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"The Secret War" - chapter 7

Wednesday January 3, 1996

I rang in the New Year with another recruiting trip. It's been easy. Mac didn't blink an eye when I told him I'd be taking some time off to visit some friends over the next few months. Neither did HQ. I see how James and Ung managed to organize the Hunters. Nobody gave a damn.

This time I dropped in on Stacy Remington, who interned with me back in 1987. I'd always mentored as many new Watchers as I could – saw it as a professional duty. Now those Watchers were turning into the core of anti-Hunter cells across the globe. Stacy worked in the London office, and she'd been Watching Thackeray back in '93 when Hunters took him out. Her Closing Report had insisted there was something fishy about the "Challenge", and pointed out that there was no Quickening. It should have set off warning bells all through the organization. Instead, it got buried.

Bastards.

Stacy was eager to sign-up with me once she heard that the Hunters were active again. We talked about how to choose two to four cell members that she could trust. Then we set-up a book code, regular drop communications, and an emergency phone system.

The recruiting was going well. Almost too well. I had over 40 young men and women eager to oppose the Hunters. Damned if I knew what to do with them.

The Watchers were changing. And while I hoped for the best, it seemed like the direction they were changing was a betrayal of a three thousand year legacy. My mentor Ian was dead. The wise men who had once formed the Tribunal were replaced by Jack and his cronies. They might not be working with the Hunters, but they sure weren't doing anything to stop them. How could a small group of field agents and researchers turn things around?

I needed a little inspiration. So I called Matchmaker Annie.

Annie was the Watcher's own version of Rosie the Riveter. In 1940, the Watchers were suffering from a desperate manpower shortage. Many of our best agents had been drafted, captured, or killed. Others, in a sudden burst of patriotism, signed up with their own national covert services on both sides of the war. The Tribunal called up all able-bodied retirees. When that wasn't enough, they took a truly radical step. They started recruiting women from Watcher families.

Annie Whittaker was the freshly bereaved young widow of a Watcher field agent. She was eager to continue her husband's work, and soon had a minor administrative position in the Personnel Department. She eventually rose to be in charge of Field Assignments based on sheer competence and (it was whispered) a knack for office politics that bordered on blackmail. For thirty years Annie had run the department as her personal fiefdom. She had an eidetic memory and held final veto power over any assignment of a field agent to Immortal. Annie sometimes made some strange choices, but the success rate for agents she personally selected was the best the Watchers had seen in 800 years. That's how she earned the nickname "Matchmaker". Annie matched Watchers with Immortals.

I prayed every Sunday to the Virgin Mary when I was stuck into Research after the Academy, asking her to inspire Matchmaker Annie and get me a field assignment. I'd never personally met the woman, but the fact a double-amputee vet got a shot at fieldwork was thanks to her. When Annie was forcibly retired in 1987 she moved to the outskirts of London.

I looked up her number, called, and asked if I could visit. Two hours and a pricey cab ride later I slowly made my way up the steps of her row house and knocked.

The door sprang open. I was faced with an imposing elderly woman in a hand-knitted white sweater, bent but still tall and broad-shouldered. Her gray hair held faint streaks of red and was bound back into a severe bun. She looked me up and down. I felt myself come to attention.

"Joe Dawson," Annie greeted me coolly. "Come in before you catch your death out there." She limped backwards, favoring her right hip. I followed her in and closed the door behind me. She led me through a narrow passageway and past a stairway barricaded with a stack of books and a cat carrier.

"I haven't been able to make it up those stairs in 8 months," she explained, waving me to a seat at a small table set with two cups, two plates, a vase of flowers, and a packet of cookies. We both eased our way into the chairs. Two cats stared resentfully at me from a tattered window seat.

"Tea?" Annie offered, already pouring from a silver teapot. She tipped a little milk into my cup, and then picked up a fancy bowl of sugar cubes and some little tongs. "One lump or two?"

I felt trapped by this fancy teatime ritual. Whatever I'd expected, this wasn't it. "Ah … two, please, Ms. Whittaker."

