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The Tao of Meatloaf

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Lesson 6

When in doubt, and fleeing for one's life, jump in a sewer. It's really one of the best ways to guarantee one won't be pursued. It's messy and dear god, fetid, but sometimes one has to ask oneself, "would I rather live and smell like shit, or die and smell like Old Spice?" It's pretty much a no brainer.

"But is it?" Methos wondered aloud as he picked his way through the 'fatburg' under the Paris streets. Apparently flushable wipes weren't, and they were hindering his quick egress. Also, the longer one lingered in the sewers, the greater a chance of spontaneous vomit.

Oops. Spontaneous.

It wasn't always like this, he reflected. He used to be respectable. Or failing that, at least he was okay. He had a flat. And a bed. And a bank account. And a credit rating. And a bathtub. Even if it wasn't respectable, it was comfortable. And really, two out of three ain't bad.

"Jesus," he mumbled, sweeping the pocket flashlight over the sludge encrusted walls, "I have to stop with the Meatloaf."

A piece of fatburg slid under his feet, and he careened shoulder-first into what was probably a service ladder.

"Disco," he said out loud, and laid a finger on the run at shoulder height. It was warm to the touch and moist in ways he didn't want to think about. The climb up was brief in time and distance, but the hatch above proved troublesome. Apparently manholes were just has hard to open from below as they were from above if one hadn't the proper tools, which was comforting in all manner of security measures except for this one instance. He felt the greasy metal underside and hear the rumble of traffic. Where was he, even? Would he lift this just to get creamed by a Citroen?

Below and down the tunnel from which he's come there was a resounding crash and a Gallic curse as a 350 pound hit man slipped on the edges of the fatburg and with any luck dropped his flashlight into its no longer antibacterial depths.

Methos slammed his shoulder into the underside of the manhole cover and cringed in pain. Some things were never a good idea. He didn't know how long it would take the other man to extricate himself from the depths of the sewage, but if he wasn't gone before then, his head and hands were going to be in the Seine by nightfall.

This is what happened when you had one identity stolen by hackers in Macedonia, a second's assets frozen by a vindictive organization, and your third mistaken for a grifter who owed the French arm of the Russian mob several hundred thousand dollars.

He gave the manhole cover another shove, pushed with his quads, and felt it give a little. Something above him rumbled and e dreaded the near future. But "hit and killed by a semi" had more potential for continued survival than "shot and beheaded in fatburg palace," so he grunted and carried on.

Without warning, the manhole cover flipped up, and he all but sprang out of the hole like a jack-in-a-box. As it was, he merely bashed chest-first into the rim of the manhole, effectively knocking the wind out of him. A hand grabbed the back of his coat and yanked, dragging him up and out, and then swiftly across the road, avoiding several mopeds moving at the speed of light.

Methos collapsed back onto the sidewalk and eyed his rescuer.

"Dr. Livingston, I presume," Richie said with much too much enthusiasm.

"Oh fuck," Methos groaned. "Joke later. Escape now." He scrambled to his feet, flashlight abandoned, and tried to get his bearings.

Richie wiped at his hands with a rag. "Truck's around the corner." He wrinkled his nose. "You ride in the bed."

Methos couldn't even argue. He was indeed rank. His shoes were going right in the skip. "How did you find me?" he asked as the rounded the corner and he tumbled into the flatbed of Richie's pickup truck. Richie unlocked the driver's side door and grinned.

"It's a kind of magic."

"Bullshit."

"Yeah." Richie shrugged. "Joe put a tracker in your coat."

 

Lesson 1

FOUR DAYS PREVIOUS

Saving the girl is often pointless. The ladies can take care of themselves, or at least that is what people are starting to understand now that Beyoncé was saying it.

It was surprising, really, given what he'd said to Duncan years ago about chivalry. And then, then, they'd bullshitted about Mencius. That really had nothing to do with chivalry, per se, except that the Chinese philosopher's words pretty much echoed through Methos's upcoming situation tragicomically.

I dislike death, but there are things I dislike more than death. Therefore there are occasions when I will not avoid danger.

Or in this case, summed up in the words of Meatloaf, "I would do anything for love, but I won't do that."

"I don't think I follow you," Methos said to Richie as they demolished a bar bowl full of pistachios. His fingers were beyond red. "There are lots of times when Meatloaf doesn't apply."

"Ah, that's because you're trying too hard," Richie explained. "Try me."

You lost your car keys."

"It's all coming back to me now."

"But you haven't found them."

"Nowhere fast."

"That makes no sense."

"You took the words right out of my mouth."

Methos drained his beer. "The I-Ching of Meatloaf is Not A Thing."

"More than you deserve," Richie replied, digging through the bowl of shells in search of an unshelled nut.

