Part 5

I didn’t stay alive for over a hundred years by being stupid and reckless. I outgrew stupid and reckless when I got out of my teens, and I never looked back.

That doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally do stupid and reckless things, it just means I do them much less frequently these days. It comes with experience, with an appreciation of just how truly fragile life is. I’ve seen how easy it is to destroy it through carelessness or malice or neglect. The day you realize how razor-thin the line is that separates you from a cold grave is the day you stop living life like it’s a video game. You don’t get any extra tokens here in the real world.

But in all fairness, I did get extended play.

Back to the original point, however. I wouldn’t have put it past Spike to have set all this up as a trap for me. He’s not stupid. So I wasn’t about to go waltzing into a building without first doing some surveillance on it. Oh, I could have called the S. U. down on it, and they could have hit it like a ton of gun-toting bricks, but given their penchant for causing property damage, it might have cost me any evidence that might have been there. Besides, the Slayer Unit and I aren’t on the best of terms these days, and I’ll be damned if I call them in on anything.

Hey, I said I outgrew stupid and reckless. I never claimed I got past stubborn and petulant.

I’d managed to score some real coffee out of Colombia to keep me awake. As a private citizen, possession of a caffeinated beverage would have been good for six months in the lockup. But I was a Slayer again, and I wasn’t above enjoying some of the perks of that position. I might hate the Slayers for what they were, for their abuses of power and their casual disregard for the very laws they were sworn to uphold, but when it came down to it, I wasn’t above redrawing the lines of legality myself. Life is a matter of degree sometimes. Where does right end and wrong begin? Maybe Giles could have answered that for me, but in this world my dear Watcher has been dead for many years. I never even knew him here, so I have to answer my own questions.

It’s too bad I usually end up concluding that I’m a hypocrite.

My ruminations were cut short by a sharp rap on the window of my car. It was a beat cop, no doubt wondering why I was loitering. You can’t be too careful with all those weirdoes out there, after all. I rolled down the window and did my best impression of the charming Buffy Summers. Was a time I was very good at it.

“Good evening officer,” I said.

“Ma’am,” said the cop flatly. He was young, maybe twenty-two. Probably still thought his job was to stand as a defender of the light against the dark. I envied him. For me, the white and black of the universe had long ago blended into a neutral gray, a dense moral fog I had never quite managed to find my way out of once I was lost in it.

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to please move along,” he said.

I dug my badge out of the pocket of my raincoat and handed it to him.

“Summers, Slayer Unit, NYPD. Badge number four-two-seven-niner-five,” I said.

The beat cop ran a hand scanner over my encoded badge and handed it back to me.

“Sorry, ma’am. Just doing my job,” he said.

“Don’t sweat it.”

“You need me to call a coffee break?” he asked.

It was an old expression, left over from the days of legal coffee. I knew what he meant. He wanted to know if I wanted him to pull all the uniforms off the street in the area so no one on the force would see anything that might prove “awkward” for the department.

“Nah. I’m just giving my eyeballs a workout. You have a good one, officer.”

“Thank you, ma’am. You do the same.”

I nodded as I raised the window against the rain, watching the cop beat a hasty retreat to the other side of the street, away from the NYPD’s Gestapo, away from me.

I sighed and slipped my badge back into my coat. Power could be intoxicating, seductive. But it could also be profoundly isolating. I don’t like it when people fear me. It’s not something I ever wanted, but so much of my life is made up of things I never sought or asked for.

Two hours later, when I got tired of waiting to see something, I stepped out into the rain and decided to do a little breaking and entering. I had a badge. I could do things like that. Don’t even talk to me about the Constitution. It stopped having much meaning in this world decades ago.

*                              *                              *

Maybe I’m losing my edge. Is it age despite my immortality? Or is it just that the city has overwhelmed my senses, deadened them like a heavy metal concert dulls the hearing?

I should have known Drusilla was in the loft apartment. That damn psycho is so far off mental kilter that if you can’t pick up on her vibes, you’re really out of it.

“You never play with me anymore,” she said in that annoying little girl’s voice as she emerged from the shadows of the loft with inhuman speed.

I may be losing my edge, but I’m still sharp enough not to be easy meat. Her insistence on delivering a line gave me more than enough warning. Too bad for me I did exactly the wrong thing. I went for my gun.

I’m becoming far to reliant on that thing. It’s very effective, but it’s dangerous to let the other skills grow rusty. I had it just clear of the holster when Dru swatted it out of my hand like a cat batting a ball of yarn.

“Naughty, naughty Slayer. Little girls who don’t play fair will get all of their privileges taken away. No Christmas presents for you.”

As I’ve already said, I’m not big on the chit chat these days. I backhanded her across the face and spun away before she could get inside my head. She’s dangerous like that. Even Slayers — real ones like me — can get caught in that web.

She let out a little shriek of frustration and came at me again, like some monomaniacal dervish. Dru, for all her missing mental screws, was a very tough fighter. She caught me in the face, just missing my left eye with her sharp nails.

Okay. So it was going to be one of those fights. Fine, I can do the chick fight thing with the best of them. I grabbed her hair and yanked her head around sharply, eliciting a very satisfying yelp. I wrapped the long mane around my fist a couple of times and tugged to let her know who was boss.

“Ouch! She hurts us,” whined Dru.

“She kills us if we try any more nonsense,” I said. “Is that clear?”

“Horrible, horrible girl.”

