CONVERSATION IN A LAUNDRY ROOM
by Leslie Fish
Duncan was awakened by the sound of the washing-machine changing cycles, with the characteristic thump that reminded him to get the belt-drive tightened. He rolled over, hoping to snag more pillows now that Tessa was up and about...
-and bumped into her warm back. She murmured softly and snuggled deeper into her share of the pillows.
What the hell? The question wormed its way through Duncan's sleep-fogged consciousness. If Tessa was here, then who was running the washing-machine?
His long-honed danger-sense pulled Duncan to full wakefulness fast. He rolled silently out of bed, picked up his katana and tiptoed out the bedroom door, down the hallway to the laundry-room.
Halfway there, he felt the presence of another Immortal - and in the next second he recognized it: the one person whose Quickening he could always recognize. Duncan smiled, remembering last night, lowered his sword and pushed open the door.
Connor sat on top of the clothes-dryer, wearing nothing but a towel and a rueful expression, sword beside him. "I was already in the shower," he explained, "Before I remembered that I'd left my other clothes in the car. I doubt if he can go trotting down the street in just a towel, so I'm stuck like this until everything comes out of the dryer."
Duncan grinned, leaned his back against the nearest wall and slid down it until he was sitting on an overturned laundry-basket. "You put everything in there?" he asked.
"Even your shoes?"
"That's another advantage of sneakers, besides traction."
"Even your infamous trenchcoat?"
"It collected a few stains last night."
"You could always ask to borrow some of my clothes."
"I didn't want to wake you up. Besides, it's unlikely they'd fit."
"Hang on you like a sack," Duncan agreed. "Still, better too large than too small."
"If the washing and drying takes much longer, I just might take you up on that offer." Connor wriggled his toes and glanced at the washing-machine. Its window showed an expanse of detergent foam, punctuated by glimpses of cloth and shoelaces. He sighed in resignation.
"So you'll wear baggy clothes for an hour or two." Duncan shrugged. "It's not as if you've become a slave to fashion in your old age.'
Connor only laughed.
"All right, I can understand the track-shoes," Duncan went on, "But why the trenchcoat? I never could figure that out."
"Good for concealing a sword," Connor grinned at him. "I noticed a long leather coat on your clothes-tree, so you must have considered that yourself."
Duncan rolled his eyes heavenward, imagining the combination of a leather dress-coat and white track-shoes. Worse, he could imagine Connor wearing that. Yes, a trenchcoat was better. But now that he thought of it, he had to ask. "Why a trenchcoat in particular? It doesn't quite match the tennies."
"An homage to a great artist," Connor smiled fondly. "One Julius - a.k.a. Harpo - Marx. The only 'Marxist' I ever admired."
"Right!" Duncan caught the vision. "'The Big Store' has to be one of the ten greatest films of all time. God, the sheer athleticism of that climactic chase-scene... And they did all their own stunts, too."
"That's the one." Connor's look grew faraway and thoughtful. "Do you remember the scene where Harpo encounters the concert-harp in the music department, looks in a mirror and sees himself in 18th-century court dress, complete with wig? Then he sits down to play that harp..."
"Oh, yes. Lovely scene, but it struck me as a little out of character; I mean, there was no comedy in it."
"No, but it was very much in character." Connor sighed. "I met the man once. He truly was a great harp-player. He'd wanted to be a professional musician, playing in a classical orchestra, but Fate intervened and he wound up a comedian. That one beautiful little scene -that was his ideal of himself, what he truly wanted to be."
"I see." Duncan felt a twinge of an old pain: the memory of what he'd been, what he'd wanted to be, before Fate intervened with him - and made him immortal. He remembered that Connor too had once had a pre-Immortal life, and dreams. No, it was futile to rake up those memories; he shook them off. "But where does the trenchcoat come into it?"
"Go watch the movie again. In fact, watch all the old Marx Brothers movies; they're good for your sense of perspective. In most of them, you'll note, Harpo wears a trenchcoat - and pulls all sorts of amazing, and relevant, items out from under it." Connor grinned impishly, focusing his attention back on Duncan. "That's what gave me the idea. If a trumpet, why not a sword?"
"Harpo Marx!" Duncan laughed. "You got your modern fashion-sense from Harpo Marx!"
"One of the underrated geniuses of the 20th century," Connor amended. "Besides, it gets exhausting to change fashions more than twice a century."
"Exhausting...?" Duncan sat up, a small alarm-bell going off in his mind. World-weariness was a common ailment among Immortals. God, if that should happen to Connor-
"Oh, not as tiresome as the bloody Game, I'll grant you..." Connor frowned. "Believe me, I'd much rather be back home with John and Alexandra, enjoying a nice cozy Christmas. But needs must..."
"Do you particularly need to hunt Slan Quince right now?" Connor worried.
"Oh, yes: the man's a menace, and I don't want him around here, bothering you." Connor flashed a smoldering glance that made his eyes seem dark. "I told you, he likes to wear down his prey by killing their friends and family... Did I mention that Jack Donovan died under mysterious circumstances?"
"Jack-" Duncan remembered Connor's genial estate-manager, and was appalled. "Damn! You think Quince did it?"
"It fits his MO, as the cop-movies would say." Connor shrugged. "I couldn't take the chance, hope that Quince might not be stalking me. I guessed that he'd come for you next, so I got here first and waited for him, and... Well, you know the rest."
"Oh." Duncan thought that over, caught between two emotions that pulled him hard in opposite directions: a hot outrage against Quince, and a fierce warmth for Connor. "Stay here," he heard his mouth saying before he could think. "Stay. We'll hunt the bastard together."
"But I'll make the kill," Connor finished, his tone brooking no argument. "I owe Jack that much."
Duncan only shrugged, letting Connor take it for acquiescence, and pulled himself to his feet. "I'll go get the clothes. If we're going to work together, we'd best get some sparring done - get reacquainted with our moves - before Tessa wakes up."
Connor gave him a classic double-take. "She doesn't know...?" he asked, damnably insightful, as always.
"She knows that Immortals exist, and I'm one of them." Duncan couldn't meet his kinsman's eyes. "I just didn't tell her about the Game."
Connor sighed. "Duncan, will you take another piece of advice from your old teacher?"
"I always do. You know that, kinsman."
"Then listen. If you plan to stay with a mortal lover for her lifetime, then hide nothing from her. Give her time to think and prepare. No surprises."
Duncan shuddered, remembering other lovers, other mistakes. "But I might lose her," he admitted miserably. "She's such a gentle soul, I don't think she could live with the constant threat..."
"She might be stronger than you think," Connor insisted. "Tell her the truth, Duncan: the whole truth, and let her make her own choices."
Duncan turned toward the door, not looking back. "I'll get the clothes," he mumbled, and hurried out.
Connor watched him go, then sighed, and glumly turned back to watch the clothes in the washing-machine roll around, and around, and around.