Home is a Dark Place, Part 3
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.
* * * * *
Hospital Wing, Castle Wyvern
"Ow, my head."
Broadway bolted up from the chair where he'd been waiting, Angela's hand in his, since sunset. "I'm here, babe."
Angela's eyes fluttered open and she winced as she struggled to sit up in the specially reinforced hospital bed. As she took in the beeping machinery and sterile scent of antiseptic her face became more confused. "Broadway? What happened? Where am I?"
"Shhh. Take it easy. I'll go get the doctor and let them know you're awake." Gently, the burly turquoise gargoyle disentangled his talons from his mate's. He stepped out of the confines of the treatment room and spoke softly to someone out of Angela's line of sight. She sank back against the pillows and closed her eyes again. Nonsensical fragments flashed against the back of her eyelids like scenes from a particularly awful movie. A short-haired woman with a shock prod. A coffin-like box. The walls closing in. Pain. More then she could endure. Oblivion. The welcome concern of family. More darkness.
A machine began to beep and a second hissed softly in response to the gargoyle's distress. A cocktail of sedative and pain killer flowed through a tube and into a pressurized delivery system. Angela felt a brief pressure as the contact forced the medication into her skin and her breathing began to slow into response as Broadway entered with Dr. Goldblum.
"Hey," Broadway said softly, wiping away the tears that streaked his mate's face. "It's all right. You're safe now."
Goldblum stood back noting the readings on the monitors while Broadway continued to cluck and soothe. After the numbers dropped to a more normalized level he cleared his throat and moved to the opposite side of the bed so that Broadway could continue to hold Angela's hand while he worked. "Better now?"
Angela nodded weakly. "Yes. Thanks. How did I get here? What happened?"
Broadway's broad features contorted with fresh worry. "You don't remember?"
Angela gave a small headshake. Even the minor movement was enough to induce pain. She winced again. "Bits and pieces. I can't make sense of them."
"Should I tell her, doctor?"
Goldblum checked the readings one more time. He adjusted the medication feed, gave his patient a critical, yet compassionate look and nodded. "Just the basics for now. There will be time for details later. After Angela has had a chance to recover." He smiled gently at the ailing gargoyle. "You're a lucky young lady, bubele. You should have that mate of yours buy you a lottery ticket. You're home and you're safe. And you will heal in time."
The mad kaleidoscope whirled again. A long ride in an enclosed van. First she was in chains then the image shifted and she was surrounded by Delilah and Sata murmuring soothing words. Angela lifted her head again long enough to look at the beeping monitors again. "I don't understand. I'm a gargoyle. Won't a day of stone sleep heal me?"
Goldblum shrugged expansively. "The shtarker who got a hold of you did a lot of damage. You've already slept away a night and a day and it has done you wonders. But I'm afraid that you may feel your injuries for several nights to come."
Broadway looked as if he might crumble under the weight of his despair. "She'll be okay though, won't she, doc?"
Goldblum gripped Broadway's shoulder as hard as his slender human hands would allow. The gargoyle was forced to meet the doctor's eyes. He saw nothing but sincerity as Goldblum replied. "She will be fine, my friend. But you must be strong for both of you. I'll have them send in some soup. You both need to eat and rest. Will you do that?"
Broadway couldn't imagine anything he wanted to do less. He wasn't hungry. He wasn't tired. He was angry and itching for action. He wanted to find Sevarius and make him pay. But under the doctor's steady gaze the anger diminished slightly. "I'll take care of Angela."
"Good man." Goldblum released the gargoyle's shoulder and rubbed his hand to release the cramp he'd given himself. "You'll both be out of here tomorrow night. But I want you, young lady, to take the rest of the week off. No patrols. You're lucky, you know," he added over his shoulder as he turned to leave. "If you'd been a human, that blow to your skull would have crushed it like an egg."
Pain continued to throb at Angela's temples. She smiled weakly at Dr. Goldblum. "I guess I should count my blessings."
Goldblum nodded. "Indeed you should." He glanced at his watch. "Oy, late again. My wife is going to kill me." The doctor removed his stethoscope and shoved it into the pocket of his lab coat as he strode hurriedly out of the medical bay.
Broadway noticed belatedly the doctor's yarmulke was embroidered with the catch phrase from an old song. "Don't worry, be happy!" it extolled.
"Yeah, right," he muttered in reply as he turned back to his injured mate.
"Broadway? What did happen to me?" Angela prompted in the ensuing silence.
The burly gargoyle's rage, so carefully damped down during the long flight back from California, re-ignited. "It's all my fault. I knew I never should have left you alone," he added bitterly. All the triumph he'd felt. All the basking in attention. All the thrill of being courted by a sympathetic media had turned to ash when Fox had delivered the news of Angela's ordeal.
"No," she insisted. "You can't blame yourself. Now tell me, please. What happened?"
Broadway swallowed. He stroked gently at Angela's dark hair. "Sevarius got a hold of you. You were lured into a trap in Central Park and replaced by a clone. She couldn't keep up the charade and it fell apart. The clone attacked a kid at the bus station. It turned out he was an escaped halfling from Sector 13 and he knew all about the plan."
"Danny?" Another fragment. Danny at her bedside pleading ignorance, begging forgiveness.
Broadway nodded. "Yeah, I think that's what his name was. Anyway, he said he didn't realize they wanted to hurt you. Your double sold him a bill of goods about being your poor pitiful sister rejected from the clan. Sob. Sob. They were going to kidnap you and force you to confess on tape so that she could take the proof to Goliath and regain her rightful place. Stupid kid."
Broadway shook his head in disbelief at the halfling teen's naiveté. "Anyway. Seems he got a clue finally as to what they really were up to and bolted. That's when things really started to fall apart. The clone couldn't have the kid running around loose. She tracked him down as he was about to leave town. They mixed it up, complete with fireworks, and Elisa and the rest of the cops showed up. The clone took Elisa out and escaped."
"Took out? How?"
Broadway nodded and his eyes glowed briefly. "The clone pretended to be you. Elisa let her guard down." He shook the image of a bleeding Elisa forcibly away. "She'll be okay," he said firmly. "They're supposed to release her from the hospital tonight."
"I want to see her," Angela said as she struggled upright.
Broadway pushed her gently back onto the pillows. "Nuh-uh. Rest tonight. Doctor said so," he insisted before resuming his narrative. "Anyway, the kid, he helped find Savarius's hideout. By the time Goliath and the others got there, the doctor and most of his goons were gone."
Broadway turned away and choked down the sob of rage that threatened to tear from his throat. After he was sure he could continue, he turned back. "They left you, baby," he blurted. He stroked the dark hair at Angela's bruised temple gingerly while he framed his thoughts. "They beat you, Ang. Beat you and left you for dead. Evidently there was some kind of a box. Brooklyn said if they'd gotten there a half hour later it might have been too late. I can't believe I almost lost you!" Broadway moaned as Delilah entered bearing a covered tray.
"Shhhh," Angela consoled. "This was not your fault, Broadway. We all face dangers every night. It's part of the world in which we live."
"Still, I should have known. I should have been there for you."
Delilah set the tray down on the bedside table and removed the lid. Underneath were two bowls of chicken soup, a stack of sandwiches and a bottle of pills. "The doctor said those were for headaches after you were released." The tawny skinned clone gave Angela a severe look reminiscent of her human mother. "Not before."
Angela nodded as her clan sister helped her sit up and handed her the soupspoon. After a pointed look at Broadway and a curt 'doctor's orders', the burly gargoyle picked up a sandwich and took a halfhearted mouthful.
"Thanks, Delilah. I'll take it from here," Broadway said, between bites of egg salad.
"Be sure she finishes all of it," the clone said severely. "Dr. Goldblum said she needs to eat if she is to recover her strength."
"Every bite," Angela promised. The soup was strangely soothing, she was forced to admit as she swallowed another spoonful. There was something reassuring about the steaming broth and velvety noodles. It reminded her of home and hearth. And children…
"Broadway?" Angela set down the spoon and tentatively picked up one of the sandwich triangles. "This attack. It's got me thinking."
"Yeah? About what? "Cuz if it's about finding Sevarius and this clone and beating them into paste, I'm on board."
Angela grimaced at the naked violence on her mate's face. "No. Not that. They will pay. But it was actually our egg that was on my mind."
Broadway dropped the sandwich he was about to stuff into his mouth back onto the tray. "Why? Has that Ptah guy been hassling you? I heard he showed up uninvited."
Angela touched her mate gently, reassuring him. "He came here to talk to us in person. I think he's really concerned about the future of our kind, Broadway. We need to respect that."
"You're not thinking of taking him up on his harebrained egg exchange scheme, are you, Ang?" Broadway gave her a close look, wondering just how scrambled her brains had gotten during her ordeal.
She shook her head. "No. I want our hatchling born here, just as you do. But we owe it to Ptah to hear him out. He's an elder and we should respect the person even if we can't accept his ideas."
"You're sure about this?" Broadway hated the idea but he didn't want to argue with his injured mate. She'd already been through enough. After a long pause he nodded. "All right. I'll find Ptah and he can make his pitch. But only if you'll promise me that you'll eat that sandwich instead of playing with it and then get some rest." He picked up the sandwich triangle and held it before her. Angela leaned forward and took a bite, then took the sandwich from Broadway and finished it and the last spoonful of soup herself. Suddenly exhausted by the effort, she sank back against the pillows as Broadway removed the tray.
"Rest now, love." Broadway got up, brushed a few wayward crumbs off the sheets and kissed Angela softly on the forehead. Quietly, so not to disturb his sleeping mate, Broadway crept from the room.
* * * * *
Ptah glanced out at the skyline and then up at the moon checking its position. His contact had found him while he slept away the daylight hidden in a secluded recess of the great park at the center of the city. While he slept they'd secured a leather pouch to a thong and hung it around his neck, a subtle reminder that they were always watching. The message inside the pouch specified their meeting time as three hours past sundown on the rooftop of the Empire State Building. Ptah had not known of such a place, but a page torn from a guidebook had been thoughtfully provided to supply the necessary landmarks.
He had spent the dregs of the previous night deep in thought, roaming the city after Goliath's curt dismissal. There had been another crisis, the details of which he'd been unable to discern. Whatever it was, even the human Xanatos had participated, encased in a gargoyle shaped contrivance that allowed him to fly. It was an interesting innovation and he wondered if his so far unseen contact would be as interested in it as he and the others appeared to be in one seemingly insignificant gargoyle egg.
Someplace in the darkness a rusty hinge creaked. Not loudly, but loud enough that the sound traveled to Ptah's desert sensitive ears. His hood flared in response to the intrusion and he dropped into a fighter's wary posture.
A light flickered in the shadows and then extinguished. His signal. Still cautious, Ptah moved toward the no longer visible flame. He scented the air. Human. A new one he'd never met.
"You can call me 'Van Winkle'," said a carefully modulated voice from the shadows.
Ptah's hood flared again. He had spoken to Van Winkle before. This human's voice was different. "I have met Van Winkle," Ptah stated. "You are not he."
"That was my brother," the voice replied smoothly. "I have many brothers and we are all 'Van Winkle'. We watch. We listen. We make things happen. We're going to make things happen for you. You'd like that, wouldn't you, Ptah? You want to be leader of your clan. We can make that happen. Or…" The smooth voice grew menacing without changing tone. "…we can see your dust blowing across the desert sand after your clan finds out the truth about your, how shall we say, divided loyalties. Your call."
"There is no need for unpleasantness, Van Winkle. Please wish your brother well when you next meet." Ptah curled his lip sardonically around the word 'brother' but made no further protest.
"Good," the unseen human replied. "Then to business. Do you have the egg?"
Ptah drew a deep breath. This Van Winkle didn't seem like the kind to take setbacks in stride. "I have made the initial request. It is…under consideration." A lie. But it left his lips easily. He had yet to exhaust all of his options. The lie would buy him time. "It is only a formality. They will agree to my petition. But appearances must be maintained."
"Consideration. That's good." Van Winkle's voice betrayed no feeling as it had moments earlier when he'd threatened Ptah. "So you expect to have the egg soon?"
Ptah nodded. "Yes, a matter of nights. The young couple has been separated as you might have heard. The male has been on a tour promoting the interests of gargoyles to the media."
"Yeah, that boy's gotten a lot of ink," Van Winkle replied. Ptah wasn't sure what the undertone was now. It sounded like irritation, but the unfamiliar colloquialism made it hard for him to be sure. "Sorry, you were saying?"
Ptah swallowed and continued boldly. "They wished to be together with the egg after he returns. Goliath, their leader, has granted this sentimental request." Ptah shrugged, getting into his lie. "We would not have allowed such a thing during my youth, but these are different times."
"Fine." Van Winkle sounded pleased. "Here. Catch." A small object sailed out toward Ptah and he caught it easily between his talons. "When you get the egg use this and dial * 22. Got it? On the keypad, the star symbol and then two, two. We'll tell you where to go from there."
Ptah stuck the phone in his belt pouch. "Have you any other instructions?"
"No. We're done here." There was a subtle movement in the shadows and Ptah could no longer discern Van Winkle's presence in the darkness. He moved out toward the edge of the rooftop and looked down. There was a closely-knit net several stories below and he wondered at its purpose. He pulled the telephone from his belt pouch and examined it closely. Small, black and plastic, it was tiny in his palm. He contemplated briefly dropping the device over the side and fleeing for parts unknown. But after several seconds the temptation passed. He had chosen his path the night he made a deal with the Illuminati. For good or ill he would complete the journey.
* * * * *
"Hey Cagney, did you miss me?" Elisa bent down and scratched the lean gray cat under the chin as he bumped against her knees. "He didn't give you any trouble did he, Matt?"
Bluestone was already busy in the kitchen unloading shopping bags and the paraphernalia from the hospital. He scowled at an ghastly mustard yellow pitcher and matching tumbler, considered dumping them, then changed his mind and stuffed them into the dishwasher as he replied, "Nah, he was a champ." He held up a small plastic bag. "Where do you want your medication?"
Elisa picked up the cat and took him with her as she sat down on the sofa. She watched her partner put away his care package of deli prepared heat-and-eat foods and single serving juice boxes and rolled her eyes just a little. "Just leave them on the counter. And stop fussing, Matt. If I want someone to obsess over me I'll call my mother."
Elisa closed her eyes and sighed. Her head ached, she was missing a patch of hair where they had to stitch together a deep laceration, and her back and tailbone protested every time she moved. "Stupid rookie mistake."
"What was that?"
Elisa opened her eyes to find Matt leaning over her, a glass of water and a pair of white tablets in one extended palm. She blinked and realized she hadn't even heard him turn on the faucet or exit the kitchen. "Me. Stupid rookie mistake letting that clone of Angela's get the drop on me. I just never thought…"
Matt cut her off with an impatient glare. "Hindsight is 20/20. You thought you were dealing with Angela, someone you knew and trusted. How were you supposed to know she had a psycho clone? Now here," he said handing her the glass. "Take these."
"Jeeze. All right, already." Elisa held out her hand and her partner dropped the pills onto her palm. "But only if you'll tell me what happened at the warehouse in New Jersey."
Matt pursed his lips at his stubborn partner as he folded himself into an easy chair. "You're supposed to be resting. Not thinking about the case."
"Hey, I'm lying down, aren't I?" Elisa popped the pills into her mouth and took a quick sip of water to wash them down. "Do you think the captain bought the robot story?"
Matt sighed. "No reason not to. Most of the witnesses didn't really start to pay attention until the battle was in full swing, so they couldn't confirm or deny that Danny was actually the one throwing the power bolts. Where's your gun box?"
"Bottom drawer left, kitchen. Same as always, Why?"
"Just making sure you stay off the job. I've already got your keys and your piece from the hospital."
"Matt," Elisa scowled. "I'm not a child and I don't need a nursemaid. Are you going to tell me what you found or not?" She really did feel like ten miles of bad road, but she was damned if she was going to let that keep her out of the investigation.
Matt was already out of the chair and back in the kitchen before he spoke. "Look, it's all preliminary so far. Most of today was spent processing evidence and cross coordinating with the Jersey cops. We wanted to get things squared before the Feds start poking their noses in."
"Great." Elisa shook her head and winced. "Interstate trafficking statutes?"
"Yeah, that and they got wind that cloning was involved. Government is interested in that sort of thing too, you know," Matt said as he retrieved her backup gun and spare ammunition clips.
There was the sound of other drawers opening and closing and Elisa wondered if he was going to confiscate her kitchen knives as well. "At least leave me a barbecue fork so I can protect myself," she complained as her partner reentered the living room.
Matt pulled a face then checked his watch and the levity faded. "Look, I've got to get back to the station. Are you sure you'll be okay alone?"
