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Diogenes' Lantern

Part 3


Scene 6

Something had happened during that walk before dinner. Joe noticed it as soon as the two Immortals sat down to supper. Although Kuli had dressed for the meal, Callie still wore the jeans, cream turtleneck, and red embroidered vest that she had put on for her walk. During supper, she refused to met his questioning gaze. Kuli, however, swaggered with such superiority that Joe wanted to stick him with the serving fork and deflate his smugness.

He did and said nothing about it. Even armed with a serving fork, he'd lose any physical confrontation with Kuli and, until he knew what had occurred between the Immortals, he didn't dare risk a verbal one. Waiting until Kuli left for his evening practice so he could pump Callie in private seemed the safer course.

Callie, however, took the offensive as soon as the older Immortal left the cabin. She marched over to the sink and cornered Joe there.

"Show me your left wrist."

A small voice in the back of his head yelled at him to close his mouth and show the lady his wrist but Joe stayed motionless, stunned by her demand.

{Oh, shit. Kuli knows.}

"Well? Cat got your tongue?"

Her sarcasm broke the spell. He propped his cane against the counter, unbuttoned his cuff, and stuck his arm out at Callie. She jerked back as if surprised by the sight of the blue tatoo high on his wrist. Her lips moved but several seconds passed before words came out.

"You--you are one of them."

Joe brought his arm back to his side and shook it to settle his sleeve into place.

"'One of them' who?" he asked. "What has Kuli told you this time?"

Although he had tried not put any accusation in his questions, Callie answered with force and anger.

"You know who I mean--Watchers, mortals who kill people like Nadir and me out of fear and hate. You've been lying to me, Joe Dawson, because you want to make me easier to hunt down and kill!"

The fear that knotted his innards threatened to choke off his breath. Joe gasped several times before he could speak.

"Callie, please believe me. This is nothing but another of Kuli's lies. There are Watchers--I admit it and I'm one of them. We've been following Immortals for hundreds of years but not to hunt them, only to record who and what they are."

Callie jerked her head higher. Her fixed stare held no trust or compassion. Joe closed his eyes and sighed while he sought for the words to convince her.

{You promised her the truth. Tell her the whole story--maybe it will ring true and she'll buy it.}

Slowly, with several breaks to wait in vain for any reaction from the Immortal before him, Joe told Callie about the Watchers. He also told her about the Hunters and how he and Duncan MacLeod had finally killed James Horton, their leader and his brother-in-law, outside a Paris cemetery.

"Immortals aren't an abomination; Hunters are. They perverted their Watcher oath so we tracked them all down and took care of them."

"There aren't any more?"

The disbelief in her voice struck like a blow.

"I wish I could tell you that, Callie. All I can say is that, as soon as we find one, he's a goner."

Her lips pressed together and her eyes narrowed. Joe hoped she was thinking about what he had said.

"You killed any Immortals?"

For an instant, Joe was again at the dojo's door, cane in one hand and a gun in the other. He again saw Richie was on his knees, his shirt dark with sweat and blood, with Mac standing over him, sword ready to take his Student's head as the Dark Quickening overrode even that strongest of obligations.

In memory, Mac fell again to the dojo floor and died--but not a final death, not the kind of death meant by Callie and her question. The knot of fear inside Joe loosened as he began to answer her question with an honest "No."

"Keep telling yourself that, Joe. Maybe you'll start to believe it."

Methos' words, their flat syllables laden with accusal, halted his answer. Joe froze as memory recalled the dark sidewalk where his friend, the oldest Immortal, had verbally slapped him down while he tried to pick up the pieces after the Jakob Galati affair.

Nausea churned his stomach as Joe felt again all the shame and guilt of that night. Mac had turned from him despite his efforts to save him from the wrath of the Watchers. Methos, the man who had risked everything to nurse him back to health, had given him nothing but scorn. The Watchers, whose organization had been ripped apart by their reaction to Galati's killing spree, had handed him nothing but suspicion in return for his actions.

He had denied the guilt and shame ever since, even after things were patched up with both Immortals and the Watchers. Now, with Callie's safety and life depending on him and his answers, Joe finally admitted the truth to himself--he'd screwed up royally. No matter how deeply he buried Jakob Galati in memory, the Immortal had every right to haunt him.

