“Feel like a story?” the head said. I might have thrown down on him, except for the fact that I had clearly seen the cowlick as I entered the study.
“Sure, why not? Sleep is over-rated anyhow,” I replied as I let the hammer down gently and tossed the little revolver onto my desk. I flopped into an armchair just to the right and stretched out my legs in front of me. “What’s the topic, Matt?”
“The topic is me—but the title is “The Legend of the Watchmaker,” and it’s a sad story, Johnny. Guaranteed to bring a tug to the heartstrings, and a tear to the eye.”
Just a few months before Matt and I had sat in this very same room as he related the facts surrounding the stabbing death of his adult son years before. It seemed as though my study was becoming a focal point for such sorrowful tales.
“Ten to one the tale begins in Ireland,” I said. “The land of shadows.”
“It does indeed,” Matt replied. “Apparently my father Roan was a firebrand in his youth, fighting in one of the many Irish rebellions against the English, when he wasn’t even quite eighteen years old. Killed a man too. He was sentenced to death by an English tribunal, and came within inch of being on the wrong side of a firing squad.”
“What saved him?”
“His father—Aedan McCabe. A watchmaker as well, and the first watch-master. At least as far as we know, that is. He busted out his son, but paid with his life. He was shot to death by the prison guards—but, as it turned out, that wasn’t exactly the end of the story.”
“Small surprise there,” I opined. “After all, it involved McCabes, right?”
He ignored me and went on. “Roan got on a sailing ship by the skin of his teeth and made way for New York. Once there he found employment as a watchmaker’s apprentice. He was good at it too, and had his own shop within a few years. He learned how to use the magic watch, Johnny. He learned to travel with it—returning to repay the favor his father had done for him. He jerked his Da out of that cell and mortal danger. The prison warden, unable to admit he had lost both men, kept Aedan officially dead, and buried a box of rocks in his place. In retaliation, English goons paid a visit to the McCabe home and killed Aedan’s wife and daughter. Aedan stopped his son from going back again for them—much like my son stopped me. He was too afraid of the ‘butterfly effect,’ and also the ‘living dead,’ thing—being a good catholic and all. He considered himself to almost be one of those ‘dead’ after the events in that bloody cell. He wanted no part of it for the two women he loved most in life. It broke him though. He would never be the same person again.”
“I will say this for the man though. The goons that killed those two good women paid dearly for their sins, dying horrible deaths, one by one—including the warden. Aedan might have been Catholic and a follower of The Prince of Peace—but by God, he was an Irishman too and didn’t forgive that easily.
Aedan tried to warn his son about messing with the natural order of things too much, but Roan’s curiosity was insatiable, and as he was never very religious, he had few constraints. He learned to travel without the watch.”
“Because he found out that the watch is only a conduit. The time-machine is the brain. And, as it turns out, we all pretty much have that ability. McCabes apparently a lot more so. The watch only focuses it. That was the secret the McCabes learned. That was the secret of the watch’s green stones—the malachite stones. Without the five missing stones, the watch still worked, but not quite as efficiently as it did with them. It didn’t focus quite as sharply. As it turned out, Roan found the five stones at the Carson Mine after the shooting, and had them all the time—keeping me from having a fully functioning time-machine, and waiting for the right time to use them.”
“Which is now?” I asked.
“Yes,” Matt replied. “Roan is dying—of cancer. Aedan for that matter too. Both are pushing ninety in their own years. They are teaching me to use my own mind to travel without the need of the watch. I’m getting good at it too. I’m almost ready.”
“Good enough to get in here tonight,” I said.
“Sorry about that,” Matt replied. “I needed a place to think. I always did like this room. Comfortable chair. Nice view of the lake. Didn’t figure to wake you up.”
“You were in Howard’s office yesterday too, weren’t you?”
“Mastered invisibility as well now, Matt?”
“Not quite. I’ve learned to ‘hover’ a nano-second before or after an event I’m interested in observing. You and Carter couldn’t quite see me, but I could hear you.”
“Carter sensed it though, didn’t he?”
“Yeah—he was always pretty sensitive around me. For many years, we were virtual brothers.”
“How does Joshua figure in all this?”
“He set things up between me, Roan and Aedan. They came to him, and then he came to me, as a sort of intermediary.”
“You trust him?”
“Yeah. I guess I have to.”
“Because he says he understands what happened with his father. He says he forgave me years ago. He says he holds no grudges. He wants us to have a relationship and be a family again.”
Good luck with that, I thought to myself, remembering Joshua’s smile as Matt lay bleeding on the floor.
“So why are you here tonight Matt? Besides thinking that is. You never tell me everything. Why should tonight be any different?”
“To say goodbye Johnny—and to compliment you. You still pack a decent punch for an old guy. Not many men have put me on the floor to stay.”
“Thanks. It was one of my better ones. We could go outside and finish it now—if you want to.”
“No thanks,” Matt replied. “Not that I couldn’t handle you, but I don’t think I’d like that very much.”
I smiled and nodded my head just an inch. “Not that I couldn’t handle you Matt . . . but, I don’t think I’d like that very much either. Why don’t you come to Detroit with me? We could say our goodbyes right after we round-up all the bad guys. It’s what we do, you know.”
