?

Log in

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Chapter 4

It takes 45 minutes to clear everyone out of the bar and lock up. I shut off the main lights, leaving just the stage spot and the bar lamp on. That should set the mood for a private conversation.

I let Joni Mitchell finish up "Strange Boy" on the jukebox, and then pull the plug. Jean-Pierre is still buzzing around with that special high you get from a really hot live performance.

My hands are a little sore from the long set, but I'm feeling pretty good myself. I figure that's as good a way to start as any. I get him settled at one of the tables near the stage, then walk behind the bar to pull a Newcastle Ale out of the fridge.

"Can I get you something, Jean-Pierre?"

"Please!"

"What would you like? It's a bar, we've got most anything." He seems to be putting some serious thought into it. I wonder what kind of drink a 175-year-old Haitian Immortal will order.

"Beer. In a green bottle." Nobody over the age of 5 picks food or drink by color.

"You looking for a particular brand that comes in a green bottle?"

"No, I just like the color."

Okay. 175 going on 5. I grab him a Heineken and head back to the table, careful not to swing the bottles too much. I place them on the table and settle into a chair with a deep sigh.

"So … are you all right, Jean-Pierre?"

"No, Joe, I'm not all right. But I felt all right for a few hours. Thank you for that gift."

I nod.

"Duncan had some interesting things to say about you. Not just that you are a talented musician. You are also a historian, a storyteller, a soldier, and a cunning spy."

Thanks a lot, Mac. I should have you do my intro on stage. I down half of my beer in one long gulp. Should have brought a six-pack. I get the feeling this is going to be a long night.

"That would make you a bard, in fine Irish tradition. Can I see the tattoo?"

That's quite the compliment. It's also a damn odd reaction for an Immortal to have when they find out they're being spied on. Then again, Mac was annoyed that Jean-Pierre seemed so cheerful about it.

I can't say I'm thrilled about Jean-Pierre being able to recognize a Watcher tattoo on sight. Maria will be pissed if she or her intern gets made because of this. Then again, I'm sure MacLeod has already described it. Showing Jean-Pierre my tattoo won't make it any worse. If I play nice, it might make it easier to convince him not to spread the word about us.

I unbutton my left cuff and roll up the sleeve for him. Jean-Pierre takes my hand as if he were about to read my fortune and strokes his thumb over my palm while inspecting the Watcher tattoo. I know Haitians are touchy people, but this is ridiculous. I'm glad to get my hand back when he's through.

"Watchers swear an oath not to interfere in the Game, is that right?"

"Yes. We observe and record, but we don't interfere."

"How well do you uphold the terms of your oath?"

I know MacLeod already told him about the screw-up with Cord. He's watching me pretty closely, probably wants to see if I'll be honest about it. "As well as I can. Probably not as well as I should."

"And other Watchers do not interact with the Immortals they observe?"

"They might interact, but not in a way that allows the Immortal to know who they are."

"I see." Jean-Pierre nods, as if making a decision. "I want to tell you a story, Joseph Dawson – my story. I give you my permission to record it, and I ask that you tell it to others. Will that be possible?"

I consider all the gaps in Jean-Pierre's Chronicle that I could fill in tonight. I'm sure I can find some way to explain it. I could have overheard him talking to MacLeod. I could have bugged the loft. I wouldn't invade Mac's privacy that way, but plenty of other Watchers use surveillance equipment.

"Yeah, I can find a way to get any information you give me into your Chronicle."

"Good. Then we can begin." Jean-Pierre sits in silence for a minute, tilting his beer bottle from side to side, watching it catch the light.

"I remember my childhood," he says quietly, the sing-song of Creole in his cadence, "but the memories are distant, faded, like an old photograph. The names and events are there, but I don't feel them."

From what Mac's told me, his memories from before his first death are very clear. I wonder which is more typical of Immortals?

"My family was large, four generations of Bastien's under one roof; twenty-three of us, from my eldest grandmother to my newborn niece. My grandmother was noir, black. She had been a slave, before the revolution. The rest of my family were free mulattos."

