Father Goose and the Black Knight
Chapter 13: Madame Pavlova tells all
At least, Detective Olivia Benson thought, its not raining.
Saturday night and she was alone and working. She didnt mind alone, really. Truth be told, usually when she got home, she was glad the apartment was empty and quiet.
There had been guys, times when there was a choice to be made. But the guys had always come second to the job, distant second. And any man worth keeping wouldnt settle for that. Anymore than she would accept being an afterthought in some guys life. There were moments she had doubts, of course. But not really. The job held her, was her, it was enough. Alone was all right.
Well, technically she was with Detective Shreiner, who was waiting in the car on the grounds that Madame Pavlova seemed more susceptible to a good gossip with another woman than an interview with two detectives. Shreiner wasnt a bad guy, hadnt hit on her, didnt smell, seemed competent. But, life of the party, not so much.
And working. Well, working was her life, though shed expected the Cleveland trip to be something of a semi-vacation, a little less with the long hours and more with boring seminars and the locals pawning off paperwork. But they were short-staffed, over-worked and eager to extract all the hours from the New Yorkers as they possibly could. Scuttlebutt shed picked up around the squadroom said that something had changed two, three years ago, the streets had gotten meaner somehow. Turnover among the uniforms was high and morale was down.
Murders were up, missing persons stats were even worse.
Detective Benson had a wealth of hard-earned skills and experience she was quite willing to bring to the situation. So naturally she was getting her fortune told.
Madame Pavlova insisted. And Madame Pavlova knew all. It said so on her sign. More to the point, the owner of the occult bookshop Benson had visited and the clerks at both the magic shops shed stopped at had said that if anyone could dish the dirt on the magic community it was Madame Pavlova. The magic community, Benson thought. Yeesh.
No charge, of course, my dear, but so many come seeking knowledge of the dark arts and forbidden pathways, and their hearts are rarely pure.
Madame, this is a police investigation
And are you going to get a court order, Detective? For gossip? Are you going to count the newts eyes in my kitchen, divide by four and get your answer? The law is a mighty sword, Detective, but it knows little of justice and has no heart. Give me your hand or go away.
Madame Pavlova held out her hand imperiously and waited. Benson resisted the urge to roll her eyes and reached out.
As befit her trade, Madame Pavlova was a striking woman, tall, voluptuous in the best sense of the term, wrapped in a dark velvet cloth that managed to be seamless without being shapeless, jet black hair that cascaded down her back, gold encircled her neck and glistened on her fingers, deep red lipstick, kohl around already dark eyes there was incense in the air and infusing the tapestry-covered walls, just loud enough to hear there came the sound of distant chanting and a steady drum. Her hands were strong, dry, but warm, firm but gentle and she pressed Bensons hand between her palms and said, Holy fucking shit.
* * *
Madame Pavlova lit a joint with trembling hands.
I AM a police officer, Benson said.
Pah, Pavlova dismissed her, try to arrest me for this and Ill turn you into she paused, eyed Benson a moment then continued, a badger. Yes, I think so. A badger. But never mind, do you want to ask me questions or do you not?
So Benson laid out the profile Lockley had given her and Madame Pavlova sat back and looked blankly at the ceiling, her lips pursing and relaxing as she clearly ran through some internal Rolodex.
I wouldnt have your life for a big clock, Detective, Pavlova said. All that pain. All those children. All those sad stories of ugly passion in dark alleys, pathetic in the light of day. There is no end, you know, Detective. You are only picking at the scab, but I suppose you cant help yourself. A little unwanted advice, Detective. If you survive, set a limit. Another month, another year, but set a time to declare your duty done, and find a beach, a mountain, someplace to cleanse yourself, and go there. You dont think you can. But you wont know until you try. Your heart is not pure, Detective, but it is good and deserves some peace. The man you are looking for can only be Warren Mather. Do not be deceived, he may look a fool Well, he is a fool, but fools with power are dangerous, Detective, so take care.
Madame Pavlova took one of her cards and wrote down an address on the back, handed it to Benson, who thanked her and asked, What do you mean, if I survive?
