New Arrivals
Author-Sue Kelley
Titles

Easier Said Than Done
Part Three
by Sue Kelley

See notes and disclaimers in Part One.

MacLeod walked quietly into the Intensive Care Unit, giving a brief smile to the nurse exiting Richie's cubicle. "How is he?" he asked, his voice hushed. Something about the ICU made him feel he should whisper.

The nurse -- when he and Tessa had come in the first time, at midnight, she'd introduced herself as Carol Jenkins -- smiled back, her eyes tired. Long night, he supposed. Every cubicle in the ICU was full.

"Richie's doing just fine," she assured him. "I'll be going off shift soon. His day nurse will be Marlene Morrison; I'm sure that, once things calm down a little, say about nine or so, she won't have a problem with you visiting a little longer than ten minutes."

That had been the procedure all night: ten minute visits on the hour and half hour. MacLeod had come on the half-hour and Tessa on the hour. In between they'd catnapped fitfully on one of the long couches in the waiting room, surrounded by other family members who couldn't or didn't want to leave the hospital. A patient had died around three a.m.; MacLeod had jerked awake from a restless doze at the sobs of the man's wife, the muffled shriek from his oldest daughter.

Duncan stepped close to the bed. Richie lay as still as he had every other visit, eyes closed, bandages on his head only a little more white than his complexion. Green oxygen tubing curled on his face, feeding into his nose. IVs in his left arm, a blood pressure cuff continuously attached to his right.

"Hi, Richie," MacLeod said self-consciously. He had to clear his throat. "It's six-thirty in the morning; if we were home I'd be waking you up for a run. Of course, you'd probably throw your pillow at me!"

He waited, praying for some movement, anything: a flicker of an eyelid, twitch of the mouth, anything. For all the staff's assurances that Richie was doing fine, a part of MacLeod wasn't going to relax until those blue eyes opened and, even more, that mouth opened and started spilling out words at its usual break-neck speed.

"You know," he told the silent figure, "I didn't realize how much I'd gotten use to the sound of your voice. I'll bet you never thought you'd hear me admit that!" His hand slid down to grip Richie's cool, slack one and he squeezed gently. "Come on, Tough Guy, you can do it. Wake up now, please?"

He waited, studying Richie's face desperately. A flicker of something drew his attention upward and he studied the bank of monitors behind the bed. Richie's pulse and respiration had increased slightly. "Richie? Can you hear me?"

The readings jumped again. Before MacLeod could move he felt the slightest, tiniest pressure on his hand. He looked down in disbelief to see Richie's fingers curl around his own.

** ** **

Jim Ellison didn't get much sleep. He tossed and turned most of the night. Had he been alone he would have given up and gone downstairs, turned on the TV and lost himself in some mindless infomercial, but since Sandburg was crashed on the couch that wasn't an option.

Jim didn't like houseguests. He hadn't liked them before his senses went crazy and he sure didn't like them when even soft breathing sounded like a cement mixer. But Sandburg was wounded and exhausted, and Jim wasn't going to have him going back to his unheated, unsafe warehouse in his condition, especially since there were police officers staked out there, hoping against hope their gunman/killer might show up again. And Sandburg hadn't been any trouble: since Jim's sleeping bag was still at Blair's, the student had just curled up on the couch in a nest of blankets and been sound asleep even before Ellison had brushed his teeth.

His cell phone shrilled. Jim reached for it before it could ring again.

"Ellison! What's this about a *dead* assassin running around in *my* city?" The booming voice of his superior, Captain Simon Banks, assaulted his ears.

"Good morning to you, too, sir," he sniped. "I know it doesn't make any sense, but the Noel woman identified Erik Lindstrom as the one that came into her shop looking for Richie Ryan; as far as whether or not he killed Senator Bolt, I guess we'll just have to wait until Ryan wakes up."

Simon snorted. "If he remembers anything after brain surgery. In the meantime, I've had the governor, half the Seacouver PD, the FBI and the Treasury Department on the phone half the night. Nobody is happy, Jim. Erik Lindstrom is dead."

Jim rubbed his eyes. "Sandburg had kind of an idea, sir."

"Oh, God. Do I want to hear it?"

"Witness Protection Program," Jim answered succinctly.

There was a long pause, then Simon snorted again. "Now I *am* worried: I had the same thought! The FBI denies it, but then you know those guys. They'd deny anything if it suited their purposes. Only thing is, why would they put Lindstrom in the W.P.P.? If Michael LaFiamma and the whole wonderful Gariboldi family are still alive and well in Chicago -- hey, did you know his nephew is a cop?"

"Who? Lindstrom's nephew?"

"No, LaFiamma's nephew. John, no Joseph, I think. He's down in Houston; according to the Chicago PD the nephew made things a little uncomfortable for some of the mob guys and his uncle worked out some kind of deal. Blood's thicker than water, I guess."

Jim didn't care. "What did you really call about, Simon?"

"Oh, just wanted to give you a piece of information. The forensics team doing the sweep at Sandburg's found a partial print on those cut power lines; apparently our boy didn't wear his gloves. Seems rather strange, given the weather that night, but maybe ghosts can't get frostbite. But apparently they *can* leave fingerprints!"

"Ghosts?" Jim repeated.

"Yeah. The fingerprints belong to Erik Lindstrom."

** ** **

They moved Richie out of ICU and to a private room on the eighth floor late in the afternoon. The teen hadn't regained consciousness, but he was showing signs of responsiveness when they spoke to him: body movements, twitching of the eyelids, increased pulse and respiration. All were positive signs, the hospital staff assured MacLeod and Tessa. Dr. Jones, when he visited just before dinnertime, seemed pleased at Richie's progress. He glanced at the cot that Duncan had requested, then at Tessa, looking tired and uncomfortable in her rumpled clothes, and said, "You know, there's a very good hotel just a few blocks away; the two of you could use some rest, maybe have a good meal."

MacLeod shook his head, although he was dying for a hot shower. "We'd rather be here when he wakes up," he answered. Besides, he had no intention of leaving Richie alone and unprotected while an Immortal assassin roamed the streets of Cascade, even if the hospital was full of policemen.

