Prologue - Murder in the air
The Hunter watched as the two men ran down the street, away from him and the cab and the genuine police officers who had come over to see what the trouble was. For a moment, as the taller man had flashed a detective's badge, he had feared that the local constabulary was on to him. He knew he hadn't made a mistake in Los Angeles, but it was always possible that one of the detectives on the case had gotten lucky. But no, these two (not cops, not Immortals, something else) were obviously on the wrong trail.
He got back in the taxi. "Drive on, cabbie," he ordered.
The cabbie looked back at him through the mirror, meeting his eyes for the first time. There was a flare of recognition, of predator acknowledging predator, and then a flicker of re-evaluation and regret in the cabbie's eyes before he turned his attention back to the road. "Right you are, gov."
The man picked up a scabbard from the floor and laid it across his lap as he settled back into his seat. Lovingly, he stroked the scabbard and a smile touched his lips. The hunting would be good in London. He could feel it. And he knew just where to start.
Scene One - Return of the Prodigal
Methos felt the brush of Immortal presence even before the doorbell rang. He stiffened and automatically turned his head towards the front door, even as he heard his housekeeper hurry to answer the bell. It had been a long time - nearly five years - but something inside him recognized that buzz, a fragment of a connection that spoke of blood and desperation and ozone and grief. So he wasn't surprised when Mrs. Clarence opened the door to his study with an apology and a flustered announcement of "a Mr. MacLeod to see you, sir."
"Show him in," he said, sighing as he reluctantly turned away from the journal he'd been perusing. He had just reached the first confrontation between the author and the Master Criminal and, although he vividly remembered the exchange, he was curious as to how she had written it up. Based on the turbulence that followed in MacLeod's wake, he knew that it would be several days before he got back to his work.
The door burst open and MacLeod strode into the room. He looked good, better than the last time Methos had seen him, and he couldn't help giving MacLeod a long, appraising look. It appeared that exorcising his personal demons had been a very good thing, and Methos realized that the biggest problem wasn't going to be the interruption of his work, or even the inevitable chaos that followed in MacLeod's wake. It would be keeping his feelings about the man from becoming apparent - which, judging by the way his body had reacted, wouldn't be easy. He shifted slightly in his chair to conceal his inconvenient reaction.
MacLeod didn't appear to notice, which was not surprising giving his current level of agitation. "You need to get out of London," he said shortly. "Your life is in extreme danger."
Methos ignored this ridiculous statement as he methodically removed the gloves he'd been wearing while handling the century-old manuscript. "Lovely to see you, too, Mac."
MacLeod scowled. "Did you hear what I said? Your life - "
"- is in mortal peril, yes, I heard you." He looked past the Scot to his housekeeper, standing in the doorway. "Mrs. Clarence, we'll take tea in here, please."
She nodded and left the room, closing the door behind her, and Methos turned back to his unexpected guest. MacLeod's mad announcement had worked wonders on his libidinous thoughts and he was able to stand without completely embarrassing himself. "Did you just get into town? You're more than welcome to stay with me – I owe you for past hospitality, after all. How long did you say you'd be in London?"
MacLeod audibly ground his teeth and Methos tried not to smirk as he led the way to a pair of comfortably stuffed chairs placed in front of the fire. "I didn't say," MacLeod said shortly. "And thanks, but I'll check into a hotel as soon as I know you're safely out of town."
"And how is it that I am in danger - I assume the threat is an Immortal - and you're not?" Methos chose the chair nearest the fire; the one problem with living in London was the persistent damp at this time of the year.
MacLeod, appearing to finally realize that he wasn't going to be able to hustle Methos out the door without an explanation, set down the duffle bag he was carrying. "I don't know his name - Joe is still trying to find out - but he hunts newer Immortals," he said as he took the seat across from Methos. "He has a list, Methos. Not from the Watchers; Joe thinks he chats up older Immortals, finds out about their students or new Immortals they’ve heard about, maybe even gets names from the ones he kills, and he compiles a list based on city. When he gets enough, he hits that city and systematically hunts them down."
"And you think he's in London?"
"I'm almost certain of it. Claudia had a near-miss with him in Los Angeles - she was there giving a concert and he nearly got past her bodyguard. She was certain she saw him again at the airport - and she didn't make a secret of which flight she was taking. And if she's on that list, you almost certainly are as well."
Methos' mouth tightened - he had never had a high opinion of Claudia Jardine and this didn't do much to change that - but was prevented from making a caustic reply by the timely arrival of the tea tray. By the time Mrs. Clarence had poured their tea and left them to drink it, he had an adequate grip on his tongue and his temper.
"I take it you've already seen Ms. Jardine to safety?" he asked.
MacLeod nodded. "She's going to Italy and her bodyguard is on high alert. Joe's getting me a list of other young Immortals in London - I'll warn them once you're safely away."
"I'm not going anywhere," Methos said calmly. "You forget: Adam Pierson may be a new Immortal but I'm not."
MacLeod glared at him. "I thought you'd be only too willing to catch the next flight out of here. You prefer to avoid fights, remember?"
"And I plan to avoid fighting this time, too. However, as it happens, I'm in the middle of working - "
"Take whatever it is you're translating with you," MacLeod said impatiently.
Methos gave him an annoyed look. "I do more than translate old documents for the British Museum, MacLeod. This happens to be a very important exhibition on British archeologists, and I'm in charge of the documents displayed as part of it."
"Oh?" MacLeod said sardonically. Methos glared back at him and MacLeod sighed. "All right. It's your own neck, after all." He stretched in the chair and yawned in a patently false pretense of exhaustion that made Methos roll his eyes. "Sorry, long flight. I'll take you up on that offer of hospitality if it's still open."
