This story is a sequel to an earlier Saint / BtVS / Angel crossover, Hyperion, and contains spoilers for it. In Saint chronology it's set immediately after the story The Gentle Ladies (set in Santa Barbara, in The Saint to the Rescue). For more information on the career of The Saint see the afterword to Hyperion.
"So," said a voice with an accent most Americans would describe as 'folksy', "what brings the infamous Saint to Santa Barbara?"
"You're well-informed," said Simon Templar, looking up from the newspaper he was reading. "Do I know you?"
"Richard Wilkins, call me Dick. I'm the mayor of Sunnydale, little town along the coast, have been since my father retired from the job. He founded the place at the end of the last century."
"Pleased to meet you," said Simon, offering a hand which Wilkins briefly shook. "What can I do for you?"
Wilkins took a small bottle from his pocket, poured some liquid onto his hand, then rubbed it with a paper tissue. He noticed Simon's stare and said "Did you know that a hundred thousand germs can be transferred by one handshake? I try to be hygienic. Can I offer you some rubbing alcohol?"
"No thanks, I'm trying to give it up. Now what can I do for you?"
"Trying to give it up. Darn, that's a good one!"
"Was there actually something you wanted, or should I shoot you and dump the body in the sea?"
Wilkins laughed good-naturedly and said "Okay, I guess I'd better explain then. I was here on a little business trip and someone mentioned you were staying at this hotel, and I thought it'd be grand to meet you and extend an invitation."
"Well, we're opening a new gymnasium and pool in our high school the day after tomorrow, and... to be honest, Gary Cooper was going to open it but he had to cancel and it's way too late to book any other movie star. So I was trying to think of an alternative when someone mentioned that you were here and it came to me. I've always been a big fan of yours, so it seemed an ideal chance to show my appreciation."
"You want me to open a building?"
"Heck, why not? Actually it'll be you, me, and the head of the school board, but that's the idea."
"Don't you think that your parents might object to the 'infamous Saint' opening it?"
"Now you're funning with me. Everyone knows you're a genuine hero, saved the King of England's life and got pardoned, took on the mob and won, caught Nazi spies in the war. Sure, you've been called a criminal. Heck, George Washington was called a criminal."
"George Washington didn't actually murder anyone. I have, on several occasions."
"Then it'll give all the ladies a thrill to meet you, won't it."
Simon shook his head and smiled. "I really can't see it, somehow."
"Oh, just think of the happy faces of the children when you make your speech."
"Heck yes, explaining how you rose from humble beginnings, put crime behind you, and became a hero, and that you attribute your success to your physical fitness. Something like that anyway. Sets a good example."
The Saint began to wonder if he was dreaming the conversation. Anything less like his life would be hard to imagine, especially the part about putting crime behind him. It was still earning him a very comfortable living. He was fit, of course, but that was about the only recognisable feature.
"There's an appearance fee, of course. We could run to maybe three hundred dollars for you, paid to you or the charity of your choice. Plus we'll provide a car and overnight hotel accommodation, naturally."
"How much did you offer Gary Cooper?" asked the Saint.
"Well, five hundred, his agents told us that was the minimum he'd accept."
The Saint didn't know whether to laugh or feel insulted. But some imp of the perverse inside him made him ask "And I'd get a completely free hand with my speech?"
"Shucks yes, provided you keep it down to ten minutes or so. I'm sure a man of your talents can come up with something wholesome and appropriate to the audience."
Common sense told the Saint to say 'no'. But he already knew that he was going to do it.
The Cadillac that Wilkins had sent was half-way to Sunnydale when Simon looked up from his book and realised that he wasn't alone. There was a man in a rumpled suit and a pork-pie hat sitting next to him, and he was certain that he hadn't been there a moment earlier, and the car was suddenly stationary, its driver frozen at the wheel. Outside a bird flying across the road was simply stopped in mid-air.
"What the hell?" said Simon. He reached forward and prodded the driver; his flesh was rock-hard. So was the upholstery of the car seat.
"Sorry if I've startled you," said the man in the pork-pie hat. "Needed to talk to you for a moment before you get to Sunnydale."
"Who are you, and how did you get here? And what's happened to the driver?"
"Well, you certainly know how to ask awkward questions. My name's Whistler, and I'm by way of being a demon. As to how I got here, and how I stopped time, that would be magic."