"I'll be fine." Elisa pulled the comforter off the back of the sofa and tucked herself in. She glanced out the sliding glass doors onto the patio and judged the shadows. The day was slipping from late afternoon to early evening. "Goliath will be here soon."
"All right." Matt straightened his tie and ran his fingers through his short red hair using the reflection from a framed poster of The Maltese Falcon for a mirror. Your dinner's in the fridge and-"
"Matt," Elisa snapped, her pain and fatigue finally getting the better of her. "Go to work."
"Feel better," he said as tucked the gun box, but no kitchen knives, under his arm and exited the apartment.
Elisa nodded absently as Cagney settled in on her stomach. It felt good to be home. Away from the hospital with its constant undercurrent of tension, the relentless beeps and whirs of machinery and the harsh smells associated with sickness and death.
The codeine in the painkiller started to kick in and Elisa's eyes closed. She pulled the blanket closer and drifted off.
Medication induced sleep but not rest. Her bruised and battered psyche volleyed a fresh barrage of recriminations as she slipped into a dream. Angela stood before a mirror examining herself as Elisa watched. She turned towards the detective and the reflection smirked. "Sucker."
Angela, the real Angela, the gargoyle she had come to regard as part of her own family, wept. "How could you?" dream Angela cried. "How could you trust me so little?"
"I should have known," Elisa muttered as she jerked awake. The image of twin Angelas fragmented. "What is that?" she said even before opening her eyes. The smell assaulted her nostrils. Not the harsh smell of disinfectant, but the puerile stench of rotting food. "Ewww."
"Elisa? Are you all right? I did not mean to wake you."
"Goliath?" Elisa opened her eyes and looked up at her mate and the apparent source of the foul odor. He was covered with unidentifiable dark smears and stains. His left arm was torn from shoulder to elbow by a jagged cut. Not deep, but it had bled freely and was still in the process of clotting over. "What happened?"
The great lavender gargoyle shrugged. "A band of ruffians attacked a couple leaving a restaurant. They resisted when I attempted to apprehend them." He smiled smugly. "But not for long."
Elisa struggled against the effects of the medication and sat upright. "You're hurt. And you've got coffee grounds in your hair. Go take a shower. I'll get the first aid kit for that cut on your arm."
Goliath pushed his mate gently back onto the couch. "No, Elisa. I came here to care for you. Rest. I won't be long." He touched her softly on the temple and Elisa closed her eyes once more. She drifted back to sleep to the sound of running water.
Cagney yowled and batted at Elisa's nose. She opened her eyes once more and noticed for the first time that the doorbell was ringing. She struggled off the couch, dumping the cat onto the sofa along with the blanket.
Elisa peered through the peephole. "Oh great." Captain Chavez stood on the other side of the door, tapping her foot. Elisa opened the door. "Captain. This is a surprise." She gestured for the older woman to follow her inside.
"I know you're under doctor's orders to rest, Elisa, but I had a few points I needed to clear up about the attack at the bus station."
Elisa gestured toward the armchair and resumed her spot on the couch. "Uh, sure. Whatever you need." The water pipes groaned and Elisa paled. Goliath. Goliath was in the apartment taking a shower. She'd forgotten under the influence of pain and codeine. She needed to get Chavez out of the apartment. Elisa jumped to her feet and in her haste knocked over the coffee table. The decorative black and white painted ceramic vase, a gift from her sister Beth tumbled and broke as it rolled and hit the wall.
"Are you all right?" Chavez leaned forward. Concern etched creases along her forehead and her eyes narrowed. "You seem peaked."
"Yeah, I mean no. I mean, I am kind of tired," Elisa babbled. "Maybe we could do this another time."
"Elisa, are you all right?" Goliath stepped out the bedroom, his sable hair damp. "I heard a crash." A green and white bath sheet was wrapped around his waist, one end tucked hastily at the hip. He froze at the sight of Chavez. The police captain was sitting, one navy blue pants leg crossed neatly over the other, regarding her detective with a dismayed look.
"Hello," Chavez said mildly to Goliath. She uncrossed her legs and stood up. "Elisa, aren't you going to introduce us?"
"Excuse me, Elisa, I did not know you had company," Goliath rumbled. He tucked the tail of the towel more firmly into place as he stood otherwise frozen with indecision, unsure whether to brazen the situation out or flee for the safety of the bedroom.
Elisa said, "Captain Maria Chavez, this is Goliath, leader of the gargoyle clan. Goliath, this is Captain Chavez. My boss."
The pair regarded each other warily for a moment before Goliath advanced and took the much smaller human woman's hand carefully into his own. "Good evening, Captain." He glanced down at his impromptu attire then over at Elisa. Her eyes were closed and she was shaking her head 'no'. Quick sharp gestures that were obviously causing her pain. "I'm afraid I was imposing on your detective, I was involved in an altercation and had the need of her facilities."
"Would that have involved a quartet of juvenile delinquents left in a dumpster behind Mata Hari's?" Chavez inquired. "I heard a patrol car dispatched there on my way over."
"Uh, yes," the gargoyle confirmed. "When I encountered them they were attempting to relieve a lady and gentleman of their valuables."
Chavez glanced at the long cut on Goliath's arm. "That looks painful. You should take care of it."
Goliath regarded the jagged line that snaked down his arm and shook his head. "The injury is minor. One of the thieves landed a lucky strike with a box cutter. If you'll excuse me?" He retreated back into the bedroom, emerging less then a minute later in a fresh loincloth in place of the towel. In his absence, Elisa hadn't moved, but the Captain had picked up the fragments of pottery and was in the process of dumping them in a wastebasket. "Thank you again, detective for your kindness. He returned his attention to Chavez. "If you'll excuse me. I have duties to attend to."
"Just a minute, Goliath." Chavez's tone was businesslike. She dusted off her hands and stood toe to toe with the much larger gargoyle. "A member of your clan, Angela, was the model for the robot that attacked Detective Maza, is that correct?"
Goliath nodded uncertainly. "Her visibility as spokesperson for our clan has its risks. This was one we had not anticipated."
"I see." Chavez glanced at Elisa slumped on the couch. "I'd like to have a word with Ms. Angela. Just to wrap up a few details."
Goliath nodded. He seemed agitated at the mention of Angela, Chavez noted. "Of course. I can have her telephone you at the police station if you like."
Chavez shook her head. "I'd rather speak to her in person. Can I find her at the Eyrie Building?"
Goliath shook his head. "Not tonight. However if you call and ask to speak to Mr. Burnett he can schedule a time convenient to you both. Now, I must be going." The gargoyle turned to Elisa. "I hope you feel better soon, detective."
Elisa looked up, but did not meet his eyes. "Yeah. Thanks for stopping by."
Chavez waited until Goliath had slipped through the sliding glass doors before returning her attention to Elisa. "All right, detective. Clearly you’re in no shape for a debriefing right now. And as much as I'd like to know why there was a gargoyle in your shower, I'm not going to ask you about that either. You're on leave until further notice."
"Captain!" Elisa protested as she took to her feet. The effort was too much and she swayed under an onslaught of vertigo.
"Medical leave," Chavez clarified in a taut voice. Elisa picked up on the implied message and held her peace. Once again, Chavez was cutting her a lot of slack. It wouldn't pay to push. "After you've been cleared for duty we're going to sit down and have a nice long talk about recent events. Is that understood, detective?"
"Get some rest."
"I'll let myself out."
Elisa didn't bother to watch as Maria Chavez let herself out of the apartment. She sat, slumped with her head in her hands, wondering how close her life was to blowing completely apart.
A tap at the window broke her reverie and she looked up. Goliath was standing by the balcony door wearing a sullen expression that no doubt matched her own. She gestured for him to come in.
"I waited on the rooftop until I saw your captain leave the building." He crossed to Elisa and sat down next to her on the sofa. "I am sorry, my Elisa, I did not know she was in the apartment."
Elisa shrugged. A new headache was blooming behind her eyes adding to the throb at the back of her head that the pain pills had haltered but not subdued. "She already knew I had dealings with you guys. They have a file at the station."
"Are you under some kind of investigation?" Goliath frowned and concern roughened his already deep baritone.
"I don't know," Elisa admitted. "Maybe. Look, it doesn't matter. It's not a crime to know you and I'm not gonna let them treat me like it is."
"You love your work. I will not let our relationship jeopardize your position."
Elisa sobered, her righteous indignation abruptly quelled. "It might be too late for that, Goliath. The captain knows I've held back about you guys in a big way. She's already warned me once and taken over the follow up on Angela's or rather, the clone's part in the genetics lab break ins because she thinks my judgment has been compromised."
"Is Angela still in danger?"
Elisa stood, too agitated to sit still. She swayed as the pain in her head hit a crescendo and nearly knocked the now bare coffee table over again. Goliath grabbed his lover and steadied her, cradling Elisa against his chest. "You are injured and tired. I will not have you upset yourself further over this."
"I've got to clear her once and for all, Goliath. It's the only way I can prove myself to the captain and protect the clan."
"You shall," Goliath replied. "But not tonight. Let me take you back to the castle. I can watch over you tonight and there will be Xanatos and his people to care for you during the day while I cannot."
"No," Elisa protested. "I can't. Don't you see that? What if the Captain catches me there? My credibility will be shot for good."
Goliath growled in frustration. How many times had they had this argument? "But why? Elisa you are my mate. You should be surrounded by your clan while you recover from your injuries."
Elisa ground her eyelids shut against the pain. "Please Goliath, I can't do this now. Can we just go to bed please? I need you to hold me for a while."
"Of course." Goliath swept his life mate off her feet, carried her into the bedroom and helped divest her of the light cotton scrubs she had borrowed from the emergency department. Two ice packs and more medication followed and after an hour of soothing Elisa finally drifted off to sleep.
* * * * *
"Angela, honored daughter of the Wyvern Clan," Ptah said as he bowed low over his hands. "It is a great honor to meet you at last."
Broadway had been intercepted by Ptah during his patrol over Central Park. The Egyptian had given him a song and dance about how he had left two night's prior to give the inhabitants of Wyvern a chance to deal with their crisis, before begging to be allowed to accompany his most honored companion back to the castle.
Broadway had let the Egyptian go on for several minutes before agreeing. He had wanted to talk to him anyway, or at least Angela had, and no one, including Brooklyn, who was responsible for keeping an eye on their guest, had known where to find him. Though his rookery brother had suggested maybe Goliath had told him to shove off once and for all, since something else had irritated their leader just prior to Angela's rescue.
Goliath wasn't around to ask. He had spent the day with Elisa and would probably continue to do so until she was well enough to return to work. No one at the castle minded. Brooklyn was a capable Second and Goliath worked himself too hard most of the time anyway. Elisa's downtime would give them both a break.
So Broadway had let Ptah yammer about 'begging a thousand pardons', and needing 'just a few moments of his, and the most honored Angela's precious time', before he had replied, "Sure, Ptah. Just keep it to the point."
Now Angela sat ensconced in Goliath's favorite wing-backed chair in the library listening politely as Ptah began his spiel. Broadway's initial impression pegged Ptah as a long winded type and he didn't want to give the elder gargoyle the idea that they were willing to sit around all night and listen to him gab. He stood at Angela's back, where he should have been the night she was kidnapped instead of posing for the cameras, ready to fend off the Egyptian if he got too pushy. So far though, it just seemed if he was going to bore them into submission.
"…your exploits as ambassador among the humans has made their way even to the far off deserts of my people."
Broadway crossed his arms impatiently. "Yeah, Ptah we get it. Angela is something special and I'm not chopped liver either. Could you get to your point? My mate has doctor's orders. She's supposed to be resting."
"Broadway, please," Angela chided. "The Elder is just trying to be polite." She smiled at the gargoyle while trying to get a feel for their guest. His serpentine characteristics made him appear somewhat cold, but there was something about his wide set eyes that offset that first impression. Ptah was obviously a gargoyle of many layers. "Please, Elder Ptah, won't you continue."
Ptah bowed at them both again. "Of course, a thousand apologies for my thoughtlessness. That you would see me at all after your harrowing ordeal is proof of your graciousness. I-"
"Ptah," Broadway warned again.
The elder quelled his next torrent of flowery speech and took a moment to compose himself. "Again my apologies. I have come before you tonight with a most serious proposal. You are a fine young couple and in your rookery is the first of what I am sure will be many strong sons and beautiful daughters."
"Yeah, we know that," Broadway said. "What does that have to do with you?" He stared at Ptah not really hiding the hostility he felt for the elder.
The Egyptian gargoyle pretended not to notice. "I mention this, young warrior, because while it is true that your clan will, in the fullness of time, be fruitful and multiply, the present finds you in a difficult place. You live in the midst of a vast city and the humans are somewhat mixed about their feelings toward you. I have heard of a group, the Quarrymen, who have made it their purpose to eliminate our kind, is that not true?"
"That's true," Angela admitted. "But they represent a very small minority among the humans."
"Yeah," Broadway seconded. "Most people like us just fine."
Ptah nodded and pursed his lips, considering the information. "And this city that you live in. Do you find it safe? I saw a human newspaper printed in my native Arabic. It spoke of dangerous radicals prepared to vent their rage on these towers of concrete and glass that make up your home."
"Bunch of nuts," Broadway snapped. "They could try, but they'd never pull off anything that'd matter. This is a great place to live."
"You are proud of your adopted home, Broadway, I understand that, my friend, and I mean no disrespect towards it or you. It is just I have lived a long time and I have seen many trials befall my own clan. Many losses. The most recent and lamented war, for example."
Ptah paced a bit back and forth over the richly embroidered carpet. He seemed hesitant about how to proceed with his argument. Broadway found himself wondering if it was because Ptah didn't believe in what he was trying to pitch, or he believed it so much he couldn't quite put things into words that wouldn't sound like he was talking down to them because they didn't get it.
"This alliance between our peoples. It made me think back to a time long ago when many gargoyle clans populated the deserts of my native lands. We had a custom, a tradition of bonding that I had hoped to offer to you."
"What kind of bonding?" Broadway asked suspiciously.
"The most sacred kind," Ptah replied, his voice low and serious. "A bond of trust. It is one that we have already offered to you."
"I don't get it," Broadway said flatly. "What are you talking about?"
Ptah took another turn around the rug considering his words. He began again. "Eggs from females of the Oasis clan are nestled alongside your own. It is proof that my people trust you with our most precious possession. Our future. Our lives. It is something that we have done freely. And yet…" He trailed off, taking several more turns around the carpet before continuing.
"And yet, what?" Broadway saw where Ptah was heading and didn't like it one bit. "You think we should just pack our egg up and send it along because you guys think it's a hot idea? Why should we?"
Ptah regarded Broadway with a level gaze. "I," he corrected himself, "we, those who lead the clan, understood that you might not understand our reasons for insisting that our eggs remain in the rookery here rather than be returned to Egypt with their mothers. We are aware that our own region of the world is not always the most stable. If something were to happen, if some catastrophe were to decimate our home, our clan would at least live on through the children fostered in other rookeries. There is wisdom in, how do the humans put it? Oh yes, not putting all of one's eggs in one basket."
Ptah shook his head. Again he paused as if deep in thought. Perhaps it was the dual languages that were troubling him, Angela mused, as the elder still seemed to have difficulty putting his thoughts into words.
"The war. Yes. Think about it, the war with the Old Ones. Your city was a center for attack then, was it not?"
Broadway's tail jerked against the floor. "Again, so what? We won and we bailed out you guys and half the other clans too. Remember?" the burly gargoyle huffed. "Radios, medical help, food and emergency shelters after the war. That doesn't count for anything?"
Ptah nodded. "Your aid was invaluable. But it has not come without a price, has it? The existence of other clans, that knowledge has been a dual-edged sword. It has left us all with new obligations, new responsibilities and for many the sudden changes necessary for this new world have been difficult ones.
"Would you have been happier if we'd left you to deal with the Unseelie and their minions by yourselves?"
Ptah held out his hands in a gesture of peace. "I am not suggesting any such thing. But I am, in my poor way, trying to explain that some of my people have been left feeling vulnerable and beholden to yours. It is an uncomfortable situation for a proud clan."
"Are you suggesting that we could damage the alliance between our clans if we don't participate in this egg exchange, Elder?" Angela asked quietly. One hand went to the filigreed hair clip she'd used to pull back her long sable hair and she stroked it pensively.
Ptah nodded. "There are some among my people who feel slighted that you would take our eggs but offer no compensation. This exchange would assuage those feelings."
Broadway's chest puffed up as his temper frayed. "Hey wait a minute. Those eggs weren't our idea. Your elder tried to foist a couple of your females off on Goliath and Lexington."
Ptah shook his head. "That was the doing of the Committee on Breeding. The World Council feels that we must all sacrifice, even personal happiness, if we are to survive as a people."