Methos handed the other man off to his housekeeper but he wasn't fooled in the least, knowing that MacLeod had appointed himself bodyguard. He thought that a few days of utter boredom would make MacLeod change his mind, but in the meantime, having the Highlander around under-foot wouldn't be too great a hardship for anything but his libido.
Cursing himself for always falling for people who were unavailable or uninterested, he returned to his perusal of the journals. For the first time in days, however, the face haunting his thoughts wasn't that of an elusive and attractive female Egyptologist but instead an infuriatingly attractive male Highlander.
Scene Two - Scene of the Crime
The crime scene was its usual muddle of gaudy tape, flashing lights, and too many incompetent people cluttering up the available space and making entirely too much noise. Sherlock loved it. A hint of a smile touched the corners of his lips as he ducked under the tape and strode down the alley, peripherally aware that John had taken position at his shoulder, what he was already starting to think of as John's natural place. Donovan made her customary derogatory comment - he spared a half-second of thought to analyze whether she a) thought she was being funny and/or b) that her opinion of him mattered, and reflected that Mrs. Anderson must be back in town as the distinctive scent of the complementary soap supplied by the little hotel around the corner from the Scotland Yard clung to Sally's skin, before dismissing her completely.
Lestrade was listening to something that incompetent fool Anderson was telling him, but he turned toward them as they arrived. "Evening, Sherlock, Doctor Watson." He gestured toward the back of the alley. "The victim is back there. We have a witness, a busboy walking home from work, saw two men fighting here in the alley."
"And this is of interest to me in what way, precisely?" Sherlock asked as he glanced around, taking in the grimy walls, the dilapidated chain fence at the back of the alley, and the overflowing skip, beyond which he could see a pair of legs. “Muggings gone wrong are hardly - "
"It wasn't a mugging, Sherlock," Lestrade said smugly. "Unless muggers are in the habit of carrying swords."
Sherlock blinked. "Swords? Really?" He headed toward the body with more interest now, pulling a pair of gloves out of his pocket and aware that John was doing the same. The body was indeed just that and he glanced around at the detective inspector. "Have your people located the head yet?"
Lestrade nodded towards where the forensic photographer was snapping pictures. "Over there."
Sherlock did rapid calculations that involved the location of the body parts and position of the torso. "The beheading was deliberate, then, and quite violently so." He made mental notes about several gashes to the man's clothing and body, including one cut that had shredded the right trouser leg and hamstrung the victim, then frowned. "John, take a look at this. Does anything strike you as particularly odd?"
John examined the body in his usual methodical manner. "Nice suit - better than I could afford. Bit unusual for this area of town, I would think, but perhaps he was lost...?" He frowned and glanced around at the walls of the alley, then over at where the head lay. "There's not enough blood here. Head severed like that, should have been a pool of it under the body, not to mention arterial spray across the walls here."
"Quite right. In fact, the only significant blood loss appears to be around the leg," Sherlock said briskly, gesturing towards the leg wound. "Injured before the final coup de grace, was administered."
"Which proves what I was telling you," Anderson said smugly to Lestrade. "Your witness is lying. The victim was obviously killed elsewhere, most likely by him. He was dumping the body here, someone saw him, and he called it in to cover himself."
Sherlock snorted. "You're an idiot. If he was going to try to throw off suspicion, he wouldn't have mentioned swords - particularly as there isn't one here. Unless - ?" He looked at Lestrade who shook his head. "Right. Didn't think your people would be quite stupid enough to move evidence before I arrived.”
John finished his examination of the body and stood up. "The wound didn't bleed because it was cauterized."
Lestrade frowned. "How in bloody hell did the killer manage that?"
"Ah, now that's the mystery!" Sherlock said, swinging around and rubbing his hands together with glee. "Now, as to what happened..."
He strode down the alleyway to its mouth and then back more slowly, his eyes fixed on the ground as he rapidly cataloged his findings out-loud. "The victim grew up in this area, probably in foster-care, although he had a change of fortune several years ago when he came under the guidance of an older man. Not a sugar-daddy, more in the light of a mentor or guardian, who died about a year ago and left his not inconsiderable fortune to our victim. He was in the area to visit his foster-brother when he realized he was being followed by the murderer- a foreigner, possibly American, who was tracking the victim with the express purpose of killing him."
Eyes still on the ground as he reached the victim, he said, "They fought for at most a quarter of an hour, probably less, and while the victim had some skill with the sword, his attacker was better. Realizing that the police were no-doubt on the way, the murderer then took the victim's sword and drove off in the hired car he'd left just outside the alley."
"Now how could you possibly know any of that?" Anderson scoffed.
Sherlock made an effort not to roll his eyes. "As Doctor Watson pointed out, our victim is wearing a very expensive suit - handmade by Henry Poole, as a matter of fact - and very new. However his shoes are at least a year old, although of excellent quality and moderate wear. If he had been raised in this level of affluence, he would never have worn a new suit with an outdated style of shoes, therefore he is accustomed to making his clothing last but has recently come into a large sum of money. His wrist-watch and cufflinks are expensive and tasteful, a conservative style of gift usual to an older man. Those, combined with the shoes, tell me that he was taken under the wing of an elderly gentleman, possibly a distant relative only belatedly aware of his existence. That he died about a year ago is indicated by the fact that the inheritance is recent, as we know that probate, like the mills of God, is painfully slow."
He glanced at John, already becoming addicted to the way his face lit up with wonder at Sherlock’s deductions. "But how did you know he was a local?" John asked.
