Father Goose and the Black Knight
Chapter 16: Faith has a salad.
Mather put his arm around Shreiners shoulders, said, Detective, Im afraid our time together is at an end. I can only keep track of so many servants at a time and Im afraid you became surplus when you tipped your hand. The prize was well worth it, though. And you have been useful in your time. So I am going to give you a reward.
He walked the detective across the altar room, pushed aside a sliding panel to reveal an opening in the wall covered in iron bars.
Im going to give you a chance to live. Mather pulled a lever and the bars rose up, he kicked a pile of cables that revealed itself to be a ladder as it slithered over the edge into the darkness behind the opening. Mather waved and one of the girls brought over a freshly lit torch which he handed to Shreiner. The detective started down.
Not that far, really, twenty-five, thirty feet, it didnt take him long. Mather waved for one of the Fyarls to pull the ladder back up.
Im a fair man, Detective, Mather called down. There is a tunnel that will lead you to the subway. Find your way out and youre a free man. Other tunnels lead to other places. Good luck, Detective, and Mather smiled coldly, waved his palm and released the man from his control. He watched as the detective sagged to his knees and shook his head and then surged to his feet in rage. You sonuvabitch! Ill kill you!
Mather stepped back as Shreiner drew his weapon and fired twice.
Id save your ammo, Detective, he called, youre not alone down there. Then he crossed over past the altar to don his ceremonial robe and seat himself on his throne and he called to one of the waiting demons, Bring me my new policeperson, please.
* * *
So when is Red coming? Faith demanded.
Georgianne squared her shoulders to face Faiths anger. Shes in Bhutan, the Slayer there had some trouble with a demonic monastery and Willow went to help. Giles is trying to reach her now.
You told him
I told him everything, Faith, he knows, shell be here as soon as she can. She decided not to pass on Giles weary comment: Lord, George, if we put Willow on full alert every time Xander got in trouble
Goddamnit, George, Faith started.
I know, Faith, I know. Shell be here when she can, right now its up to us. First, we eat.
What?! How the fuck can you even
Faith Faith, listen. George took her life in her hands and grabbed the Slayers arm as she turned to stomp away. We dont know where he is, if we go charging off in all directions well just get him killed. Everyones all upset and panicking, I need you to be cool, I need them to be cool. I need you to take charge in the kitchen. Theres leftover pork and other cold cuts, cheese. Tomatoes. Sprouts. We need a big pot of soup. And we need to make sandwiches, lots of sandwiches, make up some packages so that we can take them with us. Army travels on its stomach, and all that. When thats done, do a weapons check. Tell Caridad, Thiago and Isobel to meet me in the library in five. Go. Go!
Faith stared at her a moment, then nodded, turned and left and Georgianne sagged back to her desk and thought, I just gave Faith an order. And Faith, not exactly in a happy mood. Faith. An order. And she obeyed.
She looked down at the paper on her desk, needlessly looking over words already memorized;
My dear Ms. Travers;
We are sure you will recognize the enclosed cane and understand what it represents. It is so useful having friends in law enforcement.
You will comply with the demands set out below, or the next gift you receive from us will be a video of Mr. Harris eating his right hand. Raw, or perhaps grilled, we havent yet decided. With A-1 sauce if we are feeling generous.
In any case, he will have it for breakfast, and a similar meal every six hours until you either comply or there is nothing left but Mr. Harris admittedly charming smile.
Four Slayers of your choice will present themselves to the bartender at Vrashniks Bar and Grill at precisely nine p.m. They will be weaponless and they will follow the instructions they are given at that time. These will come in the form of an email to the bar, so we assure you there is no point in interrogating the bartender in advance.
The instructions will of course inevitably put the four Slayers under our control. The remainder of your happy family will immediately leave the Cleveland area. We will know if you remain within the city. Within forty-eight hours Andrew the Wise will post on his website a photograph of yourself and the remaining Slayers in front of a recognizable landmark at least two hundred miles beyond the Cleveland city limits. You will be holding a current newspaper with visible headlines.
As a show of good faith, we will then release Mr. Harris. The four Slayers will remain as hostages and will act under our control for, shall we say, one year? After which it maybe possible to arrange an annual exchange, new Slayers for old.
You may, perhaps, find this arrangement distasteful. On the other hand, neither Mr. Harris nor any Slayer will die.
We wish only to be left alone to live in the manner for which we are most naturally suited.
No doubt if you bring in the Witch and marshal your forces you will eventually locate and defeat us. If that is your decision, then so be it, but in that case, while Harris will be the first to die, we assure you he wont be the last.
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Demons
Free Cleveland Committee
Georgianne knew full well what the Councils decision would be. Not even Giles would put Slayers in such a vulnerable position in order to rescue Xander. Or anyone else, to be fair.
