Hostages To Fortune

Teresa Coffman

Email Me!

----------------------

"We give hostages to fortune when we love."
-- adapted from Francis Bacon

Disclaimers: Connor MacLeod, Duncan MacLeod and Rachel Ellenstein, as well as the Highlander situations and universe belong to Davis/Panzer Productions. I am using their creations without permission. If it makes any difference, I get no money for this.

Setting: This story is set in 1980. I’ll share with you the reminders I had to give myself, all the time. No cell phones, no CDs, no World Wide Web. No widespread use of VCRs, personal computers, or answering machines. WWII ended only 35 years ago, and, come Summer, everyone will be wondering who shot JR.

----------------------

I

New York City, 1980

The bells on the door tinkled as a customer entered the store, and Rachel looked up from the display case where she was arranging Chinese daggers by dynasty. A middle-aged man entered, wrapped against the bitter New York City winter in a forlorn and hopelessly outdated coat. Rachel started to rise to greet him, but Connor happened to come in from the back, just then.

"May I help you?" Connor asked, in the way he had of sounding like he resented the intrusion into his territory. The store, Rachel knew, did not stay afloat on the strength of the Highlander's customer service.

The man moved forward, his gaze fastened on Connor's face. His fixation made Rachel uneasy, but she saw none of the signals from her father that told her this was an immortal.

The newcomer stopped a few feet before Connor, and removed his hat and scarf. His steel-grey hair stuck to his head, making his ears, bright red from the cold, stick out.

"Are you ... Russell Edwin Nash?" he asked in a tone which seemed to attach great importance to the question.

Rachel rose to her feet.

"Yes," Connor allowed, frowning.

The man cast a quick glance at Rachel, but if he thought she was going to move discreetly away, he was disappointed. He looked back to the store's owner. "I'm ... your father."

The scene would likely be preserved in Rachel's memory for a long time. The gray, storm-tinted daylight gave the whole store a black-and-white movie feel, and the two men, one stooped and anxious, the other straight and immobile, also had an unreal, cinema appearance.

Connor responded, neutrally. "My father," he said.

The man fidgeted with his hat and scarf. "You know. Your real father." The man looked down. "I didn't know ..." his voice choked.

Connor moved his gaze past the man to look for help from Rachel.

Rachel sprang into action, moving to the man's side. "Sir, please come and sit down. Let me take your things. You must be freezing; it's terrible weather today." She babbled on, insulating the two men with feminine pleasantry.

With the man seated at an Edwardian table, Rachel looked up into Connor's inscrutable expression. He hadn't yet decided how he was going to deal with this, she judged. "Why don't you get some coffee?" she suggested.

As if grateful to have something to do, Connor vanished into the small break room.

Rachel studied the man in the chair. He had declined to relinquish his coat, so he looked like a bundled, lost child. His gaze followed the Highlander out of the room, then he looked at Rachel, apprehensively. She smiled.

"I'm Rachel," she said.

"Emmett Nash," he responded with a wan smile.

Rachel suffered much with the strained silence which held sway until Connor returned with coffee. He set the steaming mug on the table, before the other man.

"I'm not wrong, am I?" begged Nash with pathetic earnestness. "You were adopted, weren't you?"

"You're not wrong," Connor answered with a warm smile, as he sat opposite the man. "I'm glad to meet you."

The door tinkled, and Mr. and Mrs. Lansing-Holmes blew in with the wind. Connor looked from them to Rachel, releasing her. Now he's decided, Rachel thought, and she went to tend to the customers.

II

Connor returned after dark, alone, from the bar where he had taken Nash. Rachel met him at the door and squeezed his hand.

"What happened?" she inquired.

Connor smiled mischievously as he stamped slush from his shoes.

"I've met my real father," he grinned. "He needs a place to stay, so I'm moving him in here." He moved past her to the coat rack to hang up his trenchcoat.

Appalled, Rachel looked after him. Then she turned the many locks on the door, flipped the "Open" sign to "Closed," and strode after him.

"What are you doing?" she demanded. "You don't know this man."

Connor sat on a reading couch, one arm draped over the arm, the other on the back, unconcerned. "It could be very useful to be able to produce a relative. I know one or two business contacts who would warm up to me if they met my dear old 'dad'. And some women, too. They get tired of my mysterious background act." Connor arched his eyebrows.

"But who is he? How do you know he doesn't just want money?"

"He has no legal claim on any money," Connor replied, stretching out his long legs. "He'd have to depend on sentiment." He grinned evilly. "I'm not likely to be weak in that department, am I?"

Rachel allowed a small smile, but sat next to him, frowning. "What's his story? Russell Nash's birth certificate didn't list a father." Rachel knew it well, for she had researched her father's current alias for him.

Connor nodded. "Karen Kelsey didn't give her son her own last name. She named him Nash. Emmett Nash and she were lovers before he was sent to the Battle of the Bulge. He probably really is Russell Nash's father."

Oh, how tragic. It sometimes still surprised Rachel that the war which had been the devastation of her childhood world had also been so far-reaching that it had brought grief and darkness even to this prosperous continent beyond the Atlantic.

"How did he not know? Did he hear his son had died?"

"No, get this." Connor seemed amused by the ironies of fate. "He's been in a coma in a VA hospital."

"What! For forty years?!"

Connor nodded. "Thirty-five. He's only now looking for what remains of his old life."

"Dad," Rachel rarely dared use the title, "that poor man. You're using him."

"Would you have me tell him his son died before he was a day old and I've been using his son's identity? He has no family left. I'll take good care of him."

"It just seems wrong."

"Rachel," Connor patted her hand, "you're a good girl."

III

Three weeks made a tremendous difference in the season. Spring was springing, despite the cold, as Rachel left her house and turned up 26th Street. She looked forward to the possibility of days without knife-sharp winds. She also found, more and more, that she looked forward to dates with Michael, a classmate.

Easily a decade her junior, Michael was the only other “non-traditional” student in her Holocaust Studies class at NYU. He seemed genuinely attracted to her, which was reassuring in a way she thought she’d outgrown. Rachel had always been loathe to form close ties with someone who would ultimately have to be trusted with Connor’s secret; someone who would have to understand. The rewards – a normal life with a man who loved her; children, even – never seemed worth the risks. Rachel was content with her choices, and Connor rarely spoke of it, now.

She had seen Connor at more revues, gallery openings and fundraisers than she could ever remember him attending in three weeks time, and all for the fun of bringing along his long-lost father. Emmett Nash was a little shy of these events, but couldn’t resist when Connor said he wanted to “show him off.”

The elder Nash had moved his single suitcase of belongings into Connor’s guest room. The arrangement seemed to be indefinite, as far as Rachel could make out. Rachel began to see how difficult it would be to tell Nash any version of the truth other than that he had found a son he’d never known. The man was pathetically sentimental over Connor.

She smiled to herself as she trotted briskly along the crowded, anonymous streets and remembered last week. Emmett had been helping out in the store, when they had all paused for a lunch of Chinese take-out.

“Russell,” Emmett began, “I want you to have something.”

Connor raised his eyebrows in question, his mouth full of chopsticks and suey.

Emmett put down his fork – the chopsticks which Rachel and “Russell” were so comfortable with were beyond his abilities – and reached into his pants pocket. He brought out an old wind-up watch, and handed it gently to Connor.

Connor paused for the merest second, then put down his chopsticks and accepted the watch. Rachel could see from where she sat that the watch was no antique; merely old.

“Your mother gave me that watch before I went into the Army,” Emmett breathed. “It has our initials on the back.”

Connor still held the watch in an outstretched arm; he hadn’t taken it to himself. He turned it over. On the back of the face someone had scratched a heart. Inside the heart it said “To E.N. love K.K.”

“I can’t take this,” Connor responded. “You should keep it. She loved you.”

Emmett affected an air of worldly-wise self-sacrifice. “She didn’t live for me to come back to. But she was your mother. You should have something which came from her. This comes from both your parents.” To Rachel’s dismay, Emmett’s eyes filled with tears.

“Emmett,” Connor replied, with a gentleness she had only heard him use on children, “Some other time. You keep it for me, now.”

“No, it’s yours.” Emmett stood proudly, and with two steps reached the desk. He opened a drawer and put the watch in it.

Arms crossed, he sat back down.

Connor applied himself to his chop suey. “All right then,” he muttered.

With a block to go before she reached the store, Rachel allowed herself the grin she hadn’t allowed then.

Rachel carefully revisited some old, old memories of her own. Before Connor MacLeod had found and adopted her, she’d had a family. Her mother, particularly, she remembered. How would she feel if she found someone who said they were her brother or her mother? The thought strummed an old melancholy note in her soul. No, Connor couldn’t tell him. He couldn’t. And the Game mustn’t touch the man, either.

She reached the store and entered, tinkling the bells. Connor called to her as he came in from the office. “Rachel! Look who’s here!”

