"Getting There" by cslatton
Part 2: 'A Day in the Life'
Disclaimed in Part 1.
|God said to Abraham, "Kill me a
Abe says, "Man, you must be puttin' me on."
God say, "No." Abe say, "What?"
God say, "You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin' you better run."
Well Abe says, "Where do you want this killin' done?"
God says, "Out on Highway 61."
-- Bob Dylan "Highway 61, Revisited."
*Highway 61, Revisited,* 1965. Special Rider Music.
*Seacouver, Friday, February 12, 1999.*
The telephone was ringing again.
Joe opened one eye experimentally. A shaft of sunlight had found a slit in the drapes and splattered itself onto the opposite wall. The brilliance made his eye tear, and he squinted to read the clock on the bedside table: 8:27 a.m. Next to the clock, the phone squealed imperiously.
Christ. How'd they expect a man to function on less than four hours of sleep?
The answering machine picked up in the middle of the third ring, the beep barely audible down the hall. Joe grunted and closed the offended eye. His voice, disembodied and distorted by the cheap speaker, floated toward him from the living room. It said, "Yeah. It's your quarter," then another beep. A deep mumbling responded but no distinct words penetrated his half-twilight state. It wasn't a voice Joe recognized, and he drifted off before the machine reset. A short time later, the process repeated, the same disinterested voice. The third time, the event didn't even wake him.
It was almost eleven when he woke in earnest. It was Friday, a big day for bartenders and payroll clerks, and being both in a manner of speaking, he'd set his alarm to get up a few hours early. He showered, wheeled the chair back into the bedroom to collect his prosthetic legs and fought with those for a quarter of an hour. He should be used to the damned things after twenty-plus years, but some mornings were just like that. This month had been full of them.
He felt okay, he supposed. That wasn't saying a hell of a lot, but it was typical until he'd been conscious for a few hours. He had never been much of a morning person anyway; tending bar had been the perfect career move -- get to bed by five every morning and sleep until two, three if you were lucky. He often advised his patrons: "Don't hate yourself in the morning. Sleep 'til noon." Folks usually got a big kick out of that; thankfully, it wasn't the best joke in his repertoire.
Legged at last, he stood staring into the refrigerator, clock radio humming, his mouth full of Danish. Out of eggs again. And bacon. Nothing but spare ribs, half a head of lettuce, and cream. He settled on the cream and poured a generous helping into his mug. The spoon he fished from the drain tray was thick with dried catsup and he gave it a moment's contemplation before dropping it into the mug, handle-side down. It was definitely going to be one of those days.
The radio warbled behind him: a recap of the morning's news. Congress would be delivering the verdict on Clinton's impeachment trial later today. Great. There went daytime television down the tubes. Joe grunted, contemplating a second Danish to go with his coffee. Journalism hadn't been the same since Walter Cronkite retired. He located a clean saucer for his Danish, shut off the radio and stepped into the living room to have it out with the answering machine.
"Dawson? Claude." Joe leaned on his cane, taking a moment to place the name and the voice: Claude Devienard, a fellow Watcher and field agent stationed in Le Havre. "I'm sorry to bother you, Joe, but I've been trying to get hold of Pierson. I had purchased some books from his store, but he must have packaged someone else's order in with mine by mistake. Tell him I can return the package by post if he likes. I'm sorry for the call. I don't mean to impose, but I didn't want him to worry. Thank you."
Well, well. So Adam Pierson was heading back to the states. Nice of the little bastard to notify him in advance. Joe snorted fondly and turned up the machine's volume, heading back to the kitchen for his coffee. Maybe he should have checked his messages before turning in. His day might have just gotten interesting.
The second message had him pausing, carafe in hand.
He grinned. MacLeod. Well, it was about damned time.
"Hey, I know you're probably still at work, but if you could give me a call tomorrow, I'd appreciate it. It's nothing, really, I just hadn't heard from you in a couple of weeks and wanted to touch base."
There was an unaccustomed hesitation and Joe frowned, watching the inverted spoon steam up as he poured his coffee.
"Ah, speaking of which, tell Adam I said 'Hey' and to stop being such a stranger. I've left several messages with his hotel and if he doesn't start returning them quick, I've half a mind to catch the next plane out of Paris and kick his skinny butt."
Joe chewed his lip, setting the pot back on the warmer. MacLeod's tone was light, but Joe recognized the worry buried in the hours-old transatlantic call. The past few years had been rough on the Highlander: the proliferation of enemies and the loss of far too many friends. MacLeod's friendship with Methos meanwhile had proven a mutable mixture and sometimes the chemistry was nothing short of volatile. Joe shook his head as MacLeod's voice wound down. "I'll catch you later, Joe. Don't let the old man run you ragged, okay?"
The machine beeped -- MacLeod wasn't a big one for actually using the word "goodbye" -- and Joe huffed into his mug. "Well, if I see the elusive son of a bitch, I'll be sure to pass on the message, Mac." Something wasn't sitting quite right, though. Just how long had Adam been in town, anyway? And why did half the world -- immortal *and* Watcher -- seem know about it except him?
But the answering machine wasn't done yet. Joe recognized the third voice as the deep grumble that had woke him earlier this morning.
"Mr. Dawson. This is Detective Louis Duemer of the Seacouver Police Department. If you could please call me back as soon as possible, I believe you may be able to answer some questions on a matter I'm looking into. The number is 206-555-1379." The sentence ended on an upturned lilt, the only hint of expression in the man's voice. "Thank you, sir."
Joe's heart thudded ominously. There had been a challenge and a Quickening, he imagined. Some rookie Watcher screwed up the cleanup and got himself caught with a decapitated body in his trunk. Joe half expected the next call to be from Bill Eagles at the Northwest Regional Head Quarters, but no, it was Detective Duemer again. The third message was Duemer, as well, the tone of each recording progressively more weary, but that message was at least more informative. According to Duemer, the Seacouver PD had gotten Joe's name and number from the New York offices of the International Asset Corporation.
The machine beeped and went silent, leaving Joe's head roaring. IAC was one of the cover corporations of the Watchers. If they were involved, it was definitely Watcher business but this made no sense. The number one rule of the Watchers was complete disavowal. Period. No way IAC gave out his name and number. Not to the police. Especially not to the police. Not unless something was horribly wrong.
Joe reached for the receiver.
I woke up on the roadside, daydreamin' 'bout the way things sometimes are... You hurt the ones that I love best and cover up the truth with lies. One day you'll be in the ditch, flies buzzin' around your eyes, Blood on your saddle.
--Bob Dylan, "Idiot Wind." *Blood on the Tracks,* 1974. Ram's Horn Music.
His footsteps rang in the too-brightly lit corridor. People passed him coming and going, but he saw only shadows drifting near, then away, his world consumed by the monotonous voice that paced beside him. It was a dream, he decided, just some kind of sick, twisted nightmare he'd be able to laugh about tomorrow.
"Sad, isn't it? A man that young with no surviving family. Not even a cousin?" Duemer shoved his hands in his pockets, no doubt disappointed when Joe failed to argue the point one way or the other. The detective was a nice enough man, Joe supposed: graying at the temples, athletic body sliding toward middle-aged-spread. He smiled crookedly. "I'm afraid you have me at a bit of a loss, Mr. Dawson. I mean, a man thinks enough of you to make you his executor, but apparently doesn't bother to tell you about it--"
"Look, like I said, I knew about it, yes," Joe roused himself to the lie. "This... accident has just caught me out in left field, that's all." Now there was an understatement. Damn Adam! "International Asset faxed you a copy of my credentials, right? Is something missing? Something not kosher? Am I some kind of suspect here?"
Duemer shook his head. "No, sir. Everything appears to be legal and above board." Duemer was using the tone Joe usually reserved for telling lies to idiots and small children. "But you have to admit, it is pretty unusual for a man to keep such close contact with a former employer...."
"So, the IAC's a very people-oriented business. Maybe that's a crime around here. Pierson left under good terms and he has... a lot of friends there."
