Doing the Right Thing
Highlander: The Series, Forever Knight, X-Files, JAG, and Tom Clancy novels crossover
What was it about mornings, anyway? Here I was: healthy, financially stable, curled up around the woman I love, no outstanding Challenges. No problems.
So why do I feel like death warmed over? Scratch that. Why do I feel like death that's been sitting on the side of the side of the highway for a week?
It had to be a morning thing. Coming out of peaceful slumber, the body has to get back at you somehow. Or maybe it was an adult thing. I can't remember ever feeling this way when I was a kid.
With a disgusted growl, I pried open one eyelid and glared malevolently at the clock radio that was cheerfully trying to get me up by playing some catchy commercial jingle. I spent perhaps ten seconds contemplating what would happen if I introduced this demonic device to a long, sharp object. With a sigh, I concluded that it would take more effort to get up, retrieve my spare sword from the closet, and come back to kill it than it would to simply turn the blasted thing off.
Swatting at it a few times with a hand finally shut it up. With considerable effort, I pried myself out of bed and stumbled toward the bathroom.
I am not a morning person.
Within an hour and a half (not to mention a shower and breakfast), I had become a member of the human race. After seeing Andrea off to wherever she went every day, I headed to my downtown office. Once there, the first item of note was an e-mail:
To: firstname.lastname@example.org From: AFriend@anonymous_mail.com
Subject: A target of opportunity
Ryan D. Chessman,
I know who you are. I know what you are.
I know about someone you'd be interested in meeting. His name is Jerry Markus. He's been in Seacouver for a few days now, staying at the Holiday Inn on Western. He's been stalking Mr. Richie Ryan.
He joined your little elite club a few years ago but doesn't hold the same beliefs you do. He's won a few fights to date but has not showed the same restraint in methods that you and your teacher do regarding Rules. Ask MacLeod about Angela and you'll see what I mean.
First, however, you must hurry if you want to stop him. He's setting up MacLeod's training warehouse as a trap and will Challenge Ryan tonight. When he suggests a warehouse by the docks, Ryan will no doubt try to direct him to MacLeod's. The trap will be sprung.
If you leave your office now, you should be able to get to the warehouse before Markus does. I'm sure you can think of what to do from there.
You're no doubt asking yourself if this is a trap. It is not, but I realize I can't prove that to you. I can only hope that you heed my advice and remove this dark stain from your group.
- A Friend
What the hell? Well, a friend of mine is in potential trouble, and I may be able to get the drop on the bad guy here. I grabbed my coat, weapons, and cell phone and hustled out the door.
Parking about two piers down from the warehouse that MacLeod occasionally used to train Richie and myself, I jogged the remaining distance. At this time of the morning, the entire dock area was deserted, with the exception of the grain loading pier. Making one full circuit around the building, I noticed no cars and no Buzzes. I took that to mean that I had probably beat this Markus here. I entered a side door cautiously. Once inside, I took a quick lap around the interior. Still no Buzzes. Good, I'd beat him here.
Since the warehouse was almost completely empty, there was no way that I could hide. And hiding was necessary if I was going to pull this off. I settled myself down next to a dirt streaked window to wait. With a little luck, I could see anyone coming, but I was shielded from outside view.
My patience was rewarded immediately. Not five minutes later, a car pulled up outside. Ducking down out of sight and sidling over to a dark spot near the door closest to where the car had parked, I carefully cloaked myself and drew my knife.
Cassandra's teachings were coming in handy after all, I mused. Unfortunately, cloaking worked both ways. I couldn't Sense him, and I couldn't move much while maintaining the concentration needed. Holding the cloak in place, I spared as much attention as I dared to my hearing.
This guy was cautious. I could hear him take a walk around the building, probably checking for Buzzes just as I had, before returning to his car. I heard the trunk open and then close before the footsteps approached the door. The door opened and someone took one step into the place before I jumped into motion.
As I started to move, my cloaking broke down. My opponent visibly jerked, a hand darting into his coat. But I was too close by this time. I grabbed the wrist that was disappearing into his coat and started pulling. Jerked off balance, he stumbled forward. Stepping around his moving form, I tripped him up and then planted a knee into the middle of his back after he landed flat on his face on the floor. Placing my knife under his chin and along the side of his neck, I took stock of the situation.
He was just a little under six feet, thin, looked to be about thirty, dark hair. His aura told me he wasn't very old at all, but had taken a few heads. His left hand held a shotgun by the stock, and a backpack was slung over the left shoulder, slightly askew from the fall. He was flat on his stomach, head facing to the right, and right hand pinned under his chest. I could barely make out a trickle of blood leaking out of his nose, probably from his fall.
While he was coughing and groaning, I told him, "Don't move." Changing hands on the knife that was poised over his neck, I held the blade steady just under the hinge of the right side of his jaw. With my left hand, I opened and started pawing through the backpack. In it I found a box of shotgun shells, two pistol ammunition clips, a cell phone, what looked like a transmitter switch, and various other small electronic devices that I couldn't recognize.
I waited a few more seconds for him to pull himself together and stop coughing. "Where the hell did you come from?" His voice was rough, with a hint of an Irish accent.
I ignored the question. "I got a hot tip that told me that you may be here. This person also told me some other things about you. You get to try to convince me that I shouldn't kill you. Are you ready?"
"Who the hell are you?" Anger started to creep into his voice, slowly replacing the fear.
"Oh, I'm sorry. My name's Ryan Chessman. I'm sure you'll forgive me for not offering to shake hands. What's your name? And while you're at it, what are you doing here?"
"Why should I answer any of your damn questions? If you're going to kill me, get on with it. Or are you too scared to try to take me in a fair fight?" The sneer in his voice was almost visible.
"You should answer because what I can see tells me that you deserve to die. If you want to keep your head, you'll answer my questions. Oh, and don't think about trying to force your way out of this mess. I may not be able to decapitate you with this knife immediately, but I can sure do a good number on your neck." I pressed the knife in slightly to make my point. "Now, what's your name?"
"Jerry Markus." His voice was sullen, but he clearly understood the situation.
"What are you doing here?"
"I just moved into town. I'm looking for a decent spot to fight if I'm Challenged." His aura flickered. He was lying.
"Do you know who Richie Ryan is?"
"No." Another lie.
"What's the shotgun for?"
I could see a small smile start to form on what I could see of his face. "I like to be careful." True, but incomplete. His aura started to calm down, his fear subsiding. If I weren't careful, he could start to try something. A wicked grin spread on my face as a plan began to form.
I took the shotgun shells and pistol clips out of his backpack and tossed them away a few feet. Leaning over a little, I got a grip on the shotgun and tried to take it. He wouldn't release it. I sighed and pressed my knife a little harder. This time it drew a drop of blood from just under his jaw. "Let go of the shotgun." After a moment of hesitation, he did. I took it and tossed it toward where I'd thrown the ammunition.
By this time you could almost see the gears turning in his head. He began squirming uncomfortably. "Would you get off me? The hilt of my sword is digging a hole in my stomach."
Without even looking up from my perusal of his backpack, I said, "No." I took out the remaining electronic gadgets and placed them in front of his face. "What're these?"
"Electronics. There's a laser tripwire and a few other items. I'm an electronics expert, and I'm putting a security system into my home myself." A few truths, but that last one was a lie.
Nodding as if I believed his lies, I got off his back, but left my knife where it was. "Looks like what I was told about you was a lie. Seems this person who contacted me thought you were going to prepare an unfair trap for Richie Ryan." His aura flickered in blind panic, but his face never twitched nor had he moved. I continued, "Looks like they were wrong about you. Sorry about all this. Hope there're no hard feelings." Removing the knife from his neck, I got up and headed out of his line of sight. While he couldn't see me, I transferred it back to my left hand while silently drawing my wakizashi with my right. I hoped this worked.
He took the bait. Rolling over as quickly as he could, he pulled his trapped hand out of his coat, bringing a pistol in line. His problem was that his aura blazed with danger as he started moving. My sword found his neck just as the gun made it far enough to bear on me. Fortunately, his finger never received the command to fire.
No sense destroying anything useful. I pulled out my cell phone and dropped it onto the ammunition. I had trotted about ten feet before the Quickening dropped me in my tracks.
Ow. That wasn't fun. I'd heard of people who enjoyed the Quickenings, but I certainly didn't. They were supposed to increase my strength, but they simply made me feel miserable.
Well, first thing's first. I pulled myself back to my feet, gathered my blades and tucked them away. Shaking out the tightness in my arms and neck, I walked back over to the center of activity. Markus certainly wasn't going to be a problem anymore. Fortunately, the ammo, shotgun, and my phone were okay. His phone and electronic knick knacks more closely resembled smoking gray amoebas than something manufactured. I was relieved to see that the ammunition was okay. I didn't want to find out what a lightning bolt would do to a box of shotgun shells. I looked around for anything else of value. The pistol was lying nearby, apparently unharmed. Reaching into Markus' coat, I drew his sword. It looked like one of those short swords you saw in the movies of Roman soldiers. What was that called? A gladius? Something like that. Good news. I can carry that one out of here without being obvious. I tucked it into the sheath with my wakizashi and stuffed the ammunition and pistol into my pockets and waistband. After a moment of hesitation, I also took the shotgun and slung it over my shoulder by the strap.
Many people would think this distasteful, but I saw it as simple practicality. After all, he didn't need any of it anymore. To the victor go the spoils, after all.
I walked outside, took a calming breath of air, and looked around. All was quiet. Fortunately, the light show hadn't drawn any attention. I walked back to my car before pulling out my phone.
"Joe's. Joe Dawson speaking."
Amazing. He's there and awake even in the middle of the morning. "Hey, Joe. It's Ryan. You'll probably get a call real soon about a Quickening down at Mac's warehouse. You may want to send a cleanup crew down there."
You could hear the concern in his voice. "What happened?"
"Long story. Could you get in touch with Adam and have him meet me there tonight? I have a story for the two of you that you need to hear. You won't want to hear it, but you need to."
A pause preceded his response, "Okay, I'll go along with that for now. You okay?"
I gave a long sigh before answering. "I will be. Talk to you later." I hung up that call and hit another speed dial button.
"Hello, you've reached Richie and Hoa's. We can't . . ."
I hung up. No sense leaving a message. I had a good idea where he was, anyway. I hit a third speed dial.
"Hi, Richie. It's Ryan."
"Hey, Ryan. What's up?"
"You free for a while?"
"Yeah, this place is quiet right now. Why?"
"I'll be over in a few minutes. I have a question and a gift for you."
"And it's not even my birthday." His voice held a note of curiosity now.
"Well, think of it as an early Christmas present. I'll be over in a few. Bye."
Turning off the phone, I pulled the keys out of my pocket. Popping the trunk, I pulled out the short sword and placed it inside. The shotgun went in with it. Fortunately, my parking spot was far enough out of sight of anything that I wasn't in real danger of anyone seeing me. Well, anyone except maybe my Watcher. And I had nothing to fear from him or her. After all, I used to be one and knew how they worked.
The drive over to DeSalvo's Dojo was filled with questions. Who sent that letter? Why did they send it? What do I tell Richie?
