by Leslie Fish
New York, 1952
Connor was halfway to the elevators when he felt the familiar silent ringing of another Immortal's presence. A quick glance around the echoing marble entry-hall showed only the information-desk guard, whom he'd passed without incident already, and a man in a trenchcoat coming down the stairs. Connor proceeded to the elevator doors, not hurrying, clutching the precious petition in one hand while reaching under his coat with the other.
The man, watching him, continued down the stairs and across the hall. Connor angrily pushed the elevator button and watched, in disgust, as the dial stopped moving at the number four. The trenchcoated man was definitely coming toward him, eyes narrowing. No, there was no avoiding this.
"We really can't fight here," Connor said quietly, "Even though this isn't exactly holy ground."
"There are some who would argue with that last," the man replied, a ghost of a southern accent in his voice. "And we can always arrange to meet elsewhere."
"I have somewhat more pressing concerns at the moment." Connor frowned at the elevator. Would the damned thing stay forever on the fourth floor?
"Such as?" the ex-southerner asked, eyeing the sheaf of papers in Connor's left hand.
"Such as delivering a petition to my district alderman, and arguing for its adoption into law." Connor studied the man, wondering at his interest. "I do have other things to do with my life than hunt for heads, you know."
The man pursed his lips. "Now, would that be the petition the NAACP has been circulating, these past several weeks?" he asked. "The one wanting a so-called 'civil rights' law in our fair city?" To Connor's surprised look he continued, "Did you think something like that wouldn't be noticed by the local office of the FBI?"
FBI? Connor wondered. Oh, but of course! What better cover to hunt from? "FBI?" he repeated, eyeing the man up and down.
The man pulled back his trenchcoat's left lapel, revealing a familiar badge pinned to his jacket beneath. "Agent Matthew McCormick, at your service."
"Not my service," Connor frowned. "I know you people have been dogging the NAACP for months, at least, and I'd like to know why. I know for a fact that none of our members were born in Russia, or anyplace like it."
"Even so," McCormick shrugged, "We have reasons to believe that the NAACP might be a subversive organization."
"Lord," Connor muttered, rolling his eyes. "What, pray tell, could be subversive about an organization seeking to improve the lot of the American Negro?"
"First," said McCormick, easing closer, obliging Connor to either move away from the elevator or bump into him. "Because, as you must know, the Communists have also been agitating for Negro 'rights'."
"So what?" Connor stood his ground, bringing him nose to nose with McCormick. He tightened his grasp on the papers, lest the man take the opportunity to grab them away. His other hand shifted its grip on his sword, preparing to pull and strike from under his left arm if necessary. "The Communists have also agitated for feeding the poor. Do you then spy on soup-kitchens, too?"
"As a matter of fact..." McCormick paused, then shrugged. "But there's another reason. Your N-double-A-C-P contains nearly as many White persons as Negroes, which is significant."
Connor blinked, trying to see the logic of that. "I don't see how," he admitted.
"Why, think." McCormick gave him a fleeting look of the sort usually bestowed on particularly slow children. "An organization made up purely of Negroes, hoping to better themselves, is quite natural. However, such a group which includes White persons must, obviously, have other motives."
Connor blinked again. "It means that not all White people are content with injustice, even if it benefits them. Some well-off Whites are charitable to the poor, as well."
"And we watch them, too," McCormick smiled knowingly.
Connor felt his jaw drop, then pulled it up again. "You're saying that any charity - or any altruistic feeling - is subversive?!"
McCormick actually took a step back. "Not exactly," he hedged, "But true charity is rare. Far more often, such 'altruism' is a cover for something else, something much more understandably selfish, you know."
"Oh, aye." Connor could feel himself beginning to steam. "'Tis selfish to want to live in a society of equals, where everyone's a neighbor and no one's a slave."
Now it was McCormick's turn to blink. In a sudden rush of insight Connor guessed where that faint southern accent had come from, and why the man blinked at the word 'slave'. Slave-owner you once were, weren't you? Do you then miss the Good Old Days?
"There's another reason," McCormick recovered quickly. "Negroes and other malcontents make ready cannon-fodder for any ambitious demagogue, and such can be readily used by Communist agitators."
Demagogues like Huey Long, or Joe McCarthy, you mean? Connor almost said, but caught himself. "So the solution for that is to make those folk less malcontented - say, by giving them equal rights to decent work and pay and housing."
