Home is a Dark Place, Part 4
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.
* * * * *
"Where's Bluestone?" Captain Chavez inquired of the Bullpen at large as soon as she returned to the 23rd Precinct.
The half a dozen detectives present looked up at their normally reserved Captain's irritated tone. While most shrugged, Bonnie Williams, a new transferee from the 42nd sang out, "Meeting with the Feebs and Jersey cops."
"Thank you, detective. Tell him I want to see him as soon as he gets back." Chavez brushed through the room and drew the blind on her office window, indicating she didn't wish to be disturbed.
A few minutes later the detective in question entered juggling a new stack of reports and a large cup of coffee. Williams flagged him over. "Captain wants to see you. Now. And she seems kind of upset."
Bluestone regarded the detective with the short spiky red hair and oval rimmed glasses. "Upset how?"
Williams pursed her lips trying to fit a good analogy to the Chavez's bristling agitation. "I'm not sure, but I remember seeing that particular look once on my dad's face."
Bluestone frowned with non-comprehension. "Your dad? I don't get it."
Williams considered her thoughts a second time and shook her head. "There was this football player…" She shrugged. "Forget it. It's probably nothing. I've only been here a week and I don't really know the Skipper yet. Maybe she looks that way when you don't type your incident reports correctly."
"Could be," Matt agreed. Williams was shaping up to being something of a goofball. "I guess I better go find out."
"But I don't think so," her voice trailed after him as he made his way to Chavez's office.
Matt knocked on the glass before entering. "You wanted to see me, Captain?"
Chavez looked up. Her desk was nearly clean, the stacks of files that normally occupied her time shoved to one side. A single folder, plenty thick and stamped 'Private' and 'Confidential' sat before her. She drummed her fingers on the file for a minute before shoving it into her desk.
Matt didn't have to ask about what. All of his other active cases had been pushed off on other detectives or reprioritized. "Print evidence is back. I've got it here. I'll be reviewing it later."
"No other leads?"
"Yeah, one thing came up during the meeting. One firm did all of the biohazard waste disposal for all the companies hit. They're the only outside contractor in common. I'm going to go talk to them tomorrow."
"Push them hard." Chavez indicated a chair. "Sit down, Matt. I want to talk to you about something else."
Matt took a seat in the straight-backed and barely padded chair and set his folder on the desk. "Sure, Cap."
Chavez looked down, pinched the bridge of her nose for a second and pulled the file back out of desk. "It's about your partner."
Matt set the coffee cup down. "She's okay isn't she? She didn't pick up when I called earlier but I thought she was taking a nap."
"You wouldn't have found her at home," Chavez replied. "She's in the care of her mate at the Eyrie Building."
Matt swallowed. He reached for his coffee cup and missed, knocking the contents all over the folder of fingerprint comparisons. He leapt to his feet and yanked a handkerchief from his suit pocket and started to blot at the desk and reports. When the worst of the spill had been contained he dumped the sodden cotton square into the now empty plastic coffee cup and looked up at Chavez. "Did you say 'mate'?
"You didn't mishear me, detective," Chavez replied. "Sit down, wipe that innocent look off your face and please don't insult me by acting surprised. Detective Maza is involved in an intimate relationship with the leader of the gargoyle clan."
Why was it, Matt wondered as he sunk back into the chair, when you finally got around to a conversation you knew you were going to have eventually, it never, ever, went anything like what played out in your head?
"They've known each other a long time," he admitted. "And Goliath is a stand up guy."
"He's not a guy, Detective," Chavez snapped tightly. "In case you failed to notice, he's a gargoyle."
Matt leaned back in his chair. Captain Chavez, poster woman for the colorblind workforce, was squicked out by his partner's love life. "No Captain, I'm a regular Sherlock. The wings and purple skin kind of gave it away for me. But I am kind of clueless about the point of this conversation. Elisa's love life is her personal business. And it's not as if she married Tony Dracon."
"No, Dracon is a felon, but at least he's human."
Matt clamped his teeth together hard enough to make his jaw ache. It took a minute before he trusted himself to speak without being completely insubordinate. "Captain, I'm afraid I must not be as good of a detective as I thought. I've heard you make statements to the press advocating tolerance. I've heard you make statements thanking the gargoyles for their work on behalf of the city and this police force. Were you lying? Or are they only good enough to take out our trash?"
"I didn't say that," Chavez replied. "I didn't say that at all." She sighed and pinched her nose again. "This relationship." She tapped the file folder and Matt recognized it as the one she had showed them several nights earlier. "Coupled with the larger pattern of Detective Maza's subterfuge on behalf of the clan… There are others within the department that won't be at all tolerant when they find out. I won't be able to shield her from a disciplinary hearing, or you either for that matter. You're her partner. A disciplinary panel will assume you were complicit as well."
"On what charges?" Bluestone demanded.
"The most likely?" Chavez held her hand up in the air and closed her fingers one after the other as she ticked off, "Interfering with police investigations. Evidence tampering. Shielding suspects. Aiding and abetting various escape efforts during the past several years."
"But there are no active cases pending against the clan," Matt argued back.
"Only because of the current political pressure from Washington," Chavez explained impatiently. "You know as well as I do there are those within the department and the district attorney's office that would just as soon haul them into court for inciting riots. And don't forget that Ms. Angela was just barely cleared in the Midtown Medical assault."
"But she was alibied and not by Elisa or me," Matt said. "And the Quarrymen and their ilk are not the gargoyles' fault."
"This is getting us nowhere," Chavez replied, cutting the argument short. "I called you in here to tell you that I know about the relationship and that it's a problem. It's Maza's problem. It's your problem. And now it's my problem. I should suspend the both of you pending an internal review, but since your partner is out on medical leave and I need you on this case, I'm going to table the matter for the next several days."
"Fine," Matt bit out. There really wasn't anything else to say. "May I get back to work now?"
Chavez nodded. "Break this case, Matt. Break it wide open."
Matt got up, scooped up his soggy reports and went back to his desk.
* * * * *
Jezebella trailed a talon over the page before her, tracing along the outline of the figure drawn upon the paper. With Andrea gone on holiday, the quiet confines of Destine Manor had made for a welcome retreat from the hustle and bustle of Castle Wyvern. She had arrived to find only a handwritten letter left on the coffee table, giving directions on which plants to water when and a telephone number for the resort in New Mexico that she and Marilyn - whoever that was - had headed off to. It was the last short paragraph, though, that had caught her attention and stopped her from immediately discarding the note. "I have some ideas for the next painting," Andrea had written. "Take a look through my sketchbook, and we'll talk about it when I get back."
Jezebella's tail twitched as she contemplated the most provocative of the half dozen poses the artist had drawn. The pencil sketch was rough, conveying only the most basic aspects of the pose Andrea was looking for, so Jezebella had no idea whether the woman intended for her model to be clothed or nude. She knew her sister had already modeled in the buff for the painting that was the centerpiece of Andrea's current exhibit at the Met, though, so she could only suppose that she would have to be ready to do the same. "The things I have to do to keep up appearances," she muttered. She closed the sketchbook and cast it back onto the table, suddenly not finding the images upon its pages as welcome of a diversion as they had been a moment before. "Damn you, sister," she hissed, "why does your life have to be so fucking complicated?"
She drew her feet up onto couch, hugging her knees to her chest as an irrational, unfocused wave of anger rode over her. She had slipped away from the castle to escape the pressures of her sister's life for a few hours, but even here in her intended sanctuary she was being reminded of the obligations she had unknowingly assumed by taking Angela's place. Jezebella closed her eyes and drew her wings in tight. She could already feel the next migraine coming on, a dull throbbing starting up again deep in the back of her head. Dr. Goldblum and Dr. Sevarius had both promised her that the headaches would go away in time, and so far they'd both been wrong. Jezebella growled under her breath, but she didn't even bother checking her belt pouch. She'd already taken the last of her nightly allotment of pain pills during her and Broadway's aborted meeting with Ptah hours earlier.
Listening to the old Egyptian gargoyle talk for any length of time was probably enough to give anyone a headache, Jezebella mused. She had sat and conversed with Elisa's boss with no apparent ill effects, but the minute she'd joined Broadway for the meeting with Ptah her head had started to pound. As she sat quietly in her chair, feigning interest as the elder reiterate the benefits to Clan Wyvern of handing over Angela and Broadway's egg to be raised by his clan, the pain behind her eyes had continued to grow. She had taken her last two pills, yet still the pain had increased, until at last it became so intense that she'd nearly blacked out.
She couldn't even remember the last thing she'd said, or how she had gotten to the infirmary and ended up lying on an examination table. The next thing she knew, Broadway was clucking over her as if she were a hatchling, and Dr. Goldblum was taking her temperature and checking her blood pressure. After he was done poking and prodding, he'd given her some more pills to take and warned her that she'd reached her limit for the night. It had required a lot of fast talking after that, but in the end she had convinced the doctor that she did not need to be admitted back into the ICU. Convincing Broadway that she would be fine on her own, however, had been another matter entirely. Two more long hours had passed before she had been able to get him leave her be and join the others on patrol, so that she could slip away from the castle for some much needed peace and quiet.
Jezebella pressed her fingers to her temples and, keeping her eyes clenched tightly shut, drew in a deep breath through her nose. If she tried hard enough, perhaps she could will the new headache away. It was worth a try, at any rate, since the medication obviously wasn't working. The night so far had just been one thing competing for her attention after another, and headache or no headache, she desperately needed a moment to clear her head and think. Sunset had woken her from a vivid nightmare, and she still had not been able to reconcile her initial waking reaction to it in any way that truly made sense. All night long, she'd been pretending everything was okay, but with the way things were going, she wasn't sure how much longer Broadway would keep accepting her declarations of "I'm fine, really, I am," at face value.
There was more to the story of her relationship with her sister than she could presently recall, of that much she was certain. There just had to be, because too many things just weren't making sense. Why had she left the clan in the first place, and why did the rest of the clan never speak of Angela's sister? Those would seem to be simple questions, yet clear and definite answers had eluded her at every turn. Indeed, until last night all she'd been able to muster as a possible explanation was a vague recollection that she had last parted ways with her twin sister under less than pleasant circumstances.
Jezebella shuddered, a chill running down her back and along the edges of her wings. She was afraid, there was no doubt about that, but of what she was not sure. Perhaps she feared that she would not like the truth when she found it. Or perhaps she was more afraid that if things continued as they were, the others would soon recognize her as a fraud. Or worse yet, she pondered, recalling the worried look that Broadway had given her earlier, they'd decide she was going mad.
"No," Jezebella muttered. "I'm not going crazy." She drew another deep breath, steeling herself for what she knew she must do. Fear had already gotten the better of her once tonight, but the doubts and unanswered questions had grown too strong to be ignored any longer. Her memories of her life with the clan were too hazy to offer any solace. If she waited too much longer, what little she could recall of her dream and the waking moments that followed might fade away as well. Reluctantly, she turned her senses inward, forcing the events from hours before to replay in her mind.
* * *
She was falling, tumbling toward the pavement, her wings hopelessly entangled in the heavy net that had enveloped her from above. She met the ground shoulder-first, talons tearing futilely at the thick ropes as the sharp pain of impact knocked the wind from her lungs. Her momentum carried her into a roll. Once. Twice. Three times. Each bump brought more pain as the gravel and bits of broken glass that littered the alleyway cut into her skin.
"Good work, Quarrymen!" a voice shouted. She looked up, still out of breath. A group of large men clad in hoods and uniforms of a deep midnight blue encircled her. Their leader's eyes gleamed in the dim light. Anger, hatred… and something else. Something much more sinister. A lump formed in her throat, and suddenly she knew she had to get away.
Her eyes flared red as she struggled to sit up and break free from the tangled net, but the men were upon her in seconds, forcing her roughly back to the ground. Jezebella gave an angry, hissing growl as strong hands pinned her wrists and ankles, but it turned into a gasping squeak as a heavy boot was pressed down on her neck. She arched her back, trying to wrench herself free, but the touch of an electrified hammer to her midriff sent a fiery arc of pain screaming through her gut. She shook violently then collapsed, able only to pant helplessly for several long moments as gloved hands pawed her, tugging at her clothing.
Jezebella lay still, panic filling her eyes. Struggling to ignore the pain, she desperately scanned the darkened rooftops above for salvation. She gasped, surprised to spot the dark-haired female gargoyle who stared back down at her.
"Sister! Please, help me!" The cry took the last ounce of her strength, and it earned her a hard, backhanded slap from the hooded man who loomed over her. Jezebella's ears rang with the blow and her vision momentarily blurred as Angela spread her wings and leapt from the rooftop, but she blinked her eyes clear in time to watch her sister bank to the side and glide away.
"No! Please, no!" she managed before a second painful shock seared through her. Jezebella screamed, then stilled once more. She ached all over, and she winced as the new pain of violation was compounded upon all the others. Numbly, she stared up through a haze of tears into the cold, emotionless eyes of her assailant. "Why?" she mouthed, no breath left for words.
"Because you're in the way, sister," Angela's voice replied, "and I want you gone. Permanently." Jezebella groaned in agony as the pressure on her throat suddenly increased. Tilting her head back, she gasped raggedly for air, her eyes going wide with undisguised terror. The Quarryman whose boot had been on her neck just moments before was gone, replaced by her own sister! Angela grinned maliciously and bore down with her full weight. "You always were the weak one, Jessie," she hissed. "Goodbye."
* * *
"Angela? Angela, are you okay?"
Jezebella coughed violently, doubling over as Broadway steadied her and eased her back from the edge of the parapet. She could still feel the talons upon her neck as he helped her down onto the balcony, the ghostly sensation lingering even as the equally sickening feeling of strange hands fondling her rapidly faded. "I'm fine," she managed unconvincingly between coughs. She leaned into the big blue gargoyle's embrace, allowing herself to be held as she took deep breaths and struggled to make sense of the nightmare from which she had just awakened.
Broadway wrapped his wings about his mate's slender frame and gently stroked her hair, brushing from it the remaining fragments of stone skin. "You've been overdoing it, Ang," he said. "This proves it. I knew I shouldn't have let Fox make you do that silly magazine stuff." He cradled her chin in his talons and sighed, forcing himself to calm. "It's just like with Elisa," he said gently. "You're still not back to one hundred percent, babe. You've gotta stop pushing yourself so hard."
Jezebella straightened and shook her head in protest. "Broadway, I'm fine, really. And I thought I'd already told you. Fox didn't make me do the photo shoot, I chose to. Just as I've chosen to keep modeling for Andrea." She stepped back, forcing him to break the winged embrace. "Besides, that's got nothing to do with this. I… I just had a bad dream, that's all." She tried to give a reassuring smile despite the doubts that nagged at her. Had it truly all been just a bad dream, or was there something more to it than that? The nightmarish images had fragmented as she awakened, but random pieces flickered now her mind's eye, steadfastly refusing to be ignored and eliciting an unsettling feeling of déjà vu.
"You brought this on yourself, sister." Another moment in time flashed before her eyes, this one not from her dream. Angela was binding her hands with rope, a wicked and satisfied smile upon her face as she cinched the bonds painfully tight. "I told you he was mine but you just wouldn't listen, would you?"
"This isn't fair! I never even…"
"Stupid little slut," Angela snapped, jerking the lead she had attached to Jezebella's bound wrists. "I've won, so why don't you just accept it? Stop whining, and be grateful that your only being banished from the clan instead of put to death for your crimes. Conspiring with Demona against us. For shame, sister!"
Tears welled in Jezebella's eyes. "That's a lie! I was never in league with her!" she protested.
Jezebella blinked, realizing by the confused look upon Broadway's face that she must have just spoken aloud. As he stared at her with a look of intense concern, holding her hands in his, suddenly it all seemed to click. Her twin sister Angela had always been jealous of her. Yes. She was sure of it now. Angela had been insanely jealous, as well as paranoid. She had feared that her sister was also interested in Broadway, so she had sought to get her out of the way.
Jezebella squeezed her eyes closed, grimacing as if in pain as she fought to recall the memories. Jealousy and betrayal. Angela weaving a web of lies and unfounded accusations. The Maza woman assisting her sister, leading the charge to have her expelled from the clan. The indignity of being bound and escorted to the edge of the protectorate, warned never to return under penalty of death. Abandonment and loneliness. The Quarrymen giving chase. Terror and pain. Angela looking on dispassionately from above, then gliding away in the ultimate betrayal. Darkness and agony. Embracing certain death… and awaking to salvation. Jezebella's head reeled with each new recollection. It explained so much, but why hadn't she been able to remember any of it until now?
"Angela?" Broadway moved his hands to his mate's shoulders, shaking her as he called her name louder. "Angela, wake up!"
Jezebella's eyes snapped open as the abrupt motion jolted her back to reality. She blinked rapidly several times, her head spinning as everything she had been so certain of just seconds before shattered into a million tiny pieces. "I…" Jezebella froze. Whatever she'd been about to say was forgotten before the words ever reached her mouth. A dull roaring like the crashing of ocean waves filled her ears, and her eyes darted randomly about the room. She felt lightheaded and confused, but vaguely she was aware of taking a half step as Broadway pulled her again into his protective embrace.
"I think we should get you to the infirmary, Angela," he said gently. "You're not well."
"No, love. Please." Jezebella wrapped her arms about the big gargoyle's waist, drawing herself closer to him, and lay her head against his chest. She closed her eyes, blinking back the tears that threatened to spill forth, and nuzzled against him for comfort. "I just need a minute," she whispered, her voice trembling.
Broadway drew his wings about them again, responding to his mate's distress the only way he knew how. Jezebella sighed as he stroked her hair, and she rubbed her browridge along his angular jaw. "Better now?" he asked cautiously, after a long moment of silence.
Jezebella nodded. "Yes," she said at last. "It was just a bad dream. I didn't mean to scare you."
The look on Broadway's face betrayed his worry and skepticism. "You're sure you don't want to see the doctor, Angela?"
