Disclaimer: Top Cow Productions owns the Witchblade characters, Panzer/Davis, the Highlander ones.
Notes: This takes place shortly before Sara undergoes the Periculum and is based more on the TV show than the comic series, though elements from both have been integrated. Also, the atrocity known as Endgame didn't happen.
Dedicated to Dan Frotscher and Marissa Byrum. Sometimes, the best accidents are when co-workers become close friends. I'm glad that happened with you.
Though I don't often have my work team read, a host of people helped out along the way during the many months it took me to write this. Alpha read by the 2001 VidCon writers' workshop panel (with special thanks to Judy Darnell, Rebec, Belea, Deb Hicks, Michele Lellouche, and Kim de la Fuente) and beta read by Rhiannon Shaw, Misha, and Cinel. Thanks, everyone, for your invaluable assistance.
Feedback is always welcome:
Conjunction and Conjecture
By Raine Wynd
Sara pulled off her motorcycle helmet as she dismounted, and shook her dark brown hair loose. With a critical eye, she took a moment to assess the antique shop from across the street. Nash & Ellenstein was boldly proclaimed on the glass in classic gold type. It certainly didn't look like anything unusual. The word she'd gotten, though, was that strange things had a way of happening around this shop. Gabriel, who'd been doing research on the Witchblade for her, had insisted that this was where she needed to go. He claimed he'd been directed there by an anonymous e-mail sent to his web site, where he had a standing request for additional information on any unique items used as talismans.
Almost unconsciously, she glanced at her right wrist, which was encircled by a deceptively simple silver and carnelian bracelet. From past experience, she knew that the stone glowed, grew warm, and throbbed on her wrist whenever there was danger or when the Witchblade, as the bracelet was known, wanted to show her something. Sometimes the warmth and throbbing was accompanied by a babble of voices in the back of her mind or images or both. The bracelet could transform into body armor if it sensed danger to its wielder. It steadfastly remained dormant, though. If she ever had any doubt it had a will of its own, it was at times like this, when she wanted some insight but wasn't getting so much as a flash of some past memory. A cynical half-chuckle escaped her lips and, after pausing to strap her helmet to her motorcycle, she crossed the street.
A bell jingled softly as she opened the door and stepped into what, at first glance, appeared to be a random and eclectic collection of furniture, accessories, weapons, and assorted other antiques. A second look, however, told her that someone had arranged the various items into mini-groupings that invited the browser to investigate further. Enough room had been left for ample aisle space. The shop had the air of something familiar, and she breathed deeply.
Without warning, she saw a battlefield, its once lush forest now polluted with the stench of gunfire and the dying and the dead. The corpses of two Confederate soldiers barred the path beaten through the woods. She heard the sound of a horse being eased around the barrier, saw a female hand on the reins, the glint of a familiar bracelet on the rider's wrist, and then the vision ended as abruptly as it had begun.
Hello, I'm Rachel, a pleasant voice shook her out of her reverie. May I help you?
Startled, Sara turned to see a blonde, slender, fifty-something woman standing beside her, looking faintly concerned. Strength, self-confidence, and maturity radiated from her in a completely non-threatening way. Sara knew instinctively that Rachel was not someone you pushed. She might be someone's grandmother, but she was a grandmother who looked like she could still run after a wayward child or two.
Sara smiled. I hope so, she told her. I was told someone here might be able to tell me more about this bracelet. She showed the woman the Witchblade.
It's very unusual, Rachel commented, and Sara noted that her diction spoke of a good education. The two-piece coatdress Rachel wore wasn't the kind Sara found shopping at the local discount store; it looked more like something out of one of the designer boutiques. Sara wondered just how well the antique business paid. I'm afraid I don't recognize it. Mr. Nash, my partner, is much better at jewelry than I am, but he's out of the store at the moment. Perhaps you'd like to leave your name and number where you can be reached, and I'll have Mr. Nash contact you?
I assume, Rachel put in with a gentle smile, that you won't want to leave it here. Would you mind if I took a picture of it so we won't be relying on an old woman's memory?
You don't look like someone who'd forget something like this, Sara commented mildly, quirking one eyebrow at her. Besides, I don't think there's another one like it in the world.
Rachel smiled. So I've often heard about many things. Calmly, she met Sara's stare. But, if you'd rather not have Mr. Nash's assistance, that's your choice. Might I interest you in something else? Perhaps a silver and carnelian ring we just acquired? It would go quite well with your bracelet, I think.
Sara shook her head. Thanks, I'll pass. She headed for the door, and felt the Witchblade briefly come to life, urging her back. Reluctantly, she dug out her badge, and pulled out a business card. Would you give this to Mr. Nash when he comes in? He can reach me on my cell phone.
Rachel noticed the badge. This isn't police business, is it? she asked carefully as she took the card.
No, Sara said flatly. This one is for me.
The six-ball rolled across the pool table and into the side pocket with a satisfying thunk. The woman in the black motorcycle jacket who'd made the shot didn't stop to congratulate herself, but continued onto the next ball. To a less casual observer, the rhythmic accuracy of her shots might've been impressive, but the man watching her tonight sensed that she was working off some frustration. He went unnoticed by the now off-duty detective; to her, he was just another man in the crowded bar. Had she bothered to pay attention, she would've seen a tall, lean man with sandy brown hair leaning against the wall, blending in with the shadows in such a way that no one glanced at him twice.
Connor MacLeod wasn't a fan of the police, especially homicide detectives. He'd been at the wrong end of one investigation too many, but practice had taught him the value of researching his enemies. This particular detective wasn't his enemy yet. Still, he'd heard she'd come looking for information at his antique store, and the information she'd sought had intrigued him.
For the moment, he pushed that to the back of his mind and simply appreciated her. She moved easily around the table with a fluidity of motion that spoke of someone not only comfortable with her body, but who had some kind of martial arts training. Even without that, the sleeveless, midriff shirt she wore revealed strongly muscled arms and a flat stomach. A pair of faded black jeans hugged her hips and accented her long legs, while black boots protected her feet. She wore no jewelry save for a silver bracelet on her right wrist; her makeup was minimal, accenting her oval face without overplaying it. Her dark brown hair hung just past her shoulders. Connor had to smile; he liked what he saw.
Still, that didn't change the fact that she was a cop, or that she'd come inquiring about an antique he hadn't heard of since one hazy morning on a Civil War battlefield in 1865. He hadn't thought of it much since then, though he'd wondered what had happened to it. Connor studied her for a moment longer, observing the uncompromising strength of personality she radiated. She was going to need that strength; the Witchblade wasn't for the weak.
Moving out of the shadows, he waited until she had completed her last shot, clearing the table, then approached her.
Preoccupied with arranging the pool balls for her next game, she at first gave him the briefest sideways glance, then, rubbing her right wrist and scowling slightly as if the bracelet she wore bothered her, she turned to face him. Yeah, that's me, she confirmed gruffly. Who wants to know?
Michael Nash. You stopped by my store earlier today.
"You follow all your customers or are you just desperate?" The words were spoken dryly, with just a hint of belligerence that dared him to answer the latter.
He laughed shortly. "Neither. You'd left your cell phone number with my assistant. When I called, your partner answered and said I'd find you here. He said to tell you he'd bring your phone by later."
He watched as she checked for the instrument on her belt and confirmed that it was indeed missing. Her smile was rueful as she remarked, Guess I was in more a hurry to leave than I thought. She paused long enough to replace the pool cue on the wall rack and gestured to a two-person table not far from the pool table.
Connor nodded and stepped over to where she'd indicated, waiting until she was seated before he took his own seat across from her.
What can you tell me about this? she asked, tapping the bracelet as she laid her wrist on the table. Dryly, she added, It seems to think you'd know something.
He looked at it, recognizing the bracelet and feeling a measure of sorrow for doing so. The odd reddish-black hue of the stone stirred a memory to life. For a moment, he studied the other woman's face, seeing similarities to the woman he'd known in the high-boned, oval shape. Impatience and growing frustration simmered off the detective as she waited for his reply, but he ignored it. Reaching across the table, he traced the line of the metalworking up to the stone. The deep breath he took was reflexive as he closed his eyes and braced himself for the impression of rejection as he touched the metal. He half-smiled grimly; he had no doubt the bracelet was the same one as the one he'd seen during the last days of the American Civil War. Nothing else he'd ever touched short of a Quickening had ever held such definite impressions of what he'd swear was a personality.
If you can't tell me anything she began.
His eyes snapped open. It's an interesting bracelet, he told her as he leaned back.
Sara started to rise out of her chair. You're wasting my time, then.
I don't know what it is. I know only what I heard someone call it, he stated quietly, stopping her movement.
She stared at him, her expression silently demanding.
'A blessing and a curse to be both master and slave to something with a mind of its own: the Witchblade.'
Who said that?
Maureen O'Brady. He paused, seeing the wheels turn in the detective's head, and sighed, thinking of another policewoman he'd known. This one appeared just as tenacious, and, Connor suspected, equally committed to finding out the truth. Just as with Brenda, though, Connor wasn't willing to involve her in the Game he played. Though Brenda had eventually accepted the truth, she had nearly paid for it with her life. Connor didn't want to see that happen with Sara, Witchblade wielder or not. Anything he might say, though, would only increase Sara's curiosity.
A journal I saw years ago, he lied calmly. The description of the stone was fairly detailed. He shrugged then, unwilling to get involved in the Witchblade's activities. It had involved him once already, and that had been enough. He had his own problems and no wish for police involvement in his life, not when it had been relatively calm. The man who owned it is dead now, and his house with him. I'm afraid I don't remember much else about it, Detective. More seriously, Connor said, Good luck. I hope you don't need it. But I think you will.
She stared at him as if she suspected he wasn't telling her everything. I suppose you didn't keep the journal.
Connor smiled briefly. I believe it went up with the house. He stood.
Just then, a male voice rang through the crowd, calling Sara's name. Its owner muttered absent apologies as he shouldered his way through the mass of humanity. Tall and well built, he epitomized a stereotypical California surfer, but with the distinct stamp of carriage that told Connor he was a cop. From the look he gave Connor, Connor guessed this was Sara's partner. You left your phone.
Sara looked at the newcomer. Hi, Jake. She took the phone he handed her, and Connor used that moment to make his exit. This is Mr. Nash Sara began to make the introductions, only to realize that Connor had vanished. Never mind.
Hey, that wasn't the guy who called, was it? Nash, you said his name was?
Jake shrugged. 'Cause if he was, he's a dead man.
You've been watching too many horror flicks again.
No, I'm serious, Jake insisted. After I hung up with him, I got to thinking that maybe I should check this guy out. You know, 'cause it's weird that an antique dealer would want to meet you after business hours. There was a guy who owned that shop on Hudson Street, the same one you said you went to earlier. Guy died back in 1985 of a heart attack in his sleep; the body was cremated. He was under suspicion for murder at the time, and I looked at the file he's a dead ringer for Russell Nash.
Sara glanced at the Witchblade, half-expecting the stone to glow. To her cynical amusement, it did nothing. Russell, you said? That was Michael Nash. It's probably his son. Been fifteen years, that's long enough for a kid to grow up.
So, still possible, Jake insisted.
Sara gave him a strange look. Possible, but not likely. What's got into you? You trying to play Mulder again? 'Cause I sure as hell ain't no Scully. Last week, you could've sworn you saw — what was it? An alien? She nodded smugly as Jake started to protest. Uh huh, right. That was a guy in an alien suit on his way to a job, which, may I remind you, made us fifteen minutes late.
Since when do you worry about punching a time clock?
Since I'm supposed to be a good influence on you, rookie. Jake glared at her and she relented. Thanks for bringing my phone.
Hey, no problem. Say, you want to get dinner? I know a great new place.
Sara smiled at the predictability of Jake's flirtation. Didn't you say you had to go shopping for groceries?
Jake looked sheepish. Well, yeah, but that's why I was thinking dinner first, shop later. You know they say you shouldn't shop on an empty stomach.
I'll pass, thanks. I'll just hang here for a while, shoot some more pool.
Jake shrugged and held up his hands. Sara knew he'd gotten used to her rejection, but her adamant refusals had yet to dim his enthusiasm. She wasn't entirely sure she wouldn't miss his flirtations if he stopped. All right, but don't say I didn't offer. See ya tomorrow, Pez.
Yeah, right. Sara nodded automatic agreement as she turned towards the rack of pool cues and chose one. Silently, she chalked up the meeting with Michael Nash as a dead end and put it out of her mind.
Jake? Jake McCartey? a woman's voice squealed.