If I told you to forget this case and go home, would you do it?
Of course not. But
My sight is blocked, I see only danger, but no details. I have warned you, I warn you again, forget this case and go home. And since you wont be warned, I wish you luck.
Benson turned to leave, when Pavlova called her back.
One more thing, Detective, and she held out a pack of cards, pick one, tell me what you get.
Benson did, said, The jack of hearts, and then Madame Pavlova smiled, said,
Ah, then there is hope, you may survive this yet. Remember my advice.
Shreiner was waiting in the car, tearing shreds of styrofoam off his coffee cup. Any luck?
Could be. Madame Pavlovas pretty certain anyway, some guy named Warren Mather
And then there was only darkness.
* * *
Stabler woke to find himself staring up into Detective Gonzales wide open mouth. Hed seen worse things in his life, but only at crime scenes. Gonzales finished his yawn and straightened back up.
Sorry to wake you early, man, but Im starting to see things out here, Gonzales said.
Stabler groaned and stretched. He had been asleep on a cot in one of the bedrooms of the vacant apartment theyd taken over to take advantage of the view of the Girls Homes extensive backyard.
He pulled on his pants and shoes and came out to the main room where the surveillance equipment was set up, stared out the window.
So whats going on?
Well, Gonzales said reluctantly, about an hour ago the one-eyed guy come out with a couple of girls carrying charcoal out to the block pit they set up last night. They got it lit up, all right, and kind of took turns keeping an eye on it. About fifteen minute ago the guy comes out, decides the coals are ready I guess. Goes back inside. Then five minutes ago a couple of girls, the tall black one there and the little blonde, they come out and theyre carrying the pig carcass all trussed up on a spit
Well, you can see it there. That aint no suckling pig. Thats a hefty ol hog.
So the little blonde was on the back end holding the spit handle and the tall girl turned and asked the blonde something and the blonde pointed back toward the side of the house Gonzales trailed off.
So? She pointed. ? Stabler asked, trying to keep the exasperation out of his voice.
With the pig, Gonzales said.
* * *
Hey, Jimmy, Carla said idly as she was flipping channels on the TV, last night at Willys when Pirate Joe was saying the Slayers would pay the usual, whats that mean?
Well, now look whos all grown up and dissing a Scooby.
Hey, its cool with me, I got no love for the bastard but you say something like that in the bar and I dont know you, got me?
Yeah. Sure. So, whats it mean?
Mostly it means they give you a code, so you if you happen to get caught in a sweep just hanging out, you get a pass, you dont get staked on sight. But dont count on it in a fight, cause they aint gonna stop and ask. And if they catch you in the act But sometimes theres some money, or like, all the blood you can drink at Willys for a month and they pick up the tab, but they gotta really be desperate for that Why?
Cause I think maybe I know where the guy is they were looking for.
I dont know. I mean like the address. But I think maybe I could take them there
Oh, I dunno babe. That aint the same as slippin Willy the word. You really think youre ready to go take a little ride with Faith?
Carla curled back in on herself.
Yeah, thats what I thought. No, you just keep that bit of information to yourself for now. If in doubt, lay low, thats my motto. So, anything good on?
* * *
Benson awoke in a warm yellow light, she smelled smoke and oil. She opened her eyes and tried to look around without moving, she saw a stone floor and seemed to shift and waver in the firelight?
Her wrists hurt, her shoulders ached. She came more fully awake and realized she was shackled to a stone wall, hands over her head. Her gun was gone and her pockets turned out, but she was still dressed, so it could have been worse. She gave up the pretense that she was still out and raised her head and looked around. It was a dungeon cell. No other word. A torch straight out of a period horror movie flickered in a sconce by the heavy wooden door. The air was warm but damp, she could hear little scrabbling movements in the low wooden ceilings that could only be rodents. Rats.
She was not alone, across the room she saw Madame Pavlova shackled in a similar manner with the added horror of what Benson realized was a scolds bridle, a metal cage fitted over her head and reaching into her mouth to hold her tongue still. A thin trail of blood ran out of the corner of her mouth. She was awake and looking back at Benson but if there was any message in her eyes Benson couldnt read it.
