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Darling Boy

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Joe wished he could leave. He almost regretted accepting the Highlander's invitation to attend the art auction. For the first two hours he had enjoyed it. The paintings displayed were valuable, famous, and fascinating. The auction was exclusive - by invitation only, and the excitement among the bidders was heady.

But Joe had seen it now. His suit itched, his back and thighs ached, and he longed to be back at the bar sorting out the wreckage of his hard drive crash. The main event had not even started yet.

A brass gong sounded from inside the ballroom-turned-auditorium and MacLeod joined him. The Highlander was tireless, of course. "They're starting, Joe. Let's go in."

Thank goodness. Joe and MacLeod joined the throng flowing into the auction room. They moved forward to their assigned seats in the third row. Very good seats, it seemed to Joe. The art gallery MacLeod was representing this time must have prestige, he reflected.

MacLeod readied his bidding number. Joe had studied the man long enough to recognize that the immortal was excited.

A glance around the room told Joe that everyone was excited.

"So no one knows what the paintings are?" he asked.

"Just the auction house," MacLeod replied, "and they've resisted everything from bribery to computer hacking to keep it secret. Plenty of rumors, though." He grinned. "Cartier and his son were collectors going way back. Everyone knows some of the paintings that were in his collection, but he could have had quite a few which have been in unknown private hands since World War I. Maybe a Pissaro or a Seurat!" MacLeod fairly glowed at the thought.

Joe smiled. Art was not his "thing", but hey, to each his own. Joe was pleased just to be allowed to be a part of his immortal assignment's life.

"You said his son. I thought it was his daughter who died."

"It was. Mme. Danforth wasn't a collector like her older brother and her father, but she inherited after Cartier's death and she kept the collection as private as her father had."

Some movement on the stage distracted them both for a moment. When it became clear that no official activity had yet begun, Joe asked "What happened to the son?"

"Killed in the war."

"Which one?"

A hush fell over the room as the auctioneer, a broad balding fellow with an obvious affair with weight machines, approached the mike. MacLeod shook two fingers at Joe, in reply. Joe nodded.

The auctioneer greeted them all and promised not to extend the suspense, but to begin with the first painting from the Cartier collection. A thick blanket of expectation lay over the already stifling atmosphere.

The two handlers uncrated a painting and placed it on the stand. The room fell utterly silent. Unnaturally so, it seemed to Joe. He stole a look at MacLeod and saw the man wearing a puzzled scowl.

"Do I hear 300 francs?" About $50 U.S., Joe converted automatically. None of the earlier items had started at less than $100,000. And they had not been from the famous Cartier Collection. Someone tittered and the room relaxed. No one bid.

"What is it?" Joe asked. The painting was of a young man in a uniform.

"I don't know what it is," MacLeod's voice held contempt, "but it's not art."

"What is that thing?" A man demanded. People laughed.

Unruffled, the auctioneer read from a collection card. "Amateur painting by unknown artist, circa 1940. The subject is Phillipe Cartier, son of Jacques Cartier, and brother to Mme. Gisela Danforth. The subject wears the grey uniform of a French infantryman. Two medals for bravery and patriotic conduct are featured. Do I hear 300 francs?"

The crowd murmured. Again, the auctioneer asked, "Do I hear 300 francs? Opening bid, 300 francs."

"Next!" someone called out.

The crowd approved. "Don't waste our time with filth!" someone else demanded.

The auctioneer repeated the opening offer, and the clamor of the crowd grew.

"What happens if no one buys it?" Joe asked.

"They're supposed to go on, but ..." MacLeod seemed puzzled.

The auctioneer again ignored the demands of the crowd and called for a bid.

"No one's going to want this," MacLeod said, glancing around the room.

Joe studied the portrait, intrigued by the face of a young man plucked from his home, from the side of his father, from his art collecting, his friends; and thrown into a war by the accident of the place and time of his birth, and the whims of history. Robbed of whatever chances his future might have held for him.

"I'd pay 300 francs for it," he said to the Highlander.

"Oh, Joe, it's worthless."

For some reason, that made Joe mad.

"I like it, Mac. Bid on it for me. I'll pay you."

MacLeod gave him an astonished look.

"Go ahead," Joe urged. "I want that picture."

MacLeod came to a swift decision. "Then I'll buy it for you." He grinned, shuffling to find a different bidding flag.

He flashed the flag.

"I have 300 francs. Do I have 400?"

People around Joe and MacLeod slid some contemptuous looks at the Highlander. He bore them with aplomb.

"300 francs going once, going twice ..."

"Sold. To ..." the auctioneer consulted his bidding index. "M. Duncan MacLeod." He gave MacLeod a pleased smile which seemed a little out of character, to Joe, considering the impersonality with which earlier items had been auctioned. Probably the guy was just glad to be rid of the amateur painting.

The crowd rustled and sighed. Now they could get on with the real auction. The two handlers removed the portrait and re-crated it, carefully stenciling MacLeod's bidding number on the side. Someone struck the brass gong which had signaled the start of the auction.

"This concludes the offering of the Cartier collection," the auctioneer announced.

The crowd was shocked, then outraged.

"What do you mean?"

"This is outrageous!"

"This is fraud!"

"You can't do this!"

The auctioneer stood still, bearing their slings and arrows. Joe studied the Highlander, but clearly MacLeod had no more understanding of this turn of events than had the other agents. He was just better behaved.

"We demand an explanation!"

A distinguished, grey haired man with a pained gait that spoke to Joe of chronic back pain, came to the podium. The auctioneer relinquished the mike respectfully. The crowd quieted.

"Andre DesPres, the owner of the auction house," MacLeod murmured.

"Monsieurs," DesPres began, "et Madames. The DesPres House has been honored to act as agent for Mme. Gisela Danforth and the Cartier collection for many, many decades. We offered to auction according to the restrictions of our contract, the terms of which came to our client from her late, esteemed father. He came to value this portrait of his beloved son, painted by a fellow soldier, as much as all the other works he owned. Works which he and his son had collected together, but would never again enjoy together. He contracted that the purchaser of his son's portrait would gain, at no further expense, his entire private collection of art. The Cartier collection, in toto, now belongs to M. Duncan MacLeod."

Scene 2

Le Blues Bar was satisfyingly full, and Joe had enough staff working to keep his own time fairly free. He needed to work on the tedious task of rebuilding his books from old receipts and invoices. He had taken a few breaks from the chore, however, enough to see the Highlander on the evening news. So, when he emerged from his office and spotted MacLeod at a table, he was not surprised to see the normally gregarious Scot drinking alone. Joe joined him. “Hiding out?” he asked.

MacLeod grinned at him. “I wondered where you were.”

“Cooking the books. I saw you on the news. How's it going?”

MacLeod shook his head. “It's a madhouse. The press love the story, and they won't leave me alone. I thought they'd be happy with a statement or two, but there were reporters waiting for me at the barge, and the phone won't stop ringing.” He took a long swallow of scotch. “Listen, Joe, these paintings belong to you, not to me.”

Joe opened his mouth to interrupt, but the Highlander insisted on continuing.

“Cartier wanted them to belong to someone who valued the painting of his son. That was you, out of that whole room of people. Now I know you're not prepared to house them, but I can help.”

“Stop right there, Mac. You haven't told any of this to the press, have you?”

“I wanted to talk to you first.”

“Good. Now you listen to me. I don't want these paintings. I don't need the hassle. Are you going to tell me that figuring out what to do with them isn't going to be a big pain in the neck?”

MacLeod shook his head. “There's an army of lawyers and acquisition agents descending on DesPres over this. He wants them off his hands. They have to be appraised and curated ... but they're worth a lot of money, Joe. A lot of money.”

“Maybe I'll write a song about the tragedy of sudden wealth. I'd rather have my life normal, thank you. After you decide who to sell them to, you can buy me a new roof. This one leaks. I mean it. You're a much better man to be dealing with this. I just want the portrait.”

“I put it over behind the bar for you when I came in.”

“Thanks.” Joe glanced over to the bar, where two bartenders and Rousseau, his shift manager, were at work. Joe resolved to move the portrait to somewhere more safe than so near his bartenders' feet.

“So you're not going to let me out of the limelight on this?” asked MacLeod.

“Shoot, Mac, don't you enjoy the limelight?”

MacLeod grew serious, as only he could. “Joe, you know how risky it is for one of us to be too public.”

“What risk? Anyone who wants you can look you up in the phone book.”

“If they know I'm in Paris. And that's not what I meant. I don't like all this news footage around of me. Someone might get a hold of it in the future, and then ... well, you know.” MacLeod stared into his glass.

Joe smiled. How like MacLeod to be embarrassed to bring up a time when he might be alive but Joe certainly wouldn't.

“What do you want me to say about the portrait?” MacLeod asked. “The art world doesn't care about it, but the press does. They'll want to know what I did with it.”

Joe considered. The Highlander was offering to lie, or at least to mislead, for him.

“Tell you what. You tell them the truth. You gave it to me. I'll hang it here in the bar, and if anyone comes to see it, it'll bring me business. It'll get more exposure than the galleries and such would have given it. Maybe Ol' Cartier would have liked that.”

MacLeod smiled a slow, fond smile. He sat back in his seat and relaxed with his scotch. “Okay, Dawson, it's a deal. And I'll get you that new roof.”

MacLeod's attention wandered. Joe recognized the expression.

“I'm expecting Adam tonight,” Joe said. “He's coming over to install a new hard drive for me.”

MacLeod nodded. “I think he's here,” he said.

Joe signaled a waitress and ordered the bottle for Mac and a pitcher of beer for Methos. Methos rounded the corner from the door, his expression genial, but his wary gaze sought the other immortal in the bar. He found Joe and MacLeod and relaxed. As Joe waved him over, Methos spoke to a teenage boy who had entered with him.

“Hi Joe, MacLeod,” Methos said when he reached their table. “This is Neal. He just saved my life. I want to buy him a drink.”

“Really?!” MacLeod asked. “How did this happen?”

“He's just unlucky,” the boy started to explain. “And he shouldn't...” Neal broke off with a glance at Methos. He had a grin entirely too large for his face.

“Neal ...” Methos said, with a warning note in his tone.

“And he should watch where he's going,” Neal finished, looking sidelong at Methos. “Now do I get my drink?”

“Absolutely.” Apparently Neal had passed whatever test Methos had set for him. Methos pulled out a chair for Neal, stole another from a nearby table, and poured from the pitcher into the only glass.

“Neal, these are my friends Duncan MacLeod and Joe Dawson. Joe's the owner of this fine establishment. This is Neal Starkweather.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Neal said politely, shaking Joe's hand, then MacLeod's. “Duncan MacLeod. Didn't you just acquire the entire Cartier Collection for buying one painting?”

Joe winced. He knew MacLeod didn't want to talk about this.

But the Highlander was gracious. “Yes, that was me,” he allowed. “Did you see it on the news?”

“No, I heard it on the street. Everyone at the Academie's talking about it.”

“The Academie?”

Methos spoke to Joe. “What's this about a painting?”

“Tell you later.”

“Yeah,” Neal replied. “Pouchet Academie of Fine Arts. Where we had our construction accident today.” He finished the beer and poured himself another. How long would Methos go without his own drink, Joe wondered.

“What happened?” Joe asked Methos.

“Let Neal tell it. If he's careful.” Methos gave Neal another warning look. Neal grinned that impossibly huge grin again, and lifted his glass in Methos’ direction.

“I was just leaving the Academie - they let me come back today to get my things. I was kicked out, you see-and I was looking up at the sky so I actually saw the construction crane on the roof. A huge section of wall was falling right where Adam was. Adam ... didn't see it. I just happened to be looking up. Hell, it was right where I would have been in a second when it hit. So I yelled, and grabbed him and we got out of the way.”

“You know, I saw that on the news, too,” Joe said. “They said no one was there.”

“That's because your Adam seems to be very shy of cameras. And I certainly didn't want to talk to any more Academie staff today.”

Neal finished off the beer and twinkled at Joe. “Can I order a whiskey?” he asked.

Joe sighed. The laws and the customs about underage drinking were more lenient in France than in the U.S., but Joe had some personal feelings on the subject, as well. And, as a foreigner owning a Parisian business, he didn't like to take chances. “How old are you, kid?.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Methos said. “He’s not ordering; I am.” Methos reached over and filled Neal's glass from MacLeod's scotch bottle, ignoring the Highlander's affronted expression. Neal watched with open amusement.

“So Duncan, why did you want the amateur painting?” Neal asked.

The boy seemed pretty casual with his new acquaintance, Joe thought.

“I didn't. I bought it for Dawson,” MacLeod replied.

“For Joe?” Neal turned to Joe.

No, for Dawson For Mr. Dawson.

“Then, do you have the painting here?” Neal's grey eyes sparkled with excitement.

