Written by Batya "The Toon" Levin.
Previously on Gargoyles....
( Prison doors slamming shut on Dracon and Brode )
* * *
Elisa: (On the phone to Owen)"You can tell Xanatos
to keep his
~ Fallout, Part 1
* * *
Castaway: (Brandishing a Quarryhammer):
~ Fallout, Part 2
An office, somewhere in Manhattan
"...Nicole St. John here, reporting from outside the courthouse where the notorious crime boss Anthony Dracon has just been released for time served. Some of you may recall that earlier this year, Dracon was arrested on a series of charges, acquitted of the major ones and convicted only of receiving stolen property." The blonde reporter's voice shifted tone and pitch like a fine musical instrument, conveying clearly what she thought of that story. "The doors are opening, and I can see the Assistant District Attorney, Ms. Margot Yale, coming out--"
"What part of no comment didn't you understand?" came Yale's strident voice, moments before she herself became visible, struggling through the throng of reporters on the courthouse stairs.
"Freeze," a quiet, cultured voice said.
The image on the screen obediently froze. Assistant DA Margot Yale was caught in mid-motion in the center of the crowd, throwing her hand over her face to ward off the cameras and flashbulbs.
Jon Castaway leaned back in his swivel chair, the fingers of his right hand tapping absently at the leather-upholstered arm. For a long moment, he studied the image on the screen with a thoughtful frown. At length, he switched off the monitor and turned his attention to the file he held: DRACON, ANTHONY.
* * * * *
A penthouse in The Plaza Hotel
The heavy brocade curtain was pulled aside, letting afternoon sunlight stream in through the high picture windows. Tony Dracon stood there in the golden light for a moment, brimming champagne glass in hand, before opening the windows as well. He leaned forward, almost onto the window sill, and breathed in the distinctive odors of fall in Manhattan: car exhaust, hot pretzels and roast chestnuts from sidewalk vendors, horses from the buggies lined up beside the Park, steam, cigarette smoke, rain.
"Hello again, New York." His voice was quiet, almost a purr of satisfaction, as he raised his glass to the skyline. "I'm back."
Behind him in the opulent hotel suite, a tall, bespectacled black man cleared his throat. "We got business lined up and waiting, boss."
"In a minute, Glasses." Dracon turned and grinned at him, raising his glass again in half-mocking salute before draining it. "A guy's gotta celebrate when he comes home."
Glasses looked over his shoulder briefly, then lowered his voice. "I think you might wanna see this guy right away, boss."
Dracon paused, looking hard at the other man, calculating the degree of intensity in his voice. "You think?"
"Yeah, I kinda do."
The crime boss frowned, turned away from his henchman, and paced over to the couch. "Then don't just stand there, Glasses," he said over his shoulder. "Show the man in."
"Jon Castaway." The blond man held out a business card. "I represent an association known as the Quarryman Society. May I congratulate you, Mr. Dracon, on your recent release from prison?" He was not smiling, and his tone was of sincere congratulation -- and commiseration. "Having spent time on the wrong side of this country's Neanderthal justice system, I can truthfully say that I am pleased to see you in such good condition."
"Yeah, I'm pretty pleased myself," Dracon replied noncommittally. "In fact, you've walked in on a sort of unofficial celebration." He indicated the champagne he still held. "Care for a glass?"
"No problem. Now maybe you wanna tell me what this is about?" Tony gestured his visitor to a seat and reached for a second champagne glass. "I assume you didn't come by just to check on my health."
"True enough." Castaway seated himself on the couch and leaned forward. "You see, Mr. Dracon, the Quarrymen are something of a persona non grata with the city authorities. Some of our activities are...shall we say, a trifle unorthodox. We are vigilantes, Mr. Dracon, and as such do not feel ourselves bound by the rules that bind the police force."
"Sounds familiar." Dracon set the bottle back in the ice bucket that stood nearby and held out the filled glass.
"Since the Quarryman Society is forced to work outside of the law, it seemed to me that we must turn to outlaws like yourself for allies. If nothing else, we are certain to have mutual problems." Castaway took the glass Tony offered him and sipped delicately.
"Yeah, you could say that." Tony picked up the bottle again to refill his own glass.
"And, as it happens, one of our greatest mutual problems is the policewoman Elisa Maza."
"Huh?" Tony Dracon stared at him for a second.
"The Maza woman, the detective," Castaway said patiently. "An old... unfriend of yours, I believe."
"That's one way to put it." Dracon took another sip and put down the glass, his lips twisting as though the champagne had turned sour in his mouth. "So she's a target, huh? I hope she's not still dating that big guy Goliath, 'cause that could really cause problems."
Champagne sprayed over the carpet. "!!!?" Castaway choked, spluttered, and nearly dropped his wineglass.
Dracon reached over to pound the blond man on the back. "You okay?"
"What...did...you...say?" Castaway grated.
"Maza and that gargoyle, Goliath. They're...you know." Tony made a suggestive gesture as he picked up his own glass. "Close."
Then he swore under his breath and hastily put it down again, nearly spilling the champagne, and grabbed for the other man's wrist. "Hey, whoa, Castaway, get a grip--"
Jon Castaway had gone dead pale, one hand tightening on the fragile stem of the wineglass, the other clenched into a shaking fist. He looked like a man about to retch or faint. "She dares," he whispered, his voice thick with loathing. "Collaborator I knew, but that she would -- willingly -- with a demon--"
"Pull it together, Castaway, come on!" Tony shook the other man roughly by the arm. "Don't freak out on me, man!"
Castaway stared at him for a moment unseeing, then closed his eyes and lowered his head, shaking it sharply. He drew in a deep breath, and said "I apologize, Mr Dracon. A momentary weakness." He looked up again with a sober expression. "But you understand how important it is that she be dealt with. And I need someone of your skills to help me."
Tony Dracon nodded, stood, and picked up his champagne again. "Uh-huh. So you said." He strolled over to the fireplace, not looking at his guest as he spoke. "I know what you need, now let's talk what I need." And he turned to face the blond man.
Who was riffling through a thick stack of bills. "The Quarryman Society is not entirely without resources, Mr Dracon."
Dracon drained his wineglass, leaned against the mantelpiece, and chucked the glass into the fireplace to shatter on the hearth. "I'm listening."
* * * * *
The Eyrie Building
Owen Burnett ticked off points on an agenda pad as he spoke. "The caterers have finished setting up, with the exception of items to be brought out just before serving. The entertainment crew from the Sterling Forest Renaissance Faire has arrived. The period-garb uniforms for our staff arrived last night on schedule; one uniform required minor adjustment in size, which has been seen to. All of the remaining invited guests have responded. Three of them sent regrets, and the others -- including Mr. Nicholas Maddox and associates -- will be attending."
David Xanatos nodded. "Excellent. It's only polite to make the new CEO on the block feel welcome, wouldn't you say so?"