Must be quite a story behind that woman.

"We spoke French for business, and Creole at home. We lived on the outskirts of Grande Goave, far enough to avoid the riots but close enough that mules could carry our goods into town, no matter how bad the roads got. We had some wealth, and much respect, for our skill as weavers."

"I remember my final days as a Mortal man. I was flirting with a girl in the market plaza. I just managed to push her out of the way before the runaway carriage slammed into me. I lasted 3 days; broken ribs, every breath a stabbing pain, drowning on dry land. I think I remember dying. But the memory of that is still distant."

He looks up at me.

"I'm glad I saved the girl. It was the last choice I made as a Mortal. Sometimes I wonder. Did she have a long and loving life, with many children? I never found out. I never even knew her name." Jean-Pierre pauses and slowly sips his beer.

"Jean-Pierre – when did this happen?"

"My death?" I nod. "1839, a week after All Soul's Day."

I make a note of that. It's possible the Watcher network might have some information on the girl Jean-Pierre saved.

He sits up and begins to speak more forcefully. "I remember waking from that death, vividly. The first thing was sound. I heard singing, and crying. I took a shockingly deep breath. My heart pounded in my chest. Next was the smell of sacred herbs burning. Under my hands, I felt the roughness of wool. I opened my eyes and saw the half-moon hanging above me in the sky. Then my sister screamed."

I murmur in wordless sympathy. Immortals who are caught reviving from their First Death by their loved ones have a rough time of it.

"No, it was not what you think. To my people, the spirit world was just as real as the physical. We put out a plate for our ancestors at every meal. Our loa mounted their favorites like horses, and spoke to us through their mouths at ceremonies. The night was full of spirits made of fire and darkness. So my sister was surprised to see me wake, but it was not … unprecedented."

I'm hooked. Has any Watcher ever heard a first-person account of an Immortal's First Death and Revival? And this one is unusual, but it makes sense. There must have been cultures in the past where having someone rise from the dead was a clear sign of the favor of the Gods. Hell, there were probably times and places where Immortals were viewed as Gods.

"I sat up. They had placed me out under the stars, lying on a funeral blanket. My family gathered around me. I asked the only question that really mattered. `Am I dead?' In Vodou, between life and death is not a hard line, but an ocean of possibilities. So it was not an easy question to answer."

"My grandmother was a very wise woman. She could tell if illnesses were natural or supernatural, knew when a woman was pregnant, and could chase nightmares away from a child or adult. Grann demanded a bright torch. She looked in my eyes, examined my chest, and smelled my breath. And then she squatted down next to me, and told me her answer."

"`You are healed from your wounds,' she said, `but I cannot say if it is because you are healthy, or because you are dead. The family must meet, to decide what is to be done.' My family went inside our home, away from the night, away from me." Jean-Pierre leans back and takes a few swallows of his beer.

I suppose that's better than being attacked or exiled, but not by much. "How did you feel?"

"I was ... peaceful. I didn't know if I was alive or dead, but I existed, and I was glad. The last few days had hurt so much. It was a pleasure to be able to breath freely again. There was no pain. I could sing without gasping for air. I spent the night sitting on my funeral blanket, singing to the spirits."

No pain. That's a celebration I can understand a little too well. Sometimes, after a long day, it hurts to stand. It hurts to walk. The prosthetics rub until everything hurts. I can see how feeling no pain would be worth celebrating. And music helps with all kinds of pain. "And in the morning?"

"Dawn came, and I didn't shrivel up or burst into flame. My nephew brought me some rice, fried plantains, and water. It felt good, to eat and drink, as if it made me more real. My family came out to greet me, and let me know of their decision."

"In the hills there was a powerful priestess favored by Baron Samedi, the loa that guards the dead. My older brother Andre had been a soldier. He would protect me and guide me to the priestess. Then I could ask the Baron if I was dead, and what the family should do. Andre had collected the supplies we would need for the trip, and offerings for the priestess."