She heard whimpering to her left, she looked and saw ADA Catherine Lodge hanging limply against the wall, her hands over her head, dressed in a wrinkled but still stunning blue dress. There was a trail of dried blood down one leg.
Benson felt the fear rise and take her for a moment, the horror, all the things she had seen, the pictures, the stories of women held captive, for an hour, for days her bones turned to water and she sagged, felt the tears hot on her cheeks, all her fighting, all her carefully grown and nurtured strength, her toughness and still she ends here, doomed and helpless
Gradually she gathered herself. She wasnt dead yet. She was strong and smart and the perp had already made at least one big mistake. Hed left her alive.
She straightened, took a deep breath and began to look around, searching for weapons, for some means of escape. She caught Madame Pavlovas eye. Madame Pavlova winked.
* * *
Stabler answered his phone.
Detective, guess who showed up at home this morning claiming hed just had a long weekend and apologizing for causing any fuss.
And OHare. And Rother. All back with their families, in seclusion, refusing any medical attention and insisting they just had a little too much fun and they just want to be left alone.
You believe them?
Not really. Doesnt matter, though. One things certain, anyway, they werent in the basement of the Girls Home. Id say that Mr. Harris is off the hook. Hes got the best alibi in the world.
Me, Stabler said.
Im going to have to pull the surveillance. I need the bodies in other places.
I understand, Captain. Ill make the calls Captain,
Maybe they arent kidnappers, but there is something wrong here. Innocent people dont act the way Harris did. Innocent people dont do whatever the hell they did to the guys on that stakeout.
Get some rest, Detective. If we put everyone in jail who wasnt perfectly innocent, thered be only me and you on the outside looking in. And Id be wondering about you.
Stabler made the calls, cut his crew loose, sent Gonzales home to snore in his own space. He stood at the window, staring down at the sinister sight of girls in Hawaiian shirts setting up volleyball net.
He knew he should let it go. But those were the ones that haunted you, the times when you came to crime scene and realized youd been there before, youd thought the wife was being beaten but you couldnt prove it and now, she was dead. Or worse, a kid. He knew Benson still had nightmares about the woman she hadnt believed about being held in a dungeon And six or seven more women had subsequently suffered the same fate and they had ended up having to prosecute the victim for killing the perp.
He thought about calling home well, calling the kids, but it wasnt the right time. He almost dialed Bensons cell but decided it wasnt fair. She deserved a day off.
They were laughing at him, Harris sitting in his office mocking, that woman throwing him down the stairs, he still couldnt believe that happened, with her eyes full of contempt. They knew he was watching and they were roasting a pig.
He knew in his gut there was something wrong, something evil in that house and those girls were the victims. He would find a way in and he would save them. And he would have the distinct pleasure of seeing Harris and Leather Girl behind bars.
It wasnt like he had anything better to do.
* * *
Tutuola saw Munch in the hotel coffee shop, hesitated, then went to join him. It was a little weird. They spent a lot of time together working, they got along, sometimes after work they stopped in to the cops bar for a little decompression. But it wasnt like they hung out.
Hey, Munch said as Fin slid into the booth.
Hey, Fin answered, picked up the menu.
And in the cold light of day ? Munch asked, after awhile.
You sorry I brought you in?
Yeah. But Id be damn mad if you didnt, you know what I mean?
But mostly Im just glad that that Faith girl is on OUR side.
* * *
Faith laid back on the grass feeling fat, happy and scared shitless.
It was a bright, sunny day, which was a good thing. If the vamps ever figured out the way to kill a Slayer was to fill her up with so much hot dripping roast pork and sweet potatoes in honey and coconut banana cream pie that she couldnt move, she was doomed.
Shed been happy like this only maybe once before, back in Sunnydale when she and B had been, there for just a little while, best buds, kicking vamp ass and talking about boys and it seemed like maybe she had turned a corner, found a home.
But that had sure gone to shit in a hurry. But she was older and wiser now, she wouldnt let that happen again. Please, she begged the Powers, Ill be good. Please let me keep this.
