Father Goose and the Black Knight
Chapter 12: Munch and Fin Go Clubbing
Munch had a problem. Sometime today he was expected to do a briefing on the background information hed gathered on the Cleveland Home for Gifted Girls, an area that had become his sole responsibility when Maddux had ordered Benson and Stabler to back off.
Munch sat and contemplated the blacked out file hed got from his military contact. Only a government, he thought, could create such an inane document.
Through official channels it didnt even exist, so it was something ultra mega secret. So, he wondered, who blacked it out? It wasnt a blank black paper. There was typescript, individual lines that had been over-written by a human hand with a marker, you could tell by the wavering of the lines and the little scribbles here and there where the main marker had wavered. Super ultra secret, so whoever did the marking out had to have pretty high clearance, right? Had proved themselves worthy of knowing the darkest secrets, had received the coveted gold sharpie with oak leaf clusters. Munch had a momentary picture of a bunch of grey-haired Generals gathered around a conference table, markers in hand.
He wondered, had they always intended to black the whole thing out or did they go line by line and only at the end realize what theyd done?
This whole Frankenstein thing made of demon parts and man parts and computer parts and meaner than a junkyard dog and hed have to ask Will or Giles if he wanted the details, Harris, who apparently didnt give a damn about ultra mega secret, had said.
Damn Harris fucking ai-ki-do master of the interview.
Yesterday Harris had had a problem. He had had a trained professional investigator closing in on his secrets.
Today Munch had a problem. Use your judgment, Harris had told him, tell who you need to tell. Just remember, the lives of twenty-some innocent, even heroic young girls hang in the balance.
It was worse than what hed done to Benson and Stabler. Hed hobbled them. Munch hed roped, tied and put in traces.
And what did Munch know, really? Hed seen two girls who could bend steel with their hands. Harris had said it was Skrell-nic!-Nic!t demon that was used in the prank. Munch had taken a picture off the website database and shown it to Officer Nkruma and the man had nearly fainted. Proving what?
Harris said that thing was out there, somewhere in the city, sitting in some dim bar, knocking back shots of vodka, sea-snake venom and fermented eel, and bitching about its ungrateful offspring.
And fuckit, Munch believed him. He thought back over some of the unsolved cases of his career, some of the strange things hed seen late at night in the streets of New York and Baltimore. A lot of things made sense now. Though not really in a happy way. In some ways it was better to mark a case unsolved than eaten.
I understand about partners, Harris said, if you need to bring the rest of your SVU group in, let me know, well take you bar-hopping, with that sudden grin. And then a softening, a gentle warning. Just remember, it may be just a few steps down an alley to the dark side, but its a one-way trip.
Munch looked over at Fin who was sitting quietly, picking at the last of his lunch and reading the paper. He was a good partner, hed done the you wanna talk about it? thing when hed seen Munchs face, and hed taken no for answer without getting his feelings hurt. Did Munch really want to bring vampires into his world?
And Stabler. Munch thought he was basically a good cop. But he already thought half the worlds population was out to get his daughters, tell him about vampires and the poor girls would never leave the house.
He and Kathy would never reconcile, instead shed be suing for divorce on the grounds that her husband spends the night patrolling the yard with a stake and a bottle of holy water and a mad look in his eye.
And Benson, how would she cope knowing that teenage girls were out there fighting monsters with stakes and crossbows, would she be able to sit back and accept it or go out and get herself killed?
And Harris was right, how would Stabler cope with that?
But would any of them ever forgive him if they discovered he was holding out?
Miami, he told Fin. I should have gone to Miami.
Fin, he said after a moment.
We have to talk.
* * *
Ms. Kate Lockley, late of the LAPD?
My name is John Munch
Ah, Detective Munch. Xander said you might call. How you holding up?
Fine. I suppose it hasnt really sunk in.
Well, the only advice I can give is dont let it obsess you. Theyve always been there, probably always will be. I know its a little hard to step back, but youre the civilian in this battle. Have you seen a Slayer working yet?
No, just bending some steel.
Make sure you get Xander to take you on a hunt, it will give you perspective.
Ill bear that in mind. Actually the reason I was calling, Mr. Harris said you might be able to
Right, hang on, he said hed email me the details. Just a sec Here we go. When will you need me?