"Grann asked if I agreed to this journey, of my own free will. I did – it was a good plan. I stood up and stepped off my funeral blanket. But I couldn't bear to leave it behind, so I folded it and put in the bag with the offerings."

"The entire family said goodbye, just as they would if I were lying cold and still on my funeral blanket. Then Andre and I left for the hills."

What a bizarre situation. Going on a trip, to find out if you are dead.

"What happened when you found the priestess?"

"The mambo was sitting outside of her hut, basking in the sun like a wrinkled tortoise. She peered up at us with half-blind eyes, then asked what offerings we had brought. We laid them out on the grass: food and cloth for her, rum and tobacco for the Baron."

"I pulled out my funeral blanket and sat down on it. It was comforting somehow. I needed the comfort, because I was afraid of the answer I had come to hear. Andre walked to the edge of the clearing. The mambo began to hum, to mutter a call to the Baron, to rock. If she were younger, there would have been a song and dancing. But the Baron knew his own. It was enough."

"The change came over her. Her old spine lengthened, her legs crossed right over left. Her eyes opened, with an inhuman light in them. Baron Samedi inspected me. I asked the question that had been on my lips for 2 days and 2 nights. `Am I dead?' The Baron boomed, `Dead! You?' And He laughed."

Jean-Pierre stops, shifts, and drinks some more beer. "Have you ever been laughed at by a god, Joe Dawson?"

I think about it. I don't believe in spiritual possession, and God hasn't ever appeared in a blaze of glory to laugh at me, but there have been times when I wondered. Times when I did everything I could, to make things come out right, and for no reason at all the universe seemed determined to make everything go wrong. Like setting up a meeting between MacLeod and Cord, and having Charlie DeSalvo walk in at just exactly the wrong moment.

"I don't know. Sometimes things happen that seem too cruel to be just coincidence."

Jean-Pierre salutes me with his green beer bottle. "Exactly. There are no coincidences, Joe. Just patterns that we understand, and patterns that we do not."

"So the Baron laughed. He told me, `The man you were is dead. He is with me now. But you, you are a creature newborn of flesh, spirit, and lightning.'"

That's poetic. I've never heard an Immortal described that way before. We really need to get more Watchers out recording the legends of different cultures that might relate to Immortals.

"I asked Him what I should do. The Baron said that I needed to shed my skin, leave my human ways behind. I must travel to find others like myself, who would teach me to become what I was."

I wonder how much of that Jean-Pierre believed at the time, and how long it took him to find out the truth.

"So the priestess tried to convince you that you weren't human?"

Jean-Pierre looks up at me, eyes bright with some emotion. "I'm not human, Joe. No Immortal is human."

I have to laugh, thinking of the kid who was vamping up a torch song an hour ago. "Trust me, Jean-Pierre, you're human."

"Really?" Jean-Pierre raises the bottle to his lips, throws his head back, and swallows the last of his beer. He leans deep into my personal space, looks me in the eye, and asks silkily, "Do you think the man who killed Darius would agree?"

Jean-Pierre trades the empty bottle from his right hand to his left and smashes it against the side of the table. The neck shatters, sending fragments of glass skittering across the table and onto the floor. Jean-Pierre is now holding a jagged weapon in his hand.

He's going to kill me. What did MacLeod tell him about Darius? Why didn't Mac warn me? I'm going to be murdered in my own bar, by a pacifist student of Darius. James, wherever you are, you must be laughing right now.

No point in trying to run. I hold very still, trying to look harmless, hands down on the table. When he attacks, maybe I can surprise him. The corners of Jean-Pierre's lips curve into something that might be a smile.

Jean-Pierre slashes open his right palm with the broken bottle and lays it over the top of my left hand. He pushes down with more strength than I expected from his frame, pinning my hand to the table.

Jean-Pierre's blood, warm and wet, trickles down over my knuckles, between my fingers. What the hell? With a tingle, then a sizzle across my nerves, Jean-Pierre's Quickening cascades over my skin, healing his wound. The tiny hairs all over my body stand up at the alien sensation.

