Home is a Dark Place, Part 1
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.
* * * * *
"I understand your disappointment Elder Ptah," Brooklyn said as he resisted the impulse to flop down in Goliath's chair. He stood in front of the video phone in the small stone chamber the gargoyle leader used as sanctuary when dealing with the World Council. He willed himself to stand erect, fighting to keep impatience from creeping into his already fatigue roughened voice. The long trip from Egypt, though foreshortened by hours of stone sleep, had left him irritable. He'd hoped for a quiet night at home or possibly a full on fist fight with a mugger to burn off some of the stress from his diplomatic assignment. Instead, as soon as they'd touched down, he and the twins had been swamped by an impromptu Hello / Good-bye surprise party. He'd hugged and clasped arms with his extended clan of gargoyles, humans and mutates and then he excused himself and Goliath so that he could brief his leader about developments that threatened to disrupt the fragile truce they'd forged with the Egyptian clan.
Senen had gained a partial victory in her plan to force an alliance of blood between Wyvern and the Oasis Clan. Though Goliath had rejected Tiy and Miw, the mates selected for and gifted upon them by the wily Egyptian leader, the males of Wyvern had fathered their children, mixing their seed in an in vitro protocol designed by Demona to fertilize the two females. The Egyptians had returned to their desert sanctuary free to pursue alliances of love. But Wyvern had the eggs and Senen wanted recompense.
One additional egg lay nestled in the rookery. Angela had also been ready to breed and now she and Broadway were expecting their first. That was the compensation that Ptah now sought for the rejection of Miw and Tiy.
Brooklyn had listened patiently to the council of elders. He had promised, without conviction, to make the proposal to Goliath, knowing even as he sat in the cool of the council chamber how his leader would decide. Yet, the former Timedancer had gone through the motions, because it was his duty. He had spoken to Goliath. The great lavender gargoyle had shaken his head in disappointment as if he had suspected that such a request might be forthcoming. "No," he had intoned. "It is not my decision to make."
Brooklyn had returned to the party long enough to pull Angela and Broadway away. Broadway had been happily practicing mugging for the cameras he would soon face for real, his mate smiling indulgently at his antics. When they'd been told of Senen's proposal Angela had cried, then grown angry. She'd refused to calm down until both Broadway and Goliath promised to protect her unborn hatchling. Their evening ruined, they'd escaped, Broadway's beefy arm around Angela's slender frame, to the calm of their tower retreat, leaving Brooklyn as the official envoy to deliver their reply.
He gazed at the elderly bronze gargoyle and wondered again how he'd lost the tip of his horns. Most warriors were proud of such injuries and told lusty tales full of swagger and bravado. But when Brooklyn had inquired during one of the many feasts held in his honor, Ptah had demurred and soon excused himself and Brooklyn was left to wonder what he'd said that had caused offense. He needed to end this. He wanted to return to the party, pull Sata aside and just gaze into her eyes. And later, when the others had drifted away to return to their duties or their own pursuits, he wanted to hold her, to rediscover her, to make up for lost time. "But I'm afraid the decision has been made."
Ptah bowed his head. "You are quite sure, Ambassador Brooklyn."
He nodded and crossed his arms across his breastplate. The Egyptians had often used such a gesture to indicate that a conversation had reached its conclusion and to pursue it further would push the boundaries of polite society.
Ptah acknowledged the gesture. "As you wish." He raised his hands and clasped them before his face bowing slightly from the waist. "Safe gliding, Ambassador Brooklyn."
"Safe gliding, Elder Ptah." Brooklyn returned the bow then severed the connection. The elder's image hung on the screen for a moment before disappearing. Brooklyn turned away, glad that the matter had finally been laid to rest.
* * * * *
"Are you sure you'll be okay, Angela?" Broadway asked for the fifth time since sundown. "If you want, I can postpone the trip. I'm sure Fox can fix it if we ask her to."
They were mere steps from the limo. Owen, wearing his chauffeur's cap, had already loaded Fox's luggage into the trunk and was, even as the two gargoyles said their good-byes, handing the lady of the Eyrie Building into the back seat of the long black car. Angela shook her head and pressed her cheek to Broadway's. "I'm fine," she whispered. "That business with Ptah was horrible, but it's over. You and I have commitments and it wouldn't be fair to the others to put them off just because we let some politician upset us."
"I'll call you every night," Broadway promised.
Angela chuckled as she gently shoved her mate towards the car. "You won't have time. Trust me. Fox has your schedule booked solid."
The burly turquoise gargoyle pouted. "But I'll miss you!"
"And I'll miss you, you big silly." She opened the car door as Owen slid behind the wheel and cranked the engine. "Now get going. The sooner you leave, the sooner I'll have you back. And then we can make up for all that lost time."
Broadway grinned happily at that notion and hefted his bulk into the limousine beside Fox. Angela shut the door behind him and a moment later the car pulled away.
Angela was now left to her own devices. She watched the limousine as it turned the corner and climbed the ramp that would take the car to the street above. Once she was positive they weren't returning she turned her back on them and bee-lined for the lift that would take her back to the castle at the top of the Eyrie building. Personal problems aside, Angela had work to do. She needed to run an errand, and she finally had the perfect opportunity. The clan had scattered to the four winds. Xanatos had departed the castle an hour earlier with little Alexander in tow for a night on the town. Brooklyn, Sata and the twins were having a family night. Her father had left to see Elisa nearly as soon as the sun had set. Hudson had joined Lexington and Delilah for dinner at the Labyrinth, taking Bronx along to play with Talon and Maggie's young son, P.J. There was no one to circumvent. No need to construct an alibi. Angela hurried all the same.
She tapped her foot as the car rocketed up from the subterranean garage to the castle that crowned the building. Angela noticed the impatient gestured and abruptly stilled. She needed to be calm. She closed her eyes, forcing herself to focus on the task at hand. First a quick trip to her workroom for a few magical supplies. Then to the service area where Owen and his crew of unseen housekeepers kept their mops and buckets and other cleaning paraphernalia. From there, she would slip through the corridor that led to the service tunnels and down, back into the bowels of the building until she'd retraced her steps to Sector 13.
Sector 13. Just evoking the name set her nerves jangling. Horrific memories of the Unseelie War flooded over her as the car neared its destination. Angela shivered. She pushed away the image of Maeve, the Unseelie general and her personal tormentor, that rose unbidden. The green-haired woman faded, leaving Angela alone as the elevator doors opened.
Angela hadn't meant to visit Sector 13. She had been as content as the others to leave its secret terrors comfortably alone. But one night, she'd been practicing a drill Demona had assigned. "You must hone your senses, my daughter," the ancient gargoyle had decreed. "Your eyes may deceive you, especially when dealing with things magical. Use your ears, your nose. Let them guide you."
Angela had tied a bandanna around her eyes, masking her view. Her intention had been to find the utility closet where the excess linen was kept, a task she knew she could not do solely by memory because she'd only been there once before. The mask in place, Angela had wandered hesitantly at first through the castle. She found the laundry room easily enough by the smell of the bleach and other chemicals, but when she fumbled her way to the closet, her nose failed her and she missed the proper door. Angela turned a knob and entered a small chamber. Confident she'd reached her goal she whipped off the bandana only to find herself in an unfamiliar passageway. Instantly curious, the fledging mage followed the rough stone corridor noting with interest some while later when the floor became concrete beneath her bare feet.
She chanted a few words and a fairy light glowed pinkly before her. The tiny illumination was enough to let her see she'd wandered far from the castle and into an access corridor of the main building. Still curious, and with nothing but time on her hands, Angela continued her experiment reaching out with her senses until she felt rather than saw the tiny cameras that lined the corridor. A few more magic words and the cameras went off line.
Just as they were doing now. Angela hustled down the corridor easily. She'd made the trip many times since that first night when she stumbled into Sector 13 and revealed its secrets.
The halfling prison. That was all it was supposed to be. A place to keep the foot soldiers of Madoc and Maeve's army imprisoned until they could be transmuted back to their human forms and then someday, perhaps, released back into the world. Xanatos said that the halflings would be kept in stasis until a cure could be devised. All the halflings.
Xanatos had lied.
Most of the prisoners were sleeping away their confinement in the odd blue Plexiglas chambers. Machinery hummed and whirred, providing the inhabitants with a perfect environment that froze them in time. Angela had wandered for many minutes, finally losing count of the number of detainees in the row after row of hibernation units. She was nearly ready to retreat, to follow her footsteps back out of Sector 13 and back to the safety of the castle, when she heard a noise.
She hid behind a bank of generators then froze, still as any of the prisoners, listening with all of her being. The noise repeated. Not a machine, a human voice, young and angry. "Hey, I'm bored here!"
Hesitantly, Angela investigated. At the far end of the stasis room a series of cells stood. About twelve by twelve in size, each contained a bunk, a chair and desk and a partition where presumably a toilet might be found discreetly hidden. All the cells were dark except for one.
Angela saw the boy. A teenager really, she supposed. He looked to be around fifteen or sixteen. His sandy brown hair was cropped close to his scalp, leaving his ears prominently exposed. The gargoyle touched her own upswept ear in surprise. The boy's were similar. Not rounded like a normal human, but long and pointed like an elf or a gargoyle. He was a halfling. But why was he alone free while the others slumbered in stasis?
The boy slumped to his bed and buried his head in his hands. Angela watched and her heart went out to him when she realized he was crying. Involuntarily, she edged forward until she stood exposed to the teenager's view.
He looked up abruptly before Angela had a chance to hide and took to his feet. "Who are you?"
Angela was trapped. She hadn't meant to let the boy see her but now the deed was done. "My name is Angela."
Angela had returned as often as she dared to visit Danny. A few minutes at a time, she'd learned his story. How his father had lost his job. How his family had dissolved under the pressure of mounting debt. How he'd finally run away and fallen into the trap laid so carefully by Garlon, Madoc's chief lieutenant. How at fourteen he'd become a halfling, no longer human, imbued with strength and speed and a fear of light and iron sworn to serve the Unseelie lord and his dark cause.
Angela stood on the threshold of Sector 13 and stared. Work crews labored, hauling away cartloads of crumbled cement and ash. Fire marked the stones, leaving the smell of burned plastic and electrical wire heavy on the air. Fear crept over her as she slipped into the shadows and made her way stealthily towards Danny's cell.
Twenty more yards. Fifteen more yards. Now ten. Then five. Angela crept closer giving a silent prayer of thanks that the work crew was at shift change and the men seemed more interested in gathering for their dinner than paying attention to her. Danny's cell was dark. Burn damage marked the walls and floors adjacent. Angela scented the air and paled. Quickly, she made her way out of Sector 13 and back toward the castle, trying not to let her fear get the better of her.
* * * * *
"What to wear? What to wear?" Elisa murmured as she contemplated herself in the mirror. "Do I want to go for that 'young and vulnerable' or 'old and helpless' look?" She turned away from her reflection and began to pick through the clothing scattered over the bed and dressing table. "What do you think, Cagney?"
The large gray cat declined to answer as he made himself at home on what could have been a homeless person's shapeless, brown overcoat.
"Fine, don't help. I think I've got it narrowed down anyway." Elisa picked up several garments and began to dress. She was plating her hair into a sensible braid when a startled exclamation broke her reverie.
"What sorcery is this!" Goliath strode into the bedroom, his eyes glowing white with alarm. He blinked hard and tried to reconcile the scene before him. Am I dreaming? he wondered. Still frozen in stone sleep? Quickly the gargoyle mentally reviewed the past hour. He'd awoken on the parapets overlooking the city and given instructions to the other members of the clan before leaving to spend a few precious hours with Elisa before she left for her shift. He recalled nothing untoward; no encounter with a member of the Third Race, no magic talismans, yet a considerable period of time seemed to have passed. And his Elisa…
"Sorcery? What? No, not that I can think of." Elisa replied, distracted by her reflection. She turned toward him and her hand went towards her belly automatically to compensate for the sudden motion. She looked down at her fingers, resting on her very extended abdomen, as she caught on to the reason for her mate's confusion. "Oh this." She grinned. "Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you, Goliath. Relax, it's just a costume."
Goliath continued to stare at the human woman he'd chosen as his life mate as his brain and heart attempted to compensate for his initial shock. He felt a wave of relief that Elisa had not forsaken him for a human in the wake of some extended magical absence and yet an echo of disappointment eddied in the background as he realized that she was not somehow miraculously pregnant with his child either. Elisa pulled the plain blue denim jumper over her head to show him the complicated padded prosthetic device.
"It won't work," she continued to explain in her best 'business as usual' voice. "There's no way I can play decoy and then chase down a mugger in this get up. I'd trip over my own feet. No," Elisa fiddled with the straps and the sympathy belly came free. "Better to use the granny costume."
"You are going undercover again," Goliath said as he began to process the disarray that covered the normally neat sanctuary. Wigs in boxes, hats and sundry clothing lay in heaps on the bed and floor.
"Yeah, subway muggers. Matt and I have been lent to a task force. We'll be working with the transit cops to try and bring 'em down."
"I see." Goliath crossed to Elisa's side and removed the tired green sweater she had started to model before the mirror from her hands. He ran a talon softly down the curve of her neck and she turned to face him. "You did not scare me, Elisa. Confused me, yes. I thought, for a moment-" He cut himself off leaving his fears and regrets unspoken. His taloned hand drifted down between them and came to rest on Elisa's now flat belly.
Elisa's face clouded and she looked away. "Goliath," she said softly. "I'm sorry."
"For what, my Elisa?" He cupped his free hand around her chin and gently forced her to meet his gaze. "It isn't wrong to dream. I wish I could give you a child. I know it isn't possible, but from time to time I wish it all the same."
"It is possible, Goliath, but I won't go there." Elisa met her lover's black eyes. "I have you and that's enough for me."
"Elisa, I don't understand," Goliath rumbled, though he did. They had avoided this conversation since their pairing. Now it was time finally lay it to rest. "What are you talking about?"
"Goliath, what's to stop us from going to Xanatos or Demona and their scientists and have them whip us up a baby? The technology's there, Sevarius has already proved that."
"Are you suggesting?"
"It would be a hybrid, like Delilah, grown in a cloning tank, but they could do it. We could have a test tube baby, Goliath, but then what?" Elisa said grimly. "No, I won't do it. No matter how much I might want to."
"You've given this more than a little thought."
Elisa brushed at the corner of her eye. "How could I not after that Egyptian fiasco? You may be siring someone else's kid."
"And I might not." Goliath frowned. "Parentage doesn't matter, Elisa. Those eggs are the children of the clan. Yes, I will be father to them, as the other males will be. And you will be mother to them as much as any other female at the castle. Just as it was in the old days."
"I never thought I'd say this, but it's not the same." Cagney raised his head at Elisa's frustrated tone, assessed the situation and shot out of the room like a bolt of gray lightning. "Gah! Goliath why couldn't you have come in ten minutes later? Even five. When I put that stupid belly on it was about work. Would I make a good target? Could I give chase even though I'm supposed to be the bait? When you walked in everything changed. I saw myself through your eyes. You know what I saw?" Goliath shook his head. "Shock. Fear. Then hope and more then a little bit of pride."
"Pride?" the gargoyle repeated.
"Yeah," Elisa said her voice dropping as she attempted to control her feelings. "That self-satisfied look you get at a job well done."
"I'm sorry," Goliath attempted to explain. "You caught me off guard. That device is quite real looking. When you exhibited no surprise at my entrance, I thought for a moment it was my memory that had been affected...that our assumptions had been wrong."
Elisa silently processed her mate's reaction. His first thought had been she'd taken up with some one else as soon as he'd been knocked out of the picture. Only after had he allowed himself to hope.
"Why did you not tell me this before?" Goliath said softly, breaching the silence.
"How could I?" Elisa said, heatedly. She looked away again, refusing to meet the gargoyle's gaze. "Are you happy now? You know my dirty little secret. I'm jealous, Goliath. Jealous that someone else might have your baby and that I never will."
Elisa squirmed in Goliath's embrace. She succeeded in pivoting, her back against the gargoyle's broad chest. He refused to relinquish his hold and after a moment she ceased to struggle.
"No, Elisa, we will finish this," Goliath rumbled. "I thought it was understood that I did what I did, for the sake of the clan, not because I wanted to but because it was the only compromise acceptable."
"It was," Elisa replied resigned. "Intellectually, I understood and I do understand the situation, Goliath. This is about emotions. It's stupid and I know it's stupid. So let's just drop it. Please?"
An uncharacteristic pleading tone crept into Elisa's voice. She did not protest as Goliath gently turned her to again face him. "Your feelings are not stupid, my Elisa. But if you wish it, we will speak of it no more." He pressed his lips against the crown of her head and she in turn rubbed her cheek against the broad expanse of his chest. Tentatively, Goliath slid his hand gently up Elisa's spine giving wordless comfort.
He half expected her to pull away, but she surprised him yet again. Elisa clung to him, her body expressing need that she was unwilling to articulate. Goliath drew her downward onto the bed cradling her tenderly. "We have each other, my Elisa."
The gargoyle pushed away the foam and nylon artifice that had precipitated their crisis. As it fell onto the floor and out of sight she replied, "I can live with that."
* * * * *
Angela stood indecisively on the threshold of the gargoyle's common room, momentarily unsure of how to proceed. The sudden disappearance of Danny had upset her and she'd left Sector 13 hastily, blindly making her way out of the restricted section and out of the castle itself. She had glided through the city, unmindful of destination, letting the warm summer breeze carry her where it might. When she had finally calmed herself, Angela found she'd ended up in New Jersey. Exhausted and heartsick, she sat on a rooftop watching the comings and goings in a small residential neighborhood that could have been Danny's before his father had bailed out and his mother had crumbled under the weight of her depression, leaving the boy to fend for himself.
"I've got to do something!" Angela buried her head in her hands and forced herself to let go of anger. Bursting into Xanatos's office would accomplish nothing. Danny could have been transferred to another facility or injured in the explosion. She had no proof that he had been intentionally harmed. "Just the feeling in my gut," the gargoyle muttered as a large yellow tomcat invaded her sanctuary. The cat gave her a curious look, sniffing the air to gauge the level of threat the invader might pose. Sniffed the air just as she had, only Angela had caught the scent of blood and fear still hanging in the air underneath the smell of burned circuitry and laboring men.
So she made her way hastily back to the castle her mind a whirl as she plotted and planned and decided she needed an ally.
Lexington sat at the common room table studying a magazine as he sipped absently from a can of soda. Angela cleared her throat to break his reverie. "Lexington, can I talk to you about something?"
He glanced up, a faraway look on his face. Angela noted with surprise that the magazine wasn't one of her rookery brother's typical technical journals but a popular and slightly risqué women's magazine that tended towards articles romantic. Lexington noted her interest and shoved the magazine under a stack of his more usual fare. "Sure, what's up?"
Angela sat down on the bench across from her smaller rookery brother. "It's about the computer. I need some more help."
"Is it the email protocol? I put all the sort parameters in I could think of, but if it needs to be more sensitive-"
"No, no," Angela said hastily. "Having the computer sort out all the routine requests for autographs and pictures and the threat letters has been a real lifesaver. As much as I'd like to there's no way I could answer every letter, I'd be at it all night!" She shook her head and lowered her voice checking to see that no one was approaching. "No this is about something else. It's about Sector 13."
Lexington leaned forward. "What do you mean, Angela?"
Angela swallowed and wished she'd rehearsed more. "Promise me you'll keep this to yourself?"
Lexington hesitated a moment before nodding slowly. "It won't leave this room. All right?"
"I've been to Sector 13. There's something going on down there. Something not right."
Something twisted in Lexington's stomach and he felt queasy. Sector 13: home to the prisoners of the Unseelie War. "That area's big time restricted," he whispered back. "What were you doing messing around down there?"
