Scuttling backward on the mat, Richie broke off his lesson with Duncan and waved his sword in frustrated surrender as sweat poured down his face.

"Time out, okay?" he gasped, wiping his eyes and raking air into his lungs as hard as he could. "I’m Immortal, not invincible, and I need a break. Besides--" He stumbled backward, toward the office. "Your phone is ringing."

"That’s as good an excuse as any to quit," Duncan threw after him. I know I’m pushing him past his normal endurance level, I know he’s pissed with me again, thought MacLeod. Richie always wants to take things a little slower. Always the easier route. But just because he’s Immortal doesn’t mean time is unlimited. He’s got a lot to learn, and he’s got to learn it now, before someone stronger and faster shows up tomorrow. He needs to know that he’s capable of fighting under pressure. Needs to find those hidden reserves of strength that--

"Mac, it’s for you," Richie interrupted his thoughts. Going for a towel, the young Immortal took a swig of Gatorade.

"Don’t tank up on that," the Highlander warned as he went for the phone. "You’ve still got twenty minutes left on the mat."

The glower earned for that remark only made Duncan smile more sweetly at his student. He’s learning. A week ago, he’d have been cussing me out, telling me I was flat mean. I’m not mean. Anxious, maybe. Mean, never. Well, hardly ever. And I try not to enjoy it. Much. He grinned to himself as he lifted the receiver to his sweating cheek. "MacLeod here."

"It’s Matt." The voice of one of his oldest friends sounded tinny and far away in Los Angeles.

"Hey, Matt, how’s the father of the bride holding up? Ready for the wedding? Has Jessie managed to bankrupt you yet?"

"Mac--" Matt’s voice broke, then there was a moment of silence, followed by a trembling intake of breath.

Duncan gripped the receiver more tightly, all cheerfulness gone. "Matt, what is it? What’s happened?"

"Jessie’s gone." Matt’s voice was filled with pain as he talked about his daughter. "The police found her--her...." Another trembling intake of breath that was nearly a sob, and he forced himself to say the word still so unbelievable. "Found her... body on a jogging path in Malibu early this morning. Brad reported her missing about two weeks ago now..." His voice cracked on the sob that had been threatening to escape. "They want me to go down and identify the body. I can’t. I just can’t. And I don’t want her fiance doing it. Mac, can you come? Please come. I’ll pay for the ticket, but Mac--"

"Don’t worry about the ticket. I’ll be on the next flight." Hanging up the receiver, Duncan stared at the desk, but never saw the doodle-filled blotter or the Lion King mug holding an assortment of pens with ends chewed by Richie. Duncan’s thoughts were far away, focused on the last time he had seen Jessie, the black-haired beauty Matthew McInnis had adopted twenty years ago in Belfast. Duncan could still see her birth mother, standing and stroking her baby’s head.

"Of course I love her," the gaunt-cheeked woman had said, "but I’m a member of the IRA aren’t I, and smack in the middle of the Troubles. The life I live isn’t for a child. Take her and love her. Give her everything I can’t. Give her a life of peace."

Matt had. From rocking horses and stuffed toys, to a real horse and an all-expenses-paid education at Michigan State University, Jessie McInnis had the best. She’d grown up happy and strong and beautiful. The last time Duncan had seen her, she’d been a glowing teenager, a dreamer who wanted nothing more than a pizza with double cheese, and maybe a new set of gypsy-hoop earrings for her next birthday. All of that was gone now.

Do the police know how she died? he wondered, remembering the last time he’d seen her. Does her fiance, Brad, know how she died?


"Brad doesn’t like me," Duncan told the slender girl walking beside him past the swimming pool. In his mind’s eye, Duncan saw the scowling features of the young man he’d met a few hours earlier at Thanksgiving dinner around the McInnis’s huge dining-room table.

Jessie pushed the hair out of her eyes and wrinkled her nose. "Brad’s insecure. You’re just a little threatening."

"How am I threatening?"

"’ve got the money, the hair, the body, the looks. Brad’s got a bicycle and a crew cut. He weighs 150 pounds soaking wet, and he thinks his nose is crooked."

"His nose is crooked." Duncan dodged before she hit him. "What’d he run into? Anyway, Brad’s a grad student. He’s supposed to be poor."

"He’s a graduating grad student at the top of his class," Jessie pointed out. "If he passes his orals next month, he’s done. But we’ll probably be paying off student loans for the next ten years."

"Ah...a broke and exhausted grad student are we? Still--" Pausing on tile, Duncan pulled Jessie gently around to look down at her. "Brad has you. That’s an embarrassment of riches for any man."

She giggled like a kid--a joyous sound that never failed to cheer Duncan. She’d never taken him seriously, never could. That kind of innocence was such a blessing to someone as world-weary as himself.

"Will you stay in school and finish your own degree?" he probed, uncertain how much freedom or support Brad Walker was willing to give his wife-to-be.

"Dad’s begging me to finish and says he’ll cover my expenses. I think Brad’s jealous of that, too. He grumbles a lot that we ought to be able to do it ourselves."

"When your husband’s a famous Hollywood director like your father, he can pay him back. ‘Til then, I’d take the money and run."

They continued their stroll and Duncan pondered how bitter a contrast Brad Walker seemed to the constantly smiling girl he’d asked to marry him. Slouching and sullen and never clean-shaven, Brad Walker consistently scuffed about in grey sweat suits that looked like he never washed them well enough to restore them to their original white. He didn’t stink, but looked as though he should. "Dingy" best described him, Duncan decided. For all of Walker’s studying film production, his conversation seemed limited.

"He comes alive only to discuss old Abbott & Costello movies," Matt’s wife, Moira, had assured Duncan earlier in the day.

"What’s your favorite?" Duncan had prodded during the washing-up after dinner.

"‘A & B Meet the Mummy,’" Brad mumbled, hunching over the sink and making it plain that he didn’t wish to continue the conversation.

Now there’s a sterling piece of entertainment, thought Duncan, turning away lest his opinion show in his expression. Wandering out of the kitchen, he joined Matt and Jessie in the living room, where they were absorbed with football and rooting for their beloved Michigan State University.

Brad doesn’t like football, Duncan remembered, perching on the arm of the couch before being yanked onto the cushions by a grinning Jessie. Or baseball or dressage competitions. He and Jessie are different in every way.

"When I asked my daughter what they had in common," Moira had informed him, "she said they needed each other."

"I still don’t know what that means," Matt had picked up the thread. "I’m 198 years old this year. You’d think I’d understand women after marrying four times and raising six daughters. But no. And what about you?"

"I don’t think you understand me, either." Duncan grinned at his friend. "All right, seriously, I don’t know what she sees in Brad. That kid needs another 50 years to grow up. But we’re not marrying him: Jessie is. Did you like the men your other daughters married?"

"All but one," Matt confessed. "In 1885, Abigail got it into her head to marry some aesthetic prig. Someone ‘utterly too,’ as Punch put it in London. I thought him effeminate, but she worshipped the little twit, so what’s a father to do but stand aside and pray?"

"So what happened?"

"Hmph. Sherman turned out to be one of the best swordsmen in Britain, and he was devoted to Abby. Taught me a lot--with and without that blasted rapier." Duncan laughed, and after a moment, Matt joined in. "So I was wrong, so sue me. It’s a Dad’s right to be suspicious. I’m trying to be laid back about Brad. I’ve learned to be patient, and I’m trying to be tolerant. But Duncan...I don’t know. There’s just something wrong with Walker. It’s nothing specific, nothing I can point to directly. Maybe he just rubs me the wrong way."

"Maybe," Duncan agreed, sharing this father’s feeling, but not wanting to admit it. Maybe we’re both wrong. Hope so. I’m an outsider, only an observer. It’s not my place to cause trouble. Besides, I couldn’t possibly help the situation after an hour with the kid. Better to remain silent than to sing a bad song.


Now Jess is dead, Duncan reflected, returning his thoughts to the present. Maybe I should have sang the song. Duncan strode to the door of the office.

"Richie!" he bellowed into the empty dojo.

"Five more minutes' rest, Mac," a voice answered from the other side of the barbells. "My heart’s still doing triple time here--"

"We’re finished for today. I’m going to Los Angeles." With that, Duncan turned toward the elevator, leaving a stunned, sweaty Richie Ryan staring after him as the elevator rose upward.


The flight to Los Angeles was uneventful and Burbank Airport was crowded as usual in the mid-afternoon rush, but it was nothing compared with LA International--a challenging stress test to be avoided at all cost. On the small luggage conveyor, Duncan’s black satchel competed with MGM film canisters and Paramount prop boxes. Once he’d retrieved his bag, he had to struggle through the throng of entertainment industry gofers intent upon rescuing their bits of glitz and golf clubs--not to mention getting to work. It was easier once the Immortal got out of the airport and into the sunshine that was trying hard to burn off the smog. A taxi sprang forward the minute he whistled, and within seconds he was on his way to Bel Air.

Matt himself answered the doorbell, shushing Duncan to whispers even as he ushered the Immortal inside. "Moira’s taken a Valium and is trying to sleep. Thanks for coming on such short notice."

Throwing his arms around Duncan’s shoulders, Matt squeezed him, hard. Dropping his satchel, Duncan returned the hug, letting the smaller man cling to him as long as was necessary in his overwhelming grief. When Matt finally released him, the Highlander looked him up and down, assessing for himself how his friend was coping.

Barefoot and rumpled, Matt stood with hair uncombed and eyes bloodshot. Surrounded by an opulent, two-story mansion in the heart of one of the most exclusive--and expensive--districts of L.A., Matt was a successful writer/producer whose power in Hollywood didn’t extend to bringing his daughter back from the dead. Starting out as a fight coordinator in silent film, Matthew McInnis had climbed his way up the entertainment ladder, making friends with the likes of Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone. After Rathbone’s death, Matt had disappeared in Europe to reinvent himself as his own grandson. After careful investments, patient cultivating of his "grandfather’s" reputation and the legends built up around McInnis’s exclusive style of fight choreography, Matthew McInnis III return to L.A. to direct and produce a series of wildly successful swashbuckling films that came like child’s play to him.

It’s no mean feat to be an Immortal producing two features a year and still keep your life private, Duncan pondered.

"Come in, MacLeod." McInnis led the way into a living room stuffed to the rafters with recording equipment, distinguished cinematographic awards and sword displays.

"How are you doing?" asked Duncan.

"How should I be doing?" Matt’s Irish accent was low and melodious as Duncan remembered it, though the words were decidedly bitter. "My youngest daughter’s dead, production has been halted on Dead Men Tell No Tales, and Moira’s in the bedroom trying to commit suicide with more drugs than she’ll tell me she’s taking." Pausing at the wet bar, Matt tilted a half-empty whiskey bottle toward his friend. "You want a drink?"

Duncan shook his head. "Are the police certain it’s Jessie they found?"

Matt poured himself a tall glass. "The body had Jessie’s wallet, jewelry, clothes, so we’re pretty sure. But I haven’t gone down to look at her, if that’s what you mean. I thought, maybe--"

"You thought maybe I’d go."

With tortured eyes, Matt nodded. "Selfish and cowardly to ask it of you, isn’t it? But I don’t want my last memory of her to be... I can’t--"

Duncan held up a hand to stop the flood of painful explanation. "I understand. I’ll do it. You shouldn’t leave Moira alone right now, anyway."


The two men regarded each other for a moment, remembering all the years between them.

He was with me at Culloden, Duncan recalled. We started out together, but by the end of the day, we’d lost each other. Didn’t see him again until 1854, in Connemara. There he was, holding court in the middle of a crowd at an Irish horse fair. Negotiating a pony sale, spitting on his hand and slapping turf on the animal’s rump to seal the deal. No sword in sight, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t carrying one. Matt may appear unassuming and take things very much as they come, but he’s one of the best and fastest among us. I saw him at Culloden, and no one who’d been there would underestimate him. He’s lost none of his skill over the centuries, either; after seeing his filmwork, only the most suicidal Immortals challenge him now.

But that Matthew McInnis was not the same man as the one weeping quietly over his liquor bottles behind the bar.

Sooner started, sooner finished, Duncan pondered. Best to get this over with as soon as possible, for all concerned.

"I’ll go see the police now, if you like," he said aloud, wishing he’d taken that drink when it had been offered.

At first, Matt couldn’t find his voice to answer; he could only nod agreement. "It’s not a fair thing to ask a man to do. But Duncan--" The tears flowed freely now. "You know she was a beautiful child. And it’s harder, losing daughters. Sons always fight harder to stay and so leave more easily in wars, in car crashes--even in childhood accidents. You half expect it of some of them. But daughters..."

He shook his head, sinking onto the couch and staring out the sliding glass doors, beyond which lay a sparkling blue swimming pool and a perfectly manicured Japanese garden. "A daughter’s supposed to live forever, with babes clinging to her knees and laughter in her eyes. But it’s never been that way for us, has it?"

"No." It’s not meant to be. But over the centuries, my friend, you keep trying to make it so. Going to the couch, Duncan laid a hand on Matt’s shoulder. "I’ll see myself out. Don’t drink too much." Foolish admonition, that. Of course he will. And perhaps he should.

"I’ll...go see how Moira’s doing. You take the Mercedes." Groping in his pockets, he handed over the key-ring. "Will you come back afterward?"

"Yes." Leaving Matt to his tears on the couch, Duncan let himself out.

* * *

Nothing related to death and decay shocked Duncan much anymore. He’d seen too much of it and could have recited a litany of experience that would made the most seasoned Black Beret or homicide investigator throw up. But it was always different when you had to see someone you knew--someone whose dreams and sorrows and fears you’d watched and shared over the years. It was so different when it was someone you had loved being wheeled out of the morgue’s deep freeze.

Duncan could have identified Jessie McInnis just from the color and texture of her hair. But police protocol demanded that he stand beside the corpse, that he listen to the sound of the body bag being unzipped and see the pasty-white skin, the postmortem lividity on her cheek and down the side of her neck, the swelling and bloating of those sweet features, not to mention other damage of which he hadn’t been warned. Closing his eyes against the sight of his god-daughter so destroyed by the process of death, Duncan choked.

"Do you know her?" Lieutenant Scammel prodded.

"Jessie McInnis," he confirmed. "Who did this to her?"

The police investigator shrugged before zipping up the bag and sliding the body back into its metal crypt. "As far as we can tell, nobody did it to her."