She had the glimmerings of an idea. If it didnt work, that would be the end of her career. But then again, if it didnt work her career would be the least of her concerns. She stood and headed for the library to find what she needed to turn idea into plan. Knowledge, she reminded herself, is power.
* * *
As cunning plans went, Benson thought, she preferred the one where she was rescued by superheroes to the one where she threw warm piss in the giant monsters face and ran like hell.
But, absent a third alternative and without a superhero in sight, she was going with plan pee. She giggled.
She thought about writing her report. She laughed out loud.
Then she heard two shots, tap-tap, like a cop shooting and she had slight surge of hope that Elliot had come But that was it, just the two shots and perhaps the murmur of distant voices raised briefly.
Then the scrape of the bolt and the Thing was coming in the door and she felt her heart freeze as it started toward her and then Xander was talking to it. Hey there, big fella, do a man a favor here, cause my nose, I gotta tell ya, just a little scratch, waddya say, you gotta spare arm or two whats a little scratch between friends
And then the Thing looked at Xander, hissed something clearly translatable into Shut up you, and Benson made her move. They had cut the top off the bottle to give it a wide opening, she ran forward, took the bottle in both hands and thrust forward and caught the thing full in the face with the contents.
There was smoke. There was a low keening. Its tentacles snapped back and wrapped around its face like a closed fist, the Thing fell and lay on the ground rocking in pain. Benson stared in stunned surprise until Xanders voice penetrated, steadily repeating, Keys, Olivia, keys, Detective, keys and she came out of it, nervously reached in and opened the Things fanny pack, found the heavy keychain and went to open Xanders chains.
Then he was free and moving past her to pick up the thin metal tray the food and water had come on and he was straddling the back of the demon and he raised the tray and brought it down hard, cutting into the back of the Things neck, one, twice, the third time and the head came off in a spray of blue-gray ichor and Xander had her hand and was pulling her out the door and slamming it shut.
One down, he said, which ways the altar? She pointed and, walking with slightly lopsided gait to favor his leg, he led her in the other direction, stopping to check any doors they passed.
What are we looking for? she whispered.
Exits and weapons, in that order, he whispered back.
They hit a dead end, or rather a steel garage sized door, but could find no controls, so they started back. Slowly Benson began to feel more comfortable, began to slip back into cop mode. He was right, a weapon would make it all so much less really horrible. He found an open door, started in, then backed rapidly out, turned and leaned against the wall a moment in a fight-the-urge-to-retch pose she recognized immediately. And wondered, given his blithe decapitation of the demon, just what it took to gross him out, and decided she didnt want to know.
And then they were moving on, he found another open door and he peered carefully in, then pulled her along inside.
Score, he said. The walls were covered in bondage paraphernalia in awesome variety, but Xander made a beeline for a mannequin in the corner sporting a classical executioners hood. And axe. Yes, she heard him add in relief, its real.
Benson found a bullwhip coiled on a hook on the back wall, she took it down and careful in the confined space practiced a couple of swings and looked up to see Xander watching her with a bemused look. What? she asked, and he turned suddenly away, answered,
Oh, nothing, nothing, not a thing.
The Fyarls are strong as hell, but fairly clumsy and slow, Xander had explained while they were waiting in the cell, the P-heads are pretty fast but soft for a demon, dogface is mean in the clinch but if you go right at him hell probably run, Mather must have some powers we dont know about yet so dont take him lightly Just remember: everything has a weakness somewhere. We go in fast and loud and looking for the way out, any way out. You see a way out you go, do not, repeat, do not worry about me. Best thing you can do for me is get out and find my girls and tell them where I am. Olivia, I mean that, run and dont look back.
Down the hall they could hear Mather complaining about the delay, she felt Xander give her arm a quick squeeze, then launch himself out the door as another Thing went past and lost its head to single swing of Xanders axe, then he was off in a lurching run and screaming to make Bruce Li proud and Benson followed after, letting her own voice reach the higher registers and making the whip crack.
They had a stand-off for awhile, each of the demons waiting for one of the others to be the first to tangle with Xanders whirring axe while Mather sat back and taunted his minions for their cowardice. Benson stood behind Xander and searched the walls for exits but found only one, a black hole in the wall that seemed less than inviting.
And then a door opened behind Mather and she had a momentary surge of hope until she saw that the elevator was full of more demons, some armed now with swords and axes of their own. They were spilling into the room and there was no more time and no where else to go, so she grabbed at Xanders arm and pulled him and they ran. She found the piled cables and recognized with relief that it was a ladder and she bent and pushed it into the hole and half-dived, half-fell after it and scrambled down, feeling Xanders weight shaking the cables as he came after.
