Father Goose - Pt 11

Father Goose and the Black Knight


Chapter 11: Hush, Faith, and Munch

Xander’s leg woke him early, the thin mats on the bunk beds in Clem’s Room weren’t doing him any favors. He was going to have to figure something out. Clem’s Room, a magically concealed offshoot of the basement, the name lingering of course from the time Clem had lived there for awhile and often had to be hidden quickly, was meant for emergencies. Moving himself into it lock stock and barrel would kind of defeat the purpose. Maybe he should have accepted Faith’s offer to move upstairs, after last night he didn’t suppose the girls would find Faith’s presence all that inhibiting.

His knee-jerk, so to speak, reaction had been that he’d promised Faith the room she had, that she was … Faith, and deserved a room to herself, but now that he’d thought about it, maybe she’d wanted to move upstairs and be, for once in her life, one of the girls. Maybe she’d wanted a roommate not supplied by the State to whisper to late at night.

On the other hand, he didn’t need the girls staying up all night passing the rum and planning new and exciting ways to terrify local law enforcement.

Rubbing vigorously, he managed to get his leg straightened out enough to stand, slip on his robe, grab his cane and hobble out into the main section of the basement, mostly made up of the training area, the rest filled by the library, weight room and locker room, and of course the hidden command central. He often wondered if the weight room served any real purpose beside his own physical therapy regime, whether the girls really needed the exercise. Maybe it would make a difference as they aged. Nobody really knew what a forty-year old Slayer would be like, or a fifty. Seventy-five. He grinned, wasn’t there some Monty Python skit with gangs of little old ladies going around beating up young men. Hell’s Grannies or something like that. Monty Python as prophecy, have to run that one by Giles some time.

Or maybe the whole Slayer power thing expired at certain age, and wouldn’t that suck weasel vomit through a straw. Imagine lifting whole Toyotas one day and the next having trouble with the pickle jar.

Meanwhile, anything to burn off their unending energy was probably a good thing.

The indicator on the locker room door was set to E for empty but he knocked anyway, since he was the only one who actually used it. No answer so he shifted the arrow over to “X”, originally the sign had said “M” but the girls would always rearrange it. He so needed to start playing poker on Friday nights or something. As it was, the only male companionship he had these days was the girls’ boyfriends and they were all too terrified to be good company. He’d actually liked the kid who’d breezed in, called out, “Hey, Cyclops, how’s it hanging,” stole a beer, and yelled at Amber to get her ass in gear. As it was, Xander had had to call the kid’s parents to confirm that he was still alive after his sudden disappearance from Slayer house ’cause the way the girls were grinning had worried him.

Ah, me, he thought, only I could get a new Watcher called George and have it be a pretty girl. And only I would complain about it.

He clumped over to his locker and pulled out a bathing suit, hobbled over to the Jacuzzi and started the water bubbling. He pulled himself awkwardly over the side and flopped in and settled back, waiting for the heat to ease his leg.

Yeah, poor me, he thought, doomed to spend my life surrounded by beautiful girls. On the other hand there was that water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink thing.

Not that anybody believed it.

He’d been in way too much pain when he’d first got back to the States to even think of sex. But a couple or three months later when the pain was a more manageable ache, he’d decided he needed to get out there and live a little, put the past in the past and start fresh and dive into the dating game. And there’d been some interest, even got to the second date a couple of times, but always when they learned how he lived, especially when they learned there were girls from the third world there, he saw the gates go up and the eyes turn cold and they wrote him off as a perv and/or a pimp.

Hell, to be fair, he wouldn’t believe it either. Some guy living all by himself with a whole houseful of teenage girls and hasn’t been laid in months? Yeah, sure.

And shit happened. There was the time his leg seized up bad and Renee had found him curled on the floor and picked him up and carried him to the Jacuzzi. She’d stripped him, put him in the water and jumped in and massaged his leg until it eased, and the whole thing had been about as erotic as a root canal, but the answer to the question, Xander Harris, did there come a time when you were naked in a hot tub with a fifteen year-old girl, was yes.

