Leah Rosenthal

Joe Dawson stood behind the counter of his bar, tension in every muscle of his body. He glanced over at the figure across the room, sitting behind the table in a darkened corner. "Ready?"

The figure nodded.

"Good, because here comes another one," he grated between clenched teeth.

As if on cue, the door swung open with under the pressure of an elegant hand, and a striking figure stood in the entryway.

"Hello," the woman breathed, between bee-stung lips. "Is Duncan here?" She sauntered into the bar with the glide of a swan on a pond with no ripples, her perfect, lush figure encased in simple clothing that she adorned as if it had come from a Parisian designer, rather than the clearance racks at the rear of The Gap.

"Who wants to know?" Joe grated out, reaching for a steno pad and pencil stub under the bar. He poised, ready to write.

"Diamondique LePlaissir O'Malley Du Croissant," the woman breathed, her voice as melodic as a Loreena McKinnett note from an early album. "I've heard Duncan MacLeod frequents this establishment, and I've come to see him."

"You, and the 38 others so far, this week," Joe grumbled, adding the name to his list. "I swear, my first impulse was to call the Orkin man, my second was the CDC."

The woman blinked her Bermuda ocean green eyes, the lashes fluttering like synchronized waves of grain. "I don't...understand."

Joe signed out a mighty gust. "Lady, you are the latest in a long epidemic. I'm overrun this week. I don't know *why* all of 'em have decided to come to my bar, but I had a bellyful, after the first five. The trash collectors still suspect I had something to do with the head in the dumpster, out in the back alley," he grumbled. "I'm putting that payoff on Genevive's tab."

"I don't know what you're referring to, but I must see Duncan," the woman went on, lovely beyond description but oblivious, despite her six university degrees and a doctorate in brain surgery. "I need to warn him of the danger, console him with my love, be a pillar of strength to my knight of Glenfinnan, my katana cutie, my brooder of the brogue..."

"Now would be a good time," Joe Dawson moaned.

" dark-haired highlander, my Son of the Seine, my..."

"Shut up."

The woman's lips continued to move, but her tongue suddenly appeared to be paralyzed. A confusion passed over her perfect, peach-complexioned features.

The commanding voice echoed eerily from the area of the darkened table. "You are going to leave, now. You will go down to the nearest city park, find a secluded area, draw your sword, and cut off your own head."

With a silent nod of understanding, the beautiful woman turned and slowly left, the lingering scent of freshly-picked strawberries the only evidence that she had been there.

Joe let out a sigh of extreme relief. "Do you think that's the last of them?" he asked the figure at the table.

Cassandra rose from the shadows, a look of fatigue on her own features. "I certainly hope so. They are more difficult to eradicate than the Horsemen, when the occur in swarms of this kind. Thankfully, this is rare."

"A shame you can't at least enjoy the Quickenings."

"No one," Cassandra pronounced, "would want one of *those* inside of them."

"What do you think brought on this rash of them?"

"I don't know. Something truly evil and twisted. Ahriman, perhaps." The witch shrugged. She slid onto one of the bar stools. "A white wine, Joe. Please."

"God knows you've earned it," Joe nodded.

Suddenly, the distant sound of laughter, like tinkling wind chimes, sounded outside the door.

The wine bottle suspended in mid-pour, Joe Dawson exchanged a weary look with his customer and he groaned. "Here we go again..."

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