Joe stared unseeing at the wall far beyond Callie. There was no way out of this mess--a lie would break his word to the new Immortal, would justify her tossing out every honest thing he had told her. But the truth--hell, telling her the truth would ensure her hatred and distrust. She'd turn to Kuli and never, ever look back.

He stood there, caught between two equally awful choices. Before him, Callie peered at him with concern and fear.

{There isn't a choice--you know that. Just do it and get it over with.}

Joe reset his stance and leaned heavily on his cane. He met Callie's wary gaze and drew in a deep breath.

"I'm responsible for the death of Jakob Galati. I didn't swing the sword but I might as well have. "

Callie gasped at his words. Joe kept his eyes focused on her face.

"I promised you the truth so here it is. A group of Hunters killed Galati's Immortal wife and almost killed him. For revenge, he hunted down dozens of Watchers, innocent men and women who were keeping their Oaths. The Watchers decided that the people responsible for the killings were Duncan MacLeod and me. Our leaders would have shot me at dawn if Galati hadn't beaten them to it. He gunned down me and most of the Watcher hierarchy."

Callie's head began to shake as if she wanted to deny his story. Joe ignored her. His words, now released from deep inside him, refused to stop their flow.

"I survived only because Mac came back to rescue me. He then found out about Galati and told me. I decided on my own to . . . ."

His mouth hung open as his voice quit. He didn't see Callie any more. Instead, scenes from that horrible week flashed before him-- the basement under Shakespeare's bookstore, his scouting out the new Watcher headquarters with "Adam Pierson," his secret meeting with Jack Shapiro in which he agreed to sell out a trusting Jakob Galati.

". . . I decided to trick Galati into surrendering himself to the Watchers. I told him that he would be safe with me but he wasn't. I had arranged to have him shot then brought to headquarters. My superior took his head while he was still trussed up like a roped steer. I lied to stop the killing and Galati believed me."

Again, Joe saw a Parisian street scene. This time, the sun shone and a Watcher held a gun while Jakob Galati died at his feet.

"You bastard!"

The words were Galati's. The voice was Callie's. Joe's answer to them both was the same.

"You got that right."

The look of wide-eyed horror on Callie's face told Joe all he needed to know. He made no move to stop her as she turned and bolted for the bathroom. As far as he was concerned, the slam of the door behind her not only cut off access to her, it cut off her trust in him.

Joe leaned over the sink, sickened by his long-denied actions and by his loss of Callie's trust. His body shook and shuddered from the emotional strain but the only release he allowed himself was a single low sob.


Scene 7

A loud pounding on the door of the dilapidated trailer almost shook him from the narrow bed. The oil lantern above swayed wildly on its nail while Joe snarled back at whoever had awakened him.

"Whad d'ya want?"

Kuli's voice replied that he must dress and come out quickly.

"It's still dark out."

"Bring the lantern if you need light."

Joe pulled on his clothes and coat then he opened the door. He made his way down the three steps to the ground by holding onto the door frame and his cane with his right hand while the lantern in his left hand lit his way.

Kuli and Callie stood together on the far side of the shuttered cabin. Scattered piles of stones about their feet promised poor footing so Joe picked his path with care. The awkward oil lamp cast a feeble light compared to the electric torch held by Kuli. Joe muttered a silent curse against the selfishness of the arrogant Immortal.

Both Immortals wore coats; Callie a short mink jacket over jeans, Kuli a long tan duster.

{Traveling clothes. Wonder where we're going now?}

When he was six feet from them, Kuli shone the torch into Joe's face. Too light-dazzled to walk further, he stopped and waited.

Kuli aimed the torch at the ground between the two men. Joe held up his lantern. While his eyes adjusted, he searched their expressions for clues as to what was coming. Kuli gave him a wide, mirthless smile. Callie avoided his gaze. Her face was haggard but she stood tall and proud, as if she ignored him out of disgust and not shame.

