Paradigms Lost — Chapter 33
Chapter 33: Who’s Your Daddy?
The man sitting across from me was small. Oriental, handsome (at least that’s what Syl told me later; I’m not much of a judge), average-length hair just a bit shaggy. He was dressed in fairly casual style, but that wasn’t much indication of his job or resources; people come to WIS in different guises than their coworkers usually see.
“Okay, Mr., um, Xiang — that right? — okay, what can I help you with?”
Tai Lee Xiang shifted uncomfortably in his chair, obviously ill at ease. “I’m trying to locate someone.”
Locate someone? That didn’t sound particularly promising. There’s some kinds of work I might do once in a while, but don’t consider worth much. Finding old girlfriends, enemies, and so on was one of those. “What kind of a someone?”
Okay, that was more interesting, maybe. “Your father? Okay. How’d you come to not know where he is? A family argument?”
He squirmed again, then stood up, pacing in the short distance available. “It’s… hard to explain. I didn’t have any argument with him. It’s… I’ve just not seen him in a long time.” His voice was heavily accented — Vietnamese, if what he told me was right — but the word “long” was clearly emphasized.
“What do you need to find him for? Just a family reunion?”
“Why do you need to know?” he countered, slightly annoyed.
“I don’t necessarily need to know, as long as there’s nothing illegal involved, but any information can sometimes help.” I had to put in that clause about “illegal” somewhere — it wasn’t at all unusual for people to try to use Wood’s Information Service to get info they had no business getting.
He frowned at me, then shrugged. “I am new in this country, and he is my only living relative, aside from my children.”
“Fair enough.” This actually sounded interesting. Finding a man can be a relatively easy thing, or almost impossible, depending on how much information you had to go on. “I’ll need everything you can possibly tell me about your father. The more I know, the easier it will be to find him.”
He looked somewhat embarrassed and uncomfortable again. “I… I can’t tell you too much. I have… memory trouble.”
“Amnesia?” I was surprised by this little twist.
“Um, yes, I think that’s what they called it. I remember some things well, not other things.”
Interesting case. “Okay. Can I ask why you chose WIS for this job?”
“I saw the reports on the werewolves …” he began. I already knew the rest; the “Morgantown Incident” was a great piece of advertisement. I was wrong.
“… and of all the investigators out there, only you seemed the sort to be ready to search for someone… unusual.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Are you telling me there’s something out of the ordinary about your father?”
Tai Lee looked at me. “I can’t tell you any more unless you agree to do the job. You… feel like an honorable man to me, which means if you agree to do the job, you won’t talk about it to other people if I don’t want you to.”
He had me pegged right. I thought a moment. “Nothing illegal involved in this job?”
“I know of nothing that would be illegal in finding my father, no.”
“Very well, then. I agree. I’ll find your father, if it’s at all possible.”
His nervous fidgeting quieted almost instantly; he relaxed visibly. “Thank you.”
“So what can you tell me about your father? Skip the description for now — I’ve got a computer program we’ll use later to construct the best picture. Tell me any facts his appearance wouldn’t tell me.”
“That is where my memory is weak. I can only tell you five things about Father.”
“That means, go ahead, let me have them.”
“First, he was not my natural father. I was adopted. He was not of Oriental blood, but I think Westerner instead.”
Well, that weakened one approach. Obviously there’d be no link in appearance between father and son, and not necessarily one of immigration, either. “Next?”
“Father was a priest. Priest of… um… nature? I’m not sure the term…?”
That was interesting. “You mean of the earth itself? Not Shinto or something of that nature?”
“Yes. The world’s spirit?”
“Our word for that is generally ‘Gaia.’ ”
“Yes! That is it.” He nodded, apparently recognizing the word. “Father also had a ring that he wore, which he would never remove.”
“Kind of ring?”
“A big, wide, heavy gold ring, with a very large red stone — I think a ruby — set in it.”
I blinked for a moment. “O… kay.”
“No, nothing. Go on.”
He hesitated. “This is the… weird part.”
“No, I mean, really strange. Please believe me when I tell you this is not a joke?”
I studied him carefully. “I believe you’re not playing a joke on me. You seem too serious to be able to joke about it at all.”
“Thank you.” He had tensed up again; my assurance made him relax. “All right… my father didn’t eat; instead, he drank blood.”
I stopped dead in mid-keystroke. No. This was ridiculous. What were the odds? But drinking blood? A red-stone ring that never came off?
Tai could tell something had happened to me. “Mr. Wood?”
“What was the fifth thing?”
“That’s four facts about your father. What’s the fifth?”
“His name… the name he was using then. His name was V’ierna Dhomienkha a Atla’a Alandar.”
It was impossible. But it had to be. I stood up. “Excuse me for a minute; I’m going to check something.”
“What? Mr. Wood, what is it?”