In the middle of choosing between Wheaties and the newest sugar-laden cereal, Jake stopped short. Turning, he smiled widely. Yes, that's me, he returned automatically as he checked out the woman. She wore black, was black, had straight black hair, equally dark eyes, and a rather ordinary face. The baggy dress she wore concealed any hint of curves, but from what he could see, she was a bit on the heavy-set side. The unrelenting darkness of her appearance gave him pause, but he shrugged mentally and focused on what she was saying.
I'm a big fan of yours, she told him. I'm Téoni Walker. I follow the surfing circuit all the time. She rolled her eyes, laughing softly. Lifetime New Yorker, dreaming of California. My brother used to tease me all the time. She dug through her purse and unearthed a pad of paper and a pen. Would you mind signing an autograph?
Jake grinned and took the pen and pad. As he did so, he caught sight of the tattoo on her wrist, but paid it little heed. Quickly and without a lot of thought, he scrawled out his standard autograph.
If you don't mind me asking, what are you doing in New York? I'd heard you'd retired, but nothing I read said anything about where you were going.
That's because I didn't tell anyone, Jake replied, and watched Téoni giggle. He decided he didn't like the way she giggled. A voice in his head cynically observed that maybe his taste was growing up. The voice sounded suspiciously like his partner's. Forcing the smile to remain on his face, he handed back the pen and pad of paper. I'm a detective with the NYPD.
Téoni's eyes widened. You're a cop?! she exclaimed disbelievingly. Oh, wow, so that's true. I wondered if that was just lousy reporting. She stared at him a moment, then shook herself. Cool. She paused, and then asked, Is it true that you got rescued by an FBI agent when you wiped out?
Surprised, Jake reassessed her. It wasn't common knowledge that an FBI agent had rescued him from a surfing accident. That's not something I made public. You know Matthew McCormick?
She smiled. I've heard stories. Something about the way she said that made Jake instantly suspicious of her. Then again, he reminded himself, Matthew had said there were a few FBI agent fans running loose.
Say, you wouldn't be interested in coffee, would you?
Her question brought his musing to a stop. Nutcase or not, he'd long ago made it a rule not to date any of his fans. Uh, no thanks. Jake gestured to his cart, feeling as though the moment had gotten even more surreal. I still have to finish shopping.
Téoni flushed with embarrassment. Oh, yeah. Sorry. With that, she turned and walked away, muttering to herself as she went.
Shaking his head, Jake put the incident out of his mind and went on shopping.
A thousand battlefields I have seen, and yet nothing changes. Men kill men and call it glory. I know what it is, and glory it is not. The weary female voice held both Southern and Irish influences. I am so tired of being alone with nothing but the Witchblade. Blood dripped through the hand wielding the Witchblade, seeping through the metal of the gauntlet. A spreading stain marred the leather vest covering the plain cotton blouse the woman wore.
You're not alone, Maureen. A man's voice, oddly accented, spoke reassuringly, and left the impression of strong arms holding the woman
Tangled in the white cotton sheets of her queen-size bed, Sara dreamed.
I'm not supposed to die like this! the woman screamed, only to cough fitfully. I survived battles that killed hundreds!
Shh, lass, talking will only waste your strength.
A bitter smile formed on a sculpted face. It's too late. This cursed thing she tapped the Witchblade, once more a simple bracelet on her wrist has no more use for me. She coughed again, blood spilling from her lips. Take it to its next fate, but don't try to wear it, Connor. It be the devil's own woman scorned, hungry for nothing but justice. She paused, clearly fighting the urge to cough. It does not like the catacombs and the dark, but it's the only place it belongs. Put back in the dark or give it away, it does not matter. It will be worn again.
Still asleep but lucid within her dream, Sara caught glimpses she didn't understand as time seemed to spin erratically. A slender, sandy-brown haired man fought with a sword in the mists of early dawn near a river. He wore Union soldier's clothing; his opponent was likewise attired. With a decisive swing, the battle ended, and then lightning struck the first man's body, enveloping him in the white-hot glow of electricity and an unearthly haze. The haze masked his face, and Sara swore in her frustration. From experience, she knew he was somehow important.
The lens of the vision seemed to narrow, and Sara understood she was now seeing through the viewfinder of a camera. The next glimpse was of a stylized, trefoil tattoo on someone's wrist as she put the camera down on a table to turn her focus to a computer, the tattoo inked in a bluish-purple that made it stand out against the dark skin. The woman was no one Sara recognized.
Without warning, blood splattered the camera as a sword point scraped the wall. Sara saw an office, its door marked with and Stern, but then the vision sped backwards again in time, too fast for Sara to follow. It left her dizzy as she strained to run to catch up, to understand what was happening.
Heart in her throat, Sara bolted upright as fragments of her dream streamed across her consciousness. On her wrist, the Witchblade stone glowed for an instant longer, heating her skin briefly. Catching sight of it, she swore once, then rubbed her eyes tiredly. Even without the Witchblade's warning, she had a feeling that the next few days were going to be long ones. The phone rang then, and she answered it with a yawn.
Hey, Pez, sorry to wake you, Jake greeted her, but the captain wants us to check out a case in a church. Do you want to meet me there or shall I pick you up?
Where is it? she asked as she rolled out of bed.
It's at Our Church of the Divine Way, he told her, rattling off the address. And I have coffee.
Pick me up, she decided as she hastily donned clothes.
See you in fifteen, he said, sounding amused and thoroughly satisfied. She'd get him for that, later, she promised herself.
Blood did not belong on the altar of a church, except in a metaphorical sense. This was no metaphor. It was a pure, cold-blooded beheading of a female minister. The body had already been removed, but Sara didn't need to see it to know what had happened. The Witchblade was filling in the blanks for her.
The killer was dressed in a gray suit. A very distinguished-looking gentleman in his late forties, he walked up to the altar where the pastor knelt, praying, and stood in respectful silence for a few moments before clearing his throat. I'm sorry to interrupt your prayers, Sister, but I was hoping someone could help me. Is the Father in?
That would be me, the woman said cheerfully.
His eyes narrowed. He seemed already angry, already ready to explode. This is a Catholic church. No women are priests.
Actually, this was a Catholic church, she told him. We've chosen to leave the diocese.
Suddenly, he drew a sword. Blasphemer, he accused, and attacked. The woman had no chance to defend herself.
When she was dead, the killer looked at the body. Almost regretfully, he laid the corpse across the shattered altar, then said a prayer for her in fluent Latin. Taking off the ruined suit jacket, he stepped away from the altar, and went out the back door.
As quickly as the vision had come, it cleared. For a moment, Sara felt disoriented, as she could still smell death then realized it was because the coroner had yet to clear the corpse. The sounds of the investigative team going about their business helped her refocus, but Sara could still feel the echoes of the killer's rage on her skin like a heavy cloak worn a shade too long.
Sara, are you all right? Jake looked at her in concern as he put a hand on her arm to steady her.
Yeah, I'm fine. Shaking off the vision and Jake's touch, she forced a smile and said lightly, Just this wasn't what I wanted at the beginning of the day, y'know? Blood and corpses for breakfast are for vampires.
Yeah, I know, he agreed. He studied her a moment, clearly not buying the excuse. Come on, Pezzini, you're tougher than that. Weren't you the one who was telling me how to handle nightmares? Stepping closer, he asked in an undertone meant only for her ears, You sure you're all right? I know I woke you up. Did you get enough sleep?
As all right as I can be when my dreams take me to places I can't explain and don't understand, Sara thought. I swear, ever since I got this damned Witchblade, I haven't slept well in weeks. Too well aware she couldn't even begin to explain the power of the gauntlet to herself, much less explain it to someone else, she waved off her partner's concern.
I'm all right. C'mon, let's figure out who did this.
The gold plaque on the door proclaimed that the offices belonged to the partnership of Guild and Stern, Security Consultants. A smaller plaque instructed the visitor to ring the doorbell for access. Using a key, Téoni unlocked the door. Walking through the front office, which had been decorated in standard office decor and was carefully maintained to give the appearance of a working office, she proceeded to the larger of the two executive offices in the back and keyed in the pass code. The distinct smell of takeout Chinese and stale coffee hit her as she opened the door. A sweats-clad figure sat behind a video camera mounted on a tripod in front of the window.
Unlike the front office, this room was not meant for public viewing, and an examination of the sister executive office would reveal that it had been converted into a bedroom. A police officer investigating a stalking charge would have had a field day in this room. A computer desk occupied one corner. Its sprawling surface was nearly buried by all the peripherals attached to the tower-style PC holding center court. Anyone experienced at making movies with the aid of a computer would have recognized the hardware attached to the computer. The built-in shelving to the left of the desk was littered with videotapes, CD-ROMs, and the gear of a serious coffee addict. A bookshelf stood to the right of the desk , filled with books only a rare book collector of a very specialized sort would love. A battered avocado green leather couch had been shoved against the opposite wall, next to a standard-sized refrigerator in the same garish hue. The coffee table in front of it held a speakerphone, an oversized ashtray, and the offending containers of takeout Chinese.
Damn, Gary, can't you even bother to throw out the garbage when you go to the bathroom? she complained.
Gary glanced at her, impatiently brushing aside the lock of long gray hair that fell over his face as he did so. I was waiting for you to show up. He stood, dusting off his gray sweat pants, then absently rubbed at the bridge of his nose just underneath the nose piece of his glasses. The black office chair he'd been sitting in seemed to exhale visibly and the springs rose a good inch as he vacated it.
Anything interesting happen? she asked instead as she set her bag down on the table and pulled out a notebook and a pen.
Gary shrugged; the movement was nearly lost on his large body. Typical day so far. I thought when I requested New York, I'd get Connor MacLeod, but no, I have to be Watching the most boring immortal on the planet: Janice Tibbs.
Téoni chuckled. Come on, you know who's got that gig wrapped up. Has for generations now.
Yeah, yeah, the Silvarra family, but an old guy can hope, can't he? Gary gathered his trash and the coffeepot as Téoni shook her head. He exited the offices for a few minutes, returning with a coffeepot of water.
You want anything besides the coffee started? Gary asked. There's fruit, lunch meat, and bread in the fridge if you want it.
Who went on the grocery run? Téoni asked in surprise, aware that the refrigerator in the office suite was rarely stocked with anything healthy.
Isabel stopped by with a new guy, wanted to introduce him to the reality of Watching. His name's Michael, by the way. She apparently convinced him that he should always bring food.
Isabel's training someone new? Téoni settled into position at the window and glanced over the notes Gary had left on the table beside the tripod. Headquarters must think we're in need of new people again. Like there's a glut of immortals living in this city.
Well, you did tell Isabel you wanted a few nights free. Janice is an easy immortal, but it's the easy ones who get killed the fastest. Makes for a nice introduction to Watching, if you ask me. Besides, there's always a need for someone to cover for anyone visiting Connor, Gary pointed out. Or hunting him.
I thought we left that to the Silvarras? They have to have a cousin somewhere .
Watching may be their family business, Téoni, but even they can't cover all of New York. Besides, Connor doesn't even let them in too close; I hear he barely tolerates Jamie helping out in the store. That's why there are people like us.
Yeah, well, Téoni sighed, I don't think the chronicles of all the immortals are going to miss Janice's entry. The woman was a nun a forty years ago and still lives conservatively.
If you call working as a phone sex operator conservatively.
Girl's gotta make a living somehow, Téoni said, shrugging. But have you heard her voice? That woman could sell ice to Eskimos.
Gary grinned. Her Chronicle says she was cited by the Mother Superior for having a devil's voice. He chuckled. Too bad she's built like a Mack truck.
Téoni snorted. Go home, Gary. Your wife's probably wondering why you're running late.
Don't forget, it's Wednesday, and Janice has bridge club tonight. He picked up a set of keys from the table and started for the door.
Is it too much to hope she'll go wild and go to a bookstore instead?
Gary chuckled. I'll call you at midnight, make sure you haven't fallen asleep.
Thanks, Gary, and tell your wife I said hello.
Will do, he promised. A moment later, the sound of the outer door locking behind him echoed through the empty office.
Alone, Téoni glanced at the video camera's display to make sure it was recording, then stood. Stepping over to the computer, she then began checking her e-mail. This office was one of three permanent sites scattered throughout the city; it was considered a home base for Watcher activities, and occasionally served as a temporary home for a visiting Watcher. The fact that it neatly covered the workplace of one of the city's more stable immortals and was centrally located to a third of the city were swaying factors to its continued existence, Téoni knew. When Janice Tibbs lost her head, and Téoni did not doubt that it would happen, the office would continue functioning. For that, Téoni was grateful; she hated to think it would stop.
