Things Fall Apart, Part One
Idea by Kathy Pogge;
Written by Rahsaan Footman and Todd Jensen
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
- "The Second Coming" by William Butler Yeats
The quiet-looking man sat behind his desk, listening on the telephone. At last, he hung up the receiver, and motioned to the three people standing in front of him.
"We have the go-ahead," he said to them. "You know what to do."
They nodded silently and left the room.
Xanatos quit the computer program that he had been wrestling with and stretched as Owen entered his office. The bespectacled aide-de-camp held a cellular phone in his good hand and grasped a folder full of papers between his other arm and his side.
"Mr. Duval is on the phone, sir."
"Again?" said Xanatos. "That's the third time this month. I wonder what's making him so chatty all of a sudden."
"He says that the matter that he wishes to speak to you about is of extreme importance," Owen continued.
"Well, tell him that I'm out," replied Xanatos.
"Are you certain that this is what you want to do, sir?" asked Owen. His normally stoical demeanor seemed slightly troubled as he spoke.
"Quite certain," said Xanatos, sitting back in his chair with his hands crossed behind his head.
Owen nodded, with a hint of reluctance, and spoke on the phone. "I'm sorry, Mr. Duval, but Mr. Xanatos cannot be reached at this present hour. My apologies." He switched the phone off, laid it on the desk, and handed the folder to his employer. "The P and L statements that you required, sir," he said.
"Very good, Owen," said Xanatos, opening the folder and extracting the papers from it. "Now, let's get to work on the budget allocations, shall we?"
There was a rumbling sound in the distance, and then a tremor shook the building. The large pictures windows rattled, and even the desk half-jumped.
"What on earth was that?" asked Xanatos in astonishment, jumping to his feet.
"Whatever it was, sir," said Owen, "it would have to have been a very powerful disturbance for us to have felt it here."
The two men went to the window and looked out. "That may be the cause, sir," said Owen, pointing to a reddish glow to the northwest of the building, clearly visible in the darkness outside.
"This is Nicole St. John, reporting from the New York State Courthouse. Only a few minutes ago, an explosive device went off in the staffing annex of the building. No casualties have been reported as of yet. Because of the lateness of the hour, only a few security guards were in the building. However, had this taken place eight hours earlier, hundreds of people might have been killed or injured. Right now, we're waiting for more details from the Police and Fire Departments. Once again, an explosion has rocked the state courthouse, but no casualties have been reported."
The scene was chaos as Elisa parked her Ford Fairlane in the place vacated moments before by a departing ambulance. More ambulances and fire trucks were swarming in, while beat officers had their hands full keeping back the growing number of curious onlookers. The media was already there, with Nicole St. John delivering her report on the steps of the courthouse as WVRN crew members were catching her on camera.
"Detectives!" A voice cried out of the crowd.
They turned as one as Jerry Pearson broke away from the gaggle of reporters and headed toward them.
"What can you tell me about the explosion," he said, pencil poised above his note pad.
"Not a thing, Jerry." Elisa said grimly.
"Give us a break, guy," Matt added. "We just got here ourselves."
"Sorry, but this whole thing seems weird," the reported mused aloud. "I could use some fresh insight beyond the standard line."
"Let us get to work, Jerry," Elisa said as she put her hand on the reporter's arm. "If something turns up that we think you should know, we'll pass it along."
The two detectives broke away from the Sentinel reporter and approached the fire chief on duty. "Detectives Maza and Bluestone, 23rd precinct," Elisa said to him, showing her badge. "Do you know what happened here?"
"Not too much as yet," replied the man. "Just that the device went off at midnight. We'll probably learn more once we put out the fire and the folks from Arson move in."
"They say that there were no casualties," Bluestone commented.
"True enough," said the chief. "The security guards were called down to the bomb shelters just a few minutes before the thing went off. Luck of the angels, if you ask me."
"I don't believe in luck," said Matt.
"Well, you can call it what you will," said the fire chief, with a shrug. "Nobody's been hurt, aside from a little smoke inhalation. In my book, that's a small miracle."
"We'll have the fire contained in five minutes, chief," said a firefighter, as he approached. "Oh, and we also found something." He held up a small plastic bag with the remains of something contained in it. "We found it at the flash point of the explosion. It's probably the device."
"Next time, wait to do proper procedures," said the chief, in an admonishing tone of voice. "Give it to Arson, and then get back to work."
The man nodded, and went back to work. The fire chief turned back to the two detectives. "You're still here?" he asked them.
"We just need to know where the guards were taken," said Elisa.
"Manhattan General," the chief replied.
"Come on, Matt," said Elisa. "We can question them about the explosion."
The two of them headed back for Elisa's car, while the crowd continued to gather and stare at the destruction.
"Okay, partner, let's review the facts," said Elisa, back at the station house some time later. She looked at her notes from the security guard interviews, then back at Matt who slouched across from her at his own desk. "General court ended at four, and the staffing annex was empty by nine. The janitors came at six and were gone by ten. So by 10:30, the only people left in the building were the guards. At 11:30, an alarm code sent them down to the bomb shelters in the basement. Thinking it to be a drill, they all made it down there by 11:45. And at midnight, boom. So what do we know?"
"That it was a good thing for those guards that that alarm code went off," said Matt.
"Exactly. It sounds to me as if somebody was going to a lot of trouble to make sure that nobody got hurt."
"Hey, are you guys in there?" Officer Morgan called from the doorway of the almost-empty squad room.
"Over here," said Matt, standing up.
"Somebody's taking credit for the bombing," said Morgan. "It's on the television right now."
Both detectives sprang from their seats and ran to the break room. A small cluster of officers was already gathered around the television set, listening to a voice being played from a tape recorder on the screen.
"This is the voice of 'Phoenix Rising'. We have sprung from the ashes of the Quarrymen, to achieve the mission that they had failed to fulfill: the salvation of humanity from the creatures known as gargoyles.
"We regret the destruction carried out at the state courthouse, but it was a necessary act, to awaken this city from its neglect of the threat posed by these monsters. Our only demand is this: the gargoyles are to be expelled from the city. Expelled or destroyed, by whatever means necessary."
The tape ended, and the screen switched back to Travis Marshall at his desk. "To recap, this tape was delivered to the WVRN building half an hour ago. The group that calls itself 'Phoenix Rising' has taken credit for the bombing of the state courthouse earlier this night, and demands the expulsion of the gargoyles from New York."
Goliath switched off the set with a sigh.
"Here we go again," said Brooklyn, shaking his head.
"I can't believe those guys," said Broadway. "I'd thought that once the Quarrymen broke up, there wouldn't be any more of this."
"Apparently not," said Goliath. "It seems that Castaway's followers were only the beginning."
"But didn't they learn anything?" asked Angela. "The Quarrymen almost destroyed the city, trying to get us. Wouldn't that tell the humans something?"
"I am afraid not, Angela," said Goliath. "Hatred and fear always find new excuses. And those who live by them forget the consequences of their predecessors' actions soon enough."
"Just what we need," muttered Lexington. "And this time, they've got bombs, instead of hammers."
"They are cowards," put in Sata, sounding disgusted. "If they had any sense of honor, they would meet us in open battle like true warriors, rather than skulking in the shadows, letting their devices fight for them."
"So what do we do now?" asked Brooklyn, looking to Goliath.
"Nothing, said Goliath flatly. "We cannot act in the absence of information."
With that, he turned and left the room, while the others looked at each other. At last, they left as well, leaving Hudson and Bronx alone with the television.
"So the bombing succeeded," said the quiet-looking man, sitting back in his chair, watching the news. "People are starting to talk."
"But are you sure that this will succeed, Mr. Clifford?" asked one of the people standing in the office door, looking at the television screen over his shoulder. "What if the city gets stubborn?"
"Don't worry about it," said Clifford, with a gentle nod. "Even if the people blind themselves to the truth, there are other ways. Let's not forget that our backer knows exactly where the monsters roost. And that access can be arranged to come upon them there, during the daytime."
"So what do we do now, sir?"
"We wait," said Clifford. "Wait to see if the light of reason will prevail."
"I thought that I'd find you here, Goliath."
Goliath looked up from the book that he was reading, to see Xanatos standing in the doorway of the library. "What do you want, Xanatos?" he asked, with a slight growl at the back of his throat.
"I just heard the news," the billionaire industrialist replied. He glanced at the book Goliath was reading. "The Salem Witch Hunts, rather an apropos choice in reading material," Xanatos continued, in an effort at making light conversation. "Your problems don't seem to want to abate. 'Phoenix Rising' seems like a very determined bunch.
"We will do our best to weather them," said Goliath. "Just as we did with the Quarrymen before them. And with … other problems." He looked at Xanatos intently as he spoke the last two words.
"Well, I'll wish you the best of luck, then," said Xanatos, ignoring the oblique reference to him. "I can assure you, Goliath, that you and your clan will be quite safe here. The Eyrie Building's security system is too efficient to allow anybody to sneak in here and plant a bomb." He smiled. "Remember, even Oberon had a tough time getting past our defenses, and I think that we can both safely assume that 'Phoenix Rising' has nowhere near the level of his resources."
