Written by: Carolynn "Aerie" Marie and Rahsaan Footman
Story Concept by: Christi Smith Hayden
Illustrations by: Jessica Entis
Previously on Gargoyles...
Elaine: "Answer me, Arthur. A moment ago, we were tongue-wrestling, and now you're acting like I'm a gorgon or something."
Elaine: "Arthur! Talk!"
Arthur: "No, you weren't out of line and no, there is no one else. But it just isn't right."
Elaine: "Give me one good reason why not?"
Arthur: (He grabs her right hand and holds it up. A golden wedding band shines in the morning light.)
Elaine: "It's a long story, but here's what's important. My husband and I have been separated for a year. During that time, we haven't resolved our differences."
Arthur: "You still wear his ring."
Elaine: "It doesn't matter."
Arthur: "It matters to me. While you wear that, you are another man's wife. I won't be an adulterer."
Norman: (to Elaine) "You're always first in the boss' heart."
Norman: "What about the Boss?"
Elaine: "What about him?"
Norman: "He still loves you."
Elaine: "He still loves 'her'." (chilly) "And I won't be second place in his heart. Tell him that!"
Elaine: "So I'm competing with another ghost. What is this? Is Fate playing a tremendous joke on me?"
Arthur: "You don't understand..."
Elaine: "Oh, I understand exactly!" (pulls away) "Oh, Arthur... Life is for the living. Don't waste it in the past."
~ The Ill-Made Knight - Part III ~
* * * * *
Arthur: "I think you are the fairest rose in all England and that if William Powell is not beguiled by your beauty the instant he sees you, he is both blind and a fool."
Jennifer: (weak laugh) "Now there's a pick-up line you don't hear too often."
Jennifer: "So, that's what Dad meant," (drums her finger on her chin) "He said Montrose had his fingers in too many pies."
Powell: "Leonard always did have a keen business sense. It was a rare gift." (expression softens) "How is your father these days?"
Jennifer: "He has his good days when his mind is very clear and we're grateful that they still outnumber the bad ones. Alzheimer's is a very cruel way to end up a life for everyone. Mum keeps a nurse on full-time now and she comes up to London to stay with me occasionally when it gets really bad."
Powell: "Yes, I'm very sorry not to have visited your father more often after I heard of his condition. He was always there for any of the chaps that ran in our circle of society."
Jennifer: "Oh, and if you visit London regularly, do you suppose that we could meet again? It would be nice to have a friendly chat on some occasion when we don't have to deal with gargoyle-nappers."
Arthur: "I'll see if it can be arranged, my lady."
~ The Watching Eye ~
* * * * *
* * * * *
"A fiver, two pence..." William O'Neill lay out the coins on the damp sidewalk, rubbing their surfaces clean with his thumb. " ... fifty pence, a tenner-" He stopped short and glowered, holding the grimy object up to the streetlight. No, that was just an old theater ticket stub. He threw it to the ground and rummaged through his daypack again.
That was it. He counted out the total and frowned angrily. He was sure he had snatched more than that from his mum's purse before leaving home. And he could have sworn there was an additional tenner he had grabbed from that gentleman's pocket.
Still, it was enough for something to eat. Perhaps a sandwich. What he couldn't afford he'd pinch from a distracted passer-by. It had been somewhat difficult at first, but he had gotten quite used to that sort of thing after a few days.
Will shoved the money into his pack and trudged down the busy nighttime avenue, hungrily searching for a pub. He hadn't eaten in almost two days.
The many couples out for a late-night walk were all well-dressed, and something in a particular old man's frown made him think back to his own pa. Dad wasn't so bad, now that he thought of it. In fact, Will had often got what he wanted whenever he asked for it. And he could get away with whatever he did. The old man rarely raised his voice, much to the boy's glee. His chums often groaned about how lucky he was, all considering their own fathers always were ones to yell.
"A little trouble at school and Pa goes crazy," he muttered under his breath, stuffing his hands into his pockets. "I don't need that sort of talk from him. I can take care of myself."
The one thing that had annoyed him to no end was his father's attitude. When he couldn't understand his son, he took refuge in sarcasm or preachy sermons that made Will feel more and more like a child.
Will stopped as he passed a nightclub where a bunch of black-clad Goth-punks had gathered. They were all laughing and joking with each other, and something deep inside Will stirred in longing. These youths, with their white face make-up and black lipstick, were like a family, only they probably wouldn't boss him around. His mouth twitched into a smile at the thought.
A girl with spiked blond hair suddenly looked up as if sensing his presence. Her eyes narrowed at the young boy in his brand new jacket, ripped jeans and greasy brown hair. Will fidgeted nervously.
A young man in denim and rough boots suddenly looked up at him, too. He turned and poked a short, black leather clad youth. The younger one shrank nervously, then giggled as he looked at Will.
"Bit of a runt. Ain't he, Rodney?" he giggled. Rodney didn't respond. The young man stopped, seeming to think over his comment. "What I mean is, er, well, he could use some bit a drink, right? Right, Rodney?"
Will and Rodney stared at each other for a long moment, their faces unreadable. The boy's face broke into a hopeful smile. Rodney gave the young woman at his side a face that meant, What do you think? She puckered her mouth, raised an eyebrow, then nodded.
She waited patiently for the boy to catch up to her gang as they headed off for some late night fun.
* * * * *
Into the Mystic, Soho, London
A teacup clattered onto the coffee table in front of the television. "The best drink in all of London," Griff said proudly. "Una's stuff would put the queen's to shame."
Griff sat back into the sofa. Brianna lay her head in his lap, peering into a now-drained cup and tapping the little man-made creation.
"What was this, ye said? 'Porcelain'?"
Griff was a little put-off by this remark, expecting something more along the lines of flattery for Una's kitchen taste. "Well, I believe so. Una was always partial to the expensive and right elegant stuff."
They returned to watching the telly. Griff began toying with her tiny braids, ignoring the television and forgetting his own cup of tea completely. The mottled green gargoyle leaned forward as she watched the movie in fascination.
"How do they get the humans inside the box?" she asked quietly.
At first Griff didn't reply. He absent-mindedly undid her braids, loosening strands of her dark locks.
"They look awfully small, do ye not think?" Her voice had a curious, innocent little tone as if a hatchling was asking for the first time what the sun looked like.
Griff didn't look up from his unbraiding. "Hmmph?" He snapped out of his thoughts. "Oh, those aren't real humans inside the set. They tape them and play the video inside the VCR. Like at the cinema."
Introducing his new mate to the marvels of modern living, specifically television, wasn't quite as easy as it sounded. The tool being used in tonight's lesson happened to be an old, slightly fuzzy copy of a British comedy.
"Taping?" Brianna turned to stare up at him. "I dunnae understand. How do they do that?"
"Um." Griff's entire face twisted as if made of elastic. He suddenly looked at the carpeting, embarrassed at not knowing the answer. "I'm not quite sure, frankly." His beak turned an interesting shade of red.
"I like it when yuir frank with me, Griff." She tapped his flush beak. Her smile was infectious, bringing out a big grin from her mate. A clopping sound caught Brianna's attention. She turned back to the telly.
She wrinkled her brow and frowned prettily. "What are those things that silly man is banging together?"
"Hmmph?" He looked puzzled for a moment, getting his bearings on what was playing. "Oh, those are coconuts. They're banging them together to pretend they're riding horses. It's really sort of funny if you think about it..." He started chuckling to himself.
Brianna cocked her head curiously for another moment. "Somehow, Griff, I cannae see ye following Arthur around like these fellows are doing," she said in her honest way of speaking.
He laughed. "Frankly, my darling, I think Arthur would be mortified if I did!"
The small female watched for a few more minutes, then started humming under her breath. Griff recognized the tune immediately.
"I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts...," he picked up on the song, putting one foot on the coffee table and striking a heroic pose as if he were one of the movie's knights. "See them all a-standing in a row..." Brianna burst out laughing before she could help herself. Griff frowned regally. "Well, now, that's a fine manner to address a knight."
Brianna broke into a fit of giggles as he tickled her in retaliation, playfully pinning her arms together, the movie completely forgotten.
* * * * *
"Oh, no, no, these go over there." A white claw waved in the air in the general direction of some wildly coloured wooden tribal masks. "Those books go alphabetically. It gives me an easier time searching for my merchandise."
Leo carried a stack of books so tall that his face vanished behind the spines. He tripped over a lone cardboard box and crashed across the front room, landing flat on his face. There was an annoyed 'har-uph', followed by the sound of Leo shuffling to his feet.
Arthur hurried to Leo's aid, but the gargoyle shooed him away with the wave of an impatient claw. "No, no, Arthur. I have everything under control," Leo protested gruffly. "You go ahead and relax."
"If you insist," the ancient king returned, unconvinced. A lone Tarot card fluttered downwards and landed on the pile in front of him. He picked it up and gazed at it for a few moments, turning it over and inspecting it curiously.
"Una, whatever does this mean?" he asked, curious.
The gargoyle took the card up and held it to the light, tapping her chin for a moment. It showed a man and woman side by side with a white dove between them, drawn in a flat style reminiscent of stained glass windows in medieval cathedrals.
"The Lovers," she stated matter-of-factly, handing the card back to Arthur. "Interesting you happen to pick up that one, Sir Arthur."
The man raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"
"Hmm, yes," she commented, helping Leo sort through the mess that lay sprawled on the floor of the shop. She smiled and stabbed the air with one claw in a melodramatic manner. "An omen, you know! And not so bad an omen at that! You could have done much worse."
Arthur and Leo exchanged glances. "Are you positive, Una?" the latter asked.
"I will take your word, my lady," the former came to Una's defense. "In my experience, omens and things of that sort are not to be taken lightly. What does the card mean?"
Una lay out the card on the table, tapping it lightly with her fore-claw in deep thought. "Well," she started, "it reveals the need for trust and loyalty in committed relationships. On a superior level, it symbolizes the balance between physical and ethereal love. A deep spiritual change will occur."
Leo looked puzzled. "Could you please clarify that for the omen-impaired, Una?"
Una sighed. "In other words, Sir Arthur is going to be tested in that area."
Arthur examined the card again with a look that neither gargoyle could read.
"Ah, I see." Leo coughed.