Joe's own self-disgust matched hers. {I'm sorry, Callie. My best wasn't good enough. I hope whatever Kuli has planned for you isn't as bad as I think it will be.}

Kuli said something in a low voice and Callie took the torch from him. The older Immortal stepped forward into Joe's path. In the lantern's yellow light, he seemed taller, broader, almost demonic. When he spoke, his voice held all the warmth of an Alpine glacier.

"Callie has told me what you are and what you did. Would you repeat it for him, my princess?"

Joe flinched at the flatness of her words. "He's everything you said he was--a hunter and killer of Immortals."

Kuli nodded. His face was expressionless but his eyes burned with the triumph of victory.

"Hand me the lantern, mortal."

Fear liquified his bones and his mind yelled its protests: {I die now? Wait--not now--wait!"} but Joe refused to weaken before his captor. With teeth clenched to keep the protests locked inside him, he handed over the lantern and stood as straight as the uneven ground let him. Kuli set the lantern on a heap of stones near him. A flourish of his coat reveled a longsword, ornamented only by a ruby set in its hilt.

Joe had expected the bright curve of a scimitar and his astonishment seeped through his control.

"Did you expect a long life as reward for your killing, mortal? You are more a fool than I thought."

Kuli reached out and grabbed him by the lapel. A sharp yank sent him sprawling on the ground at the Immortal's feet. Joe eyed the well- shined loafers before his nose and considered spitting but his mouth was too dry for that defiance. Instead, he set his hands beneath him and began to push himself up.

"Hold it there."

Joe froze. A sideways glance showed him Kuli, his feet apart and his sword raised for the killing stroke. A final burst of panic threatened to overwhelm him. Joe fought it down and held still, his neck stretched out in the hope that Kuli meant to behead him quickly and not to hack him to bits.

A brilliant light shone in his face.

"Wait. I want to do it."

Joe looked up. Callie help the torch on him but she addressed Nadir Kuli. Her face was tight with anger and determination.

"He lied to me. I want to be the one who kills him."

Kuli said nothing but his eyes were wide with amazement. Callie stooped to set the torch down then she held out both hands. Her Teacher raised an eyebrow but Callie held her ground and he acquiesced with a formal bow. Callie reached for the sword but its weight almost pulled it from her grasp. She shifted her grip and moved into Kuli's position as he stepped back. Over her shoulder, Joe could see a smirk spread across his face.

Callie lifted the longsword over her head and struggled to maintain her footing. Panic again tightened Joe's guts as he watched the sword wobble in her grip.

{Oh God--this is gonna hurt.}

The tip of the sword descended in an arc that slid sideways and flattened. The blade swished over his head to cut into Nadir Kuli's ribs.

"Aaaarrrrrrrrrghhhhhhh!"

Callie scrambled out of his way as the Immortal toppled forward. He landed a scant foot from Joe's shoulder and the gush of blood from the gaping wound flowed over his fingers. Joe drew back, landing on his right hip. He fought to keep from falling backward while Kuli placed his hands over his ribs and twisted onto his right side.

"What in the name of Allah--?"

Above the two men, Callie swayed, the point of Kuli's sword pressed into the ground for support. Her voice shook when she answered him.

"You said to test everything to see if it were true. Well, this is the test. If you're right, no mortal wound will kill you. If Joe's right, then you're a dead man."

She panted and gasped but she didn't falter as she swung the sword high overhead. Kuli moaned but blood loss had weakened him too much for escape. The blade flashed in its downward arc through air, bone, flesh, and earth. Kuli's head rolled past Joe until a large gray stone blocked its flight.

Joe gaped at the upside-down head, its mouth and eyes opened full wide. His own head nodded agreement--total astonishment was the only possible reaction.

"Joe! You okay? Is he going to heal? Joe? Joe? Oh--what the hell is that?"

That rising panic in Callie's voice broke Joe free of his shock. About him a fine mist had begun to swirl, its source the body of the dead Immortal not two feet away.

{Oh, shit--I'm 'way too close.}

Joe started to throw himself backward, an instinct reinforced by Watcher training. The sight of Callie, her head and arms tossed back in full-fledged fright, caught him. He couldn't leave her alone, untaught, for her first Quickening--no matter what the danger was to him--not after she had saved his life.

The mist shifted its flow toward her. The air began to crackle as power was drawn from the surrounding elements to the one surviving Immortal.