“Yeah, Mac brought it by. Why? Do you want to see it?”

“Could I?”

“What painting?” Methos sounded impatient.

MacLeod broke in. “Adam, why don't you go get it for him? Then we'll tell you everything. It's over behind the bar.”

With Methos beyond hearing range, MacLeod leaned over to Neal. “Okay, Neal, what is it you aren't telling us?”

“What?” Neal's expression was shocked.

“About the accident?”

“Oh.” Neal looked relieved, then regretful. “I can't tell. I promised.”

This answer, Joe could see, confounded the Highlander, who took promises very seriously. It was also clear to Joe that Neal wanted to tell.

“Okay, kid, give, give it all, give it now, or you'll never get another drink in my place.”

Neal grinned that infectious grin, glanced toward the bar, and gave. “It's just that he didn't notice anything because he was reading a book while he was walking. He didn't want me to tell you that part.”

Joe and MacLeod laughed.

“He was reading while he was walking down the street?!” Joe asked.

Neal nodded.

“I've seen him do that,” MacLeod chuckled.

“And you gave him shit for it, I hope.”

“Shh, here he comes.”

Methos returned with the portrait, which Neal accepted reverently. He ran his hand, fingers spread, just over the surface of the canvas, not quite touching it. Holding it inches from his face, he inspected different areas of it closely. The face of Phillipe Cartier, proportions a little off, and details a little muddy, looked back at him. You'd think he thought it was great art, Joe thought. What a funny kid.

MacLeod explained what had happened at the auction.

“Sounds to me like the Cartier Collection should go to Dawson, MacLeod,” Methos said. “He's the one who valued the portrait.”

“No way!” Joe exclaimed.

MacLeod smiled. “He wants me to have the fun of dealing with it.”

“No, it's okay,” Neal spoke up, sounding earnest. He relinquished the portrait to Joe with obvious reluctance, and went on. “You valued it as a present to Joe. You valued it because he did. That should count.” Neal was very serious.

An embarrassed silence followed. Methos wore a small smile. Joe thought he was starting to see why Methos liked this kid.

“Well ...” MacLeod started. Someone had to say something.

“What would be wrong,” Neal added, “would be if you just bought it so the auction could continue.”

Of course, there had been that, too. Joe glanced at MacLeod and could have sworn he saw a blush darken the man's swarthy skin.

Joe admired the boy's ease. Not bravado, Neal just seemed experienced beyond his years. Joe revised his estimate of the young man's age. The older Joe got, he reflected, the worse he became at guessing the ages of the very young. Neal hadn't protested when Joe had assumed that he was under the drinking age, but he sucked down the beer and scotch with the ease of practice. And he held them well enough.

A sudden suspicion gripped Joe, just as a sudden tension gripped Neal. Neal stood and excused himself to find the WC.

Ah hah! Joe turned to see who appeared around the corner of the entry area.

A glance back at his tablemates puzzled him. They showed no alarm, and only the slightest interest in Neal's departure. Methos reached casually for the folder Neal had left behind.

But there was a newcomer to the bar, and he made a beeline for their table. Tall, dapper, a touch too well-dressed to fit in with most of Joe's regular crowd, and wearing a murderous expression. He halted at their table and demanded of Methos, “I saw you with him. Where's Starkweather?”

Methos blinked at him, looking mild. “Pardon?”

The man glanced around, his dark gaze searching. He took in the two glasses, one belonging to MacLeod and one now being cradled by the unassuming, slouched “Adam.” Joe saw Methos shift to cover Neal's folder with his elbow.

“You heard me. You came in here with him. Where did he go?”

“I don't know what you're talking about. Who are you, by the way?”

“I am no one you want to fuck with,” he sneered, his cultured tones low and menacing. He turned Methos’ chair, with the immortal still in it, to face him. He leaned down and put his other hand on the far arm of the chair, trapping him. “Now, I want him and I'm going to have him. Where. Is. He.”

Methos shrank.

That was enough for Joe.

“Look, buddy, don't cause any trouble here, or I'll have to ask you to leave.”

The man turned his smoldering gaze on Joe. “And who do you imagine you are, old man?”

“I'm the owner,” Joe replied, keeping his voice civil.

The man swept his gaze over Joe. “And you're going to make me leave,” he said.

Joe clenched his jaw. He hated when confrontations threatened to turn physical. Once his adversary realized he was dealing with a man with no legs, he either taunted Joe or retreated in resentful chivalry. Both results sucked, and one of them was coming soon. Joe searched for Pierre, his bouncer.

“No,” MacLeod said from his end of the table, “I am.” Blocked in his booth bench by his friends on either side in chairs, Duncan MacLeod nonetheless managed to radiate menace. Even Methos blinked at the Highlander.

The man released Methos’ chair and resumed his arrogant stance. “I know you,” he declared, his tone melting into mock admiration. “You're Duncan MacLeod. That was some scam you pulled with the Cartier collection.” His expression was openly speculative. “Just how did you bribe DesPres?”

“You'd better leave, now,” MacLeod replied, his voice, if possible, even more threatening. Joe looked admiringly at the Highlander.

The man tipped his head back to regard MacLeod through half-lidded eyes. He nodded slowly, a grudging capitulation to the larger man's strength. He looked again at Methos.

“You tell that snake that if he doesn't stay away from my fiancée, I'll slice his balls off and stuff them down his fucking gullet.” He threw a wad of bills on the table halfway between Joe and Methos. “Here's for your trouble,” he added.

The three men watched in silence as the intruder used a circuitous route to the door, studying the faces of the patrons as he went.

“Mac, you didn't have to do that,” Joe said, despite being very glad that he had.

“Of course I did.” MacLeod scowled. “I think we should know some more about your friend, Adam.”

Methos sat up and smiled a bright smile. “Well, if you measure the worth of a man by his enemies ... Who was that guy?”

“Girard Delanoye,” MacLeod provided. “Owner of an almost bankrupt appraisal company. And Neal is ...?”

“An orphan and itinerant artist.” Methos uncovered the notebook and slid it into the middle of the table, where it nudged the cash Delanoye had left. MacLeod took possession of what turned out to be a sketchbook.

No one touched the cash.

“Not someone Delanoye should see as a threat,” MacLeod mused, studying the sketches.

“Not unless she really likes him,” Joe suggested. “I think your friend skipped out, Adam.”

“And leave his sketchbook? I doubt it.”

“He saw Delanoye coming, you know. He left you to deal with him.”

“That's okay. I can take it.”

Joe smiled, and met MacLeod's amused glance. Surprising show of loyalty from the resident cynic.

“A bankrupt business, you said?” Methos asked MacLeod.

“Uh huh. That's the rumor.”

Methos poured more beer into Neal's glass and drank it himself. “So, I suppose he's marrying someone with money.”

MacLeod looked up. “I don't know. I haven't heard of his engagement.”

“And Neal the poor artist loves her but she doesn't know he exists,” Methos said dreamily.

“Doesn't work,” Joe pointed out. “If she didn't know Neal existed, Delanoye wouldn't be so pissed off.”

Methos brightened. “That's true! But if she's interested in Neal, why is she engaged to M. Manners?”

“Obviously,” MacLeod said, “because her father wants her to marry Delanoye.”

This wasn't a game to the Highlander, Joe suspected by the way MacLeod scowled. He wondered what the immortal was remembering.

“Not these days, MacLeod,” Methos said. “The girl gets a say in it now. A pretty big one.”

“It's still not easy to go against your family,” Joe said. “And you may not have any of this right, you know.”

“These stories only turn out well in the movies.” MacLeod continued to brood over the sketches.

“Yes,” Methos mused, “how do these stories end? Usually the father or the fiancé has the boy killed ...”

Joe started, but MacLeod seemed nonplused.

“Or banished,” the Highlander said with a dark look.

“Or enslaved,” Methos returned, causing MacLeod to blink.

“Or bought off,” Joe said.

The other two men looked at him, then at the cash.

Joe smiled.

“Joe, you're a genius,” Methos declared, sweeping up the money.

“Hey!” MacLeod protested. “That was for Joe's trouble.”

“No it wasn't. It's a bribe for me to keep Neal away from the girl.”

“I don't want his money!” Joe cried.

“And Joe doesn't want it,” Methos continued.

“You can't do that!”

“Why not? I'm sure Neal could use a stake to get started. There are other girls. This is a terrific opportunity for him. We'll get Delanoye to buy him off.”

“What is this 'we'? I'm no part of this. And you stay out of it!”

“Okay, MacLeod, I'll do exactly what you say,” Methos promised, stuffing the cash in his pocket.

“Adam,” MacLeod warned.

“Guys, guys, we may have this all wrong!” Joe tried to keep the peace.

Methos ignored him. “Is he any good?” he asked MacLeod, indicating the sketchbook.

“What?”

“His drawings. Are they any good?”

MacLeod gave Joe an exasperated look. He shoved the sketchbook at Methos. “See for yourself.”

“Your opinion would be better informed. What do you think of his drawings?” Methos seemed very earnest.

Somewhat disarmed, MacLeod allowed the change of subject. “They're ... good. But he's not drawing what he wants to draw.”

“What do you mean?” Methos’ gaze on the Highlander was intent.

“Well,” MacLeod turned the book so a drawing faced the other men. “He's put careful detail into drawing the people, but his real energy went into the sky.”

Methos studied the drawing, then returned his avid gaze to MacLeod. MacLeod turned a page.

“And here. It's all sky and sea and it's great. He shouldn't bother with the people. Maybe he's trying to learn that kind of detail. Or maybe someone told him there's no market for skies. But that's what he wants to draw. That's probably why he was looking up today.”

MacLeod took a drink of his scotch. Methos studied the sketchbook, his head cocked at an interested angle. Joe didn't bother trying to see the pictures. He'd had enough art today. His heart was still racing from the near confrontation. He envied the immortals their ability to shrug off such an encounter. One of the benefits of being life-long warriors, he supposed.

The older life-long warrior looked back at the younger. “You should tell him that,” he said.

“I don't think so.”

“Why not?”

“I don't tell artists how to do their art. It's none of my business.”

“What is your business, MacLeod?” Methos almost sounded angry. “Have you given that any thought? What do you think we are here for?”

MacLeod gave him a sharp look. Joe stopped breathing. Did he mean immortals?

“Oh, don't look at me like that.” Methos retreated to his beer. “I don't know anything. But teaching might be a good guess, don't you think?”

MacLeod glanced uncomfortably at Joe. “I am no art teacher,” he protested.

Methos leaned forward, over the sketchbook, every line of his body tense. He spoke with more intensity than Joe ever remembered hearing from his laconic friend.

“You've spent half your life living with artists. Loving them, supporting them, sharing their dreams.”

Like Tessa, Joe thought. Who was this man who looked just like their Methos?

“You don't have to teach him. Just tell him what you told me.”

“Why? Why does it matter so much to you?” MacLeod was clearly as bewildered as Joe.

“I owe him something. He saved my life. I can't help him with his art. You can.”

“Adam,” Joe put in, after a brief glance around at the staff and other customers, “you are not going to convince me that that boy really saved your life.”

“He saved me from a death.” Methos echoed Joe's conspiratorial tone. “Dying usually hurts, I'll have you know. Not to mention I'd probably have to move. I hate moving. At the very least I owe him a favor.”

“So you're going to help him with his love life.”

Joe regarded his retiring friend, thinking it hadn't been so long since Alexa's death.

Methos smiled. “That, I can do.”

Joe matched gazes with the Highlander in a moment of mutual, perfect understanding. Then they both regarded the world's oldest immortal as he regarded the world's oldest alcoholic drink.

To Joe's surprise, Neal reappeared. “Is the coast clear?” he asked with his oversized grin.

“Yeah, he's gone.” Methos grinned back at him. “Are you seeing his fiancée?”

Neal sat down. “No. She's not his fiancée. She called it off. Isn't he a nice guy?”

Feeling indulgent toward Methos had not left Joe feeling indulgent toward Neal. “You gonna apologize to your friend for leaving him to deal with that jerk?”

Neal turned a surprised, guileless expression on Joe. “Oh, he was okay,” he said, indicating the immortal. “He's in his place. Anyone can see that. You're always strongest when you're in your own place.”

Joe saw MacLeod's lips twitch.

Hmph.

Neal returned to Methos. “What did he say?”

“Just that you should stay away from his fiancée. Who is she?”

“Madeleine Pouchet. The most wonderful woman I've ever met.”

Well, the boy wasn't afraid to sound like a love-sick idiot. Joe wasn't sure if that was in his favor or not.

“Would that be Pouchet of the Pouchet Academie?” MacLeod asked.

“Yeah. He's her father.”

“Does he want her to marry Delanoye?”

Neal looked surprised. “How did you know?”

“Lucky guess.” MacLeod smiled a tight smile.