Angela's hand slipped from her hair clip to her temple and she closed her eyes as if in pain. "Please," she said after several moments. "Don't argue. That was a horrible time for us all."
"Ang? Hey, Angela, are you okay?" Broadway dropped from his adversarial posture to kneel at the side of his mate. "You don't look so good."
"My head." She looked up at Ptah and gave him a weak smile. "I need to think about what you've said, Elder. Can we talk again later?"
Ptah bowed deeply. "Of course. However, I find myself in a most awkward situation. In my haste to beg an audience I'm afraid that I have offended Goliath. I believe he would find my continued presence in your home distasteful. Perhaps we can arrange to meet-"
"My father has been upset," Angela said as Broadway helped her to her feet. "It tends to make him somewhat short-tempered. Please, remain here as our guest." She looked up at Broadway as if waiting for him to second her.
Finally, he took the hint. "Sure, stay here with us. It's a lot easier than tracking you down in the park." Angela blanched and her knees buckled. "Now, if you'll excuse us Angela needs quiet."
"Of course." Ptah bowed. "Would it be permitted for me to occupy the same rooms I held previously?"
Broadway, busy settling his mate more comfortably back into her chair nodded absently. "Yeah, fine. Whatever you need. We'll get back to you when we've made up our minds."
"Thank you," Ptah said as he bowed again. "You are both truly wise and considerate people. If I may do anything at all-"
Broadway stood up and took Ptah by the elbow spur and hissed directly into the side of his earless head. "Yeah, you can stop talking and leave my mate alone. Now clear out!"
Ptah glared back briefly then dropped his eyes. He left the library without another word. Broadway turned back to Angela. "Let me take you up to our room. Or back to the medical ward."
"No, I'm fine." Though the hand that rubbed fitfully at her temple suggested otherwise. "I just need my pills. Help me," she tugged at the strings of her belt pouch. "I can't seem to get it open."
"Hey," Broadway pulled the pouch gently away from his mate. "Relax. Let me do that. You need two, right?"
She nodded and held out her hand, downing the medication as soon as it was dropped into her palm. "I'll be fine. I'm just going to rest here for a while, okay?"
"Sure. Will you be okay, by yourself?"
Angela gave her mate a wan grin. "I'll be fine, silly. I guess Ptah was a bit much to take."
"So why won't you let me tell him to take a hike?" Broadway grumped.
The tiny smile that tugged previously at Angela's lips faded. "Because, my love. As longwinded as he is, Ptah has a point. We can't dismiss him out of hand so lightly." At Broadway's incredulous expression she said, "Please, we can talk about this later, can't we?"
The burly turquoise gargoyle nodded, grudgingly. "Sure." He leaned forward and kissed his mate on the cheek. "I need to check on some stuff with Brooklyn. You rest, okay?"
Broadway hesitated, watching as his mate shifted in the big wing-backed chair. When it seemed that she had settled as best as she could and her eyes fluttered shut, he exited quietly from the library.
* * * * *
"Brook, hey there you are." Broadway said as he entered the clan's entertainment center. Brooklyn was sprawled on the couch with the twins, refereeing a popcorn fight. A contemporary retelling of a World War II drama blared on the wall sized screen and periodically Graeme would pause, stare transfixed at the aerial battle underway, and then break out into gales of laughter before launching another barrage at his sister.
"Who do they think they're kidding?" Graeme guffawed as a pilot grimaced manfully and forced his plane into complex aerial maneuver. "No one with half a brain would try that stunt so close to land. He'd be toast before he could compensate!"
"Everybody's a critic," Brooklyn teased his son, who ducked under a cushion as Arianna launched a retaliatory strike. His smile faded as he caught the tense vibe coming off of his rookery brother. "Hey guys, that's probably enough revisionist history for one night." He brushed popcorn out of his long white hair. "Why don't you go see if Bronx and Nudnik need some exercise, okay?"
The twins groaned in tandem then bounded out of the room leaving the two older gargoyles alone. Brooklyn picked up the popcorn bowl off the floor and started to sweep up the detritus of the battle. "What's going on, bro? You look stressed."
Broadway dropped into Hudson's favorite recliner and sighed. "Yeah, I guess I am. Angela insisted on talking with Ptah. I'm not sure I trust this guy, he's kinda oily, ya know? Like Xanatos back in the old days, only he talks more."
A frown pursed Brooklyn's beak and his eyes narrowed. "Yeah, I kinda got that too. He seems sincere, but there's always just something… I dunno, off about the guy."
Broadway stared at his hands, twisting them anxiously in his lap, trying to put his misapprehension into words. He nodded at the older gargoyle's assessment. "Yeah, that's it. I mean sure, everything he says about saving the clan by spreading the eggs around makes sense, if you think about it one way, and so does that stuff about trusting the other clan to care for each other's eggs, but then there's a part of me that says he's full of baloney."
Brooklyn set the bowl on the end table, resettled his wings and sat down on the couch. "But you told him 'no', right? That you and Angela weren't willing to go along with his proposal?"
"Angela put him off. Told him we needed to think about it." Broadway shook his head. "I'm not sure, but I think she actually bought his story."
"Nah," the brick red gargoyle assured his brother, "it's more likely that Angela's just playing him at his own game. I don't know if you've noticed, but your mate is turning into quite a politician. She probably thought it would make him feel better if she didn't blow him off after his pitch. That way you guys don't come off as hasty or insensitive."
Broadway grimaced. "Insensitive? This is our egg were talking about!" He shook his head. "I wish that were it. I mean, that's what we agreed to when we decided that we'd talk to him, but afterward… you know how sometimes you can practically see the wheels turning in somebody's head when they're thinking really hard?" Brooklyn nodded. "Yeah, well that's what I saw happen when Angela was listening to Ptah." He got out of the chair and his wings flared in agitation. "I dunno, maybe she conked her head even harder then Dr. Goldblum thought and her brains are scrambled. She's still getting terrible headaches, like he said she might."
"I doubt that," Brooklyn said as wheels began to turn in his own head. He tried not to sound too distracted as he added, "Angela is sensitive to other people's feelings. I'm sure she was trying to see things from all sides so that she could figure out the best way to let Ptah down easy. I mean, he's really pushed hard to make this happen."
"Yeah, the guy just can't take 'no' for an answer," Broadway shook his head. "I wonder what his trauma is."
Brooklyn looked thoughtful. "You know, that's a good question." He rose, crossed to his rookery brother's side and clasped his shoulder. "Don't worry, Broadway. Your egg isn't going anywhere. Angela will make nice with Ptah and then send him back to Egypt wondering why he proposed the idea in the first place."
Broadway's doubt was plain. "You're sure? Do you know this for positive?"
Brooklyn shrugged. "Nothing in life is 100%, Broadway. But I think I know Angela well enough that nothing is going to stand between her and her egg. Not even world politics."
Broadway seemed to visibly lighten for the first time since he entered the room. "Yeah, you're right. Thanks, Brook. I guess I need to have more faith."
Brooklyn rubbed his brother's bald turquoise head affectionately. "Trust me, bro, it never hurts."
Broadway grinned back as his tension abated for the first time since he'd heard about Ptah's arrival at the castle. I'm gonna go find Angela a present. You want to come?"
Brooklyn nodded. "Sure. I could use a little air." To himself he added. "It always helps me think."
He flung a brick red arm around Broadway's shoulders and together the two rookery brothers headed out of the castle.
* * * * *
There was a knock at the patio door. Goliath looked up from his book and glanced over at Elisa. The noise had not disturbed her. She was still asleep, one hand curled next to her cheek, dark hair spilled over a mountain of sofa cushions and bedroom pillows. He looked up and found Angela, her fist poised to tap on the glass again. He placed the copy of "Twice Told Tales" on the end table and got up, shaking his head at the younger gargoyle so that she would not knock again. "Angela. What are you doing here?" he whispered as he unlocked the sliding glass door. "Is everything all right?"
She nodded, but her eyes were glossy as if she had been or was close to crying. "I needed some air and I've been worried about Elisa."
The detective stretched and blinked at the mention of her name. "Goliath?" she murmured. "Angela," she added as she noticed the girl. "What's going on?"
"Nothing, my Elisa," her lover soothed. "All is well."
Elisa was squinting as she sat upright. "Angela, could you hit the dimmer switch? It’s kind of bright in here."
The younger female nodded and dialed down the setting on the wall switch. As the lights faded Elisa removed the hand that shielded her eyes. "Thanks, my eyes are kind of sensitive." Her face narrowed in worry as she observed Angela more closely. The younger gargoyle, from her tense posture to her tightly drawn mouth seemed to be under all kinds of pressure. "How are you holding up?" She gestured for Angela to sit down and then tipped her head toward the kitchen. Goliath caught her unspoken request and stepped out of the room to give the pair a moment.
"I'm fine," Angela assured her friend. "I wish everyone wouldn't worry so! They're just headaches! The doctor said they'd go away eventually." She lowered her voice. "It's making me feel kind of smothered the way everyone is hovering. The only one who came close to treating me normally is Ptah."
"Ptah?" Goliath growled from the kitchen. He stepped back into the room with pills and a glass of water for Elisa. "I told him to leave the castle."
Elisa scowled at her mate as Angela looked down at her hands. "I know. And I hope you won't be angry, Father, but I invited him back. At least until I gave him our final decision."
"I have already spoken for the clan. Ptah has no right to go behind my back," Goliath replied fiercely. His tail lashed against the carpet, an angry tattoo.
"Easy, Goliath." Elisa swallowed her pills before turning to Angela. "Give her a chance to explain."
"I'm not sure that I can," Angela said as she looked up from her hands and noticed for the first time the open sewing basket on the coffee table. An embroidery hoop with a piece of fabric stretched over it peeped out of the top. "What's this?" She gently removed the needlework from the basket. "Oh Elisa!" she exclaimed. "It's beautiful."
"It's a long way from done," Elisa replied as she looked over her handiwork intricately stitched in soft pastels. But I've outlined all the border work and nearly finished the title band. I was hoping to use some of my downtime to finish the little gargoyles on the side, but I've learned it's nearly impossible to count stitches when you're seeing double."
Goliath leaned over to get a better look. 'Our First Egg' was spelled out in pale blue and silver on a backdrop of midnight blue. "Elisa?" the gargoyle leader asked, his confusion evident.
She gave him a sheepish shrug. "It's a tradition among humans to welcome new family members with handmade gifts. It'll be years before the hatchlings need baby clothes, but I wanted to do something."
Angela sniffled and then began to cry. Goliath and Elisa both looked at the girl in confusion. "Angela?" What is the matter, daughter?" they asked as one.
She didn't answer. The younger female bolted off the couch, needlework in hand, sobbing as she threw open the patio door and ran from the apartment.
"I should go after her." Goliath announced.
Elisa stayed him with a touch of her hand. "Don't, Goliath. She'll talk when she's ready. In the meantime, give her some space."
Goliath's doubt was plain. "Are you sure? She seems far from all right."
Elisa was starting to feel pleasantly muzzy from the effects of her medication. "I'm sure. Trust her, Goliath she's your daughter."
Goliath didn't speak as he allowed Elisa to pull him down next to her on the couch and cradle her head in his lap. He looked out through the still open door onto the patio, absently stroking Elisa's ebony mane as he contemplated just what retribution he would exact from Ptah when next they met.
* * * * *
Angela glided heedless of destination through the hot August night, clutching Elisa's needlework in her talons. Tears streamed down her face, a product of overworked emotions and the persistent pounding at her temples. She ground her eyes shut against the anguish and let the wind carry her further and further over the city, until finally exhaustion and strain made her muscles shake with fatigue.
She found herself suddenly unable to go further and folding her wings she spiraled downward to a dingy industrial section of town she didn't recognized. A police car cruised past the struggling brick façade factory buildings and Angela realized she'd flown out of New York entirely, across the river into New Jersey.
The police car disappeared around the corner and she touched ground suddenly feeling compelled to find safety indoors. She ducked into an alley and found the side door of a barely habitable looking building open.
Angela stepped in.
She stopped just inside surprised to find that she was not alone. There was the scent of human habitation about the building, recent and varied. Cooking smells filtered from someplace out of sight adding a layer to the dying scent of fevered activity. Crates and boxes labeled 'Handle With Care' and 'Fragile' were stacked haphazardly against the walls as she moved out of the portion of the building that faced the street.
The dereliction was phony. Inside, people were going about their nightly business. Young, old, somewhere in between and, Angela realized with a start, not entirely human, they sat at long tables playing cards and eating a late dinner of sandwiches and beef stew talking and laughing among themselves.
A tall, blonde, short-haired woman with an air of command looked up at her entrance. "It's about time you got here, Jez," she said as she tossed a poker chip onto the pile and followed that with her cards. Her tablemates groaned as she raked up the chips and stood. "Relax, you can lose the rest of your pay later. I'll be back."
She stared expectantly at Angela and Angela stared back trying to conceal her terror. She recognized the halfling. They'd battled before. And that name. Jez. The name sounded familiar. Jez was a diminutive. For what? Jez. Jessie. Jessabelle. No. Jezabella. The halfling thought her name was Jezabella. Some how she'd stumbled back into the nest of her kidnappers. And they had confused her with her clone.
"Well, what are you waiting for? A red carpet and roses?" the blonde snarked. "Did you want me to announce you?" She leapt up onto one of the tables, causing the other halflings to grab frantically for their suppers, and affected an exaggerated announcer's pose. "Live, straight from her triumphant return to Castle Wyvern, it's Jezabella!" The others cheered and hooted.
Not sure how to react, and stalling for time, Angela smiled and bowed, tucking her finger under her chin as she curtseyed. Then, instinctively knowing that she should do something more, she dropped the antics and glowered at the woman still standing on the table then gave the others the same disapproving look. "It's been a long night, so if you don't mind?"
Candy shrugged. "Doc wants to see you anyway. Come on, I'll take you back to his lab."
"That won't be necessary," a smooth voice assured from the shadows. A tall aristocratic man stepped into the light and Angela's heart froze in her chest. Anton Sevarius, dressed in a white lab coat and dark gray pants, smiled at her, rapidly crossing the room. "Jezabella, my dear girl, I've been worried about you."
By the dragon, this has got to be some horrible dream. She stepped backwards, eyes wide with ill concealed panic as Sevarius drew near, clutching at the needlework still in her hand. She drew it in front of her like a shield and crumpled as something cold stung the back of her neck.
Angela fell to her knees and as consciousness faded realized her error. She had been so shocked at appearance of Anton Sevarius and the odd behavior of his minions, she had failed to notice the Asian woman who had crept up behind her. "Drugged me," she whispered as the woman, also clad in a lab coat, checked her pulse. She was paralyzed. Unable to move even enough to pull her arm away.
"That's right, my pet, but don't worry," Sevarius cooed. "It's for your own good."
He jerked his head sharply toward Candy and her followers. "Take her back to the lab and put her in restraints." Candy grinned and Sevarius scowled. "Gently this time."
The halflings grabbed the gargoyle by her legs and arms and carried her from the room.
* * * * *
"Back among the conscious I see," Sevarius drawled from behind thick steel bars.
Angela glared, holding her head to steady herself as she regained her feet. It wasn't Sevarius who was behind bars, as he should be, but she who was kept behind the electrified restraints and chained in collar, cuffs and shackles as an added indignity. "Why are you doing this? What have I ever done to you?"
Sevarius placed his palm on his cheek, cradling his chin as he contemplated the gargoyle's more egregious sins. "Let's see, it's hard to find a place to begin. But if I had to narrow it down, I'd say it'd have to be your utter uselessness. You're all fluff and spun sugar. Oh certainly you've provided some helpful genetic material. But with all your snooping around at the castle did you learn anything useful to me? No. You seem competent enough but in reality you're an utter wastrel! I go to all the trouble to kidnap you and you've got absolutely nothing. No access codes. No computer files. Nothing! Nothing but petulant glares and silly questions," he said off of the gargoyle's angry scowl. "Really Angela, I'm sure if you try you can do better. Surely you haven't been spending all of your time visiting the sick and protecting the defenseless? Surely you've learned some little thing about Sector 13."
The gargoyle sighed. What good was it to argue with a mad man anyway? "I told you. I keep telling you, I don't know anything about Sector 13. We don't talk about Sector 13. I didn't even know exactly where it was! I found it by accident!"
Sevarius was tempted to sigh. This really wasn't getting him anywhere and he did have a timetable to keep. The phone calls from Zurich and Timbuktu were getting most insistent. And the bidder from Montreal was getting unconscionably rude. "And you kept going back because of your little halfling pet?"
"Danny." Angela's lip curled as she tried to control her anxiety. She hoped he was safe wherever he was. "I couldn't do anything else to help him so I-"
"Yes, yes," the scientist snapped angrily, still annoyed at the loss of his test subject. "So you did what you could to fill his lonely hours. We've been through this before."