And they cried sometimes, and he let them curl up in his lap and be held. And they had nightmares and if the other girls couldn’t comfort them he’d come and stay with them and hold them until they cried themselves to sleep in his arms and sometimes they’d moan if he tried to leave and so the answer to the question Xander Harris, did there come a time when you spent the night in bed with a fourteen, fifteen, sixteen year-old girl, the answer again was yes. And it was all innocent but who on the outside looking in would possibly believe it?

Not that they were totally innocent little angels, it had taken a weekend without TV and a serious ice cream threat to get them to stop playing the let’s-give-Xander-a-woody-and-watch-him-sit-funny game.

And thinking of innocent angels naturally brought him around to the true problem of the day that he’d been avoiding.

What the hell was he going to do about Faith?

He’d been damn well aware of her in a physical sense since she’d arrived. But hell, she was Faith, she took up space. And he’d felt her eyes on him, too, but then he was the only male in the place. Maybe it was more than that. Maybe it wasn’t.

They had a history, they’d shared a space and time, but they weren’t the same people. Which was probably a good thing.

She’d planted one on him last night and he could still feel it.

They’d said good night to George and he’d said good night to Faith meaning to go on as she stopped at her door, but she’d reached and touched his shoulder, said, “Hey, Harris, thanks for … not being mad.”

He’d answered, “Well, I was trying to think of something a little more subtle, but it probably needed to be done.”

“No,” she’d said, “for not being mad that I didn’t, you know, ask permission …”

And he’d started, “Faith, you don’t need …”

And then she’d kissed him, it had started slow, a little press and go and then suddenly it was the whole body wrap and she was doing that little back-arching thing she did he still remembered from the one time all those years ago, and his arms were around her too and it was all hot and a little sweaty and a bit rough, cigars and rum and the patchouli or whatever it was she used to scent her hair, and her hands on his back gripping hard.

And then she’d stopped and stepped back, one hand trailing down over his face and caressing his neck and then she’d leaned in suddenly with a quick peck and she was gone with the door shut behind her.

Leaving him standing puzzled and a little shell-shocked in the hall, wondering if he was supposed to follow and deciding after a moment that if Faith wanted him in the room, he’d be in the room, so he’d turned and gone on down the hall. But just what the hell did she want?

He’d learned to cope with the girls’ crushes, he knew the steps; there was the hanging around, then the unnecessary questions, “Xander, am I holding this axe right?” When a girl came and asked for his help on her algebra homework he knew she had it bad. Then came the cleavage, the open robes, the dropped towels, the ass-up bending to pick up a piece of lint on the floor. And then … The boyfriend.

Because he was practice, he was a safe place for the girls to taste those feelings, practice their moves until they were ready to turn some poor boy inside out. It wasn’t a conscious thing, he didn’t think, just part of growing up.

Is that what Faith needed, a safe place?

He knew it hadn’t been good for her in Italy, he’d been too wrapped in his own pain to pay much attention, but Faith had still been the Buffy-hanger-on in Rome, and he knew she hadn’t stayed long in London, tea and tweed really not being her scene. He’d heard reports, Faith tearing up a demon bar in Maine, busting up a demon bar in Georgia, some Watcher in Kentucky complaining that he’d just negotiated some sort of treaty with a demon clan and Faith had come in the next day and cut all their heads off, stole the hoard of coins that had been their raison d’Ítre and blown it all at the track in a weekend. And, worst of all, hadn’t even bothered to let the Watcher know she’d been in town.

Xander understood. He’d been a little crazy when he went to Africa, a little suicidal. And a good thing, too, he’d be dead, otherwise. They recognized that wild glint the eye over there, respected it. Oh, he’d been lucky, to be sure. Could easily have got himself killed. It got twisted up when he tried to explain, but it had been his willingness to die that saved him. The Stavrox demon so surprised he’d charged instead of running that he had the panga through its thorax before it could adjust. The sheer effrontery of walking up to boys with guns and demanding to be told where some village was that had some freak girl scheduled to die for kicking an elder into a thorn bush.

