by Cinnamon

The Obligatory Disclaimer: The original characters and story have always been, and still remain, the exclusive property of Walt Disney and Buena Vista. This story is written entirely out of love for the characters and a desire to continue the series. It is not being published, distributed, or released anywhere except on fanfiction pages of the Internet. No copyright infringement is intended and no monetary profit is being made through this work.

Acknowledgments: Special thanks go to Larry Davison for the original story idea, for the characters of Sharon Nomura and Takeo (Tommy) Kimura, and for background information on the Yakuza; and to Kathy Pogge for compiling the proposal outline.

Special thanks also to Snow for invaluable assistance with Japanese words, names, and customs; to Astra for providing Maimonides' Prayer and Jewish quotes, sayings, customs, and story tie-ins; to DumlaoX for the character and proper names for Claw and Fang; and to Batya for the character of Dr. Goldblum, additional Jewish customs and terms, story tie-ins, information on New York City proper, and for final editing.

My very special thanks to Christi Hayden and the TGS Bullpen for giving me the opportunity to write this story, and most certainly to all the fans and readers out in cyberspace for helping to keep the Gargoyles alive and thriving.

Cinnamon (

Glossary of Foreign Terms

Previously on Gargoyles:

Maggie in human form to Sevarius: "But what would I actually be doing?"
Derek Maza to Xanatos: "You're letting him experiment on human test subjects?!"
Maggie to the gargoyles: "I'm human! My name is Maggie Reed. I'm from Ohio."
Sevarius to Derek: "That wasn't a tranquilizer! It was filled with mutagen!"
Elisa to Talon: "Derek!! Is that you?!"
Xanatos to Renard: "...I'm responsible for her brother's mutation into a winged felinoid."
Xanatos to Renard: "...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."
Renard to Xanatos: "Two years ago I wouldn't have trusted this change of heart for a second."
Xanatos to Renard: "Two years ago it wouldn't have been worth trusting."
Captain Chavez to Elisa: "...We're looking at some pretty big fish here. The Japanese crime syndicate...."
Elisa to Captain Chavez: "The Yakuza?!"
Elisa to Sara: "... with many of our main players in jail...that leaves the place wide open for the Yakuza to at least get a sizable foothold here."
Elisa to Goliath: "...Yakuza means 'the hand' in Japanese. They're very powerful in the Pacific Rim. They have a small toehold here, but I'm guessing they're out to get more.
Tommy Kimura to his cronies: "The old traditions kept women in their proper place."
Hiroshi Nomura to Mariko: "Because of him we have come to live in fear, and now our daughter has been driven away from home! There must a way to stop him and his kind! There has to be!!"
Sharon to the Mazas, mutates, and gargoyles: "Tommy is a wakashu -- a gangster. He's in... the Yakuza."
Sharon to the Mazas, mutates, and gargoyles: "...He wants his ikka to be...all his own sons."

Monday, December 9, 1996 -- noon

Xanatos watched Elisa Maza's cold, impassive expression as he outlined his plan to her, searching for some slight warming or softening in her hard gaze. There was none. She sat stiffly and said nothing as he talked, and he had to console himself that she had at least agreed to come to his office and meet with him.

"The project has been a two-phase undertaking," he was saying. "The improvements to the Sanctuary have included the full arrangement of private quarters that you are already familiar with -- state-of-the-art climate control and security system, specially designed furnishings and amenities; all done to very exact specifications."

"Once you created the mutates you had to create a special natural habitat to keep them in," said Elisa accusingly. "Isn't that it?"

Xanatos ignored the bitterness in her tone and defended, "They're not being kept, Detective. Your brother and the others are completely free to come and go as they please. My whole purpose is to provide them a comfortable and secure place to live. Or would you prefer they try to lease a high-rise penthouse in the city proper? What sort of response do you think they would have from any building manager?"

"Point to you, Xanatos," she responded coldly. "What did you want to meet with me for, then?"

"As I said, the project is a two-phase one," he continued smoothly. "The first phase, as you already know, being the creation of the Sanctuary as a safe haven for Derek -- or Talon and his 'clan,' as well as support for the homeless community he protects in the Labyrinth."

"And the second?"

"The second phase began even before deciding on specifics for the Sanctuary. For some time now I've been using every available resource to conduct a world-wide search of the most gifted and highly skilled geneticists and biotechnologists living and practicing today. Among them should be one with the knowledge and skill needed to find a way to reverse the effect of the mutagen and restore Talon and the others to their original human forms."

His statement left her thunderstruck -- and momentarily speechless. Xanatos seized the moment to underscore his intention. "That is why I called you here this afternoon."

Before she could come up with a reply he turned to press the 'talk' button on his intercom.

"Owen? ...Will you bring in those resumes now? ...And some lunch for Detective Maza and myself."

"Resumes?" Elisa responded, unable to conceal her sudden interest. "You mean you've actually found someone who can...?"

"Restore the mutates?" Xanatos finished for her. "I sincerely hope so. The search was narrowed down to several semi-finalists from which it was narrowed even further to only a couple of final candidates. I wanted you here to review them first -- before the final choice is presented to Talon and the others."

At that moment the door opened and Owen entered pushing a well-laden tea cart.

"The information you wanted, Sir," he said in his flat, nasal monotone as he handed Xanatos a computer diskette. "By a process of elimination your search has yielded two final candidates who have the necessary knowledge and skill to take on the task. Do you take milk or sugar, Detective?"

As Owen went about the formality of serving, Xanatos slipped the diskette into his computer and directed Elisa's attention to the large wall monitor. Elisa accepted a cup of tea but refused a sandwich and watched the screen intently. She was almost beginning to allow herself a brief glimmer of hope for her brother when the first name appeared on the screen -- Dr. Anton Sevarius.

"Sevarius!!" she practically screamed in undisguised rage and bolted up out of her chair, ready to throw her tea cup at Xanatos. "You almost had me wanting to believe you, Xanatos!" she raged. "Just once I almost thought you really intended to do something right for a change! But you expect me to consider letting that deceitful lunatic, who transformed my brother and the others in the first place, have another chance to experiment on them?! They're nothing more than laboratory specimens to him -- or to you!"

Turning angrily on her heel to leave, she shoved her cup back at Owen so forcefully the tea sloshed down the front of his impeccably pressed suit and tie. But as she headed toward the door, it automatically closed and locked with an audible click. She vehemently spun back around to face Xanatos and noticed the small remote control in his hand still aimed at the door.

"I truly am sorry, Detective," he said in his smooth tone. "Your reaction to Sevarius' name is not entirely unexpected, and I do fully understand your feelings. I'll open the door in a moment. But I must insist you at least hear the full scope of my proposal before you reach any final judgment. Please, do come back and sit down. Owen will pour you a fresh cup of tea."

Elisa was visibly seething, but slowly returned, knowing there was no other alternative.

"What's your game, Xanatos?" she demanded through clenched teeth.

"First, let me assure you, I have no more desire to bring back Sevarius on this project than you do," Xanatos explained. "Yet, in spite of the fact he has no scruples or ethics whatever and is undeniably a complete lunatic, as you so eloquently put it, he is still an absolute genius in the field of genetic engineering."

"Just like Hitler was a genius," Elisa retorted bitterly. She glared her refusal as Owen tried to hand her another cup of tea.

"Even so, Sevarius is the scientist who developed the mutagen in the first place," Xanatos continued. "In conducting a world-wide search, I had to use him as the standard for locating someone of comparable skill to find a way to reverse it. And the method has yielded results."

"What is that supposed to mean?" Elisa demanded.

"Quite simply, Detective, it means there is another candidate to consider." He brought up another name and resume on the monitor screen -- Dr. Daniel Goldblum, M.S., M.A., MD, Ph.D. "This man may well be the answer we've been looking for."

"What makes him any better than Sevarius?" Elisa asked, clearly skeptical.

"Several things, actually," Xanatos assured her. "Dr. Goldblum holds advanced degrees in biochemistry and genetic sciences from several prestigious universities. He has done very extensive research and authored a great many impressive articles. He's a brilliant theorist, Detective, and he specializes in genetic disorders and isolating the gene mutations that cause them. Many of his theories have already become standard methods of treatment used by other specialists in the field. And..." he added pointedly, "...he's right here in New York. He teaches and does genetic research at Columbia's College of Physicians and Surgeons and is affiliated with Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital."

He paused momentarily, noting that he at least had Elisa's full attention now. "But there's more," he continued. "He's also a committed humanitarian. What separates him from Sevarius, and weighs heavily in his favor for this undertaking, is his high standard of professional ethics -- and his compassion for his patients."

For a moment she seemed to be considering his words as she studied the profile on the screen. This man, Goldblum, did sound like someone who might... But with Xanatos she could never be sure. Just what was his definition of "professional ethics?" Still, Derek and Maggie and the others did deserve a chance -- if they were willing. The final choice would have to be up to them. Her expression reflected her uncertainty, so Xanatos again seized the advantage of the moment.

"Detective Maza... Elisa," he began, in a more sincere tone than she would ordinarily have expected. "You must believe that I'm fully aware of your opinion of me -- and of how difficult it will be to win your trust. All the same, I want you to know that I'm willingly taking full responsibility for my part in what was done to your brother and the others. What I'm asking of you now is a chance to make restitution."

"Why should I believe anything you promise, Xanatos?" Elisa would not readily let go of her doubts. "When did you suddenly develop a conscience?"

"When I became a family man," he answered without hesitating. "Before then my total focus was on maintaining the success of my business. But having Fox and little Alexander around has forced me to re-examine my priorities and set some new values. So, how about it, Detective? Shall I have Owen call in Dr. Goldblum?"

Elisa turned from the monitor screen to face him, clearly still suspicious.

"It's not as if Derek and the others have a lot of choice, is it?" she remarked, but quietly now, and without the anger. "You've been planning this all along?"

"Everything is ready to set up a fully equipped research clinic and laboratory. Anything not already available that Dr. Goldblum may need will be procured for him."