"Then why do you keep tormenting me?"
Sevarius shrugged. "It fills my lonely hours. But I suppose if you really are telling the truth. If you really have no legitimate access to Sector 13 and you have no useful knowledge, I'll just have to move along to Plan B."
"Plan B?" Angela repeated warily.
Sevarius pulled a remote control from his lab coat pocket. He touched a button and a light blossomed briefly green on Angela's leather collar. The gargoyle crumpled gracelessly and hit the concrete with a satisfying rattle of chain. "Of course, my dear," he murmured, pocketing the device once more. "There's always a Plan B."
* * * * *
Candy stood just behind the glass watching as Dr. Ling adjusted yet another dial on the control panel. She'd been at it for hours, ever since Jezabella had stumbled back into the hideout and freaked at the sight of Dr. Sevarius. Evidently her reaction had been anticipated because Ling had been ready, syringe in hand. One quick dose of tranquilizer and 'Boom', no more freaky gargoyle. Too bad Candy couldn't do the same to Sevarius. "Jeeze, Doc, I said I was sorry. You said make it look real." Candy grinned, her smile feral. "I get into my work. So sue me already!"
"I should do a great deal more than that if you're not careful, Candy." Sevarius returned his own gaze to the work going on behind the glass. The laboratory was a back up, complete in every detail. He used it to conduct redundant research, duplicating experiments already in motion at the other facility to save time. He'd learned from past experience the possibility of a mishap was always to be taken into account and mishaps meant time, months and sometimes years. Anton Sevarius didn't have those to spare.
He watched Ling speak softly into a headset to Jezabella who floated, a respirator mask over her delicate features, in a tank of biochemical soup. The pale blue goo was an amalgam of tissue regenerators, nutrients, psychotropic agents and other chemicals that would facilitate Ling's reprogramming process.
"So, she really thought she was Angela?" Candy murmured. Sevarius gave the halfling a sharp look. Despite the dressing down she had received, there was no mistaking the awe at her handiwork.
"Quite." Sevarius pursed his mouth in distaste. "At the time I activated her implanted post hypnotic suggestion to return to me, she was engaged in what appeared to be an extremely maudlin tête-à-tête with Goliath and his pet detective. Very domestic. Very nauseating. Very counter-productive."
"You can do that? You can spy on Jezabella?" Candy knew she shouldn't be surprised. After all, Sevarius seemed to be able to do almost anything. Which was why she and her crew were still hanging around the freakazoid, she reminded herself. He was her ticket to becoming normal again.
"A fail-safe device implanted as part of the ruse, nothing more," he replied smoothly. "Now, on to business. When Jezabella comes out of the tank, she will be physically and mentally restored. The delusion created by the repeated…" He drawled slowly over the word and Candy forced her features into a suitably rebuked expression. "…beatings and the subsequent malpractice inflicted upon her by Xanatos's so-called physicians with be removed."
Whatever, Candy thought to herself. She didn't understand science and this seemed more like something you'd see in a science fiction movie anyway. Tanks and respirators and nearly naked people floating unconscious. That made sense to her. At least she'd seen it before. But what bugged her was Ling. Ling with her headset and her clipboard clucking over that control board like a kid on Christmas. She gave Sevarius a sidelong glance and wondered if she should ask what the behaviorist, who usually could be found tormenting monkeys and rats, was doing. She opened her mouth, but closed it again as Ling hit a button on her control board and Jezabella contorted like a fly hitting one of those electric zappers.
Sevarius frowned and turned away. He plastered a nonchalant expression onto his face and the look in his eyes suggested that Candy would be wise to do the same. "Despite this setback we do have a schedule to keep," he began as he touched Candy's shoulder and led her away from the observation area. "Are your people settled and ready to return to work?"
"Yeah, sure," Candy replied. No, now would not be a good time to ask about Ling. "We're always ready. Just give the word."
"Fine." Sevarius replied. All back to business. He touched the control pad to his office door and stepped through, leaving Candy to chew on her own thoughts.
* * * * *
Matt sat in Elisa's living room sipping decaffeinated coffee from a paper cup. His shift at the station had been long and unproductive. Captain Chavez had come by his desk, informed him curtly of Elisa's medical suspension then lingered as if something else was on her mind. Clearly it wasn't the case, at least not directly, for she hadn't offered any insight other than 'possibly' or 'could be' when Matt had tried to draw her into the investigation. He contemplated asking the Captain straight out what was bugging her, but then considered the possibilities and decided the topic was too laden with minefields to be safely navigated. It was with relief that he acknowledged her order to keep digging and watched her close the door on her office.
He'd cut out early. Not much, considering all the recent overtime, just enough to get by Joe's Diner before the crush of off duty cops made the place impossible to navigate. He snared a piece of the long counter, put in his order of scrambled eggs and home fries and then requested pancakes and sausage to go.
Now the 'to go' box sat cooling on Elisa's kitchen counter and his partner stood out on the balcony reassuring Goliath that she could manage a few hours alone on her own. She was pointing at him, and if Matt could trust his lip reading, Elisa was assuring her lover that he was first in what was sure to be a parade of visitors. Goliath grudgingly nodded and the pair kissed. Matt looked away. He knew it was petty, but sometimes he still found other people's happiness hard to take.
There was a flutter of wings and the sound of the glass door sliding. Matt looked up. Elisa was leaning against the doorframe as if being upright was an effort. "Are you okay," he asked as he took to his feet. He crossed the living room quickly and offered Elisa his arm.
"Thanks, I still get kind of dizzy if I'm up too long," she admitted as he led her to the couch.
Matt evaluated his partner. Tiny lines were etched at the corners of her eyes and her mouth was drawn down. "Maybe you should be in bed," he said as he flopped back down into the adjoining chair.
Elisa shook her head. "No, it's okay. I'll be fine here. I don't feel quite so confined and I've got the box…" She gestured at the television. "…to keep me company. Court TV is promising an exciting day of forensic testimony."
"Don't you get enough of that at work?"
A fresh set of worry lines creased Elisa's careworn face. "I'm not at work, remember? I'm stuck here on medical leave. Until further notice."
Matt shrugged at the obviousness of it. "Well, yeah, Elisa. That's what happens when you crack your skull. The city considers it a liability to have their detectives keeling over on the streets. I don't think they're doing it to be punitive."
"You don't get it, Matt," Elisa said as she sank back further onto the couch. "The captain dropped by to check up on me and found Goliath here." She struggled for a minute trying to phrase her words correctly. "It was totally innocent. But god, could it have been more obvious?"
The redhead struggled upright, confusion plain on his thin features. "I'm sorry, Elisa, you're not making any sense." So this was what was bugging the Captain, Matt thought. He frowned.
"Goliath was in the shower. He'd gotten in a fight with some street gang. Garbage was involved. I told him to go clean up and then fell asleep. I'd forgotten he was in the apartment when I let the Captain in."
"And wackiness ensued?" Matt supplied. I really do need sleep.
Elisa removed her hand from her eyes long enough to shoot him a dirty look. "I wish. She knows. I know she knows. I'm just not sure what she's going to do about it yet."
"If it's any consolation, I don't think she does either."
Elisa ignored him, lost in her overdose of angst. "If I could only break this case. Find the people behind the clone and the thefts. I could prove to the Captain that I'm still a good cop."
Matt stifled a yawn and combed his fingers through the short hair at his temples. "I don't think she doubts that, Elisa."
Elisa shook her head, winced and reached for her pain medication and the ugly yellow pitcher. She poured water into a glass, tapped a single pill into her palm then broke it returning a half pill to the bottle. "No, but I'm sure she questions my loyalties. Sure, I've protected the clan over the years. But only because I knew they'd never get a fair chance."
"Why is this different?"
Elisa gave him a guilty shrug. "Because I was willing to cover for Angela. Right until it was painfully obvious that no one else could be responsible for the thefts. I let my clan ties blind me to the facts of the case."
Matt took a sip of his coffee. It had gone cold and sour. "Yeah, but the facts were wrong, remember? You were right to trust your gut."
"It doesn't matter," Elisa argued back. "If I hadn't dragged my heels and followed through sooner we could have cleared Angela and caught the clone. This is my fault."
Matt's patience, exhausted after a long night of chasing paper trails, snapped. "So I was what? Just going along for the ride?" Elisa looked up as her partner's voice pitched into an angry whine. "I was part of this investigation too, Elisa. I looked at the same facts and came to the same conclusions. You don't own the market on blame."
"I didn't say I-" Elisa cut off. "You're right, I'm sorry." She smiled. It was wan and rueful, but a smile all the same and the mood lightened a little. "We both screwed up. So what do you want to do about it?"
Matt put the cup aside and leaned back into his chair. He rubbed at his eyes and played with the knot of his tie before replying. "I don't know. I spent the night reviewing all the case files and going though the preliminary forensic reports and nothing jumped out. It'll be days before we get the final analysis from the labs. But I know we're missing something obvious, Elisa. I just can't put my finger on it."
"Okay," she countered. "Let's back up a minute. You established that the companies hit had common corporate ties right?"
"Yeah, six companies, with total or partial ownership in five cases by three corporate entities."
"Good lead, but maybe we got too caught up in the industrial espionage angle," Elisa postulated. "Maybe the connection was something more mundane."
"Like what?" Matt reached inside his jacket pocket and pulled out his notebook and pen.
"All those companies need services right? Cleaning crews, in house catering, trash pickup? What if our thief was someone who had access to one of those services? No unusual fingerprints left at the crime scene because they were in and out on legitimate business."
"Hey," Matt replied, his own wheels turning. "That's not bad. Not bad at all. Still doesn't explain our Mr. X and his gargoyle but it could explain the lifted access codes." Matt got up from his chair suddenly feeling reenergized and less frustrated. "I'll call the lab managers and find out who they outsource to."
"Promise you'll call me if anything interesting turns up?"
"Sure." Matt glanced at his watch. It was nearly seven. He had just enough time to dash home and grab a quick shower. If he was really lucky, he'd be done with his phone calls and any follow-up requests for information by noon. He might get to bed yet. "Later. I promise." He strode out of the apartment the door clicking softly shut behind him.
Elisa nodded and closed her eyes. She felt better. Not great, but not quite as guilty either. She might be stuck in her apartment, but she was still on the case even if Matt had to do all the legwork.
* * * * *
That Night: Goliath's Office
"Okay," Brooklyn said as he glanced over at the digital readout of the small desk clock. "It's 8:30 here, which means that in Egypt it's-" He paused for a second to do the math. "Twenty thirty plus seven is twenty seven and the half. Wait. Minus twenty-four, it's three thirty over there. Good. Just the right time for a nice, quiet chat." He put in the call and waited comfortably in Goliath's big leather chair for someone from the Oasis Clan to pick up.
"Geb, at your service."
Brooklyn grinned at the video monitor. "Perfect. Just the gargoyle I was hoping for. Geb, how have you been?"
The snowy-haired, vaguely avian featured gargoyle grinned back cheerfully at Brooklyn. "Gliding my wings off. The work of a page in the court of Senen is never done, you know. How are you, Brooklyn, my friend?"
"Holding my own, kid. The family is good. The clan is good (well, it is now that Angela's back and safe). There's only one fly in the ointment."
"A fly? What kind of fly? And how can humble Geb assist you?"
Brooklyn templed his fingers before him. He knew he should embroider his words more in keeping with a polite conversation, but he just didn't have time. "Tell me why Senen sent Ptah to New York," he requested bluntly.
Geb frowned and his head dipped to the side and close to his video link so that for a moment all Brooklyn saw was a bit of his downy head and one dark eye. The Egyptian gargoyle then moved back into proper view, his beak pursed with confusion. "So that's where the Elder has disappeared to." He shook his head. "Senen will be most displeased when I give her this news."
Brooklyn leaned forward and stared at the camera. "Wait, so he's not here on her orders?"
"No, Brooklyn." Geb looked away from for a moment checking to see if there were any observers. He dropped his voice and moved closer to the audio pickup. "Several nights ago, Ptah was called to Senen's council chamber. Everyone else, all of the normal courtiers and councilors, were dismissed. Even me!" Geb ruffled his snowy wings and resettled them before continuing. "I waited here in the antechamber, transcribing notes from the earlier council session." He glanced away and looked around again. "I couldn't hear any words exactly as the door was closed, but Senen seemed quite annoyed."
Brooklyn recalled the area of the Oasis Clan's keep Geb described. Their council chamber was constructed of thick sandstone bricks and the door was bronze and heavily carved with hieroglyphics from a much earlier time. Outside was an antechamber one third of the size where courtiers such as Geb could wait in comfort as they tended to other tasks. "You mean you heard shouting through the wall?"
Geb nodded. "Ptah burst out of the council chamber and left. No one has seen him since."
"Can't imagine that did much for Senen's mood."
Geb shook his head but refrained from comment.
"Huh. Interesting." Brooklyn pondered the nugget of information. "Geb, what else can you tell me about Ptah? I got the feeling that he and Senen don't always see eye to eye."
"Very true." Geb considered his words before speaking. "Senen is of a pragmatic mind. She looks at all the options and makes the best choices she can even if they don't always match up with her goals. The mates for your clanmates, for example, she didn't get exactly what she wanted, but it came close enough. Our clans are now linked by the next generation."
And eventually it all worked out for everyone's best, Brooklyn thought to himself. Even though there's no way she could know that. "And Ptah?"
"Stubborn," Geb replied. "He won't back down once he's got an idea in his head."
"Yet Senen keeps him as a senior member of her council."
Geb shrugged. "He knows things. He knows people. There was a rumor that he could have negotiated a treaty with the Old Ones and kept us out of the war but Senen wouldn't permit it."
"Really?" Brooklyn was intrigued. "This is news. How did he propose to accomplish this treaty?"
"The rumor was he had been contacted by minions of Sekhmet. That Sekhmet herself had promised him a place at her side if he brought our clan with him. There's even a rumor that he had recruited others without Senen's knowledge and that when the fighting started he led a brigade in Sekhmet's name."
"Whoa. That's quite a rumor," Brooklyn's beak crinkled into a frown as a shiver rode down his spine. "Was it ever substantiated?"
Geb shook his head. "There was a warrior brought back from the battle on the brink of death. She told the story, how she and her squad were attacked. That Ptah led the charge in Sekhmet's name. But she was off her head and died soon after she was returned to our encampment. Ptah was able to brush off her words as the ravings of the dying. And since he himself was wounded honorably in battle, the matter was dropped."
"Was that when he lost his horns?"
Geb nodded. "He won't speak of that night. All of the gargoyles who fought with him died."
Brooklyn let out his breath. He hadn't realized it, but he'd been holding it during Geb's tale of the Unseelie. "Huh. Quite a guy, your Ptah. Listen. Do me a favor. Don't tell Senen I called. Ptah's up to something and I'm curious what it is."
Geb looked uncertain. "A secret. From Senen. Brooklyn, my friend, I don't know."
"Geb, trust me on this," Brooklyn replied fiercely. "It's important."
Geb nodded and put his hands before his breast bowing before the camera. "You are older and wiser than I, my friend and I think you know things that you cannot reveal. So I will yield to your wisdom."
Brooklyn smiled. "Thanks, kid. I promise I'll keep you out of hot water with the Most Honored and Glorious Senen."
"From your lips to her ears."
"I promise." Brooklyn leaned forward and snapped off the videophone before he assured Geb he could hide out in New York until his leader cooled off. He sat back in the chair and considered all he had learned. Ptah was a rogue who had Unseelie connections. Not all of Madoc's people were dead or under a geas. Somebody wanted Broadway and Angela's egg very badly and Ptah was acting as their agent. "Ptah is up to something. And I have a new hobby," Brooklyn said as he got up from the chair. "From now until I get this figured, I'm Ptah's shadow."
* * * * *
"Let's see," Andrea mused. "I think I'll keep the red one, and that old green one can go to charity, but Jeannie can have the other two."
Jezebella nodded and placed the sweaters dutifully in the appropriate boxes, struggling to keep the placid smile upon her face as she carefully folded the ones Andrea had chosen as gifts for her friend. As the minutes went by, though, she was finding it harder and harder to suppress her annoyance and maintain the calm façade. She'd been expecting to get some work done for Anton, not spend most of the night sorting used clothes. When she'd awakened at sunset and Broadway had asked if she'd still be spending the night at Destine Manor even though Demona was out of the country, she'd seized eagerly on the opportunity to say "yes." Wednesday night visits to her mother's house were apparently Angela's routine, and a quick mention that she had "a lot of studying to do" was all it had taken to excuse herself.