Why I was going to Richie was easy enough. If he could tell me how to use it, I was planning to keep the pistol. Going to him would be far easier than going somewhere else. Based on his background, I figured he had at least a basic knowledge about handguns and could give me a decent "how to" lecture on guns. I'd heard about entirely too many Immortals who used guns. I figured I needed one myself. I had no need or want of the shotgun, so I figured I'd give that one to Richie. Whether he kept it or sold it, I didn't care. He'd probably know how to sell it if he wanted to, anyway. I had no idea how to get rid of something like that short of dumping it into the ocean. Yeah, I knew it was stereotypical to think I knew his knowledge base just because of his background, but it was all I had.
The question of what to tell him was proving to be tougher. I couldn't very well tell him the whole story. He'd think I was protecting him, which wasn't quite the truth. Yes, I had gone to the warehouse without help, but there was nobody around who could have helped me without being a hindrance. He couldn't cloak like I could, and that was a key point to my ambush. With him there, it would have spoiled the whole plan.
DeSalvo's was just coming into view when I decided I would tell Richie nothing about how I found this guy.
I pulled into a shadowed spot near the dojo and looked around. Nobody in sight. At least nobody obvious. Watchers never were. Popping the trunk, I pulled the shotgun out and tried to stuff it into my coat. It was too long. Of course it was too long. Cursing under my breath, I stuffed the stock as far up into my armpit as I could and held the barrel in my hand. Not terribly pretty, but at least this kept it out of sight. Mostly. I hoped.
Shutting my trunk, I tried to walk casually into DeSalvo's. Well, I TRIED to look casual. In truth, I felt as obvious as an elephant at a penguin conference. Once I hit the door, I spotted Richie in the office, looking up at the door, and Hoa over on one of the practice mats, apparently just finishing some form of stretching routine.
When she noticed me, she stood and walked my way. As she came over, I took a moment to appreciate the view. A little over five foot, perhaps 100 pounds, and Vietnamese, Vu Tran Hoa was quite easy to look at. Hey, just because I was devoted to Andrea didn't mean I couldn't appreciate the view along the road of life. Besides, both Andrea and Richie'd kill me if I did more than just passively admire.
She stopped just a few feet short of me and seemed to be giving me a good looking over. Her mouth quirked up and she asked, "So, Ryan, is that a gun in your coat or are you just happy to see me?"
Did I mention her sense of humor?
I rolled my eyes and have her half a smile. "Yes and yes. Nice seeing you, Hoa. No offense, but Richie and I need to talk."
She just nodded and went back to the exercise mat, apparently to finish her exercise routine. Relieved that I wouldn't have to explain any of this to her, I continued on to the office.
"Real subtle, Ryan. Should I ask?" Richie leaned back in the chair and looked at me with a mixture of amusement and curiosity.
I laid the shotgun on the desk, followed by the pistol, two clips, and box of shells. "Hey, I never said I was good at concealing firearms. Remember how long it took me to carry a sword without looking like an advertisement for Ginsu?" I flopped down into the chair across from him.
Giving a chuckle, he picked up each weapon in turn and looked them over before putting them down again. The shotgun was apparently already unloaded, and he checked the clip on the pistol. "Okay, where'd you get these, and why'd you bring them here?"
"The headhunter I took them from doesn't need them anymore," I answered. "As for why here, well, I don't know anything about guns. I'd like to keep the pistol, but only if I can use it without hurting myself."
He raised an eyebrow slightly. "And what makes you think I know anything about guns?"
"I read some of your Chronicles, remember? You started out life on the street." I quirked an eyebrow and looked at him skeptically. "Are you telling me you don't know how to use a handgun?"
He winced a little at my mention of his history. "Okay, I see your point. I can point out the major items on this Glock, but you'd have to go to a gun range to practice. And if you go there, you'd better have proof of ownership of this thing. I'll assume you didn't buy this from its previous owner." One eyebrow lifted in twisted humor.
I raised an eyebrow back at him with a sour look. "Sorry, I didn't get him to write out a receipt," I said with heavy sarcasm. "I'm not going to bother with practice. If I point it and pull the trigger, the bullet goes the direction I'm aiming, right?"
He nodded with a slight frown. "It's not that easy, but yeah. Being a decent shot takes some practice."
"That's not my goal. This is going to be a last ditch weapon for me. I don't WANT to know how to use it well."
He shrugged. "Your call. What about this one?" He indicated the shotgun.
I gave him a slight smile. "Merry Christmas."
His eyebrows tried to crawl off his face. "Er, thanks, but what if I don't particularly want a shotgun?"
I shrugged. "Sell it. I'm sure you can do that discreetly as well."
He didn't even blink. "Maybe. Thanks. So seriously, where'd you get 'em?"
"Some guy named Jerry Markus. Joe's people have probably cleaned up Mac's warehouse by now. Poor guy was hardly older than we are." I shrugged. "He pulled the pistol on me instead of his sword."
He was clearly interested in more of an explanation than that, but he didn't press the issue. Instead, he picked up the Glock. As he rattled off the features, he demonstrated. "Safety on, won't fire. Safety off, will. Clip release, empty chamber like so, put round back into clip, put clip back in, chamber a round after it's empty. Keep it away from children and out of sight. Ask Joe how to clean it. He has one himself. Any questions?" He flipped on the safety and handed it to me butt first.
I tucked it back into my waistband. "Yeah. I'm in a bad mood. I need to burn off some energy. You up for some hand to hand practice?"
He chuckled. "Sure, but don't let Hoa see you hit me. She's likely to try to kill you."
I looked out the glassed in office to see her in the midst of a slow kata of some variety. She was clearly very limber and the outfit she was wearing showed off her figure. It was worth showing off. I turned back to Richie with a leer. "Hmm, maybe I'll do that. Wrestling her sounds like fun."
He gave me an evil look and reached for the shotgun. I just laughed.
After spending an hour working out my frustrations by pounding on Richie (and him pounding on me just a little harder), I went back home for a while. By the time I got there, I was amazed to notice it was only noon. I'd only been up for six hours, and it'd already been a full day. I fixed myself a quick lunch and then went back to the office. I did need to get SOME work done today.
By six that evening I had calmed back down to something approaching normalcy. Leaving a message on the machine at home for Andrea in case she beat me back, I grabbed my coat and headed out the door to Joe's. I was NOT looking forward to this talk.
Walking into Joe's bar relaxed me immediately. In addition to being a relaxed bar atmosphere, I had spent many happy times in here. Just a couple weeks ago, Andrea and I had celebrated her birthday here with several friends. And then there were the uncountable times I had come in here to escape the world. However, in addition to the happy times, there were also the stressful ones in here. Just a year ago now, a table full of Immortals had helped me transition into their world. I shook my head. Lots of memories in this room. With hardly any thought, my feet took me to a barstool, and I took a seat. Time to make a few new memories here.
The more I thought about it, the more the implications of this letter scared the drek outta me. There was a leak in the Watchers, that much was clear. This person, whoever they were, was helping Immortals by feeding them information about others. And because of that, a dark Immortal was eliminated.
I frowned as something occurred to me. Why did I want to tell Joe about this? This person had HELPED me (and likely saved Richie's life) for crying out loud. Why they picked me, and why Markus was a target, I've no idea, but this person had made the world a better place for it. With a strained chuckle, I realized that my initial thought of turning my information over to Joe and Adam was typical Watcher thinking. But I wasn't a Watcher any longer, I was an Immortal. I should probably be trying to protect this person.
My mental ruminations were interrupted by Joe as he put a Killian's down in front of me. "Adam called and said he'd be here soon. Want to talk about this now or wait for him?"
I looked up at Joe and sighed. "Let's wait for him. It'll keep." He looked at me for a moment before finally giving me a nod and moving off.
I called this meeting of sorts, so I'd better have something to talk about. But did I want to talk about this mysterious letter? No, I wanted to keep this person safe for as long as they helped trim down on the bad guys out there. But what if they aren't targeting only bad guys? What if they were indiscriminate Hunters, going after all Immortals? Because of who my teacher was, sending me after a dishonorable Immortal was almost sure to appeal to me. If this person knew who I was (and the letter was clearly designed with that knowledge), it would be easy to choose targets that I wouldn't hesitate to pursue.
I needed to know if this was an isolated case or not. If not, who else had been targeted? I gave a frustrated sigh. How was I going to get THAT information? Several possibilities flashed through my mind. I could ask Andrea, but I had never asked such questions before, and if I ask now, it would look suspicious. I could try to hack the Watcher's database, but that would be time consuming, and I didn't have the time. Adam would know, but what would his reaction be? Was he more Watcher or Immortal?
Speak of the devil, and here he comes. He of the Ancient Time and Powerful Aura walked into the room and made his way to the barstool next to mine. Adam Pierson was quite the mystery to me. Physically, he was mid thirties, tall, lanky, and looked like a starving grad student. However, this guy was the oldest known living being on the planet. How he remained a functioning member of society was beyond me.
"Adam," I greeted him.
"Ryan. How's your day been?"
I turned to look at him. "Don't tell me you haven't heard."
He almost smiled. "Okay, I won't." He continued to just stare at me for a minute.
"What?" That stare was beginning to annoy me. That wasn't terribly surprising. He'd had something like five thousand years to practice it, after all.
"Are you going to tell us?"
My jaw almost dropped. Quickly composing my face, I innocently asked, "Tell you what?"
He shook his head. "Whatever it is you asked us to see you tonight about. Whatever it is, you're undecided about it."
I frowned at him. "What makes you think I'd not tell you what I asked you two here for?"
He quirked one eyebrow and tilted his head at me. "You may be able to read auras, but five thousand years of living hasn't left me completely devoid of skills. And you're entirely too young to be hiding anything from me."
Uh, oh. Better try to lead him off the track. "Are you really psychic or just a good guesser?"
"Neither. Just a good judge of human nature. And you haven't answered the question yet. Are you going to tell us?"
So much for that plan. I grimaced. "I don't know. I need more information from the Watchers first. But asking the question will tell them more than I want them to know."
"Need I remind you that I am a Watcher, and so were you?"
I sighed. "I know. Where do my loyalties to the Watchers end and my responsibilities to the Immortals begin?" I didn't really mean to ask it that way, but it was a valid enough question.
"You're protecting whoever told you how to catch Markus? You think it was a Watcher?" His voice held a note of incredulity.
Damn, how'd he figure that one out? I gritted my teeth and stared at the bar top. He already knew more than was probably safe, especially if he was more loyal to the Watchers than Immortals.
With that thought, I frowned to myself. And who the hell was I loyal to? Well, I needed a sounding board. "Which group are you more loyal to?"
He gave a soft smile. "You asking Adam Pierson or Methos?"
"I don't know. I'm asking you. Are you Pierson, or are you Methos?"
He seemed to fold up into himself. He turned to stare at the amber liquid in the bottle in front of himself. "I don't know anymore." It was almost a whisper, but it seemed to carry the weight of countless internal arguments.
Great. "Once you can tell me the answer to that one, let me know."
Since Adam wasn't going to be useful to me tonight, I still needed a sounding board. I couldn't ask Richie, because he was too close to this whole mess. It was his life that was saved by my actions. Hoa was out for the same reasons. Andrea's loyalty was to the Watchers, not Immortals. Though the fact that she was emotionally involved with me hinted that she may be more impartial than some others. Duncan would be useful, but he was in Paris. Amanda or Cassandra would be partial to the Immortals, not Watchers. Joe was loyal to Duncan first, Watchers second, and Immortals in general a distant third.