She liked her job. It hadn't yet taken her to California as she'd once hoped it would, but she no longer needed it to. The man she wanted was right here in New York.
Sara stared at the coroner's report on the dead priest until the words started to blur.
You know, that's never helped, a male voice chided her.
Without looking up, she replied, You claimed it did. She didn't have to look to know that the ghost of her late partner, Danny Woo, stood before her desk.
Danny chuckled. That's why I know it doesn't help.
So, what words of wisdom do you have to impart to me today? Giving into her frustration, she sighed deeply. Shutting the file folder, she stared at the Asian-American man. His black hair hung just past his shoulders. Today he wore a blue dress shirt and tan slacks; apparently, being a ghost didn't mean he never changed clothes. His stance was deceptively casual, but Sara wasn't fooled. He never showed up unless it was important.
Danny looked at her, a hint of sadness in his eyes. You're getting cynical, Sara.
Getting? She snorted. I was born cynical; I had a cop for a father.
I know, he said gently. But you really shouldn't forget that once the impossible is ruled out, anything is possible.
She stared at him. I'm talking to you, aren't I?
Shaking his head, Danny said, You haven't even begun to understand the Witchblade, Sara. You think because you've fought Satan that you have the answers, and you know what the universe holds? There's more to Michael Nash than you know.
What, you're going to tell me the son's a murderer? I don't see it. Frustrated by Danny's obliqueness, Sara returned her attention to the file.
Not now, perhaps. But you're not the only one with secrets to keep.
Oh, and I suppose you'd let me in on what he's hiding, won't you? Not that I plan on meeting him again.
You might want to reconsider that.
Yeah, right. Sara snorted disbelievingly. Like talking to him is going to answer my questions about what this thing is— she held up the wrist where the Witchblade rested — or solve this case. You know why anyone would want to kill a priest, tell me.
You're good at puzzles, Sara, Danny said, amused. You always have been.
What, you're going to tell me I'm going to have another case? Tell me something I don't know.
Danny shook his head, a faint smile on his lips. That would be cheating.
God save me from know-it-all
Talking to the files again, I see, Jake observed, catching Sara off-guard. He walked right through Danny, who smiled enigmatically and inclined his head in goodbye. Not waiting for Sara's reply, Jake told her, Captain's got a new case for us. You gonna go show me how to be a cop like a good senior partner's supposed to or do you want to talk to the files some more?
Hey, if you don't learn to talk to them, they won't give you the answers you need, Sara told him in a deliberately serious voice, paying Jake back for the dig about his training.
Fifteen minutes later, they were at the crime scene: a parking garage not far from the precinct. The victim was a heavy-set Caucasian male dressed in a pair of gray sweat pants, sneakers, and a polo shirt emblazoned with the logo of a firm called Lightning Protection Services, Inc. Something extremely sharp had taken off his head; the head was missing, but the contents of his wallet, including his credit cards and fifty dollars in cash, were intact. His driver's license identified him to be one Gary Meadows of Staten Island. What intrigued both detectives was the tattoo on the inside of his left wrist.
Jake saw it first as they examined the body for other clues to the crime. Whoever had killed Gary had taken the time to outline the swooping V in the center of the tattoo as well as the double circles surrounding the V and the evenly spaced dots within the double circles. The way the blood pooled under the wound told Sara that it had happened while Gary had been alive and probably standing up.
For a moment, she saw it happening: Gary held against the wall of the parking garage, pleading for his life. The Witchblade felt hot against her skin, and she knew it was the source of the vision. Rising to her feet, Sara walked to the precise section of wall she'd seen in the vision. Blood stained the graffiti exactly as Sara had seen it. Something made her look up.
What is it? Jake asked her, and then followed her gaze upward. Oh, man, that's just sick! he exclaimed as he stared at the head. A sword had been driven through the face to the back of the head, thus securing it to the ceiling.
Not as sick as some, Sara noted as she searched for something to raise her height advantage. Come on, you've seen worse horror flicks.
Jake sighed. Yeah, but I didn't think I'd be seeing them in the flesh. Now I know I'm going to have nightmares.
Sara spared her partner a glance. Hey, you're the one who volunteered for homicide.
Yeah, but I didn't volunteer for the Freddy Kruger art show.
At least the body's not in a hundred pieces, from what I can tell, Sara observed. The quick glance at her partner assured her that he was handling the gruesome sight well, and that his complaining was his way of dealing with the gore. Better to vent about it now, she thought philosophically, than bury it. If the perp really wanted to do an art show, he'd have to do a bit more than this. Still, she said with a shrug, I have to admit, this is not your typical homicide. You see anything that would help me get at that? She pointed to the sword.
Not unless you want me to boost you up.
Hold that thought.
Frustrated at the lack of leverage, Sara decided to call for the crime scene photographer. Once the pictures were taken, she told Jake, Give me a hand, will you? I want to pull that sword. A quick hand lift from Jake, a moment to slip on a plastic glove so that any fingerprints on the hilt would not be disturbed, and a hard yank pulled the weapon with its grisly trophy out of the concrete.
The oddest sensation of having held a sword similar to this one swept through her. Oh, she knew how it felt to hold a sword; the Witchblade was both gauntlet and sword, but this sword had an entirely different weight to it, making it lighter, deadlier. Drawing a deep breath, she willed the Witchblade to show her the killer.
The face it revealed to her was someone she knew. Her eyes swung immediately to Jake, and in the back of her mind, Sara could swear she heard the Witchblade laughing. The semi-sentient gauntlet did not always like being commanded. Disgusted, aware that it was telling her that Jake was somehow connected but not directly responsible, Sara said, You know anything about tattoos or swords? Carefully, she set the head down on the concrete and motioned over the forensics officer.
Tattoos? Jake asked. Nothing like what's on the dead guy's arm, no. He tried not to look at the head. You want me to check out who'd be doing something like that?
Yeah, Sara said. I'll check out the sword shops.
I got an idea, Jake countered. Why don't you help me check out the tattoo shops, and I'll back you up when you go to the sword shops? You never know what kind of crazies are out there. His tone reminded her that she was supposed to be partners with him.
Sara stared at him for a long moment, then nodded tightly. Truth be told, she preferred to be by herself; it saved her the need to explain the odd behavior of the Witchblade, for one thing. For another, it relieved her of the responsibility of training a rookie and there were days when she wasn't entirely certain he was as much a rookie as he claimed to be. It made her wary of him. Still, the captain had been on her case lately, demanding that she play by the rules. Losing another partner because she hadn't been there to back him up would be hell, and would likely cost her the one thing that mattered to her: her ability to see justice served.
All right, let's go.
Yawning, Téoni made a final check of the office for the night, making sure the equipment was properly secured and all the lights were off. A security camera, ever so helpfully installed by the firm of Lightning Protection Services, Inc., under contract to Guild and Stern, kept watch on Janice Tibbs's home; it would record any unusual behavior, so Téoni didn't have to travel to Janice's home to Watch her. No foreign immortals had been spotted in the city, so Téoni felt comfortable in calling it a night. Tomorrow was her day off, and she had a date.
Blithely, she ignored the little voice in her head that said it wasn't a date as much as stalking. She could dream, couldn't she, that it was her that Jake would be talking to at lunch, instead of his partner? If she got into trouble, she could just call one of the Watcher lawyers to bail her out, and claim she thought one of them was immortal. It was thin, sure, and she wasn't entirely certain if the Watchers wouldn't just hang her out to dry for getting caught at doing her job, but life wasn't fun without a bit of risk.
Smiling to herself, she glanced at the signed autograph she'd framed, and then pressed a kiss against the glass. Setting down the photograph next to the computer, she then exited the office.
A heartbeat after she closed the door behind her, the phone rang, and the answering machine did its job. Téoni? It's Isabel, a Cuban-accented female voice said urgently. I hope you haven't left yet and are just in the bathroom or something? Damn, when are you going to get a cell phone? You know you'll get reimbursed for the expense. Anyway, I wanted to warn you — word on the wire is James Butler's in town, and he's been known to kill us when he finds us. Be careful, okay? I'll try you at home and hope you get this message.
The answering machine clicked off with a dull beep.
Man, my grandmother had furniture like this in her living room, Jake exclaimed as he examined a roll-top desk.
Yeah, well, just think what'll be considered a vintage piece from 2001, Sara commented dryly. Come on, we didn't come here to shop.
Amused by their conversation, Connor watched them move toward the counter.
Mr. Nash, Sara greeted. Detective Pezzini again, and this is my partner, Detective McCartey. We're hoping you can help us. She pulled out a photograph from within her jacket and laid it on the counter.
This sword, Jake added, was used to kill someone. We're hoping you can identify the sword and maybe the owner.
Connor looked at the photograph. His instinctive reaction — to deny any knowledge whatsoever — was tempered by the fact that in this case, it served him no purpose to do so: The wall behind him featured a small collection of swords for sale. English rapier, seventeenth century, he declared. Fairly common type of sword for the period. He paused. I don't sell them.
Jake glanced at the swords on the wall.
Spanish rapier, Connor informed him, guessing what had drawn Jake's gaze. Similar style, different country of origin, better steel.
In that instant, Sara saw him wielding the rapier in question, fencing against another man even as he traded amused quips with him. The vision didn't last long, but it left Sara with the impression that the man standing behind the counter knew exactly how to kill someone with a sword.
So, do you fence? she asked.
He smiled briefly. With words or weapons?
Sara narrowed her gaze. You're good at both, she surmised. Connor's expression gave no confirmation either way. She suspected he had long experience in keeping a poker face, and something told her that he wasn't going to tell her anything useful. You don't keep records of who bought swords recently?
In other words, you do, but you're not going to show them to me without a warrant, Sara thought cynically. We'll be in touch. Her tone warned him, and he inclined his head slightly in acknowledgment. Jake?
Under the pretext of reading a book while standing at a main bus stop, James Butler watched the crowd around him. He had no real interest in the latest bestseller. No, he'd come hunting, and he'd been successful so far. He smiled wolfishly as he thought of how he'd disposed of his Watcher. When would they ever learn? he wondered. They cannot be allowed to exist. Rage boiled within him as he remembered how he'd first discovered the organization that had preached noninterference in immortal lives. Catherine. For a moment, the face of the one he'd loved, the one who'd betrayed him and all he held dear in the name of history and research, swam through his mind. It had been twenty years, and yet they still tried to follow him, still tried to hold on to their precious Oath even when he tortured them.
Gary Meadows had tried, yet his field notebook had betrayed him, giving James a starting point for his hunt. He'd come to New York City looking for one specific immortal, and she was going to die. But first, her Watcher had to lead the way. Gary's notes had said he was to meet either Téoni or Michael at this bus stop to cover Watching Janice Tibbs, since Gary had the evening off. Although James had no physical description of either Watcher, he did recognize, after so many years of figuring out who was Watcher material, the likely candidate. In the midst of Manhattan, her black attire and slightly overweight body shape hardly rated a passing glance, making her as inconspicuous as the next New Yorker. Yet there was a pointed nonchalance to her manner as she maneuvered through the crowd.
She waited patiently for Gary to show up, waiting nearly a half hour before shrugging, clearly giving up. When the next bus arrived, she took it, and James followed. The bus was nearly full by the time James stepped on. After paying the required fare, James saw that Téoni sat in the first open seat near the front, behind the handicapped seating, crowded next to a woman overloaded with grocery bags. Deliberately, he jostled the Watcher on the way back to an open space in the aisle. She muttered something rude under her breath and resumed her position.
He studied his prey carefully. She did not look like she'd taken any self-defense courses, nor did she appear to carry concealed weapons. That would make killing her so much easier. After she gave him the location of Janice Tibbs, of course.
He felt the warning song of immortality a few seconds before Téoni spotted Janice as she stepped onto the crowded bus. Janice clearly did not relish the idea of getting on the bus with another immortal on it, hesitating at the doorway. She was a Rubenesque woman, solid girth topped by an elongated face. Her eyes searched for the source of the signal she was feeling, her body clearly poised for trouble. The driver began to mutter impatiently.
You getting on or off? he demanded. Come on lady, I ain't got all day.
Janice shook her head, murmured an apology, and stepped off the bus.
That's right, sweet darlin', run. James smiled to himself. I'll catch up to you when I know exactly where you hide. Women don't deserve the Prize.
Téoni couldn't react fast enough. Though she'd been standing near the front, the better to see when Janice got on the bus, the crowded aisle prevented her from leaving until the next stop.