Angela took in a breath and let it out again. Confession might be good for the soul but it was seldom easy. "It was an accident. At least the first time."
"You've been down there more than once?" Lexington looked appalled at the idea and then he whispered, "What was it like?"
Angela's face clouded. The Unseelie war had not been without victims. "Most of the halflings from that laboratory we captured are down there still in their stasis chambers. They're not quite human anymore, but their metamorphosis into halflings isn't complete either."
"Xanatos said it might take years before they figured out a way make the change," Lexington commented, not understanding the source of Angela's agitation.
"But did you ever consider what they'd have to do to re-engineer the process?"
Lexington shrugged uncomfortably. They'd be poked and prodded and scanned. Blood would be taken and tissue sampled. Methodology would be debated. Spells cast. Scientists and mages alike would scratch their heads in frustration. He knew. Xanatos's people had done it to him. Were still doing it, as a matter of fact, from time to time, to check to the status of the implants Madoc had gifted him with. "What's your point, Angela? There were our enemies. We won. There are consequences to being on the losing side."
Angela looked at her rookery brother, appalled. Of all of them, he should be the most sympathetic toward the halflings. They were Madoc's victims all. All changed forever by the Unseelie Lord's quest for dominion over Oberon, king of Avalon and his allies. "But not all of them joined Madoc's cause willingly," she protested. "Some were forced and the rest-" Angela drew a breath taking a moment to calm herself so that she could explain to Lexington succinctly the information she had learned from Danny. "Most of the humans that were recruited were duped! Madoc and his agents, they lied to them, the homeless and the helpless and the angry. Just like he lied to you. He told them they were misunderstood. That they were victims of powers far outside their ability to control or even comprehend."
Lexington's normally olive green skin darkened in anger and shame. Madoc in his guise of Nicolas Maddox, newly arrived developer of far forward computer technology and rival to David Xanatos, had played him expertly, first pretending to befriend the lonely gargoyle and then rescuing him from an attack that he himself had staged. "How do you know this?"
Though she'd been nearly whispering, Angela lowered her voice further. "Not all of the halflings are in stasis. A few are, were, being kept in a lock up. There's a boy, a teenager, really. Danny. I've been talking to him. Getting to know him. He told me. And now," Angela looked up, her face betraying her fear. "He's gone."
"Maybe he's been moved to a different part of the facility. Maybe he's being treated." Lexington suggested. The same reasonable alternatives Angela had earlier rejected.
"You don't understand!" Angela protested. "You haven't been down there! There was an accident in Sector 13. That was the rumble that shook the castle. It was a shockwave from a big explosion. The place is a mess and I'm worried about Danny."
"You want me to help you find him." Lexington surmised. "But you don't want Xanatos to know about it. Why?"
"Some of the things Danny told me." Angela twisted the end of her long sable ponytail. "I'm afraid that Xanatos may be up to something, something beyond rehabilitating the halflings. I'm afraid he may be planning to sell them to the highest bidder once he figures out a way to control them."
"Angela, that's crazy! Xanatos has changed," Lexington protested. "He'd never do anything like that now." His rookery sister looked unconvinced. Resolve and fear had hardened her features and she looked eerily like Demona. Lexington felt himself weaken. What was she really asking him to do anyway? A little harmless snooping in some highly classified files. Get in. Get out. It would be a challenge. A nice intellectual exercise. Besides, the gargoyle thought philosophically, he needed a diversion from trying to figure out the vagaries of the female psyche. As much as he loved Delilah he still found her moods a mystery, and the magazine he'd borrowed from Fox hadn't added much to his understanding. "All right," he said after several seconds of silence. "I'm in. Where do you want to start?"
* * * * *
Matt glanced at his wristwatch for the third time in as many minutes. "Come on, Elisa," he muttered. He stood in the hallway in front of the locker room the sign of Mars with a slash through it keeping him at bay. Impatiently he waited for someone, anyone to come out.
A female uni gave him a sideways glance as she brushed past him, gym bag in hand. "Don't you have some place better to be, Detective?"
"Actually, Sinclair, I do." Matt grumped at the pert blonde cop. "And so does my partner. But I can't seem to find her. Rumor has it that she's in there." He gave her a beseeching look. "Could you check for me?"
Sinclair grinned and nodded. She elbowed the locker room door open revealing an elderly gray-haired woman in a bright red polyester jogging suit blinking owlishly. "I'm sorry, ma'am. Are you all right?"
The woman smiled. "Right as rain, young lady. Though I seem to be a bit turned around. I'm looking for Detective, oh dear, what was his name? Firestone? Bluerock?"
"Bluestone?" Matt supplied helpfully as Sinclair disappeared into the Women's Locker Room.
"Could be." The woman squinted up at him through thick black plastic rimmed glasses. She leaned heavily on her cane as she rummaged in her purse. "I have a card here somewhere."
"Why don't I walk you to the detective's bullpen and get you a nice cup of tea?" Matt said trying to herd the woman out of the busy hallway.
"Thank you, young man." A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth and the woman straightened. Years seemed to melt away as she added, "Make it black coffee two sugars and you've got a deal."
"Elisa?" Matt said uncertainly. "Is that you?"
"Yeah, Matt, it's me. So what do you think, pretty convincing?"
Bluestone nodded and eyed her cane uncertainly. "Is that weighted?"
Elisa nodded and swung the cane experimentally. "It's got a good feel to it too."
"Why don't you use someone else as a guinea pig?" the redheaded detective said as his partner came dangerously close to landing the cane on his shin. "Maybe we could stop by interrogation-" Matt drifted off as he studied his partner. Elisa had done an excellent job with the makeup, but the skin around her eyes seemed puffy and she seemed tense despite the banter. "Hey, are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," she dismissed. "Shouldn't we be meeting with the Captain about now?"
"Right." Matt looked at his watch and frowned. "Half an hour ago, actually. We're late."
"My bad," Elisa shrugged. "Costume trouble. We'd better hurry."
Matt caught the 'let's get to business' tone in his partner's voice. "I was talking to Chao over at the Transit Authority. He said we're after a ring of purse snatchers. They think there's at least six and possibly as many as ten suspects, targeting young women, the elderly, or folks in the middle that look like they might be on public assistance."
"They're after what? Food stamps?" Elisa frowned in disapproval.
"Actually, those new voucher cards they're using instead of stamps." Matt held open the door to the Bullpen and the two detectives threaded their way towards Captain Chavez's corner office. "On the street they've become a hot commodity. Someone's already figured out how to hack the system and those cards are like free cash."
"So much for the fraud proof system."
The pair paused at their shared office space long enough for Elisa to drop her cane and purse. Matt picked up his phone messages and leafed through them absently, crumpling several before dropping the rest of the stack into his "In" box.
Maria Chavez was talking on the phone, reading a case file as the pair of detectives approached. She looked up at Matt's knock and waved them in. She made noncommittal noises into the phone for several minutes as her subordinates waited.
"Nice outfit, Maza," Chavez said as she wracked the phone. "But there's been a change of plans." She shoved a file full of papers towards Elisa and Matt. "This is your new top priority. Mayor's orders."
"Okay," Matt said as he waited for Elisa to skim the first few pages and hand them over. "But why us?"
Chavez picked up a pen and made notations on the case file she'd been reviewing. There was no humor in her voice as she replied. "Your expertise." Chavez looked sharply at Elisa. "Read the file for the details, but here are the high points: a string of B&Es at biomedical research labs all over the city stretching back over a period of six months. Minimal forensic evidence. No fingerprints or witnesses. Until last night."
Elisa frowned. "There was a witness," she thumbed through the several more pages of the case file then handed it over to Matt.
Chavez nodded. "Right. Retired cop turned security guard at Midtown Medical Supply. He decided to take an early break. Apparently, he keeps his lunch up in a refrigerator on the 11th floor. Our burglar hadn't counted on that and he surprised it."
"It?" Matt said absently, still reading the case file.
"The guard swears the perp was a gargoyle." Chavez noted Elisa's frown then continued. "Go over to the hospital and talk to him before the press gets wind of this."
* * * * *
Thirty minutes later, the two detectives were sitting at the bedside of Harry O'Neal. Elisa had scrubbed away all traces of her old woman's makeup and her cheeks were faintly pink from the coarse locker room towel she'd used to wash her face. Matt had flipped open his notepad and had his pen poised as his partner attempted to question the victim. O'Neal was in bad shape, his left eye obscured by a thick gauze patch. An angry purple bruise blossomed over his cheekbone. Pain medication dripped from an I.V. tube into a vein in his left hand and the retired cop drifted in and out of consciousness.
"Mr. O'Neal," Elisa repeated insistently. "I need you to stay with me for just another few minutes. Please try and remember exactly what happened."
He raised his hand slightly, the motion made difficult by a plaster cast that covered him from right wrist to shoulder. "Water."
Elisa filled a plastic cup then adjusted the straw so O'Neal could more easily sip. After a moment he nodded and she set the cup down on a bedside tray.
"Better, thanks." He cleared his throat. "Got hungry. Wasn't supposed to be up on the upper level until midnight but I figured it wouldn't hurt. Got a little fridge the lab techs use. Was getting my sandwich and I heard a noise. Turned around. Glowing red eyes. Fangs. Wings. Gargoyle. Don't remember anything else." O'Neal's eyes drifted close.
* * * * *
"Gangway!" Candy yelled. "Precious cargo coming through!"
Danny dodged aside for what seemed to be the tenth time in as many minutes, cutting the denim-clad woman with the short-cropped blonde hair a wide berth as she strode by, arms full. The teenage halfling sighed in frustration. Try as he might, he was seemingly lost to find anything useful to do as his fellows unloaded the night's spoils from the back of the truck. "Come on, guys," he pleaded, approaching the other member of the group as he pushed aside another crate to clear a path for Candy, "can't I help carry something?"
"For the last time, no," Jake growled. "Now move it or lose it, kid."
Danny sighed again and stepped back as the older man waved him off. He watched as Jake followed after Candy. She gave a quick glance back over her shoulder, smirking, then whispered something that earned her a laugh from Jake as she set down the crate she was carrying. Danny frowned. "This sucks," he muttered. Dejectedly, he kicked at the floor, sending a stray pebble skittering off into the darkness of the huge warehouse.
"Don't pay any attention to those two," a familiar voice said gently. Danny looked up to find Angela beside him. She smiled affectionately, giving a fanged grin. "They're just jealous because you did such good work tonight," she said, ruffling his hair. "You're the best lookout I've ever had."
Danny found himself smiling back at his gargoyle friend. "Really?"
Angela nodded. "Really. I've decided I want you to keep helping me. If you're willing, that is."
"Sure." He shrugged. "I mean… it's not like I've got anywhere else to go. Besides, I guess I kinda owe you. You know, for busting me out of that place and everything."
The lavender gargoyle grinned. "True," she replied. She paused to scan the array of boxes and equipment that sat around them on the loading dock, tapping the screen of a tiny hand-held device with her index talon as she checked off items from a master list. "But you also helped save my tail from Xanatos' robots, so I was figuring us as even on that count."
Danny rubbed at his head. The bump he'd sustained in his escape was fading, but his memories of the actual events past the point where Angela had freed him from his cell were still rather hazy. "If you say so, Angela," he said. He watched out of the corner of his eye as Jake and Candy strode passed again, both still chuckling. "I still wish you'd told me ahead of time about all of this."
"Like I said, Danny," Angela replied, shrugging, "it's all very complicated." She tapped another sequence on the screen of her mini-computer, bringing up a new menu. "Besides," she added, "all that's important now is that we know we can trust each other."
"Of course, Angela. You're my friend. I won't let you down."
"Good." She touched the screen again, scrolling ahead through a long list, and for the moment did not say anything more.
Curious, Danny edged closer to her side and peered over her arm, checking out the small electronic device that suddenly had her so distracted. "So what's that thing?"
"It's a portable data recorder. It helps me keep track of inventory. What we have, what we need. What stays, what goes. That sort of thing." The device gave a soft beep and Angela frowned. "Where is that electromagnetic centrifuge unit?" she asked impatiently.
"It's right - OOF - here." Gargoyle and halfling both winced as the heavy piece of machinery hit the concrete floor with a hollow, metallic thud. "Damn, this thing is fucking heavy!" Candy took a step back and wiped her brow with a leather gloved hand. Absently, she scratched at a non-existent itch behind one of her pointed ears as she caught her breath, paying no heed to the disapproving scowl on the female gargoyle's face.
"Like, why didn't you just use your powers to levitate it?" Danny asked.
Candy rolled her eyes dramatically. "Gee, I would have never thought of that. I must be a total idiot, giving myself a hernia trying to do this the old fashioned way. Oh wait, that's right. I can't use my powers 'cause this piece of junk has iron in it." She shook her head in mock pity, and her tone became even more mocking. "Like, why don't you wake up and get a clue, kid?"
"Truck's empty," Jake announced. "So unless something fell out, that must be everything." The tall, wiry man stepped back out onto the loading bay and dusted off his gloved hands, oblivious to his partner's sudden change in mood until he heard her muttering icily under her breath.
"Stupid little bastard newbie."
"Enough," Angela growled, flaring her wings. She snapped her PDA shut and slipped it into a pouch on her belt. "You two," she said, indicating Candy and Jake, "get that unit moved into the lab, then finish packing the shipments that are supposed to go out in the morning. And try not to break anything this time." Her eyes narrowed into slits as she focused her glare at Candy. "I'm leaving Danny to supervise. If there is any more bickering or screwing around, you will answer to me. Got it?"
Candy crossed her arms, scowling. She opened her mouth to reply but, noting the gargoyle's tense posture, decided the first words that came to mind were better kept to herself. "You're the boss, Angela," she said at last, drawling the name to finish with an odd smirk upon her lips.
The dark-haired gargoyle lashed her tail menacingly. "Yes, I am," she replied, "and don't you forget it." Danny looked up as a taloned hand fell upon his shoulder. Angela was not smiling anymore. The look on her face was cold and purposeful. "You're in charge here. I have to go. I've a meeting to attend and I don't want to be late."
* * * * *
"Where in the world is she? You know I don't have all night." Dr. Lilith Ling checked her watch and frowned.
"Patience, my dear, patience. You're early. I'm sure she'll be here in a few minutes." Dr. Anton Sevarius settled into his place behind the desk and smiled, gesturing to one of the empty chairs that sat nearby. "Have a seat. Take a load off. I'm sure you've probably had a very long day."
The contempt-filled scowl on the Asian woman's face only deepened as she shrugged off her suit jacket. The office was warm, and the temperature was making the clothes she'd already worn all day just that much more uncomfortable. "Only thanks to you," she replied as she gave in and sat down. "Xanatos has my entire division working twelve-hour days since that little fiasco, and he's got security at the building stepped up so tight now you'd think you were walking into the Pentagon. It wasn't supposed to go down like that, Anton. You two both promised me it would be a discreet and surgical operation."
Sevarius shrugged. "What was it my high school biology teacher used to say in situations like this? Ah yes, 'feces happens'." He gave an odd smile as Dr. Ling glared at him, not amused.
"Such a clever wit," she retorted. "Why don't you just tell me why I'm here so we can make this short and sweet. Since it's obviously not to apologize for making my work life a living nightmare, I can only assume you want something from me. Again."
"Actually, my dear, I'm not the one who called this meeting." Sevarius stood up, smiling as the door opened as if on cue. "She is."
"Good evening, Doctor." The lavender-skinned gargoyle inclined her head slightly as she passed through the doorway, a move necessitated by her upswept hairstyle. She had done away with the simple braid and instead pulled the center portion of her long, dark tresses into a high, flowing ponytail secured by a sculpted gold band. Once in the room, she lifted her head again and smiled as she saw Dr. Ling. "And good evening to you, Doctor." The tip of her tail twitched as she smoothed a stray hair back into place with a talon. "My ears are itching. Was somebody talking about me?"
The human woman crossed her arms and did not rise from her chair. "It's about time you got here."
"Dr. Ling, please!" Sevarius looked mildly appalled. "Is that any way to greet the young lady?" He turned his attention back to the girl, taking her taloned hand into his own and guiding her fully into the room. "Please pardon the good Doctor, Jessie. She seems in a foul mood tonight."
"Sorry I'm a little late," the young gargoyle said, "but I just couldn't bear to wear that dreadful tunic any longer. I only took a few moments to change." Gracefully, the young gargoyle uncaped her wings, revealing a long, form-hugging gown of black satin. "My poor sister has such drab tastes when it comes to clothing," she commented as she placed her hand on her hip and twirled to show off the dress. "It feels good to be me again."
"As much as I'm enjoying the fashion show, Jezebella," Dr. Ling interrupted, "I'd really like to go home and get some sleep tonight, too. So can we get down to business, please?"
Jezebella shot the other woman a withering look and resettled her wings. "You are in a foul mood tonight," she commented. "Is it that time of the month again already?"
Dr. Ling scowled. "I just want someone to tell me what's so important that I had to come here tonight. Burnett is breathing down everyone's neck right now. Do you realize the risk I'm taking coming here?"
"Yes," Jezebella replied, "but I see you came anyway." The gargoyle smiled sweetly, then turned her attention back to Sevarius. "The updated inventory after tonight's mission, Doctor."
Sevarius accepted the PDA from her and quickly reviewed the list. "Excellent, my dear," he replied. He returned the device to her, smiling. "No more problems with the halflings, I trust?"
"No. They managed to behave themselves tonight. No major difficulties, either. Just one small interruption. There was a security guard in the building that someone neglected to warn me about." Jezebella cast a sideways glance at Dr. Ling. "He surprised me in the lab… but I took care of it." She smiled proudly.
"How unlucky for him," Sevarius mused. "Good work, Jessie."
The girl curtsied daintily. "Thank you, Doctor. That's not the reason for this meeting, though. There's something else I want to share with the both of you." Jezebella took a step closer to where Dr. Ling sat and smiled oddly. "You've never met my twin sister, Angela, have you, Doctor?"
Dr. Ling shifted uncomfortably in her chair. "No," she replied slowly, not certain where this was going. "I've only seen her on T.V."
Jezebella nodded. "Who hasn't? Well, you'll get your chance to meet the little media darling soon enough. I'll even personally introduce you, and make her give you an autograph." Lifting her tail, Jezebella spun on her heel and sat down lightly on the edge of Sevarius' desk. "I've decided to invite my dear sister for an extended stay," she announced, smoothing the skirt of her dress with her talons, "while I take her place for a while as everyone's favorite gargoyle."
Sevarius raised an eyebrow. "You wish to infiltrate Goliath's clan? Intriguing."
"Yes, with your permission, Doctor," Jezebella answered coyly, "but not just the clan. That's more of just a personal bonus. The real prize is Sector 13."
Dr. Ling blinked in disbelief. "Wait a minute. Did I miss something? What makes you think the gargoyles have access to that facility?"
Jezebella smiled. "A little birdie told me."
"Danny," Sevarius guessed. "So he turned out to be useful to you after all."
"Oh yes. And he sings a very interesting song. According to him, my dear sister has recently taken up a new hobby: baby-sitting the halflings." Jezebella tilted her head and batted her eyes in mocking imitation of her sibling. "Just something to fill her time when she's not busy smiling for the cameras, I suppose."
"Fascinating. Do go on, Jessie."
The dark-haired gargoyle smiled. "Turns out, that's why Danny thought I was Angela, and why he helped me escape after Candy's screwing around with the stasis chambers set off the alarms. She'd been visiting him regularly for over a month. From how he tells it, it's almost like she's adopted him."
Sevarius made a face. "It sound like old habits die hard. How... cute."
"Sickeningly so," Jezebella agreed. "That kid follows me around like a lost puppy." She smirked, adding, "I think he even has a bit of a crush on me. Or rather, a crush on my dear sweet sister."