"I'm sure," she replied. Jezebella mustered a smile and curled her tail about his ankle, pressing her cheek to his broad chest once more. "I don't need any more doctors," she murmured as the last of the dizziness evaporated. "I've got you."
* * *
Jezebella blinked her eyes open for the second time that night, only this time the dream memories did not scatter back into the dark corners of her mind like cockroaches scurrying from the light. She rose from the coach and resettled her wings as she surveyed the dimly lit room. There was no confusion this time, either. She knew where she was and, more importantly, she now knew who she was. She was Jezebella, the twin sister Angela had cruelly betrayed all those years ago. "But now I'm back," she muttered, an odd smirk coming to her face, "and I've got her life and her mate." Jezebella tilted her head back and laughed, her voice echoing through the empty house. And how wonderfully ironic is that? she added mentally. All of Angela's lies, all of her scheming to eject her from her home, all to keep her away from a gargoyle she'd never really found attractive in the first place… and now it was she who had both Broadway and the clan, and Angela who was cast away, alone and forgotten.
The thought made Jezebella smile all the more. "This calls for some gloating. Oh yes. I think it's time to pay my dear sister a visit."
* * * * *
Brooklyn sat back in the functional yet comfortable chair in the security booth, watching Ptah pace with increasing agitation. Being a timedancer had its occasional advantages, he admitted to himself. It had left him older, wiser and more tempered than when he'd been swept away by the Phoenix Gate. It had also given him, among other useful skills, a decent grasp of electronics and a more intimate knowledge of the castle that Xanatos didn't know he possessed. Which is why he was able to repose in the secondary camera station, eliminating the unseemly need to peek at keyholes. Brooklyn had watched unseen from two floors away as the Egyptian braced Broadway and Angela in the library for nearly forty-five minutes, talking until Angela had slumped forward in her chair and Broadway had chased him out.
Now he was working at wearing a trench in the flagstones of the guest chamber, holding a cell phone in his talons. Brooklyn adjusted the camera angle slightly. Unobserved, the tiny device, mounted in a recessed light fixture, adjusted itself, allowing the former timedancer to contemplate the scene more clearly. Ptah's lips began to move and Brooklyn switched on the audio pickup.
The elder gargoyle flipped open the phone and stabbed tentatively at a button. His talon hovered over a second and he snapped the device shut and flung it away. The phone skittered across the stones and landed under the dressing table. "I cannot!" he proclaimed. "I dare not admit defeat to Van Winkle." He paced another circuit. "The female is infirm. I can use that. If not with her overbearing mate, then with Goliath."
"Van Winkle? Who's Van Winkle?" Brooklyn wondered as he watched Ptah retrieve the cell phone and tuck it back away in his belt pouch. The elder didn't answer. In fact, he ceased to speak at all, his one sided discussion temporarily ended. He knelt on the floor pressing the stubs of his horns to the stones and began to mutter in Egyptian.
Brooklyn upped the volume and listened carefully. He recognized words of an old prayer, one warriors used to give them strength in battle and courage when facing great trial. Clearly, Ptah was a pawn in a much bigger game. A braid of snowy white hair found its way between his talons and he fingered it contemplatively. Apparently there was something to the rumors Geb had related. It seemed Ptah had unsavory allies, ones even he was afraid of displeasing. But that begged the question, who?
Ptah ended his prayer and took to his feet. Brooklyn watched, switching camera positions until he was sure of the elder's destination. He was headed out of the castle.
Hopefully this time Ptah had a purpose, because Brooklyn was getting tired of watching the Egyptian sulk in Central Park.
* * * * *
"Jez? Hey, Jez, wait up a sec!" Candy jogged down the hall and fell in beside the lavender-skinned gargoyle, matching her hurried pace. "Jeez, girlfriend, you're in a rush. Where's the fire?" she said, touching her lightly on the shoulder.
Jezebella turned her head and regarded the other woman coolly, but did not break step. "I've got business to attend to, halfling," she answered curtly. "What do you want?"
Candy removed her hand, reading the girl's heightened level of agitation in the strange look on her face and the flat tone of her voice. Did she just call me 'halfling' again? Candy blinked, wondering for a moment if she'd heard the girl right. She had to glance down at the scrap of fabric in her hand to remember what she was originally going to say. "You dropped this the other night, Jez," she said. "I've been holding onto it, and I thought you might want it back."
"Oh?" Jezebella accepted the piece of needlework and paused mid-stride as she spotted the words embroidered upon it. "'Our First Egg,'" she read aloud. "Ah, yes. Maza's gift for Angela's precious little contribution to the rookery." She looked up, the contemplative frown upon her face changing into an odd smirk as she made eye contact with Candy. "I'd nearly forgotten about this. Thank you for returning it to me, Candace. It'll make the perfect gift for my dear sister."
Candy raised an eyebrow at the wicked undertone to the gargoyle's words. It seemed that Jezebella was in a much different mood tonight than she had been the last time they had spoken two nights previous. She stayed beside the girl as Jezebella resumed her course down the hall. "So does that mean you are going to have a talk with her after all?" she queried.
Jezebella nodded. "Yes. Our reunion is long overdue." She cast a sideways glance at Candy, the same sly smirk of anticipation still gracing her lips. "I know you wanted to be in on this, Candace, but Angela and I have a number of, how shall I say it, personal issues to discuss. Private stuff, just between sisters." She placed a taloned hand on Candy's shoulder, smiling meaningfully as they reached the elevator. "I hope you understand."
The halfling woman regarded her gargoyle cohort carefully. "Sure. Of course, Jez." She was surprised how easy she found it to suppress the disappointment she might have otherwise felt at being excluded from the fun. Instead, it was unease that crept into her voice as she wondered at the impetus behind the girl's renewed interest in her captive sibling. Two nights ago when she'd suggested spending some time interrogating Angela as a means to further their new mission, Jezebella could hardly have been less enthusiastic. Sevarius had already questioned her, she had insisted, and there was nothing more to be gained. Yet now the eagerness for a moment alone with Angela radiated off Jezebella in waves. It was like she was back to her old, evil self again, Candy mused. Strangely, though, she wasn't finding that thought comforting in the least.
As Jezebella patted her on the shoulder and flashed a fanged grin, however, Candy said no more. "Don't worry," Jezebella offered, "I'll make it up to you. My sister's social calendar is pretty clear right now. I'm certain I can get you scheduled in for a little… one on one time."
Candy felt a knot forming in her stomach. "That sounds… great, Jez. Thanks." She watched as the gargoyle stepped into the elevator, waiting until the doors had closed before turning and heading back to her quarters. Something odd was definitely going on with Jezebella, and if Sevarius and Ling weren't going to clue her in on the source of the girl's bizarre mood swings… well… then she'd just have to figure it out on her own.
* * * * *
Angela sat on the floor of her cell, knees pulled to her chest and wings drawn about her nude form to ward off the chill that hung ever-present in the still, damp air. Over a week had gone by since her abduction. She had kept track of the passing days and nights as best she could, scratching a mark on the concrete floor with her talon every night upon awakening from her stone slumber. It was a ritual she'd seen in movies, but its usefulness as a way of keeping track of time had only become clear to her once she'd started doing it herself. There were eight marks now, counting the fresh one she had made hours earlier, so that meant her captivity had gone on for eight nights… more or less. That was the annoying part. She couldn't be exactly sure because she hadn't started keeping tally right away, and the first few nights of the ordeal were little more than one massive blur thanks to the drugs Dr. Sevarius and the woman who was working with him had administered while interrogating her.
What had he called her anyway? Leela? Layla? Lilith? Angela supposed it didn't really matter. Whoever the female doctor was, she was sorely lacking in beside manner. She made a perfect partner for Sevarius, in fact, which was why Angela had decided within five minutes of meeting her that she didn't like her one bit. As much as those first few nights had made her come to abhor their joint attentions, however, she was becoming more worried now by the fact that she'd had no contact with anyone at all for the past three nights. She could remember Sevarius cryptically mentioning a "Plan B" before knocking her out for the last time, and that had been the last she'd seen of him. Neither he nor the Asian woman had visited again, and none of his goons had been down to check on her during the night, either. On one hand, this had been a relief, for it had finally allowed her to rest and given her time to think. On the other hand, all the thinking she'd done had led to wondering what sort of nefarious scheme Sevarius was hatching, what he had planned for her clone, and what kind of future torments were in store for her if she continued to remain a prisoner here.
The questions gnawed at her now. Was deliberately ignoring her just a new form of torture? If so, it was working. Already, the isolation was becoming intolerable, to the point where she would almost prefer being drugged and strapped down to a medical table for more questioning to spending another long night alone in the dead silence of her dark, dungeon-like cell. Angela shivered, her dark eyes peering into the empty gloom that surrounded her. She was beginning to appreciate what it must have truly been like for Danny to endure all those days and nights alone in his tiny cell down in Sector 13. Solitary confinement, as she supposed Elisa would call it. Angela didn't like it one bit, so she didn't suppose that Danny had particularly enjoyed it, either. "At least the cage he was in had a bed, though," she muttered, "and a light bulb."
Angela sighed miserably. Danny hadn't been kept in chains, either, for whatever that was worth. Quietly, she stared down at the heavy shackles locked about her wrists and ankles. She had worn them for so many nights now, she realized with no small degree of horror, she was actually starting to become acclimated to them. Angela lifted her hands, tugging and rattling the short chain that joined the snugly fitting wrist cuffs to the one locked tightly about her narrow waist. The small movement was enough to restore conscious realization of the full extent of her bondage. The shackles on her wrists and ankles… the chains that bound her wings… the strange, stiff leather collar she'd awoken to find locked firmly about her neck on the second night of her captivity. Angela pressed her eyes closed, struggling for a long moment to keep the sense of hopelessness the renewed sensations elicited from overwhelming her once again. "Get a hold of yourself, Angela," she chided, whispering to herself. "You've been taught better than this."
She pictured Demona standing before her, a hard glare of disapproval in her ageless eyes. "Crying solves nothing, child," she imagined her mother lecturing. "You must remain strong and keep your wits about you. A true warrior never shows weakness to her foe!"
Angela let out a long, slow breath, drawing her senses inward and refocusing them as she'd been trained. She needed to come up with a plan. She couldn't just sit here and wait for the clan to come to her rescue. The clone was out there pretending to be her, and even once they realized she was an impostor, they would have no way of knowing where to start looking for the real Angela. Distressingly, though, their odds of being able to find her still looked much better than any chance she had of making an escape on her own. The iron bars and the force field just beyond them had seen to that, and even if she did manage to get past them, she would still be handicapped by the chains, and the shock collar she was forced to wear would not let her get far anyway.
The skin on the back of her neck itched beneath the firm strap of leather, a lingering and irritating reminder of the power Sevarius held over her by means of his latest remote control toy. She'd received her first painful introduction to the collar's cruel range of capabilities only hours after finding it upon her neck on the second full night of her imprisonment. The female doctor, what's-her-name, had entered her cell and was attempting to approach her with a long hypodermic needle. The door was open behind her, and seizing the opportunity, Angela had rushed her, knocking her down with her tail before bolting from the cell. She had only made it a few feet beyond the bars when she felt the two sharp pinpricks in the back of her neck. In an instant, her world went red with pain. For five excruciating seconds, she howled in agony, her whole body feeling like it was on fire. When the shock of pain finally receded and her vision returned, she found herself on her knees. Dazed, she stared up blankly at a grinning Dr. Sevarius.
"I would suggest not trying that again, Miss Destine," he said, holding up what looked to be an innocent key fob remote. "The lovely new collar you're now wearing can be activated from up to a mile away, and I can assure you that I can press any one of these little buttons quite a bit faster than you could cover that distance… even without those chains." She gasped in response to another sharp pain, this time in her arm, and turned her head to the see the Asian woman withdraw the needle and back away, a satisfied smirk on her face. "What you've just experienced was merely an attention getter," Sevarius had continued as the injection began to take effect, "but if I so choose, there's also a button I can press on this little beauty that will literally stop you dead in your tracks."
Everything after that point had dissolved into a semi-pleasant haze as the sodium pentathol kicked in, but the implied threat had lingered in her mind ever since. Sevarius had not even needed to bring voice to it again. The casual ease with which he had used his remote transmitter over the next several nights had proven beyond any doubt that he cared not a whit for her well-being. Several times while questioning her about Sector 13, he had punished her for answers he hadn't liked the tone of with sharp jolts of pain, or ended the conversation on a whim by thumbing another button to deliver a quick shock that rendered her unconscious. So it didn't take much imagination to suppose that he would likely not hesitate to do away with her permanently if she crossed him by making any further attempts to escape… or doing anything else he might view as a potential threat to his plans.
Still, she pondered, there had to be something she could do besides sit around in the dark waiting for a solution to fall into her lap. Angela extended her legs out in front of her and curled her toes, stretching the muscles of her calves to stave off the cramp she felt coming on. Sighing, she stared once more at the fetters on her ankles, wishing there was something in the small arsenal of tricks Demona had taught her over the past year that would help her pick locks. If she could just get herself free of the collar and chains, she mused, that would at least be a start. Then she would have a fighting chance to make a break for it the next time Sevarius or his new partner stopped by to harass her.
Angela was still deep in thought when something light and flimsy landed softly on her bared thighs. She looked up sharply, just in time to see the flicker of blue light as the force field was restored, and a growl rose deep within her throat as she spied the dark figure silhouetted in the dim light just beyond the bars.
"Hello again, Angela." The eerily calm voice was identical to her own. "So sorry. I hope I'm not disturbing you."
Angela's eyes burned a faint red. She grabbed for the piece of fabric that had been tossed to her, snatching it up roughly in her talons as she scrambled to her feet with all the grace the chains and shackles would allow. "There's only one of us here who's disturbed, Jezebella," she replied darkly, taking a step closer to the bars, "and it's not me."
"Ouch." Jezebella put her hand to her chest, feigning injury. "I see your tongue is still as sharp as ever, dear sister. You really haven't changed a bit."
Angela glared daggers at the clone. She wasn't in the mood to play this game any longer. "How would you even know? You're not my twin, Jezebella, and you're not my sister, either. You're a clone. Don't you get it? Sevarius grew you in a test tube, and whatever it is you think you know about me is only what he programmed you to believe!"
The two gargoyles stared at each other for a long moment while Jezebella processed what she'd just heard. "No," she said at last, "I was wrong. You aren't the same as I remember you, sister. You're even more of a vindictive bitch than you were five years ago… and even worse of a liar." Jezebella moved closer to the captive gargoyle, staying mindful of the invisible force field that fronted the cell bars as she brought herself further into the light. "Luckily," she went on, "I survived your betrayal and now I can enjoy the place in the clan that your lies denied me."
Angela rolled her eyes and sighed, shaking her head sadly. "Fine. Believe what you want to believe." Her chains jingled lightly as she shrugged. "You'll learn the truth eventually. Just ask any of my clan. They'll tell you the same thing. Though you'd better watch your step. They're not going to like it when they find out you're an impostor."
Jezebella smiled maliciously. "Oh, don't worry about me, sister. I don't think that's going to happen any time soon. You see, I'm still recovering from the injuries I suffered during my abduction, so everyone back home is being quite kind to me." The double smoothed a lock of her dark tresses back from her temple, drawing Angela's attention to a familiar ornamental hair clip. "Especially my loving mate," she added coyly.
Angela couldn't help the growl that rose again in her throat. "Don't you even dare!" she intoned, her eyes flashing red.
Jezebella chuckled. "Oh come now, Angela. Let's not rehash that all over again. It's not like you can do anything to stop me now anyway." She resettled her wings, enjoying the sudden wave of tension that radiated off the bound gargoyle. "You've been replaced, sister," she stated matter-of-factly. "I'm in and you're out, and you might as well get used to it."
"You're insane," Angela said quietly. "No wonder you and Sevarius get along so well."
For the moment, the clone ignored the barb. "I'm not totally ungrateful, you know," she said, nodding her head toward the object Angela still held clenched in her talons. "I did bring you a present."
Angela looked down at her hands, examining for the first time what the clone had tossed to her. It was a piece of partially completed needlepoint, she realized. Holding it up to the pale light that came from the force field emitters, she found she could make out words, as well. "'Our First Egg'," she read softly. Her stomach twisted into a knot as she flicked gaze back to the clone. "Where did you get this?" she demanded.
"Maza made it." Jezebella shrugged. "I thought you might like to have it as a memento in the event that your egg ends up taking a trip to the Sahara."
The knot in Angela's stomach tightened another twist more. "And just what do you mean by that?" she intoned menacingly.
"There's a gargoyle who arrived last week from the Egyptian Clan," the clone replied. "He says we have two of their eggs, and he wants yours in exchange." She paused, smiling smugly. "I was originally just going to agree with Broadway and tell him 'no', but now… well…" Jezebella ran her talons over the front of her tunic, smoothing the wrinkles from the coarse fabric. "…let's just say I'm giving the idea some serious thought."
Angela clamped her lips shut, unwilling to risk making another emotional outburst that would only encourage the deluded clone further. Instead, she wrestled her emotions down, keeping them at bay until Jezebella had turned and disappeared back into the darkness, leaving her alone once more. Quietly, Angela sank back to the floor, staring at the piece of needlework in her hands as she desperately tried to figure out what to do. In an instant, the stakes had changed. It wasn't just her life that was on the line now. Her unhatched egg's future was at risk as well.
Jezebella somehow had kept the clan fooled for over a week, as unbelievable as it seemed, and though the clone was sure to eventually do something to tip them off, Angela could no longer afford to sit back and wait for that to happen. Her egg could be shipped off to Egypt by then, with the impostor's blessings accepted as her own. Angrily, Angela wiped away a tear that had begun to roll down her cheek. Escape was a lost cause. If only she could get a message to the clan. Her mind spun frantically. Maybe she could somehow use her magic to do it. All the lessons she'd taken from Demona over the past three years had to be good for something, after all. But no… "I'd need something I can use as a focus… a conduit," she muttered dejectedly. It was the same problem that had forced her to abandoned the idea of using magic to escape the chains the first night of her captivity.
