loved her more than he had at that moment. “I’d kill you if I could,” she’d said in that gorgeous throaty growl of hers.

She’d used her voice and her slender figure like a whip that morning, waking him at dawn. “Leave,” she’d commanded. “Leave now or I’ll call the police and tell them everything I know.” He’d arched an eyebrow and stretched luxuriously. She slammed one impeccably manicured hand down on the bedside phone. “I don’t give a good goddamn what they do to me. I will take you down.” She probably thought she meant it at the time

It’d been a week since then, a long and nasty week. Even though they’d bought in quantity last time, she’d be running out of dope. Devon wouldn’t want to face withdrawal, all them shakes and sweats. She’d need Erik to score. Hell, she’d need him - period. He’d seen to that. He was her husband. She, and her vast and lovely pots of money, belonged to him now.

But he knew it was time to strike. He had to get her all to himself so that she’d realize the obvious. She was his. She’d been his since the night of the Demo. All she needed now was proof. And discipline.

He jimmied the garage doors and let himself into the back yard of 516 Haight. He’d kept the peg on this flat. He knew the pretty boy was out with the angel girl. He’d done his homework, he had. The fire escape window eased open without sound. Even the dog did not bark. He’d fed the ugly little mutt treats through the fence long enough for it to get his scent. It was simple to slide into the silent apartment, no one noticed although his heart beat loud as thunder.

The dog gave one little growl. Erik shushed it, reaching for his blade. The little thing backed off and went back to its bed by the worn sofa. Erik’d expected better than this from the little Chink. Compared to Devon’s manse, the flat was just plain tacky. Mismatched furniture. A worn Persian rug. Lots of books on shelves, some laying sidewise, many Post-Its stuck on pages. A vase of fading flowers. It was better than the flophouse he was staying at but still… Ho, hum. The sparkling dojo was the only element of distinction. He’d figured on more from Kuan, maybe a minimalist dining room, lots of black and steel. Like the man.

The man who was alone. And vulnerable.

Crouching, heart pounding hard, Erik kept to the shadows. He did not know what to expect. It was exhilarating, like his glory days back in New South Wales, when he’d pussy in with his mates and blow the safe or take the jewels, whatever the house held. He heard no sounds, no music. Creeping through the barely furnished dining room, he checked the kitchen with caution and care. His blade was hungry. He was ready to win at last.

The long hall was a challenge. It was brightly lit. There was no place to hide. He kept his blade ready. Hot blood swelled his veins. His sweat stank real good. His cock was hard from this overdue excitement. He’d been locked out of Devon’s house, her body, and her checkbook for a week. It was time for revenge, time to take what she wanted most. Tonight, he would drink up the power that held Devon prisoner and set her free to come back to him. Erik crept noiselessly down the hall.

The bathroom at the end of the hall was empty, leaving no chance for a lovely shower scene. The small room nearby was simply furnished, a monk’s chamber, full of books and candles. Boring. Empty. Next door, a tiny child’s room, painted pink, waited ready for a girl who was not there. Too bad. There was one more door. Slowly, with silent steps and fierce anticipation, Erik approached the last room. He slipped in through the partly closed door and made for the darkest heart of the room.

When his eyes adjusted to their natural state, he saw just what he wanted to see. It was perfect. Skin shining in the slanting hallway light, Kuan laid still, all aslumber, sleeping nude on a brass bed. The large messy room must belong to the pretty boy. Now the situation was clear. While Devon was chasing him, the little Chink was boning the boy. Delicious. He let himself savor the moment. It was exactly as the dreams had promised and far better than his fantasies.

Erik crept close to the bed and snapped his fingers, holding his blade ready. Its silver shaft glinted in the dim. He wanted to savor that moment of fear, that shock before the blade went in, that second in which he is declared the superior man. But Kuan gave him nothing, not a murmur, not a sigh. The brown bottle on the bedside table told him why. Nembutal. Erik’s shoulders sank. Even in death, the little Chink had found a way to cheat him. “Bastard.”

But he was a gorgeous bastard. Erik drew back the blanket and knelt, salivating, over the naked man. He traced the lines of Lee’s chest with the tip of his knife. Every muscle perfectly articulated, golden skin. Lovely body, but the bloke wasn’t all that special. Erik dragged the blade over the hollow that held the heart. Been there, done that. But choices were difficult when there were so many places to start. Here he could flick off a nipple. Or slice off the cock. Erik gazed at his target. Whatever the man was dreaming, it looked to be good.

Lee sighed softly in his sleep, stirring. Erik stroked his chest like a lover and he settled right down. Perfect. Erik ran his hands over the man, picking a place. He’d seen movies where Samurai sliced open their bellies. It was said to be the most painful way to go. But it was supposed to be the best way to release a soul. Perfect. He ran sensitive fingers over the scars he’d given the man. The touch aroused him mightily. The scars were proof of his power, his dominance, and the righteousness of his dreams.

He bent low, hungrily inhaling the scent of the life he was about to end. It was all sandalwood, sex, and smoke. Long tongue reaching out, he licked the belly he was about to open. Lee moaned and turned onto his side. Erik felt the strong muscles of his thigh. He let himself growl softly as he stroked the high, proud buttock. Perfect. Suddenly the dog began to bark and mewl in a greeting frenzy. Somebody was coming. Damn.

Slipping a present under the blanket, he slid away. Moving like silence, he went to the window. Someone was fumbling at the lock. Only seconds to escape. Every heartbeat counted.

Barking and growling, the little dog blocked his way. He kicked it, heard it run off whimpering. He folded himself up and out the window. One of his size eleven Doc Martens caught the vase on the way out. Oh, well. He stumbled on the fire escape, nearly falling. But he righted himself and took the steps down quickly. The garage door he’d jimmied still stood open. Laughing wildly, struggling to keep the sound inside his chest, he ran away. Rain flew wet on his face, getting stronger. Life was good.



Rosalinda! Baby, what’s wrong?” Long black coat whipping around him, Terry gathered the puppy up in his arms. Frantic, trying to lick his face, whimper, and wag her tail all at once, the little dog rolled big brown eyes at him. When he touched her side, she yelped and ran away. “How’d you get hurt, baby? What’d you get into?” She cowered under the weight-bench. “C’mere.” On examination, Terry sensed nothing seriously wrong. The dog was a little sore and a lot scared. Something must have fallen on her.

Lee?” The man must still be in bed. Terry told himself that was good. Lee needed sleep to recover from the fever and everything else. Grief and guilt hit hard. The sleeping pills Flash prescribed gave him a few solid hours a night. Before he left for Nuerotox with Aimee, Terry’d insisted he take one. But the bar was a bore and he had little to say to Aimee these days.

Now he was home, sweet home. And something felt wrong. “Lee?” Terry didn’t see anything out of order. An odd and pungent scent hung in the air. Setting down the dog, Terry turned slowly, eyes wide, peering into the shadows.

The ecru lace curtain of the fire-escape window blew into the room, rain driven. Terry went to the window and as he grabbed to pull it down, thunder sounded. Electric rain blew against his chest. “Ah!” He sighed in satisfaction, surrendering to the sound. Thunder and lightening were rare in San Francisco. Too bad Lee was sleeping; he’d love the storm.

Moving forward, Terry stepped on something soft. “Huh?” He was walking on roses. The vase lay on the floor, spilling water and flowers all over the old Persian carpet that he loved. Flicking on the light, he knelt to clear the mess. His knee landed on a big, muddy, footprint. Breath caught cold in his chest. Nobody living here had feet that big.

Pulse pounding rapid in his head, Terry rose, remembering. The window had been closed when he went out. He’d closed the window and sent Lee to bed. But he hadn’t been alone. Someone dirty had come inside their home.

Terry clenched his fists, praying that he was not the only living man in this apartment. He advanced slowly, cautiously. There was nothing in the dining room but unopened mail. The kitchen was quiet. He grabbed a steak knife and checked the pantry. Nothing.

Lightening flared, brightening the kitchen window, slashing across the floor. Thunder roared. Knife raised, Terry stepped into the hall. Lee slept in their bedroom, proof of life was a muffled snore. There were no demons in Melissa’s room, Lee’s room was clear, and nobody hid in the bathroom. He checked behind the shower curtain. No Psycho scenes were forthcoming.

Slowly, he let his arm relax, let the knifepoint fall. “Whoa!” He sagged against the bathroom wall. A few deep breaths and he was better. All the craziness, all the dying was getting to him. He went back into the living room, but did not relinquish the knife until the window was closed and locked.

Not bothering to clean up the mess of roses, Terry went into his room. Lee was naked on the big brass bed, he must’ve kicked the covers away. The slant of light from the hallway was kind to his face and he was peaceful now. Terry remembered his face at Bobby’s funeral, how they’d stuck together, each man assuring the other that it hadn’t been his fault, and neither one believing. Terry sighed and sat beside him. It’d been a rough week. Lee’s fever was stubborn and he was angry. Action heroes don’t get sick, he said. Well, maybe he wasn’t that much of a hero, but he was a survivor.

Terry touched the scar on that tender place over the pulse on Lee’s throat. They hadn’t made love since Bobby died. Sometimes he wondered if they ever would again. Lee cared, of that he was sure. But sometimes the man went so far inside himself, pacing the apartment and brooding. Some awful pressures were tearing him apart. The trouble would end, he promised. Someday they would be free. But this waiting was hard, so hard.

Hey,” Lee mumbled, sitting up with sleepy eyes. He wound his arm around Terry’s neck, still loose from sleep, still wrapped in the drug’s warmth. “Did I miss anything?”

No, babe, just the house got burgled and somebody kicked our dog.” Lee laughed softly, disbelieving. “It’s true.” Terry felt the tension that he hated flood back into Lee’s body. “But it’s okay. Everything’s fine. No monsters under the bed. I think Rosalinda will be all right, she’s got a bruised rib or something. Nothing they can do for that.”

How do you know?” Terry explained about the vase, the open window, and the footprint. Lee’s face got grim. “Should I call the cops?”

Oh, yeah, like we’ve got some big substantial proof. Muddy footprints. That’s all I’ve got. That and a bad feeling.” Terry fretted while Lee toyed with the ends of his hair, drawing him closer. He let his head fall forward onto Lee’s offered shoulder, resisting the sandalwood-scented warmth just a little. Lee gave him soft and soothing words while lightening flashed outside.

Terry smoothed his hands across the rippling muscles of Lee’s body, so much power hidden beneath a skin like warm silk. He had that look in his eyes again and Terry knew he was a fool to resist. Lee kissed him, running the tip of his tongue so gently across Terry’s dry lips. Thunder crashed as the man looked away and rose. Terry, touching his lips, watched as Lee went to the dresser and lit one white candle. “Lee, do you think maybe I’m just goin’ crazy?”

No.” Lee turned to him with hungry eyes. “Nobody’s crazy here.”

Lightening slashed across the room. Something was different tonight. The room was warm, moving with his every breath. Terry felt no need to veil his gaze. Every muscle on Lee’s body stood out in high relief. Abruptly, some string inside Terry snapped. He moaned softly, all resistance gone.



Lee smiled into his eyes, coming closer. Terry’s hands trembled as he raised them. Lee pressed those cold palms against his heart. “For you,” he said simply. He hoped it was enough.

Lightening flashed, illuminating the high planes and hollows of Terry’s face. Lee sighed. “My God, you’re beautiful.” Lying back against the pillows, he smiled. “I want you naked. With me.”

With the grace of a born dancer, Terry rose. Slowly, self-consciously, he took off his fancy clothes. Divested of his finery, he was even more beautiful. Lee had never loved like this; it was all still new. He was always afraid he would do something wrong, would fail as a lover when he most wanted to succeed. But Terry never complained. Perhaps because he was inexperienced, too. He’d never had a man inside him until Lee. That fact delighted Lee, gave him pride.

The one white candle danced in the semidarkness, spilling its light across the bed. Lee laid back against the pillows. The night air was cool against his skin, but he made no move to cover himself. Terry dragged his eyes over Lee’s body the way he rarely dared. Maybe the brandy he’d tasted on Terry’s lips had something to do with it. He responded to the looks like touches and let Terry see the lifeblood filling him, making him hard.

Words failed, only pictures remained: the look in Terry’s eyes as he offered himself that first night in the hot tub, his hands gripping the edges of the tub as Lee went into him, his hair flying back against Lee’s face as Lee pulled him away from that speeding red Mustang. Lee remembered feeling Terry’s heart pounding beneath his hand - the exact moment Lee knew they were bound together, forever, no matter what. Frustrating, that he could not share these images with his lover, could not pass them skull-to-skull, leaving no room for misunderstanding. But he did the best he could with his eyes, with his hands, with his body, to be heard and understood. He had to trust Terry's heart to translate.

Terry did not need to speak his love. It was everywhere, the unspoken lynchpin of their lives. Now Terry came to him, all fine and naked and warm. Lee wrapped his arms and his legs and his love around Terry. They kissed until he moaned deep in his throat. Every breath was hotter, was faster. He moved them both with his passion. Like a fire serpent, he was coiling, uncoiling, constantly in motion.

Reaching up, Lee took Terry's head between his hands. Terry's mouth was greedy, kissing and sucking wherever he guided it. Wherever. Lee cried out, feeling that sweet mouth move lower and lower on his body, groaning as Terry took him in, made him writhe with pleasure. His breath came faster, faster, in hissing sobs. “Enough, enough.” The taste of himself was on Terry's lips, given in a long kiss.

Now you.” Lee turned Terry onto his back and took control. He touched with all his passion, with all his skill. But this time it was different, it was as if he’d never made love before. Then it came to him he hadn’t. This was real. Everything else had been preparatory. “Terry,” he said because he couldn’t say anything else. Solar winds were blowing in his chest. He wanted this moment to last forever and yet, he was dying with need.

Lee looked up, drawing in his breath, mustering his control. He saw the white candle burning low on the dresser. A single candle, a twin tongued flame. Dancing. Like his vision in Oregon. He knew then that this was what he had come back for.

