Written by: Madame Destine
Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction. The characters belong to their various creators: Buena Vista Television / The Walt Disney Company and The Gargoyles Saga, and they are used without their express knowledge or consent.
* * * * *
Friday, February 21, 2003, early evening
Fox looked up from her copy of Blush magazine as Elisa pushed back the curtain and reentered the foreword cabin. "So, how are our winged passengers faring back there, Ms. Liaison Officer?"
Elisa gave a smirk as she returned to her seat. "Still out stone cold. But sunset hasn't arrived in Manhattan yet, so we'll see what happens then. We're flying west so… well… I don't know. Do you suppose gargoyles can become jetlagged?"
Fox shrugged. "I wouldn't know. I've only done this once before, with Broadway, but we made the whole flight at night." She pushed back the sleeve of her tailored track suit and checked her watch. "I guess we'll find out in about an hour."
Elisa nodded absently. "I don't envy them, that's for sure. I'm not a big fan of long plane flights, sure, but I don't know if I could handle the possibility of waking up midway to find myself securely strapped down inside a packing crate."
"Hmm, now there's an image," Fox replied. She chuckled as the dark-haired woman eyed her warily. "Oh, relax, Elisa," she teased, "I'm just kidding."
Elisa continued to stare for a long moment before the grin on Fox's face at last drew a smile to her own. "Sorry," she said. Shaking her head, she ran a hand through her hair and sunk back tiredly against the thickly padded leather seat. "I keep forgetting about that odd sense of humor of yours." She turned to meet Fox's gaze. "And truthfully, I'm still finding it hard to believe that we're escorting two gargoyles to the west coast for an appearance at the first ever national meeting of People for Interspecies Tolerance."
"It's no surprise to me," Fox replied. "Those two are hot right now. Everyone wants to get a piece of them." She reached out across the aisle and patted Elisa on the hand. "Which is why I'm glad you decided to take me up on the offer and come along. With everything that's been going on these days, you never know when an extra pair of eyes may come in handy."
"You want me to work?" Elisa queried. "So this isn't just a chance to get away to the warm and sunny climes of southern California for an all-expenses-paid weekend of fun?" She smiled archly. "Jeez, and I went and bought a new bathing suit and everything."
Fox shook her head and chuckled. "And I'm the one with the odd sense of humor."
Elisa smirked and sat for a long moment, listening to the low drone of the jet's engines. Something was missing, she thought. But what? The feeling kept nagging at her until finally she realized what it was. She'd had an entire conversation with Fox without the unsolicited, sarcastic interjections of a certain human-by-day changeling gargoyle. Elisa slid back into a more upright position and craned her neck to peer over the headrest. The seats behind her were empty. "Hey," she said, turning to Fox again, "what happened to our pair of tagalongs?"
"Ms. Destine and Miss Calhoun?" Fox looked up once more from the magazine she had returned to reading. "Oh, I believe they're keeping themselves entertained." She nodded towards the rear of the cabin, a look of mirthful amusement dancing over her features as Elisa followed her gaze to the glowing red "Occupied" sign near the lavatory door. Fox grinned as the other woman's eyes went wide.
"You don't mean they're both in there…" Elisa could not bring herself to complete the thought.
"Validating each other's Mile High Club passes?" Fox nodded. "Yes ma'am. They sneaked in there right after you left to go check on Broadway and Angela." She gave a chuckle. "I'm sure Dominique had to have known that I'd see them, but I really don't think she cared. Look on the bright side, though, Elisa. At least they took your advice and got a room."
"They've been in there for that long?" Elisa asked, incredulous. "What on earth could they possibly be…" A dull thud interrupted her and the lavatory door rattled in its tracks, causing both women to trade a quizzical glance. After a quiet pause of consideration, Elisa waved her hand dismissively. "You know what, I don't even want to know."
Fox only snickered and turned back to her reading. "Of course," she mused aloud, her eyes never leaving the page, "it would be a shame if that door got stuck."
Elisa smiled. "A crying shame," she agreed.
"It has a nasty habit of jamming up. I've been meaning to tell Owen to have it looked at. You see, there's a little latch that keeps it secure during take-off and landing, and sometimes it just accidentally slips when someone's in there."
"You don't say." Elisa's drummed her fingers on the armrest. "And this latch, it would be at the top…"
"…at the bottom of the door. Yes, interesting."
Fox turned the page of her magazine with a polished fingernail and perused the latest article by the columnist who had interviewed Angela several months before. "Dare you," she said at length. She didn't even need to look up. Out of the corner of her right eye, she spotted the blur of red jacket and blue jeans and knew that Elisa had risen to the challenge.
The smirk that came to her face had spread from ear to ear by the time Elisa returned to her seat, and Fox could only shake her head in wonderment. "Remind me never to underestimate you again, Detective Maza," she said, staving off the urge to dissolve into a fit of giggles.
Elisa settled herself back into the plush seat and acknowledged her traveling companion with a wink and a nod. "Remind me to let them out before nightfall, Mrs. Xanatos."
As the plane flew on westward, chasing the setting sun, both women shared a hearty laugh.
* * *
"Mother, please." Angela steadied herself against the narrow doorway to the rear cabin as the plane touched down. "I agree that what Elisa did wasn't the most well thought-out of practical jokes, but don't you think you're overreacting just a bit?"
"Overreacting?" Demona whirled on her daughter, eyes flashing crimson. "She locked us in the lavatory so that she and Fox could laugh at us, and then when I demanded that she let us out, she somehow managed to completely jam the door. I had to break it down so that poor Andrea wouldn't be killed when I transformed." Demona growled. "Did you see how shook up she was? We made it out with mere seconds to spare, and I ended up scaring her half to death!"
"Andrea will be fine, Mother." Angela resettled her wings and advanced a step closer. "Elisa's out there apologizing to her right now."
"I should have known better than to agree to spend five hours on a plane with that woman." Demona turned back to the mirror and tugged the silver clip from her hair. Shaking her head, she put her talons to the flame-red tresses and restored them to their usual wild nocturnal style.
Angela crossed her arms. "What were the two of you doing in there together, anyway?" she asked. "I mean, I have a fairly good idea what you were doing, but you couldn't you have waited until we got to the hotel to… you know?"
Demona rolled her eyes skyward. "If you must know," she replied as she positioned her tiara, "I was attempting to keep my mate from having a panic attack." She slipped on the gold armlet, completing her nighttime ensemble, and turned once more to regard the other gargoyle. "You may recall, Angela, the last time Andrea was on a plane, she was traveling cargo class; bound, gagged, and blindfolded."
"Oh my." Angela visibly paled as she recalled the highly abbreviated story that the artist had related to her almost a year and a half ago in the wake of her own kidnap ordeal. "I'd forgotten about that."
"Yes, I'm guessing it slipped Detective Maza's mind, as well." A gentle lurch signaled that the plane had stopped taxiing, and Demona gathered up her hastily packed carryon bag. "Now if you'll excuse me."
* * *
"It was only meant to be an innocent prank, Demona. It got out of hand, and I'm sorry."
"Not as sorry as you will be if you don't get out of my way, Detective." Demona hustled Andrea towards a waiting limousine and cast an icy, annoyed look back over her shoulder at the dark-haired woman.
"Please," Elisa implored, "will you at least listen to me for a moment?"
"Domi, I think maybe you should give her…"
"I think you should be quiet and get in the car," Demona interjected. Taking the petite woman by the forearm, she guided her through the door and followed her in. "As for you, Detective Maza," she intoned darkly, "you'll get what's coming to you soon enough. And that includes the bill for my ruined suit."
The door of the long white car slammed shut before Elisa could say anything more, leaving her to watch as it drove away.
"At least you tried, Elisa," Broadway consoled. He put a taloned on her shoulder, moving her back to the rear of the plane to clear the way as another limousine pulled into view from around the corner of the hanger.
"Just give her some time," Angela advised. "She'll calm down eventually."
"I hope so," Elisa said, "otherwise this is going to become a very long weekend." As the copilot unloaded the last of their luggage, she scooped up the small bag she had left by the stairs. She and Fox had changed into business attire on the plane, but she still had a few accessories she needed to add to complete her new look. Shouldering the strap, she sighed and for the first time paused a moment to take in her surroundings. "New clothes, new shoes, new town," she muttered. Her eyes lingered briefly on the palm trees along the far edge of the airfield before refocusing on the foreground. "Hmm, and a new face," she added. "Hey, who is that?" Elisa indicated the tall, broad shouldered man stepping out of the waiting limousine. "I don't remember him from the security briefing."
Fox glanced up from her conference with the pilot, and even Angela looked surprised. "You're kidding, right? That's Ty Clearwater, star of stage, screen, and talk show circuit. I told you P.I.T. L.A. had to make a last-minute substitution for our escort. He's it. I'll be done here in a minute. Why don't you go introduce yourself?"
Elisa hesitated, finding herself suddenly and unaccountably shy. At her hesitation, Broadway said, "If you won't, I will. His last movie, Winter Kill, was great!"
The burly gargoyle bustled forward, meeting Ty halfway as he cleared the distance between car and jet. After a moment, Angela followed, taking a quick step to catch up with her mate. With a sharp shake of her head, Elisa brought up the rear.
"Hello." His voice was deep and relaxed, like a slow river. It gave Elisa shivers, and she gave herself a mental kick as she held out her hand and briskly introduced herself. Coolly, she appraised him. Tall, well, but not obviously, muscled. He filled out the newish blue jeans and leather jacket nicely. He moved easily as if there were dance training in his background. High cheekbones suggested Native American blood somewhere in his racial mix, but his skin was several shades dark than hers. Ebony eyes regarded the gargoyles with frank curiosity but unmistakable warmth.
"Ty, darling, how wonderful to see you!" Fox swept forward, cell phone still in hand, leaning up to kiss the air at his cheek.
Clearwater smiled and pitched his voice loud enough to be heard over a departing 727. "Fox, whatever you've been up to, it agrees with you."
She preened at the compliment, not noticing that his eyes hadn't left Elisa. "You're smooth as ever, but shouldn't we get moving? The rehearsal's at ten and I want to give everyone a chance to get settled before we go over to the studio."
"You're right, of course. Mandi will kill me if we slip off schedule. Ladies and gentleman, right this way."
The group moved toward the limousine and Ty fell into step beside Elisa. "So you're a cop? When you're not escorting your friends?"
"My clan," Elisa corrected mentally. "Yeah, I'm a detective, 23rd Precinct. Usually, I work the robbery detail."
"It keeps me busy."
They reached the car. The driver was supervising the loading of their bags by the copilot. He moved quietly to open both passenger doors and waited at a discreet distance as the party settled in, then closed the doors behind them. A moment later, the car purred to life. Elisa fiddled with her unaccustomed purse, conscious of Ty's attention. Finally, she met his eyes. "Did I put my lipstick on crooked or something?"
Angela, who was sitting across from Elisa and next to Ty, leaned forward. "No, it looks fine to me." She cocked her head in curiosity. "That is a new shade, isn't it?"
Elisa gave Fox a sidelong glance. "Uh, yeah. Courtesy of our media advisor."
Fox buffed her manicure on her lapel modestly. "I do what I can." She gave her companion a weary appraisal. "And really, Elisa, that color you were wearing was so last season. This one is much more flattering."
"I'm staring." A wrinkle of concentration marred Ty's handsome face. "I'm sorry, but you look so familiar. Are you sure we've never met before?"
Elisa shook her head sharply. "No. Sorry. I'm good at faces. I've never seen yours before."
The actor's face crumpled in a rueful smile. "Ouch."
"Nothing personal," Elisa said, softening the harsh remark. "Fox tells me you're famous. It's fallout from my life. I haven't seen a new movie for at least a year and the only parts of the newspaper I read are the police blotter and the sports page."
"Wait a minute." Recognition dawned and Ty raised a solitary finger in the air. "I've got it. I have seen you before. Aren't you the cop who busted Yuri Petrovian, the mob boss?"
Elisa frowned. "How do you know about that? The wire services didn't use my name in the stories they published."
"No, but the New York papers did," Fox reminded.
"That's right." Ty agreed. "It was on page six and the picture was pretty blurry. You had your hand up, but the photographer was good. He caught most of your profile. I thought Petrovian was supposed to go to trial soon. "
"Tuesday," Elisa admitted wearily. She watched as the limousine threaded its way smoothly through the evening traffic.
"So why are you here? Shouldn't you be back in New York getting ready for the trial?"
Elisa turned her face away from the window and snapped, "I am ready. And I'm not afraid of Yuri or his goons. I've faced tougher before."
The actor seemed awed. "They threatened you?"
"Yeah," Elisa replied. "Just like in the movies. So my boss and the district attorney decided that either I could slip quietly out of town, or I could spend the next few days in a safe house."
"It's better this way, Elisa." Broadway reached across the confines of the dove gray car and patted her shoulder.
"Sure it is. Some FBI agent gets to pretend she's me, order pizza, and feed my cat while I hide out in Los Angeles. Sounds like a fair deal to me."
Ty considered for a moment. "But what about the paparazzi?" he said as the big car exited the freeway. "You know they're going to be all over us this weekend."
Elisa gave a knowing smile. "With these two in tow? I'll just be one more face in the crowd. Besides, I know a thing or two about going undercover." She pulled a blonde wig and a large pair of horn-rimmed glasses from her purse. With a swift tuck and twist, her mane of midnight hair was gone. With the donning of the oversized frames, the addition of a pen behind her ear, and a subtle shifting of her posture, the competent police detective had vanished, replaced by a somewhat mousy executive assistant. She looked up demurely through her lashes at the actor. "Well?"
"Wow. I mean that. Wow, you're good. You've never been an actor?"
Elisa's eyes danced despite her discontent with the situation. "In my line of work, everyone's an actor."
She disappeared back behind her persona as the car slid smoothly to a stop in front of a glittering glass façade. The doors opened soundlessly and a pair of valets bent to greet them and there was no more discussion of Yuri Petrovian as the gargoyles made their Los Angeles debut.
* * * * *
A thin wisp of smoke rose from a black spot on the carpet where, a split-second earlier, a small gray mouse had sat nibbling on a cracker crumb. "Ha!" Hyena cackled. "I finally gotcha!" With a gleeful smile, she retracted her forearm laser and settled back against the pillows of the unmade bed. The apartment that she and her brother currently called home had seen its share of better days, and the management of the rundown complex was hardly going to notice one more scorch mark on the threadbare rug. Without giving the vaporized rodent a further thought, she picked up her book and went back to reading.
"Be a Better You: Unlocking Your Secret Wisdom," proclaimed the embossed, flowing script on the front of the dust jacket. On the back cover was a photograph of the author, Dr. Phineas Phelps. "Self-help guru du jour," as Jackal had called him when he had first seen her with the book during their lunch break the week before. "Just what we all need, another pop psychologist. Eighteen bucks for a stupid book, what a racket! Next thing you know, some idiot will give him a talk show."
Hyena had quietly ignored him, but she had made a mental note that the table of contents listed a chapter specifically about sibling relations. Reading it now, she was amazed at how relevant what the man had to say all seemed. Her lips moved as she devoured each page of advice, and from time to time she paused to underline those passages she found particularly enlightening.
She was still absorbed in it several minutes later, when Jackal stuck his head into the room. "Jesus, sis," he said, "you're not still reading that trash are you?"
Hyena glowered at her brother. "It's not trash," she snapped. She marked her place and slammed the book shut. "Besides, who are you to judge what I read? The last thing you picked up that had more than ten pages was the phone book, Mister 'If it has more words than pictures, it's not worth my precious time'."
"Hey," he retorted, "all the best writers are doing graphic novels. That movie we're in right now started out as a graphic novel."
The comment earned a dramatic roll of the eyes from Hyena. "Movie" was a generous term for the low-budget potboiler that was currently paying their rent. If the film even saw the inside of an actual screening room before ending up in the video discount bin, she would be greatly surprised. "You're right." She tossed aside her book but held on to the pencil. "I should probably start working on my Academy acceptance speech," she replied, tapping it against her chin. "This has got to be the year they finally recognize 'Best Supporting Actress in a Piece of Shit'."
Jackal gave a sneer and lounged against the door frame. "This is me not laughing. At least it's a paying gig. And they did give us new paint jobs."
"It's a barely paying gig," she returned. "Cheap bastards. For what we're saving them on special effects, we should be gold-plated and living in a mansion in Beverly Hills."
"Just shut up and go in the other room." Jackal's electronic earpiece retracted from the living room. "There's something on the news I wanted you to see, and it's starting."
With a growl, Hyena got off the bed and followed her brother into the front room of the tiny apartment. A metal T.V. tray with a beer and a half-eaten frozen dinner sat in front of the couch. The television was on, and the stylishly attired newsreader was just bringing the program back from commercial. Hyena's annoyed scowl deepened. On the screen behind the woman was a picture of Broadway and Angela.
Jackal snatched up the remote and turned the sound up a few more notches. Footage was rolling of the two gargoyles arriving for a rally speech. The cameras followed them as they exited a white limousine to a red carpet welcome. In the background, the steps of the convention center were thronged with people, all cheering, some waving banners and signs bearing slogans of support.
"Security is tight at the Staples Center," the newswoman intoned, "as supporters from all over the country convene for their first ever west coast caucus. Seen here live and exclusive on KTLA are Broadway and Angela, spokes-gargoyles for Clan Manhattan, the first of what may be many gargoyle societies to come out of seclusion. We'll be bringing you live, continuing coverage of the first People for Interspecies Tolerance -"
"Oh, shut it off already. I -"
"Shut up," Jackal growled. "I want to hear the rest of this."
"- the gargoyle couple, already the toast of New York City, will conclude their weekend visit with a special appearance on a benefit edition of 'The Sunny Shores Show' Sunday night, where Tinseltown's elite and special children sponsored by area charities will make up the studio audience." The anchorwoman turned to a tall, blazer-clad co-presenter whose burly build marked him forever as a former pro-football player. "So, Chip, how does the weather look for our city's latest shining stars?"
Jackal shut off the television as Hyena began to rant. "Oh great. This is just lovely. Just when I thought this town couldn't get any weirder, they have to show up." She tapped her foot and fumed. "Do you suppose it's just fatso and the ingénue, or do you think the rest of the winged wonders are lurking someplace in the shadows, waiting for someone to tell them the coast is clear?"
"I don't know, but I'm not going to wait around to find out," Jackal declared. "I've been talking to some guys down at the studio. P.I.T.'s not the only game in town."
"You mean that Gargoyle Defense League?" Hyena chortled derisively. "Bunch of NIMBY crybabies. 'We love gargoyles,'" she mimicked in an earnest voice. "'Just not anywhere near our children.'" With a snort, she dropped onto the couch and crossed her arms over her chest shield. "Losers."
Jackal grinned. "That's just the front people, sis. You know that in every organization there's always strata: the mouthpieces, the sheep, and then there's the types looking for a different approach."
Hyena swiveled a vaguely interested eye at her brother. "You know these people?"
"Nothing concrete," Jackal admitted. "But hey, the shoot's wrapping tonight and we don't have another gig lined up. A little muscle work would come in handy right now."
"This job, I'd do for free." She flexed a cybernetic fist, studied it for a minute, and then tried to release it. Her fingers refused to uncurl. "Of course, cash is always good."
"Great." Jackal smiled happily, which was never a pretty sight. "Grab your coat. The sooner we finish shooting, the sooner I can talk to my friends about meeting their friends."
Hyena returned her brother's grin. "That's what I love about L.A. It's such a warm town. Let's see if we can't help spread the love to our gargoyle pals." She cackled merrily at the thought as the pair exited the apartment.
* * * * *
"No, I think this will work fine." Elisa handed the finalized plan back to the P.I.T. L.A. security advisor and resisted the urge to stretch. It wasn't that she was tired, exactly. Even with the three-hour time lag, by her standards the night was young. There were too many people and gargoyles in the crowded suite, and she felt constricted sitting as she was with the security team huddled around her on the sofa. "We just have to make sure that nobody lags behind and the press keep their distance. It'd be too easy for someone to try something and then slip back into the crowd."
"Don't worry, Ms. Maza, we've got that covered." The advisor, Brian Mackay, was somewhere in his mid-fifties and, if Elisa was any judge of law enforcement officers, only a year or so off the force. He still carried himself as if body armor was a habitual part of his wardrobe, although she could see no trace of it now. "Nobody gets near the proceedings unless they're properly credentialed, and that includes hotel service personnel and catering staff.
"Good." Elisa couldn't resist any longer, she did stretch and, excusing herself to the group, got up and ducked into the adjoining bedroom. She retrieved her purse and fumbled until she found the silver tube recently gifted by Fox and uncapped the dark burgundy lipstick. She stared at her reflection in the mirror. Even without the wig she had to look twice at the face eyeing critically back at her. At home, she barely wore more than a touch of blush and a hint of neutral lipstick. Just enough to put a little color in her face and keep the Mary Kay wolves – secretaries and dispatchers who insisted that she'd be certain to catch a man if she only spruced up a bit – at bay. As she touched up her lipstick, Elisa reflected. It wasn't that she didn't know how, or didn't like to, but her lifestyle didn't really lend itself to primping. She was lucky to make it through most shifts without tearing her clothes on razor wire or getting smeared with garbage as she stopped some thug from running away. And as for off shift, it wasn't as if she and Goliath spent many nights dancing them away at the Ritz. Nope, makeup was for occasions like these when she needed to be someone else, just one more tool in her detective's bag of tricks.
She set the lipstick aside and removed the shoulder-length blonde wig, listening with half an ear to the happy murmur of voices in the next room as the door opened and several more volunteers bearing – from the sound of Broadway's glad cry – pizza entered.