He, it, has me trapped. I push away from the table with all my strength. The metal chair legs gouge the wooden floor.

I sit in the chair panting for breath. My throat's sore. Did I yell? Scream? Jean-Pierre slouches back in his chair and watches me with the coolly implacable curiosity of a cat, long tongue flickering as he licks the blood off his own palm. The sight curdles in my gut with the tang of blood and ozone in the air. No one moves.

I close my eyes, shaken by the conviction that the thing sitting across from me is not a man. I know it's not right. I don't feel that way about Immortals. Is this what James felt?

I conjure up memories of Duncan MacLeod to clean out the dark corners of my soul, like a breath of fresh air in a sick room. Mac drinking at the bar, introducing me to Amanda, fighting for his life, mourning at Tessa's grave, showing up in a Cubs cap to watch the game with me on TV, laughing at Richie's attempts to tell dirty jokes in French, being there for me after Lauren died. That's a man, a good man.

I open my eyes and see Jean-Pierre staring at me intently. The sonofabitch was trying to freak me out! I try to speak. Nothing comes out. I cough, lick my lips, and try again. "Immortals are human," I manage to rasp.

Jean-Pierre looks down, says casually, "Well, we can agree to disagree about that, Joe. Just so long as you understand that I believe we are not." Jean-Pierre starts scooping the sharp fragments of glass on the table into a pile in front of him. He seems willing to pretend that nothing had happened.

No way in hell am I letting him get away with it. "Why did you do that?" It comes out in a growl. My throat still hurts, and I really don't like being played with.

Jean-Pierre stops toying with the glass and looks up. "I wanted to see your reaction. I needed to know the truth, so I pushed hard. Darius had not done anything to earn a death sentence in a millennium, so he was killed just for being an Immortal. If it were in you to kill an Immortal for being other, I would have seen it in you just now. You would have tried to kill me."

Jean-Pierre thought he was the one in danger tonight. I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry. One thing's for sure. I will never think of Jean-Pierre as a kid again. He's old, insightful, graceful,damaged, and dangerous.

"What did MacLeod tell you about how Darius died?"

"He said nothing to me of Darius's death. I know that no Immortal would take his head on Holy Ground. When Duncan told me about the Watchers, I realized that a secret group of Mortals who know how to kill us must be the ones who did it."

That was his first thought when he heard about the Watchers? Of course it was. James killed Darius in the one place guaranteed to throw suspicion onto the Watchers. And MacLeod is handing out information about the Watchers and me like party favors to all of his Immortal friends. He doesn't realize how dangerous it is. Maybe Mac's friends wouldn't hunt us down, but what about their friends? Who has Amanda told? What about Carl Robinson, Grace and
Richie? How far has it spread?

I look down at my lap. My left hand is still streaked with Jean-Pierre's blood. I wonder who else's blood will be on my hands before this is over.

"As for you being personally involved somehow … I had no proof, just an intuition. Life flows in patterns. Events and people are connected in strange ways. Joseph Dawson, you didn't kill Darius, but you know the one who did."

I nod. Jean-Pierre deserves to know, at least the basic facts. I recite, "His name was James Horton. He was a renegade Watcher. He's dead now. MacLeod killed him."

"No!" I flinch at his near yell. My nerves are a little shot right now. Did Jean-Pierre want to kill James himself? That doesn't fit with what I know of him from his Chronicles. On the other hand, it fits just fine with the crazy man who threatened me with a broken bottle a few minutes ago.

Jean-Pierre continues more quietly, while leaning forward and staring into my eyes. "That's not what I need from you. You know him. You are connected to him. You are a bard. Tell me his story."

Well, it's not as if Jean-Pierre doesn't know about the Watchers, or that renegade Watchers killed Darius. Between Mac and me the cat isn't just out of the bag; it's had a litter of kittens and they're eating the old lady. The rest isn't really secret, just … private. I'm not big on sharing my personal life with strangers. I rub my face. It feels sticky.

"Why do you need to know?"