"It's Kuli's Quickening--his power. It's yours now. Don't fight it- -stand up to it and accept it."

Callie's head bobbed. Joe hoped that signalled comprehension of his shout for there was no time to explain more. The first bolt of lightning struck just as he finished. More sparks and bolts snapped and sizzled about him. Joe buried his face in his arms but hot air seared his lungs and the smell of ozone filled his nostrils. Bits of earth and rock pelted his back and thighs and he prayed that the fury about him would not melt or rip apart his prostheses.

Suddenly, as swiftly as it built up, the electricity dissipated. Fearing latent sparks, Joe waited a minute longer before raising his head from the shelter of his arms.

Quiet had returned to the mountain. Gouts of earth marked the strikes of lightning and a scattered heap of plastic and glass showed where Callie had set Kuli's electric torch. The soft glow of the intact kerosene lantern lit Kuli's inert form, his longsword, and Callie, who lay collapsed by it, her hands still clasped around its hilt.

Joe pulled himself over to her and shook her gently. She lifted her head and moaned.

"That was a Quickening?" she asked.

Joe stifled a relieved grin. "Yeah--a pretty strong one. You okay?"

She sat up and patted her hair with both hands. "I look a mess?"

Joe didn't bother to stifle his chuckle. "You look alive."

She nodded and grinned back at him. The grin quickly faded.

"You know why I did that?"

He shook his head. "I haven't had much chance to think about it."

Callie looked him straight in the eye. "Nadir Kuli was telling me nice pretty stories and you were handing me stuff that was painful and hard to face. For a while, I forgot that life isn't always nice and pretty. Sometimes life is painful and hard to face."

She took a deep breath.

"You could have lied about Jakob Galati. I wouldn't have known and I doubt Kuli would have, either. You didn't, though. You told me the whole stinking, ugly story with no excuses or sugar-coating. I fretted all night but I couldn't explain why except in one way--you were keeping your promise to tell me the truth."

Callie's chin began to tremble and she suddenly looked centuries older than her six decades. She reached for Joe's hand and held it tightly.

"Thank you."

Her control broke and she sobbed. Joe pulled her to him and held her while she cried.


Scene 8

The morning sun lit some changes to the clearing by the cabin. A cairn of rock marked the place where Nadir Kuli lay. The Mercedes was idling by the cabin's door. Callie and Joe stood together by the open trunk.

"Are you sure you don't want anything from the cabin?"

Callie quickly looked back at the cabin then over to Kuli's grave. She shook her head "no" but, to Joe, she didn't look too certain about her decision. He gave her arm a reassuring pat.

"Kuli didn't have a mortal family so there's no one to inherit. Why shouldn't Kuli's last Student get his possessions?"

Callie grimaced.

"I'm not doing the Immortal bit. I'm going straight back to Jamaica and my own students. I've led a long life and I miss Caleb something fierce. If somebody wants my head, I'll let them have it."

"How about that school of yours? Could it use some money?"

Her laugh was sharp and bitter. "Know a school that doesn't?"

Joe reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a leather billfold. "How about you take Kuli's money back to Jamaica with you? It would buy a whole pile of textbooks and other worthwhile things."

Callie eyed the billfold with suspicion. Joe opened it and showed her the paper money and a sheaf of bank ATM and credit cards. her doubtful expression softened and Joe chuckled to himself.

"Wait a minute. What good will that plastic do me if I don't know his code numbers?"

Joe cracked a tiny smile.

"Do you know which dates and numbers Immortals are most likely to choose for their account PINs?"

Callie shook her head.

"I do. Where do you think the Watchers get their funding? If no family or Immortal claims the money, we take it."

She stared at him for several seconds.

"Is it legal?"

Joe's concealed mirth spread into a wide grin. He lifted his eyebrows and let his face show how happy he felt to be alive and able to help her.

"Hell, no."

It took a few seconds more but a grin finally lit her face.

"Well, since you're still being honest with me about it, I guess I have to accept. It's only for my school, mind you. Not one cent gets spent on me."

Joe grinned his agreement. "You drive me to the bank; I'll take it from there."

(The scene fades as Joe holds the driver's door open for Callie.)

The End


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