"Our safety is not what most troubles me," said Goliath.
"Ah, yes," said Xanatos, nodding. "Well, Goliath, I'm obviously not Elisa, but if you ever feel like talking, I can always listen."
"I thank you," said Goliath, going back to his reading. "But I doubt that will be necessary."
"Whatever you wish, " said Xanatos, with a shrug. He turned and left the library, leaving its sole occupant to continue with his book in silence.
"Good afternoon, New York," said the voice on the radio in Assistant District Attorney Margot Yale's office. "This is Theo Knight. Our big question for today: Gargoyles in the City. Last night's explosion at the state courthouse has re-awakened that old controversy. We'd like your opinions, please."
Margot looked up from the documents that she was reading over. A look of displeasure formed on her face as she listened to the announcer. "Not those flying creeps again," she muttered in disgust.
"Whoa," said Mr. Knight's voice. "The board's really jammed on this one. Hello, you're on the air."
"Thanks, Mr. Knight," said the voice at the other end. "Love your show! Anyway, I say that it's time the city gave these things the boot. They're nothing but trouble."
"I know what you mean," said Margot to herself, nodding approvingly and sipping her coffee. "Do I ever know."
"How can you say things like that about them?" a woman's voice with a noticeable British accent said. "If it wasn't for the gargoyles, a lot of people would have died in that hotel fire last December! Besides, they weren't the ones who blew up the courthouse! It was those terrorists! You should be going after them!"
Nicholas Maddox turned up the volume slightly on the radio that sat on his office desk, nodding thoughtfully as he looked over the report he had just received from his company's London branch.
"So what?" a man's voice, gruff with a Brooklyn accent, retorted. "If those flying weirdoes weren't here, 'Phoenix Rising' wouldn't exist! Or the Quarrymen! We can't keep having terrorists threaten our city, and there's gonna be plenty of them while we have these gargoyles around!"
"Very interesting," said Maddox, an enigmatic smile on his face.
"It's easy to solve the 'Phoenix Rising' problem," said another voice. Central Park daytimers were gathered around a picnic table listening to the debate. A man wearing a jogging outfit and a baseball cap paused in his run momentarily to listen. "Just deport those gargoyles, and that group will disband! I don't see why you're resisting such a simple solution."
"And where do you want to deport them to?" retorted another voice. "Disney World? We don't even know where they came from. Besides, wouldn't sending them away simply be shoving the 'Phoenix Rising' problem off somebody else?"
"There's another solution, you know," said a third caller. "We can just get rid of them. Smash the lot of them. End of gargoyles, end of problem."
"That's genocide!" cried a fourth caller. "How can you even consider such a thing? We'd be no different from the Nazis if we carried it out!"
"Genocide? Ha! We're not talking about people here! We're talking about monsters! Things like giant bats. I never did like bats. We should destroy the lot of them, and good riddance to them, too. That Castaway guy had the right idea all along!"
The people listening began to talk it over among themselves, arguing about it, as the jogger continued on his way.
"I never had to worry about my children before those horrible things showed up," a woman's voice was saying as Art and Lois listened to the radio in their restaurant. "And now, every evening, I have to hurry Billy and Susan inside before sunset. We don't dare go out after dark any more. They're turning this city into a place of fear, I tell you! Oh, yes, the news reports say that they're protecting people, but I don't believe a word of it. I'll sleep a lot easier once they're gone."
"Oh?" said a second voice. "And how many times have the gargoyles actually attacked anybody other than criminals? If they really wanted to destroy Manhattan, they'd have done so long ago."
"It's all just a trick," said a third voice. "They're pretending that they're the good guys, then, the moment that we're off guard, they'll turn on us. They're trying to lull us into lowering our guard. Well, I'm not fooled for one minute!"
"Now there's a person with some sense," said Art, nodding in approval.
"Well, this has certainly been an interesting show," said Theo Knight's. "The Mayor will be delivering a public response to the 'Phoenix Rising' situation in just a few minutes, and we'll be bringing it to you live. One final thought before I sign off today. 'A life in fear is not a life at all.' A pearl of wisdom from a ten-year-old caller. We would all do well to listen. This is Theo Knight, from the core of the Big Apple."
Goliath turned off the library radio, and looked up at Elisa. She laid a reassuring hand on his shoulder.
"The rest of the clan is in the entertainment room," she said to him. "They're waiting for the Mayor to make his announcement."
"Thank you, Elisa," he said, rising from his chair. "Have you found out anything new?"
"The remains of the bomb were found at the site. They've been sent off to Washington to be analyzed." She looked up at Goliath, the concern evident in her lovely features. "Goliath? Are you all right?"
"It is nothing," he replied.
Elisa nodded. "Don't worry," she said. "We'll find whoever's responsible for this. You can count on it."
"I hope so," said Goliath, taking her small five-fingered hand in his large four-fingered one.
Elisa accompanied him to the television room. The clan was gathered in front of the set. Fox stood apart from the others holding Alexander.
On the screen, the Mayor was walking up to a podium on the steps of City Hall. Lexington quickly turned up the sound as the man began to speak.
"The decision of the City Council is this," the Mayor announced. "We are rejecting the demands of 'Phoenix Rising'. We are not going to let terrorists dictate our policies, no matter what the threat. And we are going to put out a citywide search for the cowards who blew up a city building. Trust me, the message that we will send is this: terrorism will not thrive in Manhattan!"
The reporters standing on the steps began to clamor, throwing out questions and thrusting microphones at him.
"But what about the gargoyles?"
"What have you found about 'Phoenix Rising'?"
"Can you really bring them in?"
The questions went unanswered.
The station switched to the studio; Travis Marshall was seated behind his desk.
"That was the Mayor of New York City, condemning the courthouse bombing." The camera panned back revealing the "Nightwatch" set. Marshall switched reading from the notes at his desk to a teleprompter and continued. "We're in the studio for a special edition of 'Nightwatch'. Before we begin the proceedings, a brief announcement. We've just received word that billionaire industrialist David Xanatos has announced that he is setting up a benefit performance of 'Beauty and the Beast', with all proceeds going to a fund for victims of intolerance."
Goliath turned to Fox, astonishment clearly displayed on his face. The rest of the clan, and even Elisa, followed his lead.
"It was a surprise," she said the pride in her voice evident. "David thought that it seemed an appropriate choice for the situation. He even asked the cast to play up the mob scene near the end."
The gargoyles turned their attention back to the television, as Travis Marshall was introducing the panel for that night's debate. "On my right are Columbia undergrads Rosario Sanchez and Steven Choi, members of People for Inter-Species Tolerance, or the PIT Crew, for short. On my left are Assistant District Attorney Margot Yale, and her husband Brendan."
"Those two again," commented Brooklyn, looking at the yuppie couple. "Why do they seem to crop up everywhere we look?"
Marshall turned to the two college students. "Let's start with you, Ms. Sanchez. I understand that your group advocates establishing a dialogue between the city and the gargoyles?"
"Yes, Mr. Marshall," she replied. "We at the PIT Crew feel that a rational discussion will yield better results than holding a witch hunt in Manhattan."
"Nobody's calling for a witch hunt," protested Margot.
"Nobody has to," Rosario replied. "Hatred and fear have a way of starting these things up, all on their own. And you wind up with a lot of innocent people getting hurt or killed."
"Come now," said Brendan, supporting his wife. "Let's not overreact here. Nobody's talking about going out and hunting down those creatures. But they are the ones responsible for this mess."
The two students were about to reply to this, but he held up his hand. "Let me finish," he said. "Yes, it was 'Phoenix Rising' who planted the bomb. But if there hadn't been any gargoyles in this city, the group would never have existed, and there wouldn't have been any bombing."
"That's blaming the victim," Stephen retorted. "Those people at 'Phoenix Rising' are the ones responsible for the bomb, not the gargoyles. Nobody forced those guys to become terrorists."
"Well, those creatures aren't all that innocent themselves," Margot snapped. "Your group claims that the gargoyles are some help to the city because they're crime-fighters. But vigilantism is against the law. Shouldn't they be held responsible for their actions, that way?"
"Okay, you two remember that, the next time you guys need rescuing," said Brooklyn sharply.
"Well, since the law doesn't even recognize the gargoyles as sentient beings," said Rosario, "that point is pretty much a moot one anyway, Ms. Yale."
"I agree," said Stephen. "Come on, you two. You know how much crime there is in New York. Doesn't having the gargoyles around make you feel a little safer, knowing that they're protecting the city and everyone in it?"
"I certainly don't," said Margot at once. "I'd rather have ordinary muggers around than those things. At least muggers don't have wings and claws."
Goliath sighed and shook his head. Elisa squeezed his arm reassuringly. Before she could speak, however, her beeper went off.
"It's probably Matt," she said. "I'll be right back." She was already dialing her cell phone as she stepped out into the hallway.
