Hunter of Watchers
Highlander: The Series, Forever Knight, X-Files, JAG, and Tom Clancy novels crossover
"So what'd you think?"
I shrugged in answer. "The effects were pretty good, but I liked the stories better before Roddenberry died." Richie and I had just finished watching the latest Star Trek movie and were now slowly heading out of the theatre with the rest of the crowd. "What I'm really looking forward to is the next Star Wars episode to come out."
Richie grunted in agreement. Lucas was still the best in the world at what he did.
Finally making it out of the theatre, we turned right to get back to my car. It was about quarter to ten, but this was a moderately popular theatre and there were still cars around. Walking past the rows of cars, shiny from the recent rain, I idly noticed that we were the only ones walking in this portion of the cinema's lot.
"Say, did you ever hear the story about how Ford got the part in the original," I broke off as someone stepped out from between two parked cars about ten feet in front of us.
Maybe nineteen, he was dressed in a heavy leather jacket and ripped jeans. "Hand over your wallets, man." The command was punctuated by him jabbing forward the switchblade he held pointed at us. Based on his jerky movements and how he kept looking around, I guessed he was either high on something or that this was his first attempted mugging. Neither bode well for the coming confrontation. I wasn't the least bit worried for Richie or myself. It was just that hurting this poor idiot would create problems.
Richie raised one eyebrow as his mouth quirked up into a smile. "You've gotta be kidding me."
"NOW, man!" The switchblade twitched forward again.
Okay, let's try to get out of this without bloodshed. Ignoring this kid for a moment, I turned to Richie. "Did you ever see Crocodile Dundee?" Richie's mouth curled further up into a smirk as he caught my meaning. I turned back to the guy standing in front of us. Pouring as much exasperated boredom as possible into my words, I asked, "Do you want this in small, medium, or large?"
"What the hell you talkin' about, man?" Though the first hint of concern entered his eyes, he didn't back down. This poor kid didn't know when to leave well enough alone, did he?
Here goes. "Small." My nine inch combat knife appeared in my left hand. "Medium." My two foot long wakizashi appeared in my right.
"Or large," said Richie as his three foot long cutlass appeared.
Our "assailant" suddenly looked like he was about to wet himself. Keeping one worried eye on us, he beat a hasty retreat. It was all I could do to keep from laughing out loud.
Chuckling and shaking my head, I replaced my blades into my coat. "What's the world coming to?"
"Kids these days," Richie agreed with a sigh and a gleam in his eye.
After dropping Richie off at his apartment, I pulled into my own neighborhood. Yawning from the late hour, I looked forward to giving Andrea a hug and going to bed. That thought died the instant I saw the first of the flashing lights near the home Andrea and I shared. Fearing the worst, I pulled to a stop in front of one of our neighbors' homes and got out. Up to this point, I had only seen police cars, so my first impression was that someone had broken into the home. Then I saw the ambulance.
Andrea! I broke into a run, heading for the front door. Ten feet short of the door, the officer standing guard there saw me coming. The look in his eyes wasn't scared of me, but it was wary. One hand going to his revolver, his other hand came up in a clear command to stop.
I forced myself to do so. Getting shot or trying to barrel through a cop within view of about a dozen others wasn't the way to get anything accomplished.
The officer relaxed when I came to a halt. "Who're you?" he asked.
"I'm Ryan Chessman. I live here. What happened?" I consciously tried to make my voice calm. It was all I could do to stop myself from going through this guy, to hell with the consequences.
His face softened immediately and his hand came away from his gun. Looking over my shoulder, he waved someone over. He looked back at me for a moment. "We got a report of shots fired." Once again, I resisted the urge to go through this guy and try to find Andrea. It must have shown on my face, because he hurried on with, "When my partner and I arrived, we found the front door open. Looking in, we saw a young lady on the floor with two bullet wounds." This time, he had to physically hold me back from entering. Unfortunately, another officer appeared from inside and helped him. It's a wonder nobody felt any of my weapons on me.
"Where is she?!" I consciously forced my hands to stay empty. No sense in doing anything violent. However, my logic was rapidly losing the fight with my emotions right now.
At that moment, a wheeled gurney came flying out the front door, guided by two EMTs whose faces held more stress than I was comfortable with. Oh, shit. Wrenching my arms away from the officers' grasp, I trotted alongside the gurney as they made their way to the ambulance.
Andrea was unconscious, an oxygen mask covering her nose and mouth. What I could see of her face was entirely too pale. The entire front of her shirt was covered in blood. Before my shocked mind could come up with any questions, the EMTs had her bundled into the ambulance. One immediately climbed in back with her and the other hurried forward to the driver's seat. With a scream of the siren, they took off.
No... A piteous wail started in the back of my mind. Shaking my head, I gathered my wits. Pulling my keys out of my pocket, I sprinted toward my car, intending to follow the ambulance.
"Please don't do that, Mr. Chessman."
I spun toward the voice. "Why the hell not?" I snarled at the man standing there. The tone of my voice was a clear, "Just TRY to stop me!"
He didn't even flinch as he held up a badge. "Detective John Furlan, SPD. You're in no shape to drive. I'll have an officer take you." He waved one of the uniformed officers over, instructing him to drive me there.
It was my first ride in a squad car, but the novelty was lost on me in my current state of mind. The mind in question was spinning in thousands of different directions as quickly as it could go while my hand tapped a rapid beat on the door handle. When we finally pulled up to the hospital's Emergency entrance, I distractedly thanked the officer for the ride. He gave me a compassionate smile in response.
Walking in the entrance, I asked the first nurse I saw for Andrea's location. I was told she was in surgery and was gently but decisively directed to a waiting room.