She still had no idea what it was, exactly, that Angela studied during her weekly visits with Demona. Anton had insisted she get to work immediately, and he'd dispatched her back to the castle without granting her the opportunity to question her twin sister on the specifics. For now, she could only guess that Angela's educational pursuits must have something to do with the vast collection of Latin texts she kept hoarded in her tower workroom. With Demona absent, however, Jezebella could afford to worry about that little problem at a later time and focus instead on more pressing concerns. She needed to begin the search for the information Anton wanted, and Dominique Destine's home office was as good a place to start as any. As Angela Destine, Dominique's trusted daughter, she'd assumed that she'd have the run of the house, and getting some time alone to poke around in there would be relatively easy. Unfortunately, in her haste, she had overlooked one minor detail.
"I'll send her these jeans, too," Andrea decided. She folded them quickly, doubling the garment over on itself, and handed them off to the dark-haired gargoyle. "They were starting to get a little snug on me anyway," she added, shrugging.
Jezebella eyed the petite woman skeptically. Andrea Calhoun, her mother's loving mate. She hadn't counted on being waylaid by the human female, and as she laid the jeans atop the growing pile in the cardboard shipping box, she couldn't help wondering if the over-talkative artist had secretly planned on trapping her for a night of "quality time" all along. Andrea had been in the midst of cleaning up the closet of the third-floor bedroom where Jeannie had been staying as Jezebella touched down on the balcony. She'd greeted her stepdaughter with a friendly smile and a warm hug, and made the obligatory inquiries into how she was holding up since returning from her kidnap ordeal.
"I'm fine," she responded, brushing off Andrea's concerns.
The painter gave a small smile and nodded. "Well, if you ever want to talk about it, Angela," she offered, "I'm here to listen." A feeling of sympathetic melancholy colored her words, and Jezebella puzzled over it for a long moment. She'd picked up a similar vibe off Delilah the night before when the white-haired clone had come up to find her in the tower and sought to make her own inquiry into her clan sister's well-being.
"I'll keep that in mind," she replied. Caught off guard again as she had been with Delilah, she was uncertain what else to say. Was Andrea just being solicitous, or did she also have some trauma in her own past that she felt put her on a more intimate level of understanding with what she presumed Angela was feeling after her nightmarish ordeal? Luckily, Jezebella's reluctance to entertain any discussions about events she couldn't even remember was easily misinterpreted as a normal reaction on Angela's part. In the context of what the others all believed she had suffered through, not wanting to talk about it was perfectly understandable. Jezebella supposed that was why Andrea simply gave her one more big hug and made no effort to pursue the topic further.
"I haven't heard from Dominique since the other night," Andrea commented, sensing Angela's desire for a change of subject. "She was really upset about having to leave so suddenly, with everything that was going on and all, but she said there was an emergency at the Paris office and they needed her there right away." Andrea sighed. "I wasn't too happy about her having to take off just like that, either. We'd been fighting most of the night, arguing about Jeannie again… until we both realized what fools we really being. We'd just gotten started on making up, but then that news bulletin came on the TV…"
Jezebella nodded, listening intently as Andrea went on about how she and Demona had rushed to the bus station. Her own memories of that night were a bit vague in places (Candy's fault, according to Anton), but she'd been positive she'd spotted Demona as she fled. Now, at least, she knew why. Demona had provided Andrea's transportation, carrying her to the scene and dropping her off just a few blocks away. Just minutes later, according to Andrea, Demona had been spotted by the police helicopters and mistaken for the gargoyle they were searching for. It had been an unanticipated turn of events for her, but a fortuitous one for Jezebella, trying to make good her escape. "I would imagine my mother gave them a pretty good chase," Jezebella interjected, smiling at her own good luck.
"Yeah," Andrea replied. "I guess. That's something else we really didn't get a chance to talk about before she left. I didn't make it back here until after sunrise, and she was heading out the door with her suitcase as I was walking in." Andrea sighed, a frown tugging at the corners of her mouth. "If I hadn't been so dead tired at the time, I probably would've been thinking clearly enough to have demanded to go with her."
"If only you knew how badly I wish you had done just that, Andrea Calhoun."
Jezebella winced as the internal voice taunted her. They'd continued chatting for a few minutes more, and before she realized it she'd been shanghaied into helping Andrea prepare a small care package for Jeannie. "It will only take a few minutes," the woman had promised, "and I could really used the company." She'd been forced to acquiesce, as it would have been out of character for Angela to decline to help her stepmother, and she couldn't risk arousing any suspicion. Two hours and several boxes later, she was cursing herself for being so overly diligent about keeping up appearances. What had seemed at first to be a simple chore of packing up a few small items from the closet had expanded under Andrea's direction into a tedious, item by item review of the contents of the entire room.
With the last pair of old denim jeans folded, however, it seemed as though the end was finally nearing. "Is that it?" Jezebella asked. She pressed her hand down on the pile of assorted clothes, scrunching the stack below the box's rim to emphasize the point that it was now nearly full. "I'm not sure anything more will fit, Andrea," she said, doing her best to disguise her irritation beneath Angela's characteristic friendly tone. She hoped the woman would take the hint, as she had almost reached the end of her patience with both the clothes-sorting and Andrea's relentless storytelling.
Thanks to the latter, Jezebella now knew more about Demona and Andrea's former houseguest than Angela herself probably knew, save for the story of how the strangely naïve young woman had come to take up residence with them in the first place. Andrea had skimmed over that part, as it was evidently a story Angela had already heard. She'd talked at length, though, about how things had gone after Jeannie moved it. Jezebella had heard all about how Jeannie, seeking to make herself useful, had attempted to find a place for herself in the household, and how Andrea had disagreed with her mother on numerous points relating to just what Jeannie's exact role should be. She'd listened to the whole complicated story as she helped fold the clothes Andrea had pulled first from the closet and then from the dresser, offering only nods and affirmative noises in reply when appropriate, just as she knew her twin sister would.
"Yeah, I think so," Andrea replied. She slid the empty bottom drawer of the dresser closed, then turned, frowning thoughtfully as she examined the three large boxes of neatly stacked clothing. "We'd better check the closet one last time, though," she added, "just to be sure."
Jezebella sighed quietly and rose to her feet, twitching her tail to restore the blood flow to the slumbering appendage. "I'll look," she said. She crossed quickly to the partially open bi-fold doors, sparing a glance back over her shoulder as the blonde woman reconsidered a few of her earlier decisions and moved a few more items from the "keep" box to the one destined for charity. As fascinating as it was to listen to Andrea's account of the real-life soap opera that had been playing out nightly at Destine Manor, what she had learned had not brought her one bit closer to any of the information she truly needed to find. And Anton would surely not accept the excuse that she'd been kept busy doing housecleaning were she to report in with nothing to show for her efforts.
Jezebella opened the closet, contemplating her options as she grabbed the lone black dress that hung there and pulled it from the rod. One way or another, she had to get Andrea out of her way. She didn't want to cause a scene, though, if it could be avoided, so she quickly discarded the first notion that came to mind. While she had no doubt she could easily overpower the petite young woman, and the thought of quieting her permanently with a sturdy cloth gag and several yards of rope was definitely appealing, such an overtly aggressive course of action would surely ruin her cover. No, she mused, her best bet would involve employing more subtle methods, to either get Andrea to go to bed, or get her out of the house entirely.
"This is the only thing left, Andrea," she said, holding up the dress. She noticed the white lace trim at the cuffs and collar and recognized it as a maid's uniform only as an afterthought. Jezebella raised a brow ridge, suddenly intrigued. Everything they'd packed for Jeannie so far had been a hand-me-down from Andrea, yet this dress was brand new, still on its department store hanger. "Is this Jeannie's, too?" she asked.
Andrea rose from her kneeling position near the boxes, her eyes narrowing as she saw the garment Angela held. "No," she replied. "Most definitely not." She closed the short distance between herself and the gargoyle, and plucked the hanger from her talons. "I'm not sure yet what I want to do with this silly costume," she said as she hung it back in the closet and quickly closed the doors, "but I'll figure that out later." She took the gargoyle by the arm, steering her back towards the center of the room. "Come on. Help me take these boxes downstairs."
"Finally," Jezebella said beneath her breath. She hefted the first of the three boxes and waited for Andrea to stack the second atop it and pick up the third herself. Though she was curious as to why the simple dress had provoked such a strange reaction from the human woman, Jezebella also couldn't help hearing Anton's voice in her head, reminding her that she had bigger fish to fry tonight. "Get rid of her and get one with it, Jessie!" she could imagine him chiding. Jezebella shifted her grip on the heavy boxes. "I intend to," she whispered in reply. She lashed her tail and resettled her wings, the look in her eyes turning cold and determined as she followed Andrea from the room.
"It's late," Jezebella stated as they reached the bottom of the second flight of stairs. "I'm sure you're tired and want to get to bed, and I really should get some studying done."
Andrea set down the box of discarded clothing she carried, pushing it into a corner of the foyer near several other boxes and shopping bags full of other discarded household items that had also been set aside for the P.I.T. charity drive. "Actually, I spent most of the day sleeping," she replied. She smiled and shrugged. "I guess Elisa was right. Live among gargoyles long enough, you start to become nocturnal."
Jezebella managed a tight smile. So much for Plan A, she mused, allowing Andrea to relieve her of Jeannie's care package. She followed the woman into the living room, eyeing the heavy cords on the drapes speculatively as Andrea placed the box carefully on the coffee table. Unbidden, the image of a bound and gagged Andrea flashed again in her mind. It'd be so very easy. Knock her out. Tie her up. Toss the house. If she struck quickly enough, the woman might not even know what had hit her by the time she came around the next morning. No, Jezebella, you'd still risk ruining the charade! You're Angela now, so why don't you start thinking like her. Andrea trusts you. You can use that. Jezebella reconsidered her options yet again. The nagging voice of her conscience was right. It wouldn't pay in the long run if she jumped too quickly to using brute force. If Andrea was too restless for sleep, perhaps another suggestion could be made of an activity to keep her occupied. She simply needed to feel her out a bit more, that was all.
"I've noticed Fox has the same problem," she commented. "Sometimes I see her up and about the castle at all hours of the night."
Andrea chuckled. "I can imagine." The woman paused, then took the gargoyle's hand, squeezing it affectionately. "Still, Angela, I didn't mean to keep you from your lessons." Andrea smiled and gazed up at the dark-haired girl, her brown eyes twinkling. "It's been a crazy past couple of days," she said, "for both of us," she added quickly. "I guess with Dominique being gone, I just needed someone to talk to. I'm glad you were here tonight, Angela."
For the second time that night, Jezebella found herself wrapped in Andrea's gentle embrace. She hesitated for only an instant before reciprocating the hug as she imagined Angela would, stroking her taloned fingers awkwardly through the woman's shoulder-length honey-blonde hair. "I'm… glad I could help," she said, finding herself again at a loss for better words. Angela was the master of the emotional stuff, not her, but the feebleness of the reply seemed to go unnoticed. Andrea leaned against her, a cheek laid against her chest, and gave only a contented sigh in return.
Jezebella held Andrea for a quiet moment longer, struggling to reconcile the pleasant, peaceful feeling that overcame her with the predatory thoughts of a few seconds before. As she warmed to the embrace, she was startled to find herself contemplating how lucky Angela was to have so many people in her life who truly cared about her. Jezebella blinked. She'd never in her life been jealous of her twin sister before, at least not that she could recall. So why was she suddenly feeling so envious now? It feels nice to be loved, doesn't it? a soothing voice said from within. Why should Angela be the one to have this while you have nothing? Don't you want more, Jezebella?
"Yes," she muttered softly. Instinct took over as she drew Andrea imperceptibly closer. Suddenly, she didn't want to allow the moment of affection to end. This life can become your life, Jezebella. If you want it, all you have to do is take it. Jezebella trembled and let out a ragged breath, and Andrea, sensing the girl's distress, responded by gently rubbing her back, eliciting a soft purr of contentment. Jezebella brushed her talons delicately over the human woman's forehead, composure returning as the emotional tension trickled away under Andrea's soothing touch. Suddenly, the last resort option from a few moments before ceased to be an option at all, but her eyes brightened as a new idea came to her.
"You know," Jezebella said, still forming the thought as she spoke, "I'm starting to think maybe it's a good thing that Mother didn't ask you to go with her to Paris." She smiled amiably as the woman looked up at her, a questioning look in her eyes as they broke their embrace. "You deserve a vacation of your own, Andrea. A chance to get away from here for a while, and go someplace where you can really relax and unwind."
"Hmm, that would be nice for a change," Andrea mused. "A few days to not have to worry about art deadlines or deal with the stress Domi always seems to be bringing home with her from the office." She gave a wistful sigh and sat down on the couch, pulling Angela down beside her. "You're probably right, though, Angela," she said. "Dominique's barely found the time to pick up the phone and call since she left. If I'd gone with her, I'd probably just be sitting alone in a hotel room right now, feeling more annoyed with her than I already am."
Jezebella took Andrea's hand and patted it affectionately. "All the more reason to take some time for yourself and get a change of scenery," she replied. "Think about it. Isn't there some place you've always wanted to go?"
"There's lots of places." Andrea smiled ruefully. "I tried to get Dominique interested in Sedona once, but she said she prefers the tropics to the desert. So we ended up spending two weeks in Hawaii, instead."
"Sedona," Jezebella replied. "That's in Arizona, right? I think I read something about it once in one of Fox's travel magazines. It sounded like a nice place… very relaxing. I bet a week's getaway there would do you a world of good."
Andrea nodded absently. "Yeah, it'd be great." She looked up to find Angela gazing at her expectantly. "Wait a minute, you're serious about this, aren't you?"
The young female nodded earnestly and placed a taloned hand on Andrea's shoulder. "Of course I am. It's not like there's anything stopping you, Andrea."
The blonde woman smiled but shook her head. "But Angela… I can't just up and take off at the drop of a hat. What about my work? And who will watch the house?"
"You worked for months on the paintings for the Met exhibit, but that's done now. Surely you spare a week to rest up before diving into the next big project," Jezebella said. "And I can keep an eye on the house if you're really that worried about it."
"I don't know, Angela. The plants I just put in need watering every day and the others…"
"Will still be in their pots when you get back," the gargoyle stated. "Andrea, listen to yourself." Jezebella gently tightened her grip on the woman's shoulder until Andrea looked up and met her eyes once more. "Why keep searching for reasons not to do this when you know you want to?" she said. "You work yourself too hard, just like Mother does. It's not being selfish to take some time off to treat yourself every once in a while."
Andrea regarded her gargoyle friend carefully for a long moment. "You know what, Angela," she replied, grinning, "you're right. I do deserve a vacation. And the sooner, the better, too."
Jezebella chuckled. "That's the spirit, Andrea. Trust me. You won't regret it."
"Thank you, Angela." Andrea leaned in, giving her stepdaughter a quick hug before rising from the sofa.
Jezebella smirked. She could tell from the look on the woman's face that the gears were now spinning inside her head. She rose as well, trailing after Andrea as she hurried to the foyer. She raised a brow ridge in surprise as she found the woman slipping on a well-worn denim jacket and shoulder her purse. She hadn't expected her to run off right that second. "Andrea?" she asked.
"Relax, Ang, I'm not leaving for the airport just yet." She smiled mysteriously. "You've given me an idea, that's all. I'm going to run down to Eve's Kitchen… see if an old friend wants to join me as I treat myself."
Jezebella nodded in mock understanding. Andrea was leaving her alone in the house. This was working out better than she'd hoped. "Okay. Have fun," she replied.
"I'll be back in a few hours." Andrea gave Angela another quick hug before turning for the door. "Lock up if you leave before I get back."
"Right." Jezebella watched from the door as Andrea bounded down the front steps and made her way down the long driveway to the street, waiting until she had seen a pair of headlights slow and stop to indicate she'd been picked up by a cab. Only then did she sigh in relief and close the door. "A few hours," she muttered. Jezebella slid the brass deadbolt home, then fastened the security chain for good measure. "Thank you, Andrea Calhoun. A few hours is all I need."
* * *
Jezebella tapped her talons on the mouse pad, watching the progress bar on the screen before her with growing impatience. "Ugh. Come on already," she muttered as the count froze, hanging inexplicably at eighty-two percent. "I don't have all night here." As if responding to the irritation in her voice, the CD-burner whirred back to life, and the status meter jumped to eighty-five percent. Jezebella lowered the hand she had raised to smack the side of the computer case. "Hmph. That's more like it." The female gargoyle crossed her arms and relaxed back into tiny office chair, lest she give in to the temptation to beat Andrea's all-too-temperamental computer to death before the final batch of files she'd highlighted had finished copying.
Jezebella sighed, the tip of her tail twitching nervously as she waited for the machine to finish. She glanced at the clock on the taskbar, making a quick mental calculation of how much longer it would be before she could tuck the disks containing her night's work into her belt pouch and depart Destine Manor for Anton's hideout. She wanted to be gone before Andrea returned, and it had already been over two hours since the artist had taken off for "Eve's Kitchen," whatever that was. It was now past midnight, and though Jezebella knew the local bars would be open at least two hours longer and some of the better clubs went all night, somehow she seriously doubted her mother's plain-Jane mate was secretly a rave-loving party-girl. She'd probably be wandering back in at any minute, nicely buzzed and looking for someone to chat with until the wee hours of the morning.
The gargoyle shifted restlessly and resettled her wings. While she was warming to the various perks and responsibilities that her new role as Angela entailed, she had no intention of becoming a captive audience of one for a second time that night. Andrea was talkative enough when she was sober, and the thought of what she might be like after a few margaritas filled Jezebella with dread. She eyed the monitor dangerously, watching as the counter at last reached ninety percent and growing ever more anxious as the minutes ticked by.
"Stupid computer," she grumbled. She had wanted to access Ms. Destine's home terminal directly, but the door to her private study had been locked. At least, she thought it was locked. That was the odd part, actually. Although the knob had turned freely, no amount of force had been able to make the door budge. Deciding she didn't want to have to explain away a busted lock or a shattered jamb, she'd stopped short of kicking it in and gone at last in search of the key. At the time, the master suite had seemed like the logical place to start. Now, however, she wished that of all the places to start looking, she hadn't picked the bedside stand.
The young female shuddered, recalling the strange assortment of items that she'd found secreted in the bottom drawer. A frightful chill had run down her spine at the sight of the shiny pair of police handcuffs that sat prominently atop the neatly organized stash of lotions, love toys and other sundry articles. Shocked, she had stared with wide, unblinking eyes for a long, horrified moment, then slammed the drawer shut and fled the room in a panic, suddenly not wishing to see more. When rationality had returned some time later, she found herself in the guest bedroom at the opposite end of the long upstairs hall, at a loss to comprehend her own reaction as she slowly disentangled herself from the heavy comforter she had wrapped herself in upon the bed.
Jezebella glanced at the computer screen again and shook her head to clear it of the bizarre mental images before they could overwhelm her once more. "T… M… I," she muttered slowly, banishing the disturbing thoughts. Andrea and Demona were mates, she reminded herself, and what they did in the privacy of their bedroom was their own concern, not hers or anyone else's. The file copy had now reached ninety-five percent complete, with about four minutes left to go. Jezebella tossed her head and smiled, taking the end of her braid into her talons and fingering it idly as she waited. Serendipity had worked in her favor once again, the unexplainable fright she had experienced sending her into a room she might not otherwise have explored and gifting her with a marvelously simple Plan B. Demona's computer may have been out of reach behind a locked door, but Andrea's machine sat neglected and unguarded on a cluttered desk in the corner of the guest room.
It was older, entry-level system with a barely adequate processor chip and an annoyingly slow CD burner. Jezebella supposed that her mother's artist mate only used it to word process and check e-mail, for though she had some graphics software installed, there was little of interest to be found on the hard drive other than some scanned family photographs and P.I.T. newsletter drafts. All of its shortcomings aside, though, it was hooked into the manor's home network to give Andrea internet access, and that link was all Jezebella really needed. The innocent-looking floppy disk she'd pulled from a hiding spot inside her tunic had taken care of the rest. All she'd needed to do was insert it in the drive and special program had auto-loaded and went to work, snaking its way through the system, mapping secret pathways and decrypting passwords. Within the space of a few minutes, it had established for her a backdoor into Dominique Destine's hard drive and she was staring at the Nightstone CEO's most top secret personal files... all without ever having to touch her talons to the keyboard.
It had all worked just as Anton had promised it would, which would make the doctor exceedingly happy, Jezebella mused. He'd paid quite handsomely for that small floppy disk according to the warning he'd given her the night before about being extremely careful with it. "Don't worry," she'd replied, tucking it away beneath her clothing. "I won't fail you."
Jezebella's ears perked up as soft chime sounded and the CD writer's drive tray slid open. "Your CD has been successfully created!" declared the message on the screen. The lavender-skinned gargoyle smiled broadly and rose from to her feet. Carefully, she plucked the CD from the tray and placed it into its waiting case. It had taken a total of three CD-R's to hold all the data, and this was the last one. Pressed for time after wasting an hour on the failed attempt to physically get into Demona's home office, she'd decided to simply copy everything. Anton could load the electronic files onto his own computer and wade through them faster than she ever could, after all, and he'd probably enjoy doing it, too.
"Finally," she said. "Now I can get the hell out of here." Jezebella pushed the eject button on the floppy drive, recovered the special floppy disk that had made her success possible, and tapped the power button with her talon, holding it in until the machine clicked and the screen went black. The gargoyle smiled wickedly as she slipped the floppy and the three CDs into her belt pouch. The improper shutdown would save her another thirty seconds of waiting, and it would also obliterate any trace of her activities. The next time Andrea booted up her seldom-used computer, the operating system would detect the error and start over with a previous backup of the system files, leaving her none the wiser that "Angela" had ever touched her machine.
Jezebella hurried back up to the third floor, uncaping her wings as she strode back into the large, empty bedroom where her first evening at Destine Manor had begun and heading straight for the French doors that led out to the balcony. In about fifteen minutes, she mused, she would be back in the comfortable surroundings of her own private quarters, where she could reward herself for a job well done by changing into something more comfortable and spending the rest of the evening alone, away from the pressures that taking over her sister's life had heaped upon her. Foreign diplomats wanting her ear… an egg in the rookery and a worrisome mate… a seemingly endless schedule of interviews and appearances… Angela's life had turned out to be quite complicated, indeed. Jezebella raised her hand to the door's polished brass lever. Bringing herself fully up to speed would be an ongoing challenge, but for now a few hours to relax and regroup before she returned to the Eyrie seemed like just what she needed.
A loud, unexpected jangling noise from behind her made Jezebella jump. Eyes flashing red, she spun instinctively and bared her fangs, only to feel her face go warm with embarrassment as she realized the source of the harsh ringing sound was simply the antique-style phone beside the bed. Jezebella froze. Should she answer it, or just let it ring? It was half past midnight. Who could be calling at such a late hour? Perhaps it was Andrea looking for a lift home from the bar, or one of the clan calling to check up on her. What would Angela do? she suddenly found herself thinking. It took only a second more for the answer to become obvious.
Jezebella picked up the receiver midway through the fourth ring and brought it to her ear. "Destine Manor," she said pleasantly, "Angela Destine speaking."
* * *
A half a world away, Dominique Destine straightened in the seat of her limousine, the dour expression on her face brightening a shade as the familiar voice of her daughter greeted her. "Angela, my child! This is a surprise," she said.
"Mother. Hello." An awkward pause, and the sound of rustling wings. "How are you?"
"I'm fine, Angela." Dominique frowned, parental concern etching a deep lines in her brow. "How are you faring, my daughter?" she asked quietly.
"Honestly?" Angela gave a small sigh. "I've had better weeks, Mother. The clan's been taking care of me, though. I'll survive. You don't need to worry."
"You're my daughter, Angela," Dominique replied solemnly. "I always worry when my child has been hurt. It's not something I can help. It's just part of being a mother." She smiled, her tone lightening as she added, "Trust me, Angela. You'll understand better after your egg has hatched."
"Yes," Angela said. "I suppose." Another long pause. "So what took you to Paris so suddenly?" she asked. "Andrea said there was an emergency of some kind?"
Dominique settled herself back into the seat as the car pushed its way steadily through the early morning traffic. She knew her child too well to not recognize an attempt to change the subject when she heard one. Given what she had learned of the circumstances two nights earlier when she had spoken with Xanatos from aboard her private jet, though, she didn't feel inclined to force Angela to talk about her ordeal if she didn't want to. For now, she would let it be. There would be plenty of time for confronting all of the unpleasantness later, once she was home and could properly engage her daughter in a motherly, heart to heart chat.
"Yes," she replied. "You could say that. Though it seems more and more like 'epidemic' might be the more applicable term." Dominique gave a small growl of irritation, her true gargoyle nature momentarily asserting itself over human outward appearances. "There's been a particularly persistent flu virus going around the office here," she went on. "Over half of my employees are out on sick leave, including every single member of my senior executive staff."
"Really?" Angela's voice echoed genuine shock. "How strange!"
"Yes," Dominique grumbled irritably. "And it couldn't have come at a worse time, either. Nightstone is in the middle of some very important negotiations to buy out one of our rivals and expand our European operations. The schedule is very tight, and if it isn't met we stand to lose millions. I hadn't planned traveling until next week, when it was time to sign the actual agreements, but the other night I got home to find a voice message waiting for me saying that my last supposedly healthy vice president had just been admitted to the hospital." Dominique sighed. "I didn't have any choice but to step in. I'd already been working on this for weeks, and there was no one else I could hand it off to at the last minute." She paused, allowing concern to again reassert itself and push frustration aside. "I wish there had been, though. I've spent three long days and nights now wondering if I made the right decision in leaving so quickly. Angela, if I had only known…"
"Mother, don't." Angela's voice was calm and reassuring. "You have responsibilities. I understand that, and so does Andrea. I have responsibilities, too. Sometimes they keep us apart, but that doesn't mean we don't still care about each other."
Dominique allowed herself to smile once more. This was the Angela she knew, and it did her heart good to know that despite what had happened, her generally positive outlook on life had survived intact. "How very true, my daughter. And you have your clan, as well. Even when I can not be there, I know they will watch over you."
Angela chuckled. "Yes. Everyone's been wanting to take care of me these past few evenings. I'm starting to feel as helpless as a hatchling at the castle. That's why I came here tonight. Andrea's been the first one to let me actually do something useful."
"Oh? And just what is it you two have been up to tonight?"
"We packed up some clothes for Jeannie. And then Andrea went out to meet some friends at Eve's Kitchen. I've been trying to work on my lessons, but I guess my head's just not in the right place for it tonight."
Dominique smoothed a wrinkle from her severely tailored black skirt and nodded. She had hoped to speak with her mate, but it sounded now like she had missed her. "Don't push yourself, my daughter," she replied. "We can resume your studies when I return."
"Yes. I'd like that."
The human woman nodded again. Angela was putting on a brave front, but there was no mistaking the exhaustion and anxiety in her voice. "You sound tired, Angela. Perhaps you should call it a night and go home. See your doctor, and get some rest."
* * *
Several thousand miles away, Jezebella sat on the edge of the bed, her lips curling into a quirky grin as she replied, "That sounds like a good idea, Mother." She listened a moment longer, then ended the call with a quick "I love you, too" and "goodbye" before cradling the phone and rising to resume her original course. "It's an excellent idea, actually," she said. Jezebella threw open the French doors and stepped giddily onto the balcony. She had fooled Demona, and as she spread her wings and leapt into the breeze, a newfound rush of confidence filled her. If she could do that, she reasoned, she could do anything.
* * * * *
Later That Night: New Jersey
Candy loitered in the hallway outside of Dr. Sevarius's office, surreptitiously pressing a pointed ear to the wall as she attempted to eavesdrop on the conversation taking place within. Jezebella had returned bearing gifts for the doctor. She'd spotted the gargoyle entering the warehouse several minutes before and followed her at a discreet distance, hoping for a chance to catch her alone, but Jezebella had headed directly to the lab to find Sevarius, and the two of them had retreated together to the privacy of his office. As Candy had watched and listened the shadows, the girl had handed the man a stack of compact disks, stating they contained copies of all the data she'd been able to find on Dominique Destine's home computer.
Sevarius had closed the door at that point, leaving Candy alone in the hall to speculate on her own how Jezebella had managed to get inside the elusive Nightstone CEO's home. After a moment, though, she thought back to the night at the art museum the week before, recalling how friendly Jezebella's twin sister Angela had been with Andrea Calhoun, the acclaimed artist who also conveniently happened to be Ms. Destine's significant other. The smile still lingered on Candy's lips at the thought of her ex-girlfriend, trusting little fool that she was, unwittingly admitting Jezebella into the house, thinking her to be Angela. "I wonder what Jez did with her once she was inside," she whispered, her smile turning evil as she pondered what she might have done had she'd been invited to the party. "I'll have to be sure to ask."
The pleasant thoughts were short-lived. Candy straightened, wiping the salacious grin from her face as her sensitive ears caught the clicking sound of approaching footsteps. A petite woman in low heels, and in a bit of a hurry. Candy knew who it was before Dr. Lilith Ling even rounded the corner. The halfling woman crossed her arms, assuming a semi-relaxed posture that said "I'm supposed to be here," and nodded in greeting as the Asian woman spotted her and broke stride.
"Is Jezebella back yet?" she inquired.
And a "Good morning, how are you?" right back at you. Candy resisted the urge to scowl and regarded the woman carefully. Ling bore the unmistakable appearance of someone who'd been running on only caffeine and adrenaline for most of the day. Her makeup was cracking, her eyes were bloodshot and the skin around them slightly puffy, and her hair looked to be in need of serious attention from a brush. "Miss Thing's in there," Candy replied, inclining her head towards the door, "meeting with the boss."
Dr. Ling glanced at the closed door, suddenly seeming annoyed that she hadn't been summoned and asked to be on the other side of it. "Well, when she's done with him," she said, "tell her I need to see her in my lab. I need to conduct a quick follow-up exam before she leaves again."
"Sure thing, Doc." Candy gave a casual salute. "Consider it done." She smirked as the woman made a face and turned away, continuing down the hall on her original course. She'd pissed Ling off, but she didn't care. Candy didn't know what it was exactly, but there was just something about the behaviorist that had always rubbed her the wrong way, going back to even before she'd had the privilege of watching her work her strange magic on Jez. Idly, she wondered if the gargoyle would go willingly for the "quick follow-up exam," or if she'd be called upon to "assist" with getting her onto the examination table again. Jez had totally freaked out the other night when Candy had attempted to follow her instructions and strap her down in the confinement chamber to set the stage for her to be "rescued" by Angela's clan. After the fit with the handcuffs, though, she'd been expecting her to panic. At the time, she hadn't let it interfere with the plan. "This has to look real," Jezebella had declared before they began. "Treat me just as you would if I were Angela. That's an order." Candy had done just that, and enjoyed herself right up to the moment she had cinched the final leather restraining strap down on her neck and slammed the door of the coffin-like confinement chamber shut. In retrospect, though, she mused, perhaps she had gotten a little carried away with the shock prod. Just a little.
Another noise caught her attention and drew her thoughts back to the present. Candy looked up, edging back into the shadows as the knob turned and the office door opened. Jezebella, her wings caped regally, stepped out into the hallway, followed closely by Dr. Sevarius.
"…but in the meanwhile, Jezebella," he said, placing a hand on the girl's shoulder, "I want you to keep your sister's appointments. For the time being, you are her, and it's vital that your clan not be given any reason to suspect that anything is amiss."
The gargoyle nodded. "I'm still at Mother's right now as far as the others know. And I'm not expected back at the castle until dawn. In my normal schedule, I take Latin lessons from Mother once a week, but effective immediately, my presence at Destine Manor will start being required much more frequently." She smiled deviously. "Andrea's starting work on a new painting of me," she said, winking.
Sevarius chuckled. "Is that right? Hmm. I'm sure your clanmates will be delighted to hear it." He patted her on the shoulder. "You did good tonight, my dear. Take a few hours and relax. You've earned it."
Candy pressed herself against the wall, keeping out of sight as Sevarius walked jauntily passed her hiding place, humming to himself as he headed back to his lab. Only after her eyes had finished following him around the corner did she look back up and realize Jezebella was staring at her.
"You can come out," the girl said, smirking.
"How did you… oh yeah… duh. You gargoyles can see in the dark." Candy took a step toward the girl, wondering if the redness on her cheeks was also as readily visible in the dimly lit corridor.
"Something like that," Jezebella replied. She closed the remaining gap that separated her from the halfling woman and eyed her curiously. "So what are you doing here, anyway?"
"Waiting to talk to you," Candy answered. And spying on Dr. Freakazoid. "Dr. Ling was just by. She says she needs to see you before you leave." She wants to poke and prod you some more. I think it's how she gets off.
Jezebella nodded. "I know. And I'll take care of that later, right before I return to the Eyrie. But that's not all you wanted to discuss with me, is it?"
Damn, she's good. "No," Candy replied. She thought for a long moment, trying to decide what would be the most tactful way to breach a conversation about the events of the previous night. "I've been wondering about the status of our mission," she said at last. "No one's really clued me in yet on what the new plan is. Don't get me wrong, crashing that little P.I.T. 'picnic in the park' thing today had its fun moments, but I don't really see how mixing it up with your dear sister's diehard fans is getting us anywhere on the Sector 13 business."
"You're right," Jezebella replied. "It's not. But I thought you knew. We're not targeting Sector 13 anymore."
Candy blinked. "What?"
"I said, Sector 13 is no longer our target. Anton says it's a dead end and we've already wasted too much time on it," Jezebella explained.
Agitation radiated off Candy in waves. This was all news to her, and she wasn't liking the sound of it one bit. "Dead end?" she echoed back. "What the hell are you talking about, Jez? I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't Sector 13 the whole reason we went through that crazy fucking charade the other night? To get you into Xanatos's castle in place of your bitch sister, so you could go in there whenever you wanted, just like she's been doing?"
"Yes, at the time," Jezebella replied casually, "but that was before Angela had been properly questioned. According to Anton, it turns out we were both mistaken about what she actually knows about Sector 13. Such a silly girl, my sister. She never had official access. She was just sneaking down there to visit Danny." Jezebella shrugged. "It's just like her, actually. I really should have seen it coming. But it's a moot point now. And besides, it's not like all our hard work in getting me switched with Angela was for nothing." She placed a taloned hand on Candy's shoulder and smiled, seemingly oblivious to the warning glint in the halfling woman's eyes. "Anton has come up with a new plan. I've already gotten to work on it, but now I'm going to need your help. Since we can't get what we need from Xanatos, we're going to get it from Nightstone instead."
"Nightstone?" Candy could hardly believe her ears. "That is Sevarius's brilliant new plan?"
"Yes," Jezebella said, nodding. "Why? Is there something wrong?"
Candy glared daggers at the dark-haired gargoyle. The amiable smile still lingered on her face, and for a brief moment all she could think of was how much Jezebella resembled her insufferable twin sister. "Hell yes, there's something wrong!" She recoiled, jerking free of Jezebella's gentle grip with more force than was necessary. Candy took a step back before the urge to haul off and slug the girl became too great. Instead, she settled for clenching her fists and raising her voice. "Aren't you and 'Anton' forgetting something, Jez?" she demanded angrily. "Like a promise you both made to bust Tanya and the rest of my people out of Xanatos's dungeon?" she added when Jezebella only stared at her, perplexed.
"Oh, that," Jezebella said. She shook her head again, still smiling. "No, of course not. I haven't forgotten. It's just not a priority at the moment."
"Not a priority?" Candy growled. She was seething now, supernatural energy prickling her skin as she fought to reign in the torrent of emotions that coursed through her. An image flickered before her mind's eye of Tanya Spencer as she'd last seen her: cold, lifeless, and nude, lying sealed beneath a thick sheet of bluish glass. Candy almost hadn't recognized her. Tanya's long curly mane of hair had been cropped short, leaving her pointed eartips prominently exposed, and her skin had gone pale. She'd withered away, becoming scarcely more that a ghost of her former self… just like all the others like her who filled the long row of coffin-like stasis chambers.
She hadn't been prepared the first time for the sights that awaited her in Sector 13. Though she'd been briefed on the equipment she was to help appropriate, neither Sevarius or Jezebella had mentioned anything to her about the dozens of halflings that Xanatos and his gargoyles were holding prisoner in the secret facility hidden deep within the bowels of the Eyrie Building. Had she known in advance, she could've planned out a strategy to free them. She could have steeled herself, so she wouldn't have been overcome by her emotions. It was anger that had blinded her to the danger of mixing her magic with the force field that surrounded Tanya's tiny prison. She'd failed them all by making a stupid mistake, and nearly got herself, Jake, and Jezebella killed in the process.
Candy shook as misery slowly gave way to rage. Tanya had been her friend, but Candy had planned for them to become much more, up until the night she had simply vanished. And while she'd always had her suspicions, never in her wildest nightmares had she envisioned a place like Sector 13. Curse those fucking gargoyles! the voice in her head screamed. First they steal away Andie, and now they've taken Tanya, too! Unlike Andie, though, who had slipped away slowly, seduced by the strange allure the inhuman creatures seemed to possess, Tanya had been mercilessly snatched away. She'd been abducted and imprisoned, without trial or recourse, for no more crime than being a halfling in the wrong place at the wrong time. That was something Candy could not let stand. She would see Tanya and all the others set free no matter what it took, and Sevarius's "priorities" be damned.
Her hands moved as if on their own, sparks of green energy dancing between her fingers as she struck out. She didn't even realize what she was doing until she had already done it. Jezebella gasped in shock, the insipid smile finally slipping from her lips as Candy grabbed her by the collar of her tunic and shoved her roughly up against the wall. "Damn it, Jezebella," she yelled, pinning her there, "then you'd better make it a priority!" Her heart pounded in her chest. Adrenaline pumping, she tensed up and shoved even harder, making the lavender-skinned female wince. "Do you hear me, gargoyle?" she intoned darkly, her face only inches from the girl's as she spat the last word.
Jezebella trembled, showing fear for the first time as the emerald fire shining in Candy's eyes reflected in the dark orbs of her own. "Candace, please," she said timidly, "let me explain."
Candy tightened her grip on the girl's tunic and Jezebella winced again. The halfling woman froze. Why wasn't the gargoyle making any attempt to fight back? She'd laid hands on her in a fit of blind rage, anger driving her to act without thinking yet again. So why was the fearsome Jezebella cringing away from her like a scolded puppy, when by all rights she should be rolling her onto the floor, talons out and tail lashing? Candy held the girl pinned a moment longer, her mind a whirl as she struggled to make sense of Jezebella's submissive, highly out-of-character reaction. "Candace?" the gargoyle pleaded again. Her voice was quiet and meek, and she had still made no attempt to meet force with force. She hadn't even raised her hands.
At last, slowly, Candy relaxed her grip, worrying even as she did that Jezebella was waiting for just that moment to make her move. That instead the gargoyle only remained there, eyeing her warily, her back against the wall, filled the halfling woman with both relief and confusion. Uncertain of what Jezebella might do, she backed away, keeping her hands in front of her, palms raised in a defensive "stay back" gesture.
"I'm not going to hurt you," Jezebella said. She sounded vaguely surprised at having to make the statement at all. "Please, Candace," she said gently. "Just calm down and give me a chance to talk, will you?"
Candy nodded mutely. What the hell is wrong with her? Her mind raced furiously. Could there still be a few screws rattling around loose in Jezebella's head from the beating she had taken the other night, or was her new pacifist outlook the product of something else entirely? She flashed back on the previous night. Sevarius had claimed that the unusual treatment Dr. Ling had administered to Jezebella was meant to cure her of the delusion that she was Angela, nothing more. To her, though, it was starting to look more and more like the crazy shock therapy the behaviorist had subjected Jezebella to had done much more than that. Candy lowered her hands and bit her lip. While she supposed that the sudden change in the girl's demeanor could simply be an unanticipated side effect, a nagging doubt was forming that made her wonder if there was more to it than that.
"I will help you free your friends, Candace," the gargoyle was explaining, "but our original plan is shot, and it's going to take us some time to work out a new one."
The halfling nodded again and tried to act like she'd been paying attention to what Jezebella had just said. "So how soon can we start on that?" she asked.
Jezebella gave a small smile. "We may be able to start tonight." She sighed. "There's a lot of things that you and I need to discuss, both about the new mission and about my sister. I will need your help soon, and this time I want to make sure there aren't any surprises for you."
More surprises? Candy raised an eyebrow. "What are you talking about, Jez?"
"I'll tell you," the gargoyle replied, lowering her voice, "but not here." Jezebella turned, gesturing for the other woman to follow. "Come on. Let's go back to my quarters and talk."
Candy hesitated only for a short moment, considering her limited options. She had plenty of questions, but answers were in definite short supply. If Jezebella wanted to chat, though, perhaps she may just find a few of them yet. "Sure, Jez," she called, hurrying after her, "whatever you say."
* * * * *
Lilith Ling's Office: TriCities Biotech
Lilith Ling couldn't wipe the smile off her face. It wasn't a pleasantly nondescript "Good Morning" smile that would have been appropriate for a lab manager who hadn't had her first cup of coffee, one that would be met with a commiserating quirk of the lips by any of her subordinates or fellow managers. No, this was a "I won the two hundred and fifty million dollar lottery jackpot, me, not the office pool, just me, so screw you, suckers" smile that kept crawling up her face and made her giggle periodically like a manic schoolgirl.
She hadn't slept for two nights. She hadn't showered, only changed into a fresh blouse that she kept in her briefcase for emergencies. Between the delicate process of lifting Jezabella's memories and reprogramming her with new ones, dashing to the lab and putting in a grinding day of simulating normality and hurrying back to Anton's new hideaway to check the results of her handiwork, there hadn't been time for sleep. She would make it up to herself later. Hours of sleep, whirlpool baths at five-star hotels, massages, champagne, caviar, whatever she desired. After she had collected her share of Anton's profits. It was only a matter of time now.
Ling pushed aside the stack of employee time sheets, supply requests and maintenance logs that she should be signing off on, drawn instead by the lure of the laptop sitting in the briefcase at her feet. She shoved her reading glasses back up onto her nose and withdrew the computer from under the desk, waiting impatiently for the machine to go through its warm up cycle. Seconds later, she was typing in her password and accessing her hidden files.
With hurried fingers she fed keystrokes into the machine. It was equipped with two word processing programs. The first was garden variety, ubiquitous to every computer. She ignored that one. It was the second that she brought to life by double clicking a seemingly innocent picture of a scroll, one of many items that littered the desk in the formal library scene that served as her computer's wallpaper.
The second word processor was a gift from Sevarius. Its special features included a complicated encryption/decryption scheme, plus it hid the text automatically unless otherwise instructed causing each line of data to disappear when the Enter key was struck. If interrupted, she could invoke the same feature with a touch of the ESC key. One keystroke and it would appear that she'd been balancing her checkbook, the data gone until it was recalled by a separate set of commands. An inconvenience, true, but for moments like this, when Lilith found herself too drawn to resist the siren call of her research, it was well worthwhile.
She typed, pecking away at the keys, glancing occasionally out the window and the main laboratory beyond. There were only two other employees present, lab techs there to prepare for experiments that would be run later in the day. She ignored them.
J performed perfectly in first field test. No sign of prior personality programming. No residual belief J ever was forcibly evicted from her clan. No sign of previously implanted sibling rivalry. No apparent damage sustained from the repeated head injuries or the re-enforcement of the belief that J was actually genetic donor A. The new personality interface has integrated flawlessly.
On a personal note, while it was necessary as part of the first test to lay down a complex range of feelings and experiences to simulate the process of reconditioning a non tabula rasa, I never understood S's need to embed the level of vitriol J experienced toward her genetic predecessor. It seemed unnecessarily vindictive and somewhat rash.
Ling stopped typing and considered her last statement. Though these were her personal notes, there was still the remote possibility that Sevarius might stumble across them and take offense.
She opened an editing window and deleted the paragraph, then closed the window and continued to type as a fresh wave of ideas about the re-impression process struck her. Perhaps she would try them later on one of the halflings. After all, they were already in the building and so much more accessible then some runaway or homeless bum.
The smile crept over Lilith's face again. She closed out the research notes and began to compose her letter of resignation.
* * * * *
23rd Precinct Detective's Bullpen
"Delivery for you, Detective."
Matt looked up, his eyes defocused from scrutinizing the sea of paperwork that threatened to engulf him. He blinked, hauling himself back from the place in his head where tropical breezes danced over sun-drenched beaches that he retreated to when he needed to really concentrate. Standing at his elbow was platinum-haired Tammy from Records and her assistant Doug.
Matt smiled at the girl and she winked back. They had dated briefly after his disastrous breakup with Sara and were still friendly despite how Tammy, having realized that he was just going through the motions, sat him down one morning over breakfast and told him he was a nice guy but he needed to get his head straight before he called her again. "For me?" he said grimacing at the hand truck Doug wielded. "You shouldn't have."
"That's what the courier said," Tammy replied glancing at her clipboard. "Personnel records you requested going back five years from Tri Cities Biotech."
"Yeah, okay. Just set them over there." He pointed at a pile of boxes near Elisa's chair and then reached for the clipboard to sign off on the delivery. "Thanks," he added and then returned to the stack of reports already in front of him, the bullpen and Tammy fading from his consciousness.
Court orders had come through securing personnel records from each of the companies hit. Not the contractors, those would come later. Elisa's idea had been a good one, but Matt couldn't shake the lingering feeling that whoever was behind this was working a little closer to home. So he was in the process of making lists. Lists of projects. Lists of grants. Lists of employees current and former. Dull, tedious work, that he wished he could foist off on an Explorer Scout or a detective trainee wannabee, but unfortunately all available personnel were out in the field providing extra security for the dozens of midsummer events in full swing.
Matt plodded on, hour after hour doggedly compiling his lists. Eventually, he'd use them to cross check and eliminate suspects. Until then, he'd just keep adding names and occupations to the yellow legal pad he'd ruled into sections. At the top were the company names in the order of the break ins. On each page he listed a part of the alphabet, A-B, C-D, E-F-G and so on.
He picked up another folder, the L's from Midtown Medical. A dozen records waited to be added to his list. He fanned the stack of employee files and then squared them off against the desk. La, Beatrice. Secretary. Lang, Sandy. Ditto. Lee, Kent. Messenger. Lee, Kim. Lab Tech. Ling, Lilith. Research Scientist. Linhouse, Robert. Research Scientist. "No wait," Matt muttered scratching the last name off his list. "It says here 'Deceased'. Unless it's his ghost... Next." He continued to work methodically adding names finishing the 'L's' and working his way through the rest of the alphabet. An hour later he dumped the lid back on the box of Midtown Medical records.
Matt yawned and stretched and the crash of waves became the muttering of a dozen detectives working their phones or talking to citizens and suspects. One more set of files, a few dozen more personnel records, then he could call it quits at least long enough to take a break and get out of the Bullpen for real. "One more lousy box. Piece of cake," he said to nobody in particular. He yanked the knot on his tie free, opened his collar and got back to work.
* * * * *
That Night: Elisa's Apartment
Goliath burst awake with a throaty growl and stretched, hastily shaking away the last shards of stone but trying to hang on to the final confusing bits of his dream. His brow was furrowed as he struggled to grasp the fleeing imagery. He was back in London with Griff, and the other gargoyle was grinning wildly despite the claxon of an air raid siren. "Come on, mate. You and me will show those blighters what for!"
He was reasonably sure that "blighters" referred to the Germans with which England was currently at war or had been when he had traveled back through time and first met Griff. And from the other gargoyle's feral smile, Goliath was also reasonably sure that Griff was looking forward to the fight with anticipation. So why did Goliath have such a knot in his stomach?
He rubbed at his temples and sighed. Perhaps part of his mind sought a fight he could win, he reasoned as he surveyed the lights and activity of the city. The German pilots had been no match for the combined efforts of two gargoyles. It was a much different scenario than his current battle. Elisa's mulish need to assert her independence was a frustration he found galling. Her determination to stand alone, to reject the help of her family and clan was foolhardy. She had refused to notify her parents or sister of her injury. She would not go to her brother Talon for aid and she would not accept the sanctuary of his castle. It made no sense. Why should she reject assistance when she needed it the most?
No matter. He would care for her. He would do anything for her. She was his love, his mate, his touchstone in this modern world. He would not allow her to sacrifice her health on the altar of pride.
Goliath leapt the short distance from the roof to Elisa's balcony garden. He cocked his head and listened hard. It was odd, but he could still hear, faintly, the siren of his dreams. He shrugged and threaded his way through the jungle of potted plants. Elisa's vegetable garden thrived despite the week's neglect and from among the riot of greenery he saw bright red tomatoes and vivid yellow squash. He reminded himself to come back out later. The cantaloupes, trailing over the edge of their planter box, smelled ripe and perhaps his love would enjoy it if he prepared one for her.
He froze as he wrapped his hand around the slider of the patio door. It vibrated beneath his talons. The noise. The siren of his dreams, it screamed from the apartment. Goliath threw open the door. "Elisa? Elisa, where are you?"
He expected no answer and got it as he burst in, covering his ears against the cacophony. Thick black smoke was filling the apartment. High and piercing, the smoke detector continued to call for attention. The tiny red light winked above the breakfast nook. Goliath reached up and tore the device from the wall. It died midshriek and went unmourned as the gargoyle tossed it away. He followed the choking black billow to its source.
In the kitchen a pan of something stood on the stove fuming. Goliath, despite his efforts not to breathe the noxious stink, inhaled, and he coughed as he shut off the gas under the pan and fumbled for the fan switch. He missed the first time and flipped on the overhead lights. A second try was more successful. After a few moments the air began to clear.
His foot brushed against something soft. Goliath looked down at the floor "Elisa! Oh no, Elisa," the gargoyle babbled as he swept her into his arms and carried her outside into the muggy night. He lay her down on a folding chaise lounge and tried to remember if her head should be up or flat in line with the rest of her body. He decided it didn't matter as he checked her pulse and breathing and found both strong and regular.
