THE NIGHT SHIFT
You've been dead two weeks, and you're still stirring up trouble.
Couldn't you have left a will? You certainly wrote enough of everything else. I've been through all of your things (at least, the things that I could find), and there's no will. Now I will have to get a lawyer and wrangle everything out in the courts. I was surprised at how much of a pack rat you were. How did you stay so mobile when you had so much stuff? Joe's daughter, Amy, made herself gatekeeper of your apartment after you died, keeping out any unnecessary visitors. The Watcher interest in your journals is amazing, but Joe's just too upset to deal with it right now. Well, that's not surprising, considering that he killed you.
Duncan...oh, poor Mac. He's not doing well at all. I suppose I was the lucky one. I didn't have to watch Joe whack off your head. I didn't have to take a Quickening that knocked out all power in Paris for two days. I didn't have to comfort Joe afterwards as he lay on Alexa's grave, howling over your head and trying vainly to stick it back onto your body.
I was in New York when I got the news. I saw the TV reports. After what happened when Duncan took that bastard Kalas' head, I knew what such a massive power outage meant. I tried to call Joe's bar. I tried to call Duncan at the barge. The phone lines were all down, so I couldn't get through. When I got here two days later, things were in a complete mess. Joe was trying to get himself arrested for your murder. Every other Watcher in Europe was scurrying to cover up your death. Duncan looked as though he wanted to run right back to that monastery in Malaysia. Why not? He'd done it after he killed Richie. It worked then, didn't it?
It's probably just as well that Joe killed you, in the end. He already knew, after Horton killed Darius, that a Mortal could kill you on Holy Ground. God only knows what would have happened if Duncan had tried to do it himself. But you know that Duncan would have never done that. I think he hoped until the very end that you would recover, somehow.
I took control as soon as I arrived. It was the least I could do. I know I wasn't around enough at the end. I couldn't bear to see you like that, my dear. I suppose I always preferred Death as a goofy postgraduate student in trench coat and trainers to the skeletal ghost I saw grinning over your shoulder at that nasty home. I got a lawyer for Joe. I arranged the funeral. I wangled your remains and your sword away from the Watchers. Since you'd had Alexa cremated and nobody objected, I arranged that, too. You always enjoyed playing the civilized Greek so very much.
The funeral today was more crowded than I expected. Most of your department insisted on showing up after I informed your advisor of your death (I told him that you'd died unexpectedly in your sleep. He seemed relieved.). It turned out that you had been in the middle of submitting your thesis when you'd taken ill. You'd made, and rediscovered, quite a few friends in your department these past two years. I suppose you'd finally decided to close out your life as Adam Pierson, to give him his due and move on.
I let your officemates divide up your things from your desk. I believe they're still fighting over your I-Book. Mary, the Wiccan, took your collection of little Bastet statuettes. Arnaud took your Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes anthologies. Bernat got your Museum posters and a moth-eaten beret from World War II. Professeuse Du Toit came by for your books. Professeur Guibert gave his son your Buzz Lightyear doll. Your Turbo-Blaster waterpistol (the one you used to shoot out the window at innocent passersby, cackling madly the entire time, no doubt) became common office property. Did you *ever* get any work done?
The really remarkable thing about the funeral was when all the Watchers showed up. I expected Joe and Amy, of course, but 20 of their colleagues from all over Europe? I'll admit, it made me uneasy to have so many of them surrounding me. My experiences with their renegade comrades have been less than cordial, as you know. In fact, I could have sworn that they gave you a dishonourable discharge after you'd quit and they'd later found you out as an Immortal. Oh, well. At least they kept the police out of it all. So, they did rally behind Joe--and you--in the end. Goddess, how they cried. Everyone cried--except Duncan. You never heard such weeping and wailing since Babylon fell, I'm sure. Even I thoroughly ruined my mascara for you.
I wish poor Duncan could have shed a few tears for you. It would have made him feel much better, I think. He went through the entire ceremony in a sort of trance--as if he'd been turned into granite. Oh, how you would have laughed to see him turned out in full tartan regalia. He got you a bagpiper, can you believe it? I just let him get on with it, even though I can't stand the noise. The worst part was when he had to take over carrying your ashes from Joe. Joe was--no, Joe *is* a basket case. He clung to Amy's arm throughout the ceremony, barely able to stand. We buried you with Alexa, of course. I laid your sword over you both.