Among them was Ty Clearwater, his presence causing less of a stir than that of the late dinner. Apparently, the famous actor was a regular among this crowd. Elisa wondered what to make of that as she began to brush her hair. The bristles felt good against her scalp, confined as it had been by the hastily applied wig, and she dug a little harder on the next stroke.
"Hey! Don't yank on the tangles, you'll only make them worse." Ty Clearwater stood in the doorway, looking on with dismay.
"How would you know?" Elisa stopped brushing long enough to address the actor then attacked the knot once more.
He advanced, crossing the expanse of deep gold carpet from walnut trimmed threshold to polished dressing table in easy strides. "Allow me?" Ty held out his hand and, with a sigh, Elisa handed him the brush.
As he went to work, the actor explained. "Experience. Sure, my hair is short now, but you should have seen me a year ago. It was nearly as long as yours."
"Really." Elisa kept her tone flat and she resisted the urge to let her eyes flutter closed in pleasure as Ty's experienced hands worked at her abused hair.
"Really. It's short now because I'm trying to get into the head of a new character. It was long then for the same reason. I had to know how he thought, and felt, and moved."
"And hair does that for you?" Elisa couldn't help the bemused smile that curved her lip.
"Hair, clothes, shoes." He freed the snarl and the brush glided freely as he styled Elisa's ebony tresses. "Tell me those heels don't make you feel different than the – what do you usually wear – high tops or sneakers?"
Elisa looked up sharply at Ty's reflection in the mirror. "How did you know that?"
The reflection shrugged. "I guessed. You kicked the shoes off as soon as you arrived and went for your arches as soon as you sat down. It suggested that you don't normally wear anything but flats. You did the same thing with your suit coat. You're not used to being restricted by your clothing. My feeling is you're a pretty casual person."
"You're observant." There was grudging respect in Elisa's tone. "And intuitive."
"You mean for an actor?" The warm voice held a gentle, mocking note.
"No! Well, yeah." Elisa noticed her own reflection for the first time. "Hey, I like what you did." While she'd been distracted, Ty had captured her hair in a simple yet effective up-do that altered, yet still flattered, the shape of her face. "Much better than that wig."
"Hang on." Ty guided Elisa's hand to the crown of her head and a mass of loose tendrils. "I need a pin." He held on a few moments longer until he was sure Elisa had the hair under control.
"Elisa?" Angela entered bearing a plate with several slices of pizza on it. She looked with surprise at the pair before the mirror. "Oh, excuse me!"
"It's okay, Angela." Elisa beckoned. "Come on in. Ty was just giving me some pointers on my hair and wardrobe."
She relinquished control back to the actor, who quickly finished securing his creation.
Angela moved forward a fraction, smoothing and resettling her wings. "I just wanted to make sure you got something to eat. Fox says we have to leave in a few minutes or we'll be late for the Sunny Shores rehearsal."
"And we wouldn't want to miss that, would we?" Elisa smiled as she grimaced inwardly. The idea of a kid's show where the cast dressed up as oversized shore birds and marine mammals and sang sappily sweet songs made her teeth hurt.
Ty Clearwater wasn't the only intuitive one in the room. "I know it seems a bit much, but little children seem to enjoy the characters and they do try an impart good lessons while entertaining. Besides," Angela added, somewhat defensively, "Fox says it will be good for our image."
"When you're right, you're right, Angela." Elisa conceded. She gave her clan-daughter a smile as she retrieved the plate of cooling cheese and pepperoni, took a piece and offered the plate to Ty, who shook his head. Careful not to smear her lipstick, Elisa nibbled at the edge of the slice rather than digging in as was her custom. "Give me a couple of minutes and I'll be right out." She caught the bemused smile Ty was attempting to conceal. "What?"
"I think I'm going to enjoy getting to know the real you, Elisa Maza."
* * * * *
Pack Media Studios, Burbank
"Okay, people, we've made a couple of adjustments to the script, so get the goldenrod pages from Shelly and look them over. Our guests are new at this, so you may have to prop them up a bit, but it's all for a good cause." Burt Shipley, gray-haired, veteran director of decades of children's programming, took his place at the head of the long rectangular table around which the cast of the Sunny Shores Show gathered.
Shelly, the script girl, handed around pages of revisions to a chorus of mumbled 'thanks' as the actors and staff reviewed the changes. Everyone seemed in good spirits despite the hour, chatting amiably as they settled in for the late-night rehearsal. Or nearly everyone. "Where's Cyrus?" the director muttered as he scanned the room, squinting a bit as he reviewed the knot of technicians helping themselves to sandwiches off the craft table. "Billy?" Rather than keying his microphone, Shipley raised his voice to be heard above the actors, already trying different intonations of their lines. "Where is Mr. Tremaine?"
Billy Rogers, a spry man of medium height and indeterminate age, his right hand for more years than Shipley could remember, concluded his notes to the lighting technicians and gave his boss a weary look. "He won't come out of his dressing room, sir."
There were times, the director reflected, when he wished he had adopted the Cecil B. De Mille conceit of carrying a riding crop. This was one of those times. Of course, the union might frown on giving an actor, even one who insisted on nursery school antics, a sound thrashing. "What is it now?"
Billy cocked his head indicating that they should step away from the knot of actors and crew. Together, the pair walked onto the soundstage under the premise of checking over the beachside boardwalk where the main action of the show would take place. Without realizing it, Shipley scanned the set looking for problems and relaxed a trifle as he found none. The A.D. began to speak in a low, rapid voice. "Captain Braveheart, I mean, Cyrus, he's staging a protest. He says he won't appear on the same stage as -" His voice dropped even lower. "- as the gargoyles, sir."
"Excuse me?" Shipley rounded on his friend and aide. "I thought the lawyers had resolved this." The director began to redden with suppressed irritation, and Billy reached into the pocket of his gray flannel trousers for his boss's heart medication.
The director looked at upward at the moon, specially painted with a plump-cheeked smile and broad wink for the nighttime program. "He plays or he pays. Very simple, even for a dolt like Tremaine."
"Take it easy, boss," Billy soothed. He studied the older man critically and counted the carotid pulse that throbbed visibly, framed by the director's crisp, white, open-collared shirt. It was to be Shipley's final season helming the Sunny Shores Show, after which he was due to retire. Billy had every intention of making sure his boss made it through to the end of the season cast party. "There's no use getting worked up over this. Martín is talking to him. A mascara brush isn't the only thing he's good at manipulating."
"Fine." Shipley looked at the gold Cartíer watch on his wrist. It had been a gift from the network after the show had won its first daytime Emmy. "Martín has two more minutes to work his magic. And if that doesn't work, you tell Mr. Cyrus 'I'm a bloody thespian' Tremaine, that Fox Xanatos is the only reason he has this job, and if he wants to keep it, then he bloody well better get his arse out here!"
"Yes sir," the A.D. said, alarmed at the emergence of Shipley's rough, North London accent. Billy Rogers had known Burt Shipley for thirty years, and worked for or with him for twenty-five, and only in times of great stress did the expatriate-Englishman let his accent reveal his working-class origins. He placed a comforting hand on his boss's shoulder and gently led him to a canvas director's chair. "I'll take care of it. You get ready to greet Mrs. Xanatos and the others. They'll be here any minute."
"What would I do without you, Billy?" Shipley said softly.
"Let's not find out, boss," the A.D. replied. His cell phone beeped. He flipped it open even as he hurried back toward the dressing rooms. As he got to the edge of the set area, he flipped the phone shut and keyed a wireless mike that hung clipped to his shirtfront. "Two minutes, people. Our guests have just cleared the studio gates."
He ignored the upswing in noise as he hustled back to retrieve Cyrus Tremaine and was almost knocked off his feet as he turned a corner and the recalcitrant actor stalked out of his dressing room. The lead makeup man hurried to keep up in his wake. "Remember Cy, smile."
"Only when it's in my contract," Tremaine replied bitterly to his companion, not noticing the assistant director.
"Boss wants you at the rehearsal table now," Billy said. "Mrs. Xanatos and her party have arrived."
Cyrus looked down his long aquiline nose at the shorter man. "How lucky for them."
"Cyrus," the makeup man chided. "Manners."
The tall, distinguished-looking actor grunted in reply. As they neared the set however, he straightened his slumped posture and his head rose as he regally surveyed the cast and crew surrounding a knot of people and… not people. His mind shied away from the term 'gargoyles'. His confidence flickered and he flinched as he regarded the winged pair smiling and chatting with that limey bastard Shipley.
"You can do this," Martín muttered at his elbow.
"Of course I can do this," he snapped. "I am Cyrus Tremaine." He swept forward to effusively greet Fox Xanatos. "Darling!"
Fox's green eyes didn't betray her inner mirth at Tremaine's obvious discomfort. She was aware of the actor's biases, but he had been unconscionably rude to her once when she had been new to the business and he had been at the top of his game. Payback could come in all kinds of ways, and sometimes it could take its sweet time. She smiled back warmly. "Cyrus."
"All right, people, we've got a show to rehearse, so let's get to it," Shipley boomed through his microphone.
The A.D helped to settle Angela and Broadway while one of his assistants escorted Fox and Elisa to an out of the way spot where they still had a good view of the action. Once everyone had their scripts open and water or soda in front of them, the rehearsal began.
"People, let's get started." Shipley picked up his script. "For the benefit of our guests, let me go through the itinerary. First, we'll do a quick run through of the script. Then we'll walk through the set and let the lighting boys get their marks. The blocking has already been roughed, but we want to fine tune things before the dress rehearsal. Then we'll go over the songs and dances and finally, we'll do one run all the way through." He glanced over at Broadway and Angela. "Do you have any questions?"
"I don't think so," Angela said. "We learned the script that you sent over."
Shipley smiled at Angela's earnestness. "Right, that's fine. Only, we tend to change things a bit. That's why you've got revision pages in your script. Each time we change a line, we change the color of the page it's printed on. We've tried to keep your parts the same, but there may be some minor adjustments."
"Oh," Broadway thumbed the multihued document before him. "I wondered why this had so many colors."
Shipley rubbed his hands together. "Right. I think we can skip the intro since there's nothing new there. So let's pick it up at page three, shall we?"
The actor that played the anchor character, the Mayor of Sunny Shores nodded. "Right. So I do the song and the intro, and when I get to the dockside I see the pirates and call out, "Ahoy, out there!"
The actors slipped gradually into character as they worked through the first pages of the script, occasionally rising from the table to work out bits of physical comedy that would be fine-tuned later.
Angela and Broadway followed the action intently, so intently that Broadway failed to notice that the had dropped a goldenrod-colored page from his script. He realized his error and looked for it frantically, spotting it on the floor just as Cyrus Tremaine plucked the brightly hued sheet from his own script and began to read.
"Aye, mateys. We've come all the way from Castaway Cove -"
"Castaway Cove!" Broadway bellowed as he reared back from his position halfway under the table. His wings unfurled involuntarily, knocking the table askew and the actors playing Miss Emily, the postmistress, and Abe Sextant, the Dockmaster, to the floor as his eyes flared white.
Cast and crew reacted as the folding table tilted over precariously. Chairs scattered as flustered actors struggled with their 'fight or flight' reflexes. Several retreated to the safety of the set and watched the gargoyles warily as Fox and Elisa jumped to their feet and rushed to the table, circling Broadway protectively. Burt Shipley rolled his eyes heavenward. Billy clapped his hands, trying to get the attention of the cast. "People. People. Settle please!"
Cyrus fell out of character with an undignified squeak and flung his script to the floor as Broadway began to apologize profusely. "I'm sorry! Sorry!" He offered his hand, careful to keep his talons sheathed, to help the two actors back to their feet. "I… Sorry!"
"I told you this was a bad idea! You'll hear from my lawyer!" Cyrus stalked from the room and the makeup man, Martín, hurried after, calling his name.
Broadway stood bracketed by Angela and Elisa. The embarrassed gargoyle had turned a deep aquamarine and was staring at the floor. It was obvious to all that he was deeply ashamed by his outburst. "I'm sorry," he repeated.
Fox moved to the foreground and took the lead with the director and his assistant. "I should have had you fax over the revisions for approval, Burt, mea culpa." Fox shot her 'assistant' a reproachful look, as if it were Elisa's fault they had neglected to get the most current script. Elisa ducked her head and looked chagrined. Then, Fox addressed the group at large as she explained. "I'm afraid 'Castaway' has something of an unhappy association for our friends. A rather dreary man by that name led an organization called the Quarrymen. You may have heard of it. They destroyed a lot of very expensive statuary in Manhattan trying to murder Broadway and his clan as they slept."
There was a general murmur of sympathy and understanding among the company. Cries and exclamations of "How awful!" and "Oh dear," and "Sweet Jesus!" as the naturally empathetic actors put themselves into Broadway's massive shoes.
"It's all right, dearie," said Marge Dixon, the actress that played Miss Emily, a spry sixty-five year old woman whose dark skin crinkled into crow's feet around still darker eyes. "I believe I understand. That you gargoyles call your families 'clans' gave me a bit of a pause at first. We give words more power than we realize at times."
Broadway gave the woman a tentative smile. "Thanks. I didn't hurt you, did I?"
Marge smiled. "Naw. I spent fifteen years working as a stuntwoman. It'd take more than a little tumble to hurt an old trooper like me."
Realizing that the crisis had passed, Elisa and Fox faded back to the their places at the periphery as the actors settled down to their rehearsal.
"Hey," Broadway said, noticing at last Cyrus Tremaine's empty spot at the table. "Where's Captain Braveheart?"
There was a brief uncomfortable moment as actors shuffled their scripts. Cyrus's sentiments about the gargoyles were well known.
"Mr. Tremaine dislikes rewrites," replied the director smoothly. He picked up Tremaine's script off the table and handed it to the script girl. "Shelly, you read Captain Braveheart." He scanned the script. "Pick it up after the intro. Doug!"
Over in the corner, several of the show's writers sat at a card table. A twenty-ish man who'd been arguing the merits of a line of dialogue with his co-scriptor and completely missed the fracas stuck a pencil behind his ear and looked up from his coffee. "Yeah boss?"
"The Castaway Cove line is out. Redo the pirate entrance. I want two versions, with and without Captain Braveheart. Have it to Billy by the end of the night. Mayor, Pirates and Crew." Several heads around the table went up. "You'll get your new pages in the morning." Having settled the issue, Burt Shipley glanced at his watch. He wondered if the lawyers would let him dock Tremaine for the loss of rehearsal time. Best be about it, mate. If they had to force Tremaine to perform, the lawyers would need time to wrangle. He got up and motioned for Billy. "Take it will you?"
"Sure, boss." The A.D. glanced at his own watch as Shipley gathered Mrs. Xanatos and her assistant and took them off the set. "Okay, Shelly, from the top."
* * * * *
Cyrus stared at the phone receiver in disbelief. "What do you mean I have to do it? Lenny, you're killing me. Literally. There is no way I can perform with those, those monsters! I don't care what my contract says." The actor took a long pull from a crystal highball glass and grimaced at the taste of inferior bourbon. In his upset, he'd grabbed the bottle at random and poured the dross he kept around for his manager, who actually preferred the horrid stuff over decent single malt. "Fine, you see what you can do. But I'm telling you right now, my mind is made up." He slammed down the phone, picked up the glass, and knocked back the rest of his drink.
Martín entered from the kitchen, a glass of milk in hand and a worried look on his face. "Who was that on the phone, Cyrus?"
The actor scowled and the angry expression became truly dark as he discovered he'd emptied his glass. "That useless lawyer of mine, Len Carter. He says there's no way he can get me out of my contract and that I'll have to do that damn benefit show."
Martín paused and considered his approach. Even after seven years and countless hours of therapy, he still felt responsible for Cyrus' attack. It had, after all, been his idea to take a romantic moonlight walk along the bank of the Seine while on their impromptu weekend adventure. How was he to know when they saw the azure gargoyle, crying as if her heart would break, their lives would be changed forever?
"Mon Dieu," he had said clutching Cyrus' arm. "Is that what I think it is?"
Cyrus had nodded, his voice full of wonder. "A gargoyle. Just like the ones we've seen in New York. I think she's hurt." Poor Cyrus had started forward, cautiously, one hand still holding his. "Mlle. Gargoyle," he'd said quietly. "Êtes-vous blessé? Pouvons-nous vous aider?"
Things had gone badly after that. Cyrus' kindness had been met with rage. The gargoyle had turned on them, eyes flaring fearsome red as she attacked. Cyrus had saved his life that night, shoving him out of the way as the enraged creature pounced, rending flesh before bounding onto a low bridge and upward into the air. Her scream still haunted both their nightmares.
The ensuing year was nearly as horrible. Months in hospitals at Cyrus' bedside as he endured reconstructive surgery to repair the damage to his face and chest and arms. They had worked miracles with his face, leaving only tiny scars that the makeup man skillfully concealed each morning, but the damage to Cyrus' upper body had been extensive and costly. Relentless physical therapy would never restore the actor's breathtaking physique. It had, at least, restored a measure of his functionality, though he would never take his shirt off for the camera again. That was, if he had the opportunity. Hollywood only tolerated difficult actors up to a point.
Martín crossed to his companion's side and plucked the empty glass from his fingers. "Here, drink this," he said, offering the milk. "It's much better for your nerves."
For a second, Cyrus looked as if he might hurl the offering against the paneled wall, but instead he set it down next to the telephone. "Thank you." The actor buried his head in his hands. "Why won't these people understand, Martín? Those are dangerous animals like lions or gorillas. Would they let a gorilla go around free without chains?" He raised his head and punched his undamaged hand against the chocolate leather of the easy chair. "I mean, my god, look what happened tonight. That big blue beast went completely out of control over one little word. He could have killed us all!" A hopeful look briefly lit his handsome, suntanned features. "Maybe he did. I left in such a hurry, he could have ripped the studio apart before Security arrived on set."
"It's a cheerful thought, but doubtful, love." Martín moved to stand behind the leather chair and rested his hands against the actor's neck. As he began to rub, Cyrus scooted forward and dropped his head back toward his lap. "Come on, why don't you go take a nice soak and then I'll work those knots out of your neck."
"Maybe later." Cyrus brushed off Martín as he rose to stand before the sliding glass door
that looked out onto the canyon. "I've got to think."
His companion followed, standing a little apart. He had to pick his words carefully. Before the attack, the actor possessed something of a temper. Afterward, he'd become even more volatile. "Cyrus, honey, you're upset. Believe me, I understand. I'm not exactly thrilled myself. After all, I'm going to have to make those things fit to be seen on television." He shuddered. "But we do have to look at the big picture. You've got that audition Monday."
Cyrus watched as outside a coyote howled and in the brush beyond the patio a rabbit broke cover, darted across the rough ground of the cactus garden, and disappeared behind a sculpture of Kokopelli. "My ticket off of Sunny Shores and back into real television."
"That's right," Martín agreed. "And it's a good part too. A nice solid character role on an established show."
The actor snorted. "I used to line the birdcage with offers for parts like this. Back in the old days," he added bitterly.
Be encouraging. Stay focused. Don't let him obsess about New York and 'Big City Lights', the makeup artist thought. "Remember what your therapist said about hanging on to the past. It'll bring you nothing but heartache. Besides, that was a frothy, silly little comedy. Another season and you would have been bored out of your mind. You should be thankful that Pack Media decided to let you out of your contract. Moving to L.A. and starting over, no matter what the motivation, was a blessing."
"At least it got me away from those gargoyles," Cyrus agreed. "Flying by our window every night. It's like they were just waiting for another opportunity to finish the job." He whirled on Martín. "But now they're here!"
"Only for the weekend." Martín flipped the latch and opened the slider to allow a little of the brisk night air into the house. The pines and mesquite added a resinous scent to the air that he found soothing. "Then they'll go back to the other side of the country and we'll never have to see them again. Two days, love." He wrapped an arm around the actor's waist and nestled against his ear. "We can manage for that long? Hmm?" he whispered. "Make nice with Burt. After all, he knows you've had a rough time. He'll understand if you apologize."
"Why should I?" Cyrus said through grinding teeth. "Why should it always be me who makes the concessions? I was the one that French harridan nearly killed! I was the one who was let go when I couldn't work a full day on set even though I'd been torn apart! I was the one who was forced to start again, taking scraps when people should be begging me to accept their lousy parts. It's not fair!"
"No Cy, it's not," Martín agreed. "You've had some bad breaks. But when you get this part -"
"You mean if," he corrected sharply. "If I get this part."
"If I meant 'if', I would have said 'if'." Martín allowed a little of his frustration to creep into his voice. "There's no reason why you won't nail that audition. And I have it on good authority it's just a formality anyway. But if they get wind you've been difficult on the set, they could change their minds. Remember, the actor they're replacing was fired for being a raging prima donna."
"So you keep telling me," Cyrus said wearily. He looked down and realized that only the screen door stood between him and the night. "Why is this open? I'm cold." He started to jerk the glass slider back into place and froze. "Martín," he said weakly. "Look!"
The make up artist followed his lover's gaze and gasped as he yanked the door shut and thumbed the latch. Caught in the bright glare of the moonlight was a gargoyle riding the canyon currents. Even at a distance she seemed to be exuding frustrated energy. She screamed, that same, strange, soul-searing sound, as if she were rage embodied and yet she could find no target on which to focus.
"It's her! Martín, it's her!"
The makeup artist yanked his lover bodily from the window and pulled the blind shut. Chests heaving in fright, the pair dropped to the carpeted floor and cowered, arms around each other like children. They stayed that way until the clock in the hallway chimed the hour. Hesitantly, Martín crawled on his knees and peeked out the slider. Emboldened by an encouraging nod from his companion, he rose to his feet and searched the night sky.