Dr. Ling rubbed her temples, feeling a dull headache coming on. "Okay. So you want to impersonate Angela and use her clearance to get into Sector 13. Fine. And this teenage halfling may have a thing for you. Great. So tell me, please, before I lose my mind… where does any of this involve me?"
"I was just getting to that." Jezebella pushed off from the desk and hopped back to the floor, swishing her tail as she turned her full attention to Dr. Ling. "You, my dear, are going to help me study for the role. It's been too long since Angela and I last parted company. I'll need to research the part thoroughly, and learn everything I can about my sister and her clan before I assume her place in it. Ideally, I would spend at least a month preparing, but if I wait that long, I'll miss my best window of opportunity." She crouched down, placing her hands on the arms of Dr. Ling's chair as she put herself at eye level with the middle-aged woman. "I'm sure you've seen the papers, too, Doctor. Angela has started franchising. She just sent her significant other off on a west coast publicity tour. With him temporarily out of the way, I have my best chance to make a successful switch."
"I'm a doctor, not an acting coach, Jez. Get to the point, please."
Jezebella smiled. "I want to make this happen before my sister's loving mate returns from Hollywood. I need you to provide me with a crash course on my sister's clan. I know Xanatos must have files on them somewhere on his computers. I want you to find them, and bring copies to me."
Dr. Ling stared at Jezebella, incredulous. "Are you insane? There's no way I can do that!" She stared Jezebella in the eye defiantly. "I already gave you your chance with Sector 13. Key cards. Schedules. Blueprints. Sheesh, I did everything short of giving you a guided tour! You are the one who screwed it up, Jez. A month's worth of planning down the drain just like that," she said, snapping her fingers. "No, I'll be damned if I'm going to stick my neck out for you again. I'm as good as fired if I make copies of classified files and Xanatos finds out."
Jezebella's expression turned hard and her eyes glowed faintly red. "Just what do you value more, Doctor… your job… or your health?" She settled onto her haunches, baring her fangs as she held the human woman momentarily pinned, a captive in her seat. "It's time to decide just whose side you are on. Are you with us, or are you with Xanatos? But before you decide," she purred, "I must warn you. Xanatos may be able to terminate your employment, but I can do far worse things to you than that." She leaned in close, edging Dr. Ling back until she had no room left to retreat. "Trust me, Doctor," she said quietly. "You do not want to cross me. I know how to find you and I promise that, whatever I do, you'll never see it coming."
"Temper, temper, Jessie." A hand fell upon her shoulder and the gargoyle looked up. "You do so take after your mother sometimes," Sevarius said. Taking her taloned hand again, he gently urged the girl back to her feet. "Don't worry, my dear. I'm confident Dr. Ling will not let us down." He cast a friendly smile at the other woman, who was still edged back in her chair, and patted Jezebella's hand reassuringly. "I know you're feeling a bit stressed, Jessie," he went on, moving her back a few steps to give Dr. Ling some room, "but you really should save your ire for Miss Angela."
"She will pay," Jezebella hissed.
"Yes, yes, my dear. All in good time." Sevarius guided Jezebella behind the desk and into his own chair, then placed himself between the two women. "Now let's move on and put this bit of unpleasantness behind us, shall we? Last week's little misadventure in reality is only a small setback, and we can't afford to let it bog us down. We must all pull together and forge ahead." He paused, making sure he had his audience's full attention. "Now then. Miss Jezebella has proposed a new plan which presents us with a unique opportunity. As I see it, we all potentially have something to gain here. So it would be quite foolish to let our tempers get the better of us, don't you both agree?"
Jezebella slowly nodded, but Dr. Ling only scowled. "I still don't see how any of this benefits me. She wants me to risk my job so she can play house with the local gargoyle clan and snoop around Sector 13. How does that gain me anything? If she gets caught, I'm just one more big step closer to an involuntary early retirement."
"I will not get caught," Jezebella snapped.
Sevarius raised his hand, cutting her off. "Nothing worthwhile comes without risk, Doctor. But come now, think of the big picture. How long has it been now since you began working for Xanatos? How long have you been trapped in the limbo of middle management, waiting for approval to begin the research study you've told me about. The one you have planned for the halflings?"
"You know quite well how long," she replied sourly, her expression darkening. "Over two years, and so far I haven't even been allowed access to a live test subject. Every time I ask about it, all I get is Burnett telling me that my proposal is 'still being reviewed.'" She glanced at Jezebella. "Curse them. I know my theories are sound."
Sevarius cleared his throat. "Yes, and I'm still willing to offer you the chance to prove it. We're close, Lilith. Very close. Once Jezebella gets the last bit data we need, I'll be able to persuade the last of our investors to commit. You'll have your own lab, just like you've always wanted. So please, ask yourself, do you really want to give up now?"
The question hung in the air for a long moment, until Jezebella broke the silence. "If you want test subjects, Doctor," she said quietly, "then help me get inside the Eyrie. I'll not only get that data, I'll bring you all the halfling test subjects you could possibly need."
Dr. Ling raised an eyebrow. "Starting with your little 'lost puppy'?"
Jezebella gave Sevarius a quick glance. "When my sister is locked up in a cozy little cell and I'm roosting on her perch on the towers of Castle Wyvern… he's all yours."
"Start writing your letter of resignation, Doctor," Sevarius added. "You're going to need to devote all of your time to getting your newest project up and running."
For the first time since her arrival, the Asian woman smiled. "Okay. You've got a deal."
* * * * *
Jezebella stared at the reflection in the mirror. A half hour of styling and combing had transformed her ornate hairstyle back into a simple gathered braid, and once more she had donned the itchy, roughly cut lace-up tunic. With the slipping of a gold bangle bracelet about her wrist, the image was again complete. Angela, her twin sister, stared back at her from the glass. Angela, the sister whose cruel lies had led to her expulsion from the clan. The sister who had turned her own parents against her. The sister who had left her with nothing, and who she despised more than anything. Soon it would be her turn to know what it feels like to lose everything. Soon Angela would know what it means to be miserable and alone, watching helplessly from afar as her sister basked in the spotlight of love and admiration. The thought made Jezebella smile, but it would be only the beginning of Angela's punishment. "So many long years apart," she mused. "We'll just have to get to know each other all over again."
A knock on the door frame startled her from her thoughts. Jezebella turned to find Dr. Sevarius standing just outside the room. "It's almost dawn," he said. "Candy and Jake have left to make that delivery. I sent Danny with them."
"Tempting fate again, Doctor?" Jezebella smirked. "You know if Candy kills him, Dr. Ling is not going to be happy."
Sevarius chuckled. "Candy will keep her temper in check. I took her aside and had a little chat with her. I told her to start making preparations for your sister's accommodations, and I promised her that you'd liberate Tanya for her once you were inside."
Jezebella sniffed disdainfully. "Her obsession with that one is what nearly got us all killed the first time. Besides, I thought you and Dr. Ling both had other things in mind for whoever young Miss Angela can cajole into escaping with her from the Eyrie."
"Yes," Sevarius replied, "we do. But what Candy doesn't know won't hurt her, will it?" He stepped into the room, smiling as he spied the amused grin that flitted across the girl's delicate features. Dressed in the replicated clothing, she was truly a perfect spitting image of Angela. "That was an excellent performance you gave earlier, by the way. Poor Lilith nearly wet herself."
"I do try. But I think I'll wait until I see what she delivers before accepting too many compliments." She tugged at the hem of her tunic, and turned to the mirror once more. "Ugh. How she can stand to wear this night after night, I'll never know."
"Are you sure you want to go forward with this, Jessie?" Sevarius had stepped up behind her. She could see him now, reflected in the mirror behind her. "It won't be easy, you know. Dr. Ling did have a point. How can you be sure you'll be able to fool them?"
Jezebella adjusted the laces at the front of the tunic, searching for a fit that better accentuated her cleavage. "I've managed to keep that silly boy fooled for over a week, haven't I?"
"Yes, you have. But it's going to be a lot harder to fool Goliath and his clan. Reading up on them is only going to get you so far. You'll have to study Angela intently, and learn her mannerisms. You'll need to watch those tapes of her television appearances over and over again. Are you certain you are up to it? I've grown rather fond of you, and I would hate to see you succumb to a saccharine overdose."
The girl chuckled. "It will be painful, but I'll manage." She grinned wickedly, satisfied at last with her appearance, and turned around to face the man who had taken her in when everyone else had rejected her. "Don't worry about me, Doctor. I've been waiting for this for a long time. I'll be ready. You will get your data… Dr. Ling will get her test subjects… I will get back what is rightfully mine… and Angela will get everything that's coming to her."
Sunrise arrived unseen, freezing Jezebella in stone with her lips curled in a feral grin. Sevarius reached out a hand and trailed his fingers down the smooth surface of the girl's cheek. "Yes, Jessie," he said, "I'm looking forward to seeing Miss Angela again, as well."
* * * * *
"Thanks." Matt accepted the cup of black coffee from the street vendor and knocked back a healthy slug. Elisa joined him balancing a hot dog, plain for a change, on top of her cup. The two detectives walked a short way into the park that fronted Midtown Medical Supply and sat down on a stone bench. The early morning sunshine blazed down promising a blistering afternoon. Elisa glanced upwards. "I hate double shifts."
"Get used to it," Matt grumped. "If we don't solve this case in a hurry the Captain's gonna have us doing doubles in Traffic Control."
"For the rest of our careers. Yeah, I got the hint, Matt." Elisa sipped coffee. "Problem is I don't have any idea how to solve this case. Forced entry from the roof, no alarms; definite signs of gargoyle involvement. There was a time when if something like this happened I'd know exactly who was responsible."
"Demona?" her partner replied.
"Yeah, Demona," Elisa said between long swallows of coffee. "But this really isn't her style anymore. Now if she needs something from a competitor she just buys the entire company. I can't really see her keeping her hand in for old time's sake."
"There're been other gargoyles gone bad," Matt suggested. "What about that Thailog guy?"
Elisa shook her head as she started in on the hot dog. "Red glowing eyes. O'Neal said. That's a female gargoyle, Matt. The males' eyes glow white when they're upset or angry. Besides, Thailog is dead."
"We should go talk to Demona," Matt said. "Rule her out."
Elisa nodded reluctantly. "I suppose. But let's finish reviewing the rest of the crime scenes. The fewer doubles we have to pull, the happier I'll be."
"Where to next?"
Elisa crumpled the hotdog wrapper and stuffed it into her coffee cup before consulting her notes. "Tri Cities Biotech or Alpha Technology. Both addresses are over on Lexington. Alpha Technology was hit first three months ago."
"Waste of time."
"I know," Elisa agreed. "Any physical evidence is long gone. But there's got to be something tying all these break-ins together and maybe talking to the employees will give us some kind of a lead. Wait a minute. You have the inventory lists?"
Matt nodded. "Yeah, in the car, plus this one." He pulled a notebook out of his coat pocket and flipped it open.
"Good. Maybe someone in the trade can tell what our thief is up to."
* * * * *
An hour later Elisa and Matt sat in the cramped office of Dr. Lilith Ling, ignoring the chill of a ventilation system on overdrive. The interview at Alpha Technology had been brief and added little to the information they already had on record. So the detectives had retreated to the sweaty confines of the Fairlane long enough to move the car closer to Tri Cities Biotech and tried again.
Now Elisa was starting to miss both the summer swelter and her favorite bomber jacket. The lightweight beige pantsuit she wore was bare protection against the cold though their interviewee seemed to be immune. She was a woman in her early to middle thirties, neat and composed in her long white lab coat, her dark hair sensibly coifed in a pageboy style that cleared her collar by a comfortable inch. A pair of Ben Franklin reading glasses sat among the research notes on her desk and she slipped them on as Matt handed over the list of stolen equipment he'd cobbled together from the theft reports.
"Care to tell me who is missing these items?" Ling asked as she surveyed Bluestone's handiwork.
"We could, but we don't want to influence your opinion," Elisa replied. "In all seriousness, Doctor, we're two cops out of our league with this genetic engineering stuff. We need your help. Most of your colleagues are concerned that cooperating with us is going to inadvertently reveal some deep dark trade secret. So if you could tell us, what would somebody do with that equipment? What does that list suggest to you?"
"I understand your dilemma." Ling smiled. Though she was plain featured, her face was animated pleasantly as she chuckled. "Unless we're bragging about a new discovery in a trade journal, as a group, we scientists are a closed mouth lot. We're always afraid that we'll give someone else in the community a brainstorm and cut ourselves out of a research grant." She returned her attention to the list. "Hmm, this is interesting."
"What's that?" Matt leaned forward attentively. Elisa noticed his tie was askew from being loosened and hastily straightened.
Ling adjusted the half framed spectacles that had slid precariously forward. "First, let me preface my statement by saying that I'm not a geneticist, my specialty is behavioral studies as applied to genetics, but as a lab manager I do have a decent understanding of the equipment that is used in our facilities. The equipment and items on this list is interesting. To me it suggests three possible alternatives. One: theft for resale. Have you checked eBay or the specialty auction houses?" Off the detectives' dual head shake and Elisa's quick notation in her notebook, she moved on. "Two: Somebody is building a laboratory in their basement and doesn't have the resources to acquire equipment through normal channels. Or, and this is strictly speculation on my part, someone was less interested in the equipment and more interested in throwing their competition's timetable off track."
"What are you saying, Doctor?" Elisa's frowned. "Industrial sabotage?"
Ling shrugged. "It's possible. Or espionage with the thefts as cover. The proprietary samples taken from each lab, including this one, give credence to that alternative. It could be that the thief is a dark horse looking to make up time or perhaps someone curious what the competition is up to."
Matt's eyes betrayed his skepticism and something else. Ling noted it and argued on. "Assume you were setting up an underground genetics lab with the intention of human cloning. Which, given the current political atmosphere, isn't as far fetched as you might imagine. You'd only need a bare minimum of equipment. There's no real need for redundancy. According to this inventory your thief has acquired several nearly identical units of different manufacture. Now, because most scientists prefer consistency, this tells me that this equipment came from multiple facilities. See here. The Alteri 3000 and the Jensen B/4? Those are both essentially identical machines used to process tissue samples. Your culprit really doesn't need both." The behaviorist removed her glasses. "I can see you're skeptical, Detectives. But you have to understand. We lost months' worth of research time. Those months could make the difference between patenting a new protocol for gene splicing or losing our place in the research community to someone else. It's a race and we're all running for the same prizes."
The detectives mulled over Ling's declaration for a few moments then exchanged a glance. They both rose and Elisa held out her hand. "Thank you, Doctor. You've given us a lot to think about."
Ling gripped it briefly then moved from behind the desk to usher her visitors out of the office. "You're welcome, detectives. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to the race."
She closed the door and turned her back against the glass her mind spinning furiously. It was possible, she supposed, that she'd handed the pair Anton's side business, but Ling didn't think so. Not even Sevarius would be that obvious in disposing of his stolen merchandise. Besides, often a little dose of truth was useful in selling a bigger lie. She had sized her visitors up carefully and offered the mundane explanation to Detective Maza. Bluestone had seemed uninterested so Ling had baited her line carefully and watched as the redheaded detective followed like a hungry trout. He'd snapped at the industrial espionage theory, taking it hook, line and sinker. He'd be off chasing ghosts and shadows for weeks. Ling relaxed. No point in worrying Sevarius about her little chat with Detectives Maza and Bluestone.
* * * * *
"All right, Owen, what's next on the agenda?" David Xanatos inked his signature on the last of a stack of SEC filings and looked up expectantly at his aide de camp.
"Progress report from Sector Thirteen, sir." Owen retrieved the financial documents and handed over a folder marked 'Confidential'. He adjusted his spectacles and began to recap. "As you can see, the tremor that was felt throughout the building was caused by an overloaded generator, the result of someone attempting to circumvent a stasis field force field. None of the units went off-line due to the redundant protective systems, however, the explosion resulted in a fire and subsequent smoke and water damage: buckled steel, fractured concrete, masonry damage and so forth. Crews have been working around the clock and the foreman believes that the structural repairs will be completed by tomorrow afternoon."
"Excellent. And the generator?"
"A replacement generator was available from Stores and has been moved to Sector 13. Installation will begin as soon as the safety inspector has signed off on the structural work."
David stroked his beard thoughtfully. "Good. And the missing assets?"
Burnett pursed his lips as if sucking an invisible lemon. "No new information, sir."
The phone rang. Owen scooped up the receiver. "Yes, Holly. Thank you. Bring it right in." He cut the connection. "New information, Mr. Xanatos."
A thirty-ish woman with an efficient bob haircut and severely tailored suit entered the office. "This was brought over by messenger, sir," she said addressing a point in the air midway between Xanatos and his aide. The secretary handed the parcel to Owen and withdrew.
David handed his assistant an elaborately engraved letter opener. "Who's it from?"
"Dr. Wang," Owen replied as he handed over a CDR.
Xanatos fed the disk into his computer workstation and typed in a decrypt code. A PDF type document appeared on screen displaying the title "Forensic Analysis: Sector 13" followed by the table of contents of the report. "Let's cut to the chase, shall we?" He selected the summary page and began to read. A second later he glanced up at Owen. His aide was silent as his eyes flicked over the page of densely worded text. He wore the same discomfited expression as when they'd had no information at all.
"Well, this is interesting." David said at last.
"Indeed, sir and quite conclusive." He glanced at his boss for permission as he moved to an auxiliary keyboard. "If I may?"
Xanatos waved absently as his spare blonde assistant brought up the detailed reports on the blood and tissue analysis. He then minimized the file momentarily while accessing another portion of the computer. A moment later two blood sample reports were lined up side by side.
"A perfect match," David conceded. "And hers were the only finger, I mean, talon prints?"
Owen's fingers flew over the keyboard and a second comparison blossomed on the wall size screen. "The only ones identifiable. There is inconclusive evidence that she had at least one accomplice. Fire and water damage prevented the recovery of additional samples. Also, the report suggests that it was not her first visit to Sector 13. Some of these prints recovered from the stasis hall go back at least a month."
"I suppose this explains the lack of videotape. We know she can gimmick cameras."
"Indeed, sir. However, Mr. Xanatos, this new information raises as many questions as it answers. Why was Miss Angela in Sector 13? Who did she bring with her? And why did she liberate the assets that are missing?"
David stroked his beard absently, mulling the probabilities of various scenarios. "All good questions. I suppose it could be a coincidence. Her being down there and the break-in. I know that 's the first thing that Goliath's going to say when he finds out. We need more evidence. Tell the boys in Security they're getting overtime this week. I want them to go over all the logs, all the tapes of the entire building for the last month. I want a report detailing Angela's comings and goings. And Owen," he added as he flipped through the remainder of Dr. Wang's report, "let's keep a close watch on our wandering gargoyle. At least until this is cleared up."
* * * * *
Matt pulled up to the gates of Destine Manor and pressed the intercom button. Elisa sat in the passenger seat of the classic red and white Fairlane comparing interview notes. Early evening was giving way to sunset and she'd flipped open the glove box to provide illumination.
An unfamiliar female voice greeted them and Bluestone identified himself. A moment later the gates swung open. The Fairlane crawled forward up the drive. The oppressively thick trees gave way to a sweeping expanse of lawn and severely pruned shrubs. Closer to the house, there were signs that the landscape was undergoing a change. Newly planted roses anchored one end of a strolling garden. A large marble fountain of Renaissance vintage stood at the center. Piles of paving stones, pebbles and still more plants in nursery pots indicated the project was somewhere in the half completed stage.
"I'll bet that was Andrea's idea," Elisa commented as she surveyed what was soon to be a tasteful riot of color. "I can't imagine Demona doing something like that on her own."
"Maybe you can use that as a way to work up to the real questions," Matt replied. "Doing some re-landscaping, Demona? Oh by the way, did you break into half a dozen of your competitors, just for kicks?"
Elisa shot her partner a sour glance. "Not funny, Bluestone."