Swearing, Téoni got off the bus. Casually, James followed. He did not want to rush the confrontation between himself and Janice. He'd always loved the pursuit of his prey; it had earned him the fear and respect of the Confederate soldiers he'd once commanded. He had all the time in the world. Of course, he didn't want to waste it either, not when he had the Watchers to point out exactly where his enemies were.
Téoni had planned on an evening out. She'd figured out the bar where the cops in Jake's precinct hung out, and had planned on casually showing up, hoping that Jake would do the same. Though some part of her recognized the hopelessness of her fanaticism, the rest of her was still holding out that a miracle would occur and he would magically be persuaded to ask her out on a date. After all, he wasn't a surfing celebrity anymore, just a regular guy. The last-minute call to cover Gary's shift pissed her off, because she'd had the entire day free, and hadn't been scheduled to come in at all. Apparently, the new Watcher Isabel had been training wasn't available something about him needing to work his regular job — and no one knew where Gary was.
Now, Téoni would have to follow Janice's boring routine: get on the bus, travel uptown, get off the bus, go to corner market, buy dinner, then go to work. The predictability of it all almost made Téoni miss Janice's sudden decision to get off the bus six stops early, and she had to scramble to catch up.
Holy Ground is two blocks north, Téoni remembered, and wondered who was on the bus to frighten Janice. Glancing around, she didn't see who it could be; several other people had gotten off at that stop. Hanging back would only make her lose Janice, yet Téoni didn't want to blow her cover either. The only thing Téoni could do was to retrace her steps and catch up in hopes of figuring out who was hunting Janice.
Unfortunately, Téoni's sense of direction, never great in the best of situations, was quickly lost, as Janice had made sure to lose whatever tail she had. Frustrated, Téoni gave up and returned to the office, knowing that Janice would eventually return to her work if she felt safe enough. To distract herself from venting her frustration in public, Téoni began to imagine herself at the bar with Jake. In the process, Téoni paid little heed to the man who joined her in the elevator, didn't notice the footsteps that dogged her path. Too used to living in the city where there were always people around her; Téoni took for granted that someone would be around.
Excuse me, miss, a male voice drawled, startling her as she unlocked the second set of doors to the office. But I was hoping you could set me up with a security system? I have this stalker, you see.
Gasping in surprise, she dropped the keys and turned. I'm sorry, she said automatically, the rehearsed excuse coming to her lips, but we aren't accepting any new clients right n Too late, she saw how close he was to her, felt the bite of a dagger against her stomach, recognized who it was who'd jostled her on the bus and who was hunting Janice.
You're not supposed to be here, Téoni said stupidly. Too late, the message she'd heard on her answering machine and then decided to forget because she'd believed the danger had passed echoed through her head.
No, perhaps not, he agreed candidly. That she recognized him seemed not to faze him, and Téoni's fear grew. Tell me where Janice Tibbs is or you die.
Given the choice between her Oath and her survival, Téoni saw no reason to withhold the truth. Either way, she faced possible death: death at the hands of the Watcher Tribunal for breaking her Oath or the more immediate danger of being killed by an immortal known to kill Watchers. Somehow, the danger hadn't seemed all that real when she'd heard the message on her answering machine. I don't know, she said honestly. I really don't.
She had only a moment to register the fury in his eyes before he body-slammed her against the door, rattling it. Her breath escaped her in a shocked rush. The dagger he'd held against her sliced a narrow line, drawing blood, and she instinctively tried to stop the flow. Rage flushed his face. Liar. He grabbed her wrist, the one with the tattoo, and slammed it against the door, breaking her hand. The impact sent white-hot pain through her body, but he didn't allow her time to feel it as he kicked her feet apart and used his body to pin her to the door. She struggled, whimpering, but he held fast.
This, he growled, laying the knife point against her skin, says you know. Says you follow her. You Watch her. With every word he spoke, the knife pressed harder, cutting into her.
Crying out against the pain, Téoni tried to breathe and think rationally. Unfortunately, she'd never been good in panic situations, which was why she'd been assigned to one of the less interesting and stationary immortals. You know about us? came out of her mouth in between gasps of pain. Blood was beginning to drip from her wrist and was already doing so from the wound across her stomach.
Of course. One of you was my lover, before I discovered her nasty little secret. Did they not tell you this? Butler continued to press her against the door as he forced it open. You know everything about immortals, about me, about Janice. I'm surprised they didn't tell you. Roughly, he shoved her into the room; she stumbled and fell to the floor. Before she could rise, Butler grabbed her by her hair, pressed a knee into the small of her back, and placed the dagger against her throat. Now tell me where she is.
I told you, Téoni gasped. I don't know. She's never run before. Please, don't hurt me any more.
The dagger bit into her skin, drawing blood. She could feel it running down her throat, and her fear grew.
Where would she run?
Desperate to live, Téoni threw out the first thing that came to mind. Our Lady of the Divine Way, maybe. It was— oh God — she panted —affiliated with the convent she was in years ago. She — she sometimes goes and prays there.
Now, he said in a surprisingly gentle voice, wasn't that easier? He relaxed his hold on her, and Téoni took in a gasping breath.
Without warning, the blade that had been against her throat pierced her heart.
Having had lunch, Sara strode back to the station. As she waited at a corner for the light to change, a pair of nuns joined her on her right. Ordinarily, she wouldn't have spared them more than a moment's glance, perhaps a smile of acknowledgment. The Witchblade had other ideas.
Abruptly, she saw a convent, a stoutly built woman standing inside the gated, neatly tended courtyard. She was dressed in a navy blue suit with a skirt that hung down to mid-calf. A pillbox hat crowned her brunette hair. Nervous hands encased in white gloves smoothed invisible wrinkles in her skirt. A light wind caused her skirt to billow slightly. Behind her, another, apparently older woman stood dressed in the robes of a Mother Superior.
An old Ford came through the gates, passing a sign that said St. Brigit Convent and moving slowly until it came to a stop before the waiting women. Sara recognized the car as something she'd seen in pictures of classic cars — but in the Witchblade told her this was happening in the late 1960's.
The first woman tensed visibly until the driver emerged from the vehicle. A slender man, he was dressed in a sweater, jeans, and sneakers. His sandy-blond hair stirred slightly in the wind as he made his way around the front of the car. He looked about eighteen, if a bit of a serious eighteen, and when he spoke, Sara felt herself going into stunned disbelief.
Mother Agnes, he greeted, his odd accent rolling over the syllables. You look as lovely as ever.
The Mother Superior chuckled. And you are ever a flatterer. I'm so glad you could come. Father Darius promised he'd find you, and ask you to help Janice here. I'm afraid I'm completely hopeless in the city. She gestured to the nervous woman beside her. Janice Tibbs, I'd like you to meet Russell Nash. Russell, this is Janice.
Thank you, Mother Agnes, Janice said, and the older nun took her cue with a slight nod. Janice waited until she was out of earshot before speaking again.
Darius said it would be easier if we met here. Russell nodded, and Janice smiled more assuredly. I wasn't sure how to get through the city. If Mother Agnes hadn't agreed to meet me at the airport, I'm not entirely sure I could have gotten here to the convent. She chuckled softly. Hard to believe sometimes that until a few years ago, I'd really never been outside of a convent. He said you'd help. I didn't know whom else to turn to; the only other one of us I know well enough to trust is dead. But Lianna said if I ever needed anything, I could see Darius. She looked at him. Why are you helping me?
Now he smiled. Are you after my head?
Janice shuddered. And risk losing my life? No thank you.
Why not? You know there can only be one.
Janice slanted a look at him. I may have spent years in a convent, but I wasn't ignorant of gossip. Some of us may change our names, but the descriptions stay fairly consistent. I've heard talk that crossing a Highlander's suicide. Though, she paused, and a wicked smile lit her face, I heard it could be pleasure as well.
And does that interest you?
She chuckled again. I'd rather be friends if it's all the same to you. Life's complicated enough without adding sex to it. I just want to live in the city and live my life, instead of hiding out on Holy Ground. She chuckled softly. I'm not Darius; I don't want to devote the rest of my life to God. I stayed in the convent because I wasn't too terribly certain I wanted to go back to being out in the world. I'm leaving because well, to be blunt, I suck at being a nun. I want to live, not spend eternity praying for salvation. If God created us, then surely He has his reasons for wanting us to live longer. Somehow, I doubt they include eternal devotion. Obsession in anyone is not healthy. If it means I live a shorter life, then so be it. I'm not looking for a teacher; I had one, and while I wouldn't mind a friendly practice now and again, I don't expect it. I'm not interested in the Game, but I'm not going to pretend that it doesn't exist. I'll take my chances in the city, and whatever troubles come my way, I'll handle them. She stared at Russell a moment longer, then chuckled softly. You wanted to hear me explain why you should, she accused quietly.
Now I've made up my mind. Russell's face reflected his amusement as he opened the passenger door of his car. Ever been to the city, Janice?
As the vision faded, Sara was certain of one thing: Russell Nash was the same man she knew as Michael Nash. Maybe Jake had been right after all, she thought. Granted, genetics could account for the similarities of voice and body description. Even discounting those, however, Sara had the conviction of the Witchblade to back her natural deductive instincts. It didn't seem possible that Michael and Russell were the same man, and yet
Something wrong, miss? a female voice near her asked.
Startled, Sara turned to look at who was speaking. Her eyes widened as she recognized who it was the woman in her vision. This time, she was dressed in a tan trench coat; its collar lay open to reveal a gold cross on a necklace. Janice? she instinctively asked.
Warm brown eyes regarded her warily. Do I know you?
No, Sara said quickly. No, we've never met. You just, ah, look like someone I used to know.
People tell me that all the time. The woman chuckled softly, then looked at her shrewdly. Are you all right?
I'm fine, Sara assured her. She started to turn away, and then asked, You wouldn't happen to know anyone named Russell Nash, would you?
Sara had the satisfaction of seeing the name register with Janice. I'm sorry, Janice said gently, but she couldn't look Sara in the eye. He's dead.
I'm sorry to hear that, Sara said with convincing regret. How long ago was it?
Oh, heavens, it's been at least fifteen years. Janice looked at her. You'd have been a child. It was during that horrible headhunter-killing spree. Why, did you know him?
Something like that. Sara swallowed the lie and looked at Janice. Thanks for letting me know.
An awkward silence fell.
Well, it was nice to run into someone who knew him. I'd better get going. Without waiting for a reply, Sara checked the flow of traffic, and then crossed the street. Later, she promised herself, she'd figure out what the vision meant, and what Janice had just told her. For now, she had a case or two to solve.
Hey, Jake, Sara called as she entered the office, did we get a confirmation on any tattoos on the priest?
No tattoos, but one of the other senior members of the church confirmed that the victim was never without a pendant that had the same symbol.
Okay, Sara accepted. Got anything else?
Take a look at this, Jake suggested, directing her attention to what he had displayed on the screen. I did a search on the employer of the male corpse. Remember that polo shirt he was wearing? Said Lightning Protection Services, Inc.? Well, a company called Guild and Stern owns Lightning Protection Services, Inc. Lightning Protection does all the subcontract work for Guild and Stern, from what I could tell from the permits I saw on file. Guild and Stern has three branches in the city.
Sara leaned over his shoulder, seeing the addresses his search had produced. The second one listed, she said, tapping her finger on the screen, that's not far from the church where the priest was killed.
That's what I thought, Jake said as he clicked on the address she indicated, bringing it into focus. I called them up, got a recording stating they're not taking any new clients. Now what security business is so good they don't take any new clients?
One that's either making a ton of money or losing it, Sara surmised, immediately suspicious. Such businesses were usually fronts for something else. She glanced at her watch, noting the time: although late in the day, it was still within standard business hours. Come on, let's check it out.
A short drive later found them at the office building. Stepping out of the vehicle, Sara was hit with the sense of violence, scattered images of what she instinctively knew she'd find. Taking a deep breath, she cautioned Jake, Be careful. Something's off here.
I don't see anything wrong, he began. He glanced at her, then, apparently seeing something of her resolve in her expression, changed his mind.
Cautiously, they approached the elevator; Jake depressed the button for the ascent. Finding nothing wrong there, they both relaxed somewhat. For an older building, the elevator was surprisingly efficient in delivering them to their destination. Despite a sign stating that the Guild and Stern office was closed, it yielded to Sara's hand when no response to her knocking was received. Stepping in, the smell of death greeted them. Sara saw flashes of Witchblade-influenced insight as she moved through the now-ravaged office, adding to her own not-inconsiderable detective abilities. Beneath the ravaged computer, the scattered texts, she found the body of a woman, its head neatly severed. The lack of a head made checking the body for a pulse a worthless gesture, but Sara was checking something else. She was not surprised to find the same tattoo on the same wrist as the previous corpse.
