Immortal End Game
Dee drove past the front of 852 Prospect, cursing under her breath. Of course all the parking spaces in front were taken when she had a load of groceries and last minute holiday presents in the back. Pulling around behind the building, she parked in the back lot and got out. Immediately she felt the prickling sensation down her spine. Turning up her hearing, she picked up the clash of swords coming from her loft on the third floor. Lee must be working with Jan-Michel. Good. The quicker he was up to speed, the better.
Getting out of the Wagoneer, she walked around to the rear, feeling the soft, cold kiss of fat, wet snowflakes against her face. Their trip to Hawaii was looking better every day. She was reaching for the hatch release when the bullet tore through her upper back, slamming her against the truck. Oh shit! Barely keeping on her feet, she darted around the side of the truck as a second bullet shattered the rear window. The buzz washed over her again, stronger this time, and she realized someone was looking to take her head the easy way. Hell if she was going to lie down and let him do it!
She ran for the safety of the loft, feeling another shot strike her in the lower back and exit her stomach. There was no way she was going to make it around to the entrance, and no help was going to come from her friends inside; whoever the gunman was, they were using a silencer. Bullets kicked up a spray of snow at her feet. When in doubt, do the unexpected. Dee sprinted toward the building, leaping up to grab the bottom of the fire escape, cranking the pain dial down as far as it would go as she felt the partially healed wound in her shoulder tear open. Scrambling upwards, she fell to her hands and knees one flight up as her assailant sent two rounds through her right leg. Damn it! She wasn't going to die like this, not at the hands of a faceless Immortal who didn't play by the rules.
Crawling up one more ladder, she found herself on the landing outside Blair's bedroom. Screw the door. She dove headfirst through the window, rolling over the bed to land on her back on the floor in a pool of blood and broken glass. She could feel herself starting to fade, her injuries too great for her body to heal without completely shutting down. Come on, Dee, get up! You die here, you're vulnerable; everyone is across the hall. Goddess, she was so tired... .
Her eyes started to close, then something nudged at her senses, and they flew open. The grinning face of her attacker leered at her through the broken window. "Goodbye, bitch!" His weapon appeared in the opening, his finger squeezing the trigger as her throwing dagger buried itself in his throat. With a strangled cry, he staggered back, tumbling over the railing.
A low moan escaped her lips as she pressed a hand against the new hole in her chest. Get up, damn you! He's gonna recover before you do. Focus, I need a focus... Almost as soon as she had the thought, the sound of the guide's voice filled her ears. Lobo... I need to get to Blair... Using the edge of the desk, she clawed her way to her feet, stumbling through the open French doors and across the loft to the door, blood-slick fingers fumbling with the lock, then flinging it open.
Falling across the hallway, she caught herself on the doorknob of 308, feeling it turn in her grasp. She hung on the door as it opened inward, using the momentum to propel herself across the living area and into the studio. She was vaguely aware of three faces turning toward her, then her vision dimmed and her legs crumbled underneath her.
"Dee? Oh, god, Dee!" Strong arms caught her, lowering her gently to the floor. The unique scent of her lover filled her nostrils as the rapid pounding of his heart drowned out everything else. She was safe now; she could let go. Surrendering to death's embrace, she let the darkness pull her under.
Blair tightened his arms around Diandra, pulling her closer, his shocked mind thinking that if he only held her close enough, he could protect her. God, how had this happened? Who would have attacked her? A quick look confirmed at least three bullet holes in her torso, one large crimson stain directly over her heart.
He heard Eolia swear. "Damn it! Jan--"
"On it, Lee!" The Watcher produced a gun from somewhere and headed out the door.
Leaning his cheek against Dee's hair, Blair felt tears running down his face. She was coming back; he knew she was coming back, but it still frightened him, feeling her so still in his arms, her warmth fading. Lee was pacing the studio, talking to herself in Greek. He hadn't been paying much attention to her words, until two of them caught his ear, immortal and rogue, which were followed by something about "the bastard's son." And he knew. All his theories, his conjectures, his what ifs coalesced in that moment.
Laying Dee down gently on the hardwood floor, Blair got to his feet slowly, rage simmering inside him. "You knew."
The Immortal turned toward him. "What?"
"You knew. All this time, you knew! You didn't say anything, not even when she asked! You didn't even warn her there was a headhunter in Cascade! A headhunter who shoots his victims before beheading them!" Blair bent over Diandra for a second, then straightened, her katana in his hand. "I showed you his fucking picture not twenty minutes ago, and you denied you'd ever seen him. Why? Why would you do this to her? What has she ever done to you?"
Lee made a placating gesture toward him. "Sandburg, what are you talking about? A headhunter? Here? Please, put the sword down and we'll talk..."
"Fuck you!" He waved a hand at Dee. "This is your work! Your lies and your secrets did this to her! No more! I won't let you hurt anyone else, not Dee, not Jim, not Megan! Get out!"
The red-haired woman shook her head in disbelief. "Why? I didn't do this to Diandra, HE did!"
"You heard me. Get out! Get out of this apartment! Get out of Cascade and don't come back!" She took a step toward him, and Blair brought the sword up into a ready position. For a moment he thought she was going to challenge him, then he saw the uncertainty and maybe a touch of fear and anger in her eyes. She didn't know what he was capable of and that was enough to make him a threat.
"Fine, I'll go." Stalking across the room, she grabbed her coat from the hook by the door. "But know this, young Watcher -- if I'm not here, if Jan's not here, then you and Dee are sitting ducks for this asshole. Watch your backs." And she left, slamming the still open door behind her.
"I'd rather have a lump of clay watching my back than you, bitch. At least I know it wouldn't stab me when I wasn't looking." Blair moved swiftly, throwing the locks on the door, then returning to his lover's side. Sitting down next to her, he laid the katana down, then gathered her up in his arms again, rocking her gently, waiting for her to come back to him.
I'm numb, shocked, and sickened by the sight of Diandra, dead, in Sandburg's arms. "Damn it! Jan... "
"On it, Lee!" My student somehow has managed to conceal his handgun in his workout clothes; he's pulling it free even as he breaks for the open door like a professional linebacker.
I turn my attention back to the tragic scene of Blair, tears streaming down his face, clutching Diandra's body close to his. Shaking my head I start to pace, thinking out loud in ancient Greek, as is my wont. "Damn it, why her? It's me the damn rogue has been after, why go after another Immortal? Son of a bitch! I'm going to kill the bastard's son when I get my hands on him. How dare he bring innocents into this battle between us!"
Startled, I spin on my heels, facing the young Watcher. He understood what I said? "What?"
"You knew. All this time, you knew! You didn't say anything, not even when she asked! You didn't even warn her there was a headhunter in Cascade! A headhunter who shoots his victims before beheading them!" A headhunter? Like the one who took my beloved husband from me? Oh Gods! I watch him bend over Diandra's body, only to see him come up with her naked blade in his hand. "I showed you his fucking picture not twenty minutes ago, and you denied you'd ever seen him. Why? Why would you do this to her? What has she ever done to you?"
I keep one eye on the blade in the distraught man's hand while trying to placate him, not making any sudden movements. "Sandburg, what are you talking about? A headhunter? Here? Please, put the sword down and we'll talk..."
"Fuck you!" He waves a hand at Dee. "This is your work! Your lies and your secrets did this to her! No more! I won't let you hurt anyone else, not Dee, not Jim, not Megan! Get out!"
Jim? I'd never allow him to be hurt! What is going through this man's mind, and why did he bring up the Inspector? I cannot believe my ears. "Why? I didn't do this to Diandra, HE did!" Well, it's true. I wasn't the one who pulled the damn trigger --several times from the look of things -- on the gun that cut Diandra down. It was that son of a bitch's adopted son!
"You heard me. Get out! Get out of this apartment! Get out of Cascade and don't come back!" I take a step towards him, thinking only to somehow disarm him without hurting him. But he brings the katana up in a 'ready' position and suddenly I realize that I cannot harm him. I'm sick of running, sick of being pushed around by everyone, but I'm also afraid. Afraid I may just be the reason Ventriss Junior came after Diandra. He may be taunting me. And by the way young Sandburg is holding the blade, I cannot take the chance he knows how to use it.
"Fine, I'll go." Carefully avoiding crossing too close to his sword range, I grab up my jacket from the coat hook by the door. I cannot go before I warn him, and I risk his wrath by stopping on the threshold, my back to him. "But know this, young Watcher -- if I'm not here, if Jan's not here, then you and Dee are sitting ducks for this asshole. Watch your backs." I leave, slamming the door shut in my rage. Let the two of them have their privacy while Diandra's body recovers from her wounds.
Running down the stairs, not bothering to look for Jan-Michel, I try to open myself up to see if I can pick up a trace of the Immortal son of Loki who has ruined my life, and the lives of those I considered friends, for the last time. A distinct tang of foulness born in the depths of Hell greets my search and I'm pulling keys out of my coat pocket as I run to the Lexus. "You'll not get away that easy, Bradley, my dear."
I'm trying to get everything taken care of at the office before I head home for the day. Tomorrow, I get to go to Rochester Airport to pick up Azir when he returns from his business trip to Cascade, Washington. I had spoken to him a few minutes ago, he's in Seattle, a little side trip for me, and I'm more than looking forward to being in his strong arms again.
Finishing the last report, I stand up to work kinks out of my back (I really need to work out more with Azir. I'm wound up tighter than a cheap watch). I toss a smile at LaFollet as I cross the Persian rug-covered floor to the credenza and the fresh pot of coffee waiting for me there. "Just about done, Jan-Michel. Sorry to have kept you cooped up all day."
The man's smile is quite nice; he should smile more often. Of course, then he'd be beating off the women in WindHawk's employ with a baseball bat. "I don't mind, Mrs. Sadih. After all, it's in my contract that I accompany you at all times when Mr. Sadih is away."
I fill my oversized mug with the dark brew, pouring one for my bodyguard as well, and cross over to where he sits at his own desk. "Maybe, but you really don't have to stay in here to cover my back, do you?" I pointedly look out the large window at the bright moonshine outside. "I wouldn't be in here if I had a choice. Seems like I've been here all damn day." I hand him the extra coffee cup, nearly dropping it.
"Mrs. Sadih? Lee? What's wrong?"
"NO! Oh Gods, NO!" I collapse, the pain ripping through my heart and soul like an explosion, my hands going to my bare neck.
"Lee?! Are you all right? What's happening?" I can barely feel LaFollet's hands on my shoulders. Searing pain shoots through me as my connection with Azir is being torn asunder! I know not how long I lay there, curled into a tight ball, tears falling down my face while Jan-Michel tries to figure out what's happened to me.
I feel battered, as if I had stood, naked, in the path of a hurricane, but I finally pull myself off the floor. I rise unsteadily to my knees as the ancient prayers fall from my lips. "Hades! Hear my plea, take my husband unto your bosom. Grant him a place of honor in your hallowed halls! And prepare a place for me as well!"
"Lee? What language is that? What's going on?" I grasp Jan's hands in mine and stare into his worried hazel eyes.
"Jan, Azir is dead."
His cell phone rings right after I say those dreaded words. Not his WindHawk phone, but the one that I know he carries as my Watcher. "LaFollet. Yes. Oh dear, God! Are you sure? Could you tell who he was? Damn! No! Get out of there! You know the rules!" He shuts down the connection, and I see tears starting to build. "Lee, I don't know how you knew, but Azir was just taken out of the Game."
I nod, swallowing hard to try to loosen my throat enough to speak. "How?" The word comes out in a strangled sob.
"Immortal. Shot him, then took his head while he was out." He kneels beside me, hugging me close to him, offering comfort. "It was a head-hunter, Lee."
The trilling chirp of my satellite phone interrupts my fruitless search for Bradley Ventriss. I just don't know this city like I should. Pulling over to the shoulder of the road, I answer the phone just before my voice mail could pick it up. "What?"
"Bad day, Eolia?" The voice of my other boss, the Deputy Director -- Operations, Llewyllyn Huddleston, comes over the line.
"Lew. You could say that. What do you need?"
"I found a place for you, a post that fits the requirements you asked for. I need you to report for duty at The Farm in two weeks. We need to upgrade your status and check to see if you still have current knowledge of the language you'll need."
Leaning forward until my head rests on the steering wheel, I sigh, accepting the inevitable. "Two weeks, the Farm. Just where are you sending me, Lew?"
"Bonfarkar, Egypt." There is just the slightest trace of a smile in his voice.
"Christ! Lew, when I said BFE, I didn't mean it literally!"
"You didn't?" He chuckles. "Then it's a quirk of fate that the opening there came up and the position needs someone with your skills to fill it."
"My skills? Oh great! So just who am I supposed to get close to and worm information out of?" To be honest, that is only one of my skills but it seems the most likely one Llewyllyn would have need of.
"Not those. Be prepared to get 'wet' again. You'll be part of a team that will be going into Israel -- if needed -- in about a month."
A month? The President was talking about going to Israel in January; guess that means I'll be doing front work for the Secret Service again. "Fine, Lew. I understand. I'll see you in ten days. Thanks for the assignment."
Before the man can respond to my sarcastic tone, I shut down the link between us. I'm not happy. I never should've volunteered to go active again -- especially once I realized that my heart was turning traitor on me. Damn it! Checking to see that the traffic is clear, I pull back out on the road. I need to go back, to face Diandra and Sandburg, to find Jan-Michel and let him know that he cannot follow me to Egypt. And I need to talk to Jim.
Nearly an hour had passed before Blair felt the rush of warmth through Diandra's body that signaled her return. Her head went back in an autonomic response, air filling her lungs with a gasp. Her eyes snapped open, and she struggled in his arms before his voice reassured her she was safe. "Dee, baby, it's okay. You're safe. You made it to the loft."
"No! Immortal! I need to--" Her hand went inside her tattered coat for her katana. "My blade! I need my sword!"
"Easy, easy, it's right here. I've kept watch. He hasn't come back. We're safe." Her gaze finally focused on his face, the confusion clearing from her eyes. Wrapping her arms around his neck, she hung on with a death grip, and he could feel her shaking against him. With a jolt, Blair realized she was afraid, and with good reason. The other Immortal's attack on her was probably the closest she'd come to losing her head in years.
She clung to him for a few minutes, then he sensed her steel herself, forcing her fears down as she exhaled and let go of him. "Oh, goddess, Lobo, I'm so sorry!" she exclaimed, taking a good look at him.
Blair glanced down at himself, realizing for the first time he was covered in her blood. "Oh, god... " He fought down the urge to be sick.
Getting to her feet, Dee held her hand out to him. "Come on, let's go get cleaned up." Taking her hand, Blair let her pull him up from the floor. As she tugged him gently toward the stairs she asked, "Where are Lee and Jan-Michel?"
Sighing, he answered, "I'll tell you in the shower."
"So you threw her out?" Dee asked as she ran a brush through her wet hair.
"Yes, I threw her out. I was scared, Dee, and she's been lying to us all along. I couldn't let her hurt you, or Jim, or Megan. So I did the only thing I could think of, I told her to leave."
Turning around on the vanity stool, Dee gazed up at her lover, trying to imagine him with her katana in hand, screaming at Lee to get out. It wasn't a big stretch. And it touched her deeply. "Thank you," she finally managed. "I know how difficult this has been for you. I'm sorry my past has come back to hurt you, to hurt us."