I needed to know if this person was giving information on everyone or just specific someones. Before deciding anything, I NEEDED that.
While staring at my drink, wrestling with my conscience, I became slowly aware of someone standing in front of me. I looked up to find Joe staring at me from across the counter. "What's wrong?" He sounded honestly concerned. That only made this harder.
I gave a sad little laugh. "I can't even tell you that, Joe."
He cocked his head, questioning. I shook my head. I can't talk to him about this.
He nodded. "Anyway, you two want to head back to my office? This'll take a while."
I got up and tugged on Adam's sleeve to pull his attention back to the present. Once he looked up at me, I nodded my head toward the back. We got up and headed that way while Joe made his way back from behind the bar. I entered and collapsed into a seat near the door. Adam held the door for Joe before he took a place next to me, and Joe went behind the desk. Once seated, Joe pulled out a notebook and pen. "No Watchers witnessed your Challenge, Ryan. Both Watchers followed you two to the warehouse, but neither got close to the building before the Quickening started. Do you mind answering a few questions about it?"
I softly said, "I was a Watcher, Joe. It's the least I can do." Without even realizing it, I found myself running my right thumb over my left inner wrist. Right over where my Watcher tattoo used to be. Adam caught the movement, and I stopped, feeling guilty.
Joe frowned a little at my tone, but said nothing about it. "Did he give his name?"
"Yeah, Jerry Markus."
"Who Challenged who?"
"Neither. He pulled a gun on me. I got him before he could pull the trigger."
"Good reflexes," Adam muttered sarcastically.
Joe frowned at him but said nothing to the other Watcher. He turned back to me, "What type of gun?"
"Richie told me it was a Glock. He also had a shotgun, but I gave that to Richie."
Joe was scribbling notes as he talked. "Any sword?"
"He never pulled it, but I found one on him. Looks like a Roman short sword. It's back at my place in case one of you wants to go and identify it."
Adam abruptly asked, "What were you doing there?" Joe looked shocked at the interruption but didn't say anything.
I glared at Adam. "I can't answer that."
I gritted my teeth, "You know why."
Joe looked back and forth between us, from my smoldering glare to Adam's impassive stare. "What's with you two?"
Adam waved one hand at me. "He's trying to protect someone. A Watcher."
I almost snarled, "Careful, METHOS. You're betraying a confidence here. I hope you're aware of that."
Joe was staring at me with a frown. "Protecting a Watcher? Who?"
"I CAN'T TELL YOU!" I had this overwhelming urge to scream or hit someone or DO SOMETHING.
I was suddenly standing face to face with Adam. He yelled into my face, "Damnit, you HAVE TO!"
My right fist lashed out, catching Adam along his left cheek. I was slightly shorter but a little heavier, so the punch merely threw him back into the chair he had been sitting in moments ago. He just stared up at me, a thin trickle of blood escaping the corner of his mouth. Joe was staring at the whole scene in shock, mouth hanging open, pen dangling forgotten. I stood there, fists clenching and unclenching, trying to keep from drawing one of my weapons and doing something permanent. I stared at Adam a moment before saying through gritted teeth, "Don't you dare tell me what I have to do, old man. You have no right."
With that, I stormed out the office. I didn't break any doors on the way out the bar, but it wasn't for lack of trying.
I was sitting in the living room, glaring at the wall when Andrea came in. It had been just over an hour since leaving Joe's, and I wasn't any calmer now than I was then.
I was angry at myself for not being able to decide what to do about the sender of the letter, and I was angry at Adam for the betrayal. Joe was just caught in the middle of this whole mess but no doubt had been informed by now of what Adam knew and what he suspected. So he was going to start trying to figure out who I was trying to protect as well. As a Watcher, he had to. But that didn't mean I had to like it.
Andrea walked in the front door and stopped. She didn't say anything for a moment, just stood and looked at me. I continued to glare at the wall. With a sigh, she took off her coat and hung it up with her purse. She came over to the chair and sat down facing me. "Want to talk about it?"
My jaw clenched once before I turned to her. "How much do you know?"
She gave a small smile. "You know that the Watchers have the quickest grapevine around. I heard about you Challenging Markus this morning and that there was some sort of fight this evening at Joe's. I know the what, but I don't know the why." She tilted her head a little and asked again, "Want to talk about it?"
I shook my head. "I can't. I'd force you into an impossible situation if I did."
She sighed. "Okay, but I'll be here if you need to talk." I merely nodded and then leaned back on the couch, closing my eyes and rubbing my head. All this thinking was giving me a headache.
Andrea got up and came over to the couch next to me. Curling up beside me, she laid her head on my shoulder and ran a hand inside the jacket I hadn't even bothered to take off yet. The hand abruptly stopped part way in. "So is that a gun in your pants or are you just happy to see me?"
I let out a strangled laugh. "That's almost exactly what Hoa said today."
"Yeah, she was at the dojo when I went to see Richie. Hope you don't mind the gun, but Markus doesn't need it anymore, and I thought it'd be a good idea to have one."
I felt her shrug. "If you think you need a gun even with those overgrown steak knives you have in your coat, who am I to tell you different?"
I gave a tired chuckle as I continued to massage my temples. She ran a finger along my jaw line as she continued, "You know, I've heard about this great cure for headaches."
I cracked open one eye and peered sideways at her, a smile slowly forming. "Oh? And what's that?" It was a game we'd played before.
She stood up and offered me a hand and a smile. "Come along, and I'll show you."
What'd I ever do to deserve this woman? Whatever it was, I'm not complaining.
The next morning I awoke in a blind panic. An Immortal was nearby! I was struggling to my feet before my mind caught up. I identified the aura as Richie's just as I heard the knock on the front door and Andrea was looking up from the bed with a sleepy and aggravated, "What?"
I waved in the direction of the front door and said, "Richie."
She sighed and fell back down into bed, trying to crawl back under the covers.
Muttering dire threats under my breath, I made my way around the scattered clothing and grabbed my robe. Pulling it on, I walked out of the bedroom and to the front door and unlocked it. Opening it enough to show Richie it was unlocked, I turned around and headed for the couch. Richie pushed the door open and entered just as I was sitting down on the couch with a yawn. "Ya know, Rich, I thought I hated the way my alarm woke me up. I must now say that it's downright calm after being awakened by a Buzz."
He gave me an apologetic smile as he seated himself in the chair facing the couch. "Sorry about that. Joe called this morning and asked me to check up on you. He didn't tell me exactly what happened last night, only that you and Adam had quite a fight. You want to tell me what happened?"
"Yeah, you never told me last night, either." Andrea came in wearing her own robe and flopped down on the couch next to me with a yawn. She curled up and started to use my leg as a pillow. "Hi, Richie."
"Andrea." He seemed a little uncomfortable with our relative state of undress. He leaned forward onto his knees and said, "Look, sorry about waking you two up, but Joe was really worried about you, Ryan. What's this all about?"
I sighed and leaned back. I didn't have the energy to get into this fight right now. "Okay, I'll tell the two of you. Your positions on this will be the polar opposites of each other, so I can get decent arguments from the both of you. But first, you two need to swear that you'll never tell ANYONE about this. This'll be harder on you, Andrea. Some of this may grate against your Watcher Oath."
She propped herself up on one elbow and looked at me quizzically. She seemed wide awake now. "Remember that line about not letting Immortals know about me? I've already broken parts of that Oath for you, Ryan. I'm not about to stop now."
Richie merely nodded his acceptance of my condition.
"Okay." I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and tilted my head back. "I got an e-mail yesterday. It was someone claiming to know who and what I was. They told me that Jerry Markus has been stalking Richie here." I waved my hand in Richie's direction without opening my eyes. "Markus was going to be going to Mac's warehouse to set a trap. He would then Challenge Richie and suggest somewhere on the docks. Richie would probably have suggested Mac's warehouse." I opened my eyes enough to see his reaction. Richie nodded, a frown on his face. I closed my eyes again as I continued the story. "Richie would have shown up, and the trap would be sprung. I needed to leave immediately to get there before Markus. This person implied I would simply show up and ambush the ambusher. They told me enough about what he was going to do that I felt I should. I left immediately. Good thing I did, too. Markus showed up within ten minutes after I did. I cloaked myself, and he walked right in. I kept him pinned and asked him enough questions to determine that what I had been told was truthful. He had that shotgun and enough electronics to set up a nice little ambush for someone walking in the door. I baited him into showing his hand, and he drew the pistol on me." I shrugged and opened my eyes. "Killing him seemed the only thing to do."
Richie frowned at me. "So where's the problem?"
Andrea turned her head and glared at him. "It had to be a Watcher who sent that note. Who else would know all that about Markus? And you two?"
I nodded. "Right. And now I come to my dilemma. Do I turn this person in to Joe, or do I try to protect them? They helped me and probably saved Richie's life." He nodded thoughtfully as I continued, "If this person continues to help bring down the cheaters, I'm all for that. However, if this person targets a good guy, then they'll be no better than an indiscriminate Hunter. And I'll have to live with the knowledge that I could have done something but didn't. So do I try to turn this person in or not?"
A long pause settled over us as they thought about my little story. While they did that, I got up to see to breakfast. Popping a pan of cinnamon rolls into the oven, I poured three glasses of orange juice out before returning to the living room. Andrea had sat up, but otherwise neither had moved. I passed around the OJ before taking my seat again.
Without looking up from her frown at the carpet, Andrea started the discussion back up. "I feel we have to find out who this is. And stop them, soon. I can understand your wanting to leave them be, but that's a temporary answer at best. Once they realize that they can do this and their target goes away, they're going to continue. Eventually, either the target Immortal gets lucky and kills the one sent to stop them, or this person sends someone to kill one of the good guys. This person is bound to become indiscriminate sooner or later." She looked up at me. "Absolute power corrupts absolutely."
Richie slowly nodded. "Much as I love the idea of someone out there feeding information to the good guys, I have to agree that they'll eventually get careless, one way or another. And I owe this person my life. I hate to turn on my guardian angel, but I don't see any other way around it."
WHAT? I stared at Richie. "I figured you'd be all in favor of leaving this person alone. Or actively protecting them."
He looked pained. "Even the best of people can turn to into evil incarnate."
The light slowly dawned on me as I remembered one of the few Chronicles I had read when I was a Watcher. For a time Duncan MacLeod had become as evil as any Immortal out there. And if Duncan, who we all saw as the epitome of good intentions, could fall to such depths, it could happen to anyone. Whether by a Dark Quickening or absolute corruption, it was only a matter of time before it happened to our mysterious benefactor.
Richie roused himself from the morbid mood with a shake of the head and a deep breath. "So why did you and Adam get into a fight?"
I grimaced. "I was undecided what to tell Joe last night. I was trying to gauge Adam's attitudes when he pieced enough together to guess the basics of what I was talking about. And he told Joe some of it without consulting me. And then he tried to force me to tell them the whole truth. He betrayed me."
