Seeds of Change
Written by Kathy Pogge and Patrick Toman
Story concept by Kathy Pogge, Damien Tobin, and Patrick Toman
Illustrations by Jennifer "CrzyDemona" Anderson,
Christi Smith Hayden, Shauntell Holm, and Noel Leas
Previously on Gargoyles…
Arthur turned to Griff. "He may be right, my friend," he said to the griffon-like gargoyle. "It seems that our quest is over."
"You could be right, Arthur," said Griff, nodding. He and the king glanced at Emrys, who was scratching Cavall by the ears, the gargoyle beast clearly enjoying the attention.
"Or then again," Arthur continued thoughtfully, "it may have just begun."
~ Quest's End ~
"Yes, just like for them," Goliath replied as he turned to shake the Labyrinth Clan leader's arm in a warrior's grip. "Good evening, Talon. Maggie. Thank you for coming."
Talon returned the gargoyle's wrist grip. "Mom would say it's a family obligation. But we're not quite family yet, are we?" he added as he regarded Goliath, his cat-like eyes narrow with unspoken questions.
~ Something Old, Something New ~
Goliath: "We must search out every place on this list, familiar or otherwise, make contact with them, make certain that they are still alive and well. If they are in need of aid, than we will give it to them. But we must act. Lives could be at stake, and it is now our responsibility."
~ Re-emergence, Part 1 ~
* * * * *
Seeds of Change
* * * * *
Somewhere in England
A foghorn moaned long and lonely in the distance as intelligence agents and police officers moved into position along the deserted dock. They were a handpicked squad of twelve, chosen for their stealth and experience, and they set about their task with a minimum of effort and crisp efficiency.
"Fan out, you people. Handsomely," the leader hissed, his years in the British Navy revealed by his nautical slang.
The fog curled in wispy tendrils around the men as they waited for the order to move in. It was both a blessing and a curse, providing cover while it obscured their view of the ship and its crew.
"Are you ready, Sergeant?" Security Service Agent Robert Braddock murmured to the police detective at his side. He involuntarily patted down his gun and extra clips of ammunition checking to make sure everything was in its proper place as he waited for the officer's response.
"On your mark," the officer replied, then muttered into his shoulder microphone to the men under his command.
"Right," Braddock ordered crisply. "Let's be about it then."
The police and security service agents rushed the rusting freighter.
On silent feet the team of officers crept up the gangplank and surrounded the pilot's cabin. Guns raised, they rushed in to find - nothing.
"There's no one here," the point man miked to his team leader.
The senior officers exchanged worried glances.
"I thought you said your intel was spot on," Sergeant Winslow growled.
Braddock frowned. Disregarding protocol, he led the next team onto the ship. "They've got to be here," he growled back as he thumbed the safety off his revolver and darted up on deck. Movement on the aft deck caught his attention and he signaled his officers to move. There was a splash, then a second.
"They've gone over the side!" he yelled. "Get those lights up here and on the water."
Officers moved to comply. A volley of gunfire erupted from the cargo hold.
"Not all of them, Sergeant!" Constable O'Connell yelled. He ducked and returned fire. The shooting stopped abruptly and a loud moan carried over the fog.
"Into the hold!" Braddock ordered. "Mind yourselves, there may be more of them hiding below. Try to take them alive if you can, we need information."
A squad of agents, led by Sergeant Winslow, moved cautiously down into the hold.
"Pair off by the numbers, men. Watch your partner's back," he commanded. "One and Two. Move."
Two officers, automatic weapons drawn and night vision goggles in place, dropped down into the inky blackness.
The goggles cast an eerie, greenish glow over the hold. It was crammed from fore to aft with large wooden packing cases. The agents dropped to the deck and quickly took up covering positions on either side of the ladder that led above.
"Any sign of our moaner?" Number One hissed to his partner.
"Negative," Number Two replied. "He's gone all quiet."
"Watch for him, and anything else that moves."
A rat squealed loudly as Three and Four dropped down and fanned out to mid-deck. Three whistled, breaking the strict silence protocol, as he took in the number of packing cases.
"Five and Six, move," Winslow ordered. "Three, quiet down and keep your mind on your work."
Three nodded and poked his gun behind a packing case. Someone moved and the snub nose of a pistol appeared in the darkness.
Reflexively, the agent drew back and fired a burst. It fragmented the packing case, spilling guns out onto the deck. Men boiled out of the shadows and the agents ducked, rolled and took aim, returning fire.
As quickly as it started, the barrage stopped. "Lights!" Winslow commanded, his voice harsh from the sudden burst of adrenaline.
"We've got a live one," Five called over his mike.
"Here's another," Four added. "He took a hit to the wing."
One and Two marched a pair front and center. The gunrunner's eyes darted frantically, searching for a means to escape.
"Get them on deck and patched up," Winslow ordered before asking, "Are we secure?"
The remaining officers made a quick, but thorough, search of the hold.
"Secure, sir!" they replied as they completed their search.
"Get the Evidence Team down here. I want this cargo catalogued and every shred of information photographed and documented before the night's done."
Braddock slid down the ladder and landed lightly beside Winslow. "Nice job, Sergeant," He surveyed the hold with a practiced eye. "If our information is correct, and I see no reason to doubt it, you've kept some very nasty hardware from getting into the hands of some very tough customers."
An Evidence Technician armed with a crow bar and a camera set to work as the senior officers watched. She re-positioned the black baseball cap she wore so that the bill was towards the back and out of her way, before taking a series of establishing shots of the cargo hold. "Do you mind if I start with this one?" she asked the pair as she framed her first close range shot.
"Go ahead, but I want every surface dusted before you crack any more of those boxes," Winslow answered.
"Yes, sir," the technician replied as she snapped more pictures, stopping periodically to take notes in a small black book.
A second agent, carrying an oversized tool box, donned a pair of latex gloves with a crisp snap then began to methodically dust for fingerprints, pausing from time to time extract hair and fiber samples with a pair of fine tweezers.
"Why does Braddock have his knickers in such a twist?" the second technician whispered to his partner as soon as the senior officers had moved safely out of earshot.
The female technician paused to reload her camera before answering. "He's been chasing the bloke behind these gun runners for a long time. It seems pretty likely they were responsible for blowing up Traitor's Gate the night the town went off its head. Not to mention," she added while repositioning for another shot, "supplying half the gangs in northern Britain." The camera flashed and the technician let it fall to her chest as she took another series of notes in her little black book. Then she looked up at her partner and concluded, "That's the way the tracks lead, anyway."
The male technician whistled. "Catch up with our mystery man and shut down a major artillery pipeline. It'd be quite a feather in Braddock's cap wouldn't it?" he said as began to dust the faceplate of the next padlocked box. He smiled as the powder dissolved into a clear impression of a thumbprint. "Beautiful," he crowed. "Take a nice clear snap of this one, Dru," he said, pointing to the thumbprint.
"Right, Willie, I've got it." The flare of the flash bloomed and died, and the two technicians continued their methodical search for evidence.
On shore a lone figure stood concealed among the flotsam of the waterfront. It watched with satisfaction as the constables marched the gunrunners into a pair of waiting vans for transport to Scotland Yard.
* * * * *
Elisa reclined comfortably against Goliath's chest, her long legs tucked under her on the library's sofa. "You have no idea how good this feels," she sighed, contented, as she idly played with Goliath's sable locks.
"I have some idea," Goliath replied dryly, as he repositioned Elisa slightly and resettled himself. "Unless of course you are referring to something besides your current lack of activity."
Elisa opened one eye and looked up at the gargoyle leader. "Not having to save the world or battle the forces of evil is a nice change of pace, Goliath." She stretched, extending her arms out and around her love's sturdy neck and smiled. "After everything that's happened lately, I think I'm about ready for a vacation."
Goliath looked thoughtful as he reached around, gently unclasping delicate human fingers, pausing to kiss the knuckles before resettling them on their owner's chest. "It is funny you should mention that, Elisa," he began hesitantly. "Brooklyn's report of the Unseelie attacks on the other clans has left me feeling-," he struggled to put his thoughts into words, "with a need to seek out others of my kind. To see for myself that they have prevailed against the menace that threatened us all."
Elisa opened her other eye and rolled over to give Goliath a compassionate hug. "I can understand that," she commiserated. "I keep finding myself checking up on people I haven't thought of in ages just to make sure that they made it through okay." The lithe woman propped herself up on her elbows and looked intently at her companion. "But how would you do it, Goliath? Xanatos's plane or-" she broke off abruptly and sat up, her eyes going wide. "You're not planning on taking an Avalon skiff, are you?" She rolled off of the couch and Goliath's extended legs, and onto the floor, kneeling at his side, before protesting, "There's no way I've got enough vacation time saved up to take another one of those crazy boat rides!"
"Well..." Goliath trailed off and Elisa realized that was exactly what was running through his mind.
"What if Avalon decides that a family reunion is not where you need to be?" she questioned. "Besides, I want to go with you, big guy. " She smiled coyly. "That is, if you'll have me."
Goliath purred low in his throat as he gathered Elisa off of the floor and into an embrace. They kissed tenderly. The tender kisses gave way to more heated ones and after several moments the muscular gargoyle found himself compelled to come up for air. "Elisa, I want you beside me, always." His voice was filled with promise and anticipation. Elisa felt herself blush.
The clock on the mantle chimed and the detective looked up, startled. "Oh my gosh, how did it get to be so late?" She struggled to her feet and began to hurriedly tidy up her hair and clothing. "I could have sworn we've only been in here a little while and not - " She glanced at the clock again and paled. "Two and a half hours! Oh man, the Captain's gonna have my head on a platter!" Goliath held out her bomber jacket and she slid into it, then remembered the gun and shoulder holster resting next to the clock on the mantle. Elisa shrugged out of the jacket, threaded herself into her holster, then reflexively checked the clip before ramming her service revolver into place. She re-donned the jacket and notched the zipper, before returning her attention to Goliath. "I want to finish this conversation ... properly, Goliath." There was more than a hint of anticipation in her warm contralto. "I have all of tomorrow off. Will you come see me?"
"I shall leave the castle as soon as the sun sets, my love." Goliath promised. He combed his talons through her ebony locks, straightening a few errant strands. "I too, wish to... finish our conversation."
The pair shared one last kiss, filled with promise, before Elisa grabbed her keys and bolted for the elevator.
* * * * *
23rd Precinct House
Matt Bluestone scanned an incident report of what appeared to be a Yakuza-backed robbery and smiled. The smile had nothing to do with the robbery report. It had everything to do with a certain 14th Precinct detective and the way her eyes lit up whenever she saw him. "I am one lucky guy," he sighed as he attempted to get his mind off of Sara and back on the case in front of him.
"No, I'm telling you, Dick-" Bluestone looked up. Sentinel reporter Jerry Pearson was sitting on a corner of the adjacent desk engaged in a good-natured debate with Detective Halloran. "I think it was a covert government experiment."
Halloran looked at the reporter in disbelief. "You're telling me, that you think all that screwy stuff that happened was the result of a pyschogenic drug the government dumped into the water supply?" The detective shook his head. "To what end? To see how long it takes for an entire city to come unhinged?"
Matt frowned at the conversation. He'd heard that theory more than once in the days following the final Unseelie strike. He wondered if the Illuminati weren't circulating it to keep the elected government off balance.
"I mean, some of the stuff people reported-" Jerry looked at his notepad and flipped the pages idly, "flying horses, giants, red-eyed hounds, pixies. And my personal favorite: Tinkerbell with rabies." He trailed off as if it was all too much for him to fathom. "This is more than the effect of the full moon bringing out the lunatics. Solid citizens reported these monsters. The weirdest part of it all is that, for the most part, it all dried up as soon as the weather changed."
"Maybe it was mass cabin fever," Halloran conjectured. "It's been well documented how low levels of light affect people. It's called S.A.D.- seasonal affective disorder. Not enough light affects the pineal gland. It throws the entire brain chemistry off."
The pair considered the hypothesis. "You know, " Pearson said, "there could be some merit to that theory, detective. I know that I've been feeling at least two hundred percent better since I've been able to shed the extra layers of thermal underwear."
"You got that right." Halloran stretched out his stubby legs and looked down at the toes of his worn, black loafers. "There's something reassuring about going to a crime scene knowing I won't come back with frostbite."
Matt relaxed, glad the conversation was finally starting to drift away from the Unseelie-induced weirdness and back to the routine of day to day crime. He shifted his attention back on to the incident report in front of him as Jerry pushed off the desk and aimed himself at a pair of incoming detectives.
Matt picked up his coffee cup and rose from the desk. He threaded his way through the usual suspects to the coffee maker and poured a cup of the thick, overheated brew. In self-defense, he added both sugar and milk powder to the mug before sampling the contents. "Why do I do this to myself?" he groaned as he took a sip of the noxious substance.
"Detective Matthew Bluestone?" a voice at his elbow inquired mildly.
"Yeah, who wants to know?" Matt replied, irritated.
"Have a nice day."
Matt suddenly found himself in the possession of a plain, brown envelope. He looked up quickly, coffee forgotten, but the messenger was gone. "What the...?" He held the envelope up to the light, but the heavy paper concealed the contents. Shrugging, the lanky detective tore open the envelope and pulled a single sheet of paper free. "You are hereby ordered to..." Matt read and the color drained from his face. He took a long pull of the bittersweet brew and choked in protest- both of the coffee he had swallowed and of the letter in his hands. Numbly, he stumbled back to his desk to read the summons more closely.
* * * * *
Castle Wyvern, main kitchen
Graeme and Ariana peered over the edge of the counter, examining the mass array of mixing bowls and ingredients eagerly. "Can we lick the bowls when you're done, Uncle Broadway? Can we?" Ariana asked sweetly.
Broadway looked up, distracted. "Yeah, sure, kids. Angela, could you get me some more eggs while you're in there?" he asked, glancing behind him where the refrigerator door hung open.
"Milk and eggs, check," her voice answered. She surfaced a moment later, the egg carton in one hand and a gallon container of milk in the other.
"Who's the cake for?" Graeme asked. He snagged a handful of chocolate chips from a nearby bowl and popped them into his mouth. "Is it somebody's hatching day?"
"No, it's for Demona," Broadway answered uneasily, pausing in his frantic mixing to move the bowl Graeme had just poached from out of reach. "And don't keep eating those! I need them for the frosting."
The twins traded glances as Angela set the milk and eggs on the counter and gave her beloved a worried look. "Geez, sorry," Graeme grumped, swallowing the mouthful of chocolate.
"That was hardly a sincere apology, Graeme-kun." Sata's voice had its usual soft steel tone as she stood in the doorway for a moment and then entered the room, crossing her arms as her children turned around to look at her. "Didn't you promise not to bother Uncle Broadway and Aunt Angela when I sent you down here ten minutes ago?" the jade green female asked.
Angela came to their defense quickly. "They're not bothering us, Sata," she said. She looked to Broadway, but he returned a harried look that said otherwise. "Really," she added, sounding slightly worried.
Sata acknowledged Angela with a nod then turned her eyes back to her children. "You were supposed to gather the butter, sugar, and cinnamon and be back before the popcorn was done," she lectured mildly. "Now I have had to come to look for you, and your father is still waiting."
"Actually, your father is right here," Brooklyn said, looking back over his shoulder distractedly as he entered the room. Shaking off whatever it was, he looked to Sata. "Better get more popcorn kernels, too," he said sheepishly, "unless you like it Cajun style… I sort of burned the last batch." Sata looked at him oddly, while Graeme and Ariana traded amused glances. Brooklyn shrugged. "Hey, we can't all be as good in the kitchen as Broadway."
Sata shook her head and traded a smirk with Angela. Broadway, meanwhile, was busy sifting flour, oblivious to everything but his baking.
The Japanese gargoyle gave a small sigh. "Well, why don't you two head back to the TV room," she suggested, collecting her children under her wings and moving them toward the door.
"Yeah, kids," Brooklyn added. "We'll take care of the snacks now."
"Ohhhh-kay…" Graeme agreed reluctantly. He moped melodramatically at being ejected from the kitchen, but perked up as Ariana poked him in the arm with her talon.
"Hey, Graeme-kun… I'll race you - ready, set, go!" She took off running, giggling as she disappeared around the corner.
"Hey!" Graeme cried in protest. He broke immediately into a run as well, and the two gargoyle youngsters thundered off down the hallway.
"Hey, kids, slow down!" Brooklyn called after them, spinning and sticking his head back out the door.
Sata crossed her arms again and just stood there for a moment until her mate pulled his head back into the room. "They get it from you, you know," she commented.
Brooklyn scratched the back of his neck. "I just hope they don't crash into anything… like Goliath. He was out there in the hall just a few moments ago…" The beaked gargoyle peeked back out the door again, saw nothing, and shook his head. "It was the oddest thing, too," he added, moving back into the kitchen.
"What was, Brooklyn-san?" Sata asked as she moved behind the counter and past Broadway and Angela to examine the spice rack.
"He was humming… some pop tune off the radio, I think."
Angela looked up. "Seriously?" she asked. "What song?"
Brooklyn shrugged. "I'm not quite sure. But I've never seen him doing anything like that before."
"Maybe he's just in a good mood," Broadway chimed in, showing that he was paying some attention. "Elisa was here earlier," he added, as if that was explanation enough. He wiped his hands off on a towel and joined Sata at the spice rack.
Sata muttered to herself, reading the labels as she searched for the right one. "Parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme…"
"Cinnamon, here you go," Broadway offered, pulling the small canister of from its place among the dozens of others on the rack without hardly even looking, as he grabbed the little bottle of vanilla extract for himself.
"Domo arigato, Broadway-san," Sata replied, accepting the container from him.
"I didn't know Elisa had stopped by tonight," Angela commented, her brow furrowing slightly.
"Me neither," said Brooklyn.
"I think she arrived after we had left for patrol." Broadway shrugged, pouring a carefully measured teaspoon of the pungent vanilla into the bowl. "I didn't know she was here, either, until she ran past me on her way out of the library." He paused, turning to Angela and giving a funny smile. "She said something about being late, but she seemed pretty happy about it, though."
Angela gave a grin of her own. "Did she look all flushed, like she had just been exercising? With her hair a little messed up?"
Broadway gave his beloved an odd look. "Yeah… how did you know?"
A musical little laugh escaped Angela's lips. "I've caught her coming out of the library looking like that, too." She smiled, giving her mate a small kiss on the cheek. "I've never said anything… I imagine she must've seen me looking the same way dozens of times over the past year," she half-whispered.
Broadway's eyes went wide with realization. "Ohhh…." A few feet away, Brooklyn hid his smirk as his big rookery brother tried to wipe the goofy expression off his face.
Angela giggled again, patting Broadway's hand reassuringly. Behind them, Sata just shook her head and smiled as she opened the refrigerator, the knowing look on her face making it even harder for Brooklyn to keep a straight face.
Angela sighed contentedly. "Ever since her recovery, she and Father have been spending every moment they can spare together. She didn't admit it, but I know it was really hard for her to move back to her own place after spending those two weeks here in the guest wing."
"Yeah," Brooklyn agreed. "If Elisa's not here, Goliath's over at her place. He used to warn us about cutting it close - now he's the one barely making it back before sunrise most mornings."
Sata put on a serene smile as she emerged from the refrigerator with the butter. "I do not see Goliath-sama and Elisa-chan's behavior being any cause for concern. It is not like we all have not known for a long time that they have feelings for each other." She crossed to her mate's side as he finished pulling a fresh bag of popcorn kernels from the pantry.
Brooklyn nodded. "Sometimes I think we've known it longer than they have."
Broadway looked up at that comment, eyeing his rookery brother curiously for a moment. Angela came up beside him and impulsively entwined her arm with his, leaning her head against his shoulder. "I'm just glad they both finally seem happy… after everything that has happened… that's all that really matters to me."
"Yeah," Broadway replied. He thought for a moment, seeming a bit uneasy with what he wanted to say. "But they've always been close… do you suppose now they are ready to get… closer?"
Angela blinked, looking at her mate. "I don't know," she said at last. "I guess I've never really thought about it." Then, as one, the two newlymates turned to look at Brooklyn and Sata.
The two elder gargoyles exchanged a meaningful glance. "The easiest way to find out, Angela-chan," Sata answered, "is to ask them."
Leaving the younger couple to ponder that, the two Timedancers slipped quietly from the room to rejoin their children.
* * * * *
John Hathaway sat at his desk in his modest flat and stared at a stack of unpaid bills. A normally quiet and unassuming man of thirty, he fingered his ginger-colored mustache absently as he resorted the piles of notices. "How on earth could things get out of hand so quickly?" he muttered quietly trying to keep his wife from overhearing his worries.
"What was that, ducks?" his wife called from the kitchen only a few steps away.
"Nothing, Marjorie. Is dinner soon? I've got to be getting to work."
Marjorie Hathaway came out of the kitchenette wiping her hands on a tea towel. "I'll have it for you in a minute, dear. It's Bubble and Squeak again, I hope you don't mind, but grocery money doesn't seem to go as far as it used to."
John looked up from the stack of unpaid bills, guiltily. It was a string of bad luck is all. He lost a few card games. The next bet would pay off and they'd be on their feet again. As long as it happened soon. The section would be asking questions if his creditors started dunning him in earnest. "Nonsense, Marjorie. I love Bubble and Squeak. Now go along and fetch Gail, I've a few more things to take care of here before we sit down."
He picked up an envelope at random to emphasize his point and Marjorie shot him a worried look before calling to their daughter that dinner was almost ready.
