FLESH AND STONE
By Kimberly T. (e-mail: kimbertow AT yahoo DOT com )
Standard Disclaimer: All the characters appearing in Gargoyles and Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles are copyright Buena Vista Television/The Walt Disney Company. No infringement of these copyrights is intended, and is not authorized by the copyright holder. All original characters are the property of Kimberly T.
Author's Notes: Sorry I've been 'away' for so long, folks! Regardless of the fact that I've let the series languish for over a year, this story picks up right where I left off (in Manhattan, anyway); the day after Goliath and Elisa's wedding. If you need a quick intro or refresher course in the cast of characters and the background for the situation they're about to find themselves in, I recommend reading or rereading my stories "The Facts of Life," "Hudson's Musings," "A Quiet Night, A Busy Day," the first half of "Unsolved Mysteries" and all four parts of "The Times, They Are a-Changin'…"
This story is rated R, not for sex this time (sorry!) but for violence and a couple of somewhat disturbing themes, and is intended for mature readers only. But for those 'mature' readers, there's a handful of brownie points waiting for the first one to correctly guess which episode of the series I took the title of this story from, and why!
Oh, and a few references in the story are explained in footnotes at the story's end, for the truly curious.
FLESH AND STONE
It has long been the tradition in Western society to designate Sunday as the 'day of rest', whether one is a devout Christian or not. The tradition is deeply ingrained in the national subconscious of the USA, so much so that even in this land driven by Capitalism, the comparatively few businesses that stay open seven days a week tend to cut back their hours on Sunday. In the past, not only have workers left their jobs or risen up against their employers, but entire labor unions have been formed, just to ensure they have a day of rest on Sunday.
But as David Xanatos is fond of saying, "Pay a man enough, and he'll walk barefoot into Hell." Which is why in the middle of a sleepy Sunday morning, there was a maintenance crew hard at work in the bowels of the Aerie building, repairing the elevator shaft and replacing the cab of the elevator to the castle. Xanatos was paying the maintenance department very, very well to work around the clock, in order to restore elevator access.
After the damage had been done in the wee hours of Saturday morning, it had taken most of Saturday to clear out all the concrete debris, the remains of the old elevator cab… and the bits that had been broken off the two cyborgs that had been hiding atop the cab when the concrete blocks had come crashing down on them. Today, as he supervised the electrical rewiring that was necessary for the new elevator cab, the foreman for the day shift crew reached into his pocket and fingered the metal claw-tip he'd found amid the debris. Bob Murphy knew he should have turned the claw-tip over to the police, but he figured they had plenty of evidence anyway, and he wanted a souvenir of this crazy job to show to his buddies at the next football game.
Murphy's attention was distracted by a tiny but shrill beeping noise, and he turned to see Ed Johnson, one of his workers, pulling a pager out of his pocket. He idly supposed that Ed had just received another page from his wife, worried about some minor family crisis—he knew the man had four kids, which meant they had a minor crisis at least twice a week—and would need to call home to administer some long-distance fatherly wisdom and discipline. Murphy shrugged and started to pull his own cell phone out of his pocket, so Johnson could use it; there were no other phones handy at this sub-basement level. Work interruptions like this were an annoyance, but Johnson was one of his more reliable workers, a quiet man who always got the job done with minimal complaints; Murphy figured he'd earned a little slack, in the form of these regularly occurring calls.
After shutting off the beeping and looking at the message displayed, Johnson came up to him, and Murphy automatically offered the cell phone. But Johnson shook his head at it, and instead told him, "I'm going to need to take my lunch hour now… and it may run over the usual time limit. But I'll be back as soon as I can."
"What!" Murphy's face reddened in outrage and anger as he stared at Johnson. "Listen, Johnson, I know your family's important to you; so's mine! But the boss is paying all the crews triple-time to work around-the-clock until the job's finished, with a hefty bonus if we finish by Monday morning! If you slow us down by leaving just to go to church with your family, I'll dock your pay—for twice as long as you're actually gone!"
Johnson just shook his head slowly. "I understand your position, Mr. Murphy… but there are some things more important than money." And with that, he took off his hard hat and left.
Murphy swore blasphemously… then flinched ever-so-slightly, as he imagined what his sainted mother would say to him right now if she'd been listening. Not to mention what the union bosses would have to say… But Xanatos Enterprises rarely had any trouble with the unions, largely because of (as rumor amidst the workers had it) regular and hefty bribes to the union leaders. Murphy shook his head and went back to the job at hand, but silently fumed until Johnson returned to work over 1-½ hours later. And the first and only thing he said to the worker upon returning was, "Your pay's been docked."
Johnson just nodded in acceptance. "I know. You do what you have to do… and so do I," as he picked up his hard hat again.
It was a lovely Sunday evening in Manhattan, even for mid-to-late November. Yes, the air was chilly, enough that the gargoyles gliding through the night sky could see their breath billowing out in plumes that streamed past their manes; but their thick hides were well suited for cold climates. And the air was relatively free of smog, as clear as the skies over Manhattan ever get, thanks to a brief rainstorm that afternoon that had cleared up entirely by sunset; stars twinkled overhead, pinpoint diamonds against the black velvet backdrop, and the full moon was an exquisitely mottled pearl shining to put the rest of the sky's jewels to shame. Out on the start of their patrol, Angela glanced up from scanning the city streets for trouble and sighed appreciatively. "Isn't it a lovely night tonight, Hudson?"
Hudson was somewhat less appreciative of the night's beauty. "Aye, I suppose; what we can see of it, anyway," he grumbled, with a gesture towards the city below them. It was true, the light from the stars overhead was vastly overwhelmed from below by all the neon, fluorescent and incandescent lights sprinkled throughout the City That Never Sleeps; even the moon's glow was outdone by the lighting on the signs of several open-all-night establishments. The air pollution was at a minimum that night, but 'light pollution' was another matter. "Now, back in Scotland, on nights of old… Ye'd have seen a proper night sky, with stars beyond even the thought of numbering! And the moon would reign in all her glory, instead of being outshone by all this gaudy claptrap."
Angela gave him a somewhat irritated look as she retorted, "And when I was growing up on Avalon, the skies there were even more beautiful; the moon always seemed a little bigger and brighter there than over any place Goliath, Elisa and I ever went to on our travels. But I'm trying to appreciate what we have here and now…"
Hudson sighed gustily. "Aye, lass; ye've the right of it. Forgive an old male his grumbling; me bones are feeling a bit more creaky than usual tonight."
Angela smiled at him. "It's all right. And you should feel better after a bit, once we really get our blood moving." If not with just the exercise of gliding around the city, then in fighting and subduing whatever criminals they encountered during their rounds.
Hudson agreed with her, then cast a look to the south and east, an area that was several blocks off their patrol route for the night; the neighborhood of Elisa Maza's apartment. Angela followed his glance, and smiled wider as she said, "Do you think Goliath and Elisa are out enjoying this lovely night, too?"
Hudson snorted and shook his head even as he grinned. "Nay, lass, or we likely would have heard him roaring already! 'Tis a pity that Elisa's thin skin canna handle the winter chill as easily as ours; there's no staying bundled up in clothing during a mating flight." He shrugged and smirked as he said, "Ah well, I'm sure they'll do just fine being ground-bound…"
Angela smiled even as she blushed a little. "I landed on the balcony there a few weeks back, during Elisa's last fertile period. And from what I accidentally overheard, trust me, they can do just fine…"
Hudson grinned wider at her news and her blush… but the grin gradually faded to a troubled frown. "So long as it's not the wrong set of ears overhearing such things… Elisa's told us why she canna come to live with us at the castle, but it still worries me. If those cursed Quarry-Rats get word that a gargoyle has been heard roaring from within her new apartment…"
Angela frowned worriedly as well, but told Hudson, "Lexington told me that when he was looking over the security plans for her apartment, he ensured Xanatos' workers added extra soundproofing to every wall. It's only from the balcony, with its glass doors, that you can hear what's going on inside."
"That's some comfort, at least," Hudson muttered, before going silent. Angela went silent as well, thinking about the Quarryman threat. Even if the clan had survived, escaped and sometimes even bested them at every encounter to date, it was truly unsettling to know that there were people devoted to their species' destruction… not because they were competing for food and territory like rival wolfpacks, or because they were ruining a criminal enterprise (such as Tony Dracon's), but merely because they existed.
Thoughts of the Quarrymen, and of the many other foes who wanted to see the clan dead—or worse—sharpened Angela's focus on the streets below them, as her eyes took on a slight reddish tinge. Gliding alongside her, Hudson too resumed grimly scanning the streets below.
They were alert for signs of assault or robberies in progress, and for people wearing midnight blue hoods and wielding esoteric weaponry… But they were still caught off guard by what happened next. The crisp night air was suddenly pierced by an inhuman shriek, high in the auditory range and growing higher each millisecond, and loud enough to be exquisitely painful to sensitive gargoyle ears.
Angela and Hudson both faltered in flight while covering their ears and howling in protest. Angela cried out over the awful din, "It's just like last night's noise, only louder!"
"Because it's closer this time," Hudson snarled, wincing as he uncovered one ear so he could point off to the east. From a rooftop nearly three blocks away, they could see the glowing trail of a fireworks rocket rising up into the air. Mercifully, the piercing shriek from what Anne Marsden had called a "Whistling Willie" rocket died out even as they tracked the rocket trail, spiraling up into the sky. When the rocket detonated a few moments later (with a small burst of sparks and a pop that seemed almost subdued, after that terrible shriek) the two traded glances, agreeing without words that this time, with no innocent children as passengers to worry about, they would investigate this unwelcome noisemaker to the fullest.
As they approached the rooftop that the rocket had been fired from, they saw someone standing in the center of the roof: a woman, tall and broad-shouldered with Amazonian proportions, and dressed in black leather from neck to toe. It was the sort of clothing they had seen on motorcycle riders… and on members of some of New York's street gangs. The woman had light brown hair pulled back in a severe bun knotted at the base of her neck and tanned skin exposed at her neck and chin, but they could not see her eyes; the entire upper half of her face was obscured by bulky-looking goggles of some sort.
A few feet behind where the woman was standing, they saw an upright, blackened cardboard tube with wisps of smoke still issuing from it; evidently the origin for the fireworks rocket. But curiously, almost directly in front of the woman reposed a small picnic cooler, and placed in front of that was a platter that appeared to be heaped high with both raw and cooked meat! Angela's eyes widened, then narrowed as she and Hudson traded glances again. They were both thinking the same thing: this woman had set off the rocket to deliberately attract their attention. And the meat was intended for them… but as a reward, a bribe, or bait for a trap?
With a quick gesture, the two gargoyles made an unspoken agreement. Then they split up, one going to the left and one to the right, and each made one cautious circle around the rooftop, eyes warily seeking signs of a trap. A large dufflebag lay a few feet to the right of the woman, but otherwise there lay nothing else that would be out of place on the roof. But the goggles-wearing woman, who stayed where she was standing but twisted and turned in an attempt to keep them both in sight, had a long and narrow black vinyl case strapped to her back. And the top of that case was unzipped, allowing them a bare glimpse of gleaming black material inside…
Meeting again once they'd made a full circuit, they made another unspoken agreement with their eyes: they would land at the roof's edge, but come no closer than that and make no other move until they had established whether the woman had friendly or unfriendly intentions. They backwinged lightly to a landing at the roof's edge, crouching on the low railing with wings half-furled, and there they waited in silence.
The woman's lips curled in a slow, satisfied smile, and after a few seconds, she spoke. "Well, now… you're a pretty pair, aren't you?" There was nothing threatening in her tone, Hudson decided, but the words sounded faintly patronizing.
The woman lifted the bulky goggles from her face, to reveal piercing blue eyes… eyes that looked them over very thoroughly as she continued on, "And you're wearing clothes, and carrying weapons… that goes along with the reports I've read that say you can talk nearly as well as we can. So I'm sure you can understand me when I say that the meat here is for you," as she gestured briefly to it. "It's a universal sign of friendly intentions… Not that I can imagine anyone ever wanting to harm such a lovely pair of specimens as yourselves. My name is Doctor Lucin—"
Hudson was startled by Angela's abrupt shout, as well as by her right wing as it shot out to the side to buffet him off his perch, but not too startled to regain his equilibrium and catch the air in his wings, turning his brief fall from the rooftop into a smooth glide. He wheeled about in time to see Angela, who had also launched herself into the air, arcing into a dive straight at the woman doctor with a war-scream ripping out of her lungs.
The human had also been startled by Angela's abrupt moves, but was apparently recovering quickly; even as Angela dove for her, she was reaching over her shoulder, into that black nylon case… and pulling out by the stock a gleaming black rifle. She yanked it over and down into a firing pose, but before she could successfully aim it Angela was already within talon's reach. Angela yanked the rifle out of the woman's grip and flung it across the roof with one hand, while the other hand punched the woman squarely in the face. She spun around to add a roundhouse swat from her tail, sending the woman crashing to the soot-covered surface of the roof and probably unconscious before she hit.
"Lass, what… why did ye do that!" Hudson demanded to know as he landed next to Angela, who was still standing and snarling over her fallen prey.
But Angela ignored him, instead wheeling about and snarling to their surroundings, "I know you're out there! Show yourselves, cowards—if you dare!"
But no one appeared, and this time Hudson flared out his wings, a sign of his irritation outgrowing his bewilderment as he growled, "What's all this about!"
Angela's eyes were still glowing crimson as she turned to him and growled, "I've already met one 'doctor' who referred to us as 'specimens'… And people of Sevarius' ilk," and she spat the name out with enough venom to make a cobra proud, "usually have lackeys to do their dirty work for them!" And with that, she gave another snarl of challenge to the surrounding night.
The name of Sevarius gave Hudson pause; he'd never met the man personally, but he knew others who had, generally to their sorrow. Angela was one of them, after having been captured, imprisoned, and nearly drowned in one of Sevarius' schemes long before she'd come to live in Manhattan—though at least she'd left the encounter physically unchanged… It was plain to see, even with only one good eye, that whatever sort of doctor Anton Sevarius was, it wasn't the healing kind. But after they both peered about warily for another full minute and still no lackeys appeared, he shook his head disapprovingly. "I'm thinking ye made a mistake this time, lass. This woman, whatever sort of doctor she be, gave us no sign of threat…"
"No, because she was waiting until we lowered our guard, so she could shoot us with this," Angela retorted as she picked up and brandished the rifle at him as a reminder, before breaking it in half. As the pieces fell to the ground, a fletched dart fell out and rolled near her feet, and they knew without sniffing it that it contained some sort of drug; perhaps a tranquilizer, perhaps something worse. "And I wouldn't be a bit surprised to find out that the meat was drugged, too."
Slowly and reluctantly, Hudson nodded. "You could be right, lass… I've seen human hunters do that to predators that they choose as prey, though 'tis dishonorable." Or, he thought to himself, the meat could be perfectly safe and the doctor might have carried the weapon merely for her own defense, since a true healing doctor would likely prefer making foes sleepy to killing them. Though if her intentions towards them had been truly peaceful, she would have done better to carry no weapons at all…
Hudson sighed as he acknowledged to himself that whichever was the case, they had best be on their way before the woman woke up… for if she hadn't been a potential foe before the encounter, she surely would become one after such an unprovoked attack. But just as he was about to say so to Angela, the communicators they wore about their necks beeped for their attention. Angela reached for hers first, and spoke into it. "Angela here…"
"It's Brooklyn," came the terse reply over the airwaves. "How far from the castle are you now?"
"About six blocks east, three blocks north," Angela replied, while turning around to look back towards the castle. "Why do you ask?"
"…do you ask?" came Angela's reply, out of the communicator Brooklyn was holding in his hand.
"If you're east and north of the castle, then you won't see it for another second or two, till it comes 'round to that side again," Brooklyn said while staring grimly out one of the castle windows. "We've got uninvited company here…"
The uninvited company was in the form of a helicopter… a helicopter painted dark blue, with a large stylized Q painted on its sides. The Quarrymen were back.
The helicopter had appeared five minutes ago, at first heading on a course that would pass Castle Wyvern on the western side… but once it had gone past, it had banked to begin circling the structure. It hadn't made any move to attack them directly; as Brooklyn reminded his comrades, the Quarrymen had lost two helicopters and nearly all the crew aboard them, the last time they had tried to attack the castle. And without knowing what had happened during that attack to make so many people and equipment vanish without a trace, the Quarrymen would be "beyond stupid" to try it again. But by the time of Brooklyn's call, it had settled into a pattern, circling them just outside the Aerie Building's airspace; one complete lap every twenty-nine seconds. That was time enough for a gargoyle to launch from the castle once the helo had passed a particular point, but not enough time to get out of visual range before it came around again.
"They're coming close enough to set off Xanatos' perimeter alarms," Brooklyn reported to Hudson, "But not close enough that he could justify it as an immediate attack to bring in the police, or to use the castle's modern defenses to fire on them." Although from where he was standing, he could see Lexington and Owen working at a computer terminal, grimly ensuring that at least one gun turret was trained on them at all times in their flight path. Brooklyn gave a growling sigh as he finished, "I have the feeling that the Q-Balls are daring us to 'come out and play'."
Hudson and Angela had left that rooftop with the unconscious woman behind, gliding to another one that was closer to their home, though still some distance away… far enough that unaided human eyes could never hope to spot them in the dark, though they could plainly see the helicopter circling the castle. Hudson mused grimly into the communicator, "Either they don't realize that two gargoyles have left the castle already… or they do know, and they're making sure our forces are divided, in preparation for an assault on us folk out on patrol."
"Either way, right now the castle is under siege!" Angela said. "What can be done about it?"
Brooklyn's voice came over the communicators again. "Xanatos is already on the phone to his lawyers, trying to file harassment charges against the Quarrymen; he says it worked once against some paparazzi who tried something like this a few years ago, before we woke up. But he admits that on a Sunday night, it's doubtful that he'll be able to get a court order against the helo to make it retreat any time soon. So at the moment, we either sit tight and wait them out… or go out to engage them in combat. And I have the feeling that they wouldn't be doing this if they weren't packing something special, waiting for just such an occasion… Lex's guess is heat-seeking missiles."
Hudson had seen enough modern war movies on the television to know what those were, and he gave a quick explanation to Angela. She grimly agreed that it made attacking the helicopter directly a bad idea. "But there must be something we can do…"
"For right now, it's a waiting game," Brooklyn told them. "We've closed all the windows, and the tinting on the glass makes them mirrors from the outside even at night, so they shouldn't be able to pick and shoot at targets while we're inside. And helicopters use a lot of fuel pretty quickly; sooner or later it's got to go away to refuel. Once it does, it'll be safe to come and go as we please… Unless they have another helicopter waiting, to take its place while it refuels. But we won't know for sure until it happens, if it does."
"If they're planning a proper siege, they'll have that extra helicopter waiting and ready; I'd bet me sword on it," Hudson said grimly. "Back before ye were hatched, lad, a rival thane tried to lay siege to Castle Wyvern, and even that fool knew enough to bring plenty of men and provisions for a long stay."
"What happened in that siege?" Angela asked him curiously.
That brought a grim smile of remembrance to Hudson's lips. "We happened, lass," he said with pride. "The fool hadn't believed that we gargoyles were smart enough to out-think a human… but we did. He had men and weapons enough to surround the castle clear to the cliff edges, and all were supplied with arrows to shoot us out of the sky if we attacked them directly. But he didn't think to keep boats out on the water at the base of the cliff, though if he had, he likely would have lost them; the waters there were always too rough for naught but the stoutest vessels and the canniest seamen. So on the first foggy night, we went out over the water, circled around to come in behind the siege forces, and set fire to the wagons with all their provisions, not to mention the thane's own tent. The whole affair was over in less than three nights..." Then he paused, with an odd look coming over his face.
Brooklyn's voice came over the communicator again. "I remember you telling us about that siege when we were hatchlings. Here and now, we could try an 'attack from behind' by surprising that relief helicopter before it can get to the castle, but with only the two of you—well, four of you, if we disturbed the honeymooners—"
"Wait a moment, lad," Hudson interrupted. "I've just remembered something that scoundrel tried, before resorting to the siege. We gargoyles weren't involved in that, as it took place during the day and was foiled by the human guardsmen. But I was told he tried to sabotage our defenses, by disguising some fighters as cloth traders coming to the castle to sell their wares…" As he explained his idea to Brooklyn over the radio, both he and Angela acquired slow, wicked smiles.
Three hours later, Hudson and Angela finished their regular patrol route. But instead of returning to the castle, they headed for a narrow alley about ten blocks away from the castle. There was a car parked in the alley, and inside it were Jeffrey Robbins, and his regular driver William Steger. "They're here, Mr. Robbins," Steger reported as he saw the gargoyles spiraling down for a landing.
"Right on time," Jeffrey grinned as he opened his car door and stepped out, turning his head in the direction of the soft thuds he heard. "Hello, Hudson; how was patrol tonight?"
"Ach, about average," Hudson said with a grin, as he caped his wings and stepped forward. "Stopped two muggings, caught a convenience store robber fleeing the scene o' his crime, an' foiled an assault that might have become a rape…"
"And the woman we saved stayed and thanked us instead of running away!" Angela chimed in with a smile, which widened when she accepted the bundle of cloth Steger held out for her. "This feels like fine velvet!"
"Velveteen, actually," Jeffrey corrected her with a smile, as she and Hudson shook out a pair of hooded cloaks and carefully donned them. "Feels just as nice but costs a lot less, or so the friend who's loaning them told me. She and her sister are in the Society for Creative Anachronism, where cloaks are still part of the everyday dress code. Anyway, now comes the hard part: fitting both of you into the back seat of the car…"
It was a tight squeeze for two being with wings, tails and triple-king-size feet, but they managed to both fit into the back seat of the car, and were driven straight to the entrance of the Aerie Building. Clad in the cloaks, Hudson and Angela exited the vehicle with thanks to their friends, while glancing upwards at the helicopter still circling the building… but it made no change in its pattern, so they grinned at each other and walked right through the front doors, into the lobby.
The night watchman on duty at the desk greeted them with a nervous smile. "Uh, hi. My name's Breckenridge, Daniel Breckenridge. I know we've never met, but—"
"Elisa's spoken well of you," Hudson said as he came forward and genially shook the man's hand in the human fashion; the poor fellow looked so nervous already, a proper warrior's greeting would likely fluster him into fainting. He didn't really seem to be the sort of guardsman one should have at the front gates… but Elisa had said he was sympathetic to the gargoyles, so at least he wasn't apt to let any Quarrymen come walking in unannounced.
With some direction from Breckenridge, the two gargoyles took one of the elevators up as far as it would go… which was the level just below the arboretum. From there, they had to walk up the fire stairs all the way to the castle. Twenty-two stories is a lot of stairs, and both Hudson and Angela were on all fours before they'd gotten even halfway; not that doing so offended their dignity, since they frequently ran on all fours when they needed greater speed than normal on the ground. But still, they were grumbling over the exertion when they met Broadway and Brooklyn, heading down the stairs as they went up. "What brings you lads down here?" Hudson asked, breathing heavily as he leaned against the wall for a moment's rest.
"Time for the next patrol," Brooklyn said matter-of-factly. At their expressions, he explained, "It's not enough to just find a way to get home safely; we've got to show those Q-Balls that they can't stop us from doing what's right. So the patrols go on, as best as we can manage."