But now… Angela blinked, her eyes widening as she looked again at the scrap of fabric she held in her hand. Elisa's needlepoint. She must have held it for countless hours while she worked on it. If a trace of her scent still lingered… perhaps there was still a chance remaining yet. Angela mustered a hopeful smile. She had an idea. It was a patchwork one, still forming in her head and drawing from things she had studied independently as well as topics she had covered with Demona. She wasn't sure if it would even work, but it was an idea nonetheless, and she had nothing to lose by trying.
Carefully, the gargoyle lay Elisa's handiwork flat upon the floor and smoothed the wrinkles from it before placing her palms upon it. Angela took a deep breath, then closed her eyes. "Here goes nothing, Elisa," she whispered.
* * * * *
Sevarius sat at his desk reviewing a printout of an intriguing memo he had found among the vast array of files Jezebella had copied off the hard drive of Dominique Destine's home computer. The ten-page confidential report, originating from the Nightstone Special Projects Division, detailed the progress to date on the development of what the biomedical engineers in Mme. Destine's employ had dubbed a "multi-channel bimodal neural interface." The end product of a three-year study that had been funded in part by a government grant, the device was intended to be a working prototype of a standardized, implantable control module, adaptable to future development of "smart" prosthetics and other such aids for the injured and the disabled.
"The crippled shall walk, the blind shall see, and the deaf shall hear," the geneticist quipped as he skipped to the end of the document and examined the schematics. "Really, Ms. Destine, I do believe you're starting to go soft. This clever little invention of yours could surely be used in other ways that would prove much more profitable." He chuckled softly. "For me, that is."
Sevarius smiled as he pondered the matter further. If he could incorporate into it the same principles of remote operation that had been used in designing the restraint collar Angela wore, the device Nightstone had developed to assist the handicapped could instead quite easily be adapted to assist him in meeting his deadline. He glanced at his computer screen, eyeing the half dozen or so new e-mail messages that cluttered his inbox. Inquiries from his bidders, most likely, seeking reassurance that all was progressing apace for him to deliver a functional prototype unit by the promised date of August 31st. He didn't need to look at a calendar to know that the 31st was only a little more than a week away. He was fully aware of how far behind schedule he was thanks to all the setbacks that had happened along the way, including the Sector 13 fiasco of the previous month.
The original plan had been simple enough. Clone a few of the halflings, make a few cybernetic enhancements, use Ling's methods to program them to be obedient little soldiers, and sell their services to the highest bidder. The first part had worked with Jezebella, he had reasoned, so why shouldn't it have worked with the halflings, as well? Yet three successive attempts to grow clones from the DNA samples collected from Candy and her pointy-eared friends had failed. The multiple identical trials had ruled out any possible error on his part. He could only suppose now that it was the Unseelie magic his previous employer had infused into the halflings' genetic makeup that had caused the clusters of cloned cells to wither and die before ever reaching the fetal stage.
That unexpected hiccup had eaten up two months, between the time invested in making the determination that cloning wasn't going to work and the additional time it had taken to prod enough information from Ling to formulate a new plan. If the mature halflings couldn't be cloned, the next best thing would be to recover the immature ones Xanatos and the gargoyles had seized from him and use them as his first batch of subjects. Until Ling had brought up Sector 13, though, he'd not had a clue as to where they'd been stashed away. Sevarius frowned thoughtfully. Getting them back for him would have been Jezebella's second mission at the Eyrie, had the first mission of reconnaissance not gone so disastrously awry.
He stood up, glancing across the room at the array of black-and-white monitors that showed the feeds from the various security cameras scattered about the facility, making note of the one that was focused on Angela's cell in the basement two stories below. The lights were off, but the camera was in nightvision mode and the image clearly showed the captive gargoyle. She was sitting quietly in the center of her cell, her back to the bars, just as she had been doing every night since he'd stopped interrogating her. Sevarius fingered the tiny remote in his pocket and smiled. Angela's spirit was still far from broken, but she was a fast learner when given the appropriate motivation. If the swap of Jezebella for her "twin" ended up being a permanent arrangement, he mused, he was certain that in time he would think up some other way to make good use of her.
Right now, though, he had a deadline to meet. He needed to arrange for the detailed specs and plans for that neural interface to be stolen from Nightstone, and he needed to secure a few "volunteers" from among the halflings currently in his employ. Ling's techniques were all well and good, but if he was going to be forced to use adult subjects and work on a highly accelerated timetable, he would need every extra bit of help he could get. Sevarius's gaze moved from the image of Angela in her cell to the feeds from the living quarters. Candy was lounging in the common area, and Jezebella was in the central hallway, just returning to her room. Perfect.
Sevarius started for the door. It was time to give his favorite interspecies team of cat burglars a new mission.
* * * * *
Castle Wyvern - Same Night
"Are you feeling better?" Goliath put down his book and looked upon his mate with concern as she re-entered their chamber assisted by Fox.
The lady of the manor was still dressed casually in a black zippered sweat jacket and matching pants with lace up high tops. She had been on her way out of the castle when she'd come across Goliath and the protesting Elisa, forestalling her own evening plans for a workout at a hot new celebrity gym.
After all, she had reasoned to Goliath, the PIT raffle was weeks away, she could always smooth-talk a free membership later and it seemed like the most humane thing she could do for gargoyle-kind was help the big lavender specimen that lived under her roof with his current domestic drama.
She assessed Elisa's critical level of agitation, taken into consideration the detective's personal prohibition against alcohol, and listened to Goliath's insistence that his lover was in need of medication, then taken them both in tow to her own, oversized bath, poured him a stiff drink and stared him down until he'd swallowed it all.
Having poured a refill, Fox then doused a tub with a strong extract of lavender and hops before filling it with warm water. Once Elisa was ensconced in its depths she sent him out of the room, glass in hand, promising to return Elisa when she'd calmed down.
Elisa shook off Fox's arm as she sunk down onto the bed, tightening the belt of the fluffy white bathrobe that replaced the green lounging pajamas. She leaned against the headboard, found the towel that protected her hair from the bath intrusive, stripped it from her head and dropped it to the floor. "I'm fine," she replied archly as she affected a pose of utter ease. "It's amazing what a bath will do. I suddenly don't care at all that Captain Chavez is going to have me up on disciplinary charges and then fire me."
"Ouch, sarcasm." Fox noted with a quirk of her lip as she picked up the damp towel. "You've got your hands full, Goliath. She's feisty tonight."
Goliath rolled his shoulders in a resigned shrug, declining to comment otherwise on Fox's observation. He handed Elisa her medication and scowled until she had washed the tablets down with water. "This was not an unanticipated turn of events, Elisa. We will deal with it."
"Sure," Fox said easily as she headed for the door, "you know you have a standing offer to work for David, or me, for that matter. Or you know," she added thoughtfully, "if you're feeling entrepreneurial, you could always freelance. Doesn't a shady reputation with the cops buy you cachet in that line of work?"
"Only if we've time-warped back to the 1950s," Elisa replied, refusing to be cheered. "All I ever wanted to be was a New York City cop." She sighed. "Oh well. Dad will understand."
Fox gave Goliath one more sympathetic glance. "I'll keep an eye on her tomorrow," she mouthed. The gargoyle nodded his thanks and his benefactress disappeared, closing the heavy oak door behind her.
Goliath rose and crossed from the chair where he'd previously been sitting to join Elisa on the bed. En route, he picked up Elisa's hairbrush from the dressing table and after a bit of coaxing persuaded his lover to sit up so that he could brush her hair.
He examined the gash on the back of her head. Free of the bandage, the wound was knitting well. He worked carefully, rubbing the uninjured portion of Elisa's scalp gently with the tips of his talons, then brushing her hair until it gleamed and finally arranging the long tresses to cover the injury. "There, that's better," the gargoyle rumbled as he set the brush on the bedside table.
Elisa's eyes had closed under his ministrations and some of the tension had finally left her body. "Time for sleep, my love." Careful not to break the mood, Goliath helped his lover out of the robe and under the blankets. He divested himself of his loincloth and slipped in beside her, the better to continue the talon massage. By the time he reached the base of Elisa's spine, she'd drifted off to sleep.
* * * * *
It was hours from dawn and yet Angela sat on the floor of her cell, still as stone already. Her eyes were closed. There was no rattle of chains or shackles. She sat soundless, barely taking breath as she concentrated on the embroidery carefully balanced between her talons. It was an experiment born of desperation, yet it seemed her only option. She held the embroidery, trying to connect with the faint essence of Elisa. But it was difficult. Others had handled the cloth and their energies competed for Angela's attention.
She ignored them. Ignored the bright red of Jezebella and the incandescent green signature of the halfling. She cleared her mind of hate, of anger and fear, and focused on love. Love, subtle and pink. It suffused the handiwork, coloring the normal royal purplish aura of Elisa until it was light and mauve colored.
Angela freed her own essence using magic older than history, techniques passed down from wise woman to mystic to shaman to high priest. She imagined herself unshackled and unburdened, traveling easily along the astral plane, using the faint mauve energy streams as a beacon.
She followed them home.
Elisa's aura was still royal purple at its core but she was troubled, Angela sensed it at once. Uncertainty lay heavy over the human woman like a blanket, but the inexperienced sorceress could not discern the source. Could the clone have already done something to set off Elisa's highly trained instincts?
That was wishful thinking, Angela chided herself, and she had no time for that sort of distraction. No time at all. Her egg was in jeopardy. She must warn Elisa there was an interloper in their midst.
"But how?" she queried the Universe.
Keep it simple.
The directive came from everywhere. And nowhere.
Angela complied. She visualized herself in chains. The egg in the rookery. She tried to project a sense of urgency. Time was running out.
She sat unaware of the cold concrete floor, of the dark, of the passage of time. She ignored the collar at neck and the chains that bound her. She projected her message and hoped that Elisa would receive it and understand.
* * * * *
"Angela?" Elisa mumbled from the depths of her dream. Dream-Elisa looked down at the enormous key ring attached to her jailer's belt. Jailer's belt? She tore her glance from Angela, behind bars, held in chains, a heavy collar at her throat, and looked at herself. She was in uniform. Not her dress blues. Not a patrolman's street gear. Chino and khaki with a baton on her hip. She was a prison guard and Angela was in her charge.
The gargoyle was held in a cage all by herself. The cage drifted in space under a distorted, egg shaped moon. No other prisoners. No other guards. No one but Angela, who pleaded for her attention and begged to be freed.
It was a mistake. Elisa knew it with certainty. Angela was innocent. Imprisoned unfairly. She looked to the right, then to the left, still no other guards. No other people. No walls. No floors, just a sense of desperation. She listened hard. The faint ticking of clock grew louder and more incessant.
Elisa fumbled with the keys trying to fit the proper one to the enormous lock on the cell door. None would fit. For every key discarded another one took its place and the numbers refused to diminish.
Keys. Keys everywhere. Space was filling with keys. Angela cried out as she was pressed against the walls of her cell. Elisa became more desperate, shoving key after key into the lock, twisting the ones that seemed to fit and then throwing them away in desperation as Angela's struggles became more pathetic. It wasn't working. She flung the giant key ring away and threw herself at the bars.
Angela stretched out a shackled hand. "Help me!"
"I'm trying!" Elisa cried as she battered cold iron. "Can't you see?"
"Not enough," Angela said sadly. "Too late." The clock began to sound. Deep reverberating gongs shook Elisa to the marrow.
Angela shattered in a thousand pieces under the weight of the keys.
* * *
A moan tore from Elisa's throat as she broke free of the dream. She reached out automatically in the dark room for Goliath.
He was gone.
Cagney, returned at last from his nocturnal stroll about the castle, had settled on the pillow in his place. He merowed in confusion as Elisa pulled him from his own, far more pleasant musings. He scented his mistress's distress and allowed her to hug him close.
Elisa stroked his soft gray fur and wondered just what on earth had sparked such a horrid dream.
* * * * *
Owen Burnett rose from his bed and shed his sensible blue striped pajamas. He tended to his morning ablutions as efficiently as he did every other aspect of his day and at quarter to six he gave one final critical glance in the mirror before quitting his immaculate chamber and heading for the butler's pantry to start coffee for Mr. and Mrs. Xanatos both of whom had early meetings scheduled on their respective calendars.
He found a not unexpected visitor waiting for him. "Cutting it a little close, aren't you, Brooklyn? Dawn is in -" Owen checked his watch. "- twenty-five minutes. Shouldn't you be reporting to Goliath about your evening's observations?"
The gargoyle's face crinkled into a scowl. "What do you know about -" and then he let it drop. He shrugged. No one would ever keep anything from Owen Burnett. "So you know about my project."
Owen seemed unperturbed as he spooned beans into the coffee grinder. "Of course. Who do you suppose put the chair in what should have otherwise been nothing more than a routing station? I knew you might find it expedient to keep an eye on this particular guest."
The gargoyle leaned against the granite counter top and folded his arms across his breastplate. "So you think he's up to something too?"
The conversation was suspended for several seconds as the grinder motor was engaged. Only after the dark, fragrant grounds had been transferred into a gold filter and placed over the coffee pot did the majordomo reply. "I cannot say."
Cannot or would not? Oh well, Brooklyn had a self-imposed code, why would the human disguised fay be any different? "Okay, can you answer this for me at least? Does the name 'Van Winkle' ring any bells for you?"
Owen wiped his hands and adjusted his glasses. "Only as a literary reference. 18th century American author Washington Irving publicized the tale of a man, Rip Van Winkle, who went into the Catskill Mountains. The gist of his story was he'd wandered into the company of several strange small men, drunk of their liquor and fell asleep only to wake up twenty years later to find his world completely changed."
"But it wasn't just a story, was it," Brooklyn posited. "There actually was a guy named Van Winkle."
Owen continued his preparation of the morning tray.
"And these guys, he ran into," Brooklyn continued, conscious of the waning night, "not human, fay. Unseelie?"
At that, Owen pursed his lips. "Possible. Although I have no personal knowledge." Which was true enough, he'd been gadding about Europe at the time. Although years later he'd heard gossip that a band of dark elves had taken credit for Van Winkle's disappearance. He picked up the coffee service. "Now if you'll excuse me."
"Sure. Thanks." Brooklyn watched as Owen Burnett, picture of dignity and decorum, proceeded him out of the chamber before bolting, with no dignity whatsoever, toward the nearest window large enough for him to push his bulk through. Moments later and with no time to spare, he greeted the dawn, his stone encased brain buzzing with unanswered questions.
* * * * *
Later That Day
There was a knock at the door and Elisa looked up from the book she'd been attempting to read. It was one of Goliath's. Having worked his way through most of the European classics he'd begun to catch up on American literature. Poe should have suited her gloomy mood, but a poor night's sleep and the impending fallout from her impromptu meeting with Captain Chavez overly distracted her. Elisa set the book aside on the nightstand as Fox entered bearing a mahogany bed tray.
"Oh good, you're up. I checked before I left but you were dead to the world."
Elisa eyed the redhead curiously. Fox was impeccably tailored in a smart business suit and heels, however strands of hair escaped her severe coiffure suggesting she'd already been out and busy for several hours.
"I lunched at Aqua. I had Marcel make up a little something for you."
"Lunched? What time is it, anyway?" Elisa picked up the ornate little clock that sat on the night table and squinted at it. "One? No. It can't be." She looked to Fox, who glanced at the elegant platinum and diamond watch on her wrist and nodded, confirming the time. "What was in that tub last night?" Elisa said as she pushed back the covers, got out of bed, and fumbled in the dresser for a pair of jeans.
"Just some bath tea from La Spa Natural. Why?"
"Because I think I should turn over a sample to Narcotics. I had some seriously weird dreams last night."
"Really?" Fox shrugged. "I've used that tea dozens of times and I've never noticed anything unusual. What happened?"
Elisa finished buttoning her fly and passed a slim hand over her eyes, pushing ebony hair away from her face. "I'm not sure. I slept okay for a while. Then there was something about Angela… and a clock. Then James Cagney telling me I had it all wrong. Except it wasn't him."
"Then who was it?"
"Cagney," Elisa pointed towards the cat basking in the sunlight. He perked up an ear at the mention of his name and rolled over. "Tap dancing. And it just kept getting weirder from there." Elisa was quiet as she exchanged the nightshirt she'd slipped into sometime after Goliath's departure for a bra and tee shirt. "I mean, I can understand the parts about Captain Chavez and the executioner. That's just obvious. But why was the headsman's basket full of eggs? And why were all those clones of Angela being cranked out of an Easy Bake Oven?"
Fox shrugged helplessly. "Sorry. I never was good with dream imagery. But I know this woman who keeps offices in the Trotter Building. She comes very highly recommended."
"I don't need a shrink. At least I don't think I do." Elisa picked up her pills off the nightstand. "Everything is just catching up with me. The drugs. The stress. The case I'm not working on. Speaking of which - has Matt called?"
"Last night. He said he'd try and stop by before his shift but he couldn't promise."
Elisa frowned. "I wonder if the Captain told him?" She paced a few steps. "Of course she did. I wonder what he said." She took a few more steps, marshaling her thoughts. Unfortunately, most of the better ones had taken holiday. "What am I going to do?"
Fox lay her hand on the shoulder of her distraught houseguest. She frowned a little at the heat of Elisa's skin. The detective seemed nearly fevered. But when she met Elisa's eyes she gave her a confident grin. "We went through this last night. You've got other career options, Bluestone too, if he needs them. If the department insists on making trouble, you've got the finest lawyers in New York at your disposal and I'm sure P.I.T. would be more than willing to champion an anti-discrimination suit on your behalf."
Elisa met Fox's confidence with a gallows' quirk of her lips. "Does saying something really make it so in your world?"
Fox shrugged casually. "More often than not. It's amazing how having the right resources at your disposal can smooth things over, Elisa."