"She didn’t look like that when I saw her last. And her father’s a bit surprised by it. You can’t be saying she did this to herself!" Turning abruptly, Duncan exited the morgue and waited outside as Scammel completed his procedures. Giving a grim smile as he exited through the swinging door and brought a cold blast of air with him, Scammel accompanied Duncan back upstairs.

"There’s just one more form for you to sign before we release the body. Did Mr. McInnis say who’d be picking her up?"

Duncan shook his head. "I’ll be making the arrangements, and let you know. Matt’s a bit...out of things right now."

"That’s understandable. Tough luck, too. I’ve known that man for a lot of years, have worked with him on a few films when he needed special cooperation from us on locations around L.A. Likeable guy. Beautiful daughters, too. Jessie was the last one at home, wasn’t she?"

"She was living with her boyfriend," Duncan contradicted. "She was engaged to be married at Christmas."

"Right. We talked to her boyfriend--Walker, wasn’t it? He’s the one who reported her missing a few weeks back." Leading Duncan back to his desk, Scammel sorted through a haphazard stack of files before coming up with Jessie’s. "Brad’s the one who told us whose daughter we’d found. Geez, but I wish we could have found her alive."

"What happened?

"Natural causes, far as we can tell. It’s like she just walked off that jogging path in Malibu, sat down on a rock, and then fell over dead." Riffling through the reports, the lieutenant handed over a stack of candid Polaroid shots. "These were taken at the scene. She’s in a fetal position, see? No clothes out of place, no money missing from her wallet. It’s as if she just up and died."

Bracing himself, Duncan studied the photos. Shot in livid color, they left little to the imagination. The forest floor beneath Jessie’s body was undisturbed. Everything was peaceful as the officer had said--except for the larvae crawling in Jessie’s eyes, around her nose and mouth.

Duncan swallowed hard and looked away. "How long was it before somebody found her?"

"Two to three days, says the report."

The Highlander pondered that news before handing back the photos. "Can I get a copy of those? And the autopsy report?"

Scammel eyed him quizzically. "It’s an open and shut case, Mr. MacLeod."

"I know. But something...." He hesitated.

"Something what?"

Normally, Duncan would have left his opinions unshared. Normally, a police investigator wouldn’t have been interested in anything a layman had to say. But Matt was a friend to both men, and that made it personal. It makes us involved, thought Duncan, whether we want to be or not. And--

"Something doesn’t feel right," he said aloud. "I can’t offer more than that. It’s just a feeling."

"You too, huh?" Scammel leaned forward and flipped the photos upside down. "Even cops go nuts when they see those little bugs on deaders," he confided. "They’re gross, they’re not supposed to be around people who are alive, and they give everybody the willies. Jessie McInnis’s body was rushed through an autopsy--not just because there’s no visible signs of foul play, but because Matt and Moira McInnis didn’t need the rotten publicity inspired by a drawn-out investigation. They’ve got their grief to deal with, and in this fish-bowl town that’s more than enough. So their daughter got shoved through her autopsy. Really cursory, but efficient enough for the L.A.P.D. The powers that be have spoken, and I’m not allowed to disagree with the forensic scientists. But if it was me, I’d dig a little deeper. I look at these photos and something doesn’t feel right. But the maggots are in the way. I can’t see past the maggots. Maybe that’s because there’s nothing to see. Those bugs didn’t kill her, and my buddies say no one else did, either. Now, me? I have my doubts. I just can’t prove it. It happens a lot around here."

"I’d really appreciate it if you could get me a copy of those things," Duncan repeated quietly, in case other ears were listening.

Scammel tapped his pencil against his teeth. "Can’t do that right now," he murmured. "Can’t just walk into Records and say, ‘Hey, make me another set of this stuff, would you?’ But I can send it to you."

"I live in Seacouver. Is that a problem?"

"All the better, it’s out of my jurisdiction." Grinning, the man shoved pencil and paper toward him. "Just give me your address. I’m bending the rules, doing this. If you’d have said, ‘Send them to me at Matt’s,’ I probably would have refused. I don’t want him seeing these. Kapish?"

"Kapish." And I agree.

* * *

Moira came out of her drug-induced coma long enough to attend her daughter’s funeral a few days later. Matt clung to his wife as completely as Moira clung to him, and his other two daughters completed the tableau by wrapping their parents in emotional quilts of grieving support that were so palpable, they all but smothered Duncan as well. Because Matt requested it, Duncan stayed until after the funeral. He stayed to see fiance Brad skip the service at the church and arrive late--in jeans and a t-shirt, no less--at the cemetery, just in time to stand on the edge of the mourners and witness, dry-eyed, his fiance’s coffin being lowered into the ground.

He sends no flowers, no card, no respect, thought Duncan, himself standing on the edge of the crowd. In an anonymous black jacket and sunglasses, he was probably all but unrecognizable to the young man he’d met only once, months ago.

"Brad’s here." The hissing whisper from another mourner standing in front of Duncan drew his attention.

"Yeah, well. It’s about time he got here," whispered the girl next to the first speaker. "What’s with the casual clothes?"

"He’s probably filming and didn’t have time to change. Jessie wouldn’t care. She loved him in jeans."

"Probably doesn’t have any other clothes. Me, I don’t know how she could love him in anything. Creepy kid, somewhere between stoned and sociopathic, if you ask me. Do you think he killed her?"

"Naw. Police said it was natural. Jessie’s heart just stopped or something."

"Too weird," the other commiserated. "She was in such great shape. Who’d’ve known? Poor, sweet Jess. Makes you wonder who’s next?"

The two women turned their attention back to the priest’s final words. Afterward, amid tears and wordless grief, Duncan went to Matt and his wife, squeezed past the daughters, and wrapped his friend in a bear hug.

"You’re leaving." Matt knew the Highlander too well to make it a question.

"There’s nothing more I can do here." Nothing, except give you time to heal. If you ever heal.

"You’ve done more than enough. Thank you." The smaller man meant it. Wrapping Duncan’s hand in his own, he held on. "Jessie loved you, you know. You were her favorite Scottish godfather. If there’s anything I can do, please, MacLeod--"

"I’ll ask." Another hug, and then Duncan was going. "Coimhéad bhur ceann," he admonished in Irish. Watch your head.

"Agus tú." And you.

There was nothing else to say, nothing else to be done. Duncan headed back to Seacouver.

* * *

Exiting the shower, Duncan toweled off and left the bathroom. Parading naked across the floor on his way to the dresser, he was startled by the Immortal buzz. The dojo’s closed, Richie’s gone home. Who the hell is it? Abandoning his search for clean underwear, Duncan grabbed his katana instead and stood ready behind his couch--where his b’hoogies were at least partially shielded from view.

The elevator stopped, the gate was raked up. Methos emerged and raised an eyebrow to see the Highlander bared to the hips--at least. "Is Amanda back in town, or are you practicing for the next Immortals’ Erotica calendar?"

Lowering the sword, Duncan scowled. "What are you doing here?"

"So nice to see you, too. I came to invite you for dinner and met Richie on his way out. He said you’d just finished practicing and gave me his spare key so I wouldn’t be kept waiting downstairs while you finished showering."

"How thoughtful of him." Abandoning the sword, Duncan resumed his clothes safari.