They held an impromptu briefing on one of the stair landings, Hudson and Angela handing the cloaks over while Brooklyn reported that the Quarrymen had indeed sent a relief helicopter to replace the first one when it went off to refuel. "We recorded the time it showed up and the direction it came from and the other one flew off in, to give to Xanatos as soon as he wakes up in the morning; he'll check with the air traffic controllers to find out where in the city they're launching from and who filed the flight plan. He says once he knows where the Quarrymen keep their secret hangar, he'll have an easier time getting a restraining order slapped right in their faces."
"And the sooner we can go back to gliding, instead of going up and down these wretched stairs," Angela grumbled as she helped Broadway drape the cloak Hudson had worn more evenly across his shoulders and over his caped wings.
"Hear, hear!" Broadway chimed in, while rubbing Angela's brow ridges in thanks and affection.
Brooklyn's beak quirked in a wry, painful smile as he glanced at the pair, before turning to Hudson and asking, "Now, you said something over the radio earlier about running across another Doc Sevarius type?"
After Hudson and Angela had related their encounter with 'Dr. Lucin' and the other pertinent details of their patrol, Broadway and Brooklyn continued down the stairs to the level below the arboretum, and from there they took the elevator down to the lobby. Once they were at street level and out of the building, keeping to the shadows as much as possible and keeping their cloaks wrapped tightly around them with their tails tucked under the hems, Broadway asked, "How far do you think we should walk before it's safe to climb up and glide?"
"Let's make it about four blocks, just to be on the safe side," Brooklyn replied, while straining his ears to listen for the helicopter circling over a hundred stories above them. The hood of the cloak, flung as far forward over his head as it would go, muffled the sound somewhat; it also blocked all his peripheral vision. But he knew better than to ease it back at all; his beak would be a dead giveaway, to even the most casual glance from a passerby, that the wearer of the cloak wasn't human.
They walked the first block without incident; there were few people out on the streets at this time on a Sunday night, and the few they saw gave them no more than a passing glance before hurrying on their way. Brooklyn thought wryly that either they were too preoccupied to notice anything unusual, or they figured anyone dressed so oddly might be mentally unstable, a.k.a. dangerous, and wanted nothing to do with them. But while they were looking around before crossing the street to the next block, he saw a taxi driving up the cross street towards them. Seeing it brought back memories of the clan's first night awake in this new world; he and his rookery brothers had worn themselves out by exploring so much of the island in one night, till they'd actually had to stop gliding and walk for a while. While they were on foot that night, he'd tried to hail a taxicab, but it had sped right by them without slowing down—in fact, Brooklyn thought it had sped up a little, to escape the sight of them. Tonight, feeling a little cocky over their having found a way to outwit the Quarrymen again, he nudged Broadway in the ribs and said, "Hey, remember this?" He raised his hand with one talon pointing in the air and hollered, "Yo, taxi!"
But to their surprise, the taxi screeched to a halt right in front of them, and the cab driver rolled down the window and asked them, "Where to?"
For a moment, all Brooklyn and Broadway could do was stare at him in absolute astonishment. Then Brooklyn asked him hesitantly, "You, ah… you're okay with giving rides to gargoyles?" They both knew that their cloaks were basically no disguise at all when seen up close.
The cabby just shrugged at them and said, "Depends. Y'got any money?"
The gargoyles glanced at each other, then did a quick search of their belt pouches; they still had some money left over from the funds Xanatos had supplied them with for the clan outing on Halloween. After counting out all the money together, Brooklyn asked, "How far will twelve dollars and seventy-eight cents take us?"
The cabby shrugged again. "Hop in and we'll find out."
An hour before dawn in the castle, all the patrols were back in and relating to each other the high points of the night. Broadway, in particular, was still enthusiastic about his and Brooklyn's cab ride, despite its back seat being such a tight fit for them both. "That cabby really treated us just like regular people; he even asked if we'd seen the highlights of the latest Giants game on the tube!" Broadway grinned literally from ear to ear as he finished, "If that isn't a sign that people are coming to accept us, then I don't know what is!"
"I got his name and Taxi ID number before we got out," Brooklyn told them all with a grin. "If Xanatos will give us a few more bucks, tomorrow we can call the cab company and arrange for him to pick us up!"
Hudson chuckled and shook his head. "Now, what do ye think of that? I might have to end up thanking the Quarry-Rats, for otherwise I wouldn't be looking forward to meeting a fellow Giants fan…"
"But he said his shift ends at midnight," Brooklyn told them all apologetically, "and we can't count on just any cabbie being as accepting as this guy. So the later patrols will still have to find other ways of leaving and entering our current 'no-glide zone'. Broadway and I had to come back on foot."
"Ah, you guys are such whiners about walking, and going up and down the stairs," Lexington teased them. "Bronx and I didn't have any problem, when we went out to patrol Central Park."
"That's because Bronx goes everywhere on foot, and you rode on him most of the way there and back, including all the way up the stairs!" Angela retorted. "And just look at the poor dear," as she gestured to where the watchbeast lay in his usual spot next to Hudson's chair… but snoring loudly. "He's so worn out from carrying you, he's fallen asleep before dawn! We'll probably have to leave him there for the day…"
"You mean, we'll probably have to join him here for the day," Brooklyn said, abruptly losing his good humor and acquiring a grimly sober mien. "We can't let the Quarrymen stop us from patrolling… but none of us are taking our regular perches as long as that helicopter's out there. It's just too risky; even from the distance they're circling at, one man with a rocket launcher, or a sniper-rifle with armor-piercing bullets, could ruin our whole day."
The others had to grimly agree with their second-in-command. Angela glanced towards the phone and asked, "Should we call Goliath and Elisa now, and let them know what's going on?"
Brooklyn uneasily scratched his mane and glanced at Hudson, but said finally, "Not yet. Their honeymoon lasts until Tuesday evening, when Elisa returns to work, and I really doubt either of them are going to stir from the apartment until then. But if we tell Goliath what's going on, he'll start worrying and insist on coming back here early, just in case… and I really think we've got a handle on things, as they are. But what does our clan elder advise?"
Hudson nodded slowly. "For the moment, lad, I agree with ye; let the newly mated ones have their happiness, fleeting as it may be these days. But tomorrow night, before dawn, he must be informed."
"Of course! He's got to know, so we can coordinate some way for him to get home too." Brooklyn gave a brief and wry smile. "He's a little big for Elisa to smuggle him here in the trunk of her car."
"(yawn) I can hire an anonymous delivery van to pick him up," Xanatos said as he strode into the room, wearing a dressing gown and his hair still tousled from sleep. "Come to think of it, I'll just buy one today and pick a reliable driver from the motor pool, and you can use it for getting to and from your patrol routes. Did you track and time the helicopters all night?"
Lexington handed over the notes they'd taken, and soon Xanatos was on the phone, rousting several city and airport officials out of their beds. But some time later, roughly fifteen minutes before dawn, Broadway pointed out the window and said, "Look! The helicopter's leaving… and without a relief in sight!"
Everyone crowded around the windows, and sure enough, they saw the dark blue helicopter moving away from the castle at a fast clip, with no other helicopter arriving to take its place. "Guess your lawyers came through, huh?" Brooklyn said to Xanatos with a smile.
"Looks that way," Xanatos agreed, though privately he doubted it. He thought it was more likely that even the most fanatical of the Quarrymen would realize that they'd be just wasting time and fuel in circling the castle while the gargoyles were locked in stone sleep. And they'd be utter fools to attack directly again when they still didn't know what had happened the last time they'd attacked. (Which reminded him, he needed to have the titanium wire mesh for the pigeon coop in the Arboretum reinforced again. The clan had been told what had happened and why they now had a small flock of pigeons in residence, and everyone who could speak had agreed to leave them alone, but Bronx seemed to delight in growling and scratching at the wire mesh and terrifying the birds inside.)
But Xanatos saw no reason to tell his thoughts to Brooklyn and the others; it was better to let them think that despite his being hobbled by the Illuminati, David Xanatos was still their strongest ally and the best one to turn to when a situation got sticky. Besides, he was sure that one way or another he'd have that court order against the helicopters and their owner by sunset; the Illuminati may have curbed his ability to fight the Quarrymen, but this fell under the heading of defending his home, and they hadn't denied him that capability. He'd have the helicopters gone for good by sunset, one way or another, he thought as he watched the gargoyles file outside and take their regular perches. And then they'd be back to business as usual…
Elsewhere in the city, Goliath and Elisa stepped out onto the balcony of her apartment, their arms lovingly wrapped around each other's waists. Goliath was wearing his customary loincloth, but Elisa was clad only in a light robe and slippers… which was as much as she had ever worn for the last 36 hours, since he had helped her out of her wedding dress. The temperature had scarcely risen above refrigeration temperatures for the last two days, dipping below freezing at night, but she scarcely noticed except for the brief moments out on the balcony at dawn and dusk. During the day, Elisa slept under layers of quilts in her bed… and at night, Goliath was more than happy to wrap her in his wings, and even more happy to find other ways to keep her warm…
"Ah, Elisa," Goliath sighed as he eyed the brightening horizon with real regret. "I do not often regret the sleep of stone, but if I could postpone it for a while longer, even for just one hour…"
"Sometimes I wish I could go into stone sleep with you," Elisa confided in him with a wistful smile. "Then I wouldn't spend the whole day missing your touch… and your kisses," as she lifted her face to his in supplication.
Goliath willingly granted her desire, as was also his, and their lips met in a long and deep kiss. And he lifted her off the ground entirely in his tender yet powerful embrace, with his arms about her waist and his tail supporting her legs, while his wings wrapped around her in a living blanket of love and desire. But all too soon he had to end the kiss and the embrace, unwrapping his wings from around her as he set her back on her feet with a wistful smile. He knelt on one knee in front of her with a soft but fervent, "Until sunset, my love…" and as the last syllable passed his lips, the sun peeked over the horizon and he turned to stone.
"Until sunset, sweetheart," Elisa said wistfully as she kissed his stone brow, then reached for the tarpaulin that she kept under the planter. She carefully and lovingly draped it over his stone form, to hide him from prying eyes. Then she shivered violently, and scurried back inside. She was cold now, but not hungry; before dawn had neared, Goliath had insisted on feeding her breakfast, that he had made himself (he'd been quite self-satisfied about that, even if they were just toaster-baked waffles.) She decided a hot shower before bed would be just the thing, to warm her up nicely again. And besides, it would help to wash off the last of the sticky residue; not all the maple syrup had ended up on the waffles…
By nine o'clock that morning, David Xanatos was not a happy little billionaire. First, the repair crew working on the elevator had regretfully reported that they weren't going to finish the job by 8:00 a.m., which meant that he and Owen had to either schlep their way down and back up 22 flights of stairs (not a favorable option) or resign themselves to conducting the day's business entirely from the castle, teleconferencing and faxing everything they could and rescheduling what they couldn't. Then the maids and cooking staff who normally came in during the day to clean the castle, do laundry, restock the pantries and make the gourmet ready-to-heat meals, balked in unison at hauling their equipment and groceries up 22 flights of stairs. He finally had to promise a bonus worth a week's pay for every day they were 'inconvenienced', just to get a decent lunch and clean sheets on the beds.
At least Owen's undersecretary and the security guard that minded the castle's largely automated defenses during the day hadn't complained about having to climb 22 flights of stairs to get to their jobs, but David slated them both for a bonus anyway, figuring that before the day was over they'd have heard about the maids' deal and started whining for more money too. Not that David couldn't afford to pay all those bonuses out of his petty cash, but the waste of time in negotiating and authorizing irked him more than a little. But it would have cost far more time to fire the lot of them and have to screen and hire new servants (a background check thorough enough to satisfy the Xanatos family that people could be trusted inside their home took several weeks—Anne Marsden being the sole exception, and only because Owen himself had recommended her), so he gritted his teeth and pulled out his checkbook, while vowing that as soon as possible, he'd have a second secure elevator installed. And come the next fiscal quarter, he'd allocate even more money to his R&D department's research on teleportation.
Things weren't getting any better as the day progressed. His lawyers had informed him that at exactly 7 a.m., they had indeed served the headquarters of the Quarrymen with a restraining order and notice of a harassment lawsuit… only to be blithely informed, "But those aren't our helicopters." When it was pointed out that they bore the Quarryman logo, John Castaway replied, "Oh, really? Then we'll have to sue for trademark infringement… oh, my mistake, we never trademarked the logo. Good day, gentlemen…"
Xanatos had frowned once he heard the report. "Somebody wants to be cute, does he? I know the tricks of shell corporations and holding companies better than any man living; certainly better than any Johnny-come-lately to the business world." He set Owen and his best financial investigator loose on the trail of ownership for those helicopters… a job made considerably harder when they had nothing but the make and model of the helicopters used. (Image matches with the National Aerospace Industry's files proclaimed them both to be slightly modified versions of the Bell 412EP, a popular commercial model. It was the same model as the two helicopters used in that last attack, and now Xanatos wanted to kick himself for not tracing their registry before having them repainted and all identifying serial numbers skillfully altered, and making them part of his own helicopter fleet.)
Xanatos' contacts at LaGuardia had used the flight paths and times to track down the flight plans, but the filer for those plans turned out to be listed as 'Maus, Anon E.' (oh, real cute!) and the phone number listed was no longer in service. And when he was informed that Mr. Maus had also filed flight plans for the next six nights, Xanatos' frown deepened. And now, when the team he sent down to the private helipad listed on the flight plans reported finding only an empty warehouse with no signs of recent use, the frown became an outright scowl of anger. "I want to know the names of everyone who's bought a Bell 412EP, new or used, within the last five years! And I want a complete building-by-building search of the neighborhood of that warehouse, for a five-block radius in all directions; they didn't just appear out of thin air at sunset!"
"Yes, sir!" came a chorus of voices over the speakerphones, as various terrified underlings hurried to do his bidding. Xanatos scowled at the phones after ending the calls, then looked sideways at Owen and asked, "You're sure Alexander's not ready to learn transformation spells yet? Because those pigeons in the arboretum could use some company, and I have just the candidates in mind…"
Owen gave a minute shake of his head. "I have had similar thoughts along those lines, sir… But no." Xanatos figured that meant Owen was at the point where a normal man would be screaming and chewing the furniture in frustration… not that he'd ever show it; he did have a reputation to maintain.
Fox, who had come to the office suites to hear what progress was being made after checking in on their son, sat back in her chair and drawled, "David, darling, why bother with all this investigating?" She gave a vicious smile as she continued, "If nobody will own up to possessing the helicopters, then surely no one will object when something… happens to them."
Owen turned to her with just a touch of testiness. "Mrs. Xanatos, as I have already explained--"
"Oh, not with any hocus-pocus," as Fox lifted an elegantly manicured hand to forestall him. "Just a little mundane, perfectly ordinary… 3,000-watt searchlight, aimed right in their eyes…"
David grinned, a truly feral grin. "My dear, have I told you lately that I like the way your mind works?" A searchlight that powerful would leave anyone looking directly at it blinded for over half a minute… a very bad thing to happen, when circling at over 1,300 feet above the ground. They'd have even worse effects, if the Q-men were looking through night-vision goggles for gargoyle activity. "Owen, buy a searchlight—no, two—and have them installed on rotating turrets at opposite ends of the castle by sunset."
Owen quirked an eyebrow at him. "And if the blinded occupants of the helicopter happen to crash into the castle? Or into another building nearby? You did say, sir, after the night of Alexander's birth, that you would start giving more consideration to innocent bystanders…"
Both Fox and David gave him an irritated glare, and Fox muttered under her breath, "Spoilsport." After a brief pause, David ordered, "Get the searchlights anyway. We'll aim the beam right in front of them, like a warning shot; if they've any sense at all, they'll back off rather than risk being blinded."
Fox looked at them both sourly as she said, "Or they'll take it as an excuse to start attacking…" The sour look became one of grim satisfaction as she continued, "which would at least put an end to this silly game of Ring-Around-the-Rosy." She got up from her chair and headed out the door, tossing over her shoulder as she went, "I'll just go check on the inventory in the main armory…"
Owen spoke to the head of their Purchasing department about the searchlights, then to the maintenance team that worked exclusively on the castle (all hand-picked just as the maids and cooks were, for reliability and discretion as well as their job proficiency) about keeping the electricians on standby for doing work at a moment's notice. Just then, Owen's undersecretary stuck her head in the doorway. "Sir? A Professor MacDuff is calling; he's on the current VIP list, but he says it's not urgent. Would you like to take the call now, or call him back at your convenience?"
Owen was about to tell her he'd call back, but Xanatos reached for the phone himself. "What the hell, I could use a distraction right now; maybe he has some good news about the P.I.T." A few seconds later he was greeting 'Professor Lennox MacDuff,' better known to the gargoyles as the immortal king MacBeth, with a cordial "What's the occasion?"
"I've some information you might be interested in," MacBeth's voice came back over the phone. "I found a note on my door when I came to work this morning; a Doctor Lacey wanting to get in touch with me. I spoke with her on the phone a few minutes ago, and she claims t'be a veterinarian on sabbatical from her work at the San Diego Zoo, come here to New York for the sole purpose of studying gargoyles. I've promised to meet her on Thursday for dinner at her hotel, to tell her what a medieval scholar like myself might be expected to know about gargoyles."
"Hmmm." Xanatos considered that information. He had been thinking just a while ago that it would be a good idea to find a doctor willing to work on gargoyles… and a veterinarian might be better for that than a standard human doctor. Not to mention, he still needed to find a doctor for the mutates, to monitor Maggie's pregnancy better than the Labyrinth clinic's nurses were capable of doing. This could be pure serendipity… IF this doctor Lacey was the real deal, and could be counted on to be discreet as well as trustworthy. He said as much to MacBeth, before asking, "Would you mind terribly if we had your conversation discreetly videotaped? And in the meantime, we can begin running a background check. Did you catch her first name, and which hotel is she staying at?"
"Yes, I caught her first name… but I'm hoping to trade information now," MacBeth replied.
Xanatos frowned at the phone, though he knew MacBeth couldn't see it. "Oh?" he said in a tone somewhat cooler than before. "What information are you looking for?"
"Dominique Destine's home phone number," MacBeth said promptly. " 'Tis unlisted, but I'm sure you've the resources to find it out, if you don't have it already. It's been a week now since she started drinking an' I started feeling the effects of it, an' I aim to call the blue bitch an' tell her to sober up."
Xanatos grinned, his good humor restored. "Oh, is that all? It so happens I looked that up a while ago, for just such an occasion. Wait on the line, and Owen will get the information for you. In the meantime, what particulars can you give us on this Doctor Lacey?"
After Fox checked the weapons and ammunition inventory in the main armory, as well as all the hidden subsidiary weapons caches scattered throughout the castle (even after officially retiring from the mercenary life, Fox preferred to always be within three seconds' reach of weaponry,) she decided to peek in on Alexander again. Now that they had a trustworthy nanny, Fox found it a genuine relief to be able to just be able to walk away from the nursery whenever she felt like it, and even stay away all day without worrying about her son's welfare… but somehow, she found herself checking in every couple of hours anyway, just to watch him and listen to his babyish babblings. And more often than not, she found herself taking the bottle from the nanny and feeding him herself, or getting down on the floor to play with him… She shook her head and grinned at herself as she walked down the hall to the nursery; three years ago, if anyone had told her that someday she'd be a mother, let alone such a devoted one, she would have asked that person what he was smoking and how long were the hallucinogenic effects supposed to last. It was amazing how much her priorities had changed after getting the results of that pregnancy test.
Inside the nursery, she found Alexander in the middle of getting his poopy diaper changed. Fox wrinkled her nose and let Anne Marsden take care of business; there were some aspects of motherhood she was only too glad to pass up on. Instead, she took the time to observe Anne's daughter, Bethany; while Anne was busy changing diapers, Bethany was practicing one of her magic lessons by making her Piglet doll dance about the room with Alex's winged 'gargy-bear.'
Bethany provided the music for the dolly-dance, by singing over and over at full volume, "Ring around the rosy; a pocket full of posy; ashes, ashes, we all fall DOWN!" With each shouted "down" she would let the dolls drop to the floor, and after a second or two she would magically raise them up and start them dancing again.
Fox smiled and shook her head, remembering her earlier comment to David about the Quarrymen's current activities, and murmured to herself, "At least she's a lot cuter at it than the Q-Balls."
"Indeed," came a voice from directly behind her, and Fox had to force herself not to jump, let alone spin around in a high kick designed to cave in an opponent's temple. (She just knew in her heart that Owen made a game out of startling people with his mundane but almost perfectly noiseless appearances and disappearances, and she refused to let him score points off her.) Owen continued on, "Children generally look so innocent when singing that song… And it is yet another fascinating facet of humanity; that you can take an event such as the Great Plague that decimated London back in medieval times, and make a song of it for children at play." (1)
Fox looked at him out of the corner of her eye as she warned him, "If you follow that up with a remark about 'what fools these mortals be', I'll tell Anne that you're changing all the diapers for the next week."
"I see no need to belabor the obvious," Owen retorted with a perfectly straight face, while continuing to watch the child at play.
By one o'clock Monday afternoon, the day shift maintenance crew had nearly finished work on the new elevator; all that remained was the final testing. They had already loaded the elevator to capacity with weights and sent it up to the top and back again successfully; now came the final, floor-by-floor testing, with living judges of the speed and smoothness of each aspect of operation. If it turned out that the ride was jerky or the elevator doors intermittently balked instead of opening and closing properly, Bob Murphy wanted to know about it and fix it before his employer noticed. They were already long past the eight o'clock deadline for receiving that hoped-for bonus, but as they were still being paid triple-time for their work, he wanted to make sure Mr. Xanatos got his money's worth.
"I'll be the 'guinea pig'," Ed Johnson volunteered, holding up a stopwatch and a clipboard with paper. "I'll be sure to time every step and take notes…"
"No, I'll do it," Murphy decided aloud. "Not that I don't appreciate the offer, Johnson, but it's my head that'll be first on the chopping block if Mr. Xanatos isn't completely satisfied."
"Well, then… let me come along and take whatever notes you dictate, while you do the timing," Johnson insisted. "It'll make things easier."
The foreman had to agree with that, so they got into the elevator cab and rode up together. The first stop was the building lobby, and Murphy was pleased to note that they reached that level actually three-tenths of a second faster than the specifications for the old elevator, and the deceleration and stop was as smooth as silk. When the doors opened, he waved hello to the security guard at the front desk and waved the stopwatch at him; the prearranged signal for him to let the rest of Aerie Building Security know that the elevator was in its final testing. The guard nodded at him and picked up the phone as the doors closed again, and once they did Murphy punched a few more floor buttons. "Next stop, fourth floor. Then up to the eighth… and after that, we'll go back down to the parking garage level, before going back up. An even dozen ups and downs should be enough of a test…"
The ride to the fourth floor went just as swiftly and smoothly, and after the doors closed again on the fourth floor (taking almost one-tenth of a second longer than they should have, since the button for the button for the eighth floor had already been pushed, but Murphy decided that was within the acceptable margin of error), they continued going up. The satisfied silence in the elevator cab was broken when Johnson suddenly spoke up, stepping closer to the foreman while saying, "I'm sorry, Mr. Murphy."