"Resources… right." Elisa frowned, her thoughts chasing elsewhere. What was it about that word that spun her back to the knotted mess of Angela's kidnappers?
"Elisa?" Fox gave the detective a critical look. The other woman's dark brown eyes were bright and seemed to shine with odd intensity. She raised her hand and held the back of it against the detective's forehead.
Elisa batted it away. "I'm fine. Just… thinking." She shook her head in disgust. "No, it's gone." She cupped her face in her hands, pressing palms against the hollows of her eye sockets. "I need to be at work. I need to find Angela's kidnappers. I need to figure out who took all that equipment. Don't you see? It's all tied together."
"You need to rest," Fox urged. But she could understand the detective's agitation. No woman of action liked to be sidelined during a crisis. "I'll track down your partner and makes sure he stops by." The casual promise seemed to help. Elisa immediately seemed buoyed by the news. "But only if you'll agree to let the doctor check you over. You seem kind of peaked and I doubt you want to relapse when you're hot on the trail."
"Fine." Elisa could put up with a little more poking and prodding if it were for a good cause. She swept a careless arm around the room and sunk back onto the bed. "You know where I'll be."
* * * * *
Mid-afternoon - New York Biohazard Collection Service
Matt flashed his badge at the receptionist and she gave it an indifferent glance. "What'd you wan?" she mumbled between smacks and pops of fruity smelling bubble gum.
"Your boss. Some time this decade," he replied letting ice creep into his voice. It had taken several minutes of throat clearing and pointed 'excuse me's' to get the girl to take the earphones off her geometrically coifed head and notice he was standing there flashing his badge.
"Because I haven't got anything better to do," Matt snarled. Maybe it wasn't the right way to start an interview. Maybe he'd get more cooperation from the teenage receptionist if he complimented her on her taste in the rap blaring through the headphones, or told her that he thought her sequined platform shoes were fly, but he wasn't in the mood. Too much paperwork, too little sleep and too much worry about how he was going to tell Elisa that the hammer was on its way down were affecting his professional demeanor.
"Whateveah." The girl flounced off in a huff, disappearing behind an unmarked door.
Enough time passed that Matt figured she'd blown him off and gone to lunch. He was about to lift the hinged section of the worn Formica counter top and walk through when a man in his late twenties or early thirties with coffee colored skin and a skinny face came out of the office marked 'Private'. "You a cop?"
Matt nodded and flashed his badge again. The guy snagged it from his hand and squinted at the shield. "Say's here on your identification that you Detective Matthew Bluestone from the 23rd precinct. What you doing up here?"
Here was Harlem. And Matt was there because the Harlem detectives were up to their eyeballs with their own cases and didn't have time to do anybody any favors. The guy was regarding Matt warily. "Talking to you." He got a grip on his attitude and tried to start fresh. "Was that your daughter manning the desk earlier?"
The guy, who'd yet to introduce himself, but was, according to Matt's research, Evander T (no middle name) Jackson, rolled his eyes as he dropped the badge case on the counter in front of Matt. "Thank Jesus, no. That's my sister's kid Tanisha. Dumb as a box a rocks. But you know
how it is - family. Maybe she won't flunk outta school if she gets work experience."
Matt tried to look sympathetic as he pocketed his identification, and actually felt it a little. The girl had grated on him after five minutes. Three months would be torture. "You're a stand up guy, Mr. Jackson." Matt paused. Then queried. "You are Mr. Jackson?" The man nodded. And Matt continued. "Listen, I won't take up much of your time, but we're conducting an investigation into the break-ins at several biomedical facilities that your company services."
"Yeah?" Jackson made no effort to open the counter or offer any other way for Matt to come back into his office for a more private consultation.
"That's right. I'm going to need your employee records for the last several months. Those that pertain to the case."
Jackson looked doubtful. "I dunno. Seem to me like you need a subpoena or somethin' like that. Maybe I should call me a lawyer."
"That's within your rights, sir," Matt replied hanging doggedly onto polite. "But not really necessary. It's a routine check."
"Uh huh. Sure." Jackson pulled a pack of cigarettes from the breast pocket of his shirt and lit up despite the prominently displayed 'This is a no smoking area' sign mounted on the wall. "I know how this works. First they pull the time cards and the next thing you know they want ten years a tax papers. And then our customers are canceling contracts 'cause they be nervous." He dropped ash on the floor and ground it into the linoleum. "Forget it. You want 'm, you get you a judge." Without another word he walked back into his office and left Matt staring after him, wondering if it was just indifference to authority or something else that fueled Jackson's animosity.
* * *
Matt beelined for Captain Chavez's office. He was excited. Buzzing even. During the long ride back from Harlem he'd let his mind drift considering all the possibilities. The pieces fit. It worked. NYBCS was the loose thread he'd been searching for. He could feel it. He knocked and at the Captain's upraised head and curt signal he entered her office.
"What is it, Bluestone?" Chavez said as she racked the telephone.
"Just back from Harlem, Cap. Something smells about New York Biohazard Collection Service and it's not the stuff they're picking up. That guy, Jackson, went defensive the minute I walked in the door."
"And it wasn't a reaction to your winning personality?" Chavez said even as she reached for a notepad.
Matt scowled but clamped his teeth over the any retort. Chavez was still angry and in a position to make his life a nightmare if she so chose. "No, ma'am. I asked him if we could review his files and he suggested the best course of action would be to get a subpoena."
"Interesting." Chavez made a note on a pad. "All right. Based on your preliminary interview report I'll call Judge Fernandez and get her to authorize. You stand by. I want to move on this as soon as we have the paperwork."
"Yes ma'am. Is that all?" He edged toward the door, and had one hand on the knob when the captain shook her head.
"Not quite. Sit down, Bluestone."
Matt sat erect in the visitor's chair. Chavez stood and stared out through the slats of the venetian blinds for several long beats before speaking. "You know your partner is probably going to lose her job when her relationship with Goliath goes public. And that she'll probably face disciplinary charges."
Matt sighed and brushed one palm against his temple then dropped the hand to his lap. "Yes, ma'am. You said as much earlier."
Chavez continued to contemplate something outside of Matt's view. "I'm going to lose a good detective. I'd rather not make it two." Her hand dropped away from the blind and she turned to face Bluestone. "Give me something I can use to keep you in the clear."
He gave the captain a sharp look. "Like what? I was being coerced to keep quiet? Blackmailed by the gargoyles?" His voice rose with growing agitation. "No one will believe me." Bluestone shook his head. "Sorry, Elisa and I are a team. If she goes down then I go with her. Someone has to take a stand." Matt stood up. "If you won't then maybe it will have to be me." He exited the office without waiting to be dismissed and stalked out of the bullpen.
He was a block from the precinct when a familiar voice called out his name. "Yo, Bluestone!"
His head swiveled sharply at towards the sound of the call. Special Agent Hugh Fraser was hurrying to catch up. The older agent sprinted the last several yards. When he finally stopped next to Matt he gave a friendly grin and straightened his suit jacket. "Man, you must have really been someplace else. I've been trying to get your attention since you left the station!"
"Yeah. Sorry about that," Matt said without any real emotion. "Something I can do for you, Fraser?"
"Nah, more like something I can do for you. I noticed you seemed kind of off balance at the bull session the other afternoon."
Matt shrugged. "Probably because I was. In case you haven't heard my partner just got out of the hospital. What's it to you?"
Fraser held up his hands. "Easy there, detective. I only mentioned it because I'm used to working in tandem myself. Joe Ross, guy I've worked with for years, just retired. And now I'm feeling at loose ends. I know it's irregular, but since were working the same case, I thought we might buddy up for the duration."
"Why?" Bluestone eyed the special agent warily.
Fraser shrugged. "Why not?" Matt shifted uncomfortably under the other man's frank gaze. "I'm used to a partner, you're used to a partner. Think about it. I'll drop by the station later and we can talk. Unless there's something you want to get off your chest now? You seem kind of stressed for such a young guy. Anything I can do to help?"
"I'm fine." Matt came to a decision. It seemed like the only way he was going to get rid of the Fed was by playing nice. "Sure, come on by. We can talk shop. Right now I've got someplace else I need to be." A cab came rolling down the street and Matt flung up his arm waving the taxi curbside. He got in without another word to Fraser.
Fraser stuck a hand in his pants pocket and rubbed at his good luck charm as the cab pulled away, then he smiled and checked his watch. One meeting down and one to go. He hailed a cab of his own and set off for Central Park.
* * * * *
Elisa sat at Goliath's feet enjoying the warmth of the afternoon while avoiding the direct fury of the sun. It was turning into an eventful day. Shortly after Fox had left there had been another knock on her door. Owen ushered in the same female doctor who had treated her the night of the fire. This time she managed to catch her name.
Doctor Danvers had flashed a light in her eyes, taken her pulse and blood pressure readings and asked a series of basic knowledge questions that allowed Elisa to prove that she knew the year, her name and that of the president. She had taken a few notes, asked Elisa if she felt, saw or smelled anything unusual, written a few more things down and admitted that the detective was well on her way to recovery if she would only rest for a few more days.
And resting did mean she could get out of bed as long as she didn't overdo. So it was on Dr. Danvers approval that she allowed Owen to escort her outside into the courtyard and bring her iced tea and sunglasses so as not to aggravate her diminishing headache. She felt kind of guilty, indulging herself at Owen's expense, but Fox had given her the run of the castle and the use of all its personnel including the majordomo, and she wanted to be here among her clanmates while she contemplated her future.
She was dozing, soaking up the tranquillity that came from reposing so far above the bustle of the city when she heard the soft sound of leather soles crossing the flagstones. She waited until he was within speaking range before calling, "Matt. Hey, thanks for coming."
"Elisa," he didn't know what else to say, just stood there awkwardly. How do you open a conversation about the death of someone's life-long passion, especially when you've been offered a way out of the executioner's line of fire. "I'm sorry."
"Yeah," she said dismissively as she stuck out her hand. Matt offered his arm and she pulled herself to her feet. She started to let go but was forced to hang on for a moment longer as her vision momentarily blacked out. "I'm fine," she said off his questioning gaze. "I've had a pretty good run, all things considered. But I've got one more case to solve before they shove me out the door."
Knowing his partner's single-minded tenacity, Matt suggested, "The break-ins?"
"The break-ins and the kidnapping," Elisa corrected. "I want to solve them both."
Matt indicated one of the low stone benches that stood in the shade of the wall as he pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and mopped at his forehead. The partners sat and Matt asked, "But how? Goliath's not going to let you leave the castle. And the Captain's not going to put you back on active duty. Not now."
Elisa gave him a sidelong look. Her voice was sharp with frustration. "Just because I'm sidelined with a cracked skull doesn't mean my brain is broken. I can still think. Matt, keep me in the loop. Tell me what you've been up to. And maybe I can help. Please."
Matt felt a sense of déjà vu. They'd had this conversation already after Elisa had been released from the hospital. He'd promised then to keep her abreast of developments mostly because it seemed like the only way to keep her quiet enough to recuperate. Plenty had happened since then to them both and an update, he decided, couldn't hurt. "All right. As it happens, I think I'm finally on to something."
Elisa listened carefully as Matt filed her in about the strange interview at New York Biohazard Collection Service. "You're right," she agreed, "something's off there." A frown creased her forehead as she contemplated Matt's findings. "But I don't know. It could explain the thefts, but what about the clone?" She gave him a frustrated look. "We've been skirting that as part of the official investigation for obvious reasons. But I think if we're really going to get to the bottom of this, we need to start looking at the bigger picture."
Matt sighed. "You're right. So let's look at the suspects. How many people out there are capable of this kind of technology? I know from my reading of maybe fifteen or twenty laboratories that are pursuing cloning aggressively both here and abroad. But except for that one guy in Italy, no one is admitting to cloning higher life forms, they're all sticking to farm animals and tissue samples."
Elisa shook her head. "This isn't the work of some nine-to-five researcher, Matt. I know who's behind this, Anton Sevarius. It has to be. No one else would do something so twisted."
"Funny you should mention Sevarius," Matt replied. "From what you've told me, this does fit his M.O. But this can't be his work. He's dead."
Elisa shoved her sunglasses up on her head and stared at him. "How do you know that?" Her tone was incredulous.
A guilty look overtook Matt's face. He avoided Elisa's eyes as he explained. "Xanatos just told me. Literally. Mr. Burnett escorted me to his office downstairs as soon as I arrived and he gave me the news."
"So how does he know?" Elisa asked sharply. Her eyes were dark with suspicion about this inconvenient turn of events.
Matt took a breath. "Mr. X. had reason to believe that Sevarius has been in Illuminati custody. He's been negotiating with them for the last two years, trying to borrow him to cure the Sector 13 halflings. When Danny said he was loose, he made inquiries to find out what was going on. They were forced to tell him what really happened in Antwerp."
"Antwerp?" Elisa said, mystified. "Antwerp, Belgium? What does Antwerp have to do with anything?"
Matt gave his brow one more pass before shoving the handkerchief back in his jacket pocket. "Apparently Sevarius had set up shop there after his escape from the raid on his New York operation. The Illuminati found out about it." A bitter note crept into the detective's voice and he stared straight ahead as he recalled events of years' past. "Partially because of me."
Elisa frowned at her partner. "What do you mean, Matt? Don't tell me you've been working with those creeps. Not after all that's happened."
He continued to focus his gaze somewhere out on the skyline. His voice was flat as he responded. "They called in a favor. I had no choice. They wanted information and I supplied it. I worked as an inside police source feeding information from Interpol, the hot sheets, whatever seemed like it might trace back to Sevarius." The detective shrugged. A year after the war ended there was a police raid and fire at a research lab in Antwerp. Shortly thereafter I was told -" His voice grew slightly officious as if quoting someone else. "- I no longer need concern myself with information related to Anton Sevarius."
Elisa put a frustrated hand to her temple. "I'm not following you."
"They told me to drop it, so I did. I assumed they'd taken him into custody and thrown away the key. Xanatos had been told as much when he went to the Society asking for their help tracking Sevarius down. When Danny sprung the news that someone matching his description was running around loose, Mr. X. pulled me aside. I told him what I knew. I was breaking confidence, something that probably won't win me any points, but it seemed important at the time."
A light went on for Elisa as she put things together. "So Xanatos got nosy. Probably made some kind of a threat. Is that when they told him Sevarius was dead?"
"Yeah." Matt was stiff, hunched in on himself. "They pulled a body from the wreckage. It wasn't identified as such but Sevarius was killed. It was confirmed by the Illuminati and they don't make mistakes. There's no way he could be behind the biotech thefts or the clone of Angela."
Elisa frowned, disappointed and more than a little angry for being kept out of the loop. "Why wasn't I told any of this?"
"There didn't seem to be any point." Matt met her eyes at last.. "I'm sorry. It wasn't my decision."
Elisa digested the news in silence. After several minutes she said, "So we're back to square one. Tell me, Matt, if it's not confidential, did Sevarius have a protégé who got away?"
"None that we know of." Why did he feel like such a traitor? Damn Xanatos and all the Illuminati anyway. "I'm sorry, Elisa. It was a good thought, but if you're right, and there is a rouge geneticist running loose, he's a new player."
Elisa stood, ignoring the wave of dizziness. She was pleased to find she only wobbled a little. "Fine. So how do we explain Angela's clone? I mean really explain her. Because that wasn't a robot I fought at the bus depot."
Matt shrugged helplessly. "Maybe she was Sevarius's handiwork. A leftover that was overlooked. Or maybe Thailog created her. You said he had the technical bend before he was killed. Maybe she was meant to be his mate."
The thought made Elisa shiver. She paced a bit, thinking, taking the puzzle apart in her mind and trying to make the facts fit. "You know, I could see that. Thailog was just sick enough to create a duplicate of Angela and twist her. But why didn't he spring this on us earlier?"
"Maybe he never had the chance." Matt brushed his palm against his temple. He noticed absently he needed a haircut. "It doesn't matter, Elisa, if it won't help us break this case. I'm going with the best lead I've got. Goliath and the others can look for the clone. If you find her maybe you can get some information out of her. Agreed?"
Matt checked his watch. "I've got to go. I'm due to meet up with our Feeb liaison and then go serve this warrant. Are you gonna be okay? About the Captain finding out, I mean."
Another dismissive shrug. "Sure, maybe this is for the best. You know, one door closes, another one opens."
Sure, partner. Say it enough times and maybe you'll really believe it. "I'll call you later."
"Thanks, Matt." Elisa let the bravado slip, just a little. "I really do want to see this one through."
Matt nodded. He took a few steps towards the castle and turned back towards Elisa. She was standing next to Goliath, one hand against his massive forearm. Her eyes were closed and she seemed drained even though there was a determined cast to her features. Elisa might have been willing to walk away from her career, but an open case, one that impacted her clan, well that was a different story. Matt supposed that applied to him as well. He had already promised the captain that if Elisa went down he would too. They might as well go out leaving the department with egg on their faces.
* * * * *
Castle Wyvern - Mid-afternoon
Fox made a last notation in her appointment book and stifled a yawn. It had been a long morning, but a two-hour board meeting at Cyberbiotics, a telephone conference in the car with the P.I.T. charity drive committee, and a long lunch with the grateful publisher whose magazine would soon be the first feature an exclusive interview with a gargoyle now lay behind her. Fox quirked a smile, thankful that at last she'd been able to do something to smooth things over with the man whose modeling studio had been inadvertently ruined during her and The Pack's first encounter with the gargoyles. Though a women's fashion magazine wouldn't have been her first choice for introducing Angela to the nation, every little bit of positive publicity helped the cause. Besides, it was also important to show the public that gargoyles were people too. After having listened in on the interview, Fox was certain the article that Maya would write for Blush would do a much better job of showcasing Angela as the down-to-earth young woman that she was than anything that Time or Newsweek might print if given the same opportunity.