Methos prowled the loft while Duncan worked on becoming respectably clothed. Helping himself to a beer in the fridge, the Ancient One paused at the kitchen counter, where a bizarre array of photographs were strewn across a Los Angeles Police Department envelope.

"Pretty gruesome mail," he commented as Duncan slid into his underwear and completed the ensemble with a pair of Levi’s and a turtleneck sweater. "Most people complain about junk mail, but I doubt they get anything like this. Are you thinking of a career change from dojo owner to forensic pathologist? What is all of this, anyway?"

"Her name was Jessie--daughter of a good friend of mine. Her funeral was last month. She was found dead on a jogging path down in Malibu. No evidence of foul play. The detective in charge was kind enough to send me copies of stuff."

"No foul play, hmm?" Methos pawed through the photos again. "Do you mind if I take a look at this?"

"Help yourself. I need to make a few phone calls before leaving, anyway."

"Good." Piling everything atop the mailer, Methos balanced his bottle of Michelob atop it and headed for the couch. Leaping off of the envelope, the photos littered the cushions, and Methos flung himself after them. Setting aside the beer, he spread the pictures on the coffee table and pulled out the police report while Duncan took a nearby chair and dialed his cellular.

Young woman, 21 years old, Methos reviewed. Found in a wooded area not far from the jogging path, as though she’d stopped to rest. Late summer, moderate temperatures, no immediate evidence of foul play. She was wearing a tube top and shorts, her clothes were intact, and there was no evidence of sexual assault.

Despite the relative tranquility of the scene, Methos knew it wasn’t the kind of case a medical examiner looked forward to receiving. She’d been lying out there what--ten to twelve days?

Methos looked over the close-ups, shot of the corpse as it was found. Larvae--a polite word for maggots--were in the girl’s eyes, around her nose and mouth. Another photo revealed them in the chest area and on the palms of both her hands, as well.

Hmm... What have we here? He consulted the police report again. She was identified almost immediately. Missing persons report on file. Limited autopsy performed because of the pressure to release the body as quickly as possible for a speedy burial...Yeah, I’d want this mess underground as soon as possible, too.

Cause of death, unknown. Body released to funeral home. And there it would have stayed, except that Boy-Scout Duncan’s brought home the pictures. Can’t blame him. Something’s not right here.

"The thing that bothers me most," Duncan interrupted his thoughts, making Methos jump slightly, as he’d all but forgotten he wasn’t alone in the room, "is the time of her death. Brad reported Jessie missing a few days before her body was discovered along the trail. And the autopsy was superficial, right?"

"Yes, because of the advanced degree of decomposition." Methos waved a photo at the Highlander. "So?"

"So, maybe there’s a disparity between the time Jessie was reported missing, and the time she died?"

"Let’s see." Taking up the autopsy report, Methos read briefly, then shook his head. "Don’t think so. Considering the time of year, the maggots are consistent with the medical examiner’s estimate of time since death." He looked up. "The police had no suspects?"

"I told you: there wasn’t any evidence of foul play, so they didn’t bother looking."

"Of course there’s evidence," Methos contradicted. "It’s right here." He waved a hand over the photographs.

Duncan laughed slightly, cynically, and slouched in his chair. "And how would you know?"

"Well, I’m not a pathologist, but I did spend some twenty years as a forensic anthropologist working for the Smithsonian. I consulted with a lot of police departments on a lot of homicides."

"The Smithsonian." Duncan thought for a moment. "As in, the Smithsonian Institution? In Washington?"

Methos nodded. "Don’t look at me like that. It was fascinating work."

Looking genuinely interested now, Duncan sat up straighter. "What are you seeing in those pictures?"

Methos shoved one of the small ones Duncan’s way and ignored his wince. "Look at the larval activity in her hands. But both arms are clean. The flies laid their eggs in deep lesions across the width of her palms. That’s the sort of injury often associated with somebody defending themselves against a knife."

"But how can you be sure the hand injuries aren’t something that happened if she fell while running on the path?" Duncan demanded. "The rocks are pretty sharp."

Shaking his head, Methos indicated Jessie’s chest in another photo. "See this pattern of decomposition, again with maggots? That suggests deep tissue trauma in the chest area, coinciding with the time of death. It’s the same larval development you see on her face and her injured hands. You have to understand that those bugs don’t swarm like that unless they have something to feed on--blood and open wounds serve nicely."

Sitting back, he retrieved his beer. "Skin’s too tough for them to work through, if it’s not really rotten. If there’s another, easier route inside, they’ll go for it. If the police took another look at the body, I think they’d discover that your friend was stabbed in the chest. I think a complete autopsy would reveal blade patterns in the bones of her hands and chest. Of course, to find out, you’d have to boil all of the skin off her bones. Some parents might not go for letting you exhume and then cook their kid. But that girl was murdered, Duncan. She didn’t die of natural causes."

MacLeod narrowed his eyes. "You’re not just telling me this because you think it’s what I want to hear? Because you know I probably have someone in mind?"

Methos snorted. "You know me better than that. I certainly wouldn’t make up something I know is probably going to get your sense of chivalry all hot and bothered, and make you set off on one of your quixotic quests."

"Is that how you see justice--as a"

"Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, no."

"What about in this case?"

Methos eyed the evidence before him. Scattered among the horrible photos was another, taken of Jessie McInnis on the day she graduated from college. She looked out at the world with trust and innocence in her eyes--eyes that were very changed in the other photographs.

"I didn’t know the girl," Methos answered Duncan’s question.

Steepling his fingers, Duncan stared at his friend. I knew her. I loved her, those intense brown eyes said. And I know who killed her. Am I going to tell her father? No. He’s trying to rebuild his life. He doesn’t need this; neither does his wife.

"I know that look," said Methos. "You’re about to go off and play Crusader Rabbit again, do something nefarious, and you want to drag me along with you."

"Methos, an innocent girl has been murdered. Her fiance probably did it. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?"

"Maybe she should have had better taste in men."

Duncan stared hard at him for a moment, then rose slowly to his feet. "I’m really not hungry, so why don’t you go on to dinner without me? I need to pack."

Not moving from his sprawled position on the couch, Methos glanced up at his friend. "Um...I’m sorry I said that. My sarcasm and cynicism... It sounds worse than it is. I didn’t mean--"

"Yes, you did."

"I’d like to help you, MacLeod."

Duncan shook his head.

"Please..." Nearly choking on the word he scarcely ever had cause--or desire--to use, Methos all but blushed. "I would like to help, if you’ll let me. Will you please let me help you? I promise to put a muzzle on my mouth."

Duncan spun away from him. "We’re leaving tonight."

There’s no unbending there, Methos acknowledged. And there probably shouldn’t be. I think he just accepted my services, but not my apology. "I can be ready in two hours."

Retrieving his jacket and sliding his wallet into his back pocket, Duncan cast a look over his shoulder. Not good enough, those dark Scottish eyes said.

The Ancient One tried again, tentatively. "An hour?"

"How about now?" Striding to the elevator, MacLeod put a hand on the gate and cocked an eyebrow. You coming or not?

Right is right and wrong is wrong, thought Methos, shaking his head as he joined Duncan. If you’re not with the chieftain’s son, then you’re against him. I wonder... will I ever get my dinner tonight?

* * *

Night cloaked Los Angeles.