* * *
Georgianne Travers thought she was beginning to understand her evil aunt Gwendolyn Post née Travers a little better now.
The Travers were Watchers and always had been, as far back as one could trace the family tree, which wasnt quite as far as the first protoplasmal primordial atomic globule, but it was close.
There were a few black sheep whod rebelled, but most had served at least one term as Watcher before going on to some other career when their Slayer died. Usually one male of every generation made the Council a career.
And not a few had died in the line of duty, including Georgiannes own father.
She knew Quentin, her grandfather, mostly as a cold and distant man, and when her natural urge to defend the family name raised her hackles she had precious little ammunition to use in his defense. But she had found him once, sitting in the family library clutching a book and weeping. Shed carefully backed out, of course, but gone back later to find the book and of course it was her fathers Watcher diary, and it hurt that Quentin was known as such a complete villain in the New Watchers version of history. And her father so completely forgotten.
It was a source of great, though unspoken, disappointment that there had never once been a Slayer in the family line and she, like all Travers females felt that slight cloud of failure over her head at all times. It was stupid, she knew, they all knew, but it was there.
This morning shed had to endure the humiliation of combat training. Of course shed studied fencing since early childhood, even won a trophy or two. But here she was invited to attack all-out with a sabre while a Slayer casually fended off her blows and carried on a conversation about some singer with another Slayer across the room without breaking a sweat. Georgianne had eventually sunk to the floor panting and exhausted and counting the bruises she knew she would have in the morning. Its not that they were unkind, quite the opposite, careful not to hurt her. They just didnt understand how frustrating it was to have your best efforts deflected by someone who was scratching their nose.
And then it was her job to sit stiffly in the office and pass out allowances to girls who breezed in all bouncy like Tigger on speed and who were going to go eat big piles of hot pastrami and coleslaw and potato salad and run off to the movies or the mall while Georgianne had a half-sandwich and a salad and a brief lie down before doing the weekly accounts.
And now Willow was here, just popping into existence, bringing with her, nicely enough, Georgiannes books and the rest of her clothing, and a sharply dressed young man named Thiago who was apparently an intern of some kind. And Willow snapped her fingers and Georgiannes things disappeared again she would find her clothes neatly hung in the closet she shared with Faith, and her books correctly distributed in the library.
And Xander and Willow took a walk around the grounds and beneath her feet you could see the grass grow slightly greener, she paused and ran her hand down his leg and he straightened and walked a little easier.
Then it was hugs for Vi and Caridad and just like that Willow was gone, leaping continents on a whim.
And worse still, last night at the nightly nightcap, Caridad and Vi had joined Xander, Faith and herself, on Xanders invitation. Given, Georgianne knew, because Xander had noticed the senior Slayers had been feeling a little neglected over the last couple of days. And a Slayer must never be neglected. Oh no. He had gently teased Vi about her late return from her date and asked Caridad about her studies, her second year at Case Western starting in a week and then when the two were purring like happy cats, then he turned and gave Georgianne her strokes.
Hed thanked her for her hard work, marveled at her efficiency and hed been sincere, and despite herself shed felt her back straightening just a little and pleased smile tugging at her lips. But hed done it all with Faith curled up on the swing beside him, her hand resting oh so casually on his shoulder saying, Mine.
Because Faith was Faith and she took what she wanted, because she had been given the power by the roll of some cosmic dice, while Georgianne would have to scrape by on intelligence and hard work.
It was just a crush, she knew, she would get over it and someday there would be an intelligent and dedicated man she could discuss Sumerian grammar with. She would get stronger, she would guide her Slayers and she would avert an apocalypse and write down the tale for posterity to once again honor the Travers name.
But she understood Aunt Gwendolyn better now, she could see how the need for a little power of her very own could grow into an obsession, how it would be worth it to feel the hooks of the glove of Myneghon dig into ones arm to just for once call down the lightning and hold the power and say MINE.
But now Xander was calling her, he was huddling with Thiago and cooking up some plan and she was being included, would have her part to play and that would have to do. For now.
* * *
Stabler was better now, Benson thought, relieved.
Organizing the surveillance had given him something practical and active to do. No one would leave the Home but he would know about it, and where and when they went and what they did there, too. He had found a vacant apartment that overlooked the Girls Homes back yard, hed placed cameras and organized a rota of cars to be ready to follow anyone leaving the residence.
He had it wired six ways from Sunday and he would catch the bastard in the act and he could take his little blackmail tapes and shove them up his arrogant ass.
Everywhere else, they were just flailing.
Benson had gone with Detective Shreiner and theyd interviewed the families of the missing men, the bankers family didnt miss him much, the CEO was in a rage and throwing his weight around, the Judge seemed to be well-loved, his wife and adult children teary-eyed and begging for help.
Each man had enemies of course, but none that stood out or seemed to have urgent motive or any link to the apparent means. The only thing they had in common was their local prominence.
Munch had done the background work, traced the ownership of the Girls Home to an ancient British charity, called the Watchers Council. It was closely held among a few families that had historically funded research expeditions and the like to Africa and other unknown and uncivilized places such as America. There was a legend that one such expedition had inadvertently caused a slave girl to be eaten, in penance the Watchers had set up a fund to rescue and educate girls in dangerous situations.
There was more, a lot more but the gist was that a: Munch did a terrible but amusing British accent, and b: he could find nothing sinister about the Watchers Council. c: Harris seemed to be just a lucky young man who had fallen into the job after his hometown fell into a sinkhole, through an acquaintance with one of the members of the funding families who were an eccentric bunch. One of whom, a Georgianne Travers, had recently joined Harris at the Home.
There was more but they were all yawning.
Fin reported then, he had found some information about the brand that had been burned on the abductees turned abductors, had arranged for an expert to brief them on the subject.
A tech brought in and turned on a video conference monitor and an attractive blonde woman appeared.
Gentlemen, ladies, she said. Im not going to ask you to believe in magic. I am going to ask you to believe that there are people who do believe in magic, and in that sense I think you are looking for someone who considers himself a sorcerer
Benson looked at Fin, this wasnt at all the sort of thing she would expect him to follow up on, this was more Munchs territory, in fact Fin did look rather skeptical
The woman went on, Hes been active in the local fringe and occult community but has withdrawn, perhaps as far back as two or three years ago, perhaps more recently. Has access to money, probably family since it is unlikely hell be holding down a regular job .
But it wasnt like they had anything else to go on, Benson thought, beginning to take notes.
* * *
A little after midnight Stabler saw Harris and Miss Leather come out in the backyard and do an inspection of the cement block barbeque pit the girls had constructed earlier. They stood beneath the yard light and it almost seemed as if they were posing, left profile, right, straight on. And then they went inside and there was no more movement until morning.
* * *
Twelve hours twenty two minutes, Fin said. He and Munch were standing in an alley in downtown Cleveland. Fin was not happy.
What? Munch said.
You asked me to pretend youre not crazy for twenty-four hours and its been eleven hours and forty minute and that means its twelve hours and twenty minutes until I have you committed and myself right beside you for going along with this shit.
And then it was raining people, appearing suddenly in the alley about six feet in the air and falling, Eyepatch was there, landing on his ass and cussing, and Stablers Leather Girl and six other girls landing like cats and a young man in a three piece suit running around like a decapitated chicken saying, Pardon, pardon, pardon, until Harris told him to shut up.
Munch helped Harris up and made the introductions, Odafin Tutuola, Xander Harris, and Harris did the rest, introducing Faith, the girls and the man. This is Thiago whos a little new at this, and while it would have been nice to make a more dignified entrance, he is totally forgiven because wed much rather arrive six feet in the air than six feet underground.
Fin said, Buh? and sat down.
* * *
Faith had a silver flask and Fin had a couple of hits and walked up and down the alley a little and shook himself and straightened his shoulders and pronounced himself ready.
Harris pulled him aside, asked, Youre sure you want to go through with this?
No choice, now, is there?
No, not really.
Youre tourists, Harris told them. These two girls are your bodyguards. I know its against the grain but theyre the pros and youre not. Do as they say and theyll take care of you. Feel free to ask questions, but dont be pointing your finger and screaming Whats that? cause, well, its rude. Do not be pulling your guns, you start firing youre much more likely to hurt my people than do anything useful.
