Lost in the Shadows

Oh but Lord, no don't make it easy
Keep me workin' til I work it on out
Just please, shine enough light on me
'Til I'm free from this shadow of doubt

lyrics by Gary Nicholson, sung by Bonnie Raitt


Paris, December 2013

As he stepped from the dimly lightly nightclub into the Paris night, Dietrich Hoffman lit one of the Turkish cigarettes that he'd developed a taste for during World War I, almost a century before, and drew on it heavily. Holding the pungent tobacco-laden smoke within his immortal lungs until his lungs burned, he slowly and carefully blew it out in a controlled exhalation of smoke and moisture, which condensed in the winter air. Behind him… the heavy metal beat of the dance music rose and fell with the opening and closing of the club's main entrance. He held the cigarette between thumb and forefinger as he looked thoughtfully across the square.

Traffic was light on the street this late at night, so the nebulous feel of an immortal surprised the German. It whispered across his senses like the gentle throb of a vibrator. Dietrich grinned as he flicked away his cigarette. "A young one!" Licking his lips in anticipation of a swift kill, he stepped on the cigarette and felt within his coat for the hilt of his saber. Heads had been few for the taking in the past few years. Ever since something had happened, involving a lot of immortals vanishing under mysterious circumstances, and then re-entering the game in the spring of 2011, Dietrich had noted two things. One was that there were far fewer immortals around than there should be. Evidently someone had been on a major killing spree over the last decade. The second thing was that several of those who must have been involved somehow in the event that had brought several back into the game… would look at him sadly and pass by. There was none of that almost primal sense of kill or be killed about them. Yet he'd seen something in their eyes that indicated that they would fight if he pushed them… and that they would win.

Dietrich liked easier prey. He focused on young immortals… still filled with that first sense of invulnerability. Let others chance the older ones… Dietrich preferred his odds. Tonight… he felt he might be lucky. The elusive presence of the immortal was light… almost non-existent. "Perhaps very new," he grinned as he crossed the square to investigate.

The light touch led him deeper into a warren of dark alleys where no streetlights shone their argon glow. Arriving in a cobbled courtyard with a public fountain among houses with overhanging upper stories… he paused in the sudden sense of the open night sky above him.

"No moon," he noted. Strange that he'd not noticed before. Nor was there much starlight peeking through the overcast night. From the chill in the air, Dietrich thought there might be snow by morning. As he stood next to the burbling fountain… he closed his eyes and tried to find once more the touch that had led him here. His eyes snapped open and his saber was immediately in his hand as he turned.

Only the shadows of the darkened buildings surrounded him. Then he saw her… a small white face floating in the darkness. No… he realized… not floating… just crowned by spiky dark hair and peeking out from dark clothing.

"Nice trick," he smirked.

She stepped closer. He could see no weapon on her… her dark clothing seemed inky black. "Bon soir, monsieur." She smiled… her voice sweet and gentle.

Dietrich's grip relaxed. There was something enticing about having an immortal female. There was an element of danger about them that made the sex better… more satisfying. He'd had three in his long life. Two of them he'd beheaded shortly after when they'd tried to off him. The third… ah... the third. Dietrich smiled at memories of Padma of India. She'd been totally unaware of what she was when he'd found her during the time of the British Raj… and for nearly a century… his lover and student. Perhaps this one was like Padma. Someone he could mold and use.

But upon closer inspection as the female neared him, Dietrich rather doubted it. She smelled of musk, and the heavy dark makeup about her eyes and lips made him wonder if she were one of the hookers who frequented the area.

He licked his lips in anticipation of both taking her… and her head. He slipped the saber back into the hidden pocket of his coat and grinned. "Interested in a good time?"

"Always," she replied and stepped closer. Her scent was almost overpowering. Her hands reached out and one ran lightly up his chest while she tugged at his belt. "Love me here! Love me now!" She backed into the shadows, pulling him with her.

Dietrich glanced about. He'd heard of immortals that used females to distract other immortals and then attacked them. He felt no one else lurking about. He ran his hands over her… feeling only soft cloth on her well-endowed form. Dangerous? Of course she was dangerous. But then… so was he. He could always kill her afterwards.

She stepped back and pulled at the cloth so that it opened to reveal the white form of her bare chest.

Dietrich gulped and felt himself harden in anticipation. He clasped one breast and lowered his mouth to it even as he pushed her against a wall.

She moaned and arched her back even as she pulled eagerly at his zipper. One of her legs lifted and encircled his waist… then she hopped so that the other did as well.