Terry’s body writhed against him, thin and fine. Lee used time and care and sweet oil to make him ready for their joining. "C'mon, c'mon," Terry moaned and kissed him. Lee went slow, just holding Terry, going into him carefully. Terry sighed, turning his head back and forth on the pillow. Saying his name. Terry's brows were drawn together, in rapt concentration on what he was feeling. White teeth biting full lower lip. Tangled hair on the pillow beneath him. Just watching that beautiful face was enough to bring him to the edge. "Please."

With a cry that rose up from his soul, Lee thrust. All barriers were gone. Behind him the candlelight and within him the flame. Terry rippled and rolled around him, calling out in answer him. Later, when he could think, he would remember to be grateful. But for now, it was enough to fuck, to move with the ancient rhythm. No thought - no separation. It was what he wanted, what he needed. And Lee gave himself to it, and to the man beneath him. Completely.



Lee laid back against the pillows, still breathing hard. It had never been that good before. It had never been that complete. All his life, after the orgasm came the sadness. He’d thought it was a soul-sickness that would never go away. He’d been wrong. Now it was exultation.

Still damp where Terry had washed him, he stretched. He could hardly wait for Terry to get back from his shower. There was so much he had to say. Terry returned, damp and shining. “Loose the towel,” Lee said. The candlelight caught in Terry’s smile as he came to bed naked. Lee watched his body flex, sealing every second inside himself forever.

Get up so we can get under the covers.” Terry smiled.

Lee did as he was told, and dove back into bed, pulling Terry with him, ignoring the tangle of blanket between them. “You are so incredible.” Terry lay beside him. They turned to face each other. Lee bit his lip, so afraid the words wouldn’t come out right.

You make me whole,” Lee said, beginning. His expression left no doubt as to his sincerity and Terry smiled. They reached for each other and there was that awkward shuffling of tired limbs. The words were on his lips, but he wanted the moment to be perfect. He smiled as he slid up higher and closer on the bed. “Ah!” The shock of pain rippled through Lee’s body before the blood began to come. “Don’t move! “ He reared back abruptly, fishing in the tangle of blanket and cutting his fingers.

Even as he moved, Terry grabbed some tissues from the bedside table and swabbed the bloody scratch that had appeared out of nowhere. He traced the bloody line from Lee’s lower belly into the thick black hair below. “Oh, God! That was close.”

Yeah.” Lee sat up, staring at the silver shuriken he held in bleeding fingers. Terry stared at the implement of death, eyes wide with shock. It was a twin to the silver throwing star that cut Lee at the Demo. Lee dropped the bloody star on the sheet between them. “Ai ya! Our visitor left more than a footprint, Ter.”

***

Lee paced away from the window where the rain had blown in, ruining his signed copy of Alan Watt’s book, The Wisdom of Insecurity. Too bad. He needed wisdom now.

Erik’d crawled inside his home, kicked his dog, fouling his bed while he slept naked and alone. Like a noxious wind, Erik penetrated everywhere, spreading his stink. San Francisco had no record of Erik Slade. Supposedly, the police had an APB out on him, using a photo from his Visa. But, their alleged extra patrols did nothing to stop him.

Until tonight, Lee’d had the illusion that Terry was safe. He’d loved that illusion; it’d kept him sane and warm. But he’d lost that comfort tonight. He could’ve lost his lover. It was time to stop playing around. He must act. But, how, where, when? If only heaven would open up and show him where to strike.

Lee looked down at his trembling hand. His blood seeped red through the white bandage but his blood had no answers. He did not want to do murder. Yet he knew he had to kill. Terry’s kisses still burnt within his skin, but still he had no answers.

Some cord connected Erik to Devon. Of that, he felt sure. But, how, where, when? If he delivered himself to Devon, would Erik be waiting there to take him down? Exposing himself on the street every night, begging for answers, had not brought Erik to him. What would?

Opening the window, Lee slipped outside. The full moon was fogged and half-hidden from his view. The fire escape was wet beneath his feet. Damp air clung to his bare torso. “Here I am.” He whispered when he wanted to howl. But he’d left Terry sleeping softly within the illusion that Lee could protect him. It wouldn’t to do to howl his love awake. “You can’t have him.” Mocking, a damp wind slapped Lee across the face.

He could not see himself loosing Terry forever. He would not. Yet, choking around a sob, he pictured Erik slipping through the night, hungry blade glinting in the moon’s dull light. Mind zooming on to Devon, he saw her alone, wrapped in white lace and satin. Devon was the key.

Pushing his heavy hair back from his forehead, he let his hands slip through his hair and over his shoulders and down to the hollow over his heart. Fingers barely grazing the place Terry’d kissed, his skin tingled at the memory. Tired and sweet from making love, he sighed, aroused by the merest slip of memory. He’d never been so sure that he was loved and he’d never been loved so wholly or so well.

Betraying that love cut across everything he was. But, if finding the truth meant being in Devon’s bed, there he’d be. Lee crushed his hands together and bit his lip until he tasted blood. Even that couldn’t force the tears back inside. Pulse racing, breath coming fast and hot out of a chest constricted with pain, he knew exactly what his options were, and he knew what choice he’d make. He was a warrior, trained to use his body in combat. And, so, he would. Terry wouldn’t have to know. It would hurt too much. Lee would eat the pain of guilt, he would swallow it down with ground glass every morning if it meant keeping Terry safe.

He’d have to get next to Devon. He’d have to play that bedroom scene to the bone. He’d have to be the man that Devon – and those nagging dreams – kept insisting he‘d once been: ruthless, proud, violent, excessively masculine. He’d always burned too hot anyway. Maybe more than her fantasy called him there. Maybe she was right. Maybe he could get inside that man’s head and find the secret that would make her break and release them from this torture, this lingering approach to death.

Her body was still beautiful and her eyes were blue enough to command a thousand fantasies. For someone else. Yet, Lee knew his body would not let him down. He’d always burned too hot. There’d never been a lust he could not answer.

Shivering, not bothering to wipe his face dry, he went inside. He left damp footprints on the hardwood floor as he paced into the kitchen. The phone hung silent on the wall. Lee stared at it accusingly. The yellow-painted walls were almost comforting, despite how much he hated the color. His wife had insisted that all kitchens are yellow. It’d been early in their marriage and he hadn’t wanted to shoot her down. Now she lived with the lukewarm man who’d given her a promotion and a respite from the high, hot flames of Lee’s passions and he lived with her yellow walls.

Going to the refrigerator, he put ice in a glass and poured himself a whiskey. The deep slice across his palm burned. He hated that the cut had come at the exact moment he was going to tell Terry of his vast and undying love. The blood ruined the mood. Lee’d said nothing. He regretted that now, but he honestly thought Terry knew his heart. Still, he’d wanted to give his lover the words.

Ice clinking in his glass, he walked down the hall to Terry’s messy room. The one white candle still burned in its little glass, throwing silvery shadows on the curve of Terry’s high cheekbone and gleaming the small half-smile on his lips. Lee clenched his fists, wanting to dive into that bed and loose himself in passion. But it was two ayem and Terry slept so peacefully.

He walked away.

Rolling the cold glass against his forehead, Lee wondered how many tomorrows they would have together. He saw no end except his death. And, though that loomed larger every single day, he could not believe he would succumb to Erik. Not now, not when life had just begun to reward him.

It all came together in a brief and blinding flash. He saw the trust in Terry’s eyes, heard that low voice whispering his name, he felt the passion, felt their limbs tangling together. Desire moved through him, making him throb. But, then, he tasted blood and saw the photographic images of Calvin’s death. He saw Terry’s face pasted onto that twisted body. He saw his child lying in Erik’s arms. Lies broke and crumbled.

He could no longer pretend that he could not kill. That knowledge shivered his soul. Calvin had killed and, even though it had been an accident, Calvin paid with his own bloody murder. His master’s life had been broken back in Hong Kong, broken in a single moment, his whole life gone in a single kick. How could he, Lee, do any better? He could and would kill in a heartbeat if it bought him another moment of this life, of this life in which he had finally – at last, thank you, God – come alive. Only his sins limited their tomorrows.

The phone rang.

The phone rang twice before Lee grabbed it. “Lee?” Devon’s voice was low and scared. “I had a dream. A terrible dream. Are you all right?”

Yes. I’m fine. Tell me your dream.”

It was dreadful. All blood and gore. Footprints in spilled blood. Flowers falling, blowing in the door. I saw you bleeding from your heart and I saw – another man smiling, licking up the blood. It was awful. I wanted to stop it but I wasn’t there. I couldn’t move.” He tried to comfort her, but she sobbed. “I need to see you. I need to know. I want you to come to me. Come to me.”

Leaning against the yellow wall, Lee closed his eyes. He’d been angling for this invitation for weeks but he could not put on her kisses so soon after Terry’s love. “I’m sorry, darlin’. It’s so late and I’ve – Well, Flash gave me some sleeping pills and they’re just about ready to kick in and…”

I understand.”

Understand that I want to be there. I want to be with you. I want this waiting to end.” Lee washed his lies and half-truths down with good whiskey. “I can come to you tomorrow.”

I’ll make it fine. We’ll have dinner. It’ll be a good night, a marvelous night.”

Yes. It will be a special night, Devon. I’ll come to you. And it will be as if nothing had ever come between us. It’ll be how you want it to be.” Hating himself for using Terry’s words to seduce this woman, Lee rolled the cold glass against his forehead and stopped himself from sighing. “We won’t let anything get in the way.”

Come at eight. I’ll have everything ready.” Her voice trembled. “Do you love me?’

Lee stood straight as the barrel of a gun, all his vision fixed on the desired outcome. “Yes.” Pulling on his iron will, he kept his voice gentle, kept his words coming out so smooth, so automatic. “You know how I feel. It’s all in front of you. I want the waiting to be over.”

So do I, darling. Tomorrow.” Devon sighed. “I’m so glad I called.”

I’m glad you called, too.” Images of Calvin’s death, images of revenge tumbled through his mind. “I’ll be there. We’ll make up for everything in the past.” Their date was locked and loaded. If she’d been keeping him away to placate Erik, things were sure to get interesting. Lee was a weapon, he was a loaded gun. If she had anything to do with Calvin’s death, he’d shoot without thinking.

Chapter 18 - Dinner at Eight

Terry didn’t even notice the scent of strong coffee and steaming milk anymore. He was inured to it. Working at Café Flore will do that to a guy. The winter night was chill. He boogied in place to stay warm. It also helped tips.

What can I do for you?” He smiled at the girl with the fuchsia-pink hair. Her lover, a serious lesbian with a pierced septum, glowered over her head. It was the same every time. Pink flirted wildly with Terry while her big girlfriend imagined fifty (no doubt creative, to judge by her piercing) ways to kill him. It was just another day at Café Flore, where everybody introduced themselves by stating first their name, then their sexual preference.

He wondered what Lee would say. Hi, I’m Lee and I have no fucking clue, maybe? Terry’d always heard that bisexuals are way sick and he was beginning to think it was true. Lee and Terry were not the same. They never would be. Terry couldn’t even think of a woman now.

So, he steamed milk and remembered Lee. The last time they’d made love it had been magic. Then the phone rang. It was Devon. Lee took the call in the other room and kept his voice low-pitched and seductive. Terry counted every one of the twelve minutes while holding back tears.

After the call, Lee was grim and shamefaced. There was something desperate in his eyes that Terry’d not seen before, something trapped. When Terry asked him to stay home, he’d just said no. And that was supposed to be the end of it. Terry nearly burst a blood vessel telling Lee precisely what he thought of this crazy, dangerous quest. Lee kept saying it would be over soon. Terry feared he was just dragging it out to avoid defining their relationship, or worse yet, admitting they had one. There’d been raised voices and slammed doors. When he left his room, Lee was gone. Terry’d heard him coming in around five ayem. Terry’d just about had enough.

Even Café Flore couldn’t cheer him up. Regardless, he spun, snapping his fingers and serving up a flawless cappuccino. The little girl with the pink hair sighed almost audibly. Her girlfriend grimaced. Lee said, “Hey.”

Whoa!” He looked devastatingly handsome. But Terry wouldn’t acknowledge it. “What’re you doing here?”

Can we talk?” Lee said, glancing aside. It was a thing he did when he was worried someone might think that they were - gasp- together. Then he raised his eyes. Terry fell back a pace when he saw the pain there.

But Terry was determined not to weaken. Not this time. He nodded at his waiting customers. “I’ve got people.”

Then, I’ll wait.” To his credit, he did not glance at the clock.

Look,” Terry said, exasperated. “I get off in an hour. I’ll come home and we’ll - talk.”

It can’t wait till then.” Lee’s fists were clenched and his knuckles were white and he was speaking far too low. Some dreadful pressure had built to critical mass inside him.

Mo, cover me,” Terry yelled. Mohammad emerged unhappily from the kitchen. Teri raised the plank and came out from behind the counter, wiping his hands on a raggedy towel. He didn’t like the look in Lee’s eyes, didn’t like it at all.

Okay, what?” Terry said, throwing back his head. He knew his tone was abrasive, but didn’t care. Not after last night. Lee clenched his teeth. Teri watched the muscles in his jaw work, saw the red streaks in his lean pale cheeks and wondered if he should really be this hard on the man. He decided he should. “I’ve got, like, two minutes.”

Lee took Terry’s arm and tried to move them to a quiet corner. When it became plain Terry wasn’t budging, Lee took a deep breath. “Okay. I came to tell you that I love you.”

What?” Terry felt his eyes go perfectly round.

I said I love you. I always have. And I always will.” Terry studied his face, not moving when Lee touched his hair. “So, no matter what happens, please don’t forget that. I know I said it once, that first night.” Terry had been sure he’d forgotten. “I should have said it again. But I was stupid - I was scared.”

Terry looked at his stern warrior, dressed in leather and silk. “You? Afraid? Of what?”

Of not being the man you need me to be. Of everything. Of how big my feelings really are. And I’m not saying this because of the fight.” His eyes got guarded, but Terry didn’t need to ask. He knew this admission came because of the quest.

An icy-cold maggot crawled into the pit of his stomach and began to eat its way out. Lee was going to do something crazy, something irrevocable. Terry stood frozen, unable to speak or move, unable to prevent this disaster. Lee dropped his gaze. “I just wanted you to know.” He turned to go.

Wait.” Terry grabbed his sleeve. “Say it again.”