Methos glanced down the bar to a woman half crying, half drowning in what looked like a gin rickey. "Well, when you put it that way...." he said distractedly. She really did look distressed. Every few seconds she wiped at the corners of her eyes and then checked a mobile on the bar next to her. "But I have to see a lady about a sadness."

Richie switched nut bowls with the barstool next to them and glanced at the footie match on the screen. "Have fun being creepy and grammatically stunted."

This from a man who invented a form of divination based on Meatloaf lyrics. Methos wiped his fingers on a napkin and lamented his addiction to pistachios. The woman at the bar had fished a Kleenex from her bag and was dabbing at her eyes in the most furtive way possible. She sipped her drink and glanced at him, and at Joe, who was serving a couple at the other end of the bar.

Methos sat a stool away from her and smiled, trying to be gentle. She was a stranger, and she was in the middle of a surreptitious crying jag.

"I have to say, I haven't seen a gin rickey in ages," he said. "In fact, I don't think I have ever seen a woman your age drink a gin rickey." He had a point. She didn't look a day over twenty-five, but who knew? Her blonde hair was disheveled, and her blue eyes were red-rimmed. Her lipstick application had seen better days, but her smudged eyeliner was rather charming, if one discounted that it was abject misery that had produced it.

She glanced at him, and then down at her drink. "I've never had one before," she admitted. "I think I read about them."

Methos couldn't fault her. One time he'd ordered a mai tai because he's been wearing one. In fact, it might have been the last time he'd been wearing one. He blamed the mai tai.

"A sound idea. I choose all my wine based on the picture on the label," he said, and she smiled. "I mean, I think that's something I shouldn't be admitting," he realized. "I did find a good bottle once with a bear roaring fire." The smile got a little wider and he sipped his drink. "The wine was rubbish, but the bottle was indeed amusing."

She turned her glass. "This is okay," she said with a shrug. "I wasn't really thinking too hard about it."

"Allow me to buy you something else, then," he said. "You can even pick based on contents."

She looked up at him then, and her shoulders slumped. "I'd be happy if you paid for this one," she admitted, and then, stealing another glance at Joe, she leaned in conspiratorially. Methos wondered if he was about to get roped into robbing the bar. It hadn't gone so well last time.

"I lost my wallet," she whispered, her eyes looking terrified at Joe. "And I can't pay for this drink."

Methos shrugged. He'd lost so many wallets over the ages that he could probably have made a herd of cattle out of them. Sad, shriveled up nightmare cattle, now that he thought of it. "I'll cover it. Where'd you lose it, do you think?"

She held open her purse. "Look, I am not lying. I don't have a wallet!"

"And I totally believe you," he replied, signaling to Joe with two fingers that he wanted another round. "I gather you ordered before you discovered?"

She checked her phone again, and then threw it disgustedly into her bag. "I tried and tried to text my sister to come with money, but she's not answering her mobile."

"Sisters," Methos mumbled. He didn't have one, but he had learned that if he wanted to be agreeable, he could just pretend to commiserate with whatever plight whatever human sitting next to him was currently embroiled in. After all, somewhere in his rolodex of experiences, he had felt exactly what she was thinking. Minus the gin rickey, maybe.

He held out his hand. "I'm Adam. Adam Pierson."

The woman took his hand and pumped it a few times. "Thank you. Thank you so much. I'm Bonnie Loud." Before he could say anything, she continued. "I know. I know. Meatloaf."

He blinked, and the jukebox chose that moment to stay playing The Joker. "Pardon?"

She blushed. "Oh god I have to stop volunteering that information." She slugged back the drink, not seemingly secure in the knowledge that she wouldn't be drink and dashing. "Bonnie Tyler, Mrs. Loud, Meatloaf singers, you know?" She shrugged. "Life is funny sometimes."

Methos glanced at Richie, who was busy watching Portugal take a thrashing from Brazil. That had to smart in Lisbon. "You're telling me," he mumbled. If he had a higher opinion of Richie, he might have suspected that he'd set this up. But Richie was so engrossed in the screen that he hadn't noticed that he'd eaten a pistachio shell until he'd started choking on it. Methos looked away and pretended he had never seen the younger man before.

"So where is that mythical wallet, do you think? Perhaps we can track your steps backwards, find the blighter who stole it, and attack them with a large stick."

Bonnie thanked Joe for the new drink and slid it towards her on the flimsy napkin. "I was in Monoprix getting...lady things..."

Methos saluted her. "Good for you. Let's start there, then." She sipped his drink and looked at the rain outside. "Mentally, of course."

She grinned. "Bien sur, Monsieur."

An hour later, Bonnie excised herself to the toilet and Richie snagged his elbow. Methos was enjoying his first mai tai in ages, and it was pretty nice. Bonnie was an amiable explorer of drinks with what he called 'lulsy names', and he was about to finish this and start on his 'Aviator', a purple drink made with gin and crème de violet. He used her absence as an excuse to mine the pistachio bowl next to him for yet more red finger dye.