He had no chance to reply. Andrea Calhoun appeared from the far end of the garden in progress. She was clad in denim jeans instead of her customary canvas painter's pants. As she approached she stripped her hands bare of leather gloves. "Good evening, Elisa. Detective Bluestone. Won't you come in?"
"Thanks, Andrea." Elisa allowed the painter to escort them into the foreboding interior of Destine Manor. The detective pursed her lips in surprise as she surveyed the entryway and the living room beyond. Before, she had considered the décor to be severe to the point of harsh. But Andrea's sense of whimsy had begun to show its influence. While the rooms were still formal in tone, lighter touches here and there, bright throw pillows and surprising accent pieces now caught the observer off guard, making the rooms less of a showpiece and more of a real home. "I like what you've done with the place."
The artist blushed. "Really? Thanks. I wanted to create a more relaxing environment for Dominique. She works so hard. And environment really does influence mood."
"You could make a killing in interior design if you ever wanted to branch out," Matt added. "By the way, where is the lady of the manor tonight?"
"Dominique had to work late tonight." Andrea indicated her work gloves. "Come on into the kitchen while I clean up. We can talk in there."
The trio entered the kitchen. Elisa noted a black and white plastic cat clock with absurd eyes and swinging tail she was sure had no place in the previous kitchen of Ms. Destine. A petite woman with a waist length blonde ponytail and sharply angled cheekbones was pouring tea into china cups. She smiled. "You must be Detectives Bluestone and Maza." She looked over at Andrea for approval. "It was okay that I let them in?"
"Fine, Jeannie." Andrea went to the sink and began to wash up. Over her shoulder she continued, "Elisa is a friend of the family and Detective Bluestone is her partner. Jeannie is our houseguest," Andrea added as she reached for a towel and dried her hands. "I take it this is official and not clan business, Elisa."
Elisa gave the painter an uncomfortable look. "Yeah, it is. Has Demona been working a lot of late nights over the last six months?"
Andrea shrugged. "A few. She's been getting ready for a series of overseas meetings both for Nightstone and with the Gargoyle Council."
Elisa frowned at the mention of the council.
"Would one of those late nights been Tuesday?" Matt chimed in when Elisa failed to ask the logical follow up.
It was Andrea's turn to look uncomfortable. "No, Tuesday night Dominique was definitely here from sundown on."
"Can you verify that Ms. –" Matt paused realizing he didn't know the second blonde - and very pretty - woman's surname.
Jeannie, belatedly realizing that Matt was addressing her, fumbled the teacup she was setting before Andrea. "Oh! You mean me. Normally people just call me Jeannie. Yes. Ms. Destine was here. I remember she was rather tense and went straight to her office right after dinner. She barely touched her chicken salad."
Matt dragged his thoughts back to the investigation and away from Jeannie's stunning green eyes. "Back to Nightstone?"
"No, Detective Bluestone," Andrea clarified. "Dominique has an office here. She often brings work home with her."
"I see." Elisa commented. She looked at the two women. They were both suddenly tense. "I guess that's it for now. We can show ourselves out."
"That's it?" Andrea said sharply. "You needed an alibi for Dominique? Why?"
Elisa shrugged. "We really can't get into the specifics, but her name came up in the course of an ongoing investigation."
"She was a suspect?"
Elisa realized she felt like a heel. "Not a serious one. But we have to do our job. Determining Demona's whereabouts was part of it."
"Does she need an attorney?"
Elisa exchanged a glance with Matt. "Can you swear that she was here Tuesday night between 10:00 and midnight?"
Both women nodded. Andrea added, "I came home late, around 8:00 p.m. Domi and I had a fight. She went to her office. I went upstairs, meditated, tried to calm down. Later around 10:30, she came upstairs and we spent the rest of the night making up."
Matt flipped his notebook closed. "We're good then."
"Will you tell her?" Andrea asked. She was anxious about upsetting her gargoyle lover and Elisa thought she could appreciate the woman's dilemma. How many times had she covered for Goliath and the others and shielded them from the guilt others were too ready to lay at their feet?
"No. There's no reason," Elisa assured. "Just forget we were here." She started to exit, and got as far as the hallway before turning and calling over her shoulder. "Are you coming, Matt?"
Matt Bluestone tried to think of one more question to ask that pertained to the case, realized he couldn't and shut his notebook. "Thanks again for your time," he said politely. When he caught up with Elisa, waiting in the entryway, a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.
* * * * *
Lexington curled on the couch in the recreation room, hunched over his laptop computer. The television was tuned to a baseball game and Bronx was watching with rapped attention as the Yankees pounded on the Cardinals. Lexington ignored both the players on the screen and the growling, howling gargoyle beast who seemed to disagree with the umpire's latest call. He should have been sitting perched in an oak tree listening to the New York Philharmonic play Mozart at the concert in the park with Delilah and the others, but he'd begged off complaining of a headache. "I think it's all this changing weather. Hot. Stormy. Hot again. I wish it'd just make up its mind, I think it's affecting my implants."
Naturally, Delilah wanted to stay with him, but Lexington knew she'd been looking forward to the outdoor performance and insisted that she go. He had kissed her on the nose and promised to catch up as soon as he felt able, then made a big production of taking the special pain pills formulated by Xanatos's doctors for just such occasions and drinking an entire glass of water down to the bottom as his mate looked on with concern.
Now his stomach ached from the unnecessary medication. He would have rather been honest with Delilah, but Angela had sworn him to secrecy. Until they had proof it would be better to keep the rest of the clan out of it.
Click. Click. Click. "Okay. I'm in." It had taken three nights of intensive labor, the minutes at his keyboard stolen away from other activities to develop the worms. Xanatos's security was tight, but there was always a back door if you looked in the right places. The megalithic operating system, recently upgraded but not yet fully patched, was usually a good place to start.
The delivery was trickier. Lexington consulted the latest employee directory. Excellent. Two temps were working in the travel office this week. He hacked into the maintenance division and checked the outgoing mail. Perfect. A memo detailing lunch room policies.
Click. Click. Click. The worm embedded neatly into the document. He replaced the memo back in the system.
Next step. No one could resist a good office spam. Lexington hijacked an email address from personnel and attached a long story involving two construction workers, a bar and a parrot. There was also an amusing little animation that wasn't entirely innocent. The header said "From the Office of D.F. Perkins – URGENT". He sent it company wide.
Singly the two emails meant nothing. But once they were both open he would have an entry (he hoped) into the files of Sector 13. Lexington logged off the computer. If he hurried he could catch the second half of the concert. Bronx barely noticed as he slipped from the room and rushed to catch up with the rest of the clan.
* * * * *
"In other news tonight, it's the latest case of east coast meets west as Broadway goes to Hollywood. No, we're not talking about a new musical, we're talking about a gargoyle named Broadway who since winging his way to Los Angeles a week ago has seemingly taken the city and the entertainment industry by storm."
Jezebella looked up from her laptop computer, ears twitching, and grabbed for the remote to bring up the volume on the small television.
"Entertainment Tonight caught up with the big blue sensation last night outside the Getty Center as he attended the Diversity Awards, and got his thoughts on what it feels like to be joining his wife, Angela, on the fast track to stardom."
The camera cut away to a red carpet walkway lined with photographers and reporters doing their best to capture a few moments of time from any number of well-dressed celebrities. Jezebella's brow furrowed as she spotted her sister's mate, making his way toward the entrance arm-in-arm with a lavishly attired Fox Xanatos.
"I'm having a great time out here," he commented. "Everyone's so friendly. I just wish Angela could be here with me. Hey, if this will be on TV can I say 'hi' to everyone back home?" He took hold of the microphone, not waiting for the correspondent to answer. "Hello, everyone in New York!" he said, waving. "Especially you, Angela," he added, hanging back even as Fox smiled and did her best to move him along. "I love you, babe!"
The remote control flew across the room, bouncing off the wall and clattering to the floor as Jezebella saw red.
"The bow tie just makes him look like a fat Chipendale's dancer if you ask me."
Jezebella looked up sharply to find Candy standing across the table from her. "What do you want?" she asked.
The gargoyle's tone was cold and harsh, but Candy didn't flinch. "Newspaper delivery," she replied, tossing the copy she carried onto the table so the headline faced Jezebella. "Extra, extra, read all about it. Media, gargoyle to kiss P.I.T. artist's ass."
Jezebella scowled and reached for the paper. What Candy had delivered was in fact just the Arts & Entertainment section of the Times, and the banner headline actually read "Gargoyle, artist to open exhibit at Met."
Candy stuck her thumbs in the belt loops of her jeans. "You owe me now," she stated. "Good thing I intercepted that before little Danny boy went looking to read the comics page."
"This event happens in just two nights," Jezebella stated, skimming the article. "She'll be alone… away from the clan," she mused absently. "Perfect."
"You're welcome," Candy muttered.
Jezebella's lips had curled into a feral grin by the time she refocused her attention on the halfling woman. "Have you finished preparing my sister's temporary lodgings?" she demanded.
Candy nodded. "Everything is all set."
"Excellent. Then there's no sense in letting this opportunity escape."
The blonde woman raised an eyebrow. "I thought you still needed time to, um, rehearse."
Jezebella glanced at the newspaper again, eyes narrowing as a smiling Angela stared back at her from the file photograph below the headline. "I've waited long enough," she replied. "It's time I reclaim what is mine."
Candy nodded. "Just one problem. That kid still thinks you're her. When we bring her back here, he…"
"…will be helping us," Jezebella stated. The smile on her face turned a shade more wicked as saw the confusion play across Candy's vaguely elfish features. "Don't worry. I will take care of Danny," she said, "and once I'm done, he'll be as eager as you are to see her locked up in that dreary little cell."
"If you say so, Jez." Candy's tone was skeptical, but the far away look in the gargoyle's eyes warned her not to push the issue. "I'll let the Doc and Jake know."
"Yes," Jezebella replied. "You do that." The lavender-skinned gargoyle rose from her chair, snatching up the newspaper in her talons as she stood. "It's time Danny and I had a little chat about my wicked, no-good sister."
* * * * *
Jezebella passed quickly through the dark but familiar corridors, wondering what kind of tale she could spin that would not only keep young Danny on her side but convince him to assist with the abduction of her sister, as well. Candy and Jake and the others could manage fine without him, true, but there was just something she found irresistible about the thought of turning Angela's little pet halfling against her. It would be only the first in many turnabouts to come for her dear sweet beloved sister.
Angela, her jealous, hateful, spiteful sister. It had now been over five years since their parting. Jezebella closed her eyes, struggling to fight back the rush of emotions that roiled inside her. How many times in her nightmares had she relived those final moments when she had last lain eyes upon her sister in the flesh?
The first betrayal had been bad enough. The clan had been restored to their ancestral home of Castle Wyvern, but she had not been with them. Angela had made sure of that, spinning a clever web of accusations that had finally convinced the others that her newly arrived twin sister had been in league with Demona the entire time. She had been banished from the clan, and ordered never to dare venture near the castle under penalty of death. To add the final insult, Angela had been the one permitted to escort her to the edge of Manhattan Island.
"I warned you not to interfere, sister. You should have listened or it wouldn't have had to come to this," Angela had calmly explained as she undid the ropes that bound Jezebella's hands. "Go home, Jezebella. Broadway is mine now, but perhaps our rookery brothers will welcome you back."
Only she had not been able to return home. She had arrived in Manhattan by boat and had no one left to turn to for help in finding her way back across the sea. So she had done the next best thing she could think of, and begun searching for Demona. With the Quarrymen suddenly everywhere, though, she was living on borrowed time. It hadn't even been a week since her banishment had begun that she'd been spotted. A lone gargoyle with no safe haven to retreat to, she was the perfect target. There had been a brief chase ending in a blind alley, that much she could remember. Then the net wrapped around her, pinning her wings and rendering her helpless on the ground. She trembled as the men approached, their charged hammers humming. She could see only their eyes, but she could tell they were leering beneath their hoods.
"What do you say, boys?" the group's leader asked. "Shall we have a little fun with this monster?"
Jezebella struggled futilely against her bonds, but within seconds the half dozen Quarrymen were upon her. On each side, someone pinned her wrists, while another placed his heavy boot roughly on her neck. She gasped for air, writhing desperately in a bid to escape, but a quick shock from one of the hammers momentarily stilled her. Gloved hands groped and pawed, tugging at her clothing, but all she could do was pant helplessly. With glowing, panicked eyes, she scanned the dead end alley for someone - anyone - who could help her.
It was then that she had spotted her. Angela, perched on the edge of the brickwork above, moonlight reflecting off her dark sable tresses as she watched the scene unfolding below.
Jezebella summoned a gasping breath. "Sister! Please, help me!"
Angela stood up, spreading her wings, and said not a word as she launched herself into the air. She only chuckled, wicked and low, as she banked and glided away. Jezebella's eyes went wide in disbelief. "No! Please, no!"
A sharp kick and another shock from another Quarryhammer silenced her for good, but in the numbness that followed as she watched her sister's silhouetted form fading into the distance, she barely felt the pain. As the tears welled, she closed her eyes and embraced the darkness, waiting for it to claim her.
The next sensation she could remember was one of warmth and weightlessness. There was no pain, no sound, no motion… and no light until she at last forced open her eyes. That mere effort alone rendered her all but exhausted, yet it was enough to forestall the sense of panic that threatened to overwhelm her at finding herself unable to feel her extremities or twitch so much as a talon tip. The thick, bluish liquid that enveloped her blurred her vision, but gradually she became aware of her surroundings. A mask not unlike a scuba diver's covering her mouth and nose, allowing her to breath. A myriad of tubes and wires surrounding her in the incubation tube. Beyond its plexiglass walls, a medical laboratory full of diagnostic equipment. And standing just off to the side, watching her, a brown-haired man and a dark-haired woman, both dressed in white.
She wouldn't learn her saviors' names that night, or the night after. Indeed, it was many countless nights more spent drifting in and out of consciousness before she had finally recovered enough from her ordeal to be released back into the world of gravity and air. Doctor Sevarius had been right there at her side during that moment of rebirth, steadying her with gentle words and a supportive arm as she at last placed her feet on solid ground again. And he had remained by her side throughout the long period of rehabilitation that had followed.
Jezebella opened her eyes, blinking as she brought her thoughts back to the present. She rubbed at her brow ridges, sighing as she felt the tiny throbbing pain growing again deep within her sinuses. The frequent migraine headaches were just one of many lingering effects of her near-death ordeal and recovery that she had been forced to learn to live with. She would see Dr. Sevarius later, after she spoke with Danny, and he would give her another pill to help make the pain go away, at least for a little while. There was no pill, though, that could fix the other ills she suffered as result of her sister's cruel betrayal in abandoning her to the Quarrymen. The memory loss… the recurring nightmares… the inability to ever have an egg of her own. Angela would soon pay for each and every one of those things.
Jezebella's lips curled into a wicked smile, the headache all but forgotten as she reached the door to Danny's room. She would tell him the truth, she decided. At least for the most part. She'd have to change the names since he knew her as Angela, but that was but a small detail. Clearing her throat, she mustered a smile that was less telling and placed her knuckles to the doorframe. "Danny?" she called. "It's Angela. May I come in?"
* * * * *
Danny sat on the edge of the bed, doing his best to process the story the gargoyle sitting beside him had just finished relating. "Angela… man… I never would have thought… I mean… wow." He looked up at her. "How come you never told me about this before?" he asked quietly.
Jezebella shrugged and gave a sad smile. "You had enough problems of your own. I didn't want to burden you with mine, as well." She sniffed and quickly wiped at her eye, averting her gaze from the boy. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have kept this a secret from you, I realize that now. It's just that… it's not real easy for me to talk about it."
She looked up again as Danny's hand touched her own. "Angela, no… that's not how I meant it. You don't have to apologize." He quieted, searching for his next words as his gargoyle friend regarded him curiously with her dark, glistening eyes. "I don't have any brothers or sisters," he said at last, "but I think I can understand where you're coming from, Angela." His eyes darkened a shade. "It really sucks when you find out your own family doesn't want anything to do with you."
Jezebella nodded mutely, genuine emotion slowly replacing the resigned but exaggerated sadness she had been feigning for the boy's benefit. During the long initial phase of her recovery, sealed away from all contact in the incubation tube, she had remained in a state of denial. Despite the vividness of the memories, she had convinced herself that she must have just been seeing things - that Angela couldn't possibly have just glided off, leaving her to suffer a cruel and certain death. Only once she had been released and begun to question Doctor Sevarius about what had happened to bring her into his care had the horrible truth finally sunk in. "I caught a glimpse of her gliding away as I came outside to investigate the commotion," he had said. "She didn't lift a talon to aid you. So sad, really. I thought gargoyle clans were tighter knit than that."
"… but at least we've got each other now."
Jezebella blinked and hastily cleared another tear from her eye. "I'm sorry, Danny. What was that?" Her voice was husky.
The teenage halfling squeezed his friend's hand gently, mindful of her talons, and manage a small smile. "I said, we've got each other now, Angela, even if our families don't want us."
"Yes." Jezebella pushed the dark memories back down inside for the moment, and summoned a gentle smile of her own. "We have each other… and maybe we can help each other, too."
Danny's smile grew broader as the gargoyle shifted a few inches closer. "What do you mean, Angela?" he asked, the hair on the back of his neck pricking as she pressed her leg against his.
Jezebella placed her other hand atop the one Danny already held and leaned in conspiratorially. "My clan may no longer care about me, but I still care about them. I can't let my sister's lies continue to go unchallenged. I have to let them know the truth, even if it means I will never be welcome again, otherwise no one will ever be safe from her." She lowered her voice until she was speaking in nearly a whisper. "I have a plan, but I need your help, Danny."
"That cell in the basement," he muttered, eyes widening in realization. "It's for her, isn't it?"
Jezebella edged back slightly, but nodded. "Yes. The Doctor has developed a powerful truth serum," she explained quickly, amazed herself at how easily the well-rehearsed lie rolled from her tongue. "My plan is to capture her and let him get a confession on tape to show the clan, while I take her place in the meanwhile so they don't get suspicious. But how did you know about…"
"I overheard Candy talking to Jake," Danny replied, shrugging. "She's got a big mouth."
The lavender-skinned gargoyle chuckled. "That she does." Jezebella pressed herself closer to the boy. "So what do you think? Will you help me?"
"I think after what she did to you, she's getting off pretty damn easy." He smirked good-naturedly. "But yeah, Angela. I'll help you."
Jezebella's grin spread from ear to pointed ear. "I knew I could count on you, Danny."
* * * * *
"Three, two, one… and finish with a hug. I do declare, that girl's got Oscar potential if I ever saw it." Dr. Sevarius tapped his fingers on the arm of his chair, watching the grainy black and white feed on the computer monitor for a few more seconds. Below the jerky image displaying a Jezebella's eye view of the boy halfing, a small array of digitized instrumentation displayed heart rate, blood pressure, breath rate, and a variety of other vital statistics.
"It's too bad there's no audio," Dr. Ling quipped. "If we had the sound to go with this moving moment, I might be in tears right now."
"An unfortunate limitation of the implant," Sevarius replied. Tapping the escape key on his keyboard, he exited the program and turned his full attention to his female colleague. "Still, I must say I'm quite pleased with my first little foray into the world of cybernetics. I always knew those files I liberated from Maddox Technologies on my way out would come in handy some day."
"I just hope your clone isn't getting too attached to my halfling," Dr. Ling replied. "Our deal still stands. I got her the files she needed on Xanatos' pet gargoyles. Jezebella had better live up to her end of the bargain."
"You surprise me, Doctor. You should have more confidence in your work." He smiled smugly. "You and I have taught young Jessie everything she knows. She trusts us. She will keep her agreement."