I love you.” Lee said it loud enough for everyone to hear. Terry closed his eyes, felt himself being pulled closer, felt Lee’s mouth on his. With a cry, Terry wrapped himself around the man, still clutching the coffee-stained towel. They kissed until they were breathless, until some idiot told them to get a room, until somebody started to clap. “I love you,” Lee said against his ear. Then, gently untangling his fingers from Terry’s hair, he was gone.

***

Devon paced her plum velvet study anxiously. Everything was perfect: the dinner, the table, the wine, her gown. She’d taken extra pains with her makeup tonight, doing her eyes very dark because she knew he liked that. He hated perfume, so she used none. She’d told him to come at eight, so she expected him at eight thirty. Lee was always a little late.

Since Bobby’s death, while Lee healed, she’d been crazy with need. But she’d held back, fearing Erik’s return. Once the locks were changed she felt better. It was illusory, of course. No lock existed that could keep Erik out if he really wanted to get in. Her husband had told her that. And she believed him.

But there were parts of her he’d never know. Parts he’d never touch. Things only The Beloved would remember.

Lee was coming to her tonight. Perhaps he’d remember, perhaps he was beginning to remember. On the night she’d told him her truths in that Haight Street Café, his strength conquered her rage. His betrayal still stung, but she’d had no claim on him. Not then. He was still young, this was San Francisco, and she had to admit his young man had a certain coltish appeal. She had her experiments. He had his. Excuses didn’t matter. The relief that flooded her when she knew it wasn’t him lying cold and cut and dead in that parking lot was real. All was forgiven. She’d prove that when he came to her tonight.

***

Erik stood alone in the corner of the Vietnamese boy’s apartment. He’d never even known the boy’s real name. But no one would look for Erik here and that’s what mattered. Maggie Mae, the fat transvestite, gave him the word when he’d showed up on his old corner. Some Chinese vice cop was nosing around, asking questions. Must be a new guy. Whatever. Erik had to lay low.

He knew right where to come. Little Honey-darlin’ would be willing to take him in, for old time’s sake. Erik waited two hours in the rank stairwell of the Tenderloin tenement. The boy tired to cut and run when he saw Erik but it was nothing a good right cross didn’t fix.

Honey-darlin’ cooked for him. Honey-darlin’ was an excellent chef. Erik enjoyed watching him crying and stir-frying. He’d enjoyed a lot of things in their brief time together. Now the walls were closing in on him. He needed to get out and breathe free air again.

Dying his hair a boring ashen brown would give him a chance to get out of this stinking little apartment. Until then, he stood in the corner and watched the clock tick closer to eight. Images of the last few days flashed like strobe lights in his brain. So many potent pleasures he couldn’t share. There was nobody to appreciate him, that’s what.

Finally the clock struck eight. Time to wash out the dye, get out, and see what was happening in San Francisco. He’d ride the underground train until he saw fair game.

Erik stepped into the shower, planting one foot firmly on either side of the Vietnamese boy’s broken body. “Close your eyes, now, Honey-darlin’,” Erik laughed. It had been days since the boy had been able to do that.

***

Devon made a pretty moue as she descended the steps. She flashed her wide blue eyes. A subtle smile played on Kuan’s lean, angular face. He was enjoying the view. Perfect. Every step made her blue satin hem billow around her tiny ankles and her velvet slippers. No heels tonight, she wanted him to feel every inch the man. Her décolletage was low enough to invite his gaze but not completely immodest. The velvet ties of the gown’s halter could leave her naked with one small motion. Her silver-blonde hair was put up so he’d be sure to notice.

Just as she noticed him. His black silk shirt clung to his chest. Those leather pants were undeniably sexy. He wore no other ornament. His thick black hair was combed back severely, accenting his eyes and the new stern lines in his face. He’d grown fully into himself these last few months, all the promise of his youth fulfilled and exceeded.

You look beautiful,” she told him, reaching out one graceful hand.

I think that’s supposed to be my line.” Devon batted her eyes, noting the cool moistness of his palm. He was trembling. It was gratifying to know she still had that effect on men. “You are exquisite, Devon. Always. But, tonight, especially.”

She preened, turning in a tiny circle for him. “I’m glad you approve.” She led him to the library, where Anna had a perfectly chilled bottle of champagne awaiting them. “You may go,” she told her maid. “Tell the others to take the night off. I’ll be serving tonight.” Anna cocked an eyebrow, but backed out quietly, as if they were royalty. Lee glanced at his wineglass with something less than delight. “Would you prefer something else? Scotch perhaps? Single malt?”

His small smile delighted her. That had been Sai Man’s favorite drink. She got him the drink and sat on an ottoman at his feet. Just the way they used to sit. There were cigarettes in tiny cloisonné cups. Devon handed him one and noted with pleasure that he saw it was his favorite brand. She lit it for him. He drank rather too quickly while they spoke of small things, of favorite students, and the nightmare of midterms. They carefully avoided speaking of Bobby’s death. There was to be no mention of tragedy tonight.

Lee clinked the ice cubes in his glass. She took it and saw he’d been expecting that. She found his new arrogance extremely appealing. But she made his drink weaker this time. She didn’t want anything getting in the way of them enjoying each other. Fully.

Then the damn phone rang. Devon excused herself and took the call. “Sorry, darling, it’s business.” He cocked his head, but did not stir. “I’ll take it in the kitchen. Will you hang up for me?” Of course he would. She hoped he lost some of his formality as the night wore on.



When the door closed behind her, Lee flung himself at her desk. There was nothing in the top drawer to connect her to Calvin in any way. Just stationery. Pens. Chewing gum. The right hand top drawer was full of dictation tapes. The bottom drawer was full of files for her upcoming bestseller. Nothing there. The left top drawer held a checkbook and some ben-wa balls. “Hmm.” The lower drawer was unlocked. More files. One with his name on it. It held some photos and his astrological chart. No big deal.

Darling?” Devon called. Lee nudged the desk drawer shut with his knee as he turned, making as if he’d just been looking at the framed Picasso print. “What are you up to?”

Lee cocked an eyebrow, buying time. Then he saw the decanters. “Getting a drink.”

She swept elegantly into the room. “But your glass is here.”

Yeah.” The idiot punted. “It needs freshening.”

Please don’t drink too much.” Lee raised his chin arrogantly, like the guy in that old framed photo on her desk. Devon flushed. Her nipples got hard. “I - I just…”

It’s alright, don’ worry about it.” Lee snagged a decanter of what he hoped was Scotch and poured some into his drink. She was right; he would have to watch it from now on. He had a job to do. He sat in the aubergine leather chair and said nothing when she spirited the decanter away. This time his drink was way too strong, but he probably needed it. He was sweating through his clothes but at least his hands had stopped shaking. Visibly.

Terry would be getting off work soon, would want him. Lee hollowed his cheeks and prayed he could be forgiven for his sins. Devon lit his cigarette and watched his eyes.

He knew they danced on the sword of a Samurai, which cannot be sheathed until it had drawn blood. They’d stretched it to the razor’s edge. There was no place to fall but down. Willing himself to knowledge, Lee fell.

What is it?” Devon asked. Nothing, he responded. She knew he lied. “What is it? Are you in pain?” Lee cut his eyes to the side. “You are. You just don’t want to say anything. Is it your leg? Let me get you something. I keep some pain pills in the bathroom right over there.”

Lee took a deep breath and caught her wrist with iron fingers. Devon smiled as he pulled her down into his lap. “No drugs. Just help me forget.” He kissed her, hard. She moaned and wrapped her arms around his neck. When the kiss ended, Lee spoke with a sob in his voice, “Help me forget.” Devon recoiled at this sign of weakness. It was an error he did not dare repeat. Lee held her close, not wanting her to see his eyes. He had to be fully in character tonight; he had to act like the man in the dreams, the man in the photos. Wrapping his hand around her neck, he forced another kiss. “Help me remember,” he whispered into her lips.

Yes,” Devon moaned. Lee slid his hand up the inside of her satin-draped thigh. She was wet for him already, waiting for who she believed him to be. When he’d made her whimper, when her hand slid down between their bodies to touch his sex, he drew back.

Upstairs,” he ordered. He’d never seen Devon happier than she was at that moment. She gave him a shy and girlish giggle. Lacing her fingers through his, she led him upstairs, hips swaying provocatively.

The polished pearl hallway was immaculate. Every step was a broken heartbeat. He staggered on the threshold but did not hesitate to go in. Her bedroom was all he’d imagined and more. Deep teal walls. An impressive cherry wood four-poster bed. He laughed once when he saw the calligraphy on her pewter satin duvet cover. “Bed of ten thousand pleasures. How Chinese! You must’ve had it custom made.”

But Devon was looking at his leather pants and Lee knew his levity was not appreciated. Not like a big boner would be. Taking a deep breath, Lee pulled his silk shirt off over his head. He shook his hair out and gave her a hot, challenging stare. She smiled, tactfully ignoring the love-bite on his neck.

Light the candle.” She did. The light of the red candle glinted on his gold medallion. Keeping his head down, eyes wide, chin tucked like a fighter, he took two small steps toward her. Every muscle was tense and he fought everything he was to be with her in this moment. He unbuttoned the top button of his leather pants, glancing from the bathroom door to the nightstand that beckoned him. “Wouldn’t you, ah, like to slip into something more comfortable?”

The lady did not take the bait. Instead, she smiled naughtily and turned around. When Lee’s hands weren’t quick enough, she untied the bow at the back of her neck herself. The blue satin gown fell away from her sleek form in a rush. She glanced back over one shoulder and her eyes were electric blue ringed with blackest kohl. “Is this comfortable enough?” Kicking aside the satin dress, she approached him, rose-pink nipples getting harder with every step. “Would you like to slip in…?”

Backing away, Lee could not smile. Devon came closer. There was a hard edge of ruthlessness in her approach. “What is it? What’ve I done to put you off?” She slid her hand inside his leather pants. Lee winced away as her nails reopened the deep scratch on his lower belly. Devon stared and her fingers came back bloody. “What happened?”

I’m cut. Someone put a shuriken in my bed last night. It’s exactly like the one that cut me at the demo. Same design, same inscription. I guess the bastard’s not through with me yet.”

Stunned, Devon reared back. It took her a moment to speak. “I’m so – I’m so sorry. Let me get you something for the blood.” She went to the small bathroom and flicked on the light, closing the door partway. Lee moved closer to the nightstand, hands ready, wanting desperately to get inside of it. Devon shrugged into a maroon silk robe. “It must hurt.” She rummaged through the mirrored medicine cabinet, but did not close the bathroom door. Lee clenched his fists as she came to him with cotton balls and bandages. “Open your trousers.”

It’s nothing, really.” She didn’t listen, she simply knelt before him and opened the leather pants, sliding them low on his hips but not over the swell of his cock. Not yet.

Peroxide stung the open cut. No one could blame him for not being in the mood now. “Devon?” Using gentle fingers, Lee drew her up to him. Devon let her robe fall open as she nestled against him. He tried to ignore the pleasure of skin against his skin and dove into deep waters. “I’ve been having dreams. Ever since we got together. Dreams of Hong Kong. Dreams of flying - no, falling – into the street. Desperate dreams. Do you know why?”

Reaching up, Devon stroked his shoulders. “Yes. That’s how he died. Two weeks before you were born. My love, all the tears that you weep, all the pain that you’ve known. I’ve lived all that… looking for you, again.” Lee’s eyes snapped wide at this sign of her madness. His body tensed as Devon leaned back to gaze into his eyes. “You remember, don’t you?”

He saw how desperately she wanted him to say yes. He couldn’t be that cruel. “No.”

Let me show you.” Reaching between them, she stroked his sex as if she’d been born to do it. Lee stifled a moan. He felt heat and passion rising from her but it was not for him. Yet, he was a man. And fire called out to fire. She tumbled and knelt between his boots, still breathing hard. “You’re so good.” She rubbed her silky blonde hair against his leather-covered thigh, licking the hard outline of his sex. The room was so hot that it was hard to breathe. Blood pounded inside him, pulling in places he didn’t want to go. He hadn’t come this far to lose himself and yet he had no choice. She whispered to him in Cantonese and his body responded.

The candle flickered like lightening flashing inside the room. Closing his eyes, he conjured Terry’s face and held the woman away from him. Black velvet swallowing him, Lee went so far inside himself that there was no ‘self’ anymore. Devon’s voice followed him, fresh with the tones of Cantonese words he could not understand. Her pleading voice got younger every second. She knelt at his feet. He heard rain inside the room, falling like a Hong Kong monsoon. Fingers tangled in her hair…

He sighed, looking into a face that gazed up at him with so much love, such excellent devotion. Sai Man wrapped strong fingers in her hair and Devon hung breathless, suspended from her lover's fingertips, awaiting her master's desire.

"Anything, anything else," she promised him in Cantonese. She spoke to him their secret words and ran her hands up the sides of his body. Devon wanted him to throw her down and drive himself roughly into her, to leave an imprint on her soul, to seal himself to her forever. She begged him not to leave her, not to throw her away.

Sai Man had no choice. He didn’t want one anymore. Since she would not go to old Chen, would not be his, even for an evening, their secret would be revealed. Sai Man must choose between her and his family. Shame lay on either path. He deserved dishonor. Yet he did not want to face it. And this woman-child, with her pleading eyes and her endless, aching need sapped his soul. She made it impossible for them to continue and difficult to turn away.

Death was his only other option. He could die a warrior, without dishonor. Calvin Lo awaited him at the rooftop school. Perhaps life would be kind enough to leave him tonight.

I have to go. Let me go,” Sai Man commanded. The words hissed out into the pungent night air of Hong Kong. “Wait,” Lee said in a voice that was his own and yet not his own.

Wait.” Her hot tongue snaked down his body. He grabbed her hands before they peeled his leather pants away. He did not want her to see his sex. “No.” The word slid out before he could censor it. What was he thinking? Honesty had nothing to do with why he was here.

What?” Devon was completely offended. Her one word stank of hurt.

Clutching his trousers to cover his half-hard cock, Lee stumbled back against her bed, sitting too abruptly, mind groping desperately for a cover story. “I’m not – I’m not ready yet. And, well, damn it, I’m ashamed.” She tilted her head to the side, eyes softening. “It’s the pain in my leg. I’m sorry. I should‘ve listened to you and taken the medicine, instead of this.” He dropped his head into his hands and sighed heavily.