On the television screen, the argument was continuing. "Let me tell you about these creatures," Margot was saying. "My husband and I can't even go out once after dark without running into those things. They're everywhere. Why, last Christmas, two of them even ripped the hood ornament right off of our car!"
"Hey!" shouted Lexington to the screen. "You told us that we could keep that thing!" He muttered something inaudible under his breath, his eyes blazing white.
"That's no excuse for this behavior of yours, Ms. Yale," said Rosario. "If it was simply a different nationality or ethnic group of humans that we were discussing, you wouldn't respond with this sort of attitude. But because the gargoyles aren't human, you seem to clearly feel that it's okay to treat them this way. Why can't you face the facts? The gargoyles are here, and that's a given. We can either keep on trying to destroy them, and we all know what came of that attempt. Or we can accept them, reach out to them. Which is it going to be?"
Lexington and Broadway broke into applause at that. But before anybody else could react, Elisa stormed back into the room, looking furious.
"That no-good double-crossing weasel!" she shouted.
"Elisa!" Goliath said, staring at her in shock. "What's wrong?"
"There's been a break in the case," said Elisa. "You won't like it, Goliath. It seems that…"
"I'm sorry to interrupt, Ms. Yale, Ms. Sanchez," said Travis Marshall to the debaters, "but we've just gotten an update on the bombing. I've just been informed that the police have focused their investigation on David Xanatos." He turned to somebody off camera. " Is the tape cued up?" He returned his focus to the television audience. "It has been confirmed that the tape we are about to show you is a leading factor in the case being built against Mr. Xanatos."
Everybody stared at the television set in disbelief and shock.
"No!" Fox cried going pale. Lexington reached for Alexander who dangled in his mother's limp arms.
Travis Marshall continued.
"Normally, employers use phone monitors to check on their employees. This time, however, one such monitor picked up a very different conversation, between a member of 'Phoenix Rising', whose identity is as yet unknown, and Mr. David Xanatos. Play the tape."
"Yes, we received the material," said a voice, presumably that of the "Phoenix Rising" member. "It's in perfect condition."
"I'm glad to hear it,"" replied Xanatos's all-too-familiar voice, as calm and smooth as ever. "So you're satisfied?"
"When it blows up, we'll be satisfied," replied the voice.
"Excellent," said Xanatos's voice. "So I can expect further business with you?"
"After it blows up," the voice replied. With that, the phone hung up with a click.
There was a moment's silence as everyone in the room stared at the television set. Even the yuppie couple in the studio appeared very much taken aback. The two college students seemed nothing short of appalled.
Finally, Fox made her move. She ran out of the room, heading straight for her husband's office. The gargoyles and Elisa quickly followed her.
"David, what on earth were you doing?" Fox demanded of her husband.
"What do you mean, my dear?" he asked her puzzled.
"You sold explosives to 'Phoenix Rising'! What on earth possessed you to do it?"
Xanatos was about to reply, when Goliath stormed in, his eyes blazing. He grabbed David by the scruff of his neck and lifted him off his feet.
Elisa followed him in and caught hold of one arm.
"Let me go, Elisa!" he said to her.
"Goliath, you can't do this," Elisa began.
"He betrayed us again!" Goliath bellowed. "I should have known that he had not abandoned his old ways. It was all a trick!" He stared Xanatos straight in the face. "And what of the Ultra Pack? Was that attack they made on us also part of your schemes? Did you rebuild them, to plague us again?"
Elisa struggled with Goliath until he broke his hold and dropped David to his knees.
"Goliath, I assure you," Xanatos began, as he gasped for air, " I no longer have any connections with the Pack. I told you, somebody else must have upgraded them." He rose to his feet and straightened his tie. "Fox, what did you say? I can't have heard you right."
"Do not play innocent, Xanatos. You supplied 'Phoenix Rising' with its tools!"
David stared numbly as the rest of the clan stormed into the room.
Elisa stopped them before they could act.
"I've got a few things I'd like to do to him myself," she said, glancing bitterly at the astonished billionaire, "but this isn't the time for them. The police will be here any minute, now that they know about Xanatos's deal with 'Phoenix Rising'. Maybe the FBI, as well. And if they find you here...."
Goliath nodded soberly, the white glow fading from his eyes. "You are right," he said. "We must leave here at once." He turned back towards Xanatos, growled at him one last time, then left the room.
Moments later, the gargoyles were gliding away from the castle, Hudson carrying Bronx and Brooklyn a squirming Nudnik. Goliath turned to Elisa. "You had better come with us," he said. "If the authorities find you here…"
"You're right," she said. "Besides, you need me to open the skylight to get into my apartment."
Goliath picked her up, and, holding her tightly but gently in his arms, soared off the battlements himself.
Xanatos watched the departure from one of his monitors, then turned back to Fox, still staring at him with a puzzled, shocked, and even angry expression on her face. "Please don't say you're going home to Mother," he joked lamely as he faced his furious spouse.
The door to the study opened, and an aide entered. The man in the shadowed high-backed armchair looked up from his reading.
"So, the information was leaked through the proper channels?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," said the aide, with a nod.
"Excellent, Giles. And the response?"
"The gargoyles evacuated the castle shortly after the news was made public," said Giles. "Just as you predicted they would."
"Then everything is moving perfectly," said the man. "The wedge has been driven between them. Now we can deal with each separately. It is time to set the next phase of our plans into motion, Giles."
"As you wish, Mr. Duval," said Giles, with another nod. He turned and left the study.
"David, I just don't understand," said Fox. "Why did you do it? Why did you turn 'Phoenix Rising' loose on the clan?"
"I didn't," said Xanatos, looking at her bewildered. "What would be the point of it, anyway? If I wanted to get rid of the gargoyles, I wouldn't bother hiring anybody to blow anything up. I'd simply step out onto the battlements with a sledgehammer in the daytime and do the job myself. It'd be a lot more practical."
"But how did your voice get on the recording? I heard it myself, David. It was you talking to them!"
Before Xanatos could answer, Owen Burnett entered the office, a troubled look on his face. "Mr. Xanatos, we seem to have a problem," he said.
"Fox already told me," said Xanatos. "Somebody's trying to frame me."
"And whoever it was has done a very good job, sir," said Owen. "The FBI have just arrived at the building. They have a search warrant for the castle, and a warrant for your arrest."
"What?" began Fox, shocked.
"Word travels fast, it seems," said Xanatos. "Do you think that we can keep them out?"
"I'm afraid not, sir," said Owen. "It would take the lawyers weeks to challenge those warrants."
"So we just let them in?" cried Fox.
"Yes, my dear," David acknowledged as he left to greet the authorities. "We just let them in."
"This is Travis Marshall, with the latest development in the 'Phoenix Rising' crisis." The news program cut away to a video tape shot earlier of David Xanatos being lead, none to gently, into the back of a squad car, his hands cuffed behind his back. Fox stood on the stairs behind, Alex held tightly to her.
Marshall's voice-over continued. "David Xanatos, CEO of Xanatos Enterprises, has just been taken into custody by federal agents on multiple charges. Conspiracy to destroy public property tops the list that investigators say is a litany of felonies. We will be bringing you further coverage of this lead story as it develops."
"Something tells me that they're not going to be letting him off with a six-month stretch this time," commented Brooklyn, switching off the set.
"I don't understand it," said Angela bewilderedly. "Why would Xanatos do such a thing? I thought that he was telling the truth when he said that the feud was over."
"You're not the first person that he's duped," replied Elisa bitterly. "It must have been just a trick of his, to get you into his confidence. And then, when he had you...." Her voice trailed off, as she gazed off into the distance. "Just like he did to Derek."
"Something about this doesn't make sense," said Lexington, frowning suddenly. "Why would Xanatos be helping those guys, anyway? If he wanted to get rid of us … well, we're roosting at his castle in the daytime. It would be a lot easier for him to just smash us while we slept."
"But he likes his games," Elisa argued. "He was trying to trick you into thinking that the city was out to get you, and that he was the only person who could protect you. Remember when he sent those commandos after Goliath and me in Central Park, pretending that they were from Cyberbiotics? I think that it's the same sort of scheme. Only it wound up backfiring. Serves him right, too," she added bitterly.
Nudnik was the only member of the clan not paying attention to the conversation. Instead, he was sniffing curiously at Cagney. The cat growled, his back arching. He raised a declawed paw and batted futilely at the gargoyle beast before leaping away to the safety of a countertop.
"We cannot stay here," said Goliath, ignoring the commotion between the two pets.
"Goliath," began Elisa, "you know that you're all welcome to stay."
"Yes," said Goliath, "but the Quarrymen learned of your connections to us soon enough. And that could mean..."
"That 'Phoenix Rising' might very well do the same thing," said Elisa. "Especially if any of them are from Castaway's old crowd."
The telephone suddenly rang. Elisa walked over and picked it up. "Maza," she answered crisply.
The voice at the other end was the last one that she had been expecting. "Detective Maza?" It was Demona.
"What do you want?" Elisa asked sharply.
