Raylan Givens was a long way from home. The reason was one José Aguilar, a fugitive wanted as a witness in a massive drug trafficking case back in Miami. It was in the hopes of catching Aguilar that Raylan had been sitting in his car since nightfall, watching a warehouse on the Willamette that had been identified as a depot for heroin and cocaine. So far, though, Raylan’s quarry was a no-show for the second night in a row, which begged the question of their informant's reliability.
Raylan was about to call it for the night when his phone buzzed. He rarely got texts from anyone other than Winona, and it was after two in the morning in Florida, but a quick glance at the caller ID eased his initial spark of concern. Not Winona; Rachel.
Heard you were in Portland.
He hadn’t talked to Rachel in over a year, but Raylan wasn’t surprised she’d gotten wind that Raylan was in her neck of the woods. Not much got past her, any more than it ever had.
He replied, Guilty as charged.
You planning to come visit me?
He considered that for a long minute before texting back:
Has it been long enough that I seem less annoying in hindsight?
Rachel replied, Looks that way.
Raylan smiled to himself. He hesitated, then typed:
You busy Friday night?
It was while he waited for an answer to that loaded question that headlights suddenly reflected in the rear-view. He ducked down. The car slowed as it moved past, and eventually, stopped. The lights went out, and he risked a look over the dashboard. Classic T-bird. Black. Oregon plate 942 JMB. He watched as a guy got out, well-built and striking, dark hair, long coat, definitely too tall to be Aguilar.
“Well, hello, there,” Raylan said aloud, his neck hairs decidedly at attention. “Who the hell are you?”
He hunched down behind the steering wheel again as the guy checked the street before disappearing around the corner of the warehouse. A minute later, Raylan saw him walk out onto the bridge that was currently closed for construction.
As he watched through his binoculars, another figure appeared, walking out onto the bridge from the other side of the river. The newcomer was a big, Rutger Hauer-looking sort of a guy, with a shock of white-blond hair and a black leather jacket. The two men stood talking for a minute, and then—
It took Raylan a few seconds to realize that they were fighting. With swords.
He considered calling for backup, but the last thing he wanted was to get the local PD involved and risk tipping off the Mexicans, blowing a two-year sting operation only to find out this was some sort of amateur movie stunt bullshit.
He got out of his car, pulled his gun, and hurried in the direction of the bridge.
As he rounded the corner of the building, it became clear to Raylan that whatever this was, amateur, it was not. He closed the distance to the bridge, gun pointed at the ground. He was about a hundred and thirty yards away when the dark-haired guy disarmed the blond, sending his sword clattering to the ground. He punched the blond in the throat, then shoved him up against the railing, sword at his neck, and Raylan was no expert when it came to swordplay, but it sure as hell looked like he meant to kill him.
Raylan had barely drawn breath to shout a warning when a gunshot rang out; the guy with the sword staggered back, clutching his ribs, and went to his knees. Shit. Raylan ran forward, his gun aimed at the shooter, and yelled, “U.S. Marshal! Drop your weapon!”
What happened next happened very fast. The blond guy’s gun shifted to Raylan, tracking him as he approached. Raylan stopped where was, took aim, and fired twice from about fifty yards. His shots found their mark, crimson blooming against the other man’s white shirt, at least one of them clean and to the heart. The blond guy went down hard.
Unfortunately, Raylan’s target had gotten off a shot, as well. A bright nova of pain seared through his thigh.
“Well, shit,” Raylan said, and swayed. He went to one knee, his life’s blood welling forth in greedy pulses, and then he was lying on the wet asphalt.
From this new and unpleasant vantage point, he saw that the first guy managed to get to his feet—impressive, considering he’d just taken a shot to the chest at point blank range. Was he wearing a vest? Raylan watched him kick the blond’s pistol off the bridge, then he staggered toward Raylan, still holding the sword. Raylan couldn’t see a firearm, but his vision was already starting to swim. “Hold it right there,” Raylan ordered. He blinked and pointed his gun, trying to get his eyes to cooperate.