He felt her soft hands on his shoulders. “It’s alright, love. I understand. It happens, even to the strongest of men. But, we can work through it. I’ll get you the medicine; it’s only just downstairs. You’ll be right as rain in a little while.” Lee raised his head and gave her an appropriately miserable look. “Be back in a flash.”

Turning back at the door, she gave him the sweetest smile. Lee dropped his head. He could not face her love right now. He heard her blow a kiss and felt like six kinds of shit, but his ploy had worked. As soon as the door swung shut behind her, he turned to the nightstand.

What he saw inside froze him. Photographs. Polaroid photographs of Calvin. Dead. So very, very dead. Lee gasped. A jolt of adrenalin speared his chest. Every breath came in icy. He was cold. He was sweating. Fingers trembling violently, he picked up one photo. The gaping wound on Calvin’s throat threatened to swallow him whole. Lee had to turn the picture over. On the back, words smudged into each other. His eyes were clouded and raining. He could barely sort out the words. ‘Just for you, luv. Always, Erik.’

Lee dropped the photograph on the cherry wood surface. Every breath was a ragged hurting thing, filling him with a pain too large to conceal. Clumsy and white with shock, he struggled to zip his leather pants. It wasn’t easy; he was stumbling with shame and covered in cold sweat. The shirt was easier. He wouldn’t face her naked. Not when rage was fire and steel inside him.

Erik and Devon. Images of them together, in this bed, splintered and fractured inside his mind. She’d been behind it all, she’d known all along, she’d urged his master’s death, she’d desired it, and she’d sent Erik to do her bidding. And there was more, he knew there had to be more. Steeling himself, he turned to the open drawer.

No. Christ, no!” Gold glinted. Lee knew what he’d find when he reached for it and he fought the knowing. Pushing packs of condoms and hand cream aside, Lee picked up the small plastic bag. The weight it held was familiar. Black blood clotted on a torn gold chain. Calvin’s medallion still glistened, yang rising on the T’ai Chi symbol they’d both worn. Roaring his rage, howling without words, Lee ripped the drawer from the nightstand, spraying the bedroom carpet with bloody Polaroids and condoms.

Devon shouted his name downstairs. Soon, he would have to face her. And not kill her.

Breathing fast and shallow while the room spun around him, Lee slipped the bag into his back pocket. She must not have even that small part of his teacher’s life. Lee pushed Erik’s signed Polaroid into the guts of the nightstand, so it could be found later, even if Devon destroyed the rest. Lee squared his shoulders. He’d gotten what he came for.

Devon ran into the room. Seeing his eyes, she stopped short, clutching the maroon robe around her breasts. Lee dropped down and scooped up a photo, moving with a dangerous grace. He held it up for her to see.

Slowly, he rose and crossed the distance between them. “You did this.” She fell back against the teal blue wall and did not attempt to speak. He shoved the photo at her face but she would not look. He fought back tears, turning them into a hard, cold rage that he spat between her eyes. “You. Did. This.”

Holding her chin so that she had to look, he thrust the photograph at her and let her see the madness in his eyes. He’d already decided not to strike her. She’d enjoy it too much and martial artists who hit first face harsh penalties in California. This bitch-demon had already destroyed too much of his life. He would not give her any more. Instead, he took everything he had inside him and turned it into a knife. He struck at her in the cruelest way he could.

Add this to the list of men you’ve killed.” Lee raised his head, knowing how much he looked like the man in her framed photograph. He stabbed that strong resemblance into her with every bit of hate and rage he had in his body.

You killed Sai Man.” His voice was very soft, hissing like steam, gradually building into an impassioned roar. “You wanted me to be him for months. And, tonight, I really got to see through his eyes. Got to feel what he felt. Like a major past-life regression. And, you know what? He never loved you.” Devon shivered against the wall. “He jumped off that fucking building rather than risk the rest of his life on a slut like you. I’ve been dreaming that scene for months. I thought it was a nightmare. Now I know that the real nightmare is you.”

She slid to the floor, cut to the core.

Your lover is a fucking serial killer. I hope he gets you next. Not Bobby. Not Calvin. Not me. You know he’s coming for me. What was tonight? One last fuck before he guts me!” He was screaming now, shaking his fists in her face. “I know everything. Damn you! I know!

I hate that I’ve been inside such evil. I hate that I ever kissed you. I hate you enough not to kill you. Instead, I’m leaving and I’m going to do what I have to do and I am never coming back. You will die lonely.”

Fists shaking with unreleased power, Lee left the room. It took every atom of chi not to turn around and kill her for what she had done to Calvin, the pain she’d caused Terry, the way she’d sullied him. Blinded by pain and rage, Lee felt his way down the pearly hall. His body rocked with sobs he would not give voice. Lee let himself out of her fine Pacific Heights home. The door blew open behind him as he walked away, a lean shadow heading into night. A clean, cold wind scattered fallen leaves and blossoms over the parquet floors.

Chapter 19 – Fallen Flowers

Every nerve stretched tight as piano wire, Terry waited. He had no idea what he was waiting for. So, he paced. Rosalinda Wu followed him back and forth, back and forth, until she gave up and went to sleep beside Lee’s blood red chair. That chair was too damn empty tonight. Something bad was happening somewhere and it had everything to do with Lee.

When the phone rang, adrenalin lurched through him. He picked it up on the second ring. But it wasn’t Lee. Devon’s voice was thick and foggy. “I just called to have a word with you, my dear.” Dread congealed into downright terror in his belly and Terry choked on it. “You really should take better care of Lee-”

Terry cut her off. “Whoa! Lady, you don’t have fuck-all to say about it.”

Yes. I’m afraid I do. You see, he’s spent the evening in my bedroom, in my bed. Where he belongs. But he’s heading home to take care of you. He feels some responsibility, I suppose, what with you being so young. The sad fact is, you can’t make him happy, my dear. You never have. The entire time he’s been with you, he’s been pursuing me. Showing up at my house at all hours. Pressuring me to let him come to my house, to let him come in my bed. Using any excuse to get away from you. You know it as well, or better than do I. It must’ve been so very painful for you.”

Do not even pretend you give a shit.” Terry told himself she was lying, that it was madness to stay on the line. But, Lee had been after her. He admitted it freely. That much was true. The man took off for hours almost every night, never fully accounting for his whereabouts. That quest for his so-called “Truth” was an ever-present excuse. Living with it had been painful. Very painful. “So, your point is?”

The stress is starting to break him down.” Him? “He pretty much came unglued here tonight. He was very upset. You’ll be able to see it in his eyes. I’m just calling to implore you, to beg you to let him go. He’s coming to tell you goodbye, so please, make it easy on him. If you ever loved him, let him go.” Terry lit a cigarette and watched his hands shake. “He spent the night in my bed. But he was so devastated he couldn’t be a man. It’s killing him. He’s only with you because he feels sorry for you. I tell him not to be so polite-”

Stop!” Her last word hit his nut-button directly, sending all his fears into overdrive. Cold sweat shivered out of every pore. She’d picked that exact word from the center of his skull. Everybody knew Devon was dirty and devious. Lee was the defender of truth, integrity, and the American way. Wasn’t that what he was supposed to believe? “Why should I listen to anything you have to say?”

You need proof?” Devon took a long drag on what he assumed was a cigarette. She sounded very stoned, but she was making sense. She was making too much sense. “Lee has a long scratch low on his body, from about three inches below his navel to... there. I know. I bandaged it.”

Terry slammed the phone down. Lee kept a bottle of whiskey under the sink, the bottle he opened the day he got the Polaroids of Calvin, the day they’d first made love. He called it the trauma bottle. It was still half-full. It’d do. Terry glanced around for a glass, but when finding one was too difficult, he just tilted back the bottle and drank. His hands shook as he shivered down the burning liquor. “Make sense, make sense, oh, please, make sense.”

There was no way Devon could’ve known about Lee’s cut unless she’d seen it. No way. The cut was in a place you didn’t show someone unless you were very intimate. Fucking Devon was not part of their deal. He’d always known it was a possibility on Lee’s crazy “Truth” safari and he banned it absolutely. Lee acknowledged his demand but never acceded to it. He expected Terry to understand, man-to-man, that if it did happen, it was meaningless. Terry did. But, lover-to-lover, he couldn’t bear it.

The phone rang again. He picked it up and slammed it back onto the receiver. There’d been enough poison spilled in his ear for one night, thank you very much. Time to take the damn phone off the hook. Time to find a glass. Missions accomplished, Terry lit another smoke.

Damn you to hell, Devon.” She’d stolen from him, taking something that was his, yet was not his to give. Jealousy burned inside him, its poison fumes staining everything he saw.

Mrs. Satan had turned him on to a homespun lie detector, a virtual barometer of truth. If the cut was bandaged, Lee’d been unfaithful. It was just that simple. Early this morning, Lee’d asked him to help find bandages or gauze. Terry’d checked everywhere, but they’d run out. They were gauzeless.

Trying to cover every contingency, Terry went down the hall and rooted through the medicine closet again. He even checked Lee’s room. But, nothing new had been brought in since morning. Their entire house was bandage-free. His heart hammered out a crazy conga beat. It was madness to think that his future happiness hung on a bandage. Yet, it did.

Back in the kitchen, Terry poured whiskey into a glass. It sizzled all the way down to his stomach. Ulcer-ready, Terry waited, replaying every moment of last night’s quarrel inside the darkened theater of his mind. Everything got bigger, bolder, more stylized. The shouting was operatic. The slamming of doors was thunderous. Lee was Snidely Whiplash, twisting a black mustache and the truth around his fingers. Terry was Little Nell, tied to the train-track while the 10:04 roared in, right on time.

Rosalinda yipped when she heard Lee’s key in the door. Another nauseating surge of adrenalin rocked him. “Showtime!” Terry tossed off his whiskey and sat quite still.

As he was getting up to pour another, he heard Lee’s voice behind him. “Pour me one too, willya? I’m beat.” Turning, Lee was only a few inches away. “Sorry if I scared you.”

It’s that secret Ninja walk. I never hear you coming.” Terry said what he always said when Lee surprised him. But, nothing was the same. The bond between them was broken and Terry choked on the pain. Lee’s smile froze, then shredded as he read the look on Terry’s face.

Come here.” Smoke clung to his hair and there was whiskey on his breath, but Terry smelled no perfume. Lee’s hands were cold as they slid around Terry’s waist. With a perfect imitation of the sweet, sweet love he’d killed, Lee drew him close. This is the last time, Terry told himself. Terry barely responded but he did not fight the embrace.

Over Lee’s shoulder, he saw their vintage black overcoats resting together on the dining room table no one ever used. He saw all the crumpled drafts of that letter Lee’d been writing for the last three days in the wastebasket. It was something about a martial arts class at Calvin’s; Lee’d promised to read it to him when it was finished. Now he’d never know. Rosalinda pawed at his ankle, wanting in on the embrace. Terry focused on these details so he didn’t have to feel Lee’s muscles moving beneath the thin silk or the way that fine strong body clung to his.

Give a girl a chance to breath.” Terry shrugged away, choking on his thumping heartbeat. “I’ll get you that drink.”

Sure.” Lee stepped back. His brows drew together, black as ink slashes in a parchment pale face. “Are you still angry?”

Angry? No.” Angry was too mild a term. It was all Terry could do not to break the whiskey bottle over Lee’s head. Getting glasses and ice, he watched Lee covertly. His hands shook. His eyes were wild and red-rimmed. “You look upset.” Just as Devon warned.

I am.” Lee did not so much sigh as deflated, sinking into a kitchen chair. He took his whiskey and water gratefully. “Thank you.” Always so polite. Just as Devon said.

Terry threw back his drink. It hit the back of his skull like a hammer and sizzled in his empty stomach. He didn’t want to be a pathetic, jealous queen. Even more, he did not want to be like his father. Jealous rages were a staple of his childhood. Despite the emotions wrapping around his throat like a hungry Anaconda, Terry sat and folded his hands.

They sat in what used to be companionable silence. Lee closed his eyes and rested his head in his hand for a moment, sighing heavily. He drank. Terry picked his cuticles, forcing back tears. If Devon’s final warning was as true as the rest of her words, what was to come was as welcome as an atom bomb. Lee reached out across the table but Terry did not take his hand. Frowning, he took Terry’s lighter and fired up a Camel Filter. The flame danced. Lee no longer bothered to conceal his tremors. “I’ve got something to tell you. Something big.”

Terry sat silent while lightening bolts ricocheted around inside his skull. He waited, watching that twin-tongued flame. Lee sighed again, shaking his head. Terry prepared.

It’s over.”

No amount of preparation would’ve been enough. He still would’ve jumped up, knocking over the chair, he still would’ve ended up staring into Lee’s startled face. Somehow, they were both standing and Terry was gibbering, playing with the button of Lee’s leather jeans. “Terry, what is it? What’s going on?”

Dry-mouthed, all Terry could think of to say was, “Do you want to have sex?”

Yeah.” Lee looked stunned. “Of course.” The bastard had just broken up with him but still wanted to get his rocks off. Terry wanted to get in his pants and see if absolutely everything Devon’d told him was true. “Hey, wait,” Lee said when Terry reached for his zipper.

Why? You tired? Too tired?” Lee did not know how to respond to the acid in his tone. Terry unzipped his fly and started to reach inside. Grabbing Terry’s hand and holding it still between them, Lee kissed him sadly, sweetly, insistently. There was an edge of desperation and the slightest taste of tears in his kisses. Terry wondered why he’d been crying and if he’d been crying in her arms. The thought of Lee in her thin white arms repelled him and yet he could not deny the pleasure he felt from Lee’s touch. Every kiss, every breath tore at his heart. His loving had offended him and he wanted to cut it off, like a rotting limb. But, he had to be sure.

Terry waited until he heard that catch in Lee’s breath, until there was that muffled moan in the back of his throat, until Lee’s grip loosened and he wanted Terry’s hand on him. Stroking down over the hard muscles of Lee’s belly, Terry felt fresh bandages. He ripped them away.