"Of course, sir. The Mayor has extended his personal thanks for the invitation, and will be attending as well. He also says that holding your anniversary celebration as a medieval-theme costume ball is, quote, 'delightfully typical of you,' unquote, sir."
"Wonder if he'll be in costume." Xanatos grinned. "Well, we'll see. And who's representing Our City's Finest at the celebration, Owen?"
The pale major-domo consulted his notes unnecessarily. "Detective Matthew Bluestone of the Gargoyle Task Force has expressed his appreciation for the ball's charity benefit supporting the Policeman's Benevolent Fund, and accepts your kind invitation on behalf of himself and his partner."
Xanatos raised an eyebrow, and his eyes sparkled wickedly. "I wonder if he's told her yet."
Owen hardly paused. "Indeed, sir. And Mr. Renard is here."
Xanatos opened his mouth and hesitated a bare instant -- a hesitation that Owen Burnett carefully did not notice. "Send him in, then. No, scratch that -- where is he waiting?"
"In the Great Hall, sir."
"Tell him I'll be in directly."
* * * * *
In the Great Hall, the minstrels were setting up. David stepped aside to allow one latecomer, a damsel with a dulcimer, to scurry by him. "I want to thank you for showing up early," he said to the man in the wheelchair, sitting down to place himself at eye level.
"You did ask me to," Halcyon Renard said, his voice rasping and cracked. Preston Vogel stood by him, a silent protective shadow. "And I'd appreciate your indulging an old man's curiosity if I ask why."
"Because I need your help."
Renard gave a hoarse chuckle at the bald statement, a chuckle that narrowly missed turning into a coughing fit. "No beating around the bush on this one, eh?"
"All due respect, Mr. Renard...neither one of us has time for that. I'd have approached you on this earlier, but this was the only night I could be sure that you'd come at all, let alone listen."
The old man gave a sour smile. "If you knew I'd be here, that's more than I knew. I didn't come to your wedding, why would I come for your anniversary?"
"So you'd have an excuse to come spoil your grandson, obviously," David said blandly. "Will you hear me out?"
"Start talking," Renard said. "I'll stop you when I get sick of listening."
"All right." David paused. "You know better than anyone that I've stepped on a lot of toes to get where I am today."
"Not to mention a lot of necks," the older man said acidly.
"Well, that's what I need your help with."
Renard blinked. "I'm afraid I don't quite follow."
"There's one family that I've caused a good deal of suffering in the past couple of years. I'm not proud of it. Needless to say, they don't trust me as far as they could throw me."
"Get to the point, man. You want me to help you get around their distrust somehow?" Renard's lip curled.
"Well, in a way. I want you to help me make amends to them."
There was a short, startled silence.
Xanatos continued blithely. "You see, they won't take my phone calls, and the only one I see regularly has wanted my head on a stick for nearly two years. The main problem, as I see it, is that I'm responsible for her brother's mutation into a winged felinoid...."
"You WHAT?" Renard stared.
Xanatos did not quite meet his eyes. "I did say I'm not proud of it," he repeated, his voice steady. "I'm trying to make up for it now."
"Pardon my bluntness, but I don't see how you plan to do that." The old man shook his head. "And what has this got to do with me?"
The younger man gave a broad smile. "I was hoping you'd ask that. The young man in question is currently living in a complex of abandoned subway tunnels under the city, along with several other mutates like him. I believe that would legally qualify him as homeless, am I right?"
Renard pursed his lips. "Granted," he said.
"Now, if I were to set up a foundation to assist the homeless in New York City, the mutates would therefore legally qualify for aid. In particular, for medical aid."
The old man smiled slowly. "Yes, they would at that. Fascinating to watch that devious mind of yours working at first hand, Xanatos."
"I've always thought so," Xanatos replied cheerfully. "So. A medical research facility to work on finding a cure for the mutation, under the umbrella of the prospective Xanatos-Renard Foundation to Aid the Homeless. Are we agreed?"
Renard looked suspicious for a moment. "Rather rushed. Is there some reason why this needs to be agreed upon tonight?"
"Well, the young man's sister is going to be at the party tonight. And since I believe the lady has met you, and knows that you're trustworthy, she'd be much more likely to hear me out if you're with me when I suggest this plan to her. Which I plan to do tonight shortly after she arrives."
"Wait a moment. You say I've met her?"
"If my sources are accurate. In Prague, I think it was. One Elisa Maza, a very good friend of the gargoyles. Particularly Goliath."
"Oh ho," Renard said softly. "So that's what this is all about. You need to get that young woman on your side."
"True, as far as that goes," Xanatos admitted. "But I don't want to do it by trickery this time. I told her not long ago that our feud was over, and I meant it. I don't want circumstances to make a liar of me."
"You prefer to do that yourself, I take it."
Xanatos touched his chest with a faintly bitter smile. "A hit, a very palpable hit. Really, Renard, I wouldn't have pegged you as the type to kick a man when he's down."
Renard gave Xanatos a long, measuring look. "Two years ago I wouldn't have trusted this change of heart for a second, Xanatos."
"Two years ago it wouldn't have been worth trusting." Xanatos leaned forward in his chair and spoke with some difficulty. "You helped save my son once, Renard. I'd like your help to make sure he grows up with a father he can be proud of."
The old man's head came up at that, and he was silent for a moment.
"Have we got a deal?" Xanatos extended his hand, open, waiting.
Renard reached out and took it, his grip firm despite the frail hand. "No," he said. "What we have is a partnership."
* * * * *
Elisa carefully pushed the second gold loop through her ear, closed it, and leaned back from the mirror to survey the effect.
The effect, she decided, was perfect -- not exactly her habitual work outfit, she thought wryly; she hadn't dressed up all-out like this in quite a while. The dark-red velvet gown (low at the neck, laced at the bodice, puffed at the shoulder) set off her skin and hair to advantage, and the earrings added bright accents at just the right place. Usually she didn't bother with complicated hairstyles, but this one -- the top gathered into a loose chignon and the rest flowing down her back -- was flattering enough to be worth it, just this once. The heavy skirt fell in graceful folds about her legs, and almost brushed the floor when she moved. Just as well, since it hid her habitual black ankle-boots, which were definitely not period garb.
She put her hands on her hips and posed for the mirror one last time, then smiled at herself. "You're a knockout, Maza," she told her reflection. "Now go keep Matt company at the party, and accept his apology for not warning you. And try not to let Xanatos get on your nerves, all right?"
There was a thump as something landed on the balcony outside. That would be Goliath; he'd promised to meet her that evening before she had to leave for the party --
But that wasn't his footfall; it was much too light. Too light for Broadway, too, the only other gargoyle who visited her habitually. "Lex?" she called, heading for the bedroom door. "Angela? Who's there?"
A sharp explosion of shattering glass ripped through the air, and Elisa gasped, her hand jerking back from the doorknob.
Swift-moving footsteps crunched on broken glass in her living room. Two of them, three. More. Slower now, spreading out.