Fox felt another yawn coming on, and this time she was unable to contain it. Shaking her head, she clicked her pen shut and closed the leather bound book. As busy as her morning had been, an equally hectic evening lay ahead, and she needed to catch her midday nap if she was to conquer the remaining half of her "to do" list. She turned to the bedside stand, checking the time on the polished brass clock as she lay her appointment book beside the thin, colorful volume that Alexander had persuaded her to read with him before Owen took him to his room for his own afternoon nap. The redheaded woman chuckled, recalling her son's comment upon reaching the page with the illustration of the fox in the box. "That doesn't look like you, mama!" he had said, then smiled at his own joke as she tousled his hair affectionately.
Two readings of Dr. Suess had eaten up a good half-hour of her nap time, she realized idly as she set the alarm for three-thirty, but it had been time spent with her son, and that alone made it worth the price. Fox readjusted the pillows behind her and scooted herself into a reclining position, drawing the sheets up around herself before reaching over and clicking off the light. With a placid smile still upon her face, Fox Xanatos drifted off to sleep.
* * *
"Would you eat them in a box? Would you eat them with a fox?"
Dream-Fox opened her eyes and turned toward the oddly familiar echoing voice, swaying unsteadily as the floor wobbled beneath her. She stood inside a wooden crate with an open top that bobbed on a foggy, endless sea. She was barefoot, clad only in a simple flowing gown of pale blue satin, her hair fluttering loosely on the breeze. Fox gripped the side of the container as another wave rocked it. "Is anyone out there?" she called.
A silhouetted figure appeared in the mist, and slowly a small boat came into view. A dark-haired woman stood at the helm, holding the pole which guided the craft. She wore a brown trenchcoat over slacks and button-down shirt, looking for all the world like she had stepped out of a 1930's detective movie save for the absurdly tall red and white stovepipe hat perched upon her head. "Elisa?" Fox questioned as recognition dawned.
"I am Sam, I am, I am," Elisa answered. "Would you, could you, in a boat?" The woman gestured with an outstretched arm to the contents of her skiff. A mounded nest of straw, and three large eggs, pale green and marked with darker green splotches.
The wind was growing stronger. Fox shook her head in non-comprehension as bolts of lightning streaked across the sky in the distance. "Elisa? Elisa, what are you talking about?" The storm was rising fast and the crate began pitching violently up and down on the growing waves. She had to raise her voice to continue to be heard over the lapping water. "Pull me in, please!" She grimaced as her stomach momentarily leapt up into her throat, then let go of the edge to reach a hand out towards the other woman, motioning for her to come closer.
Elisa nodded and set her pole back to the water, but the next wave caught them both off guard. Fox gasped as she was hurled forward, and grabbed frantically for the skiff's figurehead as she tumbled into the icy water. Her head went under, but she resurfaced a second later, shivering and coughing up salt water as she dug her fingernails into the wood. "Elisa, help me!" Thunder boomed and rain started to pour down as Fox struggled to pull her head above the crashing waves. She looked up just in time to see one of the eggs, jostled from its place in the hay by the lurching of the skiff, rolling slowly towards the edge.
Fox and Elisa looked at each other, then back at the egg, watching in horror as it slip silently into the roiling sea.
* * *
"Fox?" David placed a hand on his wife's shoulder and shook her gently. "Fox, wake up." He showed no surprise when the slumbering woman grabbed his arm, gasping and mumbling incoherently as she clawed her way back to consciousness. Fox sat up in bed, blinking rapidly as she sucked in breath and remembered where she was. A moment ago, she'd been with Angela and Elisa… but doing what? The dream images fled from her even as she fought to capture them, scattering like dry leaves on a stiff autumn breeze and leaving hollow feeling of déjà vu in their wake.
"Are you okay, Fox?" She looked up at her husband, noting the concern etched on his face. "You looked like you were having a bad dream."
"I was?" She wasn't really sure. She ran a hand through her long auburn tresses and was startled to find her brow damp with sweat. She glanced at the clock. Only little over an hour had passed, though she felt as though she'd been asleep for much, much longer. A fleeting image of Elisa wearing a Dr. Suess hat while juggling gargoyle eggs gave way to one of herself, bound and helpless as Angela kissed her. Fox's hand slipped down to her neck, her fingers rubbing at the spot just below the nape as the ghostly sensation of wearing a stiff leather collar came and just as quickly faded.
"It sure seemed like it," David replied. "You don't usually talk in your sleep."
Fox kicked her feet free from the covers and accepted her husband's proffered hand as she rose from the bed. "Oh?" she asked. "Did I say anything interesting?"
"I think I heard Angela's name mentioned, but I'd only just come in." David shrugged. "You two have been spending a lot of time together. I imagine keeping up with her schedule as well as your own can get pretty stressful at times."
Fox nodded quietly in agreement. She had been dreaming about Angela, all right, of that much she was sure, but something told her instinctively that the exact details, though she couldn't remember them, had been far from innocent. There was just something too familiar about the dream. Or rather, not the dream itself, but the feel. Something mystical, no, magical. If she closed her eyes and concentrated the way Owen had taught her, she could just grasp the faint tendrils of a residual something.
Fox's stomach twinged uneasily. She wondered if she was the only one dreaming, or if the others were affected again as well. Mentally, she added a chat with Elisa and Angela to her list of things to do.
* * * * *
"I appreciate the company, but it's just a subpoena," Matt said to his companion, Special Agent Hugh Fraser. The pair mounted the concrete steps in front of New York Biohazard Collection Services, leading a cadre of uniform cops, some carrying empty cardboard file boxes.
Fraser pushed open the door. He was a middle aged man with a thick shock of black hair just beginning to gray at the temples. He was dressed, as all federal agents seemed to prefer, in a dark charcoal gray suit and white shirt, whose severity he managed to subtly subvert by donning a geometrically patterned necktie, which, if one chose to look closely, was actually composed of cartoon frogs.
The air conditioning was set on "High" against the sweltering August day and the thermal shock was considerable as they stepped inside. At the front desk Tanisha was missing, replaced by a somewhat more matronly appearing figure with graying hair wearing a pink floral dress. She looked up from an accounting ledger. "Yes, may I help you?"
Bluestone stepped forward and pulled a sheath of pale blue papers from his pocket. "Subpoena, ma'am. We need to go through your records."
The dark woman stood and crossed around the desk to examine the papers. She accepted them from Matt with a curt 'thank you' and read quickly. "I see. I'll have to inform Mr. Jackson. Can you wait just a minute, please?"
Matt nodded, the uniforms pushed behind him, fanning out as best they could, and Fraser leaned against the counter. They all watched as the woman spoke briefly into an intercom system.
A moment later a man in a dark lightweight suit came out of the private office. Matt frowned. There was a striking family resemblance but this wasn't the same man he'd spoken to a day earlier. "Are you Evander Jackson?"
The man nodded and Matt introduced himself handing over his badge for inspection. This Jackson was several years older but he had the same skinny face and high cheekbones. His upper lip was adorned with a neatly trimmed mustache and his suit was of a more expensive cut than the previous Mr. Jackson's had been. "Evander T Jackson. What is this all about?" He took the subpoena from his assistant and read quickly she had.
"Do you have a brother, Mr. Jackson? One who works here in this facility?" Matt inquired.
Jackson looked up from the subpoena. "I have five brothers. All named Evander. My mother liked the name. And yes, my youngest brother Evander J works with me. Why?"
"I informed him about the need to inspect your records pursuant to a criminal investigation we're conducting into thefts at biomedical research facilities serviced by your company. He suggested we needed the subpoena."
Jackson's face clouded. He moved away from the counter and gestured to a side door also marked 'private'. "Go through there and follow the hallway to take you back here." He turned to the woman. "Mrs. Randall, get Jay in here now. He's out on the dock checking in trucks. Then help these people get whatever they need."
Matt nodded and Fraser led the squad. Matt lagged behind to keep an eye on the new Mr. Jackson. "Your brother didn't seem too cooperative."
Jackson frowned. "My brother has an attitude problem. Unfortunately, my father left this company to us both. I am the owner of record, but my brother Jay is my silent partner. Strong willed man, my daddy. He started out back in the sixties as a sanitation worker then realized there was money to be made picking up the trash that even his coworkers didn't want to handle. It was quite a struggle for him back then." A look of affectionate frustration passed over the businessman's face and he sighed before continuing. "For the most part, my father was a smart man, but he had his flaws. He could be sentimental. Jay, despite being a handful, was always my father's favorite. And he always loved this neighborhood and wanted to keep his business where it started. He put provisions for both in his will but believe me, I've got my lawyers working to get both disallowed."
"Did your father die recently?" Matt inquired, finding it easier to converse with this Mr. Jackson.
"Two years ago, but that will is iron clad."
Just then, Evander J Jackson entered the office from the hallway. He was wearing coveralls over his suit, the knot of a thin green tie askew at his neck. "You want to see me, Ev?" He ignored Matt entirely.
The skin of Jackson's eyes tightened as his brother pulled a pack of smokes from his coverall pocket and he jerked his head toward the 'no smoking' sign. The younger brother scowled back but the cigarettes remained in his pocket. "Why didn't you tell me Detective Bluestone had been here, Jay?"
Jackson the younger glanced over at Matt noticing him at last. His eyes registered hostility before he turned away. "I forgot. Is that all?"
"No, that is not all," his brother replied in a tight voice. "But we'll talk about it later. Are all the trucks unloaded?"
"Near enough. Dee is finishing up but I should watch him." He moved toward the exit.
"Hold it Mr. Jackson. I need you to stay here with me until the others have finished their search."
The room simmered in hostility for a long thirty minutes. Evander J Jackson took turns alternately scowling at Evander T and Matt and shifting his weight from one leg to the other like it was an effort to stay still. Matt examined him without being overly obvious. It appeared the younger Mr. Jackson was coming off of something and he'd need another fix soon if he were to make it through his workday. Interesting, but not immediately useful. He glanced at his watch just as Fraser and the uniforms began to troop out of hallway bearing boxes of records.
"You'll give us a receipt for those? Mrs. Randall said anxiously to Fraser.
"Detective Bluestone will give you one." He handed a receipt book to Matt.
He studied the inventory, checked the number of boxes they were confiscating and their contents against the notations and signed it before handing a copy back to Mrs. Randall. "Don't worry, ma'am, we'll get these back to you as soon as we can."
The woman looked at the boxes, some dusty and some brand new, as if they were favorite children. "Please do that, detectives."
* * * * *
"Okay, this is weird," Fraser looked up from the route log he'd been studying and rubbed at his eyes.
"Yeah. What's that?" Matt replied absently. The pair had returned from Harlem and without being asked, Fraser had slid behind Elisa's desk, hung his jacket on the back of her chair, loosened the cartoon frog tie and rolled up his sleeves. Matt had watched for a second about to object then closed his mouth, doffed his own jacket and similarly settled in. He was smart enough to know he needed help and the agent had shown himself to be competent and blissfully without attitude. Together they worked compiling crew reports from NYBSC so that they could check them against the personnel records of the various burgled companies.
"It's probably nothing. Just a blast from the past." He went back to checking working silently for several minutes before muttering again, "Or maybe not."
"You're on to something." Matt put down his pen and watched as Fraser dropped one set of files and picked up a second scratching notes on a yellow legal pad at irregular intervals.
Fraser rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand and then grinned, shaking his head with disbelief. "I would have never believed it if I hadn't seen it for myself."
"Come on, Fraser, spill," Matt was desperate for a break in the case and he didn't really care at this point if it came from the F.B.I or Oberon himself.
"Okay, but it requires a trip back to the days of my youth." He settled back in Elisa's chair, tipping it back on the hind legs for a moment before speaking again. "Once upon a time, there was a brash young cop with a baby face who had delusions of cleaning up Philadelphia all by his lonesome. He wanted to be a homicide detective or at the very least work on the major crimes unit. His superiors, being older and wiser, recognized they had a valuable asset and much to the boy detective's disappointment they put him in the Juvie Unit where he was assigned to infiltrate high schools and other hot beds of underage vice." Fraser frowned at the memory. "Let me tell you it's not easy being eighteen, especially when you're twenty-five." He smiled self-depreciatingly. "They put me in remedial classes so I could explain I'd been held back if anybody questioned my age." The smile turned to a grimace and he moved on. "Which brings me to these names… Packer Wilson, Rodney Jones, Billy Tucker and Alphonse Tremaine. All fairly unusual. All names I knew in Philly back in the day."
"I'm getting there," Fraser said, patiently. "These boys, assuming they are the one and the same, were an enterprising bunch. They came from a working class neighborhood where people expected their kids to pitch in, but these boys exceeded expectations. Even though they were all only sixteen or so years old, they organized a messenger and delivery service. And they were surprisingly successful. They were even written up in a local paper."
"So why did you get involved?"
"Purely by accident," Fraser admitted. "Funny that. I was undercover at the high school trying to find a dope dealer working off the campus. We were hoping to get to him and make him turn on his supplier and work our way up the chain. I found the dealer and talked him into taking me to his guy. Then I started working on him. One night at a meeting Alphonse Tremaine came by. Long story short, the boys weren't just delivering pizzas and flowers to the local office buildings, they were delivering tabs and dime bags too."
Matt considered Fraser's story. "You think that they're doing something similar here? Delivering cocaine along with the sharps containers?"
"I wouldn't rule it out. Even scientists like the occasional toot."
"Would these guys have the kind of connections to move stolen lab equipment?"
Fraser cocked his head to the side considering. "Doubtful. They were focused. And the set up, drivers to labs, delivery boys to office buildings, it's just too much like their former M.O."
Matt sighed. He knew something was wrong about NYBSC. But this had nothing to do with his case. "Okay. Nice catch, but not our problem. We can alert Narcotics and let them figure the rest of it out."
"Works for me," Fraser said. He picked up a pad of paper and noted the particulars from the Philadelphia drug case, pausing every so often as he dredged up decade old details before writing them down. Finally he tore off the sheet and handed it to Matt. "There. That oughtta give them something to start with."
"Philly," Matt commented after he had returned from Chavez's office and passed along the information. "I thought I picked up a trace of Pennsylvania in your accent."
Fraser nodded. "Yeah, I grew up there. Went to school there. Even worked a couple of years in the field office after I finished training at Quantico."
"You like working for the Bureau?" Matt asked.
Fraser looked up from the pencil he was balancing on his fingertip. "Well enough. It doesn't have the day to day excitement of life on the street, but we do good work when they let us off our leashes."
"Yeah, but who wants to work on a leash?" Matt asked rhetorically.
Fraser shrugged, twirled the pencil and tucked it behind his ear. He picked up a folder off the stack on the desk. "Jeez, what happened to this?"
Matt looked up. Fraser was holding the fingerprint analysis report. He'd blotted the pages carefully, but they still suffered the effects of the coffee soaking sustained in Captain Chavez's office.
"Damn, I'd forgotten all about that," Matt said. "That's the print report off the recovered equipment. I was going to check it against the personnel records."
"Good idea," Fraser commented as Matt handed him a stack of pages. "What's this?"
"Cross reference sheets. Current and plus past employee records for the last five years. You give me half the print report and then we can switch." Matt suddenly looked up from his work. "That is, if you don't mind. Truth is, Fraser, I kind of miss working with a partner."
"That's funny," the Bureau man commented. "I would have pegged you as a lone wolf."
Matt looked up. "Look, I'm sorry about that leash crack. I was a Fed for a while. It wasn't a good fit. I guess, I'm really not an organization man."
Fraser shrugged. "It takes all kinds to build a pyramid, some to plan, some to build and some to poke holes in the blueprint to find the flaws. They all serve a useful function."
Matt stared at Fraser and the F.B.I. agent met his gaze with a guileless smile but nothing else. He decided he was jumping at shadows. "Yeah, I guess." He went back to the reports and began his comparisons. The two men worked in silence for a time and then switched reports.
"Half a second," Matt said sometime later. "This is odd."
Fraser looked up. "What's that?"
I've got a scientist here. Lilith Ling. Her prints are on the equipment from Tri Cities Biotech, which you'd expect. She's the lab manager there. But here, they show up again." He shuffled paper looking back and forth between the two reports. "No, I'm sure of it. She's worked at Midtown Medical, and that was within the last six months, so print artifacts I'd expect to show up. But this… a thumb and forefinger print, right hand ten point match. Alpha Technology. Ling never worked at Alpha."
"Could she have visited their lab? Left the print that way?" Fraser posited.
Matt shook his head. "Unlikely. The lady herself told us that researchers are a secretive bunch afraid of tipping their hands early. Somehow I can't see them gathering for a weekly floating poker party. At least not where their work would be open for inspection."
Fraser was frowning as if trying to dredge something up from the depths. "What," Matt said. "You got something else?"
He shook his head. "It's just that name. Lilith Ling. I know I've heard it someplace before. A psych journal maybe? What does she do?"
Matt pulled out his interview notes. "She's a behaviorist. Behavioral studies as applied to genetics, but she doubles as the lab manager at Tri Cities Biotech."
Fraser shook his head again. "I dunno. I'll have to think about it. But I know I've seen her name before somewhere."
"Try to remember," Matt urged. "In the mean time, I'm gonna see what else I can dig up on Lilith Ling."
* * * * *
Castle Wyvern - Sunset
Jezebella stretched her arms skyward and flexed her wings, greeting the night with a snarling roar. Shaking the last bits of stone skin from her hair, she settled into a ready crouch on the ledge of the small balcony and gazed over at the castle's main tower, where the rest of the clan was stirring from their own perches.
"Good evening, Angela." Jezebella started slightly at the sound of the voice. She turned her head to find Fox standing behind her in the narrow doorway. The woman was attired casually in khaki slacks and a white turtleneck tank-top, and her long auburn hair was pinned back in a loose ponytail.
"Good evening, Fox," the gargoyle returned. Jezebella hopped down from the parapet and mustered a friendly smile. So much for getting out of here without any delays. "How are you?" she asked.