"What, for yesterday?" Murphy waved a hand in dismissal. "Don't worry, you didn't cost us the bonus; that was done by the hydraulics botch that happened on night shift. Anyway, we're still getting pretty hefty paychecks for this, so everybody should be happy in the end."
Johnson gave him a sad, wry half-smile. "Actually, Mr. Murphy… I was apologizing for this." And that's when Murphy felt a sharp prick in his arm.
Murphy looked down in shock, to see Johnson pulling a hypodermic needle out of his arm, then carefully capping it and slipping it into the thigh side-pocket of his workpants. "What the…" Anger penetrated the shock, and Murphy grabbed for Johnson and snarled, "What the f&$& did you just do?"
Johnson fended off the hands grabbing for his shirt and said soothingly, "It's just a sedative, sir; you'll sleep for a little while, that's all. I am sorry, but I still have work to do…"
The cab began spinning crazily and the lights were dimming as Johnson spoke, and Murphy's last thoughts as he sank to the floor was that he hoped that didn't mean they had a problem with the new elevator after all…
Ed Johnson caught the foreman before his head could hit the floor, and quickly but carefully dragged him over to a corner near the door, propping him up directly beneath the security camera and hopefully beyond the angle of its lens. He was fairly certain that the foreman would be out of sight to the casual hallway observer when they stopped on the eighth floor, but just to be on the safe side he stood directly in front of him when the doors opened. He made a show of checking his stopwatch and making notes on his clipboard, just in case anybody looked in, but the hallway was surprisingly empty. He took that for a good omen as the doors closed again, and he reached over to press a button on the control panel… the button for the uppermost level in the castle.
The cab began rising smoothly upwards, but even this advanced elevator system would take some time to reach the top floor. He took the time to set the clipboard and stopwatch aside, kneel down in the center of the elevator and offer up more prayers to the Heavenly Father. He humbly asked God to grant greater strength to his limbs, that he might better accomplish the task ahead. And as he did so, he couldn't help reflecting on the events that had led him to this spot, and this moment in time…
Three months ago, Edward Johnson's only real worries in life were all centered around his children, and the efforts it took to raise them up to be honest and upright, God-fearing Christians and citizens in such a massive, crime-ridden and riotous city steeped in sin as New York City. He and his wife were doing their best, and were aided by their close-knit ties to their local church, but still worried over what outside influences could do to them, both physically and spiritually. But still, they thought they understood all the dangers their children could face… until the night of that news broadcast that showed a sign of the coming Apocalypse: demons flying over the streets of Manhattan. Demons that did more than corrupt souls with silent whispers in their ears; Satan had granted these demons physical form so they might wreak destruction on the populace, starting with the very guardians of civil society!
Ed and his wife had done all they could think of to do at the time, after frantically flipping through their Bible and other Church-approved texts for guidance. They had anointed every doorway and windowsill with holy water from the church baptismal fount, ensured each child was wearing or carrying at all times a cross that had been personally blessed by their church's pastor, and formed family circles to offer up prayers to Heaven and ask for God's protection every time they could get the children to hold still long enough.
And when they finally could no longer discount the rumors that the demons had made an unholy alliance with David Xanatos, and were actually dwelling atop the very building Ed worked in… Ed and his wife had seriously discussed the possibility of his quitting his job, even though it paid twice as much as any job he'd ever held before, and moving out of the city to some place upstate or even out of the state entirely. Even if the Apocalypse would eventually grow to encompass the entire globe, they had no desire to stay at 'Ground Zero' and be first to face the Tribulations. But then John Castaway had come onto the scene with his Quarrymen, telling people that there was still hope…
Reverend Davis had attended a Quarrymen rally on a Tuesday night, and been so impressed that he had invited their leader to speak at his church's Wednesday night Bible Study class. Ed had attended that class, and heard Mr. Castaway explain to everyone that though these demons were indeed far stronger than the average man and far more deadly with their sharp claws and fangs, they were not invulnerable; in giving them physical form, Satan had also inadvertently allowed them to be affected by physical means. They could be hurt, wounded and even 'killed'; the essence of the demon would flee back to Hell forever when its physical form was destroyed. One man alone had little chance of overcoming a demon, but there was indeed strength in numbers; that was the fundamental reason for the Quarrymen's existence, to provide that strength in the battle for their city.
Mr. Castaway had also explained that these demons referred to themselves as 'gargoyles' because in the light of day, they turned themselves to stone, looking much like the gargoyles atop old cathedrals; they did so because otherwise, due to their dark and unholy nature, their flesh would bubble and burn when exposed to the sunlight that God had given the world on the first day of Creation. But while the demons were hiding themselves from God's love, they were vulnerable to some of the weapons of man, when wielded with a steady hand and a heart strong in faith. The Quarryhammers were the ideal weapons for destroying a demon hiding in stone… but they were not the only ones that would work in such a situation.
In the coffee-and-cookies session that followed the meeting, Mrs. Tibbitts (the church's worst gossip) had said, in a scandalized whisper that could be heard by the entire room, that Ed actually worked for the man who was rumored to have given the demons a base of operations for wreaking their havoc on the city. Ed had wanted to sink into the floor on the spot, but Mr. Castaway hadn't given him a disapproving glare or launched into a diatribe about those who knowingly worked for the wrong people or the wrong causes. Instead, he had taken Ed aside and quietly given him a calling card, and asked him to call the next night to arrange a private meeting.
That had been the start of Ed's covert work for John Castaway and the Quarrymen. And from the very start, Mr. Castaway had urged discretion; Ed's work was to gather information on the gargoyles and on the man who harbored them, nothing more, and to take no unnecessary risks while doing so. And for even that, Ed's wife (a practical woman, with an eye to the purse strings) had gotten Mr. Castaway to give them a signed agreement that if ever Ed was found out and fired or (unthinkable, but it had to be thought) 'disappeared', the Quarrymen would pay his family a monthly equivalent to his salary for the next five years. Ed had to agree that it was a wise insurance policy, but he refused to take any additional income for his covert work; it wouldn't have felt right, accepting money for doing what any right-minded Christian would do if he had the opportunity. He saw himself as kin to the spies that Joshua had sent into the walled city of Jericho, before that godless city had been destroyed… though he stopped the comparison right then and there; his wife would absolutely throw a fit at the thought of his accepting help and succor from a friendly prostitute. (2)
To everyone's satisfaction, Ed had been able to provide useful information within just two weeks of his induction into the Quarrymen's cause. By frequenting the employee cafeteria, and by pretending to take up smoking and hanging out in the specially ventilated smoke-room on the 47th floor, he overheard enough gossip to send old Mrs. Tibbitts into paroxysms of sinful delight. Most of what he heard was useless to the Quarrymen, even if several divorce lawyers and probably some district attorneys might have paid dearly for the information. But one of the Security personnel with a severe nicotine addiction liked to complain about his job while on his smoke breaks. And one of Roy Stanton's complaints was how Mr. Xanatos didn't allow smoking anywhere in the castle anymore, not just in his family's living quarters, and he was sure that those gargoyles had something to do with it…
Plying of cigarettes and casual queries eventually yielded the information that yes, the demons were actually living in the castle, despite the first helicopter reconnaissance by the Quarrymen having failed to find any trace of them there. (3) And while Mr. Stanton had never actually seen the creatures coming to life with his own eyes, since he worked the day shift, his security monitors clearly showed seven gargoyle statues now perched upon the castle's parapets, their poses and sometimes positions changing from day to day. After spinning a tale about wanting to impress some football buddies and swearing an oath to never, ever release the information to the media, Ed even managed to get his hands on a videotape of the gargoyles themselves. After a few months of use, being continually overwritten every 48 hours, security tapes began to degrade and were tossed into the garbage after a final erasure. But in exchange for only a case of beer and two cartons of cigarettes handed over in the parking garage, Roy 'forgot' to run the degaussing wand over a particular tape before it was discarded and handed it over to Ed. When he'd been presented with the tape that very night, even though Ed had cautioned him that the tape could never be shown to any representative of the media (Ed had sworn an oath, after all), John Castaway had been so pleased that he'd insisted on buying Ed's whole family tickets to the upcoming Ice Capades.
And only six days after receiving the tape, Ed had overheard some truly useful information: the castle's automated defense system was going to be shut down for a few hours, in order to upgrade some of the electronics. Ed hadn't even waited until his work was over for the day to call Mr. Castaway and relay that news to him, because the window of opportunity was only two days away. Mr. Castaway had blessed his sharp ears and good judgment, then cautioned him to act as normally as possible on that day, though he was to avoid anything that might take him up to the level of the castle. (Which was hardly a problem for Ed; only a dozen people in the building's Maintenance department had authorization to go up to the castle even under Security escort, and Ed was not one of them.) So Ed had gone to work as usual that morning two days later, though he'd kept his ears perked for any news out of the ordinary. But all he'd been able to overhear was that Mr. Barnes, the head of Aerie Building Security, had suddenly banned all but a few select personnel from the building's helipad for most of the day… And the next day, Roy Stanton was summarily fired without notice; Mr. Barnes himself had handed the man his severance check and escorted him out of the building.
Ed had worried greatly that he would be next to be fired, but nothing happened to him; he'd finally had to conclude that either Roy had been fired for unrelated matters, or he'd refused to say anything about exactly who he was passing information to, if they'd even bothered to ask him. After a few days of living in silent terror, Ed finally relaxed and began quietly searching for another source of information he could use. But he had no luck, not even in finding out just what had happened to the two Quarrymen helicopters and most of their crew; it was as if they had vanished into thin air… (or been burnt to cinders and metallic ash by demonic Hellfire, though Ed tried not to let himself think that too often.)
But then nearly a month after the attack that had failed so horribly, early last Saturday morning, Ed had received a phone call from Mr. Murphy, his shift's foreman, telling him to "Kiss your wife and get your butt to work, as of about five minutes ago." The sole elevator to the castle had somehow been completely wrecked, and Mr. Xanatos was authorizing triple-time pay to have it repaired A.S.A.P.
Ed knew that with his oldest son Peter needing braces soon, the extra money would certainly come in handy, so he'd kissed his wife and children goodbye, grabbed his work clothes and lunch pail and hurried to work. And on his lunch hour (reduced to only half an hour by agreement among the workers; they were really hoping to earn that bonus Mr. Xanatos had authorized if the work was done in time) he'd trotted up to the lobby to call his wife, and ask her to call "our friend John" and explain why Ed wouldn't be able to meet with him that afternoon.
Ed had arrived home that night to find John Castaway sitting in his living room and indulgently showing Peter and Sarah how to play checkers. But as soon as the children were shooed off to the playroom or to bed, the avuncular attitude had fallen away and the warrior for God had emerged, nearly burning with fervor. Mr. Castaway had said that this was an opportunity that couldn't be passed up, and it was now time for Edward to assume another role. Rather than simply gather information, it was now time to take action against the enemy as Judith had done against the Assyrians, by striking at the heart of the matter! Judith had used her wiles and deceit to enter the enemy camp and strike off the head of their leader, Holofernes. (4) If there was any opportunity at all to do so, now was the time for Ed to do whatever it took to get up to the castle during the day and destroy the gargoyles in their stone sleep. And if it meant having to strike down David Xanatos himself in the process, then the man had already shown his true colors by aligning himself with the gargoyles, so it would be a justifiable death.
Ed had balked at that last statement. He hadn't raised a fist in anger since his grade-school days, and even then it was only in defense of himself or his little sister from schoolyard bullies; how could he kill any man, even an evil one, in cold blood? And besides, he wasn't sure he could get a gun or similar weapon past the building's metal detectors, which every worker passed through on his way to and from work; Mr. Xanatos had had those installed years ago, after receiving his eighth or ninth death threat.
Mr. Castaway had frowned, but gotten Ed to agree that if Mr. Xanatos or another security guard came upon him and tried to prevent him from destroying the gargoyles, then he would use a nonviolent means of incapacitating them. Then he had left, promising that he would page Ed the moment he found such a nonviolent means… And on Sunday, Ed had received the signal. He'd gone to their usual meeting place, to find Mr. Castaway waiting there with a pair of capped syringes full of a fast-acting sedative. Now, as he finished his brief but heartfelt prayer and got up from his knees, Ed carefully felt for the other syringe, still securely capped and in his pocket. He hadn't wanted to use one of the syringes on Mr. Murphy, who was basically a good man, but he'd seen no other way to get to the castle unannounced since he hadn't been allowed to test the elevator on his own. Mr. Castaway had said the sedative was good for at least two hours, so Mr. Murphy would be unconscious and out of his way for at least that long; by that time, Ed knew he would either have accomplished his mission… or died trying.
He glanced up at the readout over the elevator doors; he still had a little time left before he reached the top. Ed went over to the corner, dug in his fingers at the edges and peeled back the fancy carpeting that lined the floor of the elevator with a hard jerk. Then he whipped out his screwdriver and unfastened one of the floor panels. It had taken considerable nerve and working right through three break periods (telling everyone that he was trying to make up for his temporary absence Sunday morning) in order to create a secret compartment right under the noses of his fellow workers. The fasteners on this panel were 'camlocs' rather than conventional screws, so it only took a quick quarter-turn to unfasten each one. When they were loose he lifted away the panel, to reveal the one weapon he could bring to work without raising too many eyebrows, that might still be effective against a demon hiding in stone: a two-foot-long crowbar.
The elevator slowed to a stop, and the digital readout over the doors told him he'd reached the top level of the castle. Ed scrambled to his feet and held the crowbar against his side as the doors silently opened; then he swallowed hard, squared his shoulders and walked through the doors.
Inside the castle's central monitoring room, Jonathan Jameson the security guard ('JJ' to his friends, most of whom were working elsewhere in the Aerie Building) leaned back in his chair as he flicked off one of the switches on the board in front of him, closing the audio hookup to the security desk down in the Aerie Building's main lobby. Rogers at the front desk had just called him to let him know that the workers were beginning the final testing of the new elevator cab that Maintenance had spent the entire weekend installing, and after passing on that news he offered to have the money to Jameson by Wednesday.
There had been an unofficial betting pool going on among the Aerie Building's security personnel, as to exactly when the new elevator would be put into service, and Jameson's guess was closest by two hours; the others had all thought the workers would be finished by the 8:00 a.m. bonus deadline, but Jameson had taken a more pessimistic view. (He'd figured that way, if he ended up walking up all those stairs to work, at least he'd have a little extra cash later on to comfort his aching feet with.). And as it turned out, he had a lot more extra cash coming to him after today, because Mr. Burnett had told him that Mr. Xanatos was paying all the castle employees a hefty bonus as compensation for the extra hardships involved in getting to work today.
Jameson unconsciously scratched at his chest and at the scars underneath his shirt, as he permitted himself a moment or two to daydream about what he'd do with the extra cash, and reflect on 'the olden days'. When he'd been a Master-at-Arms in the U.S. Navy, bonuses like this were unheard of; sure, the aviators got extra 'flight pay' and if you were on board a ship for more than 100 days in a row you got a little extra 'sea pay', but extra pay just for hoofing it up a lot of stairs to work? He could well imagine his old master chief's growling reply to anyone stupid enough to ask for such a thing. Any sailor who wasn't fit enough to pass his semi-annual Physical Readiness Test (a boatload of pushups and sit-ups, and running 1.5 miles within the set time limit for his age group) at only a moment's notice, had better have either a 'sick chit' from the docs in his pocket, or his bags packed for walking off the boat and back into civilian life. That was why Jameson was out of the Navy now; after taking a bullet right through his Kevlar vest from that punko drug dealer who'd gotten his hands on some 'cop-killer' armor-piercing bullets, he had enough scar tissue in his lungs to leave him walking and wheezing like an eighty-year-old geezer by the end of that mandatory run, though he could still sprint pretty damn fast when he had to.
Three months after he'd been medically retired from the Navy, Jameson had gotten a job with Xanatos Enterprises as a security guard, despite his limited lung capacity. His record with the Navy showed he knew how to take orders and stand a watch competently, and Security Chief Barnes had let him demonstrate on the gymnasium mats how he could still kick butts and take names if necessary. The pay for even just a basic security grunt in this organization was pretty good, more than equal to the sum of his old E-6 (Petty Officer First Class) pay and his old rations and housing allowance back in the Navy.
Then last month, Roy Stanton had been booted out the door for committing a security breach, and Jameson had been offered his job, and a subsequent doubling of his pay. (Of course, in order to get the job, he'd had to sign a non-disclosure agreement that promised dire penalties if he ever said a word in the wrong ear about some aspects of the job; penalties that made a tour inside a Fort Leavenworth cell seem like choice duty. But Jameson had never had a problem before with keeping his eyes open and his mouth shut, and he still didn't have a problem doing that, even when viewing tapes of stone statues coming to life and little kids floating in mid-air.) In addition to his pay from Xanatos, he still received partial disability pay from the Navy, since he'd been injured in the line of duty. And now… hell, with the bonus, this week he'd be making more money than most commissioned officers made! Jameson grinned at the thought before he turned back to his monitors and made a note in his logbook.
Another light on the monitor board came on, and a video monitor nearby flickered into awareness; the elevator had just arrived at the level of the castle. Normally Jameson would have turned to the monitor feed from the hallway directly in front of the elevator, just to verify that whoever the front desk had just given elevator access to was actually who he/he purported to be, and had not changed clothes in mid-ride to become a ninja assassin or whatever. But this time, he just ignored it; it was just the elevator being tested again. The last time the monitor had come on and focused on the opening elevator doors, all he'd seen was a stack of metal weights testing its load capacity. As soon as the front desk relayed to him that the testing was finished, he'd start giving the elevator monitor high priority again, but right now he was preoccupied with the monitors for the exterior on the western side; it looked like a peregrine falcon had set off the proximity alarm again. They really had to get the motion sensors on that side re-tuned…
Ed walked down the hallway as fast as he could without actually running; his nerves simply would not let him keep to a slow, casual pace. At every step he feared to be set upon by weapon-wielding thugs or worse, but he made it down the hall and up a short flight of stairs unimpeded. It was as if God was clearing a path for him.
At the top of the stairs was a door, and he could hear the whistling of the wind just beyond it. He'd reached the roof, at least the lowest level of the parapets… This was it. He took a deep breath and opened the door.
Another light flickered and beeped for Jameson's attention, and this one he didn't ignore. Someone had just gone through the door leading to the roof, where the gargoyles slept. The silent alarm on that door was shut off from sunset to sunrise, to enable the gargoyles to go in and out as they pleased, but enabled all day long; Mr. Xanatos had some concerns that someone could fly up during the daytime and sneak in from outside. Jameson had originally thought it was overkill, considering they had motion sensors covering every direction to the castle, including straight up and straight down, but he wasn't the one signing the paychecks so he'd kept quiet about it. And after the new nanny and her kid had arrived a few weeks ago, he'd become very, very glad that the alarm was there, because eight days after her arrival little Bethany had scared the living daylights out of everybody by going through that door to visit her new friends the gargoyles while they slept. But Jameson had heard the alarm and alerted the staff, and Owen Burnett had grabbed her just as she was climbing on top of the parapets, well over a thousand feet above the unforgiving pavement, to sit on Bronx's back. After that there had been some talk about putting a lock on that door to prevent a recurrence, but little Bethany had promised on her Piglet doll that she wouldn't go up there alone again, and no decision on the lock had been made yet. Jameson muttered as he swiveled the nearest security camera around to focus on the door, "Little girl, if you're up there again I swear that this time I'm gonna do what your daddy would've done and tan your hide…"
But it wasn't Bethany on the roof; instead, it was one of the Maintenance workers, judging by the coveralls. And not one that Jameson could recall seeing from the photos of those cleared to come into the castle…
And he was hefting a crowbar.
As a Master-at-Arms in the Navy, one learns to think fast and react quickly or one doesn't last long at all. Less than half a second after spotting the crowbar, Jameson spun around and slapped the big red 'Panic Button', shouting "Security Breach! Gargoyle Perch!"
In his office, Xanatos dropped the fax he'd just received on the floor as the alarm claxons rang out along with the bellow from the all-castle intercom: "Security Breach! Gargoyle Perch!" He grabbed his favorite laser rifle from the mounting under his desk and sprinted out the door, noting that unflappable Owen was already on the move and armed with a nearly identical rifle (modified by their armory to better accommodate the limitations of his stone fist.) He heard the distant shunk of the armor plating over the nursery sliding into place as he ran; ever since Alexander had been born, first priority of any emergency was to secure the nursery. But as he pounded for the roof, he saw Fox out ahead of him with her favorite Glock 9mm in one hand and a laser pistol in the other; she must have left Anne in the nursery with the kids, choosing the old adage that the best defense is a strong offense.
When he heard the claxons and the voice shouting out of nowhere, "Security Breach! Gargoyle Perch!" Ed froze where he was standing, looking about him wildly. He'd been found out! And any second now, someone would be coming after him…
But he'd come up here to do his duty for his family and his country, and by God, he was going to do as much of it as he could, or die trying! Ed chose the nearest monstrous statue, that of a huge and rotund demon with its wings outspread as it snarled out at the city it preyed upon at night, and headed for it, hefting his crowbar. The head was so thick, he doubted just a few swings would be enough to decapitate the demon and send its essence back to hell. But if those wings were as thin from front to back as regular bird wings, then he could do plenty of damage to them in just a short amount of time, and that'd be one less demon flying out to wreak havoc at night…
Fox made it through the door to the roof first, just in time to hear the awful crunch of stone breaking. She turned towards Broadway's perch, to find a man standing behind his statue with a crowbar, and lifting it back from the impact upon Broadway's left wing. Fox cursed as she aimed her Glock 9mm in mid-stride and fired.
Tzow! The man in workmen's clothing cried out as the bullet hit and ricocheted off his crowbar just before he could swing it again; he fumbled from the impact and very nearly dropped it. Fox swore again, this time at herself; she'd been aiming for his head, but the damned crowbar had gotten in the way at the last second! And now the worker was turning towards her, still armed with the crowbar. She was only four strides away now, still far enough off to get in another shot before he could reach her, but all the adrenaline running through her veins shouted for a more hands-on approach…
David and Owen burst through the door just in time to hear Fox's savagely joyous "Kiyah!" as she kicked a crowbar out of the hands of a man in workmen's clothing, following it up with a karate chop that crumpled him to the rooftop like a dropped sack of laundry. But they'd been too late to prevent whoever-it-was from doing any damage to the gargoyles, specifically to Broadway; even from where he was standing, David could see chips missing from the main point of impact, a few inches in from the left wing-talon, and two awful cracks coursing their way down through the wing. And even as they stood there, the longest crack, running straight down the wing, was widening…
David cursed out loud as he dropped his laser rifle and made a mad dash back over to Broadway's statue, dropping to his knees to slide the last foot or so with his hands out and ready. He grasped the bottom edge of the wing and lifted upwards, bracing himself and hoping to God that he had figured the right angle for lifting. If not, then instead of countering gravity and preventing the crack from getting worse, he'd be causing stress in a new direction and cracking it even further…
But his desperate gamble seemed to be working, for that awful cracking sound stopped. But now what was he going to do? His position was awkward, and the wing was heavy; he couldn't hold it forever…
Fortunately, Fox seemed to be realizing the same thing. "Duct tape!" she shouted, and dashed back inside.
