“We’re gonna rupture something if we keep this up,” Ritchie Ryan complained, the sweat gushing down his face, despite the chill wind.
Mac raised his head and peered around the corner of the six foot, wooden crate they were attempting to haul up the barge’s gangplank, grunting under the strain of holding the leaden box still.
“It’s only a few more feet, Ritch. Keep going,” the last was more a plea than an order. Mac was about to give the job up himself. “And if you do rupture something, don’t worry; you’ll heal.”
“Ha, ha, very funny…Christ,” Ryan groaned.
One would think that a barge that had once hauled heavy cargo across the Atlantic would be crate-friendly. It was, of course, if you had a crane and a forklift. MacLeod’s remodeling had made the barge a luxury domicile, but it had greatly impacted the ship’s capacity to handle large freight anymore. The gangplank was just too narrow for the dolly they’d used to get the box from the truck to the dock edge, so they were moving the Highlander’s latest purchase up the ramp by brute force, which was proving pitifully inadequate. The poles holding up the entrance ramp’s guard rail seemed designed to catch the edge of the crate. Every time they gained a foot, they had to stop and lift the heavy crate around the next supporting poles. Even for two Immortals who worked out regularly, it was hard going.
“What I want to know is how we’re gonna get this into the barge once we’re up top,” Ritchie said. “We’re not gonna try to take this down the wooden stairs; are we, Mac?”
“Not likely. The platform’s not reinforced the way this ramp is. The crate’ll go right through the boards. We’ll use the winch and lower it through the hold,” MacLeod answered, then reminded, “But it’s not going anywhere unless we get it up this ramp.”
“Slave driver,” Ritchie grumbled good-naturedly and started pulling again.
Ten minutes later, they had the crate at the top, where the no longer useless dolly was waiting. They rolled the crate over to the hatch that was now a Plexiglas sun roof. Together they opened the hatch and positioned the crate for lowering.
“You’ve done this before; haven’t you?” Ritchie asked him as MacLeod first attached the chains around the crate, then operated the winch to haul it through the open hatch.
“Yeah,” Mac said, working the controls. “For hundreds of years, the only way anything got to the New World was in a ship’s hold.”
Mac waited till he felt the crate touch down, then disengaged the device. “Do me a favor, Ritch. Run down and free the chain; wouldya?”
A couple of minutes later, the chain loosened up and Mac pulled it back up through the hatch.
“That’s got it, Ritch,” he called down through the open hole. He worked the handle to rethread the winch’s metal chain on its spool.
Mac grinned as Ritchie came back on deck. The kid looked beat from moving just the one crate. He’d have had a hard time of it working the docks a hundred years ago, MacLeod thought, remembering what manual labor used to be like.
“I think you’ve earned a beer,” Mac said, thumping his former student on the back while on his way over to the open hatch. If he didn’t get it closed and the heat going soon, the barge would be unlivable tonight, and he’d never hear the end of it.
“I think I earned a six pack,” Ryan laughed. Without being asked, Ritchie took hold of the hatch door on the other side and helped MacLeod secure it.
Side by side, they went down into the hold. MacLeod experienced a weird sense of déjà vu as Ryan and he entered the ship. Four years might have passed, but whenever it was just Ritchie and him coming in like this, there was a part of MacLeod that still expected to find Tessa waiting for them in here.
He felt slightly traitorous for the grief that stabbed through him at the very thought of her. He was with Methos now. More importantly, he was happy with Methos, maybe happier than he’d ever been in his entire life, but Tessa still held a special place in his heart.
“You okay, Mac?” Ritchie asked, heading towards the galley.
MacLeod couldn’t really blame the kid for his concern. He was just standing here staring at the crate that was now below the port cargo hatch, filling the empty space between the hearth and bookcase. Mac’s mind was filled with the memory of the last time he’d moved a crate like this into the barge…when they’d shipped Tessa’s art over from the States.
“Oh, yeah. I’m fine.”
“You look like you just saw a ghost,” Ritchie said, coming over to hand him a cold bottle of beer.
Nodding his thanks, Mac tried to explain, “When you get a little older, you’ll find that there’re ghosts everywhere for us.”
“Thanks, Mac. I’m sure looking forward to that,” Ritchie sassed with a sarcastic lilt to his voice that was worthy of Methos.
Glad of Ritchie’s irrepressible humor, Mac chuckled. He couldn’t remember what it was like to be that young anymore. He prayed that Ritchie never lost that quality.
“So why isn’t the old timer here breaking his back with us?” Ryan asked as they took a seat on the couch.
MacLeod was mortified to realize that he was actually blushing as he explained, “Methos isn’t here because the crate’s for him.”
“Isn’t that all the more reason for him to be…oh, I get it. It’s for him,” Ritchie said.
“Yeah,” Mac breathed a relieved sigh, thinking he’d gotten off easy.
But Ritchie had spent almost two years living with Tessa Noel and had picked up some of her habits. Just about when MacLeod was sure he was off the hook, Ryan did what Tessa would have done and innocently asked, “So would this box’a lead have anything to do with today’s date?”
Lulled into a false sense of security, Mac almost choked on his beer. Knowing it was ridiculous for a man his age to be sensitive about such things, MacLeod forced himself to meet Ryan’s gaze squarely as he replied, “It would.”
Amusement sparked in Ritchie’s brown eyes and before Mac knew it, he was laughing along with his young friend.
“So, ah, what’s in the box?” Ritchie asked once they’d calmed.
Mac grinned again. “Give me a hand opening it and you can see for yourself.”
Groaning, Ritchie rose to help him.
A few minutes work with a screw driver and lever, and the box sides fell away.
Together, MacLeod and Ryan hauled the heavy, Styrofoam packed mystery off the crate bottom and shifted it towards the wall. When it was positioned where MacLeod wanted it, he carefully began to unwrap it.
Five minutes later when the bronze and steel masterpiece was completely unveiled, Ritchie squawked, “What the hell is it?”
Mac had to grin. “It’s one of Adrian Vernier’s sculptures. It’s called Rebirth.”
The piece was very similar in style to the over-sized, metallic art Methos had at his own flat. The iron black and bronze conglomeration rose over five feet in height. There was a central, vaguely phallic figure with a series of ever widening arcs sweeping out from it. The more gentle arcs at the bottom gave the impression of sea waves, while the two sweeping ones at the top bore an unmistakable resemblance to wings.
“And you got this for Methos for a Valentine’s Day present?” Ryan asked with that discretely measuring him for a straightjacket gleam in his eyes.
“Yeah.” Mac still wasn’t entirely sanguine about his impulse. Methos had accompanied him to the viewing for an estate sale on Monday. When they’d walked into the showroom, Vernier’s piece had stopped Methos cold in his tracks. The strangest expression had crossed his lover’s face and Methos had seemed unable to take his eyes off the sculpture. Mac hadn’t been able to tell if Methos’ subdued mood afterwards were due to the art or his still healing psyche.
They were still dealing with the repercussions from Longford’s challenge and his own selfish need to push their relationship to the very limits. MacLeod had known that Methos wasn’t up to anything stressful that day after his lover had spared Longford’s life, but Mac hadn’t been able to resist the lure of knowing Methos better while making love and had pushed that weird connection they had further than ever. He’d gotten what he’d wanted, as he always did where Methos was concerned, but the cost had been too high. They hadn’t truly made love since that night.
Every morning Mac woke up and found his friend still in bed beside him he was grateful. For a few days immediately following Longford’s challenge, MacLeod hadn’t known from minute to minute if Methos could stay. They were both used to handling their problems alone. It wasn’t like Methos was cold to him even then, just distracted…and wary, heart-breakingly wary.
The barge was a big place, but not that big when you needed some solitude, so he was trying not to push, trying to give Methos the space he seemed to need. But it was hard. He wanted so much just to hold the man and make everything better, but the last time he’d attempted to do that, he’d only made matters worse, so he was letting Methos call the shots. At least Methos didn’t seem angry at him, just skittish, like it wouldn’t take much at all to scare him off for good, and since MacLeod couldn’t promise with any sincerity that he’d have any better control when that weird psychic connection beckoned to him, he wasn’t taking any chances. He couldn’t force the issue again, not when Methos seemed to be working through so many internal crises.
Anyone could see the emotional toll that day had taken on Methos. Mac couldn’t swear with any certainty that his lover had gotten more than four hours sleep a single night these past three weeks. McLeod had been trying to find something to lift his friend’s spirits, but wasn’t sure Vernier’s piece was it. That sculpture was just the first external thing that had interested Methos in three weeks.
He wasn’t even sure they were doing Valentine’s Day. All they had planned was to catch a meal at Maurice’s with Joe and come back here later. If he’d misinterpreted Methos’ interest in this piece, his impulse gift could turn into a total disaster, especially if the memory were a bad one.
“So how much does a piece of art like this run a guy? The metal alone’s gotta be worth a couple’a hundred,” Ryan theorized, calling MacLeod back from his worries over his lover.
Mac shook his head, “That’s not really important, Ritch.”
“Come on, Mac. It looks like something a deranged three-year-old put together. I could make somethin’ like this in an hour with junkyard crap. How much would I get for something like this?”
Mac bit his lower lip to keep from laughing in his protégé’s face. Two years with Tessa and the kid couldn’t remember how much time she used to spend just planning where each piece would go and getting it to fit just right.
Finally, he smiled and said, “Twenty thousand.”
“Dollars?” Ryan gaped.
Another nod and he was laughing outright at his friend’s bulging eyes.
“You spent twenty grand on a Valentine’s Day present?” Ritchie asked, obviously totally short-circuited by the idea.
Mac sighed, the way his lover so often seemed to do in conversations with him. For the first time, Mac wondered if being with him were really as trying for Methos as being with Ryan could be for him.
“It’s not about money, Ritch. It’s…he saw this and it meant something to him. I know it sounds excessive, but…”
Ritchie filled the silence when MacLeod wasn’t able to find the right words to express his meaning, “It’s not like a dozen roses, box of chocolates, and stop at Tiffany’s would do the job, huh?”
Seeing that Ritchie did, indeed, understand, Mac asked, “How do you…?”
Ryan shrugged and gave a sheepish smile. “I’ve been trying to find the perfect Christmas present for you for six years now. It’s hell to shop for Immortals. Anything I know you’ll like, you’ve already got. And if you don’t have it, you don’t want it.”
“I guess you do understand,” MacLeod said.
“So what are you guys doin’ tonight – aside from the obvious,” Ritchie hastily qualified as they moved back to the couch and reclaimed their beers.
“We’re meeting Joe for dinner,” Mac answered, taking a deep sip of Methos’ favorite brew.
“You don’t, like, wanta be alone together tonight?” Ryan looked shocked.
“We’ll be alone later,” Mac shrugged.
“Yeah, but…tonight’s for lovers,” Ritchie protested.
“And Christmas is for families, but Joe spends his with us,” Mac reminded.
Ritchie’s face sobered and he nodded. “Yeah, but…”
“Joe’s a friend, and he isn’t always going to be around. We can spend some time with him on a night that can be hard on the heart,” MacLeod explained.
Ritchie immediately looked chastened, “Sorry, Mac. I didn’t think of it like that.”
“No reason you should,” Mac said. “I didn’t till I was about seventy-five.” Not caring for the somber mood that had entered their conversation, MacLeod asked, “So what have you got planned for tonight?”
“I’m taking Claudia out on the town. Dinner, dancing, the whole works,” Ritchie grinned.
“So, the chocolates, roses and Tiffany’s will work for Claudia, hmmm?”
“Well, it mightn’t be Tiffany’s, but she’s got a thing for sapphires.” Ryan said.
“A thing for sapphires…and motorcycles. She sounds perfect,” Mac said.
“She is,” Ritchie agreed with a very mature air about him that immediately captured MacLeod’s interest.
It had been far too long since Ryan had been serious about anyone.
“So, when do I get to meet this special lady?” MacLeod questioned.
Ritchie chuckled, “When I know she doesn’t have a thing for barges and vintage Scots.”
And, as easy as that, the kid had him laughing. Sometimes Ritchie made him feel older than Methos, but other times, like this, it was good to plug into that feeling of being young again and seeing everything for the first time.
“Speaking of tonight, I better hit the road if I’m gonna be on time,” Ryan said, finishing off the last of his beer. “It’s gettin’ late.”
Catching sight of the time in the clock on the nearby bookshelf, Mac started. “You’re right. I’m already late. C’mon, I’ll walk you out.”
They stopped at the coat rack, sorting out winter gear. Mac would be glad when spring finally arrived.
“You think the old timer’ll like it?” Ritchie asked, his chin jutting in the direction of the Vernier sculpture as he shrugged into his jacket, which he’d left in here when the heavy work had started.
MacLeod shrugged. “I hope so. Whether he likes it or not, at least Methos’ll know that I didn’t get it out of a junkyard.”