"And what do you want from me?"

"I'm asking you to talk to Talon and the mutates. Convince them to give Dr. Goldblum -- and me -- a chance."

Elisa drew a deep breath and finally agreed. "I'll tell them all that you've told me," she said. "But the final decision is to be theirs -- not mine, nor yours, nor Dr. Goldblum's. And Sevarius is not to be involved in any way, or even to know anything about any of this."

"Agreed." He was genuinely pleased. "I'll notify Dr. Goldblum then, and have him stand by until Talon and the others are ready to meet with him."

Elisa left the Eyrie Building with much to consider and made her way to the precinct. On the steps she met a familiar red-haired co-worker in his customary trench coat.

"Hey, Elisa!" greeted Matt congenially. "Thought you were off today."

"Oh, hi, Matt," she answered. "I am off. Just can't escape the paperwork. I want to try getting at least part way caught up before Family Night tonight."

"Family Night?" He quickly remembered. "Oh, yeah; your folks came up with that idea at Thanksgiving. How's it working out for all of you? All the extended family, I mean."

Elisa knew what he meant and looked around quickly to be sure no one else was in earshot. "We tried it last week and had a great time. Everyone wants to keep it going now. ...You know, Matt, you're welcome to come join us anytime. We'll meet once a week in the Labyrinth right after dark. The nights will vary some to fit everyone's schedule, but I can always let you know."

"I'd like that, Elisa," he smiled. "Thanks a lot. I won't make it tonight, but will sure look forward to other times. Say hi to all of 'em for me."

"Will do," she called after him as he went on down the steps.

At the same time that Elisa had been reviewing the resumes on Xanatos' computer screen, a worried and anxious Sharon Nomura climbed down a manhole just behind the building where her parents lived and worked and pulled the cover back in place over her head. At the bottom of the rungs was a juncture of tunnels that would eventually connect to the Labyrinth. Now that she knew the way via underground passages, she dared to go up and see her parents every couple of days. Usually, one of the mutates or clones would go with her and wait near the tunnel entry to return with her, but this time she had risked going alone.

Now, as she turned down a passage that had been declared safe, she passed the newly bricked up tunnel section where Tommy Kimura's goons had tried to abduct her shortly after she had moved into the Sanctuary. Talon had recruited a workforce from the homeless people in their protectorate and sealed off that particular tunnel. All the same, Sharon looked around uneasily and moved quickly to get past that area.

At the next tunnel juncture she carefully stepped over the hidden trip wire to the warning system that Talon had Lex install in outer tunnels connecting to passages leading to the Labyrinth. All those rightfully needing to come and go; including the gargoyles, Elisa, and Sharon; knew how to pass without tripping the alarm signals. And the clones were more than willing to stand guard duty further out in the passages -- so long as they were shown the way back.

As she turned into the next passage, she suddenly jumped back with a startled cry as a huge furry creature stepped out in front of her. But her momentary terror gave way to relief as Claw gave her his sheepish grin and made his best attempt at a formal Japanese bow as Sata had shown him to do.

"Oh, Claw! Thank goodness it's you!" Sharon gasped. She made certain to bow back to him. "I don't know if I'll ever get used to having a personal guardian looking after me."

No doubt he had seen her leave the Labyrinth and followed to be sure she was safe. The big tiger-striped mutate remained silent as always, but his expression showed questioning concern at her obvious worry. He pantomimed an arrogant, swaggering walk and someone with oriental eyes, and Sharon understood.

"Yes. It's Takeo -- Tommy," she admitted. "He's been coming around again. I was just up to see my folks and he'd already been there. It was just lucky that he left before I got there."

Claw then acted out his own anger and indicated he would not allow anyone to threaten her. Had she not been so worried, Sharon might actually have laughed at his comical gestures and posturing. All the same, he made her feel better as he accompanied her back to the huge central Labyrinth, passing the stone figure of Brentwood where the tunnel emerged. In the big cavernous main area she acknowledged several of the homeless people who had come to recognize her. Had the clones been awake, they would have waved too. Sharon was more open to them than most and often stopped to talk with them, but now they were still in stone sleep. As she walked with Claw through the connecting tunnel leading to the mutates' private Sanctuary, Maggie came to meet her.

"Sharon, you didn't go up to the street level in daylight, did you?" Maggie asked of her friend.

"I know I shouldn't take the chance, but I had to check in with my folks," Sharon answered. "I thought Tommy would expect me to slip up there only at night and wouldn't be looking for me in daylight.... He'd already been there, but he left before I got there."

"He's still trying to get you to marry him?"

"Yes, ...but it's far worse now. I thought if I left home he would leave my folks alone, but now it's the Yakuza leaders who are threatening them."

"You'd better come and sit down, Sharon. I'll get you some tea and you can start from the beginning."

Sharon went with Maggie into the kitchen and gratefully accepted a steaming cup of tea. It was not even close to the traditional tea ceremony, but Maggie at least knew how she liked it. Claw excused himself to return to his guard post and Talon was nowhere to be seen.

"Talon is helping a new family move their things down here to get out of a public shelter where too many drug dealers hang around," Maggie explained. "But tell me what's going on with Tommy and the Yakuza."

"Tommy hadn't been around for awhile," Sharon began. "I began to think maybe he had given up after all -- like I hoped he would if I weren't there anymore. But today my folks told me two police investigators came to talk to them a couple of days ago -- the same ones Talon's sister brought to talk to them before. They'd been checking old files and records, trying to find something to use to get at the Yakuza crime bosses. They found out then that my father once rented a spare back room in the shop to some Yakuza members that they used for running their illegal numbers racket. The police figured out that Dad had to have known what the Yakuza were up to in the shop, so they came to question him about possibly being involved by 'aiding and abetting'."

"Did he know?" asked Maggie carefully.

Sharon hesitated, but then nodded. "Yes, he did know -- or at least he suspected. I had kind of thought he knew something about the Yakuza, but," she hastened to add, "he never actually had anything to do with their operation. He just knew what they were doing and didn't ever report it. I was planning to start college then, and he really needed that extra rent money. Later, when the Yakuza moved their racket somewhere else, we moved too, to where we live now. He thought that would be the end of it."

"And now the police have found out?" Maggie encouraged her to continue.

"Yes," Sharon admitted. "But they didn't come to arrest Dad, or even to charge him; only to tell him what they knew. They said there wouldn't be any charges against him if he would agree to testify against both Tommy and the Yakuza."

"And...?" Maggie prompted.

"My otoosan is an honorable man, Maggie. And he has no love for the Yakuza. Of course he agreed to testify." Sharon took a sip of her tea and went on. "The trial is set for this Thursday. Until then the police have promised us protection, but...."

It was becoming harder to talk and Sharon broke off, close to tears. Maggie's quiet coaxing brought out the rest.

"You're afraid if the Yakuza find out your father is testifying against them that the police won't be enough to protect him and your mother," she stated in simple fact.

"The Yakuza have found out!" Sharon burst out. In renewed anxiety she stood up and began pacing as she went on. "I don't know how they did, but probably through Tommy. If not him -- they have spies everywhere! Anyway, that's what Tommy came into the shop for today... to warn my dad not to testify. He said the Yakuza knows. And if Dad does talk in court... all of us will be disposed of!"

"And the Yakuza do not make idle threats," Maggie observed grimly.

"But we know that even if he doesn't testify, the Yakuza will still come after him just for considering it. They have no tolerance for the slightest suspicion of disloyalty. Tommy told them the only thing that can save any of us now is..." Sharon nearly choked as she forced out the rest. "...if I agree to marry him."

Maggie was silent a moment as Sharon wearily sat back down.

"Did he say anything else?" she finally asked.

Sharon nodded, unable any longer to hold back angry, bitter tears. "He said that if I'm his wife, he'll guarantee all our safety and convince his superiors that we're actually loyal Yakuza followers."

"I know how you feel about marrying Tommy," said Maggie carefully. "And I can guess how your folks feel about being 'Yakuza followers.' What do they want you to do?"

Tears still glistened in Sharon's dark almond eyes as she went on.

"They want me to be safe... and happy," she began. "And they know that I would not be either safe or happy if I were married to Tommy. What he wants in a wife is not an equal partner to share his life! He wants a wife of ancient tradition -- a meek, silent, submissive, 'decoration for his house,' who will placidly serve him, obey him, and bear him children -- preferably sons. That was the way centuries ago when marriages were arranged and the couple didn't even meet until their wedding. Marriage was based on convenience, maintaining tradition and proper decorum, and continuing the family line unbroken. Love was never a consideration." Her tone went from pensive to angry as she talked. "But this is now and what worked centuries ago on the other side of the world will not work now! My parents grew up in Japan and met and married there. But they married because they came to know each other and fell in love and both of them decided they wanted to spend their lives together. My father went to my mother's family to ask for her hand only after he had courted her and she agreed to be his wife. There was no marriage broker involved, and the family consent was a matter of courtesy. After they married they came to America. I was born here and educated here. And I think of the old traditions as an interesting part of history, but they are not the ways of today! I can never be the kind of wife Tommy wants! And I certainly don't love him!!"

Sharon wiped her tears, composed herself, and went on more quietly. "The Yakuza has its own code of honor rooted in its own past history. The crime bosses are like feudal warlords ruling everything and everyone with an iron fist. Their wives are barely more than concubines; all of them submissive, subservient, and kept only for convenience and breeding."

Maggie remained silent and let her friend get all the anger and frustration out of her system. Sharon drew a deep breath before finishing. "...My parents would like me to be married... someday. But not to Tommy, nor to anyone like him. That choice will be mine. And they'll consent if they believe it to be someone I'll be happy with; someone who truly wants to share a life together -- just as they have."

"And there will be someone, Sharon," Maggie assured her wistfully. "...Someday."

