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Take The Long Way Home

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“ ...they convoyed east to Biggs, where Duncan MacLeod turned north crossing the Columbia River into Washington State on Highway 97. Adam Pierson turned south, also on Highway 97, continuing south into eastern Oregon. I followed Adam.”

“That's fine, Amy. Call me again when you stop.”

Next, Joe Dawson called his field agent in Penticton.

#

Late in the day, after many a jangly mile, Duncan’s phone played Like a Rolling Stone. He tapped the truck's screen and Methos greeted him. “Guess what I just bought!”

“Really! Finally. Congratulations.”

“We’re going to have to use your lorry to haul her. Mine did fine with just the empty trailer, but loaded, not so good. And I can’t leave her here by herself so soon. She’s never been alone.”

“I think we can make it work,” Duncan pitched his voice toward the hands-free unit cradling his phone, as his truck bumped along the eastern Washington plateau. “I'll cross the border in an hour, then it's another forty-five minutes to the customer’s property. After I drop off these panels, I'll head back your way. Should be there by mid morning tomorrow.”

“Seems like a lot of fiddling around,” Methos voice a fading echo, “but I appreciate the help.”

“No problem, I can really use your help too, setting up the panels. And I'm eager to meet your new friend.”

“She is a beauty. Though my little lorry almost didn't make it to my cabin pulling the trailer.”

“Pick-up truck, not lorry.”

“Right. Anyway, it doesn't have the get up and go it used to do.”

“Kinda like you?

“Low fruit, MacLeod. See you tomorrow, and keep at least two tires on the ground at all times.”

Duncan continued driving north. This land was sparse compared to his land on the west side of the Cascades. Sage dominated the dry scape, with heat tolerant juniper dotting the high ground, and balsamroot bloomed cheerfully here and there as if van Gogh had painted the hillsides.

He crossed into Canada at Osoyoos, leaving behind the fruit orchards of Washington, and continued his journey north driving along the Okanagan River. Flourishing vineyards with large new homes increasingly filled the valleys of eastern British Columbia.

He had scheduled to set up the solar array on orchard land being converted to grapes, with Methos help, as soon as his friend made a quick side trip. Installing solar panels, one of the many skills MacLeod had acquired to keep busy, proved to be a pastime Methos also found fascinating, and he often assisted MacLeod during summer months when not teaching.

If they'd known Methos would at last be successful in his quest, they might have arranged things differently. They might have changed the order of tasks, or vehicles used, but they did have abundant time as immortals. Duncan, at least, was prone to self imposed schedules to keep from drifting. Methos, not so much. Duncan had promised his client he would get the panels installed soon, and he would.

#

Joe Dawson liked being the Western North America field agent coordinator, except when he hated it. With a cartload of field experience, but no longer getting around as ably, he was perfect for the job. No point in moaning about it, but he sure would like a look at this guy shadowing MacLeod in Canada. Raymond, his man in Penticton, was calling the unidentified, suspected immortal, Binocular Guy.

#

From where he stood on the ridge, Methos had a view below of the grove of aspens surrounding his tiny cabin. A reliable sweet water spring fed the small oasis. Methos loped back down from the good-phone-reception hill to his cabin. “Cabin” was a generous description for the aged tool shed he'd converted into living space. The last standing structure of the original one hundred sixty acre homestead had a few years left in it, maybe, if the wind blew easy. The dry wooden walls crackled and shuddered as he forced the door open. He grabbed his tool belt and tin can of nails, then ambled back to work on the corral, pausing briefly to talk to the year old filly held in a small but sturdy panel fence surrounding the stock trailer he'd brought her home in. He muttered softly, she nickered that he might be okay as he again pulled baby carrots from his magic pocket. The light bay hair, with a dark dorsal line and faint leg stripes told of her Spanish mustang origins. She didn't shy from his gaze. Methos sighed.