Beside Connor stood a swarthy, dark-haired man with a tremendous build, wearing expensive dark clothes. Connor had his arm around him.

“Duncan!” she greeted, delighted.

“Rachel.” Duncan MacLeod came to her, a huge smile on his eternally handsome face. Pleasure flooded Rachel at the sight of him. She was prepared for one of the bear hugs she remembered from this immortal kinsman of Connor’s, but instead, Duncan stopped before her and grasped both her hands.

“Rachel, you look more beautiful every time I see you.”

Rachel went weak-kneed at the man’s attentions as she had every time she’d met him since she was a girl. His sheer masculine presence washed over her in a great wave. This time, though, she felt a bittersweetness to the compliment.

“Oh, Duncan, you’re sweet to say so.”

Duncan regarded her from arm’s length.

“Rachel, is anything wrong?”

There was more than one answer to the question, but before she could reply, Emmett Nash came out of the elevator. Rachel dropped her hands and looked at the elder Nash, raising her eyebrows at Duncan. Duncan glanced at the newcomer, and looked to Connor.

Connor came forward, looking uncomfortable.

“Russell, who’s your friend?” Emmett asked.

Rachel tried not to smile. This should be interesting.

Connor cleared his throat. “Emmett, this is Duncan MacLeod, my cousin.”

At Nash’s startled look, Connor added, “My adopted cousin.”

Now, Duncan looked intrigued.

“Duncan, this is Emmett Nash, my, uh, father. You know, my real father.”

It was Duncan’s turn to look startled, but he recovered gracefully.

“Nash? Mr. … Nash. So good to meet you.”

Rachel really tried not to smile, while Emmett pumped Duncan’s hand.

“It’s so good to meet Russell’s people. It’s been an amazing experience for both of us. Just amazing. Are you a cousin on his mother’s or his father’s side?”

Rachel saw Connor roll his eyes.

“I’m . . . more distant than that. Russell, when were you going to tell me about this?”

“Tonight, at dinner. We’re all going to the Club. Except for Rachel. She has a date.” Connor sounded affronted.

Duncan turned a pleased smile on Rachel, and it was all she could do not to blush like a schoolgirl.

“Who is he?” Duncan asked.

“She won’t let me meet him,” Connor groused. “She says I scare her dates away.”

“I’m sure you do.”

IV

Connor would have to meet Michael, Rachel realized. Her friendship with Michael was not going to die away, and, if anything, was growing quite strong. Funny and sweet, and more well-read than anyone she could remember knowing, he was comfortable company. She’d shared with him the story of her childhood, and he’d listened with shining interest in his hazel eyes. His questions betrayed no discomfort, no morbid curiosity, only a support and understanding beyond what she’d expected from someone so distanced from the personal experience of wars and loss. Did she love Michael? She asked her heart. “No,” it replied. Could she love him? “Yes,” her heart whispered. She would have to proceed with caution.

Perhaps, though, she considered, Michael’s understanding wasn’t so strange. He worked, it so happened, for the Veteran’s Administration.

Rachel had asked Michael to check Emmett Nash’s story. She felt a little guilty for using her friend this way, but she refused to feel guilty about the precaution. Connor himself had taught her that suspicion was healthy.

Michael called her at the store the next day with discouraging news. He could find no record of an Emmett Nash in a coma in a New York State VA hospital. If he had been out of state, Michael needed to know which state, or the search would take too long.

Emmett entered the office, his face grey and wet with sweat. He sank into a chair.

Concerned, Rachel frowned. The man’s health might be frail; she shouldn’t have given him heavy work.

“I’ve got those columns all in,” he reported.

“Thank you,” she answered. “Have something to drink. I’m afraid I’ve been working you too hard.”

“I’d love a drink.”

Rachel left the desk to get him a glass of water. As she handed it to him, she asked, “Emmett, where were you in the hospital?”

“Syracuse,” he replied, accepting the glass.

Syracuse, the place of Russell Nash’s birth. Definitely in New York. Strange.

“You really look tired. Why don’t you take a rest?”

Emmett brightened at her. “I want to show you something. Tell me if you think Russell will like it.” He left the room and returned with something held behind his back. Smiling hopefully, he brought it out.

It was a green painted plaque, with the words “World’s Best Son” written in kaleidoscope colors. In the bottom left corner was a graphic of a baseball and bat, and in the bottom right corner was – Rachel couldn’t quite believe it – a teddy bear. With a ribbon.

“Think he’ll like it?”

Rachel couldn’t afford to be speechless. She rallied. “Emmett, I’m sure he’s never gotten anything like this before.” She raised her gaze to meet his chocolate brown eyes, and lied earnestly. “He’ll love it.”

V

Later, with Emmett resting, Rachel came out of the office, expecting Michael to come by soon. She knew at once that something was wrong. Her father stood with his dearest brother, not in easy camaraderie, but poised around the desk, wiry frame to broad shoulder, warriors at council. The intent expressions they both fixed on her as she came in gave her pause. She had the sudden feeling that women were not welcome in the council. Then Duncan smiled his warm smile and relaxed.

Rachel dismissed him. His was the “Let’s not alarm the womenfolk” face. She looked to her father, who never lied to her.

“Rachel,” he greeted, his face grave. “Come see this.” He tapped a piece of paper.

Rachel came forward to stand beside the men and read the paper.

I’ve found you now. You’re a dead man.

L.

“Someone put it through the mail slot,” Connor reported.

“Who is it?” Rachel, asked, calm, as if asking who might want her father’s head was a casual inquiry about his old fraternity buddies. Sometimes it sort of seemed that way.

Connor stared at her, but she knew he wasn’t seeing her. “It could be anyone,” he concluded.

“It could be for me,” Duncan put in. “I’ve just arrived.”

“Duncan, I need you to stay with Rachel and Emmett.” Connor turned to Rachel. “Where is Emmett?”

“In his room.”

“I don’t want him to know about this.”

Rachel nodded, a sick feeling growing in her stomach. “What will you …” Rachel gasped, as, suddenly, both men were holding swords. She retreated, without thinking, to where she didn’t block an exit.

Moving in tandem, the two Highlanders glided to stand ready on either side of the door, out of sight. Rachel tried to blend in with a shadow and prayed that Emmett stayed out of the store.

A long minute passed, and the two MacLeods cast furtive glances around the store. Rachel moved slightly, to where she could see out the front window. An uncertain figure hesitated on the street, just within her view. Rachel couldn’t be certain, until she saw his profile and recognized the patrician nose. She gasped, and felt Connor drill her with his gaze.

“It’s Michael!” she cried.

Faster than thought, Connor had the door open. “Stay with Rachel,” was his parting order to his kinsman.

“No,” Rachel breathed, rushing to the window.

Michael darted through traffic, Connor in pursuit.

She stared down the street, the familiar shock leaving her hollow. Rachel hated how the Game could destroy her world. She hated it with a stark passion.

For once, she had someone to lean on. Duncan joined her at the window, put an arm around her and held her to his side. He didn’t try any empty comfort; there was none to give. Her father had gone to kill her date.

VI

After some length of time which Rachel couldn’t judge, Duncan left her to close the store and lock the doors. If he took any other defensive precautions, Rachel didn’t notice, for his actions reminded her that she had instructions to follow. She left the window and began securing the inventory for possible storage - unplugging, covering, and packing. Duncan watched her, wordless, for a while, then he joined her at the jewelry case and captured her hands in his own.

“Rachel, Rachel . . .” His voice sounded very far away at first. Then she focused on him, irritated.

“Duncan, I have to pack up the jewelry.”

He didn’t release her hands. “Rachel,” he soothed, “you’ve already packed and unpacked them twice.”

She had? Oh. She smiled ruefully, but she couldn’t seem to move. Duncan gently relocked the display case, and raised her to her feet.

“Let’s get something,” he suggested, leading her to the small break room which held the coffee pot.

There in the brightly-lit, gleaming chromeness of the kitchenette, Rachel struggled to recapture her sense of normalcy. She sipped the coffee, and her world shifted.

“Oh! That’s awful!”

Duncan grinned. “I’m better at tea.”

“I’ll take tea, then.”

So she sipped tea as Duncan questioned her quietly. Rachel grew more and more dismayed by how little she knew about Michael. She knew he’d done his class project on Dutch rescuers; did that help? Did she know where he lived? No, they’d generally gone out after class, or else he’d come to her place. Did she know where he was from? No, she’d assumed Britain, though, by his accent. Could she identify what kind of British accent? No, she didn’t know British accents that well. Did she know where he worked? Yes, the VA, or, at least, he’d said he did.

Guilt crashed down on her, and Rachel dissolved into tears. She’d been suspicious enough of Emmett to check his story out, but she hadn’t even asked Michael where he was from.

“Maybe I was just jealous,” she choked.