Richie raised an eyebrow at me. "I sure hope you didn't try anything stupid. Nobody really knows how good he is, but Mac respects him as a fighter. And that's more than enough for me to stay out of his way."
I shook my head. "Just a bloody lip." I gave a twisted grin. "I probably hurt my wrist more than his jaw, anyway."
Richie's chuckle was interrupted by the oven announcing that breakfast was ready. He stood up. "I need to go. See you two later."
The doorbell that night was right on time. I got up from the couch next to Andrea where we had been watching TV to let him in. I opened the door to find a very confused Watcher. "Hi, Joe. Come on in."
He came in and gave me a funny look. "After last night, I was surprised you asked me over tonight. What's up?"
"Have a seat, and I'll explain. First I'd like to apologize for last night. I was mad at Adam, for reasons that will become clear eventually. You know Andrea of course," I said, waving a hand at her as I settled into the recliner.
"Of course," he said as he levered himself into one of the dining room chairs. "What's this all about, Ryan?"
"This affects all of us, directly or indirectly. I don't know how much Adam told you last night, so I'll just assume he didn't tell you more than I heard, or that what he guessed may be wrong." I took a deep breath and steepled my fingers directly in front of my face, lightly pinching the bridge of my nose between my index fingers. I've never known why, but this pose helped me to think more clearly or gather my courage. I definitely needed both right now. "I'll start at the beginning and work up to the Quickening yesterday. First, I received this e-mail." I retrieved the page I had printed earlier from the end table and handed it to Joe.
As he read it, I took a deep breath and looked around the room, trying to keep myself together. Despite the logical reasons for doing this, I still felt like I was betraying someone. Andrea smiled at me encouragingly. I tried smiling back, but I'm afraid the effort wasn't very good.
I looked over to Joe as he finished reading the page and looked up at me. He looked slightly sick. "This has to be a Watcher."
I nodded. "After receiving that, I went to the warehouse. Markus showed up just as promised. Since I can cloak myself, I ambushed him. His reasons for being there, knowledge of Richie, and what he had on him sounded good. But he was lying through his teeth. When I released him, he went for his pistol." I shrugged. "I was quicker."
Joe nodded absently, not really listening. "We have to find this person." His vacant gaze cleared and focused on me. "Anything you can tell me about them?"
I shook my head. "Anonymous Mail is one of several free internet e-mail services. Most of them require registration of name and address. Some probably log incoming calls. You'll have to get a court order or hacker to dig that information out of them. Even if you get it out, it may not be worth anything. You know how good some people can be at hiding their tracks. Immortals do it all the time." I smiled at his grimace and continued, "So that information may or may not be worth anything. It'd be easier to check Watcher data access logs. Someone looked up my Chronicles enough to know who my teacher was, my location, and my friendship with Richie. And they looked up Markus recently enough to know where he was staying and what he was going to do yesterday morning." I frowned in thought. "Unless they also tipped Markus off to set him up. In which case, they were in communication with him, and he trusted them enough to try this." I shook my head. "I'm no detective. I'm sure there are a few Watchers who are. Bring them in and let them track this person down."
Joe stared off in space, lost in thought. He nodded as he pulled his gaze back to the here and now. "Can I have this?" he asked, holding up the printout.
"Sure. I'm sure you can come up with some story about how you became curious as to how I happened to be there at that particular time and broke into my place and stole it. You Watchers are sneaky and clever like that." I gave him a twisted smile. He smiled and gave a little bow from the shoulders, as if accepting praise. I continued, "Or perhaps you simply asked my devious girlfriend to steal it for you."
She laid a hand upon her chest and gave me a look that was innocence itself. Her Southern Belle accent could have come straight out of a Civil War miniseries, "Why, whatever do you mean, sir?"
We all chuckled for a moment before something occurred to me. "Joe, do you know what this person meant by asking Duncan about Angela?"
He nodded sadly. "Connor MacLeod took a student last year, Angela Bailey. Markus showed up one day, claiming to be a student of Duncan's. He and Angela sparred that day with Connor doing some training instructions. Markus suggested to her that they meet later to spar some more, without Connor 'chaperoning' them. She agreed. By the time Connor discovered he wasn't a student of Duncan's, Angela was dead and Markus had disappeared."
I shook my head. "Seems that this guy hung around Duncan enough to know what buttons to push everywhere. Maybe our mystery benefactor is just trying to protect Duncan?"
Joe shrugged. "Who knows. I'll be sure to ask when we track them down."
"You do that. Oh, I almost forgot." I got up and retrieved the Glock. Getting back to the living room, I handed it to Joe. "I'm told you can give me a little instruction on how to use that thing without blowing holes in various portions of my anatomy."
He nodded, but looked at me questioningly. "Um, how are you going to use it?"
I smiled at him. "Relax. It'll be a last ditch weapon. I don't intend to use it unless I have to. Besides, I got that and some ammo cheap."
He smiled faintly. "I'll bet." His smile brightened. "Yeah, I can help you with this. If you have a couple rags and a clean toothbrush, we can use a little of the oil you use on your sword and clean this thing up."
I walked into the dojo at a few minutes short of nine the next morning for Richie's and my practice session to find him stretching out and Hoa doing a few katas herself. Nodding a greeting to them, I walked into the locker room to change.
When I emerged, I found Richie giving Hoa a few pointers while she tried to wield one of the wooden practice katanas. For her size, it was entirely too big. At 5'2", she was barely half again the length of the sword she was trying to swing around. I stopped and stared at the almost comic scene for a few moments before giving in to silent snickers.
Hoa saw me out of the corner of her eye and turned to me with a frown. "Be nice, Ryan. You know I don't know how to use these."
Composing myself as quickly as I could, I apologized. "Sorry. I wasn't laughing at your skill. It's just that the weapon you're trying to use is a little . . . ah . . . long for you." I dug around in the storage closet for a moment and came out with one of the practice swords I had used when learning to fight with my wakizashi. I turned and extended it to her. "Try this one."
She traded me the katana for the smaller sword and immediately started swinging it around a little, getting a feel for the weapon. She nodded with a small smile. "Much better."
Putting the wooden katana point down and resting my wrists on its handle, I turned to Richie. "Dare I ask why you're teaching her how to wield a sword?"
He shrugged. "She asked."
"Uh, huh. Okay." I turned to her. "Why?" This ought to be good.
She cocked her head. "I was curious. You guys make it look so easy." I raised an eyebrow and Richie rolled his eyes. She continued, "I've never tried to do it before, and I was just wondering how tough it really was." She gave me a challenging grin. "Up for some sparring?"
I was suddenly very uncomfortable with the whole situation. "Um, I'd rather not. If something happens, you won't heal as quickly as I would."
She advanced a step on me and gave a wicked grin. "What's the matter? Afraid you'd get your butt whipped by a little girl?" The sarcasm fairly dripped off her words.
Richie was also looking concerned. "I don't think this is such a good idea, Hoa. Ryan's right. You could get hurt so easily."
Her eyes narrowed. "I'm so sick of you protecting me." Her gaze softened. "This is your world, Richie. I want to try to become part of it."
I shook my head. "No, you don't. It's bloody, and it's ugly. It's nice that you're trying to do this, but you really don't want any part of this." I was hoping to talk her out of this without being insulting.
It didn't work. She snarled and swung at me. I was so shocked by her attack that I barely got the practice katana up to block. I was in no position to take advantage of her unbalanced attack. I was hardly capable of holding onto the sword.
At her first move, Richie darted in, apparently trying to grab her before she got hurt. She must have seen him move out of the corner of her eye, because she swung sideways at him. The tip of the wooden sword caught him in one hand and across the other wrist. I winced. That almost had to have broken something. Richie backed off in shock.
Once he was no longer trying to attack her, she turned back to me. "Fight me!" Her shout was totally out of character for the normally composed Hoa I was used to. What the hell's gotten into her?
Fortunately, I had regained my balance and was in a defensive stance by this time. "Hoa, don't force me to do this."
She growled and darted in. While not skillful, she was aggressive. I needed to find a way to finish this without hurting her. While simply putting down the sword and letting her pummel me would work, it'd be a little more painful that I wanted to deal with. Okay, so how do I disarm her? I stayed totally defensive and kept twisting the direction of the fight over to one of the floor mats. Once my back was to one of the mats, I waited for her to make the right move. She obliged within a few seconds. Her overhand chop came over her right shoulder. Unfortunately for her, this meant her momentum was carrying her forward. Angling my sword to keep the downward swinging stick from hitting, I took a half step forward and to the right. Squatting down on my right foot, I swept her from her feet with my left leg. She sprawled face first onto the mat. I hopped back to my feet and walked over to the sword she still held in her right hand, pinning it to the ground with a foot.
Richie was walking over to her by this time, but she wasn't getting up. He squatted down by her head. Reaching out, he took the sword from her unresisting hand. Handing it up to me without looking up, he continued to look down at the back of Hoa's head. By this time I could see that she was shaking softly.
Richie reached out a hand and laid it on her shoulder and asked softly, "Hoa, what was that all about?"
Her voice was rough with what I guessed were restrained sobs. "I'm just tired of you trying to protect me from your world, Richie. I was trying to prove that I can take care of myself." She rolled over onto her side and looked up at me. Her eyes were glistening with unshed tears. "Ryan just proved how wrong I was about that, though." She gave a hiccuping little laugh. "Guess I'd better not . . ." She curled up into a ball and silently started crying.
I quietly put the practice swords away and went into the locker room. After changing back into my casual clothing, I went out into the main room. Richie had gotten Hoa into the glassed in office and into a chair. He looked up at me momentarily. I pointed to him, held my hand up to the side of my face as if holding a phone, and pointed at myself, trying to communicate that I wanted him to call me. He nodded and then looked back down at Hoa. I quickly and quietly left.
I was buried up to my eyeballs in code two hours later when the phone rang. I snatched it up, "Chessman."
"Hi, Ryan. It's Richie."
I leaned back in the chair and swiveled away from the computer. "Hey. How's Hoa doing?"
"She's okay. You didn't even bruise her. Thanks."
One corner of my mouth inched upward. "You owe me one. What happened?"
I heard his sigh. "The Game. I haven't had a serious threat to my head since Fergus almost a year ago. This whole mess with Markus scared her. She's always been fiercely independent. She says she just realized that she's let herself become emotionally dependent on me. And Markus had a good shot at taking me down. That pushed her into trying to prove her ability to take care of herself. I'm just thankful she didn't get hurt doing it."
I managed to put a little petulance into my voice, "What, you aren't worried about ME?"
He chuckled. "You can take care of yourself." His voice became serious again "Seriously though, thanks."
I nodded, even though he was only a voice on the phone. "You're welcome. You two going to be okay?"
A long pause gave me his answer before he said a word. "I hope so. See you."
The phone went dead in my hand. I hung it up with a feeling of dread forming in the pit of my stomach. MacLeod had told me about how Doctor Anne Lindsey couldn't cope with his Immortality. I just hoped that it wasn't happening to Richie.
I was working my way through my third beer by the time Andrea found me at Joe's that night. She silently slid into the stool next to mine and studied me as I studied the bottle in my hand. I wasn't drunk. I was just getting to the "relaxed or morose" stage.
She finally broke our silence with, "You don't usually do this to yourself unless something's bothering you. What's wrong?"
