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Summary: Four lives Joe Dawson never led.
For mackiedockie.


i

“Plague and War, Famine and Death,” Kronos says, and the army before him roars its approval. “But friends, is it enough? They cower before us in Siam, in Kandahar, in the deserts of the Sudan, in Nubia and Athens and on the Turkish plains, but we are an army and what we desire to be is a dynasty. We have conquered all the world from sea to sea, and now we must rule it.” Beside him Methos shifts a little, and Joe looks over at him, but it’s too late to ask, too late to take it back, because Kronos is grasping his arm and raising it. “My brother, Justice,” he says, “the most ruthless of us all!”

They slide from their horses and drop their shields, and kneel before the Five Horsemen. And the world changes, because not even an Immortal army can fight forever, and because Kronos had bet Methos that there was no such thing as an honest man. The Horsemen build cities instead of burning them, build an empire that lasts a thousand years, and Rome dies unborn in its shadow and Christ lives unmartyred.

Kronos calls Joe brother, and Methos calls him friend, and Asia Minor calls him King, and his libraries and his schools and his music are his legacy. His daughter marries the last of the pharoahs and is queen in her own right when he dies, and in time War and Famine become Peace and Plenty, and Plague and Death become Fortune and Mercy. But it begins with Joe, who meets two dangerous men in a dark place and is not so afraid that he does not tell them the truth when they ask him what he is doing there.

And somehow, in telling them he has come to kill them, his sword finds its sheath, and Kronos laughs and throws an arm around Methos, and in the morning they drink wine and break bread together and by noon Kronos calls him Brother in the square of a village in Asia Minor that will someday be the shining city at the center of an empire.



ii

Joe Dawson hears the blues in a speakeasy in 1927 and he falls in love. He never finishes his law degree, never marries the pretty girl with childbearing hips and a father on the federal bench that his mother had in mind for him, never makes his fortune, but by the time he meets Amanda at a cabaret in Berlin he’s played with Robert Johnson and Blind Boy Fuller.

He plays his way across Europe in a thousand smoky bars and then Europe catches fire around him. He sings “Crossroad Blues” and “London Falling” and “The Morning the Titanic Went Down,” and officers with oak leaves on their collars clap for their pet American. And it breaks his heart that back home they think he’s a traitor but he gets Jews out of Berlin, out of Germany. The harder it is, the better he plays, and the more they cheer for him.

He spends the war waiting for a bullet in the back of the head, but he doesn’t die and when it ends he doesn’t go back to America. He sings about the warm soft darkness of the Mississippi Delta at the foot of the Alps, in the bazaars of Marrakesh; he makes records and learns French and dreams all his life of the people he didn’t save, of the bonfires of forbidden books and Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.”

Joe isn’t the most famous bluesman of his generation, not even the most famous of the expatriate Americans, but years after he dies Duncan MacLeod and Tessa Noel dance to “London Falling” in a nightclub in a city halfway around the world.

iii

Joe’s LT trips on a landmine in the jungle six miles from anywhere, and Joe finds his head still in the helmet thirty feet away. After that they send him this guy MacLeod who apparently was a real big hotshot at the Annapolis. He’s a good kid, on the older side but no field experience, and he has some funny ideas about war and chivalry that ‘Nam will break him of if he lives long enough.

When they drop him in they drop this other kid, even younger and dumber than most of the privates, some journalist with a fancy Ivy League education and the smartest mouth Joe’s ever encountered. Joe asks him what he’s doing there when he could be pretty much anywhere else, not being an enlisted Marine, and Pierson says he’s headhunting.

They get along okay. MacLeod uses too many big words and Pierson whines a lot, plus PFC Ryan still needs to be be babysat most of the time. They get to Khe Sanh and they’re all still alive, which Joe is pretty proud of. That’s when Pierson suddenly disappears just before a massive electrical storm blows in. Joe kind of figures the kid’s dead, but he and
MacLeod spend most of the night looking for him and when they get back to camp Pierson’s there looking as smug as a cat with a bird in its mouth.

“Got your head?” he says nastily.

“Sure did,” Pierson says. Three days later he takes off again, and this time he’s just gone, across the border into Cambodia probably. Joe forgets all about him until one day someone sends him a Rolling Stone article called, “No Country for Heroes,” and the face on the magazine cover, gaunt and grim and unsmiling, is his own.

iv

When the aliens come, Methos disappears so fast it’s like he never existed, and Duncan talks grimly about arsenals and organizing the resistance and Amanda eyes their spaceships with a wistfulness she usually applies to Renoirs. But Joe-- Joe is enchanted. The aliens have big eyes and domed foreheads and only three fingers on one hand and four on the other, and their language is something like Cantonese and something like Aramaic.

Joe’s down by the Target parking lot in Seacouver, which is where the ships are, ostensibly checking for gun ports. Really he’s hoping to see an alien in person, and he brought the guitar purely for cover and not, as Mac suggested, for a weapon. So he’s just idly working his way through an old Byron song when the alien walks over.

When he nods his head in greeting, the alien mirrors it, and when the alien puts out its hand he sets the guitar in it, without even thinking about how he’s given up the tactical advantage. Which is just as well, because he’d have given the rest of his life to watch the alien cover Byron’s “Summer Day.” After a while he scrounges around and finds a hubcap to bang on and keep time.

This is what they’re doing when Mac rolls up, guns blazing, and the fact that he starts laughing and can’t stop is probably the only thing that saves all of their lives.

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February 2015

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