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By FERN MICHAELS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Fern Michaels
All rights reserved.
It was quiet, as it always was at three o'clock in the morning in the upstairs apartment over Harry Wong's dojo. Yoko's breathing was deep and even, barely making little puffs of sound. Harry's sleep was restless, his breathing raspy, his head full of dreams he never wanted to remember in the morning.
Outside, the wind sounded angry as it slapped at the lone, bare, arthritic maple tree, causing the gnarled old branches to slam against the multipaned windows of the living quarters. It was a sound Harry was used to, so he simply rolled over and punched at the pillow under his head. Once again, he drifted into his restless sleep.
Harry knew that he was dreaming, because the dream he'd been having continued right up to the sound of buzzing on the nightstand. Knowing that it was his cell phone, Harry snaked out his arm to silence it before the noise could wake Yoko. In his dream, he mumbled something that sounded like a greeting in Chinese. And then he listened, the hair on the back of his neck screaming a warning that he should pay attention. Someone was talking. He listened when the voice said, "Don't talk, Harry, just listen to me, as I don't have much time." So he listened to the voice rattle on about danger, and he, Harry, was the only one whom the person on the phone could trust to safeguard something he was sending him. "Guard it with your life, Harry. I am counting on you."
Harry called the voice by name then. It was Jun Yu, the number one expert in the world of martial arts. And his friend, but more than a friend — a true brother. Even though the press and the martial arts world liked to pretend that Jun Yu and Harry Wong were hated adversaries, the truth was that there existed an unbreakable spiritual bond between them, a bond that would carry into eternity. In fact, as boys they had studied together at the Shaolin Monastery under the ever-watchful guidance of the monks. They had formed a deep friendship that both men knew even then would last a lifetime and beyond. Jun Yu's son Hop and his daughter Gan were students at the monastery, as was Harry's daughter, Lily. Hop was a year ahead of Lily, while Gan had entered the monastery at the same time Lily did, leaving Jun Yu and his wife, Jun Ling, alone the way Harry and Yoko were. The departure of their daughters was truly a sad time for both families.
The voice from across the world continued, more intense, sounding fearful now. Harry tried to absorb the rapid-fire dialogue, first in Chinese, then in English, and finally back to Chinese. He tried to say something, but Jun Yu cut him off. "Do not speak, my dear friend and brother. Just listen to me. They're coming for me, Harry. I don't have much time. I thought ... I thought I had more time. I should have contacted you sooner, but I thought I could handle it. I was wrong, Harry. I did my best, but I was only able to get Hop and Gan. Lily was nowhere to be seen. I swear to you in my own blood that I did everything I could. I pass the sword to you now. Use it wisely, my dear brother.
"One last thing, Harry. I cannot leave this world with you thinking you are number two. You were never number two. We were equal, even the Abbot said so. I don't even want to talk about Wing Ping right now. It was the elders who felt they had to pick just one of us. And I was staying in China. It was the luck of the draw, as you Americans say. I must go now, Harry. I place all my faith and trust in you. Do not fail me. Good-bye, my brother."
Harry sighed deeply and rolled over. His arm reached out to Yoko's shoulder just so he could feel a warm presence next to him, and at that very moment, a branch from the maple tree gave a loud thwack against the window.
Yoko woke with a start. "What was that?" she asked, her voice clogged with sleep. "Harry, what's wrong?"
"It was the tree banging against the window. Nothing is wrong, I just had a really bad dream. Go back to sleep. We'll talk in the morning."
"Okay. Nuzzle my neck, Harry. I always fall back to sleep when you do that." Harry obliged as he struggled to remember the bad dream. Eventually he, too, fell asleep as he dreamed of his boyhood at the Shaolin Monastery with his good friend and brother Jun Yu and how they and Dishbang Deshi had boyishly schemed to outwit the monks, who so often had looked the other way to allow them to be the little boys they were.
Three o'clock ticked off to four o'clock, and still Harry slept fitfully. He finally rolled over and realized it would be better to get up and start his day than spend two more hours having bad dreams. He moved cautiously, so as not to wake Yoko, and headed for the shower.
Today, he had two classes of midshipmen from Annapolis at six thirty. Jack Emery was going to help him with them.
* * *
As Harry stepped into the shower, forty miles away as the crow flies, Jack Emery was having his own dream, which was so vivid and real, his eyes snapped open as though they were spring-loaded. While it was a dream, Jack knew that the message it contained was real and that he needed to pay attention. When he dreamed about the mystical dog Cooper, he always paid attention. Maybe mystical wasn't the right word; maybe ethereal was the word he was looking for. Maybe. The word supernatural flitted through his brain at the speed of light. While Cooper the dog was a beautiful, gentle animal, he nonetheless scared the living hell out of Jack. And Harry, too. Even if Harry wouldn't admit it.
Cooper belonged to Julie Wyatt, who lived in Rosemont, Alabama. They had all met Julie and Cooper when Annie and Myra traveled to Rosemont to help Julie. Cooper had taken an immediate liking to Harry and stayed at his side during the entire time they and the sisters were helping Julie, and in the end, when they left to return home, Cooper came with them to take over as the guardian and protector of young Lily. Julie had been heartbroken to give up her beloved dog, but she, like the others, knew it was meant to be. No questions asked.
When young Lily left for the Shaolin Monastery, Cooper had signaled that it was time for him to return to Rosemont to do his next job, which was to take over as protector and guardian of Julie's new grandchild.
Jack headed for the shower, his head buzzing with thoughts of Cooper, who he knew was waiting to return to Harry. The question was, why?
Jack zipped through his shower and shave and was dressed within minutes, his thoughts all over the map as he made coffee, gulped it down, then headed into the District, where he was scheduled to help Harry with two classes scheduled for six thirty.
Jack made the trip from the farm in record time, managing to beat the early-morning rush-hour traffic. He wasn't the least bit surprised to see lights on in the dojo even though it was just a little past five thirty. Time he could spend with Harry playing catch-up ... and ... and ... telling him all about his Cooper dream.
Using his own key, which Harry had given him years ago, a sure sign that Harry considered him a true brother, Jack let himself into the dojo. As always, the strong smell of eucalyptus and disinfectant, together with the scent of the shitty tea Harry brewed all day long, assailed his nostrils. It was not an unpleasant scent, more like a familiar one that he would miss if it were gone. He announced his arrival at the top of his lungs as he headed to the locker room to change into his training gear.
Carrying his Starbucks coffee, Jack marched into the room and sat down next to Harry. "You should dim these lights, Harry; you look like crap!"
"Eat shit, Jack," Harry snarled. "It's too early for this. It's not even six o'clock yet."
"Ooooh, and what happens at six o'clock? Something magical? Hey, listen, Harry, I had this crazy-ass dream, and that's why I'm here so early. Just so you know it isn't for your charming company." The two old friends always talked to each other this way. Nikki said it was because neither one of them wanted the other to know how much they cared for each other. Yoko agreed entirely. Everyone on the face of the earth who knew them was convinced that each of them would take a bullet meant for the other. They just wouldn't admit it.
"Yeah, something magical. I had a bad dream, too. Man, it was so real, it scared me half to death."
Jack grinned. "You tell me yours, and I'll tell you mine."
Harry sighed. "You brought it up, so you go first."
"It was about Cooper."
"Oh, shit!" Harry said.
"Yeah, yeah. Something's up. I dream about that damn dog, then something happens. I think he's coming back, Harry."
The dojo phone rang. Jack and Harry looked at each other.
"You should answer that, Harry. It might be Admiral whatever his name is, canceling the midshipmen's class this morning. Plus, this is your place, so obviously you should be the one answering the phone, not me."
Harry swiveled around and reached for the phone. He barked his name and waited. Jack didn't think Harry's eastern eyes could round out, but they did, and they filled with panic as he listened to the voice on the phone, his eyes on Jack the whole time. "Uh-huh. Yes, of course. I will. Like now. Four hours, five tops. Same place. Right? Okay."
Jack slapped at his forehead. "Let me guess. That was Julie Wyatt, and she's on her way with Cooper and will meet up with you in Atlanta."
"Wiseass," Harry shot back. "But, yes, it was Julie Wyatt."
"Did she give you any clues, any hints as to what's up?"
"No. She just said Cooper woke her around three this morning, and when she got up, all his gear was piled up by the door. That's what he does when he's ready to leave."
"That's all well and good, Harry, but how does she know Cooper wants to come here?" Jack's voice was so fretful that Harry winced.
"Because Cooper had Lily's sunglasses in his mouth and was dragging that feathered boa Lily used to deck him out in. Julie said the message was loud and clear."
"Okay, what's the plan here?" Jack asked.
"You take the class, and I'll hook the seat on the Ducati and go to Atlanta. Cooper likes to ride in the sidecar. We used to do it all the time with Lily."
"Not on the highway, you didn't. You just did that in Rock Creek Park. I'm going with you. We can get Yung Li to take today's class. Those navy guys are so green, they won't know the difference. He's already here; he came in right after I did. Wan Soju can spell him. I'll change, and you tell Yoko. We'll go in my car. Move, Harry!"
Fifteen minutes later, Jack drove onto the interstate. "How'd it go with Yoko?"
"She started to cry. I've seen her cry only twice, Jack. When we got married and when Lily left for China. She was still crying when I walked out. She just kept saying over and over that something bad was happening, and Cooper knows. That's why he's coming back. Do you believe that, Jack?"
"Hell, yes, I believe that. The question is, do you believe it, Harry?"
"Damn straight, I do. What could it be? That dog can't talk. How are we supposed to know what it is?"