“Like I said, Johnny—no time. Roan’s about finished. He could die almost any minute, and he still has a lot more knowledge to give me. Carter’s right, by the way, Johnny. I know what you’re going to try to do, and it won’t work. Don’t try to take these guys in. Just kill them. They are way too dangerous to screw around with. Stop trying to be a white knight all the time. Use the watch and kill them—just like Aedan. I was here for a few minutes before you woke-up. I opened your safe and replaced the five stones. The watch will work better than ever now, Johnny. And we already know it’ll work for you. It likes you Johnny—and the blood, guts and gore you always seem to wade through.”
“Not a dog’s chance in hell, Matt. Unless you want it back right now, it stays locked up in my safe where it can’t hurt anyone—especially me. If I’ve learned anything at all from you and Roan, it’s not to fool with Mother Nature. Any more than I already have, that is.”
“That watch has saved a few lives in its time. Does the names Missy Spencer and Greg Hanson ring any bells?”
“I know. But it’s way too dangerous—especially in my hands. It’s the ring of power thing.”
“Suit yourself. Just promise me one thing, Johnny. Promise me you’ll watch that thumb-drive Howard gave you yesterday before you leave. Promise me you won’t go out that door without viewing it.”
“Okay—I promise. I intended to watch it anyway before I took off. A cab will be here for me around eleven in the morning. Carter’s sending me Russell Air. Should be in Detroit in time for dinner at The Ritz. All expensed. Old Johnny’s moving up in life. Private jet. FBI credentials and everything.”
“Take that forty-cal pistol he gave you too—with the special ammo.”
“Oh, you mean the extra-special, handy-dandy, cyanide-tipped bullets? Don’t you think that’s just a teeny little bit over the top Matt?”
“Because you can kill them even if you only graze them.”
“Does anyone but me, care, even in the slightest—that these are citizens of the United States?”
“Not really,” Matt replied. “These are mad-dog killers, and they need to be put down—just like you would do with any rabid canine—or a skunk.”
“Speaking of gunfights, Mattie old boy—you’ve got one coming up yourself. Just how do you intend to take out the third man?”
He smiled. “VERY carefully. I don’t have the faintest idea of where he even shot me from the first time. I’m going to have to pick that location up . . . real fast.”
I was ready to plunge into the crux of the matter. “And assuming you manage to get the guy, you have another little problem to work out, right?”
“Right. I can turn around, go back to the Congress Hotel in Tucson, meet up with Cindy, marry her and get on with my life as though nothing had ever happened.”
“Except that something did happen, mega-jerk. Linh and little Albert happened.”
“Linh hadn’t been born yet in 1952.”
I started to gather my feet under me. I eyed the slightly bruised area of his left cheek. It was precisely that same spot that I intended to aim for again. Matt sensed it, throwing up his hands, palm forward, in mock alarm. “Whoa, slugger. I’ve was just having you on a little. I know how serious this whole thing is.”
“Pick another subject to joke about,” I growled as I settled down into the chair again.
“You know Johnny—I’ve always thought I should be just a little jealous of you and Linh.”
“Damned right you should be, sonny-boy. I’m kind of surprised you don’t just keep up two separate lives, and two separate marriages,” I said. “Shouldn’t be too hard for an accomplished time-traveler like yourself. Zip in, zip out. Easy as pie. You told me yourself you always were a cad.”
He looked slightly hurt by the remark.
“I’ll stipulate to being a bastard, Johnny. No argument from me on that one.” He dropped his voice an octave, and spoke with a slow and very precise cadence. “But I’m not that big a bastard.”
His comment hung in the air for several seconds. Finally he spoke again.
“So what would you do, Johnny? Rhetorically speaking, that is?”
“Honor my marriage vows. That’s what I’d do.”
“The first set, or the second one.”
“The current one.”
“In 1952, Cindy was the current one.”
“Get the hell out of my house. Take your damned pocket-watch with you. And oh, just by the way—shove it up your ass too for good measure.”
“I’m sensing hostility here, Johnny.”
I started to get out of the chair again.
“Okay, okay. I was just leaving.” He stood up, facing me. For just a couple of seconds, those piercing black eyes locked with mine. The eyes of a bird of prey. Slowly, he stretched out his hand, holding it there for several seconds as I looked at it. Then, just as slowly, I reached out and took it. Our hands locked.
“You’ve got a good woman upstairs Johnny. Don’t mess it up.”
“Goodbye Johnny,” he said.
“Goodbye . . . watchmaker,” I replied. “Take care of yourself, kid.”
“You take care of yourself too . . . old timer.”
And then he was gone. I was amazed at the suddenness of it. One moment he was there—the next he wasn’t. Unlike in days of old, he didn’t even have to shove his hand into his pocket. I stood there for several seconds, staring at the empty space. Feeling, for want of a better word—empty. I shook my head a little as I turned, picked up Betsy, left the study and ascended the stairs. Maggie was waiting for me at the top, looking mighty fetching in one of my over-sized tee-shirts. It was a good sight, definitely taking my mind off Matt.
“I awoke and heard voices,” she said.
“Yeah,” I replied. “I had a late-night visitor.”
“Who?” she asked.
“Just an old friend,” I said. “Dropped by, for old-time’s sake.” Maggie looked at me quizzically. “Come over to my room,” I said. “We’ll sit on the side of the bed. We’ll hold hands.”
“. . . And I’ll tell you a story.”
Dumb Joke of the Day:
What did the old chimney say to the kid chimney?
You’re too young to smoke.
Thanks for reading folks. See you again in a few days for another installment of THE RECKONING.