"This alley," Sherlock said, gesturing towards the chain fence that closed off the end of the alley, separating it from an empty lot. "All the other alleys in this area are dead-ends. If he was being followed by a man in a car, he'd know that all he had to do was run down here and get over that fence, lose his pursuer. As for the foster-care - if he had parents, he wouldn't have needed a mentor; he has a child's video game in his pocket, obviously a gift. If he had siblings, his guardian would have taken them in as well, therefore a foster-brother."
"Amazing," John murmured. "But why wouldn't the murderer be local as well - oh, right, the alley. A hired car, though?"
"The murderer was carrying two bloody swords," Sherlock pointed out. "He could hardly hail a taxi or take the tube with them, therefore a car and, judging by the tire marks in the street, he pulled out into the wrong side of the road and hastily corrected, unfamiliar with right-hand drive so therefore a hired car."
"Bloody marvelous," John said, and then looked away as if embarrassed to be gushing like a teen-aged girl. Sherlock allowed himself a slight smile even as he turned away, gratified that at least someone appreciated his genius.
As he turned, his eyes caught sight of something next to the body. "Hello, what’s this?" he said as he crouched down to retrieve it with one hand while with the other he pulled out an evidence bag. It was a cellphone, the victim's most likely as it had been partially under his body, but any hope of getting information off of it was immediately squashed as Sherlock registered its condition.
"It's incinerated," John said, disbelievingly, and then looked back down at the body as if searching for scorch marks. "That phone looks like it was hit by lightning, but the body doesn't." He looked up at the clear night sky and then down at the dry ground. "No sign of a storm, either. That's odd."
"Yes," Sherlock said slowly, even as his mind began racing, correlating similar data. "It's very odd."
Scene Three - MacLeod on the trail
The slamming of the front door behind MacLeod told Methos all he needed to know about the Scot’s efforts to locate the Immortal thought to be hunting in London. He didn’t look up from the letter fragments he was painstakingly piecing together, certain that Mac would know where to find him. A few minutes later, the door to the study opened and he heard someone settle in the armchair by the fire.
“No luck, then?”
MacLeod sighed. “None that you’d call positive. He’s killed: a young man by the name of Zack Taylor, last night.”
“John Bardsley's student,” Methos said after a moment’s thought. “He didn’t waste much time.”
“You knew him?”
“I knew Bardsley; he did a number of investments for Adam Pierson’s ‘uncle’. He was killed a little over a year ago, by one of Xavier’s students. Caused quite a stir in the Immortal community; Bardsley was sort of like Switzerland, managed funds for quite a number of us.”
Methos finished placing the last fragment and carefully sealed it between plastic sheeting to keep the document parts from shifting. It was exacting, painstaking work but he liked it; for one thing, it kept his mind off of devastatingly attractive and unavailable Scots. Or at least off one in particular.
He removed his gloves and sat back in his seat, stretching muscles that had gotten cramped from bending over the worktable, and then looked over at MacLeod. The man was frowning which told him that there was more to the bad news than that.
“That’s not what’s got you in a tizzy,” he said with a sigh. “Out with it, Mac?”
The corners of MacLeod’s mouth lifted. “’Tizzy’? Who are you – someone’s maiden aunt?”
“Ha ha, very funny. Spill, before I decide to do some sword practice – on your head.”
“Practice? What an excellent idea,” MacLeod said, grinning as he stood up. “I could use a little exercise.”
“Be my guest. I can get you a visitor’s pass as a local sports club.”
“Oh no, old man,” MacLeod said, fixing him with that determined look that told him that he wasn’t going to be dissuaded. “If you’re determined to stay in town, you need to be on the top of your game. When was the last time you sparred?”
“That long?” MacLeod grabbed his arm and towed him towards the door, barely pausing long enough for Methos to grab his sword out of the umbrella stand by the study door. “Now, where can we practice where your housekeeper won’t have a tizzy?”
Methos glared at him. “I’m going to regret saying that, aren’t I?”
MacLeod grinned, the first real smile Methos had seen since the other man had arrived, and the sight did things to his body that weren’t conducive to walking much less fighting. “Oh yes.”
Later, as Methos lay panting on the floor – and smirking a bit because MacLeod looked just as wiped out as he did – he realized that Mac had derailed him from his earlier question. And quite effectively.
"All right, Mac. What is it you don't want me to know?"
MacLeod sighed and propped himself up on an elbow. "Scotland Yard got to Taylor's body before the Watchers did."
Methos drew in a deep breath. "Bugger. Well, they'll find a way to disappear any incriminating evidence. It's not like some genius will be able to put everything together and come up with Immortals."
MacLeod nodded but still looked worried. Without thinking about it, Methos reached out to smooth away the frown lines, and then snatched back his hand. Mac's eyes widened and he went still, watching Methos' face intently, and then he licked his lips. Methos couldn't help the way his eyes flicked down to watch, then flicked back up to meet the other man's gaze. MacLeod's eyes darkened and he leaned forward…
And then his cell phone rang.
Methos swore and rolled onto his back. With an apologetic look, MacLeod pulled out his phone, looked at it with a frown, and then answered.
"Hello, Claudia. How was your flight – what? Where are you? Listen, go find somewhere safe and lock the door, and don't answer it. I'll be there as fast as I can." MacLeod stood up as he talked, grabbing his katana from the floor.
Methos sat up, alarmed by the grim look on the other Immortal's face. "Mac?"
"Claudia didn’t go to Italy like she told me she would. She's at the rehearsal hall, her bodyguard is missing, and she thinks she saw the man from the airport. I've got to go." His face darkened. "I just hope it's not too late."