Ellison had been by three times, growing more agitated each time that Richie couldn't be questioned. Blair had visited too, but that was different: he honestly seemed concerned about Richie. Since he hadn't been allowed in ICU he'd gone out and brought a picnic lunch back for MacLeod and Tessa to eat in the waiting room.

"He may not wake up," Jones said absently, busily making notes in the chart.

"What!" Tessa gasped, blood draining from her face. Duncan leapt up from his seat.

"What do you mean?" he demanded harshly. "You said he was doing fine, there were no complications!"

"He *is* doing fine," Jones said, puzzled, looking up at them. He closed his eyes in something like dismay. "Oh, brother... I'm sorry. I didn't mean that the way it must have sounded. What I meant is that you're picturing he's going to wake up like waking up in the morning, all faculties intact, open his eyes and immediately engage you in conversation."

"Well, actually conversation isn't Richie's strong suit in the mornings," Duncan commented, calming at the expression on the doctor's face. "So that isn't how it will happen?"

Jones shrugged. "Well, it might. But on the other hand he may continue this way, showing increased responsiveness when you talk to him, maybe gradually opening his eyes for a few minutes at a time; could take several days, a week even, for him to be fully awake."

MacLeod frowned. "And when he is awake? How will he be? I mean, will he remember us, will he be able to talk and..." 'Will he *be* Richie?

"No reason to think he won't. There may be some memory loss, I seriously doubt he'll remember the time between the original incident and being readmitted to the hospital, although he *might*. The human brain is such a miraculous thing, we can't predict how it's going to react. However, I *can* predict," he finished briskly, closing the chart, "that you two are going to collapse if you don't get some rest!"

** ** **

"Look, I can stay here for awhile if you want to go check into a hotel, grab a shower, eat something," Blair offered. He grinned. "I'm car-less at the moment anyway and Jim is like insisting I stay at his place until they catch this guy. He's going to come by here and pick me up about nine or so."

Tessa and Duncan exchanged looks. "I *would* like to shower and change clothes," Tessa said tentatively.

Duncan clenched his jaw; he'd been doing that a lot lately; maybe Ellison was contagious. "What if the killer comes here?"

"Uh, Duncan, that's why there are police all over the place," Blair pointed out. "Uniforms and plainclothes-- Jim hand-picked the guys guarding the door."

'Yes, but they aren't Immortals!' Duncan thought. On the other hand, surely even an Immortal assassin would want to avoid the police, and if Blair was right in the room with Richie, what could happen?

He glanced up at the clock. "All right," he said. "Just for an hour or so."

** ** **

Blair yawned, rubbed at his eyes, then put the textbook face down on the floor. Standing, he stretched and stepped into the bathroom to splash cold water on his face. His reflection, pale, strained, with dark shadows under the eyes, stared back at him. Blair made a face at the mirror and grinned. He switched off the bathroom light and returned to his chair.

His arm had bothered him most of the night before and he'd been almost afraid to go to sleep, concerned he'd make a noise and disturb Jim. He knew it must be hard for the Sentinel; trying to block out all the stimulation so that he could sleep.

There was a soft knock and the door opened, letting in the uniformed police officer that had been on guard duty outside the door. Blair had seen him around the station; Alan Palmer was his name.

Palmer clutched a large styrofoam cup in each hand. Both cups bore the logo of The Coffee Hut, which was across the street from the hospital. Blair's nose twitched; he could smell something delectable. "Don't tell me that's amaretto cappuccino?" he asked hopefully.

"Yeah. Want some? One of the guys downstairs brought it up; he took a break and said he started feeling bad about me up here. He got an extra for himself, but when I told him you were here he said you're welcome to it."

"Great!" Blair accepted the cup and pulled off the lid, sniffing greedily at the aroma. "Man, I hope this isn't decaf. I am dragging tonight."

"A cop drinking decaf?" Palmer laughed. "Dream on." He raised his cup in a toast as he backed out of the room, closing the door behind him. Blair gulped a large mouthful, then settled back in the chair with his textbook.

** ** **

A giant yawn almost dislocated his jaw. "Must have been decaf after all," Blair muttered to himself. He tried to see the time but he couldn't focus on his watch. "Man, this is ridiculous, must be the lighting or something in here." He frowned; his tongue felt thick.

Maybe he could lie down on the cot; take a short power nap. Suiting action to deed, he sprawled face down. He just needed to close his eyes for a few minutes--

He heard the door open and softly close again. Footsteps. Blair forced open eyelids that were determined to stay glued down. A blurry figure in surgical greens, wearing a cap and mask, was leaning over Richie. Something white was in the figure's hands, something white and fluffy and it leaned over Richie, gently descending on to his face.

'NO!' shrieked a voice in Blair's woolly mind. He tried to sit up, but his muscles weren't taking orders from his brain. In spite of his struggles his eyelids were closing again and blackness swam up to meet him...

** ** **

Jim Ellison and Duncan MacLeod bumped into each other at the elevators. Scowling, Jim allowed the Highlander to board first then followed, pressing the elevator button for the eighth floor. The lights in the lift seemed abnormally bright and he closed his eyes for a minute.

"Bad day?" MacLeod inquired.

"You could say that." Jim had spent most of the day fielding phone calls: a resolute FBI agent in Chicago who steadfastly insisted Erik Lindstrom was dead; the Governor's office, the Seacouver PD and the Justice Department, all wanting to know what was happening in the investigation. Not to mention the hounding from the press.

"Where's Ms. Noel?" he asked.

"I left her at the hotel to get a few hours rest." One corner of MacLeod's lip turned upward. "She wasn't very happy about it."

The elevator slowed to a stop and the doors slid open onto the eight floor. MacLeod stepped out, then stopped so quickly that Ellison plowed into his back. "MacLeod, what the hell--" then the detective looked down the hall, to see a huge commotion at the end of the corridor.

"That's Richie's room," MacLeod murmured, blood draining from his face. He bolted down the hall, Ellison hard on his heels. They reached the door and peered into chaos.

A middle-aged man wearing a white lab coat was pounding on Richie's chest and barking orders at two nurses. Sandburg lay in a boneless huddle on the cot, another nurse leaning over him, patting his cheeks. Jim quickly focused his senses on Sandburg. Pulse slow, too slow really, but steady.

"What the hell happened!" MacLeod roared.