"Did you pay for her drinks?"

"Why yes I did," Methos said, finding another pistachio in the bottom of the bowl. It was like a hidden surprise, a reward for his good deed. A messy red-staining surprise that wasn't blood. That was welcome. "And I think I will pay for a few more," he added.

"You're a sucker."

"Now, now, is that what we say about ladies who wish to tipple and make our acquaintance?" He sipped his Aviator. Dear god, why had he never had this before? "Besides, she lost her wallet, and I am a gentleman."

"What was that thing about chivalry?" Richie asked, finishing his beer.

"It's cold and lonely in the deep dark night," Methos told him soberly.

"Ah," Richie said, nodded. "I have taught you well. Go forth and see paradise by the dashboard light."

 

Lesson 2

Satan didn't make alcohol. Satan is entirely too new a construct, and alcohol entirely too old, but if Methos had to bet, humans always were the masters of their own destruction (see: nuclear holocaust, genocide, karaoke), and so the poison of fermentation was probably something to be laid right on their doorstep.

It certainly was his fault for opening his mouth and swallowing.

There was a gong ringing in his intestines. Or his stomach. Or his temples. Or his cochlea. It was hard to tell. It could have been in his big toe for all he could tell. Or maybe it was everywhere. Methos wondered how to stop it, and the radical pain that was ebbing though his body like a slow motion clip of an octopus crawling across the ocean floor.

Thinking about eating octopus made him want to boot. Methos grabbed the phone from the edge of the nightstand and stabbed at the screen with his fingers, figuring that if god willed him to answer the phone then he'd get it right eventually.

Some things weren't meant to be. The ringing stopped and he stuffed the phone under the pillow. Then he flipped the pillow to expose the cool underside. Sweet, sweet cold cotton.

The phone rang again, and this time the vibrate sent a wave of nausea through his ear to his tongue. Oh sweet god. He hadn't been this sick from drinking in decades. He generally didn't get hungover, but sometimes, his body chemistry combined with the molecules in specific alcohol to negate the blessing of immortal healing, and if he ever found up what it was he'd use it as a secret weapon against others.

The phone didn't care about any of this.

"What is such a big ass deal?" Methos griped. His head felt like it had wrapped itself around a spiked club. What had been in a that gin? Death? There was an Emily Dickinson joke in here somewhere.

He focused on the screen this time, holding it inches from his face, and swiped right. "What. What? What?"

"We are calling in regards to your accounts ending in 4,5,3,2 and 3,2,0,7 and 2, 2, 9, 4," said an automated voice.

"What?"

"We're detecting several fraudulent charges in your accounts and have frozen all activity," the voice said. "Please call our offices in Bonne at—" and the phone line went dead. Methos stared at the receiver. What?

 

Lesson 3

Just when things look horrible, they will undoubtedly get worse when you stop to catch your breath. Take, for instance, every cartoon in which the character manages to blow out the fuse of a stick of dynamite they are holding. They breathe a sigh of relief, close their eyes for just one second, and then they realize that the fuse is relit, or there's a fucking mouse with a second stick somewhere behind them. The only difference between cartoons and real life was that rarely did one get the chance to look at the imaginary camera and say "Ruh-roh" before everything went to further shit.

"So apparently they sold my identity and its attached numbers to some person in Vladivostok, and something about bitcoin," Methos said, shrugging. "If I wanted to clear it I'd have to produce a shitload of documentation that I don't have." He set his fork down on his plate and signaled to the waitress for the check. "Also, of course, the obvious hell of having to go to Vladivostok in October."

Joe sipped his coffee. "That has to blow, man."

Methos sighed. "I remember back when you could just move to another town and tell people you were a completely different person, and they believed you."

"Yeah, ancient Greece sounds like fun."

Methos made an emoji face at him. "That was in 1880."

Joe set down his coffee and laid his napkin over his plate. Yeah, it was considered bad manners, but it was an old habit. In all honesty, his mind was on something more than table etiquette anyway. "Let me get this, man."

Methos rolled his eyes. "I think I can still manage to cover lunch at the diner," he said, slapping his card on top of the check when the waitress brought it. "Or at least, backup ID Paul Montrose can."

Joe sighed. "Any relation to Amanda?" The waitress took the bill off to the register with much more sashay than was necessary. What was with Methos and his ability to make ladies sashay? Mind you, Joe never saw him date many of them, and he never really chatted them up that much, but they did like to sashay.

Methos checked his wallet and pulled out the new driver's license. Joe knew how irritated he was to have to ditch the Pierson identity. With any luck he'd be able to recover it. Identities were in fact, more difficult to make these days, which made Joe feel even more guilty as he watched the waitress sashaying back to their table with less sway and more dismay.

"I think we're cousins," Methos said, squinting at his picture. "Is that what my hair looks like?"

