The first policeman on the scene was the local sheriff, but the State Police beat Luke Brodys estimate by a good twenty minutes. Of course, the first phone call Jameson made wasnt to any of those people; it was to the assistant director of the FBI. Thats why a helicopter landed in a vacant lot two blocks away from the diner not forty-five minutes after Jameson had made his phone call. Four FBI agents stepped out, but Jameson was really only interested in one of them: the hostage negotiator from the Las Vegas office.
Shuffle the cards and deal me in, Agent Jameson. Whats the game? The negotiator pulled out a PalmPilot and a lightpen, ready to make notes.
Weve got fifteen civilians and one federal agent being held by a man in his mid-thirties in a diner. Hes got a nine millimeter Smith & Wesson, fired three times, has thirteen left. Shades are drawn, everyones on the floor.
Two possible, one probable. Front door, easily seen from all points within the diner. Back door, leads to kitchen, also easily seen. The two points are almost at right angles to each other.
And the probable entry point?
Through the ceiling of the bathroom. Hed have his back to it, but theres a noise factor involved that makes it tricky. Honestly, its probably not an option.
Agent Starkey was shot in the left shoulder; the bleeding has been mostly contained, but he wont last another hour. One waitress was killed; shot point-blank in the temple. Everyone else is fine.
Whats your impression of the man, Jameson?
Hes had training, might have spent time in the service, maybe a Gulf War vet. Hes fast and sharp. And he claims to see demons. He says Starkey is a demon. I think hes unstable, but thats not a weakness for him yet.
Right. Well, my name is Agent Travis, and Ill try to get your partner out of there. Anyone else in the diner I need to care about?
Jameson hesitated for a second before replying, Nope, just your standard-issue civilians.
* * *
So what do you want, anyway? The Slayer swung her legs back and forth restlessly. She was sitting on the counter beside the cash register, trying to look calm and carefree. Inside, a hundred scenarios unfolded one by one, all detailing the various ways she could subdue him without anyone else getting shot.
All of those scenarios involved him doing something stupid first.
This looks a lot easier on television.
A life. Quiet, uneventful. Seems rather unlikely now, doesnt it? Brody lit a cigarette and began puffing.
I know the feeling.
Yeah? scoffed Brody. Ill bet. Looking the way you do, life must be real tough.
You have no idea what my life is like. All you see is the outside of me, which gives you about as much of a complete picture of me as an Entertainment Tonight Cover Story. All I see of you is a man who comes into a restaurant and shoots people. Im not sure that theres much more to know. Maybe you had a terrible childhood. Maybe you dropped your ice cream cone on the ground when you were seven and youve been scarred ever since. All I do know is that normal people dont go around shooting people.
Blondie, what you know about me wouldnt fill a shot glass.
So tell me more. When did you first start seeing demons?
He barked out a laugh. What are you, my shrink?
No. I just want to understand. Maybe I can help you.
He eyed her for a long moment. Finally he shrugged. All right, thats cool. I gotta tell somebody anyway; why not a pretty girl?
A tinny, amplified voice from outside interrupted them. THIS IS AGENT TRAVIS OF THE FBI. I HAVE LEFT A CELL PHONE JUST OUTSIDE THE FRONT DOOR SO WE CAN COMMUNICATE.
Buffy looked at her captor expectantly.
Brody waved at the door with his gun. Get the phone. Dont try to leave.
She smiled. Leave? But we just got started. She hopped down from the counter and walked over to the door. Behind her, the hostage-taker cleared his throat. She looked back.
You might want to do it slow. Snipers have itchy trigger-fingers.
She nodded. Thanks.
The door was solid, with no windows. She wondered if there was somebody right behind it, waiting to pull her out of the diner. I hope not, she thought. Ive still got people to save.
She pushed down on the handle and opened the door just wide enough for her leg. Buffy could see a cell phone resting on the ground a foot past the doors swing arc. She stuck out her leg and kicked the phone backwards. It skidded through the opening, and she pulled the door shut.
As she reached for the phone, it started ringing. The Slayer picked it up and extended it towards Brody, who shook his head.
Uh-uh. You can talk to them. Repeat what they say.
She opened the phone, put it to her ear, and said, Hello?
Who am I speaking to, please? It was the voice they heard a few minutes earlier.
Excellent. Im Agent Travis. Can I speak to the hostage-taker?
She cupped the phone and said to Brody, Its the Travis guy. He wants to talk to you.
Im not that big a sucker. Tell him that well talk when Im ready.
She put the phone back up to her head. He says hell talk when hes ready.
