The Cycle of Axer Carrick
Part IV -- Reading the Endtrails
The Revised Version
by Henry Wyckoff
December 1995

Chapter 16

Joe sat down at the table, thinking about who he would want to call. His first guess would be Kermit, but he knew that Kermit already had done his duty. //Hmm... who else could I call?...// An idea entered his mind. He knew who he would call. He pulled out the phone book and found his number within moments.

"Hello," said the bored voice on the other end.

"I'd like to speak with Detective Peter Caine."

The voice had now turned to one of disdain, "Please hold." After a few moments of listening to muzak, Peter grabbed the phone, "Hello."

"Detective Caine? This is Joe Dawson, and I have to talk with you about something pretty damned important. Do you have about ten minutes to spare?"

"Look -- Joe -- I'm sunk right in the middle of a case. Can't this wait?"

"No, goddammit!" yelled Joe with his most abrasive tone. "Do I have to tell you that I know that you were with the team that killed Jin Ming? Do I have to tell you that Kenny wasn't an eight year old boy from Wisconsin? Do I have to tell you that Kermit won't let you hear the end of it if you blow me off? Do you want me to continue?"

That got Peter's attention. "I'm listening." His tone was one of shocked neutrality.

"Look, I'm calling from another precinct nearby. You might have even heard of the case. It's so bad that I need your help. I'll have the photos faxed to Kermit, but I'll tell you the details right now. They're some pretty bizarre murders, but we have some basic information..."

* * *

Nick drove the car through the streets, while Tracy sat pensively in the passenger seat, asking, "Do you think that Axer's pattern is going to hold out?"

"You mean the smiley face? It's held so far, long before Axer discovered it. All we have to do is hide and wait -- and hope they don't get creative and start embellishing that face." He thought for a moment, "The only question I would have is whether they're going to strike where the missing eye should be, or if they're going to fill in the smile a little more."

"Good question."

They drove in silence for a little while longer. Nick was still hurt by Tracy's new-found anger and abrasiveness, and so he didn't say anything more than necessary. Tracy's silence came from the fact that she was angry at Nick's lone-man attitude, secrecy, and lack of teammanship.

Nick made the turn and pulled in to an abandoned driveway. "I think we should walk from here."

Tracy nodded, and they made their way down an alley, climbing a fire escape. Nobody in the various apartment rooms seemed to notice their ascent, or even care.

They were at the right place. It was isolated, in a run- down neighborhood. There was only one way in and one way out.

Their patience and Axer's foresight paid off. A bum entered the alley, so blind drunk it was amazing that he could even walk. He gathered some trash and started to stuff it into the trash can.

A few minutes later, floodlights flicked on all around the bum from the tops of the buildings. That surprised Nick, because he should have been able to spot them before they switched on, but it was too late to beat his head into the dashboard.

The bum was shocked by all the lights, and screamed in fright. Then he screamed in pain and horror, and kept on screaming. Three men dressed in black walked into the open with black boxes, closing the circle. The bum couldn't move, but he could scream. Whatever was happening to him must have been indescribably horrible, because while neither of the detectives could tell what was being done, they knew that it had to have been bad to produce such screams.

"Come on!" snapped Tracy, jumping and sliding down the fire escapes as nimbly as a monkey. Still, she was surprised to see Nick already sprinting at ground level when she reached the asphalt. "I'd kill to learn how he does that!" she snapped to herself.

Before Nick or Tracy reached the scene, which was a good hundred feet off, someone else arrived on the scene -- a man that neither one of them recognized.

The man yelled something unintelligible, and though neither of them could see how it happened, the lights turned off and the forcefield around the bum released. The men in black had jumped back as if they were both startled in surprise and shocked with several thousand volts simultaneously. The bum collapsed on the ground, motionless.

The men in black recovered a moment later, and aimed their black boxes at the intruder, who didn't seem affected in the least. He drew a sword and went after them, killing the first man in his reach.

"Damn it!" thought Nick as he reached the scene. Although he could have arrived here much faster, he didn't want to leave Tracy behind and risk exposing her to danger -- or exposing his abilities to the wrong people at this end.

He could spot an immortal when he saw one, and he was kicking himself for not suspecting the presence of more in this city other than Axer and the occasional visitor that he knew.

The immortal killed the other two rather quickly, and then was broad-sided by Nick, who tackled him to the ground, wrestling his sword away, and handcuffing him. The immortal was almost as strong as a vampire, but not quite strong enough.

"You have a lot of explaining to do," whispered Nick, the fangs just beginning to protrude.

"So do you," said the man with a thick Minnesota accent, "such as how you could be so stupid as to arrest the man who's saving your city for you. It must be those doughnuts and coffee."

"You can tell me your story at the station." Nick called to Tracy, "Gather the evidence -- I'll secure our immortal."

That shocked Tracy -- she knew about both immortals and vampires, but she hadn't identified this man as one. Perhaps she'd just thought the guy was a lunatic.

He could hear Tracy making a few calls to dispatch.

* * *

Richie and Methos slowly made their way through the absolutely dark tunnel. They were forced to feel with their feet and listen to the echoes of their soft footsteps and breathing. In times of great doubt, Methos would click his tongue in a way that resembled dripping water.