David glanced over his shoulder at her departing figure, wondering if plain old duct tape would be enough to support the wing, as well as wondering where in the castle they might have a supply of such a mundane item; he hadn't even touched the stuff since leaving his father's boat and way of life behind. But she was going so fast and purposefully, he had to assume she knew of a stash somewhere. He glanced over at Owen and asked hopefully, "If we do manage to tape the wing in place, and manage to jigsaw all the chips back together before the sun goes down… Would it spontaneously heal at sunset?"
Owen crouched next to his employer, while slowly shaking his head. "As I understand their biology, sir… it will not. The small pieces chipped off will probably remain stone, rather than return to flesh. So long as none of the cracks become a complete break, the wing beyond them will turn to flesh… but the crack will become a major wound, and likely a life-threatening one, since no doubt arteries were severed as well as bones and tissues. Broadway will very likely lose his wing…. And if we cannot stop the bleeding in time, he will lose his life as well."
"Well, we're damn well going to try to save him, and the wing!" David snarled, partly in reaction to Owen's pessimism and partly in response to the strain of lifting and the adrenaline still running high in his veins. "Take a van and go to the Labyrinth—no, wait, get the detectives on the phone, tell 'em what happened and have them go and get the nurses from the clinic; they're to prepare for a major surgery, and to bring everything they think they'll need. You go find that veterinarian MacBeth told us about this morning, and offer her whatever it takes to get her up here. But don't tell her just what we need her for until she's in the car and can't call anyone without being monitored, just in case she doesn't actually have the gargoyles' best interest at heart. And on your way out, have a secretary print out every last scrap of information Sevarius ever wrote on gargoyle anatomy and physiology… and if you can think of anything else that would help, do that too! Now move!"
Owen scrambled to his feet and dashed inside. And less than 30 seconds later, Fox dashed back out with a roll of duct tape in her hands. "This stuff is a merc's best buddy, next to her weapons," she said breathlessly as she skidded to a halt next to the unconscious worker/assassin, and knelt down next to him to tape his ankles and wrists together behind his back. "I always kept a roll in my field pack. Hang in there, this won't take long, but I don't want him causing trouble if he comes to while we're busy," she said just before tearing the end of a strip off with her teeth.
Once the would-be assassin was secured, she started slinging the tape around Broadway's stone form, with multiple loops at different angles tying his wing firmly to his body and holding it in place. Once she had over half a dozen loops of tape in place, she tore off the end and patted it down, then told her husband to slowly let go and back away. He did so, and they both eyed the wing with trepidation… but the tape did its job, and the cracks spread no further.
David sighed with relief. "That buys us until sunset, anyway… Though we'd better take it off him just before the sun sets, so he doesn't wake up tangled in it."
"And we'd better get a small crane and moving equipment up here, to move him away from the ledge," Fox mused, glancing at the parapet with the long drop just beyond. "When he wakes up, in agony and probably scared as Hell, his first instinct is probably going to be to fly away from whatever's hurting him…" Just then, the worker at her feet moaned and stirred slightly, starting to wake up. Fox glanced at him, and almost absentmindedly delivered a side-kick to his temple that knocked him back into unconsciousness as she continued, "And for that matter, we'd better bring him inside and down a couple of floors, to get him away from the rest of the clan when they wake up. Because when they hear him screaming, they'll start either panicking or raging before we can explain what happened, and just get in the way while we're trying to help him."
"Good thinking, Fox… But do try to avoid any further damage to our little friend there," as David gestured at the unconscious worker. "I know it's tempting to just pitch him over the side, but we need to know who he is, how he got this far, and who helped him… and it just wouldn't do if he happened to land on somebody else just walking down the street. Would you take him down to the dungeon before he comes to again? I'll get the maintenance team to bring Broadway inside." As he turned away, David glanced at the sun and at his watch, and this time he cursed silently but no less harshly. Sunset would be in less than four hours; there was so much to do, and so very little time…
In her apartment, Elisa was woken up from a very pleasurable dream involving herself, Goliath, a hot tropical sun that for some reason wasn't turning gargoyle flesh to stone, and prodigious amounts of suntan oil, by the ringing of the telephone. She gave the phone a bleary glare as she rolled over, but decided to answer it rather than let the machine get it. She grabbed the receiver and yawned, "Hello? …Owen, dammit, do you know what time it is for me?" Two seconds later she sat bolt upright in bed with a shouted, "WHAT!"
Some distance across the city, striding down the hallway towards the fire stairs descending from the castle to the rest of the Aerie building, Owen jerked his cell phone away from his ear for a moment. Then he set it gingerly back in place as he repeated calmly, "There has been an attack at the castle, and Broadway's stone form has been wounded. No, no one else was hurt. Detective, time is of the essence, and Mr. Xanatos would like you to assist him in bringing to the castle, people who may be able to help Broadway once he awakens."
In her apartment, Elisa was already out of bed and throwing clothes on with one hand as she held the phone to her ear with the other. "Who is it, and where do I find him or her?"
After concluding his phone call to Detective Maza and having her assurance that she would call Detective Bluestone and take care of further arrangements on her end, Owen contemplated the man currently crumpled at his feet. While talking to the detective, he had noticed the indicator that the elevator cab was at the castle level and therefore presumably fully repaired, pushed the button to open the doors, noticed the man wearing workmen's clothing lying in a corner of the elevator, checked for a pulse and began searching for identification, all without missing a beat in the conversation and instructions. After determining that the unconscious man was one of the maintenance staff that had been restoring the elevator, and likely the unwilling or unwitting accomplice of the would-be assassin, Owen pushed the button to begin his descent, and dialed another number on his cell phone. It would be best if members of Security and the building's medical staff met him at the level of the building's small clinic, and took the unconscious man off his hands. Owen had no time to waste on reviving and questioning the man; every minute before sunset counted.
Twenty minutes later, the red Fairlane was hurtling through the streets of Manhattan, with the slap-on siren and light assembly wailing and flashing a clear path. Elisa kept the siren going until she was only one block away from Matt Bluestone's apartment, then reluctantly shut it off; a siren was supposed to only be used for hot pursuit, and too many people would raise eyebrows if a cop broke off a hot pursuit to pick up a passenger.
She screeched to a stop outside Matt's apartment building, to see him already on the street and waiting for her. He jumped into the passenger seat, and she pulled out again even before his seatbelt was fastened. The siren went back on as soon as they were away from his block, and they laid rubber across the city, to directly across from the Aerie Building. There was a white bakery-van-sized delivery truck parked there, with the words "Towleky Industries" painted on its sides, and Matt was unfastening his seat belt and opening the door even as she screeched to a halt directly behind it. He bounded out of the car and into the passenger seat of the truck, telling the driver waiting in the next seat, "Follow that Fairlane!" as Elisa pulled out again.
Elisa led the truck to the public parking garage that had a secret entrance to the Labyrinth at its lowest level. Matt told the truck driver to wait for them as he and Elisa got out; from what Elisa had relayed to him, the driver Xanatos had selected was reported to be sympathetic to gargoyles, but he hadn't yet been cleared for access to the Labyrinth. He ran over to Elisa as she triggered the hidden door, and the two of them hurried through and closed it behind them.
Owen found the hotel that the recommended veterinarian was staying in, and it only took a few hundred dollars to bribe the concierge into giving him the number for her room. Five minutes later he was at on her door, noting the 'Do Not Disturb' notice hanging from the handle and trusting that it was a sign that she was indeed inside. He knocked while saying loudly, "Dr. Lucinda Lacey?"
He heard the sound of shuffling feet from somewhere behind the door, and unbidden, his mind conjured up an image to go with the noise. Sensible shoes, probably soft-tread sneakers much like the nurses in the clinic wore; early in their medical careers, most doctors and nurses learned the value of comfortable shoes. The woman wearing the shoes might well be on the petite side, as her name suggested; size had never been an indicator of medical expertise. Likely a studious expression, perhaps even glasses since sight problems did seem occur with slightly more regularity among scholarly types, and she had told MacBeth that she wished to study the gargoyles. And hopefully, a kindly and accepting nature, which would be an asset when one worked with zoo animals of every size and description.
The door opened… and a she-ogre stood there scowling down at him, barking "Whaddayawant!"
Owen Burnett was never startled. Ever. Therefore, it must have been just a momentary vagary of the light in the hallway that made his eyes go wide as saucers for a moment, before returning to normal. And he quickly re-evaluated his first impression; the woman standing in front of him was well over six feet tall and had shoulders wider than his own, but size alone was not an indicator of ogre or orc blood in her veins. And her hideous expression appeared to be largely the result of a badly broken nose, taped over with flesh-colored strips to indicate a recent break, and two freshly-blackened eyes… though the scowl twisting her mouth appeared to be all hers, not the result of outside influence. No, she was probably completely human. But was she the veterinarian he sought? He said again (and his voice did not quaver slightly on the first syllable), "Dr. Lucinda Lacey?"
"Yeah, that's me, and what do you want? Can't you read!" as she indicated the 'Do Not Disturb' sign.
"Yes, I can. However, my employer hopes you can read this," as he flashed her a few more hundred dollar bills.
Dr. Lacey raised an eyebrow at the sight of the bills, then scowled at him even harder. "Start talking, but I can tell you right now, if you want me to do something illegal then you and your boss can--" and she described, in most unclinical terms, actions that were physiologically impossible for the average human male.
Owen found himself glancing down at her feet. Well, at least he'd been right about the shoes…
Deep in the Labyrinth, a curious assembly was making its way to the surface. Elisa and Matt both had their arms full of medical equipment as they walked up the long tunnel, and directly behind them was Nurse Julian Martin, one of the underground clinic's two nurses. The male nurse also had his arms full of expensive and fragile equipment, but he was nearly walking backwards, eyeing those directly behind him with concern. Claw and Talon were moving as quickly and carefully as they could while rolling a flat cart up the tunnel, and on the flat cart rested the statue of Hollywood, Broadway's clone. The cart hit another rough patch in the tunnel floor and jounced a bit, and Nurse Martin's voice went up half an octave as he said, "Easy does it! If he hits the ground, we'll have two gargoyles needing surgery!"
Trotting alongside the cart, Talon had grabbed for Hollywood as soon as it swayed slightly, and he gave the nurse an irritated look as he growled, "You think I don't know that? Turn around before you trip and fall, and break something!"
Walking fast behind the cart and bringing up the rear, Nurse Amanda Beach expressed aloud, "I just hope Hollywood agrees to donate blood for Broadway's surgery; we can't force him to do it, it's utterly unethical, but he came close to wrecking the clinic when he saw me giving the Jackson twins their immunization shots…"
"If we tell him that he's the only one that we're sure has just what Broadway needs—assuming gargoyles even have blood types and incompatibility problems, like humans do—and that Broadway will probably die of blood loss without it, he should agree to it," Talon said, though his tone was worried. "Gargoyles protect, and he and all his brothers have the instinct."
Once they reached the parking garage, Claw and Talon together carefully hoisted Hollywood's statue into the back of the delivery truck, while the driver (after Elisa and Matt had snapped him out of the stunned daze he fell into at first sight of the mutates) retrieved some cargo straps from under his seat. It took a few minutes to strap Hollywood in securely enough that he wouldn't shift about as the truck sped through the streets of Manhattan, and a few minutes more for them to secure all the medical equipment as well. Once they had, the two nurses climbed into the truck… and so did Talon, hunkering down next to Hollywood's stone form. Matt gave him a somewhat startled look as he asked, "You're coming too?"
"Damn straight I am," Talon told him with his ears set back, a look that brooked no argument. "Where any of these 'kids' goes, I go—especially if it's to the Aerie Building!" Matt was abruptly reminded that 'trust issues' were still heavily involved where the mutates were concerned, as Talon went on, "And besides, when Hollywood wakes up and freaks out because he's in a strange place, not to mention about to be stuck with needles and have some of his blood sucked out of his body, he's a lot more apt to listen to me than to the rest of you. So let's go already!"
By that time, Owen had managed to talk Dr. Lacey into bringing her veterinary bag (it seemed that many vets, like traditional doctors, kept the most common tools of their practice with them at all times) and accompanying him in his car, to where the employer he still had not named to her was keeping "a rare and exotic animal in need of expert and discreet medical attention." In the end, he'd had to add a hundred dollar bill for each question he wouldn't answer (and there were several), and she'd insisted on having all the money stored in the hotel safe, with written instructions to the concierge to send it to an address in Washington State if she wasn't back within 24 hours.
After he finally had her in the car, she gave him a challenging glare as she said, "You gonna blindfold me now?"
"That won't be necessary," Owen said as he started the engine and smoothly pulled away form the curb. (And ruthlessly squashed that aspect of Puck that wanted to gleefully say, Unless you're really into that sort of thing…) Instead, he said aloud, "I was simply under orders to say as little of the true situation as possible until you were in the car, and away from possible surveillance." And unable to contact any unfriendly organizations, though again he did not say that aloud.
"Surveillance?" Dr. Lacey looked startled. "What the… who the Hell would want to keep an eye on me here?"
"Someone with an unfriendly interest in gargoyles," Owen told her blandly, "since you have made it known that you have come to New York in hopes of studying one… and you're being taken to operate on one."
"Say what!" Dr. Lacey's eyes widened as far as they could, considering their puffy blackened state.
By the time Owen had finished giving her the bare bones of the situation and what she could expect, they had arrived at the parking garage of the Aerie Building. Owen's cell phone rang just as they pulled in, and when he answered it, he found Matt Bluestone's voice in his ear. "We've got the nurses, all the equipment they had handy and Hollywood for a blood donor," Matt told him, "and we're on our way to the building. But the nurses say we're going to need a few more things," before he turned the phone over to someone else.
"Nurse Martin," Owen said into the phone as he recognized the new voice. "How may I--"
"Gimme that!" Dr. Lacey barked as she snatched the phone out of Owen's grip. He quirked an eyebrow at her, but she ignored him as she began talking rapidly into the phone. "You're a nurse? I'm Lucy Lacey, DVM; hot on surgical experience but cold on gargoyle anatomy. Burnett said you're bringing in equipment. What do you have, and what do you think we need?" as she whipped out a notepad and began writing. "…Dexon 2-0? What about 5-0 size? We're talking sewing veins and arteries back together…"
By the time Owen had escorted Dr. Lacey up to the castle, talking on his cell phone the entire way, she had written down a list of items that she thought they would need… a list half a page long, and written in very sloppy, mostly illegible handwriting, Owen noticed in silent dismay. (At least she was conforming to one stereotype…) When they exited the elevator, they were met by David Xanatos, who--after a very brief, almost unnoticeable to those who didn't know him well, moment of stunned silence when he first saw whom Owen was escorting--introduced himself with his customary suavity. "I am David Xanatos. And you would be Dr. Lucinda Lacey?"
She gave him a clearly irritated and impatient look as she barked, "Yeah, and stow the rest of the formalities; show me the patient!"
They took her to the Great Hall, the new location for Broadway's statue. After walking around him once with that horrid scowl once more distorting her battered features, and asking a few blunt questions about the damage that was presently hidden by the duct tape, she wrote three more items on the list. Then she handed the list to Owen and said in a voice that brooked no argument, "If this is going to work, you need to get all this stuff together in the next three hours. Best bet is a commando raid on the nearest hospital, and bring plenty of cold cash with you for bribing the O.R. supply clerks."
Owen led her into his office, then pointed her at his secretary and said firmly, "I'd suggest you dictate that list to her for typing, before I bring back something utterly unsuitable. And once you have, we have some notes on gargoyle physiology made by another doctor some time ago, that may be of help."
Owen took the elevator down five minutes later, with the typed list of supplies needed clenched in his flesh hand and every last C-note that the Xanatos family had lying around the castle stuffed into his pockets. And shortly after he departed, Elisa's group arrived.
They'd put Hollywood's statue on a sturdy platform with rollers on it, and carefully wheeled it out of the elevator along with a cart carrying all the medical supplies they'd brought with them. They left it all in the hallway for a moment while they went further in, and in the Great Hall, they found a large woman with a badly bruised face sitting in Hudson's chair and leafing through a sheaf of printouts. Xanatos stood nearby, watching her with a concerned expression. And not ten feet away from him was the statue of Broadway, brought in from the parapets and placed in the center of the room.
Despite herself, Elisa couldn't restrain a gasp when she saw beneath the strips of duct tape to the horrible cracks running through Broadway's wing. Talon actually snarled, and Matt and the nurses just looked sick. The woman in the chair glanced up at the noise and stood up, saying brusquely, "Now that you're here, let's get organized! I'm the vet; you two are the nurses? And you two must be this gargoyle's handlers…"
"His friends," Elisa almost snarled at her, her grief and fear instantly transmuting to anger at the callous phrasing.
"When he's awake, bellowing and thrashing around in pain and fear, you're his handlers," the vet corrected her bluntly. "And you—later on, I'll want to know why you're awake in the daytime," she said to Talon. "But right now, what role are you supposed to play in this?"
"I'm the 'handler', as you so nicely put it, for Hollywood, your blood donor," Talon told her with his ears laid back; he seemed to share Elisa's instant dislike for the Amazonian veterinarian. "We left him in the hallway next to the elevator."
She pointed to the right while saying, "Move him to the room marked with a red cross and a '2' on a sheet of paper; that's now the designated donor room and recovery room. And the equipment you brought with you goes in the room marked with another red cross and a '1'; that's going to be our O.R. And the rest of you, gather 'round," as she beckoned them and Xanatos closer. "Come sunset, here's what we're going to do…"
After the non-medical personnel had been briefed on what they were expected to do, Dr. Lacey summarily shooed them away, even Xanatos, while she and the nurses discussed what little they knew of gargoyle anatomy and physiology. But as they left, Fox pointedly sat down in a chair near the doorway, in order to silently observe the discussion. Elisa looked over her shoulder at the vet once more as they walked out, and muttered to Xanatos, "What's the story on that woman? Where'd you find her, and who gave her that face?"
"MacBeth told us about her just this morning; she told him she came to town from the San Diego Zoo to study gargoyles. I've got confirmation that she's on sabbatical from the Zoo, but nothing more than that so far, which is why she's not to be alone with Broadway at any time, day or night," Xanatos said grimly. "But even if it turns out she has not-so-friendly intentions, so long as she knows we're watching her, she should do the best job she can for him."
"And the broken nose and black eyes? They look to be less than a day old," was Elisa's expert opinion.
"She hasn't said, and frankly, I haven't bothered asking. But after only twenty minutes in her presence, I'm halfway inclined to say that however she got it, she just might have deserved it."
"Could be she ran into a mugger last night, and he gave her those as a welcome to New York," was Matt's guess. "That might explain the foul mood, too… Wait a minute; what city did you say she was from? San Diego?" At Xanatos' confirming nod, Matt asked with narrowed eyes, "Would her last name happen to be Lacey?"
"Doctor Lucinda Lacey," Xanatos told him with a wary expression. "Where do you know her from?"
"I saw her Saturday night, cruising the docks on a motorcycle just after the gargoyles went into the Labyrinth, and had a hunch that she was hunting them. I didn't actually talk to her myself, but I had some guys from the 17th come by and 'give her the once-over' to drive her away from the scene, and they copied down her ID and other papers," Matt explained.
"Hunting them?" Elisa eyed him questioningly.
"She had a rifle in a sling over her back; turned out to be a tranquilizer rifle, and the guys said she had all the right papers for it, so they couldn't haul her in for possession of unlicensed firearms."
Elisa turned back towards the doors, her glare hot enough to nearly burn right through them. "If she's here to bag a gargoyle for the zoo, to put on exhibit with the freakin' pandas… She's going to end up going back to San Diego via Parcel Post! And if she doesn't save Broadway's wing tonight, I might not bother to punch any breathing holes!"
As the sun sank lower and lower in the sky, tensions mounted throughout the castle as they raced against time to get everything ready. When they had only an hour left to go, Owen returned with all the equipment and drugs that Dr. Lacey had sent him for, and the vet and nurses nearly mobbed him as they grabbed it and ran to set it all up. Owen adjusted his glasses as he watched them depart, then turned to Xanatos and Elisa as he said in his usual dry monotone, "There might possibly be some criminal charges resulting from what I had to do to get all those supplies on such short notice; I would appreciate it if the two of you would do what you can to have the charges reduced or dropped before any jail time is served."
Elisa sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. "Just tell me one thing: did you hurt anybody?"
Owen considered the question, then finally replied "No; there was no actual bodily harm involved."
"Please, God, don't let me lose my badge for this… Okay, I'll see what I can do. But Xanatos, you'd better dig up some funds for settling out of court, just in case."
Xanatos' smirk this time was highly ironic. "That's what I usually do, detective. Owen, Anne and the kids have been asking to see you as soon as you returned."
When Owen arrived in the nursery, he found the air there charged with the same fear, grief and desperation as in the rest of the castle. Anne held a teary Alexander in her arms, who began stretching out his arms and wailing as soon as he caught sight of Owen. While Owen took Alexander, Anne's daughter Bethany clung to her skirt and turned a tear-stained face up to Owen, saying pleadingly, "We wanna help Unca B'odway!"
"Fox told us what happened," Anne explained. "Isn't there anything the children can do to help Broadway? In some of the fairy tales, they have healing magic…"
"Healing spells are always draining on the caster; they always require some measure, even if only a minor one, of his or her own life force. In addition, they require some basic knowledge of how the body works, and you children simply don't know enough yet to even attempt it. I am sorry," Owen said, and it sounded like he really meant it.
"But… there's go to be something we can do to help!" Anne was just as distressed as the children. "What about… what about the chips from the wound? Fox told me that they'd probably stay stone instead of turning back to flesh, but if they do, then even if they manage to sew up the main wound Broadway's going to have pieces missing out of his wing, right out of the bone and muscle; he'll probably never be able to glide again! Can't you think of some way that we can make sure that everything converts at sunset?"
"…Maybe." That was all Owen said for a few minutes as he turned away, lost in thought. Then he turned around, and there was a faint glimmer that might have been hope in his eyes. "There might be a way…"
Ten minutes later, Doctor Lacey and the nurses were shooed out of the Great Hall, protesting all the way. Xanatos told them with a strained smile, "It'll only be for ten minutes, tops. Why don't you use the time to double-check the equipment in the O.R.?" He firmly shut and barred the doors behind them, and turned to Owen with a grim, "This had better take less time than that; sunset is only forty minutes away now."
"If this works, Davey, it won't even take five minutes," Puck said as he spun into existence and plucked Alexander out of his mother's arms. Anne stood nearby, holding Bethany up so she could see the top of Broadway's wing. Now that her hands were free, Fox pulled out the switchblade she always kept handy and carefully cut and peeled away the duct tape covering the worst of the damage. Bethany and Alex both whimpered as they saw several small chips that had been painstakingly put back into place, peeling away with the tape. But Fox firmly plucked each chip and sliver off the adhesive surface and wedged them back into place on the wing, carefully patting the stone jigsaw together.
Puck sat cross-legged in the air and held Alexander in his lap, speaking to both the children. "Okay, kiddies, time for a new lesson. We're going to create a special type of magic spell, to help Uncle Broadway keep all his pieces with him at sunset. Now, first we all think real hard, and make pictures in our heads of Broadway at sunset, and the way he goes from stone to flesh. Can you see it in your minds? Good. Now here's the spell:
"No matter the sun's pose,
no matter the weather,
you bits of Broadway
will all change together!"