It all seems so peaceful from up here, reflected Methos, staring out of the plane window as they flew onward, toward Burbank. The city lights sparkled yellow and gold. Strings of traffic flowed through never-sleeping streets that resembled nothing so much as endless, shimmering arteries. Those lights beckoned the stranger seductively: Come to the city of dreams, the city of angels, the city of illusion and laughter, fortune and fame. Come to the dream factory, where your story might be THE STORY of the next decade. Come try your luck with the likes of Bogey and Bacall, Streisand and Sharif, Madonna and Cruise.

Twentieth-century Sirens, those lights beckoned silently as they had for more than fifty years, but Methos was immune to their mostly empty promises: they just weren’t his style.

Los Angeles was a city of great riches and great poverty--sometimes at the same time for the same people, if they but knew it. The entertainment industry claimed only 100,000 people in this city of millions, but to most of the world, Los Angeles meant Hollywood. The Industry--as those in it were inclined to call it--was a weird, creative/destructive, high-speed mixture that was ever fascinating and ever terrifying--even to many living in its hills, servicing its studios, making its money and paying its price. The energy of L.A. was unlike anywhere else in the world--a fact of which Methos was very glad.

It means I can avoid it any time I like. And I like to avoid it.

"So, where are we going, and what are we doing when we get there?" the Ancient One asked when the plane had landed. Though lasting less than two hours, the flight had seemed a long one, with Duncan brooding and blocking the aisle with his very long legs, and Methos knowing better than to intrude on his companion’s Celtic funk.

Oh, why did I do this to myself? Why did I volunteer of all things, to be sidekick to the great-and-morose righter of wrongs here? Five thousand years, and I’m still falling for a good story....

"We’re looking for a young man by the name of Brad Walker. He works as an assistant director for Seachange Productions."

"Ahh." Methos tried to sound wise and knowledgeable. "And do we have a hotel yet? I know of a cheap, dilapidated pile you might enjoy down on Franklin and Vine, complete with roaches and doors that stick--if they lock in the first place."

"I prefer the Sportsman’s Lodge in Studio City, if you don’t mind."

It figures, thought Methos, lapsing into his own funk. I pick a hotel housing prostitutes and their playthings at $55 a night. Mac picks one with Oriental carpets and a Masonic-Jewish convention at $150 a night. He's rich, but I’m supposed to be just a poor grad student. Okay, Mac, but don’t hit me up for half of the bill. I left my King Midas credit card in my other jeans.

"Don’t worry, Adam," Duncan’s soft sarcasm intruded upon his thoughts. "I’ll pay for everything."

"What, did I say anything?"

"Did you have to?"

* * *

The Sportsman’s Lodge had a bed softer than Methos’ own at home. He probably would have been able to sleep soundly in it, except for the sound effects going on upstairs. Squeaka-squeaka-squeaka, they came through the roof, leaving no doubt as to what the couple in the room above were doing.

They’ve been at it for twenty minutes, thought Methos, lying with his hands over his head and staring at the ceiling. Does this guy have a problem, or what?

Duncan slept blissfully on in the double bed beside Methos. Nothing short of a cannon blast would probably wake him. It’s beyond me how he can sleep through the constant Immortal buzz the two of us generate, never mind the current sound effects.

The bedsprings increased their squeakas to a frantic tempo, only to abruptly--finally--cease their abused concert. Thirty seconds later came the sound of running water.

And was it good for you, my dear? wondered Methos. Probably not, if you can’t wait longer than that to spring out of bed and wash off your lover’

Methos waited through the shower. A very long shower. 2:30 a.m. said the baleful blue eye of the clock beside his bed. 3:00 a.m. said the clock when the water was finally turned off.

I’m going to be dead tomorrow, came Methos’ next thought. Or wish I were.

With a sigh, the Immortal closed his eyes, calmed his breathing, and tried to meditate as the Tibetan monks in Nepal had taught him. Thankfully, the bedsprings squeaked once more in happy encore and then were silent. All but holding his breath, Methos waited. Half an hour later, it seemed that the erstwhile lovers were well and truly finished. Rolling over, the Ancient One groaned into his pillow as Duncan snored louder.

Never again, Boy Scout, he promised himself. Never again will I let you lure me into one of your insane quests. I promised myself not to get involved hundreds of years ago in a Roman barracks commanded by Marcus Aurelius: times haven’t changed. You’d better let me sleep in tomorrow morning, Highlander, or you’ll wish you had.


Duncan did. Perhaps sensing that he’d pushed Methos about as far as he would go the night before--or perhaps remembering that the Ancient One was most grumpy in the morning--Duncan didn’t wake Methos at the crack of dawn. Indeed, when he crawled from his bed around about ten o’clock, he found the hotel room deserted. A long, leisurely shower and a shave later (using Duncan’s razor, no less), and Methos was more than ready to face what remained of the day. Pacing around the room, he grew unreasonably irritated with his companion. He could have at least left a note. Of course he’s probably out jogging, or something else disgustingly healthy.

You could leave a note, his growling stomach prompted. You could leave one saying that we’d gone to the coffee shop for a good breakfast. And charge it to the room.

"What an excellent idea," Methos muttered, diving into the nearest chest of drawers in search of the ever-present hotel pen and tacky stationary.


Entering the coffee shop, Methos was dismayed to see Duncan sitting calmly, enjoying a cup of coffee and reading the Times. Shaking his head at the hostess ready to seat him, Methos crossed the room and slid in beside Duncan.

"You could have told me where you’d gone."

The Highlander scarcely glanced up from the paper. "Thought you’d feel it. You want some breakfast?"

"That was my intention, yes."

Scrambled eggs and an English muffin went far toward improving Methos’ disposition. Duncan didn’t try talking to the Immortal until he was on his second cup of Darjeeling tea. Then, putting aside the paper, he slid around in the booth so that Methos couldn’t avoid looking at him.

"I made a few phone calls and found Brad Walker. At least, I found his production unit. They’re filming in Griffith Park. According to the city, they’ve got permits for tonight as well. I suggest that we drive down there, camp out, and corner our quarry after dark."

"Oh, God, they’ll be there forever." Methos groaned. "I say we go do something entertaining in this city, while this Brad person wears himself out playing Cecil B. DeMille."

Duncan cast him a dark look, evidently not impressed with such trivial pursuits while the quest was at hand.

"You know he’s going to be there until dark," Methos pointed out. "Why do we have to be there, too? Come on, you don’t want to kill some time, visit Universal and play in Jurassic Park?" At the frown Duncan cast him, Methos all but cringed. "Look, it was just a suggestion. I know, I know...Once directed at his target, the Scottish Warrior--like the Navy Seal or Special Services operative--never wavers. He always gets his man," Methos intoned, with a dramatic flourish of one hand.

Duncan leaned closer across the table. "This isn’t the joy ride you seem to think it is," he said, low and intense. "If Brad killed Jessie, I have every intention of killing him."

Methos nodded and slathered butter on his muffin. "I have every intention of helping you kill him. Being angry and bitter won’t bring the girl back, Duncan. It won’t make her happy, either. You’re so uptight, you can’t even enjoy your breakfast, or that paper you no doubt skimmed through. Did you actually read anything in there?"