She struggled to her feet and went to sag into an empty lawn chair so she could watch her man work the crowd. The first couple of times shed seen him with an arm over a girls shoulders shed felt her hackles rise, but he shot her that grin and it had been okay. There were few secrets in a house full of Slayer senses, theyd been greeted with cheers and jeers at breakfast. But thered been tension, too, and he was working to relieve it.
Renee had needed reassurance that she would not be forgotten, Shad the same, needed to be told that Faith had come to stay, not take Xander away. He took off with Zoey for awhile in the truck, came back and they unloaded a big crate into the garage, probably some new tool for Zoey to use in her ongoing quest to create a bicycle strong enough to survive regular use by a Slayer. He sat with Vis boyfriend, teased Caridad about her several admirers. He sat with Marybeth and freed her to go chat with boys while he took a turn entertaining her sisters, who were getting seriously spoiled in Faiths inexpert opinion.
That had helped a little, boys coming the party, and the girls too anxious and excited about their own libidos to worry too much about Xanders. For a moment she wondered if hed planned things that way but she couldnt possibly see how.
Some of the boys parents were there, too, some neighbors, a few people from the local Wiccan group who monopolized a very happy Thiago, who held them spellbound, so to speak, with tales of Willow and the coven at Dover.
Faith could close her eyes and tell where Xander was by the short bursts of laughter.
And from time to time he came and found her, touched her shoulder, her back, took the piece of pork or fruit she fed him, gave her a peck and a rueful grin, and wink that said, tonight, just you and me and went back to work.
The thought occurred that he would be a great father and it went through her like an electric shock. Oh, no. No, no, no, no, she wasnt going there, no way.
She got up, scrounged up another plate, took some more potatoes and sliced off a hunk of pork because the pig hadnt died and been roasted yet that could defeat a Slayers appetite. And she settled with her plate and ate, she poured herself a small glass of straight rum because mai tais were for pussies, lit up a cigar and settled back, and had no more thoughts of parenthood, no how no way not her. Not yet.
* * *
The cell door opened and a tallish middle-aged man came in. He had Einstein hair but no moustache. He was wearing a wizards robe like something out of Fantasia that Benson suspected hid a rather portly body.
Behind him came Cynthia, one of the abduction victims, her face blank, behind her the girl Benson recognized as one of the dwarves, both wearing plain brown robes cinched at the waist with a belt of black rope.
He walked over and stood in front of Madame Pavlova, shaking his head.
Vaddie, Vaddie, Vaddie, he said. Just couldnt keep your mouth shut, could you? Madame Pavlova knows all tells all for a pittance. Or just to show off. There would have been a place for you, you know, in my kingdom. And there still will be when I put the mark on you. But a free seer would have been more fun, I think. Oh, well, Ill find one soon enough.
The man turned and came to stand before Benson. Ah, Detective, the wrong time and the wrong place, but Im sure youll be useful. And if not, still so much more pleasing to the senses then my last acquisitions.
Who are you?
Warren Mather, of course, didnt Vaddie tell you? New owner and proprietor of Hellmouth, Inc. and soon to be your master.
Bwa-ha-ha, Benson said.
You cant end a sentence like that without an evil laugh. Bwa-ha-ha. Now, you try it
How sweet. Bravado, Mather said. He moved on to Lodge, who still sagged. Mather leaned forward, waved something under her nose and she came instantly awake, screaming, struggling in her chains, Mather sat smiling, waiting.
Catherine! Benson shouted. Catherine, calm down. He likes the screaming, Catherine, try to calm down, its going to be okay.
Of course it is, of course it is, Mather said soothingly. Depending on your value for okay, of course, he added with a wink for Benson. My, but you are lovely, he said to Lodge. Beauty and a position of power, how convenient. He raised his voice, called out, Ready now, and Benson heard heavy footsteps outside the cell.
She opened her mouth to speak, to assure Lodge that Elliot would find them, Elliot would already be raising hell and the whole force would be out and they would find them, but she lost her voice as some Thing came through the door and her mouth just hung open.
| Next Part | Previous Part |