Puck repeated the spell, his eyes glowing green as he stared hard at Broadway's wing, which briefly took on a faint greenish glow. Then he asked the children if they were ready to repeat it. Alex jerked his head and Bethany solemnly nodded, so Puck raised his arm and magically plucked Bethany out of her mother's arms. "Just so you don't get accidentally dropped in the transition, sweetie. Okay, Anne, say it…"
Anne took a deep breath and held her arms out to Alexander with a trembling smile. "Come on in, Alex…"
Puck gestured as she said the words, and Alexander vanished in a cloud of twinkling green lights, which poured itself across the gap and into Anne's mouth and eyes. Anne rocked back on her heels for a moment, and Fox anxiously moved to support her, but she stayed on her feet and after a moment opened her eyes again; the normal leaf-green pupils were completely eclipsed by a bright neon green that covered the entire eye. Anne's voice said with a childish squeak, "Okay!"
"Very good, Alex; that was even smoother than when you went inside Lexington!" Puck praised him. "Now say the spell, both of you, while thinking really hard about how Broadway turns to flesh at sunset and how much you want all the bits of the wing to do the same."
After a bit of prompting, Alex-in-Anne and Bethany said together,
"No matter the sun's pose,
no matter the weather,
you bits of Broadway
will all change together!"
"And that should do it!" Puck announced, as the wing fragments briefly glowed again. "Okay, kids, lesson's over. Come on out, Alex!"
The green cloud of sparkles poured out and coalesced into a baby boy again, and Anne's eyes returned to normal. She sighed and smiled shakily, saying, "Well, that wasn't too bad, really…"
"You both did well, Anne," Puck said to her with a respectful nod. Then he gave Bethany a quick squeeze as he added, "And you did good, too, cutie-pie!"
Bethany grinned, and happily floated back to her mother while Fox plucked her son out of midair. Puck spun back into Owen, looking as calm and emotionless as ever, though a hint of a smile of satisfaction seemed to hover ever-so-briefly on his lips. "Now remember, Bethany; you can't tell the doctor or the nurses or anyone else but the gargoyles what you did just now. It's another special secret… Mr. Xanatos, you can let the medical staff back in now."
At five minutes to sunset, Elisa carefully cut away the rest of the duct tape that had been binding Broadway's wing together. "You ready?" she asked, glancing downwards, just before cutting away the last supporting strip.
"Already braced and locked into this pose," Xanatos' voice issued forth from the red-and-black helmet shaped like Goliath's head. He was lying flat on his back in full body armor (with the wings removed, so they wouldn't get in the way) and was carefully but firmly gripping Broadway's wing to hold it steady against gravity's pull.
Elisa carefully peeled away the last strip, then stepped back and self-consciously adjusted the body armor she was wearing from neck to knees, all of it on loan from Fox. It didn't fit her perfectly, but it was better protection than just her bomber jacket and jeans, and there was no telling just what Broadway would do when he awoke. Xanatos' visor was down so he wouldn't get stone shards rained in his face, but Elisa deliberately left her head uncovered, resolving to just hold her hands up in front of her face at the critical moment; for her, instant recognition was more important than additional protection.
Matt was wearing nearly identical body armor, as he helped Nurse Martin tape down the last strip of the pristine white plastic that covered the floor for twenty feet in every direction from the statue. The few items of furniture in the hall had all been shoved to one side of the room, and covered in white plastic as well. Dr. Lacey came into the hall carefully carrying the last of three large bowls filled with a 1 saline solution that had been chilled to nearly freezing temperatures; she set it down in one corner of the room and draped a small sheet of white plastic over it. It was hoped that any stone chips-turned-chunks of flesh and bone that went flying from the wounds would stand out against the plastic for fast and easy collection, and they could be preserved in the cold saline solution until they could be stitched back into place, if that was even possible.
Just outside the range of the plastic sheets, Owen stood well behind Broadway's statue, meticulously checking over the tranquilizer rifle that had been taken from the castle's armory. The tranquilizer darts it contained had indeed been proven effective against gargoyles, back when they had first awakened in the modern era. But Elisa reminded them that Goliath hadn't fully gone under when he'd been shot with one in Central Park; though he'd been temporarily weakened to the point of being unable to stand, he'd rallied back after a few minutes, even if he'd stayed too groggy to glide until a day's sleep had purged it from his system. Still, they hoped that the tranquilizer would calm Broadway down enough that he would listen to Matt and Elisa, and let them help him.
Nurse Beach came in just long enough to report that she and Talon had all the blood-drawing equipment set up and covered with a drop cloth, to protect it from stone shards when Hollywood woke up from his stone sleep. As soon as Hollywood acquiesced to the blood drawing—and they dearly hoped he would—they would start drawing and delivering blood to the O.R.
Fox and Anne glanced concernedly at the grimly expectant tableau as they carried their children through the Great Hall and up to the roof, to greet the gargoyles still up there at sunset. Xanatos had agreed it was 'a calculated risk', exposing the children to the gargoyles when they were about to be highly agitated, but someone had to calm them down before they tore apart the castle, and Elisa and Matt were needed inside to deal with Broadway. Xanatos and Fox were hopeful that once they saw the children, their instinct to protect would rein in any destructive urges… but deep inside Owen, Puck was on full alert for the slightest threat to Alex, just in case.
Once the ladies were on the roof, they posted themselves directly in front of the doorway, shivering in the biting-cold wind; though they'd bundled up the children well, somehow in all the rush and tension they'd forgotten to grab coats for themselves. Fox looked at the sinking sun in the west, then at her wristwatch and murmured, "Two minutes…"
Anne tilted her head as she heard something, then turned towards the east. "Do you hear… Oh, no! They're back!"
Fox whipped her head around to see what Anne was talking about, then cursed in blistering terms that she'd picked up as a mercenary. The Quarryman helicopter was coming back! And the searchlights they'd bought to drive it off were nowhere near ready for use; the lights and the mounting hardware needed had arrived an hour ago, but by then everyone had been too busy to even think about installing it… And worse, by arriving before sunset the Quarrymen were about to have the drop on the gargoyles, still locked in stone sleep!
Bethany whimpered against her mother's shoulder, "Bad words!" and only then did Fox remember that 'little pitchers have big ears.' Anne murmured to her daughter, "Yes, sweetie, she used bad words. But there's no time for her to go sit in a corner now…" No time for anything, Fox thought bleakly, except watch their friends be shot to pieces…
But all around the castle, the turrets came to mechanical life, whirring as they rose up, spun around and opened various portals to focus their arrays of weaponry on the helicopter. Their security guard was still on the job, and apparently determined to make up for his past mistake. With a mercenary's instinct, Fox somehow knew that the guard had drawn an invisible line around the castle, and the second that the helicopter crossed that line it would be turned into falling scrap metal.
But instead of homing in and firing on the rooftop, the helicopter merely settled into the same pattern it had flown the night before: circling the building, over and over. It had just passed their position on its second lap when the sun completely set, and stone skin crackled as the gargoyles began to awaken.
"Here we go," Matt said tensely and unnecessarily, as they watched the spiderweb of fine cracks spread across the stone statue in front of them. Owen lifted the rifle to his shoulder and took careful aim. And a few seconds later, the stone shell cracked completely, and the awakening form beneath it sent flinging across the room a spray of gravel and stone shards… and blood.
"RroaaAAAAAGGGHH!" Broadway's usual roar was transmuted in mid-cry to a scream of pain, even as Owen fired the tranquilizer dart and hit him squarely in his right buttock. It was doubtful the gargoyle even felt the shot, when compared to the agony that everyone knew was radiating from his left wing.
Xanatos let go of the wing when Broadway began thrashing and waving it about, fearing that the remnant would horribly rip the rest of the way if he tried to hold onto it. But he immediately scrambled to his feet and grabbed the gargoyle from behind and to the left, trying to immobilize him before he could hurt himself worse. Inside his suit, he cybernetically keyed the tape they'd hurriedly spliced together of Goliath's voice from different recordings, and played it at maximum volume to be heard over the gargoyle's screams: "BROADWAY, STOP!"
But the voice didn't penetrate the wall of pain surrounding Broadway's senses, as he screamed even louder and thrashed about to free himself. His half-severed wing flapped in a grotesque parody of the right wing's vigorous beatings, spraying blood and gobbets of tissue and bone all over the plastic.
"Broadway, stop and listen!" Elisa and Matt fearlessly stepped in, Matt going for Broadway's right arm while Elisa reached for his left. She grabbed it and shoved it under her left armpit, leaving her less than a foot away as she grabbed his chin with her right hand and jerked it around to face her. "Broadway, listen to your leader's mate! Listen to me, and stop fighting us! You've been hurt, but we can help you—if you'll let us!"
"E-E-Elisa?" Broadway paused in his thrashing about, and stared at her with eyes huge with fear and pain. "Elisa, it hurts! My wing hurts, oh Dragon, it hurts…" and his voice was ragged and shaking with agony.
"I know it does," Elisa responded with tears in her own eyes. "Broadway, you've got to let us operate on you, like the doctors on TV, do you understand? You have to let us help you!"
"Dragon, yes, please, stop it hurting!" Broadway sobbed as he collapsed to his knees, either from the tranquilizer taking effect or from the onset of traumatic shock.
With Nurse Martin and Matt braced under each shoulder and grunting under the load, and Elisa moving alongside and doing her best to keep the wing still and steady, they hauled him over to the specially-reinforced gurney waiting on one side of the hall. Dr. Lacey stood next to the gurney with a loaded hypodermic in hand; a sedative used in large animal veterinary surgery, dosage adjusted for Broadway's weight and a best-desperate-guess of how much the tranquilizer dart would affect him. They heaved him up onto the gurney and lay him face-down on top of it, and Dr. Lacey plunged the needle into his shoulder to inject the sedative, then grabbed one side of the gurney and barked, "Let's roll!" Nurse Martin grabbed the other side of the gurney as together they hustled him off to the O.R.
"Dammit, what have you done to Broadway?"
Up on the roof, Anne and Fox instinctively clutched their children tightly as they witnessed a sight generally reserved for criminals and enemies of the clan: gargoyles with eyes burning bright, wings and talons out and tails lashing in preparation for battle. From the moment the gargoyles had fully awoken, the ladies had started pleading for them to stay calm, but what the gargoyles had heard was Broadway's screaming echoing from inside the castle. Brooklyn was at the forefront of the clan now crowding around the ladies as they blocked the door to downstairs, and his voice so distorted by the snarls bubbling up from his throat that the words could hardly be understood, but his intent was clear enough. He and the others wanted to find their clan brother and find out what had happened to him, and they were only a hair's breadth away from committing violence on anyone who got in their way.
Both Alex and Bethany were frightened, with the gargoyles that they knew and loved now looking so mean and scary, and they suddenly both burst into tears at once, wailing as they clutched at their mommies. But the sight and sound of the children crying penetrated the fear and rage that had enveloped the entire clan, and Brooklyn was backing away and cloaking his wings even before Lexington and Hudson said together, "Brooklyn/Lads, hold off; we're scaring the kids/frightening the bairns!"
And once the gargoyles backed off and stopped growling quite so loudly, Fox was able to explain to them, "There was a sneak attack during the day, and Broadway was hurt while he slept; we took him inside and brought in a doctor and nurses so they could operate on his wing as soon as he woke up. Elisa and Matt are with him now, trying to calm him down and get him on the gurney…"
"A sneak attack! The Quarrymen?" Brooklyn snarled, as his eyes began to glow again.
Fox tried to explain that the damage was actually done by a lone assassin instead of the men in the helicopters, but Lex wasn't listening; instead, he'd turned to eye the helicopter now coming around the castle again, with eyes burning bonfire-bright. "Damn bastards suckered us into believing we were safe, when… Rrraarrrrggghh!" as he spread his wings and leaped for the nearest parapet.
But he was halted in mid-leap by Brooklyn, who grabbed at his tail as he snarled, "No, Lex! That's what they want! They want us to go out there half-cocked, so they can shoot us down like clay pigeons!"
"Broadway's stopped screaming, so they should have him calmed down and on the gurney by now," Fox said urgently. "Let's get you all inside, before the Q-Balls start getting ideas about taking pot-shots after all!"
Inside the designated donor room, Hollywood finally furled his wings and stopped trembling, several seconds after Broadway had finally stopped screaming. Talon had been spouting a stream of reassurances ever since Hollywood had cracked stone, and he had managed to keep the gargoyle clone from either wrecking the strange room he'd woken up in or charging out to the other gargoyle's 'rescue', though it had been a near thing for a moment or two. Now Talon told him, "I know you wanted to help Broadway, Hollywood, and that's a very good and brave thing. And now you can help him, by giving him some of your blood…"
Hollywood's eyes flew wide open. "My blood? H-how?"
"Nurse Beach can stick a little tiny needle tied to a tube in your arm, and the tube goes into one of these bags," Talon explained as the nurse whisked the cover off the blood-drawing setup. "The blood will go through the tube and into the bag—not all your blood, don't worry! We'll take out just enough blood to help Broadway, because he's losing a lot of blood really fast, so long as his wing isn't sewed up. This will hurt a little bit, Hollywood, but not much more than a rat bite, and you've had those before and you were okay, right? So are you willing to help Broadway?" At Hollywood's hesitant nod, Talon gave an approving smile. "Good gargoyle! Okay, let's get started… Hollywood, don't look at the needle; look at me instead. Want to see me make my ears wiggle?" as Talon rapidly twitched his ears back and forth; that almost always got a reaction out of 'the kids', usually some giggles or attempts to do the same with their own ears. "Hey, want to hear a special story, just for you? Okay, this is the story of, uh, 'Goldilocks and the Three Gargoyles'…"
On the balcony of Elisa's apartment, Goliath grumbled in minor irritation as he reached up and tugged off the concealing tarpaulin that was still draped over him; this was the first time since he and Elisa had come to this arrangement that she had failed to remove the tarp before he woke up. Fortunately, he'd become so used to restraining the customary roar and shard-flinging stretch upon awakening here that the tarp was still intact instead of shredded to scraps by stone chips and talons, but he was still disappointed that his beloved mate was not the first sight to grace his eyes upon awakening.
He took the time to fold the tarpaulin and stow it under the potted plant stand, while keeping his ears cocked and peering through the glass door into the apartment. He did not see or hear Elisa inside, and that both annoyed and worried him more than he wanted to admit; she hadn't said anything before sunrise about going on an outing that would leave her away from home past sunset. Not that there was anything wrong about such an outing; she stayed flesh by day, after all, and it would be supremely selfish, not to mention foolish, to insist that she stay confined to the premises while he was asleep and unable to protect or accompany her. Elisa was a capable warrior in her own right, both with and without her handgun, and a fiercely independent female as well.
He told himself more firmly that it was foolish to worry over her absence; she was probably just out shopping for more food—she had mentioned that they were running low on steaks—and had gotten stuck in one of those ever-present traffic jams. Instead of going out to look for her, what he should do now as a good and loving mate for a human, was prepare something to show his appreciation and love for her when she did get home. There were currently no flowers blooming in the parks that he could pluck and bring to her, but she had shown him how to prepare that instant hot chocolate they were both so fond of.
He went inside, and immediately noticed that there was a note addressed to him sitting on the coffee table, next to Elisa's hand-held tape recorder that she sometimes took with her when interviewing witnesses. The note said simply, Play tape. With a frown creasing his features, Goliath gingerly reached out a talon and tapped the button marked Play.
Elisa's voice issued forth from the device and echoed through the apartment, sounding breathless and tense. "Goliath, there's been trouble at the castle; someone made it through Xanatos' defenses and attacked Broadway in his stone sleep, breaking one of his wings. DO NOT GO OUT AND FLY OVER THERE RIGHT NOW! Just stand there and listen until I'm finished, okay?" (Goliath blushed purple as he turned back to the coffee table and re-caped his wings about himself; Elisa really did know him too well.) "Matt and I are going to the Labyrinth to grab the nurses in the clinic there, and take them to the castle so they can help Broadway when he wakes up. And I'm going to still be there at sunset, so Matt and I can reassure Broadway when he wakes up and help the nurses prepare him for surgery; we're probably the only two humans he'll trust to let close enough, after what's happened. But there's another problem; the Quarrymen had a helicopter out buzzing the castle all Sunday night, not attacking but constantly circling it, and Owen said that they'll probably be out again tonight. If you tried to glide home right now, they'd see you coming and attack you en route. But Xanatos bought a delivery van to pick you up and take you to the Aerie Building, and it'll be waiting in an alley six blocks directly east of the castle; Owen said it'll be white and have the words 'Towleky Industries' painted on the sides. PLEASE, Big Guy, use the van instead of trying to take on all the Quarrymen by yourself! I'll see you at the castle!"
There was a click after she finished speaking, followed by a faint hissing of static as the tape continued playing past the recording. Goliath didn't bother to shut it off; as soon as the click sounded, he wheeled about and bounded for the balcony door, shoved it open and sprang out into the evening air, growling under his breath, "Six blocks east, 'Towleky Industries'. Six blocks east… Curse those Quarrymen, Dragon burn that twice-cursed Castaway! If I ever get my talons on him, I'll…"
Inside the Great Hall, Xanatos had shed his armor's helmet and gloves, and now he was scrabbling about on his hands and knees with Elisa and Matt as they sorted through the stone shards, gravel and blood for bits of flesh and bone, and dropped them into the bowls of saline solution. "I hope to God that this works, and chilling the pieces preserves them like it does human flesh," Matt muttered as he found a thumbprint-sized fragment and dropped it into a bowl. "Otherwise, from what Hudson told me once, this stuff'll be gravel in less than ten minutes."
"Less talking, more hunting!" Elisa ordered, as she shoved a blood-streaked hand through her hair to get it out of her eyes while she searched.
The rest of the clan came in from the roof as the three of them were searching the last section of plastic-coated floor. Fox and Anne covered the children's eyes and hurried them away to the nursery, not wanting to expose their innocence to such a sight, but the gargoyles stopped in their tracks and stared in dismay and horror at the scene before them. With all the blood spattered amidst the gravel on the stark white plastic, crimson and gray on white, it looked almost surreal, but the stench of blood and fear reaching their noses told them it was all too real.
Bronx gave a whimpering moan as he sniffed the air. Angela turned away, doubled over and began retching in a corner, dry heaves shaking her frame. Lexington whimpered in counterpoint to Bronx's moans and grabbed at his own tail, wringing it like a wet dishcloth. Brooklyn numbly shook his head and whispered, "Oh, Dragon… please, don't take Broadway up to the Star Clan; not yet, please…"
Hudson was trembling, but he managed to maintain his composure, probably because in his decades of battling Vikings and leading the clan he had seen death aplenty, though he'd never become fully hardened to it. When Elisa got up from her hands and knees to deposit the last few bits she could find in a bowl, he approached her, saying, "Lass, I've seen enough surgery on the television to know that you're going to be needing blood for Broadway while they're operating on him. Ye can start with mine."
"And mine!" Brooklyn said, almost relieved at the prospect of having something to do. Lexington and Angela promptly added to the chorus, holding out their arms and clenching fists to make the veins more visible.
"We brought Hollywood up from the Labyrinth to be a blood donor," Elisa told them, "And while we could probably use more, there's a real risk of incompatible blood types. Humans have that problem, and so do dogs and cats and horses, and with all your radically different features you probably have different blood types too. Hollywood's safe to donate because he's Broadway's clone, so he's almost guaranteed to have the same blood type, but the rest of you…"
"Aye, you're right about the rest of the clan," Hudson agreed grimly, "but ye shouldn't have such problems with my blood; I'm near certain that I'm the lad's father!"
"Huh?" "What?" "You're his…" Everyone stopped what they were doing to stare at him in surprise.
"I canna be completely certain, we didn't keep track of who laid what egg… but I've thought about it before this and of all his rookery kin, Broadway comes the closest by far to resembling me, and even more to my dead mate," Hudson insisted. "An' I've seen on the television that when no one knows the blood type, the parents are the first ones to be asked to donate… so if that wasna another lie, let's get some blood out of me and into him who needs it!"
Elisa didn't hesitate any longer; she grabbed Hudson and hustled him off to the donor room, where Hollywood was already hooked up to a donor bag and listening avidly to Talon as he told a nursery tale. She told Nurse Beach, "I hope you've got enough equipment for another setup, because we've got another donor here!"
By the time Elisa left the room, Nurse Beach had finished hooking Hudson up to a donor bag and Bronx, giving occasional low whines of distress, had settled in by Hudson's feet. (The nurse had tried to budge the watchbeast at first, but subsided after Hudson said bluntly that it was better he was underfoot in the donor room than in the O.R.)
After using a bathroom to remove her body armor and scrubbing, with partial success, at the blood streaking her hands, hair and clothing, Elisa went out to join the others. In an effort to keep busy, Brooklyn and Lexington were helping Matt and Xanatos peel up and take away the plastic that had been put down in the Great Hall, and put the furniture back into place. But Angela was quietly slipping out of the Great Hall, down a little-used corridor, and Elisa felt a twinge of concern and decided to follow her. Goliath had told her about Angela having chosen Broadway to be her mate (after he lost some weight, that is; a gargoyle's diet incentive if Elisa had ever heard one), so Elisa thought that this crisis might be taking more of a toll on her than on Broadway's rookery brothers. It could be that she just needed to have a good cry about her semi-fiancé and thought privacy would be best for it, but Elisa knew from painful experience that even tears were better shared than shed alone.
She followed Angela down the hall, as the gargoyle opened door after door and peered into rooms that were unused and empty, as far as Elisa knew. She heard soft, preoccupied muttering floating back down the hall: "I'm sure it was down this way… they can't have just gotten rid of it…" Finally, Angela seemed to have found what she was looking for, because she went into one room and closed the door behind her. But she didn't close it all the way, so Elisa told herself that a little eavesdropping wouldn't do any harm.
She peeked in through the crack in the door, and gave a start of recognition. It was a small chapel! Xanatos must have deduced the original purpose of this room when he'd bought the castle and moved it to America, and re-decorated it with medieval antiques of a religious nature. Over-decorated it, really; there were gold-painted icons of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and a few others that were probably Saints; crosses that ranged from plain aged silver to intricately crafted gold to completely covered with jewels; and some gilded and jewel-encrusted boxes that she had a hunch were saintly reliquaries. Looking at them all, Elisa wondered cynically which (if any) of the items had been in Castle Wyvern before the Vikings came, and which had come from elsewhere and simply been bought because they were incredibly expensive or one-of-a-kind, and shoved in here afterwards. It was almost like a religious parody of a jumble sale, instead of a chapel… but still, an aura of peace prevailed within.
Angela was kneeling before the altar, upon which stood in the center the largest and most ornamented golden cross Elisa had ever seen. And after a few moments of silence, she looked back at Elisa with tears in her eyes as she said pleadingly, "Elisa? I don't remember the words…"
"The words to what?" Elisa asked as she came inside.