Lee yelped as Terry stepped back, holding bloodstained Band-Aids stippled with hair. Lee stared at him. His lips were wet and red around the perfect circle of his mouth. Involuntary tears glistened in his eyes. Even the black slash of hair that fell forward onto his forehead was perfectly placed, as if by design. The thin line of black hair that ran from his navel to his pubic patch was not so perfect anymore. At least he had the presence of mind to zip the leather jeans.

You did that deliberately. What the hell’s wrong with you?”

Me? Me? Don’t worry about me. Let’s talk Devon. How was she?”

Devon! How the fuck should I know?!”

Well, gee, Lee, when she called she was pretty specific about how you spent this evening with her and how she put your bandages on.” Caught, Lee glanced around the kitchen like a trapped tiger. “Don’t bother looking. There are no bandages in this house.”

Terry saw excuses forming on the lips that had just kissed him so superbly. “You really are a master, you know that? But, just this once, I think you’ve met your match.” The man stood by the window like a tragedy in black silk. His eyes and brows were dark slashes in a pale ochre mask of grief. Terry wondered what lurked beneath his mask. “Who are you really?”

Dear God, Ter… You know me. You’re the only one who does. What happened?”

Stow it! I’m the one who gets to ask the questions now.” Shaken, Lee agreed. “You were with Devon?” Lee nodded. “Did you get what you went there for?”

Yes. I did. Let me show you.”

No. Just answer the questions. Were you in her bedroom?” Clenching his jaw and swallowing hard, Lee nodded once. Terry saw the tip of his tongue wet his pale lips and saw the way his eyes darted toward his barely-touched drink. His suffering was plain. But it was no heavier than the burden Terry’d had to bear all these long hard weeks. “Were you in her bed?”

Yes, but-“

No buts. No excuses. No bullshit. Just gimme some truth.”

I didn’t sleep with her.”

Oh, you wanna play that way? Fine! Who the hell said anything about sleeping?”

I didn’t fuck her!” Stunned by the thunder in his voice, Terry froze. Shoulders swinging dangerously, Lee came close. “You want truth, the whole truth and nothing but? Okay. I was going to fuck her. If I had to. But I didn’t.”

Terry tossed his head back and hooked his thumbs in the belt-loops of his jeans. “Yeah. That’s what she told me. She said you couldn’t get it up.” Lee flinched like he’d been sucker-punched. “And she said you’d be all upset when you got home. Everything she said checks out, Lee. That’s a helluva lot more than I can say for all your lame-ass excuses.”

Silence only heightened the tension. Lee’s cigarette had burnt down to the stinking end, just like their love affair, and he stubbed it out. “You know I would’ve done anything, risked anything to get at the truth. I found it.” Reaching into his back pocket, Lee pulled out a Polaroid photo and a small plastic bag. “I found this in her bedside table. You may recognize the style.”

The photo showed Calvin sprawled in the front seat of a red Mustang, head back at an inhuman angle. The camera captured the gaping maw of his dark red wound and the geyser of blood that spewed against the windshield. “Check this out.” Deliberately cold, Lee flipped the photo over. Bold black writing captioned the picture: ‘Still twitching.’ Terry turned away.

Devon had this? My God, I guess you really don’t care what you stick your dick in.”

Stunned, Lee froze. His chin got that angry jut. His black eyes cut Terry like obsidian knives. “Yeah,” he said contemptuously, leaving no doubt as to his meaning. “I guess not.”

Lee’s disdain was something Terry’d been dreading. All the imaginings that’d steamed inside his gut for so long spilled over. Hot blood hissed in his ears. Terry slapped him, striking with all his might. Lee’s head snapped back, but he did not give ground. The purple bruise Terry’d left on his neck was garish in this unforgiving kitchen light. Remembered passion brought fresh pain. Terry was enraged. He was rage. The liquor in his belly burned. It was hard to see through the red mist that surrounded him. He struck out blindly.

Lee staggered back against the window, but he did not raise his hands. His lone cry of pain drove the red mist away. Terry gaped, appalled at what he’d done.

Hurt and vulnerability mingled in Lee’s eyes. His body twisted away, a slender line against the night dark window, all his power abandoned. Lee did not move. He said nothing. Slowly, his expression hardened. Only the blood running from his nose was eloquent.

Oh, God, I’m so sorry,” Terry cried, flooding forward. But the blood had beaten him there. Lee didn’t want him near. The poison in his blood had driven him blindly into this one unforgivable act. He was his father’s son after all. “Let me-“

Lee slapped his hands away. “Don’ touch me.” His fingers were red with blood.

Horrified, Terry looked from the blood on Lee’s face to the blood in the photograph and realized dully what showing him this picture had cost Lee. And all he’d had in response was a jealous insult. Lowering his eyes, he saw the mirror image of Lee’s medallion in that small plastic bag. The chain was crusted with black blood, old and dead. It was all Lee had left of his teacher. Terry shook while big, fat tears welled up in his eyes. “I didn’t mean to-“

Yes, you did.” Lee got a wad of paper napkins and wiped the blood away.

Let me help.”

No, thanks! You’ve done enough for one night.” He might as well have said one lifetime. The anger in his voice was so final. Terry didn’t blame him at all. “Forget about it. I’ve had my nose broke before.”

Watching the floor through wavering tears, Terry wondered how they’d gotten to this. It was over. Everything Devon’d said came true. Lee’d come home upset, he’d been in her bed, and he’d meant to make love to her. So far, her ratio of right was one hundred percent. Then, to cap off the perfect evening, Lee’d said it was over. And Terry’d answered with his fists, turning into a lousy pendejo, just like Papa. It was over. He sobbed, falling forward, breaking apart.

Oh, Jesus!” Terry heard the disgust in his voice. He heard Lee’s angry footsteps stomping into the hall. Graceful to the end, he didn’t trip over any of the tiny little pieces that Terry had shattered into on his way out.

He heard Lee cursing in the bathroom and knew he had to leave. Terry wouldn’t be here when he got back. He’d never be here again. Sobbing, he took one last, long look at the kitchen he’d nearly burnt down so many times. He looked at Lee’s Chinese writing on the calendar. Reaching past the blood-crusted gold in the plastic bag, he picked up a notebook Lee used for a class he was about to teach. Touching the words and characters, smearing the writing with his tears, Terry tore out a page. He put the paper in his pocket like a holy relic. It was time to go.

Wiping tears and snot with some of the bloody napkins Lee’d dropped, Terry scrawled a quick note. ‘Sorry it had to end this way. I’ll send for my things. Or not. I really loved you. But, like everything I’ve ever touched, it’s tainted beyond repair. I’m sorry, so sorry.’

He could think of no ending for this thing that, despite his misery and Lee’s betrayal, he did not wish to end. There was no point signing the note. Lee’d know who it was from. His note would probably end up as another wad in the overflowing wastebasket anyway. Sniffling, Terry wandered into the dining room they never used and looked at all the little balls of paper. Whatever Lee wanted to accomplish with that letter, Terry hoped he got it. He hoped Lee didn’t end up with dirty Devon. It wasn’t his business anymore. It was over.

Snagging his coat, Terry headed to the door. He passed Lee’s blood-red chair and patted the sleeping puppy. “It’s okay, Rosalinda. I love you.” Sobs crushed his chest. Every weapon in the Dojo of Doom gleamed. A small framed picture of them teaching together hung by the outer door. Terry took it down, thrusting it in to a pocket of the voluminous black overcoat. Might as well have a souvenir. He wasn’t leaving here with anything else.

He’d proven tonight that he was no better than his roots. He was just another twisted white boy from Manhattan. Going home.

***

Cold wind blew in through her front door. Devon did not bother to close it. There was no need. There were no beloved pets to keep inside, no valuables left to steal. Erik had seen to that. Looking outside, she admired the moon, preternaturally brilliant in the clear November night. She went back into the library and sat before her ivory phone. No, she was too high to call Lee’s home again. She did not wish to appear foolish. Not now.

With slender, nimble fingers, she opened the desk’s secret compartment. Her finger trembled as she plucked the special syringe she’d prepared for her husband from its resting place. She left the plum velvet library and went to the grand staircase. For a moment, she paused to watch fuchsia blossoms blowing in on the wind.

Then, she turned and went upstairs. The pearly hallway pulled her up and into her room. She sat upon her disordered bed, admiring again the teal color of her walls. The damning photos were scattered on the floor of the gray room across the hall, the room where Erik slept. Establishing his guilt was far less fun than blowing Lee’s world apart, but both were necessary.

Done. She was done. Her nostrils burned from all the poisons she’d inhaled. She could barely make out the bold red numbers on the clock. No matter. The words she had to write were true for all time. All her time, at any rate.

All she had left to do was suffer, all she had left to be was Erik’s victim. And even she, who had walked every street in Hell, would not sink that low. Erik would never let her go. Not living. At least that one pleasure, the passion of the kill, she could take from him. Ultimately, she, and not her hated husband Erik, would take her life. Self-reliant till the end.

Getting a sheet of elegant stationery from her vanity, she dated the letter and wrote the time on it, as if that mattered. ‘Sai Man,’ it began, as did all the petitions of her heart. She wrote the characters for his Chinese name. They slid together as her eyes leaked their last light onto the page. ‘The only sins I have ever committed were done in the name of Love. And if it be Thy will that we love no more, then I will to will no more.’ She wrote some sloppy sentiment she knew he’d reject and tied the silk stocking around her upper arm. With one last look around, she sighed.

All her machinations had come to this. So little, so late. She was still the same, just older, more wrinkled, less pliable, and less desirable. But still cowardly.

The cuts on her wrists had hurt too much. For once, she’d been able to spill dark liquid all the way down to the library and laugh about it. To hell with courtesy, with neatness, with looking good. Every dead body had the same awful face. Hers would be no different.

Devon fit the needle smoothly into a yielding vein. With a longing gaze at the yellowed photograph of The Beloved, she depressed the plunger, knowing she would go into her last, long night alone.

***

The streets are steep in North Beach, some so steep that steps are carved into them. In no other part of town did old women sweep the fuchsia blossoms away when they fell, down the stairs, off the sidewalks - away. Only in North Beach. Fallen flowers left a stain beneath his feet, a mark like blood, like passion. The rain would wash the stains away, but the rain will not ease the memories. Forget love, as a fallen flower.... The words of the Chinese poet echoed in his head. The refrain stayed with him like the soft scent of remembered love, an echo more real than the November moon that hung above him on the North Beach wind.

It was an old, old part of town, and at night, especially a clear, bright night like this, it was easy to forget what century it was. With an uneasy feeling, Lee Kuan squinted up at the street sign. Jackson Street. On this street, less than one hundred years ago, fifteen Chinese men were lynched. He wondered what their crimes were. Maybe they died because they had eyes like his. Unlucky eyes. Unlucky hearts.

Drawing up the collar of his leather jacket, he looked over his shoulder. He felt them now. Watching him. The spirits of the dead were all around him in the fog - calling out for justice where there was none to be had. Slowly, he walked the sloping street. He went carefully, for the sidewalk was slick with rain. Slow rain fell like tears, like blood, and there wasn't any justice. He whispered the names of the compassionate gods. None answered.

The wind carved flutes of his bones. But he was a man, he was not supposed to cry. Tears were things for lovers and he’d lost his love tonight. “Mea Culpa.” Lee shook his head, with a laugh that was a growl, that was a sound too close to tears. Forget love, as a fallen flower... He could not. He would not.

Lee touched the nine-millimeter pistol he’d hurriedly shoved into his waistband. Tonight was a different kind of patrol. Finding Erik was not his only objective. Lee could not let Terry wander the night alone, unprotected, and half-crazy.

If there’d ever been a night for danger, it was tonight. Devon was very, very angry. He’d called the cops from a payphone, tipping them to her involvement in Calvin’s death. As far as he knew, Devon was still out there and Erik lived to her bidding. Lee had Aimee out scouring the Haight. While he was recovering from making that call, he’d checked out Polk Street. There was no sign of Erik anywhere. The little Vietnamese hooker had vanished, too.

The full moon watched as he searched the North Beach that Terry loved, going from light to light. At an open-air cafe, a woman sang a song of mourning, a low and keening cry. He did not see her but could not escape the sound. Terry was somewhere wandering in the dangerous night, angry, lost with his fine and restless love. Lost.

Voices reached out to him from another pub. He looked in through the door, into the light, into the warmth. He heard the laughter and the music but he did not go in. For he was a creature of smoke and shadow, a lone thing, a solitary man. Pausing at the door, he heard people talking as if from far away down a soft gray hole, he saw their faces, but he could not reach them. He was not connected to anyone, to anything. He knew that he was in terrible trouble but he could not speak of it. Not seeing Terry inside, Lee moved on.

The street rose, steep, slippery, and narrow. It twisted away into fog. No matter how high he climbed, he could not find a place to rest. He remembered resting in Terry’s arms. Pride gone, he began to shiver. Strangers passed by, smiling at each other as their faces sloughed away to reveal sin and bone. The remembrance of dreams past split his insides.

There was no friend left to call. It had been enough to call Aimee and pretend to sanity during that conversation. His head hurt. Terry’s abrupt departure and that bitter note hurt worse. Everyone he loved was either dead or missing. There was Maggie, he could always call Maggie, but what could he say? She’d only try to give him comfort. And there was no comfort in this cold city of lights where the fog never ended and the dreams go on forever - unanswered.

Razors of rain pelted his face. Strangers passed by, strangers with hollow-point eyes and laughing mouths. He heard Devon in the woman’s song that lingered inside his head. Forget love, as a fallen flower...

Lee hated the woman again for Calvin’s death, for Terry’s pain. He hated her almost as much as he hated himself for being such a fool, so easy to fool. He wished for a place with a garden. He wanted to retire from a world that could allow such things and tend to the flowers, help them grow. There were flowers on the pavement beneath his feet.

He bent to pick up the fallen flowers, not seeing the car that whipped round the narrow street. Headlights startled him and he looked up, hair whipping into his eyes. Adrenaline surged through him. Lee flung himself forward into darkness, leaping for his life, tucking and rolling as he hit the ground. He felt an acrid blast of air as the car rushed by. The Volvo missed by two inches. He had another chance at life. He rose, breathing fast in the night, staring after the car with eyes large and wild as the eyes of a forest creature. The flowers were broken now, crushed in his fear. Slowly, he opened his hand, and let them fall.