The gargoyle was gone, and when he turned back to report to Cyrus, the actor's face was set in a stony mask of resolve. Whether it was coincidence or warning, Martín knew his lover wouldn't care. There was no way he would appear at the Sunday benefit. He'd be lucky if he could get him to leave the house. It would take all of his wiles and more than a little bit of persuasion to save the career of Cyrus Tremaine now.
* * * * *
The gargoyle delegates and their human companions chatted amiably in low voices as they disembarked from the elevator and headed toward their rooms. The Sunny Shores rehearsal had gone well and Fox was pleased. "You kids knocked them dead tonight. If you do half as well at the taping on Sunday, the Antis are gonna be sputtering bile for weeks."
"You really think so?" Angela said. She smiled with pleasure at the compliment despite her nerves.
"This T.V. stuff is easy," Broadway said as he slipped a wing around his mate. "And it's fun too, even if that director did make us do that one scene over and over again. Hey," he said turning to Fox. "Do you suppose if it works out, we could do our own show in New York?"
Fox considered the idea. It did have possibilities and the marketing potential would be endless. Gargoyle plush toys, lunch boxes, tee-shirts. She eyed Angela. Adults would be as receptive to the merchandise as the kiddies. "Hmm, tell you what, Broadway, let's see how the taping goes. And if you're still big on the idea when we get home, I'll talk to some people and see what we can set up."
"That seems fair." They reached the first of the suites assigned to their party. Angela noted the 'Do Not Disturb' tag on Andrea and her mother's door. "Maybe I should check in with them."
"Maybe you shouldn't," Broadway advised, always leery of Demona's temper. "She'll come out when she's ready."
Angela touched the door handle, raised her talons to knock, and then reconsidered. "I suppose you're right."
"I'll see you guys tonight," Elisa said as she keyed her room.
"Okay, Elisa, have a good sleep." Broadway replied.
Fox looked up from her clipboard. "Make sure you go straight to bed. We've got a busy morning."
"Yes, mom." The door closed with a click, and for the first time since she had deplaned Elisa was alone. She kicked off her shoes, snapped on a lamp, and dropped her horn-rimmed frames on the dresser along with her purse. There was a room service menu next to the phone, and idly she perused the selection of overpriced hamburgers and pizzas and other late-night fare. "Mmm. Hey, what's this? Hot fudge sundae. Three scoops of vanilla ice cream drenched with hot fudge, sprinkled with chopped almonds and topped with a float of real whipped cream. Why not?" She picked up the phone and rang room service, placing the order and then canceling it when the clerk told her it would take forty minutes to deliver.
"I guess that's why not. Oh well, it's not like I really need the calories." Elisa examined herself in the mirror. Rigorous training and an active lifestyle kept her trim, but that was no reason to tempt fate. "Better follow Fox's advice. Take a quick shower and call it a night."
She stripped off the rest of her clothing, leaving a trail of navy blazer, plain white blouse and trim skirt on her way into the bathroom, turned the shower taps on high, and brushed her teeth while the water warmed. A subtle change in the thrum of the pipes and a waft of steam announced the shower was ready. Elisa stepped into the marble and glass enclosure, luxuriating in the pounding spray.
Twenty minutes later, her chin bounced off her collarbone and she realized she'd nodded off to sleep halfway between soaping and rinsing. With a yawn and a spine cracking stretch, she buffed off quickly, picked up her discarded clothing and hastily hung it the walk in closet, donned a tee shirt, snapped off the lights, and slipped between the sheets of her king-sized bed. Twenty minutes after that, she was still staring at the ceiling.
"In New York, it's nearly seven. So why am I wide awake?" Leaving the lights off, she reached instead for the television remote and hit the power button. "Infomercial. Infomercial. Seen it. Seen it. Hey wait a minute." Elisa stared at the screen and quickly hit the back button. Happy people congregated in the courtyard of a Roman-style courtyard, drinks in hand. A young man in a short red waiter's coat and black pants held a bottle of champagne at the ready." Elisa squinted at the television. "Oh, it can't be. That's not Ty Clearwater, is it?" She focused her attention intently on the young actor, matching facial characteristics as if it were video footage from a crime scene and not a cheesy made for T.V. movie. "Nah, that kid has a broken nose. Still…"
The face, apart from the nose, was close, but the hair and posture didn't quite match up. Mentally, Elisa imagined the youth ten years older and began to compare and contrast the two men. Ty had a buzz cut that any no-nonsense cop would feel completely at home in. The waiter's hair was longer and styled rather effeminately with gel. The young actor lacked confidence, or at least the part required him to act as if he had none. He slumped his shoulders and stared at the ground when he wasn't pouring drinks. A girl in her twenties approached, somewhat tipsy, and waved her glass in the general direction of the bar. He must have known her or wanted to know her, because he smiled shyly and tried to catch her eye before snapping back into his subservient demeanor. The teeth were wrong, Elisa noted analytically. "This kid has a gap. Ty's teeth are perfect."
She made herself more comfortable, stacking the pillows high behind her back and shoulders. "Of course, he could have had them and the nose fixed." Elisa settled back to watch for more clues.
The scene shifted. The waiter was now toga-clad. He had gained the musculature of a man accustomed to hard work, like driving teams of horses as he was doing now. He captained the chariot with ease, though he was clearly highly agitated. He drew up before a luxurious Roman villa, gleaming with sweat, mirroring the foam-flecked state of the pale gray steeds under his command. He leapt from his post, tossing the reigns to a gardener, burst past the startled doorkeeper, and ran inside.
"Senator, I must beg your urgent attention!"
A man dressed in finest white linen reclined on a low couch. His surroundings were opulent; elaborate mosaic floors at his feet, a gilded ceiling overhead. Fountains tinkled musically in each corner of the large chamber, spilling into channels that fed a pool at the center of the room. At the center of the pool, overlooking the scene as if she hadn't a care in the world, the goddess Venus reclined on a similar couch, attended to by fig leaf-clad youths, both male and female. He looked up in consternation, a bunch of grapes halfway to grease-sheened lips, surprised to have his meal interrupted. House slaves trailed in the wake of the intruder, having tried and failed to bar his way. One female slave, standing golden jug at the ready, looked particularly shocked at the agitated young man's arrival. Her hands trembled and deep purple wine spilled onto the tiles at her sandal-clad feet.
The Senator regarded the interloper coldly. "I know you. You are that impertinent charioteer. Didn't I order you to my Sardinian holdings to haul fishing nets until you learned some manners?"
The slave bent to his master. "Yes, my lord. The ship leaves tonight." Though he was overwrought, the young man tried to conceal his agitation. He dropped to his knees before the senator's couch. "Sir, I petitioned some months ago to marry a woman of this house. You said you would consider the matter. I know I have displeased you, lord, but I wondered if you might consider my petition and grant the housemaid Elisabetta permission to join me in Sardinia as my wife."
The slave girl stood quietly in the corner, watching all with wide eyes. She offered silent prayers to Juno and to Cupid, entreating that her master would grant her lover's petition and allow them to be wed.
He laughed. "You impudent dog. Surly you jest. I should have you whipped. In fact, I think I will. " With a crook of his finger he signaled the wine bearer to his side. "Let this beauty be ruined cleaning fish and mending nets? I think not." When she was with in reach he wrapped a manicured hand around her waist and pulled her close. "I have other plans for you, my dear." The Senator glared at the house-slaves. "Get him out of here. Horatio!" he bellowed.
A hardened looking slave appeared with two enforcers in his wake. "Take this, this, ill-mannered young cur out of here and lash him until he learns some respect. Then make sure he gets on the ship with the other goods going to the coast. Now."
"Yes, Senator." Horatio bowed and his two burly assistants grabbed the charioteer.
Having dismissed the intruder and settled the matter of his punishment, the Senator turned his mind to more pleasant matters. "It's time for my bath." He appraised the dark-eyed girl at his side and wondered why he'd not noticed her before. Perhaps it was her youth. She was as lovely as a just-ripened peach and just as ready to be plucked. "I think you will attend me."
"My lord." She gave a pleading look to the other slaves, but no one had the nerve to defy their master. The others scurried to clear the remains of meal, tidying the room with scrupulous efficiency.
The charioteer struggled in the arms of the guardsmen. He lashed out with his legs as they attempted to drag him from the chamber. "No, Elisabetta! No! I'll not leave you to him. I love you!"
The senator lost his temper at the continuing disruption. "Enough! Horatio, I've changed my mind. Don't send the boy to the ship."
Elisabetta held her breath, wondering at this sudden display of compassion from her master. Her lover stilled in surprise in the arms of his captors.
He pursed his lips as he regarded the finely muscled lines of youth in its prime. "Yes. Anyone with this much fight in him should go to the arena. Dispense with the beating and sell him to Antonius Maximus at once." He glanced at the two who struggled to hold the shocked slave. "Tell Antonius he should make good sport as a bear-baiter. He seems to have a talent for it."
"No!" Elisabetta screamed. She ran to her swain and he broke free a hand to touch hers.
The slave renewed his desperate struggle to break free as he realized his fate. The arena meant bloody death. "No! Elisabetta, I vowed before the sacred altar of Juno that you would be mine. I will keep my promise!"
Elisabetta joined the fight, scratching and clawing at the three men who held her lover. Together, they would find a way and then they would escape. It would be difficult to live with a price on their heads, but their love and the gods would protect and shield them from their pursuers.
Horatio hit her hard across the mouth and her head swam. He hit her a second time, a mighty belt that sent her swinging wildly away from the confrontation. She tumbled into the fountain, tripped and lost her footing again. Elisabetta flailed hopelessly for a purchase, reaching out for the pedestal of the statue at the fountain's center. Sudden, sharp pain surged through her skull as her temple connected solidly with Venus' couch.
"Elisabetta! Elisabetta!" The desperate voice faded as darkness swallowed her whole.
Elisa bolted upright from her bed. Her chest heaved and she blinked in confusion. touching her cheek, still feeling the sting of angry fingers as the chaos of the Roman chamber faded abruptly. Pale sunlight struggled its way through the rich brocade curtains. On the television, A Clint Eastwood spaghetti western unspooled. The movie she had started to watch was long over. "It must be 'Viva Italia' night, or something," Elisa muttered as she shifted the pillows to block out the intrusive morning. She snapped off the television, confident that Clint would sort out his own problems, and wondered about the sword and sandals melodrama that had obviously leached into her dreams. "Why else would I cast myself as a slave girl and Ty Clearwater, of all people, as my love interest? I mean, really," she muttered as she rolled over and faded back to sleep, "how weird is that?"
* * * * *
Saturday, February 22, 2003
"Wow, check out this place." Hyena whistled appreciatively as they approached the property whose address was scribbled on the scrap of paper in Jackal's hand. A low hedge fronted by a six-foot wrought iron fence ran along the edge of the sidewalk, and a matching gate set between a stout pair of stone columns guarded the driveway. Hyena peered through the bars at the house that lay beyond. The mission-style ranch, with its clay tile roof and arched portico, was of modest proportions by Hollywood standards. In comparison to the cramped two-room walkup that she currently shared with her brother, though, it looked like a palace. "Man, the rest of us should live this well," she muttered. "Who did you say this guy was again?"
Jackal double-checked the house number, then crumpled the paper and stuffed it into his coat pocket. "Cyrus Tremaine. One of the cast members of the Sunny Shores Show, which just happens to be where our friends from back east will be appearing tomorrow night."
"My, what a interesting coincidence." Hyena smiled.
"There's more. The guy's a card-carrying member of the Gargoyle Defense League. I'm told he speaks at their meetings all the time. He even claims he was attacked by a crazed gargoyle a few years back." Jackal grinned. "Rumor has it that he moved out here from New York just to get away from them."
"Gee, that sounds familiar." Hyena eyed the house again. "So I don't suppose he's too happy right now, having to kiss their asses in front of the whole nation on live T.V."
"Exactly," Jackal replied. "Which is why I suspect he's going to jump at the opportunity we're about to offer him."
"So what's the plan? Just stroll up to the front door and introduce ourselves?"
"Well, unless you have any better ideas…"
Hyena shrugged. "I knew I should have had some 'gargoyle exterminator' business cards printed up." She tested the iron gate that barred their way, but it refused to budge.
Jackal stayed her as she planted a foot on bottom rail and began to climb. "Uh, sis, we're trying to make a good first impression, remember?" He thumbed the button on the intercom panel to his left, and the pair waited patiently.
Five minutes later, they were still waiting. "Can we do it my way now?" Hyena asked.
Jackal stepped back, checked up and down the street for anyone who might notice them hopping the fence, then gestured for her to lead the way. "Fine. After you."
Another five minutes of ringing the bell and waiting by the front door brought similar results. "I don't think anyone's home," Hyena said as Jackal wrapped his knuckles on the door for the third time. She stepped from the porch and edged behind the shrubs to press her nose against the garage window. Squinting through the glass, she saw only an empty space big enough for two vehicles. "No cars, either. Gee, fancy that. The hoity-toity actor has something better to do on a Saturday afternoon than sit around waiting for us to stop by."
"The we'll just have to wait, that's all," Jackal grumbled. He eyed the sticker on the narrow window beside the door, which gave a terse warning of a security system being present. "Let's go back to the car," he said, deciding against the idea of waiting inside.
No sooner had they started back towards the driveway, though, when a car swung up onto the apron. Jackal raised an arm as the gate began to open, halting his sibling, and pulled her with him behind the fronds of a bushy palm. The servos in his cybernetic eye whirred as he peered between the leaves, focusing in on the driver.
"Is it him?" Hyena asked.
"No." Jackal sank into a crouch behind the foliage and pulled Hyena down with him. The silver sedan stopped in the driveway, and a slender dark-haired man got out. "That's not Tremaine," Jackal whispered. "I think that must be his partner, Martín Bouchard."
"Business or domestic?" Hyena questioned.
"The second one." Jackal hushed as the man strode purposefully past their place of concealment and up to the porch. He watched as Martín let himself into the house and quietly pulled the door shut behind him.
"So why don't we just talk to him?" Hyena asked.
"Too risky. Come on." Seizing the opportunity, Jackal made a dash for the street, pulling his sister along by the hand behind him.
"Christ," Hyena exclaimed, jerking her hand away as they reached the safety of the sidewalk. "When are you going to stop doing that? I'm not five years old anymore." She matched his pace as he started back down the street towards their car. "What do you mean 'too risky'?" she asked. "That guy looks like a cream puff to me."
"Not everything comes down to whether or not you can beat the other person in a fight, sis. If that guy blows us off, we're screwed with Tremaine. 'Whatever you do, don't piss off his wife.' That's the last thing my guy told me before giving me the address." Jackal opened the passenger door of their old Volkswagen and guided Hyena in, then circled around to take up the driver's seat. "Approaching Tremaine directly is our best bet," he continued, "but I won't look a gift paramour in the mouth, either." He cranked the key and the Beetle's little engine sputtered to life.
Hyena followed her brother's gaze, unsure of what he meant until she saw the back half of Martín's car appear from behind the greenery several houses in front of them. "Ha-ha," she chuckled. "Looks like Cyrus Tremaine's boy-toy just grew a tail."
Jackal nodded and put the car into gear. They could stay here and stake out the house until Cyrus returned, but sitting in one place for very long just wasn't their style. Besides, in this upscale neighborhood, their primer-spotted jalopy stood out like a sore thumb. If they lingered too long, it would only be a matter of time before the local constabulary arrived to ruin their day. If they followed Martín, on the other hand, the odds were good that he would lead them to Cyrus soon enough.
* * * * *
Elisa leaned against a white guardrail, pulled her floppy cloth cap further down over her face, and watched, bemused, as Ty chatted up a trio of rainbow neoprene clad beach bunnies. The most daring of the three had produced a marker from her much abused gym bag and was entreating the actor to sign her surfboard.
She felt only a slight trace of guilt for ducking out on the P.I.T. proceedings. She wasn't a politician. The competent Brian Mackay was ably handling security and she realized after the briefing she'd only get in his way. Angela and Broadway were safely sleeping behind a magically charmed door courtesy of Demona. There was nothing for her to do but relax while Fox, Andrea, and Dominique attended the legislative work sessions.
Elisa had at first looked forward to a long day of taking it easy in her suite, but after a short while she felt herself growing restless at the opulent surroundings. When Ty called, explaining that his morning session at the caucus was completed and his afternoon was suddenly free due to a cancelled photo shoot, she accepted his invitation eagerly.
She turned away at a squeal of "Mine too!" to contemplate the sun struggling its way through the melting afternoon fog and took a healthy slug of her latte. Latte. Even her coffee was continuing the Italian theme of her dreams. "How strange is that?" she mused as, surfboards signed, the girls ran giggling up the boardwalk.
"How strange is what?" Ty inquired as he rejoined her.
Elisa deliberately misunderstood. She handed him back his cooling coffee and cocked her head in the direction of the girls. "Do you always sign sports equipment?"
Ty shook his head and his lip pursed contemplatively. "Not always. Usually people are more conventional – napkins, tee shirts, body parts."
"Get out." Elisa's eyes widened. "Really?"
The actor nodded. "Yeah. It can get awkward." He relaxed against the railing next to Elisa and sipped. "Don't misunderstand. Most of my fans are great. But there are a few."
Gulls dipped and dived over the surf, picking at the bits of seaweed and the occasional scuttling crab.
"Do you always get bothered like this? I mean, it must be hard not being able to go for a walk without being accosted."
Ty shook his head. "You're forgetting. This is L.A. Stars are a dime a dozen. Sure, I get recognized, and people ask for autographs, but not all the time. I only need a bodyguard when I've got a new movie coming out. It can get a little crazy then."
"Too much love?" Elisa hazarded. She didn't usually work the crimes against persons detail, but other detectives told stories about overzealous fans who stalked and occasionally killed the objects of their affection. Several such incidents had resulted in a national tightening of privacy laws and stricter harassment statutes, but still the loonies had their way.
"Misplaced affection, aggression, expectation, it all gets confused. Some people need more help than others but I can't let a few unfortunates stop me from living my life." Ty crumpled the nearly empty paper cup in his hand and a dribble of pale brown dripped from his palm. "Oops. Sorry. It's kind of a tender subject with me."
Elisa handed him a napkin and took the ruined container, dropping it and her own into a nearby wire basket. "I wondered -" She returned to his side and they began to walk past scarred palm trees and rollerbladers braving the sixty-degree weather. "- why you didn't just write a check to P.I.T. It seems like it would be so much simpler. But you seem really involved in the cause."
Ty dug his fists into the pockets of his bulky black leather jacket. "It's because I am. I'm an actor in a town full of actors, but I'm also Tyler Clearwater, born in Tulsa Oklahoma. I was a 4-H'er and a Boy Scout. I was taught early on that it's important to give back to the community, and that's more than just having your accountant write checks. Look, I know it's goofy, but I was one of those kids that believed that there's life on other planets. I still do. But I'm also grownup enough to realize that I'll probably never see it outside of a sound stage. These gargoyles…"
He paused and Elisa realized that he probably thought he'd made a fool of himself with his admission, but it was important enough to him to complete the thought. "They're a whole different life form already here on this planet. They're sentient beings, not some bogeyman out of our nightmares. And they deserve the right to live their lives the best way they know how."
"Amen," Elisa replied softly. "I wish more people felt the way you do."
"May I ask you a question?"
They had veered away from the path onto the beach itself and were walking toward the surf. Five and six-foot waves broke in white swells, but the surfers who passed by were grumbling about mushy form and departing the shorefront steadily as the wind began to gust.
"How did you get involved?"
Oh, Elisa thought to herself. Something simple. "Long story. Short answer: work. I was investigating a case. There was an accident. I fell off a building and their clan leader saved City Maintenance from having to scrub an ugly stain off the pavement."
"You fell off -" Ty gave a short sharp nod of disbelief.
Elisa shrugged. "True story." Seriously abridged.
"Wow." Ty looked on her with new respect. "Is your work always this dangerous? I mean, hiding out from Russian mobsters, falling off of tall buildings."
"You have no idea." Elisa rolled her eyes. "I'm kidding. I do my share. But most nights the biggest danger I face is getting snagged on a staple from a property report. It's a job, not an adventure."
Ty stopped, zipped up his jacket against the stiffening breeze, and affected Elisa's casually annoyed stance. He closed his eyes for a moment and when he opened them again, his face had become world-weary. His voice reflected disaffection. "It's a job, not an adventure."
"What are you doing?" Ty shifted his posture back to his own loose and easy stance and looked faintly embarrassed.
"I'm sorry. It's just that was such a great line and it really fit this character." At Elisa's confusion he explained. "My next part. John Butler, he's a cop, an N.Y.P.D. detective, just like you. But it's not so much a cop flick as a study of the man behind the badge. I was hoping you'd help me."
Elisa looked suspicious. "Help you how?"
"You're a detective and a New Yorker. You look at the world differently than I do. I want to get into your head, see what makes you think the way you do. I want to know what goes on in your life after you hang up your gun for the night."
Suspicion dissolved into renewed bemusement at Ty's earnestness. "Is this what they call 'Method Acting'?"
Elisa shrugged. "Why not? It might be interesting to see a real cop in a movie." Ty beamed as she continued. "First of all, its days. I work nights and my shift usually ends at dawn. And I don't hang up my gun. I lock it in a box and store it behind the flour in the kitchen."
"Right, safety first."
Without realizing it, Elisa's hand moved to the scar under her ribs. Hers had been a violent refresher course in fundamental gun safety. "Exactly." She noticed her hand and dropped it abruptly. "So what else do you want to know?"