"You're a what?"
"A demon. Oh, I know what you're thinking, but I'm not one of your fiends from the pit, or anything like that, and I'm not after your soul. In fact I'm one of the good guys. More or less." He took off his hat and mopped his forehead with a paper handkerchief.
"Actually I was thinking that either I'm crazy or you are."
"What I am is a balancing demon. We try to maintain the balance between good and evil, stop either from getting too powerful." He paused and seemed to expect a question, so the Saint asked "Why?"
"Simple; either side gets to be too powerful, the other side pulls out its big guns. Plagues, rains of fire, earthquakes, whatever seems to be needed to bring down the opposition. And when that happens people get hurt. A total victory for either side would be a disaster for most of the world, maybe a small minority would benefit but it'd be over the dead bodies of most of the human race and the other beings that live here. No, things go best when there's a balance between good and evil, neither side so powerful or so all-pervasive that the other feels threatened. In practice that means we spend most of our time helping the forces of Good, because Evil gets by pretty well without us."
"Assuming for the moment I believed you, what does that have to do with me?"
"Oh, you'll believe me. Remember the Hyperion Hotel, 1941?"
The Saint hesitated for a moment, then said "I was there, but I'm not sure what happened, I think I hit my head."
"No you didn't." Whistler raised his hand and touched the Saint's forehead, and he blinked and said "Vampires?" as he suddenly remembered.
"That's right, two of the worse. They took away your memory, some can do that when they don't want to kill you. Of course they usually just kill you."
"All right, vampires exist. What does that have to do with me, or Sunnydale?"
"I'm glad you picked up on that. Sunnydale is an odd place. We're pretty sure there's gonna be a major confrontation between the forces of Good and Evil there towards the end of this century, beginning of the next. At the moment it's kinda simmering, Evil slowly building up its strength for a big push that's gonna take a long time coming. The forces of Good... Well, most of the main players haven't been born yet. Neither have most of their parents."
"If you can predict it can't you stop it from happening?"
"Nope. Wouldn't if we could, because in the long term the results are gonna be a big help to Good. We're just not sure exactly how yet."
"Are you always this cryptic?"
"Nope, sometimes I'm downright obscure. Look, prophecy isn't an exact business. We think we know how things'll go down in ninety-seven, beyond that things are unclear. What we think will happen then is that a champion of Good is killed and her boyfriend takes her place, becomes a much more powerful warrior."
"Yeah. Some of the best warriors for Good are women. This one's sixteen when she dies. Cute kid too, it's a shame."
"'Fraid so. But she dies well, and her boyfriend makes sure that the bastard that does it get what's coming to him. Then around oh-three or oh-four there is a huge benefit to the forces of Good coming out of it, worldwide, far beyond anything that'd be gained by stopping the Evil now. The details of that are really unclear, all we're certain of is that the girl has to die first."
"Why tell me all this?"
"I was coming to that. Like I said, right now most of the players aren't born, most of the exceptions aren't human. One that is born and is human is Mayor Wilkins. He's gonna be around for a long while, and he's gonna have an enormous influence on events. If he lives through the next couple of days."
"Why shouldn't he?"
"Damned if I know. You think I get given details? All I know is that I was told to get down here and clue you in on the situation, leave the rest up to you. Oh, and I should mention that if Wilkins dies the girl still dies in 'ninety-seven, but there are no positive effects. She dies, and things go to hell in a handbasket."
"So whatever I do the girl is killed?
"That's it. Look, I've gotta go, places to see and people to confuse. Be seeing you..." Whistler dropped the paper handkerchief to the floor; the Saint glanced down, when he looked up again Whistler had vanished, the car was moving again, the bird was flying across the road, and the driver wasn't frozen. There was nothing to show that Whistler had been there except the crumpled paper handkerchief on the floor.
Simon sat back in his seat and spent the rest of the ride thinking, mostly wondering what Whistler hadn't told him.
They reached Sunnydale in the early afternoon and the driver dropped Simon at his hotel. The Sunnydale Arms was on the edge of Sunnydale, given four stars by an organisation notable for its low standards. Simon was prepared to rate it a low three, adequately comfortable but hardly the lap of luxury. He unpacked, then went out to take a walk.
After half an hour the Saint had decided that Sunnydale wasn't going to loom large on his list of favourite cities. There was some old Spanish construction in the earliest parts of the city, late nineteenth century buildings around that, and modern offices, shops, factories and apartments further out, mostly in various stages of construction. The High School looked like any other school; workmen were erecting a speaker's stand outside one of the buildings, probably the one he was to open. He didn't go in to take a closer look. The name of Wilkins was everywhere; Wilkins Street, Wilkins Avenue, Wilkins Park, Wilkins Square, and a statue of Richard Wilkins, the founder of the town (if you ignored the Indians and Spanish colonists who'd been there first), wearing Victorian clothing but otherwise looking much like his son. Around the town were endless suburbs, mostly still being built. It was like a dozen other Californian cities, suddenly growing thanks to the post-war industrial boom and the arms race with Russia and no more memorable.
There was something about the place that made Simon uneasy. Maybe it was the revelation in the car and his sudden knowledge of vampires but he was uncomfortably aware of the number of cemeteries in the town, far more than seemed likely for its size. The hairs on his arms rose as he realised that he was keeping an eye on the time, trying to make sure that he got back to the hotel before sunset. Instead he went into a builder's supply yard and bought a small leather tool bag, a bundle of wooden surveying pegs, about a foot long and an inch thick with sharpened ends, and a mallet. He put one of the pegs into his sleeve next to Bella, his favourite throwing knife. The others stayed in the bag with the mallet as he set out towards a hill that overlooked the town; he wanted to watch the sun set and see if there seemed to be anything odd about the place after dark. The view from the hill might give him some sort of clue. He found an old bench and sat there, looking out as lights slowly came on.
"You know," said a sudden voice beside him, "this town is kinda dangerous after dark."
"Who... What the hell are you?" said Simon, as he turned to look at the inhuman figure sitting beside him, "Another demon?"
"That's right," said the leathery-scaly horned creature that sat next to him, peeling a banana. "Name's Skip. Pleased'ta meetcha." He held out a clawed hand, the Saint gingerly shook it.
"So, are you planning to confuse me too?"
"Met Whistler, didn't'ya."
"That's right. How did you guess?"
"Easy; look for a guy with the stink of balancing demon and a confused look, nine times out of ten he's met Whistler. Of course it helped that I knew who you were, your picture was in the Sunnydale Times this morning."
"Are you a balancing demon too?"
"Naah. I'm more into the violent punishment and unsettling truths department."
"Who is it you want to punish? Me?"
"You?" He laughed, and for a second Simon was deafened. "Nope. You're kinda on the side of the angels when everything's taken into account, keep on the way you've been going and the worse thing you've got to fear from the afterlife is boredom. More likely you'll be pretty happy."
"Who then? Wilkins?"
"Give the guy a kewpie doll. Mayor Richard Wilkins. Sold his soul a good few years ago, he's a good part of the reason this town is the cesspool it is. He's already eighty years old, he'll be well over a hundred when he finally gets it, if he isn't killed tomorrow."
"So if he dies tomorrow..?"
"Right now he's the main source of evil in these parts, without him this town becomes a happier place. And I get to stick it to him good."
"That's right now," said Simon, "what about the future? What about the girl Whistler mentioned?"
Skip shrugged. "I'm no prophet, but I can guarantee that the guys Whistler uses are as cryptic as he is. He doesn't really know much more than I do."
"That doesn't answer my question."
"It's all the answer I can give you. You want a lift back to your hotel?"
"You have a car?"
"I have magic."
"A carpet or something."
"Nope," said Skip, getting up. "Just walk with me."
Simon stood, and as he stepped towards Skip found himself in front of the hotel. "There ya go. Have a good night and tomorrow let the bastard die."
"What the hell?" said Simon, looking around. He was standing in a desert, somewhere warm, at night, in the distance he could see the light of a fire. He started towards it, and realised he was wearing his silk pyjamas and dressing gown. "Got to be a dream, I suppose."
Something was keeping pace with him in the night, moving with odd scuttling motions. Whatever it was, it was faster than him on the loose sand. He heard a whispering voice say "Death is your gift." Something darted towards him and for a fraction of a second he thought he saw a woman, a naked savage covered in patterns of mud and dye. Something flashed, a knife made of some sort of stone, and he looked down to see a long shallow gash on his wrist and the back of his hand. Ahead the fire was bright, and there was someone standing in front of it, poking it with a stick. A woman, he thought. As he got closer he saw that she was short, blonde, and beautiful, in her late teens or early twenties. She was wearing a leather jacket over a white blouse and cream slacks. There was a marshmallow on the end of the stick.
"Death is your gift," said the voice from the darkness.
"You told me already," said the blonde, whirling her stick in a circle of flame. The savage seemed to back away, leaving Simon a few feet from the girl.
"Where are we?" asked Simon. The girl held the stick towards him and said "Monkey brain?" A burning marshmallow bubbled at the end.
"No thanks, a little too sweet for me."
She led him a few steps from the fire and they were walking through a cave. There was a pool ahead, floating in it was a body. The same girl in a white dress, in her teens. "That's when I died," she said dismissively, and walked into the pool. As Simon followed a dark-haired man lifted the body from the water and began to sob over her corpse.
Simon felt compelled to follow her, down into the pool, down steps into a warehouse filled with struggling figures, humans and vampires. The same girl was in the fight, looking a little older, her face scarred and worn, striking out with superhuman speed, but it wasn't enough. As Simon watched a vampire sank his fangs into her neck and drained her.
"And there I go again," said the girl. "Come on."
She led him on through a bewildering montage of death, in which she was impaled on wooden beams and swords, drained by vampires, shot, stabbed and mauled, battered with hammers and thrown from a tall steel tower. Suddenly they were back in the cave with the pool.
"It's my destiny. They're all my destiny." Suddenly they were in the lobby of a hotel, Simon thought he recognised the Hyperion, where a slim brunette woman said "Can I say something about destiny? Screw destiny!" and vanished again. They were back by the pool.
The scene dissolved to a house, the girl talking angrily to an older woman; her mother? "...it doesn't stop! It never stops! Do-do you think I chose to be like this? Do you have any idea how lonely it is, how dangerous? I would love to be upstairs watching TV or gossiping about boys or... God, even studying! But I have to save the world... again."
"What happens if I kill him tomorrow?" asked the Saint, as the scene shifted back to the pool.
"The harvest will be late." Behind her a monstrous vampire, one he'd seen in several of the visions, drained her of blood and threw her into the pool. The scene shifted to a factory where bodies moved along a conveyor belt, drained of their blood by complex machines, then back to the cave. Again the black-haired man pulled the girl out of the water; this time someone else was with him, a boy who was saying something the Saint couldn't catch. The scene dissolved to the hill overlooking Sunnydale, this time in daylight. The town seemed to shake then sank into a rapidly-expanding crater, whose edge quickly engulfed the hill. As the ground began to shake the Saint said "How..." and woke abruptly, back in his bed. There was a painful red weal along his wrist and the back of his hand.
Simon eventually got back to sleep and didn't dream again.
"Rough night?" asked Mayor Wilkins as Simon climbed into his car. "You look a little tired."
"Yes, had a little trouble sleeping and hit my hand on something." He took the seat next to Wilkins and tried to detect any hint of the evil Skip had mentioned. There was nothing, the man seemed to radiate good cheer and concern, so much so that the Saint was suddenly sure that it was a front. He asked "What's the programme today?" as the car set off.
"We'll arrive at the school at ten-thirty then we tour the building for a half-hour or so with refreshments in the library at eleven. At eleven-thirty we go outside, the chairman of the School Board says a few words, then I introduce you, you make your speech, then all three of us cut the ribbon. Then lunch at City Hall, after that my driver will be at your disposal, you'll want to go back to the hotel then to Santa Barbara as we discussed?"
"Okay. Have you got your speech?"
"It's mostly notes I'm afraid, I'll be improvising a little as I go along."
"No harm in that provided we don't go too much over time, I have to be at a budget meeting at two-fifteen."
"Don't worry, I'll keep it brief."
"That's good. Nothing worse than a long speech on a warm day. If you'll excuse me for a moment, I need to take a look at some figures for the meeting."
They arrived at the school a few minutes later. Along the way the Saint had considered and rejected three relatively foolproof ways to kill Wilkins. He still had no proof that he was worse than any other politician and while he had little time for politicians as a species he'd never really felt any great desire to render them extinct.