The white gargoyle thought for a moment. "And yet ... what is the date? My, my, 'tis almost St. Valentine's Day already. Where does the time go?"
Leo chuckled. "Coincidence, you suppose?"
Arthur cocked his head in a curious manner. "Valentine's Day?" he inquired. "St. Valentine was a martyr, was he not?"
Una stopped, then smiled. "Oh, yes, I suppose it's rather new for you, Sir. It's a ... hmm, it's more of a human holiday, really. It's a day when one sends someone they love a gift or a card, sometimes discreetly, or with poetry and such. And they ask them to be their Valentine, their love."
Arthur suddenly looked very distant. "I see."
"Is that a hint, Love?" Leo called from a ladder as he started to shelf some thick volumes on the upper part of the wall-to-wall bookcase. Then, turning to Arthur, he added, "Valentines is one of those customs we've sort of adopted. The whole premise was intriguing."
All three jumped and craned their necks upwards at the thud from the upstairs rooms. Griff's laughing followed.
"Good heavens," Leo commented gruffly. "Whatever are they doing now?" He listened for a moment and looked at Una with an appalled expression on his stern face. "Giggling? What on earth could she be doing to make Griff giggle like that?"
Una rolled her eyes. "Dear Leo," she chided gently, "I'm sure you haven't forgotten what it was like to be newly-mates, hmmm, my love?" She smiled softly at the smirk that slowly crept onto Leo's face.
Leo saw her smile and 'harumphed' in an effort to save his face, but he had a mysterious twinkle in his eyes. They exchanged a loving, knowing look for a rather long moment.
Arthur felt two knots tighten in quick succession in his stomach. "It was a marvelous visit, but I shouldn't be taking up more of your precious time," he said with the highest air of chivalry. He was only able to tighten his coat around him before shuddering to a halt. They had paid him no attention. He slowly made a discreet exit, firmly shutting the front door behind him.
* * * * *
"Stupid," Emrys muttered to himself, entombed under a large stack of books. "Stupid, stupid, stupid." He stared at his notebook before ripping his work to shreds and turning to a fresh piece of paper.
"Why isn't this coming out right? Let's see ... take away the two and add on the four, this becomes 6x and you move that over..." He started grumbling in Welsh.
"Merlin?" Arthur called, sticking his head in the door.
The pencil Emrys had clenched in his hand inadvertently snapped in half. Arthur ducked as the shards flew over his head and hit the wall behind him. Emrys' blond mop of hair suddenly looked up from beneath a mountain of thick volumes.
"Sorry, Arthur. I'm afraid I didn't know that you were there," Emrys apologized, sheepish.
"You are still up, Merlin?"
Emrys massaged his temple. "I'm afraid so. I can't get these figures to come out right. Do you understand geometry, by chance? Perhaps something you learned during your travels?" Arthur had never seen his mentor look so hopeful.
"I'm afraid not."
The boy's face fell in frustration as he bent back over his books with an angry growl. He looked as if in a moment he'd start tearing them apart with his teeth.
Arthur looked out the window, sighing. "Guinevere always knew her studies. She was especially fond of her reading."
Emrys looked up from his schoolwork. He noticed Arthur hadn't taken off his coat or bothered to sit down.
The boy took the poker from the mantle and poked the fire; though there were modern conveniences like central heating, he found that such simple things as the fireplace helped him think. Perhaps it was the incessant popping of wood as it was engulfed in the flames. He returned to his chair and stroked at a beard that was no longer there. He noticed his mistake and sighed. "Arthur, is something troubling you?"
The ancient king turned away from the window. "I beg your pardon?"
Emrys grinned. "Oh, something's bothering you. You never were good at acting."
Arthur, despite himself, chuckled softly at his mentor's boyish grin and old man's spirit. Emrys noticed he suddenly looked sheepish. "It's just that ... since Griff has taken a mate, lately I've felt more and more like a fifth wheel."
"Ah, I see ... hmm, what do Una and Leo have to say about that?"
Arthur was somewhat reluctant in answering. "They're not much help, I'm afraid. I must admit that I'm starting to get a bit lonely for female companionship."
Emrys thought for a moment. "Well, for the sake of your emotional and mental health, maybe you can look up one of the ladies you've met during your travels. Surely there must have been someone memorable?"
"You suppose that will help?"
"Either that or you'll have a psychotic episode." The teasing in the lad's voice didn't escape Arthur's detection. "Think of it as another quest."
Arthur uncrossed his arms and put his hands in his pockets. He was surprised when he felt something sharp prick his finger. Pulling it out, he found the odd Tarot card he had picked up. He looked at it for a moment, remembering what Una had told him. He would be tested in the area of love.
"Hmm ...." He began to wonder.
"There's something else you should look at," Emrys, who had since retreated back to his studies, spoke up from behind the pile of books. "On the back of that card." He sighed. "And, while you're up, could you please get the aspirin from the cupboard? I feel a headache coming on ... ERGH, I'll never get this right!!!" He ripped another page out of his notebook.
Arthur flipped the Tarot card over and found something pressed against the back. He pulled it off and stared thoughtfully at it for a moment. It was a smudged business card that had lain, forgotten, in his pocket and stuck to the Tarot card of the Lovers. He suddenly smiled.
* * * * *
The Next Day
The elevator door swished open, and out stepped managers, secretaries and one CEO, Jennifer Camford, head of the Camford Corporation. She nodded to her secretary at the front desk, entering her office.
"Ms. Camford!" her secretary, Bethany, reached beneath her desk retrieving a bouquet of flowers. "These arrived for you early this morning."
"They are lovely." Jennifer accepted them, sniffing their sweet fragrance. "You know who they're from?"
"Not a clue," Bethany replied as Jennifer took the bouquet into office.
Jennifer hunted for a card amid the baby's breath, asters, and violets. It was terribly flattering; maybe it was an early Valentine's Day gift. The arrangement was nice, obviously expensive. Suddenly, she was suspicious. The rumor mill was abuzz about Darien Montrose and his quest for a mate. This seemed like his style, flowers, lavish gifts and keepsakes. He was one suitor she could do without.
She found the card clipped to a single red rose at the heart of the arrangement. It read, "To my Lady Jennifer, Fondest regards from the last lonely knight."
"Last lonely knight," Jennifer repeated, tapping the card on her chin, "How interesting. How very interesting."
It wasn't Montrose. It was someone she had been meaning to look up.
* * * * *
Norman Dent climbed the steps to the apartment building, grumbling about the errand he had just completed.
"Blast it, I'm a bodyguard, not an Odd-job." Norman griped to no one in particular. An image of a flying bowler decapitating that overly smug postal official flashed through his mind. The thought made him smile, but didn't alleviate his sour mood. It was a toss up over which was worst; Elaine organizing her own gallery showing or her attempts to involve him in it. This was far different from her restoration project at Bamburgh Castle.
Norman entered the studio apartment and the now empty living room. Elaine's artwork, which usually filled the flat, had been taken to the gallery, another of Norman's numerous errands. Elaine was on the phone with the caterers, clipboard in hand.
"Let's go with the coconut shrimp and the chocolate covered strawberries. pause Yes, I know they're out season. I'll pay the difference. pause No, let's go with buffet style. The invitations just got sent out."
She cast a glance to Norman. He nodded, letting her know the errand was taken care of. Elaine laughed at some joke shared with the caterer on the other end.
"Yes, it will be something. pause Au revoir."
Elaine clicked off the cordless phone and let out a big sigh. She flopped into a recliner opposite Norman. She ran her fingers through dark black hair. "Why did I get roped into this?"
"Because you convinced yourself only you could do this right," Norman answered evenly, with just a hint of sarcasm.
Elaine gave Norman a look. She checked off her clipboard. "The gallery is reserved. I just spoke to the caterers and you've sent out the invitations?"
"Yes," Norman said a bit touchy.
Elaine smiled, "Thank you, Norman. I know it's not in your job description, but it needed doing. This means a lot to me."
Norman managed one of his small silent smiles.
Elaine grew serious. "Now, what about that other matter?"
Norman's smile faded. "You must understand he's not easy to find. When we met 'Arthur Jones' at Bamburgh, that was an assumed name, and he isn't going under Arthur Pendragon now."
Elaine folded her arms across her chest, unconvinced, "Come on, Norman. Your organization can find out what the Queen Mum's having for breakfast. You're telling me you can't find a single man?"
Mr. Dent tugged at his blue double-breasted suit. He didn't like lying to her. He had found Arthur. It was surprisingly easy. The Society already had a detailed file on him and his 'friends'. He wasn't exactly hiding himself either, with a business named Pendragon Investigations. He found them a couple of hours after Elaine first asked him, a few weeks ago.
Obtaining the information wasn't the problem. What to do with it was. Norman liked Elaine a lot. She was more than a body to guard, an assignment. Elaine was a friend; so was the 'boss', her husband, Mr. Duval. They belonged together. Helping Elaine find Arthur seemed like betrayal. Norman's loyalty to Hector ran too deep.
"I'm sorry, ma'am," Norman lowered his eyes, "I haven't been able to turn up anything about our mythical king."
Norman waited to hear Elaine denounce him. Thinking, perhaps, that somehow, she saw through him, knew he was lying. Strange, he'd fought against thugs, soldiers, even a gargoyle, but now he feared Elaine's wrath more than all those thrown together.
Instead of an outburst, Elaine let out a wistful sigh, "Thank you, Norman." Another call came in and Elaine continued with her preparations. Norman didn't know which was worse, lying to Elaine or getting away with it.
* * * * *
Jennifer sifted through her morning mail. She opened something from her art buyer, an invitation to a gallery showing this weekend. Jennifer tried to remember the last time she'd been out. She couldn't. "Then it's been too long," she said to herself. Her phone beeped.
Jennifer hit the intercom button, "Yes, Bethany?"
"There is an Arthur Pennington here to see you. He doesn't have an appointment."
"Pennington?" Jennifer tapped her pen on the desk. The name tugged at her memory, then her eyes fell on the flowers in a vase on her desk.
"Arthur!" Jennifer exclaimed, memories flooding back, "Yes! Send him in!"
Arthur was dressed in brown business suit, quite a cutting figure. He moved with some stiff unease, like he preferred chainmail to cotton blends. His hair was pinned back in a ponytail. Bethany stared after him as he entered the office. The look in her eyes said, "Yow! What a man!"