Ryan chuckled, “Seriously, Mac, I think I could do something like that. Sometimes I used to hold the heavier pieces for Tessa when she’d sodder them together. I sorta miss it; you know?”
Mac nodded. He knew. It was better now that he’d found Methos, but there was still a part of him that was mourning her.
“Well, if you really are serious, her tools are still in your old room there,” Mac pointed to the little room opposite the barge’s entrance, the one that had been Ritchie’s when they first came to Paris six years ago when Grayson was hunting down Darius’ students. The tools that Tessa had kept in the States had been sold after her death, along with the Antique shop, but those that she’d kept here, Mac hadn’t had the heart to dispose of. The same way he hadn’t been able to put any of her artwork into storage with all the rest of his mementos of the dead. He’d just moved all her stuff into Ritchie’s room and tried to forget.
Why Tessa was on his mind so much tonight, he didn’t know. Except…Paris had been their city and Valentine’s Day had always been a special day for both of them.
“You mean it? I could really use the tools?” Ritchie asked, looking ridiculously hopeful.
This something Mac had never considered, he gave a slow nod. “I know Tessa would want that. You were very special to her, Ritch.”
Ryan reached out to touch his arm. A peculiar hesitation coming over his round features, Ritchie softly offered, “I, ah…still miss her, Mac. Tessa and you, well…no one ever cared about me the way you guys did, not even Maria’s family. It was the first time I ever had, like, a real family of my own.”
Mac swallowed hard, his eyes stinging. Ritchie sounded like he was walking on eggshells, afraid that something would explode on him.
Me, Mac realized. Ritchie was afraid of hurting him.
“We, ah, never really talked about it,” Mac admitted, all choked up. He could barely meet his student’s misty brown eyes in his pain. Being Immortal, you learned to live with death, but losing Darius and Tessa so close to each other had broken something inside him that Methos’ love was just starting to repair.
“We didn’t have to talk about it, man. Anyone could see your heart had been ripped right outta your chest. I just…well, I wanted to tell you that I think she’d be happy you found someone who cares about you the way she usedta,” Ritchie looked uncomfortable at saying that last part, but resolved to get the sentiment out.
Unable to believe what he was hearing, despite the fact that he’d rarely seen his young friend more earnest, Mac challenged, “But you…you don’t even like him.”
Ritchie didn’t even try to deny the accusation. He just shrugged. “Doesn’t matter what I like. I know solid when I see it.”
Stunned by how quickly those few lines had brought him out of his blue funk, Mac smiled and asked, “You do; do you?”
“Yeah. He’s gotta be crazy about you.”
“What makes you say that?” MacLeod questioned, intrigued. Joe had a much clearer view of what was between Methos and himself than Ritchie ever could. The only time Ryan really saw them together was when they met at Maurice’s, which gave him a very limited exposure. Ritch and he could do the male bonding thing with Dawson when they went to sports events, but Methos’ tastes in entertainment were more aesthetic than either Ritchie or Joe’s.
“You know that job I was trying for?” Ritchie reminded.
“The assistant curator’s job at Tessa’s old museum?”
“Yeah. Well, it required a lot of historical knowledge. Methos offered to tutor me,” Ritchie said.
“He never told me that,” Mac marveled, a warm flush going through him. He’d been hoping for weeks now that Ritchie and Methos would get past their differences.
“Yeah, well, it didn’t pan out. Some PhD waltzed in and got the job, but…that’s not the important thing right now. What I’m tryna tell you is, he meant the offer. He no more wanted to tryta pound that stuff into my head than I wanted to learn it, but…he was gonna do it ‘cause he knew it’d make you happy.”
“He’s a good man, Ritch,” Mac said, loving the absent Immortal very much at that moment. It was just like Methos to do something like that, and then fail to mention it.
“And he’s gonna be thinkin’ he’s been stood up if we don’t get our asses in gear,” Ritchie said, breaking the mood.
Realizing that they’d been standing here in the doorway for a good ten minutes, Mac hastily pulled on his coat and eased his katana into the built in sheath in the lining.
“You’re right. Come on.”
The sun had set while they were inside. A thick fog was rising up off the Seine as the temperature dropped. The dock was damp and chill, with the smell of sulfur heavy in the air, wreathed in swirling white clouds.
Mac could hear the traffic passing on the street up above, but all was quiet on the dock. The only sounds were their footsteps and the steady lapping of the water.
“Looks like someone rented Dupres’ boat,” Ritchie commented, shrugging a shoulder in the direction of the ship moored two slips down from the barge, where a couple of carpets were being unloaded from a blue commercial van. “What a junker!”
Wondering what kind of car had offended Ritchie’s standards in wheels, Mac glanced over at the ship. Both the van and the sedan parked in front of the Katarina were beat up and old, not the kind of vehicles people who could afford docking fees usually drove. The gold Ford LTD was an especial eyesore. The thing looked older than Ritchie. Both of its crushed in left doors had more rust on them than paint and even from this distance, MacLeod could see that the bumper was held on with bailing wire.
“They’re probably workmen,” Mac said as they crossed to where the black Citroen and Ryan’s Kowasaki were parked beside the U-Haul truck he’d rented to get the crate here.
“I’ll catch you later, Mac,” Ritchie grinned, slinging a leg over his bike and settling down into the saddle. “Have a good night, man. I hope he likes the artwork.”
Mac nodded. “Me, too.”
“Tell you what. If he doesn’t, he can have my first creation,” Ritchie promised.
There was laughter in his eyes, but Mac could sense how serious his young friend was beneath the joking. The idea of following in Tessa’s footsteps had obviously caught Ryan’s imagination. Mac didn’t know how successful Ritch would be at it, but it sure beat bike racing.
“I’m sure he’ll treasure it always,” Mac smiled, already anticipating the look in Methos’ face when he was presented with Ryan’s first masterpiece. Tessa had scrapped her first eight attempts at metal sculpture. Realizing just where Ryan’s artwork would most probably end up being displayed only after he’d given his unspoken assent to the idea, Mac laughed and wished, “Have fun, Ritch.”
MacLeod consoled himself with the thought that whatever Ritchie created with Tessa’s tools, it probably wouldn’t be much worse than that Bonaparte bust Ritchie had inflicted upon them the first week they’d moved into the barge.
The cycle roared to life behind him as MacLeod turned towards his car. He fished in his right coat pocket for his keys, then the left without success before he remembered he’d worn his black leather jacket when they’d picked up Methos’ present this afternoon. The keys were probably still in there.
He turned back towards the barge, his mind a million miles away as he realized how late he was. At this rate, they’d be having breakfast at Maurice’s. He was halfway to the gangplank when the headlights from the antique Ford momentarily spotlighted him as it started towards the ramp to the street.
“Excuse me?” an uncertain voice called from behind him.
“Yes?” Mac asked, glancing back over his shoulder to where the Ford had stopped behind him. The car looked like it would barely make it up the ramp before the motor gave out. The rolled up carpet sticking out of the half-closed trunk looked like it might topple out of the car before it even reached the ramp.
“Are you Duncan MacLeod?” the muscular brunet behind the wheel asked.
Instantly on his guard, despite the fact that the driver was mortal and there was every chance that Mac’s neighbor had told his workmen that they could always count on MacLeod for assistance, Mac’s hand settled on the hilt of his katana. “Yeah, what can I do for you?”
The stranger’s wide face hardened as he said, “Die.”
His katana was out and moving, but not even Immortal reflexes trained for four centuries could move faster than bullets. A Sten machine pistol appeared in the driver’s hand before MacLeod had taken a single step towards the shelter of his car.
Mac’s world erupted into a flash of light, sound and the stink of cordite, seconds before something impacted with his chest and lifted him clear off his feet. Several somethings, he realized, shocked by the speed with which events were transpiring.
The patter of machine gun fire echoed off the gothic walls of the quay at the Port de le Tournelle as MacLeod’s back slammed into the Citroen and he crumbled to the fog shrouded ground. His grip on the katana loosened and he heard it clatter away across the cobblestones, lost in the swirling mists.
The pain still hadn’t hit, but the fact that he couldn’t move told him he’d taken at least one bullet. Looking down at his chest, he could see three circular holes on the right side of his blue sweater. The red stains seeping out of them were meeting in the middle to turn the fabric into a purple mess.
The pain blasted through him just about then, searing through his chest with white-hot agony. Groaning under its crippling onslaught, MacLeod tried to pull himself together. He didn’t know what was going down, but he knew he only had a few precious seconds to counter this.
Barely able to breathe with the pain wracking his chest, he started to drag himself towards where his katana had fallen. His mind was a whirl of agony and primal fear. He’d seen this before. Xavier St. Cloud had hired mortals to gun down his target before he came to deliver the coupe de grace.
When Mac felt an Immortal signature buzz at the periphery of his awareness and start to grow in strength, he knew he’d been set up.
But the Immortal was still out of sight. He had more immediate problems to contend with. His mortal attacker was slowly approaching. Mac could see the guy’s work boots advancing on him. And he wasn’t alone. Behind the man who’d shot him, there was another stranger wearing old sneakers coming up the dock from Dupres’ boat.
Mac raised his gaze up his attackers’ forms. Both wore jeans. The shooter had on a dingy denim jacket, his companion a worn brown leather bomber jacket. MacLeod’s blood froze in his veins when he saw the limited light flash silver off the blade of the Gladius sword in the more slender newcomer’s hand. The blade was a recreation, probably purchased through one of those Creative Anachronists’ websites, but serviceable for all its newness.
Mac tried to force his muscles to move faster as he dug his fingernails into the spaces between the cobblestones to pull himself to his sword, but his body just wasn’t responding. He was losing too much blood at too fast a rate. Already, he was feeling woozy, his stomach in total revolt.
Recognizing that he couldn’t even see his katana in the fog, Mac turned towards the water. If he could just slip over the edge of the dock into the safety of the freezing river… he might drown, but that was a far more temporary problem than the sword advancing towards him. Only, the water was a good ten feet further away than his unreachable sword.
“Handcuff him,” the thug cradling the Sten ordered in French as he and his companion stopped about three feet away from MacLeod to stare down at their victim.
“Are you nuts? The guy’s a corpse,” the man with the sword argued.
“Boss said he wanted MacLeod’s hands cuffed behind his back, dead or alive. We’re bein’ paid too much to fuck this up. Just do it the way the man asked,” the shooter ordered, moving back into the shadows beside Mac’s rented truck to survey the dock.
MacLeod had had the same thoughts. It wasn’t even six p.m. Someone should have noticed an automatic pistol going off on the dock.
But the Highlander’s bad luck held true. It appeared that none of his neighbors were home from work yet.
“Who’s your boss?” MacLeod gasped out, an alarming gurgling sound sloshing through his lungs as he choked on the question. The prospect of capture was never a pleasant one, but it was a far better alternative to the scene that had been playing out a minute ago. Tasting the blood on his lips, Mac knew it wouldn’t be long before his body gave out.
His question was ignored. The skinny man with the sword put the weapon on the ground beside him as he knelt down, pulling a pair of metallic handcuffs from his back jeans pocket.
Mac made a desperate grab for the weapon.
The man leaning over him merely laughed and shoved the gunshot Immortal’s face down onto the cobblestones.
Mac’s nose bashed so hard against the stones that he felt it break. Painful silver stars taking over his field of vision, MacLeod felt the blood gush hot down his face from his shattered nose.
But the mangled bone took on secondary importance as his reality was transformed into searing agony as the thug rough-handled him into the cuffs. He couldn’t keep the cry in when his arms were pulled backwards, the rough move ripping at his wounds and moving the bullet inside his lung around. MacLeod fought to stay conscious and alive as his hands were manhandled behind him.
The cuffs bit into his wrists, closing with an ominous snick. Houdini, he wasn’t. He was as good with a lock as any Immortal who’d lived a couple of centuries, but handcuffs were in a league of their own. Even Amanda had difficulty with metal cuffs at times.
“Get the rug,” the shooter snapped.
Barely conscious, his ears ringing, Mac tried his best to hold on. But now he had the added impediment of his broken nose to deal with. The bullet in his lungs had him struggling for each breath, while the blood in his nose made normal breathing impossible.
The ringing in his ears solidified into a more ominous buzz. That Immortal was damn close now.
Confused, the half-conscious MacLeod heard an exterior noise temporarily drown out his internal tintinnabulation.
A mechanical roar like thunder filled the dock, followed by a familiar shout of, “MAC!”
Concern overwhelming even his survival instincts, Mac tried to warn his student, but his, “Look out…” emerged at barely hearing level instead of the shout he was trying for.
Agonizing as it was, Mac rolled over onto his back and looked past the man who’d just handcuffed him to see Ryan’s motorcycle cutting through the fog as it zoomed down the ramp.