Again, Sharon was up and pacing. "I know I'm safe down here, but Mom and Dad won't move down and leave the tailor shop. It's all they have, and they've worked hard to make it their own. My father is as proud as he is honorable, and Mom will never leave him alone. But for right now, they are the ones in danger, and I'm the only one who can make the Yakuza back off. I don't want to marry Tommy, but I do want my parents to be safe. Tommy did tell them he'd guarantee their safety if I..."

"NO!" Maggie cried, now the one becoming agitated at the thought that Sharon might actually consider giving in to Kimura's terms. "Sharon, you know a promise from Tommy Kimura is nothing but hot air! A man like that uses fine words to get what he wants without any regard for truth. You can never trust in him! Marrying him will not guarantee safety for either you or your folks! You just said yourself, you can't even consider that choice! And you certainly can't sacrifice yourself to him... when there's another way!"

"Another way?" asked Sharon, showing sharp interest. "How...?"

"We can help; Talon and Claw and I. You stay on here in the Sanctuary 'til all this is over. The police are protecting your folks' place on the ground, but we can protect them too -- from above. We can watch them, and shield them, in ways the police don't have."

Sharon felt overwhelmed with gratitude as she asked, "You've already done so much to protect me. You would do that for them too?"

"Of course we would," Maggie declared. "What are friends for? You've been a friend to us when few others have -- only the gargoyles and Talon's family. I'll talk to Talon and Claw, but I think I can speak for them now. We'll make sure your folks are safe -- and that your dad does get to testify."

"Count on it, Sharon." It was Talon's deep voice off to the side that spoke. Maggie and Sharon turned quickly just as he and Claw emerged through the shadowy hallway/tunnel from the outer Labyrinth.

"Talon! Claw!" Sharon acknowledged them. "How long have you two been there?"

"Long enough," Talon answered. "We just didn't want to interrupt you two girls. It sounded like you needed to talk." He turned to Sharon and added, "We can be sure no one goes near your folks that we don't know about, Sharon. And I'll be glad to help strike a blow against the Yakuza!"

Claw slammed his right fist into his left hand in agreement. Surrounded by her three furred, winged, feline mutate friends, Sharon gave them a relieved smile.

"Thank you," she said softly. "All of you."


Same day -- December 9, 1996 -- later in the afternoon

In the 23rd Precinct break room, Elisa poured herself a cup of coffee and carried it back to her desk. The big main squad room was in its usual state of congested chaos as people bustled in and out, phones rang, papers shuffled, file drawers opened and closed, and many voices involved in many conversations droned throughout. The acoustics in this room were less than ideal; and some voices, particularly angry and disturbed ones of people lodging complaints or answering to accusations, carried out over the room. Like every police officer, Elisa had long ago learned to "tune out" anything she wasn't directly involved with. For now the pile of papers on her desk needed attention, so she took little notice of anything else around her and focused on those.

She was only vaguely aware of the thin, pale, tired-looking woman sitting at the next desk. There was actually nothing remarkable about her that would draw anyone's attention. She looked fiftyish with dull, mousy brown hair streaked with grey, and she wore a drab green dress and grey sweater. Her overcoat was worn and frayed and did not seem adequate for the New York winter. In her lap she tightly clutched an old, worn purse with thin fingers that grasped and ungrasped nervously. She looked like any one of the countless, nameless, nobodies throughout the city, and Elisa paid no attention since another officer was already helping her. Once or twice she heard the attending officer, Tim Anderson, refer to "missing person's cases" and she vaguely guessed that's what the woman was doing here -- filing a missing person report. Then, as Officer Anderson was reviewing the information he had gathered, Elisa had just picked up her coffee cup.

"All right, Mrs. Reed, let me see if I have all of this right," he was saying. "Your daughter came to New York several months ago to find work. You went with her to the bus station in Dayton, Ohio and saw her get on the bus, so you're sure she wasn't with anyone else. She called you only once to tell you she had arrived in New York, but she did not yet have a permanent address. She promised she'd let you know as soon as she found a place. You're sure there's no one she knows in the city she might have gone to stay with, and you've heard nothing more from her since that one first call. Her full name is Margaret Reed, but she commonly goes by Maggie Reed. Is that right?"

"Yes," Mrs. Reed answered nervously. "That is right."


Elisa's coffee cup slipped out of her hand and splattered over her paperwork and onto the floor as her head came up sharply. Hearing the name of Maggie Reed sounded a gong in her mind that totally obliterated all the other normal hubbub in the room. At the adjacent desk Mrs. Reed jumped at the spill and looked over to briefly meet Elisa's eyes. Officer Anderson was not startled in the least and simply reached into his lower drawer to pull out a handful of the paper towels he kept there with his snack packs.

"Careful, Elisa," he said indifferently, as he handed them to her and turned right back to the woman facing him. "Now, Mrs. Reed, is there anything else you can think of that may help us locate your daughter, Maggie?"

"No," she answered in a sad tone. "Only the description I've given you."

"Yes, Ma'am. She's twenty-three years old, approximately five foot two, with a slender build, blond hair, blue eyes, no particular distinguishing marks. She's a high school graduate with no special training, but you think she'd be willing to work at whatever she can find."

"She would be willing to. She's actually... not very talented." She spoke hesitantly, finding the words difficult. "But she's always been willing to work. She came here to get a job to help pay the mortgage on our farm. Since her father died we've been having trouble making the payments. We were going to lose it unless.... Well..., we did lose it. The bank foreclosed on us last week." Her voice quavered slightly as she finished. "I... didn't want her to come to New York, but she insisted 'til I finally had to let her go. Now... something's happened to her. I'm sure of it."

"We don't know for sure that anything's happened to her, Ma'am." His tone was the well-practiced condescending one of an overworked police detective with too many cases to solve. "We'll get this report out and do all we can. You've given me the number where you're staying, in case we find something. If you happen to think of anything else that may help lead us to her, you be sure to give us a call."

"Yes... yes, I will."

Mrs. Reed rose to leave and then turned back to him with an afterthought.

"Would it help," she wondered, "to have a picture of Maggie? I have her high school graduation picture here."

"Yes, Ma'am, it would help a lot. I'll attach it right to the file."

She fished in her purse, found the photo, and handed it to him.

Throughout their exchange Elisa was numb with shock, listening intently as she mechanically went through the motions of cleaning up her spilled coffee. MAGGIE'S MOTHER!! Here in New York, looking for her daughter! And she had no clue that Maggie was... had been... that things had changed for her. Well, Elisa could not just let her walk away without at least getting some kind of feel for her. Maggie was, after all, especially close to Derek now. As the thin woman left the room, Elisa collected up her soggy paper towels to dispose of them and quietly followed her out to the hall. Again, briefly, their eyes met just as Mrs. Reed paused at the water fountain. Next to it was the large trash bin that Elisa knew was there and intended to use as a ruse to get nearer to her.

"Guess I made kind of a mess in there," she said in a casually friendly way as she dropped the paper towels into the trash. "Hope I didn't disturb you."

"Uh, no.... No, you didn't," said Mrs. Reed.

"I take it you haven't been to New York before," Elisa observed, trying to extend the conversation. "Did you let Officer Anderson know where you're staying?"

"Yes. I'm staying in the YWCA. It seemed... familiar. Only I'm not sure how to get back there from here." She sounded tired, uncertain, and had a kind of hopelessness about her. Elisa wanted to offer her some kind of assurance.

"Could I call a cab for you?" she asked. "I can wait with you till it comes."

Mrs. Reed looked relieved at the offer and readily accepted. Elisa called a cab from the front desk and then went outside with her to wait on the curb.

"This city is so... confusing," Mrs. Reed said nervously, looking around at the forest of skyscrapers. "I hardly know how I'll find my own way around, never mind find my... my daughter."

"If she's in New York, we'll do all we can to find her for you," Elisa told her. "I'm Elisa Maza. I'm a detective working with this Precinct."

"You must get a lot of missing people in a city like this. How long does it usually take to find someone?"

"It varies with each case," Elisa admitted, and then tried to sound encouraging. "We can never be sure how long it will take, but we do have ways of tracing people that often yield results. Just try to have confidence in the system, Mrs. Reed. You did the right thing by coming in to file the report. I assure you, it will get our full attention.... Here's your cab, now."

"Thank you, Miss... Detective Maza. You've been very kind."

As soon as the cab pulled away with Mrs. Reed, Elisa raced back up the steps and made straight for Tim Anderson's desk. Anderson was just closing the folder as she reached him. Elisa needed a quick excuse.

"Say, Tim," she began. "That woman who was just here... Mrs. Reed, wasn't it?"

"Yeah," he answered. "What about her?"

"I only caught a few snatches of what she was saying, but something about her story seemed kind of familiar. It's nothing I can put my finger on, but -- mind if I look at her report?"

Anderson tossed her the folder.

"Be my guest," he answered offhandedly as he got up from his desk. "There's not much to go on in it, but I didn't have the heart to tell her that. I'm goin' to grab a sandwich before I start the next case. Want anything?"

"No thanks," Elisa smiled. "I'm joining my family later."

Anderson started out toward the break room and turned with a warning. "That report's not filed yet and it's confidential. Don't let it leave this area, okay?"

"It'll be right here in this room," she told him. As she watched him walk away she added softly to herself, "...and the copier is in this room too."

When Anderson returned from the break room, his original report on Maggie Reed was there on his desk neatly in order in its folder. He methodically filed it as just one more of many such cases and routinely went on to the next case. It was getting close to dusk then, and Elisa was anxious to leave. The pile of papers on her desk had not diminished any, but were at least a little more orderly, albeit coffee stained, and she was taking several folders with her. One unmarked one, containing the complete xerox of the Maggie Reed report and photo, went totally unnoticed by anyone in the busy room. Elisa had only been able to quickly skim over the report and wanted to read it more thoroughly -- somewhere away from the Precinct.

Outside it was already dusk -- early, since it was December. She was too late this time to be at the castle for the gargoyles wakening. That was a disappointment, but she hurried anyway. Goliath and the clan were expecting her before all of them went to the mutates' Sanctuary for Family Night. This night she had a great deal to talk to them about, but she wanted to talk to Goliath first. As it happened, being late gave her just that opportunity.