"Sweet tooth. Thought so," she muttered under her breath. "Call me Annie," she instructed. "Everyone does. Whether they've earned the right or not. How was your trip?"

"Fine," I replied. "Took a little longer than I thought it would."

Annie offered me a cookie with a murmured "Hobnob?" I shook my head to politely refuse. Annie sloshed some tea into her own cup, grabbed a cookie, and dunked it in.

"There," she said, biting into the cookie before it could collapse back into the tea. "I've exhausted my store of table manners and small talk both." Annie dusted off her hands. "So, shall we get to business?" The snap in her voice told me I wasn't having tea with a little old lady any more. I was being interviewed by a superior officer.

"Business?" I asked, thrown by the switch.

"Watcher business. The unofficial kind. The kind you've been up to here in London."

Shit. Did she know I'd been meeting with Stacy? How? I had to stonewall, and let her talk. "I don't know what you're talking about, ma'am. I was just in town visiting some friends."

Annie's stern face cracked a smile. "Not bad. The ma'am was a nice touch. It might be pleasant to spend the afternoon fencing with you, but I'm not as patient as I once was. So, I'm going to lay my cards on the table."

She pushed the flower arrangement aside to stare directly at me. "I've had my eye on you since I first heard there was a soldier-boy with no legs in the Academy who wanted a field assignment. Brave, I thought, and stubborn, and maybe suicidal. When I saw you play at your graduation I knew you had potential."

Annie paused. "Did you happen to bring your guitar?" she asked.

"No, not today." It's hard to get around with more than one bag when I'm traveling alone.

"Pity. Don Salzer gave me one of your recordings, but I would have enjoyed hearing you play again." She shrugged. "In any case, I knew that you had potential. You just needed the right influences. And I found you a good one."

Annie picked up a cookie and stuffed it in her mouth. I waited for her to finish chewing before I asking, "Influences?"

"Duncan MacLeod!" she crowed. "There aren't many heroes, in our world or theirs. I knew he'd be a good match for you. I just didn't think you would actually talk to him!"

"Well, I had to," I automatically defended myself. "You see, he came into the store..."

"And then last year," Annie interrupted, "did you really invite him to Headquarters?" She looked as if she were about to burst out laughing.

"It was an emergency." I muttered, feeling my face heat. So maybe it hadn't been the brightest move of my career.

"The first person who told me Duncan MacLeod had been seen with you at HQ, I thought she was drunk. I had to verify with three sources before I believed it. I just wish I had been there to see their faces!" Her eyes twinkled mischievously.

"I had to," I said, ripping the conversation back to my earlier point, "because of the Hunters."

The amusement drained from Annie's face. "The Hunters. James Horton. He was family, isn't that right?" I nodded. She lay one knobbed, arthritic hand down on the table between us and inspected it.

"I told them," she continued softly. "I'd been telling them for twenty years that there was no good match for the Kurgan. He was a beast. We had no one fit to Watch the Kurgan, and if we did, he'd be the sort of man we shouldn't allow in the organization."

Annie sighed and picked up her teacup, cradling it in her hands. "But then Horton volunteered, and the Tribunal overrode my decision. I should have fought it, but there were other issues that seemed more important at the time." She looked up to meet my eyes. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry."

It struck me as absurd. An old woman in her cluttered, stuffy home, apologizing to a beat-up guy past his prime for James's descent into madness and murder. Like we were the ones in control. "Look, Annie, once James set his mind on something, nobody got in his way."

She smiled sadly. "No? You did." A shot, a falling body, Mac taking the gun from my numb fingers and tossing it into a Paris river. James. Annie was still talking. "… something needs to be done. And no other Watcher of your generation has what it takes to oppose them."

My voice creaked. "You think shooting at James qualifies me for this? I don't think I'm buying what your selling, lady."