"Do you know what has become of Angela?" Demona asked her; the worry in her tone was evident. "I heard on the news just now that Xanatos was arrested, and that the castle was being searched by federal agents. I must know where my daughter is."
Elisa frowned, and turned to the others. "It's Demona," she said to them.
"Oh, great," said Lexington, annoyed. "As if we didn't have enough problems already, now she's getting involved."
"She wants to know what happened to Angela," Elisa continued. "She just found out about Xanatos getting arrested. What should I tell her?"
"Let me talk to her, Elisa," said Angela, stepping forward.
"I am not certain that that is wise, Angela," said Goliath. He had the same disapproving look on his face that he had displayed every time Angela had mentioned her mother.
"Father, please," said Angela, in a tone of voice that indicated that she didn't want to discuss it further. Elisa handed her the receiver, and the young female gargoyle put it up to her ear. "Mother?" she asked.
"Thank goodness you're safe, Angela," said Demona, sounding relieved. "I was worried for your safety. Did you get away unseen?"
"Yes, Mother. We are all safe."
"I should have known that Xanatos would return to his old ways," said Demona, disgust filling her voice. "The usual habit of those humans. They can't be trusted, Angela, and this event has just proven it."
"Maybe Xanatos did betray us," said Angela, though her own voice indicated that she was not entirely convinced of this, "but not all humans will be like that. Elisa's still ready to protect us, mother."
"Maybe," said Demona, after a pained silence. "But even if she is, will she be enough to keep you safe? Angela, I wish to ask this of you. Please come to my home. I can protect you against 'Phoenix Rising' better than the detective can. Will you do this?"
"I'll think about it," said Angela, after hesitating for a moment, and fingering the golden locket that her mother had given her on her visit a few weeks before. "And then I'll let you know."
"Thank you, my daughter," said Demona. And with that, she hung up.
Angela replaced the phone's receiver on its hook, and turned to the others. "Well, what did she want?" Brooklyn asked her.
"She wants me to move in with her," said Angela. "At least, until this is over."
"And you're going to do it?" asked Broadway, unable to keep the concern out of his voice.
"I just don't know," said Angela. "I mean… I can't leave you, and I'm not sure that my mother would welcome the rest of you."
"That's likely enough," said Brooklyn, glancing at Nudnik, who was still pestering Cagney. "She'd boot us all out the moment Nudnik chewed up one of her spell books." The puppy chased the cat out of the room, nearly knocking over the telephone table.
"Well, I think that we can rule Demona out for the moment," said Elisa. "So where else is there?"
"The Labyrinth," said Brooklyn suddenly, snapping his fingers.
Goliath nodded. "A good choice," he said. "Brooklyn, take the rest of the clan there. I will stay here for now, and join you later."
"Be careful, Goliath," said Brooklyn. "The city's a powder keg once more. I don't think that you'd want to be above ground if it goes off."
"I will be careful," said Goliath.
With Hudson carrying Bronx and Sata Nudnik, the clan, except for Goliath, jumped off the balcony, gliding off towards the Labyrinth. Goliath and Elisa watched them go, then turned away.
"I'd better check in with Matt," said the detective. She picked pulled the cell phone out of her jacket pocket, spoke on it for a while, then turned back to Goliath.
"Matt wants me to come in to the station," she said. "It's a madhouse there, and they need every officer. If you want to go on to the Labyrinth, I'll understand."
"I'll wait," said Goliath. Elisa nodded, and left the apartment.
She was almost at the front door of the apartment building when she halted in her steps, shook her head, and turned around. She went back upstairs and re-entered her apartment.
"Elisa, should you not be at the station house?" Goliath asked her as she came in.
She dangled her car keys. "My car's back at the Eyrie Building," she said. I can't go near there. I'll have to call Matt, and get a lift in."
As she walked further into the room, she noticed the gloomy, despairing look upon his face. "Goliath, what's wrong?"
"What is happening now has happened before," Goliath began.
"When?" Elisa asked gently as she took Goliath by the hand and led him to the sofa.
"Before the massacre at the castle," he replied. "We swore to protect the humans who lived there, but they only repaid us with fear and hatred."
"People can change," Elisa said hopefully.
"But how much?" Goliath asked. "I have read about the history of this century, the events before Xanatos awakened us. There was the same fear and hatred expressed even between different groups of humans over their differences, and terrible wars and slaughters came of it. And the differences between those humans were nowhere near as great as the difference between humans and my kind."
Elisa said nothing, but studied his face. A face fraught with despair, a face struggling to keep hope, but only barely able to do so.
"We can defeat 'Phoenix Rising', just as we defeated the Quarrymen," Goliath continued, "but others will succeed them. I wonder if there is any point to it. If humans will ever accept us. Would anyone notice if we were to stop?"
"I would," Elisa answered quietly. "Goliath, we've all been burned out from time to time. It seems like your whole life is one constant struggle that you can't win. You just want to go to sleep and wish everything would end."
"How do you handle the feeling?" Goliath asked, desperate for a solution.
"When I see you and the clan wake up each evening," Elisa said with a smile, "you give me strength enough to go on no matter how crazy it is out there. I know it matters to you."
Goliath smiled slightly. He gently took her into his arms. They spoke quietly for the remainder of the night, until the sky lightened and dawn came. Elisa forgot all about Matt.
"Got it!" an eager voice called to the others.
Investigators clustered around the computer terminal in Xanatos' office. Their computer expert nodded proudly, and pointed to the computer screen that he had been working on.
The monitor displayed numbers from invoices, shipping schedules and bills of lading. The expert pointed to a set of digits. "See, there's the procurement for the device used," he said. "Here's where and when it was shipped and here is the delivery invoice, two days ago."
"That is impossible," Owen responded with a frown on his face. "We went over that with the budget last night. Those documents were not there twenty-four hours ago."
"There are all kinds of ways of hiding things, even from a sharp eyed secretary," the computer man replied with a sneer. "And tell me this, Mr. Burnett. If your boss is really innocent, then how did all this get up there?"
"It hardly matters, anyway," said the leader of the federal agents. "We've got all the evidence that we need. Let's go."
They walked out, leaving Xanatos's office in a state of complete disarray. Budget papers were strewn across the floor, and computer disks scattered all over the desk. Owen looked at the mess in disgust, and began to bend down to start cleaning it up. Then he halted, and turned to walk out of the room, heading for the nursery where Fox and Alexander were. "First things first," he said to himself.
Even the nursery had not been spared by the federal agents in their ransacking of the castle. Fox was tidying it up when Owen entered. "And I thought that that puppy was a walking disaster," the bespectacled aide commented, looking at the remaining traces of the devastation.
"Is it true, Owen?" Fox asked her voice filled with worry. "Did they find any evidence in the computer?"
Owen nodded reluctantly. "They found files that implicated your husband in dealings with 'Phoenix Rising'," he said. "Files that were not there last night, however. I have my strong doubts about them."
"I just don't understand it," said Fox. "I can't believe that David would be siding with these people."
"Maybe he wanted to be more of a monster than the ones he's said to be harboring," said the investigation team's leader, entering the nursery. Fox glowered at him and clenched her fists. "Mr. Xanatos will be arraigned tomorrow," the FBI man continued, ignoring her response.
"Since when did justice move so swiftly?" she asked him sharply.
"Since people got fed up with the bombings," said the man. He was about to leave, when he added, "And one more thing. Any ideas on where those gargoyles are?"
"And what gives you the impression that any of us would know?" asked Owen curtly, one eyebrow arched. "And even if we did know, why are you so interested in them?"
"'Phoenix Rising' carried out the bombing because of them," the federal agent replied. "The best way to solve that problem is to capture those creatures. Something that we should have done just after they blew up the clock tower. We'd have saved a lot of trouble that way."
"Well, there are no gargoyles here," said Owen, fixing him with a sharp glare. "You can rest assured on that."
The man turned and walked out of the nursery, leaving Fox and Owen to finish cleaning it up. As Owen passed Alexander's cradle, he commented to the baby in a low voice, "Do you suppose that we could fit in a little lesson sometime about how to turn obnoxious federal agents into newts?"
Alex merely gurgled in response.
"Owen, somebody is framing David," said Fox grimly. "And I'm going to find out who."
Matt sank down in his chair at the police station with a sigh. The place had become nothing short of a madhouse in the last few hours. Somebody had leaked to the press that Xanatos was being booked there, and now the place was swarming with reporters. To make matters worse, representatives from just about every pro-gargoyle or anti-gargoyle group in the city were thronging outside, many of them engaged in very loud arguments with each other. The riot squad had to be posted to make certain that they confined themselves to arguments, and didn't escalate to actual blows.
To top it off his partner had gone AWOL. Her apartment phone rang endlessly and her cell phone wasn't picking up either. He took a sip of his coffee and grimaced. It was cold and bitter.
He looked over his desk. No matter how he tried, it always seemed like a tornado had ripped through his files. He made a half - hearted effort to straighten things up and stumbled across a videotape, with a note attached. It was labeled "For Your Partner's Friends".