"She trusts you," Dr. Ling replied. "Serves me right for not catching on sooner that those first discussions we had over lunch were more than just 'hypothetical.' You use my memory implantation techniques to cast yourself as the benevolent father figure, and I get stuck playing second fiddle. How fair was that?" She crossed her arms. "Another two weeks in the incubation tube - that's all I would have needed - and she'd be giving me Mother's Day cards instead of attitude."
"And another six months and we could have given her childhood memories of Sesame Street, trips to the zoo, and selling her first box of Girl Scout cookies. We've been through this before, Doctor," Sevarius chided. "With better investment strategies, we might have both had the luxury of more time."
Sevarius paused to reflect. In the course of his employment with Nightstone and subsequently Maddox Technologies, he had managed to divert a very comfortable cushion of funds into his private accounts. Still, it had been an aggressive portfolio loaded with tech stocks and booming dot-coms that had allowed him to leverage his money well enough to be able to pursue the pet project that had long been on the back burner. That little sample of the girl's DNA, collected at Loch Ness, had sat in cold storage for over three years, right alongside the remaining samples from the girl's biological parents. He had been determined this time to get all the details right, including the coloration. While the clones he had created for Thailog had been a rush job, Jezebella had been a labor of love and patience. Her DNA sequences were checked, re-checked, and checked again against the original model, and recompiled when necessary using the parent material. The painstaking work had taken him just under a year to complete, but the result had been a single-cell embryo with a genetic profile exactly identical to one Miss Angela Brigitte Destine.
He had met Dr. Ling quite by chance. They had shared the same stock broker and, as it turned out, the same impatiently aggressive approach to playing the market. They'd had lunch and ended up talking shop, and her ideas had intrigued him. Back in the lab, Jezebella was growing at the cautiously accelerated rate of about a year a week inside her specially built incubation tube, and it was getting near time to begin her programming. While with all his experience the genetics had become almost second nature, he had come to realize that the behavioral aspects of his cloning research had been woefully neglected. Already, he had been searching for an alternative to the brute force implantation techniques that had given Thailog his winning personality, but since his first clone had insisted that the programming of the others remain simple, he had done little at the time towards pursuing new methods. Jezebella, though, would be different. She would be perfect, his ultimate achievement in cloning, physically identical to her genetic parent and sister in every way. He wanted her personality to be a spot-on match, as well… with but a few small improvements and modifications. Her programming, therefore, had demanded a fresh approach.
"Behavioral modification through selective memory implantation," Sevarius mused aloud. "A fully developed personality, equivalent to that of a young adult, created in a mere six months. It's quite impressive, actually, Lilith."
Dr. Ling gave a smug smile. "Yes. But just think what we could have accomplished with her before the money ran out if you had brought me on board sooner, instead of trying to do it all by yourself." She glanced out the office window, into the sprawling laboratory that lay beyond, and Sevarius followed her gaze to the now-empty incubation tube where, just shortly before Christmas, he had first introduced her to the nearly mature clone.
"Dr. Lilith Ling, meet Jezebella," he had said.
"A gargoyle," she had replied. "You didn't tell me she was a gargoyle. This may prove even more interesting than I had anticipated."
Eager to begin the first live trial of her ideas, Dr. Ling had gotten to work immediately. What followed for Jezebella had been an intensive program of mental conditioning and memory imprinting, supplemented with regular awakenings from stasis to further blur the lines between programmed illusion and real world reality. In retrospect, Dr. Ling's methods had been pure genius. For the first three months, Jezebella had remained in the incubation chamber as the initial round of memories were programmed. Dr. Ling had even reviewed the script he had composed and suggested subtle improvements. It had been her idea to include an appearance of Angela in the scenario where Jezebella sustained the severe "injuries" that had placed her into his care. The injuries had also provided the context to begin awakening Jezebella to the real world. Dr. Ling had insisted she be allowed to drift in and out of consciousness while still confined to the incubation tube. "She'll feel confused and helpless," she had explained, "and that will leave her mind more amenable to suggestion. Plus it will allow her to integrate us into her reality before we put ourselves in range of those fangs and talons."
Sevarius had to admit, although Dr. Ling's methods were unorthodox, they proved to be quite effective. She had even written Jezebella's release from the incubation chamber into the course of her programming, allowing the girl to experience that monumental event for real. Jezebella's education had then continued by way of the two-way implant Dr. Ling had convinced him to install months earlier. Three more years of compressed memories were programmed over the course of the next two months, until Jezebella had completed her rehabilitation and been brought fully into her role as the newest member of his adopted family. That had been the end of Phase One of her programming, and it should have marked the beginning of Phase Two. But fate and the stock market, both so kind to them so far, had decided then to turn on them.
"Don't get me wrong, Anton," Dr. Ling continued. "Your darling little gargoyle clone is quite an achievement. She's certainly a much more impressive success story than that stupid sheep ever was. Still, it's not the body that interest me, Anton. It's the mind. And from where I'm standing, what we've managed to create with her only represents a small fraction of what my techniques, when applied correctly, could potentially do."
"Yes," Sevarius replied, returning his attention to the present. He smiled oddly, dismissing the brief vision of cross-mutating his former stock broker into an armadillo, and turned back to his computer to pull up a spreadsheet. "Making a gargoyle into an expert cat burglar is one thing," he said, "but making a halfling into the perfect soldier… now that's a horse of a different color. Ben Franklin green, to be exact."
Dr. Ling stepped in behind him, peering over his shoulder at the columns of numbers. "You're taking advance orders already?" she asked. "Is that wise? We haven't even secured the test subjects yet."
"You worry too much, Lilith. Jezebella will provide, just as she always has. Raiding one's competitors, though, can only take one so far. That's why, while you've been busy assisting Jezebella with her research, I've been busy soliciting donations from interested parties. After all, one million dollars American, paid in advance, is but a small, small price to pay for the privilege of being allowed to bid on the finished product." He clicked the mouse, bringing up a new screen, and smiled as he reviewed the totals. "You'll be able to quit your day job soon, my dear, and go to work full time on your research."
"I hope you realize it could take some time." The Asian woman stepped away, turning her gaze back out again to the unoccupied lab space as she crossed her arms. "Jezebella was a blank slate," she said, a worried look flitting across her delicate features. "The initial programming was fairly easy, but I never had the chance to perform Phase Two of the experiment with her."
Sevarius rose from his chair. "You mean re-programming, to change existing memories and alter established behaviors?" He smiled as he slid up beside his partner and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Actually, I'd say that's just as well. I rather like her as she is. She's so much more… dynamic than her dear twin sister."
"More dynamic. Yeah… among other things." She shrugged. "Call her kinks and quirks whatever you want. She's your toy now." She eyed the examination table that waited across the room, complete with its heavy restraining straps, and her eyes narrowed contemplatively. "I'm ready to begin the new research. The sooner I have my hands on the halfling boy, the sooner I can get to work."
* * * * *
Elisa sat at the eye of a storm, ignoring the maelstrom of the early evening bullpen. Day shift detectives hurried through their paperwork as their nighttime counterparts waded in to the sea of victims and perps. She tried to pay no mind as an elderly woman described a subway purse snatching to Detective Halloran. It wasn't her case, yet guilt needled her all the same.
Interview notes, theft reports, case logs from the initial detectives assigned prior to the point the break-ins were connected, and a weeks worth of her own case notes lay spread out on the desk in rough stacks. Elisa toyed with a pen as she compared statements from research managers at each of the crime scenes. The phrases "industrial espionage" and "sabotage" surfaced in five of seven of the reports. The other two witnesses had no opinion other than their equipment was "expensive" and "somewhat difficult to obtain". One manager had mentioned it had taken the lab "two years to cut through the government red tape to obtain permits".
She jotted the phrases down on a legal pad along with the comment "extra-legal". All of the labs had been involved in genetic research in some form. Two had grants to study cloning. A third was involved in DNA tracing. New Trends Laboratories, the first firm to be hit, worked strictly with agricultural commodities. They'd pioneered work infusing animal genetic material into plants like corn and barley to produce "super foods".
The science involved made Elisa's head spin. Most of the companies were up against strict timetables as they worked to let scientific genies out of the bottles before Congress imposed further regulatory statues or made their work illegal entirely. The pharmaceutical labs seemed to feel special pressure and one employee had raised the notion of "government conspiracy". Elisa made another note under Victim – Motive Theories.
She yawned and stretched, watching as Halloran escorted his witness out of the Bullpen. Elisa laid even money odds that Dick would pick up the old woman's cab fare. Ten or fifteen bucks would mean a lot to someone who had just lost a month's worth of grocery money.
A manila folder smacked down in the middle of her work startling Elisa out of her reverie. She looked up to see Matt staring down at her grim-faced.
Matt ran a hand through short-cropped auburn hair. "Depends on your perspective. I re-interviewed our witness, O'Neal. He's had a week for his concussion to heal and to mull things over. I took a sketch pad with me."
Elisa nodded slowly, understanding her partner's reluctance to bring in a department sketch artist. "Yeah. And?"
"He remembered details, Elisa. Lots more details. Open the folder."
Slowly, reluctantly, Elisa flipped the folder open. "Oh no," she said dully.
Angela, in full battlefield fury snarled back at her.
Elisa sat for a full thirty seconds before scraping her chair roughly away from the desk and stalking out of the bullpen. Matt only hesitated a second. He gathered up his notes and hers and followed. "Elisa, wait."
"She has no motive," his partner stated flatly.
The hallway was absent of its usual quotient of bored cops and aggrieved citizens. Matt took the opportunity. He grabbed Elisa by the elbow and shoved her towards one of the small offices set aside for Community Relations volunteers. "That might not be true."
Elisa turned abruptly and stared up at him, her dark hair moving in a raven wave. Bluestone twisted the doorknob, found it unlocked and herded his partner in. He flipped on the light and locked the door behind them.
"What are you talking about, Matt?" Elisa's tone was harsh, suspicious.
Bluestone laid out his facts. "She's the only one with an unconfirmed alibi. No one else can vouch for her whereabouts the night of the Midtown Medical break in."
"She said she was locked in her workroom in a deep trance."
Matt sat down on one of the thinly padded chairs, the stack of files in his lap. He looked up at his partner and elaborated. "No one saw her go in. And according to Brooklyn she wasn't on her perch at sun up."
"That's circumstantial and you know it," Elisa protested.
"There's the picture. O'Neal identified her."
Elisa shrugged. She waved her hand dismissively. "Angela's been all over the newspapers and T.V. O'Neal's had a head injury. He could have confabulated Angela into his memory."
Matt had to give her that one. "True," he acknowledged. "But that doesn't explain the Nightstone connection to the break-ins."
Elisa's dark eyes narrowed dangerously. "There is no Nightstone connection and even if there was - what would that have to do with Angela?"
"Angela wouldn't help her mother if Demona made it sound important enough?"
Elisa opened her mouth to protest but didn't. She chewed the uncomfortable thought in silence and looked slightly ill.
Matt continued. "Business record search came back on the companies hit. Not one of them is owned by Nightstone."
"So Demona's in the clear," Elisa said even as she waited for Matt to drop his bombshell.
"Not necessarily. All those scientists crying 'industrial espionage' got me thinking. So, I dug into their backgrounds. Or at least Corporate Forensics did. Of the companies hit, only Forward Research is a private concern, owned and operated by a limited partnership. The others are all subsidiaries or shell corporations."
"Ultimately owned by?"
"Cyberbiotics, Xanatos Enterprises and Con-Agra."
Elisa looked up. She noted without interest the posters promoting D.A.R.E. and Community Watch. "And why do you think Nightstone is at the root of all this?"
Matt shrugged. "Bottom line, money. Every one of the companies involved is at a critical juncture in their research and development process. The loss of a couple of months could make the difference between patents and going belly up. It fits, Elisa. According to my sources, Nightstone is just a few months away from solving the aging clone problem. The other companies are all working on aspects of the same problem. If Nightstone gets there first-"
"All those other companies will have to go to them," Elisa finished.
Bluestone smiled smugly. "Bingo. Licenses, rights, we're talking billions of dollars here."
"But why? Why would Angela commit crimes to help Demona?"
"Family loyalty? Maybe she owed Demona and this is payback. Or maybe Demona played on her sympathies and Angela's a dupe. We won't know until we talk to her."
Elisa bowed her head and stared at beige tile, already starting to show signs of wear, at her feet. "Yeah. You're right. We can't bring her in though, the media will have a heyday."
"We'll go to Captain Chavez. She can set something up."
Elisa nodded at last, sick at heart. "How am I going to break this to Goliath?"
* * * * *
"That one's easy. Delilah. She's Lexington's mate, and joined the clan three months ago. Before that, she lived with Talon's clan in the Labyrinth. She's the only female clone that Thailog created. Her parents are the human woman Elisa Maza and the gargoyle Demona." Jezebella paused, cocking her head thoughtfully. "Which I suppose would make her my half-sister."
Danny examined the back of the homemade photo flashcard. As bizarre as the facts were that his gargoyle friend had just rattled off, every one of them was correct according to the list he found printed there in her neat, precise handwriting. "Right again, Angela," he said. He turned the card around again to look at the white-haired gargoyle pictured on the front. "A clone with two moms, huh? Wow. And I thought some of my relatives were weird."
Jezebella chuckled amiably and pulled her tail up around her crossed legs. "Hurry up and gimme the next one, Danny. I'm on a roll." She bounced impatiently, shaking the bed upon which they both sat, and Danny smirked as he shuffled the remaining flashcards. Turning Angela's final review into a game had been his idea, a way to help her unwind a little and overcome the last-minute jitters he could tell she was feeling about seeing her home again. She had been spent the previous night cramming, poring studiously through the files and color photos that Dr. Sevarius had received from Dr. Ling and relayed on to her. She had refused to take a break, even to eat, and dawn had found her short-tempered and exhausted.
Danny wanted tonight to be different, for it would likely be their last night together for a while. Angela would be returning to her home, and even though he knew he would miss having her as a constant companion, he was happy for her all the same and he was determined to do everything he could to help her in her quest to reveal the truth about her conniving twin sister. So while she slept, he had gone through the files himself, taking the photos and pairing them with the index cards she had been using to record her notes.
The faint scent of rubber cement still hung in the air in the tiny room that, thanks to the female gargoyle's friendship, he now called his own. "Okay, Angela," Danny said as he picked another card at random, "who's this?"
Jezebella leaned forward, squinting at the photo of a jade-green, kimono-clad gargoyle with jet black hair. Even with her fragmented memories, it had been a relatively easy task to re-familiarize herself with the original members of the clan. Goliath was her father; Demona, her mother; she still had some vague recollections of Hudson, Broadway, Brooklyn, Lexington, and Bronx; and her sister Angela, of course, she would never forget. Through new matings and alliances, though, the clan had grown quite a bit in her absence, resulting in a number of totally new faces to learn. Even her mother had taken a new companion according to the files Dr. Ling had provided: the human woman Andrea Calhoun, the artist featured in the Times article alongside Angela. Reviewing that file in particular had been both enlightening and unsettling. Learning that her mother had recently come out as a lesbian had been shocking enough. What had really perturbed her, though, was discovering that Demona, whom according to Angela's groundless accusations she had conspired with to commit great evil, was now on good terms with the clan, her past misdeeds seemingly forgiven. Jezebella, though, had been forgotten, not even earning so much as a footnote in the vast files Xanatos had compiled on the clan that shared his home. It only confirmed what she had suspected all along. Angela's spiteful influence had reached to all levels to ensure there would never be a place at Castle Wyvern for her.
"Angela?" Danny asked, "Do you want a hint?"
Jezebella blinked and shook her head. "Sorry," she said, focusing once again on the photo the boy held. "I just got distracted for a moment. That's Sata," she replied at last, "Brooklyn's mate. She's originally from a clan in Ishimura, Japan. She's trained in bushido and is skilled with the katana and several other traditional Japanese weapons."
The teenage halfling nodded. "Very good. And so then these two are-?" He held up a second card, the photo on this one showing a pair of younger gargoyles.
Jezebella smiled. She knew this one right away. "Graeme and Arianna, Brooklyn and Sata's children. They're fraternal twins, not identical like me and Angela. Graeme's favorite television show is something called Super Samurai Armadillos while Arianna is a Sailor Senshi fan.
Danny reviewed the notes on the back of the card and nodded. "Correct, except for one thing. Says here it's pronounced 'graham' like the cracker, not like 'grame' rhyming with 'tame'."
"Graeme," Jezebella repeated, correcting the vowel sound from long to short. "Got it. Ugh. I wonder how Brooklyn came up with that name anyway."
"Who knows?" Danny shrugged. "Maybe he thought following the clan trend would just make them get picked on more at school. I mean, you wouldn't get much respect with a name like 'Long Island' or 'Queens'."
He gave a quirky smile and, after a moment, Jezebella couldn't help but giggle. "Just give me the next one, silly." She shifted position slightly, running a hand absently along her leg and bringing a bit more thigh into view beneath the hem of the simple, sleeveless burgundy slip dress she wore. "After we finish my review," she said coyly, "you can help me get into costume."
Danny swallowed and his cheeks flushed red. "Whatever you want, Angela," he said, grinning. "Whatever you want."
* * * * *
"Captain wants to see you," Halloran said to Elisa as she entered the bullpen. He laid a finger aside his slightly crooked nose, a souvenir of his beat cop days when he'd taken a sock full of quarters to the face. "Better not keep her waiting. She's in a bit of a mood. If you take my meaning."
Elisa nodded, grim faced. "I saw the newspaper. 'Gargoyle Linked to Research Break Ins.' She's probably been on the phone with the Mayor. Thanks for the warning, Dick."
"Don't mention it." He turned away to answer a ringing telephone and Elisa unlocked her desk and removed her copies of the case files.
They'd run every lead. Talked to every source interviewed everybody they could think of, except the one person who stood squarely at the middle of the investigation. Now with the press leak there was no putting it off any longer. She approached the lion's den and knocked on the door. Matt was already inside standing stiff backed and tense.
Chavez echoed his pose. "It's about time you got here, Maza," she snapped peremptorily.
Elisa glanced at her watch. It was five minutes past the start of shift. She opened her mouth to protest and then shut it again off a warning glance from her partner.
"Status of your investigation?"
Elisa avoided Chavez's eyes focusing instead on a spider industriously spinning herself a web with a view of the city as Matt gave the report. "We have a suspect. However, said suspect is currently enjoying a great deal of media attention and is the subject of an intense political debate. It would be dangerous to this department and to the city if the suspect was brought into the station for an interview."
Out of the corner of her eye Elisa watched her partner relax a fraction. They'd spent half an hour working out the wording of their progress report. Free classes in 'Doublespeak as a Second Language', Matt had joked as they debated how best to present their findings, one of the perks of attending the F.B.I. Academy.
Chavez sat down, leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms over her chest. "So, it is one of your gargoyles. The one they call Angela. I was afraid of this."
"My gargoyles?" Elisa protested automatically.
Maria Chavez gave the pair of detectives a 'don't b.s.' me look. "Yes, your gargoyles. I know it. You know it and your partner knows it. So don't bother denying it." Chavez pulled a file out of her desk marked "Private and Confidential" and slapped it down on the desk. "Witness statements going back to the first gargoyle sightings. You always seem to be on the scene. I know you have a relationship with them, Elisa. That means you've got a conflict of interest."
"I'm not removing you from the case, but I am stepping in. I'll take the lead during the interview with Ms. Angela."
Matt rubbed a palm against his temple. "When? And more importantly where? The press has been tipped and people are starting to watch the station. If we bring Angela here it will ignite a protest from both sides of the Gargoyles Rights debate."
"I'm aware of the consequences," Chavez said flatly. "Just as I'm aware that my going to the Eyrie building would raise its own set of questions."
"Captain, you have to understand, if it is Angela behind these break-ins something is seriously wrong with her. She could be dangerous."
"Matt!" Elisa protested. "Captain. I know it looks bad for her but it can't be Angela!"
The redheaded detective turned to his partner. "I'm sorry, Elisa, but it had to be said. If Angela's slipped a gear she could be as dangerous as her mother when she's confronted. Why not set up a meeting in neutral territory, where she'll be off her guard. Your brother's? The muscle would come in handy if things go sour."
"Derek? Your brother knows about these gargoyles too?"
Elisa nodded impatiently, so not willing to go there. "Yeah, a lot has happened to Derek since he left the force." She considered the idea for several seconds before replying. "All right. I'll set up the meet." Elisa withdrew a small note pad from the pocket of her bomber jacket. "I'll pick up Angela." She scratched out a rough map and jotted an address. "Matt will me you at the coffee shop on the corner." She tore the slip of paper off the pad and handed it to the Captain. "One more thing. Wear walking shoes. You'll need them where you're going."
* * * * *
"…but this just proves what we've known all along. These so-called 'gargoyles' are not cute and cuddly like the bleeding hearts at P.I.T. want you to believe. They're dangerous beasts that care nothing for our laws and values. Each and every one of them, an abomination of nature." The speaker paused for emphasis, scanning the disorganized and agitated crowd that surrounded him on the front steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art for signs that at least some of them were paying attention to the impromptu speech. Toward the back of the throng, where the sidewalk met the street, a group of college-age men and women joined the scene, hoisting their own pre-made protest signs. "Down With Intolerance," read one. "It's the Racism, Stupid," declared another. The bald-headed man smiled. The first response unit from P.I.T. had arrived. He brought the megaphone back to his lips and recommenced the verbal assault. "P.I.T. has put the liberal media in its back pocket. They live off the donations of their corporate sponsors, peddling the influence of the wealthy few to buy airtime for the purposes of brainwashing the average citizen. They trot out the most docile and most human-looking of these beasts, seeking to mislead us that these demons are just like you or me. They barrage us constantly with their images on our television screens, caring nothing for the young minds they are corrupting. They claim to be 'concerned citizens,' but in reality they are a public relations puppet, and their only 'concern' is that money continues to flow in, fast and uninterrupted, from the gullible masses."
Danny peered over the low parapet wall that surrounded the museum's roof. "Sheesh. What's up with that guy?" he asked.
Candy stared down into the crowd and shrugged. "I guess he's just pissed off. Only he can't quite figure out about what."
"The exhibit opening today inside this museum - that this so-called 'art' - includes pornographic paintings of nude demons, on display in all their hideous glory. It's just another perverse attempt to ingratiate these monsters into our society, and further spread the moral bankruptcy that follows in their wake." He paused again, wincing as his megaphone gave a squeal of feedback, and moved another step higher for a better vantage point. "Our children can already turn on the television at any hour of the day and be indoctrinated into the sick cult of the gargoyle-huggers," he continued. "There's a big purple menace appearing on television nearly every day, my friends… and it's not Barney!"
"Gargoyles are better than Barney!" a new amplified voice retorted from the back of the crowd. Candy flicked her eyes back to the group that had arrived from P.I.T. and saw that one of their number now had her own megaphone out.
"And that's just the kind of response I'd expect from the group that the artist responsible for pimping this exhibit of smut is a member of," the bald man replied. "But I suppose you're all proud to call her one of your own!"
"Gargoyles are not the problem," the woman from P.I.T. replied. "Small minded humans are."
Candy made a face as the bald man with the megaphone continued to dialog with the heckler. "This guy's a rambling loon. He needs to pick an angle and stick with it. I can't tell if he's here to protest gargoyles or rant about porn. At least when I was with the Quarrymen we tried to make sure the speeches made sense… and our speakers were always warned to never got into shouting matches with the counter-protesters."
"Why?" Danny asked. He continued to watch as the crowd grew more restless, the noise level rising as the two people with the megaphones competed for their attention.
"Because you lose your audience, that's why," Candy said, pointing to spot in the crowd where a shoving match had already started. Several of the sign-carrying P.I.T. members had begun wading through the throng, attempting to make their way closer the museum steps, but one had encountered unexpected resistance. Candy's squinted, then smiled. "Heh. I know that guy," she said, pointing to the large man who had blocked the path of the young, bespectacled P.I.T. crew member. "He was one of the first guys in my unit to be awarded a Silver Hammer."
Danny watched curiously. He couldn't hear the words that were being exchanged over the ambient noise of the crowd, but it seemed like the bigger man had taken exception to the message on the P.I.T. member's sign. The placard bore a cartoon-like illustration, where a white hooded figure holding a lit torch was pictured next to a similar hooded figure clad in blue and hoisting a sledgehammer. Danny peered closer and was able to make out a portion of the caption. "…a proud tradition since 1865." He didn't get a chance to see more. The sign was twisted away from view as the former Quarryman made a grab for it.
"Woo yeah! Kick his ass, Max!" Candy leaned over the edge of the parapet, shouting gleefully at the top of her lungs as a punch was thrown and the brief tussle over the sign quickly morphed into an all-out brawl. The two men scuffling quickly became four, then eight, and so on as nearby members of the crowd chose up sides. "Yeah, baby!" Candy yelled. "Send those P.I.T. crybabies back home to mommy!"
Danny could barely hear her over all the shouting and yelling that rose from below. "This is nuts," he muttered. He blinked as he watched the bald, mustached man go down. Pummeled from behind by a random assailant, he was cut off mid-rant and toppled from his spot on the steps, vanishing into the sea of bodies.
"Now that down there is what I call a party, kid," Candy declared. "Man! What I wouldn't give for a good Quarryman revival. This town needs more people willing to put those whiny gargoyle-lovers in their place and show those no-good freaks of nature what for!"
Danny edged away, an uncertain look playing across his features as Candy grinned maliciously and ground her fist against her palm. "Uh, yeah," he replied. "That's just what we need around here. More crazy people running around, looking for some 'freaks of nature' to beat up for kicks." He fingered the pointed tip of his ear as Candy glared at him. "Especially since we kind of resemble that remark ourselves. You know, in case it slipped your mind."
Candy's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Listen up, junior," she growled, "I don't need any crap from you. I get enough abuse from your prissy little gargoyle friend. You may worship the ground she walks on, but just remember: if it wasn't for her and her kind coming along, we'd all still be one hundred percent human."
The halfling boy took a half step back, keeping himself just out of the woman's reach. He could feel the magical energies tingling inside him, and he fought to maintain control. "If you hate gargoyles so much," he questioned, "then how come you work for one?"
"I work for Sevarius. I only tolerate his pet gargoyle because she's going to help provide him with the keys to making us human again."
Danny's eyes widened. "He can do that?"
"I'm not holding my breath on it, kid." Candy and Danny both turned, scowling, to find Jake standing in the open doorway of the roof access stairwell. "Come on you two," he said, beckoning with a wave of his hand. "Get your sorry asses in here before the news and police choppers show up. We've got a job to do, remember?"
* * *
"What took you so damn long, anyway?" Candy snapped irritably. She edged her way passed Jake to take the lead, putting some distance between herself and Danny as the trio of halflings made their way through the darkened hallways of the museum's uppermost level. "I was starting to wonder if you got yourself lost."
"Don't get your panties in a knot. I had to take a few detours, that's all. Security started freaking out just after I got inside. Sounded from the radio traffic like there was a big commotion going on out front."
Candy smiled. "Yeah, you could say, that. Some gargoyle-lovers had to come along and pick a fight. They just never learn."
"They weren't the ones who started it," Danny interjected.
The female halfling shot him a nasty look. "You remind me of someone I used to date, kid. Andy never knew when to shut the fuck up, either."
Jake cleared his throat. "Through that door," he said, pointing. Candy gave the boy one last piercing gaze, then followed where Jake led, creeping stealthily out onto the balcony that rimmed the entire perimeter of the soaring, three-story high gallery. Following Jake and Candy's lead, Danny dropped to his hands and knees, so as to remain hidden by the low railing that edged the narrow walkway. The balcony itself was dark, but it placed them at about the same level as the three large crystal chandeliers that hung suspended from the ornately detailed plaster ceiling, lighting the room below.
Carefully, Candy raised her head up to peer over the railing. "Speak of the devil," she whispered low. "There's my ex now."
Jake peeked cautiously over the low wall, and Danny followed suit a moment later. He wasn't sure at first who Candy was talking about. Looking in the same direction that she was staring, he saw only a petite blonde woman in a stylish semi-formal black dress standing near a display of oil paintings as she conferred in an animated fashion with a small group of reporters.
"Look at her," Candy murmured. "She'd still be a nobody if it wasn't for her hooking up with that uptight bitch Dominique Destine."
"I thought you were over her," Jake whispered back. He looked at her pointedly. "I was there last week, remember? I'm pretty sure all that drama over Tanya wasn't just 'cause you like being chased by Xanatos' robots."
Candy made a face. "I am over her," she replied. Her eyes narrowed to dark slits as she watched her ex-girlfriend, Andrea Calhoun, float across the room to greet another group of well-dressed new arrivals. When they had first met, Andy had been a shy, quiet, soft-spoken college girl, still uncertain about her sexuality and still obsessing over a missing older sister. They dated for over six months before she scored her first kiss. She invested two more months before Andy was finally willing to go farther. After that, though, she had made fairly steady progress. Gradually, she had drawn Andy out of her shell, transforming that timid girl into the ideal lover.
Andy had moved in with her at the beginning of October, and everything had been going fine… right up until the gargoyles came along. She had joined up with George and the Quarrymen. Andy had joined up with her college art school friends in creating P.I.T. Three weeks and several heated arguments later, she'd come home from a late rally to find Andy gone, leaving not even so much as a "Dear Jane" letter behind. "Little gargoyle-loving bitch," Candy muttered. "I'm still amazed she didn't end up married to one."
"Where is the Ice Queen, anyway?" Jake asked. With sensitive eyes, he scanned the room, taking a quick inventory of the known P.I.T. supporters present. Oddly, Dominique Destine, major contributor and significant other to the artist guest of honor, did not appear to be among them.
"Who knows?" Candy replied. "And who cares? We're here to nab a gargoyle." She cast a glance down at Andrea again, now making her way through the growing crowd of museum patrons and P.I.T. supporters toward an exhibit of statuary at the far end of the room. "Not that it wouldn't be fun to give her hoity-toity little love slave a tweak while we're here."
"No. Forget about it. Don't even think about deviating from the plan this time. I'd like to make it home in one piece tonight."
Danny surveyed the room, barely paying attention to the banter of his peers. Watching the artist shake hands had not proven nearly as interesting as checking out the paintings, sculptures, and other pieces which filled the exhibit hall. In contrast to the scene he'd witnessed outside, the mood inside the museum was pleasant and subdued. As people continued to filter in from the adjoining wings, he could only assume from the absence of any protestors that this opening night event was a private, invitation-only affair and that P.I.T. had taken great pains to ensure its security. It made him wonder if Angela's decision to use it as a venue for capturing her twin sister was really a wise one.
"Look there," Jake whispered. "Last on the end, near the stage. I think that's her."
The other two halflings shifted their gaze, their eyes following where Jake pointed. Candy smiled. "Yep. I'd recognize that face anywhere." She touched her ear, activating a tiny com unit. "This is Alpha Team. Target acquired."
"Wow," Danny said. "She really does look like Angela."
Candy snickered. "Kid, you'd be surprised how much alike they really are."
* * *
Jezebella shook the last bits of stone skin from her hair. "Where are the others?" she demanded without preamble. She looked around the parking garage, satisfying herself that no one else was around, and took the hand Danny offered as she hopped down from the back of the van.
"Beta Team's keeping an eye out for any airborne interruptions," Candy replied. "Jake's upstairs, keeping an eye on your sister while she and her little artist friend play 'meet the press.' We've scoped it out and we think our best chance to grab her will be when she goes backstage. We'd better hurry, though." She checked her watch. "Museum closes in less than an hour."
Jezebella nodded. "Good work, Candy. You just may redeem yourself yet." She turned to Danny. "You wait here. Watch the van and keep the motor running."
"But I want to go with you, Angela."
"Best lookout I've ever had, remember?" Jezebella placed her hand on his shoulder and smiled affectionately. "You'll see me again, don't worry. Stay here, do your job, and if all goes well I'll be stopping by tomorrow night to say hello and help the Doc get that confession from my sister."
Danny wrapped his arms around his friend, giving her one last hug as Candy tapped her foot impatiently. "Good luck, Angela."
* * *
"Actually, I did most of the modeling during the day. It's easy to hold a pose when you're in stone sleep."
"Do you plan to keep modeling for Miss Calhoun, Angela?"
"I sure hope she does," Andrea interjected. "I've loved working with her."
Jezebella watched silently from the wings as the gaggle of reporters chuckled. Even the media in attendance at this event had been hand selected by P.I.T., it seemed, and though it grated on every single nerve in her body to watch them fawn over her cloying, sweet sister, she forced herself to remain calm. There would be plenty of time later for vengeance, she reminded herself. Plenty of time later to repay Angela for all of her acts of unkindness. For now, the goal was only to make the switch. And she was close. So close, she could feel it. Just as soon as Angela walked off stage, they would have her.
"… and I'm afraid that's all the time we have for tonight. The museum will be closing in fifteen minutes. The exhibit will be continuing, of course, through the end of the month, open to the public during all normal museum hours. On behalf of the Met, thank you, everyone, for coming..."
Jezebella tensed as the moderator drew the evening's activities to a close, and a round of applause sounded for Angela and her artist friend. "Any moment now," she whispered, peering out onto the stage again. "Any moment… no… what she doing?" Jezebella's smile of anticipation turned to a scowl as she watched Angela take Andrea's arm and approach the front of the stage. The flash of a camera confirmed the cause of the delay. "Fucking hell," she muttered.
"How about one near the statuary, for the next newsletter?"
Jezebella growled, her eyes flashing red as the P.I.T. photographer lured her twin sister off the stage. "Damn her. Why does she have to be such an insatiable media whore?" Her head throbbed as she realized she needed a new plan, and fast. Perhaps if she had one of the halflings create a diversion. She grinned, an idea forming. Turning on her heel, she hurried to find Candy and Jake.
* * *
"I don't care who you are… or where you're from… don't care what you did, as long as you love me…"
The radio softly crooned another mindless pop tune through tinny-sounding speakers. Danny sighed. It felt like he'd been waiting for hours. He checked the digital clock on the dashboard. 8:58. It hadn't even been forty-five minutes. Vaguely, he became conscious of the fact that he was tapping his fingers on the steering wheel in time with the song. "Ugh, I'm starting to like this stuff," he muttered. He gripped the wheel tightly until the urge to continue had passed, focusing instead on the sound of the motor. The engine hummed steadily, then dropped a tone as the air conditioning compressor cycled on. Danny wrinkled his nose as he caught the sudden scent of gasoline and oil-heavy exhaust, and he fiddled with the vent control levers trying to find a setting that wouldn't draw the air from outside.
"…and in news here at the top of the hour, a police spokesman says officers have made over two dozen arrests so far in conjunction with a riot that broke out just before sunset on Fifth Avenue in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art."
Danny's ear's perked up, and he nudged the volume on the radio up a few notches. "Apparently upset over an unconfirmed report that a gargoyle has been identified as a suspect in an ongoing police investigation into a recent series of burglaries," the announced continued, "former members of the disbanded Quarrymen group, together with other anti-gargoyle protestors, converged on the museum, where a special exhibit on the creatures was opening today. It's not known at this time what caused the protest to degenerate into a fistfight between gargoyle supporters and detractors, but a spokesman for the Met has assured us that events inside the museum went on as planned and that at no time did the rioters ever pose any serious danger to the facility or the gargoyle who was herself appearing as part of the exhibit…"
A loud bang from the back of the van jolted Danny to alertness. "Let's go!" Candy hollered as she threw the doors open. Jake scrambled in first, pulling Danny from the front seat as he rose.
"I'm driving, kid. Go help her," he ordered, taking his place behind the wheel. Danny staggered slightly as he was pushed back into the cargo area, and he froze as the limp body Candy carried over her shoulder landed at his feet with a dull thud.
"Is that her?" he asked, staring in wonderment at the unconscious lavender gargoyle.
"Well it ain't Sleeping Beauty," Candy quipped as she hopped in and drug the doors shut behind her. "Beta Team, this is Alpha Team," she barked into her com unit. "The mouse is in the trap. We're ready to move out."
"Roger that, Alpha Team," a male voice replied. "You are clear to move. No bugs in sight. We'll keep you covered back to base."
Jake didn't even wait for Candy to give the go-ahead as he threw the shifter into drive. "Time to make like sheep and get the flock out of here."
A few tense minutes later, they had left the art museum far behind and were winding their way through city streets toward the tunnel that would take them back out of Manhattan. The whole time, Danny had been staring at the captured gargoyle, marveling at how close the resemblance between her and her sister actually was. At last, he dared to touch her. She was warm, but did not stir.
"She ain't dead, kid," Candy said. She wiped her brow, rising from the overturned milk crate that made for a makeshift seat. "But she'll be wishing she was soon enough. Here. Help me with this."
Danny grunted as he helped Candy drag a heavy sack out of the corner. "How did you knock her out?" he asked.
"Chloroform. The Doc's own special blend. She didn't even have time to look surprised."
"Strong enough for a bull elephant, but made for a gargoyle," Jake quipped from the front seat, chuckling at his own joke.
"Thing is," Candy added, "it's never been tested before. So just in case it wears off before we can get Miss Congeniality here safely tucked in at her new home, I brought these along."
Danny's eyes went wide with shock as Candy rolled down the top of the canvas bag and brought out one of the heavy sets of polished steel manacles it contained. He moved back as Candy rolled the slumbering gargoyle over and locked the first shackle about her right ankle. "Come on, kid. Give me a hand here."
Danny hesitated. During his captivity in Sector 13, he himself had been restrained in chains on several occasions, and he'd never enjoyed it. The glee with which Candy worked was disturbing to say the least.
Candy snapped the second shackle about the girl's left ankle, and slammed the hasp of the lock home. "Is there a problem?"
"No, it's just that… is all this really necessary?"
"Hey, you tell me, kid. You know what this bitch did to your friend."
Danny took another look at the unconscious gargoyle, imagining Angela, lying helpless before a gang of Quarrymen, watching in horror as her own flesh and blood glided away, abandoning her to a fate of torture and certain death. "You're right," he said, dropping to his knees beside Candy. She pulled a length of chain from the sack and he accepted it eagerly. "She deserves it."
"Damn straight," Candy said. "Now… around the waist with that one. To hold the wings. And make it tight. Comfort's not the goal here."
A short time later, the last chain had been used and just one lock remained. "Here, why don't you do the honors… Danny." Candy smiled as she placed it in his hand, and he smiled back as he snapped it into place, securing the hasp on the heavy collar that now encircled the neck of Angela's traitorous twin.
The van was cruising steadily along the highway now, and Candy sat a moment to admire her handiwork. Sturdy shackles bound the gargoyle's wrists and ankles, and heavy chains about her waist, belly, and torso rendered her wings immobile. Only one final touch remained to be added. "Perfect," she said. "And now for the icing on the cake."
Danny blinked as Candy brought out a black leather harness with a red ball attached. "Wow," he muttered. That's just like in Pulp Fiction!"
"Yeah," Candy replied. "Kinky, huh? Hold her head for me."
Jake glanced up at the rear view mirror. "There is such a thing as liking your work a bit too much, you know," he said.
"I just don't want to hear all the whining and crying, that's all," Candy retorted. "I had my fill of that with Andy. Maybe I should've bought one of these back then." She tightened the straps and buckles with practiced precision, forcing the ball gag securely into the hapless gargoyle's fanged mouth. "There," she said, tucking the final strap into place. "If that don't make her mighty unhappy when she wakes up, I don't know what will."
For the first time ever, the three halflings all shared a chuckle.