Outnumbered and no way to run. Elisa braced her back against the wall behind the door, holding her breath. No chance they wouldn't find her, and no real chance that they weren't looking for her -- this was not a burglary; this was an assault.
She laid her hand silently on the doorknob and made herself wait, hold still, wait until she felt it move in her grip --
This just better not be someone's stupid idea of a surprise party, she thought fleetingly, that's all.
And then she slammed the door outward with all her strength, felt the impact on flesh and bone, and barreled through into the room.
Her eye registered the room in a single flash -- figures in black silhouettes, masked, five still standing and one on the floor where she'd knocked him down, none visibly armed, no clear escape route -- and then her training took over and launched her into their midst.
The remaining five converged on her, two of them trying to pin her arms. Elisa feinted towards one of them, bent and (despite the hampering folds of cloth about her legs) let fly with a kick to the other's solar plexus that sent him reeling backwards into the television set. The attacker and the TV both fell over in a crash of glass.
As she broke into a whirl of hand-to-hand, jabbing her elbow into a man's throat and driving her booted heel into another's kneecap, a nagging thought tugged at the edge of her mind. Their attack pattern was subtly wrong, somehow; they weren't attacking as hard as they could, almost being solicitous, as though not wanting to press her too hard.
One of them rushed her; she went for his wrist and used his momentum to throw him as hard as she could. He hit the coat rack, snapping it in two, struck the wall behind it in a tangle of broken wood, and went down with a shaken groan. And still they came at her carefully, as if they were trying not to hurt her, trying to restrain rather than injure --
Realization broke over her in a fury, and she lunged for the door to the hallway in a last attempt at escape, at retreat. She'd been wrong. This wasn't an assault; this was an abduction.
The trailing sleeve of her gown was seized, held hard, and she was caught short and flung into the center of the room, stumbling and nearly falling. She regained her balance, crouched to spring at one of them --
And the sharp, distinct click of a gun's safety catch sounded behind her.
"Freeze!" Two of them had guns aimed at her now, and three others were taking their own weapons out.
Elisa slowly straightened and raised her hands above her head. Something inside her was screaming a shrill note of panic, but she stilled herself to quiet calm before speaking. "I'm unarmed."
A soft chuckle sounded behind her, and a thin trickle of ice ran down her spine at the hateful, familiar voice. "No need for that, sugar; we're all old friends here."
She turned and lowered her hands, still moving slowly, and there he stood. Dressed in black like the rest of them, smiling unpleasantly, the white streak in his dark hair picking up the blue tint of the skylight.
"Tony Dracon," she said, half in recognition, half in ironic greeting.
He made a mocking half-bow. "In the flesh." His eyes trailed up and down her as he spoke, with a long thoughtful pause at the low neckline of the red gown. "Long time no see, Elisa. Nice dress."
"What do you want, Dracon?"
He blinked, as though the answer should be obvious. "Well...you." A cold smile spread over his face. "You, and that big gargoyle Goliath."
"Your timing's perfect, then, Tony. He should be here any minute."
"Well, we won't be." Dracon swept one hand toward the window. "Our ride's waiting. You going to walk or do we carry you?" He smirked. "Though from what I hear, you're used to being carried these days...."
"I'll walk, thanks," she said curtly.
"Suit yourself," said Dracon, then abruptly smacked his forehead with the heel of his hand. "Where is my head? Almost forgot to leave the invitation for your loverboy." He looked around the room. "Where do you keep the lipstick, sugar?"
He gestured through her bedroom door at her dressing-table mirror. "Mirror. Lipstick. It's like traditional, you know? You're gonna leave a message for him."
Elisa's fists clenched and she opened her mouth to retort. Tony raised a finger and waggled it. "Careful, dollface. You don't wanna make my friends here nervous."
The "friends" in question held their guns steadily trained on her, their faces ranging from cold blankness to open malicious grins. They gave the impression that nervousness, as far as they were concerned, was something that happened to other people.
She wasn't going to be able to fight her way out of this one.
"All right," she said, her throat almost closing on the words.
"All right. Lipstick's in the top drawer there. What am I writing?"
* * * * *
Castle Wyvern, the tower
Seven winged statues faced outward on the turrets of Castle Wyvern.
As the last glimmers of sunset faded on the Hudson River, there was a series of sharp cracking sounds. Shards of stone flew out in all directions, and seven gargoyles roared to life.
Angela finished her catlike stretch with a snarling yawn and breathed in the crisp night air. "It's gotten colder," she said with a small note of surprise.
"Yeah, it does that around autumn," Broadway told her.
She rubbed at her arms absently. "Autumn," she repeated.
"We'll have to leave soon," Goliath said. "Xanatos and Fox are holding their revel here tonight, and we must not be seen. Their guests should be arriving within the hour. I promised to see Elisa before she leaves for the night; she said something about wanting me to see her costume."
"We were going to go see that new movie," Lexington said. "Angela's been here for months and hasn't been to a movie theater yet."
"I've seen movies on the television," Angela protested.
"This is better," Broadway assured her. "You'll love it."
"I'll be takin' Bronx with me to visit my friend Robbins," Hudson said. "Gilly seems to have taken a likin' to him."
"I still do not like this," Goliath rumbled. "We leave the castle unguarded to protect ourselves."
"It's only for one night, Goliath," Brooklyn pointed out. "Tomorrow we're back up on those walls guarding the castle again."
Goliath turned away without answering, his head lowered. "I will see you all before dawn," he said finally, then leapt to the top of the wall and glided off into the night.
"Maybe I should have gone with Father," Angela said softly, looking worried. "He seems so...troubled."
"He'll be all right, lass," Hudson told her. "Now you four had best hurry if you don't want to be missing that movie." He patted Bronx's leathery head. "Bronx and I will see it on cable in a few months."
* * * * *
Goliath soared through the night sky towards Elisa's apartment building, his wings flared to catch the uneven wind currents over the city. He spotted the building, glided closer with a flap of his wings....
...and paused, a deep sense of misgiving rising in him as the roof came into sight. Elisa had said she would be waiting on the balcony, and --
And the skylight was broken.
Goliath folded his wings and arrowed down toward the apartment, landing with a thud on the balcony. He pushed aside the shattered frame and slipped through the skylight to land in a low crouch on the carpet, looking around.
The place was a shambles. Broken glass from the window crunched under his large feet as he moved; the coat rack lay in two splintered pieces on the floor, and the television set had been knocked onto its side.
In a kind of sudden panic, he inhaled sharply, his sensitive nostrils seeking the source of that faint smell of blood. There it was -- a smudge of it on the edge of a glass sliver, not enough to be from a fatal wound. And much more importantly, the smell told him, it was not Elisa's.
But the acrid smell of fear in the air was at least partly hers, and it was less than an hour stale.
A feline yowl of righteous fury came from the open door to the bedroom, and Goliath pushed aside the door to see a pair of green eyes glowing from under Elisa's bed. Cagney hissed and spat at him, bristling all over, when he made as if to come nearer.