"Arthur! I scarcely recognize you. What happened to the armour?" Jennifer teased, giving him a brief hug.
Arthur shared a warm smile. "Am I coming to battle?"
"It depends." Jennifer took a step back, getting another good look at him, "Why haven't I heard from you in months?"
"I found my old teacher."
"Really? You must tell me all about it." Jennifer went behind her desk and tapped the intercom button on her phone.
"You hungry?" she asked the king. Arthur nodded.
Jennifer spoke into the speakerphone, "Bethany. I'm going out for brunch. Hold all my calls and reschedule my morning appointment!"
"Yes, Ms. Camford."
Arthur and Jennifer enjoyed Belgian waffles in apples and whipped cream. The restaurant was relatively empty. The morning crowd had left and the lunch rush was an hour away. The lack of customers allowed them to get the table by the bay windows. There wasn't much of a view, only that of snowdrifts piled high after the plows had come through.
"So you found your mentor. That's good," Jennifer sipped her coffee. "Where did you find him?"
"In the last place I ever thought to look," Arthur smiled ruefully. "He went out of his way trying not to be found."
"What changed his mind?"
"A little family business. He's staying with me until it is resolved."
"So, what are you doing now?" Jennifer poured syrup on her waffles.
"Private investigations. Searching for my old friend revealed a knack for that line of work. I started a small business, Pendragon Investigations. Right now, we are looking for a young lad who ran away from home."
"Am I keeping you from the case?" Jennifer asked.
"Nonsense! I have someone checking up on leads. Right now, I wanted to have brunch with a good friend."
Jennifer smiled. "It's good to see you again, Arthur." Her eyes brightened, "Arthur, are you doing anything this weekend?"
"I don't have anything planned. Why?"
"Well, I just got an invitation to a gallery showing. I wouldn't mind an escort to the event."
"Fear not, my lady. I would consider it a great honor to accompany."
"Wonderful," Jennifer's smile grew that much brighter, "It's a date. I'll have my secretary send you all the details."
* * * * *
Arthur returned to his office all smiles. Rory and Emrys were thumbing through phone books when Arthur came in, humming a merry tune. Both looked at the high-spirited king, then each other, then at the king again.
"Are you all right, Arthur?" Emrys asked.
"Never better. Why?"
Rory folded his arms, peering at the king, "I know that look. Only a girl can put that smile on a guy's face. Well, who is she, now?"
"Oh, just an acquaintance, a friend." Arthur suddenly became sheepish.
"A friend or a 'friend'?" Emrys joined in the fun, teasing the king.
"Just someone I met on my quest." Arthur couldn't help feeling embarrassed, then a little indignant, justifying this with his friends. "Why are you teasing? It was your advice."
"Just funning with ya," Rory patted Emrys on the shoulder, letting him know the joking was over.
Arthur regained his composure, becoming all business, "So, any leads on our missing person case?"
"A couple," Rory reported, "We found out that our boy loves clubbing. Emrys and I have a list of likely spots. We were about to call them and narrow things down a bit."
"Good! Good!" Arthur nodded his head, "Get things started on that end."
"And what will you be doing?" Emrys asked.
"I must talk with Captain Marter. I must know what fashions are appropriate these days for a rendezvous."
"Come again?" Rory asked.
"He wants to know what to dress like for a date," Emrys translated.
Rory looked to Emrys, when Arthur was out of the room, and mouthed the word, "Date?"
* * * * *
Emrys looked from his seat at the back of Kevin's brown-capped head, hopeful he didn't start chattering on again. Leba checked a notepad she had in the back pocket of her jeans. "Let's see. 'The Golden Lion'. It's supposed to be a pub behind the theater district."
"'The Golden Lion', now?" Kevin asked from the driver's seat. "I've seen the place. All the blokes hang out there. I'd be careful, don'cha know. Could be a bit o' a rough spot."
"I think we'll be fine," Arthur commented from besides Emrys.
"What got you folks interested in that type o' music, anyhow?" the cabby asked curiously.
"We're on a case, actually," Arthur replied. "We're looking for a lad who ran away from home a while ago."
"Seems he has a fancy for clubbing," Leba added.
Arthur sighed as they pulled up to 'The Golden Lion'. It seemed a likely place. Several drunkards teetered around outside while some punks wandered along the smoky sidewalks. "Well, it's as good a place to start as any," he yelled over the sound of heavy grinding music as they got out of the car.
Emrys and Leba exchanged a look before following him into the club.
* * * * *
"It will be a world that we have shaped, that we have molded!" Lucius Adrians stopped for a moment, waiting for a reaction from the crowd of common bar gatherers and loyal followers. All around, Lucius' eager admirers listened in rapture as they drank their beer or smoked their cigarettes. A few in a smoky corner of the club cheered.
Riggs hopped up next to the seat by Will, waving a mug in the boy's face. "Try'n the local drink, eh?" he giggled nervously.
Will didn't dare disagree. "Not yet. Gimme a sip."
A straight-backed young woman leaning against the counter next to the two snickered. "Careful, there, Will. Ya don't want to give yerself poisoning or nothing." Despite the uncivil environment of the bar, the she nodded her head in greeting to the boy. Will grinned at her shaved head and nose ring. "Given the name Samantha. Prefer Sam, but whatever's fine with you."
"How'd you know my name?" Will inquired, fascinated.
"I keep a close eye on things 'round here," Sam answered, taking a sip of her porter and wiping her lip. "Just joined up with these lads a few days ago. Rather odd, it is." She fidgeted with the ends of her greasy leather jacket, not in nervousness, but more in frustration.
The last comment was spoken in a too thoughtful a tone. "What ya mean?"
Sam leaned in close to Will, and the lad found himself doing the same thing. "Just watch them," she whispered, keeping a close watch on Riggs; the short man was watching the pair with a skittish, almost dangerous, eye. "I can't shake the feeling something's very unnatural around here. You keep a look-out for yerself if you know what's good for ya."
Will's response was a snort. "You worry too much!" And to Riggs, he ordered haughtily, "Gimme the drink."
"That's the ticket, chum!" came the response of approval.
Will tipped the large mug up to the ceiling as he chugged it down. The boy coughed up the draft, causing the enormous Ed to burst out guffawing. Riggs tittered in a neurotic manner. Will reddened, and turned around to see Sam's reaction, but was surprised to see that she had already melted into the crowd.
A hand suddenly clapped him on the back, startling him.
"Eh, lad, don't let these punks get to ya." Rodney took a drag of his cigarette and laughed at the expression on his younger brother's face. "'Ay, Riggs! Ya finally found someone smaller than you!"
A gangly throng of the bar's occupants roared with laughter as the stunted man tried to hide his face in his beer. Will's entire body tensed, but he immediately relaxed as Rodney winked at him. It was almost as if he were his little brother than Riggs. He preened at the thought.
Meanwhile, Riggs had slumped so far in his stool that he was almost sitting on his neck.
Will's head swiveled to the side as a spiky-haired girl in ripped denim hopped into the seat and ordered a drink. She grabbed him around the neck and gave him a noogie and a kiss on the cheek.
"Well, now, Will, how you likin' our digs?" she asked gleefully.
"Better than courses." The boy warmed at her obvious affection towards him.
"Ha! Why go to courses at all? You just sit in a chair all day listenin' to some old stuffy bloke yackin' to ya about what a bunch of lowlifes ya is. Not like them courses actually gets ya anywheres." She elbowed the younger one in the side playfully, winking. "You'll have a smash load more fun here. You're among chums." Will's freckled face broke into a beaming grin.
The spiky-haired punk glared at the bartender, who was listening to Lucius' speech. "Ay, ya old bloke! How about some service already?"
"Watch it, Charlotte. A man can only do so much at once." He stared at the chuckling bikers. "Shut up, the lot of ya!" The tattooed old man grumbled to himself as he hurried around his bar in a search for extra mugs.
"'Ay, shut yer mouths! Lucius is talkin' to ya!" someone roared from the front.
There was a slight, almost indistinguishable curling of the mouth on Lucius' part. He seemed to actually be smiling. "The Light has always banned the Dark! Since the beginning of time, it has been so. And when you all were born, you were sought to fit to the needs of the Light, to be molded like clay into something that they saw fit. And when you didn't fit those needs, when you refused to be molded, to be seen as a simple lump of clay, you were abandoned, thrown out, feared, rejected!"
Lucius pounded a fist onto the podium, his long robe flapping in the sudden draft from the opened door. "When you refused to let yourself to be owned by a society that only accepts another clone that it had created, you were cast out! You weren't seen for your creativity or yourself, but as something to be feared!" Several massive bikers started drumming their tables and cheering Lucius on. "What society is this? Do you WANT to belong to a world that rejects the different, rejects what is not an exact COPY of itself? That, since you came into this light, wanted you to be just like them?"
"But you were rejected when you strode to be different. The Dark Lord does not abandon his Children! He welcomes you all into his arms."
A few members in the back broke down in tears at the speech.
Lucius smiled darkly at his followers' eagerness. "The New Age will bring forth a time where WE will make the rules, where WE will mold and shape this world to fit our needs. It will be a time where the Dark will rule the Light, and you all will be masters over those that have called you ... freaks." He spat the word. Lucius stared over the heads of all present as if in a delirium. But his eyes caught Will's dead-on. "We will no longer be controlled, but be allowed to accomplish our own goals," he finished in a fierce whisper.
There was a significant difference tonight from the past few nights. Will noticed that the bar's usual customers were no longer the partying, crazy punks they were when Lucius was around. They listened to his sermons quietly. In fact, with the few exceptions of clapping and roars of approval, the bar was often silent. People stood when Lucius passed. They pulled out chairs for him should he ever need a place to sit. The man received the deepest respect that was mostly reserved for the highest members of authority.
To Will, he felt as if he had just been spoken to by a saint. He barely noticed when Rodney put one arm around him and guided him up to the stage to introduce him to the illustrious man himself.
"Welcome to the family, lad," Rodney whispered in the boy's ear. "You done good! I give you Lucius. He's our founding father." Will nodded, then bowed his head in adoration as the old man bore holes into him. Something in his heart leapt in pride.
