Father Goose and the Black Knight
Chapter 17: Pet, petting, petted.
At first it was total blackness, then slowly as her eyes adjusted Benson saw a tiny glimmer of light in the distance. She did a quick check for damage and found none beyond a few scratches on her hands, she assured Xander she was okay when he asked and he reciprocated.
Without needing to discuss it, they started for the light. Xander led the way, using the shaft of the axe to probe in the darkness for any ankle-sprain or leg-breakingly deep holes. So far the floor of what seemed to be an immense cavern consisted of alternating stretches of flat bare rock and low piles of large-ish gravel, with scattered larger rocks. Benson could hear water trickling somewhere, and could smell moisture in the air, but on the whole the cave was drier than she would have expected, had she ever given the subject much thought. They were following along one wall, still after counting to a hundred Xander stopped and made a small cairn, since, he said, hed left all his breadcrumbs at home.
They came to the light a little after the third cairn. Disappointingly, it was just a torch like the ones that had burned on the walls in Mathers altar room. Xander held it up and the light flared a little and they found Shreiners body. Well, his foot.
Thats not good, Xander said.
* * *
There was a girl chained to the wall in the basement.
Ha, Stabler thought, I knew it.
He was still carrying the pretzled crowbar the little blonde girl had given him. Dont even start, shed said, held up the steel bar, tied it in knot and handed it to him. When you straighten that with your hands, you can come and tell me all about how little girls should let big strong men fight the monsters, okay? Help yourself to anything in the kitchen. George knows youre here and when she has time shell brief you.
Hed sat at the dining room table with Munch and Fin for awhile. Theyd been given a laptop with a PowerPoint presentation, Demons and How to Kill Them, cued up. Hed watched for awhile, tried to concentrate but simply couldnt, it was all still too fantastic. Munch and Fin going on about how they seen one of the blue ones in a bar the other night didnt help.
Hed loitered in the TV room, looking over the DVD titles, noticing how many titles were familiar from his own daughters collections and conversation. He tried to watch TV for awhile but nothing held his attention. He went into the kitchen, hesitated, then thought fuckit, and took a beer.
He wandered downstairs and stood puzzled. Hed searched this place. There were whole rooms now that hadnt been here before, a room full of computers and security monitors, another room lined with books, more computers, a conference table covered now with maps, and filled with a sort of controlled frenzy as girls came and went. Clearly a war room, except instead of grey-haired generals there were gum-chewing girls, the entire quiet chaos overseen by woman only a little older than Maureen. He recognized Mary Poppins and felt a slight twinge of sympathy for her opponent, whoever the hell he was.
There were weapons, too, that the search had somehow missed, crossbows and assorted swords and daggers, a collection of switchblades. There were axes and throwing stars, wooden staffs and spears and all manner of sharpened stakes, all laid out in the dojo, waiting to be selected. He reached down and tested one of the axe blades and drew back a bloody finger.
And, sitting quietly in the corner was a girl in chains. Well, chain, anyway, a shackle on her ankle attached by heavy links to a thick O-ring on the wall. She had a stack of magazines and a bottle of mineral water and looked more bored than terribly abused, but certainly not all that happy. Stabler walked over her, asked, So what did you do, wear last years nail polish? and she looked up, stared up at him with the blank contempt that was a teenage girls natural state when facing middle-aged men. She was a small girl, but wiry, with a gamine quality that hit Stabler right in the paternal instinct.
What? she asked. He indicated the chain. Oh. That. They just think if they let me go Id run off and blab their stupid plan. Its stupid. I dont even know their stupid plan for one thing, and, sides, who would I tell?
So you dont live here?
She looked at him like he was crazy. Or, you know, stupid. NO, she said. I live downtown.
With your parents? He turned and sat, leaned back against the wall beside her, careful to leave a couple of feet between them so as not to invade her space.
My folks, please! With my boyfriend.
Arent you a little young to live with your boyfriend?
Better than the streets.
He treat you okay?
Yeah. Jimmys pretty cool. Im kinda mad at him now, though, cause its mostly his fault Im here. I mean, he could at least of talked to me first.
How old is this guy, Jimmy?
I dont know, really. Hes got some pretty old music. But then some of that old stuff is pretty cool and hes got some new stuff, too.
Yeah, what kind of old stuff does Jimmy like
This was better, Stabler thought, this at least felt familiar, drawing the girl out, letting her ramble on about bands and boys while he gave her the interested look and made encouraging noises. So he couldnt fight monsters for the supergirls but maybe he could do something for this kid. Get her back in school, away from this perv Jimmy, something.