Jean-Pierre bites his lip and sighs. His face is so close to mine that I can smell the hops on his breath. "How to explain … the thread of my life has become tangled, Joe. In order to untangle it I need to find the source of the other threads it has snarled on, and tease them apart. The man who killed Darius is one of those threads."

"I thought I was coming to Seacouver to die, Joe. But I wasn't. I came to Seacouver to hear this story from you, so that I can heal."

Absolute sincerity shines in his eyes. I'm a sucker for absolute sincerity. That's what gets me in such trouble when I'm around MacLeod. But I trust MacLeod. I don't even know Jean-Pierre.

"Jean-Pierre, I need a few minutes to think this over." See, I'm building up a resistance.

He sits back in his chair and blinks. "Of course, Joe. You might want to wash up. You're getting blood in your beard."

Oh. That's why it felt sticky. Ugh. "Yeah, I'll do that."

"Where is your broom?" Jean-Pierre inquires politely. "I should sweep up that glass."
I point him towards the storeroom in the back.

I manage to make it into the bathroom and lower myself onto the toilet seat before the shakes start. Anger, fear, and pure adrenaline. I never expected to get a post-combat reaction from a chat with a blues singer, but there it is. The smell of blood might have something to do with it, too. Another minute to get my breathing back to normal, and I haul myself out of the stall to wash up.

I never lose it during an emergency. I suppose I should be glad that my body waits until a convenient time afterwards before doing this to me. And I don't puke anymore. When I first saw combat in `Nam, I would hurl about a half-hour after every firefight. I was glad when `Boy Scout' caught on as my nickname. The alternative was a lot less polite.

I glance at my reflection in the mirror, and wish I hadn't. The left side of my face is streaked with blood. My skin is a pasty white and I seem to have a few wrinkles that weren't there an hour ago. I lean against the sink and turn on the hot water to wash the blood off my skin and out of my hair.

So, Jean-Pierre wants me to tell him about James Horton. The funny thing is, I haven't really told anyone about James. Who would I tell? The Watchers? They decided I wasn't fit to keep the job of Northwest Coordinator just because James was my brother-in-law.

I tried to speak to Ian about it, that last time he came to Seacouver. He had mentored us at the Academy together. But Ian had also been Darius's Watcher for 30 years. He just insisted, `James Horton was the greatest error of my career,' and said the conversation was over. A few days later Ian was dead.

My sister Catherine? She doesn't know about the Watchers. Their daughter Lynn? After seeing her father shoot MacLeod, she decided we must both be in the CIA. I couldn't tell her the truth, and didn't have the energy to convince her of a lie. James abandoned both of them, anyway.

MacLeod? I would have told Mac, if he asked. But he never did, and he never will. MacLeod doesn't ask me any personal questions at all. It's not that he doesn't care. Maybe after 400 years of not being able to tell people the truth about yourself, you stop asking the kind of questions you could only answer with a lie.

In any case, I wouldn't really want MacLeod to hear that the man who murdered his friends, betrayed the memory of his love, and tried to kill Mac several times, was once my closest friend. We've got enough problems as it is.

I turn the handle in the sink all the way to cold and start scrubbing at my upper thigh. I don't want the blood to stain my pants.

So, where does that leave me? People go to psychologists because they say it's easier to talk to a stranger about some things. Maybe a crazy stranger is the easiest of all. Because at this point I honestly don't care what Jean-Pierre thinks of me. I don't care if he respects me. I don't care if he likes me, or thinks I'm a good person. He says he needs to hear about James. I need to tell someone. And if he doesn't like what he hears – screw him.

Proceed to Chapter 5

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
gryphonrhi
Mar. 21st, 2006 02:18 pm (UTC)
*Whoof*. Still reading, but Jesus, this is a gut-punch. Great job on this story, Keerawa.
keerawa
Mar. 21st, 2006 02:49 pm (UTC)
Thank you, Rhi. This scene still hits me hard every time I read it.
holde_maid
Oct. 15th, 2006 12:22 pm (UTC)
"I'm a sucker for absolute sincerity."

Hee, that's so Joe!
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )