Father Goose - Pt 7

Father Goose and the Black Knight


Chapter 7: And a feather boa.

Faith came awake. She sensed movement in the darkness of wherever the hell she was, and she lay still, waiting. She eased one eye slightly open saw the figure approaching, she waited, waited, it reached out and Faith rolled out of the bed, landed on her hands and twisted to land a spinning kick on the back of the figure’s legs, taking it down hard. Faith came to her feet and assumed a fighting stance and, “Wow, that was cool,” her attacker said and Faith found herself staring down at a grinning blonde who did a back roll, came to her feet and held out her hand. “You probably don’t remember, I’m Renee, wanta go for a ride?”

“What?”

“Me an’ Zoey and Jacquie are going for a bike ride, wanta come?”

Her head cleared, I’m in Cleveland, she remembered.

“What the fuck time is it?”

“I dunno, six, six thirty, something like that.”

“In the morning? Are you out of your fucking mind!?”

“It’s nice out now. I brought you some bike shorts, well, I stole them from Vi ’cause I don’t think mine would fit you. They’re clean.”

Are you out of your fucking mind, Faith asked herself, staring into the bathroom mirror. Are you actually going to go on a bicycle ride with a psychotic elf at six in the fucking morning?

She was screwed. She’d broken down and cried like a baby, curled up in Harris’ arms and let him rock her to sleep. God. He’d had to carry her to bed. With the bad leg, he’d probably had one of the girls help. So much for Big Bad Faith, here comes Basket Case Faith, pull her string and watch her cry. Harris would try to help her, poor troubled Slayer that she was. He would be kind, and gentle, and concerned and drive her nuts.

She had to get out of here, just grab her stuff and go.

There was a clatter and an “oops” from the bedroom, Faith opened the door and saw Renee wearing her jacket, with a small pile of stakes and knives at her feet. “What a cool jacket, how did you get all those knives in there, those are cool stakes did you make them, where did you get the jacket, do you think I could get a jacket like this, does it have to be black, do you think I could get one that was like, red, ’cause you know red would work better with my complexion, are you ready to go now?”

There were two girls waiting in the garage, their eyes widening when Faith and Renee emerged. “Faith, this is Jacquie,” pointing at a short round-faced black girl, “and Zoey,” pale with black hair in a boyish cut, “and they each owe me five dollars ’cause they said I wouldn’t dare wake you and I did. Faith, hold still, I need to take a picture,” she added, holding up her cell with the built-in camera and took Faith’s picture, “cool, it’s only six forty-five so Xander owes me a whole box of Twinkies and ….”

“What?” Faith said. “Harris put you up to this?”

“No, yeah, I mean last night I was talking about how cool it would be if you went riding with us and this morning there’s a note from Xander in my mail box, saying he’d bet me a box of Twinkies I couldn’t get you up and outside before seven and urk …”

Faith reached and grabbed her by the neck, slammed her against the wall and held her there. “Kid,” she said. “Shut up. Now, three rules, listening?” Renee nodded. “One, do not touch the leathers. Ever. Got me? Two, never touch my weapons without permission, right?” Nod. “Three, any time you win something betting on me, I get a piece of the action. Got me? A third of the cash and half the Twinkies. Understood? Yah? Good.” She let the girl down. “Okay, which one of these bikes is mine?”

“Any-any of those,” Zoey said, pointing nervously at the rack by the back door.

“Well, let’s go then,” Faith said. That’s better. It would be okay. And Harris was dead meat. Faith found herself smiling. It was weird.

It was nearly five minutes before Renee started chattering again.

*               *               *

The detectives reconvened in a smaller case room, where bulletin and chalk boards full of pictures and maps and diagrammed timelines replaced the bank of monitors.

“The good news,” Captain Maddux said, “CSI found these items in the alley, one gold amulet,” she passed it around in a plastic evidence bag. “You’ll note the patterns on the amulet match the markings that were branded onto our victims. We’re having the gold analyzed to see if we can trace it that way, but there’s no maker’s mark or serial number.”