"The right words to pray. Tom made Princess a cross for the castle in Avalon, and she would pray in front of it whenever he left to see if Goliath and the others were awake, or when one of us hatchlings was badly hurt; she prayed all night after Raphael was gored by a boar and nearly died before dawn. But I don't remember all the words she used…"
"Oh, Angela, honey…" Elisa knelt beside Angela and pulled her close, letting the gargoyle dampen her bomber jacket with tears. "A prayer isn't like a magic spell, where you have to say all the words just right or you get the wrong results. Praying is just talking to God, telling Him what you're worried about and asking for help if you need it. And like my Mom says, sometimes He answers and sometimes He doesn't, but He's always listening. So just say what you want to say, and that'll be good enough."
Goliath arrived via the elevator, just as the males finished straightening up the Great Hall. Brooklyn and Xanatos filled him in on what had happened during the day and after sunset, and after he had reluctantly accepted that there was nothing he personally could do for Broadway at the moment, Goliath had only one question: "What happened to the assassin?"
Fox had come restlessly wandering in during the update, and she gave him the answer: "In the dungeon downstairs; that's where I left him while we dealt with the immediate crisis."
"He isn't dead?" Matt asked, honestly surprised… and relieved. He and Elisa had made an unspoken agreement to not ask about what had happened to the man; if it turned out that he had been turned into 'street pizza' or killed in some other fashion, they didn't want to be the ones to start making arrests. Considering the current legal status of gargoyles—or lack of same—Fox or Xanatos would be ripped apart by lawyers in court if they tried to plead that it was done in self-defense of others.
But it was clear that the gargoyles had different views on the matter. "He isn't dead?" Brooklyn echoed, but his voice was definitely tinged with surprised disappointment. Lexington gave Xanatos and Fox a reproving look, as if he'd expected better from them, and even Goliath frowned. When they had begun patrolling Manhattan and helping others, they had agreed to not use lethal force when defending innocents from criminals, even when said criminals were wielding lethal force at them. But to a gargoyle, there was no more heinous crime a human could commit against one of them than cowardly smashing one of them in stone sleep, when they were unable to defend themselves. And after seeing their brethren slaughtered in the fall of Wyvern, today's disaster had reopened a wound that would probably never fully heal.
"Well, now that we have time, we should deal with him," Xanatos said with a sigh as he ran a hand through his hair. "Come on, let's check the monitors first and see what he's been up to since then." Leaving Fox posted by the door to the O.R. to alert them if there was any change in Broadway's condition, the rest of them went to the central security room.
When the door to the central security room opened, Jameson swallowed hard and got to his feet, to stand at military attention. Some time earlier, once they had determined exactly how the would-be gargoyle-slayer had gained access to the castle, Jameson had offered Mr. Xanatos his resignation on the spot if he wanted it; he'd screwed up, and they both knew it, and one of Mr. Xanatos' permanent houseguests was paying the price for it. Xanatos had looked at him thoughtfully for a moment, then told him, "I think I'll let the gargoyles decide whether or not you keep your job, since they're the most affected. But you can definitely consider your bonus for the day forfeited."
"More than fair, sir," Jameson had said with a firm nod, trying hard to hide his nervousness. He'd seen the gargoyles before, on the security tapes, but never met any of them face-to-face. That might change tonight, if they decided they wanted to meet the man who had let one of their own be crippled, probably for life… This would absolutely, positively be the worst meeting he'd had since that time he'd arrested an admiral's son for 'Drunk & Disorderly,' and had to explain why to that same admiral the next day. At least then he'd had his master chief backing him up 100, because he'd done his job right and they both knew it. This time…
Jameson stood ramrod-straight as Mr. Xanatos, Mr. Bluestone and the gargoyles walked in, and as Mr. Xanatos made a brief introduction. He'd put a lot of thought into what he would say over the last few hours, and now he faced Goliath and said, "I regret my failure to detect and stop the aggressor before he caused harm to one of your clan. I offer no excuses; it was my error in judgment that let him get as far as he did before detection. Mr. Xanatos has said that it is up to you to decide whether I am fired or remain on this post. I will abide by your decision," as he respectfully lowered his head.
Goliath looked almost startled for a moment, then thoughtful. He glanced away for a moment, towards the other two gargoyles who had come in with him, who looked back at their leader in silence. Then he turned back to Jameson and said slowly, "One flaw in judgment does not necessarily mean a flaw in character; indeed, all of us have made errors in judgment in the past. Though this error has cost us dear… You may keep your post, if you swear to greater vigilance in the future."
"I will, sir! Thank you," Jameson said with relief.
"And now that that's settled," Mr. Xanatos interjected with a somewhat odd smile flickering across his face, "why don't you show us what our would-be slayer has been up to lately?"
A few moments later everyone was crowded around the largest monitor screen, which was now showing an internal view of the castle's dungeon. The camera clearly showed the would-be slayer, shivering and clad only in his underwear; Fox had not only removed the duct tape binding him but also stripped him down to his skivvies before leaving him there. (It might have been for a weapons and identification search, but Xanatos concluded that more likely it was for the sheer demoralizing value once he woke up.) The prisoner wasn't facing the camera; instead, he was kneeling with his head bowed, a few feet away from a wall upon which he'd made a crude representation of a cross. A flick of a switch turned on the audio, and even over the gargoyles' rumbling growls, they could clearly hear the sounds of murmured prayers. Jameson hit a few more buttons to show them periodic freeze-frames from the videocamera for the last few hours, as he informed them that the man had painstakingly scraped and scratched the cross shape onto the wall with a loose piece of stone after awakening in the dungeon, and had been praying in front of it ever since.
"Oh, great." Xanatos pulled a disgusted face. "Religious fanaticism… I hate dealing with those types. It always takes so much more money to make them see reason."
Lexington snarled, "Who cares about making him see reason? I'd rather make him see the pavement, the fast way!"
"You and me both," Brooklyn growled, his eyes glowing. "Bible-thumping bastard…"
Matt sighed. "Guys, I can't blame you a bit for feeling that way… But even considering what he's done, are you prepared to deliberately kill an unarmed man in cold blood?"
That brought all the gargoyles to a reluctant halt, uneasily considering. Lexington grumbled, "Well, he was trying to kill us all in cold stone!" But his growls now lacked conviction.
"I suppose that means arranging an 'industrial accident' is out of the question," Xanatos said, with a perfectly straight face. Matt looked at him sharply, unable to tell whether or not he was kidding, and finally gave him an emphatic shake of his head. "And it wouldn't do to simply make him a permanent feature in the dungeon; too many people know he was working here today."
"The Quarrymen's lawyer is probably already working on obtaining a search warrant for him," Matt glumly agreed. "I could arrest him, but the only charges that even have a chance of sticking are trespassing and vandalism, and a good lawyer could probably get him off with community service."
"But if he's released, Castaway will know his plan was partially successful," Goliath growled. "And he'll try even harder to infiltrate the castle… again and again, until he succeeds!"
"But if the guy doesn't remember what he's done… Can't we just get Puck and Alex to wipe his memories, like they did with the attackers from last time that stayed human?" Lexington asked.
"Unfortunately, no," Owen said as he appeared behind them, (making everyone but Xanatos twitch in startled annoyance—they really hated it when he snuck up on them like that) carrying a file folder. "That particular spell, the easiest for a Fey child to learn, erases only the memories of events that occurred since the victim last woke up. As Mr. Johnson was rendered temporarily unconscious after he reached the sleeping gargoyles and began inflicting damage, if the spell was applied now he would still remember doing so. And at the present time, Alexander is insufficiently advanced enough to learn any more complex memory-erasure spells."
Xanatos gave a cold, grim smile. "Then we'll just have to find another way to ensure that Castaway never learns what happened today."
Matt looked at him apprehensively. "Xanatos, we already agreed, you can't--"
"Oh, I won't harm a hair on his head," Xanatos said with a dismissive wave in Matt's direction, as he took the folder from Owen's hands; it was labeled with the name of Edward C. Johnson. As he perused it, he added, "But there's no need for him to know that…"
Ten minutes later, Xanatos, Goliath, and Brooklyn all went down to the dungeon together. "Remember, more growls than words," Xanatos cautioned the gargoyles in a low voice just before opening the door. "If this guy's really convinced you're demons straight from Hell, let's give that belief ample reinforcement."
Both Goliath and Brooklyn nodded in understanding, and fixed their ugliest snarls on their faces before the door was opened. Xanatos strode on in ahead of them, saying cheerily to the prisoner, "So! Are the accommodations to your liking? Sorry about the lack of mints on your pillow; we're fresh out…"
Mr. Johnson gave them one glance, then swiftly turned back to his cross and his prayers, now at full volume. "Into your hands, oh Lord, I commend my spirit…"
"Ah, I see. Preparing for martyrdom, are we?" Xanatos asked him in that same cheery voice. "Any particular preferences? I could sharpen an axe, if you'd like to be beheaded; I seem to recall that was the way to go for a fair number of Christian martyrs. …Or if you'd rather, we could just have one of the gargoyles here rip your head off and eat it; that would amount to the same thing, wouldn't it? Then we've had a few other suggestions already from the peanut gallery; the most popular so far is to break every bone in your body, saving your skull for the very last, with your own crowbar. But mind you, a close runner-up was to let one of the gargoyles drop-kick you right into the rotor blades of the helicopter circling out there; that would take care of you and your buddies at the same time." While Xanatos was speaking, Goliath and Brooklyn made a continual stream of low growls, punctuating Xanatos' 'suggestions' with snarls and cruel, slavering grins. Xanatos finished, "So, which do you prefer?"
Mr. Johnson had grown progressively paler as the litany of proposed methods of death went on, but he staunchly continued facing the cross. And when Xanatos was finished, he swallowed hard before saying bravely, "Do what you will to my body; my soul is already given to God."
"It is, hm? …How about your children's?"
Johnson whipped around to stare at him wide-eyed. Xanatos continued in that same cheery voice, as the grins of the gargoyles grew wider and more evil, "You have four of them, don't you? I've seen the pictures. Peter's the oldest, at nine years old; he's going to celebrate his tenth birthday next month, isn't he? And seven-year-old Sarah is still pretty as can be, despite having to wear glasses now. Then there's Paul, five years old; you just have to love that gap-toothed smile of his. And then there's three-year-old Jimmy, cute as a button … you really should cut his hair soon, though; he's beginning to look like a girl."
"Y-you… monster!" Johnson shouted at him, trembling, his face white as a sheet. "God will damn you to Hell! You'll burn in the fiery pits forever!"
Xanatos turned to the gargoyles with an offended air. "Now was that called for? Really, I just complimented the man on his lovely children! And I didn't say word one about how, when it comes to humans, you gargoyles like the veal even more than the beef…"
"NOOOOO!" Johnson screamed and threw himself at the bars, half-crazed with horror. "No, please! I-I'll do anything, just leave them alone," he sobbed, sinking to the floor. "P-pl-please…"
Unseen above his head, Goliath and Brooklyn turned to each other with sickened expressions. Xanatos snapped his fingers for attention and scowled hard at them, reminding them that they were still 'on stage' and had a performance to continue, before saying to Johnson in that same horribly cheery voice, "Well, since you ask so nicely… okay."
Johnson shuddered once, possibly in relief and possibly in acceptance of his fate, before stammering out, "W-what are you going to do with me?"
"We're going to let you go."
Johnson slowly raised his head, the tears running down his cheeks contrasting oddly with his confused expression. "Wha…?"
"We're going to let you go," Xanatos repeated patiently. "Then you're going to go see John Castaway, and tell him the plan didn't work; that you were caught before you ever got within fifty feet of the gargoyles. And that you were fired as a result, for trespassing; I trust you'll understand when you receive no severance check in lieu of two weeks' notice. You're going to make it very, very clear to everyone who asks that it's useless to even attempt another infiltration; that the gargoyles are too well guarded to be smashed during the day. Because if you tell anyone even one word about what happened here today… we will know. Trust me, we have eyes and ears everywhere, including inside the Quarrymen, and we will know. And if we ever, ever hear mention of it, from anyone at all… we will find you. Anywhere in the world, we will find you. And your family." He gave his most wicked smile as he let that sink in for a moment, before asking, "Am I perfectly clear?"
"Y-yes sir!" Johnson swore fervently. "I swear, I'll never tell a soul…"
"Very good. Someone will be along shortly to release you and escort you out. Come along, boys," as he turned on his heel and walked away. Brooklyn growled in disappointment and disgust, but he and Goliath both turned and followed Xanatos out the door of the dungeon… until Brooklyn balked at the doorway, gave a truly wicked grin, and loped back inside.
Johnson screamed in fear and backed away as Brooklyn ran on all fours up to his cell, reached a clawed hand inside and gave him a few playful swipes, all of which fell far short of connecting with flesh. When Xanatos' voice rang out, "Brook, heel!" Brooklyn gave the doorway a sullen look, then turned back to Johnson and grinned with all his teeth as he hissed "Veal!" Then he loped out the door.
The door shut with a resounding clang, and both Xanatos and Goliath were waiting for him on the other side with stern looks. "Doing a little ad-libbing, Brooklyn?" Xanatos asked with a raised eyebrow.
"We agreed to follow Xanatos' script," Goliath reminded his second-in-command with a frown. "The man was already terrified enough…"
"Broadway may still lose his wing, and that bastard gets off practically scot-free," Brooklyn reminded them angrily. "When my rookery brother wakes up, I want to at least be able to tell him the man was so terrified of us, he pissed in his shorts… and he did, too, when I lunged for him! I could smell the stench."
Goliath gave a grim smile, and no further reprimand. But he did turn to Xanatos and say firmly, "For the record, Xanatos, I'd prefer to never have to do that again. Even just the implication that we would ever harm an innocent child is utterly sickening."
"But it worked, didn't it?" Xanatos retorted. "I'd bet my next million that he'll never tell a soul… and he'll probably pack up his family and move to Alaska, just to be on the safe side," as he led the way back upstairs.
Jameson, Owen, Matt and Lexington saw the whole thing, watching through the security monitors. (Jameson thought to himself that while Mr. Xanatos was implying dire consequences, he'd never actually and specifically threatened the man or his children; the man knew his legal loopholes, all right.) Lexington gave a fanged smile when he saw Brooklyn dodge back in just before leaving to harass the prisoner for a few more seconds, but Owen only quirked an eyebrow at the screen, while Matt shook his head and murmured, "That wasn't in the script."
Lexington stared at him challengingly. "So? He didn't actually hurt the guy."
Matt glanced at him as he said, "Easy there, Lex. I'm on your side, remember? But you should also remember, this guy isn't like the rapists and muggers and such you meet on patrol."
"Indeed not," Owen said as he looked at the screen, with an expression the others could not decipher. "This man's actions were not motivated by greed or lust or malice. I am certain that most of his acquaintances regard him as a good man, though in this instance horribly misguided."
Lex turned that challenging, angry stare on him as he demanded, "And is that supposed to make what he did to Broadway hurt any less!"
Owen shook his head. "Indeed not. I merely comment that this is yet another example of what the Puck has seen happen countless times over the centuries. In the name of a worshipped deity, humans have committed so very many crimes against their fellow mortals, including rape, torture, maiming and murder… It is quite likely that over the millennia, religion has been the cause of more premature deaths than all the physical diseases of the world combined."
Matt gave him a sideways glance as he muttered, "You don't have to tell a Jew about religious persecution…"
After giving the briefing about Mr. Johnson's recent activity, Jameson had resumed his usual behavior of keeping his mouth shut. But now, his Roman Catholic upbringing absolutely demanded he say something. "With respect, sir, religion in general and Christianity in particular does at least as much good for others as harm, probably much more good. Christian charities and missionaries have helped people in plenty of third-world countries, even non-Christian folk, get enough to eat and clean water to drink. Not to mention running missions for the homeless right here in the USA."
Owen gave him a mild glance. "As you say. And the teachings of Islam, Buddhism and many other religions urge that same charity and compassion for your fellow man. But all too often, those writings are twisted or misinterpreted, and used to justify someone's base desires at the expense of someone else. Thus started the Crusades in the Middle Ages, as well as many 'purgings,' jihad and numerous other holy wars."
Matt looked at Owen sourly. "Aren't you conveniently forgetting the fact that according to Elisa, several of the 'deities' worshipped in the past, such as Odin and Coyote and who-knows-how-many-others, were actually your fellow Fey playing tricks on some clueless humans? And I'll bet plenty of them thought it was a really fun pastime, to throw out a few 'religious commandments' and start those foolish mortals fighting amongst themselves."
Goliath, Brooklyn and Xanatos came into the room during Matt's last accusatory sentence. And when Owen looked away and did not reply, it was Goliath who answered, gravely saying, "Someone who has been tricked into committing a crime is still responsible for his own actions. Halcyon Renard showed me the truth of that, when we first met. Though that does not absolve the one who tricked him of responsibility," as his eyes flickered towards Owen, who did not look back.
Xanatos was silently thankful that Goliath had not turned that reproving gaze on him, knowing full well what he and Demona had tricked Goliath and the clan into doing over two years ago. But aloud, he said only, "As fanatical as this particular would-be assassin seems, it would have been a waste of time to try to convince him that he was in the wrong for what he did, let alone that he was tricked into it. Besides, firing him without notice, and with no references for his resume, is a pretty effective punishment in today's economy. And Owen, before you go down there and boot him out the door, have surveillance put on him by our usual firm, and plant a few 'bugs' here and there in his personal effects. He should be scared enough to grab his kids and head right out of town without saying a single word to Castaway, but I'd rather know for sure."
"At once, sir," as Owen respectfully inclined his head and left.
After a few more seconds of awkward silence as they stood around and looked at each other, Brooklyn turned and headed for the door, saying to the room at large, "C'mon, let's go see how the surgery's going."
But when they rejoined Fox outside the O.R., all she could tell them was that the surgery was still in progress, and neither Dr. Lacey nor Nurse Beach had paused to step out and give an update. After delivering another two pints of blood from the donors, Nurse Martin paused long enough to say that Dr. Lacey was making steady progress in sewing together all the severed arteries and veins, but they still had a long way to go.
Elisa and Angela rejoined the group a few minutes later, and Goliath pulled her aside for a warm welcome, trying to ignore the bloodstains still streaking her hair and clothing. "Beloved… I wish that I could have been here to help you at sunset."
"Me, too, Big Guy, but it would have caused too much notice if we'd tried to wheel your stone form down the hall to the elevator and load it onto a truck," Elisa said wryly. Goliath had to agree to that, and for a few minutes afterwards they tried to set aside their worries and indulge in tender words and caresses. But ultimately, Elisa looked back towards the O.R. with a worried expression and said slowly, "Goliath… there's something you should know about the doctor working on Broadway…"
It seemed as if, by unspoken agreement, everyone silently took turns in either pacing back and forth in front of the operating room, pacing back and forth in front of the room where Hollywood and Hudson were donating blood, and pacing back and forth in the Great Hall, where they could see out the windows how that helicopter was still relentlessly circling the castle. Minutes passed so slowly… turning to hours…
Until finally, Lexington muttered what turned out to be the last straw, while glancing out one of the windows at the helicopter: "Circling us like a damned vulture, waiting for Broadway to die…"
And Angela snapped. "DON'T SAY THAT!" she shrieked, startling Lex into jumping nearly three feet in the air. Brooklyn and Goliath, who had wandered into the Great Hall just moments ago, both jumped and looked at her askance as well, but she ignored them as she went to the window and flung it open, sobbing and shrieking out into the wind, "Why are you doing this! We've done nothing to you! GO AWAY"
And it did.
Mere moments after Angela screamed out at them, while Goliath and Brooklyn were still trying to pull her away from the window, the helicopter veered off and flew away from the castle, moving at high speed. Nor was there any other helicopter in sight, moving in to replace it.
All four of them just gawked at the sight for a few moments; then almost as one, Lexington and Brooklyn's eyes turned to Angela, then to each other as they muttered under their breaths, "Did she… ya think?" After a few moments, they mutter-chorused, "Naahhh…" but even then they sounded uncertain.
Goliath also gave his daughter a wary glance for a moment, then shook his head firmly before saying to her with a smile, "It would seem they've finally given up… it's been over an hour since the would-be assassin left the building, and he would have had time to report in by now. Perhaps what he told them so utterly demoralized them that they saw no point in trying to provoke us further."
"Well, yeah, that could be it," Brooklyn and Lexington agreed, both looking a little relieved at the explanation.
When Elisa, Matt and Xanatos came running in a moment later, attracted by Angela's shouting, Goliath told them that the helicopter had just left the building. All three sighed in relief and smiled wearily. "Finally, some good news tonight!" Matt said as he ran a hand through his hair.
"Hear, hear!" Xanatos said, before glancing back in the direction of the surgical suite. "And hopefully we'll have more good news soon."
Finally, Dr. Lacey stepped away from the table, stripped off her operating gown and gloves and set them aside, and ordered the nurses to take Broadway to the recovery room. Nurses Beach and Martin together wheeled Broadway out of the OR and down the hall to the donor room, now the 'recovery room,' where Hudson and Hollywood were still resting after their blood donation.
The two gargoyles together had ended up donating a full gallon of blood to Broadway, to replace what had been lost upon awakening and during surgery, and the loss had left them both feeling dizzy and weak; particularly Hudson, who was actually laying face-down on his bed and snoring softly as Broadway was brought in. Hollywood was doing a little better; he was sitting up, drinking a quart-sized glass of orange juice and finishing off a box of cookies that had been brought in from the kitchen, and he looked at Broadway's still and bandaged-swathed form with worry in his deep-set red eyes. Talon, who had stayed there holding Hollywood's hand nearly the entire time, reassured his charge, "It's okay; he's still alive, and that's what most important. You did really good, Hollywood; I'm proud of you…"
Bronx, who had been lying curled up next to Hudson's bed, got up to inspect Broadway's sleeping form, whining as he tried to lick the gargoyle's hand. Nurse Martin had to regretfully push him away, speaking gently even as he shoved as hard as he could to budge the watchbeast, "No, Bronx, leave him be; he's got to—oomph!—to rest now. Come on, boy, be a good doggy, I mean watchbeast…"
The rest of the clan and other castle residents crowded around the entrance to the recovery room, though they didn't venture inside; not after Dr. Lacey stood in the doorway to the room and said bluntly, "They all need to rest! I don't care how big, how rich or what species you are; the first person to disturb them gets a boot to the head!"
Despite her still somewhat battered appearance, no one quite dared to take her up on that challenge. Angela gasped at first sight of the doctor, and her wings began to flare out, but at Brooklyn's inquiring glance she quickly refurled them and pretended nothing had happened.
Goliath placed himself right in front of the doctor, looking down at her from his full height as he said, "I am Goliath, the leader of this clan. Did you manage to save Broadway's wing?"
"I stitched back together all the severed muscles, arteries, and veins I could find, and set the broken bones with surgical steel pins," Dr. Lacey said back to him, seemingly not fazed or intimidated by talking to a creature that towered over even her considerable height. "If he was a bat or an eagle, I'd give him a 50 chance of full recovery and an 80 chance of being able to at least get airborne on that wing again someday. But as you're not bats or eagles, I'm damned if I know for sure; only time will tell."
Nurse Beach quickly added, displaying considerably more 'bedside manner' than the veterinarian, "We all did the best we could, Goliath; now it's up to Broadway, and to the healing properties of stone sleep. Martin and I are going to rig a pair of sunlamps in the recovery room, to ensure that Broadway get as much sunlight as possible to help aid in the healing. But right now there's really nothing more that can be done for him, other than ensuring he gets plenty of rest, and food when he's hungry."