“Well, she doesn't love him. She loves me.”

“How did you meet her?” Joe asked.

“At the Academie. But they pulled my fellowship when Madeleine started seeing me. They said my talent in the initial interviews had been overrated.”

Neal kept his tone light, but Joe saw through him. The boy suddenly had Joe's sympathy. So young to be dealing with that kind of criticism of his work! And it hurts so much more when you're young and unsure, Joe remembered. He wished now that he had had a look at the boy's sketches.

Joe found himself feeling maudlin, and he hadn't even had anything to drink. There was definitely a song in this. “Don't fall in love with the headmaster's daughter” or something less stupid than that.

“I see,” Joe answered. He met the gazes of the other men and was relieved to see them looking maudlin, too.

“Well!” Methos said, falsely hearty. “Neal, how would you like to help me install a hard drive?”

“Adam,” the boy replied, gravely, “I can think of nothing I'd rather do.”

“Good.” Methos stood. “Because Joe is giving us free drinks while we work on it.”

“I am?” Joe asked.

“He is?” Neal asked.

“I'm quite sure you said that, Joseph.”

Neal collected his sketchbook, and watched the two men with an amused expression.

“I think I want you sober when you work on my computer, Adam.”

“Don't be silly. I'd be completely inept.”

“More so than usual?”

“Be nice to me or I won't put in the additional memory I brought. Come on, Neal. Joe will see to it that they bring a pitcher of beer back to us regularly. Won't you, Joe?”

Methos herded the young man toward the office.

“Don't hold your breath!” Joe called after them.

MacLeod leaned forward, looking concerned. “Joe, you don't have to do that.”

“Do what?”

“You don't have to give him free drinks just because he's holding your computer hostage.”

Joe chuckled. “It's okay, Mac. It's part of the deal.”

“It is? But ...”

Joe levered himself up, preparing to go check with his bartender about the pitchers. He picked up the portrait.

“Don't try to figure it out, MacLeod,” he advised, smiling.

MacLeod shook his head, wide-eyed. “Okay, I won't.”

Scene 3

The next day, Joe found Methos in a back storage room of Shakespeare and Company. Something was being delivered to the bookstore which “Adam Pierson” had inherited from Don and Christine Salzer, and the workmen were finishing as he arrived. They drove away in the delivery van.

Methos stood in the center of a room which should have been stacked with books. He surveyed with apparent dismay the crates crammed in around him.

“Hi Joe,” he greeted ruefully.

“Adam. What's all this? It looks like ...”

But it couldn't be, could it?

“Yeah. He's storing them here. I'm hiding them for him.”

“Hiding them?” asked Joe.

“Apparently there's some danger of the State appropriating them as national treasures.”

“What?!”

“A certain art museum which will remain unnamed,” Methos’ tone was sarcastic, “one with strong connections in the Parliament, is pressuring for it. MacLeod's advocates can hold them off, but if they put any kind of lien on MacLeod's property, it's best if the paintings aren't there.”

“Would this art museum's name start with an L?”

Methos pretended to think hard. “Yes, I think it does.”

“You make it sound like you're talking about mobsters.”

“Do I?” Methos replied with mock surprise. “I speak as I find.”

Joe smiled to himself at the archaic phrasing. How had he known this man for ten years and never noticed things like that? Well, maybe Methos was less guarded now.

A knock sounded at the back door. Neal entered a moment later, his shirt and face smudged with dust, and grinned his greeting at Joe.

“Hi Neal,” Adam said. “Did you have any trouble?”

“No.” Neal handed Methos a clipboard with paperwork. “They just said they would credit you.”

“I had to send two shipments back to the distributor just to make room for all this stuff,” Methos complained to Joe.

“What about the cellar?”

“It floods.”

“But I thought that's where you kept ...” Joe paused, not looking at Neal, “some other valuable stuff.” Like the Chronicles you're researching.

Methos smiled. “Don't worry, Joe.”

“Joe,” Neal asked, irritating Joe again with his familiarity, “would you be willing to sell Darling Boy?”

“What?”

“Darling Boy. The portrait of Phillipe Cartier.”

“Who's calling it Darling Boy?”

“The papers and the TV reporters. But they all think Duncan still has it. I could pay you the 300 francs for it.”

“Sorry. It was a gift. Besides, I like it. Why do you want it?”

“I like it too. And ...” The boy paused, his open expression shifting through other emotions. But, before he could finish what he was saying, the bell on the door on the front of the shop tinkled. Neal snapped his head around to look into the store, and his face lit up like someone had just turned a spotlight on him. He shot out of the storeroom, into the bookstore.

Joe looked at Methos, who smiled a goofy smile. “Madeleine's meeting him here,” he said.

They both peered around the corner at the young couple embracing madly among the books. Joe would have felt like a voyeur, except that they were just as visible to anyone walking by the window, or entering the shop. Clearly their worlds had shrunk to include only each other.

“Beautiful,” Joe murmured.

Madeleine was a stunning young woman with fiery red hair, only barely tamed into a chignon. Her clothes were fashionable and attractive, making her a colorful contrast to Neal's grey trousers and dusty white shirt.

“Yes they are,” Methos said dreamily.

“I meant the girl,” Joe elbowed the other man in the ribs. “C'mon,” he muttered, pulling the immortal's sleeve. “We're Watchers, not peeping Toms.”

“Just a minute.” Methos shook him off.

Shaking his head, Joe retreated to the storeroom.

He stopped before a piece of sculpture in a corner, pushed aside with a bunch of Methos’ things. Sculpted from some white material, it was of a woman's body arched backward as if diving, but the arch was so severe that her flowing hair touched her heels. The form would have created a perfect circle, were it not for a break in the piece which made it look as if her torso had been cut in half. It was both breathtaking and disturbing.

And familiar.

“Adam,” he called.

Methos ignored him.

“Adam!”

Methos came to the back. “What?”

“Adam, this piece ... do you know who ...”

Methos nodded. “It's an original Noel. I'm looking for the best place to display it.”

“Somewhere where MacLeod won't see it, you mean?” Joe was surprised to hear the bitterness in his own voice.

Methos merely looked at him.

“Must be worth a lot more now that she's dead.”

How dare he?

“It's not for sale,” Methos informed him, his expression unreadable.

“No, of course not.”

Quite a few Watchers became “collectors” of immortal memorabilia. Certain items, like swords, or “magic” crystals, were appropriated by the Watcher organization, but other items associated with immortals could end up in the possession of those who valued souvenirs. Joe had had his own collection at one time. Until he had seen the practice through MacLeod's eyes, and had been suddenly ashamed of himself.

Once, when he was being processed through customs for his return from Viet Nam, the man in front of him had been detained for the pair of enemy boots he had kept as a souvenir. The man was arrested when the boots were found to still have feet in them. He hated to think of Adam becoming such a collector. How could he?

“How many others do you have?” He failed to keep the anger from his voice.

“Of Noel's? Just this one. There was another piece I really wanted, but it was out of my price range.”

“Don't call her Noel. You're talking about Tessa!”

“You got a problem here Joe?”

“Did you just have to have a piece of Tessa's work?” Too late, Joe registered the fact that Methos had said that he had paid for the sculpture. That was a bit different than using his knowledge as a Watcher to “acquire” items after an immortal's death. Tessa wasn't even an immortal, after all.

Methos’ reply was interrupted by Neal and Madeleine. Neal led the girl into the storeroom, holding her hands. They were both flushed.

“What are you fighting about?” Neal asked, his blue eyes sparkling, like a kid who couldn't wait to show off his new toy.

Be fair, Joe chastised himself, struggling to disengage from his argument with Methos. More like a young man about to introduce the love of his life.

“We weren't fighting,” Joe said.

“Yes, you were.”

“No, we weren't,” Methos said. He moved forward and took one of Madeleine's hands from Neal. “You must be Madeleine,” he said, bending to kiss her hand. Joe raised his eyebrows and shrugged at the astonished-looking Neal.

Madeleine, however, smiled benignly at Methos, as if she were accustomed to having her hand kissed. And maybe she was, Joe reflected.

“Monsieur,” she said. Joe guessed her to be a few years older than Neal. But then, he may have misjudged Neal's age.

“Madeleine, this is Adam Pierson,” Neal said. “And Joe Dawson.”

Madeleine reclaimed her hand, and Methos transformed back into the awkward student Joe knew. Madeleine approached Joe, hand held out. Joe took it, but he'd be damned if he was doing any hand kissing.

“Nice to meet you,” he said.

“The pleasure is mine,” she said. She had the trick of making the pleasantry sound as if she truly felt it. “It is so good to meet Neal's friends.” She tipped her head toward the sculpture. “Is it this, what you were not fighting about?” she asked. “It's exquisite.”

Methos smiled. “Yes, it is. I'm trying to find a place to display it.”

Madeleine bent to examine the piece, and moved her hand just over the surface of it, rather like Neal had done with the portrait. “The artist is a woman, yes?”

“Yes,” Methos replied, and Joe was oddly grateful that the immortal didn't correct Madeleine's “is” to a “was.”

“When she made this, I think she was frightened?” Madeleine looked to Methos for confirmation.

“I didn't know her,” Methos said. He glanced at Joe.

“Oh, she is not living, then? Did you know her?” she asked Joe.

This girl doesn't miss much, Joe thought.

“No, not really,” Joe answered. Then some impulse made him admit, “I knew ... know ... her lover.” It was always easier to say “lover” in France than in the States, Joe had observed. “We all do.”

“Duncan MacLeod?” Neal guessed. Neal wasn't missing much, either.

Methos raised his eyebrows at Joe, and Joe began to think they'd better break this up before Neal and Madeleine knew all about immortals and Watchers!

“Why don't you ask him how to display it?” Neal suggested when no one denied his guess was right.

Joe laughed, and looked at Methos.

“He doesn't know I have it,” Methos admitted.

Neal looked quizzical, but Madeleine moved to Methos’ side and took his hand. “You loved her, too,” she said sympathetically.

Methos smiled and removed his hand, gently. “No,” he answered, “but I do like her work. And I don't know how he would feel about that.”

Madeleine looked thoughtful.

Neal reached out to her, and tucked in some strands of hair which had escaped the chignon, like an artist giving his canvas a delicate brushstroke. Madeleine tipped her head to allow him better access; a gesture which struck Joe as more intimate than the passionate kissing had been.

Madeleine turned to Neal and slid into his arm. “I'm not expected back until dinner,” she confided.

“I've gotta go,” Neal grinned to Methos.

“Okay, here's your pay.” Methos produced a wad of bills. Neal accepted them, frowning.

“This is too much.”

“Consider it an advance. Go. Have fun. Stay clear of Delanoye.”

Neal stuffed the money in a pocket, and the couple made their good-byes.

Once the front door had closed behind them, Joe said, “You paid him with Delanoye's money, didn't you?”

“Well, I haven't got any money for employees.”

“You might if you kept the place open longer than just in the summer.”

“Now, Joe, you know I can't stand being tied down like that.”

“I thought you were going to break them up.”

“I changed my mind. You saw them together. Delanoye and her father together couldn't have enough money to make it worth it. No one could.”

“Now you're talking,” Joe said, pleased.

Scene 4

Joe woke to the ringing of his phone. It was Rousseau, his shift manager.

“Monsieur Dawson, we've been burgled.”

Joe sat up. The deposit ... He had the money with him, waiting for the bank to open. What, then?

“What's gone?”

“The petty cash and the office computer. Also that picture behind the bar. Should I call the police?”

“Yes. No, wait.” Joe's sleep-fogged mind whirled. The portrait, unimportant. The petty cash, inconsequential. The computer... his Chronicles! “I'll be there in twenty minutes.”

Joe began dialing the phone before he got out of bed.

Scene 5

Joe and Methos were a grim pair as they surveyed the bar. The lock on the door to the back office had been broken, apparently with a heavy object like an ax, since the metal of the door bore dents and marks. Nothing else had been damaged, except for the phone jack's plastic cover where the modem phone line had been yanked.

“Have you called Watcher Damage Control?” Methos asked. He leaned his forearms on the surface of the bar and sank between his own shoulderblades. The west facing windows of Le Blues Bar admitted only diffuse morning light, but it was enough to see the stubble on Methos’ face. Joe was pretty sure the sweater and jeans Methos wore had been on him yesterday.

“I am Damage Control,” Joe reminded him. He sat on a barstool, his back to the bar. The roiling in his stomach might have been because he had had no breakfast, but he doubted it. “But I don't know how serious it is. That new hard drive. Had you downloaded the backup to Mac's Chronicle from the laptop?”

“Not yet. Not in front of Neal.”

Thank God for small mercies. Huge ones, actually. Joe felt his stomach relax.

“However,” Methos still looked worried, “whoever took it may not have known that. It could still be an immortal.”