He hadn't expected to win at auction. Was just going to show up to see the horses briefly then return to help Duncan. Every three or four years he had tried, but had been outbid, having set himself a limit in line with what Adam Pierson's realistic budget allowed. These particular horses, managed by the Bureau to keep their numbers at habitat level, were sought after and the best of type went for much more than a young college instructor should spend. He hadn't actually won her at the auction, but purchased her from a rancher he had gotten to know over the last decade of seasonal visits. Ed Salaberria had purchased another high flier, and as promised to his wife that 35 horses were enough for their sheep ranching needs, he had offered the yearling to Adam for a reasonable price.

With a hammer and nails Methos set to repairing the split-pole corral. He daydreamed about someday riding Flur across grasslands that in his mind looked more like Eurasian steppes than basin sage. The dry wood of the poles tended to split. Several times he jabbed splinters into his hands which he ignored as they quickly healed.

Company arrived as he finished the repair work, driving a small Subaru. Amy emerged with a sneeze, then three more.

“Bless you!” he greeted his watcher.

“Why can't you live somewhere less pollen ridden?”

“It's June. Every place in the northern hemisphere – could you hold this gate please? And close it behind me when I lead Flur inside?”

“Okay,” a dubious note in her voice. “I'm going to have to buy jeans and flannel shirts aren't I?”

“Well you could watch Amanda instead of me. Much more elegant.”

“No one watches Amanda.”

“She does take a chunk out of the budget to keep up with. Exhausting to even think of keeping up with her.”

“They say even Amanda doesn't know where she's going next.”

“That may be true. I'll be right back.”

He stashed away his tools and returned with a lead rope, then unfastened and slid between the panels he'd fenced Flur in with, magicked her with another carrot, and snapped the rope lead to her harness. She barely sidled as he led her into the reinforced corral. “Isn't this better? All this legroom?”

“She's beautiful,” Amy said as she swung the gate closed behind them. “But smaller than I expected.”

“She’ll grow to fifteen hands by next summer and be able to take my weight. In a year or so I'll start saddle-training her. Ed rides a sturdier sort of mount.”

“You knew Ed Salaberria's father didn't you?”

“You've been reading up on me!”

Amy smiled. “Of course.”

“Yes, he knows me as the son of an old acquaintance – the doctor – of his father.”

“That seems sad.”

“Nope, it's normal. For me, for immortals.”

“You were right about what you said to the Watcher tribunal – we should let friendship thrive.”

Adam stopped moving. “Joe told you that!”

“Yeah, after my first assignment went so bad, I didn't want to take another one. He insisted. He told me about you. 'Follow a nice boring college professor,' he said.”

Adam smirked. “Boring is good. It's all gotten rather complicated, with everyone carrying phones which second as a camera and computer. Much harder for us to stay hidden.”

“Especially for an immortal that was a watcher too. Everybody knows your face.”

“And you wonder why I like to hang out in the middle of nowhere.”

They watched Flur circle the corral, showing off her gaits. The wind whipped about causing Amy another sneezing spell.

“Come inside and have some coffee.”

#

Joe's cell phone played Turn Around, “Hello, Amy!”

“Hi, Joe. He finally got himself the mustang he wanted. I could never figure out why he didn't just go catch a wild one, he's more than capable, I've seen him ride. But I finally figured it out. He's just being Adam Pierson.”

“Yep.”

“I'm back at my motel in Burns. Adam told me MacLeod is on his way so I'm lying low. I'll pick up following them when they come back through.”

“Good. Though you don't have to be afraid of MacLeod. It's the hunters that sometimes follow him that you need to be wary of. Right now there's one we think may be trailing him, though the sedan he's driving can't deal with the rougher roads MacLeod's been driving. Raymond should be sending you photos.”

#

Duncan's return travel time lagged behind what he had predicted. When he started his trip he thought he felt a slight buzz of another immortal so took a nice rough side road for a while, but only spotted a possible watcher, and didn't feel another immortal signature going through eastern Washington.