Duemer nodded again, a meaningless gesture, something to fill the silence. "And you and Mr. Pierson were especially close, then? Yet, you say he didn't contact you once he was in town?"
"Yeah. That's right. You know what? Maybe he got busy."
"Busy doing what, exactly?"
Joe flung out his free arm. "How the hell should I know? I didn't even know he was in town, remember? I'm his friend, not his damned warden." Joe decided it was time to toss his own line in the water. "And just how did you know to contact IAC, if I may ask?"
"We traced Mr. Pierson's license plates back to the rental company. He'd picked up the car at the airport Wednesday morning and listed International Asset as an alternate contact on his lease agreement. Now. Since we estimate the accident occurred sometime between eleven and midnight last night, that leaves a good 38 hours unaccounted for."
"He get a hotel?"
"A Best Western out near the highway. He'd checked out yesterday afternoon."
Joe frowned. Best Western wasn't exactly Methos' style. "He make any calls?"
"You sure you're not a former cop, Mr. Dawson?"
"So I'm a big fan of 'Murder, She Wrote'," Joe snorted. "Did he make any calls?"
"No. Not from the hotel, anyway. And the few calls he *received* were never answered. They all came from one individual, though."
Duemer had that you-show-me-yours-and-I'll-show-you-mine look but Joe wasn't in the mood to play doctor just now.
"Anybody I'd know?" he asked.
"A small-time importer based in Paris. Named Duncan MacLeod."
Joe nodded. "Yeah. I know him." God knew telephone records were easy enough to subpoena; besides, MacLeod was more than capable of covering his own butt if it came to that. "He called me last night while I was at work, left a message and asked me to call him back. Adam had mentioned hunting a table for his chess set. Something seventeenth century, if I remember right. Maybe MacLeod found something for him." Sometimes it amazed him how easily all the lies rolled off his tongue. If he weren't careful, he'd have himself convinced.
Duemer fished a small notebook from his jacket pocket and scribbled down the information. "Maybe," he mused. "We'll check it out."
"Yeah, well you do that. Meanwhile, you told me I could see him."
"Sir," Duemer was being patient again and Joe had the overwhelming urge to smack the shit out of him. "As I said--"
"Yeah, I know!" Joe stumbled and recovered, anger making him forget to keep his cane in synch with his other stumps. He shook off Duemer's steadying hand. "He lost control and the car skidded as it came off the bridge. Now, dammit, you said I could see him!"
Joe had lost track of the number of times he'd made the request. When he'd returned Duemer's call this morning, the detective had insisted that Joe meet him at the police impound. They had Pierson's vehicle in the garage: a great charred lump of metal surrounded by smaller, blackened lumps, each one neatly tagged with cheerful orange labels. Duemer insisted it was a Chevy Tracker and Joe took his word for it. Adam normally went for heavier vehicles, Jimmy's and Volvo's, but maybe the rental company hadn't had much available.
Duemer had made certain Joe got a good look, though. In fact, he'd insisted on it. The detective had carried on about trajectories, and tire pressures, and calculated speeds, staring down at one amputated wheel, then glancing up as though he assumed it had dropped from the sky.
And the entire time, Joe had simply stood there, staring into the twisted remains of the passenger cabin. Whatever had happened -- however it had happened -- this had surely not been one of Methos' easier deaths. It hurt to think about and Joe had carefully shut his emotions down and slammed the lid. Duemer had finally given up trying to rattle him and brought him here to the morgue.
Duemer glanced down the hall helplessly. "I really don't think this is that great of an idea, Mr. Dawson. I mean, the vehicle flipped over and caught *fire--*"
"And it didn't leave much for your boys to sift through. You know what, detective? I noticed that. But thank you for reminding me."
Duemer had brought them to a halt before a small office. The door was one of those halved contraptions like you'd find in a stable: the top half open, allowing a clear view of the tiny office beyond, bottom half closed, barring entrance. Duemer leaned against the door ledge and motioned at the young man behind the desk. "ID for Adam Pierson," he announced and the boy consulted a chart, jaw working on a piece of gum.
