by Joseph Connell
Disclaimer [n. being a pseudo-legal statement intended to save one's arse from potential legal entanglements caused when one commits gross violations of copyright law, disappointment of customer's expectations, and breaches of good taste]: Xena and Rickie (the latter at least technically) are the property of Renaissance Pictures and MCA/Universal. The theory of 'Immortality' as shown here, Joe Dawson, James Horton, The Watcher Society, Xavier St. Cloud, and Darius are the property of Panzer and Davis Productions. Gwenn Camlann is the creation of the great bard Llachlan. Emil Holt is the brinachild of the equally great bard Redhawk. The rest come from my own mediocre imagination and can be used by others should you so wish. Just please let me know beforehand so I can notify their next of kin. The work of other bards will be featured here, the appropriate citations made in my concluding notes.
There is really little point in disclaiming violence and sex at this point. I can't really seem to write anything else. So expect xex and broken bones and xex and bad guys getting their just deserts and xex and a fair amount of property damage and xex and blood gushing from mortal wounds. Oh, and expect two women to be completely in love with each other and having no problem flaunting it. Don't like any of this? Go away. I'm not making any apologies.
I will apologize to the residents of the great city of London. Its been over seven years since I was last there and so have had to rely on street maps, travel guides, and my own imperfect memory.
This is a revised and expanded version of the earlier tale of the same name. Nothing major, just a few added scenes here and there and some reordering of the action. Hope you all find it as enjoyable as I did.
Dedication: during the course of writing this story, fellow bard Kristien Fletcher was killed in a car wreck. I have drawn considerable inspiration from Kristien's work in the past, and to my shame never told him this before his death. Additionally, my uncle Michael, by far the most alive man I have ever known, died shortly after Thanksgiving in 1999. This work is dedicated to the two of them. Safe journey to you both.
As always, commentary is welcome, whether positive or (preferably) negative. They can be sent to Joseph Connell.
On with the show...
You probably read about it all in the papers. "The Wild Wild West Comes To the East End!" said the Daily Mirror, while the Times declared "Gang War Claims a Dozen." Twelve bodies found in a warehouse on the southeast banks of the Thames, all them known villains and each and every one chopped to pieces by either machine gun fire or by something the coroners could only describe as "wickedly sharp". Signs of a major struggle all around, the bodies barely intact enough for fingerprints, never mind dental records.
There's more to the story, of course. Much, much more. But the police, the public, and (eventually) the press lost interest when no more bodies showed up in similar condition. The deceased had few mourners, most of whom barely acknowledged their passage and only did so with a sneer of "Good bloody riddance!".
The few intrepid reporters who followed up on the initial story found little enough of interest. One of the deceased turned out to be connected by both blood and business to certain notable public figures-who's-names-cannot-be-spoken-aloud. Another proved to be a major figure in the British underworld, who's brutality was only matched by his cunning. His death was a matter of celebration as much by his nominal colleagues as by the Metropolitan Police Force.
Beyond these bare facts, the trail quickly dried up, leaving the world at large mercifully ignorant of the circumstances behind the so-called "East End Massacre". The events leading up to it, as so often happens, began simply enough and some months back. A few phone calls, spread over the course of months, were all it took.
May 13. Thursday.
Crackle of long distance lines.
"Hello? Who's this?"
"Janie? Its Uncle Enzo."
"Hello, little one. Is your father home?"
"Nuh-huh!" Sound of a receiver being dropped. "DA! UNCLE ENZO WANS YA!"
Chuckle. "Hello, big brother."
Tense patience. "Enzo."
"Quite the set of pipes my niece has." Amused. "Obviously your gift to her."
"D'you have a name for me yet or not, Enzo?"
"Always so impatient." Serious. "You want to speak to Alexander Devon. Of Silas and Devon. You know them?"
Sigh. "Yes, I do."
"Shall I fly to you?"
"No. Stay put. We need to know when they leave and for where."
"That may not be for months."
"Think of it as a well-deserved vacation."
Amused. "Then why aren't you out here instead?"
"Oi, remember who's the head of this little family."
"What? Shall I kiss your ring, then, oh mighty God-brother?"
"Ha bloody ha."
"Kiss Janie for me, eh?"
May 14. Friday.
"Silas and Devon, Solicitor at Law."
"Alexander Devon, please."
"James Horton still has friends in high places."
Connection cut. Dial tone.
May 15. Saturday.
"My name is Alexander Devon. I received a call yesterday..."
"Just a moment, sir."
Voices in the background.
"Yes? Are you the one...?"
"As I said, Mr. Horton still has friends in high places."
Uncertain. "Yes, well..."
"Friends, sir, who are in a position to aid in his work."
Testy. "James Horton has been dead for nearly two years, sir. I'm sure you're aware of that."
Patient. "But his work goes on, does it not?"
Suspicious. "What...work do you do refer to?"
"The elimination of a disease from the race."
"Why should I believe this?"
"Be at Cleopatra's Needle tomorrow at noon. Information will be waiting for you there."
"What kind of...information?"
"Information on one of the oldest living Immortals on record."
"Methos the Egyptian?"
"No. Not the Egyptian."
May 18. Monday.
"Reception. How may I direct...?"
"This is Alexander Devon. I..."
"A moment, please."
"You received the information, I trust?"
Angry, disbelieving. "Do you expect me to believe this? That you have the name and location of...of...her?!"
"You doubt your own eyes?"
"The Destroyer of Nations is a myth, friend! She vanished from sight two hundred years ago..."
"One hundred and eighty-nine years, seven months, and twenty-three days, to be exact. One hundred and fifty years of which was spent playing shamaness in the Amazon rainforest, with an additional thirty-five years and six months spent playing roaming university student and wealthy Greek expatriate."