“And we found this interesting little item,” Maddux said, holding up a wooden cane. “One cane with two interesting features. First,” the captain held the cane up and twisted and the bottom two feet came off leaving the main shaft ending in a sharpened point. “And the other end has been weighted, it’s nice work, balanced. Could mess up your day in a hurry.”

“So Eyepatch, not so much the one-eyed cripple and more the kinda guy you don’t want to meet in a dark alley,” Benson said, then caught herself and looked around. “If you’ll pardon the expression.”

“But the real interesting thing about this cane,” Maddux said, “is the full set of fingerprints CSI found on the handle, belonging to one Alexander Lavelle Harris. Now, we happen to have a set of Mr. Harris’ prints in the system because in his capacity as guardian of a number of teenage girls Mr. Harris has occasionally been a volunteer at the public school they attend, dance chaperone, field trips, that sort of thing, and the standard basic background check was done by the school.”

“We, of course, did a little bit more than the standard check and it turns out that while Mr. Harris has never been convicted, in 1999 he was arrested in Oxnard California on a charge of Lewd and Lascivious under the name Alex Snyder. The charges apparently stemmed from a raid on the quote Fabulous Ladies Night Club unquote. Mr. “Snyder” disappeared and charges were subsequently dropped, as they were against most of the fringe participants.

“So how in the hell did a former male stripper who carries concealed weapons and goes around in public in face paint end up guardian of a houseful of teenage girls?” Stabler asked.

“Well,” Maddux replied, “I think its time to go ask him, don’t you?”

*               *               *

Xander had dropped his towel and was just reaching for a fresh pair of boxers when a woman appeared beside him, gave a little sniff and turned away and spoke in veddy veddy British tones, “Mr. Harris, I do apologize.”

“No need. Willow may be all one with the universe these days but her sense of humor is still pretty basic. New Watcher, then?”

“Yes.”

“My office is right through that door, if you want to wait I’ll be with you in a few, fully clothed.”

Xander dressed, gave his leg, which had stiffened overnight, a brief rubdown, took a deep breath, stepped into his office and seeing the new Watcher clearly for the first time, said, “So, are you evi–… I’ll be damned.”

“She was my aunt,” the new Watcher said. “I’m told we look alike.”

“Yes, well, wow,” Xander said, settling slowly down into his chair. “It’s been a long time but she was quite memorable in her way.”

“Forgive me,” The Watcher said. “I am Georgianne Travers, Ms.”

Xander raised an eyebrow, and she answered, “Grandfather.”

“Well,” Xander said, “I am a firm believer in not blaming the son for the sins of the father, but both Mrs. Post and Quentin Travers in the family tree, that’s a load.”

He pushed the speed dial on the phone and waited for Giles to pick up. Xander looked over at the young woman who sat bolt upright with an air of slightly martyred patience that was apparently hereditary, her auburn hair tightly coiffed, her inevitable tweed suit tailored to both reveal a nicely rounded feminine form and mark it as off limits.

“Xander, my boy, how are you?” Giles answered, clearly in a good mood. Clearly, it soon became evident, quite pleased with himself. Oh, Xander thought, dear.

*               *               *

Georgianne Travers, Ms., sat bolt upright, exuding a calm indifference because she had been born and bred and trained since birth to do so, but behind the automatic fašade her heart beat wildly.

It was one thing to stay up half the night over take-away curry and declaim about the correct way to deploy Slayers when cleaning a vampire nest or demon lair, or debate the proper place of the Watcher in a Slayer’s destiny.

Georgianne herself could argue quite passionately on her theory of the Slayer as knight errant, in need of both a squire and a patron, i.e., someone with the skills and knowledge of a Watcher to act as commander and guide while the lesser trained, and therefore more expendable squire attended to the Slayers’ more mundane needs ….

And she knew she was right but still all the fine arguments somehow faded away when one found oneself suddenly standing in Xander Harris’ bedroom staring at the mounded white scars on his ribcage, how did you argue Slayer management with someone who’d survived a Stavrox demon?

A defiant little voice in the back of her mind insisted on reminding her that scars were signs of failure, bad planning, of foolishness, but that voice found itself growing meek and a little squeaky actually sitting in the room with him, watching the scar’s owner lounging in his chair like an insolent schoolboy, exchanging good-natured insults with Rupert Giles.