“Yeah, I love you too. Now, why don’t we have a little chat about your boyfriend, Spike?”

She tried to turn around enough to meet my gaze. I put a stop to that in no uncertain terms. She yelped again as the roots protested the shoddy treatment.

“Oh, no you don’t. None of that ‘be in my eyes’ crap. I’d rather not have you running around inside my head. You might break something. So back to the question. What’s Spike up to these days?”

“The bad man, he tries to make us human, he does. Tries to make us feel things. I don’t like to feel. It hurts us, to feel.”

“Yeah, tough break having your soul hauled out of storage. I’m all broken up. I notice it hasn’t done anything for your sunny disposition, though. Who’s the bad man, Dru?”

“I see him in my dreams, but he has no face. No, not true. He has too many faces. I can’t see him, the bad man. Can’t see. I want to go home.”

“We’re not done having fun yet. Spike knows who the bad man is, doesn’t he?”

“Spike will make it all better. He’ll make the bad man go away. Then everyone will be happy again. Everyone except for nasty Slayers.”

Should’ve known she’d try to pull a fast one. The knife was hidden somewhere in her flowing dress, and it was in her hand in an instant. She drove it hard into my right quadricep and I went down, releasing my grip on her hair so I could get clear of the slashing steel that was once more in play.

I rolled away just in time to avoid both knife and fangs, and kicked her hard in the side of the head with my good leg. I caught sight of my gun and scrambled for it. Dru grabbed my leg, the bad one of course, and my vision went red with pain. I struggled forward and felt the cold grip of the handgun under my palm. I grabbed it and rolled on my back. Dru gave me a look of profound shock in the instant before the enchanted bullet tore through her head and turned her to dust.

Oh. Shit.

Spike was going to go nuclear, and he’s one of the few vamps I give reasonable odds on eventually taking me down. This was going to get very messy before it was all over. I just hoped I didn’t end up as part the mess.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not losing my nerve. It’s just that these things have a way of spinning out of control, the breeze of a butterfly’s wings in Kyoto giving rise to a hurricane in the Caribbean. And Dru was one damn, big butterfly.

I holstered the gun, tied off my leg with my belt, and limped out of the building to call the shooting in from my car.

*                              *                              *

Detective Vange would have made a good leg-breaker for any organized crime family you’d care to name. That he did his dirty work on the public payroll behind a badge didn’t make him any less of a mook in my book. I’d hoped I wouldn’t have to deal with him after our encounter at the sushi stand. I should know better by now. My luck never runs that good.

“So let’s run through it again,” he was saying. Rainwater ran in broad rivers from his dark felt fedora to stream down his tan trench coat.

“This is fun for you, isn’t it?” I asked as a paramedic finished up with his Autosuture machine and slapped an antibiotic-coated adhesive gauze pad over the knife wound. I didn’t feel it. The leg was so numb with local anesthetic, they could’ve sawed it off at the hip and I wouldn’t have known without looking. I frowned down at the large hole in my pants where the medic had cut away the fabric. I go through an awful lot of clothes in my line of work.

Vange smiled at me. Or smirked. I wasn’t sure which, but either way it wasn’t intended to convey anything pleasant.

I looked around me from my seated perch on the hood of an unmarked police sedan. The scene was a circus. The Slayers had cordoned off the building with police tape and lighted barricades. A couple of blue-and-whites and two unmarkeds sat with engines running and strobes flashing. Gawkers clustered around the perimeter, oblivious to the automated calls to disperse coming intermittently from the squad car p.a. systems. Up in Dru’s loft, the crime scene guys were doing their thing, bagging and tagging and shining lasers on walls to pick up prints. A uniform was in the intersection directing traffic, the same beat cop who’d earlier scanned my badge.

The only thing left was to buy commercial time on the ad blimp making its lazy, low altitude circuit of Manhattan Island.

So much for keeping Dru’s death quiet. No way I could keep this away from Spike now.

“You’re screwing the pooch for me, Vange. Shaugnessy’s gonna use your balls for target practice with you still attached to them if you flush this down the toilet,” I said.

“Knock off the hard-ass shamus talk, Summers. Maybe that works on the street trash, but it don’t cut no ice with me. You’re a walking fucking blast radius, Summers. You show up, everything for five blocks around you goes to shit. I don’t like cleaning up after you in my precinct.”

“Wouldn’t be any cleaning up to do if you hadn’t called in the circus,” I said, gesturing to the spectacle of law enforcement arrayed around us.

“You keep up with the mouth, maybe I pull you in, let I.A. sweat you for a few hours.”

“In case you missed the bulletin, I’ve got a Slayer shield again. Internal Affairs won’t touch a Slayer and you know it, especially not over a righteous shoot.”

Vange pocketed his rain-beaded electronic memo pad and cocked a thumb toward my car. “Take a hike, Summers. Just stay out of my world if you know what’s healthy for you.”

“That a threat, Vange?”

“It’s a warning. Lotta guys, Slayers, they got some hard feeling about you turning on ‘em. Kinda take it real personal. I can’t guarantee one or two of ‘em won’t get stupid and try something.”

“I’m deeply touched at your concern for my well being,” I said, brushing by him on my way to the car. “Gives me a warm feeling inside. Like heartburn.”

“You ain’t as tough or smart as you think, Summers. You watch your ass,” he called after me as I made my gimpy departure from the scene.

I gave him the finger as I opened the car door and got in out of the rain. What can I say? New York’s rubbed off on me in all the wrong ways.

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