Scene Four - A Puzzle for Sherlock
John Watson climbed the stairs, carefully balancing the Tesco bags in his arms. The lines at the store had been long, as usual, and he had been thinking longingly of a cup of tea and chocolate digestives for the better part of an hour. At least this time he hadn't had to fight the chip and pin machine; Sherlock had decided that the fee earned from the bank job would be best utilized in a joint household account, to cover items like the rent and utilities and groceries. As the locum job wasn't paying enough yet and Sherlock unwilling to do the shopping, John was relieved – and steadfastly ignoring the fact that it made the pair of them look even more like, well, a couple.
And he wasn't mentioning that in his blog, although he rather thought that his write up of the murderous cab driver case – minus certain incriminating details – was coming along nicely. A Study in Pink, he was thinking of calling it. And then perhaps the smuggling ring case, The Chinese Cypher or perhaps something to do with the bank? It was certainly more interesting than what was going on in the rest of his life, although Sarah had agreed to a second date.
Sherlock was at his laptop, typing rapidly, as John entered. "There was a power outage last night in the area near the alley – line engineers said it appeared to be a lightning strike although there were no reported weather anomalies anywhere in London.”
John set down the bags on the table between the clutter and deliberately not looking in the bowl by the microscope. "So a freak lightning strike destroys the victim's phone, cauterizes his injury, and takes out the power in the area? What odds on that? Do we know who the victim was, by the way?"
"Zachary Taylor, found abandoned on a church doorstep as an infant, put in a series of foster homes until he was adopted a few years ago by one John Bardsley, a very exclusive investment banker. Bardsley was killed by an apparent burglar last year, flat nearly destroyed by fire and – you'll like this – he was beheaded. Taylor was the sole beneficiary in his will."
"Do you think Taylor did it? And this killing was revenge? Or did the same person have both of them killed?"
Sherlock closed his laptop and set it on the table. "Taylor was a suspect – briefly – but he had an iron-clad alibi. He was 30,000 feet in the air at the time, returning from a business meeting in New York. And if the same person killed them both, why wait a year before killing Taylor?"
"Who's the beneficiary of Taylor's will?"
"Most of it goes into trust for his foster-brother, with a few other small bequests, nothing to make murder worthwhile." Sherlock shook his head. "No, there's something else behind this, something….odd."
He swung his feet up into the seat, wrapping his arms around his knees. "Do you know how frequently lightning strikes take out power grids? Not an unknown occurrence although the frequency has been dramatically reduced in the last fifty years: shielding, improved grounding, line arresters, and upgraded insulation have helped. Still, 20% of power interruptions are caused by lightning."
"Including lightning that occurs on a cloudless day with no accompanying storms?" John asked.
Sherlock gave John a look as if he were a prized pet who'd done something particularly clever. "Throw in a headless body, and what do you think the odds would be?"
"Fantastically low, I would think."
"Yes, you would. And yet, and yet, I have correlated reports of dozens of such occurrences around the world, over the past hundred years or so. Furthermore, in nearly every case, the bodies have subsequently disappeared from the morgues."
John blinked. "Who would want a headless corpse?"
"I think the question is rather who would want such a corpse to disappear?"
"You think it's what? A cover-up? For a hundred years?"
"That is the question, is it not?" Sherlock's phone beeped and he glanced at the text, and then swiftly uncurled from the chair. "There's been another one, at Wigmore Hall, and this time, they caught someone at the scene. An American by the name of Duncan MacLeod."
Scene Five – Music for a Murder
As it was less than a mile to Wigmore Hall, they elected to walk rather than take a cab. The police on duty outside let them in, and they found Lestrade waiting outside the smaller rehearsal room. Through the open door, Sherlock could see the forensic team – without Anderson, thank God – swarming over the room.
"The victim was Claudia Jardine, a concert pianist," Lestrade began. "She was scheduled to give a concert here tomorrow night."
Sherlock nodded; he had tickets and had been looking forward to it. Ms. Jardine was rumored to be highly temperamental but there was no doubt that she was extremely gifted. "She was rehearsing when she was attacked?"
"No, that's one of the odd things. She was rehearsing in the Hall – refused to use anything but the grand piano – and that's where they found her bodyguard. He’d been gassed, a bit groggy but he’ll be all right and he never saw the attacker. No one knows why Jardine was in a rehearsal room instead. And that's not all. Take a look inside."
Sherlock entered the room and paused to look around. The body lay at the back of the room, as if she'd been backed into a corner before being killed. The rest of the room looked as if it had been trashed: mirror shattered, upright piano on its side in a mess of wood and wires, chairs scattered like kindling. Here and there were scorch marks, as if something electrical had discharged and ricocheted around the room.
John crossed to the body, kneeling by it to make a quick examination, then he looked up at Sherlock. "Same as the other: beheaded, wound cauterized. There don't appear to be any other injuries, not even superficial cuts."
Sherlock's lips tightened. "She must have fled here to hide. Her killer tracked her here; she didn't even fight back."
John pointed to a cell phone lying on the floor by the body. "Her cell phone is destroyed, same as the other." He looked around the room. "Could their cell phones have been tampered with? Some kind of, I don't know, explosive device that caused all this damage?"
Lestrade looked interested. "To get to their phones, the killer would have had to know his victims. Then he destroyed the phones to erase the evidence."
"Interesting, but wrong," Sherlock said absently, examining one of the scorch marks with his pocket magnifier. He straightened. "You said you had a suspect?"
Lestrade nodded. "Building security guard heard the crashing in here, and when he came down the hallway to investigate, he caught a man coming out of the room. Name of Duncan MacLeod, an antiques dealer from Seacouver." He gave Sherlock a significant look, obviously remembering that Sherlock had said the murderer was foreign. "He flew in the day of the first murder and has been staying with a friend in Mayfair. There are some flags on him: pulled in for questioning in both Seacouver and Paris, similar type crimes, but nothing was ever pinned on him. We've taken him in for questioning."