Half an hour later, I was beginning to calm down and bring my mind back to the present. Who would want to kill Andrea? Was it some Immortal after me, and she just got in the way? Much as that idea angered me in the abstract, it was the only one that made any sense.
The door opened, and I looked up, expecting a doctor or nurse or perhaps more ER visitors. Instead, Detective Furlan walked in and sat down beside me.
"I'm sorry to do this to you now, but could you answer some questions?"
I ignored his question. "What happened?" I asked him. I was still dreadfully worried about Andrea, but my mind was otherwise coming back on track. I figured I had to learn what happened before I could answer any of his questions coherently (and safely).
He pulled out a notebook and started thumbing through his notes. "911 got a call at 9:27 from one of your neighbors reporting shots fired from within your home. Squad car arrives at 9:35. Door's open, they enter and find Ms. Burke on the living room floor, conscious, an apparent gunshot victim. The officers immediately call in an ambulance, and it arrives at 9:42. Meanwhile, they're trying to stop the bleeding and question her. Under the circumstances, she's amazingly coherent. She tells them that someone kicked in the door and just started shooting. She gives them a description: Male, African-American, six foot two, 210 pounds, black hair, gray eyes, somewhere in his thirties. Once the EMTs take over, they do a search of the home and neighborhood, but don't turn anyone up. Multiple bullet holes in the walls and the condition of the door frame supports her story." Pulling a pen from his coat pocket, he flipped to another page in his notebook, looked up at me, and repeated his early question. "Can you answer some questions for me?" Though his tone was businesslike, his eyes weren't without sympathy.
I took a shuddering breath and nodded. He'd answered most of my questions about what happened. He couldn't answer most of the rest. Only the Watchers could, probably. That description Andrea gave them also explained why I wasn't being treated like a suspect. Thank heavens. I doubt I could've maintained my calm if I'd been cuffed. Not to mention the PD's reaction to what my coat contained.
Detective Furlan interrupted my mental drivel. "Your full name?"
"Ryan Douglas Chessman."
"What do you do for a living?"
"Own my own computer consulting business on Sixth Street. Some custom coding, Internet web pages, like that."
"Your relationship to Ms. Burke?"
My jaw clenched. I made a conscious effort to relax and answer the questions. He was only trying to do his job, after all. No sense yelling at this poor guy. "We live together." And all that THAT entails.
He nodded, clearly getting the message. "Where were you tonight?"
Instead of answering immediately, I reached into my pocket and pulled out the movie ticket stubs and handed them over. They had the name of the theatre and the start time on them.
He looked at them for a moment. "Two tickets? Who were you with?"
"Richie Ryan." I recited Richie's phone number without prompting.
"When was the last time you saw Ms. Burke?"
I placed my elbows on my knees and my head in my hands. Taking a calming breath I rubbed my face for a moment before continuing. "This morning, just before she went into work. Quarter of eight, something like that."
"Where's she work?"
"VisionQuest. She's one of their catalogers. Takes pictures of antiques, tags them, that sort of thing." I silently blessed Joe Dawson for having the cover all set up. This was tough enough without trying to come up with a story out of thin air.
"Do you have any idea who would want to do something like this? Any threats, weird phone calls, like that?"
I silently shook my head. I had an idea who (or rather what) attacked her, but it wasn't anything that the police could help me with. They'd just get in the way. And they DEFINITELY wouldn't agree with my idea of justice if what I suspected was true.
He quietly flipped through his notes for a few moments more before tucking the notebook away and standing up. He reached into an inner pocket and pulled a business card out. "Here's my number. If you think of anything that may help, don't hesitate to give me a call. If I find anything, I'll let you know. Is there anybody you want me to contact for you?"
I took the card. I'd never been through anything like this (thankfully), but I was surprised at how solicitous he was being. "No, thank you. I appreciate all you're trying to do."
He nodded. "You know how to contact me if you need to." He started out the door but paused halfway out. One hand still on the handle, he turned back to me. "Hope she makes it." And he was gone.
Leaning back on the couch, I closed my eyes and whispered, "So do I."
I jerked awake and looked around in confusion. What? Where am I? My memory supplied the depressing news. Hospital, Andrea, some Immortal gunman. I closed my eyes momentarily to get my emotions under control. Breaking down into a sobbing mess wouldn't help matters any. When I opened my eyes again, I looked at the woman standing there. Brunette, mid thirties, five and a half feet tall, she was dressed in surgery green.
She sat down on the couch next to me as I swung my legs over the edge to sit down properly. A quick glance at the clock showed it to be about three in the morning. Almost an hour and a half of sleep.
I turned to the woman. "Sorry, I must have fallen asleep. Yes, I'm Ryan Chessman."
She stuck out her hand. "Doctor Lindsey."
My head tilted while a ghost of a smile formed. I shook her hand and said, "Duncan's told me about you. It's nice to put a face with the name." My smile expanded at her raised eyebrow. "Mac's my teacher. Well, one of them, anyway."
Her other eyebrow had crawled up to join its twin by this time. "So you're . . . ?" She seemed incapable of completing the sentence.
I nodded and then switched tracks. "How's Andrea?"
She looked down. "She had lost a lot of blood before she got here. I took one bullet out of her left lung and another out of her liver. Then her heart started to give out." My chest began to implode as she looked up. "I'm sorry." Though the words were quiet, they had the same effect as a lightning bolt.
My mind simply stopped. Andrea gone? No, that couldn't happen. It COULDN'T.
" . . . in a few days." My mind snapped back to the here and now just in time to hear Doctor Lindsey finish her sentence.
I shook my head and swiped my hands over my eyes. I took a moment to compose myself and stave off the tears. "Sorry, Doctor. What was that?"
She said nothing about my lapse of attention. "I was telling you that the police have to conduct their investigation before any arrangements can be made regarding Andrea. They should be done in a few days."