Now in the town of John Day, Oregon, with several more hours until he arrived at his destination, he left his truck at the town's one electric charging station, and walked to a food wagon with multiple cars parked around it. Starving, he resisted ordering one of everything, bought a couple of tacos to eat and a burrito to save in his cooler. There would be many empty miles between here and Burns, the largest town near Methos' homestead. He sat at one of the wooden picnic tables to eat. Savoring the spiciness of his meal, he endeavored to make them last.

It had already been a long day and he needed the break from the road. He counted his breaths, read the names carved in the wooden table; took in his surroundings. Realized he was being watched. At the far end of the adjoining lot, under the shade of a juniper, a mid sized dog crouched, studying him. Duncan smiled. The dog stood and stretched, made its way slowly across the lot toward Duncan. Gray fox shape, but broader muzzle than a fox, with clever eyes that quickly summed up MacLeod, he'll do.

“Hi there fella, hungry?” He tore into the burrito and offered a two inch section. Offering accepted. Within minutes the whole burrito was devoured. Duncan held out a tentative hand and his new friend allowed a rub between the ears, as his due. Rover, he thought. “Glad to meet you, Rover.” Not at all surprised when the dog followed him to the charging station. He asked around if anyone recognized him.

“You're sure it's not a fox?” the attendant asked.

“Is there a vet nearby where I could find out if he's chipped?”

“She's run pretty ragged this time of year with calving. Might have better luck in Burns.”

Rover stuck close to Duncan and quickly jumped into the truck when he opened the door. His traveling companion was quiet and alert, watching the miles of red striped hills flit by with his nose pressed though the half open window. In Burns Duncan found a vet's office that verified his suspicion that Rover did not have an identity chip implanted. By now he had formed the impression that Rover was an independent soul, but hoped he would hang around.

They were again famished by the time they pulled into the remnant homestead tucked in the foothills of the Steens. Methos greeted Duncan at the door of his shed/cabin, set aside his sword in a wooden crate at the door. “Hola! Pasa! Now who is this?” He asked as Rover stopped a few feet from him, excited but hesitant.

“This is Rover. He wanted a ride.”

Methos crouched down and patted his knee, “It's okay. I'm harmless.” Duncan smirked, but Rover inched over so as to inspect the new human. Methos returned the inspection, “Hmm, sheltie and something – else?”

“Could be. The vet said I could get a DNA test done if I wanted.” He shook his head. “Not even dogs get to have secrets any more.” Duncan looked toward the corral and nodded. “So that's Flur.”

“Come meet her.” Methos handed him the few tired baby carrots left from his pocket. Duncan enticed her with the treat, and spoke soothingly while judging her confirmation. Small, athletic, and smart. “A beauty. You're a beauty.”

#

Amy's voice was excited, “I sighted MacLeod in Burns. He has a dog with him now.”

“Huh, interesting. Keep your eyes open for the hunter. Raymond lost track of him. Did you get the photos?”

“Yes, I did. Who hunts another immortal in shorts and polo shirt?”

“It takes all kinds.”

#

“Your house is not long for this world.”

Duncan relaxed on a worn mattress on the floor with Rover lying nearby. They watched with interest as Methos chopped vegetables for a stew simmering in a cast iron pot over a camp stove, close by. Everything was close by.

“I know I'll have to rebuild one day. Rock is the only abundant building material at hand. But I'm not in the lug-rocks-around mood this century. I could bring lumber in from the hardware store in Burns. Or I could buy one of those fancy trailers for Flur with a sleeping stall for me.”

“Or buy an Airstream. Or we could set up solar panels and mill a few trees with power tools!”

“I like those trees where they are. Maybe I'll just pitch a tent when the time comes.”

“Lazy.”

“Yes. But I spend only a few days in the year here. Seems a waste of time to put much effort into it. I'm not like you who likes to spend years building a cabin that's empty most of the time.”

“That's why I suggested power tools. Could be fun.”