Ritchie never failed to amaze him. Immortal less than five years, and the kid had all the nerve of Napoleon’s army. His bravery came from more than the knowledge that he couldn’t die. Even before his first death, Ryan had possessed this kind of courage. Mac would never forget the day when he was investigating Darius’ murder when Horton’s hoods had him surrounded in the courtyard of that antique shop when Ritchie had charged into the fray and single-handedly rescued him, scaring off more than six grown men.
Ritchie was no different tonight. He rode his motorcycle straight into the guy with the Gladius, knocking the slender culprit aside.
“Christ…look at you.,” Ryan’s face filled with fury as he eyed MacLeod’s blood drenched front. “C’mon, Mac, let’s get the hell outta here.”
Ritch was off his bike and reaching for MacLeod, who was choking as he tried to clear the blood from his lungs enough to warn his friend about the second attacker.
But then the Sten was firing again.
His hopes sinking, Mac watched the shock come over Ritchie’s face as no fewer than six bullets thwacked into his back. Their gazes locked in that final moment of consciousness, Mac watched the light die in Ritchie’s eyes as he crumbled to the ground beside his teacher.
A volley of volatile French curses emerged from the far side of the bike as the fallen attacker dragged himself to his feet. “Son of a bitch!”
The knees of the man’s dirty blue jeans were torn open, his face covered with blood and scrapes.
“Get the sword,” the shooter ordered.
“Huh?” the shaken attacker asked.
“The sword, you moron. Get it fast. This one isn’t one of the targets. The boss gave explicit orders about this. No witnesses and no quarter. Get the fuckin’ sword!”
As the bloody assailant started to stagger back towards where Ryan’s bike had thrown him, the shooter shook his head and snapped, “Forget it. I’ll do it myself.”
In a moment, the shooter was back, sword in hand. As the man stopped to gaze down at the two fallen Immortals, Mac kicked out at him, but the thug just laughed and stepped out of the Highlander’s range, halting over Ritchie’s deathly still figure.
Mac tried to protest, tried to plead as their attacker raised the sword upwards over his head in a chillingly familiar arc, but only a few bloody bubbles and a gurgle passed his lips.
Mac’s eyes snapped shut as the sword descended. The swoosh of the blade cutting the air and the sounds that followed were sickeningly familiar as was the pregnant pause that came on their heels as the very air seemed to draw in its breath at what had been done.
Mac’s entire being shrieked in denial as the first winds of the Quickening brushed across his face, gentle as a parting caress. Ritchie…
Then the fury fell and MacLeod was screaming as the lightning took him, his handcuffed body jerking several feet off the ground as he, as the only other Immortal present, absorbed one of his dearest friends’ lifeforce. His bullet-ridden body writhed mid-air as the energy blasted through him. Just as he had when poor Jacob Galati’s soul was absorbed into him in a forced Quickening, he cringed in horror and disgust, even as he unwillingly took Ritchie into himself.
Around him, he could hear the streetlights popping. All the windows in the U-Haul and Citroen blew out, raining shattered glass down on him. The headlight on Ritchie’s motorcycle exploded seconds before the bike was tossed over by the power storm. There were more sounds of glass breaking, probably the nearby Ford.
As MacLeod jerked in the clutches of the agonizing energy barrage, the part of the process he’d feared most occurred – the psychic absorption. Everything Ritchie Ryan was rushed into him as that puzzling montage of thoughts, feelings and memories that made up a Quickening swarmed into him in an overwhelming rush. It was like a slide show running too fast to catch anything but the occasional image and feeling. Ritchie’s childhood was sad enough to make a four-hundred-year-old man weep, the adolescence angry and wasted…and then…
MacLeod sobbed, unable to bear it. It was all about him and Tessa and how much they’d meant to Ryan. Mac had always known he was important to the kid, but the love and sheer adulation that Ritchie felt for him were astounding. They hit MacLeod like whiplashes, the final blow being Ritchie’s last clear thought, the anger that his death had failed to free MacLeod…
And then…everything stilled. The only sounds were MacLeod’s choking sobs.
Though he’d gotten quite an energy boost from the Quickening and healed some, the bullets were still inside him. He wouldn’t be able to access the Quickening’s energy and heal fully until he died and revived.
To his frustration, the violent Quickening that had shattered every piece of glass in a ten foot radius and battered and singed the metal of the cars caught in its storm had failed to snap the handcuffs’ chain. He was still bound, helpless at the moment and dying.
Mac was so overcome with physical pain, guilt and hate that he was barely aware of his attackers getting to their feet and moving around him.
Their shocked conversation sounded like it was coming from far away.
The slender man, whom Ritchie had crashed his bike into was freaking out, “What the fuck was that! What happened here? That guy…you cut his head off! My God! You cut his fuckin’ head off and…”
A clear slap sounded.
“Shut up. Get the rug.”
“But…” the near hysterical man stammered.
“You get that rug and do your job or you’ll be next. Move it. Now!”
Some noises that sounded like something heavy being dragged followed.
The next thing MacLeod was consciously aware of was being rolled up in the rug that had been sticking out of the trunk of the gold Ford.
His body too gone to have much control, he retched up blood as he was repeatedly rolled over until wrapped tight in the rug’s coarse material. It scratched against the skin of his hands and face like sandpaper, leaving painful burns there.
Half-conscious, with Ritchie filling all he was, Mac groaned as he felt himself lifted, bent in half, then shoved into a small, incredibly tight space.
The position was impossible. His head was banged against his knees, which would have been bad enough by itself. Cocooned in that rough rug, it was sheer torture. The rug was so thick that he could barely breathe through it…what breathing he could do with his nose broken and those bullets in his lung. Even if he hadn’t been shot, it would have been hard to get air through the thick, scratchy rug, but he fought for every liquidy gasp, staving off unconsciousness.
As a loud bang sounded from overhead, Mac dimly recognized that he’d been shoved into the trunk of the LTD.
Without further delay, the car rolled into motion. Mac thumped around in the dark, hot space for a while, uselessly trying to free himself from the cuffs and the rug. He stopped after a minute or so, recognizing that all he was doing was ripping up his wrists and increasing the bleeding.
He knew that he should just let himself go. His death would bring a healing and he’d be in far better shape then to deal with his attackers, but no matter what, he always clung to life until the last possible moment before giving himself over to the inevitable.
It was hard to tell how long the car remained in motion. From the sound of the road, Mac was sure they crossed over a bridge pretty early on, which meant he was being taken out of Paris. He clung to consciousness for what felt like forever, but was probably no more than forty minutes or so before he finally felt the car stop.
Tensing, he heard the muffled sound of two car doors slamming shut, then there was nothing but the gurgle of his labored breathing. MacLeod waited.
As he lay there in that airless, incredibly cramped space in the torturously uncomfortable position his captors had left him in, with his life’s blood seeping out of his shattered chest, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod allowed his eyes to sink shut and gave himself over to death.
“You want some more beer?” Dawson asked, holding the pitcher over Methos’ empty mug.
Methos gave a small smile and nodded. Everything was so forced these days that even interacting with Joe was an effort. His smile grew, however, when he glanced over at his friend.
Dawson hauled out that red turtleneck two times a year – Christmas and Valentine’s Day. It was a pity, really. The graying Watcher looked great in red, though Joe normally stuck to blues and earth tones.
Methos realized that he must appear quite funereal beside his friend. He hadn’t been thinking about the date this morning when he’d pulled on this black turtleneck and black cords; although, it probably wouldn’t have made too much of a difference if he had. He’d been so distracted these past few weeks that it was even hard to focus on the material for courses he’d taught for decades, let alone concentrate on anything as insignificant as Valentine’s Day. The only thing that really got through the fog shrouding him was Duncan, and, even there, responding was sometimes an effort.
Though, this year Valentine’s Day wasn’t exactly an irrelevant holiday. He definitely had something to celebrate. If he could just garner the enthusiasm or even fake it. But at least he’d had enough presence of mind this afternoon to get Mac something; though, he knew his lover would much prefer a more jovial companion than the gloomy specter that had been haunting the barge these last three weeks.
He didn’t want to bring either Mac or Joe down. They had both been more than patient with him since Longford’s challenge had reawakened the beast and he appreciated it more than he could ever say.
Even now, Joe didn’t look like he expected much of a response. Dawson just gave him a fond smile and obligingly poured him another mug of beer.
Wishing he could rise above the shadows Death had left in his mind, Methos stared around the noisy bar.
Maurice’s was packed again tonight. It wasn’t quite the standing room only crowd that one of Dawson’s concerts packed in, but the holiday had certainly upped the Wednesday night trade.
“Mac’s late,” Joe commented.
“You’re not in on it, then, I take it?” Methos questioned with a sardonic flair, his gaze moving to his companion.
“In on it?” Joe echoed without a trace of subterfuge.
Methos looked deep into his friend’s eyes. Dawson was one of the straightest players Methos had encountered, but the man was still capable of running a totally convincing scam, unlike Mac, who was never able to lie to a close friend.
As far as he could tell, Joe was on the level.
“He’s up to something. It’s pathetic, really, how obvious he can be. For a while there, I was beginning to think he was having an affair, but then I realized what today is,” Methos confessed self-deprecatingly. Joe Dawson was about the only person on Earth he could tell a thing like that to.
“An affair?” Dawson guffawed. “MacLeod?”
Methos sighed. His Boy Scout even had his Watcher snookered. “Don’t look so shocked, Joe. He’s done it before. He might be perfect, but he is still a man.”
“When did Duncan MacLeod ever have an affair behind someone’s back?” Joe demanded.
“When he cheated on Kristin with Louise Barton in 1660.”
“I forgot about that,” Joe sheepishly admitted.
“Yes, well, he isn’t entirely without depth, for all that he works at being square,” Methos said.
“You really thought he was cheatin’ on ya?” Joe’s shock should have been reassuring.
In his normal state, it would have been, but tonight it only made him feel foolish.
Shrugging, Methos quietly admitted, “I couldn’t really blame him. I haven’t exactly been the best of company lately.”
That was an understatement worthy of MacLeod. That strange psychic energy channel that had formed between them had freaked Methos so much that they’d barely had sex these last three weeks. To his utter incomprehension, Mac hadn’t pushed the issue, nor had he withdrawn. The Highlander had just been there with him, holding him when Methos needed the comfort, letting him sulk at other times.
“Have you heard anyone complainin’?” Joe gently demanded.
“There are no buts. He’s been worried outta his mind these last few weeks over you.” Joe paused before adding, “We both have.”
Methos looked down at his beer for a moment before meeting Joe’s concerned blue gaze again, “I know. I appreciate it.”
Wishing he’d kept his fool mouth shut, Methos stared back down into his mug.
To his eternal gratitude, Joe changed the subject, “So, what made you think he was sneakin’ around?”
Methos snorted, “We had five hang up calls while he was in the shower yesterday evening, three yesterday morning and six the night before.”
“Must be Ritchie,” Joe grinned.
“So, I gather,” Methos drolly replied. “You really don’t know what he’s got planned?”
“Nope, I’m definitely outta the loop on this one, man,” Joe laughed. “But be prepared. Subtle, he ain’t!”
“Tell me about it,” Methos groused.
“Did you…” Joe started and fell silent.
“Yes?” Methos prodded.
Looking uncomfortable, Joe shifted in his chair and awkwardly admitted, “I was gonna ask if you got him anything before I realized it was nunna my business.”
Now it was Methos’ turn to squirm. “I, ah…MacLeod doesn’t know it yet, but we’re going to the opera next month.”
Joe howled with laughter. “You hate the opera.”
Methos raised his eyebrows and slowly nodded, “I do. I’ve abhorred and avoided that infernal caterwauling for over two hundred years. But this afternoon, I paid scalpers’ prices for front row seats.”
“My God, you’ve got it bad!” Joe laughed, but his eyes were warm and gentle, totally approving.
“Tell me about it.”
Joe lifted his mug towards him, “To having it bad!”
Strangely buoyed by the silly toast, Methos tapped his own pint against Joe’s. “Here, here.”
They drank in silence for a few minutes before Joe asked, “So, what opera are you inflicting upon yourself?”
Methos winced. “La Boheme.”
“Ah,” Joe was obviously trying to keep from laughing in his face again.
“You look like you have indigestion. Just say whatever’s on your mind,” Methos counseled.
His grin fit to split his face right open, Dawson shook his head, “No, my momma didn’t raise no fools. She always said…” the first few bars of A Little Night Music sounded from Dawson’s jacket pocket, interrupting his words. As Joe fished around in his pocket for his cellphone, he finished with, “…to remember to turn your damn cell phone off if you want to have a good night.”
“Mozart?” Methos enquired with a rise of his brows.
Finally locating the ringing phone, Dawson shrugged. “They didn’t have any Coltrain.” Flipping open the mobile phone, Joe said, “Dawson.”
As Dawson took his call, Methos took a handful of pretzels from the dish in the center of their table and washed it down with another swig of beer. He was actually hungry tonight. These last few weeks he’d had next to no appetite.
Methos’ attention snapped to his companion as Joe’s voice abruptly changed to one of complete shock, “What? Slow down, Jim. Say again.”