Great, something else I'd have to deal with. I considered nodding, but honestly felt that I didn't have the energy.
She laid one hand on my shoulder. "Anything I can help with?"
I dredged up the energy to shake my head. No, nothing can help me. I tiredly stood up and headed to the door, Doctor Lindsey following. Once back out into the hall, I turned to her. "Thank you, Doctor. I appreciate what you're trying to do. I hope we can meet again under better circumstances." I turned toward the exit and hurried away before my composure shattered.
The next few days passed in a blur.
I stayed at a hotel for a few nights until the police let me back into the house.
The instant I walked into my living room, I nearly collapsed at the sight of the blood stained carpet. That meant that I had to wait for two more days before the carpet cleaners and carpenter repaired the damage.
Once the police pathologist released Andrea, I had her cremated, just as her will prescribed. The Watchers turned out to have a small cemetery near Seacouver, and that seemed fitting.
The only image of the funeral I remember was the marbled pattern on the urn holding her ashes. I suppose Joe, Richie, and a few others were there, but I don't know for sure.
During those few days, Richie and Hoa came to see me a couple times, as did Joe. Mac called twice, and even Cassandra called. I appreciated what they were all trying to do, but this was something I had to get through on my own. Considering my potential life span, it was something that would likely happen again.
"What do you mean, you haven't made any progress?" I was nearly yelling, but I didn't care. It had been a week, and I was calling Detective Furlan for some news. This wasn't what I wanted to hear.
"I'm sorry, Mister Chessman, but we have nothing to go on." He gave an almost soundless sigh before starting to tick the items off as if from a mental list. "The description we have can fit any one of a million men. No shell casings were found, so we have no lot numbers to look up. The bullets themselves were from a nine-millimeter, and there are literally millions of such bullets produced every year. Besides the one neighbor who called in the shots, nobody saw anything. No car parked outside, nobody running away, nothing. Whoever this guy was, he was either wearing gloves or simply didn't touch anything, so there are no unexpected fingerprints. We have NOTHING to go on." He didn't sound happy about the situation, but he didn't sound very apologetic or optimistic, either.
I fought down the desire to say something that wouldn't endear me to the police forces of Seacouver.
"Okay," I growled. It wasn't, but what was I going to do about it? "You'll let me know if you develop anything?"
He assured me he would, but his tone wasn't very encouraging.
"The cops don't know anything about it," I growled. I'd retreated to Joe's shortly after the phone call. Considering how hard I was glaring at the bottle in front of me, I was surprised it wasn't melting.
"Just give them time," replied Joe as he wiped invisible spots on his bar. It was in the middle of the afternoon, and the bar was deserted except for the two of us.
"It's been a week, and they don't have shit! The only thing that makes sense is that it was an Immortal out to get me. Robbers don't come in with automatic weapons blazing, and besides, nothing was stolen. But if it IS an Immortal, why haven't they Challenged me? Hell, I could use the distraction." I gave a grim smile that had nothing to do with humor.
Joe didn't say anything. Frowning slightly, I looked up at him. He kept wiping the bar, ignoring me.
A suspicion started to form. My initial reaction that it had to be an Immortal coming after me returned to the forefront of my mind. I continued to stare at Joe.
He stopped and looked at me. "What?" His voice was equal parts annoyance and discomfort.
"You know something." It wasn't a question. My face was a stone mask by this time.
"Huh?" His confused look was very good, but something told me it was a lie.
"Who did it?" It took a lot for that to come out calmly.
"Did what?" He suddenly looked tense.
"Damnit, Joe, this is ANDREA we're talking about. If you know something . . ." I left the threat hanging.
He opened his mouth but closed it again without saying anything. Seeing the murderous look in my eye must have made him reconsider making another claim of ignorance. He paled a little, but silently shook his head in refusal.
I had always wondered if I could crush a glass bottle in my bare hands. It turns out that I can't, but not for lack of trying. "Joe, do you have any idea what I'm willing to do to get Andrea's killer?" The pseudo threat was delivered in an absolutely flat tone barely above the volume of a whisper.
His face reddened for a moment before he burst out, "Don't you think I want him as badly as you do? But I CAN'T TELL YOU!"
"Why the hell NOT?"
He looked ready to say something but stopped himself at the last moment. I knew he'd already dropped one piece of information. He knew who did it. Or at least he knew something about it.
"Joe, I consider you a friend. Don't make me do something stupid here." My hand reached into my coat but didn't emerge.
He paled almost to the point of his face matching he gray in his beard. He knew what weapons I had on me. In addition to a combat knife, I also had a two-foot long sword and a pistol. He'd shown me how to use the gun himself. He slowly placed both hands on the bar, palms up. Without bothering to look, I knew what I'd see if I looked down. A Watcher tattoo on one wrist and the scar of a removed tattoo on the other. In a soft voice, he recited, "I am a Watcher. I take this oath to observe and record the lives of any Immortals I encounter. To this I swear and pledge my life, so help me God." He lifted his chin a half inch, set his teeth, and stared at me. He was a Watcher. Good, bad, or otherwise, that was his life.
And he knew me. He knew I was incapable of killing in cold blood.
"God damnit, tell me!" I stood up so fast that the barstool I had been sitting on fell to its side behind me.
He didn't even flinch.
"Damn you, Dawson!" My hand emerged from within my coat, empty. I grabbed the bottle and hurled it against the far wall, taking some satisfaction as it shattered. I turned on my heel and stomped to the door, slamming it open in front of me.
I had walked for nearly half an hour before calming down enough to think. Dawson knew something but wasn't telling me. That meant it was either a Watcher or an Immortal. If it had been a random act of violence by someone else, then Joe wouldn't have known anything.