Same day -- December 9, 1996 -- evening

Up on the towers and turrets of Castle Wyvern the gargoyles woke amid the usual commotion of shattering stone chips, stretches, and roars. Eagerly they all gathered on the main parapet. Only Lexington lingered alone and unnoticed on the ledge.

"Okay, everybody! It's dinner in the Labyrinth tonight!" Brooklyn announced.

"I've always been skeptical of human traditions," said Hudson pensively, "but I think this one is beginnin' ta grow on me. Maybe I could invite Jeffrey sometime."

"It's not long till the holidays, Hudson," offered Brooklyn. "Maybe he could come to the Winter Solstice Festival."

"Are you taking something for dinner, Uncle Broadway?" asked Ariana, tugging at the big gargoyle's hand.

"Sure am," he answered. "I've got my special chocolate creme pie for dessert."

"Hope nothin's happened to this one," said Graeme.

"Nothin' better have this time! Just have to get it from the kitchen." Broadway lumbered off with Graeme and Ariana trotting along with him.

"If everyone is ready, we should go and not leave Talon's clan wondering if we're coming," suggested Sata.

"Wait a minute," interjected Angela. "Where's Elisa? Wasn't she going to meet us here and go with us?"

"Aye, where is the lass?" Hudson wondered. "Were you supposed to pick her up at her apartment, Goliath?"

"Not tonight," Goliath replied. "She said she would come here and join us."

"She'll be here then," said Hudson, scratching Bronx's ears. "She's never let us down."

"The rest of you go on to the Labyrinth and join the gathering," Goliath told them. "I'll wait here for Elisa."

They had been gone only a few minutes when Elisa came rushing up the tower steps, out of breath from hurrying, to find Goliath waiting for her. She caught the huge hand he extended as she reached the top step.

"Goliath! Sorry I'm late!" she gasped. Glancing around quickly and not seeing any of the clan, she added, "They've all gone down already?"

"I told them all to go and I would wait and bring you down." He looked closely at the deep concern in her expression. "What has happened, Elisa? You look troubled."

Goliath always knew when something was troubling her. Now, with his strength to support her, she relaxed and let the tension drain as she leaned against him.

"I'm glad the others have already gone," she told him. "A lot has happened today, Goliath. It mostly concerns Derek and the mutates. But before I talk to them... I wanted to talk to you."

"Then come in out of the wind and sit. We'll talk."

He encircled her with an arm and a wing and guided her into the west wing living area. There he listened as she related Xanatos' proposal regarding Dr. Goldblum. Then they looked at the file and photo of Maggie, more carefully this time.

"This copy doesn't show it, but in the color photo... her hair color is about right," Elisa said finally. "And her general size and frame seem the same. She's so... thin in this picture. But you'd never really recognize...." Her eyes and tone reflected her uncertainty as she turned to him. "Goliath, do you think it's possible Xanatos is really serious about this Dr. Goldblum? I want so much to have an answer for Derek and Maggie and Claw, but... to trust Xanatos on this...?"

"It may be that Xanatos is sincere," Goliath told her. "But past experience with him makes us both skeptical. Still, the offer must be presented to Talon and the others. You are right to leave the final choice to them."

"And I have to let Maggie know her mother's here looking for her."

"What sort of impression did you get of her?"

"She's very... sad," said Elisa thoughtfully. "She seems so overwhelmed by all that's happened to her -- losing her husband, Maggie leaving, the farm foreclosed. Just by being in this city, she seems to feel so lost and vulnerable. It makes me wonder how she'll handle knowing what's happened to Maggie."

"Perhaps if this Dr. Goldblum is successful in reversing the mutagen, Maggie's mother need not know at all what's happened to her daughter."

"But it may take weeks or months to even get to a preliminary test phase," countered Elisa. "I don't think she should be left waiting that long. And neither should Maggie."

"Agreed. Maggie must at least have the chance to meet with her mother -- if she wishes. Your own mother and father handled it well."

"Yes, they did. I'm really glad they suggested these Family Nights to bring all of us together. Speaking of which -- we'd better be getting down there."

They walked close together out to the parapet where Goliath lifted her and launched in the usual fashion.

Down in the Labyrinth, Maggie, Sata, and Diane Maza were setting the table and putting out steaming bowls of food. Hudson and Peter Maza were engrossed in a game of checkers. Ariana and Graeme had Claw and Broadway in a game of hide and seek and were running rings around Bronx and Nudnik in the process. Off to one side, Brooklyn and Talon, being the warriors they were, were talking defense strategies. Lexington sat alone at the library table absorbed in a technical manual. In another quiet corner, Sharon found Angela to be an engaging "peer" and the two of them were intensely involved in discussing the whole issue of family obligations and the concept of all that love is -- and isn't.

"I envy you for having always known both your parents," Angela was saying. "I never knew mine at all until Father found me last summer on Avalon."

"I know I'm really fortunate to have both of them," Sharon agreed. "All through school I had friends trying to deal with parents divorcing and all kinds of family problems. But Mom and Dad love each other as much as they love me."

"Mine both did love each other... once," said Angela with a trace of regret in her voice. "But my mother is.... She's not part of the clan now. Anyway, the clan is really my family. That's the gargoyle way."

"And now you and Broadway...?" Sharon approached the matter cautiously.

"We're letting things happen as they happen. But we both think we have a true bond."

Sharon was quietly pensive, and Angela knew she was thinking of her unwanted gangster suitor.

"Very long ago in Japan," she began slowly, "when marriages were arranged, couples married as complete strangers to please their families and fulfill their obligation to carry on the family line. Love was supposed to come later."

"Did it?" asked Angela. "Did the strangers come to love each other?"

"I suppose some did," Sharon answered. "Most of them did stay devoted to each other, but I've never been sure if they truly came to love each other or if they just stayed together because it was their duty. Certainly some very strong and lasting families came about that way. That's what Tommy really wants -- to establish a family that he'll be head of." Her tone went from pensive to bitter as she added, "All he wants of me is... a concubine."

"Sata came from that time," noted Angela. "She said once how, at least for human women, marriage was the only choice there was to be sure of any kind of secure life. Most of them had to take whatever offer they could get -- like it or not. It's interesting how in this century women can have an education and a career and make choices they never could have before... like Elisa has."

"All of us now do have advantages our ancestors never had," Sharon agreed. "I guess I'm just a product of this day and age, but I can't imagine trying to build a life with a stranger and hoping love will somehow grow out of it. I think in order for two people to build a life together, the love has to be there first -- like with my okaasan and otoosan -- and Talon and Elisa's mom and dad."

"If it is there first, it should grow stronger with time," said Angela wistfully. "If it doesn't grow... maybe it was never really there in the first place."

By now Sharon knew enough of Angela's past history to realize she was referring to her own parents and the huge rift between them. Understandingly, she squeezed her gargoyle friend's hand.

Neither Goliath nor Elisa knew about the most recent threat made against the Nomuras. And for the present moment at least, their other new concerns were set aside. As they arrived to join the rest, Goliath leaned toward Elisa.

"Let's all enjoy the evening together for awhile," he advised. "Things will quiet down later and you can talk to Talon and the others then."

"I'll need to let my folks know too," she responded.

"Of course. I'll be with you if you wish."

"That would help a lot, Goliath. Thanks. ...Hi, everyone! Sorry we're late."

"Hey, Goliath! Elisa! It's about time you two showed up!" called Broadway. "We're all gettin' hungry!"

Family Night was all the fun it was intended to be with a noisy gathering around dinner, stories told, and laughter shared. Even cleaning up afterward became fun as Angela, Sharon, Broadway, and Lexington made a combined project of doing the dishes. Later Brooklyn and Sata collected their children and Nudnik to return to the castle, and Hudson remembered wanting to get back for the Tonight Show. Finally Elisa took the opportunity to call Derek, Maggie, Claw, and her parents aside. Goliath also joined them, at Elisa's request, but he remained quiet while she first told them of Mrs. Reed's visit to the precinct.

"My mother came to New York?!" Maggie was both surprised and excited. "She actually came to find me?! And she's here in the city now?!"

"She's staying in the YW," Elisa told her. "I spoke to her, once I realized who she was, but didn't tell her I knew you. I wanted to talk to you first."

"Maggie, that's terrific news!" began Talon. Then he caught himself before saying any more, as Maggie's expression turned serious.

"She... doesn't know," she said quietly.

"But she's your mother, Dear," ventured Diane Maza. "Mothers don't stop loving their children, no matter what. I think you should go and meet with her, and tell her the truth."

Claw and Peter Maza both nodded agreement, but Maggie did not answer and seemed distantly distracted. Talon moved slowly to slip an arm around her. Elisa suddenly realized that none of them had ever known exactly what it was that brought Maggie from Ohio to New York in the first place, but she remembered hearing the conversation between Mrs. Reed and Officer Anderson.

"Maggie, I'm sorry to tell you.... I did hear her saying that your family's farm was foreclosed -- last week. You may well be all she has left now. And she's so worried that something's happened to you."

"Doesn't this qualify as something?" asked Maggie, suddenly bitterly tearful as she indicated her winged feline form.

"Elisa is trying to help, Maggie," Goliath reminded her. "Let her at least talk with your mother -- explain to her what has happened."

"If it would help, Maggie," interjected Peter Maza, "Diane and I will talk with her too. We know what she'll be faced with."

He glanced meaningfully at his son, Talon, who nodded back his own quiet thanks.

"I can set up a meeting for you, Maggie," offered Elisa, "as soon as you feel ready."

Maggie seemed to think carefully for several long moments before she finally gave a slight nod.

"All right," she said with soft resignation. "I'll meet with her. As long as you'll talk to her first... to tell her... what to expect."

"Of course I will," Elisa assured her. "But there's something else you all need to know about. I met with Xanatos today. He's offering a very interesting proposal."

She told them the entire scope of Xanatos' proposal, and that Dr. Daniel Goldblum was already being contacted to stand by and wait for their decision.