* * *
Andrea shouldered her purse and took one last look at the display of her paintings. Reawakening, the nude of Angela bursting forth from her stone slumber, shared the front and center spot with Introspection, a nude study of Demona in a more contemplative pose. The young artist gave a wistful sigh. "Maybe one day, Domi, you won't have to hide any more."
"Are you ready to go, Andrea? Gregory's outside with the car."
The petite woman looked up. "Angela. Yes… let's go home."
* * *
"Chloroform's wearing off. She's waking up."
A muffled, indignant growl punctuated Jake's words, and Candy tightened her grip on the struggling gargoyle, dragging her roughly out of the van onto the cold, hard concrete floor of the warehouse.
"Gee, you think?" she replied. A sharp kick and a quick jolt of green energy from her hands stilled the enraged female momentarily, and Candy took the opportunity to improve her grip. Grabbing a handful of the girl's ponytail, she jerked the gargoyle's head back as she began resisting anew. "You'll stop fighting if you know what's good for you, bitch!" The invective only seemed to infuriate the chained creature more. Her eyes flared red and she hissed furiously behind the gag, screaming words the rubber ball rendered unintelligible. "Damn it," Candy muttered. "Danny, get hold of the leash for Christ's sake! We're going to have to teach this filthy beast a lesson."
In his hurry, Danny tumbled out of the back of the van, narrowly avoiding a swipe from the angrily lashing tail that they had been unable to restrain. "I'm on it," he said. Circling around from Jake's side, he grabbed for the dangling length of chain attached to the captive gargoyle's collar… and froze as her wide, pleading eyes met his. She ceased struggling, holding him transfixed with her gaze. "Angela?" he whispered. "Oh my god."
Candy curled her hand into a fist, using the moment of distraction to sucker punch the bound gargoyle in the gut with every ounce of her superhuman strength. Danny's eyes blazed in eldritch fury as his friend groaned and slumped in her chains, doubling over in pain. "No!" he screamed. He leapt at Candy. A second later, they both hit the floor, rolling and grasping for each other's throats.
"Have you lost your mind, kid?!?" the halfling woman hissed.
"You crazy bitch!" Danny retorted. "You kidnapped the wrong one!" They came to rest with him on top, and he drew back a fist of his own. Thinking fast, Candy through up an energy shield as he punched. Magic met magic, and the backlash knocked the boy from astride her. "Stupid punk! I knew we should've left you where we found you." She regained her feet, and hauled the dazed teen to his by the collar of his jacket. "Leave the gargoyle bitch there," she yelled, glaring at Jake. "She's not going anywhere. This little brat needs a spanking first!"
The chained and gagged gargoyle slumped limply to the ground as Jake stepped away. "It's about damn time," he growled.
"And just what, if I may I ask, is going on here?" The two halflings froze at the sound of the imperious voice. Jake edged back, and Candy swallowed hard as Doctor Sevarius stepped out of the shadows.
"Just taking care of a little discipline problem, Doc," she said. Seeing the unamused expression on the scientist's face, she released her grip on Danny's jacket, allowing the boy to stagger away.
"He attacked her first," Jake interjected.
"They're both morons!" Danny rubbed his throbbing head, speaking up at last. "This isn't Angela's sister," he said, returning to the fallen gargoyle's side. "It's Angela!"
"Is that so?" Sevarius's tone betrayed a hint a of doubt, and he stepped closer for a better look at the trussed up female gargoyle.
Candy and Jake looked at each other. They'd waited backstage as Jezebella had instructed, following her simply worded orders to the letter. "Wait here. When she walks past, subdue her." There was no way they could have screwed it up. Not unless Jezebella…
"Give him the keys," Sevarius intoned darkly. "Now."
* * * * *
There was a knock at his study door. Xanatos looked up, unsurprised but unhappy at the prospect of the coming interview and the end to his time with Alexander. He enjoyed being with his son. It gave him a lift that empire building couldn't match. But the boy, it seemed, was getting bigger everyday and soon he'd be off building his own empires. He handed Alexander the drafting pencil he had been using to sketch the boat, carefully translating the child's demands into plausible proportions, and answered. "Come in."
The door swung open revealing Goliath. "You wished to see me?"
David rose from the floor, picking up the sketchpad off the carpet. He handed it to Alexander as well. The little boy smiled fearlessly at the brawny lavender gargoyle and waved.
"Hello, Alexander," Goliath rumbled. "What have you there?"
"I'm helping Daddy build a boat." Goliath knelt as child approached and accepted the drawing thrust at him.
Goliath exchanged a glance with David over the boy's head. Pride tugged a smile at the corner of the billionaire's lip. "It's a very fine ship," the gargoyle agreed.
David retrieved his son and the drawing, ruffling the boy's red hair, as Owen appeared silently at the door behind Goliath. "We'll work on this tomorrow. Now go to your room and get ready for bed. Owen will help you and I'll be in to tuck you in after I talk to Goliath."
David nodded solemnly. Alexander grinned and grabbed Owen's hand. "Let's go, Uncle Owen. 'Night, Goliath," he called over his shoulder at the gargoyle as he dragged the aide de camp out of the room.
"Kids," Xanatos said as he resettled himself behind his desk. "You never know what they're going to be up to next. The boat was his idea, you know."
Goliath raised an eye ridge and wondered where the conversation was leading. "Really."
"Yep. We were at the lake and he started messing around with leaves and twigs. The next thing I knew he was commanding a flotilla of acorn people on their tiny ships. I was very impressed at his initiative."
"I'm sure you were."
Xanatos pulled a computer disk from his desk and waved it in Goliath's direction. "But it wasn't my kid's initiative that I wanted to talk to you about. It's yours."
"Mine? You mean Angela," Goliath replied, still confused. He crossed the short distance to David's desk and watched as the billionaire fed the disk into his computer and entered a series of keystrokes.
"I do. Now you know that you and your clan have the run of the castle," David prefaced. "I'm fine with that, I really am. But we did agree that the rest of the building was subject to certain restrictions."
"And Angela has not been obeying the prohibitions?" Goliath folded his arms over his bare chest. Xanatos seldom treated anything with the severity that this infraction of the rules seemed to be garnering.
The billionaire sat back in his chair and stroked his beard as he framed his next statement. "I'm afraid it's more serious then that, Goliath. Angela's not only been trespassing, she's been stealing."
"What?" Goliath was only partially successful in muting his cry of outrage. "Surely you are mistaken, Xanatos."
David shrugged in resignation. "I wish I were. We're not talking an extra pint of Hagaan Daz , Goliath. This is serious." He looked up at the clan leader. "Sit down, please. While I bring you up to speed."
Goliath shook his head impatiently. "Explain your accusations."
"Okay, here's the short version," David replied off Goliath's impatient growl. "The explosion in Sector 13 was caused by somebody tampering with a stasis unit. That somebody didn't know all the proper release protocols and got impatient, smashing a generator in the process. In addition to causing extensive damage, research equipment and files were stolen."
"What has this to do with Angela?"
A pained expression passed over the billionaire's normally cool façade. "We've checked every surveillance tape frame by frame. Gone over the place with a crack team of forensics experts." A hard copy of the report began to feed out of a printer. Xanatos rose, collated the pages. "They didn't find much. But what they did turn up, it was damning. Our tapes of the corridors leading to Sector 13 show a recurring pattern of being blacked out." He shoved a black and white photograph across the desk along with the rest of the pages. Angela in profile, the location unfamiliar, clearly in a hurry to get somewhere. "This image dates back over a month ago. We think it must have caught her initial foray into Sector 13 before she became aware we were monitoring. Owen believes Angela could have magically induced the blackouts. A trick that I believe she could have picked up from Demona."
Goliath gave the human a dark look. No need asking why he had made that assumption. His ex-mate and the businessmen, prior to their reformations, had been partnered in a lengthy criminal enterprise. "I see. But that proves nothing. How do you know Angela was responsible for the theft in Sector 13?"
"We found her prints on fragments of the damaged generator and on other locations within the stasis area." Xanatos sighed, sharing the Clan Leader's disappointment in his daughter. "I wouldn't have brought this to you, Goliath, unless our evidence was conclusive."
"There must be some explanation." Goliath replied numbly.
David rose and stood next to his former foe. He put his hand on the brawny gargoyle's shoulder and squeezed rock hard muscle. "Look, if it were my kid. If it were Alex in the hot seat." David broke off, knowing that if their positions were reversed his impulse would be to stonewall, hire lawyers first, then ask questions later when the threat was comfortably at bay. "We all want to protect our children, Goliath. But even if Angela thought she had a good reason for stealing technology from Sector 13, she's bitten off more than she can chew and she needs help. Your help. And probably mine too. We need to talk to her. Find out what's going on."
"I agree." Goliath stood. Worry lines creased the gargoyle's face and to Xanatos it seemed he'd aged decades in the space of a few minutes. "I will find her and bring her to you."
"Goliath, I'm truly sorry about this."
The gargoyle did not reply as he left the office in search of his errant child.
* * * * *
"Here, Jessie." Sevarius pressed a glass of water and two large white tablets into the girl's hands. "Take these and try to calm down."
Jezebella tossed the pain pills into her mouth and chugged from the glass, swallowing them down together in one huge gulp. "Calm down?!?" she sputtered. "That halfling witch nearly broke my spleen!" She grimaced as the medicine's bitter aftertaste came, and finished off the rest of the water. Her jaw ached from biting down on the gag. In her fury, she'd clenched her teeth into the rubber ball so hard that when Danny had freed her he'd had to help her pry it loose from her fangs. Her ribs and stomach ached, as well, courtesy of that intolerable female halfling. And her head… her head was throbbing with the worst hangover headache she'd ever had in her life. She handed the empty glass back to Sevarius and massaged her aching brow ridges with her talons. "Ugh. What the hell was in that stuff you gave them, anyway?"
"The side effects will wear off soon, Jessie," the scientist assured. He placed a hand on her shoulder. "They didn't mean to hurt you, you know. They thought you were your sister."
"Stupid halflings!" Jezebella's eyes flashed in irritation as she angrily brushed the doctor's hand away. "I'm sick of them all. I don't know why we ever recruited them in the first place. The only one of them who doesn't hate me is Danny, but that's only because he's so pathetically gullible. If I batted my eyes just right, I could be the Wicked Witch of the West and he'd still love me."
"All human males his age are rather hormonally challenged. Don't look a gift halfling in the mouth, Jessie. He's been quite an asset to you in his own way."
"I suppose," she muttered. Jezebella rubbed at her side. The lacing of the tunic was starting to itch, adding just that much additional annoyance to her bruises, but things could be worse, she realized. Without Danny having recognized her, she might be lying chained up in that tiny cell downstairs right now. She shuddered in revulsion at the thought of being tormented until dawn by Candy and the others. That was a fate, she realized, she would not wish upon any gargoyle. "If that witch ever touches me again, Doctor," she said quietly, "I swear you'll have to clean up what's left of her with a sponge. And that goes for my sister, as well. No one touches her but me. No one."
Sevarius blinked, taken aback by the icy undertone in the clone's voice. "I'll… be sure to pass on the warning," he said at last.
Jezebella nodded, eyeing the man carefully for a moment before caping her wings and slumping against a tall filing cabinet. "So it looks like tonight's another washout," she grumbled, "thanks to halfling incompetence."
"Well," Sevarius said, "that actually depends on you." He gave a small smile. "I had a feeling you might encounter unexpected difficulties at the art museum, so I took the initiative in sending out a third team to keep an eye on you." He tapped a button on the wall, and a camera feed came up on one of the monitors.
Jezebella drew herself erect again and took a step closer. "Destine Manor?"
Sevarius nodded. "I'd been starting to wonder why you hadn't left yet after seeing Demona's pretty little mate home. But then you arrived back here. So if you wish to salvage the night, Jessie…"
"I'll go alone," she declared. "This time, it will get done right."
"You should at least take Danny with you," Sevarius suggested. "He seemed quite eager to apologize for his part in tonight's little misunderstanding. I think it would be a shame to waste his talents."
Jezebella's lips curled into a small smile as she gave the idea some thought. Every other sentence out of Danny's mouth a short while ago as he unlocked the chains and shackles had been "I'm sorry," but she'd left him behind with the others without so much as saying a word. He'd be willing to do almost anything for her now, and the thought of using him against her sister still appealed to her greatly. "Very well," she replied. "I'll take him and meet up with the others already in the field. As for Candy… I would suggest giving her the honor of being Dr. Ling's first test subject."
Sevarius chuckled as Jezebella drew in her wings and started out the door. "I'll take that suggestion under advisement, Jessie."
The gargoyle paused at the door frame. "Oh yes, one more thing, Doctor," she said. As she turned around to meet his gaze, the smile dropped from her face and her eyes went cold and harsh. "Stop… calling… me… Jessie!"
* * * * *
"Thanks, Roy," Elisa keyed her microphone off and dropped the handset on the seat beside her. Angela had left the Metropolitan more than two hours ago. Her appearance had gone smoothly despite the small riot that had broken out prior to the event and the demonstration that had clogged the area afterwards. She had been seen leaving in a long black limousine. "Fine. Let's try the castle," Elisa muttered.
The Fairlane banked smoothly left and Elisa tried to concentrate on her driving even as she tried to figure out how she was going to handle what promised to be a very tense situation. A taxi swerved in front of her and Elisa veered, barely avoiding scraping yellow paint. "Let's just start by getting there in one piece."
* * *
Goliath touched down smoothly on the courtyard and paused to give himself time to think. Angela had promised to come home after her appearance at the Art Museum but no one had set eyes on her since the clan had risen from the supper table. Lexington had seemed unusually tense when queried about her whereabouts, but when questioned further he had only mentioned something about a flood of email threatening to overwhelm the server and excused himself hastily.
The gargoyle leader turned on his heel with the intention of calling his ex mate. He narrowly avoided knocking down his current as Elisa strode out onto the courtyard. She seemed very tense, although her face softened momentarily at the sight of him. "Goliath. I've been looking for you. Where's Angela?"
Not the greeting he'd anticipated. The smile slipped from his lips as he replied, "Why?"
Elisa shook her head abruptly. "Not out here. Inside. Your office. Now. Though the top of the detective's head barely reached his mid bicep, she grabbed her mate firmly by the elbow and steered him inside the castle and down the short corridor that lead to his workspace. She pushed open the door and once they were safely inside shoved it closed with the sole of her well- polished black sneaker. "Where's Angela?"
"I do not know." Goliath stepped away from Elisa, breaking their contact. He scented her distress. Why was Elisa so tense? "She did not return from her speaking engagement as she promised. Why? Has something happened?"
Elisa found she didn't know what to do with herself. She paced for several moments before returning to Goliath's side and placing her hand, gently this time, on his. "Maybe you should sit down for this."
Twice in one night someone had inquired about Angela and then suggested he sit down. Goliath felt a numbness creep over him. "Angela is in trouble, isn't she, Elisa."
The detective nodded. "I'm sorry, Goliath but this is official police business. Angela is a suspect in both a string of robberies and the assault of a security guard. I'm under instructions from Captain Chavez to take her to the Labyrinth for questioning."
"To Talon? Why?" Goliath decided sitting down wasn't such a bad idea. He slumped into his chair and tried to absorb this latest turn of events.
"Matt's idea, actually. Neutral territory," she explained. We didn't want to bring Angela to the station and, in light of the current tension, the Captain didn't want to come here. We were hoping we could keep the interrogation under wraps in case we were wrong. And if we were right, we wanted to keep the arrest quiet to protect the rest of you."
An arrest. By human authorities? His daughter? Goliath closed his eyes. Not even when Demona had been at her worst had they considered such a possibility. "Why is this happening?" he said at last.
"I don't know, Goliath." Elisa, torn between her roles as Official Bearer of Bad News and Loving Mate, finally succumbed to her protective instincts. She stood behind Goliath and wrapped her arms around him, resting her cheek against the top of his head. "Some how we missed the signs that something was wrong. Maybe it was the pressure of the sudden fame. Or maybe someone is blackmailing her into doing these things. We won't know until we confront her."
"Xanatos said much the same thing."
"When?" Elisa asked suspiciously.
Never had Goliath felt the need to unburden himself as keenly as it did at that moment. He gestured for Elisa to take a chair of her own and when she was settled, he recapped the earlier conversation. "I spoke with Xanatos earlier. Angela has been implicated in the explosion in Sector 13. Xanatos has evidence as well," he said recalling the photograph and the fingerprints. "It was damning." Goliath sighed heavily. "I fear Demona's rehabilitation has been a ruse. She must be using Angela in some new scheme." He was suddenly relieved that Elisa had intercepted him before he'd had a chance to tip Demona and by proxy, Angela.
"We don't know that, Goliath," Elisa cautioned. "Right now the physical evidence only points to Angela. Unless there's something you're not telling me."
"Xanatos implied that Angela learned to disable the security monitors from Demona. That she had used a similar technique during their former association."
"I see." It was one more very circumstantial nail in Demona's coffin. She knew what Matt would make of it, but it still felt wrong to Elisa's gut. "You think they're together at Destine Manor?"
Goliath shook his head. "Perhaps. It was her intention to spend part of the evening with Demona."
"I'll have to go after her."
Goliath rose to his feet and resettled his wings resolutely. "I know. I will go as well. Angela is a member of my clan and my daughter. Her transgressions are my responsibility. I will assist you in turning her over to the authorities."
"You don't have to do this," Elisa replied. She stood as well and smoothed her jacket. She noticed Goliath staring at the taser strapped in her armpit holder and zipped her windbreaker partially closed.
"Yes, I do," Goliath said firmly. "I will meet you at the manor gate."
Elisa nodded and together they exited the office.
* * * * *
"Ptah." Brooklyn pasted a welcoming look upon his beak and dipped forward into a hurried bow. "This is an unexpected … honor." A partial truth, Ptah had arrived at the castle with no warning. Whether his intentions were honorable was still open to debate.
Ptah returned the gesture. Bowing low from his snake-like waist, the bronze of his skin rippled in the faux torchlight. "You honored my clan with your presence. I only wished to do the same."
Uh-huh. Brooklyn thought to himself. Just dropping by for a chat and a game of chess. "We've nothing prepared for such an honored guest. But we offer our hospitality just the same. If you'll excuse me just a moment, I'll notify the others that you've arrived." Brooklyn pivoted and took several long steps away from Ptah. He raised a brick red wrist to his beak and hissed into the transmitter implanted there. "Sata. We've got a problem. Ptah's here. We need someplace to stash him. Is the common room okay?"
"The children were doing their schoolwork. I will conclude their lesson and we will prepare suitable refreshments."
Despite the sudden annoyance of Ptah's arrival Brooklyn grinned. "Perfect. I love you, Sata. Have I told you that tonight?"
"Not nearly enough," his mate replied fondly as she severed the connection.
"You must be tired after your long journey." Brooklyn gestured toward the archway that lead toward the gargoyle's section of the castle and indicated for Ptah to proceed. "How did you get here anyway? Owen didn't say anything about a packing crate arriving."
Ptah smiled. "Such conveyances are serviceable for some journeys but I preferred to use my own methods. You are not the only clan with human allies, you know, Ambassador."
Brooklyn paused and considered his reply. He'd not seen a single human among the clan during his weeks in Egypt, even though at one time the gargoyles had served the Pharaoh as loyal subjects. "Of course not. However, I was given to believe you didn't deal much with them."
Ptah shrugged sinuously and the hood of his cobra-like head, so incongruous with the broken rams horns, flared. "We do what we must. As we always have and as I suspect, we always will."
"Right." Ptah dealt with humans while subtly discouraging his clan from doing the same. Brooklyn wondered if Senen knew or if Ptah was acting on his own. It put the much-traveled gargoyle on guard. "So are you here by your lonesome, or should we prepare for a larger entourage?"
"I have no companions. I am a humble traveler who seeks only to honor the eggs of the rookery."