I tilted my head, but didn't look at her "Did you hear about what happened at the dojo today?"
"Hoa apparently attacked you. She and Richie have been shut in their apartment ever since. Why?"
"Are you happy?" I asked abruptly, looking over at her. She tilted her head, questioning. I explained, "Here, with me, this life."
She frowned a bit. "Yes, why?"
"Hoa just finally realized what the Game is. I mean, what it really MEANS to our lives. Even when Richie isn't an aggressive hunter, people still come around and try to kill him. And some of them are good enough or sneaky enough to do it." I took a breath. "She was trying to prove that she could exist in our world. I didn't want to hurt her, so I went for a soft kill. I'm afraid I only made matters worse. Now she's convinced that she can't be included in that part of Richie's life. I don't know if she can handle that. And I don't know if he can handle it if she leaves."
I took another deep breath and turned to look down at the bar top. And there was one last reason I was feeling this scared and depressed. My voice dropped to a whisper, "And I don't know if I could handle it if you'd do the same thing."
One of her hands reached up to the side of my face and turned me to look at her. She gave me a sad smile, "I'm here for the long haul. Just don't get yourself killed, Chessman. That's the only way I'll leave you."
Smiling in relief, I leaned over for a kiss. When she pulled away, she wrinkled her nose and said, "Yuck."
I blinked. "Yuck?"
She nodded solemnly. "Beer breath."
This woman knew how to make me feel better despite myself. I had to laugh.
She smiled and stood up. "I'm going over there, kick Richie out, and talk with her. This will probably take a while. You going to be here or home?"
I thought about it a moment, a plan starting to form. "Home."
She had to have seen the smile slowly forming but said nothing about it. She nodded at my answer. "Okay, I'll send him there. No telling when we'll be done. Bye." She gave me a quick peck on the cheek before heading out the door.
Joe appeared across the bar top from me. "Should I ask?"
"Nope. Bye, Joe."
I left the confused Watcher standing there with absolutely no idea what was going on.
I was on the phone when I felt Richie approach and knock. Cupping my hand over the receiver, I shouted that it was open. He entered as I finished my call.
He walked over and flopped down into the recliner. "What's Andrea doing?"
I shrugged. "I don't know for sure. However, I DO know what you and I are doing."
He raised one eyebrow but didn't seem that interested in my answer. He was clearly worried about Hoa.
I walked over to the bags I'd collected on my way over from Joe's. The videos came out first. Walking over to him, I dropped them into his lap. "One mindless comedy, one Seagal movie, and one Schwarzenegger." I walked over to the storage closet and pulled out the big cooler. Carrying it into the front room, I put it onto the floor, pulled the case of Miller out, dumped them into the cooler, and dumped two bags of ice over them. By this time, he was watching me with more attention if not interest. Once the beer was settled in place, I sat down onto the couch and put my feet up on the coffee table. "Pizza should be here in a half hour. Popcorn is for later. You think you and I can get into a better mood by that time?"
He frowned at me. "What are you doing?"
I looked at him like he was an idiot. "I intend to get drunk, stuff my face with pizza, have fun watching movies, and forget all about females who drive me nuts occasionally. How about you?"
His mouth curved downward into a disapproving frown. "Hoa needs me right now."
I sighed and shook my head. This wasn't going to be easy. "Don't fool yourself. She doesn't need you." His eyes flared for a moment before I quickly amended, "At least she doesn't need you RIGHT NOW. Right now what she needs is a friendly shoulder to cry on. That's probably what Andrea's doing over there. Unless I'm missing my guess, they're doing much the same thing we are." I looked down at the cooler. "Granted, their choice in drinks and movies is probably different, but you know what I mean."
He glanced down at the movies in his lap and then over at the cooler. A smile slowly spread over his face. He looked up at me with the beginnings of interest in his eyes. "Comedy first?"
"Mawwaige. Mawwaige is wat bwings us together, today," we chorused (mostly) together with the movie. We had both watched this one enough to quote it almost all the way through. We had finished the three movies I'd rented and were now working our way through one that I owned. The night had been a smashing success, in more ways than one.
The front door opened, jerking our somewhat steady attention in that direction. Andrea walked in the room, wide eyed. Hoa walked in just behind her, looking equally amazed. I looked around the room, from the empty pizza box, to the two empty popcorn bags, to the greatly depleted cooler on the floor, to the cans scattered around the room, to Richie and myself sprawled over the couch. Come to think of it, the room WAS quite the sight, wasn't it?
I turned to Andrea as she surveyed the room. Time for damage control. Pasting a smile upon my face, I said, "Hi, hon'. How was your day?"
She turned a glare upon me that was probably supposed to be intimidating. Hoa's giggle from behind her spoiled the effect, though.
Richie roused himself from the couch and approached Hoa. "Hi."
She smiled at him a little timidly. "Hi."
The movie continued to play in the background, ignored by everyone.
Suddenly Hoa threw herself into Richie's arms. "I'm so sorry," she almost sobbed. "I shouldn't have tried to prove anything to you or blamed you for all of this. I'm so sorry."
Richie was hugging her tightly and almost crying himself. "I'm sorry for being overprotective. Can you ever forgive me?"
She almost laughed, but it sounded as much like a cry as anything. "There's nothing to forgive." She snaked a hand up to the back of his head and pulled him down into a kiss. A very long kiss. They started to stumble toward the couch as he tried to pull her coat off.
As interesting as it may be to stay and watch, I figured that discretion was the better part of valor. They hadn't lost any clothing yet, but it was only a matter of time. Stopping the tape, I grabbed my coat and pulled Andrea out the door. Richie and Hoa never noticed, they were so wrapped up in each other.
Once outside, Andrea turned to me with a raised eyebrow. "What? I figured you'd want to stay and take notes."
I chuckled as I offered her my arm. "Shall we take a walk?"
The other eyebrow rose on her face to join its twin. "Now? It's almost two in the morning."
"Yeah, so? Much as staying and watching may be entertaining and . . . um . . . educational, I think they need some privacy. He's drunk enough that somebody else needs to be doing his thinking for a while." We walked in silence for a few minutes. I glanced at her as we passed under a streetlight. "How are the two of you?"
She tried to give me an innocent look, but it didn't quite work. She gave up with a chuckle. "Much the same as you and Richie, probably. I had enough to drink that I'm pleasantly tipsy, but she's downright plastered. It's not that she was rethinking their relationship so much as her needing a stress reliever. Their relationship is fine."
I nodded, relieved.
I showed up at the dojo the next morning at my usual time to find Richie warming up, but no sign of Hoa.
After coming out of the locker room, I began my own stretching exercises. "How's Hoa?"
He barely gave me a glance. "She's feeling a little under the weather this morning."
I fought to keep the smile off of my face. I'm sure she was. "Well, since you two were gone by the time Andrea and I finished our walk last night, I was just making sure you two were okay."
He nodded. "Yep."
I spared him a glance. Something was bothering him. He was usually much more chipper than this. "What's wrong?"
He looked up with an attempt at an innocent expression. My frown apparently made him reconsider whatever he was going to say. Instead, he grimaced and muttered, "That shouldn't have happened." He looked down again. He looked embarrassed, but I couldn't figure out why.
I blinked in confusion. "Which part? Hoa getting upset over the Game or us getting drunk?"
He shook his head. "What happened later. That shows an incredible lack of self control." He seemed genuinely disgusted with himself.
I laughed. His head jerked around to me in shock and anger. I shook my head as I continued to chuckle. "You're sounding as bad as Adam or maybe Cassandra. You're both adults. Besides, you were both pretty drunk, and Andrea and I left before we saw TOO much." I waggled my eyebrows and gave him a leer.
His glare slowly dissolved as his mouth quirked up into something that resembled a smile. "Well, that proves one thing."
The smile came to full bloom. "You're not really a Watcher."
I rolled my eyes at the horrible pun. "That's it. I have to beat that sense of humor out of you."
I grabbed the phone after the first ring. "Chessman."
"Hi, Ryan. It's Joe. Just thought you'd like to know, we've identified who sent you that e-mail."
"Her name is Jenny Bright. She's been a Watcher for quite a while. She was a field operative for years, staying in Chicago. She'd temporarily Watch an Immortal moving into the area until their permanent Watcher caught up with the move or Watch a new one we'd identified until a permanent Watcher could be assigned. She quit being a field operative abruptly about ten years ago and moved over to administrative and some research. At any rate Connor MacLeod received a letter similar to yours. And your idea about checking the accesses to the database paid off. The only name that accessed both yours and his records, your targets, and the targets' targets was Bright. I just can't figure out why she would do something like this."
"Why don't you ask her?"
"I would if I could. She's disappeared. Her last address was in southern Chicago, but her place was completely empty when her boss showed up to ask her about what she was doing. We've cut off her access to the database, so she can't do any more harm, but tracking her down is going to be tough. She's been a Watcher for long enough to know how to avoid us."
"Hmm, sounds tough. Good luck," I sympathized. Something occurred to me, "Oh, how did you know Connor got a similar letter?"
"He mentioned it to Duncan, and Duncan mentioned it to me when I told him about your run-in with Markus. Yours was actually later by a couple weeks. No telling how long this has been going on. Anyway, just letting you know."
"Thanks for letting me know about her, Joe. See ya."
I hung up the phone with a depressed sigh. It was too bad that she disappeared like that. It would have been interesting to hear why she was doing it.
A thought began to take hold in the back of my brain.
"FBI Missing Persons department, Agent Vires speaking."
It had taken a call to my alma mater's alumni office and another one to Washington, DC, but I had finally tracked down my old school friend. "Allen? This is Ryan Chessman. How ya doing?"
"Ryan! It's been a while. How's things?"
"Pretty good. I'm out in Seacouver, got my own little business going. Finally found the courage to ask someone out about six months ago, and we're living together. How about you?"
"I'm one of the electronic bloodhounds here at the FBI. Haven't found myself anyone yet, despite my best efforts and charming personality." I grinned. Allen Vires would never change. He continued, "To what do I owe the pleasure of this call?"
"I was wondering I could ask for an unofficial favor."
"I should have guessed. What's up?"
Here goes. I began telling the story I had put together, "A former employer of mine had one of their employees misusing some data. They don't want to go to the FBI or police officially, since this is extremely sensitive information and potentially could be very embarrassing if word of this leaked out. I was hoping you could either find this person discreetly or submit the official request while keeping the boss's and company's name out of it. He doesn't even know I'm contacting you like this. He wouldn't like it, but I'm still on good terms with him and want to help him out."
"Hmm," he thought for a moment. "Yeah, it should be possible to do this discreetly. It'll have to be an official search, but I can keep all names confidential. I'll need to know most of it, but I'll only have to make the perp's name officially known. Fair enough?"
"Sounds good. Her name is Jenny Bright. Address was in southern Chicago somewhere, but her place was empty when her boss went to find her yesterday. The company is VisionQuest."
"The international antiques firm? Wow, no wonder you wanted this quiet. Should I ask what data was stolen?"
"Misused," I stressed, "and no, I can't tell you that. I don't think what she's done is even technically illegal, but it's very much against company policies." I was walking a tightrope here. I had to tell my friend enough to get him on her trail, but not so much that he'd try to question or arrest her. "If you do catch up with her, could you let me know but not try to get her yourself? She might try to make a public spectacle out of this if she's arrested. And like I said, it's sensitive stuff."