"In Broadway's case, that'll be the moment he wakes up," Brooklyn said, trying to lighten the mood. "And speaking of which, now that the worst is over, I'm hungry. C'mon, Lex; let's go to the kitchen and make sandwiches for everybody."
"Including a couple of Ham-on-Rye's for Hudson, a set of Super-Sized Dagwood-style sandwiches for Broadway, and the same thing for Hollywood, I guess," Lex added as they trotted away in the direction of the kitchen.
Once they had left, Goliath turned to the doctor again, with a face even more foreboding than before. "Doctor, I have been informed that you came here to New York for the purpose of 'studying' us. I have also been informed that while you've been attempting to track us down, you have been carrying a tranquilizer rifle. So I tell you now, while we are indeed grateful to you for saving Broadway's life and possibly his limb, we do NOT feel obligated to submit to being caged and displayed in a zoo! If you ever attempt to capture one of us, the entire clan will fight you… and I promise, you will lose the battle, if not your life."
"Really paranoid bunch, aren't you?" Dr. Lacey retorted with a raised eyebrow. "For your information, the rifle was for purely defensive purposes; I've no intention of bagging any of you for the zoo. For one thing, considering you're sentient and could verbally protest an imprisonment to passersby, every animal-rights group in existence would march on San Diego and rip the zoo apart if we tried to put you on display! Yes, I want to study you; any zoo vet worth her diploma would want to study an exotic species that had been thought to be extinct! But not too many of them are interested enough to leave their jobs and move away to do it. I intend to study you here, in New York; that's why I applied for a job here with him!" as she jerked her thumb at Xanatos.
Xanatos looked startled. "You did? When?"
"Last Tuesday; I faxed my resume and other papers to your Human Resources Department, since that was as close to your office as that tight-assed bureaucracy downstairs would let me get," Dr. Lacey said with a sneering curl to her lip. "I bet that little toad I talked to on the phone is still sitting on the papers, if he didn't just toss them out; he struck me as the type who wouldn't wipe his ass without printed authorization on the T.P."
Xanatos turned to his wife and murmured, "Remind me to check out the HR department tomorrow, and see who needs to be fired." Then he turned back to the doctor and said, "It so happens that I have been looking for a doctor, for the gargoyles and for another species; did you have another copy of your resume handy?"
"In the bottom of my bag, back in the O.R.," as she jerked her thumb in that direction.
Talon and Bronx had come out of the recovery room while they were talking, and Bronx had evidently decided to check out the new person standing in the hallway, in the classic doggy style; Dr. Lacey suddenly jumped with a sudden and indignant "Hey!" and spun around fast, and everyone else smothered grins or giggles as she confronted Bronx with his muzzle still pointed up in the air. But surprisingly, instead of jumping at the sight of the watchbeast (as most strangers were apt to do) or scolding him as if he was just another dog (as, considering what little knowledge and experience they had of her, half the clan expected her to do) her battered features suddenly softened… into a smile. "Hey, there… What's your name?"
"His name is Bronx," Goliath supplied as he observed how the veterinarian slowly and gently held her hand out for the watchbeast to sniff… and how, after only a couple sniffs, Bronx thrust his head into her hand and rubbed against it, asking for a scratch behind his ears. "He is our watchbeast… and he seems to approve of you."
"A watchbeast, huh? Seems friendly enough," Dr. Lacey said almost absentmindedly, while giving Bronx's head a through rubbing and scratching. With her eyes locked on the watchbeast, she missed the significant looks Goliath was giving everyone else in the corridor. Goliath trusted the watchbeast's instincts… and if Bronx was inclined to trust her, then despite the earlier evidence, so was Goliath.
Elisa, Matt and nearly everyone else in that hallway relaxed, but Angela swallowed and looked more than a little distressed. Finally, she stepped forward to face Dr. Lacey with her eyes downcast and her wings drooping till they dragged on the floor. "Doctor… My name is Angela, and I am really, truly sorry that I struck you last night on the rooftop…"
"You did what!" Goliath stared at his daughter.
"She's the one who gave me this broken nose and black eyes, when I tried to introduce myself last night to her and the old fellow in the recovery room," Dr. Lacey informed him with a wry twist to her lips. She turned back to Angela to say, "And since I didn't make even one unfriendly gesture, let alone go for my rifle, until you started attacking… I might possibly, just possibly, accept your apology, once you explain why you did it."
Angela seemed to shrink in on herself under the combined stares of everyone present, and stammered, "Well, when you called Hudson and me 'specimens'…"
The veterinarian sighed. "Let me guess; that means something obscene in the gargoyle native tongue."
"N-no… but Doctor Sevarius calls gargoyles that sometimes, when he's trying to run experiments on us, and I thought you were his kind of doctor..."
Elisa jumped into the conversation at that point, partly to deflect attention away from poor Angela, who looked at that moment like she'd welcome a mercy blow from a Quarryhammer. She told Dr. Lacey, "Sevarius is your classic 'mad scientist'; brilliant, egotistical, and about as ethical as a rabid sewer rat."
"Less ethical," Talon said with a low growl. "He's the one that made the mutagen formula, that turned me and three other people into quasi-gargoyles," as he gestured at himself.
Dr. Lacey gave him a startled look as she asked, "You weren't always like that?"
"Hell, no! I started out as a human," as he glared past where the doctor was standing, to where Xanatos stood with eyes downcast.
"He's my brother, Derek Maza," Elisa jumped back in, now to steer the conversation away from another verbal clash with Xanatos… not that she still didn't think he deserved it, but after everything that had happened tonight already, she just wasn't in the mood for it. Which is why she gave Talon a sisterly thump on the arm as she said with a grin, "And still are, Fuzzball."
"Sistwerp," Talon retorted with a wry smile, his attention successfully diverted… though perhaps he, too, after hopping aboard the emotional roller-coaster that the entire clan had been on for the last few hours, didn't really want to fight tonight.
"And the mutagen formula isn't all Sevarius has done, by a long shot," Elisa said as she turned back to Dr. Lacey. "He's held gargoyles captive before, for experiment fodder; we know for a fact that he created one of the gargoyle clones, and we're pretty sure he was involved in cloning the rest…"
Dr. Lacey nodded thoughtfully. "I'd heard mention of the man once before today, years ago; he'd presented himself to the San Diego Zoo's board of directors, wanting to get tissue samples of the pandas and some of our other rare animals. He told them he'd perfected a cloning process, and he offered to increase the zoo's population of pandas in exchange for some obscenely large sums of money."
"If they'd taken him up on it, you'd probably have pink-and-green pandas on your hands," Elisa said bluntly. "But anyway, when it comes to Sevarius, the clan's policy is definitely 'punch on sight, ask questions later'."
"Well, next time, you might thank him before punching him out," Dr. Lacey told Angela and Goliath wryly. "Because Anton Sevarius was the name listed on all the papers Xanatos gave me on gargoyle anatomy and biochemistry, and if not for reading through those notes before the surgery I would have been 'flying blind'; operating entirely b'guess and b'God." Leaving them to absorb that uncomfortable thought, that Broadway might owe the continued use of his wing to one of the clan's greatest enemies, the veterinarian turned back to Talon and said with a raised eyebrow, "So you're not a pure-blooded gargoyle… which would explain why you were awake before sunset. Do you turn to stone at any time of day or night?" At Talon's mute shake of his head, she continued, "What other differences are there?"
"Before we get too involved in more anatomy lessons right in the middle of the hallway, perhaps we could discuss your continued employment," Xanatos interjected… and just in time, judging by the way Talon's ears were angled back. Elisa thought to herself that Derek had always disliked going to the doctors and being poked at, prodded and stuck with needles, and now that he was a 'winged freak' thanks to Dr. Sevarius, he liked it even less. "As it happens, we have been on the lookout for a doctor we can trust, to be a physician to both the gargoyles and the mutates. We have, at the moment, pregnant ladies of both species, and no one available for obstetrical care. If you'd care to come this way… and Talon, Nurse Martin, if you'd care to come along and express your opinions on working conditions in the Labyrinth…"
Xanatos led the vet, the nurse and the mutate down the hall to his office. Nurse Beach went back into the room to monitor Broadway's vital signs; after doing so, she gave the people waiting outside a quick thumbs-up to indicate all was well. Shortly afterwards, Matt left too, saying just a little too casually, "I'm just going to check on Anne and the kids; let them know Broadway's out of surgery and out of danger."
Fox smiled almost smugly as she watched Matt walk away. Elisa smiled after him too, knowing of Anne's interest in Matt and vice versa… and a surprising number of people's interest in seeing the two of them get together. Even before Maggie had asked Elisa to bring Matt to her birthday party in the Labyrinth, since Anne and her daughter had said they would come, Fox had asked her to find more reasons to bring Matt along when she visited the castle in the evenings. And even some of the gargoyles were in on it; if one of the kids was still awake while he was there, Lexington would frequently volunteer (or Goliath would very quietly suggest that he volunteer) to take over in the nursery so Anne could take the time to visit. And from what she'd seen of them together in the last few weeks, Elisa did think they would make a nice couple; maybe she and Goliath could invite them over for dinner sometime… Then she shook her head and smirked at herself. Yep, the old cliché was true; happily married couples liked to see other people become couples too.
Fox left them shortly afterwards with a yawn and a few words about seeing everyone by or after her predawn workout. Elisa turned to Goliath to suggest that instead of hovering outside the recovery room, they join Brooklyn and Lexington in the kitchen and help with the food. Just then Angela, who was still staring at the door to the recovery room as though she could see right through it to the people inside, asked seemingly out of the blue, "Father, do you think it's true?"
Goliath glanced at her in confusion. "What truth? That the doctor and nurses have done all they can for Broadway tonight? I see no reason to doubt them."
"No, not that… that Hudson is Broadway's father."
"What!" Goliath stared at her in surprise. "Where and when did you hear that?"
But it was Elisa who answered him, with a rueful look for having let it slip her mind for so long. "Just before you got here, Big Guy; Hudson said it himself, when he was volunteering his blood for the surgery."
Angela nodded and continued, "But he said he wasn't sure, he was just going by the resemblance… Do you think he might really be Broadway's father?"
"Well… it's possible," Goliath said after a few moments' thought. "I remember Hudson's mate, and she was still alive and of breeding age when Broadway's clutch was laid in the rookery. And as I recall, she had ears much like Broadway's, though smaller, as well as the same color to her hide… But beyond that, Angela, I cannot say for sure. Now come," as he laid a gentle hand on her shoulder to turn her from the window, "and help us in the kitchen. Broadway would undoubtedly be happy if you made a special treat just for him."
They headed to the kitchen together, but both females were silent and lost in thought. Just before they reached the kitchen, Elisa said abruptly, "I think I know how we might find out."
Goliath looked at her inquiringly. "Find out…?"
"Whether or not Hudson is Broadway's father," Elisa explained. "Matt told me what Xanatos told him, strictly off the record, about how he got the data his scientists needed for creating a cure to the mutate formula. He had a team of burglars and computer hackers break into Sevarius' own home and photograph or download the notes on just about every project Sevarius was involved in since he first started working for Xanatos; evidently, Sevarius is in the habit of making duplicate records of everything he does. I dunno whether it's for his own efforts at posterity or for potential blackmail material or whatever, but anyway, it worked to our advantage that time. And it may do so again, because the hack-and-grab happened about a month after you captured Demona and imprisoned her in the Labyrinth, and she somehow collected those cell samples from all of us to make the clones. If Sevarius was involved in making the clones, and I'd almost bet my badge that he was, then there were probably some notes on the cloning process in all the data. Including information on those cell samples…"
Elisa and Angela went together to ask Xanatos about the data, while Goliath joined Brooklyn and Lexington in the kitchen. While smearing mayonnaise on slices of bread, Brooklyn glanced out the window and muttered quietly, "I wonder what that would-be assassin told his buddies, to make the Quarryman helicopter just leave like that? I know we scared him pretty bad, but enough to make the whole pack just cut and run?"
"It may not really be gone for good," Goliath cautioned him. "It may have developed, ah, engine trouble of some sort, and had to leave before the replacement helicopter was ready to fly in and take its place."
"Yeah, but it's been… over an hour, now, since that one left," Lexington said as he glanced at the wall clock. "That's plenty of time to fuel a helicopter and do preflight checks; I've watched the mechanics on the helipad down below us do it in only half that time."
"Maybe they were counting on us being so outraged over what had happened to Broadway that we'd just jump out and attack them head-on," Brooklyn suggested. "And when it became obvious that we weren't going to do that… and maybe they heard some news reports, too, that we were out and about last night despite their doing a Maypole dance around the castle all night long. I realize it's usually a mistake to assign common sense to thugs like them, but maybe they figured, if the plan isn't working, why waste any more fuel on it?"
Goliath sighed. "Maybe… but I have a feeling that despite their abrupt departure, this isn't over yet." And the three continued putting sandwiches together in a soberly thoughtful silence.
Angela and Elisa learned that Xanatos was in his office, just finishing up the impromptu job interview with Dr. Lacey. "Well, we got a doctor now, even if her bedside manner sucks," Talon said to his sister as he came through the door with a gusty sigh. "Nurse Martin and I are going to take Hollywood home in the same truck we came here in; he's in no shape to glide after donating so much blood."
"Stop by the kitchen first, and grab some sandwiches for yourself and him," Elisa advised him. "By now you've probably missed dinnertime in the Labyrinth."
"Will do. See you later, Sis."
Dr. Lacey came out a few moments later, with a determined stride but a triumphant air, presumably at having landed a job working with two species previously unknown in veterinary medical circles. Angela shrank back and said nothing until she was around the corner and out of sight, and Elisa looked at her sympathetically. "If I'm any judge of character and behavior, she's already just about forgiven you for punching her out… but she's going to make you pay for it anyway, with physical exams and studies. Better brace yourself for a lot of poking, prodding and embarrassing questions."
"Oh, wonderful," Angela moaned as her wings drooped. Then she put on a weak smile and said, "But I suppose I owe her even more than that, after she worked so hard to save Broadway's life and wing."
"Just be sure you get a lollipop afterwards… Never mind, I'll explain later. Hey, Xanatos," Elisa said as she poked her head in the door, "got a question for you…"
As it turned out, after Xanatos had heard Hudson's declaration he, too, had filed it away in his mind for further investigation once the crisis was over. And once he heard Elisa's suggestion that the answer might be in the notes stolen from Sevarius' home, he turned on his computer terminal and started pulling up files. "I've never taken the time to read through these myself," he confided in the ladies as he began conducting a file search. "My strong suit is more in business than science… but if Sevarius had already noticed the resemblance in genetic markers by the time we did our hack-n-grab, he'd have been sure to mention it in the files somewhere. So we're looking for the words 'father' or 'sire', in any context…" But when no files came up with those key words, Xanatos sighed. "Nope, not that easy. But he does have notes on cell samples here, and if anyone can decipher and compare the genetic markers, Dr. Morgenstern can."
"He's the one who developed the mutate cure," Elisa reminded Angela. Then she glanced at the clock and mused, "It's almost nine o'clock now; he's probably gone home for the day."
"For as much as I pay him, he shouldn't balk at a little overtime work," Xanatos said with his customary arrogance as he flipped open his personal organizer, found a phone number and started dialing. "And if the night watchman at the lab doesn't have the chief scientist's home phone number handy in case of emergencies, then he should be fired for incompetence… This is Mr. Xanatos. Yes, the David Xanatos. And I want you to connect me to the home phone for Dr. Horace Morgenstern…"
Only a couple of minutes later they had a yawning Dr. Morgenstern on the line, and less than five minutes after that Xanatos was e-mailing a few of Sevarius' files to Morgenstern's home computer. "Give me (yawn) another twenty minutes at the most, sir, and I'll be able to tell you whether the information is in these files or not," Morgenstern said over the speakerphone. "If not, then I could run the necessary tests myself, if the two gargoyles will donate cell samples… Shall I call you back, sir?"
"You do that, Doctor; I'll be right here waiting," Xanatos said before hanging up. He looked up at Elisa and Angela, still waiting, and said, "I've got some paperwork to do while waiting, but there's no need for you two to hang around; once I have the information, I'll come find you. And if one of you happens to wander in the direction of the kitchen, remind them that a few sandwiches sent in this direction would not be amiss."
Elisa and Angela both went to the kitchen and helped the others put together sandwiches for all the castle residents, as well as a sack of sandwiches for the people who would be departing for the Labyrinth. And ten minutes later, Angela started to carry a tray of sandwiches out to Xanatos' office but instead met him at the doorway to the kitchen.
Xanatos was carrying a small box in his hands, and he thanked Angela for the tray, but told her to leave it with the other sandwiches; Dr. Morgenstern had called back even sooner than his own expectations. Elisa looked at him expectantly as she said, "Well?"
Xanatos just smirked at her as he opened the box and showed her the contents; a set of fine Cuban cigars. Elisa understood immediately, and grinned widely, but everyone else in the kitchen just looked confused. Brooklyn asked for them all, "Well, what?"
"You'll find out in a moment; let's finish making these sandwiches and take a batch to the recovery room," Elisa said with a smile. She knew that Hudson should be the first to hear the confirmation.
A few minutes later everyone trooped back to the recovery room, with a tray of sandwiches for Broadway and Hudson and the large carryout sack of sandwiches for Hollywood, Talon and Nurse Martin. When they arrived, Nurse Beach informed them that Hudson had just woken up, and would probably welcome a few of the sandwiches they had on the tray, but she looked almost as puzzled as the gargoyles at the box of cigars in Xanatos' hands… but only for a moment, before her eyes lit up in a smile. She said, "As long as you don't actually light those, you can come on in… but quietly; Broadway's still unconscious."
"Ah, lads… do I smell ham?" Hudson said faintly as he lay on the bed, face-up now, and struggling to sit up. Many of the gargoyles and humans in the room had to suppress gasps at the sight of him, gasps of dismay; now that they could see his face, Hudson looked old. It was as if the nurses had drained away most of his vitality along with that quart-and-a-half of blood, and he had aged another twenty years in the span of a few hours. But his blind eye was towards them, and they managed to wipe the looks of dismay off their faces by the time he managed to sit up with the nurses' help and turned to face them.
"You sure do," Nurse Beach said with deliberate cheerfulness. "And a hearty meal and a good day's stone sleep will have you back to your old self, right as rain!" Elisa had the impression that she was saying that as much for the clan's benefit as for Hudson's.
That was Brooklyn's cue to step forward with the tray of sandwiches and offer Hudson a ham-on-rye, while Lexington opened the carryout sack and offered Hollywood and Talon each a sandwich (Beef on rye for Hollywood, and tuna on whole wheat for Talon.) And after the first set of sandwiches was quickly devoured, Xanatos stepped forward with his box of cigars. He proffered one to Hudson with his usual smirk as he said, "By the way, Hudson, congratulations; it's official. Dr. Morgenstern checked the DNA markers, and he confirmed it; you're Broadway's father."
"So it's definite, then?" Hudson slowly nodded his head, as a little color came back into his cheeks. "Well, 'tis nice to be sure about it." He eyed the cigar in his hand with a small, tired smile as he went on, "An' I've seen this human custom on the television, in those funny 'sitcoms'; new fathers havin' cigars and sharing them with their friends. Well, I thank ye kindly, Xanatos… But right now I believe I'd be even more thankful for another one of those sandwiches," as he looked hopefully at the tray.
Brooklyn offered another sandwich with a grin splitting his beak, and Goliath looked on approvingly, but Elisa, Xanatos, Talon and Angela all looked at Hudson with a measure of bewilderment. They had expected at least a little more reaction over having his guess confirmed… But then Xanatos said, half to himself, "Well, if he's always suspected it then it's not really news. And he's had a big night already…"
Hollywood, having recovered a little quicker than Hudson despite having donated more blood, curiously reached out one of his long arms and plucked a cigar from the still-open box. And at Talon's sharp "Hollywood!" he guiltily closed his fist, crushing the cigar somewhat. Talon scolded him, "What did we say about taking things without asking?"
"Sorry," Hollywood mumbled, his tusked head drooping. He guiltily offered the mangled cigar back to Xanatos, but the man just gave him a wry smile and told him it was okay, that he could have that one.
Talon's felinoid mouth twitched on one side in an equally wry smile. "Well, it'll make for an interesting souvenir of this night. Now tell the man thank you, Holly—no, don't eat it!"
Talon, Hollywood and Nurse Martin all left for the Labyrinth a little while later… after Hollywood had washed the taste of cigar out of his mouth with another quart of orange juice. Nurse Beach stayed behind to continue monitoring Broadway's vital signs, promising to alert Dr. Lacey, now ensconced in a guest room in the castle, if there was any change for the worse. After finishing off his stack of sandwiches, Hudson agreed to take it easy for the rest of the night and went slowly to the clan's living room, where he fell asleep in his favorite easy chair in front of the TV. Bronx, happy now that his favorite companion was back in his proper spot, settled comfortably on his usual cushion next to the chair.
The rest of the clan went up to the roof after dinner, to talk about what was to be done next. "I realize that all of you would rather stay here and wait for Broadway to wake up," Goliath said gravely, "but as I understand you told everyone last night, Brooklyn, the patrols must go on, to show the Quarrymen that they cannot win. Brooklyn, you and Angela will take the first patrol; Lexington and I will take the next. But we will take only patrol routes A and D, the shortest routes, and patrollers will check in with the castle twice as often as before; I do not believe the Quarrymen are done with us yet. Alert the castle and go to full evasive maneuvers if you encounter any helicopter, whether or not it's painted in Quarrymen colors; I would not put it past them to pilot an unmarked one against us, as their assassin came today wearing no uniform." After the other three gargoyles chorused agreement, Goliath turned to Elisa with a regretful look. "My love, I am sorry that our 'honeymoon' must be cut short, but duty to the clan must come first."
"It's all right, Big Guy," Elisa said with a sad smile, as she reached for his hands and held them. "I'd figured as much, from the moment I got the phone call this afternoon. Hey, at least we had two nights together; you told me yourself that's more than anyone in the old clan ever got."
Brooklyn coughed politely for attention. "Uh, Goliath, I could, y'know, do a double patrol tonight; I'm in pretty good shape, but some extra exercise couldn't hurt…"
Goliath smiled but shook his head. "Thank you for the offer, Brooklyn… but a double patrol would leave you in poor shape for a possible Quarryman attack by second patrol's end. And as Elisa pointed out, we have already been blessed with more time together and alone than most gargoyle mates have ever had, outside of a breeding season." And he looked down at Elisa with the beginnings of a wicked grin teasing at the edge of his mouth and sparkling in his eyes as he added, "And as more time alone and together will be needed in the near future…"
Elisa blushed bright red, as they were all reminded of how Goliath reacted to her human menstrual cycle's fertile periods. Hers was due next week, and during those three days, Goliath would be as randy as a stud bull for as long as she was close enough for her pheromones to affect him. They had already agreed that since the first day of her (thankfully quite regular and predictable) fertile period fell on one of her work nights, for that first night she and Goliath would stay far apart, only talking to each other on their communicators. But the next two nights were her scheduled nights off, and for those nights…! Goliath would leave Brooklyn to run the clan in his absence, Elisa would stock up on her vitamins, and the two of them would have a second honeymoon's worth of nearly nonstop sex from dusk to dawn.
