ack pulled his car into the driveway of Harry Wong's dojo and carefully maneuvered around to the back of the building. He sat for a moment, shivering, even though he had the heater going full blast. He looked at the clock on the dashboardâ6:20
, an ungodly hour to be making a visit to anyone. But he couldn't leave without saying good-bye to his best friend in the whole world. He and Nikki were heading to the islands for a whole year of sun and fun, and not necessarily in that order. Dennis West had been magnanimous in offering the use of his private plane, an offer Jack snapped up in a New York minute. Wheels up was scheduled for ten o'clock that morning out of Dulles. A whole year's vacation. Nikki had gone over the moon when he showed her the rental villa, which came with a staff of three to see to their needs. The best part was that they were allowed to take their dog, Cyrus, with them. Jack could hardly wait to feel sand between his toes and the warm sun beating down on his shoulders. He grinned when he remembered Nikki showing him her new bikini, which would fit in his ear. Oh, yeahhh.
It was almost full light by then. Jack turned off the car lights, then fished around in his pocket for the key to the dojo. How well he remembered the day that Harry had handed him the key like it was the Holy Grail. And in Harry's mind, it was. That day, he and Harry crossed the Rubicon together. He knew in his gut he would lay down his life for Harry Wong, and he knew in his gut that Harry would do the same for him. Harry was the brother he'd never had, and he loved him as such.
Key in hand, Jack sprinted from the car. The arctic air body-slammed him. He slipped on a patch of ice, managed to right himself, and then he was at the door. He ripped off his glove, placed his hand on the palm reader, waited for the light to turn green, removed his hand, pressed in the digits of Lily's birthday, and inserted the key. The massive door opened slowly on its well-oiled hinges. Jack waited for the door to close behind him.
He knew the dojo like he knew his own house. He recognized the smells, the disinfectant, the sweat, the eucalyptus, the lingering odor of the shitty tea Harry brewed daily. He knew every squeaky board, every cracked tile in the building, the sound of the wheezing air conditioner in the summer, the grumble of the furnace in the winter.
The fine hairs on the back of Jack's neck moved. The heat hadn't come on. Spook that he was, Harry should have called out his name by now, demanding to know why he was here at such an early hour. Because . . . Harry had security upstairs that showed both the front and back doors of the dojo and anyone even approaching the alley and the special security door he'd just entered. Plus . . . Cooper hadn't barked. Cooper always barked. A friendly bark, but still a bark. Jack had always taken the bark to be a greeting, the same way Cyrus barked when someone came to the house.
Jack debated a moment as to whether he should go back out to the car for his gun. He nixed that idea immediately. As Harry always pointed out, he was his own weapon. A third-degree black belt meant he could, if necessary, kill with his bare hands.
Jack looked around the dimness of the dojo. The only light coming through was from the shuttered windows in the front of the building. And it was just slivers of light. Harry locked things up tight at night.
He moved then through the locker room to the main training room of the dojo, out to the hall, down another hall, which led to a staircase that would take him to Yoko and Harry's living quarters. No one ever dared approach the stairs unless invited by Harry or Yoko. No one. Except for him. He approached the stairs now, cautiously, his heart pounding in his chest. By now, Harry should have swooped down somehow, someway, and had Jack's head in a vise.
And Cooper wasn't offering up a greeting.
Jack moved then, quicker than he'd ever moved in his life. He took the steps three at a time and banged on the door with both fists, shouting Harry's name at the top of his lungs. When the door opened immediately, he lost his balance and fell right into Harry's arms.
“What the hell! Jesus, Harry, I thought you were dead or something! What the hell is going on? Why didn't Cooper bark? Where's Yoko? Are you guys being held hostage? Talk to me before I beat the living shit out of you, Harry. I mean it. Why are you looking at me like that? Your eyes are round. You need to talk to me like
“You want some tea, Jack?” Harry asked in the strangest voice Jack had ever heard.
“No, I don't want any damn tea, Harry. What I want is to know what's going on. Where's Yoko?”
“I'm here, Jack,” Yoko said, appearing out of nowhere. “Are you sure you wouldn't like some tea?”
“I don't want any tea. Maybe you can tell me what's going on here. Your husband, my best friend in the whole world, is acting like . . . Hell, I don't know what he's acting like. And you, Yoko, are starting to scare me. Where's Lily? Where's Cooper? If one of you doesn't talk to me right now, I'm going to bust this place up on the count of three.”
Lily took that moment to bound into the room, followed by Cooper. Jack knew his sigh could be heard all the way downstairs. The little family was okay physically.
“Did you come to tell me good-bye, Uncle Jack? Are you going to miss me?”
Thinking the little girl was talking about his own trip, he missed the eye exchange between Yoko and Harry. “I won't be gone long. I'll be back before you know it, and when I do get back, I'll have lots and lots of presents for you and Cooper.”
“You're silly, Uncle Jack. That's not right, what you said. When I come back, I will bring presents for you and Aunt Nikki. Cooper is going away, back home, because he has a new job. Daddy, tell Uncle Jack about Cooper's new job. See all his stuff by the door. Cooper's ready to go after I go. He did his job. See how silly that is, Uncle Jack.”
As Harry led Jack into the kitchen, he could hear Yoko speaking softly to Lily, asking her if she was sure she had everything she wanted to take with her.