The pair continued to talk, heads close together as they sauntered down the beach.
* * * * *
Staples Center, early evening
"Thank you. Your support means so much to us." Angela smiled and waved to the throng of well-wishers held back by the police cordon.
It had gone well, Elisa thought as she unobtrusively as possible fell in behind the gargoyle couple. The crowd had been receptive and extremely generous with their applause. All the media outlets had been inside, and the speech would be carried on all the networks by night's end. So far, no one had given her the slightest second glance. Still, it would be a relief once the mile and a third long, open convertible parade back to the hotel was over and she could ditch the horn-rimmed glasses.
"How 'bout a picture for the paper, miss?" a photographer shouted from behind the line.
Angela and the rest of the entourage paused. Broadway stepped up to his mate's side and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. Reluctantly, with a shove from Andrea, Demona did the same. Mindful of the cameras, Elisa stepped backward, nearly bumping into Fox. "Sorry," she muttered as she turned her face away from the blinding white glare of electronic flash.
"No problem," Fox replied. "But mind the shoes, they're new and they pinch as it is."
"Tell me about it." Elisa grimaced and resisted the urge to kick her equally new shoes to the curb. "I miss my sneakers." She kept her head turned away from the still-clicking cameras and concentrated on looking secretarial.
Broadway beamed with pride at his mate. "They really love you, Angela. And your speech. You did great!"
"You had that crowd eating out of the palm of your hand, daughter. I was most impressed." Demona squeezed Angela's hand.
The security officer indicated they should continue to proceed to waiting cars and the group began to move slowly again. Andrea fell into step beside Demona, who continued to speak in sotto tones to Angela. Elisa and Fox fell in behind them followed by the president of P.I.T. L.A. and another security officer.
"Hey! Lady! How about one more?" Angela paused and the group stilled as she smiled.
Instead of the expected camera whine there was instead a succession of loud popping noises.
"Gun! Gun! Get down!" Years of training overtook role-playing. Elisa dropped to one knee, reached into her suit jacket, and found her holster missing.
The security people reacted. Out of the corner of her eye, Elisa watched them simultaneously shove others to the ground and radio for help as they pulled their own weapons and scanned the crowd for the shooter. Then everything went black as Angela called her name and she tumbled the short distance to the pavement.
Elisa cried out in pain as Broadway added his own bulk to that of his mate, and her elbow and shoulder wrenched under the combination of awkward position and the weight of the two gargoyles. She could hear pandemonium erupting as the crowd stampeded for cover, tripping over those who had followed the sensible path and dropped to present as small a target as possible.
Seconds passed. Sirens added to the cacophony and what was left of the stunned crowd began to stir and count its injured. Someplace not too far away, Andrea's voice was registering concern. "Demona?"
"Guys?" Elisa's muffled voice floated upward. "Guys!"
"Stay down, Elisa," Angela yelled over the confusion. "Let us make sure the shooting is over." Some of the weight eased as Broadway got off her. "Go, my love," Angela urged.
"I'm okay," Elisa insisted. "I don't think those bullets were meant for me."
"Demona!" Andrea's voice was louder and much more insistent.
"Get those people out of here!"
More sirens screamed onto the scene.
"Oh goddess! Blood!"
"Blood?" a security officer barked. "Who's injured?"
"Does being crushed count?" Elisa responded dryly. "Angela, I'm serious. Get off of me."
"Over here!" a voice cried out.
"My leg! Oh god. It burns!"
Elisa cradled her left arm as Angela helped her gingerly to her feet. Crushed by the weight of the gargoyles but otherwise damaged, she dismissed her own pain and did a quick survey of the scene. L.A.P.D. officers already on hand as part of the crowd control detail were tending to the throng who had panicked as the shots were fired. More units were arriving on the scene and a trio of vans, strategically parked earlier in case of emergency, was queuing up at the curb.
"Come on, we've got to move!"
"Mother!" Angela, was staring transfixed at Demona. Andrea, unmindful of comment, was shaking the prone gargoyle's shoulders sharply, begging her to wake up.
"Angela," Elisa said sharply. "She'll be okay, but we've got to calm Andrea down before everyone else notices."
"There's so much blood." Then more firmly, "Of course." She crossed quickly to Demona's free side and knelt close. "Come on, Mother. The danger is over. Time to get up."
Elisa realized belatedly that the crimson splash that stained Demona's tunic might prove difficult to explain. She stripped off her suit jacket, wincing with the effort. "Here, wrap this around her."
Andrea, panicked tears streaming down her face, looked at the gargoyle and Elisa as if they were nuts. "What's the matter with you? Can't you see? She doesn't have a pulse! We've got to start CPR and get her to a hospital!"
Elisa grimaced with pain as she knelt at Andrea's other side. "No, we don't." She took the stricken woman's hand and felt for the first time the warmth of Demona's blood. "Trust us, it's not as bad as it seems." She gave her clan-daughter a confident glance. "Ready, Angela?"
The gargoyle nodded. "Don't worry, I've got her." She hoisted the motionless body of her mother and took it firmly around the waist, tugging the borrowed jacket closed to conceal her chest. With a worried look she glanced skyward. "Where is Broadway?"
A rustle of wings and a disgruntled, "Nothing," was her reply as, calmly as she could, she 'walked' Demona to the waiting escape vehicles.
"Are you insane?!" Andrea protested. "We need help here!" she cried to a stocky paramedic who was threading his way through the crowd.
"Are you injured? You've got blood on your hands," he said as he surveyed the two women.
"It's not mine," Andrea said through worried tears.
"I am," Elisa replied quickly, though it bruised her pride to do so. "My arm. I think it's sprained."
"Elisa," Andrea continued to protest. "What about Demona?"
Elisa winced as the paramedic examined her arm. "She's fine. Already in the van. Which is where we should be." She glanced at Broadway hovering protectively at her side. "Take her, please."
He started to protest, unwilling to leave her unprotected. "I'll be right behind you."
With a curt nod, the burly gargoyle gently shoved Andrea after Angela and her mother.
"You should get that x-rayed as soon as possible. But right now, we need to get you out of here." He put a well-muscled arm around her shoulders and guided her after the others. A metallic rap later they were rolling smoothly away from the scene. In the darkness, it was quiet but for the sound of Andrea crying.
"Why? Why did they do it? Why did they -"
Elisa cut her off before she could say anything more in front of their P.I.T. L.A. hosts. "People that do things like this are crazy, Andrea. They don't need a reason."
"Ohhhhh. What happened?" Demona's voice was thick with irritation. She reached back and gingerly touched the back of her head and then her chest. Her eyes flared crimson and her teeth curled into an angry snarl.
"Momentary amnesia," Fox said with authority as she squeezed Demona's knee. "You hit the ground pretty hard when the shooting started. My fault, I'm afraid. I overreacted."
"Clearly, Mrs. Xanatos," Demona replied dryly.
Andrea was, fortunately, momentarily speechless as her lover revived. "D-d-demona? You're -"
"Quite all right, my dear," Demona continued in the same airy tone as she adroitly removed Fox's hand. "Though your concern for my well-being is appreciated."
The van turned sharply and a moment later the door opened. The driver had bypassed the opulent main entrance of the Bonaventure in favor of the service entrance. "Ladies. Gentleman. Inside if you please."
Andrea was still staring, open-mouthed, as Demona swept passed her and regally entered the freight elevator.
* * *
Martín gave a furtive glance over his shoulder as he exited the stairwell. The throng of people assembled outside the convention center had been large. He had lingered at its fringes, waiting for the right moment, and in the panic that had followed no one had noticed his hurried departure. He had been just another face in the crowd, a nondescript man in a plain gray overcoat, seasonable attired against the mild chill of a late February evening. Collar pulled up, he had slipped away, taking a circuitous route back to the parking garage, just to be safe. As he started briskly across the ramp toward his car, he could hear sirens in the distance, heralding the arrival of the emergency crews on the scene a few blocks away.
His hands were still tucked in his coat pockets, as they had been during the entire walk back. In his left hand, he clenched his car keys. In his right, he cradled a snub-nosed automatic pistol. The gun's barrel was still warm beneath his fingers, and Martín swore he could still smell the gunpowder. He quickened his pace, footsteps keeping time with the thump-thump of the pulse pounding in his ears. The headlights of a silver late-model sedan flashed as he drew near and thumbed the button on his key fob. With a final cautious glance behind him, Martín let his hand slip from gun for the first time since squeezing off the rounds and reached for the door handle.
Out of nowhere, a metallic hand appeared and grabbed him about the wrist. Martín gave a startled, high-pitched cry of surprise. Looking up, he froze in mute shock upon seeing the grinning, pale face of his assailant.
"Hey there, handsome," Hyena intoned. "Care to give a girl a ride?"
"Can it, sis." Martín turned as another figure emerged from the shadows to his left. Jackal placed a cybernetic arm around the startled man's shoulders, trapping him, and opened the car door. "Somehow, I don't think you're his type."
"Oh yeah? We'll see about that." Hyena slipped her other hand deep into Martín's coat pocket, eliciting from the man a look of abject horror. "Crap," she muttered, drawing it back and revealing the pistol. "And here I thought you were just happy to see me."
"Stop goofing around. Let's go already."
Hyena rolled her eyes and complied. With a measure of grace that belied her crude demeanor, she slid into the car, tugging Martín in behind her. Jackal followed on her heels, ending up behind the wheel.
Martín's eyes flitted nervously back and forth as he found himself sandwiched between the two menacing figures. As Jackal pulled the driver's door shut, he found his voice at last. "Who are you?" he demanded. His eyes went wide as Jackal extended what looked like a razor sharp claw from his index finger and inserted it into the ignition. With a twist, the motor roared to life. Martín gulped. "What are you?"
Jackal smirked and made a small adjustment to the angle of the rear view mirror. "We're the answer to your problem," he replied. Taking hold of the lever on the steering column, he shifted the car into reverse and eased it out of the stall.
"What problem?" Martín asked, playing dumb.
Hyena ejected the clip from Martín's pistol, cleared the chamber, and handed the empty weapon back to him. "Your gargoyle problem," she replied pointedly.
Martín opened his mouth to reply, but the words caught in his throat as Jackal threw the sedan into gear and gunned the engine. Martín dug his fingernails into the upholstery as he was pressed against the seat, clinging to it for dear life as the car sped down the aisle. Just as it looked as though they were going to ram into the wall, Jackal jammed hard on the brakes and spun the steering wheel. The tires squealed as the heavy sedan barreled around the corner. The momentum sent Martín sprawling against Hyena, and his head bounced against her chest plate.
"Like 'em? Yeah, they're fake, but at least they'll never sag." Hyena batted her eyes, an act which sent Martín scrambling back to the middle of the bench as Jackal floored the accelerator once more. Martín rubbed at the bump on his head as the vehicle sped toward the garage's exit and winced as they raced beneath the automatic gate, nearly clipping it as it opened. His teeth rattled as Jackal executed another hairpin turn and bounded over the curb into traffic.
Horns sounded angrily to their left and rear as the other motorists on Wilshire Boulevard expressed their displeasure with Jackal's maniacal driving. He paid them no mind as he hurtled through a yellow light, cut in front of a truck, and made a wide right turn, putting them on course for the freeway. "We saw you in action tonight," Jackal said, speaking again once they were spiraling up the entrance ramp.
"Bang, bang, bang!" Hyena, one eye closed, held up a hand with two fingers extended in pantomime of a gun. "Ha-ha!" she laughed. "That was a riot!"
"In more ways than one," Jackal agreed. "Suffice it to say, we truly enjoyed the show." He swung the sedan into the carpool lane and gave the man a quick, earnest glance. "The thing is, though, Marty, if you and ol' Captain Fantastic really want to send those winged freaks packing, you're going to have to do a little more than take a few potshots at them."
"Cyrus had nothing to do with tonight!" Martín's head was spinning, and the statement escaped his lips before he could rethink it. Who were these two? How had they seen him at the convention center? And what did they know about Cyrus?
Before he had a chance to ask, Hyena gave a cackle that made him nearly jump out of his seat. "Really?" she drawled. She leaned close and placed a clawed, cybernetic hand on his leg. "Well then, cutie-pie, I guess it can be our little secret."
"Didn't I tell you to knock it off?" Jackal intoned. "It's called personal space, sister dear. Respect it."
Hyena withdrew her hand and gave her brother a withering glare. "I never get to have any fun when you're around."
Martín squeezed his eyes shut and massaged at his temples while his kidnappers verbally sparred. He needed to think, but their shrill voices grated at his ears. "Why do you two sound so familiar?" He realized only after he had spoken that he had used his outside voice.
The driver of the car smirked. "I'm Jackal, and this is Hyena. You may remember us from such T.V. shows as The Pack and America's Most Wanted."
"The Pack?" Martín blinked as a spark of recognition flared at last. "Was that the one with Fox and the evil ninjas?"
Hyena scowled at the mention of her former boss, but Jackal remained cool. "I take it you must have been a fan."
"But I thought… I mean…" Martín fumbled for words. It was difficult to speak with Hyena giving him the evil eye. "You're really the Jackal and Hyena?"
Jackal nodded. "The one and the same, at your service." He paused for dramatic effect and to check his blind spot before changing lanes. "Or rather, at your service if the price is right."
Hyena rolled her eyes. "What Bob Barker over there is trying to say is that we've had quite a bit of experience over the past few years dealing with 'pest control' problems like the one you and your pal Cyrus currently have." She placed her arm on the seat back and crossed her legs as she turned to face Martín. "We'd like to help you make sure no gargoyles is ever welcome in L.A. again, but in return we would need some sort of compensation."
"Compensation?" Martín was finding himself more confused by the moment.
"A modest fee is all we'd ask," Jackal replied.
"A girl's got to eat," Hyena added, "or she'll wind up on the street." She stared at Martín for a long moment, smirking.
"So why come to me first?" he asked, looking back to Jackal.
"Because you and your, shall we say, significant other, are working on that show with those creatures tomorrow night. It's the perfect chance to send a message that's crystal clear. We just had to find out if you were the type of people who'd be receptive to our assistance."
"We've been keeping an eye on you for the past few hours," Hyena said. "I must say, I was a bit skeptical at first. When you led us to the Staples Center, I was really worried you were going to turn out to be just another namby-pamby closet gargoyle lover. But that little stunt you pulled… woo!" Hyena fanned herself. "That removed all doubt."
"You're a man of action, Marty," Jackal said. "I admire that." The car slowed. They had left the freeway now, and Jackal's driving had grown markedly less aggressive. He used the turn signal at the bottom of the ramp, then proceeded at a sedate pace as he merged into the flow of traffic. Martín recognized the street. They were only a few miles away from home now. "I really believe we can help each other," Jackal added. "If you and Cyrus are interested."
A quiet moment passed as Martín considered the offer. Intrigued but not yet ready to commit, he asked, "What do you have in mind?"
"Well, for starters," Hyena replied, "we sure as hell don't want to make martyrs out of the freaks like someone almost did tonight."
"Too true," Jackal agreed. "No, what needs to be done is something that will turn the tide of public opinion. The media is always telling everyone that gargoyles are cute and cuddly, so that's what everyone believes. No one ever shows the viewers at home how volatile and dangerous they really are. I mean, just imagine what would happen," he mused, "if the fat one and his girlfriend went postal during that live broadcast tomorrow night."
Hyena laughed. "Little kiddies everywhere would be peeing their beds for weeks!"
"Oh my," Martín muttered. "If something like that occurred, the media would eat them alive." He quieted, his expression taking on a contemplative cast as the gears in his head began to spin. If the cards were played just right, he pondered, the gargoyles would return to the east coast in disgrace and Cyrus would never have to worry about seeing another one in Los Angeles ever again.
Jackal and Hyena exchanged a knowing glance at realizing the man sitting between them had slipped deep into thought. Trailing Martín Bouchard around the city had paid off in spades. With him on their side, winning over Cyrus Tremaine would be a piece of cake. Jackal continued to drive, and the trio rode the rest of the way in silence.
* * * * *
Elisa didn't know how to feel. She set down her cell phone on the night table and slumped against the headboard of her bed. The bullets hadn't been meant for her. Matt had just dismissed that idea with news of his own. A delivery boy who had brought a rigged pizza to the safe house and was currently under interrogation by U.S. Marshals. The FBI agent who was acting as her double was in intensive care and a second agent had been killed outright in the explosion. Matt had warned her to keep her head low and out of sight of the media.
Her arm ached. It was bruising ugly purple near the elbow and her shoulder felt like it was probably doing the same. The hotel doctor had examined it at Fox's insistence. He had poked and tutted and proclaimed that it looked worse than it was. He had left pain killers and advised her to avoid playing tennis until it had a chance to mend before breezing out the door to deal with a stockbroker's sudden onset of gout.
Elisa glanced at the long black ball gown hanging in front of the mirrored closet door and contemplated skipping out. But if the earlier attack demonstrated anything it was that there couldn't be enough security on hand, even if it was only an extra pair of eyes watching for anything suspicious.
"The show must go on." She rose with a grunt and glanced at the desk clock. The festivities were being slightly delayed to allow for the placement of extra metal detectors and the arrival of bomb-sniffing dogs. There was time for a soak in the oversized bathtub before she had to meet up with the hotel security team.
A few minutes later, Elisa was ensconced in the bubble-filled bath. She sighed with contentment as the throbbing in her shoulder began to dissipate, but it didn't stop the little cop in her head from reviewing the shooting, their reactions and the final aftermath. "We were lucky," she decided. "Nearly all the injuries were minor; two grazed spectators, a handful of trampling cuts and contusions." Of course, she added to herself out of cautious habit, there was Demona's would-be fatal bullet to the chest and Andrea's near hysterics that we had to deal with. "But anyone would have acted that way under the circumstances." She sunk lower in the tub, allowing her chin to dip under the foam. "Yeah, we were lucky."
A knock at the door interrupted her reverie. "Just a minute." Reluctantly, Elisa emerged from the comforting waters and buffed off quickly with a thick cotton towel before quickly donning an equally luxurious hotel bathrobe. "Who is it?" she called before peeping through the door-guard.
A young Hispanic man in a white shirt and dark pants stood a pace back from the door, holding a box. Elisa frowned but opened the door anyway.
The boy kept his eyes carefully on the box in his arms. "Flowers, miss. Where should I put them?"
Mindful of the exploding pizza her decoy had received only a short time before, Elisa indicated a coffee table underneath the panoramic window. "Over there." She disappeared into the bedroom long enough to retrieve a single from her billfold.
"Thanks." She handed the tip over and the boy flashed white teeth before hitching a half bow and retreating.
Alone with the box, Elisa studied it for moment. A plain white box tied with gold ribbon. Gingerly, she lifted it and carried it into the bathroom. It was probably silly, but she couldn't shake the image of her double lying in a hospital bed. She dropped it by the gold ribbon into the bathtub. It floated and bobbed among the dregs of her bubble bath, the cardboard getting steadily more soggy. Finally, deciding she was paranoid, Elisa rescued the parcel just as it started to sink.
"Who would send me flowers?" she wondered aloud. With a shrug she undid the sodden bow, dropped it to the floor, and lifted the lid. Inside, nestled in tissue paper, rested a spray of tiny pink roses arranged with ivy and tied with a soft pink bow. A tiny parchment envelope was tucked carefully in the corner of the ruined box, and after setting the corsage on the marble counter, Elisa extracted a note card from the heavy paper sheath. "Thank you for a wonderful day. Will you save me a dance tonight? Affectionately, Ty."
Elisa smiled at the card and at the memory of the man who had written it. Despite the Hollywood trappings, he really was sweet and unaffected. He must have ordered the corsage after he had dropped her off from their Venice Beach outing. "Careful, Maza," she warned as she realized how much she was suddenly looking forward to the ball. "Fun is fun, but you've got a guy."
Elisa regarded the mirror sharply, suddenly aware of exactly how far her thoughts had strayed from Goliath. She hadn't thought about him once all day. Actually, she hadn't thought about him at all since she set eyes on Ty Clearwater.
Ty. Just thinking about him made her feel different somehow. It was weird, but from the moment they'd met she'd felt an odd sort of connection like they'd always known each other and were just waiting to take up wherever it was they'd left off. It made her uncomfortable at first, the odd déjà vu. It bothered her and made her irritable, like an itch she couldn't scratch. But the more she was around him, the more she relaxed and the more the itching was replaced with a warm and welcoming sense of anticipation of what was to come.
"I'll tell you what's coming," she said as she retrieved the black velvet ball gown. "You're going to go to this dance and keep an eye on the other guests. You're going to go to the television taping tomorrow night, and then you're going to get on an airplane and go home to your job and your mate and soon enough Ty Clearwater is going to be nothing more than a distant memory."
With her face set in a determined mask, Elisa dressed for the ball, but her features softened as she eyed the spray of pink roses. "What can it hurt?" she wondered as she pinned the corsage to the bodice of her gown.
She tried to ignore the butterflies in her stomach as she picked up her room card and went to her briefing.
* * * * *
"Martín, there you are. I didn't hear you come in." Cyrus waved him over and turned his gaze back to the television. "Did you hear what happened? It's all over the news!" He sounded nearly ecstatic.
"What is?" he replied. Jackal and Hyena entered behind him, and Martín gestured for them to wait in the foyer as he stepped through the archway into the living room.
"There's been a shooting at that P.I.T. rally!" Cyrus exclaimed. "Somebody finally had the nerve to take a stand. I think they said one of those accursed gargoyles was hit." He inched closer to the edge of the sofa. "Maybe they'll have to cancel the show tomorrow night," he added hopefully.