"I'm fine, Ang." Fox smiled back, her green eyes twinkling. "And you? Did you sleep well?"
Jezebella nodded. "Yes," she replied, "quite well. I feel a lot better tonight." Quick, say something more. "Andrea kept me out a lot longer than I'd expected last night," she added. "I was really beat by the time I finally got out of there, but I just can't say 'no' to her when she gets on a roll." Perfect. Alibi established. Good work, Jezebella.
"I can't wait to see this new painting." Fox smirked good-naturedly. "Though I do hope the intrepid Miss Calhoun doesn't plan on monopolizing you for too much longer. There are some new offers on the table, Ang," she said, becoming all-business as she continued, "and we really need to sit down and discuss them soon. I haven't wanted to put pressure on you, but a lot of them are time-sensitive. I need to know which ones to move on so we can coordinate with P.I.T. If we can keep up the pace, we can stay a step ahead of the anti groups and that will be really beneficial for us come November." Fox paused to draw a breath and gave the young female a meaningful look. "So… could we plan on getting together for an hour or so sometime in the next few nights?"
"Sure, Fox." Jezebella couldn't help but be intrigued. The photo shoot had been fun, and she already planned to rub a copy of the magazine in Angela's pretty little face once it hit the stands. Every additional gig would just add to her triumph. Still, she had her work for Anton to consider, as well. "Let me check with Andrea tonight," she said, "and see what I can work out." Jezebella caped her wings and gently placed a taloned hand on Fox's bared shoulder, guiding her through the arched doorway back into Angela's tower workroom. No, she reminded herself, it's not Angela's room anymore. It's mine now.
"That -" A chill ran down Fox's back as the gargoyle's hand touched her skin. She turned her head slightly, brushing back the curl of hair above her tattooed eye as she met the girl's gaze. "- sounds fine, Angela," she said at last. Fox quieted, a dream image flickering briefly before her mind's eye. Angela, chained and caged. Then suddenly herself, bound, collared and helpless, a smug Elisa Maza looking on. Fox blinked and abruptly the mental picture vanished, leaving her with a slightly disconcerted look upon her face.
"Fox?" Jezebella eyed the human woman curiously as her cheeks flushed a bright pink. The gargoyle withdrew her hand, sensing it to be the source of Fox's sudden change of mood. Be Angela, an internal voice prompted. "Fox, what is it?" she asked, taking care to remain in character. "Is something wrong?"
Fox drew away a half step, putting some distance between herself and the girl. "No. Yes. I mean… it's silly, really." She foundered for an answer, struggling to ignore the strange warmth that had risen inside her at Angela's innocent touch. Fox regarded the girl carefully. Angela was staring back at her expectantly with dark eyes, a hint of worry in her gaze. She shook her head in rueful embarrassment. There was no sense skirting the issue anymore, she decided. "You didn't have any… interesting dreams last night, did you, Ang?"
"No…" Jezebella cocked her head to the side and smiled. "Why do you ask?"
Fox dared to edge closer again. "Because I did." She paused. "And you were in it."
"I was?" Jezebella raised a brow-ridge, feigning the interest she supposed Angela might genuinely have were she here.
"Yes," Fox replied. "We were…" She paused, searching for an appropriate word. "…together. Like last time."
Jezebella's eyes widened, her interest suddenly peaked by the odd emphasis in Fox's tone. Together? Angela and Fox? Her mind spun. "Last time?" she managed.
"There you are, Angela." Both women looked up and turned at the sudden interruption. Broadway stood in the balcony doorway, a smile on his round face as he spotted his mate. "I was wondering what happened to you. You weren't on your perch at sunrise." He caped his wings and stepped into the room, turning partially sideways to squeeze through the door.
Jezebella traded a final questioning glance with Fox and stepped hesitantly into the big blue gargoyle's embrace. "I got caught up in my reading and lost track of time, my love," she said, placing her hands in his. "I roosted here." She offered a cheek and accepted a kiss, doing her best to play it cool even though her head was awash with new questions. She glanced at Fox again, but the woman returned only a friendly smile.
"We can talk more later, Ang." She waved a hand dismissively as she backed away. "I'm sure you two would like some privacy." Broadway acknowledged her with a nod and Fox slipped from the tower room, shaking her head as she pulled the heavy door shut behind her. "Just a silly dream," she muttered, relieved. A product of her own imagination, nothing more. "Nothing to worry about." Fox started down the stairs, deciding that if Angela hadn't shared it, she needn't trouble Elisa about it, either.
* * * * *
"Elisa what are you doing out of bed? You are supposed to be resting and conserving your energy."
"Hey, Elisa, how are you feeling?"
"Good evening, lass."
Elisa greeted her clanmates with a warm smile. They were gathered in the common room and it appeared that Goliath and Brooklyn were in the middle of handing out the night's patrol assignments. "I'm fine, I took a nap. But I've got too much on my mind to stay in bed." She slipped an arm around Goliath, partly for support and partly because it just felt good to hold her life's mate. "There's been some developments in Angela's case. I need to talk to her," she allowed Goliath to lead her to one of the benches that sat along side the long wooden table that served as central gathering point and after she was settled she added, "and the rest of you guys too."
Jezebella entered with Broadway close on her heels. "Elisa," she said, slightly startled. "I hadn't expected to see you up."
"Yeah, I'm getting a lot of that." Elisa winked at Goliath and he quirked a quick smile back at her. "Angela," she said, turning serious. "I need to ask you some questions about those nights you were missing. I know it's tough, but I need you to try and remember as much as you can about the people that held you. Voices, anything you might have seen."
Jezebella gave the detective a look of genuine apprehension. Her heart began to pound in her chest. Was this a trap? "I can't."
Broadway was quick to put a comforting wing around his mate. "Take it easy, babe. Take a deep breath and try to relax."
"Please, Angela," Elisa said. She tried to keep her voice low and soothing, but an insistent note crept into the request. "I know it's tough but it's important. Tell me about your captors."
Jezebella relaxed a fraction. She gave the detective a helpless gaze. Elisa was on a fishing expedition. She could work with that. "They kept me drugged and blindfolded."
Elisa held up a hand. "Okay, don't pressure yourself. Just go back to the beginning. Where did they take you?"
"The park," Jezebella replied. She twisted at the end of her long sable plait anxiously. "I was coming back from mother's and I heard a cry of distress. It was Danny. He was on the ground and there were three, no four humans attacking him."
Elisa nodded and gave Angela an encouraging smile. "Good. You're doing fine. What happened next?"
Jezebella drew a deep breath. Her eyes closed as if she was being pulled into the memory. "I went to help him. I didn't see the one behind me with the rock. I was hit. Here." She pointed to a spot on the back of her skull.
Elisa looked up at Goliath. "So they did a switch. Lured Angela in, whacked her on the head and left the double in her place. You came along and brought her back to the castle."
"We know all this, Elisa. Putting Angela through it again isn't going to help us find who did this to her," Broadway protested.
Elisa gave him a patient look. The burly aqua gargoyle had worked the end of Angela's ponytail away from her and was stroking her head gently, trying to calm the agitated female. "You know better than that, Broadway. Angela was an eyewitness. She saw things and if she gives herself a chance she'll remember them. That's information we need. Now keep going. Tell us what happened next."
"I don't know!" Jezebella cried.
"Shhhhh, Ang, just relax," Elisa coaxed. "Do you remember the ride to their hideout?"
"I was drugged. I don't remember anything."
Elisa drew a breath and allowed Jezebella to do the same. The impostor looked at the others hoping for some kind of out. She could find none among them. Lexington had an arm around Delilah and the strange Elisa-like gargoyle had a fiercely protective scowl marring her delicate features. Hudson sat in his armchair listening patiently. Sata had escorted the children out of the room as soon as it appeared it was going to be a serious conference and had just returned to Brooklyn's side.
"I'm trying," she whispered. Her lip trembled as she flashed on those horrible long minutes she has spent locked in the stasis chamber. Dark, oppressive and claustrophobic she had clawed at the top of the enclosure after being shocked and beaten by Candy. The trembling grew more pronounced and tears began to fog her vision, causing the others to smear out of focus. She wiped at her eyes angrily but the tears began to flow unchecked as she found herself caught in the memory of horrid abandonment.
Broadway's winged embrace, meant to be comforting, only served to enhance her claustrophobia. Jezebella broke free. "I'm sorry," she wailed and ran from the room.
"Angela?" Broadway called after her. He dropped to all fours the better to follow. "Angela! Baby, wait up!"
"Angela wait!" Elisa called she struggled to get up. "Jalapena," she muttered as she tangled her feet trying to clear the bench. Goliath steadied her and she stood, mentally berating herself for pushing too hard.
"Someone should go after them," Delilah decided. She started to follow.
"No," Goliath decreed. "Broadway will care for his mate. The rest of you will remain."
"Thanks, Goliath," Elisa closed her eyes for a moment trying to regain her objectivity. She was a cop with a case. She had seen hysterical witnesses before. They usually calmed down and sometimes they even came through. With persistence, Angela would remember something they could use. It was just a matter of patience.
"You said you had some new information, lass. Why don't you tell us about it before Goliath carries you off?" Hudson said in response to the increasingly worried glances his protégé was giving his mate.
Elisa nodded and for the second time Goliath helped her to sit. She kept her legs outward this time and leaned against the edge of the table. "Right. I found out today that Anton Sevarius is dead. Has been dead for quite a while."
"What?" "When?" "How?" The responses to the news tripped over themselves as Elisa took a breath and relayed her earlier conversation with Matt. "But it doesn't change the fact that while Sevarius might not be a suspect in Angela's kidnapping, someone like him is working with her clone. If we find the clone, we can find the kidnapper."
There was a general muttering among her clanmates as they absorb the latest twist in the case. Delilah in particular had a dark scowl and was whispering fiercely to Lexington. Her comrades of the Labyrinth clan had all been transformed by Sevarius, and without him answers they had sought might never be revealed despite the work of Dr. Goldblum and others like him.
"I need to find this guy," Elisa said, recapturing the attention of the others. "Whoever he is, he was behind the biotech robberies and Angela's kidnapping. I'd like to close both cases. Soon."
"We will redouble our efforts, Elisa-san," Sata proclaimed.
Elisa flashed a quick smile at the fierce Japanese female. "Thanks. We don't know what this clone will try next. She may try and infiltrate the castle again or maybe pull something like she did at the bus station and try and discredit Angela."
"The lass is too important as our spokesperson to be compromised," Hudson proclaimed.
There was a general agreement from the others. Elisa nodded. "All right. Then be on the look out." Elisa's dark eyes were downcast but her jaw was set as she said, "I know it seems like a long shot, but let's keep close tabs on Angela in case they try another switch."
"I think Broadway has that covered," Brooklyn noted. The brick red gargoyle pursed his beak as Ptah entered. The Egyptian seemed to have something important on his mind as he entered the common area and resolutely faced off with Goliath. He bowed politely before stating, "I must speak with you."
Brooklyn caught Goliath's eye. The clan leader nodded fractionally giving his okay for the Second to assume control of the others. "You heard Elisa," he said. "Let's hit the streets. Keep an extra sharp eye on the public places - anything that might be a good photo op. Pair off and don't forget your radios. Sata," he said turning to his mate. "Get the kids in on this. We want all eyes."
"Of course, my love." Sata inclined her head, acknowledging his authority as clan Second. The others filed out after them leaving Ptah alone with Elisa and Goliath.
A contemplative look flitted briefly over Ptah's bovine features as he regarded Elisa. The human woman had been present at his first meeting with Goliath. They had not been introduced but clearly this must be the mate that had thwarted Senen's scheme. He quickly schooled his features into a more polite guise. He bowed at her as he did Goliath. "Please accept my apologies for intruding on your council, Goliath. And you." He smiled at Elisa and bowed over his hands. "Though we have met before, we were never properly introduced. You must be the honored Elisa."
"I must," Elisa replied dryly wondering what was it about the obsequious gargoyle that set her teeth on edge. Was it his toadying manner or his cold reptilian eyes and cobra-esque cowl that conflicted with his wide bull-like muzzle? Ptah was many things, but no one would have ever called him handsome. She inclined her head. "You'll excuse me if I don't get up."
"What is it, Ptah?" Goliath crossed his arms over his broad chest and tried to keep the impatience that Ptah seemed to induce by his very existence at bay. The elder seemed about to launch into one of his flowery discourses and the clan leader felt himself tense in anticipation. "I am busy."
Ptah touched the tip of one severed horn, a reminder of what happened when one made bargains with questionable allies, and poured regret into his voice. "Of course. I do not wish to intrude on time as valuable as yours and that of your mate." He turned to Elisa and peered at her closely. "Your injuries, are they healing well? I understand that for humans it can take quite some time."
Elisa found his wide-eyed gaze unsettling. "I'll admit I wouldn't mind a course of stone sleep to speed things along, but I'm managing." She glanced up at Goliath who had moved close in response to Ptah's interest. As much as she appreciated his proximity being sandwiched between the two males while she sat on the bench was getting to her. She shifted herself up onto the tabletop and leaned against Goliath's arm. "I'm really supposed to be in bed recuperating so maybe you should tell us what's on your mind."
"Your daughter -" He included them both in the statement. And Elisa realized it had less to do with the human concept of step-parenting and more with the fact he was acknowledging, grudgingly, her status as senior clan female. "- so grievously and recently injured. She appears whole on the surface, does she not?"
Goliath's eyes narrowed. He drew breath through his nose and counted to himself. Elisa noticed his ramping tension and tried to intervene. She had disliked their visitor on sight, but diplomacy must be maintained. "Angela has pulled herself together pretty well, all things considered."
Ptah shifted his gaze to the injured detective, studying her closely. Elisa met his gaze with an expression that dared him to contradict her. He dared. "Alas, I wish I held your confidence, revered one. My audiences with the most honored Angela have left me with an unsettling awareness that she is growing increasingly unsound in mind. Just now, I witnessed her fleeing from this very room in a torrent of tears, inconsolable, her mate at her heels."
"She was a little upset, yeah," Elisa acknowledged. "It couldn't be helped." She raised a hand to her forehead. She felt hot and more than a little bit antsy. She wished Ptah would go away and leave her with Goliath. The day and its unsettling developments had left her seriously in need of alone time with her mate.
Ptah gave a ponderous shake of his head. "Perhaps. Perhaps you do not see what is before you."
"What are you suggesting, Ptah?" Goliath drawled ominously.
The elder gargoyle backed up a pace in response to Goliath's tension. "It is an unfortunate thing, but I have seen it before. Your beloved daughter is losing her sense of reason. Soon she will be completely irrational and you will be forced to care for her as if she were once more a hatchling."
Elisa was incredulous. Yeah, Angela was upset. But they had a name for it - Post Traumatic Stress. She'd get over it in time.
Goliath blew his cool at last. "How dare you suggest such a thing!" he growled.
Ptah dipped his head with regret. "It was not my desire to offend you with my observation, Clan Leader! But sometimes an outsider sees thing that others are too close to detect. I bring this to your attention only to prepare you for what is to come."
Elisa watched Goliath. His tail snapped at the floor in response to barely sublimated rage and the situation was close to spiraling completely out of hand. "You're slick, Ptah, I'll hand you that," she said mildly. Goliath tore his attention from the elder to look at her. She shook her head and smiled, a little pleased she'd figured out the Egyptian's ploy. "It's a con, Goliath. Angela is too messed up in the head to make her own decisions, so the responsibility reverts to you." She curled her fingers around her mate's bicep, savoring the incredibly soft skin. "I don't think so, elder." She felt Goliath relax fractionally as he grasped her intuitive understanding of the elder's strategy.
"May I remind you, Ptah that you are here at my daughter's sufferance? If I am to question her judgment, perhaps I should start there," Goliath replied. A hard smile curved the corners of his mouth and Ptah took a step back.
"Perhaps I am hasty to judge. I don't know the all the circumstances of her injury. I should allow her the benefit of time before coming to such a dire conclusion."
"Perhaps you should," Elisa said. She glanced out the door and saw a shock of long white hair just beyond the archway. Brooklyn had hung back waiting for Goliath after sending the other patrols on their rounds. "But maybe there's a way you can make amends."
"Indeed, my lady. My services are yours to command."
"Brooklyn, can you come in here a minute?"
The tall and powerful Second appeared and leaned against the doorway. "You need me, Elisa?"
"Yeah, Ptah just volunteered to go out on patrol. Why don't you take him with you and fill him in on the way."
"You got it, Elisa." The crow's feet around his eyes crinkled in silent amusement. From the casual arm she had resting on Goliath and the bemused twinkle in her dark eyes, Brooklyn didn't have to imagine that Elisa was enjoying the discomfited look on Ptah's face as she casually ordered the clan Second to do her bidding. And hey, who was he to look a gift horse in the mouth? Tonight he would glide at Ptah's wing, not skulk in his wake. Perhaps tonight he would get some real answers.
* * * * *
Somewhere in Midtown
The whooshing sound of wings on the breeze announced a gargoyle's arrival. Candy stepped cautiously out from behind the parked van, checking her watch as Jezebella alighted nearby. "Finally. You're almost an hour late, Jez."
"It couldn't be helped," she replied. The lavender-skinned female glanced about the alley, making sure they were alone. "Fox nabbed me right off my perch to chat about some things and then Elisa tried to corner me right after that." Jezebella drew a calming breath and caped her wings. "I got out of there as quickly as I could, but I still had to stop by Destine Manor on the way to get this."
Candy took the laminated badge the girl held out for her and examined it. On one side, there was a magnetic stripe. On the other, the Nightstone logo, a small photo and a printed name: Andrea L. Calhoun.
"Nice wig, by the way."
Candy slipped the borrowed ID card into her shirt pocket and brushed a hand self-consciously through her new blonde pageboy coif. "Thanks," she muttered. She lifted the handle and slid open the side door of the minivan. "I hope it'll do. It's the best I could find on such short notice."