Were going to Willys first, which is pretty safe, as will be the next place, but after that, well, Ive been a little neglectful and the clientele may be getting a little uppity and have to be reminded whos the eight hundred pound gorilla around here, which, by the way, would be Faith
Hey! Watch it, one-eye.
There will be vampires, and they may look human. Even cute or harmless. They arent. Dont touch. Any questions?
Bout a million, but Ill guess theyll wait.
Munch decided he was numb. The third barful of pink and green and blue monsters, bug-eyed and snake-eyed and horned and tusked, they all suddenly seemed normal, and the bar seemed like a bar, bunch of tired stiffs hitting the booze and trying to make it through the night.
It was like the old days when he was first starting out, when a local precinct captain or a certain beat cop ruled with an iron hand, or to be honest, when certain mob bosses entered
Harris would lead the way, hobbling in in that ridiculous shirt with Faith half-hidden behind him and the girls hanging back, and the place would slowly go quiet, and Faith would step out in full view and take the center stage, broadsword (broadsword?) twirling idly in one hand and there would be silence and Harris would greet the bartender like they were old pals. And there would be a catcall from the backrow and then really deadly silence as Faith stepped forward, said, Im sorry I didnt hear that? and the silence lingered on until Harris was talking again, laying out the description, lunatic amateur sorcerer suddenly finding himself with actual power since the Hellmouth came to town, runs vampires and branded slaves, usual terms, tell us and we dont kill you on sight if youre being good, maybe a little sweetener if youre really helpful and Im feeling generous.
One the other hand, if we dont find this guy soon were gonna start tearing things apart looking, capiche?
And then they were moving on. The third place the cat-caller went too far, said, You finally putting a leash on that biker slut, Harris? and Faith had started forward but Harris touched her shoulder, held her back and nodded at the girls following and damn that was scary, the two girls moving swift and silent through the tables and the muffled, Wait, no and then there was a purplish orange head with green horns and no body in the middle of the room and one of the girls was wiping a blade off with a bar rag.
And then in the fifth place all hell broke loose, something leaped from the ceiling and two of the girls were pushing Munch and Fin into a corner and standing guard, and Faith was everywhere with the broadsword flashing and the other four girls moving too fast to track, Munch saw a vampire go to dust, and another, Harris was in there swinging too, with one of the girls easing up to stand and cover his blind side. Munch saw limbs severed and heads rolling and sprays of multi-colored fluids and mass exodus for the doors and then it was over and Faith was bouncing around with a wild gleam in her eyes, swinging the sword and cutting the polished oak bar itself in half and then, disregarding the fact that her torso was half-covered in green ichor, grabbing Harris and planting a kiss on him they probably felt in Port Stanley.
And then Harris eased out of her arms and went around to all the girls, checking for injury, one girl had a slash on her arm that he quickly bound. Then he checked on Munch and Fin. You guys hanging in there? and after a moment Fin said,
Im cool, and Harris took it for a yes.
They hit one more place, but word had apparently got out and it was nearly empty, so they took the detectives home.
Dont be going to any of those places on your own now. If you find yourselves cornered by a beast, use my name, say youre under my protection. And you are, Ill rain hell if either of you turn up missing and I hear about it, but, first, I got to hear about it, and second, who wants to be avenged when you could be safe at home in bed. Detective Tutuola, it was nice to meet you, Detective Munch has my number and you can give Ms. Lockley a call too if you want to talk, were having a pig roast tomorrow and youre both invited, you have a good night.
And Harris and the girls gathered around the Brazilian, Harris said, Thiago, lets aim for the basement, theres mats down there. And then they were gone.
Leaving Fin and Munch standing just outside their hotel and Fin said, I still think we should both be committed.
* * *
Faith propped herself up one on elbow and let her hand trail down Harris chest as she listened to his steady breathing. Theyd fucked. And then theyd made love.
We need to talk, shed told him the day before and hed agreed, and theyd gone out to a coffee shop and sat for moment as she struggled to get started, Dont be mad, she said, but you remind me of the Mayor, and shed seen his eye widen in surprise, but hed grinned.
In the sense of a giant snake or evil politician?