Uh-oh. Not that again. Brooklyn thought as they entered the common room. Sata had done an admirable job in the few minutes she'd been given. The kids' schoolwork, formerly spread over the table, along with several bowls of popcorn and other assorted snacks, was gone. A tray of fresh fruit and pitchers of both water and wine had replaced it. Hudson, Bronx at his side stood waiting to greet them.
"You must be Ptah," the elderly gargoyle burred. His Scots accent sounded genial to Brooklyn's ears, but it wasn't hard to miss the casual battle ready posture of the old soldier.
Ptah bowed as Brooklyn made the introduction. "This is Hudson, our eldest elder." Sata re entered the room. "And this," Brooklyn said as he took the hand of the jade green female, "is Sata, my mate."
Sata bowed politely off of Ptah's murmured greeting. "Welcome to our home." She poured a goblet of water and handed it to Brooklyn. Her mate in turn handed it to Hudson who offered it to Ptah. "A glass of water for ya, lad. To wash away the travel dust."
Ptah, hesitated for a moment, contemplating the pewter goblet. He accepted the cup and took a sip. "You honor me with my own clan's ritual of hospitality. You are most kind."
Yeah, and now you're most bound by those same rules, you old snake. Brooklyn's beak twitched imperceptibly as Hudson winked at him.
"Have a seat and relax," the elderly gargoyle said as he settled into his favorite armchair. "Tell us what brings you all the way from Egypt."
"I had hoped for an audience with Goliath." Ptah looked from Brooklyn to Hudson and finally to Sata. "He has seemed somewhat reluctant to speak with me of late. No offense intended, Ambassador Brooklyn, but some matters should be left between clan leaders."
Brooklyn sipped from his own goblet. "None taken. It's funny though, I'd been led to believe that Senen was the leader of your clan. Has there been some kind of change?"
"No!" Ptah replied hastily. "May she live long and rule wisely. Senen still leads our clan, but she dares not travel and this matter is of a delicate nature."
"Well perhaps it's best left alone." Bronx whined and Hudson diverted his attention away from Ptah. Arianna stood in the doorway, slouching, a jade green miniature of her father. She straightened as she entered, then crossed to her mother. Sata bent and nodded, gave the child a pat on the shoulder and then dismissed her.
"My daughter informs me that your room has been prepared," Sata announced.
"You are, of course, invited to roost with us out in the courtyard," Brooklyn added. "But we thought you might want a place of your own to unwind in. Goliath is away on an errand and he may be a while."
"I see," Ptah replied stiffly. "Thank you. I believe I shall retire. If you would show me the way?" He bowed perfunctorily towards Hudson and Sata and stalked from the room as Brooklyn trailed in his wake.
* * * * *
Elisa glanced at her watch. Twenty minutes had passed since she'd last checked. Time was dragging. It was hot and sticky. The detective pulled at her tee shirt, unplastering it from her breasts and back. She unbuckled the thin black leather strap from her wrist, shoved the watch in her back pocket, cracked the window on the passenger side to allow some cross ventilation and settled in to wait some more. Elisa hated stakeouts. They tended to be long and boring and this one was proving to be no exception. She didn't even have Matt sitting beside her to play 'Twenty Questions'. Thirst gnawed at her, but the water bottle was long dry. She looked skyward. Though she was solo in the car, the detective wasn't alone. Somewhere out there behind the cover of the trees, Goliath waited.
Her cell phone beeped.
Elisa picked up the handheld off the dash and flipped it open. "Maza." Speak of the devil and he will appear. She thought as the tense voice of her partner issued from the tiny receiver. "No. We're still in position and there's been no change. The house is dark. No answer to the door or phone. If anybody's in there they don't want to be disturbed." She listened a minute. "Has something developed?" Off the negative response, "Then we still don't have probable cause for a warrant. I'll call you the minute something happens. Tell the Captain we'll re-schedule. Yeah. Bye." Snapped the phone closed and dropped it on the seat beside her. Elisa closed her eyes and rubbed slim fingers over her temples.
Somewhere in the back of her mind she'd always known that this night would come. That one of the clan would find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Elisa always figured it would come from one of their acts of vigilantism going wrong. That Goliath would let his temper get away with him or Broadway with his famous disdain towards guns would lean too hard on the wrong person. Neither overt crime nor Angela had ever entered into the scenarios she'd prepared herself for. And yet, here it was. Even Xanatos had evidence according to Goliath. Evidence that the clan leader deemed credible. It was too much. It was also her job to deal with it. Elisa retrieved a six tablet tin of aspirin from the glove box and swallowed three of them dry, grimaced, and returned her attention to the view of the driveway in front of her.
The night dragged on. It grew hotter and more humid. Lightning cracked turning the sky brilliant purple. It began to rain.
* * * * *
Angela listened to the rain beat a staccato patter on the window pane and stared at the large tome that lay open on the worktable before her. She had forced her way through fifty pages of faded, handwritten Latin script since Demona had left, but she knew if her mother were to return now, she would not be able to recall a single word even if her life depended on it. She sighed. Danny was still missing, and Lexington had promised to have updates on his investigation for her when they met up after her appearance at the Met. She had rode home in the limousine with Andrea only to avoid the mob of demonstrators and paparazzi that waited outside the museum, and see her mother's mate safely back to Destine Manor. She hadn't meant to stay long, as she had totally forgotten that tonight, by virtue of it being Wednesday, was her regular lesson night.
"Mother, please. I really need to get back to the castle. Can't we make an exception this one time?" she had asked as she was led to the study, Demona's taloned hand clenched tight about her wrist.
"No," Demona had replied, in a tone that indicated no further argument would be entertained. "You've been neglecting your lessons for over a month, Angela. You've permitted too many distractions to interfere with the time you should be spending on your studies. Modeling… public appearances… trysts with your mate at all hours of the night. It's time to get your priorities back in order, my daughter."
Angela swallowed hard as the little white lie she had used the previous week to excuse her tardiness was thrown back at her, and she ceased resisting as Demona escorted her into the workroom at sat her on her usual stool.
"Ages ago," Demona stated as she retrieved a book from the shelves, "a recalcitrant apprentice might find herself subject to corporal punishment or worse for falling behind in her studies. Fortunately, your teacher also happens to be your mother, and she doesn't believe she needs to resort to such extreme measures. At least not just yet." Angela balked slightly at the cool undertone to Demona's words, but said nothing as her mother placed the large volume before her. "This is the material you were supposed to have been studying this past month. Obviously my translation of it has not proven adequate, so tonight I think I shall have you review it in the original Latin." She placed a taloned hand on Angela's shoulder as the younger female stared wide-eyed at the huge, ancient text. "Study it well, young one. I will return an hour before dawn to quiz you, and determine whether or not you will be spending the day."
With that, Demona had departed, leaving her to the seemingly impossible task. Angela planted her elbow on the table and rested her chin in her hand, sighing again as she attempted to return to her reading. The smooth click of the lock on the doorknob as her mother left two hours earlier might as well have been the sound of prison bars slamming home. "At least she didn't chain me to the table," she muttered. Still, she despite being waylaid from her original plans for the evening, she couldn't bring herself to be upset with Demona. She had been slacking on her studies, and her mother had a right to be concerned. She didn't dare share the true reasons as to why she had fallen behind, however. Demona still held a very low tolerance for anything having to do with the Third Race, and she held an even greater contempt for the halflings. Even if she were to tell her mother about Danny, she wouldn't appreciate Angela's concern or understand her reasons any better than Goliath or Broadway or the rest of the clan.
The sound of the door being unbolted startled Angela from her thoughts. Had she somehow lost track of the time until Demona was due back to test her on her reading? Panicked, she looked up, only to breathe a sigh of relief as instead of the flame-haired blue gargoyle, a petite blonde woman timidly stepped into the room.
"Jeannie, hello," Angela greeted. She put on a friendly smile which slipped into a bemused grin as she noticed the young woman's attire. She was wearing a maid's uniform: a black dress, accented at the cuffs and collar with white lace, with a matching apron about her waist and ruffled cap upon her head. It looked very authentic, and Angela did her best not to giggle. "This is a surprise," she added.
"Good evening, Miss Angela," Jeannie said. "I just wanted to see if you needed anything tonight."
"I'm fine, Jeannie," Angela replied. She regarded the young woman carefully for a moment, unable to shake the same feeling she'd had the first time they'd met a few weeks ago that there was a lot more to the story of how Demona and Andrea had come to acquire their "houseguest" than either of them had so far let on. Fox's joking comment after hearing of the new living arrangement during one of their prep sessions with Broadway had already raised enough questions in her mind. Jeannie's new costume only raised more. "So… are you getting ready for a costume party?"
Jeannie blushed self-consciously. "No, Miss Angela. Ms. Destine bought this for me today." She looked away and studied a spot on the floor. "You don't like it either, do you?"
Angela slipped from her stool and resettled her wings. "My mother bought you a maid's costume?" she asked, confused. "Why?"
"Miss Andrea hates it too," Jeannie said miserably. "Ms. Destine promised me she'd like it once she saw me in it, but she hates it!"
Angela was at the stricken woman's side within seconds, her own worries for the moment forgotten as she pushed the door shut with her tail and moved a now sobbing Jeannie to a nearby chair. Unsure of the source of her distress but wanting to comfort her, she knelt beside the woman and stroked her hair, and helped her find the hem of the apron to dry her tears. "It's okay, Jeannie," she crooned softly. "It's - oh my." Angela gave a soft gasp as she traced the tip of a pointed ear with her talon.
Jeannie looked up at Angela's unexpected touch, blinking damp eyes as she realized the girl had uncovered the shameful secret Ms. Destine had admonished her many times to always keep hidden. The look on Angela's face, though, wasn't one of shock and horror as Ms. Destine's repeated warnings had led her to expect. It was instead one of quiet fascination. "Miss Angela, I…" She quieted as the girl's dark eyes met her own.
Angela examined Jeannie carefully, noting the other faintly elfin features of her face that suddenly seemed to come into focus. "You're of the Third Race," Angela breathed, her mind whirring as a half dozen cryptic remarks made by Andrea and her mother over the past two weeks seemed to fall into place, "aren't you?"
Jeannie sniffled and looked away again. "Not exactly," she replied, hugging herself. "I used to be, but I'm not any more. At least for the most part."
Angela took Jeannie's hand into her own and squeezed it reassuringly. Was she a halfling who had been cured, or something else entirely? She could sense no strong magic about her, and her curiosity was growing by the second. She glanced over at the worktable, at the book of spells that would have to wait yet again for another night, then gave her full attention to Jeannie. "It sounds like it's a long story," she said, "but I'm a good listener if you wish to tell it."
* * * * *
Another hour. It wasn't nearly as oppressive inside the Fairlane. Elisa shifted behind the steering wheel, wishing she could get out of the car even for five minutes. She compromised, swinging her legs out from behind the steering wheel and onto the passenger seat. She leaned back against the window and pushed her shoulder blades into the door frame, easing the tension that cramped her back. Fifteen seconds in that pose did the trick. Pain subsided. Elisa released the stretch and bent her knees into a more comfortable slouch, kicked off her shoes, propped her feet on the upholstery and wondered how Goliath was holding up out in the rain.
Rain slicked Goliath, his long sable hair streaming rivulets of water down his muscular chest. A sensuous smile tugged at the corner of Elisa's full lips even as she fought to put the image out of her mind.
Poor guy is stuck out in the weather worried sick about his kid and all you can think about is how sexy he is, shame on you.
"Hey," she argued back to her over vigilant conscience, "even a cop on a stakeout has a right to an occasional lusty thought and it's not like he's a total stranger."
No. He's your lover and your life mate and he's going through hell. So why don't you think of an alternate scenario that fits the facts and clears Angela so that he can come in out of the rain?
Elisa stared at her denim-covered knees and began to re-review the case files she'd already memorized.
* * * * *
"… and they started fighting again right after Ms. Destine returned from escorting you down here. Fighting because of me." Jeannie sighed sadly. "It seems like that's all they do at night anymore. I came down here so I wouldn't have to hear them. I thought maybe you at least might need me."
Angela nodded slowly, still absorbing Jeannie's nearly unbelievable story. Until just a few short weeks ago, she had been a thousands years old magical being, imprisoned in a glass jar. Then Andrea had found her, wished her free, and she'd been transformed into the mostly human woman who sat beside her now. The tale would have even seemed incredible had Angela's own range of personal experience with things magical not taught her that what Jeannie claimed as her origins was by no means improbable. What troubled her the most, in fact, was not Jeannie's fantastic explanation of how she had come to live at Destine Manor, it was the way she had become seemingly caught between her two benefactresses.
"Being needed is important to you," Angela commented as she tried to make sense of the last part.
Jeannie nodded. "I just don't know what to do, Angela. When I do as Miss Andrea wants, Ms. Destine dislikes it. When I do as Ms. Destine wants, Miss Andrea dislikes it. Miss Andrea always wants to take me out. Ms. Destine would prefer I stay at home. Ms. Destine asks me to help with chores. Miss Andrea tells me to stop. I just get so confused."
Angela smiled gently. "Maybe then, Jeannie, you should just do what you want to do. You're not djinn anymore, and you're not beholden to Andrea or to my mother. You've been given a new life, and my foster father always used say that your path in life is yours to choose."
The door opened abruptly, causing both women to jump to their feet. Angela relaxed marginally as she saw it was Andrea, but Jeannie seemed to instantly tense up.
"There you are," Andrea said, addressing Jeannie as if Angela wasn't even there. "I've been looking all over the house for you. Go get changed into something normal. We're going out. I need some air and we need to talk."
"Yes, Miss Andrea. Right away."
Angela watched as Jeannie retreated, hurrying from the room without a moment's hesitation as Andrea stepped in and yielded the doorway. The happy smile the young artist had worn several hours before at the art gallery was long gone, replaced by a look of agitation that seemingly dared Angela to offer commentary. Andrea was already clad in a light jacket, and despite the late hour and the long day that lay behind her, she still seemed fairly alert. After a moment, when it became clear that Angela was not going to offer the first word, she finally spoke.
"You know, I really wish I could figure out what gets into your mother's head sometimes. Did you see that ridiculous get-up? Why not just put the poor girl in chains and end the pretense?"
Angela shifted her feet uncomfortably. She had done her best to remain non-judgmental with Jeannie although she, too, wondered by what logic her mother had come upon the idea to dress the young woman in a maid's uniform. Still, the last thing she wanted at the moment was to land herself in the middle of her parent and step-parent's domestic squabble. "I'll talk to my mother," she said, "if you'll promise me not to be too hard on Jeannie." Andrea opened her mouth to reply, but Angela belayed her words before they were spoken. "She told me her story tonight," she added. "It sounds like she's had a lot of changes to adjust to, Andrea. I bet a little patience would go a long way."
The artist tucked her hands into the pockets of her denim jacket. "You're right," she admitted. "I shouldn't have yelled at her earlier." Andrea gave a sigh that turned into a yawn. "By the way, if you want to get out of here, too, I think you're safe. Dominique got a phone call in the middle of our… discussion. She's been sealed up in her office ever since. She was speaking French when I last saw her so I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's something to do with the Paris office again."
"Again?" Angela asked.
Andrea nodded and stifled another yawn. "On Monday night, she got a call at one in the morning and was on the phone until dawn. So if you want to go home… I'll just tell her I gave you permission. I mean, what's one more thing when she's already pissed?"
Angela's wings were already twitching in anticipation of making the glide back to the castle as she followed Andrea to the foyer, and the earthy scent of fresh rain and grass met her nose, beckoning her, as Andrea opened the front door. Still, she paused before departing. "Are you going to be okay, Andrea?" she asked.
"Domi and I had a fight tonight. Tomorrow we'll make up." The painter shrugged. "I'll be fine, Angela. Now go on home."
Angela smiled and gave her friend a quick hug, then stepped outside and made for the high brick wall that surrounded the property. Impatient to get home, she climbed only halfway before leaping and catching an updraft to spiral her skyward.
* * * * *
"Elisa." Goliath's baritone boomed from the headphones hung round the detective's neck. The detective snapped out of a light doze and shook her head, waking further. She slipped the headset into position and adjusted the volume.
"Here, Goliath. Report."
"Angela has left the house. She's on the wing and headed back toward the castle. I will intercept her and make sure she arrives."
"No. Don't, Goliath." Elisa snapped. She glanced at the sky, saw the rain had lightened to a drizzle, and dug her watch out of her back pocket to confirm. "She still has time to stop along the way. Maybe lead us to someone or something important. Tail her. I'll meet you at the castle."
"Very well." Elisa could sense her mate's unease, both at her choice of tactics and at the possibility of witnessing personally more damning evidence against his daughter. But he knew he didn't have a choice. "I will see you shortly."
"Yeah. Soon." She turned the ignition key and the car purred to life. Then paused, remembered her other obligations and put in a call to Captain Chavez.
* * *
"Target acquired. Gargoyle on the wing."
"What direction?" Jezabella hissed eagerly into the headset. She'd been waiting half the night for a report from Anton's lookout and tension radiated from her in waves. Even Danny, who'd been hanging close like an overanxious puppy, stepped back to give her room.
"Toward the park. She's vectoring perfectly for Scenario 3."
Jezabella grinned, eager for the hunt. "E.T.A."
"She'll be in position in ten."
"You heard the man," she hissed at the assorted halflings and stooges. "Saddle up." She turned to Danny still hovering on the edges. "Are you ready?"
The teen nodded uncertainly. "I guess so." He straightened and pushed his bangs out of his face. "I mean, yeah, let's take her down."
"Good boy," Jezabella crooned. She tousled his hair affectionately. "Remember I'm counting on you." She pushed the boy eagerly toward the van and together they roared off into the diminishing night.
* * *
Goliath followed from a safe distance as Elisa had instructed. It went against his every instinct. He longed throw himself into the tumultuous winds that buffeted his wings, find the swiftest current and intercept Angela, forcing her to the ground, so that he could wring the truth from her. His daughter, the child he had learned to accept as his own flesh and blood and love above all others, stood doubly accused by both their benefactor and the human authorities. Her actions seemed so contrary, so out of her character. Goliath could not fathom any of it. "Why?" looped through his brain endlessly and he had no answer. Was she being coerced? Was she under some kind of evil spell? Only Angela knew, and she was gliding serenely ahead of him as if she hadn't a care in the world.
They were approaching Central Park. The rain had passed and the storm he'd endured while waiting for Angela to leave Destine Manor moved northward. In the distance lightning continued to strike, cutting blazes across the skyline. A bright flash and pop from a cell lagging behind the rest tore through the night, momentarily blinding Goliath. He blinked hard, fighting to compensate. When he looked up again Angela was no longer gliding toward the castle. She had furled her wings and was blazing down toward the park like a fury.
Goliath reacted, setting his own wings to shadow her course at a slightly slower momentum. If he wished to remain unseen he would have to land a distance away and track on foot. He spotted a clearing and made for land.
* * *
Angela dove toward the ground, down toward the flash of bright green light and the all too common sound of a human screaming in terror. She scanned the earth below. "There!" Three people in dark masks surrounded a forth who coward low to the ground. Angela snarled, her eyes glowing red with fury as she bowled over the tall heavy set human whose features were obscured by mask and gloves but whose testosterone heavy scent marked him as male.
The man went down and she lashed at a second attacker with her tail. His knees went out from under him and he landed with a thump on the wet grass. Angela gave the third assailant a fanged grin and she turned and ran into the thick copse of trees that surrounded the clearing. The gargoyle dismissed the woman from her mind as she turned her attention to the victim. A half grown boy lay at her feet, cowering. Angela offered him her hand. He reached up hesitantly and for the first time his face came out of the shadows.
"Danny?" Angela cried softly in joyful recognition, just as the rock came down hard on the back of her head.
* * * * *
To be continued…