"Why should I believe this?"
"Test the information, if you wish. If you value your life, however, you wouldn't go approaching her."
"Is that a threat, friend?"
"A bit of friendly advice. You see, she knows about the Society. Not about you and your little clique, but she's observant enough to know when others are watching her. And I'd really advise you not go stalking the girl with her."
June 25. Friday.
"Good morning. How may I direct your call?"
"This is Alexander Devon."
"You've tested the information, I trust?"
"To an extent."
"I have questions."
"Ask what you will. I don't promise an answer."
"Who is the girl with her?"
Disinterested. "Some street urchin she took in last year. We aren't entirely sure of the nature of their...relationship. Though it doesn't seem terribly platonic, does it?"
"What is her name?"
"Rickie Gardner. She's of little interest to us."
"You say 'we' and 'us', friend. Who exactly is 'we'?"
"If I'm to trust this information, I need to know at least something about the messenger."
"Trust what your eyes tell you, Mr. Devon."
"I must know..."
"Please don't call here again, sir. We'll be in touch."
July 11. Sunday.
"Gamble and Price Shipping."
Sigh. "What d'you want, Devon?"
"You and yours up for a bit of chase?"
"We're out of the business, Devon."
"Aye. Yer mate Joe Dawson laid down the law on us two year ago." Angry. "We go near any o'MacLeod's lot an' we kiss our pensions, not ta mention our collective arses good-bye."
"Dawson is in the States, Samuel. He'll know nothing of this."
Furious. "The hell you say."
Calm. "The hell I do say." Smile. "Or do you doubt I have the juice?"
"Easy money. Think about it, Samuel."
August 10. Tuesday.
Crackle of long distance lines.
"Hello? Marie? Is that you?"
"Enzo! Still in Washington?"
"'Fraid so. Is the birthday boy there?"
"Of course. One mo' while I tear him away from the cake."
Distracted. "No, Janie. One piece at a time. 'Lo?"
"Its me. Happy birthday."
Sulky. "Right, cheers."
"Oh, c'mon. Thirty-eight isn't that bad."
"Tell that to my gray hairs."
Laughter. "Makes you look all distinguished."
Serious. "They're leaving for a vacation."
"Yes. For London."
"Hmm. That all?"
"No. I pulled their phone records for the past two months. They've been in touch with Aunt Cora again."
Quietly. "Bloody hell."
"Think she managed to track Marie or Manny down?"
"What d'you think?"
"I think I'm on the next plane out, eh?"
"When are they to arrive here?"
"One second." Shuffling of papers. "The twenty-fourth, I think."
"Lovely. Just in time for the opening here." Voices in the background. "I've got to go. Stay with them until they leave."
August 20. Friday.
Cora Blaylock, Lady wife of the Earl of Blaylock and administrator of its estates, returned to her apartment along Grosevnor later than expected that evening. She was mildly peeved with the results (or lack thereof) of an outrageously priced dinner and evening with one of her many contacts in the local artistic community. She'd begun the evening with high hopes of finally chasing down clearer information on at least one of the two people who'd bid on Xena's chakram last year, said hopes being utterly dashed by the fact said contact (an avant-garde performance artist from the West End) proved utterly ignorant of the object and auction in question. The poor dear had thought she'd been inquiring about John Dartmoth, the critic, even though she'd spelled out the unlamented Dartmouth's name clearly.
She actually had more luck focusing in on the purchaser than 'The Giant', as she'd come to think of massive black man who'd made the unsuccessful bid on the artifact. No name as yet, but many a raised eyebrow at the description. Whoever she was, it seemed like every artist of every persuasion at least knew of the buyer. She seemed to be a constant presence among the various artistic nooks of the city, and was attached to the Anan Galleries.
Of her massive counterpart, she heard not a whisper. Even her confidential agents at Lloyds could tell her nothing. She could almost smell the satchels of money that must have exchanged hands to assure their ignorance.
Finding no success in one direction, the peer attempted a different track. Upon learning of the woman's connection to the influential chain of galleries, Cora had turned her attention and efforts towards freeing up a couple invitations to the next opening at Anan's, scheduled for just four day's time. The chain's owners were said to frequently attend such openings, while avoiding any and all of the galleries every other day of the year. It would be, Cora suspected, the single best moment for Xena to find her mysterious benefactor.
Ironically, she seemed to enjoy even less success there than in trying to identify the Giant, the seasonal openings at Anan's among the most fiercely sought social events London offered. Invitations had already been distributed, and reservations taken months ago. Every one of the coveted and rare invites had been answered, and the chances of shaking loose a single one, never mind two, were about as remote as the Titanic spontaneously rising from the ocean floor!
Disappointed, she put her key to the door's lock, only to find it creek open of its own accord. More surprised than immediately alarmed (her apartment block had a competent and attentive security detail), Cora nudged the door fully open, uncertain what to expect. She knew she was nowhere near senile enough to have simply forgotten to lock the door. She likewise knew it was unlikely anyone short of Houdini himself could have gotten past the building's various alarms and guards.
Only her darkened apartment greeted her, the city lights sparkling beyond the front room's windows and casting weak illumination over the tasteful furniture arrayed there. She could see her writing desk off in the corner, a cone of yellow light emanating from its single lamp, illuminating papers she could not recall being there before.
What Cora could quite clearly recall was that she had the apartment completely dark.
She tried to back up a step, intending on alerting the front desk, only to encounter a solid form standing directly behind her. The slight woman froze stiff at the contact...and promptly relaxed at his voice, clearly recognizing it from long association.
"Step inside," was all Jonothan O'Donhugh said.
There was no threat or demand to the words, and all the more compelling for it. Cora took three quick steps across the threshold, closely followed by her visitor.
The door shut firmly behind them.