Then they were down and looking up at Mathers enraged face as he ordered the demons to follow, Let the woman go but I need Harris! and the dogface demon turning to stare at Mather and answer,
Are you fucking crazy? Im not going down there. I know whats in those caves.
And Benson saw him reach and pull a lever and she saw the iron bars descend, and settle into place. And the demon moved and pulled the panel shut and there was darkness.
* * *
Faith had a salad.
In normal circumstances this would be a red letter day of perhaps apocalyptic portent, but after reading the ransom note even the idea of meat turned her stomach. She had gotten the girls started on the sandwiches and then quickly escaped to the armory where she began laying out weapons and attempted to soothe her impatience by sharpening blades. It had worked, a little, enough that she was able to feel her own hunger, hence the salad.
She ate mechanically, fueling the engine, but without the whetstone and the cold steel to keep her busy she felt the rage returning. She decided shed give George another half an hour, then she was going to start killing things. Something in the underworld knew where Xander was. Shed take five Slayers and just start at one demon hangout and totally destroy it and move on to the next. Something would give.
She heard the office phone ring, heard George pick it up down in the library. It was a brief conversation, she heard the study group arguing for a moment, then George was bounding up the stairs and into the dining room, demanding to know which magic shop in town carried the most complete line of raw ingredients, and after a brief debate got an answer. She sent Thiago off with a list of supplies to get and two Slayers to watch his back, then she turned to Faith, said, Faith, weve had a stroke of luck, Willy called, theres some vamp at his place says he wants to make a deal.
Im on it, Faith said, leaping up then paused, shit, George you shoulda had Thiago teleport me before
Thiago needs to save his strength. Take the truck, the vamp will wait, hes the one called us. This is what we needed, Faith, please remember NOT to kill anyone BEFORE they talk.
Ill be cool, Faith said.
Faith, wait. Zoey caught up with her just she was opening the door to Xanders truck. I need to show you something.
Not now, kid, Faith answered. I gotta go.
Faith, trust me, youre gonna want to see this first. Itll be faster this way.
Okay, this better be good, Faith growled, and stomped after Zoey, who was bouncing eagerly ahead, far too happy for Faiths mood. They went in to the garage and over to Zoeys work area, partially covered now by a big tarp.
This was sposed to be a big surprise, me and Xander were going to get it all fixed up for you but I guess maybe we need it now, and she pulled the tarp off to reveal the big motorcycle underneath, looking strangely predatory and insectile with the bulky tank and the front fender jabbing out like a bees stinger.
Faith stopped and stood speechless, while Zoey rambled on, Ive only had time to do a basic tune-up, but I was gonna put a lower seat in, bit tall for a girl your size but I figure, Slayer, you can handle it, sides, it already has engine bars, you gotta lay it down, lay it down. I was gonna paint it of course, I figure stick with the original red and black and you could do whatever personal stuff later. I was figuring a sword sheath here. And I was thinking, I could machine a better windshield and put in a couple of slots so you could mount a crossbow or maybe even, like an extendable pole with a stake she came to a rambling stop as she noticed Faiths stunned expression.
What, how ? Faith mumbled.
Its a 96, we got a pretty good deal, only about forty-thousand on the clock, which is nothing on a Beemer. Personally I like the way it looks but I know theres some that think it aint that pretty, maybe not as pretty as your Harley was, but the 1100GS is a real warhorse. But if you dont like it we can trade
Kid, Faith said, if you dont shut up Im gonna cry, and we dont have time for that.
* * *
Carla wasnt having the best of days.
Jimmy had been acting kinda squirrelly all afternoon, making secret phone calls and generally just being hyper, asking her stupid questions about the Master which was just embarrassing now. Jimmy was generally okay and all, but she missed hanging with the girls and while the blood here at Willys was fine and all, she kept thinking about the taste of that kill and craving and damn. That damn Slayer was back again.
Willys was okay and all but maybe, she thought, we could think about hanging out somewhere a damn Slayer doesnt show up every other night.
And maybe, even more so, a lot, we could go somewhere where the damn Slayer didnt turn and walk over to her booth and sit across from her, casually lay a stake on the table and say things like, So, Carla, right? I hear you got some info for me.
Carla stared at the stake.
Dont fight it baby, Jimmy done sold you out, two months blood, two passes. Well, actually, he held out so you both got the deal, it was kinda touching and romantic. Baby, Carla felt the Slayers hand reach under her chin and pull her eyes up into the Slayers intense stare, seriously, you help me out on this one, Im gonna have a real soft spot for ya.
I can show you, Carla whispered.