The thought was chilling. The Watchers had kept their existence secret from even the most mild of immortals for centuries, and for very good reasons. Joe's own actions had changed that. After the war known alternately as Horton's War or Galati's War, depending on your views, the Watchers had reorganized around adjusted assumptions. One of the new assumptions was that you could never be sure any particular immortal didn't know about Watchers. If an immortal had been looking for MacLeod's Chronicle...

“Joe,” Methos’ changeable eyes were dark. “If he doesn't find what he wants, he'll come for you.”

Joe shrugged and turned away. He wasn't ready to deal with that just yet. Standard Damage Control procedure would call for a temporary reassignment of the Watcher involved, for his own safety. But Joe didn't feel threatened, for some reason. What he did feel was violated. This was his place. Now he had an outside door he couldn't lock, and the ripping away of the computer felt like something had been ripped from inside of him.

“What about the old hard drive?” He changed the subject. “Did you dispose of it at HQ?'

“Uh, no. Not yet.”

“What! Adam!”

“No one took it!” he protested. “It's still in the box by your desk.”

“That's supposed to be standard procedure!”

“Nobody could get anything off that hard drive! It's deader than disco.”

“That's not the point. And we had some disco in here last week.”

“Ew, you did?”

Methos’ expression grew wary. He rose from his slouched position against the bar, his entire body poised for flight. “Joe, did you call MacLeod to come over?” His eyes were wide.

“Yeah, I did. Relax,” Joe said. “I figured it concerns him.” Joe mentally kicked himself for the “relax” comment. He had no business telling an immortal when he should and shouldn't fear for his life. Hadn't the experience with Cord and Charlie taught him anything? It was just so easy to get irritated with “Adam.”

They heard the front door open, and seconds later Methos relaxed as MacLeod appeared around the entryway. With him was a beautiful bleached-blonde woman, wearing black leather pants and a spaghetti string tank top. Despite the early hour, they both looked groomed, fed, and rested. Joe felt abruptly grimy, and was glad that Methos looked worse.

“Morning, MacLeod,” Joe greeted. “And Amanda! Good to see you.”

“Look who's come to visit,” MacLeod said with a forced smile. He released her arm as she moved to Joe to bestow a chaste kiss on his cheek.

“Hello Joe,” she said, smiling. That woman, Joe reflected, could flirt just by entering a room. She also made the room seem very warm, he observed.

Amanda turned to Methos, who presented his cheek and fluttered his eyelids. She kissed him anyway. “Methos,” she murmured.

“Adam Pierson,” he corrected archly. “Say, Amanda,” Methos asked with exactly the right tone of astonished confidence, as if it had only just occurred to him, “did you hear MacLeod has just acquired a bunch of valuable art?”

MacLeod snorted. Joe tried to keep a straight face, and Amanda's manner turned dour.

“Say, Adam,” she returned, flicking a finger over his prominent nose, “ever hear of a thing called plastic surgery? It's amazing what they can do nowadays.”

Three male groans hummed in the bar. Amanda looked pleased.

“Low blow, Amanda,” Joe said. Even he didn't tease Methos about his nose.

“Well, not so low,” she observed, looking up at the proboscis under discussion, “but certainly an easy shot.”

Methos looked long-suffering, and allowed her the final word.

Amanda returned to Joe, her expression less than amiable. “So, I understand someone has Duncan's Chronicle?” she asked.

“No!” he and Methos cried at once. They glanced at each other, but both continued.

“The Chronicle wasn't on it!”

“It had a new hard drive!”

“I just didn't know when I called you.!”

“It's perfectly safe!”

MacLeod regarded the two Watchers gravely; Amanda regarded them with amusement.

“So, it's all right then?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“Well, probably.”

Joe exchanged another glance with Methos, and explained. “It's just that we don't know why someone would take it. It was old. If they knew …”

MacLeod nodded. “Amanda, why don't you make yourself useful and take a professional look at the crime scene?” he suggested.

“I don't know,” she replied. “Why would I? You know I'm not very experienced at this side of a break in.”

“You'll manage,” MacLeod assured her.

Amanda smiled and sashayed after a watchful Methos, who led the way to Joe's office.

“Would you like some coffee, Mac?” Joe offered, relieved that her departure had returned the room to its normal temperature.

“No, thank you.” The Highlander lowered himself onto a barstool, however, and watched as Joe poured himself a cup and set the coffeemaker to “warm.” “How are you doing, Joe?” he asked.

The question surprised Joe. “I'm okay. I was home in bed at the time.”

“I know. But ...” MacLeod gestured vaguely at the room. “It's your place.”

Oh. Yeah. That sick, victimized feeling Joe had had in his stomach all morning. So MacLeod knew about that. The consideration warmed Joe, but it wouldn't do to acknowledge it, of course.

“It's okay. The computer was old. Nothing of real value was taken.” Just my sense of security and independence.

Still reading Joe's mind, MacLeod said, “You can probably get the door and lock replaced before closing time tonight.”

“Yeah, I know a guy.”

MacLeod nodded, approving. “I wonder why they took the portrait,” he mused.

Joe stared at the immortal, considering. “That portrait. I've been wondering about it.”

“Wondering what?”

“When did a soldier find time to paint a portrait? And where did he get the materials?”

MacLeod shrugged. “You know what they say. Sometimes the worst part about war is the boredom.”

“Yeah. Did you find that so?”

“Sometimes.” MacLeod looked away.

Damn. MacLeod always seemed to know when Joe was fishing. Oh well, it had been worth a try.

Before he could try another approach, Amanda and Methos returned to the bar.

“Do I smell coffee, Joe?” Amanda asked.

Joe poured her some. “What's the verdict?”

“Amateurs,” she sniffed. She took a stool next to MacLeod and placed both manicured hands around the coffee cup. Methos set the dead hard drive on the bar, and began prowling around the room like a cat in a new place.

“Determined amateurs, though,” Amanda continued. “They tried to cut the lock first, and when that took too long, they had some other tool with them for hacking. Also, they had cased the place well enough to know where the back door was, and that it was out of sight.”

“What makes you think there was more than one?” MacLeod asked.

“Intuition.” She sipped her coffee and reached for the sugar.

“Amanda,” MacLeod said gently, “you can't do police work on intuition.”

“I am not the police,” she pointed out. “You asked for my professional opinion. Well, it includes intuition. Take it or leave it.”

MacLeod shook his head and turned to Joe. “What do the police say?”

“The police say not enough of value is missing for them to even come see the crime scene.” And the Highlander had better not ask how Joe felt about that! “My manager is downtown making a report, that's all. Amanda,” he refilled her coffee, “what does your intuition tell you about why someone took my computer?”

“Well!” Amanda looked pleased and turned a dazzling smile on Joe. “At least someone respects my intuition.”

Joe suspected the Highlander was rolling his eyes, but he couldn't look away from that smile long enough to check.

“Since you ask politely, I'll tell you. They didn't want your computer; they wanted Darling Boy. They just took the other things to make it look random.”

Oh. Oh, of course.

This observation was apparently obvious enough to Amanda that she appeared oblivious to the bombshell she had dropped. She set her coffee cup down delicately, and consulted her jeweled watch. “My, will you look at the time,” she said, and then pouted at MacLeod.

MacLeod ignored her, matching gazes with Joe. The bombshell had been powerful enough to draw Methos back to the group. His eyes were wide.

“Of course,” Joe breathed. It probably wasn't an immortal threat, thank God.

“Who even knew it was here?” MacLeod asked.

“Well, it wasn't hanging up, and I had put the wrapping back on, so no one should have recognized it. I guess that means the three of us and Neal. Rousseau knew I had a painting, but I don't think he knew what it was. I wonder if Neal told anyone. Had you told the press?”

“Not yet. It hadn't come up. Adam?”

“Who would I tell?”

MacLeod looked hard at him.

“No! No one.”

“Joe, has anyone noticed it or asked about it in any way?”

“No, no one. Except ...” he paused as his stomach churned again. “Except Neal.”

“Neal?”

“Yeah. He offered to buy it from me for 300 francs.”

Except for Amanda, who was adjusting her top, they all looked at Methos. Methos looked sullen.

“Adam, we need to have a talk with Neal,” MacLeod proclaimed into the silence.

 

Scene 6

They waited for Neal at Shakespeare and Company, where he was due to do some more work for Methos. They had lost Amanda on the way, when they had passed some boutiques which were open early.

Before too long, Neal knocked and entered the back door.

“Adam?”

“Neal, come out front, will you?”

The boy appeared, with a newspaper tucked under one arm.

The three men faced him, variously lounging, sitting, or standing to meet him.

Neal looked around. “What's going on?” he asked.

Joe was not looking forward to this, but it had to be done. The immortals had agreed to let him do the talking.

“Neal, yesterday you were interested in buying Darling Boy from me.”

“Yeah.” The boy's tone was only interested. He looked from Joe to the other men curiously.

“What's your interest in the painting?”

“Why? Are you selling, now?” Neal grinned - an easy, open expression. He came further into the room and leaned on the table opposite Joe.

“Just answer the question,” MacLeod put in, a hint of the menace he had used on Delanoye, in his voice.

Neal looked over at him and grew somber.

Darn MacLeod, Joe thought.

“What is it?” Neal asked Methos. He looked wary, and very young.

Methos, at least, remembered to let Joe do the talking. He didn't answer.

“It was stolen from my place last night, and you're one of the few people who knew I had it.”

“It was!” Neal looked, not only surprised, but horrified. “Oh, fuck!” He fumbled with the newspaper under his arm. He spread it out on the back of a small loveseat. “And you think I took it? It wasn't the only painting stolen last night. Have you seen the paper?”

Joe exchanged glances with the other two men. Neal sounded neither affronted nor particularly concerned at their implied accusation. Something else had his attention.

As one, the three men moved to group around the paper.

Rue du Village Stolen! The headline screamed.

So, what? Joe wondered.

“The Rue du Village is in the Louvre,” MacLeod mused aloud, skimming the story. “Not easy to break into.”

“It was in Restoration,” Neal explained. “Someone took it from the office vault.” He seemed very agitated.

“Hmm,” Methos said. “So, was Amanda with you all last night, MacLeod?”

The Highlander was not amused. “Yes, and don't let me hear you imply that again,” he warned. He snatched up the paper and read, tilting it to share it with Joe. The evidence pointed to an inside job, the article reported.

Methos smiled. He didn't seem very concerned. He turned back to the agitated boy. “Neal,” he asked gently, “what does this have to do with Darling Boy?”

“Well, uh ... who's Amanda?”

Both Joe and MacLeod looked up at the distracted tone in the boy's voice. Methos put one hand on Neal's wrist and one on his shoulder. The boy really didn't look well, Joe thought, and Methos was gentling him like he was a colt.

“Sit down, Neal. It's all right. One thing at a time.” He sat the boy down in the loveseat. Joe and MacLeod both moved to where they could see, but weren't an intimidating presence. Methos perched on the small coffee table in front of the loveseat and held the boy with his gaze.

“Neal. Look at me.” The command captured the boy's wandering attention. “Tell me everything. Good or bad. We can help.”

Pretty good bedside manner, a part of Joe observed.

Neal calmed and focused. He took a deep breath. “Darling Boy. My great-grandfather painted it,” he said, simply.

“He did?”

“Yeah.” Neal stood. “Let me get it.” He stepped over Methos’ long legs.

“Darling Boy?!”

“Yeah. No. The sketch. Just a second.”

No one stopped him as Neal dashed into the back room.

Joe didn't think letting him go was a good idea. “He's fleeing the interview,” he warned.

MacLeod followed to stand by the door to the back room. “He won't get far,” he whispered.

But Neal returned, with his sketchbook. He seemed calmer. Methos stood, and Neal knelt by the low table and opened the sketchbook. The back cover had a zippered pocket, from which Neal carefully removed a folded piece of yellowed newsprint. He unfolded it gingerly, and spread out a faded pencil sketch of Phillipe Cartier in his uniform. Darling Boy.

“I was going to tell you yesterday, but when Madeleine got here, I forgot all about it.” He looked around at the silent faces studying his sketch. “My mother's grandfather was in the army with Phillipe Cartier.”

“So that's why you wanted the painting?” Joe asked.

“Yes. I really wanted to see it, and I got a job as a stablehand out at Cartier's museum, hoping I might get a glimpse of it. I'm still living at the estate, but no one's paying the staff right now, so I took this job with Adam.”

“Did you get to see it?”

“It wasn't really part of the collection. I knew Mme. Danforth kept the collection in the private wing, but I didn't know what she would do with the portrait. They have a public museum out there, and I thought maybe she'd show it there. My great-grandfather was certain that Cartier would keep it, since it was a picture of Phillipe. But I never got to see it. Mme. Danforth kept it up at the house.”