"He stopped breathing," one of the nurses volunteered.

**********************

"He didn't just stop," the doctor--at least Jim assumed he was a doctor--had ceased CPR and was leaning over Richie's head. He sighed in relief and his shoulders relaxed. "OK, he's breathing now. Nurse, increase the oh-two to three point five liters." The other nurse, an older one, nodded and reached behind the bed to adjust a knob. She settled the pale green tubing back in Richie's nose. The doctor was watching all the monitors closely and after two or three minutes he nodded again and stepped away from the bed.

MacLeod was still frozen in the doorway. Jim had knelt on the floor next to Blair's still form. "Chief," he said softly, then louder, "Sandburg!" There was still no response and he looked around. A half-full styrofoam cup was underneath the cot. Jim sniffed the liquid. Coffee, amaretto, milk, and something else. "This coffee's been drugged.

"That makes sense," the doctor growled. He took the cup from Jim's hand. "We'll have this analyzed. I'd bet it's some kind of narcotic, sleeping pills of some sort, maybe."

Ellison's eyes narrowed. "Who are you?"

"He's Dr. Rucker," MacLeod answered, "I met him before I left for the hotel." The dark-haired man stepped closer to the bed, staring anxiously at Richie. "Is he going to be all right? What happened? Why did he stop breathing?"

Dr. Rucker stooped and picked up a pillow that had been thrown on the floor in all the confusion. He handled it carefully, using only the index finger and thumb to lift it. "Somebody tried to smother him, with this. But the alarms on the monitors went off and whoever it was got away."

"*What?*" Jim snapped. "Where the hell was the guard?"

No one knew. Jim strode out into the corridor. The chair was there, a paperback book and another styrofoam cup on the floor beside it. This cup was empty, but Jim could still catch a whiff of the same odor he'd smelled in Sandburg's cup. Looking around, the detective focused on a closed door across the hall marked "Clean Linen Room". Jim pulled his gun as he cautiously opened the door. Racks of linens: sheets, towels, pillowcases, blue and green and yellow blankets, were shoved into the room. The odor of starch and disinfectant assaulted his nose.

And at his feet lay the still form of Sgt. Alan Palmer. Dead.

** ** **

Duncan squeezed Richie's slack hand once, then tucked the hand beneath the blankets and stood, stretching out the kinks in his back. He walked to the window and looked out into the cold night.

Almost two a.m. Six hours since someone had tried to smother Richie with a pillow from the linen room. Since Blair Sandburg had been drugged and another man murdered. Guilt roiled through the Highlander's gut. 'I should have been here. If I'd been here--'

Richie had apparently suffered no additional injury from the attempt on his life. Sandburg was in a room down the hall, under observation for what the hospital lab had confirmed was a sub-lethal dose of chloral hydrate. Had he drank the whole cup of coffee he would probably have died too, like Palmer, a twenty-year veteran of the police force, father of three kids.

There was a faint rap on the door and it opened to allow Jim Ellison entrance. He didn't seem surprised to see Duncan still awake. "I wanted to tell you, we have three men on duty outside your hotel room. I just checked in with them; everything's quiet."

Duncan nodded, fighting down anxiety. There was no reason to believe Erik Lindstrom, if that was indeed the killer, knew that Tessa was in Cascade or realized she could be any danger to him. Duncan didn't want to leave Richie, and Tessa was probably safer where she was, with the protection Ellison had assigned.

Studying the other man, he felt a rush of empathy. Ellison looked exhausted. The anger and grief that had clouded his eyes as he knelt in the linen room beside the dead police sergeant were still plain. His jaw was clenched so tightly Duncan wondered how he kept from breaking a tooth. "How's Blair?" Duncan asked carefully.

The clenched jaw relaxed, if only a fraction. "He's still asleep, but his vital signs are normal. He should wake up in the morning no worse for wear." A faint smile quirked Ellison's lip. "This will probably be the best night's sleep he's gotten in months."

"I'm sorry about Sgt. Palmer," Duncan said gently.

Blue eyes blazed. Jaw muscles clenched even more tightly. "He was a good man. But of all the stupid things to do--"

"Have you pieced together what happened yet?"

"Oh, yeah, I've pieced it together. Asinine! A hospital security guard brought up the coffee. It was given to him by a man wearing a Cascade police uniform who asked the guard to bring it to Palmer and whoever was sitting in the room with Richie. The guard didn't suspect anything was wrong so he brought it up and gave it to Palmer. Apparently Palmer gave a cup to Sandburg. Blair wouldn't have known not to drink it. Palmer should have known better." Ellison took a deep breath. "The guard positively identified a picture of Erik Lindstrom as the 'officer'. For some insane reason, the hospital's Chief of Security did *not* share the pictures of Lindstrom we gave him, with his guards."

Duncan started to speak. Suddenly, he felt the tingling awareness that warned of another Immortal nearby. Conscious of the comforting weight of his sword in his coat, MacLeod stepped to the door and flung it open.

Nothing. Two police officers in the hall looked up from their card game.

"MacLeod?" Ellison asked from behind him. "What's wrong?"

Duncan ignored him to demand of the two officers, "Has anybody come by here?"

They both shook their heads. Duncan looked around again. His eyes spotted the emergency exit. Something about the door looked wrong. He stepped closer, hearing Ellison's sharp inhalation of breath behind him. "The alarm's been disabled on that door! I checked it myself not thirty minutes ago!"

"Stay with Richie," MacLeod ordered, hand on the door to open it. Ellison grabbed his elbow.

"Excuse me? Where do you think you're going?"

Duncan looked at the detective. "I can't explain it, but you don't know what you're up against!"

"And you do?"

"Yes. I do. This is my life. It's not yours, Ellison. Just stay here."

Ellison stared at him incredulously. Then he glanced at the two officers. "Tyler, you go in that room and you stay with Ryan until either Mr. MacLeod here or I tell you to leave. Got it? Martinez, you guard that door. And call Sebring and tell him to stay with Sandburg."

Both officers nodded crisply, and one stepped inside the room; the other pulled a cell phone out of his pocket and punched in a number. Jim turned back to MacLeod. "After you," he said, gesturing at the door.