"Uh, Ryan, the FBI isn't in the business of helping out in private vendettas. If she hasn't done anything illegal, then I can't help you out." He paused for a moment. "At least officially. However, since you're an old friend, I can do a cursory search. It may or may not turn anything up, but that's the best I can do."
I sighed. "That's what I was afraid of. Well, I'd appreciate the Surface search, anyway."
"Sure thing. By the way, if you're a FORMER employee, and it's such sensitive stuff, how do you now about it? From what you're saying, it isn't like they'd advertise it to ANYONE, let alone non employees."
"I was one of the people she sent some of this data to. Like I said, it was intended to embarrass them. She must not have realized that I parted on good terms with them. Oh, one last thing. She had an e-mail address of AFriend at Anonymous Mail."
"That'll probably be easier to track than anything else. I can't get message contents without a court order and that requires this be official. However, I'm on good terms with one of their system administrators. I can get a log of calls without any problem. I'll let you know what I dig up within a couple days. You owe me one."
I smiled. "Dinner's on me next time I'm in DC or you're out here."
I heard his chuckle over the line. "Sounds good. Where can I get in touch with you?"
I gave him my office number and thanked him again before ending the call. It may or may not pan out, but at least it was a start.
The next couple days passed peacefully. Nobody came after anyone's head, Hoa got comfortable again with the idea of the Game, and the world drifted back to something like I was used to.
At the moment my biggest concern was Adam. I had told him that I didn't know what to tell Joe, and then he immediately told Joe what he suspected about me. That felt like a betrayal of the first order. I could see WHY he did it (I came to the same eventual conclusion that he did, after all), but it was the way that he disregarded my feelings that irked me.
Fortunately it wasn't a major problem. Adam had left town with no warning the day after our little scuffle. Joe theorized that he was trying to track Ms. Bright down, but for whatever reason, he was out of town. That was probably for the best. It'd take a while to decide how to greet him next time I saw him. Friend? Enemy?
I snorted to myself. I was considering calling the five thousand year old Immortal an enemy? Hmm, let's look up the term "suicidal" and see if that matches what I'm considering.
Okay, so "enemy" wasn't a good idea, despite how my emotions may vote. Friend or neutral? I shook my head. I didn't need to decide this now. I'd let the issue sit until further notice. Perhaps by then my subconscious would decide the answer anyway.
"That was great! Did you fix this, Ryan?"
I shook my head at Richie's question. "Frozen pizzas are more my speed. I have this habit of destroying anything that doesn't have instructions that could be followed by a rock. I contributed to tonight's supper by carrying in the groceries and pouring the drinks."
Hoa turned to Andrea, who was trying (unsuccessfully) to contain her self satisfied smirk. "What would they do without us?"
Andrea appeared to give the matter some thought. Then she shook her head. "Eat charcoalized pizzas or starve to death, probably."
Richie looked indignant. "Hey, I can cook."
Hoa rolled her eyes. "Hot dogs and popcorn don't count."
Richie held his hand to his chest as if she'd thrust a dagger in.
I smiled as I started to clear away the table. I didn't cook, but I could help clean up.
Once the dishwasher was humming away, I came back out to the front room and into a conversation on Immortality.
"What I can't figure out is why do it. Why bother going around, chopping people's heads off?" Hoa was asking.
Well, if she was talking about it, perhaps she was okay with how Richie's life was. At least we could hope.
Richie had winced at her phrasing but was apparently trying to come up with an answer to Hoa's question. Since the same thing had kind of bothered me, I decided to join in.
"First of all, not all of us are active hunters. Richie and I for instance will defend ourselves but don't go out looking for a fight. Duncan and dozens of others are the same way. As for the active headhunters . . ." I frowned in thought. "Hoa, have you ever seen a Quickening?"
She shook her head.
"Well, it looks like a lightening storm. And the winner ends up catching almost all of it." I frowned. "It sounds like it would hurt, but it doesn't. Not really, anyway. While it's going on, each bolt makes me feel bigger and stronger. I can see how that could get to be addictive. Afterwards though, I just feel miserable." I took a breath. "Legend has it that the Quickening transfers memories, skills, and attitudes. I haven't noticed any of that, but then again, the only two Quickenings I've taken have been pretty young and weak."
Richie chimed in, "I've taken more than Ryan. The older and stronger ones tended to leave me with some feelings, but not all, and not much. As for the feeling afterwards, I feel a little wired, but otherwise okay. I've heard stories about some who fall asleep, some who are hungry, and so on. It just depends on the individual Immortal."
It almost amazed me. Here I was, talking calmly about killing people. My, how the world changed that fateful night a year ago. Shaking away the errant thought, I continued with my narration. "And then there's the Prize the last Immortal is rumored to win at the end. Some say it's the accumulated knowledge of all the Immortals. Or enough power to rule the world. And some say it's just simple mortality again. As for the truth? Who knows. I doubt even Adam knows. I'm sure neither Cassandra nor the Watchers know."
Hoa had apparently heard some of this before. She had nodded through parts and frowned at some. "One thing I don't understand."
Andrea half smiled at her, "ONE thing?"
Hoa ignored her. "If the victor gets the loser's power, and so on up the chain, then the last one gets everything, right?"
Richie and I nodded.
She continued, "But that's already missing some. For instance Duncan once told me about Darius. There's one Quickening that nobody got. So what happened to it?"
Andrea replied, "Nobody knows. He was beheaded by a mortal, so his Quickening couldn't be transferred to an Immortal."
Hoa nodded, coming to her point. "So the Prize CAN'T happen. It can't be fulfilled. The worldwide accumulated Quickening is already missing Darius and anyone else the Hunters killed."
We all stared at her. That's a charming thought. After all this killing, the Prize isn't available?
"So why bother?" I muttered, echoing Hoa from before.
Richie leaned forward and frowned slightly. "I'm beginning to see your point, but it isn't that easy to stop. The attitude that this is our destiny is so ingrained in so many of us that it's impossible to stop. Don't get me wrong. I'd be happy to hang up my sword, but I don't want to get myself killed." His frown softened a moment, turning to melancholy. "I did that once already, and it almost did get me killed."
I was hardly paying attention. I had been thinking along a different line. I wrinkled my brow in thought and said slowly, "As for why do it, there's one more possibility, but I've doubted its truth. Like I said, legend has it that skill is transferred in a Quickening. I don't recognize that I got anything out of the two Quickenings I've taken. Richie, what do you think you've gotten?"
He tilted his head quizzically at me, but answered, "I felt more comfortable and self-assured after taking Mako. Kristov made me worried for a while for my sanity, but nothing came of it. Other than that, I can't think of anything concrete."
"But did you actually GET better, or do you just THINK you got better?"
I leaned forward and held out my hands, trying to shape the words that were having a hard time coming. "Did you actually become better after taking Mako's head, or did you just get more comfortable, confident, cool under pressure?" I paused as the thought crystallized. "Do you get better from the Quickening, or do you get better from surviving the fight and learning from it?"
Richie just stared at me. After nearly a minute, he slowly shook his head. "I don't know." He took a breath. "That's scary. Maybe I haven't actually been getting any better. I just THOUGHT I was, so I became so." He frowned at me. "But how do you explain the feelings I get? And Mac's Dark Quickening?"
Good point. I thought about it a moment. "Transfer of personality, memories, and attitudes, which are mental traits, versus skill, which is a physical trait?" I sighed and leaned back. "I dunno. Maybe I'm totally off base here."
Richie thought about it a little more. "Some. Skill is almost as much mental as it is physical. Having the right physical reflexes and conditioning is necessary, of course, but the mental skills of seeing the fight from the opponent's point of view, knowing the different strengths and weaknesses of the different styles, etcetera is useful."
A silence settled into the conversation before it was broken by Andrea, "Are you two done? I'm starting to feel left out here."
I gave her a small smile. "Sorry. What'd you have in mind?" This topic would require some more thought. But later.
Andrea answered my question with one of her own. "How about a movie?"
Richie asked cautiously, "Which one?"
"Pretty Woman or City of Angels?"
Hoa broke into giggles as Richie and I groaned.
It was three days later that I heard back from Agent Vires.
"Good news. I tracked down this Jenny Bright person for you. Like I guessed, I had more luck tracking her through her e-mail address than by person. As you told me, she had had an apartment in southern Chicago but had moved out and left no forwarding address. Anonymous Mail had her registered at her old address. I got the phone numbers that she called into Anonymous Mail from spanning a couple years. Recently she's been careful. Within the past three months no number appears more than twice, and those that are twice are things like public phone booths in some of the El stations scattered around Chicago. She's very good at covering her tracks. By this time I was curious enough to keep digging. Whoever this woman is, she knows how to avoid being tracked and how to create false identities. She's good, but either bad luck or a bad move finally caught up with her. I tracked her most recent access to Anonymous Mail, which was the same day you called me. It was from a motel room in downtown Chicago registered to one Anna Rayburn. Anyway, I couldn't find any activity by Jenny Bright after this point. On the other hand, Anna Rayburn just started renting an apartment in New York City. Since the day you called me, she hasn't accessed her e-mail. At first glance, it looks like she's gone to ground, hiding from VisionQuest."
I whistled softly, properly impressed. "And this counted as a casual search? Remind me to never piss you off and have you make a determined search for me."
I heard him chuckle.
"What's her current address?" I scribbled down the address he gave me. Since I had never spent any time New York City, it didn't mean anything to me. "Okay, got it. Thanks, Allen. I appreciate it. Give me a call if you ever need a hand with something, 'kay?"
"Sure thing. Just don't do anything . . . inappropriate with this information, okay? I'd hate to have to testify at your trial."
"Don't worry about it. At the worst, I'll just destroy all the data she has on VisionQuest. They may sue her for breach of contract, but that's their decision, not mine." I figured throwing in something like that would make him feel better. And make him think it was nothing more than a rogue ex-employee that was trying to get back at VisionQuest.
"Whatever you say, Ryan. Take it easy. Don't be such a stranger."
"You too. Bye."
Okay, now what? Well, four choices: One, take this info to Joe. Two, go to New York alone. Three, take Andrea since she was there just after becoming a Watcher. Four, contact Connor MacLeod and have him help me there.
Contacting Joe was a bad idea. He would want to haul her in and put her before a Watcher Tribunal and they'd likely execute her. High treason wasn't any more popular among Watchers than among governments. Getting her executed seemed a little harsh a punishment to me.
Andrea probably wouldn't go for that idea either, but she'd also have a problem with me just letting her go. And that was my eventual plan.
So my choices were to include Connor MacLeod or not. Frankly, I'd rather do so. He'd be a valuable ally in more ways than one. The only problem was that I didn't know if he knew about the Watchers and (more importantly) what he thought about his mysterious benefactor. Well, Duncan would probably know the answer to both questions. I picked up the phone.
"Hi, Mac. It's Ryan." It'd taken a call to Richie to get Mac's number in Paris, then a quick look at an atlas to see how much time difference there was between here and there. Considering that I'd have to have waited until something like midnight to call if I expected him to be awake, I waited until the next morning. Now I was just up and he was in the middle of his day.