"Morgan?" called Matt. "Did anybody mess with my desk?"
"How can you tell?" Officer Morgan asked with a chuckle. Matt glanced at him the irritation written plainly on his features. The police officer became more serious.
"One of the FBI guys left it," he said. "He told me that he knew you from the Bureau."
"'For Your Partner's Friends'," said Matt thoughtfully to himself, looking at the label again and frowning. "I wonder if that means what I think it means."
He was still wondering about this when he heard shouting from the far end of the squad room, and turned to Morgan again.
"Xanatos," the dark-skinned officer explained. "They're giving him the third degree."
The voices were muffled through the soundproof walls, but the shouting made the conversation nearly audible. Matt rose, and stretched and moved closer to the interview room.
"We have the wire transfer confirmation and the delivery receipt!" one of the interrogators was saying. "How much death can you buy for five million?"
"We don't really care about you," said another voice, a much calmer one. "We're after Phoenix Rising. Tell us who you sold the device to. You'll only get charged with minor conspiracy; your lawyers can knock it down to accessory and maybe even beat that charge. Otherwise, it's a full court press, and you'll take the rap for Phoenix Rising. The DA's office wants a sacrificial lamb and you're it, guy."
Matt returned to his desk as a F.B.I suit rounded the corner and joined the interrogation. He eyed Matt speculatively. Matt tried his best to look stupid until the door shut.
"As if that good-cop/bad-cop routine would ever work on Mr. X," said Matt. "The man does billion dollar deals for lunch, and usually with guys much more dangerous than those two."
"True," said Morgan. "But a lot of folks want a scapegoat, and if they can't find the gargoyles, they'll settle for Xanatos."
"True enough," said Matt. He looked at the tape again, reading the label, and pondering it.
The shift finally ended and he went home for some much needed sleep. On his way back to the station house he stopped at Elisa's apartment.
He waited impatiently as the video camera sent his picture for his partner's perusal. The sound of locks snapped and the door opened.
Goliath knelt in the center of Elisa's living room. The gargoyle leader had a contemplative look on his craggy features. Elisa was no where to be seen.
"I'll be out in a minute," she called from her bedroom.
Good as her word she stepped out a moment later, still tucking her tee-shirt into her jeans. Her feet were sock clad and she carried her sneakers.
"Hi, Matt," her voice was light but she looked like she'd had little sleep.
"Hi, Matt?" Bluestone said incredulously. "That's the best you can do?"
"Oh my gosh, I forgot to call!"
"And you didn't answer." He looked at the phone sitting on its little table. It was unplugged. Her cell phone sat next to it out of the charger, the battery dead.
"I had to lie to the Captain. I told her you'd called me sick as a dog."
"Amazing bug. It cures itself at sunset. Look Matt, I don't know how the phone got unplugged, unless it was Cagney and Nudnik." She picked up the cell phone and stuck it in its cradle. "That was just a slip up. I can't stand carrying that thing anyway."
"Where are the others?" Matt asked, as he settled in to hear Elisa's story.
"The Labyrinth," Elisa answered. "I meant to call you for a ride. My car's still at the Eyrie Building. Goliath needed to talk, one thing lead to another. I totally forgot. How are things at the station?" she said, changing the subject.
"Chaos," said Matt. "What can you expect?"
"I'm glad Xanatos is getting what he deserves. All this 'nice guy' routine was starting to wear thin."
"I don't know, partner," said Matt. "I've been thinking over the evidence, and it's good all right. But it's just a little too good. It almost sounds like a conspiracy to me."
"To you, everything sounds like a conspiracy," said Elisa, rolling her eyes upwards.
"It's true, though," said Matt. "I mean, I can't imagine Xanatos being so careless that he let's himself get caught on tape talking to somebody from 'Phoenix Rising'. That's all too convenient. Oh, and speaking of tapes … "
He pulled the videotape out of his coat pocket. "This came for me at the station," he said. "It was addressed 'For Your Partner's Friends.'"
Elisa snatched it from him at once. She looked at it, then at the VCR. "We really should wait for Goliath to wake up," she said at last.
"Are you sure that you want to do that?" Matt asked her. "I hate surprises, and this tape could have a really nasty one on it."
Elisa moved into the kitchen and threw together a quick dinner. By the time she was done draining the water from a pan of spaghetti, the argument was moot.
The sun sank beneath the horizon. Moments after its last rays vanished, Goliath woke from his stone sleep. He nodded in silent welcome to Matt, and smiled warmly at Elisa.
Matt explained to him briefly about the tape over dinner.
"I would like to see this… tape. Please play it." Goliath rumbled.
Matt cleared the dishes as Elisa inserted the video into the VCR and hit the play button. For a moment, the television screen was dark. Then a study appeared, an old-fashioned-looking study, with oak paneling on the walls, and rows of leather-bound books on its shelves. A middle-aged man with brown hair, lightly streaked with gray, sat behind a desk, facing them.
"Greetings, my friends," he said. His voice was calm and gentle, and had a British accent, with the undertones of a French one. "My name is Lionel Benson. For over two years, I have been watching your activities with particular interest. Gargoyles are not unknown to me. I have encountered them in England, many years ago, and know them as the noble beings that they truly are. And for this reason, I want to help you and your clan, Goliath.
"New York is no longer a safe place for you to rest, now that 'Phoenix Rising' is doing all that it can to destroy you, and David Xanatos has been placed under investigation."
Goliath, Elisa, and Matt stared at each other for a moment in surprise. "How on earth does he know that Xanatos was sheltering … " Matt began.
But Mr. Benson continued.
"I wish to offer you my home, Bliant Manor, as a place of refuge. It is a secure place, with defenses that even an army of Quarrymen could not breach. And if you are concerned about abandoning your protectorate, you need not be. Bliant Manor is in a secluded part of Long Island, well within gliding distance of Manhattan. I know that you have reason enough to be wary about me, but I only ask that you give me the opportunity to plead my case in person. Come and visit me … say, at midnight. Then you can see for yourself. I hope that you will accept my offer, but if not, I understand."
The scene turned into snow as the video letter ended. Matt pushed "Rewind" on the remote, frowning thoughtfully. Goliath and Elisa had similar expressions on their faces.
"Whoa, what happened?" asked Brooklyn as he entered through the patio door.
"Brooklyn, how is the rest of the clan?" Goliath asked him, ignoring his second's question for a moment.
"Safely settled in," said Brooklyn. "Talon sends his best, by the way," he added to Elisa. "Everyone's fine, but… well…"
"What's the matter, Brooklyn?" Matt prompted.
"I hate to admit it, but were all feeling a little claustrophobic." He raised his hands as Matt and Elisa began to smirk. "Hey, happens to most gargoyles. We have a instinctive fear of being locked in the rookery." He gave a significant glance at Goliath who ignored him in favor of explaining about the videotape
They played it again. While Brooklyn watched it, Goliath and Elisa watched Mr. Benson carefully.
"Do you think that it's a trap?" Brooklyn asked, when the tape had finished.
"If it is," said Matt, "then he's very well-informed, and he's got connections. He knows Goliath's name, he knows about Elisa, and he even knows about Xanatos. And it was dropped off by someone from the FBI. If he is out to get you, then I'd say he's definitely dangerous."
"Then we'd better find out what he knows," said Elisa.
Goliath had remained silent ever since they had played the tape a second time, deep in thought. Now he spoke.
"I will meet with this Lionel Benson," he said. "Brooklyn, go back to the Labyrinth, and get Hudson and Angela."
"You don't want the whole clan to go?" asked Brooklyn.
"No," said Goliath. "You and the others are going out on your regular patrols tonight."
"What?" Elisa cried. "Are you crazy, Goliath? What about 'Phoenix Rising'?"
"She's right, Goliath," put in Matt. " The city's in an ugly mood. It's dangerous out there."
"Elisa, it is our duty as gargoyles to protect … " Goliath began, as Brooklyn slipped out.
"You can't protect anybody if you've been shot down by those crazies out there!" said Elisa. "Besides, the police can handle protecting the city for just a few nights!"
The argument was still in full swing when Hudson and Angela arrived. They entered the room just as Goliath played his last hand.
"Elisa, do you remember that shopkeeper we came upon, the same night that ColdStone first appeared in Time Square?"
"Well, yes," said Elisa. "But what's that got to do with it?"
"I asked you why he did not leave his shop for safer quarters, and you explained why. His community needed him for supplies. That was more important to him than hiding from danger. And it must be the same with us. How can we refuse to fulfill our purpose, to protect?"
Elisa sighed, and lowered her eyes, saying nothing. "You win," she said, at last.
They played the videotape one more time, for Hudson and Angela. When it was done, the three gargoyles made ready to depart.
"I'll run a background check on Lionel Benson, and see if I can dig up anything on him," said Elisa. "You three just be careful, okay?"
"We will," said Goliath. And with that, he, Hudson, and Angela launched themselves from the balcony, to glide off into the night.