Annie sipped her tea and stared at me over the rim. "No, but a certain degree of ruthlessness may be necessary." Her calculating green eyes reminded me of Methos for a moment. "You have charisma, you are a recognized leader within the organization, and your previous actions against the Hunters make you a natural rallying point." She put the cup down. "Besides, you have already begun. I'm just offering to support your efforts."

I decided to push back. "What efforts? You've got a lot to say, but where do you get your information?"

Annie put her teacup down and looked away, like a pretty little thing caught flirting. "Oh, I have my sources, Joe. You'd be amazed at how many Watchers drop by regularly for tea." Following her glance, I see a modern laptop stashed under the love seat. It's a perfect match to the one in my bag, that lets me log-on to the encrypted network from anywhere in the world. Her eyes meet mine as she raises her chin, daring me to make something of it. I shrug back at her. Watcher security isn't my problem.

Annie nods slowly. Message received, and that seems to make up her mind for her. "I'll introduce you to my contacts, Joe. Eugenia will probably be the most useful to you. She's the head librarian for the Paris Headquarters. Researchers talk to her like a drunk does to his bartender. Any gossip worth repeating, Eugenia gets it first."

I shift forward on my seat. "Has she heard what the Tribunal is up to?"

Annie cocks her head to the side. "The Tribunal? She probably knows their agendas better than they do. Why?"

I let out the thing that's been gnawing at me for months, ever since Methos brought me that damned printout. "Do you think the Hunters are operating under orders from the Tribunal?"

"Them?" Annie sniffed, disdain clear across her face. "Shapiro and the other Tribunals wouldn't dare. They'd rather watch the Watchers rot away around them than actually step up and do something about it."

With that reassurance, we chatted for a while longer. I told her about Fatima. It was a relief to get that off my chest. Annie knew what it was like to send people into harm's way. I kept the rest to myself, of course. No names of my contacts, no Adam, definitely nothing about who Adam really was. There are secrets, and there are secrets, right?

I memorized a list of contacts. Annie knew who was connected to who; the entire web of friendship, loyalty, and expediency that bound the organization together. She promised to get word out that Matchmaker Annie thought Joe Dawson had a good head on his shoulders. We set up a communication protocol in case we needed to get in touch again.

As my cab pulled up outside, I turned to say goodbye. "Annie … you know this could be dangerous?"

Annie's lip twisted and a deep bitterness flashed in her eyes. "Really? I'd best reconsider then. How will my cats manage without me?" And I got that. I really did. It's a high wire act. And I didn't even have any cats to miss me if I fell. She reached out and grasped my right hand between hers. "Godspeed, Joe."

Then I was back out in the brisk sunlit air. I had a lot to think about. Planning and plotting. With Annie at my back, I could make this work.


Monday January 15, 1996

Emily Hargrove, my new intern, arrived today. Fatima asked me to take her on, last time we spoke. So I had some high expectations. Emily was a tough, non-nonsense blond in her 30's from New Jersey. She'd been the mistress of a small-time crime boss in New Jersey. The boss was an Immortal, and Emily had seen enough to guess he wasn't like other men. Instead of having her killed, he told her his secret.

Emily liked secrets. She liked finding them out, and she was good at keeping them. When her boss eventually lost a Challenge, the Watchers brought her in. She seemed solid at first glance. I'd do my best to teach her the job, like any intern. But I didn't know her well enough to bring her all the way in. Not even on a dead friend's say-so.

Read chapter 8.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
elistaire
Jan. 14th, 2007 02:39 am (UTC)
Oh, I like Annie! And I am hoping to like Emily. Very happy to see more female Watchers.
keerawa
Jan. 14th, 2007 04:44 am (UTC)
Annie is a fun, fun character. Rather intimdating, actually. I had to work very carefully to make sure that not ALL of my Watchers were women.

My creative brain seems to have rebelled against the male-dominated Watchers we saw on TV.
holde_maid
Jan. 16th, 2007 09:31 pm (UTC)
*g* same here.
keerawa
Jan. 16th, 2007 10:01 pm (UTC)
Annie deserves much love. Emily, for a character with almost nothing written about her, seems to be gathering a bit of a following.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )