Part 2

Giles knocked on the door of apartment 1406. Down the hall, an old man with no teeth glared at him balefully. The Watcher could smell something a little rancid in the air, and hoped that it was coming from the garbage chute room three doors down. Beside him, Cordelia was trying not to touch anything, and he suspected that if she could have hovered a few inches off the hallway floor, she would have.

The door opened, and a rail-thin woman in her late thirties stood there staring. “You don’t look like a cop.”

Giles blinked. “Ah, no, madam, actually, my name is Rupert Giles, and I’m a British journalist doing a story on the recent, um, events concerning the subway.”

The woman gestured at Cordelia.

“Who’s she? Your shoe-shine girl?”

Giles blinked again. He could feel Cordelia tense up, ready for a nasty retort, and he quickly said, “She’s my assistant. A local student I hired to help me with the story. May we, uh, come in?”

The woman shrugged wearily. “Why not? Doesn’t look like Hard Copy is going to stop by. I guess you want to talk to my daughter, Susan. Come in, come in, got to be careful the cigarette smoke doesn’t get out into the hall. The landlord will have us out on the street if he catches me smoking in here. Goddamn foreigner. Comes in here, steals our jobs, charges backbreaking rent, and won’t even let a person have a butt once in a while. It’s stressful living here, you know, what with the crime and all. I need something to take the edge off. What’s a few smokes going to hurt?”

Giles was amazed; did she even take a breath during that little tirade? “Your daughter, madam?”

“Yeah, she’s in here with her dollies, can’t get her away from the dollies, you know, it’s all the rage with her. God, if she knew how much money I spent on those things, maybe she’d think twice before jumping up and down like a kangaroo whenever she sees a new one on the TV. Then again, kids never think of that stuff, do they? Not until they grow up and have to earn it somehow, that’s for damn sure.”

As Susan’s mother talked, she led them to the girl’s room, and when she opened the door, she stopped her rant and put a finger to her lips, shushing Giles and Cordelia. She whispered, “Don’t like to frighten her, she gets scared easily ever since …”

This was the part Giles wasn’t looking forward to; he had never been good with kids. Sometimes he thought he hadn’t been good at being a kid when he was one. It was difficult enough dealing with teenagers, but this young girl, sitting on her bed, playing with a Raggedy Ann doll, was only about eight years old.

To his surprise, Cordelia immediately took over.

She approached the bed and sat down beside Susan. The little girl shifted on the mattress, scooting backwards a little bit, away from the teenager.

“Hi, Susan,” Cordelia said in a soft, gentle voice. “My name is Cordelia. That’s a nice doll you have there.” She reached back into her handbag and pulled out a small teddy bear. “This is my friend Baloo. What’s your friend’s name?”

The little girl never took her attention off her doll, but only hesitated for a moment before answering. “Ariana.”

“Ariana?” exclaimed Cordelia tenderly. “What a lovely name. Do you go on adventures with Ariana?”

Susan nodded absently. “She’s my best friend.”

“I’ll bet she is. When you go on adventures, where do you go?”

The girl started playing with Ariana’s hair. “Sometimes the park. Ariana likes the trees and the doggies that play there. I don’t let the doggies play with Ariana, though. They might hurt her.”

“I like taking Baloo to the movies. Do you like movies, Susan?”

“They’re all right.” She paused, her hand frozen in her doll’s red hair. A switch seemed go off inside her, and then she continued. “Mommy took me to a movie the other night.”

In the doorway, Susan’s mother took in a sudden breath. Giles glanced at her, and realized that the little girl was talking about the night she saw the Rocket Killer.

“Was it a good one?”

“It was loud. The little dragon made me laugh. Mommy let me have popcorn,” she said solemnly, as if that was the most important thing.

“Baloo likes popcorn, too. That’s why he’s got a big belly.” Cordelia and Susan shared a giggle as the teenager waggled her teddy bear from side to side. Giles’ eyebrow raised. Cordelia giggling? Without proof, he doubted that anyone would believe him. “What did you do after the movie?”

Susan sighed. “We went on the shiny train. Mommy likes it quiet, so we were in the last car, with only a few other people. They didn’t look like they had any friends,” she observed, hugging her doll. “I don’t like the shiny train. Why can’t it keep going until our stop? It’s always stopping for other people.”

“Was it a long ride?”

“Mommy said it was. But she fell asleep after we got on. I don’t remember. I was talking to Ariana.”

“Did you see anyone interesting on the train?”

“There was a man, he was really big. He came on after us. Ariana didn’t like him.”

“Do you remember what he was wearing?”

Susan scrunched up her nose. “Hmmm.” She made her doll dance around on the mattress. “I don’t think so. But Ariana might.”

“Do you think she would tell me?”

Susan shook her head.

“Do you think she would tell Baloo?” The little girl shrugged her shoulders. “Can you ask Ariana to whisper it in Baloo’s ear?”

The doll sat down next to the teddy bear and leaned in close. Quietly, Susan whispered, “He had a black jacket. It was crinkled.”

Cordelia whispered in a deep voice, “Anything else?”

“There was something on his jacket. A picture. It looked like a face that was happy and crying, too.”

“Did he say anything?”

“He … sniffed me. And said that I was too young.”

“Do you remember anything else?”

Susan blinked. Creased her brow prettily. Then said, “He had grass on his boots. Little pieces of grass.” She blinked again, and looked up at her mother for the first time. “Mommy, can I have some popcorn?”

*                              *                              *

“Say that again, lad?”

Xander cleared his throat and put on his most winning smile. Which hadn’t logged many victories lately, his brain reminded him. “I’m, uh, doing a school project. For school.”

The burly desk sergeant looked at the teenager with doubt clear in his eyes. He then looked at the teenager’s companion, a fine-looking young girl who looked a bit like a lost puppy. “What is it about?”

“About? Well, it’s about, um, famous murders, sir. It’s really big right now, ’cause of the, uh …”

“Rocket Killer,” blurted Willow. “Really big.”

The desk sergeant, whose nametag read ‘Sgt. Brooks’, sighed. What happened to kids these days, that they can’t finish complete sentences in one breath? He looked at his watch. “Kids, it’s summer. School has been out for nearly a month now.”

Xander coughed. “Yes, that’s true, but this is a, uh, special project, you know, for the gifted.”

“And that would be …?”

“Me, sir. Officer. Sergeant?”

Sgt. Brooks looked at his schedule for the afternoon. There didn’t seem to be any reasonable excuse to toss these annoying kids out the front door. How inconvenient. “‘Sir’ will do just fine. So I guess you want to use the archives in the basement?”

“That’s right.”

“What’s wrong with your local library?”

Xander shrugged. “I’m allergic to all the quiet.”

That was the other thing with the kids today — the constant one-liners. That’s what happens when you bring up an entire generation with the television. Sgt. Brooks reached down and opened the drawer that contained the Visitor’s Passes.

“All right. If it gets you out of my hair, I’ll give you a couple of passes. But if I hear you’re messing things up down there, we’ve always got an extra empty cell.”

“That’s very reassuring, sir.”

Brooks held out the passes, but when Xander reached for them, the policeman jerked them back. “What school did you say you were from?”

“Uh …” Behind the sergeant on the wall was a certificate of thanks from a school. If Xander could only read it … “St. Michael’s, sir. Great school.”

“St. Mike’s! My nephew goes there. Are you on the hockey team, son? You look like you’ve got the build for it. Maybe bulk up a bit more, I guess.”

“Hockey? No, I’m on the swim team.”

“The swim team? I thought only f— Well, I mean, I didn’t know St. Mike’s had a swim team. I didn’t know they even had a pool.”

“It’s not a big team.” Seeing the doubtful look on the sergeant’s face, Xander rushed on. “But it has its benefits …” He nodded towards Willow, who smiled widely.

“Right. Well, here you go, then.” Sgt. Brooks handed the passes to the anxious teenager, and pointed down the hall. “Take the elevator down to the basement, and when you get off, turn left, and left again. That’s the archive room. It’s all computerized now, so it shouldn’t take you long to find what you’re looking for.”

“Glad to hear it,” said Xander. “Thanks a lot.” The two teens tried to hurry down the hall without making it look like they were hurrying.

“Hey!” called the sergeant. “Keep your head above water, son, if you know what I mean.”

“Yes, sir!” replied Xander, as they ducked into the elevator.

Sgt. Brooks shook his head. He’d bet any money that they weren’t going down there to do research, at least not the academic kind. Must be on a dare, he thought. The basement of Metro Police Headquarters. That seemed vaguely kinky; how young were they starting to have sex these days, anyway? He wondered what his wife would say if he suggested a nighttime visit to the police archives.

He picked up the phone and dialed her number.

*                              *                              *

Giles pressed the button for the lobby and waited until the doors closed.

“That was incredible, Cordelia. I was not aware that you … well, how much of a … well, um, that is to say …”

She turned to him and put her palm against his chest, driving him into the elevator wall. “You tell no one. Comprendez? As far as you’re concerned, that never happened. I have a reputation to protect. We got what we came for, now let’s get out of here before I break out in hives or something.” She let him go.

Giles took a deep breath. “Your secret dies with me. But …”

She froze him with a glare. “But what?”

“Well, have you considered a career in child care? You seem to have a gift, and …”

“My future is in modeling, thank you very much. I look twice as good as any of those hags, and I actually eat more than once a week, so I’m not a Unicef poster child like Kate Moss. Child care is just glorified babysitting. Do I look like I want to be a babysitter all my life? Huh? And what does that make me out to be? What am I supposed to say to guys I meet, hi, my name is Cordelia, and I’m a babysitter? First thing they’ll think is, great, if we got married, she’d take care of the kids. I don’t want to take care of kids, I want to be on the cover of Vogue.” She trailed off, her glare still angry, but a spark behind her eyes seemed to suggest something else.

For once, Giles’ British reserve played a part in saving his life.

She turned her stare to the elevator door, her left foot tapping from the release of excess energy. They reached the lobby, and Cordelia rushed out like the place was on fire.

My, my, thought Giles. This has been a very interesting day so far. He prayed that it wouldn’t get any more interesting for a while. He needed time to catch his breath.

*                              *                              *

“That cop thinks we’re down here to make out or something.” Xander looked around the large basement room, nervously shifting from foot to foot.

“If I were Cordelia, would he be right?”

Xander cocked his head slightly to the left, giving her a withering glance that didn’t quite work. “That’s not the point.”

Willow grinned. “Sure, closet-boy, whatever you say.” She continued typing on the keyboard, squinting at the screen.

His eyes widened. “What do you know about the closet? It’s all a pack of vicious lies and innuendo. Mostly innuendo with a dash of spice and a little pepper. Not a lot of pepper, just enough to make things … hey, what am I telling you for? From what I hear, you’ve got your own pack of innuendo.”

Willow leaned in closer to the screen, trying to hide the blush that was creeping up past her neck. “I admit nothing,” she said tersely, then giggled.

“Willow, I know that giggle. You’re hiding something, aren’t you? You’re playing little secret girl again, you can’t fool me, I …” Xander broke off as something seemed to dawn on him. He sat down hard.

Willow heard the sudden noise and turned to see Xander’s jaw hanging somewhere around his knees. “I admit nothing,” she repeated, a slow smile growing on her face.

“I can’t believe it. You and Oz … That’s … It’s …” As she watched, Xander’s face seemed to sag, and her smile disappeared, with a sad little frown replacing it.

“You’re not mad, are you? I mean, it’s not like you and Cordelia aren’t …”

“We aren’t,” Xander cut in, “We aren’t, and we haven’t. She’s …” He was amazed that he was about to say this. “She’s not that kind of girl. So she says.”

“Really?” Willow was astounded. She wished Buffy were there; this was something that really needed to be talked about at length, or, more appropriately, whispered about, with a handy bucket of Haagen-Dazs nearby. The worst thing was that Willow felt a grudging respect for Cordelia rise up past her better judgment to sit happily in the front of her mind. “This is unbelievable.”

Xander shook his head. “I know.”

Willow spoke slowly and carefully, choosing each word precisely. “I guess I’m proud of her. In a way. Did she say why?”

He closed his eyes and sighed. “She wants to make sure that the guy’s committed to her completely. She wants to make sure that …” He groaned.

“He loves her,” she finished.

“What you said.”

She looked at him curiously. “Do you?”

His eyes snapped open, and he looked past her at the computer screen. “Don’t we, uh, have a serial killer to look for? Right? That would be good, finding the serial killer, because then we’ll find Buffy, and we can all go home. Right?”

She stared at him for a few moments more, mentally scratching her head. She wished she had more time to think about this. She wished Buffy was there to help her. Sighing, she turned back to the computer.

“Thank you!” Xander said, satisfied, a look of fear still present in his eyes.

*                              *                              *

Oz pulled up to the curb.

“One thing here is like America. No parking anywhere.”

As Giles climbed into the front passenger seat, he gave the young man a curious look. “Anywhere?”

“Not unless you count the bus stops. Which I don’t. We good to go?”

Cordelia shut the side door and flopped down into her seat, not looking at anything in particular. Giles sighed. “Good enough for now, Oz. Little Susan was the most useful witness of the lot, although without Cordelia’s help, that wouldn’t have been the case.”

A growl could be easily heard from the back of the van.

“She was, ah, quite effective in distracting the mother with fashion tips.”

Giles thought he heard Cordelia mutter, “Better.”

“Still, I’m not sure that either of them are aware of how lucky they both are to be alive. The Rocket Killer took his sixth victim only minutes after his encounter with young Susan, and I’m still puzzled as to the man’s modus operandi. He seems to focus on young girls of a certain age, eleven or twelve years old, from what the newspaper reports say. It should be interesting to see what Willow and Xander turn up.”

“Why do you think he sniffed her?” asked Cordelia. “I don’t think I started wearing perfume until I was ten, at least.”

Giles and Cordelia both looked at Oz, who shrugged uncomfortably at the attention. “My, uh, alter ego doesn’t give me extra superpowers when I’m just a human.”

“But, Oz, when you are, um, in the, ah, wolf-like stage of your condition …”

“I don’t remember much afterwards. Mostly it itches. All over. But …” Oz turned his head towards Giles with a quick movement. “How old did you say the victims were?”

“Pre-teen, eleven or twelve years old.”

Oz caught Cordelia’s eyes in the rearview mirror. “Cordy, how old were you when, uh … you started to not feel fresh in the morning?”

The girl’s eyes sharpened. “What do you mean? When I started riding on the maxi-pad highway?”

Giles’ face was confused. “Feel fresh?”

Oz nodded eagerly. “Yeah, you know, having her period.”

“Oh,” said Giles.

“I was eleven years old. My mom took me for an ice-cream to celebrate.”

Giles raised an eyebrow at Oz. “What are you saying, that you can smell this?”

“There is a certain … odor. Can’t miss it, really.”

“Ewwww,” grimaced Cordelia.

“So you think the killer was sniffing at the girl …” started Giles.

“To see if she was having her period.” finished Oz.

“That is the most out-there, off the wall theory I’ve ever heard,” said Cordelia, shaking her head.

“Could work,” noted Oz.

“It may have to,” added Giles.

*                              *                              *

“Have a nice smooch session in the basement, Xander?” Cordelia smiled dangerously.

“Yes, I did, but I’m not sure the filing clerk will ever get back her nylons.” Xander grinned back.

“I guess you had to tie her up, then?”

“To keep her from ravaging me, yes.”

“How did you know that’s what she wanted to do? Perhaps she was just trying to push you aside to get to any other man on the planet.”

“Ah, but she wasn’t you, was she?”

“Anyway,” Willow interrupted semi-patiently, “we found some useful information despite what Xander says.” She produced some pictures and printouts from her packsack. “You may want to consider, um, what you ate for lunch,” she said calmly, “because it may come back up while looking at these.” One picture was from the most recent victim’s crime scene; it looked like the girl’s body had exploded, with glistening white bones and flaps of skin lining the walls of the subway tunnel. Body parts littered the ground.

“There are two things to notice,” said Willow clinically. She had to be clinical, she thought, or she’d throw up all over the desk. “The first is that, uh, her head is not in the picture. According to the report, it was found fifty feet down the tracks. I guess a passing train must have … Anyway, the second thing is that —”

“Where’s the blood?” whispered Oz.

“Right.” confirmed Willow.

“It’s a vampire,” said Cordelia. “Color me stunned on that one.”

Giles picked up the picture and brought it close to his eyes. “This is most curious. A vampire who chooses specific victims.”

“A vampire who sniffs for menstrual periods,” added Oz.

“What?” asked Willow.

“Yes,” replied Giles. “From the interview we had with one little girl, we’ve developed a theory that, well, the killer hunts for girls who are on their period.”

“Wouldn’t that be the one time you’d want to stay very far away from women?” Xander pointed out.

Cordelia punched him in the arm. “Why wait?”

“What’s this?” asked Giles, peering at one corner of a picture.

Willow joined him, squinting. “It looks like a drawing of some sort.”

Oz picked up a pencil and a pad of paper. “Let me see if I can copy it.” He took the photograph and started sketching.

After a few moments, Giles pointed at the sketch and asked Cordelia, “What does that remind you of?”

She looked at it for a second, then said, “A face happy, but crying!”

The others looked at them curiously until Giles explained, “That’s what the little girl saw on the Rocket Killer’s jacket.”

“So it’s a symbol of some sort?” asked Xander.

“Yes, and it looks somewhat familiar to me. I’ll page through my Watcher diaries; I’m sure I saw it in there somewhere.”

“Man, this is like detective work,” Xander observed.

“For some of us,” said Willow, smiling.

Previous Part               Next Part