"Ryan! How're you doing? Everything all right there?" I could easily hear the worry in his voice.
"Yeah, Richie, Joe, and I are fine. Adam's left town again. Really, this call isn't bad news."
I could visualize his smile with no difficulty. The chuckle I heard only confirmed it. "Am I that predictable?"
I let humor lace my voice, "Yes. You're a worrier, MacLeod. Ask anyone else if you don't believe me. Anyway, just letting you know the status of my mysterious benefactor and to ask you a couple questions."
"Joe's people found out who she is, but she'd skipped town before they could find her. They closed down her access to their records but haven't been able to track her. I called an old friend of mine from school who's in the FBI now. I told him as little as I could, and he found her but hasn't done anything with that information. My first question is what do you think should be done about her?"
He didn't even hesitate. "You have to stop her, but don't turn her over to the Watchers. They'd simply kill her, and she doesn't deserve that. So far what she's done has been useful, but it can't last forever."
I nodded. "Agreed."
Faint surprise was evident in his response, "Really? You benefited from her help. I'd think you would want to help her out."
It seems he wasn't the only one who was predictable. I let a small chuckle out. "I'll admit that that was my first thought. However, Richie and Andrea convinced me otherwise. As Andrea reminded me, absolute power corrupts absolutely. And she was destined to be corrupted by that power eventually."
"Yep. But I can't believe you called me to get my opinion on what to do about this person."
"No, I didn't. I'm calling about Connor. Question one, does he know about the Watchers?"
"She's in New York, eh? To answer the question, no, he doesn't."
"Damn," I muttered. "I was hoping to get his help. If he doesn't know about Watchers, he wouldn't be able to help without learning way too much. Besides, he'd probably try to protect her if he knew who she was."
"Probably. He's protective."
I couldn't help it. I HAD to follow up after that comment. "Not unlike other Highland Scots I could name."
"Touche," his voice held amusement.
"Well, if I can't try to recruit him for help, I guess that's that. How's the City of Lights?" I asked, changing the subject.
"Much like I remember it. I just wish Tessa and Darius were still here to share it with." His voice was mostly nostalgic, with overtones of sadness.
"Wish I could have met them. They both sound like fascinating people from what I've heard."
"No doubt there. Well, if that's all, I'm late for an auction."
"Yeah, thanks. Watch your head."
"Always. You too."
I hung up with a sigh. Well, I'd have to go this one alone.
The next couple hours were busy. Calling Richie to tell him I was leaving town, asking him to take care of Andrea, running by a bank to get enough cash to survive me the next week or so that I expected this to take, and running home to pack, I didn't drive myself to the airport until just before noon.
"One round trip ticket to LA, please. Returning in two days."
The sales agent hardly looked up at me. "Next flight leaves in two hours."
I nodded. "I'll take it."
"Cash or charge?"
"Charge." I handed over one of my credit cards.
As the credit machine was muttering to itself, he glanced down at my small duffel bag. "May I check your bag, sir?"
I shook my head. "No, I'll take it as a carryon."
He nodded absently and pushed the receipt forward for me to sign. Seconds later, he handed the card and ticket to me. "Gate 7A. Have a nice trip." He sounded more like a machine than a person.
"Thanks," I responded with just as much enthusiasm.
Winding my way vaguely toward Gate 7A, I got out of the agent's line of sight before casually walking out a different door than I had entered. I got to the taxi stand without any trouble and jumped in. "Greyhound terminal." The driver merely nodded and cracked his gum.
True to type, the cabby had me there in record time. I knew a heart attack wouldn't kill me, but that wasn't much comfort. Paying him and adding a decent tip for the speed (if not stability or calm) of the trip, I grabbed my bag and got out.
Walking slowly to the door, I abruptly stopped short and parked myself on a quiet bench that gave me a view of the curb where I had gotten out but was reasonably hidden from sight. Over the next five minutes, I watched a half dozen couples and two families arrive. No individuals got out of cabs, drove by in cars, or walked in the door I was headed to. With a little luck, I'd shaken my Watcher. But I wasn't betting on that.
Getting up from my bench, I grabbed my bag and walked in and up to a ticket counter. "Round trip ticket to Chicago, please. Returning in four days."
She smiled at me before pecking away at the computer for a moment. "Next bus leaves in an hour. Stops in Boise, Helena, Bismarck, and Milwaukee."
I nodded. "I'll take it."
"Cash or charge?"
I paid for the ticket and she handed it to me. "Terminal C. Have a pleasant trip." She gave me one last smile as I thanked her.
Finding the right terminal and bus, I dropped my small duffel into the stack of bags that were going to be put into the bus's storage area. I climbed aboard and found my seat. The remaining passengers filtered in over the next half hour. Fortunately, it looked like I had a half aisle of seats to myself. At least I would have elbow room.
The bus pulled out on time, but I was already buried in a book before we left the city limits.
The silence of the engine and the feel of bodies shuffling past pulled my attention up. Rubbing the burning sensation from my eyes, I looked out the window. It was starting to get dark, but I could still make out the sign on the side of the building: "Welcome to the Boise Greyhound terminal".
Getting into the flow of people, I let them carry me into the terminal. Spotting the snack stand, I walked over and bought a drink and soft pretzel. Finding an empty table, I started eating.
Once the pretzel was gone and most of the drink as well, I put my plan into action. Bringing the drink up as if to finish it off, I missed my mouth and poured the remaining pop and ice over my cheek and chin. My shirt and pants were immediately soaked. Jumping up with a yelp, I suddenly had the attention of everyone within thirty feet. Glaring down at my clothing and then the glass in my hand as if they were to blame, I shook my head. Looking up, I gave a bashful grin to the sea of staring faces. "Oops."
Scattered chuckles sounded as they realized what I had done. Everyone's attention gradually returned to their own food and table companions as I used a handful of napkins to clean off the table and chair as well as I could.
Throwing away the sodden napkins and what was left of my meal, I scanned the room for the driver of the bus. Seeing him sitting with what I assumed to be two other drivers based on the uniforms, I made my way over. "Uh, sir? Could I get my bag out of the storage area? I need some dry clothes . . ." I waved my hand down my dripping clothing.
Sharing a grin with his fellow drivers, he nodded to me. "Sure."
We made our way back out to the bus and he opened the storage compartment. Three minutes of digging produced my duffel. Grabbing it out of the stack and placing it out of the way, I turned to him. "Could I just keep this as a carryon? I'll help you load all this back in." Nodding his thanks, we tossed everything else back into storage. Taking my duffel again, I thanked him for his patience. I walked into the terminal and turned away from the restaurant, looking for a rest room.
Spotting one, I headed in and checked the stalls for occupancy. Nobody home. I locked myself into one of the stalls and got to work. Taking out the plastic bag I had put in there, I placed my soaked shirt and pants into the bag. A shirt, pants, coat of a different color, fedora hat, and backpack came out. Putting on the shirt, pants, hat, and new coat, I transferred the swords and miscellaneous stuff from one coat to the other. I placed the empty duffel, first coat, and plastic bag into the backpack. Walking out of the bathroom, I turned my back on the restaurant section and walked out the door. Climbing into the first taxi at the stand, I said, "Amtrak station."
There. If THAT didn't shake my Watcher, nothing would.
"Welcome to New York City. Current temperature is fifty-five degrees. We'll be pulling into the station in ten minutes. Hope you had a pleasant trip."
Though not jarringly loud, the announcement pulled me out of the light doze that I had managed to force myself into. Stretching out the kinks that had developed in my back over the lengthy trip, I marveled at modern travel. Just short of two days, and I was on the other side of the continent. Planes were much faster, of course, but the security there would have prevented me from bringing the sword and pistol.
As it was, this was probably good enough. Unless I used my name, was spotted by a Watcher who knew me, or got involved in a Challenge, I was essentially invisible.
Well, first thing's first. I took my backpack and wound my into the station. Purchasing a map and a couple doughnuts, I parked myself at a table. Pulling out the address I had gotten from Allen, I looked it up as I munched on the doughnuts. Okay, there's the street. That number would be between here . . . and here. Checking for the nearest major intersection, I folded the map back up and grabbed my stuff. Dumping my trash into the receptacle on the way out, I stepped out into the New York sunshine.
The cabby I got was pretty helpful picking a medium priced hotel near where Jenny was staying. Checking in, I asked for nearby stores. By a stroke of luck, there was a small hardware store, a grocery, a bookstore, a laundry, and several restaurants within walking distance.
Trips to the hardware, grocery, and bookstore got me the supplies I would need to finish this trip. Since I was running out of steam, I took one of my new books and a handful of snacks with me to the laundromat to clean up my other set of clothing.
The middle of the next morning found me walking toward the apartment building that was listed as the home address of "Anna Rayburn". Walking in, I nodded politely to the woman behind the counter and headed to the stairs. After climbing five flights and walking down a hallway, I came to apartment 6C. Taking a deep breath, I knocked.
I had two choices on how to contact Jenny Bright. One choice was to openly approach her like this. The other was to wait until she left, break into her apartment, and ambush her when she came home. I was hoping this calm method would get me most of what I needed before the situation turned ugly.
"Hello?" The voice on the other side of the door was feminine and American.
A pause. "Yes, who is it?"
The peephole darkened as someone looked through it from the other side. I braced myself to bolt for the lobby if she tried to make a break for it down the fire escape.
I gave a sigh of relief as I heard the chain lock being removed. The door opened to reveal a fifty-ish brunette. She wasn't pretty in the conventional sense, but she made me feel comfortable in a matronly way. She looked at me with a slight frown. "How did you find me?"
I smiled. "You recognize me then?"
Good. That solved a few problems. And she hadn't tried to run. That solved even more. If only my luck held. "May I come in?"
After a slight hesitation, she stepped back and opened the door completely. I stepped into the room, and she closed the door behind me. The room looked pretty typical for apartments anywhere. A large front room that opened into the kitchen, a hallway that probably led to a bedroom and a bathroom. I noted the computer set up on the same wall that the front door was in.
She crossed the room to the couch and sat down. "How did you find me?" she asked again.
"You called Anonymous Mail from your motel room a week ago."
She blinked. "How did you know THAT?"
"A friend in the FBI."
She nodded, accepting my answer. "Now what?" Her calm was surprising.
"That depends on you. First, a question if I may?" She nodded her permission. "Why did you do this?"
Her eyes seemed to lose their focus and her face pinched in grief. She started speaking in a monotone that sent shivers up my spine. "I've Watched so many, Mr. Chessman. None for very long, but I've seen them all. I Watched Connor MacLeod, Marcus Constantine, Amanda, and Rebecca Horne. I've also Watched Kurgan, Kalas, Xavier St. Cloud, Greyson, and Kenny. I watched St. Cloud Challenge and behead an Immortal that was only weeks old. And I watched Rebecca Horne dive into Lake Michigan in November to rescue a drowning child. I saw the worst and the best that Immortality had to offer. And it never bothered me. The Watchers are never supposed to interfere. Never let what we see get to us. But you already know this, don't you, Mr. Chessman?" I gave a uncomfortable smile as she continued, "And then one day I was Watching Frank Dattillo. He was walking down a pathway in a park. A couple and their young son were eating lunch on one of the picnic tables along the side. The man stopped Dattillo, probably asking him for the time. Dattillo didn't even slow down. He just brushed the man aside like he was nothing, of no consequence. The man wasn't expecting it, he stumbled backwards and fell to the ground. His son ran at Dattillo and started hitting his legs. I can only assume he was trying to protect his father. Whatever the reason, Dattillo turned and backhanded the boy hard enough that he went flying away. And his neck struck the end of the picnic table."