Rising to her feet, she caught sight of the framed picture of Jake on the desk. Hey, Jake, looks like someone was a fan of yours.
Yeah, I know, Jake responded, his voice heavy with regret and some emotion Sara couldn't immediately identify. He swallowed, hard. She asked for my autograph a few days ago.
How do you know? You're not even looking at the body, Sara responded.
I don't have to. The grim certainty in his voice made Sara turn to face him as he continued, Someone's been watching too many horror films. Get a load of the window.
Following his line of sight, Sara soon discovered what he meant. The dead woman's head had been dropped in front of the video camera, which Sara surmised ordinarily faced outward. As she watched, Jake stepped forward, donning latex gloves he pulled from a pocket of his jacket. He then stopped the video camera's operation. Looks like whoever used this place had a sweet operation going. This is some high-grade equipment.
Rewind it now and see if we can't come up with something.
Her partner complied as she went to join him to watch the display on the video camera's screen. As they waited for the machine to kick in, Sara called in a preliminary report to Dispatch. A few minutes' viewing left them both convinced they had a suspect and a motive, as well as some weird spying operation Sara wasn't completely convinced was entirely legitimate. The woman's the key, Sara said.
The one the camera was pointing to before the camera got turned around? Jake began.
Who are you? a Cuban-accented female voice demanded just then. This is a private office.
Detective McCartey, Jake stepped in quickly, flashing his badge. This is my partner, Detective Pezzini. You would be?
Isabel Silvarra, the Hispanic woman said as she carefully stepped through the debris. She was dressed in a dark navy blazer, jeans, and black ankle boots; a tan leather jacket was draped over her left arm. She looked like she could have modeled the outfit for layout in a magazine targeted to middle-aged working mothers. This is my office. I was coming in to check on my employees. What the hell happened here? It didn't escape Sara's notice that Isabel wasn't in hysterics.
You regularly have your employees watching the building across the street? Sara asked.
It's one of our contracts, yes. Then she saw the severed head and her stoicism crumbled. Madre de Diós. Oh, Téoni, it should've been that motherless devil spawn of a cursed witch who lost his head, not you. After tonight, he will. This has gone on long enough. The words were spoken in rapid-fire Portuguese; Sara understood every word thanks to the Witchblade. Isabel took a deep breath. In English, she told Sara and Jake, I'll have to get permission from my client to release any information.
You know who did this? Jake questioned.
When will I have clearance to claim the body? Isabel countered. And for the record, that's Téoni Walker. I'm listed as next of kin; she has no family.
You sound like you were expecting something like this to happen. Sara studied the other woman, who seemed suddenly far older than her youthful appearance. How many employees have you lost to this bastard?
If he's stalking someone and your employees are getting killed, why haven't you contacted us? Jake chimed in.
My client does not believe the police can handle this matter. Isn't that why most people contact private investigators and security firms? Isabel smiled faintly and withdrew a business card from a drawer in the nearest desk. Handing it to Jake, she said, The number on that card will reach me anywhere. I know you will be here a while with all the other people you'll need to call in. If you'd rather I wait, I can, but I'd only meant to stop and go. I'm expected elsewhere.
In a hurry to leave, Ms. Silvarra? Sara asked casually. Surely you don't think he'll be back again. Or were you hoping to clean up your mess?
I didn't kill her. If I did, I'd have the sense to make it so I wouldn't have to spend the money on redecorating the office. Isabel's chin lifted slightly and her shoulders straightened, as she looked Sara in the eye. I care about my employees, Detective. I'll grieve over them in my own way, in my own time. If you want to reach me, you have my number. But there are only so many chances to read to a child when they're young enough to want a bedtime story, and I've already missed far too many in my daughter's life. If you'll pardon me ? Without waiting for a reply, Isabel left.
What's got into you? Jake demanded. You let our best lead walk out the door!
No, I haven't. Call this in. I'm going to follow her.
Why am I always the one stuck behind? Jake griped.
You're the rookie, that's why. Sara grinned, unrepentant, and walked out of the office. She was too late, however. Isabel had seemingly vanished into the night. Sara glanced at the Witchblade, willing it to show her something, anything, but it lay against her wrist, dormant. Swearing, Sara wondered yet again why the Witchblade wouldn't show her what she needed to know when she wanted it to do so.
The next morning, Sara decided to go back to Nash & Ellenstein Antiques. It had only been a few days since her last visit to the store. Rachel was with a customer, explaining the finer points of a set of Wedgwood china; Sara could hear their voices carrying through the store.
She turned the corner around a display, and, seeing the two women, decided to wait until there was a break in the conversation to interrupt.
May I help you?
The strangely accented voice caused her to jerk in surprise. He caught her before she could jostle anything, reacting far more quickly than she'd expected. The moment his hands touched her arms, the vision began.
She saw an abandoned warehouse, shattered glass everywhere, a headless corpse, a bloodied sword, and a brunette kneeling on the ground, saying, Connor, are you all right?
He shook his head. No, lass. I won.
Won? What does that mean? What happens now?
He chuckled roughly and pulled her to her feet as he rose. We move before your cop friends come asking questions.
The vision faded. Connor? Sara repeated, instinctively knowing that was his name, not Michael Nash.
Something flashed in his deep-set eyes and he let go of her, careful to maneuver her so that she didn't accidentally hit anything.
That's your name, isn't it? Even as she asked the question, she knew the answer to be yes.
He didn't blink. What can I do for you, Detective?
Someone else's head got chopped off with a sword this morning. They had a really unusual tattoo carved into their left wrist. The killer made it a point to emphasize that. You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?
I've been here all day, Detective.
She smiled. Look, I know you know more than you're telling. So why don't we both stop wasting time. You help me out, I don't go asking questions about who you really are.
He smiled pleasantly. Blackmail is still illegal, Detective. Ask me again. That needed work.
Sara swore under her breath; it was clear he wasn't going to play the easy way. Taking a deep breath, she decided to try something else. Charm wasn't her strong suit; but it was worth a shot. She took another look at Connor, and abruptly changed her mind. Whatever happened to the journal you said talked about the Witchblade?
If she hadn't been watching so closely, she might've missed the surprise in his eyes at her non sequitur. I believe it was destroyed in the same fire that took the house, he told her calmly.
She snorted, not believing him. Clearly, he was no amateur when it came to withholding information. She had no leverage, nothing to hold over him to get him to cooperate with her, and she highly doubted he'd volunteer anything without cause. Still, she had managed to catch him off guard. So whose house was it? she asked.
Just as he started to say something else, Connor stiffened slightly and his eyes narrowed. A heartbeat later, the door opened, the bell over the door jingling. The hardwood floor echoed with the sound of boots as whoever had entered drew near. Sara turned in time to see a distinguished-looking gentleman in his late forties stop a few feet in front of where she stood. On her wrist, the Witchblade flared angrily, its voices hissing in her ears, and Sara knew she was looking at someone important.
A man who keeps his weapons close is a wise man indeed, the stranger remarked. So many of us run antique shops, it's almost cliche. And to think I thought you wouldn't be a cliche.
If you came here on business, Connor stated, conduct it elsewhere.
The stranger smiled coldly. Oh, so I'm to assume you won't tell me where I might find my dear friend Janice, either? Tsk, tsk, and here I thought you might be a businessman. His smile grew wider. Unless you'd like to take it outside? At the end of the day, there is only one business we have, and that's the Game.
Connor inclined his head in acknowledgment. Not today, Butler.
As you wish. The stranger sounded amused. Since it seems I'm a bit unprepared at the moment. Till we meet again, Highlander. He stepped away carefully, as if unwilling to turn his back on an enemy, which struck Sara as being highly suspicious. The doorbell jingled, signaling his departure.
Sara turned to ask Connor the first question that sprang to mind, but the look on his face forbade questions. If you have nothing else for me, Detective, he told her, I have a business to run.
She hesitated a moment, unwilling to let go. As if on cue, Rachel stepped around the corner, a customer in tow with a question about something in the shop announcing their arrival. Connor looked pointedly at the two women and began answering the question, dismissing Sara.
Stuck with no other choice, Sara took her cue, promising herself that she'd be back.
That detective's not going to let it go, Connor, Rachel observed quietly after the customer had left. And who was that who came in looking for a sword?
Connor looked at the woman he'd raised as his daughter. He'd rescued her from Nazis, coming back to life literally on top of her, and she'd kept his secret all the years since. She wasn't a fool, and he'd never treated her as such. Still, a part of him wanted to protect her, wanted to make sure she stayed safe. He saw her mouth draw in a stubborn line as she recognized his desire to keep her in the dark.
Connor! You can't hide from me. I know you too well, remember?
Aye, he acknowledged with a rueful smile. He was silent a moment, debating just how much to tell her. Finally, he said, His name is James Butler. He prefers to kill women immortals, but I've heard he kills Watchers as well.
Rachel looked at Connor worriedly. Both were aware of the Watchers from Connor's kinsman. He's the one the police are looking for, then.
Connor nodded tightly. His hands vanished momentarily behind the counter as he picked up his katana from its hiding place. Moving out from behind the counter, he headed for the back room.
Be careful, Rachel cautioned, following him. If they already suspect you .
He smiled, his eyes dancing with sudden merriment over the challenge. Then they'll just have to catch me, won't they? he reasoned. Picking up his trench coat from where it hung on a coat rack, he slipped it on, and then tucked the katana in its sheath in the lining of the coat. He said nothing more as he went out the back door, ignoring, as he always did, Rachel's worried eyes on his retreating back.
Connor wasted a good hour searching the streets before returning home, relying primarily on his not-inconsiderable ability to sense others of his kind while he tried to figure out where Butler might have gone. The most logical place was the nearest martial arts supply store to Nash Antiques, and a brief conversation with the clerk confirmed that Butler had purchased a sword. Unfortunately for Connor, the clerk had assumed paid in cash meant no records kept, so there was nothing to indicate an address.
Frustrated, Connor returned home. He wouldn't use the Watchers for their knowledge, preferring to keep his distance, though he was well aware of the Silvarras and their associates. Tonight, though, the temptation to do so was strong. Still, he had one other recourse.
Smiling grimly, he sat down at his laptop and began the slow process of hacking into the cab companies' dispatch logs. The clerk had confirmed that Butler had taken a cab from the martial arts supply store, so that gave Connor a place to start. Connor didn't consider himself to be an expert at hacking, but he'd learned a few things from a friend, and had been successful in the past. He could only hope that he had enough time to find Butler before the other immortal found someone else to kill.
Thumbing through the painfully thin stack of information she had on the murders so far, Sara suddenly slapped her desk in frustration. There were no witnesses, no real leads, and the only thing that seemed to stay common to all three was the weird tattoo and the way they'd been killed. Her gut instinct told her that Nash was somehow involved, as was the stranger who'd come into the store, and the Witchblade confirmed that much, but neither told her how.
At the noise, Jake looked over from his computer screen. Problem?
Yeah, Sara answered as she got up to pace restlessly and stare at the bulletin board, where pictures of the crime scenes had been tacked. I'm not seeing who did this.
What, you going psychic on me?
Oh, yeah, I'm a regular Miss Cleo. She stared without seeing at the pictures. Whoever did this, he's a guy who has it in for people with that damned tattoo.
So, we find who has that tattoo, Jake suggested reasonably. He turned to the computer and tapped out a series of instructions. Some perp's gotta have one of them, if they're part of a gang.
None of the victims were known associates of a gang.
Maybe it's a new one. Jake shrugged. He then frowned. Though that last one I ran into her at the grocery store.
Really? Interested, Sara looked at her partner. I didn't think she was your type.
Obsessed fans never were. Jake's frown deepened into a scowl. Damn it, there was something I remembered about her, something Breaking off, he picked up the phone and dialed as Sara watched him, intrigued. Agent McCormick, please, this is Detective McCartey, NYPD. Yes, I'll hold. A brief pause ensued, then, Yeah, I know it's been a long time, Matthew. I'm good, thanks. Do you know anything about a trefoil tattoo with a sweeping 'V' in the center? Jake chuckled suddenly. Hell, yeah, I'll get right to the point. I'm a New Yorker, now. He listened for a few minutes more as his smile slowly faded. Yes, it's for a case. Uh huh. Uh huh. I see. Well, someone's got a hard-on for people with that tattoo up here.
Without being conscious she was doing it, Sara took a pen and scribbled the words Ask about Guild and Stern and passed it to Jake.
Not missing a beat, Jake took it and nodded. Yeah, they were all employed by Guild and Stern. Know anything about them? No? All right, thanks. Jake started to pull the receiver away from his ear when he abruptly stopped. The Holy Bean? What about it? Jake's smile returned. I owe you, again, Matthew. Thanks.