"I told Xanatos I would tell you all that he's offering," she finished. "But the final decision has to be yours alone -- each of you."

If Peter and Diane felt even a whisper of hope, they did not let it show and carefully said nothing to influence Talon/Derek. Claw and Maggie were both wide-eyed and clearly impressed with the offer, but neither one dared to make a choice. Then Maggie turned to look at Talon and found him already looking straight at her. As their eyes met, he told Elisa, "Tell Xanatos we'll be ready to have the clinic set up in the Sanctuary tomorrow. Have him bring in this Dr. Goldblum and we'll be here to meet him."

Maggie flung herself into his arms, tears running from her eyes, and Claw clapped him heartily on the back. Diane clung to Peter's arm and Elisa slipped her arm through Goliath's. Whatever misgivings anyone may have had, at least for the moment, were left unspoken. But they did not forget their overall commitment as protectors as they were joined by Angela, Sharon, Broadway, and Lexington.

"Father," said Angela. "Sharon's family need extra protection until her father gives his testimony in court against the Yakuza. Talon, Claw and Maggie are all going to help guard them and I'd like to go with them."

"All right, Angela," Goliath agreed. "Just be sure all of you protect each other as well."

"How are your folks holding out, Sharon?" asked Elisa. "Have you contacted them recently?"

"This afternoon I did," Sharon answered. "They won't back down, but they're scared too. Tommy and the Yakuza are still threatening them."

"Considering it's the Yakuza they're up against," said Peter, reflecting his own police background, "no amount of protection is too much. That outfit is probably the deadliest of all the organized crime syndicates we've ever had to deal with."

"I'll let Captain Chavez know to send extra patrolmen through the neighborhood as often as possible," Elisa promised.

"Lex and I have patrol tonight, so we'll swing by a couple of times too," offered Broadway.

"I wish you could all meet my folks sometime," said Sharon. "They do know a little about all of you now. And they know that none of you are 'monsters'."

Family Night broke up around midnight when the senior Mazas went home and Elisa and the gargoyles left for their patrols. Sharon went with the mutates and Angela to the building where her parents lived above their tailor shop. As soon as they landed on the roof, Talon set her down and turned to the others.

"We'll each cover a corner and along one wall," he directed. "It's a good thing you came too, Angela. With four of us we can cover the entire building."

"Tell your folks not to worry, Sharon," said Maggie. "With the police on the street and us up here, no one will get to them."

"Thanks again... all of you," she answered, more relieved than she had dared to feel in quite some time.

As the four guardians took up sentry positions, Sharon went down the fire escape and into the hall to her parents' apartment. Even though it was late, they were still up. She found the door securely locked, but when she used her key, the guard chain inside was also fastened.

"Okaasan? Otoosan?" she called. "It's me, Saeko. It's okay to open."

Her parents were taking every precaution themselves, and only when she clearly identified herself did her father open the door to admit her. He quickly closed and locked it again as she slipped inside.

"Saeko-chan! You shouldn't risk being out alone at night!" her mother cautioned. "They're watching everywhere!"

"I wasn't alone, Okaasan. I was with my friends, the mutates and gargoyles, and they brought me home. Even better, they're on the roof now keeping watch. They've agreed to stand guard above while the police are below. We're doubly safe now."

"If only we could be sure of that," said Mariko, clearly distraught with worry. "Takeo Kimura... sent another message."

"He did? How?"

"Inside a suit delivered to the shop for mending," her father told her. "It has a large deep tear right through the center of the back. I think it was made deliberately with a knife to warn us to watch our backs. In the pocket was a note with his 'terms' -- the same as before."

"That we'll only be safe if I marry him," Sharon finished knowingly.

"Don't worry, Saeko," Hiroshi assured her. "We will never send you into bondage to such a man, no matter what they try to do to us."

Sharon forced an encouraging smile as he put an arm around her and his other arm around his wife.

"I believe the same as you do that you're doing the right thing to testify, Otoosan," she told him. "I also believe we're not alone in this now. As long as we can stay strong in that conviction, everything will be all right. For now, before they take me back to the Sanctuary, could we please have some tea, Okaasan?"


Tuesday -- December 10, 1996 -- mid-morning

In the large anteroom outside Xanatos' office, Owen watched as Dr. Daniel Goldblum paced impatiently, waiting to be admitted. He was a short man, not particularly athletic, with light brown hair, a closely trimmed beard, dark brown eyes, and a mild air of annoyance at being kept waiting. He wore a conservative brown suit and white shirt, but no tie. As was apparently his usual custom, his shirt collar was loosened and his tie was rolled up and stuffed in his coat pocket. Gold-rimmed bifocal glasses gave him the appearance of being either eccentric or distinguished -- or perhaps both. And he wore a small black "kipah" or skullcap common to Jewish men. To an informed observer, the contrasting green and orange double helix pattern around its rim looked very much like the pattern of a DNA strand. The only thing he carried was a large, thick Manila envelope.

"There's really no need to pace so, Dr. Goldblum," said Owen in his usual monotone. "I can assure you Mr. Xanatos will be with you shortly. The security clearance he is conducting is a necessary precaution."

"Do I look like an enemy spy, Mr. Burnett?" Dr. Goldblum retorted, looking at his watch. Owen noticed the figure of Mickey Mouse on its face. "Couldn't Mr. Xanatos have completed his security clearance before my arrival?"

"Mr. Xanatos is a very busy man, Doctor."

"So am I, Mr. Burnett," the doctor answered shortly. "But this matter is far more important than either of our schedules. That is why I came."

"Mr. Xanatos will be pleased you agreed to come," Owen placated him. "As you no doubt have determined by the documents we sent you, this project requires a man of your unique level of knowledge and skill to be able to..."

"You can save the flattery, Mr. Burnett," said Dr. Goldblum flatly. "A little cooperation will get much better results."

"Results is the very thing Mr. Xanatos is hoping to get, Dr. Goldblum," Owen intoned.

The doctor looked again at his Mickey Mouse watch and asked, "Then when does he plan on providing the cooperation?"

It was a rare person indeed who could leave Owen Burnett with no ready reply, and Dr. Goldblum seemed to be just such a one. Fortunately, Xanatos himself chose that very moment to open the office door and spare Owen from having to grope for a suitable answer.

"Dr. Goldblum, my sincere apologies for keeping you waiting," said Xanatos, coming forward to shake hands. "All the security checks have cleared quite satisfactorily. Please come in."

Once in the spacious office, Dr. Goldblum was unimpressed by Xanatos' usual well-practiced charm. Even before the industrialist could begin, the doctor was well ahead of him.

"So, Mr. Xanatos, you want me to undo the damage done by Anton Sevarius. I'm curious; did you know the true nature of the barbarities he was committing in your name, or did you just tell him the results you wanted and shrug off his methods as unimportant?"

Xanatos was awkwardly caught off-guard by the challenge.

"Well, actually, Dr. Goldblum," he began. "Dr. Sevarius' experiments were..."

" absolute outrage!" Dr. Goldblum finished for him, shaking the Manila envelope at him. " say nothing of a serious breach of scientific principles and research ethics! Are you even aware of what these findings show, Mr. Xanatos?! Do you realize that, properly done, these gene splicing methods could lead to actually finding ways to cure congenital anomalies like Down's syndrome, sickle-cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, even Tay-Sachs disease? But to use scientific methods to create more tragic anomalies rather than try to treat those already existing..." he broke off realizing his own anger was getting away from him.

"I take it then you've read the reports of the initial experiments and the individual cases involved?" Xanatos managed to get in.

"Read them?! No, I consulted my psychic who gave me the highlights from her crystal ball!" Dr. Goldblum quipped. He then added grimly, "Of course I've read them! Quite frankly, I wouldn't expect to find this kind of work outside the notebooks of Josef Mengele."

Xanatos frowned at the unfamiliar name. "Uh..., who was...?"

"Mengele," Dr. Goldblum repeated as if the name had a foul taste. "A Nazi-- well, in good conscience I can't call him a scientist. He was one of Hitler's top genetic hatchet-men."

"You're not the first to use Hitler as a comparison on this matter," said Xanatos thoughtfully, remembering his meeting with Elisa the day before.

"I understand you provided Sevarius with laboratory space and equipment for these experiments," Dr. Goldblum continued. "I will assume your reasons were entirely philanthropic and did not involve directly aiding him in procuring human subjects to experiment on."

"I... supported Dr. Sevarius purely in the interest of advancing scientific research," Xanatos began feebly. "The test subjects...."

"Scientific research is not a goal in and of itself, Mr. Xanatos," the doctor reminded him firmly. "It's a tool to be used responsibly and in good faith to aid humanity. What's happened here is a case of a scientist so preoccupied with finding what he could do that he failed to consider whether he should!" His voice sounded stern but his face and eyes clearly registered true concern as he went on. "What about his human guinea pigs? Were they willing volunteers? Were they fully informed of the inherent risks involved? Or did Sevarius trick them into taking his mutagenic serum?"

"Suppose we just say they are victims of circumstances, Doctor," said Xanatos, "...and leave it at that. My question to you is -- do you want the chance to help them or don't you?"

For a brief moment the room fell silent as Dr. Goldblum stared at him with a look of shock at the implied suggestion that he might not be willing to help them.

"Of course I want to help them," he answered finally. With a slight, dry smile he calmed his mood. "I'm angry at you, Mr. Xanatos, and at Sevarius; not at them. I'll do all I can for them. Forgive me; I do run on a bit when I'm upset. This matter touches the core of my life's work, and I tend to take it personally when scientific research is abused this way."

"I understand completely," Xanatos answered, inwardly relieved. "And I'm very glad you are going to take on the project. I'm convinced you're the right man to tackle it." He seemed to consider a moment and then added, "Before we go to their Sanctuary, Doctor, I feel I should tell you that if you are working with the mutates you'll also be meeting the gargoyles."