"And you are?"
Duemer identified himself and flashed his badge. "I signed the incident report."
The information failed to make much of an impression. Duemer signed the proffered chart and the attendant inspected the signature dubiously before disappearing with it out a back door.
Joe forced himself to focus. What the hell was wrong with him? He'd be heading for shock if he weren't careful. It served him right, too. *A Watcher observes. A Watcher records. A Watcher never interferes.* Ah, screw it. He breathed deeply and concentrated on a coffee mug abandoned on the corner of the desk. Its logo, "One Company, One Future," sounded vaguely threatening and he let his eyes roam without settling on much of anything else.
Behind his wall of agitation, he was doing some serious calculations. He'd read Watcher histories, of course: record upon record detailing the amazing self-healing powers of immortals. Knifings, drowning, hangings -- given enough time, an immortal could recover from most any injury short of beheading. Including fire. True, the recovery time for burns could run days or even weeks depending on the severity, but recovery was certain, and always complete. Adam Pierson might be dead -- as difficult as that was to contemplate -- but Methos was even now regenerating tissue, rebuilding organs, his memory and personality intact, awaiting reanimation. Joe would ID the body, then claim it the minute it was released. After a day or two, the local funeral home would bury a coffin full of sand, and he and Methos would enjoy a beer together.
This one hurt, though. Joe had known Adam for the better part of a decade -- never suspecting the young man's immortality. Sure, living on different continents, they hadn't gotten close, but they'd crossed paths at least once a year or so, swapped stories, shared a few drinks. Joe remembered being grateful that this mild-tempered young man was in research and unexposed to the demands of actual fieldwork. It was a testament to Methos' genuine humanity that Joe had never felt manipulated or used by him. Not even when he'd discovered that this "kid" was all of five thousand years old and toting a medieval broadsword beneath his coat of many wrinkles.
Joe had known the truth of that duality for the better part of six years now, but the information and the physical image was still too great for him most days, the numbers so vast they defied assimilation. The soft lilt in the voice, the mischievous gleam in the eye -- that was Adam Pierson to him. Once or twice only, had Joe sensed the overwhelming depth of the man's true presence, the ancient soul that was the man behind the youthful mask. The unknowable reality that was Methos. Joe had come to accept both men as friend.
Meanwhile, given what Joe had seen on the garage floor, it was comforting to know that the old immortal would not be conscious yet, wouldn't wake to find himself in a steel drawer. Joe simply could not -- *would* not -- imagine Adam there.
Duemer straightened. The desk clerk had returned. He carried a nearly empty garbage bag, neatly tagged, and a cardboard bank filing box. Joe had no breath suddenly. Duemer laid a steadying hand upon his arm.
"The decedent's effects," Duemer explained. "We thought it might be easier this way."
The clerk sat the box on the ledge and removed the lid, waiting expectantly.Joe swallowed, struggling to locate his voice. "I appreciate what you're trying to do, detective, but I want to see him. I've *got* to see him."
Duemer sighed and spoke to the boy with the box. "Maybe you should get the technician."
The clerk spoke around his gum. "Tech's out to lunch. Pathologist is here, though." With Duemer's nod the boy surrendered his garbage bag and thumped out the back door again.
Duemer indicated the bank box. "Any of this look familiar, Mr. Dawson?"
Joe bit his lip and looked. There wasn't that much, actually. Baggied bits of blackened metal: a belt buckle, a ring of keys, the clasps off some kind of luggage, the barrel of a fountain pen. A carved stone occupied its own bag: a small round disk scored with what appeared to be random lines, a hole at its center, its cord absent. Joe had seen Adam wear something similar once or twice, but Adam had kept it tucked down his collar and Joe had never actually examined the stone itself. The baggied stone was just a bit of rock. It meant nothing to him.
Joe shook his head. "Hell. These could belong to anyone--"
Duemer, however, had opened the garbage bag and presented the single item it contained. There was no denying the weapon. The metal was smoked and blacked by flame, the leather melted off the grip, but Joe knew the bronze leopards of the crossguard, the pommel with that sightless ruby eye that stared back at him now. A Medieval broadsword. Methos' beloved Ivanhoe.