Duncan, of course, looked confused as well as concerned. Looked at her. Her makeup . . . Oh, God, she couldn’t stand it. She couldn’t.

Now she was crying on a big shoulder with someone’s long black hair tangling with her own.

She heard the elevator. “Duncan,” she mumbled against his sweater, still not willing to have him see her streaked face, “I can’t . . .”

“It’s all right,” Duncan assured her. “I’ll deal with it.”

But he didn’t leave her right away, letting Emmett have the run of the store uninterrupted. Rachel struggled to stop crying. Then Duncan stiffened as they both heard the tinkling of the front door.

Concern for her looks fled as Rachel looked into Duncan’s face with hope. He’d locked the door, and only Connor had a key. But Duncan gave a little shake of his head. Not an immortal, then. But who?

Of course, they both realized at the same time, it was a fire door. You could always go out . . .

Duncan gave her forehead a kiss and stood. Rachel found a cloth and hastily cleaned her face, then joined him in the store.

The sun was sinking behind New York City’s man-made horizons and the store was growing dark. Rachel switched on a Tiffany lamp, but it failed to illuminate. She’d unplugged it. Stupid, stupid.

“Emmett?” Duncan called.

“Emmett?” Rachel echoed as she set about plugging lights back in. The desk lamp . . . was already plugged in. Rachel switched it on thoughtfully, sure that she’d unplugged it, as well.

Emmett clearly was not there. And something else was gone, too.

“Duncan, do you have the note?”

The Highlander was at her side in an instant. “Isn’t it there?” He raked the treacherously clean desk with his dark-eyed gaze.

“Could Dad have it?”

“I don’t think so,” Duncan almost groaned.

She studied his worried face and saw the indecision there. He’d been tasked to guard Connor’s “clan”. Her stomach tightened with fear, and she felt the blood drain from her face. He couldn’t leave her, too! Others had left her and they’d all been killed . . .

“Duncan . . .” How could she ask him not to protect Connor’s other family member? For a moment she knew a furious, childish jealousy. They were Connor’s family, not Emmett!

The decision was an agonizing one for him, she could see, but Duncan made it and announced it swiftly.

He grasped her hand. “Rachel, I’m not going anywhere. Connor probably has the note. And Emmett . . . he’s probably gone back to the Hallmark Store.” He forced a smile. “Did he show you the plaque?”

She coughed a relieved laugh and tried not to sag against him. “Duncan, don’t tell Connor about this?” She indicated her own tearful face.

Duncan’s smile grew more genuine. “All right, but you’d better go redo your makeup.”

VII

It was not much later when Duncan raised his head, gave her a meaningful glance, and glided toward the locked door.

From the other side of the door came Connor's voice, calling in Gaelic. That unadmitted fear in Rachel vanished, like the surcease of pain.

Duncan grinned a wide, relieved grin at her, and called back in the same tongue. He unlocked the door, which opened to admit the conquering hero. Once inside, Connor hardly acknowledged his kinsman; his deep-set eyes sought only Rachel.

She said nothing, and Connor glanced once at her then looked away as he removed his coat and hung it on the coat rack. He looked wonderfully, blissfully alive and whole. Rachel saw no blood on him. Behind him, Duncan relocked the door.

"I didn't kill him," Connor almost apologized.

The last great weight lifted from Rachel's chest. She waited.

"I didn't know him," he added, still not crossing the distance to his daughter. "But, uh, he's leaving the country and has promised never to see you again." Connor's apprehensive expression was almost comical.

There was silence in the room. The whole world seemed to hold its breath.

Leaving the country!

"So this is where," she responded levelly, "I pitch a fit and start throwing Tiffany lamps at you."

Connor actually glanced at the lamps. "Yeah," he agreed.

"And I cry and scream how you have no right to run my life and I hate you."

Now, Connor moved to her. "Rachel," he began, studying her uncertainly.

"And you remind me about the Game and how it has to come first and how there will be other fish in the sea." She smiled at him, pleased that no tears sprang to her eyes.

"Rachel, I am so sorry." He held her shoulders and she let out a laugh. She put her arms around him, and hugged him.

"I'm just glad you didn't kill him," she murmured. And that he didn't kill you. She couldn't say that, though. It was against the rules. Later she would wince when she thought of the "persuasion" poor Michael had gone through, but right now, Michael was still the man who might have taken Connor from her.

Her smile faded as she pulled back from him. "But, did he send the note?"

Connor turned his head to meet the concerned gaze of his kinsman. Looking only to his fellow warrior, Connor shook his head. "It wasn't from him. I'm sure of it."

Knowing what came next, Rachel slipped away from him and stepped back.

"Connor, I think Emmett has the note," Duncan admitted. "And he's left."

Connor stiffened. "You . . ." He cut off his words but the accusation penetrated, nevertheless. Duncan accepted culpability with nothing more than a tightening of his lips. He didn't look at Rachel.

But Connor did. Nothing more than a glance, but Rachel wondered if her fresh makeup was apparent.

"And that's not all." Duncan's voice was level, but resigned. "Today's receipts are gone."

What! With an incredulous look at both men, Rachel moved around to the cash drawer in the desk. She stared at its void, then looked up at Connor, afraid of what she would see.

Connor's frown hid his already hard-to-read eyes. He said nothing as he read confirmation of Duncan's words in her face.

"We should call the police," she ventured.

"The police!" exclaimed Connor, fury and contempt infecting his words.

Duncan stepped forward. "It's robbery, Connor. And, if he's in danger, the police are good at finding people."

Connor whirled to put his back to the other two, his face to the darkened window. "So am I," he growled.

Rachel was glad she couldn't see his face, but she had to speak up. "I was going to tell you . . . Michael works for the VA, and he said no Emmett Nash has been in a coma with them. If you believe him."

No sound or motion betrayed Connor's opinion of her researching Nash behind his back. She and Duncan waited.

"Call the police," he commanded.

VIII

The police showed only procedural interest in the robbery, but the mention of the note brought an officer in plain clothes, a Lt. Rees, to the store. He quizzed Connor about Emmett, and Rachel about the store’s business contacts. Rachel’s responses were coolly professional, and Connor’s were curt. Duncan’s presence the man accepted with little curiosity; most of his attention was on the store’s glowering owner.

Duncan lost his non-threatening status when he began questioning the officer. “You know something about the note,” he observed.

“I know what you’ve told me,” Rees evaded. “Is there something you’ve left out?”

“I’ll give you my appraisal. It looked like it was typed on an IBM Selectric with a standard ball and fresh ink. The paper was white 20 weight bond.”

“Who is L.?” asked Rees.

“I think you already have an idea. The robbery alone wouldn’t be worth a lieutenant’s time.” Rees gave Duncan an irritated look and addressed Connor, who listened, hunched on the back of an armchair. “The note sounds like Lucky Luigi. Crime boss. Family man. He’s getting on in years, now, but he’s got sons who leave his calling card. They do his killing, too. You running a fence here, Mr. Nash? Sell Lucky a little short, maybe?”

Connor unrolled from his slouch and sprang to stand nose to nose with the cop. Duncan made a slight move as if to interfere, then froze.

The two men glared for a few seconds. “Charge me or get out,” ordered Connor.

Rachel let out her held breath. “Lt. Rees,” she said, trying to sound calm and reasonable, “if we were fencing stolen goods, ‘L.’ would have no reason to say ‘I’ve found you.’ We’ve been here for years.”

Rees was not going to be intimidated, and he made no withdrawal from Connor’s challenge. But he did look to Rachel and answer civilly. “Yes, ma’am. But then, I’ve never seen this alleged note.”

Connor made a low, inarticulate sound in his throat. “You think we made it up!” he yelled.

Now Duncan did step up and place a hand on Connor’s shoulder. “Rachel’s right,” he said to Rees. “If we knew who L. was, why would we invent an incriminating note?” Rachel saw Duncan’s hand squeeze some signal to Connor.

Connor took a deep breath and forcibly relaxed. “Are you going to look for Emmett Nash?”

“Your father?” the detective almost taunted. Rachel caught her breath again. She wondered for a brief moment if all policemen were pigs.

Connor’s eyes narrowed dangerously, but he didn’t allow himself to be baited. He said nothing.

Rees put his notebook away and began to button his coat. “Yes, Mr. Nash, we will look for Emmett Nash.” He walked to the door and paused. “You should know . . . we’ve already done some checking on your ‘father’, and so far we’ve found no record of him anywhere, after the war. Call us if he turns up.” With a smile and a tight nod to Rachel, he left.

The silence which Rees left behind was heavy and stifling like a wet snowfall. Duncan sank into the armchair Connor had perched on earlier, and sighed. Rachel took the desk chair and looked at Connor. Connor looked out the window.

Rachel knew Connor could maintain an angry silence for days, unconcerned about the discomfort it caused those around him. The best way to break it was to get him thinking; not brooding.