Why would a Watcher kill her? Well, someone violently against Watchers fraternizing with Immortals may. After all, since she and I were . . . had been, I appended with a lump in my throat . . . together, she was blatantly ignoring that part of her oath. Though my status as a former Watcher made me a special case, the general idea still held. Okay, so she COULD have been a target under those conditions. However, Dawson was at least as guilty of the same offense, and he'd been at it longer. So why would this person kill Andrea but leave Dawson alone?
Okay, so that meant that it was more likely to be an Immortal. Would he have killed her simply because she was a Watcher, or to get at me?
If he wanted to get to me, then he wasn't doing a very good job. I'd heard of some Immortals who would kill everyone around their target on the theory that it made them suicidally depressed. That had certainly been true for the first couple days, but it'd been upwards of a week, and I was getting out of that mood and was now closer to rabidly homicidal.
Okay, it was probably an Immortal who killed her because she was a Watcher. Great, I had an idea of the who and why, but that certainly didn't help the situation any.
Or did it?
My knuckles rapped against the old wooden door. I hoped this worked. More to the point, I hoped I could get away with this without any neighbors seeing or hearing anything.
"Who is it?" a female voice queried.
"Seacouver PD. Please open the door, ma'am." I tried to make my voice a little deeper, but not so much that it was obviously faked.
A long pause followed. I could imagine her checking the peephole, but I was leaning up against the door so that nobody inside could see my face. I nervously glanced up and down the hallway and waited.
"What's this about?" asked the same voice. She was a little leery, but I heard no suspicion in it.
"We have a warrant to search the apartment, ma'am. Please open the door."
When I heard the lock unlatch and the door start to open, I slammed my foot into the opening. I needed to talk to this person, but I couldn't afford to antagonize her. Though the chain still prevented me from entering, I could see in and the occupant could see me.
I smiled. Good, she hadn't screamed or anything. This was going well so far. "Yes, Angie. Can I come in?" With a sigh, she nodded. I retracted my foot, and she undid the chain and opened the door for me. She turned and walked to one of the folding chairs by the window. I walked in the apartment and closed the door as she picked up a pair of binoculars and peered out the window. Without turning, she said, "You shouldn't be here, Ryan."
I sighed as I sat down across from her. "I know, Angie, but I have nowhere else to turn." Angie Mollson, now in her late thirties, was a pretty, petite redhead whom I had met a few years ago. I knew that she was Richie's Watcher. Or at least one of them. I casually looked around. The surveillance post set up to watch DeSalvo's Dojo hadn't changed much in the almost two years since I'd last been here. Good camera on a tripod by the window, two card tables, microwave, small 'fridge, hot plate, folding chairs, the folding cot had been replaced by a futon, and the laptop that I was halfway hoping to find wasn't in evidence. Oh, well. It's never easy.
She put down the binoculars and turned to me. Crossing her arms and leaning back in the chair, she said to me, "Look, I know how you must feel." I bit my tongue. No, she didn't, but she was on my side. At least I hoped she was going to be. She continued, "I liked Andrea too, but you know what rules we operate under."
My eyes narrowed. "Don't give me that! Dawson knows who did it, and that means that every Watcher in town does. Everyone's assuming that this Immortal is out to get me. What if he's killing Watchers?"
Her mouth opened, but nothing came out. She closed her mouth and slowly shook her head. But I noticed that she had blanched.
I pressed on. "What if this person is following Richie at a discreet distance, looking for Watchers?" Her eyes widened in surprise. I gave a grim smile. "Yes, I know Andrea was assigned to Richie. And no, she never told me. I never saw her during the day unless I just happened to bump into Richie. Therefore, she was his Watcher." I paused to wave out the window at DeSalvo's where we could see Richie doing paperwork in the glassed in office. "And now you Watch Richie too. If this person killed Andrea because she Watched Richie, then you're next."
Her forehead was wrinkled in thought. You could almost hear the gears moving. Slowly she shook her head. "No, there are still three possibilities." She held up a hand, one finger extended. "He's after you and killed her due to your relationship." A second finger joined the first. "He's after Richie and killed her when he spotted her." A third finger went up. "Or he's after Watchers. How he'd be finding us is still unknown."
Damn, I can't scare her into revealing what she knows. Well, I didn't really expect it, but it was worth a shot. I sighed. "Okay. Look, talk it over with some of the other Watchers. Look up this guy's record. You guys may be a target." I leaned back in my chair, staring up at the ceiling. "I want him for a couple reasons. I think he's killing Watchers, and you definitely don't deserve that. And this asshole killed Andrea." My eyes narrowed and my voice dropped to a whisper. "And nothing short of his head will atone for that."
The next forty-eight hours passed fretfully. Seacouver was too big a place for me to find this guy on my own. I had to wait for him to make a move on me or for the Watchers to give me something. The dead time was driving me up the wall.
The only release of my nervous energy was in my daily sparring matches with Richie. Here was an outlet for all the anger and frustration I had to bottle up. When I worked at it, I could usually fight Richie to a standstill and beat MacLeod about five percent of the time.
But my head didn't depend on it during these sparring matches with Richie.
I lashed out with a diagonal cut with the wakizashi down and to the left, followed by an immediate stab with the knife. In one fluid move, Richie deflected the sword wide and then parried the knife with the base of his blade. With the size difference between the two blades, it's a wonder I didn't lose the knife completely.
Not caring that I was losing the fight, I swiped a backhand slash at him. Holding his sword in the path of my swing, he stopped me cold several inches short of the target. And then his left fist came crashing against my exposed kidney. Grimacing in pain, I tried to back away and come back to a defensive stance, but a kick caught up to my outer thigh before I could get out of range.