Sherlock pulled out his phone as Lestrade talked, checking several things before he interrupted. "Did you find any swords?"
Lestrade shook his head. "No sign of any weapons, on the victim or the suspect. He could have hid it, I suppose. We're still looking."
"I want to talk to him." He turned to John. "I need you to accompany the body to the morgue, see what Molly comes up with from the autopsy. I'll meet you there."
At Scotland Yard, Lestrade led the way to the interview room and gestured for the policeman inside to leave, then followed Sherlock inside and closed the door. A man was sitting with his hands steepled on the table, his forehead resting on them. He looked up when they entered, his face drawn and his eyes dark with sadness.
"How did you know Claudia Jardine?" Sherlock asked.
MacLeod's eyes darkened more. "She was my ward when she was younger. I have an interest in several orphanages, and I recognized that she was gifted. I arranged for her training, until she was old enough to support herself. We've remained close friends."
"You weren't here in London to see her – no, you came to see her but didn't expect her to stay in town," Sherlock said abruptly. "In fact, you knew she was in danger and warned her to leave town. You might have anticipated that, given the past disagreements you’ve had over her safety but, no, this time you thought she'd listen." He held up his phone. "Pay records show that you, not Ms. Jardine, hired her bodyguards, who changed every few months. She had a concert tomorrow but you don't have tickets for it, even though you are in town and have attended her concerts previously."
MacLeod sighed. "Yes, Claudia rarely cared about her own safety – said that the danger kept her on edge, made her perform better. She called me tonight, though, convinced that someone was here and planned to kill her. I told her to find somewhere safe and lock herself in. But by the time I arrived, she was already dead."
"You're an antique dealer – any experience with swords?"
MacLeod's eyes flickered. "Some."
"And you live above a martial arts studio in Seacouver?"
Sherlock studied him intently. "You're younger looking than I would have imagined, given the length of time you're been in the antiques business. I would have thought early to mid-forties but you don't appear much beyond your early thirties."
MacLeod gave him a brief smile that held no hint of humor. "Good genes."
"Obviously." Sherlock sat down in the chair opposite MacLeod and stared at him across the table. "Any one you know who might have had a grudge against Ms. Jardine?"
MacLeod smiled ruefully. "Nearly any of her staff over the past few years, other musicians she's worked with, her former manager – other than that, no."
"Then no one who would have come after Ms. Jardine with a sword, with the intent to remove her head?"
Again, MacLeod's eyes flickered. "No, not off hand."
Sherlock sat back in the chair. "Are you familiar with a Zachary Taylor? Or John Bardsley?"
Sherlock studied MacLeod for a moment, then stood and turned to Lestrade. "I'm going to the morgue. Coming?"
Donovan met them in the hallway, a piece of paper in her hand. "Got an alibi for MacLeod for the night Taylor was killed. Posh bloke came in, gave a statement that MacLeod was with him that night. All night, if you catch my meaning."
Lestrade took the form, reading it with a frown. "Dr. Pierson, researcher for the British museum. Says MacLeod flew in to town to consult with him regarding part of a collection and is staying with him. Damn." He looked up at Donovan. "How certain are you about his statement?"
"MacLeod is not your murderer," Sherlock said before she could answer.
"Are you sure he's innocent?" Lestrade asked, frowning.
"Oh, he's not innocent, not by a long shot. He knows something about this matter, something he's not telling us. But he didn't kill Claudia Jardine or Zack Taylor. He was genuinely distraught over Jardine's death."
Lestrade swore. "So now we're back to where we started."
"Not entirely," Sherlock said. "He may not be our murderer, but he'll find the man who is before we do."
"Are you sure?"
"Positive. And I know who the next victim will be. Dr. Pierson. That's why MacLeod is staying with him, despite what Pierson said in his statement. MacLeod came to London to warn both Jardine and Pierson to leave, neither listened but at least Pierson didn't lie to him. I wonder why,” he said, thoughtfully. “Could be that they are more than just friends."
As Sherlock strode down the hallway, away from him, Lestrade called out, "And where are you going?"
"As I said, to the morgue at St. Bart's – to see about obtaining a head."
Scene Six - Released Into the Custody Of...
MacLeod was surprised to see Methos waiting for him when he was released, and even more surprised when Methos exclaimed, "Darling, are you all right?" and then embraced him and gave him a kiss on the cheek. It was made a little more clear when Methos hissed, "Hug me back, for God's sake – I'm your alibi for the night Taylor died."
MacLeod obediently returned the hug and let Methos take his arm, guiding him out of the building. "My alibi? Need I ask what we were allegedly doing during the murder or should I just assume?” Methos glared at him, and MacLeod grinned. “Does this mean that if I’m sent to prison, you’ll come for conjugal visits?”
“You wish,” Methos retorted.
“Well, it must have worked; they let me go."
"They let you go to put a tail on you, hoping you'll lead them to the murderer," Methos corrected. "Don't look around – we need them to think it worked, at least for now."
They started down the street, and Methos looked around for a taxi, of which there suddenly seemed to be a dearth. He was about to suggest they walk to the tube station when a sleek black car pulled up to the curb and the door opened. A well-dressed man carrying an umbrella emerged, standing in their path.
"Doctor Pierson, I believe? That is the name you are currently using, it is not? And Mr. MacLeod? If you would please get into the car, I would be obliged."
Both of the Immortals gave him a disbelieving look and he smiled slightly. "I assure you that I do not carry a weapon of any kind. You are both quite safe with me. However, it would be in your best interest to come with me."