From beneath his white goatee, Lucius suddenly smirked, then offered the boy a strange rolled parchment from beneath his robe...
* * * * *
Feb. 28, 1998
The gallery showing attracted London's glitterati and extremely well to do. For Elaine, this was a personal triumph. This was her first show without her husband's backing or his associates hanging around. There was no doubt that the guests came to see her and not him. Elaine looked at her right hand and the ring still on it. She should take it off and make it official, but another spat of guests came. She greeted them, exchanging pleasantries, the ring and her husband quickly forgotten.
"Mr. Montrose, I'm so glad you could come." Elaine exuded graciousness in her black velvet evening dress. The dress had a deep plunging V-shaped neckline and was cinched at the waist with a diamond studded rope belt.
"I couldn't miss a chance to meet my favorite artist, could I?" Darien Montrose flashed a charming smile.
"Well, enter! Enjoy!" Elaine ushered him in.
Elaine greeted other guests with the same aplomb and gracious air. Celebrities, businesspeople, London's movers and shakers, she treated them with deference and warmth, all except one, William Powell.
"Mrs. Duval, it's a pleasure as always." William Powell gave a slight bow at the waist upon entering.
"Hello, Mr. Powell," Elaine replied icily. "If you've come to see my husband, you'll be disappointed. I'm surprised you haven't heard; we've separated."
"Oh, I heard," Powell responded neutrally. "It is you I've come to see, that is, your latest works. Believe me, my dear Elaine, when I tell you I'm a fan of your work, always have been."
This caught her a little off-guard. She was certain he had come here on some 'social' call.
"Then enjoy. I think you'll find that this is some of my best work." Elaine managed a smile.
Powell only got to the first painting before he was beset by a number of junior executives, including Darien Montrose. Elaine's smile grew a little wider. She didn't care for many in her husband's line of work, and seeing Powell up to his hips in overeager executives gave her some glee. Elaine passed them as she made her rounds through gallery. The word 'Exeter' kept coming up in their conversation. She paid them no mind, moving to make sure everyone enjoyed themselves.
She chatted with her patrons, making her way to the covered painting on the north wall. It was her masterpiece, for unveiling later. Norman, with his intimidating stature, stood by the picture, keeping the overly curious at bay.
"How do things look?" she asked Norman.
"Busy," he answered, scanning the crowd. "You will probably sell all your pictures tonight."
"I hope so," Elaine looked at the white drop cloth and sighed. "I wish I knew where he was. I know he would love this work."
Norman shifted from one foot to the other uncomfortably. "Why are you hung up on that guy?"
Elaine eyed her bodyguard. Arthur was his least favorite person, that was obvious, but his question was valid.
"I guess it is because I saw the same hurt in my life mirrored in his."
"You think the boss hurt you?" Norman sounded alarmed.
"Not intentionally, but yes. Do you know what it is like to give all your love to someone and find out it isn't enough? That there is always someone else that comes first in their heart?"
"No," Norman admitted.
"At Bamburgh, I saw Arthur was going through the same struggle I faced. It is a sameness grew into something more."
"And you think Arthur will return this love?" Norman asked pointedly.
"I don't know, but I'm curious to find out."
Elaine smiled at some passing guests. She had to go back to playing host. Norman watched Elaine leave to work the crowd. He sympathized with her. Elaine was a fine lady. Maybe he could tell Mr. Duval the next time he reported in. Overall, tonight was shaping up to be a quiet one. Norman almost hoped for a little excitement, but this was an art gallery. It was not likely that anything would happen tonight.
Arthur Pendragon helped Jennifer out of the cab. Kevin gave him a wink and a nod, then drove off. Arthur and his date hurriedly entered the building to escape the cold. They were fashionably late, passing the gauntlet of photographers and paparazzi to enter the building. They had the elevator all to themselves.
"You know Arthur, I'm very glad you stopped by this week," Jennifer looked down, then up into Arthur's eyes. "I've thought about you often."
Arthur didn't know what to say. Something was in order, but this was unfamiliar territory for him. He was still fumbling for words when the doors opened and she stepped out.
"Jennifer, I've thought about you too," Arthur blurted. He felt like an idiot.
She flashed him a beautiful smile that lit up the world. Jennifer offered her hand. Arthur took it and they entered the gallery.
Jennifer embodied elegance in her a floor-length black velvet dress with a plunging V neckline and a diamond studded rope belt. Her hair was stylishly coifed up in blonde curls framing her face. Arthur wore a matching black evening suit, though it looked more like the suit was wearing him. Arthur had had the biggest struggle with the tie. Even now, it felt like it was choking him.
Jennifer plucked two glasses of champagne from a passing waiter, handing one to Arthur. They each took a sip and casually strolled about the pictures.
Over by the covered painting, Norman's eyes narrowed. Arthur Pendragon? What in the world was he doing here? He looked for Elaine. She was at the east wall, on the other side of the gallery, talking to some patrons about one of her smaller works, her line of sight blocked by four rectangular columns in the middle of the floor arranged in a diamond pattern. Arthur and his companion headed toward the buffet tables at the south end of the gallery.
"This could get ugly," Norman mumbled to himself. He had to think fast.
He signaled to Elaine. Unveiling her masterpiece would buy him a couple minutes. She broke away from a trio of ladies, coming to the tarp. Everyone gathered around the hidden painting. Arthur and Jennifer, at the buffet tables, couldn't get a good look at the speaker. Norman didn't have time to be thankful; he had to think of a way to keep Arthur and Elaine apart.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, I have saved the best for last," Elaine spoke to the crowd. "This work came from an inspiring three days during a restoration assignment at Bamburgh Castle. I call it 'A Joyous time at the Garde'."
Norman pulled down the tarp, revealing the picture. 'Ooh's and 'ahs' issued from the crowd. The oil painting was of Bamburgh Castle in medieval times. Colorful banners flew from the parapets. Torches glowed bright lighting an evening celebration. The sky was ablaze with warm crimsons of sunset and soft blues and indigos of approaching evening. Along the battlements were medieval versions of Norman and a stately man in royal dress that could only be King Arthur. In the cornices above was a pair of gargoyles, one bearing a striking resemblance to Griff and, at his side, a gargoyle beast resembling Cavall.
The crowd began to applaud, recognizing a great work. Elaine stepped away, so the patrons could come up and take a closer look. She accepted their praises and resumed her small talk with her guests. Now that Norman was free, he had to move quickly.
"It's of a castle or something," Arthur craned his neck over the crowd. He could only see the top half of the canvas. What intrigued him was the speaker. Her voice sounded familiar.
"We'll see it soon enough," Jennifer took a careful bite of a chocolate covered strawberry. "These are delicious. You must try one."
Jennifer offered Arthur a strawberry. He took a careful bite, but juice dribbled down his chin anyway. Jennifer wiped off the juice with her fingers. They both chuckled, followed by an intimate pause.
William Powell came up to them, breaking the moment. "Jennifer Camford? What a pleasant surprise? Who might your companion be?"
"This is Arthur Pennington," Jennifer introduced.
"Pleased to meet you, again," Powell offered his hand. Arthur didn't take it immediately, but thought it'd be poor manners not to. They shook, but it was a tight, crushing grip meant to hurt rather than greet.
"You two have met before?" Jennifer asked innocently.
"Oh, we've crossed swords before." William Powell gave an ironic grin. He leaned forward and spoke to Arthur in a low whisper, "I'm looking forward to a rematch."
"Perhaps another time." Arthur released Powell's grip. "You must admit now is hardly the time or place for such things."
Powell's steel gaze never wavered. Finally he let up. "Another time then. Jennifer, always a pleasure."
They waited until Powell was behind a column before they spoke.
"You think he's bitter over his defeat?" Jennifer asked sarcastically.
"Possibly," Arthur returned. His good humor turned serious. "Jennifer, maybe this wasn't a good idea. I don't want to put you in danger."
"Nonsense, Arthur," Jennifer answered quickly. "This is an art gallery, not a battleground. There won't be any fighting here. Besides, I feel safe with you."
Arthur looked at her with surprise. He took a step back.
"Uh, let's split up for a bit." Arthur said suddenly.
Before, she could say otherwise, Arthur headed for the east wall. Jennifer watched her date depart, practically flee to other end of the gallery. Jennifer wore a perplexed look on her face. Did she say too much? Scare him off? Jennifer went to the columns. She watched Arthur go to a series of pictures titled, 'Idylls.' Arthur would come around, she hoped.
Arthur berated himself. He'd faced everything from sorceresses to dragons. Why couldn't he handle a woman? All she did was show some interest in him. Wasn't this what he wanted after all? Female companionship? But when she said 'safe', he could hear 'friend' not far behind. He was acting like a fool. Arthur stared at the pictures to collect his thoughts. He needed to sort out his feelings and fast.
Norman felt the sweat bead on his forehead. Elaine returned to the Idylls on the east wall. She had a story for each painting and the patrons loved hearing each one. Arthur was a crowd away. Norman interposed himself between them, hoping this was the closest they got tonight.
Suddenly, William Powell came out of nowhere. "Norman, we need to talk. Now!" Powell turned over his tie, subtly showing the Illuminati emblem on the tiepin. This was business.
Powell gestured for Norman to follow him to the service elevator behind the band and buffet tables. Powell was higher echelon. Norman had to comply.
Powell turned to him. "I want you to ghost that man," he cast a look at Arthur. "I'm not particular about the methods, but he must remain alive."
Norman should have been elated, finally an excuse to get rid of Arthur.
"No," Norman said resolutely, surprising even himself.
"What?" Powell was stunned.
"No. My job is to protect Elaine. I won't let her out of my sight for even a second. Unless you have definitive orders from higher up, he stays."
"I'm the higher up." Powell argued.
"Not high enough," Norman returned, bristling at Powell's obstinate attitude, "My orders come from Mr. Duval himself. So unless you have orders from him, I won't do otherwise. Good evening."
Powell stood agape. He wasn't used to being refused and this was the second time tonight. He noticed Jennifer alone by the columns. William Powell made a beeline to her. Time to try another tactic.