They had been in here as well -- whoever "they" had been. One drawer of the dressing-table had been pulled out and its contents dumped onto the bedspread. And scrawled on the mirror in dark-red lipstick, in Elisa's somewhat shaky handwriting, was a single word: XANADU.
* * * * *
Castle Wyvern, the Great Hall
Harp and lute, pipe and flute, cymbal and bodhran, hammer-dulcimer and violin, the music filled the Great Hall and mingled with the conversation and laughter of one-hundred-some guests. The "medieval-theme" costumes ranged from faintly ludicrous to competent to breathtaking; the hosts (to nobody's particular surprise) fit comfortably into the latter category. In the center of the wet bar was a two-foot sculpture of a maiden pouring water from a frost-rimed jug into a cistern; what poured from the jug, however, was not water but champagne, kept cold by the ice and sparkling as it was caught in crystal glasses. Buffet tables lined the walls, and waiters circulated deferentially through the crowd with platters of elegantly anachronistic hors d'oeuvres. As a crowning touch of distinction, the waiters all wore a medieval livery with a crest that was a recognizable modification of the Xanacorp logo.
"So glad you could come...." Fox Xanatos, in the shimmering blue gown she'd been given by Prince Malcolm a year ago in tenth-century Scotland, smiled cordially at the couple she was greeting, and somehow managed to make the words sound sincere yet again. After eighty repetitions, it was hard to make anything sound sincere.
The uniformed herald at the doorway rapped his staff on the stone floor to announce another guest. That particular idea had been David's, and it had been highly amusing to watch the guests reacting to it -- especially when the herald had announced the "Lord High Mayor and his lady wife".
Fox turned to see who was coming in, and her eyes widened in shock as the herald announced loudly: "The Lady Anastasia d'Auber!"
D'Auber? Fox wondered crazily.
But it was indeed her mother -- her mother in human form as Anastasia, resplendent in burgundy silk and gold-thread embroidery with her hair caught back in gold and rubies, coming towards her with a deep warm smile and a gift-wrapped package. "Fox dear," she said, reaching out to clasp her daughter's hands. "And David," she added, looking up over Fox's shoulder, where David was suddenly standing; Fox could feel his tension without looking at him, and realized that he'd crossed the room to her the moment he'd heard the name announced. "Happy anniversary."
"Hello, Mother." Determined to keep up at least the appearance of cordiality, Fox gave her mother a quick embrace and kissed at the air next to her cheek.
"Thank you for coming," David said coolly. "It's been a while."
"I know we didn't part on the best of terms, but I could hardly refuse an invitation to my daughter's anniversary. I've brought something for the charity fund --" she held out a small envelope-- "and a belated birthday gift for my grandson. It's a children's book...I think he'll appreciate it."
David muttered something about "Greeks bearing gifts" under his breath, but took the package and the envelope with polite thanks.
"I suspect little Alex will learn to read fairly early," she went on conversationally. "Fox did, you know."
"Ms. D'Auber," someone said behind them. Fox turned and managed to recall the man's name without much difficulty; it was that Maddox fellow, the one David had called "the new CEO on the block", the head of Maddox Technologies. He appeared somewhat older than David, wearing a deep brown velvet doublet over a white linen shirt, tight-fitting hose of the same brown, and high boots.
He extended his hand to Anastasia with a charming smile and a small inclination that wasn't quite a bow. "Forgive my asking, but are you the same Anastasia who went by the surname Renard last year?" When she nodded, he continued "I read your article on nanotechnology in the Scientific Monthly. May I compliment you on it? Your studies have been of great help to us at Maddox Technologies."
"Thank you," Anastasia smiled at him. "I wasn't aware that your company was doing work in that field."
"It's a recent development," he told her. "Like moving operations to New York City. I'm curious; where did you get the formulae for your initial testing sequence? The Tully-Anderson factors would seem to preclude...."
Fox tilted her head at her husband and drifted away from the conversation, which was threatening to become extremely technical. "I think it'll be okay," she murmured to him under her breath.
"Owen's in the nursery, and he says Alex is there asleep," David whispered back. "He'll stay there until your mother leaves."
"Good." She watched her mother for a moment, and turned away with a shiver. "You know she could tear this place apart without breaking a sweat. If she wanted to."
"Then let's hope she enjoys the party," David said lightly, taking her arm. "Shall we?"
Fox looked up at him and managed a smile.
* * * * *
Somewhere over northern New York State
"Didja ever notice that bad stuff keeps happening to both of us at the same time, Maza?" Tony Dracon leaned back in the passenger seat of the helicopter and rested his arm on the backrest. "You get shot, I get arrested. My protection racket gets busted and you go missing for half a year. I get sent to jail and your station house gets blown up. And half the time they got nothing to do with each other. Weird, huh?"
"Except that I busted you," Elisa pointed out. "Twice."
"Yeah." He gave her a moody look. "Why'd you have to go and do something like that, anyway?"
She almost laughed. Almost. "Cause I'm a cop, Tony. It's my job."
"Ah, well. No hard feelings." He gestured expansively. "Sure I was ticked at you for a while, but like I said, bad things happen all the time, to both of us. This is just another one of those things. Nothing personal."
"Tony, you broke into my apartment with a bunch of goons and shanghaied me into a chopper going who knows where. How much more personal can you get?" She shifted, trying to loosen the extra seat belt that was fastened much too snugly around her arms. "What's this all about, anyway?"
He spread his hands. "You're asking the wrong guy, sugar."
"Boy, have I heard that one before," Elisa muttered.
"It's true this time. I'm just the hired gun on this one."
"Yeah? So who's holding your leash, Tony?"
He grinned. "You'll find out when we get there."
* * * * *
A theatre in Manhattan
"Popcorn?" Broadway passed red-and-white paper boxes around to the other three before seating himself on the rafter.
"Thank you," Angela whispered, taking a box. "What did you say this stuff is made from again?"
"Shhh." Lex was watching the Coming Attraction movie trailers. "Okay, that one looks like it's gonna have some pretty heavy special effects, but I don't know if the story'll be any good...."
"Looks pretty lame to me," Brooklyn shrugged, helping himself to popcorn. "Just a bunch of people in bright-colored costumes jumping around and fighting each other."
Lexington was about to respond, but the radio link at his belt crackled, and he glanced at the others in surprise before unhooking the link and speaking into it. "Lex here."
"I'm at Elisa's apartment," Goliath's voice said without preamble. "There are signs of a struggle, and she is missing."
Broadway gasped. "Elisa?"
Goliath's voice went on. "The only trace of her is a word written on her mirror, in her handwriting. Xanadu."
"Xanadu?" Brooklyn frowned. "Isn't that Xanatos's place upstate?"
"It's got to be a trap, Goliath," Broadway protested.
"I know," Goliath said grimly. "And that is why I am going alone to spring it. I want you to know where I've gone, but you four stay behind. And do not return to the castle. That's an order!"
"But Goliath...!" Lexington's objection trailed off as their leader's voice dissolved into crackling static.