Hobnobbing with the feds, Jake? Sara asked.
Matthew saved my life. Don't know how the hell he did it, either. I nearly drowned as it was. Half to himself, Jake muttered, I still don't know why he was out on that beach anyway.
Sara let the comment pass. So, did he tell you anything?
He wouldn't tell me much — said that this gang is being investigated by the FBI, and it was classified. He did say we ought to check out the Holy Bean.
Know where that is?
Jake pulled up the Internet and did a quick search, then read off the address.
Where is that in relation to Guild and Stern? Sara asked, playing a hunch.
Again, Jake asked the site to search. He frowned slightly and got up out of his chair to look at the city map they had tacked to the bulletin board. Taking a couple of pushpins, he tacked it on the location of the cafe, then another on the location of Guild and Stern. Where's that antique shop, the one with the guy who's not talking to us?
Hudson Street, Sara replied.
Jake put a pushpin on that location. And the location of the first body was here, and the church was here, he said as he added pushpins to those sites.
Sara rose and studied the pattern. We got a cluster. Her fingers traced the lines. Nash Antiques is between the cafe and Guild and Stern and the location of the first body, but only if you see a triangle. So what's close to the first body that we missed?
Returning to the computer, Jake's fingers danced across the keyboard. There's a rare and used bookstore, an attorney's office and a barber shop right at that corner, if you're looking for a triangle. Looks like one of those semi-residential areas.
What are the names of the businesses?
Rose and Slavinsky are the attorneys, the barber shop's called Hair Trimmers and the bookstore is Shakespeare and Company. He frowned. Why would Guild and Stern be — hold a second. He tapped a few more keys. Thought I remembered that right. Guildenstern's a character in Hamlet, one of Shakespeare's plays.
Sara didn't like coincidences. There had been far too many in her life of late for her to trust them as being entirely random. My, Jake, Sara teased him. You do read something other than the books with pictures in them. Her tone suggested just what type of pictures she meant. Her mind, however, was racing.
Hey, there's nothing wrong with those, Jake parried. He turned away from the computer to watch Sara. What are you thinking, Pez?
Do you still have the number for Isabel Silvarra?
Yeah, Jake replied as he dug it out of his wallet.
What is it?
555-5869 extension 73 office, and she has a cell number and an alphanumeric pager.
What's the number of the bookstore?
It took Jake a moment to look it up. 555-5869. That's not right, that should be in a different prefix than Guild and Stern; it's on the other side of the island.
"Unless she's also working for Shakespeare and Company, Sara suggested.
That doesn't make any sense, Jake remarked. Not unless Guild and Stern is nothing but a front for something else.
Either way, let's check it out.
Can I help you? the young Korean woman asked as Sara and Jake entered the store.
Detective Pezzini and my partner, Detective McCartey, NYPD. We were hoping to find Isabel Silvarra here. Sara tried to ignore the throbbing of the Witchblade as it babbled incoherently in the back of her mind.
Just one moment. The clerk hurried off.
This place even smells like books. Worse than a library.
And you'd know because ?
Hey, I occasionally did my homework in high school, Jake riposted. Contrary to popular belief, not all surfers are dumb blondes.
Really. I'd have never guessed. Sara's voice was dry.
Admit it, Sara, you're starting to like me.
And have you believe I'm sick? Sara shot back. Not for anything would she admit her feelings for him; he'd been chosen to replace someone who, in her opinion, couldn't be replaced, and she didn't dare get too close. She didn't want to feel that kind of pain again.
May I help you? a British-accented female voice asked from behind them.
Its owner turned out to be a petite, slender woman with short-cropped brown hair and a ruthlessly angled face that made Sara think of fairy princesses. You're not Isabel.
No, I'm Amy Brennan-Thomas, the manager of Shakespeare and Company. Is there something I can assist you with, Detectives?
Isabel doesn't work here or she isn't here?
Amy smiled genially, as if amused by the distinction Sara was trying to make. Isabel isn't here and she doesn't work here. But as I'm sure you're wondering why she has an office number with us, Guild and Stern used to be located here, and when Mr. Stern died, he had quite a collection of books. It seemed simpler to Mr. Guild to relocate the security firm and open a bookstore than to hassle the phone company. Amy shook her head. Guess he got stuck on hold once too often, even if it was back in the '60's. I have no idea why he thought it was simpler; we get far too many people trying to find the security office here, and forget about us trying to call in a problem with the phone. She rolled her eyes, conveying that it happened a lot. I might be able to help you, though.
Is there someplace we can talk about this in private? Jake asked.
Of course. This way to my office. Amy led the way to the back room and a cramped office containing several file cabinets, a computer desk, and two chairs in the same tired beige-and-green pattern as the furniture scattered through the bookstore. A fairly new-looking computer sat on the desk, while a TV and VCR on a nearby stand showed and recorded security camera data. A few manila folders and assorted papers lay scattered across the desk; clearly, Sara and Jake had interrupted Amy in the middle of something.
Pardon the mess, Amy apologized as she rounded the desk. I swear computers generate more paperwork than they save. So, what can I do for you? She sat down as Sara and Jake did the same. Hastily, Amy cleared a small section of her desk that would have obstructed their view of her, but not before Sara caught a glimpse of the tattoo on her right wrist.
Actually, Sara began, we came to ask you about that tattoo you have. She felt Jake's jerk of surprise and stepped on his toe, trying to signal him to play along.
Amy froze for the briefest of moments as the Witchblade screamed a warning in Sara's mind. Oh, this? Amy chuckled. The stuff you do when you're drunk —
Might get you killed, Sara stated. It certainly killed Téoni Walker and Gary Meadows. She had the satisfaction of seeing the names register with Amy.
Jake picked up the cue. You might be next. If you knew them, it might help us figure out who's after them. We could prevent anyone else from dying if we can catch the guy.
Amy seemed ready to lie, but then she sighed. I'm tired of them getting away with murder, she muttered under her breath, in French. Sara heard and understood it thanks to the Witchblade. Try Venus Enterprises. After scribbling the address on a memo pad, she handed it to Sara, and exhaled heavily. And whatever you do, don't get too close.
So you know who it is, Jake pounced. If you're hiding anything—
Amy chuckled suddenly. Only a few dollars for a rainy day, Detective. She paused, clearly hesitating, then came to a decision. His name is James Butler, and no, I don't know where he is, only where he might be. She rose. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a bookstore to run.
How do you know— Jake started.
It's an old oath, isn't it? Sara guessed. Your father kept it and now you do too?
Yes, but— Amy stopped herself. You'd better go, she said instead, looking suddenly tired and burdened with knowledge she couldn't share. Before anyone else dies.
Sara smiled, satisfied. Thank you, Amy.
What did you mean by an old oath? Jake asked as they stepped out into the street. You know something I don't?
Just a guess, Sara returned evenly. That many people not wanting to tell us something — there's a tradition at work here, or a gang ethic, or something that significant. I don't know what they're protecting, but I'm betting it's worth risking life over.
What could be worth dying for? Jake wondered as he opened the car and slid into the driver's seat while Sara sat in the passenger's seat.
Sara shrugged. Money, sex, drugs, power?
Nah, doesn't fit, Jake said as he started up the car. You said it yourself. There's a history in this whole secret. It doesn't jibe. Maybe we've found some new mafia.
Whatever it is, Sara replied, I'll be happy to find the root of it. She shook her head. Hell, I'll settle for just solving the murders.
You and me both.
Sara wasn't too surprised to discover that Venus Enterprises was housed in the office building across the street from Guild and Stern. Using the laptop in Jake's car, they were able to access the business's profile.
Adult entertainment, Sara read. Hey, Jake, you old enough to handle that?
Only if you're willing to claim corruption of a minor, Jake retorted with a smile. Then we'd both be in trouble.
You'd like that, wouldn't you? Sara shook her head and got out of the car. Come on, let's see if this James Butler works here.
A few minutes later, they stood in front of the receptionist in what appeared to Sara to be a fairly plain lobby. Even out here, she could hear the dull roar of voices, though she couldn't make out what they were saying. The air felt thick with the kind of tension that comes from being in a high-pressure environment.
The receptionist smiled at them, holding up one finger with an unnaturally long red-painted nail as she continued to talk into her headset and expertly transferred a call. Amused, Sara noted that Jake couldn't help staring at the young woman who seemed ready to bust out of the purple lace-and-stretch-knit dress she wore. Clearly, whoever had hired her had considered the image she'd present. They're fake, she told him in an undertone.
So? Jake shot back, equally low. I'm from California, remember? I'm used to fake.
So if the real thing — on second thought, I'm not going there. I don't want to know that much about you.
Welcome to Venus Enterprises, the receptionist greeted. How can I help you? I'm afraid if you're selling something, I'm going to have to tell you to leave now.
Sara bit back her disappointment. She'd been hoping to use a bit of sweet-talking to get the information she wanted; it was her experience that showing a badge to an adult entertainment proprietor sometimes resulted in getting absolutely nowhere.
We're not, Jake answered. I'm Detective McCartey, and this is my partner, Detective Pezzini. He flashed the receptionist his badge. We were wondering if a James Butler worked here.
The receptionist smiled. No. We don't get a lot of men applying for work here, not when we're selling sex over the phone to straight men only.
I see. I take it you'd remember if someone with that name did try, then, Jake said.
Detective, it's stuff like that that keeps me amused. Excuse me, she said as she took an incoming call.
Jake glanced at Sara. I guess that means no, he declared.
You think? Sara said dryly. Thank you, she told the distracted receptionist, who nodded and continued to work.
So now what? Jake asked.
So, this Butler is probably going to show up when the shift changes, Sara surmised. Pick up his girlfriend. Turning to the receptionist, Sara waited for her to finish transferring a call, then asked, When does the next shift leave?
In a half hour, came the reply. Then the evening crew starts a half hour after that.
You're welcome. Anything else I can answer for you?
Don't think so, Sara told her, and headed for the door. A moment later, Jake followed her.
I take it we're waiting, Jake said.
Your observation skills are impressive, Sara noted as she reached the car, waited for Jake to unlock the doors, and slid into the passenger seat.
Yeah, I won them in a Cracker Jack box, Jake retorted, mildly annoyed as he took the driver's seat. What's with you, Pez? You not getting enough sleep? You've been cranky all day.
Yeah, I'm not sleeping. I sleep, I dream of stuff I don't understand, and I wake up with my heart in my throat, and though I can blame the damned bracelet I'm wearing for it, I can't stop putting it on. It's already led me to who pulled the trigger on my father, but I know there was more to my dad's murder than that, and it just might help me find out what. Oh, and supposedly, I'm this generation's wielder of the Witchblade, whatever the hell that means. Even as the words formed in her head, Sara didn't speak them. She didn't think he'd understand and didn't want to risk his scorn. Sorry, she said, knowing the apology was inadequate. I just want to catch this guy, y'know?
Yeah, I know.
Half an hour later, a small crowd of women emerged from the building. No one came to greet any of them, and Sara was about ready to consider that perhaps Butler was dropping off someone when a straggler emerged from the building.
She stopped just at the curb and looked warily in both directions. Sara felt the cold punch of recognition in her gut. I know her, she exclaimed.
You do? Jake said in bewilderment. How?
Sara didn't answer the question as she got out of the car. There were no such things as coincidences while she wore the Witchblade; that much, she knew. Striding across the street, she walked up to the woman.
Surprise flashed across the other woman's face. Oh, it's you. What are you doing here?
Detective Pezzini, NYPD. I'd like to ask you a few questions, if I may.
For a moment, Janice looked as though she was going to agree, before her body went abruptly rigid, as if she was bracing for sudden impact. Forgive me, Detective, Janice said, but right now isn't a good time. I really need to get going or else I'll miss my ride home. She seemed unusually panicked, more than what missing a ride warranted.
I won't be long, I promise. Do you know a James Butler?
Fear and panic lit Janice's expression. I really, really need to be going, she said hastily, moving forward.
Why? What's he to you? If you're afraid of him, I can help you. Sara matched Janice's pace.
No, I'm afraid this is something I have to do myself. Janice stopped abruptly, and turned to her left.
Out of the shadows of the nearby alley stepped a silver-haired man in a long coat. I've been looking for you, Janice.
I haven't been looking for you, James, she countered coldly. I told you a long time ago to leave me alone.
Is this man stalking you? Sara broke in, directing her comment to Janice, but keeping an eye on James. Cautiously, Sara reached into her jacket and put a hand on her gun.