"I'm so sorry, Monsieur, but the card will not go through," she said, sotto voce.

Methos looked affronted, and then confused. He checked the name on the card, and then opened his wallet. "New user hiccups. Here try—"

"Let me get this," Joe said again and pulled his own wallet out. It wasn't like paying was a hardship, and the man had apparently lost two identities in less than a week. The waitress started to take the bill away when Methos pulled out an AmEx.

"Seriously, I have to break it in—"

"Let. Me. Get. This," Joe said through gritted teeth. The waitress took his Visa and walked away. No sashay. Just walking. Le sigh.

Methos sat back and tapped the AmEx on his chin. Joe thought about making eye contact until he remembered all those dog shaming videos on Facebook in which the guilty dog would not look at the camera. He was not the guilty dog here.

Amy Zoll was the guilty dog, really.

"Look, see," he started.

"It's almost like you know there's something wrong with this identity," Methos drawled.

"I told you not to fuck with Amy—"

Methos's eyes went wide. "Zoll? Amy Zoll?" He stuffed his card back into his wallet and shoved it into his jacket pocket. "Amy fucking Zoll? The bane of my existence?"

"I don't think it's fair, man. You did—"

"She hacked my back door into the Chronicles and wiped my credentials!" Methos spluttered. "She locked me out of my own documents!" He slammed his hands on the tabletop unthinkingly, because the resounding smack rattled their empty plates and silverware. The waitress gave them a quizzical glare and Joe grinned.

Truth be told, the little pissing contest between Amy and Adam had been going on for years, and while it had dry spells, sometimes, when the mood stuck them, they could apocalyptically rankle each other. Like Spy vs. Spy, if the spies were nerds with computer skills and a little less immunity to dynamite. Well, on one side.

"Well, you know you really shouldn't be—"

Methos sighed. "Those are my books, you know."

Joe refrained from pointing out that Methos didn't give three shits about his books. He really didn't. It was only that Methos, like a cat, wanted something because he was denied it, and then when he got it, he didn't want it anymore. Or rather like a toddler. He brought up the books just because he couldn't access them anymore, but if he had had access to them, he'd never read or even visit them.

"You don't care about the books. You care because she cares."

Methos squinted. "What does Amy Zoll have to do with Paul Montrose?"

Joe glanced out the window at the cars slowly trawling through the rush hour traffic on the street. He was more than happy that he rarely drove these days. "Well, I guess you made her a little mad when you altered her database, and she found a cache of your aliases and did some digging—"

Methos sipped from his coffee cup, his arm poised so formally his pinky finger was slightly extended and crooked. "Are you telling me that Amy Zoll, the Witch of the Watchers, has hacked my identities?" His voice resembled the sound Christine's engine made before it mowed down unsuspecting (or knowing) people in that Stephen King movie.

Ouch. Joe thanked the waitress when she brought them the completed check and his card. He picked up the pen and clicked it in and out nervously. "And Interpol," he mumbled.

There was silence as Joe scrutinized the check for their breakfasts as if he expected to find something dire in the heat printed text. Methos was eerily quiet, and then he sighed.

"I have to lay off Amy," Methos said. "Last month I sent fifteen hundred pizzas to her house."

Joe shook his head. "You think?" He replaced his card and slid his billfold into his inner pocket. Once could never be too careful with a best friend who was currently going to be super hard up for cash and certainly had a dubious moral quality. Joe mused that he knew more than several of those people. It was a miracle he still had anything valuable for his own.

On the other hand, they were fun people to hang about with.

"Two out of three is bad," Methos muttered, patting his pockets in search of something.

"I thought it was ain't bad," Joe said as he signed the credit card slip and left a cash tip on the table. He wasn't supposed to tip, but he did. He was American, and they could kiss is American derriere.

"Not when your life is not living up to the I-Ching of Meatloaf," Methos said. "Incidentally, Ryan is full of shitballs. I have another one here," he said, sifting through apps on his phone. "This phone is registered to another one."

"How many IDs do you have?" Joe asked

"Third time's a charm," Methos answered, waving the mobile in his hand.

"Is that Meatloaf?"

"Nope. Me. Fifteen hundred BCE." Methos looked up and shrugged. "You are all welcome."

"I bet you wrote everything first," Joe mused. "Humanity's original hipster."

 

Lesson 4

The third time isn't a more charmed time. There are no magic numbers. If you think that something is lucky, you can see patterns where there aren't any; likewise, you can affect things simply with your own mental power, thus making things that aren't inherently noteworthy into the fantastic.

And then sometimes all that is just complete horse puckey, and everyone should make peace with that fact.

Methos handed Joe the passport and checked the clock above his head before sitting on the bar stool. It was the middle of the day and the bar wasn't open, technically, but Joe always had time for Methos. Plus, he felt a little bad about the whole identity freezing thing. He scrutinized the new passport in front of him.