Lets go then, and the Slayer had a grip on her arm and they were starting toward the door when three demons suddenly stood and blocked the way and one said,
Enough, Slayer! You think you can just come into our and then his forehead sprouted a dagger, his chest developed a sudden stake infection and he stumbled and fell over and Carla felt iron fingers gripping the back of her neck, which was totally unnecessary because she hadnt even thought of running, while the Slayers other hand waved a sword in lazy figure-eights and Carla heard her say,
Next, and the two demons charged and, for what was probably only a few seconds but seemed longer, Carla lived the life of a rag doll in the dryer as the Slayer held her with one hand and fought with the other until they were both standing in a pile of demon parts and the Slayer was asking Willy, What the hell got into them?
Then they were moving toward the door again and she had to tap frantically on the Slayers shoulder, said,
Sir, sir, please wait, sir, please, and the Slayer turned and stared and said,
What did you call me?
Sir Maam Slayer, please Its not dark yet.
Oh, yeah. Good point. And you can call me Faith, all right? Willy, I need a doggy bag.
The body bag stank. Faith had sent Willy back to get a new one after hed tried to give her one that was still wet, but Carla could tell this one wasnt new, just dried. Then she was flopped over Faiths shoulder and they were going up the stairs, then out the door and she knew the sunlight was just a thin layer of black vinyl from her skin and she could almost feel the burning start, she couldnt help but squirm a little, then there were voices, Maam is this your motorcycle whats in the bag, maam? then a grunt, a soft thud and another voice, Hey Hands in the air and on your knees NOW!
And Faith muttering an aside, Theyre all the same, aint they?, and Carla felt herself laid on the pavement, heard quick footsteps and another sudden gasp and thud. Then she was picked up and laid over a motorcycle seat, her torso in the Slayers lap and the engine started up inches from her face and they were moving at what she could tell was not a sedate pace.
So naturally, just as she was thinking, How can this day possibly get any worse? the sirens started, the motorcycle accelerated, began to take crazy turns and bounce over rough surfaces.
Carla was having the kind of day that when she was finally dumped on the floor and freed from her body bag, the sight of fifteen waiting Slayers was a relief.
* * *
Fin was shaking his head when Munch came back to the car with the coffees. Munch handed one back to Stabler, gave Fin his, sat and said, What?
Fin turned the radio down and answered, Some brunette biker chick carrying a squirming body bag just took out two traffic cops and eluded a chase. Sound like anyone we know?
When you say took out
Knocked out, handcuffed to each other in the back seat of their car in what wrestlers like to call the north-south position.
I spose we better go see whats what. Unless you got any better ideas?
Not me. Elliot, you got any ideas? Stabler shrugged.
Theyd called every number in Pavlovas book, and learned that she had a lot of worried friends but nothing that seemed useful.
Theyd been to Shrieners sad little house with its refrigerator half full of Hungry Man frozen dinners and half full of St. Pauli Girl Special Dark. In one closet theyd found a dusty suitcase full of aged family photographs and legal papers. But nothing anywhere to indicate he was receiving any extra money or had anything to hide, not that Fin and Munch were really looking anymore. They figured when they found him thered be brands on his chest and backside.
But Stabler was still looking for logic. He was bit subdued now; for a cop whose wife had recently left him, Shreiners house was a scary place, a little bit of this could happen to you. And Olivia was still missing and they didnt have a clue, and people were appearing out thin air Some kind of trick, obviously, they jumped off some kind of silenced helicopter or something, had to be.
And Munch and Fin had gone crazy. Demons, vampires, just no, the world wasnt like that, couldnt be. The church talked of devils, he knew that, but those were only metaphors for human behavior, explanations for the kind of evil that Stabler knew all too well was human. Hed seen what people did, sat in little rooms with perpetrators of true horrors, and there had been only vile and pathetic humanity, no demons and no devils.
He wanted to see Olivia. Failing that, he wanted to hit something, pound the world back into shape, but he didnt know where to start.
Elliot, you got any ideas? He shrugged. No. Not one.
Fin drove, parked in front of the girls home and the three detectives went to the door and knocked, waited, then Faith was there.
Yeah? Whats up?
Munch spoke. On the radio, we heard something that sounded like you, thought that maybe you could use a little help?
Youre here to help?
Youre sure about that?
Yes. Maybe smooth things over with the traffic
Detectives, Faith interrupted, there aint no smoothing over. Theres heavy shit happening tonight. If you wanna help, I figure we can use you, but if you come in now you come all the way in. Neck deep in monkey-puke lake, ya got me? George is boss and youll take her orders. Try to leave once you come in and Ill kill you myself. Really, Id go home now if I was you. It aint really your fight.
Munch and Fin looked once at one another, Munch shrugged and went inside, and Fin followed and left Faith alone with Stabler.
Faith said, I dont know if our target has your partner, but I think he does. I dont know if shes alive, but if she is, well save her. In or out. Now.
Stabler shrugged and went in. Faith closed the door.
Have a sandwich, she told him.
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