"We have to trust him," Elisa said, more to himself than to her partner.
"I trust him, all right," said Matt, frowning. "It's this Lionel Benson that I don't trust."
Fox stood outside the police station, grateful that the herd of reporters had finally thinned. She braved the gauntlet before facing a hostile Desk Sargent and a cadre of barely civil police officers and FBI agents. It wasn't until almost 11:30 that Fox was finally able to see her husband.
Even in prison, Xanatos still managed to look unruffled. He now wore a standard prison uniform rather than his usual attire, but he looked as neatly turned out as ever.
"Thanks for coming, Fox," he said. "How's Alex?"
"He's fine," she replied. "Owen's looking after him." She looked about her cautiously, then spoke in a lower voice. "David, something about this smells like a set-up to me. Do you have any idea who could be behind it?"
"I don't know for certain," Xanatos replied darkly, "but I have my suspicions. I think I've finally ticked off The Illuminati."
Fox's faced darkened. She hadn't considered that possibility. "What makes you think that the Society is behind this?"
"It takes a lot of work to carry out this sort of a frame job," Xanatos replied. "And an organization that's succeeded in actually controlling the world from behind the curtain certainly qualifies. They've got the means and the opportunity. And I can easily guess as to the motive. Mr. Duval and I haven't been seeing that much eye-to-eye lately."
"How serious do you think that it is?"
"I can't say," said Xanatos. "It's probably just a reminder. But it could just as easily be an all-out attack. With Mr. Duval, who knows?"
"So how do I get you out of there, David?"
"It's not going to be easy," said Xanatos, looking about him cautiously. "I wouldn't say too much here, Fox, if I were you. They might be watching us. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if a few of my brother Illuminati are working on this case."
"Well, I'm not giving up, David. I'm sure you weren't mixed up with 'Phoenix Rising', and I'm going to prove it, if I have to fight my way through a small army of 'Evil Ninjas'."
"That's my Fox," said Xanatos, his familiar smirk appearing on his face.
Goliath, Hudson, and Angela arrived at Bliant Manor. The house was built in the style of an Elizabethan manor house, with a half-timbered front and tiled roof, and two side-wings extending at right angles from the main part of the building. Extensive gardens surrounded it, amid the verdant countryside of Long Island.
A man stood alone on the platform at the top of the tower, waiting for them. A middle-aged man that they recognized at once from the videotape as Lionel Benson. The man dressed in a rather tweedy-looking outfit, much like that of the traditional British country squire, and had a cane in his right hand with a lion's head engraved at its top. He smiled gently to see them as they landed before him.
"You are Goliath, I presume?"
"I am," the gargoyle replied, watching him closely.
"I am pleased and honored to make your acquaintance," he said, holding out his hand. Goliath took it, a little surprised, but accepted the handshake warmly.
"Let me introduce you to Hudson and Angela, my daughter," he said, nodding to his companions.
Mr. Benson greeted Angela first with a formal bow, and then, much to the gargoyles' astonishment, took her hand and kissed it warmly, in a very courtly manner. Angela blushed slightly at this reception. He next turned to Hudson, and grasped, not his hand, but his upper arm. Instinctively, Hudson did the same.
"Welcome to my home, Bliant Manor. Please allow me to show you around."
He led them down a spiral staircase into the foyer of the manor house. The gargoyles followed, their eyes taking in everything.
"As I mentioned to you in my video letter," Mr. Benson said to them, "I have known about gargoyles for some time. I have even met some of them in Britain, when I lived there. When I learned about how your erstwhile guardian, David Xanatos, was implicated with 'Phoenix Rising', I felt honor-bound to extend an invitation to you and to your clan, to provide shelter for you."
The foyer opened on to the rest of the house. The dining hall was straight ahead, while long hallways stretched off to either side. The interior of the house was furnished in more of a Victorian style, with 19th century paintings on the walls and antique furniture artfully arranged.
Goliath looked at his surroundings. They were very impressive, but he could not shake a vague feeling of unease. While Angela was taking a closer look at one of the paintings, and Hudson was examining a chair to see if it was quite as comfortable as his recliner at the castle, he addressed his host. "How did you know about our connections to Xanatos?" he asked their guide. "And Detective Maza? Your messenger knew that we were her friends."
"It was easy enough to deduce," said Mr. Benson. "The gargoyle sightings in New York first began after David Xanatos purchased Castle Wyvern, a castle that had a strong association with gargoyles in its past. The helicopter that rescued your clan from St. Damien's Cathedral last year bore a striking resemblance to the one that Mr. Xanatos commonly uses, and headed in the direction of the Eyrie Building." He looked at Goliath speculatively. "Shall I go on?"
Goliath shook his head, the feeling of unease magnifying. Benson returned to his role of genteel tour guide.
The dining hall was built and furnished in a much more medieval style than the foyer's Victorian Gothic feel. Suits of armor stood in strategic locations along the walls, and ancient tapestries hung on the oak paneling between them. At the far end of the room hung a shield with a pair of crossed swords behind it, and a knight's helm surmounting them.
"I'm something of an anachronist at heart," said Mr. Benson, nodding to the furnishings. "I've always felt more at home in the Middle Ages than in the world of today."
"Is that why ye care what happens to us?" Hudson asked pointedly.
"In part," said their host. "Come, let me show you something."
He indicated one of the tapestries, in the middle of the hall. This one depicted a battle scene somewhere in the medieval period. Armored knights on horseback were battling each other, with gargoyles flying overhead; gargoyles that bore the same animal-like features as the English clans. Among the knights that the gargoyles seemed to be fighting alongside was a young man raising a sword. The man looked vaguely familiar.
"It dates back to the early 6th century," said Mr. Benson to them, breaking in on their thoughts. "Then humans knew gargoyles for what they truly were, noble beings who protect the innocent and fight on the side of justice. It's something that all too many of us have forgotten these days, but I know the truth. You have much to offer the world, but it can never be achieved if you are locked away forever by the authorities, or destroyed by 'Phoenix Rising'."
He was silent for a moment, then continued, speaking to all three of them. "I know that you have little reason to trust me," he said, "and that I understand. You know nothing about me, and in your place I too would be suspicious. I want to be your friend, to protect you. I hope that you can believe my good faith."
"Goliath, we should see the rest of the house first," said Angela.
"Well-spoken, my lady," said Mr. Benson, smiling at her. "Come, let me show you the rest of what Bliant Manor has to offer. There is an excellent library, this way."
Suspicions lulled for the moment, they followed him out of the dining hall.
"I hope that this is a beginning for us," said Mr. Benson with a smile, shaking Goliath's hand again. They had finished their tour where they had begun it, at the top of the tower. It was almost three o'clock in the morning, with more than enough time to make it safely back to the city.
"We must discuss this with the rest of the clan," said Goliath. "Whether we decide to accept your invitation or not, we would like to see you as a friend."
He looked to Hudson and Angela for confirmation, and they nodded approvingly. "You will know of our answer tomorrow night," he continued.
"Until then," said Mr. Benson. He bowed graciously to them, kissed Angela on the hand again, and gave Hudson a parting arm-grip. Then the gargoyles took off from the battlements, heading back for the New York skyline. None of them saw a look of disappointment cross Mr. Benson's face, as he watched them depart.
"He's quite charming," said Angela, on the way back. "He knows how to treat a woman like a lady."
"I take it that you'd like to stay, then," said Goliath, with a slight smile.
"It's your choice, father," she replied. "You're our leader."
"No," said Goliath, shaking his head. "It is our choice. This is a decision for the entire clan to make. It is convenient how this place so ideally suits our needs."
"Aye, lad," said Hudson grimly. "Too convenient."
"How'd the search go, partner?" Matt asked Elisa, back at the station.
"Well, the police computers don't have anything about Lionel Benson in their files," said Elisa. "I've checked on that."
"Doesn't prove much," said Matt with a shrug. "You've got to have a criminal record to be in them."
"But then I tried accessing the newspaper archives," said Elisa. "There were several Bensons there, but none of them had 'Lionel' for a first name, and not one of them lives on Long Island. I'm really getting suspicious about this guy."
"You're not the only one," said Matt. "There's something vaguely familiar about him, only I can't quite place it. Well, what do we do next?"
"Find out which federal agent it was that dropped off the tape," she said. "That could help."
"Easier said than done, though," said Matt.
Elisa nodded. "That's the tricky part"
"Bluestone, phone!" a voice called from across the squad room.
Matt shrugged as he picked up.
Elisa sat down in her chair and leaned back in it, thinking. She glanced up at the ceiling, and stared thoughtfully at the video camera mounted in one corner of the room. It had a clear and unobstructed view of the squad room, including her desk and Matt's. She nodded, a smile beginning to play on her lips.
Owen was playing "Where's the fuzzy?" with Alex when Fox entered the nursery, a troubled look still on her face.
"Owen, we need to talk," she said. "What can you tell me about the Illuminati?"