** ** **

The fire stairs ended at a door on the ground floor. The lock on this one had also been disabled. No alarms shrieked as MacLeod pushed it open and he and Ellison found themselves in a cul-de-sac formed by two wings of the hospital. The stairs and door probably dated to before the newer west wing of the hospital had been added.

"Easy way to get out and pretty much guarantee no one would see you," Ellison admitted. "The parking lots and main entrance are on the other side."

MacLeod pointed to the west, past more flower beds and lawns, gradually merging into a heavily wooded area. "What's that? Those trees, I mean. Part of the hospital grounds?"

"No. That's Cascade River Park."

MacLeod looked at him. "At this time of night, this time of year, a park would be deserted, wouldn't it?"

Ellison nodded slowly. "And we didn't know about this exit; all the guards are at the parking lots and the main gates. No one to see somebody going into the park."

Wordlessly, MacLeod turned toward the trees.

** ** **

Ellison and MacLeod moved cautiously through the woods. Inky-black darkness surrounded them. One could hardly believe this was still the middle of a bustling city; that ten minutes brisk walk in any direction would bring one into people and lights and cars.

The wind was picking up as the latest storm moved in from the Pacific. Leaves whipped past MacLeod's cheeks, bringing with them the odor of damp sea air, and long decayed vegetation and wet earth.

The sense of an Immortal had faded, then grew strong again. Wordlessly, Duncan yanked his katana from its hidden sleeve. Ellison jumped. "What the hell is that, MacLeod?" he demanded, lowering his gun.

There was the crack of a bullet and Duncan jerked back as the fiery lead tore through his shoulder. Staggered, he dropped his katana and then fell to his knees to retrieve it. Ellison didn't take cover, moving in a circle, gun at the ready.

Silence. Dark. Stillness.

** ** **

Jim stared into the darkness, opening his senses as far as he could, focusing his sight, his hearing, hearing the rustle of the leaves, the chittering sounds of night insects, the roar of the river....

"Detective? Ellison!" Something struck him across the face.

Jim gasped, sucking icy cold air into lungs that had been without too long. There was a face very close to his, concerned dark eyes staring into his. He recognized the face. "MacLeod?"

"Are you all right?" the Scotsman asked, his voice concerned. "I didn't think you were breathing."

The faint ache in his head and the pounding of his heart were proof to Jim that he *hadn't* been breathing, but he didn't say anything on that subject. How could he explain it? Sandburg called them "zone outs": when Jim could be so carried away by one or more of his hyper-acute senses that his brain and body literally forgot to function.

Jim smelled the blood. With difficulty he remembered what had happened. "Are you all right?" he demanded, trying to reach for MacLeod. "You're wounded."

MacLeod stepped backward hastily. "No, I'm not. The bullet must have just startled me--"

"Bull!" Ellison snapped, snatching MacLeod's arm, feeling the stickiness of the blood on his sleeve. "For God's sake let me see--"

The hand on MacLeod's arm felt a strange sensation, like a tingling warmth. It was so strong that Jim forgot what he was saying and focused on the shoulder of the man before him. Flashes of cobalt blue flickered about the wound. A faint smell tickled his nose, but he could not identify it.

"Ellison," MacLeod started again.

Jim ignored him, placing his hand directly on the ragged hole in Duncan's jacket. He felt that warmth again, but faintly this time. No fresh blood welled from the wound.

"Take it off," he demanded, pointing to MacLeod's jacket.

He heard the other man give a deep sigh then he complied. Jagged hole in the sweater, but unmarked skin below.

"My God," Jim whispered, "it's healed." He stepped back, staring at the other man. "What are you?"

** ** **

Duncan closed his eyes and muffled a groan. How the hell had the police detective seen that wound? It was so pitch black out here--

Well, no matter. He *had* seen it, and somehow the Immortal suspected Ellison would be satisfied with nothing less than the truth. He sighed again. "I am Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. I was born 400 years ago in the Highlands of Scotland."

He heard the sharp intake of breath from the other man as he added the next bit: "I am Immortal."

** ** **

Later, when MacLeod had time to think about it, he was amazed at how readily the police detective accepted his story. Duncan didn't tell all of it, of course; there wasn't enough time and this wasn't the place. He covered the high points, including a little bit about the Game, and beheadings, and the fact that their quarry, the real killer, was also an Immortal.

At that Ellison finally reacted. "How do you know?" he demanded.

"We have a sort of early warning system, a feeling that tells an Immortal when another is near by."

Ellison was putting the pieces together. "So all those reports that said Lindstrom was killed--"

"Were true. He was. Only not permanently. It could have been his first death, or it could have been the latest of many."

Ellison was silent for a moment, then "That explains the sword."

"Never leave home without it," MacLeod quipped.

"So, if you know he's an-- Immortal-- does that mean he knows you're one, too?"

"I'm afraid so. Look, Ellison, while we're discussing this, Lindstrom could be getting away, or doubling back to the hospital--"

"Lindstrom is on the riverbank, that way," Ellison interrupted, pointing to the northwest. MacLeod stared at him.

"How can you know that?"

Jim winced. "Damn." He paused. "For now, let's just say that you have an early warning system and I have a tracking system." He started to head for the riverbank, but MacLeod caught his arm.

"Detective, your gun will be of no use to you. Are you going to try to arrest him?" Disbelief colored MacLeod's tone.

"Well, what would you suggest? Beheading him?" Jim suddenly realized that was *exactly* what the Immortal had in mind. "Forget it, MacLeod, your -- 'Game' isn't part of this. He's a suspect, I will arrest him and if there's enough evidence he'll be tried by a jury of his peers--"

"*I'm* his peer," MacLeod said quietly. "And judgment is up to me. Ellison, he attacked and tried to kill Richie. Twice. And he'll keep trying until he succeeds." 'Or until he makes him Immortal,' a little voice in the back of Duncan's mind screamed. He shook his head, silencing the voice, and abruptly turned and moved off in the direction Jim had indicated.

He wasn't surprised to hear the detective following.

**********************

The Immortal was waiting for them on the grassy bank that gently sloped down to the fast moving Cascade River, swollen from the recent rains and rushing between mammoth boulders to its rendezvous with the ocean.

The full moon broke between ominous clouds as they emerged from the forest, bathing the clearing in a silvery-light, catching and reflecting on the sword Erik Lindstrom held in his hand.