John stared at the envelope in his hands and his brow furrowed. It wasn't from anyone he knew. The envelope was heavy and expensive. There was no post mark indicating its origin. He turned the envelope over and quickly slit the top with his pen knife. A sheet of paper from the same expensive stock slid into his hands folded around a smaller envelope. John hesitated a moment, his heart thudding in his chest as he opened the letter and read. The color drained from his face. Someone knew all about his gambling. "I have a solution to your little problem," he read silently, "if you are willing to do a small favor or two for me in return. You will be well compensated for your efforts." He opened the smaller envelope with a jerky slash of the pen knife and paled further as he counted the stack of ten pound notes inside. "Spend one of these notes at The Eagle and Dove and I will know that you've agreed to assist me. You will receive additional instructions later."
* * * * *
Elisa raced up the stairs of the 23rd Precinct, then paused to collect herself as she reached the threshold. "'Evening, O'Malley. Morgan," Elisa greeted the passing officers casually as she sauntered into the precinct. She snuck a peek at her watch. She wasn't really that late after all.
As she made her way towards the Detective's Bullpen, she pushed thoughts of Goliath, and all the nervous anticipation that went with them, away and gradually donned her work persona. It took an extra five minutes in the locker room to wipe the sappy grin off her face and replace it with something more professional. The wrong attitude on the street could get her killed and Elisa Maza had everything to live for.
Still, it was with a light heart that she pushed open the double doors of the Bullpen and greeted Matt.
"Hey, Bluestone. Ready to protect and serve?"
Matt barely acknowledged her. His attention was fixed on a plain manila envelope. "Huh? Elisa? What did you say?"
Elisa frowned at her partner. "I asked," she said, her voice a mixture of good-natured irritation and curiosity, "if you were ready to get to work," she repeated as she dropped behind her own desk and began to survey the piles of reports and forms. "You know, it's that thing that we do when we're not saving the world from power-hungry immortals."
Matt gave the envelope one last look before shoving it into his pocket. "Right. Work." He ran his hands over his face as he tried to concentrate. "That reminds me. The Captain wanted to see us as soon as you got in. We've got a new case." He lifted the latest robbery file from the stack of case jackets on his desk. "It looks like the Yakuza are getting busy again."
"Are we getting assigned to a Task Force?" Elisa asked absently as she scanned the case file.
"Task Force?" Matt responded a bit too forcefully. "Uh, no. Not yet. I don't think. Right now we investigate it as a routine break in. Later, if there's a way for the Organized Crime Unit to get a front page out of it, they'll get involved. Right now it's all ours."
"Sounds good to me." Elisa smiled a feral grin at the idea of knocking the self - satisfied look off of a few Yakuza kobun. "Let's go see the Captain."
* * * * *
Hathaway stared at the ornate sign above the pub's doorway for a long moment, debating whether to follow through with the invitation in his hand. He was done for either way. If the section found out about his gambling problem, he'd be out on the dole with his bookie and his creditors breathing down his neck. Of course they'd all be in line behind Marjorie. Marjorie who'd bought his story without question about cutbacks at the section and temporary pay decreases. She'd cut off his ears when she found out that he'd lied to her. "There's no other way," he muttered sadly. He opened the heavy, oak door and pushed his way inside passed the crowd to the bar. "Pint and a short whisky," he told the bartender as he shoved the ten pound note from the envelope across the bar.
"Coming up," the blowsy brunette replied as she set a glass under the tap and began to pour his beer. The woman filled a squat tumbler while she waited for the pint to tap and set it in front of Hathaway. "I'll get your change."
"Keep it," he said as he downed the shot.
The bartender shrugged, set Hathaway's beer in front of him, and began to fill the next order. Hathaway found himself a spot in a dimly lit corner and stared morosely at the bartender before draining his pint. He waved at one of the roaming servers and ordered a second round. He wasn't completely surprised when this one arrived with a small, expensive envelope as a chaser. He shoved it in his pocket without looking at it and left the beer on the table untouched.
* * * * *
Club Lotus, Little Japan
Ryu slipped silently along the back wall, ignoring the loud music blasting from the speakers and the quartet of scantily clad dancing girls on the stage that Fuyu and his small gang of men at the front tables were cheering on enthusiastically. Smoothly, he stepped to a booth in the far corner near the restrooms, joining another well-dressed man who sat waiting in the shadows.
"I came as soon as I got your message, Kimura-san," he greeted bowing respectfully.
"Sit, Ryu-san," Tommy Kimura said. Ryu complied, sliding into the empty seat opposite him.
Tommy tipped back the last of his drink. "Our redemption in the eyes of our Oyabun is at hand. I've been given another special assignment," he began without preamble, setting the glass down soundly to punctuate his words, "and I have selected you to work beside me again."
Ryu inclined his head. "I am honored, Kimura-sama."
Tommy nodded. "You have remained faithful to me even through these troubling times," he said sincerely. He paused to cast a cold glance across the room at Fuyu as his rival and former subordinate whistled lewdly as a new dancer took the stage, earning another round of cheers from his men. Tommy looked back at Ryu. "I will not let that go unrewarded."
Ryu nodded again, and Tommy gave a slight smile. Placing his hands on the tabletop, he tapped his fingers in succession, ending with the pinky that was partly missing. "This assignment also has a bonus," he added, staring at the missing digit a moment before looking up. He found Ryu sitting up attentively, and his face curled into a wicked sneer as he spoke. "We're going to pay back that baka gaijin Tony Dracon for Pier 24."
A smile to match Tommy's own formed on Ryu's lips. He placed his own hands on the table, folding them one over the other with the one that, like Tommy's, was missing the pinky on top. "Tell me more, Kimura-sama. Tell me more."
* * * * *
Agent Braddock re-balanced his reading glasses on his nose and brushed a finger absently over his neatly trimmed mustache. He reached absently for his beaker of hot, sweet, tea and found with disgust after taking a long draught, that it had gone cold long ago. With a sigh he set it aside and picked up another maddeningly incomplete report off of his desk.
"Guns," he muttered as he reviewed the inventory from the confiscated cargo. "Plastic explosives, charged particle weaponry. There's enough firepower here to start a bloody war, and end it too."
Braddock set the inventory down and picked up a statement from one of the suspects detained at the scene. His name, an alias, of course. No word back yet from the Interpol Criminal Database as to who he really might be. "Tight-lipped about his past exploits. Hello," Braddock lifted a sandy brown eyebrow as he took in the suspect's remarks about his employer. "What's this now? They couldn't get three straight words out of the blighter and now he's chattering like a magpie. His boss is well connected, powerful, going to set things straight in the world, starting with Britain and its Royal Family. 'It doesn't matter that we got caught because what we had on board was party favors for Guy Fawkes Day compared to what we've already brought in and tucked away for later.'" Braddock grimaced at the bravado of the words and wondered how much of it was true. "Everything but a name, blast you!" He closed his eyes and pushed away the frustration that gnawed at the fringes of his mind. The frustrated investigator rose, poured himself a fresh cup from the tea trolley and set back to work. He buried himself in cases files full of possible connections, similar motivations and other tenuous leads, as he waited impatiently for hard data he could really sink his teeth into.
He was unprepared when the Evidence Technician appeared at his elbow.
"We've got a name, sir," the technician announced. There was a faint ring of pride beneath the man's professional tone.
"You've what?" Braddock replied wearily, then realized what the technician had said. "Well, don't just stand there, man, give me the bloody report!"
"Yes, sir." He dropped the file onto Braddock's desk and began to recite. "We found surprisingly few fingerprints, evidently most of those connected to the guns were exceedingly careful, and there was of course," he added, off handedly, "the rather poor surfaces on which to take prints that we had to consider. But we did recover several partials, and one, very good thumb print off of one of the locks of one of the packing containers. The print belongs to Arthur Pennington. He has no criminal history, but is currently registered as a Private Investigator operating out of Soho."
"I see," Braddock said, calmly, though very little added up. He lifted the telephone receiver at his elbow, dialed a number swiftly, waited an impatient moment, then spoke crisply, "Hathaway, Braddock here. Fine. I need a dossier put together. Yes, all haste. The name is Arthur Pennington. I'll facsimile you what information we have momentarily. Good man." He rung off and addressed the evidence technician who waited at his side. "We'll just see exactly who this Arthur Pennington is," he said grimly. "And find out why he holds such a grudge towards all we hold dear."
* * * * *
Hathaway hung up the telephone and smiled tightly. The call from Braddock he'd been told to expect had come in. He picked up the file he had already begun on Arthur Pennington, reviewing the facts that he'd previously compiled. The address of Pennington's combined home and place of business, that he lived with his ward, Emrys Hawkins, that he held Private Investigator's license 27-i145-ll. Then Hathaway paused, hesitated and logged on to the computer under a different user-id. He checked the balance of a Swiss bank account under a name known only to himself and his mysterious would-be benefactor. There was a great deal of money in the account. Enough to make walking away from his life and his family well worth while. He logged off and began to append Arthur's dossier. Braddock would have no reason to doubt that Pennington was his man.
* * * * *
Castle Wyvern, just before dawn
Goliath crouched on his favorite library ladder perch, his wings caped around his shoulders, lost in thought. The embers in the fireplace had all but died; the book he'd tried to read had been abandoned. It lay on the floor at his feet, the pages flattened against the rich oak boards.
Angela entered the library, humming to herself as she scanned the tall bookcases looking for a volume of poetry. "Should we try Shakespeare's Sonnets?" she asked herself. "Or maybe something more contemporary?"
"The Sonnets are on the floor," her father's voice rumbled from above her head.
Angela looked up, startled, to find Goliath pointing to the fallen book at his feet. "Father! I didn't realize you were in here," she apologized. "I can come back later if I'm disturbing you."
Goliath leapt lightly from his perch and handed the volume of love poems to his daughter. "No, Angela, stay. Join me if you have a moment."
The newly mated female hesitated as she thought of Broadway waiting for her in the arboretum. "Of course," she replied automatically as she accepted the book. "Is everything all right, Goliath? You seem troubled."
The brawny gargoyle regarded the dying embers for a long moment before picking up the fireplace poker and stirring them back to life. Not knowing what else to do, Angela sat before the fire, watching it revive as her father gathered his thoughts.
"Are you happy, daughter?" Goliath began. "Is Broadway the mate you thought he would be?"
Somewhat thrown by the personal question, the younger female hesitated before answering. "Yes, Father," she said at last. "I know we haven't been mated very long, but I haven't doubted my choice for a minute. I can't understand now why we waited so long."
The clan leader looked at his only child. "Perhaps you wanted to be certain about your choice, so that you would not make the mistake that your parents made."
Dangerous territory, Angela thought to herself. "No, Goliath, not consciously. You and mother were happy a thousand years ago. But too much had happened for you to reconcile. You'd changed too much. She'd changed too much. I understand that." The younger gargoyle rose and stood beside her sire. "I want you both to be happy, but I know that it won't be with each other. What is this about, Father? Won't you tell me?"
"I have been thinking about the future, Angela, and what it holds." Goliath looked away from the flames. To Angela, it appeared he was looking beyond the library wall, searching the city that lay below the castle. "And I was thinking about the past and decisions I should have made long ago. I have been a fool, daughter." He tore his gaze away from the imaginary city and focused on his only child. "I know that now."
The younger gargoyle started to pose a question of her own, but her father's faraway expression stilled her words. She stole from the room, the book of love poetry, clutched between her hands, forgotten.
* * * * *
Manhattan, the docks
The late morning sunlight glinted off the rippling water as one of the many dockworkers adjusted the straps on his grime-covered overalls and stepped to the guardrail to have a smoke. He stared disinterestedly across the Hudson River, watching as the seagulls perched along the waterfront roused themselves to alertness and took to the air, circling for a few moments like a flock of noisy, white vultures before descending to feast on a passing garbage scow.
The dark-haired man flicked the butt of his cigarette into the river, not turning as a second, taller worker stepped up beside him.
"Good disguise, Ryu," Tommy Kimura congratulated softly. "I almost didn't recognize you."
"I told you I could get us in," Ryu replied, still watching the gulls. He wrinkled his nose and turned away as the smell from the passing scow finally made it to shore. He looked at Tommy appraisingly. His clothes, though similar to Ryu's, were just a bit cleaner, but his Yukaza compatriot still looked uncomfortable in them.
"Let's just get this done with before we have to pay the union dues, too," he muttered in response to Ryu's skeptical look.
Ryu snorted. "This place is a joke anyway," he reported as they began casually strolling away from the water's edge, leaving behind the bustle of activity as ships were loaded and unloaded. "I did a job here last year at the other end of the complex. Nothing seems to have changed since then. My grandmother could sneak in and out of here during the daytime."
"What about at night?" Tommy asked edgily.
"A few security guards on the grounds. All of the warehouses have alarms… a few of them have dogs." Ryu turned to look at Tommy for his reaction but found him distracted with an itch under his rough clothes. Ryu looked away again before Tommy could notice him trying not to laugh. "You need to get out more, Tommy-san," Ryu commented, shoving his hands into the pockets of his coveralls.
"This is work for children, not men like us," Tommy replied, his discontentment resurfacing. "Even a trained monkey like the ones in Fuyu's little circle can manage a lousy reconnaissance assignment."
Ryu chuckled softly. "Yes, though a real monkey might make for more pleasant smelling company afterwards."
Ryu's flip remark had the desired effect. Tommy laughed quietly and his mood brightened some. "So what is our mission, Kimura-san?" he asked as they rounded a corner and entered a short, quiet alleyway between two huge warehouses.
"We're going to replace the merchandise stolen from us at Pier 24… with interest," Tommy answered calmly. "And we're gonna make everything happen right there," he added as they came to the end of the alley. Ryu looked in the direction Tommy pointed, across a wide driveway to the largest warehouse in the compound - a place that was currently abuzz with activity.
"How much… merchandise?" Ryu inquired quietly.
"An entire truckload… just like those," Tommy answered, motioning off-handedly at one of the semi trailers parked against the warehouse's loading bay. "And we'll snatch it right out from under Dracon's pointed little gaijin nose," he added, a self-satisfied grin on his face.
Ryu frowned slightly. "Just the two of us?" he asked. "How will we ever manage that? It will take hours to unload a shipment that big."
Tommy pulled his companion back away from the opening of the alley as the growl of a diesel engine approached. The two men waited to speak again as a loaded tractor-trailer thundered past, kicking up dust under its eighteen wheels.
Tommy gave a funny smile of inspiration as he watched the huge vehicle move away. "Then we won't unload it," he replied, picking up the conversation right from where it had been interrupted. "We'll just take the entire truck."
Ryu looked at Tommy skeptically. "Do you know how to drive one of those, Tommy-san?"
"No," Tommy answered. "Do you?" Ryu shook his head. Tommy looked back over at the warehouse, the optimistic smile still on his face. "Then one of us will just have to learn."
"How…?" Ryu began. Tommy silenced him with a raised hand.
"We'll figure something out, Ryu… over lunch. Come on… let's get out of here." With no protest from Ryu this time, the two men disappeared back the way they had come.
* * *
A few seconds later, there was a rustling of cardboard and paper as something stirred behind a pile of empty crates that sat along the one wall of the alley. Cautiously, the top of a bald head came into view, followed by a pair of pointed ears and a pair of narrowed eyes hidden behind a scratched pair of dark sunglasses.
Vince, the now unemployed Unseelie Halfling, straightened his tattered clothes and crept away in the opposite direction on a mission of his own.
* * * * *
The Savoy Hotel, a short time later…
"We can be in and out in five minutes," Glasses stated, pointing to a spot on a map laid out on the glass coffee table. "Then ten minutes to get across town to the transfer point," he continued, tracing the route with his finger, "and ten more for our guys to switch the cargo into the other trucks."
Tony Dracon sat on the edge of the couch, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees as he listened and stared at the road map of Manhattan Island. "And what about the cops? It'd sure be a shame if Maza and her gargoyles showed up to spoil the party."
"Joey's already taking care of ensuring they'll be busy elsewhere," Glasses replied confidently. "Aren't you, Joey?"
Dracon and Glasses both turned to the freckle-faced man. Pal Joey was pacing the room anxiously, oblivious to the question that had been asked.
"Joey!" Dracon shouted, loud enough to get his attention. He gestured to the map on the table. "We are trying to plan an operation here, if you'd like to help."
Joey's face flushed noticeably. "Sorry boss, I'm just hungry enough to eat a horse right here… where's that room service guy at anyways?"
A knock on the door sounded as if in response to the question. Glasses swept the map off the table and folded it up as Joey sprinted for the door. "It's about time," he began as he yanked it open. He trailed off and froze, staring at the bedraggled figure that waited there instead, and crinkled his nose in disgust as the scent of rancid garbage rather than a freshly baked pizza assailed his nose.
Glasses stepped up behind Joey, and his eyes bulged behind his spectacles as he spotted pointed ears. Reflexively, he reached inside his coat.
"Is there a problem, boys?" Dracon asked as he moved in to see what was going on. He appraised the man standing outside the door carefully. "Vince," he greeted coolly. "Long time no see." He sniffed the air, making an exaggerated face of displeasure. "Phew, where have you been keeping yourself… you seem to be past your expiration date."
"You… you gotta lotta nerve showin' your face around here again," Joey said, finding his tough guy bravado - and his voice - once again.
"Or those ears," Glasses added, his posture stiffening as he drew the handle of his gun into view from behind his coat.
Vince put his hands up in a frantic gesture. "Hey, man, I just want to talk to you guys…"
Joey jumped back as if expecting fireballs to come hurling from the Halfling's palms. Glasses made to finish drawing his weapon, but Dracon steadied his arm. "Now, now, Glasses… no sense in ruining the carpet and spoiling our welcome here just yet." He moved his men aside and motioned for Vince to enter.
"Okay," Dracon said calmly, turning to the tall, bald-headed man as Glasses glanced out into the hallway and then closed the door behind them. "You've got," he checked his watch, "three minutes to tell me what you want and why I shouldn't have you fitted for cement shoes."
Vince gulped, noticing perfectly with his enhanced hearing the ominous sound of the deadbolt sliding home on the hotel suite's door. Glasses and Joey fell in behind Dracon, joining him in waiting. Vince considered his options as the seconds ticked away. Finally, he removed his sunglasses and settled on the good, old-fashioned plea for sympathy.
"Please, Mr. Dracon… I don't got nowhere else to go!" he began desperately. "I've been livin' in a refrigerator box and eatin' out of dumpsters for a month… none of the other gangs will take me… and I don't got no other skills!"
Dracon listened, unimpressed. He gripped his chest mockingly. "Ouch, my heart is just bleeding terribly," he said flatly.
Glasses smirked. "Somebody get me a tissue - I think I'm gonna cry."
"You had it good with us, Vince," Joey contributed, "whydya haveta go an' do something stupid like quit the gang? Now just look atcha."
Vince contemplated the question for a moment. He hadn't exactly "quit" the gang… Dracon had gone to prison, and not too many career opportunities had been open at the time for small-time thugs like himself. He started trying to explain. "I had to do something while you were ...away, Mr. Dracon. I got a job as muscle for the Quarrymen and things kind went downhill from there."
Joey made a face. "Heh, I'll say," he muttered.
Vince self-consciously rubbed at the tip of one of his pointed ears, pretending he was scratching an itch. The action only caused the glare in Glass's eyes to intensify, while Vince silently cursed George Harrison, the former right hand man to Jon Castaway, who had recruited him to join up with the Unseelie Court after the Quarrymen were disbanded.
"So?" Dracon asked. Somehow, he had mustered the nerve to step to within a few feet of the filth-covered, silent Halfling. Raising his arm, he flicked the tip of Vince's left ear with his finger, causing the big man to wince. "Why'd you do it, Vince?" Dracon asked, looking him in the eye now that he had his attention. "You were gonna sell out humanity, man. What were you thinking?"
Vince balled his hands into fists. He could feel the energy surging inside him. He could probably incinerate them all before Glasses even had time to pull off one shot. But instead, he resisted, fighting the rage, fighting the urge to use the powers he should never have accepted in the first place - the powers that had already cost him his humanity.
"I don't know, Mr. Dracon," he answered at last, truthfully. He shrugged miserably. "Maybe I just wasn't thinking at all."
Dracon stared at Vince a moment. "Now that's probably the first sensible thing you've said since you walked in that door," he replied. Dracon turned, sauntering over to the couch and seating himself lightly on the cushions. "Now tell me," he said, picking up his drink from the end table. "Why did you decide to come back? Your former boss and your pointy-eared friends caused a lot of grief for me and my city. You couldn't think I'd just welcome you back with open arms."
Vince ignored the jabs. Sensing from experience that his old boss was ready to listen, he decided it was time to play his trump card. "All I want is a second chance to prove myself, Mr. Dracon. And I can start by warning you about the two guys I heard talking about you down near the docks today."
Dracon's posture as he set his drink down and sat up showed that he was interested. Joey and Glasses drew closer, their interest echoing their boss's. "What two guys?" Dracon asked, his eyes narrowing.
"Two Asian guys," Vince answered, shifting his feet nervously. "I think they called each other Rio and Tommy or something. I think they were planning to raid a warehouse. They talked about stealing a truck."
Tony looked at Glasses and Pal Joey, who in turn looked at each other. "That is interesting," Dracon said at last. He rose from the couch again. "Joey, why don't you see what you can do about getting Vince here reacquainted with soap and water. Glasses, let's talk."
Joey looked at Dracon for a moment as if he were insane, but wiped the odd expression from his face quickly. "Uh, sure, whatever you say, boss."
As Joey pointed Vince to the suite's bathroom and followed behind him, Dracon and Glasses moved off and began a hushed conversation.
"And you think we can trust him?" Glasses asked, not as afraid as Pal Joey to show his lack of enthusiasm.
"We can't take the chance of not listening," Dracon replied. "If what he says is true…"
Glasses nodded in understanding. "So how do we find out for sure?"
Dracon paused thoughtfully. "Well, there is one way… something I've been waiting to do for a while anyway… if you and Joey can round up some more of the boys."
"We can try. What should I tell them?" the tall man asked.
Dracon smiled. "Tell them their old pal Tony Dracon wants to treat them to a night on the town."
* * * * *
Manhattan, Castle Wyvern
Goliath burst from his stone shell, shook the remaining shards from his body, and roared with anticipation. He leapt lightly from his perch and rounded on his second in command. "Brooklyn, assign the patrols and watch over the clan. I may not be back tonight."
Brooklyn, though he had woken up with a roar like his clan mates, was still embroiled in the vestiges of a dream. "What? Goliath, wait!"
It was too late. Goliath had already hurled himself away from the castle with more force than he'd intended. His wings beat madly for several long seconds until he caught an updraft that lifted him safely skyward.
"Wonder what's got into him?" Broadway asked as he assisted Angela from her perch.
"I'm not sure," she admitted. "But when I spoke to him last night in the library he was in the oddest frame of mind." She paused a moment to watch the rapidly disappearing silhouette of her sire. "It was if he'd come to some sort of a decision. One that he should have made long ago and he was kind of angry, no - not angry," the sable-maned female corrected, "chagrined, perhaps- that he hadn't come to sooner."
Brooklyn exchanged a speculative glance with Sata, then shrugged. "I guess he'll let us in on the secret when he's ready. In the meantime, let's get an early patrol sweep out of the way. Lex, when you get back, get on your computer and see if there's any new word from those feelers you put out."
"Right," Lexington nodded. "At the very least there should be an e-mail from Ishimura."
"Dad, can we patrol with Uncle Lex tonight?" Graeme asked, pointing toward Ariana and himself.
"What do you say, Lex? Do you mind?" Brooklyn asked his rookery brother.
"Nah," Lexington said. "Just as long as they leave Nudnik home this time."
The gargoyle beast whined, his disappointment evident on his pudgy features.
Hudson smiled at the beast's dismay. "Don't forget, young Graeme, that we've an obedience lesson tonight."
Nudnik brightened and barked happily. 'Obedience lessons' meant treats. He barreled toward Hudson and sat at attention.
"That's verra guid, ya silly beast," Hudson chuckled. "But yuir lesson is later."
Bronx stretched and smiled a doggy grin at his master. He strolled up to Nudnik, cuffed the younger beast affectionately on the head, and the pair loped away through the courtyard.
Brooklyn watched the display, amusement playing over his features as the beasts cavorted. After a moment, he turned his attention back to his waiting clanmates. "Lexington, you and the kids take the park, Broadway, Angela, you're with us. I want to do a sweep of the dockside warehouses, see if we can catch up with our Yakuza friends."
Sata darkened angrily. "The Yakuza are no one's friends, Brooklyn-san. Least of all ours."
"You said it, babe," Brooklyn said to pacify his mate as the gargoyles departed over the edge of the building.
* * * * *
Just outside of London
"Oh what a day," Emrys groused as he examined his barked knuckles and winced. A warm chuckle at his back made the once-great magician look up too quickly, cricking the muscles in his neck. "What do you find so amusing, Arthur?" he queried as began to rub his sore neck.
The ruggedly handsome, former king looked down on his erstwhile ward. "Nothing," he said quickly. "Though you do remind me of a certain would-be squire on kitchen duty I once knew."
The towheaded wizard looked down upon his knuckles once more, concentrating as he muttered a healing incantation. The abraded skin knitted and the redness faded. "I should have done that hours ago," he said with a sigh. "Who knew that our country trip was going to turn into a busman's holiday?"
The pair had made their way out of the manor proper and into the courtyard where the London Clan was in the final stages of setting up their celebration feast. A long buffet table had been set out to one side of a park-like clearing. It was covered from end to end with roasted beef and chickens, casseroles and savory pies. A second table groaned under the weight of a variety of side dishes. Potatoes mashed with chives, Yorkshire pudding and boiled vegetables gradually gave way to feather light rolls and richly decorated cakes and trifles. A third table held various libations, hot spiced cider, tea and ale and the glasses and tankards to contain them.
"Madoc's fury was known here as well, Merlin," Arthur chided. "We owed our assistance in repairing the home of our friends and allies."
"I know," Emrys replied. "I just wish we could have called in a few hired fellows, instead of climbing onto the roof ourselves and resetting those slates. I don't know about Kevin, but I'll never be the same again!"
The pair wove their way among the throng of gargoyles, some dangling the latest hatchlings from their knees, and the pack of beasts who tumbled and frolicked with the older children. Arthur spotted Cavall among them and smiled as he joined Griff and his mate in the buffet line.
"Och, 'twas a thing of beauty watching me Griff as he toppled those pasty faced hooligans out of Boudicca's chariot," Brianna said proudly to Caspian and Leo as she piled food high onto a plate intended for her mate.
Griff smiled and looked down at the ground modestly before replying. "I did have a bit of help, love. You on the other hand were magnificent. The way you knocked that Vampyre chippy right into the Thames. Never heard such a squall in all my days." Griff's beak twitched as he remembered the harridan's screeches. "A few more of those marrow peas if you please."
"It was a smashing time," Caspian agreed enthusiastically, his golden mane rippling in the torch light. Then, realizing that Leo might not share his opinion, he shot a quick, worried glance at his father.
"It did have its moments," the lion-headed gargoyle agreed. "Now move out of the way so that Griff can have his peas, and give your father a helping of those boxty, if you don't mind." There was a note of enforced cheer in Leo's voice that caused Griff to look up at his rookery brother with concern. "Now go along," the leonine gargoyle directed his eldest son, "Una and the other children are waiting for us."
Caspian added the potato cakes to his father's plate and a few sprouts to his own, before the pair moved away to join the rest of their family. A moment later, Griff and Brianna followed.
Arthur accepted a plate already laden with roasted meat from a matronly, hawk-like female. "Thank you…" He drifted off as her name escaped him.
"I'm Perri, Sir Arthur," she supplied warmly. "I don't get out away from the kitchen much," she explained, "but I'm pleased to make your acquaintance."
Arthur bowed politely. "And I yours, Lady Perri. Were you responsible for this fine feast?"
The feathered gargoyle dimpled. "I did have a small bit to do with it, yes."
"Don't let her go all modest on you," Faulconbridge said as he wrapped an affectionate arm around the apron be-decked Perri. "Me mum has been cooking for nights for this party." He kissed her cheek fondly. "Haven't you, Mummy?"
The already embarrassed female ducked her head. "Now, Faulk, I had plenty of help. It seems to me even you were in the kitchen baking apple tarts."
It was Faulconbridge's turn to be embarrassed. "Ah, Mummy, you promised you wouldn't tell."
Arthur chuckled again. "Don't worry lad. There's nothing to be ashamed in being a gargoyle of many talents. If you bake as well as you fight, then you'll be a fine catch for one of these young ladies."
Perri nodded sagely. "That's just what I was telling him, silly duck. But he wouldn't believe his old mum."
Faulconbridge adopted a thoughtful look, his eyes distant as he looked across the clearing at a graceful, greyhound-like female. "You really think so?" He looked again at Arthur and Perri for confirmation. The pair nodded their heads and the hawk-like gargoyle shrugged. "It couldn't hurt." He gave his mother a final, affectionate squeeze and bowed to Arthur and Emrys, before making for the dessert table and the tray of apple tarts. Scooping up a pair, he approached Imogen and the pair began to speak in an animated manner. As his mother looked on wistfully, Faulconbridge took Imogen by the hand, whispered something into her ear. The greyhound-like female dropped the tart she held cradled awkwardly in her hand, and threw her arms around her companion.
"They grow up so quickly." Perri blotted her golden eyes with the edge of her apron as her son began to yell excitedly.
"She said 'Yes'!"
"Excuse me, Sir Arthur." The bird-like female dipped into a modest curtsey and bustled away to congratulate the happy couple.
Emrys surveyed the clusters of younger warriors, toasting and fussing over the newly affianced pair and wrinkled his nose with disgust. "I imagine there's going to be a lot of that going on now that the war's over." He dumped a spoon of mashed potatoes onto his plate with more force than he'd intended and they spattered onto his sweater. "What a fine mess," he muttered as he daubed the starchy goo off himself. "I suppose you and Jennifer Camford will be next."
It was Arthur's turn to look thoughtful. "We have been seeing quite a bit of one another," he admitted. "And it would seem that our time of mortal danger is over." The pair moved away from the buffet taking their places at a trestle table near the bonfire. "Perhaps it is time to think about home and hearth once more."
Arthur didn't notice as Emrys pushed his own plate away, untouched.
* * *
Michael added another log onto the fire and smiled as he watched the others revel in their victory. "They're having a grand time aren't they, Victoria?" he cooed to the tiny hatchling in his arms. "Your mum would have been proud of them all. Don't you think?" he added as he nuzzled his daughter.
"Indeed she would have."
Michael looked up from the blanket wrapped waif in his arms to find Boz, his powder-blue, walrus-like face, wrinkled into a smile as he looked upon father and child.
"You should be proud of this clan, Michael. I know Fidella would be."
"She would have loved this party," the London clan leader said softly. "Your mummy loved parties," he explained to tiny Victoria. "But this gala cost a pretty pound, didn't it?" he added, the regret heavy in his voice.
Boz dipped his tusks in acknowledgement. "We lost Aper and Drake and young Lance, it's true. But it could have been much worse. The only damage they did to our home was caused by the blizzard." He looked across the courtyard at the hatchlings who were being gathered for return to the rookery. "If the Unseelie had found our true home, we could have lost our children and our future."
"I suppose," Michael replied quietly as he stared into the fire. "Still, your sacrifice did not go unnoticed, Aper, Drake. My rookery brothers. My friends."
Colin Marter limped up alongside Michael and extended a small tray of glass tankards to the leader and his companion. "I shall miss them, you know."
Michael looked at his long time friend startled. "Colin. Yes, as shall I." He accepted the glass from the retired soldier and contemplated the way the fire made the contents glow.
"I think a toast is in order," the slightly built man continued as Boz accepted his own glass. "A send off, if you will."
"What shall we drink to?" Michael queried. "To battles won and manors rebuilt?"
Marter was quiet for a moment, seeking his words. "To absent friends," he said at last, before downing the contents of his tankard and hurling the glass into the fire.
"To absent friends," the gargoyles repeated.
"May their sacrifice be meaningful," Michael added, before duplicating Marter's ritual.
"And," the tusked warrior added to his leader's toast, "to new beginnings. The Dragon knows we need them."
"Quite," Marter agreed succinctly.
* * *
It was later that evening and the buffet had been cleared away to make room for impromptu entertainments. Rosalind, sketch pad in hand, looked on, brow furrowed in concentration as she drew the scene before her. The human, Dulcinea, had brought out her horse for a demonstration of trick riding. The clan gathered to watch as she leapt gracefully on to her mount's back and rested for a moment on her knees before rolling forward into a shoulder stand. She rode around the ring a full circle before dropping backwards into a full split, then falling into a proper English seat.
The painter's downy, white feathers bristled as she captured the equestrian's serenely determined visage and the streaming black hair that cascaded behind her. Satisfied with her sketch of the rider and animal, she turned her attention to her clanmates, freezing their expressions of delight for posterity.
"It's wonderful already," a voice said warmly from behind her.
Rosalind looked up, startled, to find Caspian examining the sketch from over her shoulder. "You've got Dads down to a T."
"Do you think?" she said critically. "Maybe he should be a bit more…" The artist stared at her subject for a moment, then added several swift lines to the sketch pad.
Caspian touched the tip of his horn. "Even better," he enthused. "I can't wait to see the unveiling." He gazed into her eyes, smiling, and the pink, owlish looking female took a step closer.
There was a roar of applause from the audience and Dulcinea and Rosie both bowed to the crowd as Caspian and Rosalind suddenly realized that they were still standing among the others. They rapidly parted, fixing their joint attention onto the ring as Dulcinea issued a challenge to Arthur's Irish neo-knight.
"Now you try," she called to Rory.
Rory sat on his own, more sedate, mount waiting for his turn at the ring. "I don't think I'll be wanting to try that bit of a trick," he said, doubtful he could duplicate Dulcinea's dancer perfect splits. "But I believe I might have one or two of my own." He clucked to the horse and soon the bay gelding was trotting, then cantering, around the arena. Rory rose up out of the saddle, and grabbed it with both hands, holding it like a vaulter's pommel. He extended his legs far to the left, and as the crowd gasped, then applauded, he swung his hips around, rotating twice before dropping back into the saddle.
"Not bad," Dulcinea commended. "Not bad at all." She rode up to Rory's side and leaned toward the panting Irishman. "But can you do this?" She whispered in his ear for a moment.
Rory nodded several times then reared back, surprised. "Are you daft!? I can't do that!"
"Watch me," Dulcinea challenged. She began, as Rory had moments before, by launching into a series of vaulter's twists and tumbles. Then she upped the ante by leaping off the horse for a beat and rapidly remounting backwards. She finished by rolling into a summersault and standing head held high with her feet in the stirrups.
Rory couldn't back down from the challenge. "If I don't survive this, tell me da I died well," he muttered to Leba. He took a warm up lap around the corral then began to duplicate Dulcinea's routine, hesitantly at first, then with growing confidence. As he re-mounted the horse with a grace he didn't know he possessed, he rolled, not into a somersault, but into a handstand, twisted around, then landed gently on one knee. The crowd went wild as Rory brought his mount to a halt. He slid from the stirrups, accepted a glass of punch and salute from Dulcinea for his efforts, then collapsed against a tree as his knees gave way.
Leba applauded along with the others, then altered her rhythm to a less syncopated beat. She closed her eyes and allowed the ghost of a refrain to tug at her. "Got you!" she said a moment later, with a triumphant smile. She reached into her pocket for a penny whistle, and blew a tentative melody. The whistle failed to satisfy. Leba re-pocketed the instrument and reached for her guitar, hanging from its strap on her back. Moving away from the raucous gathering, she began to set words to her newly begun tune.
* * * * *
Elisa stood on her balcony watching the sky fade to darkness. She tugged absently on the hem of her skirt and wondered nervously if she should change into something more casual. "It's not like he hasn't come over and spent an evening before," she chided herself. "We'll have dinner, watch a movie, maybe go for a glide over the bay." The butterflies in her stomach fluttered in disbelief. "What can possibly happen between us that hasn't happened already?" she argued. "Why rock the boat and wish for more?"
Still the look he had given her the night before had been filled with anticipation that warmed Elisa to her core and made the butterflies dance.
* * * * *
The group assembled quickly as the men made their way from various nondescript sedans parked along the curb, forming a rough semi-circle about the well-dressed figure with a shock of white in his hair. About a dozen men in dark suits, a few wearing sunglasses even though it was night, fell into formation, muttering amongst themselves as they awaited orders.
"Is everyone here?" Pal Joey whispered from his boss's side. He adjusted his tie and tugged nervously at the sleeves of his pinstriped suit jacket.
Glasses surveyed the crowd. "Yeah," he replied. He spared a quick glance to his left at Vince; the tall man lingered quietly on the edge of the group, looking uncomfortable in his borrowed suit, with his wide-brimmed hat pulled down over his Halfling ear tips. "I think we're ready, boss," he said, addressing the man in charge.
"Good," Tony Dracon said coolly. He stepped forward, drawing the attention of the crowd, and the men quieted. "Listen up, boys. There's only two rules tonight. Number one is be on your best behavior. Number two is everything is on me. Now let's have ourselves a party."
Grinning, Dracon turned and strode the few steps to the doors of Club Lotus. Throwing it open wide, he led his small army of very happy wiseguys inside.
* * *
"I want tables right up front for me and my boys… the reservation is under Franklin."
Tommy Kimura looked up instantly from the laptop computer that sat on the tabletop. "That voice…" he growled, sliding to the edge of the booth's seat and turning to look toward the front entrance. His eyes narrowed to hard slits at what he saw, and a colorful curse escaped his lips.
Tony Dracon waved a handful of fresh bills under the headwaiter's nose; the diminutive man hesitated only a moment to appraise the large gang of men accompanying him before nodding and leading the group off to the tables Fuyu and his cohorts usually occupied. Tommy's scowl deepened as Dracon himself was seated at the exact same table he had once held sole claim to before his untimely demotion.
Tommy sank back into the shadows of the booth, balling his hands into fists under the table in anger and frustration. He cursed again in Japanese, the only word intelligible being "Dracon." So intent was he on his own thoughts, he jumped when the waitress set a drink on the table a moment later. Tommy looked up sharply, glaring icily at the young woman.
"Compliments of the gentleman over there," the girl managed after a few moments of flustered silence. She ducked her head and scurried away quickly, while Tommy turned again to glare at the group of men that had dared invade his domain. The gang of underlings, quiet until that point, broke into a chorus of hooting and hollering as the music started up and three young women dressed as geishas paraded onto the stage. The show began, but it went unnoticed by both Tommy and the man who was the object of his ire. A moment later, Tommy Kimura's eyes locked with Tony Dracon's.
Tony raised his glass, offering a toast and giving a smirk. Tommy had seen enough. He slammed his laptop closed and swept it off the table as he rose, stalking from the club in quick strides, sparing not even the briefest glance back. Another round of cheers and catcalls arose from within the club as the door fell shut behind him. Tommy only quickened his pace and found his car. Slipping inside, he picked up the cellular phone mounted on the floor between the seats and hit a speed dial button.
He gritted his teeth as he finally spoke. "I need to meet with you right away, Ryu…"
* * *
Back inside the club, Dracon set his empty glass back on the table and turned to the tall man sitting beside him who was the only one who still had his hat on. Surreptitiously, Glasses and Pal Joey leaned in to listen.
"Well?" Dracon asked.
Vince nodded. "That was definitely one of the guys, Mr. Dracon. I'd bet my life on it."
Dracon reached up and took a pair of drinks from the tray of a passing waitress and handed one to Vince. "You already have, my friend," he said. He took a slow sip from the glass he had kept for himself, watching the Halfling carefully. "And lucky for you, this time you won."
* * * * *
Elisa took a bite of her salad, barely noticing the tang of vinaigrette as she looked surreptitiously at her dining companion. If anything, Goliath seemed more nervous than she felt, the little detective in Elisa's brain noted coolly. "Are you all right, big guy? You seem kind of tense," she said, setting down her fork and gazing across the sturdy, butcher block table.
So far the evening had yielded no surprises. Goliath had arrived soon after sunset, and in the terrace garden that comprised the balcony, they'd enjoyed a warm reunion as Elisa discussed the highlights of her day: a call from Beth and one from her mom, suggesting they get together for another Family Night. It was only when the pair had adjourned to the kitchen, Elisa putting the finishing touches on the main course, while Goliath awkwardly tossed the salad, that she began to notice his case of nerves.
The brawny warrior looked up abruptly from the steak and potato he'd been pushing around on his plate. He shifted his weight anxiously, causing the high-backed chair to creak, and resettled his leathery wings before replying, "No. Yes. I mean yes," he said, settling on a reply. "There is something I have desired to know, but I was not sure whether the question would be a welcome one." Realizing he still clutched the fork in his hand, he set it down next to his plate and looked away toward the living room where Cagney was stalking a rubber mouse with deadly intent.
Elisa's heart started to beat rapidly. She silently began to count backwards from one hundred in Swahili to bring herself under control. "Really," she replied casually. "You know you can ask me anything."
Tearing his eyes away as the cat pounced on his prize, his gaze traveled around the room, before finally settling on the low bowl of daisies that served as the table's centerpiece. "Our cultures are so different," the gargoyle stated, confusing Elisa with an apparent, sudden change of topic. "And, the ways of my kind are giving way as we adapt to this new time." He looked up from his musing and held up a taloned hand as Elisa's lips began to form words of protest. "This is not necessarily a wrong thing," he admitted, as the raven-maned woman settled back into her chair. "But it can be confusing as we decide which traditions to keep and which to abandon. I have been struggling with such a question for some time now." Goliath looked up at Elisa, his eyes intent upon her puzzled features. Drawing a calming breath, he asked, "Are you happy, my Elisa?"
The detective took a sip from her glass of ice tea and blotted her lips on her napkin before replying, "In general, I'd say so. Why?"
"Do I make you so?" Goliath persisted. His posture was tense and the tip of his tail, despite being tucked beneath the chair, began to lash at the floor.
Elisa smiled. "Of course you do, big guy. Why do you suppose we spent so much time in the library last night?" she quipped, then the corners of her mouth turned down in an anxious frown. "Don't I make you happy, Goliath?" The butterflies turned to lead and her stomach lurched.
"There was a time I believed if not for you, I would never be happy again," he rumbled in a voice so gentle Elisa began to tremble.
Rising quickly, the anxious woman abandoned her spot at the table and knelt at her companion's side. "What is it, Goliath?" she asked intently. "What tradition is causing you so much heartache?"
Goliath pulled her into his lap and held her close. He tangled his talons in her raven locks, then let them slide gently down her back, caressing her spine. Elisa caught her breath as she listened to the thrum of his heart, beating rapidly with emotion and anticipation. "I would choose you for my mate, my Elisa. If you would have me."
Elisa pulled back, stunned at the words she had long to, but never truly believed, she would hear. "You want me to marry you?"
He drew back, the better to see the dark brown eyes that haunted his dreams. "Marriage is a human tradition, a custom born of contracts and alliances," Goliath corrected. "No, Elisa, it is my desire that you and I should become one heart, one mind, one soul, for as long as we both shall live."
"Goliath, I - " Elisa found herself at loss for words, her joy enveloped her until she felt nothing else, no fear, no trepidation. She buried herself in Goliath's warm embrace, then tentatively reached up to rub his browridge with her forehead, copying the intimate gesture she'd learned from the other mated couples. He growled low in his throat and her lips began to travel. She kissed the base of his neck, hesitantly at first, then with more deliberation until she reached the bottom of his earlobe.
A rough, purring sound began to emanate from the gargoyle's throat as Elisa whispered huskily into his ear, "Yes, Goliath. Most definitely, yes."
* * * * *
The next night…
With a throaty roar, the gargoyles emerged from their daytime slumber and began to congregate in the courtyard. Brooklyn looked first to his family, reassuring himself that they were all safe and whole. He nuzzled Sata affectionately and smiled at Ariana and Graeme before raising his eyes to Goliath's perch at the top of the castle. It was empty.
He grinned to himself, then smothered the smile as the clan leader emerged from the lower courtyard. The brawny lavender gargoyle attempted his normal brooding stride, but there was an unmistakable lightness to his step that spoke of decisions made and time well spent.
"Evening, Goliath," the crimson second said casually. "Have a good night out?"
Goliath nodded absently, his eyes straying to the city beyond. After several long moments he tore his gaze away with effort and returned his attention to his second. "How was last night's patrol? Successful?"
"We did our part," Brooklyn replied. "Broadway and Lexington took some guns away from some wannabe gangbangers. Sata and Angela stopped three muggings in Central Park. Other than that it was pretty quiet."
"Good," the lavender gargoyle replied as his face grew thoughtful. "Brooklyn, I have often felt that you know more of the future than you are willing to reveal, and- " he added, holding up a hand before the beaked gargoyle could launch into his usual denial of not remembering where in time he'd traveled, "I understand how difficult that must be, both for you and your family. However there is one thing that perhaps you could tell me." Brooklyn resettled his wings, caping them more comfortably around his body and gestured for his clan leader to continue. "Do you suppose it would have made any difference in the war, if the world's gargoyle clans had been more closely allied?"
"Hindsight is always 20-20, Goliath," the crimson Timedancer replied. "I can't tell you what would have happened if we'd had better connections with the others, 'cause I don't know. But I think it's safe to say that strengthening ties is a good idea. There's safety in numbers and-" Brooklyn paused as he sought the best words, "more options."
"I agree," Goliath replied decisively. He turned to move away, his attention drawn back to the city below. "See to the patrols," he added absently, his thoughts on other matters. "I will take the dockside."
"Alone?" Brooklyn protested. "Goliath, you know it's safer if we patrol in pairs. Especially down there."
The brawny gargoyle gave his companion a sharp look, then reconsidered. "Send Lexington and Hudson along then. I will meet up with them later at Pier 24. I have something I wish to discuss with the clan but I need a little time alone first."
"News?" the white-maned gargoyle prodded.
"Perhaps," Goliath evaded.
"Hmm." Brooklyn hid another smile. "Well, Goliath, Broadway and Angela are going to be gone all night. If you want the whole clan in on this, it's gonna have to wait until tomorrow night."
Goliath's brow furrowed in consternation. "Very well, I suppose that one night will not make a difference."
Brooklyn considered his choice of responses and shrugged. "Okay."
Goliath moved away and prepared to leap off the low castle wall.
"Uh, Goliath?" Brooklyn called after him.
The lavender gargoyle paused and turned. "Yes?"
"The radios are in the castle."
Sheepishly, Goliath leapt off the wall and strode quickly through the courtyard and into the castle. The others loitered impatiently, pretending great interest in the repairs to the walls, but as soon as their leader re-emerged from the castle and glided away, they mobbed Brooklyn.
"What did he say?" Broadway asked.
Angela slapped her mate lightly across his meaty bicep. "Broadway," she chided. "Don't be so nosy. If Father has something to tell us, he will." She turned to Brooklyn for confirmation. "Won't he, Brooklyn?"
Brooklyn pursed his beak and was saved from replying by Hudson. "The lot of you are acting like a gaggle of geese, hopin' fer crumbs," he said with bemusement at his curious clanmates. "Goliath will make himself known when he's figured things out for himself. It's always been his way."
"Right," the second confirmed. "The only thing he said to me is that: one, he wants a patrol sweep run at full dark." He turned to Hudson and Lexington who was standing at his shoulder. "He wants you two to meet him at Pier 24. And two: he's got something he wants to discuss with everybody tomorrow night. I'm not sure what it's about," Brooklyn added as his impatient clanmates regarded him curiously. He turned his attention to his turquoise rookery brother. "You two had better get going. You don't want to keep Demona waiting."
Broadway's good humor was immediately replaced by a look of nervous worry. "Yeah," he replied, turning to his mate as she took his hand reassuringly. "I've got a big dinner to cook."
"Let's go get the cake," Angela suggested.
Broadway nodded, and the mated pair turned and headed off into the castle. "Gosh, I sure hope I used the right amount of brandy…" he worried as they disappeared inside.
Brooklyn gave a smile and gathered his family together, giving Sata an impulsive kiss on the cheek as he put his arm around her.
The jade green female smiled. "You are in a good mood tonight, Brooklyn-san," she observed bemusedly.
"I think it's something in the air," the brick-red gargoyle replied. "The nights are short enough this time of year… let's not waste any more of this one than we have to, Sata-chan."
Graeme and Ariana paused in their impromptu game of "keep away" with Nudnik to watch their parents nuzzling brow ridges.
"Uh-oh… you know what this means, Ari-chan," Graeme whispered under his breath. Ariana just snickered.
Brooklyn and Sata suddenly became aware that they had an audience. Brooklyn cleared his throat. "Sata-chan, if you could get supper together then we can get this show on the road."
Sata smiled and nodded. "An excellent suggestion, Brooklyn-san. Come along, children." The family disappeared into the castle, and the others disbursed to take care of their own, pre-supper assignments.
* * * * *
"Oh my gosh," Elisa muttered as she pulled up to the crime scene. "What happened here?" She pulled up next to the cordoned-off area and the dreamy look that had washed over her features on and off all evening vanished, replaced by a hard, professional cop's demeanor.
Matt picked Sara out of a group of investigators and, flashing his badge at a uniformed patrolman, ducked under the police barricade. "Jasper," he called out. Several long legged strides later, he was at her side.
"Matt," she acknowledged, holding up her hand. "Thanks for coming. Give me just a second, okay?"
The lanky redhead nodded and moved away, examining the crime scene in detail. The front window of the restaurant was smashed out, not in, he noted, and a chair lay on the sidewalk. Inside was a shambles. Several tables had been dumped into the canal of the elaborate water fountain, and potted plants had been uprooted from marble urns onto the red carpet.
He exited the demolished Michelangelo's to find Sara heading his way. "It's a shame isn't it?" the 14th Precinct detective said, mourning the vandalism.
Matt nodded. "Yeah, but the damage looks mainly superficial. It may take them a week, but they should be able to fix things up good as new." He smiled at Sara. "I'll take you to dinner as soon as they reopen, okay?"
"Thanks, Matt," she said, her eyes on the paramedics. "I know that it would mean a lot to Guiseppi to have his friends around him."
Matt patted Sara awkwardly on the shoulder, mindful of the other cops and followed her gaze toward the wounded man. He spotted his partner standing near the paramedics and called to her, "Elisa, we're over here."
She looked up as the ambulance crew loaded their injured cargo, capped her pen and joined the other detectives. "That was the headwaiter and owner, Guiseppi Bustamante, who they just loaded on the ambulance," the dark-haired detective said, unaware of Sara's familiarity with the restaurant. She rubbed her shoulder absently, wincing as her muscles protested.
"Are you okay?" Sara asked, her sharp eyes catching the other detective's stiff gait and shortened stride.
"I'm fine. Just a little sore," Elisa replied quickly. Her features softened for a moment and the briefest of smiles flitted across her lips. "I had a really intense workout last night."
"Really," the younger detective replied. "I was at the gym last night, I'm surprised I didn't see you."
Elisa colored under the pale street light. "I didn't go to the gym," she said too quickly. "I saw a new power set in a magazine and decided to try it out right in the living room. I'll show it to you sometime if you're interested," she offered.
Sara nodded. "Yeah, I'm always looking for a routine that'd give me a good burn."
"Speaking of which, which we weren't," Matt cut in, trying to get the conversation focused on crime rather than exercise, "what about the restaurant? This is your neighborhood, not ours, Sara."
"I know, Matt," Sara replied. "But you mentioned at dinner the other night how you were working a Yakuza crime scene and that they seemed to be on the move."
"I think I get it," Elisa interjected. "The waiter said," she consulted her notebook and reviewed his statement out loud. "Several, maybe six or seven, youngish Japanese men entered the restaurant and were seated at a table. At first they were all right, then the strangers became loud, insulting the food and the establishment in general. Words were exchanged with other patrons and the waiter was assaulted with a bowl of linguini when he tried to calm things down. The strangers then trashed the place and left. Description of the leader of our suspects: Japanese, male, late 20's to early 30's, well tailored black suit, yellow neck tie. Mr. Bustamante noticed that he and several of his associates, had missing fingertips and several had elaborate tattoos where their skin was exposed. Sounds like Yakuza heating up a turf war, doesn't it, guys?"
"That's what I was thinking. But who?" Sara toyed with her ponytail as she worked on the problem. "Michelangelo's is popular with a lot of the wiseguys."
"That's not enough," Matt said. "We need to narrow it down. Which factions are involved and what are they up to?"
Elisa's phone buzzed and she fished it out of the pocket of her bomber jacket. "Maza." She listened for a moment and then smiled. "Good work, Brooklyn. I can be there in-" She looked at her watch. "Ten minutes?" Another nod. "Okay, hold the fort, I'll see you in a few." She snapped the phone shut. "That was the guys. They broke up a jewelry store heist. I need to go and help them wrap things up."
"I can finish here," Matt offered.
Elisa nodded and turned to leave when a uniform patrol officer approached the group. "Excuse me, detectives?"
"Yeah, Randy," Sara said to the blond linebacker of a cop that had addressed the trio. "What have you got?"
He held up a piece of paper between two latex glove enclosed fingers. "We found this next to one of the tables."
Sara pulled a glove out of her pocket and snapped it over her right hand. She accepted the flashlight Matt handed her and gently took the paper from the patrol officer. "You took a picture before you moved this, right?"
"Yes, ma'am," the burly cop replied.
"Good." Sara examined the paper. It was maybe a third of a sheet of plain office copy paper, covered in Japanese script. It was written in blue ink, by someone with a confident hand. "Get this bagged and sent to a translator first thing."
"Hang on, Sara," Elisa said, squinting at the paper in the dim light. "I think I can get you a translation tonight, if I can take that with me. My brother has a friend and I could swing it by."
The 14th Precinct detective hesitated for a moment and then nodded. "Let me get it processed and then give it to Matt for transport. You can get it from him when you finish with your other call." Sara nodded at the patrolman and he moved away to place the clue in an evidence bag.
Elisa glanced at her watch again. "Sounds good. I'll see you back at the Precinct in an hour, Matt."
"Yes, ma'am." The lanky detective threw her a natty salute as Elisa moved towards the Fairlane. "You're right," he said to Sara as he watched his partner drive away. "Elisa's moving like someone wiped the ground with her. Do you suppose she's really all right?"
"I dunno," Sara replied thoughtfully. "She was lying about the gym, that part was pretty obvious…" Something inside Sara's head clicked. "She hasn't been smiling a lot or humming to herself tonight has she?"
Her companion tilted his head as he considered Elisa's unusually chipper demeanor. Of course, compared against his own funk, everyone else was delirious, but still…"Yeah, she's been pretty happy tonight."
"Happy," Sara repeated, another tumbler falling click into place. "She was off last night, right?"
"We both were, as you well know," Matt replied, a ghost of a smile stealing momentarily across his features.
Sara grinned. "Case solved," she said smugly as the blond cop returned with the note properly bagged and tagged. She took the evidence bag carefully by the corner and handed it off to Matt. "Be careful with this," she cautioned. "We have a digital image and a photograph, but you know how the D.A. feels about originals."
Matt took the bag, copying Sara's two-fingered grip. "Yeah, I know. But Sara," he said, trying to return to their original topic of conversation, "what about Elisa?"
The young woman shook her head in dismay. "You're a detective, Bluestone. Put the clues together," she said in a gently teasing tone. Another officer moved up to her with a document to sign. "I want that translation by end of shift," she added in her cop's voice.
Matt stared at her as the intruding officer moved away. "I'll see you at Magee's at 6:00," he said as Sara's hints began to come together. "We have got to talk."
* * *
From the shadows of a sheltered doorway across the street, Tommy Kimura watched, satisfied, as the police began mopping up. He took one last draw on his cigarette as a car pulled up along the curb, then tossed the butt to the ground and stepped on it as he moved away from the wall.
"How did your mission go, Ryu?" he asked calmly as he slid smoothly into the passenger seat of the small dark-colored sedan.
"No difficulties," Ryu answered just as calmly as he pulled back into traffic and drove slowly past the parked police cars. "I pulled in a few small favors. Oroku-san had a vehicle that suits our needs. It will be waiting in a lot near the railyards." He paused as he turned the corner, picking up speed as the flashing lights of the police cruisers were left behind. "How did your mission go, Kimura-san?"
Tommy grinned wickedly. "The first part of the message has been delivered," he stated. He tapped his fingers on the armrest. "In two nights, we will deliver the rest, and show everyone - the cops, that pompous goon Dracon, even those cursed gargoyles - who really controls this town."
* * * * *
Hudson glided on a warm current of air, enjoying the view of the tugboats as they drifted into the harbor. "It's turned into a fair enough summer, don't you think, lad?" he said to Lexington who patrolled at his side.
"Yeah," the younger gargoyle replied, his cybernetically enhanced eyes on the docks and harbor below them. "I guess Mother Nature's trying to make up for letting Madoc mess with the weather for so long."
Hudson frowned at Lexington's bitter tone of voice. "He's gone, laddie," the old soldier reminded. "Don't be givin' him life by holdin' on to yuir hate. Let it go."
They drifted closer to a cluster of warehouses. Wire fencing surrounded the controlled chaos of a construction site, the former and future parking lot was full of building materials and heavy equipment.
Lexington looked up sharply at the clan's eldest member. "I'm not!" he protested automatically, then realized that he was. "Well," he conceded, "maybe I am. But... he caused so much damage and hurt so many people! I can't help it!"
The stocky warrior nodded as he began to circle down toward the warehouses. "I know," he acknowledged. "But if you live in the past with the pain, then he's won again." Hudson looked at his younger companion with his one good eye. "Hasn't he?"
The web-winged gargoyle's eyes shifted away from his elder and his body stiffened with effort as his emotions warred. After several long moments he replied, "I won't let him do that to me. I won't let Madoc win again."
"I know you won't," Hudson replied confidently. He spotted a large winged figure crouched on the rooftop of one of the many warehouses. "Come on, lad. It looks like Goliath is waitin' for us."
The pair spiraled downward, landing with a gentle thud on the roof. Goliath looked up at them, apparently pleased with their timing. "Hudson, Lexington, I am glad to see you," the lavender gargoyle said. There was an anticipatory edge to his voice. "I have something I wish to discuss with you both."
The newcomers exchanged curious glances, but at Goliath's direction, settled themselves out of view of any possible passing traffic.
"What's on yuir mind, Goliath?" Hudson queried.
The lavender gargoyle absently pushed his long sable hair away from his face. "Lexington," he said, instead of answering the elder's question, "have you had news of the Chinese clan? How do they fare?"
"I got an e-mail from Kai in Japan tonight." Lexington re-settled his wings about his body and looked up at Goliath. "He just got back from China and said the clan there was still kinda in shock over our visit. I mean, they were glad to see us," he added hastily, "but it raised a lot of questions for them." He shrugged. "They'd been isolated for a long time."
Goliath nodded thoughtfully. In the distance a tugboat whistle pierced the still air. "From Kai's message, do you think they would be willing to meet with others of our kind?"
Lex shot a curious glance at Hudson, who shrugged, before replying. "You mean like the clans in the United Kingdom and Guatemala? Or Avalon?"
"Yuir plannin' somethin', Goliath," Hudson said. "Suppose you just tell us what it is."
Goliath nodded at his mentor. "This war has led me to believe that it is time that all of our people met. We have shared a great hardship, we have common problems and together maybe we can find the solutions."
"A new beginnin', yuir thinkin?" Hudson said, mulling over the notion. "A... council of gargoyles?"
"Can you imagine it?" Goliath said, his eyes bright with emotion. "Gargoyles from all over the globe together, exchanging ideas, forging bonds. We could take our place in this world as a people united, living alongside the humans in harmony."
"Do you suppose we could really do it?" Lexington said, as Goliath's hope-filled dream ignited within him.
"We've never had anything like this before," Hudson dutifully pointed out. Without thinking, he placed his hand on the hilt of his sword. "There's bound to be some resistance to such a grand alliance."
"We must try," the leader of the Manhattan Clan said firmly. "For all of our futures."
Hudson looked at his protege, considering the plan further. "You know, lad, I believe yuir right." He scratched his beard thoughtfully. "But what do you suppose it would take to pull it off?"
* * * * *
Braddock tapped an inquiry into the vast computer network and waited impatiently for the results. It was a painstaking process, the building of a case. He had a tenuous beginning, a single finger print. The investigator used it as a foundation, pulling Pennington's public files, only to find them above board, if not somewhat sketchy. His suspect had filed for his Private Investigator's license and passed the written examination and the background investigation. Braddock raised an eyebrow as he read the examiner notations in the history section. Several of the individuals who had vouched for the candidate had unusual backgrounds in their own right.
Plucking another file from the rapidly growing stack on his desk, the sandy-haired man pushed his reading glasses passed the scar on his once-broken nose and began to re-read the in-depth dossier that Hathaway had supplied. He sighed. There were so many things about Arthur Pennington that didn't add up. He virtually did not exist before 1996. Some of the reference documents used to pass the Private Investigator's background check had evidently been carefully forged. There was no birth certificate. The town hall in Wales where Pennington's records had been kept had burned down thirty years ago. An operative sent to investigate had returned the information that there was an Arthur Pennington raised in the village, but he had been listed missing and presumed dead in Vietnam in 1968. It couldn't possibly be the same man.
Braddock shrugged some of the tension out of his shoulders and rubbed a hand over tired, gray eyes. "Who are you, Arthur Pennington?" He turned his attention to the stack of case files that they had tied to the arms merchant known only as "The Connection." "The Connection" worked through dozens of intermediaries like some sort of modern-day Moriarty. Braddock began reviewing the files, looking for any common known associates. He lifted an eyebrow when Darien Montrose appeared in both files. "Interesting," Braddock muttered as he began another page of meticulously transcribed case notes.
He took a brisk walk around the office to clear his head and just as he settled back behind his worn, metal desk, the intercom buzzed. "Yes," Braddock called absently, as he restacked the overflowing files into some semblance of order.
"Detective from Scotland Yard called, sir. Those suspects from the boat raid are ready to be interviewed."
"Right, tell him I'll be along presently."
Braddock pushed himself away from his desk and shrugged his way into his overcoat. "Maybe we'll finally get some information that makes sense."
* * * * *
The two men walked down the long corridor to the interview room shackled and manacled despite their obvious injuries. Two guards escorted them, one leading the way, the other following behind, insuring that the prisoners were kept under watchful eyes.
"Eh, a bit slower now if you don't mind," the more assertive of the two prisoners said. He was a short, ratfaced man and he scurried, despite his fetters. "Me mate, Bertie here, is pretty badly bunged up."
"Mind your tongue," the lead guard replied, but he slowed the pace a fraction.
"Thanks, Alfie," the second prisoner muttered. "It's 'ard enough using these crutches wifout the leg shackles."
The lead guard stopped and unlocked a smooth gray metal door. "In here."
The prisoners were seated at a table in the center of a tiny, cell-like room and their shackles adjusted. The guards withdrew.
"What'll we do now, Bertie?" Alfie asked as he tried to make himself comfortable on the hard metal seat. "Should we give them the dumb and dumber routine?"
"Nah," Bertie replied, making himself at home, despite the shackles. "We're going to sing like a pair of canary birds. You just follow me lead." He performed some minor slight of hand and produced a stick of gum from out of seemingly thin air. The wrapper caused a minor complication, but a moment later, he popped the confection into his mouth and began to chew.
"But Bertie!" Alfie protested.
"Don't you worry about a thing," the clever thug replied as he blew, and then popped, a large bubble. "We'll be taken care of soon enough. The boss said so." He gave his companion a confident nod. "And the boss is never wrong."
* * * * *
Matt sat at his desk, staring at his watch and waiting for Elisa to return. She'd rounded up Brooklyn's jewel thieves, hustled them down to Booking and had returned to her desk long enough to file enough preliminary paperwork to hold the pair for arraignment. She then snatched the evidence bag containing the mysterious Japanese writing off his desk, promising that she'd be back in an hour. She was late, and the lanky detective had settled back to brood about his summons.
He looked up at the Captain, busy at her desk and half rose. Reconsidering the action, he hesitated, then sat down again. "If the Department was involved, she'd have already hauled my tail into her office," the redheaded officer reasoned. "It's better not to bring them in on this." He pulled his wallet, the black leather smooth and shiny with wear, out of his hip pocket and extracted a business card. On it, in plain Courier typeface, was a telephone number but no name. "He said to only use this in case of an emergency," Matt muttered as he picked up the telephone and began to dial. "I'm not sure, but I think a federal summons qualifies."
The phone rang five times and then a synthesized voice answered, repeating the telephone number. With a sigh, Matt waited for the tone, then spoke, "Hacker, it's Bluestone. I need to talk." He dropped the phone back into its cradle as Elisa re-entered the Bullpen, a worried expression clouding her features.
"So what did Sharon say?" Matt said as he stuffed the card into his wallet and his wallet back into his pants.
Elisa buried her hands in her hair and growled low. "I should have never brought that paper to her, Matt. She's convinced that Takeo Kimura's involved and she wants a piece of him."
"Does she have any proof?" her partner asked as he sipped and grimaced at his now-cold coffee. "Or is she using this as an opportunity to settle an old score?"
Elisa looked up at Matt through waves of raven hair. "She said she recognized his handwriting and she produced a note that he wrote her that, to my eye anyway, matched the writing. It's not good enough though. The translation was a 'to-do' list."
"Knock over a bank, trash a restaurant?" Matt said hopefully.
Elisa shook her head then rose, coffee mug in hand. "Nope. Grocery store, dry cleaning, library. We've got zip unless Mr. Bustamante or one of the restaurant employees can I.D. him as being at the scene." She moved away, automatically plucking Matt's mug from his hand as he waved it hopefully in front of her.
* * * * *
Manhattan, near the railyards
Tommy Kimura pulled himself up into the cab of the big truck and seated himself carefully behind the wheel, wary of accidentally hitting any of the numerous switches and knobs that covered the dashboard. He placed his hands on the large steering wheel, caressing it gently before taking a firm grip at the two o'clock and ten o'clock positions and giving a small smile.
"Just like driver's ed?" Ryu questioned from the passenger seat. Tommy looked up at his friend and partner, nodding.
"It's just like a car, only… bigger. How hard can it be?" He looked the dashboard over, taking in first the dials and gauges that were familiar to him. Speedometer… tachometer… fuel level… oil temperature. He hesitated as he spotted ones that were less clear in their function, but brushed it off as out of the corner of his eye he caught Ryu watching him. Clearing his throat, he located the key dangling from the ignition and gave it a twist. The big diesel engine roared to life obligatorily, and Tommy tapped the accelerator a few times, revving it. He looked up at Ryu again and smiled. "Yes, just like a car," he repeated.
Ryu nodded. "Only bigger," he added.
Tommy's smile faded. "Would you rather go first, Ryu-san?" he asked seriously.
"No, Kimura-san," he spoke quickly, backing down. "The honor is all yours."
The other man nodded, satisfied. "As it should be," he commented, returning his attention to the controls. He curled and uncurled his fingers from around the wheel, a quirky look coming to his face as he finally reached his right hand for the gearshift. "Now let's see what this thing can do."
Tommy stepped on the clutch, shifted into first, and floored the accelerator. The huge truck lurched violently, giving a loud metallic squeal as it pitched forward before the engine sputtered, seized, and died. Then it jerked back, leaving Tommy leaning forward over the steering wheel like a race car driver, not having moved an inch.
Ryu turned to stare out the passenger side window, trying to wipe the smirk off his face. Finally he looked over at his bewildered cohort. He pointed at another pedal near Tommy's feet. "You might try letting off the parking brake, Tommy-san," he suggested in as straight-faced a manner as he could muster.
Tommy's face flushed red, then a look of determination set in. Putting the transmission back into neutral, he restarted the engine, then stomped on the release for the parking brake. Then - much more sedately this time - he eased the big truck into gear and put his foot lightly on the gas.
Slowly, the vehicle began to move forward, picking up speed little by little. Tommy's confidence increased as the needle on the speedometer crept up, and he finally smiled again as it reached twenty. "See? Easy as driving a car," he commented as he moved the shifter into second gear with little difficulty.
Ryu only nodded, trying not to make a show of fastening his seat belt as Tommy turned toward the exit from the large empty parking lot.
* * * * *
"Yeah?! Well the same to you, too, moron!" the dark-haired woman screamed, kicking at a small red sports car as it sped away, leaving her in a cloud of dust and exhaust beneath the street lamp. Rita coughed as she stepped back up on the curb and ran a hand over her untamed hair. "Curse these stupid ears," she muttered. She dug into the pockets of her worn leather jacket, extracted a small, cracked makeup mirror, and examined her reflection in the sodium light from the street lamp. She brushed at her hair with her fingers, trying to hide the tips of her ears again. "It's bad enough I got stuck with these freakin' fangs and no company dental plan," she complained as she pulled at her hair, trying to stop it from curling back up to expose the ears she had still proudly showed off not more than two months earlier.
She jumped a bit, startled, as something small and flickering zipped behind her and was reflected in the mirror. Rita spun, coming face to face with a tiny, glowing, winged being. Jamming her mirror back into her jacket pocket, she sighed. "Blue? Geez… what're you doing out here by yourself? I thought I told you to stay home with Rael," she scolded mildly, her voice taking on a childlike tone. She cupped her hands together, providing the little glowing wisp a place to land, and nodded, listening to a voice that was too faint for normal ears to hear. She sighed again. "Yeah, I know it's not much of a home, but I've been doing the best I can since Candy kicked us all out." She frowned, her voice turning both angry and sad at the same time as she added, "The little witch didn't even care that you two weren't fully recovered yet. And I thought we were supposed to be one big family."
Rita listened again to the little faerie-thing she held in her hands, then smiled slightly. "Yeah, I suppose you're right," she answered. "At least I've got you and Rael…"
The female Halfling leaned against the light pole, continuing to converse with her pet wisp. She didn't even notice the pair of headlights as a vehicle crested the hill behind her.
* * *
"Tommy, I think we should slow down a bit…" Ryu began as they came out of another sharp turn. He grabbed hold of the door handle as the eighteen-wheeler topped the hill and his insides jolted upwards as if he was on a roller coaster.
"Nonsense!" Tommy replied confidently. "I've got the hang of this now. Stop worrying so mu…" He broke off mid-sentence as the speeding vehicle suddenly jerked sideways with a loud bang. The rear wheels of the empty trailer had left the pavement as they came over the top of the hill and landed off track from the cab, pulling the rig into a skid. Reacting as he would in a car, Tommy jerked the wheel hard in the opposite direction, which, as he found out a split second later, only compounded the problem. The suspension creaked as the passenger side wheels scraped the curb, and Tommy fought again for control, twirling the wheel back the other way.
"Hit the brakes, Kimura-san!" Ryu cried. Tommy glanced down, suddenly realizing that in his panic he had kept his foot on the accelerator. Frantically, he stomped both feet on the brake.
* * *
Rita looked up at the sudden sound of tires squealing, straight into the blinding headlights of a runaway truck. A long second later, she gasped as something grabbed hold of her under her arms and yanked her out of the way. In a blur, she watched the truck demolish the lamppost and a fire hydrant just beyond it before vanishing behind a geyser of water and electrical sparks. She was back on her own feet, standing on a rooftop some five stories above the street, before she even looked to see who her savior was.
"Rael?" she exclaimed, astonished. Now it was her turn to grab hold of the other Halfling, to steady him, as the gaunt man staggered slightly from the exertion. She cast a glance back at the mess on the street below. "Not that I'm complaining, but I thought you were still too messed up from that shot you took to use the ley lines."
Rael gave a weak smile. "I was. But I'm feeling much better now."
Rita tried to return the smile, knowing he was lying, and took his arm over her shoulder. "I don't wanna end up carrying you home again," she explained quickly as he gave her a look of protest. She looked around, her eyes suddenly filling with panic. "Oh no… where is she? I had her in my hands right before…"
A glowing little ball of light descended and hovered in front of the two Halflings, and Rita gave a relieved sigh. "I shoulda known you were too fast for 'em," she greeted, smiling a fanged grin.
"Yeah, if it weren't for Tinkerbell here runnin' off, I wouldn't have been here to save your sorry butt from becoming a fly on a windshield," Rael commented. He looked at Rita seriously. "What do you think you were doing out here, anyway?"
"Nothing," Rita answered evasively. "And her name's not Tinkerbell," she corrected, changing the subject, "and you know darned well she hates being called that."
Rael looked at the little blue-glowing wisp, whose flickering showed her indignation. "Sorry, Blue," he said.
Rita listened and nodded. "She said your apology is accepted."
"Good," Rael returned. "Now let's go home… we need to talk."
Rita froze. "About what?"
"Getting out of this crazy town before it kills us," he answered.
With the little wisp following behind, the two Halflings headed off together.
* * *
The young Japanese man sat, frozen, his hands locked in a death grip on the steering wheel.
"Tommy-san? Tommy-san!" Ryu called, waving a hand in front of his friend's face. Tommy blinked and finally came out of his trance. The truck was no longer moving, and he still seemed to be in one piece… both facts were good signs. He looked to his left. The driver's side mirror was gone and a brick wall stared back at him from just a few inches beyond the window. A series of brief images replayed in his mind. Careening down a hill… mowing down a streetlight and a fire hydrant… riding the sidewalk straight towards the side of a building until Ryu leaned over to yank the wheel.
Tommy uncurled his fingers from around the steering wheel carefully. "I think you should take your turn now, Ryu," he said quietly.
"Hai, Kimura-san," the other man answered. And without further discussion, the two men switched places.
* * *
From a rooftop across the street, a pair of winged female figures watched the truck start to pull away. Sharon Nomura's eyes were cold and intense. Delilah's were filled with concern; the expression set on her face was hauntingly similar to the one her human mother had displayed as she and Sharon departed the Labyrinth some hours before.
"Sharon?" the clone asked quietly.
Sharon's tail twitched, but her eyes never left their target as she prepared to take to the air again. "I'm going to keep following him," she answered before being asked. "You do not have to stay with me if you do not want to."
Delilah opened her wings and followed alongside her clanmate, shaking her head. "You are my friend, Sharon," she answered simply, the smallest trace of worry creeping into her tone. "I will stay with you."
* * * * *
Broadway watched nervously as Demona raised the fork to her mouth and took her first bite of the rich, cordial marinated, double chocolate cake he had baked two nights before. His own piece of the dessert waited untouched on his plate, as did Angela's, as the two newly mated gargoyles awaited the elder female's reaction.
Demona chewed and swallowed, and a small smile came to her lips as she returned her fork to the plate for another bite. Angela took Broadway's hand under the table and gave him encouraging look. "How is it, Mother?" the lavender female asked as Demona tasted her second forkful.
Demona looked up, finally noticing that the two were watching her. "It's wonderful," she said at last, fighting the urge to laugh aloud at the deathly serious look on Broadway's face. She swallowed and moved her fork for another taste, nodding her head sincerely. "The whole dinner was wonderful," she assured them. She met Broadway's eyes, trying to manage an encouraging smile.
Broadway hesitated a moment, until Angela squeezed his hand. "I'm glad you liked it, Demona," he said at last. As Demona nodded and dug into the rest of her piece of cake with gusto, he finally smiled. A moment later, he and Angela picked up their own forks and joined her in eating dessert.
* * *
Demona set down her fork on the empty plate and gave a wry grin as she dabbed the corners of her mouth with her napkin. "You know, I've never met a chocolate I didn't like," she commented, "but that has to be one of the best I've ever had." She looked up at her two guests as they rose to begin clearing the table, her eyes showing that she spoke with sincerity. "My compliments to the chef," she added, nodding at Broadway as she rose from her own seat.
Broadway's cheeks flushed slightly red. "Thank you, Demona," he replied. He looked to Angela, who smiled proudly at him, and added, "Hey, maybe we can do this again sometime?"
The red-haired gargoyle nodded as she placed her empty plate atop the stack he had collected in his arms. "I would like that," she answered.
Broadway's smile broadened, and he excused himself to the kitchen and departed the room with the dirty dishes. Angela stepped to her mother's side as the door swung closed behind him and took the older female into an impulsive hug. "Thank you, Mother. He's been worrying for nights about this meal. What you said tonight really meant a lot to him."
Demona let herself relax a fraction of a second after the initial shock of finding herself wrapped in a bear hug, and put her arms and then her wings around Angela to return the gesture. "I meant every word, my child," she replied. They backed apart, and the azure gargoyle sighed contentedly. "I'm glad you found a mate who makes you happy, Angela. As long as he does that, there's nothing more he ever needs to prove to me."
Angela smiled, taking her mother's hand and leading her into the adjoining living room. The candles that had been lit earlier still burned brightly, illuminating the room more than sufficiently for the needs of three gargoyles. Demona caped her wings and sat down in a chair, and Angela took a spot on the couch across from her as Broadway returned from the kitchen carrying a silver tray bearing three cups of coffee. Demona accepted her cup, and Angela hers, and the big gargoyle finally sat down beside his mate.
"It is nice to have a quiet night for a change," Demona offered at last, oblivious to the silent exchange that had been going on between Angela and Broadway for the past few minutes. A wistful look came over her face, and after a quiet moment she asked, "How has the rest of the clan been faring?"
Angela and Broadway looked at each other, their eyes speaking for them, he prompting and she hesitating a moment longer before finally acquiescing. "Everyone is doing fine, Mother," she began carefully, "but there have been some… things that have happened during the past few nights that we wanted to talk to you about tonight."
Demona set down her coffee cup and sat up, interested.
"Nothing bad," Broadway reassured her quickly. Demona only relaxed slightly, looking to her daughter again. She was picking up on Angela's growing nervousness now, but she tried to remain calm. Angela, in turn, could sense her mother's level of anxiety rising, and she knew there was no point in trying to sugar coat the news she was about to deliver. Mustering her nerve, she gamely forged ahead.
"It's about Goliath and Elisa," the lavender female continued. Demona's brow ridge went up and her eyes flashed, but Angela was encouraged by the fact that Demona did not automatically scowl at the mere mention of the human woman's name this time as she had so often done in the past. "I figured it would be better if you heard this from us first," the girl went on, her hands now nervously and unconsciously twisting the edge of her tunic. "You know they have been close, but now… well, they haven't actually said anything yet, but all the signs are saying they're going to become mates."
Angela sat tensed. Staring straight into her mother's eyes, she waited for the volcano named Demona to erupt. But Demona's eyes didn't even begin to glow. The azure-skinned female only turned to Broadway, asking, her voice a soft whisper, "Is this true?"
Broadway only nodded. He was as surprised and bewildered as Angela that she was still sitting quietly in her chair and had not leapt up immediately to fetch her mace or her laser cannon.
"I see," Demona said softly. She sank back into her chair, everything around her becoming but a backdrop to the emotions now warring in her mind.
"You and I are one, now and forever."
She shuddered imperceptibly. She knew it was crazy to think that she and Goliath would ever be together again after all that had happened. Even Angela, as idealistic and optimistic as she was, had accepted that fact. So why did she suddenly feel like her stomach had been turned inside out? Like she had suddenly lost something? How could she lose what had already been lost?
"I thought you hated me."
"I do. Never think that's changed, human."
A tiny voice in her head laughed at the irony. She had saved Elisa Maza's life when she could have just as easily left her to die the slow, agonizing death she had wished upon the human woman countless times. And now she and Goliath would become mates? A gargoyle and a human, not just together, but mated? It was all too surreal - more than her mind could handle.
Angela and Broadway watched Demona carefully. She didn't seem angry. She had barely spoken a word. She just sat there, her eyes blank and her face unreadable.
Outside, the sky was reddening with the approaching dawn. Broadway nudged Angela, and she answered with a nod and a whispered, "I know." The lavender female leaned forward and took Demona's hand, drawing her out of her silent trance. "Mother, it's almost dawn," she said gently. "Would you like me to stay the day so we can talk a little more before sunrise?"
Demona looked up at the two gargoyles staring at her with concern etched across their features. She shook her head. "No," she answered, her mind swimming. "I'll be fine." She rose to see them out, guiding them numbly to the French doors that led to the patio.
"Are you sure, Mother?" Angela offered again as she stepped outside.
"Yes. Now you'd better get going."
Broadway looked at his mate and shrugged before mounting the take-off platform and opening his wings. Angela moved to the bottom of it, but paused as Demona called after her.
"Angela, wait," the older female said.
"Give your father and the detective my congratulations."
Angela and Broadway stared at her oddly for a long moment. Then Angela nodded. "Okay, Mother. I will."
Demona stood quietly in the doorway and watched them depart, her face an emotionless mask. As the silhouettes of her daughter and her new "son-in-law" faded into the distance, she turned back to the dark interior of her house. Crossing through the living room, she headed straight for the small wet bar that occupied the corner near the entrance to the dining room.
With shaky talons, Demona sullenly took a random bottle and a glass.
* * * * *
"Did you believe them?" Winslow asked Braddock after they watched the prisoners being escorted back to their holding cells.
Braddock consulted the notes he had taken during the interrogation. "The information they've given us does seem to support the facts as we know them. Still..."
"Something doesn't add up for you, does it," Winslow said. He jammed his hands into the pockets of his black gabardine trousers and jangled the change absently as he waited for his companion to state his reservations.
"It's this Arthur Pennington," Braddock admitted. "We've been trying to put a name to 'The Connection' for months without getting a single hint of our suspect's identity. Months!" He rubbed at the scar on his nose in frustration. "Now enters Mr. Arthur Pennington. Over and over his name has come up in this investigation. When I mentioned the name to our suspects, it seemed like they couldn't wait to confirm that Pennington was 'The Connection'. It seems too easy."
"Is it though?" Winslow asked. "Or does it seem easy because all of the pieces are finally starting to fall into place?" He withdrew a pound from his pocket and flipped it up in the air. The coin rotated once before Winslow snatched it back and pocketed it once more. "I think we've finally got our man. We should move on him before he slips away again."
"You're right, of course," Braddock agreed reluctantly. "It's just the public face that Pennington shows, gentleman around town and friend to the down and out, doesn't quite reconcile with the cold blooded arms merchant that 'The Connection' is known to be. It's hard to believe that they're the same man."
"Braddock," Winslow said, chiding. "Remember the Southdown Slasher who spent his days reading to the blind? Or The Little Mother who built bombs when she wasn't working in the hospital charity ward? Acts of kindness don't preclude a body from doing evil."
Braddock shook his head, chagrined. "Winslow, you've made your case. I'll get the paperwork, you organize your men. We'll move on Pennington."
* * * * *
On the road near Pendragon Investigations
"Yes you did, so you did, so did she and so did I. / And the more I think about it sure the nearer I'm to cry. / Oh, wasn't it the happy days when troubles we had not, / and our mothers made Colcannon in the little skillet pot," Rory and Leba sung to the amusement of their companions.
"That was grand, Rory," Kevin said as they concluded the song. He glanced back grinning in the rear view mirror at his companions in the van. "Sing us another one, won't you?"
"All right," the young Irishman agreed. "Surely you all know the words to this one." He cleared his throat and began to sing. "In Dublin's fair city, where girls are so pretty/'Twas there that I first met sweet Molly Malone."
Leba and Kevin joined in on the next line. "As she wheeled her wheelbarrow/ Through street broad and narrow/ Crying, 'Cockles and mussels, alive, alive oh-'"
Emrys grinned openly at Arthur before adding his own tenor to the chorus, "Alive, alive oh, alive, alive oh, / Crying, 'Cockles and mussels, alive, alive oh.'"
Arthur closed his eyes, content, as he listened to the happy voices of his knights. He shifted a bit to accommodate Cavall, worn out from frolicking with the former barghests, who slept with his head curled against Arthur's thigh. The victory party at the London estate had been a smashing success, a fitting ending to the grim battle that had consumed them all. But he found himself feeling strangely let down. The Unseelie campaign had been his raison d'être since he had returned to London with Merlin at his side. What role would next he play in this new life? He found his thoughts straying inexorably back to the lovely Jennifer, and decided to pay a call on her in the morning.
* * * * *
Griff glided above the van, hand in hand with Brianna. He glanced back and saw Leo and Una in the distance following at a leisurely pace. "It will be quiet back at the shop while Faulk and the other youngsters take their holiday at the Estate. I think I'm going to miss them," he admitted to his mate.
"We're nearly home now, and there's plenty of night left before sunrise." Brianna smiled at Griff. "Do you suppose the others will mind if we take a bit of time for ourselves? I be keen for a glide through Kensington Park."
"That sounds like a lovely idea. I'm sure-" Griff broke off as he scanned the familiar Soho skyline. He cocked his head and frowned. "Something's not quite right," he muttered. He grudgingly broke away from Brianna. "I won't be a minute, love. Stay with the van."
He darted ahead before his mate could protest, catching an updraft that carried him high over the rooftops. "No mistake about it," he muttered to himself. "And just when I thought we were in for a spot of quiet!"
He looped backwards towards the van, motioning to Brianna to close in.
"What's the matter, Griff?" she asked as she closed on his wing.
Griff didn't answer. Instead he gauged the speed of the van, adjusted his own accordingly and landed on the roof with a thump. Kevin swerved in surprise and pulled abruptly to the curb.
"Hey now, why'd you go and do that for? Scared the bloody daylights out of me, you did," he protested as soon as he'd killed the engine.
"I had to get your attention right quick and it seemed like the least bother," Griff replied. "Sir Arthur, there's a squad of armed men surrounding your flat. At least three snipers on the roof and six on the ground."
"What!?" Arthur replied, battle senses suddenly alert. "Whose men are they?"
"I don't know, Sir Arthur, I didn't hang about to find out," Griff replied. "I thought it more important to keep you from driving straight into an ambush."
"Quite," Arthur said, distracted, as his thoughts raced furiously.
"You don't suppose it's because of us?" Brianna ventured.
"Don't be silly, pet," Griff said. "If they were after us, it'd be Into the Mystic they'd be at, not Sir Arthur's flat."
"We've got to have more information," Rory said as he unbuckled his seat belt and unlocked the door to the van. "I'll go see what mischief they're up to."
Emrys shook his head. "No, Rory. I'll go." He slid out of the opposite side of the van and disappeared into the night, before anyone could protest.
* * * * *
Emrys drew a deep centering breath as he peered out into the darkness. The agents on the rooftop were obscured from his view, but he counted at least six men carrying guns and wearing flak jackets from his hiding place.
"Into the breach again, dear friends," Emrys muttered sardonically. He hesitated a moment before reciting the spell of invisibility and creeping hesitantly towards the waiting men.
* * * * *
The pair of agents shifted uncomfortably under their combat gear as they knelt in the tidy garden across from their target's home.
"Hard to believe the most notorious gun runner in England has been living right here practically under our noses," a voice whispered close to Emrys.
The curly topped towhead stumbled at the young constable's words and he crept closer to hear more.
"Quiet, Williams," his partner muttered. "Captain will have our skins if we blow this job because of your nattering."
"I am not nattering, Mulrooney," Williams protested, continuing his overawed ramble. "I can't help it if I'm a tiny bit impressed about staking out the most wanted man in all of the United Kingdom. It will be quite a feather in our caps if we catch him tonight."
"And quite an impressive black mark if he slips away because you've tipped him off," Mulrooney grumbled. "Now shut your trap and hunker down. You're going to wake the entire neighborhood."
Emrys edged forward a tiny bit more. A twig snapped beneath his foot. He cringed and froze.
"What was that?" Williams cocked his gun and scanned the half lit street. Nothing.
Emrys called out a plaintive cat's cry. "Meow." He tossed a handful of pebbles against a far fence, then froze as the pair searched. A moment later, they relaxed and Emrys allowed himself a shakily drawn breath.
"You're going all nervy," Mulrooney scolded. "Calm down or you'll shoot us both in the foot."
"You jumped first," his partner shot back. "Afraid 'The Connection' was going to have you next?"
"Just keep your eyes peeled and your lip zipped." Mulrooney glanced at his watch. "It looks like we might be in for a bit of a wait." He settled back against a low brick wall and Williams did the same.
* * * * *
Emrys drew back slowly, taking in the moving van that was making its second circuit around the block and the elderly couple that moved with an incongruously spry step. His concentration faltered and he regained visibility a dozen yards from the van. He broke into a dead run, tore open the door and was ordering Kevin to move before he'd clambered halfway inside. "Get us away from here, now, Kev! Back the way we came, out to the countryside!"
Arthur laid a steadying hand on the shoulder of his erstwhile ward. "Merlin, what is it? What troubles you?"
"Those men," Emrys said as he pushed his way into a spot next to Rory, "they're from Scotland Yard, but they're no street bobbies." He looked nervously over his shoulder. "Every one of them, that I could see, was carrying an assault rifle and was wearing riot gear."
"Blimey," Griff exclaimed from the back seat where he and Brianna had crammed in with the others after signaling Leo and Una to stay away from Arthur's flat. "What on earth is going on?"
"I'm not sure," Emrys admitted. "But the two constables I was eavesdropping on seemed to think that Arthur was the most dangerous man in England. 'The Connection' they called him."
"Stop the car, Kevin," Arthur commanded.
Kevin gave Arthur a sharp look, but complied.
"Beg your pardon, Sir Arthur, but have you lost your mind?" Leba protested, her blonde braids swinging freely as she alternated between staring out the back window and looking at Arthur and Kevin.
"We cannot run like callow youths!" Arthur protested. "We must turn back and face these constables."
"No, Arthur," Emrys counseled, sounding less like a teenager and more like the Round Table advisor of old. "We will not run, but we must withdraw and regroup until we know who would target you in this manner. There are others with whom you've crossed swords besides the Unseelie, who yet may be attempting their revenge."
"He's right, Sir Arthur," Rory agreed. The other neo-knights added their affirmations.
"Very well," Arthur relented. "Back to the estate. We shall re-group and plan our new campaign."
* * * * *
On the rooftop, adjacent to Pennington's flat, Robert Braddock and Sergeant Winslow crouched, stifling the persistent urge to stretch or move, in case the watchers were themselves, being watched. The neighborhood was quiet. Periodically another flat would darken, indicating the residents within had retired for the evening, or one of the observation units would breach the silence, only to be acknowledged with a curt "affirmative" from Winslow, who was directing the stakeout team.
"Anything?" Braddock whispered to his companion.
The pale-haired man at his side shook his head. "According to our informants, someone's usually moving about the flat by now. Either Pennington himself, that ward of his, Emrys Hawkins, or one of their known associates." Tugging his cap down further over protruding ears, the sergeant sighed, "The only signs of life we've seen are a stray cat and the next-door neighbors who threatened to call a constable on the surveillance unit." Winslow grinned, exposing a snaggle-toothed incisor. "Remind me to tell Jenkins to adjust the carburettor on the lorry; it's noisy."
Braddock shifted his weight without altering his crouching position. "I'm afraid we won't be taking Pennington to the nick tonight. Somehow he's caught on to us." His hand crept to his jacket pocket and he fingered his lucky piece, a cat's eye marble, absently. "I wonder how we slipped up?"
"Are you sure that we did?" the constable queried mildly. "It's possible we might have tipped our hand when we were checking the neighborhood." Winslow risked a stretch of his own before continuing. "Or it could be he's overseeing one of his operations someplace else. Let's stay on a bit longer. It's early yet, maybe he'll turn up."
Braddock frowned at his long time friend and colleague. "I don't think so, mate. Something about this still doesn't sit right. I agree that there's something fishy about this Arthur Pennington. He's a fraud, right enough, and it's certain that he's hiding something. But nothing about this adds right." The security service agent stared across the rooftop to Pendragon Investigation's modest headquarters. "The question is who's setting up who? Is 'The Connection' framing Pennington? Or is Pennington having us on?" The lorry with its noisy carburettor passed by them, and in the distance, a van made a U-turn in the narrow street, evidently lost. "One way or the other," the investigator declared, "I'm going to have words with Mr. Pennington. Soon."
* * * * *
Manhattan, Destine Manor, late afternoon
A large suitcase lay open on the foot of the king-sized bed, empty save for a few trinkets that had been haphazardly tossed inside. Dominique Destine, still dressed in Demona's clothes, stood at her dresser amidst a pile of clothing that she had emptied from the drawers. The closet was already empty; the contents lay scattered on the floor of the room. Expensive designer suits had been pulled from their hangers and cast into a heap like dirty laundry. Dozens of pairs of shoes and pantyhose lay in another jumbled pile. Only a few items, including several pairs of sweats, a couple sweaters, a pair of jeans, and a denim dress, sat neatly folded on the edge of the bed beside the suitcase.
Dominique cast a handful of undergarments angrily to the floor. "Curse the human who designed these!" she cried, wincing even as she spoke. She groaned pitifully, putting her hand to her head to try to stop the intense pounding of her worsening headache and steadying herself against the dresser. After a moment, the pain returned to being a dull ache, and she looked up again at the chaos of the room.
"I hate these clothes," she muttered, kicking at one of the red suits. "I hate this whole wretched life!" She turned back to the dresser, grabbing another handful of socks and underclothes. "I just need to get away… far away," she continued, as if trying to convince herself. She turned, moving to the bed and putting the items she carried into the suitcase. "Angela will understand," she added, sniffling. "She's the only one who cares anyway." She quickly brushed away the beginnings of a tear from her eye, turning back to the dresser.
Her hand trailed across a stack of books piled on the bed as she turned, the force just enough to upset their balance. She jumped back as the pile spilled to the floor, just barely fast enough to avoid having the heaviest land on her bare feet. The pulsing ache in her forehead increased in tempo as she gave a frustrated sigh. "Michel's journal," she mumbled, recognizing the large book lying at her feet. Without thinking, she moved to retrieve it.
Dominique's head throbbed anew as she stooped to pick up the book, the pain doubling in intensity and making her groan in misery. She staggered and leaned against the bedpost for support as her vision swam dizzily, her arm dangling at her side under the weight of the old journal. Dominique lifted the book wearily, grimacing from even that small exertion.
"You're right, Michel… I haven't done myself this bad since those lonely nights after you left me," she stated miserably, speaking to the book as if it were her old friend. "And even that took a more powerful brew… curse this weak human form."
Her head still refused to stop throbbing, and she sat down on the bed to rest for a few moments longer. She flopped down roughly, her weight on the soft mattress upsetting another stack of books as she turned to set the journal aside. Dominique moaned in frustration, grabbing desperately to keep the entire pile from tumbling to the floor. She squinted in pain as the sudden movement made her skull feel like it was being split open, the sensation for a moment making her think sunset had come already. She opened her eyes a few seconds later to find that she was still human and that she had only managed to catch one of the books. The rest lay scattered on the floor beside the bed, clustered around her feet.
Dominique sighed. She knew better this time than to even think about bending over to get them. She settled for bringing the one volume she had caught up onto her lap. It was a photo album; she could tell because several of the photographs had slipped from their holders and were now dangling beyond the edges of the pages. Dominique opened it carefully, and began straightening out the loose photos, slipping them back into their places.
They were photos from some event she must have attended over the past year, and she barely paid attention to the first of them as she forced herself to concentrate on reorganizing the book despite her aching head. It wasn't until she turned the page that she stopped and realized this was not just any old photo album. It was the scrapbook her friend Andrea had put together and given to her around the time of the last Winter Solstice as a memento of the PIT Masquerade Party they had attended together last Halloween.
Dominique stared at the sole photo on the page, an enlarged portrait-sized print of herself, in "costume" as a gargoyle, and her friend Andrea, looking like 16th century royalty in the lavish French gown Dominique had bought for her in Paris. The blue-skinned, red-haired gargoyle in the photo was smiling a toothy grin, her arm around Andrea's shoulders. The shorter woman in the bejeweled burgundy dress was also smiling broadly, perhaps even laughing, and had her arm around Dominique's waist.
Dominique, sitting on the edge of her bed with a hangover, dressed in the same tatters Andrea had accidentally caught her wearing almost a year ago, couldn't help but smile as she looked at the photograph and relived that night over in her mind.
* * * * *
October 31, 1998
Destine Manor, early evening
"Are you sure all this is really necessary, Dominique?" Andrea asked as she steadied herself by holding on to the sturdy bedpost, watching in the mirror as her red-haired friend moved in close behind her.
"It's all part of the costume," the older woman reassured her. She was already dressed in her own "costume," blue skin, wings, tail, and all, wearing nothing in the way of clothing but a scantily cut loincloth, halter, and a few pieces of gold jewelry. As Andrea gave in and sucked in her stomach, she was secretly jealous.
"Next year, I want to go as a gargoyle, too," she mock-complained as Dominique adjusted the position of the long corset about her waist.
Dominique-turned-gargoyle gave a small, sly smile, revealing fangs that caused Andrea's eyes to go wide with amazement again as she watched their reflections in the mirror. "We'll see," Dominique said. "Now just hold still for a moment," she instructed as she pulled the laces of the corset tight and quickly tied them off.
Andrea gave a small gasp as the garment constricted smoothly around her, and held tighter to the bedpost. She held her breath while Dominique secured the knots firmly. And a few seconds later…
"There. All done," Dominique announced, stepping back and dusting her taloned, four-fingered hands dramatically.
Andrea let go of the bedpost tentatively, relaxing her muscles and finally allowing herself to breathe again. She took a couple of careful steps, moving closer to the mirror. Though the vintage corset fit snuggly, it didn't hamper her breathing, and it was surprisingly comfortable - much more so than it had looked when she had first examined it after pulling it out of the box that had arrived from Paris two days earlier. Andrea tested her range of motion. The corset held her stiffly enough that she wouldn't be able to bend over very easily, and it forced her to walk a bit more upright, but other than that…
"There now, it's not so bad, now is it?" Dominique chided mildly, crossing her arms and watching with an amused sparkle in her dark eyes as Andrea examined her improved figure in the mirror.
Andrea turned to her friend, jumping just slightly again at seeing her as a gargoyle rather than a conservatively dressed businesswoman. "I guess not," the younger woman replied, still a bit uncertain. She looked at her own reflection again, noting that the inches she had lost from her waist had been relocated to other areas. She smiled, blushing a bit. "I suppose I can live with it for this one night… but only this one," she added quickly, looking at Dominique again with a quirky grin on her face. "I mean… at least I didn't have to paint myself from head to toe."
Dominique chuckled as she turned to the bed. "Trust me, Andrea," she said, lifting the underskirt of the French gown smoothly from the box, "You have no idea what I went through tonight to look like this."
Andrea only giggled, and turned back to the mirror as her friend continued to help her get dressed for the Ball.
* * * * *
About an hour later…
Andrea checked her reflection in the limousine's tinted window as the car made its way smoothly through the early evening traffic. She still was in awe of how she looked. The skirt of the bejeweled burgundy gown fell in rich folds on the seat around her, while the bodice hugged her body, helped by the corset hidden underneath. A white lace ruff encircled her neck snugly, and below it hung an ornate, heavy gold necklace adorned with jewels that she had no doubt were real. Gold bracelets accented her arms; gold rings decorated her fingers. Her hair was pinned up, hidden beneath a gold trimmed cap that matched the gown. And completing the whole illusion, her face had been dusted lightly with a white powder base, giving her the same pale appearance as the real French noblewomen who once attended fancy balls wearing similar outrageously lavish dresses.
"You look terrific, Andrea," Dominique said calmly, mistaking her friend's fascination with her reflection for nervous trepidation.
Andrea turned to her, her blushing hidden by the makeup. "I feel like a princess," she stated sincerely, smiling at her friend.
Dominique returned the smile as the limousine slowed and stopped, and smoothed her loincloth before extending her blue, taloned hand to Andrea. "Then shall we make our entrance, your highness?" she inquired mildly as Gregory opened the door behind her.
Andrea hesitated only a moment before taking the proffered hand, worrying as she did that she would smudge her friend's body paint or somehow damage the prosthetic makeup that had turned delicate human hands into savage-looking gargoyle talons. She was surprised, then, when she found how lifelike the skin actually felt.
Dominique stepped from the car first, and Andrea allowed herself to be guided out behind her. The gown's skirt fell elegantly in deep folds about her legs as she stepped onto the curb. Andrea looked up at the grand canopied and lighted entrance to one of the city's most exclusive halls, and moved up beside her friend, who had been the one who had pulled the strings to reserve it. "And to think last year we barely had enough to buy streamers and pumpkins," she murmured softly as Dominique started her towards the door.
Her "gargoyle" friend smiled wryly. "There won't be any apple bobbing, but I think we'll manage to have a good time."
Andrea looked at Dominique, finding her fussing with her loincloth once again as the doorman nodded and admitted them into the building, not even raising an eyebrow at their respective attire. "Are you nervous?" she asked.
The faint sound of music grew louder as they approached the large double doors of the Grand Ballroom. Dominique met Andrea's eyes. "A little," she admitted.
Andrea smiled and took her friend's hand again, and together they entered the ballroom.
* * * * *
Two hours later…
"Congratulations on a knock-out party, Ms. Destine." David Xanatos grinned smugly, a glass of hot mulled cider in one hand and his other extended in a friendly manner.
Dominique stared a moment before shaking it gingerly. Though the look on the billionaire's face made her want to squeeze until she heard bones break, somehow she managed to restrain herself and return a tight, "Thank you, Mr. Xanatos."
"I'd forgotten how nice it is to just attend one of these events, rather than having to run it." Fox commented from her husband's side. She, too, offered a delicate hand. Again, Dominique stifled an urge to cause physical injury.
"Mrs. Xanatos," she replied, nodding with forced courtesy.
Andrea sidled up beside her just in time, saving her from further conversation. It was only about the tenth time that night she had done so. After the initial "oohs" and "ahhs" and applause at their entry, it seemed like nearly everyone had tried to corner her to marvel at close range at her "costume" or ask to touch her wings or tail. But Andrea, it seemed, could sense her friend's discomfort with the poking and prodding, and had done her best to find ways to interrupt and help her escape before she could act on the urges to show the overly-curious humans her fangs or talons instead.
This time, Andrea carried two glasses of hot cider, using the guise of bringing her friend a fresh drink to enter the conversational circle. Dominique accepted the glass eagerly. She was ready for a drink, though she secretly wished at that moment that something a bit stronger was available.
"I don't believe we've met your… friend," Fox said, the raise in her eyebrows just barely detectable as she took in the attractive young woman, focussing a critical eye on her costume and noting with some amazement that the jewels she wore looked real.
"This is Andrea Calhoun," Dominique introduced. "She's an artist… she's done a lot of work for me," she added, turning to the young woman. "As a matter of fact," she continued, an undertone of pride entering her voice, "as head of the PIT planning committee, she's more responsible for the success of this party than I am."
Andrea felt her cheeks flush as the blue-skinned gargoyle and the man and woman in medieval dress looked at her admiringly. After a short moment, Dominique saved her from being flustered by speaking again. "Andrea, this is David Xanatos and his wife, Fox," she said politely.
Andrea nodded. "Nice to meet you both," she said, smiling as she shook their hands.
"Miss Calhoun," David said. "It's nice to finally meet you, a young lady of so many talents. We've heard quite a bit about you. So you're the artist who paints gargoyles," he observed, smiling smugly again, one eye raised to catch Dominique's reaction.
Fox shot her husband a subtle warning glare. "Miss Destine and her daughter, Angela, are close friends of our family," she half-lied quickly, forestalling Andrea's question. The confused look vanished quickly from the young woman's face, and she nodded in understanding.
"So I see you went for period dress, too," Fox went on, deftly trying to steer the conversation to topics less likely to provoke the azure-skinned gargoyle. David took the hint quickly, doing his best to focus his attention back on Andrea.
"Sixteenth century," Andrea stated proudly, suddenly becoming self-conscious of her costume again. "And I just love it, too," she added, taking hold of her skirt and twirling slightly. Fox nodded in approval, and Andrea made a playful curtsey. "M'lady," she said, giggling.
Dominique took another sip of cider; she didn't want Xanatos to see her cracking a smile.
"Late tenth century," Fox replied, gesturing to her own costume as well as David's.
David couldn't resist adding, "We picked them up while we were on our honeymoon trip." Fox elbowed him, while Dominique nearly choked on her drink, fighting fiercely to keep her eyes from flashing red.
"Dominique found this for me in Paris," Andrea started to comment. She spun as she noticed her friend sputtering. "Are you okay?" she asked quickly, concerned.
Dominique coughed once. "Fine," she managed.
Andrea took the glass from her hands, guiding her gently off to the side, the Xanatoses all but forgotten. She regarded the older woman carefully for a moment. "Dominique," she said gently. "If… if you don't want to stay any longer, I'll understand." She looked over her shoulder briefly, noting that the billionaire and his wife had already taken the hint and moved off, then returned her full attention to her friend.
Dominique gave a funny look that was half a sad smile, half a guilty grimace. "Andrea, I don't want to ruin the evening for you. I promised you I'd be here."
Andrea took the blue-skinned gargoyle's hand. "I know. But I don't want to force you to stay if you're uncomfortable. I know you don't attend many events like this. You came, you wore a great costume, and we had some fun time together. That's enough for me."
"Really?" Dominique asked, her voice a whisper.
"Really," Andrea assured. "I've got to stay 'til the end, but you can go home if you want."
Dominique sniffled and looked into her friend's eyes. "Thank you, Andrea."
Andrea smiled warmly and patted her friend's hand. "All I want before you go is something to remember this evening by. We've got a photographer doing pictures in the next room… what do you say to you and me heading over there?"
Dominique nodded. "That sounds like a lovely idea."
Andrea gave her friend a small, impulsive kiss on the cheek, the motion so quick that it was over before Dominique had time to react. "You're the best friend I've ever had, Dominique," the young woman stated sincerely. "I love you."
* * * * *
June 15, 1999
Dominique wiped a tear from her cheek before it could fall on the photograph staring up from the scrapbook on her lap.
"Andrea," she whispered softly, smiling in spite of her headache. "I love you, too." She looked up, staring at the chaotic room, the clothes strewn on the floor, the suitcase on the foot of the bed, and wiped more tears from her eyes. "No," she spoke quietly. "I can't run away… this is my life. I built it… I am Dominique Destine."
With a heavy heart, Dominique carefully closed the scrapbook, laid it aside, and reached for the phone. She dialed the number and listened to the rings.
"Hello, Andrea?" she began, sounding miserable. "Nothing… I just need a friend to talk to right now…"
* * * * *
The Savoy Hotel, sunset…
"So do we go or not, boss?" Glasses asked impatiently. Tony Dracon stared out the large window overlooking the city, watching the sun vanish behind the horizon. "If we don't move out now, we're gonna miss our chance to make the score," the tall man added.
"No one's going anywhere," Dracon announced with finality, turning at last to look at his men. Glasses, standing just a few feet away, Pal Joey, pacing the room, Vince, sitting quietly in the darkest corner - all three men gave him an incredulous look.
"You mean we're just gonna let them make off with our haul?" Joey asked.
"No one's gonna be making off with anything tonight," Dracon answered. He moved to the table near the wall and picked up the telephone. "There's only one way to get rid of our Yakuza problem without bringing their whole organization down on us," he explained as he dialed a number that had by now become committed to memory.
* * * * *
The telephone rang and Elisa answered mechanically, not pausing in her diligent report writing. "Maza here."
"Hey there, sugar." Elisa froze, startled by the voice, and the pen slipped from her fingers and rolled to the floor.
"Dracon?" she stammered, hushing her voice.
"Don't tell me you've forgotten about me already, Maza," he replied, sounding hurt.
Elisa rolled her eyes. "What do you want, Tony?" she asked. "You know it's over and all bets are off," she added, her voice taking on a sharp edge.
"Really?" he asked, feigning surprise. "So are you sure I couldn't interest you in one more, for old time's sake?"
Matt returned with two cups of coffee just in time to see his partner scowl. "I don't have time for games, Tony," she answered. "What are you talking about?"
Dracon's tone became serious. "Get yourself a pencil, Maza. You're gonna want to write this down…"
* * * * *
"Explain to me again why we're taking this to the mutates rather than the gargoyles," Matt said, confused, as he quickened his strides to keep up with his partner as they threaded their way through the underground tunnels. "I thought you were worried that Sharon was going to become a loose cannon."
"I am," Elisa replied. "That's why we're going to Derek first. She'll want in, but at least this way we'll all be there to keep an eye on her." The raven-haired detective paused as they reached spot where the single tunnel split into two. Sighing, she looked at her partner meaningfully. "She deserves to be involved, Matt. I just don't want her to do something crazy again. If we'd been able to nail Tommy the last time…"
Matt nodded in sudden understanding, but a moment later both detectives froze as they heard footsteps coming up one of the two tunnels.
"Elisa, is that you?" a voice sounding nearly exactly like her own asked from the darkness. Elisa relaxed, recognizing the voice, and a second later, Delilah emerged from the tunnel, followed by the rest of the clones. The female clone gave a smile at seeing Elisa.
"Hey, Delilah," Elisa greeted, accepting the quick hug the tan-colored gargoyle offered. Matt watched, one eyebrow slightly raised.
"We were just beginning our patrols," Delilah explained. Her brow furrowed in puzzlement. "Talon didn't say anything about you coming to visit tonight."
"We didn't have time to call first tonight," Elisa answered evasively. "We've got some things we need to talk to him and the others about."
Delilah nodded, her eyes showing insight, and she turned quickly to the other clones. "You will continue with the patrols," she ordered, directing them with authority and precision. "Brentwood and Burbank, you take the north loop. Hollywood and Malibu, you take the south." She turned back to Elisa and Matt as the others moved out. "And I will see you two safely the rest of the way to the Labyrinth."
Elisa didn't really think she needed an escort, but she'd been finding more and more since getting to know her "daughter" that arguing with Delilah was like arguing with herself. They had only a little ways further to go, so she accepted without protest and just tried to ignore the odd smirk on Matt's face.
They had only traveled about a hundred yards further into the tunnel when Delilah spoke again, but this time, her tone was soft and worry-filled. "This is about Sharon and Tommy Kimura, isn't it?" she questioned.
Matt blinked. "How did you -"
Elisa shot him a look but remained silent herself. Delilah tried again. "I'm worried about her, too, Elisa," she said. "Especially after last night. I want to help if I can."
The small group of two humans and one gargoyle halted at the end of the tunnel, just outside the entrance to the Labyrinth. "Okay," Elisa conceded, as she opened the door into the underground compound. "We'll get Derek and the others. You find Sharon and meet us in the kitchen."
Delilah nodded as they stepped into the common room of the compound, and then hurried off to accomplish her mission. Elisa took in the curious expression on Matt's face and shrugged. "She's a hard person to say 'no' to, okay?"
Matt nodded in agreement and smirked. "I'd have to say she definitely takes after her mother."
Elisa chucked him on the arm, but couldn't stop a small, unexplainable smile from forming on her lips. "Let's just find Derek, okay, smart guy?"
* * *
The group assembled around the kitchen table was quiet as Elisa finished reporting her news.
"And you got all of this from Tony Dracon?" Talon asked, breaking the contemplative silence at last.
Elisa nodded. "That's what I said. He called me at the station less than an hour ago."
"I ran a check on that address on the way over here," Matt added, flipping to the page in his notebook on which he had scribbled the information. "It's a warehouse that belongs to a company that belongs to another company that's part of a conglomerate owned by Nightstone Unlimited," he rattled off in a wry tone of voice. He folded his notepad back up and tucked it in his pocket as he continued. "Our unlikely tipster mentioned military grade hardware, so that much checks out."
Maggie nodded. "If Dracon is telling the truth. What if this is just his way of keeping you away from what's really going on?" The catlike woman looked at Elisa meaningfully. "Dracon knows we are the first people you would tell about this - us and Goliath's clan."
"Actually, I haven't told Goliath about this yet," the detective answered. She cast a concerned glance toward Sharon, who was standing quietly at the other end of the room, as she had been since Delilah had fetched her from Dr. Goldblum's lab. The female clone stood a few feet away, keeping a nervous eye her. "I thought you guys would want to get first crack at this one," Elisa continued.
Talon shook his head. "It just doesn't make sense, sis. How does Dracon know that the Yakuza are planning another robbery, let alone where it's going to be?"
"You don't think I asked him the same thing?" Elisa shrugged. "He said he had 'reliable sources.'"
Sharon stepped forward, breaking her silence. "You believe him, don't you, Elisa-chan?" she asked.
Elisa looked up at the girl and nodded. "Yeah, I guess I do. He said this one was for old time's sake, and he never had steered us wrong before."
"And I know Tommy Kimura too well," Sharon replied. "This sounds too much like his style - a big score to restore his honor," she continued, hissing the word sarcastically. "And, it's the only thing that makes what I saw last night make sense."
The others perked up their ears, interested. "What did you see, Sharon?" Talon asked.
Sharon glanced to the female gargoyle who had now stepped up beside her. "Delilah and I spotted Tommy and one of his cohorts joyriding in a truck - a big truck." She sniffed slightly. "They were lucky we were the only ones who spotted them, as well as they were getting along. I don't think either of them had ever driven a…"
She stumbled for the term, and Claw sat up in his seat, signing something quickly. Sharon followed his silent hand-gesture spelling and then nodded. "Yes, an 'eighteen-wheeler,' thank you, Claw." She crossed her arms, trying to regain her train of thought.
"They almost crashed into a building," Delilah added, assisting her.
"Yes," Sharon continued, "and the only reason I can figure for Tommy Kimura even daring to get spotted in anything without leather seats and a sunroof is that he was getting ready for a mission."
Something clicked into place in Elisa's head - Matt and Talon both recognized the inspired look on her face. "Let's assume Dracon's info is accurate," she began, "and Tommy is set to steal a shipment of military weapons from that Nightstone warehouse tonight. The question is, how do you steal that much equipment and get in and out fast enough to not get caught?"
Sharon's eyes brightened as she suddenly shared Elisa's insight. "You take the whole truck."
Elisa nodded. Talon frowned. "If that's the case, we aren't going to have much time to stop them. We're going to have to get there before they do."
"Does that mean you're coming, Fuzzball?" Elisa asked.
Talon looked at Sharon, noticing the determination set in her young features. "You know I am going," she stated firmly.
The mutate leader nodded. "We'll all go," he announced.
Maggie and Claw nodded their agreement as they rose from their seats. "We're going to need a plan, though," Maggie added.
Delilah hesitated, then finally whispered something to Sharon. The panther-like girl's ears went up, and she gave a toothy grin. "Delilah-chan has an idea, if you would allow us the honor of joining you," she stated.
Elisa and Talon traded resigned glances. "Sure," Elisa answered at last. "The more the merrier. You can tell us on the way, Delilah. Now let's grab some radios and get moving."
* * * * *
Near the waterfront
Two hooded figures, dressed all in black, scaled the tall, chain link fence, gingerly avoiding the curls of razor wire as they dropped lightly to the ground on the other side. Without speaking, the taller of the two gestured and they crept off in the direction of the biggest warehouse in the compound. A few moments later, they were at the building's locked back door. The shorter man kneeled down and examined the door's electronic lock for a few seconds before holding out his hand. His partner handed him a small device, which he attached to the keypad and activated. A tiny red light flashed. After about fifteen seconds, the light changed to a steady green and a four-digit number appeared on the tiny LED display.
The shorter man nodded and detached the device from the door. Standing back up, he handed it back to the taller man, who slipped it back into one of the many pockets on his dark uniform. With confidence, he then keyed in the numbers the device had outputted and turned the doorknob. With a soft click, the door opened. The two men paused for a moment, listening for any alarms. When none sounded, they proceeded inside.
Trained eyes adjusted quickly to the dimness inside the building as the shorter man pulled the door shut behind them. "This way, Ryu," spoke the taller man in a whisper, the first words Tommy had said since they had left their car about a mile away and over half an hour ago.
Ryu nodded, and followed his partner into the darkness of the warehouse complex, tracing without the aid of flashlights along the hallways they had hurriedly memorized two days before while posing as a pair of maintenance workers. Within a few short minutes, they had threaded their way through the shipping offices to find themselves at the doors leading into the loading docks.
"This is it, Ryu," Tommy announced softly but proudly. He took hold of the doors' handles confidently. "Our prize awaits us."
* * *
With headlights off, Elisa eased the Fairlane into position, angling the big car across the driveway to block anyone from easily passing. She looked up at the warehouse door looming just a hundred yards away and cringed slightly as she turned off the ignition at the thought of her classic car being put to the test as a roadblock.
"This is one of those times you probably wouldn't mind driving something standard issue," Matt whispered from the passenger seat, reading her expression.
"If things go right, we shouldn't have to worry," the dark-haired woman replied as she curled and uncurled her fingers from around the steering wheel. She peered through the windshield into the darkness, then relaxed a bit. "Delilah's in position," she stated.
Matt squinted in the direction Elisa had been looking, then shrugged. "I guess I'll take your word for it," he said, sitting back in his seat.
Elisa nodded. "Nothing to do now but wait."
* * *
It was pitch black in the hangar-sized room as Tommy and Ryu slowly opened the doors. Both men peered into the darkness warily before entering, Tommy leading the way. For the first time since entering the building, he produced a small flashlight from one of his pockets. Shining the little penlight into the blackness, he grinned beneath the black mask and hood that hid his face as the beam reflected off polished chrome. A shiny, nearly new looking tractor-trailer sat parked near the center of the room, and Tommy eagerly began making his way towards it.
A hand on his shoulder stopped him as he started to move. "What is it, Ryu?" he hissed softly.
"I do not know, Tommy-san… I thought I heard something."
Tommy turned, swinging the weak beam of his tiny flashlight over the stacked packing crates along the walls and then up along the catwalk that crisscrossed the room above them. He saw nothing. "You worry too much, Ryu," he answered after a moment. "Come on."
Ryu nodded and followed obediently. In a few seconds they were at the cab of the truck. Tommy examined the simple logo on the driver's side door and whispered "yes" in a pleased tone, recognizing it instantly. He tested the latch; the door was unlocked, and came open with a soft click. He smiled again, and started to climb up onto the running board.
"Should we not check the merchandise first, Kimura-san?" Ryu questioned in a whisper.
Tommy froze, pondering how the Oyabun would react if they were to present him with the truck and it turned out to be full of television sets rather than military-style weapons… or worse yet, if it was empty. He hopped back down. "Good idea, Ryu-san," he replied, swallowing hard.
Ryu nodded again, and started towards the rear of the truck, creeping silently on padded feet as he felt his way along the length of the trailer. Tommy slipped along behind him, shining his tiny flashlight across the concrete floor. The roll-up door at the rear of the trailer bore a massive padlock, but Ryu already had his picks out. The lock clacked open a few seconds later, and Ryu slipped it from the hasp.
Tommy removed his black hood and shook out his hair, wiping the sweat from his brow and waiting eagerly as his partner undid the latch. Ryu pulled off his own hood and looked to his friend, unable to not share his contagious, optimistic smile. At last, Tommy nodded, and Ryu pulled the handle, sending the door rolling up swiftly on its spring-loaded track.
* * *
For a moment, all either man could see as they stared into the back of the truck was darkness. Then, a split second before Tommy could re-aim his flashlight, a pair of yellow, catlike glowing eyes appeared in the blackness. The men froze as the eyes moved forward to be joined by the outline of a curved, feline body… and a pair of bat-like wings.
The smile ran away from Tommy's face as he instinctively stepped back. In the darkness, he stumbled, tripping backwards over some boxes he had not seen that now almost seemed like they had been purposefully placed there. He jerked his penlight up as he landed amid the crumpled cardboard, eyes wide but lips forming a sneer at the creature the feeble light revealed. "You!" he hissed. Kimura's face paled in surprise. "Saeko? How can this be?"
Ryu, however, could only manage to stare in disbelief at the fur-covered, feminine, yet vicious-looking creature towering above him. His hand remained frozen on the latch release, his knees shaking.
Sharon Nomura took another step forward, bringing herself to the edge of the trailer as Tommy scrambled to his feet. "It is over for you, Taeko," the panther-like mutate said with cold certainty, her almond-shaped eyes narrowing.
Tommy smirked. "Really? And I suppose you are going to stop me, Saeko?" he huffed defiantly.
Sharon gave a slight smile, her fangs glinting in the faint light. "Yes… with a little help from my friends."
Tommy opened his mouth to reply, but a split second later every light in room came on, forcing him to throw his arm in front of his face to avoid being blinded by the sudden glare. When he could finally see again a few seconds later, he couldn't believe his eyes. His attention darted rapidly from one large cat-like, winged creature to another, taking in the quartet of Mutates who now surrounded him on all sides.
"Meet my new family, Taeko," Sharon said, gesturing with her clawed hands. The others nodded in turn as Tommy made eye contact with them, various snarling looks of displeasure on their half-human faces. Ryu finally let go of the truck and jumped back as Sharon hopped lithely to the floor, only to be cornered immediately by Claw, who bared his fangs silently and froze the small man in his tracks. Sharon, however, paid no attention to Ryu. She strode forward slowly, her tail lashing behind her, until she had backed Tommy up against the wall. "I've waited a long time for this moment to come," she hissed, her face only a few inches from his. Tommy cringed, his courage deserting him as he stared into the female mutate's eyes. Sharon raised a clawed hand high, then swept it down…
… and grabbed a chain dangling along the wall just beside him. Tommy jumped, surprised, as the wall at his back suddenly moved. The warehouse's main door rolled open, and Tommy Kimura stumbled backwards, spinning around as he felt the warm outside air. But his hopes of making a break for it were short lived; as he spun, he came face-to-chest with a tall, tan-colored female gargoyle in a red bomber jacket. The creature grabbed him by the arm before he could back away, her talons catching tightly in the black silk of his ninja-style uniform.
"You are under arrest," the female gargoyle stated casually. Tommy blinked in disbelief at the voice, recognizing it but unable to comprehend the source, as she quickly slipped one of a pair of handcuffs on his wrist and spun him around. Standing just inside the door of the warehouse, Sharon crossed her arms and smiled smugly as Delilah ratcheted the other handcuff into place and finished making the collar.
"Watch out, Elisa, I think she's vying for your job," Matt quipped, impressed, as he and his partner stepped away from the side of her Fairlane and into the small circle of lamplight near the doorway.
"Nice work, Delilah," Elisa congratulated as she stepped into Tommy's field of view. The young man did a double take, looking with dismay from the human woman to the gargoyle who had the same voice. Elisa couldn't help but smile just a bit at his bewilderment as she patted the clone on the back, saying, "I'll take it from here."
"And you may have this one, Detective Bluestone," Sharon offered, snagging Ryu by the scruff of his collar and pulling him from his cowering position near the wall to toss him out the door.
Matt moved up quickly, affecting the arrest with an amused smirk. "I just love my job," he commented as he secured the second perp.
"Well that was easy enough," Talon commented, sounding just a bit disappointed as he and the others stepped outside.
"I thought it went well," Maggie agreed. She stepped up beside Talon, and the big panther-like mutate put his arm around her affectionately.
"Are you gonna be okay from here?" he asked, gaining Elisa's attention.
"Yeah," she answered, handing Tommy off to Matt so that her partner wouldn't have to recite the Miranda rights twice. "I think we can handle these two."
"I will follow you to the station, Elisa, just to make sure," Delilah said, her tone indicating she was stating a fact and not making an offer. The white-haired gargoyle peered over the detective's shoulder, narrowing her eyes as she watched Matt show the two Yakuza gangsters into the back of the car. Ryu slipped inside sullenly, but Tommy stiffened as Matt attempted to push his head down. Elisa turned as Delilah visibly tensed and Sharon stepped up beside her.
Tommy locked eyes with Sharon, smiling deviously as Matt finally shoved him down into the back seat. "I won't be long, Saeko-chan," he called. "Wait for me."
Sharon's catlike pupils narrowed to fine slits as Matt made a face and closed the car door. "I will join you, Delilah-chan," she stated evenly.
"Fine by me," Elisa replied. She turned back to the gargoyle and the mutate, shaking off the queasy feeling Tommy's smile had given her. "But those two won't be carpooling with us. Their ride is on its way. In fact, the wagon should be here any minute, so you two had best get out of sight."
Sharon and Delilah nodded, and joined the other Labyrinth dwellers as they slipped away into the shadows. Blue flashing lights and the crackling sound of tires on loose stone announced the arrival of a pair of patrol cars a few short moments later.
Elisa waved the squad cars over to her Fairlane and smiled ferally as two burly patrolmen hustled the sullen Tommy and Ryu into the wire-reinforced back seat of their cruiser. So occupied was she by transferring the prisoners, she didn't notice as Matt slipped behind the warehouse at the behest of a trenchcoat wearing figure.
"Hacker," Matt said by way of greeting. "How did you know to find me here?"
The detective's elusive companion chuckled. "Do you really have to ask?" he said mildly as the patrol car roared off into the night.
The lanky redhead looked chagrined. "I suppose not. Look, Hacker, I don't have a lot of time so could we cut to the chase?"
"Sure, Matthew, whatever you want," his ex-partner replied. "What's on your mind?"
Matt cast a hurried look towards the warehouse where Elisa was sketching out her notes for her arrest report. As he turned back to Hacker, his eyes flicked skywards, catching a brief glimpse of a feminine pair of winged shadows following off after the patrol car. "I got a federal grand jury summons, Hacker. What am I supposed to do?"
Hacker pulled his ever-present cap down further on his head. Though his features were as placid as ever, Bluestone got the sense he was relieved that the summons was the cause of his anxiety. "Don't worry about it, Matthew. Think of it as a chance to visit our nation's capitol on the taxpayers' dime. You might even want to take along that pretty detective from the 14th that you've been seeing so much of." The bemused expression returned. "Is it serious?"
The lanky redhead looked at the Illuminatus coldly. "She is none of your business. Not now, not ever."
Hacker laughed. "Everything about you is our business, Matthew. Never forget that."
Matt looked away from Hacker as the Fairlane's engine roared to life and Elisa tapped the horn impatiently. He looked back and the mild-mannered FBI agent was gone. Frustrated, he jammed his hands into the pockets of his overcoat and stuck his finger on the sharp edge on a business card. He withdrew the card and squinting in the pale moonlight, stared at the message as he walked with rapid strides towards the idling automobile. "We'll be in touch," he read. "Well isn't that special?" Matt growled as he folded his lanky form into the passenger seat.
Elisa looked at him curiously. "Something wrong?"
"Nah," Matt scowled, "everything's just ducky." He fastened his seatbelt with a snap and folded his arms across his chest, glowering out into the night.
"You're a spoilsport, Bluestone. Did you know that?" Elisa slapped her partner affectionately on the arm. "It's a perfect night. We just put away Tommy Kimura and his head flunky. What could possibly be wrong?"
Matt looked away from the rapidly passing city at his partner. He realized that she was blissfully happy for the first time in a very long time. She had completely recovered from her brush with death and in her world anyway, everything was right. I can't dump this in her lap, not tonight, he realized. Forcing a relaxed expression on to his thin features, Matt smiled. "Nothing that a double chili burger from Bert's wouldn't fix," he lied.
Elisa grinned back at him. "Are you buying?" She slid smoothly from one lane to the next and hung a left, humming tunelessly all the while.
Matt studied his normally taciturn partner. "Only if you'll tell me why you're so happy lately."
"Come by the Eyrie Building later with me," Elisa said mysteriously as Bert's Restaurant came into view. "I'll tell you then."
* * * * *
Just outside of London
"Is anyone behind us?" Kevin squinted into his rear view mirror at the road beyond the van and waited for confirmation from the other passengers. The jolly mood that had followed the Pendragon associates had evaporated and nervous tension permeated the air.
Leba squirmed around, mashing Brianna against Griff, and looked unabashedly out the rear window. "We're in the clear, Kev," she decided after several moments. "But slow down, will you? There's no point in attracting a motor cop."
The former revelers traveled in silence for a time, allowing their driver to negotiate the motorway back towards the Marter Estate. Fifty-eight gut wrenching minutes later, they were again at the tall wrought iron gates that guarded the manor.
Cervus, his great rack of antlers quivering with curiosity, met them as soon as they scrambled out of the van. "Hey now," he greeted the nervous travelers, "back so soon?"
"There's trouble back in the city, lad," Griff explained. "We need to get Sir Arthur tucked away out of sight."
The neo-knights huddled around their leader and hustled him inside the confines of the manor's great hall.
"Stop this, all of you," Arthur commanded as the press became too great. "I'll not be cosseted like one of the hatchlings." He straightened his overcoat and addressed Cavall. "Not by you either, my friend." The red beast growled and stood determinedly at his master's side.
Their sudden arrival had attracted gargoyles from all over the castle and the Once and Future King raised his voice to be heard over the growing murmur of the crowd. "I'm sure there's a reasonable explanation for all of this."
"Perhaps we might take this to a less public venue?" an orange tabby cat-like gargoyle, named Matilda suggested. "You seem to need some quiet and perhaps a spot of tea to sort this out with."
"A lovely idea," Leba agreed. "I'm for the library, if that suits."
There was a general nod of agreement and the neo-knights and their entourage slipped quickly into the library.