Methos watched the color rush from his friend’s face as Dawson’s long lashed eyes squeezed tightly shut.
“Damn,” he’d never heard Joe sound so sick at heart, even when MacLeod was mad as hell at them both over the Shapiro/Galati affair. “What about MacLeod?”
Those three words froze his blood. Abruptly, a hundred percent in the present, Methos watched that lined face, looking for any hint of what had occurred. Whatever it was, it was damned bad. Joe looked like he was about to toss his cookies.
“No-no, don’t do anything,” Joe said, sounding amazingly calm. “I’ll be right there.”
“What?” Methos demanded as Joe snapped his phone closed. He almost wasn’t able to wait out the deep breath Dawson took before speaking. A chill breathing down his spine, Methos noticed the tears standing clear in his friend’s eyes.
“That was Jimmy Ash, Ritchie’s Watcher. Ritchie got whacked tonight right in front of the barge.”
Everything froze inside him for a second as he absorbed the meaning of the words.
When he could speak, Methos asked the only thing important to him, “What about MacLeod?”
Dawson shrugged. “I don’t know. The kid’s hysterical. I’ve gotta…”
“Come on,” Methos said, taking his friend’s elbow and helping him from his chair. Methos paused long enough to peel enough money from his bill roll to cover their pitcher of beer. Then he grabbed their coats and hustled Dawson to his Land Rover.
It was fifteen minutes before they even got to the barge. Neither of them said a word during that time, they just sat there silently urging the snarled traffic to move.
Methos knew something was wrong the minute he turned down the ramp onto le Port de le Tournelle. The dock looked like a bomb – or a Quickening – had hit it. Every street lamp was out. The Land Rover’s headlights bounced off the swirling fog, finally picking out the blond-haired man standing beside a U-Haul truck with blown out windows. Beyond the rented truck, Methos could see Mac’s Citroen. Fog was swirling like ghosts through its blasted out windows. There were several motionless shapes barely visible on the ground in front of Mac’s car. One of them looked like it might be a fallen motorcycle; while the other…
Methos brought his SUV to a halt in front of the U-Haul, where the solitary figure was waiting with its arms crossed across its chest, head bowed and shoulders shaking. Methos didn’t need to ask Dawson to know that this must be the first assignment the young Watcher had lost to a Quickening.
As he opened his car door and hurried around the other side to assist Joe, the stench of blood in the air and that unmistakable smell of burnt flesh that was peculiar to a Quickening told Methos what the other unidentified object by the Citroen must be.
“Ash?” Dawson called out as he approached the visibly shaken Watcher, moving slowly over the slick cobblestones.
A single glance at the Watcher told Methos all he needed to know. The curly blond hair, affable, tear-stained face…the kid was barely older than Ryan. Though the Watcher might surprise him, Ash’s state pretty much made Methos discount him as any kind of an asset. They’d be lucky if they got a coherent description of the Immortal who’d done this…
Methos left Joe with the sobbing youth. Slowly, he approached the Citroen, almost afraid of what he’d find.
Ryan was there in two very distinct and separate pieces. The lack of blood in the immediate area of the body testified to the Quickening that had taken place. The wound always cauterized too fast for there to be much in the way of a spray.
Sick at heart over the waste of such a young spirit, Methos’ gaze moved on. It passed over the Citroen, returning to the car only as an anomaly caught his attention. Ritchie’s body was a good four feet away from Mac’s car and yet there was the lurid red trace of blood on the chrome bumper up front. As he got closer, Methos realized that the puddle that he’d thought was water by the front wheel was actually a small pool of blood.
While he was bending down for a closer look, a flash of silver through the shifting fog on the ground off to his left caught his attention. Methos moved to where he’d seen the flash. A couple of minutes searching through the thick, clammy fog and his fingers contacted the sleek coldness of a blade. Methos gingerly followed the outline of the weapon to its hilt. The familiar shape of that carved ivory dragon beneath his fingers just about stopped his heart. Mac’s katana…
Methos’ eyes squeezed shut. Just barely, he held himself together. He was not ready for this, not now, not so soon….
For the last three weeks, he’d felt more dead than alive inside, but there was no mistaking his state right now. Dead men didn’t feel this kind of pain. They laid there like poor, pathetic Ryan, oblivious to the ravages time would have on their abandoned flesh; insensate as Duncan MacLeod might be a few feet further down the dock in the fog or at the bottom of the Seine.
Methos stopped that line of thought immediately, unwilling to go there. He hadn’t felt Mac die. He was close enough to the Highlander that he should have known if Mac were taken, the way he’d known when dozens of his closest friends had died over the years. But…he hadn’t felt Byron or Kaspian die, either, not that he’d been particularly close to either of them emotionally at the time of their deaths, but he was so out of it these last three weeks that it was entirely possible he’d miss a beheading if it happened right in front of him.
Still, until he knew for sure, he was going to assume that Mac was alive. He had to. The only thing that the alternative would lead to was madness.
Reviewing the circumstances, Methos realized that there had to have been two Immortal attackers. MacLeod would never have allowed a stronger Immortal to challenge his student and then walk away unscathed. The only way a headhunter would have taken Ryan and lived was if he’d had a companion to handle MacLeod…and if that was the way this had played out, there was going to be hell to pay for everyone involved. Methos might have given up revenge centuries ago, but Death hadn’t and, for whatever reason, Death wanted a piece of these culprits.
This type of blow the last thing his barely reintegrated spirit needed, Methos tried to put all thoughts of revenge from his mind and concentrate on finding out what had happened. For the sakes of everyone, including himself, he dare not let Death out again, and, yet, the temptation was there, almost too sweet to resist. Death didn’t mourn; Death didn’t hurt. All Death did was kill…and right now Methos wanted to kill, so bad he could taste it.
Thrusting the thought from his mind, Methos lifted the katana from the foggy cobblestones and stalked back to where Joe was dealing with an armful of sobbing hysteria.
“I know we trained for this, Joe,” Ash was blubbering, “but….”
“What happened to MacLeod?” Methos snapped in his most authoritative tone, interrupting the weeping Watcher.
“W-what?” Ash focused on him with an effort, his blue eyes almost Technicolor with the contrast they made against his red-ribboned sclera. “W-who are you?”
“This is Adam Pierson. He used to work in Research,” Dawson said.
Ash’s red eyes examined Methos. “I’ve seen you before. With Ryan and MacLeod.”
“Yeah,” Joe confirmed, “You know MacLeod and I are friends. Adam’s a friend of theirs as well.”
If this devolved into a debate on Watchers’ Oaths, Methos was going to use Mac’s katana on someone.
To his relief, Ash seemed too shell-shocked to question Joe. He simply nodded his acceptance and went back to shaking.
Time pressing upon him, Methos reminded, “Duncan MacLeod. He was with Ryan when they were attacked. How many Immortals were there and what did they look like? Did you recognize them from our files?”
“Adam…” Joe’s voice had that warning tone, but Methos was having none of it. Every minute they delayed, Ryan’s killers got further away.
This was hard on them all. Joe’s eyes were almost as red as the young Watcher’s. Belatedly, Methos recognized that Dawson was fully as fond of Ryan as he was of MacLeod, so Ryan’s death alone was already a personal tragedy to Joe.
“They-they weren’t Immortals,” Ash stammered, pulling himself together with a visible effort.
Both Joe and he voiced “What?” at the same moment.
“I-I thought at first that they were Immortal, but…when they killed Ritchie….” Ash said.
“Okay, Jimmy,” Joe calmly interrupted. “Start at the beginning.”
Taking a deep breath, Ash started to give a fairly decent Watcher’s report to his superior, “Ryan came here around four this afternoon and he and MacLeod went to rent a truck to move a crate. After they got the crate in the barge, Ryan and MacLeod went inside for about a half hour. I was up on the overpass on the street above, waiting for Ryan to leave. When they came out, I got my bike started when Ryan mounted his. I followed him half a block down the river road, when we heard gunfire coming from behind us. Ryan turned his bike around and went back. I followed him.”
Ash pulled in another shaky breath.
“And then?” Joe gently prodded.
“All hell broke loose, Joe. I never saw anything like it. MacLeod was down. There were two men on the dock. The one in the shadows had a machine pistol; the one over MacLeod had a sword. I got back in place just in time to see Ryan go crashing into the guy with the sword. He…he didn’t react to the guy with the gun, acted like he wasn’t even there, so…I thought that guy must’ve been mortal. The guy with the gun shot Ritchie from behind.”
“And then the other man took his head?” Joe asked when the kid seemed too overcome with emotion to finish.
“What happened, Ash?” Methos demanded in that same, no-nonsense voice he’d used earlier. It had focused warriors for millennia. It worked just as effectively on the overwrought Watcher.
Ash swallowed and said, “The shooter picked up the sword and…he used the sword. Then…the Quickening started, but it didn’t go to the killer. It-it went to MacLeod. He was screaming like a wounded animal, yelling ‘no’ as he tried to get away from it, but….”
Methos gasped in a breath, unable to conceive what his lover must have been feeling at that moment.
“It’s okay, Jim,” Joe said into the horrified silence that fell.
Dawson’s comment had to be the most imbecilic statement Methos had heard this millennium. This was as far from being all right as it was possible for a scenario to get.
But Joe’s intent became clear when he asked in that same gentle tone, “So what happened to MacLeod afterwards, Jim? Is-is MacLeod dead?”
No one needed to tell Dawson how vulnerable an Immortal was in those few vital minutes after the Quickening was absorbed. Watching the Highlander, Dawson had certainly seen enough of them. A child could take an Immortal’s head at such a time.
Methos closed his eyes waiting to hear the worst.
“They rolled MacLeod up in a rug, stuck him in the trunk of their car and drove off,” Ash reported.
“And you didn’t follow them?” Methos snarlred.
The kid gulped and backed up a few steps. “No, I…I….”
Joe sighed, “Ease up, Adam. Jim was assigned to Ritchie. There’s no reason for him to have followed MacLeod. He was just doing his job.”
Dawson was being kind. From the look of the young Watcher, it was clear that Ash had been in no state to follow anybody.
“So what do we do now, Mr. Dawson? Ritchie…Ryan…he’s still over there….” Ash began.
“We call the police,” Methos said.
“What?” Both Watchers asked in unison.
“Those men are mortal. They might be working for an Immortal, but right now, this is still not part of the Game. If we can get an APB out on that car, we might have a chance of finding MacLeod,” Methos explained.
“But…we’re just supposed to watch, not interfere…” Ash stammered.
“We’re not supposed to interfere with the Game. This isn’t part of it – yet. If we move fast enough, it mightn’t be,” Methos said.
“How’re we gonna explain any of this?” Joe asked, looking doubtful – for good reason.
Methos was standing with a sword in hand and another concealed in his coat not ten feet from a headless corpse. Under the best of circumstances, this would be a sticky situation to talk one’s way out of.
“Jimmy here stood by and watched it all happen without calling the police,” Joe continued, “He can’t tell them that.”
Methos held onto his temper only through an act of will. This was so outside of a Watcher’s usual modus operandi that it was a wonder either man was still standing here. Normally, a Watcher melted into the scenery when his assignment lost a Challenge. No one wanted to be found as a witness by either the winning Immortal or the authorities. What Methos was asking went against all the rules, but then, so did befriending one’s assignment,
“”No, of course, he can’t,” Methos assured. “We’ve all got to stick to the same story if this is going to work. Joe, you and I were exactly where we were – at Maurice’s. Jim, you are a friend of Ryan’s. You and Ryan planned to meet at MacLeod’s to join us all for dinner. When you got here, you saw some strange electrical discharge fading into the air as the killers wrapped MacLeod up in a rug and put him in the trunk of their car.”
“You want him to mention the Quickening?” Dawson asked, eyeing him like he’d lost his mind.
“Joe, take a look around this place. Ryan’s wound is cauterized. The Citroen, U-Haul and motorcycle have had the paint burned right off them. The police are going to know something strange happened here. And there are bound to be other witnesses to the light show, if nothing else. It’s better if Ash sticks to as much of the truth as possible,” Methos insisted.
“Do you really think that the police are gonna be able to help us track down Mac?” Joe questioned, looking as dispirited as Methos had ever seen the Watcher.
Despite what Joe might believe, he was not in the habit of lying to his friends. Methos took another deep breath and hesitantly admitted, “No.”
Joe jumped right on his response, “Then why bring them in? We can….”
“What? Wrap Ritchie’s body up and bury him in a shallow grave in a field somewhere?” Methos could see from Joe’s pained expression that that was exactly what the Watcher was suggesting. Already, he could hear a siren wailing in the distance. It was probably headed for an unrelated incident, but he couldn’t be sure of that. Their time here was limited and they had to get their stories straight before the police showed up to investigate the light show. That, more than anything was going to attract attention. “There is every chance that we will get stopped before we leave the dock. The Quickening was not subtle. There are bound to be emergency vehicles on the way even as we speak. I for one would rather not be caught with a sword in my coat and a headless corpse in the trunk. We do not have time to run damage control.”