Thats okay. Travis voice sounded eerily calm, almost as if he was falling asleep. My number is 555-3249. Got that?
Well get you all out. I promise.
The line went dead. She looked at Brody. He hung up.
He smiled. He thinks hes going to talk to me, but what he really wants to do is storm the place, and I know that. Besides, the demands I plan on making require a certain audience, and thats a little while away. So where were we?
You were going to tell me about the demons.
* * *
The van turned the corner, and Oz had to brake quickly; the street was jammed with cars and people. The focus of their attention was obvious. A wide, half-moon space had formed in front of a diner on the north side of the street, ringed with police cars and metal barriers. Oz pulled over, and everyone disembarked.
Oz, what do you see? asked Giles.
He scanned the area. His enhanced sight ability was due to his werewolf tendencies, and he could focus on faraway objects twice the distance of the normal human range. Two snipers on the roof of the garage across the street, another on the roof of the motel to the right, another on the roof of the donut shop to the left.
So the diner is surrounded, concluded Xander.
It would appear so, responded Giles. He looked somewhat lost.
What should we do? asked Cordelia. Do you think someone would notice if we just walked in?
Yeah, the guy with the gun. Xander rolled his eyes.
Giles leaned against the van, sighing. Whatever we do, well have to do it quickly. The FBI are not known for their patience in this sort of situation.
The FBI? Willow frowned. I wonder if our FBI buddies are in that crowd.
Yes! Giles brightened. That would be helpful. I think
They walked into the crowd, merging with it like a raindrop joins a lake. A few minutes later, they reached the center, where the police had cordoned off an area for the law enforcement officers. Giles and Jameson saw each other at the same time. The FBI agent shook his head, then seemed to reconsider something before walking over to the librarian.
Mr. Giles. Its been a long and winding road, wouldnt you say?
Wheres Tweedledum? asked Xander.
Jameson nodded in the direction of the diner. Hes been shot in the shoulder. Hell be dead within the hour unless we can resolve this situation. Can you help?
Help? The question seemed to startle Giles. How can we help you? Why should we bother?
Number one, because Buffy Summers is in that diner. And number two, we would also like to see the Slayer come out alive.
Giles blinked. Im sorry; did you call her a Slayer?
Jameson put his arm around the librarians shoulders. Why dont we take a walk, hmm? Get out of this crowd. He led a dazed Watcher across the street. The Scooby gang followed close behind. Once the FBI agent decided that they wouldnt be overheard, he nodded. Yes, a Vampire Slayer. How dense do you think the federal government is, anyway? Do you really think a phenomenon like Sunnydale would go unnoticed? Did you know that there are twelve other focus points for paranormal and supernatural activity in North America alone? Weve been monitoring them since the fifties.
So then what was up with the Buffy-hunting? asked Xander, a little agitated. Were there some spooks you needed her to scare away?
Jameson sighed. We were trying to find Buffy so we could return her to Sunnydale. We set up a top secret FBI task force to protect Sunnydale, and weve been lucky; last I heard our team had racked up seventeen kills without a single team casualty. But our luck is going to run out someday.
You had caught up to her, then, here in this diner, said Giles.
Thats right. Until Fate intervened yet again.
* * *
Did you ever hear the term friendly fire? Like there could be such a thing. Typical military oxymoron. Middle of the Gulf War, Im running around Baghdad, lasing targets so those smart bombs and theres another oxymoron, cause if a bomb was smart, it wouldnt detonate, would it? Anyway, Im lasing targets so the bombs know where to land, and damn it if they arent an hour ahead of schedule. Im high-tailing it past a hospital when a bomb hit the side of the building, and you know, the sound is like a whump that wraps itself around your head and squeezes. The force of the blast lifts me up and tosses me down the street like a rag doll, where I hit the back of a truck with my head. Friendly fire, my ass. I was out for two days, and when I woke up in an Iraqi jail, I was amazed that I was still alive. Took me three months to escape from that prison, and another two months to get out of the country.
It wasnt until I got back to America that I started seeing things. Flickers. Id be looking at someone, and theyd flicker, like a TV image that was losing its signal. At first I thought that my brain had been scrambled from my injury, and I saw plenty of doctors. None of them believed me, of course. I had enough tests done that I probably cant have kids anymore. The CAT scan showed a small little dot near my injury that glowed a bright white, but the neurosurgeon said it wasnt important. Whatever.
Each year, it seemed to get worse and worse. The flickers would last longer, and I was finally starting to see what these images were. Thats when I
* * *
decided to find a more isolated environment, said the FBI researcher. Agent Travis was listening intently. Brody moved to a cabin in Colorado and maintained minimal contact with human beings for about three years. Then it appears his money ran out, and he had to move back to civilization to get a job.
That was when? Last year? asked Travis.
Thats right. Hes been arrested three times for disturbing the peace; the last time he was at a judges house in Oklahoma, demanding the man come out and answer for his crimes against mankind.
I guess Brody thought the judge was a demon?
Pretty much. Hes moved around a lot in the last twelve months, doing odd jobs here and there, moving on when his tirades began to irritate the wrong people.
So why here? Why now?
The researcher consulted his laptop. The profile doesnt suggest much more than that since hes ramped up his obsession to the point of homicide, he must no longer care about his own life.
Is he crazy?
The researcher shook his head. Not my call. Seems to be, though.
Jameson pushed his way through the phalanx of cops and agents to find the negotiator. Agent Travis, I
Agent Jameson, interrupted the negotiator, your presence is no longer required here. In fact, it would endanger the chances of this situation being resolved in a positive fashion.
Excuse me? I have resources here that would be beneficial to
Travis motioned to a couple of uniforms. Jameson, I sympathize with you. But you know FBI protocol. Your partners in there, hes in harms way, and you have to stand aside and let us do the work. The uniforms came and stood on either side of the agent. If I see you again before this is done, youre going to jail. Now leave.
The uniformed cops escorted Jameson out to the crowds edge, where Giles and the others were waiting.
Oz took in the sight of the cops dropping Jameson off at the curb and said, Got kicked out of the sandbox?
More or less, replied Jameson, simmering. They took me off the case. Damn it!
Cordelia smiled. Guess youre going to need our help even more than you thought, huh?
Jameson clenched and unclenched his fists in frustration. He closed his eyes and appeared to meditate for a couple of minutes. Finally he opened his eyes to look at Giles. Whats the plan?
All right, the first thing we need to do is let Buffy know that were here
* * *
Its not like theres a lot of demons everywhere. I cant explain it, but its like were drawn together like iron filings to a magnet. I dont know what all these demons are doing on Earth, why theyre here, or how they can disguise themselves. But I can see them. I see through the mask.
And you think theyre evil? Buffy thought about Whistler, who had said that he was a demon. He had looked pretty human to her, although his fashion choices could have used a little work.
If you could see what they look like, you wouldnt have to ask that question. Brody shifted in his seat.
Buffy decided to press the point. But you dont know for sure, do you? Youre not absolutely certain that they subscribe to Evil Weekly.
I know. I can feel the hate emanating from their pores like sweat.
Like that little girl? Yeah, she looks like shes got a serious grudge against mankind.
His tone became angry, and he stood up. No offense, blondie, but until youve seen a few demons, I dont think youve got any right to tell me my damn business. Theyre demons, theyre evil, and thats the end of it.
No, it isnt! She also stood up, her eyes suddenly blazing. Not all demons are evil! You cant know that they are! What gives you the right to be judge, jury, and trigger-pulling guy?
His arm came up, and Buffy found herself staring directly into the barrel of a large gun. It trembled slightly with rage. Around her, she could hear the gasps of the frightened hostages. Because theres no one else, God damn it! And Im tired of you judging me! She could see his finger tighten on the trigger.
I didnt expect to die like this, but then what was I expecting? Why am I provoking him?
Maybe its because hes a demon slayer, and youre a vampire slayer, and you never ask the vampires if theyre good or bad before you drive the stake home.
But I know theyre evil, she whispered to herself. Except for Angel.
His finger pulled inwards.
The front door opened, and Brody automatically swung his weapon in that direction. As he did so, his finger completed the act it had been requested to perform, and the trigger was pulled. The slug passed by Buffys right ear with about a foot to spare, hurtled through the air, and smashed through the window next to the door.
The figure in the door ducked, but the gun still found its target, and waited for further instructions.
Uh, hey, dont shoot, Im just here for some apple pie. I hear it makes your taste buds melt.
Buffys eyes widened. Xander?
Brody glanced at the Slayer. You know this idiot?
Know me? Xander straightened. Shes my girlfriend! See the ring on her finger? I gave her that ring. That admission earned him a furious clearing of Buffys throat, but she caught on quickly enough.
Xander, what are you doing here? I dont want you to get hurt, sweetness. She rushed forward and hugged him fiercely. As she did so, she whispered in his ear, I dont know if youre brave or crazy.
He whispered back, A little of both.
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