Well, maybe well get to the big snake resemblance later, she said, because she was Faith and she couldnt help herself, but I mean in the way you do everything right.
O-kay, thats a new one, Harris had said.
Look, the Mayor and me, it wasnt sex, I mean I offered, but that wasnt what he wanted. He treated me with respect. With affection. He gave me things, milk, cookies, wicked cool knife. But he made me earn them, made me show him respect, all that good parent bullshit? I needed that, never had that, the father-daughter thing. And look, I know he didnt exactly bring out my best side, but, look, he wasnt corrupting me, using me, well, he was using me, but he didnt see it as wrong. He wasnt corrupting me, he was grooming me. I had a talent. He admired it. Yeah, he was gonna eat people but he didnt feel bad about it, you know? She wrung her hands, struggling for the words.
The thing is, youre just as ruthless as he was. Youre a good guy, you dont eat people or anything, I get that. But youre grooming killers, just like he was. Youre the guy in the red coat in the circus, running everything, making the big cats go through the hoops and the clowns fall on their asses. You got everything under control. Youre giving these girls just what they need. Just the right amount of love, just the right amount of discipline, a little responsibility but not too much. When Miss Snooty Tight-ass showed up you had her eating out of your hand in a day. This aint criticism, I aint saying anything bad about it, Im just saying its scary. Cause it was the same when I showed up. You gave me just what I needed. You gave me respect. Gave me a place to stay. Told me you were glad to see me cause it gave YOU someone to talk to I been riding around so long, place to place, killing a few demons, and moving on It was everything I was just dying to hear.
I dont Harris had started, but she cut him off.
I aint complaining. I aint saying youre playing me. But, heres the thing, if you were playing me, what would you do different? She paused, tied her spoon in a knot, waved him silent.
You know, I used to carry around this real anger for Giles, figured if hed just done his job better maybe none of the bad shit would have gone down. If hed been there a little with milk and cookies and wicked cool knife, maybe if hed been the one to come see me after Mrs. Post fucked me up instead of sending Buffy, things mighta gone down different.
But then I got to thinking, he was Buffys Watcher, not mine. It used to piss me off that he always put her first. But, thats what he was supposed to do, right? Put Buffy first. Not his fault the fucking Council left me out there to hang.
But Ive never had anyone who put me first. Maybe its selfish and maybe I dont deserve it, but heres the thing, if you and I are going to do this thing I gotta know Im not just gonna be another one of your Slayers. I gotta know youre not sitting there making a list. Renee needs a hug and some cookies, Amber needs a bike, Faith needs a good fuck and then well all go kill some vampires Its gotta be more than that.
Faith, hed said. Youll never be just another Slayer to me.
Fuck, she said, thats just what I wanted to hear.
* * *
Three things. One, you have to promise not to run out when I fuck up, Harris had said. Sooner or later Im gonna piss you off, do something that makes you think Im treating you like one of the girls. You can call me on it, but you gotta promise not to run off the first time I make you mad. You have to stay and fight, and by fight I mean argue in a completely non-violent way.
Stay and fight, got it.
You have to stop holding up demon bars for protection money. I wont have evil thinking I owe them something.
Life of poverty, check.
The girls still come first. Maybe I put you first, but WE put the girls first, you got me?
Wouldnt have it any other way. My turn?
You dont tell me what clothes to wear, you dont tell me to lay off the rum and the stogies, you dont tell me to be nice. All of me or none, right?
Harris held out his hand. Deal.
Deal. And they shook. Faith thought it was the most romantic moment of her life.
You got it wrong, Harris said as they left the coffee shop. Im no ringmaster, Im not in control. I just get up every day and take it as it comes and dance as fast as I can to keep it all going.
Just a dancer, huh. Thats all?
Well, I did turn pro at a very young age.
* * *
Faith eased back down, snuggled under his arm, breathing in the warm salty scent of his body and, even though theyd showered when they got back, just the slightest lingering aroma of demon blood. She sighed and held him and closed her eyes. She was home.
* * *
Mathers peered out the peephole into the darkness. Whos there?
The Slayers are after your ass, a voice said. You want me to give them your address, or you wanna make me a better offer?
Mathers hesitated a moment then opened the door, said, Come in.
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