What precious time they’d had they’d lost getting here through traffic, dealing with the hysterical Watcher and handling their own grief, Methos recognized.
“So why not just fade?” Joe challenged, voicing the most prudent path.
“Aside from the fact that someone might take note of our leaving the scene of the crime?” Methos asked before continuing with, “Someone has to stay to ensure that Mac doesn’t get blamed for this.”
“What?” Joe gawked.
“If all three of us pull a vanishing act, there’s going to be no one here to report MacLeod’s abduction. The police are going to find a headless corpse on Mac’s front door – a known associate with whom MacLeod has been seen to have numerous public disagreements. They’re going to find MacLeod gone and no less than two-dozen swords stored on the barge. If you were the detective assigned to this case, who would your first suspect be?”
“You can be a sarcastic sun-uv-a-bitch sometimes,” Joe groused, but Methos could tell that his friend had seen the sense of his argument.
“What-what should we do, Joe?” Ash asked. From the looks of him, breathing was taking more conscious effort than the shocked youth was capable of at the moment.
“I hate to say it, but he’s right. We can’t let MacLeod take the fall for this and…there’s still a chance an APB could find that car. You did get the license plate, didn’t you?” Joe checked. At Ash’s nod, Joe gave one of his own. “Okay, I’m gonna call this in. One thing – where’s your cellphone, Jim?”
Ash dug around in his black motorcycle jacket pocket, then proffered his phone with a trembling hand. Not removing his gloves, Joe accepted it.
Both Methos and Ash jumped as Dawson dashed the cellphone down onto the cobblestones. The battery fell off and the phone itself splintered into at least a dozen pieces.
“Why’d you do that?” the shocked Ash stammered.
“Because most people would’ve called the cops by now,” Joe explained. “Jimmy, listen close and remember this – You were too shaken by the kidnapping to think straight; you called us in a panic and dropped the phone.”
Methos didn’t think the kid was going to have to do much acting to convince the police of that last bit.
Joe’s gaze turned his way, “Meth…I mean, Adam, we came right over because we weren’t sure what happened, just that something bad had gone down and Ash was upset.” Those emotion-fraught blue eyes dug into Methos’ own. “Is there anything I’m forgetting?”
“Not that I can see. Make the call, Joe,” Methos ordered.
They both listened as Joe dialed the police and reported the discovery of a body.
Methos had barely returned from stowing MacLeod and his own weapons in the false bottom built into the trunk of his Land Rover when a police car with flashing blue lights and screaming sirens came barreling down the ramp, followed close on its proverbial heels by a yellow emergency vehicle, which was no doubt here to check out reports of an electric explosion. The quiet, foggy dock was transformed in a short time into a circus of flashing lights, police and emergency vehicles.
The next hour was a blur of endless, inane questions.
Methos told his portion of their story so many times that he felt like an over-coaxed actor, whose material was so stale from the re-telling that he couldn’t manage a bit of believability. However, he was relieved to see that after the gendarme finished interviewing Ash, an APB was put out on the gold Ford that had abducted MacLeod. They were in their fourth round of the could you repeat your information just one more time, sir game when the coroner’s wagon arrived with yet another police car.
The professionalism of the tall, slender man with the severely receding hairline in the gray suit who emerged from the passenger side of the police car immediately impressed Methos. He’d ruled too long not to recognize the air of a leader.
The balding man strode to where Ritchie Ryan’s body now lay covered with a sheet, knelt down and uncovered the corpse. Methos, who was watching closely, noted how the man not only held onto the contents of his stomach, but actually looked saddened for a moment as he stared down at Ritchie’s remains before his professional mask settled back into place on his angular, gawky features. Then he rose to join the small crowd of officials who surrounded Joe, Ash and himself.
“What have we got, Maret?” the new arrival asked of the uniformed officer who’d been trying to poke holes in their statements for the last hour. The stocky brunet appeared worn by his lack of success. The man was bright enough to sense that his witnesses were hiding something, but not quite astute enough to determine what the lie was.
“Inspector Lebrun,” Maret greeted and gave a hapless sigh. An alarm bell went off inside Methos’ head when he heard the Inspector’s name. It was familiar, but he didn’t know from where. He listened closely as Maret continued with, “You saw the corpse, sir. The victim was shot six times in the back and beheaded by a missing weapon. One of the witnesses reports that he saw another man forcibly abducted from the scene, presumably by the murderers.”
“Who discovered the body?” Lebrun asked, eyeing the three of them with the suspicion any cop would accord people hanging around such a grisly murder site. Methos knew as well as the inspector did that more than seventy-five percent of the time, the person who reported finding a body was also the person responsible for turning a fellow human into an inanimate piece of meat.
“I did,” Jim Ash said. He was more composed than before, but the young Watcher now had a blankness about him that was more worrisome than his earlier breakdown.
Methos, who was experiencing a similar state of disassociation, could well sympathize with Ash. They were all worn out from the trauma and questions. Dawson was positively gray at the moment. At least the gendarmes had taken mercy on Joe and allowed the legless Watcher to sit in the backseat of the nearest patrol car. Methos and Ash were standing beside the open car door. Nobody was up to conversation at the moment, but at least they could keep Dawson company.
“And you are?” Lebrun demanded of each in turn, asking them to state their business at the barge afterwards.
“And you are all friends of both Duncan MacLeod and Ritchie Ryan?” Lebrun quizzed when they’d all parroted their tales again.
“Richard Redstone,” Maret timidly proffered.
“What?” Lebrun glanced over at his subordinate, visible irritation in his face. Obviously, this was not a man who suffered fools lightly.
“The victim’s name was Richard L. Redstone, Inspector,” Maret offered the name of the identity Ritchie had assumed after his very public death on the racetrack last year.
“You’re mistaken, Maret,” Lebrun corrected. “I know this man. I’ve interviewed him before. His name is Richard Ryan. He lives, I mean lived, here with Duncan MacLeod. MacLeod was his legal guardian.”
“His license and passport say Richard Redstone, sir,” Maret insisted.
“Do they? Have you called them in yet?” When Maret gave a negative shake of his head, Lebrun ordered, “Well, get on it now, man. And when you do, check out Richard Ryan as well. I want to know what’s going on here. Where is Duncan MacLeod?”
“That seems to be the $64,000 question,” Methos snapped, lacking the patience to wait out the Keystone cops routine.
“What?” Lebrun asked, almost as short-temperedly.
“Our friend here saw Duncan MacLeod abducted,” Methos reported, gesturing towards Ash. “We’ve been trying to get someone to act on it for the last hour. Perhaps you would be so kind as to at least put out a missing person’s report?”
His sarcasm was not lost on the Inspector.
“MacLeod’s been kidnapped?” Lebrun questioned, his disbelief plain.
“That is what we have been trying to tell your men for the last hour,” Methos kept hold of his temper, just. “Why do you find that so difficult to believe?”
Lebrun shrugged, “Perhaps because the last time I encountered your friend MacLeod, he had also been abducted. There was a headless corpse involved in that case, as well.”
Bingo, the name clicked. The MacLeod Chronicle. Joe had documented Lebrun as the detective who had handled both the Kuyler and St. Cloud cases. It was no wonder Lebrun was skeptical.
“If I remember MacLeod’s file, that was not the first time he was associated with this type of murder. He was also questioned about a headless corpse found on a bridge in his hometown six and a half years ago,” Lebrun said. “And he was brought in for menacing a Warren Cochrane with a sword two years ago.”
“Look,” Methos argued, no longer even attempting to hold onto his temper, “I don’t know anything about these other cases. All I know is that my friend has been kidnapped and the Paris police don’t seem the least bit inclined to do anything about it.”
His eyes hardening, Lebrun turned to Maret, “Put an APB out on Duncan MacLeod. If nothing else, we need him for questioning.”
His frustration getting the better of him, Methos sassed, “So kind of you, Inspector-”
“Adam!” Joe interrupted, his voice hoarse, his face haggard. “Thank you, Inspector.”
Methos had to hand it to the detective, the man wasn’t an emotionless automaton like so many of his colleagues. When his brown gaze settled on Dawson, all aggression left it. “You told my man that the victim was staying with you, monsieur.”
“That’s right,” Joe nodded.
“Perhaps you can solve the puzzle of his identity?” the detective asked.
It was an innocent enough question. The silence that followed it was anything but.
Just about the time Methos was getting ready to answer for Dawson, Joe sighed and said, “Ritch changed his name about a year or so ago. He never did say why.”
Methos breathed a quiet sigh of relief. Joe thought fast on his feet. That was the only answer any of them dared make.
As with everything else on this horrible night, the complications arose sooner than later. Joe had barely finished speaking when the uniformed officer returned from his patrol car, an air of suppressed excitement surrounding him. He drew Lebrun aside and whispered something to him, after which Lebrun came back to where Methos and Ash were waiting beside the car where Dawson was sitting.
“We appear to have an even greater mystery on our hands here,” Lebrun announced. For all the sarcasm in his attitude, beneath it Methos could sense the Inspector’s genuine bewilderment.
A single glance at his two companions told Methos that even the shell-shocked Ash knew what was coming.
Knowing that someone had to do it, Methos put on his best wide-eyed grad student face and innocently inquired, “What’s that?”
“The man who is lying dead over there, the man whom I recognize as Ritchie Ryan…” Lebrun started.
“Yes?” Methos prompted, praying that he could hold up the front. The only thing on his heart and mind at the moment was his missing lover.
“According to public record, Ritchie Ryan was killed in a televised motorcycle race last spring,” Lebrun completed.
Joe, God bless him, was right on top of the situation. “That’s not possible. There hasta be some kind of mistake.”
“Obviously,” Lebrun testily affirmed. It was clear that his past dealings with MacLeod had left a bad taste in his mouth. “It is a strange coincidence that Monsieur Ryan’s name change occurred at exactly the same time the news reported him dead; is it not?”
“Look, none of this is relevant to what’s happening here. A man has been kidnapped…” Methos began.
“Perhaps,” Lebrun agreed. “If I have learned one thing in my dealings with Duncan MacLeod, it is that nothing is ever as it seems with this man.”
“So what are you saying?” Joe demanded. “That you’re not going to investigate his kidnapping?”
Methos was grateful for Joe’s gruff interjection. He was on the verge of shaking the Inspector or worse.
“Of course, I will investigate his abduction – if that is what happened,” Lebrun replied.
“I saw them roll him into a rug and push him into a car trunk!” Ash insisted, his emotionally fraught state reinforcing his claim.
“And you saw all this from…?” Lebrun skeptically inserted.
“The top of the ramp. I stopped there because there was some kind of electric discharge taking place down here. It looked like lightning. I thought it was fireworks, because I’d heard something like firecrackers just a minute or two before when I was still up on the street, but…it wasn’t any kind of fireworks I’ve ever seen,” Ash said. Obviously, the shock of witnessing his first Quickening had overwhelmed everything else in his reality.
If Methos hadn’t known better, he would have sworn the Watcher was telling the complete truth.
“So you saw these weird lights and…” Lebrun led Ash through his story once again.
Ash sighed and picked up his tale for at least the tenth time tonight, “And in the flashing lights I saw these two men dragging Duncan MacLeod’s unconscious body towards a rug. I was so shocked that I-I just froze and watched them roll him up.”
“And you recognized MacLeod through the fog from over a hundred meters away?” Lebrun checked.
“I know Duncan MacLeod,” Ash said. “He has quite distinctive hair. I didn’t get a close look at his face, but the long hair and build of the person those two men rolled in the rug certainly matched MacLeod’s. And it happened right here in front of his home.”
“I see.” Lebrun nodded, then turned towards his subordinate. “Maret, has anyone informed Ms. Noel? If she was home at the time, she might have…”
“Inspector….” Methos interrupted, beginning to wish that a less capable stranger had been assigned to their case instead of this efficient acquaintance of MacLeod’s with the steel-trap memory.
“I’m afraid Tessa Noel is dead,” Methos supplied.
“What?” the Inspector was genuinely shocked.
“She was killed in a mugging over five years ago,” Methos softly offered.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Lebrun said after a silent moment. “It does seem that being Duncan MacLeod’s friend is a perilous proposition.”
“Are you suggestin’ that Mac had somethin’ to do with her death?” Dawson demanded from the backseat of the car, his patience obviously as frayed as Methos’ own.
Methos wanted to insist that Mac was in no way responsible for Tessa Noel’s death, but he’d read Dawson’s report on the incident. The fact that her death had nothing to do with the kidnapping that had brought her to that neighborhood in the first place was only incidental. Like so many of the mortals who became involved with their kind, Tessa Noel had been a hostage to fortune…which Duncan MacLeod might possibly be at this very moment, Methos recognized. Mac wasn’t the only one who had enemies gunning for him.