In a sudden attack, Richie swung in at my chest. Bringing my sword up to block, I blunted the attack, but didn't stop it completely. Knowing I couldn't stop the momentum his larger blade had built up, I was already getting out of the way of the swing. Unfortunately, the leg that was just hit didn't react well to the move. It collapsed completely, landing me flat on my back.
Richie lightly tapped my chest with the tip of his sword. I had miserably lost that one.
He didn't say anything, but the message was clear enough. Anger serves no purpose other than to get someone rapidly killed.
Beware the dark side.
On the third morning after talking with Angie, I finally received some word back.
To: firstname.lastname@example.org From: email@example.com
Subject: re: our discussion
Your place, tonight, 7:30.
PS: JD doesn't know about this. PPS: Don't worry about the security. I've got it covered.
Well. This'll be interesting.
My doorbell rang a couple minutes early that evening. I opened the door to find . . . Hoa. Hoa? What was she doing here?
I must have been staring, because she smiled and said, "You going to make me stand here, or can I come in?"
I didn't move. "Um, Hoa, no offense, but someone's coming over."
She nodded. "Angie invited me."
It was probably thirty seconds later when Hoa's giggle pulled my attention back to her. Pulling my jaw up off the floor, I backed out of the door, inviting her in. About the time that I was hanging Hoa's coat up, the doorbell went off again. This time it really WAS Angie. Hanging up her coat as well, I joined them in the living room.
Since Angie looked uncomfortable with the whole situation, I offered the two women drinks and got three colas out of the refrigerator when they both accepted.
Passing them around, I took a seat on the recliner before popping the seal on my drink. Looking over my can at them, I decided to ask a few innocuous questions before getting to the main (and uncomfortable) topic of the evening. "Angie, you said that you had the security covered. Should I ask what that means?"
She smiled. "Your Watcher knows we're meeting. And they've agreed to not report the two of us here."
Shit. MY Watcher. I'd forgotten all about him. I'm glad he's on our side, otherwise the trip I made to visit Angie across from DeSalvo's would get her into trouble. Slightly peeved that I'd forgotten all about my own little guardian, I asked, "And does he know what we'll be discussing?"
"I didn't say it was a 'he'," she returned with grin. "And yes, they do know what we'll be discussing and agree with what I'm doing. Oh, and the new computer system manager at VisionQuest knows as well. That e-mail won't be logged. At least on our end."
Raising my hands in surrender, I gave up with a small chuckle. "Okay, you win. You've got the security covered as much as it needs to be." I turned to Hoa. "And why might you be here?" I froze as I belatedly realized how that sounded. I hastily added, "Not that you aren't welcome of course, but . . ." I stopped as the two women burst out laughing.
Composing herself, Angie answered, "You told me to consult with the other Watchers in town, so . . ." she gestured at Hoa.
I blinked and turned an incredulous stare at Hoa. "You're a Watcher?" I glanced down at her wrist, but there wasn't a tattoo.
She gave a small smile. "Not officially, no. However, since I knew about them and about Immortals, they recruited me several months ago. Shortly after Markus came to town, if you'll remember." I nodded, remembering that mess. It all came out okay in the end, but getting there wasn't pretty. Hoa continued her explanation, "Anyway, since I've been spending so much time with you and especially Richie, the Watchers contacted me discreetly. Angie, Andrea, and your Watcher have been using me as a supplemental source of information." She blushed suddenly. "However, I get final say on what I pass along. Not everything is their business." She glared at Angie for a moment.
Angie feigned an innocent look. "Hey, I'm his Watcher. I'm supposed to know ALL about my subject." I had to suppress the smile that threatened to burst forth as I realized what these two were probably referring to.
In as bland an expression as I could manage, "I certainly hope some, um, personal and interpersonal data is kept strictly confidential."
Hoa blushed a fiery red, which was saying something considering her Vietnamese heritage. Angie merely raised one eyebrow, a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth.
I chuckled for a moment before turning serious. "Angie, what did you want to talk to me about?" I tried to make the question as non- threatening as I could.
She grimaced and leaned backward into the couch. "I did as you suggested. I looked up the Immortal who killed Andrea." My jaw clenched, and my hand twitched, but I didn't say anything. She continued, "Leonard Frankle is his name. It turns out that he IS hunting Watchers. He somehow managed to get a class list from Watcher's University and is working his way down the list." She paused and looked at me.
I was frowning. "But I was a classmate of Andrea's at WU." About two years ago now.
Angie nodded. "Right. He's been moving around a LOT for the past year. His Watcher can hardly keep up. And he seems to be able to shake his Watcher whenever he wants to. Each killing looks like random violence, and he moves out of town the day after killing the next target on his list, so he's trying to make it look random. The Watcher leadership pieced together the evidence a few weeks ago, and tried to warn me off about it. I'd already gotten what I needed out of the archives, though. From what I could tell, the Watcher Council knows about him, but has no idea what to do about him. Anyway, he's been going down this list alphabetically." She pulled out a sheet of paper from her pocket and started reading. "Kimberly Archon, William Bartes, Andrea Burke, Juan Carris," she looked up at me, "and Ryan Chessman." She folded the page and tucked it back into her pocket. "Juan Carris was killed in Barcelona two days ago, the apparent victim of a mugging gone bad."
I grimaced slightly. "And so I'm next."
Angie mutely nodded.
Something disturbing occurred to me. "How's he finding us?"
She shrugged uncomfortably. "Don't know."
It didn't matter much in the long run, but it would have been nice to know. In all likelihood it was via computer. He was probably tracking us down the same way private investigators would.