Over curry one mocked Giles as “Buffy’s Lapdog” or “The American” but in his presence he was suddenly once again the hero of Smythe-Witson’s epic “Our Man on the Hellmouth,” and one’s scorn suddenly turned to ashes in one’s mouth.

And now she was on the Hellmouth. She, internally, shook herself. This would not do. She had a job to do, she had not one but two family names to redeem, she would not fall prey to schoolgirl weaknesses.

She was aware suddenly that Harris had finished his call and was watching her. He spoke: “Giles says, ‘neener neener, ha, ha, ha’.”

“What?!”

“Well, he didn’t use those words. He said that you were bright, dedicated, and you and I would be good for each other, that I would find you bracing, and that I was to wish you luck. Pissed the old boy off, did you?”

“Well, I belong to a faction that often opposes Mr. Giles’ plans for the Council. But I don’t think I’ve done anything to draw Mr. Giles’ personal ire.”

“Ms. Travers,” Harris leaned forward, his voice changed, not threatening really, but suddenly she was very glad she was not a vampire. “We’re on a Hellmouth here. I’ve got twenty-five, now twenty-six Slayers, most relatively new and untrained, I’ve been asking, begging, demanding, whining, you name it, trying to get another Watcher here for months and bupkis.

“Why are you here? Why now?”

She blushed. She never blushed. She blushed. “Ummm, well. You do know that in the year before you took over, four Watchers were killed here?”

“And three Slayers, but go on.”

“Watchers aren’t called, they have to be recruited, trained, it takes longer to make a Watcher than a Slayer … there’s a shortage of Watchers so, supply and demand. Who wants to be Watcher to twenty-five Slayers on the Hellmouth in Cleveland when they could be Watcher to six experienced Slayers in Naples or Buenes Aires or even Miami?”

“Funny, I never saw Watchers as so much the slacker types. Aren’t there any hot shots who want to come prove they can handle a Hellmouth?”

“Well, yes. But you’re here. And you’ve already handled it. No dead Slayers. You’re alive for longer than any other Watcher here. Anyone coming here would just get a rep for riding your coattails.”

“That would be pretty pathetic … So, once more, why are you here?”

“I … had my Cruciamentum last night.”

“What, I thought Giles banned …”

“For Slayers. For Watchers it’s different. When you finish your formal studies there’s a ceremony, all candles and oath-taking, and then they bring in a captured vampire and to seal your graduation you stake it. And then there’s a big party. And now that I’m telling someone it does seem a bit … medieval. So, there’s a big party. And I got really drunk and made this big stupid speech. And I volunteered. Okay?”

He was laughing. The damned, uneducated buffoon in that unbelievable shirt was laughing at her …

“Well,” he said, “maybe you’ll fit in here after all. So, you ready to meet the girls?”

*               *               *

John Munch felt like the little detective who cried wolf. Even if he was pretty sure that a lot the times he had cried wolf the wolf was actually there and the little sheep just never realized they’d been eaten. But this was at a whole new level.

He saw the eyes roll sometimes when he was talking, actually rather enjoyed his reputation for, shall we say, eccentricity.

But now it was biting him in the ass. If he told what he’d seen, no one would believe, at best they’d laugh, at worst they’d think he’d finally really lost it.

To be honest he was having doubts himself. But he kept seeing that girl’s face … coming apart.

So, if he didn’t imagine it … Work the theory.

Some kind of disintegration ray, like a miniature neutron bomb. Ergo, secret military? In Cleveland? If Fin was right about Harris going up the wall, some sort of anti-gravity device? Again, secret military? Again, Cleveland? Teenage girls? Male stripper?

Death ray. Anti-grav. Aliens? Strippers from space?

This was going well.

Some sort of illusion, holograms projected in the alley? Then how to explain the dust? Projected on the dust? Dust dropped from the rooftop, projected figures. Why? Some kind of spook show to keep cult members in line? Stripper, girls, cult, makes some sort of sense. Well, no, but more than …

Vampires. Blood-letting ritual, cult that convinces lost girls that they are vampires, or can become vampires. But if they have the wherewithal to stage a show to fool the CPD, why bother with small time stuff? Maybe it wasn’t small time.

The girl’s face coming apart.

At the computer, researching, holographic projection, disintegration ray. Missing girls. Secret Military. Invisibility?

Deep deep into wacko territory. Just imagine. What if one percent, just one percent of the wacko stuff you find on the internet is true. One percent.

Whatthehell. Add Vampirism. Vampires. Jeez, what a world some people must live in. New York was bad enough, muggers, psychos, gangsters, terrorists, what if you also had to walk in fear of vampires. And demons. He read on. Demons that spewed mucus that set like cement. Demons that ate skin.

What? There’s a familiar name. On some wacko’s website, Alexander (Xander) Harris, demon hunter. With his pointy stick?

Okay, it’s just a character in some online role-playing game run by somebody called Andrew the Wise. Still, what are the odds?

And here’s another site, Alexander (Xander) Harris is actually one of a group of aliens whose crash landing on earth caused the Sunnydale crater, and subsequently escaped after disguising their damaged space ship as a school bus.

Munch looked up. Detective Schriener was standing beside him with a sympathetic wry grin on his face. He shook his head, said, “That way madness lies.” And he handed Munch a small plastic bottle with the word BAYER on the side.

Munch took five.

*               *               *

Odafin Tutuola stood on the roof and looked down into the alley. It was a long way down. Or up. He walked the roof, looking for signs of ropes, grappling hooks, pitons, anything. Nothing.

Odafin Tutuola sat with two teachers who had agreed to come in to meet him, the vice-principal and one of the counselors at the Hillside High School. The vice-principal was insisting he needed a court order if Fin wanted to see school records.

“And if it comes to that, I’ll get the order,” he said, “right now I just want your impressions of the girls so we can determine if a fuller investigation is needed. Do they seem … violent …?”

“I admit , we were a little worried when they first came, the girls would all hang out together. They didn’t really have any gang insignia or anything but they called other, what was it, killer …?”

“Slayer,” one of the teachers said.

“Right, Slayer. Sounded a little, ominous, you know? But nothing really came of it. There was a couple of fights, but we called Mr. Wood, he was their guardian then, and then we didn’t have any more problems.”

“We had a little trouble, a few fights after Mr. Wood left, but since Mr. Harris came we’ve had no trouble.”

“You haven’t seen any signs of abuse, then?”

“Well, the girls do sometimes have bandages for a day or two, but the injuries seemed more consistent with athletic endeavors than abuse, besides they didn’t have that beat-down look abused kids have …”

“I think its the martial arts they do. The girls sometimes play around at lunch, you know, my karate kick is better than your karate kick, a couple of times I thought they were really going at it but when I went over they just bowed to each other and laughed. Here,” the counselor dug through her desk a moment, came out with a business card and made a copy for Fin.

He read aloud, “The Sleeping Tiger School of Martial Arts.”

“Yes, I’m thinking I should send some of my troubled students there.”

Fin was just about to get in his car when one of the teachers called out his name, came hurrying up to join him.

“Detective, I didn’t want to say anything in front of … Well, there’s teachers and administrators and never the twain shall meet, really … Let me tell you a story. Last year when school started one the African girls —”

“African girls?”

“When Mr. Harris came he apparently brought a number of girls from different African countries, I suppose some sort of scholarship program. They’re lovely girls, they certainly bring a little bit of fresh air into the classroom. Detective, you asked about abuse. I’ve read some of those girls’ essays … Some of those girls come from terrible places, where I think they were, in one form or another, abused. But not by Xan–… Mr. Harris. I’ve been doing this a long time, you learn to see the signs. They’re just not there with these girls. Whatever you’re investigating, please be careful. Don’t fix something that isn’t broke.”

“You were going to tell me a story.”

“Oh, right. First day of school last year, one of the African girls, Jacquie, brought me a little cake. Where she’s from, you’re expected to bring a little something for the teacher. It’s how they’re paid. Now, Hillside isn’t the inner city, there’s worse schools, but even if the administration doesn’t want to admit it, we do have some gang activity, some pretty rough characters. They don’t run the place but … we coexist.