“Emmett Nash is real,” she volunteered, braving the subject. “The VA has his service record.” She decided not to bring up her source of this information.

Connor turned his head a fraction.

“So it’s only after the war that there are no records on him,” mused Duncan. “You looked in his room?”

“He hasn’t packed,” Rachel replied. “But I didn’t go through his things.”

Now Connor turned to face them, listening intently.

“We may be ignoring the obvious,” Duncan mused.

Rachel waited for him to finish, but Duncan merely met his kinsman’s gaze.

Connor went from stillness to motion in a startling burst. He opened a drawer of the desk, and took out the watch Emmett had given him. He tossed it to Duncan.

“How old is that inscription?”

Duncan worried the watch in one hand, and moved to the jewelry case where he found a jeweler’s lens. He returned to his chair and peered through the lens.

Curious, Rachel thought. Connor was quite capable of the appraisal. Maybe he didn’t want the answer to be biased.

“Forty years. No more,” Duncan announced.

“Less?”

Duncan, who didn’t know the significance of the watch, showed sudden understanding in his expression. He looked again.

“At least thirty,” he judged. He tossed the watch back to Connor.

Connor nodded, wound the watch, then put it on.

“Rachel,” he said, both kind and commanding. “Pack for the beachhouse. I want you out of town.”

“I have a final,” she protested.

Connor ignored her. “Duncan, I need you.”

“Kinsman,” Duncan replied quietly, “you know I’m yours. But, is this our concern? It may be a police matter.”

Connor didn’t answer right away. Then, with a glint in his eye, he said, “Emmett’s running from the mob. Duncan, my father’s in trouble.”

And that was that.

IX

Emmett, to no one’s surprise, did not return. Connor was serious; he wanted Rachel out of town. Until she could get packed and off to the beachhouse, she was never without an immortal escort. Guarding her hampered their hunt for Emmett, Rachel knew, and she tried to get her affairs handled so as not to delay them more than necessary. Burning to *do* something, Connor asked her to finish her preparations at the store, so he could spar with his cousin in his personal dojo, with her safe under the same roof, and near the “call” button. Rachel agreed with relief; with never a private moment, she had had no opportunity to try calling Michael.

She was not to get the opportunity that day, either. She had just finished arranging delivery to the Lansing-Holmes’s and was dialing Michael’s number, when the thugs came to visit. Two well-built men in polyester leisure suits swaggered into the store like studs entering a bar. They looked around with disdain, then flanked Rachel at the desk.

“We wanna talk to Mr. Nash,” said the man with flaming red hair and freckles. His open, boyish features didn’t suit Rachel’s stereotype, but the other man, darker and weaselly, did. He was holding a shabby, familiar-looking coat. Both men had conspicuous lumps under their arms.

She smiled and pressed the button. “Mr. Nash will be delighted to see you,” she said with complete sincerity. She stood and began serenely moving the more breakable items in the store to safer locations, while the dark man watched with dead eyes. The red-haired man showed no curiosity, either.

Connor entered alone, wearing his long coat over his sweat clothes. He took in the two thugs, the coat, and Rachel’s precautions impassively. Then he smiled broadly. Rachel winced with a wicked surge of pleasure, and wondered where Duncan was lurking.

“What can I do for you gentlemen?” Connor slid into the room, ever closer to the two men. Slightly shorter and lighter than either of them, Connor looked nothing like the threat he was.

“You Nash?” demanded the darker man.

Still smiling, Connor said, apparently to Rachel, “Mary, would you take Cupid and Psyche to the back?”

Rachel tried not to look startled at her new alias, and hefted the statue of the god of love and his mortal lover. She knew Connor meant to remove her, and possibly the statue, to safety, so instead of going to the back, she headed for the elevator.

None of the men said anything while she went. The elevator door swished shut behind her, and Rachel left the two thugs to their fate.

With nothing in particular to do during the downstairs mayhem, Rachel found herself in the guest room. Emmett’s few possessions were not in much order. She suspected by the disarray that Connor, not Duncan, had inspected the room. She found the green plaque on the floor. Rachel sat on the bed, holding the plaque, and let dread for Emmett fill her. Those thugs had had his coat. At least it wasn’t a body part, she comforted herself. Of course, that could come next.

And it could be a con Emmett was in on, a treacherous voice said in her head. She sighed and set the plaque aside.

Under a pile of clothes which looked like they had been pulled from the dresser drawer, Rachel found a paper tablet. It seemed familiar to her in some way, so she reseated herself on the bed to inspect it.

The familiarity, she realized as she flipped through it, stemmed from simple nostalgia. She held an old ledger such as accountants would have used in her youth. It sometimes disturbed her how many ordinary items from her childhood were now antiques, though this ledger was far too ordinary, not to mention worn, to have any value.

The company the ledger was from was called National Linen Supply, and had an address in St. Louis, Missouri. The dates of the entries were from 1947 to 1952. She studied the entries closely, spurred by vague mental associations with the mafia and dirty bookkeeping. Before long she was convinced that this ledger did, indeed contain hints of criminal activity. Some entries were detailed and specific, while some entries, both for credits and for debits, were extremely large and vaguely labeled.

A gunshot exploded on the floor below. Rachel closed the ledger and pressed her lips together. Two highly trained immortals against two thugs, and they couldn’t manage to get their business done without shooting in the house? She shook her head and tsked.

She wandered the loft, uneasy. She knew better than to go downstairs before she was given the all-clear, but the gunshot worried her more than she liked to admit.

After what seemed like a very long time, she heard the elevator start up. Native caution made her position herself out of view of whomever would exit the lift, but, after it stopped, she heard Duncan's voice.

"Rachel?"

"Here," she replied, coming around the corner.

Duncan was shirtless, and wearing only the white pants of a martial arts dogi. Rachel caught her breath and blinked.

Duncan smiled. "Everything's all right," he assured her, "but wait a bit while Connor questions them. I'm going to put on a shirt and shoes." With that, he padded up the stairs to the top of the loft, Rachel watching, speechless. When he was out of sight, she gave her head a shake and sighed.

He returned wearing black trousers and a blue sweater. "Connor's got them tied up downstairs," he told her. "But they're not telling us much."

"Duncan, what are you going to do? We can't keep them prisoner. And we can't ... you're not going to ..."

"Of course not." But his voice wavered at the end, as if he wasn't sure.

Rachel's heart beat faster. "Shouldn't you be down there with him?"

"We're playing good cop/bad cop."

"What does that mean?"

Duncan gave her a curious look. "You don't watch much TV, do you? One of us tries to encourage them to talk by being nice; the other one uses ... intimidation."

"Which one is Dad?" An ancient dread was seeping into her stomach.

Duncan sighed. "He never lets me be bad cop. I'm sure I could do it," he whined, looking comically pitiful.

Rachel was not amused. "So right now he's down there ..." She headed for the elevator. "What's he doing to them?"

"Rachel," Duncan hooked her elbow with his hand. "I know he doesn't want you there." The jokester in Duncan was gone.

"What about you?" she demanded, turning to face him.

"I don't really want to be there, either," he admitted.

Rachel's dread peaked. Even Duncan knew. She went cold and hard. "Duncan, you get down there right now and make sure he doesn't do anything permanent to them."

"I'm sure he wouldn't do anything like that," he soothed.

"Then I know him better than you do," she bit at him. "You go, or I'm going."

Duncan also hardened, and spoke quietly. "You know I can't let you do that."

Time to try a different tack.

"Duncan," she pleaded. "I've seen ... known of too much torture in this world. No more, please." Her voice quavered.

She saw sympathy and indecision on his face.

"Honeybee," he used a childhood endearment, "some people deserve it."

"I don't care. Not in my house. Duncan, please."

"All right," Duncan gave in, too gracious to point out that it wasn't her house. "But you stay here."

She nodded her promise, and watched him go down in the lift. When he was out of sight, she turned unhappily to the large windows and looked out at the grey city. Being somewhat past the prime of her beauty, she reflected with grim disgust, had not weakened her powers of manipulation. But no self-loathing could erode her resolution.

Whatever it takes.

X

When Rachel was allowed in the store again, she learned that Connor had released the thugs.

“I sent them with a message for Lucky,” said Connor, looking pleased with himself. “Also known as Luigi Fortunata.”

She looked around the store. Shattered glass from the remains of the dagger case lay strewn on the floor.

“You couldn’t keep them from shooting the cases? Do you know how much we laid out for that?”

Connor refused to accept her accusation. He met her gaze and smiled. “Well, it freed up some weapons.”

“The dagger!” Rachel’s mental inventory came up wanting. “Where’s the Ching dynasty?”

“Right after the Ming, I think,” supplied Connor unhelpfully, a far too cheerful expression on his face. He has leads now, Rachel realized. Having something to do had always improved her father’s disposition.

Duncan snorted and Rachel scowled at him. Duncan made a placating motion with his hands. “It’s all right. It may need some cleaning; that’s all.”

