by Henry Wyckoff
"Look, man!" the New Ager punk was whining. "I didn't see anyone!" He would have fit in the 60s as well as the 90s.
The well-dressed gentleman lifted the kid up by the throat. "I am beginning to lose my patience with you..." His voice was deliberate as it was cold. An educated voice at that, which fit well with his appearance.
Another man leaned lazily against a pine tree, filing his fingernails. He was most certainly not a gentleman. If anything, he looked like a bum. "I think he's telling the truth." His expression said that he didn't care about the kid at all.
The gentleman lowered the kid to the ground, where he began gasping for breath. "Are you sure?"
"I can be sure." He smiled. "Let's tie him up, shall we?"
The gentleman fought hard to hide his disgust. "You would touch this filthy punk?"
"I'm a dirty old man, after all!"
The kid struggled as he was stretched face-down in the ground, secured to two trees. Almost like a hammock. "What are you doing?" he screamed as they ripped down his pants.
"Expanding your horizons," smiled the bum as he pulled down his own pants.
* * * *
Duncan and Amanda looked down at Marie and Jay, who were in the dojo. The two were practicing swords. This time, both parties were calm and collected. Duncan was listening to Amanda as she spoke, but his eyes were fixed on the two below. Marie knew her way around a sword. She was good, and she looked believable. He could see her choices and nod. Good judgment, but no surprises.
Jay, however, fought in a very unbelievable manner. Nothing superhuman -- it just seemed as if he had foreknowledge, and had the most efficient response to everything she did. His style was also odd. One moment, it would seem as if he were a street brawler, and other moments, he saw refined elements of different styles. Some actions, he didn't even recognize. It was all so calm and fluid that it just had to be planned. But that wasn't possible. Duncan knew.
Amanda nodded, "There is something about him that seems different. What do you think about him?"
"He could probably beat the crap out of a few immortals I know," he smiled lopsidedly. His expression became grave. "I think that he might have his answers, but even he can't reach them. I wonder if hypnotism can bring out those secrets..."
She laughed scornfully, "Don't tell me you believe in hypnotism!"
He shrugged, "You never know."
* * * *
Jay sat by himself on the roof, watching the sunset. He puffed a pipe and had a bottle of Newcastle in his other hand. He heard the sound first, then spoke, "The funny thing about sunsets... you need foreknowledge to know whether it's the setting sun or the rising sun. You either need to know which direction is north, or what time of the day or night it is. An inquisitioner can gather a lot of mileage with that."
Marie sat down next to him, "Many inquisitioners have used that tactic. I wonder if there's a bit of a psychologist in you."
He shrugged, "I've been the unwilling participant of so many... experiments... that I could be a very good inquisitor."
That made Marie jump. "What kind of experiments?"
Jay snarled, "My parents. They weren't raising a child: they were raising a test subject." He withdrew then, keeping his thoughts to himself. Almost. She could see the tension throughout his whole body.
She touched his hand lightly, "If you don't want to tell me, I'll understand."
He did say only one thing, agony in his eyes, "The worst way to torture an artist is to take away his ability to express himself."
* * * *
Joe smiled as his two customers came in. The first customers today. "Hi there!"
"Hi, Joe!" smiled the one who looked like a bum. "I've been looking for you!"
Joe frowned, "Do I know you?"
"I'd be surprised..." The businessman pulled out a gun and leveled it at Joe. "The name is Alf. There's some information that you know, and I intend to find out what it is." His voice dropped to a whisper. "Who is sheltering Marie? Where do I find her?"
Joe stumbled a little bit, holding on to the table for support. "Who is Marie? I don't recognize the name."
The bum nodded, "Of course... it is a very common name. Marie is actually a Greek by birth, but that was so long ago. She speaks with a French accent, and claims that her family name is Valois. I know better."
Joe recognized the name of Marie Valois. Word was that she came through the Cascades a few days ago, looking for something. He didn't know where she went from there. "I don't know what to tell you."
"Of course. If you do find out, you'll tell me immediately." The businessman gave Joe a card. It was printed quite professionally, on heavy paper.
Joe took it. "Of course."
After the two left without any further words or actions, the first thing Joe did was grab the phone and call the local archives. "Bill? Yeah, it's Joe. I have a potential crisis on my hands. I need you to find out everything you can about Alf Magnus, Aristotle Enterprises, and Marie Valois. I need to know her current whereabouts too!"
What Joe couldn't know was that Alf switched off his phone. "It looks like the phone tap is operational. Joe is going to warp time for us."
* * * *
Duncan was hammering away at the punching bag. Sweat ran down his face, wetting his shirt until it was as damp as a washcloth. But his frustrations didn't sweat out as easily. In his long life, he'd been confronted by one mystery after the other, but they were of the simple kind. Usually, they were either: 'where did that murdering bastard take her?' or 'who is the murdering bastard that killed her?'
This was the first mystery of this sort that he'd encountered in a long time, and it was making his head spin.
The door opened. Mortal origin. He was tense until he heard a familiar voice.
"Hey, Mac!" Joe limped through the doorway. "I had a visitor I think you should know about."