"I am sorry, Mrs. Xanatos," said Owen, getting up and facing her. "But I know very little about the Society myself. Unlike Mr. Xanatos, I am not one of its members. He did not confide in me about their business."
"But… wouldn't you know something about it from the other side of you?" asked Fox. "I mean, surely Puck knows, even if Owen doesn't."
Owen shook his head. "Before I entered your husband's service as Owen Burnett," he said, "I took very little, if any, interest in the Illuminati. They simply didn't strike me as particularly entertaining. Besides, they have ways of screening themselves off, even from Oberon's Children. I fear that I can be of little help here in advising you how to counter the Society's schemes relating to your husband."
"Fine," said Fox with a sigh, as she picked up Alexander. "I'll just have to save him the old-fashioned way."
"You bake the cake and I'll get the files and hacksaws," an impish voice said. Fox turned around at once, half-expecting to see Puck floating there in mid-air. Instead, Owen stood before her, still in his usual grave and dignified pose, though with the hint of a sly smile on his face. She looked at him thoughtfully, then continued.
"Owen, I want an independent systems audit. David didn't sell explosives to terrorists, so someone must have tampered with our computers to make it look that way. Make sure the lawyers know what's going on. I want everything on the up and up. Also see if you can get a copy of that tape that has him speaking to 'Phoenix Rising'. I've got a hunch that it's a forgery. Let's see if we can prove it."
"Of course, ma'am," said Owen, nodding.
"One more thing," added Fox. "Get hold of either Detective Maza or Bluestone, and let them know what's happened. Tell them that I think this is a set-up. Maybe they or the gargoyles can do something."
"Very well, ma'am," said Owen, nodding and leaving the nursery.
"Fox thinks it's a setup?" Goliath asked over the phone.
"That's what she says," said Elisa. "She doesn't think that Xanatos would be dealing with an anti-gargoyle group. I tried finding out what's being done with this case, but the feds have shut me out. Matt's trying to get some information out of them right now. So how did it go with this Lionel Benson?"
"We were discussing the matter when you called," said Goliath. "It does seem very promising. His offer was evidently made in good faith. His home is close enough to the city for us to be able to protect it at night, yet far enough away to keep us safe from 'Phoenix Rising'. It almost seems ideal."
"Too ideal," Hudson rumbled into the speaker.
"You don't trust him, Hudson?" Elisa asked.
"I dinna know why," the old gargoyle replied, "but there's something about him that I dinna like."
Angela broke in to the conversation. "He seemed … well, nice. And he does want to help us."
"It would be nice to get out and about again," added Brooklyn. "Instead of being cooped up in a bunch of abandoned subway tunnels."
"But what about Alex?" Lex asked. "How can we protect him if we're miles away?"
"Yeah," said Broadway. "And even if we do go there, what's gonna stop those 'Phoenix Rising' whackos from blowing more things up trying to get at us? We'll still be in the area, and that's what they don't like."
Elisa nodded, understanding. "So I guess you'll be staying here," she said, hunching over her desk as a pair of FBI agents passed by.
"Yes," said Goliath. "Alexander needs us, and all the more so if his father is found guilty. Besides, Broadway is right. We are not the only ones in danger from this 'Phoenix Rising.'"
"Something about this whole set-up seems wrong to me." Broadway complained. "First these Phoenix Rising guys show up out of nowhere and then this Benson character comes and offers us a home right after we have to leave the castle. If I was reading this in a mystery novel, I'd definitely think that it was a scam."
"I'm starting to think so myself," said Elisa, nodding. "And I'm going to find out, too."
"Take care, Elisa," Goliath said protectively.
"Don't worry, I will. So, when are you going to tell Mr. Benson that you've decided not to move in?"
"Tomorrow night," said Goliath. "Not now. It is too close to dawn."
"See ya an hour after sunset, then," said Elisa, and hung up.
"This is Nicole St. John, reporting for WVRN. We're here at the courthouse, where industrialist David Xanatos has just been arraigned on charges of, among other things, conspiracy. He was denied bail, and a trial has been set for next week."
WVRN switched to the tape of the arraignment. Xanatos and his attorney sat at the left table, and the District Attorney and his assistant, Margot Yale, at the right. Xanatos's lawyer stood up. "Your Honor," he said, "I would like to request that bail be set."
"Objection, Your Honor," said the DA, in a bored tone of voice. "Mr. Xanatos poses a flight risk. He has the means to be anywhere in the world by tomorrow."
"I remind my colleague of the Eighth Amendment. My client has a right to bail."
"Then I must remind you of our obligation to see justice done," the DA retorted. "Your Honor, the only link that we have at present to 'Phoenix Rising' is David Xanatos. If you grant him bail and he runs, then we've lost any chance of finding those responsible. They'll be free to attack again. I strongly urge against it."
The judge sat back thoughtfully in her chair. "The District Attorney brings up a valid point. I'll have to deny bail to Mr. David Xanatos. Moving on to the next order of business, I see an opening next Wednesday. Will you both be ready for opening arguments by then?"
Fox and Owen watched the news report silently. Fox switched the monitor off and turned to her husband's aide. "We have until Wednesday to clear David's name."
Owen nodded. "The systems analysts are beginning the audit now. I've obtained a copy of the tape, and it's being studied this very afternoon."
"Thank you, Owen," said Fox. "If there's a seam in this facade, we need to find it and pull it."
Owen nodded, and departed from the room, leaving her to stare at the blank screen.
"You wished to see me, Mr. Duval?" asked Giles, entering the study.
"That I did," said Duval, seated in the shadowy armchair. "The interview with the gargoyles did not go as well as I'd hoped. I believe that they may decline Mr. Benson's offer of hospitality and remain in the city."
"A most unfortunate turn of events, sir," said Giles.
"We cannot afford to have them here, interfering in our plans," said Duval. "We've no choice but to step up our campaign. Contact Mr. Clifford, and give him his orders." He handed Giles a piece of paper, with instructions written on it.
"As you wish, Mr. Duval," said Giles. He turned and left the study.
Elisa approached a small group of federal agents standing around the water cooler. They were talking amongst themselves, but fell silent as soon as they saw her.
"Excuse me," said Elisa, speaking directly to the agent filling his cup. "Agent Black?"
"Yes, officer?" he said.
"Can I speak with you a moment?" she asked. The tall agent took a sip of water and followed Elisa to an empty hallway.
"How can I help you, Detective?" he asked her.
"Matt gave me a video tape addressed to some friends of mine," said Elisa. "I was wondering if you knew who it might have come from."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Agent Black said at once.
"Then can you explain why the station's camera shows you dropping it by my desk?" Elisa asked.
Agent Black paused a moment, then replied, "Only if you'd explain why we spotted your car pulling away from the Eyrie Building's garage, one night after the courthouse bombing. Or if you can explain your frequent visits to the Eyrie Building, always after hours? Isn't that strange?"
Elisa was speechless, taken aback at the federal agent's counter-attack. He nodded satisfied, then continued. "I'm sure Internal Affairs would be interested where you spend your off hours. Or, if they aren't, I'm certain that the Bureau would be. Well, Detective, would you care to answer my question?"
Elisa looked at the man closely. He was tall, pale, with brown hair beginning to gray. She looked at him long enough to commit his appearance to memory, in case she saw him again. As he began to walk away down the hall, she reached out and grabbed him by the arm.
"To answer your question," she said, "I was following up a lead on an unsolved case. An antique mirror was stolen from the Metropolitan Museum of Art two years ago. I think that there could be some connection with the theft of the Eye of Odin, the year before that. And since Xanatos was the one who donated the Eye to the Museum of Modern Art, I thought that he might be able to tell me who would want it."
Agent Black was silent for a moment, then shrugged off the detective's arm, and turned to leave. Elisa blocked his path.
"I answered your question," she said. Her voice remained friendly, but her eyes were cold and hard. "Now how about answering mine?"
"Is there a problem?" a voice came from down the hall. The other three agents stood at the end of the corridor, grim, no-nonsense looks upon their faces.
"No problem here," Agent Black replied. "Is there, Detective?" he added, turning to face her with a cold thin smile on his face.
"I'm still waiting for your answer," said Elisa calmly.
"Something going on, partner?" Matt asked, entering the hall. He and Officer Morgan were just coming back from the cafeteria. Elisa kept her eyes firmly on Agent Black, and noticed, to her pleasure, his smile fade.
"No problem, Matt," she said cheerfully. "In fact, maybe you and Morgan would like to join in our little question and answer session." She turned to face the federal agent. "Unless you'd like to answer mine," she said to him, "and call it a night?"
The agent glowered at her for a moment, then smiled again. "I'm sorry, Detective," he said. "I'm not allowed to divulge that particular piece of information."
"Fine," Elisa said. But before she could say anything else, two beepers sounded. One came from down the hall, the other from Agent Black. His partner checked it.
"Black, come on," he said. "We've got to check in."
"Another time, Detective Maza," Black smiled, then dashed down the hall to join his partner. The remaining agents gave Elisa a "we'll-be-watching-you" look, then departed after their comrades. Bluestone and Morgan joined Elisa.