Shaking his head, Blair approached her, laying his hands on her shoulders. "Shit happens, Dee. This time it was someone you knew. Last time it was my enemy. Hell, it was Brad who shot you, so I don't think we can totally blame this on Eolia. She's just guilty of the sin of omission. He was the one who got this whole ball rolling when he attacked her at QuestScape."
She planted a kiss on the inside of his wrist. "Then in order to end this, we have to find him." Looking up, she caught his eyes. "You think you can handle that?"
"Yeah, but first, I think we need to handle a little cleaning. Jim's gonna freak if you left as much blood in the hallway as you did in the studio."
Dee chewed her lip and dropped her gaze. "Uh, actually, I came in through the window in your bedroom. Your place is pretty much trashed."
"Oh, man, Dee! Jim's gonna blame me, you know that!" She knew he was teasing from his grin. "Come on, let's get dressed and get started. I think there's some plywood in the basement."
Pulling into the parking area, I realize I'm not picking up a buzz and Diandra's Jeep is missing. But where the hell is LaFollet? Unless he called a cab, or boosted a car, he should still be here, waiting for me to return to grab our stuff and get the hell out of Diandra's life. And what is Jim doing home at this hour? I pull into the vacant spot next to the detective's classic Ford.
Jim Ellison slowly pulled his body up the stairs towards his apartment, the day having taken its toll on him. The city had requested that all available personnel come into their offices as soon as they could. When Jim had reported in at seven AM, Captain Simon Banks had assigned him to assist Communications by taking all the lesser 'incident' calls that had started to flood the switchboards before the early morning news had been broadcast. For five hours he'd taken down the information from callers who had tried to drive on roads not yet cleared by the city's road department and had gotten into minor fender-benders with fellow daredevils. Then there had been the calls from people who wanted to know what roads were cleared and if they could make it to the local malls for their last minute Christmas shopping.
He'd protested the assignment, asking Simon to let him go out with the patrols that had to work the streets undermanned. He'd been shot down when he was forced to reveal he didn't know if Blair was coming in to the station, and Simon had informed him that Megan wasn't sure she'd be able to make it in herself until the afternoon. Without a Guide, the man reasoned, he couldn't allow Jim to work in the field. The clouds had cleared away, making for near white out conditions, and Simon just hadn't been sure his detective could handle the potential sensory overload without a guide. And he was just too busy himself to help him, so Jim had gotten stuck on the phones.
The metallic, cloying smell of blood assailed him as he approached the last few stairs leading to the third floor. Instincts taking over, Jim pulled his sidearm and cautiously took the remaining stairs, his senses wide open, looking for the source of the odor.
Focusing in on the floor that ran between his loft and Diandra's, he found the minuscule remains of blood. Someone had tried to clean it up, but he not only saw it, he could smell it, and judging by the smear of nearly invisible blood on the brass handle of Dee's place, it looked like who ever had been bleeding like a slaughtered animal had come from his place.
Dialing up the sensitivity of his hearing, he listened for signs of life in either apartment and found none. Sliding up to the door to 307, he saw it hadn't been properly shut. Toeing the door open, he waited to see if anyone responded to the creaking of the hinges, then entered.
The trail of blood, and there was a lot to follow, showed the halfhearted attempt someone had made to clean it up, but what chilled him is where it led him to: Blair's room. Fear took a firm grasp on Jim's heart and all reason flew out the window.
Entering the room through the closed off French doors, the Sentinel nearly gagged from the odor of the spilled blood saturating the glass-covered floor. Swallowing hard to keep the bile from triggering his gag-reflexes, he spotted the obviously hurried patch job that had been done to the window that led to the fire escape. Plywood covered the opening. "Dial back, Jim. Sift through the data that your senses are supplying and disregard what you think you know." The voice of his Shaman rang through his head, automatically centering the Detective, allowing him to open up his onboard Forensic Lab.
The blood-smell didn't have the unique tinge he associated with his Guide, therefore it had to be someone else's. For that person to have made it from the fire escape, through plate glass, then across the hall to Diandra's place, the victim had to have been an Immortal. Changing his focus, the soft sound of footsteps reached his ears and Ellison came out of his partner's room, gun up and automatically tracking the intruder.
Looks like someone, probably Sandburg, tried to clean up the mess Diandra left behind when she dragged her dying body across the hall from Ellison's apartment. Oops, he missed a spot, on the door. Speaking of doors... The one to Jim's loft is open. No warning tingle of Immortal pings on my nerves. Maybe Jim forgot to close it.
Nah, even as I think that thought, I'm pulling my Lady Smith from its holster and creeping towards the door. Jim's a cop. There is no way he'd leave his place open like that. Revolver in my off hand, I carefully push the door open further with my right, scanning the room beyond as it comes into view. In the periphery of my sight, I catch movement and centuries of training take control of my body. Ducking into a roll, I end up behind the couch, coming up on my knees with the gun held in a two handed grip, pointed directly at Ellison's chest.
"Jim!" I pull the gun up, the weapon spinning around on the index finger of my right hand, falling into a 'safe' position. I pray to the Gods the man's own training and instincts don't take over, causing him to shoot me. Not the way I want to tell him of my Immortality.