Duemer was watching him carefully. "An unusual item to be carting from country to country, Mr. Dawson. Your friend into role playing games or just out to impress the ladies?"
The quiet tone gave Joe enough time to catch his breath. "Adam... dabbled in antiques. It was probably something he'd picked up somewhere and decided he... couldn't live without." Joe winced at the appropriateness of the words. Duemer would take it for grief and would not be wrong.
"Something I can do for you gentlemen?
The question came from a second young man who materialized from the back entrance. Dwarfed by the gum-chewing assistant standing behind him, the newcomer was a tidy, self-contained man with an air of unassuming authority. Joe squinted to read the badge on the man's lab coat: Eric Chen, pathologist. Joe decided Doctor Chen must have started premed at age twelve.
"I was brought down here to identify a body, not a damned box." Joe gripped his cane, prepared for an argument.
"But you're here to ID Adam Pierson?" The pathologist glanced from Joe to Duemer. "Ah... You've explained the circumstances of the death?"
"Oh, he's explained, all right," Joe barked. "And I'd appreciate if we could get this show on the road, now."
Chen frowned at him doubtfully but Duemer shrugged. "Well, then," Chen unlatched the bottom half of the door. "If you'll come this way." The pathologist stepped to the back exit and waited patiently for Joe to join him.
Duemer demurred, pocketing his hands when Chen blinked back at him.
"'S'all right, gentlemen. I'll wait here, if it's all the same to you."
Chen allowed Joe to precede him into the corridor beyond the door. The pathologist was short-legged and in no particular hurry, something that Joe's throbbing stubs could appreciate.
"I'm sorry to be such a bastard about this, Doctor, but the cops have been giving me the run around all damned morning. Did you conduct the autopsy?"
"I didn't really see a need for a full autopsy, although we can perform one if the family requests it. Blood chemistry went to the lab this morning and we'll keep some tissue samples on hand for analysis if the lab turns up anything suspicious -- just procedure, you understand." Chen pulled a notebook from his pocket and flipped a few pages of handwritten notes. "We've determined from the long bones that the victim is male, about 30 years of age, about six- to six-three--"
"Whoa-ho," Joe brought them to a halt, waving his free hand impatiently. "Let's just hold the phone here," he suggested. "I know you boys have your technology and your DNA analysis equipment and I'm proud as hell for you, but let's not get carried away on my behalf, okay? So. You laid him out and measured him. He's 30ish, male, six foot-something? Great. That narrows the field down to, what? A few million men in the general vicinity? That doesn't make it Adam Pierson. You got eye color, hair color? A damned driver's license, maybe?"
Chen looked embarrassed. Or scared. He glanced back up the hall but, true to his word, Duemer had not followed. "Mr. Dawson... you're a friend, is that right?" Joe nodded and Chen closed his notebook. "Please understand, Mr. Dawson. This is no reflection on you, but perhaps you'd prefer a family member to do this. It's not--"
Chen didn't seem to be able to find the adequate adjective to describe what "it" wasn't and a preternatural calm settled across Joe's shoulders.
"I appreciate the concern, Doctor, I really do. But Pierson has no family, okay? I'm his executor. There won't be anyone else."
"I'm... sorry." Chen looked truly regretful.
"Look. I served time in Vietnam. I know about flash burns. I've seen men burned to death, inhale flame into their lungs--" Joe shook his head against the memories. "I can handle this. Really."
Chen was squinting, weighing what he found in Joe's eyes. His voice was terribly quiet. "I'm afraid you've been misinformed, Mr. Dawson. Mr. Pierson was burned, true, and beyond recognition, in my opinion. But his death was not due to the fire."
Joe returned the squint. "I don't underst--"
"The vehicle rolled several times, Mr. Dawson. It hit an embankment." Chen swallowed. "Mr. Pierson was decapitated. He died on impact."
Continued in Part 3