"You'll be fine." Jezebella smiled and reached out to brush the lock of hair the woman had just disturbed back into place with her talon. "It's mainly for the cameras anyway. Hardly anyone should be in the building at this hour, and chances are good that the night guard at the parking garage entrance won't even be awake when we pull in."
Candy nodded as the gargoyle climbed into the van. "You know, Jez, that whole thing you told me the other night, about Dominique Destine being your mother? That was weird enough on its own… but thinking about it more, it sure clears up a lot of things about Andy, too." She grinned wryly. "But tell me, Jez… why are we going through all this trouble of using her ID to get into the building? You can glide and I can, well, fly… sort of. We could easily go in right through Ms. Destine's office window."
"No, we couldn't," Jezebella replied. "We don't know if doing that would set of an alarm. And even if it didn't… my mother is the kind of person who will know that someone's been in her office if even so much as a pencil has been moved. Someone will still have to take the rap for having been in there without permission when she finally gets back from Paris." She smirked devilishly. "I'd prefer it not having to be me," she said, shrugging. "She's already been having friction with Andrea, so it just seemed to me like she was a good first choice."
Candy nodded quietly and ran a finger along her temple as a long piece of honey blonde hair slipped again into her peripheral vision, reminding her why she kept her real tresses cropped in a short pixie style. The thought of being responsible for causing her sweet little gargoyle-loving ex to land in hot water with her hot-tempered half-human, half-gargoyle significant other made her tingle with unexpected anticipation. "Works for me, Jez." she said at last. She stepped up into the van, pulling the door shut behind her. "Let's get this show on the road."
* * *
"Special Projects," Candy said as she opened the file drawer marked "S" and began thumbing through the neatly labeled green folders hanging from the rack. Snipes, Sorrenson, Spangler, Speilberg, Spock. No, this wasn't it, either. Candy sighed and slid the drawer closed. She should have known it couldn't be that easy. It had been a half hour since she and Jezebella had used Andy's pilfered passkey to enter the luxurious top floor executive office of Dominique Destine. She was supposed to be looking for a file on some kind of neural interface, but far all she had found in the Nightstone CEO's long wall of polished oak filing cabinets was payroll records, purchase order receipts, and - just now - personnel records.
She turned to the last bank of file drawers, batting away the annoying strand of hair that kept slipping in front of her eye, and glanced up at the painting that hung on the wall nearby. "Don't mind me, ladies," she said, addressing the two women in the portrait. Candy smirked, then paused. She immediately recognized the well-dressed redhead as the Nightstone CEO, but she couldn't quite place the second woman. She was a brunette, younger, dressed in an equally stylish but less severely tailored navy blue ensemble. Candy stared at the image for a long moment, unable to shake the feeling that she should know who the young woman was. Like she'd once seen her in a magazine or on TV. Shaking her head, she leaned forward to examine the signature in the bottom corner of the painting. She made a face as she spied "A. Calhoun" scribed in a familiar flowing cursive. "Hmph," she muttered. "I bet it's really nice having a sugar mama, isn't it, Andy?"
"Have you found anything yet, Candace?"
The sound of her name pulled Candy from her reverie. She turned her head in the direction of Jezebella's voice, finding her across the room, still sitting in front of the computer at Ms. Destine's expansive desk. "Not yet," she replied, returning her attention to the last file cabinet. "But there's still four more drawers left to check." She tugged open the topmost one and raised an eyebrow optimistically at noting its contents were sorted by number rather than letter. Candy pried a random file folder loose from its hanger and peeked inside. Contract documents, inter-office correspondence, and at the very back of the file, a technical report. This looked promising. "Hey, Jez," she called as she tucked the file back into place, "What was that project number the Doc gave us?"
"99-0100-2210," Jezebella replied. There was a faint trace of annoyance in the gargoyle's voice. "You should really start taking notes at the briefings, Candace," she added.
Candy snorted. "What am I now, a secretary?" She closed the top drawer, realizing it contained only current-year files whose project numbers started with "01," and dropped to her knees, moving on a hunch to the third drawer down. "When Sevarius brought me on board, I'd thought it was because he needed my unique skills," she said as she opened it. She smiled as she spotted "99" numbers on the file tabs. "So far, I haven't done anything tonight that I couldn't just as easily have done as a normal human."
"I thought you wanted to be a normal human again," Jezebella replied, distracted by her own work.
The halfling woman paused, then nodded in acquiescence to the comment. "Yeah, I do." she said. Candy quieted, the same unsettled feeling that had been plaguing her ever since seeing Jezebella floating in the tank returning. Sevarius claimed he was close now, very close. After the mission briefing, he had taken her aside and proudly told her as much. All he needed was for her to solicit three volunteers to be the first of her people to receive treatment. It was the news she'd been waiting to hear for months, so why did finally getting it creep her out? Was it because of how Sevarius had insisted she not be one of the first three, in a way that suggested there were risks he wasn't telling her about? Or was there something else about this unexpected news that was setting off alarm bells in her head?
Candy drew a deep breath and did her best to ignore the knot in her stomach. Right now, she reminded herself, she had work to do. She trailed her fingertips over the files as she searched, and within seconds she was grinning. "Gotcha!" she said, snagging a thick file with the same ten-digit number on the tab as the one Jezebella had given her and tugging it free from its place in the drawer.
"I think I've got something here, Jez," she announced as she rose back to her feet. Candy turned and bumped the drawer closed with her hip as she held the file aloft. The proud smile on her face faded a notch, though, when Jezebella failed to look up. Candy rolled her eyes and strode across room. "Yoo-hoo, earth to Jez. Look, I've found something."
The gargoyle's eyes flicked up for a moment, briefly acknowledging Candy as she stood there leafing through the heavy file. "Good work," she said before returning her gaze to the computer screen. "Go make us a copy of it. There's a machine in the outer office near the receptionist's desk."
Candy nodded but did not move off. Instead, she continued to skim through the neatly typed report that sat near the front of the file. "… an implantable, reprogrammable interface capable of both receiving and transmitting neural impulses directly to the brain…" read one of the few lines she could comprehend. Candy frowned contemplatively, the same feeling of uneasiness returning. "What does this 'neural interface' thing do, anyway," she asked, "and why does the Doc want it?"
Jezebella looked up again, but the question hung in the air for a long moment before she offered an answer. "I think it's for helping the handicapped or something." She shrugged. "I don't understand all the science stuff, either, Candace. All I know is if it wasn't important to his work, we wouldn't be here."
"I suppose you're right." Candy regarded the girl carefully and tried to keep the doubt out of her voice. Jezebella seemed sincere, but she was also still essentially the boss's daughter. It put the halfling woman in an awkward place, and she couldn't help wondering if Jezebella actually knew more than she was letting on.
"Don't worry so much, Candace. Anton knows what he's doing." Jezebella forced a smile that Candy could only assume was meant to be reassuring. "Now go make a copy of that paper file, while I finish copying these electronic ones. I don't know about you, but I really didn't want to spend the whole night here."
Candy nodded again. "Right." She started to turn away, then paused. "Jez, are you…" She froze before the last word could leave her lips, suddenly unsure what it was about the gargoyle's body language that had prompted the question. Flustered, Candy shook her head. "Never mind," she said as the girl looked at her expectantly. Her cheeks were burning as she moved away. "I'll just go make these copies now."
For a long moment, Jezebella stared after the halfling. "Why is she so distracted tonight?" she wondered quietly. She turned her attention back to the computer, where another CD-R was nearing completion. According to Anton, Candace and the others would shortly be restored to their former human selves, so what on earth could the woman possibly be worried about? After all, Jezebella mused, it wasn't as if she had just received the third degree from Maza, or had the bombshell dropped on her that her twin sister was in the habit of having occasional illicit liaisons with her benefactress.
Just thinking about it again made Jezebella's head spin. Fox was attractive for a human and she could certainly understand the allure of such an affair, but it boggled her mind to think that Angela would engage in something so risky. Goliath would never approve, of that she was almost certain. Did Broadway know about it, though? Or had Angela been playing him for a fool just as she had played her unwitting sister all those years ago? Inwardly, Jezebella seethed. She had come too far to have her sister's sexual kinks trip her up. She would have to pry the truth from Angela, no matter what it took. "If the little slut cares at all about keeping her precious egg safe," she muttered, "she'll tell me everything I want to know."
An urgent chime from the computer drew Jezebella back from her unquiet musings. A message box with a red X on it had appeared on the screen. "Error writing files to CD," it read. "Bad sector found. Insert new disk to retry." The gargoyle glowered at the screen, a growl rising in her throat as she grabbed the mouse and clicked "OK."
"Damn it," she grumped. "Now I need another disk." She'd only brought three with her, and that had been the last one. Annoyed, she began tugging open the desk drawers, searching for any stash her mother might have that she could borrow from. "Yes," she hissed, finding an open box in the left side middle drawer. Jezebella snagged one of the CDs and pushed the drawer shut with her tail, and she was about to close the one below it when a glossy picture on the page of a magazine caught her eye.
"What's this now?" Carefully, Jezebella withdrew the old magazine and laid it on the desktop, unfolding it and smoothing it with her talons. "'Out of the Closet: Nightstone CEO's Unexpected Announcement Receives Mixed Response,'" she said, reading the full headline above the half-page photo of a stylishly dressed Dominique Destine and Andrea Calhoun standing with hands clasped. "Hmm, how cute," Jezebella muttered. Pursing her lips, she scanned the article, and a second later her eyes went wide. Near the bottom of the page was a smaller photo of a smartly dressed young human woman. "Daughter, Angela Brigitte Destine: 'I know she's happy and I support her decision,'" read the caption.
Jezebella blinked. How could there be a human Angela Destine? Did Demona have an employee who pretended to be Dominique Destine's daughter, just to keep up appearances? She turned back to the previously neglected bottom drawer and extracted the rest of its contents. More magazines and a few old newspapers, some brittle and yellowed with age. She spread them out on the desk, examining in turn the place in each one that had been marked by a self-stick note or a dog-eared page. Some of the articles were about Dominique and Andrea, but there were others that mentioned Dominique's daughter, as well. In most of them, Miss Angela Brigitte Destine was only noted by name, but Jezebella gasped in shock as she spied the small black and white photo that graced the marked page of a three-year-old copy of The Daily Tattler. The same young human woman, smiling prettily, included in an article headed "Manhattan's Top Ten Most Eligible People." Beside the photo was a brief blurb describing her as the "attractive and unattached future heiress to Nightstone Unlimited."
"But… why would Mother have a human masquerade as Angela? And how did she…?" Jezebella quieted as she pulled the first magazine back to the top of the pile and compared the photo with that in the old tabloid. The human's hairstyle and hair color were identical to Angela's, she realized, and the facial features… no, it couldn't be. Could it? Her eyes flitted to the top photo of the human Dominique Destine, then back to the one of her supposed daughter. "By the dragon," she mouthed, "no way. That's impossible!"
"What have you got there, Jez?" The gargoyle sat numbly, still staring at the page as Candy inched up beside her. The halfling scowled as she spotted the photo of Dominique and Andrea, but her eyes widened in recognition as her attention shifted to the spot on the page from which Jezebella seemed unable to tear her gaze. "Hey, that's the same chick that's in that painting."
Jezebella looked up sharply. "Painting? What painting?"
Candy edged back, giving the girl room to rise. "Over there." She pointed across the room. "On the wall by the filing cabinets."
Jezebella stood up, circled around the desk, and moved slowly in the direction Candy had indicated, peering into the dimness with narrowed eyes. They hadn't turned any lights on in the office. They hadn't wanted to draw undue attention, and neither gargoyle nor halfling had needed anything more than the ambient glow of the city that came through the windows to attend to her task. It wasn't until Jezebella had approached within ten feet, though, that she was able to make out the image inside the ornate frame hanging upon the wall. Softly, she gasped.
Candy followed the girl at a discreet distance, until at last she, too, could make out the painting again. In the dimness, her eyes widened as she took in together for the first time the image on the canvas and the lavender-skinned gargoyle who stood staring at it in wonder. "Oh my god," she muttered. "Jez… that girl… it's a human version of you!"
"No," Jezebella replied quietly, her eyes never leaving the image. "Not me. It's my sister."
"Holy shit. You didn't tell me that she can turn human by day, too."
"I didn't know she could," Jezebella intoned. Her eyes narrowed dangerously. Another surprise. Another set of questions. And yet another thing to be jealous of. "Angela has a lot of secrets she's been keeping from me," she added darkly. "I think she and I are going to have to have another chat."
Candy swallowed hard. "Right, Jez. But we've got work to finish first."
Jezebella broke eye contact with the painting and turned her gaze to Candy, staring at her for a long moment with an unreadable expression on her face. "Yes," she said at last, "you're right. My sister is not going anywhere." She smiled. "I can be patient."
* * * * *
Near Central Park
"Do you do this often, Ambassador Brooklyn?" Ptah inquired stiffly as he looked down on the gathering below.
The pair sat perched observing an anti-gargoyle demonstration half-heartedly underway in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Actually, Brooklyn observed, it wasn't that the demonstrators were half-hearted, they were agitating their bitter little hearts out, but the crowd that was swarming past had other things on its mind. They were more interested in the film festival of classic monster movies that promised the normally staid crowd a whimsical change of pace. They couldn't be bothered by the motley collection of angry people who so resembled extras out of director James Whale's Frankenstein or The Invisible Man, both scheduled for the night's program. All that was missing were the pitchforks and torches.
"Hmm?" Brooklyn replied drawing his attention back to his companion. "Yeah. It pays to keep an eye on the opposition and this would be just the kind of thing the newspapers would eat up with a spoon. Imagine if the phony Angela showed up and caused a scene. I can see the headlines now: 'Spokesgoyle Attacks Monsterfest at the Met'."
"I see your point." Ptah shifted his wings and tried to make himself more comfortable. They were hiding in the shadows on the roof across the courtyard from the main entrance. Brooklyn had settled into a waiting pose and he attempted to do the same, wondering all the while why they were wasting their time on the affairs of mere humans.
Still, it was his mission for the evening to curry favor with the clan's Second even as he attempted to formulate a new strategy for dealing with Goliath and his formidable mate. Their most recent encounter could not have been described as going well by any definition. The human woman had seen through him in an instant, exposing his plan with casual amusement. It galled him and made him think. Perhaps he should have waited a little longer to press his point about Angela's instability. Perhaps he should have just bided his time and used her fracturing mental state to push her until she decided that she could not be trusted to care for her egg.
Ptah grimaced. That would have been a masterful plan. He wondered why he had been so off balance since arriving in the city. Was it the pressure of knowing that Van Winkle and his brethren were always watching? Or was he just getting too old to play games of intrigue? Was there a part of him who no longer desired his life's ambition to lead his clan? That felt he was not up to the challenge of the new age on whose threshold they stood?
He had no ready answers so he returned his attention to the warrior at his side. There was something different about that one. Something more than his evident experience with many places and cultures. During his tenure in Egypt, Brooklyn had surprised Senen and the rest of the elders by his use of ancient ceremonial gestures and courtesies. His children were versed in languages and customs other than the American one expected them to know. They had been observed speaking Japanese, a language inherited from their mother Sata, - a mystery unto herself - and other tongues as the occasion suited them.
No, Ptah decided, it was his mouth that bothered him the most. True, Brooklyn had the weary look of one who had seen way too much and was still able to tell the tale, but the bemused half smile that curled at the edge of his beak unsettled Ptah. It was if the Second knew that everything they did was part of some larger game and only he knew the outcome.
He shook himself out of his reverie as the last of the festival-goers entered the museum. The protesters chanted a few more verses of doggerel for the news camera that was also an obligatory part of the gathering, but they died off as soon as the camerawoman covered her lens and began to pack up her gear.
"Okay, we can move on," Brooklyn said. He whispered into the radio built into his forearm gauntlet and stood stretching his wings. "Come on, we should run a sweep of the rest of the area. Maybe we can find a few muggers to break up the monotony." He turned to his companion. The elder gargoyle had an edgy look to his bovine features and the cobra-like cowl was half extended in a wary pose. "What. You see something?"
Ptah tore his gaze from the black suited man standing by himself in the courtyard. "No. Nothing." The cowl deflated as the Egyptian forced himself to calm down. By Isis, he is everywhere! Down below, Van Winkle stood watching the crowd. Watching him.
Brooklyn followed Ptah's gaze down toward the courtyard. Motley bunch of protesters. Check. Second string news crew. Check. Bored bystanders milling off towards their next five minutes of excitement. Check. Guy in black suit and shades watching the rest…
The brawny gargoyle craned forward trying to get a better look but the man had turned away and was heading toward the street to hail a cab. At his side, Ptah seemed to relax further. Owen said Van Winkle had been human, at least at one point. Could that have been Ptah's mystery man? Brooklyn wondered. He looks like a cop or a body guard. He snuck another glance at Ptah. The old guy was spooked, no doubt about it. "You know, Ptah, if there's anything you want to tell me, say, about who's really behind this egg deal, I'm more than willing to listen."
The elder gargoyle stared at him. Something hopeful flitted across his face and then died. He drew himself up to his full height and assumed a regal demeanor. "I have stated my case to those it concerns," he said stiffly. "They have my reasons."
Brooklyn shrugged. "Right. Well, if you change your mind." He let the matter drop. "Come on. Let's finish our sweep."
Ptah hung behind as Brooklyn took to the air. Did he dare trust the Clan Second? Or was Van Winkle's presence a sign that it would be folly to confess and seek assistance from the Manhattan clan? Cowed and for one of the few times in his life frightened, Ptah leapt from his perch and followed.
* * * * *
It was only 11:00 A.M. and already it seemed like the mercury was heading inexorably past sultry and straight to uncomfortable. Matt tugged at his tie, loosening it, and then did the same for his collar. He was tired. He'd been more or less on duty for several days straight, working split shifts and doubles as the case demanded. He hoped things would come to a head soon. Breaking an important case would be helpful currency in saving both his career and Elisa's when they went before the coming review board.