* * *
It was irrational, Benson knew, but she felt so much better, holding Shreiners pistol in her hand. The fact that there were only four rounds left in the clip and the only other sign of the detective theyd found was his foot, obviously meant that the gun hadnt done him much good. Still, it was comforting. Nevertheless she sucked it up and offered the weapon to Xander who was after all the more experienced whatever the hell he was. Happily he waved off the gun. Oh, no, he said. Keep it. Guns not really my thing.
Why not? she asked. Monster hunter. Id expect you to at least be used to carrying a .50 caliber elephant gun, I mean, theyre sorta like big game, right? Why limit yourself?
You gotta remember, Im not the philosopher, you really need to get with Giles or maybe George if you want to get the full story But its something like parity. You remember the Midnight Riots in LA a couple of years ago, wiped out several blocks ?
The paramilitary gangs on PCP, yeah, she said and Xander laughed.
Do you do that in New York, too? Gangs on PCP?
What do you mean?
Pretty much a standard euphemism for vampires in California.
Benson found herself thinking back, wondering.
Anyway, LA, not so much with the PCP, more with the demon war. Things escalated a bit out there. Big death on both sides. And now, we have a Slayer house in Silver Lake and Wolfram and Hart has a new office, and not much has changed. Maybe that has to happen sometimes. Maybe if it hadnt happened things would be a lot worse instead of just the same. Anyhow, point is, I use bigger guns, they use bigger guns, we all end up dead Plus, big guns, expensive. We did use a rocket launcher once, but we had to steal that from the Army.
You stole ?
Hey, statute of limitations Or, at least, good luck finding evidence, and Im pleading the Fifth.
I wasnt going to
Yeah, yeah, I know, cop. Cant help yourself. So, we got a decision to make.
We can go back and wait by the door we came in, we can keep following the wall here, or we can head out across the middle and follow what look to me like tire tracks, what do you think?
What do you think got Shreiner? she asked.
No idea, Im just kinda hoping its full after a big meal.
Tracks, she said.
* * *
Faith was happy.
George had a plan. There was action coming. She tried to hang in the war room but she just couldnt. George would call her if she needed her. She went bounding up the stairs toward the garage, behind her she could hear laughter. Faith has to go pet her motorcycle again.
Well, she did. She ran her hand over the seat, the tank, caressed the hand controls, breathed deep the scent of oil and asphalt. Riding it had brought back hard the other reasons shed loved the Harley, the freedom of it, the sense of being in the world, of the world as she flew down the highway, the feeling matched only by the times she ran full out through some cemetery and even Slayer power grew tired in time.
It was freedom and Xander had given it to her and so she knew that now when she rode she would no longer be running desperately away, but instead speeding toward him, even if sometimes she took the long way, just to enjoy the ride.
And tonight she would see him, and thank him, she could feel it in her bones. And after she was done thanking him, he would feel it in his bones too. Among other places.
* * *
You lying bitch! Mather shouted, slamming down his fist and staring into Madame Pavlovas eyes.
You know I cannot lie to you, she answered. I can only tell you what I see. They are coming.
But how do they know And they cant possibly know Harris is free yet.
They are coming.
Then we best be ready.
* * *
Youre sure it works, Georgianne asked and Thiago nodded.
Weve tested it three times now.
Very well, then. Well just hope this guy is consistent in his methods. How are you feeling?
I am strong. I cant get you in, there is a protection of some sort, but I might be able to move people out once we get there.
Good. Go and rest, then. Isobel, Im ready for New Yorks Finest.
* * *
Detective Stabler, Isobel said, just so were clear here, you do know shes vamp, right?
Carla is our informant. You know, Detective, you were pretty safe cause I dont think Carla is stupid enough to try anything here, and we were keeping an eye on you, but its really not a good idea to tempt them like that. Shes stronger than she looks.
Youre telling that that little girl is .
Show the man, Carla
Show him what?
Carla, you know I can force you
Fine, whatever. She went into vamp face, fangs, yellow eyes and all, said, Boo.
Stabler rocked back, stumbled and Isobel caught him, held him steady.
But shes just a girl, she was like any other girl.
She was once, Detective. Shes not anymore. You ever take your kids to a petting zoo, and if you havent pretend you have, okay? You pet a sheep, maybe feed a cow, then you go home and have lamb chops or a steak. Youve just been petted. But youre still a lamb chop.
The other two detective had come to join them.
Isobel said, Cmon, George is ready for you. But Stabler lingered, staring back at the girl, still seeing the yellow eyes and the emerging fangs replaying in a loop in his head.