Methos shook his head, but smiled. “I love the openness around here. Being able to see for miles. But then I long for a nice book crowded library. Or to see the ocean. Make sure it's still there. This will always be just a place I dash to clear my head. Or protect it.”

“I understand. When do you want to head back west?”

“I’m willing to leave as soon as the panels are installed. Might as well take the menagerie with us. I'm eager to introduce Flur to her new band. I think she will fit right in.”

“In a couple years she'll rule over my lot of geldings and ponies.”

“She will.”

“I see one problem with our plan. We can't take the animals into Canada without papers.”

“I know, but I have an idea about that.”

He tasted the stew and called it good. Ladled it into bowls. “Rover, you're lucky I have a third bowl.”

“Speaking of extras – I notice two coffee mugs on your table?” Duncan nodded toward the second small, but wobbly, table.

“Oh, Amy stopped by.”

“Fraternizing with your watcher.”

“Pot/kettle.”

“True.”

That night they stretched out on the bed and talked of many things. Rover acted as an extra blanket for their feet.

“How much does Amy know about you?”

“Does she know I'm Methos? I'm not sure. She never seems afraid of me. But after her first assignment that may just be relief.”

They heard an owl hoot somewhere in the sage, Flur snorted.

“I wonder how Flur's ancestors ended up in the Steens Mountains. It's a long way from a Spanish galleon. The Paiute? Or did they make it here on their own?”

“I don't know. Maybe both. Ask me a question I know the answer to.”

“Do you like the dog?”

“Yes. But that one's a traveler. Don't get your heart set.”

“Aye.”

“Rover is tired of the sage. He wants you to take him west to the big trees.”

Duncan was quiet for several moments then observed, “Your brain works differently than mine.”

“Possibly. My type is probably out of stock.”

#

“Still no ID on the hunter. How are you doing?” Joe asked.

“This motel mattress is killing me.”

“Hang in there. He never stays in the basin long.”

Sleep eluded Amy.

#

It had been a busy morning. After a quick breakfast of leftover stew, Methos cleaned and dried the cast iron pot. He hoped the shed didn't fall down around it during the winter. They coupled the stock trailer to the hitch on Duncan's truck and loaded Flur. Each time he walked her on a lead she was calmer. The convoy to Burns was mostly uneventful, but Methos determined by its labored progress that his little truck wasn't going to make it back over the Cascades. “Should never have hauled the trailer loaded.”

So he left it in Burns with a good mechanic, and mailed the extra key to Ed Salaberria with a note suggesting that Ed's teenagers were about driving age.

After a short tool around Burns, Amy was located at a hamburger joint where her Subaru was parked. They ambled inside and plopped themselves down beside her in a booth. Adam formally introduced her to Duncan. She whispered, “You know, Adam, I'm the one who is supposed to do the stalking.”

He laughed, but an elderly woman in the booth across from them caught Amy's gaze and mouthed, Are you okay? Amy smiled at her and nodded firmly. I'm fine. Thank you, she mouthed back.

The immortals endeavored to appear more innocent. Would have been easier if they'd shaved that morning. With an impish grin Adam told her loudly about Rover and asked if she would like to meet him? MacLeod elbowed him.

“What?”

“Be good.”

“Feels like it's going to get warm today,” Amy commented.

The two of them ordered coffee, which they drank while Amy finished her brunch. Duncan left a generous tip.

When they left the diner, Amy walked with them across the gravel parking lot to where the long rigs with trailers were parked, and greeted Rover at his window. He wagged his whole body as if she were his favorite human of all time. Head pats calmed him down. While continuing to stroke the dog, she said quietly to the men, “I'm not supposed to tell you this, guys, but the Watchers think you,” nodding toward MacLeod, “were being hunted in Canada.”

MacLeod shrugged. “I felt a bit of presence, at a distance.”

“You never mentioned!” Methos, sharply.

“They didn’t persist.”

Methos commented on that with a growly rumble.