Ellison waited patiently as the door to his home was slowly opened. The flash of auburn hair as the intruder did a tuck and roll evading maneuver to the other side of the couch made him think of Megan, until the subject came up on their knees with their gun pointed at him.
Reflexes almost made him pull the trigger, which would have placed a 9mm shell directly into the heart of Lee Eolia. Bringing his own gun back up towards his shoulder, he watched as the small woman let go of her revolver, letting it spin downward on her trigger finger. "Lee? Damn it I nearly shot you! Why did you come in like that? What happened here? Where the hell is Blair?"
The recipient of his rapid-fire questions rose to her feet, sliding her handgun into the 'fanny-pack' strapped to her waist with one hand, while brushing loose hair from her face with the other. "I wasn't sure what to expect, Jim. Not after someone tried to kill Diandra earlier."
"WHAT?" the irate detective yelled as he made his way across the floor, intending to brush aside the security consultant on his way to the door, but the firm grip on his forearm stopped him.
"Jim! She's okay, so is Sandburg."
Focusing tightly on the petite redhead, Jim started to use his senses, checking her reactions to her statement and the questions he was about to ask her. "Fine. So tell me, Lee. What the hell happened?"
"I think who ever it is that has been targeting me since Friday night tracked me and/or LaFollet here, and Diandra got in their way. Luckily, she managed to get away, but... " She dropped her eyes. "Oh, Goddess! Jim, Blair watched as Diandra died in his arms."
Jim felt his heart nearly crash to a halt. The pain his Guide must have gone through, even knowing that his lover couldn't really die, must have nearly killed the empathic young man. Shaking his head, he directed Lee to sit on the couch. "What happened next?"
Biting her lip, Lee explained how LaFollet had bolted out of Diandra's loft, hoping to catch the person who had shot the older Immortal, and how, in a classic fight or flight response, she herself had taken off before Diandra had recovered. "I was upset, thinking that I had somehow brought harm to Diandra's doorstep. And in doing that, I nearly caused your partner to lose his lover."
Gently reaching out to brush away the few tears that had fallen from Lee's eyes as she told the story, Jim made a decision. "Lee, I doubt that Diandra would hold what happened to her against you, but let's practice a little common sense here." He waited until she nodded, then dared to look him in the eye. "First, let me call my Captain. Then after I talk with him, we'll go over to Diandra's, pack a few things for you, then get you to a safe house."
The words echo through my head, and I cringe inside. "I doubt that Diandra would hold what happened to her against you... " No, but your partner does. And damn well he should! I'm really starting to hate myself. I've slipped back into the game I was trained in by the Company. Lies fall from my lips so easily. I sit back on the couch while Jim places a call to his Captain, making the necessary arrangements to set me up in a safe house for at least one, maybe two, nights.
"Thanks, Simon. Before I let you go, Sir, I have a request... " I watch as Jim suddenly pulls the receiver from his ear, then winces as if he could still hear something over the phone, even though he's holding it at arm's length. Finally, he places the phone back to his ear. "I know, Simon, I owe you and it'll be a big one for the favor I'm about to ask. Don't tell anyone, and I mean anyone, where I'm taking Ms. Eolia." The Captain must have yelled again, Jim's face just screwed up into a painful grimace. "No, I'm not suggesting that there's a leak at the station. I'm just saying that the fewer people who know about Eolia's whereabouts, the safer she'll be. No, sir. I hate keeping anything from him, but it's for Sandburg's safety as well. Yes, I realize the spot I'm putting you in... Thank you, Simon. I'll be by to pick up the keys in about half an hour." He hangs up the phone.
"You shouldn't keep secrets from your partner, Jim." Shit, who am I to offer such advice?
"I'll call him later to let him know I'm okay." He gestures for me to stay put as he runs up the stairs by the outer wall.
"What if someone decides to tap his phone?" Gods, how many times have I done just that to find my targets? I'm so sick of playing that particular game. I want out, now, damn it. I sigh as I realize I can't just give up the life I've led for so long. Not after Llewyllyn has found me an assignment in exchange for the information he gave me.
"I'll use a cutout," his voice drifts down to me from above. "We've used them before in situations like this, so there's little chance we'll be tracked." I turn around to see him coming back down the steps, a small over night bag clutched in one hand, and what looks to be a rifle case in the other. "Let's get your stuff, then I'll follow you to the station."
How many times have I done the cut and run? Saigon. Yeah, did it there. Had to after helping Azir break into the French Consulate. Germany. Got shot while helping the underground resistance set the explosives on the bridge that was to have taken Rommel out. Argentina. After discovering who my husband and I helped get into that country, I couldn't live with myself. Then there was Mycinia. I had tired of my Teacher, of masquerading as his 'wife' and using my feminine wiles against his enemies for seven decades. I 'killed' him one night, fleeing the city/state in the darkness and praying the entire time that I'd never have to face Methos in a Challenge. I've done it so many times, in so many countries over the years, that I've learned to travel extremely light. I'll either come back for the rest of my stuff later, or beg Diandra to send them to me. But if she's half as pissed off at me as I think she will be, she'll probably burn it all.