Lindstrom looked much like the sketch Tessa had made of him. From somewhere he'd grabbed a jacket to throw over the surgical scrubs that had allowed him entrance into Richie's room. His eyes flicked to Jim, still clutching his gun, to MacLeod, holding his katana. He made a little bow in the Immortal's direction. "Erik Lindstrom," he introduced himself proudly.

"Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod," MacLeod returned, his accent deeper than Jim had noticed before.

Jim could see the expression change on Lindstrom's face. His eyes widened. "You're The Highlander? What's your involvement in this? I have no quarrel with you."

"You know me?" MacLeod asked.

"We have a mutual friend. Alec Hill. He found me, you know, after--" Lindstrom made a vague movement with his hand. "He taught me." There was a pause, then he went on, "I don't want to fight you."

"You're after Richie Ryan; you've tried twice to kill him," MacLeod snarled. "Maybe *I* want to fight *you.*"

"Richie Ryan," Lindstrom repeated blankly. Comprehension dawned. "The kid? Well, so what's he to you?"

That cavalier comment seemed to stun even MacLeod. "What's he to me?" he repeated, his pitch elevating with each syllable.

"Well, yeah. Look, MacLeod, I'm a businessman. It's what I do, what I've always done. I take a job, I don't leave any loose ends. The Ryan kid was a loose end. He blundered into the warehouse in Seacouver and he saw too much. That's all."

"That loose end is my *friend,*" MacLeod spat out furiously. "He is under my protection. You want him, you have to go through me."

Lindstrom bowed a little. "If that's the way you want it, MacLeod." He raised his sword.

Both Immortals had completely ignored Jim Ellison, but now Lindstrom's eyes flickered over him. Recognition sparked in his eyes. "I know you," he purred. "You were there with Ryan and that long-haired kid, in the Corvair. You must be Ellison. I've heard of you. Big man, Special Forces, Black Ops, that kind of thing." His smile grew wider. "I'll enjoy killing you."

"He's not a part of this, Lindstrom!" MacLeod's voice cracked like a whip.

"That's where you're wrong, MacLeod. *You're* the one that's not a part of this. Ellison here got away. His little hippie friend got away. And the kid got away three times. That's bad for my rep. I have an obligation to my client, you know." He looked back at MacLeod. "Last chance, Highlander. You can walk away. I owe Alex and you're his friend." He secreted his sword at the same time pulling out a gun. "Just leave me alone to take care of loose ends."

** ** **

Rage swept the Highlander. This man had tried to kill Richie. Three times. For no more reason than because he was a "loose end". Only luck or more likely the Hand of God had spared Richie to this point. He said a grateful prayer that apparently Lindstrom had not realized the young man was a pre-Immortal.

No one was safe. Not Richie, or Tessa or Sandburg or Ellison. He shot an agonized glance at the detective who was just standing there holding his gun, either stunned or off in one of those bizarre trances of his. Then Duncan stepped between the other two. "I said, you go through me."

Lindstrom sighed. "If that's the way you want it," he said. The wind picked up, pushing clouds to cover the moon.

The sudden darkness distracted MacLeod just for an instant. But it was long enough for Lindstrom's finger to tighten on the trigger. For the second time a bullet tore through Duncan's shoulder. His katana dropped from his nerveless fingers and he fell to his knees in the grass. Stunned, The Highlander waited for the killing blow.

Another shot rang out. Lindstrom jerked, then crumpled forward. Blood blossomed from a hole in his back.

MacLeod struggled to his feet as Ellison stepped around him. "I was beginning to wonder about you," the Immortal gasped, clutching his arm. Immortal or not, gunshots still hurt.

"You were blocking my shot too," Jim pointed out, kneeling beside the temporary corpse. "How long will he... stay dead?"

Duncan shrugged. "It varies. Not very long, probably."

The two men were silent. Ellison spoke first. "If I arrest him--"

"How? Jail's not going to hold him, Ellison. Richie, you, Blair, even Tessa... none of you will be safe as long as he's alive."

Jim took a deep breath. He didn't like it, but he knew what MacLeod was saying was true. Prison walls would be no protection against a man who could not die. Sooner or later Lindstrom would escape and no one would be safe, not those victims he was hired to kill or any innocent person like Richie or even Sandburg, who'd somehow gotten in the way. "So what do we do now?"

"First, we give him a chance to wake up. Then, I fight him."

"Why don't you just behead him now, while he's still dead?"

MacLeod looked faintly horrified at the mere thought. "It's a Game, Ellison. It has Rules."

The Immortal at their feet started to stir. MacLeod stepped back, assuming a fighting position. "Get out of here, Ellison."

Lindstrom's eyes opened; he coughed, blinked. Focused on MacLeod. The katana, ready.

The moon came out from behind the clouds, brightening the clearing with that ethereal light.

Silence.

Lindstrom staggered to his feet. His eyes met MacLeod's. "I can't talk you out of this?"

"Would you leave Richie alone? All of them? Would you stop killing mortals?"

Lindstrom shook his head. "No to all of the above. It's what I do, MacLeod. I killed my first mark when I was thirteen." His face darkened. "And after I'm done with all of you, I have some unfinished business in Chicago. I need to go show them that the rumors of my death were greatly exaggerated." He pulled his sword.

"Get out of here, Ellison!" Mac ordered.

Jim's senses just barely shouted a warning. A rush of displaced air, light reflecting off a blade as it surged through the air where he had stood just an instant before. Off balance, the detective stumbled and Lindstrom lunged for him again. MacLeod was there, blocking the swing with his own katana, then instinctively bringing his blade up. Lindstrom heaved around, his sword tearing through the air, but he was off target and the blade merely caught Duncan's arm. Lindstrom was defenseless for the blow that followed. A killing blow.

MacLeod just stood there as Lindstrom's body collapsed before him. Something-- Jim knew what it was even though he didn't want to admit it to himself--flew through the air to land heavily several feet away. "Ellison," MacLeod said very calmly, "you'd better take cover."

Then all hell broke loose.

** ** **

Morning. Clean light spread over the city of Cascade. A flawless blue sky kissed the ocean.