"Clive Smith." Joe couldn't help the eyebrow that rose.

"I know, I know, but I ordered it made right after I'd seen Casino Royale and reread the Books of Blood."

"Hence Clive, but Smith?"

Methos slipped the passport back into his jacket pocket. "When they called me to ask for a name I was tripping on some mushrooms."

Joe whistled and placed the last wineglass in the hanging rack. "That's harsh."

"Clive Smith is boring," Methos said. "Nothing ever happens to a man named Clive Smith."

Joe pulled the cork from the bottle of Laphroaig and poured them two fingers each into the tumblers. Yeah, it was too early to open, but not to have celebratory scotch. "Here's hoping."

Later that afternoon, Joe was serving a small group of Japanese businessmen a few expensive hot sakes when the door opened and a man stepped though and set off all of Joe's inner alarms.

Dark overcoat, dark glasses, a high and tight the likes of which Joe hadn't seen in a decade. It was too hard to tell if the coat dragged with the weight of a sword on one side, but that wasn't unusual. Immortals were very good at hiding the sword. You had to be in this day and age. What they were less good at hiding was a general creepiness. Or a gun bulge.

And this guy had two.

"Hi there," he said over the businessmen's heads. "What can I do for you?"

The man closed the distance and reached into his coat. Joe reflexively put a hand under the bar, though his shotgun was long gone. It wasn't as easy to get one in France as it was in the states. In the states you could trade one for a bottle of Jim Beam and a bucket of wings. Here you needed like, official papers and things they called "reasons" that usually had to make sense.

"I am looking for a Clive Smith," the man said, flashing his Paris Metro police card. Joe felt his eyes widen without his permission. His eyes were not cooperating with him today. He made a mental note not to play poker for a while. This couldn't be happening.

"What?"

"A Clive Smith has listed this address as his place of employment on his tax forms, and we are looking for him. May we speak with him?"

At that moment, the jukebox chose to flare to life and play one of the randomized songs.

And a second later, Richie sailed through the door. Joe froze, his hand reaching out for the ID. The man was less than happy about handing out over, and Joe could see why—if you didn't see police badges very often, it might pass muster, but Joe was old hat, and so was his eye for fake IDs. What was it with ID drama this week?

"Hey Joe," Richie said, settling down at a stool a few feet away. He hadn't reacted to the guy at all beyond a casual glance, but that didn't mean he wasn't immortal. If he had been Mac, Joe could have told just from the expression on his face. If he had been Methos, he would have nodded or shaken his head at one of Joe's quizzical eyebrows, but Riche and he didn't have as good a rapport.

Joe handed the badge back to the man and shrugged. "Yeah, I fired that guy three weeks ago," he told the man. "Caught him swiping from the till."

The man stood in front of Joe, unmoving, for at least thirty seconds. It was actually creepy. If the Japanese businessmen hadn't kept talking he might have thought that time had frozen and he was trapped in some sort of extremely boring bubble. Joe could think of much better moments of his life to be stuck in time...in.

"So...I...haven't seen him for a while," he said slowly, hoping to restart robot fake cop.

The man blinked. Joe wasn't stupid. The man didn't believe him. There was nothing he could have said to convince him of that fact. Even if Joe had told the truth, that Methos had never worked here, the guy still wouldn't have believed him. But if the guy was convinced that this was Methos's employment and not a watering hole—oh god all the dude would have to do was wait in his car outside until the zebra came for a drink of fresh cool scotch.

"Thank you for your time," the man said, and turned to go.

"If you leave me a card I could call you if he..." Joe drifted off when the man turned back and simply blinked at him. Richie watched the exchange with the amusement of the unenlightened.

"That is not necessary," the man said. It occurred to Joe that he not only hadn't offered his name, but Joe had been so distracted looking for fakeness that he hadn't bothered to memorize any information from the ID. What was the guy's name, even? Claude? Claus? Jan? Spandex McBoobin? Dammit.

The man turned back towards the exit and left as mysteriously as he had come, some phantom of super creepy eighties cop movie villany. Richie hopped off his stool and rounded the bar to get a Red Bull from the mini fridge. When the door shut, Joe breathed a sigh of relief.

"What was that about?" Richie asked him, leaning on the bar next to him, can dangling from his fingers.

"Some guy looking for Methos," Joe said. The Japanese businessmen signaled that they wanted another round of sakes and Joe put the water tetsubin back on the hot plate. "Or actually, Clive." He relayed the brief history of Methos's revolving identities, from Adam Pierson, to Paul Montrose and now the seemingly equally doomed Clive Smith.

"I wonder what Methos did," Richie said.

"I wonder what some other Clive Smith did," Joe amended for him. "Methos hasn't had the ID long enough to have done anything." It might not have been a bad idea to start looking into the whole thing. Joe figured that he owed Methos one. And if he didn't, he could always bank a favor. It was great when an immortal owed you, because you knew they'd always be around to pay up someday.

Richie thought about it, his eyes narrowing. "Who knew that mistaken identity would be such an issue?"

Joe took the Red Bull from him and widened his eyes. "Yeah, who knew?" The sake rose to the top of the bottle rim, and he took it off the stove. "Atsukan," he said to the businessmen, setting the bottle in front of them. They clapped. Joe decided that they were his favorites today.

Like a bat out of hell, I'll be gone gone gone... the jukebox sang.

"Right," Joe said aloud to himself (and a little to Richie) and fished his cell out of his pocket. "OK Google, call Adam."

 

Lesson 5

They say that butter toast lands butter side down, and cats land on their feet, so if you put a slice of buttered toast on the back of a cat you can make it levitate. In reality, you just get shredded by cat claws. Also, the world is filled with entirely too many pithy science joke t shirts worn by nerds who think they are egregiously hilarious. Because all forms of nerdom are obnoxious at their heart. Not bad, just obnoxious.

Methos was putting the finishing touches on his flat white when the phone rang. He checked the phone—it was the new one. He still kept the old ones around just in case he made any progress on clearing the identities. It wasn't likely, and he was still trying to find a way to stick it to Amy, but one had to have hope. Clive was ringing.

"Hello," he said, setting the milk pitcher in the sink and running the water in it. "This is Clive Smith."

The phone went dead. As dead as a mobile could go, that was. Methos missed the days when the dial tone told you that you'd been hung up on as opposed to accidentally disconnected. There was something so final about that dial tone, really. It was like a deliberate punctuation mark.

It was, he had to admit to himself, yet another technological passing that he didn't know he missed until he was left standing in his apartment and wondering what the shit was wrong with his mobile. And then there was a banging on his door. It was notoriously bad when a hang up call was followed by a knock. The police didn't do that. The only people who did that kind of thing were secret service and—

The banging got more insistent. Methos slipped his feet into his shoes and snagged his coat from the back of the chair. The sword was obnoxiously heavy in the inner pocket, but he'd felt the urge to carry it lately, ever since he'd lost his Pierson identity.

The phone rang again, and he saw that it was Joe this time. Methos kept his eyes riveted to the door and started to make his way to the bedroom, where the fire escape would lead him down and into the alleyway. It wasn't that he was expecting trouble, but nothing good knocked at one's door that way.

"Hey Joe, a little busy," he said as he fished his keys out of the bowl on the table and backed into the bedroom.

"Yeah, I just want to give you a heads up that there's a fake cop with a bad accent headed your way, looking for Clive Smith," Joe said.

Ah.

"Hold that thought," Methos mumbled, fumbling with the window latches. The fire escape was slick with grease and rain, but he squeaked out on it as quickly as he could go.

The door to the flat broke open with a splintering sound and there was a call of "Police!" in a voice that sounded like it was supposed to be French but was rather...Latvian? It was hard to pin down accents these days.

"I have to go," Methos said.

Just before he hung up, he heard Joe's tinny voice say, "Wear your coat. It's raining."

 

Lesson 7

There is no problem that can be solved with a cup of tea except 'I lack a cup of tea.' You have been lied to.

Some issues could be solved with a few underground contacts and a judicious amount of promises of nebulous future shenanigans and nefarious scheming. For everything else there was MasterCard.

Amy Zoll's MasterCard, Methos mused, as he used the number he'd stowed in his wallet to charge fifteen hundred dollars' worth of imported gravlax to be sent to his intel man, Archie, in lieu of payment for hacking into a few systems that told him about every Clive Smith on the mainland. Because if he'd had to go across the pond, the number of Clive Smiths grew as exponentially as the rabbit population in springtime.

"No no," he said to Archie, "he has to have done something to someone, because some people with guns and mob connections of some sort want him dead." Methos rolled out of Richie's truck bed and scurried into the bar through the back entrance. "Seriously, within two days of activating an ID with his name, they bust through my door and chased me through the sewer, so yes, I think they want him dead."

Richie opened the driver's door and followed him in, but Methos felt his hand on his shoulder, steering him away from the taproom and instead to the back. Ah, right to the source, then. Methos snagged a bottle of whiskey from an open crate and crooked the phone in between his shoulder and his ear. It slipped down and clattered in the floor immediately. Mobiles were impossible to hold hands free. He missed handset receivers. And dial tones. And life before national ID numbers.

He verbally throttled Archie into submission, then hung up while he changed clothes and washed up in the sink with dispenser soap. Now he smelled like lavender sanitation station.

"So apparently there's a guy named Clive Smith who has a hit out on him for five hundred large," Joe told when he emerged from the backroom, three shots fuller and considerably less smelly. His clothes were in a bin in the back room, and if he had the time, he was going to light them on fire in the dumpster out back.