Over 40 people saw you off to your eternal rest, Methos. That is an unprecedented number for our kind. Poor Richie only had a handful of people at his funeral. We tend to die unnoticed and unmourned, save by our Watchers and, possibly, our killers. But you, oh ordinary ancient guy, have left behind you a very large hole. How did you, the most reclusive and cynical of us all, manage that?
By the way, your concierge offered to take your cat. It seems that she and old Silas had grown rather attached to each other while you rambled all over the globe. I'm sure that she'll keep Silas happier than his namesake, in his declining years. Is it really true that you used to keep three of the little beasts? What must Kronos and Caspian have been like, I wonder?
A very strange thing happened after the funeral. Both Duncan and I felt a buzz at the beginning of the ceremony, but no Immortal appeared. Afterwards, I sent Duncan on ahead to the car with Amy and Joe, then lingered at a distance from your grave. Who did I see come skulking out from behind a monument but your old enemy Cassandra. She walked with her head down, shoulders slumped, right up to your grave. She was carrying a large bouquet of red roses. Kneeling down, she laid them across the mound of dirt we'd just piled over you. She didn't move as I approached.
"I'm not here for a fight," she growled as I drew near. "I just came to pay my respects." Goddess, you must have been a remarkable man, to confuse a girl so much after 3000 years of hating you. What really happened between you two back in the Horsemen's camp? Did either of you ever know?
"Actually, that wasn't the kind of invitation I had in mind," I replied lightly. "We're having a sort of wake back at Joe's place, Le Blues Bar. Why don't you come along?"
She glared up at me. "You must be joking. I'm the last person who'd be welcome there."
I forced my tone to stay friendly. "Cassandra, he's dead and buried. Duncan and Joe won't have any cause left to fight with you, and the rest won't even know who you are. Come and drink to his eternal damnation, if you'd like. Maybe it will help you finish it with him."
To my astonishment, she agreed. She went back for her car and met us at Joe's. Duncan was shocked to see her, but they came to an understanding soon enough. She stayed out of Joe's way. Eventually, she found herself a quiet corner and got very drunk. Around midnight, she got up to leave. I offered to put her up for the night. She refused. I called her a cab and saw her off into the Parisian night. I hope that I've helped her, somehow. See what messes you've left for me to clean up, my dear?
Joe insisted on getting up onstage and singing the blues for half the night. He dedicated the very first song, called 'The Night Shift', to you. It was a mournful elegy to two dead musicians, I think. We eventually got him offstage, after he deteriorated into a keening rendition of Eric Clapton's 'Tears in Heaven'. Cassandra wasn't the only one who got drunk after that.
The party broke up around 1am, when I shooed everyone out the door. Your fellow students grumbled, but I prevailed in the end. Amy took charge of Joe and I shepherded Duncan back to the barge. Duncan had drunk quite a bit, but not nearly enough. I got him undressed and we both crawled into bed. Duncan was shivering. I held him, stroking his hair.
"He won't settle," he kept whispering. "It's been two weeks and his Quickening is still roaming around inside me. I wish--I wish I could weep for him."
"Shh," I soothed him. "Don't force it. If you can't cry for him, he'll understand."
He shook his head. "I know. It would just make me feel better, if I could. I should have protected him, Amanda. I should have found some way...." He lapsed into silence, as if unable to finish his thought.
"Duncan," I said gently. "He wasn't ever going to get any better. You know that. What were you planning to do, fight every Immortal who came looking for an easy Quickening? You would have lost eventually, you know. And then, whoever killed you would have taken his head, and probably become the One. Is that how you would want Methos to go? Because I don't think it's what he would have wanted. He wouldn't have wanted you to risk yourself for him when he was already gone."
Duncan clung to me as if he were drowning. "He shouldn't have died like that. It wasn't fair, to live so long, so much, just to lose it all, before the end."