“I’ll be back in a moment.”
I stepped into the back office, grabbed the phone off the hook, and punched in Verne’s number.
“Domingo Residence, Morgan speaking.”
“Morgan, this is Jason. I need to speak with Verne.”
Morgan’s voice was puzzled. “But, Jason, you know that Master Verne is never awake at this time. Why, it’s barely two o’ clock.”
“Then wake him. I know he can move about in the day, if he wants. This is important!”
There was a long pause — even longer to me, sitting on the other end doing nothing. But finally I heard the familiar voice pick up at the other end. “Jason? What is the emergency?” Tired though he was, what I heard most in his voice was worry. “It isn’t the Wolf, is it?”
Jesus, I should have realized that was the first thing he’d think of. “No, no. Nothing that bad. Maybe not bad, really, at all. I have a guy here looking for his father.”
His tone was slightly nettled. “And how does this concern me?”
“Because of what he told me about his father: that he wore a ruby-colored crystal in a gold-setting ring that he never took off, and that he drank blood.”
There was dead silence on the other end for several moments. “Interesting coincidence to say the least, Jason. But I have no children.”
“He said he wasn’t a natural child of this man — adopted. He also said that his father was some kind of priest of nature, and he gave his father’s name. I’m not sure quite how to spell it, but it sounded awfully like yours …”
In a whisper almost inaudible, I heard, “V’ierna Dhomienkha a Atla’a Alandar i Sh’ekatha …”
“Holy crap,” I heard my own whisper. I still couldn’t believe it.
“That name? He spoke that name? But… that is impossible.” Verne’s voice was at the edge of anger, laughter, or tears, I couldn’t tell which, and hearing that strain in his voice was more upsetting than I’d imagined. “I am on my way, sun or no sun.”
I hung up and stepped back out into the office. Tai Lee Xiang looked up at me. “Mr. Wood?”
“If what you’ve told me is accurate, Mr. Xiang… I think I’ve located him already.”
As his jaw dropped, a chill wind blew through the closed office, and from my back room stepped Verne Domingo, dark eyes fixed on my visitor.
There was no recognition in Verne’s eyes, but there was no doubt about Tai Lee’s reaction. He leapt to his feet, eyes wide. “Father!”
Verne fixed him with a cold glare. “Who are you? Who, that you know that name unspoken for generations unnumbered, that you would claim to be son to me?” That alien accent was back and emphasized by his anger.
There was no mistaking the shocked, wounded look in Tai Lee Xiang’s eyes. “Father? Don’t you recognize me? The boy in the temple?”
Verne’s mouth opened for a bitter retort, but at the last words his mouth slowly closed. He stared at the young man intensely, as though he would burn a hole through him by gaze alone. I felt a faint power stir in the room. Then Verne’s face went even paler than usual, and he stepped forward, reaching out slowly to touch the Oriental’s face. “The scent is wrong… but the soul. I know that soul. Is it really you, Raiakafan?”
Tai jerked as Verne spoke the name, as though slapped in the face, then nodded. “Y… yes. Yes. That was my name.”
For the first time since I’d known him, Verne was too overcome to speak. He simply stepped forward, around the desk, and stared straight into the young man’s eyes. “Even with what I feel… I must have proof. For you disappeared …”
Tai — Raiakafan? — studied me, and suddenly I had a completely different impression of him. The uncertain, nervous young man was gone; instead I was seeing a black, polished-stone gaze as cold as black ice. I found myself stepping backward involuntarily; only once before had I gotten an impression of such total lethality, and that had been when I had stood in a hospital hallway and watched Virigar himself assume his true form. That feeling carried the utter conviction that Tai was not merely trained in the arts of killing, but a killer to his very core. “In front of him?” he asked coldly.
I could see that Verne was slightly surprised by the tone, but not apparently by the question. “It may be necessary later… but you are quite correct. We shall speak in private. But I would appreciate it if you moderate your tone of address to one who is not only my friend, but the one who has reunited us.”
The cold gaze softened abruptly, replaced by an apologetic look. “I’m sorry, Father. You are right. Mr. Wood, forgive me. It has been a difficult time for me. But I am very grateful… and amazed.”
I shrugged. “Don’t mention it. Not as much a coincidence as I thought at first; anyone who was Verne’s friend would have been around during the last dust-up. The only real coincidence was that one of those friends happened to be an info specialist. No,” I said as I saw him reaching for a wallet, “no charge. Not only is Verne a friend, I hardly had to do any work on this one.”
“Still, I thank you, Jason,” Verne said.
His hand on Tai’s arm, Verne and the mysterious visitor disappeared into thin air. I jumped a bit at that, but my mind was distracted by the fact that I’d seen a new and different sparkle in Verne’s eyes as they vanished.
Vampire tears are just like ours.