"Can Jessie enjoy another breakfast?" Duncan demanded. "Can her father or her mother? She was just a kid, Methos. Doesn’t that mean anything, count for anything? She was engaged to be married, and she loved the guy. Because of him, she’s dead. She’ll never have the kids or the career she wanted. She’ll never watch the sun set over Malibu again, never coax her Dad into going deep-sea fishing just by laughing and tugging on his arm and telling him that he’s working too hard and needs a break. She’ll never get to Rome, never see the Pope. Hell, she’ll never even get to Belfast, where she was born! Because of Brad Walker, she was buried last week, stabbed to death by the man who supposedly loved her. I want to know why he killed her. And then I want his head."

Duncan was suddenly cold and very serious, leaving little doubt that he’d follow up on his intentions.

Methos nodded. "Life is short and life isn’t fair, but rein back a bit. You don’t even know for certain that he killed her. Yet."

Duncan narrowed his eyes. Going very still, he nailed Methos to the wall and made him very glad he wasn’t the one who’d murdered Jessie McInnis.

"I know," Duncan intoned. "Deep inside, where it hurts. I can see him doing it, I can feel his rage against her. I just don’t know why he did it."

"And that bothers you?"

"It sure as hell doesn’t make me want to go to Disneyland. You want to go, take the car and meet me in the park tonight."

Softly, Methos replaced his silverware on his plate. "It was a joke, Duncan. A small, lame joke. It’s how I handle stress, sometimes. You and me--" He gestured shortly. "We have different ways. That doesn’t make your ways right and mine wrong. It just means that we’re different. I didn’t know Jessie, and you can’t make me know her in the time we’ve got left on this excursion. But I’ve lost people I’ve loved, too. I understand how you’re feeling. I’m here to help you, and I won’t let you down. Not when it counts. But I’d really appreciate it if you could just ignore ninety-five percent of what I say today. Because right now, I feel as though you hate me almost as much as this Brad Walker guy you’re hunting. And in case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t done anything wrong. So back off, all right?"

"Fine." Setting his jaw, Duncan slid out of the booth. "I’ll pay the bill and get the car. You get my bag from the room."


Duncan whirled around at the quiet belligerence delivered in that one word.

"No," Methos repeated, refusing to back down from the alpha-wolf glare Duncan was giving him. "I’m not your servant, and I’m not your bellboy. You want your bag, you get it yourself. And I’ll pay for my own breakfast, thanks. Now, give me the car keys. I’ll meet you out front."

Without a word, Duncan surrendered the Hertz key ring. Digging in his pocket for a tip, Methos watched the Immortal leave the coffee shop.

He’s certainly moving like he’s got a bug up his...bonnet, Methos reflected. Nobody pisses each other off the way we do.

* * *

Methos was waiting impatiently in front of the Lodge when Duncan stormed down the brick stairs, bag over his shoulder. The engine was running and Methos was staring straight ahead, with his jaw set in a line that boded no good.

Duncan yanked the door open, tossed the duffle bag into the back seat, and folded in beside him. "Let’s go."

"Right. To Griffith Park. I know." Methos gunned the engine, then pulled smoothly out into the traffic on Coldwater Canyon, gliding past the Albertson’s grocery on the corner before heading toward the freeway exchange. Silence ruled in the small car for the next half hour. Arriving at the park, Methos finally broke the silence.

"Where do you want to wait? It’s a big park."

Duncan shrugged. "They’re supposed to be filming by the carousel. Park down by the ball field," he added, pointing toward the baseball diamond crouched at the foot of the hill.

"No, that’s all right. I’ll let you out here."

"Let me out?" Duncan stared at him in amazement. "I thought you said you were going to help me."

"And I am. I already have, if you want to backtrack and take note, which is why we’re here. But the Grand Finale is not taking place until after sunset, so I am going to abandon the miserable atmosphere in this miserable little car and depart."

"And just where are you going?"

The engine revved as Methos waited for Duncan to unfold from the car. Once the door slammed, Methos grinned up at him. "I’m going to the happiest place on earth, which obviously precludes any place you happen to be. I’m going to Mouseland, where there are no dour Scots."

The engine roared, and tires squealed as the little blue rental car bolted from the parking lot, barely giving Duncan enough time to pull his hands free from the window.

* * *

It was an hour before dark when the blue Beretta wheeled back into the parking lot. Pulling into a parking space above the baseball field where he’d left Duncan earlier, Methos slouched down in the seat, contented to wait.

Duncan felt the arrival of another Immortal, knew who was driving in, and slowly rose from the picnic table he’d commandeered earlier in the day. Pride and determination were all well and good, but standing in a park all day was tiring. And boring. And there were things to discuss with the company who’d just arrived. Climbing back up the hill toward the car, Duncan noted the posture of the driver and nodded to himself; the confrontation was not over yet. He climbed into the car with a sheepish smile that sent shivers of warning up Methos’ spine.

"I think I owe you an apology," said the Highlander.

Methos’ jaw all but dropped.

"What, you’ve never been apologized to before?" asked Duncan. "You’re entitled to your opinions, and yes, it’s unreasonable for me to expect you to be as devoted as I am to punishing Jessie’s murderer. It’s just that... sometimes, Methos, you’re damned irritating."

"I know," he said cheerily. "I’m tactless, too. I know it. I’ll try to curb it."

"Do that. And I’ll try curbing my arrogance."

"Lo, a miracle has occurred!" Methos shouted to the people wandering the park. "Duncan MacLeod of the Great MacLeod has spoken: he is arrogant. Thank you, God, for showing your errant child one of his faults."

"One of his faults?" Duncan grated.

"One of his many faults," Methos intoned soberly, with priest-like demeanor.

"Methos--" Duncan spoke through gritted teeth.


"Don’t push your luck."

* * *

Boring, boring, boring. The sun was slow to slide behind the trees, and evening took its sweet time falling. The Immortals sat quietly in their rental car, watching the kiddies on the carousel and exhausting every subject known to man and Immortal for discussion. It began with strollers.

"Why do they make them so short when they know adults will be pushing them?" demanded Methos.

"Don’t know," said Duncan, scowling at the mothers and nannies who were perambulating their charges across the park green. "I’ve never pushed one, myself."


"Well, have you?"


The conversation paused for several minutes until Methos sat up to suspiciously eye another passing stroller. Then he brightened. "Perhaps it’s so the little ones are closer to the ground when they fall out. Less damage that way."

He beamed at the logic he’d discovered. Duncan spared him an aggrieved glance, then turned back to the carousel. It paused briefly, letting small equestrians climb aboard and pick their prancing steeds. Duncan watched as the music began and the carousel wheezed into action once more.

"It’s really too bad they don’t make carousels the way they used to," he murmured.

"Mmm," agreed Methos. "Lost art, that. Everyone is in a hurry. Build some machine or other to do it for you in half the time. No craftsmen any more."

Whereupon, both Immortals fell into talking about Denzel and Illions, both woodcarvers extraordinaire of beasts for merry-go-rounds. Horses, giraffes, lions, bears, ostriches... They’d seen them all, had ridden them all at one time or another with women long dead.

"I’m hungry. I want dinner," proclaimed Methos

Duncan looked at him, then pointed to the trees. "It’s a park. No restaurants. Maybe a hot dog vender or something, but--"

"Get us a hot dog, then. It’s not fair to starve the help, you know. Or the help you don’t know. Do they sell beer?"

"Of course not. They shouldn’t sell the hot dogs. They’re deadly."