“No,” Lebrun answered Dawson’s question, “I am accusing Monsier MacLeod of nothing, only noting that people have a habit of dying around him with alarming frequency.”
“Duncan MacLeod can hardly be blamed for a street crime,” Methos protested.
“No, of course he can’t,” Lebrun agreed, something in his attitude suggesting that the lack of blame was due more to a lack of evidence than any innocence on MacLeod’s part. The Inspector was far too sharp for Methos’ peace of mind. “As I am certain he will prove blameless in tonight’s events as well. With that thought in mind, can any of you good citizens think of a reason why anyone would want to kill your friend Ritchie Ryan or kidnap Duncan MacLeod?”
One by one, they shook their heads, even the over-taxed Ash giving a damn good impression of a mystified friend.
“Why is that not surprising?” Lebrun asked with a sardonic flair that rivaled Methos’ own.
Way too strung out tonight for anyone’s good, Methos immediately took issue with the Inspector’s perfectly understandable attitude, “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Monsieur, I have been a detective for over eleven years now. In my admittedly limited experience, normal citizens do not find themselves abducted or involved in murder and criminal investigations on a regular basis. Shall I tell you how many times Duncan MacLeod has been interviewed by either the Paris police or our American counterparts in the past five years? Or mention how many of those cases were homicide investigations?”
“Men of conscience often find themselves propelled into such circumstances, Inspector,” Methos reminded, a very thin hold on his temper.
“Men of conscience do not usually number international jewel thieves among their closest friends. Interpol has twice followed a woman suspected in multi-million dollar jewel heists to this address. The last time the Paris police had truck with him, Duncan MacLeod turned that woman into us himself,” Lebrun shot back.
“How is the fact that he turned this woman in when he learned her history in any way incriminating?” Methos challenged.
“As a solitary incident, it isn’t,” Lebrun replied.
“Then what are we talking about?” Methos felt like his last nerve was about to snap.
“Twelve homicides, six manslaughters, and three assaults,” Lebrun countered.
Methos blinked, “Are you accusing Duncan MacLeod of all that?”
“No,” Lebrun replied with suspect sweetness, “merely quoting the contents of your friend’s file. Monsieur MacLeod has been either a suspect or witness in all of the above. It makes for interesting reading.”
“You’ve memorized Mac’s file?” Dawson entered the conversation.
“No, I merely pulled it when I heard the address of tonight’s homicide,” Lebrun answered.
Methos held his tongue, beginning to understand where the Inspector’s hostility was coming from. The man was no fool. The old proverb about smoke and fire proved true more often than not. Methos knew that there were probably mafia dons who had smaller jackets than Mac’s. With the kind of lives Immortals led, it was little wonder they all weren’t spending their extended lives serving out prison sentences as serial killers. The Highlander was just a little more visible than most of their kind, because Duncan chose to live his life among mortals. They were damn lucky twelve homicides were all Mac had been questioned on.
Lebrun’s sharp gaze turned on Jim Ash, “Monsieur Ash, I don’t suppose that you would be willing to accompany my men down to the station to go through our mug books for the men you saw kidnap MacLeod?”
From Lebrun’s expression, it was clear he did not expect agreement.
“Of course, Inspector,” the weary Watcher replied. “I’ll do anything I can to help.”
Masking his surprise, Lebrun said, “Thank you, sir. Maret, get Mr. Ash back to headquarters and see to it that he has a ride home.”
“Yes, sir,” the uniformed gendarme quickly replied, looking relieved to be leaving the crime scene, not that Methos could blame the man. Quickenings were never pretty.
“Joe?” the Watcher hesitated, seeming to seek Dawson’s blessing.
“Go ahead, Jim. I’ll get someone to bring your bike over to you in the morning,” Joe said, giving the younger man’s back an encouraging pat.
“Thanks…and thanks for coming, Joe,” Ash said, straightening up to accompany the officer, finding strength from heaven only knew where. For the sake of the organization for which he’d worked so long, Methos was proud of the kid.
“I’m afraid I’ll need to take the car, monsieur,” Maret said to Joe.
“Right,” Joe answered, pulling himself gracefully out of the back seat of the open patrol car.
Lebrun startled Methos once again by offering, “My car’s over here, monsieur. Why don’t you make yourself comfortable for the time being? I’ve got to confer with my men.”
Methos could see in Joe’s eyes that he really wanted to deny the offer, nothing irritated his proud friend more than being treated like an invalid, but at the moment, Dawson was obviously hurting too much to be proud. He simply nodded his thanks and made his slow way with his odd gait through the swirling fog banks over to Lebrun’s vehicle. Methos followed behind, everything inside him aching – for MacLeod, for Joe, for poor Ryan…it was just too much to take in.
Paused beside the new police car, Methos looked on with a face of stone and a heavy heart as the forensic team finally finished with Ryan’s body. He made sure that he blocked Joe’s view of the event. Even a man with his experience found it hard to watch the ashen-faced technician lift Ryan’s head from the dock and place it in the body bag with the rest of the remains. Joe didn’t need to see that.
Hell, Methos didn’t need to see it himself. If he lived to be a million, he never, ever needed to see another headless body. And yet…there was a part of Methos that was hungry for the head of the man who’d done this. Ritchie Ryan might’ve been a twit, but he was definitely one of the good guys. He didn’t deserve to end up this way.
Someone was going to pay for this, Methos promised the howling madman inside him. No matter what it took, he was going to track down Duncan MacLeod, free his lover from his abductors and make this right…or, if not right, at least administer the kind of justice the king Methos had once been would have demanded.
Lebrun finally returned from his kibbutz with the forensics team. Methos moved aside to make room for the man, wincing as Joe’s gaze moved beyond him to where Ritchie was being transferred to a stretcher.
Silent tears streamed down Dawson’s weathered face as he watched as the young man who’d been his friend was loaded into the meat wagon.
Methos bit down hard on his tongue, the savage inside him shrieking his fury. This should never have happened – not to Ryan, not to Mac, not to any of them.
The lanky Inspector paused beside the open police unit, looking in at Joe with troubled eyes. Obviously, Joe’s legitimate bereavement had penetrated the Inspector’s understandable suspicion. If Methos were a cop, he knew that Duncan MacLeod would be his number one suspect at this moment. It was only Ash’s troubling testimony standing between the detective and a neatly solved case.
“I’m sorry to have kept you waiting so long. I don’t believe there will be any more questions. May my men drop either of you home?” Lebrun enquired, making a visible effort at diplomacy.
Like Methos himself, Joe Dawson’s sickened gaze was focused on the stretcher. The doors closed on Ryan’s remains about the same time Lebrun asked his question.
Methos snapped his attention away from the depressing sight. There was nothing more he could do for Ritchie. He had to concentrate on finding Duncan…and getting Joe through this intact.
“No, I don’t need a ride. I, ah, I’ve been living here on the barge for the past five months now,” Methos softly informed.
“You live with MacLeod?” Lebrun seemed stunned. Obviously, none of his subordinates had informed the Inspector of the fact that Methos had parroted off at least six times tonight.
Methos nodded, “Yes. I’ll see to it that my friend gets home all right, Inspector.”
“Since you live here, do you mind if I have a look around the barge before you go in?” Lebrun requested, a challenging light in his eyes. Methos could tell it was something he’d wanted to do all night, but without cause or permission, the detective didn’t have the right to enter the barge in his official capacity.
It was clear from the atmosphere between them that both Methos and the Inspector understood that only someone with something to hide would refuse the request at this point. The friends and lovers of a truly innocent crime victim would have no reason to restrict the police’s access to their missing loved one’s domicile. But, of course, most innocent abductees weren’t storing enough swords under their stairs to equip Napoleon’s army, either.
Methos debated the wisdom of allowing the unofficial search, then shrugged it off as irrelevant. If he wanted to, Lebrun could be back in an hour with a search warrant in hand. Perhaps if he were Redstoneative now, there would be less intervention by the authorities later. He definitely didn’t want Mac’s phone bugged. No one had made any noises along those lines yet, mostly because Lebrun wasn’t convinced that MacLeod had truly been abducted, Methos suspected. The Inspector was professional enough to give them the benefit of the doubt and put out an APB on Mac, but not quite certain enough to call in the big guns yet. That suspicion could work in their favor. Methos just had to keep the man off balance.
Seeing no harm in it, Methos said, “Be my guest. Here’s the key.”
The detective took the key ring Methos fished out of his pocket, signaled the officer who was sitting in the front of Joe’s patrol car to follow him, and quickly strode to the gangplank. Methos breathed out a slow, resigned breath when he saw the small black case in the gendarme’s hand. His instincts were telling him that it wasn’t a forensics kit. Lebrun had known whom he was coming to investigate before he’d ever left the station. Considering the interest the Inspector had in MacLeod, Methos figured there was every possibility that the case contained some type of surveillance equipment. It was what he would have done in Lebrun’s shoes, if given the opportunity.
“Do you think that was a wise idea?” Dawson asked the moment they were alone.
Methos gave another dispirited shrug. “I doubt if there will be anything there to interest the Inspector. It’s better that we cooperate with the small stuff.”
Joe nodded, then stared bleakly off at the departing coroner’s wagon. The utility truck had already left the dock, leaving only Lebrun’s unit behind.
“Do you want me to take you home when he’s done?” Methos asked, though he hated the idea of being away from the phone that long. Even the time he’d spent dealing with the police had him chaffing at the bit. The person who had arranged this grisly, little surprise party was bound to call, sooner, probably, than later. Methos realized that he’d also have to give Maurice a call and ask him to keep an eye open for any messages that might be delivered there.
“No, I’ll wait with you…if you don’t mind,” Joe added.
Methos looked down at the man sitting in the back seat of the open police car. The lines were etched like roadmaps across Joe’s haggard features. This night had aged him ten years. Methos’ old friend looked lost…and old, too old, too fast. No one knew better than Methos the brevity of even the longest of mortal lives. Events like this did not add years to a man’s life.
“I’d be glad of the company,” Methos replied, meaning the words. He really didn’t want to face this alone. If Mac were…if the worst happened, Joe’s presence might be enough to keep the monster at bay. Hoping that they wouldn’t have to test that supposition, Methos reached out and gave his friend’s shoulder a brief squeeze.
“You think Mac’s still alive?” Dawson asked the question that had been shrieking through his own mind for the last hour.
“I haven’t felt him die,” Methos answered, trying to discuss it as dispassionately as he would a proposition in his philosophy courses.
“Would you?” Joe’s shock was clear. “I know MacLeod sometimes seemed to sense…”
“Not sense, feel, Joe,” Methos corrected. “If you’re close to another Immortal, you can be halfway around the world and still have your legs go out from under you when someone takes their head.”
“For real?” Joe seemed astounded.
“Too real. I’ve felt it more times than I care to remember,” Methos admitted.
“And you always know who it is?” At Methos’ answering nod, Joe asked the question that naturally followed, “How?”
“It’s like…their face just snaps into your mind and you feel a sudden rip inside you…”
“Then why didn’t MacLeod feel Darius die? Or May Ling Shen?” Joe quizzed.
This being possibly the last subject he wanted to discuss tonight, Methos dealt with the topic as quickly as possible, “Mac hadn’t been close to May Ling for over a century.”
“And Darius? There wasn’t a day in the three hundred years Mac knew Darius that he wasn’t close to the man, no matter how many miles might separate them.”
“Darius was killed by mortals, Joe. There was no Quickening.”
It was too much to hope the Watcher would let the topic die. Joe persevered with, “How’s it different -- I mean, dead is dead, right?”
Methos sighed. “It’s different, Joe. Take my word for it.”
His eyes drifted to the barge, wondering what was keeping Lebrun so long. How much time did it take to bug a phone these days? Methos only hoped that the good Inspector wasn’t planting listening devices to monitor their conversations as well; though, that seemed a little extreme.
“How?” Joe’s question recalled him to the dock and their cheerful discussion of sensing the death of one’s Immortal friends.
He supposed he should try to answer Dawson’s questions, difficult though they might be.
Joe was struggling to understand. Methos could see that. He just didn’t know if he had the words to relay this. After five-thousand some odd years of experiencing it, he still didn’t fully comprehend the workings of the mystery.
“We’re…connected to each other in some strange way. You know how we always sense each other’s presence…it’s as though the power inside us calls out to each other,” Methos offered.
“That’s why you try to kill each other, because of the power calling out?”
Thinking that Lebrun was never going to emerge from the barge, Methos resignedly answered, “No. Some of us kill because it’s our nature to do so, the same as mortals. The rest…if someone comes for your head, you fight to keep it. Most of us are no different than mortals that way. Men like Sean Byrnes and Marcus Constantine, they can go for millennia without taking a head.”
“So why can’t more Immortals be like them?” Joe asked.
“Why can’t more men be like Victor Paulus. Given complete freedom from consequence, most men devolve to their most basic, selfish level,” Methos voiced the one certainty he’d learned to depend on in five-thousand years of living.