She stopped for a moment, a tear making a trail down one cheek. Her voice continued in that eerie monotone. "Have you ever heard the sound of a neck breaking?" She didn't even pause for my answer. "It's the most horrible sound you can imagine. It was just like a twig snapping. But you know it isn't a twig this time. Both of that boy's parents were just feet away. And nobody could do a thing about it. And Frank Dattillo turned, straightened his tie, and walked away."
This time she stopped as she leaned her face forward into her hands. Sobs wracked her body silently for a few minutes. I fought to submerge my raging hatred for this man. Finally she brought her crying under control and looked up. Sniffling a few times, she continued her story. "After that, I just couldn't Watch anyone anymore. I transferred to Administrative and buried myself into the paperwork that makes our work possible. I tried to forget what I'd seen, pretend it didn't matter, convince myself that we can't get involved." She gave a sad chuckle. "It didn't work. Every time I stumbled across the name of an evil Immortal, every time a coworker talked about Watching this or that Immortal, the only thing I could think about was the sound of that snap. Finally I decided that Dattillo had to die. There was no other choice left." She gave an abrupt frown and waved her hand to indicate herself. "I couldn't very well do it myself. How would a forty something overweight woman with no training kill an Immortal who could wield a sword? So I needed a plan. It took nearly a year for me to think of it. It was so simple. Just convince another Immortal to kill him. It took two months after that of discretely looking through the Chronicles before I figured out exactly how to do it. At the time Dattillo was in St. Louis. And so was Alfred Fay. According to Dattillo's Chronicles, he enjoyed taking walks in parks. Specifically, he would take a walk in a certain park in St. Louis every mid afternoon. Fay had a soft spot for kids. So I mailed a letter to him, telling him who Dattillo was, where to find him, and that he had killed mortal children." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "And Fay killed that bastard."
A moment of silence passed before she continued, again at normal volume. "Since then I've been keeping an eye on various people. If I can get a Good Immortal to go after an Evil one, and I've given the Good one enough information, then I can help stop the Evil ones. I've been helping to clean up the Immortal race."
I looked at the shine in her eyes and listened to the fervor in her voice. This poor woman thought she was on a Holy Crusade. While I applauded her goals, she couldn't be allowed to continue. Hell, she would have tried to have Duncan MacLeod killed a few years ago. And that's the best argument for stopping people like her that I could think of.
Trying desperately to keep my voice calm, I asked, "How many letters like that have you sent?"
"Six." Her voice was dreamy and reflective.
Okay, now what? The Watchers would execute her if they found her. My conscience wouldn't let me kill her myself. But I couldn't just let her walk away. Well, I had the answer to the question I came to ask. Time to try to fix it. "Jenny, do you value your own life?"
Her gazed snapped back from infinity. She frowned at me and nodded.
"You do realize that the Watchers will try to kill you if they find you, right?"
She seemed saddened by this but nodded. "If they would only understand I'm doing this for the right reasons," she muttered.
I was treading a thin line. I had to get her to quit, but I couldn't afford to antagonize her. "The only way they'll leave you alone is if they get all the records you've gathered. They must be convinced that you don't have any more of this data. And you can't do this anymore, or they'll just start searching for you again. Do you understand?"
"Will you give me all the copies of the data you have?"
She sighed. "I can't do that. What I'm doing is more important than my life."
That's what I was afraid of, lady. Okay, Plan B. I sighed. I stood and held my right hand out to her as my left went into my pocket. "Okay, well, I wish you luck. I must be going. Oh, and thank you for the information on Markus. I took care of him for you."
She smiled. It looked like a bizarre cross between malicious, happy, and sad. She stood up and reached out to take my hand.
In a blinding move, I reached up to her right shoulder and twisted her in a circle around to her left until her back was to me. Grabbing the back of her right shoulder, I held her steady while my left hand brought out the can of pepper spray I had picked up the day before. With my hand on her shoulder, I had a stable point of reference, so I closed my eyes and held my breath as I reached over her left shoulder and gave her face a direct blast of the spray. Dropping the spray onto the couch, my left hand went back into my pocket as my right hand released her shoulder, and I wrapped my entire right arm around her face, burying her mouth into my elbow and coat sleeve. At this point, my main concern was minimizing the noise she may make. My left hand came back up holding the roll of duct tape I had also gotten. My right arm was still trying to pin her head in place, but the hand was free. Her hands were alternately scrambling against my arm and trying to wipe her eyes as I twisted around to my left, dragging her to the floor. I finally got a piece of tape off the roll. Pulling my arm away from her face, I quickly slapped the tape over her mouth, careful to leave her nose free so she could breath. As she frantically tried to wipe her eyes clear, I quickly pinned her arms together and taped them together at the wrists. Now that her voice and hands were immobilized, I turned my attention to her legs, which had been trying to get a solid kick in at me. It was a matter of perhaps thirty seconds (and two solid kicks to my arms) before the ankles were also firmly taped together. Reaching up, I grabbed her wrists (which were up trying to rip the tape from her mouth), and pulled them down to her ankles. Taping the ankles to the wrists, I stood up to observe my handiwork. Undoubtedly uncomfortable, but effective.
Now that things were again stable, I calmly grabbed one of the kitchen chairs, pulled it toward her, and sat down, straddling the back of the chair. "Jenny, I really don't want to do this to you, but you're leaving me no choice. I have to stop you. I applaud your goals, but it's your methods I can't live with. What if Fay, Connor MacLeod, or I had failed? Not only would your target have gotten away, but one of the 'Good Immortals' you're trying to help would have died." I held up a hand. "You're going to tell me that you sent us enough information that our victory was assured. Perhaps you did. However, one of two things could have happened anyway. One, one of us may not have trusted your information enough and been too late or ignored a vital piece. Two, many of us will not kill an unarmed individual. I'm sure Connor would have given his opponent the chance to defend himself. What would have happened if he lost?"
I sighed. "Do you see why I MUST do this?"
She just glared at me. Her eyes were already clearing of the pepper spray.
I gave a tired nod. "Very well." I got up and crossed to the kitchen. Looking under the sink, I grabbed two large plastic freezer bags.
Coming back out into the living room, I checked on Jenny. She had moved across the carpet some but looked no closer to being free. "Jenny, I can secure you much tighter, but it will make you much more uncomfortable. If you behave yourself while I'm here, I'll try to keep you as comfortable as possible. If you don't behave, I'll just tie you up so tight you CAN'T do anything. Your choice." She settled down and just continued to glare at me.
I nodded. Dropping the plastic bags in front of the computer, I started To power it on. While it was booting up, I picked up a cushion from the couch and placed it under her head. No sense being cruel about this.
Sitting down in front of the now working computer, I pulled over the stack of floppies and CDs that was nearby. Checking the contents of each of them in turn, I placed any that contained Chronicles, plans, passwords, or copies of the letters into one of the plastic bags. Once that stack was done, I glanced over my shoulder to check on Jenny. She hadn't moved from where I had left her, but it looked like she had been working on getting her wrists free.
Turning the chair around fully, I crossed my arms and looked at her. She defiantly glared back. Shaking my head, I got up and grabbed the duct tape. Kneeling before her, I taped her elbows together and then added another couple layers around her wrists up to her lower hands. Once done, I told her, "This is your last warning. After this it gets decidedly uncomfortable."
Nodding my head at the shaken look displayed in her eyes, I crossed back to the computer. Powering it down, I pulled out the set of mini screwdrivers I had gotten the previous day. Lifting the keyboard out of the way, I got to work on the CPU box. With five minutes of work, I had the cover off and the hard drive detached. That went into the other plastic bag I had retrieved.
Turning the chair back around, I looked down at Jenny. Her eyes still blazed with anger, but had a resigned look to them. Good, that increased the chance that she didn't have a backup somewhere. Most computer users didn't.
"I realize that I'm signing my own death warrant as far as you're concerned, but I just hope you eventually see the reason I'm doing this. You're probably already aware you've lost your access to the Watcher database, so you'll have nearly an impossible time doing this again. Even if you do, the Watchers will find you and execute you."
I got up and went back to the kitchen. Grabbing a steak knife from the set on the counter, I walked back over to her. Kneeling down, I smiled sadly at her frightened look. I shook my head. "I'm not going to hurt you. But don't even think about trying to send the police after me. If they catch me, I'll simply tell them that I'm working for Joe Dawson, tracking down some data that one of VisionQuest's former employees took. I'm sure he'll cover me with that story. And if that happens, the Watchers will know where you are. You already know what that would mean." Using the steak knife, I cut the tape from around her elbows and started on the tape around her wrists. Satisfied that the knife would do the job, I placed it on the floor a couple feet from her. She'd be able to free herself, but it'd take her a while to do it. I picked up the pepper spray and duct tape before getting back up. Crossing back to the computer, I picked up the two bags and walked to the door. At the last moment, I turned back to her. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry I had to do this. Unless I hear about you doing this again, I won't tell the Watchers where you are." And I was gone.
I was on a train out of New York, bound for Chicago, within two hours. Like the ticket into New York and the motel bill, it had been paid for with cash. If anyone tried to trace my paper trail, it would look like I had gone from Seacouver to Chicago and stopped there.
From Chicago, I used the back half of the Greyhound ticket I had gotten four days ago to get the rest of the way back to Seacouver.
On arriving back, I gathered my car from the airport parking lot and went straight to Joe's. Before I even entered, I felt Richie inside. Walking in, I spotted the table with Richie, Hoa, Andrea, Gina, and Joe immediately. It wasn't tough. The place was otherwise empty at three in the afternoon.
Andrea immediately jumped up and slammed into me with a ferocious hug. After five seconds, she let go, backed up, and slugged me in the arm. "You dolt! You had me worried. Where have you been?"
Rubbing my sore arm, I tried, "Tahiti?"
I shook my head. "I can't tell you." My focus shifted to Joe who was listening with obvious interest. "Any of you. You know what I was doing. I agreed with her goals, but not her methods." I pulled the backpack off my shoulder and opened it. Removing the bags of various types of disks, I dropped them onto the table in front of Joe. "I can't agree to killing her, even if she so blatantly violated the Watcher Oath. So I had to get her off the playing field without killing her."
Sitting down at the table, I smiled at Hoa. "How's the sword arm?"
She giggled. "I'm okay, but Andrea's better. You should see her with a long sword."
I looked at Andrea in astonishment. She just shrugged. I turned an accusing glare at Richie, but he wouldn't meet my gaze.
Joe exploded, "That's IT?! You're LETTING HER GO?"
I looked at him calmly. "Yes." He looked capable of chewing through his cane in frustration. I sighed. "Leave it be, Joe. She isn't a threat to anyone anymore. She has no reason to expose us all, and she has no information to continue sending those letters. She was just trying to do the right thing."