The four looked at each other in dismay.
"Well?" Brooklyn said finally.
"We gotta help him," Broadway stated flatly. "And Elisa."
"He did order us to stay behind," Angela said, sounding unconvinced.
"Yeah," Brooklyn said, looking right at her. "I know. So do we follow his orders...or do we follow him?"
* * * * *
Castle Wyvern, the Great Hall
Dressed in what he'd been told was a medieval monk's robes and feeling a bit like Obi-Wan Kenobi, Matt Bluestone glanced for the seventeenth time at his watch and frowned. It wasn't like Elisa to be late. And even allowing for New York traffic, it was well past the time she'd agreed to meet him here. Either she'd forgotten (highly improbable), she'd been delayed by something serious (possible but worrisome), or she'd stood him up. Which didn't feel likely either; she might have been annoyed about the invitation, but she wouldn't have just decided to stand him up without telling him.
Which meant something was wrong.
He moved through the chattering, glittering crowd, overhearing small snatches of conversation ("...so we got rid of the stocks before they hit bottom, what else could we do?..." "...I don't know who she thinks she's fooling, that dress is not a designer original...." "...and before you know it they're talking computer stuff again, and I don't understand more than three out of every ten words...." "...of course, but where am I going to find one?..." "...well, you know him, there's no way he'd ever admit to being wrong, heaven forbid...."), and gradually worked his way over to where David Xanatos stood talking to an older man in brown and a black-haired woman in green.
"Excuse me a moment," he said. "Sorry to interrupt you--"
"No need to apologize, Detective," Xanatos said with a smile. "Mr. Maddox, Ms. O'Connor, may I introduce Detective Matthew Bluestone? Detective, Nicholas Maddox and Mavis O'Connor, of Maddox Technologies."
"Hello," Matt said to them. "Mr. X, I don't suppose you've seen Elisa yet? She was supposed to meet me here hours ago."
Xanatos frowned. "I can't say I have. Is something wrong?"
Yeah, that's what you would say, isn't it? Whether or not you knew anything about it. "Not that I know of," Matt said aloud. "She's not answering her car radio, so I wanted to ask if I could use your phone."
* * * * *
"...leave a message at the tone." DEEEET.
"Elisa, it's Matt. Where ARE you? Listen, I've got my radio with me, call me if you're not coming, okay? ...Bye."
Matt clicked off the phone and stood there in the small office room for a moment, a tiny frown line appearing between his eyebrows. He shoved his hands into his pockets, and then scowled as he realized that the robe didn't have any pockets.
"Okay, Maza," he said aloud. "I'm giving you ten more minutes to show."
As if in answer, his radio buzzed sharply in its pouch at his belt. He looked down in surprise, then pulled it out and spoke into it. "Bluestone here."
The fact that it wasn't Elisa registered a moment before he realized who it was. "Broadway?"
* * * * *
Quarryman Training Central, Upstate New York
Night shrouded the area in shadows, unchallenged by streetlights or neon signs this far from the city. A path led away from the forest-surrounded helipad towards a large lodge-style cabin. Beyond the lodge stood odd shapes, dimly lit by a few exterior lights, an area that resembled something like a children's playground. But as her captors led Elisa closer, she realized it was more like a boot camp obstacle course; half a dozen figures in blue were scaling a low wall, and several others were engaged in what looked like hand-to-hand combat practice. On the other side of the path spread a small parking lot with three small vehicles, without wheels, oddly familiar. She'd seen the devices once before -- Jason had been riding a flitter like those when he'd barreled through the doors of the 23rd Precinct station house to get her out before the missiles struck.
Dracon and two of his men marched her to the door of the lodge, still at gunpoint. They paused on the path for a moment to allow a group of blue-jumpsuited people to jog past them at a quick hup-two pace, reminding her for a moment of training exercises back at the Academy. Close up, she could see that the smaller building was only the front for a larger compound, which stretched away across a strip of clearing that cut deeper into the forest. A figure in a dark blue jumpsuit and hood stood outside the door at attention, as though standing guard.
"Mr. Castaway is expecting us," Dracon said clearly. "Tell him we've brought his collaborator."
The expressionless eye-slits of the mask looked them over, and the figure nodded and pushed the door open. "He said to send you in."
Inside was a room done in Spartan simplicity; plain wooden furniture, wooden walls and floor stained but not varnished, everything sturdy and unadorned. With one exception: over the mantelpiece was a flag, dark blue with the same red circle-and-hammer logo that had been on the guard's chest.
And standing in the middle of the room was a tall blond man with a narrow moustache and pale blue eyes, wearing the same dark blue, looking not at her but at her captors. "Welcome, Mr. Dracon," he said, courteously enough. "I see you've delivered your side of the contract."
"My men would like to be paid, Castaway." Dracon folded his arms.
"Of course." He gestured at a chair that stood behind him, with a length of narrow rope coiled on the heavy wooden table next to it. "If you would?"
The gun prodded her in the back again, and Elisa moved towards the chair, her eyes darting around the room as she sat down and allowed them to tie her hands. A curtain covered the better part of the far wall, probably covering picture windows behind it; the only other way in or out of the room was a smaller door, which probably led to the rest of the compound.
As though in response to her looking at it, the smaller door opened and another Quarryman came through. No, Elisa corrected her first thought -- it was a woman's figure, though the hood hid any view of the face. She was holding a large briefcase that clashed oddly with the dark-blue uniform. "Permission to report, sir," she said.
Castaway glanced at the woman, then looked back at Dracon and his men. "I beg your pardons," he said to them, "but would you excuse me for a moment? Secure the prisoner, I'll be with you as soon as I can. Your pay's in the envelope there; you can take it and go if you'd like. Mr. Dracon, if you could stay a little longer? I'd like to discuss certain things with you afterwards."
One of Dracon's men picked up the envelope on the table, opened it, and riffled through the bills inside. "It's all here," he said in an undertone to his leader.
"Good," Dracon replied, low. "You two wait outside and listen in, okay? There's something a little freaky about this whole setup."
The two nodded and left the room, crossing behind the Quarrywoman who was delivering her report in a clipped, precise voice that nevertheless shook badly. Something had rattled this woman, Elisa decided, and it wasn't the content of her report, which had something to do with pamphlets and finding a printer.
Castaway's face creased with concern as he listened to her, and he raised a hand to cut her off. "Something's wrong," he said gently. "Something you're not telling me. What's happened?"
The woman tugged off her dark-blue hood, revealing a face that was disconcertingly ordinary-looking; round, bespectacled, framed by short sandy hair -- a motherly sort of face, which in other circumstances might have been comforting. The outrage in her expression, however, was anything but.
"My son's second-grade teacher was reading this to her class at P.S. 86 today." At the word "this," a large hardcover children's book hit the table with a sharp crack. "Some sick-brained writer comes up with this story, and Billy's teacher Ms. Callahan brings the damned thing into her classroom. Listen to this, Jon --"
The woman flipped to the last pages of the book and read aloud: "So if you see shapes in the night sky, don't fear, / For it simply means angels and gargoyles are near, / Easing the earth with their gentle night call: / God bless the gargoyles, god bless us all." She slammed the book onto the table again, her voice rising in impassioned fury. "Dear god, Jon, is this the kind of garbage we want our kids hearing in school?!"