"You know what, Harry, some way, somehow, Cooper will let us know. He's ... He's ... um ... not of this world."
"Well, at least you got that right, Jack. That dog hasn't aged a day since we first saw him at Julie Wyatt's house. She sends pictures of him at least once a week. Cooper stares right into the camera as though he's sending a message. You know, like those news commentators who stare right into the camera when they're delivering some earth-shattering news no one wants to hear.
"What I don't get, Jack, is why are you the one who always has the dreams about Cooper, yet it's me that he comes to. What the hell does that even mean?"
Jack guffawed. "When we pick up Cooper, let's ask him."
"All I have to do is pinch your neck, and I can kill you. You do know that, right?"
"Yeah, and while you're trying to do that, what do you think I'll be doing?"
"Dying," Harry shot back immediately. Both men laughed, but it wasn't a funny ha-ha laugh; it was hysterical, verging on a total collapse.
Jack turned the heater to low as he raced down the interstate, ever mindful of speed traps and smokies out to gather their quota of speeding tickets for the month.
"So how come you were so snarly this morning, Harry? You still not sleeping well?"
"I had another of those wild-ass dreams I've been having lately. This one was a real whopper. The phone rang, and it was Jun Yu. He said he was dying or something like that. Then he said he was sending me something, and I needed to guard it with my life. Said he trusted me.
"Then he said something about his son Hop, his daughter Gan, and Lily, that he found Hop and Gan but couldn't find Lily. He kept calling me brother and said how much he loved me. And, get this, he said I wasn't really number two. We were tied, but the Abbot was pressured by the elders into picking just one, and they went with him because he was staying in China. He sounded truthful, and I've never known Jun Yu to lie. He said I was now number one. It was a crazy dream, Jack. Still, it bothered me.
"I had it in mind to call him today. I haven't talked to him in months. Figured we'd have a good chuckle over the dream. I can't tell you how real it seemed. What could he possibly be sending me, Jack, that I need to guard with my life?"
"Beats me, Harry. Why don't you call him now?"
"I didn't bring my phone. I meant to charge it last night, and I thought I had, but I guess I forgot, because when I went to get it before we left, it was dead. So I left it in the charger."
Jack was silent for a good three minutes before he said, "Harry, are you sure the phone call was a dream? What if it was a real call, and you answered the phone, then fell asleep and left the phone on. Did you think about that? You said you think you charged it before you went to bed. If you thought you did, then you probably did. Habits like that are hard to break. Use my phone and call Jun Yu. Like now, Harry. I know you know the number by heart, and even if you forgot, I know it. Now, Harry. I don't like coincidences, because I do not believe that there is really any such thing as a coincidence. The phone's right there on the console. Do it, Harry!"
Harry bit down on his lower lip as he pressed in the digits that would send his call halfway around the world. "It's ringing. One, two, crap, it's going to voice mail."
"Leave a message, Harry."
Always succinct, Harry left a message. "Call me, it's urgent." He placed the phone back in the console. Then he looked over at Jack and said, "It was real. It wasn't a dream, right?"
"That would be my guess. What's the time difference? I can't remember, twelve hours I think. Something like that. Try calling Quon Fang or Pye Min. If you can't reach them, then call the damned monastery. All three of those numbers are on my call list. Jun Yu always calls right back. Do you have Jun Yu's wife, Jun Ling's, number? I think her number is on my call list, too, though I have never had occasion to use it. Harry, are you listening to me? Why are you staring out the window? C'mon, get with the program here."
Harry licked at his lips as he stared at Jack. "I don't think in my entire life I ever experienced real fear, Jack. Whatever it is that I'm feeling right now, this minute, it has to be real fear. I know, Jack, I know, when I dial those numbers, there will be no answer. You know it, too, don't you?"
"Yeah, but do it anyway," Jack said as he steered his Beemer around an eighteen-wheeler to get into the fast lane, where traffic was less congested.
Harry's fingers moved like pistons as he dialed number after number. His agitation increased with each number pressed into Jack's smartphone. And Jack knew what his friend was going to say before the words shot out of his mouth.
"Quon Fang's and Pye Min's went straight to voice mail. So did Jun Ling's. There is no answer at the monastery, but that's not unusual. They shut down at seven o'clock. No calls in or out. The monks refuse to believe anything could be an emergency. The monastery is a place of peace and serenity. An emergency would never dare present itself, or so they think.
"It's all a dry well, Jack. I just tried Jun Yu's number again, and it went straight to voice mail this time. At least I got to leave a message earlier. What the hell is going on, Jack?"
"I don't know, Harry, but I'm thinking it's not good. Jun Ling should have answered. When was the last time you spoke to Jun Ling?"
"Quite a while back. Yoko is the one who calls her. It's a girl thing."
Excerpted from Point Blank by FERN MICHAELS. Copyright © 2015 Fern Michaels. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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