Speaking of his partner, there she was, sunning herself as she had been before in the shadow of Goliath. The rest of the clan had taken to various spots on the roof and parapets, but their leader was poised in a corner of the courtyard, standing quietly with his wings neatly caped. Even frozen in stone he exuded a power and quiet dignity that couldn't be marred by Elisa, dressed in a skimpy pair of cut-off shorts and a red checked halter-top, using him as a backstop for a chaise lounge cushion.
"You look comfortable," Matt commented as he approached.
Elisa opened her eyes and blinked as if somewhere far away. "Hmm. Uh yeah. It's starting to feel just like home."
The detective watched appreciatively as his long-limbed partner rose gracefully to her feet. "That's a new look for you."
Elisa looked down at her clothes, chosen more or less at random. The day promised to be unbearably warm again, and her usual jeans and tee ensemble seemed positively oppressive when she pulled them from the dresser drawer. The shorts were a pair of jeans that had seen better days. The denim was old and faded and before she'd taken a pair of scissors to them there had been a rent in one knee from a fall she had taken chasing a suspect. How they, and the halter, purchased just prior to a spur of the moment getaway to the Hamptons with Goliath, had managed to end up in her dresser at the castle she could only guess, although she tended to attribute to it to her mate's somewhat haphazard packing after his edict about their living arrangements. "It's part of the comfortable theme." Reluctantly she got up off the green and white striped cushion. "But all good things must come to an end. How are things going with the case?"
Matt pulled off his suit jacket, exposing his shoulder holster. He undid his tie and slipped the length of silk into his pocket before rolling up his sleeves. The merest breath of a breeze made itself felt as the detectives settled in on their now accustomed bench. "You first. Did you learn anything from Angela?"
Elisa frowned and shook her head. "I tried to interview her last night. On the surface she's holding together pretty well, so I figured it wouldn't hurt to push her just a little. She totally crumbled on me." The female half of the team paused, recalling the aborted interview. "Whatever they did to her must have been pretty horrific, Matt. I'm thinking of talking to her about spending some time with a trauma therapist." She pushed a hand through her mane of dark hair and turned to meet her partner's gaze. "What about you, any luck?"
Matt shrugged. "Fifty-fifty. Fraser recognized some of the names from the personnel records at NYBCS. They're drug traffickers from Philly. I turned the information over to Narcotics and they're setting up a sting."
Elisa plaited her hair as she listened to her partner. "So you struck out?" She sounded resigned to disappointment.
"Not entirely." Omitting the tale of the coffee stained report, Matt told her about Ling. A glimmer of hope animated his partner's face as he reported. He felt a surge of energy himself as Elisa contemplated the behaviorist's involvement.
"It still doesn't seem quite right, Matt." Elisa toyed with the end of her braid. "Sure, Ling could be mixed up in this. Her prints on the equipment are suspicious, sure. But what's her motivation?"
"I don't know. I wish Angela could have given us something to work with. I know a name would have been too much, but a face, something."
"Yeah, too bad our only other witness decided to leave town," Elisa groused. "Hey, maybe we could get him back. You could re-interview him."
Matt opened his mouth to reply and was interrupted by the chirping of his cell phone. "Just a minute." He retrieved the phone from the jacket lying on the bench at his side and flipped it open. "Bluestone." His eyes went wide and Elisa watched with renewed interest as he sputtered, "Jeannie? I mean, Jeannie. What a coincidence we were just talking about you."
* * *
"Thank Oberon." Jeannie breathed a sigh of relief as she clutched the hard plastic receiver in one hand while struggling with the accordion door of the telephone booth, trying to block the steady stream of traffic noise that filtered through from Ontario Street. "We made it to Cleveland, Matt, but there's been some trouble and I don't know where else to turn. I tried to call Andrea, but no one has answered there for days and I need somebody's help. I hope you don't mind me imposing."
She sagged against the tiny metal countertop at his reply. "No, of course not. What can I do?"
Jeannie drew a breath. It wasn't easy asking for help. But it was for Danny and that gave her the strength to try. She had promised the Puck that she would care for the halfling boy and she dared not fail at the first challenge. But confronting the constabulary alone even with the sheaf of papers that Andrea had pressed on her it seemed a more daunting task then she could bear. "The authorities have arrested him. He's being held at -" she looked down at the rectangle of cardboard the desk sergeant had pressed into her hand. "- The Justice Center. 1300 Ontario Avenue."
* * *
Elisa watched as Matt held up a hand as if trying to calm his caller. "Just relax, Jeannie. Can you tell me what happened? Huh. Newspapers. No vendor's permit. Well, I'll give him points for trying. And they won't release him why?" He nodded and grimaced. "An example. Sounds like politics to me. No, I'm glad you called. Of course I'll come." He glanced at his watch. "No. It's okay. What's the number there at the station?" He fished around in his jacket pocket and pulled out a notepad and pen. "Give it to me again. And where are you staying?" He jotted another note, set the pad and pen down and nodded, repeating reassurances into the phone. "Okay. I'll be out on the next flight."
Matt snapped the phone shut. Elisa was looking at him curiously. "What?"
"Not that I'm looking a gift lead in the mouth, Matt, but why did Jeannie call you?"
Matt shrugged. "Default. No one's answering the phone at Destine Manor and I was the next number on Jeannie's list. Danny's gotten himself in a jam and she needs help bailing him out of it."
"So you're going to Cleveland?"
"Have you got any better ideas? We need the kid. He's a material witness to Angela's kidnapping and he saw the guy running the show. We jumped to conclusions, thought it was Anton Sevarius and didn't follow through with a sketch artist. Now we have our chance."
"When you're right, you're right," Elisa admitted. A frown marred her face and tempered her excitement. "The Captain will want to go through channels. She'll never approve you going to Ohio in person."
Matt, in the process of re-knotting his tie, paused. "You're right." He coughed dramatically and pressed a hand against his forehead. "I don't feel so hot all of a sudden. I think I'm going to have to take a night off." He gazed speculatively toward the castle. "Do you suppose Mr. X. will lend me one of his corporate jets?"
Elisa handed her partner his jacket. "I don't know. Why don't we ask him?"
* * * * *
Later That Day
"Pie?" Fraser said without looking up as Matt threaded his way to the back of Joe's Diner and slipped into the booth across from his temporary partner. "The apple is good."
"No, thanks." A waitress appeared almost as soon as Matt settled into the booth and he declined both Fraser's offer and a menu simultaneously. "Just coffee. I've got to get over to the airport. I've been called out of town on an emergency. You said you had new information?"
"Straight to business then." Fraser shoved his empty plate toward the waitress. She filled Matt's cup, picked up the plate and retreated to an adjacent table to take an order. "Yeah. Lilith Ling. I knew there was something about that name that rang a bell. So I ran the usual checks but I also asked a few of my colleagues from Behavioral if they knew anything about her."
Fraser didn't use a notebook, just recited from memory. Matt suppressed a smirk as he noted the FBI agent's tie of the day: another geometric print at first glance that revealed itself on closer inspection to be winged pigs. He made a note to ask his counterpart where he shopped once they weren't hip deep in case files. "Scholarship student at the usual eastern prestige schools. Wrote an article during her postgraduate days at Harvard that ruffled a few feathers. Topic: the right of scientists to step outside the realm of societal laws if it's for the greater good. Then nothing for a couple of years."
"Probably got her hand slapped for daring to say what her colleagues felt," Matt suggested.
Fraser's lip quirked as though the agent were amused. "Probably. Anyway, we don't hear from her much until after she leaves Cambridge. Then her career gets interesting."
"She's ambitious. Jumps straight out of academia into industry and talks her way into a lead research position at a top pharmaceutical house. They're working with psychotropics. Which as you may know, are drugs that affect brain activities associated with mental processes and behavior."
"Yeah I know," Matt replied. "Anti-psychotic, anti-depressant, anti-anxiety and hypnotic medications. Turn on the TV, they're everywhere. It seems like half the population is taking them and the other half ought to be. I'm sure lots of people have had a hand in getting them to market."
"True enough," Fraser conceded. "But not everyone was using nursing home patients as their guinea pigs."
Matt's gaze narrowed. "And Ling did?"
"Yep. There was a flap in Chicago. It caused a congressional investigation. She escaped charges, but just barely. Seems that even though she designed the study, she was smart enough to get someone else to sign off on it. So another slap on her wrist and she's off again."
"Where to this time?"
"California and school children. Woman has a thing for using drugs for behavior modification and she seems to like institutional settings as laboratories. Class rooms, nursing homes, she was involved in a study two years ago involving a prison population."
"This is interesting, but what's it got to do with our case?" Matt wondered.
"Think about it," Fraser said. "We know they were doing some kind of cloning research. A clone is a tabula rasa. The ultimate blank slate. Sure, it's got the physical characteristics of its parent, but the mind? There's nothing there, nothing but basic instincts waiting to be programmed. If you were Ling, could you resist the opportunity?"
Matt gave the agent a skeptical look. "Uh yeah, if you're talking science fiction movies and clones grown to adult size in test tubes. Our science is years away from that. Read the newspapers, so far all they've managed to do is clone a sheep that acts like a sheep. Neat, yeah, but not all that exciting."
Fraser leaned forth conspiratorially. "Are we really? There was some interesting equipment recovered from that lab in New Jersey. Our people in the science unit are going crazy trying to figure out how some of it was used. I'm betting Ling is growing full on clones and stashing them someplace so that she can test out some of her more controversial theories."
"What kind of theories? Just what has she been up to?"
Fraser pulled a slim line briefcase from underneath the booth, snapped it open and retrieved a disk. "Here. I put it on disk to protect it from coffee spills." He winked at Matt and the detective scowled back. "Ling's published work over the last ten years. She wants to change the world one personality at a time."
Matt accepted the jewel case enclosed disk and contemplated it thoughtfully. "Not that I'm saying it's impossible," he prefaced, "but she's a behaviorist, not a geneticist. Don't you think she'd have a partner in this mix somewhere?"
Fraser shrugged. "Possibly. Probably even. She's never been involved in anything controversial where she couldn't shift the blame elsewhere. It's part of her M.O. But we don't have any proof of a second party this time."
"So why don't you just arrest her?" Matt asked. He toyed with his spoon and ignored the cooling cup of coffee. Matt had been right about Fraser, the agent was no dummy and he was willing to think outside of the box. "If all that was going on down there then she must have violated some federal statute and you could use her to get to any others."
"Not enough evidence. And what we do have is circumstantial." Fraser shook his head. "Nah. We can't move until we have something more." He slapped some bills down on the table and got up. "Let's keep pushing her, Matt. She's up to something. I can feel it."
* * * * *
Castle Wyvern, Evening
Elisa sagged against the common room wall and took a deep breath. She had made the rounds of the castle in a futile search for Angela, cursing herself the whole while for oversleeping. She'd been caught in another bout of strange, abstract dreams that had left her skin tingling and her senses on edge. The dreams felt uncomfortably familiar and while they may have been a result of her recent head injury, Elisa had more than a mild compulsion to nerve up the courage to ask Fox if her rest was similarly disturbed.
Instead, she sought Angela. Elisa hadn't had the chance to apologize after the debacle of an interview. And though Ptah made his observation to promote his own self-serving agenda, their unwelcome guest was right about one thing, Angela was acting more unstable as the nights passed, not less. She needed to talk to somebody to get her head straight about her ordeal.
She pushed off against the wall, found she could stand without her knees threatening to give way and walked through the gathering area out onto the courtyard. A thunderstorm was building out on the horizon and the wind was up. It whipped at her hair as she scanned the cityscape.
Elisa was rewarded for her efforts by the whoosh of wings high overhead. She looked skyward. Lexington and Delilah glided above her head, circling the castle in playful chase. Delilah wagged her finger at the kite-winged male who pursued. Even from her vantage point Elisa could see that Lex was taking the admonishment as a challenge. He reset his wings and dove, cutting underneath his mate and grabbing her by the waist.
Elisa looked away from the intimate moment drawn back to something from her dream. In it she had been the one on the wing seeking… something.
The fragment skittered away before she could grasp a hold of it. Irritated, Elisa opened her eyes. In her reverie she failed to notice that Delilah and Lexington had landed and were approaching.
Elisa affected casual tones as she asked, "Hey guys, good patrol?"
Delilah gave her a frustrated shake of the head. "We had no luck spotting false Angela," she reported.
"Yeah, and even the crooks seemed to be taking the night off," Lexington added. "It was a complete waste of time."
"Some nights are like that," Elisa commiserated. "Are the others due back soon? I was hoping to have another talk with Angela."
"Angela won't be back tonight," Delilah said. "Broadway was going to escort her to Destine Manor after they finished patrolling. She told us Andrea wanted to use morning light for one of her new paintings so she was planning on staying the day."
Elisa frowned. "Angela told you this?"
Lexington nodded, confirming his mate's information. "Yeah, she mentioned it during dinner. Why?"
"Something's not right," Elisa muttered. She strode into the common room and went straight to the telephone. She dialed, tapping her foot impatiently as she did so. After letting the phone ring for nearly a minute she hung up. "No one's home and the answering machine is off. Plus, Matt told me today that Jeannie has been trying to get a hold of Andrea for the last couple of days." Elisa fell silent for a second before asking. "Where's Broadway now?"
"He should be on his way back. Unless he stopped at the Labyrinth." Lexington replied.
"Can you check?" Something was off. Elisa felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand.
Delilah nodded and lifted the radio transmitter that hung around her neck to her lips. "Broadway, come in."
There was a space of silence and the crackle of static. She started to repeat the call when the object of their search entered the room. "You guys need me for something?" He seemed tired and more than a little subdued.
"Yeah, Broadway, I was looking for you," Elisa replied. "How's Angela tonight?"
The burly gargoyle frowned, worry plain on his moon-like face. "She was pretty quiet tonight, Elisa. She barely spoke to me the whole time we were out." He paused. "It's like she was somebody else."
The wrong feeling grew more intense. Still unwilling to jump to any conclusions, Elisa kept her tone calm as she asked, "Lex, Delilah could you go do that vacation check we were just discussing?"
"Vacation… oh, right," Lexington said as he clued in to Elisa's meaning. "And if the parties aren't there?"
"Then we have a problem."
The telephone rang. Elisa returned to the small alcove that housed the instrument and picked it up. "Hello?"
"Finally." Matt pressed the cell phone closer to his head to try and block the noise from the thunderstorm beating overhead. He was racing in through the streets of Cleveland with Danny and Jeannie in tow. The storm was tracking to the southeast and he hoped, by the time they reached the airport and Xanatos's private jet, out of their flight path. "Elisa, I've got news."
"Matt? Where are you?"
"Cleveland. On my way home. Look. I've got news. Big news." The phone went silent. Matt tapped it against his palm as a trailing cell unleashed multiple thunderbolts. The limousine, courtesy of the local Xanatos Enterprises subsidiary, hit a pocket of water and slipped on the pavement. Jeannie gave him a wide-eyed look and Danny gripped at the handhold as he braced against the upholstery.
"Sorry about that," called the driver, a black suited woman in her twenties. She adjusted her chauffeur's cap and hit the accelerator even as she snagged an incoming call off the radio. She exchanged several coded phrases earning more curious looks from Jeannie.
The former djinn was quiet. Emotionally overloaded since Danny, her halfling charge, had been arrested earlier in the day for selling newspapers without a vendor's permit, she had settled into a state of submissiveness soon after Matt's arrival. She had watched as he strong-armed the Cleveland police, something she dared not do given her own somewhat tenuous claim on her identity, stating his need for the youthful offender as a material witness was greater than their need to earn a few lines of ink in the hometown press. She had allowed him to arrange their affairs, checking them out of the budget class motel they'd been calling home since their arrival in the Midwest and hustling them into the big car with its efficient driver.
"That was the pilot. He said the airport has cleared you for takeoff as soon as you arrive. Seems like most people have canceled their travel plans so you don't have to worry about delays on the runway."
"Thanks," Matt smacked his phone again. "Now if I could just do something about this cell phone service." He hit redial and Elisa picked up before the first ring.
"Matt? Is that you? We were cut off."
"Yeah, I know. Sorry. Weather, I think." He wasted no words fearing a repeat of the cut off. "Elisa, you were right. Sevarius is alive."
"I knew it," she said fiercely. "But why the reversal? New information from -"
"No." Matt cut her off before she could say the name. "He had a meeting this morning near Public Square. Danny recognized him and snooped from a safe distance."
He gave the kid a look and the halfling shrugged back. "Hey, I would have given you his entire nefarious scheme, but Jeannie's only taught me a 'be normal' glamour, not invisibility."
The former djinn shook her head tiredly. "I can't teach you to be invisible, Danny. I can only teach you to be inconspicuous, but it takes time."
Matt ignored the by-play. "It seems he has enhanced hearing."
"That's great!" Broadway wandered out of the television room and opened the fridge. Elisa shook her head at him and waved him over. She put one hand over the phone. "News," she whispered to the burly gargoyle before returning her attention to her partner. "Any idea as to his whereabouts?"
"No luck there. Danny overheard him calling a cab company before he was arrested." The phone went silent again. "Elisa?" Matt shouted.
"Ouch. Yeah, Matt, I'm here."
"I've called Fraser in on this. He's checking the airports and train stations." The limo pulled into the airfield and moved smoothly towards a row of private jets. The one at the end had its running lights on and a yellow suited flight crew swarming over it. The big black car stopped and the driver got out. "We're here. I don't know what you can do with the information, but I thought you should know." The phone cut out again. "Elisa?"
"Matt?" Elisa raised her voice and tried again. "Matt? Gone." She hung up the phone.
"What did Matt say?" Elisa blinked. She looked up having temporarily forgotten Broadway as she attempted to reconnect with her partner.
"It seems reports of the good doctor's death have been somewhat exaggerated," the detective reported. "Sevarius is alive."
* * * * *
To be continued…