"I know, Duncan. I know. But we don't always get the death we want." As I spoke, Duncan finally began to cry. The sobs squeezed out of him in agonized clots for several minutes. I held him, comforting him as best I could.
Later, he fell into an exhausted sleep. I dozed next to him, until just now. It was the sound of the refrigerator opening and closing that woke me up. I heard a bottle cap popping off, then the sound of somebody pacing around the barge. I got up and shuffled out to the kitchen.
"Hello?" I said groggily. I was too tired to be afraid.
"Don't turn on the light," you said from the couch as I reached for the light switch. "It's nice in the dark."
I turned around. You were a shadow slouched on the darker shape of the couch. As I watched, I could just see and hear you raise a beer to your lips and drink.
"Methos," I whined. "You missed your party."
"Come sit down before you fall down, baby girl." You sounded amused. "Do you want a beer?"
"Goddess, no. Not at this hour." I dropped down onto the couch next to you and laid my head on your shoulder. As you leaned away from me for a moment, I heard you set your beer down next to the couch. Then, you put your arm around my shoulders and drew me close. You felt warm and cuddly, not like the last time I saw you, laid out in two pieces on a slab.
"You've had a big day," you said, resting your chin on the top of my head.
"No kidding," I replied. "I wanted to make sure that everything was perfect."
You chuckled. "What for? I wasn't."
"Hmm." I snuggled closer into your coat. "Methos, dear, why didn't we ever get together?"
"Well, you know. There was Duncan. I didn't want to get in between the two of you. When you see two people who have a good thing going, baby girl, you stay clear. It's a very rare thing."
"Like you and Alexa."
"Mmhmm," you said, your voice strangely lacking its habitual sadness about your dead wife. "But you're right. It could have been fun."
"Yes, we could have had so much fun. We thought a lot alike." I smiled at the memory of you and I challenging that vault at Watcher Headquarters, well behind enemy lines. "You never told me about the time you rode with Butch and Sundance."
You shrugged. "And you never told me about Nick."
Ah, Nick. My latest student. Nick still clings to his lost mortality, wishing he could go back to the black and white of his days as a policeman. He would have bored you to tears.
"Well, Nick," I said. "Nick is very young."
"Aren't they all?" You stroked my hair. "Now, you get to be the wise old font of wisdom. What joy for you."
I pushed that daunting prospect away, for the moment. "I really could have used your support, today, Methos. You should have been there."
"You remember why I wasn't, though," you said gently. "Don't you?"
I lifted my head from your shoulder, and as I did, I woke up alone, still in bed. Morning light leaked in through the window. I heard Duncan out in the kitchen, puttering around.
"It's because you're dead," I bleakly told the ceiling. "That's why."
I crawled out of bed, feeling as though I hadn't slept in a thousand years. I had to take a deep breath, and let it out slowly, before I could go out into the living room to face the morning and Duncan together.
Duncan was, will wonders never cease, cleaning up the barge. "Don't tell me you've been reduced to doing housework," I teased him.
He looked at me, his mouth twitching in the attempt at a smile. Neither of us was up for our usual banter. He moved towards me, the couch between us. When he glanced down at the floor, a strange look came over his face.
"What?" I said. Instead of answering, he crouched down in front of the couch. Then, he stood up, holding something that he had picked up from the floor.
"Look," he said, holding out to
me a bottle of beer as if it were a sign of the Second Coming. It
was a German microbrew, one that you had somehow located through
your many and mysterious beer connections, just before you'd
gotten sick. You'd 'persuaded' Duncan into stocking quite a lot
of it. I suppose he hadn't had the
heart to clean it out of his refrigerator. Perhaps he'd hoped that if he kept it in there, you might wander onto the barge one day, miraculously cured, to cadge a bottle off of him. *Su casa es tu casa*, just like the old days. Hope in the face of despair can make people strange.
Only a third of the bottle's contents remained. As I reached out to take it from Duncan, the beer inside fizzed. I touched the bottle, my fingers tracing a line of condensation that dripped onto Duncan's thumb.
The bottle was still cold.
|The Night Shift, by the Commodores|