The guy raised his hands, “Don’t shoot,” he said as he drew within twenty feet. He laid the sword down, then raised his hands again so Raylan could see them. “I’m unarmed.” He had some sort of accent, though not one Raylan could pin down. “I’ve got some field training,” he said, stopping where he was and keeping his hands up. “Let me try and slow the bleeding?”
Raylan gritted his teeth, but he knew he was in trouble. He’d clamped one hand down on the bullet wound and kept his gun pointed with the other, but his hand was starting to shake. An ambulance might take ten minutes, and he wasn’t sure he could wait that long. At last he nodded and let the gun drop.
“Must admit, I’m mystified as to your lack of concern over your own well-being,” he said as the guy knelt beside Raylan and surveyed the situation. Definitely no vest. Blood soaked through his shirt and spattered his face and neck—but you wouldn't know he'd been shot otherwise.
“You let me worry about that,” the other man said. He examined Raylan’s thigh and grunted. “Could be worse. Looks like the bullet missed the artery, and the bone’s intact. Nicked a vein, though.” He pulled a pocket knife out of his boot and quickly cut Raylan’s jeans away from the wound. Then he paused to glance back over his shoulder to where the shooter lay unmoving.
“Don’t think he’s goin’ anywhere,” Raylan offered.
The guy made no comment, but his expression set in grim lines. He went to work on removing Raylan’s neck tie.
“Normally, I prefer it if a guy buys me dinner first,” Raylan joked, but then a swear escaped him. Darkness floated at the edges of his vision.
The other man fiddled with his keys for a second before wrapping the tie around the uppermost part of Raylan’s thigh. “This is gonna hurt.”
“Yeah, no shit.”
The guy was careful not to touch the wound but tied the tourniquet on good and tight, using the carabiner from his key ring as a windlass and the ring itself to fasten it. He also made no move to try and take Raylan’s gun, which Raylan appreciated.
“That ought to hold,” he said. He folded the bottom part of Raylan’s pants leg into a pad so he could keep pressure on the wound, checked Raylan’s pulse, and then shrugged out of his coat, spreading it over Raylan. “Now do me a favor. Don’t move, and keep your head down. And no matter what happens, don’t interfere.” He got to his feet and picked up his sword, and it was only then that Raylan realized—the guy had taken his phone.
“Just when I was starting to like you.”
Raylan was seriously woozy, but what happened next was unmistakable. The dead guy—and Raylan was absolutely, one hundred percent sure on that count—convulsed and sucked in a ragged breath. He fumbled around looking for his pistol before struggling to his feet. Raylan’s new acquaintance used his foot to flip the discarded sword toward the previously dead guy, and it clattered to rest near him. He said, “Now, how about we do this the old fashioned way?”
The fight was brief and vicious. And despite all the many and varied forms of violence he’d encountered, Raylan’s eyes widened when the dark-haired man brought his own sword up and then down, slicing the other guy’s head clean from his body.
“Holy shit,” Raylan murmured.
That was nothing compared to what happened after.
* * *
Raylan came to in a bed with the busted springs and scratchy sheets typical of a low-rent motel. He was in a fair amount of pain. Being shot in the thigh was, he had to admit, not as bad as being shot in the chest, and definitely not as bad as a gut shot, but it was no walk in the park. He could taste ozone at the back of his throat.
The first thing he registered after the pain was the murmur of voices, so he kept his eyes closed, kept still. As subtly as he could, he reached down and felt that the tourniquet had been replaced by a compression pad.
“And you couldn’t take him to a hospital why, exactly?”
This was said in an unmistakable English accent, which was…a bit of a departure from the usual outlaws Raylan dealt with, but okay.
The voice that replied was familiar—the guy from the bridge. “He saw me take Nikolovski’s head. He saw everything. I was lucky to get out of there before the cops came.”
English-accent gave a long-suffering sigh. “Tell me what happened, so we can get our story straight.”
“Nikolovski shot me, that son of a bitch. The Marshal shot Nikolovski, and Niko shot him.”