"Why?" Richie set a cup of coffee in front of Joe and poured one for Methos and then himself. Bless. Methos downed it. H was regretting the shots of whiskey. He wanted to be as clear headed as possible about this.

Joe frowned at the screen. "See the thing is when people put an illegal hit out on someone they generally don't announce why, so it can't be traced back to them," he told Richie. "It's called being sneaky."

The bar door opened and Duncan sailed in, pulling a scarf from his neck and dumping a suitcase on the floor. He glared at Richie, who slapped his head.

"I know, I said I'd get you, but see—"

"Does anyone know," Duncan asked casually as he shed his coat, "why there are two men with guns sitting on top of my barge?"

Methos poured himself another cup of coffee, drank it and the immediately regretted the raging fire in his esophagus, and then turned to Joe. "Give me this man's address."

 

Lesson 8

The best way to make someone think you are dead is to actually die, loudly. In front of people.

"Hello," Methos said when Clive Smith opened the door. He stepped through, pushed the other man further into the flat, and pointed his gun at the door. "My name is Clive Smith." Before the other Clive could open his mouth, Methos fired three shots at the now-closed door at head level. There was a loud thump of something hitting the door and then the floor, and someone yelled, "Dmitri!" very loudly in Russian-accented French.

Methos had never stopped to think how funny the French accent of the average Muscovite was.

"Lol," he mumbled, pushing a flabbergasted Clive even further, towards the back wall, where he knew there was a balcony with a fifteen foot drop to the hedges.

"Listen up," he said finally. He pointed at the door. "That, is for you." He slapped the man's chest and then pointed to himself. "It came for me, and I can't be having that Clive." He fired once into the door and heard another shriek. "No I certainly cannot."

"Wha—"

"Oh, don't bullshit a bullshitter," Methos said, and then paused. "That does not sound right in French."

"I—"

"I actually don't want to know why the Russian mob wants you dead, but apparently they do, and I can’t get any peace until we are actually dead."

He stopped for a second just to survey the room, and then the renter of said room. Clive Smith (the original) was a short thin man with way too much body hair for the square footage he occupied. His eyes darted from the door to Methos to a bat that leaned against the coffee table.

"Don't," he said. Clive didn't.

"In another era, I might have simply pointed these men at you and given them my blessing in order to make this all go away," Methos said, examining the door and wondering if they were going to try something different. A window egress, maybe? "But I seem to have been infected with a bit of a conscience in the past ten years or so, and I just can't set you up like that."

"I-" Clive started.

Methos put a finger on his lips and then opened the fridge door in time to shield them both from a side window shot. That was close.

"I'm not finished and time is short. Point being, I can't let them kill you just because it would be convenient to me, but obviously you have to die for this to stop, so—" He pulled a card from his pocket and pressed it into Clive's hand. "So you are going to go out the window and call this number, where you will speak to a man who will set you up with a new identity for a small sum of money that I am sure you have, given our current wanted status." Methos opened the balcony doors and yanked Clive through onto the balcony. "I will take care of this, hopefully fixing both of our problems, and you will thank God every day for the rest of your life that I have such dismal decision making skills."

The front door finally splintered open (there was a lot of that happening in the past day or so), and he slammed his hand into Clive's back. "You better get going. I'm going to make this super messy. Clive climbed up on a rattan chair that looked like it wouldn't hold even his meagre weight for long and turned back to Methos.

"But I—"

He was interrupted by the sound of a police siren in the faint distance. Times, Methos had to admit, was one of the great blessings of a random universe, full of sound and auspiciousness, signifying not nothing, but instead the result of firing several rounds into an apartment building with an unsilenced gun. Hoo-ray.

"I would say that you have nothing to do and even less to lose, but I think we all know that's not true," Methos said then with one final push. Clive went down into a pile of bushes, and Methos leant over the concrete balustrade. "You are welcome."

Methos trained the gun on the living room, waiting for the man to round the corner. He was gonna be pissed abut Dmitri. Or not. It was hard to tell. Methos would have felt worse about shooting people, but he'd used up his reserves of compassion this week.

The man entered the room gun out, and found Methos pretty quickly, seeing as how the room was pretty small, and he was the only moving thing in the room. Methos took a step backwards onto the rattan chair and prayed that it would hold him long enough to make this super dramatic.

"I heard you fell into a fatburg," he said lightly. "You smell like it."

The sirens in the distance were getting closer. The man raised his gun and glanced over Methos's shoulder. "I ruined a pair of Gucci boots in that sewer."

Methos shrugged. "There's no accounting for taste." Then he made a show of looking away, hoping that sewer boots would take advantage of the window to shoot him. He didn't think the guy would buy him just giving up. Something about traipsing through a quarter mile of greasy wet-nap mountain convinced other that you wanted to live exceedingly much.