"That I doubt," Methos said but got into the car, and MacLeod cautiously followed. An attractive dark-haired woman was seated on the far side of the car, apparently intent on the PDA in her hand, and they sat across from her. Their host took his seat next to the woman and the car started off smoothly.
Once they were moving, the man turned to regard Methos. "Doctor Pierson, my predecessors have quite an interesting file on your…previous incarnation. My compliments; you are looking quite well for a dead man, particularly one who would be well over one hundred years old."
Methos gave him his best young-and-innocent-scholar look. "You must have mistaken me for someone else. I'm just a lowly researcher for the British Museum."
"My dear," the man said to the woman, "make a note that I should contact the Director about inventorying the collections to which Dr. Pierson has access."
Methos scowled. "Oh bloody hell! You lot again. Whatever it is you're selling, whatever your threats, I'm not interested. I've done my bit for Queen and Country."
The man smiled thinly. "I don't make idle threats, Dr. Pierson. I am merely asking for the assistance of you and your companion, particularly as it relates to certain associates of yours with extremely long lifespans."
MacLeod glanced at the man's wrist and the man sniffed indignantly. "No, I am not a Watcher, Mr. MacLeod. Really, such an inelegant tattoo."
"Then who, exactly, are you and what do you want with us?" Mac asked.
"Mycroft Holmes." He nodded once at MacLeod's reaction to his name. "I believe you've already met my brother, and let me assure you that he will not rest until he solves the puzzle he is currently pursuing."
"And this concerns you and British Intelligence how?" Methos asked, eyes narrowing.
Mycroft smiled thinly. "How unimaginative, Dr. Pierson. Do I look like MI5? No, I am merely a minor government official. As to how it concerns me – well, it would hardly be in the best interests of anyone for the world to learn that the future rests in the hands of an Immortal, particularly when some of the candidates are less than scrupulous." His gaze flicked in Methos' direction before returning to MacLeod.
Methos could feel Mac bristling next to him at the implied insult to him, and something inside him warmed. Really, the Scot could be such a Boy Scout. "That doesn't explain why you've abducted us off the streets," Methos drawled. "Unless you're planning to get rid of us."
"Again, hardly in anyone's interest, particularly removing Mr. MacLeod from the Game." He gave each of them a brief, sharp look and a hint of a smile touched his lips. "It appears that he has some quite remarkable abilities, beyond the obvious."
"You still haven't told us what you want."
"I would have thought that was obvious." He held out a file. "Everything we know about one Neal Franklin, recently arrived in London via Los Angeles, and who has since continued a rather murderous agenda."
MacLeod reached for the file but Methos stopped him. "Wait. If you know so much about him, why haven't you just taken care of him yourself?"
"And what would you suggest we do? Turn him over to the police? Without any evidence proving that he murdered Mr. Taylor and Ms. Jardine? Even if the police should obtain enough evidence to convict him, what would be the benefit in having him spend time in prison? So awkward when he fails to age, so many difficult questions." His eyes hardened. "He needs to be stopped, preferably before he kills again – or succeeds in coming to the attention of the British public."
"And if we decide to solve your problem for you?" Methos asked. "How do we know that we won't end up occupying a prison cell instead?"
"I could suggest that you trust me – "
"Not as far as I could throw you."
" – but I have faith in your ability to avoid official entanglements, Dr. Pierson."
"Touching," Methos said and twitched the file out of Mycroft's hands. "You can just let us out here. And remember – this is a one-time favor."
"Of course," Mycroft said smoothly and signaled his driver. The car pulled over to the curb and both Immortals got out, and then watched as the car disappeared into traffic.
Methos sighed and held up a hand. "Late 1800s, I had just returned to England and was foolish enough to have my collection all in one location, here. British Intelligence held that over my head as I was also unfortunate enough to bear a close resemblance to a man who was at the center of a rather extensive criminal and spy ring. Good enough?"
"For now," MacLeod said, taking the folder away from him. "But I imagine there is much, much more, and I intend to get the full story out of you."
Methos gave him an amused look. "I just might tell you. One day."
Scene Seven – Lions and Tigers and… Zombies?
"We lost the tail."
Sherlock sighed and didn't look over at where Lestrade hovered in the doorway. "Of course you did."
"A big black car picked them up outside the station; my men lost them in traffic."
Sherlock sat up straight. "Mycroft."
John frowned. "Why would your brother be interested in a series of beheadings?"
"One would think he wouldn't, but apparently he is. But why? Why? There's something we're missing, John. Something…" He paused, thinking, then grabbed his laptop and began typing furiously.
"Well, what do you suggest we do now?" Lestrade asked.
"You have Pierson's address," Sherlock said impatiently. "Stake it out, stake out the Museum, follow him if he goes out. Our murderer is after him next, I'm certain of it."
Lestrade disappeared back down the stairs, and John looked at Sherlock curiously. "What are you looking up?"
"Everything I can find out about Duncan MacLeod: parents, birthdate, schools, anything." He scanned the results and smiled, then entered in more search parameters. "Clever, very clever. But. Not. Quite. Clever. Enough."
He turned and looked at John. "Tell me, why would you behead a person to kill them?"
John considered this for a moment. "I don't know – it's a sort of execution, isn't it? In Afghanistan, some crimes required beheading as the penalty. Maybe someone thought the victims had committed some crime and needed to be punished?"
Sherlock gave him an irritated look. "That’s the easy answer - use some imagination, man!"
John scowled at him. "All right, then! Maybe the killer thought they had to have their heads removed to be killed permanently, such as in stories about vampires and zombies and such." Sherlock smiled benignly and John gaped at him. "You're not trying to tell me that our victims were vampires, are you? Or zombies?"