He pushed at her clothing, which fell away easily, until he could enter her and began to thrust harshly. Again and again his exertions slammed her against the wall as she moaned and cried out in need and pleasure… her hands clutching at his back and pounding away at him… urging him on. Just as he was close to release… he thought he heard the sound of metal.

Gillum Hendricks scratched absently at his Watcher tattoo and then re-adjusted his watch to cover it. Things had been dicey for the Watchers in the past few years, but things had seemed to return to an even keel about two years ago. He wasn't certain what had happened… but the leadership had changed and new directives involving involvement in the lives of their assignments had been sent to all Watchers.

"If you are noticed… deny nothing. If they tell you to leave… do so and contact your supervisor immediately."

Gillum had shaken his head in amusement. "If they tell us to stop watching them… we stop watching them?" It sounded like madness. But evidently, as he'd heard from others, a number of immortals now knew of Watchers and many of them did not have a good view of what the historians did.

"Mistakes by some of our membership were made," the director said. "They crossed the line and threatened both the lives of immortals, the game, and our existence. While peace has been restored and the aberrant element dealt with… there are still hard feelings on the part of some. If your immortal sees you… approaches you, asks if you are a Watcher… show him your wrist. We wear our symbol with pride. Your immortal may simply snort and walk away… or he may ask you to leave. Hopefully… that is all he will do."

Gillum's immortal had never noticed him.

Indeed, Dietrich Hoffman seemed just a typical if slightly seedy immortal. He'd come back to life during the American Revolution, as a member of one of His Majesty's Hessian troops. Realizing quickly that he had a gift for survival… he'd taken the heads of several continentals in the New York area… and might have been the inspiration for Washington Irving's Headless Horseman. It wasn't the Hessian who was headless, though. It was just that he'd taken heads. Eventually he'd met another immortal and learned exactly what he was. Hoffman had killed his teacher… one Claude Lancombe, a French schoolmaster, and had then returned to Europe.

He'd died several times in the wars of the British in the years to follow. Usually he'd just signed on to another unit and kept fighting. He'd fought with Wellington against Napoleon; and then had traveled to India as part the occupying force of that land. He'd served in the Crimea. He'd fought and died against the Boers and later the Zulu in Africa. In the twentieth century, he'd fought on both sides during the two World Wars… depending on where he was when he'd revived. After World War Two, he'd basically become a mercenary. Hoffman's allegiance was to no government… and to no one… but himself. He usually took two or three heads a year.

While Gillum didn't particularly like his assignment… he'd learned to be detached about him.

"We do not have to like or dislike them," one of his instructors had said years ago. "We are only required to watch, record, and not interfere in immortal activities."

Gillum blew on his gloved hands and stamped his feet on the dark pavement. Hoffman had left the club and was even now heading across the square toward the alleys. Gillum gave him a count of four and then slowly sauntered in the same general direction, ready to veer off slightly if the immortal stopped for any reason. He didn't.

Reaching the entry to one alley… Gillum hesitated. He didn't want to push this too hard. He doubted that Hoffman knew of Watchers… but he still might not like being followed. Gillum blew on his hands and stepped back into the shadows. Perhaps it was best to wait.

Something crashed into his head and he fell to his knees… aware that someone was walking away.

Gillum's eyes rolled back as he hit the pavement… and an even blacker darkness descended on him.

Shortly later… still nauseous from the blow… and dizzy… Gillum Hendricks managed to sit up. When he lifted one hand to his scalp… he felt it sticky and wet with blood. Not far away he could see lightning flash and he could hear thunder roll, as a storm seemed imminent.

"No," he managed to whisper. "Not a storm… a quickening." Dragging himself to his feet… he stumbled down the dark alley toward the flickering light. He nearly collapsed twice as he closed in on it. His dizziness kept causing him to reel and slam into the walls of the ever-present buildings as they closed in on the alley.

By the time he walked through the arched opening and into the small courtyard… the quickening had died away. Nevertheless… he could see a huddled mass on the pavement near one of the buildings. Gillum glanced around, but saw no one else. The survivor was gone. Stumbling to the body he found himself retching as he stood over the corpse and saw the head. He chalked it up to his injury. It wasn't as if he hadn't seen the sight before.

He eased down against the wall and pulled out his cellphone to punch in code 91.

"Hendricks, Gillum... Watcher ID 45736. I watch Dietrich Hoffman. I need a clean-up crew near the Club Chanteuse on Rue La Belle. I may need medical for me." Already the pain in his head was nearly drowning out the voice on the phone asking for details and the nausea was making it hard to talk.

"Oh… it's mine," he replied nodding and instantly regretting it. "Hoffman is dead. I'd say the Black Widow has struck again." He leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes. His hand holding the cellphone dropped to his lap.