Shaking off the irrelevant thoughts, I tried to put a plan together in my mind. The instant he Sensed me, he might turn tail. I can cloak my aura, but to do so prevents me from moving. That meant that I had to go to him. I just had to hope he wouldn't run the moment I came near, or fix it so he didn't have much choice in the matter.
Okay, if I had to find him, I had to know where he was. And the only reasonable way to do that . . . "You said he has a Watcher on him?"
Angie looked up as if just waking up. Her attention had been pretty deep into something. "Yes, Frankle has a Watcher. But like I said, it's hard to keep up with him. The good news is that so far he has been in a city for almost a week before making his move. We always know when he's moving from one city to another, but it takes a little while for his permanent Watcher to catch up. Until he does, one of the temporaries is assigned if available. His permanent Watcher catches up within a couple days, but we never seem to spot him killing Watchers. "
"Yeah, you told me he can shake a tail. Strange that he doesn't cover his tracks from one city to another," I mused. Or maybe not. If he didn't, then his Watcher would stay behind and hear the news of the death of a fellow Watcher. This guy was either clever or lucky. Something to remember.
Hoa had been watching us and listening quietly the entire time. Now she shook her head in wonder. "I had no idea this was all so complex."
I smiled at her. "Like most complex systems, when it works, it works well. When it doesn't, it doesn't work at all. The majority of Immortals out there have no idea the Watchers exist. And they're all tracked pretty well. It's the ones who know and actively try to mess up the system that cause these headaches."
Angie rolled her eyes at my understatement.
I smiled slightly and shook my head at Angie's expression before getting back to more important items. "You realize you'll have to tell me where to find him when he gets to town." I braced myself for an argument. Angie surprised me with her response.
She nodded with a thoughtful frown. Most of the same arguments about how to trap him had apparently gone through her mind. "I know. I'll give you as much warning as possible."
Hoa frowned. "What I don't get is why you don't handle it, Angie. If the Watcher Council knows about him, why don't they get him themselves? I mean, why ask Ryan to do this?"
I answered, "Four reasons. One, Watchers DO NOT INTERFERE. Our . . . their lives are pledged to that. Most of them would rather be killed themselves than try to kill Frankle or arrange to have him killed. There are exceptions to that attitude, though. Angie is apparently one of them, fortunately."
Angie nodded. "He's killing Watchers. Immortals have been given a great gift, and I'm quite happy to allow them their peace just so long as they don't start screwing around killing mortals indiscriminately. Especially Watchers," she finished in a mutter.
I continued, "As for the second reason of why Angie doesn't do something herself: what happens if he shoots Angie?"
"She gets hurt," Hoa said with a frown.
I nodded. "And what happens if *I* get shot?"
"You get hurt," Hoa answered, clearly not seeing where I was going.
"But I'll heal. I can still be killed by this guy, but it'd be tougher. The third reason is that one Immortal killing another Immortal is how things are done. If my killing Frankle is Chronicled as such, nobody will look twice, especially with my known relationship to Andrea. Everyone else's involvement won't come to light. Lastly, she knows I'd go ballistic if I wasn't in on it."
Angie smiled. "Not exactly how I would have put it, but close enough." Her smile faded. "You be careful. This is NOT a nice man."
My mouth curved up into a predatory grin that was not at all humorous. "At the moment, neither am I."
Okay, now I only had to wait until I got warning from Angie.
Interestingly, he didn't go after the Immortals that were suddenly un-Watched. Whatever the reason, he seemed to be hunting Watchers but not Immortals. I hoped that indicated a lack of self-confidence in his swordsmanship skills.
That night was spent restlessly. I ran through a few katas that MacLeod had taught me. He had told me that they were supposed to be calming, but it didn't help me much. I tried reading for a while. I still couldn't get to sleep, so I spent a while working with my blades, sharpening and cleaning.
I finally stumbled back to bed at about 2:00, totally exhausted. Andrea haunted my dreams all night.
The phone rang the next afternoon. I snatched it up, "Chessman." I was still irritable and tired from the previous night.
"Ryan, it's Angie. Frankle's in town."
That woke me up. "Where?"
"Knight's Inn on Hudson Street, room 153."
I paused. How to ask this next question? "Angie, can I assume that anything that happens will be reported . . . favorably for all involved?"
She understood what I was getting at. "Don't worry. Your Watcher knows the score, and I'm on Frankle myself. His Watcher hasn't caught up with this latest move, so I'm Watching him temporarily."
Good, that cleared that potential hurdle. Okay, time to put my plan into action. "Okay. I'm going to call him in fifteen minutes. Call me on my cell phone if he goes anywhere, okay?" I recited my cell phone number to her before continuing. "Do NOT try to do anything directly." I gave a twisted smile. "I've got the security covered."
I could hear her strained chuckle. "Gotcha."
I hung up and pulled out the phone book. After scribbling down a number, I grabbed my coat and headed out the door.
Ten minutes later I pulled into a good parking spot and shut off the engine. Like many hotels, the Knight's Inn had only one way out of the parking lot. If he tried to make a break for it, he had to go past this point to do so.
I pulled out my phone and called the number I had written down earlier.
"Knight's Inn, how may I help you?" How can receptionists be so disgustingly perky?
"Could you connect me to room 153, please?"
"Certainly, sir." The line started playing canned elevator music. Good, she didn't ask me for his name. There was no reason he wouldn't have signed in under his own name, but if not, it would be tougher to contact him.
The line rang. "Hello." Deep voice, but unremarkable otherwise.
A cautious reply, "Yes. Who is this?"
Good, Angie's information was accurate. "Meet me in one hour." I gave directions to Mac's warehouse.
"Who are you? What do you want?" Though the tone was angry and blustery, I heard a quaver in it.
"Who I am doesn't really matter, does it? What I want is your head." I hung up.