LaFollet still hasn't shown up before Jim and I leave, so the detective leaves a note for him, pinned to the door of apartment 308. I don't even ask what it says, trusting the man to say the right things to put my Student and Bodyguard at ease. I pull into the garage by the Central Precinct, Jim's truck right on my back bumper, less than an hour after I return to Diandra's home. I manage to find an open slot, two of them actually, and park the Lexus.
Before I can even open the car door, Jim's there, bags in hand and helping me out. I understand we're to change vehicles, just in case anyone was watching us when we left the brownstone. I grab up the large backpack I had packed, allowing the detective to escort me through the garage to the elevators and up to his department. Setting his bags down by his desk, he motions for me to take a seat while he walks towards his commander's office.
Captain Simon Banks looked up at the perfunctory knock on his door in time to see Ellison walk in without being invited. "Shut the door, Jim." Waiting until the man was standing in front of his desk, Simon tossed the detective two sets of keys. "The first two are to a cabin just outside of town that no one knows I inherited a year ago. Not even Daryl knows about it, yet."
"Thanks, Captain. I promise, I'll take good care of the place and you'll never even know that I was there."
Simon snorted. "Just as long as you don't blow it up like you did my one in Seacouver." Flipping a paper around so that Jim could read it, he said, "Sign that. I'll keep it here in my safe until you give the other set of keys back to me in a few days."
"I ought to make you sign one for the cabin. Jim, the way you drive, it's the only way I was able to convince the sergeant in charge of the motor pool to release the Jeep Cherokee." Simon held up a hand before the man could protest. "Before you ask, no I didn't tell Sergeant Foley why you needed to use the Jeep."
Jim signed the insurance waiver, a promise to the department that he'd pay for any damage to the borrowed vehicle out of his own pocket if needed. Handing the paper back to his Captain, he asked, "So, do I get a map to this new cabin of yours, or do I have to use my sentinel skills to try and find it?"
Chuckling, Simon reached into his desk drawer and pulled out a sector map with the route to his cabin already marked on it. Then, before handing it over to the sentinel, he pulled it back. "Maybe I should let you try to find it on your own, Jim. Make it one of those tests that Sandburg is always making you do that you pretend to hate so much." When the detective smiled, he handed over the map.
"When did you figure that out, Simon?" Jim took the map, studied it, then folded it and placed it in his coat pocket.
"What? That you really don't mind the tests the kid comes up with?" The Captain grinned evilly as he pulled his afternoon cigar out of the case that his son had given him for his birthday. "When I see you putting what he's taught you to good use and you find the needle in the haystack of evidence that brings a perp down."
"Busted. Just don't tell Sandburg."
"Do I look like I have a death wish, Ellison?" Simon didn't even wait for the man to answer before making 'shooing' motions. "Now, get out of here. And Jim?" The sentinel turned to look at him before he opened the door. "Watch your back."
"I will, sir."
Jim closed the office door and made his way back towards Lee and his desk. "Lee? It's all set. Let's go." Grabbing up his bags, handing hers to her as she stood up, they started to leave the bullpen, only to run into Inspector Megan Connor by the elevators.
"Jim? Going somewhere?" The Australian's eyes widened slightly as she spotted the diminutive redhead behind him. One eyebrow shot up. "Not exactly the best place to start out on a date."
The door to the elevator opened up and the detective guided his 'protected witness' into the car, holding the door open long enough to glare at Megan and reply to her hidden allegation. "It's not a date, Connor." Letting go of the door, the steel closed off what ever answer the woman had been about to say. But he still heard her anyway.
"Yeah, right. Overnight packs and a lovely gell?" Megan muttered under her breath as she pivoted angrily and headed in to the Major Crimes. Her reaction to Jim's 'catting around' with a witness, or a possible suspect, bothered her. God, what if there was something to what Sandy had said earlier? No, she refused to believe that. She was free to date whomever she wanted and so was Jim. Pushing images of Jim spending a romantic evening with Lee Eolia out of her mind, she went back to work.
The drive out to the rustic cabin is anything but restful. I'm still puzzled by Jim's actions while on the phone to his Captain. It reminded me of something, but what? If the drive had been a bit longer, I might have found the answer in the dark tunnels of my mind, but it wasn't. Less than an hour after leaving the police garage in a fully equipped Jeep, Jim turned off the main road and shortly pulled up to the cabin.
The snow which had fallen last night and this morning has left the surrounding woodland covered in a soft blanket of white, and the peace and serenity of the place settles my nerves. Carefully leading the way from the car to the door, Jim's long legs make short work of the six inch deep, ice encrusted snow.
The temperature in the cabin is just as cold as the outside, but without the wind that is gusting from the sea, it seems a bit warmer. Noticing a light switch, I flip it and the place is lit up by the soft glow of lights from a few overhead fixtures. "This is a safe house?" I ask as I cross the wooden floor to an overstuffed leather couch and drop my bag on the hand-hewn coffee table.
Jim drops his two bags by the door before answering me. "Not really. It's my Captain's hideaway spot. Far enough from the city to allow him the illusion of solitude, yet close enough that he can respond within twenty minutes if he's needed back at the station." He's opening the door again, the wind howling through the opening. "I'll be right back, I'm going to grab some more firewood." And with a flurry of blowing snow and a slam, he's gone.