* * *
Michael stood in a small upstairs alcove, engaged in an animated telephone conversation. The hallway was otherwise deserted, and he used the opportunity to relax, leaning against the smooth stone wall as he listened to his caller. "No, I agree with you, Goliath. I've recently had a similar conversation with Kylie. She was reluctant at first, but your lads, and their offer of assistance and equipment, came at something of a fortuitous time; it helped her to realize that if we're to survive this century then we must embrace it." He listened again, nodding his head. "No, you're right. Change is never easy, but our survival is at stake. Who knows how many lives could have been saved if we'd been closer allied that night?"
The noise level downstairs jumped suddenly and the leader of the London Clan cast an annoyed look toward the stairwell at the end of the hallway. "Say that again, Goliath," he requested. "There seems to be some sort of a dust up going on downstairs." He pressed the receiver closer to the downy brown feathers that surrounded his ear canal, only partially improving his reception. "That's a splendid idea. Yes, please ring me up the moment you have details more firmly settled." Michael looked up as Trey, a wolfish looking young warrior, approached, his whiskers twitching with excitement.
He pointed a paw-like hand toward the main hall and whispered, "You're needed."
Michael nodded, acknowledging both speakers. "Talk to you soon, then." He racked the phone and addressed his young warrior. "What's going on now?"
"It's Sir Arthur and his party, Michael," the lupine gargoyle reported. "They've returned from London and there's been some sort of lash up."
"Trouble at the shop?" Michael said automatically, as he fell in step with the younger gargoyle.
"No, sir. At least I don't think so," Trey replied.
They covered the distance from the upstairs landing to the entryway in a minimum of time to find Perri waiting for them, nervously twisting her apron. "In there." She pointed to the library and a moment later, Michael, with Trey and Perri at his heels, entered to find Arthur surrounded by Rory, Leba, Kevin, Brianna, Griff, and a dozen of his clanmates all engaged in fevered debate.
"Sir Arthur," Michael said, addressing the center of the maelstrom. "We didn't expect to see you again quite so soon."
The bearded man looked up from his circle of attendants. He rose and clasped forearms with the clan leader. "Nor had I, Michael. However, Dame Fate had other plans in store for us then a quiet night back at the flat. It seems," he said dryly, "that the police have become very suddenly interested in taking one of us into their custody."
"Don't be so modest, Sir Arthur," Kevin said. "They was after you."
"So it would seem," Arthur conceded. "I was trying to explain to my well-meaning knights that it would be better to confront this situation rather than compound the matter by hiding. However they seem to be rather adamantly opposed to my solution."
Emrys stood up. He ran a frustrated hand over his face, exposing the point of his left ear tip. "Arthur, I saw the men they sent round to collect you. They were heavily armed and very dangerous. Partially because they were young and nervous," he explained. "You should have heard those two I was eavesdropping on," he finished with disdain. "They couldn't decide if they were thrilled or scared to death to be on this caper."
"Sounds like they think you’re a real rum customer, Sir Arthur," Kevin commented.
Leba, who was sitting to Kevin's left, slapped his shoulder. "Don't joke, Kev, this isn't funny. We've got to figure out a way to find out why the coppers are after Sir Arthur."
Rory, who sat on the floor at Arthur's right, looked up at the troubled face of his leader. "What if one of us went back to the flat? Chances are, if the police are still watching, they'd take us in charge for questioning. We might find out a bit by askin' a few questions of our own."
"No," Arthur said adamantly. "I'll not have you endanger yourselves with the threat of arrest on my behalf. If it's me that the authorities are after, then it's me they shall have."
The assembled human and gargoyle voices rose in joint protest. The burble continued for several minutes until it was silenced by a loud, shrill whistle. Dulcinea stood at the back, framed in the doorway, her long dark hair braided in plaits, her overlong sleepshirt stuffed roughly into her jeans. She removed her fingers from her lips and bowed to Arthur. "I apologize for being late," the animal trainer turned neo-knight began. "I was sleeping rather soundly." She accepted a cup of tea from Matilda who had reappeared with an urn on a tea trolley, took a sip, and put the cup aside on a book case before assisting the cat-like female and matronly Perri, in handing round cups to others. After making sure that everyone was served, Dulcinea continued. "As I understand it, the authorities have suddenly become very interested in Sir Arthur and Sir Arthur has a rather limited number of options. He may: choose to be arrested." The neo- knights raised their voices in protest once again and the dark-haired woman waited a moment for the noise to die down before continuing. "Allow one of us to do so, in hopes of gaining useful information. He could run." Arthur frowned darkly at that prospect. "Or," Dulcinea concluded, "there is another possibility. Pendragon Investigations can do what we have become so very good at. We could track down the real culprit and present him to the police."
The murmur of voices rose again.
"Make's it sound so simple, when she says it like that," Kevin quipped.
Leba looked up, her focus inward. "No, I think the little bird's got something there. It's the most obvious solution and it's the one none of us considered."
"We'll need a new base," Rory added.
"You can all stay here," Michael invited.
"There's the loft above the shop, don't forget," Griff said. "We can use it for a look out if we need to."
"We'll need a computer, with Internet access." Leba pulled a scrap of paper and the snub end of a pencil from her pants pocket and began to make a list.
Lucy pushed her way in from the back of the room. "I have a computer you can use," she offered.
"We can use some of the contacts we've made out on the street," Emrys said, earning a surprised look from Arthur. "Hey, I read that detective's how to book, too. We need to find out who this Connection fellow is and figure out why the police think it's Arthur."
The clock in the drawing room struck five deep toned chimes. Arthur shared a glance with Michael. "It will be dawn soon. Time for all of us to rest. On the morrow," the detective said, "we shall begin our most… personal case, in earnest."
* * * * *
Fox peeked into her husband's office, knocking lightly on the doorframe. "Are you going to work all night again?" she asked teasingly, stepping in as he looked up from his paperwork.
"Well I guess that depends," the billionaire said coyly, turning in his chair and smiling as she moved smoothly across the room like her namesake and slid up beside him. "What have you to offer, my dear?"
The athletic former television star smiled seductively and eased herself gracefully into his lap. "I could tell you," she purred, "but it'd be much more fun just to show you."
"Hmm… decisions, decisions." David moved to kiss her, but instead he looked up as a large figure suddenly loomed in the open doorway. "Goliath," he greeted, a bit startled.
Fox looked up, too, and hopped up quickly at the sight of the tall lavender gargoyle. She ran a hand through her hair once she had regained her feet and smiled politely. "Good evening."
Goliath paused in the door. His mind had been elsewhere, and it took him a moment to realize what he had just walked in on. Instantly, he purpled. "I'm sorry," he spoke quickly. "I did not mean to interrupt."
"It's all right," Xanatos replied, regaining his usual cool, businesslike composure. He glanced at his wife, giving a knowing smile. "We weren't doing anything we can't finish later."
Fox gave a sly grin of her own, then returned her attention to the gargoyle leader. "So how did the phone conference go?" she asked.
"It went well," Goliath answered, sounding pleased. "The London Clan's leader, Michael, likes the idea, and has promised to discuss it with his clan. And the communications Lexington has had with the clan in Ishimura indicate that they are enthusiastic about it, as well."
Xanatos smiled. "Now that's a bit of good news. So do you have any thoughts yet on where or when you want to have this conference?"
Goliath hesitated. "That is what I wished to talk to you about," he began carefully. "You have done so much for my clan already… both of you," he added, glancing at Fox. She nodded, and Xanatos leaned forward in his chair, curious. Bolstered by their interest, Goliath continued. "You helped us to make contact with these other clans… if it is not too much, I would like to ask of you would agree to help us organize this meeting."
Xanatos smiled. "Is that all, Goliath?" he asked amicably. He rose to face the big gargoyle eye to eye. "I'd be honored to help," he stated sincerely.
Fox nodded again, joining her husband at his side. "It's sure to be a historic event," she said, smiling broadly. "How could I pass on helping to plan a gathering like that?"
Goliath seemed to relax for the first time since he had entered the room. "Thank you," he said, offering Xanatos his hand. David accepted, returning a firm warrior's handshake.
"We've even got the perfect place already waiting for when you finally decided when to have that gathering," David said, smirking. He looked to Fox. "Don't we, my dear?"
Fox looked puzzled for a moment, then her eyes suddenly lit with realization. "David, you don't mean…?" She tried not to laugh.
Goliath was just plain confused. "Where?" he asked. "Right here, in Manhattan?"
Xanatos gave his trademark smile. "Goliath, what would you say to six fun-filled nights and seven glorious days at a little place in Japan that I picked up for a song a while back: Gargoyle World."
Goliath's eyes went wide with disbelief. "You bought that… ridiculous theme park?" he asked. His eyes glowed dimly as he recalled his brief "visit" there with Angela and Elisa on the skiff.
Xanatos nodded. "It was pretty tacky," he admitted, "but that's just because the last owner didn't have the budget to do things right." He grinned. "You should see what it looks like now."
Fox chuckled, both at her husband's wry enthusiasm and the serious, conflicted look on Goliath's face. "I think it'd be a great location… much better than bringing several hundred gargoyles here. I don't think this city is quite ready for a 'Gathering of the Gargoyles' yet."
The big gargoyle calmed, realizing how long it had actually been since that voyage, and sighed. "All things considered," he rumbled, "Maybe 'Gargoyle World' would not be such a bad place to meet, after all."
Xanatos smiled again. "That's the spirit, Goliath," he said. Scooting back in his chair, he opened the top drawer on his desk and drew out a long roll of papers. "Here… I can even show you the blueprints…"
* * *
Matt crossed his arms and leaned against the rail as the elevator made its way up the length of the Eyrie Building, a small smile on his face as he watched his partner. Elisa was tapping her foot in time with the muzak and watching with nervous anticipation as the digital numbers on the control panel climb upwards, a content smile on her face. Matt shook his head, recalling what Sara had said the night before, and tried not chuckle as Elisa softly began singing the lyrics to the pop song that was being rendered as a soft saxophone-lead instrumental over the speakers.
A few moments later, the elevator stopped with a soft bell chime, and the doors slid open soundlessly. "So where is everyone?" Matt asked as they stepped into the unusually quiet Great Hall.
"I don't know," Elisa replied absently. Automatically, she headed down the passageway leading to the library and, finding the door closed, eased it open gently and peeked inside. She had only had it open for a second, and barely an inch, before she pushed it shut again and spun around.
"What?" Matt asked.
"Broadway and Angela," she whispered, a funny smirk coming to her face as she quietly re-secured the latch. "I don't think we want to disturb them."
Matt blinked, then nodded. "Good call," he replied, lowering his voice to the same level as Elisa's. "So where to next?"
"Let's see if Xanatos knows where anyone else is," Elisa answered. She was already moving, and Matt, after sparing one more glance at the library door, hurried after her
* * *
Elisa could hear Goliath's voice as they rounded the corner in the hall, and a moment later she could make out those of Xanatos and Fox, as well. She slowed from her fast walk so abruptly that Matt bumped into her.
"Hey, warn a guy before you do that," he griped good-naturedly.
"Sorry," Elisa said, shushing him. She moved up to the door and looked in to see the big lavender gargoyle deep in conversation with the bearded billionaire, the two of them examining together a large set of plans that had been laid out on Xanatos' desk.
Fox stood nearby, and she was the first to look up and notice Elisa leaning against the doorway, arms crossed and smiling. Leaving her spot near her husband, the red-haired woman crossed the room quickly.
"Elisa, Matt," she checked her watch and shook her head, smiling quirkily, "good morning. When did you get here?"
"Just a few minutes ago," Elisa answered, stepping back into the hall with her. The raven-haired woman hesitated a moment, brushing a stray hair away from her face nervously. "There was supposed to be a meeting of the clan tonight," she said. "I'm not late, am I?"
Fox smiled and shook her head. "No, no… you're not late." She gave a quick glance back around the doorframe into the office. "In fact, you're probably just a bit early. David and Goliath are still working out some of the details."
"Details?" Elisa asked, puzzled. "What have they been discussing?"
"Just the basics right now. They've decided on the place but they haven't picked a date yet."
Elisa's eyes flashed and went wide. Her lips parted to form words, but as her mind went into a spin, she found herself unable to find her voice.
"Pick a date for what?" Matt asked, sounding intrigued. His eyes flicked back and forth between his flustered partner and the woman with blue fox tattoo.
Elisa tensed as her momentary state of confusion gave way to determination. She was on the verge of raising her arm so as to storm past Fox into Xanatos's office when a new voice spoke.
"Mrs. Xanatos, Detectives," Owen greeted evenly. The small group turned in the direction of the voice, and the stiff majordomo nodded. "The color renderings Mr. Xanatos requested," he stated, handing the roll of papers he carried to Fox.
The red-haired woman smiled. "Thank you, Owen… these will make it a lot easier to show the other clans where we're proposing to hold the meeting."
Elisa froze in place, confused again. "Other clans?"
"The first ever 'Gathering of the Gargoyles,' as Mr. Xanatos dubbed it," Owen stated, "though I'm sure he and Goliath would rather they be permitted to explain the details."
Elisa looked to Fox, and then to Matt, and then back to Fox again. Fox just chuckled and put her hand on the other woman's shoulder. "As you can see, it's been an eventful night here, Elisa."
Elisa nodded slowly, the same smile returning to her face as before. "Yeah… it sounds like it." She shook her head, losing the last of the tension in her body as she pushed her hands deep into the pockets of her jacket and looked to her partner. "And we had a pretty interesting night ourselves."
Matt nodded. "Oh yeah. Several interesting nights in a row, in fact."
Elisa's tanned face reddened slightly, but in the dim lighting of the castle corridor, Fox didn't appear to notice. "So are you two going to share, or is it a secret?" she asked playfully.
For a moment, Elisa looked back at her, startled, until she realized she was directing the question to both her and Matt. The dark-haired woman relaxed again. "Well, we just sent Tommy Kimura on a long vacation," she replied.
Fox blinked. "Wow, now that's some good news."
Owen nodded, his placid demeanor as he followed the conversation betrayed only by the Puckish glint in his eye that flickered for a moment and then was gone. "I agree," he spoke once more. "I assume you wish to share it with the clan."
Elisa grinned again. "Yeah… and there's some other news, too," she began. Matt perked up, but was disappointed yet again. "I'll tell you what, Owen… why don't you round up the others and have them come down here." She looked at her redheaded partner. "We'll tell everyone together."
"Certainly, detective," Owen replied. He started to turn away.
"Oh, and Owen?" Elisa added.
"Yes, detective?" he answered dutifully, turning back around.
"Angela and Broadway are in the library… and you should probably knock first."
Owen nodded. "I see. Of course, detective."
Fox crossed her arms as Owen departed to seek out the other members of the clan, stepping aside to allow Elisa and Matt to move past and enter the office. "The library again, hmm?" she mused to herself, grinning. Shaking her head, she went to rejoin the others.
* * *
Elisa quietly slipped up beside Goliath, raising an eyebrow as she looked at the blueprints he and David had been examining and recognized the place.
Goliath absently wrapped his arm around her as the other inhabitants of the castle began filtering into the room. Meeting her dark eyes with his own, he smiled, and together they turned to watch the group assemble.
Hudson, with Bronx by his side, was the first to arrive, followed soon after by Lexington, with a very wide-awake Alexander Xanatos in his arms. He could barely set the toddler down fast enough for him to scamper across the room and hop up into his father's lap, with his mother smiling all the while.
Brooklyn and his family appeared in the doorway a few moments later, the twins uncharacteristically sedate and only whispering amongst themselves as Sata and her mate herded them in. Nudnik trailed at Graeme's heels, but as he spotted Bronx, his stub tail went wagging as he tramped over to claim a piece of floor beside him.
Broadway and Angela were the last of the clan to arrive, the lavender female still toying self consciously with the Celtic hair ornament above her temple. She took her burly mate's hand as he squeezed in through the door behind her, and the two of them made their way over to where Matt lingered near the wall.
As he stepped forward and greeted them, Owen slipped just inside the door where he then remained, silent and unobtrusive.
At last, Goliath cleared his throat, quieting the soft murmur of hushed whispering that filled the now crowded room. "I have asked the whole clan here tonight to discuss the future… not just of our clan, but of all gargoyles. We know now that we are not alone in the world. We have discovered the existence of other clans all over the world. We have communicated with some of them, and begun to discuss our concerns, finding that although we have differences, we have many things in common, as well." He paused, drawing a breath. "Now it is time for the clans to come together…as one. It is time for a gathering of the gargoyles."
He paused again, taking in the rapt, proud faces of his clan. Angela was smiling in approval. Hudson and Brooklyn were nodding their heads. Goliath continued. "The Xanatoses, David and Fox," he added, turning his head to acknowledge them, "have been generous enough to offer their help in making a meeting of the clans possible." He turned his gaze back to Elisa, meeting her eyes again as he added, "I hope the rest of you will help, as well."
Elisa smiled. "A meeting of the clans," she said softly. "Goliath, it sounds like a great idea."
The low murmur returned for a few seconds. Then…
"You know ye have my support, lad," Hudson chimed in.
"We're all behind you," Brooklyn agreed, indicating his family.
"Hai, Goliath-sama," Sata affirmed.
"We could finally meet some other gargoyles our age," Graeme postulated hopefully.
"Yeah… cool!" Ariana agreed.
"It's a wonderful idea, Father," Angela spoke up.
Goliath smiled, his posture relaxing as each vote of agreement came in.
Behind him at the desk, Fox leaned in closer to hear as Alex whispered a question to his father. The youngest Xanatos was evidently pleased by the answer he received. His eyes widened as he proclaimed, "I wan' see mo' gargles! I wan' go, too!"
Fox chuckled. "We'll see, honey," she said, scooping him up into her arms.
Elisa smiled at the exchange, and looked around the room. The others were, by now, deep into excited conversations amongst themselves. Even Matt had been drawn into an animated discussion with Angela and Broadway. Only Owen still stood quietly in his same place near the door. Sighing contentedly, she drew herself close to Goliath again. Their eyes met meaningfully.
"I do have one more announcement," Goliath rumbled over the buzz of conversation. The room quieted instantly again, the others turning once more to hear their leader speak. Almost immediately, the mated couples in the room caught something significant in the way the big gargoyle stood with Elisa held by his side. Angela and Broadway traded glances. Sata and Brooklyn did the same.
"Two nights ago," he began, "Elisa and I spoke of our future. We have decided to become mates."
The room was quiet for a long moment, and then it erupted in a chorus of cheers and congratulations.
"I'm so happy for you both, Father, Elisa," Angela said, her eyes shiny as she moved to them and hugged them in turn.
"Congratulations, Goliath," Brooklyn said, offering the big gargoyle a warrior's handshake. He smiled at his second-in-command and accepted as Sata offered her taloned hand to Elisa. She shook it numbly, distracted by a double hug from the twins.
"Congratulations, Aunt Elisa," Graeme and Ariana intoned together.
Hudson clapped his hand on the new couple's shoulders. "Och, so when will you two be makin' it official? Will we be havin' another grand celebration like the one we had for Broadway and Angela?"
"We were hoping to keep it kind of low key," Elisa demurred, as she looked up at Goliath for confirmation.
Goliath touched her cheek softly before adding, "In fact, we were hoping you might officiate the ceremony for us tonight."
Hudson looked at the newly betrothed couple, bemused. "I'd be pleased to lad, it's been a verra long time since I've had such an honor. But," he said as he turned his one, good eye on Elisa, "don't ye want yuir parents and yuir family here, lass?"
Elisa's expression sobered as she considered what her mother might say. "Maybe he's right," she said reluctantly as Fox, with Alexander in her arms, swept her into a warm hug.
"We wuv you, Aunt 'Wisa," Alex added, trying to give her a hug of his own.
"Goliath, what can I say?" Xanatos said slyly, getting in his second warrior's handshake of the night. "I always thought you two made a perfect couple."
"So this was the big surprise," Matt surmised, smiling, as he finally gained his partner's attention. "Congratulations, Elisa."
The dark-haired woman smiled as her partner drew her into an awkward hug. "I figured this out days ago," Matt whispered smugly.
Elisa drew back to reply, only to instinctively pull the lanky redhead to the ground as a sudden loud POP erupted over the excited murmur of conversation. They spun, as did most everyone else in the room, to see Owen already pouring the sparkling cider into glasses from the bottle he had just opened. A matching bottle sat in the ice bucket that rested upon the service cart he had just pulled in from the hallway a few moments before.
"I guess all this does call for a bit of celebration," Xanatos commented as he accepted a glass. "Thank you, Owen."
"You're quite welcome, sir." He turned to the new couple. "Goliath, Detective Maza, my congratulations," he stated, handing full glasses to them, as well.
Within a few moments, everyone was served, including Graeme and Ariana. Sata accepted two glasses from Owen and in turn served her children. Their eyes widened as she handed over the glasses and they sipped the beverage eagerly.
"Hey!" Graeme said indignantly. "This is apple juice!"
Sata smiled mildly as her mate stifled a chuckle. "Of course it is, Graeme-kun," she stated. "You know your Aunt Elisa does not drink."
Elisa took in the smiling faces of her friends and clanmates once again before clearing her throat to speak. "You know, I never thought I'd be the one say this," she began, looking over at David and Fox again, "but when I saw you two working together it all kind of hit home. We've forged a new beginning. And now it really is time to celebrate. I don't think things can go anywhere but up from here on out." She raised her glass.
Goliath nodded, and raised his as well. "To new beginnings."
* * * * *
"Colcannon" aka "Little Skillet Pot", Irish Traditional http://ameba.lpt.fi/~zaphod/lyrics/colcannon
"Molly Malone" aka "Cockles and Mussels", Irish Traditional http://ameba.lpt.fi/~zaphod/lyrics/molly_malone