I looked at my watch. Now to wait. Three things could happen. One, he could leave right now and try to leave the city, in which case I'd simply block the parking lot with my car. The situation would get ugly from there, but there were still ways to salvage everything at that point. Two, he could leave in about a half an hour to get to the warehouse early. Three, he could leave in forty- five minutes to get there on time.
Five minutes passed without him moving. Good, that option of his was the least controllable. I waited another ten minutes to make sure and then headed to the warehouse.
Forty minutes after my call, my phone rang. I was parked outside the warehouse, sitting on the trunk of my car. I pulled the phone out of my coat pocket and answered it. "Hello."
"Ryan, it's Angie. He's on the move."
I nodded. The timing was about right. "I'm at MacLeod's warehouse. If he tries to go somewhere else, tail him until he stops, then call me. If he comes here, just enjoy the fireworks."
"Will do." She paused and then softly continued, "Good luck."
"Thanks." I flipped the phone shut. Placing it on top of my car, I muttered, "I may just need it."
The Buzz hit me fifteen minutes later. I was still sitting on the trunk of my car, arms draped over my knees, hands in plain sight. I looked at the approaching silver sedan calmly as I concentrated on the aura that was coming with it. Relatively young, perhaps 50 years Immortal; not nearly as many heads as I would have expected for the age, though.
The car pulled up next to mine and a large black man stepped out. A couple inches over six foot, muscular without being huge, looking to be in his mid thirties, he fit the description Detective Furlan told me Andrea gave the cops. He was wearing a plain gray trench coat over casual sweater and jeans, and his hands were hanging loosely at his sides. With the fact that his coat was mostly buttoned and his hands were in plain sight, he couldn't draw a weapon on me very quickly. He stepped around the back of his car and stopped about five feet away. He tilted his head curiously as he regarded me. "Do I know you?"
I shook my head. "No, you don't. My name is Ryan Chessman."
His eyes widened momentarily.
I nodded. "Yes, the next name on your list," I confirmed.
"But you're Immortal!" he protested.
"Some of us find it convenient to be Watchers." Based on what he'd been doing, and his list of targets, he had to know about them. I wasn't about to give him the real story. That would only tell him how old (or young) I was. "Why are you doing this?"
His gaze narrowed. "What, killing those voyeurs?"
My eyes flared, and I gritted my teeth. With barely contained rage, I nodded.
He shrugged. "Ours is a Game that shouldn't be interfered with."
I blinked and shook my head. "They don't!" Usually, I amended to myself. There WERE special circumstances. Come to think of it, I was in the middle of one right now.
"They do!" he insisted angrily. He took a breath before continuing more calmly. "They killed my teacher, Abdul Jakara. They also killed several others, including the priest Darius."
I sighed. So that was it. He knew about the Hunters but not Watchers. I shook my head sadly. "You're referring to Hunters. They were a renegade branch of the Watchers. Duncan MacLeod and some of the Watchers killed the Hunter leader Horton and drove all his followers out. That was years in the past. Jacob Galanti believed as you do; that all Watchers had to be killed. The Watchers were forced to kill him in self defense." It tore me apart to try to explain the truth to the man who had killed Andrea, but my conscience forced me to try.
He waved in an offhand gesture. "You lie. You are one of them." He tilted his head before continuing, "You Challenged me." He nodded toward the warehouse. "Shall we?"
I nodded and got down from my perch. Heading toward the door, I paid strict attention to his aura. My life had already been saved a few times by the dangerous flaring an opposing Immortal broadcast just before attacking. His aura stayed perfectly normal as I led the way inside. I walked partway in before turning around. He was just inside the door, already taking his coat off. Good. I continued to the far wall before removing my coat. If he was taking his coat off, that means he was unlikely to have any more weapons on him. I hoped. An unexpected pistol would ruin my whole day. Taking both swords in hand, I walked back toward the center of the open space.
As I approached him, I said, "You seem to be an honorable man, Leonard Frankle. I would offer to let you walk away, but you made one mistake." I never let my voice flicker. I could not show the fear or rage I was feeling. To do so would show him that he had an advantage. I stopped my advance ten feet away from him.
He stood calmly, some long, wicked looking, curved blade clenched in his right hand. "And what mistake was that?"
"You killed Andrea Burke," I choked out. I paused as I regained control over my voice. "She may have been a simple 'voyeur' to you, but I loved her."
His eyes seemed saddened for a moment. "I'm sorry for your pain, but I will not apologize for killing her."
I nodded, forcing down the cry of rage. "Then this is how we finish it," I whispered, spreading my arms to indicate the warehouse and the whole situation.
He nodded and then took a half step back and fell to one knee. Putting his sword point down in front of him, he wrapped both hands around the hilt and pressed his forehead to the back of his hands. Faintly, I could hear him muttering something. Perhaps a prayer?
For my own part, I took one deep breath and consciously released the tension beginning to coil in my chest. I couldn't let emotions cloud my mind right now. Richie had proven that anger didn't improve my sword skills.
Once he stood up, I darted in to the attack with the point of my wakizashi leading. With a swipe, he parried it out of the way and stepped away from the long knife in my opposite hand.
A backhand horizontal cut came back at me before he had completely reset his stance. Due to our height difference, it was at the height of his shoulders, but coming right at my neck. Taking a half step forward and crouching, I caught his blade near the base of my wakizashi and deflected it slightly upward, letting it continue its horizontal sweep but high enough to avoid hurting me. When I had stepped inside his reach, he tried to step backward but not before I managed a diagonal cut along his right thigh with my knife.
And so the fight went. I had to rely on quickness and light strikes while he went for a brute force method. I continued to land light hits on his legs and torso, even once nearly cutting his left arm in half lengthwise when I got a blade in front of a jab. His long sweeping strikes kept me at bay for the most part, though, and one strike cut across my chest to the ribs. But I was hitting him more often than he was hitting me.