And then one day he’d been … done. Ready to live again. And lost his mojo and gotten nearly killed and come home.

So maybe Faith was ready to come home and it would be nice if she could do it without the nearly being killed part.

Which was all well and good but did that mean that he took her to bed or that he didn’t?

Would he still be a safe place for the girls if he and Faith were howling down the moon every night?

And what about what he needed, ’cause it would be good very good to bury himself in a woman’s arms again, even better to pour out all the pain and hunger and rage into someone he knew was strong enough to take it and give it back, but if he just ended up out in the hall in his shorts the second it was over, what good was that, ’cause once would not be enough, not anymore.

Hell, maybe it was all just the rum, didn’t mean a thing.

Gah. Thinking. Highly overrated. He clambered out of the Jacuzzi, put on his work-out sweats and hit the weight machines, thinking, as always, “The weights go up, the weights go down, the worms are waiting, in the ground.”

*               *               *

Faith felt Renee poking at her shoulder, said, “Not today kid, Granma has a headache,” and then she felt Renee grip her ear and lift her upright and out of bed and Faith, barely, restrained herself from smacking her, said, “Damn kid, you got a pair on you, I’ll give ya that, but this better be good.”

George was waiting in the hall, leaning against the wall and dozing, jerking awake and shrugging her shoulders at Faith as Renee pulled them to the basement steps and halfway down and made them sit and ordered silence. And then, after a little while they heard the fumblings, then, like magic, naturally, Xander appeared and they watched as he hobbled across to the locker room, the pain that, since he thought no one was watching he hadn’t bothered to hide, etched on his face.

“You let him sleep down there again and I’ll beat the shit out of both of you,” Renee said.

Faith stood in the doorway of her room and looked around, said, “I guess we could move a bed in over there,” and looked back at the Watcher with an eyebrow raised.

“Yes,” Travers answered, “much as I should enjoy watching young Renee thump you, I suppose we must acquiesce.”

“What?”

“I said, it will be pleasure rooming with you, Faith, I trust we can arrange the details later in the day?”

“Yeah. Whatever.” Faith lay down again, but she was awake now. It was possible for a Slayer to get a hangover, Faith knew, but it took a hell of a lot more than a bottle of rum.

She’d kissed him. Hard. He’d been into it, but hell, who wouldn’t be, Faith knew her power in the clinch. It was after she was unsure of. She’d run her hand down over his face, caressed his neck and he hadn’t flinched. She’d run, half hoping he’d follow, half hoping he wouldn’t. God, this wasn’t her, playing girly games.

Want, take, have. That was her method. Take and have, she had those parts down pat. It’s just the want she was having trouble with.

Right now she wanted revenge. She went upstairs to where Renee was snuggling back down her bed, grabbed a foot and yanked the blonde girl out onto the floor.

“C’mon kid, let’s go for a ride.”

*               *               *

“What’s he looking so happy about,” Benson asked Fin.

“Thinks he’s Sherlock Holmes,” Fin answered.

“Gideon Fell,” Munch said. They were sharing an elevator, going up to the squadroom late since Maddux had told them all to sleep in and bring some fresh brains to the problem. It was a novel concept that Benson thought someone should introduce to Cragen sometime soon.

“No, no, ‘when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth,’ that’s Holmes,” Fin insisted.

“Yeah, well,” Munch said, “Gideon Fell was the locked room mystery expert. I know how they got into the hospital room.”

“How?” Stabler asked.

“Through the window.”

“The window with the steel bars.”

“They bent them.”

“We looked. They weren’t bent.”

“They bent them back on the way out. Got the metallurgist’s report here that proves it.”

“But that’s impossible. There would have been marks.”

“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth,” Munch said.

“Holmes. Told you,” Fin said. And the door slid open on chaos.

“This doesn’t look good,” Benson said.

*               *               *

They were in the case room, with the door closed and the blinds drawn, Detectives Shreiner, Gonzalez and a third man Maddux introduced as Detective Litvak joined the NYPD delegation.

“The press doesn’t have the story yet,” Maddux said. “But it’s just a matter to time. Probably minutes. What we talk about in this room, the details, we have to keep to ourselves. I’m not accusing anybody here of anything, I just want to remind you to watch yourselves.

“We have three people missing from the Cleveland Symphony fundraiser last night. Thomas O’Hare, son of Robert O’Hare, Chairman and CEO of Achmei Industries, which you out-of-towners should know is one of the largest employers in Cleveland. Martin Rother, chief financial officer of the Bank of Ohio, and Judge Eldred Winters. That’s the shit that that will hit the fan.

“This we keep below the radar. Remember our kidnap vics one and three, Cynthia and Maria? And dwarf Grumpy? Upgraded their wardrobes a bit, in value if not necessarily in taste.”

Maddux started slapping security camera printouts on the evidence boards. “Here we have Cynthia and Maria at the bar with Thomas O’Hare, who rather seems to be enjoying their company. And again Mr. O’Hare, who seems to have overindulged a little, fortunately our vics are there to help him stay upright, I’m sure the hand on Cynthia’s breast here is an unfortunate accident. And here we have Mr. O’Hare, who seems to be in a very happy place indeed that no longer requires him to use his knees. But luckily Grumpy, who seems to be a remarkably strong young lady, is there to help the happy gentleman out to what appears to be a waiting white van, parked in just such a way that the camera gets no view of the license plate.”

The Captain dealt out file folders to each of the detectives.

“We have similar sequences for each of the missing gentlemen, each of whom I understand is known to have weakness for the ladies.

“And now the part where Detective Stabler gets to record one in the ‘I told you’ so ledger. Detective Stabler had requested additional surveillance at the Cleveland Home for Gifted Girls, which I, in my wisdom denied. We had one car in place recording comings and going but not following.”

The Captain held up a rather battered looking notebook. “This is the surveillance log from last night. Seven fifteen, blue VW bug, newer model, license plate VHG567, registered to one Marcus Horne, no record. Young man goes to the door and leaves with young lady, apparently dressed for night on the town. White van leaves with six girls at eight oh five, followed shortly by a group of four girls on foot and four on bicycles. Girls on bicycles return at eleven forty-five, girls on foot at eleven fifty. Van returns just after midnight, which just barely makes it possible that the same van was the one seen at the fundraiser. Or not, but if we’d had it followed, we’d know. So, mea culpa, Detective Stabler.

“Oh, one other thing before we get down to assignments,” the Captain said, “you may be wondering why I’m reading directly out the officer’s log book. This logbook was found at one fifteen am after a patrol answered a shots fired report. It was found abandoned in the street next to the surveillance vehicle. It was abandoned by Officer David Harrelson, a ten year veteran of the force, who phoned from the airport this morning to say he was resigning and he would mail us the necessary paperwork from San Diego …”

“His partner, eight-year veteran Officer Dwight Nkruma, has withdrawn his resignation on condition that he be allowed to take a desk job that allows him to work strictly daytime hours. Neither officer will discuss the reason for their change in career plans, nor will they discuss why they both discharged a number of rounds through the windshield of their vehicle from the inside. IAB is investigating. We will of course step up surveillance, and I am putting Detective Stabler in charge of that detail.”

*               *               *

Warren Mathers III sighed and viewed with distaste the pasty white and doughy body of Judge Eldred Winters, spread-eagled on his altar. He’d looked and looked. And looked, for another way, but the spell was quite specific.

Well. Greatness was never achieved without fortitude and sacrifice, he told himself. With the next step in the plan he would take care to factor aesthetics into the selection process wherever possible.

He sighed, opened his robe and stepped forward. “Girls,” he said, “I’m going to need some help with this.”

*               *               *

“Are you sure about this?” Xander asked George for the third time, as she supervised the installation of a bed frame in the room she would apparently be sharing with Faith.