He didn't feel the bullets hit him. But he did miss the bushes for the concrete, and he was glad for a few seconds that he'd been shot.

 

Lesson 10

"If you're already dead, they can't kill you again. And if you die in front of witnesses, they can't desecrate or abscond with the corpse," Methos finished. "Also it's nice that Ryan has that siren and tear away stripper cop uniform."

Joe shut the lid to his guitar case and fastened it. "I think that's an actual cop uniform he got somewhere."

Methos shook his head. "I can't decide if that makes me respect him more or less." He set down the scissors and cracked his knuckles. "Have you seen him in that? He looks like the unpopular one from CHIPS." He took a sip of coffee, and then resumed his cutting. "I told Ryan that the next time he comes up with some sort of mystic theory, I don't want to hear it," Methos said, trimming the edges from a new passport photo.

"I didn't think you bought into that in the first place," Joe said. "I mean, what with your eons to overcome gullibility."

Methos gave him the finger. "Who said anything about believing? I've had 'Hot Patootie' stuck in my head since Saturday."

Joe settled down in the chair across from Methos and rested both hands on the end of his cane. The stance made him feel rather like an English headmaster this way. Or a Zen master. Or Gandalf. Or Christopher Lee.

"I do really love that rock and roll," he said, feeling his grin almost crack his lips. Methos finger seemed to grow even longer, like some bizarre Pinocchio effect in which the more pissed one got, the longer their digit appeared.

"You know what would be a better basis for divination?" Joe asked.

"Bowie," Methos replied without pausing. "Zappa. Blondie. Anyone but Jim Bloody Steinman." He set down the scissors and held out the photo in front of him, a distance away from his face, as if he was still worried about what his hair looked like. Then he lowered the picture and blinked. "Steve. Miller."

"I speak of the pompatus of love," Joe offered.

"Considering that the last lady I did to stole my identity, yes, pompatus indeed," Methos replied.

Ah, so that was it. "So it was her?"

"I'm fairly sure," Methos said. "I mean, she was awake well before I was, and I could tell she'd rifled through my desk." He paused and stared off into the distance, as if seeing something else. Joe recognized that as Mac's 'flashback face', but hadn't realized that Methos had such an obvious one. "I'm still not sure if it wasn't worth it. That woman could hold her gin."

"And the other Clive?" Joe said after a long quiet moment, in which he was feeling increasingly like a prurient intruder.

"I gave him the number of Mac's ID guy, so if he fucks it up, the guy can blame Mac."

"You are a slippery eel."

"There'll be hell to pay eventually, so put it all on the bill," Methos said, pouring himself another cup of coffee from the French press. He paused. "I will say this—my brain has substantially more Meatloaf lyrics in it than I ever thought possible.

"But now that I have my new identity, courtesy of Mac's other ID guy, Aristotle, I can start to relax." Methos reclined and put his hands behind his head, stretching his feet out in front of him. "No more free gin rickeys for distressed blondes, no more pizzas for Amy Zoll, and no more name decisions whilst on psilocybin." He grinned. "You are looking at a new man."

Joe crossed his arms and wondered what he was going to do with his day. The bar was closed, and he was thinking of going to the library. He hadn't been to the library in ages. He wasn't even sure he had a library card. Maybe Methos would like to tag along too, bet his new...name a library card. Or did a new fake identity come with one already? A new voter registration? So much he didn't know about illegal shit still.

"And what is this new man's name?" he asked, pulling out his phone. It was easier for him to remember him as Methos, but he didn't like having the name in his phone.

"Martin Dummolard," Methos said. He waved the photo. "I'm not in love with the name, but I was in a bit of a hurry, and the name sounded familiar enough but not horrible."

Joe opened google and typed with his thumbs. "Martin Dummolard."

"Yup."

"D-U-M-M-O-L-A-R-D."

"...Yes?" Methos started to sound suspicious.

Joe laughed. "Martin Dummolard, the French Mass murderer of the 1800s. The Monster of Montluel? Vampire of Lyon?"

Methos sighed. "I guess I'll be fun at parties."

"Necrophiliac and blood drinker."

"...alternative parties." Methos shrugged. "I have poor judgement in this shit. I remind you that Clive Smith almost got me killed."

"Clive Smith did get you killed," Joe said. At Methos's face he shook his head. "Only you can die and still not count it as dying."

Methos raised an eyebrow at him. "Only me? Who have you been hanging out with for the past fifteen years?" He sat up and reached into his messenger bag. "Speaking of those losers, this is for your associates, and by 'associates', I mean Ms. Zoll."

Joe took the folder of MasterCard receipts and read aloud from the statement: "'Cōlēi mei fella'." He glanced up. "You're a dick."

Methos leaned back in his chair and fanned himself with his new passport. "Some people call me Maurice."

All Joe could do was whistle.

END