Turning, he realized he was in the mouth of an alley. Lee glanced up, checking for street names and familiar signs. His heart raced as he recognized the place. It was the place he’d been winding toward and avoiding all night. It was alley where he’d met Erik. Images broke into black and white arrowheads before his eyes as memories obscured the night. Every cell in his body screamed to get away. He couldn’t go in there. Not there.

Naked in his grief, Lee stepped forward. There was nowhere else to go. He’d never left. The past still held him chained.

Afraid to breathe too loudly, Lee walked into his memory. The moon lit the alley brightly and Lee marked the places. Here the powder blue Corvette had parked. There he’d fought the men, nearly blinded by the headlights of a Mustang. This was where his brother had fallen. He sunk to his knees. The remembered bullet holes were there in brick and mortar.

Billy’d died looking so surprised, one eye blown open by the bullet of a .45. He fell about fifteen inches from where Lee knelt now, from where he’d stood then. The bullet holes fit his finger. Funny how, after all these years, he could still find the exact spot. If he concentrated, he could still smell the gunpowder and Erik’s gin-soaked breath.

He’d never told Terry, he’d never told anyone all of what had happened here. Maybe that was why the filthy spawn Erik’d spewed inside him was still chewing its way out. Lee’d never stopped blaming himself. If only he’d fought harder… If only he’d been stronger… If only…

Lee touched the scars on his throat. Control wounds, cops called them. One, two, three, four times that knife sliced into him before he was finally subdued. He remembered the hot, stabbing pain of Erik inside him and the sound of his skin popping as Erik bit into his shoulder. The boy he’d been had died in this alley, with Erik riding him.

Crumbling forward, throwing his head into his heads, Lee stretched his mouth around silent screams. He wept, remembering. Tears had fallen over the years, but he had never grieved. Not like this. He wept until he was aching and empty inside. The barrel of his gun was cold beneath his fingers and he wondered how it would taste, wondered how it would feel to pull the trigger and cast his blood on his brother’s shadow.

Hey, buddy?” One arm up to block a blow, Lee turned. An anxious white guy leaned toward him, close and concerned. “Easy. I’m not gonna hurt you.” Lee relaxed the fingers that had tightened around his gun. “Do you need a doctor?” The young woman behind the earnest young man held some tissues and a rose. Though plainly frightened, she extended her hand. “You’re bleeding,” the young man explained. “Your nose.”

Oh.” Crying must’ve started it up again. Taking the tissues, he wiped away the blood and the tears. They were kind to stop. The least he offer was an explanation. “My brother was killed here.” He looked up and the young man fell back a pace. Lee knew what they saw. His eyes were the eyes of a refugee, wide with shock, black rimmed with smoke. He had seen the earth split open and spit fire. “I was with him.”

He wouldn’t want you to be like this,” the serious young woman said.

You’re right.” Lee straightened his shoulders and pushed his hair back. “You’re absolutely right.” Letting the young man help him, he rose. It was almost time to go. Eyes hot with sorrow, he stared at the filthy alley pavement. There was nothing here to mark the place, nothing to dignify their pain.

The bright moon lit the way back to street-sounds and sanity, but Lee could not bring himself to walk on. Sensing his reluctance, the young woman offered Lee her rose. Moved beyond words by her compassion, Lee inclined his head respectfully. Mercy comes in many guises. “Thank you.” They waited with him while he said a silent prayer and placed the rose over the spot where their blood had fallen. As the rose dropped from his fingers, Lee knew he was letting go and moving fully into the present at last. “Thank you.”

It was time to go home.

Chapter 20 – Ride the Tiger

November wind cut through Terry’s defenses and the moon glared down without mercy. He watched as the last Fuchsia blossom fell, bruised and purple, onto the back alley pavement. No more leaves clung to the branches, no leaves, no blossoms, only bare branches in the rain. Suddenly it seemed so foolish to plant flowers in the city. Nothing grew here, nothing lasted. Terry crushed the fragile blossom beneath his foot. He knew it would leave a stain like blood, like passion.

Handing Sean the small brass pipe, Terry leaned against dirty brick, exhaling. “What was in that pot?”

Just a bit of fairy dust, mate.” Sean’s smile was a snarl. There was something genuinely dangerous about this tall Australian, something that didn’t match his badly dyed brown hair. Terry felt pretty sure that the leather he wore was more than a fashion statement. Blinking back through memory, Terry tried to place his face. But it was too hard. Sliding down the cool brick wall seemed way more appealing. “You alright?”

Huh?” Terry ran nervous fingers through his hair. Long strands fell curling into his eyes. Glancing up at the moon, he wondered why Lee said it was the symbol of compassion. It was cold, it was bright, and it was inconstant. He wished Lee could see the moon tonight. Terry sighed heavily; he picked up that habit from Lee, too bad he couldn’t give it back.

Sean put the pipe away inside his leather vest. "C'mon now, luv. It can't be as bad as all that." The tall man gave Terry a lusty up-and-down. Terry took a deep drag off his cigarette, wondering how he’d be in bed. Or in the bushes. Whichever came first. Sean had the look of a white wolf on the prowl and a jaguar tattooed on one bare shoulder. Terry’d seen it in the bar.

Terry felt the man’s white-hot stare burn into him. He knew what that look meant now. He’d been a fool not to know that look for what it was, simply because he saw it in Lee's eyes, a fool to think it meant something more than heat. But, he’d always thought of Lee as something more than a man. In those first few months, before Devon, the man’d lived like a holy man, inviolate. Terry’d thought that look was a sacred trust and he’d so wanted to be worthy.

And, now, he just plain laughed. That wild look in those black eyes, he could name that tune now. Just lust, nothing more real than that, nothing more grand. It was the same song everywhere: gimme pleasure - gimme shelter; and it’s please, baby, please; let me use you; let me twist you; my way, baby; hit the highway, baby. He knew the refrain by heart; he knew how to sing it so smooth that they even loved him as he danced away. That used to be his specialty. He gave it up for Lee. What a joke he was, such a fool, so easy to fool.

Well, this fool was checking out of Lee’s heartbreak hotel. He’d hit the bank and was set for a big night. Tomorrow, he’d dip in a little more and do San Francisco right. Have cocktails at the Top of the Mark. He’d find the most expensive Chinese restaurant, he’d eat like a king and go home with the waiter. No sense crying over fallen idols. Tonight, he’d say goodbye to his Eurotrash buddies at Nuerotox before heading back to the room he’d rented at the Red Vic. Maybe Aimee would show up. They could get righteously châteaued while he gathered courage for the next leg of his Hegira. Whatever storyline he stumbled into next would beat this masochistic mini-series. He’d take the champagne flight tomorrow and never go back to that house on Haight Street again. Not ever.

Turning his cheek against the rough brown brick, he felt two fat tears blossom and fall. They fell so slow. However, they fell; his tears would hit that black pavement, and his loss would be irrevocable. Terry couldn’t catch his tears any more than he could take back that one punch. He had Lee’s blood on his hands now. Of all the sins he’d sinned, that one was the worst. There was no going back. “Let’s go back…”

Are you sure? Wouldn’t you rather see my little hideaway? You said you was game.” The insinuating whisper wrapped around his brain. Thoughts swimming slow through booze-soaked synapses, Terry realized he was afraid of something beyond the loveless sex the man offered. Something hidden. Terry shivered, feeling dizzy and ill.

Dude, if I don’t sit down, I’m gonna fall down.” Terry lurched toward the bar. Throwing all his weight onto the metal bar, he opened the rear fire door and stumbled inside. Amazingly, their table by the trashcans was still empty. Nuerotox was packed. The phone-booth-sized dance floor was crowded with couples bobbing and weaving.

Sean flagged the waitress down and ordered two gin and tonics. He did not ask Terry's drink; he did not ask Terry’s name. Up close the man's face gleamed, unnaturally pale, ghostlike beside the glint of the silver cross earring. His eyes flashed, silvery beacons of desire. Names were unimportant. At the mercy of warring impulses, Terry fidgeted lighting yet another cigarette. "Relax," Sean smiled.

Terry nodded and looked away. He was afraid. Very afraid. This was life as he had lived it in New York, stoned in a rock 'n roll bar, entangled in an improbable situation. The drugs, the drinking, the absurd strutting and preening, he'd given it all up. Gay or straight, it didn't matter, bar scenes were bar scenes, and this evening's splendor was just the tip of the iceberg. There was so much more below.

The band began to play. Insofar as Terry could tell, their timing was their only virtue. They were loud and they were grating and they sang about the war between darkness and light. Standard Heavy Metal fare. Terry shuddered down another swig of gin. The man beside him nodded while the singer extolled the evil ecstasy of letting darkness swallow you whole.

A skinny old hippy danced up, staggering into Terry’s table. Terry looked up, sudden, startled. The old guy’s arm was covered with a dragon tattoo. The dragon's eyes seared into his brain, reminding him of other eyes. "It’s a good night to be careful," the old hippy said, blowing acrid breath into Terry’s face. Decaying jeans falling away from his body, he lurched toward the garbage. The waitress tossed a beer bottle into the metal drum. It hit bottom like a sonic boom. "Be careful," said the ancient hippy to the trashcan, dancing away.

Beware the local wildlife, mate,” the tall man said. “Like that one.” Terry lowered his eyes. He felt Sean’s lust reaching out for him, a palpable thing, more vivid than the red and cerulean lights that pulsed before them.

Shifting in his chair, searching the crowd for Aimee, Terry felt the hunger reaching out of the man beside him. Desire enticed him, rapidly subduing his already impaired judgment. This guy wanted him. Why not go for it? Lee’d officially dumped him for Devon. Terry wanted to be wanted. It would be so easy, just a quick, hot, zipless fuck, something to numb the pain, to wipe away the memories. He had time for a revenge fuck before he left town. Then he could take the man, take the life, take the apartment back on Haight Street, and all those high-flown sentiments, and toss them in the trash. Forever. Boom.

Aimee appeared out of nowhere and grabbed his arm so hard it hurt.

Whoa, you look great.” She was all tricked out in the de rigueur leather mini and the wild hair. Glitter fluttered on her eyelids. It was a rush to see her, but not the kind of rush she wanted it to be. He recalled Lee's poem: `Young and believing still - that to be beautiful and smile is enough.' It wasn't enough for him. Not anymore. "Did you get my message?"

"What?" she yelled. The crowd clapped in scattered pockets for the last tune. He tried talking to her again. No luck. She leaned in close, staring at Sean.

I’m leaving town,” Terry shouted. “Going back to New York.”

Shock rippled out from her in waves. "No! That is so fucking stupid! You can't go. You don't want to go. You hate New York." Her long crimped hair swung around her, competing with the shiny earrings for attention. "Terry, baby, this is crazy. You can't go."

"I know, but it's what I'm gonna do." She turned away from him, exasperated. Good move, Ace. Find one person in this stinking town who cares that you're leaving and get her pissed off at you immediately. Charming. Terry rose, speaking close to her ear. "Well, hey, I've never won any prizes for my sanity. You know that. Besides, I've got no place else to go."

"You very crazy, Terry. Lee’s right. But you are not going anywhere, you hear me?” She pushed him back into his seat near the trashcans. Firmly. "Wait here. Don't move."

With a wide-lipped smile, Erik licked the rim of his beer bottle. “Maybe when your girl gets back from the phone, you could ditch her and…” He didn’t need to say anything more. The jaguar tattoo on Sean’s shoulder rippled as his hands moved beneath the table. Long pale fingers curved round hidden places, seducing, promising, weaving a dark and tangled web that Terry could not escape, that he no longer wished to escape.

The man’s dark hunger wound around him in blood red threads. The hunger went beyond sex, the ancient hunger cried out for his blood. Something primal and ugly reared up inside him, begging him to answer the call. His will weakened and fell. “Let’s go,” Terry breathed. “C’mon.”

It took forever to shove their way out of that crowded bar. Sean had to stop for a pack of smokes. Aimee was on the pay phone next to cigarette machine and she gestured at him frantically, waving the telephone receiver. Terry kept her at arm’s length. “No way, babe.” He spoke loud enough for the man at the other end of the line to hear him. “I’m goin’ to the park to play with the big boys now. Buh-bye.”





Long leather coat flying open around him, Erik tossed an arm around Terry’s shoulders. “C’mon, mate, lets go.”

Sure, Sean,” Terry slurred.

Erik leaned against the Chink’s pretty boy, smiling widely. His luck was spot-on tonight. It was good to be back among the living, even if only for an hour or two. He’d spent the last few days holed up at honey-darling’s squalid apartment setting up the next leg of his journey. It was getting a bit too hot in SF. He had to get out before the law fell.

Whoever was looking for him wouldn’t think to look at Apollo Bank. He knew someone there who loved certain illegal nocturnal activities that they didn’t want someone else knowing about. The bloke’d been only too happy to help Erik bleed Devon’s bank accounts into the account Erik’d opened on the sly in Mexico. Erik only had to give up a small percentage and a bit o’ this and that. It was all fairly legal; he was still Devon’s husband, after all.

He was done with San Francisco. This pretty boy was The City’s parting gift to him. Terry was more a creature of habit than he knew. Erik’d stalked him to Nuerotox several times, more to look at the angel girl than anything else. He still had high hopes for her, he did.

She was gorgeous as ever and might make a bloody fine traveling companion. But Erik couldn’t be sure of the driver he’d hired. If she put up much of a fight, the bloke might get an itchy dialing finger and ruin the trip to Mexico. And Erik had no use for the law. Even if his belly was slit open, he’d sooner die than bring in the coppers. Anyone what got in his way would have him and only him to answer to. It was better that way.

He watched the angel-girl as they walked away. She was a beaut, but that silver bra was too whorey by far. Her hair was too wild. If he had her, he’d make her dress like a lady. All she needed to shine was them angel eyes. He was past thinking she was too pure to touch. If killing was what it took, then that was what he’d do. Even if she only lasted as long as that little whore-boy did, it’d be good enough.

It was a damn shame to be leaving town without saying goodbye to Devon or leaving the little Chink balls-up on a bed of lettuce. But, leave he must. Too bad he wouldn’t get to give the old girl a proper goodbye. He’d have to leave her to the dubious charms of that little yellow bastard. He’d seen Lee’s car out front of Devon’s manse when he went by there tonight. Oh, well. No accounting for tastes.