“Quite. I’m sure it will be an enriching experience for both of us.”

“And where is Faith?”

“Off teaching young Renee to smoke, drink and gamble, I believe, but I assure you, it was her idea.”

“I believe you, I just wanted … never mind.” Xander went into kitchen, resisted the urge to go for a beer and went for Gatorade instead. “Nothing good will come of this,” he mumbled to himself.

The doorbell rang and Isobel went to answer, and returned shortly with a badge in hand.

“It’s a policeman. He says he comes in peace.”

*               *               *

Munch gripped his file folders and waited nervously, wondering if his world was really about to change as much as he thought it was. Or if the magician would roll back his sleeve and show him the hidden cards, pull back the curtain and show him the smoke machine and the mirrors, laugh in his face and send him packing. He wondered which result he really wanted.

And he really hoped that if … vampires were real, that he’d read the signs right and this old frat house was Van Helsing’s home and not the Count’s castle ’cause that would just … suck. He smiled. He’d been a cop a long time now. He’d seen some shit. He could handle this, whichever.

The girl returned, handed Munch his badge back.

“Give me your gun, or leave it in the car.” He stared at her, she seem so … normal. A little tough, maybe, but no more than any New York neighborhood kid. “Mr. Harris calls it a show of faith.” Munch hesitated, then broke every rule in the book by taking off his gun and handing it to her, she opened the door and stepped back to let him in.

Harris was waiting in the hall, he held out his hand, said, “Detective,” as they shook and invited him into the office. Munch noted there was a second desk now and the place was considerably neater than in the stills of Benson and Stabler’s interview.

“Camera’s off,” Harris said. “Coffee, gatorade, beer? Have a seat.”

He had a tropical sunset printed on his shirt, and despite the eye patch and sinister scar on his cheek his grin was warm and there was a touch of kindness in his remaining eye. If this was the Count it was a damn good disguise.

“Coffee would be great if it’s convenient,” Munch said. Harris pushed a button under his desk, said, “Who’s in the kitchen,” and got a garbled reply on an intercom, and asked for coffee.

“Amy’s happy,” Munch said. “She says she was visited by angels and now she’s free.”

“Amy?” Harris asked.

“The girl in the hospital with the brand.”

“Ah.”

Munch sat and opened a folder. “I’ve been doing some research. I must admit, it’s a little disturbing the amount of information available to someone in my position, and you haven’t really been trying to hide, have you? All over Africa on the same two credit cards, registering at embassies.”

“Not really, no.”

“I had a friend of a friend who has a friend in the military check you out and I got this file back.” Munch opened a folder, passed it over, Xander saw his name and old Sunnydale address and the rest of it was blacked out. He smiled.

“So, you really are from Sunnydale?” Munch asked.

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“All the records lost in the crater, a lot of people are using Sunnydale to get fresh identity. And you’re not military?” Xander shook his head. “And the Watcher’s Council?”

“Sort of an NGO. Cut to the chase, Detective, what do you want know?”

Munch smiled. “What happened last night?”

“Be a little more specific?”

“With the cops across the street.”

Harris smiled wryly, shook his head. “Just a little prank. They were in no danger.”

“Why?”

“Well, it’s a little rude, spying. We just decided enough was enough.”

The office door opened and a girl came in and put down a thermos jug and two cups, and backed out, Harris poured the coffee.

“They were two long time cops,” Munch said. “One’s on his way to San Diego, one’s on a desk and insisting he won’t work after dark. Must have been quite a prank.”

“I’d feel bad, Detective, except the first time I had a, shall we say, similar experience, I was sixteen. And I didn’t run off to San Diego. Not that San Diego is all that much safer, so you know.”

Munch laid his folders on the desk and spread them out and let Harris look them over, print outs from the DEMONSDEMONSDEMONS website, eager blogs of amateur Slayer-spotters, demon worshippers’ shrine pages, x-rated demon action downloadable at $$$ per minute, ads from magic shops …

“It’s all there in plain sight, isn’t it,” Munch said, “if you just believe.”