Dracon shifted uneasily, but said nothing.
Castaway put his hand on the woman's shoulder. "You did well to come to me with this, Nita." He glanced down at the book, but didn't touch it. "Clearly something will have to be done."
Nita let out a sigh of relief. "You don't know how good it is to talk to someone who understands, Jon. Everyone else I've mentioned this to says I'm overreacting, and I've been starting to almost believe them."
"Overreacting? To protect one's own children from evil influences? I should say not." He squeezed her shoulder in a gesture of support. "You did well, Nita," he repeated gently. "You did the right thing."
She nodded, looking down at the book. Her gaze went to Elisa for a moment, and then quickly back to Castaway. "Is that the collaborator?"
"Yes. You needn't worry about her, she's being dealt with."
Nita gave another nod. "Good," she said flatly. "Listen, Jon, I've got to be heading back to the City. Paul thinks I'm out playing bridge with the girls, and I have to get home in time to make sure Susan and Billy got their homework done and everything...."
"Of course," Castaway said in an understanding tone. "Shall I be seeing you at the next meeting, then?"
"I'll be there." She drew the hood back over her head and went to the door. "Goodnight, Jon."
There was warmth in his voice, and strength, and it did not sound artificial in the slightest. "Do be careful on your way home, Nita. Your family needs you. You're the one keeping them all safe."
The woman nodded once more, visibly taking courage from his approval, and hurried through the outer door.
"You'll forgive me if I don't applaud," Elisa said into the silence Nita had left, "but I'm kinda tied up at the moment."
Castaway chuckled, quiet and amused and not at all offended. "Quite all right," he said kindly. "I trust you weren't hurt in the course of your travel here? The boys can be a bit rough, but they were under strict orders to bring you here unharmed."
"Yeah, untie me and I'll show you how unharmed I am."
He gave a little regretful shrug. "I'm afraid I can't do that, Detective. You understand." His blue eyes looked at her searchingly, and she felt sweat beading up on her temples and the sides of her neck; the velvet gown was suddenly, unbearably hot and constricting.
"I'm terribly sorry. You must be sweltering in here," he said suddenly, moving swiftly towards the curtain and drawing it back to reveal a set of large windows, which he opened. Cool night air swept in like a welcome dash of cold water to the face. Elisa inhaled a deep breath of it, another, and only then became aware of the view outside.
She'd only been upstate three or four times in her life, and one of them had been in the course of a frantic mission to find her brother and warn him about Xanatos. She hadn't been paying much attention to the scenery then, and what she saw now almost took her breath away. High crags and deep-carven valleys, evergreen pine trees and bare-branched deciduous trees, some with dried foliage still clinging to them; in daylight they would be either drab brown or brilliant flame, but in the ice-blue moonlight they were dusky pewter and bright silver, in shadows of black and dark gray and deepest indigo. A tiny scrap of lake was visible below, glimmering black glass with ripples outlined in white crystal.
Castaway gestured at the mountain landscape as though he had put it there himself. "It is a lovely view, is it not, Detective Maza? I can see why David Xanatos named his retreat here Xanadu; it does rather put one in mind of Coleridge's 'Kubla Khan'."
Elisa watched him warily, not trusting this sudden friendliness.
He took another step toward the ridge, hands clasped behind his back, his eyes sweeping over the majestic vista. "Are you familiar with the poem, Detective? 'But O! that deep romantic chasm which slanted / Down a green hill athwart a cedarn cover! / A savage place! as holy and enchanted / As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted / By woman wailing for her demon lover!...'" His voice slowed and he drew out the last phrase, turning to stare at Elisa with hatred and contempt, his urbane manner dropping away like the mask it had been.
The words of the quote sank in, and a tiny involuntary gasp of shock and outrage escaped her.
"And believe me, Detective," Castaway continued, his cultured voice gone low and vicious, "before this night is out, you will have reason to wail for that demon lover of yours."
Elisa felt the blood drain from her face, and swallowed hard. "Look," she started. "Whatever it is you want, I'm sure we can come to some kind of agreement...."
"The Quarrymen do not negotiate with the likes of you, traitor," he almost snarled. "You are less than nothing. You have willingly thrown in your lot against your own kind."
"What did you want me for, then?"
Castaway's lip curled. "You are his collaborator and paramour, are you not? He will come after you. And then we will have him."
"Or he'll have you," Elisa retorted. "I wouldn't want to be you when he gets here."
"Indeed. But he won't be coming here." Castaway turned to gesture at the map on the wall, pointing to the area circled in red. "He'll be coming there. Xanadu. Thanks to the message you so kindly left for him."
"Well, whatever goons you've got waiting for him there, then. I hope they've all got their insurance paid up." Her voice was loud with a bravado she did not feel.
"Goons? Heavens, no." He gave a slight, condescending smile. "That would be far too clumsy. And as you say, far too uncertain as to who would destroy whom. No, we've something else in store for your demon lover and his vile clan."
"Don't tell me," said Elisa in bored tones. "You're gonna tie them up and show them pictures of your kids until their heads explode."
Behind her back, she felt at the ropes holding her down. The knots had been tied well enough, but not in the right places, and only a single length of cord bound her wrists. And she'd had the presence of mind to hold herself tense while they were tying the rope. She could get out of this, given time with nobody actually looking at her....
Castaway smiled thinly. "Well, you have the explode part right, at any rate. You see, Xanadu has been mined. We've set up infrared emitters to run tripwire beams through the area. They'll detect anything coming in by air. And then the mines will blow the entire retreat. And anything in the sky above it." He was watching her closely now, shooting the words at her like barbed arrows, aiming to wound and hurt. "And then, Elisa Maza, you will be tried, convicted, sentenced, and executed for your crimes against the human race."
Castaway turned on his heel and strode towards the outer door. Dracon, standing across the room from him, hesitated and glanced at Elisa, then hurried after him.
The dark-haired gangster caught up with the Quarryman leader in the doorway, grabbed his arm and whispered fiercely "Are you outta your mind? You just told her the entire plan?"
"And what can she do with that knowledge?" Castaway deliberately removed his arm from the other man's grasp. "She is already dead, Mr. Dracon. She is no threat to us."
"Then whyncha just shoot her and get it over with? Instead of strutting around like some freaked-out B-movie badguy?"
Elisa's fingers, straining at the knots behind her back, went cold at Castaway's next words. "We are not common criminals, Mr. Dracon. We do what we do out of necessity in a higher cause, not out of some petty desire for personal gain. I thought you understood that, but it seems I was mistaken. This is war, Dracon, and this woman will face a military jury of Quarrymen before she is executed. Is that clear?"