"- and this is a KTLA news special report. Let's go back now to our correspondent in the field. I understand you have another update for us, Colleen?"
The image on the screen shifted from the newsroom to a smartly dressed blonde standing in front of a bank of glass doors. "Yes, Ryan," she replied. "Police have now cordoned off the area near the Staples Center where shots were fired just a little over an hour and a half ago. I'm here now at the Bonaventure Hotel, where I've just been informed that the rest of tonight's events will be proceeding as scheduled. Convention organizers with People for Interspecies Tolerance have also stated that there is no truth at all to an earlier report that one of the female gargoyles was injured in the shooting."
"So at this point, it doesn't appear that anyone was seriously hurt?" the anchorman in the studio prompted.
"That's correct, Ryan. Good fortune was apparently shining on everyone, both human and gargoyle, tonight."
Martín's hands clenched into fists. "Impossible," he muttered under his breath. He had seen the creature go down. His aim had been dead on, a single shot to the heart from not more than ten yards. The moment replayed in his mind. A gap opened in the edge of the crowd as the winged beast approached. He took aim, staring down the barrel of his gun at the cleft of her chest. He pulled the trigger, and the crowd erupted into a screaming panic. The gargoyle collapsed and he ran, firing the rest of the clip wildly as he made good his escape.
"- it's early, but do authorities have any leads so far on the shooter?"
"No leads yet, Ryan, but the L.A.P.D. has indicated that they are taking this investigation very, very seriously."
"Any thoughts, Colleen, on how this will affect the rest of gargoyles' itinerary?" the anchorman questioned.
"I'm sure we'll be seeing security stepped up quite a bit tomorrow for the final day of the convention. As for the gargoyles' appearance on the special live broadcast of the Sunny Shores Show tomorrow night… given what we've seen so far, Ryan, I'm getting the distinct impression that the sentiment within P.I.T. right now is 'The show must go on.'"
"Damn it all!" Cyrus rose angrily from the couch and shut off the television. "It's like nothing anyone does has any affect. It just makes them more determined!"
"I know," Martín said, echoing his partner's frustration. He shook off the unpleasant musings of what could have possibly allowed the gargoyle to survive and refocused his attentions on the situation before him. Cyrus's euphoria had peaked. Martín would have to act now to catch him before his mood could plummet any further. "Perhaps something else can be done, Cyrus," he asserted. "I've met some people who want to help."
"Some people?" Cyrus turned at that and froze, wide-eyed, as he caught sight of the two slender, shadowy figures standing in the doorway.
"My new… friends, Jackal and Hyena," Martín said as the pair stepped into the light.
* * *
"Okay, okay. So let me get this straight." Cyrus held up his hands to quiet the group. "You two," he said, gesturing to Jackal and Hyena, "want us to help you get on the show so that you can egg the creatures into a frenzy on live television?" He looked to Martín. "Isn't that going to be awfully dangerous? I mean, what if they come after me?"
"Don't worry, Captain," Jackal replied. "We're used to tangling with these beasts. We'll make sure you stay out of harm's way."
Hyena nodded grimly. "And we'll make sure Pack Media's nationwide audience gets a show they'll never forget. Goodbye, Sunny Shores, hello Gargoyles Gone Wild!"
"They'll be permanently blacklisted, Cyrus." Martín took his partner's hand and patted it gently. "Think about it. We'll never have to worry about seeing another gargoyle in Hollywood ever again."
"Not to mention that P.I.T. will be forever known in this town as the organization that haplessly set a pair of craven monsters loose on a studio audience filled with celebrities and kindergarten cancer patients." Jackal gave a feral grin. "I can feel the ranks of the G.D.L. swelling already."
"Amen, brother!" Hyena replied. She turned to Cyrus. "So what do you say? Isn't it time we all did something to repay those damned gargoyles for everything they've done to us?"
Cyrus looked at her, peering into the deep brown eyes that still reflected a glimmer of humanity beneath the strangely alien cybernetic exterior. Quietly, he recalled the tale the siblings had related to him a half hour earlier. She and her brother had been human once, but because of the gargoyles they had ended up as like this, trapped forever in unfeeling robotic bodies. The horror of it all made the scars he bore from his own encounter with the beast in Paris seem trivial by comparison.
"All right," he said at last. "I'm in." He thought for a moment. "I can get you some backstage passes to help you get past security. Once you're on the set, though, you'll be on your own. You'll need to find some costumes."
Hyena traded a glance with her brother. "I'm sure we can find something to 'borrow'," she replied.
"There's a flock of seabirds that always follows my ship," Cyrus suggested. "They don't have any lines in this episode." He made a face. "They're all just supposed to sit there on the railing while the one called Angela tells a story."
Jackal nodded. "Got it. Now, there's just one thing left to work out. We need to make sure that the gargoyles are the ones who attack first, so those bleeding hearts at P.I.T. can't just spin-doctor the carnage away." He smiled at his sister. "It's a good bet that the little miss and her overweight beau won't be too happy to see us, but we can't take any chances on them suddenly growing some self-restraint."
The others were quiet for a long moment. "Just leave that to me," Martín said at length. "I'll see to it that they put on a terrific show for us."
* * * * *
Bonaventure Hotel, California Ballroom
Elisa smiled politely and declined a glass of champagne from a waiter as he past by. She felt like a fish out of water among California's glitterati, though her graceful black velvet gown purchased in a New York secondhand store was as chic as any of the designer labels the other guests sported. She supposed it had something to do with her status at the event. She wasn't really a guest, though she was on the guest list, and she wasn't really a part of the security team, though she held the title of Manhattan Clan Security Liaison. Neither one nor the other, and unaccountably restless, she endured the gala, smiling and making polite conversation with people she didn't know, remaining vigilant in case of the unthinkable.
It was sort of awe-inspiring, she mused, the way the crowd was defiantly enjoying themselves despite the pall cast by the shooting only hours before. When the president of P.I.T. L.A. had mounted the podium for his opening remarks, the throng of actors, politicians and other notable citizens had applauded until the chandeliers trembled. "We may be bloodied," he said pointing to the small white bandage on his own forehead, when the assembly finally quieted enough for him to be heard, "but we are unbowed." The cheering drowned him out again for several minutes, and finally he had dispensed with any further remarks and cued the bandleader.
She smiled as she watched the others out on the dance floor. Angela looked blissfully happy as Broadway led her carefully around the polished oak. Both of them were chatting easily with the other dancers that surrounded them, as if cotillion had been as much a part of their training regimen as aerial combat. Fox danced gracefully with the Mayor of Los Angeles, Andrea was in the arms of a noted character actor, still gilded and tattooed from his latest turn in an epic adventure, and even Demona was doing her part. The shooting seemed to have buoyed her mood. Perhaps, Elisa thought sourly, it had justified the generally low opinion that the immortal gargoyle continued to hold about humans. Dressed to the nines in a short taffeta dress of darkest midnight blue, she adeptly kept the Governor from stepping on her tail as she flashed him one of her most dangerous smiles.
Of course, not all of the dancers had paid the $500.00 per head gate fee for the sumptuous banquet and other festivities. More than a dozen plainclothes officers had been forced to rent tuxedos and ball gowns at the last minute to beef up the already tight security. Elisa had noted with professional interest from her early vantage-point near the bar the cuts and styles of certain women allowed discreetly around, rather than through, the metal detectors, trying to figure out where they had secreted their holsters.
She absently touched the roses pinned to her bodice. The corsage had been the subject of mild teasing on the part of Fox and a raised brow ridge by Angela when Elisa had revealed who had sent the gift. "Actors," she had dismissed airily, though she found herself unaccountably piqued at a certain actor's absence when he hadn't appeared by the main course. "They're supposed to be big with grand gestures. And it's just a little corsage," she added off of a bemused twitch of Demona's fangs, "not two dozen red roses. He was probably just being polite because I gave him some tips for his next part." The conversation had turned to other matters, and though Elisa felt glad to no longer be the subject of speculation, she still felt the other's eyes upon her as hers strayed to the entrance of the banquet room.
The band changed tempo, segueing from the apropos "Accentuate the Positive" to a slower, dreamy waltz she didn't recognize. Without realizing it, Elisa began to sway along with the dancers.
"You are too beautiful to be a wallflower."
Ty approached, his eyes lighting with pleasure as he saw the roses pinned to Elisa's black velvet gown. She smiled self-consciously as she realized the irony. Though she had been careful to move with the flow of the guests, her current observation post was indeed against the back wall of the opulent ballroom, the traditional hiding place of the terminally shy and socially stunted.
He held out his hand. "May I, Elisa?"
To refuse would be rude, not to mention, mark her as Security. Elisa smiled, then winced as she raised her hand to take his. She shrugged and offered him the uninjured arm and his smile turned to a frown of worry. "You're hurt."
"Mostly my pride." Gently Ty took her into the traditional waltzer's pose as they joined the others on the dance floor. Elisa startled as a little jolt of electricity jumped from his palm, warm and though well manicured, callused to hers. She wasn't alone. Ty blinked as if caught by surprise. He stumbled on the first step of their waltz, then recovered, leading as if they'd been dancing together for years. Elisa was amazed how easily they fell into sync with one another. Normally, she had to fight her instinct to lead, but yielding to Ty seemed natural and the pair flowed seamlessly into the rhythm of the lush orchestration.
"I've been trying to see you since the shooting," he began, pulling her a closer and out of the way of a less adept couple. "But with the lockdown I couldn't get through to the hotel." The male of the pair offered a sheepish grin as his partner attempted to yank him closer to Ty and Elisa. The actor sighed and without prompting pulled a small notebook and a pen from the inside pocket of his tuxedo jacket. With a mouthed "Excuse me" to Elisa, he asked the woman's name, which she gave with a stammer, and he quickly personalized a sheet off the pad, tore it and handed it to the now furiously blushing fan. Clutching the autograph, she stumbled off the dance floor, leaving her partner solo.
"I wouldn't have expected that to happen here," Elisa commented as Ty pocketed pad and pen and took her back into his arms.
"You're right." They settled back into the music. "This crowd is pretty jaded. Anyway, back to my unforgivable tardiness. My manager tried to pull rank to keep me from coming."
"Did he?" Elisa snuggled a little closer to make conversation easier.
Ty gave her a rueful half smile. "He said the studio wouldn't appreciate the star of their new movie getting killed for charity. I argued it'd be good publicity. He thought about it for two beats and called the limo himself."
Elisa frowned at the machinations of the Hollywood mind. "It's standard procedure," she explained, pulling the topic back to her own familiar ground as they moved smoothly toward the center of the dance floor. "Once you're in, you stay in. Those who are out -"
"Stay out," Ty finished. "I get that. But it didn't stop me from worrying. My god," he said as he gathered Elisa closer to him and she settled her cheek against the lapel of his tuxedo, "you were right in the middle of it! You could have been killed!"
Elisa looked up. Concern marred Ty's handsome features. And was that the tiniest patch of razor stubble under his ear? She had to resist strongly the urge to run her fingertips along the hollow of his jaw line. "That's a risk I take every day."
He cupped her chin between thumb and forefinger and tilted it gently upward so that she had to meet his eyes. "I thought you said your job wasn't that dangerous," he said referring to their beachside conversation. "The greatest risk were paper cuts?"
"I might have downplayed things just a little," she replied smoothly. Her eyes shone with merriment as they swayed to the soft music. "I didn't want to give you the impression I'm a cowboy."
With appreciation, Ty gathered her even closer. "A cowboy and a lady. It's a combination I could learn to live with."
The tune ended and was replaced by another and then a third. The pair failed to notice as they continued to sway softly, no longer waltzing, just rocking slowly in place as the rest of the assembly moved rhythmically around them. Ty's hands had slipped to Elisa's waist and her cheek had shifted to rest against his.
With trembling fingertips Elisa touched the stubble in the hollow of Ty's jaw. "You missed a spot," she said stroking it softly.
"Did I?" His fingers grazed against hers. "I guess I was a little bit nervous about tonight."
The pair ceased their pretense of dancing and Elisa met his eyes. Feeling strangely shy she asked, "Why's that?"
Ty's voice went husky. "Because I've been thinking all afternoon about doing this" He tilted her mouth to his. Elisa's lashes fluttered close as she anticipated the taste of his lips.
"Really, Detective," a voice from behind her commented archly. "What will your husband think?"
"My hus-" A ten-gallon bucket of ice water would have had less impact. Elisa broke from Ty's embrace as if he'd suddenly sprouted snakes from his head and whirled to find Demona in the arms of a famous Austrian action hero, giving her a fanged grin.
"As I recall," she added smoothly, "he is the jealous type."
Elisa bolted. Ty stared after her, confused. Demona continued to smile serenely as her partner led her away. "Oh dear, was it something I said?" she called to Ty over her shoulder as he began to cut his way through the crowd.
* * *
Unmindful of the sharp reactions of the startled dancers, Elisa pushed her way through the crowded ballroom and out towards the elevators. She knew that Ty was close behind her; she could hear him calling her name begging her to wait up. She couldn't face him, not after what had nearly happened between them. After what had happened already. "What is the matter with me?" she berated as her palm came down hard on the brass call button. The elevator car was floors above; she could see it lumbering slowly back down through the glass shaft.
Her eyes darted toward the emergency exit, but it was too late. Ty was closing in and there was no way to delay the inevitable. Elisa closed her eyes, took a deep calming breath and willed her trip-hammering heart to slow. There was no reason to feel like a rookie at her first shooting. It was all a misunderstanding. She was an adult. He was an adult. They had been caught in a moment and things had gotten a little out of hand. She stiffened her spine and turned to face him.
And promptly her resolve fled, taking her courage and cool with it. She had come to realize in the brief time they'd known one another that Ty's Hollywood success had less to do with his exotic good looks and more to do with something that couldn't be taught in an actors' studio. He could say volumes without reciting a single line just by the set of his jaw or the cant of his head. Right now, it seemed that Demona's honey-toned barb had caught both of them through the heart.
Hurt, confusion, and anger; he was feeling them all and Elisa knew she had no one but herself to blame. This was all her fault.
"That was quite an exit," he said as he closed. Ty's clipped tone garnered a number of different reactions from the half a dozen or so other guests who had gathered near the elevator. A mousy looking couple gave the actor a wide-eyed look and suddenly decided they'd rather go back to the ball. A field stringer for a noted gossip columnist sharpened her eyes with interest and the rest did their best to ignore the sudden and rising tension in their midst.
"I -" Elisa started then realizing she didn't really want an argument or a scene, shook her head. "Yeah, I guess I overreacted." She gave a pointed look at the nosey woman and the others and added, "Look. Could we talk about this some other time?"
The elevator finally reached their floor and the glass doors opened with a small chime. Elisa got on the car and stabbed the button for her floor and the close key without waiting for the others to board. The doors began to retract, earning an angry mew from the stringer. Ty stuck his hand through the gap and with a quiet "Sorry" cut in front of the others and shouldered his way into the car, catching the coattail of his tuxedo in the process as the doors closed.
Elisa noticed and yanked at the fabric, freeing it just as the car began its ascent. "You don't want to ruin a perfectly good suit," she admonished softly.
"Thanks." He smoothed the fabric back down against his hip. Having saved Ty's sartorial honor, Elisa stepped as far away from the actor as the elevator car would allow and pressed against the glass. "Elisa. I can see you're upset." Ty began. "I'll confess to being a tad perturbed myself, but will you answer me one question?"
"If I can," she replied guardedly. The elevator indicator ticked off one more floor. Two floors to go. Surely she could keep her cool that much longer.
"Is it true?"
"Yeah." She couldn't meet his eyes. It felt like a betrayal. But a betrayal to who? she wondered. One more floor down, one to go.
"Unhappily?" he pressed.
"That's two questions." From her vantage point high above the main lobby, she watched absently the ebb and flow of the staff and guests as they went about their business. No one else seemed to have a care in the world. "But I'll answer anyway. No. Everything was good. At least it was until I met you." The chime sounded and the doors opened. Elisa breathed a sigh of relief. "My floor." She moved to exit the elevator car, skirting carefully around Ty. He moved to follow. "Please don't."
"Five minutes," Ty said. "Please. You owe me that much."
Did she? Elisa supposed that was fair. But five minutes or five years, she doubted she could find the words to explain what was happening between herself and Ty. She turned away and with fumbling fingers extracted her room card from the tiny black velvet bag that hung at her hip. She managed to open the door on the third try. Get a grip, Maza, she ordered sternly as she flipped on the lights and ushered Ty inside.
"So, married lady," Ty folded his arms across his chest and leaned against a tasteful ecru wall. "Why didn't you say anything?"
You hurt him, Elisa reminded herself. He's earned the right to vent. Still, her chin rose as she replied. "When? At the beach when you were picking my brain about how to be a cop? Or last night when you were giving me hair and makeup tips?"
His jaw worked with frustration. It was true while they'd talked about everything and nothing, they'd never come anywhere near the core of their personal lives. "You wore the flowers I sent you," he countered.
"I thought it would be rude not to," Elisa's voice rose as she realized she was in a damned if she do, damned if she don't scenario. "Besides," she said using the argument she'd tried at dinner. "It was just a corsage, not a dozen red roses." The argument hadn't improved since she'd offered it to Demona. It still sounded lame even to her ears.
"You should have said something." He launched off the wall and took her left hand in his. "No ring, not even a band mark. How was I to know?" Ty's fingers lingered over hers and Elisa felt her knees start to weaken. She pulled her hand away and stepped backward bumping the back of her shins against the coffee table. Her legs folded and she sat.
"I - It's complicated." Elisa could still feel the imprint of Ty's hand on hers. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Then why did you let me in?"
"I don't know. To apologize?" Elisa's vision was suddenly blurry and she blinked away tears of frustration. "I should have found a way to tell you. But it never seemed to be the right moment. We were having such a good time. I was having such a good time. Just doing normal things like walking on the beach in the sunshine. That doesn't happen very often in my life." She studied her hands for a minute then rubbed a corner of her eye when it threatened again to overflow. "There's something about you. I don't understand it. Everything else just seems to fade away."
"But I do understand!" Ty replied fervently. "Elisa, from the moment I saw you I knew that we were meant to be together." He took a step toward her and she stiffened. His face crumpled as he fought to explain. When he looked up again he was ruefully bemused. "I feel stupid," Ty admitted. "I wish I had a script in front of me, because there's no way I'm going to say this right. Elisa, I love you. I didn't fall in love with you when you insulted me in that limo, I didn't have to. You were already here in my heart."
Elisa looked at him, dumbfounded. It was true. What else could explain the feeling of utter completeness when he was near? Of yearning when he was absent? "How can this be?"
Ty shook his head. Mindful of Elisa's recent injury he gently brought her back to her feet. Her nerves sung as he slipped his arms around her waist. "I don't know. I only know what I feel." He placed his hand gently over his heart. "You're here, Elisa."
Elisa reached out with a curious expression and placed her hand over Ty's. He nodded, his dark eyes smiling as his fingers closed over hers. "You feel it too."
It was as if Demona had never interrupted their moment on the dance floor. Ty leaned down and Elisa closed the distance offering her mouth. His lips felt as she imagined they might, warm and soft and eager to please. A soft moan escaped her as the kiss deepened and she pressed the length of her body against his.
Her hands slipped easily to cup Ty's body at the nape of his neck and the small of his back. His in turn, were restless, one second stroking her hair, the next sending shivers along her spine as he caressed the bare skin over her collarbone.
Dimly, Elisa knew they should stop. That she should stop. But they continued to kiss. To touch. To explore each other's bodies eagerly not as first-time lovers, but with the familiarity of ones long parted enjoying a reunion.
She hadn't the will. She broke their body hug long enough to push the jacket of his tuxedo off his shoulders and send it sliding to the floor. Ty understood. He picked her up and carried her into the bedroom, lifting the hem of her long skirt and slipping the cradling arm against her stocking legs.
He set them both down on the bed, and Elisa shifted so that she could straddle her hips close around his waist. Old-fashioned pearl shirt studs scattered revealing the hard muscles of Ty's chest. Elisa dipped her head to his heart and kissed him there.
Ty sighed. The zipper of her gown whispered and he touched the bare skin at the small of her back. "My Elisa," he murmured.
"My Elisa," Elisa thought absently. "Someone else calls me- Goliath!" Her head rose with a snap and she looked on Ty with horror. "What are we doing?" She scissored her legs free of Ty's waist and stumbled as she rolled off the bed, catching her heel on the hem of her dress.
"Elisa? Elisa, what's wrong?" From the bed Ty stared in confusion. To lose her again so suddenly was like having half his soul severed. Dazed, he replayed the last few seconds as if reviewing a scene. He had kissed the point of her shoulder, tasting the smooth golden brown skin. She had run her hands down his chest, stopping to toy with the patch of coarse hair that trailed to his navel causing his erection to scrape roughly against the fabric of his trousers. He had reached around to undo her zipper and get the lovely, though inconvenient, black velvet dress out of his way so that he could make love to her properly and then he had run his fingers along the exposed length of her spine. She had sighed with pleasure as he called her name, and then she had said - "Goliath?"
Elisa yanked the sleeves of her dress back up over her shoulders. How on earth could she answer that question? She wrapped her arms around her frame, shivering as her body struggled to catch up with the sudden quelling of sexual need. "Married. Remember? You're not him."
"Isn't that -" Ty said, befuddled, as a conversation with Angela filtered to the front of his brain "My father, Goliath said-"
"My-" How had Goliath once explained things to her? Gargoyles regarded marriage as a convention of contracts and property. To take a mate was so much more. "He's my mate," Elisa finished with a shaking breath. "Goliath is my mate. And I've betrayed him."