Rachel decided she didn’t want to know more. Not about the dagger, anyway. “So,” she looked from one man to the other, “do they have Emmett?”

Connor’s eyes held a mischievous glint. “They wanted me to think so.” He nodded to the coat, which lay crumpled by the desk. “They actually got that off of a homeless guy.”

Duncan stooped to pluck up the coat, and Rachel moved to his side in order to finger its familiar fleece.

“But this is Emmett’s,” she said, puzzled.

“Emmett gave them the slip,” Duncan explained. “He put his coat on someone else to throw them off.”

“Pretty smart,” Connor judged.

Rachel was a little shocked. “Kind of hard on the homeless man,” she protested. “Why do they want Emmett?”

“Apparently he embezzled from them,” supplied Duncan.

“Oh, no!”

“He may not have known he was working for the mob. It was some front company in St. Louis.”

“National Linen Supply?” Rachel brought out the ledger, and explained where she'd found it.

“Interesting,” Connor mused, flipping the pages. “But why would Emmett keep evidence of his crime?”

“Guilty conscience?” guessed Duncan.

“But this was all 30 years ago,” protested Rachel.

“Why should that matter to Luigi Fortunata?” Connor asked. He held the ledger in both hands and tipped his head toward Duncan. “He can hold a grudge for centuries.”

“You’re a fine one to talk,” retorted his kinsman.

“I” Connor replied, haughtily, “am the soul of Christian forgiveness. Rachel, are you finally packed? Good, because I’ve called you a cab. I’m expecting a revenge attack.” The gleam in Connor’s eyes was positively predatory. “Take the book with you,” he added. “Put it in a safe deposit box when you get there.”

“I’m going,” she sighed, donning her coat and gloves and accepting the ledger. “But, I’ve been thinking about this ledger.”

“What?”

Rachel clicked open her suitcase and slid it in on top. “I don’t think it’s evidence of Emmett’s crime. I think it’s evidence of National Linen Supply’s crimes.”

Duncan snapped his fingers. “Emmett kept it as insurance,” he concluded.

“But what I don’t understand,” Rachel complained, “is where Emmett’s been for thirty years.”

Neither immortal could answer her.

XI

The cab appeared, outside, blocking traffic on the narrow street. Duncan took Rachel’s bags. Connor put his arm around her, both a fond embrace and a firm encouragement to go. The wind whipped her wool skirt as she kissed both men and stooped into the cab. Connor spoke to the driver. Rachel knew the instructions would seem odd. She was to change cabs once, then take the subway before hailing another.

The cab pulled away as Rachel looked out the rear window at the two MacLeods standing sentinel over her departure. Connor turned aside first. Rachel knew with a little sadness that he would now be focused on the task ahead. She was a valuable he had sent to safety, a preparation taken care of, and he could now spare little thought for her.

Duncan watched the cab until it turned the corner and she could no longer see him.

Rachel sighed and turned back to face front, and pulled her purse into her lap. It was not a good time of year to be at the beachhouse, she complained to herself. Very few services would be open in this season; just the general store. And she would miss her final.

The cab bumped, with fits and starts, through narrow Manhattan streets never built for modern cars. Their route took them up Waverly Place, past the purple and white banners of New York University. Michael would miss the final too, she thought, if he really had left the country as quickly as he’d promised Connor. She smiled at herself. As if missing a final compared to missing a head. The Game really did have to come first for all of them, herself included. She was pleased to find that she held no ill-will towards Michael, neither for deceiving her, nor for leaving without saying good-bye. She understood both, perfectly. In fact, she thought with a sigh, she’d be a good match for an immortal. No messy explanations, and she came already trained to deal with the Game.

They left Greenwich Village and it started to drizzle. Rachel considered Michael with some wonder. He must have talked awfully fast to escape Connor without a fight. While she had never known her father to be blindly murderous, an immortal who crossed him in any way was asking for a challenge, and Connor always answered. Rachel had begun to think the Game must somehow make immortals immune to fears for their own lives, since all they really had to do in order to live forever was not fight, but that so seldom seemed to be their choice. Michael had made that choice. He didn’t want to fight Connor MacLeod, and was willing to abandon his home in order to see that it didn’t happen. To Rachel that seemed so smart, so logical. Michael might live a truly long time, she guessed. Too bad she’d never see him again.

She wondered where Connor had directed her cabbie to leave her off. Somewhere public, where other cabs would be quickly available, she assumed, but they were now moving into the warehouse district. She leaned forward on the seat and spoke through the plexiglass divider which separated the front and back seats.

“Where are we stopping?” she asked.

“Right here,” said the cabbie in unaccented American English. That was a surprise, and so was the cab whipping into an alley and stopping. Before Rachel could reach for the door handle, the man had knocked down the faux divider, and yanked her head back by her hair.

She shrieked and struggled, but his other hand covered her face with cloth and chloroform. Her body rebelled, from head to stomach, against the overpowering chemical odor, and her last awareness was of terror and nausea.

XII

When she woke she felt even worse. Her whole body ached as if she had a flu, her head felt like it was in a vise, and even small movements convinced her she was destined to vomit soon. She heard only muted mechanical sounds like water in pipes, or a furnace, so she risked opening her eyes.

She lay in a dimly lit, unfurnished, large room with a high ceiling of steel girders. One long wall was boarded over, and by the rays glowing around the edges of the boards, she guessed they covered windows. Rachel lay on the cement floor on a sleeping bag, not far from a closed door. She identified two other doors to the room, one of which was open. That doorway was the source of most of the daylight which leaked into the murky atmosphere.

Rachel tried moving. Every joint and quite a few of her muscles ached. She was vaguely grateful that the room was large. When she vomited, she could do it far from the sleeping bag. If she could get far from the sleeping bag.

She rolled onto her hands and knees, and stopped, waiting for her stomach and head to calm. A wave of panic washed over her. Where were her captors? When would they come for her and what would they do? The urge to flee was powerful enough to bring her to her feet, blinking as her eyes teared up. God, she was so scared.

Operating on some instinct, she stumbled toward the door with light beyond it. She reached the doorway, and saw, with a surprising jolt of relief, a bathroom. The suggestion of the toilet undid her, and she emptied her stomach into its basin, her head howling a protest at the violent movements caused by her heaves.

When the storm was over, she sank back on her heels, and closed her eyes. She was trembling and weak, but she did think she felt a little better. Using the sink for a prop, she hauled herself to her feet and turned on the water. The tap whined and sputtered to life, spewing brown water. She stared at the water flow numbly, until it began to run clean. She rinsed her mouth.

Time to take stock. Feeling a little stronger, Rachel explored the bathroom. It, too, had a cement floor, exposed pipes, and nothing movable. The window did not open, and had bars beyond. The glass was frosted, or - she wiped at it - very grimy. It also had a sturdy security mesh woven through it. Looking out, she saw she was on a second story, overlooking an industrial yard.

She leaned her forehead against the glass and tried to think. Why had she been taken? Could Lucky expect to use her against Emmett? Or did he want something from Connor? No one knew of her relationship to the Highlander; they had arranged the "death" of her adopted father years ago. Russell Nash was her employer, nothing more. Still, Connor had feared that Lucky might involve her, that's why he sent her out of town, she reflected wearily. Actually, if you looked for someone to use against Connor MacLeod, you wouldn't find many prospects, she realized. Damn. But, if revenge was all Lucky wanted, wouldn't he just kill her? Unless . . . she suddenly remembered herself sitting on the guest bed, reflecting that she hoped Lucky didn't start sending them Emmett's fingers or other body parts. Terror seized her, and she slid down the wall, crying.

Some time later, her tears ran out, and nothing had changed except the sunlight, which was more dim, and came from a lower angle. She heard the sounds of a door opening and people entering the large room.

“Where is she?” someone asked, not sounding too alarmed.

“Check the bathroom,” someone else replied.

Rachel scrambled to her feet, not wanting to be found on the floor. Her stomach tightened with fear, but her head abruptly cleared. She heard someone heavy clumping toward the open bathroom door, and, in a small act of defiance, she turned on the tap and splashed cold water on her face.

To her surprise, the footsteps stopped just short of the door. In the background she heard sharp, angry words, and moaning.

“You. Come outta there,” a near voice ordered. But the speaker did not come into view.

Rachel blinked, amazed at what appeared to be something like courtesy toward her modesty. For a moment she entertained wild thoughts of slamming and holding the door, and shattering the window, and ripping out the security mesh, and squeezing through the bars, and . . . right. Gathering her courage and her dignity, she flushed the toilet, and emerged.

The man before her was impressively large. He wore a tailored suit and polished shoes. He held no weapon, but his fists were the size of small melons. Behind him stood another man she couldn’t see very well, and next to him, on the floor, was a man-sized heap making the moaning sounds.

“Take off your shoes,” the giant ordered.