“Do you really believe that?” Dawson asked, sounding appalled.
Methos could only wonder at his friend’s naiveté. Dawson was as bad as MacLeod at times. They had stood here and watched the authorities cart off the remains of an innocent who’d died more child than man. How Joe could voice a question like that was beyond him.
Methos shrugged. “Let’s just say that I know it for a fact from personal experience.”
Joe seemed to get his meaning. “You could never be like that again, no matter what.”
“You’d better wait until we find whomever did this before making those kinds of statements, Joe,” Methos warned.
His face hardening at the reminder, Joe nodded and looked down. “You get this bastard, I don’t care what you do to him. I, ahh…guess that proves your point, huh?”
Methos hunched down until their eyes were level. “No, Joe. Those are the consequences of actions like this, and, I promise you, there will be consequences.”
Joe squeezed his eyes shut and nodded. After a moment, Dawson released a deep breath and said, “I’m sorry.”
“For?” Methos asked, laying his hand over Joe’s, which was clenched in a tight fist around the handle of his walking stick. The fog was whispering around them both like a special effect in a Hammar flick, leaving damp, ghostly kisses on their faces, hands and necks.
“I know revenge isn’t your style anymore.”
Methos was quiet for a moment, trying to decide how best to word this. Finally, he just said, “I choose not to fight, that doesn’t mean I can’t. They brought this war to our door, Joe. I can’t ignore this.”
“I didn’t mean….”
“I know,” Methos assured as gently as he could, giving Joe’s hand another squeeze. He was always aware of the fragility of life, both mortal and Immortal, but never so much so as at moments like this, when he could see how little it would take for a mortal’s wounded spirit to slip away to the other side. “I promise you, Joe, I’ll get him back. No matter what it takes, I’ll get him back.”
“You really don’t think he’s dead, then?” Joe repeated, seeming to need the reassurance again. Dawson’s tormented gaze speared Methos, demanding absolute truth.
“If they’d meant to kill MacLeod, they’d have taken him the way they did Ritchie. Whatever this is, it isn’t just about murder,” Methos determined, trying to take as much comfort from the words as he gave.
“You, ah, don’t think it’s one of us – do you?” Joe asked, sounding like it took all his nerve to give voice to the words.
“One of us?” Methos echoed.
“Renegade Watchers. Like Horton,” Dawson explained.
Surprised, Methos considered the suggestion. It made sense. Mortals didn’t normally kill by beheading these days. The only ones Methos knew of who did were Watchers; men who were intimately aware of their prey’s weaknesses. But…that didn’t feel right, either.
“No, if it were Watchers, they would have killed MacLeod with Ritchie. There’s no reason for them to have taken Mac prisoner….”
“Igznay on the Watcher talk. Here comes the fuzz,” Joe warned.
Turning, Methos saw Lebrun coming down the gangplank.
“Did you find anything?” Joe asked once the detective was within hearing range.
“Nothing of importance to the investigation,” Lebrun responded.
Methos translated that easily enough. It wasn’t going to take a rocket scientist to suss out the fact that only one of the beds on the barge was being slept in on a regular basis. He braced himself, waiting for the inevitable deluge of personal questions that would normally follow such a development in a case, but although Lebrun gave him a searching look, there were no inquisitions into his private life.
“And what did you find to interest you outside of the investigation?” Methos was finally forced to ask, his nerves totally shot to hell.
“Monsieur MacLeod’s taste in art is as strange as ever. But that is neither here nor there. Should you hear anything, you will contact me immediately?” the Inspector asked, proffering his card.
Nodding, Methos took it and dutifully slipped it into his pocket.
“You bugged the phone – didn’t you?” Methos asked when there were no further requests.
Appearing far too guilty for the professional he was, Lebrun shrugged at being caught, “I’m afraid it is standard procedure in a kidnapping case. If you should hear from the kidnappers, I must request that you do not do anything….impetuous. Agree to any demands that are made. We will take care of the rest.”
Once again Methos nodded. He’d been dealing with this kind of situation, from both sides of the fence, for longer than history had been recorded. Even as he was agreeing to the Inspector’s demand, Methos was plotting on where to leave his vehicle and estimating how long he would have before the police raided the barge were he to give his cellphone number and the one line message that MacLeod’s phone wasn’t secure when the kidnappers finally made contact. Doubtless, there would be an unmarked police car lingering somewhere nearby. He was going to have to ask Joe to create some kind of distraction on the deck while he went over the side….
“Would you like one of my men to stay on the barge with you tonight?” Lebrun offered.
“No, we’ll be fine,” Methos answered, wanting them gone so he could get to the phone.
“I took the liberty of playing your phone messages while inside. I’m sorry, there was nothing relating to the kidnapping,” Lebrun informed.
Wondering how much he was telegraphing, Methos made a conscious effort to blank his features and simply wait.
Lebrun just smiled at him. “I can see where you and Monsieur MacLeod must have much in common. I will be in contact with you again tomorrow morning, Monsieur Pierson. If Monsieur MacLeod should show up before that time….”
“I’m certain that the man you will have watching the barge will let you know right away, Inspector,” Methos trembled as he realized that he was falling into Death’s behavior patterns here. Adam Pierson didn’t butt heads with authority figures like this. He yessed them to death and then went off and quietly did whatever needed doing. It was his older self who needed to make this kind of childish grandstanding.
“I will see you in the morning, monsieur,” Lebrun ignored his comment.
Joe pulled himself out of the back seat of the detective’s car.
Methos reached out to stabilize his friend on the slippery cobblestones. Together they walked to the barge gangplank.
“Do you think it’s just the phone he bugged?” Dawson asked once they reached the deck. They were paused before the entryway, with the fog swirling around them like the smoke in one of Byron’s more dramatic rock star entrances.
“Probably,” Methos answered. “There’s no way of knowing for sure right now.”
“So we should keep the Immortal talk down to a whisper,” Joe said.
Methos nodded. “Before we go in, will you do me a favor, Joe?”
“Just name it,” Joe answered, his tear-streaked face seeming ready for anything.
“Would you call Longford’s Watcher and find out where he is and what he’s been up to this week?” Methos asked.
“You think he had something to do with this?” Dawson questioned, his face turning to stone.
Methos shrugged. “He’s the only one I can think of right now. I, ah, I’ve kept a pretty low profile the last hundred years or so. To the best of my knowledge, only two Immortals who have cause to want me dead know where I am right now – Longford and Cassandra. This is just not her style.”
“You’re sure of that – are you?” Joe challenged. “Cassandra had a major jones for your head the last time I met the lady.”
“She wants my head, but she wants to take it with her bare hands. She would never hire thugs like that. And she would never hurt MacLeod,” Methos insisted.
“How can you be so sure?” Joe questioned. “People change.”
“Not that much,” Methos answered.
“Oh?” Joe’s arched eyebrow accentuated the ironic tone.
Appreciating what Joe was silently suggesting, Methos ducked his head in surrender, “Point taken. However, I still don’t believe that Cassandra would ever kill an innocent like Ryan, and, no matter how much she hated me, she would never do anything to harm Duncan MacLeod.”
“Okay. You want I should give her Watcher a call, just to be on the safe side?” Dawson asked.
Methos waffled for a moment before giving in. He didn’t believe for a minute that Cassandra was involved in this. If it were just his life at stake, he’d be willing to let the matter ride, but seeing how it was Duncan who would pay the price for any mistake he made, Methos gave a reluctant nod. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to give him a call as well.”
Joe nodded and walked to the prow of the barge to make his calls. Methos stood there shivering in the swirling mists, listening to the foghorns sound across the veiled river. Was there ever a more lonesome sound, he wondered. When he was cocooned safe in Mac’s arms, the eerie call of the foghorns never got to him, but on a night as dark and terrible as this, they made him feel like he were trapped in a Lovecraft story. God knew, the grisly scene that had awaited them on the dock tonight only reinforced that notion.
Five minutes later, Joe rejoined him. “Neither of them looks good for the doer. Cassandra’s been holed up in her cottage in Scotland for the last eight months.”
“And Longford?” Methos checked.
“Borden says he’s been in London all month. About the time Mac was abducted tonight, Longford was on his way to pick up another Immortal for a night on the town. When I reached Borden, he was in the same restaurant, watching Longford and his date enjoy their main course,” Joe informed.
Methos stared over the barge’s guardrail, watching the grayish fogbanks twist over the ink black Seine. Totally at a loss, he whispered, “I don’t know where else to start, then. They’re the only two who know where I am….”
“Why are you so sure this is about you? It’s not like Mac doesn’t have enemies of his own to spare,” Dawson reminded.
Weary to the bone, Methos turned back to his mortal friend. The pain in Dawson’s eyes making him patient where he might otherwise have savaged someone for voicing such a stupid comment, Methos toned down his irritation. Joe might have extensive experience at running a covert operation like the Watchers organization, but the politics of kidnapping were way out of Dawson’s league. Horton might have understood the theory, but Joe Dawson never would.
“If Ritchie, Amanda, you, or even myself were abducted, this would be about MacLeod. While it is possible that one of our kind would kidnap Mac just to torture him, it’s not likely. What happened here tonight has all the earmarks of a classic abduction.” At Joe’s cocked head, Methos elucidated, “Traditionally, when someone is kidnapped for extortion purposes, there is heavy collateral damage – to demonstrate what will happen to the hostage if the kidnappers’ demands are not met.”
“You’re saying that they beheaded Ritchie just to make a point?” Joe rasped.
Methos gave a grim nod.
“And they took Mac because they want something from you?” Joe questioned.
“So I suspect,” Methos answered.
“You think they’re after your head?” Joe theorized.
“It seems the most plausible explanation,” Methos confirmed.
“But why bring Mac into it? Why not just bushwhack you the way they did poor Ritchie?” Joe asked.
“Whoever it is might want to make me suffer first. It’s been some time since I’ve had hostages to fortune like this. If an enemy had been observing me for a while, it’d be fairly obvious that MacLeod is important to me.”
“Important enough for you to give up your head?” the skepticism in Dawson’s voice should not have been surprising. In the last five years, Joe had seen him slip away from almost any confrontation that might cost him his head. Obviously, Joe’s blind spot extended to more than his assignment’s unimpeachable honor. Joe had apparently bought into Methos’ look-after-number-one-first rap, completely missing the fact that the only times he had endangered his life in the past few years, it was inevitably for Duncan MacLeod’s sake.
Methos lowered his eyes without answering, not knowing if the truth would even be believed.
“I’m sorry,” Joe said after a silent moment. “That was an incredibly thoughtless thing to say. I-I know you’ll do everything in your power to get Mac back.”
Uncertain if his head and everything in his power would be enough, Methos didn’t dare his friend’s eyes. Joe needed his faith; while Methos…he just needed MacLeod.
Methos heard the sound of Dawson’s metal walking canes knocking together, then a moment later, Joe’s hand gave his shoulder a firm squeeze.
“It’s gonna be okay. We’ll get him back.” Joe promised and, illogical as it was, the Pollyannaish assurance made Methos feel better. After a moment, Dawson continued with, “Who knows? Even a five-thousand-year-old man can be wrong on occasion. This might have nothing to do with you.”
That brought Methos’ gaze back to his friend’s face. “Can you think of anyone who’s gunning for MacLeod at the moment?”
Joe gave a negative shake of his head, “Not off the top of my head, no, but it’s not like our boy doesn’t rack up enemies.”
“There’s that,” Methos agreed.
“C’mon, let’s go inside,” Joe said, taking his elbow as though he were the one needing support…which Methos supposed he was. Both of them knew that he wasn’t up to snuff right now. And, for Mac’s sake he had to be. This kind of game required nerves of steel.
Taking a deep breath, he unlocked the barge door.
Lebrun had left the lights on inside. Stepping in, Methos thought that Mac must have left a window open someplace, for the barge felt as cold as it had been outside. Of course, heating a space this size was never easy, but tonight the place seemed chillier than normal.
Methos took both their coats and hung them at the door rack. He was reaching for the hidden sheath in his own before he recalled that his sword was still secreted away in his car trunk’s false bottom. There was no way in hell he could risk retrieving his weapon, not while Lebrun’s men were sniffing around the place. Fortunately, Mac was an equally cautious man. Methos had only to kneel down and remove the three floorboards closest to the door to the spare room to find the cache of weapons Mac had stored there. Three of the swords in the straw packed crate proved too short for him, but the fourth was a lovely gladius that fit his reach quite comfortably.
Joe stood beside the door, silently observing him.
“It’s not as good as my own, but it will do,” Methos decided. “We’re not going to have any more surprises tonight.”
“I think that one was St. Claude’s,” Dawson said so low that they’d have to be standing right over a listening device to be heard.
Methos nodded. It made sense. He and Xavier had been of the same build and height. He handed the blade to Joe’s safekeeping as he replaced the floorboards.