Part of Norman demanded to know why he didn't follow Powell's orders. Arthur would have been out of the way, disaster averted. But deep down, he knew why. Elaine would have found out. She was a smart lady. She had figured out about the society without Duval telling her anything, she'd find out about this. It'd wound her deeply, when she found out he had a hand in disappearing Arthur. He doubted he could ever look Elaine in the eye again. Another part of him added, he wouldn't be able to look himself in the eye, either. But that was academic now. Elaine saw Arthur and made her way to him right now.
Arthur felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned around and received a kiss full on the lips. He was stunned. Pulling away, Arthur was surprised that it was Elaine.
"Happy belated Valentine's Day," she grinned, "Where have you been all these months?"
"Here in London. I-have-a-small-business-Pendragon-Investigations." Arthur said a little out of breath.
Elaine muttered to herself, "Looks like I'll have to have a little talk with Norman." She cast an angry eye at the bodyguard.
"It's good to see you, Lady Elaine. What brings you here?" Arthur felt the flush fade from his cheeks.
Elaine chuckled, "Arthur, this is my show. These are my paintings. Let me show you around. We have a lot of catching up to do."
Before Arthur could say a word, she looped her arm through his and took him on a personal tour of the gallery.
Darien Montrose stood in the center of the diamond of columns in the middle of the gallery. It was a perfect position for a spy. He saw Arthur and Elaine strolling up the east wall, her walking mountain of a bodyguard a discreet distance behind. With a half step, Darien spotted Powell talking to Jennifer Camford. Probably finding out the same thing he wanted to know, what is her connection with Arthur? Darien strained to hear over the band, the milling conversations, and the clinking of drink glasses.
"Your date is quite an interesting man." William Powell made conversation with Jennifer.
"I've thought so," Jennifer said neutrally, staring straight into his eye.
"Funny, I haven't seen him at the Reformer's Club or the usual haunts. What business is he in?"
"Why Mr. Powell, are you checking up on me?" Jennifer beamed an innocent smile. "I'll have you know, I'm well beyond the age where my honor needs to be defended."
"Of course, of course," William nodded. "My apologies for prying. I was simply concerned for your well being. You are your father's legacy, after all. It's something Leonard would have asked. "
"I'm sure Father would agree." She rolled her eyes, doubting his sincerity, "You should stop by. Father is here in London for the time being. I'm sure a visit from a friend would do much to lift his spirits."
"I'll make some time later on this week," William promised.
Elaine led Arthur from the Idylls to the columns in the middle.
"You seem more at ease since last time," Elaine said conversationally.
"Life is for the living," Arthur quoted her words.
Elaine smiled. "It is indeed." She patted him on the arm. "So this investigation business you've started. You're happy?"
"Of course. During my quest, I spent many hours in research, pounded miles of pavement -- all practical experience for a private investigator. Why do you ask?"
"It's your bearing. You still carry yourself like a king," Elaine commented as they went from one column to the next.
"I am a king," Arthur said simply. "Who else would I be?"
"How about an ordinary person?" Elaine asked.
The two of them rounded the second column.
"I don't catch your meaning." Arthur looked at her a bit perplexed.
"You still act restrained, like something's holding you back."
"It's the suit," Arthur joked uneasily.
"That's not what I mean." Elaine looked at the king with measuring eyes.
"What do you mean?"
"Speaking from your heart," Elaine turned to face him, "Like me. I am completely gone on you. I don't know if it's true love, but it is something wonderful, and I'd like to see where it goes."
Elaine held his hands as she stared into his eyes. Arthur stared back, rubbing his thumbs across her hands, subconsciously, rubbing across her wedding ring. His eyes dropped to the token of fidelity.
"I can't." Arthur looked at his shoes.
"Say that to my eyes," Elaine challenged. "Is this holding you back?" Elaine held up her right hand pointing to her finger. She pulled off the gold band. "How about now?"
A silence passed between them. Elaine prompted him. "All you have to do is say you don't love me. Say it to my eyes."
"I can't," Arthur repeated.
"I pity you, Arthur," Elaine sighed.
Arthur looked up bewildered.
"You are a free man," Elaine explained. "Free to do anything, be anything. That is a rare opportunity. You shouldn't waste it on some notion of chivalry or propriety. Don't enslave yourself to a life long since turned to dust. For your sake, not mine, not love's. For your sake."
Elaine lightened her attitude. They needed to change subjects. "But this is stern talk for another day. Come, let me show you my masterpiece."
They left the fourth column, coming to the work. "Remember the journals of Lancelot we found? Well, that inspired me to do this painting."
Elaine was tugging on Arthur, so her back was turned when she bumped into Jennifer. Both ladies turned around and exchanged 'excuse me's'. Elaine slipped her arm back through Arthur's.
"Arthur, you must see this. That guy on the parapet looks just like you." Jennifer gave a brief look, then a quick double take. First, at the woman wearing the same dress as she, then at Arthur arm in arm with her. "Arthur? Who is this?"
Elaine's smile slipped for a second, then was replaced by a cordial hostess smile. "I'm sorry, Arthur. I didn't realize you came here with someone."
Arthur tried to start with introductions, but Jennifer took the lead, "Hello, I'm Jennifer Camford and you are...?"
"The artist of this exhibition, please call me Elaine," She said in her most polite voice, "My! Such a lovely young lady. How did you two ever meet?"
Jennifer's eyes narrowed. Elaine hadn't relinquished her armlock with Arthur, "Oh, it's a long story. My, this is a happy coincidence running into an old friend, like this."
"Oh, those are fighting words," Norman whispered under his breath.
"Ladies," Arthur tried to keep things friendly, "Let's not monopolize the painting. I, for one, could use another drink."
They only took a couple of steps before resuming their conversation.
"So tell me, Ms. Jennifer, when do you graduate from college?" Elaine said in a congenial manner.
Jennifer chuckled in a thoroughly unconvincing false laughter that Elaine had heard from a dozen trophy wives.
"I'm CEO of a company. Maybe you've heard of it -- the Camford Corporation? It's not art, but we can't all spend our time painting pretty pictures."
The crowd of gallery-goers looked at the women as their discussion grew louder. Norman wasn't the only one watching this verbal sparring with some interest. He saw William Powell by the east wall, watching with intense scrutiny. Norman's angle allowed him to see Darien Montrose spying on them as well. 'Who was he spying for and who was he spying on?' were questions that sprang to mind. Norman couldn't contemplate it. The 'discussion' went up another octave, gaining more attention.
"I was just thinking how much your style reminded me of Grandma Moses," Jennifer uttered.
"Well, thank you," Elaine said politely. "I always felt my style was for more sophisticated people. Youth has its place, but maturity is much stronger in this respect. What matters is the substance beneath a pretty appearance."
"Assuming the substance isn't staid and worn out to begin with," Jennifer added with the same pleasantness in her voice, but her smile dropped.
'That duel with Powell is sounding more and more ideal', Arthur thought. It was like he wasn't even there. All his efforts to end this amicably fell on deaf ears. Both women were strong willed and weren't backing down from a rival. The longer they kept at it, the more likely the insults would go from implied to overt. He needed a miracle.
"Arthur!" Leba's voice got the attention of the king, the women, and a number of spectators.
"Yes," Arthur stepped lively to her, fleeing, in Norman's opinion.
"We've found him." Leba spoke in lower tones for Arthur's ears, "The boy, William O' Neill, we found out where he is."
"Brilliant work, I should be there," Arthur said. The next he said in a lower voice only Leba could here, "Please follow along."
Leba saw the desperate plea in his eyes. "Uh, yeah. You set this up, it's only right that you be there when it goes down."
Arthur looked at the two women apologetically. "I'm sorry, but a case calls."
"I understand," Jennifer was a bit sad, but brightened. "There will be other nights... if you're willing to try."
Elaine stepped forward. She kissed her middle and forefinger, then pressed them to Arthur's lips. "Always an interesting time when you're around. Think about what we talked about."
Elaine and Jennifer's eyes locked, but neither said anything, just looked at each other with a nasty glare. Arthur wished he could say something to soothe these ill feelings, but discretion seemed the best part of valor at the moment. He followed Leba to the service elevator behind the band. The lift was already opened, Norman holding the door.
Arthur wasn't surprised Norman was ushering them out. He was surprised at the softening in Norman's normal grim face, something akin to sympathy in his eyes.
"I'll make sure, Ms. Camford gets safely home," Norman promised.
"Thank you, Norman." Arthur said wearily, as the lift's doors closed and began its descent.
"What was that all about?" Leba asked when they were alone.
"The next time I complain about lack of companionship, I hope someone will have the presence of mind to knock some sense into me."
"I'll volunteer," Leba laughed.
* * * * *
"Why, look at the place." Kevin leaned back in the front seat of his cab and readjusted the old brown cap on his head. "Looks like a hang-out for a bunch a' Jack the Ripper wannabes or somethin'."
Leba and Arthur exchanged glances. Kevin, for some reason, had always seemed to have a very keen instinct on certain subjects.
Dark smoke filtered out of the dilapidated building through vents clearly too small to properly do their job. Several windows quivered in their panes from the thumping music inside. Punks stalked into the place in roughhousing throngs. Every few minutes, a few members of the party would leave, looking sick to their stomachs and twice as sloshed as an alcoholic on New Year's Eve.
"You sure you shouldn't have brought Excalibur?" The tone in Leba's voice was only half-joking.
"You don't have quite a good feeling about this, I see?"
She shook her head, never taking her eyes off the club's front doors.
"If I didn't know any better, I'd actually say it looks a bit fun," Emrys piped up from the front seat. A snicker came from Kevin's direction, but he knew better than to disrupt his fares' business.
Leba's door opened with a metallic clunk. "Come on. The kid should be in here."
"Are you sure he's still here, though?" Emrys raised an eyebrow at her.
The lithe woman nodded. "Rory should be keeping an eye on him."
* * * * *
"Ay, chap! You orderin' somethin' or what?"
Rory ducked as several women dove off the stage, landing on the counter in front of him in a pile of tangled arms and legs. Glasses and mugs flew in all directions, shattering against nearby tables and customers' skulls. Rather than bellow at the roughhousers, the bartender merely grumbled and started clearing up the crushed shards of smoky glass and thick ceramic.
The young man cleared his throat. "I'll be having a mug a whiskey, if you don't mind."
"What?" the old man roared over the earthquake explosion of a hard guitar screaming from the stage.