"What was that all about?" Morgan asked.
"Unanswered questions," Elisa replied cryptically.
Robert Clifford listened on the phone for a few minutes, then nodded, gave a brief affirmative reply, and hung it up. He turned to the man standing before him.
"Our latest orders from our backers, Percy. We're to dispatch a unit to Wall Street, and have them plant a bomb underneath a high-rise building there."
"Any particular building, Mr. Clifford?"
"He said we're to pick out our own. This is a standby operation. We're to have the charge set and ready to detonate by sundown. Then wait for further instructions."
"More bombing, then?" Percy inquired. "No effort to search out those creatures ourselves?"
"I'm afraid not," said Clifford, shaking his head with a regretful sigh. "I'd prefer this over the approach that our backers want, but maybe it'll get the job done. Castaway tried the direct approach, and we both know how he ended up. Still, I'd much prefer facing those monsters and destroying them in person. Skulking is so… inglorious."
"I'll have Team A mobilized and sent to Wall Street at once," said Percy, nodding. And he left the office, leaving Clifford to sit at his desk in silence, looking up at the ceiling.
"Well, if that's what it takes to purge this city of those creatures," he said at last, "then so be it."
"Tell Elisa I send my best," Talon said as he accompanied Goliath and the trio to the entrance of the Labyrinth.
"I shall. And thank you again for your hospitality."
"No problem." There was a warmth in Talon's voice that hadn't been there too many months before.
"So Xanatos was denied bail," said Goliath, sitting at the dinner table in the great hall of the castle. Broadway was eagerly digging in on the meal that Owen had brought them, and Lexington and Brooklyn were not far behind.
"You must know that this is a set-up," Fox said to him. "David wouldn't try damaging his alliance with you, and he'd certainly never make a deal with terrorists."
"What you say does make sense," said Goliath, "but we both know Xanatos too well. Rarely is he the victim of someone else's designs."
"I think that this is one of those rare times," said Fox. "I don't have any proof of this, but I'm sure that this is the Illuminati's work. I've had our own forensic team examining the evidence, as well, but they haven't found anything yet."
"And has there been any further news concerning 'Phoenix Rising'?" Goliath asked.
Fox shook her head. "Nothing. It's as if they're waiting for something. But no one knows what. I thought that they were expecting the city to surrender, but the Mayor restated his position this afternoon. He and the City Council have refused to deal with terrorists. So the ball's in their court now."
Goliath nodded. "For now, they are our only lead. We must prepare ourselves for the next move. We will also find the evidence to set Xanatos free. Now we must leave."
"Good idea," said Fox, getting up. "The FBI's been watching the castle on a 24-hour basis. That distraction you set up," she looked at Lexington with a twinkle in her eye, "probably won't work again." She turned to the smallest of the gargoyles. "Just what persuaded you to light off a string of firecrackers?"
Lexington grinned. "It seemed like a good idea at the time. I took them away from Graeme just before we left tonight. Who knows what he had in mind."
Brooklyn looked like he couldn't decide between being pleased or upset. "I guess I'll have to have a talk with that kid of mine." He turned to Lexington "But what are we going to do for an encore?"
"I believe I can assist with that. You give me five minutes and I'll have every surveillance team totally occupied." Fox turned to Owen. "You have all their positions identified?"
"Of course, madam."
"Good. You need to depart from the south side of the courtyard. Climb down the wall about half way before you take off. I'll take it from there." She rose and escorted her guests outside. "Goliath," she put her hand on his arm and stopped him for a moment. "When I mentioned that David was set up, you didn't seem surprised. Does this mean you trust my husband again?"
Goliath thought it over for a moment. "I believe that this situation is more complicated than it first appeared," he said. "As for Xanatos's innocence, we will need to prove it."
And with that, he and the others climbed into position and waited.
Underneath the busy streets of Manhattan a party of mutates and clones cautiously approached the sub-basement of a Wall Street high-rise. Construction floodlights illuminated the building's foundation supports. Sharon peered out cautiously and quickly drew back. "City maintenance workers!" she whispered. "Stay back in the shadows."
They silently slipped back into the darkened recess of the tunnel and crouched watching the crew hard at work at some sort of installation. Sharon debated her plan of action. They were on the most direct path back to the Labyrinth. If they retraced their steps they would be at least an hour late getting home. The matter was decided for her when one of the men threw a roll of tape into a toolbox and the crew departed.
Cautiously, Sharon, followed closely by Claw and Hollywood, stepped forward to see what the workers had been doing.
"Strange," Sharon murmured. "It seems all they've done is tape these containers to the foundation columns." She studied them thoughtfully, then pulled one free and looked it over.
"This hardly makes sense," she said to her friends. "Why would anybody just tape one of these things to the pillars?"
She looked it over some more. "No logo," she said, "and no indication as to what this is for. Maybe Talon will know what it is."
Still holding the cylinder, she led them on their way back to the Sanctuary.
"So Agent Black delivered the tape," said Matt, at Elisa's apartment. He, Elisa, Goliath, and the trio had been discussing the matter ever since the gargoyles had arrived. "Any idea who gave the tape to him, partner?"
"None as yet," Elisa replied. "I haven't been able to find out. He got called away, and hasn't come back to the station. He knows a lot, too. He certainly suspects that I've got connections to you guys, and even threatened to let IA know if I didn't back off."
"This is most perplexing," said Goliath thoughtfully. "Why would the FBI deliver a package for Mr. Benson?"
"I don't know," said Elisa. "Kindly old man or not, I'm feeling less and less like trusting that guy."
"I agree," said Goliath. "May I use your phone?"
"Go ahead," said Elisa, smiling
Talon's ears went back flat and his fur rose as Sharon handed him the container. "Where did you find this?" cried Talon, staring at the cylinder, then at Sharon and the Clones.
"Down by Wall Street," she replied. "Some city workers taped them to all the supports there."
"Where exactly? What building? How many?!" Talon demanded. "Sharon, this is important."
"Across the street from the stock exchange," she replied. " I don't know, seven maybe eight. What's this all about, anyway? What is this thing?"
"A bomb," said Talon. "Probably planted by that 'Phoenix Rising'. I need to get to the phone … now!" He set the cylinder down gently. " Don't let anybody touch that thing until I figure out how to defuse it safely."
* * * * *
The phone rang in Captain Chavez's office, just as she was preparing to leave. She picked up the receiver. "Captain Chavez," she answered crisply.
"Captain, It's Tal…Derek Maza!"
"Derek?" gasped Chavez. " Where on earth have you been all this time?"
"I can't tell you right now, Captain," replied Talon. "Listen to me! There are bombs planted beneath the building across from the Wall Street Stock Exchange. You've got to get the Bomb Squad down there… Now!"
Chavez switched to the other line and dialed the Bomb Squad. After dispatching them, she switched back to Derek's line.
"They're on their way," she said. "Now, what can you tell me about the bomb?"
Talon looked at the steel cylinder. "There's no timer or any switches," he said. "It's probably remote-detonated. They're strapped to the foundation supports of the building. Tell the Bomb Squad there may be as many as eight of them…. look in the sub-basement."
"All right, Derek," said Chavez. "I'll let them know. Just stay on the line."
Talon paced, the phone glued to his ear as he waited for the captain to relay the information. He turned around, and took the pair of steps to reach the small table where he had set the bomb. Numbly he hung up the phone and looked at his companions. They were all there except for … "Where's Hollywood?" he asked the others slowly.
Delilah looked out the open door. "He took the bomb to the water. Had to make sure people are safe."
"Oh, no," Talon moaned. He bolted out the open door, Sharon and the others at his heels.
"Derek?" Captain Chavez said as the connection severed. "Derek!!"
"So, you have made your decision?" asked Mr. Benson calmly.
"Going to drop the bomb in the water. Want no one to be hurt." Talon muttered as he raced to the surface to catch up with the well intentioned Hollywood. "Great!" The clone had clearly decided to get rid of the bomb before it could explode in the Labyrinth. And the best way to do that would be to throw it in the river. But which one? The Hudson, or the East River? Talon hesitated then ran full speed towards the Hudson hoping desperately that he had not guessed wrong.
"We thank you for your generous offer," said Goliath over the phone. "But our place is here in the city."
The Bomb Squad arrived at the office building. Half began to evacuate the people inside, while the other half ran quickly down the steps into the basement.
"If that's your decision," said Mr. Benson with a sigh, "then so be it." He hung up.
A low rumble shook the business district. At first it went unnoticed over the roar of the traffic and the hustle of the city. The rumble grew to a roar. Twenty-seven floors of office building began to vibrate. Support beams stressed to their limits and began to give way under the stress as the foundation beneath them cracked. The basement floors were the first to go and one by one, the first, the second, the third. The Consolidated Financial Building collapsed like a house of cards, then erupted into flames.
Over the Hudson River a smaller ball of fire erupted …and a gargoyle tumbled from the sky.
"Nooooo!" Talon screamed.
To Be Continued...