Janice stared at James, as the air hummed with a tension Sara didn't understand. No, Detective, Janice said finally. This is old business.
Now James stepped more into the light and took stock of Sara. So, the Highlander's woman is a cop. He sneered. Shouldn't you go running back to his protection?
I don't know who you're talking about, and besides, I can fend for myself. She pulled her hand out of her jacket, thinking that she had her hand on her gun, only to find that the Witchblade had manifested into a sword and gauntlet.
So, he's told you about us. James advanced menacingly on her, drawing a sword out of his coat.
Leave her out of this, Janice pleaded. Whether she knows or not, it doesn't matter. I'll meet you at dawn down by the docks, and we'll settle this.
It matters. My own wife spied on me, lied to me. No one must know about us save us.
You killed Catherine for that? Janice gasped, horrified. She loved you.
And you introduced us. Fitting, isn't it, that I found you again? You shouldn't have left the convent, Janice Tibbs. He drew out her name mockingly. Or did you think I was going to be scared off by the Highlander? He's next, after I'm done with you.
I've always fought my own battles, Janice countered. But you're a fool if you can take the Highlander.
Put the sword down and leave now, Sara ordered.
I've never listened to a woman, and I won't start now, James snarled, attacking her.
Instinctively, Sara parried the attack, only to find her blade deflected and held. Janice held two swords in her hands; one pressed against Sara's, the other against James's. Seeing that Sara stood still, surprised at how quickly Janice had moved, Janice dropped the pressure on the Witchblade. She then pressed her advantage against James, using her greater bulk and the other sword to force James to retreat. Leave, James. Dawn is soon enough for both of us to let God decide our fate.
Jake chose that moment to appear. What the hell's going on here? he demanded.
Growling, James stepped back. Dawn it is, you blasphemous whore. His sword disappeared in the folds of his coat before he turned and strode back the way he came.
I'm so sorry about that, Janice apologized as she lowered her weapons.
You mind telling me what's going on here? Sara asked. Unconsciously, she hid her right hand behind her back, willing the Witchblade into concealment.
I'm sorry, Janice said again. You should know if you're friends with the Highlander. She studied Sara a moment longer, then added slowly, Then again, you probably don't; he's the most tight-lipped man I've ever met. I'm so sorry you got mixed up in this. She took a deep breath as she pulled her coat around her, making her swords vanish in the process. Please, if you value your life, even if you know how to use a sword — stay away. You only get one life.
She hurried away in the opposite direction, leaving a bewildered Jake to stare at Sara.
Did I just see swords? he asked.
Yeah, Sara answered.
And did I see you with one?
Sara looked at him, mentally swearing. There was no way she could explain the Witchblade's powers when she barely understood them herself. C'mon, she lied, how the hell am I going to hide something like that in this jacket?
Jake took in the short leather jacket she wore. Yeah, okay, so aren't we going to go after them?
And do what? Sara asked sharply. The Witchblade's manifestations always took something out of her, leaving her feeling tired and more vulnerable.
Look, it's obvious they meant to use those swords. And if that was the guy we came here to find, then we have to go after him.
I don't think we'll find him this way, Sara said with certainty, turning down the alley.
Jake looked at her. Fine, he agreed heatedly. If you don't want to go chasing him, then I will. He started to jog down the alley.
Jake! Sara swore and made a grab for her partner, barely succeeding. Look, we'll do it by the books. We don't want him slipping away on a technicality, if he's the murderer. She stared intently at her partner. You know how the captain's been after us to do it right.
You mean he's been after you, Jake interpreted correctly. Nothing like the crazy shit that's been happening lately with you. Bodies everywhere and you're the only one left standing with any alibi.
Yeah, Sara agreed, nodding, hating the fact that the simplest explanation for what was happening was also the strangest. So why don't we go back to the station and get it right.
After a moment, Jake nodded, and they made their way back to the car.
Four hours later, Sara left the station, feeling frustrated by bureaucracy. Without an address for James Butler and enough evidence to tie him to the murders, they couldn't get a warrant, and Venus Enterprises wouldn't disclose the last names of their employees without a court order, stating the need to protect the confidentiality of their employees. It was enough to make Sara's head spin.
She got on her bike intending to go home, but found herself parking once again in front of Nash Antiques. A glance at the Witchblade told her that it had guided her path, and she sighed, giving in to its direction, and told herself she needed to ask some questions anyway.
The lights in the shop were out, and a glance at the door and her watch told Sara she'd arrived after hours. There were lights in the windows above the shop, though, and she wondered if the apartment above the shop belonged to the owner. Deciding it wouldn't hurt to try, she stepped around to the back door and rung the doorbell.
A minute passed. She couldn't hear any movement through the door, and there wasn't a window to help her. She was about ready to give up when the door opened.
Detective Pezzini, Connor greeted. To what do I owe this pleasure?
Mind if I ask you a few questions? Off the record, just for my own curiosity? Sara asked with a friendly smile. Preferably not out here in the cold, she added, sensing he'd rather slam the door on her than invite her in.
He looked on either side of her, clearly expecting some kind of trap. His eyes narrowed at something just over her shoulder, but when she turned slightly to see what he saw, she saw only an old homeless man, stumbling past the alley. For a moment, Sara wondered where she'd seen that man before, but then Connor opened the door wider and let her inside.
The back door led into a short hallway; stairs curled down one side while the path led to another door. Sara couldn't tell where the stairs led up to, and Connor didn't give her much chance to find out. He opened the door, and entered a pass-through kitchen. Sara got the impression of a small, well-furnished kitchen as she tried to keep pace with her host. The kitchen sat higher than the rest of the space, she realized, which was basically a huge studio apartment. Opposite the kitchen was a home office framed by several filled bookshelves. A short flight of stairs took them into a spectacularly furnished sunken living room, dominated in the center by a green circular sofa and highlighted by a large aquarium off to one side, a piano in another.
Sara had been in rooms like this; the antique business had to pay very, very well, or her host had family money. It smelled of quietly invested wealth, yet was still a place where someone clearly lived, rather than used as a showcase.
Across the room, Sara could see that another set of stairs, wrought iron this time rather than wood, led up to what she guessed where the bedrooms were. Somewhere, a stereo played classical music. A book lay open on the coffee table, a half-empty glass full of an amber liquid beside it.
It didn't escape her notice that Connor didn't offer her a drink. She said nothing, ignoring the slight. She wasn't interested in liquid refreshment. She watched as her reluctant host joined her on the sofa.
Connor picked up his glass and took a drink, then looked at her.
Feeling vaguely uncomfortable, Sara plunged forward. The other day, when I was in your shop, and that guy came in, he called you 'Highlander.' Tonight, when he and I met, he called me 'the Highlander's girlfriend.' And Janice said I shouldn't be mixed up in her business, but I don't get it. They had swords, and it sounded like they were setting up to duel at dawn. Sara looked at him, puzzled. Why did he call you 'Highlander'? Why would anyone fight with swords?
Janice? Connor prompted, ignoring her questions.
Big woman, probably about 270 pounds, 5'6, shoulder-length brunette hair, brunette hair, slight French accent? Works at Venus Enterprises? You know her?
Connor nodded. Janice Tibbs is a friend of mine. He smiled suddenly. Not in the way you think, Detective. I never call her at work.
You still haven't answered my questions, Sara noted pointedly. What are you hiding? Why won't you help me?
Connor's eyes flashed with anger. My reasons are my own. If you're going to arrest me, Detective, then do it.
She stared at him for a long, wordless moment. Tell me where to find Janice, and don't waste my time lying.
His gaze flickered to her right hand, now covered by a gauntlet of steel and holding a very sharp rapier, but he didn't seem intimidated by it in the least. Where did you find the Witchblade?
It found me. She narrowed her eyes. If you're trying to change the subject, it's not working. Going on instinct, she said, Look, if you're trying to protect her because she's a friend, that's fine. I'm not here to make any deals. I just She took a deep breath as the Witchblade reverted back to a bracelet, and her voice was softer when she spoke again. I just want to know. I hate being in the dark.
Not knowing is sometimes a better thing. Without warning, he closed the distance between them and grasped the forearm that wore the Witchblade, just above where it rested against the bones of her wrist. Don't you ever tire of seeing what it sees? he asked quietly, his eyes searching hers.
How do you know about the visions — she started, only to stop herself. Yes, she answered.
Then why do you keep wearing it? He turned her arm over. It's not fused to you yet. He seemed puzzled.
I don't know, she said softly, unable to speak anything but the truth when he was watching her so steadily. Wait a minute, what do you mean, fused to me?
He looked at her, clearly choosing his words carefully. I heard it does that.
No, she countered with sudden clarity. You've seen it like that.
Aye, he answered. You remind me of her.
Maureen? Sara questioned, pulling the name out of one of the visions she'd had. She had no doubt now that he'd lied about reading Maureen's words in a journal; the admission of knowledge was too personal for something as distant as that.
Connor moved his head in the briefest of nods and seemed to close up, moving away from her to stand. Without needing words, Sara knew she'd caught a glimpse of the private man underneath the stoic front. She didn't have the answers she'd come seeking, and yet she knew it was time to depart. Still, she didn't want to go, and would have probably said something else if it weren't for the ringing of her cell phone.
Pezzini, she answered it curtly.
Sara, a husky male voice caressed her name. You should have asked me for help.
What do you want from me, Nottingham?
I thought I was the one offering to help.
She exhaled with impatient anger. Nottingham was a man of many talents, but he worked for the man who wanted her not for herself, but because she had the Witchblade. It made her not want to trust Nottingham. All right, what?
Come outside and I'll show you.
She hesitated, but her need to have answers overruled her caution. I'll be there. Hanging up the phone, she turned to Connor. Look, whatever it is you're hiding, I hope it's worth dying for. I know you're involved in this somehow. I just wish I understood how.
Connor merely looked at her until she felt compelled to walk away.
So what do you have to show me? Sara demanded.
The lovely Sara, to the point as always, Nottingham murmured, sounding disappointed.
Why, Nottingham, if you just made me leave my best shot at finding out what's going on so you could flirt with me, then I think I'll leave. She turned to do exactly that.
You shouldn't be here. He stepped in front of her, blocking her path.
Do you think I care whether you think I should or not? Or is that your boss talking?
Dark brown eyes stared at her. You don't know what you're messing with. If the Witchblade is showing you something, you should—
Don't tell me what I should do with this damned thing. You made sure I found it, didn't you? And if your boss doesn't want me learning about it, then he shouldn't have let me keep it. She stared at him in the shadowed glow of the streetlight. You can tell him to go to hell.
Sara Nottingham called, but she was already headed to her motorcycle, and so she ignored him. She had one lead: something was going to happen at dawn, and she meant to find out what, and where. It would have been nice if Nottingham had been more helpful, as his employer was a billionaire who seemed to own and influence half the world if not more. She shrugged off the slight disappointment she felt and reassured herself that she didn't really need anyone's help. A good detective just needed to use her head and find the pattern or at least someplace to start. She had that much.
She didn't find Janice Tibbs listed in any of the phone directories, so that left her with the places the bodies had been found. Given those locations, she thought to herself as she drove home, where would the most likely place to hold a sword fight be?
She drove to a few locations, trying to figure it out, but none of them seemed right. She was just about ready to head to the last location on her mental list when Danny appeared.
Go home, Sara, he counseled her. You're not going to find it tonight.
Oh, so you know where this is, then?
No, the ghost told her. But I know you're not going to accept it if you didn't sleep.
Is it that important that I do?
Danny smiled, his eyes a little sad. Yes. Otherwise, you'll just think it's all an illusion, and you won't be prepared for the future.
Care to tell me what happens in the future?
You know I'm not allowed, Sara.
Exhaling heavily, she shook her head. I'm surrounded by people who like to leave me guessing. Figures.
Just don't get too close to the lightning when it comes.
Lightning? What lightning?
Danny, however, had vanished.
Frustrated, Sara rapped the palm of her hand against the handlebars of her motorcycle and let out a breath. The Witchblade warmed on her wrist, as if to agree with Danny, and Sara sighed again.
All right, all right, I get the hint, she said crossly.
Connor! What are you doing here? Janice's initial wariness at sensing another immortal turned to pleasure as she recognized him. She rose from the pew to give him a quick hug.
Looking for you, he told her.
Her pleasure at his arrival faded. I wondered if James had been by to see you. He nodded, Sighing, she reseated herself; Connor sat down next to her.
You know, I never thanked you for helping me back in '67, she said after a moment of silence.
Connor smiled and settled more comfortably in the pew. It wasn't necessary.