Rory cupped his hands around his mouth. "I said, if you don't mind, I'll be liking just some old whiskey!"
"Why didn't ya say so?" The old man went off in search of an open bottle among his rows of shelves, his old fingers searching the bottles with the air of a man who knew his trade by heart.
Rory tried blocking out the music as he searched the crowd for that boy, Will. He caught him over by a table at the stage with a large group of punks. No, that couldn't be him. It didn't look a thing like Will. And yet ...
Rory stealthily left his stool and cut around the room, forgetting about his own drink altogether. He found a hiding place behind one of the columns holding up the low stucco ceiling. Yes, it was Will. He could tell by the eyes. Those, at least, were the same. Hmm, he certainly had changed from that family picture the boy's father had shown him.
Will's own mother would not have recognized him. What he saw was not the clean-cut schoolboy from the photograph Will's father had shown him, but a child out on Halloween. His parted hair now stuck up in spiky black tufts, shading parts of his pale face. The pressed tie and pleated pants had been replaced by ripped denim and worn-in leather. Expensive shoes for school were now rough leather boots.
And instead of a quiet, smiling boy, Will was leaning back in his chair, laughing at something a companion of his was saying and cheering on the bands.
Pulling up on his coat sleeve, Rory was able to sneak a peek at his watch. Arthur might not be at the appointed place yet. He'd wait ten more minutes before approaching the boy, but he didn't want to do so without Arthur's back-up.
Rory settled himself into an abandoned stool and leaned against the peeling wall to wait.
"Ay, get me some more ale?" a girl with tattoos and nose rings barked at Will.
The boy looked up from his own drink and replied, "The bar's over there." He certainly didn't feel like getting up right now.
The stranger was not to be brushed off so easily. She thrust her mug into his hand. "Just get me some ale, ya little weasel," she repeated adamantly. Will sighed and dipped his head to show he would complete the task. Over the past few days, he had gotten used to being told to run errands.
He slipped out of his chair and trotted towards the bar, weaving in and out of the dancing maniacs on the floor.
Riggs was found sulking in a stool by the bar, hunched over a beer. The lad had never seen the scrawny pushover like that before.
"Hey, Riggs!" he said cheerfully, hopping into a stool next to him. "Want a beer?"
Riggs snorted. "You're paying. I don't got the money for one."
"No?" Riggs always had money; he was the expert in the group on pinching people's pockets, mostly due to his small size. It made it easy for him to squeeze through large Sunday crowds without being noticed.
"No," he returned acidly.
"Why not?" Will wasn't seeing the danger signal.
"Rodney needed some to fix his bike."
Will was perplexed. "He took it from you?"
"No. I lent him." The dead glare in the man's eyes told the boy the truth. Riggs' high-volume, giggling voice was gone, almost as if a circuit breaker had been thrown.
"Why the repairs?"
"Nothing much. Set fire to some cars and damaged the bike whilst getting away from the bobbies. Slammed the whole mess into a parked car. Crushed the car's bonnet. It was right funny, really!" He gave a half-hearted little titter.
Will's right eye twitched. This was not the dangerous pickpocket with the thin, high voice who set everyone to laughing whenever the night had been rough. Will was staring at someone who had lost something very dear to him.
Pale, thin arms wound around his throat and rested across his chest from behind. He could tell from the scars, even before he turned, that Char had found him. He looked up at her, smiling with his old schoolboy grin. "Hey, Char! You hungry?"
Char laughed and knocked his chin playfully. Will wriggled at that; the way she did it still made him feel like a child. "I'm so hungry I could murder a kebab! We're going out for supper and stuff. You two coming?"
Will shrugged. "I dunno. In a bit. I gotta ring someone first." Char raised an eyebrow and opened her mouth, but never got the words out. The door to the club burst open. Rodney and Ed stormed in, punching each other in the shoulders and snickering about something.
Rodney shoved Will away as he wound his arms around Char and gave her a kiss on the cheek. Will fell face first into the floor and was nearly run over by several excited boys. They didn't even notice the lad laying on the floorboards.
A strong pair of hands grappled his shoulders and hauled him to his feet. It was the bartender. He shook his head at the lad and went back behind the counter as some women yelled for service.
Will could only give a shaky smile to the man's back.
"You should've seen it!" Rodney laughed. Pounding his fist into the counter, he roared, "How about some service, eh?" He snorted. "I run around all day, and all I want is a nice drink. Oh, right, anyway. You should've been there! Ed and I got the bobbies working double time tonight!"
A few of the bar's occupants laughed as Rodney hopped onto the countertop and launched into a lengthy detail of the whole account. The story involved an overturned Mercendes-Benz and setting a local building on fire. The whole club was soon enthralled by Rodney's story-telling, and when he finished, he got a rupture of applause for the job. Ed couldn't stop roaring.
Char's mouth tightened in a grimace that Will couldn't help but stare at; she actually seemed annoyed. He remembered an interesting conversation of theirs from only a few nights past.
"Who's in charge here?" Will had inquired with a rookie's curiosity.
"Lucius handles his Minions' thoughts, and I keep his Minions in line," Char had responded, taking another swig of her porter.
Will had stared nervously at Rodney, who at that very moment was in a furious fight with another young man. "What about Rodney?" he asked as the individual in question slammed the other man's head to the ground.
Char only spat at the ground in reply, yet Will felt that he already had his answer. They revered Char, but feared Rodney. It was an odd caste system.
He snapped out of his reverie as someone near him snickered. "After all that, we could use some refreshments, don'cha think? Then we can go out again. Make those sorry pigs earn their wages, right?" Several rough men at the bar roared with laughter.
"Say, where's that new one?" Will interrupted the heavy bustle. "What was her name? Sam?"
"She's a coward, she is. Left her to the bobbies to be picked up."
Will only stared blankly.
Rodney snorted. Will suddenly felt less like a Minion and more like a stupid child. "Sam didn't have the stomach for the work," Rodney explained slowly, as if Will was an idiot.
"We have no interest in those who sign up under Lucius' service and then shirk their duties," Char commented blandly, inspecting her razor-sharp nails. "She had a making in her, I could tell. A pity."
"But ... you left her to the pigs?" Will asked. Sam hadn't appeared that terrible. "I thought that was against the rules." Out of the corner of his eye, Will noticed that Riggs was ripping his nails furiously into the bar's counter.
Rodney narrowed his eyes. "We can't have stoolies around here."
Will felt like he was drowning in a dark ocean.
"Won't she squeal? Tell them where we are?"
"We know where she's staying. She won't dare, if she values her neck." Ed's grin was too wicked as he grunted. "Knows it, too."
"What'd she do wrong? She just didn't want to trash Soho tonight?"
"She wouldn't set fire to the chippies downtown. She refused. Exchanged a few harsh words with yours truly. So unnecessary." Rodney shook his head. "Too bad. She had a good making in her. But she had to go back to the Light. They'll only criticize her there."
Something in this whole conversation irked Will's 15-year-old sense of justice. "But ... but she just didn't want to do something. Why abandon her like that? And to them? I thought we stuck together."
"Who are you?" Char demanded. "The Archbishop of Canterbury? Cripes, you'll have us all praying and going to Mass before long!"
"I'm not saying that..." Will was being sucked beneath the dark waves of the ocean of despair.
"Good. Then don't." Rodney clapped his hands, attracting several tables' attentions. "Hey, everyone! Boat's leaving, so if you want to come, leg it already! I can't wait for the lot of you to get your sorry tails out the door!"
Will slowly let his body fall back onto his stool. Something was odd here. It was just like the Light. You were abandoned for disagreeing or being original.
"Riggs!" Rodney yelled from the club's door. "C'mon, Shortstack!" Several of the older men laughed as Rodney's younger brother bolted from his seat to his side.
Will felt Char's hand on his shoulder as he turned back to his ale. "Hey, ain't you coming?" she inquired softy. "We'll go out to a chippies, then burn the place down if the fish ain't that great." She grinned. "How's that for a good restaurant review?"
"I'm not that hungry. Thanks." Will wiggled out from under her touch. "I'll see you blokes back at the inn later. I have some things to take care of."
"What do ya mean?" Her sweet tone suddenly had an edge in it.
"Thinking of Riggs and Rodney ... I just want to ring Pa. See how he's doing." Seeing the two fighting, one always submissive while the other kicked him around, made Will think of himself and his father. Or perhaps it was the other way around. Now, he wasn't sure at all.
He found a phone outside and was searching for spare coins when he felt a distinct presence behind him. Will whirled in defense, but jumped when he found himself staring into a broad, well-formed face. The man was wearing a neatly pressed trenchcoat and looked like he was an official something. His hair was swept back in a loose ponytail, his features sharp and yet kind at the same time under his full beard.
Rodney and Char were leaders, and yet Will got the same feeling with this stranger. His posture and piercing gaze was that of a retired warrior.
Will threw himself up against the wall. "Who are you?" he demanded. "You from Scotland Yard?" As soon as he said it, Will regretted his words. If the bloke was working for the government, he sounded just like a guilty criminal.
The man, rather than answer quickly, only looked thoughtful for a moment. "No," he finally answered. "I'm just interested in using the phone, I suppose."
"You suppose? Either you do or you don't," Will returned in a snotty, disrespectful tone.
"Well, actually, I'm just out for a leisurely walk."
"Down here?" Will smirked despite himself. "Some place you fancy to take a walk in. You don't quite fit in around here. Too odd, you are."
The man cocked his head at Will's outrageous clothes. "Indeed." The lad realized he was staring at his clothes and intense make-up, and straightened up and coughed.
"Yeah, you are."
"Well, I suppose we all have our tastes."
Will stepped aside to let the man use the phone or pass him, but the newcomer didn't move. He almost seemed to be waiting for something.
"I thought you needed the phone."
"Oh, I suppose you need it for an important purpose, young lad. You may use it. You were here first, after all." In all his life, Will had never heard an adult voice with so much respect for him in it. And this man was only a stranger!
Will looked at the phone and shrugged. "Now I'm not sure if I want to use it."
"Hmm." The man made a little half-smile, gazing at William thoughtfully out of the corner of his bright eyes. "My name is Arthur. How do you do?"
The lad felt slightly taken aback. "What's it to you?" Still, the respectful, yet firm, voice had softened him up a bit.