Terry was another story. He’d suit anyone. His throat was long and slender, his ass was high and round. Too bad the Polaroid camera was broken. Oh, well. He’d have to take another sort of trophy. It’d be easy. The kid was too wasted to put up much of a fight, which was fine because Erik didn’t want to get his clothes mucked up, but he was still sweet meat, still worth taking. “C’mon, luv, let me show you a very special place.”

Terry smiled automatically, but his feet hesitated and his lips were pale. Erik’d change all that. “We could go to my room?” His voice was weak, low, and husky.

Where’s your daredevil spirit?” Terry swallowed hard but he nodded bravely. “Good on ya, mate. Live it up. Life is short.” He led the young man away. The barroom door flew open before them. As the moon cast shadows beneath his cheekbones, Terry turned and kept on walking, looking back.





Lee parked illegally on Middle Drive East. His headlights illuminated a fern garden. His emotional exhaustion gave everything a surreal glare. Primeval-looking fern trees stretched tender green fronds toward the night-black sky, yearning for something they could no longer have. Shaking his head, Lee cut the lights. “The pond’s his special place, right?” Aimee gave him a breathless ‘oui’, while Lee watched his hands. They weren’t shaking any more, he was too tired for that. “Stay in the car. Keep the doors locked.”

He got out and closed the door quietly. The last thing he wanted now was attention. Lee touched the gun in his waistband. Mistakes were not an option tonight.

He’d broken every traffic law to get to Nuerotox after her quick call. She’d met him outside the bar with a frantic look. Terry’d left with a dangerous-looking man, a man she thought she remembered from the Demo. Terry’d brushed her off, muttering something about going to play in the park with the big boys. Terry was very drunk and Lee felt very sure he was with Erik. The breathy description Aimee’d given fit.

The paved path wound into darkness. The perfumed foliage was damp. Ahead, moonlight spilled onto a path that led three ways. Lee paused. He took a deep breath, centering himself. He was whole now; there were no questions, no fractured spaces deep inside. And he had nothing left to lose. That made him very dangerous.

No matter what Terry thought of him, Lee would protect the young man with his life. He would fight, without question or pause, because he knew who and what he was fighting for. Despite his pretensions to jaded sophistication, Terry was one of the few innocents he’d ever known. Calvin and the others were already dead. Lee couldn’t save them. But, this one young man he could, and he would, rescue. No matter what. The world profited from his light.

Aimee’s skittering footsteps came from behind him. She whispered his name. Lee waited. It was senseless to argue. But, having two innocents to protect narrowed his choices. He would have to strike first and make it final, without mercy.

Stay tight,” he whispered. Night air and ferns stroked his cheeks. Aimee’s big brown eyes were liquid in the semidarkness, her blood-red lipstick glistened. She squeezed his hand and led him to the left-hand path. He moved fast, keeping low, clinging to shadows, and drawing her along with him.

Aimee turned toward the lily pond. Lee just prayed they found the right spot in time. Looking up, he saw the tree where he’d found the severed head. This place was special, all right. Aimee pointed left, to a footpath that curved around the pond, and up the steep, dark incline. Lee pressed her back into the shadows. “If you see or hear anything, call.” She nodded and waved her crossed fingers at him for luck. He’d need it.

Lee turned left, creeping in near silence along the hidden side of the pond. Pampas grass waved serenely overhead. Bats dive-bombed him. A wild rustle in the bushes above him stopped him cold. He crouched in deep shadow, scanning the high rise before him. Sandy red soil fell away from the naked roots of rugged pines. The sounds of a struggle erupted from the black bushes high atop the rise. Lee waited. Terry howled.





NO!” Terry struggled frantically. He’d known since they went into this hollowed out bit of bush that it was a bad idea. But, there was no time left for thought. Erik was strong, too strong, and the knife at his throat was very persuasive. Every sobbing breath could be his last. The man pushed him face-first into wet and sandy soil, struggling to undo his jeans. Dirt and eucalyptus caps filled Terry’s mouth.

The tiny, trendy buckles of his two belts cut Erik’s finger and Erik hesitated. Terry twisted away, falling, sprawling drunkenly in the dirt. Moonlight shone through a small hole in the berry bramble and Terry clawed his way toward it. Erik grabbed at him, but Terry kicked him in the face with a boot heel. He made it out, away from Erik’s stink. Far below, he saw the glisten of the pond, the path, and safety. He dove.

Rocks hurt, and he rolled like one as he tumbled down the steep incline. The sky zoomed in and out of focus. His hands caught at dried grass that came up by the root. Back wrenching, he glimpsed the cold killer moon before it rolled away again. Sound surrounded him. Limbs twisted at funny angles. Motion followed motion. No control. So, this was what dying was like. He was a train wreck - falling, bending, twisting, landing heavy against something warm.

I’ve got you.” Still breathing, still amazed to be breathing, Terry looked up. Black hair falling forward, Lee Kuan leaned over him. They sprawled in the sandy soil together and his large black eyes were full of tenderness. Lee’d flung himself forward to break Terry’s fall. “Terry, are you hurt?” Terry blinked, not certain. Lee glanced up the rise and Terry knew there wasn’t much time. He checked the slice on Terry’s neck. “It’s not deep. Run,” he commanded, pulling Terry to his feet. “Run.”

Terry stumbled over his own feet and staggered a few feet away, collapsing. He heard Lee exhale the way he did before he broke a board. Terry turned. Lee stood in shadow, in perfect T’ai Chi posture. Slowly, he extended both hands before him. Moonlight glinted on the barrel of his gun.

Oh, no,” Terry whispered. He couldn’t say anything more. Dirt and tangled emotions clogged his throat. He wanted Erik gone forever, but he did not want Lee to kill.

Erik skittered down the slope, half-sliding, half-falling, long leather coat flying wide behind him like demon’s wings. Cold moonlight lit a flat crescent of soil at the water’s edge. Erik entered the light. Broken glass crunched beneath his feet.

Still hidden deep in shadow, Lee took aim and pulled the trigger. Once. Twice. Expecting gunshots, Terry heard the straining click of metal on metal. The gun was jammed.

Lee dropped the weapon. Erik spun, crouching, toward the sound. Quick, too quick for Terry’s eye to follow, Erik drew his long, glittering knife. Without thought, Terry touched his neck. Blood was black on his hand in the moonlight where Erik’s knife had bit him. Erik tracked the motion and crept closer. There was no getting away. Lee tore off his jacket and threw it on the ground.

Hey!” Lee stepped forward loosely, gracefully. “You want me, Erik. Here I am.” Lee strode into the bright crescent. Erik’s icy eyes glimmered. Lee gazed at him with the unearthly calm of a Zen archer. Terry watched his feet slide almost imperceptibly into his fighting stance.

He knew what Lee was thinking: he’d been cut before; he could take it. Broken glass glittered like stars flung beneath his boots. Crouching, Terry saw the graceful swell of Lee’s thigh dark against the moonlit ground. He remembered the blood that had flowed so powerfully, so mysteriously through his fingers, he knew the feel of that precious life slipping away.

Terry rushed forward. If Lee must fight, they’d fight together. They all knew that he, small as he was, would die first. But he was willing to risk it. Lee stopped him with a hand over his heart. “No,” was all Lee said.

Erik laughed without mirth, cold light glinting on his blade. “Ain’t this touching? The little one willing to throw ‘imself away for ‘is one true love. Now Prince Truelove comes to fight.” Lee rolled his neck, loosening up. Erik pushed back his sleeves and carved circles in the air. “Feelin’ quite the big man these days, ain’t ya, luv? I liked ya better as a bottom. You don’t have the guts to be a top.”

Try me,” Lee said. Without hurry, he raised his hands.

The two men circled each other. Terry watched their hands, their eyes, and the pattern of their footsteps. Feinting first, Erik lunged in fast. Lee leapt back with a sound of pain. Blood and skin showed through the slice in his silk shirt. Erik feinted. Lee was hurt, but gave no ground. Erik’s eyes gleamed silvery bright.

Did ‘e ever tell ya what I did to him, little luv?” Erik asked, glancing toward Terry.

With a cry of rage, Lee spun, kicking at Erik’s knife arm. The kick connected with a sickening crack, but Erik merely tossed his blade to the other hand. He lunged like a jaguar, teeth flashing, silver cross earring dancing in the moonlight.

I had him. Fucked him right up the arse.” Terry heard his own quick intake of breath, heard Aimee crying in the background. Red streaks colored Lee’s cheeks but his black eyes were impenetrable. “And he loved it. Right, babe?” Erik glanced aside to catch Terry’s reaction.

Using that microsecond, Lee dropped low and slammed a vicious sidekick into Erik’s knee. His next kick knocked the knife away. Erik staggered as Lee spun, leaping into a tornado kick. It was a combination Terry’d seen him use sparring with Jeff. It worked. Erik’s head whipped around as Lee’s foot slammed into his temple. His body twisted, spilling onto broken glass.

Like a bolt of lightening, Lee was on him. “You!” Kuan’s voice burned through the night, bouncing Erik’s head on broken glass with each word. ”You. Never. Had. Me!”

As Terry dashed in to grab the knife, Kuan glanced his way. Erik used that break in his rhythm. Grabbing Lee by the shirt, he slammed his palm up under Lee’s jaw. Black hair flying, silk ripping, Lee fell back, stunned and completely vulnerable. Erik sat up, shaking bits of broken glass from the back of his head, groping for the knife.

Too Late. Terry had the blade and he held it tight. He stood between them, shielding Lee’s body with his own. Where Erik moved, he moved, slashing aside all of Erik’s grabs. There was a surprising amount of satisfaction in drawing blood from such an evil man.

Moaning, Lee sat up. Terry kept him covered, moving when Erik moved, pausing when he stopped. Anticipating motion was a skill he’d acquired helping Lee teach. He could keep moving all night; there was enough adrenalin in him to fuel an army. From the corner of his eye, he saw the gleam of Lee’s skin in the moonlight as he stripped off the torn, bloodstained shirt. Lee came forward, mouth stern, eyes flashing fire. “Fuck this.” He’d had enough.

With Terry holding the knife, Lee jammed in tight. He worked Erik like a speed bag, chopping him down, blow by blow. Erik fought back; he fought dirty and he hit hard, propped up by some unholy combination of drugs. Lee took more than a few blows. Bruised and bloodied, he kept his head down, dancing in place like a boxer, blocking, striking, getting in a kick when he could. Finally, with a frightening hiss, Lee slammed a palm under Erik’s chin. It was a strike from the depths of his private hell.

Blood spurted and ran, black-red, over Erik’s face. Erik staggered, still swinging, making garbled, gargling sounds. His bleeding tongue lolled out of his mouth as he spit teeth onto the pavement. But he was too drugged up to fall.

Terry saw himself moving then, swimming forward, he saw the knife going into Erik’s back. Oddly enough, his hand held it. Erik needed to fall. Somehow knowing that, Lee staggered back, bleeding. The knife stayed in Terry’s hand as Erik teetered and fell on his face.

In a heartbeat, Lee was on him, dragging his dead weight up by the collar, and smashing his head into the pavement. Over and over, Lee slammed Erik’s face into tiny glittering bits of Budweiser and Coke bottles. The sounds were horrible. Even for someone like Erik this was too much. Terry’d never imagined Lee could be so brutal. He had to turn away.

Aimee sobbed. Fear shivered in Terry’s belly. He wanted to vomit. “Terry, look.” Terry turned, unable to believe what he saw. Lee crouched over Erik, straddling his body. A hundred tiny cuts glistened with fresh black blood as the muscles in Lee’s back worked, his shining skin still studded with bits of broken glass. His hands crushed Erik’s throat. Terry could not see his face. Terry did not want to see his face. Erik was on his back, arms spread wide, his head a mangled mess of glass and bloody pulp.

No! He’s not worth it.” Terry said it just like they said it in all the cop shows. But the line only worked on TV. “Let go, let go. You’re killing him. Stop! Johnny Lee, you could go to jail.” Terry’s deep voice crackled over their harsh panting sounds. He threw himself onto Lee’s bleeding back, driving him down and onto Erik. Terry held on, pleading. They curved together over the prone figure, all fighting for breath.

Terry. Lee!” Aimee’s voice was suddenly very close. “Please don’t make me watch this.” Terry let her draw him up and to his feet, but he felt nothing of the motion. “Lee? Come away.” She stroked Lee’s shoulders, gentling him as if he were a foaming stallion. “Come.”

Lee Kuan rose with the grace of a champion. Chest heaving, he slowly backed away. A veil of quiet fell over the lily pond. Terry heard only their breathing. Lee’s eyes were huge and wild as he turned to them. His voice was barely more than a whisper. “He’s gone.”

No,” Terry gasped, softly.

Clouds blew across the face of the moon. Night swirled and the scent of eucalyptus was strong. Every muscle tense, Lee watched Terry’s face, awaiting judgment, chin wrinkling as he fought back tears. Something in his eyes implored Terry to come back home. “No,” Terry whispered. Lee shuddered. Tears ran down his cheeks, silent, perfectly formed.

Why?” Terry had to ask. “Why did you do that?”

Lee looked surprised. “For you,” he whispered. “For me. The man was a killer.”

But, so are you.”

Bowing his head, Lee accepted Terry’s verdict. Though he said nothing, the night rocked with the magnitude of his pain. Terry walked away. He could not look at a man who had just done murder. He couldn’t look at himself. “Terry, you should be ashamed.” Aimee reached for Lee, surrounding him with hugs and whispered words he did not understand.

Electric eel dancing in his gut, Terry scrambled around, collecting weapons, wiping them for prints, picking up Lee’s things, and scanning for witnesses. They had not been silent and there were always eyes in Golden Gate Park. That he knew from hard experience. It seemed to take forever but Lee’s breathing slowed and his silent tears stopped flowing. Terry knew he did not cry for Erik, but for the love and the innocence lost.

Thanks.” Lee took his things. The leather jacket hung open across his bleeding chest as he stuffed the shirt into his pocket. Terry watched him thrust the gun back into his waistband. He did not meet Terry’s eyes. “You get out of here. Just go.” Emotion rippled beneath his words. There was no blame in him, no victory, and no hope. As Terry backed away, Lee grabbed his arm and urgently said, “I never lied to you. I-”

Flinging up his hands, Terry brushed off that grasp, he waved away the words. That soft voice would go on forever - in memory, in dreams. That lean face, shadowed with sadness and downcast lashes, had never been more beautiful to him. But they were out of time.

Lee, we have to get the cops. We need an ambulance.” Nobody moved. Terry dashed his hands across his face and they came back wet. “Oh, fuck, you’re bleeding. I’m crying. Where the fuck is a pay phone when you need it?” Aimee looked around helplessly. Lee stood silent, shoulders moving with every breath, waiting for the cops to come and take him away.

Aimee turned to him in a rush, in a hush. “Lee, get out of here, go to Chinatown. Hide.” She wiped the blood off his face. “Get away. There’s nothing more you can do here. Go.”

No. I’ve got the car. It’s close. Come with me. We’ll think of something.”

Wait!” A plan crystallized in Terry’s mind. “We’ll split up.” Suddenly, he was so sure, so calm. He grabbed Lee’s jacket, zipping it around the silent man. Lee would never survive prison, especially if Erik’s boasts were true.

Aimee, get him out of here.” Moonlight shimmered on her blood-red lipstick and the fresh cut in the corner of Lee’s mouth. “Kiss him,” he told her. “Just kiss him. On the lips. Hard.” They kissed awkwardly. “Good.” Her lipstick now obscured all glaring traces of the fight. “If anyone stops you, you’re lovers in the park.” Lee shook his head. “I’m not gonna let you take the rap for this. Go.” The man could not speak but Terry forced a smile. “I’ll get out of it. You know me, I’m Teflon. Nothing ever sticks to me. Nothing.”

Angry ducks made unhappy noises when Terry tossed Erik’s knife, now thoroughly cleaned, into the pond. “Go on. I can take care of this. You did what you thought you had to do. Now let me do what I have to do. Go. You don’t have a single extra second and I’m not givin’ you a choice. Go. Do it for your kid. Do it for me. One last favor, okay?”

Come.” Aimee grabbed both Lee’s hands. “Do you think anyone will believe he killed that big man? He’ll be okay.” She pulled - hard. “Come.”

Lee looked at Terry. Terry tried not to see the devastation in his eyes. “Go.” Lee did not move until Terry pushed him. Then he walked stiffly beside the girl, never looking away until the very second he was swallowed in darkness.

This was one last thing Terry could do for him, one last act of love. Heart pounding hard and shredding fast, Terry headed for the police station to confess to Erik’s murder. It seemed fair. He walked slowly into darkness, squaring his jaw and remembering their past.

Chapter 21- Getting Free

"Please," he heard Lee's voice, plainly. And he woke from the dream. "Please." It echoed in his head, that one word. "Please." He dreamt of Lee. It -. But his hard-on wasn't for her. He wouldn't do her the disservice of pretending it was.

The smell of last night's cigarettes sickened him. But he was in the Mission. He could go to the twenty-four hour joint and get one of those sweet Mexican fruit drinks. It would make him feel better. He would get the kind made with honeydew melon. Lee's favorite. He would take it home and. . .

Terry's throat contracted painfully. He forced down the sob that rose up out of the knot in his stomach. He was done crying. Done. Terry closed his eyes. His eyelids were gummy from so much crying. He'd spent too long last night on Aimee's bathroom floor sobbing that awful kind of shaking sob that ripped out of your diaphragm and won't let go of your throat. The real stuff. Gut wrenching. He'd wept until he was bruised inside and unable to breath, but it didn't change a thing. The dream was over. He got up and dressed.

Barroom smells and leftover tears lingered in the clothes he'd worn last night. He shivered as he slipped on the white terry robe. Aimee kept it hopefully in her closet, a relic from the days when he spent every free moment with her.

Terry closed the white robe around him. It was little comfort against the morning cold. Glancing around at the chaos of the high-ceilinged room, Terry waited on the grey Mission morning. Even the church bells were silent. But Lee's voice came to him, as Terry pulled the robe closer. White was the color of mourning, Lee had said. Terry believed him now.

Bending carefully, Terry picked up the voluminous black coat from the floor where it had fallen last night. It was still damp from the rain. Lee's coat was so heavy. Terry let its weight pull him down into the fragile wicker chair in the bay window. Surrounded by too many painful leftovers, he stared out through dusty lace curtains into grey morning fog.

Digging in the coat pocket for cigarettes, he felt a envelope. Heard it crinkle. He lit a cigarette and the smoke made him dizzy, but it didn't take away the taste of last night's drunk. Terry reached into the deep pocket for the envelope. He remembered when Lee put it there. He remembered too much.

Pushing back his tangled hair, Terry leaned forward onto the cluttered wicker table. He rubbed his hand across his chin. Stubble and a new pimple. Why was youth supposed to be so great? You got zits and heartaches and so easily confused. He turned the envelope in his hands. The white envelope was addressed to Oregon with Lee's lettering in bold black ink. Terry had no business reading it. But what the hell? He had no business being here either. There was really no place for him today.

Raising his head, he looked at the envelope again. He lit another cigarette. It was the last in the pack. It was a cold and morbid morning and he smoothed the famous black coat across his knees. He wished it was dark out. How quickly darkness falls. He wanted to fade into darkness, to let it take him. It could only take him into memories. He had nothing else.

An ash fell unnoticed on the dusty hardwood floor as he slit the envelope open with his finger. ...Dear Karen,... The letter began in twelve point Helvetica typeface. Terry ached all over. He read on with shaking hands. ...I look forward to coming to the Oregon kwoon... And where was he going? Where?

Terry listened to the bus outside, stopping at the corner, the bus that could take him home. There was no mistaking the sound. Terry had a perfect memory for sounds. Terry could hear Lee's soft voice saying the words he had written. ...I feel I am strong enough now to take over Calvin's work as best I can....

He took a deep drag on his cigarette. The smoke ripped his throat and made him dizzy, but it did not take away the sound of that voice. Terry could hear it so distinct, buzzing in his ear. ...And a major source of strength to me is Terrence Santiago, my closest friend and associate...

Associate. How like Lee. After all that, associate. ...I am bringing him with me and Melissa to Oregon... Terry stopped, squinting at the date. Yesterday. This must be the letter Lee was printing when Terry got up, the one he was so secretive about.

They're the only family I've got. The only one I want... Terry's hands grew wet on the paper, his hands shook the words in front of his face. ...I thought it best I let you know. So that accommodations can be made. And any objections answered... His eyes were wet, and lost their focus. He was a fool, a blind fool, and thank God Aimee had stopped him from leaving town last night. ...I want only to do what Calvin taught me to do best. Follow my own truth. And there is no way to do that except to walk through the fire... A tear fell. Flattening on the paper and distorting the words. I have done that here. And Terry with me... It was time to go home.

Terry stubbed out his cigarette. Shrugging the black coat around his shoulders, and refolding the letter carefully, he took one last long look round the room. Gazing down at Aimee, he drew the white eyelet comforter up over her, recalling that she always slept better when her shoulders were warm. He bit his lip remembering. Then he turned to go.

Terry buried his head in his hands. He wanted to be home where it was warm. Lee always kept it warm. But Terry couldn't go back and this letter was all he had left. Nothing else. Only memories.

***

Memories can never be repossessed.

Lee walked slowly around the homemade martial arts studio that Terry had called ‘the dojo of doom’. He smiled, thinking of Terry, the boy with the reggae beat. He didn’t have the heart to box up Terry’s things, even though it’d been a week since Aimee called to say Terry was out of jail and he was okay. Lee was glad to hear it; he hated to think of such a bright and vivid soul incarcerated even for a day. When Aimee asked him how he was, he lied and said fine. It was plain she didn’t believe him, but they didn’t have much more to say even though he hung waiting on the line, wordlessly watching his hands shake. He closed the door to Terry’s room after that call. It stayed closed.

It had been a long, lonely, busy, crazy week. Uncle Lou fell in love with one of Grace’s grandkids and decided to stay on. They’d agreed to sell the bookstore to the two dykes from Berzerkely; they were sweet women who listened to his troubles and brought him pots of food. Without their help, Lee wouldn’t have eaten, wouldn’t have been able to deal with everything he’d had to go through. Devon’s funeral following so close on Terry’s departure shattered his mind.

The police refused to believe Lee when he’d gone in to make things right; apparently murders without a body are a bit difficult to confess to. The way the cops told it, they’d only been able to book Terry on public drunkenness. The kid paid the fine and went away. There were signs of a bloody scuffle at Golden Gate Park, and a spent shell casing was recovered, but that was S.O.P. for a full-moon night. It was as if Erik just got up and walked away. “Listen, pal,“ The tired detective told Lee. “You and your boyfriend go play dueling confessions somewhere else. You got three minutes to get outta here before I book you for wasting departmental resources and pissing off an officer.” Lee went.

Lee’d resigned from the Institute - so sure he was meant to take over Calvin’s school - only to find they didn’t want him anymore. He’d been too honest; he’d waited too long; he’d gotten too queer. Whatever. Oregon was not an option anymore. The door to that part of his life was closed. The Institute was keen to keep him on. Chloe and Diane wanted him in his flat. Lee’d spent hours packing his private stock from the bookstore and trying to figure out where to live once San Francisco, that bitch goddess, was done with him.

Rosalinda Wu recovered from her wound enough to sit and howl by Terry’s door. Day and night. Sometimes, after enough Bourbon, Lee felt like howling, too. He was going to be a rich man. But he took no pleasure in it. He’d lost too many friends and the only lover that had ever really mattered was gone. Forever.

All he had left was the T’ai Chi. He danced its ancient circles day and night. Even now, on this inky San Francisco night, the rollback, press, and push were working the magic within him, making him strong when all he wanted was to surrender.

A knock came at the door. Probably just Mandy with another plumbing problem. She’d started to make noises about the two of them getting together and he didn’t know how to let her down gently. Sighing only took him so far.

Scratching at the new scar on his chest, Lee went to the door. He fumbled with the chain lock. All his internal alarms were ringing with a vibrant urgency. His fingers trembled. Murders without a body leave a guy a little bit nervous. Biting down on what was left of his courage, Lee Kuan swung the door open. What he saw struck him silent.

Terry stood in the shadows, unshaven, disheveled. The light from Lee’s dojo carved deep hollows under his haunted eyes and his high, round, cheekbones. His Greek fisherman’s cap was wet with rain. “I know I look like hell, but it’s been kinduva weird week. Mind if I come in?”

Please.” He swung the door open wide. Terry breezed in, wearing a new cologne, and rubbing his chin the way he did when he was uncertain. He looked gaunt. He wore that old cashmere overcoat from the forties. Same as last time. He was beautiful. Same as always. Lee became aware he watched Terry’s face too closely and dropped his eyes.

I thought, I can’t think why, that maybe you were mad at me.”

Lee considered, remembering Terry pushing him away. His blood had been blue-red on Terry’s white fingers in the flickering streetlight. “No. I’m not mad.” Terry eyed the new-healing scar and cold air flowed in the door, stiffening muscles that were already singing with tension. “Let me close the door.” He closed it, he locked it, he did anything to buy time. Questions screamed inside him, but he refused to let them out his mouth. He owed this young man so much that he had no idea what to say; he just knew repayment was impossible. “Drink?”

Shuffling his feet, keeping his head down, Terry followed Lee into what used to be their kitchen. The dingy yellow color was unchanged. Lee said nothing; his heart was unchanged. “Scotch?” Dishes were in the sink and the half-empty bottle sat on the kitchen table. Avoiding each other’s eyes, Lee got ice and water while Terry found the last two clean glasses. Lee held up a shot glass. Terry shook his head, he always mixed Lee’s drinks by color. Lee watched him pour, glad to see that his hands were shaking, too.

Been a while.” Terry’s deep voice was hoarse in this barren kitchen and his eyes were red. Lee wondered if he’d been ill. “You been okay?”

Lee nodded, clenching his jaw, biting through the too-much he wanted to say. He mixed his drink with a wooden chopstick. Terry took his neat. Nothing had changed. And everything had changed. Clinking ice in his glass, he somehow forgot to drink. They stood awkwardly, leaning against the worn linoleum cabinets. Terry finished his shot and held out his hand for another. Lee poured, focusing all his concentration on keeping his hand steady.

So, um, your birthday’s soon,” Terry said. “The big Three-Oh.”

Yup. The twenty-eighth of black November.” Lee took a dismal drink and watched Terry rummage through the pockets of his big black coat. “Maybe you should take off your coat.”

Got you something,” Terry said softly. “Heroes always get medals. So, um, I brought you this.” Terry held out a small jewelry box. “It’s not exactly a medal, but it’s kinda like a purple heart - or, maybe, a consolation prize. You decide. You let me know. Open it.”

Slowly, setting down his drink, Lee took the gray velvet box from Terry. He was bewildered. They were careful not to touch. “I sure the hell don’ deserve any presents.”

Yeah, you deserve this one. Open it.”

Oh.” The plain gold band carved with Chinese characters couldn’t be more like him. Or more unlike any birthday gift he’d ever received. “What’s this?”

Well, I was wandering around in Chinatown one day,” Terry said, slowly, casually. Lee turned the ring in his now frankly shaking fingers and decided the kid had no freakin’ idea what those ideograms meant. “So, I was out, getting some new T’ai Chi shoes... Before I found out you’d quit the Institute and, man, that was a shock… But, well, I just sort of decided that maybe if you had something serious, something tangible, you’d know I was for real when I told you- When I told you I just only want to love you for the rest of my life.” Lee couldn’t gasp. He couldn’t even sigh. “So, I had it inscribed. It took a week. And I’ve been goin’ crazy. And… just tell me yes or no, okay?” Terry’s voice broke. He was staring at the floor; tears marked his place.

Yes,” Lee whispered. Terry looked up, the lashes of his blue-green eyes wet. “Always, yes.” They embraced, heavy, wet cashmere on bare, scarred, skin. Sighing at last, Lee said, “It took you to set me free.”

 

ext, images, and other content

Google+ Web Search

Google Translator

Subscribe To Our Site