This was very interesting, but Joe was still struggling to connect all this with the newspaper article. The Highlander, also, had not lost the point. His tone was gentler, but still demanding.

“Neal, tell us the rest. What does Darling Boy have to do with Rue du Village?”

Neal blushed. “That's the part I wasn't going to tell you.” He turned the newsprint over to show the sketch on the other side. It was of a country road with village houses. “My great-grandfather and Phillipe Cartier found some paintings which had been stolen by the Nazis. One of them was Rue du Village, by Pissaro. My great-grandfather painted Darling Boy over the top of Rue du Village. But Phillipe was killed before they could smuggle it back to Paris, and later, my great-grandfather took it to Cartier when he couldn't keep it, himself. But he didn't tell the old man what it was. He thought some day he could get it back.”

“And sell it for a small fortune,” the Highlander supplied, dryly.

Methos looked puzzled. “But I've seen the Rue du Village in the Louvre.”

“The Louvre has one,” Neal agreed. “Or had, until last night.”

MacLeod nodded, as understanding hit them all. “The painting stolen from the Louvre is a forgery.”

Neal nodded. “Whoever has Darling Boy has the real one.”

Belatedly, Joe realized that the questioning had been taken out of his hands, after all. And he was still suspicious.

“You got a job, where? Just so you could seethe portrait? Did you plan to steal it back?”

“No,” Neal finally sounded irritated at the accusations. “I'd kind of like to have it, but I couldn't sell it. Who'd believe the provenance if I stole it? Besides, there's a properly appraised and authenticated Rue du Village at the Louvre. I just wanted to see it. You know, to see if my great-grandfather's story was true. I guess it was. At least, Darling Boy is real.”

“And both Darling Boy and Rue du Village were stolen last night,” Methos mused aloud. “Neal, who else knew about this?”

“No one.” The boy's eyes were large. “It's been a family secret, and I'm the only family left.”

“What I want to know,” MacLeod said, shaking the newspaper, “is who authenticated the Pissaro. The article says it was lost during the war, and came to light recently, but it doesn't say who found it or how it was authenticated.”

Methos perked up. “Easy enough to look up. C'mon, Neal, let's you and me go do some research. Joe, mind the store will you?” The bell on the door tinkled as Methos opened it.

“Hey! I have my own store to mind!”

Methos looked back. “You don't open up until 4:00. This won't take long.”

“I've got a guy coming ...” The door closed behind them. “... to replace my door,” Joe finished. He stamped his cane in frustration. His mood was not improved when he turned to see the Highlander looking amused.

“Can you believe that guy?” he demanded.

MacLeod smiled a smug smile. “Hey, you told me not to try to figure it out.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“Why don't you just hang the 'closed' sign and lock up?”

 

“Great idea, Mac, but I don't have a key.”

“Ahh,” MacLeod said, and started walking toward the door, brandishing something. “But I do.”

He paused at the door, and something changed. Joe suddenly had goosebumps. MacLeod had gone alert and tense, looking out the window. Joe started toward him. “What is it?”

“The police.” MacLeod opened the door and stepped outside. Joe joined him as quickly as he could.

Two uniformed policemen had stopped Neal and Methos on the far side of the street. They were all talking beside the squad car.

“Uh oh,” Joe said.

“Yeah,” MacLeod muttered, then crossed the street to join them. Joe watched as MacLeod was included in the conversation. Then the officers and Neal got in the squad car. Methos leaned down and spoke to Neal's window. The car pulled away, and Methos slapped it as it went. The two immortals returned to Joe, looking pensive.

“What is it?”

“You remember that list we made of things the fiancé can do to the boy?” Methos said. “We left something off.”

“What's that?” Joe asked.

“We left off 'have him thrown in jail'.”

Scene 7

Joe accompanied MacLeod to the police station, despite the fact that he had work to do at his own place. MacLeod was his assignment and he didn't want to miss anything. Methos, to Joe's surprise, declined to accompany them. He said it would help Neal more if he did some research.

The police station hummed with activity. Crowds of people milled about, trying to find the right official to speak to. Joe took the opportunity to track Rousseau's movements through the bureaucracy, and learned that his manager had already finished his report and left. Joe hoped he had returned to the unguarded bar.

Finding MacLeod again was not difficult; the Highlander stood taller than the general population. Joe joined him where he stood speaking to a severe looking young woman in ugly glasses. She looked familiar.

“No, Mr. MacLeod,” she was saying, with the strict tones of a hall monitor catching a truant student, “Starkweather is in isolation. No one sees him tonight. And tomorrow, only his advocate, if he has one.”

Joe could tell by the Highlander's body language that he was bringing his seductive skills to bear on the problem of ingratiating himself with the young woman.

“He will have one,” MacLeod declared. “But, Inspector Boudet ... is 'Inspector' your first name, by the way?”

“It is to you. Now, I am very busy ...”

Crash and burn.

Joe tried to join them surreptitiously, but his gait alone called attention to him.

To his surprise, the woman glanced at him, and then her eyes widened in what could only be recognition. Darn it, where did Joe know her from?

“Of course you are,” MacLeod was saying, “I can see that. When my friend Richard was in your custody, I admired your professionalism and your compassion. I know you would understand how a young man in Starkweather's position must feel.”

So that's where Joe knew her from; she had arrested Richie. Odd though; Joe had seen little of her during that incident.

“I'm sure he feels very angry to have been caught,” she replied, not taking her gaze from Joe.

MacLeod turned to see what she was looking at, and nodded to Joe. “Inspector Boudet, this is ...”

“Mr. Joe Dawson,” she said with warmth, extending her hand.

Joe took it in some surprise. “Inspector ... have we met?”

“Jacqueline, please. I have been to your establishment many times, for the pleasure of hearing you sing.”

“Well, thank you.” Joe threw MacLeod a glance. “I'm sorry we didn't meet. You should come again soon. Not tonight, though; I may not be open. Someone broke into my place and stole my computer.”

“Oh? And have we sent a detachment to investigate?”

“It was considered too minor a burglary.”

Boudet's expression darkened. “Is that what they told you? Accept my apologies, Mr. Dawson. We'll have someone over to Le Blues Bar right away.”

“I appreciate it,” Joe said. “Call me Joe, please.” He couldn't resist flashing a triumphant look at the mute Highlander beside him.

Boudet excused herself to go and speak to a uniformed officer.

MacLeod looked at him.

Joe stared straight ahead.

“Ah, Joe, remember we're here to try to talk to Neal?” MacLeod said.

Joe put up a reassuring hand. “It's under control, MacLeod.”

Boudet returned. “They'll come by this afternoon,” she said. “Is there anything else I can help you with?” She asked Joe; MacLeod she only gave a passing glance.

“Actually, we're here about Neal Starkweather. Can you tell me what he's charged with?”

“I really can't discuss it in any detail,” she said with apparent regret. “He is a friend of yours?”

“Er, yes.”

“I'm afraid your friend is looking at a very long stay in prison. He is charged with the theft of a Pissaro from the Louvre. You may have seen it in the media.”

“What evidence do you have to charge him with?” MacLeod asked.

Boudet gave him an extremely cold look, and replied, “I am not at liberty to say. You will have to read about it in the newspaper like everyone else.”

“MacLeod,” Joe put in, before the Highlander could respond. “Why don't you give Adam a call and find out what he's learned?”

MacLeod tightened his lips, but yielded. “All right,” he said. “Excuse me.” He moved away and took out his cell phone.

“Jacqueline,” Joe said, “any time you come to my place, you find me, and I'll be sure you don't pay for your drinks.”

Boudet removed her glasses, revealing a model-pretty face and bone structure. She smiled at Joe. “This wouldn't be a bribe would it?”

“Not at all, not at all. What club owner doesn't want the police in his place? The drinks are mine; I can give them to anyone I like.”

“Do you give free drinks to Mr. MacLeod?”

“Him? No way. He pays.”

Boudet grinned broadly, and Joe grinned back. His heart made a funny thumping squeeze inside his rib cage.

Boudet replaced her glasses and sighed. “We found the Pissaro under Mr. Starkweather's bed where he is staying on the Cartier estate. He must have had inside accomplices, for I doubt he could have broken into the vault in Restorations without help. If he cooperates and names his accomplice, he may get a lighter sentence. Otherwise, there is not much to be done for him. The courts take a dim view of art theft.”

Joe's thoughts raced. What was the boy mixed up in? Had he stolen Darling Boy as well? Was the one beneath his bed the fake or the cleaned off Darling Boy? Joe realized his ignorance was a stumbling block. He didn't know how difficult the clean-up would be. Both paintings had only been missing for twelve hours or so.

“What made you suspect him?”

“We had a tip,” she answered, simply.

A tip. Interesting.

“Jacqueline,” Joe said, hoping he wasn't making matters worse, “I don't know what Neal has told you, but MacLeod and I have reason to believe that the painting stolen from the Louvre might have been a forgery.”

At this, and possibly because the Highlander returned to their little group, Boudet retreated behind a flawless poker face, giving Joe no idea of what she was thinking.

“Did Adam learn anything, Mac?” Joe asked.

“Not yet. He said he'll call. Inspector, have you heard Starkweather's story?”

“I am not at liberty to discuss this with you. You will excuse me.” With a genial nod at Joe, she suited action to her words, and moved away, toward the guarded hallways which, Joe assumed, housed the cells.

“I see you didn't sweet talk 'Jacqueline' into letting us in to see Neal,” MacLeod said.

“Never figured you for a sore loser, MacLeod.”

Joe had not stopped watching Boudet and now he saw her upbraiding a plainclothesman who had some duty associated with the guarded hallway. Beside him, just emerging from the hall, was a beautiful young woman with beacon bright red hair.

“Mac! That's Madeleine. She's been in to see him.”

Under normal circumstances, Joe would not have had a chance of keeping up with the Highlander as they hurried over to the cells, but the crowd which impeded MacLeod parted for Joe, and they arrived together.

“Inspector!” Madeleine was saying. She dabbed at the tears which streamed down her fair face. “Please do not blame him. I played on his sympathies. He was very kind.”

“She is his fiancée,” the man protested. “I stayed with them the whole time.”

“She is nothing of the sort!” bellowed a portly, middle-aged man who emerged from a second guarded hallway. His clothes were very well-cut, and what remained of his wispy hair was a faded hue of Madeleine's scarlet mane.

“I don't care if she was the Magdalen,” Boudet said, still to the plainclothesman.

“I am his fiancée!” Madeleine declared. “We are engaged. I am not marrying Girard, Papa; you might as well get used to it.”

“You think you'll marry that thieving worm? Enjoy your wedding night with him in prison!”

“M. Pouchet,” Boudet asked. “The painting?”

“Yes, yes. That's it, all right. Where do I sign?”

A uniformed officer slid some paperwork along the counter. Pouchet signed the top form with a flamboyant flourish.

Madeleine spotted Joe. “M. Dawson!” she called.

Boudet turned and eyed the two arrivals with something less than pleasure. Or else, Joe thought, she was still angry with the plainclothesman.

Madeleine came forward, through the door in the counter, both hands held out to Joe. Joe balanced carefully so that he could take them in both his own hands.

“M. Dawson, Neal is innocent! He had nothing to do with this! My father will not believe it, and the police found a stolen painting beneath his bed.”

Joe patted her hands awkwardly. “Madeleine, we're going to do everything we can to help him.”

She realized then, that Joe was not alone, and looked politely at MacLeod. Joe saw the effect the Highlander had so often on women strike her, and she blinked through her tears.

“This is Duncan MacLeod,” Joe said. Something about holding the gloved hands of an elegant Frenchwoman made him more formal than usual, and he completed the introduction. “Duncan MacLeod, meet Mademoiselle Madeleine Pouchet.”

Madeleine swiftly produced a handkerchief from her pocketbook, wiped her eyes, and held out her hand, gloved palm down.

MacLeod took it and bowed slightly over her hand.

“M. MacLeod. Such a pleasure to meet you. May I say how sorry I am that we have all lost Tessa Noel. Her work had such passion and beauty. She must have been an extraordinary woman.”

MacLeod looked understandably surprised. “She was. Thank you.”

Joe, too, was impressed, since he knew for a fact that Madeleine had first heard of Tessa yesterday, at Shakespeare and Co.

“You are, I believe, the celebrated owner of Darling Boy.”

“I was,” MacLeod said, with a glance at Joe. “I'm afraid it was stolen last night.”

This news had an extraordinary effect on her. Joe saw her flushed face lose all color, making her skin a ghostly contrast to her firey hair.

“Madeleine!” called her father. “We're going.”

The girl might not have heard. She stared at MacLeod, unmoving.

MacLeod frowned. “Madeleine, is there anything you can tell us?”

“Madeleine!” Pouchet swooped in without a glance at his daughter's companions, and took her by the arm.

Joe's last view of her as she and her father exited the station, was of her pale face looking back at them.