I thought you'd say that. Janice looked at the altar for a minute and took a deep breath. I never thought it would come to this. I know the rules, but it's been a very long time since anyone's challenged me. She half-chuckled. Everyone comes after you and forgets about anyone else living in the city. She looked directly at Connor. I've really appreciated knowing you, Connor.
Don't give up already, Connor said harshly. You're already dead.
I'm being realistic. I know how he fights; we were friends once, back before his wife's death twisted him.
Janice sighed heavily. He was an honorable man, once. Now I'm not so sure. Nervously, she toyed with the lapel of her coat. The friend I knew wouldn't kill anyone outside of the Game or a war. She bit her lip. If he's willing to break that code, then he's liable to do anything, and I—
—Will fight, Connor finished for her, his voice firm as he reached over and tilted her chin up. It's the only thing you can do. His eyes narrowed and his hand fell instinctively to his sword as the sensation of another immortal washed through him.
Janice looked at him quizzically before she too, felt the presence.
Both turned to see who was entering the sanctuary.
Well, well, lookee here, Butler drawled, stopping just inside the room. His voice carried through the silence. Two praying mice. Come out and play if you dare.
I said dawn and you agreed, Janice pointed out, standing to face him. We still have several hours before then.
Did I? Butler looked at his nails as if he was bored, then looked directly at Janice. I don't remember. The night may no longer be young, but the moon is still full, and dawn is just so cliche for a time to die.
Are you that eager to see God? Janice countered.
Oh, don't flatter yourself, Janice. You never were a fighter; even when we were friends, you preferred to talk your way out of a fight. He scoffed. If only I could believe that you had the skill to back up your words . but, no, it's just like you sell sex but never, ever do it. Come off Holy Ground and show me how I'm wrong.
Connor could see that Butler's words were having their intended effect. Janice seemed ready to burst out to fight. Then, as if remembering he was still there, she glanced in his direction, and took a deep breath. Visibly calming, Janice told Butler, No matter what happens, Butler, you're dead. She rose to her feet, Connor a heartbeat behind her.
So you say, he said mockingly. In the end, there can only be one.
Sara didn't go home right away, detouring to play out an idea that had come to mind when she happened to glance down at her cell phone while at a stoplight. A quick check with information had revealed at that Janice Tibbs's phone number was unlisted, which only confirmed that the woman had a phone number but wouldn't be in the paper directory. That meant computer research, but Sara wasn't going back to the office just for some late-night research. She wanted to look at the map of locations again and find out why, of all the churches in the city, Our Lady of the Divine Way was important.
It took a call to her Internet-savvy friend Gabriel and a few instructions, but two hours later, she had her answer: Our Lady of the Divine Way was originally founded by a group of nuns out of St. Brigit's, a convent located in upstate New York, in 1969. That information tied with Butler's comment about Janice being in a convent but that didn't jibe with the vision Sara had seen of Janice as an adult, leaving the convent. For one thing, Janice's age would be wrong.
Yet the Witchblade hummed with confirmation that Sara was on the right track.
There was only one thing she could think of to do, and that was to go to church. Without regard for letting Jake in on her hunch, or even calling in some kind of backup, she headed out alone. If her hunch was nothing, then she hadn't wasted anyone's time but her own.
She drove into the parking lot in time to see Butler, Janice, and Connor step across the street to the small park across the street from the church. There wasn't much to the park a set of standard playground equipment, a basketball hoop, and a trail that wound diagonally across the park, sat on land about the size of a residential-area city block. Trees ringed the edges of the park, obscuring it on three sides from the streets that bordered it. The most open space faced the back of the church annex, where the offices and classrooms were.
Sara didn't understand why the trio chose there as their meeting location, but that soon became clear the moment Janice and Butler drew their swords. She started to run to stop them, but a strong male arm yanked her back into the shadows.
Diós! a man's voice cursed. They'll see you if you stand there!
Caught off guard, Sara stumbled into the hard muscled chest of a young Hispanic man. He set her gently on her feet and whispered, Did Isabel send you?
Isabel? Isabel Silvarra?
My aunt. He glared at her. Man, you really must be new. He grabbed her wrist and exposed it to the glow of a mini-flashlight. Oh, shit.
What? What are you not seeing? A tattoo?
He looked fearful. Who are you?
NYPD. Who are you?
No one. With that, he took off, faster than Sara expected. She thought about going after him, only to have the Witchblade react violently to that suggestion. Its voices screamed in her head to stay put while its tentacles pinned her arm to the wall of the building. She gasped at the sudden manifestation, caught off guard, and instinctively fought to free her arm from its prison. The Witchblade only grew stronger, and its metallic green scales started to cover more of her arm. Frightened and alarmed, Sara swore at the semi-sentient gauntlet. In response, it trapped more of her body against the wall.
Okay, okay, I get the point, she muttered angrily, hating how the Witchblade made her feel like she only knew half the story, and that it would reveal the rest to her when it deemed she was ready. She wanted answers now, not yesterday, not tomorrow, but she also wasn't willing to risk being fused permanently to the wall, either. She'd never seen the Witchblade act like this, and it scared her. You think this is important, that I need to know this. I'll stay if you don't pin me to this wall anymore.
To her relief, the Witchblade retreated, but, not wanting to incite it to cause her any more bodily harm, Sara heeded its command.
Connor heard footsteps pound across the pavement and assumed it was one of the Silvarras finally catching up to Watch the fight. He didn't think Butler would have a helper or a second to level the playing field, and he didn't dare do more than quickly glance around. He didn't want to miss watching how Butler fought, so he could defeat him.
Janice and Butler circled each other for a few minutes before Butler grew impatient and attacked. Steel rang as Janice parried his attack and followed through with an attack of her own. Connor had, on occasion, practiced with Janice, and knew that she used her dexterity with the two swords as a compensation for her inability to move as quickly as a lighter opponent. She wasn't afraid to put her mass behind her sword strokes, either, and her swords cut deep when they hit. Butler bled from a hit she'd scored on his thigh, but it didn't seem to faze him. It was as though Butler had memorized her fighting style and knew how to counter her double-sword method.
Connor's eyes narrowed as he realized Butler was deliberately drawing Janice's hits, wearing her down until he could take a chance. A part of Connor wanted to say something, but he knew that speaking now might distract Janice even further, hastening her death. Knowing that, however, didn't make watching it happen any easier. Still, he'd never broken the unwritten rule about fighting another immortal one on one, and he wasn't about to start now.
It didn't take Butler long to strip Janice down to one sword, and even less time to disarm her completely. Her last sword struck the ground with a muted thunk a few feet away from its twin. Janice lost her head before she had time to turn and fully comprehend that she had just had her right arm cut off.
Butler didn't crumple to his knees in the onslaught of Quickening, but stood, arms braced, feet wide apart, his body shaking as Janice became a part of him. Whatever wounds Janice had managed to inflict upon him - and she'd scored several - were healed by the Quickening. Once it was over, he kicked Janice's corpse aside and stared at Connor.
Your turn, he said mockingly.
Connor smiled grimly and tossed his coat aside, drawing his katana as he did so.
Stunned into stillness by the deadly ballet and the strange fireworks that had just transpired, Sara barely had time to grasp that Janice was dead before the dance began again. This time, it was clear to her that Connor held the advantage. For every blow that Butler managed to strike, Connor struck two. Connor was quicker on his feet than Butler, who seemed oddly rooted, as if he hadn't quite expected to have to fight this way. Where he'd been precisely deadly earlier, he appeared to flounder. Sara wondered if the odd lightning he'd taken in acted as a drug, slowing his responses, but she didn't think that was entirely the case.
For his part, Connor didn't seem to be acting out of vengeance. Sara couldn't make out the details of his face from where she stood, but his movements seemed too calculated for anger to be driving them. If anger was the motivation Sara didn't want to think about him the one responsible for all the murders. It didn't fit him the way the label seemed to fit the struggling Butler, who was clearly more accustomed to dominating people who weren't as able to fight back.
How long the fight lasted, Sara couldn't say. She watched as Butler tried to attack Connor from a different angle, knocking Connor's katana from his hands. Her breath caught in her throat as she wondered if Butler would finally succeed. Connor dropped under the attack and rolled on the ground. Eagerly, Butler advanced on him, certain that he'd only been trying to escape. He didn't see that Connor now held one of Janice's swords. Butler stepped right into Connor's attack. Butler's head fell to the ground, his body following.
As Sara had seen before, an ethereal ghostlike mist rose from the body to meet Connor as lightning began to strike around him, through him, at him. He screamed defiantly and brought his hands together around the handle of his borrowed sword, raising it high over his head as if to channel the energy. The weird storm drove him to his knees, where he rocked for several minutes until finally, the storm faded away.
Unconsciously, Sara drew closer, hypnotized, and stared as Connor slowly rose to his feet in the aftermath of the lightning storm. His eyes never left hers. You're under she started to say, and then abruptly stopped as she read his tired amusement.
Glancing down at herself, she realized the Witchblade had chosen to manifest itself as an impossibly delicate and intricate filigree of green metalwork armor that snaked around her entire body, including her legs and feet. The metalwork protected the essentials but left her skin as revealed as a lingerie model. Her right hand and wrist, as well as part of her forearm, where the bracelet had been, were now covered in a metallic, studded glove. Sara sighed. She preferred the medieval suit of armor to this, or even the sword and gauntlet that just covered her forearm, but when no one was shooting at her, she'd discovered the Witchblade preferred this.
No. I'm not arresting you, Michael Nash or Russell Nash or Connor or whoever the hell you are. You're a stone cold killer, sure as anything I've ever seen. But you — God, what the hell are you?
Connor gestured to her. Some might ask the same of you.
Taking a deep breath, Sara willed the gauntlet back into bracelet form. For once, it obeyed her. Within seconds, the greenish coils of the otherworldly armor vanished, leaving her standing once again in regular, albeit slightly tattered, clothing. So we're both freaks. That doesn't change anything.
What I am, Detective Pezzini, he said quietly, is walking away. He held her gaze a moment, and then turned to do just as he said. He paused only to pick up his katana and Janice's other sword, heading towards the trees.
Sara let him go and turned away. Something told her she was better off to do just that. She didn't understand what Connor was, except something that wasn't entirely human, and wasn't entirely certain she wanted to examine it any further than that. It was enough to know that she wasn't alone in being cursed by some unnatural force. She suspected there was something about extended life in the lesson the Witchblade had given her, but she didn't want to think about that now.
She looked at the two headless corpses, looked her current state of semi-dress, and sighed again. It was going to be a bit nippy going home on her motorcycle, but it wasn't the first time. Tiredly, she trudged back to the parking lot. She started to climb aboard her motorcycle, then halted, seeing some movement out of the corner of her eye.
Connor stood there, a coat in his hands, silently offering it to her. She stared at him a long moment, not trusting the gesture. Unconsciously, she shivered as a sudden gust of wind reminded her that it was a cold, breezy night. Connor waited expectantly.
She shivered once more before finally accepting the gift. Thanks, she told him.
He nodded acknowledgment, and then turned back the way he'd come. It was a long time before Sara left the scene. It wasn't until morning, after she'd returned the coat to a surprised Rachel and been told that Mr. Nash was unavailable, that she found a faded piece of writing paper on her desk.
The paper turned out to be a letter from a Father Darius in Paris, acknowledging receipt of the Witchblade, and promising that it would be kept safe until the Vatican's representatives could arrive. The letter was dated 1868. The priest went on to express sorrow over Connor's inability to meet with the Vatican's representatives.
Seeing it, Sara wondered who had put it there. Then Jake called her, saying the captain wanted them, and she put the question out of her mind. Later, when she remembered it again, the letter was gone, but a business card she didn't remember having gotten that day was in its place.
The business card was for Shakespeare and Company. On the back was a note: Ask for Amy if you want to talk.
Without hesitation, Sara picked up the phone and dialed.
*** Finis ***
Credits and End Notes:
- This came out of a dream I'd had while staying with a friend back in May 2001. Thanks to everyone who encouraged me not to quit writing in the midst of my personal chaos.
- Russell Nash is Connor's current alias in canon. I'm inclined to believe that if he's still using it, he's using a variant of it.
- Miss Cleo claims to be psychic. She sells her ability in TV ads and Internet spam.
- So who's the homeless man seen walking past Connor's place? Among Witchblade: the Original Series fans, he's known as Waldo, in part because he's in every episode - somewhere. It wouldn't be quite right to not have him here, IMO. His importance isn't revealed until the season one finale, and no, I'm not spoiling that.
- Thanks to Marianne Shade for naming The Holy Bean.
March 17, 2002 Raine Wynd