But of course, nobody on the rooftop said that aloud, to spare poor blushing Elisa. Instead, Angela just smiled knowingly, Lexington suppressed a snicker, and Brooklyn studied the stars overhead as he said carefully, "Ah, yes, that is something to consider. Well, time's a-wasting; I'll pop inside and get the communicators," as he went back inside.
Angela followed Brooklyn in with a murmur that she'd like to check on Broadway one last time before leaving on patrol, and Lexington disappeared with a few words about checking his e-mail. Which left Goliath and Elisa alone on the rooftop, holding hands and gazing in each other's eyes. Elisa shivered a little from the cold wind trying to cut through her bomber jacket and jeans, and Goliath brought his wings forward and swept her into his embrace. Wrapped in his warmth and love, Elisa leaned her cheek against his broad chest and said softly, "Just be careful on patrol tonight, okay, Big Guy?"
"Always, my Elisa. I will always return to you," Goliath vowed softly but fervently. "You and I are one, now and forever..."
Brooklyn and Angela went on their patrol, and it was a surprisingly quiet and uneventful one, even for being their shortest standard patrol route. They didn't even see a single mugging in progress, let alone any Quarrymen or harassing helicopters. "It's almost too quiet," Brooklyn said, as they banked and turned together to begin the last leg of the route. "I keep feeling like something else is about to happen… waiting for the other shoe to drop."
"Me, too," Angela murmured, warily scanning behind them.
"Then again, maybe it's because I almost want something to happen," Brooklyn mused aloud. "After everything we've been through since sunset, punching out a few crooks would be oh-so-cathartic."
Angela looked off to the south and east, to an area over ten blocks off their patrol route. When they'd first begun their patrol, they'd noticed that there appeared to be a fire in progress not far from the eastern docks, but after Goliath's admonishment about approaching helicopters they'd decided not to divert from patrol to investigate it. It may have been that the helicopters hovering near that spot were simply news crews, but after what had happened in the last 24 hours they decided not to risk the possibility that one of them was carrying Quarrymen. But now, nearly two hours later the helicopters were no longer hovering there, and Angela asked, "Did you want to go check out that fire now?"
They spiraled higher on a handy updraft to get a better view, and Brooklyn eyed the area for a few seconds before shaking his head. "No need, probably. There's almost no fire-glow left to see, and the smoke has diminished a lot, too; the firemen are probably pretty close to extinguishing it entirely. Look, there are even fewer lights from fire trucks now than there were earlier; they've sent the extra fire crews home, which means the remaining ones have it well in hand. C'mon, let's finish the route and head for home," as he slipped out of the updraft and began gliding down to standard patrolling altitude.
Angela followed him down, with a half-hopeful, half-afraid, "Do you think Broadway will have woken up by the time we get back?"
"Maybe… we'll find out when we get there. In the meantime… Yoo-hoo, muggers! Come on out and get your beating… Hey, we'll give you a two-for-one special!" Brooklyn jokingly called down to the empty streets, and was rewarded with Angela's giggle.
And the two of them never saw the dark winged form gliding through the air five blocks to the west of their route, heading in the opposite direction.
(Manhattan is a pretty big city, after all.)
They finally encountered a mugging in progress only two blocks before the end of their route, so Brooklyn was able to get a little of the cathartic exercise he'd wanted. They reached the castle in better spirits than when they'd left, but were disappointed to find out that Broadway hadn't woken up yet. But while they were still debriefing with Goliath and Lexington and handing over the communicators, Elisa came trotting out with a big grin on her face and the words they'd been waiting to hear: "He's awake!"
Patrol matters were set aside for the moment, as all five of them hurried inside. Bronx perked up his ears and got up from his cushion when they passed through the living room, though Hudson didn't skip a beat in his snoring. "Let him sleep for now," Goliath whispered to the others as they continued on, now with Bronx at their heels.
They reached the recovery room to find Broadway still lying on his stomach, but propped up with the aid of a dozen pillows strategically placed under his chest, hips and shoulders so he could turn his head with ease and use his arms. He was slowly but determinedly eating one of the sandwiches they'd made for him and left on a covered tray, while Nurse Beach hovered about and cautioned him about eating so soon after surgery. "General anesthesia slows down all your systems, including your digestive system; most people are nauseous or have extremely queasy stomachs for several hours after they wake up…" Broadway nodded to show he understood, but he didn't stop eating his sandwich; evidently, either gargoyles weren't affected in quite the same way or his hunger was overwhelming any lingering nausea.
"Hey, Bro! How ya doing?" Lexington and Brooklyn greeted him enthusiastically, all but swarming onto the bed with him, and Angela and Bronx weren't far behind.
"Guyf!" Broadway said through a mouthful of sandwich, his eyes lighting up. He started struggling to get up, but Nurse Beach, diminutive as she was, held him down to the bed with a fierce, "You are not getting up right now! You've lost a lot of blood, and we weren't able to replace all of it; if you got dizzy from blood loss and fell over, you'd probably hurt yourself even worse!"
"She's right, bro," Brooklyn told him as they backed off slightly out of deference to her authority. "You just stay horizontal tonight, and we'll bring you everything you need, promise! Heck, we'll even move the TV in here if you want."
Angela agreed, holding onto one of Broadway's hands with both of hers as well as wrapping her tail around his wrist. "Anything you want at all, dear Broadway… It's so good to see you awake again! You had us all so scared…" Bronx agreed, whining as he stood on his hind legs and licked everything he could reach.
"No kidding! If I had a mane, it's be as white as Brooklyn's by now," Lexington chimed in, hopping up onto a stool next to the bed.
"How're you feeling, partner?" Elisa asked him with a smile, laying a hand on one of his hefty biceps.
"Lousy… My wings feel like I had an argument with a tornado, and lost," Broadway groaned.
"But there is hope that your wing will survive intact, and you'll be able to glide again; perhaps as early as tomorrow night," Goliath assured him. "A thousand years ago, there would have been no such hope at all."
"Another good reason to be glad you're here and now instead of there and then," Brooklyn nodded, adding with a teasing grin splitting his beak, "Besides the improved menu, of course… Pizza, popcorn, ice cream, et cetera..."
They joked with him nearly as often as they expressed how glad they were that he was still with them, until Broadway was almost blushing from all the attention. Finally, Nurse Beach stepped in again with a not-so-subtle hint that it was getting a bit too crowded in the room. Goliath took the hint, and took himself and Elisa outside, with a beckoning finger to the watchbeast. "Come along, Bronx… Lexington, we'll delay the next patrol for a half-hour, but no more than that."
"Half an hour, tops," Lex agreed with a respectful nod.
"And if he tires before that, I expect you to leave and let him rest," Nurse Beach said as she also prepared to leave, smothering a yawn with her hand. "Broadway, since we don't have call buttons yet, pick up that walkie-talkie next to you if you need me; the other unit is in my room for the night. And don't wear yourself out by talking too long with your friends…"
"The first time he yawns, we're out of here," Brooklyn promised with his hand over his heart, before snagging a stool with his tail and sitting on it. And Broadway nodded his agreement as well, with his mouth already full of his second sandwich.
While finishing off his sandwich, as Brooklyn and Lexington made joking comments about what they should write on his cast, Broadway kept glancing around the room and his brow grew more and more furrowed. Angela asked concernedly, "What is it, Broadway?"
Broadway swallowed the last bite and said, "Uh, not that I need the extra attention, but… where's Hudson?"
"He's asleep in front of the TV in the living room," Brooklyn told him reassuringly. "Tonight really took a lot out of him, but he'll be fine by tomorrow, don't worry."
"He helped to save your life, bro'," Lexington chimed in, "so we're letting him snooze the night away."
"He did? How?" Broadway asked.
"He and Hollywood donated blood for you, to replace some of what you lost," Angela told him. Then she gave a wry smile. "At least that's one good thing to come out of this awful night…"
"Oh hey, right, we forgot to tell you," Brooklyn said with a small start. "The helicopters are gone now…"
"That's not what I meant," Angela corrected him, before turning back to Broadway. "I'm talking about what we found out tonight…" After a pause for dramatic effect, she said warmly, "Broadway… Hudson is your father!"
"Yeah, that's why he donated blood for you, instead of us," Lexington chimed in. "Besides Hollywood, his was the only blood that they were pretty sure would be compatible with yours."
"He's my father?" Broadway stared at them wide-eyed.
"Yep; Xanatos said some of Sevarius' genetics notes confirmed it. And it's a good thing he is, 'cause you really needed a lot of blood, pal," Brooklyn told him, before turning to Lexington with an aside. "Remind me later to ask Xanatos about doing blood type checks on all of us, okay? Because with humans even non-relatives can have the same blood type, and we should find out if you and I are compatible with anybody besides our clones before the next emergency." Lexington nodded his assent.
Broadway, meanwhile, stared off into space for a few moments, murmuring, "My father. Hmp. How about that…" Then he shrugged with one shoulder, and after another second or two gave the others a hopeful look. "Uh, say, are there any more sandwiches left?"
"That's it? That's all you're going to say!" Angela demanded, looking positively scandalized. " 'He's my father, how about that, are there any sandwiches left?' Broadway, can't you think of anything besides your stomach?"
But it was Brooklyn and Lexington who answered her, jumping up angrily in Broadway's defense. "Of course he can; he's just got his priorities straight, and right now he needs the food, for energy to heal!" Brooklyn retorted as he stepped between Angela and the hospital bed, standing tall with his wings flaring halfway out.
"And he's going to get it, too!" Lexington said as he turned and headed for the door. "Three more triple-decker, everything-on-them sandwiches coming right up, bro'!" But he paused in the doorway and looked back at Angela, his tail lashing and his eyes faintly glowing as he said accusingly, "I can't believe you're picking now to harp at him about that stupid diet you put him on…"
Angela looked taken aback, almost shaken. "I… that's not what I meant!" she protested, but by then Lexington had already scampered out the door. She turned to Broadway appealingly, straightening her legs to full extension (gargoyles are always on tiptoe already) so she could look at him over Brooklyn's still-open wings. "Broadway, dear, that's not what I meant! I just… Aren't you excited, even a little, over the news? Hudson is your father!"
Brooklyn pulled in his wings and stepped aside, no longer blocking Angela from Broadway, but he turned and gave Broadway a roll of his eyes, which Broadway subtly returned. Then he turned to Angela and said with exaggerated patience, "And what, exactly, do you expect him to do about it?"
Broadway very cautiously rolled slightly onto his side, to face Angela better as he said, "Angela, I know it was a really big deal for you to meet your father, Goliath… But things are a little different for me. I've already known Hudson, all my life; he was the clan leader when I was hatched."
"And he's always known he had a father somewhere in the clan, just like I did," Brooklyn put in, adding with a shrug, "We didn't hatch from turnips, y'know… But it never really mattered to us exactly who our biological parents were, or are. We had rookery fathers and mothers, and they were all the parents that any hatchling could ever need!"
Broadway nodded vigorously in agreement. "Yeah! The rookery keepers played with us and taught us how to talk and glide, and all that parenting stuff… and when we left the rookery to make room for the next set of eggs, the rest of the clan taught us everything else. And now that I think about it, Hudson did give me a little special attention, once he stepped down from being clan leader and let Goliath take over; he gave all of my rookery kin tracking lessons, but I was his best pupil…"
"That's 'cause you could smell food from farther away than any of us," Brooklyn said to him with a teasing grin, and Broadway grinned back at the brotherly banter.
Angela stared at them both, then said in a subdued voice, "I… I'm going to go help Lexington with the sandwiches." She walked quietly out of the room, her eyes troubled and her tail dragging.
Broadway and Brooklyn both watched her leave, then turned and shrugged at each other. Brooklyn sat back down on his stool as he said, "Hey, did you want to hear what happened to the nutjob who tried to kill you? Xanatos had him disarmed and thrown into a dungeon by the time we woke up, and we decided it wouldn't be right to just toss him over the battlements in cold blood, or…"
Lexington came hurrying back with the sandwiches and a quart-sized glass of milk a few minutes later. Broadway ate the first one with an appetite close to his usual gusto, but he slowed down and began fluttering his eyes while eating the next one, and Brooklyn told him kindly to drink his milk and go back to sleep. The brothers assured him that the sandwiches would still be there, with a couple more added, when he woke back up. Broadway gave them a tired and grateful smile as they helpfully pulled a few pillows out from under him so he could lay down all the way, and was snoring only seconds after they went out the door.
Lexington grabbed his communicator and went to find Goliath and go on patrol. Brooklyn decided to go to the kitchen and see about making another sandwich for himself, assuming there was any bread left in the castle after the stacks they had already made. Elisa had said earlier that while Goliath was on patrol, she would make a run to the nearest grocery store and buy more bread and lunchmeat, since no one else in the castle had Broadway's talent for cooking mass quantities of food; she'd smiled wryly at the thought of restocking the Xanatos family's pantries, but had to admit that tonight was a special occasion.
When he got to the kitchen, he saw Angela there, sitting at a table with a cup of hot chocolate held in her talons and staring off into space with a troubled expression. He hesitated, then shrugged and went on in. He walked past her with a casual "Hey," to which she did not respond, and set about making himself a sandwich with the last two crusts of bread left in the pantry.
He'd just about finished making the sandwich when Angela said abruptly, "Brooklyn, do you… never mind."
"Do I what?" as he turned to her.
"It's not important," she said as she waved him away.
"C'mon, Angela, if it's bothering you like this, it must be important to you, at least," as he sat down on a stool opposite from her, sandwich in hand. "And, uh, if this is about the way Lex and I jumped on you a little while ago… Well, you know how rookery kin look out for each other, and with Broadway's injury we're just feeling a little extra-protective of him right now, that's all."
Angela nodded and gave him a weak smile as she said, "Okay." But she still looked pensive, and Brooklyn finally just shrugged and began eating his sandwich. Then she abruptly blurted out, "Do you think I'm weird?"
Brooklyn choked on his sandwich, and ended up sputtering and coughing with his head between his knees, waving away Angela before she could give him a few concerned thumps on the back. When he finally sat up, his eyes watering, he croaked, "For Dragon's sake, what made you say that?"
"Well…" Angela studied her hot chocolate. "When you both looked at me like that, for thinking that way about Hudson being Broadway's father. I… I don't think about some things the way the rest of you think about them."
"Oh." Brooklyn's mind raced, as he took another bite of his sandwich to stall for time before replying. The fact was, he had been a little freaked out at first about the way Angela and Goliath acted towards each other. In fact, Brooklyn remembered well what he'd been thinking, when he saw how Goliath looked at Angela with pride and love in his eyes just before introducing her: he'd thought that the gorgeous lavender-skinned female had somehow supplanted Elisa's place in the clan leader's heart and become Goliath's mate! And when he'd realized a few instants later that his first supposition was wrong, the strangeness of Goliath claiming a daughter who called him 'Father' in return, was mostly shoved aside by the sheer delight in having an available female in the clan. So what if she was a little weird; she was gorgeous and she was unmated! And he was pretty sure that both his rookery brothers had felt the same way, about her beauty, availability… and that odd personal quirk. But now, nearly six months later, he'd just accepted it as the way she was, just like Lexington's fascination with technology... Which gave him an idea of how to answer her.
He swallowed and told her, "So you don't think the same way I do on some things… Neither does Lexington. Or Broadway, for that matter. We all have different priorities… after the clan itself, that is. I mean, take Lexington; he loves computers and technology, and ever since we moved back into the castle and Xanatos gave him that computer setup, he spends nearly every spare moment conquering cyberspace. Is he weird? I know some humans would label him a 'cyber-geek', but that's because humans gotta label everything and everyone. To us, that's just the way he is."
Angela still peered at her hot cocoa instead of meeting his eyes as she echoed, " 'Humans have to label everything'… and I was raised by humans."
A tiny voice inside Brooklyn's head started hollering, Danger! Thin Ice Ahead! He knew he had to tread very carefully indeed… Even if right now Angela herself found fault with the humans who raised her, if he even so much as agreed with her on some points, when she came out of her funk she'd probably hold it against him later. So instead he said carefully, "But they did the best they could to raise you… and all things considered, with only three adults to mind thirty-six hatchlings, they did a pretty darn good job of it. I'm willing to bet that there's not a gargoyle clan in the world that wouldn't accept you in a New York minute. But I'm awfully glad you chose this one," he said as he patted her arm with a warm smile.
Just then, his conscience spoke up, sounding remarkably prissy. Excuse me? Are you trying to flirt, here? Did you maybe think you'd try again to coax her away from your rookery brother, while he's lying in a hospital bed only a few rooms away? How much of an utter cad did you want to be tonight?
Brooklyn's smile weakened, and he cleared his throat while blushing slightly. "So, uh, I hope that answers your question. I'm going to take Bronx down to Central Park for some exercise; see you in a couple hours, okay?"
Goliath and Lexington came back reporting that they had enjoyed an equally quiet patrol, with almost no activity at all to speak of. Then he and Elisa sequestered themselves in the castle library, while Lexington checked his e-mail and visited a few of his favorite chat rooms. When Brooklyn came back with Bronx, he and Lexington engaged Angela in a three-way game of Scrabble, after agreeing that this time they would use only Modern English words instead of Latin, Gaelic or Old English variants. (They always had to make that provision when either Broadway or Hudson was playing, as those two had only started reading in the modern age, though when Goliath was playing virtually anything went. But tonight they chose to limit themselves again, to have Broadway playing with them in spirit.)
They were in the midst of a somewhat loud but friendly argument over Lexington's use of the word "newbie" when Hudson woke up in his easy chair, alerted by the noise. He grumbled a bit as he glanced over at the corner that the game table was set up in, but none of the others noticed him, being too busy flipping through a foot-thick edition of Webster's Unabridged Dictionary and arguing whether a non-acronym term used widely on the Internet was valid, even if it wasn't in the dictionary. Then he shrugged, and smiled down at Bronx, who had stirred and was lifting his head in hopes of a friendly pat. Hudson whispered down at him, "C'mon, lad; let's go check on Broadway." Moving slowly, with faithful Bronx at his side, he left the hall and went to the recovery room.
The door to this formerly empty room had seen more use tonight than in the last three years, but it still creaked on its hinges when he opened it, and Broadway stirred at the noise. "Ach, sorry, lad; didn't mean to wake ye," Hudson said apologetically.
"No, it's okay," Broadway said hurriedly as he struggled up onto his elbows, before Hudson and Bronx could back out again. "I wasn't sleeping too well anyway; this flesh-sleeping just isn't half as restful as stone sleep."
"Aye, you're right about that," Hudson agreed as he sat down on a stool near the bed. "There are plenty of times when I feel sorry for humans; particularly when Elisa complains about those 'telemarketers' waking her up before she's had enough rest."
"Yeah," Broadway agreed as he shifted his weight on his elbows, and winced as he did so.
Hudson noticed the wince, and said shrewdly, "Whatever painkillers they gave ye are wearing off, aren't they?"
"Yeah," Broadway agreed again, miserably. "Could you hand me that walkie-talkie there? Nurse Beach said I could call her if I needed anything…"
He called the nurse and apologized for waking her up, but explained that he could use some more painkillers. The nurse said it was perfectly okay for him to call her, and she'd be there in a few minutes. While they were waiting for her, Broadway suddenly said, "So, uh… Angela and the guys told me that you're my father."
"Aye, I am," as Hudson nodded agreeably.
"Did you always know that?"
Hudson shook his head. "Never even really thought about it until after Goliath brought Angela here to Manhattan, with her calling him 'father' all the time. An' even once I'd begun pondering, an' thinking about the resemblance between ye and me, and ye and my mate, even then I wasn't sure… not until a few hours ago, when Xanatos said he had proof from some of that modern science." He chuckled briefly as he added, "And tried to give me a cigar, as they do on the television…"
Broadway smiled briefly at that, then looked a little nervous. "So, uh, now that it's definite… should I call you 'Father' now?"
Hudson snorted. "In my life I've been called 'rookery brother,' 'Second,' 'Leader,' 'Mentor,' 'Elder' an' now 'Hudson;' I'm not needing another name or title. …But I suppose ye can call me that, if ye really want to."
Broadway scratched one of his ears. "I think I'd feel kind of funny if I did."
"So ye needn't bother; ye call me Hudson, an' I'll call ye Broadway, an' that'll be fine with both of us."
"Okay," Broadway said, looking a little relieved.
Nurse Beach came in just then, and she gave Broadway the painkillers that Dr. Lacey had recommended, with another admonition to not let his visitor tire him out too much; he still had a few hours to go before dawn and stone sleep. "Boy, am I really looking forward to that this time," Broadway said emphatically as he winced again.
"Aye; a day of proper stone sleep will do you wonders, lad," Hudson said as he scratched Bronx's ears. "An' on top of the wonders of modern medicine… Why, I wouldn't be surprised to see you gliding right alongside your rookery brothers tomorrow night!"
"Actually, Dr. Lacey was most insistent that you not attempt any gliding at all until after she's examined you thoroughly," Nurse Beach said apologetically. "But once she has, I'm sure she'll agree to at least a short flight to start with, perhaps from the uppermost turret to the courtyard..."
Hudson looked offended. "An' who is she, to deny a gargoyle the sky?" he demanded.
"The doctor whose hard work kept him from being denied the sky forever," Nurse Beach said bluntly. Hudson had to allow that such gave her some authority, for the nonce.
After she left, Broadway gave Hudson a curious yet timid look. "Um, earlier you said something about me resembling your mate, too… but I was still just a hatchling when she died; I barely remember her. If it's okay to ask… what was she like?"
Hudson smiled as he settled more comfortably on his stool. " 'Tis actually good of you to ask, lad; after a few years, the pain of losing her lessened enough that it became sweet to remember her again, but for the last few years I've had almost no one to share the memories with. My mate's hide was the same color as yours; not quite blue nor yet green, but a lovely shade in between. An' her ears were like yours, though smaller, and they tapered a bit towards the tips; I always thought they were one of her loveliest features. She had the same row of ridges running aft on her head, as well, though most times ye could hardly see them through her mane; that was the prettiest shade of yellow ye could ever see. A human guardsman once told me that 'twas the color of the sun on a winter day, just after dawn…"
…but not really…
Will Broadway be able to glide again?
What really caused that helicopter to leave so abruptly?
And who else—or what else—was gliding through the skies of Manhattan unseen?
Find out in the next story: "Comings and Goings"
1. It's true; this popular children's rhyme is based on a truly horrifying time in European history. Check out the meaning of each phrase at www DOT scaryplace DOT com SLASH ringaround DOT htm. Many of the classic children's rhymes actually refer to a historic personage or event, but most of them aren't quite this gruesome…
2. Read your Bible, specifically Book of Joshua, chapter 2, to learn the tale of Rahab the prostitute, the nameless spies and the beginning of the fall of Jericho. Y'know, it's amazing when you stop and think about it; the Old Testament counts among its cast of characters spies, prostitutes, slavemasters and assassins, and most of those mentioned are on Israel's side and therefore, 'the good guys'…
3. Referring to that flyby that newly-hired Quarrymen Banquo and Fleance did at the start of "The Journey", for those of you who haven't memorized every detail of that episode.
4. The Bible again; Book of Judith, chapters 10 through 13.