“Well, not all, but you can get a pretty good picture. Do you want to believe, Detective?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Sure. Go to San Diego. Sit on the beach. Read Science News and the Wall Street Journal. Before too long you’ll convince yourself it was just stress, you got a little over-worked and started seeing things. It works. I’ve seen it.”

“No,” Munch said. “Not for me.”

“Crowbar time,” Harris said and Munch heard running feet and whispered arguments:

“It’s my turn, no, it isn’t, I got here first, hey, who’s holding the bar here?”

And then the door burst open and short black girl with a round face and a wide grin burst in, pushing back at the giggling girls behind her. She had a long steel crowbar in her hand and she handed it Munch who felt the solid weight and handed it back and the girl grinned and tied it in a knot.

*               *               *

Faith and George sat side by side in the control room watching Xander and the detective on the monitor, each with their earpiece, listening.

“What,” George thought, wondering at Faith’s sudden interest in things she already knew, “now that we’re roomies we’re joined at the hip?” But she said nothing and they sat and listened as Xander gave chapter and verse.

“Well, we call it the hellMOUTH but there’s a theory that it’s the other end.”

“Go ahead, shout it from the rooftops. See where it gets you.”

“The government already knows, or part of it anyway,” holding up the blackened file, “that didn’t work out so well.”

“If I had my way, detective, they’d be known as heroes. There’d be National Slayer Day with a ticker-tape parade and a big feast and young men peeling grapes and so on. But you know that wouldn’t work. People would try to control them, mobsters would kidnap families to make Slayers work for them. Governments would kidnap families. There’d be experiments, dissections. Nutcases with rifles. They’re superheroes but they’re not invulnerable.

“And Detective, they’re humans. Children. Young girls, they have an overwhelming urge to fight demons that lives within them, but just below that they have a need to fight, period. They make mistakes, they can be led down dangerous paths, they can lose control. It happens.

“And they deserve lives, too. They love the slaying, they need it, but they need love, too.

“Because we need allies on the force, Detective, I want you working with me, not against me.

“Use your judgment, but tell me, how is Detective Stabler going to react when you tell him I’m not using the girls to serve my sexual perversions, I’m just sending them out to do hand-to-hand combat with monsters?”

“Oh please, Detective, you’ve been married four times. I stand in awe.”

And so on.

*               *               *

Munch checked his watch. “I need to go.” He handed Harris the file on the abductions. “If those get out …”

Harris grinned. “Don’t worry, confidential is my middle name,” and a voice shouted from the hall,

“No, it’s not, it’s LAVELLE!” and Harris winced.

“Well, some secrets I can keep,” he said.

Munch was gathering his files when Harris grinned, reached forward and picked out a printout, asked, “Can I keep this one?” and Munch nodded.

They shook hands, Harris walked him down the hall, invited him to attend the pig roast on Sunday, the girl returned his gun, he stepped through the door, stood blinking in the sunlight. The grass was green and the sky blue, but it was like he’d gone through one of Harris’ portals. Munch had just stepped out into an entirely different world.

*               *               *

Faith burst into the office, said, “Hand it over.”

Xander grinned. “But I was going to have it framed.”

“Give it.” He reached in the desk and handed over the website printout, FAITH THE DARK SLAYER in gothic caps and her picture framed against a stormy sky, in leather pants and topless, with a bullwhip in one hand and a dagger in the other, she stared at it intently for a moment, then exclaimed in outrage, “Hey, it’s a fake!Those aren’t my tits, my tits don’t sag like that!”

“Fanboys everywhere will be so relieved,” Harris said, grinning at her, and she couldn’t help but lose the anger and smile back. She shrugged, wadded up the paper, and threw it toward the trash.

“So,” she said, “can we go somewhere where the walls don’t have quite so many ears?” Harris raised his eyebrows quizzically and she answered,

“We need to talk.”


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