He squeezed her hand again, frail and sallow, now, from the ravages of the disease. "There is money, if you need it." His voice was low and kind. "Do not worry."

I frowned. 'You son of a bitch!' I cursed him roundly in the privacy of my thoughts. 'And just where is that money supposed to come from, huh? God? You're not living at Wayne Manor any more, buddy. This is the real world. You're just gonna snap your fingers and poof! Money appears? '

And then it hit me. Valley had money. Unless he gave it all to the Church when he took Holy Orders.

Apparently not.

On unsteady feet, I rose and headed for the back door and freedom. Freedom from Jean-Paul Valley and his pain. Freedom from a kid named N'juma I didn't even know and *her* pain.

And, most of all, freedom from my own pain. In my mid I saw Bruce again, sitting on the cold stone floor of the 'Cave in his torn Armani, still wet with my tears of anger and frustration. I left him there, alone in the shadows, in the dark and I've never really been back.

Maybe ...

The last thing I heard as the door closed behind me on it's squeeky hinges was the voice of Jean-Paul Valley.

"We shall journey together, you and I," he promised N'juma. "Stumbling and falling, occasionally laughing, I hope, we will make our way through the days to come."

"How gonna do that, Father?" she wanted to know.

"One day at a time," he told her. "One day at a time."

*******************

I tossed my plastic bag cum suitcase over into a corner and looked around. Looked around at the stained sink with the rusty pipes that bled water the color and consistency of mud. I looked at the aging heater in the corner that somehow always seemed to fry itself in the middle of the goddamned Winter, leaving Barry and me to freeze our balls off. Looked at the dying refrigerator in the other corner stuffed with Mama Beldacci's mouth watering pasta and ribs with Atomic Sauce from Aunt Danny Fanny. Looked at Gina's shitty taxi, lurking like a spider in its web, waiting for me to repair it so Gina could support her two kids.

I smiled.

Home Sweet Home.

Then I thought of Jean-Paul Valley and N'juma.

I picked up the phone with chill uncertain hands. I almost dropped the damned thing and my fingers itched to slam it back into it cradle, safe and inert.

I must be a braver man than I thought, because I didn't.

It rang almost a dozen times before someone picked it up. It was strange how I still expected to hear those clipped, cultured British tones come singing over the line. They didn't, of course. It just didn't seem right for Al to be ... gone. Some things should be eternal, you know?

"Hello?"

At the sound of that deep baritone voice my grip on the phone tightened. It took me a moment to find my voice.

"Bruce? I just wanted to say thanks for coming to see me ... I guess I forgot to say that ... "

The End