Rachel stared at him.

“Take off your shoes and your hose,” he added.

When Rachel didn’t move, he bent his head toward her and spoke in a lower tone. “Take ‘em off, or I take ‘em off you.”

So much for courtesy. Rachel removed her shoes and her nylons while the man watched. She threw them on the floor behind him. The man grinned.

The other man moved forward and picked them up. Rachel thought he might be the smaller, weaselly man who had come to the store. He regarded her with the same dead eyes and said, “Your boss put my brother in the hospital. But he got his.” He sounded satisfied.

Rachel stayed silent, but she looked at the giant.

“Lucky wants to talk to you later,” the large man said. “If you’re a good girl you might get some dinner. If you’re not, you might get some a’ that.” He nodded his head toward the huddle on the floor. Rachel suddenly knew who it had to be.

The men left, the unmistakable sound of a strong lock clicking behind them.

Rachel padded toward the huddled man, the concrete cold on her bare feet. “Emmett?” she ventured.

Emmett looked up at her. “Oh Rachel,” he sobbed. Even in the twilight she could see bruising and blood on his face.

Rachel paused. He was clearly badly injured in some way, and she knew a moment of hesitation. She also found herself furious with him. The room held only one sleeping bag and he was on it. She wanted to order him off of it. Don’t be ridiculous, she told herself. That’s not why you’re angry. Get over it and deal with the situation.

She knelt next to him and touched his shoulder carefully. “Emmett, what did they do to you?”

Emmett clutched his chest. His breathing was forced. “They’ve broken something. God, it hurts. Oh, Rachel . . .” He sobbed again and caught his breath. Crying hurt him, she could see.

“He’s dead, Rachel. I’m so sorry. Russell. I never meant for . . .” Pain or no pain, Emmett lost himself in sobs.

Rachel slid a comforting arm around his shoulders, trying not to hurt him. “What happened, Emmett?”

“They shot him. They shot him. Oh, Rachel, Rachel.”

She smoothed his hair and made an attempt to clean the blood from his face. “How did it happen?” she encouraged.

“He . . . I saw you leave in the cab. I recognized the driver. I went to warn him.”

“What were you doing there?”

“I was waiting. I needed to go back for something. Then they saw me and everything started. Did you hear me? Russell’s dead. He’s dead.”

“Shot.”

“Yes. I saw it. It was awful.”

Rachel was sure it was awful. The ability to get over being dead, she had noticed, had never made her father eager for the experience. Getting shot . . . how awful.

Just not as awful as Emmett believed.

“Well, we need to think how to keep us from being dead. Do you know what they want?”

“They want something I have. Something I kept. How can you be so calm? I know he was important to you.”

Rachel puzzled over what to say. If they both got out of this alive, they wouldn't have much chance of hiding Connor's existence in a living state from Emmett.

"Did Russell ever mention to you . . . he sometimes wears a bullet-proof vest?"

Oh, good one. Rachel rolled her eyes at herself.

Emmett removed himself gently from her grasp and regarded her with pity.

"A vest," he said. "Sure, honey, sure. Maybe he was wearing a bullet-proof vest."

This was ridiculous. Emmett wasn't even mocking her. He was genuinely trying to humor her.

"There is some toilet tissue in the bathroom," she told him as she stood. "Let me try to clean you up."

Rachel cleaned his face as best she could, trying to distract herself from her fears. Emmett uncurled somewhat to allow her ministrations. The blood, she found, was only on his face, where his lips and the skin over his cheekbones had been cut. His nose bled, so Rachel had him pack it with tissue.

“Why did they beat you?” she asked.

“Bunishbent,” he mourned. “Also, dey wad be to tell dem where someding is.”

“The ledger from National Linen Supply?”

Emmett’s eyes grew wide. “How did you doh?”

“I found it in your . . . “

“Shhh!” Emmett held a hand out toward her mouth, and Rachel drew back to avoid it. “Dey bight be listening. Dat ledger is all dat keeps be alive. And you too, probably.”

Rachel grew cold. She knew exactly where that ledger was. It was lying on top of her green sweater in her suitcase. Where ever that was. She felt sick again.

Emmett shifted uncomfortably on the sleeping bag.

“I dever thought to be back at National Linen Supply. I ran to Nord Carolina to stay clear of dem. I lived dere for dirty years. No family, you doh? I couldn’t risk it. What if dey found me? And dow, my son, my son. I should dever have looked for Karen. I should dever have come back. Dey’ve killed him. After all dese years.” He was crying again, and pulled the tissue from his nose. Rachel handed him some more.

“Emmett, what did you mean, you never thought to be back at National Linen Supply?”

“Here,” he replied. “This is the New York branch of National Linen Supply. Their warehouse, anyway.”

Hope surged in Rachel. “It is? That’s wonderful!”

“Why?” He dabbed at his nose.

“Because,” Rachel dropped her voice to a whisper. “Russell knows about National Linen Supply. If there’s a New York branch, that’s the first place he’ll think of.”

Emmett closed his eyes. “Rachel, I told you. Russell’s dead.”

Oh yeah. “I mean, uh, Duncan will think of it. He’s very resourceful, too.” Rachel knew she was acting too calm about Russell’s “death,” but she didn’t have the energy to fake a grief she didn’t feel.

Rachel’s hope didn’t seem to impress Emmett. She saw his eyes glaze over with fear and pain. She let him rest while she thought. If she gave the ledger to their captors, was there any chance they would let them go? Surely murder was a sufficient risk even to these mobsters that they wouldn’t do it if they could avoid it. Emmett obviously believed he’d be killed as soon as they didn’t need him for information. She sighed. He was probably right. They clearly had had no hesitation about opening fire in broad daylight on a city street. God, it must have happened seconds after she turned the corner. Hard to imagine. Why did they keep her after killing “Russell Nash”? Because they still didn’t have the ledger; that had to be it. They guessed it was in Connor’s store somewhere, or that she might know where it was. So they would torture her, too. She wanted to cry again.

The door opened, and their two jailers stood there. “Time to go,” said the giant.

XIII

One man apiece led them down a poorly lit flight of stairs. Emmett whimpered with pain, but the giant gave him no mercy, yanking him along by the forearm.

They entered a ground floor room with few furnishings. Rachel’s fear-clouded mind didn’t register much about the room except for the five men standing and one sitting in it. Their escorts jammed her and Emmett into metal folding chairs and began wrapping ropes tightly around them. They faced an old man, his face shrewd and wrinkled, who sat in an armchair like it was a throne, two of the younger men flanking his chair like attendants. Beside him stood a desk with a few papers and a phone.

“So,” said the old man, in a voice wheezy with respiratory trouble, “Mr. Nash. I give you time to reconsider. Now, you have something for me?”

Pale and miserable looking, Emmett shook his head. One of the standing men strode to stand in front of Emmett, swung his arm back, and slapped him, brutally. Rachel gasped and cried out.

All eyes turned to her. She bit her lip.

“Mary,” wheezed the old man. “Is that your name?”

Rachel nodded. Her heart pounded in her chest, and she tried to take deep breaths, but the malice in the gaze of the old man froze her breath from her.

“Well, Mary, this whimpering lump of flesh took something from me. Something which could hurt my business. You’re in business, aren’t you, Mary. You know how hard you have to work to establish yourself . . .” He broke off, coughing. Rachel stole a glance at the faces of the other men. They did not react to the coughing fit. One of the attendants handed him a handkerchief.

As Rachel looked around the room, she spotted familiar looking baggage on the floor by a door. Her pounding heart seized in her chest. Her suitcase!

As he recovered from the fit, the old man gestured at another of the men. This other man stepped behind Rachel and yanked her head back by the hair. Rachel’s panic surged, and she struggled desperately against the ropes.

“We’re not wasting any more time on this slug,” announced the old man.

“Where do you want me to cut her first, Nash?” growled the voice behind her head. “Ladies hate to have scars on their faces.” The leash of her hair tightened, and Rachel was forced to stop struggling. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a hand with a knife approach her cheek.

“I don’t know, I don’t know,” cried Emmett. “I’m sorry!”

“Do it,” the old man ordered, and the knife blade rested on her face.

“Wait!” Rachel cried. “I’ll tell you where the ledger is!”

“That’s more like it,” said the man who had slapped Emmett. He stepped to Rachel.

“Noo,” moaned Emmett.

“Where is it?” Rachel’s hair was released, and she returned her head to its rightful place on her neck, and blinked through tears at the man before her.

“It’s in the store,” she lied, praying with all her might. “I found it in Emmett’s things. National Linen Supply, right? 1947?”

“Where did you put it?”

“In a drawer,” she gulped. “I don’t know how to tell you where . . .”

“Rachel, don’t!” Emmett sobbed.

“Rachel?” asked the man behind her chair. “I thought her name was Mary.”