Taking in my surroundings, I spy the small pile of wood near a large woodstove and decide to make myself useful. Besides, I'm actually starting to get chilled. Using the smaller pieces of wood as kindling, I manage to get the fire started. By the time Jim returns, the fire is blazing and pumping heat into the room. He's carrying a heavy load of amazingly dry wood, and I help him to place the fuel in a stack near the stove.
"Thanks for starting that." I watch as he holds his hands out over the hot stove, trying to warm them up.
"You're welcome." I push away the desire to help him warm up, instead crossing over to the small kitchen. I start to explore the cabinets. A few minutes later, I return to the stove and place a large kettle, filled with water, on top to heat. "I found some teas and a wonderful selection of coffees in there," I point back into the kitchen. "Which would you prefer?"
"Whatever." I watch as he strips out of his heavy coat, amazed that he can do so since the room is still quite cold to me, and tosses the leather toward the couch. "You really don't have to do anything, Lee. I'm supposed to be the one taking care of you."
"Maybe I just need to do something." I shrug deeper into my coat. I'll have to wait until later to remove it, since I sure as heck don't need Jim to discover I hid my zaitoichi sword in it. "I'm just not used to being sequestered." I turn my back to him, ready to go digging further through the kitchen, only to have him place strong, gentle hands on my shoulders.
"Lee, it's for your own good." He turns me around and I find myself looking up into those incredible blue eyes of his. "I've seen some of what you can do, what you're capable of. But this person has tried to kill you twice. They killed one of your bodyguards, brought LaFollet into the world of the long lived, and would've killed Diandra if she hadn't been Immortal."
I drop my gaze. "I know, Jim. I never would've stuck around if I thought there was a chance I'd bring harm to others." For the first time in many centuries, I feel soiled by what I've done all my life. I want to tell him, I really do, but how does one tell a person you hardly know that you're Immortal? That you've been a spy, an agent provocateur, longer than he's been alive?
"Let's get your stuff put up in the bedroom, and then I'll see what the Captain left around here in the way of food." I allow Jim to give me a gentle shove towards the hall off the living area. I stop only long enough to pick up my backpack, then go in search of the room.
Like I've been trained to do, I scan my new environment -- looking for possible escape routes, items that can be turned into emergency impact weapons, things of that nature. My surveillance is rewarded in a way I didn't expect. I find a carefully concealed thermostat. Grinning, I switch the heater on and follow the sounds to a gas-fired furnace. After ducking back into the living area for the long matches that I'd used to light the wood stove, I light the pilot light. With the temperature set to 70 degrees, I'm hoping the cabin will heat up soon. I find not one, but two bedrooms in the back of the log home, as well as the bathroom. One of the rooms has a large bed in it, the smaller room has a double, and I opt for the smaller of the two.
Stepping back out to the living area after I've shed my coat and hidden my sword, I find Jim in the kitchen putting something together on the gas range.
"I get the idea that you found a heating unit?" I smile as I nod, carrying the matches back to their home by the wood-burning stove. "Good. I've started a small stew. Should be ready in about an hour."
"It smells good so far." I test the kettle and, finding it hot enough, carry it into the kitchen where I spot two large mugs with tea bags in them. "I take it you decided you wanted tea?" I quip as I pour the nearly boiling water into the cups.
"Yeah, just seemed right."
Placing the kettle on the counter top, I nearly jump out of my skin when a loud snapping noise sounds just outside the cabin. I'm still wearing my fanny pack and am reaching for my Lady Smith when he stops me.
"Lee? It was just a tree branch falling." His hands go around my waist. I feel him unsnap the strap of my waist bag and then he's holding it. "Why don't you put this on the table?"
I nod, taking the bag from his hand, and cross back over to the coffee table. "I can't believe I'm so jumpy."
"All the more reason to have your gun on the table where I can see it." He follows me into the living area, and we sit down on the couch, together, but not. There has to be nearly 12 or more inches separating us. "Don't be ashamed of your reactions. I'd probably be skittish, too, if I'd gone through what you have in the last few days."
Curling both my hands around the warmth of the mug, I sip at the tea carefully, then hold the heat in my lap. "I'm not usually this bad. Too much training."
"Training?" He's looking at me with those light blue eyes that seem to bore right into my soul. I need to tell him. If he can handle that truth, then maybe he'll be able to handle the rest.
"At The Farm. I'm a NIO, Jim. Have been for years."
Dee pulled her Wagoneer into the parking lot behind 852 Prospect, cocking her head to one side slightly, checking to make sure the area was safe. Satisfied, she turned off the engine and glanced over at Blair. "Any luck?"
Shaking his head, he clicked off his cell phone. "I don't understand it. Rafe said Jim left a couple hours ago. He should be home by now. I left a message on his voice mail on both his work phone and his cell. I have a bad feeling about this, Dee."
Closing her eyes, she stretched out her hearing again, feeling Blair's hand covering hers where it rested on the seat, giving her an anchor. "There's no one upstairs." Giving his fingers a squeeze, she opened her eyes. "Come on, let's go pack a couple things and see if he left you a note or anything. Then we can swing by the station and beg Megan to put us up for the night. I'm just not comfortable staying here, now that Ventriss knows where to find us."