"Simply making polite conversation."
"Well, they call me Will around here."
"If you do not find this too impolite, might I ask you where your family is this night? You seem to be rather young to be out on your own."
"I can take care of myself," Will snapped.
"Oh, please take no insult at my curiosity," Arthur hurriedly added. "You seem very smart. The independent type. But my question was, who is your family?" The inquiry had an odd undertone in it somewhere, almost as if he was not asking a simple question but more like a school exam.
"I'm not sure anymore," Will answered softy, giving Arthur his back. "I mean, I thought I knew my family, but I guess I was wrong."
"What makes you say that?"
Will couldn't help but feel that the stranger had been pleased in his answer. "Well, family's always supposed to stick together," he said, looking back at him. "To respect your feelings. No matter where I've gone, I've gotten little of the first and nothing of the second."
"Perhaps you're not putting enough work into it," Arthur commented. He stuck his hand into his coat pocket (William tensed, expecting handcuffs), but he only produced a small card, which he handed to the boy. The card was inspected with a raised eyebrow. "Allow me to introduce myself. Arthur Pennington-"
Will's eyes bugged as he read the card, and he thrust himself against the wall in alarm, and blurted, "You're a detective? Pa sent you to find me, didn't he?"
"Yes," Arthur answered without hesitation, not bothering to move forward to apprehend the lad.
"Aren't you going to take me back to Pa?" Will asked when he realized Arthur wasn't moving.
"Not unless you want me to."
Will blinked. "Since when were my feelings so important?"
"When weren't they?"
The boy glanced down at the ground, tears forming in his eyes. "Since always. Pa never listened to me."
"From what I've heard," Arthur started, returning his card to his pocket, "you got away with quite a lot in the past, and your father allowed you to play the fool. When he tried to stop you from going too far, you took it as ignoring your desires, and you ran away to spite him."
"But he'll ream me out if I go back."
"If you do not go back, you'll live your life wondering if he's all right, never knowing how much he misses you," Arthur pointed out. "He's wrong, too, I suppose. I'm not saying he's perfect, because I'm sure he's made a plentiful amount of mistakes as well." Arthur was pleased at the way the lad's face brightened underneath all the extravagant face powder. "I was young, too, once. Just because you reach thirty years of age hardly makes you a saint."
Will sniffed in defiance. "No, I'm staying. I belong here."
Arthur stared at the lad for a moment, but Will made no move to run. The boy was taken aback when the man took a step to the side, allowing room for him to bolt if he so desired. That was when the man's message finally reached him. It really was his choice.
"Well, Will. Who is this bloke?" The hairs on the back of Will's neck did a frenzied dance as the whisper was hissed in his ear. He had never heard Rodney sound so furious. "We were looking for you. Char said you had to ring someone? We were expecting you for supper." The tone was too acidic, and Will realized Rodney had heard the entire conversation.
"He's a ... a detective," Will stuttered, not knowing what else to say.
"Detective!" The starved, scarred form of Char appeared out of the dark behind them. She gave Arthur a poisonous look. "We haven't done nothing wrong, so you can go along your merry way."
"Say goodbye to the lil' pig and let's get a move on." Rodney's nod towards Arthur was a cross between repulsion and arrogance. "Get away! He's not going anywhere! Right Willi?" He punched Will a little too roughly in the arm. The boy winced and clutched his shoulder protectively. He looked at Arthur, then at Rodney.
"I wasn't sure," he stuttered. "I was thinking that-"
"Think?" Rodney barked a laugh. "You don't think. I think for you." Char cuffed Rodney in the rear in annoyance, as if she was telling him to stop his gloating. He snarled at her in response, but Char's glare made him back down.
A hysterical shrieking laugh erupted from the alleyway. Riggs slunk over the pavement and scuttled under his brother's protective arm. Together, they looked like two hyenas carefully evaluating their victims. Riggs giggled nervously. He stared down at the ground in submission when Rodney whiffed deeply to show his impatience.
Will saw this action and bit his lip.
"I'm not sure this is right. For me."
"What?" Char looked as if she had been slapped. "What's wrong with you?" She glared at Arthur. "What ideas have you been putting in his head?"
Will's head whipped around to find Ed tapping his thick fingers against the glass of the telephone booth. He watched the boy with two glassy eyes, but pretended not to notice him at all. He went back to his tapping.
They were being surrounded.
Arthur edged his hand toward his belt. Will's eyes went wide when he paused, anxiously waiting for the next play.
"He hasn't!" he snapped, redirecting his attention towards the others. He stopped, quickly softening his voice. "What I mean is, I was just chatting with him, and-"
That was when Riggs made a fateful error. "What are you going to do next? Invite him in for some tea?" Another high-octave giggle escaped him without warning, causing Will to twitch. Riggs looked at Rodney. "We should have Lucius deal with him, don't you think? The rest of the minions won't-"
He darted behind Char as a sharp hand almost cuffed him on the face.
"You idiot!" Rodney roared. "Never ever talk of ... Him. Not in front of them." He gestured at Arthur as if he was an insect. The ancient king glowered, but slowly started to shuffle towards Will.
"Aw, c'mon. Lighten up, Rodney," he whined. "So I forgot just-" He fell over backwards in a retreat. Char watched this as if she was the referee preparing to call the half-time whistle at any point, but at this moment she allowed Rodney to talk. Her look was of disgust, but Will couldn't tell if it was meant for him or not.
Rodney turned on him furiously. "You leave now, you ain't coming back. You know the punishment for desertion. Just look at Sam."
"Why can't I decide for myself?" Will yelled, his face reddening in anger.
Char dug her fingers painfully into Will's shoulder. "We don't give in to the Light, remember? You don't desert the group."
It was a choice group of words that caused Will to snap. "You say the Light tries to mold us! You're just as bad as the Light!" Will shouted, nearly jumping in a rage. "I can't make my own choices! I left home to look for freedom! Instead I found slavery!"
Rodney shoved Will up against the wall by his collar. Arthur made a move to interfere, but Ed appeared out of nowhere, flicked out a large hand-blade, and held it to Arthur's face. He froze; he could easily take on Ed, but he could not risk letting William get injured.
"You know now, then, you little sprog, that you're leaving. You can't come back."
"I don't plan on it!" Will spat in fury. And he spit straight in Rodney's eye. It worked like magic; Rodney's fingers released him as if they were malfunctioning springs. He wiped at his face and stared down at Will, who glared up at him with defiance burning in his eyes.
He growled, whipping out a knife from his metal-studded belt.
Arthur rammed into Ed, sending the large punk tumbling to the pavement in a heap. He placed himself between the boy and Rodney protectively. "You can't harm him. He's just a lad!"
"Who's going to stop me?" Rodney laughed.
"Well, I bet I can takes you on fo' size, ya bloke." Kevin butted Rodney in the rear-end with a baseball bat. Rory and Leba appeared cautiously from behind, fists raised.
"These things right come in handy now and then," Kev commented of the bat. "Wish I didn't have to carry 'em, but you vampire-types gimme no choice, eh? Leave 'em alone, ya bloke."
For once, Rodney appeared to be nervous. He slowly edged his knife back into his pocket. He nodded to Riggs, who had scuttled to Char during the fight, and hissed, "Leg it. We're going."
Riggs peered up from his hiding place behind Char, looking uncertain. "Rodney-"
"Move it!" He shoved Riggs in the opposite direction. Fog was rolling inland in thick, ghostly waves now, drowning the retreating figures within seconds. They were already gone. Char watched Will for a moment, and he saw in her eyes a deep, dreary disappointment. She didn't falter; the fog swallowed her up hungrily just as quickly as it had the others.
"I've been abandoned by both the Light and the Dark," Will said sadly. "Now I really am alone."
"Hey, how ya doin'?" Kevin shook Will's hand hurriedly. "Me name's Kev. You're Will, eh?" The boy nodded lamely. The cabby grunted and changed his tactic. "Where to, now?"
"Now?" Will echoed. He shrugged. He looked terribly pitiful with his dripping make-up and dirty black leather clothes. "Beats me. Someplace friendly ... I-I think."
"Nice choice." Leba ruffled his greasy black hair in her own show of affection.
* * * * *
Emrys tidied up some papers, shut up his pencils into their case, and tucked his books back into his schoolbag. Then he leaned back in Arthur's office chair and let out a deep, relaxing sigh. No more math for that day, praise God. He found himself humming 'Hallelujah' under his breath. He realized after several noiseless moments that he was being watched.
He slung his schoolbag into the corner of the room and closed his eyes, awaiting the inevitable comment.
"You seem happy." Will's tone was flat.
Emrys wasn't surprised that the other boy had spoken. "Indeed." He didn't open his eyes.
"Because I'm done with my schoolwork. I do really detest the maths. Never can get them, myself."
"Hard to see you doing Algebra so young." Emrys didn't like the tone in his voice, and he had to keep his mind blank to prevent tripping the boy's chair. He might as well have called him a runt. At the moment, though, Will was fidgeting enough in his seat as it was. Emrys sighed in defeat and settled back down; he really should keep his temper. Just this once, anyway.
"You must be really smart," Will added, and Emrys settled back comfortably at the comment. "You know, maybe you can talk some sense into that Pennington," he continued. "He said Pa'd be here soon, and I'd prefer not to be here."
A little snort escaped from Emrys as he pulled out a yellow-embossed book for school. "No one's holding you here, my boy." He realized his mistake as soon as the words were out of his mouth, but Will didn't do more than give him a funny look. But then, thirteen-year-olds didn't call boys two years their senior by titles of 'my boy,' either.
"He your dad?" Will asked.
You've got it backwards, Emrys was inclined to say, but didn't. "No." He started thumbing through his book to find his place and started reading. "I'm just his ward."
"Do you know where your own dad is?" Will sighed, tousling his spiked bangs. "I'm starting to think I've really loused up. But Pa wasn't right nice to me, exactly. I hate being told what to do and forced into things."
Emrys gave a little hysterical giggle but didn't respond. He hadn't even seen that one coming...
Still, something in the other teenager's voice compelled him to close his book. "You're lucky you're being given such a chance, then." He couldn't keep the envy or the scorn out of his comment.