"Certainly not." Sherlock paused. "Something significantly odder." He stood up, grabbing his coat and scarf. "Come, John! There's murder in the air!"
Scene Eight - An End to it All
The slamming of the front door indicated that MacLeod had been unsuccessful in locating Neal Franklin at his hotel. Methos had wanted to go along but MacLeod had been adamant about his staying put – now he supposed that it was for the best as a frustrated MacLeod was not fun company. He carefully loaded the last of the journals and papers into the airtight case to take them to the museum in the morning, and then pulled off his gloves as he heard the study door open.
"No luck, then?"
"I wouldn't say that."
The voice wasn't MacLeod's, and Methos straightened abruptly as he realized that he'd been careless. He'd grown so accustomed to the Scot's buzz over the past few days that he'd failed to notice that this one was different. Slowly, he turned around to see a strange Immortal standing in the doorway to his study. He was of average height with dark hair and the kind of carefully acquired suntan that said Southern California.
"Neal Franklin, I presume?"
Franklin frowned. "How did you know that?"
"Oh, I imagine all sorts of people know all about you by now, especially the police. They're watching this house, you know."
"They were," Franklin said with a smirk. "They're taking a bit of a nap now."
Methos closed his eyes and rapidly calculated how long it would take MacLeod to reach the hotel and then retrace his steps. Too long – and besides, he was hardly a helpless damsel who needed rescuing. If he could get to his sword…unfortunately it was in the umbrella stand next to his Challenger.
"Shall we take this into the other room?" he asked, gesturing towards the doorway. "A Quickening will play hell with the books and papers in here, don't you know?" He affected a bit of nervousness, playing up the young Scholar, to make Franklin underestimate him and maybe make a mistake.
Franklin cast a sneering look around the room. "No loss, if you ask me, but have it your way."
"Philistine," Methos muttered under his breath as he followed Franklin back into the entryway, grabbing his Ivanhoe from the stand as he passed.
He led Franklin to the back room where he and MacLeod had practiced, the furniture still pushed back and the carpet rolled up, and sighed. It would be hell getting the blood out of the carpet afterwards.
MacLeod left the lobby of the hotel, swearing under his breath. Franklin wasn't at the hotel, had left an hour earlier on foot, so the doorman had no idea where he was going. He hesitated outside, wondering if he should try checking the local restaurants, or go back to Methos' and try again later.
"We meet again, Mr. MacLeod," said a familiar voice behind him, and MacLeod swung around to see the tall, curly haired man from the police station standing behind him, along with a shorter man with a military stance.
"Mr. Holmes, wasn't it?" he said, looking around for any signs of the police. He must have picked up a tail again, he thought, swearing silently.
"Sherlock. I believe you've also met my brother, Mycroft."
"I don't believe I've met anyone by that name."
"Of course you have. He gave you the information that brought you here, so you could find the man hunting down your kind."
MacLeod went still, recalling what the mysterious man had said. "What 'kind' would that be? Americans? Antique dealers? People of Scottish descent?"
"People with extremely long lifespans." Sherlock ignored the look of consternation that crossed MacLeod's face, instead looking around. "Where is your friend, Pierson? He's one as well, isn't he?"
"Home, but I have no idea what you're talking about."
Sherlock went very still. "You left him alone? Idiot!" He turned around, plunging for the street. "Taxi!" A cab stopped and he flung himself inside. "Mayfair – and there's a very large tip in it if you can get us there in less than 10 minutes!" He looked impatiently out at the others and said, "Well? Are you coming or not?" before pulling out his phone and texting Lestrade. The answer made him swear out-loud.
"What is it?" John asked, nearly tumbling into Sherlock's lap as the taxi took off the moment the door closed.
"Lestrade says that the men he stationed outside Pierson's house aren't responding. He's sending reinforcements." Looking at MacLeod he said, "You had better hope we get there before he does."
MacLeod went pale, his lips set in a grim line as he realized that Methos' life was in doubly in danger – from Franklin's challenge and from the police, should Methos win.
The taxi had barely stopped at Pierson's house before MacLeod flung open the door and raced up the stairs, and John almost tumbled out after him. Sherlock threw some money at the cabbie and then followed MacLeod, and John hurried after them both.
Inside the house, MacLeod paused in the entryway, cocking his head and listening – with more than his ears, John thought. There was an odd smell in the air, like ozone after a thunderstorm, and then MacLeod was sprinting down a hallway towards the back of the house, Sherlock in his wake. John followed, a bit more cautiously as there was a good probability that a murderer lurked somewhere about, his hand on his service revolver in case it was needed.
On the threshold of what was obviously a salon, John paused to take in the scene before him. The room was a wreck, shattered glass and bits of wood and cloth scattered about. A headless body lay in the middle of the floor, wisps of what appeared to be smoke drifting up from it. Near the body, on his knees, gasping for breath and looking completely wrecked as well was a slender man with a rather large nose. A large wicked looking sword was still clutched in his right hand, lying on the floor as if he no longer had the energy to open his hand to release it. In a moment, MacLeod was on the floor beside him, casting aside a Japanese sword – and where in bloody hell had that come from? – wrapping his arms around Pierson and hugging him tightly.
"Me- Adam! Are you all right?" MacLeod demanded, and John saw the other man barely nod his head. "Thank God! What happened? Never mind – it's pretty clear. Are you hurt? What do you need?"
"Beer," Pierson said faintly. "And some air. Let go, you mother-hen of a Scot, you're crushing me."
MacLeod bit off a laugh as he released the other man, then he frowned. "You're injured."