“You worry too much.”

“There's no such thing as too much worry.”

“His face should be in the dictionary under worry.”

Amy finished petting Rover, told him he was a good doggo, then asked, “Well guys, what's next?”

“We head north,” Duncan replied. “I love taking highway 97, beautiful drive, but with pulling the trailer we should take the straighter route, 82 to 395 to 17.”

“I hate driving that close to Hanford.”

“Methos, it's not going to blow up.”

“And you are totally ignoring the return trip west over the Cascades.”

“Yes I am. For now.”

As Amy turned to walk to her car, Rover whined and tried to squeeze himself through three inches of window space. Adam opened the door and the dog dashed after Amy.

“You wanna ride with me doggo?” She waved at the guys and let Rover into her car, lowering the window just an inch.

“Well! But I have a truck!”

“You realise you just called me Methos in front of Amy?”

“Sorry!”

“She didn't seem surprised.”

“No, she didn't.”

They followed Amy's car out of the lot and stopped when she did, about every hundred miles, to stretch, and every other stop Methos would unload Flur for a walk. The miles of high plateau sage and windmill farms flittered by. They crossed the Columbia at Umatilla and stopped outside Kennewick to recharge and have a meal. Occasionally Rover would ride with the immortals, but continued to show a preference for Amy. They made it all the way to Oroville that day, where they rented a yurt at a horse motel/recreational vehicle park.

The yurt was deemed far superior to pitching a tent and sleeping on the ground by the travelers. That evening Methos regaled them with tales of yurts travoyed by horses and a nomadic existence long ago.

#

“I can't believe he talked me into this.”

“What?”

“Never mind.”

“Amy?”

“Well I really like the dog. Just checking in.”

“Amy!” She'd ended the call, leaving Joe grinding his teeth.

#

Since crossing the border, the travel had been easier and faster without the trailer drag. Amy had put up a superficial fight about staying at the RV park with the animals. Methos promised to fill her in on any excitement she missed, all aware that she would call Raymond as soon as they departed.

They drove by vast stretches of grape arbors bearing bright green new leaves, and occasional windmill farms. During the last half century many prized varieties of grapes had been migrated north with the climate. Vineyard owners, such as MacLeod’s solar panel customer, were finding the Okanagan Valley ideal for the varietals used in their family’s wines.

When they arrived at the property, they discovered that the vintner's grandchildren had assembled the framework on the area leveled for the array. MacLeod inspected and approved their work. Eager to help, he had no doubt the teenagers would have already started to install the panels if he had left the box of cables when he had dropped off the panels and framing. The assembly became a teaching lesson. (“These are MC4 connectors.”) The four young people closely watched Duncan and Adam’s method of lifting/holding, bolting/cabling, which quickly evolved into two more teams efficiently installing panels.

Once finished with the installation they were invited to share a meal on a kitchen patio with the extended family. The family talked about their plans for building a new home on the hill above the winery buildings which had gone in first. They lived spread about in modulars and warehouse lofts while building the infrastructure and planting grape vines. They longed for a real casa. Duncan suggested adding more panels to the roof when they did build. The conversation roamed to wind versus solar power, and the possibility of a small ice hockey rink for the long winters.

Duncan and Methos left soon after the meal, and drove to find a charging station in Penticton.

“What day is it?” Methos asked.

“Not Sunday.”

“Good. I can find a bookstore before we leave.” He searched his phone for a location.

“Would you trade mine in too, please?”

“Sure.” Methos lugged their used books in the direction of the bookseller his device provided.

Near the door to the bookshop, Methos froze in his step as the static of immortality tingled down his spine. As he turned to disappear, he caught a glimpse of a book signing poster in the window, and halted his retreat. He took a deep breath and opened the door. The stacks of books prevented seeing more than a meter in any direction, but he could feel the pathway before him far more accurately than the directions provided by his phone. It led him to a table in the back left corner of the shop where he found the author busy signing books.