McCormick shook his head impatiently. "You know they won't stop with that. Give them anything, and they'll be wanting more, and more, no matter how childish of vicious-" He visibly caught himself. "Besides, reasonable gains take time to achieve, and those people are childishly impatient. They're easy for agitators to lead, that way. That's why we have to keep an eye on the White leaders in such groups."
"Leaders- What makes you think that the Whites automatically lead?" Connor could almost see the man's mental picture, but needed more detail.
"Why, who else?" McCormick snorted. "Those with greater intelligence and education naturally take the lead-"
Now Connor saw it all. "So you leave the all-Negro groups alone, because you think they haven't the brains to become dangerous? But you think the Whites in any mixed party automatically take the lead, and then lead the Negroes where they will? Is that just your own bias talking, or is it FBI policy?"
McCormick opened his mouth, then shut it. "It's just a common trend..." he managed.
"Aye, right!" Connor snapped. "I happen to have met your precious John Edgar Hoover some years back, and I saw then that he was a nasty little bigot with dreams of grandeur. He's stamped your whole federal bureau with his own character, hasn't he? And you're happy to go along with it, aren't you - slavemaster?"
That made McCormick wince and turn pale. "I'll have ye know, sir," he said through stiff lips, "That a century back I took a Negro Immortal as my student, thinking he had more intelligence than most. I trained him to be a civilized man, but his natural savagery o'ercame all the teaching I gave him; he wanted no more than to go murder his former master, which indeed he did. I've been hunting him ever since, hoping to correct my mistake. Don't speak to me of civilizin' the Nigras!" His old-south accent had returned with a vengeance. "Now just give me thet clutch o' papers in youah hand, go back and tell youah Nigra friends they you delivered it an' the alderman said nothin' furtheh, an' we'll let all this pass. You can walk away, an' I won't wait outside to challenge ye later."
"Och, will I, then?" Connor let his own original accent rise as he shoved the papers into a deep pocket and tightened his grip on his sword. "I've a better idea. I'll deliver yon petition meself, and we'll meet in Central Park at eleven this nicht and settle the whole affair. Try to attack me here and now, an' we'll gie yon clerk a treat he won't soon forget."
McCormick looked as if he were actually considering it, measuring the distance to the papers in Connor's pocket and puzzling over Connor's revealed accent. "Perhaps," he temporized. "And jest what might youah name be?"
"Me true name, which isna' on this document, is Connor MacLeod," Connor snarled, idly wondering how far his reputation had spread.
Far enough, it appeared. McCormick's eyes opened wide, and he took an involuntary step back.
Just then the bell chimed and the doors of the elevator opened wide. With the skills he'd gained in a hundred battles, Connor neatly slipped into the car between the surprised clerks coming out. He hit the button for the alderman's office floor in passing, then swung into the far corner and watched to see if McCormick would follow him.
If he does, Connor calculated, If no one else is here, I'll hit the stop-button and fight him. Once he's down, I'll pull out the button, stop at the next floor, and behead him before I jump out. The Quickening should send the whole car to the bottom, which will neatly hide the evidence...
But McCormick didn't follow. Connor couldn't read the man's expression, gut the agent stayed behind, watching, as the doors closed in his face. The car rose, and the feel of McCormick's Quickening-field fell away. Connor took his hand off his sword and let himself relax. He didn't think the man would follow him up to the alderman's office, or lie in wait for him outside. He also rather doubted that McCormick would show up in Central Park that night, either.
Hoover's sanctimonious bastards, he thought, waiting for the car to stop. Proof that shite floats, even in this country. He wondered what McCormick would have done to get that petition if a mortal had been carrying it. A quiet mugging? A discreet assassination? Possibly. Anything was acceptable for the self-righteous.
And all for naught, he thought ruefully, as his floor approached. The alderman might be impressed enough by the number of signatures on that petition to actually propose it in the city council meeting, but it was unlikely that the NAACP could rally enough other votes to pass it, not this time around. It would take several more repetitions, he knew, to stir that herd of elected elephants to stampede in the right direction: another ten years' worth, maybe. Truly effective progress was always slow - and even slower when respected gangs of bigots tried to prevent it.
The car stopped, the door opened, and Connor marched out into the corridor - feeling not a ghost of a Quickening anywhere.