“Hmm,” said MacLeod thoughtfully, but before Joe could ask him what he was thinking, MacLeod's cell phone rang. He spoke on it for a few moments, while Joe searched, for no real reason, for a glimpse of the trim form of Inspector Boudet.

MacLeod put the phone away. “Well, that explains why Pouchet was here,” he said. “Identifying the Rue du Village for the police?”

“Why? Why him?'

“He's the one who brought the Rue du Village forward to the world two years ago, from an undisclosed source.”

Joe caught his breath.

“Where did he get it?” Joe asked.

“He doesn't have to say,” MacLeod replied. “It's not uncommon for war booty to be turned over anonymously. It might not reflect well on the owner.”

“So how do they know it's genuine?”

“Usually they get a team of appraisers, experts in that particular artist, to come to a consensus. That's not what Pouchet did. He relied on a single, highly respected appraiser, and his word was considered sufficient. Guess who.”

“Not Delanoye.”

“You got it.”

“So, if they knew the real one existed, they would have to get a hold of it,” Joe said. “Would they destroy it? The real thing?”

“They may have already.”

“Mac, Darling Boy is the only proof Neal has of his story. They set him up.”

“If they think they can sell it to a collector somewhere, there's a chance they still have it. Let's go, Joe. We don't need to talk to Neal anymore.”

“We don't?”

“I wanted to ask him again who he had talked to about the Pissaro under Darling Boy.”

“He said no one. It was a family secret.”

“Remember lovers, Joe? When he said 'no one' he wasn't counting his girlfriend.”

Scene 8

They met Methos and Amanda at one of Amanda’s favorite cafes, Aux Villes Du Nord. The rich smell of the Arabic coffee blend and the colorful bustle of the patrons gave Joe an odd feeling of guilt. Here they were enjoying the lovely afternoon while Neal languished in jail. He shook the feeling off.

Amanda glanced around at the glum male faces and announced, “Well, I had a lovely morning, anyway. What’s the matter with everyone?” She arranged the large shopping bags by her feet, and crossed her shapely legs beneath the small round table.

“We have a friend who’s in jail,” MacLeod told her. “I doubt if the police will even investigate Neal’s story,” he said to the others.

“Why should they?” Joe asked. “Without Darling Boy, he has no proof.”

“And if they have any sense,” said Methos, “they’ll have destroyed Darling Boy by now.”

“Mac was thinking they might keep it if they think they can sell it somewhere.”

Methos nodded. “But it’s hot, hot, hot. They have to get out of the country with it.”

“They were very busy last night,” Joe said. “How did they do the Louvre?”

“That part’s easy,” Methos said. “Pouchet’s on the Board of Directors.”

MacLeod snorted. “Your place probably gave them more trouble, Joe. We need something solid to give the police.”

“We could try to talk to the crane operator,” said Methos.

“Who?”

“I was thinking about our construction accident. Neal could have been its target.”

The waiter entered into the silence that followed, and no one said anything as he cleared away the dishes.

“So they’re willing to kill,” Joe said when he was gone.

“At least Neal is safe in jail,” MacLeod said with a grim expression. “They must have decided that was the best they could do.”

“Is this the Neal you thought might have broken in to Joe’s place?” Amanda asked.

“Yes, but he’s in jail for stealing a Pissaro from the Louvre. He’s been set up,” MacLeod told her.

“A Pissaro?” asked Amanda. “You mean the copy of Rue du Village?”

Everyone looked at her.

“How …” MacLeod looked around at the others. “How did you know it was a forgery?”

“Honey, art is my business. I mean, it was my business. You know, I’m legit now.”

“But, but …”

“Amanda!”

“It was a friend of mine! I know his work.” She shrugged.

Joe glanced at both MacLeod and Methos before they all returned to staring at Amanda.

“A friend?” MacLeod asked. “You know the forger?”

“’Copyist,’ please. Forger is such an ugly term.”

“Amanda,” said Methos, leaning over his coffee cake, “the forger can tell us who commissioned the copy. That’s something solid for the police.”

“No, that’s not a good idea,” she said.

“Why not?” demanded MacLeod. “Who is it?”

“Honey,” she frowned, “you should let me talk to him.”

“Why? Amanda!”

Amanda’s glance flicked at Joe, for no apparent reason, and then Joe knew. He even thought he knew who it was. And so would Methos.

“Someone with a long lifeline, eh, Amanda?” Joe asked. “Prone to occasional lightning accidents?”

Amanda gave him an irritated look.

“It’s one of us?” MacLeod cried.

Joe could feel the Highlander’s ire mounting. MacLeod had very little tolerance for wrongdoing on the part of his fellow immortals.

Amanda widened her eyes at Joe and tipped her head sideways, toward MacLeod.

“Kasoulos,” said Methos.

“You know him, too?”

Joe feared MacLeod was about to come out of his seat.

“I make it my business to know all of us in the area. He’s minded his own business for a couple of decades, now, I think.”

“And his business is forgery.”

“No,” Amanda said, “he makes copies and sells them. As copies.”

“He makes very good copies.”

“He’s had a lot of practice. Centuries. Duncan, what his clients do with them is their affair.”

“Where is he?”

Everyone at the table knew except MacLeod. Fortunately for Joe’s peace of mind, it was Methos who gave him the address.

In the end, MacLeod went alone. Joe desperately wanted to “watch,” but Methos reminded him that he had only a few hours in which to get his door fixed if he intended to be open tonight. The police were coming, too, Joe remembered. MacLeod would not have minded Methos’ company, Joe felt, but Methos remained adamant about staying away from other immortals. Amanda offered to come, but MacLeod absolutely refused. And she yielded rather easily, Joe thought.

“I just want Neal out of jail, MacLeod,” Methos said as MacLeod left. “Try not to kill the guy.”

“Very funny.”

But it wasn't funny. Joe realized that the atmosphere at the table had changed. His own pulse was pounding with the realization that MacLeod was approaching an unknown immortal. Joe had long ago stopped thinking of these three as potential antagonists, but, in reality, every encounter between immortals could turn deadly. Methos' joke had made that explicit, as had his open refusal to go anywhere near Kasoulos. That, Joe was sure, was what was behind MacLeod's refusal to bring Amanda along, and she, too, seemed to be willing to avoid the meeting.

But, as he learned, her motive was somewhat different. As soon as MacLeod was gone, Amanda took out her cell phone and began rooting through her handbag.

"What are you doing, Amanda?" asked Methos.

"If I've got his number … ah! I do."

"Who are you calling?"

"Kasoulos, of course. I did mention we are friends?"

"Amanda," Methos said, "we need him to talk to MacLeod. We need him to talk to the police."

"And we need him not to run when he feels an immortal at his … hello, Lambis? This is Amanda, sweetheart. How are you? Yes? That's marvelous. Listen, my dear, I have a friend coming to see you. I'd really appreciate it if you'd be nice to him. No, he's not business. In fact, he'll be a bit, oh, I guess you could say, hostile to your line of work. What's more, he's, ah, you know, one of us. No, no, Honey, please! He's a dear friend, and he needs your help. Please, Lambis, don't be that way. It's Duncan MacLeod. You know, the man who got old Cartier's collection."

There was a long pause, and Amanda gave Joe and Methos a triumphant grin.

"Oh, Sweetheart, he hasn't released to the press half of what's in that collection. You could work a trade."

Joe's mouth fell open. He looked at Methos, and the other immortal also wore an astonished expression.

"Now don't you dare tell him I told you this, but you could say you'd trade for the chance to copy a Picasso, if he had one. Yes, he does, and no, I'm not telling you which one. No, my lips are sealed. You just say that, hypothetically, if he had one, you'd love the chance to copy it. Yes. Yes, he has two or three of those. Listen, he matters a lot to me, and if you give away that I told you this, I will personally come over and remove the fingers on your painting hand." She smiled sweetly. "I love you, too. Oh, and another thing. If he starts harping on your profession and going on and on about how immoral it is, you just remind him that you're not doing anything illegal, okay? Remember to keep saying you aren't breaking the law. That should shut him up. You aren't doing anything illegal, are you? I mean, something I don't know about? 'Cause if you are, get it out of sight. I mean it. No, I'd better let him explain that. Please help out, Lambis. Besides getting you some fantastic new material, you'll be helping out the course of true love. Hey! I can be romantic. What do you mean? I'm perfectly serious. True Love. You're a peach, Charalambos. You have my number? Call me. Smooches."

She put away her phone and transformed from a woman who said "smooches" into a woman who removed fingers, at need. "Don't either of you dare say anything to Duncan."

"Not a chance," Joe said.

Methos made a zipping motion across his lips, and grinned broadly.

 

Scene 9

They all adjourned to Le Blues Bar, where Rousseau and the police were cataloguing the crime scene. Joe thought the other two immortals might want to separate to their own homes, or, in Amanda's case, to the barge, but there was still an apprehensive feeling between the three of them - waiting to hear what had happened.

The afternoon lengthened. Joe made sure the police included in their notes Neal's story that Darling Boy had been painted over the real Rue du Village. Amanda avoided the police by going into the Ladies' to try on her new outfits, but she joined Joe at the bar once they were gone. They still couldn't talk much, with Rousseau helping Joe prepare the bar to open. Methos, also restless, came across a set of drum traps and began trying them out. Joe's experienced ear heard him fumble with the unaccustomed set at first, then settle in as if he were an accomplished percussionist.

Amanda rested her forehead in one hand. "How can you stand that noise, Joe?" she asked.

Joe continued drying glasses. "I'm a musician; I'm used to it. I should have known he was a drummer."

"Why?"

Joe smiled. "Every drummer I've ever known was really weird."

Amanda smiled, drumming her manicured fingernails on the bar.

The man came to work on Joe's back door, and that kept Joe busy until opening time. Joe's staff arrived, and Rousseau took charge of them.

Still no word.

Joe considered calling Kasoulos's Watcher.

Amanda's cell phone rang. She started, as if she'd never heard it before, then waved to Methos. She took the phone and hurried into Joe's office. Joe and Methos followed her.

"Hello? Lambis, good. How are you, Honey? How did it go?"

She listened, her eyes going wide in alarm.

Methos fidgeted. Joe would have, too, but he'd lost much of his fidgeting ability when he'd lost his legs.

"He did? They did? Oh, no. Oh, Honey, I'm sorry. Where? Did they say where?"

She looked at Joe. "What does the girl look like?"

Joe exchanged surprised glances with Methos. "Madeleine? Why? Long red hair, elegant clothes."

Amanda nodded and returned to listening to the phone. "Did anyone see? Can you clean up? Thank you. Thanks for calling, Lambis. I owe you. I'm so sorry, sweetie. Okay. I'll let you know. Bye now."

Amanda clicked off her phone.

"What?!" cried both men.

"Two men named Delanoye and Pouchet came by his place. They're the ones, right?"

"Yes, what?!"

"Looks like they came to kill Lambis - I suppose to tie up loose ends. They didn't know Duncan would be there, and they shot him, too."

"They shot them both?" Methos asked.

Amanda nodded. "Delanoye did the shooting. Lambis thinks he was forcing the other man."

Joe went cold. "What about Madeleine?"

Amanda winced. "She's like a hostage. The other man's her father, right?"

"Shit!"

"Wha … where? Did he know where they were going?"

"The Cartier museum. Somehow they plan to leave the country from there."

"Where's MacLeod?"

"That's the thing." Amanda's eyes widened, and she bit her lip. "They took his body in the trunk of their car."

Scene 10

They piled into Methos' Volvo, and Methos threaded through Paris traffic more aggressively than Joe thought possible. The Cartier estate was a good half hour out of the city - the other side of the city. Joe tried to dial the police as the car careened around corners and made abrupt lane shifts.

"Adam, please remember not everyone in the car can recover from death," Amanda called from the back seat. “And the rest of us aren’t fond of it.”

"Shut up, Amanda," Methos said, swerving suddenly into a parking lane which was free of cars for only four car lengths, and then swerving back into traffic just before he would have rear-ended the parked Vauxhall ahead of him.

Joe studied the phone, resolving not to look up until they were out of town. He checked that his seat belt was latched.

“Why did they take only MacLeod’s body?” Methos asked as a red light forced him into vehicular inactivity before the entrance to the A6.

“I don’t know, but …” Amanda paused. “Lambis could have a lot of enemies. But the police could put two and two together if Duncan were found there, too.”

To his frustration, Joe was unable to reach Boudet. He left a panicked message on her voice-mail, begging her to come to the Cartier museum. He tried to explain the situation to the police emergency line, Amanda helpfully correcting his French from the rear. By then they were out of the crush of Paris traffic, but the countryside traffic was not much lighter. Methos continued to push the envelope and abuse his car in order to pass anyone in his way.