"We’re Immortal. We’re immune to death by hot dog. Go get us some."

Duncan sighed. "All right. I suppose I owe you that much." He levered himself out of the Beretta to go fetch the dubious dinner.

I’m going to pay for this one, Methos thought, watching Duncan wander after their quarry. He'll probably take my head while I sleep tonight.

* * *

Sunset came. Finally. So did darkness. Finally. The park vendors had all gone home. Duncan was getting the intense, predatory look Methos was beginning to recognize as warrior mode.

And the hunt is on, he thought grimly.

Striding with purpose over the green, Duncan wound his way back to the small glade of trees where Seachange Productions had set up shop. Throughout the afternoon, the crew had set thing up. Actors and their minions appeared later, as did the director and, finally, a slender young man Duncan identified as Brad Walker. Kleig lights blasted the night, casting shadows that camera filters turned into evening rather than night.

Making his way through the people who were standing around chatting, or snaking cables between the trees, or testing levers on a sound board, or fiddling once more with the lights, or carrying makeup cases or costumes hither and yon, Walker distributed a stack of papers that was obviously script revisions--obvious, because of the amount of moaning and groaning going on as each member of cast and crew accepted his set of papers.

Standing at a respectful distance, the two Immortals waited for just the right moment. Three scenes and four hours later, it came. The director yelled cut, the flashing red light stopped, and Brad Walker separated from the group to steal a smoke behind one of the honeywagons.

With a nod, Duncan moved forward. Methos followed, approaching from the side, while Duncan slid up behind. "Hey, Walker. You got a match?"

The young man looked around, and Duncan took him with a swift right cross. Before he could hit the ground, Methos had him by an arm, Duncan had him by the other arm, and Brad was being dragged off into the bushes. Methos took Brad’s head, while Duncan took the feet to carry the unconscious form to the Beretta.

"All too easy," Methos breathed.

"Hardest part’s carrying ‘em," Duncan agreed, leaving the kleig lights far behind and climbing the hill swiftly before anyone from the production company noticed them heaving about the body of one of their minion.

"Where are we taking him?"


Brad was stuffed into the back seat, where Methos announced, "I think you broke his nose. He’s bleeding all over himself."

"Is that all?"

"Is that all? Aren’t you worried that Hertz is going to charge you a cleaning fee? He’s making quite a mess back there."

Putting himself behind the wheel, Duncan drove swiftly and certainly up the freeway. Brad Walker was nice enough not to regain consciousness until Duncan turned into the state park where Jessie had gone. Parking at the edge of the jogging path she’d taken, Duncan parked the car.

"Let’s get him onto the path," said Duncan. "He knows my voice, so you talk to him. I’ll try to stay out of sight."

"What, exactly, are we to talk about?"

"Jessie. He ought to have plenty to say about her."

"Ah yes, his poor departed fiance. I can see he’s grieving deeply." Methos bent over the bloody, beard-stubbled face.

Their prisoner was just beginning to stir. Heaving him out of the back seat, they trundled him up the path, half-carrying and half-forcing him to stumble along. The full moon hanging heavy in the trees offered easy, if black-outlined, visibility through the trees and bushes. Shuffling forward on the path, Brad became more fully aware. Blood had stopped streaming from his nose, but thickening tissues and residue made it difficult for him to breathe.

"Doo broke my dnose." When that garnered no response from the man yanking him forward by his coat collar, Brad tried again. "I don’ know you. Wha’ you doin’ wid me?"

"I’m taking you for hike down a jogging path. You like joggers, don’t you, Brad?"

Walker cocked his head, and Methos realized that he was probably listening to the sound of the ocean, which offered an obvious clue to their whereabouts.

"Izzn’t Gwiffith Park, izzit?" came the cautious question.

"No." Methos fell silent until they reached a cliff and a curve in the path. Beyond the path lay a small grove of trees with boulders scattered throughout. Duncan’s short gesture behind Brad told Methos that this was the place. "End of the road, kid."

Leading him off the path, Methos saw him seated on a boulder and took the one opposite. Staring at his prisoner, Methos waited for Brad’s breathing to quicken and grow more labored, for him to grow uncomfortable with the hollow-eyed, infinitely patient stare offered by the Ancient One. Duncan waited tensely behind Walker, hugging the shadows like some Celtic ninja.

"Why did you kill Jessie O’Donnell, Brad?"

"You a detective?"

"You don’t need to know what I am. Why did you kill Jessie?"

"You’re no detec--" Brad choked on the crap running down his throat. "No ‘tective. I don’ hab to talk to you. But what the hell." He swallowed hard. "Let me tell you this idea I have for a screenplay."

He knows I could be taping this conversation, thought Methos. He tells me a story, answers my question, but doesn’t confess.

Brad struggled to speak around his injury. "Boy’s in film school, boy meets girl. Girl has rich film producer father. Great advantage to boy. Boy dates girl, girl falls in love with boy. They get engaged. Boy figures he’s made it to Easy Street. Father will welcome him into the family business. Boy will get to make magical movies with father." Brad shook his head. "No such luck. Father says he hires only experienced workers. If boy wants to start as a pee-on production or sound assistant, okay. That’s not what the boy has in mind. For cryin’ out loud, he’s got a masters degree in film production and direction. Screw this low-life, scummy beginning."

So you thought Jessie’s love would let you skip paying your dues and climbing the Industry ladder, Methos clarified to himself.

"Boy gets mad. Lets girl know what a scummy Dad she’s got. She’s insulted, thinks he doesn’t love her, thinks he just wants to further his career."

Jessie was a smart girl.

"Girl wants to break off engagement. Boy can’t let her do that." Brad’s eyes glittered with anger. "Finds some notes she was going to give to her Dad--bad habit, that--sticking bad stuff about people on paper. Boy notices his name on the notes and reads them." Walker shook his head. "Shouldn’ta left that note laying around for me to read."

"You killed her for that?" Methos asked incredulously.

"No!" Brad sprang up from his rock. "I killed her because her father was a monster!" Fists clenched, he stood before Methos, who sat very still as the confession gushed forth. "She said he was Immortal! Can you believe that? Immortal! Not his work. Him. That he couldn’t die. That he’d been making movies since the silents. She went down to the American Film Institute Library and got some proof. Pictures and notes in his handwriting and all. My God, McInnis worked with Buster Keaton!"

She was going to marry him, Methos realized, so she told him about the family skeletons. And she died for it.

Laughing shakily, Brad ran both hands through his hair. "Only God and his Son are immortal, and they wouldn’t make violent, R-rated films like McInnis does. Films with graphic sex and violence and really bad language--"

"So it’s okay for you to do it, but not for your God to do it?"

"I had to kill her!" Brad howled. "She wouldn’t listen to me, she wouldn’t leave him, she wouldn’t let Christ into her life, she wouldn’t stop taking her father’s godforsaken money! She put that--that demon before me. She said he couldn’t be killed, except with a sword. That somebody had to take his head--"

"So you stabbed Jessie." Duncan entered the conversation. "Did she tell you she wasn’t Immortal, that she could be killed?"

Whirling, Brad backed away. "I...I know you. You’re Duncan MacLean."

"MacLeod. Did you know Jessie wasn’t an Immortal?"

"I was gonna take her head, too, but she was dead. Jessie’s with God now. She won’t ever be a monster like him."