Within ten minutes both of us were sweating heavily and panting from the exertion, but he was getting clumsy from blood loss. After two quick cuts on his off arm, he suddenly looked scared.
With one final cry of frustration, he tried an overhand chop. Using a variation of a move I had learned from Richie a while ago, I blocked with one blade while moving around the side. While he was still stumbling forward, a quick slice across the back of his legs forced him to his knees. Breathing heavily, I dropped the knife from my left hand and took my wakizashi in a two handed grip. "For Andrea," I said as I brought the blade down.
Frankle's body fell away from me as I dropped to my knees, panting for breath. Well, here goes again. I was still on my hands and knees when the first blast ripped through the air.
I was lying flat on my back, trying to get my body to obey my commands when I heard the door open. Expecting Angie, I didn't look over until I was reasonably confident in my ability to stand unaided.
Twisting my neck over toward the door, I was shocked to find myself looking into the direct gaze of Detective Furlan.
Here I was, lying on the ground, bloody shirt, no wound, two bloody weapons next to me with my fingerprints all over the both of them, and a decapitated body no more than seven feet away.
Can we say "screwed"?
As I was staring at the police detective standing just inside the door, I saw something over his shoulder. Angie walked through the door behind him and stepped around him to look in.
I closed my eyes and leaned my head back to the ground. "Please tell me this is an awful dream." I figured I couldn't get into any more trouble than I was already in, and it seemed the thing to say.
Angie broke into laughter. I opened my eyes again and looked at the two of them. Detective Furlan smiled at me and slowly rolled up a sleeve. My heart began beating again when I spotted his Watcher tattoo.
I let out a breath and fixed him with a stern glare. "You could have told me."
He chuckled and shook his head. "And miss that look you just gave me? No way."
As he was rolling his sleeve back up, Angie looked over at Frankle's body. "I see that the good guys won."
My relief abruptly fled. I levered myself to a standing position before looking over at her. "*I* won if that's what you mean. Though I'm not so sure I'm a 'good guy'."
She tilted her head quizzically. "What do you mean?"
"Was what I just did 'good'?" Her frown told me she didn't know what I was talking about. I tried a different tact. "He told me that the Hunters killed his teacher. What would I be willing to do if some group killed Mac? Might I end up like this?" I gestured at Frankle's body as I bent over to retrieve my blades.
Both Watchers were silent as I put on my coat and cleaned most of the blood off the blades with a handkerchief that I had pulled out of my coat. Once everything was put away, I turned back to them. "I know what he was doing was wrong. That isn't it. My point is: was what I just did any better; killing him in revenge for Andrea?"
Neither Watcher moved as I quietly left.
Early the next morning, I knocked on the wooden door.
"Who is it?"
"Would you believe me if I said Seacouver PD?"
Angie laughed as she opened the door. Waving me in, she returned to her seat by the window. Closing the door behind me, I came in and took a seat across from her.
"This is becoming a habit," she joked. I gave a small smile in response. "You'll be interested in knowing that both John Furlan and I filed yesterday's Quickening into the Chronicles already. You Challenged him, you two discussed something outside the warehouse that nobody could hear, entered, and fought." She shrugged. "The WHY is explained easily enough. How you knew where to find him is unknown." She gave me a sly wink.
I nodded. That covered the bases nicely. The truth could only get people in trouble. Though Joe would probably agree with us, including him would only endanger him more. The Watchers didn't need any more internal upheaval.
"Anyway," she continued, "what brings you by today?"
I sighed sadly. "I'm leaving town. I don't know if it's a case of too many bad memories, wanderlust, or what, but I feel that I should leave. I just came by to thank you and say goodbye."
She shook her head. "No, I should thank you. You helped the Watchers out, too. Without you, this would have been a LOT tougher to deal with." She paused and shook my hand. "Take care of yourself, Chessman."
"You, too," I almost whispered. I turned and headed back toward the door. Before I grasped the handle, I turned back to Angie, gave a sudden smile, and waved out the window toward the dojo. "Keep an eye on him. He needs a keeper."
"What do you mean, you're leaving?"
I sighed at the question and continued packing the suitcase that was open on my bed. I didn't want to have this conversation, but I owed Richie more than just skipping out of town without a word. Besides, I still needed his help. "Just too many bad memories here I guess, Richie."
He wasn't giving up so easily. "But what about Mac?"
I forced myself to give a small smile. "I'm sure he can survive without me."
He glared at me. "That's NOT what I meant."
"I know," I sighed. "Look, Rich, I just need to get away. Once I stop somewhere, I'll let you guys know." I continued to pack. "Do me a favor?" I asked finally.
"Sure." He sounded depressed but resigned.
I lifted a handful of papers from the nightstand and handed them over. "I've given you power of attorney for me. Could you sell all this," I waved my hand around to indicate to house and its contents, "and Andrea's car?" My voice caught on that one, but I cleared my throat and continued, "Put all the money into my account. All the instructions are in there. I'll be back for it eventually. For now, I just can't deal with all this."
He nodded, listlessly looking through the pages I'd handed him.
Putting the last of the clothing into the suitcase, I latched it closed and took it outside, Richie following in my wake. Placing the suitcase into the last free spot in my trunk, I slammed it closed. I pulled my key ring out and removed the house key.
As I handed the key to Richie, he asked, "Where will you be going?"
I shrugged. "I'll know when I get there." I gave a sudden smile. "Maybe I'll try to find Amanda while Mac's not around." I waggled my eyebrows suggestively.
He laughed at that concept.
I stuck out my hand, which he solemnly shook. "Until we meet again, Richie Ryan. Watch your head."