Ty bowed his head. "Oh god, Elisa. I'm sorry. I don't know what happened. One minute I was trying to explain to you what was going on in my head and in my heart and the next -"
"I was there. I know."
"He's a gargoyle," Ty realized suddenly, "this Goliath. He's the leader of the Manhattan Clan. That's why you don't wear a ring. Angela doesn't and neither does Broadway."
Elisa shook her head and tried to explain. "Gargoyles do exchange tokens of affection, but I don't wear a ring. It's for my protection as much as his. People would ask questions that we aren't ready to answer."
"You love him," Ty said intently. "You love a gargoyle."
"You belong to P.I.T. What's the problem?" Elisa challenged. "Are they good enough to make a political cause out of, but not good enough to bring home to Mama and Daddy?"
Ty stared at the carpet. "Don't go putting words in my mouth, girl."
"Don't call me 'girl'."
"Fine. Lady," Ty corrected just as sharply. "You've thrown me for a loop. First you sashay into my life and steal my heart, and then you tell me you're married to a gargoyle. It's not fair."
"No," Elisa agreed. "It's not. I've treated you horribly and I'm sorry for it. I don't know what's gotten in to me."
"Let's not start that again, I'm going to need a long cold shower as is." Ty got up off the bed and started to do up his shirt. He picked up a pearl stud that had strayed near the pillows and pinned it in a top hole. He managed a second then realized that the others had scattered out of easy reach. "I'll get the rest some other time."
"Ty," Elisa said miserably. "I'm sorry. I wish things could be different."
"I know, Elisa." He passed through into the living room and pulled his tuxedo jacket roughly over his shoulders. "So do I." Ty wrenched the door handle opened and passed through quickly leaving the door to close by itself. Elisa watched it swing slowly back into the frame and when it failed to latched with a soft click she did nothing but stare as tears coursed softly down bloodless cheeks.
* * * * *
Sunday, February 23, 2003
Pack Media Studios, Burbank
Hyena peered around the edge of the doorframe, eyeing the motley crew that had just entered the building. "Check it out," she said. "The guests of dishonor have arrived."
Jackal joined her at the dressing room door and took a closer look with his telescoping cybernetic eye. Broadway and Angela were conversing with Fox and the show's director. Nearby stood Demona, accompanied by the petite blonde who had also been at her elbow outside the convention center the night before. Lingering at the rear of the group was the final member of the gargoyle couple's entourage, a dark-haired woman in horn-rimmed glasses, low-slung heels, and a tailored sky blue pantsuit. The tiny servos whirred as Jackal focused in. "Ah, Detective Maza," he murmured. "What a pleasant surprise."
"Yes, how nice of you to join us." Hyena nudged her brother back and pulled the door shut as Fox gestured for the others to follow and started down the hallway. "Three guesses why she's here," she grumbled, "and the first two don't count."
"Why, to play bodyguard and keep an eye out for trouble, no doubt." Jackal tore a final piece of duct tape from the roll that he held and handed it off to his sister. He looked on as she applied it to the lips of the unconscious woman who lay slumped in the closet. Beside her was her male counterpart. Both of them were wrapped from head to toe in silvery-gray cocoons, and the placement of the last strip left only their eyes uncovered.
"Too bad its her precious gargoyles who'll be causing the most of it," Hyena replied. She closed the closet door and locked it. "I hope she has a front row seat."
Jackal glanced at the clock on the wall. "Half an hour 'til showtime, sis," he said. He gathered up the pair of feathered costumes the performers had been wearing when they had been lured into the room and knocked out cold. "Here," he said, tossing the smaller one to Hyena, "it looks like you're the new understudy for Susie Seagull."
Hyena examined the bulky outfit with a critical eye. Getting into it, she realized, was going to be a lot like putting on a snowsuit over a suit of armor. Gingerly, she attempted to dress. The legs went fairly easy as the bird feet were way oversized, but slipping her arms into wings turned into a minor struggle. Hyena wriggled and tugged, trying hard not to rip the seams as she pushed her hands down the sleeves and into the hidden gloves. She scowled as she looked up and caught her brother smirking. "Laugh all you want, Pete Pelican," she complained. "This gig's for the birds."
* * *
"Right this way, everyone," Fox intoned. She ushered the small group of gargoyles and humans into the lounge, then brushed back the sleeve of her suit jacket for a quick glance at her watch. "Okay, people, we've got about fifteen minutes while they finish seating the audience. I'll be back in ten to help everyone to take their places. Until then, the Green Room is yours. Elisa," she said, smiling as she turned to the dark-haired woman, "since you're my assistant, I believe that puts you in charge of the class while I'm gone."
"Um, sure thing," Elisa replied. She gave a nod as Fox departed, clipboard in hand, to attend to what was surely a hundred other last minute details.
"I wonder why they call this the 'Green Room'," Broadway commented. He scratched his head as he surveyed the surroundings. "The carpet's blue and the walls are beige."
Angela chuckled and took her mate by the arm. "I think it's just show business lingo." She smiled and gestured toward the buffet table along the far wall. "There might be something green over there, though."
Broadway turned and his expression lit up as he spied the selection of sandwiches, vegetables, dips, and desserts. "Whoa! Guess it's a good thing I didn't fill up at dinner."
Demona rolled her eyes as the big gargoyle bee-lined for the food with her daughter in tow. Some gentle prompting from her own mate, though, soon had her venturing over to join them in examining the pickings. "Oh, Andrea, look," she said, "chocolate-covered strawberries." Delicately, she plucked one from the tray with her talons and held it out for the other woman to take a bite.
Elisa, absorbed in her own thoughts, paid scant attention as the blonde artist and the azure gargoyle momentarily slipped from character to feed each other candied fruit. Absently, she rubbed at her elbow and stifled a yawn. She had managed a respectable eight hours of sleep in the past twenty-four, but most of it had been fitful, plagued with unsettling dreams whose details continued to elude her upon waking. All of the restless tossing and turning had wreaked havoc on her injured arm, leaving her more sore upon awakening she had been when she went to bed.
Waking up to an aching shoulder and a stiff elbow had been just the start of what so far had been a very trying day. At the luncheon that marked the close of the convention, she had felt like the odd woman out as Fox, Dominique, and Andrea plotted out how to make the most back home of all the good publicity the weekend's events had garnered for P.I.T. Unable to add anything of substance to the discussion, she resigned herself instead to taking notes like the diligent secretary she was pretending to be. Keeping up with their rapid-fire conversation was something of a challenge, but the task at least offered a distraction from the fact that Ty Clearwater was sitting just two tables away.
At the post-dress rehearsal dinner with the Sunny Shores cast, though, Elisa had not been as fortunate. She had done her best to keep her distance at the studio, and upon the group's arrival at the banquet hall she dodged Ty again by making a quick trip to the ladies room. In her absence, the others were seated, and she arrived at her table to find that the only remaining open seat was the one right next to his. Panicked, Elisa froze, her eyes darting to the other end of the table. She had hoped to find someone willing to change seats, but Fox was engaged in conversation with Broadway and Angela, and Andrea was busily chatting with the actor who played the Mayor of Sunny Shores.
"Would you care to have a seat, Detective?" Demona, sitting at the end of the table, gestured at the empty chair to her right. "Or would you rather stand a bit longer?" She smiled demurely. "I won't bite, you know."
"Elisa, there you are." Ty looked up and Elisa knew she was caught. "I was wondering where you'd gotten off to."
Flustered, she sat, managing a quick "Hello," as she scooted herself in. She wasn't sure what else to say. A moment late, the wait staff arrived and began setting out bread and salads, so she settled on, "Please pass the rolls," deciding that her best course of action was to keep her mouth full and avoid small talk altogether. If she just kept her eyes on her plate, she rationalized, maybe she survive the meal without succumbing to the insane desires that were again welling within her.
It made no sense, she had kept telling herself. They had resolved this already, so why did she still feel this way? Soon, the salad bowls had been cleared away to make room for main course. Elisa picked at her food, struggling to maintain composure. Discreetly, she stole a glance at him, wondering if his stomach was dancing with a million butterflies just as hers was. He had barely touched the chicken, and he had sculpted his uneaten mashed potatoes into a miniature mountain range, just as she had done.
Ty chuckled at some joke told by the heavy-set, bespectacled comedian who sat across from him, and Elisa couldn't help thinking how wonderful the sound of his laugh was. Ty looked over to find her staring at him. Elisa blinked and was forced to grasp for words once again. "The pepper," she stammered. "Could you pass the pepper?"
"Of course, Elisa."
Their fingers brushed as he handed her the cut crystal shaker, and a chill raced down her spine. "Thank you," she breathed. She set the pepper shaker down without using it and let her hand drop back to the edge of the table, then slip below. Ty mirrored her movements, their eyes never breaking contact. Elisa's heartbeat quickened. With a trembling hand, she reached under the table for his.
"You're so fidgety tonight, Detective." At the sound of Demona's imperious voice, Elisa abruptly drawn back her hand. Tearing her gaze from Ty, she whirled about to find the gargoyle flashing a fanged grin. "Are you sure you're feeling well?"
The dark-haired woman blinked as the here-and-now reasserted itself. Andrea was standing before her, waving a hand in front of her face. Elisa shook her head to clear it. "I'm sorry, Andrea, what?"
Andrea gave an amiable smile. "I asked if you were feeling well. You've seemed a bit distracted all day. Is there anything I can do?"
Elisa glanced across the room at Demona. Twice now, the gargoyle had been there to interrupt at a fortuitous moment and revel in her embarrassment. The immortal sorceress had promised revenge for the stunt that had been pulled on her in the plane, and there was no denying that something strange had been influencing her. Could it possibly be magic of some sort? Could Demona have cast a spell on her, thinking it would be fun sport to catch her in a moment of careless intimacy as she had attempted to do by locking the lavatory door on Dominique Destine and her lover?
Suddenly, the scenario seemed all too plausible. And as much as she hated to make the accusation, she simply had to know. "Yes, Andrea," she replied at last. "I think there is. Can you get Angela away from Broadway, and come join me in the hall?"
* * *
Elisa hustled Angela and Andrea into the alcove of the women's bathroom. "Hurry up, in here," she hissed. "I need to talk to you."
"What is it, Elisa?" Angela asked quietly, her face a mask of concern. "What's the matter?"
The detective took a deep breath and blurted, "Did your mother put some kind of whammy on me?"
"A spell," Elisa clarified. "In retaliation for the prank I pulled on her and Andrea." She touched the artist's hand. "I'm really sorry about that."
"I know." Andrea smiled kindly. "It was an honest mistake. You couldn't have known all the reasons, Domi had for -" She blushed. "What kind of spell?"
Elisa rolled her eyes. "Oh, I don't know. A love spell, maybe? So that she could laugh her tail off as I made a fool of myself over a lamp post or a Hollywood actor?"
Elisa nodded at her step-daughter. "Deadly."
Angela closed her eyes for a moment, focusing her energy. When she opened them again she whispered, "Reveal." Her eyes widened as she studied the air around the troubled woman.
"Not a spell." Her talons' closed around Andrea's wrist. "Can you see it?"
Elisa was tempted to flee again as the pair studied her with unfocused eyes and great concentration.
"Her aura," Andrea whispered. "It's so strange." She paused. "Out of balance."
"What are you talking about?"
Angela released Andrea's hand and took a breath as she tried to find the right words. "Your aura reflects the state of your soul. Some people's, Andrea's for example, are new to this realm. They haven't lived many lives. Consequently, they're able to look at the world around them with an openness and innocence that is lost to others. The colors of their aura reflect that youth and innocence. Yours, on the other hand, is an old soul, and your aura is complex, reflecting the many lives you've lived. Each life, it leaves an imprint on your aura."
At Elisa's skeptical look, Angela smiled gently. "I know this sounds strange. And I'm not doing a very good job of explaining. But just hear me out. Something is pulling your aura out of balance. The older aspects of your soul, the energies are pulsing in a way I've never seen before. I don't understand it."
Andrea looked thoughtful. "Past life regression," she said softly.
"What?" Elisa looked doubtful. "You mean like Shirley MacLaine and the reincarnation of some Egyptian queen?"
"I'll admit that most people who attempt the regression fall victim to hypnotic suggestion," Andrea said matter-of-factly. "I myself, until I was introduced to true magic, once believed that I was Toltec princess. That was before. But in the proper hands you can be regressed. You can find out about your past lives and maybe figure out what is going on in this life."
Elisa still looked unconvinced. "I don't know. It sounds so," she struggled for a word that wouldn't offend her kinswomen.
"Don't be afraid to say it, Elisa," Andrea's smile was self-depreciating. "It sounds like airy-fairy New Age crap. Except in this case, it's real."
"And you can do it?"
"I could get mother to help," Angela offered. "She is the most experienced sorceress among us."
"No!" Elisa said sharply. Even with their hatchets buried the idea of Demona crawling around inside her head made her blood run cold. "That's okay. I'm sure you girls can handle this. Just tell me when we can get started."
"I'll need some candles," Angela mused out loud. "And a crystal. Quartz or amethyst."
"I have both," Andrea replied. She smiled sheepishly. "I carry them for luck."
"It will have to be after the show ends," Angela added. "We'll need to make some kind of excuse so that we can go straight back to the hotel." She asked Elisa, "Would that be all right?"
"Great. Perfect," Elisa replied. She took a deep breath and looked at herself in the gilded mirror. Goliath stared back at her, the hurt plain in his depthless black eyes. She blinked and the image disappeared to be replaced by her own troubled visage. She smoothed her hair to give herself something to do and wondered how she was going to explain. How had her feelings for Ty, a man she had known for less than seventy-two hours, become so complex? She loved Goliath, heart, mind, body and soul, and yet she had barely thought of him since she had landed in Los Angeles. What was wrong with her?
"Elisa," Angela touched her sleeve softly. "Whatever this is, we will help you find the cause."
"I know. I'm not worried," she lied. "In the meantime, you've both got a show to do, so I'd better stop keeping you and let you get to it. Come on."
Forcing her features into a mask of serenity, Elisa linked arms with Angela and Andrea and escorted them both from the lounge.
* * *
"Good luck, my daughter. 'Break a leg,' as they say." Demona gave Angela a smile and a quick hug, then turned to Andrea and took her hand. "Ready, my dear?" Andrea nodded, and together they left to take their places in the studio audience.
Angela watched them go, then turned to Fox. "Have you see Broadway?"
"He's in make-up. Martín insisted on giving him a final touch-up." She checked her gold watch again. "We're starting in ten minutes. Elisa, why don't you come with me?" Fox put her arm around the dark-haired woman's shoulders. "I think I know just the spot for you to watch the show from."
Angela gave Elisa's hand a reassuring squeeze, then left her two human friends and went to find her mate. "Broadway," she called as she entered the make-up room, "Fox says we're on in ten minutes."
"Hey, babe." Broadway sat facing the mirror as Martín applied a final dusting of powder to his hairless head.
"Voila," the man declared. "No more unsightly shine. The camera will love you now." Martín stepped away as Broadway rose to join Angela. He returned from the back room a moment later, bearing a tray with a plate of cookies, a pair of glasses, and a pitcher of lemonade. "Compliments of Mr. Tremaine," he explained, "with apologies for his outburst the other night."
Angela raised a brow ridge in surprise. "Thank you," she replied. She exchanged a glance with Broadway as Martín set the tray on the counter. They were both too nervous to eat anything else, but they knew that declining this unexpected gesture would be rude. After a moment's pause, Angela picked up the pitcher and poured. Keeping one glass for herself, she handed the second to her mate. "To Sunny Shores," she said, holding up her glass.
"And to us," Broadway added. He clinked his glass against hers, and together they drank.
Martín smiled as the two gargoyles drained their glasses and went back to his station to tidy up. The empty vial secreted in his pocket had contained enough PCP to send a bull elephant into fits, and the unwitting monsters didn't even have a clue that they had both just drugged themselves.
"We're live in five," the assistant producer declared, poking his head in the door. "Let's go, you two." He clapped his clipboard against the doorframe. "Chop, chop."
"Good luck," Martín said as the man hustled the two gargoyles from his make-up room. "I'm sure you'll kill out there," he added under his breath. He leaned out the door to watch them go, then gave a thumbs up to the pair of six-foot seabirds who had poked their heads out from around the corner of the hallway.
"Phase two, check," Jackal whispered from inside the stuffy, oversized head of the pelican costume.
Hyena bounced on webbed feet and chuckled with glee. "Let the fun begin!"
* * *
"What did I tell you, Elisa?" Fox said as the dark-haired woman trailed her through the door. "Best seat in the house." The production booth was abuzz with activity. The crew had already taken their places, and the technicians were completing their final checks of the lights and the sound system.
Elisa gave the array of monitors on the console in front of her a skeptical glance. "So," she asked, "what exactly am I supposed to do?"
"Enjoy the show," Fox replied. She pointed the woman toward the panoramic window that overlooked the stage. "Just don't touch anything and you'll be fine." Fox donned a headset and moved to the producer's side. "Are we ready to make television history, Simon?"
"All systems go, Mrs. Xanatos," he replied. "Okay, everyone," he said, addressing the room. "On my mark in five… four… three…"
"Live, from Pack Media Studios in Burbank, California," the announcer boomed, "it's The Sunny Shores Show!"
As the opening theme began to play, Mayor Randolph, the lead player and host of the show, bounded onto the set. His entrance drew an immediate chorus of cheers from the younger members of the studio audience and a round of enthusiastic applause from the older ones. On cue, he launched into song, belting the first verse of a welcoming refrain in a boisterous voice. With an encouraging wave of the hand, the energetic man soon had many of the children singing along with him as he strolled along the boardwalk of the make-believe seaside town.
Fox watched, a satisfied smirk upon her face, as the music ended and the show got underway. For the pro-gargoyle movement, tonight's nationwide broadcast would mark the kickoff of a new media campaign designed to increase public awareness of P.I.T. and their mission. Broadening the organization's support base beyond the coasts was critical if the lobbyists in Washington were to succeed in pushing the final pieces of legislation through the Senate. For Pack Media Studios, though, whose resources Fox frequently tapped in pursuing her work with P.I.T., tonight was quite simply all about the ratings. Timing Broadway and Angela's appearance to coincide with the final night of February sweeps might have been enough for most television executives, but combining it with a charity benefit for children's cancer research was what had truly transformed it into a masterwork of public relations.
Out on the set, the action had moved to the docks, where a clipper ship with the jolly roger flying upon the mast sat at anchor. Captain Braveheart and his pirate crew had arrived, and the men were crowding the gap in the rail as they argued over who among them would be the first down the gangplank. With a well-placed boot to one of the sailors' backsides, the Captain settled the quarrel, sending the first mate tumbling down the ramp. "Arr! Get movin', mateys!" he ordered. "We don't want to be late!"
The command set off a mad scramble, with the pirates and their seabird shipmates descending en masse from the boat. All total, the group amounted to nearly a dozen people. A half-minute more found them assembled on one side of the town square, Captain Braveheart at their fore. On the other side, a number of the townsfolk had gathered. In their midst was Mayor Randolph.
"Wonderful, wonderful," he declared, clapping his hands, "everyone is here! Now we can properly greet our special visitors." He stepped out from the crowd to address the audience. "I'd like each and every one of you to help welcome them, as well. Are you ready, boys and girls?"
"Yes, Mayor Randolph!" was the cry that rose in reply from the rows of children and their celebrity chaperones.
"Terrific! Then let's all give a great big 'hello' to our new friends from New York City, Angela and Broadway!" He lifted his hand, gesturing to stage right. As the gargoyle couple entered, the audience erupted in applause.
"Hello, Angela and Broadway!" they chorused in unison with the Mayor and the rest of
the cast. Fox glanced at the feed from camera four and grinned. Andrea and Demona sat in the third row amidst a gaggle of grade-schoolers. As the human woman led the cheer, the azure gargoyle stood and clapped, flashing a fanged smile of unadulterated pride. Her actions caused a ripple effect as those around her also rose from their seats. In the space of a few seconds, the entire audience was on their feet.
Broadway and Angela paused, momentarily taken aback by the unrehearsed standing ovation. They traded a glance, then raised their hands to wave back at the crowd. "Thank you," Angela said as they resumed the short trek to center stage. "Thank you, all." Coming off the last step from the boardwalk, she staggered slightly. Broadway steadied her, taking her hand as Mayor Randolph stepped forward with open arms.
"Welcome to Sunny Shores, my friends!"
"It's a pleasure to be here," the big gargoyle replied, taking care to enunciate each word. He looked to his mate as the applause finally abated and the audience retook their seats. "Angela and I just flew in from Manhattan," he said, "and boy are our wings tired."
Fox shook her head in bemusement, contemplating the odd mental image of Broadway in a brown hat and a polka-dotted bandana, punctuating his riff on the old joke with a hearty "Wocka, wocka, wocka!" Luckily, the line worked perfectly as a segue into the lively round of corny banter that followed. Neither the pirates or the townspeople knew quite what to make of the winged visitors, and a spirited debate ensued as they attempted to deduce what kind of birds Broadway and Angela were.
"Ostriches?" suggested one of the pirates.
"Don't be daft, mate," the sailor beside him replied. "Ostriches can't fly."
"Eagles!" cried another of Braveheart's men. "No, wait… condors!"
"Pigeons!" exclaimed Miss Emily, the town's postmistress. "There's millions of pigeons in New York City!" she insisted as the audience laughed, "That's got to be it!"