How long they traveled this way was a mystery, but eventually, they reached a solid steel door. Again it was locked, and Methos smiled in the dark, "Care to pick this?"

"Don't sound so smug -- I might not be able to!"

Methos smiled regardless, and his faith in Richie was soon justified as the door opened. The door cracked open just enough for the light to burst forth, ruining whatever vision they might have had. For about ten minutes, both were absolutely blind, but slowly gained their day vision back. It was then that they opened the door just a bit more.

Inside was a stairwell, with circular stairs going upwards. Looking at one another, they ascended. As they crept upwards, they could hear the ever-increasing sound of clicking. A few more minutes, and they could identify the sounds of a computer keyboard. Whoever it is was, was typing away at light speed.

Curious now, they reached the top of the stairs and found a single wooden door that was cracked open. Richie stopped, his face wrinkled in doubt, until Methos tapped his shoulder and pointed upwards. It seemed that the door was kept open so that the air could circulate, taking advantage of the vent above.

With that out of the way, they slowly opened up the door, but Richie froze its motion. He had the expression of one waking up in a vat of rotten egg sludge. Methos' head tilted in confusion, and Richie did the impression of a mouse face, pointing up at the hinges.

Methos nodded in sudden understanding, and smiled in a fashion that frightened Richie. Methos silently made a fist and a hammering motion, pointing at the door.

//Oh no! Not that!// Richie thought, knowing exactly what that meant. He wanted to do just that, but his guts rebelled against it. He was about to shake his head, when he realized that he liked the plan after all. His smile was much wickeder, and he drew his sword.

On a silent count of three, they stormed through the door, and found a room full of personal computers, monitors of all sizes, a few printers, and a solitary old man typing away on a computer.

He was kindly in appearance, as if he were the grandfather or uncle that every young boy wishes he had.

"I've known where you were the whole time," said the old man. "I knew when you left the boat, and I knew precisely how you got here. All you had to do was ask, and I would have turned on the lights in the tunnel."

That startled both of them, and they jerked as if they had been shocked with static electricity. Methos got his balance and charged over to the old man. "You have some explaining to do."

"I know," sighed the old man wearily. "You want to know where Duncan and Sharpe are. Can't help you there," his voice brightened, "but I do have some Taster's Choice!"

Methos shook his head, putting his sword up to the old man's throat -- the old man didn't care in the least. "Start talking. Please."

Even though Methos had spoken in a dead-neutral tone, the old man responded, "See? All you had to do was ask nicely. What do you want to know?"

Puzzled, Methos pulled his blade back, "Who are you?"

"How courteous of you!" the old man clapped his hands, "My name is Pieter van Schouwen, once of Oland Island."

"Odd," said Methos, "that sounds like a Dutch name, and when you were talking to yourself, it was in Bayerisch. Even your accent is Bayerisch."

"What can I say?" asked Pieter. "I was moved to Muenchen when I was a young boy."

"Next question," said Richie. "What are you doing with all these computers?"

"Such wonderful, *wonderful* questions!" marveled the old man. "You see, these computers receive and process all kinds of information. I know where every single vampire and immortal is on the earth, as well as a few other special kinds of mortals picked for side experiments. These can tell me precisely where they are at every moment -- even if they're travelling through a tunnel!"

"And what do you do with all this information?"

"I pass it on to the people who need it. I'm something of a 'useful middle manager', if you can forgive the apparent paradox. I'm not quite as low as a foreman, and I'm low enough not to be an executive."

"And what is done with this information?"

"Why, it's used to hunt down and kill the immortals, of course! Why else would this information be painstakingly gathered?"

"Who are the executives?" asked Richie, on an impulse.

"The Invisible Ones, of course." He quit his typing, leaned back, and said with a thick haze in his eyes, "I was a promising researcher in mathematics and statistics, and they
found me most worthy."

Methos puzzled over the significance of that, until he heard the sounds of heavy boots.

"You should have stuck with the coffee," suggested Pieter.

* * *

Nat lay on the floor, next to Coleen, her eyes nearly closed in exhaustion, wearing a blissful smile on her kips. Coleen wasn't nearly as worn out, and her smile was more smugness and mischief. She gazed over Nat's body admiringly, lightly running her hand down her side. Though Nat was half-asleep, she moaned in pleasure.

Before she could do anything else, the door was opened by a half-dead Bill. He had finally finished his retching, and was looking for some forsaken corner to crash into. His eyes opened as he realized what he was observing. He tried to stutter something, but he wasn't able to get out much, and didn't really succeed in trying to move either. His wide eyes were frozen on the scene.

"Bill -- you bastard!" shrieked a fully-naked and fully- furious Coleen, grabbing her sword and running after him. He wasn't in much condition to do anything, but at least he managed to run down the hallway. LaCroix had come to investigate the source of all the noise, and was shocked to see this bizarreness -- a stumbling, severely sick and hung-over mortal being chased by a naked, furious immortal. It seemed like a scene out of some dark Renaissance painting.

LaCroix whispered silently, "And Nick says I have no sense of humor."

* * * *

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