Cmon, Lamb Chop, Munch said. Destiny awaits.
* * *
Georgianne gave out the last assignments, allowed herself a couple of minutes to sag in the quiet of the finally empty library, then she picked up the phone and called Giles and laid it all out for him. Answered the questions he had for her, then waited as he thought.
Well, George, he said after awhile. I certainly appreciate the part of the plan where you wait until its too late for me to do anything to stop you before calling. Youre certainly taking some risks, but
I didnt really have much choice.
No, you didnt, he answered, as I was saying, youre taking risks but they seem necessary. Its a good plan, George, I have every hope for success. And George
Im quite proud of you. And, odd though it is to say it, I think your grandfather would be proud as well, which means I should probably re-evaluate my position. Tell Xander I said hello.
Georgianne Travers smiled, quickly wiped away a bit of salty water from her eye that should have known better, and certainly wasnt a tear. She dialed a number on her cell and Faith answered, Yeah?
Go, George told her, and heard the motorcycle and then the truck start up and move away.
She stood, went out and crossed to the weapon display, deliberately picked out for herself a stake, dagger and crossbow, turned back to face the eager gaze of her assembled forces, about half of them dressed in the traditional battle halter top. Georgianne had some thoughts about that, but this was not the time, she said, Xanders waiting. Lets go.
* * *
Carla clung to the Slayers back. No one was ever going to believe this. Not that it was a story she was going to tell often. She was still new at this undead thing but even she knew that How I Became a Slayers Pet was not the sort of tale that went down well round the fire at vampire camp-outs.
It had been nice, talking to that old guy. Her father had never talked to her like that, you know, really listening and all. Shed been hoping, well, fantasizing really, she knew that, but shed had a spark of hope, that the Slayers, being all busy with secret plans and all, would let the man take her home. She didnt even want to kill him, really, just to curl up in his lap and feel his heart beat and drink a couple of warm pints. He was a big guy, he could spare that. Or she would have gone down on him, if he wanted, like Jimmy told her about, he wasnt bad looking for an old guy. But the lap thing is what she really wanted.
But no. Some Slayer had to come take him away and make her show him her vamp face and shed seen the disgust in his eyes and that just ruined the whole thing. Shed seen that look too often before, from her own father when hed caught her making out with Billy Watson, from just the average passer-by when she was living on the streets. So that was over and since that wasnt bad enough Faith had to come and unlock her, help her up, tell her she was coming with.
I figure you been in that place, maybe youll be useful. Now, I aint gonna lock you up, you run off first chance you get and Im gonna let ya. But you lose all your points if you do. You come with and help out, you get beaucoup points and for a bonus, if you get to this Master guy first, you can bite him. Deal?
I dont have to get in the bag again, do I? Carla had said.
So theyd ridden down to where the RTA train went underground and Faith had ripped aside the fence and heaved the motorcycle up on her back and carried it over a couple of barriers and set it down on the service way that ran along side the trains.
Im going ahead, Faith had called back to the other Slayers who were clambering out of the truck, when I find the entry Ill leave a flare. You catch up when you can. And then shed waited for Carla to get back on behind her, said, Hang on, kid, could get bumpy, and they were off.
God, Carla thought, will this day never end?
* * *
Jeremy Pridmore was learning to hate the Hellmouth. Yes, it was a comforting presence, gave you that little extra bit of juice, bit of power when the sun went down that he hadnt had before. But it wasnt worth it.
He was old Cleveland, born, bred and sired here, and when the time came his dust would fall in the familiar streets and alleys and so be it. Hed made a life, not the most exciting, but he liked it. Steady blood, a careful kill now and then. There were movies and music and little book of lady friends.
And then the Hellmouth opened under Cleveland and brought with it that great horror known as family. Relatives. Coming out of the freaking woodwork He truly wished his Grand-sire would be a little less active and a lot more selective when he was. What on earth possessed him, Jeremy wondered, to spend so much time in Appalachia?
Jeremy was aware that not all vampires viewed family bonds as quite the obligation that he did, but Jeremy had standards and responsibilities that he believed in. Family might often be distasteful but it was an institution worth preserving, all the more so as ones years grew long. The young ones would come to understand in time, if they didnt get dusted first.
The Hellmouth drew them and they came, showed up on his door with Grandads card and signature and it was his duty to find them a place to stay and entertain them, which was why he was here at Vrashniks Bar and Grill, a dive he would normally avoid but which seemed appropriate for his cousins Lucas and Alonzo, recently arrived straight from palookaville and eager for the big city sights. It was just a little before nine and the place was barely half-full. They just got settled and ordered drinks when four girls came in, wearing tight jeans and v-neck t-shirts that didnt have Bite me! written across the chest but might as well have. Jeremy was sure he could actually hear his cousins salivating.