At last, Mayor Randolph quieted the others, allowing Broadway and Angela to explain that they were not birds at all. "We're gargoyles," she stated proudly, "and tonight…"
A grumble of irritation drew Fox's attention away from the action on the stage. She looked over to find Elisa standing just a few feet away, staring intently over the video technician's shoulder at one of the many monitors. "Why is talking to her again?" Elisa muttered. Fox followed her gaze to the screen. Camera five had panned to the section of the audience where Ty Clearwater sat, and the actor's head was half turned as he conversed with the fashionably attired pop singer and part-time actress seated in the next row back. He pointed toward the stage, and the woman smiled and laughed. As she leaned forward and touched Ty's forearm, Elisa uttered a sound that was nearly a growl.
Fox put a hand on the woman's shoulder and gave an apologetic smile to the technician, who looked as though his last nerve was ready to fray. "Elisa," she said softly, moving her away from the console.
Elisa blinked and shook her head. "Yes, Fox?"
Fox eyed her friend carefully. "What's with you tonight, Elisa?" She paused and gave a half smirk. "You're as tense as a long-tailed cat in a roomful of rocking chairs, as your good friend Ty might say."
Elisa flinched at the mention of the man's name, but covered it quickly by forcing a smile. "I'm fine, Fox."
"Are you now?" Fine. Frustrated, Insane, Neurotic, and Emotional, or so the adage went. Fox regarded her friend a moment longer. Somehow doubting the woman would appreciate the humor, she kept the thought to herself. "You're sure about that?" she queried.
"Yes," Elisa replied.
Her tone, though pleasant, indicated that she did not want to have this conversation now. Fox could understand. A crowded room was the last place she expected that Elisa would give in and discuss the details of what had happened the night before, after she and Ty had fled the ballroom. Demona had quietly bragged about catching them in a lip lock out on the dance floor. At first, Fox had assumed the gargoyle was fibbing, but Elisa's odd behavior throughout the day had lent more and more credence to her claim. Now, Fox found herself wondering what was truly going on between them. Was Detective Elisa Maza, one of the most straight-laced people she knew, engaging in an illicit fling with a handsome Hollywood actor? It seemed almost impossible to imagine.
The dulcet tones of Angela's voice chimed over her headset, pulling Fox's thoughts back to the task at hand. "Then we'll talk about this later, Elisa," she stated, "back at the hotel. Okay?" Elisa nodded in acquiescence, and Fox spared a glance at the stage. As per the script, Mayor Randolph had yielded the floor to the gargoyles, and Angela had begun to tell a story. "Now come on," Fox implored, "this is the best part, and I know you don't want to miss it."
"No, I don't," Elisa replied. Continuing to play it cool, she returned a smile of her own. "Not after coming all this way. I think Angela would kill me."
"That's the spirit," Fox chuckled. "Think happy thoughts." She kept the woman at her side as she returned to her supervisory post, surreptitiously steering her away from the video monitors.
Elisa drew a steadying breath. For the time being, at least, she had managed to avert a thorough interrogation. If she kept herself focused, she was certain she could hold out until the end of the broadcast without again making a fool of herself. Then she could get out of there, go back to her hotel room, and turn herself over to Angela and Andrea, so that they could hopefully work whatever hocus-pocus was needed to help her figure out what was going on.
To that end, Elisa forced herself to concentrate on the show, listening as Angela regaled the cast and the studio audience with a familiar fable. She had heard her clan-daughter's rendition of "The Ugly Duckling" often enough in recent months that she could nearly recite it herself, word for word. The story had become a staple feature of the children's outreach program that P.I.T. had started up in conjunction with the biweekly seminars that had been making the rounds of the New York area's public libraries. By providing activities for the children while their parents attended the educational workshops, Andrea had explained, P.I.T. would become even more family-friendly.
At first, Elisa had been skeptical that many parents would warm to the idea of a childcare program where one of the sitters was a gargoyle. At the first session, only about a dozen children had been present, and half of them had been those of the veteran P.I.T. staffers who were running the main program down the hall. As word of a chance to meet a real live gargoyle had spread through the grade school grapevine, however, the attendance had grown and grown. The program had now become so popular, in fact, that Andrea and Angela had recently recruited Sata and the twins to help out.
Elisa smiled, hopeful that Angela's apparent appeal to the school-age set would translate as well over television as it did in person. If the figures quoted in the information packet Fox had given her were correct, Angela was sharing Hans Christian Andersen's classic tale about tolerance with an audience that numbered in the tens of the millions. It was a proud moment for her as well as the clan, and Elisa had no doubt that back home on the east coast, the residents of Castle Wyvern were glued to the television.
"That was when the duckling saw himself mirrored in the water," Angela said. The female gargoyle hesitated, blinking her eyes as if a camera flash had suddenly gone off. "Only now," she continued, "he no longer s-saw a s-strange little bird with gray feathers. In-s-stead, he s-saw a beautiful white s-swan!"
Elisa laid a hand on Fox's shoulder. "Is it just me," she whispered, "or is she…"
"No, I hear it, too." She frowned and tapped at her headset. "What's wrong with the mike? I thought we triple-checked everything."
The technicians working the audio boards were already flipping knobs and sliding levers. "I don't think that's the mike, Mrs. Xanatos," stated the woman who headed the crew. She toggled back and forth again between the secondary feeds. "That's her."
"No. It can't be," Fox stated. "Check her levels."
As sound crew continued to work on the problem, Angela finished telling her story and rose to receive a round of applause. Taking Broadway's proffered hand, she swayed unsteadily. Everything seemed hazy. The figures around her swam in and out of focus, and the voices she heard sounded as though they were coming from underwater. Angela put a hand to her head, struggling with a sudden wave of dizziness as the action continued around her.
With much fanfare and celebration, two of the pirates brought forward an oversized treasure chest, which was opened to reveal a bounty of chocolate cupcakes. Angela inched back, seeking refuge at Broadway's wing as a hoard of goblins swarmed onto the stage and surrounded them. Gasping, she did a double-take and the hideous mob of creatures reverted to the children from the front row. As they clambered for a tasty handout from Captain Braveheart, Angela clung to her mate's arm.
"Did you s-see that?" she whispered.
Broadway snagged a cupcake from the tray as one of the studio staff, dressed as a pirate extra, swept by to make sure the rest of the children in the audience received their fair share of the booty. "See what, Ang?" He placed the tiny dessert cake in her talons and smiled. "Whoa, look at that! There's two big swans in here!" Wide-eyed, he stared in wonderment at the pair of costumed characters who bracketed the swashbuckling pirate captain.
Angela's eyes narrowed, the goblins from a few seconds ago forgotten as she gave Pete Pelican and Susie Seagull a long, hard stare. "Maybe that one's a s-swan," she slurred, pointing at Pete, "but that one there," she went on, indicating Susie, "that's just one ugly duck."
The bird in question cocked her head, glaring back at the gargoyle with beady, glassy eyes. "Look who's talking," she retorted under her breath. "As if you're some prize, you little bat-winged bitch!"
Pete stepped forward to put a wing on Susie's shoulder. "Shut up, sis!" he whispered. By then, however, it was too late. Even in his partially befuddled state, Broadway recognized the voice instantly. "Hyena!" he cried, his eyes burning white as he flared his wings.
"Where?" Angela went immediately into a defensive posture, talons and fangs bared as she scanned the stage for danger.
Broadway dove for the six-foot seagull. Hyena attempted a sideways dodge, but it was hard to move fast with webbed feet. The enraged gargoyle caught her about the middle, driving her backwards like a linebacker sacking the quarterback. As they plowed into the unsuspecting trio of pirates behind them, the head of her costume jostled loose and the trays the extras held went flying, sending dozens of frosted cupcakes raining into the audience.
Feathers flew and the audience roared with laughter as Broadway slammed Susie Seagull to the ground. Hyena groaned as the burly gargoyle pinned her. Seizing her wrists in his talons, Broadway held her restrained and glowered down at her. "What are you doing here?" he demanded.
Hyena ceased her struggling and glared back at him. "What are you doing, big boy?" she replied saucily. "I thought this was a family show."
"Great. Just great," Jackal muttered. He yanked off the stuffy costume head and tossed it aside. "Let's go, Captain," he said, taking Cyrus by the forearm. "It's time to find higher ground."
Angela jumped back as the severed head of a large bird rolled to her feet. Looking up, she spotted a matching feathered body that now sported the head of a man. "Jackal!" she growled, recognition dawning. Eyes flashing red, Angela gave an angry hiss and lobbed the only weapon that she had at hand.
Jackal recoiled in surprise as something soft and gooey hit him in the forehead. The cupcake stuck for a second, then fell away to leave a smear of chocolate icing. He spun about to glare at the thrower only to spy more of the frosted projectiles sailing straight towards him. Jackal tucked and rolled, narrowly avoiding a pelting as several of the children in the audience, following Angela's lead, hurled their cupcakes at him.
"Food fight!" shouted a pre-teen boy in the middle rows. With that, the war was on. Hoots of laughter and the mad rustle of small bodies filled the studio as dozens of children hopped from their seats and began flinging their uneaten treats every which way.
"Bloody hell, what are they doing up there?" Burt Shipley demanded. Seemingly oblivious to the volley of cupcakes that arched overhead, he stormed up to Fox, waving a copy of the script. "They weren't supposed to improvise!"
Fox brushed past the frazzled director and continued down the aisle. There was no time for extraneous discussion. She needed to regain control of her studio before her gate-crashing former costars could do any more damage. Elisa was close on her heels, and as she neared the end of their row, she waved Demona and Andrea over.
"Don't ask questions," she said, forestalling the pair before they could speak, "just listen and do what you're told." Fox gave a few terse commands, enlisting Demona to help her deal with Broadway and instructing Elisa to take care of Angela. "Treat them as hostile," she cautioned. "I don't know what's wrong with them, but they are not themselves right now." Another cupcake flew past, and the redhead gave an exasperated sigh. "Andrea," she ordered, "please see if you can get these kids to cease and desist."
"Sure, give me the hardest job," the artist grumped as the other three women scattered.
"What are you waiting for?" Cyrus implored as he cowered on the catwalk. "Those crazy beasts are on a rampage. Let's get out of here while we still can!"
Jackal flashed a dangerous smile. "Leave now and miss all the action? I don't think so, Captain." He leaned over the rail, reveling in the chaos on the stage below. Hyena had managed to flip Broadway onto his back and gain the upper hand as they grappled, while Angela had scrambled on all fours to center stage and hunkered down beside the pirates' chest. Armed with a fresh supply of ammo, she was growling incoherently and pitching the tiny cakes at anyone who dared to approach. "Ouch!" Jackal winced in mock sympathy as Mayor Randolph caught one in the face. "You know, it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye."
"Get back," Elisa barked, waving the man off as he pulled a handkerchief from his breast pocket to wipe the chocolate from his nose. "Angela," she intoned, "listen to me. Put the cupcake down!" Only after the words had left her mouth did she realize how ridiculous they sounded. Spoken in her "cop voice," however, the command produced the desired effect. Angela paused and turned, giving her full attention to the dark-haired woman who stood in the wings, just beyond the glow of the stage lights. "That's it, Angela," Elisa said, maintaining an authoritative tone. "Put it down and come here."
Angela glared daggers back at her. Snarling in defiance, she raised her arm and wound up for a throw.
"No!" Elisa shouted. Scowling, she stood her ground and locked eyes with the agitated gargoyle. "I said put it down!"
Angela froze, and the cupcake slipped from her talons and plopped to the floor. "Elisa?" she muttered, blinking her eyes. She swayed unsteadily, tail twitching spastically, and rubbed at her brow in confusion.
"Yes, Angela. It's me." Elisa softened her tone. "Come here," she repeated. "Let me help you."
Angela sank back to her haunches, overwhelmed by a rush of vertigo. "Come here, Angie." Angela shook her head, staring in shock at the figure who suddenly appeared before her. Jezebella, as haughty and proud as ever, crooked a taloned finger to beckon her closer. "Come along," she said imperiously, holding up a leash. "Heel, girl."
"No!" Angela roared, launching herself at the clone. A split-second later, she felt a dull thud and everything went black.
Elisa hurried to her stepdaughter's side and checked her vitals. A soft moan escaped the gargoyle's lips, and Elisa gave a small sigh of relief. "Sorry, Angela," she said contritely, "but it was for your own good." She pushed the heavy sandbag aside and examined the bump it had left on the back of Angela's head. "Just like in the movies," she mused, still amazed that the trick had even worked. Grimly, she gathered up the fallen length of rope and set to work binding Angela's wrists behind her back. "Better safe than sorry," she consoled herself, recalling the fury she had just witnessed.
"Good work, detective." Demona knelt at Angela's feet and snatched up a second piece of rope in her talons. "Just make sure those knots are tight," she advised as she looped several coils about the unconscious female's ankles.
Elisa raised an eyebrow at Demona's oddly cool demeanor. She peeled off her suit jacket and folded it into a makeshift pillow. "I thought you were taking care of Broadway," she said as she slipped it gently beneath Angela's head.
"He's been dealt with," the azure gargoyle replied. She cinched her rope snug, then leaned forward to double-check Elisa's handiwork. "I know you're not going to be too happy about this when you awake, my daughter," she said as she gave the bonds a final sharp tug, "but until we can figure out what's gotten into you and your mate, I'm afraid keeping you both restrained is the safest course of action." Demona smiled fondly and trailed her knuckles over Angela's brow ridge, eliciting a murmur of contentment from the slumbering gargoyle. "Here, detective." Taking the Elisa's hand, she guided the woman in emulating the caress. "This will help keep her calm," she explained. "Stay close," she added as she rose. "I have one more thing to do."
Back out the set, Broadway was trying to make sense of the strange predicament he suddenly found himself in. "Come on, guys," he shouted, "this isn't funny anymore!" The more he struggled, the more hopelessly entangled he became in the cargo net that had been dropped on him. Dizzy and exhausted, he slumped to the ground and sighed, wondering if anyone could even hear him over the excited shouts of the children, or see him among the hundreds of red, white, and blue balloons that had cascaded down from the ceiling. Absently, he swatted at one with his tail and gave a yawn as he watched it float past. "Boy, I sure could go for a nap right about now." He yawned again, so wide that it made his eyes water. What had he been doing a few minutes ago, anyway? "I guess it wasn't anything important," he decided. Settling his head against his hand, Broadway closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.
"Looks like it's just you and me, Hyena." Fox smirked, eyeing the feathered costume. "Or should I call you Susie?"
Hyena staggered back to her oversized webbed feet, still reeling from the spinning kick the woman had blindsided her with. The big blue gargoyle she had been about to slice and dice had vanished, and the front portion of the stage was now a sea of balloons. Hyena's eyes narrowed as she stared down the former Pack leader. Splaying her fingers, she unsheathed her claws. They ripped easily through the costume's gloves and glistened in the stage lights. "You want a piece of me, rich girl?"
"Careful now," Fox replied. "There's not many pieces of 'you' left inside that tin can. Maybe you should think twice about that offer."
"Bitch!" Hyena growled. She sank into a fighting stance. "What's the matter? Afraid to face me without your precious power armor?"
Fox shed her suit jacket. "I'm just trying to save you the embarrassment of having your butt kicked while wearing that outfit."
"Yes! Cat fight!" Jackal shouted from the catwalk. "Go on, sis! Rip her royal highness a new one!"
Cyrus stared over the railing in disbelief. "Is she insane? This wasn't part of our plan," he fumed. "Damn it, Jackal, call off your hothead sister and get me out of here!"
The smile on Jackal's face went flat as he spotted movement in the shadows behind his sibling. Zooming in for a closer look, he could make out the unmistakable outline of a gargoyle readying to pounce. "Hyena, behind you!" he hollered. His sister did not react. The crowd noise was too loud, and all of her attention was focused on Fox. The redhead was not trading clever insults just to be facetious, he realized. She was keeping Hyena distracted while Demona crept up from behind.
"Where the hell are you going?" Cyrus yelled. He grabbed Jackal's arm as the man planted a foot on the railing. "I said get me out of here!"
"Out of my way, little man!" Jackal growled. Roughly, he shoved Cyrus aside and vaulted off the overhead walkway. Cyrus staggered backwards as the metal grating lurched beneath him, knocking him off balance. He fought for a foothold, but his fancy pirate boots had no traction. Arms flailing, he bumped into the rail, teetered precariously, and toppled over.
"Look out, sis!" Jackal landed with a thud, took one loping step, and tackled Hyena just as she lunged for Fox's throat. At the same instant, Demona broke cover, springing from atop a wooden crate with wings spread. The gargoyle screeched a battle cry, but her talons grasped only air as the duo tumbled off the stage. Demona growled in frustration. Eyes glowing like brilliant embers, she sailed out over the audience and banked around for another attempt.
"Help!" Cyrus squeaked. Frantically, he kicked at empty space, searching for a purchase that didn't exist as his fingers slowly slipped from the rail.
Demona's head snapped up at the cry. She spotted him just as he began to fall. Lashing her tail, she aborted the attack and swooped instead into a shallow dive, drawing in her wings to gain the additional speed she needed to intercept him. "I have you!" she gasped as he dropped into her arms.
"I can't take you anywhere, sis," Jackal complained as he pulled Hyena to her feet. "That gargoyle nearly had your head."
"You idiots!" Martín screamed. Oblivious to the clamorous cheering of the audience, he jumped up on the stage behind the pair of costumed mercenaries. "Now that awful beast has Cyrus!" Pushing between them, he rushed toward center stage, where the creature had just touched down with his lover clutched in her arms. "Put him down, you filthy monster!"
"Oh no you don't," Fox intoned. She stepped into Martín's path, unaware that he meant to do anything more than ruin the terrific shot camera one was getting of Demona's heroic moment until she saw the barrel of the gun.
"Yikes!" Hyena cringed as Martín went down, laid out by the redheaded executive with one sharp blow.
"Looks like the party's over," Jackal quipped. "Shall we, sis?"
Hyena nodded. "Let's blow this Popsicle stand."
With the toe of her high-heeled shoe, Fox knocked the dazed make-up artist's pistol out of reach. "You're in rather interesting company tonight, Mr. Bouchard." Looking up, she was not surprised to discover that Pete Pelican and Susie Seagull had vanished. "Or at least you were," she amended. "Your fine feathered friends have flown the coop."
"And… cut!" the assistant director, Billy Rogers, yelled. "We've got commercials."
"Thank god!" Burt Shipley replied. "Now… would someone please tell me what the hell is going on?"
* * *
"All right, ladies, it looks like we've covered everything." Detective Laurence Emerson closed his notepad and tucked it neatly back into the inside pocket of his overcoat. "If I could just have those videotapes now, Mrs. Xanatos, we can let you be on your way."
"Of course, detective," Fox replied. "Let me show you to the production booth. Simon should be nearly finished making the copies." Ever gracious, she smiled and gestured to the steps that led down from the stage.
"Finally," Andrea whispered once Fox and the imposingly tall man with the military crewcut had made it far enough up the aisle to be out of earshot. "I was beginning to wonder if we'd be stuck here all night answering the same questions over and over again."
"Tell me about it," Elisa replied. "I'm all for being thorough, but that guy's definitely watched a few too many Columbo movies." The dark-haired woman checked her watch and sighed. It was just past ten. She had originally hoped to be back at the hotel by now, but the discovery of the performers who played Pete Pelican and Susie Seagull, tied up in a dressing room closet, had added another chaotic twist to the evening. Having two more victims to attend to had forced the lone pair of L.A.P.D. detectives who had arrived on the scene to make those who were merely witnesses wait for a chance to give a statement.
"Maybe we should check on the others," Andrea said.
"Good idea," Elisa agreed. She put an arm around the petite woman's shoulders as they turned to head back to the Green Room.
"Ms. Calhoun, Detective Maza. What perfect timing." Detective Elaine Palmer smiled as she met the two women halfway down the hallway. "I was just about to come looking for you. I wanted to let you know that I'm done with your gargoyle friends, and you're all free to leave now."
"So you have everything you need, then?" Andrea asked.
"Everything except my partner," the woman replied, "but I'm sure I can track him down."
"He should be with Mrs. Xanatos," Elisa offered, "picking up the tapes of the show."
"Ah yes," the policewoman said. "He'll get to watch those over and over while I fill out the reports." She gave a half smirk. "I'm not sure which is the crueler fate, actually."
Elisa chuckled. "Been there, done that," she replied. "Of course, I'd imagine The Sunny Shores Show has to make for better viewing than the security cam at 7-11."
Detective Palmer chuckled, and Andrea took the opportunity to excuse herself before the shop talk could go any further over her head. "I'm going to help Demona and the others get ready to go. Detective," she said, offering her hand, "it was nice meeting you."
"I'll catch up with you in a few minutes," Elisa called after her as she hurried off down the corridor. She eyed Detective Palmer guardedly. The strands of gray that peppered the woman's shoulder-length chestnut hair marked her as Elisa's senior by at least a decade, yet she was infinitely easier to converse to than her partner had been.
"Was there something else, Detective Maza?"
"Yes," Elisa replied hesitantly. "I was just wondering if you could…"
"If I could bring you up to speed on the case?" Detective Palmer gave a wry smile and shook her head. "Sorry, Detective, but you know I can't. Sharing of information between departments has to go through proper channels."
"Hey, you can't blame me for trying, right?" Elisa sighed. "So, should I have my people call your people?"
Detective Palmer chuckled. "I suppose that's one way to put it. Here's my card. When you get home, talk to your Captain and if he…"
"She," Elisa corrected as she accepted the card, "and we'll be in touch. Thanks."