Tony abruptly looked back at Elisa again, and she froze with one hand half out of the ropes -- could he see her hands from there? Could he tell what she was doing?
He stared at her for what seemed a very long time before he spoke. "Yeah," he said at last, turning back towards the door and walking out, maneuvering the other man out as well. "Yeah, perfectly clear, no problem. Listen, Castaway, I'm gonna head back towards the City. All this fresh air and idealism is givin' me a rash...."
The conversation faded away into the autumn night, and Elisa let out a long, shaky breath. "God help the gargoyles," she murmured under her breath. Her eyes went to the book lying on the table, and she shivered uncontrollably, once. "God help us all."
* * * * *
Over Upstate New York, near Xanadu
The gliding was harder than he'd expected. This far from the city, with its constant shifting thermals, there were few updrafts and little in the way of strong air currents except for a prevailing wind from the sea. Goliath's wings were beginning to ache.
He ignored it, as he was ignoring anything else that might prevent him from protecting Elisa. But it was a long flight, and his mind would not leave the questions alone. Xanadu? Could he have misinterpreted the clue somehow? Did it mean that Xanatos had abducted Elisa, or that someone wanted them to think he had? Was someone using both him and Elisa to get at Xanatos? Or was it something else entirely, something he was missing...?
Goliath growled deep in his throat. He hated riddles.
"Goliath!" shouted a voice from some way behind him. Startled, he looked back over his shoulder to see four winged figures heading towards him, with the smallest in the lead.
"Lexington?" He slowed, looked at the others as they approached him, and growled "What are you all doing here? I ordered you to stay behind!"
"If Xanatos is really behind this, the city's too dangerous right now," Brooklyn said quickly. "We'll stand a better chance if we're all together."
"I called Matt," Broadway volunteered. "He's on his way with backup."
Goliath glared at his second in command. "There's no time to send you back to the city, as you know quite well. We're nearly there."
"Goliath...." Brooklyn moved closer to glide just below and beside his leader, and lowered his voice. "You can't keep going off alone like this. Elisa's one of the clan -- and we want to help her, too."
"Now is not the time to discuss it, Brooklyn." The words were abrupt, but the tone in which they were spoken was almost apologetic. "For now, you are here. And I need --" He stopped, then started again. "I could use your help."
Brooklyn grinned. "Anytime, Goliath. You know it."
* * * * *
Quarryman Training Central, Upstate New York
A high-pitched female scream came from inside the main lodge.
The guard at the door whirled, startled, and ran inside -- and saw only the prisoner, still tied to her chair, staring at him with wide frightened eyes. "What? What is it?" he demanded.
"There's something alive in here," she quavered. "I saw it moving--over there, near the curtains--" She pointed with her chin.
The guard frowned behind his hood and turned to look at the curtain. "I don't see anyth--"
That was as far as he got before Elisa clubbed him over the head with her chair and bolted for the door. She scanned rapidly around, saw nobody, and ran for the lot where she'd seen the flitters; two of them were missing now, but one was still there, thank heaven! and she breathed a silent thanks between her teeth as she veered off the path, towards the lot. The paths and the obstacle course were deserted; perhaps they'd all moved inside. Or gone home. It didn't matter, she told herself firmly; whatever the reason, it meant that nobody was there to stop her.
The treacherous velvet skirts tangled about her legs as she ran through the damp undergrowth, snagged on twigs and rocks. She grabbed a fistful of skirt in each hand to free her legs, feeling absurdly like a refugee from the cover of a gothic romance novel, and sprinted for the flitter.
A dark-blue figure loomed abruptly in front of her, swinging a fist with a wild yell. Elisa dodged the blow, caught her assailant's wrist, slammed the Quarryman headfirst into the trunk of a nearby tree, and was halfway to the flitter before he hit the ground.
She had already brought the little vehicle into the air before she allowed herself to think about what she'd seen. The Quarryman hadn't been wearing a hood, and his face had been clearly visible in the light from the main building. He was young, younger than her kid sister Beth; that face couldn't have been older than nineteen. Some poor kid on guard duty further away from the lodge, he'd seen her escaping and tried to take her single-handed instead of raising the alarm.... He'd probably catch Hades for that later, but it would give her a few extra minutes at least. Minutes she would definitely need.
The flitter was rising above the trees now, and she remembered the red-outlined area on the map. She was close to the narrowest part of Xanadu, a wooded strip some eighty yards long but barely twenty yards wide, which connected the main lodge to another larger area further west. Soaring closer, she could see the wire fences that surrounded the entire area -- doubtless effective against anything approaching on foot, but useless to prevent Goliath and the others from sweeping right over it.
Elisa swung the flitter around and paced the fence, beside and above it, facing south. Towards Manhattan -- if they were coming this way she'd see them before they crossed the fence. Maybe. Please.
And how long would it be before the Quarrymen came after her? Even without the other flitters, they had the helipad and at least one chopper, and they had to know where she was going --
A movement in the sky to the south caught her attention, and all thoughts of pursuing Quarrymen were abruptly gone. Wings dark against the pale grey clouds, too far away to distinguish numbers but clearly more than one of them. Her heart leaped, and she raised one arm to wave them over.
They were coming closer now, close enough to tell them apart. Goliath was there, and the trio and Angela...and she realized with a shock like a blow to the stomach that the mined terrain was between their position and hers.
"Goliath, go back!" she shouted. "Circle around the main lodge! Go back!" She waved one arm in a circular gesture, hoping they would understand.
They could see her now but not hear her, and she saw Goliath gesture eagerly to the others and turn towards her.
"NO! Go back!" Still too distant for her voice to carry but getting closer every moment, and their projected course would bring them across Xanadu airspace before they were close enough to hear her -- and, almost certainly, would set off the tripwire beams that would trigger the mines. And she couldn't cross to them because her flitter would do the same thing.
Anything coming in by air...!
It was insane and she knew it, but the clan was coming in almost as swiftly as her own flitter could move and there was no time to come up with anything better, there was no time--
Elisa clenched her teeth and aimed the flitter directly at a spot midway between the two strips of wire fence, locked it on a collision course, punched the accelerator up to highest speed --
-- and launched herself from the flitter with her heart banging in her throat and her stomach roiling with the sickening sensation of falling and the skirts billowing around her, and grabbed for one branch of the huge tree that was coming at her like a flyswatter.
* * * * *
Broadway pointed a talon. "There she is!"
Goliath looked. One of the air-sleds he had seen before, a flitter, some hundred yards away, with a figure standing astride it silhouetted against the sky: red gown, one arm raised in salute, dark hair whipping in the fierce wind, that slender form he would know anywhere. "Elisa!" He beckoned to the rest of the clan and drove towards her with the night rushing under his wings.
He was looking right at her when she leapt from the flitter to grab for a tree branch, and his breath caught in his throat. What was she doing--?
A sudden glint of red light reflected off the flitter's side, and the next moment a nearly solid shock wave of force and heat slammed into the airborne clan as the ground in front of them exploded upwards.