Darkness had fallen by the time they reached the one-time home of Jacques Cartier, his son Phillipe, and daughter Gisela. The ornate iron gate stood open, though a heavy lock and chain draped from one of the gate doors. A drive led into the forested estate.

"He said the museum, right?" Methos asked.

Amanda confirmed it, and Methos sped around the curving dirt drive, past the old house, braking in a cloud of dust before the now-closed estate museum.

Joe climbed out as swiftly as he was able, but the nimbler immortals were well ahead of him. Methos looked back in some concern.

"Go, go," Joe said. "I'm coming."

The front door also proved to be unlocked, and Methos and Amanda vanished through it. Moments later, Joe was also through the door, blinking in the dim interior light.

"Yes, they were here. What is this outrageous behavior?" a diminutive, elderly woman was saying. "M. Delanoye was waving a gun about! And him a museum regent!"

"Madame, please," Methos said. "What did they say? Was a young woman with them? Where did they go? It's very important."

"I should hope it's important. Such behavior. They took a painting." She motioned at what might have been a closet or other storage. "M. Delanoye held his fiancée very roughly. I actually thought he might shoot me! Thank God for M. Pouchet."

"Where did they go?"

"I don't know. They drove onto the grounds."

"Please, Madame, call the police."

"I don't need you to tell me that, young man!" She stalked off in dignity.

“Maybe we can catch up to them in the Volvo,” Joe said.

Methos nodded, his lips in a tight line. “We'd be more help to him if we had weapons,” he said. “Do you have your revolver?”

“Revolver?! You mean my .45!” Joe pulled aside his coat to show it. Trust a 5000 year old bookworm to know nothing about guns.

Methos shook his head, irritably. “That's what I meant. At least it's one weapon.”

“I don't know what you're complaining about,” Amanda joked. She flipped on a light switch, illuminating the museum showroom. “We're surrounded by weapons. How are you with a crossbow?” She flipped one elegant wrist toward the display case beside her.

Joe rolled his eyes, but Methos looked at her, then at the display cases. In a moment he was before one, looking up at a collection of lances.

“Amanda,” he ordered, “pick this lock for me.”

“We're in a hurry,” she pointed out. “Just break the glass.”

Methos turned an appalled expression on her. “Break the glass! Do you have any idea how much a case like this costs? Do you know how slim the budget for overhead has to be in a place like this?” He stepped aside as Amanda joined him.

“Oh really,” she said, producing a lockpick and starting to work. “Some vandal you'd make.”

Amanda may have missed the sharp look Methos gave her, but Joe didn't. He wondered what that was about.

Methos hefted two of the lances, considering.

“Joe, you and Amanda try to find them in the Volvo." He gave Amanda the keys. "I'll get there when I can.”

“How?” asked Amanda.

“Neal was a stableboy here, so there must be stables.”

“You're going on horseback?!” Amanda cried, a mixture of delight and dismay in her voice. “Are you completely Bedlam?”

“They were on the left as we came in,” Joe said, weak with relief that Methos hadn't tried to leave him behind.

“A horse can cover this ground even better than a car. And the horse will know the terrain. We don't. The horse might even know where they go. Now you two get going.”

“This is nuts,” Amanda complained, but her eyes sparkled as she handed Joe the car keys and began work on the lock on the crossbow case. Joe wondered what he was supposed to do with the keys, since he couldn't drive the Volvo, then realized it was a hint to precede the swifter Amanda to the car, while she appropriated weapons. Practical but tactful, our Amanda.

Joe started out, behind the exiting Methos, who had selected both a lance and a shield. Oh, this should be good. I hope he can use those and stay on a horse.

Scene 11

In the absence of a better plan, Joe and Amanda headed for the highest ground on the estate. Perhaps, Joe thought, they would be able to see from there if there were any obvious escape routes off the rear of the grounds.

Before long, Joe understood the value of taking a horse. Amanda steered the Volvo headlong into the dark, repeatedly surprised by ditches, streams, and dense underbrush. Amanda showed no concern for the welfare of Methos' property. The headlights were vital in the moonless night, but didn't illuminate far enough for the speeds Amanda set. Additionally, their light blinded them for seeing anything else. The car was visible and noisy.

“Turn off the lights, Amanda,” he advised.

“And have no idea where I'm going?”

“You already have no idea where you're going!”

Amanda killed the lights. They were immediately blinded in the night, and Amanda reflexively slowed, for which Joe was grateful. He took advantage of the relative quiet to listen.

“That way!” he pointed. “I hear a chopper!”

Their course intercepted a dirt drive, and, since it seemed to head directly for the sound of the helicopter, Amanda took it. It led them to the crest of a hill. Amanda slowed as they approached light and noise, and halted the Volvo just short of the entrance to a helopad. The ground lights on the pad illuminated the scene.

The helicopter on the pad was well past runup, Joe saw, and able to launch immediately. Five men lay strewn upon the ground, dead or unconscious. One of them must have yielded his weapon, for MacLeod, silhouetted tall among the bodies, held a gun. He was preparing to surrender it, however, for, though he stood between the chopper and Pouchet and Delanoye, Delanoye held a gun to the head of Madeleine Pouchet.

“Papa!” she screamed.

The sound of the Volvo's arrival had been masked by the chopper noise, and, with the headlights off, they were, so far, unnoticed. And they clearly had to be the cavalry. Amanda began struggling to load and cock an unfamiliar crossbow in the dark.

“Joe,” she whispered, pretty calmly, he thought, for someone who was about to enter a modern melee with a medieval weapon, “can you drop him from here?”

“And miss Madeleine? Not a chance!”

“Do you know where to shoot to disable a helicopter?”

“Not with a handgun!”

“Get ready to give it a shot, anyway.” Her white teeth glinted in the dark. “So to speak.”

Joe shook his head. He had long ago learned that the problem with shooting at an enemy was that they usually shot back. He guessed the helicopter had no one in it who was armed, or they would have shot MacLeod by now, but he wasn't going to stake his life on it. The Highlander could have been shot and still be standing.

He needed better cover than a windshield. A plan would be useful, too, but he'd operated without those before.

Amanda had managed to open the car door soundlessly, before she slipped into the shadows, so he gave it a try. He used his cane to lever himself to the ground where he could pull himself beneath the car. Cars made problematic cover, he knew, but it was better than nothing. And he couldn't go far. His prostheses on the gravel were far from soundless. Peering out from under the grill, he surveyed the scene again.

MacLeod's gun was no longer in his hand, and Delanoye moved the rigid Madeleine forward. He gestured at the Highlander with his gun, and MacLeod backed further off. Pouchet followed the appraiser and his daughter, holding something portrait-sized. Delanoye yelled, but Joe couldn't hear him through the sound of the chopper blades.

Well, when was he supposed to shoot? And what could Amanda do, anyway, with a single shot from a crossbow? If he shot and startled Delanoye ... He needed Delanoye to take his gun from Madeleine's temple, and he needed him to be near MacLeod when he did it.

As if MacLeod had read his mind, the Highlander moved. He made a calculated feint, just enough to draw Delanoye's attention and bring the gun around to point at him. Delanoye yelled, and gestured again with the gun. MacLeod did not move. Joe recovered his bead on the helicopter, but just before he squeezed off a shot, a crossbow bolt flew from somewhere to his left and buried itself in the dirt a few feet in front of Delanoye. Startled, the man fired wildly. Madeleine struggled, kicking.

An almost forgotten discipline kept Joe from the temptation to change targets from the helicopter to Madeleine's captor. Madeleine might get free of Delanoye, and then ... no, MacLeod was there. Trust your buddies to do their parts, a sergeant's voice from his past spoke in Joe's head. And the helicopter was lifting.

His heart aching with fear for the struggling girl, Joe fired four braced, carefully aimed shots at the climbing chopper. The sound of a second shot from Delanoye snapped Joe's frightened gaze back to the fray, where he saw MacLeod stagger to one knee. Delanoye swung his weapon around, his back to the wounded Highlander, past Madeleine, whom he now held only by the hair, searching for the source of Joe's shots. Joe still couldn't be sure of missing Madeleine if he tried a shot.

Pouchet broke and ran, heading for the other side of the clearing. Joe saw, to his surprise, that once the chopper had cleared the cluster of people, it had begun settling on the far side of the clearing. For a moment Joe thought he'd been spectacularly successful at something which really only worked in the movies, but then he realized that the chopper pilot had simply rearranged the playing field, like a football game where the goal suddenly switched ends. And Pouchet still held the portrait.

Joe aimed for Pouchet, but a shot from Delanoye pierced the radiator above him and sprayed him with scalding, hissing fluid. Goddamn! He pulled back, ran a hand across his face, spat out the sickly sweet taste of antifreeze, and aimed again. He had no fear of another shot from Delanoye. He knew something the appraiser didn't.

Behind Delanoye the dark-clad Highlander rose like an avenging angel. He swooped down upon the horrified man and had him disarmed and immobile in seconds. MacLeod then had to contend with the furious Madeleine, who began pummeling Delanoye in the Highlander's arms, her wild hair a flickering flame in the groundlights. But Pouchet was out of range, his escape assured. Damn! With him went Neal's fate.

His fortune changed in seconds. From out of the forest came a spectre from another time. A mounted man with spear and shield, he lacked only a helmet to be a Roman cavalryman. The white horse and light colored clothing made a ghostly contrast to the dark trees behind. A sudden wind set the forest to whispering and stirred something wild in Joe's blood. Sweet Mother of God.

Methos held the spear pointed at the starlit sky, steering a magnificent borrowed mount with his knees, blocking every move Pouchet made toward the helicopter. Pouchet gestured widely, and the helicopter lifted again, a dark dragon, canting toward the thickest forest. A distant part of Joe's mind - the part not enthralled by the sudden eldritch scene -saw with delight the black stream of fluid trailing from its fuselage, glinting pink when it hit the light. A bleeding dragon.

In the startling silence left by the chopper, Joe heard every word. “Out of my way, you idiot!” Pouchet ordered. He continued trying to pass Methos despite the departure of the chopper. Joe realized Pouchet had only to reach the treeline and their chances of catching him in the dark became slim to none.

“But M. Pouchet, M. MacLeod still wants to talk to you,” the apparition replied mildly, still irritatingly maneuvering his horse to be always just in front of the man.

“Do you think you can stop me with a spear and a horse?” Pouchet mocked.

Methos laughed. It was not a mild sound. It sent shivers down Joe's back.

“Oh, M. Pouchet,” he replied, “don't get me started.” His smile was not mild, either.

What the hell? Joe snapped back to the real world. This was Adam! Wasn't it?

Pouchet, who was much closer to the smile, stumbled backward a step. Slowly, Methos lowered the spear tip to aim it at his heart.

“Adam!” Still holding Delanoye, MacLeod sounded horrified.

Pouchet ran. With trees on three sides, he had a choice of havens, but something had badly shaken him, for he ran toward the origin of the crossbow bolt. Methos merely raised the spear to a ready position; rider and mount wrapped in a shroud of stillness, waiting.

Fascinated, Joe watched for what Methos must have been expecting. Amanda, the final player on this stage, appeared from the trees. The wind had blown back the cowl of her fashionable short cape, revealing her yellow-white hair. The cape waved like dark wings as she held the crossbow aimed at Pouchet's chest. Her smile held malice, too.

Joe couldn't hold back an evil grin. Oh, buddy he thought with awe,you are in such deep kimshi.

Pouchet reversed course. In his panic, he dropped the portrait. Even running, he shouldn't have been a difficult target for her at such close range, but she didn't shoot.

Methos gave chase. Joe's blood ran cold at the sight of his bookish friend turned charging killer.

With the spear leveled at Pouchet's hapless back, bent low over the horse's neck, Methos bore down.

“Adam, don't!” MacLeod sounded desperate.

At the last moment, Methos reversed the spear in a beautiful, practiced motion, and, as he thundered by the man, tapped him with the horse's momentum, sending him sprawling to the ground. The horse pivoted back at his rider's command, as if, jousting, they had reached the end of the lists. He pranced.

Joe breathed again. That was it. They had won!

He began pulling himself out from under the car, reasoning that he couldn't afford the moments of pleased awe at what they had accomplished; not if he wanted to join the others in time to not miss anything. Fortunately, the open car door helped get him up. He reached in and added the Volvo's headlights to the field, then started toward MacLeod, his gun in one hand, watching for movement from the still forms crumpled near the helopad.

Amanda brought the portrait, and Methos brought Pouchet. The man was pale and shaking as he panted. “Get him off me,” he begged. Methos was on foot; holding the man in an armlock, and he looked for all the world amazed at Pouchet's plea. MacLeod took charge of him, and Joe didn't miss the dark look he gave the other immortal.

“Papa, how could you?” Madeleine wept.

“Madeleine, are you all right?” Pouchet gasped.