"I'm not really scared of Pa himself," Will admitted, "but more because I've gone through two families already, and neither worked. I'm not so much afraid of home as I am of what is or isn't there."
"You're fearful that you won't be loved."
He blinked in amazement. "Hmm-mm."
"Do you know what your da's been up to while you've been out on the town? He's spent 500 pounds already in searching for you, and he's currently offering over 2,000 in prize money to anyone who's got any information on your whereabouts. Last I saw, he's been drinking tea around the clock to keep him awake in case someone rings him to say they've found you. He's white as a ghost." As Emrys leaned forward in his seat, Will found himself melting into his. The boy's hawk-like gaze had him entranced, as if he was being stared down by a bird of prey. "And if I were you, I'd jump at the chance."
The boy relaxed as Emrys released him from his gaze. "But then, I'm not you."
"Are you saying I have to love someone who I can't stand?" Will threw up his arms in defeat. "He may be my father, but there are times I can't even take his voice! He jabbers and bosses me around!" He poked his finger at Emrys. "If he just showed me just one show of respect just once, even if it was a simple request rather than an order, I'd probably go back. But he doesn't do that! He orders and threatens! How can I love him? I hate him and yet I love him at the same time! But I hate him!"
"I thought you just said you were sorry for running away," Emrys pointed out.
"I just ... oh, I don't know." Will buried his head in his arms in half-hearted defeat. "Love is terrible."
"Love is a funny thing," Emrys said thoughtfully, folding his hands together on the desk. "It burns and stings, and yet we crave it more than money, power, or the greatest medicine known to this Earth."
Will gave a short laugh and rubbed the back of his neck nervously. "Yeah, well, you haven't lived with my dad. He doesn't pay attention to me, or he'll yell at me and he won't listen to what I have to say. He never spends time with me. He likes his books better than me. He hated my old friends from school. He does all this wrong stuff."
"Have you ever stopped to think of what he's done right?" Emrys inquired innocently.
"I ... I suppose he's done some things right. When I was sick, he gave me candy behind mum's back as long as I didn't tell her. He read to me. And whenever I got home from school, he'd call me a little hooligan, but he'd pinch my cheek to show he was teasing.
"But that was years and years ago. He doesn't do that anymore. But ... I ... I guess if he's really trying to find me, he must have missed me when I left."
"He was terrified," Emrys affirmed.
The door to the office clicked open, disturbing both boys from their discussion. Emrys visibly slouched in his seat and gave a sigh of relief.
Arthur smiled at Emrys, and turned to Will with a firmer look. "Mr. O'Neill, your father has called. He is out here." He leaned over to him. "And I would hurry."
Will clearly paled, though Emrys noted it didn't make much of a difference due to his costume make-up.
"Alright, then," the boy finally said, straightening his shoulders. But Will's father was already in the doorway. Mr. O'Neill threw his arms around Will in a hug. His son stood stiffly in response. A few seconds past, and then he slowly wrapped one arm around his father's neck and cautiously leaned against him.
"You'll be the death of me, yet," his father muttered, holding Will at arm's length. "Oh, my boy, what in the dickens am I going to do with you? Your mother's been worried sick. I wish you'd show more sense instead of doing the first thing that comes into that knucklehead of yours ..." His son's cheeks burned.
Arthur cleared his throat. "Might I make a suggestion, sir?" At Mr. O'Neill's nod, he continued with, "A little less molly-coddling and a little more work may set the lad straight."
Will stiffened. "You promised!" he yelled at Arthur. "I'll only go back home if I want to, and I'm certainly not setting foot out this door if it means going back to ... there. Whatever happened to freedom? I'm being ignored! Lucius was right; I'm not accepted nor appreciated out here at all. It's just not fair."
The three turned at Emrys' growl; he was sitting, forgotten, at Arthur's desk. "And what about Lucius' clones, then?" he demanded in a hot temper, banging his fist against the table. "Do you find that a freedom? Those who don't agree with their views are the ones who lose their freedom, because they're the ones who fall victim to their violence!"
He fell back into his chair with a heavy thump and gave them the sulkiest look he could manage. Arthur put his hand on the Will's shoulder. "He is right, you know. Your father tried to find you after you ran away. Your other family threatened you when you wanted to leave."
"But ... they understand ... me."
"You mean they didn't teach you responsibility," Emrys piped up again.
"I think the best course of action is work and some serious tutoring in the subject of responsibility."
Will's face tightened into a pale mask.
Arthur cleared his throat and continued. "I believe that responsibility and freedom go hand in hand," he said, turning to Mr. O'Neill. "When I was in training," he told Will, "the other boys and myself ran, worked, dug, and practiced from sun-up until nightfall. In the beginning, it was unbearable, because it was so new. But in time, we learned to wash, dress, and feed ourselves, and even how to defend ourselves. And as we learned to be responsible, the leash that so tightly bound us was slackened, and we received more and more freedom with it."
"And what about your teacher?" the youth asked, eyeing his father out of the corner of his eye.
Arthur cast a smile at Emrys, who merely chuckled under his breath. "I would say," he started, "that my mentor cared for me very much, and only wanted to see the best for me. But I sometimes did not heed his teachings, so he had to be a little more strict than he usually was."
There was a snort from Emrys' direction.
"Though that doesn't mean to say that he was perfect," Arthur continued. "No one is." His eyes met his mentor's. "But he is the wisest man I have ever known."
Emrys smiled and looked up at the ceiling, not sure what emotions were burning through his face.
Mr. O'Neill swallowed with some difficulty and placed a stiff hand on his son's arm. "I would be thrilled if you returned home ... Will. I really would. I was never serious when I said you were a little hooligan."
Rather than bristle and snap back, Will simply blushed and rubbed the floor of the office with his toe, embarrassed. "Fine, then. But you can't tell me what to do, you know," he said to his father, lifting his head and puffing up his shoulders. "I'm my own man."
"So I see," Mr. O'Neill said with a soft smile, then he and Arthur shook hands. "I cannot tell you how much this means to my wife and myself. We are forever in your debt." Already, Emrys noticed, the man was less pale than he had been before.
"I am glad to be at your aid, sir," Arthur pronounced, giving a little bow and opening the door for them.
Mr. O'Neill ruffled the boy's greasy hair in his own warm show of tenderness. Will rubbed his neck shyly before following his dad into the street and around the corner, where his car was parked.
* * * * *
"You were telling them about your training as a page, I see," Emrys commented when the reassuring ping of the front door closing reached his ears.
Arthur's face broke into a grin. "Well, it seemed most appropriate for this situation, don't you think?" His tutor chuckled. The ancient king stopped, then said softly, "I heard what you said to the young man."
"Young man?" he inquired, then peered out the window down at the street. "Hmm, yes, I suppose he really is a young man now. It takes a lot to accept change, even if it is in reluctance." He suddenly realized that he was absent-mindedly chewing on one of his pens. His eyes bugged and he gagged as it exploded ink inside his mouth.
"I mean, I heard what you said, about love." Arthur hesitated, then laughed and massaged the back of his neck as Emrys playfully stuck out a blue tongue at him. The boy grinned, showing stained teeth. "I discovered today that it's true."
Emrys took his handkerchief out of his sweater pocket and wiped at his mouth and spat on the cloth. "Ugh, I look like I've been stuffing myself on blueberries or something ... what? Oh, yes." He smiled. "Love often is that way, whether it be between a father and son or a man and a woman. Very complex, and can cause all sorts of dead-ends or open roads. Speaking of which ... how'd your date go, anyway?"
He saw the crestfallen look on Arthur's face and immediately understood. "Ah, I see." He flicked his ruined pen over his head without even looking behind him; it landed straight into the wastebasket with a sharp ping. "Well, Arthur, Love is very fickle. It often finds you when you least expect it.
"And, you know, it sometimes takes a good kick to get it going in the right direction."
* * * * *
Norman leaned back in his office chair. His ears were still burning from the tongue-lashing Elaine gave him, but his night wasn't over. He tapped one thick forefinger on his desk, cradling the phone in his other hand. Norman listening carefully for a moment, before saying, "The guy Powell and Montrose reported seeing? Yeah, I know him. He says his name is Arthur Pennington also known as Arthur Pendragon." The burly man waited a moment, as if considering something, before adding, "Oh, and your wife has the hots for him." He tried to sound casual about it, but there is no easy way to say that. He listened for another second. "Yes, I'm on it. Sir, perhaps you should talk to Elaine. She needs someone to talk to." He gently clicked the receiver into the phone pad and left the room, closing the door behind him.
Elaine waltzed into the room, fingering a business card. She looked at it thoughtfully for a moment before lifting the phone and dialing. There was a beep as she got an answering machine. "Hullo, Arthur! Sorry you're not in. I was thinking ... perhaps we could get together for lunch sometime? I'd really like that." She left her phone number and hung up, content.
She dropped into a convenient office chair, falling back into its leather and crossing one leg over the other. She let one finger slide over the corners of the business card, smiling to herself.
* * * * *
The rooms blinds snapped shut with a bang, shattering the silence of the immaculately kept office. An indistinct figure rested its head on one hand as it mulled over the information displayed on the computer before it.
Several keys on the computers keyboard were typed in, and a new window popped up over a main screen that read "Illuminati Membership". Camford, Leonard. Current Status: Inactive. Hmm. A few notes were quickly made to update the file to include surveillance on the Camford Corporation.
A few reports were inspected and then tossed carelessly aside. The desk itself was drowned in various items, of which there were pictures, typed manuscripts, notes ... and one rather interesting photograph. It was reasonably detailed due to the expensive cameras used by many members of the paparazzi, and included the view of Arthur Pennington escorting a slim young woman, Jennifer Camford, into the art gallery.
That was pushed aside as another photo was pulled forward for inspection. One couldn't quite tell the hair color or much else due to the grainy black and white of the security cameras, but what could be made out was the tall, broad-shouldered figure of a certain Arthur Pennington. His head was turned to his side, smiling as he conversed with an attractive Elaine Duval.
The dark figure behind the desk sighed dejectedly as its chair whirled around to face the beams of sun wiggling between the curtain blinds. Hector Duval held the rough photo in one hand, twisting it around in his fingers and inspecting it as if it was the final piece of a complex puzzle.
His sentence came out in an awed whisper. "After all these years ... could it really be happening again?"
* * * * *