Methos had barely made that resolution about no surprises, when it was broken. Following Joe, Methos stopped dead in his tracks at the top of the entrance, staring down in disbelief from the wooden platform at the latest addition to the barge’s décor. Abruptly, he understood Inspector Lebrun’s comment about MacLeod’s taste in art. He actually gasped, the physical shock of seeing that particular piece of artwork here, at this time, filling him with a horrible sense of foreboding.
“What the hell is that?” Joe asked, staring askance at the new sculpture, which definitely required an acquired taste to appreciate.
The collapsed wooden crate and packing materials stacked neatly behind the Vernier piece told their own story. Obviously, this was Mac’s big surprise.
“It’s Adrian Vernier’s final masterpiece, Rebirth,” Methos whispered, barely able to get the words out.
“Is that supposed to mean something?” Joe demanded testily, regarding the sculpture like the eyesore it was. “What’s it doing here?”
With a concentrated effort, Methos pulled himself together, “I believe it’s my Valentine’s Day present.”
“MacLeod got you that? Why?”
“We saw it at an estate sale and it stopped me cold. I wasn’t expecting it there,” Methos explained, touched by Mac’s gesture, despite the pain the mere sight of the piece inspired.
“Who would?” Joe groused.
“I’m going to go check the messages,” Methos said, hurrying to the phone, putting his back to Adrian’s work, trying to compose himself. Every time he thought he was getting a handle on things, something came up to destroy him again. What was important here was finding Mac. Everything else was incidental.
There were two previously played messages on the answering machine. The first was a telemarketer, the second was Ritchie Ryan telling Mac that he’d be at the barge at four.
“Hi, ya, Mac. It’s Ritch. Guees you’re not there right now. Just wanted you to know that I’ll be at the barge at four, like planned. Catch you later, man….”
“Christ,” Joe grated out when Ryan’s cheerful voice faded from the room, “it’s hard to believe he’s gone -- isn’t it?”
Methos, who had spent the last five millennia trapped in that feeling, simply nodded. Between the dead child’s voice ringing in the air and the dead artist’s final work standing accusingly on the other side of the room, the barge felt like a mausoleum tonight.
“You think they’ll call here?” Joe asked.
“They’ll call,” Methos assured. “Sit down, Joe. I’ll get us something to drink.”
He was almost afraid to approach the bar, which was on the same side of the hearth as the sculpture.
It was strange, more than eighty years had passed, but he remembered every line and color variation in the metal arcs. If he were to lie on the floor beneath it, Methos was sure he could pick out the one whose discoloration suggested the shape of a clipper ship. He remembered focusing on that as orgasm wrenched through him-
His hand shaking, Methos slammed a steel door down on the memory. The last thing he needed while waiting to hear MacLeod’s fate was the memory of a dead lover drifting through his mind. For Duncan’s sake, he had to be clear and focused.
Returning to the living room proper, Methos gestured Joe over to the couch, gave the man his drink, set his own down on the coffee table, and turned to the hearth to get a fire going. He was glad of the task, for it temporarily focused his mind on something other than Mac. All too soon, there was a fire roaring.
That done, Methos crossed to Mac’s stereo. He loaded the CD player up with some Springstein, Rolling Stones and Led Zepplin, turned the volume up as far as his eardrums could stand, then returned to the couch. Carefully not looking at Adrien’s sculpture, Methos took a seat next to Dawson and turned to focus on Joe.
“Why’d you put that on?” Joe asked, gesturing towards the stereo, from which the Stone’s Wild Horses was currently blasting.
Methos put his finger to his lips in a tacit request for silence, then did a quick check of the chess set on the coffee table, the antique clock and the lamps on the end tables. He couldn’t see anything suspicious on any of them, but it had been so long since Methos had played these kinds of games that he wasn’t sure he’d recognize a modern audio bug if it bit him.
“So that we can talk,” Methos answered in a low tone. “I don’t think that the barge is bugged, but if it is, that background noise might be enough to mask our conversation.”
Joe gave a glum nod and turned to watch the fire.
For the longest time they simply sat there sipping their scotch, watching the flames crackle, willing the phone to ring so the horrible waiting would be over. Dawson looked done in, inches away from total collapse. Methos didn’t feel as though he were very far behind him.
Finally, Joe said, seeming just trying to make conversation, “You, ah, don’t seem too thrilled with your Valentine’s Day present. Is it just Mac missing or something more?”
“He, ah, must’ve paid a fortune for the piece,” Methos answered, trying to stay focused on the love that had motivated the gift and not all the emotional baggage that came along with it.
“That’s not an answer,” Joe observed, his tone dull and almost dead.
Recognizing that his friend was grasping at straws to delay the grief Ritchie’s passing had caused, Methos shrugged. “Mac had no way of knowing it wasn’t a pleasant memory.”
“You knew this Vernier guy?” Dawson asked.
“Intimately,” Methos softly replied, bowing to the inevitable.
“You mean intimately like….”
Methos sighed and clarified, “I mean biblically.”
“Oh. Vernier…he was pretty famous, huh?” Joe surprised him by changing the focus of the question at that point, as though he knew that anything more personal would only hurt Methos.
Recognizing that it wasn’t normal, Watcher curiosity motivating the inquiry, but a need to fill the waiting with small talk, Methos gave Joe some of that truth he and Duncan were so fond of, “Almost famous. He probably would have been one of the most influential artists of this century, if it hadn’t been for me.”
“You’re not sayin’ you killed him?” Joe asked that question so low that Methos could barely hear it over the blaring music behind them. The inquiry itself should have been shocking, but Dawson had dealt with their kind long enough to know how frequently Immortals did take lives outside of the Game. Joe knew as well as he did that many Immortals killed those mortals unlucky enough to discover their true nature, rather than risk disclosure. Methos had never been among their number, but Joe couldn’t know that. It wasn’t like the oldest Immortal had had a true Watcher recently.
“Not literally, but…close as makes no difference. You want some more scotch?” Before Joe could answer, Methos was on his feet and at the bar. Rather than inflict another close encounter with Adrian’s metallic ghost, Methos brought the bottle back over with him and poured them both a generous helping.
“So, how do you kill someone figuratively?” Joe asked once they’d both had a bracing gulp of Mac’s liquor.
“You let your hormones do your thinking for you. You seduce someone whom you know to be emotionally incapable of handling an unconventional affair,” Methos explained as distantly as he could manage.
Apparently, he wasn’t quite as successful as he’d thought, were the compassion that flashed across Joe’s face anything to go by. “Was he a consenting adult?”
“He was that night,” Methos qualified, staring down into his scotch.
“Ah, I’ve had a coupla nights like that myself,” Joe sympathized. When Methos tentatively lifted his gaze to the Watcher’s face, Joe softly offered, “When I was in the Watchers’ Academy there was this woman…this married woman. I knew she was big trouble from the second I laid eyes on her, but sometimes there’s just no arguing with the heart.”
“Yes,” Methos gave a slow, thoughtful nod, “it was like that with Adrian. It was the same when I met Duncan. Both times, I knew I should turn and run, but…”
“There are no buts,” Joe firmly interrupted. “You might live forever, but you’re only human. Whatever went down, it wasn’t your fault.”
“How can you know that?” Methos demanded, testy and hurting.
“Because I know you. I saw you with Alexa. I’ve seen you with Mac. Whatever happened, you’re not a man who forces himself where he’s not wanted.”
The certainty in Joe Dawson’s gruff voice brought a lump to his throat. If he’d needed any proof of how far he’d come in three-thousand years, this was it. Joe’s words were a balm to his splintered spirit. Methos looked away, found his eyes settling on the glinting sculpture near the bar and pulled his gaze away again.
“He coulda said no,” Joe insisted, sounding like he’d been Methos’ Watcher and an observer to the entire thing.
“No, Joe, he couldn’t have. He was drunk. I was drunk. The word No wasn’t in the vocabulary that night.”
“I still don’t understand how that makes you responsible for his death,” Joe said.
“Adrian left Paris the next morning and wrapped himself around a tree in Versailles a month later.”
“Christ…I’m sorry,” Joe whispered, downing another slug of scotch. “That musta been horrible, but…it still wasn’t your fault.”
It was always his fault, the words were on the tip of his tongue. The second time civilization had fallen, it had been incontestably and entirely his fault, because he wasn’t able to think past his libido. Artos, Miche?l Champlain, Charolette, Adrian Vernier, perhaps Duncan MacLeod…sometimes it seemed he destroyed everything he touched, for in his heart of hearts, Methos knew that whatever had befallen his lover tonight, it had to do with him.
“The fact that that piece of art is here tells me you didn’t mention any of this to Mac,” Joe said. “When we get him back…you need to tell him about this...all of this kinda stuff.”
“Why?” Methos whispered, wanting nothing more than to never think about this type of failure again.
“So that he doesn’t go rippin’ your heart out like this every time he tries to do something nice for you. So that he can…comfort you.”
“You say that like it’s a possibility,” his sarcasm got the better of him.
But he was dealing with a master of the art here. Dawson speared him with those penetrating, blood-shot eyes and demanded, “You tellin’ me it’s not?”
Joe had seen him with Mac. The Watcher knew how much his assignment meant to Methos.
Methos’ gaze dropped as he gave a negative shake of his head. “No, you’re right. When we get him back, I’ll tell him anything he wants to know. You have my word on that.”
Joe nodded, falling silent again.
All Methos could think about as he sat there waiting for the phone to ring was how many times during the past few weeks he’d turned away from Mac’s overtures, be they sexual or conversational. Methos hadn’t actually said no to his lover, but that was mostly because MacLeod had been so disturbed over what the idealistic Highlander had perceived as some kind of mind rape that Duncan hadn’t openly propositioned him. So, he’d brooded, pretending not to see Mac reaching for him…and now he’d give his sword arm to have those three wasted weeks back to live over.
After a quiet time, Dawson broke the silence and asked, “How do you think he’s doin’?
“He was forced to take Ritchie’s Quickening. That can’t have been easy,” Joe’s voice betrayed his pain and fury.
“No, it never is,” Methos agreed.
“You…” Joe was compassionate enough not to complete the question.
Methos just reminded, “I’ve been alive for five-thousand years, Joe. There’s very little I haven’t lived through.”
“You been through this kinda scene before then?”
“Too many times.”
“I mightn’t be five-thousand years old, but I’ve been around the block a time or two. Seriously, how often does this work out okay?”
“That depends on what age the person who orchestrated this was reared,” Methos answered.
“Historically, hostages often lived like kings for years in their captor’s courts,” Methos explained. “If it is a man of those times, Mac could be fine.”
“If it’s not?” Dawson pressed.
Methos stared into those red-ribboned eyes. He could almost touch the pain Joe was feeling over Ritchie’s passing. There was no way he was going to add to it. Dredging up every bit of acting talent he owned, Methos assured in his most earnest tone, “We’ll get him back, Joe.”
Dawson gave a grim nod, his expression making it plain that he knew he was being humored.
They fell silent again.
“God, I wish they’d call!” Joe said after three more CDs had run their course and Methos had added fresh logs to the fire.
“They will, eventually,” Methos said, not liking the delay himself. The longer it took for contact to occur, the more cool and professional the person they were dealing with. Amateurs jumped the gun. Professionals knew how to make their targets sweat.
Realizing how long a wait this could be, Methos softly said, “It might be a while, Joe. Why don’t you take a nap?” Reading the protest birthing in those rebellious eyes, Methos quickly extemporized, “I’m going to need someone with a clear mind to spell me in a few hours.”
“For real?” Joe checked.
“You’ll wake me the minute we get the call?” Dawson checked.
“Scout’s honor,” Methos swore.
“You were never a scout,” Joe pointed out.
“But Mac was. I’ll call you as soon as we hear anything. Promise.”
With a grudging nod, Joe acquiesced and asked, “You want I should take the guest room?”
“Tessa’s sculptures are all over the bed in there. Take Mac’s. The sheets were changed this morning,” Methos assured, not that there had been any action in the bed recently to require the almost daily changing of bedding that they’d been experiencing prior to Longford’s arrival. Seeing Joe’s hesitation, Methos added, “You’ll be able to hear the phone from there.”
“Okay,” Joe agreed, “do me a favor first, though.”
“Sure, what do you need?”
“Turn that noise off?” Dawson begged, Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love obviously not to his liking.
“Consider it done,” Methos said.
“You’ll call me?” Joe checked one last time as he turned towards the big bed in the sleeping alcove.
“I’ll call,” Methos assured, watching as Dawson slowly retreated to the bedroom. The stoop to that proud man’s shoulders only added to the anger smoldering inside him.
He kept his attention firmly fixed on the flames as Joe undressed and removed his prosthesis for bed. Then it was only Methos, the fire and the long wait, as it had been on many a night such as this.
Methos watched the fire, melding with it until his fury and the flames were one. He’d played this game before. When the call came, he’d be ready…and so would Death.
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