"I’ve got news for you, Walker. I’m one of those monsters, too." Duncan took out his katana.

"We’re everywhere," said Methos, retrieving his own sword and circling around to Brad’s side. "Funny, isn’t it--we look just like everybody else. Could be anyone. Your neighbor. Your postman. Even your priest."

"No-no-no." Walker scrambled backward and began babbling a prayer,, half-falling over rocks and debris as he made for the jogging path.

Duncan followed relentlessly, swinging the sword within inches of the young man’s nose. "Did you make Jessie beg for her life here?"

Walker wasn’t coherent enough to frame a response to Duncan’s question. A moment later, shouting "Amen!" to the stars, he stood firm before Duncan’s weapon.

"Jessie loved me. Jessie wasn’t afraid of me!" Brad yelled. "Not until I told her I was going to have a press conference. Still am."


Standing on tiptoe, Brad embraced the night. "I’m going to tell the whole world why Matthew McInnis’s so succesful. It’s because he’s Immortal!" he shouted. "Well acquainted with swords and violence and all the filth he pumps into the market."

"You’d better shut him up before somebody hears him," Methos muttered, just loud enough for Duncan to hear. Before somebody believes him. But can you do that, MacLeod? Can you kill a human being in cold blood, even if he does deserve it?

"I’m going to take your head," Duncan announced, walking up to Brad and setting the tip of the katana beneath his chin.

With a startled shriek, the young man scrambled backward in a futile attempt to put some distance between him and the weapon. Duncan moved with him.

"I’m going to execute you because you murdered Jessie, and because you’re determined to ruin a man who’s done absolutely nothing to you--except tell you that you’d have to earn a place in his world. Matt McInnis is Immortal. So what? If he’d hired you, if he’d made you the up-and-coming golden boy of the film world you dreamed about, I doubt his Immortality would have disturbed you half as much as it does. You’re going to die, Brad Walker. And I’m the angel of death come to deliver you unto your God."

Duncan swung the sword, only to have Brad leap backward.

"Oh, merde!" exclaimed Methos even as Walker discovered--too late--that he had been backed to the edge of the cliff, that he was standing on nothing but air. Duncan turned away as the body hit the rocks below, but Methos stepped up to peer over the cliffs.

"Well done." He whistled low. "And not a sword-mark on him."

Resheathing his katana, Duncan stood with his head bowed.

"Another lover leaps to his death." Methos resheathed his own sword. "Brad Walker missed his fiance so much, he just couldn’t go on without her. Tragic, that." Looking up from the mess on the rocks below, Methos nodded respectfully to Duncan. "But neat. Very tidy."

"And there won’t be any evidence," Duncan said dully. "Too many joggers on this path. All they’ll find is the body."

Shoving his hands deep into his pockets, Duncan led the way back to the car. Handing the keys to Methos in a silent plea for the Ancient One to drive, Duncan climbed into the passenger seat. Respecting MacLeod’s brooding silence, Methos climbed behind the wheel.

"Do you want to try getting a plane home tonight?"

Duncan shook his head. "We’ll take the eight o’clock flight tomorrow morning." He stared out the window until the lights of Los Angeles proper surrounded them. "Why do they hate us so much?"

Methos spared him a glance. "Humans, you mean? Tessa didn’t hate you, and you must remember a few others who didn’t find you repulsive. There’ll be others of both sorts, you know. Hunters and friends."

Duncan turned slightly in the seat. "Have you found many friends over the centuries? Even my own father said I was a demon."

"That was a long time ago." Methos shook his head. "Human civilization has grown a lot more sophisticated. If they can accept UFOs, why not us?"

"You heard what Brian Walker said about Matt. Not such a long time ago, I heard officers of the Inquisition spout the same drivel while they were trying to burn me at the stake."

"Okay, okay. You’re right. The fanatics are alive and well in the good old U.S. of A. I don’t have any answers for you, MacLeod. I don’t know why some humans hate us or fear us or hunt us--the chronicles don’t chronicle that. When I find out--if I find out--I’ll let you know. Just because I’m old doesn’t mean that I know everything."

"Yeah. I know." Duncan didn’t sound very pleased with that fact.

A few seconds later, Methos asked, "Are you going to tell Matt McInnis what happened to his daughter?"

"Have to," Duncan murmured, staring out the window miserably. "But I don’t have to tell him why Brad killed her. Only that he wasn’t sane, that he wanted Jessie for what Matt could do for him. That he turned on her when Jessie figured that out. I can’t tell Matt that his daughter died because he’s an Immortal."

"Why not?"

"Because he’s got other kids and a couple of grand-kids, too. How would you feel if your children died because of what you were?" Duncan’s eyes were haunted. "There’s no room in their world for us. Never has been, but Matt’s been fighting that fact for centuries. Jessie was human, and a human killed her. Matt did everything in his power to give her a normal life. It wasn’t enough. It’s never enough."

"So you’re just going to tell McInnis that Walker killed Jessie because he’s a film producer? Now, that ought to be comforting. Duncan, Matt can’t take responsibility for Brad’s madness."

"But he will."

As you would, had she been your daughter, Methos realized. As I would NOT. One more difference between us, Boy Scout. Jessie’s murderer is dead and there’s no messy, headless body to inspire the police to show up at the swordmaster’s doorstep. Problem solved, case closed...except in your own mind, MacLeod. Except in the minds of those you love. I’d be happy with the outcome of this case: you’re not. That’s the difference between us.

You wish for a different ending, a peaceful ending, for Jessie not to have died, for you to wake up tomorrow with everything just fine. You wish for the moon, because life is a series of pleasures and heartaches on a never-ending wheel. I’ll go to bed tonight and sleep deeply: you’ll go to bed and brood for hours, wondering why you can’t push the river of reality in a different direction.

Accept it, MacLeod. Death and mayhem, chaos and murder have been the way of the world since long before you were born. Like you, I once fought it. Like you, I once lost sleep over it. And like you, I tried to push the river. Until it so exhausted me that I stopped. Simply stopped.

Peace, Methos pondered. The most beautiful word in a world of languages. Peace is what I would give you, MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, if I could. Peace is what you have given Jessie, and what you will give Matt and his wife. Will you ever give it to yourself, I wonder?

Pulling into the hotel parking lot, Methos parked the car.

"You know," he said into the black silence surrounding Duncan. "I remember something an old homicide investigator once told me when I asked how he handled all the terrible things that came before his eyes and his expertise. ‘When I get to them, they’re dead. Everything I do, I do to help the living.’"

Methos clapped a hand on Duncan’s shoulder and squeezed. "You remind me of him. And whether you believe it or not, you did good work tonight. The only work fate allowed you to do. And if you look at it from that angle, you’ll see that justice is served. The murderer has been punished, you’re able to bring closure and peace to Jessie’s family. Yes, Jessie died. There’s nothing you can do to change that. But--"

"Healing can begin and the McInnis’s can go on with their lives?" Duncan inserted.

Methos nodded.

"Thanks for reminding me." MacLeod offered a small smile. "Come on. Let’s go find the dinner I promised you last night."

"Not another hot dog, is it?" Methos asked suspiciously.

"Never again."

"All right then. Let’s go."

The rented Beretta purred to life and pulled back onto the streets of darkness.


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