Jim lightly tapped on the door of room 438, opened the door and peeked in. The blinds were still closed, but he could easily see the sleeping form in the bed. Tentatively the Sentinel reached out with his senses: heartbeat, respiration, both normal. Blair sighed in his sleep. Jim smiled and softly closed the door as he left.

Down the hall he greeted the guard, then stepped inside Richie Ryan's room, startling MacLeod and Tessa Noel out of a deep embrace. "I'm sorry," Jim said, feeling his face turn red.

"Don't worry," came a weak voice from the bed. "They do that all the time."

"Richie!" Tessa leapt to the side of the bed, MacLeod right behind her. "You're awake! How do you feel? Are you all right? Do you have any pain? Do you need the doctor? Duncan, go get the doctor or the nurse or somebody!"

"Tess, I'm okay." Richie struggled to sit up. He winced, putting a hand to his head. "Wow, who turned on the merry-go-round?"

"You're dizzy?" MacLeod asked, leaning over the boy. "Is your vision okay? How many fingers am I holding up?" he demanded, waving three raised fingers in the air.

"Three. Would you two please slow down?" Richie pleaded, still feeling around his bandage. A horrified expression swept over his face. "Oh, jeez, you let them cut my hair?"

After an incredulous silence, laughter tore through the air.

** ** **

Later, when the doctor had examined Richie and announced he was well on the way to complete recovery, Duncan and Jim slipped out, leaving Richie with an ecstatic Tessa. The police detective handed MacLeod a file folder. "If I can get you to sign this report about last night?"

Duncan eyed him warily, then opened the folder and rapidly leafed through the pages as Jim went on, "It was awfully fortunate that you picked up that sword when Lindstrom dropped it and managed to kill him before he shot me, since he had me dead to rights like that."

MacLeod's lip quirked. "Too bad that I beheaded him rather than just stabbing him in the back, though."

"Well, the heat of the moment." Ellison shrugged. "You saved my life, and I'm grateful."

Duncan signed his name. As he handed the papers back he said, "That goes both ways, Detective. Thank you."

"Hey, we all have secrets to keep."

"Like how you knew where Lindstrom was?" MacLeod asked. He held up a hand. "No, I don't want to know. So. Now what?"

"Well, Lindstrom was strictly a killer-for-hire. He may have kept records or something on who his employers were, but we have no idea where his base of operations was."

"So it's not over," MacLeod said quietly.

"It is for you," Ellison pointed out. "The danger to Richie was Lindstrom, and he's dead. Richie's safe."

"Yeah." Duncan stepped back to the door

** ** **

Richie slept most of the first few days, but by Thursday he was alert and seemed more like his old self. He was quiet though, and that worried Tessa. "Something's wrong, Duncan," she fretted.

"Well, the quiet is a nice change," Duncan tried to joke.

"I'm serious!" Tessa flared.

"I know you are, sweetheart." Duncan put his arm around her. "Maybe he's tired of the hospital. You wait and see, when we get started for home tomorrow he'll perk right up. You'll probably be ready to gag him by the time we hit the city limits."

** ** **

Blair stuck his head around the door. "Hey, Rich, can I come in?"

Richie looked away from the window he'd been staring through. "Blair! Yeah, hey, please, come on in." He looked at the covered container Blair held. "What's that?"

"You were griping about the food, so I brought you something to eat."

"Oh?" Richie asked cautiously. He liked Blair a lot, but he'd already figured out that the guy was a health food addict on a par with Mac. The aroma from the styrofoam container was tempting, though, so he opened it to find a cheeseburger and French fries. "Great! Real food!"

Blair laughed. "Compliments of Rita."

Richie looked up with his mouth full of cheeseburger. "Who's Rita?"

"The waitress at that diner, the one you saved. Jim and I went there for lunch today and she insisted on sending you something, along with her thanks."

"I didn't save her," Richie protested, "Jim got the guys, not me."

"Well, that's not the way she remembers it. Or the way Jim or I remember it, for that matter," Blair returned. "Face it, man, you're a genuine hero."

"Some hero." Richie put the burger down; he'd suddenly lost his appetite. "I ran off and let that Senator Bolt guy get killed."

Blair shook his head. "You still don't remember what happened that day, Richie. From what I know, you couldn't have saved him, and the killer would have just killed you too, if you'd tried."

"I guess," Richie muttered, turning back to the window.

"Hey, man, what is it? You seem awfully low today."

Richie was silent for a long time, then he said, "Mac and Tessa are going back to Seacouver tomorrow. Tessa has a meeting with the Park Commission about some statue she's doing for them."

"Oh," Blair said blankly. Then his face lit up. "Hey, I've got an idea. They have VCRs out there at the main desk for patients to borrow; we'll get one and I'll bring over some movies. I've got a bunch I need to screen anyway for this new research project I'm doing. MacLeod and Tessa coming back on Sunday? or Monday?"

Another long silence. "They won't come back." Richie's voice was very quiet.

"What?" Blair shook his head. "They told you that? What's going on?"

Richie shook his head. "No, they didn't say that, exactly, but they didn't have to. I mean, why would they come back? What's up here for them?"

"Well, you're here," Blair pointed out. "For the moment, at least."

Richie shrugged.

There was another silence.

"Richie, tell me what's going on in your head," Blair finally said.

"Nothing. I mean, why should they come back? I'm nothing to them. I'm just some punk kid who broke into their place one night and for some reason Mac decided to give me a break and a job and a place to live, and then I screwed *that* up, and then..." abruptly Richie broke off and turned to the window, trying to hide the tears in his blue eyes.

"Man, you are so wrong," the graduate student said. "I don't know why they took you in, and I don't know what you did that you think is so terrible, but I do know that those two care about you. They're your family, Richie, and family doesn't just walk away because things don't go smoothly."

Richie snorted. "I wouldn't know," he said bitterly. "I never had a family."

Blair shrugged. "Maybe not, but you have one now. Richie, man, I'm telling you, MacLeod and Tessa love you."

Richie turned startled eyes on Blair. "Love?"

"Yeah, love." Blair shook his head. "Man, are you blind or what? Why do you think they came all the way up here? When you were in surgery and then before you woke up, they never left this place until the doctor practically threw them out. Jim had a guard on your door and Mac *still* wouldn't leave. And Tessa! Man, every time you so much as wince she's out there yelling at the doctor or the nurses to do something. When you were in surgery she and I went down for coffee and all she talked about non-stop was you."