"Gargoyles?!" The doctor sounded surprised. "I've seen the news reports, Mr. Xanatos, but this information you sent doesn't mention anything about them. Just exactly how are they involved?"

"They're not directly involved, but they are friends of the mutates. I just felt you should be forewarned. But don't worry; they're entirely benevolent. Here, allow me to run this videotape for you."

The tape was a brief one, but Dr. Goldblum was fully captivated.

"This whole matter is becoming far too intriguing to pass up," he commented. "I'm rather glad you did call me in on this, Mr. Xanatos."

"I think you'll find this project to be quite unlike anything else you've ever dealt with," said Xanatos as he clicked on his intercom. "Owen, bring the car around, please. ...If you'd care to join me, Doctor, I'll take you to the mutates and the research clinic I'm placing at your disposal."

The route they took through the city brought them to a block of warehouses, the entire block being one of Xanatos' real estate holdings. One large building at the far end was closed up and looked vacant until Owen pressed a remote control garage door opener on the driver's side visor. A huge door rolled up to let them enter and then rolled back down behind them. Once inside they all got out of the car.

"From here we walk, Doctor," Xanatos told Dr. Goldblum. "Right over here is the freight elevator. Please do not be misled by the surroundings. Although the new research clinic, as well as the mutates' living quarters, is underground, you'll find everything fully equipped and comfortably appointed."

Owen waited above as Xanatos and Dr. Goldblum rode the freight elevator down what seemed to be several levels until it opened onto an abandoned subway platform.

"What sort of crypt do the mutates live in, Mr. Xanatos?" asked Dr. Goldblum with a note of skepticism at the bleak tunnel they stood in.

"Patience, Doctor. We're not there yet."

In the dim light of old tunnel lamps Xanatos showed him the hidden wall panel and access code to open the entry to the Sanctuary.

"This access code is known only to the mutates themselves and a few carefully selected other individuals, Doctor," he explained as he punched in the number sequence to activate the panel. "Hence the reason for the extensive security clearance I had to have on you. I wanted to be sure you could be trusted not to let anyone else know of, or have access to, this complex."

"And you couldn't explain the reason for that until after you had completed your security check on me," added Dr. Goldblum wryly. "Don't worry, Mr. Xanatos. No one will ever learn of this place from me."

There was nothing even remotely resembling a door anywhere to be seen. But once the security code was activated, a tiny green light flickered on the panel and a large section of the tunnel wall separated and slid open. Dr. Goldblum was visibly impressed as he was shown into the Sanctuary's large, comfortable living area. The floor was covered with colorful rugs. A long sofa, chairs, end tables, and a coffee table, all were arranged as tastefully as if an interior decorator had planned the entire setting. One end of the room was lined with bookshelves and had a library table with chairs and lamps also carefully placed. A spacious alcove at the other end housed an impressive entertainment center. The kitchen and dining area filled another large alcove extending off the main area. Of course, underground there were no windows, but that deficiency was made up for with large murals where windows should be, softly lit and framed with drapes, to create the illusion of looking out onto an open countryside with mountains in the distance. The rest of the walls were covered with wood paneling.

As he was shown about, Dr. Goldblum seemed generally pleased, nodding his head from time to time as Xanatos guided him through the complex.

"All of this was formerly the administrative wing of a research facility," the industrialist was saying, much as if he were a tour guide in a restored historic mansion. "...although not a medical one. For some time it was abandoned, but the power generators, plumbing, lighting, and even telephone lines all remain and have been restored to full function. After the mutates were... formed... they obviously needed a safe place to live. The clones also live down here. They have their own area in the outer Labyrinth..."

"Clones?!" Dr. Goldblum cut in sharply. "What clones?! There was no mention of cloning in the material you sent me!"

Again, Xanatos was finding himself off-guard but did not try to evade the question. "Sevarius created clones of the gargoyles after I dismissed him and cut off all support for his... experiments," he hastened to explain. "The mutates took them in and are teaching them to be responsible protectors. But they are not victims of the mutagen and are not involved in this project."

Dr. Goldblum eyed him critically a moment before asking, "Is there anything else going on here that you're not telling me, Mr. Xanatos?"

"Nothing more, Doctor; I assure you. I'm not aware of anything else Sevarius may be up to, but neither he nor any of his experiments are under my sponsorship - or my control."

"With Sevarius one never knows," said the doctor simply, but decided not to pursue the issue. "Very well, Mr. Xanatos, let's continue the 'tour.'"

"Along the main hallway there are several private sleeping rooms." Xanatos picked up right where he had left off. "Each of the mutates has one to him or herself, and I understand there's a young woman staying with them now as a houseguest. The other end of that hallway connects into the outer Labyrinth proper. Formerly that was the main area of the old research facility, but now it houses the community of homeless people they shelter here. Only the mutates themselves have access to this area, and they alone choose any others they may wish to bring here. The leader, Talon, has his sister and parents living in the city above who come down regularly, as do the gargoyles. And occasionally the clones are brought in here as well. The furnishings and accoutrements are simply to make it home-like for them."

"Very impressive, Mr. Xanatos," remarked Dr. Goldblum as he looked around, taking in everything. "But you spoke of a research clinic and laboratory. I can hardly do the required work at the kitchen sink."

"Of course not, Dr. Goldblum," Xanatos told him. "Right through here is another complete section of the complex, newly renovated solely to accommodate your work."

He opened another control panel and activated another wall section to admit them to the fully furnished clinic, laboratory, office and consultation room, even a small private sleeping room -- all of which would make up the doctor's work center. If Dr. Goldblum was impressed with the mutates' living quarters, this facility far exceeded any expectations he might have had. The clinic included a full treatment room with examination / operating table and overhead adjustable lighting that would even allow for surgery, with an adjoining prep room and infirmary and a portable x-ray unit. The laboratory had a complete complement of equipment including autoclave, centrifuge, two microscopes, oscilloscope, spectrograph, titration beakers, heating and refrigeration units; racks of test tubes, culture plates, and chemical reagents, well-stocked supply cabinets, two sinks, ample counter space; a computer, telephone, and reference library; an x-ray developing darkroom, and excellent lighting. The office / consultation room had a rug and comfortable seating as well as desk, file cabinet, more reference materials, and another computer and telephone.

But the doctor's immediate attention was not drawn to the extensive facility at all. Seated on stools in the laboratory were Maggie and Claw, nervously waiting to meet him. They stood up as he and Xanatos entered, and for an awkward moment stared at him just as intently as he stared at them. It took Xanatos to break the brief tension.

"Maggie, Claw, may I present Dr. Daniel Goldblum," he said formally. "Doctor, these are two of your... clients."

"Maggie and Claw?" repeated Dr. Goldblum as he turned to each of them. "Are those the only names you use?"

Claw nodded as Maggie answered, "They're all the names we need now... 'til we're human again."

"Talon should be here as well," said Xanatos. "Where is he?"

"He's... out in the main Labyrinth... with the homeless community," Maggie answered. "I'll go and get him."

She left then, and Dr. Goldblum directed his attention to his new research environment. Xanatos stayed to one side and watched as Claw showed the doctor around, using gestures to point out various pieces of equipment.

"Claw doesn't speak," Xanatos explained. "But he hears and understands all you say to him. He was very helpful in setting up all of this."

"All of this equipment is new... state of the art, in fact," the doctor observed. "Looks like it's never been used."

"It never has," Xanatos told him. "Most of this equipment was just installed over night and very early this morning -- after the mutates agreed to have you come in on their case. If there are any other items you need..."

"Yes, there are a few things I can bring down from my office and laboratory at the university." Dr. Goldblum's growing enthusiasm was clearly evident. "You certainly don't compromise on quality equipment, Mr. Xanatos," he turned with a slight twinkle in his eyes, "but I don't suppose you thought to hire any support staff."

"Staff, Doctor?" Xanatos seemed slightly taken aback.

"Support staff," Dr. Goldblum repeated, as he walked over and turned on the computer. "A research assistant and a technician to be exact." Very characteristically, he was thinking in several directions at once and went right on with barely a pause. "I'll have to turn over completion of my current research to my senior associates, although there are some cases in the clinic I'll still want to follow. One thing I will need, Mr. Xanatos, is Sevarius' original mutagenic formula. In fact, all his research records and documentation will be essential." Looking up he added pointedly, "To overcome something, you must first know exactly what it is."

"Everything is already in the files for you, Doctor. And here are the keys to the file cabinets and drug box."

"Very good. ...Ah! This must be Talon."

Maggie and Talon came in then, followed quietly by Sharon.

"We've heard very little about you, Dr. Goldblum," said Talon very matter-of-factly. "But the consensus is that you can undo what Sevarius has done... at least for those who want things undone."

The doctor was equally as matter-of-fact. "I won't go so far as to make you any blind promises," he told them. "But I will make every attempt to counteract what's been done to you -- if you're all willing."

"I'm willing to try," declared Maggie, hopefully, but afraid of being too hopeful. Claw nodded vigorously in agreement.

"And what about you, Young Lady?" Dr. Goldblum turned to the slender Japanese girl standing with them. "You don't look in need of this particular type of assistance." It was hard to be sure whether he was teasing or not, but his eyes were kind so Sharon returned her slight, shy smile.

"This is Sharon Nomura," Talon introduced her. "A friend of ours."

"She's staying with us for awhile," added Maggie.

"So I understand. Well, as long as you're here, Miss Nomura, I'll be needing an assistant. Have you any kind of biology or genetic experience?"

"Actually, I was studying biochemistry in college," Sharon answered quietly. "I'm taking a year off now I before I to go back and finish. But I'll be glad to help my friends any way I can."

"Excellent!" The doctor was delighted. Turning to Claw he continued. "And you, my silent friend? You seem familiar with the equipment and instruments here, and I've had techs before with little to say. How do you feel about joining my staff?"

Claw nodded eagerly.

"Very good. You amaze me, Mr. Xanatos. You've supplied my support staff without even knowing you were doing so."

"Funny how things work out sometimes," replied Xanatos, trying not to show his own surprise that things had.