“Jacquie gives me the cake and one of the gang leaders starts laughing, really kind of riding her. The next day, too. The third day, the gang leader, he brings me an apple. Since then, every Monday Jacquie would bring me a cake or some chocolate. And every Monday the four meanest baddest dudes in the school would each bring their teachers an apple. When school starts up again next week it’ll be first time I’ve ever kind of hoped I get one the gang leaders for homeroom. I kinda got used to that apple. You draw your own conclusions, Detective.”

Detective Tutuola was standing in the office of the Sleeping Tigers Martial Arts School when his cell rang. It was Munch. “You learn anything?”

“I learned how to disable a black belt with my tongue.”

“Yeah? Male or female?”

“Male. This kung fu instructor, he goes to teach at the Girls’ home twice a week. I asked him if he thought Harris was abusing the girls. He starts giggling. Then he starts giggling and wheezing and now he’s down on his back giggling, slapping the floor and laughing his ass off. Maybe literally.”

Detective Tutuola came into the squadroom and sat down next to Munch. Munch handed him the aspirin bottle.

*               *               *

Detective Olivia Benson was starting to worry a little about her partner’s health. Specifically, that his head would explode.

Just the idea, the one guy living in the house with all the underage girls was suspect, and got Elliot worked up.

And the night before, the groups of girls coming out of the house and just running off into the night, even if he was legit, what was he doing letting the girls run around at night like that?

And then this morning, learning that he was some kind of sex offender, albeit minor, but that probably just meant he’d learned his lesson and not got caught anymore. In Stabler’s world, once a pervert, always a pervert. In Benson’s, too, she just wasn’t quite so sure about this one. She had watched the van unload … if he did control those girls, it wasn’t through terror.

But she’d been fooled too often by happy facades to have any illusions. The idea that horrors happened behind the bright fresh-painted walls preyed on the mind.

And if it was all innocent, then they’d have nothing to hide and she and Stabler could move on.

They’d parked, blocking the gravel drive, and gone up to the front door and knocked, heard female voices inside, one calling. “I’ll get it, I’ll get it,” and the door swung open to reveal a girl they recognized as Little Lost Blonde.

“Detectives Benson and Stabler, here to …”

“Just a minute,” the girl said and shut the door with a casual wave of her hand. Stabler had been ready this time, he’d stepped forward, had a foot inside and he’d just been ejected like an overdone poptart. He looked closer at the door, it was steel, must be on a spring of some kind.

Inside they could hear the girl’s voice. “Hey, Xander … Xander.”

They were starting to think about going around the back when the door opened again to reveal a slim girl with short dark hair. “Badges,” she said and they held them up for the girl’s inspection and suddenly they were gone. And the door was shut. Benson felt the urge to laugh, looked over at Elliot and decided not to. They waited. Stabler banged on the door again, waited, banged, yelled police, began to think about going around back when the door swung open and he was there, eyepatch, Alexander Lavelle Harris and he wasn’t quite what they’d expected.

The eyepatch seemed to be real, he had nasty looking scar running across his right cheek, vivid against the deep tan, the colors on his shirt were truly startling but that wasn’t the unexpected part, that was the rueful grin and air of casual good nature as he handed back their badges, said. “Sorry about that, Detectives, but it’s a dangerous world, can’t be too careful who you let in,” and stepped back leaving the door open and Stabler quickly stepped inside, Benson followed. Down the hall a couple of girls stood like sentinels, watching.

Harris turned, and favoring a stiff right leg in a looping walk he led the detectives into a small, rather bare office, a desk with computer and phone, table with all-in-one fax printer, etc., a couple of cheap file cabinets. The chairs in contrast were high quality, leather, Harris flopped down into the big one behind the desk and waved at the three others but Benson and Stabler remained standing.

“How can I help you?” Harris asked. He smiled. He offered them coffee.

*               *               *

It was maddening.

They were used to denials and defiance. To lies, to evasions, to long spiels of BS. To rage and vitriol. To whining, crying, pleas for mercy. They were used to the more intelligent suspects who immediately lawyered up.