Richie stared at him. "I don't--"

"Look, Richie, maybe I don't know what happened that caused you to run away--"

"I didn't run away!" Richie flared. "I'm eighteen."

"So? You ran, Richie, and face facts, you weren't running *from* Lindstrom, you were running *away* from home."

"It's not my home. It's Mac and Tessa's, and I'm just somebody in the spare room."

"You don't believe that," Blair said.

Richie held his gaze for a minute and then looked away. "Well, okay, maybe I'd like it to be home, but it's not."

"Oh, I think it is." Blair smiled. "Richie, when I was growing up we -- my mom and I-- we moved all the time. I remember I asked her once why we were going to leave 'home' again. She said 'Sweetie, home isn't a place. Home is in your heart and with the people you love and who love you.'"

"Your mother is a very smart woman," said a deep voice from the doorway. Duncan stood there, intently looking at Richie. Tessa was standing next to him, her eyes suspiciously bright. Mac came farther into the room. "Blair, could you leave us alone for a few minutes? Tessa and I would like to take you and Detective Ellison out to dinner tonight, to say thanks -- maybe you could call him and relay the invitation?"

Richie shot Blair an imploring look, but the grad student ignored him as he scrambled out of the chair. "Hey, no problem. Be warned, though, Jim's idea of a good dinner is like, Sizzlin Sirloin or something. Richie, man, I'll come by after classes are over."

** ** **

Tessa slipped into the chair and Duncan perched on the opposite side of the bed, effectively cornering Richie. He couldn't stare out the window because Mac was in the way; if he turned in the other direction he saw Tessa dabbing at her eyes with a Kleenex. So he looked at the TV. He'd muted the volume when Blair had come in, and the noon news report played silently on the screen.

"Richie," MacLeod started. "There are some things we need to talk about." He glanced at Tessa apologetically. "We should have had this discussion earlier, but I thought it would be best to wait until we got you home. I was wrong about that."

Startled, Richie looked at the Highlander. "Home?" he repeated, as if he'd never heard the word before.

"Yes, home! Our home, where we live. Our family."

Richie shook his head. "You mean, you'd let me come back?"

"Let you!" Tessa burst out. "You have no choice, Richie, do you hear me? You are coming home with us." She wiped the tears from her face with an impatient hand. "Do I need to buy some rope before tomorrow so we can tie you up and put you in the back seat, or are you coming willingly?"

"Tomorrow?"

"Well, of course. We told you we were going home tomorrow, and the doctor is going to discharge you so you can go too. Did you really think we'd leave without you?" Tessa asked.

Richie stared at her, then made a sudden movement. Before either of them realized what was going on, Tessa and Richie were hugging each other and their tears mixed together trickling down their faces. "But I've caused so much trouble," the teenager said, his words muffled in Tessa's neck.

Duncan cleared his throat with difficulty. "No, you *had* trouble. You didn't *cause* it. The only thing you did wrong was to run instead of coming home and letting us help you." He paused and grinned. "And we *will* talk about that, but don't worry, I'll wait until you're back on your feet."

Richie pulled loose from Tessa, blinking his eyes rapidly to hide the tears. "You guys--- you guys are--" he paused, took a deep breath and went on, "You two are the best people I've ever met. I just don't understand why... I mean, after everything with Felicia," he glanced at Tessa, his heart in his eyes, "What I said to you--"

Tessa laid two fingers across his mouth. "Hush. I was angry and so were you. We both said a few things we shouldn't have. It's over."

Richie looked at the TV again, trying to regain his composure. There was a dark-haired woman being interviewed by the newscaster. Richie frowned, he had the funny feeling he'd seen her before, but where-- he remembered suddenly and his eyes widened.

"Richie?" MacLeod half rose from his seat. "What's wrong?"

Richie tried to speak, to tell him, but it was like there was no air in his lungs. Duncan followed his gaze. He frowned. "The news show?"

"That lady--" Richie choked out. "Mac, I -- remember! At the warehouse! When that guy got killed, she was there! She was watching, she watched him get killed and she-- she was laughing about it!"

Tessa threw a startled glance at the set. "Duncan, isn't that--"

MacLeod nodded. "That's Melinda Bolt."

Richie stared at him.

"Senator Markham Bolt's widow," the Highlander finished grimly.

**********************

Epilogue

From an article in the Seacouver Journal, December 2.

~~After fifty-six hours of deliberations the Grand Jury failed to indict Melinda Bolt on charges of murder in the death of her husband, Senator Markham J. Bolt. The body of Senator Bolt, 48, was discovered October 30 in a Seacouver warehouse. He had been shot three times in what police later described as an "execution style" killing.

Prosecutors alleged that Melinda Bolt, 34, Senator Bolt's second wife, hired a professional killer, Erik Lindstrom, to kill her husband. Witnesses testified that Bolt had recently discovered Mrs. Bolt was having an extramarital affair. Family members testified before the Grand Jury that Bolt was seeking a divorce. Under the terms of a prenuptial agreement signed in the 1988 Mrs. Bolt would receive a lump-sum payment of $500,000 if the marriage dissolved before ten years had passed, plus support for any children.

Senator and Mrs. Bolt have one child, a son, David, age 2. Senator Bolt had two older children from his first marriage.

Mrs. Bolt admitted under oath that she was having an affair with a Seacouver businessman but denied having hired Lindstrom. Lindstrom was killed in Cascade after an attempt on the life of prosecution witness, Richard Ryan.

Ryan, 18, testified that he witnessed a man shoot Senator Bolt while a woman watched. Ryan identified the woman as Melinda Bolt. Ryan left Seacouver following the murder and it was several days before he told his story. Ryan said that he fled because he was in fear for his life.

Although Ryan maintained his story under relentless questioning by Mrs. Bolt's attorneys, much was made of the fact that he never mentioned Mrs. Bolt's presence at the scene until after he was recovering from brain surgery.