Dr. Goldblum was already off on another track. "And you three are the only ones here? I believe the files you sent me, Mr. Xanatos, referred to there being four mutates."

It was Talon who answered. "There is a fourth, Doctor. He's decided not to be part of our clan any longer. But he is still in the Labyrinth -- in a holding cell."

"In a holding cell?" Dr. Goldblum looked up sharply from perusing the books on the reference shelf. "As in -- a prison cell?"

"Fang is another case of misuse of ability," Xanatos explained. "He resorted to criminal activities using his mutate abilities to extort the same people that Talon, Maggie, and Claw have vowed to protect."

"He preys on those people who are least able to protect themselves," said Talon. "Unless we keep him confined, he'll try to undo all the good we've been able to do down here. And he's already said he doesn't want to change back to human."

"But there was no real hope of a cure then," Maggie ventured quietly. "Now that you're here, Doctor, maybe we should at least offer him the chance to think about it again."

"That's a very generous gesture, Maggie," said Dr. Goldblum, his eyes twinkling kindly. He paused and seemed to consider a moment and then said, "Yes, we should at least offer him the chance. People can change... sometimes. I'd like to go and meet him."

Sharon went to the kitchen to make tea while Xanatos, Dr. Goldblum, and the mutates all went down the connecting corridor to the outer Labyrinth. Across the cavernous area several clusters of homeless people looked up and a few waved, but most went on with whatever they were doing. The only exceptions were the children. Three outgoing youngsters came up to the visitors with no fear at all.

"Down here, most of these people accept us pretty well," Talon was saying. "But the children accept us unconditionally."

Dr. Goldblum smiled. "Kids can accept differences without being afraid of them. Like the song says, 'they've got to be carefully taught.' It's unfortunate they have to grow up."

He reached into his coat pocket, took out an odd little toy about the size of a large marble, and held it up to the children.

"Have you ever seen one of these?" he asked them.

"What is it?" one small boy asked.

"Can we see?" a little girl followed.

"This is a dreidel," he answered.

The third youngster knew. "Oh, yeah!" he exclaimed. "Like in the store windows! But I never saw one up close before!"

Dr. Goldblum drew two more of the little square tops out of the same pocket and handed one to each child. Then he left Xanatos and the mutates waiting while he stooped down with the trio and showed them how to spin them.

"This little game was invented in Israel a very long time ago," he was telling them as he coached each one in spinning the little tops. "When the Syrian-Greeks conquered Israel, the Jews were not allowed to study the holy books. But their study was very important to them, so while they studied in secret they kept their dreidels with them. Then whenever any soldiers came around to check what they were doing, they hid their books and scrolls and got out their dreidels instead. The soldiers thought they were playing a type of gambling game and left them alone."

"So when the soldiers went away they could study their books some more?" asked one boy.

"That's right," the doctor grinned at him. "Tell me, do you go to school here?"

"Sort of," said the other boy. "We get books an' papers an' stuff from the foundation and our moms help us do lessons."

"My dad helps me," the first boy clarified. "But it's not like goin' to a real school."

"Can we keep these?" the little girl asked. "My mom says learning's s'posed to be fun. But we don't have any toys for in between lessons."

"What?! No toys here?!" Dr. Goldblum turned on Xanatos in mock consternation. "Mr. Xanatos, I'm shocked! This is a serious oversight! Might some sleigh-and-reindeer work be in order here?"

The twinkle in his eyes was unmistakable. A need for toys in the Labyrinth was something Xanatos had simply never thought of.

"I'll see that something is done about it, Doctor," he answered awkwardly.

Talon leaned toward Maggie and Claw and whispered, "I think I like this guy."

"Of course you can keep them," the doctor assured them as he dug into his other pocket and took out a whole handful of chocolate coins, brightly wrapped in gold and silver foil. These he also handed out to the children. "Here, have some Chanukah gelt," he told them. "But be sure to share them with your other friends. Get along back to your families now."

"Thank you, Mister!" the children chorused and hurried off excitedly.

"How did you happen to have those treats with you, Doctor?" asked Maggie as they watched the children run back toward their community.

"They were intended for my own children, but it seemed these children need them more. I can get some others to take home later." He looked back toward the clusters of people of all ages and added, "While I think of it, maybe I should hold an open clinic out here once a week to see that these people have some basic medical care. Would that be agreeable with all of you?"

"Very agreeable, Doctor," said Talon, obviously impressed. "You offer more than we'd even think to ask for. Fang's cell is over this way."

Talon led the way into a small side tunnel where Hollywood stood in the pose of a sentry. The big clone was still in his stone sleep, but Dr. Goldblum stopped a moment and gave him a long appraising look.

"We'll introduce you later and let them all know you're a friend, Doctor," said Talon. "If they don't know you, they'll block you from coming into the Labyrinth proper."

The tunnel was not long and did not go anywhere but into a small cul-de-sac. That end was completely closed off by the iron bars making up the cell where Fang lived. The enclosure was larger and more comfortable than most conventional prison cells, but just as confining -- and far more secure. Fang was sitting on his cot playing solitaire when his visitors approached. He did not bother getting up.

"So the Clan has come to pay ole Fang a visit," he jeered. "And the great Mr. Xanatos too! Don't that jes' make the day special! Who's the geek in the beanie?"

"Friendly sort, isn't he?" remarked Dr. Goldblum with a mild shrug.

"Knock it off, Fang!" ordered Talon. "We've got a proposition for you."

"Not inter'sted." Fang's tone was flat and final.

"You might be when you hear what we have to say," said Xanatos. "This is Dr. Daniel Goldblum."

"Am I supposed to be impressed or somethin'?" Fang responded. "What'd ya bring 'im down here for; to gawk at the beast in the cage?"

"Fang, please," Maggie pleaded. "You won't know if you don't at least listen."

"I'm here,... Fang,... to try to find a way to reverse the effect of the mutagen you were given and return you to normal." Dr. Goldblum preferred being direct but could not resist adding a brief aside. "...if that would make any improvement."

Claw grinned slyly at that as Talon stepped up nearer the cell.

"You've broken from the Clan on your own, Fang," said Talon. "But we're still willing to let you be part of the project."

"You gotta be kidding!" Fang was up at the bars now. "Sooner or later I'll be outa this cage, an' you want me to go back to bein' a puny human? Not this boy! I like havin' wings an' claws an' fangs! I ain't givin' that up for nobody!" "OWWW!! Dratted force field!"

Fang had tried aiming an electric bolt at Talon, but had forgotten the bars of his cell were further reinforced by a force field that deflected his bolt and shot it back at him. The rest of the group stepped back and exchanged looks as he raged and fumed.

"I believe you have his answer, Doctor," said Xanatos dryly.

"So it seems," Dr. Goldblum agreed, just as dryly. "Well, we had to offer. But the choice is entirely his and he has made it." As they retraced their way back to the Sanctuary he commented, "You certainly do have an interesting cross-section of clientele here, Mr. Xanatos. Are there any others like Fang?"

"Fortunately, no, Doctor. You'll find most of those down here both cooperative and grateful for any help you can give them."

Back in the Sanctuary kitchen, Sharon had set out a tray of cups and a pot of perfect tea. Dr. Goldblum was delighted.

"That's the most excellent tea I've ever tasted, Miss Nomura," he praised.

"It's Japanese green tea," she told him shyly. "I'm glad you like it."

"I must bring in some of my wife's rugelach to go with it. You create a very pleasant work environment."

"Thank you, Doctor," Sharon answered in her quiet way. "Did Fang...?"

"He doesn't want any part of it," Maggie told her, a little sadly. Then she added hopefully, "But we should go ahead anyway. He could still change his mind."

"Knowing Fang, it's not likely he'll do that," said Talon as they walked back to the lab.

On the back of the door, Dr. Goldblum was not surprised to find a lab coat but was quite surprised to see his own name embroidered on the breast pocket. "You really were convinced I'm the man you want for this project, Mr. Xanatos," he observed as he took off his suit coat and hung it up in place of the lab coat.

"I pride myself on being certain, Doctor," Xanatos told him.

"You do seem to plan for everything."

The lab coat fit for the most part but the sleeves extended at least three inches beyond the ends of Dr. Goldblum's fingers. As he rolled them to a more managable length he added with a chuckle, "Nearly everything." There was that twinkle in his eyes again. But there was no doubt the project was fully his now, and his manner promptly became official.

"So what comes next, Doctor?" asked Talon.

"We start with the basics of gathering information," the doctor answered, again thinking in several directions at once. "I'll begin some preliminary screenings and lay some ground work. Tonight is the fifth night of Chanukah, so I'll have to leave in time to be home for candle lighting with my family. Thank you for all your time, Mr. Xanatos, but you need not remain any longer. I'm sure you have matters of your own to attend to, and the mutates can show me the way back to the surface later. You are excused."

Talon was secretly delighted at seeing Xanatos so easily dismissed, and decided all the more that he liked Dr. Goldblum. The man looked totally unimposing and yet had a definite "take charge" way about him. But he had also shown a considerable measure of warmth and wit that they had not expected. Once he dismissed Xanatos, he went right to work. Already, he was questioning Maggie and had Sharon taking notes. Xanatos seemed to feel like an outsider then and turned to leave. But he tapped Talon's shoulder and indicated the big, winged, panther-man follow him. Outside in the hall, they faced each other.

"I should have let all of you know more about Dr. Goldblum," Xanatos began. "He's the most highly qualified scientist for this project, but he can get so wrapped up both in his research work and his humanitarianism as to be a little... excitable."

"Get to the point, Xanatos," snapped Talon.

"The point is that what's past is past," Xanatos answered. "Like I told your sister, I know how difficult it will be to win your trust. But I'm taking full responsibility for my part in what happened to all of you in the first place, and I'm trying to make restitution. There's no need for Dr. Goldblum to be disturbed with extraneous material when he has all the information he needs on Sevarius' original formula and all the supplies and equipment he needs for his own project of reversing it."