Gawdamn, little brother, look what we been missing, Lucas said. So, whats the deal here, cousin Jer, we gotta bid for them or what?
Jeremy was tempted to just tell to them it was first come, first served and let them get dusted. Granddad would, well, Granddad would laugh his ass off at the story, but it wasnt Jeremys way.
Theyre Slayers, he said, you morons. He had to be hospitable. He didnt always have to be polite.
The Slayers had a rather grim look about them, and Jeremy began marking the exits in his mind as they approached the rather startled bartender. But the bartender turned the computer screen behind the cash register around and one of the girls nodded, and they passed through the bar and out the back, Jeremy heard the sound of tires squealing as a vehicle rushed away. Jeremy relaxed. Whatever terrible thing was going to happen, it wasnt going to happen here.
* * *
Ha, you stupid bitch, Mather said, shouting in Pavlovas face. Shows what you know. Weve got them. Theyre coming, all right, just like I told them to. You better do better, old woman, or Ill find you surplus too.
He turned away then, and didnt see Madame Pavlova smile.
* * *
She carried the torch and walked a little ahead, keeping her eyes on the scuff marks and disturbed rocks they really and truly hoped was a trail. Xander was having a little trouble with his leg going over the rough terrain, so they moved slowly, talking in low voices. She told him of some of her cases, he told a few war stories.
I think what I do is easier, Xander said. At least when I fight monsters, well, theyre monsters. Ive seen what a difference the soul makes, vampire with a soul, vampire without, its like night and, well, kinda late in the afternoon on a cloudy day, but still, very visible difference. You have to deal with souls all the time.
He paused, reached out to hold the torch while she built another cairn.
I think wizard boy may have had a point, though, he said.
What do you mean?
I think maybe I have gotten soft a little. I was putting so much effort into making the girls lives as normal as possible, which is important but still I let the girls get into a routine, sort of let the demons have their space as long as they stayed out of sight. And I let this guy slip under my radar. Ouch. Shit.
Yeah. Just stubbed my toe. Still, he added after a moment, its not as clear is it used to be. I was pretty much, see demon, kill demon when I started all this. Now, its not that simple. I dont know if this is true or not, but one of the stories I heard in Africa, Uganda actually, theres a rebel group in the north, likes to steal kids from villages and make them soldiers, they had a Slayer Anyway, the story is, one of the ways they punished kids who tried to escape was to tie a dog to their back, and were not talking Chihuahuas here, pour gas on the dogs back and set the dog on fire true or not, no demon would come up with an idea like that. Well, very few, any way. I used to know a vengeance demon, she used to tell me stories. She used to make things happen, bad things, nasty. But she was granting wishes, oh shed make suggestions but she said it was humans who came up with the really evil stuff. Vampires are more like mosquitoes. A bit more disgusting but not half as deadly. And just being true to their nature. Point is, I dont feel so much the righteous warrior anymore, more like the exterminator. Rat-catcher. Necessary but not so much with the glamour, you know?
Yeah, Benson answered. I think so. Why dont you quit?
Tried. Couldnt. The girls still need me. I think. Also, truth, bored. You?
Madame Pavlova told me I should set a time, and quit. Go find a quiet place and detox. She said I wouldnt know until I tried. Its tempting.
Well, the Wiccans are all about the purity and the cleansing of the self.
There was a perp once, sociopath, cult leader, tried to play mind games with me. Told me the crimes I dealt with, the pain, would eat me up, become me. And hell, con man, evil bastard, I ignored him. But still, he got to me a little. Your friend in the leather she reamed me out pretty good
Well, Faith has issues with authority. Not without reason, mind you. Tends to see the dark side a bit. Knows her own, sees it in others.
I think she was right. At least a little. Its not just about the victims or the law. Its about the hunt. The capture. I like to punish. Its personal. I dont think I could do the job if it wasnt. I dont think I could ever just lie on a beach and be pure. Course, just at the moment a bit of sand, a bright sun and a Corona would really hit the spot.
They walked in silence for awhile.
Youre right, she said after awhile. Some humans are truly evil. Maybe even worse than demons. But some arent, most arent. And they need people with a little darkness on their side.
Shh, Xander whispered, did you hear that? Over there, to the right.
Benson held out the torch.
Oh, shit, she said, what the hell is that?
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