“Shut up, Joe,” ordered the old man. “So, Rachel,” he emphasized the name, “your boss is dead. I have a whole graveyard for people who cross me. You better be telling the truth, or you’ll be feeding worms, too.”

“Do you want me to take you there?” she asked in a small voice. “I have a key.”

“No way!” put in the slapping man. “Pop, after today the place will be crawling with cops.”

“I’m not senile yet!” the old man snapped, but his protest was weakened by the coughing fit which followed. The younger men waited for it to pass. Emmett cried.

“No, Rachel,” the old man whispered, when he could. “You’re gonna call someone. Someone else who can get in the store. You tell somebody who cares whether you live or die where the book is, and they better bring it to the park bench by the Giuseppo Mazzini statue in an hour. No cops, or you and Mr. Smart-ass are both dead. Got it?”

Rachel nodded and gulped. “I have to call the store.”

“Not the store!” demanded the slapping man. “Cops’ll have a phone tap.”

“Think of someone else,” ordered the old man.

“There’s no one else. You killed my boss. Now there’s only his cousin.”

“It’s true, Lucky,” said another man. “We checked her out. No family.”

“It’s a sad thing to have no family, Rachel. No one who cares whether you live or die. You should marry yourself a nice man.”

Lucky thought for a moment. “We’ll risk the tap. You keep the call short, you understand? If we have to hang up on you . . . Tommy here doesn’t like hurting women, but Joe doesn’t mind at all.”

Rachel nodded. She thought furiously. What should she say?

Tommy, the man who had slapped Emmett, dialed the phone and held the receiver to Rachel’s ear. Joe held his knife to her throat. The weaselly man lifted an extension which hung on the wall.

She listened to the phone ring. What if Connor answered?

Duncan answered. “Hello?” He sounded tense.

A sudden wave of emotion washed over Rachel, part relief and part panic. The situation had seemed so unreal to her, and hearing Duncan’s familiar voice made it somehow worse.

“Duncan!” she half sobbed.

“Rachel! Are you all right? Where are you?”

The cold point of the knife reminded her to watch her words. “Duncan. I’m okay,” she lied. “Emmett’s here, too. These men want . . .” She needed to remind him of the name of the company. “There’s a ledger. It’s for National Linen Supply. I put it in the drawer in the desk. If you don’t bring it to the park bench by the Giuseppo Mazzini statue in an hour, they’ll kill us.”

“No cops,” hissed Joe.

“Can you find the ledger? It’s for National Linen Supply, from 1947 to 1952.”

There was silence while Duncan considered her words. Lucky pointed at his watch, and made a “speed it up” motion.

“Rachel,” Duncan answered, “they shot Russell, and they took his body with them. Don’t be afraid.”

Tommy pulled the receiver from her ear and spoke into it. “No cops, buddy. One hour.” Then Lucky pressed the hook down, and Weasel hung up the extension.

“Was it too long?” Tommy asked.

“We’re okay,” Lucky judged. “Frank and Jamie, get over to the park. And get her keys outta her bag, just in case. Tommy, you take ‘em back upstairs. And Tony, get me something to drink. I’m dyin’ here.”

Tommy and Joe unwrapped the ropes binding her and Emmett to chairs. To Rachel’s horror, the giant, who must have been named either Frank or Jamie, moved, not to her purse, but to her suitcase.

“Pop, let me lock ‘em in the graveyard. I don’t want to have to haul ‘em down later,” complained Tommy.

The giant turned her suitcase over and reached for the latches.

“The keys are in my purse,” she volunteered, a little too hastily.

The giant looked at her, as did everyone else, and then looked at Lucky.

“That’s nice to know,” Lucky mocked. “Something important in the suitcase, Rachel?”

Her blood ran cold. Blood . . . “My Kotex are in there. Could I have them? I’m on the rag.”

A moment of silence gripped the room. Rachel held her breath and tried not to look as scared as she was. A distant lady-like part of her winced at the indelicate phrase, but she had needed to be as blunt as possible. It had worked for another Rachel . . .

Lucky snorted and coughed. “Get ‘em outta here,” he wheezed. “Downstairs is okay.”

She and Emmett were hauled toward a different door. Rachel looked over her shoulder as best she could, and saw the giant abandon the suitcase and reach for her purse, just as she and Emmett were shoved through the door, and crowded onto a cement stairway. The slamming door echoed hollowly. Thank you, Lord. Thank you, thank you. Please don’t let them change their minds.

XIV

Emmett sank down by her feet, his breath rasping in the gloom. He said nothing. Perhaps he was in too much pain to speak.

Rachel also remained silent, standing upright in the darkness, waiting for her eyes to adjust. She had seen the descending stairs in the brief moment of light as they entered, and now she slid her hand along the sides of the door, searching for a light switch, but she found none. She moved one bare foot forward, feeling for the edge. Leaving Emmett, she descended into she knew not what.

After ten steps, her foot felt cold, packed earth, and her vision began to make out a narrow basement with exposed pipes, ducts, and electrical conduits suspended from the low ceiling. The place smelled damp and close, with a faint odor of something unpleasant, but which she couldn’t quite identify. Something wisped against her cheek and she nearly jumped out of her skin.

“Ah!” she gasped, as it tapped her again. Too firm for a spider’s web, she judged, breathing hard. She reached before her and found a hanging cord. She pulled it, and a blessed dim light fell from a bare bulb above her.

Now she could see the basement. The brick walls, the narrow, ground level windows just below ceiling height, the earth floor, and many shadows where the single light source was blocked by ducting.

“There’s no water, no sleeping bag,” Emmett observed from the landing above the stairs. “They expect to kill us soon.”

“Or let us go,” Rachel chided, though she didn’t hold the hope she defended. She felt thirsty, and guessed that Emmett, injured, must be even worse off.

Emmett began a slow progress down the stairs.

Rachel continued to look around. Two large spades leaned against the wall a few feet from her, with fresh dirt muddying their tips. She frowned and looked at the earth floor. It was darker in large, rectangular patches, where the dust and topsoil had been disturbed. As if something had been buried . . .

“Emmett,” her voice sounded strangled, even to herself. “Did they call this the graveyard?”

The dark patch near the spades began to move.

“What?” Emmett asked. “Why . . .?” He broke off, as the disturbance in the floor grew obvious.

Rachel watched with growing joy and some resignation as Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, covered in mud and blood, burst from his grave. He came out ready for a fight, ghostly pale, his normally deep-set eyes wide and crazed. Earth clung to his hair and smeared his face. He was clothed, Rachel was glad to see, but his shirt was in tattered ribbons and no part of his clothes was not stained with blood. A filthy, bloody sheet fell from him.

“Gaaahh!” cried Emmett. Rachel heard a thump behind her, but refused to turn away from her resurrected father to look.

Connor swung his head around, wildly, like a trapped animal, blinking in the light. He breathed like he’d been running.

Rachel’s feet had grown roots, but her heart had grown wings. “Dad!” she cried, as tears wet her cheeks.

“Rachel?” he croaked, and sanity entered his eyes again.

“It’s okay.” Rachel’s hands flew to her mouth and she blinked away the tears. “It’s only us.”

“Aieeee!” shrieked Emmett.

His cries, she knew, could bring their captors, but for a precious moment, Rachel didn’t care. Connor stumbled to her, kicking his shroud away. He grasped her shoulders, his gaze devouring her greedily, but he didn’t embrace her. Perhaps he thought he was too dirty.

Rachel hurled herself into his chest and hugged him as hard as she could. He smelled awful, so Rachel held her breath as he hugged her back. She squeezed her eyes shut, but that didn’t stop the tears from flowing.

“My God! Oh my God!”

Emmett’s going to have a coronary, she thought, and she tried not to giggle.

One arm still tightly around her shoulders, Connor pried her from his chest. He spared only a glance for Emmett. “Where are they, and how many?” he asked her.

“Upstairs. Uh, six, I think. They’re all armed.”

“Of course,” Connor replied, and he moved them toward Emmett.

Now Rachel saw that the injured man was pressed against the wall at the foot of the stairs, scrabbling futilely to get further from them, his face a mask of terror.

“Get away! Get away!” he screamed.

Connor paused, regarding him.

“Duncan should be on his way,” Rachel said.

Connor nodded, still looking at Emmett. “He’s here.”

Oh, good. Another wave of relief swept through Rachel. Her knees trembled, but Connor’s tight embrace supported her.

“What are you?” Emmett’s terror gave his voice a vicious quality. “You’re some kind of monster!”

The arm around her shoulders squeezed more tightly for a moment, and Rachel felt a sudden tension in the body next to hers.

Emmett groped to his feet, looking loathing at the Highlander. “You’re unnatural! You can’t be my son!” he spat.

Rachel looked at her father. She felt the shock in him. Then he turned his back on Emmett, released Rachel and strode back to the spades. He returned with them, ignoring Emmett. He handed her a spade.