"So you don't want us telling him the truth of how this happened to all of us. Is that it?" Talon was very blunt.

"I'm just saying it isn't necessary to the project and may only serve to over-excite and distract him," Xanatos defended. "Better to let him give his full concentration to finding a counteragent."

Talon was not impressed.

"You're right about one thing, Xanatos," he said coldly. "It's going to take a lot more than you can provide to ever win my trust again. But I am willing to trust Dr. Goldblum. For Maggie's and Claw's sakes I'll let the rest ride -- for now."

"Fair enough."


Same day -- December 10, 1996 -- late afternoon

As Dr. Goldblum and Sharon continued working through the afternoon, Elisa was back at her desk in the 23rd Precinct. She had carefully rehearsed in her mind exactly what she would say to Mrs. Reed, and now felt ready to call her. Still, it was not without some apprehension that she reached for the phone and dialed the main desk at the YWCA.

"Can you connect me with Mrs. Eleanor Reed, please?" she asked when the receptionist answered.

It took a few minutes waiting on the line before she finally heard the nervous, uncertain voice of the woman she had met the day before.


"Mrs. Reed?" Elisa began. "This is Detective Elisa Maza at the 23rd Police Precinct. Remember I spoke to you when you came in to file the report on your daughter Maggie?"

"Yes. ...Yes, I remember you," Mrs. Reed answered. "Have you found out anything?"

Elisa drew a quiet deep breath and told her. "Mrs. Reed, your daughter is here in New York. I know where to find her."

"You... you found her?!" Mrs. Reed gasped. "Is she all right? Have you talked to her? Did you tell her I'm here?"

"Yes. She was very glad to know you wanted to find her. But she's also very worried that... you may not accept her the way she is now."

"The way she is now?" Mrs. Reed sounded frightened. "What do you mean? What's happened to her?"

"She's... changed from when you last saw her." Elisa chose her words carefully. "She was... involved in some chemical research that affected her. Actually it affected my own brother and a couple of others the same way. They're staying together now, but all of their lives are... different."

"Different how? What kind of chemical research?! Is that why she never called to tell me where she was?"

The worried woman did not seem able to focus, and Elisa felt a twinge of uncertainty about whether she could handle Maggie's altered state.

"I would say so, yes," she admitted. "But she'd like to meet with you. I can arrange to take you to her myself."

"Yes, of course! Please take me to her!"

"I'll need to confirm it with her, but why don't we make it for Thursday afternoon? How will four o'clock be?"

"...All right." Mrs. Reed sounded both anxious and hesitant. "You'll pick me up here?"

"Yes, say at three thirty. Look for a red Fairlane in front."

As Elisa hung up the phone she dropped back in her chair and exhaled explosively.

"This has to work out okay!" she said aloud to no one in particular.

"What has to work out, Detective?"

Elisa jumped and then relaxed as her friend and fellow officer, Morgan stopped by her desk.

"Oh, hi, Morgan," she said. "I just set up a meeting for a mother and daughter who haven't seen each other in months. It's... sort of complicated, and I think there's more to it than either of them is saying, but they've both agreed to meet. So, I'm just hoping it works out okay between them."

"Well, if they're willing to meet, sounds like it's at least a start," Morgan encouraged. "So when did you get into doing social work?"

"Police work is social work, don't you think?"

"Can't argue with that." Morgan looked out the window at the fading light. "Sure does get dark early in December," he remarked.

"You're right!" Elisa bolted up with sudden realization of the time and quickly put on her coat. "And I'm late again! Gotta go!"

"Catch you later," Morgan called after her.

As Elisa hurried to the Eyrie Building and castle to be there at sundown, Tommy Kimura made his way to the hidden and well-guarded Yakuza stronghold. He was not swaggering now, though, and struggled not to show the rising inner fear that he usually could keep well hidden behind his armor of arrogance. Now that he was facing court proceedings, his position in the Yakuza was somewhat uneasy. Naturally, his ikka had paid his bail and gotten him released from jail. But his recent arrest now meant they were not quite so pleased with him, and his immediate superior had summoned him to a meeting. Facing his kashimoto-oyabun was enough to undermine his accustomed cockiness and make him more than a little edgy. The oyabun would expect some answers -- and he had better have some satisfactory ones. Shinji Kimura was not willing to tolerate any weaknesses or failures within his ikka. His relationship with Tommy was oyabun-kobun or "father-role, child-role." That meant, of course, that the father must sometimes discipline the child. He now sat flanked by two of his particularly sour-faced lieutenants as Tommy was admitted to his inner office. There was no warmth in their greeting.

"Oyabun-sama," was all Tommy said in formal acknowledgment of his superior as he bowed stiffly.

"You have been careless, Kimura-kobun." Shinji came right to the point. "Until your arrest you have done well, but you allowed a personal matter to interfere with your function in the bakuto. When you were entrusted with your own operation, you were expected to remain diligent at all times. Yet, you were raided because your carelessness allowed an undercover cop to get through your security." His expression and tone turned even more grim. "But worse, because of your negligence there is now a witness who will testify, not only against you, but against the entire Yakuza network in this city."

"I assure you, Oyabun-sama...," Tommy ventured.

"SILENCE!!" Shinji was in no mood to listen to excuses. "You will consider this meeting a warning. You are to be in court the day after tomorrow. Is that correct?"

"Yes, Oyabun-sama."

"And you will be cleared without any question or doubt." It was not a question. It was a direct order.

"I will see to it, Oyabun-sama."

"The tailor, Hiroshi Nomura's testimony will not be valid -- IF he testifies at all. You will make certain of that. Your personal interest in his daughter is of no concern to us as long as it does not interfere with business. However, your own sources have reported that she has become connected with these freaks of nature called 'gargoyles' that have been sighted in the city. It is said they are on the side of the civil authorities even though many fear them. Our honorable socho wishes a full report and the assurance that our operations will continue unhindered." He leaned forward with cruel emphasis and added, "If this matter you have caused is not resolved satisfactorily, you are aware of the required disciplinary action."

"Yes, Oyabun-sama. I understand." Tommy stood rigidly and tried not to show that his palms were sweating.

"Then you are dismissed."

Shinji waved him away as if he were only a bothersome nuisance. One of the sour-faced lieutenants opened the door, clearly indicating that he had better get going. Tommy gave his mentor another stiff bow and retreated. Once outside, he looked uneasily at his fingers. He was well aware of the "required disciplinary action" Shinji had referred to. Now his mind filled with images of the ceremony of yubitsume in which he would have to ritually cut off one of his own fingers at the joint in front of the assembly of Yakuza. It would be his formal apology for causing trouble in the organization and the only acceptable way to maintain his position.

"Well, that stubborn tailor and his reluctant daughter are not going to make me face that," he muttered to himself as his anger mounted. He stared a moment longer at his fingers and then closed both hands into tight fists. Setting his jaw in rigid determination, he added, "I'll make them understand."


Same day -- December 10, 1996 -- night

In an alley across from Hiroshi Nomura's tailor shop a sinister figure waited in the dark, watching the shop and the unmarked police car parked in front of it.

"Man, it's about time you got back," remarked one of the plainclothes policeman as his partner returned with a deli bag containing thick sandwiches and two large cups of coffee.

"Anything happen while I was gone?" the other asked handing him a sandwich.

"Nah. Nothin' outa the ordinary. Nomura closed the shop and turned out all the lights a few minutes ago. The guy most likely to show up is young, arrogant, swaggers a lot. He'd be hard to miss." He took a bite of his sandwich and added with his mouth stuffed, "Got another mustard in there?"

As they made short work of their meal one chanced to notice the stooped old man with the unsteady gait and leaning on a cane who crossed in front of them and approached the main door to the building.

"Who'd be coming in now when both shops are closed?" he wondered.

"Looks like he has a key," said his partner watching the old man work at the front door lock. "Must be the old papa-san who lives upstairs. There's four apartments aren't there?"

They turned back to their sandwiches unaware that this particular "old man's" key was a lock-pick. At the same moment, up on the roof, three gargoyles recently awakened from stone sleep had just arrived to relieve Talon, Maggie, and Claw for the night. As they exchanged watch duty they too, did not notice the entry.

Once inside the entry hall, the stooped old man suddenly stood straighter and climbed the stairs with no discernible unsteadiness. The Nomuras were startled by the knock at their apartment door, but thinking it might be Sharon, Hiroshi cautiously opened it with the guard chain secured. The chain did not hold when Tommy kicked the door wide open and burst in, seizing Hiroshi viciously by his shirt front.

"Don't even think of reaching for that phone, 'Ba-baa!'" he warned the terrified Mariko. He had Hiroshi in a stranglehold, and Mariko backed away from the phone.

"What do you want, Kimura?" Hiroshi choked out.

"I want you to understand, 'Ji-jii'!" Tommy's tone was ugly and menacing. "You will not give any testimony in court that will in any way jeopardize Yakuza operations. And you will give me the hand of your lovely daughter in marriage. In return you will live. If you do not agree to these terms you will both die very unpleasantly, and Saeko will still belong to me!"

"You have no honor, Kimura!" Hiroshi gasped. "And you have no love for our Saeko! She is not yours to take! She deserves a better man than you!"

Enraged by his resistance, Tommy tightened his grip and yanked Hiroshi's face up close to his own.

"I live by the honor of the Yakuza and I intend to uphold it!" he sneered. "As for your precious Saeko, I never said I loved her! But love doesn't matter, does it? I mean to possess her because she is beautiful and intelligent and will give me the handsome, intelligent sons I require to build my Yakuza family!"

"No, Kimura-san!!" cried Mariko. "You are mad to think this way!"

"No, 'Ba-baa'!" Tommy spat back. "I am DETERMINED! It's both of you who are mad if you think you can stand against the Yakuza! It's time you understand just exactly who and what you are dealing with!"

"We have friends who..!" Hiroshi gasped again as Tommy gave him another choking yank.

"I know all about your freak gargoyle friends! They can't help you now!"