“And what? I couldn’t let him walk away. He would have come after you!”
“You could have let me come with you, like I asked you to in the first place. We knew he didn’t play by the rules, and still you go alone? What if the Marshal hadn’t been there?”
Swimming in a haze of pain and blood loss, Raylan didn’t entirely follow the rest of the argument. The main point of contention seemed to be that both men thought they should have been the one to cut the blond guy’s head off. He gathered that his impromptu field medic’s name was Duncan, and that something about the way they argued made Raylan think of Winona. Maybe more than friends, then.
English-accent seemed to confirm that notion when he said, “After everything we’ve been through, I’ll be damned if I’ll lose you to the likes of that murdering bastard!”
“Couldn't have said it better myself.”
A whiff of alcohol and surgical latex gave Raylan a second’s warning; he groaned as someone examined his thigh, making it throb with renewed pain. English-accent said, “You did one thing right, at least. He’ll live.” He lifted the compression pad off, and a wave of lightheadedness followed. Raylan got a quick glimpse of his angular face before consciousness swam away, and he sank back into the cool, black sea.
* * *
“You can open your eyes,” a voice said sometime later. “I know you’re awake.”
English-accent had called him Duncan, Raylan remembered. Duncan sat nearby, watching over him. He wore a loose-fitting sweater now, and had cleaned most of the blood off his face. “You got me,” Raylan said. He took a quick inventory, registering his distinct lack of pants. His jacket was gone, too, and with it, both his guns. The pain was a muted, distant throb in his thigh; they must have given him something strong. He mapped the edges of a bandage with his fingers.
“Looks like it was your lucky day,” Duncan said. “Some tissue damage, but not too bad. Take it easy for a couple of weeks, keep it clean, and you’ll be okay.”
“Much obliged,” Raylan said drily. “Don’t suppose I could have my phone back.” The fact that he wasn’t restrained in any way was a point in the plus column, but he’d seen the man fight, and Raylan didn’t much like his odds at the moment.
The other man winced slightly. “Yeah, sorry about that. Couldn’t risk you calling for help before I did what I had to.”
“I’m guessing Blade Runner out there wasn’t such a nice guy. What’d you say his name was? Nikolovski?”
Duncan gave him a measuring look. “Look for the name Karanos Petrov. Lately with the Georgian mafia.”
Raylan filed that away for later. “What happened to your friend?”
Duncan rose to his feet and paced away toward the window. “He’s not very happy with me at the moment. Went for a walk to cool off.”
Raylan used the opportunity to size the other man up, but didn’t quite know what to make of him. Every instinct Raylan had said he wasn’t one of the bad guys, despite the fact that Raylan had watched him cut another man’s head off with his own eyes. The image lay at odds with the man before him now, but his instincts had rarely been wrong before, and then pretty much only when it came to people of the female persuasion.
“At the risk of stating the obvious,” he said, “the fact that you saved my life is a detail that does not go unnoticed, or unappreciated. But would you mind tellin’ me who the hell you are?” Or what, he added silently. “That was one hell of a light show out there.”
Duncan turned. He considered Raylan the same way Raylan would, with the air of a man accustomed to having to make judgments about the character of other men. “And something tells me you’re not the type to let that go.”
“Must admit, not my strong suit, historically speaking.” He glanced meaningfully at the man’s midsection. “And while we’re discussin’ things of a confounding nature, want to tell me why a guy with a bullet in his lung is up and walking around, lookin’ like he could run the Boston Marathon?”
Duncan hesitated for a long moment. At last he lifted up his sweater, showing Raylan his unmarked skin, washed clean.
“Well, I’ll be goddamned,” Raylan breathed. His instinct was to cross himself, but a fleeting thought of Boyd Crowder stopped the impulse, as if Boyd would somehow know, and make fun of him for it from three thousand miles away. “Now I’ve seen everything.”
Duncan gave a soft laugh. He let the sweater drop.
“Listen,” he said, “we’re not going to hurt you. Come morning, you’ll be free to go.”