“Rachel, one guy with an automatic could spray this room and kill you in a half-second, no matter what I do. When I go through that door, I want you underneath the stairs, and you stay there, you understand?”

Rachel nodded. Connor said nothing about Emmett, she noticed.

“What will you do?” she whispered.

Connor regarded her from beneath his warpaint of blood and dirt. “Rachel, I’m going to kill them all. Get used to it.”

“It’s okay with me,” she answered.

Connor squeezed her shoulder.

“You look horrible,” she admired, though he looked wonderful to her.

“Good,” he answered, and, stepping past Emmett, he mounted the stairs.

Following Connor’s whispered instructions, Rachel took her spade to the high, thin window, turned her head away, and, like sounding the bell to start a boxing match, smashed out the glass. It felt great to destroy something, and the noise was loud and unmistakable. “Duncan!” she screamed, just in case, “to me!” Then she scampered to the cover of the stairway, stabbing her bare foot on a shard of glass along the way.

Pressed into the shadows, Rachel heard the door above burst open.

“Hey!” growled a new voice. Then, in an entirely different tone, “Jesus!”

The name, Rachel reflected, was his final prayer, for, after the sound of a scuffle, two quick gunshots boomed in the basement, and the man’s dead body pitched over the edge of the stairs to fall in front of her in a ruined, bloody heap. Rachel squeezed her eyes shut.

“No. My God,” muttered Emmett.

Emmett. Positioned as he was, at the foot of the stairs, he’d be an easy target for anyone above.

“Emmett, come here,” she called.

Connor was in the main room above, now, back from the dead. She heard running footsteps crossing the room, and loud thumps as damage was done. “Aaaahh!” someone screamed.

“Emmett!” Rachel peeked around the edge of the stairs to glimpse Emmett, wide-eyed, staring up them.

“Jesus, Mary, Joseph!” cried a wheezing voice from above. Rachel grinned, imagining Lucky’s expression.

Someone upstairs must have recovered his wits, for shots began.

“Emmett!” Cringing, Rachel ducked around the stairs, and grasped the man under the arms. “Come on!” she hissed. She glanced up at the open door to see a man literally flying past, from right to left.

Emmett cried out, in pain, and resisted her on reflex.

“Kill him! Kill him, damn it!” ordered the voice of Tommy, sounding desperate.

Rachel shifted her grip to support Emmett without pressing against his side. She struggled to think calmly and not try to tug him to safety in a panic.

“Come away from the door, please. It’s not far,” she urged. Above her she heard more shots and the clattering crash of glass shattering.

“He’s dead! He’s already de . . .” someone screamed, and was cut off.

“Sorry, sorry,” Emmett gasped, getting his feet under him. He at least seemed more aware of her now.

“Kill them! Do it!” ordered Tommy.

The thought went through Rachel’s mind that Duncan must have joined the fight now.

Then a shadow from above blocked the light and Emmett abruptly shoved against her, crying out a warning. Rachel stumbled and fell beneath his weight. Two gunshots boomed again in the basement, and Emmett screamed and jerked twice. The shadow vanished, to the accompanying clatter of a body dropping onto the stairs.

Rachel lay still, her eyes squeezed shut. For just a moment, she retreated into a black pit of fear. Was she shot? Was Emmett shot? Please, God, let it be over!

Silence rose, and the acrid smell of fired guns reached her. Perhaps her prayer had been answered. She opened her eyes and it seemed that she must be lying in a pit of Hell.

By her head lay one of the mobsters, the one which Connor had pitched to the floor. The gunshots to his heart had left fairly small red holes in his Armani shirt, but what had exploded out his back had left flesh and organs and bones shredded and mangled beyond anything Rachel had ever seen. Blood was everywhere, soaking the dirt by her cheek.

She turned carefully to look at Emmett, his body a dead weight across her legs and waist. He too was shot, in his pelvis, but his living heart pumped his blood out in great spurts. “Oh God,” she whimpered.

“Rachel!” Connor called from above. She recognized her relief that the fighting was over, but most of her mind was mesmerized by the horror of how a gunshot could rip up a body.

“Help!” she found the presence of mind to call.

Connor appeared at the doorway in an instant. He shoved the flopping body of their assailant down the steps with a foot, and vaulted off the edge of the stairway to land by her.

Rachel gasped as the light from the doorway darkened again, but when she looked, Duncan came through the door, also leaping effortlessly to the ground.

Connor hooked one arm behind her back, and, with the other, slid her legs out from under Emmett. Shock had kept her motionless; he probably feared she was injured. Emmett’s blood coated Connor, too. Rachel clung to him, shaking.

“He saved me, I think,” she said, unable to remove her gaze from Emmett.

“It’s the least he could do,” growled Connor, the remains of a killing fury in his eyes.

Duncan, to her surprise, ripped the shredded Armani shirt from the body next to her, like tearing towels from a paper towel dispenser. He plunged calmly into the mangled mass of Emmett’s pelvis, wrapping and tying. This kind of carnage, she thought, was all too familiar to both men.

“Call for help?” she asked.

“Duncan already did.” Connor put both arms around her, and rested his head on the crown of her own, his face turned to watch Duncan’s field surgery.

In the distance, sirens whined.

XV

The night was cold, and the police had insisted that they all evacuate the crime scene, so Rachel huddled in a wool blanket, using the open door of one of the two ambulances to block the wind. Her cut foot throbbed beneath the bandage. She wondered how it could hurt so much now, when she hadn't even noticed it in the warehouse basement.

Connor stood nearby, also wearing a blanket, but on him, it looked like a cloak. He had accepted it more for modesty, she guessed, than for warmth, or else to disguise from casual observation how undamaged his torso was. He had removed the bullet shredded shirt.

The warm coffee in her hands was heaven. She'd been checked for shock, but she felt euphoric. And very grateful to be alive. Even the cold wind was welcome. She would get to see Spring finish arriving. And Summer after that, and then Fall . . .

Duncan returned from wherever he'd gone to wash Emmett's blood from his hands, Lt. Rees with him.

"So I'm supposed to believe," Rees announced, "that there just happened to be a rival mob hit on Lucky while you were his prisoner in the basement?"

"You'll believe whatever you like," Connor retorted.

"So I won't find your fingerprints on any of the weapons."

Behind Rees, Duncan shook his head.

"I doubt it," replied Connor.

Rees moved away, looking disgusted. He joined the uniformed policemen putting crime scene tape around the building.

"They're loading Emmett up now," Duncan reported, nodding his head in the direction of the other ambulance. "He's going to Saint Vincent’s."

"Someone should go with him," Rachel ventured. She and Duncan both looked at Connor.

"Not you!" Connor warned, moving to her side and clutching her to his own. "You're staying with me."

Rachel smiled, warm on the inside, but she looked to meet Duncan's gaze.

"They might only accept a family member," Duncan suggested.

"Then he goes alone," Connor decreed. "He has no family here."

At Duncan's quizzical look, Connor continued. "I am not his son. He said so, and he's right."

Duncan's eyes widened. He glanced again at Rachel.

She gave him her best pleading look.

Duncan sighed. "I'll see if they'll let me go. Rees has my statement."

"Suit yourself," said Connor.

With an admonishment from Rees not to leave the city, Duncan was allowed to travel in the departing ambulance.

"Well, Nash, you're lucky," Rees declared, returning as Rachel finished her coffee. "Seems there's a corroborating witness to your story."

Connor remained silent, so Rachel replied, "There is?"

"Yeah. Guy over there with the cane says he saw the whole thing. Know him, by any chance?"

Rachel peered into the gloom, but couldn't make out the figure by the uniformed cops, very well. "I don't think so," she said, knowing Connor wouldn't answer any more questions than he had to.

"What about you?" Rees prodded the Highlander.

"No," Connor declared, without looking.

"Right," Rees answered. "So now I have to figure out which crimelord wasted most of Lucky's operation."

"You have our statements, and now you have another witness. Can we go?" growled Connor.

"Yeah, take Ms. Ellenstein home. But don't you leave town, either."

Rachel slipped her hand in her father's as they headed for the car Duncan had driven. "You're not a monster," she said.

He didn't reply until he had her nestled in the passenger seat. He started the engine. "Not even when I kill six men with my bare hands?" he queried.

Rachel studied his face, but learned nothing. "Didn't Duncan help?" she asked, innocently.

Connor rolled his eyes. "Oh, some, I suppose."

"And I thought you shot them. That's not bare hands."

"You know what I mean," he admonished.

Rachel grinned. "No, you're not a monster. But did you have to pull `Night of the Living Dead' right in front of Emmett?"

Connor grimaced. "I couldn't stand it any more. And I heard your voice."

Rachel felt warm all over. "I feel sorry for Emmett," she said. "No family, you know."

"Now don't start," Connor complained.

Rachel grinned again, and snuggled into the blanket contentedly. She'd wear him down.

The End.

To the Authors' Pages