"...and this is the water purification and chlorination plant," said Principal Baker, gesturing towards some large water pumps. "The pool holds 50,000 gallons, when it's in use we aim to pump all of that through the system once an hour or so. It's pumped down into settling and filtration tanks under the floor, then heated to eighty degrees and chlorinated before being returned to the pool. In all we have about 80,000 gallons in circulation."
"That's a lot of water," said Mayor Wilkins, walking over to take a closer look at one of the pumps, "and I guess a lot of electricity." He lurched sideways as the metal grille he was walking on suddenly gave way and vanished into the floor. Before anyone could react there was a loud splash.
"Are you all right?" shouted Principal Baker, peering into the dark hole.
The Saint listened, and heard panicky-sounded splashing. He asked "Can he swim?"
"I don't think so," said the chairman of the School Board. "Never seen him in the water."
"How deep is the water?"
"About eight feet in this tank," said Baker.
"Get some lights and a ladder," said Simon, taking off his jacket and lighting one of the special cigarettes from his case. He dropped it into the tank as the magnesian ignited, looked around rapidly to see the Mayor struggling in the water, ten feet below the grille, then jumped after him before the light failed.
The Saint landed feet-first, and swam back to the surface in seconds. There was enough light from above for him to see Wilkins, still struggling at one end of the tank, so he swam towards him and tried to help him to float. Wilkins was panicking badly, lashing out as he tried to stay above water, and somehow punched him hard enough to daze him. Simon began to sink, and for a second saw the pool from his dream again, the girl drowning in it, the dark-haired man lifting her from the water. He thought about leaving Wilkins to drown, then as he pulled himself together had a better idea. He dodged another blow, threw a punch of his own to knock Wilkins out, then did his best to keep him above water until help arrived.
"...In conclusion," said Simon, "I can honestly say that my career as a criminal would have been impossible if I hadn't been fit. Some people will tell you that fitness is an end in itself, but it can sometimes be extremely profitable. Before I was pardoned I made more than a million dollars from crime and murdered more than a dozen men, all of whom richly deserved it. One of the reasons I got away with it was good planning, but I would have been killed fifty times over if I hadn't been fit. Imagine trying to fight your way past half a dozen thugs, out-run some of Scotland Yard's finest flatfeet, or climb a twenty-foot wall with a pot belly. You know that you just couldn't do it." There was a polite ripple of applause.
"I'll end with an announcement. Earlier today there was nearly a tragic accident. Mayor Wilkins fell through a defective grating into a water tank and came close to drowning. Fortunately he was rescued. At my suggestion he is going to endow a new prize, to be awarded to all students who complete water safety and life-saving training at this school. I'm happy to say that I'll be making my own contribution to this fund. I hope that others here today will also add to it." There was louder applause and Mayor Wilkins, like Simon wearing a borrowed suit, rose to his feet.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, I'd just like to add one thing. Mister Templar was too modest to say who rescued me. I'm happy to remedy the omission. The new prize will be called the Templar Award for Lifesaving." There was thunderous applause. "And now let's get this building opened and get some lunch."
Simon nodded off as the Mayor's car drove him back to Santa Barbara. He began to dream again, and saw the pool in the cave. The girl was bitten and drowned again, but this time the boy kneeling by her side was giving her artificial respiration. She coughed, spluttered, and got to her feet. Standing in the pool, unnoticed, her older self watched, smiled, and blew Simon a kiss.
Author's note: A few of the more obscure references in this story may need a little clarification, especially for anyone who isn't familiar with the Saint or the earlier episodes of BtVS:
Bella, his favourite throwing knife... The Saint had two throwing knives, Anna and Bella. I'm not entirely sure when he lost Anna and acquired Bella, apologies if I've got this wrong.
The girl held the stick towards him and said "Monkey brain?"... It's established in BtVS season 5 that when they were children Buffy conned Dawn into thinking that marshmallows were monkey brains.
"...it doesn't stop! It never stops!... Direct quote from BtVS 2.22
"Can I say something about destiny? Screw destiny!"... Fred, a quote from Angel season 3. Buffy isn't a witness to this speech, but she has deep enough connections to most of the people there for it to turn up in a prophetic dream.
...lighting one of the special cigarettes from his case... The pre-war Saint carried a cigarette case which included some special cigarettes including magnesium flares. I'm not sure that he still used them after WW2, but it seems possible.