“Figure if you were fixing to do me harm, you probably wouldn’t’a bothered to sew me up.” Duncan nodded. “Why wait till morning, though?” Raylan asked reasonably. “Why not let me go now?”
Instead of answering, Duncan picked up Raylan’s badge off the table. “Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens.”
“Well, now you have me at a disadvantage.”
“Duncan MacLeod. My friends call me Mac.”
“We friends now, are we?”
“That depends.” MacLeod examined the badge. “I knew a Marshal once. Took his job pretty seriously.”
The other man nodded. “Very observant. Good at surveillance, if I recall.”
“It is kinda our thing.”
There came a knock at the door. MacLeod got up and opened it, revealing an older guy in a wheelchair, with white hair and a beard, on the other side. “He’s all yours,” MacLeod said. He handed the guy Raylan’s badge, and left him alone with Raylan after a meaningful look Raylan couldn’t decipher. This night was getting stranger by the minute.
“I’m Joe,” the newcomer said. “Dawson.”
Acutely aware of the fact that he was still without pants, Raylan said, “Pleased to meet you, Joe Dawson. Now, and I say this in the nicest possible way, can you please tell me what the hell’s goin’ on?”
Dawson chuckled. “Happy to oblige. Just remember, you asked.”
* * *
The story that Dawson told him was straight out of one of Willa’s story-books. If he hadn’t seen it himself, he’d file it under UFOs and the apocalyptic End Times. But given the evidence of his own eyes…it made a strange kind of sense. And the instinct that made him good at what he did—the one that knew truth from fiction with sure and certain accuracy—rang in response to Dawson’s story with the unmistakable conviction of truth.
* * *
MacLeod came back near dawn with Raylan’s phone, his guns, his jacket, and a folded pair of sweat pants. He gave the pants to Raylan and laid the rest on the table. “How you feeling?” he asked.
“Meds startin’ to wear off some.”
MacLeod nodded. “Your car’s outside,” he said. “You should call someone to drive you, though.”
MacLeod’s expression softened, and he regarded Raylan with his intense, honest gaze. “You probably saved my life tonight. I’m sorry you had to end up in the middle of all this.”
“Don’t apologize. This has been, without a doubt, the most interesting stakeout of my career.”
“I’m guessing it’s about to get more interesting.”
“You mean when I try to find a way to write this up that don’t get me suspended for mental health reasons?”
“Exactly.” MacLeod looked thoughtful. “I might have someone you could talk to about that. A friend in the FBI.” Raylan reached for the sweat pants, and MacLeod moved to offer a steady hand as he swung his legs carefully over the side of the bed. “Here, let me help you.”
“I got it,” Raylan said firmly.
MacLeod’s lips quirked. “You’re as bad as Joe.” He made it sound like a compliment, though, so Raylan let it lie.
When he was dressed and on his feet, and help was on the way, he grudgingly accepted MacLeod’s assistance toward the door.
* * *
The doc was back, leaning against the passenger door of the T-bird, his hawkish face unreadable. But the proprietary way he watched as MacLeod helped Raylan to his car—definitely more than friends, Raylan thought. What must it be like, to live forever, but have to live in the shadows? To love someone for centuries, knowing that forever might be cut short at any moment?
To distract himself from the pain as MacLeod got him settled in the passenger seat, Raylan thought about everything Dawson had told him—especially the confession he’d made at the end of his improbable tale. It’s past time I got out of the field, he’d said. I’ve just been waiting for the right person to come along. In Raylan’s front pocket rested a folded piece of paper with Dawson’s number on it. You think about it, all right?
When the throbbing in his thigh had eased a touch, MacLeod squeezed his shoulder briefly in sympathy. “You good?”
“Been better,” Raylan admitted. “Been worse, too.” He met MacLeod’s steady gaze. ”Something tells me this ain’t the last time we’ll see each other.”
“May we meet again under better circumstances, then,” said MacLeod.
Raylan offered his hand, and MacLeod took it. Raylan said, “I’ll look forward to that.”
(It’s Highlander. It’s never really The End.)