He slapped her face and wrists lightly. "Elisa, wake up!"
She coughed. After a moment her eyes fluttered open and she struggled to rise. Goliath held her as she hacked and choked clearing her lungs. After the second wave of coughing subsided, he rose long enough to turn on the garden hose and fill her outstretched hands. She sipped and then opened her palms against her cheeks bathing them with cool water.
"Can you tell me what happened?" the gargoyle asked gently.
Elisa's brow furrowed. "I was. I was in the kitchen. I wanted to cook you a real meal. Not just carry out," she replied slowly trying to fit things together.
Goliath couldn't help himself. As much as he realized that his mate was trying to do something nice for him, frustration and the anger it bred got the better of him. "You were supposed to rest, Elisa," he bellowed. "The instruction from your doctor was quite simple: 'Do nothing'. Even a child could understand such straightforward advice. Why can't you?"
Elisa looked up at her lover in shock at his angry tone. "It wasn't supposed to be a big deal. How was I supposed to know that making mashed potatoes would trigger a black out?"
"And yet it was." Goliath touched her hair gently. "You were unconscious. Long enough for the potatoes to burn. If I had not arrived in time you could have died."
"But I didn't," she protested minimizing his concerns. "Look, I blew the dinner thing. And the kitchen is probably a wreck. I'm sorry. Let's call Tony's, order a pizza, and as soon as the apartment airs out we can watch a movie."
"There will be no pizza and no movies," Goliath snapped. "You are coming with me back to the castle."
"Not another word." The gargoyle's eyes flashed briefly white. "I will send Broadway later to collect Cagney." The big gray cat had darted out of the apartment with a howl as Goliath had struggled to revive his mistress and now watched the pair argue from the safety of a potted lemon tree.
"Stay here." Goliath went back inside the apartment, dumped the scorched pan in the sink and poured water over it. He glanced around. Elisa said she had cooked a meal and that generally meant more than one dish. The oven was on set to 'warm'. He shut it off and looked inside. There was a glass pan filled with something Elisa called meatloaf. It bubbled around the edges but seemed unharmed.
He found a blue and white potholder and removed the dish from the oven and set it on the counter. Then remembering the cat, he found a plate, put the still hot loaf pan on it and shoved the whole stack, meatloaf, plate and potholder in the refrigerator.
Elisa's medications, her pills and ointments, scattered in a pile next to the phonebook and a collection of takeout menus, he stuffed into the pouch at his waist before returning to the terrace.
Without another word, he picked up his mate. She was forced to hang on as he leapt off the balcony and towards the Eyrie Building. Perhaps Xanatos's doctors would have better luck convincing Elisa to stay quiet.
* * * * *
Pack Media Studios
"That was great, Angela. Now, let's get a few with the fan on, and see a little more of those lovely wings."
The gargoyle nodded and smiled, relaxing for a few seconds as the photographer loaded a new roll of film and directed his assistants to adjust the angle of a few of the lights. As the huge fan came on, she shook her head and uncaped her wings to catch the artificial breeze. Flashing a fanged grin, she placed a taloned hand jauntily on her hip and turned her face to the camera. "How's that?" she said.
Click! "Perfect, baby. Now can you do that thing with your tail like you did before?" Click! Click! "Excellent. This is gold, sweetie. Pure gold."
Fox looked on from across the room as Angela twirled and posed. The lavender-skinned female looked positively radiant, clad in a burgundy silk halter and skirt ensemble made by one of the fashion industry's hottest new designers. As she pouted and struck a mildly provocative pose at the photographer's direction, Fox couldn't help but smile. She'd been nearly ready to cancel this photo shoot, even if it meant begging off on the favor she owed the magazine's publisher, but Angela had insisted she could follow through on the commitment despite being under doctor's orders to take it easy. She'd been skeptical at first that Angela was up to the challenge that awaited her, but seeing the girl enjoying herself now with all her cares for the moment seemingly forgotten told her she'd underestimated the young female once again.
"She's just… amazing. Are you sure she's never done this kind of modeling before?"
Fox crossed her arms, the smile that graced her lips turning bemused as the correspondent from Blush magazine edged up beside her. "Not to my knowledge," she replied. The former TV star turned to the other woman, a slender brunette with long straight hair. "But I keep learning that Miss Angela has many hidden talents."
"I've never interviewed a gargoyle before," the young woman commented. "I hope I can put together an article to go with this that's as good as Elliott's photos will be."
Fox chuckled. "Angela loves to chat, Miss Gallo. I'm sure you'll have no trouble at all."
Click! Click! "Terrific, Angie. Okay, we've got our cover. Now let's get you back into something more casual, and we'll get just a few more for the lead-in page of the article. Take five, people."
Jezebella stepped off the small raised platform and slipped behind the folding partition that stood a few feet away, grateful for the moment to be out of the warm glare of the lights. For the first time since the shoot had begun almost an hour before, the smile slipped from her face. Flirting with the camera was fun, but she'd had no idea how exhausting it was to keep it up nonstop. How did her sister stand it, she wondered, being "on" all the time. Jezebella turned to the mirror, taking in her own reflection. The two-piece ensemble the magazine people had supplied for her to wear fit perfectly. The fabric hugged her curves yet caressed her skin so lightly she could barely tell she was wearing anything at all. Not like the tunic Angela normally wore, with its itchy lacing and coarse texture. Jezebella ran her hands over the flared skirt, hesitating, not wanting to take it off.
"You should ask to keep it," the voice in her head stated matter-of-factly. "You deserve it. You deserve all of this. Love, admiration, fame. This is the life you wanted. This is the life that should have rightfully been yours all along. Don't you remember?"
Jezebella shook her head, suddenly uncertain. What was she supposed to remember? She wanted this, that much she knew. There was no denying the thrill of achievement, of victory, even, that had coursed through her like a wave as the photographer cheered her on. But why did she want it? That was the part that eluded her.
"She betrayed you," the voice whispered impatiently.
"Need any help back there?" Jezebella blinked, shaking her head once more, and the odd feeling of disquiet abruptly retreated. She turned to find Fox peering cautiously around the edge of the partition. "I thought you were changing. They're almost ready for you again."
Jezebella mustered a pleasant smile, full awareness of the part she was supposed to be playing reasserting itself. "I am," she replied. "I was just… having some trouble getting this off." She turned her back to the human woman, touching at the spot where the waist of the skirt met the exposed skin of her back just below the membranes of her wings. "I think the thing on the zipper's too small for my fingers. Could you give me a hand?"
Fox chuckled as she moved to assist the girl. The flowing skirt was slit high up the back to allow for the tail, but above that point the fitted waist was secured by a concealed zipper. The auburn-haired woman gently pushed Angela's hands away, giving a wry grin as she found the tiny pull. "It looks like Clive still has a few things to learn about designing fashions for today's modern gargoyle," she commented. As the skirt fell free, she handed it off to Angela and moved her hands up the gargoyle's back to the similar fastenings on the halter. She stepped away as Angela shed the small pieces of fabric and retrieved for her the tunic which hung draped over the top of the partition.
"Thanks, Fox," Jezebella said, accepting the garment. She had drawn her wings loosely about her body, maintaining a minimal degree of modesty, but the human woman still glanced away until she had pulled the tunic on.
"Are you sure you're up for giving the interview tonight, too?" Fox asked. Moving in behind Angela again, she went to work helping her with the laces by drawing snug the ones beneath her arms as the gargoyle did up the front. "Maya seems trustworthy. We can always invite her to come by the castle tomorrow night."
"No, I'm fine," Jezebella replied. She took the belt Fox offered next, threading it about her waist and buckling it tight before turning to the mirror and making a final adjustment to the lacing at the tunic's bust line. "They've got a deadline to meet, and I want to just get this all out of the way tonight. Besides, I don't know how long I'll be stuck talking to Elisa's boss tomorrow night."
Fox frowned. "That's right. I'd forgotten about her." Her expression brightened again, however, as Angela turned around, smoothing the last of the tunic's wrinkles away with her talons. She hadn't thought it was possible, but somehow Angela had managed to show even more cleavage than usual without the display becoming obscene.
"Well?" Jezebella asked, thrusting her chest forward proudly. Grinning, she placed her hands on her hips, flared her wings, and lashed her tail. "How do I look?"
"Like the 'goyle next door," Fox chuckled. She reached out, brushing a stray strand of the girl's dark hair back into place behind her pointed ear, and returned Angela's eager smile with one of her own. "Now get back out there and knock 'em dead, Ang."
* * * * *
Wyvern Castle: Next Evening
"Captain Chavez!" Elisa tried for nonchalance and nearly made it. She was trapped in the Great Hall, a cup of tea in one hand and the evening paper in the other, with nowhere to hide.
"Detective. That's a new look for you." Chavez replied, her voice quiet. It was obvious as she crossed her arms over her chest she was looking forward to an explanation as to why one of her detectives was wandering barefoot through the home of one of New York's most prominent and notorious citizens.
Elisa glanced down at her new attire and wished she had waited for room service. Her own clothes had been taken for cleaning and she hadn't kept anything appropriate at the castle, as far as Fox was concerned, for convalescing. So after the doctors had checked her over and decided she had done no new damage to herself, and decreed that she could sleep outside the hospital wing, and after Goliath had helped her back to their unofficial suite, the mistress of the castle had dropped by, inquired after her health and gifted her with the pair of jade green silk lounging pajamas that the captain was now eyeing with expectation of an explanation. "It's not what you think."
Chavez eyed her skeptically. "Really, detective. And just what do I think?"
This was not going to go well at all, Elisa thought grimly. And just to make things worse Goliath was storming towards her. And it was obvious even from a distance that he was far from pleased.
"Elisa, why are you not in bed? The doctor was very explicit in her instructions for you to rest." Belatedly he noticed the presence of the police captain and turned on her. "Good evening, Captain Chavez."
She nodded but did not reply fascinated by the unfolding scene. While the gargoyle was clearly furious with her detective, it was obvious that his ire was driven by concern for her well-being.
"Not now, Goliath," Elisa replied irritated. "Can't you see there's company?"
"I have already acknowledged the Captain's presence," the gargoyle replied stiffly. "Angela informed me that she had scheduled an interview. Since you are on medical leave clearly you may be exempted from such proceedings."
He glanced at Chavez as if expecting confirmation. The police captain involuntarily took a step backwards and nodded. "That's correct. Frankly, I'm somewhat surprised to find Detective Maza here. I was under the impression that she wasn't supposed to be any place but home recuperating."
"I was!" Elisa protested. She paled, the stress of being out of bed and embroiled in confrontation getting to her. Her knees began to buckle as a fresh wave of pain coursed through her skull. She lost her grip on the mug and it smashed, scattering tea and china across the floor. The newspaper followed and tea wicked into newsprint.
Goliath caught her before she collapsed entirely. "This is my home." He scooped the ailing detective effortlessly into his arms. There was no mistaking the love or the concern etched on the gargoyle's craggy features or the way the detective rested her head intimately against the pale lavender skin at the base of his collarbone. "Elisa is under my care. Now if you'll excuse me, she needs rest."
Elisa, belatedly realizing she was cuddling against the gargoyle's chest in front of her boss, closed her eyes and willed away the pain protesting, "Goliath, put me down! I'm fine!"
Goliath sighed. Patiently, as if dealing with a small and difficult child, he replied. "No, you are not. You have become overtired and it's time for your medication." He turned to Captain Chavez. "If you will excuse us, please."
Chavez started to protest the gargoyle's proprietary treatment. She had questions that demanded answers and injured or not, it was time Elisa supplied them. But she needn't have bothered. Goliath was already sweeping his way out of the Great Hall, chastising softly the woman in his arms. A few moments later, a delicate female gargoyle entered and with her sable hair and confident bearing there was little mistaking the family resemblance. "Ms. Angela." Chavez said, her voice a trifle shaky as she attempted to pull her thoughts away from her detective's personal life and back to the matter at hand. "I'm Captain Maria Chavez. I'm very pleased to meet you. Is there some place we can talk?"
Jezabella nodded briskly. "Yes, of course. Won't you follow me, please?" She led the human woman into an alcove off the Great Hall. It was a small chamber with heavy brocade tapestries on the walls and several severely carved pieces of wood furniture spaced at appropriate intervals. An ornately decorated rug covered the slates of the floor. "Will this do?"
"It's fine." Chavez smoothed the edge of her burgundy summer weight wool skirt as she sat down in the proffered chair and tried to compose her thoughts, but the presence of Elisa at the castle bothered her in a way that refused to be pushed aside. "We'll get to the other night in a minute," she began, smoothing her skirt once more. "Tell me a little about Elisa Maza first, if you don't mind. How long have you known her?"
Jezabella's eyes narrowed for a second and then she adopted a casual tone. This was a strange turn of events. Why would the police captain be so curious about her own detective? Unless… "Elisa? Ever since I came to New York. She's always been a friend to the clan. Human ways are quite different from our own sometimes. She helps us to understand."
Chavez shifted slightly, crossing and recrossing her legs. She leaned forward slightly in a comfortable listening pose. Just a chat between us girls, her posture seemed to suggest. "I see. Customs, societal conventions, that sort of thing."
"Yes. To gargoyles, human society can be very perplexing. Your concepts of inclusion and exclusion based on physical differences, for example. For us it makes little sense."
"You're not suggesting that all humans look alike, are you?" Chavez replied carefully.
Jezabella shook her head. "No, of course not. All individuals are unique. But you humans go out of your way to categorize yourselves and then complain about the labels. It is a difficult concept."
Chavez considered Angela's words for a moment. "Yes, I suppose it is. And Elisa explains these things to you."
The gargoyle nodded. "As best as she can. Though I think sometimes she doesn't quite understand either. She has taught us it is the person one is, not how one looks that is important. Elisa can be quite gargoyle-like in her outlook at times."
Well that was a perfect opening, Chavez reflected. "I saw her a little while ago with Goliath. She seems quite at home here."
"She was injured fighting my…" Jezabella choked up as she imagined Angela might. "…that robot. It nearly killed her." And don't I wish I had. Father thought it would be easier to care for her if she stayed with us for a while."
"So she is the guest of your clan," Chavez clarified. "And not David Xanatos."
Jezabella shrugged. Chavez watched as the tiny hands at the tips of her wings unclasped and clasped again as she resettled her wings. "We share the castle. Xanatos owns it in the legal sense, but it is our ancestral home."
"It sounds like a cozy arrangement. I imagine having friends like Mr. and Mrs. Xanatos comes in handy."
The gargoyle templed her true hands in her lap, studying them for a moment before meeting the police captain's eyes. "We live in a dangerous world. Powerful allies are always useful."
Chavez nodded and let the comment pass.
"I suppose it was odd to find Elisa here," Jezabella mused. "Despite being my father's mate she insists on living away from the clan. Something about the type of impropriety you seem to be hinting at." Maria Chavez froze, willing herself not to fall back into the chair. Her eyes were wide with shock and the clone suppressed a smirk. "Oh! Maybe I shouldn't have said that. I just assumed that Elisa had confided in you. You did know they were mates," she asked innocently. "Didn't you?"
"Of course," Chavez replied. She was a veteran of a thousand interrogation room bombshells. She forced her features to remain placid, pushing away the thought of Goliath, dripping and towel-clad, emerging from Elisa's bedroom as she continued. "Perhaps we had better move on. Where were you the night Detective Maza was injured?"
Jezabella shook her head. It was odd, but the ready answer slipped from her tongue as her memory went hazy. Why did she have vague remembrances of blinding pain. Of terror? Of profound relief as she was cradled in another's wings? "I'm sorry," she managed. "It's still difficult to think about that evening. I was here. I'm a student of ancient languages and I was in my room studying."
"I see. And on these dates?" Chavez pulled a small notebook out of her pocket and listed off a half a dozen nights over the course of the previous months.
"I was in the company of my clanmates, modeling for Andrea Calhoun or speaking before the public. I'd have to get my appointment book to verify exactly what I was doing on each night, Captain, but my schedule is very full and I seldom have much time when I'm completely alone."
"Thank you, but that won't be necessary," Chavez replied. "Your movements have been accounted for from independent witnesses. The question was merely a formality."
"I see." Jezabella looked at the policewoman with depthless black eyes. "Are we finished then, Captain. I don't wish to seem hasty, but I am rather busy."
Chavez rose and held out her hand. The gargoyle clasped her wrist instead. "You've been very helpful, Ms. Angela. Thank you for your time."
"You're quite welcome." Jezabella released her wrist and pulled a bell cord that hung near the paired chairs. "If you'll excuse me, Owen will show you out."
The gargoyle departed with a graceful resettling of her delicate wings and Captain Maria Chavez slumped back into the carved wooden chair, utterly nonplused.
* * * * *
To be continued…