John could see that Pierson's shirt had been sliced across the front and there was no doubt a cut to match it, although he couldn't tell how deep it was. He stepped forward. "May I be of assistance? I'm a doctor – " He broke off in mid-sentence as he saw the wound fade into nothingness, and then he jerked his head up to meet Pierson's eyes. "What in bloody hell?"
"Not vampires or zombies, John," Sherlock said. "Immortals. Am I right, MacLeod? Able to heal from most injuries – unless your heads are removed."
"If such a thing were possible and not a flight of fantasy,:" Methos said, his voice mild but his eyes sharp and somehow – well, the only word John had for it was ancient, "why would we admit to something like that. No offense, but there are two sharp weapons in this room and I'm not up for another round."
"Oh, you have nothing to fear from me on that account," Sherlock said with the smile that John had already dubbed the "I'm harmless, trust me" one. "Now John, on the other hand, was a soldier and shot a man – "
"Sherlock!" John glared at him, and then looked at the others. "We have a headless body, an obvious crime scene, and police that will be showing up at any moment. Everything else can surely wait for a bit."
"Quite right," Sherlock considered. "First, I would hide your weapons and perhaps close off this room until repairs can be made. Then I suggest we meet Lestrade in the entryway to let him know that Dr. Pierson was attacked but the man ran off when we arrived. Dr. Pierson can provide a description of the man, and when the body turns up in a day or so, the case will be solved. I assume that your people have ways to tidy away the body, given the number of headless corpses that disappear from morgues."
MacLeod frowned. "You have no problem with lying to the police and covering up a crime?"
A thin smile touched Sherlock's lips. "I am a detective, I am not the police. Nor am I a judge or jury. It is clear that the criminal in this case is now dead; to send either one of you to prison would be a serious miscarriage of justice. John?"
John nodded. He could hardly disagree; he had killed a man for Sherlock, after all.
"That's settled, then. And no doubt my brother will smooth over any awkward questions."
"If I might, though, I have a question of my own," John said, and they all turned to him. He pointed at the katana lying on the floor. "At the rehearsal hall – you had that with you when you went to Ms. Jardin's help, but the police didn't find any weapons. Where in bloody hell did you hide it?"
"Why John, I would have thought that was obvious," Sherlock said.
"Not to me."
MacLeod's lips twitched as he hid a smile and he shrugged. "Between the broken mirror and the wall. I went back to fetch it today, before going to Franklin's hotel." His eyes darkened as he turned to Pierson. "I should have taken you with me after all. Next time, I'm not letting you out of my sight, old man."
Pierson gave him a half-smile. "Promises, promises."
The slamming of the front door told Methos that MacLeod was back from the inquest for Claudia Jardine. Methos had declined attending, spending his time instead securing the items that would need to go back to the museum. The door to the study opened and Methos felt MacLeod's familiar Presence wash over him.
"Here." Methos finished strapping the last of the cases and stood up as MacLeod crossed to him. Mac laughed at the dust on Methos' face, reaching out to rub away a smear of dirt on his nose. Or to make it worse – there really was no telling with the Scot and his execrable sense of humor.
"How did it go?" he asked.
MacLeod shrugged. "As well as could be expected. The cover story held up, but then, no one was really looking too closely. I made arrangements for a memorial service since somehow, mysteriously, Claudia's body had already been cremated. Once that's over, we're free to leave." He reached out to touch Methos' cheek, in his eyes the look that had been there when they'd sparred, and Methos felt his breath catch.
"Aye." MacLeod's hand slid round to the back of Methos' head, pulling him close enough for their lips to brush. "We have those conjugal visits to discuss, after all. Not to mention you promised to tell me all about your past as a British spy."
Methos smiled, and felt MacLeod's lips turn up in a smile as well. "I did promise, didn't I?"
"And I'm holding you to it," MacLeod said, then moved closer and deepened the kiss. Methos surrendered to it, felt his foot kick against the case enclosing his past, then pushed forward to pin his future against the desk as he took control of the kiss.
He would return the cases to the Museum when he turned in his resignation the next day. He regretted that he wouldn't have the chance to see the exhibit, to relive some of the good memories from his past, but then again, the future was shaping up to be better than he'd thought it could be just a week ago. He would close up the London house again and leave with MacLeod when he returned to Seacouver. After all, he had no intention of remaining a hostage to the whims of whatever shadowy office of the government Mycroft Holmes worked for- he had been there and done that. Besides, it would be good to see Joe again, and perhaps he could convince Mac to leave Seacouver for a while, say, for a romantic vacation to someplace warm and sunny. Maybe even Egypt.
Stranger things had been known to happen.
John Watson climbed the stairs, carefully balancing the Tesco bags in his arms. The lines at the store had been long, as usual, and he had been thinking longingly of a cup of tea and chocolate digestives for the better part of an hour.
As he entered their flat, he was somehow not surprised to see that one of the chairs was occupied by Mycroft Holmes.
"Ah, there you are, John," Sherlock said from where he lay lounging on the couch. "Mycroft was just telling me that the bodies of Zach Taylor and Neil Franklin have disappeared from the morgue."
"Although they appear to have mislaid one of the heads," Mycroft said blandly.
"How careless of them," Sherlock said with an air of complete disinterest. "No doubt it will turn up."
"No doubt." Mycroft stood up. "I know that we can rely on your discretion, Sherlock. National security and all that. And Doctor Watson," he said as he started down the stairs, "perhaps this matter should not be mentioned in your blog?"
"Of course," John said automatically. Not that everything was completely clear in his own mind, yet, although he had no doubt Sherlock would be only too happy to explain what he still was in the dark about, if only to illustrate how clever he had been.
Oddly enough, he was looking forward to that.