Indifference they didn’t run into so often.

They suggested he go downtown with them, he shrugged, didn’t think he’d know anything downtown he didn’t know here.

“C’mon,” Stabler said, friendly hand on his shoulder. “It won’t take long, we’ll get this all cleared up.”

“Am I under arrest?”

“No, why would you be under arrest?”

Silence. Raised eyebrow, slight smile. Silence.

Indifference and immunity to silence.

Great tool of interrogation, silence. Goad the suspect, push a button, sit and wait, people have the need to fill the silence, explain, justify. Harris just sat waiting.

They said they were looking for missing girls.

He said he wasn’t missing any girls.

They showed him pictures of the dwarves. He looked, he shrugged. He sat and waited.

He picked up the phone and started to dial and Stabler put his finger on the bar and closed the connection and Harris didn’t even blink. He held up his hand, demonstrating it was empty, reached slowly into his pocket with two fingers and retrieved a cell, dialed a number and ordered five pounds extra carrots and ten pounds of cabbage and how was the zucchini this week?

So what do you do here?

I live here.

And the girls, what do they do here?

They live here.

Why do they go out at night?

Exercise.

Isn’t that dangerous?

I’m not the one that’s missing girls.

Stabler sat on desk, leaned in, leered.

So what’s it like, living all by yourself with all these girls. You have a different one every night? Or is it a big group thing?

And when did you stop molesting your daughters, detective?

Stabler grabbed his shirt, slammed him back hard into his chair. Benson saw something flicker in Harris’ eye, but it faded and he simply lay slack, waiting for Stabler to release him. Benson heard the office door open slightly behind her, saw Harris waggle his hand discreetly and the door closed, Stabler released him and stepped back, breathing hard.

“You know what I think?” Stabler sneered. “I think you’re a pathetic little man who’s afraid of women, of adult women and has to prey on weak and helpless little girls …”

And Harris began to laugh, not faking either but a real shoulder-shaking can’t hold it back laugh. Benson was sure that she heard the laughter echoed down the hall.

Stabler and Benson shared a look, she opened her briefcase and took out a file and laid the pictures of the victims on the desk, close-ups of the cuts, the ligature marks, the brands.

Maybe you won’t think this is so funny.

She read aloud the grislier parts of the victim’s statements.

He sat and listened, leaned forward and looked intently at the pictures, holding a couple up to the light and peered with clinical interest, asked: Have you identified the brands yet?

What?

I have a friend who’s an expert in these matters, if I could fax her a copy of the brands and the description of the ritual she might be able to help.

What is this person’s name?

Charming as I find you both, I think I’ll spare her your attentions.

We could hold you for obstruction.

Are you going to let me fax the picture?

Of course not.

Then I’m not the one doing the obstructing. If you really wanted to get this guy you’d take help wherever you can get it.

Do you mind if we look around?

Yes.

Afraid of what we might find?

In the bedrooms of twenty-five teenage girls? Absolutely terrified.

Can we a have a list of the girls who live here.

No.

Why not?

None of your business.

Why don’t you let us decide that?

Why would I do that?

Because we’re the police.

So?

What’s in the basement?

None of your business.

Benson thought they had him once. It was her turn to get in his face. Do you dance for them? Maybe we’ve got it wrong. Maybe you’re not the master here, maybe you’re the little boytoy, earn your keep the way you did at the Fabulous Ladies Night Club of Oxnard, California?

His eye widened then, all right.

Finally, a weak spot. She picked up a file, read, one count of Lewd and Lascivious, Alex. Or should I call you “Snyder?”

No, don’t do that.

What happened, Alex, you go a little too far on stage, actually hump the drunk lady in the second row? Or did you just get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time? You want to tell us about it?

He broke then. Or at a least the indifference did, he smiled and shook his head, said softly, “No power on this earth.”

He sighed, he turned and looked at her.

“You know,” he said sadly, “I’ve got a birthday coming up. I was thinking I’d get, you know, a couple of nice shirts. Maybe a framed photograph or two. Maybe a couple DVDs. You know what I’m going to get now? Twenty-five g-strings and a feather boa.”


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