“What do you care?!” Then her French came so fast and virulent that Joe couldn't translate it anymore. She started kicking Delanoye again. Now holding both Delanoye and Pouchet, MacLeod couldn't restrain her. Amanda and Methos didn't try.

“Get those guys,” MacLeod ordered, tilting his head toward the unconscious men on the ground.

Amanda dangled a pair of handcuffs in front of MacLeod. “What, you left some alive?” she queried, innocently. MacLeod snatched the cuffs for his prisoners.

“Trust you to travel with handcuffs, Amanda,” Methos chuckled.

“Trust you to bring a spear to a crossbow fight.”

“You didn't even reload that crossbow,” he accused.

“But in the dark, who could tell? I don't think that thing has been oiled in a century. It's a bitch to cock.” Amanda and Methos moved away, dealing with the men MacLeod had already defeated. Five on one, Joe thought, impressed. And they were armed.

“Who are you people?” Pouchet asked. He was still badly shaken; a very different man than the one who had challenged Methos on the horse. Joe knew he wasn't imagining the ... the pleasure he had sensed in Methos. MacLeod had seen it too. Only Amanda seemed unconcerned.

“We're Cartier's guard ghosts,” MacLeod answered him, as he tried to stand between Madeleine's assaults and Delanoye. The appraiser had curled upon himself, as much as he could in MacLeod's grasp, to protect himself against her blows. She wasn't strong, but she wasn't kidding, either.

MacLeod looked helplessly at Joe. “Joe, could you ...” he nodded toward the furious Madeleine.

Joe returned his gun to a coat pocket, and put a hand on Madeleine's shoulder. “Madeleine, Madeleine,” he murmured, “that's not fair.”

The girl ceased abusing her ex-fiancé and turned to cry on Joe's shoulder, almost overbalancing him. He gave the Highlander a wry look. MacLeod smiled his thanks, and cuffed the other two men together. Released from Madeleine's violence, Delanoye also turned a shaken face on MacLeod.

“I shot you,” he said, wide-eyed.

“No, you didn't,” MacLeod responded, tying the free hands of the two men with his belt. The movement necessary to extract his belt revealed his blood-stained sweater beneath his coat. Delanoye stared at the non-wound, in wordless horror. MacLeod glanced at Joe.

Joe moved Madeleine back, and started removing his own sweater. “Madeleine, help me with this,” he said. The crying girl obeyed, supporting Joe when he had to move his cane from hand to hand. Beneath his sweater Joe wore a light turtleneck. Joe feared MacLeod would protest, but the Highlander removed his own sweater and accepted Joe's wordlessly. His unmarked torso was bare to view for a few seconds, and Delanoye repeated, “I shot you.”

“No, you didn't,” MacLeod also repeated, smoothing down the new sweater.

Amanda and Methos rejoined them. “Say Dad,” Methos asked, cheerfully, “if the horse follows me home, can I keep him?”

MacLeod grabbed Methos by the bicep and shook him. “No. What the hell was that?” he growled. Methos blinked and shrank.

“What was what?”

MacLeod released him. “You know what,” he scowled.

Methos moved away, into shadow. “I'll go take the horse and the weapons back,” he said. “I’ll check on the police, too.”

“Actually, Duncan,” Amanda said, giving MacLeod a peck on the cheek, “the constabulary and I are not on the best of terms.”

“Go, go,” MacLeod said. “Take the car.” He handed her the bundle of bloody clothes, which she accepted with apparent distaste. “We can say Joe came with me.”

“That's not what they'll say,” Joe pointed out, indicating the prisoners.

Methos returned to the light, leaned down to Delanoye's face and gave him That Smile. “But who'd believe them?” he asked.

“Get going!” MacLeod said, stepping toward Methos.

“Going! C'mon Amanda.”

“I'm coming. Too bad the helicopter got away.”

“It won't get far,” Joe said. Everyone looked at him. “Not leaking hydraulic fluid like that. And the police won't have much trouble identifying it when it comes down.”

Methos and Amanda looked pleased, but MacLeod, who probably knew how truly impossible such a shot was, looked impressed. “Damn, you're good, Joe,” he said.

“Just lucky.”

Damn I'm good.

 

Tag Scene

There was still an hour before Le Blues Bar would be open for the evening, but Methos was already in position on a bar stool, hands wrapped around his second beer. Joe mentally clucked his tongue. The man should be at Shakespeare and Co., trying to keep his own business afloat.

But Joe was in too good a mood to worry about him. He whistled as he cleaned the bar. Jacqueline had been to the bar three evenings in a row, now. The first two nights she had come with friends, but last night she had come alone. Joe had taken care to sing to her from the stage.

Speaking of romance …

“How's Neal doing?” Joe asked.

“Not too well,” Methos replied. “MacLeod's got him painting something, but I don't think he and Madeleine are doing very well.”

“So Madeleine is the one who told Delanoye about the Pissaro under Darling Boy?”

“She says she told her father, not Delanoye. Sounds like she accused her father.”

Methos looked up, eyes widening. “Company,” he announced in a wary tone. Both men looked toward the door.

MacLeod and Neal entered, Neal holding a package under his arm. Everyone exchanged greetings, and Neal and MacLeod took seats at the bar. Joe thought the boy looked rather somber.

“What's happened with the Pissaro, Joe?” MacLeod asked.

Joe took his attention from Neal and sighed. “The state appropriated it. National Treasure, you know.”

“Are they paying you?”

“I get a nice finder's fee, which should probably go to Neal.” Joe watched the boy for a response, but Neal seemed barely interested in the conversation. He stared blankly at the rectangular package he had brought in. He hadn't even pestered Joe for a drink.

“Finder's fee!” MacLeod exploded. “Pouchet got twelve million francs for the fake! Joe, we can fight this. I have attorneys who specialize in art suits.”

Joe sighed again. He had already decided that he didn't care to argue over a painting which properly belonged to whomever the Nazis had stolen it from, or their heirs.

“It's okay, MacLeod! It's not really mine to sell, you know?”

MacLeod looked at Methos and then back at Joe. “It's not right!”

“It's okay, Mac. Really. It'll probably end up in the Louvre, eventually, which ...” Joe added loudly, to drown out Methos’ sudden attempt to insert his opinion of that establishment, “is Where. It. Belongs.” He ended with a glare at the ancient immortal. Methos simmered, but held his peace.

“What I really hate” Joe continued, “is losing that portrait. I really liked it.”

“Well then ...” MacLeod grinned, and looked at Neal. The young artist looked up, interested at last, though Joe still hadn't seen that huge endearing grin the boy could flash. Neal glanced at MacLeod and pushed the package across the bar. Joe accepted it, studying the other three faces - MacLeod and Neal expectant; Methos curious.

Joe unwrapped a freshly painted duplicate of Darling Boy. “Oh,” he breathed.

It was beautiful. Neal may have tried to imitate his grandfather's style, but his own superior talent couldn't be stifled. The colors were more intense on the face, more subdued on the uniform. The features were clear but not sharp, the expression - the only description Joe could think of was, young. Heartbreakingly young, like most soldiers. “Oh,” Joe said again. The portrait was everything Joe had seen in the original, but this time, done well.

“Do you like it?” Neal asked.

Joe smiled at him. “I love it. It's great. Thank you.” Joe was sure he owed the thanks to MacLeod for the commission, but, from the immortal's smug look, he also knew he didn't need to reassure the Highlander of how much he liked it. MacLeod knew how good it was.

Neal smiled, relieved. But something was still not right with the boy, Joe was certain. Where was that enthusiasm, that huge grin? Joe turned the portrait over to Methos’ questing hands, and looked hard at Neal.

“What's wrong, Neal?” Joe asked.

“Nothing!” he replied, but he blushed.

Joe felt the immortals' attention on him. He ignored them.

“Kid,” Joe advised, shaking his head, “I hope you don't play poker. You're a lousy liar.”

“He and Madeleine had a fight,” MacLeod said.

“It's more than a fight,” Neal corrected. “She's leaving. She doesn't want to ever see me again.”

“What!” Methos exclaimed. “What do you mean, she's leaving?!”

“She's catching a plane today, to Bern. Her mother lives there. And she won’t ever see me again.”

Oh, no.

“Neal,” Joe asked, sternly, “you accused her of ratting on you to Delanoye, didn't you.”

“When's her plane? Does it leave from Orly?” Methos cried.

Neal glanced at Methos, looking confused. “Yeah. Tonight sometime.”

He looked back at Joe. “Well she did, didn't she? And how did you know?”

Joe sighed. He'd had a few of those fights, himself, in his time. God, but this boy was so young, it hurt. “She told her father, kid, isn't that right? If he was in trouble, she had to protect him. He's family. It's not the same.”

“The results are!” he protested, then slumped. “I said some things I shouldn't have. She threw me out when I said she only cared about money.”

“You said that!?” Methos yelped. He got to his feet, his hands at his temples.

Joe didn't think Methos’ histrionics were helping anything.

“Adam, sit down,” Joe ordered, slamming another beer in front of the man. Methos lowered his hands, but he still looked appalled.

Joe leaned on the bar in front of Neal, trying to block the other two men out. “Neal, you could still apologize.”

“I tried,” cried Neal. “Do you think I didn't try? She has an incredible temper. I didn't know she would take it this way!”

“Neal,” Methos said in a low and earnest tone, “you told a rich girl with a rich father and a rich fiancé, who was going to throw it all away for you, that she only cared about money? She was going to marry you, right?”

Neal nodded, miserably. “It’s off, now. She's gone.”

Methos strode to Neal's bar stool, and turned the boy to face him. Even MacLeod started at the sudden movement.

“No, she's not. Not yet. You go to the airport and try to head her off. You try anything you can. You say you're sorry. You beg for forgiveness. You buy flowers. You buy a ticket on her flight. You do anything. Do you understand?” Methos lifted an astonished Neal off the stool, then held out one palm toward MacLeod. “Car keys, MacLeod!” he ordered.

“The man has his pride, Adam,” MacLeod said gently, but he handed over the keys.

Still looking only at Neal, Methos pressed the keys into his hand with such force it shook the boy's whole frame. “Fuck pride! Neal, who is the most wonderful, amazing, beautiful, intelligent, funny, passionate woman you've ever met? Huh? Listen to me. If you let her go you will regret it every single day of the rest of your life. I mean it. Every single day. That's a lot of days to feel like shit. You go after her. You got it?”

The young artist looked dazed by Methos’ vehemence. Joe and MacLeod exchanged amazed glances, too.

“But ...”

“No buts! Trust me, Neal. You saved my life. Now I'm saving yours. You can find other women. Will you ever find another Madeleine?”

The tears which had been contained in the boy's eyes spilled over. “No,” he choked, and rushed out the door, keeping his face turned away from them.

Methos returned to the bar, shaking his head. The other two men watched in silence as he claimed his new beer.

He looked up at them. “What?”

“Nothing.” Joe grinned and resumed hooking up the CO2 canister on the fountain.

With careful casualness, MacLeod said, “She'll be back.”

“How do you know?” Methos asked.

“Well, she's not really giving everything up. While her father does jail time, she has to run the Academie and its holdings. And she's acquiring the famous and valuable Cartier Collection for their exhibit hall. So she'll be back in Paris.”

So, that's what MacLeod had decided to do with the Cartier Collection. Joe was pleased. He tightened the spigot on the beer tap a final turn, testing his own feelings. How many fortunes had he given up in the last week? The Cartier Collection, Delanoye's bribe money, and lastly, the Pissaro. Did he regret any of it? He couldn't find that he did. He just hoped the Highlander remembered that he owed Joe a new roof.

Methos smiled. “Good. I still hope he makes it.”

“So do I,” agreed MacLeod. “But I don't understand one thing. Why did he need my car?”

Oh Mac, you're catching on, Joe thought.

Methos reached for his beer. He glanced at Joe, his eyes dancing with mischief. “Well, I figured he couldn't work Joe's hand controls. He needed to hurry.”

“Yeah, but what's wrong with your car?”

Here it comes!

Methos looked surprised. “Well, Mac, I need my car.”

“What!” the Highlander yelled.

Joe burst out laughing. Methos took a swallow of beer, watching MacLeod sidelong.

“You ... you ...” MacLeod sputtered, his face turning red.

Methos set his beer down and gave MacLeod a gamine grin. MacLeod stopped sputtering, and hung his head briefly, in defeat. When he looked up he gave Joe a rueful smile. “Don't try to figure it out,” he said.

“I told you,” Joe replied, still grinning. They were all silent for a moment, each with his own thoughts.

MacLeod swiveled his stool, very deliberately, to face Methos full on.

“Adam,” he announced, “you're just an old romantic.”

“Duncan,” the other man responded, “you're just an old cynic.” He held up his bottle, and MacLeod clinked it with his glass.

They all laughed.

The End.