An apparently middle aged man dressed in shorts and polo shirt, sighed deeply, removed his non signing hand from the hilt of a sword hidden under the table, and greeted his first teacher. “Hola, Ben!”

#

“I knew I’d miss something interesting,” Amy grumbled.

“Well according to Raymond it was a totally uneventful meeting. If the suspected unknown immortal hadn’t called Adam Ben then there would have been nothing to give it away.”

“I’ll work on Adam for details.”

“Try beer.”

#

Duncan and Methos drove south the next morning crossing the border before noon. Upon their return to the RV park near Oroville, Adam presented to both Duncan and Amy copies of The Bird Watcher’s Guide to the Okanagan Valley, without explanation other than, “Enjoy!” No tales of interest were forthcoming, leading Amy to assume that the non de plume on the book cover would yield no more than the meager, “BC ornithologist, Avery J. Smith.” Not even a photograph of the author.

After a bit of debate on the best route west, they prepared to take the most direct road, Highway 20, to their next destination by packing food in the cooler, charging batteries, locating charging stations on their GPS apps, and stocking dog food and an extra bale of Timothy hay.

They backtracked south to catch the North Cascade Highway traveling west over Washington Pass on the way to Seacouver and Duncan’s acreage. Closed in the winter, now clear of snow in June, Highway 20 wound through beautiful coniferous forest, waterfalls, and over the Cascade Trail. Frequently they pulled off to allow faster vehicles to pass by them. Amy took the pauses as an opportunity to photograph wildflowers. Rover occasionally changed vehicles, searching for the action. On especially winding sections of road Methos rode in the tack stall of the trailer, perched on the hay bales, mummering to Flur that he was there.

A trip that could have taken Amy maybe four hours in her all wheel drive car, took five plus hours following a truck pulling a horse trailer. She said goodbye to them at the last rest area before taking the exit leading to the City of Seacouver, with Rover riding shotgun.

When Dunan and Methos arrived home there was still enough daylight left to see the two story farmhouse with a wrap around porch amongst the scattered barns, sheds, and corrals. Before sunset they introduced Flur to her new home, and future companions, Henry the Morgan, Cloud the Appaloosa, and Abbigail and Jonquil the rescue ponies. They were the main feature of Duncan’s growing menagerie that included chickens roaming his suffering vegetable garden.

While Duncan watered the veggies, Methos secured Flur in a stall for the first night, and asked for forgiveness for the long trailer ride with a bit of grain, “And the best water you’ve ever tasted.”

#

On a warm July evening, Duncan and Methos journeyed into the City to visit an old friend at his Blues bar.

“Well it’s about time you two showed up!”

Joe led them to an out of the way table and signaled his barkeep for a pitcher of beer and three glasses.

“How goes it with the new horse?”

“Oh she’s the queen now,” Adam reassured. They drank the house IPA and enjoyed listening to the sound system playing a mix of songs performed by Joe and his various bands through the years.

“Tell me about the Candian bird watcher.”

“He likes birds.”

“That’s about all I’ve gotten out of him,” Duncan said.

“Avery’s worked very hard to stay off the grid. His only mistake was being curious about MacLeod, when he showed up.”

“I understand that,” Duncan said, “I do the same when one of us shows up in the area I’m living.”

“So is Avery Smith a long lived fellow?” Joe asked as he poured them more beer.

“Hm, younger than some, older than others.”

Joe frowned, and signaled for another pitcher. “Hard ball is it?”

“Well, I will say that not all the species of birds he has recorded are still extant.”

“Hm. I don’t think that really tells me much.”

“Sorry.”

Methos changed the subject. “Have you met Amy’s new dog Rover?”

“Met him? He lives with me half the time!”

Methos nodded. “Yes, he’s been looking for you.”

Joe glanced at Duncan, who shrugged.

#

“His brain’s different.”

“I believe that. A bit more primitive,” Joe suggested.

“A bit more open,” Methos countered.