A visibly angry ADA Janet Gimlin was harshly critical of Judge William May's refusal to allow the testimony of Cascade police Detective Jim Ellison. Gimlin stated that Ellison was witness to two attempts Erik Lindstrom made on Ryan's life. Judge May issued a statement saying in part "Ellison's testimony would have been pertinent if the Grand Jury was investigating Erik Lindstrom for the attempted murder of Richard Ryan, but it has no relevance in the current situation."

Bolt's attorney released a statement saying, "Mrs. Bolt is understandably relieved that she has been vindicated by the Grand Jury's findings. Although there might have been problems in her marriage, Mrs. Bolt loved her husband and only asks to be left alone to grieve her loss."~~

** ** **

"What's the deal?' Richie asked, leaning back against the counter in mock-exhaustion. "Is business booming all of a sudden or what?"

"Get used to it," Duncan returned lightly. "It will be this way until Christmas."

The Highlander was glad for the rush of business, if for no other reason than keeping busy had helped Richie's mood. The young man had been depressed since the Grand Jury had failed to indict Melinda Bolt, feeling that it was somehow a reflection on him.

They had been plagued by reporters in the week since the Grand Jury's decision. One in particular had been especially persistent, pouncing on Richie every time he walked out of the shop. But even Randi MacFarland had to give up in the face of unwavering "No comment" occasionally interspersed with "Get out of my face, lady!" and finally appeared to have given up. Duncan just wanted to put the whole thing behind them.

As if divining MacLeod's thoughts, Richie said suddenly, "Did you see the paper this morning? She's moving out of the house."

MacLeod didn't have to ask who he was talking about. He sighed. 'Since when does Richie read any part of the paper but the comics and the sports section?' Aloud he said, "Let it go, Richie."

"Let it go, Mac? She killed her husband and thanks to me she got away with it!"

"How was it your fault, Rich? You heard what Janet Gimlin said, without your statement the DA wouldn't have even charged her. The police suspected Melinda Bolt, but they didn't have any real evidence."

"Fat lot of good I did," Richie muttered. He slid off the counter. "Better get ready, Mac, looks like we've got a big-money customer coming in. Check out that car!"

MacLeod glanced up at the sleek limousine that had just glided to a stop in front of the shop. A uniformed chauffeur stepped out and swiftly came around to the rear passenger door, opening it and carefully helping an elderly woman to alight. The Highlander inhaled sharply as he recognized the dignified form.

"You know her?" Richie asked.

"Corinna Bolt," MacLeod answered, hastily going to the door.

** ** **

Richie stood back and watched as Mac greeted the petite elderly woman warmly, ushering her inside the warm shop. Mac was talking about a new collection of Venetian glassware that had come in, but the woman waved her hand. "I'm not here to shop, Duncan, not today. I'm afraid I've been very delinquent in my Christmas gift-buying this year."

"That's quite understandable," MacLeod said gently. "Then how can I help you?"

"I wanted to talk with your young friend here," Corinna Bolt announced abruptly, turning suddenly to look at Richie. The young man felt himself impaled by a pair of piercing blue eyes.

"Me?" he squeaked.

Richie was sure the woman wanted to rail at him for screwing up and allowing her grandson's murderer to go free. He felt his jaw drop open when the woman approached him with her hand outstretched, saying "I wanted to thank you, Mr. Ryan."

"Thank me?" Richie breathed out after a startled silence. "For what? She got away with it."

Duncan winced, but Mrs. Bolt smiled. "She won't go to prison," she corrected him. "But she didn't get what she wanted. Melinda did not know that my grandson had already changed his will. Under his new will she will receive even less that she would have under the prenuptial agreement." She shrugged. "Possibly you don't know that according the laws of this state, an insurance company can refuse payment in event of suspicion the beneficiary had something to do with the death of the insured: they don't have to be able to prove it. Melinda can fight, but she's going to find herself very short of ready cash. And I'm afraid those high-dollar lawyers of hers may make themselves scarce when her true financial picture is revealed."

MacLeod smiled. "And that true picture--"

"Will be reported on the evening news," Mrs. Bolt finished. She looked back at Richie. "I've just come from my attorneys. Melinda signed an agreement this morning that in return for the $500,000 promised her under the prenuptial, she will relinquish all claims to Mark's estate, to the Bolt family assets, and to her son."

"She's giving up the child?" MacLeod asked.

Mrs. Bolt nodded. "David will be raised by the Bolt family, where he belongs. Hopefully he'll never have to know that his mother had his father murdered. I owe this to you, Mr. Ryan. The insurance company was very impressed with your testimony; it gave me the leverage I needed to force Melinda to give up David."

Richie's head was whirling. "I'm glad... but it's still not right!"

The matriarch looked at him for several seconds. "Possibly. You're very young, Mr. Ryan. You still see the world in black and white. Right and wrong. When one gets to my, age one settles for what one can get. Even if Melinda had been tried and found guilty, it wouldn't have brought Mark back. The best thing is to take care of Mark's son." She extended her hand to Richie. "Please know you have my gratitude, Mr. Ryan. And if I can ever be of any help to you--"

Richie shook his head violently, his heart pounding. "No. I mean, thank you, but no. I... I.. " he looked at MacLeod. The Highlander was smiling at him, his dark eyes warm and reassuring. A light step behind him indicated that Tessa was there too, being silently supportive. Richie took a deep breath and managed to shake Mrs. Bolt's hand. "Thanks for the offer, but I have everything I need."

Mrs. Bolt looked from Richie to MacLeod and then back again. "I can see that." With a farewell smile, she started for the door.

Richie watched her, his thoughts confused. He kept seeing a small child, a small red-haired child, all alone in the world-- "Mrs. Bolt!"

"Yes?" She turned to face him.

"There is one thing. The little boy--"

"David?"

"Yeah." Richie stopped, then struggled on, "Could you... just make sure that somebody always loves him -- that he knows he has a family?" His voice trailed off and he shook his head in dismay about how corny it sounded.

Mrs. Bolt studied him for a long time, then her eyes lit up in the warmest smile he'd ever seen. "Richard," she said, addressing him by his first name, "*that* I can make sure of."

Richie let his breath out in a sigh. "Good," he smiled. He looked at Mac and then at Tessa, then back at Mrs. Bolt. His next words were addressed to her, but he knew Mac and Tessa would know that he was really speaking to them when he said, "'Cause everybody needs a family."

The End