Duncan didn't look surprised. He was awaiting the 'recent developments' for the last few hours. "Let me guess. Someone looking for Marie and Jay."
"They were only looking for Marie. They lost track of her in the Cascades, and so did my men." Joe looked at the ground, "The murdering bastard raped the Watcher assigned to Marie. I don't think he's going to make it. I don't know..."
"Who is he?"
"Young kid. His name's John. He got recruited after he saw an immortal come back to life in Sedona. You'd figure, hey, in Sedona of all places --"
"I meant the Immortal!"
"Oh... He calls himself Alf Magnus," he snorted. "He gave me his business card and told me to pass along any information to him. Can you believe he even has a webpage?"
"Did you look at it?"
"Yes. It's an on-line biography of Alexander the Great in four languages."
Duncan started to pace back and forth. "This is getting stranger and stranger. I thought that Jay was the only mystery here, but it looks like he's not the only one... We'd better ask Marie about Jay." He paused. "Maybe. We have a visitor."
One man entered the dojo. A short sword hung from his belt, ignored. It was the bum, his face a wide grin and his arms spread out in a grand manner. "One way or another, I knew that you would lead me to her." There was a loud crash upstairs and some screaming, "Ahh... music to my ears!"
Duncan yelled, "You've made a big mistake, Alf!" His katana was out in a flash.
"Oh, please!" Alf pulled out a gun, blowing out Duncan's heart, as well as other random points in his chest. He chuckled when Duncan hit the ground.
Joe had pulled out his own gun at this point, and was ready to fire, but Alf saw it in time and shot Joe's gun hand. Joe fell to the ground, clutching at the wound with his other hand. The pain was so intense that he didn't notice Alf move on.
"First rule of warfare: if there's technology... use it!" Alf whispered as he left them.
* * * *
"Hungry?" I asked, scanning Duncan's kitchen.
"Of course!" Marie smiled. "I haven't eaten in days."
I didn't think Duncan would mind if I fixed dinner for everyone, so I started making the kind of food that I rarely did. In the past, I didn't even want to think of it because... it reopened a few chapters that were previously written. For some reason, those chapters weren't open this time. "You'll like this. It's an old recipe..."
I knew enough to have scoped out the contents of the kitchen first, before making that kind of guarantee. The spices were there, so I definitely knew that Duncan would appreciate this. It was a very special kind of spiced rice steak. He even had the right kind of rice.
As I got things going, I found myself smiling and humming a little something to myself. Something that I didn't recognize. Marie, maybe to settle her own boredom, started talking, "I didn't know you were a cook."
"'Chef' would be the proper term. Cooks can make unique dishes with the same ingredients each time, and delay the onset of monotony. Chefs, on the other hand, make the same thing each time, with different ingredients when absolutely necessary."
"To promote the onset of monotony?" she smiled with one eyebrow raised.
"Not quite. Think of it this way... suppose you go to this really nice restaurant and order something that suits your fancy. Then you bring a friend the next time. You tell your friend, 'Order that! I tried it last time, and it was great!' If there's any change in that order, it may still be good, but it's not the same. It ends up being a disappointment. Why else do chefs have a long shelf-life at the good restaurants?"
Marie nodded, "I never thought of it that way."
We were silent for a while. "I like it when you smile like that." That caught me by surprise. I looked at Marie, who was smirking almost mischievously. She almost whispered, "You're so grave all the time. You close yourself off to everyone. It's a relief to know there's still some joy inside."
"How touching..." smiled a man in a business suit, entering the loft from the stairwell. By the looks of him, he was a well-dressed mercenary. My own gut feeling was that he started off cultured, and not in the gutter or the hills. There was something about him that made me want to vomit.
"You!" screamed Marie, drawing her sword.
"You're a fool," he smiled, drawing a gun from the inside of his coat. "All your kind lives in the -- AAAAA!" While the man was making a speech that was better-fitting in the closing of a Poirot or Holmes episode, I threw a Ginsu knife into his thigh, not to far from his family jewels.
He was good, though. I'd have to give him credit for that. He kept a hold on his gun and fired a few rounds into Marie, even while he pulled out the knife with his other hand. Blood started shooting out. I hit the magic artery.
I saw Marie fall -- dead -- to the ground. I was both detatched and in a rage. That was not at all like me. It was usually one or the other. Everything took on a dreamlike quality as I silently rushed at the intruder as if I were flying. Weaponless, I knocked him to the floor. He screamed, feeling the pain in his leg. It must have been very intense, the way he was all tensed up and growling. He even let go of the gun, and I took my chance, tossing it away. I don't know why I didn't use it on him, but in any event, I didn't.
By now, it had turned into a wrestling match. He was a good wrestler, but he was not in a good position to fight. I had him face-down on the ground in a heartbeat, his own arm around his throat. I was crushing it, pushing his head further into the vice-grip while he was bleeding to death. "You've made a very bad mistake," I whispered. "You're one day too late."
"A very curious statement," said a voice that I knew was very familiar. That's when I felt an even more familiar pain in my skull.
"Al--" Blackness came.
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