When they got off the elevator on the third floor, both of them spotted the envelope thumb-tacked to Diandra's door. "What the hell?" Removing the tack, Dee opened the envelope and pulled out the sheet of paper within, ignoring the fact that it was clearly addressed to "LaFollet" on the outside.
Peering over her shoulder at the single sheet of paper, Blair said, "That's Jim's handwriting." He read the short note out loud. "I've taken Lee to a safe house for the night. She'll call you once she's settled. Ellison."
"Spare and efficient as usual. Just enough to tell us nothing. I'm going to wring his neck." Dee unlocked the door to her place as Blair tacked the note back up.
"Do you suppose Lee told Jim what happened? Reading between the lines there, I'd say she only gave him the bare bones and conveniently forgot this afternoon's incident was a direct result of her lies."
Dee shrugged. "Probably. From what you've found out, I don't think Lia's told the truth in a long time. I think you may be right about her having lived in the shadows for too long. But she still has her own code of honor, Lobo, even though it's not the same as yours or mine. And she genuinely cares about Jim. She won't harm him."
"I know you're right, but I'd still feel better if I knew where they were. I'm going to run across the hall and see if Jim left me a note there. I'll pack a bag, too."
Dee remained in the living area for a moment, listening to Blair enter the apartment next door and start to rummage through his room, cursing at the glass that was still scattered everywhere. With a smile and a mental note to herself to pick up a shop-vac the next day, she headed upstairs to her bedroom.
Coming back downstairs a few minutes later, she was just selecting a few extra goodies from her weapon collection when she felt the unmistakable buzz of an approaching Immortal. The sound of the door to her loft being tried reached her ears, and she drew her sword, crossing to press against the wall next to the door. As it swung open, she waited until the other Immortal had crossed the threshold before lunging at him. The newcomer almost didn't catch her blade with his. Dee barely pulled her follow-up punch in time to avoid hitting LaFollet in the face. "Jan-Michel! Damn it, I could have killed you!"
"Diandra! Where in the hell is Eolia?" Backing off a few steps, he lowered his sword cautiously.
She gave him a grim smile. "Didn't get a chance to read the note, I see."
His gaze dropped to the crumpled envelope in his hand. "No. I felt your buzz and thought maybe the note could wait."
"Good choice. Lia's with Ellison in a safe house, and before you ask, no, I don't know where. I just now got back and read it myself."
He looked back up at her, his expression puzzled. "Where did you go?"
Her lips pulled back over her teeth transforming her tight smile into a snarl. "Blair and I went hunting, but we didn't find the Immortal who attacked me. Did you have any luck?"
Jan shook his head. "No. I called in some favors from some fellow Watchers too, but no one knows this guy, or where he's staying. I came back to see if Lee had found anything out."
"From what I understand, she didn't stick around much longer than you did. She and Blair had a disagreement over who exactly was responsible for the attack on me, and he tossed her out. Since the two of you come as a matched set, I'm going to have to ask you to leave, too, LaFollet. It's too dangerous for any of us to stay here at the moment. I'll give you five minutes to pack your things."
Nodding, the ex-SEAL replied, "I understand, Diandra. I won't take long." He headed across the studio and down the short hallway to the room he'd been using.
With a sigh, Dee tucked her katana away in her mid-length leather jacket and went back to packing weapons.
Blair tossed a couple pairs of clean boxers and socks into a duffle bag, along with some tees, flannel shirts and a pair of jeans. He grabbed his toothbrush and shaving stuff from the bathroom, then wandered back through the kitchen. There was no note left in its customary place on the fridge, and he'd already checked the answering machine. He was going to kill Jim. How moving Eolia to a safe house had taken precedence over checking to make sure his Guide was okay after viewing the mess in the loft was a mystery to Blair. Under normal circumstances, Jim would have been frantic until he'd laid eyes on Blair, needing to ascertain for himself that his friend was unharmed.
The fact that he wasn't here, that he hadn't called, indicated to Blair that Lee must have fed him a string of lies. She surely hadn't mentioned the fact that Dee's attacker had been Brad Ventriss, or that he was immortal. If Jim had known that, there was no way he would have left until the little bastard was behind bars. Or at least that was what Blair hoped. It was way too painful to think that Jim had chosen to go with her knowing the truth.
Hoisting his backpack onto the dining table, Blair dug through it, pulling out books and papers he wouldn't need. His hand closed around the folder holding the information he'd gathered on Eolia, the Watchers files, the CIA stuff from Jack Kelso, and his notes on the case for Brad Ventriss being immortal. He stared at it for a moment, trying to decide what to do. The image of Dee staggering across her loft toward him, blood pouring from her wounds flashed in his mind's eye. "That could have been Jim," he whispered, his words echoing in the empty loft.
Ripping a blank page out of one of his notebooks, Blair scribbled a hasty summary of what had happened that day, and Lee's part in it. Folding it into thirds, he wrote Jim's name on it and laid it on top of the folder, centering the file on the table where Jim would be sure to see it. Zipping up his pack and grabbing the duffle bag, Blair exited the loft.
As he closed the door behind him, a small gust of wind swirled around the edges of the plywood covering the window in his room. The folded piece of paper slid across the table, drifting slowly to the floor, a second blast of cold air sending it scooting under the edge of the sofa.Part 8