Frustration was apparent in her counterpart's tone as she pocketed the little cardboard rectangle. Detective Palmer moved a step closer and lowered her voice. "Look, Elisa, I realize that you've got an interest in this, but right now my hands are tied. But if I were looking to get a bigger picture, I might start out by taking a closer look at Mr. Cyrus Tremaine."
"Tremaine? The guy who plays the pirate captain?" Elisa asked.
Detective Palmer nodded. "In the meanwhile, Detective Maza," she offered, "you might want to encourage your winged friends to be more cautious in the future about accepting treats from strangers." She stepped back as she spied her partner rounding the corner, a tall stack of videocassettes in his hands. "Maybe Mrs. Xanatos can get them a tape of that episode from last October," she said. "As I recall, my kids particularly enjoyed that one."
"Thanks for the advice." Elisa shook the woman's hand. "I'll be sure to look into that." She gave the tall man a nod as she moved off. "Detective."
* * *
"This isn't fair!" Cyrus protested. "Why don't those damned gargoyles have to go downtown? They're the ones that went berserk on the set. Look at what that one did to my jacket when she grabbed me." He tugged at the sleeve of the red velvet coat that he still wore, pointing out to the policeman the marks Demona's talons had left in the fabric.
"The detectives have already taken their statements, Mr. Tremaine," the officer replied as he guided the man into the back seat of the patrol car. "They just need you to come back to the station and answer a few more questions."
"I can tell them all about how the beast attacked me," Cyrus insisted. "Those creatures are a menace, I tell you! A menace!"
The actor's ranting died away as the car's door closed, and Fox rolled her eyes.
"What a jerk," Elisa said from behind her. "They'd still be sponging him off the stage right now if she hadn't 'grabbed' him."
"I'd rather not think about it," the redhead replied. Fox stepped back, allowing Elisa to climb in to the limousine, then slid in lithely behind her and tugged the door shut. "I'm just glad that we were able to act fast enough to keep anyone from being seriously hurt," she said as the car began to move.
"PCP," Broadway muttered. He sat at the front of the compartment, his mate nestled in the protective embrace of his wing. "I can't believe that guy tricked us into taking PCP. Good thing we shook it off so fast."
"Ugh," Angela replied. "Speak for yourself, sweetie. I'm still seeing pixies."
"Huh. Must be my speedy metabolism."
"More likely it was a full stomach and that foolish human's total ignorance of gargoyle physiology," Demona intoned.
"Plus we didn't have to bop you on the noggin, Broadway," Elisa added.
Gingerly, Angela touched at the bruise on the back of her head. "Ouch," she hissed mildly. "Thanks for reminding me, Elisa."
Fox chuckled. "Well, at least while the two of you were napping it off in the Green Room, the rest of us managed to salvage the second half of the show."
Broadway nodded. "It's still hard to imagine that Demona filled in for you, Angela."
The lavender female gave a fanged grin as she eyed her mother. "So is it true that you even sang the song?"
Demona crossed her arms and sighed. "Yes," she answered, "I even sang that ridiculous, insipid little song."
"And I've got it all on tape," Fox said, smirking. "You and Broadway can watch it later. As for you, Demona," she said, turning to the embarrassed azure gargoyle, "I owe you one. I don't know what we would have done if you hadn't volunteered to stand in for Angela."
"Buy me a stiff drink when we get back to the hotel and we'll call it even," Demona replied. "The person who truly owes me is the one who talked me into doing it." She turned to the blonde who sat beside her on the bench. "Isn't that right, my dear?"
Andrea smirked. "You'll get your reward, don't worry." She shifted in her seat, snuggling against her mate, and laid a hand on the gargoyle's forearm. "After all, Domi, have I ever broken a promise to you yet?"
* * * * *
"We don't have to do this," Elisa pushed off from her vantage-point where she'd been watching both the late night traffic and her friends prepare to work their mojo. She paced the room, taking several nervous turns before returning to her windowsill perch. Andrea lit the first of several candles and began to arrange them on wooden tray set on the coffee table. The tapers were multi-hued and under other circumstances might have been considered rather festive: pink, purple, yellow, orange, red, green and blue. They represented aura colors, the artist had explained as she removed them from a plastic gift-shop bag. The chunky white pillar candle at the center of the circle would stand for Elisa.
Snap-crack as the match was struck. A pause and mutter of invocation as three drops of wax spilled onto the tray to anchor the candle in place.
"Nonsense," Angela dismissed. She had arrived ten minutes after Andrea, looking wan and pale. She had collapsed onto the sofa as if the trip down the hallway from her room to Elisa's had cost her greatly. Frequently, she would close her eyes and blink hard as if chasing away the afterimages of imaginary demons that haunted her PCP induced flashback.
She sat up, gave one more determined blink, and curled her tail neatly around one ankle. "I'm feeling much better." She studied Elisa with that peculiar unfocused stare that caused her to identify too readily with a bug under a microscope. "You on the other hand -" The gargoyle shook her head in consternation. "I don't understand it. Whatever magic is affecting your aura, it's gotten stronger. We can't put this off."
"Wait a minute," Elisa protested. She launched back off the window ledge and stood to face her clan-daughter. "I thought you said I wasn't under a spell."
Angela hesitated and wished there were easier ways to explain the eccentricities of the occult. "I generalized. I should have said there didn't seem to be any magical telltales to suggest that a spellcaster had been at work. But some form of magic may still be at the root of whatever is affecting you." She paused again. "We don't know what is causing the aura distortion and we don't know why. It could be that it is only a localized effect brought on by something you've come into contact with since we've been in Los Angeles, and once we return home it will end."
Elisa looked suddenly hopeful.
"But," Andrea stuck the final taper in place and recited the invocation leaving only the white candle unlit, "it could also be that the solution is here. What if we have to locate and destroy the source of the magic?"
"I'm sorry, Elisa," Angela concluded as the shadows descended over her friend's hopeful expression. "We just won't know until we complete the Seeking Ritual." She smiled at her friends. "You're lucky. Andrea is a natural. Mother says she has a real talent for empathetic magic."
"It's the only magical talent I have," the petite blonde corrected. "I'll never be a sorceress. Heck, I'll never levitate a pencil. But that's okay. I'm content just being part of a world where magic is real."
Angela rose with the slightest of grimaces and glanced out the window. "We should get started. Elisa, you stand here in front of the table. Illuminate." The white candle flared to life. The gargoyle nodded at Andrea.
"Right." She drew a breath. "Now Elisa I want you to concentrate on the circle of candles. Really concentrate. But instead of seeing eight wax candles, I want you to see yourself as you are now surrounded by seven more versions of yourself. As a baby, a child, a young girl, a young woman, until at last you are very, very old, can you do that?"
Elisa nodded uncertainly and stared at the candles.
"Good. Just relax," Andrea took Angela's hand and together the pair began to softly chant. "Follow the circle, the circle of life. From this life to the last. Woman, maiden, girl, child, infant, crone, matron, woman, maiden, girl, child, infant, crone, matron, woman, maiden, girl, child, infant, crone, matron, woman, maiden, girl, child, infant -"
Elisa took a breath and then complied. She followed the circle of light, moving from the white candle out to the purple one and then the pink, the red, the orange, the yellow, the green, the blue and back to the purple. All she saw were candles and the tiny points of flame that topped them. Purple, pink, red, orange, yellow, green, blue. Purple, pink, red, orange, yellow, green, blue. The candles disappeared, leaving only the bright flame-glow in the darkened room. Funny, she didn't remember anybody shutting off the lights. Purple, pink, red, orange, yellow, green, blue. She imagined herself moving backward from one stage of life to the next. She felt, in some remote corner of her mind, faintly foolish at using magic for her emotional dilemma. She concentrated harder repeating the two adepts' chant. "- woman, maiden, girl, child, infant, crone, matron, woman, maiden, girl, child, infant, crone, matron, womanmaidengirlchildinfantcronematron -" until it was a melange of meaningless syllables.
The years rolled away as younger and younger versions of herself, some from memory, others remembered from photos in family albums, played before her eyes. In some far off corner of her mind, she was surprised to find she recognized people and places she thought she'd forgotten. Meg and Brian, her study buddies from the academy, all three of them sweating after a session in the dojo. Annabelle, her college roommate, had one arm around her shoulders as they walked back from the coffee house, celebrating the end of Freshman finals. The Senior Prom and Gary Dean. The tall, slightly gangly basketball player had waited until the last minute to ask and she'd nearly turned him down out of pride. Summer camp. Who knew that archery practice would some day actually come in handy? Aunt Poppy! She was so proud of the way those matching Easter dresses she made for Beth and me turned out. And there's Buck, her Golden Retriever! First Grade and Jimmy Weldon, he was so cute! It was nice. A pleasant tour down memory lane, courtesy of her magically endowed extended family. She seldom had the opportunity to wander the corridors of her mind. There was just so much to keep her living in the now.
Now. Now she was a baby cooing for Daddy's camera. She couldn't see very well, but she knew with a child's certainty that those around her loved her and would care for her. Mom and Dad faded away. Or maybe it was she who did the fading.
Backwards she slipped, further into time. It was dark. It was black. But the void was as comforting as when she'd been held in her mother's arms.
Then the terror began.
* * *
Andrea opened her eyes but kept her grip firmly on Angela's hand as she prepared for the next part of the Seeking Spell. Elisa was out. The candles and Mantra of Ages had taken her under and back through her own life and into the before time. Now, perhaps, they could follow the path of the distortion and find its source. "Elisa. Elisa, can you hear me? Elisa, I need you to tell me what you see."
She remained still as death, dark eyes staring at something unseen. Her pupils were huge and the whites seemed unusually small in comparison. "Elisa, answer me." Nothing. The candles flickered and sputtered in the quiet.
Can you hear me?" Andrea snapped her fingers in a bare inch from Elisa's nose. "Elisa, I command you to speak!"
No response. No reply. Nothing but the pounding of her own heart as she realized that something wasn't quite right. "Come on, Elisa! Work with me here."
She closed her eyes and took Elisa's right hand in her free one completing the link between the three seekers.
Angela stirred from her own trance-like state, visibly exhausted. "What's wrong?"
Her response was a frustrated shake of the artist's honey-blonde pageboy. "She's not responding. I think she's gone too far under. What should I do?"
"Bring her out of it. We'll get mother and try again."
"I've been trying. She's completely gone." Andrea defocused and studied the woman who stood pale as death before her. "Oh goddess, her aura. Look at it. What's happening to her?"
The colors that pulsed around Elisa were dark and muddy. Puce, coffee, dark amber, midnight blue bordering on black swirled and melded dangerously.
"She's in trouble," Without taking her hand from Andrea's, Angela pressed two talons against the inside of Elisa's wrist. The pulse was weak and thready. "We're losing her."
* * *
"Another round?" Demona inquired amiably as she signaled the bartender over.
Fox nodded as she flashed a reassuring smile at the nervous young Filipino who was serving them. It was clear that, despite everything that had happened, Demona was enjoying the newfound freedom to walk among the human population as her true self. After several hundred years of keeping to the shadows, it was probably a refreshing change. "Why not? The night's still young." Fox paused mid-thought and cocked her head. "Did you hear something?"
The gargoyle shook her head. "You, the bartender, that gossiping couple over at the table behind us, bickering over whether it'd be safe to approach us. Other than that, no. Why?"
Her companion frowned and raised a slender hand to her temple. "Now I've got voices in my head." She reached for her handbag, dug out several bills and laid them on the bar, then knocked back the Martini the slight bartender had set on the polished oak. "The voice says get upstairs, now. There's trouble."
Demona followed Fox's lead and finished her own newly poured cocktail. "It figures. Does this voice say what kind?"
Fox didn't answer as she hurried out of the bar and towards the glass elevators.
* * *
"Try reversing the mantra," Angela instructed. "I'll extinguish the candles as we step her back through the trance."
Andrea looked doubtful. "What if we overstep? What if we release her completely?"
The gargoyle gave her friend a determined shake of the head. "It will work. It has to. Come on. Focus on the white candle. Use it as a focal point."
A curt nod. A deep breath. Then hesitation. "Where should I start, crone or infant?" wondered the novice.
A sudden swirling wind and the scent of sage and mesquite filled the suite. "How about neither?" Coyote appeared from the vortex, looking cross. "Why don't you hand this job over to a professional?"
At that moment there was a pounding at the door. "Elisa, are you all right? Let us in!" Fox called.
Coyote waved a hand in the direction of the door and it opened leaving Demona, fist raised in mid pound. "Enough already." He gave the pair a cursory glance. "You two must be the Calvary. Hello Janine. Close the door." He gave Demona an interested once-over. "You can introduce your friend later. Right now I want to know what you two -" He fixed Andrea and Angela with a very disapproving stare. "- have done to Elisa."
Andrea gaped at the handsome dark-haired, blue-jean clad man with the depthless black eyes. "Where -"
"Coyote." Angela addressed the fay trickster with a soft tone of respect, answering Andrea's unasked question. "Elisa was experiencing a profound distortion of her past and present lives. We were trying to help her find out why."
"What did you do?" he asked tersely as he studied the woman who had garnered his personal vow of protection.
"W-we had gotten as far as the Rite of Regression when everything went wrong," Andrea answered, stumbling as she regained her composure.
"Andrea," Demona started to admonish, but Coyote raised a hand and the gargoyle fell silent.
"You can spank her over this later. Right now, I need some quiet." He raised a hand and gently placed it against Elisa's temple. "Easy, kiddo. Don't worry about what's going on in there. Let it go. Rest now." He caught her in his arms as she crumpled and carried her to the sofa, depositing her there gently. On its own, a pillow slipped behind the unconscious woman's head "Sleep." Elisa's breathing became deep and even. The color began to creep back into her cheeks.
"Much better," Coyote decreed as he settled into an adjoining armchair, folding one long boot clad leg over the other. "Crisis is past for now. But it was close."
"Coyote," Fox said as she crossed to help a shaking and shaken Angela to a chair while Demona did the same for Andrea. "Not that we're not grateful, but what are you doing here?"
He shrugged and gave Titania's daughter a wry look. There was so much she didn't know about her own heritage. It was kind of sad. Maybe it was time for a lesson or three. "A mortal might say it was dumb luck. I was thinking about her. And when we fay think about someone, well, let's say it's a little more vivid than the human experience. I could hear her screaming all the way from Avalon."
"The voice in my head," Fox said softly. "I knew there was trouble."
Coyote looked momentarily impressed. This night was full of things to discuss with his Lady Titania.
"But, I don't understand," Andrea protested. "Why did Elisa react that way to the regression? Why couldn't we get her to tell us what she was experiencing?"
"You're new at this, aren't you," he inquired mildly. Andrea gave him a hesitant nod and he smiled with just a hint of his feral nature. "It's like this, youngster. Mortals are meant to slip from one life to the next like they were changing their clothes."
Andrea started to protest. Coyote's revelation was contrary to years of reading New Age wisdom.
He tsked her quiet and continued. "Sure, they carry the lessons, but the actual events are supposed to be left behind."
The artist formed a weak "O" and pressed her lips together as a crushing weariness settled over her.
"You're good," he added. A momentary flush of pride raised Andrea's chin off her collarbone. "But you lack control. When you awakened Elisa's memories you opened a floodgate. She was drowning, so to speak, in all of her past experiences. And one thing you should know about Elisa," Coyote said, looking at her fondly, "she's always been a fighter, always lived in interesting times and, unfortunately, she's suffered more than her share of losses."
"Will she be all right?" Angela demanded.
Coyote rose. "She'll be out of it for a while. After what she's been through she'll need the rest. But she'll be fine. Tell her when she wakes up I'll be in touch."
As suddenly as he had appeared, Coyote was gone, leaving a subdued group of humans and gargoyles to prepare for their trip home. Demona knelt and one by one extinguished the sputtering candles. Always the taskmaster, she ordered her weary apprentices, "You two, pack the detective's things."
Fox pulled out her cell phone and spoke in terse phrases. She snapped the phone shut. "Let's go home."
* * * * *
Monday, February 24, 2003, early morning
She stood at the center of a vast, maze-like chamber filled with doors. Frozen with indecision, she stood contemplating the seemingly endless possibilities. Plain wooden doors. Sliding doors. Doors made of ornate glass. All of them waiting for her to choose. Tentatively, she stepped toward a golden portal and placed her hand on the old fashioned key that secured its lock. The key grew teeth and she pulled away just before it could nip at her fingers. Message received. Whatever lay behind that door was not for her to see. Elisa moved on, skipping an elaborately enameled red door, choosing instead one newly hewn of oak. The handle was brass and showed no signs of life. Carefully, mindful of the other, she grasped it and jumped back as electric current surged.
Why was she trapped in a room of locked doors? Elisa didn't understand, but somewhere there had to be a way out. She kept searching.
She tried a dozen more. Each warned her off. She was growing weary. A thrumming noise began to roar from all sides, and her body felt as if it would vibrate apart if the noise became any more intense.
The door to the 23rd Precinct beckoned. Surely that would be safe. She looked through the glass and saw cops milling in the hallway. The desk sergeant was talking on the telephone. She opened the door and the floor fell away.
"Gah!" Elisa fought her way up from the dream and was confused. No doors. Well, nearly none. The door to the cockpit was straight ahead. "Cockpit?" No couch. No candles. In fact, the Bonaventure was gone entirely. "Where am I?" she asked muzzily.
Fox looked up. A thick folder was spread open on the chair next to her and in her lap was a copy of the latest best seller, a self-help guide by Dr. Phineas Phelps. "Well, well. Sleeping Beauty awakes."
Elisa rubbed her eyes and shrugged off the blanket that was tucked around her shoulders. Soft azure wool. The droning noise was the engines of the jet. "Very funny. How'd I get here? What happened with the spell? What time is it?"
"Shhh, you'll wake the others." Fox indicated the sleeping couples curled together in the adjacent rows. She set the sheaf of paperwork she'd been reviewing along with the hardback book on the seat next to her and moved to join Elisa. "We left L.A. at two and we've been in the air for a couple of hours now."
"Oh. Why don't I remember leaving the hotel?" Elisa demanded querulously.
Fox felt as if she was dealing with Alexander on a bad night. Who knew that Elisa could be so crabby? She continued speaking in a soft, patient voice. "The spell was either a resounding success or a bust, depending on your definition. Andrea and Angela succeeded in regressing you to your past."
"They did?" Elisa shook her head trying to clear the lingering cobwebs. "Why don't I remember anything?"
Fox touched a button on the arm of her chair. "Olson. Two coffees: one black, one black with sugar. Thanks." She appraised Elisa for a moment and then replied. "It seems the girls revealed all of your past lives at once. It caused some kind of psychic overload."
The co-pilot emerged from the forward compartment, bearing a tray with a two cups and a small pot. He poured rich smelling coffee into china cups, stirred sugar, and then retreated.
Elisa took a sip of the heady brew. It was as rich as it smelled and for a moment she savored the complex play of mocha and cinnamon, hoping it would help ground her back into reality. "A what?"
"A psychic overload. Coyote said - Oh, did I mention Coyote dropped by?" Fox said as Elisa nearly dropped her cup, slopping wine dark liquid into the saucer. She shrugged casually and handed Elisa a linen napkin. "Coyote dropped by. He said he'll swing by for a chat sometime soon. Anyway, he said whatever the girls were attempting was TMI. So he shut it off."
Elisa set the cup and saucer aside and rubbed at her eyes. "I don't understand any of this."
Fox sipped at her own cup. "Sorry, he wasn't in a sharing mood. I guess you'll just have to be patient." Green eyes narrowed speculatively. "Say, does this have anything to do with a tall, dark, Hollywood hottie?"
Elisa looked down at her hands and wondered if maybe it wasn't time she and Goliath discussed some alternative to wedding rings. "I think I'll take the Fifth." She hadn't spoken to Ty since before the Sunny Shores broadcast. His manager had hustled him out of the studio audience as soon as it had become obvious that something had gone amiss with the program. She touched her fingertips together and remembered the feel of his seeking her hand under a luncheon table. "What's that you're reading?" she asked, eager to change the subject.
"New project." Fox handed the book to Elisa. "Maybe you'll find it interesting. Dr. Phineas Phelps: Guru for the New Millenium." The detective pursed her lips in amusement and her companion added, "Don't be so condescending. He's very insightful. If I can get him to agree to our syndication deal he'll be bigger than Oprah."
"As big as all that, hmm." Elisa studied the book. A distinguished looking man somewhere in the latter portion of his life looked out at her, radiating compassion. She flipped open the cover to the table of contents, scanning the listings until she paused at a chapter titled "Listening to Your Heart."
Casually, she flipped on the reading lamp thumbing through the pages. Stolen moments with Ty whispered from the corners of her mind, begging to be re-lived. Guilt pangs soured her stomach as she thought of Goliath waiting for her patiently at home. She glanced down at the book and words jumped out at her.
"Sometimes our lives demand to take their own paths. If a truly golden opportunity arises to explore the way our lives could have been if only we had followed a different fork in the road, then despite our conscious intent, we will explore that path. This isn't a wrong thing."
Is that what had happened this weekend? Elisa wondered. Had I been living the could-be life of some other me? She shook her head and then reconsidered. Puck had turned her into a gargoyle and given her a taste of what life would have been like if she'd been born with wings. It had been a rare opportunity to try on a different life. Was this any different? What if, when the Los Angeles Police Department recruiter had come sniffing all those years ago, she'd taken him up on his offer and moved west. What happened with Ty seemed so inevitable, it was as if it were predestined. Would she have hooked up with a struggling actor new off the bus from Tulsa? Had this been a chance to take a few steps down that other road?
It was all too much to contemplate. Wearily, Elisa handed the book back to Fox, pulled the blanket back up against the chill, and drifted back to sleep.
* * * * *