Harry pushed Jack down onto one of the kitchen chairs, his hands on the arms, pinning Jack in place. “Yoko and I should have told you. We didn't, because we knew this would be your reaction. I'm sorry for that, Jack. I know you aren't going to understand what I'm about to tell you, but Yoko and I both ask that you at least try to understand and to take our feelings into consideration. Right now Yoko and I are both . . . saddened beyond belief that we are sending our little girl away. We knew this day would come the day she was born. We've talked about it with Lily from day one so she would understand when the day arrived. Believe it or not, she understands. She's handling it better than Yoko and I. Even Cooper understands.
“Speaking of Cooper, you have to remember the strange encounter we had with him when we went to Julie Wyatt's in Rosemont, Alabama, when Julie's granddaughter Olivia said her spirit daddy had told her that Cooper was to go with me because he had a job to do. His job was to look after Lily until it was time for her to . . . to leave. You remember that, don't you, Jack?”
All Jack could do was shake his head yes.
“Two days ago, Cooper started piling his stuff up by the front door. He knew it was time to go before we knew it. But Lily knew. She started packing up all her junk. Or her treasures, as she calls them. Then Julie Wyatt called and said she had a dream that it was time to pick up Cooper. I don't know how all that happened, Jack. I'm driving to Atlanta with Cooper after Lily leaves. Julie will meet me there. Halfway for each of us.
“Lily is going to Shaolin Monastery, or, as it is sometimes called, Shaolin Temple. It's a Chan Buddhist temple on Mount Song, near Dengfeng, Zhengzhou, Henan Province, China. It is led by Abbot Shi Yongxin. It was founded in the fifth century. It has been long known for its association with Chinese martial arts and particularly Shaolin Kung Fu. It is also the best-known of the Mahayana Buddhist monasteries around the Western world. I lived there, Jack. I promised in an oath of blood that all my children would be given up to them to train, as I was. Boys or girls, it doesn't matter. I am who I am today because of the monks who loved and taught me. I know you don't believe me, but Lily will love it there, as I did.
“And before you can ask, yes, it is killing me and Yoko that we are sending our baby girl away, but it is our way, Jack. I would kill myself before I would break the promise I made to the monks. Just so you know.”
Jack struggled to find his voice. “But, Harry, she's so little. She needs you and her mother. You're right. I don't understand.”
“I was the same age Lily is when I was sent there. My parents were so proud of me. I missed them, of course, but that life was a life I was destined for. Even as a child, I knew that, as did my parents.
“Cooper . . . Cooper was sent, we believe, to remind us of this day. Jack, I can't explain it any better than I have. It will be okay. Today things are more modern. Lily will be able to Skype us once a month. We can visit once a year, but we have to go there. She cannot leave until it is time for her to leave.”
“Promise me something, Harry,” Jack said, his head reeling with all that Harry had told him.
“That I can go with you when you go to see her and that you'll let me know the day you plan to Skype.”
“Deal!” Harry said, his hand outstretched. His face contorted into something that was supposed to be a smile. Jack's own smile was sickly.
The front doorbell of the dojo rang. Yoko came on the run, Lily right behind her, with Cooper bringing up the rear.
It was time.
Jack felt sick to his stomach as he stood on the side and watched what he later described as the
Lily, dressed in a cherry-red coat with a white faux-fur collar, kissed her mother and father, her eyes bright and sparkly. She didn't dwell on her good-byes. She hugged Jack and made him promise not to forget her. Jack, his eyes wet, nodded. But it was with Cooper that the little girl spent the most time. She hugged him, rubbed his belly, then whispered something in his ear that took a good two minutes. When she was finished, Cooper backed up a few steps and barked three times. Lily smiled and gave the dog another hug before she headed for the door and the people who would take her to China and her new life.
They looked like gentle, caring people, with kind eyes and happy smiles. Lily reached up for the leader's hand and said, “I'm ready. Bye, Mummy and Daddy. I will always love you, Cooper.”
The door closed. Cooper lay down across the length of the door and put his big head on his paws.
Yoko shrieked her misery. Harry ran after her.
Left alone, Jack dropped to his haunches and stared at Cooper. “Listen, big guy, I'm not into dog speak, but I need to know how, what, and when. And add why to my list.”
Cooper opened one eye and looked at Jack just long enough for a thought to enter Jack's mind. The thought was that Julie Wyatt's daughter Connie was due to give birth to a baby boy, and Cooper had a new job to do.
“Well, damn! And double damn!”
Cooper barked. Jack swore later, when he repeated the story to Nikki, that the big dog was grinning at him and he actually
And he did.
Jack looked up to see Harry putting on his heavy jacket. “Gotta go, Jack. Yoko is staying here. She said she needs some alone time. Cooper is in a hurry. By the way, I forgot to tell you, Julie Wyatt's daughter Connie is due to have her baby tomorrow if things go off on schedule.”
“Yeah, I know,” Jack said. “Cooper just told me. Let's not either of us go there, Harry, okay?”
“My thoughts exactly,” Harry said.
“Need any help with his gear?”
“Nah, I got it. Enjoy your vacation, Jack. You earned it.”
“Yeah, yeah. Listen, if you need me, call, and I'm on the next plane, okay?”
“You're in charge of the BOLO deal.”
“See ya, Harry.”