* * * * *
Not far from Xanadu
Matt Bluestone pulled the squad car to a screeching halt, had the door open and was out of the car in a single motion, staring at the conflagration not fifty yards ahead of him.
The explosion had ripped the night apart with fire and thunder. Oddly, it seemed to have been directed upwards, rather than outwards; very few trees had been knocked down this far away, but flaming debris was still falling from the sky over Xanadu.
The rest of the squad cars were pulling in further down the hill, other officers getting out of their cars. Matt was already running towards the blast site, ignoring the heat, ignoring the shouts behind him.
* * * * *
Elisa clung to the trunk of the tree, shielding her face from the heat and the smoke, coughing. She dropped to the ground, stumbling as her dress caught on the tree's rough bark. Sparks had struck her in the initial explosion, and there were smoldering patches on her skirt; she slapped out the smolders before they could become flames, and looked up.
The wire fence was a scant two yards in front of her, and beyond it was a single solid blaze of fire. It was starting to die down already -- the wet vegetation all around did not burn well, even the dead leaves, soaked as they were with the last few days' rain -- but she could not see past the fire, and could not see if there had been anything alive inside it.
And then the rippling air above the fire bent, and darkened, and solidified into five winged silhouettes.
The gargoyles landed near her. Somehow, without seeming to hurry, Goliath reached her first; he took her shoulders and just stared at her for a long moment, as if unsure whether to believe the evidence of his own eyes, that she was alive and unhurt. Then, wordlessly, he gathered her into his arms, enfolded her in his wings, and just held her.
The trio and Angela seemed about to start asking questions, but instead stopped and stood there watching as the two held each other silently. Behind them, the crackle and roar of the dying fire was the only sound.
* * * * *
Matt came to a halt, his path blocked by fallen branches and the heat, and shielded his eyes with one hand to squint into the firestorm.
He turned towards the sound of his name, and saw her coming towards him. Her dress and face were streaked with soot, and she looked as though she'd gone through several kinds of hell within the past couple of hours, and she was the best sight Matt Bluestone had seen in a long time.
"Elisa! Are you all right? My god, what happened--?"
"No time," she cut him off. "Jon Castaway and a whole nest of Quarrymen, less than half a mile from here, over that way," she pointed. "It's on a high hill. The guys said you were coming-- Matt, you didn't come alone, did you?"
"What? No..." He shifted gears mentally and tried again. "There's about half a dozen squad cars parked further back. Elisa, are the guys -- the clan -- are they all right?"
"They're okay. I don't think anyone was in that place when it blew."
Matt was pulling out his radio. "Bluestone to all units, Bluestone to all units. Proceed to area half a mile northwest from blast site. Detective Maza is with me and unharmed, repeat, unharmed. Bluestone out." He clicked off the radio and looked at her. "There's about eighteen of us, twenty with you and me -- think that'll be enough?"
"One way to find out."
Five gargoyles watched from their perches high in the trees as the two humans headed back the way Matt had come.
* * * * *
Quarryman Training Central, Main Lodge
A uniformed policeman picked up the splintered remains of a wooden chair and nudged a tangle of rope with his foot. Several others were dusting for fingerprints around the room.
"Any luck?" Matt Bluestone stood in the doorway and looked around the room, with Elisa close behind him.
"Not a soul here," a dark-skinned policewoman said, shaking her head. "They've all gone to ground. We found this...." She handed Matt a large sealed plastic bag, which contained a battered hardcover children's book. "Thought that might come in useful."
He looked down at the title -- something called "God Bless The Gargoyles" -- and exchanged glances with Elisa. "Keep looking," he said with a sigh. "Give the guys in forensics something to do."
Outside, Elisa let out her breath in exasperation. "We almost had them. Castaway and I don't know how many others, they were here less than twenty minutes ago! How did they disappear like that?"
Matt shook his head as the two walked down the hill towards where the cars were parked. "Well, we've got something on them now. Oh, one thing -- they did catch your old pal Dracon. Ran into him down behind the helipad there trying to get away in the chopper." He pointed. "Take a look."
Further down, several police officers were escorting the handcuffed Dracon and his henchmen towards one of the squad cars.
Elisa put a hand on Matt's arm. "One second, okay? I got something to take care of. Meet you at the car."
"Sure, okay...." Matt's faintly bewildered voice came behind her as she started towards the little tableau, reaching the squad car as Dracon was about to join his companions in the passenger seat.
"Hey, Dracon!" Elisa raised her voice sharply.
He looked up, and there was no bitterness or hate in his face, or in his voice when he spoke -- just a bone-deep tiredness. "What do you want, Maza?"
She came to a stop in front of him. "I know something you probably didn't want me to know."
"Yeah, what's that?"
"I know that you saw me getting loose of the ropes back there. And you didn't tell Castaway." Elisa held his gaze with a hard stare of her own. "You let me get away, Tony."
He shook his head, with a forced chuckle. "You're crazy, sugar. I don't know what you're talking about."
She raised an eyebrow. "Have it your way. But--" and she lowered her voice-- "I'm going to do what I can to see that you get a lighter sentence."
Dracon met her eyes again, his expression abruptly grim. "I don't want any favors from you, Maza," he said, low-voiced.
"Tough." She gave him a sudden, wicked grin. "Because I know the truth about you now. Face it, Tony -- at some level, you're a decent person."
"Oooh." He grunted as if struck and mimed being stabbed to the heart. "Maza, that's a hell of a thing to say to a guy."
"Whatever." Elisa clapped him on the shoulder, smiling smugly, and turned to go. "Catch you later...sugar."
Tony Dracon blinked, and as she walked away, he stared after her with the faintly dazed expression of a man beginning to realize that he has been bested.
Elisa headed down the hill towards Matt's car, grimly holding the bedraggled skirts of the velvet gown out of the way. "I don't know how I'm gonna explain this one to the costume rental place," she told Matt as she slid into the passenger seat. "Burn holes, grass stains -- I think this one qualifies as irreparable damage."
Matt said nothing for a moment, concentrating on steering past the crowded squad cars parked at the base of the hill. "I'm just glad that's all that got damaged," he said finally.
"That and a window," Elisa said, her tone determinedly cheerful. "And the time it's gonna take me to wash the lipstick off the mirror."
"But you're okay."
It was not quite a question, but Elisa nodded anyway. "Thanks for coming after me, partner," she said quietly.
"Hey, you'd have done the same for me."
Elisa watched the road, not answering. Neither of them mentioned that she had done the same for him, at least once.
"For any of us," Matt added. "There's more than one kind of partner."
Her eyes went distant. "Yeah," she said softly, understanding.
Under a brightening sky, the car headed southward.
"God Bless The Gargoyles", sections of which have been reproduced here without permission, is a children's book, copyright 1996 by Dav Pilkey, published by Harcourt Brace & Company. No copyright violation is intended by the author or by the staff of The Gargoyles Saga, who urge you all to find and purchase a copy of this book wherever you can.
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